Blues Reviews
Dec 2019-Jan 2020

Dallas Hodge
Don’t Forget the Music We Made
Self-produced 2019

Born in Detroit, Michigan, guitarist, singer, and songwriter Dallas Hodge has been a denizen of the Golden State for over four decades. During his time in California he has burnished his credentials in several bands and has shared the stage with multiple luminaries including Bonnie Raitt, Delbert McClinton, and Johnny Winter. He held the frontman spot with the venerable group Canned Heat from 2000 to 2005. His own first album appeared in 2007. His new one is worth the long wait.
Hodge has snazzy backing on this outing, with Larry Zack handling percussion, Pat Wilkins on bass, Jon Greathouse manning the keyboards, and Robert Heft plying second guitar; the crisp horns are provided by Ron Dziuba and Lee Thornburg. The group tackles an upbeat set of nine tunes, six penned by Hodge. One of the best is the opener, “Ask Too Much,” which benefits from the additional guitar work of established fretmaster Coco Montoya. Greathouse kicks off the tune with a few bars of restrained tinkly piano, then the band coalesces for a driving blues rocker. (The song bears a strong resemblance to the chart-topping 1980s hit “Tough Enuff” by the Fabulous Thunderbirds.) The danceable vibe is maintained with “Jelly Roll,” which sports some of Hodge’s best baritone vocalizing, then “Bad Troubles” lets Heft loose with inspired slide guitar playing in a track evoking comparison with the Allman Brothers. Showing its versatility, the band next gives us some soul blues with “By the Hand,” Dziuba and Thornburg excelling.
Two of the covers ensue. The first, “Hey Baby,” is a Jimmy Reed tune that the ensemble morphs into a pithy shuffle, this time Greathouse on piano and Wilkins on bass shining. “Love So Fine” modulates the pace, Greathouse plays graceful organ, and the lyrical lead guitar frames another vibrant Hodge vocal. Then, proving that this crew can adeptly treat a slow blues, we are given the set’s longest number, “Shame Shame,” with the lead guitar (presumably Hodge) again lyrical and poignant until its crescendo of torrential notes at the end.
Well, it’s time for Coco Montoya’s reappearance, for a cover of Robert Johnson’s classic “Crossroads.” Do we really need yet another version of that song? No complaints here: Hodge adds a little drawl to his vocal, Greathouse provides tasty organ, and the three guitarists mesh sublimely.
The set concludes with the title tune, a return to soul blues with horns prominent in the mix. It’s a fitting ending to an album of variety, vivacity, and undeniable value.—Steve Daniels

Brad Vickers and his Vestapolitans
Twice As Nice
Man Hat Tone 2000

Guitarist/singer Brad Vickers cut his teeth playing bass behind some of the pioneers of blues and early rock like Pinetop Perkins, Jimmy Rogers, Hubert Sumlin, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. He notably played on the legendary pianist Perkins’ Grammy-nominated albums Born in the Delta and Ladies’ Man. Twice As Nice is the group’s sixth release and is so titled because of the pleasure of bringing in a cast of close friends to collaborate with the core group of Vickers (guitar/vocals), Margey Peters (bass/vocals), Bill Rankin (drums) and Jim Davis (tenor sax).
The Big Maceo number “Worried Life Blues” starts things off and sets the tone of the record with a laid back groove and solos by Vickers and Davis and guest pianist Dave Keyes. The Vickers-penned “Mississippi Swamp” is next, following the form of Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin,’” the track is driven by Vickers’ open tuned slide guitar and features harmonica played by guest Mikey Junior, who also appears on four other tracks on vocals as well as harp. The optimistic “Love Can Win” is sung and was written by bassist Margey Peters, who contributed five of the eleven tracks on the recording. On the extremely laid back cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Close Together” Vickers’ vocal delivery is reminiscent of J.J. Cale. The MVP of the session has to be V.D. King, who plays nine (!) different instruments, mainly baritone sax, but also organ, guitar, banjolele, piano, upright bass as well as vocals. On the title track, Peters invokes the risqué style of the early female blues singers. Vickers’ original “Red Dust” is a spooky lament for the American Indian, featuring a tribal drumbeat and bottleneck guitar.
Brad Vickers’ clean guitar tone contains no frills, and his playing is never flashy, but tasty and to the point. There’s a down home charm to the album as a whole. It feels like a gathering of friends in a comfy living room, playing songs with each other, no stress. Twice As Nice is unpretentious and makes for a thoroughly enjoyable listen. – Bob Monteleone

Chris “Bad News” Barnes
Vizztone 2019

Chris Barnes is a former comedy entertainer, based in New York City, who gained notice in the blues world with the release of “Hokum Blues” two years ago. Hokum blues is the term for the sly and jocular style of blues with sexual double entendre that was particularly popular in the first half of the twentieth century, and Barnes applied his gruff but appealing vocals to fourteen songs by hokum specialists Tampa Red, Georgia Tom (the nickname of gospel great Thomas Dorsey), and the Hokum Boys. The album was well received. Subsequently he made his virgin appearance on the February 2019 Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, from which “Live” is derived.
Judging by the results, and the apparent enthusiasm of the audience, Barnes’s maiden blues voyage was a success. Along for the sail was harmonica player Steve Guyger, the only holdover from “Hokum Blues.” A sturdy rhythm section and jazzy pair of horns back Barnes and Guyger, with guitarist Gary Hoey also getting plenty of well deserved attention.
The album features just a few of the songs that appeared on “Hokum Blues,” and they are quality tunes, recognizable to many blues aficionados. Interestingly, one of them, “Keep Your Mind on It” is here credited to legendary country bluesman Big Bill Broonzy rather than to the Hokum Boys and Bob Robinson as on the previous album…but the discrepancy is slightly less puzzling when one discovers that between the late 1920s and 1940 there were at least five or six groups recording as the Hokum Boys, and Broonzy and Robinson were involved in several of them. Whatever; forget the quibbles; Barnes and company convert the song into a swinging romp.
Swing is something that this band can do adeptly…and rock as well, and do ballads, and…you get the idea: versatile. They cruise (pun intended) through tunes by Willie Dixon, Paul deLay, George Thorogood, and Gregg Allman without a hitch, carrying the seagoing cruisers along with them. Barnes’ singing is spot on, Guyger excels on harp, and Hoey provides some scintillating solos, including some slide guitar riffs. Doug Wolverton on trumpet and Mark Earley on sax add jaunty backing.
By the way, Barnes deploys his comedy experience well in his one original song here, “Hungry and Horny.” It’s a succinct analysis of male psychology that may make both men and women ponder…between guffaws of laughter.
The LRBC cruisers certainly enjoyed Chris Barnes and his crew. Thanks to the LRBC and the efforts of producer Tony Braunagel and engineer Johnny Lee Schell of the Phantom Blues Band, we also can enjoy this lusty and skilled set by Barnes and colleagues.—Steve Daniels

Bea & Baby Records:
The Definitive Collection
Earwig Music Company

This Dust-to-Digital-quality project, thoroughly devoted to Chicago record label owner Narvel Eatmon aka Cadillac Baby, encompasses nearly his entire, wildly diverse catalogue on four CDs along with an image-laden (many never seen before) 128-page hardback book that includes informative artist biographies by Bill Dahl, complete discographies and marvelous liners by Jim O’Neal (taking off from a 1971 interview session with Eatmon) comprehensively runs through the archives of one of the Windy City’s most tenacious, personality-driven indies that began springing up cross-country after the close of World War II (once shellac was available again!) as mostly only local competition to the likes of local majors like Chess, Vee-Jay and Brunswick. As Jim O’Neal puts it in his introductory essay: “ In a teeming South Side underworld populated with hucksters, hustlers, rogues and enterprising impresarios ruling their own blocks of turf, Cadillac Baby stood out as one of the most irrepressible and colorful characters of all. Though not a singer or musician, in his own right he was a more engaging entertainer than most of the blues artists in Chicago—including those he recorded for his Bea and Baby label and booked at his nightclub.” That’s an assertive statement but once you listen to what Eatmon recorded, from both urban and country blues, rhythm & blues, vocal groups, soul, gospel (ten great titles with artist notes by Robert M. Marovich) and even some comedy and hip hop tracks along with scattered, frank interview segments (from a Steve Cushing “Blues Before Sunrise” radio show broadcast circa 1983) one realizes Eatmon’s genius. Things start off with Cadillac “welcoming” festive patrons to his Show Lounge club and name-checking supposed “guests” like B.B. King, Sonny Boy Williamson, Willie Dixon and Magic Sam as well as artists Cadillac got into a studio. One of the most prolific, Eddie Boyd, has eight numbers here (including “Blue Monday Blues” and an ebullient “Thank You Baby”) with Little Mack Simmons featured on, count ‘em twelve titles (a descriptive “Times Are Getting Tougher” and a fiery recall of Elmore James’ and the topically trippy “Let Hootennany Blues (Out Of Jail) “ are picks) with single or double shots from the likes of L.C. Mckinley, Bobby Saxton (with the label’s downbeat best seller “Trying To Make A Living”), Earl Hooker (an inventive “Dynamite”), Detroit Junior and the enigmatic T. Valentine rounding affairs out. Similar treats abound on the followup disc with Hound Dog Taylor’s house-rocking slide guitar shining on a pair (check out “Take Five”) with Chicago piano patriarch Sunnyland Slim pounding the keys on “Worried About My Baby” and “Drinking And Clowning” along with appearances by James Cotton, Andre Williams, Lee Jackson and Tall Paul Hankins & The Hudson Bros. with the latter extolling “Joe’s House Rent Party” on a two-part blues/jazzy rave-up. Also noted is Clyde Lasley’s boisterous tale of an inebriated St Nick, “Santa Came Home Drunk,” that cleverly mentions every brand of booze available in Cadillac’s bar! The 23 tracks on disc three feature further selections by not only Little Mack (six sides including vivid remakes of both Little Junior Parker’s “Mother-In-Law Blues” and Sonny Boy’s “Help Me”) but also the seemingly indestructible Sunnyland Slim (five numbers with a rocking “She Got That Drive” and the jumping “House Rock” standouts) as well as three previously unissued sides by  slide guitar maven Homesick James (highlighted by the devil-may-care instrumental “Homesick Sunnyland Special,” where he’s joined by Slim) and four efforts by Howlin’ Wolf’s bass player Andrew “Blueblood” McMahon—highlighted by a pair of nice shuffles, “Special Agent” and “Potato Diggin’ Man.” Disc four features the ten fervid gospel tracks mentioned above (the Gloryaires, Eddie Dean & The Biblical Aires, the Norfolk Singers, the Pilgrim Harmonizers and Rev. Samuel Patterson on two tracks each) along with four previously unissued titles by the pre-war duo of guitarist Sleepy John Estes and harmonica ace Hammie Nixon as Estes pays tribute to his longtime friend on “Cadillac Baby Passed So Fast” and goes sanctified on “Worry My Mind,” “Spirit Don’t Leave Me” and “Lay My Burden Down.” Other picks feature another Howlin’ Wolf bandmate, Willie Williams, on a couple of sides (accompanied by Carey Bell and Slim) and three novelty numbers—including “I Bet I Don’t Die Tired” and “The Preacher, A Deacon & A Razor.” Overall, a definitive, well-researched, eyes-wide-open, Grammy worthy project by Earwig’s Michael Frank devoted to one of the unsung heroes of Chicago blues.—Gary von Tersch

The Carter Family
Across The Generations
Reviver/Legacy Records

From 1927 to 1943, the Original Carter Family—A.P. Carter , his wife Sara and Sara’s first cousin Maybelle—made over 300 studio recordings and, along with a few others, spread country music around the world. This sort-of concept album, featuring five generations of Carter family members also includes the previously unheard last recordings of Maybelle Carter, Sara Carter, Helen Carter, Anita Carter and June Carter Cash. Pulled together by John Carter Cash, it proves a fascinating aural scrapbook with thirteen numbers, mostly composed by A.P. with the exception of the set-opening, transfixing rendition of the traditional “Farther Along” (with Coy Bayes on whistle), a Danny and David Carter original, “Maybelle,” “composed the very day “Mother” Carter left this mortal frame,” according to Cash and “Maybelle’s New Tune,” an exhilarating electric autoharp instrumental she likely recorded in the early 1970s. Other gems include the all-hands-on deck version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” a pair that include Johnny Cash playing guitar (“Gold Watch and Chain” and “Don’t Forget This Song”), spellbinding recalls of both “Diamonds In The Rough” and “Foggy Mountain Top” (with Lux Darling on percussion), another all-hands-on-deck, vocally-rich rendition of the A.P. classic “Worried Man Blues” and the traditional-sounding “I Never Will Marry”—with both Norman Blake and J.R. Cash playing guitar. More please!—Gary von Tersch

Various Artists
22 Classic Blues Songs From The 1920’s—1950’s
Blues Images 2020 Calendar

Since 2004, the folks at Blues Images, up in bucolic Grant’s Pass, Oregon, have been earnestly dedicated to bringing blues fans worldwide often stunning reproductions of vintage blues advertising artwork, rare photographs and related recorded music. In addition to an astute, ad-hinged selection for each of the year’s twelve months—from January’s B.B. King’s revelation from the summer of !949, “Got The Blues” (for Bullet Records with Ike Turner, Willie Mitchell and Hank Crawford in attendance) to December’s offering from Mississippi Sarah and her husband Daddy Stovepipe, for Vocalion Records in 1931, titled “Read Your A B C’s,” this years eagerly awaited 17th annual calendar also includes  a riveting trio of recently discovered demos by ill-fated singer, guitarist and harmonica player Juke Boy Bonner, who reveals an affinity for Lightnin’ Hopkins and Slim Harpo on both “Life Is A Cheater” (two versions) and “I Got Hip To It” along with both riveting sides of an obscure 78 by one mysterious Blues Boy Bill (“Come On Baby” and “Little Boy Blue”) as well as pair by Jaydee Short—the rambunctious “It’s Hard Time” and the more reflective “Back Door Blues.” Highlights among the calendar numbers include Jim Jackson’s slow but steady, two-part “I’m Gonna Move To Louisiana” along with Blind Lemon Jefferson’s downbeat “Bad Luck Blues,” the wry advisory “She’s Making Whoopee in Hell Tonight” and Bessie Smith’s particularly bawdy version of “Shave ‘Em Dry.” Further stupendous sounding cuts feature the likes of Victoria Spivey (the first to record Bob Dylan), the irrepressible Mississippi Sheiks (including Texas Alexander on a bleak “Days is Lonesome”), Charlie Spand, Bo Carter with his “Howling Tom Cat Blues” and two great numbers with vocalist Leola B. Wilson joining Blind Blake on “Ashley Street Blues” and the deep-down “Dying Blues.” Also noted are the abundance of ad reproductions (large and small), personality photos (including the previously unseen cover shot of B.B. King from 1949), birth and death dates. The perfect Christmas gift for any blues fan!—Gary von Tersch

Junior Watson
Nothin’ to It but to Do It
Little Village Foundation 2019

Many blues aficionados know of Junior Watson, but for those of you unfamiliar with this iconic Left Coast musician, it’s past time for an introduction.
A founding member in the early 1980s of Rod Piazza’s Mighty Flyers, after a ten-year stint with that award-winning band Watson spent another decade as lead guitarist for Canned Heat. His name has appeared through the years on innumerable albums by such blues royalty as Big Mama Thornton, George “Harmonica” Smith, Charlie Musselwhite, Kim Wilson, Mark Hummel, James Harman…the list goes on. Over the last couple of decades he has been freelancing; his discography is extensive. He is highly respected by fellow guitarists for his “fat” guitar tone and jazz-inflected creativity. Kid Andersen, guitar maven himself and co-producer of this album, goes beyond promotion to reverential praise in his liner notes here.
Surprisingly, Watson’s own album releases have been few and far between, so this set put out by the non-profit Little Village Foundation - established and headed by keyboard ace Jim Pugh - is welcome. The fifteen tracks provide almost an hour of tasty tunes, mostly covers, with two of Watson’s own compositions.
More surprisingly, Watson’s playing isn’t the major focus. This is consistent with his career: he always seems to be the impeccable guitarist of a sterling ensemble, purveying steady rhythm and scintillating leads without occupying the spotlight. Whether Watson rejects the spotlight or has never been given his due, that is the role he again assumes here.
The formidable crew assembled here includes bassist Kedar Roy, drummer Andrew Guterman, vocalists Lisa Leuschner Andersen and Alabama Mike, and harmonicat Gary Smith, along with the two musicians who are actually most prominent: Sax Gordon on (you guessed it) sax, and the aforementioned Jim Pugh on keyboards. The set’s prevailing pattern is revealed on the first track, the swinging instrumental “Up and Out,” which is driven by Gordon and Pugh until Watson finally delivers a brief solo toward its end. On “Luella,” a mid-tempo shuffle featuring Watson’s own competent singing, his guitar solo is innovative and compelling, but still relatively brief. We do get more on “A Shot in the Dark,” a slow blues sung passionately by Alabama Mike and both introduced and concluded by sublime guitar leads.
Also worthy of mention is the instrumental “Summer Love,” the only track where Watson is the undeniable focus as he plays some sinewy surf guitar; and “So Glad She’s Mine,” a shuffle with a 1950s rhythm-and-blues sensibility, with Watson dealing out a chord-based introduction and some superb backing and fills. Those who crack open this album hoping to hear Junior Watson strut and shred will be disappointed, but those who appreciate his somewhat understated but creative and classy chops and his fine fellow bandmates will be pleased.—Steve Daniels

Junior Watson #2
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

Motorvatin’/ Volume One/ 28 Songs From The Green Book Era
Koko Mojo CD
Motorvatin’/ Volume Two/ 28 Songs from The Green Book Era
Koko Mojo CD
I’m A Woman/ Underestimation Is A Bad Mistake
Koko Mojo CD

The Negro Motorists Green Book was a guidebook for African-American road-trippers published by a Harlem, New York  mailman, Victor Green, from 1936 to 1966 during the era of Jim Crow laws, when open and often legally enforced discrimination against African Americans and other non-whites was widespread. As compiler Little Victor Mac (a.k.a. DJ Mojo Man) explains “The Green Book had a listing for everything from where black people can stay like hotels, motels and tourist homes where folks opened up their houses to travelers, and also cited restaurants, barber shops, cheap gas stations, clubs, liquor stores as well as vacation and recreation spots.” This marvelous pair of Koko Mojo ‘motorvatin’ CDs features nearly 60 transportation-oriented (lotsa Cadillacs and Thunderbirds), solid rhythm ‘n’ blues numbers that were current on the radio and jukeboxes at the time. Volume One, for instance, has two Chuck Berry classics (“Maybellene” and his version of  “Route 66”), Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner’s groundbreaking “Rocket 88,“ a stunning Freddy King instrumental “Driving Sideways,” Jimmy Liggins’ epic “Cadillac Boogie,” Lightnin’ Hopkins extolling the merits of his “Big Black Cadillac,” Jerry McCain’s cautionary “Stay Out Of Automobiles” and Chuck Willis’ hard-driving “Keep A-Driving.” More obscure selections feature equally-talented-but-never-got-the-break artists such as Big Boy Groves (“Gotta New Car”), Vernon Green (“Coupe De Ville Baby”), Jack Cooley praising his “50 Dyna-Flow” and The Nite Riders’ opening advisory about “Women & Cadillacs.” The highway magic continues on Volume Two with three incendiary numbers by Chuck Berry (“No Particular Place To Go,” “Jaguar And Thunderbird” and the blazing “You Can’t Catch Me”), Howlin’ Wolf’s eerie “Riding In The Moonlight,” Little Walter And His Jukes’ “Thunderbird” while Clarence Garlow proffers an entrancing travelogue with “Route 90” and Sunnyland Slim recalls “Highway 61” as Nat King Cole breezily counts off the cities on the aforementioned Bobby Troup classic “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66.” Further zingers include Pete Johnson’s rollicking “Rocket Boogie 88, “ Todd Rhodes delivering “Rocket 69,” the Cadets with “Car Crash,” Peppermint Harris’ downbeat “Cadillac Funeral” and Mr. Bear And His Bearcats with his cautionary “Radar.” Not a clunker in the bunch! And let me allow the Mojo Man himself introduce yet another formidable Koko Mojo project, I’m A Woman (Underestimation Is A Bad Mistake), in his own inimitable fashion: “Hepcats, let me elucidate you about what a woman could do back in the day in their own words: ‘I can wash out forty four pairs of socks and have ‘em hangin’ out on the line/I can starch and iron two dozen shirts ‘fore you can count from one to nine/ I can scoop up a great big dipper full of lard from the drippings can/ Throw it in the skillet, go out and do my shopping, be back before it melts in the pan/ ‘Cause I’m a woman! W-O-M-A-N, I’ll say it again’...” That’s citing Christine Kittrell quoting the songwriting of Leiber and Stoller fame and it sets the theme for what follows from a wide variety of labels, both majors and minors, from Modern, Sue and Vee-Jay to Fire, King and Cobra. Particular ear-turners begin with Irma Thomas’ “Don’t Mess With My Man,” Mickey Champion’s “Bam-A-Lama,” Mary Ann Fisher’s “Put On My Shoes,” Sugarpie Desanto‘s “Going Back Where I Belong,” Lula Reed’s “Sick and Tired,” Priscilla Bowman’s “Hands Off” and Etta James’ “It Ain’t One Thing.” Little knowns such as Mary ‘B’, Sally Stanley, Baby Jean, Ella Reed and Barbie Gay also hit the ball out of the park. Get ‘em all while you can!—Gary von Tersch

Pat Smillie
Lonesome For
a Long Time
Fat Bank Music

Pat Smillie is a Detroit-based soul/blues singer who performs with his own band as well as with guitarists Jim McCarty (Detroit Wheels, Cactus) and Dennis Coffey (Motown session luminary). Originally from Detroit, Smillie earned a reputation as a powerhouse vocalist on the Chicago blues scene, including a residency at the legendary Checkerboard Lounge. Relocating back to the Motor City in 2015, he hooked up with the esteemed guitarist, bandleader and producer Josh Ford (aka Motor City Josh). Lonesome For A Long Time is Smillie’s first release in ten years, a six song EP filled to the brim with full productions, four of which feature Keith Kaminski’s (Bob Seger) horn arrangements. Produced by Ford (who plays bass on the recording) and Smillie at Ford’s Sound Shop Studio, all of the songs are originals, mostly co-written by Smillie and Ford. Smillie is kind of a northern version of Delbert McClinton, effortlessly handling blues, rock and soul styles in the vein of Joe Cocker, Mitch Ryder and classic soul singers Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett.
The catchy “Ain’t No Doubt About That” starts things off with a bouncy Motown groove, with the ever present horns punctuating the accents with back-up vocals from Tina Howell and Ashley Stevenson, who sweeten five of the tracks. The title track is built on a strong early 70s Memphis backbeat, and sounds like it could have come off a classic Bob Seger or (gulp!) Kid Rock album. Nice solo by guitarist Johnny Rhoades. “Boulder City Breakdown” is a vehicle for guest Jim McCarty, who takes us back to his Rockets days, dueling pianist Evan Mercer with his trademark riffs. The EP closes with the gut wrenching “Ray Charles Records” as Smillie finds his ex’s old LPs and takes a painful walk down memory lane, with Motor City Josh contributing some emotional slide guitar.
As always, ace drummer Todd Glass never disappoints, handling the various grooves and styles with ease. Lonesome For a Long Time is a satisfying, if brief (no filler!), collection of well-written and produced songs with heart-tugging lyrics sung from deep down in the soul. –Bob Monteleone

Bees Deluxe
Mouthful of Bees
Slapping Cat Records

Bees Deluxe is a Boston-based “acid blues” band that plays up and down the East Coast, largely in New England and semi-regularly in NYC. Mouthful of Bees follows 2018’s View of a Dog. Unlike View, which contained all original songs, Mouthful of Bees is mostly covers. But what a nice set of covers! Songs popularized by Albert and Freddie King, Etta James, Otis Rush and more get the “Bee” treatment on this eclectic album. The band members include Conrad Warre on guitar/vocals, Carol Band on keys/vocals, Allyn Dorr on bass/vocals and drummer Paul Giovine. Warre has chops galore and morphs from a clean chorusy tone to a fuzzy stampede throughout the album, sometimes within the same song.
“Voodoo Doll” starts the recording off appropriately enough with a feedback wheeze settling into a rock shuffle, very ZZ Top-like in a great way. Etta James’ classic “Damn Your Eyes” follows with a long buildup to a tasty guitar solo filled with Robbie Robertson/Billy Gibbons-styled “squawk” harmonics. Robben Ford’s “Prison of Love” ventures into some freeform Zappa-esque territory while the instrumental original “Blue + Yellow” (a highlight) gets psychedelic, with Warre at one point doing some backwards slide guitar riffing. “Homework,” also covered by a Boston group named The J. Geils Band, features some nice tom fills by Paul Giovine. The whole album is refreshing to hear as these folks obey few of the traditions most current blues bands adhere to. The blues “Fun Police” would simply not allow some of the abstractions Bees Deluxe throw in their music, I guess that’s what earns their title as an “acid blues” band. This is all blues, it’s just from a different perspective. I like it. – Bob Monteleone

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


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