Monday, April 30, 2012

Billy Boy Arnold's Heartfelt Big Bill Broonzy Tribute

The last year and a half saw two books about the great Chicago-based blues artist big Bill Broonzy. Bob Riesman’s I Feel So Good, emerged as the major chronicle of Broonzy’s life, correctly information about his date and place of birth and his development of his musical career. While he made use of archival interviews and other materials, one of his sources was bluesman Billy Boy Arnold was captivated by Broonzy as well as Broonzy’s friend, John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson and while Billy Boy wanted to record with Broonzy, Broonzy directed him to musicians more in keeping with the contemporary blues scene.

Now over fifty years after Broonzy’s passing, Billy Boy has recorded a tribute album, Sings Big Bill Broonzy on Electro-Fi. It is produced by Eric Noden who plays acoustic guitar and others supporting Billy Boy are Billy Flynn on electric guitar and mandolin, Beau Sample on acoustic bass and Rick Sherry on washboard, percussion and clarinet. The 15 songs, all written by Broonzy, selected were recorded between the late 1930s and the early 1950s.

Bob Riesman in his liner notes that they attempt to play in the spirit of Broonzy’s work, rather than recreate the recordings. The lack of piano as well as Billy Boy’s harmonica helps to insure that. Arnold’s vocals also do not possess the ebullient quality that Broonzy brought to his recordings (the late John Cephas was one of the few singers of the past few years who had a comparable vocal style), but then again Muddy Waters’ vocals also lacked Broonzy’s good-natured exuberant quality when he recorded his Broonzy tribute shortly after Broonzy’s passing.

There is the lament of Sweet Honey Bee followed by the lively, relaxed swing of Going Back To Arkansas where Sherry contributes washboard and clarinet to help contribute a flavor of some of the Broonzy-Washboard Sam collaborations. Arnold added additional lyrics to the nice slow blues, Girl In The Valley a.k.a. Water Coast Blues, with Sherry again adding washboard while Flynn contributes mandolin in support. Key to the Highway is among the best known songs heard here and done quite strongly with some nice guitar in the backing.

These performances do also highlight Broonzy’s gift at crafting sophisticated songs with irony and wit in his expression of the blues, analogizing to a rooster in Looking Down At Me, or take the voice of a prisoner in Cell No. 13 Blues. The rendition of the former song is done in the fashion that Sonny Boy Williamson might have performed the song with a nice harmonica break. There is the mix of the contemporary and traditional in I Want You By My Side, that adapts the melody of Careless Love, and has a crisp Billy Flynn guitar solo.

The easy swing is also present when Billy Boy sings about Living On Easy Street, where he tells women if you want money get your man on the WPA but if you want good loving you got to do what I say. When I Get To Thinkin’, is nicely reworked and a bit more laid back than the Muddy Waters more emphatic 1960 recording that is a bit more threatening towards his lover. Arnold also provides his own spin to Broonzy’s fanciful It Was Just a Dream with its surrealistic imagery has been revived and reworked by a number of bluesman, most notably the late Louisiana Red, as he sings about waking up in the White House and the President shaking Bill’s hand.

This recording was heralded in Bob Riesman’s Broonzy biography, and its release has met the expectations for it. Today, one might find it hard to appreciate how significant Big Bill was in the history of the blues. Along with Riesman’s book, this tribute recording addresses that in a fine and spirited manner.

I was provided my review copy from the label.  Here is a video clip of the legendary Big Bill Broonzy.

Here is Billy Boy Arnold doing a Sonny boy Williamson number.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mark Hummel Finds It Ain't Easy No More

West Coast harmonica wizard Mark Hummel has been increasing his visibility with his annual blues harmonica packages which have brought together a number of harmonica legends and led to several outstanding CDs documenting the tours. The shows are anchored around Hummel and his fine band of guitarist Charlie Wheal, bassist Steve Wolf and drummer Marty Dodson.

Electro-Fi has just issued Hummel’s Third album for the label, Ain’t Easy No More, that will certainly delight his fans and blues harp fans. A mixture of Hummel’s originals and some choice rearrangements of previously recorded blues, Hummel impresses most as a harp player and his band (augmented by horns on several tracks) is terrific supporting him. Hummel also writes some strong originals, including the topical Big Easy (Ain’t Easy No More), based on his reaction to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Hummel is a pleasant vocalist but his delivery does not match the outrage of the lyrics here nor does he have the forcefulness to be completely convincing on Muddy Waters’ She’s Got It. But on other tracks his delivery works better and there is really little to fault whether listening to his reworking of a Ray Charles jump blues Get on the Right Track, or a couple of fine Eddie Boyd songs, You Got to Reap and Blues is Here to Stay. Harp features include his originals Harpoventilating, and Bird Brain, and Little Sonny’s The Creeper Returns, all of which showcase his driving, full-bodied playing.

Overall a strong album and my quibbles about his vocals on a couple tracks should not be taken too far as his vocals are easy to take. Recommended highly.

This review originally appeared in the October 2006 DC Blues Calendar and the October 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 287). I am not sure whether I received this directly from the company or a publicist for the label. Here is some Mark Hummel for your viewing pleasure. I reviewed last month Mark Hummel's recent Little Walter tribute.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

DC Jazz Festival Brings 10 Days of Jazz To The Nation's Capital

Ron Carter
The 2012 DC Jazz Festival takes place in the Nation’s Capital June 1 and runs through June 10. The Festival this year will have a variety of signature programs including Jazz Meets the Classics at the Kennedy Center; Jazz in the ‘Hoods at a variety of clubs and museums, presented by Events DC; Jazz’‘n’ Families Fun Days at The Phillips Collection; Jazz at the Hamilton presented by The Washington Post; and Jazz at the Howard.

Jazz Meets the Classics, co-presented by the Kennedy Center on June 4th, will feature an all-star lineup performing unique and exciting jazz interpretations of works by Bach, Chopin, Mozart, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky. Headlining the concert is the Classical Jazz Quartet, with NEA Jazz Masters bassist Ron Carter and pianist Kenny Barron, vibraphonist Stefon Harris and drummer Lewis Nash. Also headlining is NEA Jazz Master and 10-time Grammy Award-winner Paquito D’Rivera, joined by Spain’s Pepe Rivero Trio, Michael Phillip Mossman and Pernell Saturnino.

Lena Seikaly
The Jazz in the ‘Hoods program highlights the innovative CapitalBop D.C. Jazz Loft, Bohemian Caverns, and more than 80 performances at over 40 museums, clubs, restaurants, hotels, and galleries across the city with performers like Loide, Michael Thomas, Mark Prince, and Rodney Richardson with Lena Seikaly. The D.C. Jazz Loft Series, presented by Capital Bop, returns to spotlight some cutting edge music and will span 3 days including an all day manifest on June 9. Performers include Marc Cary’s Cosmic Indigenous; Tarbaby, featuring Orrin Evans, Nasheet Waits. Eric Revis; and the Todd Marcus Nonet. I will hopefully have a separate post on Capital Bop’s DC Jazz Loft Series separately.

Elijah Balbed
The free annual Jazz ‘n’ Families Fun Days at The Phillips Collection on Saturday, June 2nd and Sunday, June 3rd will treat families to performances from some of the finest musicians from around the region, including Marianne Solivan, Victor Provost, the Herman Burney Trio, and the Elijah Balbed Quartet. Jazz at the Hamilton, the Festival’s main venue, will feature 10 nights of performances with such noted artists as Randy Weston, Monty Alexander, Roy Hargrove, Jimmy Heath, David Sanchez, Les Nubians, Antonio Hart, Cyrus Chestnut, Jonathan Batiste, Ben Williams, Etienne Charles, John Scofield, Roberta Gambarini, and Marshall Keys.

Jimmy Heath
Jazz at the Howard celebrates the tradition of jazz in D.C. at the newly restored and reopened historic Howard Theatre. Headline artists include multiple Grammy Award-winning vocalist Dianne Reeves and famed Italian guitarist Pino Daniele. The Festival also hosts a performance by the dazzling clarinetist and saxophonist Anat Cohen at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, and six concerts co-presented by the Kennedy Center at the Millennium Stage featuring artists such as Malika Zara, the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra, and Origem.  There is plenty of terrific jazz in a variety of musical flavors for the casual and discerning music lover at the 2012 DC Jazz Festival.

Roy Hargrove
The DC Jazz Festival (DCJF) is the largest music festival in Washington, D.C. A project of Festivals DC, Ltd., a 501 © (3) non-profit organization, the DCJF is one of the most highly-anticipated cultural events in the nation’s capital. The DC Jazz Festival is sponsored in part with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, an agency supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. For more information about the DC Jazz Festival and upcoming programs, visit

All photos © by Ron Weinstock

Friday, April 27, 2012

Evan Christopher Follows Sidney's Footsteps

Once again nominated in the Jazz Journalists Association’s Awards for clarinet, Evan Christopher has a new release in his Clarinet’s Road series, In Sidney’s Footsteps (STR Digital Records). This edition was recorded in Paris with a band that includes David Blenkhorn on guitar; Julien Brunetaud on piano; Sébastien Girardot on bass and Guillaume Nouaux on drums. As indicated by the title, the music of Sidney Bechet is inspiration for the music here, although not all the performances are of songs recorded by Bechet.

Christopher is brilliant on this recordings from the opening I Got a Right to Sing the Blues through the jaunty rendition of When I Grow Too Old to Dream that closes this recording. His clarinet sings with warmth, bluesy expression, fluidity and melodic invention supported by a fabulous band whose members complement the leader and add their own stamp. Pianist Brunetaud and guitarist Blenkhorn shine on their solos as well as their accompaniments and the rhythm duo get the right groove.

Photo © Ron Weinstock
Delights include Christopher’s driving boogie woogie Cinq Minutes! (Boogie), which allows Brunetaud to display his considerable facility along with some rather hot playing from Christopher and a spotlight on drummer Nouaux as well as Christopher’s lovely and wistful interpretation of Bechet’s famous Petite Fleur, with guitarist Blenkhorn adding embellishments as well as a tasteful solo.

Bechet’s Blues In The Air also displays Christopher and band’s facility with the blues with Brunetaud helping establish the movement with his understated blues playing over which Christopher states the theme and then elaborates. Blenkhorn mixes in single note runs with chords on his own jazzy blues solo. Blenkhorn is also prominent on the delicate and lovely performance of Django Reinhardt’s Manoir De Mes Rêves.

While not as strong a singer as clarinet player, Christopher has a definite charm as he shows on his vocal on James P. Johnson’s Old Fashioned Love, followed by his marvelous clarinet. He and pianist Brunetaud (singing in French) share the vocal on the closing When I Grow Too Old To Dream, with a very lively arrangement of this musical chestnut.

There is a presence to his clarinet and the performances on this wonderfully recorded album that continues to delight after repeated listening. In Sidney’s Footsteps may be Evan Christopher’s most exceptional recording yet. Given the high level of his prior albums, that is saying something.

I purchased this recording. Here is Evan Christopher performing Sidney Bechet's Petite Fleur.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

1st Weekend JazzFest Suggestions From One Who Cannot Be There

D.L. Menard
Photo © Ron Weinstock
A comment to a post on this blog requested if I had any recommendations for JazzFest this year and then Steve Kiviat, who is associated with the Washington City Paper, mentioned he was going to JazzFest for the first weekend and it was the first time in six years. He knew most of the funk acts and brass bands so he requested some other suggestions including any idea about Luther Kent and Ernie Vincent. I replied to Steve by email and am using my response to him as the basis for some Festival recommendations and excluding the most obvious big stage and soul acts like Bruce Springsteen and Al Green.

Evan Christopher - Photo © Ron Weinstock
I have not seen Ernie Vincent who is in the Blues Tent as is Luther Kent (who I have seen and is real good). However, Luther is opposite Evan Christopher who will be in the WWOZ Jazz Tent. Evan’s new Clarinet Road CD, In Sidney’s Footsteps (STR Digital) is superb.

Of special note on Friday, Stephanie Jordan and her Big Band is doing a tribute to Lena Horne and will be followed by Pancho Sanchez with Terence Blanchard.The Blues Tent becomes over-crowded but early on Friday it has legendary pianist Henry Grey followed by the former Clifton Chenier guitarist Lil Buck Sinigal. The New Orleans Revue on the Acura Stage Friday has Frankie Ford, Robert ‘Barefootin’ Parker, and Al ‘Carnival Time’ Johnson looks real good and they will be followed by The Dixie-Cups. Frankie Ford remains a terrific entertainer. The Fais Do Do Stage which features cajun and zydeco always has some good music with an exceptional lineup on Friday with Geno Delafose and Beausoleil standing out. Butch Thompson will be doing a Jelly Roll Morton tribute in the Economy Hall Tent and Irma Thomas will be doing her Mahalia Jackson Tribute in the Gospel tent.

Brother Tyrone
Photo © Ron Weinstock
On Saturday, Brother Tyrone (If You Ain’t Cheating, You Ain’t Trying) is soul-blues in Blues Tent and recommend him along with Wolfman Washington at that venue. In the WWOZ Jazz Tent I already have mentioned Evan Christopher and Clarinet Road, but also check out Irving Mayfield's New Orleans Jazz Orchestra features some terrific compositions and soloists. Closing in the Blues Tent will be a Tribute to Wardell Querzergue featuring The Dixie Cups, Robert “Barefootin’” Parker and Tony Owens. D.L. Menard (the Cajun Hank Williams), the Savoy Music Center Jam and the terrific Pine Leaf Boys will be on the Fais Do Do Stage, along with a non-cajun act, the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Shamarr Allen (Meet Me On Frenchmen Street) is on the Gentilly Stage early in the day.The Voice of the Wetlands All Stars (Tab Benoit, Dr. John, Cyril Neville, Anders Osborne, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Johnny Vidacovich, Johnny Sansone and Waylon Thibodeaux are on the Acura Stage before Tom Petty.

Stephanie Jordan
Photo © Ron Weinstock
On Sunday, Dr. John and Trombone Shorty are featured on the .Acura Stage but fans of New Orleans funk should also check out Papa Grows Funk on the Gentilly Stage (overlaps Dr. John) as well as The Batiste Brothers whom will be on Congo Square (overlap with trombone Shorty). Must see in Economy Hall is Lionel Ferbos who will be celebrating his 101st Birthday soon, and The Treme Brass Band. In the WWOZ Jazz Tent, Ellis Marsalis makes his festival appearance, the great Diane Reeves will sing and Nicholas Payton leads a fascinating trio which includes Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts on drums. In the Blues Tent Corey Harris & Phil Wiggins make perform some fascinating acoustic blues followed by the JazzFest return of Ironing Board Sam, once a JazzFest mainstay. Also in the Blues Tent is Gary Clark, Jr, who has been getting lot of well-deserved press recently. Kirk Joseph's Tuba Tuba on the Jazz and Heritage Stage sounds really fascinating as he leads a group of New Orleans finest Tuba players. Highlights on the Fais Do Do Stage on Sunday are Steve Riley and Hadley Castille, while guitarist Spencer Bohren performs on the Lagniappe Stage.

So that is my specific recommendations including some you may have not considered. Have a great Fest. I will post recommendations for the second weekend May 1 or 2.

Papa John Gros of Papa Grows Funk
Photo © Ron Weinstock

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

West Of Memphis Bakes Splendid Musical Honey Pie

Comprised of vocalist-harmonica player Karl Cabbage and guitarist Tom Walpole, and various sidemen, West of Memphis is a blues band hailing from San Diego. The band’s name stems from the fact that when Cabbage was stationed at a Naval base forty miles West of Memphis, he hitchhiked to busk and play harp on Beale Street and catch various blues heroes. The band was formed in 1999 and actual has been holding down a weekend gig at San Diego’s House of Blues since early 2006. Yes, imagine a House of Blues having a regular gig by a blues band.

They have just issued their second cd, Honey Pie, produced in Montreal by one of a superb Canadian harp players Bharath Rajakumar and this recording certainly will please fans of jumping Chicago styled-blues. There is a nice variety of material including solid remakes of songs from Jimmy Rogers (Back Door Friend and That’s All Right), Little Walter (Who and I Got to Go), Muddy Waters (Crosseyed Cat), and Johnny Young (I’m Having a Ball), along with solid idiomatic originals like Canary in Her Cage, the title track and Cell Phone Blues.

One would be hard-pressed to fine any tracks that stand-out as everything is done so nicely.They do a solid straight cover of Willie Dixon’s I’m Ready with I assume Walpole is the one ably handling the vocals while Cabbage takes a solid chromatic solo, while Cabbage handles the vocal mike on the Little Walter interpretations and Johnny Young’s exuberant I’m Having a Ball on which Bharath showcases his formidable harp playing. One of the originals Cell Phone Blues is preceded by a call from the song’s co-writer Geoff Starin, before Cabbage opens the song with some blasting harp as he tells his woman to close her cell phone baby, because “he don’t love you like I do.” Some great guitar from Walpole in a Junior Watson vein while the pianist, M. Gagnon helps supply the bottom with his strong two-handed playing (as he does throughout this disc).

Bharath takes the vocal on That’s Alright, where Cabbage plays some nice harp in the vein of Sonny Boy Williamson II. Miss Sugarpuss Boogie is a crisp feature for Walpole’s guitar that comes across as a fifties’ styled number. The closing shuffle. Chupacabra, is a hot harmonica duet by Bharath and Cabbage that ends a strongly appealing disc.

I likely received my review copy from a publicist for the release. The review originally appeared in the January 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 300).

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

More Images From The 2012 French Quarter Festival

New Orleans Icon Pete Fountain enjoying himself.
This is another post of images taken at the 2012 French Quarter Festival. This free festival, held I believe the second weekend of April every year, is an alternative to the better known Jazz & Heritage Festival. It is the largest free festival in the South and has music on multiple stages with a focus on New Orleans and Louisiana music as opposed to JazzFest which todays seems to emphasize National touring acts that play at almost any major music event.

New Birth Brass Band accompanied by very high stepping get ready to enter Jackson Square Park

Tim Laughlin, Pete Fountain and Connie Jones during Connie Jones' set
Pete Fountain playing
Creole Lionel Ferbos still playing strong at 100 years young

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mississippi Heat Lives It Up

It has been nearly twenty years since Pierre Lacocque formed the Chicago blues band and revue in one, Mississippi Heat, who have just issued their latest album on Delmark, Let’s Live It Up! Over the years, Lacocque has assembled various line-ups and for this disc vocalist Inetta Visor returns while Christopher ‘Hambone’ Cameron handles the keyboards and Stephen Howard the bass with Kenny Smith handling the drums for some of the 14 performances. Special guests include guitarists Carl Weathersby and John Primer, with the latter handling several vocals, and the Chicago Horns.

Lacocque contributed most of the songs here (originals with one exception) including the wild-ass p[arty rocker that opens this. He covers so many bases as a writer, able to handle songs in a traditional Chicago style such as Steadfast, Loyal and True, with some prime singing and playing from Primer. Jumpin’ in Chi-Town, is a supersonic tempo rocker with nice chromatic harp and brassy horns punctuating Inetta’s sassy vocal, while Inetta soulfully delivers She Died of a Broken Heart, an original she and Cameron collaborated on.

Primer is up front on “Betty Sue,” a hard rocker in the vein of Linda Lu, with some driving chicken-picking guitar in addition to Primer’s vocal. Another Sleepless Night, is a soul-blues with a strong lyric and an insistent vocal from Inetta backed by a driving backing with nice imaginative harp and a strong chromatic solo. Peace Train, is a gospel number with rollicking piano in the backing, while Weathersby biting guitar is prominent on Been Good To You, with choice solos also by Cameron and the leader.

The one cover here is the lively rendering of Sugar Pie DeSanto I Want To Know. Another highlight is Daggers & Spears, which introduces another singer, Rhonda Preston, who belts out the vocal. He delivery is more in the vein of a shouter in contrast to Inetta Visor’s more dry, sober approach with Giles Covey taking a solid solo. Primer’s own I Got the News Today, is another terrific performance in the traditional Chicago blues style, before the closing Until We Meet Again, a peppy closing number that is unusual to hear on a recording with Giles Covey a spirited solo before Lacocque closes it out on chromatic.

Mississippi Heat maintains their winning formula on Let’s Live It Up! with good original material, strong and authoritative singing, an excellent band that is comfortable in several different blues styles and excellent soloists. The result is another collection of blues that should appeal to those loving Chicago blues.

This review originally appeared in the July 2010 Jazz & Blues Report. I received my review copy from Delmark.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Melissa Errico's Legrand Affair

Michel Legrand is one of the grand composers for stage and film of our times and in 2005, he and Broadway actress Melissa Errico spent time together. They then travelled to Belgium, where with a full orchestra conducted and arranged by Legrand they recorded a number of Legrand’s songs. While some touches were added later, it took until now for the recordings to be released under Errico’s name, Legrand Affair: The Songs of Michel Legrand (Ghostlight Records).

I was not familiar with Melissa Errico until this recording. Married to tennis star Patrick McEnroe, she has such a beautiful voice and her precise diction and delivery likely illustrates why she has become a star of many musical productions. She has starred in seven Broadway productions and had two prior albums. Prior to this recording, I also did not realize the depth of Legrand’s legacy as a composer. The songs include The Summer Knows, and The Windmill of Your Mind. The other songs may not have been as familiar, but equally displayed melodies that linger in a listener's head. The couple, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, contributed the lyrics to 10 of the 15 selections on this album.

Enrico singing creates a sense of intimacy even with the full orchestration on these lovely songs. Legrand sings a scatted, wordless vocal to a duet between him and Errico on the Legrand-Johnny Mercer ballad, Once Upon a Summertime. The closing selection, Celui-La is the only non-orchestral performance. Here, her vocal in French is accompanied by Legrand’s piano. These are consistently beautiful performances. Errico has such a beautiful voice and the lush arrangements accentuate this and the romanticism of the lyrics of all the marvelous songs here. Legrand Affair makes for easy, but grand, listening.

My review copy was provided by a publicist. Here she talks about Legrand Affair.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Gary Primich is a Company Man

Austin’s Gary Primich brings his formidable harp technique and appealing singing to Company Man, another new release from the revived Black Top label. He’s joined here by guitarists Shorty Lenoir and Mark Korpi, with one acoustic track that has Steve James adding his formidable playing.

This is a mix of good original material with catchy lines and some less familiar covers. A couple of covers are from the Smiley Lewis canon including Hook, Line and Slinker, with some rollicking tinker toy piano and an acoustic version of Jailbird. There’s some nice harp workouts, The Briar Patch (with some fine chromatic harp) and Varmint, as Primich’s tasty playing is showcased.

What is particularly appealing besides his technique, tone and fluency, is that he knows when to lay back, and he exhibits finesse as well as power. Similarly, his vocals are richly and convincingly delivered without any artifice. The overall flavor, with string bass and tasty drums, is not too far removed from a number of similar efforts, including several from the West Coast by James Harman, Rod Piazza and the late William Clarke.

This is a fine album, although Cub Koda’s liner notes are a bit hyperbolic. Furthermore, as someone whose relatives died in gas chambers, I find his use of blues “nazis” to describe those who don’t share his views as offensive in trivializing the term. It is a word tossed around too freely and perhaps reflects a certain intellectual laziness.

This review of one of Gary Primich’s recordings appeared originally in the June 1997 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 222), although a few minor stylistic changes have been made. I likely received a review copy directly from Black Top at the time. Primich died in September 2007 and Old Pal Records has just issued a double CD of Primich recordings (many with Omar Dykes) Just a Little Bit More … which I will be reviewing and hope to post in a few days. Company Man is available from along with other vendors as well as valuable as a download.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Some 2012 French Quarter Images

For 2012 I passed up on JazzFest and instead came to New Orleans a few weeks earlier for the 29th Annual French Quarter Festival. Like JazzFest, this is a multi-genre event. However it is staged throughout the French Quarter and on Riverfront Park as well. It is free and the performers are with a few exceptions (some traditional jazz artists from overseas) are from New orleans and Louisiana. So no touring acts but there are some impressive National touring acts including Trombone Shorty.

One could not expect better weather this past weekend. Sunny, a breeze and not particularly humid. One performer I had the pleasure to see twice was keyboardist Joe Krown. First I saw him in the trio with guitarist Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington and drummer Russell Batiste on the Abita Stage (perhaps the largest performance stage. The next day, he did a tribute to James Booker at irving Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonesta Hotel which was quite crowded for his performance. At the top of the page is a picture taken at the the James Booker tribute. Below is Wolfman Washington and Russell Batiste from their performance with Joe.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Curtis Salgado Makes A Clean Getaway

Vocalist and harp player, Curtis Salgado, fortunately has come back with a vengeance after having very serious health issues. Perhaps marking the clean bill of health from doctors recently, his new disc for Shananchie is Clean Getaway. Recorded with the Phantom Blues Band, it is a terrific disc that showcase what a strong and soulful vocalist he is as he traverses the blues and modern soul genres on the performances here.

The title track opens up with some stinging guitar with Salgado singing about selling everything he has to a pawn shop, leave his past behind and take a long vacation and make a clean getaway from things before giving a litany of complaints about the nature of things today. His vocal is well suited to this unusually thoughtful lyrics. The following Both Sorry Over Nothin’ is a nice soul number with him adding some well placed harp while Who’s Lovin’ You, is a soul ballad with a touch of Sam Cooke.

Johnny Guitar Watson's What’s Going On, is evoked on What’s Up With That, with some shattering Watson-styled guitar throughout and the Horns evoking those old Maxwell Davis studio bands. I Don’t Want to Discuss It,” is a hyper-rocking number while 20 Years of B.B. King, is a terrific blues as Salgado sings about his girl giving him the blues with lyrics that incorporates phrases from B.B. King’s recordings and song titles as he has learned more about the blues from her than 20 years of B.B. King. Some really excellent guitar on this track as well. Another performance to note is his cover of Al Green’s Let’s Gets Married.

This album has worn well, with Salgado sounding better each time I give it a listen. The only thing more welcome than this disc is the fact that Curtis Salgado is back and sounding as good as new.

This review originally appeared in the October 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 309). I do not remember my source for the recording, whether Shanachie, a publicist or Jazz & Blues Report. Here is Curtis singing  20 Years of B.B. King.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

One Has To Love Lillan Boutté at the French Quarter Festival

Some years back, I came across an album The Jazz Book (Enja) by a New Orleans vocalist I was previously not familiar with, Lillian Boutté. I confess that the presence of Dr. John was a factor influencing my purchase. Then I discovered the presence of New Orleans legends Edward Frank on piano and Lloyd Lambert on bass with Leroy Jones on trumpet.

Then putting it on my cd player and hearing her launch into Billie Holiday’s “Now Baby Or Never” and sings associated with Dinah Washington, Bessie Smith and Patti Page. On a recording of superb singing, the highpoint was her reworking of “Tennessee Waltz,” with a New Orleans R&B style arrangement. What a terrific performance and it lead me to purchase an ensuing recording with many of the same personnel, But Beautiful, as well as the music of her baby brother John and niece, Tricia “Sister Teedy” Boutté.

I have had the pleasure of seeing John perform a number of times and Tricia a couple of times, but I finally had a chance to see Lillian perform at this year’s French Quarter Festival. Someone mentioned to me that April is about the only time once can see her in New Orleans as opposed to Europe where she has become quite the attraction. I was glad I finally had the change to see her perform, and with a quartet that included the great New Orleans guitarist, Detroit Brooks. The icing on the cake was that she opened with a stunning rendition of Tennessee Waltz. Her set was storming enough for me to go to The Bombay Club that night and catch her opening set that evening.

Lillian Boutté’s recordings may be hard to find, but try the Louisiana Music Factory.In addition to her back catalog, they were selling Lillian Boutté Sings Louis Armstrong, a marvelous EP that is excerpted from her CD, You Got To Love Pops. I simply state, you got to love Lillian Boutté.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Moonshine Society's Live Time In Shanghai

The Washington DC area band Moonshine Society, accompanied by harmonica master Charlie Sayles, spent three months playing six nights a week at The House of Blues and Jazz in Shanghai, China. During their engagement they were recorded live and the result is the self-produced CD, Live In Shanghai. The music of Moonshine Society is anchored around the vocals of Jenny ‘Black Betty’ Poppen and her husband Joe Poppen on guitar. They met at Berklee in Boston and moving down to the Washington DC area where they performed and mentored by Memphis Gold and others. In Shanghai the band included bassist Chris Brown and drummer Brett Byars in addition to Sayles. They are tight and functional band and with this small group the focus is on Jenny’s vocals, Joe’s fiery guitar and Charlie’s harp, with the bass and drums providing the setting.

Very little in the nature of surprises in the songs included which include a variety of familiar blues and blues-influenced pop material. Opening is the Al Jackson and Timothy Matthews tune that was a hit for Ann Peebles and later Albert King, Breaking Up Somebody’s Home. It establishes Jenny’s presence as a singer and Joe’s energetic guitar playing. Charlie Sayles is spotlighted as vocalist on Jimmy Reed’s Bright Lights, Big City which allows him to shine. Poppen pulls out all the stops on a lengthy solo during Love Me Like a Man on which Jenny sounds really tough singing while Charlie’s harp is in the back ground. They return to Jimmy Reed on Big Boss Man, with a choppy shuffle beat (but they don’t capture the restrained, unhurried feel of Reed’s original) although Sayles takes a strong harp solo. This is followed by a lovely, nuanced rendition of the Roberta Flack hit, Killing Me Softly benefiting from an understated vocal and spare backing,

Lazy Lester’s swamp blues shuffle Sugar Coated Love follows and is a rocking performance with Sayles’ harmonica again prominent along with Joe Poppen in the accompaniment. Jenny’s low-key vocal on Lisa Mill’s Better Than This is a lovely blues and rhythm ballad performance that is complemented by Joe’s restrained playing. Following is a nice shuffle medley of the classic Rock Me Baby (with more harp from Sayles) and Slim Harpo’s Te Ni Nee Ni Nu, with Jenny certainly asserting herself as sing sings “rock me like my back ain’t got no bone,” with Poppen stinging when they transition into a funk groove on the latter number. They get down into the alley on Albert Collins’ Do What You Want to Do, a lengthy slow blues performance with a short break from Sayles and a lengthy guitar solo. Not mentioned on the back cover is an atmospheric solo bass guitar rendition of The Beatles’ Michelle.

Moonshine Society‘s Live in Shanghai is an entertaining album with strong singing and solid musicianship. One can purchase the CD at their shows or as downloads from It is also available as a CD or download at and iTunes.

This review originally appeared in the February 2012 Capital Blues Messenger, the DC Blues Society newsletter.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Juke Boy Bonner Lived The Life Of A Ghetto Poet

Weldon ‘Juke Boy’ Bonner was a Houston, Texas down home bluesman who passed away in 1978 at the age of 46. Often performing as a one-man band, he lived a hard life that served as a basis for much of his blues. Listening to the Arhoolie disc Ghetto Poet, one is treated by a performer influenced by Lightnin’ Hopkins as well as such blues artists as Jimmy Reed. While not nearly as gifted a guitarist or charismatic a singer as the legendary Hopkins, Bonner was able to invest his performances with a strong rhythm and simply played, but effective guitar and harmonica lines. His strength was his songs, especially his lyrics dealing with the realities of ghetto life.

Originally Bonner covered the latest juke box hits at clubs leading to his nickname. In the early 1950s, he went to California where he made his first recordings. Later he recorded for small labels in Texas and Louisiana. For a time, his poems appeared in the Houston African-American weekly, Forward Times. In 1967, Bonner was discovered by the late Mike Leadbitter who recorded his first album for the British Flyright label. Soon thereafter, Chris Strachwitz recorded the first of two albums that would be issued on vinyl on Arhoolie. The best tracks from these appeared on an earlier Arhoolie CD, Life Gave Me A Dirty Deal. These recordings led Juke Boy to tour Europe as part of the 1969 American Folk Blues Festival Tour along with John jackson, Clifton Chenier, Magic Sam, Alex Moore, and Earl Hooker. Other tours followed, but Bonner’s authentic blues was less in demand inHouston and he was only able to get a few concert performances and occasional tours. In the liner notes to Ghetto Poet, Chris Strachwitz recalls that the last time he saw Juke Boy, he was working at a dreadful minimum age job unloading chickens at a processing plant.

Bonner’s lyrics were realistic and down-to-earth. He sang about growing up and being the head of his choir and buying his first guitar in Childhood Dreams, as well as knocking so the roaches would let him in his apartment where the rain was coming in as it was leaking outside in the shelter that he worried about being kicked out of because he was having trouble meeting the rent in Rainin’ In my Room. Playing a steady walking bass line, he rocks out a couple of nice instrumentals, Zodico Jump, and Houston Beat. Let Me Be Run It Down To You has him explaining the facts of his relationship to his women. In contrast, he philosophizes about ending all the hate between people on Settin’ the Record Straight. One would be hard-pressed to find a poor performance here. If the blues ain’t nothing but the truth Juke Boy Bonner was one of its ablest poets and his music is well worth exploring.

This was a value priced CD and you may wish to order directly from Arhoolie where this costs only $10.00. the direct link on Arhoolie’s website is

This review is slightly revised from my review that appeared in the November 2004 DC Blues Calendar. I likely received this from Arhoolie Records. Here is a clip of him performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1975.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Johnny Winter Was Careful Around Fools

Back in 2004 I did a review of Sony/Legacy reissues of Muddy Waters and Johnny Winter albums. The review originally appeared in the November/December 2004 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 271). I have made minor stylistic edits. The review of the Muddy Waters reissues was posted on Friday, April 13.

Sony/Legacy also reissued Johnny Winter’s Columbia debut album – Johnny Winter. There is a nice choice of material including Mean Mistreater, Be Careful With a Fool, When You Got a Good Friend, I’ll Drown in My Tears, Dallas and Good Morning Little Schoolgirl. Winter sometimes was a bit too frantic to me, particularly in his vocals, and I must confess I find his vocals most appealing when he doesn’t try to belt them out but rather sings in a more relaxed manner. So his vocal on Be Careful With a Fool doesn’t appeal to these ears as much as does his fret work, but I know others differ from me on this point.

Dallas is a splendid acoustic slide performance in which Winter engrafts his lyric upon a slide accompaniment evoking Robert Johnson’s Terraplane Blues. Mean Mistreater goes back to Leroy Carr and the accompaniment here (based on a Muddy Waters recording) includes Willie Dixon’s bass and Walter Horton’s majestic harp, with Winter giving one of his best vocals on this date. I am not sure if it was included in the original release, but there is also a terrific rendition of Texas Johnny Brown’s Two Steps From the Blues, that was made famous by Bobby Bland and Winter does a more than credible rendition of the vocal with a full backing group with horns. There is also an alternate of Dallas.

Although I have not heard Winter’s most recent album, I really enjoyed listening to his last two Point Blank discs over a decade ago. This reissue of one of his earliest albums is most welcome, and, stands up today as when first recorded.

Here is Johnny performing Be Careful With a Fool

Saturday, April 14, 2012

James Armstrong Survived A Very Dark Night

James Armstrong’s recovery from the terrible stabbing he suffered at the hands of a deranged homeless person a couple years ago is one of the most heartening stories in the blues, and the release of his second Hightone album, Dark Night, is a cause for celebration. Bruce Bromberg is one of the producers, so it may not be completely surprising that some may find this recording suggestive of Bromberg’s recordings by Robert Cray and Joe Louis Walker.

Armstrong stands on his own with his gritty, slightly laconic delivery who can deal with the urban violence he personally experienced, yet can still see the light. His optimism is most obvious on the joy he celebrates on his Lil’ James, about his young son. He is as forthright singing about a relationship falling apart because of misunderstandings, miscommunications, mistakes and mistrust on Doug MacLeod’s Too Many Misses For Me, as on Slender Man Blues where he warrants that wants to do something for the ladies that the big boys can’t. Joe Louis Walker adds guitar to Trouble on the Home Front, a lazy shuffle about the “worse type of trouble to have,” while Doug MacLeod is present of Armstrong’s amusing shuffle, Bank of Love, with some imaginative use of language.

Like practically all of Bruce Bromberg’s productions, these performances come across as well rehearsed and cleanly executed. Yet like Cray and Walker, Armstrong invests plenty of soul into his performances, and his own guitar solos are solidly crafted.

I recently posted here (January 1, 2012) on Armstrong’s new album, Blues at the Border. The present review appeared originally in the October 1998 DC Blues Calendar as well as the October 1998 Jazz and Blues Report (Issue 235). Here is James performing at the 2009 Pocono Blues Festival and I was at this show.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Muddy Waters Recordings With Johnny Winter Had His Blues Hard Again

Following up the acclaimed and award-winning reissue, Muddy ‘Mississippi’ Waters Live, Sony/Legacy recently reissued the three studio albums Johnny Winter produced by the legendary Muddy Waters, Hard Again, I’m Ready and King Bee. Recorded after Muddy had ended his affiliation with Chess Records, there is no question that these recordings were among the most vital Waters recorded since the classic recordings from the late forties to mid-sixties with which his legend was established.

Hard Again was the earliest one and it opens with Muddy reprising his Mannish Boy with Johnny shouting in support with the band hammering out the beat and Muddy singing with a virility that a twenty-five year old wishes they possessed. The backing band here includes Winter, harpist James Cotton, Pinetop Perkins, Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith and Calvin Jones, who help Muddy reprise I Want to Be Loved. They take Brownie McGhee’s The Blues Had a Baby and recast it into a Muddy Waters song, and then take things Deep Down in Florida. The mix of old and new set the tone for the Waters Blue Sky releases.

I’m Ready was the second release and reunited Muddy with Big Walter Horton and Jimmy Rogers from his classic bands of the fifties. The rhythm section is perhaps a touch lighter here as Walter reprises the title track, (I’m Your) Hootchie Cootchie Man, Screamin’ and Cryin’ and Rock Me, along with Good Morning Little School Girl and 33, a slow blues that is a recasting of Eddie Boyd’s 24 Hours. Its also nice to hear Winter and Bob Margolin holding things together with their playing and Winter often adding his own inspired straight guitar as well as slide playing to compliment Muddy’s.

The final album, King Bee features more authoritative performances including Slim Harpo’s I’m a King Bee (with a strong Rock Me groove). (My Eyes) Keep Me in Trouble, Sad Sad Day, and Mean Old Frisco are classic recordings refreshed here along with Champagne and Reefers, which became a Waters staple in his later years.

Johnny Winter certainly must be thanked for showing that Muddy Waters remained among the true giants of American music and these recordings certainly kept him in the public eye.

This review originally appeared in the November-December 2004 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 271) along with a review of a Johnny Winter reissue that will be posted here on Monday the 15th. Here is Muddy live with John lee Hooker as well as Johnny Winter.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Roy Gaines Takes His Blues In The House

In the House on Crosscut adds to the growing number of recent CDs by Roy Gaines. This is one of a series of discs taken from performances at Switzerland’s Lucerne Blues Festival. Gaines put on a stunning performance to close the 2001 D.C. Blues Festival, and this performance was recorded a couple months after that performance.

There are fervent renditions of Hind Ends and Elbows and W.C. Handy Sang the Blues from Gaines excellent New Frontier Lover Severn album, along with Southern Women (“I just love southern Women” he sings here)” and Lucille Works For Me (where he playfully sings about becoming the master of B.B. King’s guitar.” Other songs are less familiar like the oddly-titled Standing Up For Women’s Rights, where Gaines sings that there ought to be a law about a woman giving away her love to someone new.

The opening of Wolfman suggests the guitar accompaniment to the Bobby Bland’s hit Further On the Road, before Gaines sings about being a wolf sniffing his woman’s trail and howling for the woman to let him in. There are places where Gaines plays in the vein of his mentor, T-BoneWalker, although his dirty guitar tone here is far removed from Walker’s classic sound. Gaines’ driving playing and shouted vocals are complemented by a punchy horns section and strong solos from saxophonist Troy Jennings and Johnny Viau and trumpeter George Pandis. Pandis provided the brassy arrangements.

Petrol For Your Tank employs the same melody as Blueman For Life, the title track of Gaines’ comeback JSP album, with the band really gets a nice groove going. Pandis tears off a blistering solo here in addition to searing guitar from Gaines. For a complete change of pace, the album closes with an engaging rendition of Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans, which few other blues groups would try, much less handle as ably as Gaines. Few sing and play with the authority of Roy Gaines.

This review originally appeared in the May 2003 DC Blues Calendar. I do not recall if I received a review copy or purchased this. It is still available as an import or also as mp3s. I previously posted about Gaines excellent big band Blues album, Tuxedo Blues, and the Severn release, New Frontier LoverHere is Roy in a T-Bone Walker-ish mood.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Duke Danger Finds If It Ain't One Thing, Its Another

The Belgium Blues Boulevard label, a subsidiary of Music Avenue, had issued a number of CDs that make available releases of blues-rock and blues that will be of differing interest to blues enthusiasts.

Duke Faglier aka Duke Danger has been playing music since a Daytona Beach youngster and played in groups that included Duane and Greg Allman. Inspired and influenced by such blues legends as Albert, B.B. and Freddie King; James Cotton, Little Milton as well as soul legends like Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, James Brown and Ray Charles, he toured with Wayne Cochran and shared stages with Clarence Carter, Bo Diddley, The Tams, Jackie Wilson and Albert King. Toss in some touches of Roy Buchanan, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman and Albert Collins, one has an interesting foundation for blues laced with rock’n’soul.

Touring with Jerry Lee Lewis for 13 years certainly has helped him mature as a performer. His new album, If It Ain't One Thing, Its Another, is a highly listenable set that has a rocking feel but always blues-soul rooted. He sings with plenty of heart and grit although with a slightly limited range, and has a nice band to support his fretwork. Special note is of saxophonist John Longo as well as Bunky Keels on keyboards. He is also a pretty fair songwriter that suits his grainy voice. If he can’t completely pull off Damn Your Eyes, his originals like the title track or Love at First Sight, by Bud Reneau & Don Goodman, show how his vocals possess a definite charm reminiscent of Elvin Bishop.

On the latter tune he effectively employs an echoey treble to add atmosphere. Perhaps this listener’s favorite track has Duke ‘rocking all my life, but’ Now I’m Singing the Blues, with ripping sax and honky tonk piano from Keels. One More Last Chance is a nice ballad and there is lively funk-tinged rendition of Rufus Thomas’ That Woman Is Poison. Longo adds a jazzy flavor to Tuffer Than Tuff, credited to Cole Porter but is actually Jimmy Witherspoon’s Money Get Cheaper. For some reason credited to Duke as Who’ll The Next Fool Be, the album closes with a capable rendition of Charlie Rich’s classic Who Will The Next Fool Be, and the influence of Jerry Lee Lewis (who did a killer recording of this) can be heard in the vocal as well.

This review originally appeared in the March 2009 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 314) where it was part of a review of three Blues Boulevard releases. The review copy was either sent by Blues Boulevard or the publication.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Curtis Salgado's Superb Soul Shot

While some may know Curtis Salgado from his association with John Belushi and his influence in The Blues Brothers, Curtis Salgado has established himself along with Tad Robinson, Sugar Ray Norcia and Darrell Nulisch as a superb blue-eye soul and blues singer (and also a pretty fair harmonica player. Well documented health issues may have put a temporary stop to his career, but he reemerged in 2008 with “Clean Getaway” on Shanachie backed by The Phantom Blues Band. That was a strong effort and he is back with a new release, Soul Shot, his Alligator debut that is co-produced by Phantom Blues Band drummer Tony Braunagel (who produced the Shanachie disc) along with funk and R&B guitarist Marlon McClain, and Salgado himself.

Salgado contributed seven originals which are heard along with covers of recordings from Parliament, the Detroit Emeralds, Johnny 'Guitar' Watson, and Otis Redding. The performances on Soul Shot is perhaps a bit more soul oriented than the prior release and one hears echoes of the late Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records Production (particularly in the churning rhythms on many of the eleven selections), Johnny Guitar Watson and others in the handsome production and brassy arrangements. Members of the Phantom Blues band are on this including Mike Finnigan on keyboards.

This recording was made for dancing as well as listening. A groover, What You Gonna Do? opens and Salgado delivers the soulful goods with his vocal with the band rocking hard and the following Love Comfort Zone, may take the rhythmic heat down a notch, but the naturalness of Salgado’s vocals is evident as is the strong idiomatic playing by the studio band. What stands out is that he doesn’t sound like he is trying to sound soulful. There is a relaxed feel in his phrasing as well as his cries and shouts.

Getting To Know You, from a lesser known Parliament album, is a performance than suggests vintage Hi Records that I think Otis Clay and Syl Johnson might have an appreciative nod about. It is the first appearance of Salgado’s harp, followed a strong piano break by Finnigan. He sounds like he is playing a melodica to open She Didn't Cut Me Loose, an original performed in the style of Johnny Watson’s funky seventies blues. It compares well with Salgado’s strong revival of Watson’s Strung Out, a terrific soulful ballad performance. Perhaps the only musical miscue is the revival of Otis Redding’s Love Man, where he sounds like he is trying to channel Redding’s vocal. Not a bad performance, but a step down from the rest of this. The track does sport a booting tenor sax solo.

On a stronger note is Nobody But You where he channels O.V. Wright as he sings about his woman making him feel like a king when he was nothing but a slave. He Played His Harmonica is a superb mix of funk and blues as he sings about a young blood who got the house to jump and shout as he was as bad as Al Capone on the Windy City saxophone, on which he takes a jazzy sounding vein.

Soul Shot provides more evidence that the accolades Curtis Salgado has received over the years have been well earned. It is a superb recording with worthy new material and covers of songs that have not been interpreted to death. Fans of classic soul particularly will enjoy it.

I received my review copy from Alligator Records, who is officially releasing it today (April 10). On April 19 I will be posting a review of Curtis' "Clean Getaway" from a few years back.  Here is Curtis performing on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Son Seals Spontaneous Blues Combustion

I miss Son Seals. Has it been 7 years since he passed in December 2004. To my mind, he was the single most important artist Alligator discovered. As strong a musician, he was a great person. Here is a 15 year old review of one of his live Alligator recordings that originally appeared in the December 1996 DC Blues Calendar and the February 1997 Jazz and Blues Report (Issue 218). I believe this was the last album he recorded for Alligator which issued a compilation of Son later. Alligator sent me the review copy back then.

Live-Spontaneous Combustion was the second live album Son Seals on Alligator. His Live and Burning album is a classic, and featured what was arguably Son’s best band with Lacy Gibson on rhythm guitar, A.C. Reed on saxophone, Snapper Mitchum on bass and Tony Gooden on drums. This is not to dismiss his present band which is a fine group, with Red Groenzinger’s saxophones and flute being particularly outstanding.

For this live recording at Buddy Guy’s Legends, Seals and Red are joined by, among others, Johnny B. Gayden on bass, Sid Wingfield on keyboards and trumpeter Dan Rabinovitz. The horns add some punchy riffs, although their voices are somewhat predictable. The individual playing by the horns are more arresting, such as Rabinovitz’s wide open trumpet on Mother Blues.

Son’s approach to the blues has always been straight ahead without any mannerisms or artifice. He sings the songs and plays without false theatrics, investing each song with all the passion he can muster. Son revisits several of the blues that helped establish his reputation as a no B.S. bluesman, No, No Baby, Sitting Here Thinking, and You’re Love is Like a Cancer. He gives his own distinctive treatment to Harold Burrage’s Crying For My Baby, and Lowell Fulson’s Trouble, Trouble. The closing, rocking rendition of Tampa Red’s Don’t Lie to Me provides a fitting conclusion to the one hour-plus of first-rate Son Seals.

It may not burn quite as much as his earlier live album, but this one burns pretty hot on its own terms.

Here is Son Seals performing one of his blues live.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Bruce Katz Very Live! at the Firefly

The keyboards of Bruce Katz has been a most welcome to a variety of performers recordings, including in recent years, Duke Robillard and Joe Louis Walker. With his current band of guitarist Chris Vitarello; bassist Rod Carey; and drummer Ralph Rosen, he has a new disc on his own Brown Dog label (distributed by VizzTone), Live! at the Firefly, recorded at the Ann Arbor, Michigan club in April 2008.

Live! at the Firefly is a collection of chicken-licking blues and jazz instrumentals that fans of Jack McDuff and Jimmy McGriff will love. Opening with a straight blues groove on Deep Pockets, Katz and Vitarello both display their chops and musical sense. An unusual choice is Charles Mingus’ Better Get It In Your Soul, and ambitious attempt with plenty of Katz’s greasy Hammond B-3 to start things off with everybody swinging hard. Carey and Rosen certainly merit praise here, before a nicely paced solo from Vitarello.

Katz switches to piano on a late night slow blues, The Blue Lamp, that lets him rumble down in the alley as well as lets Vitarello a chance to show his electric blues chops. Jump Start, is a funky groover with twangy guitar; Ice Cream Man, is a playful funky blues; while the solo piano Southern Route, has a country-tinge. Marshall Country, evokes West Side Chicago to these ears, and Crew of Two, is a ebullient shuffle.

Norton’s Boogie Woogie, has blistering boogie piano, a rocking guitar solo followed by sizzling solo piano interlude with the full quartet taking it out in jumping fashion. Its followed by the atmospheric Victoria, with Katz on piano and this joyous disc concludes with Brother Stevie. This walking shuffle closes Live! at the Firefly on the high level that characterizes this entire recording.

This review originally appeared in the February 2009 Jazz and Blues Report (Issue 313), although I made a few minor stylistic changes. Here is the Bruce Katz Band performing in Norway a few months after recording this album.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Matthews Stubbs Soul Bending Guitar

Another young guitarist, Matthew Stubbs makes his debut on the VizzTone release, Soul Bender. Stubbs, only 25, has certainly quite some experience, having competed in the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge, and toured as a sideman with Janiva Magness, John Nemeth and Linwood Slim. Currently he is in Charlie Musselwhite’s Band. Pretty impressive resume receiving strong endorsements from Bob Margolin and Junior Watson.

Soul Bender was produced by Stubbs and includes Sax Gordon Beadle leading a tight horn section along with a tight rhythm section on an all instrumental program. Listening to this, one can agree with Bob Margolin who suggests this is what Freddie King might have sounded like if he had recorded in Memphis with the Bar-Kays. There is a mix of hot blues riffs infused with some surf instrumental twang set against a funk groove and riffing horns syled after the Memphis horns.

Taken a few tracks at time, or put in an ipod or other mp3 player put in a shuffle mode, Stubbs fiery, yet tasty guitar is best appreciated along with some blasts of Beadle’s gutbucket tenor (20 Gallons of Beadle Juice or Sticky Bunz). Rivelli’s Mood, is a nice slow gospel-tinged instrumental with the horns setting the mood with Stubbs stating the theme before blasting out a call and response with Beadle. The rocking Stompin’ On Thru, opens with Stubbs setting out with a blistering tempo and mixing is single note runs with some chords that Beadle gets works off of.

While there are moments that might evoke King Curtis’ Memphis Soul Stew, the songs are based on funky grooves and riffs that start to sound the same listened to in one sitting. Bear in mind that some of us also find albums of Freddie King instrumentals best taken in small morsels.

I likely received this release from a publicist or VizzTone and it originally appeared in the May 2009 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 316). Matthew has a subsequent release that I have not heard. Here is Matt and Mr. Beadle on sax.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Johnny Adams Keep His Music Planted In The Blues

The late Johnny Adams was among my favorite blues and soul singers, but he was so capable of more. His catalog on Rounder is universally excellent. The following review of one of his excellent Rounder albums appeared in the December 1996 DC Blues Calendar as well as the February 1997 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 218). I likely received my review copy from Rounder Records. This CD is available currently as a download.

Johnny Adams is simply a terrific singer and his latest Rounder album, One Foot In the Blues, has him backed by Dr. Lonnie Smith on the Hammond B-3, guitarist Jimmy Ponder and drummer Shannon Powell along with saxophonists Ed Peterson and Donald Harrison Jr. and with trumpeter Jamil Sharif. Despite the jazzy backing, this has more of a blues flavor than Adams’ two previous Rounder releases. He is in good form, although he no longer vocally soars into the stratosphere as he did a couple decades past.

The title song is a fine new number penned by Dan Penn, Jonnie Barnett and Carson Whitsett. Other songs include a couple of fine blue ballads from Buddy Johnson’s pen, including I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone, and three Percy Mayfield Numbers including the classic Two Years of Torture. Smith greases the musical stew, Ponder adds some tasty fills and solos, and the horn players cook

There is a relaxed groove and tasty looseness to these performances that add to Rounder’s invaluable catalog of Adams releases.

Here is Johnny Adams in performance at the Lone Star in NYC from 1990.