Blues CD Reviews Aug/Sept 2014

Laura Rain And The Caesars
The exotic kitten with smoldering looks on the cover is not just eye candy, this lady is truly the complete package. A statuesque black haired pin up beauty, she has the moves of a modern day Ikette and is a force to be reckoned with. Laura Rain’s classically trained voice can be a siren’s wail that will grab hold and lift you to the heavens, flip you every which way but loose then drag you back to earth with a grit that penetrates deep into your soul. This queen wields power over The Caesars, a trio of world class Motown soul warriors. Band leader, guitarist and son g co-writer George Friend toured with Robert Gordon and Janiva Magnus but knew Laura “was the one.” The band is filled out with Ron Pangborn, rock/jazz drummer of Was Not Was and Phil Hale, a veteran of the church and Aretha on keyboards who also handles bass with his left hand. But it’s Laura’s vocals and stage presence that propel this band.
The title tune “Closer” has a Stax groove that adds the horns of Johnnie Evans and John Douglas with a female backing vocals. George is “Squawkin’” some Albert King-styled licks as Miss Rain sets him straight with no apologies. Then slipping into a cool but heavily distorted thump “Seasons” takes on a harder rock sensibility for those hot vocals. There ain’t no middle of the road to soul but on “Meet Me In The Middle” the vocal phrasing is used like a horn line trading off with the organ, horns and guitar as they go around. Laura double tracks her own call and response vocals so it truly is “All Of Me” as the piano and guitar take on the same musical stance. George plays some Clapton like lines on “He Is” as Laura makes him her own “Dirty Man” and the funky organ brings out the “Super Duper Love.” An uncharacteristic “My Heart Is Open” has a gentle piano leading into a quiet vibrato-heavy Miss Rain that would fit in an early Brenda Holloway Motown ballad that builds to a soaring finish fading back to solo piano.
Laura Rain And The Caesars are approaching a breakout with “Closer.”—Roger & Margaret White

The Mannish Boys
Wrapped Up

and Ready
Delta Groove 2014
What do you do after winning a Blues Music Award (BMA) from the Blues Foundation for Best Traditional Blues Album, in 2013?  The same thing, equally well.
This is the seventh Mannish Boys album since their debut in 2004.  Basically an ensemble of some of the finest West Coast blues musicians, the band stays its steady course with a generous 75 minute display of basic 12-bar tunes, with a few variations.  The set is anchored by a core lineup of veterans Kirk Eli Fletcher and Franck Goldwasser (“Paris Slim”) on guitars and producer and label founder Rand Chortkoff on occasional harmonica, all of whom appeared on the 2004 release.  In the interim a few notables have departed, sadly including great vocalist Finis Tasby, still recuperating from a severe stroke, but they have been solidly replaced.
 In Tasby’s stead, emerging as a capable star in his own right, is Sugaray Rayford.  Providing the pipes on ten of the sixteen cuts, Sugaray proves that he can croon and definitely that he can roar; this is one of the most powerful singers around, and sure to be a luminary on the blues scene for years to come.  Other vocals are provided by Chortkoff, Goldwasser, Bay Area guitar maven Steve Freund, perennial BMA nominee Candye Kane, and Trenda Fox.  The latter chanteuse was unknown to me, but her contribution on “Can’t Make a Livin’ “ is impressive.
 The rhythm foundation is handled by Willie J. Campbell on bass, Jimi Bott
on drums, and creative (and sadly under-recognized) California veteran Fred Kaplan (Hollywood Fats Band, Hollywood Blue Flames) on piano.  Abetting Fletcher and Goldwasser on guitar are Freund, Monster Mike Welch, Laura Chavez, and (yeah! he’s back!) Kid Ramos, and for aficionados of harmonica we have masters Kim Wilson and Bob Corritore and teenage newcomer Jacob Huffman.  The list of credits on this album is book-length.
What about the music?  Consistently excellent: good songs, outstanding musicianship, fine vocals….Standouts include “Everything’s Alright,” a jump blues with horns backing Sugaray; “I Idolize You,” featuring the tandem of Kane and Chavez; “The Blues Has Made Me Whole,” with guitar and vocal by Freund; and the extended instrumental closer, “Blues for Michael Bloomfield,” with incendiary guitar solos ranging from the flashy to the slow and poignant by Fletcher and Goldwasser.
 These folks had better be planning their next award acceptance speeches. Steve Daniels

Rod Piazza And The Mighty Flyers
Emergency Situation

Blind Pig CD
Harmonica virtuoso Rod Piazza and his current crowd-pleasing Mighty Flyers combo have been entertaining audiences globally for nearly ten years now and it certainly sounds like it on this chemistry-rich eleven track project—their third for the enterprising Blind Pig label. As Piazza opines: “This CD contains some of the coolest blues jewels and innovative originals—the Sam Myers and Jimmy Rogers tunes (Chicago classics “Sleeping In The Ground” and “Tricky Woman”) are a tribute to some past friends and the three originals (the hard driving title song, a suavely vibrant “Frankenbop” and the soulfully edgy “Colored Salt”) are SOLID!!” I couldn’t put it any better. Ably assisted by his talented, piano pounding wife Miss Honey (an Otis Spann disciple), boundary-pushing guitarist Henry Carvajal drummer David Kida, acoustic and electric bassist Norm Gonzales and saxophonists Ron Dziubla and Jim Jedeikin, Piazza is in tip-top, wide-ranging form on his own Mississippi saxophone and in-the-vein vocals—mentored by Muddy’s former harp player, George “Harmonica” Smith, the now white-haired Piazza is not only a master of the tough Chicago style (think Little Walter or Sonny Boy Williamson) but can comfortably shift gears into West Coast-oriented jump blues, postwar jazz, boogie, swing and rhythm & blues territory when the mood strikes. Further exciters start with great redos of a couple of songs by the under-recorded James “Wee Willie” Wayne (the minor hit “Neighbor Neighbor” and a downbeat “Bad Weather Blues”), a rocking reprise of Big Walter Price’s passionate tale of a “Gambling Woman,” ditto an energetic version of Lee Dorsey’s hit “Ya Ya” (with Carvajal taking the vocal) and a heartfelt tribute to the ill-fated Johnny Ace with one of the best reincarnations of his “The Clock” I’ve ever heard. Bar-walking blues all the way.—Gary von Tersch

Dave Fields
All In

FMI Records
Dave Fields grew up in NYC, learning his trade first-hand at the side of his father, Broadway composer Sammy Fields. Making his name in commercial music before moving on to his award winning blues recording, Dave is on the move again with his fourth CD “All In.” He’s in 100%: he’s the composer, singer, producer, mix/masterer and plays most of the instruments with the help of Kenny Soule on drums and Tony Tino or Andy Huenerburg playing bass.
This new disc is more rock oriented in tone while keeping a blues based edge and the songs reflect “Changes In My Life” with Dave demonstrating his skill with guitar licks and tricks worthy of Steve Vai, recorded live in Al Weber’s New York studio. Others recorded live are the alluring “Voodoo Eyes” featuring spellbinding guitar leads and the epic “Not Gonna Let You Get Away” with Vladimer Barsky on organ and Barsky stays on for the Earl King-influenced number, “Got A Hold On Me.” While giving a light swing groove to Led Zeppelin’s heavy rock tune “Black Dog” recorded live in Norway, Dave’s guitar technique switch to a grinding drone driving his cover of Robert Johnson’s “Cross Roads” which is barely recognizable until the last gritty lick. “Wake Up Jasper,” featuring Dave Keyes on piano, is a gritty roadhouse blues rocker that roars with earthshaking guitar licks. The retro “Let’s Go Downtown” is a Prince-like call to party in NYC with a funky groove and all the moves and Dave sings “That’s All Right.” Cutting all the bombast, a delicate flighty guitar rings over the ominous tone of “Dragon Fly,” soaring to heights in the lead. The “Lover’s Holiday” drops all pretensions with a light acoustic finger snapping New York City Doo Wop delight.
Dave Fields puts everything into each of his endeavors and with “All In” it’s just another side to this talented multifaceted artist.—Roger & Margaret White
Deak Harp
Clarksdale Breakdown

Deak Harp Records 217-218-2194
The legend of Deak Harp has deepened with the release of his “Clarksdale Breakdown.” No one knows the real name of this mythic figure who began his odyssey at age 12 after hearing the music of James Cotton. He haunted the east coast for five years in his quest for “Superharp” before Cotton offered Deak a job driving his van for another six years. Short in stature, his knowledge is broad enough to support the blues on his own, he don’t need no band. A one-man show playing harmonica and guitar, keeping rhythm with foot drums while singing ain’t new. His unique sound comes from his harp rig, put together from scrap metal and duct tape, run through a heavy amp turned up to full volume. But all of this is just for show: the real instrument is Deak Harp himself.
The “Clarksdale Breakdown” joins the monster tone of Deak’s harp, plodding rhythm and the alternating drone and slide of his guitar. Stepping up “If You’re Ever In Clarksdale” adds his vocals and history with a guided tour of his new stomping ground. “Juke Jump” might be his theme for Red’s, his guitar leads getting the dancers kicking up their heels as his harp’s throaty roar urges “Dirty Rosie” on with harp and guitar taking dueling leads, and as the evening advances into “Up All Night Blues,” the music slows but not the intensity. Deak’s epic tale of hard times blues, surviving winter living in his truck “Under The Bridge” playing outside a bar to get enough money to drink and howlin’ for “Mad Dog 20/20” but this dog’s got some bite adding Bill Abel on second guitar here and on “It’s Alright.” A full band plays on “Delta Wind” and “Bubba Blue” with Randy “Da Bones Man” Seppala on drums along with the harp and dual guitars. Going solo again for the grand finale a Wammer Jammeresque “Yellowhammer Breakdown” and “Ridin’ The Rails” a train tune that has the explosive power of a locomotive building up to speed.
Deak is truly living the blues at Deak’s Mississippi Saxophones & Blues Emporium at 13 Third Street, Clarksdale, Mississippi, down the street from Ground Zero. Stop in for his custom harps, repairs, instruction or just a good time.—Roger & Margaret White

Music City Vocal Groups
Greasy Love Songs Of Teenage Romance, Regret, Hope And Despair

Ace CDTOP2 1385
New Orleans-native Ray Dobard’s Music City operation had its beginnings in Berkeley, California in 1950 as a one-stop to supply 78 rpm blues and jazz records to East Bay jukeboxes in the thriving black neighborhoods in and around Oakland and Richmond during and just after World War II. Dobard experimented recording his own acts early on but didn’t take matters seriously until 1954—over the next two decades he managed to fill over 1,500 reels of recording tape that “captured every form of black American music,” as astute liners author Jim Dawson puts it. He continues: “This two CD set presents what originally made the label a favourite of devoted 45-rpm collectors all over the world: funky, sweaty, raw, sometimes dissonant but always sincere doo wop.” And then some. Included among the 50 slabs of tear-stained wax (34 previously unreleased) are numbers by a raft-load of mostly local vocal groups, many of whom just walked in the front door of Dobard’s Alcatraz Avenue music store to demonstrate their talents in his makeshift back-room studio. Among the more well-known groups that Dobard actually released a few 45’s on, I was most impressed by the Midnights (with their deep-toned “Cheating On Me”), the Rovers (their second single was a smooth eulogy for the recently departed Johnny Ace) and San Francisco’s Gaylarks, who were, reportedly, an entertaining live act as well. Among the relative unknowns delivering their quivering, nay quavering, “evocations of teen angst couched in the simple poetry of raw emotion” favorites encompass tracks by the likes of Oakland High School’s gospel-trained Holidays, the trendy San Francisco-based club combo Al Lewis (actually Al Rapone, the brother of zydeco star Queen Ida Guillory) and the Modernistics, a group of servicemen from the nearby naval base at Alameda called the Derbys (with a great a cappella version of the Tune Weavers’ 1957 hit “Happy Happy Birthday Baby”) and the Creations—with their tortured rendition of the Spaniels’ “You Gave Me Peace Of Mind.” Back to Dawson: “This is doo wop straight from the street-corner heart, with all the romance, regret, hope and despair intact.” Enjoy!—Gary von Tersch

Wardell Gray
Way Out Wardell

Boplicity CD 014
When the Bihari brothers’ Modern record label released this five track project in 1956, modernistic West Coast tenor saxophone pioneer Wardell Gray had been dead for almost a year. Issued to, hopefully, cash in on the Lester Young-influenced Gray’s early and violent death (his body was found dumped on the side of the road just outside Las Vegas, case still unsolved) the material was recorded at a pair of Gene Norman’s Just Jazz live shows fully nine years earlier at either Pasadena’s Civic Auditorium or Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium and also, fortuitously showcases a host of fellow, then just then-emerging, beboppers on the order of Errol Garner, Howard McGhee, Barney Kessel, Vido Musso and Benny Carter alongside the charismatic Gray—basically, “the bebop revolution brought to Los Angeles,” as detail-laden liners author Dean Rudland expostulates. Three of the tracks are longer than ten minutes with plenty of solo space for everyone—a sizzling cover of the standard “Sweet Georgia Brown” features a particularly exhilarating solo passage by transplanted New York trumpeter McGhee while the boppish take on “Just You, Just Me” has some numbing, yet relaxed, fretwork courtesy of Mr. Kessell and an inventive, high and ratchetingly fast version of his former boss Count Basie’s classic “One O’Clock Jump” has Gray at his most exciting a la Dizzy Gillespie. The remaining titles are briefer with “Blue Lou” featuring Gray rhythmically leaping bars in tandem with pianist Garner as Gray pays homage to sax stylist Dexter Gordon while the plush ballad “Tenderly” is invitingly ribbed by Garner’s delayed-action melody line. With Gray’s recorded legacy quite sparse it’s great to have this “live” release available once more. Yardbird is smiling somewhere.—Gary von Tersch

Wayne Cochran
Goin’ Back To Miami: The Soul Sides 1965-1970

Ace 2-CD 1303
As Alec Palao opines in his introductory booklet essay: “For nearly twenty years, Wayne Cochran and his C.C. Riders filled clubs and ballrooms across America with his consistently thrilling, well-oiled, deeply funky rhythm and blues showcase.” Since the early 1980’s, Pastor Wayne Cochran has run a church ministry in Hialeah, Florida and no longer performs but this two-disc project recalls the blue-eyed and tall-pompadoured entertainer in his prime and at his wildest—with a compelling program of determinedly raunchy R&B, trendy country soul and biker funk. Included are a variety of his club classics (signature, dance-floor filling versions of Bob and Earl’s jumping “Harlem Shuffle,” Cochran’s own rocker “Goin’ Back To Miami” (currently the theme song for the Miami Dolphins) and an uncharacteristically reflective rendition of Charlie Rich’s country hit “Life’s Little Ups And Downs” among them) alongside rare single cuts like a stunning recall of fellow Georgian and good buddy James Brown’s “Think” and an all-out redo of bluesman Willie Dixon’s “You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover,” and some exceptional, previously unissued material—try the free-for-all version of Tommy Roe’s “Everybody” and an arrestingly soulful “If It Don’t Fit, Don’t Force It” for starters. And that covey of tune mentions is just a small dent in the 25 cuts on disc one. Disc two is a real treat, comprising a previously unissued, full-band “live in the studio” set from his Las Vegas prime and, again quoting Palao: “Features a program heavy with Stax and Otis Redding material along with Cochran’s fervently engaging exhortations and philosophical asides and raps, even if the brass-heavy arrangements occasionally veer into the arena of the schmaltzy.” Picks are fiery covers of kindred spirit Sly Stone’s “Dance To The Music,” soul-drenched excursions on Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” “Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)” and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” among others, a wicked romp through Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man” and a twelve-minute, mind-expanding, Motown-raimented interpretation of the Temptations’ “I Wish It Would Rain.” Maybe one of these days, Cochran will show up at one of the occasional reunions of the much-missed C.C. Riders. Palao’s photo-filled liners engagingly connect the dots.—Gary von Tersch

The Nighthawks

EllerSoul Records
The Nighthawks are the quintessential American Band, touring the past forty years and judging from their latest CD, “444,” they won’t be slowing down anytime soon. Over the years the lineup has changed, sole original member Mark Wenner on harmonica with ‘new’ band members guitarist Peter Bell (who’s been with the band the last eight years but his blues resume goes back more then twenty), Johnny Castle (a hard rock, bluegrass, country, funk bassist who toured with Bill Kirchen for a decade) and drummer Mark Stutso (who played with original Nighthawk guitarist Jimmy Thackery for two decades). The whole band sings lead and backing vocals, their harmonies are a rarity in a blues band, but that’s the thing, they’re not just a blues band - they’re practically an American institution.
The Hawks come strutting out of the 444 tour van with “Walk That Walk,” a four part harmony doo wop jaunt then swerves into “444 A.M.” a rockabilly thrill ride with Bell bending his strings around the curves with the drummer riding his rims. The cover tune, “Got A Lot Of Livin’” is a faithful rendition from the 1957 Elvis movie “Loving You” including the Jordanaires-styled backing vocals. Wailing, “You’re Gone” cause his woman left him in Detroit, but finds happiness with his “Honky Tonk Queen.” The scream of steel strings tells of the high “Price Of Love” and the slide guitar slips into “Nothing But The Blues” and goes even deeper with “No Secrets.” Going back to the roadhouses the Hawks have played most of their lives with “Livin’ The Blues” then sliding deeper with the classic “Louisiana Blues,” the harp covering the traditional leads and a light slide fill during the vocals. The mojo hits a spooky minor key with an ode to the lowly “Crawfish” and continues down into the deep water of “High Snakes.” “Roadside Cross” is an acoustic travelers lament for those tiny symbols of grief that populate too many of our highways today.
The Nighthawks journey of “444” through blues, rockabilly, doo wop and country is all American music from an American band.—Roger & Margaret White

Sleepy John Estes
Live In Japan With Hammie Nixon

Delmark CD
Born near Ripley in Lauderdale County in eastern Tennessee but raised and based in Brownsville, Tennessee, blues poet Sleepy John Estes made his recorded debut in 1929 for RCA Victor in Memphis, accompanied by boyhood pal Yank Rachell on mandolin, with vivid numbers like “Broken Hearted, Ragged And Dirty Too” and “The Girl I Love, She Got Long Curly Hair.” After a five year hiatus, he recorded for Decca until World War II broke out in 1941, then again in 1951 for Sun but, upon becoming totally blind he shortly retired to his home in Brownsville. That is where Delmark’s enterprising Bob Koester (with a tip from Big Joe Williams) found the still active 63 year old bluesman in 1962 and orchestrated an entire second career for him, with new recordings and festival appearances all over the U.S. as well as in Europe and the Far East. This reissue of an obscure Japanese album from the 70’s proffers 21 expertly recorded “live” tracks from Estes’ Far East 1974 and 1976 tours, often accompanied by another longtime buddy, the irrepressible Hammie Nixon on, variously, harmonica, kazoo and jug. The most interesting cuts are the final three, with Estes accompanied by a crack Japanese combo on the traditional “Jesus Is On The Mainline” and his bluesily buoyant original saga of the “Brownsville Blues.” Still in expressive, chemistry-rich form the pair also shine, with Estes’ unique “crying” vocal style to the fore, on originals like “Broke And Hungry,” “Divin’ Duck Blues” and the jivey “You Shouldn’t Say That” as well as on traditional covers like “Tin Pan Alley,” “Rats In My Kitchen and “Potato Diggin’ Man.” As producer Steve Tomashefsky puts it to close his memory-laden liners: “Though these tracks are among the last that John and Hammie made together, they are among the best. When great artists connect with great audiences, magic can happen.”—Gary von Tersch

Karen Lovely
The Prohibition Blues

Self-released, 2014
Way back in the 1920s and 1930s, there was less distinction between jazz and blues than there is now.  Free form jazz barely existed, and the blues genre was dominated by bands with horns and by a pantheon of dazzling female vocalists.  Few of them played instruments, other than their own voices, but that was more than enough.  If you aren’t familiar with them, check them out; many fine compilations exist.  The most famous sport names probably familiar to you: Ma Rainey, Victoria Spivey, Sippie Wallace, and of course, the Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith.  Don’t stop there; also worth a listen are Clara Smith, Mamie Smith, Ivy Smith (there are probably more Smiths!), Ida Cox, Margaret Carter, Bessie Jackson, Geeshie Wiley…the list is long.
Karen Lovely is a contemporary chanteuse of the blues from Portland, OR, with a compelling voice.  “The Prohibition Blues” follows her fine 2010 album, “Still the Rain,” and maintains its high quality.  Recorded live at Jimmy Mak’s in Portland, it combines the excitement of a live recording with a true reverence for the old-style blues of those almost-century-old distaff warblers of lust and woe.
For a live recording, the sound mix is very good.  The jazzy horn contributions of Joe McCarthy, Bradley Lee Ulrich, and G. Douglas Bundy feature prominently, as does the terrific piano of David Fleschner.  Alan Hager’s guitar makes several pithy appearances, and the bass and drums, though less audible, provide steady background support.  Appropriately out front are Lovely’s vocals, which are appealingly brassy, as befits the songs of those assertive pioneer women, but also smooth and silky when called for.  In my opinion, standout cuts include “Last Kind Words” and “Pick Poor Robin Clean,” both recorded originally in 1930-1931 by Geeshie Wiley (and available on the great CD compilation, “American Primitive, Vol. II,” on Revenant Records).  On both songs Lovely is accompanied on vocals by guest guitarist Mary Flower.  “Last Kind Words” is one of the most beautifully moving blues songs ever, and Lovely does it justice.  
Other highlights include the finger-snapping “Everybody Loves My Baby”; the poignant slow blues, “Nobody Knows You,” with fine piano and clarinet accompaniment; and the raunchy “If I Can’t Sell It [I’ll just sit on it!].”
My only regret: composer and original performer credits are missing, and a history of these gems of the early 20th century would be a worthy addition to the album.  However, the album easily merits multiple listenings, and may lead many appreciators back to its sources of inspiration.— Steve Daniels

Cathy Lemons
Black Crow

VizzTone 2014
Based for years in San Francisco after a stint in Texas, Cathy Lemons sports an impressive resume including associations with Anson Funderburgh, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and John Lee Hooker, who used her as his frequent opening act.  In her first release since her 2009 collaboration with bassist Johnny Ace, “Lemonace,” Lemons delivers a diverse set of ten songs ranging from the tangy to the titillating to the turbulent, all distinguished by her unique vocal style and backed by a stellar group of musicians.  Production is well handled by Lemons, multi-instrumentalist Steve Gurr, and ace producer (and Rick Estrin and the Nightcats’ lead guitarist) Kid Andersen.  The result is a notable release.
Blasting off with the R-&-B style “I’m a Good Woman” (credited to Kim Wilson, who at last check was a man), the album segues into “Ain’t Gonna Do It,” a sinuous and sultry statement of assertiveness.  It’s followed by one of the six Lemons-composed tunes, the title cut, a moody slow blues reminiscent of one of Doug MacLeod’s atmospheric outings.  Next is the infectious, uptempo “Hip Check Man,” introduced by Gurr’s harmonica and demonstrating an irresistible momentum.  “You’re in My Town Now” establishes Lemons’ cred as a tough woman not to be messed with, and sports some nice piano by Kevin Zuffi. 
We’re halfway through the album now, and there’s a lot more quality music to come, including a fine slow blues, “I’m Going to Try,” and a great driving shuffle — named, appropriately, “Texas Shuffle.”
Lemons has a voice which can do both tough and sultry, and she adds piquancy with some spoken phrases that highlight lyrics and add unexpected emotional impact.  Several songs feature Lemons providing overdubbed vocal harmony to excellent effect.  Throughout, I was impressed by Steve Gurr’s chops: the man is a fine harmonica player, and plays understated but eloquent guitar.  So far this year, this is one of my favorite albums. — Steve Daniels

Kenny Parker
Yes Indeed

Blue Angel Recordings
Kenny Parker, is a Detroit classic going back to the ‘70’s with Mr. Bo and was long time guitarist for the Butler Twins. Though Parker has only released one other solo recording, 1998’s “Raise The Dead,” its history tells a lot about Kenny. While on a European tour with the Butler Twins, London-based JSP Records heard Kenny and signed him. “Yes Indeed” could also qualify as a comeback CD: Kenny has recovered from brain tumor surgery just last year. His band consists of some Detroit stalwarts: Kenny’s a better guitarist than singer so he turned that over to Garfield Angrove on vocals and harp with Renell Gonzalves on drums, Bob Conner and Mike Marshall cover the bass, Tim Brockett and Chris Codish keyboards while the horn players are Larry Lamb on sax and Andy Wickstrom on trumpet with Al Rude who engineered, mixed & mastered “Yes Indeed” at Motor City Recording Service.
The title tune is an easy swinging blues stroll as the guitar fires off leads over horns, piano and backing vocals while “Valentine’s Day” has tension radiate from the grooves. A slow burner with a slinky groove, “Tight Black Sweater” has a talking blues delivery. “Spellbound” has a cutting Landreth-like slide but many of Parker’s lyrics have the flow of rock poet Chuck Berry and “Look Before You Leap” even reminds you of Berry’s “Sweet Little Rock & Roller” at a reduced tempo. The guitar darts and jumps on “Wig Hat” as Reverend Lowdown’s vocals growl while Little Walter’s “Can’t Hold Out” and “I’m Gonna Make You Mine” are a tour de force for Garfield’s harp. Parker lets loose with a fiery version of “Okie Dokie Stomp” and another retro instrumental fling with Ike Turner’s “Cuban Get Away.” The awe inspiring finale is Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” an instrumental with just a repeating piano figure and a spectral slide guitar at the end of the CD that stops you dead in your tracks.
Kenny Parker’s “Yes Indeed” could be listed as the Kenny Parker Band. The consummate bandleader, he often defers to other band members to make his songs the focal point. “Yes Indeed” —Roger& Margaret White

Dudley Taft
Screaming In The Wind

American Blues Artist Group CD
Cincinnati-based, blues-rocking guitarist and thunderous vocalist Dudley Taft’s very accurately titled third solo project, released on his own label, was not only expertly produced by Grammy-winner Tom Hambridge (difficult to do with a rip-roaring blast-furnace talent like Taft) but also showcases the hard-gospel B3 organ playing of Reese Wynans (whose former boss was Stevie Ray Vaughan) on five tracks—picks are the rampantly visionary “3DHD,” a glorifyingly tempestuous “The Reason Why” (great solo) and the soulfully admonishing Taft co-write “Tears In Rain.” Also noted are a couple of scintillating, homage-paying covers - Skip James’ elemental classic moan “Hard Time Killing Floor” and Freddie King’s super-tight “Pack It Up” - that also features the venerable Muscle Shoals Horn Section. Taft succinctly comments on the latter title: “We poured gasoline on it and lit a match.” Other favorites begin with the achingly descriptive “Barrio” (add some smooth gospel harmonizing by the talented McCary Sisters), a smoking instrumental called, what else? “Red Line,” that catchily-riffed title song and the closing “Say You Will”—with Taft commenting: “It has an epilogue, where the gears shift and a David Gilmour influence surfaces, taking the listener off into oblivion.” Oblivion-loving fans of that classic, ZZ Top barn’s-on-fire sound or Led Zeppelin at their bluesiest should definitely give Mr. Taft a listen.—Gary von Tersch

Deanna Bogart
Just a Wish Away…

Blind Pig 2014
Let’s clear up some questions first:
1. Is Deanna Bogart a stellar songwriter, singer, keyboardist, and sax player?
2. Is her new album good?
3. Is Deanna Bogart a blues artist?
4. Is her new album a blues album?
My answers:
1. Yes
2. Yes
3. Probably not, but she’s “bluesy” enough to pass for one, and usually does
4. See 3. It’s primarily a jazz, soul, rock, and singer-songwriter album
Clocking in at a relatively short 46 minutes, this set of seven originals and four covers finds Ms. Bogart in the studio, leading a classy group of musicians and providing her own vocal overdubs on several tracks. The approach is eclectic, ranging from the opening rocker, “If It’s Gonna Be Like This,” to the slow solo piano tune “Back and Forth Kid,” to a couple of horn-driven efforts that stir the soul soup.
Surprisingly, Bogart, known more for her piano than saxophone expertise, plies the keys front and center on only a few tunes. When she does, though, it’s notable, particularly on the Stevie Ray Vaughan/Doyle Bramhall composition, “Tightrope,” in which she improvises a couple of delightful jazzy solos on the 88s.
Although there is a full horn section on three cuts (musicians are credited but their instruments not specified), Bogart herself really cuts loose on the sax on two syncopated delicacies, “Maybe I Won’t” and “Conversing with Lincoln”; the former is also distinguished by a brief but pithy guitar bridge courtesy of Derwin “Big D” Perkins, who acquits himself well through the set. He is accompanied on two numbers on lap steel guitar by Marty Rifkin, whose contribution on the J. D. Souther song, “If You Have Crying Eyes,” is mighty fine. That particular song also features nice guitar work and a vocal duet with Bogart by Cris Jacobs; the harmonies he and she produce are beautiful.
Kudos must be accorded the bass guitarists and drummers on the album, duties carried on most of the cuts by Charlie Wooton on bass and Terrence Houston on percussion. Especially compelling is their work on “Fine By Me Good Bayou,” sporting an absolutely killer beat abetted by additional percussionist Rafael Pereira.
Bogart’s singing throughout displays her rather unique style of melisma and staccato phrasing; it’s interesting that she sings most smoothly and movingly on the slower numbers.
Winner of three Blues Music Awards, several more nominations, and dozens of other accolades over the last couple of decades, Deanna Bogart continues to deliver quality goods. — Steve Daniels

Walter Trout
The Blues Came Callin’

Provogue 2014
This album by blues rocker Walter Trout is a cry from the heart that must be appreciated with pensive awe.
First, look at the photo of Trout on the back of the jewel case. Is that Walter Trout? Formerly a burly bear of a man, he appears startlingly older, wizened, and downcast. Read the liner notes, and if you weren’t already aware of it, you will learn that at the time of the album’s release in early 2014 Trout was suffering from liver failure and awaiting a liver transplant to save his life. The good news is that he successfully received a transplant and is recuperating with plans to resume touring in 2015.
Nothing clarifies the mind like impending mortality; in this case it has stimulated creativity as well. Of the dozen songs on the CD, ten are composed by Trout and they present the dominant themes of desperation, dread, defiance, and devotion. Thankfully, lyrics are included in the liner notes, and are worth savoring. The opener, “Wastin’ Away,” is self-explanatory; “Lookin’ in the mirror, I don’t know who I see…I’m livin’ day to day, and I feel like I’m wastin’ away.” In “The Bottom of the River,” Trout intones: “I noticed so much beauty/As I crawled up on the shore/That day I changed forever/From who I was before.” Other titles adumbrate the continuing theme: “Take a Little Time,” “The Whale Have Swallowed Me,” “The Blues Came Callin’,” “Hard Time.”
Musically, Trout lost no chops during the recording of the album through 2013. This premier string shredder has his own inimitable style, but also on several songs evokes memories of Jimi Hendrix, and on the instrumental “Tight Shoes” there is an undeniable stylistic affinity to past numbers by guitar masters Roy Buchanan and Jimmy Thackery.
Trout’s back-up crew is solid, his singing is more than competent, and he even provides some credible harmonica fills. Starting at a high level, the set list really blasts into the ether with “Mayall’s Piano Boogie,” penned by Trout’s old bandleader John Mayall, who tinkles the ivories appealingly. It’s followed by
“Born in the City,” with some dazzling fretwork, and the album lands a haymaker with the closer, “Nobody Moves Me Like You Do,” a long, slow blues love song (to Trout’s wife, one may presume) with a heavy emotional punch.
Let’s hope that we have Walter Trout for a long time to come, for his sake and ours.— Steve Daniels

Adam Gussow
Kick And Stomp

Modern Blues Harmonica Productions
One man bands have a long history in the blues - there is nothing more basic than a man sitting on a porch blowing a harmonica and stomping his feet. But don’t think this old school style can’t be made to sound fresh. Gussow found his first calling in 1986 as part of the duo Satan and Adam with the foot percussion and guitar of Sterling Magee. But the true revelation came in 2008 at the sight of Deak Harp stomping and blowing solo through a big PA on the sidewalk in Clarksdale. Shortly after that he received a mini stomp block as a gift then up graded to a mini drum kit. He says “The format shouldn’t work, but it does because it’s nothing more than a contemporary updating of the old Deep South groove. I’m running my harp through a pair of tube amps because the over saturated power trio sound of Cream was a first love.” “Kick and Stomp” is Adam Gussow’s first release as a solo performer, singing, blowing amplified harp, and kicking a bass drum and tambourine pedal with no loops or overdubs. This is a one man show from start to finish as both a solo performer and producer.
The title tune starts up “Kick and Stomp” and it gives Adam a platform for his flights of harp fantasy. Half of this disc are Adam’s original songs: “Shaun’s Song,” “Buford Chapel Breakdown,” “Mr. Cantrell” and “Down Ain’t Out” are instrumentals, illustrating that he may be one of the best harp players anywhere. The other half are cover tunes, some you might expect like “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” “Every Day I Have the Blues” or “Goin’ Down South.” But when you first recognize the progressions of “Sunshine of Your Love” or Cream’s version of “Crossroads Blues” played on harp and drum that he truly makes these classics his own. The same can be said of “Poor Boy,” which invokes the same power the Wolf brought while being completely different in character. The final cuts are a study in contrasts: “Sugar” from the jazz sax of Stanley Turrentine played in 3rd position to Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” played in 1st position sounding like a century old minstrel show.
Adam Gussow has moved from upstate New York to Oxford, Mississippi and with “Kick and Stomp” it sounds like he fits right in.—Roger & Margaret White

Dozzler & Van Merwyk
Darkest Night

Groove Stew Records 2014
Blues is revered by many in Europe, as attested by myriad successful tours there by U.S. blues artists, and extended sojourns there by some. (Think Luther Allison, Memphis Slim, Nat Dove….) The acoustic sub-genre has its adherents and disciples, typified by such contemporary performers as guitarist/singer Hans Theessink, and recent International Blues Challenge winners Georg Schroeter and Marc Breitfelder. In fact, worthy European challengers are an annual fixture now at the IBCs.
Michael Van Merwyk, former second prize winner of the IBC in the solo/duo category, has now teamed up with noted pianist Christian Dozzler. Their first album has a lot to recommend it. Weighing it with close to an hour of blues from the jaunty to the desultory, its thirteen songs include covers of tunes by Hound Dog Taylor, Percy Mayfield, and Bumble Bee Slim, as well as seven originals. The men share the vocal duties, and Dozzler displays some impressive harmonica prowess in addition to his stylish keyboard renderings. Van Merwyk plays adept guitar without any egotistical flash that would detract from the inherent subtlety of a duo presentation, and even plies an outing on a diddley bow. (How often do you see that seminal instrument deployed these days?)
Not only proficient, these guys are also versatile. “I’m Gonna Rock Some More” is a rocker, as implied, with a nice mid-tempo beat and compelling piano intro. At the other end of the spectrum, “Some Cold Rainy Night” fits the bill as a late night introspective piano bar lament. “Black Ace” affords Van Merwyk the opportunity to stretch out with some laudable slide guitar, and the final tune, “Darkest Night,” shows the duo at its most evocative in a slow-paced ballad. My personal favorite is “Sir Wilson’s Bounce,” a lilting instrumental that exhibits Dozzler’s deft ability on the 88s in tandem with Van Merwyk’s six-string nimbleness.
If there is any down side, it’s the singing. Dozzler’s tenor goes down well but his range is limited; Van Merwyk’s range is even narrower, and his occasionally raspy attempts at grab a note and imbue it with emotion don’t always succeed. Over-all, though, the album is a low-key pleasure; it contradicts the curious assertion in their song “Ain’t No Bluesman” that instead, “I’m a family man.” Perhaps inadvertently they demonstrate that it’s possible to be both.— Steve Daniels

CD Reviews June/July 2014

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