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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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    The Blind Owl
    Alan Wilson
    Severn Records
    20 tracks/77:47

    Severn Records has released a 2 CD set celebrating the legacy of Canned Heat founding member Alan Wilson titled "The Blind Owl". Wilson received the nickname from good friend John Fahey because of the visually impaired artist's extreme nearsightedness. The set is a collection of 20 tunes, ranging from familiar hits to previously unreleased tracks, that show the skill and depth of Wilson as a vocalist, guitarist, song writer, and harp player. 

    The shy and humble Wilson also was a blues historian writing many essays on blues artists and gathering a large collection of blues recordings. As a serious student of the blues, and the artists that inspired him, many of Canned Heat's recordings are blues standards that have been reworked by Wilson. When Eddie "Son" House decided to relaunch his career in 1964, it was Wilson who was asked to reteach House the slide guitar that he had forgotten how to play. The grateful Son House then asked Wilson to join him at the Newport Folk Festival.

    Wilson and his band also worked with the legendary John Lee Hooker and appeared on the double LP "Hooker'n Heat" in 1970. It has been said that John Lee was awed by Wilson's harp playing and has been quoted as saying "Alan plays my music better than I knows it myself".

    "The Blind Owl" opens with "on The Road Again" a tune adapted by Wilson from a Floyd Jones tune of the same name. Powered by Wilson's unique tenor voice, great harp work, and the hypnotic effect of a droning tambura in the background, it became an international hit reaching number 8 on the UK Singles Chart, and number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the USA. "Going Up The Country", another international hit, would become the unofficial theme song for Michael Wadleigh's documentary "Woodstock" after Canned Heat performed at the legendary festival.

    Some of the lesser known tunes are the 1969 single "Poor Moon", "Mean Old World", a cover of a Walter Jacob's tune, and "Human Condition" which was Wilson's last recording with Canned Heat. "Skat" is simply the band jamming with Wilson skat singing. The set closes with "Childhood's End", an instrumental, with the talented and versatile Wilson on chromatic harp.

    This highly recommended 2 CD set is a testament to the multiple talents of one of the great contributors to the blues/rock music of the late 60's. Alan Wilson, "The Blind Owl" is no longer with us but he left us with a treasure trove of great music.

    Reviewed by Dennis Barker

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  • 07/22/13--13:51: Live reviewed by Rick Davis

  • Live 
    Murali Coryell
    Shake-It-Sugar Records
    CD 11 Tracks
    DVD 10 Tracks

    To hear Murali Coryell live is an experience that I have had on several occasions. Murali has that rare ability to write, sing, and play guitar, blending blues, soul, and jazz. He reflects on artists like his father Larry Coryell, B.B. King (recommended by his father), Albert King, Albert Collins, as well as rock legends like Carlos Santana and Jimi Hendrix. He has opened for R&B and blues artists like George Thorogood, Gregg Allman, Wilson Picket, and B.B. King.

    His recent live CD/DVD released by Shake-It-Sugar Records, captures magic of one of his finest recent performances on CD at Club Helsinki in Hudson, New York (7/30/12) and an older show on video at The Root & Blues Festival, Salmon Arm, BC (8/14/10). The CD line-up has Murali on guitar and vocals, Dorian Randolph on drums and vocals, Vince Leggiere and Henry Oden on bass, Bill Foster on guitar, Stacey Waterous on saxophone and vocals, Cameron Melville on organ, and Dave Fleschner also handling keyboards. The CD opens with Murali's introduction and dedication to Jimi Hendrix with his tune "In The Room With Jimi," the story about meeting Jimi as an infant at the Fillmore East. During his guitar solos he works his wah-wah petal to perfection as only Murali does in a live show. With soulful, gritty vocals, he captivates the audience with his own R&B tune "I Can't Give You Up." The smooth saxophone overtones, deeply emotional vocals, and rich guitar solos on the Hambridge/Nicholson/Linden song "I Could've Had You" create a relaxing aura. He brings the band way down on the best blues number of the show "Softly Let Me Kiss Your Lips" so the audience can in his words "feel the spirit." They pick up the groove with the Coryell/Hambridge/Fleming tune "Sugar Lips" and the self-penned tune "Music Sets You Free." The only blues cover blues song in the performance is Lowell Fulson's "Love Her With A Feeling" with both superb guitar solos from Bill Foster and saxophone solos from Stacey Waterous. Coryell sparks audience participation on the song "What's Going On" recorded by both Marvin Gaye and Donnie Hathaway. The live CD concludes with Coryell's lively song "The Blues Is Taking Its Place" and the classic Coryell/Hambridge tune "Closer To You Baby."

    The live video show in the package includes Murali on guitar and vocals, Dorian Randolph on drums and vocals, Henry Oden on bass, and Dave Fleschner on keyboards. He doubles on the CD/DVD with the tunes "Sugar Lips, "In The Room With Jimi," and "The Blues Is Taking Its Place." He brings in some funk to the video with the Coryell/Hambridge song "Minor Funk." Murali performs more of his own material with tunes like "Calling From Another Phone," the blues shuffle "Please Please Baby, "The Same Thing," featuring Dave Fleschner on keyboards, and the rockin' blues tune "Way Too Expensive." The show ends with an energetic version of Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me."

    What makes a Murali Coryell live show so spirited is the creativity that he brings to the stage. He has the ability to draw his audience into the performance, making his show an incredible night of entertainment. The CD/DVD Murali Coryell Live brings that experience of seeing and listening to Murali live to his listeners who have not had the pleasure to actually see a live performance.

    Review by Rick Davis

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    Blues With A Mood
    Big Bill Morganfield
    Black Shuck Music
    11 tracks/47:56

    Big Bill Morganfield, Muddy Waters' son for those of you that do not know this, has a new CD “Blues With A Mood”. This year, being the  100th anniversary  of Muddy's birth, is a proper for “Blues With A Mood”. Morganfield has put together 11 songs that hit hard on the blues genre and the the greats such as Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson and of course Muddy Waters. Bill has included 7 tracks that he wrote for the CD and features Eddie Taylor Jr., Colin Linen and Bob Margolin on guitar. Augie Meyers treats us with his fine piano playing on a bunch of the tracks while Tom “Mookie” Brill handles the bass work in a strong style. Chuck Cotton joins in with the drum line , Jim Horn wails away on sax  as “Doc” Malone blows stand out harp on 4 tracks. This is a powerful group of musicians for any recording.

    The opening tune is Bill's strong rendition of Muddy's tune “Look What You Done”. His take on this song is not just a copy cat version of the tune. Morganfield's vocals take a different road by being a little softer hitting but still retaining a real strong blue feeling to the song. This track really becomes a standout as Steve Guyger jumps in with an awesome harmonica solo as Clark Stern adds his piano playing to the mix. Add the guitars of Bob Margolin and Brian Bisesi to make this really a well done blues tune.

    Morganfield's lyric takes us into “Money's Getting Cheaper” which is a tale of the times in the present economy. Telling the story with his lyrics such as, “A dollar feels like a quarter and two seem like 50cents” and “if things get worse I'll be in the welfare line” is truly the blues. On this track we get the feel of Big Bill's awesome guitar work as he plays searing solos played with feeling and emotion. Meyers' piano playing is highlighted  along with a fine guitar solo from Eddie Taylor Jr. This track is really another statement of the blues. Throwing some humor into the mix of things, Morganfield has penned “No Butter For My Grits” This story of searching the neighborhood , stores and just about everywhere else for butter for his grits is a good tale. Even I know that you need butter for your grits. This is fun song but it is the blues. “Doc” Malone blows some really great harp on this track.

    Morganfield has filled “Blues With A Mood” with 11 tunes that all take a different path along the blues highway. His vocals have qualities that include the roughness of the blues as well a velvet smoothness on some tunes. His guitar work just screams out blues with open spaces that make you listen for more. This man is really a “Son Of The Blues” as the final tune pours out a deep story of a blues man taking the road of the blues as his father did. Big Bill did a swell job writing this one.  “Blues With A Mood” is a powerful statement for Big Bill Morganfield that he has paid his dues and will keep the blues alive and well.

    Reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

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    This River
    JJ Grey & Mofro
    Alligator Records
    10 tracks/47:58

    Raised in Jacksonville, FL, JJ Grey made his record debut in 2001 with Blackwater.  "The River" is his sixth studio album.  The album is named for the St. John's River near his hometown.  Many of his songs portray his love for the North Florida wilderness.  Although he doesn't consider himself an environmentalist, Grey works with multiple water and game conservation groups.  Most tracks were recorded live at a studio in Saint Augustine and at Grey's home studio named, "The Egg Room".

    Many of Grey's songs have appeared in film and television including "House", "Crash", "Flashpoint" and "The Hoot".  In 2009, he wrote his first film score for the Emmy Award winning documentary, "The Good Soldier".

    Grey has toured on four continents and shared stages with The Allman Brothers, BB King, Ben Harper, Jeff Beck, Mavis Staples, Booker T. Jones, to name a few.  When asked about his past or future plans, he's quoted as saying, "I'm just a salmon swimming upstream.  Going back home, I reckon.  I don't know why and I quit caring why a long time ago.  I guess there is no 'why' that my mind could understand anyway.  All I do know is that I've enjoyed and I'm still enjoying every second of just being here and doing whatever it is I'm doing."

    "The River" is a relatively long album, nearly 50 minutes, with most songs five minutes or more in length.  There are lots of different instruments at work on this album along with various vocals.  In my opinion, the best tracks are "The Ballad of Larry Webb", a song about a man who found joy in spite of his unenviable simple life and the title track with its minimalist guitar and soulful lyrics about the healing power of Grey's beloved river.  
    Produced by Dan Prothero and JJ Grey
    All tracks except "On The Edge" written and arranged by JJ Grey
    JJGrey:  Lead and Backing Vocals, Electric Guitar, Harmonica, Tambourine, Bass, Acoustic 6- & 12-String Guitar
    Andrew Trube:  Electric Guitar, Lap Steel Guitar, Acoustic Guitar
    Anthony Farrell:  Organ, Piano, Clavinet, Electric Guitar
    Todd Smallie:  Bass
    Anthony Cole:  Drums, Organ
    Art Edmaiston:  Tenor and Baritone Sax
    Dennis Marion:  Trumpet
    Stan Lynch:  Special Guest Shaker

    Reviewed by Diane Mandell

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    I’m A Bluesman

    Billy Jones Bluez
    American Blues Recording Company
    7 tracks/34:12

    Billy Jones is a 49 year old bluesman from North Little Rock, AR.  He started his musical interest as a little boy playing with a toy plastic guitar his grandfather gave him.  Jones started playing real guitar by 5th or 6th grade and was accomplished enough by age 14 that he began playing gigs and traveling with other established musicians.  By his twenties he had his own band and played to troops at military installments in 42 states for nearly a decade.  His first album was released in 2004.  His second album, "My Hometown", released in 2007, was ranked #6 by Real Blues Magazine in their top 100 CDs list.

    Produced by Theophilus Jones Jr with most words and music also by Theophilus Jones Jr, Billy Jones Bluez is: Billy Jones, guitar, vocals, Corey Bray, keyboards, Derrick "Do Dirty" Kendrick's, bass, and Rickey "Quicksand" Martin.  Also on album:  Palmalee Byrd, bass and Reginald "the Professional" Hammeth on drums

    The musician some describe as reclusive does not have a lot of personal trivia available on the web. Jones has said he wants his blues to be modern enough to appeal to today's music listeners.  The album uses simple, street lyrics about growing up in the ghetto, the blues and love relationships.  Many of the tracks are layered with synthesizer special effects and backgrounds.   My favorite tracks are "The Iceman" with its boogie keyboards and Jones' vocals reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix and "Do Right Baby" also with boogie keyboards and nice guitar riffs.

    Reviewed by Diane Mandell

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    Who Ya Kiddin’
    Jimmy Nick & Don't Tell Mama
    Jimmy Nick Music
    5 tracks

    Now twenty-something, Jimmy Nick started playing in Chicago blues clubs at age 16.  Suburban NightLife Magazine voted the group the best band under 21 in 2006 and 2007.  Since then he's shared the stage with the likes of John Mayall, Ted Nugent, Savoy Brown, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Los Lonely Boys. Jimmy has also been a finalist in the 2012 Chicago Blues Guitar Slinger Challenge and the winner of the 2012 Illinois Blues Challenge.  The band's first album, "Whiskey N' Rain", was released in 2011 with "Who Ya Kiddin'" their next offering. 

    Produced by Jim Goffron, Ben Thompson and Joel Bauer, this was recorded and mixed at Gretsch Studios, Elmhurst, IL.  Along with Jimmy Nick Goffron on vocals, guitar and blues harp are Ben Thompson on tenor saxophone, background vocals,
    Lowell Todd on bass and Joel Baer on drums and  background vocals

    The five tracks are rocking, high-energy blues with plenty of harp, sax and guitar.  The third track "Somebody Been Eating My Sweet Potato Pie" has great guitar riffs, sax rolls, and lyrics about the storyteller's feeling that someone else has been fooling around with his woman while he's been gone.  Another track, "If You Don't Like My Cookin'...(Get The Hell Outta' My Kitchen) has ample harp and sax complementing the driving guitar.  I'm sure we'll be hearing more from these "new" guys in the future!

    Reviewed by Diane Mandell

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    Tough Times Don't Last
    Grady Champion
    Shady Grady Music
    12 tracks/49:34

    The youngest of 28 children, Champion was raised on a farm in rural Canton, Mississippi, near Jackson.  He began singing gospel in the church choir at eight years old.  After graduation he moved to Florida and played in blues clubs before recording his first album in 1998.  A 2010 International Blues Challenge Winner and 2012 Blues Music Award Nominee, "Tough Times Don't Last" is his seventh album release.

    Champion's lyrics tell of hard times tempered with hope for a better tomorrow.  The album is a nice mix of blues, gospel, R&B and pop.  "Glory Train" is rich with piano and harmonica and gospel-like lyrics,  " ...Sometime this old world can make you feel you life's a life in vain.  Never mind how you feel....the conductor will welcome you aboard this glory train." 

    Grady Champion is featured on Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica,  Joining him are Caleb Armstrong:  Guitar, String Arrangements, Production, Granard McClendon, Nathan Keck, Chris Gill:  Guitar, Marquis Champion:  Bass Guitar, Lil Cal Jackson:  Drums, Larry Addison:  Piano, Kevin Culver, Steve Wilkerson:  Keyboards, Amy Lott:  Clarinet, and Thomasine Anderson:  Background Vocals.

    My favorite track is "Mississippi Pride" with its folksy feel, sweet yearning harmonica, and lyrics about Champion's Mississippi childhood.  The title track, "Tough Times Don't Last" has a nice clarinet solo that catches the ear.  The surprise track is "What Would Christmas Be Without You?" which is definitely a refreshing switch from the usual holiday tunes.  Certainly enough going on throughout the album to warrant a listen.

    Reviewed by Diane Mandell

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    Split Second
    Nicole Hart & Anni Piper
    Blues Leaf Records
    12 tracks/52:17

    Although Nicole and Anni had never met before this recording, Blues Leaf Records brought Nicole from Florida, Anni from Australia, Juke Joint Jonny from California, and a host of other musicians together in New Jersey to create this collaboration. Both Nicole and Anni signed with the record label in 2008 and have released solo albums since then.

    Nicole jokes she's been singing since the doctor took her out of her mama and spanked her for air, "....that was my first high note!"  With her father's model as an opera singer, Nicole began singing church soprano as a young girl.  Later she sang harmony in Capella madrigal groups and choruses.

    Anni began playing electric guitar at 12.  She became a devoted musician at 14 when she received her first bass.  She attributes her blues direction initially to the Paul Butterfield Blues Band when she first heard the band play "Born in Chicago".

    Featured here are Nicole Hart on vocals and Anni Piper on bass and vocals.  Ron Rauso plays electric guitar, Juke Joint Jonny is on acoustic guitar and dobro, Sandy Mack plays harp, Sim Cain is on drums and  John Ginty handle the keyboards.

    Another relatively long album, this one is definitely a keeper!  Great female vocals and harmonies, blues harp by 2010 Blues Hall of Fame inductee, Sandy Mack, and a host of other musicians, combine their talents to create a great album you can listen to over and over again (I've listened to it at least 20 times so far in the past month). 

    Although I'm a fan of every single track, some of my favorites are the fresh takes of oldie-goldies hits like Roy Orbison's 1962 "Dream Baby" and the Everly Brothers 1961 "Walk Right Back".  Nicole's soulful original song "Listen to the Rain Fall" is another absolute favorite.  In a male-dominated business, it is always a treat to listen to women who can deliver the blues.  Highly, highly recommended.

    Reviewed by Diane Mandell

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    All In
    Sena Erhardt
    Blind Pig Records
    11 Tracks

    The Sena Erhardt band is creating quite a stir in the blues world with the release of their second CD All In, which was mixed, recorded, and produced by Jim Gaines at Bessie Blue Studios in Tennessee. The multi-Grammy Award winner Jim Gaines has worked with rock and blues artists like Santana, Luther Allison, Albert Collins, George Thorogood, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Sena recently shared some insight into the band’s first experience of working with Jim Gaines.“I had the good fortune of recording this album at Bessie Blue Studios in Tennessee with Jim Gaines. The gifts of his experience, insights and vision were so inspiring. In the stripped back setting of a country home-turned studio, Jim made the music the star, and helped bring the best performances out of all the musicians on the album. There were no pretenses—it was just about the songs and the stories behind them. I feel honored to have worked with such a legend and gentleman.”

    The lineup remains the same regardless of whether they are in the studio or on the road. Ed Ehrhardt, Sena’s father, handles lead guitar, Steve Hansen is on bass, and Tim Hasler is the drummer for this solid, tight blues band, matching the vigor, drive, and intensity of Sena’s vocals and stage presence.

    Seven of the eleven songs are originals written by Sena and her dad Ed on the new CD. They open with the heavy-duty original tune “Buried Alive.” Sena’s powerful voice combines with Ed’s blistering guitar solos. Sena’s vocals are straight from the heart on the Bert Russell R&B classic “Cry To Me” first released by Solomon Burke in 1962. The funky title track “All In” offers the convincing lyrics “either you are all in or I’m out.”  Be prepared for fireworks on the Tom Hambridge/Gary Nicholson tune “I Want To Get You Back.” Sena’s vocals are as explosive as Ed’s guitar solos. Listening to Sena sing the Jessie Mae Robinson tune“Cold Cold Feeling” will make your veins run cold. The song was done originally by T-Bone Walker and later by Albert Collins. Ed Ehrhardt is magnificent as he delivers his guitar solos on this one. “Live and Learn,” another original, mixes in elements of blues and jazz guitar into one song. The next original “Man Up” is a hard driven rock “n” roll tune. “Storm’s Coming” starts as a slow blues number and builds to some ferocious guitar solos from Ed. They follow up with the original “Baby Valentine” which expresses the maturity of Sena’s voice as well as any tune on the CD. The fourth cover song “So Excited,” written by B.B. King/Gerald Jemmott, is a perfect song for the band particularly with Sena’s sultry voice and Ed’s Riley B. King guitar style. The original closing song, “Dreamin’ Or Dyin,” is a slow, soulful ballad simmered with just a hint of country adding a nice finishing touch to the album.
    This second album shows a tremendous about of creativity and versatility by a relatively new blues band with a rapid ascent to the top. The Sena Ehrhardt band is well on their way to achieving the notoriety they so richly deserve. This is one great band to watch in the future.

    Reviewed by Rick Davis

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    Robert Randolph Presents the Slide Brothers
    The Slide Brothers
    Concord Records
    11 tracks

    Listening to Sacred Steel in and of itself can be a religious experience. Born in the House of God Church over 80 years ago, Robert Randolph is the most familiar of the standard bearers for this musical tradition and here he has brought together the preeminent men who are keeping this wonderful music form alive and thriving.  Calvin Cooke, Aubrey Ghent, Chuck Campbell and Darick Campbell are the Slide Brothers.  They were all raised in the Church of the Living God and when you listen to this album you can see that some form of almighty power is motivating these guys to levels of stratospheric musical genius.  Phil Campbell also sits in for some of the tracks on guitar as does  Robert Randolph on guitar and slides.

    The album opens with “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’,” an Allman Brothers anthem that Duane and Dickey would amaze audiences with their dual slide prowess. Here the Campbell Brothers fill that role with Calvin Cooke providing the vocals.  The lap steel sound adds an almost nasal sort of cool inflection to the high end notes and the slide slips and maneuvers over the strings.  The two guitars flirt with the heavens as they wail out this great tune; it is a highly charged and emotional ride.  Things slow down for George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” but the emotions remain high.  Jimmy Carter’s vocals are in a great praise mode and then Aubrey testifies as the Campbells continue their guitar onslaught.  Marvelous!  Ghent and Cooke then wail on “Sunday School Blues” as Ghent sings and growls out this piece.  Then the Campbells perform a an almost mystical instrumental version of “Wade In The Water.”  If God is not motivating and influencing these guys then I do not know what is because this was a truly amazing piece of work. Shemekia Copeland fronts the band and Randolph takes up the sacred steel for “Praise You.” Robert’s brother Marcus adds some cool dobro and Jason Crosby’s organ really churches this one up nicely as Robert and Shemekia both exit our Earth’s atmosphere.

    Cooke fronts the Campbell’s in “It Hurts Me Too,” the classic Elmore James cut.  James would appreciate how these guys handle this song as the same guys also later cover his “The Sky Is Cryin’.”James influenced all the blues rockers along with these Sacred Steel masters and these two cuts are a beautiful homage to Elmore.  Ghent and Cooke sing and play “Catch That Train,” singing together and in a call and response; so simple a set of lyrics and yet such a moving piece.  The Campbells manipulate the strings for the traditional  “Motherless Children” as Drew Ramsey and Shannon Sanders sing.  The guitars really steal the show from the vocals on this.  Cooke does his own tune “Help Me Make It Through,” with just him playing and singing with a regular guitar and drums providing a backbeat.  Extraordinary stuff; the slide and vocals trade off in fronting this.  The CD closes with “No Cheap Seats In Heaven” as Ghent sings to testify behind his glorious guitar, hand claps and Lori Ghent’s and Drew Shannon’s  backing vocals.

    If you are new to Sacred Steel then this can serve as your primer.  You can learn all about the various forms and uses of slide guitar in sacred and secular songs.  Transforming the traditional, popular and church songs into whirling dervishes of superlative musical sounds where the guitar takes on a voice of it’s own.  This is not the SRV or Duane Allman sort of slide work, it is Nashville and the churches of the deep South sort of slide.  Randolph brings us his friends and mentors on a super album of music that will inspire the listener while also completely entertaining them.  The lines of sacred and secular blur, but even the most adamant atheist will be moved in some way here.  Highly recommended!

    Reviewed by Steve Jones

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    Blue Heart
    Too Slim And The Taildraggers
    Underworld Records
    11 tracks/49:26

    Too Slim and the Taildraggers new CD, “Blue Heart”, features nine songs written by Timothy “Too Slim” Langford as well as two cover tunes. This recording was produced by Tom Hambridge who also takes on the duties of drummer, percussionist and background vocalist. Joining Too Slim and Hambridge on “Blue Heart” are Reese Wynans on B3 organ, Tommy MacDonald playing bass and Rob McNelley with electric guitar. Jimmy Hall also joins this group of fine musicians adding harmonica for   “Blue Heart” and  vocals on “Good To See You Smile Again”.  Langsford has been playing the blues since 1986 and has developed a strong bunch of international fans along the way. During this time he has also released at least 15 recordings. Besides being a very talented guitarist and singer, “Too Slim” writes strong blues lyrics that hit upon women, drugs, hard times, failed romance and all the topics that make the blues what they are.

    The opening track on “Blue Heart” has a hard driving drum line by Tom Hambridge. This sets the theme for the rockin' blues tune featuring fiery blues riffs from Too Slim's guitar. This song almost has a ZZ Top flavor to it as “Too Slim” vocalizes the lyrics about women, whiskey and bad cocaine. This is a solid way to introduce us to Too Slim and the Taildraggers. “Blue Heart” takes us on the road to a real deal blues tune that features Jimmy Hall with his harmonica talent. Jimmy is given plenty of space to give us some outstanding harp soloing. This is good stuff. The steady drum line from Hambridge highlights Too Slim's vocals that tell of a women “with a heart of glass and knowing her part”. Take a long listen to Langsford's guitar tone and phrasing as he solos on this track. To me “Blue Heart” is the most outstanding tune on this CD.

    “Good To See You Smile Again” has Jimmy Hall adding his vocals as Reese Wymans jumps in with his Hammond organ while Langsford interjects more of his guitar work on this tune. Again we are treated to a really solid blues song. “Blue Heart” is a strong blues rock CD which features plenty of  genuine blues making it a true blues recording. Tim Langford is an outstanding rockin' blues guitarist who also has the ability to play fine slide guitar as he lays down the blues.  Add his vocals and lyric writing to the fine group of musicians he surrounds himself with and you have to come up with a great recording. “Blue Heart” contains 11 well written and varied tunes that are worth the time to take a long listen to.

    Reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

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    Better Than Television
    Westside Andy & Glenn Davis
    Moonfish Records
    11 tracks/41:24

    ’52 Special “Live in the Studio”
    Glenn Davis & Matt Goodwin
    Moonfish Records
    8 tracks/36:30

    Glenn Davis is the godfather of blues music in southern Wisconsin, particularly for the weekly jam sessions that he staged at his old club, the Silver Moon in Darien. There are plenty of area musicians who owe Glenn a debt of gratitude for providing them with a place where they could learn to play blues under his watchful tutelage. These days Davis has a number of regular gigs in the area that give listeners plenty of opportunities to hear his laidback performances.

    Two new recordings on his own label team Davis with two of his favorite musical partners. The first disc pairs him with Westside Andy Linderman, the great harp player from Madison. Davis handles the vocals, guitar and all of the backing tracks. The duo sounds right at home on easy rolling tracks like “Twice as Much” or “I Woke Up with the Blues”. Glenn’s warm vocal over the loping rhythm on “Rock Me in the Morning” is a highlight, as is Westside Andy’s stellar playing on the instrumental “One to One”. They navigate faster tempos with relative ease with Davis throwing a few Chuck Berry licks on the title track before getting funky on “Here Ya Come Baby”. They lay down a deep sound on “Can’t Change the Blues” with Andy blowing mesmerizing lines over Glenn’s sturdy rhythm guitar and mournful cries at the end. Linderman’s poignant playing on the ballad “Full Moon Friend” is another highlight.

    Davis and guitarist Matt Goodwin used to hold court in the bar at the much-beloved Gun Club. For the last couple of years, they have been playing Thursday evenings at Domenico’s restaurant in downtown Beloit. Their disc features several songs that are staples of their marathon sets, with support coming from Tim Walter on bass, Dave Braun on drums and Ralph Lapetina on keyboards. “Cool Rockin’ Mama” is one of five Davis originals, getting the disc off to swinging start, especially when Goodwin cuts loose with a rapid-fire solo. They slow the pace on “Lonliest Man in the World”, with Davis bemoaning his inability to keep his woman satisfied. Lapetina uses his Hammond organ to fill out the arrangement, although his solo is buried in the mix. “Don’t Lose the Funk” lives up to the title while “Twice as Much” finds Davis making sure the object of his affections knows about everything he has to offer. Goodwin contributes three memorable tunes. On “You Don’t Write”, he chastises a former lover accompanied by a slinky rhythm. His rousing vocal on the fast shuffle “Trickle Down Blues” is a highlight while on “Saw Her on the Corner”, he describes his unfortunate luck with women with Lapetina on the Hammond once again in the spotlight.

    Davis burns these discs himself and sells them at his live shows. The disc with Westside Andy sounds like two friends sitting on the back porch having some fun. The Goodwin pairing considerably raises the energy level yet Davis still sounds right at home, his laidback approach serving as a fine contrast to Goodwin’s more aggressive style. Together, the two recordings give listeners a glimpse at Mr. Davis’s wide-ranging musical universe and offer quite a bit of musical merry-making at the same time. We are blessed to have such a talented musician in our midst. Catch one of Glenn’s live shows – and show him some love!

    Reviewed by Mark Thompson

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    Gone to Texas
    Mike Zito & the Wheel
    Ruf Records
    13 tracks/62:10

    Mike Zito has been on a roll the last few years. In 2010, the title song from his Pearl River recording, co-written with Cyril Neville, won the Blues Music Award for Song of the Year. Next, he joined Neville and guitarist Devon Allman, drummer Yonrico Scott and Charlie Wooten on bass to form Royal Southern Brotherhood, a band that has been tearing up the festival circuit ever since. The group is nominated for a 2013 Blues Blast Music Award for “Blues Rock Album” and garnered a Blues Music Award nomination in the same category.

    Now the talented artist adds even more fuel to the fire with a new release featuring his latest band of hand-picked musicians, The Wheel.  Scot Sutherland has played with some of the best in the blues world, including six years on bass with the Tommy Castro Band. His rock-solid playing earned him a Blues Music Award nomination for Bass Player of the Year. Saxophonist Jimmy Carpenter was a long-time member of Jimmy Thackery’s band. He also has been a featured member of New Orleans legend Walter “Wolfman” Washington’s band. The man with the beat, drummer Rob Lee, is another New Orleans resident who has backed Johnny Sansone and Mia Borders. A veteran of Delbert McClinton’s band, Lewis Stephens, handles the keyboards while Susan Cowsill adds backing vocals.

    This disc finds Zito honoring the state of Texas, where he fled to from his St. Louis home in search of love, redemption and escape from the addictions that had taken over his life. The title track delves deep into the Zito’s psyche as he looks for a new beginning, well-aware that he has reached the point-of-no-return and thankful for the healing power of love. “Rainbow Bridge” has the singer traveling through Louisiana, propelled by Sonny Landreth’s sizzling slide guitar licks.

    Sutherland and Lee lay down a thundering groove worthy of Led Zeppelin on “Don’t Think Cause You’re Pretty” that Zito attacks on slide guitar while his raw vocal issues a warning to women trying to get by on looks alone. The pace immediately downshifts for the cautionary acoustic country blues “Death Row”, a harrowing depiction of where the singer might have ended up had he not found salvation.

    On “Take It Easy”, Zito pleads for patience as he attempts to build a relationship. Carpenter flavors “I Never Knew a Hurricane” with a seductive tenor sax solo as Zito pours out his anguish over a broken heart.

    Other highlights are “Subtraction Blues”, sporting a choogling rhythm and clever lyrics from the leader about a woman that has his mind messed up. Stephens gives the Hammond organ a ride on the funky workout “Don’t Break a Leg” and Zito trades lead vocals with Delbert McClinton on “The Road Never Ends”, a unruly rocker with some scorching slide guitar from Zito. He gives another unvarnished look at the world of an addict on “Hell on Me”, singing and playing like a man possessed. The downward spiral continues on “Voices in Dallas” with Zito high and alone, talking to an empty room. Carpenter’s baritone sax and Cowsill’s hypnotic vocal contributions amplify the bone-chilling mood. “Wings of Freedom” has Zito celebrating his salvation while praying that those he left behind will find their own escape route from dependency.

    This is Mike Zito’s celebration of his new life – and his frank, unerring confession of what his life once was. Collectively, the program reaches out to you with genuine passion, intent on letting us share in the details of every step of his journey.  The veteran band matches Zito’s energy every step of the way. Musically, it isn’t always blues, but Zito drills deep into the facts of life, the core of the blues tradition. This one comes highly recommended!

    Reviewed by Mark Thompson

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    Play One For Me
    Bryan Lee
    Severn Records
    10 tracks/43:43

    This album is a real departure from the norm for Bryan.  Completely funky and soulful with the Severn Records house band and a huge horn and string section arranged and conducted by Willie Henderson, Lee gives us a very interesting and thoroughly enjoyable addition to his repertoire that I am sure will garner him great notice and some accolades to boot!  It is a super little album for this now 70 year old super star of the blues.

    The opener is an old Memphis soul tune written by George Jackson and Willie Mithcell, “Aretha (Sing One for Me).” It is a tune where Bryan pleads soulfully that if Aretha sings a song for his girl that maybe she’ll come back to him. He then moves into some Freddie King with “It’s Too Bad (Things Are Going So Tough For Me)” when he wails on his axe and Kevin Anker tickles the keys sweetly in support.  A Bobby Womack cover follows, “When Love Begins (Friendship Ends).”  Lee is more evenly soulful than the edgier Womack and it comes off nicely done.  His guitar also helps to sell this as he picks out a very cool solo; the strings and horns are supremely cool here, as is the organ in the background.  Up next is the classic Howlin’ Wolf/Willie Dixon tune “Evil Is Going On” where Bryan growls and grunts along with Kim Wilson blowing some mean harp.  The keyboard here is also special; Lee, Wilson and Anker have really given this cut some dirty and cool freshness.  “You Was My Baby (But You Ain’t My Baby No More)” is the first of the original cuts and Bryan lets his unfaithful woman have it both vocally and with his guitar.

    “Straight to Your Heart” continues in the funky and soulful vein and Lee continues to deliver the goods. A Dennis Geyer song, Lee gives it a great effort.  “Poison” is next up, straight up Chicago blues.  Kim Wilson plays some hot harp and Bryan’s vocal are distorted as if he  sings through a harp mike.  It’s very well done and very hot and dirty sounding.  Wilson solos first and then Lee comes in with his guitar and just makes this one complete.  “Let Me Love You Tonight” has the Memphis sound all over it with a bouncy and swinging groove and a beautiful rounded out guitar sound.  This may be THE song of the album that will have a great life of it’s own!  “Why” is a slow and thoughtful piece with a deliberate beat and guitar work that Lee excels at.  He completes the recording with “Sixty Eight Years Young,” which could be an answer to the many blues men’s songs where they sing of getting old.  Here Lee regales that at 68 he’s happy to still be getting it done.  Very funky and neat– hand claps, percussion, organ, bass, drums and rhythm guitar set this up for Lee who then hits a home run with his vocals and lead guitar.

    It’s different.  It’s new.  It’s fresh.  It’s soulful.  It’s Bryan Lee like we’ve never hear him before.  A huge house band along with the folks noted previously and Johnny Moeller supporting on guitar, Steve Gomes on bass, Robb Stupka on drums and Mark Merrella on percussion all give Bryan some super backing and allow him to fully express his soulfulness.  This is some of Bryan’s best work ever– I was really impressed.  If you love Bryan as I do, go get this.  If you are new to the Braille Blues Daddy you will see a side of him that we sometimes get to hear in snippets that is expanded and nurtured into a beautiful set of soulful tunes.  Well done to both Bryan and Severn for delivering a superb CD for this most deserving artist!

    Reviewed by Steve Jones

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    Come Out Swingin’
    Candye Kane featuring Laura Chavez
    Vizz Tone Label Group
    13 tracks

    Candye Kane is a survivor and her new CD Come Out Swingin’ is a testament to her fortitude, drive and desire.  While I love many of her old CDs, this one I would have to say is her best.  It truly does what the title says– come out swinging!

    Swing music has a history in the blues and jazz.  Louis Armstrong noted on Bing Crosby’s radio show, "Ah, swing, well, we used to call it syncopation—then they called it ragtime, then blues—then jazz. Now, it's swing. White folks yo'all sho is a mess."   While it’s sometimes hard to argue Louis’ point when it comes to music, Candye and Laura have embraced the genre and given us a spectacular set of tunes, eight of which were written by Kane and Chavez and one by Candye alone.

    The CD opens with the title cut.  From the first time I heard the tribal opening drumbeats by Fred Rautman going all out like Gene Krupa for us I knew this was going to be fun.  Then Candye, Laura and horn section also give it their all and I was almost winded by the song’s end– what a performance! “Rock Me to Sleep” is a great Benny Carter cover that slows the pace down infinitesimally and stays in the nicely in the swing mode as Kane croons boldly. The piano solo is also cool here, too.  “I’m the Reason Why You Drink” is a funny and bouncing track where Candye tells us a great little tale and Laura also delivers a great solo.  “When Tomorrow Comes” is a nice original soul tune that also swings with great horn play and some organ work by Leo Dombecki.  “Rise Up!” is a Memphis (or even Motown)
    -esque R&B original that is upbeat and strident.  Kane gets down and biographical on “Invisible Woman” where she sings emotionally of acceptance and how we can be ignored based on our appearance.  Chavez offers up a haunting performance on guitar here, too.

    “You Ain’t All That” is Kane’s song, a spunky reprimand of sorts. In “I Wanted You to Walk (Through That Door) we have a western swing where Chavez offers up some sweet reverb.  “Darling Baby” is the great Holland-Dozier-Holland doo-wop tune that Kane just crushes. “Barbwire Mouth” is a rockabilly cut that Kane blasts through nicely.  Rick Estrin’s “What Love Can Do” follows, a beautiful ballad that Kane offers up with beauty and ease.  The final two cuts are fun and bi-lingual: a shuffling boogie in “Au Revioir  Y’All” and a rockabilly one in “Marijuana Boogie.” French and then Spanish get mixed up and sung as the album completes.  Chavez blows us away with her final guitar solo as does Sue Palmer on piano in a whirlwind of rocking good fun.

    The horn section of  Bill Caballero (trumpet), April West (trombone), and Johnny Viau (sax) are spectacular.  Bassists Kennan Shaw and Thomas Yearly are also rock solid as is Billy Watson on harp. Top to bottom the contributors on this album are great!

    I can’t say anything bad about this CD.  I loved every song along the way.  Candye and Laura have outdone themselves once again.  The maturation of their songwriting and collaboration and their interplay on the songs themselves while performing are just exceptional.  This album comes most highly recommended for anyone who loves blues, swing and everything in between.  If you were not a Candye Kane “believer” before, then this one will sell you on her.  If it does not, I’d fear that you were dead!

    Reviewed by Steve Jones

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    Luther’s Blues
    Walter Trout & His Band
    13 tracks

    Luther Allison produced 20 albums during his much too short lifetime.  In 1986 at the Montreaux Jazz festival in Switzerland he and Walter Trout first met and the influence by Luther on Walter  from that time until Luther’s death in 1997 was huge.  Trout had never done a tribute album and at first was able to reduce potential songs for this project down to about 40.  After much deliberation, the list shrank to the eleven we have here, with one spoken track and one original track added to close out the tribute.

    The album starts off with the driving “I’m Back” which really is a vibrant and rousing selection and Trout’s performance holds nothing back.  One of my all time favorites is “Cherry Red Wine.”  This is a visceral and emotion filled song and Walter really groans and growls this out as he blasts out riff after riff in spectacular fashion.  “Chicago” Is another cut that will fascinate the listener and hopefully drive them to listen to Luther’s music.  “Just As I Am” is a beautiful and moving cut with Walter “testifying” to us as the organ plays behind him.  “Freedom” is perhaps the cut that everyone will remember most as it talks about the drive for freedom across the globe.  Trout is passionate in his delivery here and it is a memorable performance.  While these big and popular cuts deservedly must be commented on, there is a lot more here.  “Bad Love” offers up one of the biggest and baddest guitar solos of the year and perhaps even the decade. “Low Down and Dirty” rocks out with the best of them.  Trout finishes up with “When Luther Played the Blues” and it’s a dandy.  The guitar work is impeccable, the song is biographical yet cool and it is just a great cut and way to close out the album.  There is much to enjoy here!

    Trout is not trying to outdo Luther nor is he giving us Luther done in a new way.  He serves this up as a tribute to a man whose life was cut short and whose work deserves notice and appreciation.  He has done a fantastic job here in giving us more than a taste for Allison’s works.  Luther’s fans will get the love and admiration expressed here as Trout delivers song after song in loving tribute.  Those less familiar with Luther will get exposed to Allison’s exceptional song book and will want to delve more into his works.  This is an outstanding album by an artist who can play the blues and rock with the best of them.  Highly recommended!

    Reviewed by Steve Jones

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    Phil Gates Live at the Hermosa Saloon
    Phil Gates
    DCT Productions
    11 Tracks

    Phil Gates is originally from Chicago, but has been based for quite a while in Los Angeles.  On this recording, Phil on guitar is joined by Ron Battle on bass, Keith Williams on drums, and Morris Beeks on keys.  It is a live recording at the Hermosa Saloon, funded by a Kickstarter.  Previously, the group has released 5 CDs.  Phil has played on projects with the likes of Zac Harmon, Phillip Bailey, and Maurice White.  He also earned production credits with Little Richard, Zac Harmon and others.  There are two covers and nine originals on this disc.

    “Addicted to the Blues” jumps out as the opening track.  It is catchy with a nice organ solo by Morris Beaks and guitar work by Phil.  Up next is a cover of “Messin’ With The Kid” with no harp.  It is powerful and enjoyable.  “Away I Go”  gets into a funky beat that allows the vocals to slid nicely thru the song.  A longer slower blues number “Used Me Up” is the next track.  Nice vocals and good playing carry this tune.  Track 5 is a bit more pop/R&B but not too sweet.  “Old School” shows some solid vocals and a tribute to the past.

    “Summer in the City” with a new funkier pace is an enjoyable cover tune.  The band glides thru this oldie.  “End of Time” has a Buddy Guy 60’s feel to it.  Phil can handle the licks, with nice keyboard support….a good song for sure.  A bit more country blues feel comes thru on “Evening Train”  I like “Take It Out” as a catchy tune with fine lyrics about getting on with your life after issues.  A long, almost 9 minute, tune called “I’m Lost” is up next.  The band really cuts loose and extends itself on this one.  They are a tight band.    To close out the disc, the band plays “Get Around To Me”.  Not sure this was the last number of a set, but it is a fine contemporary song.  The jamming is not overdone, and they again display fine musicianship and vocals.

    Fans of the band will love this disc.  Those of us new to them will love it, too.  I’d certainly go see them if I had a chance. 

    Reviewed by Mark Nelson

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    When It Comes To The Blues
    JC Crossfire
    Bluzpik Media Group, Inc.
    9 Tracks

    JC (Joseph Cannizzo) is a guitar player now based in South Florida, but originally from New York.  He played in rock bands around the NY area and put together the Stevie Ray Vaughn tribute band ‘Crossfire’ in 1994.  He moved to Florida in 2003.  I believe this is his 3rd disc.
    This disc contains 9 originals written by JC and other band members.  The five piece band gives a full sound.  It is a modern blues sound, which is not trying to recreate the past.

    The CD opens with the title cut.  It’s a slow groove with some nice harmonica fills from Niles Blaize.  It’s a pretty strong piece of music.  “Deliza” follows with some extended keyboard fills.  “Grand Ole Girl” fires out more with some snappy rockier guitar and some harmonica fills.  Track 4 ‘Blues. Bleus, Blues” could be more powerful.  This song could jump out at you, but feels tethered a bit.  The band slow it down with some nice soulful vocals on “Tell Me Why”  There are some powerful riffs near the end of this five minute effort. 
    Bernie Rose supplies some nice piano work on “One More Time”.  Vocals again could be a bit more out in front on this cut.  JC makes a political statement with “American Way”  It might be a good song for Congress to listen to!  JC cranks up his guitar on “Chosen One”.  He has some chops.  The final cut is “”I Wonder”  slows back down a bit.  I suspect this one might get an extended play in a live setting.

    This is a disc we all can relate to.  No gimmickry in the guitar work, and a full sound.  He vocals are not great, but the will suffice. 

    Reviewed by Mark Nelson

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    Jim Allchin
    Sandy Key Music
    13 Tracks

    During Jim Allchin's humble childhood in rural Florida, he learned at an early age to pursue goals in life with perseverance. Having to work in fields at a young age, he would miss school to meet family needs. It was music by Jimi Hendrix, and Southern rock groups Lynyrd Skynrd and the Allman Brothers that send him in the direction of a musical career. As a starving artist, he decided to return to school to pursue a career in computer science, and eventually worked his way to a top level position in Microsoft. Allchin became part of the Senior Leadership Team at Microsoft, an elite group responsible for developing Microsoft's core direction with team members Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates. After being diagnosed with cancer in 2002, he took a leave of absence in 2003, until he left Microsoft in 2007 completely to return to music.

    With the same enthusiasm and drive that motivated him his entire life, Allchin now writes and performs music today with that same passion. His first album Enigma, was released in 2009. His second blues CD Overclocked, which was released in 2001, received much interest among blues fans. His latest blues CD Q.E.D., released this year, is a collection of thirteen new tracks containing blues, rock, salsa and jazz, and soul all written by Jim Allchin. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Ben Smith, the drummer for the group Heart, and Jim Allchin produced the new album. Joining Allchin on the album are Ben Smith on drums, Dan Dean on bass, Brooke Lizotte on the keyboard, Owen Gurry on strings, Martin Ross on background vocals, Mycle Wastman and Keely Whitney on background and lead vocals, with New York Brass heading up the horn section. The best description I can give for Allchin's guitar style is a blend of Randy California, lead guitar for Spirit, Joe Satriani, and Stevie Ray Vaughan with vocals that parallel Robben Ford.

    The CD opens with fiery fretwork from Allchin on the boogie tune "Stop And Go," also featuring the powerful New York Brass horn section and hard driving keyboard solos from Brooke Lizotte. It is followed by the shuffle "Gettin Old" featuring again the York Brass horn section and even more keyboard solos from Brooke Lizotte. "Chime Blues" is an instrumental with jazz infused keyboards having a soothing effect on the audience. "Reap What You Sow" picks up the pace with guitar riffs similar to the late great Stevie Ray Vaughan. "Trust Me" is more on the soulful side, featuring vocals by Mycle Wastman, the incredible horn section, and stellar piano solos.  "Thinking Of You" is an almost hypnotic blues tune with quiet jazz elements and a string section, showing just how versatile Allchin can be on the guitar. The band members return back to a hard drivin' roadhouse brand of blues on the song "Trash." The blues tune "Runnin Away" opens with an acoustic twist that is blended later on with both keyboards and the dynamic horn section. "Tried And True" is another up tempo jump blues number with Allchin playing an aggressive style guitar. Chicago blues takes center stage on the blues tune "Drownin" with a Walter Trout guitar style. Allchin really nails both guitar solos and vocals on the tune "Evil Minded Woman." They take trip to the Mississippi Delta on "Come On Home." What a way to end with a powerful flamenco style finale. You can almost envision Paco de Lucía and Jim Allchin playing guitar side by side in concert.

    This is a CD with many styles of music relating to the blues with a hint of international grandeur. It is a brilliant collection of music exposing the talent of Allchin and Smith to produce a CD of this magnitude.

    Reviewed by Rick Davis

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    Holland K. Smith
    Eller Soul Records
    14 tracks/56:28

    Texas-native singer, song-writer and guitarist Holland K. Smith's fourth album "Cobalt" was released on August 20, 2013 on Eller Soul Records after nearly a decade wait.  The album has 13 original tracks melding good vocals, witty lyrics and polished instrumentals including sax and keyboards. 

    As a five and six-year-old growing up in Texas, Smith sang acapella in his church choir.  By age 10 he was in front of the congregation leading the choir.  He started listening to blues in the 60's on AM radio thinking the bands he heard were actually playing down at the Arlington radio station.  A friend's Mom gave him a guitar when he was nine and he's played the blues on his own guitar ever since.  Smith got serious about playing guitar in his 20's and focused on rock but never felt he quite fit in.  In 1990 he formed his first blues band and he has been playing blues ever since with his debut album released in 1997.

    Smith credits many major music influences including Chet Atkins, George Harrison, Wes Montgomery, Junior Watson, Les Paul, Buddy Guy and  T-Bone Walker, among others.  He says one of his proudest accomplishments was writing "Rock Party" recorded by George Thorogood and used as Thorogood's show opener for his tours.  Smith has performed with a who's-who list of musicians including Junior Watson, Bugs Henderson, George Thorogood and Buddy Miles.

    "Cobalt" is a great mix of Texas-style blues and R&B with a splash of jazz and Latin flavors.  I liked every track on the album and expect to listen to it again and again.  I would definitely recommend this album with two thumbs up!

    Reviewed by Diane Mandell

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