Blues Reviews
Oct/Nov 2019

J.P. Soars
Let Go of the Reins
Whiskey Bayou Records 2019

Guitarist, singer, and songwriter J.P. Soars soars…yes he does. Since his victories in 2009 at the International Blues Challenge - in the band competition with his group the Red Hots, and with the Albert King Award as best guitarist - he has been on a steady upward trajectory, both with his own band and in the amalgam Southern Comfort with musical colleagues Victor Wainwright and Damon Fowler.
His sixth album represents a collaboration with another notable contemporary, Tab Benoit, on Tab’s recently formed record label, Whiskey Bayou.
Soars and Benoit have been frequent jam buddies whenever their paths crossed. Benoit produced the set, and - to the surprise of nobody who has seen him grab the drumsticks at various events - he also occupies the drum chair. Along for the ride is Soars’ regular drummer, Chris Peet, who cedes the sticks to Benoit and wields bass instead. Six of the eleven tracks are augmented by the contributions of Tillis Verdin on organ.
A 2019 Blues Foundation nominee for a Blues Music Award for Blues Rock Artist of the Year, Soars delays his rock credentials briefly with the opening track, “Been Down So Long,” a syncopated shuffle with characteristically tasty guitar licks. Rock proclivity emerges vigorously on “If You Wanna Get to Heaven,” goosed to near frenzy by Benoit’s skilled drumming, and we are off to the races. “Freddie King Thing” reverts to the initial format, without loss of momentum, buttressed by Verdin’s swirling organ backing. It seems that a pattern is set…a welcome one.
However, the pattern is disrupted by “Lonely Fire,“ a slow track featuring Soars’ raspy, Southern-inflected vocal drawl and his most lyrical and sublime guitar leads of the set. After another rocker, we’re treated to “Let It Ride,” the set’s shortest tune, an unmistakably country-inflected song with twangy guitar and a vocal that evokes comparison with the singing of the late Levon Helm of The Band. Soon after, the instrumental “Minor Blues,” a composition of the great guitarist Django Reinhardt, allows Soars to demonstrate that he can handle jazz adeptly. The set closes pleasingly with “Old Silver Bridge,” again sporting a country music vibe, with Soars sounding good on Dobro and meshing smoothly with Peet and Benoit.
A few minor caveats: Soars penned seven of the songs, but the lyrics are somewhat repetitive; on one song, the same phrase is repeated well over a dozen times. Peet’s bass playing is right on, but often low in the mix. In contrast, Benoit’s drumming, terrific throughout, is overly prominent on many cuts. These few debits do little to detract from another enjoyable and quality release by Soars.—Steve Daniels

Bobby Rush
Sitting on Top of the Blues
Deep Rush Records 2019

I’m OK with the title of Bobby Rush’s latest release, but here are two alternatives that also would have been appropriate: “Lust and Laughter” and “Let’s Launch Some Raunch.”
Eighty-five years young, Rush has nothing more to prove. A musician since his youth, he has been an inimitable fixture on the blues scene for well over five decades. He has issued about fifty albums and still tours regularly. A holder of multiple Blues Music Awards and a myriad more nominations, he won a Grammy for his previous release, 2016’s “Porcupine Meat.” That album featured guests Keb’ Mo’, Dave Alvin, and Joe Bonamassa, and the principal guitar work was by fellow Mississippian Vasti Jackson. On “Sitting” Jackson continues to deliver his fine guitar work, while he and Rush share producing credit with guitarist Patrick Hayes. A terrific slew of session musicians comprise the accompanying ensemble through the set of eleven original tunes.
Those who have enjoyed Rush and his live musical revue in one of its spectrum of settings - the chitlin’ circuit, blues cruises, auditoriums - aren’t disappointed to find a similar vibe on his records. I liken Rush to the late African American comedian Redd Foxx, whose comedy - at least in mainstream venues - consisted of very thinly veiled sexual double entendres (but not as explicit as the comedy of today’s comedians, who are less constrained in subject and language). Like Foxx, Rush deals repeatedly and with minimally masked innuendo in the joys and perils of sex, delivered with good humor and premium musicianship.
The set commences with “Hey Hey Bobby Rush,” an upbeat introduction with Jackson providing both lead guitar and thrumming bass and with a horn trio wailing as Bobby declares that “I’m a bluesman.” (No argument here.) For those unaware that Rush is a skilled harmonica player, he provides evidence that he is. “Good Stuff” follows, exploiting the frequent album theme: “You got that something, ha, make a chicken squawk.” “You Got the Goods,” “Sweet Lizzy,” and “Recipe for Love” embellish the theme, the latter track a duo of Rush and Jackson. Stuck in between is “Get Out of Here (Dog Named Bo),” a ribald tale of thwarted love told as only Rush can spin a musical yarn. Cue the chuckles.
…which recur on “Pooky Poo”; Rush is a lyricist unashamed to flaunt childish endearments: “Want me to jump, tell me how high/Anything you want me to do, if you be my pooky poo.” The ensuing “Slow Motion” is a lascivious seduction song, and the penultimate track, “Shake Til’ You Get Enough,” is a funky appeal to shake, wiggle, and twerk, bolstered by a quartet of backing singers. The set ends with “Bowlegged Woman,” whose lyrics are not subtle at all: “Girl over there, with your hot pants on/Turn her loose, let her turn me on…Bowlegged woman and knockneed [sic] man/…go together like two peas in a pod.”
Bobby Rush can still bring it effectively and vivaciously. His vocals sound good, his harmonica playing is sharp, the ensemble is crisp, the songs are witty. Let’s hope that Rush continues sitting on top of the blues for years to come.—Steve Daniels

Mike Wheeler Band
Turn Up!!

The Mike Wheeler Band is a Chicago all-star band of sorts. The members all have experience with a who’s who of notable blues names. Miraculously the line-up hasn’t changed since its inception in 2001. The band includes bassist Larry Williams, keyboardist Brian James (once the musical director for the legendary Lonnie Brooks) and drummer Cleo Cole. Singer/guitarist Mike Wheeler toured with Big James &the Chicago Playboys for years and recorded five albums with that group. He was inducted into the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame in 2014.
Turn Up!! is the Mike Wheeler Band’s (also known as MWB) second release for the esteemed Delmark record label. Along with the 4-piece band, a horn section including Kenny Anderson on trumpet and Hank Ford on saxophone adds punch to most of the tracks on the record. The gritty blues progression “Sweet Girl” starts things off with a bang. A hot B3 organ solo by Brian James leads into Wheeler’s tasty solo. “Yeah” is a funky jam that goes into a “horn-hitting bass-popping” James Brownish breakdown leading into an epic wah wah solo. The title track is a rocking number with the horns adding accents behind Wheeler’s vocals and guitar chops. “Brand New Cadillac” rocks out hard with a monster Cream-styled riff. Wheeler is just as comfortable laying down clean blues licks as he is mucking about with a nasty distortion tone. Both approaches work admirably. “Nothing Lasts Forever” is a breezy tune with some soulful vocals from Wheeler and smooth backup vocals. The album closes with “Sad State of Affairs,” with Wheeler sadly watching the news and wondering why people can’t get along.
All in all Turn Up!! is a document of an excellent, tight band, honed by years of playing together, mixing tight, funky grooves with Chicago electric blues, and features tremendous chops from all the musicians along with the sweet, soulful vocals from Mike Wheeler. – Bob Monteleone

The Trevor B. Power Band
Everyday Angel

Everyday Angel is the debut album from the New Jersey-based Trevor B. Power Band. While playing in various bands and doing many solo acoustic gigs, guitarist/singer Trevor B. Power was a DJ at the northwestern NJ radio station 91.9 FM/WNTI where he learned a great deal about the blues. Encouraged by former Eric Clapton and Delaney & Bonnie band member Bobby Whitlock, he started to focus on playing and writing more of his own music. Everyday Angel is a result of that focus, made up of ten Power originals, ranging from blues forms to straight ahead rockers to the title track ballad.
The album starts out with a bang with the classic rock sounding “Jack.” Behind Anthony Krizan’s slide guitar and John Ginty’s B3 organ, Power belts out a real nice solo before returning to the verse and the catchy chorus. Next is “You Ain’t Actin’ Right”, a standard 12 bar shuffle featuring a strong B3 solo from Ginty. “Future Plans” opens with some boogie woogie piano courtesy of Ginty and settles into that East Coast bar band groove prevalent on the album, reminiscent of Southside Johnny, Beaver Brown and of course, the E Streeters. The role of saxophonist Nick Conti really hammers that point home: These guys are from Jersey! “Saddest Thing” is a slow blues confessional with heartfelt vocals and emotional guitar work by Power. “Storm Brewin’” runs with drummer Tom DiCianni’s tom-based pattern grooving with acoustic guitar behind Krizan’s excellent slide. A highlight is the closer, “Everyday Angel,” which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Gregg Allman record, with wonderful contributions from Bobby Whitlock on slide guitar, keys and background vocals.
Trevor B. Power can certainly play the blues, but is not shy about showing his classic rock influences and that makes Everyday Angel a real well-rounded piece of work and an enjoyable listen. The versatility of the rhythm section of drummer DiCianni and bassist Mark Enright, who play on most of the tracks, helps make Power’s vision come true. —Bob Monteleone

Breezy Rodio
Sometimes The Blues Got Me

A native of Rome, Italy, guitarist/singer Breezy Rodio played with Chicago bluesman Linsey Alexander for a decade before stepping out on his own in 2017. Sometimes The Blues Got Me is Breezy Rodio’s first recording for Delmark, the famous jazz and blues label from Chicago. The album is loaded with 17 songs, most of them with a horn section supplementing the core group of rhythm section Light Palone (acoustic and electric bass) and Lorenzo Francocci (drums) with Sumito Ariysoshi (piano) and Chris Foreman (organ) who all play on almost all of the tracks. Breezy’s vocals are powerful and passionate, with an Italian accent that sets him apart pretty much from any current blues artist. His guitar playing is understated and on point but can get down and gritty when he needs to. There’s a T-Bone Walker influence overall but on the Albert King cover “Wrapped Up In Love Again” he bends his slinky strings just the way Albert used to and on the original “One Of A Kind” he cops the sound of another famous Albert, Mr. Albert Collins. On “Let Me Tell You What’s Up” he lays down the law to a lover that he’s not going to slow down playing the blues. He sings “Because I love to play guitar, from town to town, from bar to bar.” A couple of highlights include when elite Chicago bluesman Billy Branch plays harmonica and sings on the Rodio penned “Doctor From the Hood” and “Chicago Is Loaded With the Blues,” written by Chess session drummer Clifton James. Rodio spent a lot of time creating the horn arrangements, and it shows. The horn parts bring to mind early recordings of B.B. King and T-Bone Walker. Obviously Rodio is a team player, sharing solo spots with trumpeter Art Davis and saxophonist Ian McGarrie multiple times throughout the album. The ballad “Fall In British Columbia” is a nice change of pace, with heartfelt vocals leading into a swinging rhythm changes section, with a cool trumpet solo by Davis, slowing back down to some tasty guitar during the finale. All in all, this album is a tour de force, most likely requiring the listener to joyfully sit down with it many times to decipher all the nuances and moods on it, as there are no weak spots or fillers. – Bob Monteleone

Billy Price
Dog Eat Dog
Gulf Coast 2019

If you don’t yet know who Billy Price is (and that should be corrected promptly!) you also may not know who Roy Buchanan was. The latter, an incendiary and influential guitarist who died in 1988 at the too young age of 48, and Price were bandmates for three years. To begin, find Buchanan’s 1973 album, “That’s What I Am Here For,” and listen to the track “Please Don’t Turn Me Away.”
Buchanan’s guitar playing is stunning, and Price’s singing is soulful and poignant. I bought the vinyl album in 1973, still have it, and have played that song at least every month since, and will probably continue to do so until I or the record dies.
Meanwhile…decades later Billy Price, now ensconced in Baltimore, soldiers on, leading his own band. He has recorded over fifteen albums. “This Time for Real,” made with fellow soul singer Otis Clay, won the 2016 Blues Music Award for Best Soul Blues Album, and last year’s “Reckoning” was a nominee. This new release finds Price collaborating again with producer and multi-instrumentalist Kid Andersen and a slew of top-notch studio musicians on seven originals and five covers. Among the participants returning from “Reckoning” are keyboard master Jim Pugh, drummer Alex Pettersen, bassist Jerry Jemmott, backing singer Lisa Leuschner Andersen, and the group Sons of the Soul Revivers. Numerous others lend their expertise, including an excellent horn trio.
Of course, the focus is on Price, whose instrument is his strong and supple voice. It gets its most vigorous workout on the cover of the Willie Dixon song “My Love Will Never Die,” which appears on the classic 1967 Delmark album “West Side Soul” by Magic Sam. Some may think Price’s version overwrought, but I think he skates on the edge yet nails it, high notes and all. A brief but tasty sax solo and a few killer guitar riffs by Andersen make the track one of the set’s highlights. Another pleaser is the title tune, penned by noted harmonicat Rick Estrin, who contributes harmonica to the mix as Price shares the vocal with guest Alabama Mike. The song benefits from the contrast between Price’s smooth style and Mike’s gritty rasp.
Along the way, we get a thematic mini-roller coaster of songs about relationships: “Lose My Number,” penned by Price and Jim Britton, sports a beautiful rhythm backing led by Pugh on organ as Price tells his ex to “just make yourself go away”; midway in the set, a Britton song invites the lover to “Walk Back In”; in the last track, by Price and William Troiani, the message again is “You Gotta Leave.” That final uptempo track is another highlight of an album that features a mixture of Motown R&B and soul blues. Production values are exemplary - the bass is audible(!) even in a track with the horn trio prominent, as in “Walk Back In” - as is the musicianship. Score another success for Billy Price and his cohort.—Steve Daniels

Billy Branch & The Sons of Blues
Roots and Branches - The Songs of Little Walter
Alligator Records 2019

Sonny Boy Williamson I (John Williamson) and Sonny Boy Williamson II (Aleck Rice [or Ford] Miller) are often cited as pioneers of modern blues harmonica. However, to many blues aficionados and historians, it is Marion Walter Jacobs (“Little Walter”) who represents the epitome of mouth harp innovation and excellence. A Louisiana native, Jacobs spent most of his career in Chicago. He was the first harmonica player in Muddy Waters’ band, and continued recording with Muddy even after leaving the band. His recordings with his own bands and with innumerable legends established his legacy. Tragically, at his death in 1968 he was only 37 years old.
This new release by the venerable Alligator label isn’t the first Little Walter tribute album. Among others that have been released are efforts by harp mavens George “Harmonica” Smith, Mark Hummel, and (a name new to me) Mo Al Jaz and Friends. Here is another that deserves plaudits.
Billy Branch, of course, is a lauded Chicago harmonicat with a resume of decades of quality touring and recording. Here he pays homage to Walter with the backing of his own band, the skilled Sons of Blues, whose current lineup sports Giles Corey on guitar, Sumito Ariyoshi on piano, Andrew Thomas on drums, and Marvin Little on bass. They dig into fourteen Walter songs, filling nearly a full hour with mainly familiar but also a few more obscure tunes. The set even concludes with a touching bonus: a verbal reminiscence of Jacobs by his daughter, Marion Diaz.
Not only was Little Walter a major influence on a myriad of other blues musicians he was also highly popular during the 1950s and 1960s. Remarkably, more than a dozen of his songs made it into the top ten on Billboard rhythm-and-blues charts. One of those is the opener of this set, “Nobody But You.” Branch and company’s treatment of the song has a livelier rhythm than usually present in Walter’s recorded tracks, and a pithy mid-tune guitar solo. The welcome message is that this set is truly a tribute to Walter but not a slavish imitation; there are excursions into gospel, funk, and even rock territory. Branch’s harmonica playing is top-notch, as it is throughout.
“Juke,” probably Little Walter’s most famous song, also appears on the album; with research I learned that it is the only harmonica instrumental that has ever been a number one hit on the Billboard R&B chart. Branch’s version sounds quite different than Walter’s recorded renditions, with piano more prominent. Other Little Walter standards covered include “Mellow Down Easy,” “My Babe,” “You’re So Fine,” “Blues with a Feeling,” and the album’s longest track, “Last Night.” On the latter Branch delivers some of his finest harp blowing, and some smooth and soulful vocalizing…which provides occasion to remark on its contrast to Little Walter’s own singing. To my mind, Walter was a fine and underrated vocalist whose singing had more than a hint of a Southern drawl and frequently an appealing and intriguing undercurrent of something sneaky or suggestive.
“Roots and Branches” is a worthy encomium to a blues pioneer and legend, to be enjoyed for itself and as a stimulus to go back and listen to the masterful Little Walter himself.—Steve Daniels

Kenny Parker

Kenny Parker is a longtime Detroit area blues guitarist who played with Detroit’s beloved Butler Twins in the mid to late ‘90s. He played on their 1996 release Pursue Your Dreams and 2000’s The Butler’s Boogie, producing the former. While touring Europe with the Butlers he was discovered by the London-based label JSP, which put out his debut album, Raise the Dead, in 1996. On Hellfire, Parker is joined by the Kenny Parker Band, with Dan Devins on lead vocals and harmonica, Mike Marshall on bass and Dave Marcaccio on drums. Guitar legend Jim McCarty (Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, Cactus, the Rockets) plays on eight of the twelve tracks. The band is augmented throughout on piano and organ by ace keys men Bill Heid, Chris Codish and Leonard Moon. Hellfire contains 11 Kenny Parker originals and one cover - the Omar and the Howlers’ “Hard Times In The Land Of Plenty” which was recorded live.
“I’ve Got My Eye On You” starts the album off with Devins playing a concise harp solo following the 1st verse. McCarty plays around the 2nd verse and then follows Parker’s solo ending his turn with his distinct vibrato. Later both guitarists trade licks, Parker’s Fender vs. McCarty’s Gibson. Not to be outdone, Bill Heid wraps things up with a tasty piano solo through the fade. The Muddy Waters-influenced “Blind and Paralyzed” is a stomper featuring the harmonica of Brian Miller that sounds as if it was recorded at 2120 S. Michigan Avenue. “Bye Bye Baby” is a straight ahead rock and roller reminiscent of McCarty’s Rockets, who contributes slide guitar to the track. The title track “Hellfire” is a swampy rocker which contains some nice solos by both Parker and McCarty with some B3 organ padding underneath. “I’m Missing You” is a slow Stonesy number with a nice tremolo picking guitar part by Parker. A highlight of the album is “Back Up Plan,” a slow blues with some heartfelt vocals by Devins, again featuring some fine guitar work by Parker and McCarty.
The album has a nice balance of grooves and tempos but never strays far from the electric blues that came out of Chicago back in the day. Kenny Parker’s guitar playing is tasty and timeless, the songs are real solid and sounds like they could have been written 50 years ago, with no modern references anywhere. Dan Devins is a revelation, showing great range and blowing fine harp throughout. The rhythm section of Mike Marshall and Marcaccio is a rock and Jim McCarty is Jim McCarty. Well done, gentlemen! – Bob Monteleone

Bruce Katz
Solo Ride
American Showplace Music 2019

Bruce Katz certainly has impeccable credentials. As is typical of many instrumental experts in popular music genres, he was first a classical player, but hearing a Bessie Smith record when he was ten years old led him to the blues…followed not long after by exposure to boogie woogie, swing, and jazz. He has been both a student and a teacher at the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston. The litany of performers that he has played and recorded with is mind-boggling. His resume includes stints in the bands of Delbert McClinton, Ronnie Earl, John Hammond, and Gregg Allman. For three decades he has led his own band and has appeared on innumerable records and received accolades aplenty.
The man has nothing to prove, but nonetheless here he is, fingers dancing on the keys as he demonstrates his artistry on a dozen original tracks ranging across genres, tempos, and moods. The release is a follow-up to his acclaimed 2018 album band album, “Get Your Groove!” On this outing, however, Katz (also an adept organist) proceeds alone on the piano…although that he is playing solo at times is difficult to believe, as his steady left hand provides its own constant rhythm section.
The set commences with the rollicking “Down at the Barrelhouse,” succeeded by “Crescent Crawl,” a five-minute-plus display of virtuosity varying from languid to lilting. Equally pleasing is “It Hurts Me Too,” a song which the liner notes credit to Katz but which is recognizably an interpretation of the blues classic penned by slide guitar great Elmore James and covered by Eric Clapton among others. Ready for something different? “Praise House” flirts with atonality and dissonance and takes full advantage of the low register of the 88s. Right after, we’re treated to “Red Sneakers,” redolent of a 1920s speakeasy performance, and then a sublimely pensive “Dreams of Yesterday.”
The second half of the set wends its way through a similar eclectic sestet of tracks, two of which, the shortest two numbers, ramp up the energy: “Going Places” is a zesty invitation to get up and dance, and “Watermelon Thump” could indeed be described as a thumping shuffle. The set closes with “Redemption,” another lyrical beauty. Let’s consider the last song title to be ironic, because Katz’s latest album needs no redemption. It’s not strictly a blues album; there is a jazz sensibility, there are snippets of classical music, and the absence of singing to some may be a minus. It can be a challenge for an all-instrumental album to maintain interest, but in my opinion Katz has easily met that challenge and more.—Steve Daniels

Ian & Sylvia
The Lost Tapes
Stony Plain 2CD

During the 1960’s and 1970’s the Canadian folk-singing duo Ian and Sylvia were trailblazers for the singer-songwriter movement. As liners author Larry LeBlanc puts it: “While Ian & Sylvia’s catalog is filled to the brim with stellar music, The Lost Tapes, culled from newly-discovered concert tapes from the early ‘70s, cement their reputations as performers who pushed the boundaries of folk, blues, country, rhythm and blues, and rock ‘n’ roll in that period.” He continues: “Their pivotal role in music history may be their refusal to be trapped in the patterns of their past as one of the leading acts of the ‘60s folk era and along with the Byrds, Gram Parsons, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, laying the foundation of Americana music that evolved as a recognized source of popular culture.” The real treat here is that these are not studio performances with much of their most familiar repertoire masterfully presented on the first disc, including “Four Strong Winds,” “Summer Wages,” “Four Rode By,” “Darcy Farrow,” “When First Unto This Country” and “Little Beggar Man” among others. The second disc accents their avowed versatility, with highlights including a rootsy version of Robert Johnson’s classic “Come On In My Kitchen,” a soulful redo of Mel and Tim’s “Starting All Over Again,” a rocking rendition of Ricky Nelson’s “How Long” and a pair of Buck Owens-authored numbers—“Crying Time” and “Together Again.” A fitting celebration of the pair’s recent induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. Well worth tracking down!—Gary von Tersch

Various Artists
Battle Of The Blues: Chicago VS Oakland
Delta Roots CD

This  imaginative, 13 track, “concept” deck recalls those vintage King LPs of the ‘50s where the likes of Roy Brown and Wynonie Harris battled it out with boxing gloves on the covers. Only, this time around, the focus is on cities—with the greater Bay Area represented by the likes of not only Pittsburgh, California’s dynamic vocalist, MZ. Sumac (the daughter of legendary bluesman Craig Horton) lamenting life with her “Broke Ass Man” along with 91 year-old club favorite Nat Bolden (former owner of Oakland’s ‘Til Two blues club) with his downbeat original “Good Morning Mr. Blues” and resilient lap steel guitarist Freddie Roulette, who shines on a couple of producer Twist Turner instrumental originals—“Take It Easy” and “Red Tide.” Other Bay Area associated artists here are Oakland born and raised Aldwin London (who, for some reason, performs Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away”) and the late Country Pete McGill, who pays tribute to his bumping and grinding “Hoochie Coochie Mama.” The Windy City checks in with a quartet of equally talented musicians with the late vocalist Emery Williams Jr (an in-demand rhythm guitarist for a host of Chicago’s finest over the years) represented by two tracks (a passionate “Hurtin’ On You” and the gospel blues “Mama Don’t You Weep”), along with West Side resident James Newman (former bass player in Magic Sam’s band) who takes the lead vocals on both the R&B-flavored “Hit And Run Lover” and the testimonial “Me And My Guitar.” Tracks by “Mr. Excitement” Del Brown and Gerald McClendon also impress with Brown’s formidably thrusting tenor to the fore on the deep soul blueser “Now That I’ve Gone” and the reflective “Time Slippin’ Away” while McClendon, who is known as the “Soul Keeper” in Chicago, proffers a smoldering rendition of Turner’s “Cold In The Street.” Hats off to Twist Turner, who not only wrote most of the songs but played drums throughout and, in spite of various health issues, persisted in his vision of offering a career boost to this more than able roster of criminally under-appreciated blues musicians.—Gary von Tersch

Various Artists
Put The Whole Armour On:
Female Black Gospel—The 1940s-1950s
Narro-Way 2CD
The Jewell Gospel Trio
Many Little Angels In The Band
Gospel Friend CD

My Swedish friend and perceptive record producer, Per “Slim” Notini, has really outdone himself with this great-sounding new pair of vintage black gospel recordings. The 2 CD extravaganza, Whole Armour, whose stark, racial strife-illustrative 1951 cover shot sadly still resonates, collects 54 dynamic sides that cover all the bases while the 19 track Jewel Gospel Trio disc, featuring a very youthful Candi Staton, was “one of the first traveling gospel outfits daring enough to break the stricture by adding blues-based rhythms to their sound,” as liners author Opal Louis Nations sagely asserts. A few favorites from Whole Armour include “When The Pearly Gates Unfold” by Cynthia Coleman & The Colemanaires (Coleman later had success as an R&B thrush and is perhaps best known for introducing Muddy Waters to “Got My Mojo Working” when they were touring together) along with a couple of tracks (“Jesus Remembers” and “I’m Going Home) from the Clara Ward Singers, who were probably the most emulated and popular female gospel group at the time and I must mention the scorching “Jesus Is A Rock In A Weary Land” by Dorothy Love Coates and the Gospel Harmonettes—who later had an extended tenure with Specialty Records—just to cite three. Further titles feature the likes of the regal Mahalia Jackson, guitar-playing Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Tharpe’s one-time foil Marie Knight, bluesy Bessie Griffin and the marvelous Ernestine Washington, who “should have shared Mahalia’s fame, but the mass media only had space for one African-American gospel genius,” to quote liners scribe Chris Smith. There’s a lot to explore on this salutary compilation. As well as with the latter release, that showcases “three tot-sized female juveniles with voices as loud and mature as the Ward Singers,” as Nations comments. During the 1950s, they toured the traditional gospel circuit with the Soul Stirrers, Rev. C.L. Franklin and Mahalia Jackson and recorded several sides for Apollo, Savoy and Nashboro. Picks begin with a pair of exhilarating numbers (“At The Cross” and “Rest, Rest, Rest”) where they are accompanied by Deacon Jones on guitar and Lorenzo Holden on lap-steel, an impassioned recasting of Thomas A. Dorsey’s classic “Take My Hand Precious Lord,” a bluesy “I Looked Down The Line And I Wondered” and a resolute reflection, composed by Trio member Shirley Ann Lee, called “Can’t Give Up” from 1968. Pick ‘em both up (easily on Amazon) and spend a Sunday afternoon you won’t forget for a while.—Gary von Tersch

This Is The Night/Lessons In Wild Saxophonology
Koko Mojo CD
Tore UP!/Hot Harps Come Together
Koko Mojo CD
Take A Trip/From The Countryside To The Big City

Koko Mojo CDThree more top-notch compilations from Germany’s prolific Koko Mojo imprint, curated by Little Victor aka DJ “Mojo Man. This Is The Night shines the spotlight on the mighty tenor saxophone with 28 tracks from the well-known to the nigh to unknown. Among the former are the likes of Excello’s Charles Sheffield (with his easy rocking “It’s Your Voodoo Working”), Duke’s hit-maker Roscoe Gordon fronting Joe Scott’s orchestra on “Tummer Tee,” Fire‘s Mary Ann Fisher with the jumping “Wild As You Can Be,” Baton’s Noble “Thin Man” Watts with the enervating instrumental foray “Hot Tamales” (“and cha-cha”) while Little Papa Joe cloaks the identity of the late Jody Williams, who’s accompanied by veteran sax maven Harold Ashby with Willie Dixon on bass on the expressive blues “Looking For My Baby.” Also noted are a covey of great instrumental/dance workouts—picks include the African-American Rivieras with a frantic “Knock On Wood” (not the well-known “Knock On Wood”), Jimmie Toliver’s dancer “Hoochie Kootchie Koo,” the Passengers’ squallingly romping “Sand In Your Eyes” and a fiery slab of compellingly electric, soulfully compelling fury titled “Part Time” by one Hank Moore (and a great guitarist) on Whip Records. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg! The “travel” themed Take A Trip ( “Going Back To Kansas City,” “Goodbye New York, Hello New Orleans,” “Take A Trip,” “I’m Traveling”) along with various mention of favored destinations (already mentioned as well as “San Antonio,” “Quaker City,” “Louisville, Kentucky” and, surprisingly, “East L.A.”) moves along nicely as the 28 well-chosen, clunker-free tracks, feature not only the likes of Johnny Guitar Watson, Percy Mayfield, Big Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson (an old Trumpet side), Bill Doggett, Roy Brown, Joe Liggins and Andre Williams but more obscure artists like the Pacers (with their outrageous novelty “Short Squashed Texan,” Mr. Bo’s declarative “I’m Leaving This Town,” Fletcher Smith’s bouncy “Brand New Neighborhood,” the team of Louis & Frosty on the finger-picking rife instrumental “Train Time” and one Bobby Long is headed for “Jersey City.” Elmon Mickle aka Drifting Slim is the only artist accorded two cuts (“Lonesome Highway” c/w “Jackson Blues”), with guitarist Phillip Walker in tow. Another top-notch collection courtesy of Little Victor.
Tore Up! is just that, 28 of the Mojo Man’s “fave harp tunes” that also functions as an alert anthology of sorts. Opening with Hot Shot Love’s wonderful Sun 78 “Harmonica Jam” and Model T-Slim’s raunchy “Shake Your Boogie” and closing with the great J.B. Lenoir and Junior Wells’ dynamic workout “Back Door” and Eddie Kirkland’s entertaining “Train Done Gone” with room between for the likes of “Look On Yonder Wall” by a slide-less Elmore James (with Sam Myers on harp); a hootin’ and hollerin’ “Call The Doctor” by the indefatigable Doctor Ross; an alluring swamp blues, “Have It Your Way,” by Excello’s legendary Lightnin’ Slim (“blow your harmonica son!”) and Polka Dot Slim with his unique mosquito-blues “A Thing You Gotta Face” along the way. Other particular favorites would begin with Buster Brown’s moody “Madison Shuffle,” Rockin’ Sidney’s “You Ain’t Nothing But Fine,”  Mo-Jo Buford’s appreciative “Whole Lotta Woman,” Lazy Lester’s “Sugar Coated Love,” Silas Hogan’s pointed “I’m Gonna Quit You Pretty Baby “ and Sunny Blair’s imploring “Please Send My Baby Back,” that features Ike Turner’s piano and Baby Face Leroy’s guitar—‘One of the greatest postwar sides,’ my buddy UK Phil avers. Can’t go wrong with any of these and the vintage packaging is a welcome plus.—Gary von Tersch

Johnny Shines
The Blues Came Falling Down—Live 1973
Omnivore CD

Not many 20th century musicians could boast of a career that included rambling with Robert Johnson, playing with blues legends like Little Walter, Willie Dixon, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Robert Lockwood Jr. among others while recording for Columbia, J.O.B. and Chess Records. Disappointed with the music business, singer/guitarist Shines packed it in in the mid-fifties only to be “rediscovered” in the blues boom of the mid-sixties after appearing on a well-received Vanguard album (that was released unlike most of his earlier recordings) as well as touring and recording until a stroke slowed him down somewhat in 1980. This previously unissued, mostly solo “live in St. Louis” recording dates from 1973 and finds Shines at the peak of his powers before an appreciative college audience at Washington University’s Graham Chapel in St Louis—among the twenty numbers are, naturally, four brilliant Robert Johnson covers (“Kind Hearted Woman Blues,” “I’m A Steady Rollin’ Man,” the stomping “They’re Red Hot (Hot Tamales”) and “Sweet Home Chicago”), a passionate reworking of the gospel chestnut “Stand By Me,” a plaintive redo of Sleepy John Estes’ “Someday Baby Blues” and one of “his mother’s favorite songs”—Willie Johnson’s confessional “It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” The remainder are Shines originals and while his classic “Dynaflow Blues” isn’t here there are plenty of other gems, including the opening “Big Boy Boogie,” a contemplative “Cold In Hand Blues,” the downbeat “Stay High All Day Long,” the atmospheric title song and the slide guitar-embossed “Tell Me Mama.” Other notable tracks include a powerful “Seems Like A Million Years” and the vibrant set-closing query “How You Want Your Rolling Done.” Shines would go on to go in the studio for the likes of Testament, Rounder, Blind Pig and Biograph among other labels, and tour internationally. He also appeared in the documentary The Search For Robert Johnson in 1991, just before his death in 1992. The Blues Hall Of Fame wasted no time inducting him the same year. Long live Johnny Shines!—Gary von Tersch

Joe Zook & Blues Deluxe
Good Mornin’ Blues

Guitarist /singer Joe Zuccarello has been entertaining East Coast blues audiences for decades. The Trenton, New Jersey musician was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2013. Good Mornin’ Blues is the latest from Joe Zook & Blues Deluxe. The ten tracks on the albums include eight Zook originals with styles range from rockin’ blues, straight ahead Chicago blues and jump blues with some jazz influences as well.
The recording kicks off with a barrage of unaccompanied screaming riffs leading into the title track, a basic 12 bar with some jazz-informed piano work by James Cheadle culminating with an upper register slide solo by Zook. A three-piece horn section appears on seven of the songs, starting with “I Love My Baby’ which has a nice tenor sax solo followed by a Jimmy Smith-inspired solo on the Hammond B3 organ by John Sopko. The horn arrangements are tasty throughout and lend some great padding to the tracks. The Louis Jordan cover, “Caldonia,” is a highlight with solos by Angel DiBraccio on alto, Steve Kaplan on baritone sax, Danny Tobias on trumpet, and not to be outdone, Tony Buford on harmonica. The band is really swinging now, great job by drummer Jeff Snelson and bassist Bill Holt, who sings this jump blues classic. The rocking “It Ain’t What You Do” has some more great piano work by Cheadle and Zook shines again with his very melodic and pinpoint slide playing. On “On My Mind,” the lyric strays from the usual blues concerns and mentions some foreign policy issues the USA has to deal with. On the standard “Same Old Blues,” DiBraccio shines again on the alto. The closer, “I Got Nothing To Say,” starts with some clean minor chord strumming by Zook and features an electric piano solo by James Cheadle that gives the track a 70’s fusion feel. As always, the horn chart is unobtrusive but effective.
The musicians seem to have a lot of familiarity with each other and the playing is always confident and well-schooled, for lack of a better word. Let’s hope to hear more from Joe Zook & Blues Deluxe in the near future! – Bob Monteleone


Past Issues Blues CD Reviews

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