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Order these featured CDs today:

Elvin Bishop

Brooks Williams

Buddy Guy

Kid Ramos

Teresa James

Joe Goldmark

Kathy and the Kilowatts

Tim Woods

Reverend Freakchild

BB and the Blues Shacks

Kris Lager

Ted Hefko

Guitar Jack Wargo

Steven Troch Band

Freddie Pate

Lisa Mednick Powell

Peter V Blues Train

JJ Vicars

Meg Williams

Rockwell Avenue Blues Band

Stone Stanley

 

 

Elvin BishopA thumbnail sketch of Elvin Bishop’s career: Grew up in Tulsa but settled in Chicago, member of Paul Butterfield’s Blues Band alternating lead guitar with Mike Bloomfield 1960s; Big mainstream radio hit 1976 “Fooled Around and Fell In Love” on which he played but didn’t sing; Evolving solo touring and recording career landing on major blues label Alligator some years ago; Survived considerable adversity when two close family members were murdered in the early 2000s.

Suffice it to say, the man has paid his dues. He’s at the point in life he can pretty much call the shots on what to play and where to go. Which brings us to his latest on Alligator, Somethin’ Smells Funky ‘Round Here from Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio. I seriously doubt any industry pro tainted the leader’s autonomy on this one.

For the leadoff and title track, some of us finally have a spokesman when it comes to current news and commentary. And we DON’T have to hear it from TALK radio. Bishop states in his opening rap that “funky” doesn’t refer to a groove this time, but to the odor coming from Washington, D.C. “... If you’re white you’re all right, but if you’re black or brown we don’t want you around ...” citing one example among many dandies. And he shares writing credit with the other two of the trio which delineates the Big Fun Trio’s democracy: Bob Welsh on piano/guitar/organ and Willy Jordan on cajon and vocals. Cajon? You know, one of those newfangled (probably prehistoric) percussion boxes one sits on and taps for effects replicating a drum kit.

Funky ‘Round Here is a short, sweet and definitely to-the-point disc coming in under 40 minutes and sporting a variety of rhythms, tempos, and styles one might expect from a seasoned blues guy.

There’s room for the down home, Bishop can be as good ol’ a boy right with the best of ‘em. We’ve also certified his hardcore Chicago blues credentials, and shades of each personality surface on this disc. He sings or comments on maybe half the tracks. The album lacks production punch in places due to instrumentation, take “I Can’t Stand the Rain” for example sung admirably by Willy Jordan (who in fact tears it up). But after being spoiled by Ann Peebles or Tina Turner, you really miss that heavy backbeat. On the other hand, when Bob Welsh plays his boogie piano on this collection the percussionist makes the listener swear he’s hearing a drummer’s brushes.

More on cajon player Willy Jordan’s vocals: “You’re Love Keeps Lifting me Higher and Higher” is perfect for his range. “That’s the Way Willie Likes It” is more relaxed with his timbre nearly perfect for the blues. Bishop warns vocally of the proverbial “Another Mule” apt to be kicking in anyone’s stall without notice, and gives us more of his life’s story as time passes, which I have no doubt is 100 percent true, on “Lookin’ Good.” It’s gratitude for living in this moment, and the good coming out of seemingly horrible and desperate episodes of life.

The presentation concludes with a Zydeco-styled piece, “My Soul,” featuring guest accordionist Andre Theirry. Pull a blindfold test on a blues friend and he might swear it’s Clifton Chenier playing the squeezebox from out of the past.

I know I’m preaching to the choir, but Elvin Bishop is one hell of a guitarist. Funky ‘Round Here gives us, among many delights, a chance to really enjoy Bishop’s playing in both the lead and rhythm sense. Each is quite different from the other.

--- Tom Coulson

Little ChevyMs. “Little Chevy” (http://littlechevy.ch) fronts a Swiss-based band under her own nickname. They call their sound “blues soul,” but we hear a potential poppy brand with rock, more on the country side, and on tracks featuring dobro guitar it’s almost bluegrass. The concluding track is virtually voice and guitar sounding folk.

Slow tempos and minor keys, where applicable, go with thematic original often dark lyrics. She sure has a purported fascination for the evil side. Other than that, hear boogie shuffle and New Orleans rhythms.

All we know about Ms. “Little Chevy’s” identity is her first name Evelyn. She sings confidently on-key with a charming accent a mile wide. “Little Chevy” claims the drummer is her boyfriend and songwriting partner (what is it with singers and drummers?), and she’s a stand-alone vocalist. But she’s so interactive with a couple pianists throughout the album you’d think she was its player.

The cover of her/their sophomore release, Lucky Girl, shows the young lady in bandana blowing a gum bubble suggesting their image as rockabilly. The variety of the album sounds otherwise.

Production and musicianship is all good and one can tell they’re an experienced and rehearsed group. Aside from the expected topics of love and emotion are real-live observations on social consciousness, the quest of the spirit. The best part? Most of the tunes will stay in your mind long after they have ended. That’s saying something for original music. True questions of course are these: Does their public like? Do fellow musicians approve? Those are answers we can’t get from outside listening in, but I’ll bet critics collectively give a thumbs-up.

--- Tom Coulson

Brooks WilliamsThe Statesboro-born country blues singer, songwriter and guitarist Brooks Williams now has this 28th album to his name in a career spanning a similar time scale, an immense achievement by one of the hardest working troubadours in the business. Based in Cambridgeshire, UK, Brooks has never been in greater demand on both sides of the pond as his prodigious talent is increasingly recognised across the blues, folk and Americana spectrum. Whether headlining festivals or playing small gigs in rural venues, Brooks feels at home and delivers high quality performances in his inimitable easy going style.

Lucky Star, on Red Guitar Blue Music was recorded in three days and epitomises the vibe and excitement of the old Sun records. As Williams explains, “no isolation booths, no overdubs, no headphones, just musicians playing songs together in a way that used to be pretty common but isn’t anymore.” The jaunty opener, “Bright Side Of The Blues”, is a reminder that blues can be happy and optimistic, a celebration of overcoming difficult situations. The funky, jazz-infused “Always The Same” showcases the technical skills of drummer Stu Brown, bassist Kevin McGuire and pianist Phil Richardson.

Next up is a superb version of New Orleans’ R&B singer Christopher Kenner’s hit record, “Something You Got.” Williams’ compositions, “Mama’s Song” and “Gambling Man,” are works of pure genius in terms of lyrics, arrangements and acoustic finger picking guitar technique, enhanced by Scottish folk legend Rab Noakes’ background vocals. Creamer and Turner’s “After You’ve Gone” is a throwback to the early 20th century, replicating the sound and authenticity of the original popular song.

“Here Comes The Blues” and “No Easy Way Back” prove that Brooks can write contemporary blues songs which will also stand the test of time and leave an important legacy for future generations. A gospel track recorded by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, “Rock Me,” written by Rev Thomas Dorsey, further intensifies the variety of material on this album. “Jump That Train” is a welcome addition to the repertoire of memorable train songs in blues history thanks to brilliant slide guitar and driving vocals from Williams.

The mood changes with “Whatever It Takes,” a beautiful, tear-jerking ballad dripping with emotion. Walter Hyatt’s upbeat “Going To New Orleans” would have made a fitting finale but is upstaged by two bonus tracks of Williams with Hans Theesink who toured together recently. The combination of resonator guitar and mandolin on “Rock Me,” plus the scintillating acoustic guitar and vocal duet on “Gambling Man,” shows that the chemistry between the two iconic blues men is something special.

It might have been a lucky star which brought Brooks Williams to UK shores, but it is pure talent, hard work and relentless touring which has brought him to the pinnacle of his career.

--- Dave Scott

RedfishWhen the Pope dies and goes to heaven he looks for his house and comes across several mansions which he claims must be his. But every time he asks “Is that mine?” he is told, “No, it’s Ray Manzarek’s... No, it’s Jon Lord’s... No, it’s Brian Auger’s...” Eventually he pulls up outside a rundown shack with his name on it, located in the bad side of heaven. “What’s this about, I can’t live here I’m the pope!” only to be told, “Hey, popes are a dime a dozen; a good keyboard player is hard to find.”

I was reminded of this story when I listened to this debut CD 5x5 on Lost Wasp Records from UK Cumbrian and the Scottish borders band Redfish, hearing their amazing keyboard player Fraser Clark. Classically-trained and a seriously good jazz and blues player and composer, Clark has immense creative qualities and technical abilities which are hard to find on the current scene. Not that Redfish are a one-man band, this relatively new five-piece now gaining widespread acclaim with their atmospheric, dynamic, high-energy performances.

I saw them at Edinburgh Blues Club last year and they upstaged the high profile American headliners with a barnstorming set of covers, albeit clever and refreshing interpretations. The only unanswered question was could they also come up with some good original material? 5x5 answers this in the affirmative and although an EP, at just under 30 minutes of intense blues, it feels close to a full album.

The funky opening number, “For The Love Of The Wrong Woman,” sets the scene, with Rod Mackay’s pulsating bass and Sandy Sweetman’s precise drumming the perfect platform for Martin McDonald’s intricate guitar fills and Clark’s restrained contributions. The second original song, “Accustomed To The Darkness,” demonstrates how all five musicians engage in the song writing process from the initial groove through to the addition of structure, melody and lyrics. Lead singer Stumblin’ Harris gives the words meaning through sensitive yet impassioned vocals, his range impressive as he responds to the growing crescendo of McDonald’s searing guitar work.

Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Temperature 110” and Jimmy McCracken’s “Every Night and Every Day” keep the band rooted in deep blues, the latter featuring sensational keys which take the breath away. The transition to the third original track is seamless, ‘”Material Man,” sounding as good if not better than the preceding covers.

Dave Miller of Circa 16 in Dumfries deserves credit for capturing such a high quality live studio recording. Overall, this album represents a landmark in the continued evolution of Redfish as a band to be reckoned with, and well worth seeing live on stage to experience their showmanship, professionalism, eccentricity and passion.

--- Dave Scott

Buddy GuyAt 82, Buddy Guy has seen a few of his comtemporaries leave the scene in recent years, so you can’t really blame him for being a bit introspective on his latest release, The Blues Is Alive and Well (Silvertone/RCA Records). The opening track finds him asking for just “A Few Good Years” and the closer, “End of the Line,” starts out a bit somber but ends up with Guy defiantly proclaiming that at as he approaches the big finish line he “won’t be quiet and he won’t behave,” which is good news for blues fans all around.

Like his previous efforts, Guy teams with producer Tom Hambridge, who also wrote or co-wrote all of the original tunes, and Guy receives rock-solid support from his stalwart rhythm section backing Guy (Hambridge – drums, Kevin McKendree – keyboards, Rob McNelley – guitar, Willie Weeks – bass).
There is also a generous list of guest stars on the new release, including another pair of legendary guitarists, Jeff Beck and Keith Richards, both contributing crisp and succinct guitar solos in the slow blues “Cognac.” Relative newcomer James Bay joins Guy on vocals and guitar for “Blue No More,” a smoky late night ballad that would have fit into B.B. King’s wheelhouse pretty easily.

Listening to Mick Jagger’s excellent harmonica backing on another slow blues, “You Did The Crime,” I can’t help but think of that series of pictures by Dick Waterman of Jagger getting some pointers from Guy’s longtime partner Junior Wells from the late ’60s/early ’70s. Sounds like the lesson paid off rather well for ol’ Mick.

While tunes like the above-mentioned “A Few Good Years” and “End of the Line” show that maybe Guy is looking at his own mortality, they’re not overly maudlin and show that Guy won’t be hanging up his guitar anytime soon. “When My Day Comes” and “Somebody Up There” are in the same vein, but the former boasts a fiery Guy solo that belies any notions of the end being near, while the latter brings to mind an amped-up John Lee Hooker slow boogie. Guy admits on “Old Fashioned” that the description may fit, but he doesn’t care and throws out a white-hot guitar solo to verify it.

Other tracks don’t focus as much on introspection, like the rousing “Bad Day,” the spirited shuffle “Guilty As Charged,” and the slow burner title track about a cheating woman (one of several tracks to feature The Muscle Shoals Horns in support). The funky “Whisky For Sale” includes backing vocals from the McCrary Sister, which is never a bad thing, and “Ooh Daddy” is a hard rocking boogie.

There are two covers on the disc, or really one and a half covers. The first is an inspired take on the Sonny Boy Williamson II classic, “Nine Below Zero,” and the other is a minute-long snippet of Red Nelson’s “Milkin’ Muther for Ya,” which is Guy singing one of the verses while playing guitar.
Thanks in large part to Buddy Guy’s lifelong efforts, The Blues Is Alive and Well. Hopefully both will continue to stand strong for a long time to come.

--- Graham Clarke

Kid RamosIt’s been 17 years since Kid Ramos released a solo album. He has been busy during that time, however, raising two sons and battling and beating cancer. Long recognized as one of the most distinctive guitarists in the blues, playing lead guitar with The James Harman Band, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Los Fabulocos while releasing four albums of his own. For his latest release, the appropriately-titled Old School (Rip Cat Records), Ramos is joined by a stellar band (Kedar Roy – bass, Marty Dodson – drums, Bob Welsh – keyboards, Danny Michel - guitar) and vocalists Johnny Tucker, Kim Wilson, Big Jon Atkinson, and Ramos’ 17-year-old son, Johnny.

Ramos pays tribute to B.B. King with the lively instrumental “Kid’s Jump,” which kicks off the disc, then backs his son, Johnny, on the Magic Sam cover, “All Your Love.” I really like Ramos’ shimmering guitar tone on this track. The younger Ramos acquits himself very well on this track and conveys a real sense of hurt and longing on his other appearance, the Arthur Alexander hit “Anna (Go With Him).” Sounds like the youngster has a bright future in the blues.

Tucker takes the mic for four selections. He co-authored with Ramos three of his four songs on the disc, “Tell Me What You Want,” a nice mid-tempo shuffle, “You Never Call My Name,” featuring his vocal backed by Ramos’ guitar, the slow blues “I Can’t Wait Baby,” and the traditional gospel tune “Jesus Come By Here.” To these ears, the slow blues is the best song of the four; Tucker really nails the vocal and Ramos’ guitar work is splendid as well.

Ramos sings on two songs, doing a fine job on a pair of ’50s pop tunes, the Buddy Holly hit “Heartbeat” and Nat King Cole’s “Mona Lisa.” Atkinson, who recorded the album at his home studio in Hayward, California sings his own composition, “Weight On My Shoulders,” a great T-Bone Walker-esque late nighter. Ramos’ former T-Birds mate Wilson closes the disc with Walker’s swinging “High Society.”

Of course, Ramos gets ample opportunity to present his guitar skills on each of these tracks, as well as on two other instrumentals. “Mashed Potatoes and Chili” reminded me a lot of those great Freddie King instrumentals from the early ’60s, and “Wes Side (Bumpin’)” is a wonderful cover/homage to jazz guitar legend Wes Montgomery.

Here’s hoping that Kid Ramos doesn’t go so long between album releases next time. Old School is just what the doctor ordered for fans of traditional blues and this great, underappreciated guitarist.

--- Graham Clarke

Teresa JamesHere in Babylon (Jesi-Lu Records), the tenth and latest release from L.A.-based Teresa James and the Rhythm Tramps, finds the group continuing to mine the rich fields of blues, roots, soul, and gospel music with very satisfying results. The talented Ms. James (vocals/keyboards) is joined on these 12 original compositions by her longtime partner Terry Wilson (bass/co-producer), guitarist Billy Watts, drummer Jay Bellerose, and Mike Finnegan (B3), with Darrell Leonard (trumpet/horn arrangements) and Joe Sublett (sax).

The opening soul-drenched “I Know I Ain’t Been So Perfect" is a greasy slice of delicious southern soul, with Finnegan and James teaming up on B3 and Wurlitzer, respectively. The ominous socially-charged title track is next, and “Give Me A Holler,” the next cut, simmers like a pot of Louisiana gumbo. The R&B track “Heads Up, Hearts Open” gives a nod to Memphis-styled R&B with a nice showing from the horn section, and James really shines on the wistful ballad “I Keep Drifting Away.”

On “Ground Zero,” James presents a new account of the story of Robert Johnson’s deal with the devil at the Crossroads, while the mid-tempo “Hold On” has a Motown/pop fee. The clever and stylish “You Had To Bring That Up” deftly mixes blues and jazz with Leonard’s trumpet featuring prominently throughout.

“The Day The Blues Came To Call” is a poignant tribute to the late Gregg Allman. James revisits her Texas roots on the roadhouse stomper “I Gotta Roll,” takes listeners to church with the gospel-flavored “21st Century Man,” and channels the great Bo Diddley on the raucous closer “Find Me A Bar.”

Here in Babylon is another fantastic release from Teresa James and The Rhythm Tramps. These folks make some mighty fine music, with this great set of songs and performances appealing to music fans across the board.

--- Graham Clarke

Joe GoldmarkJoe Goldmark became interested in steel guitar after hearing the New Riders of the Purple Sage play with Jerry Garcia in San Francisco during the late ’60s. Prior to that, he had played guitar in a few garage bands and bass in soul bands after moving to San Francisco from Tucson, Arizona. Dropping out of music to start a family, Goldmark resurfaced in the mid ’90s playing steel guitar in settings different from the norm for the instrument, reinterpreting rock and soul music and writing his own instrumentals.

Goldmark’s most recent release is Blue Steel (Lo-Ball Records), an impressive 13-song set that includes six instrumentals and seven tracks featuring vocals from Glenn Walters, formerly of the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils, and Dallis Craft. Goldmark is backed by a stellar band as well, including Bey Paule Band drummer Paul Revilli and keyboardist Tony Lufrano, plus bassists DeWayne Pate, Karl Severeid, and Hank Maninger, and guitarists Garth Webber, Gary Potterton, and Jim Campilongo.

Goldmark’s instrumentals are very interesting, whether the melodic and dreamy “Night Flight,” or the country-tinged “Ginger Ale” and “Warm Rain.” On the remaining pair, Bob Marley’s “Natty Dread” and “Tacky Tango,” Goldmark gives the former a carefree, island treatment and a rocking country flair on the latter. Campilongo wrote “I Want To Be With You Forever,” and plays guitar with Goldmark. He and the other guitarists and keyboardists perfectly complement Goldmark’s playing in each setting.

Singer Walters covers three tunes: a swinging read of Rufus Thomas’ “All Night Worker,” Jimmy McCracklin’s jump classic “The Wobble,” and B.B. King’s “Beautician’s Blues.” Ms. Craft ably takes care of the remaining vocals: a gorgeous cover of ”A Love So Beautiful” (from Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison), Graham Parker’s “Howlin’ Wind,” Lefty Frizzell’s “Look at What Thoughts Will Do,” and “True Love Travels On A Gravel Road,” a song that perfectly bridges soul and country.

Blue Steel was a pleasant surprise to this listener. Joe Goldmark does an excellent job incorporating the steel guitar into the blues and R&B realms. Though he’s not the first artist to explore this territory, he certainly ranks with the best, based on this recording.

--- Graham Clarke

Kathy and the KilowattsKathy & The Kilowatts return from their successful 2017 release Let’s Do This Thing, which was the Austin Blues Society’s entry for Best Self-Produced CD at the 2018 International Blues Challenge, with the equally excellent Premonition of Love, the band’s debut release on the Nola Blue label. Singer Kathy Murray has been a mainstay on the Austin blues scene since the ’80s, ranking with the upper echelon of the city’s ladies of the blues Marcia Ball, Lou Ann Barton, and Angela Strehli. Her longtime music partner Bill “Monster” Jones remains a force of nature on guitar, and they’re joined by an impressive set of guest artists, including label mate Benny Turner, who plays bass on several tracks.

The first track, “First Do No Harm,” is a supple blues/R&B track with a punchy horn section and Jones’ guitar weaving in and out behind Murray’s plea to put peace before violence. The title track is a funky Texas tune inspired by Freddie King, whose brother cousin Turner provides bass on this track. His bass guitar also drives the next two, the smoldering “Beggars Can’t Be Choosers” and the sassy “Always Fooling Me.” “Grow Some” is an irresistible shuffle that should have the audience moving at the band’s shows.

Slowing things down a bit with Lowell Fulson’s “Black Nights,” Murray’s vocal is really top notch and the band is superb in support. Magic Sam’s “What Have I Done Wrong” is also covered and Jones’ fretwork is spot-on. The gritty down home blues grinder “Final Verdict” features Turner and Kim Field (harmonica), and the Cajun classic “Sugar Bee” is a nice change of pace. Jones plays accordion on the latter, while the Diddley-esque “Answer Yes” further showcases the band’s versatility.

The roadhouse rocker “All These Questions” features Floyd Domino’s driving piano, as does the Texas-styled shuffle “I Got This,” and the island-flavored closer, “The Bigger Picture,” encourages all to focus on the things that matter.

Based on these ears, it’s a safe bet that Premonition of Love will equal and exceed the accolades that Kathy & The Kilowatts received for their previous effort.

--- Graham Clarke

Tim WoodsPittsburgh-based guitarist Tim Woods has been involved in the blues music scene in one way or another and in one location or another for over three decades. Though he’s only recorded a pair of albums during his career, he’s played as a solo artist, formerly as a longtime member of The Mountain Jam Band, and currently as part of the Woods Family Band (with his sons Derek and Ryan), in addition to leading his own five-piece band. His lifelong dedication to the blues earned him a spot in the New York Blues Hall of Fame in 2012.

Human Race is Woods’ second release and features a dozen originals, 11 written by Woods that show the vast influences in his musical style as developed over the years. The excellent opener, “Can You Feel It,” is reminiscent of those classic late ’60s blues rockers, while “Every Day” brings to mind the southern rock of the Allmans, both in its musical delivery and optimistic message, and “Step” is a funky, driving instrumental that reminded me a lot of the James Gang album that my upstairs neighbors during college regularly cranked up at 6 am each morning, but in a much better way.

The gentle rocker “Take A Minute” is a pop-flavored reminder to stop and savor what you have while you have it, and Woods channels Jim Morrison vocally on the title track, a churning blues rocker. “Black Maria” was written by Woods’ friend Perry Werner and is a mid-tempo mix of southern rock and blues. It’s followed by another instrumental, “TW Funk,” which is exactly what the title indicates. Nice work on this tune and the rest of the set from Bobby Lee Rodgers on bass. Rodgers also produced the disc and plays guitar, drums, and keyboards on assorted tracks.

"Trixie” is the third and final instrumental on the album, and it’s as terrific as the earlier pair, combining the best of the Allman’s (I hear a lot of their “Revival” in the melody) with the Grateful Dead (with the Garcia-inspired lead guitar). “Have Mercy” offers more gritty blues rock, as does the crunching Hendrixian “Where Did She Go?” The closer is an upbeat rocker, “Leave The Earth Alone,” that implores us all to take care of our planet.

Rodgers does yeoman work backing Woods on most of these tracks, but is assisted ably by Pete Lavezzoli (drums), Don Coffman (upright bass), and William Newell Bate (drums) on assorted songs.
Human Race is an outstanding sophomore effort from Tim Woods. The guitarist’s versatility in a variety of music styles should appeal to a wide range of music lovers.

--- Graham Clarke

Reverend FreakchildThe right Reverend Freakchild returns with Dial It In (Treated and Released Records), a sizzling set of blues, blues rock, roots, etc., presented in the Reverend’s own inimitable style. This time around, he’s joined by a few friends: drummer Chris Parker (Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker, Paul Butterfield), guitarists Hugh Pool and Mark Karan, harmonica player Garrett Dutton (G Love), vocalist Hazel Miller, keyboardist Brian Mitchell (B.B. King, Al Green, Levon Helm), and sax man Jay Collins (Gregg Allman).

The album is bookended by “Opus Earth,” a spacey, largely instrumental blues, with the Reverend playing National steel and other “earth sounds,” chants and moans, and “Opus Space,” with the Reverend reprising on National steel, but with additional bells, cymbals, gongs, and assorted sounds. In between there’s just about everything, starting with a scorching take on the Depeche Mode song “Personal Jesus,” with Pool on harmonica, then moving to “Hippie Bluesman Blues,” a sporty country blues with the Reverend’s spoken-word vocals complemented by Karan’s pungent lead guitar.

Dutton’s harmonica punctuates the funky title track, as does Miller’s inspired backing vocals, while the gentle “Skyflower” is light and ethereal. “Roadtrance” is a short, but hard rocking jam that segues into the thoughtful folk rocker “Damaged Souls,” and Mitchell adds a little barrelhouse piano on the roadhouse raver “15 Going On 50.” The Reverend also covers Bob Dylan’s “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” transforming it into a Diddley-esque rocker with Collins’ wailing sax in tow. With Lisa Marie providing backing vocals, the Reverend also covers Blind Willie Johnson in a spirited reading of “Soul Of A Man.”

Reverend Freakchild’s albums are always a pleasure to listen to, because he’s very much his own man and follows his own vision of the blues while seemingly having a blast doing so. He’s definitely not phoning it in on Dial It In. I dig his laconic Lou Reed-like vocal delivery as well. If you are a blues fan with an adventurous soul, you certainly need to give Reverend Freakchild a spin.

--- Graham Clarke

BB Blues ShacksOver their nearly 30 year career, the German band B.B. and the Blues Shacks have given over 4,000 performances throughout Europe and the rest of the world. They blew the audience away with their American debut back in 2009 at the Doheny Blues Festival in Los Angeles, and have continued to tour and record almost non-stop. Led by founding brothers Michael Arlt (harmonica/vocals) and Andreas Arlt (guitar), the current line-up includes Fabian Fritz (keyboards), Henning Hauerken (bass), and Andre Werkmeister (drums). The band recently released their latest album, Reservation Blues, on Rhythm Bomb Records.

The new disc includes 14 original tunes, and the band is augmented on several tracks by guests Till Seidell (rhythm guitar), Tom Müller (saxophones), and Steve Gössinger (trumpet). The band’s specialty is traditional West Coast and ’50s-era Chicago blues mixed with swing and jump blues, and they do it extremely well, beginning with the Chicago-styled title track, powered by Michael Arlt’s harmonica. The toe-tapping “Lay Some Shuffle Down” laments the state of current music, while “Mad About You” is a nice ballad with a little Louisiana spice, and “I Can’t Go On” has a vintage rockabilly feel. The band returns to the Windy City with the breezy shuffle “Year of Strife,” and move to the soul side of the blues with the horn-fueled ballad “From Now On.”

Arriving at the midway point of the album, “Angry Cat” is a terrific instrumental that showcases Fritz’s keyboards and Andreas Arlt’s fretwork. “Not Much To Lose” is another tough Chicago-based track with a great harmonica solo from Michael Arlt, which is followed by the outstanding “Honeycomb,” a swinging number with the horn section really picking things up. The Arlt brothers really shine (with Fritz on piano) on the superb slow ballad “My Time Ain’t Long,” and the Sonny Boy Williams/Rice Miller-inspired “Little Secrets.” The rocking “Things Won’t Change” and the funky “Why Can’t I Go Home” close the disc on a swinging note.

Listening to Reservation Blues, it’s easy to see why B.B. and the Blues Shacks have built such a devoted following over the years. Blues fans who dig old school traditional blues done well should harbor no reservations about listening to this most excellent release.

--- Graham Clarke

Kris LagerThe Kris Lager Band has been touring across the country for over 15 years, playing their brand of “Feel Good Funk & Heavy Soul.” Lager is a talented songwriter who focuses on everyday life as he sees it, dealing with life, love, death, the toils of the road, and domestic adventures. He’s a charismatic singer whose style will captivate listeners, and his latest release, Love Songs & Life Lines, is a stunning work that listeners will want to hear over and over again. Backed by a tremendously funky unit (Scooby Sha Bo Bo – drums, Aaron Underwood – bass/backing vocals, and Lefever – sax), Lager, who plays guitar and piano, takes us through a mesmerizing 14-song set.

The opening instrumental, “Aurora Borealis,” has a melodic Middle Eastern flair as Lager nimbly demonstrates his guitar chops, while the catchy “The Heart Wants What The Heart Wants” has more of a reggae flavor. The beautiful Americana track “Sweet Magnolia” is next, written shortly after the death of Lager’s father, and the poignant “I Wanna Hold You In My Arms” was written for his mother as she dealt with her husband’s passing. “San Francisco Bound” recounts a road trip with Lager’s new lady friend, who later became his wife.

The gentle “You Know I Love You” started out as a lullaby to Lager’s daughter but expanded into an intimate song about two lovers trying to reconnect, and the soulful “Pickin’ Up The Pieces” is about putting one’s life back together. The swinging pop rocker “You And I” would be a hit in a perfect world, and if it wasn’t, the Dylan-esque “Where The Green Grass Grows Tall” would be. “Guiding Light” is the song that every man with a good woman should have playing in his head.

The reflective “I’m Still Here & I Ain’t Lettin’ Go” serves as Lager’s look at his life so far and his future plans, the ballad “I’ll Be Thinking Of You” focuses on the loneliness of life on the road, and the gentle acoustic “That’s What Love Is” is as fine and vivid a description of what love really is as I’ve ever heard.

Lager closes the disc the same way he opened it, with a beautiful instrumental, ”Journey’s Sonata.”
The whole album has a gentle and understated vibe, and though the instrumentation appears to be a bit sparse, it’s perfect for the music, particularly the wonderful rhythm section and Lefever’s always timely appearances on saxophone. Love Songs & Life Lines is a masterful set of tunes that will be a welcome addition to any music lover’s collection.

--- Graham Clarke

Ted HefkoTed Hefko has been a veteran of the New Orleans music scene since the age of 18 when he arrived via bus from Wisconsin. He ended up at the University of New Orleans studying modern jazz, choosing saxophone as his instrument. He spent ten years freelancing between the Crescent City and New York, opening for The Funky Meters, Derek Trucks, Rebirth Brass Band, and North Mississippi Allstars. Settling in New York, he started leading his own groups playing southern Louisiana standards and modern jazz, among other genres, but ended up relocating to New Orleans a few years ago where he recently released Gas Station Guru (Onager Records) with his band, The Thousandaires.

Gas Station Guru contains nine songs, six originals and two covers. The originals include the jazz-flavored opener “Two Vices,” which also features an appearance from guitarist Mem Shannon, “The Roofer,” a R&B track that vividly captures the essence of the New Orleans variety of the genre (and the city itself) perfectly, the Crescent City-funky “Tell Me The Truth,” the country-tinged “The Next Train,” which includes guest musicians from the Cajun band T’Canaille (Lance Caruso – accordion, Latasha Covington –rub board), “Ten Dollar Hat,” more classic N.O. R&B with a tasty piano break from Sherman Bernard, and the swampy slow blues “Stop Sayin’ Unless.”

The three cover tunes are choice, too, beginning with Billy Joe Shaver’s “Ride Me Down Easy,” presented in a gentle country-soul ballad setting. “Ain’t Gonna Give You None O’ My Jelly Roll” is terrific, a fun Dixieland romp through New Orleans jazz territory, and the closer is Steve Goodman’s timeless “City of New Orleans,” played pretty much straight but with a definite jazz presence throughout. Hefko’s world-weary vocal is right on the money.

Gas Station Guru is a superlative release from Ted Hefko and The Thousandaires, who manage to capture everything that’s wonderful about the music and the city of New Orleans in just over 40 minutes and nine songs.

--- Graham Clarke

Guitar Jack WargoGuitar Jack Wargo has toured with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, Billy Preston, and Solomon Burke. He’s recorded with Ray Charles and the Jacksons, and his band, Guitar Jack & No Slack served as the house band for the Los Angeles edition of B.B. King’s Blues Club. You could say that this cat certainly knows a thing or two about R&B and the blues. Any listeners with doubts should just refer to Wargo’s latest album, Keepin’ It Real, a satisfying set with 11 original songs plus one tasty cover.

Wargo’s brand of blues mixes in healthy doses of R&B, jazz, and pop along the way, but the opening cut, “You Don’t Feel The Same,” is an excellent mid-tempo slice of smooth urban blues with very tasteful guitar work from Wargo. “Power of Love” is a slow burning blues/R&B ballad pleading for unity in the world. “Keep On Keepin’ On” adds a dose of funk to the blues, while “Inventory Blues” has a ’70s feel with its pop/jazz backdrop, as does the funky blues of “Shipwrecked.” “Nobody But You” is a crisp blues rocker with harmonica from Jimmy Powers.

The Latin-flavored “No Stranger” features the Sweet Inspirations on background vocals, and “Only-est One” leans toward the soul side of the blues with a heartfelt vocal and subtle guitar work. “Blues Holiday” continues that smooth ’70s soul vibe forward and features vocals from the Sweet Inspirations, Willie Chambers, Jacqui Walker Adamcik, and James Whitney that add to the pleasure. The good vibes continue with the sweet “She’s Got Soul.” The Woody Guthrie standard “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad” is covered in an upbeat, energetic version that will put a hop in your step. The disc closes with the optimistic “Sending Out A Message.”

Wargo (guitar/vocals) gets great support from his band (A.D. Beal – vocals, Edoardo Tancredi – drums, Matt Bragg – bass, Arlan Oscar Shierbaum – keys) along with the aforementioned guest vocalists and a stellar cast of guest musicians that includes Powers, Mike “Hurricane” Hoover (harmonica), Mike Finnigan (keys), Rick Reed (bass), and Wilfredo Reyes, Jr. (percussion).

Keepin’ It Real is a rock-solid set of original blues and R&B from Guitar Jack Wargo, one of the best in the business.

--- Graham Clarke

Steven TrochThe Steven Troch Band is fronted by Belgian harmonica ace Troch, who in addtion to being a harp-blowing son of a gun is also a soulful vocalist and a songwriter of the first degree. He’s backed by talented guitarist Steven Van Der Nat, bassist Lizz Sprangers, and drummer Erik Heirman. On their latest release, Rhymes For Mellow Minds (Sing My Title Records), the band is joined by keyboardist Bruce James and a sturdy three-piece horn section (David Loos – tenor sax, Nicolas Talbot – baritone sax, and J.B. Biesmans – tenor and baritone saxes) on several tracks.

The opening track, “The Short End,” has a definite Excello vibe with its lazy rhythm and Van Der Nat’s shimmering guitar fills, and his guitar work on the humorous “Bad Taste” brings Cobra-era Otis Rush to mind. Blues fans who are into Star Wars will get a kick out of the groovy instrumental “Going To Dagobah.” “Troubled One” brings to mind ragtime, courtesy of James’ sharp piano work, and the country-flavored “Long Long Beard” is a keeper, too. The dazzling “White Line Express” should keep the joint jumping, as should the country blues instrumental stomp “Rabbit Foot Trail.”

The cautionary tale “15 Minutes” swings gently with Van Der Nat’s guitar and a steady driving beat, and Troch breaks out the chromatic for the shuffle “Mister Jones.” The spacey “Vertigo” really showcases the guitar work of Van Der Nat, and “Bedroom Eyes” is a slower-paced downhome blues. The Caribbean-styled bluesy “Rain Rain” is a standout, as is the thunderous Windy City blues closer, “Walk Away” (stick around for the amusing hidden track about a minute after the wrap-up).

Rhymes For Mellow Minds is a clever, innovative, entertaining effort from Steven Troch and band. This talented band deserves to be heard by a much wider audience and hopefully, this album will allow that to happen.

--- Graham Clarke

Freddie PateFreddie Pate learned to play guitar at age 4 and was singing in nightclubs at the age of 8. Moving to Texas in his late teens, he worked as a sideman in Dallas and Houston for a couple of decades, eventually leading his own band playing many of the honky tonks and opening for great country acts of that time from Willie Nelson to Ronnie Milsap to Loretta Lynn to George Jones. In 1990, he moved to southwest Louisiana and became a member of Wayne Toups and Zydecajun. Pate recorded a country album in 2016 and has played for several years on Delbert McClinton’s annual cruise.

Pate met Mike Zito on one of the McClinton cruises, and they became friends. Zito encouraged Pate to release a blues album and he’s done just that, recently releasing I Got The Blues, recorded at Zito’s Marz Studio in Nederland, Texas. Zito also helped Pate produce the disc and plays rhythm guitar. Pate handles all the lead guitar and vocal duties, as well as contributing two original tunes to the 11-track set. He’s backed by Terry Dry (bass), Matt Johnson (drums), and Lewis Stephens (keys).

Pate has a rip-roaring time working through this fine set of Gulf Coast-flavored blues, R&B, and rock n’ roll tunes, including a rousing take on Vasti Jackson’s “Let The Juke Joint Jump” to open the disc. He also tears through covers of Elmore James’ “Sho-Nuff I Do,” the Little Walter standard “My Babe,” and the Cajun classic “Jolie Blond.” He swings through B.B. King’s “Dance With Me Baby,” shuffles into Fats Domino’s “Hello Josephine,” and bluesifies Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Lookin’.” Fom the You Gotta Hear It To Believe It Department comes “Beer Drinkin’ Dog.”

Pate’s originals include the roadhouse rocker “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” and the storming title cut. For the most part, Pate’s vocals are rugged and gritty, perfectly suited to the energetic music presented on most of the disc, but he easily moves from tough to tender and does an excellent job on the Toussaint McCall R&B classic “Nothin’ Takes The Place Of You.”

This was a very enjoyable release from Freddie Pate, loaded with plenty of the energy and downhome charm of those vintage recordings from Texas and Louisiana many years ago. Blues fans will find a lot to love with I Got The Blues, and they’ll be glad that Mike Zito was so persuasive.

--- Graham Clarke

Lisa Mednick PowellLisa Mednick Powell doesn’t record often, but when she does it something pretty special. Blue Book (Cicada Sounds) is her first release in 16 years. Her latest effort was recorded in California and New Orleans with her husband, bass player Kip Powell, and several guest artists, including Tommy Malone, Victoria Williams, Alison Young, Danny Frankel, and Greg Leisz. The ten tracks combine folk, Americana and the blues, making a powerful and personal statement that touches on events past and present.

The haunting opener, “Smoke Over Carolina,” is the third song of a trilogy of Civil War-related songs, but this track also addresses the “civil war” that occurs sometimes between worker and boss. “Pieces of Your Soul” is a somber country-flavored ballad, and the wistful “Cold Coffee” gently swings. “To The Wilderness” leans a bit toward rock with Malone’s guitar adding a little zip, while the scathing “Give The Guns To The Girls” was written just after the Boko Haram tragedy. The upbeat and reflective “Highway Prayer” closes the disc, with Powell on keyboards and Malone contributing slide guitar and joining in on vocals.

Fans may grouse about the extended period between Lisa Mednick Powell’s album releases, but they can take solace in the fact that each release is an absolute gem as this talented artist pours everything she’s got into every facet of her recordings. Blue Book is a superlative set of emotionally-charged music that makes you think while you listen.

--- Graham Clarke

Peter VGuitarist/vocalist Peter Veteska (a.k.a. Peter V) bought his first guitar at age 12, a black Les Paul that he bought from a pawn shop on payments earned from a paper route. He taught himself to play guitar listening to records by Derek & the Dominos and the Allman Brothers, playing his first paying gig at 15. Frustrated, he dropped out of the music scene at age 21 and didn’t return for over 25 years, regaining his chops playing local blues jams and honing his vocal skills to go along with his guitar skills. Soon, the Peter V Blues Train was born.

The Blues Train (Peter V – guitar/vocals, Aron Louis Gornish – keyboards, Alex D’Agnese – drums, Sean Graverson – bass) recently released their third album, Running Out Of Time, a stalwart set of blues that occasionally throws a little jazz, funk, and soul into the mix. The set consists of seven original tracks and four interesting covers, plus guest appearances by keyboardist Jeff Levine (Joe Cocker, Hall & Oates, the Chambers Brothers), sax man Danny Walsh (Gregg Allman, Aerosmith), and a host of other artists.

The disc kicks off with the percolating blues rocker, “Stay On Track,” and a swinging read of Richard Ray Farrell's “Cherry On The Cream,” before seguing into the jazzy ballad “Buzzed Busted & Blue,” which includes some nice moments from Walsh on sax. Big Maceo Merriweather’s “Worried Life Blues” gets a slow burning treatment, but things pick up considerably with the scorching, scathing “Running Out Of Time.” The funky instrumental “Time To Collect” will please Tower of Power fans with its grooving West Coast vibe.

The fun continues with an entertaining remake of the Doc Pomus / Leiber & Stoller classic “Youngblood.” Peter V picks up the acoustic for “Time For Me To Go,” and slows things down for the smoldering slow blues “Freedom.” Singer Kelley Dewket takes the mic for a robust cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “Love Me Like A Man,” and the disc closes with the soulful “Lay Down My Friend,” a somber tribute to the late Michael Packer, Peter V’s friend, mentor, and fan, to whom the album is also dedicated.

Mr. Packer would be mighty proud of Running Out Of Time. It’s a most impressive release from the Peter V Blues Train.

--- Graham Clarke

JJ VicarsIrreverent Dissident (Annie Gator Records) is guitarist J.J. Vicars’ first album since returning from a decade overseas. He won the 2017 Northeast Ohio Blues Challenge and competed in the 2018 International Blues Challege. Vicars’ brand of blues combines straight-ahead contemporary blues with boogie, rock n’ roll, and urban blues with an occasional tongue-in-cheek approach. The album consists of 13 tracks, two of which are bonus tracks, one being an alternate version. Vicars wrote or co-wrote eight of the tracks and also did most of the heavy lifting behind the scenes.

The opener, “Long Way From Home,” is a hard charging autobiographical rock and roller, and the shuffle “Can’t Get Along With You” leans a bit toward rockabilly. The cover of “Wang Dang Doodle” is taken at a faster and harder rocking pace than usual. The humorous and slightly salacious “Things I Need” is a hoot, and “That Ain’t Me” is a reflective ballad with a country bent. “What Do I Tell My Heart” picks up the pace in the same country vein.

A powerful guitarist versed in a variety of styles, Vicars includes five instrumentals, ranging from the spacy opening interlude, “Los Vatos in A,” the rambunctious “Stinky Twinky,” with a guest appearance from 90-year old sax legend Big Jay McNeely (this track also appears in a bonus alternate version at album’s end, sans sax), the Texas twangy “Downhome,” and “Deguello,” a multiple guitar track that returns to the spacey vibe of the opener.

The bonus tracks include the aforementioned “Stinky Twinky” and “Three-Toed Midget,” a hilarious bluegrass romp with Vicars’ guitar and irreverent vocal backed by banjo, mandolin, ukulele, and assorted barnyard sounds.

Irreverent Dissident is a fun and well-rounded set of blues, roots, Americana, and rock n’ roll that’s well worth seeking out.

--- Graham Clarke

Meg WilliamsA recent arrival in Nashville from New York, Meg Williams has made a name for herself in a short time in Music City, performing with her band and as a solo/duo act sometimes up to three times a night. She’s an excellent singer, guitarist, and songwriter, and all of that is on display on her most recent release, the EP Maybe Someday, featuring six potent blues rockers led by Williams and her backing band (Dan Wecht – guitar/slide guitar, Greggory Garner – bass, Kyle Laws – drums) and vocalists (Sara Rogers, Sam Gonzales, Chase Walker, Wilson Harwood, and Skylar Gregg).

The opener, “Not My Problem,” is a lively, funky rocker, while the shuffle “Bad Lovin’” gives the young lady an opportunity to display her guitar chops. “Little Bit Of The Devil” has a distinct southern rock feel with fiery slide guitar from Wecht and a slippery groove in tow, and the optimistic title track continues with that same southern vibe, similar to the current Tedeschi Trucks Band playbook including Wecht’s slide guitar. “You Let Me Down” boasts a gritty guitar riff and grooves pretty hard, while the closer, “I Feel A Heartache Coming,” is a terrific pop-rocker.

Maybe Someday is an intriguing release. Meg Williams has the talent to go in a number of musical directions beyond the blues genre with her tender but tough vocals, potent guitar playing, and her first-rate songwriting skills. This set may be short, but it packs a mighty punch.

--- Graham Clarke

Rockwell Avenue Blues BandThe Rockwell Avenue Blues Band consists of blues veterans Steve Freund (vocals/guitar), Tad Robinson (vocals/harmonica), Ken Saydak (vocals/keyboards), Harlan Terson (bass), Marty Binder (drums). These guys have been playing and recording together since the 1970s, either backing such blues luminaries as Sunnyland Slim, Big Walter Horton, Mighty Joe Young, Lonnie Brooks, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Johnny Winter, Koko Taylor, and too many others to list, or backing each other on their respective albums over the years.

Though they’ve gone their separate ways in recent years, Saydak came up with the idea of a reunion, bringing all these artists back to the Windy City. The idea took shape in a recording session that’s been released by Delmark Records and appropriately entitled Back To Chicago. Produced by Dick Shurman and recorded by Steve Wagner at Riverside Studios, the album features 15 tracks, and each of the artists gets ample space to shine.

Freund, Robinson, and Saydak split the vocals evenly at.five apiece. Freund’s five tunes, four of which he wrote, include the John Lee Hooker-inspired “Boogie In The Rain,” “Lonesome Flight,” written about the death of his father, a cool fast-paced cover of Elmore James’ “Stranger Blues,” “Hey Big Bill,” a fine tribute to Big Bill Broonzy, and the slow burner “Have You Ever Told Yourself A Lie,” which also includes some excellent slide guitar work from the guitarist.

Saydak’s robust vocals are featured on the ballad “That Face,” the reflective and defiant shuffle “Chariot’s Gate,” “Reason To Believe,” which addresses gun control, the comical “Love Police,” and the contemplative ballad “Dream.” He wrote or co-wrote a couple of the other songs as well, and his keyboard work is superb, as always.

Robinson is known as one of the finest blues and soul singers currently practicing, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint with his five selections. On the opener, “Blues For Hard Times,” Robinson discusses working together to overcome tough circumstances, and he gets soulful on Saydak’s “Free To Love Again,” the inspirational “We Believe,” the powerful ballad “Rich Man,” and the title track.

The rhythm section does an excellent job in support and the musicianship is excellent throughout by all. Chicago blues fans can’t ask for much more than this superlative collaboration. Hopefully, we’ll be hearing from the Rockwell Avenue Blues Band again in the near future.

--- Graham Clarke

Stone StanleyYou may not have heard of the band Stone Stanley before, but you likely have seen them many times. Maybe not this particular flock of musicians, but more likely some similar local group setting up in the corner of your neighborhood tavern to play their own brand of the blues. Bands like Stone Stanley play in many, many joints everywhere blues fans congregate. A few audience members pay close attention, applauding every solo and at the end of each song. Others in the bar sit and talk, only occasionally looking up at the band. And there's always at least one obnoxious drunk that generally gets ignored by the rest of the patrons.

Stone Stanley is that band you'll hear if you drop into one of the small blues bars in the high desert region of southern California. But if you can't get to one of this band's haunts, check out their self-released album, The Mudstomp Tapes, produced by bandleader Jason Trombley (credited as Jason Robert on the band's website) who sings and plays guitar on the dozen cuts here, 11 of which are his original compositions. The only cover is Warren Haynes' "Soulshine," featuring guest guitarist Jim McComas.

The Mudstomp Tapes kicks off with the very primal, plodding sound of "Bitter End," with Trombley moaning out the melody for the first few bars before coming in on slide guitar. Trombley isn't a great singer, but he's good enough and packs plenty of emotion into his songs. He's not a great guitarist, but he's good enough for his material. That kind of sums up my feelings on this album --- the final package exceeds the sum of its parts.

Trombley squeezes out every drop of feeling he can get from his guitar on "The Beast Inside," about a woman struggling with addiction. He then goes full Native on "Iroquois Chant," with more primal moaning and chanting over the course of two minutes, then picks up the tempo on "Be With Me," a plea for his woman to join him in building a house and starting a family while throwing out some wicked and fuzzy slide guitar riffs. I guess his plea didn't work, as the slow, mournful blues instrumental "Unfaithful Woman follows, with no words needed to convey his heartbreak.

The Haynes cover, "Soulshine," brings out Trombley's best and most passionate vocals over its five and a half minute duration. It stands as the best cut on The Mudstomp Tapes; Trombley obviously loves this song and something about it helped elevate his singing to another level. I would have preferred that the album ended here because the closing number, "Bottled," doesn't cut it as Trombley reminisces about his youth while also talking about getting caught in the bottle. (Kudos, however, for mentioning wrestling great Andre the Giant!). His vocals just weren't strong enough on this one.

Groups like Stone Stanley are helping to keep the blues alive. Their contributions, while more limited in scope than national and international acts, are nonetheless a valuable part of the music. Check them out --- as well as any other local band --- when you get the chance, and feel free to drop a few extra bucks in the tip jar.

--- Bill Mitchell



 

 

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