Saturday, October 31, 2015

Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls Are Soul Brothers

Otis Clay guested on Johnny Rawls’ last recording, the highly praised “Remembering OV.” Now the two have collaborated for a new Catfood Records release “Soul Brothers.” The veteran blues and soul singers are backed by bassist Bob Trenchard and The Rays on a program of classic soul covers and originals. The production and the backing throughout is first-rate.

Certainly a recording with plenty of charms, it is not consistently up to the level one might imagine from the pairing of the two. Clay does not sound quite as vigorous here as elsewhere. Perhaps the covers of Delaney & Bonnie’s “Only You Know and I Know” and the recently departed Jimmy Ruffins’ “What Becomes of the Broken Heart” don’t come up to the originals, although in fairness on the former number I expected more in the vein of Sam & Dave (“You Don’t Know Like I Know”), which as a duo they don’t equal. Better is the straight cover of Tyrone Davis’ smash, “Turn Back The Hands of Time.” I emphasize these are good performances, simply not extraordinary.

 Rawls (often with Trenchard) continues to be one of the more interesting songwriters today as the bluesy “Voodoo Queen” and the deep soul original “Living on Borrowed Time,” the latter number sounding like vintage OV Wright. “Road Dog” is a collaboration with Trenchard and Clay as he and Rawls sing (with ounchy backing) about playing in Memphis, getting a few hours of sleep and then on to New Orleans. Also included is Rawls gospel original “Hallelujah Lord.”

Soul Brothers” is a solid collection of southern soul and blues performances even if it does not capture Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls at their very best.

I received my copy from a publicist. Here Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls are seen performing Tyrone Davis’ smash, “Turn Back The Hands of Time."

Friday, October 30, 2015

James Cotton It Was A Very Good Year

James Cotton
It Was A Very Good Year
Just a Memory JAM 9144-2

It Was a Very Good Year/ Mystery Train/ She’s My Baby/ One More Mile/ How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)/ I Can’t Quit You Baby/ Sweet Sixteen/ Midnight Creeper/ Hootchie Cootchie Man/ You’re So Fine. 46:55.

Cotton, vcl, hca, Albert Gianquinto, p; Luther Tucker,g; Bobby Anderson, b; Francis Clay, d. September 28, 1967. Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

This is the third disc deriving from live performances by the James Cotton band at the New Penelope Cafe in Montreal in September 1967 on Just a Memory. These must be among the last performances by the Cotton band with Albert Gianquinto on piano. This writer saw Cotton and his band in Cleveland in early Fall 1967 (possibly a week or two after the engagement which produced this recording), by which time a saxophone had replaced pianist Gianquinto. In any event , this was one of Cotton’s best bands and if this recording lacks the highest of fidelity (the drums are too prominent), the sound is acceptable. 

1967 may well have been a very good year in Montreal with Expo ‘67, but the title track is a feature for Gianquinto’s jazzy piano before the band brings Cotton up to the stage. There is a nice mix of songs from Cotton as he opens up with Jr. Parker’s “Mystery Train” before tackling Sonny Boy Williamson’s “She’s My Baby” which Cotton had recorded as “Sugar Sweet,” and his own “One More MIle”. The inclusion of Marvin Gaye’s Motown hit “How Sweet It Is,” is an indication that the boundaries between blues and soul were not as demarcated as some find today. 

Luther Tucker’s guitar is spectacular on Cotton’s solo rendition of Otis Rush’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” and the lengthy “Sweet Sixteen” where he really stretches out. Cotton has the lengthy “Midnight Creeper” to showcase his harmonica mastery. Cotton also sings here as well as he ever did and the level of the music supports the memory of this being a great blues band. Incidentally, the closing “You’re So Fine,” is erroneously credited to Little Walter. It is a reworking of the Johnny Otis song that was a hit for the Fiestas.

This review was written in 2001 and likely published in Cadence from whom I likely received a review copy. I had previously reviewed another CD "Seems Like Yesterday" from this engagement, and it was posted back in 2012. Here is Cotton and band from 1967 doing "Off The Wall."

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Andy Cohen - Road Be Kind

Andy Cohen is a remarkable performer who i am most familiar with from his blues playing, but as Earwig's Michael Frank observes, "he never ceases to impress me with encyclopedic knowledge and ability to play at a high level, Traditional blues, folk and true Americana music …" On two days in August and September 2014, he recorded 25 songs from which Michael Frank chose 16 for Cohen's new Earwig album, "Road Be Kind." As Cohen notes in the booklet, roughly half of the music is contemporary which was out of character from the blues and related traditional material he performs. Some of the material was in tribute to folks he has known, like Luke Baldwin, Utah Phillips, Pegleg Sam and Bill Hinkley, whom have passed on.

The opening "Five and Ten Cent Blues," one of his originals with his nimble accompaniment and natural, slightly raspy singing, evokes sixties recordings from Bob Dylan, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, Steve Goodman and others. This feel is carried forward in an original by the forgotten Luke Baldwin, "Seldom Seen Slim." Then there is the delightful fingerpicking rendition of Sonny Terry's "Spread the New Around," along with the delightful, "Talkin' Hard Luck," taken from Chris Bouchillion's 1925 recording as well as Pegleg Jackson's version with plenty of delightful guitar and a mix of a rap and talking singing. One can only conjure up in one's mind how an old medicine show performer as Chief Wahoo would try to sell some elixir to this.

The title song was written by Scott Alarik and receives a lovely, lilting performance, while John Loudermilk's "Windy and Warm," allows Cohen to showcase his marvelous fingerstyle playing as he adroitly handles its complexity (Cohen notes its a level or two more complex than "Freight Train"). "Mysterious Mose," which Cohen admits he stole from R. Crumb and His Cheap Suit Serenaders, is a delightful hoot that contrasts with his very moving treatment of Utah Phillips' cowboy song "The Goodnight - Loving Trail." Another outstanding blues performance is "Seaboard Train," taken from Larry Johnson's rendition of a song old timey artist Sam McGhee recorded as "Railroad Blues." Cohen plays with a deft touch and invention that might have even made Johnson's mentor, Reverend Gary Davis, smile.

"Ten and Nine" is a labor song about women working in the mills, some very young. Its author, Mary Brooksbank," who spent time in prison for labor agitation. It is followed by a lovely medley of Irish songs, "Blarney Pilgrim / Jig McCoy." A lovely instrumental rendition of the Lennon-McCartney penned "Blackbird" provides the coda to this recording. "Road Be Kind" is an fabulous recording from an truly special talent.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Andy playing a selection from the new album.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Things About Comin’ My Way: A Tribute to the Music of The Mississippi Sheiks

One of the most celebrated African-American recording acts of the thirties was The Mississippi Sheiks. Comprised mostly of members of the Chatmon family (Lonnie, Sam, Bo and others) along with Walter Vinson, they had a very wide repertoire and considerable influence on both black and white performers. They introduced the standard “Sittin’ on Top of the World,” (which has been performed by Howlin’ Wolf, the Grateful Dead, Western Swing and bluegrass bands), “Stop and Listen Blues,” and several songs like “Yodeling, Fiddling Blues,” suggestive of Jimmie Rodgers, the Father of Country Music. The Sheiks recorded 70 odd recordings ranging from blues, waltzes, topical songs and hokum. Some members of the Chatmon family recorded outside the Sheiks extensively. Bo Chatmon was better known as Bo Carter and had a remarkable recording career that included more than a few risqué lyrics while Sam Chatmon had a productive recording career after the sixties blues revival before he passed in 1983. The Sheiks music has been in recent years been revived by artists as diverse as Alvin Youngblood Hart and Bob Dylan.

Things About Comin’ My Way: A Tribute to the Music of The Mississippi Sheiks” (Black Hen Music) came as a surprise when it arrived. Put together by Steve Dawson, much of this was recorded over two days in Seattle and/or Vancouver, but some was recorded in other locations. They brought together a variety of performers, some who perform closer to the Sheiks’ recordings such as the lively North Mississippi Allstars rendition of “Its Backfirin’ Now,” John Hammond’s “Stop and Listen,” and the Carolina Chocolate Drops rendition of “Sittin’ on Top of the World.” Others are not as tied to the originals. Vancouver singer-songwriter Ndidi Onukwilu, supported by the project’s house band, on the title track which employs the same melody as “Sittin’ on Top of the World,” but has a different flavor due to some blues-rock accents in the accompaniment. Bruce Cockburn’s vocal on “Honey Babe Let the Deal Go Round,” vocally evokes the late Piedmont master, John Jackson, although the performance has a bit of country flavor. I do find it hard to agree with the sometimes pretentious liner notes that this is an essential track, no matter how much of a Canadian treasure Cockburn is.

Pretentious is how I might describe the artsy Van Dyke Parks arrangement used on Oh Susanna’s rendition of “Bootlegger’s Blues.” This is a shame as she does a real nice job on the vocal. Danny Barnes (an Austin legend who I never heard of before), is too country sounding for “Too Long,” and probably should have been given the more country flavored “Jailbird Love Song,” to record. Guitarist Bill Frisell is heard on a duet with trombone of the instrumental “That’s It,” while on “Please Baby,” Madeleine Peyroux sounds like a Billie Holiday wannabe.

Producer Dawson himself sings in a neutral manner on a blues-rock adaptation of “Lonely One In This Town.” The stronger tracks include Geoff Muldaur & the Texas Sheiks (with Stephen Bruton on guitar and Johnny Nicholas on mandolin) on “The World Is Going Wrong,” with a highlight being his a robust vocal and a great fiddle solo from Suzi Thompson. Del Ray, who was mentored by Sam Chatmon does a lovely “We Are Both Feeling Good Right Now,” supported by her adept guitar and a pair of clarinets. Bob Brozman may be a marvelous guitarist but on “Somebody’s Gotta Help You,” shows he is not a very good singer

As suggested, this is a mixed bag. There is nothing poor here, and the tracks make for enjoyable listening with several tracks being exceptional. I do agree with the decision to not simply give us an album of straight covers, but I do find that the relatively few performers of color here odd. I have no idea how performers were selected, and who had been asked and unavailable. But one cannot say that such contemporary African-American performers such as Corey Harris, Youngblood Hart, Guy Davis, or Taj Mahal would not have made significant contributions here.

Upon getting word of a new Alligator Records Blind Willie Johnson tribute album coming in 2016, I noted the absence in this forthcoming release of performers of color other than the Five Blind Boys. It struck me as yet another case of so-called Americana tributes of Black American Music having myopic understanding of the full range of music out their today. It reminded me of tributes to the Missiisppi Sheiks that Steve Dawson did in 2009 and 2010. This review of “Things About Comin’ My Way: A Tribute to the Music of The Mississippi Sheiks”originally appeared in the Oct. 15 - Dec. 1, 2009 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 321) and expressed my concerns in the last paragraph. I also reviewed, and posted the review on the blog, the subsequent The Mississippi Sheiks Tribute Concert.” I likely received the review copy from a publicist.  

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Acoustic Blues & Roots Of Duke Robillard

Duke Robillard has been fairly prolific on recordings recently and Stony Plain has issued his latest, "The Acoustic Blues & Roots Of." One might be tempted to call this "Duke Unplugged," but the 18 selections cover a wide range of genres, not simply types of blues. Along with some of his regular partners in music, bassist Marty Ballou, pianist Matt McCabe and drummer Mark Teixeira there are guest appearances including vocalists Sunny Crownover and Maria Muldaur, guitarist and vocalist Mary Flower, pianist Jay McShann, harmonica wizard Jerry Portnoy and clarinetist Billy Novick. Along with Robillard originals there are songs from Stephen Foster, Jimmie Rodgers, Big Bill Broonzy, the Delmore Brothers, Tampa Red, John Estes, Hank Williams, Robert Lockwood Jr., and others.

Overdubbing allows him to showcase his mandolin on the brief "Old Kentucky Home," followed by his capturing a pre-war Chicago blues groove on Broonzy's "Big Bill Blues." "Left Handed," with Portnoy contributing the Sonny Boy Williamson I harp comes across as another Big Bill styled performance. Portnoy is also on the cover of Sleepy John Estes' "Someday Baby." There is a pretty straight rendition of "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water," while Novick's clarinet and Robillard's mandolin are heard on a nice"St. Louis Blues."

There are affable renditions of country tunes including Jimmie Rogers "Jimmie's Texas Blues," with a credible yodel"; a lovely duet with Mary Flower on the Delmore Brothers' "Nashville Blues"; and a cover of Hank Williams' waltz, "Let's Turn Back The Years." Sunny Crownover sings "Evangeline," covering a song associated with Emmylou Harris and The Band. With Novick on clarinet, Robillard sings some Tampa Red hokum on "What Is It That Tastes Like Gravy?" Most performances are short (Under 4 minutes), with the longest being a take on Robert Lockwood's "Take A Little Walk With Me," that has outstanding piano from McCabe. A treat is a duet with Jay McShann on the moody Meade Lux lewis composed instrumental "Profoundly Blue."

Robillard acquits himself as a vocalist and the playing is wonderful throughout resulting in an enjoyable change of pace from Duke's other recordings.

I received my review copy from Mark Pucci. Here is Duke Robillard jumping the blues.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Knickerbocker All Stars Open Mic At The Knick

Open Mic At The Knick” by The Knickerbocker All Stars on JP Cadillac Records is a celebration of the music scene in Westerly, Rhode Island in the late 1960s when such musicians as Greg Piccolo, Johnny Nicholas, Fran Christina and others held forth in various groups leading to the emergence of Roomful of Blues. With a core of musicians from guitarist Ricky King Russell and the Cadillac Horns, this recording brings together some terrific renditions of classic fifties and sixties blues, R&B and jump blues tunes. Fran Christina and his brother Bobby (one of the producers) hold forth the drum chair, while Al Copley and Dave Maxwell share the piano chair with a first rate horn section that includes Rick Lataille. The 13 vocals are shared between eight vocalists that include Johnny Nicholas, Sugar Ray Norcia, Curtis Salgado, and J. P. Sheerar (another of the producers).

The songs are classics associated with B.B. King “You Upset Me Baby” (ably reworked by Norcia); Bobby Bland’s “Turn On Your Love Light” (one of two terrific vocals from Malford Milligan the other being on the Butterfield Blues Band’s “Love Machine”); Billy Eckstine - Earl Hines’ “Jelly Jelly” and Lowell Fulson’s “Reconsider Baby” (Sung by John Nicholas who also sings Guitar Slim-Freddie King’s “Along About Midnight”); Buddy Guy’s “Mother-In-Law Blues” and B.B. King’s rendition of “Five Long Years” (sung by Willy Laws); Bland’s “Ain’t That Lovin’ You (sung by Salgado); Eddie Vinson’s “Somebody’s Got To Go” (sung by Sheerar) and Freddy King’s “I’m Tore Down (sung by Brian Templeton).

This is a marvelously played album of covers of classic blues. The band is excellent and the arrangements well done, even adding extra horns to several selections which had smaller groups on the original performances such as “I’m Tore Down” and “Going Down.” Toss in some strong vocals (and the only disappointing one is Nicholas on “Along About Midnight” and that is because my reference point is Guitar Slim and Roy Brown) and one has a terrific listening experience. Highpoint's include Milligan channelling Bobby Bland, Nicholas singing the Eckstine big band chestnut, Willie Law’s rendition of a lesser known Buddy Guy recording and Sheerar’s evocation of Cleanhead Vinson, but everything is a high level. With so many of the original performers no longer with us, this is a tribute not only to those days of the late 1960s but the music that inspired them.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 358).  The Knickerbocker All Stars have a new platter "Go Back Home To The Blues" that I hope to post a review of shortly. Here is a clip of them performing this year.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Rick Estrin and the Nightcats You Asked For It … Live

From his long tenure with Little Charlie and the Nightcaps which became transformed into Rick Estrin and the Nightcats, Rick Estrin has impressed blues fans with his songwriting, harmonica playing and his vocals (although to this listener’s ears, they can be an acquired taste). The present Nightcats is a solid band with Kid Andersen on guitar, Lorenzo Farrell on bass, organ and log, and J. Hansen on on drums and one lead vocal.

Recorded at Biscuits and Blues in San Francisco, "You Asked For It … Live," is an especially lively performance with plenty of Estrin’s wicked harp playing and Andersen shows off his chops and his considerable inventiveness. There are some new tracks and a few familiar classics my “My Next Ex-Wife,” “Dump That Chump” (admittedly not one of my favorites by him, and “Don’t Do It” which is a litany of his Doctor’s instructions that essentially have him avoid anything that might be fun. It is perhaps my favorite of his songs, but he certainly has a word with words like on “Smart On Einstein” which also sports some strong chromatic playing to go with his lyrics that he was “smart like Einstein and rich like Donald Trump.” This is one of the tracks that Farrell is on organ which contributes to the coloring under his solo along with Andersen’s chording and single note fills.

Drummer Hansen acquits himself as a singer and songwriter on a nice relaxed traditionally-rooted shuffle “Baker Man Blues” who has the sweetest job around as all the girls are talking about his bread and biscuits all over town with Estrin channeling Big Walter in his solo here. The CD closes on a nice cover of Sonny Boy Williamson II’s ‘Too Close Together” with Estrin backed only by Andersen on acoustic bass. It suggests some of the solo pieces the second Sonny Boy recorded in Europe and is a nice tribute to that legend.

Anyone who has heard Estrin on record or live will not be surprised by "You Asked For It … Live," and for those unfamiliar with him, this recording is an excellent introduction to him and his excellent band.

I received from Alligator. This review was written for jazz & Blues Report but I do not believe it has been published. Here is Rick Estrin and the Nightcats performing live.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Andy Santana And The West Coast Playboys Watch Your Step!

Andy Santana is a triple threat as a singer, guitarist and harmonica player (and he is also a songwriter) whose name will be most familiar to those of the West Coast, but some may have seen his name as a sideman to some albums or perhaps have his independently produced recordings. Anyway his profile will rise greatly with the release of "Watch Your Step!" by Andy Santana And The West Coast Playboys on Delta Groove. The West Coast Playboys include Kid Andersen (who co-produced this with Andy), Anthony Paule, Mike Schermer, Bob Welsh, Rusty Zinn (who penned the liner notes), Lorenzo Farrell and June Core.

While there are a few Santana originals sprinkled in, most of this are taken of covers of songs that have not been cooked and burned to death (no "Sweet Home Chicago" type numbers). Santana is a wonderful singer that sings with a natural, relaxed soulfulness akin to such Gulf Coast legends as Tommy McClain, Warren Storm, Freddy Fender and Doug Sahm. And he brings a distinctive attack to the guitar (Rusty Zinn likens him to the love child of Wild Jimmy Spruill and Johnny Guitar Watson) and his harp playing is terrific.

What a range of material too from the opening swamp rocker by Carol Fran "Knock Knock"; a tasty cover of Bobby Parker's title tune that is modeled on Parker's original recording. It showcases Santana's crisp, biting guitar, and is ably sung (although he is not on Parker's level); "Playgirl," one of two Smiley Lewis songs here, on which he takes both guitar and harp solos (his harp playing suggests some of Papa Lightfoot's recordings); the rollicking "You May Not Know: with a smokin' groove and a performance (with backing vocals) suggestive of Clyde McPhatter and the Drifter's "What Ya Gonna Do"; a song co-written with Rick Estrin, "No Double Talk," with Kid Andersen adding greasy fafisa organ and shattering Ike Turner-styled guitar; and a terrific instrumental, "Greaseland" (named after Andersen's studio) which showcases several of the guitarists. The rest of the performances on "Watch Your Step!" are similarly impressive making for an impressive recording.

I received my copy from Delta Groove. Here is Delta Groove's video promoting this recording.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Frank Vignola & Vinny Raniolo Swing Zing

The duo of Frank Vignola & Vinny Raniolo brings together the veteran Vignola, certainly one of the most remarkable guitarists today, with the younger Raniolo who serves to complement Vignola's oft astounding playing. The two have a new recording "Swing Zing" on Vignola's FV-15 label on which the two (with guests) play 13 swing era classics.

There is more than a hint of Vignola's Gypsy Jazz style, especially on the jaw-dropping 'Joseph Joseph" on which Olli Soikelli joins the two, while Bucky Pizzarelli, and Gary Mazzaroppi join in backing a lovely vocal from Auda Mariel on the classic Jerome Kern ballad "All the Things You Are." There are so many delights including the brilliant interplay between Vignola and Gene Bertoncini on the brisk "Whispering."

From the opening delightful elegance of "Cheek to Cheek" to the lovely rendering of "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans" and the closing medley of "Peg O My Heart"/"I'm Confessin'," listeners are treated to a mix of lyricism and dazzling improvisational take-offs that prove that jaw-dropping technique matched with musical taste and intelligence make for compelling performances that move the heart and lift one's spirits. "Swing Zing" is simply wonderful.

I received my review copy from a publicist. I have made a few minor changes to the  review which appeared in the July-August Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 361). Here is a video of these two performing a medley of "Tico Tico/ Apache."

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Anthony Geraci and 50 Shades of Blue

50 Shades of Blues” is a new Delta Groove recording by keyboard wizard Anthony Geraci and The Boston Blues All Stars. Geraci is best known in anchoring the keyboards for Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, and he is joined by his band-mates: Sugar Ray Norcia, guiatrist Monster Mike Welch, bassist Michael ‘Mudcat’ Ward and drummer Neil Gouvin (although Marty Richards handles the drum chair for most of this). Guests include Darrell Nulisch, Michelle ‘Evil Gal’ Wilson, and Toni Lynn Washington, who along with Norcia, handle the vocals. Geraci produced this, in addition to playing piano and organ, and writing all 13 songs.

He gives some really wonderful new blues heard in terrific performances by all involved. Darrell Nulisch sings the opening “Everything I Do Is Wrong,” that sounds a song Otis Rush should have recorded for Duke. It features a tough Welch solo while Geraci pounds the ivories. The title song follows, a jump blues duet shared by Norcia and Wilson, with rollicking piano. Welch plays in a T-Bone meets B.B. vein on this. The next two selections are classic Chicago styled blues. “Sad But True,” is a Tampa Red styled blues with Welch on slide and Norcia on harmonica. It is followed by the stunning Muddy Waters influenced “Heard Thet Tutweiler Whistle Blow,” with Norcia singing about going to Detroit to build a car for Mr. Ford. Geraci channels Little Johnny Jones and Otis Spann on these two songs.

More Otis Spann influence is present on the closing “Blues For David Maxwell,” a superb instrumental tribute to the late pianist with Geraci's at perhaps his finest (and he is exceptional thoughout). This performance builds in intensity as Welch adding fiery guitar before Ward’s bass leads the band into a surprising concluding portion where they evoke Pharoah Sanders “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” with Norcia playing wood flute here. It is a marvelous finale to a stellar recording. Anthony Geraci is a first-rate blues songwriter and a terrific keyboard player. With these superb musicians supporting him, there should be no surprise about the consistently marvelous music on “50 Shades of Blue.”

I received my copy from Delta Groove. Here is a performance from the CD release party.

Markey Blue Hey Hey

Hey Hey” (SOULOSOUND RECORDS) is a debut album by Nashville based chanteuse, Markey Blue, with vocalist Jeanette Markey and guitarist Ric Latina. They are supported with by some of Nashville’s top musicians on an album that attempts to recall the glories of the classic Memphis and Muscle Shoals soul. Markey herself helped pen all the 12 originals that comprise this release.

This is a solid and brassy recording starting with the driving opening track “When Love Comes Along (Hey Hey)” that lends the disc its title. “Something's Wrong” is an outstanding track with the studio band hitting that groove. It showcases Markey’s strengths as a singer including a bit of raspy grit and an unforced delivery that evokes classic soul singers such as Ann Peebles. The Peebles comparison might be most evident on “Feeling Blue,” a heartfelt performance that hints of, “Feel Like Breaking Up Someone’s Home,” with its punchy horns, backing vocals and crisp guitar break.

Former Allman Brothers guitarist Jack Pearson co-wrote “Play Me” with Markey and he takes a solo while Markey really pours everything into with  vocal. She also tears into the lyric of “Another Lover” as she sings good-bye and that she’s gonna find the best man she can.  Next is a tender soul ballad “With You” where Latina’s guitar solo here may be his best on the album. The trebly swamp-blues infused “Voodoo Do” sports Markey’s at her most sensual. “By My Side” is another solid ballad performance with solid rhythm and crisp horns that evoke classic Stax recordings.

Hey Hey” concludes on a most impressive fashion with a funky lament, “Baby I’m Cryin’”, which Steve Cropper produced the vocals for. There is so much to enjoy about this release from the strong backing, good original songs and Ms. Markey’s heartfelt, persuasive vocals. Markey Blue will make fans of blues and soul take note.

I received a review copy from Delta Groove Promotions who were also doing publicity for this. Markey Blue is currently crowdfunding a new album on Go Fund Me. Here is a video of this Nashville-based band in performance.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Curtis Nowosad Dialetctic

Winnipeg-raised drummer Curtis Nowosad (now based in New York) scores with a solid recording "Dialectics" (Cellar Door). Bandmates include tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene (who taught in University of Manitoba for awhile), Canadian pianist Will Bonness, and Canadian-based, New York expatriates, bassist Steve Kirby and trumpeter Derrick Gardner (both currently on the faulty at the University of Manitoba).

Featuring mostly Nowosad's original compositions, the album is described as neo-Hard Bop. According to Kevin Sun in the liner notes "“Neo-hard bop” retains the driving, synchronized horn line as its focal point as well as the tightly arranged format and extended soloing that we associate with stacks of 50s and 60s Blue Note records, but takes these elements even further: more hits, more vamps and interludes with bass and piano ostinato, more pyrotechnical blowing." Sun says many of these albums have little to offer other than a nostalgic sound. In contrast, Nowosad's group "has the sound of a working band that’s been steadily pursuing its own mode of collective communication."

Nowosad's arrangement provides a fresh rhythmic take on Wayne Shorter's "Speak No Evil," before Gardner explodes on trumpet, followed by Greene whose tenor solo quickly builds the intensity, and then the leader takes a crisp solo. "Empirically Speaking," based on the changes of a Duke Pearson composition, has pianist Bonness soloing strong which transitions into Greene who comes off like a Clifford Jordan or Booker Ervin. This is followed by a couple of choruses from Kirby and then one by Gardner. This is a wonderfully paced performance followed by the title track with a touch of funk in the groove.

The briskly paced “159 & St. Nick” alludes to "Sweet Georgia Brown," while "A Casual Test," is a  blues performance with strong playing by Gardner, Greene and Bonness before the horns trade fours with Nowosad. "Reconciliation," is a lovely ballad, while Nowosad provides an Afro-Cuban setting for a vibrant rendition of Thelonious Monk's “Bye-Ya,” Greene plays soprano sax on “Gleaning & Dreaming,” a fascinating waltz with shifting tempos. A fast rendition of "I Remember You," closes the CD  with strong, spirited, and fresh, playing from all.

"Dialectics" has wonderful original compositions and fresh arrangements of some well-known songs, strong ensemble interplay with plenty of musical invention by the quintet. Those wanting straight-ahead jazz in a hard bop vein will savor the music here.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here Curtis with Jimmy Greene on sax performing
"Empirically Speaking."

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Jimmy Burns It Ain't Right

The new Jimmy Burns recording, "It Ain't Right" (Delmark Records),  is his fifth album for the label dating back to 1997. He has not exactly been over-recorded, so a new release by him  should be welcome. The younger brother of Detroit blues legend, Eddie Burns, Jimmy has an extensive vocal group and soul background, although he also has deep Mississippi rooted blues roots as was displayed on his album "Leaving Here Walking" Jimmy is backed by his working band Anthony Palmer, guitar; Greg McDaniel, bass: Bryant "T" Parker, drums; with support from Sumito "Ariyo" Ariyoshi, piano; Roosevelt Purifoy, organ; and a full horn section. With the exception of two originals from Billy Flynn, the album is comprised mostly of covers including a couple of Percy Mayfield songs and one by his late brother, Eddie. Dick Shurman produced this recording in February of 2015.

The opening track by Flynn, "Big Money Problem" is a track that evokes some of the best Mississippi rooted performances from Burns' prior recordings and is followed by Flynn's lovely R&B ballad "Will I Ever Find Somebody?" showing off his soulful singing with a notable piano solos and effective horns. The backing to "Snaggletooth Mule," a nice hoodoo blues, may sound familiar to Johnny Copeland fans.  On a rendition of Percy Mayfield's "Long As You're Mine," the horn riffs lend an unwelcome frenzied sense to the performance. The treatment of Mayfield's "My Heart Is Hangin' Heavy," is more straightforward and, to these ears, more satisfactory. There is a solid rendition of The 5 Royales "Crazy, Crazy, Crazy," a performance that harkens back to his vocal group days.

Eddie Burns' "Hard Hearted Woman" is a crisp, easy rocking shuffle, and Jimmy plays nice down-home harmonica on a fresh reworking of Jimmy Reed's "A String To Your Heart," with a nice loping groove. Also heard is surprising, enjoyable cover of Goree Carter's "Rock Awhile," if a bit laid back compared to Carter's jump blues original. A cover "Stand By Me" has a nice vocal and some nifty guitar, but otherwise did not leave much of an impression. "Surrounded" is a nicely paced shuffle with a terrific baritone sax solo from Aaron Getsug and nice guitar break. Burns places his own stamp on Little Walter's "It Ain't Right," with rollicking piano and a clever guitar line in the accompaniment, while a fresh funk arrangement enlivens his interpretation of the Junior Wells classic, "Messin' With the Kid."

The album closes with a Burns leading a gospel quartet styled rendition of "Wade in the Water," with a nice lead vocal. Jimmy Burns "It Ain't Right," displays his considerable talents over a variety of blues, R&B and gospel. Perhaps it has a couple of musical miscues, but overall this is a welcome addition to his very distinctive body of recordings.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here is Jimmy performing "Leaving Here Walking."

Monday, October 19, 2015

Generation Blues Experience Looks For a Private Angel

Generation Blues Experience arose in 2012, when twelve year old Ray Goren visited Bell's, a South Central Los Angeles juke joint and met 78 year old Jamie Powell and 68 year old Sammy Lee with whom they established bonds that transcended the differences in age and lifestyle. Having shared stages with BB. King and others, and having recorded two albums, R. Music, Inc. has just issued "Private Angel," a recording of seven originals and one cover.

Generation Blues Experience is comprised of Ray Goren (guitar and vocals); Jamie Powell (guitar and vocals); Sammy Lee (harmonica and vocals); Lester Lands (bass, rhythm guitar and vocals);  (keyboards); and Albert Trepagnier, Jr. (drums). Bobby 'Hurricane' Spencer is musical director, plays tenor saxophone and did the album's horn arrangements. Others on the recording are Dan Weinstein (cornet and trumpet); Terry DeRouen , (formerly with Lowell Fulson and Guitar Shorty - rhythm guitar); Andrew Bush (keyboards); and Retha Petruzates, Lands and Spencer (backing vocals).

Sammy Lee takes the vocal on the opening “Little Mama,” with a latin groove and punchy horns as he sings about a lady in her skinny jeans and working it on out before Goren takes a very impressive couple of choruses that displays a clean and crisp attack before Lee closes the vocal out over Goren’s guitar. The title track is a slow minor blues that displays Goren maturity as a singer vocal set against a backing that suggests B.B. King’s recording of “The Thrill Is Gone.” Goren wrote the country blues “Crazy” for Powell whose strong singing is complemented by Lee’s down home harp as well as a showcase for Goren’s guitar pyrotechnics.

Goren displays a different side from his hard rocking guitar style on a lovely ballad, “Rainin’” with his plea as to why did you leave baby, “cause its sunny outside baby but raining in my room.” Besides his vocal, the jazzy solo displays a different side to Goren’s playing. It is followed by a shuffle “Katrina,” on which Lee sings about the Hurricane that treated New Orleans so mean with fine guitar and a bit of down home harp. “Sugar Momma” is a a lazy blues spotlighting Lee’s down home harp and vocals which reworks the classic Sonny Boy Williamson I and Howlin’ Wolf blues with solos by Goren and Lee.

Bassist Lands sings soulfully on “Put Love On Your Guest List,” (and take hate off your mind) with a short crisp Goren guitar break followed by a concert recording of Bill Wither’s “Ain’t No Sunshine” to close out this album. Goren’s capable vocal showcases a lengthy solo on which he builds from some jazzy filigrees to some serious guitar fireworks. Its a solo that certainly illustrates why he is someone who likely will become prominent among contemporary audiences especially. The solo perhaps goes on a bit long, but there is no denying his capabilities as a guitarist or a singer. And while he shares the spotlight with the rest of Generation Blues Experience, “Private Angel” is as much a coming out showcase for a precocious and very talented Ray Goren.

I received my review copy from a publicist.My review originally appeared in the November-December 2014 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 357). Here is Generation Blues Experience in performance.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Tommy Castro's Method To My Madness

There might be a "Method To My Madness," the new Alligator album by Tommy Castro & the Painkillers. Castro is a fairly reliable artist bring his husky, slightly gravelly vocals and rocking guitar to a disc with ten originals and a couple of choice covers. The Painkillers of Michael Emerson on keyboards, Randy McDonald on bass and Bowen Brown on drums with Ari Rios on percussion is a pretty well-oiled machine. There are no surprises on this unlike his last album "The Devil You Know," which had a few hard rock tracks that fell flat to these ears.

Castro writes clever songs with an ability to generate a lyrical hook. Certainly the opening "Common Ground," with its call for us to stand together or common ground, band together before we all fall down displays this. The title track is a catchy rocker where he tells this lady that he is blinded with desire for her and there is a method to his pursuit of her. It is followed by a ballad where he sings about having "Died and Gone To Heaven," when he is with the one he loves. The rocker "Got a Lot," has a rocking groove and one could easily imagine this being done by a zydeco band. As good as these songs may be, the wonderfully paced shuffle "Two Hearts," and a cover of the Muscle Shoals soul classic "I'm Qualified" stand out (the latter perhaps having Castro's finest vocal here) stand out as exceptional. Also strong is "Lose Lose," a slow blues that Castro co-wrote with Joe Louis Walker with a nice lyric and terrific guitar.

"Method To My Madness" closes with a rendition of B.B. King's "Bad Luck." Castro toured with King years ago and this solid cover, done in tribute, closes a very appealing recording.

I received my review copy from Alligator. Here is Tommy Castro & the Painkillers live.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Reverend Shawn Amos Tells It

Shawn Amos’ “The Reverend Shawn Amos Tells It” (Put Together) is recording containing covers of some classic blues with a few originals. Amos is the son of Wally “Famous” Amos and R&B singer Shirlee May, who grew up in Los Angeles in the 1970’s when his father was booking legendary Motown acts like Marvin Gaye.

Produced by Steve Jordan, Amos’ vocals and harmonica are supported by his trio of Don Medina (drums), Chris Roberts (guitar) and Ed Terrio (bass), along with Anthony Marinelli (Hammond B-3 organ) and Gia Ciambotti and Kim Yarbrough (vocals). It opens with a straight cover of Junior Wells Delmark LP rendition of "Hoodoo Man Blues" with the guitar perhaps a bit too up front in the mix. Shawn Amos certainly sings with animation yet avoids going over the top.

(The Girl Is) Heavy" is a number with somewhat simple lyrics and a pretty direct approach with the guitarist making evocative use of tremolo while "I'm the Face" is a swamp blues rock that adapts "Got Love If You Want It" melody as Amos sings about being the big wheel. There is some restrained guitar playing on this this which contrasts with the guitar fireworks on the cover of Elmore James’ "Something Inside Of Me." My complaint is the guitar is mixed too upfront in the mix. Amos certainly sings with fervor although he will not make people forget Elmore James, but is not too shabby.

Junior Wells’ influence is also evident on rendition of "Good Morning, School Girl" including adapting Well's vocal mannerisms such as "hey hey" and “ooh ooh wee.” The album closes with a passionate plea whether his woman even notices he is here, "Sometimes I Wonder.” There is nothing new here, but Amos brings a fair amount of personality to his performances and brings plenty of fervor to this recording.

I received from a publicist and Rev. Shawn Amos has a new recording which I look forward to listening to. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2014 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 357).  Here is a video of the making of this recording.

Friday, October 16, 2015

John Mayall's Bluesbreakers Live in 1967

"Live in 1967" by John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (Forty Below Records), brings together some club recordings made by Tom Huisson, a Dutch fan of Mayall that captured the edition of the Bluesbreakers that were together for three months. Peter Green was on guitar, John McVie on bass and Mick Fleetwood were on drums and these three would leave Mayall to form Fleetwood Mac. Eric Corne engineered and remastered these recordings that Huisson recorded on a single track tape recorder to result in a listenable if not hi-fidelity release. Mick Fleetwood suffers the most in the audio as it almost sounds like he is playing wood blocks.

Material included on this includes four songs each that are associated with Otis Rush and Freddie King, a couple of Mayall originals and songs from Johnny Guitar Watson, Tommy Tucker and T-Bone Walker. Mayall handles all the vocals and plays organ and harmonica. If Mayall is not one of this writer's favorite blues singers, he is quite credible here and his organ and occasional harp blowing is OK. Much interest will be on Peter Green's string-bending and he is featured throughout with some explosive playing on "Double Trouble," "San-Ho-Zay" (which comes across more as King's "Driving Sideways") and the closing "Stormy Monday." Sound issues aside, he certainly sounds hot.

For fans of Mayall, this will obviously be indispensable and for fans of Green and early Fleetwood Mac, this will likewise be a must purchase. If sound was better (and bear in mind only so much could be done with the source tapes), then this would be recommendable to more casual listeners.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review previously appeared in the May-June 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 360). Here is Mayall with this group "Double Trouble" from the group's single.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Wild Bill Davison & The Jazz Giants

The Jazz Giants was a group assembled for a performance at Toronto's Colonial Tavern. The nominal leader of this group was cornetist Wild Bill Davison although pianist Claude Hopkins was the musical director. Others in the group included clarinetist Herb Hall, who like Davison was a mainstay of Eddie Condon's New York club; veteran trombonist Benny Morton whose career stretched back to Fletcher Henderson in the 1920s; bassist Arvell Shaw of Louis Armstrong's All Stars; and drummer Buzzy Drootin. This group was recorded following the gig at the Colonial and "The Jazz Giants" was the initial release on Sackville. Delmark has re-released it under that title but under Wild Bill Davison's name.

Davison was a highly energetic cornet player who like others of his generation was inspired by Louis Armstrong and his brash, driving attack and complemented by a fine band that on the surface is similar to Armstrong's All Stars (trumpet or cornet, clarinet, trombone, piano, bass and drums), a fact that the group's repertoire is grounded in a number of songs that are associated with Armstrong starting with the bustling swing of "Struttin' With Some Barbecue,"on which Hall contributes serpentine clarinet lines against the swinging rhythm section prior to Davison taking off with his marvelous attack, with Morton, Shaw and Hopkins all spotlighted with a short drum break at the end. The warmth Hall was able to convey convey is exhibited on the bouncy "Darnanella." "Black and Blue" (which is also presented in an alternate), was one of Armstrong's seminal recordings and receives a wonderful interpretation here (and Hopkins piano accompaniment merits notice). Listening to the performance here, one has a sense of the spirit of Pops' music.

Hopkins was one of the writers of "I Would Do Anything For You," which was first recorded by Hopkins and his Orchestra in 1932. The ensemble provides a nice small ensemble rendition with Davison's vibrato and use of tonal effects quite enjoyable while Morton adds a gruff lyricism, and followed by a relaxed groove for the trad staple "I Found a New Baby." One of the surprises of repertoire on this date is "Blue Again," revisiting another of Armstrong's classic performances from the late twenties and early thirties. If Pops had heard this performance, it would likely have made him smile. Davison displays a bit of his own lyricism on a lovely "I Surrender Dear" while "Yesterdays" is a feature for Shaw's Arco bass playing.

"The Jazz Giants" were a marvelous ensemble brought together for one gig and we are fortunate that John Norris and others collaborated on financing the recording of this group. This is swinging music of energy and high spirit that gets one toes dancing and one's spirits lifted.

I received my review copy from Delmark. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 361). Here is Wild Bill Davison performing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Saboya Adolfo Meurkens Copa Village

A new album “Copa Village” (AAM Music) represents a collaboration between Brazilian singer Carol Saboya; her father, pianist and composer-arranger Antonio Adolfo who now lives in and the German born vibraphonist-harmonica player, Hendrik Meurkens. “Copa” in the disc title refers to Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana section while the Village refers to Greenwich Village, both being musical meccas in the 1950s and 1960s, when Brazilian and jazz musicians began collaborating in earnest with the emergence of bossa nova in the United States.

In 1969, Antonio Adolfo was pianist with the the legendary Brazilian singer Elis Regina who had just met Toots Thielemans in Stockholm and they recorded a classic recording “Elis & Toots - Aquarela do Brasil.” Several years later he met Meurkens who he refers to as “another incredible harmonica player.” They have played together several times including in Summer 2014 in New York City with his daughter leading to the recording of this album.

For this recording, they are joined by guitarist Claudio Spiewak, bassist Itaguara Brandão, drummer Adriano Santos and percussionist André Siqueira for some fresh takes of Brazilian music, including renditions of five songs penned by Antonio Carlos Jobim; a collaboration between Adolfo and Meurkens; three from Meurkens and two from Adolfo. Included are several celebrated Brazilian music classics starting with the lovely “The Girl From Ipanema (Garota de Ipanema);” and “Aqua De Beber (Water to Drink);” both by Jobim and Adolfo’s “Pretty World” (with English lyrics by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman).

Listening to her lovely singing on “The Girl From Ipanema,” one cannot avoid noting her rendition holds up well to the famous Astrid Gilberto rendition with Meurkens’ harmonica adding to this rendition's charm. “Copa Village,” a collaboration between Adolfo and Meurkens, is a breezy  performance with Saboya’s charming wordless vocal serving as an additional horn-like voice to the harmonica. There is  lovely piano here as the rhythm section provides solid, restrained support. Meurkens "Show De Bola (lyrics by Paulo Sergio Valle)" is lively with spice to the wonderful singing added by Meurkens' vibraphone. The rendition of “Aqua De Beber” is terrific with marvelous harmonica solo and Adolfo’s marvelous piano. Saboya delights on her father’s “Pretty World” that some may know from recordings by Sergio Mendes and Stevie Wonder.

Adolfo’s “Visão” with a lovely Saboyo wordless invocation of the melody is the final track. Originally recorded by Elis Regina and Toots Thielemans on “Aquarela do Brasil”, it is a fitting conclusion to the excellent and enchanting“Cope Village.”

I received my review copy from a publicist. I have made some stylistic changes to the original review that appeared in the May-June 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 360). Here are Adolfo and Meurkens performing recently.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Omar Coleman Born and Raised

On his initial Delmark release "Born and Raised," singer Omar Coleman impresses with soul-infused vocals, and harp playing that perhaps evokes both the folk-funk of Bobby Rush, and the soul-blues fusion of the late Junior Wells (both who he admits are influences). He is backed by a solid band of Pete Galanis on guitar; Neal O'Hara on keyboards; Ari Seder on bass and Marty Binder on drums and percussion with guitarists Toronzo Cannon, Mike Wheeler and David Herrero each guesting on two selections. Coleman wrote (or co-wrote) 12 of the 14 songs here.

There is a varied mix of material from the opening rocker "Tryin' to Do Right," where he sings about trying to do right by his lady even though he wants to do wrong, through the closing "Raspberry Wine" with its jazzy accents. His songs and  performances convey a man who is both sensitive and strong as he sings that you don't need a man like him, you need a "Man Like Me," (with Cannon adding some guitar fire). Coleman is a forceful, yet nuanced, singer and is convincing whether delivering the soulful "Man Like Me"; the funky "Sit Down Baby" and topical title track; the wistful ballad, "I Was a Fool"; the driving "Slow Down Baby"; the shuffle "You Got a Hold On Me," and the afore-mentioned "Raspberry Wine." In fact, "Raspberry Wine" suggests that Coleman would be terrific as a standup blues shouter.

Besides Coleman's persuasive vocals, his straight-forward harp playing appeals with its fluidity and voice-like character. Coleman has written fresh new blues songs that are crisply played resulting in these marvelous performances. "Born and Raised" is one of the most striking recent blues recordings of 2015.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here he performs "Trying to Do Right."

Monday, October 12, 2015

Anat Cohen and the Music of Brazil in Luminosa

While the music of Brazil has always been an inspiration for Anat Cohen, on her new Anzic Records release, "Luminosa" the focus is such music. Employing clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor saxophone, she is joined by her band of Jason Lindner (one of her co-producers) on keyboards; Joe Martin on bass and Daniel Friedman on drums. Special quests include percussionist Gilmar Gomes, guitarists Romero Lumbarbo and Gilad Hekselman and on two selections, and two selections feature Choro Advenuroso, composed of Vitor Gonçalves on accordion, Cesar Garabini on 7-string guitar and Sergio Krakowski on Pandeino. The selections include compositions by Milton Nascimento, Romero Lumbarbo, K-Ximbinho, Severino Araujo, Edu Lobo & Chico Buarque and Cohen who contributed four originals.

Cohen is one of the foremost clarinetists in contemporary jazz and her singing, lyrical playing contrasts with the dark chords of Lindner on the opening "Lilia" followed by a more playful attack on "Putty Boy Strut," with an intriguing rhythmic underpinning. "Ima" is a lovely ballad with some delicate playing from Cohen and Lindner. Romero Lubambo's acoustic guitar serves to help pace the lively "Bachiao" More of Cohen's playful side can be heard with her lilting playing on "Happy Song," while a more reflective tone characterizes "Ternura," one of the two choro selections with the accordion of Gonçalves providing a contrast as does Garabina's 7-string guitar. The other choro performance "Espinha De Bacalhau," is a terrific, spirited performance evocative of some classic choro recordings along with some recordings of New Orleans based pianist Tom McDermott, who has also delved into choro (a Brazilian music with parallels to ragtime and early New Orleans jazz).

Cohen takes up tenor saxophone for her composition, "The Wein Machine," dedicated to the legendary jazz impresario. Her robust playing here completes another recording marked by the mix of latin accents, lyricism and charm, and marvelous ensemble playing that is sure to enchant many.

I received my review copy from a publicist. I have made a few minor edits in the review that was originally published in the May-June 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 360). Here is a video taken from The Pace Report for "Luminosa."

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Buddy Guy Born To Play Guitar

With B.B. King's recent passing, Buddy Guy probably has assumed the role of elder statesman of the Blues. Regardless of this, Guy has a new recording to entertain folk with "Born To Play Guitar" (Silvertone/RCA Records), that has something for everybody in terms of material and performance style. In addition to Guy and his band, he also has guest appearances from Kim Wilson, Billy Gibbons, Van Morrison and Joss Stone and like his recent recordings is produced by Tom Hambridge.

The opening title track is a semi-autobiographical number as he sings he was born to play guitar and that he has a reputation that everybody knows his name, and has blues running through his veins, that opens with spare backing and which is generally played with restraint (compared to some of Guy's efforts). "Wear You Out," with Billy Gibbons adding his raspy singing, is more in a blues-rock vein and less satisfying to these ears. A rendition of the Little Walter recording "Too Late" has a nice vocal, rollicking shuffle piano and tough harmonica from Wilson, although I find the next track, " Whiskey Bear & Wine" less enjoyable because of the hard rock flavor of the rhythm (especially the bass).

Joss Stone joins for a duet on the Dinah Washington-Brook Benton hit, "(Baby) You Got What It Takes," and with Buddy adding chords and single note runs, Stone an him trade verses in an energetic manner. The interesting topical blues "Crazy World" makes use of vocal and instrumental effects as he sings about the selling water and someday they will sell the air we breathe while "Back Up Mama" is a variation on the back door man theme as he has a backup mama if mama number one is not around.

Van Morrison joins guy for "Flesh & Bone," a song occasioned by the passing of B.B. King as Morrison sings it ain't over when one dies, and when one goes, one's spirit lives on while Buddy remembers his parents and still with him even though long gone and this life is more than flesh and bones. "Come Back Muddy" finds Buddy unplugged and singing that he wishes Muddy would come back, that Buddy would love to hear his voice and let us make us some of that old nasty noise on a marvelous heartfelt performance to close this recording.

There is something for a whole spectrum of blues and rock fans here. Even those with more traditional blues tastes should enjoy a good portion of "Born To Play Guitar." In any event, Buddy Guy continues to follow his own muse with plenty of heat.

I downloaded a review copy thanks to a publicist. Here is the title track.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Sugaray Rayford Goes Southside

The Texas born, California-based Sugaray Rayford impressed many with his excellent blues debut “Blind Alley” a few years back. Then he had a terrific followup on Delta Groove, “Dangerous” as well as fronted the Delta Groove blues revue in a band, The Mannish Boys.“ With gospel roots, he brings a soulful approach to a range of material to his latest recording, ”Southside’ (NimoySue Records). Produced by Rayford, the nine songs here are all Rayford originals (Eight in collaboration with bassist and co-producer Ralph Carter). Besides Carter, the backing band includes guitarist Gino Matteo; drummer Lavell Jones; tenor saxophonist Allan Walker; trumpeter Gary Bivona; and keyboardist Leo Dombecki. Guest artists include Bob Corritore who contributes harmonica to one selection.

Rayford continues to display a rare command in today's blues world as a vocalist, with one suggesting an apt comparison might be the late Little Milton and/or Artie ‘Blues Boy’ White who is able to take us to the “Southside of Town” where we can get down; celebrate his heritage as “Texas Bluesman” while acknowledging some of his fellow Texas blues legends; or spin a tale about watching “Miss Thang” as she walks down the street looking like a fishing boat in a very, very rough sea.“ He can make a transition from the hard driving, horn driven band blues to the acoustic song, where he sings his love is guaranteed and she can ”Take It To The Bank,“ with nice slide guitar and harmonica. ”Take Away These Blues" is marvelous moody performance with some of Matteo’s most nuanced playing with the horns adding their accents here.

A soul-blues, “Slow Motion” has a terrific vocal displaying Rayford’s nuanced singing that is superbly backed. It is a terrific closing track to another auspicious release by Sugaray Rayford. He continues to provide us with strong and varied material and has emerged as one of today’s leading blues and traditional soul singers. Highly recommended.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the September-October 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 362). Here is a video of the Sugaray Rayford Band.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Marcia Ball The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man

Marcia Ball has a new Alligator Records recording, “The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man,” that will certainly delight listeners with her gulf coast musical gumbo. Ms. Ball and her vocals and piano are supported here by her band of Don Bennett on bass, Damien Llanes on drums, Michael Schermer on guitar and Thad Scott on tenor sax with Kaz Kazanoff, Delbert McClinton, and Terrence Semien among those heard on this Tom Hambridge production for her 6th album for Alligator.

Marcia Ball’s Crescent City-rooted rollicking piano and her honey-laced soulful singing will certainly be familiar on this program on mostly Ball originals (the only cover being Hank Ballard’s “He’s The One”). The title track about two characters of a traveling carnival show gets things started with its buoyant romp. Ball’s sense of humor is exhibited on “Clean My House” set up by a second line groove, while “Just Keep Holding On” is a lovely swamp pop-styled ballad followed by the infectious party groove of “Like There’s No Tomorrow.”

There is plenty of soul heard in Ball’s delivery of “He’s the One,” while Terrence Semien’s accordion and harmony vocal adds a zydeco accent to Ball’s message of folks trying to pay bills and simply scrape by on “The Squeeze Is On.” “Human Kindness” is another message song urging us to show some empathy and open up hearts to our fellow man. McClinton adds harmonica behind Balls’ easy rocking shuffle where she says don’t cry about her shuffles because Marcia “Can't Blame Nobody But Myself.”

The closing “The Last To Know” is a blues about looking back and people seeing what they want to see which a hint of “Nobody Knows You When You Are Down Out” in its melody. Its a wonderfully, played and sung recording. “The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man” delights with Ball’s strong talents as a singer and pianist who also displays her gift as a songwriter. With her excellent band and guests, she has produced another fabulous recording of party grooves mixed with messages of love and hope.

I received my copy from Alligator Records. This review appeared in the November-December 2014 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 357). Here is Marcia Ball in performance doing the title track.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Chick Corea and Bela Fleck Two

What at first sight might seem like an unlikely pairing of talents, Chick Corea and Bela Fleck, developed into one of the most musical collaborations. Both are major talents on their instrument; Corea on piano and keyboards and Fleck on the banjo. It was Corea who recruited Fleck for an album "The Enchantment" and now Concord has just issued a double CD, "Two," taken from a variety of performances from their eight years of touring together which includes songs from that album and others.

The two perform a variety of songs from both performers' pen on the over two hours of music to be heard. There is plenty of Corea's romanticism and the strong Spanish flavor of his music mixed with Fleck's remarkable banjo playing that goes far beyond his early days in the New Grass Revival. Listening to the exuberance and exhilaration of their musical conversations starting with Corea's flamenco-infused "Senorita," one is struck by the sheer joy and fun they are having without losing the focus of what they are playing. Listening to Fleck here, I might suggest it is not far removed from those Brazilian mandolin players who played such a significant role in 'choro' music, and certainly his mix of banjo runs which slapped notes while Corea dances on the keyboard. In contrast "Waltze For Abby" is a lovely ballad Fleck wrote for his wife during which Corea's restraint and use of silence during much of this merits attention.

The pair's interpretation of the Latin classic "Brazil" opens with a dreamy prelude hinting at the musical theme before the tempo heats up and \ Corea plays the theme with Fleck coloring it and then improvising as Corea imaginatively comps before taking his own spirited lead. Another ballad, "The Enchantment," contrasts with its measured and sober playing and there is a lovely performance of French composer Andre Dutilleux's "Prelude En Berceuse (From Au Gré Des Ondes)" followed by the unusual twist and turns in their handling of Corea's "Children's Song No. 6," the longest performance here. While it is over 14 minutes, the inventiveness of the two sustain one's attention throughout with the performance becoming more spirited as it progresses.

The closing rendition of Corea's iconic "Armando's Rhumba," may be relatively brief, but ends this recording on a strong, euphoric manner that was deservedly received with great enthusiasm. "Two" is one a several extraordinary recent recordings by Corea in a very short time and one has no doubt there will be more superb outings featuring him in the near future. This also will enhance Bela Fleck's well deserved reputation as well.

I received my review copy from the record label. Here is a clip of the two in performance.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Rob Stone Gotta Keep Rollin’

It has been several years since Rob Stone had a splendid album of post-war Chicago-styled harmonica blues and VizzTone has just issued “Gotta Keep Rollin’.” Certainly with the presence of Chris James and Patrick Rynn with whom Stone played together and with Sam Lay, one can expect strong playing and support. Others here include Willie Hayes on drums and Dave Maxwell on piano with appearances by Eddie Shaw, John Primer and Henry Gray.

Certainly the mood is established with the opening shuffle “Wait Baby” followed by the rendition of “Wonderful Time” with Stone’s harp channeling the first Sonny Boy Williamson as opposed to Little Walter with Maxwell playing bouncy piano as James takes a sprite solo. It is as much a joy to listen to Primer’s’ guitar as Rynn and Hayes rocking a crisp shuffle groove supporting Stone’s straight-forward singing on “Lucky 13.”

Shaw adds his immediately recognizable tenor sax to “Anything Can Happen,” with a clever lyric and rollicking backing. “She Belongs to Me” is a nice rendition of a Jazz Gillum number (not the Magic Sam song) with a menacing lyric as Stone threatens to cut this gent if he fools around with Stone’s woman. Billy ‘the Kid’ Emerson’s “Move Baby Move” is a rocker with an original lyric set to a groove of Big Joe Turner’s “Shake Rattle and Roll,” while “Strollin' With Sasquatch” is a nice relaxed instrumental on which Stone showcases his fat, controlled tone.

Henry Grey is present on “Wired and Tired,” a rocking performance that suggest the late sixties Muddy Waters band recordings with Mojo Buford and followed by a nice reworking of Blind Willie McTell’s “Cold Winter Day” with choice John Primer guitar. James’ employment of a slight echoey tremolo to his playing adds to the spirit of the rendition of Lonesome Sundown’s “It's Easy When You Know How.”

I said about Stone’s last album “Back Around Here” (Earwig), “Stone treats the idiom as not simply history, but as a living tradition to be celebrated.” Stone’s strong performances and the wonderful band on “Gotta Keep Rollin’” provide us with another terrific Chicago blues recording.

I received my review copy from VizzTone. My review of his earlier album appeared in 2010. This review priginally appeared in the January-February 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 358). Here is a clip of Rob performing.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Jackie Payne I Saw The Blues

It has been too long since most of us have heard from Jackie Payne, which is remedied by a new CD on Blue Dot Records, "I Saw The Blues." Payne first came into prominence with a recording on Jetstream led to him joining the Stax Revue. Moving to the West Coast he was featured with Johnny Otis for 15 years. Then he recorded for JSP before starting a partnership with Steve Edmondson which led to three more terrific recordings and a Blues Music Award for Soul Blues Album of the year. Now, nearly a decade later, he returns with this soul blues gem recorded and mixed by Kid Andersen who also plays as part of backing group that includes guitarist Anthony Paule, keyboardists Lorenzo Farrell and Bob Welsh, harmonica player Aki Kumar, trombonist Ed Early; trumpeter Jeff Lewis; and tenor saxophonists Frankie Ramos, Jack Sanford and Eric Spaulding.

Payne contributed six originals for a terrific urban blues recording with a heavy dose of Texas and Muscle Shoals in feel. Think about those terrific recordings Payne made with Steve Edmondson, those by Frankie Lee or the stunning Frank Bey-Anthony Paule recordings. Payne was in terrific voice when he made these sides showing little evidence of having aged since he first recorded decades ago. The brassy backing and Welsh's piano sets the mood for Payne's delivery on "Back To Normal," a moody number from J Barnett, C. Whitsett and Dan Penn as he displays his power and vocal dynamics and Andersen takes a crisp solo break. The title song by Payne has autobiographical references with Payne singing about being born in Georgia and in New Orleans saw the blues again. Farrell and Kumar taking solo breaks here. Payne's woman acts real strange on "Full Moon Blues," a Payne-Paule original with Paule adding slide guitar along with Kumar's harmonica to provide a down home feel.

"When the Blues Comes Knockin'" is a Texas to West Coast shuffle with Andersen taking the guitar lead as Payne warns listeners that the blues will try to persuade you he is your best friend. Billy Ray Charles' "Wife, Woman, Hootchie" is a terrific Malaco styled blues that sounds like it was recorded in Muscle Shoals, while "Kicking Back With the Blues" has a laid back groove with Paule on the guitar lead while Early's trombone is spotlighted on a superb performance. "Six Million Dollar Man" is a tough blues with Payne shouting that he has love, more than one can stand, and "if love was money, I would be a Six Million Dollar Man." I would not be surprised to see this number covered by other singers, but they would have to go far to come close to Payne's original. "Rock Me With a Steady Roll" is a superb slow blues suggestive of the Pete Johnson-Big Joe Turner classic "Cherry Red," with more fine down-in-the-alley trombone as well a terrific tenor sax solo from Eric Spaulding.

"I Saw the Blues" closes with a superb extended rendition of Ollie Nightingale's hit "I'll Drink Your Bathwater Baby," concluding an hour's worth of varied blues and soul, superbly sung and terrifically played. This is one of the best recent blues recordings this writer has heard. Jackie suffered a major stroke in 2014 which held up production and release of this recording, and while recovering is still unable to sing. We wish him well and a benefit will be held for him at Biscuit & Blues in San Francisco on May 31. I am sure there will be ways for those who cannot make it there can support him.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 360).  Here is Jackie singing with Steve Edmondson some years ago.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Anne Mette Iversen’s Double Life So Many Roads

Anne Mette Iversen’s Double Life
So Many Roads
BJU Records

Danish born bassist, composer and leader Anne Mette Iversen leads Double Life which is comprised of her own Quintet comprised of John Ellis on saxophone, Peter Dahlgren on trombone; Danny Grissett on piano and Otis Brown III on drums; and 4Corners, a string quartet comprised of Tine Rudloff on violin; Sarah McClelland on violin; Anne Soren on viola; and Mats Larsson on cello.

In her brief notes, she states she wants to have the music speak for itself: "Its conception and realisation has been a long journey. Along the road I had many ideas about how to present it to you: which story to tell you, which words to describe it with and which pictures to paint in your head. In the end, I rejected them all to let the music speak for itself, and, hopefully, to leave space for it to become your own personal journey.” In line with the above, she has eschewed titles for the parts of her recording and simply refers to them as Chapters. For this recording, we have a solo bass prologue followed for four chapters and then a brief epilogue.

Iversen’s bass solo enables her to provide an underlying motif that the strings, her and Ellis first state with the strings spotlighted with Ellis’ soprano sax providing a counterpoint to them which has the full ensemble restating the theme before Dahlgren takes lead on the remainder of the first chapter backed by the quintet with the strings providing additional musical shading on a performance with a pastoral feel. It it illustrative of Iversen’s adeptness at integrating strings into a swinging jazz performance and not simply being a sweet background.

The strings help set the transition to the second chapter that opens with very invigorating playing by Grissett accompanied by Iversen’s firm bass and Brown’s driving drumming before the horns enter. Ellis takes a fiery solo which is followed by the gruffer sound of Dahlgren on trombone. If the first chapter is a pastoral stroll down a rural roadway, Chapter two takes us to a busy interstate with the strings accenting the hard bop including Brown’s drum solo. After Brown’s solo, the music segues into an interlude from the string quartet before the entire ensemble rides this piece out with the voicing of Dahlgren and the strings prominent.

Chapter Three opens in a languid vein with the strings and Dahlgren up front while Brown’s light touch enhances the mood. Ellis takes a lovely solo exhibiting his marvelous tone, followed by Iversen taking a solo with the strings, especially cellist Larsson, providing counterpoint, leading to a lovely solo trombone segment. The tempo rackets up with the strings adding to the heat with spirited interaction among themselves and the quintet.

This is an engaging recording that illustrates Iversen’s adroit blending of the string quintet with a jazz ensemble for varied, and captivating, recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is the Anne Mette Iversen Quintet in performance.