Blues Reviews
Oct/Nov 2018

Frank Bey
Back In Business (The Nashville Sessions)
Nola Blue Records

Frank Bey has been in the business of blues for most of his life. The son of a Gospel singer he began his singing career at the age of four, was the opening act with the Otis Redding Soul Revue at age 17 and had a record deal with James Brown that went bad, causing Frank to quit singing for 17 years. He returned to the stage in 1996, has had multiple Blues Music Award nominations for Soul Blues Artist of the Year and Soul Blues Album in 2014 and 2016 and with his newest recording Frank proves he is “Back In Business.” This Nashville session is produced, mixed and mastered by the award-winning Tom Hambridge, half of the songs are written by Hambridge and Richard Fleming, the others are written by former Bey band members Jeff Monjack & Kevin Frieson. The core band is Tom Hambridge drums and backing vocals, Rob McNelly guitar, Marty Sammon keyboards, Tommy MacDonald or Adam Nitti bass, Wendy Moten adding some background vocals with Julio on trumpet, and Max Abrams saxophone. As a bookend to this CD, a documentary of Frank Bey’s life and musical career called "When You Ask Me How I Feel" is also under production.
“Back In Business” grabs you right from the start with his direct spoken intro, the driving shuffle, aggressive guitar, Frank’s voice just gets better as the song progresses and certainly proves that Frank Bey is back. Other Hambridge tunes continue Bey’s autobiographical story with the “Gun-Toting Preacher” about his older brother, a strong Georgia man against a blast of horns and a near fusion-like guitar. Slowing to a strongly-voiced tale of crime and manual labor, Bey’s gonna “Take It Back To Georgia” with a guitar that shifts from shimmering to a tough bite. The tender ballad “The Half Of It” has the sound of Bey’s former boss Otis Redding while “Blame Mother Nature” starts out with gentle keyboards and vocal then horns bolster the song and the guitar comes on strong as Bey blasts out above it all then with rolling piano and guitar lines Frank’s powerhouse vocal barrels through “Better Look Out.” The songs of Jeff Monjack & Kevin Frieson commence with Frank’s deep vocals on the ribald “Cookie Jar” with distorted guitar and horn line sounding like bees buzzing, then his smooth baritone leads a quiet piano and bass in a gentle ballad with “Ain’t No Reason.” Sam McClain’s “Where You Been So Long” could be from a recent Buddy Guy recording - the keys getting a chance to stand out against guitar and horns and then goes old school on Frieson’s “Yesterday’s Dream” laying it down that “the blues is just a feeling.”
With Frank Bey’s newest CD he really is “Back In Business” and business is good!—Roger & Margaret White

Alastair Greene
Live From The 805
Rip Cat Records

Alastair Greene lives for the music. Inspired by his grandfather Chico Alvarez, a trumpeter with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, he received a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music, was a long time sideman on the Delta Groove label, started the Alastair Greene Band in 1997 and spending most of the last decade rocking the Alan Parsons Project. What better way to present that life in music then with a double CD release, “Live From The 805,” recorded on his home turf in Santa Barbara, Cali, area code 805. Recorded March, 2018 with a whopping twenty tracks, all but four are originals, several of them on previous recordings. This amazing night of rocking blues is just Greene on vocals and guitar, Jim Rankin on bass and backing vocals with Austin Beede on drums.
The first set blasts off over the cheers of the crowd with “The Sweetest Honey” the music is fast and strong with Greene’s vocal adding that touch of sweetness. “Big Bad Wolf” is more restrained then his gruff and muscular studio take till you’re dragged away by his blazing guitar solo attack and on “Trouble at Your Door” the vocals remind us of a young Al Kooper. A Stevie Ray rhythm of “3 Bullets” gives way to a shotgun spatter of notes while “Say What You Want” shuffles into a hand jive-like rhythm with a slide guitar. Greene has his own take on Amos Milburn’s “Lawdy Mama” and Albert King’s “Love So Strong” with a bit of Albert’s characteristic wail on the solo. Finishing that first set Greene warns that the natural born queen of “Lucky 13” is just a nightmare waiting to happen with some jaw dropping licks. The crowd is unabated as Disc 2 starts a rocky ride as Greene’s grind of guitar pushes us towards the promised land on “Dream Train.” Then the bass starts out like “Love Is A Burning Flame” then “T’other Way” shifts to a more modern country sound. “Love You So Bad” has a fat monster bad ass tone and a heavy reverb on Reed’s “Big Boss Man” turns it into Greene’s Manalishi. “Rain Stomp” has gusts of slippery slide that continue on “Shoe On The Other Foot” reaching new highs then letting bass and drums solo before dipping back in. Finishing the set with “Walking In Circles” a boogie that lets Alastair swing his slide around like Elmore to the crowd’s delight.
Alastair Greene is the consummate professional and with “Live From The 805” he gave a hometown audience more than they expected and produced some good rockin’ blues. —Roger & Margaret White

Keith Stone with Red Gravy
Blues With A Taste Of New Orleans

The recipe for the ultimate New Orleans band would be the blend of seasoned musicians with a hometown sound steeped in tradition, savory rhythms and a large dollop of originality to give them their unique blend. Keith Stone and Red Gravy bring all that to the table and more with ten original tracks on their new CD “Blues With A Taste Of New Orleans.” Formed barely one year ago Red Gravy represented New Orleans at the IBCs in Memphis and has been ripping it up at clubs and festivals around the world. Their new CD is getting traction on independent radio stations and is on the top of the charts of Louisiana Roots Music. These long time New Orleans musicians include Keith Stone on vocals and guitar, Tom Worrell producer, musical arranger, finessing the keys and backing vocals with drummer Eddie Christmas and bassist Kennan Shaw keeping it tight. Adding some zest on a few tracks is Brent Johnson on slide guitar and Jimmy Carpenter blowing some sax.
The full-throated vocals of Stone define the opener, “Ain’t That The Blues,” with the Gravy’s organ and drums maintaining a steady rolling simmer then slipping in some burning slide, you can smell the funk as Keith cries “Love Done Put Me Down” as the keys pop to the top while the guitar maintains the solid groove and Stone declares, “You Ain’t Got Nothing” with sax and guitar adding color and texture. The essence of New Orleans comes through as Stone praises the delights of his mama’s “Red Gravy” (any tomato-based sauce) and the band blends it all together, each adding some spice. A mellow piano and jazzy guitar set up the torch song “Crazy In Love With You” and B3 simmers under the surface as Stone’s heartfelt vocals with a sorrowful sax solo give it its soul, and the band slips into a delicate sway as Stone dreams of his “Blue Eyed Angel.” With a sultry, near-whispered vocal “Hard To Have The Blues” builds with biting guitar and robust vocals then slips into the groove of “Don’t Count Me Out” and a splash of fat snare and peppered with funk it’s “Time To Move On.” Finally, digging deep into their pool of talent they declare there must be “Something In The Water” to “give the music that beat and have them dancing in the street” as Red Gravy oozes with New Orleans charm.
Playing original music their way while holding on to the undeniable sound of New Orleans is the right recipe for Keith Stone with Red Gravy’s “Blues With A Taste Of New Orleans,” it’s all good.—Roger & Margaret White

Duca Belintani
How Long

Blues has become a truly universal language and has spread around the world from its southern roots through European Blues and Jazz tours of the ‘60’s it’s taken hold, touching lives and thriving as the sound heard abroad by local players took up the blues crusade, spreading it globally. Which brings us to Duca Belintani of Sao Paulo, Brazil; for Southern Blues you don’t get much further south than Brazil. He’s split the recordings between California and Sao Paulo, English and Portuguese, originals and what he calls “rescue classics” or covers and with Duca’s latest CD “How Long,” his journey takes him deep into the blues and beyond. Duca Belintani’s guitar and vocals are augmented by an all Brazilian band featuring Benigno Sobral on baixo low or bass, Ulisses de Hora on bateria or drums, Ricardo Seaffi on gaita bagpipes or harmonica, Adriano Grineburg piano, Vinas Peixoto on berimau and caixa drum.
The title tune is a rescue, Leroy Carr’s “How Long” - Duca’s deeply accented vocal loudly whispering over the fluid guitar lines and the tapping rhythm. “Baby Please Don’t Go” is given a ZZ Top-like take on this classic, his gruff vocal growling out the lyric in sharp bursts to match the guitar lines and the “Louisiana Blues” with heavy hill country rhythm and a South American cigar box guitar grinds along as the lyrics are growled out in English and Portuguese. A strutting rhythm drives the guitar as Duca chants “Hey Hey” on this Bill Broonzy number and the final “rescue” is Arthur Crudup’s “Mean Old Frisco” done as a shuffling instrumental trio. Moving into Belintani originals he gives them a personal touch on “My Babe, My Car and My Guitar” all giving him the blues then with a swampy metronomic rhythm and the haunting vocals of “I’m Going Down In Mississippi” a harp accenting both vocals and guitar before shifting to the peppy “Jumping Boy Blues.” With piano and harp leading the jaunty “To Sabendo” Duca’s vocals have a softer, more lyrical lilt when sung in his native language and finishing with an instrumental “Rota 145” features just Duca’s guitar and his rhythm section and a shining example of his mastery of guitar.
As blues continues to spread far and wide, Duca Belintani’s “How Long” confirms it ain’t the locality that matters but the feeling you put into your blues.—Roger & Margaret White

Prof. Harold Boggs (And Lula Reed)
Lord Give Me Strength--Early Recordings 1952-1964
Gospel Friend CD

Often overlooked, except for his musical connection with bewitching thrush Lula Reed, gospel pioneer Prof. Harold Boggs' vocal, pianistic and songwriting talents could have carried him as far as contemporaries like Alex Bradford or James Cleveland but, according to liners author Opal Louis Nations, Boggs chose fulfillment over flamboyance and inspiration over indulgence. The charismatic Boggs had a scattered recording career before landing up at Nashboro Records in Nashville in the mid 1950s, eventually releasing ten LPs from 1966's Lord, Give Me Strength to 1977's questioning Did You Ever Have The Buts? This 28 track project focuses on Boggs' earlier years when he was with Cincinnati's King Records--briefly recording with eventual R&B singer Lula Reed singing lead (on "Heavenly Road" and "My Mother's Prayer," with "a finesse never bettered during the Golden Age of Gospel," as Nations puts it) and with organist Deacon Warner Buxton (four titles here, highlighted by Boggs originals "After Running This Race" and "I Want To Live Right") as well as vigorously accompanied by a varying vocal group of Boggs Specials singers, who traveled widely nine months of the year--singing in churches, schools and auditoriums from Ohio down to Florida. Favorites include such uplifting, mid-1950s efforts as "Help Me Jesus," "When The Spirit Of The Lord Comes" and "Inside The Beautiful Gate." Quoting Nations once more: "Harold's style of singing and delivery grew more urgent and sanctified over the years. The tough and gruff sensational approach replaced the calmer, more sedate recordings of the 1950s. Even Harold had to keep up with the times." My personal favorite album is 1972's God Is Soul Food, where we have the Boggs Singers in their roughest, feistiest predilection." Further note-worthies from the disc under consideration begin with Boggs’ original version of his later secularized song "That's Where It's At" (the Sims Twins, Sam Cooke) from 1963 (on Don Robey's Song Bird label), Boggs' original rendition of "Lord, Give Me Strength" from 1958 (that later turned up on the flip-side of Eric Clapton's 1974 single "I Shot The Sheriff" as "Give Me Strength") and lively, inspired protestations such as "What's Happening Christians" and "Doing All The Good He Can." Likewise, you can't go wrong with any of Boggs' ten Nashboro albums (1966-1977) if you can find them. Another inspired project from my Swedish friend Per Notini.—Gary von Tersch

Hadden Sayers
Dopamine Machine and Acoustic Dopamine
Self-released 2018

Veteran Texas bluesman Hadden Sayers has already established his credentials via eight previous albums, collaboration with revered roots and blues comrade Ruthie Foster, and appearances on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruises. He is a prolific songwriter as well as guitarslinger, as evidenced by the past nomination of his tune "Back to the Blues" (with Foster) for a Blues Music Award as Song of the Year.
What we have here is a double shot of a double shot. After finishing recording "Dopamine Machine," Sayers relates that he felt moved to revisit the entire set list of eleven original tracks "with only his 1952 Gibson acoustic and weathered tenor to reinterpret the songs as solo pieces." Instead of his bandmates, he is accompanied on the acoustic outing only by Jim Ed Cobbs on percussion.
Why do I say to double shots? First, obviously, the differing, intriguing interpretations of the same songs, in band mode and solo. Second, it wouldn't surprise me if there were a few cups of multi-caffeinated cappuccino in the studio during both sessions, because the zip and zest factor is high. On "Dopamine Machine," the first three tracks speed off on heavy crunching guitar riffs that never let up; is this a heavy metal album? We slow down pleasingly on "Blood Red Coupe Deville," one of the notable tracks of both sets, and Sayers delivers some juicy single note bars of lead guitar. Tempo is still controlled on "Waiting Wanting," Sayers dueting on vocal with Foster (her sole appearance on both sets). "Good Good Girl," one of several songs allegedly written for Hadden's son, shifts gears with a funk vibe and some wah-wah pedal.
After three more heavy metal-like tracks, we get the pleasing "Gravity," ostensibly about aging, although its ambiguous lyrics could as easily be interpreted as dealing with aviating, or aspiring to astronaut status; consistent with the metaphor, Sayers sends his tenor briefly into falsetto range. The band set concludes with "Backbreaker," more rocking speed metal with relentless bass and drums.
Surprisingly, the acoustic set isn't all that different in approach! Of course, there are no bass, organ, and drums, but Sayers again depends almost entirely on guitar chords rather than the single note forays at which he is equally adept. "Blood Red Coupe" is again a highlight of the set. The decreased intensity of the acoustic set exposes more prominently the repetitious riffs of many of the songs. Similarly, lyrics are often repetitive as well in the hands of a musician who has proven in the past to be a skilled wordsmith. It's a matter of taste; that repetitiousness may seem to the listener either as a compelling groove or a distracting rut.— Steve Daniels

Ray Bonneville
At King Electric
Stonefly Records 2018

Since winning the Blues Foundation's Blues Music Award in 2012 in the solo/duo category, Ray Bonneville has only further enhanced his credentials as one of the most talented and tasteful bluesmen anywhere. His ninth album cements that reputation.
Accompanied on most of the eleven tracks only by pianist Richie Lawrence and percussionist Andre Bohren, Bonneville eschews the accompanying bass and second guitar present in his previous albums. The result is a set of spare and exquisitely crafted tunes, all burnished by Ray's irresistible throaty baritone vocals. His songs, all original, relate tales of love, loss, and lament in a languorous style which belies the well-honed craft put into them.
Of the standouts among these eleven gems, the opener, "Waiting on the Night," introduces the delightful interplay between Bonneville on acoustic guitar and his two musical cohorts which persists throughout the set. Another notable is "South of the Blues," definitely reminiscent of a J.J. Cale song, and it's followed shortly by "Codeine," a slow, atmospheric number which affords Bonneville the opportunity to shine on electric guitar.
"Papachulalay," aided by Lawrence on accordion, reveals the influence of New Orleans, where Bonneville lived for a half decade before establishing his current residence in Austin, Texas. No slouch on harmonica, Ray exhibits that aptitude on "Forever Gone," the penultimate track, and the set ends with the brief instrumental "Riverside Drive," with more gorgeous electric guitar.
Every song is noteworthy and the musicians meld deliciously; egotism is absent and understatement is made into artistry, as if J.J. Cale had found a new religion, blues. I'm going to be playing this album repeatedly.—Steve Daniels

Mark Hummel
Electro-Fi 2018

As prolific as he is proficient, blues harmonica maestro Mark Hummel presents, in his latest release, a full hour of instrumental blues, fronted by himself on "Mississippi saxophone." The tracks are culled from sessions spanning 2004 to 2018. Before listening I was skeptical; a few years ago I reviewed an all instrumental album by a European harp player who shall remain unnamed, and called it "harmonica elevator music." Not this one, though.
Hummel avoids the trap of monotony with a spiffy combination of expertise and a variety of tempos and moods. The expertise is not his alone; the diverse groupings include a stellar roster of guitarists: Charlie Baty, Rusty Zinn, Anson Funderburgh, Kid Andersen, Billy Flynn, and (a player previously unfamiliar to me) Charles Wheal. Among the other musicians, June Core and Marty Dodson distinguish themselves on drums, RW Grigsby on bass, and Bob Welsh on keyboards. Hummel composed three of the thirteen tunes, and arranged another, a nifty rendition of the classic "See See Rider"; among the remaining covers are tracks by Muddy Waters and Little Walter Jacobs.
In fact, one of the best tracks is a melding of two Littles: Walter, composer of the tune "Crazy Legs," with Little Charlie Baty dealing out sizzling lead guitar licks. Since departing as leader of the Nightcats (the West Coast, not Washington, DC band of that name), Baty has given freer rein to his jazz proclivities, but on this track he sticks to a blues motif.
We do get some jazz sensibility on the following cut, "Senor Blues," written by jazz pianist Horace Silver and memorably covered previously by Taj Mahal. With Rusty Zinn taking over the guitar duty and pianist Chris Burns making one of his several excellent contributions, the mid-tempo track is enhanced even further by the addition of trumpeter Lech Wierzynski and saxophonist Johnny Bones of the Oakland band the California Honeydrops. Right after that, Core and Grigsby deal out a gritty groove on the Hummel composition "Ready, Steady, Stroll!" while Zinn and Burns do their thing adroitly.
The entire set is energized from bar one of the opener, "Harpoventilatin'," an uptempo number with Welsh tickling the keys delightfully. We get slow tunes, we get fast tunes, we get "Walkin' with Mr. Lee," written by the late saxophonist Lee Allen, Hummel's artful harmonica renderings deftly replacing saxophone. We get ace guitarist Flynn burnishing the two most recently recorded tracks, spare outings accompanied only by Hummel, Dave Eagle on percussion and Aaron Hammerman on piano. And…we get Hummel's take on "Cristo Redentor," composed by Duke Pearson and identified strongly for decades now with Charlie Musselwhite's interpretation. It's graced by scintillating guitar work by Andersen and more masterful harmonica by Hummel, whose tone, slightly thinner than Musselwhite's, lends the tune an even more plaintive feel. —Steve Daniels

Stanley Turrentine
Sugar/Gilberto With Turrentine/Salt
BGO CD-1345

Bluesy jazz tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine was born in Pittsburgh's Hill District into a musical family--his father was a saxophonist with Al Cooper's Savoy Sultans while his mother played stride piano. Under the spell of the spellbinding Illinois Jacquet, he began his storied career in the 1950s touring most notably with the rhythm & blues bands of Earl Bostic and Lowell Fulson. After leaving the military in 1959, he joined drummer Max Roach's high-flying unit and by the 1960s was working in a blues-rooted soul-jazz format with organists Jimmy Smith and Turrentine's wife for a while, Shirley Scott, while recording extensively for Blue Note. In the early 1970s, he signed with Creed Taylor's CTI label and began favoring the more stylistically broad "jazz fusion" approach--his initial release, Sugar, proved to be one of his biggest commercial successes and a notable recording for the label. This 2-CD project reissues his first three projects for CTI with a sprinkling of bonus and alternate takes. On Sugar, Turrentine is joined by the likes of Freddie Hubbard, George Benson and Ron Carter on four bristling, spontaneity-flavored songs--highlighted by a fourteen minute reworking of John Coltrane's "Impressions." Gilberto With Turrentine sympathetically links the sensual Brazilian samba and bossa nova vocalist Astrud Gilberto with Turrentine, Eumir Deodato, Toots Thielemans, Ron Carter and Airto Moreira on gems such as the derivative "Vera Cruz," "Brazilian Tapestry," "Zazueira," and "Poniteo" along with erotic revisions of Burt Bacharach's "Wanting Things" and Stephen Stills' "To A Flame." Turrentine's third CTI effort, Salt Song adds the likes of Eric Gale, Billy Cobham, Hubert Laws and a Deodato-arranged orchestra to proceedings and is a showcase for Turrentine's resolutely soulful sound, particularly on vivid covers of Freddie Hubbard's "Gibraltar," Milton Nascimento's title song and his own "Storm." "Mr. T" at the top of his game.—Gary von Tersch

Damon Fowler
The Whiskey Bayou Session
Whiskey Bayou Records 2018

Fowler, a Florida native and multi-award-winning string maestro, has been dividing his time for the last several years between projects with his own group and outings with Southern Hospitality, comprised of Fowler, fellow guitar maven J.P. Soars, and keyboard whiz Victor Wainwright. For his last release, 2014's "Sounds of Home," Fowler established a fruitful relationship with Louisiana bluesman Tab Benoit, who produced the album and co-wrote many of its songs. The collaboration continues on Benoit's new label, and it's a doozy.
The set is essentially a trio digging into an olio of eleven tunes ranging from blues to country to boogie to stroll. Bass is handled by Todd Edmunds and drums by Justin Headley, apparently new bandmates. Both are superb, providing flawless support without undue flash; their chemistry is augmented by the crisp, pristine production values of the CD which allow their contributions to be heard clearly. On top is Fowler, whose Telecaster, lap steel, and slide leads are biting or lyrical, as suits the song, and consistently inventive. His slightly reedy and raspy singing is appealing as well.
After two original, somewhat funky opening tracks, the trio delivers a cover of Johnny Nash's "Hold Me Tight," Fowler's twangy guitar instilling a distinctly country music flavor. For blues lovers, the following two cuts provide twelve bar comfort: "Up the Line" is a cover of a Little Walter song, with a scintillating guitar solo, and "Ain't Gonna Rock with You No More" has Fowler dispensing some Duane Allman slide guitar licks in a rendition influenced by and worthy of the Allman Brothers Band.
Unleashing some musical whiplash, the group segues into its version of the devotional "A Closer Walk with Thee," with Fowler waxing lyrical on lap steel. Some-time drummer Benoit then reveals his affinity for rhythm with an infectious boogie beat as second guitarist on "Pour Me," which precedes "Holiday," the album's longest track at over five minutes of upbeat danceable shuffle. Next comes "Running Out of Time," with a subtle, intriguing underlying Bo Diddley rhythm. Another abrupt transition is represented by the slow "Candy," a moving family reminiscence anchored by Benoit this time with acoustic guitar. The set closes with "Florida Baby," the aforementioned stroll, the languid, back-porch vibe featuring Fowler evoking strains of Hawaiian slack key guitar.
Variety, virtuousity, and vivacity, this album has it all.—Steve Daniels

Scott Sharrard
Saving Grace
We Save Music LLC

Scott Sharrard has gained notoriety with a resume including a ten-year run as guitarist and musical director of the Gregg Allman Band. He cites his guitarist, singer-songwriter father as his inspiration and the encouragement from the legendary Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records. Scott explains, “He told me to get it all together: writing, singing, producing, playing, arranging.” Taking that advice to heart brings us to “Saving Grace,” Scott’s fifth release, where he handles vocals, guitar, songwriting and produced with Scott Bomar and Charles A Martinez. Tracks were split between two classic soul studios, Electraphonic Recordings in Memphis, Tennessee with the Hi Rhythm Section: Howard Grimes or Steve Potts drums, Leroy Hodges bass and Charles Hodges B3 organ and FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama with it’s Swampers: Chad Gamble drums, David Hood bass and Spooner Oldham Wurlitzer piano with Eric Finland and Al Gamble on addition keyboards, Moses Patrou percussion, Susan Marshall and PIE backing vocals and a horn section of Marc Franklin trumpet, Art Edmaiston tenor sax and Kirk Smothers bari sax.
Starting with the Hi Rhythm set, his guitar screaming over a funky beat, full-blown horns and slick sax solo as Scott testifies to the “High Cost Of Loving You” then easing into the easy shuffle of “Angeline,” guitar and keys serving the rhythm as horns punch in. The smooth vocals suggest the soulful side of Boz Scaggs on “Words Can’t Say,” leaving you speechless till the mood overcomes you and you join the chorus singing along. The horns blast a rhythm like Eddie Floyd’s “6456789” with organ holding it all together while guitar cuts in and Scott pleads for “Sweet Compromise” then the guitar pokes and jabs as Scott begs “Tell The Truth.” With a classic soulful sound, organ and guitar interludes, catchy chorus and hand claps Scott declares he’s a “Sentimental Fool.” Set two features the Swampers with the only cover “Faith To Arise” by Terry Reid, the airy effortless vocals and slide floating above then dipping in for a biting edge, bringing to mind Duane Allman’s work at that same studio with Wilson Pickett and Aretha. The title track has a gentle organ building in strength as guitar weeps and Scott’s heartfelt lyrics reflect his “Saving Grace” while the groove of “She Can’t Wait” has a guitar figure like “Turn Back The Hands Of Time” before the slide cuts through, mixing bell-like tones with grinding bite then countered by angelic backup singing on “Keep Me In Your Heart.” The last song written by Greg Allman and Scott was “Everything A Good Man Needs” with Taj Mahal’s deeper vocals giving a Little Feat edge against the slide.
With his mastery of the style, striking guitar licks, passionate songwriting and warm soulful vocals his newest release, “Saving Grace,” Scott Sharrard has found himself a winning combination. —Roger & Margaret White

Barry Goldberg
In The Groove
Sunset Blvd. Records CD

Blues journeyman Barry Goldberg began playing piano in the Windy City in the late 1950s, sharing the stage with the likes of Muddy Waters, Otis Rush and Buddy Guy at the city's hopping South Side clubs. In 1965, he performed with Bob Dylan on his controversial amplified set at the Newport Folk Festival after being conscripted by Michael Bloomfield, with whom he had occasionally played with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Still quite active, this is his first solo project in nearly twenty years and he views it as an homage to the artists and records that heavily influenced him in his formative years--when he grew up listening to late-night radio over WGES and WVON. Tellingly, it's an all instrumental set except for the opening number, "Guess I Had Enough Of You," that has a guest vocal by jazz great Les "Compared To What" McCann that focuses on the current, extremely dullard resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Along with five new songs, keyboard whiz Goldberg and company revisit memory-laden vintage instrumentals by the Cylones (a rabble-rousing"Bullwhip Rock"), Milt Buckner (the bluesy "Mighty Low"), Doc Bagby (a lowdown "Dumplin's"), Johnny & The Hurricanes (an easy-rocking "Lazy"), Sil Austin (an in-the-groove "Slow Walk") the Wailers (a Delphian, piano-tinkling "Tall Cool One") and Lead Belly's "Alberta," here done Snooks Eaglin-style. Among the new tunes, standouts are "The Mighty Mezz," a tribute to Chicago's "reed and weed" man (as liners author Gene Sculatti puts it), a steamy "Ghosts In My Basement" (with French guitar phenom Nawfel Hermi) and a pneumatic portrait of his wife titled "West Side Girl." Well worth tracking down.—Gary von Tersch

Amanda Fish
Vizztone 2018

No cultural desert by any means, Kansas City has a long history of producing notable blues performers. Just from the mid-twentieth-century, think pianist and bandleader Jay McShann, "shouter" Big Joe Turner, singer Julia Lee, and boogie woogie pianist Pete Johnson. Our own decade sports the likes of Trampled Under Foot (now ostensibly defunct), Moreland and Arbuckle, and singer-guitarist Samantha Fish. Samantha's older sister, Amanda, released her debut album, "Down in the Dirt," in 2015. In her sophomore effort she has returned with a vengeance, relinquishing not only her soil-covered visage on the cover of the first CD, but also any hesitation to flaunt her vocal strengths.
Her consistent collaborator on the dozen tracks here is percussionist Glen James; Fish herself provides the bass portion of the rhythm section. Six different guitarists augment Fish's own intermittent guitar efforts, most frequently Dave Hays and Coyote Bill. Fish also reveals her talent on piano, although not prominently until the final, title track, and she plays a little mandolin as well. Sara Morgan lends harmonious back-up singing, and harmonica appears only once, but nicely, wielded by Richard Rosenblatt on the uptempo boogie number "Not Again."
What has changed since Amanda's first album is both vocal and stylistic emphasis. "Down in the Dirt" had raucous rock at times, but also contained some funk and country. This set of originals, in contrast, maintains an almost constant intensity. There are shifts in tempo, including several slow tracks in which Fish deploys some smooth crooning (and those are the tracks where Chris Hazelton on organ shines most brightly), but mostly she lets loose with an unstinting sonic ferocity, embellished with vocal tics and curlicues. The only contemporary woman singer I can compare her with, albeit with a less mannered approach, is Hurricane Ruth (LaMaster). In terms of past singers, none other than Janis Joplin comes to mind; in fact, the track "Don't Mean a Thing" sounds much like Joplin's version of "Ball and Chain" from the classic psychedelic 1968 album "Cheap Thrills" by Big Brother and the Holding Company.
The result: an album that is decidedly more rock than blues. This is not an album conducive to nursing a glass of wine or sipping a cup of tea, but Amanda Fish has firmly placed her marker in the blues rock world.—Steve Daniels

Dennis Herrera
You Stole My Heart
Prescott Kabin Records 2018

The perfect sweet spot between raunchy bar-band and languid back porch blues: that's the locus of Dennis Herrera's third release. Born and still residing in San Jose, California, singer-guitarist Herrera here leads a diverse group of skilled cohorts on eleven original songs. You may be unfamiliar with many of these players - perhaps with the exception of Bill Stuve, former bassist for Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers - but don't doubt that these guys can bring it…and they do.
The set is anchored by the omnipresence of Herrera and co-producer Rich Wenzel, who plays keyboards throughout, switching from piano to organ when the former is assumed by equally adept Sid Morris. Bass and percussion are shared more than competently, and special kudos to Jack Sanford and Jeff Jorgenson, who both shine on saxophone. Denis Depoitre lends harmonica stylings to the opening title track, a blues rocker, and also to "Backed-up," a lament about…traffic congestion, not often the subject of a blues song.
Neither is golf a common subject, but we do get "Fore," whose concern is indeed that game apparently beloved of Herrera. Other songs seemingly also reference his past experiences, including one of my favorites of the set, "Recovery," which is a jazzy number about healing from addiction that excels with a syncopated rhythm section and really nice piano and sax solos. If you are familiar with "The Ghetto," a haunting tune from the 1970s oeuvre of Mark-Almond, it will sound similar.
The jazzy blues mode persists in the following track, "You Can Name It," the set's only instrumental. Here Herrera sends out a few icy guitar notes - is Albert Collins still alive? - but quickly waxes more restrained and lyrical. In fact, that's a good description of his playing throughout the album. He stays mainly with single notes, eschews barrages of notes, and honors his songs rather than flaunting his six-stringed instrument. On "Look Out" though, during some tasty interplay with Sanford on sax, Herrera does do some guitar "chicken-plucking," a la two James Johnsons: Slim Harpo's guitar player from the 1950s-1960s, and contemporary "Super Chikan."
Regarding Herrera's vocals: his slighty raspy baritone has limited range but he uses it well, often in a talking blues style that can sound much like Elvin Bishop. His song lyrics are unpretentious but vivid, honest, and engaging. My only cavil with this album is that the liner notes have a few misspellings. Other than that: good stuff!—Steve Daniels

A Rhythm & Blues Chronology
Volume 6: 1938-39
Various Artists
Rhythm & Blues Records RABDB 047 (4 CDs)

Prior to 1949 the American record industry had marketed all Black Music--blues, jazz, jive and sacred--under the sweeping phrase, race music. After the end of World War II, an increasing sensitivity to bigotry and racism generated the necessity of a new term, derived from Billboard's re-naming of the genre (thanks to Jerry Wexler) Best Selling Retail Rhythm And Blues Records. Volume Six in this outstanding series of generously timed, multi-disc projects examines the various elements of 1930s music, particularly down home country blues, urban city blues, piano-based boogie woogie and swing jazz, also including country and pop, that congealed and coalesced into Rhythm & Blues. CD one kicks off with Tommy McClennan's vibrant "Bottle It Up And Go" and Count Basie's big-band blowout "Swinging The Blues" and continues with the likes of Big Bill Broonzy (who has the "Sad Pencil Blues") the irrepressible Tampa Red (who has that "Hellish Old Feeling") and the Harlem Hamfats--who tipsily have the "Bartender Blues." Further ear-ticklers feature the likes of Harry James and his Boogie Woogie Trio, Sleepy John Estes (a marvelous, invigorating "New Someday Blues," the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet and Slim & Slam, just to cite a few. Disc two opens with Lil Johnson's enigmatic "Stavin' Chain" and Cab Calloway's rambunctious "Pluckin' The Blues" and rambles on with Buster Bennett and Washboard Sam paying homage to their favorite brand of moonshine on "Block And Tackle," Blue Lu Barker warning "Don't You Make Me High," a couple slices of mesmerizing western swing by both Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys ("Keep Knocking") and Cliff Bruner's Texas Wanderers ("Kangaroo Blues") and closes with an impassioned two-part sermon about "The Racket Train" by Rev. J.M. Gates and members of his congregation. Disc three opens with an ear-bending pop version of "Way Down Yonder In New Orleans” by The Charioteers and Billie Holiday's trance-like testimonial "Fine And Mellow" followed by 25 like-minded worthies--including Bill Gaither's pessimistic "Mean Old World To Live In," Johnny Temple's lived-in assessment of "Jelly Roll Bert," an inspired version of "Floyd's Guitar Blues" by Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds Of Joy, Big Joe Turner's classic shouter "Roll 'Em Pete," with Pete Johnson on piano--whose own rip-roaring "Barrelhouse Breakdown" is also here. CD four opens with Georgia White's tale of woe "Beggin' My Daddy" and Ella Fitzgerald (with Chick Webb's Orchestra) singing her jazzed-up rendition of the nursery rhyme "A-Tisket A-Tasket" and proceeds to raise the roof with numbers like Kokomo Arnold's eerie "Midnight Blues," Lovin' Sam Theard's Coasters-like "Spo-Dee-Oh-Dee," Sidney Bechet's exotic "Jungle Drums," an exceedingly, moodily turbulent "Blues With Helen" courtesy of Helen Humes, ever-frantic Louis Jordan relating the tale of "Doug The Jitterbug" (They threw him out of school/ because all he learned was "Tiger Rag") only to close out with Basie's Bad Boys and Jimmy Rushing waving out the train window about "Going To Chicago." An accompanying 20 page booklet is packed with label shots and liners that are an excellent invitation to the groundbreaking music. Well worth tracking down.—Gary von Tersch

Soul Don"t Worry: Black Gospel During The Civil Rights Era 1953-1967
Various Artists
Narro Way Records Pn-1602

Prefacing the fact-packed, image-laden thirty-page booklet that accompanies this invigorating, civil rights-themed 2CD project are these more-relevant-now-than-ever lines from 1963 by the Georgia-based Sensational Linsey Singers: "This could be a better world in which we live in/ If we could only forget the color of our own skin." Amen. As producer/ liners author Per Notini puts it, "Although gospel songs had been sold in sheet music form since the 1930s, it was not until the 1950s that Black gospel was mentioned as a music style with a recognized market value." Notini perceptively continues: "When possible, the record producer purposely steered the artist's choice of songs and style of performance to achieve a commercial, catchy sound such as "the walking rhythm" of the Pilgrim Travelers or "the folk gospel" of the Staples Singers and the R&B infused style of the Mighty Clouds of Joy and the Violinaires." The 47 artists presented here veer from the unaffected and unpolished to the urbane and refined in a variety of musical styles that have elements of ragtime, rhythm & blues, blues, rap, jazz, rock 'n roll, doo-wop and Western art music in their delivery. Likewise, all types of ensembles appear including male quartets, female groups, mixed groups, soloists as well as choirs. As Notini further notes: "The program mixes storefront groups with artists fit for the concert stage." Disc one begins with Inez Andrews, who matriculated from Albertina Walker's famous Caravans to form her own group in the early 1960s, with her ardent "Sing A Song" and closes with the legendary Mahalia Jackson's reflective, doo-wop tinged "Consider Me," accompanied by her Melody Echoes quartet and a bluesy guitarist. Along the way, arresting performances abound--from the Caravans (with James Cleveland and Albertina Walker) with the traditional "Steal Away" and the Drinkard Singers (with Cissy Houston) on the standard "You Can't Make Me Doubt Him" to Tampa, Florida's Little Junior & the Butler-Aires with their heartfelt commentary on JFK's assassination titled "Jackie, Don't You Weep" and South Carolina's Friendly Four quartet--with their urgently lively "What Is Freedom." Disc two continues with social topics to the fore as the Ramparts (with "Scatman" Crothers on lead vocal), tell the tragic tale of "The Death Of Emmett Till" while the obscure Southern Bells weigh in with their accusatory original "Viet Nam," Richmond, California's Melody Kings offer the tempest-tossed "I'm Going To Walk Through The Streets," Ohio's Trumpets Of Joy transfix with their grief-stricken "The News That Shook The World" and Alabama's Professor Charles Taylor with his dynamic "I Woke Up This Morning." Other favorites feature Clara Ward ("Peace Be Still"), the Staple Singers (Standing At The Bedside Of A Neighbor"), Sister O.M. Terrell ("The Gambling Man") and James Lowe's "The Lord Will Make A Way Somehow." Amen.—Gary von Tersch


On The Fly!: Hobo Literature And Songs,
Edited by Iain McIntyre
PM Press

The first omnibus of its kind, this hefty tome documents the lost voices and inventive artifices of Hobohemia. From the 1870s until Pearl Harbor, millions of Americans, for a variety of reasons, departed their homes to hop freight trains that enabled them to travel long distances--frequently to an expected job, often to points unknown. Converging in skid rows, congregating around campfires and harvesting the country's crops, these ramblers were a distinct departure from conformist America--complete with a style of living that had its own hangouts, vocabulary and cultural, sexual and moral standards. On The Fly! compiles dozens of stories, illustrations and photos, songs, poems, lyrics and articles produced exclusively by hobos that, taken together, conjure a sort of insider history of the subculture's highs and lows. Inventive tales of train hopping, political disturbances and often ingenious scams sit alongside whimsical and satirical songs, penetrating reportage and one-of-a-kind insights into the on-the-road lives of the women and men who traversed America seeking survival and adventure. From emblematic figures such as labor martyr Joe Hill and socialist storyteller Jack London through to spearheading blues and country musicians and often anonymous correspondents for the likes of the Hobo News and the Hobos Hornbook the reader is in a heady world where hobos, tramps, radicals and bums gather in jungles, boxcars and flop houses and where bindlestiffs, gandy dancers and timber beasts roam the rails once more. With few of the original journals, literature and verse remaining in print this informative project, assisted by a glossary of hobo colloquial terms and a wide variety of illustrations and photos provides an exhaustive as well as entertaining guide to the life and times of a uniquely American icon. Highly recommended!—Gary von Tersch


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