Thursday, August 28, 2014

Selwyn Birchwood - Don’t Call No Ambulance

Mentored by Sonny Rhodes and winner of the 2013 International Blues Challenge, Selwyn Birchwood impresses with his enthusiasm as well as his talent. This writer had the pleasure of seeing him in Fall of 2013 before he signed with Alligator Records, who have recently issued his first CD for the label, Don’t Call No Ambulance. On this album, Birchwood brings his vocals as well as guitar and lap steel with an excellent band comprised of Regi Oliver on saxophones, bass clarinet and flute; Donal ‘Huff’ Wright’ on bas and Curtis Nutall on drums. Guest appearances are made by Joe Louis Walker on Slide Guitar; Josh Nelms on Rhythm Guitar; RJ Harman on Harmonica; and Dash Dixon on Keyboard.

Selwyn’s raspy, gravelly voice have led some to liken him to Tom Waits, a comparison that does surface several places on this recording of originals. He is a fairly solid guitar slinger as displayed on the rocking opener Addicted, but much of the appeal of Don’t Call No Ambulance is the interaction between him and the saxophones of Oliver and the tight backing Wright and Nutall provide. Oliver’s baritone sax often functions like a rhythm guitarist as he doubles on the bass line and adds to the drive like on the title track, where Birchwood conjures up a North Mississippi Hill Country groove as he sings that he feels so good and if he falls down, don't call no ambulance. This strong selection is followed by Waiting in the Lion's Den, where Birchwood  evokes Waits with his raspy, almost spoken, vocal as Oliver, supporting him supports on sax and flute, takes a muscular baritone sax solo.
Rico Oliver and Selwyn Birchwood in Silver Spring MD, October 2013

Joe Louis Walker guests on slide guitar on The River Runs Red. This is a funky tune with Oliver providing punchy Memphis styled horns. Love Me Again is a soulful ballad on which Birchwood sings about a love he lost and wants back as he "can smell the rain in the air, thunder rolling in... feel the mist kiss against my skin, I was a fool in the past, did not know what I had … let the rain fall so my tears don't show, can you find the strength to love me again.” There are a couple of topical songs including Tell Me Why with the leader's buzzing lap steel guitar over Wright’s funky bass. The hard rocking feel contrasts with the low-key, down-home playing on Overworked and Underpaid. RJ Harman’s harmonica enhances the atmosphere while Birchwood adds a lap steel solo on his complaint about working life.

Dancers will savor the pop-flavored She Loves Me Not with Oliver again standing out. The slow blues, “Brown Paper Bag” about a destructive drinking problem, has has some of Birchwood’s fieriest playing. The album closes with a return to a Hills Country groove and some slide guitar that suggests Mississippi Fred McDowell for the closing Hoodoo Stew as he sings about the thirteenth day on a Friday night. It is the close for an impressive varied recoding that is sure to get Birchwood a higher profile.

I received my review copy from Alligator Records. Selwyn Birchwood is featured at the DC Blues Festival on Saturday August 30 in Washington DC and at Alonzo's Memorial Picnic on Sunday August 31 in Rosedale MD. For more information on these shows, see Plenty of Labor Day Weekend Blues in Washington and Baltimore. Here is a video of the Selwyn Birchwood Band performing tell Me Why.

Record Makers And Breakers Is Story of Independent Record Industry

Record Makers and Breakers 
John Broven
University of Illinois (2009 640 pages)

John Broven, the author of Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans and South to Louisiana, to important studies of regional Louisiana music, has authored an important new volume Record Makers and Breakers. Subtitled Voices of the Independent Rock’n’Roll Pioneers, Broven has provided an invaluable history of the many small independent labels that helped launch most of today’s contemporary music. While his prior books had a primary focus on the artists, while discussing some of the regional labels and the men who were behind the label, the aim of the present volume is a focus on the emergence of the small labels and other aspects of the independent record scene through interviews with the label owners, A&R folk, juke box operators, independent distributors, radio personalities and some performers.

This history of the Independent record Industry is documented in 480 pages of the main body of the text which Broven developed in interviews over the past several decades. There are 97 photographs of some of the people discussed, and appendices with US Record Sales, a listing of Independent Record Distributors over several points of time, a listing of pressing plants, a listing of many postwar record labels and their current owners, list of record men in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, biographical data on Record Makers, and those he conducted oral history with. The are 44 pages of End Notes, and 11 pages of Bibliography that includes a list of selected reissues from these small labels and a very extensive index.

Taking us from the early days of the Indie labels including a couple like Capitol and Mercury that would become majors, we learn about how the Bihari Brothers and others started recording performers to have records for juke boxes they company serviced. We join John R and other radio legends as they start broadcasting rhythm and blues on radio sponsored by Randy’s in Nashville and meet other characters and innovators. There is Sam Phillips in Memphis who starts recording Howlin' Wolf and others for the Bihari Brothers and then when he feels that the Biharis were not doing him right sends Rocket 88, to Leonard Chess and soon Joe Bihari himself is traveling in the Deep South with Ike Turner recording Elmore James, Sunny Blair and others leading to the eventual resolution of the dispute with Chess that gives Howlin’ Wolf to Chess and Roscoe Gordon to the Modern labels and results in Phillips forming Sun records.

It isn't simply the well-known stories like Sam Phillips and Sun that is the subject of Record Makers & Breakers. The meat and potatoes of the book focuses on the personalities and the doings of independent record companies. Leonard Chess and others get into their cars laden with records and travel to meet distributors, juke box operators and disk jockeys. This iss a world of payola for dee-jays and free records for promotional persons. Labels would provide their distributors with 1000 records to distribute to mom and pop stores and other retail locations while adding another 300 for the distributor to use when visiting dee jays and other promotional activities. Then there was the small independent pressing plants that were used, and if luck struck and one had a hit,  the label hopefully would get paid so it get more copies pressed. One hears about how  artists got ripped off, but the labels themselves often were on a tightrope in their constant battle to keep producing hits and stay in business.

The focus on the labels and distributors is initially on the R&B and hillbilly labels and some of the regional labels that focused on ethnic music such as cajun music, but there are slight detours into the world of children’s music as well as the New York office of a British label that licensed the music of various independent labels for English release. There are shady characters and mob connections, bootlegging of smash hits and the payola scandals along with the decline of the independent labels during the sixties and seventies as the major labels fully embraced rock’n’roll.

This only suggests some of the threads that Broven weaves together in this history of the post-war Independent Record labels. There are some independent labels that are not discussed, but practically every single major label that led to the rise of rock’n’roll gets its due. Obviously in considering the history of popular music, the performers and styles are prominent. However, without the business  of producing, manufacturing and distributing for sale, and broadcast, music, the music simply does not get disseminated and distributed. Record Makers And Breakers is a book that anyone seriously interested in understanding today's  popular music and the development of the record industry needs to obtain.

I likely received a review copy from the publsiher or a publicist for the publisher. This review was written several years ago, but I do not believe it was published. There is a paperback edition for this book and it is available as an ebook.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Dave Hurricane Hoerl Un-Twisted

Born in San Francisco, but resident of Vancouver, British Columbia for over three decades, harmonica player and singer Dave “Hurricane” Hoerl is best known as a member of the jump blues band, The Twisters. Un-Twisted on Full Swing is his first solo recording and  has him backed by members of The Twisters and others. Hoerl’s originals and covers are supported by Double D (Dave Dykhuizen) on a variety of guitars; Chip Hart on drums; Roger Brant - Fender bass; Dave “Cob” Webb on Piano and Hammond Organ; Johnny Ferreira on Soprano and Tenor Sax; James “Buddy” Rogers on – guitar; Brandon Isaak on guitar and Keith Picot on upright bass.

No track displays the direct character of Hoerl’s music better than Pure & Simple Blues, as he proclaims that when is by one self, play some some of that pure & simple blues, and music for the head may leave him cold but what sets his spine a tingle must come from the heart. Nothing fancy with the simple shuffle beat and guitar backing for his singing and assured harp playing followed by Double D’s sharp lap steel solo.   The opening Soul Mate is a love song to his wife with a lazy Jimmy Reed style shuffle rhythm. He gets energetic singing O.V. Wright’s I'd Rather Be Blind, Crippled and Crazy, with Webb’s Hammond B-3 adding to this track.

Snake Charmer has an amusing lyric about a belly dancer, with Hoerl on chromatic harp while Ferreira adds fills as well as takes a serpentine solo on soprano saxophone. The peppy Grand Old Game (with a Bo Diddley groove) is a rare new song celebrating the sport of baseball while She Took Back Her Heart, is a lament about a sweet love that has soured. The recording closes with a charming, short solo harmonica rendition of I Left My Heart In San Francisco.

David Hoerl is an amiable singer and a fine harmonica player with a crisp attack and tone, but also displaying a definite melodic quality in his playing. With supple, straight-forward backing, he has produced a small gem with Un-Twisted. Un-Twisted can be purchased from cdbaby and itunes.

Unfortunately shortly before this CD was issued, Hoerl suffered a massive stroke that left him hospitalized and fighting for his life. As with many stroke victims, his future is uncertain. He is currently under great care in hospital and will soon be moved to a long-term care facility. Benefits are being held for him and folks can send funds through paypal. His website is and has information on how folks can donate funds to assist him. There is also a Facebook page with more information,

I received a download of the CD for review from a publicist.  Here is a video clip of Dave “Hurricane” Hoerl performing, from 2011.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mud Morganfield's Tribute to His Father - Muddy Waters

If one closes one eyes while listening to For Pops | A Tribute to Muddy Waters the new Severn Records release by Mud Morganfield & Kim Wilson, one might think one is listening to Muddy Waters himself. The idea for the album came from folks suggesting to Severn that after they released albums by Mud Morganfield and The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Severn had to get Mud and Kim together. So they were asked and agreed.

In putting an album together, they put together a band of Billy Flynn and Rusty Zinn on guitars, Barrelhouse Chuck on piano, Steve Gomes on bass and Robb Stupka on drums to support Mud’s vocals and Kim’s harmonica. Then it was decided to do an album of Muddy’s songs and selected a mix of both well known and lesser known songs associated with Muddy Waters. The recording was done live with everyone in the same room.

Included are 14 renditions of such Muddy Waters recordings as Gone To Main Street; Just To Be With You; Still a Fool; She's Got It; I Love the Life I Live, I Live The Life I Love; Blow Wind Blow; Nineteen Years Old; and Trouble No More. This is a marvelous backing band with Kim Wilson at the top of his game and Mud (Muddy’s oldest son) sounding so much like his father throughout these solid re-creations of the originals.

As noted, listening to this is almost like listening to a Muddy Waters recording, and folks have been copying Muddy’s music from over six decades from Junior Brooks and Louisiana Red to this present album. At the same time, no matter how enjoyable it is to listen to this album, it doesn’t replace the original recordings. No one has more right to perpetuate his father’s legacy than Mud Morganfield.  As good as the recreations here are, this listener wishes interpretative liberties had been taken with Muddy Waters’ music.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Mud Morganfield in performance.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Plenty of Labor Day Weekend Blues in Washington and Baltimore

Selwyn Birchwood, seen at 2013 DC Blues Society show will be appearing at the DC Blues Festival and Alonzo's Memorial Picnic this Labor Day weekend
For those in the Washington and Baltimore area, Labor Day weekend brings some exceptional music. Saturday August 30, the DC Blues Society presents its annual DC Blues Festival at the Carter Barron Amphitheatre in Northwest Washington DC, and the next day (August 31) the Baltimore Blues Society presents its annual Alonzo Memorial Picnic at the Rosedale Maryland American Legion Hall.

The DC Blues Festival has an excellent line-up headlined by a terrific singer Shakura S’Aida along with a bright young blues artist from Florida, Selwyn Birchwood. One will also get to hear some electrifying sounds of the Eddie Turner Band; Washington vocalist Shirleta Settles and Friends; the southern soul and blues of The Hardway Connection; and Stacey Brooks, winner of the 2013 DC Blues Society Battle of the bands and one of the area's most popular female blues singers. Also at this festival will be some workshops at the John Cephas workshop stage along with a jam session from members of the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation Jambassadors. This free festival begins at Noon and runs until about 7:30 PM at the Carter Barron Amphitheater which is located at 16th and Colorado Streets NW in Washington DC. For more information visit

The Alonzo's Memorial Picnic also has an impressive lineup which includes Selwyn Birchwood as well as another impressive young singer-guitarist Jarekus Singleton. Also on this line-up will be Gaye Adegbalola & The Wild Rutz, a four woman a capella group led by one of the former members of saffire-the Uppity Blues Women; and the swing-Chicago blues stylings of Doug Demming, Dennis Gruenling and The Jewel-Tones. This show will take place from 1 to 9PM (doors open at 12:30PM). The Rosedale American Legion Hall is at 1331 Seling Ave., Rosedale, MD 21237. For more information, including ticket price, visit

Here are some videos to highlight some of the performers.

Here is Shakura S'Aida from a recent Toronto appearance. I am especially looking forward to seeing her as I was unable to attend some festivals she was scheduled at. Her album Brown Sugar was one of my favorite albums of 2010 and her most recent album, Time, is equally impressive in not simply her vocals and the backing but the range of material she performs. If you click on the underlined Brown Sugar,  you will see my review of that recording.

Selwyn Birchwood was the winner of the 2013 International Blues Challenge and he previously appeared at a DC Blues Society show in October 2010. He brings plenty of enthusiasm and energy as well as a fine band and his considerable talent.  Here he performs the title track of his debut Alligator album, Call No Ambulance. I look forward to seeing him perform in DC and Baltimore.

How many festivals can claim to present two winners of The International Blues Challenge presented by The Blues Foundation. The Hardway Connection won the Challenge in October 1994 (It used to be held the Sunday after the King Biscuit Festival) edging out Susan Tedeschi's Band. They do a nice mix of soul and southern soul classics and strong originals with three exceptional singers, Jerome MacKall, Toni Love and Robert Owens. MacKall may be the best deep soul singer you never heard (a cross of Otis Redding and Al Green) while Owens is a nephew of the legendary Don Covay.

Illness prevented me from attending the Pennsylvania Blues Festival where Jarekus Singleton appeared, but I keep hearing raves about him. His music is quite original and striking and you can click on the title of his Alligator debut, Refuse to Lose, to see my review of it. I am certainly looking forward to seeing his performance at the Alonzo's Memorial Picnic. Here is a clip from the 2014 North Atlantic Blues Festival from this July.

Stacey Brooks is a DC area favorite and here she is performing her signature song, My Name Is Stacy.

Here is Gaye Adegabalola and the Wild Rutz.