Thursday, November 12, 2015

Versatile Whelan Releases The Story of Ike Dupree

There’s nothing like trouble to bring folks together. Of course some of those folks are trying to get a leg up over other folks, but let’s be honest, when it’s a natural or man-made disaster most people come together for the common good. I’ll never forget those people when the World Trade Towers came down, handing out water and food to exhausted relief workers.
Just ordinary people trying to help.
Or Katrina, when people in boats went looking for others that were trapped by the raging waters.
Again, just ordinary folks.
I’m not talking about the freaky kind of trouble where an outsider shows up with a harpoon to fight of evil like in one of Henry’s Favorite Movies™, Terror In A Texas Town. Nope, that’s just a little too out there. After all, how many people bring a harpoon to a gunfight?
I’m not even sure there’s a single harpoon in all of our little township. After all, you know what they say, “When you take away our harpoons, only criminals will have them.”
Around Jordan’s Branch, we’ve had some pretty serious high waters that rushed through tearing off a large chunk of the mountain. Nobody was really hurt, but we did have a few scary hours and there was some nasty damage inflicted on the sleepy little town. It’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of money to get everything ship shape again.
So to fix things up, we’re going to have a Brunswick Stew sale at the Juke Joint. I have my father’s old recipe, a giant cauldron, a couple of nearby teenagers for the paddling and stirring, a house band that returned to play all day long, and Henry walking around with a clipboard telling everybody what to do.
Just another day at work.
I was in charge of assembling the main ingredients in the kitchen; chicken, corn, stewed tomatoes, Vidalia onions, lima beans, and several “secret” ingredients. These would be ferried out at the right moments and added into the boiling mix while the easily distracted teenagers moved the paddle through the swirling and growing concoction.
While I was in the kitchen, I put on a new CD from Whelan that had caught my eye a few days ago. It was autographed. Can’t help it, ever since the Professor was a student teacher (and before) he’s been a sucker for autographs, especially on albums or CD covers. It doesn’t have to be profound, but a little personal note goes a long way with me.
So, I slide THE STORY OF IKE DUPREE into the CD player and start chopping food and almost instantly I am transported to a different place.
Whelan is Sid Whelan on guitars and vocals; Richard Huntley plays drums and clave; Mark Manczuck on various percussion, including congas, djembe, bongos, shaker, bell, and tambourine; Marco Panascia on bass; and Jerry Z on organ and piano. All of the 13 songs are written by Sid Whelan and I notice that there are a number of guest artists that play mostly brass and wind instruments.
I can’t wait.
Nothin’ But The Blues kicks it off with a strong guitar riff with some brass thrown in for emphasis. The lyrics are good and already I’m thinking what kind of show I can put this into. I’m liking it a whole lot already and wondering what else is Whelan going to unleash.
Next up is a slower more stripped down number with a shuffle beat, Every Time I See Her. It’s nice when a grown man admits to still being tongue-tied around a beautiful woman and even nicer when she lets us off the hook. This is a good gentle number and very sweet.
The horns really take over on the intro to Long Lonely Night, a slowed down ballad of loss and regret. It’s one of those that would have been right at home in a big band concert with singers in white tuxedos. Love this feel.
By now I am hooked, and while Whelan demonstrates their versatility, the feel for the material and their connection to it is striking. Sid Whelan’s guitars and his vocals evoke a different place and time. I’m looking through his bio to find out what else he’s recorded.
Next up is the title track, The Story Of Ike Dupree, and the Afro Cuban rhythms of Mark Manczuck and Richard Huntley take over and the horns are muted but punctuate nicely. The lyrics tell the story like some of the best Dylan – man, this is one assured songwriter and singer. Sid Whelan is the real deal and he has assembled an amazing band. I have to hit repeat on the player a few times to slide into this world deeper. The music blends so beautifully and the story is terrific.
Then the band slides into Ice Water with a funky back beat. Then the band ups the funk factor with One Way Street (Down The Line). In a way, Whelan reminds me a little of the Stax Sound with the use of the horns, but with his style of guitar and especially the lyrics, he’s crafted his own identity.
We are in more traditional territory with Down To The River. Jerry Z has his keys make a gospel sound and the backing vocals are nice and sharp and Sid Whelan really cranks us his guitar in a nice lead then brings in soft vocals. It makes them stand out that much more.
Randy Weinstein’s harp punctuates Too Cold Ohio Blues, a song with an old school feel. Love this stripped down almost primitive sound. Especially when he follows up with some more horns and a big band feel in the next song, The Rainmaker.
Following up these songs is the darkest number on the album, Blues Said: “Old Man…”. The light drums, trumpet, and plaintive lyrics paint a picture of loneliness and skid row like few have ever done. This is close to Tom Waits country and the effect is chilling.
He follows up with another story song, That Lil’ Fice and then a fun duet, Steak For Two. Versatile may not be a big enough word to describe Sid Whelan and Company. This is an album that should be in every music lover’s library because there is something for everyone.
The last song is Lighten Up, almost an adult lullaby that takes us into the darkness with a warm smile. Whelan has produced another winner and a tender ballad that goes down like a fine sipping whiskey.
What an album, their second. The first is called Flood Waters Rising, and the Professor is going out shopping a little later tonight to find it. I am very impressed by this CD and look forward to listening to Whelan for a long time.
If you’re interested, check them out at I hope they get some more pictures up there soon, because I need to “borrow” more for this blog. In the meantime, anybody ready for some stew?

Deep peace from The Professor in Jordan’s Branch.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Randy McAllister turns Gristle To Gold

As my friend Bobbie “The Babe” Barajas used to tell me, “Texas is its own world. Texans understand this, others don’t.” I think she was on to something, but being from a small town on a mountain never prepared me for the first dozen or so times that I went through Texas.
I used to play a comedy club in Houston, and one in Dallas, and always wanted to make a pilgrimage to Lubbock to see friends and pay homage to the late great Buddy Holly but never made it there.
The reality is, Texas may be several different worlds – flat plains with dust storms, big gleaming cities, amazing beaches, major universities, and some of the most amazing music you could ever hope to find. I loved Texas when I was travelling. Had some great times there and made more than a few friends.
Texas even has its own genre of Blues, called surprisingly enough, Texas Blues. It’s got more of a swing than Chicago Blues and has a different approach than West Coast Blues. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but once you hear it, you never forget it.
Texas has even produced its share of great blues artists. People like: Doyle Bramhall, Gary Clark, Jr., W. C. Clark, Albert Collins, Darrell Nulisch (who is being featured on an upcoming Time For The Blues), Chris Duarte, Billy Gibbons, the legendary Lightnin' Hopkins and T-Bone Walker, Joe "Guitar" Hughes, the raucous Long John Hunter, two of the great “Blind” artists - Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Willie Johnson , great legends like Janis Joplin, Freddie King, and Mance Lipscomb, one of my favorites Angela Strehli, the brothers Vaughan – Jimmy and Stevie Ray and don’t forget groups like The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Omar & The Howlers.
If that is not the most serious run-on sentence in the history of mankind, I don’t know what is…
Anyway, another name that needs to be added to that list is Randy McAllister, who has recorded a whole bunch of acclaimed albums that are not in my collection – yet. After hearing his latest, GRISTLE TO GOLD, I can’t wait to hear what else he has to say.
McAllister is the son of Texas-born drummer who has deftly followed in his father’s footsteps while carving out his own niche. Aside from playing the drums, McAllister is a world class harp player, having picked up the instrument while he was serving in the US Air Force. He was stationed in Boston and he learned from playing the blues clubs in the area.
All the while he was writing songs and quickly developed his raw style which led to recording contracts and a 2002 Grammy nomination. His band, The Scrappiest Band in the Motherland, handles a variety of musical styles while still driving hard from beginning to end. The band is mainly comprised of McAllister on vocals and harp and Rob Dewan on guitar. Matt Higgins plays bass on most of the tracks but Mike Morgan and Rich Stanmyre fill in on a few tracks. All of the 12 songs on the album are written by McAllister.
Drum duties are shared by Kevin Shermerhorn, Sean McUrley, and Eric Smith. Other guests include Maya Van Nuys on fiddle, Carson Wagner on piano and organ, Benita Arterberry and Andrea Wallace provide backing vocals, and Steve Howard and Jeff Robbins play trumpet and sax respectively.

The album starts out with a driving number, The Kid With The Really Old Soul, which sets everything up nicely. Both McAllister’s harp and Dewan’s guitar soar and the song strikes a chord – those kids we all meet that seem to know things beyond their years. It’s got that swinging beat that gets you off that seat and onto the dance floor (that is, if you’re lucky enough to catch ‘em live) and makes you move wherever you are.
The driving continues with the next song, The Push. But McAllister and company quickly shift tempos and catch you slightly off guard. Andrea Wallace leads us into Something That Don’t Cast A Dime, and McAllister’s lyrics take us into a bouncy little number. Dewan’s guitar trades off leads with the harp and you can almost see the fun the band is having putting this one together.
Then comes a title that kind of stops you in your tracks, Crappy Food, No Sleep, A Van and a Bunch Of Songs. This is the song that just about every traveling musician can relate. This reminds me of the life I used to lead when I was slinging jokes in just about every club in America, and loving it and hating it at the same time. This is a great boogie style number.
McAllister and company then slow things down with a nice ballad, I’m Like A Boomerang, a love story of a man that keeps coming back to his baby. No matter if it’s not right, you just can’t fight the attraction. They follow up with a driving number, You Lit The Dynamite, and we’ve all had things that just blow up in our face – and this one should remind us that we are the ones who lit that dynamite. Very clever lyrics.
So we’re at the halfway point of the album and it’s obvious that McAllister has a way of writing great lyrics and putting together great songs. His core group is very tight and I get the feeling that seeing them live would be a real treat. His vocals are good and his harp soars as it punctuates most of the songs. Dewan is a strong guitarist who adds a nice pyrotechnic touch when called for. I’m enjoying his background vocalists, loving their voices actually and can’t wait to hear more.
Next up, McAllister slows things down nicely to bare his soul with Someone’s Been There. This song is stripped down to its barest essentials. This is the way to grab the attention, start off softly and it forces us to become a part of the song. Carson Wagner’s piano is outstanding in this song as it captures that late night lonely feel perfectly. It’s also assuring that we’re not really alone – others have been there too and understand the pain. I love this song.
He picks up the funk with Bowling Pin, a hard driving number that has more to do with still standing when we should be knocked down. Then they slow things down again with Glass Half Full, a curiously optimistic look at how our life can be when the right person is around to share it with us. Usually with the Blues our glass is half empty and this is a nice twist to view it another way.
A Whole Lot Of Nothing is another song that is up tempo and reflects what our lives can seem like when things just aren’t going our way. Putting the song right behind Glass Half Full is an interesting choice and reminds me that our lives go in cycles of happiness and despair. It’s two sides of the same coin.
The album ends up with Hey Hooker and Ninja Bout Cha. I venture to guess that it may be the first time the word “Ninja” appears in the title of a blues song. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so. Hey Hooker is a nice little boogie number with good piano and percussion leading the song and the harp adding some nice spice. Ninja Bout Cha has a cool backbeat and McAllister’s lyrics are fun.

GRISTLE TO GOLD is a great addition to anyone’s library and believe me, I’m heading to my favorite Record Store to start looking for them. Meanwhile, if you want to find out more about Randy McAllister, check out his website at and remember, Don’t Mess With Texas…

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Billy The Kid & The Regulators Unleash I Can't Change

It’s been a long time since the Professor has made a trip to Pittsburgh. My only times through were when I was working the early comedy circuit and I used to regularly play the Pittsburgh and Ohio areas where I was regularly paid that most Pittsburghian of compliments and called a “jagoff” on more than one occasion.
I’m actually not sure of the proper spelling of said compliment, but I have no doubt that one of my more astute readers from Steel Town will enlighten me as to its correct usage.
Seriously, I’ve only been in the spring and summer and it was beautiful then. Lovely gardens, a terrific ballpark, some great food – I hear the winters are nothing at all like that and the place becomes a snowy icy mess. Thanks, but I get enough of that around here.
Still, I did want to return around Labor Day when my friends, Rapid Robert and his Blushing Bride Barbara finally tied the knot. Dear friends, but unfortunately family obligations kept my feet nailed to the floor, but we toasted them from afar and will see them later this year if all things go according to plan.
Part of that plan is to catch the Pittsburgh based Billy The Kid & The Refulators. This is one hard driving take no prisoners kind of electric blues band that starts off fast and pretty much takes us along on a heart pounding ride.
Their recent CD, I CAN’T CHANGE, actually hit my desk back in August during those aforementioned family obligations and somehow ended up in the middle of a pile of music. I truly wish I had come across it earlier as I could have been listening to it for a longer time.
If you like your blues in your face and rocking hard, this is the CD for you. After hearing them through my little speakers, I can’t wait to see them live!
Members of the band wrote six of the 10 tracks with front man Billy Evanochko co-penning three of those with fellow guitarist Jon Vellecorsa and slide guitarist James Doughtery writing the other three. The other songs featured are a couple of classics by Jimmy Reed and Robert Johnson and songs by Bernard Roth and Dave McKenzie.
The band consists of: Billy Evanochko on guitar and vocals; Jon Vallecorsa also on guitar and vocals; James Dougherty on slide guitar and vocals; Arnold Stagger on bass; Brian Edwards on drums and vocals and Ublai Bey on keyboards and vocals.
They had a lot of help on the CD, including the Steel Town Horns: Reggie Watkins on trombone; Rick Matt on Saxophone; and JD Chasin on trumpet; guitarists Damon Fowler and Sean Carney; harmonica wizard Jason Ricci; and vocalist Yolanda Barber. These additional players give the band a deep rich sound and the use of the horns adds a solid jump flavor to the proceedings.
Right out of the gate with the title track, I Can’t Change, the horns announce the arrival of something special. Dougherty’s lyrics are wicked and the entire song rocks. This is a tight number to open with and Barber’s backing vocals soar to just the right altitude.
Then the band kicks it into funky town with Ain’t Gotta Prove Nothing, the first song co-written by Evanochko and Vallecorsa. I’m not sure who plays which guitar, but the two trade off licks at the break and the song drives from the opening note to the final out.
Evanochko and Vallecorsa slow things down with a nice ballad, What Are We Fighting For. The Steel Town Horns and Barber are along to add their touches to the song and it really strengthens the sound.
Next up is a fun number co-written by Evanochko, Vallecorsa, and Bill Henry, Story Of The Blues. The song uses Bey’s keyboards as the canvas and the guitars and vocals paint the picture.  
Who is a rocking number written by Bernard Roth. It’s a solid driving song that sounds like it would be strong live. It’s got a raucous play between all of the instruments, including Ricci’s harp.
Then we get in to a sly area with That Darn Cat. No it has nothing to do with the Disney title of the same name, but once again Bey’s keys and Edwards’ drums add spice to the song. It’s a lot of fun.
Then there’s the story that I can’t identify with Slender Man Blues. My non understanding aside, this is a fun song that I’m sure is well received anytime it’s played live.
I’ve mentioned live performances a few times, because sometimes you can just tell that a group is at its best when it’s in front of hundreds of screaming sweating people who can give them tons of energy with which to feed on. Billy The Kid & The Regulators has been a top performer, recently taking 3rd Place in Memphis at the Blues Challenge.
That’s no easy task. I know they have released at least two albums prior to this one, and I plan of getting them in order to put together a segment for an upcoming show.
Next up is Jimmy Reed’s Can’t Stand To See You Go. Here the band reverts to an old school sound, stripping down to the bare essentials. Once again Ricci’s harp adds a nice bite to the song. They follow that up with another Dougherty composition, Saturday Night. If Time For The Blues had a theme song, it would be this one. It’s over the top fun and it reminds you just how much fun the music can be.
The CD concludes with one of Robert Johnson’s best, Me And The Devil Blues. Once again, they have stripped down the instrumentation to get closer to the original sound. It’s a nice nod to the blues that got us here from a band that pushing the boundaries for where the blues are going.

The Professor says to check out their website and find out when Billy The Kid & The Regulators are playing near you, and go see ‘em. You won’t be disappointed!

(Photo of Billy The Kid & The Regulators generously "borrowed" from their website. If you are the copyright holder and want it removed, please contact us and it will be done. Of course when you turn your back we're going to call you a jaggoff...)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Reverend Freakchild Delivers the Hillbilly Zen-Punk Blues

It wasn’t that long ago that the Professor stood at a crossroad. I wasn’t about to sell my soul to the devil or anything that dramatic, but I did have to choose a path to take: one that would have led me to a pulpit and the other would lead me to teach young minds.
Long story short, after a lot of serious introspection I realized I had more questions than answers so the classroom seemed like a better fit for me and I left the study of Philosophy for the study of all the Arts and I’ve been a better man for it.
Sometimes though, I have to wonder what that other path would have been like; lighting a path to heaven for my friends. But I realize that spirituality is a journey that each person has to take for him or herself. My own journey has brought me back home to Jordan’s Branch where I follow the seasons and find miracles in the nature outside my door.
And I find salvation in the music. There are sounds that bring us closer to the God I think I know – and if that’s not your thing, good on you, the Professor is not a preacher. I find spirit in different forms of music, but the things I try to bring to you have a power in them that I think make the world a slightly better place.
When I find a kindred spirit, it makes me happy, and when I get to write about them, I find a certain joy that I can’t quite explain. So when Fabulous Frank sent me a batch of new CDs (thank you Frank), I pulled out one from Reverend Freakchild called HILLBILLY ZEN-PUNK BLUES.
The title alone makes me want to slap it into the CD player.
The first track on the disc, All I Got Is Now, is one of seven written by the good Reverend. Another is a traditional song that he arranged. A kind of swamp infused number with some pointed lyrics. Freakchild reminds us of the preciousness of each single moment. I, for one, appreciate the reminder.
Next he lays down the first of three instrumentals, a rarity among albums these days. Angel$ of Mercy is a plaintive number, one that evokes melancholy by using simple riffs that are beautifully layered over each other. Freakchild’s guitar is followed by Hugh Pool’s lost harmonica and Chris Parker’s brushed drums. It’s a haunting sound.
Then he performs a song recorded by another man of the cloth, Reverend Gary Davis, It’s Gonna Be Alright. Freakchild and company give it a faithful old school rendering and it has a nice Gospel feel. He then preaches a little more modern gospel that was once espoused by underground illustrator and blues aficionado, Robert Crumb, Keep On Trucking. After all, we have to keep on going in this life, and the two songs create a powerful message with a funky beat.
The second instrumental, Lullaby, is a sweet song that displays Freakchild’s dexterity on the strings. It slides deftly into Moonlight Messages, another old school piece with decidedly modern lyrics. It’s another sweet song that evokes a slightly more innocent time.
By now it’s obvious that the Reverend Freakchild (and his many pseudonyms) is a very accomplished musician with a deep love of the blues, but not a slavish devotion. He adds other instrumentation and takes his music into different directions. He loves to explore his own path and he’s not afraid to step out where others have never dared to go. For that alone, he is to be commended and I can’t wait to pick up his other CDs and would love to produce a feature on his work for Time For The Blues.
The next song, She Wants My Name, was written by his lap steel and harps player, Hugh Pool. She Wants My Name is funky with some more wicked lyrics and Pools harp work is excellent in this number.
He follows up with an old-school sounding instrumental, Soul Transforming Realization. This one has an Appalachian feel to it, almost like one you would hear at a barn dance or church; that is until the drums take it for a ride. Once again when you think you are heading in one direction, Freakchild changes the course.
Tears Of Fire is a searing number, hard driving, the kind of song that would be at home in an Alt Rock environment. But Freakchild’s lyrics bring it back home to the blues. But this is Blues With Attitude and I would be willing to bet that this is a showstopper when performed live.
He ends the album with an old traditional song, I Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down. Again, we’re back in familiar territory with that swampy feel. Freakchild changes his vocal delivery quite a bit for the song and brings in a tent revival feel with a driving beat.
Hillbilly Zen-Punk Blues was a pleasant surprise. I discovered a talent of which I had been unaware. That’s always a delight in my eyes, but in this case it’s a revelation – The Reverend Freakchild is a talent worth knowing. I’ve not run into him before as an act on the festival circuit, but that may be because I haven’t gone looking for him.
But you better believe from here on out, I will be searching for the good Reverend and I’m sure our paths will cross somewhere in the future.
Because I have faith.
Peace from Jordan’s Branch.

(Picture of the Reverend lovingly emancipated from Reverb Nation. If you own the copyright and want it removed, let us know and we will go to church and do penance.) 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Deb Callahan Shows Plenty of Sweet Soul

A couple of days ago one of my students drove up to the mountain for a visit. It’s always nice to see a familiar face, and even though I’m on Sabbatical this semester, I’m still on a couple of Thesis Committees so I’ve stayed in touch, albeit mostly via email. She had gone into my office back at school to get one of my books and noticed a big pile of mail on my desk that she thought I might want to have.
Mostly it was the kind of academic junk mail you would expect, postcards for new text books, subscription forms for journals, that sort of thing. But there was also a pile of what was obviously CDs, and I could really use them. After all, Henry and I are still cranking out shows and those new CDs are what drive us forward each and every week.
When my student pulled up outside the Juke Joint, she carried was trying to balance all this mail in her hand while holding onto a cup of coffee in the other and knee the car door shut. It was a ballet move that so many have perfected and how we do it without falling on our collective faces I’ll never know.
She handed me the mail (I waited until she had left to throw out the detritus) and one package was opened.
“Sorry about this one Professor,” she said. “I needed something to listen to on the way up here. I hope you don’t mind.”
It’s a long trip from there to here so she must have listened to it at least four times. That’s a lot for a kid with a short attention span. It must have been good.
And let me tell you, it was. I listened to it while we talked about her thesis and I went over her notes and made a few suggestions. I filled up her coffee cup with real coffee, not the stuff she would have gotten at the bottom of the mountain, and hit repeat once again to listen to Deb Callahan’s SWEET SOUL.
Wow! What an album. Her voice is pure sweet soul, the kind of voice that just gets inside your head and lulls you into a happier place. I was not familiar with this Philadelphia singer before, but after listening to this album, I am a big fan.
Callahan wrote or co-wrote eight of the 13 songs on the album. Her co-writers include Allen James and Chris Arms and she covered songs written by Tom Waits, Dr. John, W. Williamson and the tandem of Candi Staton, Clarence Carter, Marcus Daniel, and Rick Hall as well as the duo of David Egan and Buddy Flett.
Her band consists of Callahan on vocals, Allen James on guitar, Reggie McBride on bass, Tony Braunagel on drums and percussion, Mike Finnigan plays organ and piano, and Jimmy Powers on the harmonica.
Johnny Lee Schell plays slide guitar on one song and adds backing vocals as does Teresa James, Mike Finnigan, Leslie Smith, Lydia Hillard, and Callahan herself.
Callahan starts out with an up-tempo number Big Love that has a nice swinging feel and gives you a sample of her smoky voice. It’s just the promise of some sweet sounds to come. James has a nice guitar run to add a little sparkle to the break. There’s no feeling quite like that of a new love.
Then she gets into some strong blues territory, I Keep Things Running, which assures us that she is the woman in charge and we better not forget it. Great song.
Callahan then shifts gears with the fun rocking song, Shakin Up. This is one where the music is bouncy but the lyrics reveal the truth about the situation. I love this song.
She slows things down nicely with I Am Family. It has a sweet soulful country feel, but with an edge to the lyrics. Very sweet and a good and truthful story to tell.
By now you should get the feeling that there is no way to pigeonhole Deb Callahan. She transcends genres and that’s going to make it difficult for some people to discover her. Let me assure you, her voice is stellar and her lyrics are poignant. Don’t worry if I use labels on her songs that you may not like – just listen and I think you’ll agree that she’s the real deal.
She keeps things slow with Sweet Feeling, but it is more pronounced, a little stronger beat. Her voice plays off the keyboards and drums for a small combo sound. James saves his guitar for a bit using it for a later counterpoint.
She picks up the next song with a funky opening riff. Born To Love You is an anthem of love to that special one person that we should all be so lucky to find. She adds a gospel flavor shortly after getting going and it adds nicely to the song.
Then we’re back to bouncy fun number of driving home to be with that person. Seven States Away is a travelogue to love as she works her way north to get home. I’ve definitely known that feeling crisscrossing the world to get back. This would have been my jam for those days.
After that, Callahan serves up Tom Waits’ gospel tinged Way Down In The Hole. It has a funky kind of samba rhythm in the background and James’ guitar work is very strong as are Mike Finnigan’s keyboards. She then slows things way down with Step Back. This is a sloe gin fizz of a song that builds as Finnigan and James take over the music and Callahan’s low notes bring it to life.
The pace stays slower and deliberate with You Don’t Know Your Mind, when love hits a patch of trouble. It’s the kind of song where the crossroads are staring you in the face and it’s time to make a decision. The strong woman who is in control needs to find her own way, and if you can’t come along, well Jack, so sorry. Tony Braunagel’s drums take on the staccato beat of someone walking away.
Callahan is back to rocking it with Crazy ‘Bout You Baby, a sweet driving song with a solid beat. This one is probably a big hit to see live.
She finishes up with a couple of fine songs, Slow As Molasses, Sweet As Honey, which is now one of my favorites and Dr. John’s I Been Hoodood. You better be careful while listening to Slow As Molasses, Sweet As Honey because you just might fall in love with whoever is sitting next to you. This is my favorite song on the album and will be playing it a lot at closing time.
She finishes up with a swampy version of I Been Hoodood that adds just the right touch of funk to the CD.
You can’t go wrong with this CD, the only negative I have is the cover art with the red headed Callahan dressed in colors that blend into the wall behind her. She shouldn’t blend in – she stands out. And if she ever appears in my area, I’ll be the first one standing out in line to see her.

For more information, check out her website at

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Brad Wilson Brings the Blues Thunder

I know that I write a lot about the seasons. Jordan’s Branch is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and when you live on a mountain, the seasons are spectacular. Our winters may be colder, but our springs and autumns are amazing, and summer is nice and warm without being too hot.
It’s the transitions that excite me. It’s the moving of one area into another that are so interesting. In music, it’s moving from soft to loud or vice versa – you never want to stay the same.
In the Blues, sometimes there is a sameness to a particular artist. I’m not talking about just playing in one style – not that many artists leave their genre. How many Chicago style electric blues bands slow it down to play a Piedmont style ballad? If you’re comfortable in the Delta, you don’t have to play West Coast Jump Boogie.
But some artists like to combine styles in order to create their own unique sound. Jimmy Buffet successfully melded Country with the Caribbean and created his own distinct brand of music. And that is what Brad Wilson is trying to do with his sound.
This young artist has taken California surf-rock and mashed it up with the blues and is developing a fresh approach. He’s not all the way there yet, but for me, watching those transitions is a lot of fun.
His fifteenth album (and yet he's so young) BLUES THUNDER which is released on the Cali Bee Music Label has got a lot of hits and a few near misses (at least for me) but it is definitely worth listening to, and you might even find a couple you’ll want to keep around to jam to while driving.
All of the 12 songs on the disc were written by Wilson and he shows a versatility in his approach to writing. He covers different subjects and allows the members of his five-piece band to take a turn in the spotlight.
Wilson opens with a nice guitar riff as they launch into Is It Any Wonder, a slower paced number that smolders. His smoky low key vocals underscores his lyrics but that soaring guitar is what brings us in to the story.
He then increases the energy and pace for Change It Up. Here he’s commenting on the hits he’s taken and how he’s got to “keep on knocking” in order to survive and thrive. It’s a pretty cool number and again, he’s got some solid licks that run throughout the song.
Next up is one I love, Blue Shadows, a slow slow torch song that grabs you by the heart and holds on tight. For the first time his vocals are more powerful, more mature and Kirk Nelson’s keyboards provide the canvas for Wilson’s guitar. This could be played at closing time in just about any bar anywhere.
Then we get a little rocking number that nicely mixes in Tumbleweed Mooney’s (gotta love that name) harp. Step By Step moves nicely and sounds like it would be a great number to hear live. The title track lives up to its name. Blues Thunder rumbles down from on high and Wilson runs up and down his guitar with some fast flying fingers. This one is sort of Anthem Rock themed but would sure be a crowd pleaser at any festival.
Let’s Go Barefootin’ It is an unusual one. Here Wilson has mixed a great blues music background with some beach music lyrics. I have to be honest, the two didn’t mix as well as I would have liked – for me anyway. I’ve never been a beach music guy – but his music for this one is solid. When you listen to it, I would appreciate you dropping me a line and letting me know what you thought of it.
Before you start thinking badly about the Professor, I would like to go on record to say that I have always felt it is the job of the young generation to challenge everything that has gone before them in order to find their own way. Not everything is going to work, and some of us older critics may throw up a roadblock, but that is no reason NOT to push that envelope. Run with it if it’s what you want to do. The audience will either find you or won’t – but that’s up to them.
Then we’re back with a more traditional approach with My Faith Has Been Broken. Now that’s a blues title and it’s one you’ll be hearing on the show from time to time. We’ve all been there, when the blues pile up so high you feel like there’s no way to go and everything you hold dear crumbles away. Wilson shows a lot of promise with this song.
After that is Cool Runnin’, more of a soft rock driving song than a blues tune, but it’s kind of catchy and I’ll be putting it on my driving list. Wilson’s guitar has a nice almost Santana feel. Next time I head to California to see my friends Casino Kevin and Left Coast Tracy, I’ll be listening to this tune.
Home is another one that has more soft rock in it than blues, but when music is written from the heart it has plenty of appeal. The sentiment is nice, the sound is good – kind of a ‘90’s college rock vibe, but that’s all part of Wilson’s pedigree. Then comes a swinging number that will be playing on Time For The Blues very soon, Black Coffee At Sunrise. Man this song is fun, and Amrik Sandhu’s drums rock. You’ll hit repeat on this one several times. Kind of rockabilly, early Sun feel and you’ll dig this one a lot.
Sugar Sweet has some nice guitar work but falls into that rock category. It has an interesting late night feel to it, and Wilson saves some of his best pyrotechnics for the song. He finishes the album with Never Again, a number that combines some hard guitar with soft lyrics that underscores the unique feel to the CD.
You can’t deny Wilson or his band have a good sound and strong talent. They push envelopes and create their own space. Not everyone is going to like their sound for whatever reason, but I found a lot to recommend in the album. Plus, I think it’s exciting to see a talent explore their world and find new ways to express their ideas.
I would  check out this CD, and catch him live if you can. You can find out all sorts of things about Wilson and Blues Thunder at Don’t let the California surf look fool you, this guy has got some serious chops.
Now Mrs. Professor is standing at the door tapping her foot and holding a rake. Something tells me I’m out the door doing yardwork for a while. Time to put fresh batteries in my Discman (yes, I still use one) and get to work.

Peace from Jordan’s Branch.

(Photo of Brad Wilson by Alex Centrella was lovingly "borrowed" from Wilson's website. If you want it removed, you'll have to come to my house and rake the leaves.)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Crooked Eye Tommy Delivers a Straight Ahead CD

The wind is always the way you can tell when the seasons are changing. Around here, Fall and Winter come early and Spring takes its own damn time getting here. When the wind starts biting with a little of that colder Canadian air, what few tourists are left take their snapshots of the leaves changing on the mountain and get the hell out of here.
Can’t really blame ‘em. Winters here are not for the faint of heart. We lose power a lot and sometimes we get snow that nobody else sees. It gets cold too – not the kind of city cold they get in Richmond or points east, but the kind of cold that bites you and makes every step torture, every puff of wind a stinging pain.
But if you can live with the sound of generators firing up all over town, the solitude is kind of nice. Fall still has some beautiful days and nights before giving away to the punishing winter months – and when I have quiet evenings, I get to open up packages of CDs and even answer a few emails.
I got a very nice email from a West Coast PR Guy who usually turns me on to some decent acts. A lot of these bands would fly under my radar because I so seldom get out to the Left Coast these days and some of my friends that help me out – West Coast Tracy and her husband Casino Kevin have been out of  touch following the Dodgers woes, while Director Bekah and Dangerous Dave are sprucing up the house waiting for the new baby so have been a little too busy to check out new acts for me.
So Downright Doug sent me a note asking if I would check out a group he’s liking and wants to get the word out. He tells me they’ve only been together a few years but have a good sound. He hasn’t steered me wrong yet and since I’ve got some down time, sure why not.
I’m glad I opened that email – Crooked Eye Tommy has got a tight old school sound that is brand new but somehow seems so familiar. The music is tight and the vocals are solid – this is great listening music and still can make you groove the night away.
The name of the album is BUTTERFLIES & SNAKES and just like the opposite images that conjures up, the band plays off its musical yin and yang to produce an album that is strong and yet soft at the same time. It’s not exclusively blues – there’s touches of rock and a certain California sound that show up, but it’s a good mix and the kind of CD just about everyone will enjoy.
The band consists of eleven songs penned by Crooked Eye Tommy front-person and band namesake Tommy Marsh and Tommy's brother, guitarist-vocalist, Paddy Marsh. Other members include Glade Rasmussen on bass, Tony Cicero on drums, and Jimmy Calire handling the saxophone, piano, and Hammond B3.
The opening track is an autobiographical number Crooked Eye Tommy, and it is a down-home swampy number that kicks things off nicely. Apparently Tommy Marsh was born with a couple of lazy eyes and he’s used this vision of the world to craft his blues.
The next track Come On In features some nice lead guitar and some wicked lyrics. This is one I definitely could see playing on Time For The Blues. The rhythms section of Rasmussen and Cicero give a nice dark beat to this song. Check it out.
Then there’s I Stole The Blues, which namedrops many great acts and takes over where The Blues Had A Baby (And They Called It Rock ‘N’ Roll) left off. A simple driving beat with little bits pulled from several artists – homages to their sound, with more than a little raucous saxophone from Calire.
Time Will Tell is a cool sound that isn’t quite blues and not really rock. It’s somewhere near that sweet soul sound that I love. This is where the title Butterflies & Snakes comes from – used as a description for women. It’s a very cool song and one I’ve been listening to for a while and enjoying the groove.
After that is Tide Pool, a ballad that again slides out of the blues genre to create its own sound. I could see this as a slow torch singer number. The guitar build is nice and somewhat reminiscent of Carlos Santana’s bridges in numbers.
After The Burn is perhaps my favorite on the CD. It builds on the spooky lyrics of Come On In with a more sophisticated approach that combines guitars and Hammond B3. The Santana reference is again very applicable. I’ll be playing this one for some time to come.
Before you start to thinking of Crooked Eye Tommy as some Johnny Come Lately One-shot band, they represented Southern California in a recent ICBM and from what I hear, they pretty much tore Memphis apart. They were semi-finalists (no easy task) and have made fans from all over the world. This is their first album and definitely won’t be their last.
We’re back to the down-home sounds with Somebody’s Got To Pay, good bouncy number with an upbeat sax solo that belies its darker lyrics. That’s the joy of the blues – the music might get you, but the lyrics tell the truth.
Love Divine starts out with a nice guitar hook and pulls you into the song nicely. It’s a good mix with a solid guitar solo that lifts it up and out. I bet this is a good song to see live. If they ever get east, or I head west, trust me, I intend to find out.
Then it’s time for Mad & Disgusted, a faster paced fun number with deep blues roots with more than a touch of barrelhouse blues. Once again we look at the modern world to see just what’s going wrong with things. Another great dance tune – we should all take advantage and dance while the Titanic hits the iceberg!
The band slows things down considerably for Over And Over, a very strong blues song that just tears at your soul listening to this man spill his guts. It’s evocative and emotional and the kind of despair we all know too well. An exceptional song.
We’re back home for Southern Heart, a tune that straddles the country and blues world. When you look at it, the two have more similarities than differences, so just kick back and relax. It’s well played and the vocals are sweet – a good way to end a fine CD.
Check out their CD and the band at And if you happen to be out in Southern California, check ‘em out live and tell the Professor how you liked the show. I’ll be here on the mountain making chili and waiting for the winds to change.