Blues Reviews June/July 2021
Fat Bank Music
Are you ready for some old school soul music? I mean that gritty-and-funky- with-a-heaping-helping-of-melody-type soul music? Well, buckle up, my friends, and let Detroit native son Pat Smillie put you in the driver’s seat! Here are eight songs of distinction penned by Smillie and co-writer/producer and guitarist Motor City Josh.
Smillie and company bust out of the gate, with the Motown-meets-Memphis groove of “Heart in a Headlock.” The leader’s vocals fall somewhere between Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett, with a horn chart by saxophonist Keith Kaminski that will knock you on your ass! Clever turns of phrase and a festive vibe set a party-like standard from the get-go. “Something on My Heart” follows and brings the temperature down a little bit to simmer. Smillie plays it cool atop a mid tempo Al Green-like scenario. It’s a smooth beat that’s poetic, jazzy and prominently features backing vocalists and arrangers Tina Howell and Ashley Stevenson. “Broke Down Chevy #2” is a strong rocker that spotlights Jim McCarty on lead guitar. All the elements are here to make this a memorable single and a radio favorite. Shades of Cactus, Bob Seger, Mitch Ryder and Joe Cocker come to mind the way Smillie delivers the line “I was a broke down Chevy till she loved me like a Cadillac.” “Last Chance” has an air of New Orleans flair fostered by Motor City Josh’s fine Lowell George-type slide guitar work. Bassist Chris Smith and drummer Todd Glass really lay it down, giving considerable weight to Smillie’s ironic words of desperation to a lover on the rocks. “Josephine” has a haunting quality in the vein of John Prine or, even, early Dolly Parton. It’s kind of a dark and mysterious song to one half of a relationship where the truth is murky and one must come clean. The lyrics never really reveal what the offense was. It’s kind of left to the interpretation of the listener. “Drinkin’ and Druggin’” seems to be autobiographical. It’s a serious commentary on a past life, but with a lighthearted and fresh perspective. It’s a boogie-type rocker, with great interplay from guitarists Jason Bone and Brendon Linsley. “Nae Nae (Month of Sundays)” is fun, funky and showcases intricate Freddie King-like guitar from Linsley coupled with Tower of Power-type attitude from Kaminski and trumpeter Walter White. There is a swing and a swagger to the album closer “All the Way in My Corner.” The title serves as a hook which destines this track for single status right off the bat. It’s a stone cold, old school love song that will hook you from the first verse. Tasty guitar from Johnny Rhoades and Evan Mercer’s proverbial keyboards throughout really support this tune nicely.
Pat Smillie is a veteran singer-songwriter that certainly draws from touchstones of the past. But, in doing so, puts a fresh spin on the blend of rock, blues and soul, keeping it vibrant and relevant for many years to come.—Eric Harabadian
Roger “Hurricane” Wilson
Live at the Time Out Pub
Blue Storm Records
Recorded in 2010 at the Time Out Pub in Rockland, Maine, this is singer/songwriter/guitarist Roger Wilson partnered, with bassist Harry Werner and drummer Scott Stump. It’s raw and unvarnished where everything is stripped to its essentials, with no audio gimmickry or hi-tech sheen. What you hear is what you get….and that’s good!!!
Wilson is a clever and prolific songwriter as well as an astute guitarist. The trio does their share of cover songs, but many of the originals blend really well in the mix. They open their set with Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Checkin’ Up on My Baby.” It’s a good straight-ahead shuffle that sets the stage, with tight rhythms and strong lead guitar. “One More White Boy” has a New Orleans calypso-type beat, featuring Wilson’s seemingly comic semi-autobiographical tale. “This Crazy World” is another Wilson composition, with commentary on changes in a modern fast-paced society. Ripping guitar and a swinging rhythm section make this one a highlight. “Talking Heads” is something in a minor key, with biting commentary on presenters, hosts and broadcasters who all comprise the media machine. It’s kind of prophetic, years before the term “fake news” started getting bandied about. Another choice standard is the Willie Dixon/Eddie Boyd tune “Third Degree.” While a number of the tunes in this set are lively and up tempo, this is a decidedly slow blues, allowing the entire band to really stretch out. That’s followed by the rockabilly-flavored “Tribute to Danny.” In particular, Danny Gatton seems to be the obvious choice here as Wilson earns the name “Hurricane,” with a sheet of energetic axe work that will surely blow you away. The Lowel Fulsom/Ferdinand Washington classic “Honey Hush” gets a very traditional and faithful treatment here. It appears to be an audience favorite, with spirited and audible support. This is a strong danceable track that really spotlights the interplay of Werner and Stump. Another clever track, with a somewhat comical twist is one called “You Do Your Job.” The pervasive CCR vibe, not withstanding, it’s got a rocking feel and an attitude where Wilson sets the audience straight. It’s basically a song about staying in one’s lane, if you will. Here’s a sample: “I don’t tell a truck driver when to make a run, I don’t tell a cop how to shoot his gun, I don’t tell anybody how to do their thing, so, please don’t tell me what song I should sing. I’ve been at this job a long, long time. Tell me if I’m out of line. You do your job and I’ll do mine.” They wrap the album with two more strong originals, the slide guitar-driven “How Much is Enough” and an old school rocker “By My Side.”
Roger “Hurricane” Wilson and the Pennsylvania Railroad Rhythm Section are a raw formidable force and a great party band. “Live at the Time Out Pub” is a strong document of a moment in time that truly defines what modern juke joint blues is all about.—Eric Harabadian
Wee Willie Walker and the Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra
Not in My Lifetime
Blue Dot Records 2021
Wee Willie Walker was a small man, but he had a big voice.
Born in Mississippi and raised in Memphis, Walker started singing in gospel groups in his teens and in rhythm-and-blues groups when he relocated in the 1960s to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Commercial success eluded him and he worked as a machinist and health care worker until retiring in the early 2000’s and resumed his musical journey by singing with regional r&b bands. In 2014 a fortuitous encounter with harmonica maven Rick Estrin led to a resurrection of Walker’s career with two albums on the non-profit Little Village Foundation label. He finally achieved the recognition that he deserved, including an astonishing twelve Blues Music Award nominations between 2015 and 2020.
Sadly, Walker is no longer around to enjoy his acclaim: he died in his sleep in late 2019 at age 77. Fortunately, we have another album, recorded just prior to his death, with the eight-piece Paule band from the San Francisco Bay Area, a band that backed and promoted Walker’s talent during his last years. A brief verbal interview with co-producer Christine Vitale introduces a dazzling collection of thirteen tunes.
Every track provides proof of the symbiotic rapport enjoyed by Walker and the band. The impeccable rhythm section of bassist Endre Tarczy, keyboardist Tony Lufrano, and drummer Kevin Hayes is the foundation for the animated four-piece horn section, and a trio of backing singers is also superb. Guitarist Paule generally stays restrained, but when he solos the results are sublime. He is particularly moving in the slow blues efforts “Darling Mine” and “Suffering with the Blues,” coaxing gut-wrenching emotional beauty from his guitar. On the set’s one instrumental, “Almost Memphis,” the combo deals out an irresistible syncopated groove.
Of course, the star is Walker, whose vocals range effortlessly from smooth to rough and infallibly imbue the lyrics with poignancy. On several tracks, especially “Darling Mine” and “Let the Lady Dance,” his singing strongly evokes memory of the great Otis Redding: high praise indeed. The songs range from shuffles to slow blues. Mid-set there are two tracks, “I’m Just Like You” and “Make Your Own Good News,” which propound a message of tolerance and optimism; the former is aided by the gospel vocal backing of James, Walter, and Dwayne Morgan of the Sons of the Soul Revivers.
Not least, and appropriately, the album ends with “ ‘Til You’ve Walked in My Shoes,” its autobiographical lyrics a fitting posthumous tribute to an outstanding soul blues singer. Too bad that Wee Willie Walker won’t be here to celebrate the awards that this album is certain to receive.—Steve Daniels
Trevor B. Power
What Is Real
Farm 189 Records
What Is Real is Trevor B. Power’s second release, following 2019’s Everyday Angel. Power spent years playing guitar in bands and performing solo acoustic gigs, along with a stint as a FM radio music host. Relatively new to putting out his own records, Power is proving to be a prolific and formidable songwriter, as like the recent Everyday Angel, What Is Real consists of all Power originals. Due to Covid-19 lockdowns, What Is Real is largely a two-man project, with co-producer Anthony Krizan providing bass and drums and some guitar to go along with Powers’ guitars and vocals. The songs range from blues numbers and rockers with a few ballads as well. “World Gone Madd” starts things off in style, with a huge backbeat and some nasty slide work by Power. “Get Well Johnny” is a rockin’ plea to an ailing brother to get better so “we could have a good time” and has some smoking harp work by Will Wilde. “Pandemic” is a Midwest-style rocker and paints a pretty realistic picture of what’s been going on the past year or so. “Easier Way” is built on the durable “Dust My Broom” slide riff and the straight-ahead rocker “Life Is Good” seems pretty autobiographical. Power’s lyrics usually shoot straight from the hip and you believe everything he says to be ‘real’ indeed. Danielle Illario’s background vocals are prominent on “Get Well Johnny,” adding a nice touch, and she even trades lines with Trevor on the scorcher “Sexy Witch.” Matt Migliorino’s B3 organ strengthens many of the tracks and he adds some nice rock & roll piano chops to “Life Is Good.” As usual, Power’s guitar parts are always tasteful and fit the given style of each song and step out loud and proud when needed. Power’s raspy vocals are reminiscent of Mac Rebennack’s and even conjure up memories of mid-1970s J.J. Cale. The feel of “Woman” reminds me of Cale’s “Crazy Mama”, with its lazy shuffle and phasey clean slide. “This Old Road” closes the set, a ballad built on the same acoustic guitar Open E chord scale used on the Allman’s “Melissa” and the Dave Mason hit “We Just Disagree”. All in all, a fine sophomore effort and I am looking forward to Trevor B. Power’s next one. — Bob Monteleone
For most of their band life, Kentuckians Anna Kline and John Looney were known, for nearly ten years, as the bluegrass duo, Grits & Soul—playing unapologetic music that often converged at the confluence of bluegrass, classic country, Southern soul and the blues. Swift Silver marks a consequential waypost for the southern songwriters as it is a 180 degree (re)turn to those musical roots—the drawling tremolo of rhythm & blues, the saving strains of Southern gospel and the twang of the rural soul. Kline’s vocal performances, especially on lead, reveal a breathtaking range of skillful flexibility a la Tracy Nelson while Looney gives a crackerjack performance on lead guitar, “not only displaying his expertise as an integral sideman but also as a talented arranger, showcasing a finely tuned ear for nuance and groove,” as the press-notes aver. The album contains eight Kline/Looney originals along with a beguiling cover of Carter Stanley’s “The Fields Have Turned Brown”—a steadfast tip of the hat to their lives as bluegrass musicians with some deft harmonies that recall Johnny Cash’s “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town.” It’s hard to pick favorites among the originals as they all boast robust melodies, striking story lines and insightfully eloquent, timely lyrics when weighed through the lens of current events. I’ll cite a couple here but leave the rest for you to discover, also a lyric sheet would have been nice and well deserved. At the heart of the album, turns out, is the energetically current commentary “Come Home To Yourself” that’s navigated in fine fettle by a fuzzed-out guitar refrain that adroitly takes the astute listener all the way back to the Mississippi blues by way of hard-core Texas blues while the Beatles-esque “Blackbird’s Refrain” is a clever, anthem-like plea for the world to “come together” (with some great slide guitar from Looney) and the moody, Grayson Capps-like “We All Get Our Turn.” Genius at work.—Gary von Tersch
Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown Rocks
Bear Family CD
As blues historian Bill Dahl puts it early on in his colorful 20-page booklet essay: “Gatemouth came roaring out of Texas during the late 40’s, pouring an arsenal of red hot guitar licks over some of the fastest tempos imaginable and displaying a vocal delivery bristling with understated intensity.” Gate was also justifiably proud of his versatility, being “equally fluent on fiddle and harmonica and loved playing country, jazz, Cajun and calypso every bit as much as he enjoyed delivering a lowdown Lone Star blues—even hinting that he was somehow limited to one genre was akin to taking your life in your hands,” Dahl continues. Wikepedia agrees: “It all goes back to T-Bone Walker. the inventor of electric blues guitar—he opened the gate and young string benders like Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland raced through the gates.” This well-programed, 29 track CD captures Brown at every roots music intersection you can imagine but for me, his constantly inventive, flashy instrumental workouts steal the show— from the seminal 1953 tour de forces “Boogie Uproar” and “Gate Walks To Board” (a warp-speed effort on tandem with baritone saxist Johnny Board) to 1954’s best-known, impeccably constructed instrumental “Okie Dokie Stomp” and 1959’s EXTREMELY bluesy “Just Before Dawn”—with Brown playing fiddle. Picks among the rest encompass a raucous two-parter “Pale Dry Boogie,” a blazing “You Got Money” (with Jimmy McCracklin on piano), the party-time “Rock My Blues,” the swamp-blues influenced “Gate’s Salty Blues” and the wildest of all, “Dirty Work At The Crossroads,” with its fractured, intersecting surreal combination of slashes, solos and sideways guitar artistry, accompanied by the McCracklin Orchestra, with Lafayette Thomas on guitar. All in all, a great collection by a musical giant who never really got his due.—Gary von Tersch
Koko-Mojo Diner: Volume One
Koko-Mojo Diner: Volume Two
Cornbread & Cabbage Greens
Hey, nobody can celebrate the gustatory pleasures of “soul food” quite like the mover and shaker Little Victor Mac (a.k.a.) DJ “Mojo” Man on these two compilation volumes (of a proposed four) heavily devoted to the ethnic cuisine traditionally prepared and eaten by African Americans, originating in the Southern United States. “This cuisine originated with the foods that were given to enslaved West Africans on Southern plantations during the American colonial period and was strongly influenced by the traditional practices of West Africans and Native Americans,” Mac attests. Indeed, a cuisine evolved that was simple yet hearty and delicious with West African imports like watermelons, the kola nut, okra, fruit (not meat) pies, yams, black-eyed peas, fried chicken, sweet potatoes, cabbage, gumbo, jambalaya, pepper pot and a mix of green leafy vegetables (collards, turnips and mustards) and pork called Hoppin’ John, with the core of this culinary plant-based tradition (the meat used was usually the least desirable cuts) originating in the Deep South: Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. Particular favorites from Volume One, on a wide variety of labels, include Chico Chism and his Jetanairs’ “Hot Tamales & Bar-B-Que”; Willie Egan’s “Chitlins”; The Robins’ “Smoky Joe’s Cafe”; Mickey “Guitar” Baker and his House Rockers’ “Greasy Spoon”; The Clickettes’ “Jive Time Turkey”; Fats Domino’s “Jambalaya”; The “5” Royales’ “Monkey Hips And Rice”; L. Anderson and the Tornadoes’ “Neck Bones & Hot Sauce”; Andre Williams’ “Bacon Fat”; Lil Johnson’s bawdy “Sam The Hot Dog Man” and, of course, Booker T and the MG’s “Green Onions.” Volume Two, a “meatless edition,” begins with Wynonie Harris’ “Git With The Grits” and closes, 27 tracks later, with Joe Houston & His Rockets extolling the virtues of “Cornbread & Cabbage Greens” with room at the table in-between for delights on the order of B. Brown & His Rockin’ McVouts’ “Candied Yams”; a couple by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee (“Custard Pie Blues” and “Cornbread & Peas”); Bud Powell’s “Collard Greens & Black Eyed Peas”; Slim Gaillard & His Baker’s Dozens’ “Potatoe Chips”; Dee Dee Sharps’ “Gravy For My Mashed Potatoes”; Julia Lee & Her Boy Friends’ risque “The Spinach Song (I Didn’t Like It The First Time”; Marvin Phillips’ Cherry Pie,” Washboard Sam’s “Good Old Cabbage Greens” along with a few tasty instrumentals like Gerry and Larry’s “Garlic Bread,” Matthew Childs & His Three Buddies’ “Funky Onions” and The Intruders’ “Fried Eggs.” Guaranteed to make you hungry!—Gary von Tersch
The Larks Collection
Not to be confused with Don Julian’s Los Angeles-based Meadowlarks, this group of Mills Brothers and Ink Spots-influenced Larks came out of the North Carolina gospel universe in the early fifties with this well thought out project capturing them in their R&B and soul heyday and beyond after the polished, crystal-clear lead tenor Eugene Mumford joined the group. This two-CD, 48 track compilation is a comprehensive, chronological overview of their career comprising the A & B sides of their singles for the Apollo and Lloyds labels (including a handful of unissued tracks—including two great Christmas numbers) plus recordings as the Selah Singers for Jubilee, the 4 Barons for Regent and the Southern Harmonaires for Apollo. According to doowop researcher Philip Groia: “The Larks were the first group to employ the bass singer in the “doe-doe-doe” style—taking the place of the bass fiddle, in its absence on the street corner, in a way subsequently made popular by the Moonglows (on “Sincerely” and “Most Of All”) as well as a raft of others from both coasts.” I don’t think they ever had a nationwide hit but titles like the ever captivating “My Reverie,” “Little Side Car” (a reworking of Smokey Hogg’s “Too Many Drivers”), “Stolen Love” (a hit for the Flamingos), Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Eyesight To The Blind,” “In My Lonely Room” and “I Live True To You” as well as a host of worthy others, however, met with little commercial success and the Larks split up in the mid-1950s with many of the members pursuing solo careers. Further picks include a couple of Mumford originals (check out “When I Leave These Prison Walls” and “Honey From The Bee”), revivals of two Lucky Millinder compositions (“Darlin’“ and “I Don’t Believe In Tomorrow”) and a few finger-snappers on the order of the country-ish “Coffee, Cigarettes And Tears,” a jazzy “I Ain’t Fattenin’ Frogs For Snakes” and the pop title “My Heart Cries For You.” All in all, the Larks were standard bearers for the raft of vocal harmony groups that came after them but whose career was over by the time “Rock Around The Clock” topped the charts. Long Live the Larks!—Gary von Tersch
Reverend Shawn Amos
The Cause Of It All
Put Together Music CD www.shawnamos.com
The son of music agent-turned-entrepreneur Wally “Famous” Amos (of gourmet cookie fame) and R&B club singer Shirley May, blues torch-bearer Reverend Shawn Amos honors some of the blues greats with this ten track album accompanied solely by Doctor Roberts on both acoustic and electric guitars while his buddy works out on harmonica and, often unbridled, vocals, in a down-to-earth duo format that sounds live-in-a-room with spartan arrangements, bullet microphones, lotsa fret buzz, laughter and plenty of defiant foot stomping calling to mind the historic pairings of both Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. I’ll let Amos himself briefly comment on each of the covers, save three—beginning with Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful’ (“Willie Dixon is the Gershwin of the blues—I’ve sung this song more than any other, going back to my earliest L.A. club days.”) Followed by Lester Butler’s “Goin’ To The Church” (“This is modern blues that gets it right, that really swings”), followed by Muddy Waters’ “Still A Fool” (“I wanted something gutbucket with deep twang”), followed by Howlin’ Wolf’s “Color And Kind” (and as for the laughter following the Rev’s unhinged harmonica solo: “It’s a moment of insanity”). Next up is a hypnotic, trance-like cover of John Lee Hooker’s classic “Serves Me Right To Suffer,” a single, one-chord song that offers him the space to have regrets, desire righteousness and, I guess eventually “pay-back”: “It’s like a tone poem” and on to another Willie Dixon number, “I’m Ready,” that kicks off side two (the acoustic side) on an optimistic note with the pair tonally shifting yet also emotionally vulnerable while “quintessential blues,” Amos calls the oft-recorded “Baby Please Don’t Go,” the sole traditional number here, that fruitfully amalgams several versions of the classic title. Little Walter (the only harp player in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame) and Muddy share the closing three tracks—the former is the Rev’s “favorite harp player” whose songs “were never sweet or tender, but were still vulnerable, wounded” while the bedrock Muddy covers are alertly chosen—“Hoochie Coochie Man” is centered around the Rev’s joyous, upside-your-head harp solo while “Little Annie Mae” (circa 1948) is a great example of a Delta and Chicago blues blend that works. Worth checking out.—Gary von Tersch
Nineteen Hand Horse
This Northern California-based group, pulled together by the accomplished team of singer/songwriters Nathalie Archangel and Mark Anthony Montijo, appealingly blends outlaw and classic country with rock, blues and good-time bar band music into a sound that recalls the glory days of George Jones and Tammy Wynette or Johnny and June Cash. The ten tracks on their debut disc “reveal the rich history of the band that enjoins the grit, honesty and clarity of an old Sun Records session with the tasty modern studio wizardry of today,” as the press notes aver. I might add that the pair also consistently come up with some of the most razor-sharp lyrics that I’ve heard in a while, taking the listener through a diabolically humorous though occasionally heartrending expedition across decades and archetypes. The title track, for instance, unashamedly deals with how our society treats its elderly folks. According to nurse practitioner Nathalie: “I have worked with this population and it is no cliche to say that ‘aging is not for sissies’ especially in the good ol’ USA.” Other picks would begin with the OFFBEAT “The Withering Romance Of Trains” and “Remarkable Dude” that pay homage to the inspirational attitude of veteran roots musician Ray Wylie Hubbard while both “Just Another Honky Tonk Night” and “Nineteen Hand Tale” hearken back to the classic country duets mentioned above. Also noted are the semi-autobiographical numbers “Something Beautiful” and “Ghost Train,” that “details the ‘Peter Gunn Theme’ for a new generation,” quips Nathalie. Look for the band’s upcoming YouTube show entitled “Horsin’ ‘Round@ The Songbird Lounge” for more. Nifty stuff!—Gary von Tersch
The Trio Sessions
Blue South Records 2021
Recorded in 2019, slated for release in 2020, finally out, after a pandemic-induced delay, in spring 2021, “The Trio Sessions” makes its worthy debut. This is Georgia singer, songwriter, and guitarist Kight’s ninth album since she earned a Blues Music Award nomination in 2004 as Best New Artist. (She has since been nominated six more times, including for both Traditional and Contemporary Female Artist of the Year.) Eschewing a full band format, she and her acoustic guitar are teamed with electric guitarist Ken Wynn and percussionist/harmonicat Gary Porter on a cruise through eleven tunes. (OK, spoiler: bassist Sean Williams adds depth to six of the tracks.)
Demonstrating a fearless approach, the trio of musicians ambitiously covers a triad of blues classics. “Evil,” penned by the prolific Willie Dixon, was made famous by Howlin’ Wolf but Kight cites as her influence a version by the late “Queen of the Blues,” Koko Taylor. This version sports a workmanlike harmonica solo by Porter followed by a nice guitar solo by Wynn but is distinguished by Kight’s potent and raspy vocal that would have pleased Taylor. “Come On in My Kitchen,” by Robert Johnson, “the King of the Delta Blues,” has been covered myriad times and here is again embellished by some fancy Wynn fretwork, and nice backing vocals by him and Porter.
The last cut of the set is the iconic Leonard Cohen composition, “Hallelujah.” It’s almost impossible to ruin this magnificent song, and the trio certainly doesn’t; reflective of her heritage in the church, Kight delivers a delicate yet passionate vocal.
Among the remaining eight tracks, the prevailing theme is the hoary blues trope of unrequited or thwarted love and the wisdom thereby gained from it. The titles reveal that theme: “Burned,” “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” “Falling,” “Alone Too Long.” There is also “Tell Me,” a slow, almost country song with somewhat perplexing lyrics: is Kight appealing to a former lover who is willfully forgetting his prior commitment to her, or is he suffering from dementia/true memory loss?
Regardless of the ambiguity, the track fits well with the rest of the set, showcasing a talented singer making compelling music in a trio setting.—Steve Daniels
Ain’t Skeert Tunes 2021
Recently on my blues radio show (“Views of the Blues,” Monday 1 to 4 PM Pacific time; www.kcsb.org) I played six hours of blues songs using food as a metaphor. There are a LOT of them; they could have occupied countless more hours. Fortuitously, at the same time a new album arrived from Kansas City bluesman Jimmie Bratcher, and it’s a whole album of blues food songs. Surprisingly, most of them are not double entendre songs about sex and/or love; they are about…food!
Bratcher parlayed his 1960’s passion for rock-and-roll, country, and blues, and for such influential heroes as Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash, and Jimi Hendrix, and Kings Albert and B.B., into a budding career. After a hiatus to deal with personal and family stresses, he re-emerged in the late 1990s as a Christian pastor and revived bluesman, combining the two pursuits with his love of food and skill as a chef. Now known as “the Electric Rev,” he is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and author of a memoir with his daughter and a cookbook with his wife. “I’m Hungry” is a companion album for the cookbook.
Don’t look for recipes in the dozen tunes, but anticipate witty lyrics and catchy hooks. Ten of the tracks are originals. Of the covers, Keb’ Mo’s “Government Cheese,” at over five minutes the set’s longest track, proves that this band of Bratcher, drummer Terry Hancock, bassist Craig Kew, and keyboardist Aaron Mayfield can do fine without the addition of harmonica or horns. The other cover is the Little Milton classic “Grits Ain’t Groceries,” morphed from a soul blues into a shuffle and graced by some impressive guitar rendering.
Another shuffle, “Mama Won’t Fry No Chicken,” is a sad lament for the loss of poultry in one’s menu due to health concerns. Maybe it doesn’t matter, though, because “Chicken Tastes the Same” everywhere…and there is an appealing substitute (at least for some) anyway: see “Bologna Sandwich Man.” What you don’t want to consume, as attested by a New Orleans-inflected track, is “Green Bananas.” Oh, yes, there is a double entendre song, “Baby, I Like What You’re Cooking.”
Piano and organ contributions on the set are exemplary, by both Mayfield and three guests. Two drummers replace Hancock on several tracks without loss of verve. Bratcher deals out nice vocals and a lot of stinging and saucy guitar leads. The set comprises a meal of juicy blues.—Steve Daniels
The Right To Rock
Bear Family CD
Sub-titled The Mexicano and Chicano Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebellion, this jam-packed 37 tracker is a riveting compilation of Mexican and Latin American artists (1955 to 1963) that pays tribute to the cultural components of the Chicano movement of the 1950s—today as pertinent in terms of border walls and racial segregation as it was then with the musical roots of current artists like Carlos Santana, the Texas Mavericks and Los Lobos aurally evident. Disc-wide the focus is on the tougher side of rock ‘n roll—no “La Bamba’s” here—as famous and near-famous artists such as Trini Lopez (with his anthem-like “The Right To Rock”), Freddy Fender (“Jailhouse Rock” and “Don’t Be Cruel”), Chan “Hippy Hippy Shake” Romero, Eddie Quinteros, Chuck Rio, ill-fated Ritchie Valens (“Ooh! My Head”) and Chris Montez take turns with lesser known COLLEAGUES like the Los Gibson Boys ( with a great version of “Good Rockin’ Tonight”), Lalo Guerrero (ditto “Hound Dog”) the Augie Garcia Quintet (“Hi Yo Silver”), Los Teen Tops (“Good Golly Miss Molly”) and Los Xochimilcas with “Rock Rollin’ Rock.” An accompanying, 36 page booklet includes bios and discographical info for each artist as well as a detailed introduction to the music’s historical, cultural and unavoidably political backgrounds as well as a profusion of rare period images, illustrations and attendant memorabilia. A real eye-opener!—Gary von Tersch
Trio in Tokyo
Blue Heart Records 2021
A true international bluesman, Rob Stone was born in Boston, where he fell in love with blues harmonica after seeing Charlie Musselwhite perform. He relocated to Chicago and spent years there fronting his own band and backing a hall of fame list of blues greats. He now resides in Los Angeles but continues to tour Japan annually. Among his musical cohorts in Japan is bassist Hiroshi Eguchi, who spent years perfecting his skills in Chicago and completing the ensembles of Mavis Staples and Sugar Blue. Another is pianist Elena Kato, trained classically but steeped in blues after living in New Orleans for several years.
The result is the fruitful collaboration of this album, Stone’s first acoustic release. The synergy shared by the three principals is sweet as they explore ten tracks, nine of them wisely chosen covers. One of them was penned by saxophonist Big Jay McNeely, “the King of the Honkers,” with whom Stone was planning a project aborted by McNeely’s death in 2018 at age 91. Big Jay’s own song, “There Is Something on Your Mind,” and “What Am I Living For?” are dedicated to McNeely by Stone and reflect Stone’s respect for his late colleague and mentor. Both are slow tracks imbued with Rob’s melancholy tenor vocals and soulful harmonica stylings.
That harmonica, and the piano and bass, are heard crisply throughout the recording. That’s one of its delights. Too often keyboards and especially bass are delivered low in the mix of band albums and cannot be appreciated fully, but here the virtuosity of all three musicians is easily distinguished…in both senses of the word.
Several of the covers are upbeat and danceable, including “Poison Ivy,” done in the past by Johnny Ace, and jump blues master Louis Jordan’s “Jack You’re Dead.” “Money Hustlin’ Woman” by another jump blues legend, Amos Milburn, proceeds at a slower tempo and showcases some of Kato’s most lovely playing. Not to be ignored is Stone’s only original tune of the outing, the instrumental “Blow Fish Blow!” Stone halts the tune abruptly right after it starts and refreshingly admits to hitting a wrong note; when the trio resumes, the track sizzles, Rob at his best on the mouth harp. Following is the set closer, an extended rendition of the Lead Belly standard “Goodnight Irene,” movingly capping a fine album.—Steve Daniels
The Lizzard Kings featuring Charles Ponder
Jim Crow’s Shadow
Memphis songwriter/guitarist Wally B. Ford founded the Lizzard Kings in 1995 and after a short run the group was disbanded until a few years ago when it reappeared with the charismatic Charles Ponder as frontman/singer. Ford and Eddie Dattel have been a well-known songwriting team for years on the Memphis scene and beyond. They were the primary songwriters for the critically acclaimed Daddy Mack Blues Band from 2010-2015 and wrote all of the material on Jim Crow’s Shadow. The album opens up with the catchy “Love Shuffle,” where Ponder trades phrases with singer Daphne Greenleaf as Ford’s overdriven guitar lurks in the background. The title track follows and is particularly powerful, built on a Bo Diddley-like beat and borrowing from the standard “Mystery Train.” It speaks of how much things haven’t changed for a Black man in today’s America with lines like “Jim Crow’s shadow darkens every single door” and “I’m still fighting/struggling like my grand daddy did before.” Carl Wolfe’s alto sax opens up the sexy “Curve Appeal,” sounding exactly like a vintage Stax Records recording. “So Gone, So Long” is a homage to the “Big Easy” and Louisiana with some nice lead guitar from Jesse Branstetter, who also contributes to the opener. Lizzard King guitarists Steve Seligman and Wally B. Ford play solos on two songs apiece and the album also features lead guitar work from guest axmen like Brad Webb, who plays slide on “Highway Blues” and “Jim Crow’s Shadow,” and Taylor Orr, whose fat, Santana-influenced sound is a nice contrast on “It’s Over Now,” where Charles Ponder’s soaring vocals make that track a definite highlight. With lead work from five different guitarists, producers Eddie Dattel and Ford do a great job of keeping the album cohesive from top to bottom. The acoustic-based “Red, White, Blue & Green” is a nice change of pace, featuring Eric Hughes’ harmonica, who also plays on the title track and “Black & Blue.” The Lizzard Kings’ rhythm section of bassist Tim Goolsby and drummer Dwayne Caudell handle all the various grooves with ease and the background vocals of Daphne Greenleaf and Melissa Van Pelt Johnson add warmth to four of the eleven tracks. — Bob Monteleone
Everyone Worth Knowing
A Short Story Collection
By Jeff Richards
For full disclosure, author Jeff Richards and his wife Connie are very good friends of Big City Rhythm & Blues Magazine. Like Sugar and Junior, they have sailed on many Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruises and even graciously invited them to their summer retreat in August on Martha’s Vineyard. Little did we know what a prolific writer Jeff Richards is until he published “Open Country: A Civil War Novel in Stories” (2015) and his more recent noir novel “Lady Killer” (2019). For 2021 Richards gives us “Everything Worth Knowing – A Short Story Collection.” The book’s cover art with the “Crossroads” 61/49 in the distance is a clue that there may be something about the blues in these short stories and two of the stories — “Cool Guitar” and “Crossroads” — have them. These two short stories were actually inspired by Jimmy Thackery & the Drivers (“Cool Guitars and “Levee Prayer”). Coincidentally Thackery & the Drivers are from the Washington D.C. area near where the Richards live in Takoma Park, Maryland. The main character – the protagonist in “Cool Guitar” is down on his luck, drinking more than playing. While buying more booze, the liquor store clerk tries to sell him a mint condition 1968 Lake Placid blue Fender Stratocaster. Richards weaves the story along, dropping some possibly autobiographical blues notes: “My pleasure is the blues. They have infected me ever since Jimi and Cream entered my consciousness. Like ‘Strange Brew’ led me to Albert King doing ‘Crosscut Saw.’ And Cream and Jeff Beck led me to Howlin’ Wolf...” And Richards tempts the character to get back to the blues and buy that “Cool Guitar” mentioning how the late great ‘Smokin’ Joe Kubek lived in a school bus located in a junkyard in Dallas. Stevie Ray Vaughan never graduated from high school. Howlin’ Wolf grew up on a plantation in Mississippi. You know he wasn’t the owner’s son. Buddy Guy’s career was held back by Leonard Chess of Chess Records because he thought Buddy’s novel style was ‘motherfucking noise.’”
Richard’s short story “Crossroads” is about Bobbie Lee who finds his long-lost friend “walking down a dusty dirt road with a guitar slung over his shoulder…” He asks Leon where he has been and he replies, “I been up to Mississippi where I met these two fellows at the crosssroads, one named Robert Johnson; the other a tall dark stranger. I don’t know who that stranger was. He vanished, but afterwards Robert and me played music together. Then Robert died, and that’s why I’m back here.” It is the classic blues tale even though it was originally Tommy Johnson’s. The tall dark stranger brings good luck to Bobbie Lee, a preacher and Leon, a musician – who together start a church from nothing and just when they think they have life’s puzzle figured out, the levee breaks. “I’m thinking of how all these years, I thought I knew how those puzzle pieces fit together. But I don’t. I’m like a blind man in the dark room. Even if I switch on the light, I can’t see,” says Bobbie Lee.
Richards’ 17 short story collection, “Everyone Worth Knowing,” is full of life, interesting characters and familiar backdrops with just enough drama that make you wonder what will happen next and leave you wanting more. – Sugar Mae
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