Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Lauren Mitchell Desire

Lauren Mitchell

Florida based singer Lauren Mitchell went out to the West Coast to record this new release of hers where she got Tony Braunagel to produce this and drum on it. Some of Tony's associates with the Phantom Blues Band are here as well including Johnny Lee Schell on guitar, Joe Sublett on saxophone, and Darrell Leonard on their trumpet along with Reggie McBride on bass, Jim Pugh on keyboards and Lennie Castro on percussion.

The recording has a mix of choice covers and idiomatic originals that showcase her very strong singing, starting with a tough rendition of an Etta James deep soul recording, "(I Don't Need Nobody To Tell Me) How To Treat My Man." She has a husky voice like James which she employs in a nuanced fashion. She can belt out a song with authority and without screaming or sounding shrill. It is followed by the sweet soul groove of her original "Soul Music" with its beach music groove as she sings about no other man can satisfy her and hear that soul music like her daddy used to play. The joy in her vocal is supported by the excellent backing and punching horns. The title track has a swampy soul feel followed by her strong, sultry take of another song associated with Etta James, "Jump Into My Fire."

With Schell's bluesy guitar and Pugh's piano, she ably tackles an Aretha soul-blues, "Good To Me As I Am To You," as well as an early Bettye Lavette recording "Stand Up Like a Man." Contrasting her tough vocals on those tunes, she displays a tender side on the ballad "Today." There is plenty of sass in her revival of Diana Ross' "I Ain't Been (Licked Yet)," followed by the sensuous reworking Betty Davis' "Anti-Love Song," with backing adapted from Davis' original. A jaunty gospel performance, "Bridge of Dreams," is followed by an original lament, "Lead Me On," that sounds like it might have come out of Muscle Shoals decades ago.

The album closes with "Brown Liquor," with a funky groove and a tough lyric about waking up in Vegas with a hangover and a man in her bed as she does not remember anything after that Maker's Mark. Her forceful, vocal is backed by the terrific studio band closing this very impressive CD of soul with a blues touch.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 371), although a few typos in the published review have been corrected. Here she is seen performing "Soul Music" from this CD.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Corey Ledet & His Zydeco Band Standing on Faith

Corey Ledet & His Zydeco Band
Standing on Faith

Corey Ledet has been one of the vital 'young' voices in Zydeco for over a decade. Rooted in the creators of the idiom like Clifton Chenier, John Delafose, and Boozoo Chavis, he has musically evolved to incorporate some of the modern trends in the music. It has been a few since his last recording, but this new recording, while relatively short, provides a solid look at the versatility he exhibits when playing zydeco.

Corey is heard of accordion, washboard and drums as well as vocals, while Jesse Delgizzi plays guitar, bass, moog and vocals with Cecil Green on keyboards. After an opening funk "Intro" with keyboards and vocal effects on the spoken intro (presumably by Delgizzi), Corey takes us into a Boozoo Chavis styled rocker, "Push Me Away," with some marvelous button accordion playing and the crisp, emphatic groove. Given Ledet's overdubbing his accordion over his drums and washboard, the recording sounds natural. In contrast, an instrumental "Love Never Felt So Good," comes off as a mix between zydeco and contemporary dance music with Delgizzi's funky bass and synthesizer work intriguing.

The driving zydeco gospel number, "Standing on Faith," is Ledet's statement of his faith, followed by an contemporary urban soul ballad, "Take Me There." "New York City" is a terrific zydeco rocker that will evoke Clifton Chenier and Roy Carrier as he sings about going to New York City for a zydeco dance. "Good Day" again takes things in a more contemporary mode where Delgizzi's synthesizer playing emulates steel pans lending a Caribbean rhythmic accent. The closing "Street Light," is another contemporary zydeco number, well played and sung, but being perhaps a bit smoother at the edges..

With its relatively short playing time and its contemporary flavor, there may not be enough straight-ahead zydeco here to appeal to the more traditional zydeco audience. Those looking for a more updated twist on the idiom will be more interested in this latest chapter In Corey Ledet's career.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a video for "Street Light" from this album.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Vaneese Thomas Blues For My Father

Vaneese Thomas
Blues For My Father
Segue Records

The youngest daughter of the legendary Rufus Thomas, Vaneese Thomas, like her sister Carla and brother Marvel, have been involved in the music business dating backing to singing back-up vocals for Stax. After college she relocated to New York where she was a session singer and songwriter. She has issued several albums that showcase her singing and songwriting, and the latest is “Blues For My Father” (Seque Records). It had been five years since her last album, “Soul Sisters Volume 1” (Segue Records), where she resurrected classic soul recordings from the likes of Bettye Swan, Tina Turner, Etta James and her sister Carla. This new recording, as indicated by the title, has her delving more into blues and she contributed ten originals and also handles two covers, one of which is from her late father.

Produced by Thomas and her husband Wayne Warnecke, there is a variety of musicians appearing on this, but the core is Buddy Williams on drums, Will Lee on bass, Robbie Kondor on piano and Tash Neal on guitars with Warnecke on percussion. There are appearances by (among others) Marvel Thomas and Paul Shaffer on organ, Ron Mathes and Jeff Mironov on guitars, horns led by Tim Ouimette and Perry Gartner and Shawn Pelton on drums.

What stands out on “Blues For My Father” is Thomas’ vocals. Rob Bowman, who penned the liner notes, mentions “Vaneese’s masterful control of phrasing, breath, intonation and timbre.” In other-words, she can flat out sing with a display of vocal dynamics as well as power to leave a strong impression on the listeners. She belts out about having the blues while sitting at the station waiting for the train to bring her lover back on the opening “Southern Central Blues.” Then she gets sassy celebrating her man who plays no tricks and “10 X The Man You Are.“

The Memphis funk of “Wrong Turn” is a delightful duet with sister Carla (while Marvel adds organ) with some punchy horns in the backing and a crisp guitar solo from Jeff Mironov. “Wrap Your Arms Around Me” has a bit of southern rock feel as Tash Neal is on dobro with Mironov again on guitar. Part of the melody here is evocative of the Ricky Allen recording “Cut You Loose,” although her lyric is telling her man to wrap his arms around her and never let go.

The centerpiece of this release is a duet with her father Rufus, “Can’t Ever Let You Go.” Like Natalie Cole did with her recordings with her deceased father, Vaneese adds her vocal to the original Rufus Thomas recording. Husband Warnecke pulled out Rufus’ vocal from the original analog masters, added some exhortations from other Thomas recordings, then provided a contemporary backing, and guitar and sax solos along with Vaneese improvising around her father’s vocals.

Other highlights on this set include “Corner Of Heartache And Pain,” a straight, slow blues about the pain felt after her man left with Paul Shaffer on organ. “Love’ Em And Leave’ Em Behind” is a soulful number where Vaneese tells a heartbreaker she has seen her friends in too much pain, but he won’t do the same to her. “Southern Girl” is a celebration of her roots and the south with Kirk Whalum taking the sax solo. There is also a straight cover of John Fogerty’s “The Old Man Down The Road” before the disc closes with a wonderfully sung lament, “Blue Ridge Blues” backed simply by Rob Mathes’ guitars.

Blues For My Father” is a showcase of Vaneese Thomas’ craft as a songwriter and her soul-shaking vocals and should have considerable appeal among blues and southern soul audiences. 

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2014 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 357). I recently reviewed her most recent recording, The Long Journey Home.

Here Vaneese is performing at the 2015 Pennsylvania Blues Festival.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Snooks Eaglin Soul’s Edge

Snooks Eaglin
Soul’s Edge


A recent Offbeat article analogized that Snooks Eaglin is to guitarists what Professor Longhair was to pianists. Further evidence of his distinctive musical styling is presented by his fourth album for Black Top, a set which may be the label’s most significant body of music. 

His percussive, chicken-scratching guitar playing is immediately recognizable. His slightly sand-papered, but unmannered vocals deliver lyrics with wit or earnestness as required. His low-key approach certainly helps boost such trivial lyrics as Ling Ting Tong, and Skinny Minnie. At the same time, the simplicity of his vocal makes I’m Not Ashamed so believable. 

There are a couple of great second line grooves, with Fats Domino’s Josephine, and the equally terrific, I Went to the Mardi Gras. 

Not everything works, as Snooks’ vocal lacks the vitality of Hank Ballard as he fails to pull off the Midnighters’ Let’s Go, Let’s Go (here titled Thrill on the Hill). The instrumental Answer Now, sports too much musical noodling, but the late night blues You and Me has more terrific playing, though its impact is somewhat diffused by its length. 

This album does not reach the level of Out of Nowhere, my favorite of his earlier Black Top albums, but, given Snooks imagination, the variety of material, and his startling guitar playing, one can hardly go wrong with Soul’s Edge. 

I likely received a review copy from Black Top. This review originally appeared in the May 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 201). This may be found used. Here is Snooks in performance.


Friday, May 26, 2017

Vanesse Thomas The Long Journey Home

Vanesse Thomas
The Long Journey Home
Segue Records

It has been a couple years since Vaneese Thomas, daughter of the legendary Rufus Thomas issued "Blues For My Father," which I found was "a showcase of Vaneese Thomas’ craft as a songwriter and her soul-shaking vocals. Like that release, this was produced by Thomas and her husband Wayne Warnecke, the core of the musicians on this include Joe Bonadio on drums, Paul Adamy on bass, Paul Mariconda on keyboards, Sergio Cocchi on organ, Wayne Warnecke on percussion or electric guitar, and Al Orlo or Tash Neal on guitar.

About her last recording I wrote that Vaneese "can flat out sing with a display of vocal dynamics as well as power to leave a strong impression on the listeners." And when they starting rocking on the opening "Sweet Talk Me," she exhibits her power as well her nuance in phrasing set against a driving rhythm. A loping walking groove underlay a fine blues performance, "Lonely No More." There is a party feel to "Sat'day Night On The River," with its relaxed shuffle groove and Cliff Lyons booting tenor sax solo. "Mystified" is a soul-blues number as she celebrates being captured in his embrace.

"Country Funk" mixes a funk groove with a dash of country-rock violin, dobro and banjo in the backing, and is followed by the topicality of "The More Things Change" ("the more they stay the same"). "Prince of Fools" a strong soul performance about someone she loves and only a fool would let Vaneese go. "I Got A Man In Tn" has a tough blues-rock setting as she sings about traveling performing and having met many men in her travels, but she has a message for them that she has a man in Tennessee is waiting for her in the County of Shelby, while there is a low-key feel as she sings about rocking away on her front porch as she is "Rockin' Away The Blues." with bluesy dobro from Peter Calo. With a jaunty, Jimmy Reed-styled groove, "Revelation" celebrates her finding a love that is true, followed by a slow roots performance "Mean World," with a plea for civility and live a life with a heart full of charity.

A strongly sung cover of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain," is the final recording on another strong recording that is up to the high standard of the earlier album, as well as her live performances which this writer was fortunate enough to attend. Vaneese Thomas continues to impress with her marvelous singing and songwriting on this recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2017  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 371). Here is a video of Vaneese celebrating the release of this CD.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Chris Rogers Voyage Home

Chris Rogers
Voyage Home
Art of Life Records

This album is the debut as a leader by trumpeter Chris Rogers, who is the son of legendary salsa and latin jazz trombonist Barry Rogers. Rogers was also with the Brecker Brothers and Billy Cobham, a founding member of the legendary jazz-rock band "Dreams." A remarkable player, he replaced Tom Harrell in Gerry Mulligan's Concert Band at the age of 19. Rogers himself states about his background, "“Listening to Mike, Randy and my dad playing together, and all Barry’s great solos on those classic Eddie Palmieri sides pretty much informed my concepts... and have been such towering influences upon me that the music here can be considered a direct reflection of their incredible spirits.”

There is a wonderful cast for this recording (recorded in 2001 but now released) with the bass/drums tandem of Jay Anderson and Steve Johns, pianist Xavier Davis, Synthesizer/keyboard wizard Mark Falchook joins the rhythm section on three. Two selections have the great Mike Brecker (Randy contributed to the liner booklet), and four have tenor and alto saxophonist Ted Nash, while baritone saxophonist Roger Rosenberg and trombonist Art Baron perform on a very special dedication to Barry Rogers - enhanced by the great man himself on an introductory trombone cadenza (thanks to the blessings of technology). Also guitarist Steve Khan is on three tracks, two of which include conguero/percussionist Willie Martinez.

Rogers contributed the nine compositions performed here which might in overly simplistic terms be viewed as being rooted in the post-Coltrane and Blue Note hard bop of the late sixties and beyond. The opening "Counter Change" certainly starts in that mode with the leader's crisp trumpet and Brecker's robust, volcanic tenor sax while the following title track (dedicated to Dan Grolnick) has a dreamy flow that to these ears evokes some of Herbie Hancock's recordings and has some lovely tenor from Nash. While "Whit's End" alludes to Whit Sidener, Rogers' teacher at the University of Miami, it is dedicated to Michael Brecker, who is brilliant here also playing with virtuosity and imagination while Rogers own playing displays his clarity and bite.

Dedicated to Lew Soloff, "The Mask" has a bluesy funk feel to it with more strong tenor from Nash. "Ballad for B.R." is dedicated to his father and the opening trombone cadenza is lifted from one of his father's solos with Eddie Palmieri. Art Baron on trombone and Roger Rosenberg on baritone sax join Nash and Rogers for this performance with some lovely arranging of the four horns in stating the theme and coloring the solos by Nash, bassist Anderson, Rogers, Rosenberg and Nash on an enchanting performance.

There is a three song suite of songs that feature guitarist Steve Khan, starting with "Rebecca" dedicated to Ray Barretto, a spritely paced latin jazz composition that he brought to a Barretto rehearsal. Pianist Hector Martignon named it after Rogers' sister who had attended on of their gigs. Dedicated to Mike Lawrence, "Ever After", was Rogers' first composition. It is a lovely ballad with the lyricism of Rogers and Khan evident throughout set against a light samba-like rhythm. "Six Degrees" is described as a bebop-influenced composition, with Rogers playing a mute (evoking Miles to an extent) with Khan's gorgeous comping in addition to his own marvelous solo. Bassist Anderson is also showcased here.

Nash returns for "The 12-Year Itch," whose title refers in part to it taking 12 years to finish this jazz shuffle. The head of this bouncy performance reminds me of some of Woody Shaw's compositions. Pianist Davis is featured here with a solid improvisation, along with by the two horns. It closes an excellent recording that sounds contemporary today.

My review copy was received from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2017  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 371). Here is a short video clip of Chris Rogers on flugelhorn.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Wee Willie Walker & The Greaseland All Stars Live! Notodden Blues Festival

Wee Willie Walker & The Greaseland All Stars
Live! Notodden Blues Festival
Little Village Foundation

Kim Wilson refers to Willie Walker as "one of the last, if not THE last, real soul singer on this planet." A career that goes back to recording for Goldwax Records decades ago, he perhaps is finally getting some recognition. With a fine band assembled by guitarist Kid Andersen (Jim Pugh on the B3 organ, Lorenzo Farrell on bass, and J Hansen on drums with horns), Walker performed in August 2016 at the Notodden Blues Festival in Norway and Andersen has made the performance available.

After band introductions, Walker opens with Clarence Reid's "(Can You) Read Between The Lines," where with his raspy, gospel-inflected vocals he establishes his authority as a singer with The Greaseland All Stars providing solid, idiomatic support. It is followed by a terrific original by Rick Estrin (who helped Walker get larger exposure, "Is That It!" with greasy organ and punchy horns. It is followed by a recasting of a Goldwax recording (that was also issued on Checker), "You Name It, I Had It," a terrific deep southern soul performance. It is one of several Goldwax recordings revived here that include the Beatles' "Ticket To Ride," that he covered four decades ago. The loping groove of "There Goes My Used to Be," "I Ain't Gonna Cheat On You No More" (co-written by Sam Cooke) and "A Lucky Loser ( a favorite of mine)" are other early recordings he performed at this Festival.

In addition there are strong renditions of Tyrone Davis' hit, "Can I Change My Mind," and Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come." Rick Estrin adds harmonica to "Funky Way," and Walker does a solid take on "Little Red Rooster," that has a jazzy feel that owes as much to Sam Cooke's rendition as that of the Howlin' Wolf. Another extended reworking of another Beatles' classic, "Help," closes this recording as Walker slows this rocker down. Andersen's playing here evokes the late Robert Ward and Lonnie Mack on this track, but he is outstanding whether playing soul guitar riffs or playing in a jazzier vein on other tracks. The backing, as indicated, is solid throughout. In any event, Wee Willie Walker certainly has it still and this live recording suggests just how moving and powerful a performer he remains.

I purchased this. Here is the performance of "Help" from the Festival.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Duchess Laughing at Life

Laughing at Life
Anzic Records

Duchess, the flirty and fun jazz vocal trio of Amy Cervini, Hillary Gardner and Melissa Stylianou, have a second recording that provides a contemporary take on such classic vocal trios as the Boswell Sisters and the Andrews Sisters as they provide fresh and delightful takes on mostly classics of early jazz, and the American Songbook. They are backed by pianist Michael Cabe, bassist Matt Aronoff, and drummer Jared Schonig with guitarist Jesse Lewis appearing ion 9 of the 14 selections and tenor saxophonist Jeff Lederer on four. Additionally Wycliffe Gordon adds trombone to two selections and Anat Cohen adds clarinet to two. The trio share vocals on eleven tracks while each is featured on one.

The trio opens with a delightful take on Clarence Williams' "Swing Brother Swing" which is handled a bit more sweetly than Catherine Russell's recent recording of this number. Lederer rips off some ferocious tenor sax on it. "On The Sunny Side of the Street" is a pretty familiar standard and their backing trio adds fresh accents to the harmonies and vocal interplay with Cabe taking a lively solo. The title track is a sprite number new to these ears followed by a lively rendition of the classic "Everybody Loves My Baby" with Anat Cohen's adds fills around the vocals that include some double time singing and scatting before she takes a wonderful solo. This is a marvelous performance followed by a lazy, wistful "Stars Fell on Alabama," with Wycliffe Gordon adding some growling and crying trombone.

Amy Cervini sings Cole Porter's amusing "Give Him the Oo La La" with Gardner and Stylianou adding their backing while Stylianou takes lead on, "Where Would You Be Without Me," from a sixties Broadway show and Lewis takes a guitar solo here. Gordon joins again on Ellington's "Creole Love Call," on which Duchess sings lyrics in addition to wordless vocalizing. Gordon conjures up Bubber Miley and Tricky Sam Nanton with his growling mute as well as adds his own vocalizing and scatting to that of Duchess on a marvelous take on Ellingtonia. Gardner is up front on a nice take on the Ray Charles classic, "Hallelujah I Love Her (Him) So," and then the trio provides a ruminative take on Porter's "Er'ry Time We Say Goodbye." Johnny Mercer's "Strip Polka" is far from reflective with its zany lyric of a burlesque queen who strips as the band plays a polka while she is always a lady who stops just in time with Lederer's tenor sax providing the right atmosphere.

After a bouncy "Here's to the Losers," Cohen adds some warm clarinet to a lovely "We'll Meet Again" before a bonus track, "Dawn" which sounds like a lullaby. It is an enchanting finish to another delightful recording from Duchess.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2017  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 371) but I have made a few corrections and minor changes. Here Duchess sings "Everybody Loves My Baby."

Monday, May 22, 2017

Tinner Hill Blues Festival Brings The Blues Back to Falls Church

Beverly Guitar Watkins at the 2013 Tinner Hill Blues Festival
The weekend of Friday June 9 through Sunday June 11, the City of Falls Church will host the 24th Annual Tinner Hill Blues Festival. Produced by the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation in conjunction with the City, the Fesival will feature such performers as Mud Morganfield, The Nighthawks, Beverly ‘Guitar’ Watkins and more. There are both free and ticketed events throiughout the Little City in Northern Virginia.

Blues on Broad 

The Festival opens Friday with the opening event, Blues on Broad, at the Mad Fox Brewing Company at 440 W Broad Street with their craft beers, a live band and terrific food. This runs from 5 to 8 PM and there will be an admission. After 8PM, blues continues at various locations in Falls Church. The full list of bands and venues will be polsted on the Tinner Hill website and the Festival’s Facebook page.

Concert in the Park

Saturday, the Blues moves to Cherry Hill Park, 223 Little Falls Street. In the morning there will be blues performers at the City’s weekly Farmer’s Market along with the showing of Blues Films, a workshop-presentation, and kids programs including an instrument petting zoo. There is an admission charge for the Saturday concert and tickets can be purchased ahead at time per the Facebook page or website. After the concert there will be a Blues Crawl at various venues. Also, the Festival wristband will allow one to the 50% off admission to JV’s Restaurant.

Linwood Taylor


Concert in the Park starts at 1PM (doors open at noon) with the music of Linwood Taylor (shown performing in the video above), a mainstay in the DC blues scene for more than three decades. Living Blues called Linwood “…one of finest contemporary blues guitar on the road today.” His style reflects influences of true guitar icons like Muddy Waters, Albert King, ALbert Collins and Jimi Hendrix. Linwood has played an in-demand guitarist who has played across the U.S. and Europe. His touring credits include legends Lonnie Mack, Albert Collins, and Joe Louis Walker. His two-year stint with Walker included performing with him on the 2010 Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise and is on recordings from this cruise. On the local scene, he’s been awarded several WAMMIES for “Best Blues Band.”

Kareem “Lil’ Maceo” Walkes

Linwood will be followed by saxophonist Kareem “Lil’ Maceo” Walkes (performing above) with special guest, Slam Allen. Walkes, a newcomer to the DC area, is one of its most thrilling and emotive performers of funk, soul, and blues. Pushing boundaries as a composer, performer, and recording artist, his playing, though inspired by Maceo Parker, Candy Dulfer, and others, displays his own fresh ideas and distinctive tone. A native New Yorker, Walkes has been breathing powerful, soulful, raw energy into his saxophone since the age of 18.  He has performed and toured with numerous artists including Cyril Neville, Maceo Parker, Papa J & Mo Soul, Grant Green Jr., Frank Viele & The Manhattan Project, blues legend Moe Holmes, Grammy Award winner John Mayer, music icon Cyndi Lauper, and New York Blues Hall of Famer, Slam Allen. Walkes’ 4th album, “His Name Is Kareem” was released in April. He has also written and produced for R&B recording artist, Rhoda.

Kareem Walkes with Slam Allen at the 2016 Pennsylvania Blues Festival
Appearing with Walkes will be Slam Allen who is taking off his own busy schedule to join Walkes. The two have played multiple events together including the 2016 Pennsylvania and D.C. Blues Festivals. Allen is one of the most dynamic and original blues and soul artists on the scene today. More than just a singer, writer, and guitar player, Allen connects with his audience like entertainers from a bygone era. Think Otis Redding, and B.B., Albert, and Freddie King, with a blend of Wilson Picket, James Brown, Sly Stone and a little George Benson and Jimi Hendrix thrown in to make a unique musical experience. He spent nine years as the lead singer, lead guitarist, and band leader for James Cotton and is also credited with writing and singing on Cotton’s 2011 Grammy-nominated album, “Giant. ” As a solo performer, he is the recipient of the prestigious Master Blues Artist award from the New York Blues Hall of Fame. He was also a 2016 Blues Music Award nominee. With seven original albums under his belt, Slam Allen is dedicated to forging his own legacy in the Blues and Soul world.

Beverly "Guitar’ Watkins

Beverly "Guitar’ Watkins (seen performing above) is next and describes her blues,“My style is real Lightnin’ Hopkins lowdown blues. I call it hard classic blues, stompin’ blues, railroad smokin’ blues.” If you’ve never seen a blues lady who can play guitar behind her head, belt out powerful songs and lay down James Brown steps, you’ve never been in the audience when Beverly “Guitar” Watkins was burning down the house. As a teen, she teamed up with the legendary Piano Red and for the next six decades, she has rocked venues with the best of them. Through the years, Watkins has stolen the hearts and blown the minds of audiences across the U.S., Europe, and Australia. And, she is not about to give up her striding, acrobatic style just because she’s marched past 70. Beverly Guitar means business! This Georgia Music Legend Award Winner has worked with James Brown, B.B. King, Ray Charles, Taj Mahal, and played on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise. She also had a residency at Underground Atlanta, an Atlanta nightclub. Beverly Watkins is also on the cover of the current Living Blues with her story told there. This is her second appearance at a Tinner Hill Blues Festival and we’re delighted to welcome her back!

Tas Cru & His Band of Tortured Souls

Tas Cru & His Band of Tortured Souls (seen performing above) brings to the stage one of the new original and unique voices in the blues today. Raucous, rowdy, gentle, sweet, eccentric, quirky, and outright irreverent are all words that fittingly describe Tas Cru’s songs and testify to his reputation as a one of the most unique of bluesmen plying his trade today. As Downbeat magazine notes, “His songs are blues poetry - crafted with rare verbal flair and his ability to cast a memorable hook is magical!” Bruce Iglauer, founder and president of Alligator Records calls Cru “a rare, real writer.”  Live, these songs are performed with power and passion as observed by Living Blues magazine: “The vivacity and sheer joy with which Cru plays is intoxicating!” His most recent new album, “Simmered and Stewed,” released in 2016 on VizzTone Records is receiving wide acclaim and extensive worldwide airplay.  It’s a worthy follow-up to Cru’s 2015 album, You Keep the Money, the hottest debuting blues album of that year, which spent a year residing at or near the very top of every major blues chart.  He has also recorded five othger albums of original songs.

Based out of upstate New York, Cru performs in a variety of formats ranging from solo acoustic to a 7-piece backing band. He’s appeared at a number of festivals and major blues venues throughout the US and Canada. Cru explored and developed his talent by taking up with a rougher crowd of older, self-taught musicians where he was introduced to the songs of the Sun Records legends.  His first foray into the blues came after leaving the US Navy when he was asked to join a band formed by a former shipmate and bluesman, Delray Streeter, whose repertoire tended toward the older and much rawer country blues.  This schooling in country blues later served Cru well and is infused into his original songs.

The Nighthawks

The Nighthawks (Seen performing above) then will come up for a full set before they back Mud Morganfield for his closing set. Just four years after its formation, The Nighthawks began a friendship and musical association with the great Muddy Waters. Initially, Mark Wenner contacted Muddy’s manager, Scott Cameron, and persuaded him to provide Wenner with Muddy’s schedule. Wenner contacted numerous venues and offered to open the shows. The first one was a weekend at The Pier in Raleigh, NC and Muddy invited all four ‘Hawks to join in a multi-song jam. After that incredible engagement, there were week long stints at The Cellar Door in Washington, DC as well as shows at Painters Mill, MD, Emerald City in Cherry Hill, NJ and the Bucks County Blues Society in PA. In 1978, Muddy recommended the band to Wise Fools, a club in Chicago, and when The Nighthawks arrived, the place was abuzz with the news that Muddy made reservations for himself and his young wife, Sunshine. In 1979, The Nighthawks album for Adelphi, “Jacks and Kings” featured Pinetop perkins and Bob Margolin from Muddy’s Band. In 1980, the Nighthawks, now represented by Rosebud, Muddy’s booking agency, opened shows for him from Seattle to San Diego on its first west coast tour. The night Muddy died, the band was on stage with John Hammond, Billy Joel, and Toru Oki playing Got my Mojo Workin’ at the Bottom Line in New York City.

When The Nighthawks first heard Mud Morganfield (seen performing above) on his Severn recording, For Pops, they were totally blown away. Given a chance to back Mud in North Carolina, the band found itself in an amazing situation. Mud’s look, voice, gestures - his entire aura - channeled his famous father. After a number of shows, including the January 2017 Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise with Mud, The Nighthawks are excited to have a hometown show with him at the Tinner Hill Blues Festival. Baltimore’s Steve Kraemer will join the show on piano to give the band that real Chicago sound.

Mud Morganfield

Closing the Concert Cherry Hill park will be Muddy Waters’ first born son, Larry “Mud” Morganfield (born 1954). Mud was raised by his mother and often heard the nicknames of “Muddy”, “Muddy Jr.” and “Little Muddy,” but prefers Mud Morganfield and it is fitting.  It’s uncanny how much he looks and sounds like his dad. Growing up, Mud rarely saw his famous father, “he was always on the road working” but, as he notes, the old man was always there for him. “I always have played music. Pops used to buy me a set of drums every Christmas. I started off as a drummer and gradually went to playing bass…” Only recently has Mud stepped forward to embrace his musical gifts—a big voice that can only be compared to his daddy’s.

Mud is now ready to honor his Pops and his music. “I started to sing to show the world that Dad left me here. I love and am proud to sing his songs just like I love and will always be proud of him. I’m not Muddy Waters and I’m certainly not trying to be Muddy Waters. I’m Mud Morganfield. But when I’m up on stage I always feel Pops is there with me and it means so much that I can get on stage and keep his music alive around the world.” Mud’s award-winning album, “Son of the Seventh Son”, was launched on Severn Records in 2012 and was nominated in the Best Album and the Traditional Blues Male Artist Album categories of the 2013 Blues Foundation Blues Music Awards. In 2014, Mud’s collaboration with Kim Wilson, the album “For Pops,” attracted more critical acclaim and awards.

Sunday Gospel Blues Picnic

The Festival concludes Sunday, Juen 11, with the free Old Fashion Gospel Blues Picnic. This takes place at the Tinner Hill Historic Site at 116 Tinner Hill St. Performing will be The Carter Singers and The Barbour Travelers. There will be free lemonade and sweet tea available along with food for sale.

For more information visit or the Facebook page,–370763756356394/.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

James Peterson Don’t Let The Devil Ride

James Peterson
Don’t Let The Devil Ride


I remember the first time I saw James Peterson. It was a Main Street Buffalo, New York club, the Sunset Inn, and James led a quartet with a young teenage Lucky Peterson on keyboards, another son on drums and a bass player. There were a few bum notes but when James sang How Blue Can You get, or did a medley starting with Cummins Prison Farm, he would call out to someone in the club and get the crowd responding. While a capable guitarist, it was as a singer, that James grabbed me. Lucky’s a phenom, having natural pitch and a monster instrumentalist whose developing into a vocalist. But, even if James lacked his son’s gifts, he is a singer who grabs and holds the listener. 

Waldoxy has produced the first full album by James which showcases his singing with some funk grooves, although, oddly it is also the first of his albums on which his son does not play. James authored most of the songs with the title track offering a bit of folk wisdom at odds with the notion of the blues as the devil’s music. Children Gotta Eat is a nice soulful number which deals with a woman too busy providing for her children to realize her dreams, and James revives one of his best blues, I Need You At Home, that he recorded first when Lucky was a child prodigy. 

While It’s So Good may not have much of a lyric, it has a strong funk groove. Went Too Far, Stayed Too Long is an almost stereotypical, slow blues with fiery guitar (and Peterson fervently singing about how his woman blew their relationship). The album closes with some cautionary down-home, back-porch, philosophy from Peterson and George Jackson, Playin’ the Game, as he details his brother sitting in jail, and a girl raising a baby instead of being in school before stating “life could be better if you only play by the rules.” 

Producers Tommy Couch, Jr., and Paul Lee (who also contributes the solid drumming on the date) have put together what clearly is James Peterson’s strongest album. It’s about time people had a chance to hear just how good a singer James Peterson is, and maybe he’ll be known other than as Lucky’s dad. 

I likely received a review copy from the record company. This review appeared in the May-June 1995 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 202). Here is a short video of James Peterson performing.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Marquis Hill The Way We Play

Marquis Hill
The Way We Play
Concord Jazz

This is first Concord Jazz release for the winner of the 2014 Thelonious Monk Institute Trumpet Competition, and the recording contract was one of the prizes. With his Blacktet, that then included alto saxophonist Christopher McBride, vibraphonist Justin Thomas, drummer Makaya McCraven, and bassist Joshua Ramos. This writer just saw Hill and the Blacktet at the Kennedy Center and only Hill's long-time collaborator remained, but the sleek sound of his group, with its incorporation of hip hop rhythms was very much akin to this marvelous recording.

On this recording, Hill also incorporates a bit of poetry as on previous album (although that was not present in his superb live performance), and the music here is comprised on his own reworking of a number of standards. As on his prior recordings, the brief opening track (The Chicago Bulls opening theme) has the group introduced by vocalist Meagan McNeal, before they launch into the title track, backing some hiphop poetry commentary by poet Harold Green III that segues into a very appealing rendition of Gigi Gryce's "Minority," with the leader's own trumpet, full of controlled, smoldering intensity, as well as Thomas's scintillating vibes, and the rhythm section's very distinct feel (McCraven is central here). Hill's trumpet on Horace Silver's "Moon Rays" certainly justifies comparisons made of him to Clifford Brown (with dashes of Woody Shaw and Freddie Hubbard), while followed by McBride, himself a distinctive young voice, to shine.

On this recording, Washington DC vocalist Christine Dashiell sings "My Foolish Heart" with the rhythm trio adding its own flavor with Thomas's shimmering vibes before the horns enter on this imaginative, exquisite vocal performance with a concise short, skittering muted trumpet break. A beautiful "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," is taken unaccompanied until the closing bar is followed by the Afro-Cuban take on Donald Byrd's "Fly Little Bird Fly," which here also incorporates Green's poetry. Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage," which live was a feature for the rhythm section, here has the clean distinctive horn lines taken at a relaxed pace and enhanced along with Dashiell's tuneful vocalizing, followed by an imaginative "Straight No Chaser," that opens with some gritty saxophone, followed by the leader's own incisive, fiery playing.

The album closes with the Charlie Chaplin ballad "Smile" that opens as a duet with Hill's muted trumpet McCraven (using his hands) before Ramos provides an anchor before getting the spotlight with vibes and sax joining for the closing passages. Hill has updated the jazz ensemble in a manner that one evokes the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet while incorporating the hip-hop laced grooves of today. "The Way We Play" is an auspicious recording full of the distinctive sound of Marquis Hill and the Blacktet.

I received my review copy form Concord Jazz. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 372). Here is Marquis Hill at the 2016 Chicago Jazz Festival.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Talking Music 2: Blues and Roots Music Mavericks

Talking Music 2: Blues and Roots Music Mavericks
Holger Petersen
Insomniac Press: London, Ontario
2016:428 pp

Canadian Holger Peterson may be best known as a record producer and head of the blues and roots label, Stony Plain Records. He also is a veteran radio broadcaster and founded the Edmonton Folk Festival among other activities. A few years ago, a collection of interviews he conducted with an assortment of musicians, Talking Music was issued by Insomniac Press. I purchased it, read it and enjoyed it madly. He now has a follow-up volume which I was pleased to receive a review copy from Stony Plain. This second volume has more interviews with am equally diverse set of individuals including recently deceased legends B.B. King, Allen Toussaint and Bobby Charles; such important blues and Louisiana music figures as Zachary Richard, Billy Boy Arnold, Charlie Musselwhite and Rory Block; to rock and rollers Sam the Sham, Ronnie Hawkins, and Wanda Jackson; guitar wizards, Amos Garrett & David Wilcox and James Burton & Alvin Lee; songwriters and singers Chip Taylor, Townes van Zandt; Tony Joe White and Dan Penn & Spooner Oldman; the great singer Solomon Burke and the blue-eyed soul singers, Bill Medley and David Clayton-Thomas; the unique Dan Hicks, the blues-rooted star Steve Miller, the recording genius Van Dyke Parks; the muse of jazz and blues, Mose Allison; guitar wizard Ronnie Earl and two ladies of the British Music Scene, Maddy Prior and Maggie Bell.

Peterson is a thoughtful interviewer and conversationalist and that comes through all of these chapters. With B.B. King, they explored a number of sounds that touched him, and some of his most memorable recordings, but he was insistent that Holger listen to The Mighty Sparrow's "Honesty." There was plenty of items for Allen Toussaint to speak of, including writing, arranging and producing records, as well as his collaborations with The Band and King Biscuit Boy, with some discussion of him performing post-Katrina and his association with Elvis Costello.

There is plenty of stuff I learned about artists I thought was familiar with such as Billy Boy Arnold discussing the origin for Ellis McDaniel adopting Bo Diddley along with recollections of the Chicago scene including Sonny Noy Williamson, Big Bill Broonzy and Sunnyland Slim while Charlie Musselwhite's memories of growing up in Memphis included not simply meeting will Shade, but also Johnny and Dorsey Burnette who lived across the street from him then. His Chicago recollections are fascinating as he recalls how his first recordings came about, his impressions of various folk like Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and James Cotton, as well as catching music with Michael Bloomfield.

One reads about Rory Block's encounters with various early acoustic blues legends, Sam the Sham discussing touring and his hit records, Ronnie Hawkins fascinating career including being produced by the legendary Henry Glover, James Burton recalling the riff that made the Dale Hawkins' recording "Susie Q," working with Ricky Nelson and Elvis, and more recently with Emmylou Harris and was replaced by Alvin Lee. David Clayton Thomas' recollections include playing with John Lee Hooker as well as his role in the second incarnation of Blood, Sweat & Tears. Particularly interesting is his recollection of Blood Sweat & Tears touring with Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderly and Nina Simone and how Simone did not like him singing "God Bless the Child" and how Miles defused the tension from this.

There are other nuggets of course to be found here such Ronnie Earl frankly discussing the challenges he faces from mental illness, Chip Taylor's recollections of the Brill Building and hearing recordings by The Troggs and Jimi Hendrix of "Wild Thing" or Merrilee Rush of "Angel in the Morning," Steve Miller recalling Les Paul spending time with his father as did T-Bone Walker, as a 14 year old being in a band backing Jimmy Reed, and years later playing on John Lee Hooker's "Endless Boogie" session which he characterized as "the record business at its ugliest on that session. It was a terrible thing. 'Endless Boogie' wasn't really a great record." Then there is Solomon Burke recalling the joy of recording with Willie Mitchell, Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham discussing the Box Top's hit "Cry Like a Baby," and Bill Medley talking about his love for Roy Hamilton.

The book comes off as a series of conversations between friends. At the same time we get a sense of the personalities of the subjects and learn more than a few things about the music we love. I read this book like I would read a thriller. It was that good a read and hard to put down until I had finished it. My comments on this volume also apply to the first one. If you like reading about blues, folk and roots musicians, you will greatly enjoy Holger Petersen's excellent "Talking Music" volumes.

As mentioned in the review, I received a review copy of Talking Music 2 from Stony Plain Records. This should be readily available from better online sources.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Dayna Stephens Gratitude

Dayna Stephens
Contagious Music

The title of saxophonist Dayna Stephens latest album (his eighth as a leader) refers to the warmth, love, peace and strong connections he has shared with friends, family and fellow musicians, as he climbed his way back to health after fighting Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSG), a rare kidney disease. As he states "after receiving so much love and support from so many people in my life, I am saturated with immense gratitude, perhaps completing a circle that started with those ingredients. This collection of songs serves as an expression of that deep-seated gratitude." He is heard on tenor & baritone saxophones, EWI, synthesizer, and bass on one track, and joined by a stellar band of Brad Mehldau (piano, tack piano ), Julian Lage (guitar), Larry Grenadier (bass) and Eric Harland (drums & cymbals).

Among the uniting factors of the music on this album is "that they all have to my ear enchanting, beautiful singable melodies," and starts with the lovely "Emilie" by Olivier Manchon and it introduces us to the warmth of  Stephens' sensuous tone on a gem of a performance that also features Medldau's piano with a long section when they are playfully trading fours. Aaron Parks' ballad "In a Garden," has Lage guitar providing harmony under Stephens with Grenadier takes a solo before Stephens wonderfully constructed solo that builds up with Lage's assistance and electronics adding to the atmosphere. Lage's "Woodside Waltz," has a playful figure at its core and with Lage's guitar as well as Stephens own playing has a rootsy appeal (similar to some of John Scofield's recent recordings). Stephens contributed "The Timbre of Gratitude," with Lage takes the first solo before Stephens enters. Then there is a sublime rendition of Billy Strayhorn's ballad "Isfahan," with just Lage backing him.

While not a perfect analogy, as his musical approach is rooted more in today's contemporary approach, but Stephens reminds this writer of the great Ben Webster with his attention to his tone and every note plays seems thoughtfully considered. This is so even when  playing horn lines on an electronic instrument as on Rebecca Martin's "Don't Mean a Thing at All," with a pleasing Mehldau solo as well. Besides the wonderful playing of Stephens, Mehldau and Lage, one cannot forget the significant contributions of Grenadier's bass and Harland's drums, along with the leader's judicious employment of electronics. This all contributes to the beauty, warmth and lyrical qualities that infuse the performances of this wonderful recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2017 (Jazz & Blues Reprt (Issue 372) although I have made some corrections and clarifying changes. Here is a video of Dayna  Stephens performing.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Selwyn Birchwood Pick Your Poison

Selwyn Birchwood
Pick Your Poison
Alligator Records

This is the second Alligator release by the Floridian blues talent and his marvelous band of Regi Oliver: Saxophones, Flute, Background Vocals; Huff Wright: Bass Guitar, Background Vocals and Courtney 'Big Love Girlie: Drums, Percussion, Background Vocals. This followup to the award-winning "Don't Call No Ambulance" has a baker's dozen of Birchwood originals for which he did all of the arrangements and much in the same mold as the earlier release.

While having a somewhat limited vocal range, Birchwood is an appealing and convincing vocalist with a gravelly, raspy delivery. This is evident on the opening "Trial By Fire," with its North Mississippi Hill Country groove, Oliver's flute and his whining slide guitar. He changes mood on the high stepping gospel-flavored "Even the Saved Need Saving," with observations of religious hypocrisy as Oliver baritone pushes the groove before Birchwood's slide guitar break that here shows the influence of the sacred steel players. "Guilty Pleasures," built on a guitar riff, has a lyric about not liking various vices, such as not liking gambling but liking his luck, as Oliver's baritone echoes the guitar. "Heavy Heart" is a straight-forward blues about a relation coming to an end, with blistering guitar as Oliver's multiple horns add to an intense performance.

One continues to be impressed by Birchwood's ability to employ unusual melodies as on "Haunted." His acoustic steel slide guitar sets the atmosphere for the morose "Reaping Time," while with a delta blues slide riff, Birchwood launches a complaint about police brutality, "Police State," with its chorus "you have the right to remain silent, they have the right to remain violent." There is an urgent acoustic slide solo on this. Oliver's sax is featured on the blues lament, "Lost In You," where Birchwood sings about searching himself and hoping he can find himself again. This low-key performance is followed by the topical protest about working a 60 hour week while not wanting to be a cog in the machine that don't care about him, "Corporate Drone."

Like his earlier album, Selwyn Birchwood displays a fresh and immediately recognizable approach to his blues and has presented another varied and excellent set of fresh material, imaginatively and compellingly performed backed by his excellent band.

I received my review copy from Alligator.  Here he is performing the title track of his first album, "Don't Call No Ambulance."

Monday, May 15, 2017

Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down To Me:The Micros Play the Blues

The Microscopic Septet
Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down To Me:The Micros Play the Blues
Cuneiform Records

Despite the solemnity some may view jazz, the music is serious fun and among those display this is the New York based The Microscopic Septet. Having recently done an album of Thelonious Monk compositions, they now turn their attention to the blues, one of the foundational components of jazz itself. This recording is comprised of 12 originals by either Phillip Johnston or Joel Forrester, along with a cover of Joe Liggins' "I Got a Right to Cry," and played with the blend of imagination, inventiveness and quirky humor that the Micros have been know for. The Micros are comprised of Phillip Johnston – soprano saxophone; Don Davis – alto saxophone; Mike Hashim – tenor saxophone; Dave Sewelson – baritone saxophone; Joel Forrester – piano; Dave Hofstra – bass and Richard Dworkin – drums.

Blues is one of the foundations of jazz and here the Micros take the twelve originals blues compositions as a springboard starting with the playfulness of the opening "Cat Toys," with Hashim, Hofstra and composer Forrester soling (the latter set against the central riff). Sewelson's barreling baritone sax takes center stage on "Blues Cubistico," another Forrester original with an unusual twist in the melody. Johnston's "Dark Blue" has a 'three in the morning' feel that opens with some nice piano before robust tenor and baritone sax solos. The scoring of the sax ensembles here, with the call and response with the sax solos, is wonderful.

Blues comes in all shapes, tempos and moods and the compositions vary from the frolicsome quality of "Don't Mind If I Do," the rambunctiousness of "PJ in the 60s," the rush-hour traffic feel of "When it's Getting Dark," the languid tenor of "12 Angry Birds" (excellent Davis' alto sax) or "Silent Night", Forrester's Monkish reworking of a Christmas classic into a blues (featuring Johnston, Sewelson and Forrester). A bouncy, delightful cover of the Liggins' R&B classic (with Sewelson taking the raspy vocal) closes this fascinating and fresh take on the blues. I note that I am among those who donated on kickstarter to help this recording happen.

Here are the Microscopic Septet performing "Migraine Blues."

Saturday, May 13, 2017

George “Big” Wheeler Bone Orchard

George “Big” Wheeler*
Bone Orchard

Classic Chicago harmonica blues can be heard in this debut album by veteran Chicago harpist, George ‘Big’ Wheeler. A Georgia native, he became friends with Little Walter who was a big influence, however his own style is more akin to the country flavor of a Smokey Smothers or Jimmy Reed than the fat saxophone-like sound of Walter.

Backed by the Ice Cream men, a band devoted to the classic Chicago blues band sound, he turns in a tasty set of originals along with covers from Jimmy Rogers, Little Walter, Joe Turner, Jimmy Reed and B.B. King. Wheeler is certainly an enjoyable singer and a pleasing harp player in his older style, and the Ice Cream Men (who previously backed Smokey Smothers for Blind Pig), do a credible job in backing Wheeler on an unpretentious, enjoyable recording.

I likely received a review copy from Delmark Records. This review appeared in the September 1993 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 183). The Ice Cream Men, referred to in this review included Rockin' Johnny Burgin on guitar. This is available as CD and as a download. 

*I should note that it is Golden, not George Wheeler, but since I had it wrong when the review originally ran, I will leave the review as is and have this correction here.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Beth Garner Snake Farm

Beth Garner
Snake Farm
The Music of Nashville

Roots Singer-Songwriter-Guitarist Beth Garner has a new album with a bluesy flavor. Six of the songs are originals, the exception being the title track from Ray Wylie Hubbard. She is backed by a band that includes Rory Hoffman (sax, keyboards and rhythm guitar), Wes Little (drums), Steve Forrest (bass) and Angela Primm and Gale Mayes (background vocals).

Listening to this, comparisons might be made to some of Tony Joe White's swampy roots music of decades ago. Certainly the feel of a medium tempo groove of "Backroads Freddie," as well the slow drag groove of 'Drop Down." She impresses as a guitarist, whether playing slide or straight, and the huskiness in her voice gives adds to the appeal to the performances. Hoffman's baritone sax adds atmosphere to this latter number. "Used to Be" is an exuberant hot shuffle blues where she plays some rollicking slide guitar in the manner of the late Johnny Winter, while her slide is set against a funk groove on "Ramblin' Man" who she needs.

After the title track about Ramona who works at the reptile house, the album closes with "Wish I Was," another slow bluesy and swampy rocker with more slide guitar. Beth Garner impresses with terrific guitar and direct, natural vocals resulting in a fine blues and roots-rock effort.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 371). Here is the official video for this album.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Vanessa Collier Meeting My Shadow

Vanessa Collier
Meeting My Shadow
Ruf Records

Young saxophonist, vocalist, and songwriter is a graduate of world-renowned Berklee College and later toured with Joe Louis Walker. She recorded a self-produced album, participated at the Blues Foundation's 2016 International Blues Challenge and has been playing at festivals and clubs. Now she has signed with Ruf Records who has issued her newest release. She is backed on this by TK Jackson on drums, Daniel McKee on bass and Laura Chavez on guitar with many tracks having the legendary Charlie Hodges of the Hi Rhythm Section on keyboards. She has eight originals and three covers here as well.

Collier has an attractive voice and impresses as a vocalist over a variety of material including the opening "Poisoned the Well," one of the more notable originals, along with her ode to James Brown styled funk, "Dig a Little Deeper." She covers U2's B.B. King collaboration, "When Love Comes To Town," with a fervent vocal with Josh Roberts' slide guitar soloing while she takes the performance to a close with some robust saxophone. Her cover of the O.V. Wright deep soul classic "You Gonna Make Me Cry," is sweetened up in her treatment making it more a lament than Wright's gut-wrenching original.

"Whisky and Women" is a rocking blues shuffle about folk complaining about whisky and women while she notes she wants to live without complaining. The tempo might be a bit slower, and her vocal could have been tempered a tad, but both Laura Chavez and she are outstanding. "Meet Me Where I'm At" has a New Orleans-flavored feel with some nice interplay by her with trumpeter Marc Franklin. There is a spirited cover of Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "Up Around My Head, I Hear Music In The Air," and if her vocal lacks the weight of Tharpe, it is still enjoyable and Chavez again tosses in a crisply, spirited guitar solo followed by Collier's short solo. "Devil's on the Downside" is an impressively sung original with Charles Hodges taking us to church on organ and a standout lyric about life's temptations sung wonderfully with Collier providing a marvelous arrangement as well for the horns to frame her vocal.

There is plenty to like about Vanessa Collier on "Meeting My Shadow." She is multi-talented as a singer, songwriter, saxophonist and arranger who also co-produced this most engaging set of performances. She is certainly establishing herself on the blues (and more general music circles) and this recording will further that process.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the May-June 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 372).  Here Vanessa Collier is performing "When Love Comes To Town."

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Chris Washburne Rags and Roots

Chris Washburne
Rags and Roots
Zoho Music

From the opening moments of Joplin "Maple Leaf Rag," trombonist Chris Washburne's new recording provides a fresh take on some ragtime and the roots of jazz. His co-producer, Kabir Sehgal observes that this album "is a bi-hemispheric ragtime revival that marks the centenary of both Joplin’s passing and the first noted jazz recording. By reimagining ragtime and the roots of jazz, Chris Washburne has created a path for new audiences to discover this quintessentially American music. His Rags and Roots is both a tribute to and triumph of ragtime and a sounding out of the truly global roots of jazz." And he does so with this reinvention of Joplin's classic that shifts from traditional jazz to a more modern take only hinting at the melody as well as having Sarah Elizabeth Charles sing the rarely heard lyrics. It is a performance full of surprise and joy.

This performance opens a wondrous and fresh take on other songs from Joplin, Brazil, Haiti, Cuba and Mexico. The leader has brought together a terrific band that includes his trombone and vocals; Alphonso Horne trumpet, vocals; Evan Christopher clarinet, vocals; Andre Mehmari piano, vocals; Hans Glawischnig bass, vocals and Vince Cherico drums, vocals. In addition to Charles, other featured vocalists on this include Thelonious Monk Competition finalist, Vuyo Sotashe and Gabriela Anders.

"Maple Leaf Rag": sets the tone for this outstanding recording. It is followed by a mashup of W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" and Moises Simons "El Manicero (The Peanut Vendor)," that was initially joined together by the Cuban big band, Los Hermanos Castro. This performance fascinates with the interweaving of the two numbers, including the vocals from Charles (on "St. Louis Blues") and Anders (of "El Manicero'), along with solos from the leader and pianist Mehmari. There is the lively Caribbean-Crescent City rhythmic mashup for Louis Moreau Gottschalk's "Bamboula," with Evan Christopher's joyful, serpentine clarinet initiating this with more marvelous piano and some marvelous brass before Christopher with a pensive, woody solo, and playful brass and woodwind riffs.

"Here's One," originally pioneering Harlem Renaissance giant William Grant Still's arrangement of a spiritual, is wonderfully sung by Sotashe followed by a lovely rendition of Joplin's "Solace (A Mexican Serenade)" and then Ernesto Nazareth's buoyant "Odeon," from Ernesto Nazareth's with choice solos from bassist Glawischnig and trumpeter Horne.    Charles' lovely vocal on Joplin's "Picture on Her Face," is followed by the exuberance and invention of "Mildly Entertained," a transformation of "The Entertainer," into a fresh composition. "Ala Cote Gen Fanm," was composed by Haitian composer Gerard Dupervil but the original misogynistic lyrics were adapted by Candice Hoyes and Sarah Elizabeth Charles transforming this into a Haitian feministic anthem with Charles singing in Haitian Creole against a spirited backing. "Lisete," evolved into a popular Haitian folk ballad which Washburne interprets as a charming piano, clarinet, and trombone trio.

Danish-American ragtime composer, Jens Bodewalt Lampe, penned "Creole Belles," that some may know from Mississippi John Hurt's lilting recording. Christopher's ebullient arrangement provides a contemporary take on traditional New Orleans Jazz with a fine vocal from Sotashe. The album closes with a somber "Strange Fruit." Charles delivering the first verse backed solely by Glawischnig's bowed bass before the full band enters with sober horns set against a funeral march tempo on a Charles' compelling rendition of the anti-lynching song made famous by Billie Holiday.

"Rags and Roots" has fresh takes on ragtime and early jazz classics that is wonderfully arranged, as well as superbly played and sung. It is a superb recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 372). 


Tuesday, May 09, 2017

He's Got The Bass - A Daughter Remembers Willie Kent

He's Got The Bass : My Life With Daddy
Valerie Fringero
2016: 92 pp. and 18 pp illustrations

It would be easy to dismiss this self-published short memoir for typos and occasionally clumsy grammar, but this memoir of blues bassist and band leader Willie Kent by his daughter Valerie is full of love for her father that brings his personality and character to life. One cannot think of any typo or spelling error that would totally confuse the reader as to what was meant. The value of this book is Valerie telling her story in her voice. She does refer to some of the musicians her father played with by first names and initially it may not be clear who she is referring to.

The first few pages of "He's Got The Bass" must be a dream (nightmare) that Willie Kent had as a youth growing up in Mississippi, and told his daughter. In the dream, he is fleeing for his life before being woken up. After presenting this dream, we are taken to his daughter's recollections of his father as a dad. How he provided for his family particularly before he became the band leader we most know him for, how he would discipline them, watching television together as well as moving to different homes as circumstances changed.

It is in the latter section of the text she addresses the father the musician and eventually band leader. One learns that coming back from Europe on an early tour there, Kent discovered that a guitarist on the trip had cheated him and this ended up breaking the relationship with this guitarist. I wonder if this individual might have been Willie James Lyons but Valerie often only provides first names for many of musicians. For example, she refers to Guy as a member of her father's band. After a few mentions, I realized she meant Guy King.

In recounting her memories of her father's musical activities, she also may present events out of actual order. The value of her memories though is the sense of the person Willie Kent was and how he was as a musician and band leader. He comes off as not only a solid bass player, but a very fair band leader, who when faced with discipline and similar matters acted in a restrained fashion as opposed to impulsively acting physically. There is also an appreciation of the recognitions he achieved during his life. Finally she deals with the sadness of her father's final days, but also reveals the love many had for him (and still do).

She was very proud of her father and after the conclusion of the text, there are a number of photos, clippings and proclamations included, although reproduction of some items is fuzzy.  I enjoyed so many of the recordings Willie Kent made and was fortunate enough to have seen him perform several times. If not essentail, I certainly enjoyed reading this. It is not often when we get to know a musician like Valerie helps us get to know her father. I purchased a printed copy of this and the paperback is listed at approximately $20.00 at some internet stores. The e-book version (for kindle or nook) is approximately $4.00.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Sarah McKenzie Paris in the Rain

Sarah McKenzie
Paris in the Rain
Impulse! Records

Born in Australia, schooled at Berklee and recently moved to Paris, pianist-singer-songwriter and arranger will delight listeners on this new release, her second for Impulse! Records. The backing musicians include vibraphonist Warren Wolf, guitarist Mark Whitfield, bassist Reuben Rogers, drummer Gregory Hutchinson, trumpeter Dominick Farinacci, flutist Jamie Baum, alto saxophonist Scott Robinson, tenor saxophonist Ralph Moore, and guitarist Romero Lubambo in various combinations. While the press materials suggest this album be viewed as sort of a travelogue with performances including her original title track, Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh's "When in Rome," and her closing "Road Chops," the pleasures of this recording do not depend on such thematic considerations.

What is evident from the opening "Tea For Two," is the clarity and freshness of her arrangement provides as well as her lyrical piano and her delightful vocals on a bright, breezy performance. The horns sit out the title track, a celebration of the city of lights with her wonderful singing in French and English. Her vocals standout with her clean articulation, sense of timing, and her nuanced phrasing whether singing in an intimate or coquettish fashion. On the bluesy "One Jealous Moon," Ralph Moore takes a strong tenor solo and then at the close exchanges fours with McKenzie.

The moody Rogers and Hart ballad "Little Girl Blue," is followed by the perky rendition of Kern & Mercer's "I'm Old Fashioned," with a choice Scott Robinson solo. A rendition of Jobim's "Trieste," with Romero Lubambo's guitar, lovely flute from Baum and some jaunty scatting, is followed by an enchanting "Embraceable You," with McKenzie's lovely vocal backed only by Whitfield's guitar played in a spare manner. Kenny Rankin's "In the Name of Love," is another lively Brazilian flavored performance with Lubambo taking a solo against the nicely laid down rhythm, followed by a pensive rendition of her ballad, "Don't Be a Fool" with some lovely vibes by Wolf accompanying the vocal as well as in his solo.

A spirited instrumental "Road Chops," with controlled fire from Farinacci and Moore before McKenzie takes a blues-inflected solo closes this recording in a wonderful fashion. Sarah McKenzie impresses with this lyrical and enchanting performances on a terrific album.

I received  a download for review from a publicist. Here is a video for "Paris in the Rain."

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Walter “Wolfman” Washington Blue Moon Risin’

Walter “Wolfman” Washington
Blue Moon Risin’
4 Tunes Records

After years working with Johnny Adams and making some recordings for small New Orleans labels, Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington emerged as an important blues voice in his own right with several albums for Rounder, and then one for PointBlank that evidenced his emergence as one of the true major voices in contemporary blues. Now with Blue Moon Risin’, currently only available as an import, he has produced an absolutely stunning album that seamlessly integrates soul and funk elements into Washington’s blues gumbo.

Washington’s band, the Roadmasters (not to be confused with Ronnie Earl’s band of the same name), has a rhythm section of Jack Cruz on bass, Wilbert Arnold on drums and Brian Mitchel on keyboards that is as good as they get. While the regular Roadmasters horns are only present on two tracks, ten of the twelve tracks have the J.B. Horns (Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis).

Wolfman’s mix of funk and blues is perfect for the J.B. Horns, whose crisp playing matches up with the hard funk groove of the Roadmasters on the strutting remake of Bill Withers’ “Use Me” and showcase Wolfman’s solo on “Fever.” Still the disc’s highest points are the originals by Wolfman and Jack Cruz, such as the opening “Stop and Think” (to which keyboard player Mitchel also contributed), the title track (with its opening line “There’s a blue moon risin’, in my heart & in my soul, passion and pain lying on everything I known”), and “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You,” a terrific driving updating on Otis Redding’s “Can’t Cut You Loose.”

Cadillac Woman” may be the closest thing to a straight blues shuffle, but it has an interesting turn in the melody. And while his guitar is showcased, mixing in bits of George Benson and Kenny Burrell to the gulf coast blues guitar stew, his fervid singing is just as central to these performances. He’ll employ a strangulated falsetto for emphasis, or stretch out a syllable as necessary before cutting loose with a concise guitar solo as the horns riff in support.

I’ve listened to this repeatedly since buying it at the Louisiana Music Factory in New Orleans. Wolfman has made fine records before, but this is one of the best new albums in a very long time.

This review originally appeared in the July-August 1995 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 203). This is available as downloads from amazon, iTunes and other sources, as well as used. Here he is performing the title track more recently.