Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Kern Pratt Unleashes Broken Chains

Welcome back to Professor Johnny P’s Juke Joint. We’re getting ready to ring in the New Year with a lot of friends, a few specials, and some of the most amazing music you’ll hear in the thriving metropolis know as Jordan’s Branch. I’ve been meaning to write up my last review of 2015, but so many things got in the way that I’ve sneaked off to the office in order to get a little peace and quiet.
First of all, thank you for dropping by, thank you for listening to Time For The Blues, and thanks for helping to spread the word that the blues are alive and well. I’ve been spending most of the day putting the finishing touches to our list of Best of 2015 Albums and we’ll be playing those shows in early January. There are quite a few surprises on this year’s list and I’m thinking we might need to change the format for next year’s shows.
We’ve received so many amazing independent releases the past 12 months and it looks as if that trend will continue for some time to come. It used to be that you had to catch the eye of a major label to get your music recorded, but now, as long as you can come up with the money to record yourself you can distribute via the internet and get noticed by your audience and really make a splash.
In other words, keep those independent releases coming. They may not all be the greatest, but so many are fun that next year I’m thinking of putting out a Best of 2016 Independent CD show.
Send your nominations in early.
It’s also the time of Resolutions. I tend not to make too many so I don’t disappoint myself too quickly. Or, I sometimes resolve to do the opposite of what I really need to do so that when I mess up, I’m doing the thing I needed to do in the first place. So, I resolve to gain 20 pounds and to dress worse than normal at all times.
Those are pretty good.
But as far as this blog goes, I have to confess it became sort of a red-headed stepchild for a while. Even now, it’s not being updated nearly enough. So my resolution is to post twice a week; Sunday and either Wednesday or Thursday. That should keep me up on the new releases and give you more bang for your buck.
Let’s give a listen to our last review of 2015 and agree to meet back here in a few days, shall we?
I was drawn to Kern Pratt’s CD BROKEN CHAINS because of the cover. It was a simple bare tree and a distant horizon done in sepia tones. It was a nice quiet shot that immediately gave me a feeling of home. I know you can’t judge a book by its cover so I looked inside and found our old friend Eden Brent playing on a track as well as Kenny Neal.
Already this is looking promising.
Pratt wrote or co-wrote five of the disc’s twelve songs and provides guitar and vocals on all the tracks. He is backed by David Hyde on bass; Nelson Blanchard on drums, keyboards, and background vocals; Sam Brady on the B-3 organ; and a horn section comprised of Lacy Blackledge on trumpet; Bob Henderson on tenor and alto sax; Pete Verbois on baritone sax; and Chris Belleau on trombone and Luzianna washboard. Background vocals are provided by Denise Owen and Elaine Foster. Aside from Brent and Neal, Luc Borms guests on harp and Wes Lee plays resonator guitar on two songs.
BROKEN CHAINS has a very nice old school feel with more than a little swamp mixed in to keep things interesting. Pratt’s music is deeply steeped in the fertile ground of the Mississippi with a lot of influences coming at you straight on, and sneaking in from the edges. He’s got a great band, a strong voice, and a distinct personality that show affect every blues lover.
Delta Mourn’ is a very short piece of resonator guitar and morning sounds. Come on, it’s time to get up.
We quickly launch into Greenville Mississippi Blues, an homage to Pratt’s roots that uses some nice guitar riffs against the horn section and just a touch of Eden Brent’s boogie style piano. It’s a good roadhouse bouncy number that lets us know we’re going to have some fun with this album.
Pratt starts off with a blistering riff on Lights Are On, But Nobody’s Home, a solid blues number. With growling vocals and guitar pyrotechnics, this is the kind of song that’s always going to be a standout whenever the band slides into it. It’s a great number, and I can only wonder how the crowds react when it’s played live.
Somewhere South Of Memphis continues the strong blues feel but slightly slows down the tempo. Pratt’s vocals are smoother and he slides in and out nicely letting the band take the leads. Brady’s B-3 trades off with Pratt’s guitar nicely.
Then Black Hannah tells the story of a musician’s lovely black guitar. BB King’s Lucille comes to mind, but there is that relationship between an artist and their medium. We all know musicians that can only create with a certain instrument to make sure the feel is just right. The song drives hard.
Pratt keeps the pace up with Cotton Pickin’. It’s a bouncy fun instrumental that showcases Pratt’s guitar and the entire horn section. Coming at roughly the half way point in the album it acts as a de facto intermission. It also reminds us that this band is tight and can play with anyone.
Don’t Leave Me Baby starts with some interesting percussion and some horn riffs leading quickly into the lyrics. It’s a plea from the bottom of the heart and Brady’s B-3 takes the song in nice direction. The interplay between the horns and the rest of the band is the spark that drives this group. They are well-disciplined and just basically smoke it. I can’t wait to see them live!
Next up is Mel London’s It Hurts Me Too. Pratt slows the tempo way down and Borms’ plaintive harp gives this song a distinctive sound. The band is stripped down to the barest essentials and it can’t help but make you sit up and listen. This is a great interpretation of an often neglected song.
The band picks up the pace with Handcuffed To The Blues, giving Pratt a canvas to paint his vocals. It’s easy to see that while he didn’t write this particular song, it has a strong meaning for Pratt. So many have endured tragedy in their lives and feel that wherever they go, whatever they do, that tragedy is always near the surface driving them. If it can be shaken, it’s often through some form of expression; music, art, writing, etc. Pratt uses his music to exorcise those demons and his pain is translated into music that moves us. It’s a great song.
Pratt’s guitar kicks off Smokin’ Gun, and Denise Owen takes the lead vocals out for a spin. It’s an interesting change of pace and her voice is strong and fits the song nicely.
There’s a little bit of honky tonk in Soulshake, the kind of song that wants you to get up and move what you’ve got. With the horns kicking in, it’s the kind of number that’s a sure crowd pleaser. Once again the group shows its versatility and just seems to be having fun.
The title track, Broken Chains, closes the CD with that same mournful resonator guitar bringing us full circle. Almost like a call to prayer, it reminds us that we all have those chains that surround us and don’t want to let us be free. But maybe, just maybe, we’ll find a way. God knows, Kern Pratt has found his way through the darkness, perhaps there is hope for us all.
Kern Pratt and company have put together a wonderful CD that mixes his Delta roots with a little bit of New Orleans voodoo magic, Kansas City boogie, and more than a heaping helping of Chicago jump. It’s got an awful lot of spice and something for just about everyone.
For information about where you can catch Pratt, check out his website at http://www.kernpratt.com/. When you finally catch up to them, tell ‘em The Professor sent you!
Be safe in the New Year and the next time you’re in Jordan’s Branch, be sure to pay us a visit.


(Picture of Kern Pratt taken from his website. If you are the copyright holder and want it removed, you shouldn't have put it out there in the first place. Sigh, just let us know...) 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Enjoy Benny Turner's Journey

We’re nearing the end of 2015 and heading into another year we all hope will be the greatest one yet. Of course we had the same hopes for this year, and, well, let’s just say we faced some pretty tough challenges. With a presidential race heating up and breaking down, let’s just keep our fingers crossed and see if we can get our mojo working to make the world a little better off than it was before.
While I’m writing this, it’s a quiet Sunday morning around the Professor’s place. Mrs. Professor did a yeoman’s job over the holidays and is taking a well-deserved rest. Her mother, the 93-year old affectionately known as “Grammy Blues,” is also asleep. I’m just taking five from house chores to listen to some good music – and think about things to come.
As you may know, I receive a lot of CDs through the mail. Not as many as I would like, so please – artists, publicists, record labels, and fans in general – please keep ‘em coming. If you’re not sure how to send them to me, the mailing address is WCVE-FM 23 Sesame Street Richmond, VA 23235 ATTN: Time For The Blues / John Porter.
If you have any other questions, email me or check out our FAQs HERE…
Today’s CD is one of those great independent records that showed up pretty much out of the blue, and I am so glad it did. Benny Turner, whose 2014 NOLA Blues release JOURNEY was unfairly buried on my desk for a while, is one of the finest example of soulful blues that I have heard in a long time.
The ten songs on JOURNEY were all penned by Turner and he is joined by some fine musicians including Charles Moore and Derwin “Big D” Perkins on rhythm guitar; Keiko Komaki, Josh Paxton, and Tom Worrell on keyboards; Jason Minglehoff on sax; Barney Floyd on trumpet; Jeffrey “Jellybean” Alexander on drums, and the harp stylings of Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes and Patrick Williams.
While I was admittedly not terribly familiar with Turner and Company as their own act, I did know him as Freddie King’s brother and a sideman to many of the legends of blues. I quickly found out that in 2010 he began to carve out his own niche and now I have become an ardent fan and will be faithfully looking at his tour dates to see when I can catch them live.
Breaking News starts the album off with a little steel guitar provided by Marc Stone. Coupled with the lively horn section and Turner’s strong vocals augmented by Deanna Bernard and Ellen Smith, it’s the kind of song that sets up the rest of the CD as a fun journey.  
With a title like Don’t You Ride My Mule, you know Turner knows his stuff. It’s got a little West Coast feel but quickly slides into more of a gospel based Chicago sound. Paxton’s keys get a workout and the song has a solid old-school feel to it. Barnes turns in a very tasty harp run.
Turner slows things down for How I Wish. Here is where his voice really takes a star turn. He has one of the most soulful voices and is in total command of his instrument here. There is a real power to his silky smooth vocals and they play beautifully against the keyboards and horn section. It’s a great song.
I Wanna Make It Right takes the tempo up ever so slightly. Turner’s vocals get another workout as he works in more of a breathy torch style. He can make anyone sit and listen to him with no trouble at all. The combination of these two songs is very strong and by this point I am totally hooked on the album.
Next up is a fun little instrumental, My Mother’s Blues, which features a lively kazoo played by Turner. It sounds like the kind of fun one can have just jamming with friends and not taking yourself too seriously.
Now that we’ve had a little swing intermission with the previous song, it’s time to up the tempo some more with I Wanna Give It To You Baby. Let’s just cut to the chase with the lyrics and express just what it is the singer wants to do, baby…
Turner slows things down again with Worn Out Woman, an appreciative look at what so many women do on a daily basis. Any person that doesn’t acknowledge the incredible amount of work that their support person does for them (female OR male) doesn’t have a clue. This is another great song and Turner’s vocals are in top form.
He starts to increase the tempo a little with My Uncle’s Blues (Fannie Mae). He loves to play against the harp and keys with a fun number.
We’re back in slow territory with Voodoo Lady. He takes some of the standard imagery from earlier songs and stands them on their head. The lyrics are clever and the song pulls you in. Turner has a lot of fun with this number and I would love to see him do it live – it’s got to be a killer.
The album finishes up with What’s Wrong With The World Today. It’s a controlled number that asks some of those age old questions that no one has ever been able to answer.
It’s a very satisfying album that would easily have made my favorites list for 2015 and now that I’ve learned that he’s working on a new CD that’s scheduled to release in 2016, I’ll be eagerly awaiting that one and will pounce on it as soon as it arrives.
In the meantime, be sure to visit http://www.bennyturner.com/ for more information and tell ‘em The Professor sent you.
See you in a few days.
Deep peace from Jordan’s Branch and our sincere wishes for a great new year.


(Photo of Benny Turner stolen from his website. If you are the copyright owner and want me to take it down, notify me and I will do so. But I won't like it. No sir, not one bit...)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Hard Swimmin' Fish take One Step Forward


It’s no secret that I am a big fan of the River City Blues Society in Richmond. Not only have they been an underwriter of Time For The Blues, they have been kind enough to include me and Henry in their activities – hosting and emceeing their annual Blues Festival, Parkfest; acting as a judge at their Blues Challenge and their CD challenge, and letting us join in the fun at their annual Holiday Gathering.

They run a number of shows during the year, some on Friday evenings, some big shows on the weekends, and once a month on a Sunday Brunch.

Mrs. Professor and I were able to attend one recently as we were in town to review a play and decided to stay over and see the group the Society had booked for the show. I was not familiar with Hard Swimmin’ Fish, but was intrigued by their website and figured it would definitely be worth our time to visit with friends, enjoy a little brunch and hear some good blues music.

If you are reading this and don’t belong to a blues society, I suggest you give yourself a great present and join one. Or two. Or however many you can locate near your house. If there aren’t any nearby, start one. It’s a great way to commune with like minds and you just might find yourself building up your record collection as you discover more and more great music.

Hard Swimmin’ Fish is a hard driving quartet out of the Northern Virginia - Maryland area, the kind of bar band that just might sneak up on you and hit you with a tight show and have some CDs to fatten up that collection.

On this particular Sunday, they had two CDs on their swag tray; One Step Forward and The Hard Swimmin’ Fish Live. I picked them both up for $20 (special discount for blues hosts) and popped in the studio effort on the way back to the mountains. Dangling participle aside, it was a good choice and by the time we made it back to the Juke Joint, I was hooked.

Get it, hooked? Sheesh, tough audience.

The core Fish are Demian Lewis on guitar and vocals, Waverly Milor on harmonica and vocals, Jason Walker on drums and percussion and Randall Ball of upright and electric bass. They are joined on one number by Carl Disque on saxophone. These guys have apparently been together since high school having started out as a goth band and finding their way over to the blues.

Put Me Down starts off the album with Lewis’ vocals playing with Milor’s harp and the rhythm section providing a tight beat. Milor’s harp gets a strong workout and you get the feeling that he is going to grab just about every break he can. Lewis slides in effortlessly to take his break and he shows some solid licks.

Next up is Have Your Way With Me, a fun raucous number that easily could get the audience up and dancing. Again Milor and Lewis trade off leads. They lyrics are upbeat and bouncy and should be a lot of fun live.

The band quickly segues into Hear Your Mama Calling. A crunchy number that could easily slip into swamp territory with a slightly different arrangement. Lewis’ vocals are more growl than slick, and this could be one of those that pulls you under its spell. Milor’s harp soars, and Walker’s drumming is very good.

The title track, One Step Forward, is a fast driving song that picks you up immediately and doesn’t let you go. It shakes you around with its boogie beat. Lewis’ guitar doesn’t let up and this one has to be a killer when done live.

Blind Love slows things down nicely and shows that the band has more than one speed. Sometimes the heart of the blues beats slowly and this is a nice touch. I love the long harp intro and you immediately feel like you are in a smoky nightclub. Milor’s lyrics are a little off-kilter which makes you listen all the more. This is a great song, maybe my favorite on the album.

The next selection, Just What You Need, drives, but in a lower gear. Lewis’ voice is smoother and the rhythm section of Walker and Ball are in fine form, allowing Lewis and Milor to trade off until Lewis starts a little National Steel work that dominates the song.

Up until now, all the songs have been written by either Lewis or Milor. Can’t Judge A Book is a tune written by Willie Dixon and the band makes it sound as if it were written for them. They capture the pure fun that Bo Diddley originally put into the song without sacrificing their own unique sound.

The other song not written by Lewis or Milor is Bukka White’s Shake ‘Em On Down. Once again we’re taking a slight detour to a more Delta approach. The vocals are more growl, giving the number a more primitive sound and Lewis’ guitar dominates the selection.

The HSF slows things down a little for Done Me In giving us a nice transition. Milor’s harp is more subtle; staying in the background and giving off some ghostly riffs while Lewis takes us through this song of despair. The entire band takes a turn in the spotlight and you know this is one they could jam on live.

Guest saxophonist Carl Disque adds a little 1950’s flavor to Sorry Baby, But It’s True. This reminds the Professor of those first tentative dances where the girls all stood on one side of the room and the boys hid on the other. Who would be the first to cross that room and extend a hand. (If you think it was me, I was hanging out with the adult deejaying the party telling her what records to play. I definitely would have played this one.)

No Damn Good starts out with a nice noir feel with a little different drumming approach by Walker. Remember the blues can take on a variety of guises and the lyrics are definitely the blues. Lewis’ guitar soars again and gives us a very cool flavor. Highly recommended.

The album closes out with I Don’t Mind, a little more National Steel to give us that down home Delta sound. This has a very cool old school feel to it and takes us out nicely. It’s a very satisfying end to a good CD.

These guys are good and worth the price of admission to catch them live. I suggest checking out their website at www.hardswimminfish.com to find out when they are going to play a club or festival near you. In the meantime, I’m already planning on which songs to play on Time For The Blues and looking for their earlier CDs.

In the meantime, I think I need to add this one to the Juke Box. Hey boys, if you find your way to Jordan’s Branch, drop by the Juke Joint. First round is on the Professor.


(Picture was taken from the Hard Swimmin' Fish website, if they want me to take it down, they'll have to admit that my hooked joke was funny. Otherwise, it stays...)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Parkfest 2015 - Performers and Candid Shots




Brother and sister duo Cole and Logan Layman kicking off things at 2015's Parkfest. Once again, the River City Blues Society throws a great party under sunny skies.

 A little larger photo of Cole and Logan Layman showing off their stage.



Logan Layman Rocking Out



Our intrepid Sound Man making every one sound awesome!

Cole and Logan Layman In Action!

A couple of Roadies chilling in the heat of day!




The Jon Spear Band Rocking old school




Everybody gets to boogie!
































Capo the Blues Dog relaxing between acts!







One of out great sponsors!




Logan Layman joining Debbie Davies on stage!




Logan and her fuzzy frog slippers waiting to go on stage with Debbie Davies








Debbie Davies regretting her decision to meet The Professor



J.P. Soars and the Red Hots











J.P. Soars and Debbie Davies joining forces

 It was a beautiful day for Parkfest 2015 and I was honored to once again act as the Emcee for the event along with my partner and good friend Henry Cook. The acts were phenomenal - Debbie Davies was one hot rocking babe and J.P. Soars showed why he is one of the most in-demand acts around. Getting a chance to introduce both of them to an enthusiastic crowd was a highlight of my year.

Plus getting to introduce our friends, Anthony Rosano and the Conqueroos, The Jon Spear Band, and In Layman Terms was a real thrill. Sometimes we live vicariously through the exploits of our friends and watching them get the audience up and dancing under the warm blue sky was so much fun.

Whenever you get a chance to see live music - grab it! You never know when you are going to get the chance to experience the greatness that is the blues. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Wendy DeWitt and Kirk Harwood Plot a Near Perfect Getaway

It’s no secret that the Professor loves that old school sound. I don’t have a problem with artists stretching the boundaries of the music we all love – heck, that’s what artists are supposed to do. But for my money, you just can’t beat a sound that reaches into your soul gets ahold and won’t let go. Whether it’s blues, country, bluegrass, gospel, or that hybrid they call Americana – you just know it when the song starts.
I’ve been listening to a lot of different artists lately searching for that sound and knowing that I’ve got it somewhere in this big pile on my desk. Time to shut the door, put on a kettle for tea, and let the cares of the world disappear for a few hours while I go looking for something that I have faith will be in one of these padded envelops.
I go through two or three and sample the first couple of songs. They’re not bad, but not quite what I’m looking for. I put them over to one side so I can evaluate them a little later and pick up one from my friend who sends me some of the best performers on the planet.
I’m not familiar with Wendy DeWitt and Kirk Harwood when I put their CD GETAWAY into the player. Within a few bars I am hooked. Absolutely hooked. This is the exact sound for which I have been searching. DeWitt’s vocals coupled with her beautiful piano and Hammond Organ playing are heavenly and are perfectly matched by Harwood’s percussion.
They are joined by Steve Freund on guitar, Steve Evans on bass, Mike Rinta on trombone, Tom Poole on trumpet, and Keith Crossan on tenor sax. DeWitt wrote all but three of the songs on the album.
Yeah, this is it. The other packages can wait while I listen to this one for a while.
Sonoma County kicks of the CD with some serious boogie woogie. It’s that left hand on the keyboards that pulls me in immediately. She throws her horn section to the forefront almost immediately letting you know this is definitely a hard driving west coast sounding album. I’m already into it and loving this sound.
Then we move to Treat A Woman, a bouncy swing number that gives DeWitt the opportunity to stretch her vocals. She gets into Janis Joplin territory with her growling scream, but keeps it completely under control.
DeWitt slows things down nicely with Sometimes I Wonder, a deep soulful ballad driven by Harwood’s percussion and her own sparse piano. This is a beautiful number and truly shows off her vocal prowess.
Built To Last continues the slow pace, but she’s so controlled and you can feel the gospel sliding in to add spice and fervor to her voice. She has added organ to her piano in order to change the tone and it’s a nice effect.
Chuck Willis’ Feel So Bad is the second longest track on the album with Freund’s guitar taking an extended lead. It’s a great bluesy jazzy number that you could just see the band extending while playing live. DeWitt’s voice dips and drops and then soars to heaven making this an incredible number. Love it.
Big Joe Turner’s 29 Ways is next and DeWitt gives it that growl that just makes the song come alive. Once again Freund demonstrates his ability with the pyrotechnics as he tears through the lead.  
DeWitt and Harwood then perform Folks Like You, a song written by Robert Thomas and Steve Martin Freund. It has an old school duet sound with DeWitt running a little boogie piano behind it and letting Freund pick out a couple of leads. It’s a fun slower paced song.
They keep the slower pace going with I Want To Believe You, a plaintive number of a woman trying so hard to believe her man but the evidence just won’t let her. Harwood keeps the tempo slow and Freund has several nice fills, but it’s DeWitt’s voice that lights the flame of this torch song.
Never Be Too Much picks up the pace with Harwood laying down a steady beat giving DeWitt the opportunity to barrelhouse her piano. This is a smoky little number that gets you up and moving around.
Another up tempo number Trouble is next and you can hear her left hand pounding that bass. The horn section adds a little swing to the number and takes it over the edge. A terrific quick song.
She closes out the CD with Everybody’s Crying For Something. It’s a medium tempo song that showcases her amazing vocals even further. It’s a nice way to end the CD and leaves us wanting some more.
This is a solid album and a great way to send an afternoon. By the time I had gotten to the end, I knew that I had completely forgotten my tea and that I had a new album to put on the juke box. It’s going to get a lot of play there and on Time For The Blues.
After I listened to the CD and wrote up my thoughts, I went to her website and within five minutes I was slapping myself in the forehead. How could I have forgotten that they were finalists at the IBC in 2014? A little senility settling in the Professor’s brain, I guess.
She is known as The Queen of Boogie Woogie in her hometown, the Bay Area (and anywhere else she’s played I guess). You’ll get no argument from me – she’s got a great sound and I’ll be looking for more of her CDs right away.

In the meantime I’ll be listening to GETAWAY and you should too.

(Images lovingly borrowed from Wendy DeWitt's website, http://www.wendydewitt.com/, you should go there and read all about her. If you are the copyright holder and want me to remove the pictures, contact me and I will be happy to comply. No I won't, I'll comply, but I won't be happy...)