Blues Reviews Oct/Nov 2016

Kenny Neal
Cleopatra Blues 2016

It’s about time that we had a new Kenny Neal album! The multi-talented Louisiana bluesman has allied with drummer and producer Tom Hambridge, most noted for his recent collaborations with Buddy Guy, and delivered a humdinger of a CD, proof positive that the blues is an art form that transforms misfortune into hope and joy.
The title is apt: no fewer than eight of Kenny’s relatives provide input (maybe more, if some have different surnames by marriage). Other recognizable contributors include Tommy Castro’s bass player Tommy MacDonald and keyboardists Lucky Peterson and Kevin McKendrie. The result is a stalwart ensemble, a true musical family which delivers grit and glide on eleven classy tunes, eight of them composed by Kenny. That participants on individual tracks are unidentified just confirms the cooperative nature of the venture.
The first two cuts proclaim and emphasize the theme of the set. “Ain’t Gon Let the Blues Die” begins with horns and rhythm section, segues into a searing few bars of guitar, and then it’s Kenny vocally declaring his devotion to the blues. “Bloodline” slows the breakneck pace as Kenny sings of maintaining and advancing the family musical legacy. By the way, those blues aficionados who know Kenny for his singing and guitar prowess: don’t forget that he is no slouch on harmonica, as demonstrated here.
“Plain Old Common Sense” is a compelling shuffle, leading to the ensuing cover of Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away,” a pensive ballad beautifully sung by Kenny. “Keep on Moving” does just that; “I’m So Happy” is convincing; and “Blues Mobile” is a worthy addition to the roster of innumerable blues tunes employing automobiles as metaphor. “I Can’t Wait” has a country aura, and “Real Friend” effectively delves into horn-driven R&B. The album ends with “Thank You BB King,” an upbeat tribute to the late King of the Blues with appropriate BB-style lead guitar.
Chalk up another success for Kenny Neal, indisputably one of today’s best and most reliable bluesmen.—Steve Daniels

Lil’ Ed and The Blues Imperials
The Big Sound of Lil’ Ed and The Blues Imperials
Alligator 2016

The four principals of Lil’ Ed’s band have been playing together for almost thirty years. The band has garnered innumerable Blues Music Award nominations and has twice been voted Band of the Year. This band is tight! And their status as one of the foremost purveyors of electric Chicago blues is confirmed on their first new release in four years.
Lil’ Ed Williams, nephew of late slide guitar icon J.B. Hutto, has been playing since he was in his pre-teens, and has long left the shadow of his renowned uncle. Of the fourteen songs on this nearly hour-long album, Ed has penned a dozen, some with his wife, and covered two of J.B.’s. His slide playing and singing are in fine form, and his trio of compatriots in musical muscle is once again comprised of Ed’s half-brother James “Pookie” Young on bass, Kelly Littleton on drums, and Michael Garrett on second guitar, on this outing augmented by skilled keyboard artist Sumito “Ariyo” Ariyoshi.
The CD commences with three mid-tempo tunes, distinguished particularly by “Raining in Paris,” wherein Ed’s slide evokes memories of the style of Elmore James even more than Hutto. Garrett especially shines here, his backing single note forays tastefully complementing Ed’s cutting, powerful lead. Not to be outdone, Ed provides some compelling non-slide lead on the ensuing “Poor Man’s Song.” “Shy Voice,” a Hutto track, presents Ed back on slide, and showcases the fantastic intuitive interplay, seen throughout the disc, between bass and drums.
“Black Diamond Love,” a romantic encomium, is one of the high points of the release. So is the other Hutto cover, “I’ll Cry Tomorrow,” an almost seven minute-long number made moving by Ariyoshi’s organ contribution. “Is It You” follows, with an introductory feint of reduced tempo morphing into an uptempo dance track. The pace is maintained with “I’m Done,” the angry lament of a betrayed lover. The remaining tracks provide variety with canny changes in tempo. “Troubled World,” another standout, again features Ariyo’s organ, with Ed’s lyrical lead, in a capsule summary of contemporary societal malaise. The blues ain’t all sad, though, as emphasized by “Green Light Groove,” which caps the album on a rollicking note.
Yes, those who appreciate Lil’ Ed’s sense of humor, almost always evident on one or more tunes of each of his CDs, will be rewarded with “I Like My Hot Sauce Cold.” No matter how you like yours, if you like Chicago blues, you will enjoy this album.—Steve Daniels

Lurrie Bell
Can’t Shake This Feeling
Delmark Records

Lurrie Bell was born with the blues. The son of blues man Carey Bell, Lurrie taught himself to play guitar at age five, by seventeen was playing with Willie Dixon, at twenty joined Koko Taylor’s band, was a founding member of The Sons of Blues, won three Blues Music Awards and one WC Handy. Bell’s newest CD, “Can’t Shake This Feeling,” his second since returning to Delmark Records, has his touring Chicago Blues Band featuring Matthew Skoller on harmonica, Roosevelt Purifey on piano or organ, Melvin Smith, bass, Willie ‘The Touch’ Hayes beind the drums and rounds out this winning team with Dick Shurman back as producer. With thirteen solid tunes that hold true to classic Chicago blues Bell proves he’s at the top of his game.
Lurrie’s strong, straight-forward vocals and his seasoned Chicago band churn through the title number “I Can’t Shake This Feeling” and does three more original songs including “Blues Is Trying To Keep Up With Me” holding true to classic Chicago blues - then with a flurry of notes Lurrie bares his soul confessing “This Worrisome Feeling In My Heart” as Roosevelt’s measured piano grounds the song and the band stretches out having some fun with his father Carey Bell’s song “Do You Hear.” On Buster Benton’s “Born With The Blues” Matt’s harp echoes Lurrie’s vocal and trades leads with his guitar then covering two Willie Dixon tunes “Sit Down Baby” and “Hidden Charms” both have the easy swing of Willie’s rhythm and rhyme. The band steps up the game with Eddie Boyd’s “Drifting” with an opportunity for band members to strut their stuff and Little Milton’s “Hold Me Tight” is a sure bet to fill the dance floor. In T-Bone Walker’s “I Get So Weary” the guitar leads seem to have a stumbling exhaustion to match the vocals and ‘Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis’ “One Eyed Woman” is an acoustic street corner throw down with just Lurrie’s guitar and Matt’s harp. From the street corner to church, Lowell Fulson’s “Sinner’s Prayer” has Lurrie begging, “Lord have mercy on me” and the finale is a Lurrie Bell original with just a restrained rhythm and electric lead guitar ’cause just “Faith and Music” is all he’s got.
Lurrie Bell might say he “Can’t Shake This Feeling” so deep rooted within his soul but he sure can shake ’em on down. —Roger & Margaret White

Jade Hendrix
Farewell To Emerald City

Blues isn’t necessarily a man’s world but most women singers present themselves with a tough attitude to show they can hold their own in this male-dominated genre. But Jade Hendrix is not trying to be something she’s not. Jade grew up watching from the wings as her mother sang backup for many big name performers and now she’s ready to take flight on her own career as a singer/songwriter. She’s got the soft, sweet voice of an angel, singing honest personal lyrics straight from her heart. “Farewell To Emerald City” is a brief five song EP, just an introduction to someone who could be the next Norah Jones. Accompanied by her co-writer David Zimmer on piano and occasional guitar, the band is filled out with Arlan Oscar on organ, accordion and moog, Andrew Synowitec guitar, Coso Franklin bass and Manon Franklin drums.
Beginning with a simple piano progression Jade slips into “Bedtime Stories” a song of hope and holding on to your dreams, her voice gliding effortlessly as the song builds and Andrew Synowitec takes a gentle sliding guitar solo. A free spirit, Jade’s life choice as a musician has set her on a nomadic path and “Farewell” addresses her loneliness and detachment from family and friends while the cluster of piano and organ add a simple majesty sweetened by the background vocals of Sharon Hendrix. A Fender Rhoades piano and a choppy beat bring in Jade singing that even in death you’re only a “Thought Away” as Oscar’s Moog and Jade’s own haunting background vocals sweep and swell. Stripping down the band to just Zimmer’s guitar and Oscar on Wurlitzer, Jade’s gentle vocals cut through on “Worth Fighting For.” To finish this all-too-brief disc Jade remembers what her father taught her and sings that when confronted with adversity “Show Them Love” as a gospel choir gently erupts in joyful song.
Music is an art form that is always changing and evolving. Jade Hendrix isn’t your typical blues singer, this young singer/songwriter’s debut CD “Farewell To Emerald City” could easily cross over to the commercial airwaves but don’t let any success she may achieve sell her short. Jade has a passion and soulfulness that offers a new look into the blues of today. —Roger & Margaret White

Kristine Jackson
“By Your Side”

Kristine Jackson was a musical prodigy, classically trained on trumpet. As her interest in music grew she found it difficult to express everything she wanted.  She taught herself to play guitar in 2004 and has let her voice take the lead. Putting out three CDs she says “The blues world is where my music was born, but not where it has to stay.  All of this is possible because there are no borders or labels, it’s just the music.” This gypsy of styles flits from one to the next, not because shes looking for what fits but rather because she can. With “By Your Side” Jackson sings, plays rhythm, lead and bass guitars has written and arranged all twelve tracks co produced and engineer by Pete Tokar who also plays keyboards. Filling the grooves out is Myron Gardner drums, Matt Miller or Tony Nicholas on bass, Brian Davidson occasional acoustic and lead guitar with the sax of Dave Kasper and Jacob Wynn’s trumpet.
Kristine vocals shift from gruff to soaring on this power ballad about the loss of a friend who will always be  “By Your Side” then moves to the solid R&B of “What Moves You” with punching horns, popping bass and a voice similar to Shaun Murphy or Janiva Magness. With a reggae beat “Change My World” is powered by Ms Jackson’s full throated roar then with a Rod Stewart like croon her vocals swoops high then dropping low as she dreams of “Another Day.” Accompanied by hand claps, whistling and steel drum she’s “Proud To Say” your mine. “Always There” is a rocking ride with a touch of Janis Joplin while “Mary Belle” echoes Grace Slick’s Airplane. With wailing harp along side Kristine’s husky shouts of “Rob You Blind,” the music shifts to a sweet swoon as Kristine shows “How The Angels Sing.” With an icy blast of horns her vocals shiver as she sings “Come In From The Cold” and “Smothered” is a spaghetti western soundtrack as Kristen narrates with horn like vocal lines over her metallic guitar imitating flamenco flourishes. A bombastic rocker, “Burning River Chant” the organ and horns blast power chords as Jackson’s guitar burns it up and her vocals match that force.
With a refreshing gypsy’s abandonment Kristine’s latest CD “By Your Side” takes you to new depths proving it ain’t just the same ol’ blues.—Roger & Margaret White

Billy Pierce
Shapes Of Soul
Got Slide Record

Billy Pierce may originate from Wilmington, Delaware but you’d think he’d been born on the bayou. His guitar has the edge and strength of Sonny Landreth while his voice is smooth, soft and slippery as southern moss - it grows on ya. Recorded at Dockside Studio Maurice LA with a core band of Charlie Wooton on bass and vocals, Doug Belote on drums and Keiko Komaki on piano and B-3, they’re joined by some impressive guest players who complement the nine Pierce originals and two covers.
Pierce presents some tasty Louisianan roots music in anticipation of a trip to New Orleans with “Me & the Misses,” it’s held together with some titillating harmonica by Jason Ricci. Traveling further the band two steps through Cajun country with fiddler Michael Doucet on “Acadiana” as Pierce’s slide slips over the strings to carry on the party at the “Red Dog Saloon” where everyone’s tail is waggin’. The good times continue as everyone takes a verse on Sugar Boy Crawford’s “Iko Iko” and joins in for the chants and hand clapping as the Bomerama Trombones take it to the wild side then slides back to earth with his lovely “Delta Queen.”
If this CD were just made up of these delta inspirations it would be good, but it’s only half of this impressive package. Pierce pleads the case for the working man living “Paycheck to Paycheck” with some R&B from the Bonerama Trombones joined with Komaki’s B-3 ripping it up at a rat race pace and Pierce counters with a furious funky flurry of his own. The sax of Jeff T Watkins wails as Wooton steps to the mic declaring “Don’t Give Up” with some rhythms that roll with the punches. “Tears of Joy” begins like the calm before a storm till a massive wave washes in with gale force and his guitar and keyboards dive into an intense jam with Mike Zito taking things to a whole new level then change form into the “Shapes of Soul” an instrumental where the guitars’ gentle waves are like a cool breeze and the piano is shimmering as if a sunset. Continuing into a funky “Katrina” Pierce’s slide draws you in, hits the wall and comes at you again while the keys and harmonica flow over you in waves and “PC” has Pierce’s guitar gliding along the edge as you hold your breath.
Billy Pierce’s “Shapes Of Soul” has an ever evolving form and that may be it’s most impressive asset, it’s persistent diversity.—Roger & Margaret White

Thornetta Davis
Honest Woman
Sweet Mama Music

Thornetta Davis is the reigning queen of Motor City Blues, and it’s been twenty years since her last full-length release. This journey was paved with club dates, perseverance and hard work. Taking things into her own hands she’s self-produced, written all the songs, sings leads and often backing vocals on all twelve tracks and even took the cover photo herself. Participating in this voyage are members of her longtime bands including Brett Lucas on guitar and James Simonson bass, both in Bettye LaVette’s touring band, Phil ‘Harmonic’ Hale on keys, Todd Glass drums and James ‘Jamalot’ Anderson percussion and includes various horns and all star guests, recorded and mixed by Brian ’Rosco’ White, guitarist in her first band thirty years ago. This is Thornetta’s blues, everything is personal, she’s lived all these songs and she’s brought her life’s journey to us. There ain’t no faking an “Honest Woman.”
Starting with a bone-chilling slide, Thornetta recites “When My Sister Sings The Blues,” written by her sister, Felicia Davis, setting the mood for things to come. With a driving beat and powerful vocals Thornetta sings, “I Gotta Sing The Blues” a duet with Kim Wilson who tosses in a harp solo to top it off. “That Don’t Appease Me” could be a classic King single from Big Mama or Etta, this Motor City Queen proudly wears the crown of current Big Bad Mama and with a rockin’ rumba demands “I Need A Whole Lotta Love” as the horns squeal and moan. A kicker at every live show is “Get Up And Dance Away Your Blues” the dueling trumpets of Marcus Belgrave and Rayse Biggs with longtime band member Paul Carey taking the guitar solo to fill the floor. Then Brett’s guitar and Thornetta echo Muddy on “I Believe (Everything Gonna Be Alright)” breaking into a rafter-shaking gospel number with backing vocals of Special Anointing and then a seven piece gospel choir raises the roof as Thornetta testifies “Feels Like Religion.” Switching to a calm, determined voice “I’d Rather Be Alone” builds in intensity to a simple triumphant “bye bye” as she invites Larry McCray who brings his band and a burning guitar solo to “Set Me Free.” With the help of forty eight sister friends who’ve joined Thornetta on “Sister Friend Indeed” the journey ends with the soulful love song to her husband, “Honest Woman” each verse growing stronger then the last.
They say good things come to those who wait but if you really want something you have to get up and do it yourself, Thornetta has and this “Honest Woman” has fulfilled the dream we’ve been waiting for.—Roger & Margaret White

Teresa James & the Rhythm Tramps
Jese-Lu Records

Teresa James was a Texas filley before moving on to Los Angeles where she was pulled in by the Rhythm Tramps. These Tramps were originally formed by Terry Wilson and Tony Braunagel in London during the 70’s on the off nights from touring when the ‘Rhythm Tramps’ would perform blues in local pubs. Now the renewed Rhythm Tramps are a steady group of players featuring Teresa James on vocals and piano, Tony on drums and Terry playing bass, with Billy Watts on guitar. Never letting dust gather under their boots they’ve worked blues festivals and clubs, recorded several CD’s including Teresa’s ‘08 release nominated for Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year from the Blues Foundation. With “Bonafide,” Terry Wilson steps up writting ten of the thirteen songs for Ms James’ sweet Texas twang as well as producing and engineering the CD. A few special guests sit in and the drums are filled out with Jay Bellorose, Herman Matthews and Jim Christie.
Jumping right in with a cover by the Five Royals, Teresa proclaims “I Like It Like That” and lets you know this CD is gonna be rockin’ good fun. Jay Ballarose’s percussion drives the title tune as Teresa says she’s over this relationship and that’s “Bonafide.” Dialing down, Mike Finnegan’s B3 chord progressions build the tension and Leonard’s horns pack a wallop as Teresa pleads just “Spit It Out” then settling farther as Finnegan switches to piano and the “Power Of Need” is really the power of love. The relentless pounding of the drums and a funky guitar set the mood for leading lady, Ms James “Hollywood Way” then Teresa sings the uplifting “You Always Pick Me Up” but it’s the horns of Lee Thonburg and sax of Ron Dzibla with her vocals that elevate this to a spiritual level. Wilson’s witty wisdom of “What Happens In Vegas” stays in Vegas includes more than just your money or the financial crisis “Too Big To Fail” speaks of today’s working man’s blues. Sometimes the truth hurts and with sadness in her voice “Funny Like That” is a slow rockin’ blues you’ll be humming later. Ms James realized where she stands when “You Want It When You Want It” and pours out her heart declaring “No Regrets” with the sax of Sean Holt, Finnegan on organ and Lewis Stephens on Wurlitzer driving the message home. To finish off the CD you can’t go wrong with a tight band and a great song like John Hiatt’s “Have A Little Faith In Me.”
Teresa James & the Rhythm Tramps have put out some real “Bonafide” blues. —Roger & Margaret White

Joanna Connor
Six String Stories
M.C. Records

The return of Joanna Conner to the national blues scene is long overdue. For those unaware of this guitar diva, Joanna was only 22 when she took a Greyhound bus to Chicago in 1985, joining the house band at both the Checkerboard Lounge and Kingston Mines before starting her own band. Blind Pig Records signed her in 1989, and her debut album moved Joanna on to the national scene and 8 more records. Joanna curtailed her touring to raise her family sticking with mainly Chicago gigs but her performance at the North Atlantic Blues Festival in 2014 went viral and has been viewed sixteen million times. Which brings us to “Six String Stories” her first new recording in thirteen years. Except for two covers, all songs were written by Ms Connor and Marion Lance Lewis who plays drums, bass, percussion, synthesizer, supporting vocals and produced the CD. Filling out the sounds is Chicago harp ace Omar Coleman, Jeff Lewis on keyboards and a full horn section.
Cracking this CD open Joanna rips into a slide guitar like Johnny Winter’s “Look Over Yonder Wall” but declares it’s a new day “It’s A Woman’s Way” with licks that prove she can hold her own with any high energy guitar player, then jumps into a Bo Diddley beat and declares she’ll always be “By Your Side.” Slowing things down but not easing up on the intensity, Connor’s guitar cries as she proudly declares through everything “We Stayed Together” with Lance Lewis giving an assuring nod on drums then the band hits their stride on “Love Coming On Strong” as Joanna’s solo builds in ferocity. A repetitive choral refrain with jazzy funk flourishes drifts throughout this cover of Jill Scott’s “Golden” but it’s Joanna’s vocals and honest up-front Gil Scott-Heron-style admissions that makes it shine. “Heaven” is six minutes of joy showcasing Joanna’s strongest vocals and the roof is raised when a horn section blows some revelry and Lance Lewis takes to the podium preaching while the hand clapping Lewis Family Singers back him up with a choir. Coming back down to earth “Halsted Street” glistens like headlights on wet pavement on a Jeff Beck like instrumental before conjuring a slippery groove in “Swamp Swim” with breathtaking harmonica by Omar “Harp” Coleman and an electrifying guitar groove that gives you goose bumps. Live recordings rarely are quiet but Elmore James’ “The Sky Is Crying” is taken in a different direction then finishes with a jazzy flourish on the final track “Young Women Blues.”
Joanna Connor’s “Six String Stories” puts her back on top of the national scene and with her experience she certainly has some stories to tell.—Roger & Margaret White

Canned Heat
One More River To Cross
BGO CD-1233

Eric Burdon & The Animals
Every One Of Us
BGO CD-1244

Canned Heat was launched in 1965 in Los Angeles by a trio of country blues record collectors, Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson (slide guitar, harmonica and vocals), guitarist Henry “The Sunflower” Vestine (who had recently been kicked out of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention for excessive drug use) and rotund vocalist Bob “The Bear” Hite, who copped the name from Tommy Johnson’s catchy 1928 recording “Canned Heat Blues”—a woebegone tale about a hard-luck alcoholic reduced to imbibing Sterno, otherwise known as “canned heat.” In 1968 they became internationally famous when “On the Road Again,” their sprightly rendition of another Tommy Johnson song (“Big Road Blues”), charted at No. 15 in America and No. 8 in Britain. A follow-up Top Twenty hit in 1969, “Going Up the Country,” that showcased Wilson’s high-wire falsetto vocals (a la Skip James), established the electric blues combo in the vanguard of the then vogue-ish white blues interpreters. After a string of successful LPs for Liberty Records and a couple for United Artists, the band (minus Wilson, who died in 1970) traveled to Muscle Shoals, Alabama and recorded this album for Atlantic Records in 1973. Some of that rarefied, combustible, boogie-driven verve is missing, but on titles like “L.A. Town,” “Bagful of Boogie” and “Highway 401” as well as on covers such as “I’m A Hog For You Baby” and a great Fats Domino medley they more than rise to the occasion. BGO also has seven other Canned Heat album reissues available. On the other hand, Eric Burdon and his Animals, originally from the wilds of Newcastle, were among the trailblazing London-based bands that led the British R&B boom in the mid-60s with their emotional, plugged-in repertoire and a pile-driving sound that, at its core, had Burdon’s marvelously aggressive “black” oriented vocals alongside Alan Price’s pumping organ on worldwide hits like “House Of The Rising Sun,” “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” Bring It On Home To Me” and the declamatory “We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place.” This reissue of their 1969 Atlantic album, Every One Of Us, originally was released in the U.S. (where it made the Top 200) and elsewhere but not in the UK—the lead-off track single, “White Houses,” peaked at No. 67. Most of the set’s “psychedelic blues” efforts were penned by Burdon, who was distinctly maturing as a cutting-edge, adventurous songwriter, along with contributions from at-the-time bandmates Zoot Money and John Weider. Other band personnel included ex-Nashville “Tobacco Road” Teens drummer Barry Jenkins (who replaced John Steel), guitarist Vic Briggs and bass player Danny McCulloch. Picks encompass “Uppers And Downers,” “The Immigrant Lad” and the timely “Year Of The Guru” along with a hypnotic recall of “St. James Infirmary.” Totally overlooked at its time, now considered classic. Don’t you wish you had a time machine—Gary von Tersch

Barrelhouse Chuck
Remembering the Masters
The Sirens Records     2016

The roster of Chicago-based blues piano legends is long, and keyboard man Chuck Goering has spent decades imbibing the recorded music of Leroy Carr, Otis Spann, and Big Maceo Merriweather, as well personally observing and learning from Sunnyland Slim, Erwin Helfer, Pinetop Perkins, and especially his late friend Little Brother Montgomery.   Based on his current proficiency, Barrelhouse Chuck has earned his own place in that list of adepts - as also evidenced by his multiple Blues Music Award nominations in recent years as Piano Player of the Year.
This release teams Chuck with his frequent collaborator, the talented guitarist and mandolinist Billy Flynn, as they cover songs by Sunnyland, Little Brother, Carr, and J.B. Lenoir, as well as digging into some original tunes.  The spare arrangements don’t suffer at all from lack of bass guitar and percussion; rather, focus is appropriately on Chuck’s piano mastery and, not just incidentally, Flynn’s spirited and stylish accompaniment.
The opening track, “Homage to Pinetop Perkins,” is an instrumental; Chuck’s left hand lays down a solid foundation while his right dances over the keys.  Chuck and Flynn’s practiced cohesion is demonstrated therein, and again on the J.B. Lenoir tune, “How Much More.”  Goering’s slightly nasal tenor vocal isn’t his forte, but proves adequate on this and other cuts on the set.
Is there a message in the presence of three songs about alcohol?  Whatever your opinion, Johnny Young’s “Keep on Drinking,” Montgomery’s “I Just Keep on Drinking,” and Carr’s “Straight Alky Blues” are all handled proficiently, the latter two at a slow pace and the first more spirited and distinguished by Flynn’s mandolin skills.
Two more instrumentals grace the set: the brief “Double D Boogie” and the closing track, “Chuckabilly Boogie,” the latter again sporting Flynn on mandolin.  “Chicago Blues” is just what the title portends: three minutes of the duo mining the basic Windy City mode.  A bonus is the presence of two solo piano numbers by guest pianists: Lluis Coloma on the Little Brother Montgomery tune “Vicksburg Blues,” and Scott Grube on an Irving Berlin piece, “How About Me,” Chuck limiting himself to vocals on those tracks.
Barrelhouse Chuck’s piano predecessors would be proud to be remembered, and impressed by the lessons that Chuck learned well.—Steve Daniels

Chip Taylor (aka ames Wesley Voight)
Little Brothers
Train Wreck CD 056

Chip Taylor
I’ll Carry For You
Train Wreck 057

Yonkers, New York-born singer/songwriter Chip Taylor, the brother of actor Jon Voight, the uncle of actress Angelina Jolie and onetime professional gambler and golfer, is perhaps best known as the composer of “Wild Thing,” “Angel Of The Morning” and “Try (Just A Little Bit Harder).” In June he was inducted into the hallowed Songwriters Hall of Fame (along with Tom Petty and Elvis Costello) with these two timely, acoustic Americana-oriented releases, on his own Train Wreck label, offering nearly twenty more lucid reasons why. Little Brothers is an alluring compilation loaded with enticing, exquisitely supple songs that could serve as the soundtrack for a luminously tranquil afternoon. The cover photo is an old boyhood snapshot of Chip and his two renowned brothers—the fore-mentioned Jon Voight and volcanologist Barry Voight—but the songs (particularly “Barry And Buffalo,” “Enlighten Yourself,” “Refugee Children” and the dreamlike title tune) prove resolutely cosmic in appeal. I’ll Carry For You is more of a mini-album and is full of songs imbued with an Olympian sentiment—highlighted by the instant-classic title track that was inspired by the Canadian golfing sisters Brooke (currently ranked #4 in the world) and Brittany Henderson from Smith Falls, Ontario, who caddy and root for each other. Other picks encompass the philosophical “She Had No Time To Get Ready, She Just Was” and the optimistic “Live To Strike Again.” Fans of the likes of Willie Nelson, Guy Clark or Townes Van Zandt are hereby alerted!—Gary von Tersch

Rhythm ‘N’ Bluesin’ By The Bayou
Nights Of Sin, Dirty Deals And Love Sick Blues

Bluesin’ By The Bayou
I’m Not Jiving

Nights Of Sin is the, count ‘em, 15th compilation in Ace Records’ groundbreaking By The Bayou series and aurally transports the dedicated listener back to the earthy, dirty dancing R&B sounds one would have heard roaring out of a typical Pelican State back country juke joint on a humid evening in the 1950s or early 1960s. A spicy mix of rarities, alternate takes and previously unissued gems from across South Louisiana and S.E. Texas, this eye-opening 28 track project, compiled and annotated by Ian Saddler, features a great promo shot of still-active, left-handed guitarist Barbara Lynn on the front along with two previously undiscovered early “cover” numbers (“One Night Of Sin” and “Love You Most Of All”) she recorded for local Goldband Records, along with three tracks cut in New Orleans but, oddly enough, issued on Hollywood’s doo-wopping Flip Records (the pair by Crescent City native Smilin’ Joe, particularly the easy rocking “Living On Borrowed Time,” are favorites) and four by “the big man with the big smile,” Classie Ballou Jr.—including his previously unissued instrumental “Crowley Stroll” and the percolating “Hey Ma Ma.” Otherwise, tracks by all-but-unknowns like the Baton Rouge Boys, Honey Boy Allen, Wonder Boy Travis and Mr. Mojo are cleverly balanced alongside obscure sides by veterans like Tabby Thomas, Big Walter Price, Charles “Mad Dog” Sheffield, Guitar Jr. and Chris Kenner among others. Bluesin’ collects 28 examples of raw, down-home blues sparklers educed from the swamps of South Louisiana, in addition to a touch of zydeco—from both the charismatic Clifton Chenier (his accordion-leavened plea “Everybody Calls Me Crazy” is here) and Lake Charles legend Boozoo Chavis (likewise, his hypnotic “Bye Bye Catin”). Overall, ten tracks are heretofore unreleased or alternate takes with the remaining 18 being extremely rare. Featured artists include Henry Gray (Howlin’ Wolf’s piano player for a dozen years), Houston blues poet Juke Boy Bonner, Slim (“Rainin’ In My Heart”) Harpo and Natchez, Mississippi-based Jimmy Anderson as well as Juke Boy Bonner, Schoolboy Cleve, Lightnin’ Slim, Boogie Jake, Lazy Lester, Chris Kenner and Clarence Garlow among others. Holy moly!—Gary von Tersch 

Nancy Wright
Vizztone VTDH-111

Pine Street Ramblers
Hazy Shade Of Gold

Here’s a couple of great projects from out West Coast way. San Francisco-based, soulfully robust saxophonist Nancy Wright is one of the most in-demand musicians on the current blues, Americana and R&B scene—no less a journalist that Downbeat’s Frank-John Hadley alertly compares her approach to equal parts Noble “Thin Man” Watts, King Curtis and Junior Walker. Playdate! is a 13 track liberating, let-it-all-hang-out showcase (recorded at San Jose’s fabled Greaseland Studios) for Wright’s ardently expressive playing and singing as well as a recognition of the robust West Coast music landscape that is her playground. Plus, she sagely put in phone calls to friends and touring partners on the order of guitarist and organic producer Kid Andersen, guitarists Tommy Castro, Elvin Bishop (on a smooooth instrumental recall of Big Jay McNeeley’s classic “There Is Something On Your Mind”), Joe Louis Walker, Mike Schermer and Chris Cain, vocalists Frank Bey (who shines on a cover of Lonnie Mack’s “Been Waiting That Long”), Wee Willie Walker and Terri Odabi along with Oakland’s uplifting Plymouth Church of Jazz and Justice choir and keyboardists Jim Pugh and Victor Wainwright—all of whom provide Wright with a solid foundation. Other picks include a pair of great Wright originals (the instrumental workout “Trampled” and a nod to her “Sweet Loving Daddy”), a declamatory reprise of Willie Dixon’s boastful “I Got What It Takes” (with Castro on guitar) and a doo-wopping “Cherry Wine.” Good ‘n’ greasy through and through! The Pine Street Ramblers, on the other hand, hail from bucolic Meadow Vista, California in the Sierra Nevada foothills and are a four piece string band (David Cox, JD Gardemeyer, JT Lawrence and Travis Sinel) that play bluegrass, country, old-time and old-fashioned, foot-stompin’ roots rock—here judiciously augmented, on occasion, by Kimberly Freeman’s in-the-groove background vocals (check out the clever DUI saga “Daddy Quit Drinkin’”), clarinetist and accordion ace Dorothy Sills (on the bouncy tale of a juke joint queen called “Sadie Green”) and shakers-shaking producer Jason Rufuss Sewell. Displaying remarkable collective instrumental chops (on everything from upright bass, dobro and pedal steel to banjo, fiddle and mandolin) they particularly engage the earlobes with further reveries such as the Gardemeyer-composed “War Wagon,” “California Wine,” “Bottom Of The Bottle” and “Marbles.” If you’re a Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen aficionado, you’ll need this one. Special thanks to Pak Foley, theoretically...—Gary von Tersch

Lance Lopez
Live in NYC
Cleopatra Blues 2016

When the man is from Texas, thanks Johnny Winter and Popa Chubby in the CD’s liner notes, and cites Winter, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Billy Gibbons, and Jimi Hendrix as his major influences, you know what to expect.
That indeed is what you get on this nearly hour-long set of power trio rock. Dallas-based Lance Lopez, although born in Louisiana, has called the great state of Texas his home for many years. His credentials over the last few decades are impressive, including stints in the bands of Johnnie Taylor, Lucky Peterson, and Buddy Miles. Backed by Chris Reddan on percussion and Mike Nunno on bass, on this CD Lopez careens through a half dozen of his own songs and a cover of Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” with an unremitting manic energy and an undeniable fealty to the guitar-driven Texas blues rock style of the aforementioned guitar mavens. Forget about other Texas blues luminaries like T-Bone Walker, Pee Wee Crayton, and certainly Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lightnin’ Hopkins, who eschewed breakneck speed as they created innovative and haunting blues. Lopez dials it up to ten, puts the pedal to the metal, and hardly ever slows down.
A powerful vocalist, Lopez’s pipes evoke his idol Winter and also rocker Bob Seger; what he lacks in range is compensated by force. However, the focus here is indubitably on his guitar virtuosity, which cannot be gainsaid. This CD features more extended frenetic solos than any album that I have ever encountered, and I suspect that there are few, if any, guitarists in the world who can produce as many notes in a given period of time, Winter included. Whether such blasts of single-note strafing constitute artistry or masturbatory braggadocio is up to the listener to decide.
Also, be forewarned: this is a rock, not blues album. Lopez’s cover of “Traveling Riverside Blues” is morphed into a psychedelic display; Winter, Hendrix, Cream, ZZ Top, and Led Zeppelin have done the same to classic blues tunes, so why not? Lopez does introduce “Lowdown Ways” as a blues venture, and indeed for a couple of three minute intervals in the eleven minute outing he plays some gorgeous slow guitar leads, giving time for the notes - and absence of notes - to make a statement. One begins to hope for similar interludes in the final tune, “El Paso Sugar,” which also starts with some measured and tasteful guitar; after less than two minutes into the ten minute track, the caffeine again kicks in and its off to the races.—Steve Daniels

Terrie Odabi
My Blue Soul
Self-produced 2016

Let’s state it from the get-go: Terrie Odabi is a purveyor of vocal puissance and a maven of melisma.
Why evoke the dictionary to tout Odabi’s credentials? Because she warrants the plaudits. Based in Oakland, CA, singer Terrie Odabi was a semi-finalist at the 2014 and 2015 International Blues Challenges sponsored by the Blues Foundation. Previously primarily a jazz singer, she has segued smoothly into the realm of blues, and this hour-plus CD of a baker’s dozen R&B tunes establishes her as an up-and-coming performer to be savored.
First, puissance - forceful power - Odabi has a clarion voice that can handle a wide tonal range with rare intensity. Both Janis Joplin and Arethra Franklin come to mind, although Odabi’s smooth timbre is certainly more reminiscent of Franklin. Regarding melisma - a group of notes sung to a single syllable - Odabi’s skill brings to mind that of contemporary bluesmen Curtis Salgado and Canadian Matt Andersen, among others. Odabi demonstrates throughout the album a jaw-dropping ability to dazzle with sustained pitch-perfect vocals. That talent is deployed on the ten tunes which Odabi composed, as well as three covers. Of the latter, most fascinating is her interpretation of Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball and Chain.” Big Mama’s version was blues, Joplin’s famous cover version was agonized rock, and Odabi lays into it with a soulful slow R&B approach.
Throughout, Ms. Odabi is accompanied by a rotating ensemble of skilled accompanists, led by producer Kid Andersen, who also provides organ, bass, mellotron, and lyrical lead guitar contributions. His funky and sinuous lines are particularly notable on the spiritual “Wade in the Water,” its gospel ambience strengthened by the background chorus of Lisa Andersen, Courtney Knott, and Niecey Robinson.
My only caveat about the CD is Odabi’s unremitting high level of vocal intensity, present on both slower and uptempo tracks. Some may call it mannered or excessive…but with a voice like hers, what’s the motivation to turn it down?—Steve Daniels

Erwin Helfer
Last Call
The Sirens Records 2016

“Last Call” presents Chicago blues and jazz piano master Erwin Helfer in the well deserved spotlight as he plies his supple fingers and superb musical sensibility to eleven classic blues songs and two originals. The man is eighty years old, and his skills are undiminished.
Helfer grew up in Chicago and has been steeped in its legendary blues tradition. The list of Chicago luminaries of the 88s is long: Big Maceo Merriweather, Little Brother Montgomery, Otis Spann, Pinetop Perkins, Albert Ammons, Meade “Lux” Lewis, Jimmy Yancey, and current keyboard artists Johnny Iguana, Barrelhouse Chuck, and nonagenarian Henry Gray. Although not as renowned, Helfer deserves a place in that pantheon.
Most of these tracks were recorded between July 2014 and March 2016, with Helfer soloing on the majority. On W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” and Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Rocky Mountain Blues,” Helfer plays accompanist (really, co-soloist) with singer Ardella Williams, who acquits herself well, as does Helfer’s regular collaborator Katherine Davis, whose take on Jimmy Reed’s iconic “Bright Lights, Big City” is a pleasure. Otherwise, Helfer carries the load in tasteful fashion. This ain’t no uptempo dance set; even on his self-penned “DC Boogie,” Helfer prefers a mid-tempo, contemplative approach. “Pennies from Heaven,” the jazz staple, begins that way, but builds to a bouncier termination. On some of the cuts, ethereal is the apt adjective; in particular, Helfer’s rendition of “St. James Infirmary” is beautiful and deeply moving.
In addition to some great piano playing, the CD offers two bonuses. Included are three songs recorded with Estelle “Mama” Yancey, Jimmy’s wife: “Operator Blues” and “Trouble in Mind,” recorded in 1957, and “Make Me a Pallet on the Floor,” from 1979. Mama didn’t have a big voice, but it sure was effective, and these three tracks bring to mind the best of the classic female blues singers of the 1920s and 1930s. The album subsequently ends with a fifteen minute interview with Helfer, in which he reminisces about his musical past and many of his legendary acquaintances and mentors.
For its musical pleasures and even for the interview alone, “Last Call” is a worthy addition to one’s CD collection. Pinetop Perkins lived and played skillfully until his mid-90s; let’s hope the same for Erwin Helfer.—Steve Daniels

John Long
Stand Your Ground
Delta Groove 2016

It has been ten years since John Long’s debut CD, “Lost and Found.” Now finally his fans can revel in another high quality album by this St. Louis native and denizen.
Enamored of the blues since his youth, Long for a time moved to Chicago and was mentored there by Homesick James (Williamson), cousin of slide guitar great Elmore James and a stellar bluesman in his own right. Also absorbing the influences of Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jimmy Reed, and many seminal early Mississippi Delta blues figures, Long has married country blues, folk, gospel, and even a little cowboy music and forged his own inimitable style.
Long is multi-talented; it’s hard to know where to begin dispensing plaudits. His guitar playing is dextrous without being not flashy, but its deceptive simplicity nonetheless provides plenty of emotion. His vocals, tinged with drawl, are rich and exhibit wide range, from deep bass to alternately amusing and moving falsetto. He plays virtuoso rack harmonica, and he writes songs that run the gamut from devotional reverence to droll humor. He also eschews technical wizardry; the album mainly features him playing solo, as he does on live gigs, providing his own percussion by stomping on a suitcase.
He is accompanied on a few songs by ace West Coast musicians Fred Kaplan (Hollywood Fats Band, Hollywood Blue Flames) on piano and Bill Stuve (Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers) on bass, with jazz drummer Washington Rucker appearing on five of the thirteen tracks. Their impeccable support augments Long’s artistry without overshadowing it.
The set opens with a Homesick James cover, “Baby Please Set a Date,” revealing that Long can ably manage Homesick and Elmore’s slide skills. It’s followed by one of the eight originals, “Red Hawk,” a poignant lament for loss of both wildness and family contact. “Things Can’t Be Down Always” and “Welcome Mat” artfully meld harmonica and guitar. The uplifting and exhortatory title tune, “Stand Your Ground,” presages the reverential themes of several subsequent cuts, including a fine cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s “I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole.”
Another notable cover, “Mop, Bucket and a Broom,” injects some humor into the set and evokes comparison to other paeans to labor by another contemporary Midwestern bluesman, Oklahoma’s Watermelon Slim; there is a strong vocal resemblance to Slim as well. Stuve and Rucker help prod the tune to a jaunty lilt. Two more originals have laudable themes: “No Flowers for Me” pleads empathy for a victim of Parkinson’s disease, and “One Earth, Many Colors” is a declaration of the universality of the human species.
Liner notes were written by West Coast singer, harmonica player, and blues historian Al Blake, whose shared enthusiasms have made him and John Long friends. Listening to Long on this release, I hear Blake (whose own 2013 CD, “Blues According to Blake,” is another excellent effort in the acoustic genre), Watermelon Slim, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Son House, Reverend Gary Davis…and most of all, Long’s unique alchemy in creating his own gold from the influences of his worthy colleagues and predecessors.
Definitely one of the best acoustic blues albums in a Long time.—Steve Daniels

Lonnie Mack
The Wham Of That Memphis Man
Ace CDCHM-1134

As liners authors Dave Burke and Alan Taylor, of Pipeline magazine, put it at the outset of their informative, photo-studded liners: “Credited as one of the principal instigators of blue-eyed soul as well as the inspiration for southern rock, roadhouse bar-blues and the legion of blues-based guitar-slingers that plied their trade throughout the 60s, 70s and beyond, Lonnie Mack may not be a household name but he was one of the genuine giants of music.” Born into a musical family in the backwoods of Harrison, Indiana in 1941, Mack left high school at 13 and spent the next two decades recording for a string of local, independent labels while maintaining an exhausting schedule of one-night stands, playing his Flying V guitar for all it was worth in raucous taverns, honky-tonks and blues clubs before his arresting instrumental take on Chuck Berry’s “Memphis” became an out-of-the-blue Top Ten smash in the summer of 1963. It was closely followed by another pull-out-all-the-stops number, penned by Mack and titled “Wham!” As Burke and Taylor note: “Because of Lonnie’s plentiful use of the Bigsby tremelo arm on “Wham!” the device became known as a “whammy bar.” Originally released on Cincinnati’s Fraternity label in October, 1963, Mack’s classic, eleven track debut album remains one for the ages—every cut here is terrific—Mack’s “lightning fast guitar runs, punctuated with amazing string-bends, an organ-like tone and piercing guitar notes, put most other instrumentalists to shame.” Equally accomplished are Mack’s hypnotic, blue-eyed soul vocals (often in front of the stupendous Charmaines vocal group) with gospel hollers and heartbroken screams multiplying the music’s thrusting power and rapturous aura. Personal favorites include two inspired sacred covers (The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi’s classic “Where There’s A Will” and Martha Carson’s rousing “Satisfied”) along with all the groundbreaking instrumentals. Lonnie died last April, with this release already in the works. Now it stands as a fine memorial to an early guitar hero. Back in the day (I graduated from high school in 1963) this was one of those scant “all killer, no filler” LPs. Long live Lonnie Mack!—Gary von Tersch

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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