Sunday, February 21, 2010

Solo Art's Prime Boogie Woogie & Blues Piano

At the tail end of 2009, I posted a review of a Delmark collection “Boogie Woogie Kings,” that was anthology collecting some vintage blues and boogie woogie piano. More recently I purchased from a variety of traditional jazz CDs along with one devoted to boogie woogie and blues piano, “The Solo Art Story -— Vol. 1 Piano Blues & Boogie Woogie 1938-1939” (Solo Art). This compilation brings together recordings that were made for the Solo Art label in the late 1930s when a Brooklyn bartender and record collector, Don Qualey, started the label devoted to piano solos. Right after John Hammond had presented the legendary “Spirituals to Swing” concert at Carnegie Hall, Qualey took the legendary Boogie Woogie Trio, Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis into the studio. Furthermore, through Lewis Qualey located Jimmy Yancey and, after being located, Yancey made his initial recordings for Solo Art. Qualey would also record two other artists, Cripple Clarence Lofton, and the Russian born Art Hodes, George Buck acquired the rights to the original Solo Art label and its recordings. Buck reactivated Solo Art as a label to primarily reissue solo piano jazz and blues, as part of the labels he operates through the George H. Buck Jr. Jazz Foundation.

The Solo Art Story - Vol. 1 Piano Blues & Boogie Woogie 1938-1939” has some overlap of artists with the Delmark release “Boogie Woogie Kings,” with performances by Johnson, Ammons, Lewis and Lofton along with performances by Hides and Yancey. It opens with five performances from Johnson with the opening “Climbin’ and Screamin’,” being a typical Johnson boogie woogie full of his driving left hand and right hand embellishments, while “Pete’s Blues,” is a marvelous late night blues followed by “B&O Blues,” a middle tempo rolling boogie. Two tracks from Hodes follow including the evocative “South Side Shuffle.” “Mecca Flat Blues” by Albert Ammons features his left hand bass and strutting right hand while “Boogie Woogie,” is a reworking of “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie,” with a bit less of the ragtime flavor but certainly one of the best later renditions of this boogie standard. The three selections from Lewis include a relaxed “Messin’ Around,” along with the jaunty “Deep Fives,” which exhibits some stride roots in Lewis. The two solos built upon “How Long Blues,” by Jimmy Yancey are the Mount Everest on a collection of piano blues and boogie woogie that is like visiting the Himalayan Mountainss of this form. Yancey’s blues and boogie piano is musical poetry. And this is followed by six stunning solos from Cripple Clarence Lofton including a fully instrumental rendition of “Streamline Train,” his own take on “Cow Cow Blues.”

There is a Volume 2 that contains more by these artists and a disc devoted to Jimmy Yancey that the modern Solo Art label has reissued. This is one of those boogie woogie and blues piano collections that merits being called essential. It is available from, and also the Louisiana Music factory (

Saturday, February 20, 2010

K.C. Douglas Mercury Blues and more

One thing about blues is that often a performer with modest talent is still capable of making moving music. One such gentleman was K.C. Douglas. Douglas, a Mississippi native born in 1913 near Jackson, moved to California to work in the Naval shipyards. Growing up he started playing music, first learning from an uncle, and then catch local musicians at Saturday Night getaways. At the same time he started listening to the records of Tommy Johnson whom K.C. met and played with him around 1940 in Jackson. Johnson’s music left its imprint that remained when K.C. moved to California.

After settling in California, he somehow ended up in Bob Geddins’ studios and recorded a song “Mercury Boogie” that was issued on Geddins’ Down Town label and became somewhat of a hit in the Bay area and parts of Texas and Louisiana. This song of course is better known by versions by the Steve Miller Band and Alan Jackson. Geddins though moved on from the downhome blues so it would be a few years before he would record again. At the very beginning of the folk revival he recorded for Cook and then two albums for Bluesville that were produced by Chris Strachwitz. In 1973 and 1974 Strachwitz assembled Douglas with a small group that included Richard Riggins on harmonica, Jim Marshall on drums and Ron Thompson on guitar. The result was an album on Arhoolie, “The Country Boy,” that subsequently has been issued on CD as “Mercury Blues,” with added unissued selections, including some from the early sixties that are solo or with an unidentified band.

The band here plays efficiently and supportively to Douglas’ heartfelt vocals and simple, rhythmic guitar playing. I know little about drummer Marshall. Riggins, who recorded as Harmonica Slim for Trix and Fedora, passed away few years ago while Thompson is still active in the blues world as a first-rate traditionally based multi-instrumentalist. His work on this recording as well with Little Willie Littlefield, Riggins and Schoolboy Cleve for the Blues Connoisseur label were amongst his earliest recordings who also spent several years with John Lee Hooker and Mick Fleetwood’s Blue Whale.

In any event, “Mercury Blues” is a solid unassuming but easily recommended recording of Mississippi blues performed by Douglas and his ensemble. There is a reworking of his “Mercury Boogie,” along with a nice rendition of “Catfish Blues,” and his original “Woke Up This Morning.” One of several recordings from the 1960s is the fervent “I’m Gonna Build a Web” is a solid, more modern, blues with an emphatic vocal and some nice piano and sax. Then there are three solo tracks including “Make Your Coffee, with some very adroit guitar. another 1960 solo performance, ”Night Shirt Blues,“ is an excellent original built around the ”Catfish Blues,“ and then followed by a fine rendition of Tommy Johnson’s ”Canned Heat Blues.“ Listening to these solo tracks are certainly going to encourage me to try to locate his Bluesville recordings which I believe were reissued as part of the Original Blues Classics series. These solo tracks are a bonus to the fine down home blues group heard here.

I won’t say that the music on ”Mercury Blues“ is essential to a blues collection, but it is strongly performed and delivered from the heart. The music here is certainly equal to anything produced by some of Douglas’ better known contemporaries from Mississippi such as Honeyboy Edwards and Son Thomas. I purchased this on sale from Arhoolie ( and I believe it is on sale (as I write this) at a bargain price but even at regular price is well worth it for folks who love real deal downhome blues.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Previously Unissued Live Recording Shows Why We Miss Luther Allison

There were few performers in any genre as riveting as the late Luther Allison. having been a fan since his debut Delmark recordings, I remember going to catch him at Oberlin College in 1970 and almost tore off the roof of the Chapel he was playing at. From playing an one-string guitar in Mississippi to taking over Freddie King’s gig and band in Chicago he brought a hold no prisoners approach to his performances, throwing everything into his singing and his guitar playing. One can point to B.B. King as a primary inspiration, but Elmore James and Freddie King seem even most important influences in Allison’s music. He struck me in his earlier days as a cross of the two Kings instrumentally with James’ impassioned vocals. I was privileged to see Luther a number of times in the last decade of his life including when he performed for a DC Blues Society show for the “Soul Fixing Man” tour. I am not sure if the last time I saw him was at Wolf Trap when they still put on a Jazz and Blues Festival, and I remember this gentleman who had seen James Brown, Otis Redding, Miles Davis and others stating that Luther was as great a live performer as anyone he ever witnessed.

“Songs From the Road” (Ruf Records) presents on disc and DVD one of Luther’s last performances at the Montreal International Jazz Festival on July 4, 1997. Shortly after this performance, he would be diagnosed with the disease that in August 2007 would take this wonderful person away from the world. This was a representative performance with his great band of James Sjoberg, rhythm guitar; Ken Faltinson, bass guitar; Mike Vlahakis, keyboards; and Rob Stupka, drums. It was a band that played hundreds of gigs together, toured globally for several years and played with a tightness that reflected this experience.

Luther, of course, held nothing back this night from the opening moments of “Cancel My Check,” to his brief encore on “Serious.” There are several extended performances that never falter unlike most of his contemporaries (Otis Rush being one of the few exceptions) who could neither sustain such inspired playing and vocals that Luther could, and Sjoberg’s solos add another exciting voice while maintaining the fervor of the performances. Much of this are his originals including the rocking B.B. King styled shuffle “Will It Ever Change,” where he tells his woman to listen to him (with Sjoberg taking the opening B.B. King styled solo while Allison takes the longer break later), while he takes a Magic Sam recording,“What Have I Done Wrong,” and places his own stamp on it.

“(Watching You) Cherry Red Wine,” was always one of the climatic parts of any Allison performance as he sings about this woman destroying herself drinking herself into oblivion, while “There Comes a Time,” is a soulful number as Luther confesses to be a good man who went astray and begging to be taken back by his woman, with another killer solo here. His vocal here is a standout here. Luther takes out the slide for “It Hurts Me Too” (as well as Bernard Allison’s “Low Down and Dirty”), doing Elmore James memory proud with his fervent rendition of the classic.

The DVD contains 7 of the songs from the CD (“Will It Ever Change” is not listed but present) and adds “Move From the Hood.” The 59 minutes of the performances on the DVD video are electrifying with great camera work catching all sweat and passion that he put in his performances. The Montreal Jazz Festival has recorded and filmed records many if not all of the performances in the past couple decades and generally do excellent work. The DVD also includes a 23 minute interview and a ten minute excerpt “Tribute to Luther Allison” from a documentary. This writer understands that a 50 minute CBC broadcast was compiled from this performance This CD/DVD makes all of the music from that day available.

What a joy to listen and watch previously unissued performances by Luther Allison after all these years. It doesn’t get much better than this release which is quite reasonably priced and should be available from itunes or amazon and better retailers.

The above review speaks to Luther Allison’s phenomenal music, but anyway who had a chance to meet Luther knows what a down-to-earth and warm person he was. The review copy CD was provided by the publicity form for the record label (this for FTC regulations).

Monday, February 15, 2010

Taildragger's New Live Album & Video Considered

Its been a few years since Delmark issued a live performance by Tail Dragger on CD and DVD. The prior release, “My Head Is Bald, Live At Vern’s Friendly Lounge, Chicago,” was well received and reportedly one of Delmark’s better selling releases. Three years later they follow with “Live at Rosa’s Lounge,” with the Howlin’ Wolf inspired James Y. Jones performs straight Chicago blues in the vein of his mentor and friend as he redoes some of Wolf tunes along with some similarly structured originals and a few tunes associated with Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter and John Lee Hooker, although played in a Wolf-style.

This is a well-played performance with a solid band that includes Rockin’ Johnny Burgin and Kevin Shanahan on guitars, Martin Lang on harp, Todd Fackler on bass and Rob Lorenz on drums with Jimmy Dawkins added to one track. Jones is an expressive singer who suggests Wolf but whose slurred diction does detract a bit from the forcefulness of the performances and the band plays idiomatically. Shanahan and Dawkins are the only ones returning the earlier CD/DVD which benefited greatly from Lurrie Bell’s mercurial guitar. There is certainly nothing wrong with Jones’ covers of “Louise,” “Baby Please Don’t Go,” or “I’m in the Mood’, his own “Stop Lyin’,” and “Bought Me a New Home,” but also nothing amazing about them either. The DVD has additional performances and Delmark’s usual straight-forward video qualities. If you don’t have the prior live recording, I find little here to call this a must purchase. This one may be easier to find and one might be fan of this as a Wolf tribute artist, but Tail Dragger shows little here to compel one to view him as a major blues artist in the history of Chicago blues.

Nighthawks Spin Blues Unplugged But True.

It has been a long ride for drummer Pete Ragusa with the Nighthawks. “Live at Bluesville” (Rip Bang Records) recorded for Bill Wax’s XM-Sirius program, is Ragusa’s swan song for the Hawks as Ragusa ends a 35 year stint as drummer for this deservedly popular blues and roots band. He will be replaced by Mark Stutso, leaving harmonica player and singer Mark Wenner the sole remaining member of the band from its early days. Bassist Johnny Castle and guitarist Paul Bell are now well established in the band.

On this visit to Bill Wax at XM’s Washington DC studios, they Nighthawks unplugged which provided a more intimate, but no less fervent, context for a number of songs that are well established in the band’s repertoire. Opening tunes with Wenner handling the vocals include a swinging rendition of “The Chicken & the Hawk,” followed by Muddy Waters’s “Nineteen Years Old,” with some very solid slide from Bell. Ragusa sings the James Brown raver “I’ll Go Crazy,” with Wenner wailing on harmonica. Johnny Castle takes the gravelly vocal on Bo Diddley’s “You Don’t Love Me,” with Wenner taking the lead on Slim Harpo’s “Rainin’ in My Heart,” (I know Peppermint Harris wrote it), a performance in which the unplugged format really enhances the performance. It is followed by a lovely rendition of Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t be Satisfied,” with more nice slide from Bell who with Wenner takes the harmony vocal behind Castle on Chuck Berry’s “Thirty Days.” The vocal mike returns to Wenner for solid renditions of Rice Miller’s “Mighty Long Time,” with some very evocative harp; Little Walter’s Temperature,” retitled here “High Temperature”; and “Rollin’ & Tumblin’ modeled after the Baby Leroy Foster Trio recording with Muddy and Little Walter, although not nearly as raucous as Foster’s original two-sided 78.

This is a fun disc with a change of pace as the band handles songs that will be very familiar to the Nighthawk’s many fans world-wide. Ragusa has always been an exceptional drummer of considerable range and taste, and on this recording plays a snare drum, ably propelling these very ingratiating performances on a delightful album. He will be fortunately engaging in a variety of projects in the Washington DC area, so those fortunate enough to live around will still have opportunities to enjoy his playing.

For purposes of FTC regulations, my review CD was provided by a publicity firm promoting this release.

Celebrating the Blues But Speaking the Musical Language of Rock?

The Laurie Morvan Band was co-winner of The Blues Foundation’s Best Self-Produced CD awarded at the 2010 International Blues Challenge for her album “Fire It Up,” (Screaming Lizard Records). It is odd that the opening song on this 'blues' album that celebrates playing “Nothing the Blues,” sounds like a southern rock anthem and aurally be quite at home on modern country music radio. This is not to diminish the music of Laurie Morvan and her band, but it raises a question of what is contemporary blues.

More rock influences can also be heard on Morvan's “Come On Over To My BBQ,” with its amusing and bawdy lyrics relating to the culinary treats she has to offer leaving little to the imagination. “Good Girls, Bad Girls,” showcases her songwriting as well as her robust vocals. The hook here “I think that good girls are just bad girls that ain’t been caught,” but again this is again blues-rock not blues. “Lay Your hands,” has a soulful tone, while “I Speak the Blues,” is a solid blues-rock number, with some nifty guitar and a vocal that does get a bit over the top when she sings “i speak the blues, the only words I understand.” “Livin’ in A Man’s World” is a blues with a pounding rhythm as she bellows out that one should not feel sorry for her being a guitar playing girl in a man’s world. In contrast “Let Me Carry Your Trouble,” is a nice country-flavored ballad. Gospel styled harmonies support her vocal on “You Don’t Know About Me,” a rocking number with a lyric about being in love with someone who is essentially oblivious to her and a nifty guitar solos. “Skinny Woman” is an amusing counter to songs about big legged woman but when one kicks their kicks, not forget about skinny chicks.

Listening to “Fire It Up,” this reviewer hears in Ms Morvan's music few blues roots, compared to evident hard rock, country-rock and blues-rock roots. Some (maybe many) will consider this blues. These same folk might point to this as an example of how the blues is being extended. Extended would suggest that there is something musically new here. I cannot here anything musically innovative as far as some considers innovative rebadging blues-rock and blues tinged rock as contemporary blues.

Categorizing this recording as blues-rock does establish whether this is a good or bad recording. Laurie Morgan certainly is a forceful and expressive singer and guitarist and she writes very interesting songs. There is much to like about this recording, but one's subjective reaction likely will depend on one's musical tastes. But writing and singing about speaking the language of the blues is not the same thing as producing music in the language of the blues as opposed to the language of southern rock and blues-rock.

I received this record from a publicity firm handling this recording and originally intended to write this review for Jazz & Blues Report. They ran another's review prior to my writing this although I had scribbled notes on the performances earlier. That review appeared in the October 15-December 1 2009 issue (Number 321) on page 15. You can download the issue at

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dwayne Dopsie's Hellraising Zydeco

One of the sons of the late Rocking Dopsie (Alton Rubin), Dwayne ‘Dopsie’ Rubin is one of several sons that followed their legendary father into zydeco music and has in the years since his father’s passing has established himself as one of zydeco’s relative young guns. This writer had the pleasure of seeing him at a Blues Festival some years ago in Maryland and was impressed then. He has continued to grow and stylistically his brand of zydeco strikes this listener as more in the vein of Clifton Chenier, Buckwheat Zydeco and Nathan Williams with his heavy rocking blues and R&B styled sound in contrast to the music of the late Beau Jocque or Boozoo Chavis with more focus on vamping on a chord or two, although numbers like “Better Go Get It” on his new Sounds of New Orleans release “Up in Flames,” show he and his band hit a groove and really rock it hard.

Ben Sandmel, in his liner notes, compares Dopsie’s singing to Howlin’ Wolf as well as Beau Jocque. there is a raspiness in his voice that evokes their vocal styles, but Dopsie is a striking singer on his own. His band consists of Alex McDonald on rubboard; Shelton Sonnier; Dion Pierre on bass on bass; Calvin Sam on drums; and Carl Landry on saxophone and with Dopsie’s strong accordion and vocals, they kick butt. Rhythmically they are tight and in addition to Dopsie’s accordion playing, saxophonist may be as good as sax player in an zydeco band I have heard since Blind John Hart was with Clifton Chenier and Rockin’ Dopsie.

“Up in Flames” has a wonderfully diverse set of tunes starting with the opening “I’m Gonna Walk,” with its hint of “Don’t Mess With My Tu Tu.” It is followed by another hard rocking number, “Feel So Good,” whose melody is similar to the classic R&B number “You Can’t Sit Down.” On “I’m a Fool For You,” the band comes off like the Red Hot Louisiana Band on a blues that conjures up classic Clifton Chenier from three decades ago. This is simply great stuff and continues with the hot “Don’t Listen,” taken at an fiery tempo, yet the band is so tight and the performances don’t become frenzied and uncontrolled. “Back in the Woods,” is a more traditionally oriented zydeco number akin to Clifton doing “Zydeco De Pas Sale” with just his brother and drummer.

These recordings certainly make this writer wish he would have the opportunity to see Dwayne Dopsie again. I will miss him at jazzFest this year (he plays the first weekend, then will be in Europe the next weekend). This is available from his website He has some CDs available on, but this one is not available. It should be available from the Louisiana Music Factory. Dwayen Dopsie has a regular French Quarter gig and you can check his performance schedule on his website.

For those (including the FTC) who care about such things, i purchased this recording.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Big James and the Playboys Bring Funk and Soul to the Blues

I previously noted that Big James Montgomery had signed to Blind Pig Records.

Here is my review that originally appeared June 2009 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 317 page 15) that can be downloaded from

Big James Montgomery has been part of the Chicago Playboys when the aggregation was led by the late vocalist Johnny Christian. After Christian’s untimely death in 1993, the band kept together with the stocky trombonist assuming the leadership and putting this blues/ R&B/ funk aggregation unique by being fronted by a trombone playing singer. The band that also includes Charlie Kimble on saxophone, Kenny Anderson on trumpet, Joe Blocker on keyboards, Mike Wheeler on guitar, Larry Williams on bass and Cleo Cole on drums has become a tight, hard driving ensemble that has been building a solid following in performances at clubs and festivals. This writer recalls his first exposure to them at the Pocono Blues Festival a few years back and was knocked out by their tough sound and Big James passionate singing on mostly original material as they celebrated the blues and Chicago. They got their soulful groove on and the audience was floored with many purchasing one of their self-produced CDs.

Blind Pig has just issued Big James’ latest CD, “
Right Here Right Now” (and first they did not self-produce and release) and its another solid effort in the fashion of their prior recordings, plenty of hard hitting rhythms, punchy brass and Big James heartfelt singing. Most of this originals although they pay a nod to the O’Jays, Bobby Bland and George Clinton on their covers. Big James is street smart and savvy, and his lyrics, like his singing, is direct and a matter of fact and not very metaphorical.

The title song opens this set and is a message song cataloging some of the problems in everyday life and choices we have to make to make things better or we have no one else to blame. “A Mama Like Mine” is a love song for his mother with a punchy brassy opening as he recalls never hearing her ever complain about anything, that she was not very tall but she gave so much of herself and I love her so, and James wishes everyone had a mama like his. No flowery language but a simple and moving expression of love punctuated by his trombone solo. “I Love ‘Em,” is a rocking shuffle celebrating the blues noting that the blues “ain’t prejudiced it don’t care who we choose,” and how he’s paid these dues with a sharp guitar break from Wheeler, before James sing about playing the blues until he can’t play before anymore, then taking the tune out on his trombone.

While James is not gifted a singer as Bobby Bland, his rendition of Bland’s recording, “Love to See You Smile,” benefits from his straight-forward, honest delivery. The emptiness of not having a relationship is conveyed in “Help (Somebody Please),” while the blues is front and center on the closing “Worry,” an original which is inspired by a song from the B.B. King and Buddy Guy songbook, and which closes this disc on a strong note.

Those who have any of Big James and the Chicago Playboys will not be surprised by the music here while others will get to discover the unique, funky soul and blues sound that they put down.

For purposes of FTC regulations, the review copy was provided by Blind Pig Records.

Charles Wilson's Classy Soul-Blues

Charles Wilson is among the best of the soul-blues singers to come along in the past few decades and after a pretty straight urban blues CD for Delmark, Severn put him in the studio for Troubled Child, released in Spring 2009 and my review here originally appeared in the June 2009 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 317 -p.13) downloadable at

Nephew of the late Little Milton, vocalist Charles Wilson has an extensive discography for a variety of labels including Ichiban, Ecko, his own Wilson label, Delmark, and CDS with Severn just having issued his latest entry, “Troubled Child.” Its a surprising disc coming from Severn.

One might have thought this might have been more of a blues feel to it , but its a stone-sold soul disc that has a feel of a session from thirty years ago with a full horn section and strings and no sign of synthesizers. It doesn’t hurt to have a studio band of Mike Welch on keyboards, Benji Porecki on keyboards, Steve Gomes on bass and Robb Stupka on drums, or having Willie Henderson handling the horn and string arrangements. There is an interesting mix of songs here from the Don Robey tune, “Where My Baby Went,” to Ronnie Earl’s “I Want to Shout About.” The blues makes its most visible appearance on strong on Denise LaSalle’s “Somebody’s Tears,” done as a tribute to his uncle that is wonderfully sung and has some fine guitar from Welch. The Sam Dees tune that gives the album its title is marvelously reworked with its lyric of a child growing up in the mean world of the ghetto brought to life by Wilson’s impassioned vocal who recognizes some of himself in the troubled child. On Bob Marley’s “Is This Love,” Wilson clearly sings yes about sharing his home and life with his women. Nice also is the remake of the George Jackson song, “I Don’t Want to Take a Chance,” about getting back with the woman who broke his heart before. I have not heard Wee Willie Walker’s original Goldwax recording that has been reissued by the English Kent label. Steve Gomes contributed the closing “Put Something In It,” a solid mid-tempo soul burner.

This is a handsomely produced disc (one cites the cliche that no expense was spared to produce it) that shows how good a singer Wilson is and certainly fans of soul, southern or otherwise will find much to enjoy here.

For FTC regulation purposes, the review copy was sent from Severn Records.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Rishell & Raines Have Bluesy Night in Woodstock

I wrote the following review for Jazz & Blues Report (December 2008 issue 311) and can be downloaded at

It has been several years since the popular duo of Paul Rishell & Annie Raines have had a new release and their “A Night in Woodstock” is live recording on their Mojo Rodeo imprint. It features the pair as a duo and with their band that includes Reed Butler, Billy MacGillivray and Chris Rival along with guest spots by John Sebastian and Bruce Katz.

Recorded at the Joyous Lake in 2005, it opens with Rishell doing marvelous interpretations of Blind Boy Fuller’s “Custard Pie,” and with Tommy Johnson’s “Canned Heat Blues.” With Rishell steady, assured accompaniment and Raines supportive harmonica backing, these two performances illustrate how Rishell as grown in handling such vintage material. Johnny Winter’s “Dallas,” is a marvelous display of Rishell’s wonderful slide playing and an excellent evocation of the Robert Johnson-Muddy Waters tradition (with elements of “Terraplane Blues in its melody). “Got to Fly” is the pair’s original and provides Raines with the vocal spotlight on this highly likable performance. A medley of Jack Clement’s “It Will be Me” and Rishell’s “I Will Be Looking for You,” enchants with Rishell’s wistful vocal. It is followed by a country blues adaptation of Louis Armstrong’s “Old Man Mose,” into a delightful folk blues. “Blues on a Holiday,” has Bruce Katz join in on piano as opposed to the sparse band backing with Rishell’s pensive vocal again moving the soul of the listeners.

The band kicks into a more forceful groove on “Can’t Use It No More,” a modern hokum blues, with the duo harmonicas of Raines and Sebastian, both of whom solo here being to the forefront followed by Katz’s barrelhouse piano. Raines handles the vocal on Lazy Lester’s “I’m a Lover Not a Fighter,” with a nice amplified harp solo, whereas “Moving to the Country,” has a forceful Rishell vocal as he tells us he is returning to things he never should have left behind. Jerry McCain's songs often have a wry spirit to them and Rishell delivers the lyrics on “Bad Credit,” with Raines wailing on harp, embellishing Rishell’s vocal. Rishell starts “Blue Shadows,” sounding like B.B. King on guitar, before launching into the vocal on a fresh, driving arrangement of Lloyd Glenn’s song. the album closes with a harp instrumental by Raines and Sebastian, “Orange Dude Blues.”

“A Night in Woodstock” is a throughly engaging live recording with many excellent moments that certainly merits serious attention.

For FTC regulations I have no idea whether I got this from a public relations firm or the recording label.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Fiona Boyes Shines On "Blues Woman"

Australian blues woman Fiona Boyes is as nice a person as she is talented and her talent shines on her new Yellow Dog album, “Blues Woman.” Recorded in Austin, Texas, and produced by saxophonist Mark ‘Kaz’ Kazanoff who has put together a solid band including guitarist, Derek O’Brien; drummer, Jimi Bott; bassist, Ronnie James; B-3 organ and piano, Nick Connolly; and the Texas horns (Kazanoff on saxophones and Al Gomez on trumpet) with guest appearances from Watermelon Slim, Marcia Ball and Pinetop Perkins for a varied collection of performances of mostly original material that includes one cover and some heartfelt songs.

The opening “Woman Ain’t a Mule,” shows her feisty side as she tells her man that he make think of his woman as a mule or slave to his whims, but she has other ideas, or the similarly toned medium temp shuffle “Precious Time,” with her complaint that she has worked to hard to let that man waste her precious time. Her solo is noteworthy in her restraint and her focus on rocking some chords.

She renders J.B. Lenoir’s “I Want to Go,” with just bass and Jimi Bott’s congas for a down the country flavor which also characterizes here “Fishin’ Hole,” with Connolly adding some rollicking piano. Marcia Ball adds her piano and Watermelon Slim his harmonica and a spoken part as a hellfire priest to “The Barrelhouse Funeral,” with Fiona celebrating with driving resonator guitar and vocal a barrel housing, hell raising man’s funeral.

“Do You Feel Better,” is a lovely fifties style pop ballad with a lovely bit of sax and nice biting tremolo guitar from Boyes. “Train to Hopeville,” sports a lively Crescent City rumba groove, while “Got My Eye On You,” a song about her attraction to this gentleman has a ripping baritone solo from Kazanoff. She plays some nice slide on “City Born Country Gal” while her one solo piece, “Juke Joint on Moses Lane,” celebrates the Florida club, Bradfordville Blues Club of which she sings that she can’t wait to get there to have herself a ball.

This is a terrifically entertaining recording full of strong, spirited songs and playing that will have toes tapping and fingers snapping.

Fiona is once again a nominee for Traditional Female Blues Artist of the Year in the 2009 Blues Music Awards. I peeviously blogged about her in June 2006. This review originally appeared in the September-October 15 issue (issue 219) of Jazz & Blues Report in substantially the same form. It can be downloaded at The review CD was supplied by Fiona Boyes' publicity firm.

Harrison Kennedy Shows He Is Also Chairman of Acoustic Blues

One of the pleasures I had at the Pocono Blues Festival this past summer was to hear Harrison Kennedy. Kennedy, one of the group, The Chairmen of the Board which had several hit recordings, has turned to acoustic blues in the past few years and his most recent disc “One Dog Barkin’,” (Electro-Fi), should hopefully spread the news about his musical alchemy. Kennedy plays a variety of instruments including guitar, harmonica, banjo, mandolin and percussion assisted by keyboards and bass that help provide the foundation for this recording, without detracting from the focus of his playing and vocals. He is an adept instrumentalist and an outstanding vocalist who often is riveting.

The originals on “One Dog Barkin’,” range from the title track, a strong downhome performance a topical lyric about the environmental crisis (a theme touched in other songs like “The 90s Blues,” or the soul-tinged “Leading Lady,” with his banjo embellished by the dreamy keyboard backing, as he sings about his lady being a shining star in his universe. “Cruise Control,” singing about the long drive to New Brunswick and with cruise control can travel those country roads as his banjo accompaniment accompanies a field holler-like vocal. “Could Be You, Could Be Me,” is a blues about being homeless with hard rock for a pillow, and nice sky only blanket while sleeping on a cardboard bed as he encourages sighting to help the homeless with effective guitar and harmonica backing. With some rollicking piano in the background, Harrison sings in “Hair of the Dog,” about losing his woman and best friend too and going downtown to drink away these blues which is followed by some nice slide playing and harmonica on “Ode to Huddie,” a moving song about Leadbelly intermixing biographical facts with song titles and lyrical fragments by the legendary songster. “Hogtown Blues” is a delta-styled blues as his phone rings and his baby has called saying she is in Hogtown and found a new ride with Kennedy singing and moaning his vocal with hints of “Rollin’ & Tumblin,’” in the backing. It is tracks like this that should how rooted in tradition and yet contemporary Kennedy gets. Sounding like some delta bluesman of the 30s and 40s he convinces us elsewhere of “The Healing Power of the Blues,” recounting some of his travels as he helps souls needing healing from the hurt within, while his accompaniment on “Cry For Mother Africa,” suggests some of the groits from Africa that have recorded in recent years, with Kennedy’s insistent, repetitive accompaniment matching his ethereal falsetto.

The vigor of the performances on this album match the freshness in which Kennedy uses traditional blues materials to craft these impressive, contemporary acoustic blues performances, making for a superb album that is highly recommended.

This review originally appeared in substantially the same form in Jazz & Blues Report issue 322 (December 2009-january 15 2010) which can be downloaded at For FTC regulation purposes, I received review copy of this CD from Electro-Fi records.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Jimmy Rushing & the Two Cool Tenors

I am a long time fan of Mr. 5 X 5 and the chance to review a recent previously unissued recording by the former Count Basie singer is something I could not resist. The review originally appeared in June 2009 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 317 and on page 15), which can be downloaded at

Jimmy Rushing is best known for his association with the classic Count Basie Orchestra for whom he was the principal male vocalist for a period of over 15 years. His acquaintance with Basie began much earlier as he was a member of the legendary Blue Devils, and after that band disbanded, they both were part of Benny Moten’s well regarded band.

The blues shouter, known as Mr. 5 by 5 reflecting his stocky build, was an important part of the Basie band with his blues and ballad singing. After leaving Basie, he made a number of excellent albums for such labels as Vanguard and Columbia, but thanks to High Note, we can add to Rushing’s discography the marvelous, previously unissued 1965 performances with a small combo that included tenor saxophonists Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, “The Scene: Live in New York.”

Included on this are eight vocals by Rushing but such staples of his time with Basie as “Deed I Do,” “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You?,” “I Want a Little Girl,” “Goin’ to Chicago,” “I Cried For You,” and “Good Morning Blues,” with Cohn and Sims adding their voice with a rhythm section generally comprised of Dave Frishberg, either Major Holley or James Beal on bass and Mousey Alexander on drums. The remastering of the tapes by Jon Rosenberg is first-rate as Rushing’s voice has quite a presence here. The band really swings behind him and their are a number of excellent solos.

In fact it should not be surprising as both Cohn and Sims are among those indebted to Lester Young’s whose tenor enlivened so many of Rushing’s classic recordings with Basie. Sims’ solos on “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You?,” and “I Cried For You,” are especially marvelous with the almost feathery tone. Cohn is heard to best effect on “I Want a Little Girl,” with his somewhat harder tone, but no less swinging style.

Two hot instrumentals with unidentified rhythm sections provide Cohn and Sims with the spotlight and complement the superb Rushing vocals here, that make this such a pleasant surprise that fans of Jimmy Rushing and swinging jazz will want.

For purposes of FTC regulations, my review copy was provided to me by Jazz & Blues Report.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Cyril Neville's worldly blues.

The following review appeared originally in Jazz & Blues Number 315 (April 2009) and downloadable from

The youngest member of the Neville Brothers, Cyril Neville, like his brothers has long engaged in a variety of projects including exploring reggae and other world musics, and revisiting some Crescent City classics along with adding his voice and conscience to the Neville Brothers. M.C. Records is bringing out his latest disc, “Brand New Blues,” which has a most definite blues focus.

Producer Brian J. plays most of the music here but most tracks are supplemented by such artists as older brother Art, his nephews Ivan and Ian, guitarist Tab Benoit, harmonica whiz Johnny Sansone and washboard from Waylon Thibodeaux. There are some originals but also some intriguing covers like Jimmy Reed’s “I Found Joy,” that opens the album with its simple groove (Art Neville’s cheesy organ fits in so well) with a vocal that suggests a hint of Taj Mahal. It is followed by the title track, where he sings about having all types of blues, from the hole in shows to broken hearted blues, but when he thought he had seen it all, she walked in his life with the brand new blues, spending his money as if no tomorrow, with Ivan Neville on Hammond B3 while Tab Benoit adds guitar fills and a solo after which the lyric takes a slightly topical twist. “Shake Your Gumbo,” is a funky, dance oriented number as he encourages his woman to shake her gumbo all night long.

With Art Neville returning on organ, Cyril does a marvelous version of “I’ll Take Care of You,” modeled on Bobby Bland’s classic recording. He can really lay down a blues ballad. “Cream Them Beans,” with washboard and Johnny Sansone’s harp, is a lively ditty with a hot creole groove. “Cheatin and Lyin,” has a sparse percussion heavy backing as Cyril wonders how some people sleep at night “as something so wrong can be seen as right” with “cheating and lying from the White Horse on down,” makes Cyril want to beat those scoundrels down and it makes him sad. “Mean Boss Groove,” with Ivan on organ and Tab on guitar, has a protest lyric about a bad boss and credit card bills piling up with a haunting, accompaniment evocative of some of John Lee Hooker’s brooding slow blues. “Blue Blue Water,” is another lesser known Jimmy Reed number with Sansone returning on harp, with Brian J on acoustic guitar and Andy Cotton adding bass on this unplugged number. After a heavy dose of blues, a gospel-tinged number “Don’t Move My Mountain.”

The album closes with a highly expressive, blues-infused rendition of Bob Marley’s “Slave Driver.” Many of Cyril Neville’s recordings have had limited distribution. Hopefully, M.C. Records will be able to get his music out to wider circulation as he has a voice that is well worth hearing on its own, just like with his brothers.

For purposes of FTC regulations, the review copy was sent to me by the record label.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Soul of John Black's Appealing Soul-Blues Funk Groove

John A. Bigham jammed on guitar and keyboard for the pioneering rock-funk-ska band Fishbone for eight years and toured and recorded with artists as acclaimed and diverse as Miles Davis, Eminem, Dr. DrĂ©, Nikka Costa, Bruce Hornsby and Everlast. Recently he has adopted the persona of The Soul of John Black and has fused blues, soul, funk, hip hop, pop with field hollers, spirituals and work songs resulting in some compelling, music with a steady groove and mesmerizing quality to the performance. On his last album, “The Good Girl Blues” (Yellow Dog), the focus seemed to be on blues material with “The Hole,” being a modernized field holler. His most recent release on the Delta Groove affiliate Eclecto Groove, “Black John,” shifts its focus for a blues to soul-funk foundation for another intriguing effort that opens with the title track, with its bad ass hero in the vein of "Railroad Bill," "Stagolee" and other outlaw heroes followed by “Billie Jean,” an intriguing song about being sweet on “Billie Jean,” who he’s been trying to meet, but she is like a dream. On both his band lays down a funk groove and his soulful vocals engaging in a call and response with the backing vocal as he also lays down some stinging guitar as appropriate. His slide guitar kicks off “Last Forever,” as he tells a story about a Sunday Morning and forgot his prayer as his woman stayed out all night but was like a bad cell phone, you know she liked to roam. The fact he is a terrific singer and guitarist does not hurt. “I Knew a Lady,” conjures up Leadbelly tune before he mixes a lyric about a dancing lady with a chorus that sounds like a rap based on a children’s rhythm about “all the Lord’s children needs to feel good,” whereas, on “White Dress,” he celebrates sexuality and how his woman looks in her white dress and black drawers dancing in the sun. The mood shifts to a bit of country soul on “Better Babe,” and the remainder of this is equally fresh sounding. The Soul of John Black is a breath of fresh air in contemporary vernacular music and with “Black John,” has provided us with yet another stunning release.

This review originally appeared in Jazz & Blues Report and (For FTC regulations purposes) my review copy was probably sent to me by the frecording label)