Blues Reviews Aug/Sept 2016

45th Anniversary Collection

Greatest Hits collections are a fine way to get familiar with an artist’s work. The same can be said for a record label. Alligator has been the gold standard for most of the past 45 years. The story has been told many times. Young Bruce Iglauer, then an employee of Delmark, was smitten with Hound Dog Taylor and his band and wanted to record them. Delmark honcho Bob Koester turned him down. He had been involved with enough of the recording of Delmark artists to get the basic idea and he launched his own company in 1971 and recorded Taylor. 300 albums later Iglauer and company are still going strong, still finding fresh new talent and showcasing the work of many veterans. Iglauer writes in the liners that he wanted to shine the spotlight on the current roster, although there are still plenty of the classics in the mix to please everyone’s tastes. Li’l E & The Blues Imperials open the program with their highly infectious Hold That Train, from the 2011 album Full Tilt and the party doesn’t let up until the Holmes Brothers close it with their amazing rendition of Amazing Grace from 2013’s Brotherhood, their last album. In between are equally dazzling performances by Son Seals, Marcia Ball, Koko Taylor, Tommy Castro, Charlie Musselwhite, Shemekia Copeland, Elvin Bishop, Carey and Lurrie Bell, Rick Estrin & The Nightcats, Joe Louis Walker, Lee Rocker, Delbert McClinton, Anders Osborne, Mavis Staples, and the Genesis man, Hound Dog Taylor and his Houserockers. That’s just the first disc.
The second features James Cotton, Albert Collins on a live version of If Trouble Was Money, Michael ‘Iron Man’ Burks, Billy Boy Arnold, Guitar Shorty, Luther Allison, JJ Grey & Mofro, Roomful of Blues, the great Lazy Lester, Johnny Winter doing Shake Your Moneymaker, Curtis Salgado, Ann Rabson, Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King, A.C. Reed and Bonnie Raitt, Luther Allison, and the Holmes Brothers. Treats, all, to be sure, and well worth the cost of admission alone. But…intermixed with these gems are more treats from the new bloods. Moreland and Arbuckle, who just signed to the label, offer a fantastic Take Me With You (When You Go) from their brand spankin’ new debut, Promised Land Or Bust, proving why they’re one of the best trios on the road and in the studio. Dustin Arbuckle’s strong vocals and Aaron Moreland’s fiery guitar are buoyed by Kendall Newby’s rat-a-tat drumming. Powerhouse guitarist Jarekus Singleton offers a look to the blues future that combines hard rock with a classic blues story. The Kentucky Headhunters teamed with legendary Chuck Berry pianist Johnnie Johnson on the roadhouse rockin’ Let’s Go Stumbling, a tune they cut together in 2003. Toronzo Cannon Band’s Bad Contract is as funky and fun as it gets. Selwyn Birchwood offers Don’t Call No Ambulance from his 2013 album of the same name. Rockin’, but somehow subtle in the process, he’s another of those youngsters who hold the future in his hands. And the hands seem pretty darned competent.
This is one of those compilations that blues fans wait patiently for. It sure won’t disappoint. The list of major players who are not on this collection might be shorter than that for those who are. There are many award winning performers here. Take a listen, you’ll understand why. Great stuff.—Mark E. Gallo

Big Jon Atkinson & Bob Corritore
House Party at Big Jon’s
Delta Groove 2016

Over a three month period in mid-2015, young guitar slinger Jon Atkinson and veteran blues harmonica expert Bob Corritore got together for some jam sessions at Atkinson’s home sound studio, abetted by a roster of notable West Coast accompanists. The result is a set of tunes primarily exploring the Chicago blues style. Each song features lead guitar - usually Atkinson - Danny Michel on rhythm guitar, Corritore on harp, bassist Troy Sandow, and rotating drummers Malachi Johnson, Brian Fahey, and Marty Dodson. There is no piano, there are no horns, and every song hews to the twelve bar format. What the album lacks in variety it compensates for with devotion to the Chicago genre of blues.
Of the ample sixteen tunes, three were composed by Atkinson and two by Corritore. Of the remaining covers, “I’m Gonna Miss You Like the Devil” and “I’m a King Bee” were penned by J. Moore: none other than Slim Harpo. Those two Louisiana swamp blues numbers are sung respectively by Atkinson, at the slithering, slimy pace of Harpo’s original and by guest vocalist Willie Buck at a more spirited tempo. “King Bee” is preceded by the set’s only instrumental, “El Centro,” composed by Corritore and featuring a Latinate flavor evoking memories of Charlie Musselwhite’s many versions of “Cristo Redentor.”
Every other track is straight Chicago blues, much of it reminiscent of the output of Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers and especially of the Siegel-Schwall Band of forty years ago. Most of the tracks proceed at a mid-tempo or meandering pace. In fact, my main caveat about the set is its lack of juice, punctuated by a lot of rote drumming without flourishes. It isn’t until the eighth song, “Mad About It,” that some energy and oomph emerge, and subsequently there is only one other uptempo song. “Mad About It” does provide tasty Atkinson-Corritore guitar-harmonica interplay, and Corritore’s harp playing is heard on each tune, although he is content throughout to provide support and never steps out for the incandescent solos of which he is capable.
Atkinson’s lead guitar forays complement the songs well, without ever attaining emotional intensity. As for vocals, he competently handles the duty on half of the songs, providing adequate but uninspired efforts. More compelling are the vocal contributions of Buck and additional guests Dave Riley, Alabama Mike, and Tomcat Courtney. Riley lends his raspy voice to “At the Meeting” and his own tune, “Mississippi Plow” (which sounds suspiciously like “I Ain’t Supertitious” with different lyrics) and Alabama Mike is particularly good on “Mojo Hand,” a Lightnin’ Hopkins tune. The premier vocal of the album is that of San Diego octogenarian Tomcat Courtney, who penned “Mojo in My Bread” and whose cackle at the end indicates that he really enjoyed singing it. I enjoyed it, too.—Steve Daniels

B.B. King
“Here’s One You Didn’t Know About”: From The RPM & Kent Vaults
Ace CDTOP 1457

B.B. King, probably the best known and most influential bluesman of them all, was born Riley King on September 16th, 1925 in tiny Itta Bena, Mississippi. In 1950 he signed with the West Coast’s Modern Records, who released his first million-seller “3 O’Clock Blues”—that remained on the R&B charts for nearly five months. It was just the first of a long string of hits King scored over the next ten years for the big-eared Bihari brothers—he was constantly in the studio, cutting hundreds of sides—including major charters on the order of 1955’s “Everyday I Have The Blues,” 1956’s “Sweet Little Angel” and 1960’s “Sweet Sixteen.” King departed Modern for the more mainstream ABC Records in 1961 where, beginning with his monumental crossover smash “The Thrill Is Gone” and continuing for the next half century, he perfected his scintillatingly dazzling guitar technique and accompanying, majestically poignant, vocal gymnastics while compiling an abounding and widely acclaimed discography. His “recorded live” albums, particularly Live At The Regal, proved particularly rewarding. But it all started with his period with Modern when he was in his early prime. His recent passing on May, 14th 2016, at the ripe old age of 89, prompts this fascinating vault exploration project, that reiterates and underscores his musical mastery with 23 previously unreleased, archival tracks (mostly from the mid-fifties) along with a pair that originally appeared on The RPM Records Story Volume 2, also issued on Ace a few months ago. Picks include a remarkable re-imagining of “Catfish Blues,” a romping boogie titled “Shut Your Mouth,” alternate single and LP versions of his classic “Sweet Little Angel,” the mid-tempo cautionary “Be Careful With A Fool,” a jazzy nod to T-Bone Walker on “Early In The Morning” and the swinging tribute to a “Whole Lotta Meat,” a steamy novelty number. A nifty companion to P-Vine’s also recent 17 CD Modern box set. Plus, producers Roger Armstrong and Dick Shurman (who also wrote the informative, photo-studded liners) are confident that there’s enough more unissued or obscure takes for “a couple more good future compilations.” Can’t wait!—Gary von Tersch

Big Harp George
Wash My Horse in Champagne
Blue Mountain Records 2016

The first advice given to aspiring short story writers: the opening sentence has to grab the reader. Well, before I even listened to this CD, I was snared by the title. After actually listening to it…well, top-notch!
Recently retired law professor and public defender George Bisharat indeed plays big harps, i.e., chromatic rather than diatonic harmonicas. Not many contemporary harmonica mavens prefer them (although Rod Piazza frequently employs one in his shows). Here Bisharat deploys the chromatic in twelve of the thirteen original tunes comprising “Wash…,” fully utilizing its versatility as an adept instrument for both jazz and blues. He is backed by basically the same array of talented San Francisco Bay Area musicians that appeared on his 2015 debut album, “Chromaticism”: Chris Burns on keyboards, Raja Kawar on drums, Little Charlie Baty on guitar, and Michael Peloquin on saxophone. Rusty Zinn’s guitar offerings are gone, but Kedar Roy on bass, Mike Rinta on trombone, J. Hansen on percussion, and Loralee Christensen are welcome additions. The ensemble is anchored by Kid Andersen on alternate bass and lead guitar, whose Greaseland Studios recorded the album. Production values are excellent; the mix is clear and each instrument easily audible.
The musicianship is high quality. Andersen shines on bass, and when providing lead he confirms the artistry that has earned him four Blues Music Award nominations as guitarist of the year. Little Charlie’s offerings are equally impressive, with more of a jazzy inflection. Big George’s harmonica renderings are tasteful, with full, mellow tone, and his vocals, although failing to wring maximum emotion from the few slower tunes such as the lament “My Bright Future,” nonetheless evince nice range and true pitch. His vocals meld beautifully with Christensen on five tracks, including one of the album’s highlights, the title track, a risible tale of vowed revenge.
Another highlight is “Light from Darkness,” a paean to human altruism, with scintillating Andersen guitar licks. “Mojo Waltz” and “Size Matters” are the two instrumentals, and “What’s Big?” deftly displays diatonic harp prowess. In fact, almost every song is laudable, particularly the lyrics; “If Only,” a blues rocker, features “If only I could hold my liquor, If only I could shut my mouth, I wouldn’t be sleeping on your sofa, With my marriage heading south.” Eclectic themes include a dirge for a deceased lover, a revisionist view of masculinity, and a plea for social justice.
Having left the practice of law, Big Harp George has established a well earned place in the world of contemporary blues.—Steve Daniels

Clint Morgan
Lost Cause CD

Accomplished blues and boogie-woogie piano player, singer/songwriter (and lawyer) Clint Morgan was raised on a farm in rural Washington state. His family, originally from southern Appalachia, emigrated west ‘back in the day’ when land was cheap and the farming and logging was productive. His great-great aunt was Eliza Morgan Bays, AP Carter’s great grandma, and his paternal grandmother was related to the Carter Family by marriage.  This sophomore album of mostly original material follows 2008’s You’re Really Bugging Me Now and is a highly atmospheric concept affair of sorts with 18 tales of ruin and redemption that off-handedly comment reflectively while proffering a variety of viewpoints on the tortured, scofflawing protagonist (see cover)— all book-ended and blessed by the Abingdon, Alabama Children’s Choir’s transfixing version of the traditional affirmation “This Little Light Of Mine.” Other folks that lend Morgan a hand include Maria Muldaur, on a couple of gospel-charged, Muldaurishly inspirational titles (“Softly And Tenderly” and “I Done Made It Up In My Mind”) as well as commanding blues vocalist Diunna Greenleaf (on the wrenching “I Don’t Know Where To Turn” and a cover of Bessie Smith’s plea to “Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair”) and a first-call band that includes multi-instrumentalist Jim Hoke, Johnny Cash’s bassist Dave Roe and Marty Stuart’s guitarist  Kenny Vaughan. Particularly well-wrought Morgan titles include an homage to Billy the Kid titled “I Got A Gun,” a mesmerizing “D.B. Cooper Blues,” the bank-robbing “Bad Man Blues” and “The Face In The Mirror,” about the ill-fated dentist Doc Holliday. Also noted: a great take on Dylan’s visionary “Wanted Man.” Rootsy Americana music at its most accomplished. My old buddy, the Wheelchair Man, is smiling somewhere.—Gary von Tersch

Sam Butler
Raise Your Hands”
Severn 2015

This debut album by the talented singer and guitarist Sam Butler (Jr.) signals his emergence from a musical limbo. Son of Sam Butler Sr., a musician and preacher, Sam Jr. was a prominent member of the famed gospel group the Blind Boys of Alabama, serving as guitarist for the group from 1972 to 1994. Subsequently on various ventures he has accompanied Keith Richards and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, among others, and here he joins forces with pedal steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier, Viktor Krauss on bass, and percussionist Marco Giovino. Butler handles the vocals and guitar leads as the quartet covers a dozen songs by multiple eminent songwriters.
Not a pure blues album, this outing more accurately could be called an amalgam of rock, gospel, and soul, all propelled by Butler’s evocative vocals. Among the songs covered are compositions by Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Eliza Gilkyson, and Bruce Springsteen. Nick Cave also makes the cut, as does Van Morrison - not surprisingly, since much of Morrison’s work evinces the spirituality intrinsic to Butler’s background and strength. Fittingly, the Morrison tune, “Full Force Gale,” gets the longest treatment of the set, over six minutes, and one of Butler’s best vocal performances. He is capable of imploring, raspy power, but also smooth soulful crooning, as exemplified on this track.
Some of the more up tempo numbers succumb to instrumental bombast, reducing the poignancy and impact of this set of devotional interpretations. It’s on the slower numbers that the quartet hits its peak. Particularly notable is the cover rendition of Eric Clapton’s [“In the] Presence of the Lord,” which appeared on the eponymous “Blind Faith” album of four decades ago. Blind Faith’s version, with Clapton’s soaring guitar and Steve Winwood’s soulful tenor vocal, was itself inspirational. Butler’s take slows the tempo and replaces Winwood’s organ with Collier’s pedal steel; it’s a worthy and moving version despite some excessive Butler guitar flourishes toward the end. —Steve Daniels

The Mighty Mojo Prophets
Record Store
Mojo King Music 2016

You don’t even have to go to a bar to hear one of the best bar bands around. On this, their third album, the Long Beach, CA-based Mighty Mojo Prophets build on their prior release, 2013’s “Flyin’ Home from Memphis,” with thirteen original compositions that will set your hands a-clappin’ and feet a-dancin’.
Since their eponymously named first release in 2011, this band has been led by vocalist Tom “Big Son” Eliff and guitarist Mitch “Da Switch” Dow. Mike Malone remains at the keyboards since “Flyin’ Home,” with Dave Deforest now plucking the bass and Al Ricci beating the drums, augmented by Tom Richmond on diatonic and chromatic harmonicas. Horns have been eliminated since 2013, but they aren’t missed as this tight ensemble digs into some gut-bucket West Coast blues.
The album blasts off with one of its best tracks, “Crazy Love,” a madcap rocking blues that reminds me of one of my favorite California electric blues numbers ever, “Icepick’s Confession” from James Harman’s 1990s album “Do Not Disturb.” The rhythm section backs a cascade of Dow’s nasty guitar licks, and Richmond delivers a virtuoso harp solo midway through. The party is already in full swing!
“Record Store,” the ensuing title track, is in my opinion the only misstep of the set, relying too heavily on an overused guitar wah-wah pedal. However, redemption is quickly achieved with “Devil at Your Door,” another highlight, which establishes the basic mid-tempo swagger and grit of virtually ever other cut on the disc.
Some other favorites: “Cherry Red” and “Bring It on Home” each establish an irresistible groove; the penultimate “Wondering” has some really greasy guitar by Dow and another fine harmonica display by Richmond; and the only instrumental, the closing “All Thumbs,” allows Richmond to wail on the chromatic. That said, the cynosure of the album is Eliff’s singing: the man has great intonation, good range, and a subtle drawl perfect for this band’s songs.
“Record Store” follows in the tradition of other notable Southern CA blues bands of the last few decades such as the Hollywood Fats Band, Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers, and William Clarke’s and James Harman’s bands, and deserves to be mentioned in the same pantheon. The Mighty Mojo Prophets aren’t flashy, but they deliver the goods.—Steve Daniels

Robert Lee “Lil Poochie” Watson & Hezekiah Early
Natchez Burnin’
Broke & Hungry CD 13012

Hats off to Broke & Hungry label honcho Jeff Konkel for keeping those rootsy, real and raw Mississippi country blues vibrations alive with splendidly produced projects like Natchez Burnin’ that, to great effect, links up the veteran juke-joint duo of force-of-nature vocalist and tenacious guitarist Robert Lee “Lil’ Poochie” Watson with Hezekiah Early—who also sings some and shines on drums, harmonica as well as on his marvelous, one-of-a-kind “homemade guitar” for a couple of starkly supple and harrowing solo titles—the traditional chestnut popularized by Big Joe Williams, “Baby Please Don’t Go,” and Louis Jordan’s worrying “Somebody Changed The Lock.” As producer Konkel avers in his informative liners, “these are uneasy times for the Mississippi blues. In the past few years, we’ve lost some of the state’s best and most-loved blues artists (many of whom live on a series of documentaries he helped produce) and, sadly, the trend shows no sign of slowing in 2016. In the first two months of this year alone our dear friends L.C. Ulmer and Elmo Williams have passed. It’s enough to drive a blues fan to drink.” Not to worry while Watson and Early are still standing—all twelve tracks here were laid down at a single three-hour session at the legendary Delta Music Institute’s Studio B in Cleveland, Mississippi and reveal a wide spectrum of influences, encompassing not only pre-war Delta blues, New Orleans R&B, electric juke blues, nascent rock & roll and the deepest southern soul. Picks are many, including vivid, in-the-moment redos of material by the ill-fated Chuck Willis (“I Feel So Bad”), Big Joe Turner (“Flip, Flop And Fly”), Fats Domino (“My Girl Josephine”) and Lightnin’ Hopkins’ ever-timely “Mr. Charlie” along with a pair of Watson originals (“Got My Eyes on You” and the harp-studded “Mama Don’t Love Papa”) and Early’s minimalist “Shooby Dooby Doo” (with apologies to Roy Orbison). Treat yourself and also check out a 2011 documentary called We Juke Up In Here (jointly produced with Roger Stolle’s Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art concern) that showcases Poochie and Hez in all their glory, tackling material by everyone from Howlin’ Wolf to Z.Z. Hill live at Clarksdale, Mississippi’s fabled Red’s Lounge. More please.—Gary von Tersch

Alabama Mike
Upset the Status Quo
Self-produced 2016

Conundrum. Dichotomy. Paradigm.
When is the last time that you heard those words, or ones like them, in a blues song? Well, there they are in the title track of Alabama Mike’s latest CD, and their presence attests to the literacy as well as topical relevance of his songs. Oh, by the way, the music is pretty darn good, too.
Michael Benjamin released his first CD, “Day to Day,” in 2010, with support from such blues luminaries as guitarist Steve Freund and harmonicats RJ Mischo and John Nemeth. His 2011 follow-up, “Tailor Made Blues,” drew on his gospel roots and love of the blues and was highly praised, earning him San Francisco Bay Area music awards and Blues Music Award nominations from the Blues Foundation. His next foray was an acoustic side project with harmonica player Scott Brenton and guitarist Anthony Paule, calling themselves the Hound Kings, on an album entitled “Unleashed.”
Now Mike has corralled a group of the best Bay Area blues artists to support this latest effort. Recorded in Kid Andersen’s highly regarded Greaseland Records studio, the set features Andersen, Jon Lawton, and Bob Welsh on guitars, Andersen and former Robert Cray sideman Jim Pugh on organ, Welsh and Sid Morris on piano, and rising ace Aki Kumar on harmonica, backed by a rotating rhythm section and occasional contributions by Bernard Anderson on saxophone. With this kind of quality, it’s hard to go wrong.
Mike has a raspy tenor which he deploys effectively. The first four tracks, all mid-tempo, are distinguished by Welsh’s guitar licks, Pugh’s swirling organ interventions, and Kumar’s tasteful harp. “Can’t Stay Here Long” slows the pace, with Mike’s imploring soul vocal. Next, his slow anguished vocal intro segues into the uptempo “Fight for Your Love.”
“Rock Me in Your Arms,” written by Lawton, presents Mike in Van Morrison mode, which is intended as high praise. “SSI Blues” is introduced by Kumar’s driving harp; only the song’s clever lyrics distinguish it from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s version of “Walkin’ Blues” from their classic album “East-West.” Mike then both croons and shouts on the Little Johnny Taylor tune “Somewhere Down the Line,” and the set ends with “God Is with You,” leading us back to church with the assistance of back-up singers Loralee Christensen and Lisa Andersen.
With its clear sound, inventive songs, and musical artistry, this CD furthers Alabama Mike’s soul and blues credentials.—Steve Daniels

Lisa Mann
Hard Times, Bad Decisions

Miss Lisa Mann has been a standout from the start; this young lady is really the complete package. At first you may notice her looks but you can’t overlook this demure woman’s thunderous bass playing and stage presence. She’s been recognized for her work winning the Blues Music Award for bass two years in a row. I’ve always felt a good bass player is the backbone of a song and as bandleader Miss Mann’s bass drives both the melody and the rhythm. But with any group it’s the vocals and songs that make or break a band, and she’s got that covered too. Lisa co-produced this recording but of course no one can do it all and her band featuring guitarist Jason Thomas, Michael Ballash on drums and Brian Harris on keys assist Miss Mann in this endeavor.
Starting with a roar, Lisa’s throaty growl powers the band through what sounds like a true tale of “Hard Times, Bad Decisions” with the guitar & organ coming in hard. Lisa is redeemed from those times by a “Certain Kinda Man” with a soulful old school Motown-flavored organ and rhythm guitar, dedicated to her own man. “You Need A Woman” is a bouncy jump number with Alex Shakeri on piano, Lisa’s vocal a swaggering swing leading to “I Go Zoom” with Alex playing rockabilly boogie piano and Sonny Hess on lead guitar to a rough rockabilly number called “Doghouse.” Kirk Fletcher’s guitar is featured on the gospel infused number “My Fathers House” while “Ain’t Nunna Yo Bizness” is a revival tent throw down with a touch of New Orleans for good measure. A trio of covers follows: “I Don’t Hurt Anymore” has a touch of Patsy Cline in this country tinged ballad with organ replacing pedal steel guitar; “I Love You All the Time” a piano-led piece of peppy pop with French lyrics that would fit in the Brill building cannon and “Play It All the Way” with guitar blasting some Chuck Berry riffs. With a Mississippi hill country sound Miss Mann is joined by Blues Music Award winner for Best Guitarist Ben Rice and the unlikely percussion of well known rock and heavy metal drummer Vinny Appice as Lisa sings “Judge a Man Forever” “by the worst thing he’s ever done.” For a real change of pace Mann added saxophonist Renato Caranto to the mix for “Two Halves of One Broken Heart” a soulful ballad featuring a duet with Andy Stokes, a Northwestern soul monster.
Lisa Mann is taking charge with “Hard Times, Bad Decisions” her fourth recording in six years and leaving those times and decisions in her wake.—Roger & Margaret White

Jonny T-Bird & the MPs
True Story
Neon Grub Jeer

Successful bands, whether on the international circuit or at the corner bar, are those that are democratic. One of the players will have his or her name on the top of the marquee, but it just wouldn’t work if they weren’t all propping each other up. Jonny T-Bird and his band, the MPs (a reference to a band from the past) are subscribers to the concept of being all in it together. A tight-knit band with a lot of road miles, Johnny and the fellas are a straight up blues band with a flair for flash. On Undercover Lover Ben Hans sets up a nice groove over which ‘Big Dad’ Robert Keelan blows harp and Jonny sings that it just might be time for him to go undercover. T-Bird then adds some tasty guitar licks while Danny Moore plays percussive piano and the band sings a responsive background. Johnny shares vocals with Queenie McCarter on the dialogue of We Got It. Keelan takes a stab at vocalizing on Storybook Blues, a song that opens with Jonny talking to the make believe audience of kids telling them it’s storybook time and introducing Big Dad to them. Keelan then opens with “it was the best of times/it was the worst of times.” Good to know the “kids” are getting exposed to the classics. The 3 Little Bears gets woven into the strange story, too, while Johnny shreds on the guitar. Nice keys by Keshena Armon, too. More of the tasty guitar frames Comes & Gone a song that has Jonny wondering what he done wrong. She’s The Toast of the Town opens with an infectious rat-a-tat percussive beat over which T-Bird adds a slinky guitar. Perhaps the most impressive guitar work is on Misunderstandings, with a jazzy underpinning. The band is anchored throughout by Brian “Bmo” Morrison. Marcus “MG” Gibbons shares drum duties with Hans and Rob Price shares the keyboards with Armon and the very impressive Danny Moore. Cass Stuve (saxophones) and Wayne Groth (trumpet) add on-time sass here and there and Max Jones adds percussion. Clearly Jonny T-Bird gets the front and center, but it takes a band to raise a groove. —Mark Gallo

Chaz DePaolo
Resolution Blues: An Acoustic Blues Journey
Smoke Tone Records

Chaz DePaolo has always been a man of resolve, coming from a family steeped in the entertainment world, guitar playing was second nature till a hand injury sidelined him in his early twenties. But through will and determination he retaught himself to play and he climbed to new heights filling arenas with the British blues/rock band the Groundhogs. But the toll one pays on a musical journey can be costly and Chaz had to overcome new hurdles including alcoholism and homelessness to find his way forward. Through perseverance he’s continues to pour himself into his music and recently was awarded a spot in the New York State Blues Hall of Fame. That fortitude brings us to DePaolo’s latest release “Resolution Blues: An Acoustic Blues Journey.” He’s helped by Prestine Allen on piano, Clifford McComas on drums, bassist Hank Kaneshige, Robert Chaseman on saxophone and David Biondo on harmonica and while Chaz plays acoustic guitar this band is not playing your usual back porch blues but has an improvisational jazz sound that is not what you’d expect at first glance.
Leading off with a jazzy number featuring a sultry sax, snappy piano and shuffling beat Chaz declares “A Love So Strong” “can not be broken.” Slowing down with a bouncy twang “Resolution Blues” speaks of New Year resolutions, past relations, hopes of a brighter future and what that would entail. With an upbeat chugging rhythm and a light jazzy feel, band members seem to improvise their parts adding layers to these “Broken Tales.” Written on a mountain top at 2am, “Angel On My Shoulder” leads off with an airy harmonica as Chaz looks into his past. With a slow stroll and staccato guitar Chaz resolves it’s time to move on in “I’m Not Angry Anymore.” Sounding like a classic “Route 66” “Rearview Mirror” refers to your old life and its problems, don’t look back keep movin’ on ahead.
A moaning sax calls to “Love’s Resistance” against a cocktail piano till that sax roars in with a mournful wail as the organ cuts through “Scars” and its emotional wounds cut deep. DePaolo pays tribute to Robert Johnson with “Gunther 414,” the Gunther hotel is where the majority of Johnson’s music was recorded in San Antonio Texas, November of 1936, and has influenced generations of blues players. A solo acoustic guitar churns under the whooping vocal, as Chaz can “Share” with others but he has to be true to himself.
Chaz DePaolo’s been to the rarefied heights of music and fallen to the lows of life but his “Resolution Blues: An Acoustic Blues Journey” may be his own redemption.—Roger & Margaret White

Georgia Washboard Stompers
The Complete Recordings: Recorded In New York 1934-35
Jazz Oracle CD 8036
The Three T’s
Live From The Hickory House
Jazz Oracle CD 8056

I’ve been unfamiliar with Canada’s Jazz Oracle label until recently. Helmed by bewhiskered John R.T. Davies, the foremost vintage audio engineer in the world, the oracular concern specializes in reissuing often unjustly long-forgotten jazz, hot dance and personality recordings from the 1920s and 1930s with informative booklets containing complete discographical info along with an abundance of pictorial ephemera. This pair of recent titles piqued my interest—I’d never heard of the Georgia Washboard Stompers and have long been a fan of trombonist/vocalist Jack Teagarden. Bands that featured a washboard began as a South Side of Chicago “happening” in the mid-1920s with a combo led by Jimmie O’ Bryant, whose unexpected commercial success led to a slew of other Windy City sides, issued by competitors, on a variety of small local labels—aside from Bryant’s unit (alternately the Wizards, Owls or Ragamuffins) there were the Chicago Footwarmers, the Dixie Four and the Dixieland Thumpers, among many others. Incredibly, for whatever reason, as the Depression became a grim reality in the early 1930s, a brand new crop of washboard-fronted bands appeared and were extensively recorded by the major labels—most notably the Georgia Washboard Stompers on newly-formed Decca Records. These sides, from an extremely productive pair of sessions, were among the first shellac 78’s issued on Decca’s 7000 “race” series. Often featuring the enervating, broad-toned trumpet work of a youthful Taft Jordan (who, by the mid 1940s, was in Duke Ellington’s band), the Stompers particularly shine on inspired “hot novelty” efforts on the order of “I Can’t Dance (I’ve Got Ants In My Pants”), “Who Broke The Lock On The Hen House Door” and “Lulu’s Back In Town” as well as on two renditions of a trio of chestnuts (“Tiger Rag,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “Limehouse Blues”) and lots of woe-be-goners like “Farewell Blues,” “After You’ve Gone” and “Chasing Shadows.” Moving ahead a couple of years we are next treated to a great-sounding compilation of material from three “live” NBC network radio broadcasts originating from New York’s fabled, West 52nd Street Hickory House night club from December of 1936—the last, and liveliest, dates from December 25th, 1936. The “Three  T’s” reference the “small group” swing trio of saxophonist/arranger Frank Trumbauer, trumpeter Charlie Teagarden and his brother, the inimitable, Jack Teagarden, who were all “on holiday leave” from Paul Whiteman’s popular jazz orchestra. Throughout, the small combo swings fluently in a chemistry-rich, modernistic Dixieland manner without relying on the vintage chestnuts commonly performed by such pick-up aggregations. Favorites are plentiful and include obviously improvised numbers like “I’m An Old Cowhand,” “Ode To A Chimney Sweep” and “Liza” along with six pleasurably swinging medley numbers (particularly, the pair from the film Gold Diggers Of 1937), nifty takes on another pair of currently popular songs (“I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “S’Wonderful”) as well as a couple of reflective highlights from the Christmas date—”Way Down Yonder In New Orleans” and “Christmas Night In Harlem.” The inclusion of a variety of NBC radio station ID’s,”themes and openings” and “closing announcements” as well as a live “news bulletin” about the abdication from the English throne by King Edward VIII because of his “association” with his American lover Wallis Simpson. This sounds like the kind of adventurous music that may have inspired them!—Gary von Tersch

John Blues Boyd
The Real Deal
Little Village Foundation 2016

Since leaving his long association with the Robert Cray Band (and prior impressive engagements), organ player Jim Pugh has founded the Little Village Foundation, based in Central California’s Santa Ynez Valley, to discover or resurrect and then to present otherwise under-recognized musical talent. Last year’s album by singer Wee Willie Walker was a notable success. Now Pugh, with the assistance of famed harmonica player, composer, and songwriter Rick Estrin and producer and multi-instrumentalist Kid Andersen, reprises the Walker experiment with Boyd. Cousin of the late bluesman Eddie Boyd, John Blues delivers the goods.
Sporting the pristine recording values of Andersen’s Greaseland Studios, the album also calls on the skills of an array of California - mainly San Francisco Bay Area - musicians, roughly the same ensemble that contributed to a recently released CD by Alabama Mike. Included are guitarists Andersen, Bob Welsh, and Big Jon Atkinson, keyboardist Pugh, harmonicats Estrin and Aki Kumar, saxophonist Terry Hanck, and almost a dozen other adepts. (Unfortunately, the sparse liner notes fail to delineate the performers on specific tracks.)
The musicianship is of the expected high quality, as are the songs. Of the thirteen cuts, Boyd penned ten. Estrin is responsible for “I Am the Real Deal,” the opener, and “That’s Big,” a jocular horn-driven number, with Estrin’s usual lyrical humor, extolling the ample physical charms of a desired woman. Estrin and Andersen co-wrote “Dona Mae,” written in tribute to Boyd’s wife of almost 50 years, who died in 2014. The slow number features Boyd’s moving vocal and the poignant refrain, “I loved you when we were school kids/And I love you when we’re old and gray.”
Other highlights include “When Your Eyes Met Mine,” a mid-tempo soul track about true love at first sight which is reminiscent of Little Milton’s best, and “The Smoking Pig,” whose dubious title is redeemed by the piano- and guitar-driven testimonial to a favored Oakland, CA, barbecue joint. The album closes with “John, the Blues Is Calling You,” this time effectively evoking the style of T-Bone Walker and Pee Wee Crayton.
Not credited with playing an instrument, Boyd asserts his worth with fine singing throughout. His generally smooth delivery is made unique by the occasional rasps, warbles, and unanticipated intonations that he throws in. At seventy years young, Boyd confirms his right to be heard.—Steve Daniels

Michael Mcdermott
Willow Springs
Pauper Sky Records CD

Barely twenty years old, folk-rocking singer-songwriter Michael McDermott  began performing in Chicago coffeehouses and bars in the early 1990s, fluidly incorporating elements of Irish music into his acoustic roots-rock sound and impressing all the critics with his notable, all-originals debut album 620 W. Surf. McDermott’s accomplished, introspective songwriting and earnestly passionate Dylan/Springsteen-informed vocal approach led folks to tout him as Rock’s next “big thing” but the record industry’s collapse in the early 1990s, coupled with personal missteps and failures on his part, effectively short-circuited his career—nonetheless, he somehow managed to release eight catch-’em-if-you-can projects over the ensuing years before this recent, stunning homage to the small Illinois town he now lives in with his wife and daughter. Recorded at his backwoods home and fan-funded, McDermott not only produces affairs but has enlisted a stellar group of supporting musicians, including Will Kimbrough, John Deaderick and his wife, Heather Horton, on a dozen transfixing originals. Titles like the poignant title track, the observational “Getaway Car” and “Folksinger” and the downbeat “Half Empty Kinda Guy” and “Shadow In The Window” conjure a timeless depth of life and emotional survival not often heard these days. Other deeply illuminating, imagistic reflections on the human condition include “What Dreams May Come” and “Soldiers Of The Same War.” His best in years.—Gary von Tersch

Sugar Blue

Sugar Blue’s first new music in years does not disappoint. Fat-toned harmonica shares space with his captivating vocals. From the lyrical On My Way (Sarah’s Song) to the rockin’ out closer, Time, this is wall to wall spectacular. Sugar Blue (born James Whiting) came to wide recognition in the 1970s when he recorded with the Rolling Stones, most recognizably on their monster hit Miss You. But he had been at it for years before that, having recorded with Brownie McGhee, Victoria Spivey and others. When he returned home to Chicago from Paris he sat in with the classic harpers like James Cotton, Carey Bell and Junior Wells whenever he could. He joined Willie Dixon’s Chicago Blues All-Stars, completing his graduate school in the blues. Now he’s the professor. Class is in session. On the 12 song program are 10 from his pen. Ironically, Sugar Blue Boogie, written by guitarist Rico McFarland, bassist Ilaria Lantieri and drummer Brady Williams, is one that he did not have a hand in writing. It’s as on fire as a harmonica can be, driven like a locomotive. It also lets the others take a turn and everyone on the train is stellar. The other cover, Ray Charles’ Mary Ann spotlights his vocals and his diversity. Damiano Della Torre’s piano is dead on. The original material, however, is where Blue shines. His command of the instrument is apparent. He cajoles and cons and uses every available inch of it. His work on One, for instance, is breathtaking. He sings “One man’s future is another man’s past” while the band comps and he takes the harp to the stratosphere. On New York City he revisits his roots in a 1920s style rag, replete with the sound of vinyl scratches. On Mercedes Benz he trades deep licks with guest star Eddie Shaw on saxophone to great effect. Sunshine has that light and bright crisp feel to it, reminiscent of Lee Oskar. This and the opener, On My Way, are the heart of the disc. These are the nuance songs. Life on the Run addresses life in the city and asks “What right have you to shoot an innocent down?” He shares vocals with the powerful Maya Azucena on the most lyrically powerful song in the set. Like Muhammad Ali Sugar Blue floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. This is a monumental recording. —Mark E. Gallo

Ted Hefko
and the Thousandaires
Distillations of the Blues

When I was in the 9th grade, about 50 years ago, I played clarinet in the school band. I’ve regretted letting it go ever since. The clarinet has a gorgeous woody sound unlike anything else. Ted Hefko is a master of the instrument. These ‘distillations’ are based around the jazzy side of blues and the bluesy side of jazz. Opening with the deliciously naughty Hesitation Blues, Hefko sings, “I ain’t no miller/and I ain’t no miller’s son/but I can do all your grinding/until the real miller comes” while adding his clarinet stylings in tandem with Kid Chocolate’s trumpet, Brian Vinson’s upright bass and Norman Edward, Jr.’s drums. A classic song getting one of the most impressive readings this listener has ever heard. I Don’t Feel Welcome Here “is a blues with clarinet, electric guitar and the crew. “It hurts me/and I know it hurts you too/but you can’t keep saying things that you know aren’t true” point to his proficiency as a lyricist. Hefko switches to a lanky tenor sax for I’ve Got A Right To Carry On is a hipster tale about being his own man (“I’m what the cat dragged in/I’m what the chef threw out/I’m rotten and I’m evil/and I make you jump and shout/I’m not fooling with you dear/or trying to turn you round.” Clever stuff. Champion Jack is an instrumental with an Art Blakey motif that lets the horn players take front and center. The title cut has a breezy almost Jimmy Buffet feel to it, but don’t let that scare you away. It’s an acoustic number that adds to the delight of the disc. Slippin Slowly showcases Hefko’s acoustic guitar work and points to more of that sly songwriting. “She was just my size/she had a swivel in her hips/ and the devil in her eyes/I slipped so slow that before I knew/every song that I wrote was comin’ out blues.” Andy ‘Dr. Bone’ Galbiati’s dangerous plunger trombone is a treat here. Bad Kids (“stealin’ wallets and 10-speed bikes”) is a finger snapper that might have worked for Rickie Lee Jones, while Butterfly Dreamin’ could have been a hit for Hoagy Carmichael. The closing When The Weather Breaks has a sweet horn chart that takes us to the beach. This is one of the surprises of the month for sure. Blues distilled. Blues redefined. Lyrically and musically a treat. —Mark E. Gallo

Ivas John
Good Days a Comin’
Right Side Up Records

Ivas John writes and sings and plays music that begs for foot tapping. An alluring amalgam of Mississippi blues with a seasoning of Appalachia, Good Days a Comin’ is one of the most enjoyable releases of the year. In a 10-star universe, this is a 10-star recording. Blessed with a wicked good voice he’s been compared to everyone from Ry Cooder to Delbert McClinton to Keb Mo to Mississippi John Hurt. His playing runs the gamut of folky strumming to beautiful filigrees. And the songs…man, the songs just grab you and don’t let you go or let you down. Eight originals, four of which he co-wrote with his dad, Edward John who was a regular on the 60s Chicago blues circuit, and four well-chosen covers. The rousing Goin’ Back to Memphis sets a pace that doesn’t let up. This is lyrically impressive, musically dynamic, and loads of fun. Robert Bowlin’s sweet fiddle intros the piece before John breaks in with his delicious acoustic guitar and sings, “I made up my mind/I’m not thinking twice/I ain’t gonna listen to nobody’s advice.” Time to go. Here I Am is a tale of an errant fella who “drank all night and slept all day/now I got no place to stay/…got no blanket honey got no pillow/no more sense than an armadillo/here I am knockin’ on your window again.” The clever wordplay is matched by the superb mandolin/fiddle/bass interplay. Roll Mississippi features more extraordinary playing. The covers of Dark As A Dungeon (Merle Travis), and Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound (Tom Paxton) are impressive but don’t compare well to the originals. Keep Your Train Movin’ (One day it’s sunny/next day it’s rain/you’ll have good times/you’ll feel some pain/keep that train movin’”) and Payday Boogie (“Friday comes and it’s 5 o’clock/put down the work and get ready to rock”) are brilliant. The closing instrumental Sunday Morning Blues is a fine fade out to the finest acoustic blues disc of this young year. You’ll pardon the gushing but man oh man what a fantastic disc!—Mark E. Gallo

Nick Schnebelen Band
Live at Knuckleheads
VizzTone 2016

Nick Schnebelen won the Albert King Award as best guitarist at the Blues Foundation’s 2008 International Blues Challenge. Check out this album and you will know why.
Nick’s former band, Trampled Under Foot, a trio with drummer brother Chris and bassist sister Danielle, won the 2008 IBC and blazed a path through the contemporary blues world until disbanding about two years ago; news flash, TUF is back together as of this writing. Meanwhile, Nick’s foray with his own band, as exemplified by this performance at one of their home venues in Kansas City, must be deemed a success. This CD seethes with hot guitar licks, gritty singing, and insistent rhythmic drive.
Leading off is “I’m Goin’,” a rocker featuring Nick and rhythm guitarist Heather Newman on dual vocals, anchored by Cliff Moore on bass and Joey Voye on percussion. Don’t sit down yet; “Willie James” is another rocker. The ensuing “Crazy” is reminiscent of Ann and Nancy Wilson’s classic Heart tune, “Crazy for You,” and leads into “Desperate Heart,” which slows the tempo. In my opinion, the best guitarists shine most on slow tunes, and Nick absolutely nails it here, equaling the efforts of some of my favorites at slow blues: Coco Montoya, Ronnie Earl, Chris Vachon of Roomful of Blues, and the late Michael Burks.
“Break of Day” allows Nick to stretch on vocal in a twelve-bar song sounding suspiciously like the Butterfield Blues Band’s “Walking Blues” with different lyrics, and he continues to wail convincingly on “Bad Disposition.” Newman resumes vocal duty on “Tailgate Swing,” a humorous automobile metaphoric lament that she can’t prevent her rump from rotating. Demonstrating versatility, the band segues into “Who Will Comfort Me,” a quasi-spiritual track and one of the album’s highlights. Schnebelen and Newman then share vocals on a version of “Spoonful” which would make Howlin’ Wolf do a double-take and then smile broadly.
The only instrumental is “Sleep Walk,” which deploys twangy 1950s-style guitar, leading into another highlight, the mid-tempo country rocker “Jolene,” with Newman crooning to the titular femme fatale, “Don’t take my man,” as Nick plays a lead worthy of Mark Knopfler. The set concludes with another rocker, “New Orleans,” featuring Nick on slide guitar.
There are no useful liner notes with the CD, but production values are excellent, the songs provide variety, and the guitar virtuosity is top notch. What’s not to like?—Steve Daniels

Sammy Blue
A Blues Odyssey
HotTrax Records

Sammy Blue has been living the blues for more 60 years. With his newest recording “A Blues Odyssey” it’s taken two discs, an acoustic Blues and Americana side as well as a modern electric Blues side to fully represent his eclectic nature. This is recorded with a variety of side men, he uses several different voices and many on the acoustic side are recorded live.
On the acoustic side, most of the tunes feature Sammy plays solo guitar and his vocals falls between Taj Mahal and Robert Plant. He declares his baby is a “Holy Roller” then discloses that “I’ve Been Fooled.” With a guttural growl Sammy begs “Come On Baby” then inquires what does a “Modern Woman” need? He then turns reflective on “Disposable Love” but with joyful exuberance declares “I’ve Been Hopin’” you’ll leave me alone. The audience joins in clapping as he asserts you’ve got a “Reason To Live” even if you don’t know why. Still keeping it acoustic Sammy is joined on a few tunes for some old time Americana with Travis Biggs on violin for a lovely instrumental called “Selam’s Song” while piano and drums are added in a sultry duet for “Everythang & Mo.” Dr. Dixon joins him on harmonica as Sammy growls “You Win Again” and with simple percussion and warbling harmonica Sammy asks would you “Ever Love” again?
The electric side kicks in with a Southern Soul sound of “I Got To Have My Way” leading into the old school slide of “I Miss You Baby” and “Riverside” has heavy harp joining that slide. He goes up town with a touch of Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson on “Watch Out!” then “Spice In My Life” has a New Orleans groove. Sammy is rockin’ on “Dancing In The Moonlight” while “If I Knew Then” reminds us of Nick Gravenites and “Whole World Blues” is a rocker playing off “Let’s Work Together.” A short intro titled “Every Musician’s Lie” leads into an Elmore slide and the band chanting I’ll get a “Day Job” for you, if I absolutely have too. The only covers on both CD’s are a country flavored “See See Rider” and a modern rock version of “Rock Me” baby.
This “Blues Odyssey” is an expansive journey but don’t take our word for it, if you are a subscriber you’ll find Sammy Blue on the upcoming Big City Rhythm and Blues CD sampler.—Roger & Margaret White

The Birth Of Rock & Roll
Jim Linderman

Americana collector Jim Linderman is a resolute archivist of the obscure, doggedly pursuing the cryptic, arcane and forgotten—check out his various wide-ranging blogs Vintage Sleaze, Old Time Religion and Dull Tool Dim Bulb for curios that exist solely in the shadows of mainstream culture—who has here, in this coffee-table sized, hardback volume, arranged a storyboard of sorts that pictorially lauds the dance-oriented, totally abandoned spirit of rock and roll in its earliest days. And I mean early—when a “juke joint or honky tonk with fifty patrons was a big show, a church with fifty congregants was a full house and rootsy bands of all sorts played square dances, rent parties, rural fields, dance halls, living rooms, sidewalks, fish fries, county fairs, porches and union halls,” as Linderman puts it in his scene-setting introductory essay.  Not to mention “the honky-tonk piano player, a fixture in all the whorehouses.” What do you think rock & roll was all about? The large page size allows the remarkably eclectic, often faded or blurry and decidedly amateur, “found” photos to come alive as Linderman pictorially depicts a variety of forces that resulted in rock and roll—from “racism and subsequent integration, gospel, blues, hillbillies, blackface minstrels, cheap Sears Silvertone guitars (had to have a guitar), the Hawaiian music craze, burlesque, booze, weed, the circus, vaudeville, some showtime razzle-dazzle and the spoiled generation that followed World War Two.” He continues: “There was no real money in it. A performer was lucky to get fed, get drunk and get laid.” There’s no poodle skirts, Chuck Berry, Brylcream, Alan Freed, Little Richard, white guys from Memphis or Bill Haley here. That all came later. This is a visual narrative that tells the story from the bottom up. A transcribed conversation between Joe Bonomo and Linderman closes affairs on a contemplative note. Because we think our lifetimes last a long time. They do not.—Gary von Tersch


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