Thursday, November 12, 2015

Versatile Whelan Releases The Story of Ike Dupree

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

Deep peace from The Professor in Jordan’s Branch.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Randy McAllister turns Gristle To Gold

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

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

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

Thursday, November 5, 2015

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Reverend Freakchild Delivers the Hillbilly Zen-Punk Blues

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

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