Slam Allen
Feel These Blues
American Showcase Music
The first word that comes to mind listening to Slam Allen is energy. This is a man who obviously flat out loves what he’s doing. He celebrates the blues and bluesy old soul in everything he does. He came up in the Catskill region of New York, the son of a multi-instrumentalist father who was also a DJ. He turned Slam on to the masters – BB, Freddie and Albert King and Albert Collins. But he also instilled in his son a love of the master soul men, too. Otis Redding is all over Baby Please Don’t You Go, for instance, and 35 Miles Outside of Memphis suggests Edwin Starr in the title. On the Blues Is Back he plays his best B.B. King and Albert Collins licks. He is, like most players, a combination of influences and imagination. Slam spent the best part of a decade fronting the James Cotton band – kinda like getting a master’s degree in the blues. He is blessed with a fine voice, emotive and joyful, and is a first-rate guitarist. Backed by a hot band – John Ginty on B3 and other keyboards, Jeff Anderson on bass guitar, and Dan Fadel at the drums – Allen and the fellas don’t fail to impress. All original material, outside of an interesting cover of Prince’s Purple Rain, Allen proves himself a fine songwriter, as well. On the B.B. King-inspired You’re Wrong he complains about his ex-amore suing him for child support, “when we don’t even have any kids.” B.B. King’s influence is conspicuous throughout. On All Because of You, he sings “People say I’m crazy/it must be true/they don’t know that/ it’s all because of you.” The songs are not really the focal point. It’s the delivery; his voice and that buttery clean guitar that make the case for Slam Allen being a blues man to keep an ear on. Very nice, indeed.— Mark E. Gallo

Little Freddie King
Messin’ Around Tha Living Room
Made Wright Records
Not exactly Little Freddie’s living room, this rambunctious affair was cut at the Living Room, a 1930s church cum studio in Algiers, La. Still, it has that comfort and familiarity of a group of friends kickin’ it at home. At 74, Little Freddie has been playing the blues most of his life. He’s got it nailed down pretty solid. He is, you’ll pardon that overused phrase, old school. The inner jewel case proclaims: THE WORLD RENOWNED, HARD TO KILL, PISTOL PACKING, CHICKEN PICKIN,  STRING PULLING, SHOW STOPPIN’,  FREIGHT TRAIN HOPPIN’, GAME COCK WALKIN’,  MASTER OF ELECTRICITY, KING OF THE GUT-BUCKET BLUES, CONNOISSEUR OF WOMENS, HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS —- LITTLE FREDDIE KING. Born Fread Martin in Mississippi In 1940, Freddie has been a torch-bearer of stripped down, minimalistic blues, since. This 12th album is more of that same signature sound. Joined by his long-time sidekick, drummer and producer “Wacko” Wade, alongside guitarist Vasti Jackson and slide player Luke Winslow King, bassist William Jordan, and harper Bobby Lewis di Tullio, Jr. the groove here is a musical conversation between old friends.
The opener, Bad Bad Julie sets the tone. As lyrically minimal as it is musically it showcases Freddie’s vocals and the band’s propensity for a good jam. The instrumentals, Old Yellow Boy and Brother Hay Shaker are stretched-out jams, almost jazzy in their scope. The harmonica on the classic Soul Serenade, is a major delight, as well. Back At The Bucket of Blood, with its hard rim and snare backdrop and sweet guitar lines, tells the story of Little Freddie’s comin’ up. Hey Tom I Saw You addresses that no account Tom and what he was doing with “my old lady in the car.” Tom “thought I didn’t know.” This all done to a lazy groove with that gorgeous harp. The standout tune is easily the highly infectious Do Da Duck Quack Quack. A toe tapping repetitive rhythm. Little Freddie announces “we are gonna do the duck/quack quack…” That groove is just killer. Kinda like this album. Little Freddie King may not be the man you expect. This one might just catch you off guard. —Mark E. Gallo

Carlo Ditta
What I’m Talking About
Orleans Records
Carlo Ditta is a hipster poet from New Orleans. He’s also a record producer and owner of Orleans Records. He’s also an archivist who helps keep careers going for the likes of Danny and Blue Lu Barker, Little Freddie King, Mighty Sam McCLain, Coco Robicheaux, CP Love, Guitar Slim, Jr. and others. He’s also a singer-songwriter. He also performs regularly with poet-performer John Sinclair when Sinclair performs in New Orleans. Ditta has more hats than a tree full of monkeys. On this second full length album, following 2010’s Try A Little Love, Ditta explores the many nuances of life and love. The opening title track is an extended pick-up line complete with Steve Allen’s flute and baritone. This is talkin’ stuff brought to a new level. It isn’t politically correct and it’s more fun than skinny dipping. This segues directly into Go On Fool (“don’t you roll those eyes/love is a fool all the way until you die”), with an ultra-hip trumpet from Charlie Miller. As The World Turns is an antiwar piece buoyed by David Rebeck’s accordion and Ditta’s guitar. He sings/recites “Some men they fight for religion/some men they fight for their women/and some people they die for their country/and some of them die because they’re hungry/and all war is bad for peace/all wars never seem to decease/and they say this is all good for our economy.”
Beating Like a Tom Tom sounds like and reads like a Tom Waits with Andrew Bernard’s subtle farfisa supporting the monologue. Pretty Acres is an ode to Louis Prima and second line dancing in the streets. Great tenor from Steve Allen and fine guitar from Vic Larocca. His take on Aaron Neville’s classic Tell It Like It Is approaches the tune from a new, less musical angle. Try A Little Love features vocals in the right track and Larocca’s slide guitar in the left. (“We could go by the ocean or the Gulf of Mexico/we could go by the ocean and talk about love/I got a problem/got to do with you/but I’ll give in/it’s the right thing to do”).
I’m Leaving You is a straight up leaving song (“My bags they’re all packed/I’d like to say I’ll be back/but that’s not true/I made my mind up all the way/and though it tears me up to say/ I’m leaving you”). This could have been a re-worked Sinatra ala One More For The Road.
On Walk That Walk, opening with rattle snake percussion and cymbals, courtesy Anthony Donado, Carlo plays and recites “I want you to listen to me right now/go on walk that walk and talk that talk/you looking good baby/do that strut…” more of that stuff talkin’ set to a groovy back drop of guitar and baritone from Bernardo. The final tune, a re-work of Many Rivers To Cross, is a glimpse into the artist’s vision. Carlo Ditta is an artist. This is a work of sometimes ferociously powerful art. —Mark E. Gallo

Ray Bonneville
Easy Gone
Red House 2014
Peripatetic bluesman Ray Bonneville has accrued seemingly far more than the average lifetime of experience. His resume includes residences in Boston, New Orleans, Paris, Boulder, and currently Austin; stints as a Marine and a commercial pilot; and, oh, yes, a multi-decade career as a singer-songwriter, including garnering such accolades as a 1999 Canadian Juno award for album of the year; the International Folk Alliance 2009 award for Song of the Year; and a win in the Solo/Duo category at the 2012 International Blues Challenge.
On his fourth release for the folk/roots/blues label Red House, Bonneville cements his credentials as one of the most compelling contemporary composers and performers. The brevity of the album - ten songs, 38 minutes - is redeemed by the high quality throughout, both of musicianship and composition. Nine of the songs are penned by Bonneville, the exception being a tasty rendition of the Hank Williams classic, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”
That tune is perfect for Bonneville’s forte, which is finely crafted songs with an ethereal, mournful, evocative mood. In this CD’s trio format, he is accompanied expertly and unobtrusively by bassist Gurf Morlix (a great name for a science fiction character) and drummer Geoff Arsenault. (Will Sexton on bass and Rick Richards on drums replace the former on two numbers, with Richie Lawrence adding piano.) Bonneville provides the front guitar work, skilled but unpretentious, allowing proper focus on the songs themselves; his understated harmonica contributions are likewise spare but exemplary.
By the way, there’s some terrific poetry here. Bonneville writes abstruse lyrics - think Bob Dylan - that evade explicit meaning yet strike an undeniable chord of insight and observation:
“fast as a child grows days are long
time only knows before it’s gone….”
“riding a line thin as a razor between eternities….”
It’s tough to choose my favorites on this CD, since they’re all good; let’s just cite the opener, “Who Do Call the Shots,” with a spooky Nawlins vibe; “Shake Off My Blues,” which has a tinge of 1950s R&B flavor; and “South Little One,” which displays Bonneville’s moving, smoky vocal tenor at its best. Another fine outing.— Steve Daniels

Hot Roux
Stranger’s Blues
Self-produced 2015
It’s time to welcome a formidable new band to the blues and roots Americana musical world. Hot Roux hails from San Buenaventura (commonly known as Ventura), CA, and for the last several years has been the house band for weekly Friday night gigs put on there by Hi Hat Entertainment. In addition, the trio has provided band support for the Santa Barbara Blues Society in its presentations of such famed blues performers as Kenny Neal, Kim Wilson, James Harman, and Albert Lee.
For its debut album, the band meets the expectations of its moniker: a roux is a tasty sauce made of flour and butter, and “Swing ‘n” serves up a tangy smorgasbord of ten lively tunes ranging from straight blues to rockabilly to one with a Latino/Cajun flavor. The core trio is represented by guitarist Ed Berghoff, bassist Brent Harding, and drummer and vocalist Jerry McWorter. Harding and McWorter penned all of the compositions. Harding is spelled on a couple of tracks by Steve Nelson, and Berghoff’s chores are handled on multiple tunes by talented guitarists Franck Goldwasser (“Paris Slim” on several of his own releases and collaborations) and Tommy Harkenrider, frequent main axe man these days for James Harman.
This CD venture opens with “Broken Again,” a mid-tempo rockabilly number showcasing Berghoff’s slick guitar work and McWorter’s smooth tenor. “Stranger’s Blues” gives Goldwasser room to deploy some reverb mixed with skittering single notes in a 12-bar format, and it’s followed by “Woman Where You Been,” an uptempo blues featuring Harkenrider’s snazzy guitar work. (Some of his riffs bring to mind the late, great Hollywood Fats: high praise.) Guest Jacob Huffman chimes in with some neat harmonica work.
“Seven Lonely Nights” is given two treatments, the first a mid-tempo shuffle and the second a speedier, jazzed-up version; in the former, Goldwasser proves that he can play a mean slide guitar. “Tick Tock” is introduced by a compelling solo by Harkenrider, and augmented by some fine sax courtesy of guest Bill Flores. “Anna Lee” suggests a revisit of the tune made famous by Elmore James, but instead is a new opus with another notable Harkenrider contribution and a country nuance. “Red Pepper Baby” brings Harding prominently into the mix, with Goldwasser providing both lead and overdubbed rhythm guitar. “Can’t Get You Off My Mind” gives guests Pat McClure on guitar and Sam Bolle on bass their chance to shine.—Steve Daniels

Joel Mabus
Bird in This World
Fossil Records 2015
Scion of a family of country musicians, singer and string multi-instrumentalist Joel Mabus has combined his early exposure to “hillbilly” music with his love for the rural blues styles of recording artists to whom he listened in his teen years, notably including Brownie McGhee, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Mississippi John Hurt. Although lacking mainstream notoriety, Mabus has parlayed his influences and talent into a long and apparently successful career as performer, teacher, and recording artist. This album is my introduction to his music, and I’m impressed.
Comprised of ten original tunes, the CD features Mabus solo, singing and playing his guitar, and the ambience is laid-back yet simultaneously witty, whimsical, and wise. Mabus has a warm, friendly tenor voice and a folksy presentation; it feels like he’s your grandpa, rocking on the back porch on a warm summer evening. While making you chuckle and imparting some subtle life lessons, simultaneously he’s demonstrating an unpretentious but adept facility on his acoustic axe.
As Mabus’s liner notes state, “some might want to call this the ‘blue side of folk’ or the ‘country side of blues’…but it’s blues to me.” To me, also. Generously and thoughtfully, Mabus provides not only lyric sheets, but a summary of which tunes are principally dark, humorous, philosophical, or historical. Every song has something special, many of them both poignant and wry; dry wit is rampant here.
When is the last time you have heard a song about “Hemingway’s Beard”?
Highlights: “Hillbilly Singer,” wherein the narrator queries his favorite touring performer, “still good but showing his age,” about why he keeps on touring and playing. The extended answer is revelatory and moving, and obvious only in retrospect. “How About the Blues” is a fine tribute to the history of the genre, and “Simply Lost in the Blues” reveals Mabus’s talent for lyrics, perhaps his greatest strength:
“Yeah, like a bug - on the breeze
Or a kite - in the trees
I fly whichever way the weather may choose
Not for me to decide,
Just along for the ride
Simply lost in the blues”
You won’t dance to this album, but you’ll laugh with it, think about it, and nod your head in rueful agreement.— Steve Daniels

Gaye Adegbalola & The Wild Rutz
Is It Still Good to Ya?
Hot Toddy Music 2014
The demise in 2009 of Saffire- The Uppity Blues Women, a dynamic women’s blues trio, left a lacuna in contemporary blues. Now founder and Blues Music Award winner Gaye Adegbalola has teamed with three other creative singers and musicians in a new ensemble. The group is comprised of Gaye, Tanyah Dadze, Gloria Jackson, and Marta Fuentes. This eclectic selection of fourteen songs, all penned by Ms. Gaye, represents their first recorded foray, and it’s a winner.
Gaye wrote all the tunes, and they reflect her witty and perspicacious view of life. As the group opines in the liner notes, they eschew the “world of screaming electrified instrumental acrobatics and digital perfectionism” and instead hew to a pleasing mix of a cappella or minimally instrumented numbers. Multiple percussion tools are deployed (including spoons, soft shake, and…plastic tubes?), periodically augmented by acoustic guitar. Thus emphasis is inevitably on the melding of four mellifluous voices, and the resultant harmony is uniformly spot-on and often sublime.
Several of the songs display the sultry wit and self-assertion for which Saffire was notable. The opening title track evokes memories of Saffire’s “Silver Beaver” and “Middle Aged Blues Boogie,” among others. “The Dog Was Here First” is hilarious, yet has an undertone of forlorn love. “Sick Leave Blues” evokes the heartache of psychic distress, and “Eye Candy” and “Coffee Flavored Kisses” are more overtly romantic.
Veering into topicality, “The Skittles Blues” scathingly limns the far too frequent - arguably systemic - devaluation of the lives of young black men, and “You Don’t Have to Take It” encourages rejection of and resistance to domestic violence. “Let Go, Let God” is a beautiful spiritual equal to the works of The Blind Boys of Alabama and Sweet Honey in the Rocks. Finally, “Boy in the Boat” fulfills Gaye’s insistence in the liner notes that an a cappella group must have a doo wop song, and each CD at least one sexy song.
Also, kudos for those liner notes: in addition to full lyrics, there is information about the genesis and content of each song, and biographies, thank-you’s, and credits. This album furnishes a primer on what liner notes should be.— Steve Daniels

Generation Blues Experience
Private Angel
R Music, Inc. 2014
Young guitar phenom Ray Goren stands at the far left in the photo of the septet that graces the CD, and he’s the only one not smiling. When you’re fourteen years old, maybe you have to concentrate seriously to play the blues…especially when you have teamed with a sexagenarian and a septuagenarian.
Los Angeles bluesmen Jamie Powell and Sammy Lee, respectively 78 and 68 years old at the time of this recording, met teenager Ray Goren a couple of years ago, and a mutual admiration society formed. For this album the trio recruited Lester Lands to play bass, Albert Trepagnier, Jr. on drums, and Tadg Galleran on keyboards, supplemented by arranger and sax man Robert Spencer and an occasional other sideman. The resultant eight tunes were penned by the group, with the exception of “Ain’t No Sunshine,” the famed Bill Withers tune.
The CD opens with “Little Mama,” a mid-tempo rocker introduced with swinging horns and featuring some fine tinkly piano, and potent singing by Lee. Goren fits in an adequate solo, and assumes vocal duty on the ensuing title track, a slow burner in which he utilizes the entire guitar fretboard, deploying single notes, arpeggios, and wah wah effects with lots of brio but varying success. Next up is the Goren composition “Crazy,” another slow number that affords Jamie Powell the opportunity to exercise his impressive pipes, segueing from a talking-blues style to some tasty shouting and wailing. Meanwhile, Goren demonstrates technical wizardry in a long solo probably evoking appreciative nods from Jimi Hendrix and Roy Buchanan in their graves.
“Rainin’ “ is another Goren tune with a 1950s vibe, complete with horns and back-up vocals. Sammy Lee then makes a vocal return on “Katrina” and “Sugar Momma,” the former displaying Goren’s guitar virtuosity in its more restrained mode, the latter a true blues shuffle allowing Lee to do some excellent harmonica work. Lester Lands then steps up and connects with “Put Love on Your Guest List,” a soul number with some great gospel shouting and tasteful Goren guitar. The album concludes with a long eight minute cover of the Withers classic. Matching the original simply isn’t feasible, but the band does a creditable job, with Goren handling the vocal in his slightly thin tenor and unleashing an extended, blistering guitar solo ending in several bars of pensive single note beauty.
Lee, Powell, and Lands are compelling singers; the band is tight; the songs are quality; and Goren has the required dazzle if not yet the soulful depth.— Steve Daniels

Debbie Davies
Love Spin
Little Dipper Records/Vizztone 2015
Scion of a musical family, Debbie Davies has received well deserved accolades for over three decades as one of the best blues guitarists (without the condescending “female” modifier) around. Since serving a stint with Albert Collins’ band in the 1980s, she has produced many fine albums, won Blues Music Awards as both Traditional and Contemporary Female Blues Artist of the Year, and collaborated with many other blues luminaries. Her new release is another winner.
Hitting the studio with a sturdy backing of Don Castagno on drums, Paul Opalach on keyboards, bass, and lap steel, and Wilbo Wright alternating with Scott Spray on bass, this combo sounds solid together. Adding spice are guests Terry Hanck and Dana Robbins on saxophone, Dave Keyes on piano, and Jay Stollman on one vocal track. The eleven tunes include four by Davies and five by Castagno. There is a piquant variety to the songs, which range from funky dance to R&B to slow blues to gutbucket juke joint.
The opening cut, “Life of the Party,” features a zesty guitar intro that immediately reaffirms Davies’s command of the instrument. The ensuing title cut, a mid-tempo rocker, delivers nice interplay between Davies and Opalach’s lap steel.
“Let the Heartaches Begin” is a 1950s-style soul blues about a break-up, distinguished by Hanck’s sax contribution and his vocal duet with Davies. Stollman’s duet with her on “Don’t Change It Up” likewise shines, as does the easy-paced shuffle “It’s All Blues.”
In “Talk Real Slow,” Davies deploys wah-wah effects. “I’m Not Cheatin’ Yet” is a swinger bolstered by both Robbins and Keyes, and its humor carries over into “Two Twenty-Five Year Olds.” The mood shifts abruptly with “A Darker Side of Me,” penned by Swedish bluesman Sven Zetterberg but appropriate to Davies’s confessed history of conquering substance abuse. Similarly, “I Get the Blues So Easy” encompasses some of the travails of a traveling musician. The album closes with the irresistible “Way Back Home,” highlighting Davies’s gritty guitar work.
That guitar work is the forte of the album. The songs are uniformly good, Davies’s singing is spot-on, but her reliable and tasteful six-string talent is the high point. Eschewing pretentious display, she plays virtuoso licks without compromising the integrity of the songs. I like this album a lot.— Steve Daniels

Regina Bonelli
Open Up The Door
A few issues ago Big City Rhythm & Blues columnist Dave Fields wrote, “I’ve been waiting for the next Blues babe from the NY area to emerge and Regina Bonelli has broken loose.” With that advice I looked online and couldn’t wait to hear her full CD “Open Up The Door” and I was not disappointed. Miss Bonelli has a knock out voice, looks, presence and songs while her band of fellow New Yorkers who’ve been playing a weekly gig in a Brooklyn club with her include renowned bluesman Michael Hill as producer and guitarist, Kevin Hill, Mike Griot or Pete Cummings on bass, David A. Barnes on harmonica and Chicago transplant William McClellan Jr. playing drums. The all original song set list are autobiographical, each leading into the next, a very ambitious tactic for a debut CD but blues is real life and this is the life Regina has led.
Regina’s piano leading into her throaty opening invitation of “Open Up The Door” and walk right into her world. Her upbringing notes that “Mama Raised A Sweet Thing” but she didn’t raise no fool, then takes a more belligerent tone to “Daddy I’m A Big Girl Now.” I thought the title “Cybersex Blues” was trying to be trendy but the infectious quality of slide guitar, horns and harp bookending Bonelli’s alluring, swinging warble that really pulled me into her digital fold before switching to the more spiritual “Mystical Love.” “I Fell” hits hard with some tender chords then bursting into a blaze of passion till “Single Mother Single Live” brings it back down to earth. A sweet shuffle asks the question “Can You Fill His Shoes” then shifts to the forlorn soul searching of are you “Usin’” me?
An acoustic guitar and tambourine drive the final number, as Michael Hill steps to the mic for a duet of lovers who argue that ‘you knew we’d have problems from the start’ but each time they make love it feels like “The Very First Day.”
Regina Bonelli is a woman who appears to have everything going for her, the sound, the songs, the band, the looks and she’s living life on her own terms so “Open Up The Door” ’cause Regina Bonelli’s ready to break loose.—Roger & Margaret White

Randy Volin and The Hard Ones
Detroit Thang 2015
In Your Pants Music
Multicoastal bluesman Randy Volin hasn’t forsaken his warm California sun but he is revisiting his third coast hometown with his latest disc “Detroit Thang 2015.” Recorded on both mid and west coasts all songs were written by Randy Volin except one. Volin also provides vocals, guitars, fender bass and Hammond B3 while The Hard Ones are all guest criminals grabbing what spots they can in this hard case line up. The beat is laid down by Vinnie Dombrowski, David Salinas, Todd Glass or Steve Kohn, bass by Steve Nelson or Tad Wadhams with keyboards by Chris Codish, Phil Parlipiano or George Canterbury, and the Horny Hard Ons AKA the Regular Boys horn section are also part of this alliance. The rest of the conspirators, the background singers, hand clappers and fluffers are known simply as the Hard Ons, nobody’s taking any other credit and these guys ain’t snitches.
The whole thang leaps into action with “When She Says Jump” a swagging horn romp with guitar hopping in then “Come Back Home” has Randy channeling Elmore with an under layer of “She’s About A Mover.” The hard tone, swaggering vocals and thrusting horns of “Mr. Johnson” may be about his own Johnson. A down river urban delta blues of Dobro sliding up against a West Coast beat of “Brand New Day” goes into an autobiographical stream of conscience rap vowing “It’s Gonna Be Alright” with an acoustic guitar under crashing electric chords. A Bo Diddley beat flavors Randy’s growling acclamations of “I Want Your Lovin’” ’cause “She’s Fine” fine, fine, finds the guitar working against cooing background vocals and “Two Worlds Collide” blazing guitar shines through a calm yet barely restrained vocal. Two instrumentals fill out this set, a breezy Cali cruise down that infamous “Mulholland Drive” and an old school AM radio guitar strangling instrumental with an eerie incantation of “Mofocito” its only lyric. The only cover, “Route 66,” is used as a travelogue for Volin’s California trip though written well before he was born running closer to Chuck Berry than Nat King Cole.
Yeah its true what they say, you can take the musician out of Detroit, but you just can’t take the music out of the Detroiter, it’s a “Detroit Thang.” —Roger & Margaret White

Melvin Davis
Double Or Nothin
Rock Mill Records
Motor City Soul Ambassador, gold record selling singer/songwriter/drummer and bandleader Melvin Davis is back on the scene with his first new music in forty years “Double Or Nothing.” Returning to music in his mid sixties, burning up the stage he’s now taken his live band, given them the sweet sheen of classic Motown, which is no surprise considering the makeup of this Detroit band. McKinley Jackson whose day job is music director for the Four Tops and wrote charts for all Marvin Gaye’s hits including “What’s Going On,” is the keyboard player while backup vocals are by Pat and Diane Lewis who in the heyday of soul music were Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul. This is a true a super group of unsung heroes backed by Matt Thibodeau on guitar, Dave Uricek bass, Todd Boshma drums, Drew Schultz percussion with Jimmy Smith, Bobby Streng, Matt Martinez and Keith Kaminski on horns. Together they’ve nailed the sound and captured the feel of old school Motown Soul with a message of love and understanding that is just as relevant today.
The title cut “Double Or Nothing” was originally written and recorded in 1976 but here the liquid glide of guitar under a sweet soul choir and horns drive Melvin’s vocals to soar as the years seem to melt away. These phantoms of Funk hit the groove with “Power Glory Fortune Fame” the same old promises the music biz has dangled in front of musicians from someone who has lived this tale for more then 50 years and replies with “Somethang’s (I Just Don’t Do).” With that they also have the crowd participation boogie “W.C.T.P.” (We Come To Party)” and the funky positivity of “Why Can’t We Communicate,” first done in the’70’s with his hard rockin’ soul band Radiation, still remains unanswered. As an elder sage of Soul, Davis has always put forth a message of positivity and “Cherish Each Moment” says “Time is a candle that burns, Time will never return,” but Melvin’s voice reaches for the heights remembering and “Thinking Of You” while playing for right here, right now.
Melvin Davis’ may be restarting his recording career at 70 but “Double Or Nothing” has a sticker “Warning: Contents contain extensive truth, positive messages and addictive grooves that may become habit forming.” You’ve been warned!—Roger & Margaret White

Delta Moon
Low Down
Jumping Jack Records
The band Delta Moon may not seem unusual with its two guitars, bass and drums line up but when Tom Gray and Mark Johnson both break out the lap steels they take this Southern roots band into a groove and you realize this is not your average blues band. Behind the scream of steel, singer/main songwriter Tom Gray’s whiskey soaked refrains add to this atmosphere while Marion Patton’s drums and Franher Joseph’s bass and backing vocals give Delta Moon further depth. With their tenth recording “Low Down,” Delta Moon stays true to its path-less-traveled while plowing ahead into fresh territory.
Of the dozen “Low Down” tracks, nine are originals with the “Wrong Side Of Town” driving towards Southern rock till the slide jumps the tracks while the tribal drums and brassy harmonica break into some greasy fun on “Open All Night.” The hot sweaty licks of dual slide guitars fill the “Spark In the Dark” then the band breaks out with a chugging groove of sad dreams and reflection drifting into the dark corners of “Afterglow” and vents with the sonic blasts of a “Mean Streak.” The bouncy trotting pace and the gospel tinged dueling vocals of Ms Francine Reed drive home the message of “Nothing You Can Tell A Fool” while the lap steel leads, southern twang and exuberant shouts because he’s still got his “Jelly Roll.” The covers on the disc use the familiar sliding steel and rough figures of Tom Waits’ “Low Down” and the Dylan cover of “Down In The Flood” but Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” uses the finger picked guitar and voice to define this country blues then the haunting high singing slide is an organic force that takes on a voice and life of its own.
Delta Moon’s new CD has the contrasts of Southern mellowness with the tension of hard rock and a hard life that gives their blues a “Low Down” glow. —Roger & Margaret White

The Cash Box Kings
Holding Court
Blind Pig CD 5165
Tellingly titled after a long-gone weekly magazine that charted jukebox favorites in the 1940’s and 1950’s, the two Kings—vocalist and harmonica ace Joe Nosek (think Slim Harpo and Little Walter) and Muddy Waters-influenced vocalist Oscar Wilson—continue to be the current torchbearers not only of the classic, electrified sounds of post-war urban Chicago blues and beyond (New Orleans, ragtime, jump blues and swamp pop) but the Delta-derived acoustic blues music of the 1920’s and 1930’s as well. On their third Blind Pig release, the pair are accompanied by fellow Kings—drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith and guitarist/vocalist Joel Patterson—along with a bevy of honorary Kings including multi-instrumentalist Billy Flynn, upright bass players Brad Ber and Beau Sample and pianist Barrelhouse Chuck—on an appealing mix of nifty originals and raw, totally unvarnished covers. Picks among the latter begin with homage-paying revivals of sides by two of the Windy City’s blues scene’s forefathers—Jimmy Rogers’ deep, Delta-scarred epic “Out On The Road” and John Lee Hooker’s equally bleak tale of the “Hobo Blues”—and continue through titles by Honey Boy Allen, Willie Love and, not to be overlooked, Big Smokey Smothers’ boastful “I Ain’t Gonna Be No Monkey Man.” The set’s eight originals move from the topical (“Download Blues” deals with digital piracy etc. while “Gotta Move Out To The Suburbs” describes the grim realities of gentrification) to shades of Dr. John on “Juju” and cleverly-lyriced gems like “Cash Box Boogie” and “Sugar Pea” as well as the Ray Sharpe-like rocking country blues of “I Miss You Miss Ann.” Also noted is Nosek brilliantly channeling Little Walter on the set-closing instrumental workout “Quarter To Blue.” Highly recommended.—Gary von Tersch

J.B. Hutto & His Hawks
Hawk Squat
Delmark CD 617
One of my favorite Chicago blues recordings of all time just got even better. Similar to the recent updating of Junior Wells’ classic Southside Blues Jam album from 1967 (with Otis Spann and Buddy Guy), this refurbished Hawk Squat disc by Elmore James-influenced slide guitarist J.B. Hutto and various pals (including keyboard whiz Sunnyland Slim) features six previously unissued tracks (including a nifty, vamping alternate take on the Bo Diddley-like title song and the lead-off, rambunctiously rowdy “Speak My Mind” twice) along with a 20-page booklet containing many never before seen photos, the very informative original 1968 liners and a new set of entertainingly anecdotal notes from producer and label owner Bob Koester reminiscing about J.B., the rough-and-tumble Turner’s Blue Lounge where it all started and the serendipitous manner in which an AACM free jazz musician, tenor saxist Maurice McIntyre (now known as Kalaparusha), was added to the record date. Joining J.B. and Slim are guitarists Lee Jackson (a Cobra recording artist at the time) and, on one selection, Herman Hassell (in fine form on the catchy minor hit “Hip Shakin’”) along with bassists Junior Pettis and Dave Myers and drummer Frank Kirkland while the tracks were laid down, catch as catch can, over the space of nearly two years at three different locations. “Hip Shakin’” was recorded off-hours in 1966 at a Chicago club called Mother Blues with the remainder pretty much divided between the Sound and Ter-Mar Studios in 1968. Of note is the fact that Sunnyland Slim plays organ rather than piano on more than a few cuts. Particular spell-binders, apart from “Hip Shakin’, “Speak My Mind” and the shoulda-been-a-hit “Hawk Squat”,” from the original LP comprise the easy rocking, philosophical “What Can You Get Outside That You Can’t Get At Home” and the grievous tale of a girlfriend with a “20% Alcohol” habit as well as what sounds like a lost Elmore James 45 titled “The Feeling Is Gone” and the slow-boiling, deep-grooved advisory “Too Late.” Explosive stuff—handle with care!—Gary von Tersch

Grayson Capps
If You Knew My Mind
Royal Potato Family CD
The son of a Baptist preacher, New Orleans-based 48 year-old Grayson Capps was born in Opelika, Alabama and, while at Tulane University in 1990, started a self-described “thrash-folk” band called the House Levellers as well as a blues-rock combo called Stavin’ Chain—that managed to issue one album before breaking up. In 2004, several of the singer/songwriter’s Southern Gothic-styled songs appeared on the soundtrack for the well-received film A Love Song For Bobby Long and the following year saw the release of his first solo record. Released for Record Store Day, this ten-year anniversary reissue of that album (originally out on Hyena Records) also boasts three bonus tracks from the sessions—a determinedly rustic version of “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed & Burning,” an autobiographical confessional titled “Banjo Player” and an alternate take of “Washboard Lisa”—that pulses along with fetching background harmonies by Capps’ wife Trina Shoemaker and Tommy MacLuckie. Further remarkables begin with the episodic “A Love Song For Bobby Long,” a barstool blues called “Slidell,” the ruminative “Lorraine’s Song” (another soundtrack song), a greasily bittersweet “Buckshot” and the intimately visionary “I See You.” As Grayson puts it: “I write songs which have the voice of dead prophets masquerading as town drunks screaming “look at us—we’re pretty too.” Worth searching out.—Gary von Tersch

Roy Brown
Pay Day Jump
Ace CD 1423
Johnny Adams
I Won’t Cry
Ace CD 1424
Two CD’s by two Crescent City legends. Before Fats Domino replaced him in 1955, ex-boxer, emotive vocalist and high-caliber songwriter Roy Brown was New Orleans’ first R&B superstar and while his time at the top was relatively brief, his undeniable influence on the music that followed will never be in doubt as long as compilations like Pay Day Jump and its Ace label predecessor Good Rockin’ Brown are around. This 24 track (eight previously unissued), acetate-sourced extravaganza collects his later DeLuxe recordings, picking up where Good Rockin’ left off, with hot titles like “Boogie At Midnight,” the two-part, large slice of double entendre titled “Butcher Pete,” a powerful “Judgement Day Blues,” the ribald pair of “Miss Fanny Brown” and “Fanny Brown’s Wedding Day” along with the desperate expository “Hard Luck Blues”—that climbed to #1 in mid-summer 1950 before being dislodged by Nat King Cole’s plaintive ballad “Mona Lisa” in September. The downbeat tale, however, struck a chord and proved to be Brown’s biggest and longest charting (18 weeks) hit. I’ll leave the remaining uniformly rewarding eighteen selections for the curious to discover—informative liners author leads the way. New Orleans native and former gospel singer (with a multi-octave range) Johnny Adams, on the other hand, is represented by master takes of the A and B sides of all eleven of his soulfully righteous, octave-spanning Ric and Ron singles—the Tan Canary’s very first recordings cut between 1958 and 1964. One of the songs, “I Won’t Cry” was only a regional hit but jump-started a career that spanned more than three decades and included early jukebox favorites like “Come On,” “A Losing Battle”(a national R&B smash), “The Bells Are Ringing,” a swampy cover of Hank Williams’ “Cold Cold Heart,” the Mac Rebennack-composed “Showdown” and “You Can Make It If You Try.” Adams later had releases on Watch, SSS International, Atlantic and Hep Me before settling in at Rounder Records—where he recorded nine albums in 15 years at the tail-end of his career. But this is where it all began.—Gary von Tersch

Dale Watson
Call Me Insane
Red House CD 287
Austin, Texas’ King of Honky Tonk was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1962, grew up in poverty in Pasadena, Texas and was musically inclined as a youngster—as a teenager he was going to school in the daytime and performing in local Houston clubs, dance halls and roadhouses at night—carrying on the throwback tradition of Johnny Cash, Buck Owens and Willie Nelson with his developing, multi-faceted (western swing, honky tonk, rockabilly and outlaw) and bedrock-rich “Ameripolitan” brand of American roots music. Watson’s third project for Red House links him and his Telecaster up with his top-notch touring combo, the Lone Stars—pedal steel guitarist Don Pawlak, percussionist Mike Bernal and upright bassist Chris Crepps—along with producer Lloyd Maines on acoustic guitar, pianist Danny Levin and the three-piece Honky Tonk Horns on 13 old-school Watson originals along with a great version of Tony Joe White’s “Mamas Don’t Let Your Cowboys Grow Up To Be Babies.” Other gems include “Jonesin’ For Jones” (a humorous nod to the legendary George Jones), the pensive title track, the fingers-crossed “Heaven’s Gonna Have A Honky Tonk,” the histrionic “Crocodile Tears,” a reflective “Everybody’s Somebody In Luchenbach, Texas” and the memory-laden “I Owe It All To You.” Dubbed “the silver pompadoured, baritone beltin’, Lone Star beer drinkin’, honky tonk hellraiser” by the local Austin Chronicle, Watson recently sat in with Jimmy Kimmel’s house band on Jimmy Kimmel Live from SXSW and also emceed the inaugural SXSW “Ameripolitan” showcase featuring the down-to-earth American roots music he specializes in—that tells honest stories about the extraordinary lives of ordinary people with words woven through solid melodies that “invite you to hear what the singer is saying while the rhythm moves your feet.” —Gary von Tersch

Bessie Smith
At The Christmas Ball
Legacy Red Plastic 45
Miles Davis
Blue Xmas
Legacy Blue Plastic 45
The Animals
The Animals No. 2
ABKCO Extended Play 45
Herman”S Hermits
Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band
A Little Something From The Road Vol. 1
Concord Extended Play LP
Saturday, April 18 was Record Store Day 2015, a celebration of the throwback culture of the independently owned record emporium and your intrepid reviewer hit the streets early to see what he could turn up as more and more mainstream and independent record companies alike are issuing Limited Edition vinyl discs for the occasion. Here’s some of the best that I turned up as I traversed the San Francisco Bay Area. Nicknamed the Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith was the most celebrated female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s and only had Louis Armstrong as a rival as a jazz vocalist—her red plastic 45 features two of her classic numbers (“At The Christmas Ball” and “Jazzbo Brown From Memphis Town”) with Fletcher Henderson on piano. Jazz musician, trumpeter, bandleader and composer Miles Davis was one of the most groundbreaking and influential musicians of the 20th century and at the forefront of several major developments in the jazz genre—including bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, jazz fusion and modal jazz, His blue plastic 45 features him, along with the Gil Evans Orchestra, on a pair of Bob Dorough compositions—”Blue Xmas” and the footloose “Devil May Care.” Eric Burdon and his blues-based early version of the Animals proffer their third British Extended Play record (never released in the U.S.), with four R&B-oriented titles—”I’m In Love Again,” “Bury My Body,” “I’m Mad Again” and “She Said Yeah”—as a 10 inch record for optimum audio fidelity. The vastly under-appreciated psych-pop gem Blaze, the final studio album to contain all new material by Peter Noone and his Hermits, was produced by the ill-fated genius Mickie Most and has not been available in the U.S. in any format since its original release in October 1967. Singer/songwriter and guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd is a significant force in the worldwide resurgence of interest in the blues, with the four live recordings collected here (“Looking Back,” “House Is Rockin’,” “You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover” and a, count ‘em, seventeen minute medley version of “Woke Up This Morning” and “You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now”) culled from stops on his extensive 2014 tour—which had him revisiting vintage blues numbers that initially ignited his love of the blues and inspired him to pick up the guitar. His incisive interpretive acumen and splendiferous guitar playing shine on songs popularized by the likes of Johnny “Guitar” Watson, B.B. King, Bo Diddley and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Long live vinyl!— Gary von Tersch

Jackie Payne
I Saw The Blues
Blue Dot CD 107
An alum of the Johnny Otis band, soul singer Jackie Payne began singing professionally as a teenager in Athens, Georgia and relocated to Houston, Texas at seventeen where he recorded his breakthrough hit “Go Go Train” for Huey Meaux’s Jetstream label. Its success caught the ear of Stax Records and Payne was invited to tour with The Stax Revue on a 45-city trek featuring Otis Redding (to whom his voice has often been compared), Carla Thomas and Sam and Dave. What a way to jump-start a career! But it was derailed for a while when he was drafted in 1968. After his hitch he settled in Culver City, California—where he had a steady gig at the fabled Cover Girl Club along with Pee Wee Crayton until he joined the Johnny Otis Orchestra as lead singer. After fifteen years with Otis, he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and formed the Jackie Payne and Steve Edmonson Band with the blues guitarist. Their Master Of The Game disc on Delta Groove won the Contemporary Blues Music Award for Best Soul Blues Album in 2006. In the spring of 2014, Payne finished recording its follow-up I Saw The Blues and planned to release it later in the year but in October he suffered a major stroke that has left him unable to sing. Guitarists Kid Andersen and Anthony Paule stepped up to oversee the mixing, mastering and manufacturing and the result is probably his best yet. Accompanied by a greasy three-man horn section along with a small combo fronted by Andersen and Paule, Payne is in great form throughout—whether on his own inventive tunes (picks are an assertive “Doing My Own Thing,” the autobiographical “I Saw The Blues” and the downbeat, name-checking “Kicking Back With The Blues”) or some well-chosen covers like the testifyingly funky, eight minute commentary “I’ll Drink Your Bathwater Baby,” Tony Joe White’s observational “I Get Off On It” and the pleading “Wife, Woman, Hootchie.” I hear that Jackie is making a good recovery—hope so. Buy the CD and say a prayer or two.—Gary von Tersch

Ralph Peer And The Making Of Popular Roots Music
Barry Mazor
Chicago Review Press
Ralph Peer’s name will ring a bell with many readers of this journal for reasons that are relentlessly scrutinized in this well-researched book. Peer was born in Independence, Missouri to a lower middle class family just before the turn of the twentieth century. Over the course of the next thirty years, he would act as an advance guard for a variety of overlooked genres and actively support musical groundbreakers for some of the era’s foremost record companies—discovering and recording heretofore unknown talent in big cities and modest towns alike. His energetic work in bringing “hillbilly,” “race” and the music of Mexico and the Caribbean to the public at large greased the skids for the country, rhythm and blues, hip hop and Latin sounds as we know them today. He also recorded (and sold) a lot of blues—from the classic sort pioneered by Mamie Smith (Peer cut her first record, “Crazy Blues,” that is generally considered as the first “blues” release) to noteworthy blues guitar records by the likes of Sylvester Weaver and Lonnie Johnson. As the market for blues quickly commercially expanded, Peer “discovered” and recorded the likes of Blind Willie McTell, Memphis Minnie, Tommy Johnson and Sleepy John Estes among many others and also was instrumental in recording the early jazz sounds of everyone from Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller to the orchestras of Clarence Williams and Benny Moten. Big-eared Peer also worked his magic in the early country idiom known as “hillbilly” with a big-selling string of field recordings featuring the veteran Fiddlin’ John Carson and also helped arrange and produce the legendary Bristol sessions that launched the old-timey careers of both the Carter family and Jimmie Rodgers. Farther on, in the mid-1950s, he played a large role in publishing Buddy Holly’s songs. Mazor’s focus, throughout, is razor-sharp with the record man’s adventurous saga told with economy, few sidetracks and a lack of sensationalism. Overstatements, exaggerations or peripheral details are also, refreshingly, absent—resulting in an extremely readable, quite overwhelming biography that your reviewer found difficult to put down. As no less an authority as Ry Cooder puts it: “Ralph Peer is surely the most fascinating character in American vernacular music, and I personally thank him, since I otherwise would have been sacking groceries in El Segundo or parking cars in Pacoima all these years.” A section in the appendix lists “Key Recordings and Published Songs of Ralph Peer, 1920-1960” and the book has sixteen pages of period photos.—Gary von Tersch


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