Charlie Musselwhite
I Ain’t Lyin’
Henrietta Records 2015
These days it’s acknowledged that Charlie Musselwhite is not only a maestro of the blues, but also its doyen. His longevity may be rivaled by James Cotton, Lazy Lester, and Billy Boy Arnold, and a few others, but his timing, tone, and taste are arguably nonpareil. Highly respected by his fellow musicians, he is also popular with fans, as attested by his 30 Blues Music Awards garnered from the Blues Foundation’s fan base. The quality of the albums he has been releasing on various labels for almost 50 years is consistently high; here is another that hits the mark.
Partly recorded live at a festival in Sonoma, CA, in Sept. 2014 and partly laid down in a studio in Clarksdale, MS, the set comprises ten basic 12-bar tunes, all but one composed by Musselwhite, presented impeccably by the man himself on harmonica and bandmates Matt Stubbs on guitar, Steve Froberg on bass, and June Core on drums. (I specify Musselwhite’s concentration on harp because - unbeknownst to many - he also happens to be a skilled guitarist.) Most are mid-tempo, and they hew to a stable pattern: instrumental intro, vocal, harmonica solo, vocal, guitar solo, vocal, harmonica solo, end vocal and instrumental coda. In lesser hands the predictability could be tiresome, but this quartet keeps it fresh with its virtuosity.
A pleasant feature of the set is the wry humor of many of Musselwhite’s lyrics. In “Good Blues Tonight” (a syncopated blues with Latino flavor, of which we get two versions), he sings: “I ain’t no doctor, I ain’t no doctor’s son, but I can ease your pain ‘til the doctor come; I ain’t no engineer, but I can drive your train.” Sexual double entendre is also featured in several other songs, particularly his apparent attraction to “long lean lanky” women; no big-leg women on this disc. The tough road of the blues is acknowledged; in one of the best tracks, “Blues, Why Do You Worry Me?” he intones, “If blues don’t kill me, I wasn’t intended to die.”
Throughout, Froberg lends solid but unobtrusive bass support, and Core provides a steady beat with mighty fine fills and flourishes. Stubbs dances up and down the guitar neck with a heady mix of single notes and chords, at times reminiscent of the late great Hollywood Fats and other times creatively original.
Musselwhite handles the vocals adeptly with his trademark baritone interspersed with the occasional rasp and growl, supply sliding into some choruses just before or after the beat.
Oh, yeah: Charlie’s harmonica work. Well, let’s just say that he gets it right, moving from high to low register in dazzling runs of facility, flair, and emotion. Ironically, the only cut which didn’t enthrall me was the lone departure from the 12-bar format, a rendition of “Christo Redentor,” which he has recorded numerous times previously and probably played thousands of time live. He has delivered better versions, but that cavil hardly detracts from the value of the album.— Steve Daniels

Gaynielle Neville
Woman Power
Gaynielle Neville comes with big-time name recognition. Married to Cyrille Neville, that makes Art and Aaron Neville relatives, as well. But, the Austin native doesn’t hang on anyone’s coat tails. She’s been singing all of her life and she’s a road veteran with world wide experience. Woman Power is her debut disc and it’s as infectious as her smile. Soulful and funky, she’s backed by a band that knows about the pocket. She wrote or co-wrote all but one tune pointing to a greater dimension of talent. On top of that amazing voice are intelligent and thoughtful lyrics. And a talent for dressing up the groove. This is an album heavy on the groove. Everything here impresses. Clap Your Hands has a dance groove driven by guitarist Cranston Clements, Boyanna Trayanova’s drums, Jan Clements’ piano and Cyrille Neville’s percussion. The female backing singers caress and surround Gaynielle, who works the medium tempo groove with a sexy and sassy sauce. When she sings, “I feel your hands around my waist/you have that look on your face,” you know somebody is a lucky dance partner. Her high note sudden ending is as unexpected as it is effective.
On Caught in the Crossfire she sings of the violence of the streets. “How many babies have to die before we learn the value of human life?” The piano is especially poignant here, complementing the vocals and the lyric. She sings with passion and precision. On the ballad Love Shouldn’t Hurt she sings about domestic violence and emotional pain. She sings, “When you smack me in the face that isn’t love my brother.” These are thoughtful and moving words that should be widely distributed. The only non-original here, New Orleans Ladies, is medium tempo, musical and sexy. She sings, “We sashay by” and you can imagine the rustle of the dress or the wiggle of the skirt. And the eyes that follow the ladies.
It Ain’t My Fault has a finger-snapping, front line steppin’ groove. Perfect drums and percussion and super horns (Cory Henry, trombone and Travis ‘Trumpet Black” Hill). “Meet You Halfway” is a gorgeous medium tempo ballad (“I want to take the burdens right off of you”) that begs for candlelight and wine. The title cut rocks in a LaBelle sort of way. Gaynielle bends notes like few can. When she sings about woman power you know that she’s as much a feminist as she is an independent, strong and soulful woman. She sings, “We don’t need praise from drooling men,” and you know she’s a bad mamma jamma, as they say. Props need to be given to Liryca Neville, Deri’andra Tucker, and Dane Ruffins whose backing vocals complement Gaynielle, and to bassist Cassandra Faulconer and organist Keiko Komaki. The musicians are all first-rate, which only seems right when working with the Queen of New Orleans. In a year marked by a handful of impressive women vocalists, Woman Power stands near the top. —Mark E. Gallo

D.A. Foster
The Real Thing
Shaboo/Vizztone CD 001
Beginning as a teenager and all through his twenties, D.A. “Lefty” Foster cut his teeth on the blues as a hands-on co-owner of the legendary Shaboo Inn—a renowned R&B and jazz, 1000 seat nightclub in northeastern Connecticut where he learned to sing the naturalistic, deep blues from some of the greats (Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Koko Taylor, Albert King and T-Bone Walker for starters), subsequently forming his own band in 1979, the Shaboo All-Stars, with longtime buddy and tough-as-nails guitarist Matt Murphy—who was fresh from his starring role in the Blues Brothers movie and recording and James Cotton’s band. They toured the country for the next two years and when the Shaboo closed down in 1982, Foster and fabulous bassist Harvey Brooks began a five-year run with the All-Stars, during which they opened for the likes of B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The versatile vocalist is joined here by long-time pals (and co-producers) Mike Finnigan and Tony Braunagel and their fabulous, Grammy award-winning Phantom Blues Band on twelve of Foster’s favorite oldies. Highlights include reverberative versions of a couple of latter-day Bobby “Blue” Bland classics (the declarative “Ain’t Doin’ Too Bad” and an ultra-moody ballad titled “This Time I’m Gone For Good”) as well as soulful reincarnations of a pair of songs associated with Ray Charles—an organ and tambourine embellished “I Need A Good Woman Bad” and the reeling and rocking “Smack Dab In The Middle” that sounds like 1956. Other drop-deaders are great recalls of both Z.Z. Hill’s relaxing “Down Home Blues” and Eddie Hinton’s hips-wiggling slice of braggadocio—”Super Lover.” Five stars!—Gary von Tersch

Cracking The Cosimo Code
’60s New Orleans R&B And Soul
Ace CD TOP 1402
The recently unearthed Cosimo Code is an open-ended, website-based discographical means (see above) of sequentially documenting the thousands of 1960s recordings that emanated from the legendary Cosimo Matassa’s tiny pair of studios in the Crescent City’s French Quarter. Compiled and featuring extensive notes by Red Kelly, John Broven and John Ridley, this 24 track project brings the Code’s numerical data to life by answering many of the enigmatic questions that encircle most of the New Orleans-based R&B and soul recordings from the post-Imperial Fats Domino era. A raft-full of young producers on the order of Allen Toussaint, Mac Rebenack (Dr. John), Harold Battiste, Huey Meaux and Wardell Quezergue were now “behind the glass” and crafting music with a funkier, more soulful edge to it while still employing the omnipresent New Orleans street rhythms—Jessie Hill’s “Ooh Poo Pah Doo,” Robert Parker’s “Barefootin’,” Aaron Neville’s “Tell It Like It Is,” Barbara Lynn’s pop-charting “Second Fiddle Girl” and Lee Dorsey’s “Get Out Of My Life, Woman” come readily to mind. All included here as well as such regional hit gems as Earl King’s “Trick Bag,” Oliver Morgan’s “Who Shot The La La” Eddie Bo’s “Lover & A Friend” and Danny White’s “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” and, best of all, plenty of superb rarities like the cross-dressing Tick-Tocks with “I’m Gonna Get You Yet,” Dave Bartholomew and his Orchestra’s bawdy “The Monkey Speaks His Mind,” Huey “Piano” Smith emulators The Party Boys with their wild “We Got A Party” (“Bring on the whiskey...I can hardly stand up”) and Blazer Boy with his all-out rocker “New Orleans Twist.” Amazingly, Cosimo had no competition in the 1960’s—thus cracking the Code reveals a mirror image of the local recording scene as it happened and as Kelly comments: “It wasn’t all R&B and soul either—there was virtually every other genre of music, including gospel, Cajun, rockabilly, country, psychedelic, garage rock and trad jazz (even flamenco).” Sounds like we’ve got a lot of great listening on tap!—Gary von Tersch

Rev. Payton’s Big Damn Band
So Delicious
Shanachie/Yazoo CD
Outside-the-box, country blues fingerstyle and slide guitarist and high-spirited vocalist Rev. Peyton and his big-sounding band accomplices, composed of his wife Breezy on exhilarating washboard and churning drummer Ben Russell (both also lend supporting vocals to the proceedings), reestablish their juke joint-noisy, genre-bending sound on their Yazoo debut—an ingenious mix-up of vintage blues, ragtime and folk strains with dashes of country, old-timey and an inordinate dollop of rustic, yet punk-edged, rock ‘n’ roll. As the Rev. puts it: “Yazoo was my favorite record label growing up. For fans of old country blues and all manner of early American music, they are the quintessential label. And for me, it’s like being on the same label as Charley Patton and Mississippi John Hurt.” Compelling picks among the eleven-song, all-originals set vary from somewhat restrained contemplations like the autobiographical “Picking Paw Paws,” an astute music business commentary “Scream In The Night” and a resplendent “You’re Not Rich” to a resonator guitar fulcrum-ed incantation “Raise A Little Hell,” the belly-full post-repast “Pot Roast & Kisses” (written for Breezy), a charging testimonial called “Music And Friends” and the adventurous “Let’s Jump A Train.” Well worth the search!—Gary von Tersch

Preston Shannon
Dust My Broom
Continental Blue Heaven 2014
“The King of Beale Street,” Preston Shannon holds down a regular biweekly gig at B.B. King’s Blues Club in Memphis. “Dust My Broom” is a set of seven tracks comprising a tribute to slide guitar great Elmore James, augmented by five more tracks with Shannon’s sometime Dutch accompanying band, Fat Harry and the Fuzzy Licks, anchored by noted bassist Henry Oden.
Tribute it may be, but only three of the songs are credited to Elmore James in the liner notes. The album kicks off with one of them, “Done Somebody Wrong.” Eschewing slide, Shannon instead provides zesty single note guitar ventures along with his supple and slightly raspy baritone vocal. Horns chime in (musicians unnamed), and the cut carves a template for the rest of the album: soul-based blues reminiscent of another deceased luminary, Little Milton Campbell.
Strangely, the second tune, “It Hurts Me Too,” is attributed in the liner notes to Hound Dog Taylor, although most historians believe James to have penned it. Regardless, Shannon deploys the slide and gives it a laudable treatment, as he does with “Look Over Yonder Wall,” which he modulates into a danceable near-shuffle.
Next we enjoy a diversion to the Muddy Waters tune, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” another horn-driven excursion that segues to “The Sky Is Crying.” The latter is my favorite cut of the album, sporting some beautiful guitar playing by Shannon and a style again recalling Little Milton and even the old Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s version of the classic “Double Trouble.”
“You Gotta Move” follows; this ostensible rendition of the Reverend Gary Davis/Mississippi Fred McDowell original is unrecognizable, but enjoyable on its own terms. The Elmore James tribute section concludes with the inevitable “Dust My Broom,” once more adding some Memphis spice to James’s classic version.
The final five songs, with the Dutch band, veer into soul and funk territory, with some B.B. King-style guitar licks thrown in for piquancy, and the set concludes with a long rendition of Prince’s “Purple Rain” featuring Shannon’s crooning punctuated by his intermittent growls and whoops. Overall, a worthy outing.— Steve Daniels

Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King
Fat Man’s Shine Parlor
Blind Pig 2015
Returning to their previous record label after stints with Alligator and Delta Groove, adept duo Kubek and King have produced another quality album for Blind Pig that burnishes their quarter-century resume of musical partnership.
Having penned the entire dozen new songs, the duo demonstrates its virtuosity with standard twelve-bar outings, shuffles, some Hendrix-style psychedelia, and even a touch of heavy metal riffing while blues remains the foundation. In contrast to their last album, which featured guests Kim Wilson and Randy Chortkoff on harmonica and Kid Andersen on guitar, Kubek and King rely on the solid rhythm section of Shiela Klinefelter on bass and Eric Smith on drums. Actually, solid is an understatement: Klinefelter’s four-string foundation is impeccable, and Smith’s drumming is a revelation: unerring and inventive without ever being obtrusive.
“Got My Heart Broken” opens the set at a fast boogie pace, followed by “Cornbread,” introduced by Kubek’s heavy metal chording and featuring alternate guitar leads by the two principals. The lyrical “Diamond Eyes” leads into two twelve-bar cuts, “Crash and Burn” with its Allman Brothers-flavored opening and “River of Whiskey,” a lament about the callow promiscuity of youth. “Don’t Want to Be Alone” slows things down and evokes memories of Peter Green’s guitar renderings with early Fleetwood Mac, followed by “Brown Bomba Mojo,” a rocker with Hendrix-influenced guitar pyrotechnics.
“How Much,” about the travails of touring, and “One Girl by My Side” introduce humor into the mix, segueing into the instrumental shuffle “Lone Star Lap Dance,” a vehicle for both Kubek and King to display their impressive chops. The CD is capped by “Done Caught the Blues,” a rueful reflection on being caught cheating, and “Headed for Ruin,” a cautionary tale about the pernicious appeal of distilled spirits.
Those who have seen Kubek and King perform live know that Kubek’s undeniable skill on the ax is rivaled by King’s subtler and more jazz-inflected solos. On this album, Kubek’s leads dominate, but King’s ventures and the occasional interplay between the two guitars add piquancy and variety. King handles all the vocal chores with aplomb and panache, his supple tenor pleasing throughout. Kudos must also be given to Smokin’ Joe’s production, and mastering by Joyride Studios; the clarity of this recording is exemplary.— Steve Daniels

Igor Prado Band and Delta Groove All-Stars
Way Down South
Delta Groove 2015
We know that music is the universal language, and that blues has had an enthusiastic presence for many decades in Europe. Here’s more proof from the Igor Prado Band that blues is alive and well in South America.
Guitarist Igor, his drummer brother Yuri, and their bandmates Rodrigo Mantovani on bass, Denilson Martins on saxophone, and Ari Borger on piano are all in their late 20s or early 30s, but have been a thriving and impressive Brazilian blues band for at least a decade. Their collaboration with Lynwood Slim (Richard Duran) on his 2010 album, “Brazilian Kicks,” introduced them to a North American audience. “Way Down South” is dedicated to Slim, who sadly died in 2014.
Recorded in Brazil at various sessions from 2012 to 2014, the album features the band in collaboration with a series of star players from the roster of Delta Groove Music. The baker’s dozen songs are all covers, and span a range from West Coast jump style to gutbucket Chicago electric grit to 1960s blues-soul ballad to spare acoustic country blues. Throughout, the band acquits itself admirably while primarily giving support to the guest luminaries. Igor in particular is relatively quiet, his adept guitar chops only emerging on a few solos, particularly toward the end of “Rooster Blues,” a version distinguished by the harmonica playing and singing of Wallace Coleman. If anyone stands out from the band, it’s Borger and his mastery of the 88s.
What a great list of guests appear! Up and coming blues vocalist Sugaray Rayford lends his chops to “Big Mama Blues” and the opener, “Matchbox”; Kim Wilson (overdubbed on his vocal two tracks) sounds as smooth as ever.
Mud Morganfield does his daddy Muddy Waters proud on Muddy’s “She’s Got It,” one of my favorite tunes on the CD, and the silky vocals of Lynwood Slim on “You Better Believe It” and the rollicking “Baby Won’t You Jump with Me” remind us of how we miss him. Mitch Kashmar lends his underrated singing and jazz-inflected harmonica artistry to “What Have I Done.” Wallace and Omar Coleman handle one vocal each. Last but not least, the conjugal duo of Rod Piazza on vocal and harp and spouse Honey on piano lives up to Rod’s intro on “Talk to Me Baby”: “We gonna cut this sucker, baby; we got all the powers now.” Enlivened by a stellar solo by Igor, they deliver on Rod’s promise.
My only quibbles: the liner notes don’t identify who plays which solos on the two tracks in which Igor shares guitar duties with Mike Welch and then Junior Watson; and the band stays too far in the background while letting its guests shine. Igor’s vocals are competent, although less impressive than those of his guests, but it’s time to let this band loose on an album all its own; the band can easily thrive on its own merits.— Steve Daniels

Lucky 3 Blues Band
Blues Time
Lucky 3 Records
With the advent of young stripped down blues rock bands on the scene these old school Chicago players of the Lucky 3 Blues Band are taking contemporary blues in a modern direction and you the listener is hitting the jack pot. This bare bones trio of Jay O’Rourke playing guitar, Frank Raven blowing harp and Jim Desmond kicking out the vocals were bitten by the blues bug at an early age and spent years working the Monday Jams at Buddy Guy’s and blowing alongside Jerry Portnoy and Carey Bell. Now they’re itching to play their own blues. With O’Rourke’s early years as a sound engineer in Techno music he brought in drum machines without losing a true blues feeling. I listened to it several times before I realized it was just 3 guys on harp, guitar and vocal instead of a full band. Their self-released CD “Blues Time,” a five song EP with a raw edged intensity is twenty minutes of pure blues thrills.
With every song having the word blues in the title they’ve jump started the disc with Raven taking the lead on harp as Desmond declares it’s “Blues Time” baby and pushing ahead with Jay’s dirty guitar licks overtaking the rolling harmonica they’ve got the “Blues On the Run” and there ain’t no need to call 911. An assault of wailing guitar, boisterous vocals and howling harmonica the Lucky 3 deliver their own take on “Evil” with “Blues Don’t Live Here Anymore.” Bringing down the tempo, the haunting guitar licks and wavering harmonica has Desmond attesting to the fact that the “Blues Will Never Leave You.” Closing out with a determined force they explode across the groove to give you the “Blues You Can Use” over the harp refrain of Sonny Boy’s “Help Me.”
If you’re willing to take a chance on an innovative band with deep blues roots the Lucky 3 Blues Band’s new CD “Blues Time” may be your bonanza of blues.—Roger & Margaret

Madison Slim
Close...But No Cigar
All About Blues, INC
Madison Slim is the man who played with Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Sam Lay and was the legendary harp in The Legendary Blues Bands. After years of touring Slim decided to bid farewell to the road to reflect on the Florida gulf coast sunsets and thought he’d closed the book on his blues career. But when he met fellow Bradenton Florida resident Doug Deming he found a like-minded soul and a whole new chapter opened before him. His retirement has become enjoying the beach, blowing harp with Doug Deming & The Jewel Tones and sitting in with touring friends like Bob Margolin. Now Slim is back in the studio with some of the hottest players in the land, The Jewel Tones, fellow Florida resident Terry Hanck on sax with Chicago’s Billy Flynn and Barrelhouse Chuck on guitar and piano with Doug producing “Close...But No Cigar.”
Pumping out a sound as genuine as you’ll find anywhere in Chicago over the last fifty years, the harp moans in Eddie Taylor’s “Big Town Playboy” with Slim’s age-mellowed voice hitting the sweet spots then takes a tough stance for Slim Harpo’s “Bread Maker Baby” where Slim’s reeds have a metallic ring. For Billy Boy Arnold’s “Kissing At Midnight” the guitars are channeling Magic Sam while on Willie Mabon’s “Would You Baby” Slim lays out his slickest jive with Chuck and Terry tearing it up. Madison takes complete possession of Muddy’s “I Got to Find My Baby” and you believe his call of “I need a hundred dollars” on Floyd Jones “Stockyard Blues,” because Slim is retired. Doing a pair of Jimmy tunes, Reed’s “New Leaf” is a rockin’ high harp blow out, then mellows on Rogers “If It Ain’t Me” as Chuck rolls one and hits his stride on Domino’s “Let The Four Winds Blow” as Slim’s vocals take a leisurely stroll. Some of the best rockers are Eddie Bond’s “Blue Coat Man” where Barrelhouse Chuck flaunts his chops under Slim’s restrained verses then Tarheel Slim’s “Wild Cat Tamer” is driven by a staccato piano as Billy’s guitar whips it hard and fast. “Close But No Cigar” has an easy loping stride similar to Memphis-era Wolf shadowing Hubert on guitar. The only tune Slim has penned is “Florida Blues,” they say it’s a slow life down there and Slim blows the instrumental cool and mellow.
With a title of “Close....But No Cigar,” all I’ll tell Madison Slim is, no cigar? Damn I’d swear this blues was smoking!—Roger & Margaret White

Steve Earle & The Dukes
New West Records 2015
Widely acknowledged as a seminal genre of American music, the blues has drawn tribute forays from such diverse artists as Cyndi Lauper, Tom Petty, and the actors Hugh Laurie and Bruce Willis among many others. Such outings often elicit the perennial question, ‘Is it the blues?’ Many of us, including respected musicians, reply either: ‘It’s all music’; ‘labels are meaningless’ or, ‘If it has a blues sensibility, it doesn’t have to fit a 12-bar format to be the blues.’
Renowned Grammy winner and respected country rocker Steve Earle now takes his turn, announcing in this album’s liner notes that he always knew “that one day, when it was time, I would make this record,” i.e., a blues record! In crafting all eleven songs, Earle deploys the literary skills which have distinguished his many past efforts, including not only songs but a previous novel. Check out these lyrics:
“I’m the king of the Blues thirteenth of the line
The first of my name and the last of my kind
One foot in the grave and one hand
On the handle of time
Descended directly from St. John the Conqueroo
And the king of the blues.”
The album is replete with wry, erotic, and soulful lyrics, which progressively improve after the most forgettable track, the opener, “Baby Baby Baby (Baby),” in which that one word appears more than 60 times and constitutes almost 50% of the verbiage.
The question remains, though, is this a blues album? Well, I concede that there are actually three or four indisputable blues tunes. “The Usual Time” is a Jimmy Reed/Slim Harpo-style shuffle, abetted by Earle’s competent harmonica renderings. The brief “Acquainted with the Wind” is a mid-tempo boogie that sounds remarkably like John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom Boom,” and “King of the Blues” is a slow track with distorted guitar evoking Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young, and sporting the intriguing lyrics sampled above.
One of my favorite tracks is the penultimate, “Gamblin’ Blues,” a no-frills ditty which skirts the border between country blues and simply country, and is distinguished by some tasteful acoustic guitar.
The remainder of the cuts are pure country or country rock…pleasing and adept, for the most part. Especially effective is “The Tennessee Kid,” a mesmerizing slow talking tale of an encounter between the Kid and “Lucifer, Satan, Mephistopheles, and Beelzebub” that evokes Robert Johnson’s apocryphal meeting with said devil at the crossroads and is certainly “bluesy” in sensibility. Earle really nails it on this one, making excellent use of his raspy tenor vocal. In sum: thanks, Mr. Earle, for tipping your hat to the blues; I like a lot of it; now go back to what you do best.— Steve Daniels

Larry McCray
The Gibson Sessions
Nine albums into his career Larry McCray has taken a bit of a detour. The scenario is usually one of a rocker wanting to give props to his blues roots, not the other way around. McCray is a first class blues man who came up like a lot of folks — listening to rock radio and playing along with the hit makers of the day. The key to covering an artist’s music is to reinvent it and make it your own. McCray understands this perfectly and puts his own stamp on an even dozen classic radio rockers from Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Seger, ZZ Top, the Marshall Tucker Band, the Doobie Brothers, Billy Preston, Ray Charles, Uriah Heep, the Rolling Stones, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Blues purists may have difficulty swallowing that set list. McCray fans, those with an appreciation for his monster chops, will be on board.
Does everything here work? No. But most of this is a load of fun. Backed by his regular band of Steve McCray (drums), Noel Neal (bass), and Johnny Neel (keyboards), the presence of a few guest stars sweetens the pot. On the opener, Needle and the Spoon, Derek Trucks trades licks with McCray and the results are electrifying. An anti-heroin song from 40 years ago, it’s still relevant and, where Lynyrd Skynyrd used a three guitar front line, McCray and Trucks do it with two. His version of Waiting for the Bus is clever for taking Billy Gibbons’ signature guitar sound and adding his own burn. Definitely one of the standout numbers.
I’m No Angel, a standard Gregg Allman vehicle, sees McCray joined by David Hidalgo of Los Lobos to impressive effect. Dickie Betts shares the stage with McCray on a fiery take of the Marshall Tucker Band’s Can’t You See. Betts is one of the greats in blues rock and his interplay with McCray is stellar. Both guitarists are in extraordinary form. Also of note is McCray’s version of Born On the Bayou. One would think that the Creedence version was untouchable, but McCray gives it his own twist. The result is more than impressive. The same can be said about these rockin’ rollin’ Gibson Sessions.—Mark Gallo

Bernard Allison Group
In The Mix
Jazzhaus CD 106
Breezy Rodio
So Close To It
Windchill CD 1001
Iconic blues guitarist and vocalist Bernard Allison’s first new studio album in nearly six years was certainly worth the wait. Released on Germany’s esteemed Jazzhaus label and produced and arranged by the talented Allison, it features ten bluesily soulful (with a jigger-full of R&B) tracks including five nifty, cliche-free Allison originals (picks are the pensive story-song “Tell Me Mama” and a Hammond B-3 buttressed plea titled “Set Me Free”) as well as covers of a pair of tunes long associated with his father, Windy City blues legend Luther Allison—a sax-reinforced, totally contemporary advisory called “Move From The Hood” and the even more poignant “Moving On Up.” A trio of other reprises by Allison round things out—Colin James’ “Five Long Years” struts and soars in a take-no-prisoners fashion while Freddy King’s carnally atmospheric “I’d Rather Be Blind” is rhythmically riveting (while also containing some of Allison’s most scintillating guitar work) and, best for last, Tyrone Davis’ timeless “I Had It All The Time.” Worth the search! Likewise, So Close To It by oddly moniker-ed singer/songwriter and astonishingly accomplished guitarist Breezy Rodio, whose breezy blues odyssey stretches from a New York boyhood to the current, exceedingly competitive, Chicago club circuit. After a brief association with Guy King, Rodio joined veteran Linsey ‘Hoochie Man” Alexander’s band, on stage and in the studio, impressing Delmark’s head honcho, Bob Koester, in the process and leading to this Delmark 15 track project—one of which is a “bonus” recall of one of Bo Carter’s touchstone numbers—a slowly pulsing complaint about his “Evil Hearted Woman.” More than half of the songs are Rodio originals—favorites include a tough “walking blues,” titled “Walking With My Baby (She So Fine)” that features Billy Branch on harmonica, a thoughtful, T-Bone Walker-influenced “I Win Some More” (with Lurrie Bell guesting on second guitar) and the tempo-shifting entreaty “Time To Come Back Home”—with Chris Foreman and “Ariyo” Sumito Ariyoshi joining in on organ and piano respectively. Also noted are buoyant covers of Otis Blackwell’s soulful “One Broken Heart For Sale” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s naturalistic “When My Heart Beats Like A Hammer.” As liners author Bill Dahl puts it: “Judging from the convincing contents of this set, this sure won’t be Breezy’s last rodeo!—Gary von Tersch     

Eliza Neals
Breaking And Entering
She’s been burning up stages and winning awards in Detroit for years and with “Breaking and Entering” Eliza Neals is busting onto the national scene with a vengeance. Her band of long time Motor City warriors featuring power house blues guitarist Howard Glazer, P-Funk drummer Gabe Gonzales and internationally renowned bassist Paul Randolph filling out the grooves of Eliza’s vocals and keyboards. Neals has taken charge, co-producing and co-writing most of the songs and enlisting winning hip hip producer and guitarist Mike Puwal, Kid Rock’s guitarist Kenny Olson and Motown’s Barrett Strong to complete her team. Though a complete Motor City aggregation they haven’t stayed at home, recording in Nashville and New Jersey as well as Detroit and running release parties from New York to Miami. This girl is ready to do some crimes.
Starting with a Dobro and foot stomping beat “Detroit Drive” is a contradiction to an urban cruise but “Breaking and Entering” intrudes with a harder edge. Neals’ tough gritty vocal bring to mind fellow Detroiter Shawn Murphy and the guitar is just as tough & dirty. “Pretty Gritty” is powered by Eliza’s piano, hand clapping rhythms and is super charged by her vocals and stinging guitar. “Sugar Daddy” is a song written for Neals by Motown’s Barret Strong and you can hear the echoes of his past hits as her piano charges into “I’m The Girl.” Slowing the pace and losing the grit for several ballads “Jekyll and A Hound” Puwal has a stinging slide that echoes George Harrison while Kenny Olson is featured on the power ballads “You” and “Southern Comfort Dreams.” Some stand out cuts feature both soft and brash sides of Eliza against Glazer’s guitar, “Windshield Wipers” are “wiping my tears away,” her piano tinkling like raindrops while slashes of guitar flash like thunder and lightning as her voice builds in fury while “Spinning” is just her powerhouse vocals, heavily distorted Hendrix-y guitar and hand claps. As an added feature a shortened radio edit of “Breaking and Entering” is included.
Eliza Neals is breaking down musical doors with her CD “Breaking and Entering,” but it’s only a crime if you don’t give it a listen.—Roger & Margaret White

Marty Grosz Meets The Fat Babies
Diga Diga Doo
Delmark CD DE-256
This thoroughly entertaining 19 tracker is sub-titled “Hot Music From Chicago” and that’s certainly no understatement as legendary octogenarian East Coast jazz rhythm guitarist and deft single-chord soloist Marty Grosz returns to Delmark’s fabled Riverside Studio accompanied in fine fashion by string bassist Beau Samples and his dynamic young hot jazz outfit, the seven-piece Fat Babies, who pack the dance floor regularly at the illustrious Green Mill—as well as special guests  such as Ann Arbor-based  pianist Jim Dapogny, Philly-based trombonist Panic Slim and former Chicagoan roots clarinet and tenor sax star Jonathan Doyle. While the engaging Fat Babies energetically convey penetratingly infectious and historically aware interpretations of the vintage (mostly from the 1920’s and 1930’s) traditional jazz material, the still nimble-fingered Grosz—the last remaining exponent of the acoustic guitar in jazz, whose solos recall the 1930’s fortified sound of Carl Kress and Dick McDonough—is as “on the beam” as ever. Not to mention his invigorating Fats Waller-like vocals on the standards “Sweet Sue” and “Rose Of Washington Square.” Other dance floor favorites  are “Strut Miss Lizzie,” the opening stomper “Why Couldn’t It Be Poor Little Me” and the blue-blowing-studded title tune, from Duke Ellington’s songbook, with Fat Baby Andy Schumm on comb and newsprint. Barrelhouse blues at its best. Grosz is also one of jazz music’s outstanding monologists—check out the last two tracks.—Gary von Tersch

Speak Easy:
The RPM Record Story

Volume Two—
Ace CDTOP2 1421
This pretty prompt follow-up to Ace’s RPM RECORD STORY—VOLUME 1 (1950-1953) is just as rewarding as compiler, liners author (20 pages) and archival researcher Tony Rounce trawls though yet another hundred or so RPM jukebox singles that were issued before it was all over by 1958. 54 tracks on a pair of CDs (many previously unissued or un-reissued performances and all remastered from fresh sources) range from plenty of urban down-home blues by the good-selling likes of favorites like B.B. King (lots of B.B. King), Ike Turner (under the alias “Lover Boy”), the often under-recognized harmonica ace “Little George” Smith (way before Bacon Fat), honking saxist Joe Houston and the young Johnny “Guitar” Watson to the more obscure likes of Eugene Fox (his outrageous two-parter “The Dream” is here), Lonnie “The Cat” Cation (with his great “I Ain’t Drunk”), Johnny Wright, Eddy Lang and Darrell Glenn & The Commodores with a bluesily soulful, Jerry Lee Lewis-inspired “Hello Baby,” as well as a few rockabilly outings by Pat Cupp (Joe Bihari’s answer to Elvis), a smattering of group sounds from the West Coast’s Teen Queens, the Jacks, Arthur Lee Maye & The Crowns, the Chanters (their hypnotic “She Wants To Mambo” is here), the Meadow Larks and Little Clydie & The Teens, a little pop from Paul Anka, B.B. King (an awful cover of Ernie Ford’s “16 Tons”), the Jewels and white rock ‘n’ roller Don Cole and further fine saxophony by the likes of Maxwell Davis and Vido Musso. Also dropping by, with across-the-board, stellar sides, are vibrant thrush Donna Hightower, Quinton Kimble, Rosco Gordon-influenced Earl Curry, Jack Lewis and Eddy Lang among others. Ace also has a host of single artist compilations by many RPM acts in its catalog. Very recommended.—Gary von Tersch 

Danielle Nicole
Danielle Nicole
Concord CD
Don’t miss this one. Comprising only six songs, this self-titled EP only whets ones ear-lobes for more of the stunning New Orleans-flavored, funky soul-blues-roots brew that the ex-Trampled Under Foot singer/bassist and songwriter displays here on her debut solo outing. The first four tracks were recorded in the Crescent City with Grammy-winning Anders Osborne producing and adding some intrepid guitar work to affairs accompanied forthrightly by Galactic’s co-founding drummer Stanton Moore and her regular keyboardist Mike “Shinetop, Jr.” Sedovic. The last two tracks, on the other hand, were recorded live at Kansas City’s Triple A radio station studio (KTBG—The Bridge—90.9 FM) with Nicole singing and playing acoustic guitar on stripped down, confidential versions of both her lovelorn epic “You Only Need Me When You’re Down” and Bob Dylan’s classic rambling-on song “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” Picks from the Osborne-involved numbers are a lead-off “band” version of “You Only Need Me” and the breezily contemplative “Wandering Heart,” where Nicole digs down deep. A formidable solo artist, who made her stage debut at the age of twelve singing Koko Taylor’s “Never Trust A Man” at a Blues for Schools program, is born. Worth the search.—Gary von Tersch

Jackie DeShannon
In The Wind/Are You Ready For This?/New Image/What The World Needs Now Is Love
BGO CD 1176
Pioneering female singer/songwriter Jackie DeShannon’s rock ‘n’ roll credentials go all the way back to 1957 when a sixteen year old Sharon Lee Meyers sang a couple of rockabilly songs as part of Alan Freed’s Big Rock ‘n’ Roll Show at New York City’s fabled Paramount Theater. Her big break came in 1964 when she supported the Beatles on their initial U.S. tour, formed a touring band with Ry Cooder and began penning songs for the likes of the Byrds and Marianne Faithfull as well in partnership with Jimmy Page and Randy Newman. These four album reissues span the years 1965-1968 and reflect the times with In The Wind featuring somewhat over-produced pop-folk arrangements of contemporary (Bob Dylan, Bobby Darin, Pete Seeger) and traditional material. 1966’s Are You Ready For This? adds a Diana Ross/Dionne Warwick smooth soul veneer to affairs (with great recalls of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” among others) while 1967’s New Image veers drastically into easy listening territory with a surfeit of covers—though I am fond of her versions of “A Sunday Kind Of Love” and Cole Porter’s “Night And Day.” Finally, 1968’s What The World Needs Now Is Love (a Top Ten hit for her in 1965) has a mellow West Coast sunshine-pop sound to it with catchy reprises of songs like “It’s All In The Game,” “Everything Under The Sun” and “Call Me” leading the way. And it all comes back to the Beatles—73 year old DeShannon is currently an entertainment broadcast correspondent for Sirius XM Satellite Radio’s Breakfast With The Beatles weekend show. Recommended.—Gary von Tersch

Chris Daniels & the Kings
featuring Freddi Gowdy

Funky To The Bone
Chris Daniels & the Kings, the emperors of funk in the Rocky Mountain high of Colorado are a fusion somewhere between Ohio Players and KC & The Sunshine Band or the ying and yang of this nation under a groove. These grand masters of Funk ’n Roll were the Sam & Dave meets Tower of Power in their 1980’s prime. Recently band leader Chris Daniels and vocalist Freddi Gowdy have both overcome serious illness and realizing they’d been given a second chance, have reassembled the band and are now ready to get “Funky To The Bone.” The Kings are the complete retro Soul package, the band is kicking with full horn section, back up singers, even the CD looks like vinyl and the booklet uses classic magazine covers. The current Kings are Chris Daniels vocals & guitar, “Bones” Jones on lead guitar, “Bro” Lee, bass, Randy Amen, drums,“Doody” Abrahamson, trumpet, Jim Waddell, alto, tenor sax, flute with Bill Paine of Little Feat on keys and Freddi Gowdy getting with the get down.
Jumping in with a strong groove “Funky To The Bone” has a James Gang guitar hook, JB horns, Brides of Funkenstien choir as Freddi gets down deep followed by the P-Funk-esque romp of “Don’t Let Your Mouth Write No Checks.” Daniels leads the band through the classic Chris Kenner hit “Something You Got” then blows through with a lighter summer-fresh “Cool Breeze.” Getting it on with the rock & soul music of “Dance Dance Dance” Paine’s fleet fingered organ and the horn lines lead to the strong strut and dueling vocals of “What A Day.” The horns are the heroes of the salsa soul venture “Nobody Knows” and they finish with their own story of “Survivors.”
With their new lease on life, Chris Daniels & the Kings prepare for a European tour and their new CD “Funky To The Bone” may be their ticket to ride.—Roger & Margaret White

Diana Braithwaite and Chris Whiteley
Blues Stories
Big City Blues Records 2014
Little known in the U.S., Diana Braithwaite and Chris Whiteley are mainstays of the Canadian blues scene. Whiteley is a multi-instrumentalist and Braithwaite a vocalist, and separately and together they have won nine Maple Blues Awards and garnered even more nominations. In this, their sixth album together, they have produced a potpourri of six originals and five covers which sample a gamut of blues sub-genres.
The CD kicks off with “Rocks and Gravel,” an a cappella call-and-response featuring Diana and Kala Braithwaite which pays tribute to the field holler and work song provenance of the blues. Its somber tone is followed by the rollicking, infectious “Florida,” a boogie that would have done John Lee Hooker proud. Whiteley next deploys slide guitar on “Lighthouse Keeper,” abetted by bandmates Vince Maccarone on drums and Terry Wilkins on bass. “Bye Bye Bird,” a tune by Willie Dixon and Sonny Boy Williamson, then provides a jaunty country flavor as Braithwaite sings in front of Whiteley’s spare harmonica accompaniment, and it’s succeeded by “Blues March,” a New Orleans-based full band outing highlighted by Chris’s cornet renderings and the piano stylings of Jesse Whiteley.
What do we get next for even more variety? Well, “Fried Fish,” a mid-tempo 12-bar blues rocker with the two principals vocally harmonizing nicely while touting the virtues of the aquatic delicacy paired with rum and ginger ale. That the song, purportedly written by Braithwaite and Whiteley, sounds much like standard blues tunes “Good Rockin’ Tonight” and “Blue Light Boogie,” is a minor cavil.
“Child of Circumstance” is the longest track, a slow blues which overcomes some awkward lyrics and especially showcases Jesse Whiteley’s prowess on the keys and Chris’s on mouth harp. “Tic Tac” again lets Jesse lay down some nice riffs, in a song reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s “Hitch Hike” from 1962. “Hard Time Killin’ Floor” can’t match the haunting vocal of its originator “Skip” James (no version ever will), but is still effective in its spare vocal-and-acoustic guitar presentation. The traditional tune “Careless Love” is given a nice Crescent City lilt, Chris demonstrating why he has won awards for his cornet skills. The album closes with a version of Jimmy Reed’s “You Don’t Have to Go,” the thumping rhythm tempered by Chris’s harmonica fluidity.— Steve Daniels


Bettye LaVette
A Woman Like Me: A Memoir
By Bettye LaVette with David Ritz
Plume 2012
Teachers of short story writing advise authors to produce a compelling first sentence, or the reader’s full attention may be lost forever. Well, Bettye LaVette has met the challenge: “A vicious pimp was precariously holding on to my right foot as he dangled me from the top of a twenty-story building….”
She has survived, in more ways than one. LaVette’s autobiography is a ferocious, uncompromising, alternately revelatory and hilarious roller-coaster ride through her first seven decades of life. In it she chronicles her long journey from tumultuous childhood to teenage motherhood, her pre-adult years as soul singer/groupie/prostitute, and her subsequent decades of struggle as a songstress in bars, nightclubs, private parties, and local touring stage troupes…to her current status as highly acclaimed soul and blues artist. It’s a jaw-dropping journey. Her lust for success and recognition burns through these pages.
Several themes resonate in her story, including sex, drugs, alcohol, sexism, friendship, religion (lack thereof), and luck, both good and bad. At no point is LaVette rueful about the many impulsive and unwise decisions that she made, although she also spares no bile in skewering those — and they were legion, according to her — who mistreated, underestimated, or betrayed her. As she explains, “Music’s simply something I do, something I am, a restless force that, if it’s not brought out, will drive me crazy.” In pursuit of her muse, she left her daughter to be raised by others, accepted gigs beneath her worth, and peregrinated from Detroit to New York, New Orleans, Houston, Los Angeles, and myriad other venues in search of the grail of success.
Along the way, she had to deal with the rampant sexism prevalent in the American music industry and, arguably, in American culture. “My instinct was to survive as a singer and prevail as a person. It didn’t take a genius to realize that men held the key to that survival….Women were their props.” Fortunately for LaVette, since her eagerly accepted deflowering at age twelve, she has not only accepted but enjoyed sex and lots of it, and taken as much as she has given. Her list of lovers, including several valued musical mentors, is dizzyingly long, featuring some famous names you will recognize. (Currently she seems blissfully happy with her third husband.)
The scion of alcoholic parents, LaVette is refreshingly honest and unapologetic about her own substantial dipsomania and marijuana use, and her several decade intimate familiarity with cocaine: “My drive to succeed has not been stymied by my fondness for intoxicants.” (She claims always to have eschewed heroin and crack cocaine.)
Her drive to succeed was, though, by her account, frustrated over and over again by deceitful or risk-averse record companies. (“Risk-averse” is not a term applicable to LaVette’s life choices.) Of course, a self-penned memoir may see only one side of the street, even in retrospect; it’s hard to know if record labels’ alleged repeated desertions of LaVette were at least partially attributable to her admittedly uncompromising and “bitchy” personality. Surprisingly, she has little to say about racism, both in the music industry and how it pertained to her specifically, perhaps because either by choice or circumstance she remained ensconced primarily in black cultural circles. It would be fascinating to hear some cited music executives give their perspectives on why she never became a star on their labels.
There is a lot to admire about Bettye LaVette, aside from her terrific singing talent. I did cringe near the end of the book when she described a gift from her current husband during their courting: “…an exquisitely custom-designed multi-CD package of my complete recorded work….It was the most precious and loving gift I have ever received.” Really? Doesn’t that reveal a monstrous ego? However, she redeems herself with many kind words of gratitude for her past lovers, supporters, and musical mentors, especially Jim Lewis, who fit all three categories and who taught her to sing in varied styles. “ ‘You caress a song,’ he said, “you don’t attack it. You relax and let the song come to you. You dramatize the story like a great actress….You take your time.’ “ She learned her lessons well.
It took a long time for Bettye LaVette to make it big, but she did, and it has made her happy. We get to enjoy her music, and now also her memoir, which is simultaneously outrageous, entertaining, and moving.— Steve Daniels

Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story
by Rick Bragg
Canongate Books
One of rock ‘n’ rolls great icons, the force of nature known as Jerry Lee Lewis was born in Ferriday, Louisiana in 1935 and will be celebrating his 80th birthday this September. As this fascinating authorized biography (Bragg had unprecedented access to “The Killer”) engagingly recounts, Lewis had a fully developed, two-handed style all his own before he was a teenager—heavily influenced by Country & Western radio shows (he idolized Hank Williams) and the blues pouring out of the local juke joints that he used to sneak into, although his attacking, piano-stool kicking style of piano playing owes a lot to Texas honky-tonk pianist Moon Mullican. Mesmerically, Bragg relates a childhood raising all kinds of hell in Louisiana and Mississippi, his lengthy career at Sun Records (where he broke nationally in 1957 with his second and third singles, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” and “Great Balls Of Fire”), performing with everyone from Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Little Richard to Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen and Buddy Guy, caused riots and boycotts with his swaggeringly primitive performances (some of the most entertaining recollections), nearly destroyed his career by marrying his 13-year-old cousin, the third of his seven wives, survived a decades-long marathon of drugs, drinking and women and nearly died at least three times. Yet, he survived it all to be celebrated as not only a rock and roll innovator but a country and western star. Throughout, Lewis’, lifelong and still unrepentant outrageousness makes this book stay-up-all-night reading. Devotees are also apprised that London’s BGO label ( has recently reissued many of Lewis’ country albums as budget two-fers. The most recent showcases two of his best—1972’s Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano...(Think About It Darlin’), whose reflective title song would remain in his repertoire for years, and 1973’s Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough, that features great versions of both the Sun-era classic “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone” and Billy Joe Shavers’ “Ride Me Down Easy.” And, lo and behold, Vanguard has just issued a new Lewis studio album, titled Rock & Roll Time, and that is a good description. The Killer, with guests like Keith Richards, Neil Young and Ivan Neville, sounds a little unduly laid-back at times (who could blame him?) but certainly sets the record straight on a couple of Chuck Berry reeling and rockers—”Little Queenie” and “Promised Land.” Lewis is also currently on tour in the UK. Holy moly!—Gary von Tersch


Cheesehead Blues
Adventures of a Dutchman in the Mississippi Delta
A Film by Jan Doense.
Film Events 2015
Many blues aficionados who have been to the Mississippi Delta town of Clarksdale have visited the Rock-n-Blues Museum on Second Street downtown. The owner, Theo Dasbach was living in his home country of Holland, and running a small museum there exhibiting his extensive collection of blues & R&B records and memorabilia. By 2006 this Dutchman was living & running the museum in Clarksdale. In 2009 another Dutchman, Jan Doense came to Clarksdale and was astonished to find Theo living there. In 2011 he returned to make a film that depicted Theo’s life in the Delta.
Cheesehead Blues is referenced to a “Kaaskop” or “Cheesehead,” the nickname given to a Dutch person. Dutch filmmaker Doense has captured the essence of the city as well as interviewing many of the town’s famous faces. The gritty streets of Clarksdale are well reflected as a proper backdrop to the film. Theo’s life abroad is revealed as he made his way to America and into the mid-south heartland, The land of the blues, Memphis. After buying property in Clarksdale he opened his museum. Jammed full of great exhibits and his vast 78 rpm collection that travels through time from early Ma Rainey & Bessie Smith through the Post-War Blues and beyond.
Doense also interviewed many of the town folk who are famous on the blues trail including Mayor Bill Luckett, the late T-Model Ford, Roger Stolle, the late Frank “Rat” Ratliff and “Big” Red Paden, who incidentally reveals some interesting information about his family tree. Theo has also produced his 2nd Street Blues Party for several years now and Doense was there to film the music. Several live performances are included in the film including full length performances of the soundtrack in a special feature section of the DVD. Some of the musicians featured in the film include among others, Terry “Harmonica” Bean, Watermelon Slim, Sean “Bad” Apple, Deak Harp, Bill “Howl-n-Madd” Perry, T-Model Ford, Laura “LaLa” Craig and the late Charlie Moore.
The film is really about keeping the blues alive & well in Clarksdale with the help of local musicians and blues lovers like Theo, who goes by Theo “Boogieman” Dasbach when he’s playing his piano. When it comes to the aspect of a film documentary, Cheesehead Blues holds its own. Quite entertaining in its content and besides revealing Theo’s life in this small Delta town, the film also tosses in subtle hints of Clarksdale’s blues history. If you are a fan of Clarksdale and have visited the city then you’ll want to see this film. For those of us who have lived here for sometime, the film gives us even more. Lots of great friends, great music and great memories. — Dirk Wissbaum


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