Blues Reviews
Feb/March 2020

Rolling Stones
Let It Bleed: 50th Anniversary Limited Deluxe Edition

Released shortly after the band’s 1969 sold-out American Tour (maybe you were there), their tenth American album, Let It Bleed, was the American roots music-inspired follow up to 1968’s cutting-edge Beggar’s Banquet—recorded when the band was in turmoil as blues maven Brian Jones, the band’s visionary founder and original leader, had become increasingly unreliable in the studio due to heavy drug use. For most Bleed recording sessions Jones was either lost in the ozone or absent altogether. Jones was also deeply disturbed over the more mainstream, non-blues oriented direction the band was heading toward and quit on principle in June, 1968—he only appears on two tracks here (the country blues “Midnight Rambler” and the under-sung “You Got The Silver,” that also tellingly featured Keith’s first lead vocal foray) playing very incidental congas and autoharp. His final recordings—he was dead less than a month later. The album reached # 1 in the UK and # 3 in the US and while no high-charting singles occurred, quite a few of the album’s songs soon became staples of the band’s live repertoire and rock radio station play lists for years to come—notably the sadly prophetic “Gimme Shelter,” a gospel-infused “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” the early c&w-oriented “Country Honk” and an appropriately brutal recall of Robert Johnson’s classic “Love In Vain.” Anyway, it’s all here, and then some, as ABCKO has presciently issued this “50th Anniversary Limited Deluxe Edition—a Hand Numbered Box Set that includes an 80 page Hardcover Book with never-before-seen photos (Ethan Russell) and cogent essay (David Fricke), 2 180 gram LPs (Stereo and Mono), Restored Original Album Art, Remastered Audio by Bob Lidwig, a 7” single of “Honky Tonk Women” In Mono With Original Single Art, 3 Hand Numbered Replica Signed Lithographs Printed On Archival Paper and an Original Full Color Poster From The 1969 Decca Album Release.” Nuff said! Long live Brian Jones!!—Gary von Tersch

The Jimmys
Gotta Have It
Brown Cow Productions 2019

There is only one Jimmy in The Jimmys! In one of my more manic moments I considered being litigious and suing the band for false advertising…but I have relented. This album is just too good to warrant complaints.
Led by vocalist and keyboard artist Jimmy Voegeli, The Jimmys has been rocking Wisconsin and regions far removed for over a decade, and their fifth album continues their string of high quality releases. It follows on the heels of 2015’s “Hot Dish” and 2016’s “Live from Transylvania,” and provides the same lively and appealing dose of danceable blues and R&B. The cast of characters remains essentially stable, with the addition of noted drummer (and album producer) Tony Braunagel. Voegeli’s fellow keyboard mavens Marcia Ball and Mike Finnigan sit in as vocal recruits as the band wends its way through a baker’s dozen tracks, all but two penned by Voegeli or guitarist Perry Weber.
One of the two cover tunes is “Someday Baby,” composed by fellow Wisconsin denizen, harmonica player Jim Liban. Voegeli provides nice organ foundation, Peterson lends a brief but pithy saxophone solo toward the end, but the track, one of the few slow tunes of the set, is truly distinguished by Weber’s gorgeous guitar lead. In fact, Weber deserves kudos for his understated but stunning playing throughout.
The general tenor of the album is set from the get-go, with “Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” an irresistible blues rocker that had me dancing immediately. The ensuing track, “Grim Reaper,” goosed by Braunagel’s thumping drums, did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm despite its title, and it’s succeeded by “Write a Hit,” a demand presented to the singer by his annoyed lady. On this one Marcia Ball shares lead vocal, to good effect. “She Gotta Have It,” the shortest track, is a jaunty outing with horns and a snazzy backing vocal crew; and then the band emphasizes its versatility with “Started Up Again,” sounding much like a 1950s Slim Harpo tune. “Hotel Stebbins” maintains the upbeat groove, affords full exposure to Voegeli on piano, and has some zany guitar-sax interplay. Voegeli retains the spotlight on the spoken blues “Drinkin’,” and its sequel, “When You Got Love.”
The last several tracks alternate between languorous and lively in tempo, with continued skilled musicianship, and the set closes with the instrumental “Jose.” The band sounds all along like it’s having a really good time. While listening to it, so did I.—Steve Daniels

Jimmy Carpenter
Soul Doctor

Gulf Coast Records 2019
It’s my contention that there is hardly any musical instrument other than the saxophone that is so versatile; it’s able to convey soul, sexuality, sadness, and sassy spirit. Perhaps its only competitor is the “instrument” of the human voice. In his latest release, saxman Jimmy Carpenter demonstrates his skill with both of those instruments.
A four-time nominee for a Blues Music Award as Horn Player of the Year, Carpenter has toured to great acclaim with guitarists Jimmy Thackery and Tinsley Ellis, among others. He has now seemingly established a fruitful working relationship with stringman Mike Zito, who produced this album as he did Carpenter’s preceding outing, 2017’s “Plays the Blues.” Zito plays guitar on one track, and the release appears on Gulf Coast, a label established in 2018 by Zito and colleague Guy Hale…who co-wrote two of the songs of this set list. The album’s basic lineup comprises Jason Langley on bass, Cameron Tyler on percussion, Red Young on keyboards, and the twin guitars of Trevor Johnson and Chris Tofield. All are new since the 2017 release, and they seem cohesive and comfortable together.
Holding nothing in reserve, the set begins with the rocking title tune, introduced by twin guitars, including that of guest Nick Schnebelen, soon joined by the rhythm section and Carpenter’s capable tenor vocalizing. Those unfamiliar with him might wonder why there is no saxophone heard. The answer is that there is plenty of masterful horn playing to come, but more than in his previous albums, Carpenter’s singing is front and center.
Of the ten songs, seven were penned by Carpenter, and they reflect his talent as songwriter as well as performer. “Wild Streak,” one of my favorites, is a jaunty shuffle which may refer to his partner, Carrie Stowers, who is one of several background vocalists on the album and is cited in Jimmy’s liner notes for her wild streak. “Wanna Be Right” poses the intriguing question, “Do you wanna be happy/or do you wanna be right?” (can’t we be both?) and overcomes some annoying wah-wah guitar with its clever lyrics, nice backing organ by Young, and a brief but pithy sax solo toward the end. Yet another highlight is “Wrong Turn,” again lacking sax but bolstered by the lively harmonica (“Mississippi saxophone”) contribution of Al Ek.
Most of the tracks are uptempo, but especially when the tempo slows, Carpenter allows himself to blow beautifully on his horn; witness both “When I Met You” and “Need Your Love So Bad.” There are also a few tracks, such as “Love It So Much,” fertilely sporting the addition of The Bender Brass: Doug Wolverton on trumpet and Mark Earley on baritone sax. The set closes with its longest track, a cover of Eddie Hinton’s “Yeah Man,” and the group seems to be having a great time. The end result is a satisfying album of worthy songs, staunch musicianship, and Carpenter in his prime.—Steve Daniels

Jimmy Johnson
Every Day of Your Life
Delmark 2019

Is the blues a vitalizing as well as vital art form? Think of the blues musicians who have lived into their nineties while still able (and enthusiastic) to perform: Robert Lockwood Jr., David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins, Mose Allison (89 when he died), and Henry Gray, still alive at ninety-five. Add Jimmy Johnson, for many years now on the A-list of Chicago guitarists.
After having endured a challenging childhood in Mississippi, Johnson left home for Memphis at age sixteen, and found himself making a living as a welder in Chicago in the 1940s. He had grown up with future blues legend Matt “Guitar” Murphy, was fortunate to live next door to Magic Sam (Maghett) in the Windy City, and practiced diligently to play like the classic electric guitar players who most affected him.
Johnson didn’t play his first gig until he was almost thirty, but in the ensuing decades he made up for his late start, playing with many of the legends who had influenced him: Sam, Otis Rush, the three Kings - B.B., Albert, and Freddie - Buddy Guy, and Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins. For over forty years now he has been releasing his own albums. As of this writing he is ninety-one years old and playing weekly in his longtime adopted home of Chicago. Weekly, but not weakly.
Johnson’s first release in ten years finds him in startlingly fine form. Although comprised of only nine tracks, the set is ample: only one track clocks in at less than four minutes. Two different ensembles of skilled Chicago session musicians back him on four tunes each, and the only brief cut, the closer, “Lead Me On,” features just Johnson on vocal and piano. Written by Don Robey, it’s a slow plea with a gospel vibe, ambiguously addressed either to a lover or a deity, and it’s distinguished by Johnson‘s wavering tenor and his delicate piano caresses.
Regarding his guitar work, Johnson doesn’t cite Son Seals as an influence, but his playing in this album is reminiscent of that late Chicago bluesman. Like Seals, Johnson traffics mainly in single notes rather than chords; however, unlike his late guitar colleague, Johnson eschews spates of rapid notes and rather allows time for the silence between notes to exert its effect. His playing is inventive, and highly lyrical.
Johnson’s birth surname was Thompson, and since five of the songs sport that composer name, it’s safe to guess that he wrote them…and they’re all worthy. My favorite of the set, though, is his version of Fenton Robinson’s “Somebody Loan Me a Dime.” The song has been covered effectively in a recent release by the new “supergroup” The Proven Ones, and sublimely in the late 1960s by Boz Scaggs. In Johnson’s rendition, his vocal lacks the aching poignancy of Scaggs’, but his lead guitar rendering is mighty fine, and is augmented nicely by Brother John Kattke on piano. It’s the longest and one of the best tracks of this sterling set, which indicates that nonagenarian Jimmy Johnson is far from done purveying solid and soulful blues.—Steve Daniels

Jimmy Johnson #2
Every Day Of Your Life
Delmark CD
Lucky for blues
fans everywhere, ninety years young Jimmy Johnson is back in the recording studio for the first time in over a decade. As liners author Bill Dahl explains, it has been exactly forty years since his Delmark debut album, Johnson’s Whacks, as the label celebrates his homecoming with this enduring project that’s composed of five original songs along with his uniquely devastating recalls of four other tunes including a set-closing, deeply moving solo performance of the veteran singing and playing piano on the Bobby “Blue” Bland hit “Lead Me On,” a minor-key, personalized rendition of Fenton Robinson’s classic “Somebody Loan Me A Dime” and a lengthy, moodily transfixing treatment of Percy Mayfield’s lights-out “Strange Things Happening.” Among the originals, picks around my house start with the funky title tune along with the churning “Down In The Valley” and the better-watch-yourself “Rattlesnake.” Throughout, Johnson’s passionate, melismatic, tempo-tossed vocals are the perfect foil for his elastic, slicing guitar licks that suit his wide-open R&B-styled blues approach like a glove. Johnson has been Chicago-based since 1959 and has played with Freddie King, Albert King, Magic Sam and Otis Rush and many others over the decades. Here, accompanied by two stellar Chicago combos, he performs at a pace that “would tire a musician half his age,” as Dahl quite accurately puts it.—Gary von Tersch

Dave Specter
Blues from the Inside Out
Delmark 2019

How many excellent blues guitarists can survive in one location? Well, if it’s Chicago, the answer is: a lot! Deservedly among the litany of current expert axe-slingers in the Windy City - Buddy Guy, John Primer, Lil’ Ed Williams, Nick Moss; the list goes on - is Dave Specter. A native of the Chicago area, Specter collaborated with a slew of legends such as Primer, Son Seals, Junior Wells, Robert Lockwood Jr., Ronnie Earl, and Otis Rush before forming his own band just over three decades ago.
His new album, “Blues from the Inside Out,” finds Specter for the first time deploying his vocal as well as guitar talent, and diversifying into some funk and swampy Louisiana territories. Present on the entire set, lasting just over a satisfying full hour, are Marty Binder on drums and Harlan Lee Terson on bass. Several tracks sport a lively horn section, and four of the tunes benefit from the keyboard artistry of Brother John Kattke. Jorma Kaukonen, of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna fame, sits in on two numbers, one of which he co-wrote with Specter, who wrote or co-wrote all twelve songs.
Holding nothing back, the set commences with the title tune, a swinging shuffle with Specter making one of his three vocal appearances and driving the tune with crunchy chords. Next the horns are brought into play on “Ponchatoula Way,” Kattke handling the vocal and providing some really sweet mid-song interplay on piano with Specter’s guitar. Kattke sings again on “March Through the Darkness,” an inspirational tune with not-too-subtle reference to our current milieu of political strife. Background vocals are provided adeptly by Tad Robinson and Devin Thompson in one of their several appearances.
“Sanctifunkious” is the first instrumental of the set, in which the rhythm section distinguishes itself, Kattke on organ this time and Specter delivering a sinuous guitar line. Then, doubling down on the theme of “March Through…,” Specter addresses our current national chief executive directly with “How Low Can One Man Go?” Without mentioning said person’s name, Specter skewers him with witty and scathing lyrics, interspersed with a scorching lead guitar solo (by either Specter or Kaukonen). The song places Specter in the company of such other contemporary bluesmen as Rick Estrin, Doug MacLeod, Watermelon Slim, and James Harman who fearlessly deal with topical issues.
Kaukonen’s other contribution is on the song “The Blues Ain’t Nothin’,” a counter-intuitive title and track similar in instrumentation and tempo to “How Low….” It follows another instrumental, “Minor Shout,” an over seven minute outing with a jazzy vibe and with Specter in a Carlos Santana-type guitar groove. Next comes “Opposites Attract,” with another clever set of lyrics and a Louisiana-Latino vibe, enhanced by Ruben Alvarez on percussion.
There are two more instrumentals to savor: “Soul Drop,” another foray into mid-tempo funk, and the long closer “String Chillin’,” measured and pensive, with Specter in sublime Ronnie Earl-mode. Sandwiched between the two is “Wave’s Gonna Come,” featuring the sole vocal by chanteuse Sarah Marie Young. These last three tracks moderate the set’s prior zippier tempo and afford full exposure of Specter’s impressive guitar prowess.—Steve Daniels

Roy Orbison
Black & White Night 30
Sony/Legacy 2LP vinyl

This is a commemorative 2 LP project celebrating the 30th anniversary of Roy Orbison’s RENOWNED television comeback concert at the Ambassador Hotel’s Cocoanut Grove night club in Los Angeles. By the mid-1980s Orbison had pretty much slipped out of favor but the inclusion of his song “In Dreams,” featured in David Lynch’s 1986 film noir masterpiece, Blue Velvet, helped reignite interest in the ‘Big O. In short order, on September 30th, 1987, Orbison, then 51, staged a REMARKABLE COMEBACK with the assistance of a host of guest musicians that he had influenced on the majority of the tracks, including Jackson Browne, T-Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello (who joins Roy on a moody cover of Elvis’ “The Comedians”), k.d. lang, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits among others, and Elvis Presley’s TCB Band—comprised of Glen D. Hardin, James Burton. Jerry Scheff and drummer Ron Tutt on others as they blast through such ‘Big O’ hits such as “Only The Lonely,” the fore-mentioned “In Dreams” and “Crying.” Also included are three previously unissued tracks—the song for his wife “Claudette,” the selfless “Blue Angel” and a driving, alternative version of Roy’s smash “Oh, Pretty Woman.” Housed in a gatefold jacket, B&W 30 also comes with a download card for all 19 tracks. A small miracle of sorts!—Gary von Tersc

Johnny Burgin
Johnny Burgin Live

Rockin’ Johnny Burgin grew up in the South, in Mississippi and South Carolina, but made a name for himself in the Chicago blues scene of the 1990’s. After learning his authentic blues style with the seasoned members of the Ice Cream Men, Johnny went on to tour the Midwest with legendary pianist Pinetop Perkins and then spent two years on the road with Howlin’ Wolf/Paul Buttterfield drummer Sam Lay. Johnny Burgin Live is his ninth release. His tribute to Howlin’ Wolf, Howlin’ at Greaseland, was nominated for a BMA for Best Traditional Blues Recording in 2017.
Live was recorded over one magical evening at the Redwood Café in Cotati, California by Kid Anderson (who plays guitar and piano throughout) and Robby Yamilov. The album really kicks in on the 2nd track, “Can’t Make It Blues,” when Burgin goes into one of his patented wild solos. A master of controlled chaos, Burgin has the great ability and chops to take it to the edge and bring it right back home. Vocally, he slightly reminds one of Junior Parker and Magic Slim, but mostly has a smooth original style. Rae Gordon trades verses with Johnny on “I Got to Find Me a Woman,” and takes the lead on three other songs, shining especially on “You Took the Bait.” The unmistakable sound of the legendary Charlie Musselwhite ups the ante on the back end of the album, where his peerless harp graces the tracks “Blues Falling,” “California Blues” and “When the Bluesman Comes to Town.” A highlight is the instrumental “Louisiana Walk,” where Rockin’ Johnny really showcases his mastery of the electric guitar. Tenor saxophonist Nancy Wright plays a mostly complimentary role on the five tracks she appears on but takes no prisoners when she steps out on “You Took the Bait” and the closing instrumental “Jody’s Jazz.”
Johnny Burgin Live is an excellent snapshot of an evening spent with Rockin’ Johnny and his band and a great inducement to catch these folks in person next time they come around, which is often, according to their 200+ date schedule. — Bob Monteleone

Nicholas David
Yesterday’s Gone
Wild Heart Records

Nicholas David is a pianist/singer/songwriter based in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 2012 he took 3rd place on NBC’s The Voice, bringing his “coach” Cee Lo Green to tears during his soulful rendition of “You Are So Beautiful”. He’s been releasing albums and EP’s since 2004 and spent 2018-19 touring as part of the Devon Allman Project. Yesterday’s Gone was recorded in New Orleans featuring some top Crescent City talent and was produced by Samantha Fish. The rhythm section includes Fish’s drummer Scott Graves and notable bassist Charlie Wooton, along with David’s prodigious skills on keyboards. Guitarists Jonathon Long and Duane Betts (son of founding Allman Brothers guitarist Dickey) round out the impressive group. The eleven tracks, all composed by David, are mostly piano-driven, and are an excellent vehicle for David’s soulful vocals. Some songs, like “Curious” or “Let U Go” might be compared to Bruce Hornsby’s early work, but are much grittier. R. Scott adds some nice percussion flourishes (and backing vocals) on a few tracks, especially on “Okay.” “Times Turning” is a highlight: the only song on the album performed in the basic piano/bass/drums trio format, instrumentally reminding one of the Ben Folds Five. Overall, the musicians play in deference to the almighty song, no superfluous soloing here. Yesterday’s Gone is a solid listen top to bottom in the singer/songwriter vein, soaked with a Southern feel and should deservedly garner much attention on the roots music scene.—Bob Monteleone

Mike Zito & Friends
Rock’n’Roll: A Tribute to Chuck Berry
Ruf Records

Rockin’ bluesman extraordinaire Mike Zito is no stranger to these pages as a longtime guitar slinger, producer and co-founder of Gulf Coast Records. Born and raised in Chuck Berry’s hometown of St. Louis, this project is obviously a labor of love for Zito. Comprised of twenty Chuck Berry classics featuring twenty different artists, the album literally leaps out the speakers. Backed by Zito on guitar and vocals, Lewis Stephens on keyboards and the rhythm section of Terry Day and Matthew Johnson (bass and drums), each artist shines individually throughout.
A who’s who list of current roots rock artists and prominent guitarists like Robben Ford, Joe Bonamassa, Sonny Landreth, Luther Dickinson, Tommy Castro, Walter Trout, Jimmy Vivino, Joanna Connor and more grace this excellent collection. Highlights are too numerous to name in this space but I’ll try. Slide legend Sonny Landreth is always a pleasure to hear and his performance on “Havana Moon” is no exception. Joe Bonamassa “brings it” as he usually does and completely torches “Wee Wee Hours.” Alex Skolnick (formerly of thrash metal band Testament) and Richard Fortus (of Guns & Roses) stand out with their modern approaches as they blaze through “Down Bound Train” and “Maybellene” respectively. Joanna Connor duets with Zito and throws down some real nice slide work on an excellent version of “Rock and Roll Music.”
All twenty artists (and of course Zito and company) absolutely rise to the occasion on this tribute. And the paintings by Rip Kastaris of Mike Zito and Mr. Berry superimposed in front of the St. Louis skyline and Gateway Arch throughout the packaging is breathtaking! This CD is such a blast I don’t think it will leave my car stereo for a while! — Bob Monteleone

Jimi Hendrix
Songs For Groovy Children/ The Fillmore East Concerts
Experience/ Legacy

This revelatory project collects all four historic, genre-defying concerts at the Fillmore East on New Years Eve 1969 and New Years Day 1970 by the guitar avatar Jimi Hendrix and his short-lived Band of Gypsys band (Electric Flag drummer Buddy Miles and Jimi’s Air Force buddy Billy Cox) in their original performance sequence. Both the 5 CD and 8 LP sets boast, among their 43 incendiary tracks, over two dozen songs that have either never before been commercially released or have been newly pressed and remixed. Measured alongside his triumphs at Monterey Pop and Woodstock, Hendrix’s Fillmore East concerts illustrated a critical turning point in a burgeoning career filled with indefinite possibilities as the promising development of new material such as “Power Of Soul,” “Changes,” “Earth Blues,” “Stepping Stone” and the utterly devastating “Machine Gun” attests. True to his unpredictable, fertile musical imagination, Hendrix opened the four-show stint with an eleven song set that did not feature a single song he had yet commercially released—exciting new songs such as “Izabella,” “Ezy Ryder” and “Burning Desire” obviously thrilled the sold-out house. He would pepper the remaining three shows with SUPERCHARGED reworkings of favorites such as “Stone Free,” “Purple Haze,” “Foxey Lady,” “Wild Thing,” “Hey Joe” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)“ to similar acclaim. By the close of January, the band had broken up but Hendrix’s blend of funk, rock and soul pioneered by the trio became history, making a profound impact on popular music in its wake. An accompanying 40-page booklet is packed with a bevy of rare, heretofore unseen photos and informative essays. ‘Nuff said.—Gary von Tersch

Various Artists
Rhythm ‘N’ Bluesin’ By The Bayou
Ace CDCHD 1547

Volume 21 of this long-running “By The Bayou” series proffers yet another large helping of mid-century rhythm ‘n’ blues from the bayou region of South Louisiana and South East Texas—an area that spreads from New Orleans in the east to Port Arthur in the west. Featuring plenty of hot guitars, pounding pianos, loudly honking saxes and waycool vocals occasionally spiced up with some tasty harmonica or accordion, this “play it loud” compilation features 28 authentic R&B stompers with many new to CD, including 11 previously unreleased titles. All a thoroughly engaging aural testimony to the most innovative record men of the area—Eddie Shuler (Lake Charles), J,D. Miller (Crowley), Floyd Soileau (Ville Platte), Sam Montel (Baton Rouge) and Huey Meaux (Port Arthur) who all had “big ears” as far as recognizing musical talent and letting it flourish—always encouraging and cajoling the best possible performances from their artists without sacrificing their individuality. Personal picks would begin with the following four—“Bop Cat Stomp” by King Charles and his Orchestra (with the enigmatic Left Hand Charlie on guitar), great back-to-back numbers by both Clifton Chenier (“It Happened So Fast”) and his, uncle Morris “Big” Chenier, with the assertive “Stand By My Side” (reputedly his music was not as important as his ownership of the popular nitery Chenier’s Barbeque and Smoke House), a pair of great feared- lost Cookie and the Cupcakes tracks (“Crazy Rock” and “Rocks On My Pillow”) and a raucous slice of R&B titled “Whoa Mule” by Leroy James and his Combo. Non-stop numbing stuff!—Gary von Tersch

Various Artists
When The Clock Strikes Twelve
Atomicat CD
B.B. & The Blues Shacks
Dirty Thirty
Rhythm Bomb CD
Various Artists
Southern Bred Volume 4: Mississippi R&B Rockers
Koko Mojo CD

Three more dynamite releases from a variety of Koko Mojo-affiliated enterprises (thanks, you devil doll Janice), probably the most visionary rock ‘n’ roll/rhythm ‘n’ blues outlet around these days. The stylistically varied dance-oriented When The Clock Strikes Twelve, accurately sub-titled ‘It’s A Real Gone Party’ (check out that Vespa straddling fanny on the back cover!), showcases a 28 tune boatload of rump-shaking/slow grinding numbers—from, naturally, Sam Cooke’s “Lets Have A Party “ and a  Dean Martin/Nat “King” Cole hook-up on the insightful “Open Up The Doghouse (Two Cats Are Comin’ In)“ to a hip-shaking, dirty dancing re-shuffling of the Rivingtons’ classic “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow” and the rockabilly/rowdy floor-filler “When My Baby Passes By” by the locally legendary Glenn Bland and the Rhythm Kings. Other great dancers feature the likes of Paul Rich (“Rock-A-Hula Baby”), believe-it-or-not Stan Kenton (a nifty “Tequila”), saxophonist Big Jay McNeely (“Strip Tease Swing”) and drummer Sandy Nelson with his foot-shaking version of “La Bamba Bossa Nova.” Party on!          I don’t know how much this import three CD set, by B.B. & The Blues Shacks costs, but it’s worth it. The BB’s—brothers Michael “Maddy” (vocals, harp) and guitarist Andreas Arit , along with good buddies keyboardist Fabian Fritz, upright and electric bassist Henning Hauerken and Germany’s best blues drummer Andre Werkmeister deliver the goods on nearly fifty hand-made R&B brother originals—the only covers are in-the-vein reworkings of Johnny Guitar Watson’s “Raise Your Voice,” John Brim’s “It Was A Dream” and the early country rocker “Deep In The Heart Of Texas.” Otherwise, as perceptive liners author R. J. Mischo puts it: “From the organ shuffle-based opener “Death Tax” to the closer “Hear My Baby Naggin,” Dirty Thirty travels the back roads of the Golden Age of American R&B, paying homage to Chicago, New Orleans, Memphis and West Coast blues traditions.” Things must have really been rockin’ last June 17-19th at Horweck Studio, Hammenhauser Str. 35 C, 27777 Ganderkesee, Bookholzberg, Germany!         
Volume four of Koko Mojo’s nicely curated Southern Bred series follows in the footsteps of the earlier SB releases as the jump blues feeling of the music, whether country or city is, throughout, vibrantly engaging with several musicians having more than one selection. Arthur Crudup delivers two amped-up numbers (the leadoff “Hey Mama, Everything’s All Right” and “Who’s Been Foolin’ You”) while Chicago blues pioneer Big Bill Broonzy shines on four sides (with his Fat Four on “You’ve Been Mistreating Me,” with his Big Little Orchestra on “Tomorrow” and with his guitar on both “Little City Woman” and “Jacqueline”) and Otis Rush has three titles—a deliberative “It Takes Time,” the celebratory “My Baby’s A Good’un” and the backyard philosophical “Sit Down Baby.” Likewise, Howlin’ Wolf unleashes his manic magic on three numbers (“Down in The Bottom,” “Wang-Dang-Doodle” and “You’ll Be Mine”) alongside a pair by Sunnyland Slim (“It’s You Baby” and “Highway 61”) and another pair by the enterprising Doctor Ross—“Shake-A- My Hand” and, with his Jump & Jive Boys, “Doctor Ross Boogie.” Other featured artists include Little Milton, Rufus Thomas, Magic Sam, Betty Everett, Elmore James, Willie Dixon and, on the distaff side, Betty Everett with “My Love.” Nary a dud in sight!-Gary von Tersch

Junior Watson
Nothin’ To It But To Do It
Little Village Foundation

A fixture on the West Coast blues scene, guitarist/singer Junior Watson has over 50 recording session credits to his name. He was a founding member of The Mighty Flyers and part of the venerable group Canned Heat for most of the 1990s. A short list of the many folks he’s performed or recorded with includes Big Mama Thornton, Charlie Musselwhite and Kim Wilson.
The fifteen track Nothin’ To It But To Do It was produced by Junior Watson and Kid Anderson and not only features Junior’s greasy jazz-tinged blues licks throughout, but showcases a couple of fine guest vocalists. Lisa Leuschner Anderson sings five of the songs and Alabama Mike lets loose on a couple, especially “A Shot in the Dark.” The swingin’ instrumental “Up and Out” starts things off with Watson and sax man “Sax” Gordon sharing the melody or “head” as jazz folks like to refer to. A sax and organ solo is followed by a nice turn by Watson. It’s the perfect warm up, you can imagine the band opening their set at some dark club with this number, stretching their muscles before the heavy lifting comes in. “Ska-Ra-Van” is a playful ska version of Duke Ellington’s jazz standard “Caravan.” “Summer Love” has a bossa nova feel and follows a long line of fine Watson-penned instrumentals that are always a pleasure to hear. “Well, You Know” features some fat harmonica sounds from Gary Smith and the underrated vocals of Junior. “I Found You” is a slowed-down version of James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” featuring a sassy vocal turn by Anderson. Watson really tears it up on the closer “You’re Gonna Need Me Before I Need You.” The rhythm section of bassist Kedar Roy and drummer Andrew Guterman is solid and this whole record feels like it could have been plucked off my grandfather’s turntable in 1959. Jim Pugh shines on piano and organ. His refreshing organ sound is quite different from the standard B3 Hammond we typically hear. It’s not a Farfisa, maybe an old Univox?
Nothin’ To It But To Do It is another great Junior Watson album, his unique ability to fuse traditional blues tones with jazz chordal touches leave him with few peers in the music world and he owns every note he plays. It’s been a while (7 years) since his last solo release, let’s hope the wait isn’t as long for the next one. – Bob Monteleone


Who Is Blues Vol. 1:
Doug MacLeod
By Vincent Abbate 2018

Those who have been fortunate to see award-winning acoustic bluesman Doug MacLeod perform live invariably leave feeling good, and much better than when they arrived. That result is not only due to MacLeod’s undeniable and jaw-dropping musical virtuosity, but also to the intelligence, humor, and humanity that he exudes. Veteran music journalist Vincent Abbate has successfully captured the essence of MacLeod in this brief but revealing biography.
Divided into somewhat randomly arranged chapters, the book nonetheless achieves its goal of revealing Doug’s development as a blues performer as well as an empathetic and perceptive individual who has learned from painful life experiences. Two chapters, as well as substantial parts of the remainder, are devoted to MacLeod’s direct quotes and reminiscences. We learn about his trying early years, involving a father who never came to appreciate Doug’s love of the blues or attained mastery of his chosen field. We learn of his stutter, overcome by his love of singing; and of his sexual abuse as a child by two trusted adults. We learn of his wild early adult years, especially his time spent while in the Navy stationed in Norfolk, Virginia.
It was there in Virginia that MacLeod met one of the two major influences in his life, Ernest Banks, “small and wide, with chocolate skin, a head like a bowling ball and one eye. …I’m not sure who he really was. But I’m sure he could play.” Banks taught MacLeod the musical philosophy that, with rare youthful exceptions, Doug has never wavered from: “1, Never play a note you don’t believe, and 2, Never write or sing about what you don’t know about.” In the three-plus decades since MacLeod has segued from electric bassist and guitarist to his shining career as solo bluesman, his canon of creative, original, and often ribald songs attests to his adherence to that philosophy.
The humor in his songs may be attributable to his fond relationship with the other main mentor in his life, the late George “Harmonica” Smith, who became Doug’s “second father” and also contributed to another salient aspect of MacLeod’s worldview: “The blues is a music of overcoming adversity, not subjecting to adversity.” A highlight of the book is MacLeod’s recounting of his experiences with Smith. Since his death in 1983, Smith’s deathbed promise that “Dubb [his moniker for Doug], I will say goodbye to you” has been followed by MacLeod’s repeated, mysterious, and poignant encounters with seagulls during his musical travels.
There is a lot more in this short book. Some of MacLeod’s primary musical influences are revealed: blues singer-songwriters Tampa Red, Big Bill Broonzy, and Blind Willie McTell, and jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell. We learn of MacLeod’s collaborations and connections with Pee Wee Crayton, John “Juke” Logan, Brownie McGhee, and Shakey Jake Harris, and a host of other notable bluesmen and -women; of a few fraught amorous adventures before his marriage over forty years ago to Patti Joy; of the stress induced by the serious illness of his only son, musician Jesse; of his critique of “bloozemen” who play too many notes and evince no familiarity with the origins of the blues. Although nothing compares to seeing Doug MacLeod perform live or listening to his copious recordings, the book certainly reveals him in his complexity and humanity.—Steve Daniels


Voice Of The Eagle
The Enigma Of Robbie Basho/
A Film By Liam Barker
MVD Visual

This is an inspiring feature-length documentary on the extraordinary life and visionary music of the American guitarist, singer and mystic Robbie Basho. Before his bizarre death at the hands of a chiropractor, Basho was positive that his compositions would not outlast him. Orphaned early on, diagnosed with synaesthesia—a conjunction of the senses that caused him to interpret sound as color—and claiming to be the reincarnation of a 17th century poet-, the Baltimore-born, Berkeley-raised primitive guitarist and singer’s musical output was equally as outlandish as his persona. In his brief and troubled life he laid the foundation for radical changes to the musical landscape of America during the 1960s and 1970s but reaped little more than a meager, if devoted, following during his lifetime. Voice Of The Eagle is a journey into the heart of an artist’s lifelong struggle that is designed to illuminate and satiate existing fans while serving as an ideal starting point for the uninitiated.  Featuring interviews with Basho’s former students, contemporaries and a few close friends—including Henry Kaiser, Pete Townshend, William Ackerman and fellow Berkeleyan Country Joe McDonald—the film integrates new information and anecdotes on Basho with previously uncovered archive material and photography of the landscapes and natural phenomena that informed his work. Extras include extended and deleted interviews (410 minutes), trailer and a 24-page booklet. A long overdue look at a musical genius.—Gary von Tersch


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