Sunday, December 2, 2018

Mindi Abair And The Boneshakers ~~ All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues


Mindi Abair is a smart woman. She’s the first one out of the gate with a Christmas album this year, AND she made sure that All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues is a killer album that will receive its share of airplay year after year. Hot on the heels of The EastWest Sessions and her hit song Pretty Good For A Girl is this album that utilizes her special blend of smoky sultriness with kick ass riffs.
Starting off with the title track, All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues, is about as blues as you can get with a strong bassline and Abair’s voice smokes. If this song isn’t included in every blues program’s Holiday show, there is no justice. The band blends beautifully with some extra sweet keyboards. If we could get more blues like this for Christmas, I would be very happy.
She follows up with some wailing sax on I Can't Wait For Christmas. It’s a driving song that really rocks. Aside from her great voice, Abair is a great sax player and she uses it to perfectly punctuate her songs. Some players can get carried away and almost drown a song, or move it more into the realm of jazz. Abair knows that fine line and uses her sax to give her that bigger sound without going too far. Love it!
The guitars give Merry Christmas Baby a real swinging delta sound and listen carefully to the percussion. I like this rocker a lot and know that it’s going to become a staple on my year-end playlist. Can I just say that I love Abair’s attitude and approach to her music? In the space of two short albums (plus one earlier jazzy one that I found at my favorite record store) I have become a huge fan and look forward to the day when our paths will cross.
Abair and company get a little more sentimental with the next song, Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). Don’t get me wrong, the song still rocks, but there’s a little sugar added to the mix. That doesn’t stop Abair from dropping a hot sax break that soars high in the middle of the song.
She keeps the sentimentality going with The Best Part Of Christmas. Light guitar and keys contrast with the more powerful songs that have preceded it. It’s a gorgeous ballad that tugs at your heart and makes you want to stare out of a snowy window while sipping a big mug of hot chocolate. Abair can make you rock and turn on a dime and make your heart ache.
Abair turns her attention to several well-known holiday songs, starting with Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree. It has that nice old-school rock ‘n’ roll feel and just makes you smile and tap your toes. The sax really adds to the flavor of the song. Next up is her take on the Mel Tormé classic, The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire). It’s a straight forward instrumental that showcases Abair’s great sax playing. There are a few unique touches, but for the most part, it offers up a faithful interpretation. She then takes on Chuck Berry’s Run Run Rudolph and gives it that breathless interpretation that the song demands. It’s a fun version that sounds like it was recorded at the band’s Christmas party. Lots of energy.
Abair closes out the album with Christmas Fool, a song with some decided country stylings. Its been a minute since I heard a blues song with a jaw harp in it, and this song sounds like it came straight from the delta. There’s a male singer handling the vocals, and I’ll need to get his name for the blog (left my notes back at the office, sorry). Hand clapping front porch style instrumentation makes this one a lot of fun and the perfect song to end the album.

Santa Blues sez "Give More Blues!"
Mindi Abair And The Boneshakers is one of the best things going. Don’t wait to pick this one up, because you’ll want to play it the entire holiday season. Want to find out more about the group? Try their website, https://www.mindiabair.com/ and if you’re looking for that perfect gift, remember music is always a perfect fit.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Professor's Honor Roll - The Best of 2018

What do you think Dad? Did I miss anyone...
We have reached that time of year again when we, like the god Janus, look backward and forwards at the same time. The year 2018 was a strange and wild one, but then, isn’t every year a bit of a rollercoaster? With the return of this post, I am planning to return to daily blogging and reviewing as I have missed it greatly. Those of you who have reached out encouraging me to get back to it, I thank you.
Looking back, let’s take a look at some of the best albums from December 2017 to the end of November 2018 and see some of the best the year had to offer. There are albums from old favorites and a lot from artists new to me. I wish I could say this is a definitive list, but by no means can I do that – there are so many albums that I never got my greedy hands on, but this is a good start.  
Joyann Parker is new to me and her album, Hard To Love, was a great surprise. Parker’s got that growl that just makes me sit up, listen, and leaves me wanting more. There’s power in this woman’s voice and she quickly became one of my favorites.
Willie Jackson’s EP, Chosen By The Blues, was a revelation. Jackson’s vocals against a traditional blues group with rolling bass, tight percussion, and harp work that would have made any traditional blues lover happy, this is a sweet collection of songs from a man who has obviously living the blues, not just playing them.
Two great albums (and three very good ones) came from Virginia this year. The first, James RiVAh, was released by our friends The Bush League. This is the album where they turned the corner and delivered a work that comes the closest to capturing their live magic. JohnJason Cecil’s vocals are the strongest they’ve ever been and the infusion of Northern Mississippi mojo makes this a magnificent addition to our collection. The other is from another great pal, Bobby “BlackHat” Walters who gave us the remarkable Put On Your Red Shoes. Bobby BlackHat is Virginia’s Ambassador to the Blues and every release is a cause for celebration. His latest album is no exception and is much like his live performance, entertaining and exciting. Get them both!
Honorable Mentions for Virginia Artists: In Layman Terms with Strong Roots, Josh Lief with Love In Disguise, and while it’s not full on blues, Amy Henderson with her debut release May is a fine roots album. Okay, that last one came out in 2017, but I didn’t get a copy until 2018. Blogger’s prerogative…
One of my favorites is the great Buddy Guy, whom I got to see twice this year as he toured to promote The Blues Is Alive And Well. In Guy’s capable hands, the blues are most definitely alive and well and he added contributions from the likes of Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck, Frank Bey, and Keith Richards. Time to pause and have a sip of con-ee-ac. Another well-known name who released a strong album this year is Boz Scaggs, who dropped Out Of The Blues. Scaggs has been playing rock shuffles for most of his career, but he started out steeped in the blues and returns to form on this album.
I was a little late to the party for Little Boys Blue with their previous album, Tennissippi, but was glad that I was right on time for their latest album, Little Boys Blue with Kid Memphis, as they released a solid album, Hard Blue Space, from start to finish. The addition of Kid Memphis takes a very good band over the top to become a great band and I expect to hear even more from them in the future.  
The first blues artist to gain national attention through the television show The Voice, Nakia, released Blues Grifter late in the year. It’s bold in its reimagining of several well-known classics in a way that honors the past while putting his own stamp on the songs. Nakia’s voice is strong with plenty of soul, and I have the feeling that this is merely the beginning of a well-developed career.
Two great albums that share the same name were released by Bob Corritore & Friends and Paul Thorn. For both artists, Don't Let The Devil Ride, was a fun filled carnival ride of rocking blues and swinging gospel. Different approaches that delivered strong albums. Now, if we could just get the two of them in to the same recording studio to take a whack of combining their talents. What do you say, gents? We’re all waiting by the holy water with a hip flask of whiskey in our pockets.
Speaking of music with a spiritual bent, we got a slice of gospel pie courtesy of the Reverend Shawn Amos on his album, The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down. The good reverend is in fine voice and his version of Nick Lowe’s (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, And Understanding is the finest I’ve ever heard.
I was completely unaware of Tommy DarDar before I received a copy of his posthumously completed album, Big Daddy Gumbo. A labor of love, it was finished by his friends two years after his passing and delivers a lively and wonderful helping of New Orleans flavored music.
Honorable Mention for New Orleans music goes to the self-titled Keith Stone With Red Gravy.
A nice twist on tribute compilations marks the release Delmark put out to celebrate their 65th anniversary, conveniently titled Tribute: Delmark's 65th Anniversary. Instead of just reissuing the well-known songs from their past library, Delmark had a crop of their new artists record songs from the artists who inspired them to play the blues. Love this album! On a similar note, Lurrie Bell & The Bell Dynasty did much the same thing with their celebration of their patriarch, Carey Bell. Tribute to Carey Bell is a loving examination of Bell’s great and often underappreciated skill.
Need some soulful blues in your life? Sure you do. We all do. May I suggest Frank Bey who is in fine form with Back In Business. Bey has not lost a step nor dropped a note and this is one of the sweetest sounding records of the year. It’s one that will often end up on my player in the late evening when I need to end the day in a pleasant way. He’ll do if for you as well.
Guitar slinger Sean Chambers released Welcome To My Blues in 2018 and it was very well received here at Time For The Blues. There’s rarely a shortage of hot guitar players in the blues, and Chambers lives up to his potential on this release. Another great guitarist album comes from our old pal Albert Castiglia who will keep you Up All Night with his release. Other great guitar heavy albums include Tinsley Ellis’ Winning Hand, J.P. SoarsSouthbound I-95, and Mighty Mike Schermer’s Be Somebody. Be sure to catch these guys live, I've seen the all except Chambers and everyone one of them puts on a killer show. And J.P. Soars actually has longer hair than I do, so I'm extremely jealous...
I always enjoy it when an artist gets together with one or more friends to come out with an album that usually fires on all cylinders. One great album came from Mississippi Maestro Mick Kolassa who released Double Standards with the help of several great artists. The combination of Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa released the stellar album Black Coffee, Ben Harper And Charlie Musselwhite teamed up on No Mercy In This Land, the trio of Joe Louis Walker, Bruce Katz, and Giles Robson recently released a great album, Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues, the self-titled Myles Goodwyn And Friends Of The Blues arrived from Canada, while the tandem of J.J. Appleton and Jason Ricci joined forces for Beautiful Slop.
Honorable Mentions go to Rex Granite Band featuring Sarah Beneck for Spirit/Matter/Truth/Lies and The Knickerbocker All-Stars who enlisted guest vocalists Darcel Wilson and Thornetta Davis for their album Love Makes A Woman.
Old school blues singer Johnny Tucker released a great album, Seven Day Blues. Others came from John Clifton with Nightlife and Artur Menezes with Keep Pushing.
Wonderful piano work was release by Marcia Ball on Shine Bright and by the self-titled Victor Wainwright And The Train.
Finally, three top releases came from women, Meg Williams with her album Maybe Someday. Laurie Jane And The 45s with her celebration of entertainer Sara Martin on Late Last Night - Elixir Of Sara Martin, and that one-woman band of many, Ruth Wyand & The Tribe Of One with her release Tribe Of One.
So much great music, so little time. Remember, this isn’t exhaustive because I still haven’t been able to check every album that came across my desk this year. Take these for what they are, good albums that I highly recommend and a great place to start when putting together your own list.
Did I miss any? I want to hear what you think. Feel free to leave a note in the comments and maybe another reader will discover those artists you love. Thanks for reading, and come back often to see if there are any new albums you want to hear.

                    

Friday, November 30, 2018

Time For The Blues December 1, 2018


Henry and I certainly hope you will join us this Saturday Night (December 1) at ten for what will surely go down in history as another spine tingling episode of Time For The Blues! Will it be another excursion into weirdness? Tune in to find out…

December already? Doesn’t it seem like it was just November? Man, how the time has flown this year. From Henry tackling so many projects related to splitting the company into two separate components – News and Music, to John dealing with a gazillion heavy decisions, like what to fix for lunch – wow, it has been a tough year.

Fortunately, the one constant has been the music. Amazing music. Some of it in live performance, most of it recorded and shared with us by great artists, upstanding publicists, and many friends who turn us on to music that we previously didn’t know. This week, John is doing the programming, so you know there’s going to be some great new songs and maybe a couple of surprises as well.

First up, we get to share some great tracks from our friend Marcia Ball’s most recent album, Shine Bright. It’s available on Alligator (and speaking of Alligator, be sure to pick up a copy of Bruce Iglauer’s new book, Bitten By The Blues: The Alligator Records Story – it’s fantastic!) and should be in every blues lover’s collection.  

The last couple of years we’ve had the opportunity to see Ball play live and to sit and chat with her. We’re honored to celebrate her great music and are gratified by her position as “Texas Musician Of The Year.” She really is one of the best performers around and aside from playing some music from the new album, we’re going to sample one of her songs that doesn’t get as much airplay, but it’s one you are really going to enjoy!

Another Texas lady will get her own set, a rising star from the Connor Ray Music galaxy, Ally Venable!

This latest album, Puppet Show, is only Venable’s second release, but already she is carving out her position as a great blues rocker. Aside from being a great vocalist, she’s wicked on the guitar and not a bad songwriter either. We’re going to showcase some of her newest work that impressed the heck out of us.

The future is definitely bright for this young lady, and the present doesn’t look too shabby either. Stick around and give her a listen and we think you will quickly fall in love with her sound.

Since we’re spending so much time in the Lone Star State, we’re going to drop a few tracks from other Texas performers the Keeshea Pratt Band and the Steve Krase Band. While they each approach the blues in their own way, we think you’re going to enjoy them both and will want to hear more.

Of course we’ve got more new material as well including sides from Suzie Vinnick, the Rockwell Avenue Blues Band, and Peter V Blues Train.

So drop everything and join us this Saturday night at ten! All we need is you and a few hundred of your closest friends. You know how to find us, point your browser to http://ideastations.org/radio or join us on one of the Idea Stations: 89.1 WCVN, Northern Neck; 90.1 WMVE, Chase City; and the flagships, 93.1 and 107.9 WCVE-Music, Richmond, where it’s always Time For The Blues!


**STOP THE PRESSES**

Make plans to join us at the River City Blues Society’s Holiday Party and Open Jam at The Camel on Sunday, December 16 beginning at 4 p.m.. In Layman Terms will be hosting the jam and since this is a fundraising event to help them with their expenses as they represent Richmond’s blues community at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis this January, come join us – bid on silent auction items, and celebrate the RCBS. John will be the host again this year and tickets are $5 for members and $10 for non-members.


         
                                                                     
                   

                   

                   

         


Friday, November 23, 2018

Time For The Blues November 24, 2018

Henry and I sure hope you will join us on Time For The Blues this Saturday night (November 24) at 11:00 because we’re going to need a lot of help to work our way through all of these leftovers. That’s right, it’s time once again for our yearly signature show of great tracks we didn’t get around to playing during the year.

And this year, there’s a twist. But what else would you expect from us?

Every year for the Thanksgiving celebration, Mr. Cook and I get together with our families and chow down to some of the most scrumptious food and we tend to overeat and then fall asleep in front of the television set. Henry watching football games, and I checking out the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Gauntlet.

What Mrs. Professor thought she would get...
Except this year, things played out a little differently. Henry got together with his family early and then had to run over to WCVE News to run the afternoon shift and Mrs. Professor decided since I have recently taken over the cooking chores, it was time for me to tackle my first turkey.

Certainly, my love, what can go wrong with that?

I will spare you the slapstick fiasco that followed my every attempt to hollow out a 13-pound turkey, stuff it full of delectable victuals, and somehow cook it in an oven that decided that it was too old to keep working. I am not sure if it is mathematically possible to cook 17 different dishes on a one-burner stove, but in trying, I learned that tornadoes are not the only natural disaster that can tear apart a kitchen.

Fortunately, I was able to cobble together a passable meal thanks to two crockpots, a microwave oven, and a lot of take out. Not a dinner that anyone would post pictures of on Instagram, but if they did, I would probably never see it anyway.

At least I can lick my wounds (if not my fingers) and spend the evening listening to some great blues, and you can do the same.

Remember Ghalia & Mama’s Boys’ great album, Let The Demons Out? I hope so, it was one of the best of the year, and we’re going to sample one tune that’s guaranteed to get you shakin’.   

We’ve even got some new stuff, including a track from the trio of Joe Louis Walker, Bruce Katz, and Giles Robson from their hot new Alligator release, Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues. See Legare Robertson, I told you we would work one in before Katz makes his return appearance at Buz & Ned’s Real Barbecue. If you missed his last appearance there, you missed a great show, and the chance to catch this keyboard wizard in an intimate space doesn’t come around often. It’s like having a concert in your living room complete with outstanding barbecue. Buz, can I put my order in now?

Speaking of new and Alligator, Henry has recently discovered the bluesy incarnation of a psychobilly heart known as Lindsay Beaver. Her debut album, Tough As Love, is a stunning performance. Beaver plays drums with the intensity turned up to 11. We’ve played one song so far, but I can guarantee we’ll be playing more soon.

There are also songs from artists we’ve sampled this year including Beth Hart (told ya, Anita), Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys, Janiva Magness, and Ghost Town Blues Band. All of these fine artists had their own features during the year and now each gets a small encore to go along with a late night turkey sandwich with extra cranberry sauce.

The twist comes in when Henry got the cool idea to sample some people from previous years. Another of our signature sets is our look at artists playing the blues who don’t normally play the blues. This year, we’ve got some choice morsels from Jeff Beck (performing a Leiber and Stoller classic no less!), Cyndi Lauper, The Guess Who, and Aerosmith.

You may have noticed that Henry and I finally got some help around here. Oh sure, we thank Shawn, Ian, and Ben every week, but just ask one of those guys to get you a cup of coffee or fetch the mail and they just stare at you. So, we went out and found Wil The Intern. Wil’s a young guy who doesn’t know squat about the blues, so he’s perfect for working with us. We’ve been educating him on all sorts of subjects including classic cartoons, bad movies, and WKRP In Cincinnati.

We’ve also been trying to get him up to speed on some of our more fun projects, like how Henry has been trying to breathe life into the Goldwax Record Label. You remember them, a small soul and rhythm and blues label based out of a drug store in Memphis. Great talent, absolutely no money. We’ve got three cuts from a compilation known as The Goldwax Story. It’s a story worth telling, and it’s helped us decide to look for other small labels to feature.

So, if you know any, be sure to drop us a line so we can investigate them and share it with the entire Time For The Blues Family! We’re expecting a lot of company for this year’s leftovers, and we’ve saved you a seat at the table.

We’ve got everything all laid out and ready to go, all we need is you and a few hundred of your closest friends. You know how to find us, point your browser to http://ideastations.org/radio or join us on one of the Idea Stations: 89.1 WCVN, Northern Neck; 90.1 WMVE, Chase City; and the flagships, 93.1 and 107.9 WCVE-Music, Richmond, where it’s always Time For The Blues!
 
Who actually got that first meal I cooked...


Monday, November 5, 2018

Eric McFadden ~~ Pain By Numbers

It’s time to get more comfortable with the 21st Century. How’s that for an oblique lede? What I mean by that is that I have to get more comfortable with receiving great music electronically. See, I love to get the albums I review as easy-to-hold honest-to-goodness CDs or records that I can put in (or on) a machine and play them.
There’s just something even more ethereal when I open an email from a trusted source, and the entire album is available to me for a couple of clicks. It’s a world that still confuses me. It’s not that I hate computers, but I certainly don’t trust this brave new world. Thank you Aldous Huxley.
It may be difficult to admit and understand, but I’m a blogger/reviewer that still does most of his work on one of five typewriters scattered around my house. Or on one of the many notepads that are in every single room in my house. If I get up to go to the kitchen, I never wonder what it is I wanted because it’s written on a sticky note that’s still in my hand.
But I guess I need to learn to embrace the new, even if it’s just to keep my kids from laughing at the old man.
All this stems from me receiving a copy of Eric McFadden’s brilliant album, Pain By Numbers, from a very reliable source. One of the people who keep me in quality music in any form, and I just had to get over my reluctance to sample it.
About two or three notes in I was over that reluctance, just by the sheer power of the performance of McFadden, who is signed to Tab Benoit’s Whiskey Bayou label. His playing is definitely his own style, but you can hear the same kind of power that Benoit brings to the table.
McFadden starts off the album with the very atmospheric and dark While You Were Gone. The guitar is fuzzy, underlying the pure emotion of the vocals and the rhythm section plays in a powerful, no nonsense way. It’s raw, exciting, and promises a lot for this album.
He follows up with Love Come Rescue Me, a song with a much lighter approach. Here, he’s filled with hope and the keys and chorus make the song soar. It’s striking in its contrast with the previous number and immediately highlights McFadden’s versatility.
The next track, Long Gone, has a dark patina as McFadden opens up his emotions. I like this song a lot and it has the feel of the swamp riding along the edges. Very cool, with a couple of surprise guitar licks on the break. It’s a unique quality and seems perfectly at home with his style.
The Girl Has Changed comes out of the gate rocking and tells the story of an old friend who has definitely moved in a different direction. It’s open as to what has been the catalyst for the change – could be drugs, fame, or any number of things. Strong lyrics and a solid approach. The guitar break truly soars and if you like your blues with a rock approach, this one is for you!
The next song opens with a light sound, but don’t be fooled. Skeleton Key quickly moves into a hard rocking, hard driving number that pushes forward with a great deal of power. Then, just when you think it’s hit the end, more soft noises followed by low growled vocals under a strong guitar run. Cool song…
McFadden then strips down the sound for I Never Listened Too Good. This is a solid Delta-style number that is powerful with just the barest essentials. It’s raw, truthful and the kind of song that makes you sit up and listen harder because it is so close to the heart of the blues. My favorite so far and one I would love to share on Time For The Blues.
He follows up with another emotional track, So Hard To Leave, that gets back to his electric sound. Putting these two songs together creates a strong connection and McFadden racks up another song that will tear at your soul.
You would expect a title like If I Die Today to be a morbid maudlin heart-tugger. What you get is a solid rocker that drives hard and takes no prisoners. This is another of the best songs on the album, but with its different lyrics really could not have been unleashed any earlier. Love this one!
He slows the tempo down for the follow up song, Fool Your Heart. The lyrics are kind of pop – a different approach from the previous few songs, but pleasant in their own way. McFadden is not a one-trick pony. We’ve all heard those artists who start off in one style on an album and all the songs sound the same. Eric McFadden is not one of those artists. Sure, there is an artistic consistency, but he approaches almost every song with a new look. He’s given us hard rock, soft ballads, and even with this song, he drives us with a powerful guitar. While I probably wouldn’t play this number on Time For The Blues, it is going on my walk around playlist and should stay there a long time.
He winner of the strangest title on the album award goes to The Jesus Gonna See You Naked. It’s a gospel flavored rocker that delivers on several fronts. The lyrics are strong and the pulsing guitar drives the song. Can’t ignore the harmonizing voices. For those who believe, we know that when we stand before the Almighty, everything is known and we can’t hide any of our thoughts or sins. Unusual song, but very moving.
The last couple of songs on the album are up next, starting with Don't You Want To Live. McFadden uses the fuzz and distortion that he used on the opening track, and his lyrics here are rushed and delivered with little pause, they spill out of his mouth all at once and take on a chanting style. More power, and definitely a walk on the dark side. Shakespeare may have said, “To Be Or Not To Be,” but then again, Shakespeare never had access to a soaring electric guitar to punctuate his thoughts…
The album ends on Cactus Juice, a little flamenco style opening slides into a beautiful jazz combo feel that would be at home on just about any intimate bandstand. McFadden has great feel and tone in his fingers and the drums add a steady rhythm. It’s a lovely instrumental that is most assuredly going onto my private playlist. What a nice surprise to close out a great album.
I gladly admit that I was not award of Eric McFadden prior to receiving this album, but after listening to it, I will never be able to say that again. I am thrilled by his musicianship and he has assembled a group of great players to help him achieve a remarkable sound. I highly recommend Pain By Numbers, and you can find out much more about him at his website: https://www.ericmcfadden.com/.

Now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to try to figure out how to download these songs so I can share them with you. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Movie Review ~~ Sidemen: Long Road To Glory

If there is ever a Mount Rushmore erected to celebrate the contributions of American Post War Blues Artists – and for my money, that’s a great idea – then two of the faces on that edifice would belong to Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. (Okay, since you're probably wondering who are the other two faces, for me, it would be Willie Dixon and B.B. King. Argue amongst yourselves…)
Muddy and Wolf achieved their success alongside a series of band members, who, while possibly unknown at the time, would eventually read like a Who’s Who of the Blues. Many of these sidemen would leave and start their own successful bands.
The list includes: Little Water Jacobs, Jimmy Rogers, Otis Spann, Willie Dixon, Bob Margolin, Pinetop Perkins, Junior Wells, James Cotton, Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin, Luther Johnson, Earl Hooker, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Jody Williams, Lee Cooper, Otis “Big Smokey” Smothers, Freddie Robinson, Detroit Junior, and Eddie Shaw.
Several of these great sidemen played with both of these legendary artists and Willie Dixon wrote a number of songs for each man. They both influenced an entire generation of blues and rock artists in America as well as in England and Europe. Without these men, the face of modern music in the second half of the 20th Century would be very different.
Both Wolf and Muddy needed the best musicians standing with them, and behind them, crafting that sound that made them so unique. Three of the men who helped shape that sound over the years were piano player Pinetop Perkins, drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, and guitarist Hubert Sumlin and prior to their passing within eight months of each other in 2011, all three of these men gave interviews about their times near and out of the limelight to documentary filmmaker Scott Rosenbaum.  
Rosenbaum has now added comments from more blues artists including the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Gregg Allman, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Tim Reynolds, Shemekia Copeland, Robby Krieger, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joe Perry, Joe Bonamassa, Guy Davis, Walter Trout, Eric Gales, Warren Haynes, Bobby Rush, Elvin Bishop, and Johnny Winter.
The result is Sidemen: Long Road To Glory, a riveting, must-see movie about the men and women who made the blues and continue to push it forward. It’s been difficult to see until now as the film did not receive a larger distribution deal. Now that it’s available as a DVD through the website of the film, a copy was provided for me by the American Music Educators, a very cool organization run by Ellen Foster and Tina Terry of the Tina Terry Agency, who organize talk back sessions to go with screenings of the film.
I will be writing more about AME in the very near future to discuss how they connect artists with groups who want to learn about different aspects of blues and the life that the artists led. You’ll want to stay tuned to find out who is working on this great program, but SPOILER ALERT, it’s some of the people interviewed in Sidemen.
Sidemen: Long Road To Glory is bookended by scenes of Pinetop Perkins walking to a piano in an empty theatre and playing. Playing not for an audience, but for himself and the love of the music. Telling the story of the migration out of the deep South by ambitious men who were drawn to the possibility of a better life, each of the three men recognized in the film endured hardship as they established themselves in a new world.
While all three eventually entered orbit around the two biggest stars in the blues universe, one problem with being a sideman is that the spotlight doesn’t fall on you, it lights the star. The money doesn’t pour into your pocket, it flows into the stars’. The adulation is all on the other person, and while your contribution may be of utmost importance and the world may now the leader’s name, you remain completely unknown to the general public.
For any fan of the blues, this oral history is heartwarming and heartrending at the same time. The music is remarkable and the stories told by and about Perkins, Smith, and Sumlin are at turns funny, serious, and occasionally so sad that it’s hard not to cry over the way they were treated at low points in their lives.
Using some of the techniques Ken Burns has popularized by making still photos look like moving pictures and a narration by actor/comedian Marc Maron, the film moves along briskly and at no time bogs down. Using a host of interviews with key blues artists, even the most casual fan can’t hope but come away deeply impressed by their contributions.
As there are so few of the original blues artists left, those that can bridge the era of World War II and beyond, this is an important document and should be treasured for preserving their stories along with their music.
One sad fact that is driven home during the last third of the movie is, despite Hubert Sumlin’s incredible influence on lead guitarists and the way he changed the way the guitar was played in blues and rock, he is still not in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. Even though the members of The Rolling Stones revere Sumlin and have lobbied on his behalf, their pleas have been ignored.
What’s it going to take to finally enshrine the man who influenced Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, and the young Jimi Hendrix?
Sidemen: Long Road To Glory is a must see for every blues fan, no question. It’s also a must see for anyone interested in the history and evolution of rock music. And it’s a must see for anyone who is a sucker for a great story of perseverance, dedication, and recovery from the hardest of times. See it in a theatre, a festival, or go ahead and shell out the bucks to buy your own copy.

You will not be sorry. 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Waydown Wailers ~~ Backland Blues

It was like Christmas again at my house. Several packages of CDs arrived and instead of sifting through all of them to see what special goodies might await, I opened one at random and pulled out the first disc I found.
Today’s winner is the Waydown Wailers, a group from near the New York-Canadian border that have just released a new album, Backland Blues. The band is made up of two guitar playing brothers, David and Christian Parker, Conner Pelkey on bass, and Michael Scriminger on drums.
The album starts off with a good blues rocker, Back Door Woman Blues. It’s a tried and true blues trope and the guys work the well worked theme and get a song that makes the listener’s ears perk up. I like them already and want to see what else they are going to do.
The follow up with some heavy electrics on I Want Your Soul. For a bunch of guys from up north, they do a pretty good of recreating a full force version of that Southern Delta sound. It’s energetic and packed with power. If you like your blues on the heavy rock side, this one is for you.
The first cover on the album is Elmore James’ Done Somebody Wrong. They catch the spirit of the song without being a slavish imitation. So far, I get the feeling these guys are going to go their own way when it comes to interpretations. I’m not sure which of the Packers is playing lead on the song, but he does a heck of a job.
Another Bump In The Road is a great song with a strong shuffle beat and Scriminger’s driving drums taking the lead. There’s also some great piano work from Professor Louie (of The Crowmatix fame). It’s a great honkytonk style song that should make a grumpy man happy. Nice!

Still rocking, but at a more deliberate pace, No Mercy follows. It’s not a bad song, a little more rock than blues, but give the guys credit, they are not locking in to the same exact sound on each song – for example there’s a sweet guitar break that combines a little more of that Delta sound, and the Professor’s keyboards offer up a little gospel pie.
The second cover is that great rocker, Dizzy Miss Lizzy. Although written and recorded by Larry Williams in 1958, it’s the cover by The Beatles in 1965 that most people remember. That version relied heavily on overdubs whereas the original was more of a twelve-bar boogie. This version is sort of a cross with some heavy guitar resembling the Beatles version, even with some of the high pitched wails in the background. Not a bad cover, but not as good as some of the other songs on the album.
The Waydown Wailers get back to their originals with the next song, Every Passing Mile. This one has a nice driving beat and a completely different sound than any of the other songs on the album, and some excellent guitar work and vocal harmonies. Kind of laid back and mellow. They stay in the land of the mellow for the country tinged Somewhere In The Middle. With a title like that, you know this is not a song of revolution or even rocking the boat, but it is the middle path that will get you through life more peacefully.
The next song features some gravelly vocals, I’m On The Hunt. This one is pure attitude with a dangerous edge. The lyrics are fairly simple but they are sung over keys and heavy bass that drive the song home. They go backwoods country on the follow up number, State Of The Union – Remix, that again delivers a lot of attitude and it’s the complete opposite of Somewhere In The Middle. This one is all about taking action to take back the country.
The last song on the album is also their last cover, Roger McGuinn and Jacques Levy’s Lover Of The Bayou. Originally performed by the Byrds and recently covered by Mudcrutch, the Waydown Wailers add their own juju to the song. It’s a decent cover although more for the Americana/Roots fans than blues fans.
I enjoyed listening to the Waydown Wailers very much and will be playing several of their songs on upcoming shows. Backland Blues is a solid addition to any blues lover’s library, especially those that like their blues with a side of rock. Be sure to look for them on their website where you can find out more about this release and their live shows. If you catch them on the road, be sure to drop me a line and tell me how you liked it.