Monday, January 27, 2020

Jangling Sparrows Fly High with Bootstraps And Other American Fables

I first encountered Paul Edelman and his band Jangling Sparrows on their 2017 album, 140 Nickels. That album came my way from a publicist who knew I have a deep appreciation for that amalgamation of music known as Americana. Part rock, part country, part folk, part blues, it’s just pure-bred American-mongrel music as my old friend Page Wilson would say.
I have always loved performers like John Prine, and Steve Goodman, guys that weren’t satisfied to just play one genre. They wrote and performed music that moved them – some were fun, others deep, and still others pure poetry. Heck, Prine made an a capella gospel number the title track of Diamonds In The Rough. I still sing it when no one’s listening.
Without hesitation, I put Paul Edelman in that pantheon. I think he’s a superb writer and his voice tells a story with every song. Many of you rely on this blog for the latest in blues, but this new album, Bootstraps And Other American Fables is pure Americana. There’s one song that’s fairly bluesy, but not in a typical AAB rhyme scheme.
Aside from Edelman as writer, vocalist, and guitarist for the band are Louis Stein on bass and Joe Grey on drums. If there are any overdubs, I missed them, it sounded pretty much like it was recorded live – and that appeals to me very much.
Estuaries opens the album with a sweet psychedelic feel. This is so reminiscent of the lyrics and music of the late ‘60’s – a time when rock was unpredictable and more than a little challenging. Edelman is a songwriter that is steeped deep in the tradition of the bard poets and singers. Enjoy this ride, but be prepared to expect the unexpected, this is not prefabbed music with a lot of autotune and sanitized for your protection. These are musical artists with a lot of muscle behind their art.
Next up is All That I Was Never Afraid, and I would like to ask a question: Who among us have done something when we were younger that continues to haunt us for the rest of our life? Probably every one of us. This is a song of an older person telling a younger person that he knows what they are going through from experience. Strong song.
The Jangling Sparrows then follow that with Carolyn. It’s a sad part of human nature that when someone from the wrong side of the tracks finally makes good, that can trigger all kinds of deep seeded insecurities. Can people actually see us for what we are or for the illusion we’ve become?
She is easily one of the greatest American Heroes, and the JS pay homage to her in Hey! Hey! Harriet Tubman. Born into slavery, she escaped and managed to help some 300 plus slaves make their way to freedom along the underground railroad. She deserves an anthem, and now she gets one!
Speaking of moving on down the road, Highway Jawn breathes new life into the “life on the road” trope. It’s not just about traveling and playing, it’s about meeting new people, making new connections, making people feel special in their own home town and discovering the magic in every new place. I spend a number of years on the road and always enjoyed getting out and seeing every new town. I hated coming in to a town and going straight to a hotel and then to the venue rinse and repeat. Take time, find your world.
After that is Follow Me Down. This one is a dark country flavored tune with some of the best poetry in the lyrics on the album. It reminds me of some of Bukowski’s favorite subjects: women, muses, bars, and a slow descent into the hell of madness. Very cool, and if I had an Americana show, this one would be getting played pdq.
From there the band moves onto True Fine Now. It’s a good follow up to the previous song, they connect through the idea that life flies by quickly and all we really have are moments that are strung together on some kind of connecting thread. We hope and pray that we will collect as many of those moments as we can so that we can feel like we have accomplished something by the end of our life.
Violynne follows and it’s a song about being knocked down and getting back up again. Resilience is something more people need in their lives, but it’s often in short supply. But if we don’t get back up, we really surrender our ability to control our own life. Maybe I read too much into Edelman’s lyrics, but I find him to be a first rate songwriter and it’s a shame that music like this rarely finds its way onto our airwaves.
I actually had to look up the subject of the next song, Joshua Chamberlain. Chamberlain was a highly educated man – a college professor who spoke nine languages and who joined the Union Army and fought in the Civil War, most notably at the Battle of Gettysburg. After the war, he returned to his teaching, became President of his University, and served four terms as Governor of Maine. Edelman brings the story up to date and personalizes it and it inspires us to be those who serve to preserve our country. Impressive, and makes a nice book end with Hey! Hey! Harriet Tubman. Politics aside, it would be nice to have a few more leaders like Joshua Chamberlain.
After that is Label’s All Mine, a story of an old man who runs a still on his property and guards it jealously. The opening cackles sent a chill up my spine. It’s definitely a swampy story song and a lot of fun. The next time I catch the JS, I really hope they open with this one. I may have to sneak this one onto Time For The Blues.
They close out the album with Bootstraps, a song for those who have hit rock bottom and continued to dig deeper. It’s the American Success Story to be able to pull yourself up from those metaphorical bootstraps, and damn near impossible to do. Still we continue to believe in myths and try again and again. Try and fail, it’s a sad cycle and it makes a great ending for this surprising album.
The Jangling Sparrows are based out of Asheville, North Carolina, one of my favorite cities in the entire world. For those of you who have never experienced this jewel of the Smoky Mountains, it’s a lovely town filled with eccentrics, poets, and dreamers. The closest city I’ve found like it is Portland, Oregon. The art life in Asheville is vibrant and accommodating and is a perfect place for an artist like Paul Edelman.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Time For The Blues ~~ January 18, 2019

Hello there, Henry Cook and I would like to welcome you to the new year. Yeah, we’re a little bit late, but that's not unusual around here. We tend to miss a few deadlines in the pursuit of the best music and once in a while a decent joke. We hope you will join us this Saturday Night a 10 either on VPM-Music or stream us at 
There’s really something about the word “new.” New Year, new attitude, new baseball season; it always gives us a feeling of hope. Let’s add to that a new Time For The Blues. For this week we’re featuring the BB King Blues Band and Gracie Curran. 
It’s hard to believe that the world lost the immortal Riley B. “B.B.” King in May of 2015. King was a great ambassador of the blues, appearing around the world and crossing all sorts of lines to bring the music to audiences that may not otherwise have contact with the blues. Since his passing, members of his touring and recording band have gotten together for shows and now they have released an album that includes reworkings of great King classics. 
We have three of those classics for you and a fourth that features BB King playing with another master of the guitar, Eric Clapton from their album, Riding With The King 
After that we’re going to introduce you to Gracie Curran who has a very cool new album out on VizzTone. It’s called Come Undone, and it is killer. We’ll feature three from that album, and I found one where she performs a duet with our pal Mick Kolassa called Double Standards 
By the way, we just received a copy of Mick’s latest CD, Blind Lemon Sessions, and I can guarantee that it will be on my list of the best discs of 2020. I can’t wait to feature some of the great songs that are on this album. Look for a rave review over the next couple of days!  
Shameless plug over, we’re going to take one last ride with Cadillac Baby! We have already done five – count ‘em – five sets with the various artists who performed for this independent label in Chicago. The label (Bea & Baby Records) never had serious financial backing but managed to record several great artists on the way up, and a few on the way down. Regardless, they turned out some damn fine music, and thanks to our friends at Earwig, we are able to share them with you.  
But wait, there’s more…How about some new releases from Bruce Katz off of his new Solo Piano album. Katz came through Richmond not long ago to play and Buz & Ned’s Real Barbecue. He has an amazing resume with stints with the Allman Brothers to heading up the jazz piano program at Berklee. The album is mostly jazz oriented, but so good. How about the Altered Five Blues Band? These guys have been on the show before and never leave without rocking the joint. We’ve got a great one from their recent album, Ten Thousand Watts, that we know you’re going to love. How about one from Alex Lopez from his new album, Yours Truly, Me…? What, you don’t know Lopez? You will after this show.  
If you’re a regular listener, we know you’re going to do whatever you need to do to join us at 10:00. If you’re new to Time For The Blues, drop by and find out what everybody is talking about.  
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 here, or join us on one of these great VPN Stations: 89.1 WCVN, Northern Neck; 90.1 WMVE, Chase City; and the flagships, 93.1 and 107.3 VPM-Music, Richmond, where it’s always Time For The Blues!

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

A Tribute To Sean Costello: Don’t Pass Me By

Sean Costello did more on this earth in his 28 short years than most people accomplish in a lifetime. His near flawless guitar work set high standards for future players and it often overshadowed his vocals and songwriting, even though those were also of the highest quality.
He came on like a comet, sudden and on fire, starting at the age of 16. Before long he had performed with the likes of Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin, and Susan Tedeschi. He was even touring with Tedeschi and his band became her backup band while on tour.
Costello averaged about 300 dates a year, crisscrossing the country time and time again, then heading to Europe, and returning. When he wasn’t touring or recording, he would keep busy playing clubs in and around his home in Atlanta.
After he passed the day before his 29th Birthday of an accidental overdose, his family revealed that Costello had been suffering from Bipolar Disorder and had been in a manic phase for several days. They set up a fund, The Sean Costello Memorial Fund For Bipolar Research – the website is at the end of this entry – and the profits from this tribute album will be donated to that fund.
“This album” is actually titled A Tribute To Sean Costello: Don’t Pass Me By on Landslide Records, and is a compilation of great artists who have recorded one of Costello’s songs. It was a lengthy labor of love for the producers bringing together an outstanding collection of talent. It’s a bittersweet moment, realizing that some of the people most associated with Costello passed before they could add their voices. I’m speaking of Nick Curran, Hubert Sumlin, and Levon Helm. Two of the artists who played in this album have also sadly left us as well. We will have the music of Candye Kane and Mike Ledbetter, but our world is a little darker without them in it.
Albert Castiglia starts the album off with Same Old Game. It’s a dark number, a surprising choice for Castiglia who is known for his wild guitar playing. Here, he’s more controlled, he melds into the band and sets the table for what’s to come. Okay, I spoke to soon. Castiglia delivers one hell of a break just shy of the 2:00 mark.
Next up is Steve Mariner performing How In The Devil. The staccato guitar burst in the opening will wake up the soundest of sleepers. The fuzzy delivery adds a lot to it. Hearing so many good renditions of Costello’s work makes me smile, but also makes me wonder what if. This tribute is flat out great and we’re only two songs in.
Watermelon Slim and Dennis Gruenling team up on an electrifying version of Who's Been Cheatin' Who, the shortest song on the album at 2:48. Drummer Ray Hangen lets loose with a flurry of percussion and Gruenling shows why he’s a master of the harp. Slim is no slouch on the vocals and even the honkytonk keys rock the joint. I know I’ll be playing this one – a lot!
Grammy-nominated pianist and vocalist Victor Wainwright takes a turn with the slower, mellower Don't Pass Me By. After the frenetic energy of the previous two songs, it’s good to take a breather and just slip into the world of the song. This is a song Costello wrote with Amy Helm, Levon Helm’s daughter and a great musician in her own right. Helm will perform on the last song on the album.
One of my favorite performers is the late Candye Kane, who worked with the amazing guitarist Laura Chavez and the two teamed up for their rendition of I've Got To Ride. Chavez does her magic on the guitar and Kane unleashes that tremendous voice of hers. Such a great song.
No discussion of great guitarists can take place without Bob Margolin being mentioned early on. Here, he teams up with harpmaster Dennis Gruenling on a stellar version of Low Life Blues. The duo delivers one of the best cuts on an all-star album. This one is deep deep blues.
Seth Walker takes us through a beautiful soulful version of All I Can Do. This one could have been a torch song during the Big Band era. Walker’s mellow delivery is ethereal and heartbreaking. Gorgeous song…
Sonia Leigh performs Costello’s No Half Steppin' with intensity and her vocals are razor sharp. I love the keys in this one and her delivery is focused and alive. When you listen to the lyrics against we learned about Costello’s struggles, it becomes even more poignant and powerful.
One of the hardest working bands over the last couple of decades is definitely The Nick Moss Band. Here, Moss was working with the late Mike Ledbetter on a version of Hard Luck Woman. This is one that mixes blues with Southern Soul. It’s a great choice and a great song. Time to rediscover some of the originals to go with this great tribute album.
You want blues that are steeped in the motherland of the blues? Well Brothers and Sisters, look no further than the North Mississippi All Stars          who drop the powerful and emotional song. Father. Their work on this one is a solid punch, and if you’re not already a fan of the group, you will be after this song.
The next group, The Electromatics, threw me as I wasn’t able to place them. They are an Atlanta-based blues, jazz, Americana band and their lead singer/harp player, Jon Liebman  often played and recorded with Costello. Their contribution is She Changed My Mind and it’s a jumping swinging number that’s a lot of fun. Hope these guys get a little more exposure, or I take a trip to Atlanta. Fun times.
Another brilliant guitarist and singer, Debbie Davies is up next with her version of Don't Be Reckless With My Heart. Davies gives us some blues that rock and takes off on her guitar. She sings with verve and plays like a demon. More great work. It’s amazing to see what artists can do when they have a deep emotional connection to the music and to each other.
I’m also not familiar with the next band, The Morning Life who perform You're A Part Of Me. It’s a lovely song and a nice addition to the album. I need to find more information about the group. I’ve found a Facebook page and some information on Reverb Nation. I’ll need to do some more research as they do a fine job on their track.
The next song, Can't Let Go, is performed by Wauchope/Zachary/Prather and I’m definitely going to have to do some serious research. I love the congas and the organ in the song. The lead singer gives a wonderful soul performance and this is a rhythm and blues song that I could listen to for hours.
The album closes out with a duet featuring Oliver Wood and Amy Helm          performing Feel Like I Ain't Got A Home. Looking at the title against Costello’s bipolar disorder, it causes a twinge of pain. Especially paired with the previous song (despite it’s happy delivery) it just seems like Costello was able to pull the disease out of his body one note and word at a time. This closing song is pure emotion and a powerful statement to make.
Sean Costello meant so much to so many people, and losing him to a condition like bipolar disorder is very painful. Costello actually meant even more to people who only brushed against him when they listened to his music or saw him perform. His family is now trying to spread that influence even further by donating profits from the sale of this amazing album – A Tribute To Sean Costello: Don’t Pass Me By – to fund further bipolar research.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Guy Bélanger ~~ Eldorado

It’s difficult to believe that it was way back in 2017 (remember that simpler time) that I first heard and got the chance to write about Canadian Harmonica Maestro Guy Bélanger. Rooted deeply in the blues, Bélanger explores many different styles of music, most notably jazz, but also all forms of roots music.
Bélanger’s music has often been used as soundtracks for his brother Louis. They have collaborated on three films: Post Mortem (1999), Gaz Bar Blues (2003), and The Timekeeper (2009). This makes perfect sense to me as after listening to Bélanger’s music, images are evoked in his playing.
His latest disc is Eldorado and features Bélanger on harp, lead vocals, and even piano on one track. Joining him are Robert MacDonald on guitars; Marc-Andre Drouin on bass, and Michel Dufour on drums. Guests include Eric Longsworth on violincello on one track; Paul Picard on percussion on three songs; Bob Stagg on B3, piano, and Wurlitzer on three songs; Mathis Haug on vocals and guitar on one track; Stef Notari on percussion; Ben Rapetti on bass; and Rod Huard on backing vocals.
Seven of the eleven tracks on the album are written or co-written by Bélanger.
The first song on the album is an instrumental, Carving The Wind. I love the title and I enjoy Bélanger’s energetic playing. For those who believe the harmonica is an easy instrument to play, come listen to a real master give you a class on how it’s done.
Van Morrison’s Bright Side Of The Road follows and Bélanger and company deliver a good version of a great tune. The vocals are handled by Huard and his smooth delivery adds a new dimension to the proceedings.
Next up is the title track, Eldorado, that mythical city of gold searched for by European explorers after they found their way to the New World. Bélanger uses some haunting guitar and some different drumming to create the dreamy mood. This is a lovely instrumental that is going on my late night playlist.
Next up is some sweet crooning that flies over Stagg’s keyboards. When Will I Know is a slow emotional question set to music. It’s delicate and a delightful number from an album that’s a unique experience with every song.
There’s a bit of funk in the bassline for Wicked. This one plays like a fun jazz jam with each player stepping in for a run before handing off to another member of the band. Low key fun for this instrumental, just let the journey take you wherever you want to go!
Bélanger plays the piano as well as harp on Hummin’. Now this is blues, incorporating that well known delta beat into the song and adding sweet soaring harp licks that could have been handed down by the masters of old. This is a song that basically kicks ass and invokes those who have gone before and opened the door for the current artists.
Next up is an exploration of Indian music dedicated to the Goddess of the Ganges River. Ganga is an instrumental that explores some of the images one might have of India. It’s a lovely meditation and a great soundtrack for meditation.
Prince’s Sign O’ The Times features vocals and guitars from Martin Haug, a friend that Bélanger made in France some years ago. It’s always interesting to me to see how musicians reinterpret well known songs to bring a new perspective to the work. As Prince is one of the premiere singer-songwriters-multi instrumentalist-producer-etc, people take on his work at their own risk. Bélanger and Haug put their own stamp on it in a respectful but not slavish manner. Cool cover.
Hope & Faith are two very powerful words that we should take to heart and give to the people in our lives. This was written after Bélanger played a two-week tour of Paris after the 2015 attacks. There was tension, fear, and mistrust everywhere and he played a concert that featured a “harmonica choir” comprised of children who were understandably shaken. But through the performance they began to come out of their shells, giving their parents hope and faith for the future.
This jaunty little number could grace just about any bandstand in the world and nearly everyone can identify with the title: Four Little Words (We Need To Talk). Nice vocals through some kind of phased mic, and great key work from Stagg. It has a nice 1940’s feel like it belongs in a black and white movie of lovers who have come to a crossroad. Sweet and lovely.
The album concludes with Stillwater, a western flavored instrumental that is just about the joy of playing the harmonica. No deep meanings, it just feels good to play. If you play one, you already know and if you don’t, pick up one sometime and just give it a try. There’s no feeling like it, so make a joyous noise while you can!
Blues lovers may not be the ones lining up to find this album. Guy Bélanger may not end up on your Mount Rushmore of great blues harpists, but he is a great musician and I’m glad that he’s on my radar. Sometimes, I just love to steep myself in a little bit of jazz and other forms of music, and Eldorado delivers that and then some!  
(Okay French speaking people of the world! I’m going to try to translate that article into French. Any mistakes, feel free to let me know. It’s been a long time since I read and spoke French, so for this one I had a little help from Google Translate. But the mistakes are still mine.)
(D'accord, les francophones du monde! Je vais essayer de traduire cet article en français. Toutes les erreurs, n'hésitez pas à me le faire savoir. Cela fait longtemps que je n'ai pas lu et parlé français, donc pour celui-ci j'avais un peu d'aide de Google Translate. Mais les erreurs sont toujours les miennes.)

Guy Bélanger ~~ Eldorado

Il est difficile de croire que c'était bien en 2017 (rappelez-vous cette époque plus simple) que j'ai entendu pour la première fois et eu la chance d'écrire sur le Canadien Harmonica Maestro Guy Bélanger. Enraciné profondément dans le blues, Bélanger explore de nombreux styles de musique différents, notamment le jazz, mais aussi toutes les formes de musique roots.
La musique de Bélanger a souvent été utilisée comme bande originale pour son frère Louis. Ils ont collaboré à trois films: Post Mortem (1999), Gaz Bar Blues (2003) et The Timekeeper (2009). Cela me semble parfaitement logique car après avoir écouté la musique de Bélanger, les images sont évoquées dans son jeu.
Son dernier disque est Eldorado et présente Bélanger à la harpe, au chant et même au piano sur une piste. À ses côtés, Robert MacDonald à la guitare; Marc-Andre Drouin à la basse et Michel Dufour à la batterie. Les invités incluent Eric Longsworth au violoncelle sur une piste; Paul Picard aux percussions sur trois chansons; Bob Stagg sur B3, piano et Wurlitzer sur trois chansons; Mathis Haug au chant et à la guitare sur une piste; Stef Notari aux percussions; Ben Rapetti à la basse; et Rod Huard sur les choeurs.
Sept des onze morceaux de l'album sont écrits ou co-écrits par Bélanger.
La première chanson de l'album est un instrument, Carving The Wind. J'adore le titre et j'aime le jeu énergique de Bélanger. Pour ceux qui croient que l'harmonica est un instrument facile à jouer, venez écouter un vrai maître vous donner un cours sur la façon de le faire.
Bright Side Of The Road de Van Morrison suit et Bélanger et compagnie livrent une bonne version d'un grand morceau. Le chant est géré par Huard et sa livraison fluide ajoute une nouvelle dimension à la procédure.
Ensuite, la chanson-titre, Eldorado, cette ville mythique de l'or recherchée par les explorateurs européens après avoir trouvé leur chemin vers le Nouveau Monde. Bélanger utilise une guitare obsédante et des percussions différentes pour créer une ambiance de rêve. Ceci est un bel instrument qui se passe sur ma playlist de fin de soirée.
Ensuite, un doux crooning qui survole les claviers de Stagg. When Will I Know est une lente question émotionnelle posée en musique. C'est un numéro délicat et délicieux d'un album qui est une expérience unique avec chaque chanson.
Il y a un peu de funk dans la ligne de basse de Wicked. Celui-ci joue comme un jam de jazz amusant avec chaque joueur faisant un pas avant de passer à un autre membre du groupe. Amusement discret pour cet instrument, laissez le voyage vous emmener où vous voulez!
Bélanger joue du piano ainsi que de la harpe sur Hummin ’. Maintenant, c'est du blues, incorporant ce battement delta bien connu dans la chanson et ajoutant de doux coups de langue de harpe qui auraient pu être transmis par les maîtres d'autrefois. C'est une chanson qui donne un coup de pied au cul et invoque ceux qui l'ont précédé et ouvert la porte aux artistes actuels.
Ensuite, une exploration de la musique indienne dédiée à la déesse du Gange. Ganga est un instrument qui explore certaines des images que l'on pourrait avoir de l'Inde. C’est une belle méditation et une excellente bande originale pour la méditation.
Prince’s Sign O ’The Times présente des voix et des guitares de Martin Haug, un ami que Bélanger a fait en France il y a quelques années. C’est toujours intéressant pour moi de voir comment les musiciens réinterprètent des chansons bien connues pour apporter une nouvelle perspective à l’œuvre. Comme Prince est l'un des premiers chanteurs-compositeurs-multi-instrumentistes-producteurs-etc., les gens prennent son travail à leurs risques et périls. Bélanger et Haug y ont apposé leur empreinte de manière respectueuse mais pas servile. Couverture fraîche.
L'espoir et la foi sont deux mots très puissants que nous devons prendre à cœur et donner aux gens dans nos vies. Cela a été écrit après que Bélanger ait effectué une tournée de deux semaines à Paris après les attentats de 2015. Il y avait de la tension, de la peur et de la méfiance partout et il a joué un concert avec une «chorale d'harmonica» composée d'enfants qui étaient naturellement secoués. Mais à travers la performance, ils ont commencé à sortir de leur coquille, donnant à leurs parents espoir et foi pour l'avenir.
Ce petit numéro jaunty pourrait honorer à peu près n'importe quel kiosque à musique dans le monde et presque tout le monde peut s'identifier avec le titre: Quatre petits mots (nous devons parler). De belles voix à travers une sorte de micro phasé et un excellent travail clé de Stagg. Il a une belle sensation des années 40 comme s'il appartenait à un film en noir et blanc d'amoureux qui sont venus à un carrefour. Doux et adorable.
L'album se termine avec Stillwater, un instrument à saveur occidentale qui est à peu près la joie de jouer de l'harmonica. Pas de sens profond, ça fait du bien de jouer. Si vous en jouez un, vous le savez déjà et si vous ne le faites pas, prenez-en un à un moment donné et essayez-le. Il n'y a aucune sensation, alors faites un bruit joyeux pendant que vous le pouvez!
Les amateurs de blues ne sont peut-être pas ceux qui font la queue pour trouver cet album. Guy Bélanger ne finira peut-être pas sur votre Mount Rushmore de grands harpistes de blues, mais il est un grand musicien et je suis content qu'il soit sur mon radar. Parfois, j'aime juste me plonger dans un peu de jazz et d'autres formes de musique, et Eldorado le livre et alors certains!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Johnny Burgin ~~ Live With Special Guests Rae Gordon, Charlie Musselwhite, Nancy Wright

Johnny Burgin, aka Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, is one hell of a busy man. I’ve received several albums that he has released over the last 18 months or so, and there’s not a weak one to be found.
Now, he’s released a live album, Johnny Burgin Live, on Delmark that was just recorded in January, 2019. Every previous disc has indicated that Burgin is great in the studio and I’ve always wanted to catch him live to see how he does with an audience.
The album consists of eleven originals and three covers and Burgin has surrounded himself with a number of great West Coast artists on it. Burgin is on guitar and vocals; Chris Matheos on bass; Steve Dougherty on drums; with Aki Kumar on harp for two songs and percussion on two others; and Kid Andersen plays piano on two songs and guitar on a whole bunch more.  
Special guests are Rae Gordon vocalizing on four songs; Charlie Musselwhite on harp for three; and Nancy Wright on sax on five songs.
What a lineup!
 As you might guess, the album kicks off with a rocking number, You Got To Make A Change. Kumar’s harp rocks the hardest and has a great break around 1:15. It’s high energy and infectious. Unless I really miss my guess, this is going to be a great performance. The crowd seems to agree with me.
Burgin shifts gears from overdrive to second with the slow blistering number, Can’t Make It Blues. The long intro sets up the song, and Burgin’s vocals do the rest. It’s pure emotion and oh so sweet. I’m not sure who is taking the bulk of the lead guitar runs, either Andersen or Burgin, but they are really top notch.
They go straight in to She Gave Me The Slip. It’s a nice shuffle with some good drumming anchoring the rhythm section. Fun song, for whatever reason, it doesn’t pull me into the song, but it’s still fun with a good guitar break. Burgin launches a swinging number next. You’re My Trinket is kind of a cool song, although female listeners might disagree. Good song, but not one I’m dying to play on Time For The Blues.
Up next is the first cover of the night. Burgin and Company play Earl Hooker’s The Leading Brand. Hooker was long noted as one of the leading guitarists in all of Chicago and they do a great job covering the song. Some seriously good guitar on this instrumental!
Rae Gordon comes up to help out on Robert Lockwood Jr’s I Got To Find Me A Woman, and will stay for the three following songs. Also up for the first time is Nancy Wright on sax. Damn, this is a fun song and it’s obvious that both Burgin and Gordon are having a great time. There’s mutual respect and chemistry. Wright’s sax adds just the right amount of sass.
Gordon then tackles Late Night Date Night, a song she wrote with Burgin about the perils of dating a musician. After all, most musicians don’t get off work until three a.m. and flirted with all of the audience members during their show. Still, there are advantages, to being the one he or she comes home to. (Yes, that’s a weak sentence, but what can you do?)
Gordon continues on You Took The Bait, and rocks it hard. Paired with Wright’s sax, this song would be at home on the biggest clubs and stages. It’s a great example of that lovely Chicago sound and Burgin throws in a strong guitar break for good measure.
Gordon’s last song of the evening is Daddy’s Got The Personal Touch. A song with a strong beat, and joined by Burgin on vocals as well. It’s a lot of fun and the percussion just flat out rocks. It says a lot about Burgin to bring up a guest the stature of Gordon when it’s his live album. That impresses me even more than his great music.
The next cover is Louisiana Walk. Wright and her saxophone are still hanging around and adding some great sounds to the evening. It’s the second instrumental on the disc and it shows just how remarkable the band really is. If I read the liner notes correctly, several of the musicians have never played with each other. It’s fun to jam, but to do something like this on a live recording? That takes some stones.
The last cover of the night features Charlie Musselwhite on harp for Blues Falling. I always gravitate towards the harp players, and Musselwhite was one of the first who caught my ear (Rockabilly great Billy Lee Riley was the first), and he’s in great form on this one. Great song, excellent delivery.
Next up is California Blues and Musselwhite is still on stage. It’s a slow mournful number very much in the delta style. Then it kicks into high gear and fairly swings the rest of the way. This is just one of the songs you’re going to hear on the show. Love this one!
Musselwhite sticks around for one more. When The Bluesman Comes To Town is a sort of autobiography of those who have traveled the road playing the blues. Rarely staying in town for long, but bringing happiness to those who come to see him/her. It’s a poignant number and very good.
Wright’s back up for the last song, Jody’s Jazz. It’s a sweet jam of a number that unites blues and jazz in a most delicious way. I know some blues fans don’t care for jazz and vice versa, but I happen to love both and this instrumental is going onto my private playlist for driving, thinking, or working around the house. Excellent job from all concerned.
Just to reiterate what I mentioned before, Johnny Burgin is a busy man – writing, playing, recording, touring, it seems like he never stops. The music world is much better for his drive and work ethic. If you have not yet sampled Burgin’s catalog, Johnny Burgin Live is a great place to start.
Great music and great guests make this one a must have. Be sure to catch Burgin where you can. Head over to his website and find out where he’s playing and pick up some merchandise while you’re there!

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Karen Lawrence & Blue By Nature ~~ Best Of Live

I actually stumbled onto Karen Lawrence and Blue By Nature when I was scrolling through Facebook on my phone. It stopped on a post by one of my publicist friends and I heard an amazing voice coming out of my cheap phone.
To say I was hooked would be a major understatement. Immediately I used that cheap phone to contact said publicist and asked why hadn’t I received this amazing voice. He calmly pointed me towards an email from several months ago, that I had never opened.
Lesson learned. For most of the past 13 years or so, I have focused almost all my attention on physical copies. You know, CDs, records, even cassettes. Please, no more cassettes.
I guess I’m going to have to learn to work with computers now, because I’m kicking myself for missing this rare treat of a performer. Especially since as a writer, she penned the love theme from the movie The Eyes Of Laura Mars that went quadruple platinum for Barbra Streisand.
Her recent album, Best Of Live, is a remastering of eight songs from an earlier album, Live At The Lake. I have yet to hear the original version of that record, but am spending most of my allowance on obtaining all of her previous releases.
The songs selected have been remastered and the sound is crisp and exciting. There is a little bit of audience reaction in the background to remind us that it is a live effort, but damn, it’s sweet.
The album starts off with with It’s All About You, something I’ve heard a lot from members of my family. Lawrence pulls out all the stops on this number as she takes her voice to its limits.
On the next song, Another Day, Another Mile, the song opens with some solid guitar work. This is great blues, definitely rocking but grounded in its approach. Lawrence’s voice is perfect for the blues – great low tones and attitude for days. This is a great combination of guitar and voice.
After that is a smoky slow emotional blues number. Fun And Games features excellent vocals from Karen Lawrence – pure, painful, and raw. The percussion adds punctuation as she builds to the end of the song. Very good, it hooks the listener and brings them into the performance. Surely going to be appearing on Time For The Blues soon.
She and the band follow up with I Had It Wrong, a rocking and funky track. The song is guitar heavy and Lawrence growls her way through from beginning to end. Listening to this live disc, I know I’ve got to see them live. They are pouring every ounce of their heart and soul into this performance.
Next up is You’ve Got Me Workin’. More great guitar work opens the song and there’s some seriously good percussion driving the song forward. Lawrence shares the spotlight with XX and the two blend their voices beautifully.
After that is You Got A Way About You, a decent straight ahead blues rock song. It’s not as powerful as the previous songs, and I imagine Lawrence singling out an audience member to play with as she sings the song.
More rocking follows with It’s Been So Long. Lawrence’s voice drops into a sultrier role and she pulls you into the song with its strength. Don’t count on it lasting too long, she adds an edge that’s as sharp as a knife.
Lawrence ends the album with I’ll Get Along Alright. it starts off with some serious rocking and the song keeps kicking when Lawrence starts to sing. It’s a song of survival, you better believe she doesn’t need somebody to take care of her, Jack, she’s more than capable of taking care of yourself. You really should worry about yourself.
I’m sure she’s gotten several comparisons to Janis Joplin, but she has a unique delivery. With the right airplay or promotion, I have no doubt that Karen Lawrence could be a huge star. After reading more about her, I have to take my punishment as so many of her albums have great reviews. I guess our journeys just never crossed.
Trust me, I won’t be making that mistake again. I truly hope that she will release new material, and if – and when – she does, I will gladly add them to my collection. You should add Best Of Live to yours.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Mark Hummel ~~ Wayback Machine

I’m always thrilled when a favorite harp player’s latest work lands on my desk. Mark Hummel fits that bill perfectly. I’ve been lucky enough to catch him live a couple of times fronting the Golden State Lone Star Revue, and even got a chance to interview him the last time he came through town.
When I asked him what was down the horizon for him, Hummel replied that he hadn’t made up his mind, but he really wanted to do a celebration of blues from the 1920’s and ‘30’s. His latest album, Wayback Machine, an Electro Fi release, is the culmination of that dream.
The album is recorded beautifully, recreating that sound down to the last detail. Hummel plays harp and handles most of the vocals, allowing piano man Aaron Hammerman to sing one song, and his dear friend Joe Beard to sing three and play guitar.
Others on the album include Dave Eagle on washboard and percussion; Kid Anersen on bass and production; and Billy Flynn on guitar. Guests R.W. Grigsby, Rusty Zinn, and Alex Petersen appear on one song each on bass, guitar, and drums respectively.
Hummel starts the album off with some sweet harp on Flim Flam. The liner notes say they were going for a “rural feel” on the record. If they mean a stripped down sound without big effects, this is a great example. Hummel’s harp break takes the focus and the rest could easily have been performed out on the front porch.
Next up is Hello Stranger, that goes into a country swing right off the bat. It’s a fun jaunty number that keeps the mood light and the dance floor full. So Much Trouble is an old Tampa Red song and here Hummel gets to put some more emotion into his vocals. It’s great to hear the way these songs are being presented.
Hummel and Company get back to swinging with Cut That Out. The percussion creates a great pocket with Andersen’s bass while Hummel’s vocals and harp do the rest. Very sweet. By now, it’s pretty obvious that this album is going to satisfy the old school blues fans, and in my opinion, I feel that there are very few hard rockers that won’t find themselves tapping along with the infectious beat!
It’s time for a little ragtime with the next song, Road Dog. It’s an appropriate title for an artist who has spent much of his life running up and down the road playing everywhere. Don’t believe me? Check out his book, Big Road Blues 12 Bars on I-80. It’s a great read full of fun road stories.
Another Tampa Red song, Play With Your Poodle, follows. Like much of Red’s work, it’s light and makes great use of double entendres. Hammerman’s piano is great and keeps the song moving. It’s been recorded by a lot of artists and Hummel does a great job with it.
Hammerman’s piano sets up the next number, Breathtaking Blues, with a great St. James Infirmary Blues riff. Hummel gives it the final stamp with his harp and this instrumental creates a dark and somewhat wistful mood. Listen to it on the night of the full moon for the full creepy effect.
After that is happy go lucky Crazy About You that features a great pairing of piano and harp. It’s got a real jazz flavor, and with this stripped down approach, it plays tight and intimate. I like this one a lot, and next time I sit in on a jazz program, you can bet this one’s getting played.
Hummel rips into some strong harp right off on Pepper Mama. It’s a call and response between his vocals and his harp. Great front porch music, and Hummel hams it up a little on the vocals for fun. Next up is Jazz Gillum’s Gillum’s Windy Blues. Gillum was a strong harp player whom we lost in 1966 after influencing a number of young harp players. This is a sweet song that is just about guaranteed to get your toes tapping and a smile on your face.
In addition to playing piano, Hammerman steps behind the mic to provide the vocals on Rag Mama Rag. It’s some fast paced ragtime complete with Spike Jones sound effects. Eagle’s percussion gets a real workout on this one.
Hummel’s harp takes on a sad tone on Good Girl. It’s a mournful sound and his vocals are delivered in a way that almost breaks your heart. Almost. From there, he moves into Reefer Head Woman. You probably can guess the story from the title alone. Hummel’s voice takes a thin approach, almost dreamlike, much like the haze in the room of the title character…
The final three songs feature the guitar and vocals of Joe Beard. Five Long Years is the first and it immediately takes a powerful stance. This Eddie Boyd number still resonates, and Beard’s voice is a strong blues voice. From there they segue into Say You Will, a Hummel original that showcases Beard’s playing and vocals. There are not many of these great Mississippi bluesmen left touring and it’s great to hear him on this album.
They close out things with Mean Old Frisco, an Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup song. Beard and Hummel are having all kinds of fun recreating the sounds of the original and enjoying each other’s company. Beard actually knew the legendary Son House, and you can hear echoes of that style in his approach.
Mark Hummel is a workingman’s harp player. You can find him almost every night somewhere on the road playing his heart out, either with his regular band or with the Golden State Lone Star Revue. If you’re looking for lots of flashy pyrotechnics while playing harp, you’ll most likely be disappointed. He doesn’t rely on tricks, but delivers solid performances that hits just the right spots.
Step into the Wayback Machine and take a trip back to the early days of Chicago blues, the precursors to the post war blues of Muddy, Howlin’, Chess, and all the others that came after. It’s a history lesson that comes alive in your ears and I highly recommend it.
Be sure to check out his website for details on the album, tour dates, and all things Hummel!