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This blog contains the CD, DVD and other music reviews from the Crossroads Blues Society of Northern Illinois.

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    Pleasure King
    Michael Locke & The Repeat Offenders
    Bong Sao Music BMI
    CD Baby and Amazon
    6 Tracks

    Michael Locke hails originally from Florida where he began playing guitar at the age of seven. His dad was a jazz enthusiast, exposing him to jazz legends like Lester Young, Count Basie, Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins, Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Sonny Stitt. His mentors were American jazz guitar player Joseph Louis Diorio and bop jazz trumpeter, flugelhornist, flautist, saxophonist, and composer Ira Sullivan. As a jazz guitar student at the University of Miami, Michael discovered that blues could offer a better avenue of self expression. After moving to San Francisco in the early 90's, he teamed up with bluesman Johnny Nitro who supported him in developing his own blues guitar style and also in setting up his own blues trio.

    Over the years, Locke has played his own brand of raw, high-powered blues guitar across the United States, opening for blues legends like B.B. King, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, W.C. Clark, Coco Montoya, Sonny Rhodes, Walter Trout, Ben E. King, Del Shannon, Little Anthony, Jimmy Johnson, Otis Rush, and Chuck Berry. He and his band, The Repeat Offenders, are now based out of Germantown, Ohio where they have created a large fan base regionally in the state of Ohio. Currently backing Michael Locke on vocals and guitar are Stephen Keith on drums, James Higgins on bass, and Da'Rosa Richardson on keyboards.

    Their latest release is Pleasure King is a live recording from the blues venue The Ohio Express in Dayton, Ohio where Michael Locke & The Repeat Offenders play frequently. This all to short live blues set is loaded with solid musicianship from the entire band. The disc is a superb blend of blues, rock, funk, and jazz so addictive that it will never leave your media player! I have been fortunate enough to sample all of Michael's music only to find it absolutely riveting. Pleasure King opens with Michael's own title track "Pleasure King," recreating the guitar style of the late great Freddy King, simmering it with a little Steve Ray Vaughan. You will find yourself completely immersed after listening to the first song. If that is not enough to totally captivate his audience, the follow-up, a rendition of the Willie Dixon tune "Too Many Cooks," is a blend of guitar solos with superb use of the whammy bar creating a haunting sound, some funky rhythm guitar, a Latin beat by Stephen Keith on drums, and jazz infused keyboards by Da'Rosa Richardson. At times it sounds like Ronnie Earl and Wes Montgomery could be standing along side of Michael with their axes in hand. Locke's experience and versatility is prevalent as he tears into Albert King's "I Get Evil" SRV style. Switching gears, the band does "Honky Tonk," the rhythm and blues instrumental classic written by Billy Butler, Bill Doggett, Clifford Scott, and Shep Shepherd.  I think "The King Of The Blues," Riley B. King, would be honored to be there to hear his classic tune "You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now" delivered live by Michael Locke & The Repeat Offenders. The band completes the set with the song "Sick And Tired" written by Chris Kenner and Dave Bartholomew in 1957. On this classic blues number, James Higgins lays down a rockin' groove on bass, along with Stephen Keith on drums, in support of Locke's explosive guitar solos and Richardson's honky tonk piano solos.

    Listening to Michael Locke & The Repeat Offenders live will leave you exhausted. My only regret with this CD is the fact that I could not be there to experience this world-class show. Buying the CD is next best thing, leaving you hungry for more! You will be hard pressed to find a blues band that sets the bar this high. They are a band you could listen to live all night long.

    Review by Rick Davis

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    Drink Drank Drunk
    Andy T – Nick Nixon Band
    Delta Groove Music Inc.
    12 tracks/47:51

    Delta groove Music has just released the Andy T – Nick Nixon Band new CD “Drink Drank Drunk”. Andy T.(Talamantez) and James “Nick” Nixon finally came together for this recording after many years  of them both playing and performing the blues  with many other groups. This CD was produced by the legendary guitarist/performer Anson Funderburgh,who also joins the band on guitar on four of the twelve tracks. This recording also features a strong group of musicians playing on various tunes on drums, bass, saxophone, piano and a harmonica on one track. You can go to the web-site for more info on the group for this recording. Also check out Andy T. and Nick Nixon's acoustic video version of “No End Of The Blues”.

    Andy T. brings his solid precise style of guitar playing to the forefront on this CD as his influences from Albert Collins, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush and BB King are showcased. It is apparent that he paid attention to them as he developed his own strong unique sound and tone in his playing. Nick Nixon brings his his powerful, heartfelt vocals into the mix of things as he enhances every tune on the CD with his soulful and sometimes primal guttural sound. Also there a the gospel quality to his singing that yanks at your ear. The joining of these two artist on this recording is really a strong match that enhance the feeling of this fine blues CD.

    Of the twelve songs on this CD four were penned by Andy T. or Nick Nixon and the rest are strong cover tunes that were really done superbly. This list of tunes is really a good mix that showcase the talent of these two artist. “Midnight Hour” starts out with Andy T. leading ino the song with guitar preparing the stage for Nick's vocals. From the start, we become aware that Nixon is truly a powerful blues singer. Andy takes the stage with some guitar soloing that is strong while not going over the top as some guitar players choose to do. Ron Jones blows some fine sax into the mix of things making this tune a big opening track. Taking the trip into the slow blues  with “Don't Touch Me ( I'm gonna hit the highway)” makes the statement that Andy and Nick know what the blues are all about. This is a favorite for my ears as Christian Dozzler is present on piano behind Andy's guitar line and the vocals of Nick.
    “Have You Seen My Monkey”(written by Andy T.), is a solid Cajun influenced tune with interesting lyrics plus the addition of Dozzler jumping in with his accordion and piano. This is another strong tune that also brings out strong guitar solos from Andy T.

    Drink Drank Drunk takes the blues road that more recording should do. This recording is solidly entrenched in the genre as it should be. Andy T. and Nick Nixon are a a mix of two blues artist that should keep doing what they have done with “Drink Drank Drunk”. With the fine group of musicians included on the CD this is a great example of what blues should be.

    Reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

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    Lorenzo Menzerschmidt
    Lorenzo Menzerschmidt
    Self Released
    11 tracks

    Lorenzo Menzerschmidt?  Who dat?  Well, it’s really Victor DeLorenzo on drums, percussion and vocalessence, Tony Menzer on bass and backing vocals and “Lost Jim” Ohlschmidt in guitar and lead vocals.  This debut album of six originals and 5 covers is full of blues, rockabilly, swing and other influences. Led by Oldschmidt, produced by DeLorenzo and promoted my Menzer, these Wisconsonites range from humorous to serious, but always interesting.

    Jim penned the original tunes and they are pretty darn good. From the opening fun lyrics of “I’m A Mess” to the closing “Since My Baby Left This Town” the tunes are well crafted and solid. The former addressed the singer’s life and it’s problems while the latter bemoans the loss of his woman; topics we’ve heard in many a blues song but given a fresh approach here.  “29’s a Good Road” is a rockabilly number and sort of Wisconsin travelogue of places and roads to travel.  Ohlschmidt picks out some nice guitar here.  “Check The Gage” also rocks and stays with the travel theme.

    Always on the lookout for a different sort of cover, “Johnny B. Goode” get a down tempo, swing treatment in a minor key– very cool.  Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” on the National Resophonic screams for an iced tea and a front porch to sit on.

    This is a fun CD; traditional blues, a little rockabilly and a whole lot of good music.  The guys take their craft seriously, even when the topic is more tongue in cheek.  This was a very enjoyable debut album and I hope to catch up with these guys to hear more soon!

    Reviewed by Steve Jones

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    My World is Gone
    Otis Taylor
    Telarc International
    13 tracks

    I remember 1987 when George Harrison released his third #1 hit, “Got My Mind Set On You,” the cover of the 1962 James Ray song written by Rudy Clark.  The music “press” commented that Harrison had finally recorded a song someone could dance to.  The critics made such a big deal about it and it irked me to no end; I loved the quiet Beatle’s music, it’s meaning and it’s spirituality.  Why did he need to produce music people in clubs could dance to when his music has so much meaning?

    As my wife and I recently were listening to Otis Taylor’s thirteenth album release together, I thought back to those days in 1987 and said to her, “Gee, no one would ever say this music could be danced to.”  Otis Taylor and his trance blues style of music might be danceable to some people, but certainly not those who shake their proverbial money makers in front of blues festival and clubs stages.  However, it does not lessen what Taylor gives us.  His music is interesting, provocative, socially adroit and always topical. 

    Here on “My World Is Gone” he takes on the plight of the Native American.  Joined by his friend Mato Nanji from the band Indigenous, Taylor was floored by Nanji’s comment that, “My world is gone,” a reference to the Nakota Nations’ demise.  He produced this album in response to that comment and Nanji play s guitar on half a dozen tracks and also sings  bit here and there.

    The album begins with the title track.  Taylor, Nanji, and Harris are joined by Larry Thompson on drums, Todd Edmunds on bass and Shawn Starski on guitar. The thoughtful song alternates the lead vocals between Taylor and Nanji, who bemuse the loss of the Nakota Nation. Nanji’s lead guitar adds punch to the mix and the occasional wail of Starski’s electric guitar echoes hauntingly.  Harris’ fiddle is a constant thread, beautifully running like a river throughout the cut.  Simple lyrics, the traditional repetitiveness of a Taylor song trying to make a point and they succeed.  Taylor, Nanji and Thompson take a more minimalistic approach on the second track as Taylor sings of the Navajo man who says he “Lost My Horse.”  Nanji’s lead guitar is driving and intense while Taylor adds mandolin and slide while Thompson beats out a furious groove. After two tracks I was pretty much emotionally spent.  Wow!

    Taylor’s banjo and Ron Miles cornet are featured next on “Huckleberry Blues;” the banjo plucks out a distinctive line as the cornet (Ron Miles) flutters emotionally.  It is a really nice track.   “Sand Creek Massacre Mourning” tells a tale of the Navajo and Arapaho Indian massacre at the hands of Colonel John Chivington and his men on November 29, 1864.  Brian Juan’s organ is introduced here and with Miles’ cornet they provide a funeral-like sound in the background of Taylors’ singing and strumming on top of a military-like marching drum beat.  More powerful and emotional music is on display for us here.  A more traditional electric blues sound is next on “The Wind Comes In.”  Nanji’s lead is impressive and Taylors’ counterpoint on banjo is a striking contrast. “Blue Rain in Africa” tells the story of the sacred and mystical white buffalo as seen on television in the story tellers’ youth.  Nanji, Taylor, and Starski add electric guitar to the mix and the duet by Nanji and Taylor is well done.  “Never Been to the Reservation” tells the story of the rich man who escaped traditional live and has never experienced the hardships of reservation life.  Juan’s organ and Nanji’s guitar drive this one as Taylor blurts out the minimalistic story.

    On “Girl Friend’s House” Taylor plucks and moans as he catches his wife in a same sex relationship and then wants to join in.  “Jae Jae Waltz” is a simple Americana-styled tune of a widow being courted.
    Ever amazing us with wild topics, “Gangster and Istatoz Chauffer” gives us the story of an Indian woman with cats who chauffeurs a wealthy gangster.  He loves the chauffer but she does not share his feelings. 

    “Coming With Crosses” is the story of a mother’s murder by Klansmen who came in the night, as Taylor sings, to “murder his mama.”  Taylor returns on fiddle to help hauntingly build this one up and then slowly draw it to a sad conclusion.  “Green Apples” gives us some cool guitar work and Taylor sings of green apples and lemonade in the morning and red apples and champagne at night.  These are part of his recipe to being treated right.  Miles’ cornet speaks to us here along with Taylor’s voice.  The album concludes with “Sit Across your Table,” a jumpy, swinging cut where Taylor joyfully sings how happy he is to see his wife sitting across the table from him every day.  Three big electric guitar solos are treats here as this amazing album concludes.

    Taylor was born in Chicago and moved to Colorado after his uncle was shot to death.  Not a very downtrodden sort of guy, Taylor remains upbeat despite the “heaviness” of the topics of so much of his music.  He joking notes that he is good at dark tones and says "I'd just like to make enough money to buy a Porsche."  Joining Taylor on this album and frequently during live performances is another local Chicago favorite, Anne Harris.  Her ethereal fiddle sounds add to Taylor’s trances and give the listener chills.  I saw them at Buddy Guy’s a couple of years ago doing a version of “Hey Joe” and my skin still prickles at the thought of them doing that cover; it was obviously a memorable performance!!!  If I have any complaints about this album it would only be to feature Anne on more songs!

    Taylors’ fans will gobble this new release up; it is another profound set of statements in Taylors’ inimitable style.  Anyone new to Taylor can learn to appreciate the deep roots of his music as it relates to early blues and music from West Africa; hear the listener is also treated to a blending of Native American traditions into the beats and harmonies of Taylors work.  I loved this CD; Taylor has hit another home run with this “lucky thirteenth” release!

    Reviewed by Steve Jones

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    On My Mind/In My Heart
    Jesse Dee
    Alligator Records
    11 tracks

    Okay, I must say right up front and to all to hear that when I saw this album and thought, “What the hell is Iglauer up to now? This kid is from New England and looks like he’s having a poofed up bad big hair day.  What are they thinking”  That’s what I get for judging a book by it’s cover.

    I was headed out right after getting the CD to review, so I threw it in the car CD player for a listen.  I listened to it three time through and have listened to it a lot more since then.  My wife said to me in the car that day, “This really is a good CD.  Who is it?”  I answered simply, “Jesse Dee.”  “Wow, what a great singer!  He sounds a lot like Curtis Salgado.  I like this a lot!”  She’s right.  It’s a damn good CD and he does sound a little like Curtis.  This Iglauer guy is smart like a fox!

    Dee sings and plays guitar.  Johnny Trama also fill sin on guitar on 5 cuts.  Jim  Larkin on bass and Matt “Pie” Beaulieu om drums offer up a solid backline.  Hammond and B3 are handled aptly by Eli Winderman and Steve Moss does the piano work.  Another half dozen guys fill in on horns and percussive stuff and others do backing vocals and appear here and there; it’s a big cast but they all play together and put on a superb show!  Dee wrote or co-wrote everything served up here.  It’s sort of like Curtis Salgado being back by Room Full of Blues gone wild.  I really enjoyed this one.

    The CD opens to the title track, a jumping and swinging song with him hitting a Cab Calloway-like stride in the vocals.  The band swings and Dee floats vocally along with them.  It is impressive.  The horns and brass blare away, the drummer takes charge from time to time, but it is Dee who runs the show.  I was sold on the initial listen based on this song, and another ten that are equally good remained to be heard. 

    He can growl down low and hit the high notes; “No Matter Where I Am” follows with more great swinging sounds. “Fussin’ And Fightin’” blends a little reggae into the swing and Dee nails it.  His vocals are expressive and soulful again and again. “I Won’t Forget About You” is perhaps a little more Sam Cooke in style, with Dee swinging and jiving.  “Tell Me (Before It’s Too Late)” starts mellow and Dee builds into a passionate delivery, asking his woman what’s on her mind and to “Tell Me (Before It’s Too Late).”

    Rachel Price joins Dee on the early 60’s sound of “From The Start;”  it could be a King/Geffen tune.  Price’s and Dee’s duet hearkens to that era and the band makes the feeling complete.  Dee hits some sweet high notes on “The Only Remedy” as he croons to his lover that, “your love is the only remedy.”  “What’s A Boy Like Me To Do?” continues in that vein.  The temp is taken way down but he is just so soulful and pure sounding.  He wants to leave but can’t; his confusion over his wanting to both love and leave is powerfully expressed.

    “Sweet Tooth” has nice retro guitar and organ intro and Dee goes into a surf-swing mode.  Well done!  “Boundary Line” goes back down in tempo as Dee lays out a beautiful and soulful ballad for us.  He finishes with the swinging “Stay Strong,” a nice jump blues cut.  It’s just a powerfully great set of tunes top to bottom, delivered to perfection.

    If you like to swing, if you like to hear someone sing with their heart and soul and if you like someone to totally bare their emotions in their music, then you will love this CD (as I did).  If you had to label him I’d have to say that Dee is a new generation of white R&B and soul singer.  Labels do not matter; this CD is a self-contained party.  You will want to dance and sing along more and more with each listen.  This is a fantastic effort (really his second CD, his first being a self released one in 2008) and he has a very bright future!  Jesse Dee is the real deal.  If you like Sam Cooke, Al Green, Curtis Salgado you’ll like this guy, too.  Bad hair day or not, let me repeat that Jesse Dee is the real deal.  Very highly recommended!

    Reviewed by Steve Jones

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    Bliss Avenue 
    Dana Fuchs
    Ruf Records 
    12 tracks/47:49

    Dana Fuchs' new CD, “Bliss Avenue”, is ready to be released July 9th by Ruf Records. Dana has a powerful, gritty, nasty, gravely and bluesy voice that reaches out and grabs your attention making you listen to her lyrics. She is also very capable of stretching the genres of blues, rock, country, soul and just about anything else to fit her mood and feel for the the songs she writes with Jon Diamond. Her band is very strong as they back up Dana's vocals. Diamond plays his guitar with fire and feelings for the lyrics he has written while Jack Daley adds the bass to Shawn Pelton's drum line. Glen Patscha is also featured on Hammond organ, Wurlitzer, piano and keyboard as Tabitha Fair and Nicki Richards add their rich background vocals to the mix. This all makes up for a great sounding band.

    The lyrics  for “Bliss Avenue” were mostly penned by Fuchs and Diamond and have deep emotional, heartfelt and sometimes scary tones to them. One should pay attention to these words as the recording is listened to. Most of these tunes are from real life experience. Opening the CD is the title track tune, “Bliss Avenue”, which has a neat drum beat walking us into this solid rocker tune. Dana's vocals find a good place in your head as she belts out some serious lyrics of a love gone astray. She states, “got nobody, no place to call home, “oh the love that it used to be, all the love turned to lies”. Yes, this is some deep stuff that makes you listen to the words and think about them. This whole CD reflects the quality of Fuchs and Diamonds ability to write solid lyrics for the tunes they perform. The guitar work from Jon and organ background by Glenn Patscha add the balance that enrich the vocals of Dana.

    “So Hard To Move” takes us to a softer but still gritty side of Fuchs as she pours her heart out over a relationship gone bad. This is one of those slow blues type tunes with meaningful lyrics which are accented by tasteful organ  from Patscha. This tune shows you a Etta James side of Dana's voice. “Nothin' On My Mind” takes us to the country music world as Jon Diamond's guitar brings a more twangy quality to his solid solos and background playing. Shawn Pelton interjects his drum line into the mix of Dana's tale of  what goes along comes along in a relationship.  “Oh you're thinking about her and she's got nothin' on her mind, and I'm thinking 'bout you but I got nothing on my mind” is really a tale about life.

    As I said “Bliss Avenue” hits upon many genres pulled in different directions. This is all a good reflection of both  Dana Fuchs' and Jon Diamond's  musical ability and their feelings for the lyrics that they write. These tunes are tales of the real deals that go on in life without the whitewash. This CD is a solid example of both of their talents and is easy to listen to and enjoy. These two fine musical artist along with a really swell band have a hit with “Bliss Avenue”.

    Reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

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    Black Toppin’ 
    The Cash Box Kings
    Blind Pig Records
    13 tracks

    The Cash Box Kings have their new CD out and it is another superlative effort!  Here on their second Blind Pig release we have the boys giving us another great mix of new stuff and outstanding covers.  If it’s not their best effort yet it is damn close to it!

    The cast of characters remains about the same, with regulars and guests doing what they do best- melding into a tight and focused CBK sound.  Sharing the duties up front are the steadfast duo of Joe Nosek, who also does all the harp work, and Oscar Wilson.  Nosek and Wilson contrast in styles in some ways, but both offer up an authentic Chicago sound.  Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith’s son, shares the drum set with Mark Haines (who is on four tracks) and Alex hall (who is on one).  Joel Paterson takes lead guitar on all but one track where Billy Flynn fills in; Billy also backs Joel up on three more tracks.  Beau Sample is the bass player, but Gerry Hundt comes in for four cuts on bass along with rhythm guitar on 5 more and backing vocals on one of those.  Barrelhouse Chuck provided keyboards support on four tracks and Jerry Devivo is on sax for three cuts.

    Ok, so now that all the personnel are identified, let’s get into the CD.  The Cash Box Kings under the “tutelage” of Blind Pig have really solidified the sound that I have appreciated from their earlier recordings and many live shows I have seen.  The songs they have presented here are right in their wheelhouse; nine new cuts and four great covers.  Less “country” blues are here than their first Blind Pig effort, but Nosek still gives us a little variety with the jumping,  swinging and rocking sounds at times that he does so well.  “I Don’t Want to Fight” and “Gimme Some of That” feature Joe on vocals and Joel picking out a jumping blues-swing-rocking sound.  Barrelhouse Chuck’s piano on the former and a little sax add nicely to the swinging arrangement while Nosek’s harp brings the latter firmly back to Chicago.

    The covers are a very interesting assortment, especially the one that closes the CD.  “Run Run Run” is a 1967 Lou Reed cut that Nosek cleans up a bit from the old Velvet Underground production.  It has a cast of lyrical characters basically seeking their next heroin fix.  The backline beat and Patterson’s guitar swirl and create a mix of psychedelic blues and Nosek voice echoes as he sings about the Gypsy Death and all that the NY drug scene references.  He adds harp to the wild mix and the song fades to close in a driving vortex.  The other three covers are much more traditional and hearken back to the Delta and Chicago blues sound.  Jimmy Rogers’ “Money, Marbles and Chalk” is handled by Oscar on the vocals and Nosek’s harp, Flynn’s guitar and Chuck’s piano reek of a smoke-filled Southside club serving up hot blues back in the day.  Willie Dixon’s “Too Late” also features Wilson’s vocals and some beautiful overblown harp by Nosek. “Tom Cat Blues” takes us to the swamp.  I could almost feel the Spanish Moss growing on me as this slow blues sound wound its’ way through my system.

    The CD opens with a jumping tune called “Blues Falling Down On Me” that opens with Patterson on guitar backed by Barrelhouse Chuck on organ.  After they grab you Nosek starts to sing and groan.   I was sold early on in this number, and then the solos started.  Patterson wails and Chuck pounds out the notes- a nice new cut!  They transition into Wilson on the title track, which has Oscar telling his friend a story about what he’s going to go out and do.  His ignorant friend doesn’t get it and it has to be explained to him that Wilson is sneaking out from his women to the other side of town to get what he needs.  Trying Really Hard(To Get Along With Youth” vocally has a little country influence, but it’s really blues that Nosek is doing and doing well.  The sax and guitar nicely take turns responding to Nosek’s lyrics.  “Oscar’s Jump” is a short and sweet ride and Devino’s sax is perhaps sweetest here.  Some Chuck Berry licks are snuck in, and Nosek blows some cool harp, but Wilson sells it with his strident vocals.   My Tinai” and “Hot Biscuit Baby” are straight up blues that Nosek and Wilson deliver up in the cool style we expect of the CBKs.  Great blues right out of the South Side!  Nice solos abound on guitar and harp.

    The band has put together another superb album for their fans.  Anyone who had yet to sample the CBKs will instantly appreciate what these guys can do.  Their fans need to run out and get this because it is some great work that they deliver here for their listeners.  I loved this album from start to finish!  Most highly recommended!

    Reviewed by Steve Jones

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    Easy Livin'
    Southern Hospitality
    Blind Pig Records
    12 tracks/60:37

    When you cast your gaze on the cover, your eyes focus on a drawing of a shapely woman relaxing in a hammock, fan overhead and a cool drink nearby with exotic vegetation in the background. If you didn't know any better, you might think this was some unknown band trying to entice people to buy their disc for the cool cover artwork.

    The reality is that Southern Hospitality brings together three extremely talented musicians, each with  his own successful career. But when they gathered one night for a jam, the resulting musical merry-making was all it took for guitarists JP Soars and Damon Fowler to decide to join forces with keyboard whiz Victor Wainwright to see how long the fun could last. The rhythm section is comprised of Fowler's band mate Chuck Riley on bass and Chris Peet from Soars' group on drums.

    The group's potential drew the attention of another extraordinary musician, Tab Benoit, who signed on as producer and brought the band to his Houma, LA studio, adding several more layers of southern feel to the project. And it's all there, a potent mix of blues, southern rock, country and Memphis soul wrapped up in a batch of songs that insinuate their way deep into your musical heart.

    Opening with “Southern Livin' “, the band expounds on the joys of sun and beaches over a laid-back groove as Fowler demonstrates his artistry on the lap steel guitar while the vocal is passed around between all three front men, finishing with jubilant harmonizing. The pace picks up on “Long Way Home” and takes on a harder edge with Soars' gritty vocal riding the twin guitar attack. The band has some fun on another JP original, celebrating life on road on “Mile After Mile” complete with sound effects and another team-approach on the vocals. Wainwright rocks the 88's on “Come Back Home”, then Soars' rips off a blistering solo.

    Fowler's “Kind Lies & Whiskey” is one of the highlights as the writer uses his nimble, higher pitched voice to lay down a hearty vocal on a country-tinged rocker that finds him yearning for “..a soft place to catch me when I fall.” Fowler's emotionally-charged singing on “Powered For the Mountain” offers a sharp contrast to swirling primal stomp around him, which finishes with some hair-raising interplay between Wainwright on organ and the two guitarists. Fowler scores again with “Don't Feel Like Going There Today”, a song with a hypnotic reggae hook that will surely inspire more than a few people to forgo work for a day of fun. Wainwright's sweltering solo on the organ is sandwiched between sizzling solos from Soars and Fowler.

    Wainwright takes the lead on “Shoestring Budget” as the band jumps the blues at a frantic pace as Soars fires off a barn-burner solo that leads to a dazzling keyboard workout by the singer. He threatens to come unhinged on “Don't Boogie Woogie” when his doctor gives him one-too-many restrictions to regain a healthy lifestyle. Once again, the three leaders contribute brief, but memorable, solos at a breakneck pace with Wainwright steamrolling his way to the finish. His finest moment occurs on “Certified Lover”, showcasing the enormous depth of his voice as it cries out in anguish, praying for someone to take the pain away.

    The group reaches its  instrumental peak on a sweltering rendition of Willie Bobo and Melvin Lastie's “Fried Neck Bones and Home Fries”. Sporting a Latin vamp that recalls the early days of Santana, each of the leaders gets to stretch out, Fowler and Soars expertly blending taste and intensity into fiery solos before Wainwright's fat organ chords push the proceedings into overdrive at the end. Closing with a ballad, “Sky is What I Breath”, Soars' haunting dobro licks set off the soul-wrenching vocals from all three singers.

    It is a fitting climax for a disc that once again shows the truth of the old adage that the sum is greater than the parts. While Fowler, Soars and Wainwright have received well-deserved recognition and acclaim for their individual careers, they shine even brighter on this outstanding recording. Don't try to label it – just sit back and enjoy some magnificent, powerful music made by five professionals having the time of their lives. Highly recommended!

    Reviewed by Mark Thompson

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    Sunny Road

    Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup
    Delmark Records
    10 tracks/40:32

    Delmark Records' Bob Koester has done it again with the release of Arthur Crudup's “Sunny Road” CD. This recording is a never before released 1969 studio session featuring 9 great tunes and a very thought provoking conversation between Crudup and Koester. On this recording Crudup is backed by Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums and Mark Thompson strumming bass plus guitar on one tune. Rounding out this group of strong blues musicians is Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins adding his his awesome guitar style to the mix on three tracks.

    Arthur Crudup was around playing his style of deep feeling blues forever starting in the early 40's. He is well known for writing tunes such as “That's All Right”, “My Baby Left Me, “Mean Old Frisco” and “Rock Me Mama”. Considered to be the father of Rock & Roll by some, he had several tunes recorded by Elvis Presley. Elvis did give Crudup credit for penning the tunes but he did not receive royalties for them. Because of this fact Arthur referred to Elvis as Elvin Preston. Different sources view his relationship with Presley in both the plus and negative way. After his passing, Crudup's family finally received some past due royalties.

    Arthur's great guitar sound comes from using rotating Leslie speakers which create a very unique quality . Right from the start, with “Sunny Road”, we are aware that we are going on to hear a strong blues experience. To pick out 2 or 3 tunes that stand out on this CD is impossible as they are all outstanding listening material. Almost all of the tunes have a somber, drag down, depressive tone to them. This may reflect upon the times Crudup was going through at this time. I guess, after all, that this is what the blues are about.

    “Trying To Take Me For A Ride” is one of those “whoa is me, life sucks” stories.  With lyrics such as “ I'm my mama's bad luck child” and “My woman pays me no mind” Crudup conjures up a vision that life is just a bummer and “everybody I meet in the street is is trying to take me for a ride”. This is truly some heartfelt blues. The guitar soloing on this track also standout. My favorite on “Sunny Road” has to be “All I got Is Gone”. Crudup is joined  on guitar with Jimmy Dawkins as Willie “Big Eyes” Smith beats out a unique drum line. The bass line from Mark Thompson is very good here also. This tune is filled with sad, almost mournful, heartfelt feelings about losing his spouse. This track is very emotional and seems like Crudup was struggling to make it to the end. This is the story of being “left alone with no one to care for me” and “why did the Lord take my baby from me”. Big Eyes plays the drums as if he is trying to get Crudup to the finish of the song. This is really a deep poignant tale of great personal loss.

    Arthur Crudup had a voice that was truly an amazing instrument to tell us stories of life with great lyrics. “Sunny Road” is an outstanding example of great blues recorded and preserved for us to enjoy. Thanks to Delmark records this great blues session was not lost in the dust.

    Reviewed by Harmonica Joe

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    Clay Swafford
    Lost Cause Records
    14 tracks/40:05

    Clay Swafford, after many years of honing his blues and boogie woogie piano skills, has just released his debut CD “Rooster”. Having piano  influences from Pinetop Perkins and David Maxwell and playing with fine musicians such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Bob Margolin to name just a few, it becomes very apparent that Clay has paid his dues. He is a player that has earned praises from from many blues artist. Pinetop Perkins stated, “ I have 10 fingers, it looks like he has 20”. What a compliment this statement from a true great has to be.

    “Rooster” is a raw, unadulterated recording with no tricks. This CD is the product of Clay's talent on an upright Weber piano and Diunna Greenleaf's vocals.  Greenleaf is a woman that does sing the blues. All five tunes that she sings on are powerful and sang with deep feeling for the music. Her credentials include having her own band, Blue Mercy, touring Europe, France, Asia and the USA. She has performed with many blues greats that include “Pinetop”, Hubert Sumlin, James Cotton and Carrie Bell to name just a few. Greenleaf's vocals are a real treat to listen to on this CD.

    Swafford opens “Rooster” with his full blown boogie woogie instrumental “Rooster's Boogie”, which sets the stage for the fantastic show that is about to follow. Just maybe, Clay does have 20 fingers as his right hand travels along as his left hand is is laying down a low end line for our ears. This is a rollicking way to start out the recording. Taking us right into “29 Ways, a Big Joe Turner tune, Swafford introduces us to the powerful vocals of Diunna Greenleaf. As he takes us down the road with his skillful piano playing Diunna belts out the lyrics of this great old blues song. She takes command of the moment as she presents the tune with power, dynamics and feeling of the blues.
    If you are looking for a slow blues tune, you will not be disappointed with Greenleaf's take on Big Mama Thorton's “Sometime I Have A Heartache”. Clay brings his piano down to bring us that deep drag down blues feeling as he draws out the blues lyrics from Diunna. This tune will linger with you for some time after it is finished.

    The mix of Clay's free flowing piano instrumentals and tunes with his piano and the powerful vocals from Greenleaf make a strong statement for “Rooster” This is really a good debut CD for Swafford. Also included on this recording are two tracks with Bob Margolin adding his blues guitar and vocals on  “Mean Disposition” and “Fine Little Mamma”. Bob Corritore and the All Stars are added also on a good version of “Tin Pan Alley”. Corritore adds his chromatic harp to the mix of the piano and vocals. This is great stuff as his blows a fine solo on this track.

    Clay Swafford has done a great job presenting his piano talent to us with “Rooster'. Adding the vocals of Diunna Greenleaf is a true plus for the CD also. Let it be known the Clay Swafford is here to stay with his vast feeling for the blues and his nimble fingers on the piano.

    Reviewed by Harmonica Joe

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    Days Like This
    Linda Valori
    LeART World Music
    12 tracks

    What do you get when you mix a little bit of jazz and blues divas Ruth Brown, Etta James, Martha Reeves, and Sarah Vaughn together with old school Pier Angeli and opera’s Cecilia Bartoli together with an good amount of original talent?  Well, you just might get something like this young lady, Linda Valori. 

    Valori is 34, was born in San Benedetto del Tronto, Italy, and she continues to live in that area today. Her father is Italian, her mother Romanian, she has a degree in teaching psychology, but her passion is singing.  Competing in bigger and bigger vocal competitions since 1995, she was “discovered” at the San Remo festival in 2004 and has gained popularity in Italy and across Europe singing blues, opera and a host of genres in between. 

    Working with Larry Skoller in Chicago, she has produced her first album, a collection of Chicago blues and very old-school R&B.  One can hear the passion and feeling in her voice as she opens the CD with the title track, a Van Morrison piece that is transformed into an early 60’s girl group R&B classic by Valori.  Her voice is powerful, husky, and filled with emotion, just wanted to declare that when things are not going wrong we can revel because “there will be days like this.”  Shifting gears, the second track is where Valori attempts to overcome the aches of a lost lover in “Pain.”  With her voice blazing like a trumpet, one believes her every statement.  Mike Wheeler joins in on a big guitar solo on “I Idolize You” and again on “I Smell Trouble.”  His guitar is as passionate as Valori’s intense vocals, whether jumping to the former tune or growling out slow blues in the latter.  I smell trouble for Bobby Rush; move over, Linda Valori is in the house!

    Janis Joplin’s “Move Over” get’s an R&B makeover and Linda is convincing with a voice that grabs your lapels and your head is moving up and down when she says “Come on baby, let me be, let me be!”  There is also some solid harp here and a nice solo, too.  The Ike Turner classic “The Way You Love Me” gets a swinging cover and Valori’s voice growls and makes a statement.  She gets quite soulful in “So Doggone Good” and Luca Giordano adds a nice guitar solo.  The final track “If I Can’t Have You” is spectacular and features Linda in a duet Mike Avery and is one of the tracks featuring fabulous the horn section of Marqueal Jordan on tenor sax and Doug Corcoran on baritone sax and trumpet. 

    All of the above and the few other tracks make for a vibrant and beautiful initial effort.  Valori’s vocal are like butter when she needs to be, but they can also bowl you over and flatten you like a bluesy steamroller when she wants to.  This girl can sing!  Her band is up the task, too, providing a great backdrop for this singer.  Keith Henderson on guitar,  Tim Gant on keys, Billy Dickens on bass. Khari Parker on drums and Joe Rendon on percussion are the core group who provide a great framework for each song.  Vincent Bucher’s harp is poignant on his tracks and Larry Skoller on guitar along with the other soloists are solid and add great depth. 

    I’m sold on this gal.  When we found out that she was in Chicago, we arranged to have Linda and her guitar player friend Luca Giordano out to Rockford for two great shows (see article on page 2). This is a great new artist who will light the blues world on fire.  I am sure that America will fall in love with her as her homeland and Europe already have.  Highly recommended!

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    Secretly Famous
    The Rev Jimmie Bratcher
    Ain't Skreet Tunes
    12 tracks/41:48

    “Secretly Famous” is Rev Jimmy Bratcher's 7th recording to be released. Yes, he is a real preacher when not performing. He does his work by reaching out to those in need and also performs his music for prison inmates. It is always interesting to find out how a blues artist got started in the world of music. At the age of 12 Bratcher decided that he wanted a guitar. His father decided to place an ad in the paper to find him a guitar This ad stated, “will trade 1958 DeSoto for guitar and amp”.This is where it all started as Jimmie ended up with a white Gibson SG Jr and a Gibson amp. On this CD he used this same guitar on 2 tunes, “I Can't Shake That Thing” and “Starting All Over Again”. The Rev is a solid blues rocker who has honed his musical skills and lyric writing to a high level over the years.

    The opening tune on “Secretly Famous” is “Jupiter & Mars” which was co-written by Jimmie and his son, Jason. This song is just enough off color to make one why a preacher is doing it. Lyrics such as “blinding light, flash of chrome, hot- head blonde in a tricked out Ford”conjures up visions of this is just not right for a man of the clothe. But, it is all good as he plays the blues. This track introduces the rest of Bratcher's power trio. Along with Jimmie's vocals and mastered guitar style we are treated to Lester Estelle’s drum skills as well as a strong bass line from Craig Kew. Both are very capable players on their own music endeavors. “Check Your Blues at the Door” shuffles along with Jimmie playing solid blues guitar riffs and solos. His lyrics tell a tale of not bringing your toils and troubles into your home but leave them at the door. This is good advice as well as creating a song for the blues.

    The Rev performs a solid cover of John D. Loudermilk's “Tobacco Road”. Estelle drives this track along on drums played clear and strong as Jimmie tells the tale with his vocals and guitar. This is another very enjoyable tune for “Secretly Famous”. Taking a more humorous vein is the catching song, “Bologna Man”, which is a story about something that maybe should not be called meat. “I like that meat that rhymes with pony” and “ I ain't too high class to eat that mess” gives you the idea what this is all about. This is a fun song with great vocals.

    The Rev Jimmie Bratcher presents a strong picture of the blues with “Secretly Famous whether he is doing a shuffle, slow blues, rock blues or something else. This CD showcases his vocals, guitar playing and lyrics as he is backed up by a strong band that makes it very enjoyable music to listen to. I agree that a preacher can perform the blues and Rev Bratcher has done it. It is two thumbs up for “Secretly Famous”.

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    Get It!
    Tinsley Ellis
    Heart Fixer Music
    10 tracks

    Tinsley Ellis is known for his fiery guitar and soulful vocals, but the Atlanta native has decided to forsake the vocals and go with a straight up instrumental album.  He gives us eight new songs and a couple of interesting covers; we can still hear his “voice” in the superb guitar play throughout.  After eleven disks and a long solo career, he returns to his roots with the Heartfixers and he showcases a variety of guitars and styles that he has loved and absorbed over the years.  I was impressed and sat their listening intently to each track as they came up; this is perhaps the best he’s ever done on record, at least in my humble opinion.  Thoughtful and touching at times, evocative and wild at others, Ellis shows us the full range of emotions through the voice of his guitar and with some assistance from his great band here.

    Ellis opens in Albert Collins style with “Front Street Freeze;” he gets funky on his Strat and Leslie, with the charm and flavors of Albert’s tone and style.  It is a well done tribute with an authentic sound done in an original and tasteful manner.  He sets the stage well for the listener and then gets with “Sassy Strat” he gets really into the funk and struts back and forth in this cool little number.

    The “Milky Way” gives us the round, rich sound of, say, a Duane Eddy, but in a slow and thoughtful format.  The strings vibrate and are almost chilling as Ellis emotes and he describes the solemn loneliness of space as described by his guitar and Kevin McKendree’s organ work.  What a wonderful track!  He stays old school and follows that with Bob Diddley’s “Detour;” it’s a 12 bar romp where he does Bo at times and adds his own flair to give us a fun, hip shakin’ ride.  The echo and tone of his guitars (a 1967 ES-345 and a Leslie) is beautifully displayed.

    “Anthem for a Fallen Hero” pays tribute to Roy Buchanan and he uses his Les Paul and Echoplex to deliver a solemn eulogy for Buchanan.  It’s is a stunningly impressive guitar attack as Ellis winds his way through the ballad and building on emotions with his guitar (along with the rest of the band).  It is a truly emotional piece.  He then shuffles into the title track Texas-style, a cool piece of work one would had expected from SRV or other Lone Star greats. He steps up the game even further with the blues rocking “Fuzzbuster” as his wah wah pedal gets a work out so he can give us one, too.

    The album takes a turn as Ellis goes down a few notches in tempo with the wonderful cover “Freddy’s Midnight Dream.”  He adds some beautiful layers to this solemn piece with the organ and the keys and guitar give substance and meat to this song.  It goes almost church-like with the organ, and the rich guitar tones just sing out like a choir.  Magnificent!  “Berry Tossin’” pays homage to the great Chuck Berry.  Ellis throws Berry’s licks around effortlessly in a nice blues shuffle.  At times he seems to morph into Freddy King but then he’s back to Berry as the guitar rings out true.  Kudos to the piano work here, too.  The album concludes with “Catalunya” as Ellis takes a trip to Spain and gives us some nice electrified Spanish guitar influenced stuff.  This is something like Carlos Santana might write and play.  Evocative, stinging guitar notes climbing down the neck, the congas banging out a mellow thumping beat and Ellis just pulls up the covers for us and puts us and the album to bed as he completes our journey.

    I used the term magnificent in the last paragraph.  I must say I rarely use that word with regard to blues albums.  Sumptuous foods and wines, massive symphonic pieces and stunning art work I might label as that but this album also allows me honestly use that adjective.  Ellis delivers his best work yet here.  He provides all the guitars here and plays bass on half the tracks.  Kevin McKendree on all keyboards adds depth and color to the mix.  His backing work is super as are his solos; I was very impressed with his efforts.  Lynn Williams provides all forms of drums and percussive support and Ted Pecchio is on bass on the other tracks.  It’s a solid quartet of musicians and the sound and production work is also spotless; McKendree did the production work.

    Tinsley Ellis has stepped back into his roots and offers us a great look into the masters whom he respects and influenced him in his formative years (and who still influence him today).  Get It is an exciting and expressive album and Ellis proves that he can make his six string axe sing as well as a person.  If you don’t own any of Tinsley’s other disks, in my mind this would be the one to buy if you had to only have one.  I don’t recommend that owing only one of his disks is the best thing for your music collection (since he has a number of other great ones already to his credit), but this is my new favorite.  I highly recommend this CD become part of any blues fans’ collection!

    Reviewed by Steve Jones

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    Rolling Soul
    Hadden Sayers
    Blue Corn Music
    12 tracks

    Hadden Sayers return to the limelight with 2011’s Hard Dollar put him squarely in position to relaunch his career.  On the album was the cut "Back to the Blues;" it was nominated for the Song of the Year Award at the 33rd Annual Blues Music Awards and, in fact, was my favorite new song in 2011.  I was excited to get Hadden’s new CD in the mail to review and I was not disappointed when I listened to it– it is another big hit!

    Ruthie Foster returns to guest on a track.  “Lay Down You Worries” was written while Sayers was in Cancun.  The song reflects that the people in one’s life is what is most important to us.  Foster and Sayers were made to sing together.  They compliment each other so well and get into a groove together that is so natural and easy to listen to.

    Sayers write a love letter to his wife in “The Man I Am Supposed to Be.”  Parts of it remind almost me of “Back to the Blues” wit it’s homey and loving charm.  Sayers can really emote in his work, something that impressed me so much in Hard Dollar and again in this CD. The opening track “Don’t Take Your Love Out on Me” has Sayer’s growling out a tune focusing on the other side of a relationship and has a blistering guitar lead and solo that was passionate.

    “Tippin’ In” is a swinging tune, with Hadden bopping and bouncing as he flips over his gal as is "Crazy enough;" Sayers can make you want to dance or cry oh so effectively.  The closing tune “Can’t Get You Off of My Mind” blends some sweet sounding slide into the mix and Sayers gives us another solid performance.  “Insomniac Blues” takes it slow and Sayers strips it down effectively.  He groans out the tune as he yearns for his women.  In “Alone With the Blues” I wanted to male sure he had no sharp objects near by as he bares some very dark emotions.  Very edgy and cool!!

    All the cuts here are great. Sayers has another solid effort and once again has delivered a killer CD for us to enjoy.  I really recommend this one!'

    Reviewed by Steve Jones

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    Little Big Man

    Geoff Achison
    Jupiter Records
    17 Tracks

    Geoff Achison is a native of South East Australia where he has practiced and performed guitar from an early age. His first gig was playing lead guitar with one of Melbourne's top blues bands Dutch Tilders & The Blues Club. In 1995, he was the representative for the Melbourne Blues Society at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis and won the Albert King Award for his outstanding guitar skills. After touring five years in his native country of Australia, he decided to take his music a different direction with his own band The Souldiggers in 1998. To date, he has been touring Australia, Europe, and the U.S. delivering his own brand of electric blues guitar. Geoff has also been working as a guitar instructor at the Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio with the support of the owner Jorma Kaukonen, former member of The Jefferson Airplane band and Hot Tuna.

    His latest release is Little Big Man, features Geoff on vocals and guitar, Mal Logan on keyboards, Roger McLachlan on bass, Gerry Pantazis on drums, James Mack on percussion, and Nikki Nichols handling the backing vocals. Bonus tracks "Kerry Lou" and "Chance" feature the horn section of Paul Williamson on saxophone, Tibo Gyapjas on trumpet, and David Palmer on Trombone.  The album is like an expensive cocktail, blended with blues, jazz, funk, world, Latin, and soul and served as an addictive musical extravaganza to be enjoyed over and over again. This is some of the most eclectic music that I have had the pleasure to review. You will never hear the same guitar style on any two songs making him one of the most distinctive and creative guitar players in the business.  From the funky tune "Happening" to the burning blues number "Feel Like A King," this all-star band will take you on a journey that you can only hope will never end. "Never Give It Up" is a standout on the album with all the elements of Reggae, jazz, and funk.

    Geoff Achison and the Souldiggers certainly are not afraid to break new ground, search for new avenues, and create original music all their own. Each song on Little Big Man flows flawlessly to the other with common treads weaving them all together into a musical masterpiece. This is a surprising good band that is definitely worth checking out.

    Reviewed by Rick Davis

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    Six Pack of Cool
    Big Papa and the TCB
    Inland Blue Records
    13 tracks

    I first heard this band at the now closed restaurant and seafood Shop in Redlands, California.  This was my regular stop every trip to Redlands, which was a frequent event in my life for over four years. I had heard a couple of piano players there, but one day this band starts setting and they began to swing and bop and make some great sounds.  I picked up their homemade CD and I have been on their mailing list since that first day I saw them.   I saw them one more time, but being a Socal, Inland Empire fixture with my business there now complete I figured I probably would not run into them again soon.

    Well, the CD came in the mail for review and I immediately knew who these guys were.  Think a slightly stripped down version of Roomful of Blues with a little West Coast flair and you have Big Papa and the TCB,  Chris Thayer fronts the band, plays guitar and wrote all or part of all but one track.  He’s got a great presence and his vocals really sell each cut.  Steve Brown on bass, Ray Wilson on drums, John Mila De La Roca on piano, Maurice Oliva on sax, and Marques Crew in trumpet really deliver a tight and solid sound; I love these guys!

    Tracks like “A Lil Bit O’ Somethin’” showcase each artist as they jump and swing.  The solos are great, their “togetherness” is impressive and they just make you want to dance.  “Papa’s in the House” opens the album and serves as a great intro to these guys; the call and response, vocals and solos showcase the great talents here.  Very T-Bone Walker-like stuff, yet fresh and cool. “Drink Drank Drunk” bemoans a bad night on the town that ends in the slammer, but it’s a fun ride; the sax on this cut is really sweet. “Big Bad Blues” adds a trombone to the horns and they just blow a big and groovy sound, more great solos all over the place! “My Way Back Home” closes; very scaled down with just vocals, piano and cupped trumpet.  Quite moving. “Showtime” has the boys in an all-out instrumental, no holds barred– superb!  The one cover is Honey Piazza’s “Murder in the First Degree” and they take the Mighty Flyers song and make it their own– great cover!

    If you like jump blues then go buy this CD.  The horns are great, the piano is outstanding, the guitar is spectacular and the vocals are superb.  You won’t regret “discovering” this band!

    Reviewed by Steve Jones

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    Independently Blue

    The Duke Robillard Band
    Stony Plain Records
    12 Tracks

    For over four decades, Duke Robillard has earned titles like teacher, guitarist, bandleader, songwriter, singer, producer, session musician, and blues advocate. His musical journey began in 1967 when he and Al Copley formed Roomful of Blues in Westerly, Rhode Island. The band was able to accompany their musical paragons Big Joe Turner and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson on record and in live shows.
    When he left Roomful of Blues after 12 years, he worked with rockabilly king Robert Gordon, the Legendary Blues Band, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Ronnie Earl, Jimmy Witherspoon, Tom Waits, Kansas City piano king Jay McShann, Billy Boy Arnold and Rosco Gordon, the Canadian band The Rockin’ Highliners, Dr. John, Maria Muldaur, and the jazz legend Herb Ellis. He also did studio work with Bob Dylan, Ruth Brown, Johnny Adams, John Hammond, Pinetop Perkins, and most recently with Sunny Crownover.
    Joining Duke on his newest release are Monster Mike Welch on acoustic and electric guitars, Bruce Bears on piano, Brad Hallen on acoustic and electric bass, and Max Teixeira on drums and percussion, and the horns of Doug Woolverton and Billy Novick.
    Independently Blue opens with two tunes "I Wouldn't-a Done That" and "Below Zero" that take advantage of the songwriting abilities of former Roomful of Blues band mate Al Basile. Duke delivers more a Jimmy Vaughan/Texas style guitar performance on "I Wouldn't-a Done That" and "Below Zero" that he co wrote with Basile. Mike Welch and Duke team up for a dynamic guitar duo heard throughout the CD especially on "Stapled to the Chicken’s Back," an instrumental written by Monster Mike Welch. To add a little variety, the band takes you down to the streets of New Orleans with the dixieland tune "Patrol Wagon Blues" recorded originally by Red Allen. The album takes yet another turn with the rock "n" roll fueled "Laurene."  The haunting, spiritual tune "Moongate," is another Robillard original inspired by a visit to a mysterious 19th century mansion in the Berkshire Mountains. Al Basile contributed yet another tune to the mix titled "I'm Still Laughing."  On the second instrumental "Strollin With Lowell and BB," Duke dazzles listeners with guitar styles similar to both blues guitar legends. Another original tune "You Won't Ever" features the superb trumpet solos of Doug Woolverton, reminiscent of the jazz fusion trumpet player Bill Chase. The sleepy, midnight jazz tune "This Man, This Monster," written by Mike Welch, features the rich sounds of both Mike and Duke on guitar. "Groovin' Slow" delivers once again, dueling guitar styles from Mike and Duke.  On the final tune "If this is Love," Duke regenerates that West Coast guitar sound created by Hollywood Fats and his Gibson guitar. Muddy Waters once told Duke Robillard "If I had you and Fats (Hollywood Fats) in my band I'd rule the world."

    Few blues performers have had the good fortune to enjoy the career and work with the number of legendary performers that Duke Robillard has experienced. He seems to currently be at the pinnacle of his professional career. Independently Blue is a testament to that statement.

    Reviewed by Rick Davis

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    Just For Today
    Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters
    Stony Plain Records
    13 Tracks

    With every new album, Ronnie Earl continues to set the bar higher and higher, meeting and exceeding fan expectations with his soulful, emotional blues guitar style. On all of his albums, Ronnie’s instrumentals capture that intense style like no other blues artist that has performed both live and in the studio. His latest release Just for Today is no exception, showcasing his guitar style with almost a total concentration of instrumental tunes. Listening to his masterful guitar phrasing, it takes his listeners to another world, almost placing an audience in a hypnotic trans. His unique guitar style is an influence from so many blues artists that he has worked with over the years before he established his own band Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters in 1988.
    This intense and deeply soulful instrumental guitar style was inspired by the blues legends like Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, Big Walter Horton, Freddie King, B.B. King, Otis Rush, and The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Along the way, he worked with such greats as Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton, Earl King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Allman Brothers, Sunnyland Slim, Koko Taylor, Jerry Portnoy, Earl King, Jimmy Rogers, Kim Wilson, Darrell Nulisch, Sugar Ray Norcia, and Jimmy Witherspoon as well as several of the musicians that inspired him early on. Early in his career, he performed with groups like Johnny Nicholas and the Rhythm Rockers, Sugar Ray and the Blue Tones, and the all-star line-ups that followed with Roomful Of Blues from 1979-1988. Ronnie continues to carry that torch from his influences in his music today.
    Just for Today, is the seventh album for Ronnie Earl on the Stony Plain label and a follow up to widely acclaimed 2010 release, Spread the Love. The new CD is recorded live from The Regent Theatre in Arlington, The Natick Center for the Arts in Natick, and The Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, venues all located in his home state of Massachusetts. Celebrating Ronnie's 25th year as Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters are long-time Broadcasters’ members Lorne Entress on drums, Dave Limina on piano and Hammond B3, and Jim Mouradian on bass. Joining this veteran cast is singer Diane Blue as a special guest vocalist on the Bill Foster, Ellington Jordan tune "I'd Rather Go Blind" first recorded by Etta James in 1967. Also joining the band is Nicholas Tabarias on guitar, accompanying Ronnie on the tribute song to Otis Rush "Rush Hour" and the original tune "Jukein'." Ronnie pays tribute to other artists and mentors by honoring Hubert Sumlin with the original tune "Blues For Hubert Sumlin," Robert Nighthawk with another original "Robert Nighthawk Stomp," as well as the cover song "Equinox" as a tribute to John Coltrane. They open the show by rockin' the house with the original instrumental "The Big Train." Ronnie is so painfully soulful on the second instrumental "Blues For Celie," that he will pierce your heart with his passionate guitar solos. The band will rival any Carlos Santana instrumental with the tune "Miracle." "Heart Of Glass" is as smooth as glass and note for note one of the best he has performed. Dave Limina takes center stage with his opening piano solos on the original boogie woogie classic "Vernice's Boogie" and the Porter Grainger, Everett Robbins tune "Ain't Nobody's Business. Just for Today concludes with a stellar performance by the entire band on the Ronnie Earl tune "Pastorale."
    This is as nearly perfect a soundboard recording as you will hear on any live or studio album. The soundboard team creates a center stage, front row seat for this series of live performances. Ronnie Earl seems to be at the height of his career with this collection of live recordings. It is my only hope there will be many more albums to follow. Just for Today will be hard to match.

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    Live @ The Times

    Davina & the Vagabonds
    24 Tracks

    In opening her live performance at The Times Bar and Cafe in Minneapolis, Davina Sowers requests one thing from the audience and that is to just have fun. If you have ever had the pleasure of attending one of her live performances, you would know that this is a very simple request. It is nearly impossible to refrain from enjoying yourself if you are a fan of music from early vaudeville, blues, or New Orleans jazz. With her unique vocals Davina, has been able to revive the magic of the early New Orleans jazz of the 20s and Chicago jump blues of the 40s and 50s. Names like LaVern Baker, Ella Mae Morse, and Big Bertha Henderson were displayed on billboards during that bygone era. Those early New Orleans groups like The Chicago Footwarmers and Sam Morgan's Jazz Band have also been resurrected by Davina and The Vagabonds. Davina's vocals has been compared to the vocals of the late Amy Winehouse.

    She opens the with the Mike Jackson / Andy Razaf cover tune "Knock Me a Kiss" from the 40s. Whether sung by the lovely Miss Davina Sowers, Ella Fitzgerald, or the classic version done by Louis Jordan, hearing it live will put a smile on your face. She adds her own song writing skills to the first set with her own tunes "Pushpin," "Death," and "St. Michael vs. The Devil." She covers the Bessie Smith blues tune "Muddy Water" written by Peter DeRose, Harry Richman, and Jo Trent. She is very creative with her arrangement of the traditional song "This Little Light of Mine." Also included in the first set are the John Sebastian hit "DayDream" and the Bob Dylan tune "Watching The River Flow" with backing vocals from the band on the Dylan tune. The Jessica Hoop folk song "Big Fish" is done New Orleans style and the Earl Hines/Sid Robin "Monday Date" will give you a full blast of Dixieland jazz, once again with help on vocals from her band. She completes the first set with the soulful R&B tune "The Clock" written by George Sueref and performed originally by Little George Sueref & The Blue Stars.

    The second live set opens with the originals "Love" and Hate." They follow up with the tune "No Buts, No Maybes" by New Orleans pianist Henry Roeland "Professor Longhair" Byrd. Songwriters Gus Kahn, Fabian Andre, and Wilber Schwandt created the tune "Dream A Little Dream Of Me" done superbly by Davina with Zach Lozier on trumpet, joining a host of earlier artists like Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong and Mama Cass Elliot. The next tune "Put A Lid On It," which is perfect material for the Charleston in the roaring twenties, was written by Thomas Maxwell of the Squirrel Nut Zippers in 1996. "I'm Gonna Be A Wheel Some Day," a popular song written by Roy Hayes, Fats Domino, and Dave Bartholomew, is cause for celebration by the band. Another tune "Honey Pie," written by Lennon/McCartney and done originally by Paul McCartney, is done 20s style by Davina and The Vagabonds. The band struts with the famous Joe Primrose New Orleans funeral march "St. James Infirmary" and Chuck Berry's "Back To Memphis." The next original tune "Under Lock And Key" is the title track from an earlier Davina and The Vagabonds album. Davina concludes the show with another original tune "Finally Home" after a short introduction to the song.

    Davina and The Vagabonds is like a modern day New Orleans preservation hall band performing in a flashy 20s Vaudeville nightclub show. They have been described as a combination of blues, American roots, and New Orleans music. This double live CD set will give you a taste of this unique Minneapolis band taking the Midwest by storm. After listening to their live show, you are certain to seek out a concert near your hometown.

    Reviewed by Rick Davis

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    Here I Am

    Oli Brown
    Ruf Records
    12 Tracks

    Oli Brown is establishing his presence with his third and newest CD Here I Am, available on Ruf Records. He is gaining popularity as a blues artist in both the UK and The United States. At the age of 13, he started playing guitar, with Jimi Hendrix as his major influence. Some of the other musical influences that helped him become established as a guitar player are Chris Cain, Albert Collins, Freddie King, B.B. King, Albert King, Hollywood Fats, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Tom Waits, Jon Cleary, Jonny Lang, The Big Pill, and Psychedelic Zombies.
    It was during his visit to the US, that he got an explanation of the history and a grasp of the real meaning of the blues from Carl Gustafson and his band Blinddog Smokin'. Carl taught him the finer points of stage performance, soloing, and timing, all significant to the success Oli has experienced. He has already worked with blues artists young and old like Joe Bonamassa, Walter Trout, Robben Ford, Devon Allman as well as the legendary godfather of British blues John Mayall. Hailing from the UK, he joins the list of younger generation blues stars like Simon McBride, Matt Scofield, Ian Siegal, Erja Lyytinen, Aynsley Lister, Dana Fuchs, Samantha Fish, Dani Wilde, Ian Parker, TUF, and Jimmy Bowskill just to name a few. Included in his list of accolades, Oli was named 'Best Male Vocalist' and 'Best Young Artist' at the 2010 British Blues Awards and 'Best Band' and 'Best Album' for Heads I Win Tails You Lose at the 2011 British Blues Awards.
    Here I Am, the latest release by the 22 year old, is successful in taking blues in an entirely direction, transforming traditional blues into more contemporary, cutting edge blues-rock. Joining forces with Oli Brown are Scott Barnes on bass, Wayne Proctor on drums and percussion, and Joel White on Hammond & Rhodes. The hard driven title track "Here I Am" emphatically establishes Oli's own identity as a blues-rock artist, with blistering guitar solos and convincing vocals. "Thinking About Her" continues with heavy guitar solos blended with a catchy 60s sounding chorus, making this tune and "I Love You More Than You Will Ever Know" made famous by Al Kooper, Donny Hathaway, and Blood, Sweat, and Tears, very strong tunes. "Manic Bloom" is typical of grunge or alternative rock launched by groups like Nirvana and Pearl Jam in the 1980s. "All We Had To Give" has a more traditional rock sound with a superb guitar introduction and follow-up guitar solos. "You Can Only Blame Yourself" and "Start It Again" demonstrates the intensity of Oli's vocals with "Start It Again" somewhat reminiscent of a rock 'n' roll Rolling Stones style tune. "Devil In Me" and "Mr. Wilson" deliver more of a traditional blues sound in both vocals and guitar solos. "Remedy," once again, could be a page out of the 60s classic rock era with explosive guitar solos. "Like a Feather," a staccato style tune, features Dani Wilde who supports Oli on vocals. The CD concludes with an up-tempo blues tune featuring guest harmonica player Paul Jones.  
    If you are looking for a very traditional style blues release, Here I Am does not fit that description. I feel it is a highly successful project that establishes Oli as a contemporary blues artist with mature vocals and a high-powered guitar. I really see blues moving in this direction in the future with some of the younger artists.

    Reviewed by Rick Davis

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