Blues Reviews June/July 2020

Linsey Alexander
Live at Rosa’s

Chicago Blues Hall of Famer Linsey Alexander has been a fixture on the Chicago blues scene for decades, first on the city’s South Side and later on the city’s popular North Side, specifically at the clubs Kingston Mines and B.L.U.E.S. Live at Rosa’s captures the highlights of two nights last May at the venue Rosa’s Lounge, on Chicago’s Near Northwest side. This is his fourth release on the esteemed jazz and blues label Delmark.
Live at Rosa’s contains six Alexander originals and three covers, including B.B. King’s “Please Love Me” and Freddie King’s “Have You Ever Loved a Woman.” The eight- plus minute Junior Wells tune “Ships On the Ocean” is a highlight, giving the veteran bluesman ample time to stretch things out. As usual, the rhythm section of bassist Ron Simmons and drummer “Big Ray” Stewart stays solid and doesn’t budge. The final track, the Alexander-penned “Going Back to My All Time Used to Be,” gives keyboardist Roosevelt Purifoy a chance to show his impressive chops, followed by an epic solo by Linsey, even slipping in a few Jimi Hendrix licks in. Guitarist Sergei Androshin opts mostly to stay in the background throughout the set, laying down tasty chord comps and weaving beautifully with the keys of Purifoy.
Live at Rosa’s showcases Linsey Alexander’s authentic guitar and vocal skills in their natural element, a gritty, tight Chicago club, and listening to this album is the next best thing to being there. – Bob Monteleone

The Proven Ones
You Ain’t Done
Gulf Coast Records 2020

This group of blues all-stars coalesced a couple of years ago and released their initial album, “Wild Again,” in 2018. That set was comprised of a few originals and several cover versions. In the ensuing years The Proven Ones have signed with Mike Zito’s Gulf Coast label and obviously spent quality time honing their already glittering credentials. This release features all originals (save for one) and demonstrates the band’s ability to grab a groove and ride it. While maintaining a strong blues vibe, the band has branched out to encompass soul, pop, rock, and even hints of Latin and psychedelia.
The latter is represented by “Get Love Intro,” the one-minute instrumental opener, in which Kid Ramos’s guitar evokes comparison with sitar and the composition with Beatles’ experiments of fifty-plus years ago. Immediately following are three rockers: “Get Love,” “Gone to Stay,” and the title track. All are distinguished by the outstanding musicianship of each group member, and especially by the incendiary drumming of Jimi Bott. Group “extras” Chris Mercer on saxophone and “Mack” McCarthy on trumpet add soulful horn grit, at points even producing a “wall of sound” which almost - but not quite - obscures Brian Templeton’s powerful vocals. Ramos and keyboardist extraordinaire Anthony Geraci trade riffs on the title track, fortified throughout by bassist Willie J. Campbell.
It gets even better, if possible, with “Already Gone,” a mid-tempo anthem replete with harmony vocals and tinkly piano that had me singing along after only the first few bars. Following is “Whom My Soul Loves,” co-written by Templeton and sung in harmony with the great Ruthie Foster. Then comes “Milinda,” a love ballad with a tinge of Latin flavor, and “Nothing Left to Give,” penned by Geraci and prodded by Campbell’s bass. By this time Bott has abandoned drum dramatics for his impeccable rock-steady foundation.
“She’ll Never Know,” written by Bott about a poignant family situation, is distinguished by lyrical guitar licks by Ramos and one of Templeton’s most passionate vocals. Ramos then takes center stage singing his own composition, “I Ain’t Good for Nothin’ “ [when she has left him], with Templeton chiming in competently on harmonica. Ramos’s crunching chords drive “Fallen,” and the set closes with its only cover, the rocker “Favorite Dress,” introduced by drums and bass, guitar joining, then piano…and we are launched!
Along the way on this standout set, LaRhonda Steele and Norma Honjosa contribute backing vocal harmonies while Mike Zito plays acoustic guitar on five tracks, although mostly inaudibly, but every other instrument is heard clearly…fortunately for the listener, because these guys are premier musicians, and this album is destined to win awards.—Steve Daniels

John Blues Boyd
What my eyes have seen…
Gulf Coast Records

John Blues Boyd released his debut The Real Deal in 2016 at seventy-one years young. Born and raised in Mississippi, picking cotton at the age of seven, he was run out of town at the age of eighteen for participating in the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom March. Eventually settling in California, he made a nice but hard life for himself and his beloved wife Dona Mae, working as a roofer, while sitting in at local clubs, impressing audiences with his stately and authentic blues voice. “What my eyes have seen…” is a collection of original songs written by the combination of producer/guitarist Kid Andersen, Gulf Coast founder Guy Hale and John Blues Boyd. The idea was to create an album that tells the story of Boyd’s life, the struggles and oppression of the Afro-American people back through the dark days of Jim Crow. The songs depict events that shaped Boyd’s life. “Run Out of Town” describes his escape from his home in the Deep South in 1963. “A Beautiful Woman” is a tribute to his beloved departed wife Dona Mae. “Why Did You Take That Shot?” is about MLK’s assassination, his move to the West Coast in “California,” “The Singing Roofer.” A brilliant device on this record is the short, cathartic interludes interspersed between the ten compositions. “My Memory Takes Me There: Pts 1-9” are all free flowing, stream of conscience-style vignettes underscored by Kid Andersen’s soothing organ and tasty guitar licks. Musically the songs never stray far from the blues, from the shuffle of the opener “In My Blood,” the swampy minor key “What My Eyes Have Seen,” the John Lee Hooker-style riff of “I Heard the Blues Somewhere.” The core group of Andersen on guitars and organ, bassist Quantae Johnson, drummer June Core and keyboardist Jim Pugh (founder of the Little Village Foundation) is augmented by Andersen’s Greaseland Studios circle of session musicians and comrades including horn players like Jack Sanford, Nancy Wright, Ric Feliziano, and others who contribute throughout the album. The anchor of the album is, of course, the ferocity, tenderness and shear honesty of Mr. John Blues Boyd’s majestic voice. “What my eyes have seen…” is a unique and vital statement, a historically driven listen and will most likely stand the test of time. – Bob Monteleone

Johnny Burgin
No Border Blues
Delmark 2020

Born in the South, musically educated in Chicago, guitarist Johnny Burgin has established respected credentials over the last twenty years in gigs with such blues legends as Sam Lay, Pinetop Perkins, Lurrie Bell, Jimmy Dawkins, and John Littlejohn. He has released multiple albums over the last decade, culminating in 2017’s “Howlin’ at Greaseland,” which garnered a Blues Music Award nomination for Traditional Album of the Year.
His extensive touring has included multiple trips to Japan, where he established musical relationships with Japanese blues musicians who have remained there and some who have immigrated to the U.S. “No Border Blues” is a collection of tracks recorded with many of those Japanese blues lovers and purveyors. In the liner notes Burgin expresses his admiration for the dedication of these musicians, who dwell in a musical underground devoid of awards, widespread recognition, or means to a livelihood.
Burgin takes the guitar lead skillfully throughout, on all eleven numbers of the set, three of which are his own compositions. (One of those is a re-working of the Robert Johnson classic “Sweet Home Chicago” morphed into “Sweet Home Osaka”.) The general approach is mid-tempo, with shuffles predominating. Some of the more rocking numbers are the best; check out “Pumpkin’s Boogie,” with vocal and jumping piano by Lee Kanehira (who wrote the tune), and harmonica by Kotez, Burgin laying out some nifty guitar fills. There are covers of tunes by well known bluesmen Carey Bell, Tampa Red (Hudson Whitaker), John Brim, and Little Walter Jacobs. Little Walter’s tune, “I Just Keep Loving Her,” has the same cast as “Pumpkin’s Boogie” and is equally spirited. It’s followed by “Rattlesnake,” the Brim cover, which is actually Big Mama Thornton and Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” with different lyrics.
Several numbers sport two guitarists; others feature harmonica players in duet. Unfortunately, the liner notes don’t identify individual lead contributions. Overall, the musicians are competent, although not stellar. The harmonica players tend to flaunt technical prowess and to overplay; the guitarists are capable but undistinguished; the pianists are generally very good; the bassists and drummers are mechanistic and desultory, without the occasional flourish that would juice a number into overdrive.
An original indigenous American music, derived from Africa, blues is now deservedly popular in much of the world. Kudos to Johnny Burgin and these musicians for keeping it vibrant in Japan.—Steve Daniels

Albert Castiglia
Wild and Free
Gulf Coast Records

Albert Castiglia wastes no time stating his agenda on the live album Wild and Free. He comes storming out of the gate with ferocity seconds into the opener, “Let the Big Dog Eat,” and doesn’t let up until the classic blues turnaround heard at the conclusion of the closer, “Boogie Funk.” Unapologetic, hard rocking blues is on the menu here. Wild and Free was recorded in January of this year over two nights at the Boca Raton venue the Funky Biscuit. Born in NYC, he was raised in Miami and was discovered by Junior Wells in 1996, touring in Wells’ band until Junior’s death in 1998. The Florida-based guitar slinger has been releasing albums since 2004, this one is the 12th in his discography. 2019’s Masterpiece very recently won Best Blues Rock Album of the Year at the Blues Music Awards. Of the eleven tracks on this album, four were written by Castiglia. The covers are an interesting mix: Mike Zito’s “Hoodoo On Me” (Mike produced this album and guests on the Johnny Winter tune “Too Much Seconal”); longtime Neville Bros. guitarist Brian Stoltz’s “I Been Up All Night”; Paul Butterfield’s “Lovin’ Cup”; Freddie King’s “Boogie Funk.” A highlight is the Castiglia original “Heavy,” a slower number that clocks in just under ten minutes, giving the guitarist plenty of time to stretch out. Castiglia takes out his slide and tears up Elmore James licks in “Get Your Ass in the Van.” On the more rocking numbers the band’s style reminds one of Pat Travers or Johnny Winter in his pre-Alligator Records days. The rhythm section of bassist Justine Tompkins and drummer Ephraim Lowell along with keyboardist Lewis Stephens hold everything down and accompany Castiglia through his wild excursions like seasoned pros. Ace organist John Ginty makes a cameo on two tracks, laying down a scorching solo on “Too Much Seconal.” All in all Wild and Free is a great party album and really gets to the nitty gritty of this virtuoso’s talents.—Bob Monteleone

Jose Ramirez
Here I Come

Coming from Costa Rica, Jose Ramirez is one of the most important up and coming blues artists in Latin America. The Jose Ramirez Band has recently won second place in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. At thirty one, Ramirez has two European tours under his belt and during 2019’s US tour his band played at most of the elite blues clubs across the Midwest and the South. Here I Come was recorded in Austin and produced by longtime Texas guitarist Anson Funderburgh, of Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets fame. As Ramirez states on the CD’s inside, “Each song represents a story or experience I have lived through.” The autobiographical title track starts things up, name checking some of the greats of the blues and features some great piano work from Jim Pugh, who shines throughout the album. T-Bone Walker’s “I Miss You Baby” (written by Freddie Simon) has a nice horn chart by the Texas Horns. Ramirez’s understated soloing on this track is a highlight, as it is throughout the album. His style is very laid back, his tone usually clean, playing almost behind the beat. He doesn’t just throw notes out there without a purpose like some of his peers. Like a precise jazz soloist, every note counts. Funderburgh sits in on two numbers: burning a solo on “Gasoline and Matches,” a nice contrast to Ramirez’s approach; and sets the table with his patented Texas-style rhythm guitar on the Ramirez original “Three Years.” (Nice nick of The Godfather theme at the conclusion, guys!) The cover of Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” is interesting due to the fact that the song changes stripes from what is usually played in a major key is now a minor blues. In “Stop Teasing Me” the guitarist describes that flirty band-girl found at (hopefully) every gig “dancing like that.” Of note is the handsome full color eight page booklet included in the CD packaging. Jose Ramirez is a talent to keep an eye on. His songwriting and smooth voice complements his guitar skills, which is mature beyond his years. – Bob Monteleone

Mike Zito
Quarantine Blues

No tour- no gigs? What the heck?—let’s compose and record an album in 14 days and give it away for free to fans over the internet.
Renowned singer-songwriter, producer and guitar-slinger Mike Zito was in Europe touring, in support of his latest album “Rock n’ Roll: A Tribute to Chuck Berry” on Ruf Records, when the pandemic hit and he had to pack up his band, instruments and gear, and head back to the States. Said Zito: “While flying home from Europe after all of our tours being cancelled, I decided the band and myself would record a free album for our fans. Individually we have been quarantined for 14 days and this idea of writing, producing and releasing an album in the 14-day period seemed like quite an effort and a distraction for us.”
Originally from St. Louis Missouri, Zito was a co-founder of The Royal Southern Brotherhood that featured Devon Allman (they met when they were both working at the Guitar Center in St. Louis), Cyril Neville, Yonrico Scott and bass player Charlie Wooton.
Coming home from Europe Zito went straight to his backyard garage in Texas and started sketch-drum-looping for reference and sharing audio files with band members over the internet via drop-box - even making friends and collaborating with Tracii Guns, founding guitar player of glam-rock band L.A. Guns quarantined in Denmark over the internet.
This album isn’t blues – it’s a wall-of-blues rock and not what you’d expect from the veteran blues-rocker, it leans more towards Southern Rock and unbelievably sounds like a band who just came off a stadium tour with a lot of bourbon whiskey and smoke bombs. The aggression is palpable, there’s a hint of ferocity throughout which drives the guitars and vocals – it’s hard not to believe the players weren’t all onstage together shaking the floorboards while recording this album. If you love ZZ Top this album will jump right to front of your playlist. At times the songs sound like Crazy Horse only with tighter musical phrasing, and a sober Ronnie Van Zant singing in front. The title track, “Quarantine Blues,” mixed the vocals as though through a megaphone backed by a vicious slide guitar lending voice to the frustration felt by Zito being unable to get back on the road. “Don’t Touch Me,” the track featuring Tracii Guns – hints at the “golden” days of glam-rock-hair metal stadium rock of the 80’s with convincingly blended electric rhythm guitars cascading into the chorus, and what I take to be Guns’ soloing like a guy who escaped from early Van Halen, or from Ozzy’s band. The album opens with “Don’t Let The World Let You Down” a mid-tempo rocker that should be covered by Neil Young, and closes out with “What It Used To Be” an acoustic soliloquy that makes you want to listen to the album again from the beginning. Zito’s expert producer chops are clearly revealed on the high-energy up-tempo “Dust Up” featuring some nice key-lifts in support of ace-in-the-hole straight-ahead guitar work, cool drum breakdowns and vintage organ stabs, and features some nice and crazy guitar work on the ‘too-soon-for-my-taste’ fadeout.
To listen and/or download your free copy of “Quarantine Blues” head on over to
Be warned, the tireless Zito has already got plans for his next release “B.B. King meets Lyle Lovett” he says—a big band blues album for Ruf Records.—Conrad Warre

Rory Block
Prove It on Me
Stony Plain 2020

Rory Block has always been first and foremost a preservationist, revering and reprising the work of country blues artists (while also composing an ample number of her own songs). In the aughts she embarked on a series of deservedly praised tribute albums to seven legends: Robert Johnson, Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Rev. Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, and Bukka White.
In 2018’s “A Woman’s Soul” Block switched her attention to the female side of the blues by covering Bessie Smith tunes. Another in her continual series of splendid albums, it garnered her a sixth Blues Music Award as Acoustic Artist of the Year. Her latest release again focuses on “Power Women of the Blues, Vol. 2,” this time covering seven songs by relatively obscure women singers. Thrown into the mix are interpretations of a song each by the well-known Ma Rainey and Memphis Minnie, and one autobiographical original.
As she has done frequently in the last few years, Block purveys her music as a one-person studio band. That is, she overdubs guitars – acoustic, electric, slide – bass, and percussion, as well as harmony vocals. Bass and percussion are fine, and her guitar playing remains masterful throughout, plied with restraint and taste in service to each song. As for her singing: count me an eternal enthusiast. She manages always to express passion and double-entendre libido without mannered affect. Perhaps her vocals sport a little less depth and more tremolo than ten or twenty years ago, but if anything they are even more powerful and just as moving.
The songs that she has chosen in order to showcase these forgotten chanteuses, like Arizona Dranes and Merline Johnson, range from pensive to zesty. From the opening bars of the first track, a Helen Humes tune, “He May Be Your Man (but he comes to see me sometimes)”, there is something to bring a smile or a tear to every country blues lover. “Eagles,” a Rory original and one of the longest tracks, limns her own musical journey and rates on a par with the other gems of the set.
Listen to the second track, “It’s Red Hot,” a song by Madlyn Davis. Davis recorded only ten tracks, in 1927 and 1928; this song was recorded in 1928 with backing by the great Tampa Red on guitar and Georgia Tom Dorsey on piano. Block’s version is terrific…and the song’s title summarizes my opinion of this album.—Steve Daniels

James Harman
Liquor Parking
Bigtone Record 0s 2019

You know what you will get when you listen to a James Harman album: songs with droll humor; unpretentious and skilled harmonica playing; an ensemble of excellent musicians having a great time together; and outstanding singing.
That’s what bluesman Harman has been delivering for almost six decades. He grew up playing both piano and harmonica, the latter also an instrument of his father. Originally from Alabama, with stints in Florida, New York, and Chicago, since 1970 he has been based in Southern California. His early 1970s Icehouse Blues Band backed many legends, and in 1977 he formed his own band. Great musicians attract great musicians, which is why the list of superb artists who have been in the Harman Band is jaw-dropping. One of the best nights of my life was seeing the James Harman Band for the first time in the mid-1980s, with dual guitarists Hollywood Fats and Kid Ramos. Spectacular!
Years on, Harman continues to produce his unique amalgam of blues, a mixture of Chicago style with a gospel tinge. On this outing he teams up with co-producer Jon Atkinson, whose Bigtone label features “old school analog” technology. Atkinson wields the deft guitar, providing consistently spiffy licks. Bob Welsh rides the keyboard bench with tinkly prowess, Malachi Johnson deals out steady percussion with flair, and Kedar Roy and Greg Roberts alternate on bass, with usual Harman bassist Troy Sandow appearing once.
The set kicks off smartly with “Done Deal,” a tune a la Little Walter, with Atkinson sliding over the strings, saxophonist Eric Spaulding making his only appearance of the album a notable one, and pianist Carl Sonny Leyland also taking his only shot…thankfully for us; I share Harman’s liner note that Leyland is one of the best blues pianists ever. The ample hour-plus of music, fifteen tracks, proceeds by delving into multiple mid-tempo shuffles, a brief but zesty uptempo “Boogie Lovin’,” and a couple of really nice slow blues: “Lady Luck” and the seven minute “Behind the Curtain.” There’s even what Harman terms a “trance blues,” “(Ain’t Gonna) Raise My Hand,” which indeed has a mesmerizing groove.
Harman doesn’t do cover versions of others’ tunes and has deservedly won many songwriting awards. He claims in the liner notes that these songs are all “head arrangements…me making up stories.” Anyone who has seen him perform knows that’s credible; he typically makes up lyrics on the fly from his fertile and quirky imagination. For two prime examples, check out “Eatin’ Manatee” – it’s not as politically incorrect as you might think – and “Woman Took My Woman.” His harp playing is stellar without ever being flashy. For me, his singing warrants the most praise; it’s smooth, sly, and soulful, with just the right amount of drawl. When he intones “Ooh, baby,” you feel that the spirit of the blues has truly moved him. It moves me, too, and I think that it will move you.—Steve Daniels

Crystal Shawanda
Church House Blues
New Sun Records/True North 2020

This fourth blues release by indigenous Canadian singer Crystal Shawanda cements her credentials as one of the most powerful and passionate female blues singers.
Abandoning a promising career as a country vocalist, earlier this decade Shawanda committed to blues, her true musical love. In the country genre she had allegedly felt “like a fish out of water,” which became the title of her 2018 album. It was preceded by 2017’s “VooDoo Woman,” which I had the pleasure of reviewing in this magazine in 2018.
Instead of covering well known songs, as was typical of “VooDoo,” this relatively brief set of ten tracks includes four penned by Shawanda, and none of the rest by readily recognized figures. She is backed by the same ensemble of musicians, unfortunately not identified on individual tracks in the liner notes…but consistently present is her spouse and the album’s producer, Dewayne Strobel. Give this guy props for two notable accomplishments: the production quality of the CD is outstanding, with separate instruments heard clearly and in an ideal mix; and his guitar contributions are excellent throughout, whether providing rhythmic backing or sparkling solo leads. Several tracks are augmented by classy harmonica, saxophone, and keyboards, as well as backing vocals by Shawanda in overdub, and several woman compatriots.
The forte, of course, is Shawanda’s singing. This woman has pipes! Comparisons have been made, including by me, to Koko Taylor, Janis Joplin, and contemporary blueswomen Cee Cee James and Hurricane Ruth, but Crystal has a style of her own, able to purvey songs with both a gritty rasp and a sultry croon. She is also comfortable with both ballads and rockers.
A good taste of what the album furnishes is exemplified by the first two cuts. The set begins with the title tune, upbeat and danceable, and segues to “Evil Memory,” a slow blues with beautiful piano riffs and haunting, moody organ. Later on is another slow soul blues, “I Can’t Take It,” that would have fit right into Joplin’s vocal wheelhouse. Also deserving repeated listening is “Blame It on the Sugar,” one of Shawanda’s compositions, a lusty uptempo number with throbbing bass and ascending/descending organ curling around each other, preceding a scintillating Strobel guitar solo. The satisfying set ends with yet another high point, “New Orleans Is Sinking,” Strobel plying slide renderings and Stephen Hanner wailing on harmonica.
I was enthusiastic about “VooDoo Woman” two years ago, and Crystal Shawanda’s new album does nothing to diminish my admiration.—Steve Daniels

Steve Howell, Dan Sumner & Jason Weinheimer
Long Ago
Out Of The Past Music CD

East Texas-North Louisiana-based arch and flat-top, acoustic fingerstyle guitarist and creamy baritone vocalist Steve Howell, accompanied here by jazz guitar journeyman Dan Sumner and resilient bassist Jason Weinheimer, extends an uncommonly productive run that has lasted nine albums to date and is absolutely the definition of Easy Listening, albeit in an utterly engaging way-back vein. As he puts it: “I am a lover of American music from the first half of the 20th century. I like it rural, urban, country blues, traditional jazz, Appalachian music, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll—I like it all!” And it shows—just to pick a few plums I’d start with an incisive yet spacious rendition of Ella Fitzgerald’s coasting “Angel Eyes,” an ultra-melodic instrumental recall of “I’ll Remember April” with its Spanish guitar feel (originally featured in a 1942 Abbott and Costello comedy called “Ride ‘Em Cowboy”)  and pays tribute to blues poet Percy Mayfield with a pin-drop rendition of his signature plea “Please Send Me Someone To Love.” Other notables tap the rhythmic likes of Duke Ellington (“Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me”), Antonio Carlos Jobim (“Dondi”) and Dave Frishberg with his witty “Z’s.” Timeless music.—Gary von Tersch

The Blues Express
Live at Antone’s
Blues Express Records

The Blues Express is a harmonica and roots rockin’ guitar-driven band that plays an authentic electric blues style not unlike serious blues acts coming out of the American Midwest and East Coast blues circuit. However… they are from Norway! Their latest release Live at Antone’s was recorded last year at the legendary Antone’s in Austin, Texas. This is not the first time these gentlemen have recorded live at a historic American venue. 2015’s Live at the Shack Up Inn was recorded at that famous former plantation outside Clarksdale, Mississippi. 2019’s Southside was a more normal studio affair recorded at home in Norway with guests like BCBM contributor Dave Fields on guitar and the Red Hot Horns.
Live at Antone’s ten songs feature three originals written by guitarist/singer Kai Fjelberg as well as “Henri’s Boogie” by pianist Henri Herbert, who joins the four-piece for a number of tracks. You would never know that these guys come from the Arctic Circle as the vocals by Fjelberg and harmonica/singer Ronald Ottesen belie no accent.
The set opens with a couple of Fjelberg originals, “Roller Coaster Ride,” a minor chord 12-bar progression and “King of My Castle”, both showcasing Ottesen’s formidable harmonica chops. The boogie woogie piano showcase “Henri’s Boogie” follows, an energetic tour de force. There’s two Little Walter covers on the album, “Nobody But You” and “Mellow Down Easy,” and the Blues Express show reference to the master’s brand of Chicago blues, down to the distorted vocals sung through perhaps a Green Bullet harmonica mic. The band shows some nice dynamics on “Mellow Down Easy,” breaking it down real “mellow” and crescendo’s it back to a strong finish. A highlight is the album closer, Fjelberg’s “Supergirl”, a SRV-style house rocker. Herbert throws down some nice honky tonk piano on this one. Kai Fjelberg’s “phat” guitar tone is the glue that holds the Blues Express together, along with the backbone rhythm section of drummer Kare Armundsen and bassist Trund Hansen. The blues may be an American art form, but Live at Antone’s proves you don’t have to be from the U.S. shores to “do the blues right”! – Bob Monteleone

Lisa Mills
The Triangle
Melody Place Music CD

One of those few concept projects that work. Barn-burning soul/blues vocalist Lisa Mills’ The Triangle rousingly extracts constantly mesmerizing music from the vaunted triangle of Memphis, Muscle Shoals and Jackson, Mississippi with both legendary and local musicians joining in on the fun on fourteen numbers—soul/blues classics as well as little-known nuggets. Two of my immediate favorites bookend affairs—“Greenwood, Mississippi,”  originally recorded by Little Richard in the early ‘70s in Muscle Shoals, is here given a dynamic, Bobbie Gentry-like treatment by Mills while it’s just Lisa and her guitar on a belonely, intimate recall of the doo-wopping Prisonaires 1953 classic, “Just Walking In The Rain,” on a bonus track from Sun Studios in Memphis. Other eye-openers from Alabama’s Fame Studio include totally immersive versions of “Tell Mama” and Little Milton’s “I’d Rather Go Blind” while Royal Studios in Memphis, Tennessee features dynamite renditions of both “That’s How Strong My Love Is” and the Porter/Hayes classic “Same Time, Same Place.” Finally, a stopover at Malaco Studios in Jackson, Mississippi yields the likes of pungent covers of “Members Only” and “Someone Else Is Stepping In.” More please.—Gary von Tersch

John Lee Hooker
Documenting The Sensation Recordings 1948-1952
Ace Records

The son of a Clarksdale, Mississippi sharecropper, one-man band, John Lee Hooker, rose to stardom playing his transfusionally throbbing electric guitar and tapping feet-based reworking of the stark Delta blues he grew up with as a youth, eventually also encompassing other elements such as his often overlooked “talking blues” titles and nascent Mississippi Hill country blues forays, into his one-of-a-kind approach. This three CD project is Hooker at his earliest, in a series of recording sessions for Detroit entrepreneur  (a la Sam Phillips in Memphis) Bernie Besman for his Sensation label. The abundance of alternate and extended takes included reveal that, although nearly illiterate, Hooker, right at the outset of his lengthy career, was already a master at interpreting traditional material to suit his raw, percussive style as well as, more and more as his career widened, composing his own, often personal and free verse songs. As liners author Peter Guralnick comments: “Hooker was an anachronism from the time he first arrived on the scene, calling up the deepest wellsprings of the blues tradition and, like his counterpart Howlin’ Wolf, never abandoning them.” Picks are everywhere—from his classic “Boogie Chillen’,” “Henry’s Swing Club” and “War Is Over (Goodbye California)“ from 1948; a wonderful extended take of his club name-dropping “Hastings Street Boogie,” “Miss Sadie Mae,” “Momma Poppa Boogie” and “Burnin’ Hell” from 1949 and four alternate takes of “Boogie Chillen’,” “John L’s House Rent Boogie,” “Huckle Up Baby” and “Grinder Man” from 1950. 1951 continues the treats with four takes of his downbeat “I’m In The Mood,” “Grinder Man,” “Tease Your Daddy” and “Walkin’ The Highway” while 1952 includes material recorded with his Detroit buddy, Little Eddie “The Gypsy of The Blues” Kirkland, on second guitar— including “I Got Eyes For You,” “It Hurts Me So,” and the rocking “That’s All Right Boogie.” All in all, Ace’s exhaustive research has turned up 19 takes not previously available on this landmark project that reveals that Hooker had it all from the beginning—he didn’t need any bass or drums or rhythm guitarist or piano player or horns backing him up. Hooker fans will definitely want to add this one to their collection.—Gary von Tersch

The Blues Come To Texas:
Paul Oliver and Mack McCormick’s Unfinished Book
Alan Govenar and Kip Lornell
Texas A&M University Press

Wikipedia boldly defines Texas blues as “a regional style with its original form characterized by jazz and swing music (?) with later examples often closer to blues rock and Southern rock.” So much for Wikipedia. Over the space of 15 years, the team of Oxford Englishman Paul Oliver and Texan Mack McCormick collaborated on what they envisioned as an exhaustively definitive history and scholarly analysis of the blues in Texas while employing primary sources that included field recordings and, at times, remarkably incisive interviews with blues musicians from all over the Lone Star State and the surrounding greater South. But the intended manuscript was never completed. When McCormick lost interest in the project and Oliver became ill, folklorist Alan Govenar and ethnomusicologist Kip Lornell picked up the traces, contextualizing and DOCUMENTING the pairs’ extant MASSIVE manuscript for publication. Divided into a pair of volumes, the first picks up the story in the first few decades of the 20th century covering the regional variety of songs that were heard in Texas in the seminal period when the blues emerged, largely in the songster tradition, as illustrated by various song folios and, perhaps most interestingly, in chapters titled Old Country Stomp, Silver City Bound, San Antonio Shout, California Bound, The Houston Kick and a fascinating, closing Juneteenth commentary. The second volume opens with the saga of one-of-a-kind, George “Bongo Joe” Coleman, who magnificently played his three tuned, self-fabricated 55-gallon oil drums on Texas beach boardwalks while hypnotically accompanying his shouting style of chanting, neither singing nor speech, to get his, often topical, lyrics across. Further fact-packed chapters explore African Echoes, Chock House Days, the Boll Weevil Blues, Texas Easy Street, String Bands, the Denomination Blues and Shadowland Blues. As Govenar and Lornell put it in an opening essay: “Blues grew out of the hope of Reconstruction as well as the complex musical diaspora that formed in the United States when slavery brought black Africans to this country (often by way of the Caribbean) for many decades beginning in the seventeenth century. By the end of the Civil War, the slave trade also legally ended, but the collision of these diverse cultures incubated the unique African American musics that spawned not only the blues but, more recently, soul, funk and hip-hop.“ Here’s the whole story.—Gary von Tersch

Harlem Of The West:
The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era
By Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Lewis Watts
Heyday Books

This tightly edited, slice-of-life project, with its 220 archival images and prescient oral accounts from both residents and musicians captures a magical era in San Francisco, before the Redevelopment Agency demolished the area in the 1960s, as it transports readers through a nearly forgotten interracial, twenty block neighborhood that, in addition to over a dozen jumping clubs also boasted a bevy of restaurants, pool halls, hotels, record shops, theaters and stores, many of them owned and run by African Americans, Japanese Americans and Filipino Americans. As the authors comment: “For close to twenty years, the 1940s and 1950s, the entire neighborhood was a giant multicultural party pulsing with excitement and music.” They continue with some specifics: “Billie Holiday singing at the Champagne Supper Club, Chet Baker and Dexter Gordon jamming at Bop City and T-Bone Walker rubbing shoulders with the locals at the bar of The Texas Playhouse.” Also putting in appearances, I might also mention the likes of Johnny Otis, Saunders King (who was known as Fillmore’s King Of The Blues), Sugar Pie Desanto, Johnny Mathis, Sam Cooke, Lena Horne, Slim Gaillard, Little Willie John, the Ink Spots, Robert Mitchum, Louis Jordan, bar-wall muralist Harry Smith and John Handy to only cite a few. The “memory” paragraphs by Sugar Pie, Otis, Handy, Frank Jackson, Danny Duncan, Earl Watkins and Philip Alley, the various club owners and the area’s photographers and archivists are particularly illuminating, especially for this reviewer, who grew up in the City. Plus, I’ve never seen most of these vintage images before and appreciate how large they are. And speaking of images, don’t miss the shot of T-Bone Walker and his high-flying friend on page 94. Highly recommended.—Gary von Tersch


Past Issues Blues CD Reviews

Home / Blues Blogs / Artist Links / Blues Links / Videos / Store
Subscribe / Advertise / Back Issues / Contact / Staff