Sunday, January 20, 2013

Brad Hatfield Uphill From Anywhere

Normally I’m a Night Owl, the kind of guy who is more likely to go to bed just as the sun is coming up. I could have adjusted to becoming a vampire with only a few changes – like that whole drinking blood thing. But the bedtime part of it I could have handled with ease.
But for some reason last night I went to bed early and found myself wide awake an hour or so before dawn. Fortunately Mrs. Professor can sleep through a nuclear blast so I was able to get up, make a cup of dark coffee, and go for a walk.
Jordan’s Branch is a lovely smallish town, one of those disappearing jewels that one can occasionally stumble upon when you’re in the process of driving from somewhere to somewhere else and get lost or need gas.
The night was dark but the stars in the mountains burn in the sky. When you’re away from the city you can see them much better. No light pollution to blot them out and they reward you with a beautiful show. The air is thin and there is no humidity to get in the way.
I almost felt like I could touch them.
The road from my house leads past a small gathering of other houses guarded by garden gnomes and slumbering dogs. Past the baseball diamond waiting for spring so small children can learn one of America’s best traditions.
The small pond rested reflecting the waning moon off its surface and hoped that ducks would come visiting before long. They wouldn’t even need to bring a cake.
 About this time the stars began to fade, chased by the encroaching streaks of light in the east. The colors of dawn eased over the mountains and I paused to watch them.
The world was waking up and before long people would be leaving home and heading to work. I would do the same, first to school to teach bored undergraduates, then to the studio to work on the show with Henry, and finally to the Juke Joint to greet customers and serve up a few drinks.
A busy day, but one that started in magic and lets me do the things I love. Feeling blessed, I reach into the ever growing pile of CDs and pull out one that I hope will add to my joy.
I come out with Uphill From Anwhere, a CD from Brad Hatfield, a singer and harpist from Cincinnati. I don’t know the cat, so I’m looking forward to hearing him and I pop it into my old school disc player. Can’t tell you how many times my family and friends have laughed at me for carrying around that flying saucer looking player, but if something works, I tend to stay with it.
The first track, Witness To My Misery, one of the seven songs Hatfield wrote or co-wrote on the album starts off with a solid couple of licks. Okay, my interest is piqued, and his growling vocals sure sounds like the blues. I’m intrigued and we’ll stick with this one.  
After doing a little research, I find out that Hatfield’s story is amazing. At the age of 25 he was involved in an accident that paralyzed him. Many people would crawl off in defeat, but Hatfield picked up the harp. He’d been a guitar player but couldn’t use his hands to play anymore. He was a little old to start playing the harp, but he mastered it and when you add his amazing vocal work, he started to move up the scene in Cincinnati.
Insert obligatory WKRP Joke here…
Fit To Be The Fool is next up and the harp intro is a nice hook, but it is Hatfield’s voice that really makes this album special. He’s backed by a solid band including Jon Justice on guitar and writer or co-writer on three songs; Bernie Hatfield on a variety of keys, Michael Bram on drums and Scot Hornick on bass. They are joined by special guests Dave Gross on acoustic and rhythm guitar on two songs, and Dennis Gruenling on harp on another.
One More Night has a serious old school vibe with Bernie Hatfield’s keys getting a gospel style workout. This would be a great crowd pleaser. He dials the tempo down a notch with She Got Time, a Hatfield/Justice collaboration. The song again gives Bernie Hatfield’s keys a workout.
He keeps the groove going with Somebody’s Got To Lose. It’s been a solid album up to this point and you have to wonder what this guy could do with a larger audience. So far he’s delivered everything you could want in a debut album and we’re only about halfway through.
Justice’s End of Time is up next with some cool end of the world lyrics with a nice twist. The lyrics are smart and the underplaying of the organ adds a nice touch. I’ve been waiting for a nice slow number and Livin’ Out The Lie delivers it with passion. So far my one complaint has been that the album has a sameness about it – there’s no real contrast. You can toss that complaint out the window, Hatfield’s voice is in total control here and the payoff is very nice.
He builds on the feeling by covering Son House’s Death Letter, one of the most gut wrenching songs ever. Here he strips it down to mainly piano and drums with a harp break to give it that old juke joint feel. It’s a solid interpretation. And damn gutsy as well.
He picks up the tempo with Headstrong Baby, keeping it old school but transitioning to more of the sound he used for the beginning of the CD. He’s got a good harp run to open Too Good To Give Away. One of the great can’t-live-without-her stories punctuated by harp runs and Hatfield’s growling voice.
He closes out the CD with one of the great songs, Blind Willie Johnson’s John The Revelator, sung a cappela to the band’s clapping. You can’t help but sway along with this classic, carried away by the gospel fervor Hatfield conjures up.
Make no mistake about it, Brad Hatfield is the real McCoy. He’s got a great sound, solid backing, and he writes a song like nobody’s business. This is a very good debut album and shows a lot of promise, and I can guarantee you’ll be hearing his songs on Time For The Blues very soon.
For more information, be sure to check out the band's website here. And tell 'em the Professor says hello.
(Picture of Brad Hatfield’s CD lifted from the internet. If you’re the copyright holder and don’t want us to use the image, please let us know and we’ll remove it. Of course we’ll replace it with a stick figure that no one will recognize.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Colin Linden Still Live


Here’s hoping things have been calm around your house these days. Things have been a trifle quiet around the Juke Joint lately. That flu epidemic that’s running wild through the country has come to our quiet little hamlet, and even the people who are well are staying home for fear of catching it.

Makes for some lonely nights. I’ve been closing up early and trying to listen to some CDs that have been on the back burner. I’m glad I found a few of these (some will remain buried, but we don’t need to discuss those right now) and one in particular got a hold of me right quick.

COLIN LINDEN STILL LIVE  was a nice package I received from Yellow DogRecords and this is a real gem of a record. Linden is one of those guys with an amazing resume who just manages to stay under the radar of the mainstream. He’s a real artist and has worked with performers like Emmylou Harris and Robert Plant. He’s toured with Bruce Cockburn, and played on some of the instrumentals for O Brother Where Art Thou.

He’s even been a producer or co-producer on about 100 different albums.

And he sings like a cultured demon.

In other words, check this guy out and you won’t be disappointed.

This album was recorded at the Douglas Corner Café in Nashville and features Linden on guitars and vocal, John Dymond on bass and harmony, Gary Craig on drums and occasionally The Great Spooner Oldham on organ.

Live albums can be tricky, just getting the sound right can be a major headache, but this album is crisp, clean, and a real pleasure to listen to. It’s not strictly blues, but it’s damn good.

He kicks the album off with Big Mouth, a cool song with a tricky riff pulling you into his world. The lyrics let you know quickly that he’s a lyricist with a fresh outlook and this is going to be an interesting ride.


Next up is Howlin’ Wolf’s Who’s Been Talking, the only song on the album Linden didn’t write. He manages to capture the old school rhythms but doesn’t try to imitate Wolf. Listen for Oldham’s organ work as well as Linden’s guitar.

Between The Darkness And The Light Of Day starts of gently but with an insistent beat. His lyrics are poetic this is a very sweet song. It has a Jackson Browne Van Morrison feel to it and yet is somehow all Linden.

Next up is Smoke ‘Em All, a tribute to his longtime friend Richard Bell who was also his piano player. It’s a very personal song that will move you. At least it moved me. The song is deliberately stripped down, like it should have been played by Linden and Bell, and you can feel Bell’s presence in the silences.

Sugar Mine starts out with a desolate old west flavor and moves into some evocative imagery. It’s a different kind of song, and one that I enjoyed deeply. Oldham’s organ notes give the song an otherworldly feel.

Linden picks up the tempo for Remedy, the story of how a woman holds the power to heal a broken man. Of course she also has the power to destroy him as well. Such is the paradox. Linden and company mix their rock with a little gospel to fashion a pretty cool side. He follows up with a dark fifties influenced number, John Lennon In New Orleans, in which he imagines a lost weekend with the legend.

Linden goes with an up tempo side next, From The Water. This is an crowd pleaser and I would love to see the song performed live. The energy is nice and you can feel him connecting with the audience.

Next up is the song I consider to be my favorite on the album, Dark Night Of The Soul. Every one of us wants somebody to be with us when things get tough. Linden’s voice is perfect for this song and you can feel his passion throughout.

He drives the next song, Too Late To Holler, the story of a man looking back on his life as he steps onto that golden chariot to leave this life. It’s a fun philosophical look – after all, it’s too late to holler at this point.  He slows things down nicely into the ballad, Sinking Down Slow.

He brings the album to a close with I Give Up, the story we’ve all felt when we just can’t take another minute of this. We’ve all got our own this – you know yours. Well, this is when you just have to throw your hands up and say, I give up…

Colin Linden is a great addition to the juke box. If you’re in the Tennessee area, keep your eyes peeled for a live appearance, and the rest of us will have to check out his website for information about tours and forthcoming records.

(Picture not so artfully taken from the Yellow Dog Records website. If you’re the copyright holder and want us to remove it, please contact us and we will comply. Of course we may just stomp our feet and hold our breath, but you won’t care. That’s just like you…)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Bopcats: 25 Years Of Rock 'N' Roll


I can’t even remember the first time I saw The Bopcats. It had to be sometime in the ‘70’s (the decade, not my age thank you very much) when I was running around working for one band and watching as many others as I could. They were one of my favorites and it was all because of the unique sounds they produced. 

No filler, no covers of the same songs everybody else did; these guys managed to be true to the rockabilly sound and drove crowds into frenzies.

Eventually I became friends with a couple of the guys and always enjoyed running into them later in life. Of course bands evolve and change and sometimes they disappear over the horizon for a while, and then out of the blue, they’re back, and each twang on the guitar, each shuffle beat on the bass and drums, brings you a little bit closer to where you were all those years ago.

When I put on the new CD from EllerSoul Records, The Bopcats: 25 Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll, I erase a bunch of years and I’m suddenly a young man again. I can’t promise you’ll feel the same, but I love this album and will be playing it over and over.

One quick note, many of these songs were band demos, they used to send to promoters in order to get work. You’re going to want to showcase your best stuff, and for The Bopcats, their signature was fast hard moving rockabilly. That sometimes causes one song to blend into the next. Not much in the way of ballads on the CD, so that makes it sound a mite repetitive. Consider yourself warned.

Oh yeah, the album quickly jumps out of the gate with one of their 11 originals, I Don’t Want To Be Alone. The band moves into darker territory with Dark Train, a story of a woman leaving and the effects it has on her man.

Next up is a quirky bar song, Who Drank My Beer, a Dave Bartholomew tune that the band makes its own. It’s a refrain I hear from time to time around the Juke Joint and I still can’t believe someone would pull such a heinous crime on a fellow drinker.

Broke Down is another solid tune with Lindy Fralin trading guitar licks with Gary Fralin’s keys. Jimmy Maddox adds a fun sax riff and the band jam sounds like a band that’s more at home playing live than in the studio. All I Need sounds like it came out of the roadhouse honky tonk. And that’s a good thing in my book.

Cars are always a big subject for rock ‘n roll and Wheels of Mine is a good driving song. Pun intended… The Bopcats follow up with That’s Right. Crazy Li’l Baby is another band original that showcases Lindy Fralin’s guitar work.

Red Cadillac is a nice slower number and has a stripped down lineup. It’s a nice addition. They tackle the Stones Ventilator Blues and pull it off nicely. Remember, the Rolling Stones were heavily influenced by the blues, and the blues were a big influence on country and rock, the mix responsible for rockabilly. Not a big leap then, for the Bopcats to grab one of the Stones’ earthier numbers.

Like many fans of Americana music, I consider Dave Alvin to be a giant and he commands great respect. Here the band does a version of his Marie Marie that rocks the place hard. (Just bragging here, but the Professor once got to introduce Dave Alvin at a show. He seemed to like it when I introduced him as “The King of California.” But maybe I was just giddy to be hanging with the man.)

We’re back with a couple of band originals next. Sweet Thing features some nice keyboard work from Gary Fralin and sax work from John “Sparky” Otte. Life of Crime is a nice dark number and it creates a great mood. The horn section adds a nice touch.

Jenny Jenny continues the darkness with a Link Wray inspired opening and the song gets under your skin quickly. They tackle Johnny Cash’s Get Rhythm with abandon next. The Chuck Berry inspired On A Roll is next and the band is in high gear.

The CD ends with The Race Is On, a more plaintive number. It’s a decent song, but I think I would have moved it up one spot and ended on On A Roll, but hey, that’s just me.

The one problem with this CD is that it’s not a “live” show. The Bopcats were all about the show – their energy increased as the audience became more alive and raucous. No studio album could ever hope to catch them like a live show did. But it’s a good start.

Fortunately for the musical world, The Bopcats are still rocking out up and down the road. If you don’t believe me, check out their website and catch a show. You’ll become a fan as quickly as I did.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Catfish Keith Put On A Buzz


As you may have gathered from my sporadic posting record, the Professor tends to get distracted from time to time. It’s not easy running the most successful Juke Joint in Jordan’s Branch (okay, technically the ONLY Juke Joint), being an actor and theatre commentator, and co-starring in the strangeness that is Time For The Blues. Add to that my career as a business consultant, househusband, and underwear model, and you get a feel as to why I can get a mite distracted occasionally.

Still, my passion always returns to music and writing and I find myself back at the beginning of the circle. 

When that happens I like to find a CD that takes me back to my roots – something that’s stripped down to the basics. I like to listen to someone who is not afraid to let his voice do the talking – no big amplifications, no complicated playing – just a man or woman standing up, unafraid.

Well, I got my wish from Catfish Keith’s effort from 2011, Put On A Buzz. There are 14 songs on the album; some original, some covers of great songs that aren’t done to death. Keith is backed by his guitar and the simplicity is a joy to listen to. He’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite go-to guys to listen to and it’s a good thing he’s so prolific (14 albums so far) as that means I’ve got a lot to listen to in order to catch up with 
him.

He kicks off the album with a great Lead Belly song, On A Monday. I’m a big fan of Lead Belly and love to hear anyone who preserves his great legacy. Keith does the song justice and his bottleneck style playing sets up the rest of the CD nicely. I can already tell this is going to be a fun record.

Sigh of the Whippoorwill is next, an original that is an homage of sorts to the Carter Family. The Carters were from just up the road apiece and their music was a large part of my early life. It’s great to hear this song and yeah, I could hear the Carters tackling this one. Keith follows up with another Lead Belly side, Grasshoppers In My Pillow, one of his dark stories (okay, that’s pretty much a given) about lost love and 
losing hope.

Yeah, I’m liking this CD a lot and we’re only three songs in.

Willie The Chimney Sweeper is a dark story song from the 1930’s about a weird drug trip. I had never heard the song before, but its haunting approach is eerily beautiful. Next up is an original, Paying for It Now. It’s got a nice sound and the lyrics are fairly universal.  Then comes another original, Put On A Buzz (Just Like A Bumble Bee), and it’s a catchy number.

Bukka White was a great singer who burst on the blues scene in the 1940’s but disappeared for a while. He was rediscovered during the great blues revival of the 1960’s and Keith does his best to capture his spirit in Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues. In my opinion he does a good service to White’s style and memory.

Xima Jo Road was inspired by a dusty old road in Oaxaca, Mexico. It’s wild down there and you can feel the exhilarating danger and freedom that exist hand in hand. This one will be on Time For The Blues, just so I can hear Henry try to pronounce the title. Next up is the gospel blues song He Rose From The Dead. Keith reworked the lyrics on this one and even dubs in some harmony with himself. This is a very cool song.

Keith continues to show his love for the very old-school singers that influenced him with Nobody’s Buisness. This was a Frank Stokes side and he recorded during the 1920’s and Keith captures that feel and the lyrics are strong. I would have loved to have heard Stokes at his prime. I’m glad that Keith and a few other singers are preserving and re-creating these sounds that most of us would never hear otherwise.

Keith, challenging himself again, performs Lost Lover Blues, which was originally a duet between Lottie Kimbrough and Winston Holmes. Keith takes on both parts and sings harmony with himself and the result is a sweet melancholy love song. Hawaiian Cowboy is next and I wish I could tell you if he’s pronouncing the Hawaiian correctly, but don’t have a clue. I can tell you I liked the music a lot.

Can’t Be Undone is another original and contains some of the wildest lyrics yet. The album closes with Keith’s version of Jazz Gillum’s Reefer Head.

Catfish Keith won’t be to everyone’s taste. But I’ve got to tell you, I’m hooked on his stripped down approach and his obvious love for the music. This is a calling to him and next time he comes a-calling around here, I’m going to jump on it. According to my calculations, he seems to release a new CD every couple of years, so I’m hoping that 2013 will bring a new one.

Check him out at www.catfishkeith.com.

(Picture was lifted from the Catfish’s web site. If you’re the owner of the copyright and want us to remove it, just let us know and we’ll comply. But we son’t dangle any more worms in the pond either. That’ll show you.)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Barrelhouse Makes Their Debut


I first met a couple of the guys from Barrelhouse at a Charlie Musselwhite concert sponsored by the River City Blues Society. You’ve probably heard Henry and I mention the River City Blues Society on Time For The Blues; they’re good folks and heavily support the blues in the area. If you’re nearby Richmond, please check them out and if you find their offerings to your liking then by all means support them by joining and attending their shows.

If you’re not in the Richmond area, find your nearest blues society and join, and if there is no blues society nearby – start one! Getting people together that share your interest in the blues can only enhance your life.

Soapbox time over, time to get back to my story.

Barrelhouse is a local blues band; hard driving and dedicated to their craft. When we first met, they had won a contest to appear at The International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN. Not too shabby for guys who’ve only been playing together for a few years.

The band consists of Stuart Hutton on percussion, Nat Hyman on slide guitar and vocals, Brandon Martin on lead guitar and vocals, Tom Mayer plays harmonica and adds vocals, and Jimmy Zednik plays bass.

They provided us with some demo tracks they had recorded live and both Henry and I like their sound a lot and played one or two to celebrate their trip to Memphis. Flash forward a bit and now they are out with their very first CD, strangely enough entitled Barrelhouse, which you can get at the band’s shows and a few other outlets. I managed to score a review copy and I’m happy to report that the promise they showed then is delivered upon now.

In other words, it’s a good CD and one I think you’ll enjoy.

The CD kicks off with Won’t Be Long, a driving, train-influenced number that lets you know right off the bat that this is going to be a high energy ride. This would drive a crowd crazy at a live show and Hutton’s drums keep the song running. Cold Woman starts off with some serious choppy guitar licks and pulls you deep into the swamp. Mayer’s harp gets a good workout on this number.

Shot of Blues is a solid work that draws on a lot of blues influences. This one will be featured on Time For The Blues shortly – guaranteed. Anybody that’s ever gone into a drinking establishment like Professor Johnny P’s Juke Joint has had this feeling and the boys capture it nicely here. Martin’s guitar and Mayer’s harp add a lot to this side.

Iced Tea starts off slow, soft and plaintive but builds quickly. The band shows its control of the material and the change of pace is welcome. Don’t Be Surprised moves back into rocking territory quickly. Must Have Been The Shine is interesting as it melds country style lyrics with hard driving blues rock music. The result is very cool.

Have You Got Love is another song that probably incites a live crowd. Blistering guitar licks go toe to toe with Mayer’s harp. Next up is Easy Come, Easy Go a title many of have identified with over the years. This is a gritty number and the gravel voiced vocals add a dark feeling.

Then there’s the warning song, Young Man, which is sort of like warning a bull by waving a red flag in his face. Listen for Martin’s guitar work especially when he starts trading off with Hyman. The CD closes out with Blue Eyes, a story of a woman with the blues.

It’s a solid effort from start to finish, with some flashes of brilliance and promises of great things to come. It’s a great traveling CD and I’ll be playing it back and forth from Jordan’s Branch to Richmond. Maybe I can even convince these guys to come out to the Juke Joint and play a set or two.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Barrelhouse, you can find them on Facebook at facebook.com/barrelhouse or on the web at BarrelhouseRVA.com. You can get all the information about upcoming shows and snag your own copy of their CD, because I’m not letting go of mine.


(Photo provided by Barrelhouse, so blame them if you don’t like it. Course, if you do like it, I’ll take the credit…)





Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Strata-Tones Dressed Up To Fess Up


The start of a new year is an interesting mix of nostalgia for the past, anticipation for the future, and I’m sure glad this mess is finally over. That time period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is finally over – I lovingly refer to it as “National Goof Off Month” – and we can get back to business at hand. For me, that means I get to put away some actorly duties (I spent the holidays acting in two stage productions, staging a reading of one of my plays, and playing a small part in a short film, “Brock Party of 50”) and get back to stringing together nouns and verbs about theatre, movies, books, music, and soon a few other subjects as well.

I hope your New Year’s was a good and safe time. We had a ball at the Juke Joint. Plenty of good times with old friends and great music. No one got out of hand, so even Little Mike the bouncer got to enjoy himself. If you haven’t met Little Mike, don’t worry, unless you get into trouble you probably won’t. He’s the large gent in the corner nursing a coffee and usually reading a philosophy book. Guess he got hooked on Patrick Swayze’s character in Roadhouse and set his sights on a new career.

Little Mike stands about six-four and he spends his mornings junking cars and stacking cinderblocks. At night he hangs out at the Joint.

Fortunately, we haven’t needed him yet. But he’s a great just in case kind of guy.

Anyway, with Little Mike joining in the fun we sampled some new music and one of the highlights was a group called The Strata-Tones out of California. Their new CD, Dressed Up to Fess Up has an old-school approach to the music with a solid band comprised of Bruce Krupnik on lead guitar and some vocals, Kevin McCracken on harp and vocals, Ken Burton on keyboards and Hammond, Wil Anderson on bass, Rick Pittman on drums and the lead vocals of the dynamite Valerie Johnson.

I just found out while researching the group that Johnson is stepping down due to health reasons and the band is working out their next steps. I’m very sorry to hear about her health issues and hope for a speedy and complete recovery and that she’ll be able to find a way to work with the group again.

The album kicks off with B.J. Thomas’s song Keep On Cookin’. This is a good upbeat number and Johnson lets us know quickly that she is in charge. Bebop Baby is an interesting song mixing in some talk-singing with some old school rhythms.

Pittman drives the drums on Did You Ever and the song swings and rocks from the opening beat. This band is tight and in case there was any doubt you can tell this is going to be a strong outing. Things slow down a bit with Lovers Lost And Found. The slower pace brings a tighter control to the song and Johnson’s vocals continue to evoke passion.

Raggedy Annie is a great story song in the momma looking out for her little girl vein, but obviously the parents don’t have a real clue as to what’s going on. McCracken’s harps and Burton’s keys get a real workout on this one. This Old House is not an homage to the PBS Television show but a dark party song that duets Johnson and Krupnik’s vocals and Krupnik adds some guitar pyrotechnics to the break.

Together For Some Time is a solid ballad with some evocative imagery. Krupnik wrote both the music and lyrics for the song and it is some very fine poetry.  I love this song. Johnson wrote the lyrics and collaborated on the music for Treat Your Woman Right and the result is a song she obviously connects to in a deep way. Guys should take note and learn a little from this song. You can expect to hear both of these songs on Time For The Blues very soon.

T.W.F.S. is a cool jazz flavored instrumental that showcases some good playing. This would be a great live number and if we can ever get them to the Juke Joint, I’ll make sure it’s included in their set. They close out the CD with a live version of Big Mama Thornton’s Ball and Chain. Still one of the classics and both Burton and McCracken tear up the opening and Johnson’s vocals are perfect for this rendition.

One of the things I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older, is that we never know the future. Sometimes we can predict, but life has a way of swerving at the last possible second. I hope Johnson’s health will allow her to come back and sing with the band, but even if she doesn’t, the group is solid, strong, and I think resourceful. Maybe they will find another direction and continue to bring us some great old-school blues.

The Strata-Tones, be sure to check ‘em out. If you see them playing live somewhere near you, drop by and tell ‘em The Professor Johnny P says hi.

Happy New Year everybody.

(Photo of The Strata-Tones lifted from their website, www.thestraratones.com. They’ve got a lot of great photos and more information about the band. If you are the copyright holder and want me to remove the photo, please contact me and I will comply. But the next time I see you, I’ll act all friendly but say mean things under my breath.)