Blues Reviews
June/July 2018

Buddy Guy
The Blues Is Alive and Well
Silvertone/RCA 2018

The subtitle of Buddy Guy’s newest release could be “defying mortality with vitality.”
Deserved winner of innumerable Grammys and Blues Music Awards, legendary guitarist and singer Guy has never had a creative lull in his long career, from his 1950s stint as valued session man to his decades as part of the acclaimed blues duo with Junior Wells to his subsequent storied solo career. However, his creative alliance since 2008 with producer Tom Hambridge arguably has led to some of his finest achievements. Both 2013’s “Rhythm & Blues” and 2015’s “Born to Play Guitar” won multiple accolades. It will be no surprise if this new release is deemed equally worthy.
Comprising fifteen songs clocking in at a full hour, “The Blues Is Alive and Well” displays Guy at the undiminished peak of his powers. His singing, often overlooked by those dazzled by his guitar wizardry, is powerful and evocative, and he can deftly squeal, shriek, and ascend to falsetto. Unlike many blues singers, he also enunciates clearly, allowing appreciation of song lyrics.
Those lyrics are alternately pithy, poignant, and jocular. All but two of the tunes are credited to Hambridge, solely or in cooperation with a co-writer, Guy on several. Kudos go to the sterling group backing Guy, returning from his last couple of albums: Hambridge on drums, Willie Weeks on bass, Kevin McKendree on keyboards, and Rob McNelley on rhythm and slide guitars, with the Muscle Shoals Horns thrown in for good measure. That group could revive the dead.
Speaking of which: at eighty-one years old, Guy is obviously and understandably contemplating the inevitable demise facing us all. He addressed the issue in 2010’s “Living Proof,” with the songs “74 Years Young” and “Stay Around a Little Longer” (referring to B.B. King), and in “Rhythm & Blues” with “I Could Die Happy” and “All That Makes Me Happy Is the Blues.” “Born to Play the Blues” alluded to mortality with the title cut and “Come Back Muddy.” Here his pensive exploration of mortality begins with the opening track, “A Few Good Years.” It’s characterized by his gorgeous and plaintive single note guitar leads buttressed by McKendree’s haunting organ fills.
The next cut, “Guilty As Charged,” is a driving mid-tempo shuffle. It’s followed by “Cognac,” featuring guest guitarslingers Jeff Beck and Keith Richards, both among the myriad of six-string mavens who cite Guy as a major influence. Richards sticks to a blues trope, Beck adds some psychedelia, and the three mesh scintillatingly. There is no letdown with the ensuing title cut, a languid number distinguished by the appearance of the Horns. Its successor, “Bad Day,” is equally compelling: a stinging Chicago shuffle with pithy harmonica by Emil Justian.
We’re barely getting started! “Blue No More” ratchets down the pace, with Guy trading vocals with young British sensation James Bay, then “Whiskey for Sale” fully enters funk territory, replete with a trio of backing singers and ample wah-wah pedal. (Did I mention that the late guitar icon Jimi Hendrix was profoundly influenced by Guy?) No less than Mick Jagger emerges on “You Did the Crime,” and distinguishes himself without singing a note as he demonstrates his harmonica proficiency. “Old Fashioned,” written by Guy with Hambridge, reveals that Buddy prefers the proven to the avant-garde, and is succeeded by the similarly revelatory “When My Day Comes”: “I heard that train a-comin’/Across the county line/The good Lord heard my prayer/Cause that train right on time.”
After a gritty and nasty cover of Sonny Boy Williamson II’s (Rice Miller) classic “Nine Below Zero,” the group blasts into “Ooh Daddy,” and it’s time to dance! as Guy and McNelley interplay deftly. Then we return to the theme of mortality: “Somebody Up There” deploys Buddy’s strong vocal and screaming guitar in a tale of gratitude for his fulfilling life, and “End of the Line”…well, it’s poignant, with Guy proclaiming “When the clock on the wall says late/I’ve still got one more to play” but “I’m the last one to turn out the lights.” It’s impossible to listen without recalling the deaths of B.B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Robert Lockwood Jr., Koko Taylor, and many other seminal blues greats in the last decade.
Fortunately, Buddy Guy is still with us, and still carrying the blues torch with skill and soul. He will not go gently into the night, and he emphasizes his enduring vivacity with a one minute ribald closer, “Milking Mutha for Ya,” just Buddy and his electric Gibson having a good time at the close of another superb album.—Steve Daniels

Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys
My Live, Twentieth Anniversary
Nevermore Records

If anyone lives long enough the term legendary can be used as part of their official title and so it shall be with the Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys newest release “My Life, Twentieth Anniversary.” It’s a compilation of sixteen all-original tunes taken over the nicotine-stained breadth of his career. The Reverend joined the Blues Disciples in 1998, converted those disciples to Altar Boys but like any good clergy knows Altar Boys don’t last forever and he’s offered up a host of smoking players over the years. “My Life” includes four drummers: Vic Span, Spencer Panosh, Bobby Lee Sellers Jr., Craig Panosh, three bass players: Jeff Roberts, Andre Maritato, PT Pedeersen, four keyboard players: Ron Kovach, Danny Moore, Mickey Larson, Jimmy Voegeli and four harp players: Cadillac Pete Rahn, Madison Slim, Benny Rickun and Westside Andy. The Reverend on guitar and vocals is the only constant element of this compilation and the real testament to this band leader is that every song has a consistent sound, they all could have been recorded in the same session. The Rev leads his congregation with his smooth, smoky vocals and swinging guitar against a crooning harp and keys.
Starting off with a few tunes from his first record, 1998’s “Slow Burn” featuring Cadillac Pete Rahn, each song is a small short story with all the things the “Handyman” can fix, the Slim Harpo-like “Bee Hive Baby,” the upbeat “Creature Of Habit” and adding Madison Slim for his “Bad Little Girls.” Then jumping to his 2005 “Live At Blues On the Grand” Raven slides into “I Want To Love You” but “Once The Women Start Talking” about the “King Bee”-like “Big Bee” then it’s “Here Comes My Baby.” The remainder of this set is mixed from 2010’s “Shake Your Boogie” and the 2015 release “Live At the Big Bull” along with a few unreleased tracks splitting the harp between Benny Rickum and Westside Andy Linderman. With the title tune “My Life” Raven recounts his Naval time where he was first ordained and his days of “Looking for Love,” the tour de force “Praying for A Princess” with Benny Rickum’s harp and Danny Moore on piano. Taking a “Slow Burn” the Rev pleads baby “I Can Do You Right” but it’s “Someday When I’m Dead And Gone” and “She’s Moving On.” Saving the best till last “I’m Your Honeyboy” has Westside Andy and Moore swinging so hard they had to fade it out as Raven claims “satisfaction is guaranteed” and with everything on the legendary Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys “My Life, Twentieth Anniversary” that is a fact.—Roger & Margaret White

Sweet Pea Atkinson
Get What You Deserve

Back in the late ’70s Don Was first saw Sweet Pea singing at a UAW hall with some fellow auto workers and immediately recognized this was the real deal. Recruiting him as one of the lead singers on his first LP “Was (Not Was),” he also co-produced Atkinson’s first solo album “Don’t Walk Away” in ’82. Moving to LA, Atkinson was involved with Brian Wilson, Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Solomon Burke, George Jones and spent over a decade on the road with Lyle Lovett’s band. With close to forty years in the recording business, Sweet Pea’s newest disc ,“Get What You Deserve,” is Atkinson’s second solo release. Production was split between Was and Keb’ Mo aka Kevin Moore, who first met Atkinson in the late ’90s. He says “Sweet Pea is one of the last great R&B/soul singers. He’s a man of charisma and style, a timeless talent who’s greatly respected by his peers, and the epitome of cool. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.” Backed by a Motor City-centric band featuring former bandmate Randy Jacobs (The Boneshakers) on guitar, James Gadson drums with the basses of Reggie McBride, Don Was and Marcus Miller with a host of other players too long to list. All that said, hearing is believing so give it a spin and you’ll “Get What You Deserve.”
The first set produced by Was features two bits of classic soul from Freddie Scott, “Are You Lonely For Me Baby” also recorded by Al Green and Otis Redding, then digging deep on “Am I Grooving You” Sweet Pea owns these songs as if they were his own. Going straight for the funk Atkinson takes on James Brown’s “You Can Have Watergate” his voice strong and clear ringing with authority as Mindi Abair’s sax blasts on through. The remaining tracks are produced by Keb Mo’ and Sweet Pea takes on two of his songs. In his element on “Slow Down” laying back letting his voice ooze out around the rhythm as Jacobs burns between verses, then stepping up the funk, whooping and hollerin’ to the girls on “Just Lookin’.” From here it’s nothing but solid gold soul with Sweet Pea putting his stamp on each tune. Taking on Bobby Bland’s “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of the City” is given a deep soul reading and Johnny Taylor’s “Last Two Dollars” sounds heartrendingly real. Settling into an easier groove with Bobby Womack’s “You’re Welcome, Stop On By” his phrasing sounding as if he’s walking down a street before taking a sidestep to a restrained ballad on the Temptations “Just Another Lonely Night.” The title tune, “Get What You Deserve,” written and backed by “Wyzard” Jerry Seay, is a major hip hop detour.
“Get What You Deserve” is an all-covers disc but he puts so much of himself in, all you hear is Sweet Pea Atkinson.—Roger & Margaret White

Victor Wainwright and The Train
Ruf Records

Victor Wainwright was destined to play boogie woogie piano. He came from a long line of players and experienced Jerry Lee Lewis while sitting on his grandfather’s shoulders as a young lad. Mentored by the Rev. Billy C. Wirtz in barroom excess and boogie woogie, Victor has beaten that box for more than a decade and is now ready to release “Victor Wainwright and The Train.” He’s co-produced this with Dave Gross, written all the songs and has dedicated it to grandfather Jesse Wainwright. His vocals have a throaty Southern drawl and he’s added B3 organ and lapsteel to his bank of sounds while his band features Pat Harrington guitar, Billy Dean drums and Terrence Grayson bass which he augments with Mark Earley on sax and flute, Doug Woolverton trumpet, Reba Russell vocals and various guitarists.
The boogie piano jumps on board the “Train,” “buy yourself a ticket or get out of the way” through a fanfare of horns and the crowds shouting “woo woo” like a train whistle and you know you’re in for a rollicking ride. Blasting off with thunderous piano runs joined by horns on a gospel “Healing” quieting to gentle piano and whisper till the organ and guitar press forward in a full force rave up. A man of Victor’s considerable girth is warned by his Dr. and his Mama wants him in church but he replies with the boogie “I’ll Start Tomorrow” ’cause he’s having too much fun today and if you got the “Boogie Depression” a healthy dose of Jerry Lee Lewis is the cure. Deep twanging guitar against Victor’s deadly growl tells the unfortunate tale of Peggie’s “Wiltshire Grave” with creaking B3 and blaring trumpet. Victor’s aching voice croons a Beatle-like “Dull Your Shine” as he pulls up a lapsteel before returning to a delicate piano. The energy builds as the Train picks up the pace headin’ towards “Righteous,” a North Mississippi blues with Josh Roberts ridin’ the rails on lead guitar. Pat Harrington’s slide guitar is worthy of Derek Trucks as Victor’s vocals and B3 slowly heat up with “Sunshine,” a hot extended jam. Victor’s storytelling lyrics pay off, starting with a loan that demands “don’t forget about my” “Money” followed by the IRS, gangsters and church all asking that same question and his heartfelt appreciation for B.B. King in “Thank You Lucille,” with Monster Mike Welch on guitar. Victor’s vocals dominate “Everything I Need” over a gentle reverb-drenched guitar with B3 and piano and the final track feels like a soulful prayer as Victor sings “That’s Love To Me” and shows he’s a whole lot more than a boogie woogie piano player.
With his newest CD, “Victor Wainwright and The Train,” this big man of boogie has grown in leaps and bounds to create music that everyone can jump on board with.—Roger & Margaret White

Rhythm ‘N’ Bluesin’ By The Bayou: Livin’, Lovin’ & Lyin’
Various Artists
Ace CD 1514

From New Orleans in the east to Lake Charles in the west, local rhythm ‘n’ blues 45’s not only entertained the black residents of South Louisiana and kept the taverns and juke joints packed in all the tiny towns along Route 90 and nearby parishes, but inspired an entire generation of white performers, not only influencing their music but engendering the incipient sound that came to be known as swamp pop. Among the 28 tracks presented here in the, count ‘em, 19th volume of Ace’s “By The Bayou” series and the sixth devoted to R&B, can be heard not only the dance floor filling sound of Cookie and the Cupcakes (of “Mathilda “ fame), the tough, no-nonsense blues of Baton Rouge’s Tabby Thomas (owner of the fabled  club, Tabby’s Music Box) and three early tracks by ex-Clifton Chenier axeman Guitar Jr. (before he moved to Chicago and became Lonnie Brooks) but eleven groovin’ and hitherto unissued selections by little knowns like Little Nolton (with his quizzical “Don‘t Know Why), Elizabeth (that’s all it said on the tape-box) with a cover of Barbara George’s hit “I Know” and Clarence “Frogman” Henry-inspired Eddie Williams with his novelty take-off “Baby’s Got Bad Feet” as well as a pair of numbers by a totally-unknown artist—who channels Lloyd Price on the easy rocking invitation “Love Me Chile” while nicely slowing affairs down on a heartfelt “Won’t Be Blue No More.” Tracks by Lonesome Sundown, Charles “Mad Dog” Sheffield, King Karl, Tal Miller and Joe “Google Eyes” August also impress. For best results, follow ace liners author Ian Saddler’s succinct advisory and “crank up the sound system.”—Gary von Tersch

Burning Frets
Various Artists
Koko Mojo CD 07
You’re Too Bad

Various Artists
Koko Mojo 09

These two decks are from a, count ‘em, recent “eight set series” of particularly choice and, incidentally, very collectable blues, rhythm ‘n’ blues and black rock ‘n’ roll rarities, with a little vintage rockabilly on the side. The Koko Mojo label is an offshoot of Rockstar Records, part of ex-Bear Family boss Richard Weize’s new venture, with this debut, artfully themed and vintage imaged, 180 track series, ably compiled by DJ Lil Victor (aka “Mojo Man”) and, throughout (except for the lack of liner notes), more than up to the usual top-quality Bear Family standards. Burning Frets accents guitarists—ear catchers include Guitar Shorty with his tale of “The Ways Of A Man,” The Sharps with the novelty “Have Love Will Travel” (with Duane Eddy on guitar), John Fred and his Playboys with a boogified “Boogie Children,” a dynamic recall of John Lee Hooker’s “Dimples” from The Fabulous Silver Tones and Blue Charlie’s “chickin’ pickin’“ on a freewheeling “Gonna Kill That Hen” to mention only a few. One title, in particular, catches the eye as well as the ear—performed by the mysterious Boliver Shagnasty (that some suspect was rockabilly legend Rusty York) the outrageously bawdy “Tappin’ That Thing” would have made Lucille Bogan blush. You’re Too Bad is an outstanding blues harmonica compilation with some great sides such as Juke Boy Bonner’s complaining testimonial “Well Baby,” Harmonica Fats lamenting that “My Baby Didn’t Come Home,” Little Walter’s observational “Crazy Mixed Up World,” Little Boyd & The Blues Bees’ pleading “Don’t Leave Me Baby,” Big Ed Burns with the wild tale of his “Biscuit Baking Mama” and John Brim’s dangerously colorful “I Would Hate To See You Go,” featuring Little Walter.” As the Mojo Man puts it: WOWzer! BLOW MAN BLOW! I’ll review another couple discs in this aurally rewarding series in the next issue. Stay tuned!—Gary von Tersch

Willie Nelson
Last Man Standing
Legacy Recordings CD

Esteemed musician and cannabis connoisseur, Willie Nelson’s latest, all originals (co-composed with producer Buddy Cannon), eleventh studio album for Legacy Records is also one of his most personal and introspective efforts to date. From deeply reflective, Zen-like songs like the advisory “Something You Get Through” and the “real estate” commentary “Heaven Is Closed” (Let’s burn one for those still living in Hell/ And let’s burn one for those who think they’re in Heaven/ And burn one for everyone in the whole world/And anyone stuck in between), humorously stony vignettes such as “Bad Breath” and “I Ain’t Got Nothin’“ and the rollicking, playfully improvisational likes of “Ready To Roar” and the confidential “Me And You.” Onto  the elliptical “Don’t Tell Noah” and the lead-off  title tune “Last Man Standing”—that fondly recalls vintage times and old Nashville buddies like Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and Ol’ Norro along with the maybe that “We’ll all meet again/ On the other side/We’ll pick and sing/Load up the buses and ride.” Arriving just in time for Nelson’s 85th birthday, this eleven tracker is an already hailed successor to his acclaimed God’s Problem Child, that featured seven more gripping Nelson/Cannon compositions and debuted at #1 on the Country charts. This is one of those rare albums that concedes the impermanence of time while standing in awe at all the jubilance, wonder and surprise that the world has to offer—the pony-tailed icon is rolling along at a creative peak; writing, singing, acting (just out—the film Super Troopers 2) and plying the fretboard with the well-seasoned wit and wisdom that comes from decades on the road. Long live Willie!—Gary von Tersch

Tom Feldmann
Dyed in the Wool
Magnolia Recording Company 2017

Minnesotan Tom Feldmann continues to display his impressive instrumental talent in this album, his twelfth and his latest since 2014’s “Delta Blues & Spirituals.” A dedicated aficionado of old-time country blues, Feldmann in his two-decade career has revealed the profound influences of such legends as Son House, Charley Patton, Bukka White, and Mississippi Fred McDowell; indeed, Feldmann has released instructional DVDs teaching their styles. However, the ten tracks on this CD are all originals. Along for the ride this time are backing musicians Paul Liebenow on bass, Jed Staack on drums, and Mikkel Beckmen on percussion.
Feldmann is a worthy member of the pantheon of contemporary acoustic bluesmen, evoking stylistic comparison with such luminaries as Roy Book Binder, Catfish Keith, Paul Rishell and Paul Geremia. His wont is a little more restrained and melodic than that of equally illustrious contemporaries like John Hammond and Alvin Youngblood Hart, and this release widens Feldmann’s horizons somewhat with its undeniable bluegrass and country music influences…but blues is still the root.
The bluegrass motif emerges most clearly in “Skip Around the Old Oak Tree,” a brief number augmented by guest Jed Germond on fiddle. Country music tinges are most evident in the multiple numbers featuring Feldmann on slide or pedal steel guitar, the upbeat “Ballad of Angel Mosley” being a sterling example. In addition to his aforementioned early blues influences, inflections of 1960s Bob Dylan are evident in such cuts as “Going Now but I Won’t Stay Long” and “Have Ourselves a Time,” wherein Feldmann’s pleasing tenor vocals morph into near-talking-blues format.
Yet another obvious influence is acoustic guitar maven Jorma Kaukonen, erstwhile lead guitarist of psychedelic band Jefferson Airplane and roots blues rock group Hot Tuna. (Feldmann is a frequent teacher at Kaukonen’s annual Fur Peace Ranch music seminars in Ohio.) In fact, “Potato Soup Instrumental,” the only instrumental of the album, indubitably evokes memories of the instrumental track “Embryonic Journey” from the Airplane’s classic 1967 album “Surrealistic Pillow.”
Toward the end of the set, “Well Done” and “Shine Upon Everyone” mine a recurrent devotional theme in Feldmann’s music and lead to the final tune, the upbeat “Hallelu Thanks Be to God.” Although of only a short half-hour duration, “Dyed in the Wool” is another fine showcase of Feldmann’s playing and songwriting prowess.—Steve Daniels

The Lucky Losers
Blind Spot
Dirty Cat Records 2018

The duo of singer Cathy Lemons and singer-harmonica player Phil Berkowitz actually make all of us listeners fortunate winners with this, their third album. Based in San Francisco, the duo presents eleven quality songs backed by Robi Bean on drums and Chris Burns on keyboards, who both have been with the group since its inception. Joining on this outing are Ian Lamson on guitar and Endre Tarczy on bass, with former bassist Tim Wagar making a brief appearance. Also lending a hand are percussionist D’mar and several horn players, most notably Bay Area sax expert Nancy Wright. All are guided by the steady hands of Lemons, Berkowitz, and noted producer and guitar maven Kid Andersen.
The eleven tracks were composed by the two principals, all but one in cooperation with Danny Caron. Caron, former guitarist with the legendary Charles Brown and now for many years with the excellent zydeco-blues band Tom Rigney and Flambeau, lent a hand on several tracks of “In Any Town,” the band’s previous release; here he plays a major role.
This is not a straight blues album; there are no country or Chicago blues tropes; if anything, it’s a rhythm-and-blues set…but it’s undeniably bluesy. Lemons and Berkowitz handle the vocals deftly, and when they sing together they create pleasant harmonies. Berkowitz is skilled on harmonica, and the supporting cast is impeccable throughout. In addition to the expected sterling guitar work by Andersen, who wields his six-string on a half-dozen cuts, kudos also go to guest guitarist Laura Chavez, formerly in the band of the late chanteuse Candye Kane. Chavez’s leads on “Take the Long Road” and “Supernatural Blues” make those two of the best tracks on the album. Also notable is the quirky “Make a Right Turn,” which begins with a distinct reggae vibe and morphs into a country tune, bolstered by the lyrical contribution of Annie Staninec on violin.
The set ends with the delightful “You Left It Behind,” a talking-singing musical dialogue between Lemons and Berkowitz that leaves us with a smile on our face and anticipation of more to come from this entertaining band.—Steve Daniels

Joyann Parker
Hard to Love
Hopeless Romantics Records 2018

For her second album, Minnesota-based Joyann Parker and her adept quartet of band cohorts serve up a roiling stew, a baker’s dozen songs comprised of rockers, soul ballads, and a couple of shuffles. All were written by Parker with guitarist Mark Lamoine, and on various tracks Parker plays guitar, trumpet, and piano.
Parker’s singing, though, is the undisputed focus. This CD could equally be entitled “Adventures on the Vocal Edge.” Parker has a wide singing range, able to segue from brassy to smooth to sultry in the space of a bar or two. Her rapid twists and shifts often leave her on the precarious rim of shrillness or dissonance…but she never slips over that edge, instead remaining pitch-perfect. The result is compelling and commanding. Her singing reminds me of an amalgam of the styles of fellow contemporary blueswomen Janiva Magness, Shemekia Copeland, and Eden Brent; lofty company!
The set commences with “Memphis,” a hard rocker that is succeeded by “Envy,” a jaunty shuffle highlighted by some crunchy guitar riffs (presumably by Lamoine; liner notes fail to identify individual song contributors). Next up are “Home,” a lengthy soul ballad graced with Tim Wick’s organ fills and a fine guitar solo; and then “Dizzy,” another pithy rocker.
Rhythm section bassist Michael Carvale and drummer Alec Tackmann then provide the deft syncopation on “Jigsaw Heart” (not the same song as an identically named Brent tune), with Wick adding nice tinkly piano and wah-wah guitar making one of its several album appearances. The following track, “Who What When Where Why,” introduces guest Gunhild Carling on horns to the mid-tempo shuffle.
The pattern repeats throughout the rest of the set: alternating rockers and ballads. Skilled guitarist (and co-producer, with Parker and Carvale) Lamoine assumes primarily a supportive role, making his brief solo forays even more appreciated. Wick, Carvale, and Tackmann are a solid rhythm section, and Parker hits the mark powerfully on every cut, making her case that she deserves to be included in the echelon of top blues chanteuses.—Steve Daniels

Mud Morganfield
They Call Me Mud
Severn Records, Inc.

Mud is more than just a name, names can be powerful juju. When McKinley Morganfield claimed the name Muddy Waters or Chester Burnett took Howlin’ Wolf they became more than just singers: they evolved into icons, powerful figures who had the talent to make them real. Was it the name that evoked this or their raw talent that made the name? With “Mud” Morganfield you can tell it’s in the blood. While raised on R&B and Motown rather than on the plantation, his voice echoes the sound and nuance of his father. His fourth CD, “They Call Me Mud,” is definitely Mud’s baby, producing it along with guitarist Rick Kreher, he’s written ten of the dozen tunes, and those covers he picked were two rarities from his Pops. The Mud Morganfield band features Mud on vocals and bass on several cuts, Rick Kreher and Billy Flynn on guitars, Studebaker John playing harmonica, Sumito Ariyo Ariyoshi on piano, Melvin “Pookie Stix” Carlisle drums, E.G. McDaniel bass with Michael Jackson sax and Phil Perkins trumpet on half the tunes.
Starting out with the title tune “They Call Me Mud” sticking close to his father’s style of blues before taking a stronger R&B stance, his vocals drifting towards Johnny Taylor singing it’s been “48 Days” since you been gone, playing bass as well. “Cheatin’ Is Cheatin’” slows it up while keeping that R&B groove, then as if in answer a heavy harp and drums drones in as Mud gives his own howl to “Who’s Fooling Who?” this modern update might have been just where his father could have taken it. Keeping his family ties Mud stretches out his R& B roots on “Who Loves You” a duet with his daughter Lashunda Williamson. A sharp guitar dances through “24 Hours” as Mud’s a fireman putting out every fire he sees while the harp races to keep up. The harp starts out “Oh Yeah” like Sonny Boy’s “Help Me” as Mud drifts towards the beginning of Muddy’s “Mannish Boy.” The horns kick in to overdrive then cruise “Rough Around The Edge” with the piano and guitar picking up the slack between Mud’s smooth vocals depicting his rough behavior. Dipping back to his Pop’s tunes, “Howling Wolf” has the slide whining and harp crooning in response, while “Can’t Get No Grindin’” was taken from one of Muddy’s last bands - both are so authentic they could be Chess outtakes. Mud leads the finale on bass for the instrumental “Mud’s Groove” with Billy Branch’s light airy harp hitting a War-like groove.
Mud Morganfield has dedicated “They Call Me Mud” to his godfather James Cotton and Barrelhouse Chuck, but let’s not muddy the waters, this is all about Mud.—Roger & Margaret White

Rev. Marc Falconberry
Brand New Suit

Marc Falconberry grew up the son of a big band musician but he says it was hearing a Muddy Waters record that set his musical journey. He got a guitar at fourteen and honed his skills in the fiercely competitive Detroit music scene of the ‘60s, playing the Grande Ballroom, where blues acts routinely shared the stage with rock icons. After gigs Marc would venture to inner city blues clubs to witness real blues and that’s where Falconberry found his calling. Heading to LA. in the ‘70s his fervent professing the blues earned him the title of “Reverend,” opening for major acts. Returning to his hometown in the ‘80s he stuck to his roots playing traditional Detroit electric blues with a few like-minded musicians. With Falconberry’s “Brand New Suit,” his first new recording in a decade, he’s working with those long time musical collaborators Joe LaBeau blowing sax, Andy Szymanski tickling the ivories and Wesley Smith and Jon Johnson holding it all together on bass and drums with the Rev wailing on guitar and vocals. All but two tracks are originals and he’s woven these fine blues threads together for his “Brand New Suit.”
The two covers are Taj Mahal’s “She Caught The Katy,” a slow delicate solo acoustic guitar, it’s Marc’s deep expressive vocals that let’s that train ride and Brownie McGhee’s “Don’t Lie To Me,” an upbeat full band sashay. With his originals Falconberry’s vocals are deep and wide open as he slides up and down the strings like swerving along “forty miles of bad road” on “Often Deep and Wide,” which sounds like it could be a lost Savoy Brown cut. Marc sings of his frustrations with “My Ride Won’t Stay Lit” as LaBeau blasts on sax and the guitar mimics mechanical problems. Swinging into a groove with sax and organ Marc tells how in his youth he’d tangled with “That New York Woman,” letting loose with some hot guitar then warns you better “Tell Your Wife Everything” then he goes solo bearing his heart with “Empty Bed Blues.” Cooling things down with a smoky number, Marc hopes his luck will improve if only he can get that “Brand New Suit (from Chicago)” and while the story is entertaining it’s the band that shines. “Good Morning Miss Meredith” has a Latin beat and slide guitar that goes from a whisper to a roar. Reworking one of his party standards, “Goin’ To Hamtramck” recalls the heyday of the Attic Bar and the good times that were had. As a finale “Maybe My Blues Is Real” is the proof that Marc is the real deal, a slow bari sax and guitar against the whir of organ, with heartfelt vocals and just an edge of doubt in his voice as he questions his life.
The Rev. Marc Falconberry has dedicated his life to blues and this “Brand New Suit” should bring him to a brand new audience.—Roger & Margaret White

Breezy Rodio
Sometimes The Blues Got Me
Delmark Records

Breezy Rodio is a real breath of fresh air on the Chicago scene, laying down some of the best old school blues on the planet. Originally from Italy, Breezy (Fabrizio) moved to New York, relocated to Chicago and was Linsey Alexander’s guitarist/bandleader for more than a decade. Rodio released his first solo recording, “Playing My Game Too,” in 2011 followed with “So Close To It” in 2015 but his first major label release, “Sometimes The Blues Got Me,” is a giant leap forward weighing in at a big seventeen songs featuring eleven originals. Backed by an ace Chicago band of Sumito “Ariyo” Ariyoshi on piano, Chris Foreman organ, Light Palone bass, Lorenzo Francocci drums, with a horn section made up of Ian Letts and Ian McGarrie on saxes, Art Davis and Constantine Alexander on trumpets. But it is Breezy’s guitar and vocals that stand front and center on every song.
Leading off Breezy’s blues is “Don’t Look Now, But I’ve Got The Blues,” written by Lee Hazelwood and first recorded by B. B. King, his vocal is a full throated roar trailing to a delicate quiver with a guitar that would do the King proud. Following with more B. B. blues you can hear Lucille ringing on “Make Me Blue” and “I Love You So” comes off as a swinging ‘50s era big band blues shouter and wrapping up his King tribute switching from Lucille to Lucy with Albert King’s “Wrapped Up In Love Again.” Closing out the covers Breezy pulls out a near perfect rendition of T-Bone Walker’s “I Walked Away” and classic drummer Clifton James’ song “Chicago Is Loaded With The Blues” featuring Billy Branch on vocals and harp. Starting his originals Breezy really gains his gusto on a delicate guitar of “Let Me Tell You What’s Up,” an easy swinging old time feel as a horn section swaggers along building in power till he seems to be shouting from the roof tops. The horns back every phrase as he sings “The Power Of The Blues” that have taken him around the world and when the guitar and the keys hit their solos you could lose yourself in the journey. Other gems in this collection include the instrumental “A Cool Breeze In Hell” sounding like a lost Albert King instrumental, the Albert Collins-like “One Of A Kind” and when you tell me I drink too much, he thinks “You Don’t Drink Enough.” The title tune is classic Chicago blues when “you think I’m a star, because I play guitar, but when I take a break, I’m sitting in my car,” sometimes he’s got the blues but “Sometimes The Blues Got Me.”
With seventeen solid tracks Breezy has mastered that old school feel yet gives each one a spin that is unique and true to the title, “Sometimes The Blues Got Me.” He’s got it. —Roger & Margaret White

Bob Corritore & Friends
Don’t Let The Devil Drive
Southwest Musical Arts Foundation
P.O. Box 3310, Scottsdale,
Arizona 85271

Rare is the contemporary blues release these days that spot-on conveys a fresh and forceful approach to channeling that know-it when-you-hear-it, “old school” feeling while still decidedly keeping the music relevant to the modern day blues landscape. Enter Bob Corritore’s latest self-released project, that presents highlights from nine different recording sessions from 2014 to 2017, where the harmonica ace is constantly surrounded by an all-star team— particularly vocalists like Alabama Mike (his lowdown, late-night lament “Blues Why You Worry Me” and the vividly cautionary title tune are picks), Sugaray Rayford (great job on the nearly seven minute jockey blues about a legendary three-legged horse called “The Glide”) and the Tail Dragger, who delivers a moaning, “down on my knees” vocal alchemy on the reverb-blessed “Thundering And Raining.” Also putting in formidable vocal appearances are Oscar Wilson, with a stellar recall of Little Walter’s galloping “Tell Me Mama,” as well as Willie Buck, George Bowman and gravel voiced Bill “Howl-N-Madd” Perry—who exhibits a one-of a-kind, chanting energy concerning his “gone, gone, gone” girlfriend “Willie Mae.” Sidemen include the best in the biz—from Jimi “Prime Time” Smith and Henry Gray to Junior Watson (that’s his guitar on “The Glide”) to Bob Stroger and Big Jon Atkinson and more. Throughout, Corritore’s harmonica work is nothing short of stupendous. !!!—Gary von Tersch

Teresa James and the Rhythm Tramps
Here In Babylon

Houston, Texas born Teresa James started singing long before she headed to LA. and with her Texan drawl there’s no denying this little lady is from the Lone Star state. Through hard work Teresa has made a name for herself performing as a backup singer on numerous television and movie soundtracks as well as with artists like Marcia Ball, Levon Helm and Eric Burdon. Together with her longtime partner and bassist Terry Wilson they’ve produced Teresa’s tenth release, “Here In Babylon.” Once again Terry has penned the tunes himself or with fellow bandmates on all but one track. Joining them in the studio are some of the West Coast’s top tier musicians and the whole CD was tracked “live” in two days with Billy Watts on guitar, Jay Bellarose on drums and Teresa playing piano and Wurlitzer. They filled out that live sound adding Mike Finnegan on B3, Darrell Leonard on trumpet, Joe Sublett on sax with some friends and family adding background vocals.
Bellarose’s drum cadence sets the pace for James’ electric piano as she chants the battle cry of “Here In Babylon” and Watts’ slide rings the strings. Slowing to a gentle sway, Teresa’s seductive Texas accent has a touch of sadness as she sings “I Know I Ain’t Been So Perfect,” then horns join in with Teresa’s strong vocals and positive message the backup singers chant keep your “Head Up, Heart Open.” The B3 sets the mood with some mellow vibes as Teresa reminisces “I Keep Drifting Away” with a sensuous quiver of sadness that floats over the band. With a second line beat, mean guitar licks, full blown horns and Teresa’s sultry tone sings “Give Me A Holler.” The guitar grinding up against piano has Teresa telling the legend of the crossroads on “Ground Zero” her vocals soulful yet hauntingly powerful. With stinging guitar, smoky horns and light piano Teresa gets sassy as she replies to the chorus of “You Had To Bring That Up” then strutting with some funky guitar and B3 declaring “Hold On.” A slow rhythm and haunting touch on the keys has Teresa delivering one of her most powerful vocals on “The Day The Blues Came To Call,” then swings into a rockin’ boogie with “I Gotta Roll.” Teresa points out with powerful lyrics and strong vocals the time has come for this twenty first century woman to stand as an equal to her “21st Century Man.” Finishing up with a Bo Diddley beat Teresa declares “Find Me A Bar” with a real good band, cause this girl is on a mission.
With her sweet Texas twang Teresa James shows a range from a little bit classy to a little bit country but all woman and “Here In Babylon” is an inviting destination.—Roger & Margaret White

Too Slim and the Taildraggers
High Desert Heat
Vizztone 2018

Tim Langford has now been “Too Slim” for thirty-two years, but there is no way to characterize “High Desert Heat,” his twentieth album, as thin. Instead, it is replete with the full, crunching guitar chords that have graced most of his musical output. With Jeff Fowlkes on drums and Zach Kasik on bass, the Taildraggers trio delivers nine original songs and one cover of boisterous blues rock and soulful blues.
The cover, which opens the set, will be familiar to many of us of a certain age: “Time Has Come Today,” an eleven minute anthem released exactly fifty years ago by The Chambers Brothers. Slim and cohorts truncate it to four minutes and goose up the tempo slightly, but the main difference from the original is emphasis less on Langford’s vocal -which is more than adequate, rough and raspy - in deference to the propulsive drums and bass.
The next track, “Trouble,” is a shuffle which introduces guest harmonicat Sheldon “Bent Reed” Ziro, who acquits himself well, nailing some tasty high notes along the way. It’s followed by “Broken White Line,” the first of four tunes in a row which spotlight Langford’s nasty but nifty power trio guitar attack.
Then we get a little respite from intensity as the tempo eases on the longest track of the set, “Run Away,” with Langford deploying a near-spoken vocal; and the even slower “A Little More Truth” sports Slim singing strikingly like the late Tom Petty, and delivering some pretty and lyrical single note guitar leads. The style is emulated yet again in “Lay Down Your Gun,” and tweaked farther into the slow blues spectrum with the last cut, the title tune, an ethereal instrumental that showcases the trio’s versatility and is my favorite track of this spirited album.—Steve Daniels

Mississippi Juke Joint Blues: 9th September 1941
Various Artists
Rhythm & Blues Records 4CD/Bonus Disc

The date above, three months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, is significant. Clarksdale, Mississippi, the birthplace of Jackie Brenston, Son House, Ike Turner, Eddie Boyd and John Lee Hooker and was also home to five black taverns visited by intrepid Library of Congress researcher Lewis Wade  on the 9th of September in 1941. Entertainment in each of the cafes and taverns (the Chicken Shack, the Dipsie Doodle, Lucky’s, the Messenger Café, the still-in-business Pool Room and the New Africa) was the neon-lit jukebox and its choice of records—all painstakingly listed by Wade for posterity. How cool—now you can sit in the comfort of your home, pull yourself a beer and, for example, listen to the sounds a 29 year old Muddy Waters, from nearby Stovall, might have heard on a night out in Clarksdale on that far-gone September date. The trade magazine Billboard created its first chart for black music in 1942, calling it Harlem Hit Parade and it was initially dominated by big bands, vocal groups and jazz singers. Likewise, the music on these five discs is in the same vein, with nearly half the selections featuring black jazz and swing bands—Count Basie and Louis Jordan top the list with five discs each. Mississippi-born Lil “Romance In The Dark” Green proves Clarksdale’s favorite female blues thrush with three entries, while Walter Davis’ pleading “Come Back Baby” is the only record that shows up on all five lists. Other blues singers that make an appearance include Tommy McLennan, Blind Boy Fuller, Roosevelt Sykes, Washboard Sam, Georgia White and Peetie Wheatstraw along with the big band likes of Andy Kirk, Jimmie Lunceford, Woody Herman, Earl Hines, Artie Shaw, Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong and vocalists Bing Crosby, Jimmy Rushing, Ella Fitzgerald, Big Bill Broonzy and Fats Waller. Among many other artists. A bonus disc, available to set purchasers, is more of the same, beginning with Count Basie’s “9:20 Special” (Okeh 6244) and ending, 23 tracks later, with Gene Autry’s version of “Maria Elena” (Okeh 6435) along with the likes of two renditions of “Keep Cool Fool” by both the Ink Spots and Erskine Hawkins and Lil Green’s dynamic “Give Your Mama One Smile.” The sound, throughout, is great—an eye-opening collection that is an aural time capsule of sorts. —Gary von Tersch

Robert Finley
Goin’ Platinum
Easy Eye Sound 2017

The blues world has been fortunate over the last few years to benefit from the emergence or rediscovery of a number of excellent singers; Wee Willie Walker, R. L. Boyce, John Blues Boyd, and recently deceased Nick Nixon come to mind. Robert Finley joins this roster with a flourish. This man can sing!
A street singer for many years, Louisiana native Finley abandoned performance to ply his trade as a carpenter. Because of recently diminished vision, his carpentry career has ended, but serendipity led to his rediscovery by Music Maker Foundation and the release of a debut album in 2016. Subsequently Dan Auerbach of the popular blues rock duo Black Keys was introduced to Finley, was smitten by his singing ability, and has produced this album as well as writing or co-writing all ten of its songs and playing guitar throughout.
The title allegedly was chosen in jest by Finley, predicting a major success for the CD. He may be overly optimistic, but accolades are well deserved. My only regret is that the set clocks in at slightly over a half hour; twice as much would have been fine.
The ten tracks provide a robust tour through rock-and-roll, soul, gospel, and hill country blues, Finley demonstrating his mastery of each. Each song has its own charms, and each is bolstered by a crew of lauded sessions musicians who mesh gracefully. There are some surprises: for example, the appearance on various cuts of marimba, glockenspiel, vibraphone, mellotron, and harpsichord - not your usual blues instruments. Two women singers also make frequent appearances; their contributions vary from ethereal Leonard-Cohen-style backing to 1950s-1960s doo-wop accompaniment. The contrast may be jarring to some hardcore blues lovers, but it’s certainly innovative.
Speaking of 1950s-1960s: rock guitar icon Duane Eddy even participates on one track - one of my favorites - “You Don’t Have to Do Right,” which is distinguished by his electric guitar in tandem with Auerbach on acoustic. It’s preceded by another of my favorites, “Honey, Let Me Stay the Night,” a plaintive and somewhat amusing rocking plea for shelter (and maybe some loving) featuring those background vocals again. Finley absolutely nails both of those…as well as every other cut. Bring it on, Robert; I’m ready for more.—Steve Daniels


In Tune: Charley Patton, Jimmie Rodgers, and the Roots of American Music
By Ben Wynne
Louisiana State University Press 2014

Dozens of books have been written about Robert Johnson, widely regarded as “King of the Delta Blues” since Columbia Records released an influential vinyl collection of his 1930s songs decades ago. There is dispute, though; many historians and blues aficionados instead deem Charley Patton, born a generation earlier than Johnson, as the true king. Much less has been written about Patton, a deficit here addressed by his fellow Mississippian Ben Wynne, who attempts to place Patton in cultural and historical juxtaposition with seminal country music great Rodgers while analyzing their mutually profound effects on U.S. popular music in the first third of the twentieth century.
Wynne’s approach is less biographical than sociological, although there is ample personal information about both figures. Wynne clearly has done extensive research, demonstrated by the lengthy bibliography, myriad footnotes, a chronology of meaningful milestones in the lives of both musicians, and a useful compendium of their recording sessions (sadly, all too few in Patton’s case). He vividly portrays the hardscrabble milieu from which each emerged.
Although both Patton and Rodgers were born in Mississippi around the turn of the twentieth century, Patton of course had to deal with the brutal racism which permeated the region and limited the aspirations and opportunities of its African American residents. Ensconced with his family on the infamous Dockery Farm plantation, Patton parlayed his growing aptitude as singer and guitarist into a precarious but viable livelihood as an itinerant troubadour. His lively performances were renowned not only for his musical prowess, but also for his showmanship: playing guitar behind his back, writhing on the floor, and stirring crowds into frenzies. He traveled the juke joint and barrelhouse circuits; the fact that he survived a knife wound to the neck by one of his lover’s irate boyfriends and after that even survived until 1934, dying of heart failure at the age of forty-two, is surprising given his prodigious gambling, drinking, brawling, and womanizing.
Like Patton, Rodgers grew up in deep poverty. As a white man, he escaped the perils of racism (and indeed played music frequently with African Americans). His mother died when he was only six and he was left with his impoverished stepmother while his father labored on the railroad. Rodgers himself spent years working on the railroad, earning one of his nicknames as “the singing brakeman.” His facility on guitar and his innovative vocalizing, replete with his famous high-pitched yodel, landed him gigs with traveling musical troupes before his first recording sessions in 1927 (two years before Patton’s first sessions) led to almost instant and widespread recognition. Sadly, he had already been diagnosed several years earlier with tuberculosis, for which at the time there was no effective treatment. It sapped him of energy, limited his live and studio performances, and ended his life in 1933; he was only thirty-five years old.
Wynne makes evident the reasons why Patton and Rodgers became and remain seminal figures in their respective musical genres, which developed in parallel during the 1920s and 1930s as recording technology and the advent of radio made music available and affordable to mass audiences. As valuable, he clarifies the affinities between blues and country, their appeal to biracial fans, and the part that music has played in mitigating the vile racism that has afflicted U.S. culture since the era of slavery.
Wynne analyzes the music of Patton and Rodgers in somewhat basic terms, consistent with his profession as a historian rather than musician or critic. His efforts are not served well by suboptimal editing, characterized by poor punctuation, multiple misspellings, and considerable repetition. Nonetheless, this disquisition is valuable reading for both historians of the South and blues fans.— Steve Daniels

Memphis Rent Party: The Blues, Rock & Soul In Music’s Hometown
By Robert Gordon
Bloomsbury Publishing

Memphis, Tennessee, traditionally the initial stop for anyone from the scratch-poor Mississippi Delta on their often hazardous journey to find employment in the industrial North is also, reputedly, not only the fountainhead of rock ‘n’ roll and the nation’s soul music capital (by virtue of both Stax and Hi Records) but, for an even longer period, the “home of the blues.” Both white and black musicians from Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi heard each other’s music in person, on radio and jukebox—the results were inspired homogeneous sounds that, inevitably, influenced musicians way beyond the city limits. First known as a blues town because of an abundance of “field recordings,” held there in the 1920’s and 1930’s, little beyond that happened because of the lack of a recording studio—until enterprising Sam Phillips opened up shop and began Sun Records in 1952. Fittingly, his initial releases were, predominantly, hard core blues (James Cotton, Little Junior Parker, Rufus Thomas, etc.) but by the mid-1950’s he was busy launching the careers of the rock ‘n’ roll/rockabilly likes of characters like Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Charlie Feathers among others. By 1960, the musical climate had changed and most of the Sun artists had moved on. Yet something was happening over at Stax Records in an old movie theater on run-down McLemore Street—beginning with Carla Thomas’ massive hit “Gee Whiz” and onto the deep soul music sounds of the likes of Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, James Carr, Rufus Thomas (once more), Johnny Taylor, the Staples Singers and Eddie Floyd Gordon. Gordon’s fervently emotional map of Memphis, written with the anecdotal verve of a masterful storyteller, also encompasses the more modern likes of Jeff Buckley, the iconic Jim Dickinson (read the book), Junior Kimbrough, ill-fated genius Townes Van Zandt and Alex Chilton, Alex Chilton, Alex Chilton. Can’t recommend this one enough. Fat Possum also has a nifty complementary CD available.- Gary von Tersch


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