Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Shawn Starski

There’s a train that runs just a little bit down from the crossroads. It’s maybe a half mile walk down a dirt path from the tracks to the Juke Joint and every so often we get somebody who’s been riding the rails dropping by to wet his whistle. The Professor’s got a soft spot in his heart for these guys – see my grandfather worked on the railroads when he was just a small boy and he told me lots of stories about the hobos that used to ride across the country.

Yeah, I know it’s dangerous as all get out and illegal as hell, but stay with me. I’m talking about a certain amount of freedom to roam this great country, to be able to stop and stay awhile, or pack up and take off for somewhere else. No plans, no calendars, no responsibility. Of course that also means no job, possibly no meal, and most likely no one you want to snuggle to on a dark and chilly night.

I said I admire ‘em, not that I wanted to be one. Still, I’ve always wondered.

Anyway, one of my favorite people in the whole world dropped by the other day looking to wash some dishes in exchange for a hot meal and a few drinks. Jailbird Larry, that’s what he calls himself – only he and God know what his birth name is – stopped by with a bedroll, harmonica, and the clothes on his back. He knocked a couple of miles worth of dust off his pants and rapped on the back door.

The cook is new and was about to run Jailbird Larry off, but I saw him and waved him in. I explained to the cook that Jailbird was okay and welcome here anytime. Cook grumbled and went about making up tonight’s chili and Jailbird greeted me warmly and proceeded to bend my ear for the next hour or two.

I’ll skip the details of his journey and the amount of Slumgullion that he packed away (by the way, we make the best in the area – be sure to order it the next time you’re by) and tell you about the CD he dropped off for consideration.

It’s a good idea to listen to Jailbird, he’s a pretty good harp man himself and he’s sat in with more than one professional band and held his own. Tonight he dropped off a CD with what looked like homemade packaging. Still, if a hobo carries around a CD with no way to play it, it must be good.

And it is. Shawn Starski is the artist and the name struck a bell. I had to do some research, but found out that Starski played with Jason Ricci and New Blood. They recorded with Delta Groove and now he’s out touring with the Otis Taylor Band.

As busy as this cat is, I don’t know when he found the time to write or co-write all of the ten songs on this CD. The album is just called “Shawn Starski” and it looks like you can get it on iTunes and CD Baby. I’ll bet you a doughnut you can get it at live shows, and if you have a chance to catch him live, that’s the way to go.

Starski handles the guitar and vocals for the CD and his wife, Elle, provides vocals on two tracks. This is no Linda McCartney wife has to play situation, her voice is beautiful and if I ever find a CD that she records, I will add it to the juke box immediately.

Todd Edmunds plays bass, Steve Johnson handles drums and Phil Wolfe provides the keys. There are a few additional guests; Cole Burgess plays sax, Geoff Newhall adds some bass work on three numbers, and Jim Folgelsong plays drums on three sides as well.

The first song is “Sea of Faces” and right away I was hooked on Starski’s guitar and vocal. Wolfe’s keys add a nice gospel feel to the work. “Was It You” is next and it’s a dark song about love that’s hit a rough spot. Starski’s guitar work is stellar, the mark of a confidant performer. “Dirty Deal” starts out with a nice swing vibe and carries it through the song.

Starski and company slow things down a little for “For Us,” a jazzy number that shows just how versatile the band is. It’s exactly the kind of late night loneliness that should be taken with a glass of something for the pain.

Then we get to “Cry Baby,” the first song to feature the earthy tones of Elle. Great side. She’s got a great voice and I look forward to hearing some more from her in the future.

The band rocks hard with “How It Come To Be.” Starski’s guitar gets a real workout on this number. Next us is “The Truth,” a relaxed soulful slow number featuring Elle. Sometimes it’s easier to rock out on a driving number, so the contrast here is one of artists in control of their art. It’s a true standout.

“Means Nothing Now” is a good tune that mixes some guitar pyro with a swing beat. Nice touch. “Hallows Eve” is another late night jazz number that features some very nice sax by Burgess. It’s the kind of music the Professor used to listen to on those long nights studying.

Finally the CD ends with “Sweet Cherry Rose,” a driving number that puts us squarely back into hard blues territory. A fitting end to a good tight album.

We listened to the album a couple of times that night. Jailbird told me stories of jumping a train in Colorado and ending up a couple of states over. He never said in which direction. Sometimes I’m not even sure he knows. I was enjoying the album but it was getting late and I needed to catch some shut eye since Henry and I were recording some intros in the morning. I watched as Jailbird slid the CD back into his old coat. He took his bedroll and cleared off a spot behind the kitchen.

Cook had left him a pot of coffee and some sandwiches. His way of apologizing.

When I got up in the morning, Jailbird Larry was gone, but he left me great stories and a super CD to add to the juke box. You bring me music like this, you are welcome to drop by any time.

(Picture taken from the internet. If you are the copyright holder and don’t want us to use this, please let us know and we’ll take it down. We’ll flip you the bird as soon as your back is turned and tell all our friends we did it to your face.)

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Rain Crows - Debut CD

Thank goodness for social media. Yeah, I know, it’s the great time suck and there are much better ways to spend your time – but to connect with old friends and even make a few new ones, you just can’t beat that one click shopping.

One night, while busy idling away some time catching up on what was happening in the world of Mafia Wars (yeah, don’t judge me – I recently stopped warring with strangers half way across the world), I stumbled across an old friend from high school that I had not spoken to since graduation more than a couple of years ago. Her sister had been a favorite English teacher of mine and this lady and I had even appeared together in a production of “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” in our senior year.

And she was cute too, and since I was too painfully shy to talk to any girls, I never remarked on said cuteness…

A lot changed in the ensuing years and since you’re not terribly interested in my history – hell, I’m not that interested in my history either – let’s jump to the part where we trade a few emails and when I tell her about the Juke Joint and Time For The Blues, she tells me about her band, TheRain Crows.

“Send me an album,” I type and a couple of days later I get a pretty cool package in the mail filled with a CD and some promotional material. It’s not all blues by any means, but I like a lot of different styles of music, so stepping off of Memory Lane for a few minutes I give a listen to the present to see what The Rain Crows are all about.

The Rain Crows are made up of Bill Thompson III on vocals, guitars and bass, Julie Zickefoose on vocals and pennywhistle. Yes, I said pennywhistle, just stay with us. Wendy Clark Eller is on vocals and piano, Craig Gibbs on bass and guitars, plus harmonica and spoken vocals, Kage Queen on drums and Jessie Munson on fiddle. David Traugh served as the producer and added some synthesizers here and there.

If you like what you read and want to pick up the album, you can do that on iTumes, CDBaby, and Spotify.

Eller kicks off the album with a quietly controlled “Cotton Candy Sky,” an optimistic ode to getting one’s life together. For those of us who have reached a certain age, it’s an uplifting statement. Thompson takes over for the next song with the intriguing title “That Was The Day That Your Picture Came Down.” The lyrics are strong and his guitars are very good. “Cry Me A River” is a nostalgic, now-that-it’s-over song that starts out with a nice analogue feeling. Eller’s vocals and Queen’s brushes on the drums give it a smoky club vibe.

Thompson is back with “Fence Mending,” a decent outing, but I might have bumped up Traugh’s keyboards a little. The horns add a little spice to the proceedings. Then we come to my favorite song on the album, “Half Of My Heart.” The song was written by all four of the core members of the group and Eller’s piano and vocals dominate. She is assured and the musicianship on this song truly stands out. Thompson’s guitar sails and the rhythm section of Gibbs and Queen are strong. I would recommend this album just for this song alone, but the rest of it is mighty good too.

Thompson takes the next number, “Meteor,” a fun little love song enlivened by Zicefoose’s pennywhistle. Eller is back on lead vocals for “You’re The Real Thing.” We’re back on solid alt-Country ground which is where the group seems to be the most comfortable.

The first real blues number shows up about half way through. Remember, I said it was more Americana than anything else. “Dirt Road” has got some nice slide work by Gibbs, and Zickefoose takes the vocals with a deep earthy turn. You’ll be hearing it on Time For The Blues soon.

“I Can’t Believe” is a catchy number, the kind that always sounds like it would be fun live. Then The Rain Crows are back in their alt-Country groove with Eller taking back the lead vocals on “All Right.” It’s a sweet song, punctuated by Jessie Munson’s fiddle licks. Like several other songs on the album, this one has potential for air play.

Thompson takes the spotlight on “Haunted,” which also features Munson’s fiddle work. The song has a deep, Appalachian feel and its sparse instruments make the song stand out. “Distorted Reality” is next, a bouncy side that belies the dark lyrics. Eller has some fine vocals and Zickefoose has a nice counterplay – pennywhistle versus horns. Nice touch.

Zickefoose rocks it a little bit on “Tell Me” and the song is a straight ahead side. Thompson gets a guitar workout on the break and the song is strong. We’re kind of back in blues territory with “Rainy Day Nothing,” a decent song that just needs a little more of an edge. Thompson has a good voice, but here he just needs more of a growl to give it real bite. Eller slows things down with “So Long” and the effect is nice. She has a transcendent voice and Zickefoose’s pennywhistle gives the song an unusual exotic flavor. Munson’s fiddle tells us the country flavor for the last song on the album, “Goes Down The Right Way.” Zickefoose’s expressive alto works the song well, wringing emotion and ending the album on a good note.

The group wrote all of the 16 tracks on the CD in various ways. Thompson and Eller are the main conspirators, but the entire group contributes in some way to each of the songs. Their songwriting for the most part is good and inventive. I look forward to hearing more from the group in the future.

All in all, The Rain Crows are a delightful addition to the Professor’s Juke Box. The country flavor just adds the right spice to their Americana and Roots style approach. They sound like they would be a lot of fun to catch live, so you might want to keep up with their appearances either through Facebook or at
(Logo of The Rian Crows artfully borrowed from the web. If you own the image and want us to remove it and not give you free publicity, well, go ahead and let us know. We'll take it off, but we won't send you a card on your birthday.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Big Walker Root Walking: American Blues & Roots

A lot of time I find myself loading up the juke box with up tempo swing-style blues. What the heck? It gets people moving; they dance, have a good time and get thirsty. When people get thirsty they want to get something to drink. When they want something to drink, my bartenders sell product, make tips and everyone goes home happy.

But every so often I find myself in the mood for some serious old school blues and my wish has been answered with the release of two dynamite CDs. I’ve recently reviewed one of the CDs, (see my review of Delta Time here) and now I’ve had a chance to sample Big Walter’s new release Root Walking: American Blues & Roots.

Man, what a voice, what a collection, and if you’re lucky enough to find a copy of this little gem, grab it quick.

But listen to the Professor, this is not the kind of CD you pop into the player and forget it. You won’t be dancing around the room forgetting your cares and woes. No, this is a sipping album, the kind you sit down and listen to and find yourself drawn into the world of these stories.

Some of the lyrics go back to the 1700s; part of an oral tradition handed down generation to generation. Others are contemporary stories and they all go to show how the story of one of us is the story of all of us. Derrick Big Walker, whose roots include Native and African American as well as Irish, has found a way to meld these musical styles together and create a unique sound.

The album kicks off with “It’s Hard,” just a little reminder that life is not always easy, but love can help you make it through in one piece.  Next up is “Raise A Ruckus” from poetry written in the 1700s. Walker’s vocals and harp drive the song hard. Another song with lyrics from the 1700s follows, “Wild Black Bill.” It’s a slower driving number with power contained just under Stevie Klasson’s slide guitar.

“Run Nigri Run” moves us into the 1800s with the story of a runaway and the sheriff that’s chasing him. Walker then adapts more poetry from the 1800s to create “The Hypocrite Blues.” The next song is a contemporary number based on Walker’s own experiences on tour. “Can’t Take No Train” once again features Klasson’s exciting guitar work.

While the Professor doesn’t have a favorite song, I do have a number of songs I consider to be among my favorites. “Midnight Special” sung most famously by Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly is one of those songs. I’ve collected a number of versions of the song and I’m delighted to add Walker’s version to that collection. His harp playing is crisp and Klasson and bass player Surjo Benigh are in good form. Fredrik Hellberg’s drums are stripped down and the backup vocals add a nice gospel flavor to the side.

We’re back to the 1700s with “You Got A Home In That Rock,” a spiritual designed to uplift the poor with promises of another world. “Papa Guede” gives us a little Caribbean flavor mixed with the Southern Roots music. A little voodoo magic for the darkness. A good follow up is “Devil’s Cloth” that makes the most out of Walker’s deep rumbling voice.

The song “Thirteenth Full Moon” is a tribute to musician Olle Boson who died on December 30, 2009. It also invokes the superstition of the Blue Moon bringing evil onto the world. “Slave” ends the CD with some of Walker’s best poetry.

“Root Walking: American Blues & Roots” is a solid album, even though its mix of musical styles may make it one of those records you sip and savor by yourself.

In the meantime, I’m going to get back to work. There’s some thirsty people out there.

 (Picture artfully ripped off from another site. If you're the copyright holder and want me to take it down, just let us know.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Li'l Ronnie and Friends - Harmonica Hooligans

So Henry Cook and I finally got a chance to step out Sunday afternoon and catch a great show. Li’l Ronnie sent us an invitation to his Harmonica Revue (hereafter referred to as “Harmonica Hooligans”) featuring The Grand Dukes and Mitch Kashmar, Kurt Crandall, and Bob Corritore. Counting Li’l Ronnie, that’s four – count ‘em – four masters of the harp on one stage.

Forget football kiddies, we’re heading to the Capital Ale House on East Main Street to check out the action.

Now you’ve got to understand that my partner, one of the best men I’ve ever known, can often be the unluckiest man on the face of the earth. If you remember the cartoon version of the Flintstones when Pebbles and Bam Bam were teenagers, they had a friend named Schleprock who walked around with a black cloud over his head 24/7.

That was Henry for part of the afternoon. Poor guy couldn’t get a waitresses attention if he was on fire, and when the Professor finally flagged one down, they never had ANY of the drinks he ordered. It was like watching a live version of the Monty Python “Cheese Shop” sketch.

If you don’t know it, go to YouTube and be initiated.

But once the music started, all of that was quickly forgotten as Li’l Ronnie and the Grand Dukes kicked off a high energy set that had the crowd dancing on the very first number.

Even before they got started however, our night was made when a man with the coolest hair in music sidled over to us through the crowd and stuck out his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Bob Corritore.”

Like we hadn’t noticed. You know Henry and I are big fans of Corritore, he’s an amazing player as well as a tireless writer about all things blues and now we know, a genuinely good guy. He asked us if we had gotten some new CDs from Delta Groove – a new Tail Dragger CD – “Long Time Friends In The Blues” -that he played on (we had – and we’ve even played a track or two from it) and one called “Bob Corritore and Friends Harmonica Blues” (we hadn’t and were drooling to get our hands on a copy).

Corritore and I exchanged information and he promised to send us a copy when he got back home. We talked about harps, the road, the blues, and since neither of us had thought to bring a tape recorder to the show, Corritore agreed to do a phone interview at a later date.

What an amazing guy.

Here’s Henry and Bob hanging out backstage.

Then, a tall skinny red headed kid walks in and heads backstage. Holy cow, it’s Andy Poxon! Henry and I have been playing sides from this cat’s first CD, “Get The Red Out” and now we learn that his next CD will feature Andy teaming up with none other than Duke Robillard! Plus he’s going to sit in on a few songs during the show.

Here’s a shot of Andy and Bob working their way through an electric number.

Each of the four harp artists were amazing and in total control – even if the sound guy occasionally wasn’t. It’s a tricky room to mic and the monitors were being particularly persnickety through the show, but man there was enough energy being expended to light Memphis during the Elvis Chili Cook Off.

Li’l Ronnie and the Harmonica Hooligans had been busy – one night in Virginia Beach, the next night in Raleigh, and the last day in Richmond. But you couldn’t hear any fatigue in any of their voices or their playing. Every member of the audience was cheering their appreciation from the first song to the last.

And afterwards they hung around just to soak up the atmosphere.

And at that particular moment, Henry finally got a drink.

Live music – you’ve got to support it if you want to keep it alive. So watch out for shows – check the River City Blues Society website for shows in the Richmond area – and if you’re outside the area, find the blues society near you and keep their information handy.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Hans Theessink and Terry Evans on DELTA TIME

Okay, the Professor has to admit that he wasn’t a Hans Theessink fan until a copy of his CD “Jedederman Remixed – The Soundtrack” ended up in a pile on the bar. I was intrigued because the old theatre professor in me recognized this German Miracle Play title and couldn’t believe anyone had turned it into a blues concept album.

I was totally blown away and it’s one of the titles I was about to review until a new CD that was a collaboration between Theessink and Terry Evans landed on the bar. I couldn’t wait to jump into that one. Now that I’m a confirmed Theessink fan (by the way, that’s pronounced Tay-SINK) and I’ve always loved Evans, and lookie here kids, Ry Cooder is on three sides.

Do I have to tell you that this one is a must have for your collection and several cuts “Delta Time” will be appearing on Time For The Blues.

Before I heard Theessink who hails from Germany, I never thought of Germans in terms of the blues. Great cars – sure. A red light district the size of New Jersey – you betcha. Taking off the entire month of October to celebrate by drinking beer out of mugs the size of boots – hell yeah. Blues? Not so much.

All that changed for me and it will for you as soon as you hear Theessink’s stripped down guitar work and his simple deep delivery on vocals. Add to that Evans’ artistry and you have the makings of what surely must be considered one of the ten best traditional blues records of the year.

The opening song, “Delta Time” immediately transports you to a musical journey that you know is going to take us places. Theessink and Evans are in good voice and they are joined by backup singers Arnold McCuller and Willie Greene, Jr.  The song is designed to slow us down, to tell us we will be operating on Delta Time.

“Blues Stay Away From Me” is the first song to feature Ry Cooder on guitar. It is a slow almost dirge like number and Theessink’s vocals are so low it almost sounds like he is deep in a well while he sings. Next up is “It Hurts Me Too,” a heartbreaking lament stripped down to the essence of the blues – things go wrong and they hurt me. Sometimes it takes a simple song to remind us what is at the heart of the blues. Evans and Theessink trade off vocal licks expertly in a call and response method and the effect is striking.

Things pick up with “How Come People Act Like That” and you get the flip side of the blues. Cooder is featured on this number as well. The next song is a bit of a surprise, “The Birds And The Bees.” While not a blues song, Evans sang on the original some 50 years ago and they wanted to include it as a remembrance of sorts. It’s a happy little number so just kick back and enjoy it, okay?

We’re back to the blues with “Build Myself A Home.” This one is pure country gospel and it rings like a bell. “Down In Mississippi” takes us deep into the delta and into Evans’ experiences growing up. This song was written by J.B. Lenoir. “Shelter From The Storm” starts out slow, but Theessink’s vocals are in total control.

The next song may be my favorite title this year, “I Need Money.” I think most of us who aren’t part of the 1 percent can identify with this side. It’s also a kicking little song. “Heaven’s Airplane” is a traditional song that gets a little spin from Theessink’s arrangement. Again, a great touch of gospel to remind us of the connection gospel has with so many other genres of music. The duo slows things down a little bit with “Pouring Water On A Drowning Man.” Evans’ tenor vocals sore while Theessink’s bass anchors the harmony.

“Honest I Do” is the next song, and again Evans’ and Theessink’s harmonies are sweet and the carry the song past its simple arrangement. The album ends with “Mississippi,” a reminder of where the blues started. Included in the song is a litany of the great blues artists that have come out of Mississippi and spread the music we love all over the world.

If you are already a fan of Terry Evans or Hans Theessink, you are already standing in line to buy the CD or you’ve got it on preorder with an on-line delivery system. If you aren’t a fan, trust us and get “Delta Time” and you’ll be a fan by the end of the first song. Second one at most.

(Photo of Delta Time masterfully borrowed from City Hall Records website. If you are the copyright holder and want us to remove it, contact us and we will comply. We’ll cuss a little bit while we do it though. And don’t expect a Christmas Card either.)


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Linsey Alexander Been There Done That

Things get way too busy around here at night to sample new music. Also loud. Especially loud. So, I try to listen to new sides and write these little missives in the morning – usually alone in the Juke Joint so I can savor a few minutes of alone time – or watch an old or bad movie.

Today I eschewed the movie in favor looking through the stack of mail JoJo left of the bar. There are a lot of mailers with CDs in them and I noticed one from Delmark so I fished it out first. When you’ve got a reputation like Delmark’s, you can believe whatever is inside is going to be good.

Linsey Alexander is one of those names I’ve heard for years, but have never heard the man’s music. I don’t get to Chicago as often as I would like, and he doesn’t tour in this area. Yet. After listening to this CD, I’m going to have to work on that.

Been There Done That is old-school blues soul that draws you in on the first note and when it ends, you’ll want to hit the repeat button a few more times.

Alexander kicks off the 12 songs (he wrote or co-wrote all but one) with “Raffle Ticket.” It’s got plenty of Alexander’s shouting, and very clever lyrics. It’s also one of the three songs that harpist Billy Branch sits in on and it drives the song nicely.

Alexander’s Band includes guitar wizard Breezy Rodio, Mike Wheeler on guitar, Roosevelt Purifoy on piano and organ, Greg McDaniel on bass, James Wilson on drums, Ryan Nyther on trumpet and Bryan Fritz on tenor sax.

“Bad Man” brings some serious funk to the equation. The title track makes good use of the horn section to give the song a little jazz feel. “I Had A Dream” is next and Alexander is in total control.

The mood shifts slightly with Willie Kent’s “Looks Like It’s Going To Rain” as Alexander uses the song to pay tribute to his late friend. It’s a heart rending moment and a real highlight of the CD. Purifoy is in good form on this number and his keys add a lot.

Branch gets a chance to rock out on “My Mama Gave Me The Blues” and his harp drives the song, lifting it and making it sound like a delta revival. This is a man witnessing for the blues and he might just gain a lot of converts. “Going Back To My Old Time Used To Be” is that age old story of finding out the grass isn’t always greener and maybe it’s time to go back to what you had before. Wheeler’s guitar gets a good workout on this song.

Branch is back on “The Same Thing I Could Tell Myself” offering up some soulful riffs as Alexander slows things down. Historical fact, this composition may be the first time the word “GPS” has been incorporated into a blues song. “Lost her GPS/Couldn’t find her way back home.” And so the blues moves forward…

Next up is “Big Woman” a love song to a woman of size. Once again Wheeler provides some great guitar work. I could have done without the fat jokes at the end of the song, but to each their own said the old woman as she kissed the cow. We’re back to some old school shouting with “Going Up On The Roof.” It’s a song I wouldn’t want to play on a lonely night.

“I’m Moving” is a good straight forward song of a guy getting out of town. Sometimes, things just get to be a little too much. The CD ends with “Saving Robert Johnson” opens with some serious guitar work and then a description of the place where Johnson sold his soul. Along with the previously mentioned “GPS” reference, this song includes a mention of “email” and asks us to “poke (the devil) on Facebook.” Another first I believe, but it works.

Linsey Alexander is a fun blues artist who can entertain you all night long. I’d love to see him live, so, if we can’t get him here, we might have to plan a trip to Chicago to catch him. Somehow, I think it’ll be worth the trip.

Check out Alexander at his website, and look for Been There Done That in your favorite blues record store or online.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Lisa Mann - Satisfied

Lisa Mann is one of my favorite people in the whole world and we’ve never even met. She’s based in Portland, Oregon and I’m here in Virginia. Only an entire country separates us, but we’ve become good friends through her music and trading emails when we can. This lady is extremely busy; she’s touring, recording, writing, and doing some amazing work and I’m lucky enough to get to hear it later. Her second album “Satisfied” is self-published and available at live venues or at CD Baby here. You can find  out all things Lisa Mann at her website.

I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re looking for a completely objective review of her music, well, I’ll be honest and fair, but honestly I really liked this album a lot. I first listened to it the way I listen to a lot of CDs, I threw it in my car player and listened while I drove back and forth between Richmond and Jordan’s Branch. I can catch up on a lot of CDs while covering that territory, but I mainly listened to Mann’s sides over and over again.

Her voice is remarkable – she has the ability to purr and then immediately switch to a deep growl. There is no doubt that she is growing as an artist, her confidence is sky high, and it should be. She’s assembled a fine band made up of Jeff Knudson on guitars, Michael Ballash on drums and Brian Harris on keys. There are a number of guest artists that I’ll cover in a minute.

Mann wrote nine of the thirteen songs on the album and she starts out with one of her compositions, “See You Next Tuesday,” that documents her tribulations with a variety of people who mess up her life.  It’s a swinging number and you know we’re off to a good start. Next up is a side penned by Jeff Johnson titled “Gamblin’ Virgin Mary.” It’s a cool bar song, a little surreal, and the keys get a gospel workout.  I’m not sure if that is Harris on keys or guest Alex Shakeri.  Dave Melyan also sits in on drums for this number.

The title track “Satisfied” was written by Milton Campell and Oliver Sain. It features Knudson’s fine guitar work to lead us into the song and Harris’ keys drive it much of the rest of the way. Mann and company then bring the tempo way down for a smoky blues number, “Surrender To The Blues.” Henry and I have featured this one on the show and I love it. It’s a great late night song and features Brad Ulrich on baritone sax, Dan Fincher on tenor sax, and Joe McCarthy on trumpet.  

“Always Nobody” picks things up again and sings that age old lament that you can be famous all over the world, but you are always a nobody in your home town. Lloyd Jones adds his guitars and vocals to this number. “Have I Told You I Love You Today” brings a little country flavor to Mann’s CD and it is one of the most heartfelt numbers she has recorded. Caton Lyles adds percussion to the song. The next song is a driving number, “Til The Wheels Come Off.” Melyan and Shakeri are back on drums and keys respectively, and once again Knudson’s guitars get a real workout.

“Catch Me When I Fall” is another slow number that makes you sit up and listen. Sonny “Smokin’” Hess joins in on guitar and Kevin Labaron adds some stellar sax work. It’s one of many stand out songs on the CD. Mann picks up the tempo again and gives us a swinging number “I Was Gonna” that lets the keys run with a little gospel fervor.

“Alone,” written by Peter W. Allen and Carole Bayer Sager is another slow number that pulls at you. It is beautiful in its stripped down simplicity. The pause leading into “Don’t Touch Me” written by Maxwell Davis, Sam Ling, and Johnny “Guitar” Watson just makes this an even stronger song. Kevin Selfe adds his guitar to the mix as well as the horn trio of Ulrich, Fincher, and McCarthy.

“Kings of Black Gold” is a story of those who control black gold, Texas Tea, you know that stuff that made Jed Clampett the head of the Ozark Opec leaders. Mitch Kashmar lends some nice harmonica work to punctuate the song. Even with the pointed lyrics, Mann still manages to make this one sound like it rose from the depths of the swamp before exploding on the stage. She ends the CD with “Doin’ Alright” that features Joe Powers on harp, Brian Foxworth on drums and backing vocals, and Larhonda Steele, Rae Gordon, and Sonny Hess joining the backing vocals.

All in All, “Satisfied” is a very strong CD, one that I’m proud to put on the juke box. And Lisa, if you ever make it to the East Coast, we’ll make sure you have a stage to play. Just come on down to the crossroads and we’ll set you up.

(Picture of Lisa Mann artfully pilfered from her website. If you are the owner of the picture and want us to remove it, by all means, be a bully and have us take it down.)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Li'l Ronnie and the Grand Dukes - Gotta Strange Feeling

If you live anywhere in the mid-Atlantic area and have the ability to name more than two blues acts, chances are pretty good you’ve heard of Li’l Ronnie and the Grand Dukes. Probably seen ‘em live as well, after all, they are among the hardest working bands around. And there’s a good reason for that, they rock hard and you can’t help but have a good time at one of their shows.

Their latest album, “Gotta Strange Feeling” released on EllerSoul Records and it is well worth adding to your collection. Li’l Ronnie Owens is a fine harp player and a pretty decent vocalist as well and he wrote or co-wrote with guitarist Ivan Applerouth 12 of the 14 songs on the CD. The other writers were Louis Jordan and Chuck Berry, so he’s in good company.

Aside from Applerouth, who is capable of some serious fret fireworks, The Grand Dukes consist of John Sheppard on upright and electric bass, Mark Young on drums, John Fralin on piano, and North Side Slim on maracas and bass drum. Hey, I just report ‘em, I don’t make ‘em up. Special guests include Stu Grimes on drums and percussion, Janet Martin provides backup vocals, Mike Moore on upright and electric bass, and Jim Wark on guitar.

The first song on “Gotta Strange Feeling” is “Can’t Buy My Love” and the blasting harp at the very beginning is a signal for what is to come. “Cold Hard Cash” is next, a plea for something substantive in life – those things that a little moolah will help bring about.  “Love Never Dies” opens with a ‘50’s Do-Wop flavor and is the kind of song you might want to have playing while you snuggle with your honey on the dance floor.

“Sweet Sue” picks it up nicely and the band is again swinging through this bouncy number. Nice jump vibe here. “Screaming & Crying” describes the methods employed by the women who dated me (that was long before Mrs. Professor – Foxxy Red came into my life) but here it’s a swampy number that makes you feel like you are deep in the backwoods. Owens really tears up the harp on this one.

Henry and I featured the next song, “She’s Bad Bad News” on one of our shows and the side is another fun swinging number. The song contains the lyric “If you take the bait/Like a spider, kills her mate.” You’ve got to love a driving blues number that also contains arachnid references. Things slow down a tinge with the Louis Jordan number “Buzz Me” next. On “Fat City” Li’l Ronnie’s harp provides a nice counter to Young and Grimes’ drums and percussion. Very cool instrumental, something Applerouth is well-known for – check out his album if you don’t have it. Don’t worry, a review is coming soon.

The next side, “Can’t Please Your Wife” is a throwback with a driving backbeat and a warning for all those husbands out there that think they can juggle two women at the same time. Can’t be done guys. The side has some cool boogie woogie licks by Fralin to push the song forward. The title track, “Gotta Strange Feeling” follows up with a great counterpart to “Can’t Please Your Wife.” Listen carefully guys, these two songs provide great bookends – and some fun music. The trilogy is complete with the addition of “I Won’t Take It Anymore,” a country flavored driving song that showcases Applerouth’s guitar, Fralin’s keys, and Owens’ harp. Nice combination.

I love it when those mini-sets come together.

The tempo drops way down for “Late Nite Blues” another soul searing instrumental. Things pick up with a little swing in “Bring Your Love Home” which features Applerouth’s guitar and a nice bass line by Sheppard, as well as some good piano licks by Fralin. Then to prove that the band can rock as hard as anyone, they run through the Chuck Berry classic “C’est la vie” to end the album. Janet Martin’s backup vocals add a nice touch to the song.

So, yeah, not only should you pick up the album, you should make plans to see ‘em live and be sure to check out EllerSoul Records, because they have several other acts I think you’ll enjoy.

 (Photo delightedly ripped off from EllerSoul's website. If you are the owner and want us to remove it, well, shucks, just contact us and we'll do it. We'll stick our tongue out at you when your back is turned, but we'll do it...)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Billy Thompson - A Better Man

Is there anything more fun than discovering a 20 dollar bill inside an old jacket? Well, actually there are, but since this is a semi family friendly blog, we’ll just no – finding money is the coolest thing ever. In fact if any of you want to drop by the Juke Joint one night and drop a few twenties on me, I would be grateful. I lost a bundle on the Cubs this year…

While I didn’t find any money recently, I did find an old briefcase I thought I had lost forever. Inside, among a bunch of now dried up pens, sixteen rubber bands, and a zinger that was still surprisingly fresh was a stack of CDs Henry had entrusted me to review for the show.

And by show, I do mean Time For The Blues on WCVE Public Radio. You can find it on the internet by going here. Look around, you might find a few other things you like and want to add to your weekly listening experience.

Fortunately for me, Henry gets swamped by things at work so his mind was elsewhere, not on the missing stack of CDs. In other words, we both forgot about ‘em.

But now they are back and I’m adding them to the stack of titles already piling up on the bar.

First one out of the box is by Billy Thompson – who is living somewhere in the Mid Atlantic area, just like us. This is a guy I might be able to get to play at the Juke Joint one night, and if I do, you better be there, because this cat has a good sound.

A Better Man released by Papa Lee Records is Thompson’s latest CD, and I really like his sound. He has a resonant soulful voice and he brings more than a little gospel wickedness to his vocals. His guitar playing is sharp and here he is backed by some of the best players around.

Joining Thompson, who provides guitar, slide guitar, and harmonica to his vocals, are Tony Braunagel on drums and percussion, Mike Finnigan on piano and organ, Kenny Gradney on bass, Hutch Hutchinson on bass and upright bass, Johnny Lee Schell on guitar and vocals, Michael Leroy Peed on piano and clavinet, Lenny Castro on percussion, Niki Morrissette on vocals, and The Texicali Horns – Darrell Leonard on trumpet and Joe Sublett on saxophone.

The CD opens with the musical question, “Are You Ready” and it drives hard. The title track swings in and by now you should be hooked.

The third song, “Johnny Is A Cloud,” is an homage to one of Thompson’s friends, the artist John DeMarco. DeMarco, who passed away provided the inspiration for the song, and his painting “Final Crossroads” graces the back cover. In it, a musician contemplates his fate at the crossroads, and it is a beautiful image. If you want to see more of DeMarco’s work, visit his website.

Next up is “Noreen,” a little love song with a bouncy tune. Thompson then slows things down with the soul searing number “Born Again” punctuated by Finnigan’s organ work and a choir. He picks up the tempo with “No More Goodbyes” that gives us a man determined to get one more moment, one more night, and start all over.

Thompson really gets swinging again with “Met My Match.” Things slow down again with “Who Knew” and Thompson trades guitar licks against the Texicali Horns’ trumpet and sax. It kicks up again with “Downside Up,” once again showing more than a little gospel influence infused with some just plain good fun. He then moves into a funky rendition of “Oneness.”

We move then into a slow churning blues groove, a swampy stripped down song, “Bleed.” His next side, “As If” starts out with a couple of soaring licks but quickly segues into a solid straight forward tune. He closes out this satisfying CD with “Up In The Morning.”

Thompson has a great sound and he gets props from the Professor for being a theatre guy as well as a solid bluesman. Ain’t many of us out there with both credentials. Okay, I don’t qualify there either, but a guy can dream can’t he?

So don’t tell Henry I found the missing CDs. It’ll just be our little secret. In the meantime, check out Thompson’s website to see when he’s touring.

(Photo of Billy Thompson artfully lifted from his website. If you are the owner of this picture and want us to remove it, please notify us and we’ll whine about it, but do it anyway. Meanie.)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Johnny Mastro And Mama's Boys - Luke's Dream

A lot of stuff lands on my bar. Mostly the usual stuff like shot glasses, beer bottles, and the occasional rag to wipe away the detritus. Also the mail. Jojo, who has been delivering mail here to the Juke Joint for years, always brings in a stack. I can always tell when there are bills because his smile is a little forced and the laughs are a little less.

I can always tell when bands are sending me things, because he hangs around a little bit in case I’m going to slap it onto the juke box and give it a listen. Sometimes he gets lucky – like the other day when he brought me a copy of Johnny Mastro and Mama’s Boys new CD, “Luke’s Dream” which is released by Rip Cat Records. Always liked Rip Cat, they put out some artists that I like that aren’t ruined by becoming too mainstream.

I like the madmen and the outsiders.

Gotta admit I was unfamiliar with these guys but was hooked by the very first song “Luke’s Stomp.” Very swampy and dark, I’m intrigued by their electric sound fused with a driving harp and sharp vocals. Their next song “Thunder Roll” continues in the same vein and yeah, I’m thinking to myself, these boys came to play.

The band is made up of Johnny Mastro on vocals and harmonica. He’s no slouch on either. Smokehouse (that’s the actual name on the CD) provides guitars, slide guitars and acoustic guitars, Michael Hightower plays bass and acoustic bass, and Jimmy Goodall plays drums. They are joined by Max Bagwell on drums, Kirk Fletcher on guitar, Peter Atanasoff on guitar and spiritual guidance – and that’s something every good band needs. Scott Abeya adds his guitar and Lisa Cee joins in with some percussion.

“Knee High” is okay but then the band segues into Champion Jack Dupree’s “Junker Blues” and drive it like they stole it. “Mr. JJ’s Man” is punctuated by Mastro’s harp work, “Hurt” follows with driving guitars. The band then kicks off “Tonight We Ride” inviting the audience to join them on their journey.

By now I’m intrigued by these cats and wonder why they’re not on my radar. It happens. Even the professor can’t keep up with everyone – that’s why I have y’all letting me know when you find someone good. You can find out all sorts of information about them at their website, One of the things you can find are the several albums they've already released that I don't have - yet.

So far, everything has been up tempo, forward driving and I’m hoping for a ballad to offer some contrast. Well, we don’t always get what we want. “The Light” continues the relentless assault. “Francine” follows.

Some of the liner notes by Spiritual Advisor Peter Atanasoff compares what the band is doing to the early Paul Butterfield Blues Band work. It’s not a stretch to compare the two as both bands meld the blues with rock and roll in order to create a unique sound. Mastro and Mama’s Boys aren’t quite up to the heights established by Butterfield and company, but then who is? It’s the attempt that counts and they are rocking nicely.

“Spider” finally slows down the express train and the band proves they are up to the task with a controlled effort. “Roller Coaster” opens with that familiar Bo Diddley beat, which is only fitting since the great one himself wrote the number. “My Rocket” follows and the tempo is back up driving the band forward to the finish line. Smokehouse provides some excellent fret work on the number.

The album ends on a high note, “Temperature” driving the sound to a powerful crescendo.

Be warned, those of you who are traditionalists and want to hear your blues a certain way. You ain’t going to get that here. You’ve got musicians that are pushing limits, experimenting and creating their own sound. Would love to see this band live.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Michael "Iron Man" Burks Show of Strength

Believe it or not, Henry and I absolutely HATE doing tribute shows. We love doing shows where we can showcase an artist, but a tribute show just reminds us of the life and artistry that we’ve recently lost. Far too many of the giants of blues have come to the end of their journey, and while we still have their music – brief songs that give us a glimpse into their very soul – we don’t have the artists themselves anymore.

But since we like to celebrate a person’s life New Orleans style, strike up the band and let’s toast another of our great fallen colleagues, Michael “Iron Man” Burks who has left us too soon. Burks suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 54 after returning to the states from a European tour. Burks’ final album, now available on Alligator Records is titled “Show of Strength” and his deep soulful voice is perfectly complimented by his exciting guitar pyrotechnics.

From the driving intro on the first song, “Count On You” to the last notes of “Feel Like Going Home” this album rocks and rocks hard. “Count On You” is one of those great laments of both blues and country – that person who always lets you down, but you just can’t walk away. He immediately follows this up with a plea “To Take A Chance On Me, Baby.” His vocals are silky smooth and this is a great soulful ballad.

Burks is backed up by a solid band that includes Wayne Sharp on organ, piano, and backing vocals; Terrence Grayson on bass and backing vocals, and Chuck “Popcorn” Louden on drums and backing vocals. This tight core is joined by guests Roosevelt Purifoy who adds his keys on three sides and Scott Dirks on harp for one song.

Burks picks up the pace a little with “Storm Warning,” a reminder that there is always a storm brewing out there and we need to be ready. He then asks “Can You Read Between The Lines” and tell when your woman is stepping out on you. “Cross Eyed Woman” gives Sharp a chance to lay down some strong sounds on the organ and it gives the song a darker edge.

“Little Juke Joint” is not about Professor Johnny P’s Juke Joint – but the story of that little place we all like to remember – the spot that brought us all into the life. I might have to adopt it as my theme song. “24 Hour Blues” follows and slows the tempo down nicely. He follows up with the soaring “Valley Of Tears.”

Burks really brings it down with “Since I’ve Been Loving You Baby.” You can feel his anguish in every note. He follows up with the optimistic “I Want To Get You Back.” Of course since the course of true love never runs smooth, there’s another follow up in which Burks wonders “What Does It Take To Please You.”

He then brings the CD to a close with the Charlie Rich side, “Feel Like Going Home.” All in all, an amazing collection that while it is satisfying artistically still leaves the question, “what if.” I wish we had an answer because it’s obvious that Burks was really coming into his own as a confident singer-player-songwriter.

“Iron Man,” we’re going to miss you, but your music will live on and will always be on the Juke Box.

(Picture of Michael Burks was artfully purloined from his website. If you are the copyright holder and want us to take it down, please notify us and we’ll reluctantly do so.)

Saturday, September 1, 2012


It’s no secret that the Professor loves the harp. If you get a chance, next time you stop into the Juke Joint be sure to check out my collection of played harmonicas in the glass cases that are near the pool tables. You’ll find lots of history on those shelves.

Now for a while it seemed like anybody who thought it would be cool to be in a blues band would grab a harp and jump up and down and do a quick blow-draw riff. The harp may be simple to pick up, but it takes a lifetime to learn how to really play that sucker.

Sugar Blue plays so well he might have been born with a harp in his hand. His latest release RAW SUGAR BLUE LIVE on Beeble Music is an exciting musical journey by the guy who reinvents harp playing. It’s a 2-disc set backed by a smoking band that includes Rico McFarland on guitar, Damiano Della Torre on keys, Ilaria Lantieri Blue on bass, and James Knowles on drums. McFarland is particularly amazing as his pyrotechnics on guitar match and compliment Sugar Blue’s harp runs.
Sugar Blue comes out blazing on the first disc; ripping through “Red Hot Mama” and “One More Mile” at a blistering pace. He then slows it down with Muddy’s signature” Hoochie Coochie Man” and uses the 13-minute opportunity to jam. With just a slight pause, he segues into “Cotton Tree” written to honor the legendary James Cotton. “Bluesman” follows with some great licks and lyrics – “I’m a bluesman/That’s what I am/And if you don’t like it/I don’t give a damn.” Preach it brother. Originally that one was released on his album Code Blue, but here he gets to stretch it out. “Walking Alone” is a sentimental number and along with its follow up “Swing Chicken” gives the band a chance to show off some jazzy blues chops.

This is no simple bar band that can follow a four-four beat and encourage the patrons to drink heavily; this is a group at the top of its form.

 Disc Two starts off with some low note blues, “Another Man Done Gone” played on his “Big 365” harp. Blue reaches deep into his soul for this one. Next, Blue and the band rock it up with the original number “Krystalline” about the seduction of cocaine. Torre’s keys get a workout bringing a little barroom gospel to the mix. Blue then steps back in time with a nod to his time as a session man with the Rolling Stones with a flat out run on the song “Miss You.” That’s Blue blowing the harp on the original and here he gives us the Stones version, then goes into an extended jam that will leave you breathless. Blue and the band encores with the Junior Wells classic “Messin’ With The Kid.” A couple of bonus tracks round out the collection, “Bad Boys Heaven,” and “Lip Service and Lies.”

One of the issues I’ve often had with live recordings is sound quality. Sometimes you get that pristine, almost studio like sound and other times it sounds like you are sitting is somebody’s garage listening through tinny speakers that got shorted out when they were left in the rain.

This CD has very good sound quality – nothing is lost on his riffs and the energy of the crown adds a great deal to the excitement of the album.

If you are unfamiliar with Sugar Blue’s output, he took home a Grammy in 1986 for his work on the Atlantic album “Blues Explosion” recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Aside from the Rolling Stones, Blue also worked with and recorded with a number of musical giants, including Willie Dixon, Stan Getz, Frank Zappa and Bob Dylan. You can check out all the latest news including tour dates at his website

Be forewarned, Sugar Blue does not play the harmonica. Sugar Blue redefines the way a harmonica is played. He pushes boundaries and establishes new territory the way great artists transcend their medium and make it new.

In other words this cat can play. RAW SUGAR BLUE LIVE is a mighty fine album to have in your collection and if you get a chance to see him live, grab it. If this album is any indication, you’re in for a great night. And Sugar, anytime you want to add a harmonica to my trophy case, I would be honored.

(Photo of Sugar Blue gleefully ripped off from his website. Photo was done by Riccardo Abbondanza. If you are the owner of the picture and want me to remove it, please contact me and it will be reluctantly done.)

Juke Joint FAQs

Q: Hey Professor! How do I send you a copy of my CD to review?
A: Easy as pie. If you’ve got a CD you would like to have reviewed, just send a copy to:

WCVE Public Radio
23 Sesame Street
Richmond, VA 23235
Attn: John Porter – Time For The Blues

Q: Will I get my copy back?
A: Probably not. Definitely not without a self-addressed stamped envelope. Sorry, but with reviewing time and other works, there just isn’t enough time in the day or moolah in the treasury to send everything back.

Q: Will my CD get played on Time For The Blues?
A: Maybe. Remember we’ve only got an hour show one day a week and a whole mess of blues (tip of the hat to you, Doc Pomus) to cover. We usually do one segment each week dedicated to new works. If we like it and play it though, we will let you know as long as we have your contact information.

Q: What else should I include with my CD?
A: Any kind of press plus your contact info and where folks can buy your CD. The more information we have, the more we can send out.

Q: What if you don’t like the CD?
A: Always a risk artists take. If I don’t like it, I’ll be honest about my interpretation. My opinion is just an opinion and people are free to agree or disagree on things. My radio partner, Henry Cook, and I don’t agree on things frequently, but we always respect each other’s opinion. That’s life and it adds a little spice.

Q: What about electronic submissions?
A: I get backed up a lot with electronic stuff. It’s a risk that something could get lost. I prefer actual CDs as they are easier for me to review.

Q: What about interviews?
A: Anything can happen, but I’ll contact you if we want to do one.

Q: Do you work with publicists?
A: There are a few publicists that send material. They are professional and usually have great clients. We always look forward to seeing what new people they are sending our way.

Q: Would you send our material to them?
A: They listen to the show and read the blog. If they want to talk with you, they will let us know. We make it a point not to send them clients as we don’t know their rates or what other services they might provide.

Q: Are you really a Professor?
A: Yes, among other things.

Q: Will you review things other than CDs?
A: Anything music related, specifically blues, rhythm and blues, soul, Americana, and rockabilly, will be considered. CDs, DVDs, and books are the usual suspects, but anything could happen.

Q: Can we buy stuff here?
A: Not at this time, but I will link to Amazon and other websites where you can purchase material. Full disclosure, I could see some money back from Amazon thanks to their program, but that does not influence opinions.

Q: Can I contact you directly?
A: There’s always email at