Blues Reviews
Dec 2021/Jan 2021

?Bob Marley & The Wailers
The Capitol Session
73 Mercury Studios CD

Bob Marley with his lineup-fluid Wailers group was a reggae band from Kingston’s Trench Town district in Jamaica. After winning critical acclaim with their debut 1973 Island album Catch A Fire (with its sleeve famously modeled on a Zippo lighter) they achieved international recognition with their rudie-styled songs of love and rebellion while Marley was hailed in the press as “the black Bob Dylan” as they toured the UK and US. But soon the band found themselves stranded in Las Vegas after having been kicked off a Sly and the Family Stone tour after just four shows. In the words of Joe Higgs, “our rhythms were too slow...our outfits were inappropriate, and we were rebels.” Through various twists of fate (detailed in John Masouri’s voluminous liners) they landed at the iconic Capitol Studios in West Hollywood, where they filmed and recorded this mellowly organic session that also represented a unique moment in the band’s career. The Wailers, at this point, comprised Peter Tosh, Joe Higgs, brothers Aston and Carlton Barrett and Earl “Wya” Lindo. Filmed ten years after their formation, Marley had already had several established hits throughout the ska and rock-steady eras and were rapidly evolving into a politically and socially charged unit after being inspired by the stateside civil rights movement, a variety of African liberation efforts and Rastafari, which they studied from their Rasta elders, as their lively-up music reflected the soul and strife of the period. Making apocalyptic yet poignant statements about life, liberty and social justice, the sentiments are infused in powerfully prayerful, consciousness-raising songs like  “You Can’t Blame The Youth,” “Slave Driver,” “Duppy Conqueror “No More Trouble,” “Stir It Up,” “Burnin’ & Lootin’,” “Kinky Regae” and the set-closing, incendiary protest song “Get Up Stand Up.” An accompanying, well-recorded DVD contains two additional tracks—alternate versions of “Duppy Conqueror” and “Rastaman Chant.“ Spell-casting music.—Gary von Tersch

Dave Specter
Six String Soul
Delmark 2021

Guitarist Dave Specter is a Chicago native and by now a well-known and respected member of the musical scene of that blues mecca. He has been part of the roster of the fabled Delmark label for three decades, during which time he has delivered multiple fine albums while playing with many blues giants and leading his own band. A retrospective (restoSpecter?) is certainly warranted, and Delmark provides it with a full two-and-a-half hours of guitar variety and mastery.
Specter straddles the line (if there is one; some claim there isn’t) between blues and jazz…as does another acknowledged master of the six string, Ronnie Earl. Fittingly, Earl collaborates on the first two tracks of the compilation, which are culled from “Bluebird Blues,” Specter’s initial release in 1991. Earl and Specter each give juicy and soulful leads on “Buzz Me,” with a fine vocal by Barkin’ Bill Smith, and the instrumental “Wind Chill.” Somewhat frustratingly, Specter’s partnership with Earl here, and with other guitar maestros later in the compilation, has a lead guitar sequential call-and-response format; there is virtually no simultaneous interplay of the two leads.
That “complaint” is really nitpicking, because there is no dearth of dazzling guitar playing throughout this recapitulation of Specter’s career to date. The samples from his albums are arranged chronologically, and other guitarists with whom he pairs include Jimmy Johnson, Lurrie Bell, Steve Freund, and Jorma Kaukonen. Many other fine musicians over the years have lent expert backing. Names that you will recognize: bassist Bob Stroger, singers Otis Clay, Tad Robinson, and Willie Kent, and pianist Barrelhouse Chuck. Most of those with lesser public renown lay down equally fine performances.
Specter’s range encompasses funk, shuffles, and both wistful late hour nightclub and back porch gutbucket blues. About a third of the tunes are Specter originals, and most of the rest are covers of lesser-known songs. An exception is “Feel So Bad,” done memorably by Little Milton Campbell; Specter’s version benefits from Brother John Kattke on organ and Jimmy Johnson on vocal and second guitar. Also notable is “Get Back Home,” a straight-ahead blues a la the style of the defunct Hollywood Fats Band, with the late Lynwood Slim (Richard Duran) dealing out the vocal.
Specter has introduced his own singing in the last few years, and his tenor efforts are workable. The extensive compilation closes with his most recent release, the topical single “The Ballad of George Floyd,” sung by Specter and with adept harmonica by Billy Branch. Hearing it and this collection makes one hope that Dave Specter and Delmark Records continue their partnership for years to come.—Steve Daniels

Samantha Fish
Rounder Records

Samantha Fish’s evolution as an artist can be tracked by the various producers she has collaborated with since her first few rocking blues albums with Mike Zito in the early 2010s. 2015’s Wild Heart, produced by North Mississippi All Star Luther Dickinson, is a slide guitar-drenched Southern rock affair while 2017’s Belle of the West (also with Dickinson) features more acoustic Americana elements. 2019’s Scott Billington-produced Kill or Be Kind opens with the hit “Bulletproof,” which featured the uncharacteristic use of pulsing keyboards and electronically distorted vocals. But at the heart of every Fish release is always her virtuosic guitar and vocal chops.
My first reaction to throwing on Samantha Fish’s latest release, Faster, in the car CD player was: Wow! Humongous choruses that head right into cool-sounding guitar breakdowns! At first listen, Faster sounds as if Fish joined post-70s ZZ Top with Mutt Lange at the controls. With multi-instrumentalist Martin Kierszenbaum in the producer’s chair (Lady Gaga, Sting), Fish has crafted a modern pop album for the ages. The title track starts things off with a nasty guitar riff and cuts to the chase barely thirty seconds in with a killer catchy chorus. “All Ice No Whiskey” rides an incessant rhythm guitar riff that never relents amid big synths and huge drums. The rhythm section, by the way, includes superstar rock drummer Josh Freese (Guns N’ Roses, Nine Inch Nails, the Vandals) and bassist Diego Navaira (The Last Bandoleros). Fish handles the guitars and Kierszenbaum the keyboards. Hannah Brier does a fine job harmonizing with Fish, making the choruses extra strong. The only guest is Kansas City (Fish’s hometown) rapper Tech N9ne on “Loud,” which starts innocently enough with a faint triplet piano that explodes at the one-minute mark into an organ-dominated rocker culminating in Tech N9ne’s verses followed by an explosive guitar solo. Solos are at a minimum compared to previous Fish releases, but they are timed precisely to always “serve the song.” There is, however, no shortage of strategically-placed guitar breakdowns offering variations of nasty tones moving the songs from Point A to Point B. Eight of the twelve originals were co-written with producer Kierszenbaum, including the aptly named “Hypnotic,” built on a slinky electric bass part paired with electronic handclaps and carefully-placed electronic blips. The track reaches a musical interlude after the halfway point, featuring a screaming guitar solo behind thundering drums. The bouncy “Forever Together” is full of great guitar and melodic hooks and would not sound out of place on pop radio next to Taylor Swift or Elle King smash hits. In fact, a number of songs on Faster could turn into long running standouts in various radio formats. Faster succeeds fabulously with the crafting of sophisticated modern pop while maintaining the integrity of a respected rocking blues artist. No easy task, indeed. – Bob Monteleone

Rodd Bland & The Members Only Band
Live On Beale Street—A Tribute To Bobby “Blue” Bland
Nola Blue CD

As the son of the legendary singer Bobby “Blue” Bland, there’s no denying that Rodd Bland was born into the blues with no less than B.B. King for his godfather. But Rodd doesn’t sing the blues. “Instead, he sits regally behind a drum kit, supplying a muscular, propulsive beat that powers so many bands in and around Memphis, including Brimstone Jones, Ashtown Riker, Will Tucker and the Blues Players Club,” liners author Bill Dahl comments. When solicited to organize an homage to his father for a red-letter showcase during the 2017 International Blues Challenge he didn’t hesitate and the show was so successful that it triggered an annual practice that yielded three more shows and this new recording. The six-song set was recorded at B.B. King’s Blues Club, which sits at the corner of Second and Beale at the gateway to Memphis’ historic entertainment district with Bland inviting three adept singers (Chris Stephenson, the fore-mentioned Ashton Riker and Jerome Chism) to work out on a handful of lesser-known nuggets from Bland’s vast, six-decade-long songbook. Picks include the swinging, horns-embellished opening number “Up And Down World” and the eyes-wide-open, social commentary-charged “Sittin’ On A Poor Man’s Throne”—both featuring Stephenson’s soulful vocals—along with “Soon As The Weather Breaks,” where Chism unveils his colorful vocal artistry on the energetic slow blues showstopper that also features a sky-high guitar solo from Harold Smith. Bottom line: this is a testimonial about the past, the present as well as the future. Elaborating, Bland comments: “This recording is just an appetizer. This is the opening match or opening card.” Blues fans everywhere are waiting for the full course.—Gary von Tersch

Patty Tuite
Consider This
Thread City Productions

Patty Tuite is a singer-songwriter that has her heart and roots in the blues, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Her influences and interests run deep, with references to jazz, pop, world beat and folk as well. In partnership with Grammy Award-winning guitarist/producer Paul Nelson, Tuite comes into her own, with a diverse and provocative sound that references predecessors and contemporaries like Bonnie Raitt, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James and Susan Tedeschi.
The title track “Consider This” kicks off this original 11-track collection of tunes. It’s a funky, percussion-driven number fueled by Justin Blackburn’s punchy rhythms and Tuite’s soulful voice. That’s followed by “Wanna Go To Memphis,” which appears to be a personal account of the singer-songwriter’s trip to the fabled Tennessee blues town. Nelson’s stellar slide guitar coupled with seamless harmonies and a solid traditional feel set a respectful and authentic tone for the town. “Get Up ‘N Go” has a great vocal hook reminiscent of ‘70s vintage Average White Band. There is, perhaps, a hint of James Brown’s spirit in the groove as well. “Go Where it Takes You” has a lovely pop sensibility, with Tuite’s relaxed acoustic guitar accompaniment and flute solos by Jan Jungden. The addition of Edilio Bermudez’s violin provides a unique dimension. “Feel the Heat” keeps that jazzy element happening. The song contains a simple lyrical sentiment that’s easy to grasp and is punctuated, with flute and dense syncopation. “Dreams” is pretty self-explanatory. It’s an easygoing day-dreaming type of song. The somewhat eerie, ethereal vibe creates a very singular representation of Tuite’s writing style. “Power of Nature” is a catchy instrumental that puts the spotlight on Tuite and the tight ensemble interplay of Nelson and her recording partners. “I Can’t Lose Tonight” is one of those blues shuffles, with a world-wise take on following a lucky streak. The rhythmic feel seems to recall the collected cool of a Commander Cody-flavored track. Riding that wave of jazz and blues seems to fit comfortably in Tuite’s wheelhouse as she throws down on a classic I-IV-V jam called “Please Don’t Feel Lonely.” “True Love” displays Tuite at her most musically economical and lyrically astute, seamlessly blending a strong pop hook, with a bluesy edge. Crispin Cloe cuts loose nicely here on sax. Tuite and company conclude this fine collection of tunes, with the lighthearted and memorable “Since You’ve Been Around.” Bruce Abbot’s ebullient clarinet and Tuite’s effortless vocal phrasing kind of recall the nostalgic charm of the Mamas and the Papas’ Cass Elliot.
As you’ve probably gathered, Patty Tuite is a musically adventurous songwriter and performer and is effectively expressive in many different ways and on a variety of levels. She’s an inventive artist that works outside the proverbial box and is steadily catching the attention of fans and critics alike.—Eric Harabadian

Clint Morgan
Lost Cause Records 2021

Think Johnny Cash, Lonnie Mack, and Dave Alvin stirred into a musical stew. The resulting concoction, Clint Morgan’s “Troublemaker,” is graced by a long list of gifted musicians, among them guitarists Watermelon Slim and Bob Margolin, harmonica ace Bob Corritore, and multi-instrumentalist and co-producer Kevin McKendree. The impresario and star is singer, pianist, and songwriter Clint Morgan.
Morgan is originally from Washington state, but his family roots are in Appalachia. This is his third album; it follows 2016’s “Scofflaw,” a set of almost twenty songs dispensing stories of various rogues and rebels. In “Troublemaker” Morgan expands his thematic horizon, but retains and exploits his gift for zesty hooks and clever lyrics. (In fact, the included booklet of lyrics is plenty entertaining in its own right.)
Morgan’s multifold talents are evident in each track. For example, “Ain’t That the Blues” is…you guessed it, a pretty straight twelve-bar outing, embellished by Corritore’s mouth harp fills, and enhanced by wit: “I had my doctor check me out/He said…Your prostate’s as big as a bowling ball/And both your kidneys leak/I’d a told you you had a week to live/If you’d a come in last week.” I winced and felt like laughing and crying simultaneously…while gyrating to the beat. On “Big River,” a cover of a Johnny Cash tune, Morgan’s singing indeed evokes memories of the late country music great, while Lonnie Mack guitar riffs comprise the substance. “Hungry Man Blues” is a modification of the Robert Johnson classic “Kindhearted Woman Blues,” a slow shuffle with risible lyrics: “Lord, she wash my clothes, she clean the house too/But she don’t know a kitchen stove/From a kangaroo…./I love that girl’s lovin’/but I need a T-bone steak.” Similarly Johnson’s “Walking Blues” is jocularly morphed into “Too Rich to Sing the Blues.”
In a thoroughly different vein, there is an excellent version of the spiritual “Go Down, Moses,” with oboe, cello, and a beautiful backing female vocal. Nodding to social issues, there is a track about “Hurricane Harvey,” which devastated Texas in 2017, and then “Somebody Put a Walmart on the Farm,” akin in theme to Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi” (“They paved paradise/and put up a parking lot”). There are even two versions of Morgan’s parody take on humorist Shel Silverstein’s “Cover of Living Blues”; the second version is sung by guest Watermelon Slim, to nice effect.
Aside from the one spiritual, the album is a full hour of a zesty amalgam of blues, rock, and country. It’s accomplished and thoroughly entertaining.—Steve Daniel

Corey Harris
The Insurrection Blues
M.C. Records 2021

Corey Harris’s new album, his first in three years and his twentieth overall, is both an homage to seminal acoustic blues and a response to recent racial and political turmoil in the U.S. It is also an implicit tribute to, and proud appropriation of West African music. (Now in his early 50s, Harris spent a year living in West Africa in his 20s.) The fourteen songs were recorded in Italy during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Without bells and whistles, the set is refreshing: spare, bare-bones, and better for it. Other than the participation of noted harmonica player Phil Wiggins on one track, and an Italian mandolinist on another, it’s all Harris on guitar and vocals. Production values are good, and his deft finger-picking can be fully appreciated as he wends his way through the tunes, two of which are originals, the rest arranged and/or reinterpreted by Harris.
The West African influence predominates the middle section of the album, starting with the instrumental “Toubaka,” its single note gentle lyricism punctuated by staccato chords. The Harris original “Mama Africa” follows, evoking the music of the late Malian musical giant Ali Farka Toure and contemporary Nigerian Omara Moctar (“Bambino”). Harris’s reedy tenor vocal is well-suited to the song, as it is to the ensuing adaptation of Skip James’s classic “Special Rider Blues”; more than six minutes long, its mesmerizing quality emphasizes the relationship of West African music to the hypnotic Mississippi hill country blues style of the late R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough (among others). The West African mini-set continues with another instrumental, “Sunjata,” which also introduces a hint of Latin influence. The African vibe ends with the title track, a terse commentary on events in the nation’s capital on Jan. 6, 2021. The song’s subtitle summarizes its message: “Chickens Come Home to Roost.”
There are unadorned but very pleasing covers of songs by Charley Patton, John Jackson, and two by Blind Blake, whose Piedmont style developed in the central Atlantic Coast area where Harris now resides (in Charlottesville, Virginia). An early set highlight is “When Did You Leave Heaven,” a love song with delicious interplay between Harris’s guitar and mandolin by Lino Muoio. Wiggins and Harris (who performed for several years as a duo after the death of Wiggins’s former guitarist partner John Cephas) mesh equally smoothly on the original instrumental “Afton Mountain Blues.”
“The Insurrection Blues” is both a nod to the past and a step into the future, and exhibits the expert musicianship we have come to expect from Corey Harris.—Steve Daniels

Colin James
Open Road
Stony Plain Records

Open Road is a minor departure from vocalist/slide guitarist Colin James’ last couple of albums, venturing more into the Americana/blues/roots categories while observing intimate relationships in this time of Covid with both original songs (written in conjunction with longtime collaborators like Colin Linden, Craig Northey and Tom Wilson) along with taut re-imaginings of covers by Albert King, Otis Rush, Tony Joe White and Bob Dylan. Recorded with veteran co-producer Dave Meszaros, Open Road showcases the expertise of musicians culled from Colin’s live and studio combos over the years—from drummer Geoff Hicks, harmonica ace Steve Marriner, saxophonists Jerry Cook and Steve Hilliam to bassists Steve Pelletier and Norm Fisher, B3 clairvoyants Simon Kendall and Jesse O’Brien and rhythm guitarist Chris Caddell. Picks among the covers include the opening track, a feisty, jumping take on Tony Joe White’s classic, train-time blues “As The Crow Flies,” an easy loping yet hard-driving recall of Bob Dylan’s early number ‘It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry,” the eerie, downbeat title tune and John Lee Hooker’s mesmerizing confessional “Bad Boy.” On and on the delights continue with fiery renditions of both Otis Rush’s up-tempo workout “It Takes Time” and Albert King’s tear-stained, horns-infused “Can’t You See What You’re Doing To Me” along with a trio of James originals—the meditative, gospel-tinged “Raging River,” a near-boogie called “When I Leave This House” and the searingly slow “There’s A Fire.” As the press sheet proclaims: “Open Road,“ stem to stern, is like spending some long-hoped-for quality time with old friends.” You can’t beat that.—Gary von Tersch

Prof. Alex Bradford
Feel Like Running For The Lord - Early Recordings 1950-1961
Gospel Friend Records

Throughout the 1950s, multi-talented black gospel composer, singer, arranger and choir director Prof. Alex Bradford initially built a tremendous following as a dynamically arresting vocalist (Anthony Heilbut characterized his colorful voice as akin to “the huge, instrument of a field worker, dappled with falsetto”), as well as an illustratively varied songwriter and a prolific recording artist for well-known companies like Apollo, Specialty, Savoy and Vee Jay Records along with an abundance of regional labels. In the early 1960s, with dwindling sales, he revitalized his “behind the times,” faltering “image” by becoming a lead performer, along with the stunning Marion Williams, in the groundbreaking gospel musical Black Nativity, that immediately enjoyed notable international success. From the outset of his lengthy career, the rhythmically unrestrained music of a local sanctified church that employed long vamps, ultra lively tempos and, often, piano solos, had a decided effect on him as well as he influenced artists like Little Richard, Ray Charles and Bob Marley with his energetically innovative vocal approach, that ranged from a gravelly bass to a wildly whooping, curiously high falsetto, all in tandem with his ultra-flamboyant stage shows. Esteemed producer, Per “Stockholm Slim” Notini’s comprehensive, photo-studded booklet notes fill in the ins and outs and phase-shiftings of Bradford’s career but it’s the passionate, dynamic music that endures—from sacred message songs like “Tell The World About Jesus,” “Oh Lord Remember Me” and “Turn Away From Sin” to later topical commentaries such as “I Won’t Sell Out,” “I’ve Got A Job,” “God Never Sent A Soldier To Battle Alone” and “I’m Going To Work Till The Day Is Done.” Other rip-roarers include  a pair from his earliest session in 1950 (“Every Day And Every Hour” and the hauntingly moody “Alone”) that dramatically underline his vocal approach as a decidedly one-of a-kind  blend of rural  Southern singing and his higher-than-high falsetto tones and treble accents. An edge-of-your seat, urgently penetrating sound that’s also evident on a string of stirring Bradford originals on the order of “Feel Like Running For The Lord,” “Who Can I Blame,” and “He Supplies My Every Need.” He also gloriously upped the ante on traditional numbers such as “Somebody Touched Me,” “Test At The Judgement” and “Let The Heavenly Light Shine On Me.” Let me give Heilbut the last word: “Those who knew him can’t forget his extraordinary personality, his wit, his spirit, his defiantly flamboyant manner and his unique combination of the worldly and the homely.” Highly recommended!—Gary von Tersch

Thorbjorn Risager & The Black Tornado
Best Of”
Ruf Records 2021

Yes, I know. You don’t think of Scandinavia when you think of blues music. You would be wrong. Europe has long been a haven for Black American musicians who have been received there with less discrimination than they endured in the U.S. The list is long: pianist Memphis Slim, guitarist Luther Allison, singer Josephine Baker, pianist Nat Dove, current acoustic bluesman Eric Bibb. Their presence in person and on recordings led to the British blues rock revival in the 1960s. The oldest existing blues society in the world, my research indicates, is the Finnish Blues Society, founded in 1970.
High on the list of stellar blues bands across the pond is The Black Tornado, led by singer, songwriter, and guitarist Thorbjorn Risager. The band has been together for two decades, and for the last seven years as the Tornado. This Ruf retrospective encompasses those years, and is comprised of thirty-three tracks, all composed by Risager, filling well over two hours of high energy blues.
The first CD, spanning the band’s initial decade, wastes no time in introducing the forte of this group: fervid blues rock. It’s embodied in the title of the first track, “Rock n Roll Ride.” “You Can Have It Your Way” is an infectious shuffle utilizing the horn section, which appears throughout, to fine effect. “Burning Up” presents a jaunty lyricism. Then “Stand Beside Me” provides a rhythm-and-blues flavor, with Risager’s vocal evoking comparison with those of The Righteous Brothers of the 1960s. The straight-ahead rocker “Love Turned Cold” showcases the full power of Risager’s voice in its Joe Cocker style, and he proves that he can croon well on the slow blues of “I Won’t Let You Down.”
The same modality without loss of quality is present in the second CD. Risager manages to provide ample variability in his basic rocking blues format. “Last Train” by itself is worth the price of admission; I wanted to go out and buy my travelin’ ticket! After years of playing together, the Tornado’s bandmates are adept at opening the throttle and barreling smoothly down the tracks. The rhythm section is solid, the horns accentuate the material without overplaying, and Risager’s guitar contributions are stirring without ever being excessive.—Steve Daniels

Junior Wells
Blues Brothers
Cleopatra Blues/Cleopatra Records

One of the greatest and long-lasting partnerships in blues—or any genre for that matter—was the team of Junior Wells and Buddy Guy. Guy’s blistering guitar licks and Wells’ soulful vocals and harmonica skills are the things of legend. While we are blessed to have Guy still with us, Wells, unfortunately, passed in 1998. Let’s fast forward to the inventive folks at Cleopatra Records. In conjunction with the Wells Estate, who’ve taken original tapes from classic Junior Wells singular performances and re-mastered them, they’ve added input from contemporary and legendary guitar superstars and given these major and minor hits new life.
Thirteen tracks in total—many feature harmonica embellishment from James Montgomery, with supportive guitar and bass by album producer Jurgen Engler and drums on all tunes by Adam Hamilton. It’s a truly innovative idea and helps expand the Wells’ musical lexicon to new audiences. The album features a comprehensive cross-section of Wells’ catalog that is kicked into high gear by Canadian axe slinger Colin James. “Blues Hit Big Town” features the raw vintage thunder of Wells’ original vocal and harp attack, with the integration of James’ smoldering guitar accompaniment. It’s just a feel good mid tempo shuffle that’s nice and open. The staple “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” invites Pat Travers to display his guitar-playing prowess amid this jaunty traditional grooving burner. Travers unleashes some incendiary leads that create a nice roadhouse feel. Another classic, “Messin’ With the Kid” truly reps Wells here as guitarist Tyler Bryant tears it up on top. The track is funky, with a smooth jazzy mid-section. “Baby, Scratch My Back” spotlights guitarist Albert Castiglia playing off Wells’ mix of melodic vocalizing and rap. “They call me Dr. Feelgood,” states Wells in the song as Montgomery’s staccato harp patterns punctuate the tune’s syncopated rhythms. “Sleepy” John Estes’ signature “Worried Life Blues” is slow and simmering, with smooth call and response between guitarist Mike Zito and Montgomery. “When the Cat’s Gone, The Mice Play” proves a fitting showcase for famed string bender Harvey Mandel. It’s a nice blend of rhythm and lead guitar. Curiously, the song’s structure in energy and melody is almost identical to the earlier “Messin’ With the Kid.” Eric Gales is a blues-rock guitarist that always brings it strong. His contribution on Wells’ “Lovey Dovey Lovey One” is no exception. This has a great party vibe, with some real Texas twang to his playing. “You Gotta Love Her With a Feeling” is another Wells hit that is done justice by guitarist Kirk Fletcher. The Freddie King gem features appropriately stinging leads mixed with some jazzy phrasing. Guitar Shorty lays down a steady and sure shuffling groove on the Willie Dixon cut “Two-Headed Woman.” This track gets raucous and offers some great energy. The catchy and danceable “Snatch it Back and Hold It” gets a kind of New Orleans treatment by the inimitable Joe Louis Walker. You won’t sit still after you hear Wells and Walker team up! One of the leading lights in blues rock is guitar man Popa Chubby. This has a real retro feel that is fueled by Chubby’s screaming leads and refined rhythm work. Bernard Allison adds his considerable chops to the jagged rough and tumble of composer George Crockett’s “It’s a Man Down There.” Here’s another tune that should get your heart thumping and deserves the title of “genuine house rockin’ music!” The album wraps with another classic Wells performance on “Hoodoo Man Blues.” The great Joe Louis Walker returns for a showstopper of a closing track.
This is the type of album that not only serves as a nice overview of various guitar styles in one sitting, but potentially revives an interest in, and awareness of, such a pivotal and important artist as the fabulous Junior Wells.—Eric Harabadian

Something Inside Of Me
Unreleased Masters & Demos From The British Blues Years 1963-1976
Wienerworld 4-CD Box Set

Something Inside Of Me unearths 96 previously unreleased recordings from 15 artists who were all at the cutting edge of the burgeoning British blues scene of the early 1960s to the mid-1970s. Invitingly, there’s a wide range of performers with disparate styles that represented the spirit and soul of the blues—from soloists (Bob Hall, Dave Kelly, Duster Bennett), duos (Simon and Steve, Graham Hine), trios (Boilerhouse, Dynaflow Blues Band) jug band acts (Dave Peabody with the Vintage Jug Band) alongside a wealth of fully staffed rhythm & blues bands—from the Nighthawks, Shakey Vick’s Big City Blues Band and the D.J. Blues Band to Brett Marvin and the Thunderbolts, and Jeff Curtis and the Flames. A fully illustrated 150-page book accompanies the set with most of the images heretofore unpublished and contains chapters written by the artists themselves. Full sessionography details and a plethora of posters from the period are also included. The anthology’s title comes from one of Kirwan’s Boilerhouse tracks and sums up the feeling that British blues performers as players avidly adopted for their own self-styled compositions, self-styled versions Black American imagery and lyrics—so mojos working, hellhounds, skin games, hoochie-coochie men and women, dealing with the devil and mannish boys were craftily reinterpreted. As Texas blues pianist Curtis Jones calls out to the Dynaflow Blues Band right before they accompany him at Bath University—“Let’s Jive!”—Gary von Tersch

Laura Ainsworth
Top Shelf
Eclectus Records/Ratspack Records

Laura Ainsworth is a Dallas-based vocalist, actress, musical archivist and a brilliant interpreter of standard as well as rare and under-appreciated songs. Unquestionably, her tenure as a trained thespian has given her the vast range in which to adopt various personalities, dissect rich emotive lyrics and utilize a multi-faceted vocal palette.
The vibrant red-headed Ainsworth embraces the Great American Songbook with relish. No doubt her love for the music, particularly, of the 40’s and 50’s comes from the tutelage of her late saxophonist father Billy Ainsworth. Billy joined Tommy Dorsey’s band at 17 and went on to musically support a stellar cast of big bands and showroom stars like Mel Torme, Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald. Laura brings that considerable pedigree to the musical selections that are presented in this “Best Of” collection. All of the material is taken from Ainsworth’s previous albums “Keep It To Yourself,” “Necessary Evil” and “New Vintage.” The comprehensive “Top Shelf” was originally independently released in the U.S. by the artist, but has now been picked up and re-distributed—with new packaging, extensive liner and song notes, personal photos and a previously un-released track—by Japanese-based Ratspack Records.
Ainsworth’s literal right arm is her music director/arranger/producer and pianist Brian Piper. He leads a crack ensemble of improvisational and sympathetic mainstays, including bassist John Adams, percussionists Mike Drake and Steve Barnes, saxophonist/clarinetist Chris McGuire, flautist Pete Brewer, trumpeter Rodney Booth, guitarist Chris DeRose-Chiffolo and vibraphonist Dana Sudborough. Ms. Ainsworth may be the marquee name, but the simpatico between her, Piper and the band is a palpable and beautiful thing. They zig when she zags, anticipate her every nuance and swing like crazy!
The somewhat cheeky auto-biographical Frank Loesser-penned “That’s How I Got My Start” evokes vintage cool amid a smoky nightclub vibe. Keyboardist Piper lightly tickles the ivories as Ainsworth cinematically sets the scene. She comes out of the gate, with femme fatale charm and sings, “Once I met a cloak and suiter, never was a suitor cuter, my wardrobe grew more ample with each sample, and that’s how I got my start.” The noir-ish follow up track “Necessary Evil” is equally sly and bluesy. Her coquettish delivery aligns perfectly, with the easy bop groove laid out by Piper and company.
Perhaps Ainsworth’s biggest strength is her innate and uncanny ability to walk that line between campy and vampy or between serious introspection and high art. Whether it’s a beautiful and stunning vocal and guitar reading of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark,” an exotic Johnny Mercer take on his “Out of This World,” a randy and playful “Just Give Me a Man” or a straight ahead ballad like “My Foolish Heart,” the diversity of this modern retro crooner cannot be denied.
With this re-release of “Top Shelf” in the full-length 16-track CD format or the 10-song vinyl version, the Japanese jazz audiences are going gaga for all things Laura Ainsworth. It’s available everywhere so jump on the bandwagon and see what the buzz is about!—Eric Harabadian

Jimmy Reed
Bear Family Records

Rhythm ‘n’ blues genius Jimmy Reed was born in Dunleith, Mississippi on September 6, 1925 and learned to play guitar from his boyhood friend Eddie Taylor, who later added a great deal to Reed’s infectious boogie blues-oriented, signature sound. By the late 1940s Reed had moved to Chicago where he quickly became a club favorite with his witty songs, singing and electric guitar playing with a harmonica in a rack and his wife by his side. In 1953 he signed with Vee Jay Records, scoring with his initial R&B chart hit two years later with his third 45 “You Don’t Have To Go” but really hitting his stride during the rock ‘n’ roll era with songs like “Honest I Do,” “Bright Lights, Big City,” “Big Boss Man,” “Baby What You Want Me To Do,” “You’ve Got Me Dizzy” and “Shame, Shame, Shame,” that even hit the British pop charts. This 29 track, 79 minute CD compiles nearly all his rockin’, up-tempo sides in one place and reveals why he was, in his heyday, the most popular bluesman recording in Chicago, topping even Muddy Waters with his irresistible hook-lines and deep-bluesy, utterly down-home sound that proved easily recognizable with its languid, soulfully elongated vocals and high register harp work set against a heavy, almost absurdly uncomplicated back-beat. A fat, heavily illustrated, detail-rich, accompanying booklet contains everything you’d ever want to know about Reed’s life and times alongside some of the most rockingly resilient recordings you’re ever likely to hear. Do yourself a favor. Five stars.—Gary von Tersch

GA-20 Does Hound Dog Taylor: Try It…You Might Like It!
Colemine Records 2021

GA-20 is a three-year-old trio comprised of guitarists Pat Faherty and Matt Stubbs, and drummer Tim Carman. These guys don’t percolate, they boil! Aficionados of seminal electric blues from the 1950s and 1960s, they cite as their main influences Elmore James, Earl Hooker, J.B. Lenoir, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, and…you guessed it, Theodore “Hound Dog” Taylor. This album is a tribute to Taylor, covering ten of his songs with unremitting high energy.
Born in 1917 (or 1915?), Taylor lived in Chicago from 1942 until his death in 1967. Never known for his guitar or vocal skills, he instead purveyed his own admiration of James and Hooker into a unique and irresistibly danceable form of gutbucket blues. Ironically, Taylor was born in Natchez, Mississippi, on the banks of the Mississippi River, essentially part of the famed “home of the blues,” the Mississippi Delta. It’s ironic because his music instead is a variation of Mississippi Hill Country blues, whose origins are in the northeast part of the state bordering Tennessee, and whose main pioneers included Fred McDowell, R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, and Jessie Mae Hemphill. Its principal features are insistent rhythm, scant melody, de-emphasis on singing, and inescapable drive.
GA-20 nails it. Here is forty minutes of music with unrelenting gusto and grit. Faherty provides the vocals and lead guitar, including multiple impressive forays on slide. Stubbs, who has been stellar lead guitarist in Charlie Musselwhite’s band for more than a decade, provides a few zesty solos but generally lends a strong bass foundation. Carman’s drumming is a constant thundering pulse, with rapid propulsive fills, and Faherty’s reedy vocals, with limited range, are nonetheless perfect for the musical style.
There are two brief instrumentals, each under three minutes; the closer, “Hawaiian Boogie,” primes the listener to expect some island guitar riffs but is more of the same Taylor mode. “Let’s Get Funky” has some talking Faherty “vocal,” but is essentially another instrumental. Probably the most recognizable cover is “Give Me Back My Wig,” handled deftly. It’s followed by three tracks more reminiscent of Elmore James. “It Hurts Me Too” has more melody than the other tracks, and Carman sits back on drums and lets Stubbs and Faherty shine; Faherty shows his slide prowess on the ensuing two numbers, “See Me in the Evening” and especially the “Sadie.”
A blues power trio paying homage to one of its idols; try it, you might like it. I did.—Steve Daniels

Dionne Bennett
Sugar Hip Ya Ya
Hunnia Records

Dionne Bennett is a British/West Indian singer/songwriter, producer and radio personality. She is known internationally for her one-of-a-kind, disparate vocal styles that inform her music - from blues, jazz, R&B, soul, reggae, drum bass funk, rock ‘n’ roll and beyond. All resulting in a sound that LEAPS out of the speakers like Blood Sweat & Tears jamming with the Red Hot Chili Peppers at Stax Records in Memphis for a breakneck soul party. Recorded in Hungary with a crew of formidable local musicians accompanied by the Jambalaya Horns, Bennett revamps a pair of covers alongside eight originals mostly written or co-written by set producer Little G Weevil. The chart-topping 1968 hit for Etta James, “Tell Mama,” is a forthright choice to open an album and Bennett doesn’t fail to convey by recreating the intensity of the original Muscle Shoals recording while the title track honors the stance of a tenaciously independent woman over a robustly swinging groove. Further knockouts include the jagged funk rocker “Spy Me,” a sensational torch song ballad, “Don’t Fall For Love,” that has drifting strains of both Billie Holiday and Carmen McRae with everyone shining on the Budapest-Goes-To-Brooklyn anthem, “Get Style,” as the musicians trade solos and Bennett leads a sing-along house party. Also noted is the dub-step influenced “Let It Rain,” that effectively samples the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King from his “We Shall Overcome” speech with the Southern-influenced R&B licks of Weevil and Bennett’s caressing vocal. Also noted is Weevil’s just-out solo Live Acoustic Session release where he earnestly goes back to basics with just voice and guitar. Hungarian blues at its riveting best on both plates—Gary von Tersch

Southern Bred Vol. 21
On The Floor
Koko-Mojo Records

Various Artists
Let’s Have A Funny Little Christmas

Koko-Mojo’s geographically-themed compilations continue pell-mell with this 28 track deck devoted to R&B rockers from the Tennessee/Arkansas area, the 21st volume in their widely acclaimed Southern Bred series. As producer and liners author Dee Jay Mark Armstrong puts it: “Here you will encounter a wide variety of rhythm ‘n’ blues, jump blues, rock ‘n’ roll and doo-wop music from well-known to forgotten artists, whose legacy could often be a solitary recording.” Culled from a scattered bunch of labels (from King, RCA Victor, Excello and Apollo to Meteor, Bullet, Chess and Atlantic) and featuring the likes of Big Maybelle, Cecil Gant, Jimmy Witherspoon, Billy “Red” Love, Robert Lockwood Jr. and Washboard Sam among many others this is decidedly an all-killer no-filler affair. Favorites around my house include the congenial “House Warmin’ Boogie,” courtesy of Stick McGhee and his buddies; the intense instrumental “On The Floor” with Chicago Sunny Boy; a wild and wooly “Voodoo Woman Blues” with Witherspoon and Jay McShann (“gonna leave you woman before you make a zombie out of me”); a hand-clapping “Shout, Sister Shout” with Lucky Millinder & His Orchestra with Rossetta Sharpe and a pair of great sides (“Kangaroo Hop” and “Seven Nights”) by Dee Clark on Falcon Records. Speaker-shaking stuff! Let’s Have A Funny Little Christmas is a timely release that more then lives up to its title. As “coordinator” Little Victor Mac explains: “Are you tired of hearing the same old boring Christmas songs? We’ve all been there. Here’s 28 boss novelty Christmas songs that will make you spill your egg nog all over the Christmas tree and are guaranteed to instantly make you feel better during the holiday season. Some are really funny and some are just plain hilarious. Dig that jive and Merry Christmas!” Here’s a few favorites to whet your aural appetite—a couple of great seasonal Stan Freburg numbers (“The Night Before Christmas” and “Christmas Dragnet”); both parts of Buchanan & Goodman’s classic “Santa & The Satellite”; Johnny Preston’s self-explanatory “I Want A Rock ‘N’ Roll Guitar”; Jimmy Boyd’s “I Saw Mommy Do The Mambo With You Know Who”; Brenda Lee’s peevish “I‘m Gonna Lasso Santa Claus”; Lord Beginner’s “Christmas Morning The Rum Had Me Yawning”; Seventy Seven Sunset Strip’s Edd “Kookie” Byrnes’ hip “Yulesville”; and a couple of rockers by the little-known Little Joey Farr—“I Want A Big White Cadillac For Christmas” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll Santa.” P.S.—I also enjoyed Koko Mojo’s recent seasonal deck titled More Doo Wop Christmas Gems. —Gary von Tersch

Brenda Taylor & Her Chicago Blues Band
Buggy Ride
Wolf Records

Brenda Taylor is the oldest child of the deeply respected and versatile guitarist Eddie “Big Town Playboy” Taylor and singer Vera Taylor. Eddie, who died in 1985, had performed for years with the legendary Jimmy Reed and as a youngster witnessed the legends Robert Johnson and Charley Patton. His oldest child Brenda, in turn, witnessed as a youngster her dad performing downstairs from their residence right above Duke’s Place Lounge on West Madison Street in Chicago. Brenda Taylor carries on the family’s musical torch with her younger brothers Tim on drums and Eddie Jr. on guitar (who sadly passed away after this recording) with the solid twelve song blues album Buggy Ride. Mixing standards like “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Help Me” with the solid originals “You Don’t Treat Me Right” and “Smooth Ridin’ Buggy,” Buggy Ride delivers a consistent set of real Chicago blues. The album starts off appropriately enough with a straight reading of “Sweet Home Chicago” and rolls into the Vera Taylor composition “I Found Out,” where the singer’s man is “hanging around the corner with that girl with the red, tight dress on” and vows to buy a red dress and “go out on the corner and have more fun than I ever had.” The Brenda Taylor original “Better Look Out For Me” borrows from the Barrett Strong Motown classic “Money (That’s What I Want)” but is given an authentic Chicago treatment. The Eddie Taylor song “I Feel So Bad” starts with a slick guitar riff that continues through the track. The guitar work of Eddie Taylor Jr. and Illinois Slim is complementary and uncompetitive throughout the set. Harmonica Hinds makes his harp fit nicely into every track and the rhythm section of Tim Taylor on the drums and bassist Freddie Dixon is rock solid. In fact, the band sounds as if they’ve played many gigs together and decided one night to “do their thing” in a recording studio instead of a noisy club. Nobody is showboating and everyone knows they are there to support the talented lady in front. The album finishes strong with “You Don’t Treat Me Right”, based on the much used “Green Onions” riff and leaves the listener wishing for an encore. – Bob Monteleone

Big Llou Johnson
Goldenvoice Audio

Big Llou Johnson has made a living for years doing voiceover work for television and radio spots and since 2008 has hosted on Sirius-XM’s B.B. King’s Bluesville station. In fact, it was original Bluesville program director Bill Wax who convinced Johnson to record a blues album with some of Chicago’s finest blues musicians. This resulted in Big Llou taking home a Blues Music Award in 2013 for Best New Artist for his debut They Call Me Big Llou. Johnson presents us this year with the ten song Bigman, produced by Johnson and his longtime musical partner Keith Stewart, of 1980s R&B group Heaven & Earth. Bigman finds Big Llou using his deep and distinctive voice to talk/sing through all kinds of big production numbers. “Lightnin’ Strikes” starts things off swinging with a taut horn section riff that repeats amid sassy female backing vocals as Big Llou tells about how “me and Buddy G/ We broke that Hennessy” however, ”consequences ain’t part of the plan.” The title track follows, borrowing from Sam & Dave (and the MG fellows) the delightful “Soul Man” groove, which makes sense, considering that the instrumental tracks were recorded in Memphis at Jookbox Studio. Johnson’s vocals were presumed mostly recorded remotely in LA at his studio. The lounge-y “Let’s Misbehave” changes things up, as Big Llou seductively suggests, amid soulful organ, electric piano and a sexy saxophone that “I’ve got the will and you got the time” and “we can call it love if you wanna, babe.” The album doesn’t lack in humor, as the title of “Shucky Ducky (Quack Quack)” attests. “Sunshine on Yo Face” matches some Southern front porch acoustic guitar with some tasty violin courtesy of Anne Harris, a nice change of pace before “Stuff To Do” hits with its hard shuffle, gang backup vocals and an intense but fluid guitar solo. The liner notes unfortunately don’t specify who plays on each track as there are eight (!) different guitarists, seven keyboardists, four bass players and three drummers credited on the album. The musicianship is stellar throughout which tells me there’s a lotta fine players in Memphis! Big Llou’s huge voice is rightly up front and center on all of the tunes and between Big Llou’s larger-than-life personality and the fantastic musical arrangements supporting it, Bigman is a “Bigwin”! – Bob Monteleone

Chris Thomas King
The Blues: The Authentic Narrative of My Music and Culture
Chicago Review Press 2021

In his new book, acclaimed and innovative Louisiana bluesman Chris Thomas King delivers a provocative revisionist history of blues music.
King’s book is a tripartite endeavor. Its first section, entitled “My Culture,” is a deeply researched summary of the origins of Creole music. King relates a selective history of music and musical instruments from pre-Christian Egypt through the 7th and 8th centuries up to the mid-19th century in the U.S. Along the way we learn about such allegedly influential figures as 9th century Iraqi Abdul-Hasan Ali Ibn Nafi (“Ziryah”) and 18th century Frenchman Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (known as the “Black Mozart,” and a contemporary and rival of that classical music genius). King follows this musical development into France and Spain, thence to various Caribbean islands, and finally to New Orleans and its environs, where a unique Creole culture was born.
The further growth of that culture is detailed in the book’s middle section, “The Authentic Narrative.” The standard version of the provenance of the blues is in the music of West Africa, characterized by relatively primitive wind and percussion instruments. That tradition was ostensibly transmitted to the Mississippi Delta region, where in the 1920s an amalgam of field hollers, work songs, and Christian church gospel songs melded into the blues. King’s counter-version is that the blues originated decades earlier among sophisticated New Orleans musicians such as Kid Ory, King Oliver, Buddy Bolden (“the Black Rose”), Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe (“Jelly Roll Morton”), and myriad, more obscure others.
King attempts to disabuse us of the notion that W.C. Handy was “the Father of the Blues.” Instead, he cites the most important figure in King’s history, Lonnie Johnson, the great guitarist and innovator, “the authentic forerunner of what became known as Delta blues.” King claims that the Mississippi Delta was actually a virtually undeveloped and uninhabited area until the 1920s, and claims that therefore it could not have been the birthplace of the blues. He notes that Charley Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson, and other Delta blues artists themselves acknowledged their profound debt to Lonnie Johnson. He attributes the longevity of the orthodox Mississippi Delta myth to what he terms The Blues Mafia: “White sociologists, folklorists, and record collectors (who) held an astonishing amount of condescension toward their Negro subjects, whom they recast as exotic primitives and noble savages…..The blues was invented in the 1890s, by Black Creoles in New Orleans, Louisiana.” Readers will need to decide if King has established that thesis definitively, or just asserted it. A further unresolved issue is whether jazz and blues are the same music under different monikers, which King seems to imply, or whether they indeed are – and always were? – separate genres.
After the first two sections, with their extensive histories and stimulating claims, King devotes the third and longest section of the book to “My Music,” essentially his autobiography. Born in Baton Rouge in 1962, Chris Thomas grew up there and was a child musical prodigy who initially began playing cornet before switching to guitar. By his teens he was helping his father, noted bluesman Tabby Thomas, run Tabby’s Blues Box juke joint, and playing there often. His fraught but ultimately loving and intimate relationship with his father is a recurring theme. King was a touring musician by his teens. He recounts, but sometimes with a coy lack of detail, his various personal missteps, legal run-ins, substance use, and brief amatory relationships. (Interestingly, he never explains when or why he added “King” to his birth name.) More focus is placed on his musical endeavors, including his proud and generally successful efforts to play an individualistic style of blues incorporating elements of rap and hip-hop, whether or not critics and record labels were pleased. Particularly notable is his time spent in West Africa, which led him to “affirm for me that the African origin blues story that many Americans believe to be true, including most Blacks even today, is at best an outmoded Anglo-Saxon fairytale rooted in the White nationalist folklore….”
After more than four decades of his musical life, Chris Thomas King has established himself as a major figure in blues. In The Blues he has combined a keen intellect and assiduous research into an engaging counter-narrative of the nature of his – and our – indigenous American music form.—Steve Daniels


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