Blues Reviews June/July 2016

Curtis Salgado
The Beautiful Lowdown
Alligator 2016

Former front man for the Robert Cray Band, Santana, the Steve Miller Band, and Roomful of Blues - is that a resume, or what?? - Curtis Salgado follows up his 2012 Alligator release “Soul Shot” with another album of a dozen fine songs. He is supported by producer Tony Braunagel, the core of The Phantom Blues Band, and an array of outstanding ancillary musicians.
Let’s begin with the obvious: Salgado continues to reign at the highest echelon of living soul and R&B singers. Capable of crooning, shouting, rasping, moaning, cajoling, and testifying, at age sixty-two he retains every ounce of his amazing voice. The man can bring tears to my eyes one moment, and make me swell with joy and optimism the next. Such innate talent is a gift that requires nurturing and preservation on the artist’s part, and merits appreciation on the part of us, the listeners.
On this outing, all but one of the tunes has been composed by Salgado in cooperation with his colleagues. Throughout, he enjoys the impeccable support of Braunagel on drums, Mike Finnigan on organ, Larry Fulcher on bass, and Johnny Lee Schell, the basis of Phantom, plus multiple other luminaries too numerous to name, but including pianist Jim Pugh, guitarists Vyasa Dodson and Terry Robb, and a talented ensemble of horn players and background singers. Finnigan and Pugh, on their respective keyboards, deserve special recognition not only for their individual contributions, but also for several tracks in which their playing meshes deliciously. Schell is in top form as well. (Salgado, a proficient harmonica player, only picks up his harp on three numbers.)
The guts and glory of the album, appropriately and unsurprisingly, is Curtis’s singing. Yeah! He cruises through these songs like a knife through butter, nailing the vocals consistently and impressively. The prevailing theme is R&B; there is no straight twelve-bar blues song, but it’s all bluesy. For a little variety, there’s a devotional number, “Healing Love,” distinguished by Terry Robb on acoustic guitar, and even a reggae tune, “Simple Enough,” abetted by the horn section. Those two tracks make my album highlight list, along with “Walk a Mile in My Blues.” Another track, “Nothing in Particular” has a jazzy flavor, enhanced by Chris Hayes on lead guitar, and the only cover song, a Johnny Guitar Watson tune, “Hook Me Up,” evokes comparison with The Crusaders or War.
For me, the culmination is “Is There Something I Should Know,” a duet with Danielle Schnebelen, another singer with a divine voice, and backed by another terrific Finnigan organ contribution.
If you love great singing and great soul music, this album is an absolute winner.—Steve Daniels

Tweed Funk
Come Together
Tweed Tone Records

With the proliferation of new soul and neo soul bands Tweed Funk is a welcome relief from these pretenders because the Funk is the real thing. Singer Joe “Smokey” Holman recorded for Motown, Stax and numerous smaller labels before seeking the security of a day job to raise his family in Milwaukee. Smokey’s return to the stage with this crack band has brought us a fully formed soul monster. With their second CD “Come Together” they’ve upped the ante putting more emphasis on the horn section for a brand new classic soul sound. The core band of Smokey, Eric Manic - bass and JD Opteker - guitar have added new members Dave Schoepke - drums, Andrew Spadafora - tenor and baritone sax with Doug Woolerton of Roomful Of Blues on trumpet. Their sound, a cross between Motown and Stax is befitting their Mid-Western soul roots.
The bass slinks in like Jamerson with a Coffey styled guitar riff similar to “Ball Of Confusion” as the horns urge Smokey to “Light Up The Night” then bassist Madnic doubles down on Hammond organ and the backing vocals of Chrissy Dzioba and Sara Moilanen lightens the mood on the Curtis Mayfield-like anthem “Don’t Give Up.” The “Muse” is a tribute to all the ladies that have inspired musicians but the driving “Love Ain’t Easy” with bassist Eric Madnic tripling down with guitar and backing vocals gives a different look at some of the ladies at the shows. Smokey Holman relates the true tale of how “Sweet Music” saved his soul allowing him to cut though the jungle and inspire others to “Come Together.” Slowing to the gentle sway of “Embrace” bassist Eric Madnic doubles on Fender Rhodes piano as the female vocals lean close and whisper in your ear then a muted trumpet cuts through “Bullet” like the poof of a silencer. The horns take the lead on the instrumental “Who Is This” then the rhythm section with JD’s guitar chugging to a classic groove as Smokey get’s his “Soul Rockin” as the horns go all out for the finale.
Tweed Funk’s new CD has really “Come Together,” they’ve become saviors of soul getting back to a classic sound and making it the future of funk.—Roger & Margaret White

Ilana Katz Katz
Movin’ On

In a market full of singer/songwriters there’s an abundance of vocalists with pleasant, pitch perfect voices. So hearing someone outside the expected norm some might dismiss that singer without getting what’s really going on. Ilana Katz Katz’s unique vocals harmonize with her fiddle giving her music its hauntingly soulful tone. For her newest CD “Moving On” she performs solo, as a duo, trio and quartet - each line up presenting a mix of traditional tunes with reworked lyrics befitting Katz’s feminine perspective, classic covers and originals. Miss Katz works with several different producer/engineers/ accompanists including Cedric Watson - gourd banjo, washboard, bass and vocals, Barry Levenson – guitar and Daniel Sandburg – drums, creating a disc with a charm reminiscent of a bygone era.
Before “Movin’ On” you have to get back to the roots with Big Joe’s classic “Baby Please Don’t Go” backed by Watson’s banjo and washboard with hand drums by Danial Sanda and a wailing fiddle. This line up rolls into a haunting tale of “Reubin’s Train” with a steady rhythm that then slips into a reworking of “Greasy Coat” to “Greasy Cool” about the sad predicament of some women and last with this line up is a banjo under high flying fiddle on the ethereal original “Forevermore.” Starting out slow then kicking into high gear for a fiddle and banjo duel, Cedric takes on the vocals for “Lazy John/Sail Away Ladies.” In a swinging instrumental tribute “Blues For Bobby Radcliff” Cedric takes over on lead fiddle and joining this trio is Chas Jastus on guitar. Bobby Radcliff himself brings his guitar for the first song he and Ilana played at Terra Blues, “Tanya,” a Joe Liggins and the Honeydrippers number skillfully reworked for fiddle and guitar, sounding reminiscent of “Happy Trails,” with Goeff Wright on bass and Dave Moore drums. This combo rocks thing up as they rip into “Kansas City” with Katz altering the lyrics to make it her own, then two of Katz’s originals: a slinky slow burner called “Demon Blues” and a bouncy fiddle-fed shuffle with Katz scatting the “Cruel Willie Blues.” Barry Levenson’s jazzy guitar teams up with Katz, Hank Van Sickle on bass and Mike Sandberg on drums for their swingin’ cover of Big Bill Broonzy’s “Sweet To Mama” and Katz chills to the bone with “You Crush My Soul.” To close out this disc Katz goes solo, just vocal and fiddle with a traditional cover of “Jack Of Diamonds.”
Ilana Katz Katz isn’t your typical girl singer and doesn’t want to be, she’s laying it down her way and “Movin’ On.”—Roger & Margaret White

Professor Longhair
Live In Chicago
Orleans Records

Henry Roeland ‘Roy’ Byrd, better known to the world as Professor Longhair, is a man as complex as the rhythm & rumba he played, a tap dancer, card shark, icon of piano and New Orleans legend. He first recorded in 1948 and his only national hit was “Bald Head” in 1950 but his style of rhythm and blues was there from the start with “Tipitina” and “Mardi Gras In New Orleans” complete with whistling intro. With his rockin’-rumba piano style and yodeling vocals he wasn’t thought of as a hit maker by the powers that be and his biggest early success was as writer with “Rockin’ Robin” (tweedly dee). By the mid ‘60’s he’d given up music, making a living dealing cards and sweeping the floors of record stores. His resurrection came in 1971 playing the second New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and he remained its patron saint closing the show every year until his death in 1980. He had close to a decade of European tours, albums, TV shows and a documentary. But the majority of his catalog was released after his death so finding this recording, “Live In Chicago” after forty years is a rare treat and special look at the man in his heyday. Supported by his own band featuring Billy Gregory on lead guitar, Will Harvey on rhythm guitar, Julius Farmer on bass and drummer Earl Gordon at the 1976 University Of Chicago Folk Festival. This was originally broadcast live on WFMT-FM, the quality of the recording is excellent with the acoustic piano up front and strong.
After a humble intro Longhair literally leaps from the speakers with the instrumental “Doin’ It” as the drums churn in the back and Fess calls out “Billy” for a solo and the more traditional “Everyday I Have The Blues” with Billy stepping to the fore between verses. Taking a gentle, almost scholarly introduction to “Big Chief” where even the wrong notes sound just right. Not wasting a moment Fess charges straight into “Mess Around” and “Mardi Gras In New Orleans” then takes an extended work out with “Got My Mojo Working” and the crowd goes wild as they roll into an encore as Gregory’s guitar is featured on “Fess’ Boogie.”
“Live In Chicago” is a rare snapshot in time, as Roy Byrd basks in his renewed renown after a decade of neglect with this rhythmic romp as Professor Longhair.—Roger & Margaret White

Mac Arnold and Plate Full O’ Blues
Give It Away
Plantation #1 Productions 2015

It’s our good fortune that Mac Arnold returned to the blues about a decade ago after a stint as an organic farmer. Over the last 50 years, since his teens, Arnold has played, mainly as bassist, with a pantheon of blues and R&B greats, including James Brown, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Otis Spann, Otis Redding, and saxophonist A.C. Reed. He has also collaborated in the recording studio with Quincy Jones and helped produce the television show “Soul Train.”
That impressive resume has provided him the experience behind this new album, his first since 2011. Backed by his long-time “Plate” bandmates Austin Brashier and Max Hightower, with the addition of drummer and co-producer Scotty Hawkins, the ensemble delivers a baker’s dozen of classy tunes, all but two of them originals.
Front and center throughout are Arnold’s vocals, the limited range of which is more than compensated by grit and poignancy. Arnold plays a mean bass as well, sharing those duties with Hightower, who otherwise shines on keyboard and harmonica. Brashier concentrates on guitar, but Arnold lays down some fine guitar licks as well, utilizing his home-made gas can guitars - whose construction was taught to him by his brother Leroy, who made the first one for four-year-old Mac in 1946.
The album opens with “Nickel and Dime,” Arnold’s tale of the travails of a bluesman on the road. The ensuing “Don’t Burn My Cornbread” can be interpreted as an ode to food, or a sexual double entendre; either way, it’s a mid-tempo groove with droll wit. “Uncle DeWitt’s Café” is a reminiscence of youthful times at a juke joint, followed by the Chicago blues-like “Damned If I Do,” with Hightower blowing some tuneful harmonica.
The album really hits high gear with the next three numbers. “Give It Away,” an inspirational gospel number, is succeeded by the R&B “Fool Hearted Lover,” Hightower providing tasteful organ accompaniment and Brashier a beautiful guitar solo. The band then digs into “Nitty Gritty,” a rocker extolling the value of the blues.
The remainder of the tunes are eclectic, ranging from poignant love ballads to a jocular Jerry Reed cover, “Amos Moses,” to the closing country-flavored “Memories,” a tribute to the late Leroy Arnold, with moving harmonica and acoustic guitar accentuating Brashier’s smooth vocal. Equally worthy of mention is the band’s cover of Brook Benton’s “I’ll Take Care of You,” with Arnold’s best vocal on the disc.
Arnold may be in his mid-70s, but he still sounds damn good. —Steve Daniels

The Animals
Animal Tracks
ABKCO Records EP
Billy Gibbons & The Bfg’s
Concord LPconcordmusicgroup.

Here’s a couple of recent vinyl releases that might be a little hard to find—but are definitely worth the search. The Animals were probably the most accomplished stylists among the galaxy of British R&B bands to emerge out of London’s suburbs in the mid-60s. Their raw, hard-driving sound—that showcased Eric Burdon’s “black” vocals in tandem with Alan Price’s pumping organ—quickly attracted an ardent following and with record companies seeking R&B groups in the wake of the Rolling Stones’ Top Ten singles success with their version of Lennon/McCartney’s “I Wanna Be Your Man,” Burdon and crew were quickly signed by EMI’s Columbia label. They were initially produced by the ill-fated, legendary Mickie Most and eventually released five 7-inch extended-play records that were, at the time, solely available in the UK and select European markets. This marvelous Record Store Day release is the set’s Stateside debut and the first-ever as a ten-incher. Animal-ized renditions of Chuck Berry’s “How You’ve Changed,” Ray Charles’ “Believe To My Soul,” Shirley & Lee’s “Let The Good Times Roll” and Big Maceo Merriweather’s “Worried Life Blues” are quite compelling and, along with their dynamic reworking of “House Of The Rising Sun,” were one of the main inspirations for Bob Dylan going “electric” and linking up with Ronnie Hawkins’ rip-roaring back up combo, the Hawks, who quickly morphed into the Band.
A long time coming, Perfectamundo is the debut solo project for ZZ Top guitarist/vocalist Billy Gibbons and exudes an Afro-Cuban sound and feeling that may come as a surprise to ZZ Top’s world-wide fans and followers. Actually, Gibbons studied Latin percussion (conga, bongo, maracas and, most importantly, timbales) in Manhattan with none other but the “Mambo King” himself, Tito Puente, years before he formed the psychedelic rock trio back in Houston. The concept for Perfectamundo, co- produced by Gibbons and Joe Hardy and subsequently recorded in Houston, Los Angeles, Austin and Pontevedra, Spain, was Gibbons’ invitation to perform at the 2014 Havana Jazz Festival by his Argentine-born and Puerto-Rican raised musical collaborator Martin Guigui. Gibbons had to decline Guigui’s offer but began exploring the concept of an Afro-Cuban flavored album in his Houston studio. Highlights begin with delightfully Latinized covers of blues contemplations like “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “Pickin’ Up Chicks On Dowling Street,” a haunting “Hombre Sin Nombre,” a slow-boiling reworking of Roy Head’s immortal “Treat Her Right” and the smoking instrumental closer “Q-Vo”—with even some artfully subdued hip-hop sub-tones in evidence on both the title track and “You’re What’s Happenin’, Baby.” A note on the back cover puts it this way: “A serious, way-out expression of Gibbon-ized, cross-cut blues stylings inspired from 90 miles across the Strait of Florida.” I agree—solid, sizzling and soulfully satisfying.—Gary von Tersch

Various Artists
South Texas Rhythm ‘N’ Soul Revue 2

As Tony Rounce puts it at the outset of his image-laden (great label shots) liners: “Opened in 1926, Route 90 occupies over 1600 miles that stretch from east to west across the lower American south—from Jacksonville, Florida to Van Horn Texas. It’s something of a Southern equivalent to the more famous Route 66 and like 66 has been celebrated in song by bluesman Clarence Garlow, onetime resident of Lake Charles, Louisiana, one of 90’s many stop-off points.” It’s also a notable highway as far as music is concerned, especially the segment that goes through South Texas and cities like San Antonio, Houston and Beaumont, that not only boasted a wealth of talent but was the home of some of the state’s most important record labels and producers. No more so than the Houston-based, big-eared “Crazy Cajun” Huey Purvis Meaux, whose multifarious productions and many record labels pioneered what is now referenced as the “Highway 90 Sound”—a dance floor-filling blend of soul and R&B atop a bedrock of blues. Some of the artists featured on this 24 track collection are not Texans but all came from towns crisscrossed by Highway 90, which was the quickest way to get them from one gig to the next—with the occasional stop in the Houston area to cut a few tracks in hopes of following rivals like Barbara Lynn, Freddie Fender, the Sir Douglas Quintet (Meaux’s answer to the “English Invasion” of the mid-sixties) and Roy “Treat Her Right” Head into the Top 40 or Hot 100. A few of the musicians here did manage some national notice (Ronnie Milsap, Jean Knight, Johnny Adams, Warren Storm and Joe “Guitar Hughes) but for the majority the airplay only served to, hopefully, engender attendance at their live appearances. Favorites are many (like I said, my old buddy Meaux had great “ears”) including a pair by Jackie Payne (“At Your Wedding” and “Skid Row Blues”), professional baseball player Arthur Lee Maye’s “Total Disaster,” songwriter Joe Medwick’s “After Hour Man” and a great version of Meaux’s own “Neighbor, Neighbor” by Margo White. An excellent follow-up to Volume One! More please.—Gary von Tersch


Lightnin’ Hopkins & Billy Bizor
Wake Up The Dead!
Cicadelic CICD-6869 (2 CD)
Lightnin’ Hopkins
Shootin’ Fire
Cicadelic CICD-41169
Johnny Winter
Birds Can’t Row Boats: Unreleased Masters 1965-1968
Cicadelic CICD 6568 (2 CD)

Five full CDs worth of great sounding Texas blues vibrations from three of the Lone Star state’s greatest blues masters. While harmonica ace Billy Bizor is relatively obscure compared to both Hopkins and Winter, he was the endlessly inventive folk-poet Lightnin’ Hopkins’ virtuosic chromatic foil on many of Lightnin’s late 1960s recordings (along with, occasionally, George “Wild Child” Butler) that, characteristically, mixed slow, observational and often autobiographical numbers with his patented out-and-out boogies. The clever title of the two-disc set references San Francisco’s Grateful Dead, whose live repertoire included such Hopkins classics as “Katie Mae,” “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” and “Ain’t It Crazy”—the Jefferson Airplane’s lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonon, likewise, often indulged himself with psychedelic variations on Lightnin’s “Black Mare Trot” and “Come Back Baby.” Disc one compiles every track Lightnin’ and his cousin, the ill-fated Billy Bizor recorded for Roy Ames’ Clarity Records on June 17, 1968 (highlights include the title song, “Vietnam War,” “Pine Gum Boogie,” “Next Trip Down South” and “Walking Blues”) along with some previously unreleased outtakes from an April 11, 1969 date that were omitted for lack of space on the also-just-released Shootin’ Fire CD—the band really gels on “Feel Like Ballin’ The Jack” and fully nine minutes of his early hit “Mojo Hand.” The second disc on Wake The Dead features all of cousin Bizor’s solo recordings in 1969 for a proposed album that never saw the light of day with his unexpected death on April 4, 1969—the first seven tracks are stunningly superb demos (favorites include “Whiskey Head Woman,” “T Model Ford” and the oddly prescient “When I’m Dead”) while the remainder finds Bizor backed by a full band and obviously enjoying himself full-speed-ahead—head-turners begin with “I’ll Miss You So” and “Let’s Pitch One.” The prolific Hopkins, additionally, recorded over a dozen titles for Clarity on the fore-mentioned April 11, 1969 session (the overflow is on Wake The Dead, see above) with an abundance of new originals (“Born In The Bottom,” “December 7, 1941,” “Rainy Day In Houston” and the humorous “Stinking Foot”) engagingly balanced by oldies revisions on the order of “Shinin’ Moon,” “Shake That Thing” as well as, on a more serious note, “My Baby Ain’t Got No Shoes,” “Old House Torn Down” and “My Baby Was Crying For Bread.” Two tracks from August, 1961 (“Good As Old Time Religion” and “I’m Shootin’ Fire”) close affairs and give this project its very apt title and what makes this release doubly rewarding is that, for the first time, the blatant over-mixing of the bass and drums and reverb over-use that occurred when some of this material was originally released—in order for Hopkins to sound more contemporary—has been wonderfully corrected.  Beaumont, Texas born Johnny Winter was quite prolific as well and is best known for his smoking blues-rock albums for Columbia Records and phenomenal live shows in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. In addition to recording several Grammy-nominated blues projects Winter also produced three Grammy-winning albums by the legendary Muddy Waters. This two-disc extravaganza collects, for the first time, all the consistently inventive attempts at a “hit” (1965-1968) made by Winter right before Columbia came calling with half-a-million dollars—widely hailed “discovery” Winter had actually first recorded in 1959 as a teenager! The sound that he was experimenting with in the mid-sixties varied from Byrds and Bob Dylan influenced folk-rock (“The World Turns All Around Her,” “Avocado Green,” “Parchman Farm,” “Ballad Of Bertha Glutz”) to psychedelic-fringed numbers like “Birds Can’t Row Boats,” “Take A Chance On My Love,” “Livin’ In The Blues” and the two-parter “Comin’ Up Fast” to hard-rock (“Hook You” and “Rock Me”) but, most of all, the blues. As producer Roy Ames puts it: “The blues came naturally to Johnny, from years of listening to Beaumont black radio station KJET and playing old blues 78s.” Particular picks include “Pneumonia Blues,” “32-20 Blues,” “Goin’ Down Slow” and “Don’t Drink Whiskey.” Twenty of the 36 tracks have never been released before. All are sourced from the original four track half-inch masters and first generation mix-down tapes. As an added bonus a 16-page booklet is full of rare and never before seen Winter memorabilia. Enjoy!—Gary von Tersch

John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers
Live in 1967 - Volume Two
Forty Below Records 2016

It’s not as if John Mayall needs to release more albums. Inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame in February of this year, Mayall at age 82 continues to tour. Under his own name or with his band of revolving principals, the Bluesbreakers, as of this release he has reached sixty-four albums in his discography! Perhaps only John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and maybe B.B. King have released as many albums, and many of those were compilations.
This one is a compilation, also; a follow-up to…you guessed it, Volume One. Each features the same iteration of the Bluesbreakers: Mayall on vocals, harmonica, and organ (no guitar, although he is a commendable six-string purveyor), Peter Green on guitar, John McVie on bass, and Mick Fleetwood on drums. Something sound familiar? Green and Fleetwood left the Bluesbreakers at the end of 1967 to form their own band with bassist Jeremy Spencer. McVie followed not long after, Danny Kirwen was added on guitar, and famed 1970’s Fleetwood Mac was born.
The tracks on this and the preceding “Live…” album were recorded at various venues on a one-channel reel-to-reel tape recorder by an avid fan, and have been restored. As is to be expected, the sound quality is variable, and far less pristine than that of 21st century recordings. Nonetheless, the thirteen cuts are of more than historical interest.
Particularly noteworthy are Mayall’s personalized renditions of several blues classics. “Talk to Your Daughter,” penned by J.B. Lenoir, was justly made famous by Magic Sam (Maghett) on his seminal Chicago blues album, “West Side Soul,” released in the same year, 1967, that this version was recorded. B.B. King’s “Sweet Little Angel,” Otis Rush’s “Double Trouble,” and T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday” are likewise given Mayall’s individualized twists . Most of the other songs are also covers; only “Tears in My Eyes” and “Chicago Line” were composed by Mayall.
Throughout, Mayall’s reedy vocals are augmented by his unique style of harmonica playing; he often used the “Mississippi saxophone” as a rhythmic percussion instrument rather than augmenting melody. Fleetwood and McVie provide good support, although the bass is frequently lost in the mix and Fleetwood’s drumming sometimes becomes rote. For me, the highlight is Peter Green on guitar. Among the many guitar mavens who have been in the Bluesbreakers, including Eric Clapton, Harvey Mandel, Walter Trout, and Coco Montoya, many consider Green the best. Here he delivers both scorching single note runs and meandering pensive leads with equal deftness, making the CD a good value for his contributions alone.— Steve Daniels

Lance Canales
The Blessing and the Curse
Music Road Records 2015

It’s always a pleasure to discover a high quality artist with whom one was previously unfamiliar. Thus, Lance Canales.
A product and denizen of Central California’s Central Valley, Canales is a guitarist and singer whose proclivity tends toward folk and American roots music, but with a decidedly bluesy intonation. This album of eleven original tunes and two covers pairs him with a group of adept musical colleagues, including producer, guitarist, and singer Jimmy LaFave, eminent vocalist Eliza Gilkyson, and former International Blues Challenge solo artist winner Ray Bonneville. The result is a rousing and moving album.
The focus of the set is Canales’ singing, which merits praise. His raspy timbre is ideal for conveying both power and emotion. Interestingly, in at least two of the tracks - “Hich-wyah Man” and “Old Red” - his singing evokes comparison with Rob Thomas of the group Matchbox 20, and both cuts spur comparison with Thomas’ successful collaboration with Carlos Santana on the hit single “Smooth.” A major difference is the lack of soaring single note guitar licks a la Santana, but Canales’ gritty acoustic guitar stylings are themselves compelling. Bonneville lends nice electric guitar to “Old Red” and “Cold Dark Hole.”
Although no song hews to the standard twelve-bar classic blues format, there is a blues ambience throughout. The lyrics of several songs, such as “California or Bust” and “The Farmer,” draw on Canales’ ambivalence about his region of origin, reflecting affection for Central California along with recognition of its demanding agricultural way of life.
Although all of Canales’ own songs are laudable, he shines particularly on the two covers: Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee,” distinguished not only by Lance’s vocal but also his juicy guitar playing; and the Reverend Gary Davis classic, “Death Got No Mercy,” with producer LaFave adding acoustic guitar and Gilkyson her smoky vocal in duet with Canales’ baritone. I think that Davis would have enjoyed it as much as I did.—Steve Daniels

Danielle Nicole
Wolf Den

Danielle Nicole’s first excursion outside of Trampled Under Foot is a delight. Her palette ranges from mellow to rockin’, from torch songs to torched octane crunchers. All but two are from her own prolific pen. She serves up a superb version of I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home with Luther Dickerson on guitar, and Anders Osborne’s It Ain’t You has Osborne rockin’ behind. Otherwise, all hers, mostly co-written with Osborne. The opening title cut is a funky look at enticements and a decidedly darkened path. No happy ending here. “You’re on your own/been chewed to the bone/still, you can’t stop thinking/ when you get back down the road/you’ll be howlin’ for more/scratching at the door.” How You Gonna Do Me Like That, driven by Mike “Shinetop” Sedovic, the erstwhile organist with Trampled Under Foot, and the baddest drummer in the land, Stanton Moore is a song about love sneaking up. She sings, “I was blind to all of the signs/Now I find/you’re on my mind all of the time.” Take It All is a breakup song with a classic soul groove and Easin’ Into the Night is a slick finger snapper about getting used to the single life. The speakers rock for You Only Need Me When You’re Down. Osborne’s guitar is fiery and fuzzy. Luther Dickerson takes the guitar chair on Waiting On Your Love and that southern rock groove pops out underneath Danielle’s decidedly Bonnie Raitt-ish medium tempo feel. Just Give Me Tonight is a tender heartbreak of a ballad that builds in intensity. She sings with power and drips with emotion. When she sings, “When I lay down at night/thinking about you/I can’t help but wonder/if you want to hold me too,” my first thought is “what’s wrong with that guy?” Didn’t Do You No Good has an Oh Well bass line in the bridge, the drums are tribal and Osborne is inventive and appropriately rocking. Danielle Nicole is totally on fire here. Whew!! Funky, classic soul draped in the blues, this is highly recommended.—Mark E. Gallo

Golden State Lone Star Blues Revue

Great West Coast swinging blues by masters of the craft. Little Charlie Baty and Anson Funderburgh on guitars, Mark Hummel on vocals and harp, R.W. Grigsby on bass and Wes Starr on drums. Eric Spaulding and Jack Sanford on saxes and Jim Pugh on piano and organ. Whew! Tunes from Gatemouth Brown, Billy Boy Arnold, Lowell Fulson and Mose Allison comingle with originals from Hummel. The results are as electric as you’d expect. Gatemouth’s Midnight Hour opens the set and sets the pace. Guitars blazing and the rhythm rocking. Classic. Hummel’s harp shines on Arnold’s Here’s My Picture (“please leave it in your frame”) with a tom-tom rhythm romping behind. The first of the Hummel originals, Prove It To You (ain’t got a job/ain’t got a cent/I ain’t got enough just to pay our rent/I’m gonna prove it to you baby/I’ve got just what you need”) gives everyone room to shine. Baty’s guitar is distinct on the first chorus, followed by hard blown harp. Fulson’s Check Yourself has swinging saxes and rollicking piano to recommend it, along with Anson Funderburgh’s guitar. The version of Mose Allison’s Stop This World works surprising well. Again, Hummel’s harp is gorgeous. . Lucky Kewpie Doll has both guitarists trading licks with an extended piano solo in the middle. Pepper Mama is a tribute of sorts to BB King that again features the guitarists. Jimmy McCracklin’s Take a Chance has Jim Pugh on organ and reaches back to the band’s collective influences. Golden State and Lone Star suggest California and Texas, and that’s sure all over the program, but so is Chicago. Hummel’s vocals are reminiscent of Rick Estrin. They have the same range and sense of time. Hummel’s harp style is all his own, though he’s clearly influenced by predecessors. He wails like Little Walter on the classic Walking With Mr. Lee. Starr and Grigsby are a sensitive and intuitive rhythm team. I’m especially fond of Grigsby’s Detroit Blues, a shuffle that talks about not wanting to be left behind when things just don’t go right. Jimmy McCracklin’s Georgia Slop is a hard boppin’ number that’s followed by an equally rockin’ Dim The Lights. Both guitarists shine, as one would expect. Recorded at Kid Anderson’s Greaseland Studios the project has a distinctly “live” feel and allows every instrument to be heard clearly. Just for the pleasure of hearing Little Charlie and Anson trading licks this is recommended. That they’re behind the great Mark Hummel is just icing. Great album.—Mark E. Gallo

Various artists
Blues for Big Walter
Eller Soul 2016

Although not as widely known or lauded as his contemporaries Little Walter Jacobs and Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller), Big Walter Horton (1917-1981) was one of the most adept and admired harmonica players in 20th century blues.
Proficient on the “Mississippi saxophone” (he was Mississippi-born) and arguably its innovator as an electrified instrument, he was one of Muddy Waters’ myriad outstanding harmonica sidemen. The list of blues legends whom he accompanied is awesome: Robert Johnson, Johnny Shines, Honeyboy Edwards, Homesick James, B.B. King, Koko Taylor, Big Mama Thornton, Robert Nighthawk, and John Lee Hooker (a partial list!).
So, a tribute album is warranted, and overdue. Kudos to harpman and producer L’il Ronnie Owens for overseeing this project, with proceeds going to the Blues Foundation and Hart Fund non-profit organizations.
Big Walter was revered for his full tone, idiosyncratic but smooth phrasing, and unpretentious but memorable solos. Frustratingly, the paucity of liner notes for this CD fails to clarify the rationale for song and artist selection. Were these tunes favorites of Big Walter? Did he record versions of them? Do they reflect his particular style? Did he mentor any of these players (as he did Carey Bell)? We’re left in the dark. (In addition, there aren’t even composition credits for any of the tunes, and sloppy editing led to misspellings and omissions.)
However, the good news is that there is valuable music here, and a lot of it: 76 minutes of it, to be exact. The lineup of harmonica mavens is impressive. Kim Wilson, in his only appearance, leads off on “Someday,” backing a solid performance by Big Jon Atkinson on guitar and vocal. “She Loves Another Man” follows, recorded in 1992 and featuring Bob Corritore on harp and the great Jimmy Rogers on guitar. (It is little known that Rogers himself was an excellent harmonica player before he switched to guitar in the classic 1950s Muddy Waters band, eclipsed on harmonica by Little Walter.) Corritore appears again in a 2001 recording of “Rambling on My Mind,” featuring Robert Lockwood Jr. on guitar and vocal.
Mark Wenner of The Nighthawks, Steve Guyger, Mark Hummel, and L’il Ronnie each garner two tracks to shine on harmonica, as does Andrew Alli on another two and Kurt Crandall on one; the latter two harpmen were unknown to me, but distinguish themselves on three of the six instrumental tracks.
The centerpiece of the collection is “Sugar Ray Medley,” an almost 19 minute number featuring Sugar Ray Norcia and his Bluetones bandmates Anthony Geraci on piano, Mike Welch on guitar, Neil Gouvin on drums, and Mudcat Ward on bass. A real tour de force, this track features changes of tempo, lots of virtuoso harmonica, and even a brief midstream digression to the tune “Blueberry Hill.”
Unlike many tribute albums, this one is less likely to provoke one to revisit Big Walter’s oeuvre than to check out the work of the harpmen featured here. That’s OK; they deserve recognition. —Steve Daniels

Various Artists
40 Years of Stony Plain
Stony Plain 3-CD

As Canada’s Stony Plain founder/president Holger Petersen relates: “Putting together this specially priced, 47 track, three CD set has been a joy—not only going back over those years and selecting some of our favorite tracks, but also digging deeper to find rare and previously unreleased material (comprising the third CD) by old friends Eric Bibb, Duke Robillard, Maria Muldaur, David Wilcox, the late Bob Carpenter, Walter “Shakey” Horton and the legendary Sam Chatmon and His Barbeque Boys from 1979.” Tellingly, the pair of Chatmon selections (“I Hate That Train” and “All Night Long”) also feature Colin Linden and Doc MacLean while Horton’s project-closing track “Shakey’s Edmonton Blues,” reflects on the label’s inauspicious origins—at the kitchen table of a suburban Edmonton, Alberta house. The first disc is devoted, basically, to singers and songwriters the likes of Doug Sahm. Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Ian Tyson, Steve Earle and closes with Eric Bibb’s epic “Needed Time,” that is musically fortified by Taj Mahal, The Blind Boys of Alabama and Ruthie Foster. Disc two focuses on the label’s rootsy blues, gospel, swing and jazz genres with the likes of Billy Boy Arnold, Long John Baldry, Rosco Gordon, Jay McShann, Rory Block and Amos Garrett dropping by. Also noted is Sonny Rhodes’ great invite to “Meet Me At The 10th Street Inn” and Joe Louis Walker’s jauntily descriptive romper “Eyes Like A Cat.” The intrepid Petersen has more than proved it’s possible to prosper in an ever-wintry climate and at a distance from the Toronto-centric, falderal-filled Canadian music scene. “It’s too late to stop now,” as John Lee Hooker used to say. Worth twice the price!—Gary von Tersch

The Troyes
Rainbow Chaser
Cicadelic CD 72014

The inexplicably named Troyes were a short-lived, Battle Creek, Michigan-based garage band that was quite active locally in the mid-sixties, led by lead vocalist, songwriter and farfisa organist Lee Koteles along with four of his high school buddies. Performing an enervating mix of covers and originals at local teen hangouts and dance halls like Eddy’s and Teens Inc. they were soon signed to bandleader Ray Anthony’s just launched rock label, Space Records (a Capitol Records subsidiary), and scored a regional smash right out of the box with their rousing “Rainbow Chaser,” that rose to number three on the Top 40 in September of 1966—just ahead of the Four Tops with “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” and the Supremes with “You Can’t Hurry Love.” Anthony (of Peter Gunn and Dragnet-theme fame) had big plans for the combo and insisted they record enough material for an album—nearly two deck’s worth were recorded at Detroit’s United Sound studios in late 1966 and early 1967. But, unluckily, only two singles were ever issued, with the remainder in limbo. This 24 track compilation contains them all—including three versions of “Rainbow” and two of its also catchy flip side, the moody ballad “Why.” The rest of the hook-laden efforts range from way-out psychedelia to totally manic fuzz and farfisa garage to irascibly haunting sonancy. Favorites, mostly in a downbeat romantic, Seeds-ian vein, encompass the likes of “Someday You’ll See My Side,” “I Know Different,” both sides of that second Space single (“Love Comes, Love Dies” and “Help Me Find Myself”) and the band’s final recording, an arresting commentary on their hometown, Battle Creek, where the Kellogg’s cereal corporation was headquartered. An enclosed booklet of rare photos, newspaper articles and Troyes ephemera rounds things out nicely. Well worth tracking down.—Gary von Tersch 

Markey Blue
The Blues Are Knockin’
Soul Sound Records

The band Markey Blue was formed in Nashville when Ric Latina and Jeanette Markey teamed up as a duo for “a few club dates” and things began to click. Together they started writing songs and found their diverse backgrounds, Markey a Vegas showgirl, stand up comic and actress, while Latina’s impressive resume of studio and touring work for some of the top country stars out of Nashville, meant they weren’t your typical blues band. They’ve gone all-out, assembling the best musicians they could find but keeping the songwriting and production in their own pocket. The results show in their second CD, “The Blues Are Knockin’” that they are ready to answer the call.
Cutting through the ringing tambourine, delta Dobro and driving rhythm, Markey’s husky voice cries out “I’ll Wait For You” and picking up the pace, Lantina’s guitar takes the lead as Markey, her voice taking on the tone like Shawn Murphy, declares “That Ain’t Good Enough.” With a force like Etta James “Damn Your Eyes” the undercurrent of the B3, blare of horns and chilling guitar solo heats things up as Markey pleads it’s “Cold Outside.” Banking on a solid rhythm and B3, Markey tells it like it is declaring “Cash Is Always King” and the guitar pays out with interest. There’s no escaping when “The Blues Are Knockin’” with its slow wail of the guitar as Miss Blue’s sweet vocals take hold. “Be My Train” lets Latini’s playing pay tribute to Little Milton while Markey’s vocal on “Lay Down Lucille” with Ric’s licks make this a full-on B.B. King tribute. Showing the full power of Markey’s vocals, the message is tough and hard hitting, there’s no doubt this girl is “Nobody’s Fool.” With the fluid guitar lines against a quietly intense vocal, there is a heartfelt passion on “Me Missing You.” As the guitar wails, Ric returns to the licks of B.B. King for “Worries” as Markey lets her heart take the lead.
With this second set of soulful sounds from the Markey Blue band once you hear “The Blues Are Knockin’” open up that door and let the blues begin.—Roger & Margaret White

Reggie Wayne Morris
Don’t Bring Me Daylight
Blue Jay Sound

While not a second or third generation blues man, Reggie Wayne Morris was raised by his extended family on a farm in Charlottesville, Virginia where Gospel and blues was just part of life. At first the guitar was something that preoccupied young Reggie but moving to Baltimore, Maryland the occupation of bluesman found him. With his third release Morris has broken out of the shadows with a slice of southern soul and blues called “Don’t Bring Me Daylight,” co-written and co-produced by Gerald “Gypsy” Robinson. With a rotating crew of blues brothers Reggie’s band includes Chuck Fuerte or Ezell Jones on drums, Vinny Hunter, Pete Kanaras, Chris Sellman or Ray Tilkens playing bass with Mark Stevens or Bob Borderman on keyboards. On this offering they lay out ten originals and a cover.
Leading with a ringing, lonesome-toned guitar, the “Son Of A Blues Fan” is something many of our readers and musicians may relate to and where better to hear all the best bands when you’re young then right at home with gramp’s showing you the chords? His strat cries as Reggie laments a woman that would come slipping in and he’d hope she “Don’t Bring Me Daylight” when she comes home but the saddest part is that he “Used To Have A Woman.” The piano comes crashing in as he wonders why did he open up “Another Can Of Worms” that might crash and burn again. The only cover is Ceophus Palmer’s “Sign My Check,” the guitar’s lyrical voice sings along with this sorrowful soul who finds himself dragging that “Ball & Chain” which reminds me of Little Willie John’s “I Need Your Love So Bad.” The steady snap of the drum against the gentle ring of guitar similar to “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do,” Reggie’s voice pleading “Meet Me” when I get home as the tension builds only to find that “She’s Gone” as the guitar goes cutting through that empty place. Many try to fill that space with sex and drugs and alcohol as a mournful “OOOOO WEEEE” is all that comes but the reggae-like ballad lifts him to be happy because “God Loves You.”
The songs of Reggie Wayne Morris’ new recording “Don’t Bring Me Daylight” may seem like a heavy load if you listen to the lyrics but the real power of the blues is the music; it can make everything better.—Roger & Margaret White

Dan Treanor’s Afrosippi Band with Erica Brown & MJ
Born to Love the Blues
Plan-It Records 2015

How often do you encounter a blues album whose liner notes sort each song into its blues sub-genre? Well, here we have one, its dozen cuts ranging from “Memphis style boogaloo” to “a little Latin with a Macon groove” to “neo soul.” Fortunately, the quality matches the variety.
Dan Treanor, born and based in Colorado, is a veritable blues renaissance man: guitarist, harmonica player, songwriter, producer, bandleader, African instrument maker. He is winner of the Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive 2012 award as educator in schools, and his Afrosippi Band placed third in the 2013 International Blues Challenge.
This follow-up to 2013’s “Tangled Road Again” once more features Treanor on mouth harp (and occasionally guitar), with Michael Hossler on lead guitar and powerhouse vocalists Erica Brown and Merrian Johnson (MJ). Jack Erwin has assumed the bass duties, acquitting himself admirably, and the drum kit has been taken over by Scott Headley, who keeps for the most part to an unobtrusive steady bottom, but gooses the proceedings on several tunes with some dazzling stickwork.
Four tracks are covers, including the Black Keys’ “Hurt Like Mine,” labeled a “rockin’ blues” but more swingin’ than rockin’. The appropriately labeled “classic soul” cover is Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Going to Come,” addressed by a soulful MJ vocal accompanied by Treanor’s fluid warbling harmonica and Hossler’s lyrical guitar. Chicago blues is represented by “Knocked Out,” distinguished by Brown’s pipes and Treanor’s harp. The longest track, “Missing,” supposedly represents “the Afrosippi sound,” although it actually resembles its predecessor track, “Mississippi Fred’s Dream.” The latter is obviously an homage to Mississippi Fred McDowell, the 20th century hill country blues titan (who famously declared, “I don’t play no rock-and-roll,” an assertion stressed in the lyrics). This “straight and natural blues” number accurately reflects hill country blues’ emphasis on rhythm and repetition rather than melody.
My favorite track, “A House Is Not a Home,” is a rocker, sporting more excellent Hossler guitar work and terrific rhythm section interplay. Despite some intermittently mannered singing by both Brown and MJ, “Born to Love the Blues” is a worthy release by this tight ensemble.—Steve Daniels


Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘N’ Roll
By Peter Guralnick
Little Brown & Company
$32 Hardcover

Sun Records, based in Memphis, Tennessee, was formed in 1952 by the extroverted genius Sam Phillips, a former radio announcer who had opened the first permanent recording studio in the long-time musical hotbed in 1950 to record the abundance of local blues, rhythm ‘n’ blues and country & western artists. For nearly two years Phillips leased commercially successful sides to indie labels such as Modern and Chess, with his recordings of the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, B.B.King, Harmonica Frank, Jackie Brenston (of “Rocket 88” fame) and many others while unwittingly providing the blueprint for the shortly ensuing yet equally raw R&B sounds of Junior Parker & his Blue Flames, Ike Turner and Rufus Thomas and many of their contemporaries—which, in roundabout fashion, then provided the spark and rock (so to speak)-solid foundation for the just-around-the-corner, mid-fifties genuine rock ‘n’ roll rhythms of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. Over the course of more than 700 pages, the easy-reading Guralnick calls upon not only his quarter-century acquaintance (and abundance of interviews) with the enterprising Phillips as well as capacious reflections by all of the above musicians along with a host of others to, in essence, dramatically relate the multi-faceted saga of the unleashing of rock ‘n’ roll—the Big Beat!—upon the world. Back when jukeboxes, drive-ins and Top 40 radio stations ruled. Things don’t end well regarding Phillips, but that’s often the case with multi-tasking visionaries (Phillips also owned and “programmed” a variety of radio stations) and, by the early seventies, the Sun label had set. But for those of a certain age, such as yours truly, the magic of those early days remains as vivid and aurally arresting as ever. Led Zepellin and Alice Cooper be damned!—Gary von Tersch


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