Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Tangled With In Layman Terms

This is an album for which I have been waiting a long time. I’ve known the brother and sister duo of Cole and Logan Layman for several years and have had the pleasure of seeing them live on several occasions as well as listening to their early EPs, and even had them live on Time For The Blues.
When I heard that they were going to put TANGLED, I was excited for them, and when I heard that they were going to raise the necessary capital via crowdsourcing methods, I was equally impressed by their efforts.
If you haven’t got them live at either a club or a festival, these young guns of the blues are about 18 and 15 years old and they play like they’ve been in the business 40 years or more. Cole is a guitar wizard of the first order who drives the music and his younger sister Logan has great chops on the bass. But it’s her voice – oh my God that voice - that sounds like it’s connected to all the great blues singers of the past and you just can’t believe that this incredible voice is coming out of a barely five feet tall teenager.
As good as this album is, and it’s very good, it’s almost a disservice to the pair as you can’t see them. They are not just good musicians with a voice that comes along maybe once in a generation, no, they are entertainers who will put on a great show while they have fun playing.
There are nine songs on the CD; five were written by the duo under the band’s name, two are written by songwriter Holly Montgomery, and one each by Howlin’ Wolf and Janis Joplin. Cole and Logan carried the bulk of the music on guitars and bass along with Logan’s vocals, but they were helped out by producer Ron Lowder Jr on drums and various other instruments; Brian Kloppenburg on keys and organ; Ron Lowder Sr on tenor sax; Rick Thomasson and Mike Wholley on trumpet; Russ Robertson on trombone; and Jack Campbell on harmonica.
The band opens with the title track, Tangled, and producer Lowder has added a solid horn section. I’ve heard this song stripped down, but never with the fatter Chicago sound. It handles the translation, but I might have saved it until later in the album. Still it’s a driving song and one that would definitely get an audience moving.
You get a feel for the power in Logan’s voice with the ballad Fake It ‘Til I Make It. This is late night smoky nightclub territory with just the singer holding onto the microphone and spilling her heart to the audience. Cole takes a hot break and gives the song a real edge. It’s a good number.
The next song is the swinging Don’t Even Try, and you can hear Logan double tracking her voice to give the feel of background singers. It’s a solid driving song that gets to the audience and keeps them moving around the dance floor. Nice organ break – something that I’ve never heard at any Layman’s show. It’s a good touch.
Cole’s guitar opens up Heartbroken with a real Texas feel to it. This is a very good honkytonk song that would get just about any group worked up. Logan’s vocals bring it home and it sounds like she’s just toying with her audience while letting them know she’s in charge. At least until the guitar break.
Things slow down on I’m Not Ready, but the band keeps the intensity high. This is another one of Logan’s best vocal interpretations. She really seems to be mature beyond her years and she’s in total command of the lyrics. A very good song.
So many artists have covered Howling Wolf’s classic Smokestack Lightning, and the Layman’s have managed to tap into something primal with their interpretation. I’ve seen them perform this live on a number of occasions, including once on Time For The Blues. I’ve always enjoyed their playful nature with the song. Logan gets a chance to amp up her bass for this number and it adds a sense of urgency to the song. Virginia Beach harmonica guru Jack Campbell adds a lot of flavor to the song.

The next couple of songs are Layman originals, starting off with the swinging Won’t Let It. Logan shows off some jazzy approaches on this song and Cole has some fun on it as well. The next song, Karma, is a kick ass driving number that really shows what the team is capable of doing. Cole wails on a cigar box guitar and Logan’s vocals are in top form. Great song, and will probably be one of their signature numbers for a long while.
They end the album with Janis Joplin’s Move Over. As you might suspect, it rocks and is a great follow up to the previous song. Logan is once again in total control of the vocals and Lowder Jr’s drums give the song a driving backbeat. Cole’s break is the sound of a top musician at the end of the night showing the audience he’s still got a lot more in the tank.
This self-released album is a lot of fun and delivers in a big way while promising that much more is waiting from the Laymans. They are still experimenting, still growing, and I fully expect that they will become a driving force for the blues.
Check out this first album, and find out all sorts of information from their web site http://www.3inlaymanterms.com/. I was fortunate enough to get an early copy of the album for review purposes, and it will be available shortly if it’s not out already. While you’re checking out the website, check their appearances as with Cole about to start college, school year gigs might be difficult to find, but you know they will be in many of the major festivals during the summer months.



Tuesday, March 29, 2016

John Németh Brings Memphis Grease To The Tin Pan

Until recently I never contemplated reviewing albums that weren’t the newest on the market, but I found myself in a situation where I needed to prepare myself for a review on an artist with whom I had very little familiarity. John Németh is coming to Richmond’s Tin Pan on Wednesday, April 6 and I am scheduled to review the show.
Even though I had heard of Németh, I didn’t have any of his music and I wanted to learn more before I checked him out live. You may not believe it, but the Professor does like to have a little preparation before writing about an artist.
This wasn’t a problem for the good folks at Blue Corn Records who sent me a copy of Németh’s 2013 release MEMPHIS GREASE and I am glad they did. He is a blue eyed soul singer of the top variety and not a bad harp player either. He has a refreshing approach to the music and a definite love and admiration of the Southern approach.
He obviously didn’t learn that from his home state of Idaho.
Nothing against The Gem State, but it is not well-known for its contributions to the world of blues, soul, and rhythm and blues. But thanks to Németh’s efforts, that just might change.
Every so often I mention the album’s producer, but rarely extol their virtues. That’s a bad habit of mine that I need to break, because it is very often the producer who helps the artist translate his or her ideas into their eventual sound. Here, Németh is lucky enough to work with producer Scott Bomar, composer of film scores for Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan as well as producing Cyndi Lauper’s Memphis Blues.
With an artist like Bomar twisting the knobs, Németh needed to assemble a good backing band. That’s where The Bo-Keys come in. Besides working with Bonar of a frequent basis, they have backed a veritable who’s who of soul and blues music and can create a beautiful sound. Regular listeners of Time For The Blues might even recognize the name of background vocalist Percy Wiggins, who at one time recorded for Goldwax, that little label that had good talent but couldn’t escape the shadow of the better known STAX.
The members of The Bo-Keys include Howard Grimes drums; Bomar himself Fender bass and percussion; Al Gamble keyboards and backing vocals; Joe Restivo guitar; Marc Franklin trumpets and horn arrangements; Kirk Smothers tenor sax; Art Edmaiston baritone sax; and joining Wiggins on background vocals are Susan Marshall, Reba Russell, Christopher Barnes, Calvin Barnes, and Courtney Barnes.
There’s a baker’s dozen of songs on the album, and Németh wrote all but three of them: Otis Rush’s Three Times A Fool, Howard Tate’s Stop, and Roy Orbison’s Crying.
The song list for MEMPHIS GREASE is as follows:
Rush’s Three Times A Fool gets things started with a solid wall of STAX sounding rhythms and Németh’s soulful voice. It’s evident that we are in good steady hands and that this promises to be a good album. Listen for Németh’s harp break, the man’s got talent!
Next up is the jaunty Sooner Or Later, that kind of has a light almost beach music vibe and some very nice lyrics. The Muscle Shoals sound is nicely captured here. This one would have gotten a lot of AM Radio airplay in the ‘60’s.
A strong harp and horn attack opens up Her Good Lovin’, before Németh’s vocals take over and the tempo slows down. This one has that Memphis sound blended with a little reggae approach. The resulting sound is pretty good and it definitely makes you sit up and take notice.
The full horn section gets a workout on Stop and Németh’s vocals are very much in that early STAX sound. His high notes rock and he’s got the funky tempo down pat. This is a very good interpretation of the well-known song. And the guitar rocks hard on the break.
Another Németh original, If It Ain’t Broke, is a tender soulful ballad that hits you in the heart. This is one of those great songs where you can just picture the singer holding onto the microphone and pouring out his emotions. Love this song.

A funky backbeat takes us into I Can’t Help Myself, and the horn section quickly takes over the song. It’s that jump swing boogie that gets you moving around the dance floor. This is a great show piece and must be a crowd pleaser.
Not many people would tackle Roy Orbison’s immortal masterpiece, Crying, but Németh not only takes it on, but he delivers a unique performance that is very good. His vocal approach is softer, more languid, but is still in that very soulful vein. It’s quite lovely.
After the quiet power of Crying, Németh moves back into solid blues territory with My Baby’s Gone. His voice growls and snarls and his harp punctuates the song with short almost violent bursts. This is a song of pure heartbreak and the lyrics are stripped down to reflect that pain.
The doo-wop sounding Testify My Love is next and the vocal harmony is very nice. The gospel influence is evident in his voice and the rhythm of the bass and drums. The background vocals are low and slow provide a canvas for Németh’s voice to soar when it needs to. It’s an old fashioned number that just about everybody should appreciate.
The harp brings us into Bad Luck Is My Name and is joined by the horn section. This is another song that is in pure blues territory and the kind of number that I could have heard any of the greats taking on and adding it to their repertoire. It has an exciting sound to it and makes good use of Németh’s harp.
The blues keep on rolling with Keep The Love A Comin’ and Németh’s harp keeps getting a workout. His vocals are strong, and there is an optimism to the song. It’s almost like he has moved through the darkest times and has not come out a little into the light.
He also keeps it light for the next song, Elbows On The Wheel. It’s the story of the musician who hasn’t quite made it enough to satisfy his woman and who wants him to get that dreaded day job. Been there, done that. Hey John, if you play this well, keep that night job will ya?
Németh ends the album with the beautiful ballad I Wish I Was Home. It’s a sentiment most of us have felt from time to time, no matter if it was a long held home, or a recent one made up of like-minded friends, home is that place we all want to be. It’s a gorgeous song and a great way to bring this lovely album to a close.
Now that I’ve had a chance to listen to this artist, I can’t wait to catch him live at The Tin Pan. Doing a bit more research, I see that he won the 2015 Blues Music Award for Best Soul Blues for this album, and after listening to it, I can honestly say I agree with his well-deserved victory.
I don’t much about his tour schedule, but you can find out a heck of a lot more about him, and even order any of his seven albums. I’ll be picking up some at the show – you know he’s got to have some, and I’ll be sharing them soon on Time For The Blues.
If you can’t wait, make sure to drop by http://johnnemeth.com/ and get your hands on some sweet soul sounds now. And if you haven’t gotten your tickets yet, may I suggest that you type in http://www.tinpanrva.com/ on your computer and get them right away? I don’t know how many tickets are left, but I would hate to miss John Németh any time he comes through.


(Pictures of John Németh artfully removed from his website. Photo along the train tracks by Aubrey Edwards and used by permission.)




Sunday, March 27, 2016

Balkun Brothers Release Self-Titled Album

I’ve written several times about how much I appreciate artists pushing the boundaries of their art form. Without these courageous people who challenge themselves and we as audience members by asking “What if” we would rarely find the next great sound, or visual image, or even the next horizon.
We don’t always have to like what they discover, but we should always respect their journey.
Last year I, along with most of the world, discovered the Balkun Brothers through their first release, ReDRova, which garnered some good reviews and more than a little airplay. It was quite the departure from the standard blues issue; the Balkuns were an interesting mix of blues, metal, and with just enough punk to spice up the attitude factor several points.
While they were out on tour with Popa Chubby they found an ally and someone who helped them produce and record their latest CD on DixieFrog Records, BALKUN BROTHERS. This album is all about the duo, heck the performers on the album include the two Balkun Brothers – Steve on guitars and vocals and Rick on drums and vocals; and Dave Welles on piano.
Eleven of the twelve songs are written by the Balkuns, and the one that isn’t is written by the blues with attitude master himself, Johnny Winter.
Within a fraction of a second of Been Drivin’ starting off the album, you know that you are in for something different. They are assured musicians, but the sound sounds like so much more than a couple of guys playing chords against heavy drums. It’s hard to define the music quickly, but you can hear various influences. It’s going to be an interesting ride.
The tempo slows down a fraction with I Know What Ya’ Did, but the intensity stays high. The song has a little touch of swamp in it and it has an ominous feel to it as well. There is a real menace to this song, a real bite.
Steve drives the next song, She Got It All, with some good slide work while Rick adds a driving beat. So far there is nothing quiet about these boys – they are pounding their songs hard and I can only beat that the younger crowd that catches them in a club would go nuts over them.
We start off a little more old school with Control Yourself and some nice guitar work. The Balkuns quickly move it more into their wheelhouse and the song has more of their signature sound. The harmonies are good and I have a hard time believing that this is a two-man operation.
Cold Heart starts out driving hard and never really lets up. It definitely has a metal edge to it with pounding drums, driving guitar and vocals that seem like they are on a different plane.
The brothers get a little funky with Pawn Shop with the sad tale of a musician having to pawn his guitar. The bass line turns into an electrified guitar break and I could actually see this one (maybe in a different interpretation) being handled by a number of the old masters. Great songwriting on this one.
Johnny Winter’s Mean Town Blues gets Balkunized next and it feels right at home in their hands. Nice guitar work on top of those driving drums makes for a great sound. It just shows that they are capable of taking other artists’ music and doing capable covers without losing their own identity. Listen for the crazy Bo Diddley beat.

The Painkillers starts off with some psychedelia that morphs into a stronger backbeat. The vocals on this number are pure emotion, the singer just reaching deep into his gut to pull out his voice. A very strong song.
There’s some more funk with Bapadubap, and no I don’t have a clue as to the meaning behind the word. There’s a little soulful hip hop flavor with this song and I guess that the title refers more to an emotion than an actual word. Whatever, it’s still got a good beat to it and it’s a fun song.
Things really slow down for the start of Jail Bird. It’s got a real Delta flavor and the arrangement starts out with simple instrumentation. Whichever Balkun is singing, the growl in the voice fits beautifully and the addition of the piano is a great touch. One of my favorite songs on the album.
The old school style continues with the swamp laced Storm For The Devil. It’s another song with power guitar over driving drums, but it still has that Delta feel and it catches your soul quickly. A great follow up to the previous song.
The Balkuns end the album with Rainy Day Front Porch Blues. Talk about old school, this starts out with a jaunty little guitar plays while the rain falls all around. This is the most stripped down of any sound on the album. Seems like just when you think you figure these guys out, the really change the questions in a big way.
Like they did with their last album, the Balkun Brothers are hitting the road playing in front of every crowd they can find. They are looking to bring some younger audiences to the blues with their own brand of music and if sheer force of will can accomplish that, they just may be the ones to do it.
Make no mistake about it, BALKUN BROTHERS is not for everyone. Many purists will not be attracted to this album, but perhaps some who are looking for a different musical adventure might find themselves really enjoying their approach. Somehow I think the guys couldn’t care less about what I think, they are just happy to be pushing boundaries.
Frankly, I’m glad they’re doing it.
To find out more about them, to pick up some of their earlier CDs or to find out where they will be playing, check out http://balkunmusic.com/. I see that they are scheduled to play in Richmond in late May but the venue isn’t settled yet. I will keep you posted as soon as I know something, because I want to be there to catch them live.





Saturday, March 26, 2016

Playing Rough With Mark Cameron

There’s a special place in my heart for a hard working bar band. That’s not meant in any way to be an insult. Most musicians I know paid their dues in bars, juke joints, and various dives before they made that break that took them up to the next level.
These blue color troubadours entertain nightly (if they’re lucky) and sometimes play for years before getting that break. Others never get that break and end up just playing for love and pocket change as more and more places opt for a DJ playing a computer on shuffle.
I spent many of my formative years hanging out in places like that learning what makes a crowd tick and finding ways to connect with them. It was like getting a university degree before I even hit college. Those times were wild and wonderful, but sometimes just a little too dangerous.
When I hear a good strong bar band putting out a record, I get a little goosebumpy hoping that I’m about to discover something special. And if I’m writing about it here, you know I found something that I really liked.
Mark Camerson has just released an album entitled Playing Rough, an even dozen songs that he recorded with some strong musicians. Cameron wrote every song on the album (not an easy feat – you ever try to write twelve good songs, trust me it’s not easy). Cameron plays the guitar on all the songs, and takes the lead on vocals. He’s joined by Sherri Cameron on flute; Bill Keyes on harmonica and vocals; Scott Lundberg on bass and vocals; and Dan Schroeder on drums.
They are joined by some special guests including Sara Renner and Tonia Hughes providing some soulful singing; Scott Sansby playing some washboard and bones; Jason Craft playing the Wurlitzer piano and Hammond organ; and Greg Schutte and Nick Salisbury are credited with Additional performances.
When I find out what that is, I will let you know.
Cameron starts off the album with a little honkytonk flavor, Down In The House, a quick rocking number that is designed to get the audience out of their chairs and onto the dance floor. Can’t go wrong with this infectious number. Keyes’ harps get a good workout.
After that rousing number, the band gets a little funky with Somewhere Down The Line. The addition of some serious soul added by singers Renner and Hughes really give the song its edge. It mixes some good country with that STAX sound to create something out of the ordinary.
Things slow down a little with the gospel tinged Almost. Cameron’s voice is strong and the organ that Craft plays takes the band in a slightly different direction. The lyrics are clever and the harmonies work well on the song.
The band gets a little more country flavor in the music with Rusty Old Model T. This is another cool song with some good lyrics and introduces a new sound to the band. I like this one a lot.
Everything slows down a little with Bluesman’s Lullaby, a lovely song that is an homage to the great blues performers of the past. And to those that are keeping the traditions alive today. There is a special bond from one generation to the next, and this is a love letter to all those who have or are currently playing the blues. Beautiful song.

Cameron keeps the tempo slow, but builds it quickly on Morning After, with Schroeder’s drums giving a solid beat and Keyes’ harp punctuating the song. The guitar break is decent and I could see this song being a crowd favorite.
Cameron and the band get a little swampy on Done Me Wrong, with the use of the steel guitar. It really catches your ear as it is different from so much of the rest of the album. The harp combines beautifully with the steel guitar to create a great sound.
The band turns up the funk factor with Together. It’s a decent song with a slight edge to it – the kind that promises a little danger just around the corner if you’re not careful. Great guitar break and I like the lyrics very much.
The next song, Hammered By The Blues, is decidedly old school with an early Chess Records flavor to it. I could easily picture some of the greats tackling this tune. It’s in Muddy’s wheelhouse, and B.B. King’s as well. Very nice feel and I would love to see this one get some airplay.  
The title track, Playing Rough, has a nice crispy edge to it and I have a feeling that this is one of those tunes that completely rocks the house. The vocals have really grown on me over the course of the album and the band has a few surprises up their collective sleeves. It really makes me want to check them out live somewhere.
Next up is a song with a prison work release feel to it. Close My Eyes, uses chains rattling and foot stops to create the rhythm for the song. I had the feel that I was listening to an Alan Lomax field recording. Definitely had some nice harmony in the song.
After that unusual tune, the band winds up the album with Borrowed Time, a late night smoky bar number. The sound is stripped down to its barest essentials (minus the chains and foot stomps) and Sherri Cameron’s flute adds a nice jazzy touch to the song. It’s very sweet and you can feel it tugging at your heart.
I wasn’t familiar with Cameron at all, which I am reluctant to admit, but it’s the truth. However, now that he has appeared on my radar, I am eager to hear more from him. Maybe he’ll tour or make some appearances at a festival that I will be lucky enough to see.
If you’re interested in finding more about this band, and I hope you are, make sure to take a little time to explore their work further at http://www.markcameronmusic.net/.







Friday, March 25, 2016

Dig In Deep With Bonnie Raitt

Bonnie Raitt is one of the brightest spirits in our often too dark world. I remember seeing her in concert in a 200 seat hall long before she was so well known and she poured her heart and soul into that show. She sang, she played, and she ran that slide like there was no tomorrow.
The next time she came through my town, it was a 1200 seat hall and there wasn’t an empty seat to be found. From then on it was the biggest venues, and she still plays her heart out like she did in that tiny hole in the wall all those years ago.
Her latest album, DIG IN DEEP, is a deeply personal journey that she has been on for some time following the passing of her parents and older brother. Coming out of that personal tragedy was the album Slipstream, which helped her focus getting the truth of her life into her music.
Raitt wrote or co-wrote five of the even dozen songs on the album. But Raitt has an amazing ability to take songs that were written for others and make them sound as if they were specifically written for her. Without a doubt, her guitar is a way for her to channel her emotions as much as her voice does.
Surrounded by some of her most trusted friends, her core musicians include: George Marinelli on guitar; James “Hutch” Hutchinson on Bass; Ricky Fataar on drums; and Mike Finnigan on keys. Special guests include: Jon Cleary piano and backing vocals; Arnold McCuller backing vocals; Maia Sharp backing vocals; Joe Henry acoustic guitar; Bill Frisell electric guitar; Greg Leisz acoustic guitar; Patrick Warren keyboards; David Pitch upright Bass; and Jay Bellerose drums.
The upbeat jazzy nature of Unintended Consequence Of Love, is underscored by some darker lyrics, but Raitt’s voice is in good form and her guitar sings. It’s a good opening to the album.
Feel people could cover INXS’ Need You Tonight with the power that Raitt does next. She makes the song her own while keeping those driving elements that INXS instilled in the song. She’s turned it into more of a blues song with a funky rhythm.
Next is the more mainstream I Knew which harkens back to some of work from the ‘90’s. It’s a song with a nice easy feel to it. And some very tasty slide work by Ms. Raitt.
The next song is All Alone With Something To Say, a ballad that puts her vocals in front of a scaled down sound. The song is quiet and very powerful. How often have we all felt small in that still space of our mind? This is the dialogue that ensues.
Fataar’s drums lead us in to the upbeat tempo of What You’re Doin’ To Me, but the lyrics tell a different story. This is one Raitt wrote and the words are powerful and Finnigan’s Hammond B-3 takes a nice lead.  
The Los Lobos song Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes is next and its raucous flavor has not been toned down in the least. This is a jump up and boogie number from beginning to end. This is a great song and one that will be a good rocking number live.
The beautiful song Undone follows with its feeling of pain and regret. Utilizing electric piano and vocals to take us into the song, we are enraptured by the simplicity of the number. The band slowly enters the song as her voice swells. Gorgeous.
Raitt co-wrote If You Need Somebody, and it’s got a real funky sound to it. And the message isn’t so bad either. It’s good to know that there is someone waiting to pick us up when we fall – if only we would open up our damn eyes!
The next song is so quintessentially Bonnie Raitt, that it’s hard to believe she didn’t write Gypsy In Me. From that outstanding slide guitar and those throaty vocals and that outstanding hook, it’s a terrific song and is sure to be one of her most requested.
Raitt did co-write The Comin’ Round Is Going Through, and you can hear her frustrations with certain types of politicians. She’s not alone, so many people are frustrated by the way they have been treated, and these kind of messages help others understand that frustration. And it’s got a good dance beat…
Raitt worked with another line up for You’ve Changed My Mind, and the effect is ethereal. The song is a different tone than the previous songs on the album. It’s a late night torch song that touches the heart and brings a tear to your eye.
She wrote the final song on the album, The Ones We Couldn’t Be. The song continues the flavor of the previous with just her vocals and piano and Warren’s keyboards. The song is pure emotion and the kind of intensely personal numbers that makes you reflect on the artist’s courage in just presenting it. For most of us, there seems to be no way to express our emotions in such a powerful way – that’s why we must find those artists who come closest to expressing them for us. This is a beautiful song and a perfect ending to this great album.
It’s safe to say that I’ve been a fan of Bonnie Raitt since I saw her in that dark beer scented dive all those years ago. I’ve been a fan of her talent and her passion, and since that time I’ve watched her grow as a performer. As any true artist should, she’s taken a lot of chances and some have been more successful than others. At her core however, she has been true to her own sense of music as a form of discovery and healing.
In a recent interview with Billboard Magazine Raitt talked briefly about her belief that music can change the world, and I have to agree with that statement. But my caveat is that music changes the world one person at a time, and it starts with the artist who is creating the music. Bonnie Raitt has changed the world for the better by using the music to change and heal herself.

Now it’s time for us to DIG IN DEEP.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Blind Lemon Pledge Takes Us On A Pledge Drive

As you may know, Henry Cook and I co-host a blues show heard on Richmond VA’s public radio station and from time to time we take a little break to ask our good listeners to call in their pledge of support to the station. It helps us keep the lights on, our bills paid, and we even get to take a few shekels home so we are able to feed the family and put a little gas in the car.
It's not an aspect of the job that generally makes us thrilled, but it’s part of the job and an effective way for Public Radio to stay in contact with our audiences. If you are not already a member of your local Public Radio, I urge you to send them a check before all the radio conglomerates buy up whatever remaining stations there are and give you no choice in the music that comes out of your radio.
I just recently received a CD titled PLEDGE DRIVE from a gentleman sporting the moniker of “Blind Lemon Pledge.” Cracked me up the first time I read that. At first I wasn’t sure if this was for real, or maybe a parody act like Weird Al Yankovic, but when I remembered that Weird Al can actually play, I thought it would be fun to listen to.
After popping the CD into my player, I quickly realized that this was no parody act, but an old school sounding homage to an earlier, more gentle sound that still had some edge to it. It’s a fascinating album that may not be to everyone’s taste, but I enjoyed it very much and look forward to finding his previous albums and checking those out as well.
Pledge, or James Byfield as he goes by on his driver’s license, has been using that name since 2008 or so and has worked with a number of the best musicians in the San Francisco areal. Of course San Francisco is a hotbed of creativity and artists who push envelopes so I would expect that his journey would be interesting as well.
While he usually surrounds himself with great players, Pledge has written all twelve of the songs on the album, and handled all the instruments himself except for Jenny Reed on harmonica and Rick LeCompte on saxophone.
The quick tempo of Run John Run, kicks off the album at a frenzied pace. Immediately I was intrigued by his approach even if I was having a hard time putting any kind of label on the music. He’s got a Bo Diddly beat anchoring the song.
Things are a bit more mellow on Moon Madness, a nice drum, piano, harp combination with some cool gravelly vocals. It’s a cool sound and while there are more instruments used, those main three carry the bulk of the music. Reed can definitely play and her harp adds a lot to the song.
The next song, Nag Nag Nag, is a jaunty big band sounding number. Even Pledge’s vocals sound more like crooning than blues, but the song still has a nice feeling to it. LeCompte brings out the big saxophone for a solid break.
Pledge slows things down for the beautiful Cora Lee.  This is a song of great emotion and even if it doesn’t use a pure blues format, there is no mistaking that deep feeling. Great song.

Birmingham Walk is an unusual song that sees Pledge overdubbing his voice to create the sound. He’s using different guitars to get a grittier sound. Definitely more experimental than most of the songs on the album. Still, he’s got some great lyrics that put a new twist on an old problem.
He picks up the tempo with the hard rocking 5 Weeks Of Heaven. He’s got an early Kinks sound happening here and it’s not bad at all.
We’re at the half way point of the album and Pledge is reminding me of Elvis Costello’s early approach to his album. He mixes and matches his style on every song, finding different sounds, and not being afraid to experiment, even knowing that it may not appeal to everyone.
Plus, his songs generally run about three minutes each. They’re quick and it forces him to find the story quickly. This is not always a bad thing. It keeps us guessing and if we stumble onto a song that doesn’t catch our fancy as much as another, it’s quickly ended and we move on to the next one.
Even when I am not as enamored by one of his songs, I find his attitude and approach refreshing.
Now we go old school with She Broke The Ten Commandments, a power ballad once again utilizing Reed’s harp to underline Pledge’s electric guitar. The lyrics are strong and definitely fall into the blues category.
The slow late night feel of You Can’t Get There From Here gives Pledge a chance to show off his crooning chops. I’m always attracted to these kinds of songs and Pledge does a great job on this one. This song should be getting some air play.
He breaks out the ZZ Top-inspired funk for O Katrinah, a driving number with a real swampy feel to it. Of course that’s the perfect feel for a song dealing with the devastation of that awful tragedy. Another great song.
More funk follows with the old school sounding You Know You Really Got The Blues. Pledge adds a little slide (or possibly pedal steel) to the mix and it anchors the sound. This would be a great song done live and has to be a crowd pleaser.
If you’re thinking this might be the Beach Boys hit Kokomo, keep guessing. This is more blues with a twist. Anybody who has ever received less of a check that anticipated can identify.
The album ends with Railroad Mama and Reed’s lonesome harp mixed with some good guitar work. Pledge even plays the spoons to give it that absolute stripped down feel. I have to confess, having grown up around a grandfather who worked the rails for years, I have a soft spot for just about any railroad song, and this one is a lot of fun.
There are several albums that Pledge has put out prior to PLEDGE DRIVE, and none of them are currently in my collection. I plan on rectifying that situation quickly. I don’t know how much he tours outside of the Bay Area, there are so many venues just around San Francisco, that I’m sure he’s working most of the time. Still, you never know.
If you want to discover this unusual talent, you can find out more at his website: http://www.blues.james-creative.com/ as well as pick up those earlier CDs. Definitely marches to his own six-strings and well worth checking out.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

John Mayall Find A Way To Care

John Mayall is a legend in the world of the blues. Without him, the British Blues scene might not have ignited when it did and that could have set things back years.
But I’m not reviewing his legacy, I want to look at his most recent album FIND A WAY TO CARE, now available on 40 Below Records. After all, the man is still putting out good material and I get the feeling that he wants to be judged as to the current project, and not his career of over 50 years in the business.
It’s going to be hard to separate the two as his legacy gives him a certain bulletproof position. It’s also going to be tough, because he keeps turning out good strong material that stands on its own.
On this latest album, he once again taps the musicians he’s been working with, Rocky Athas on guitar; Greg Rzab on bass; and Jay Davenport on drums. These are the same musicians he tours with (yes, tours at the young age of 82. I’m many years younger and I don’t like to go to the supermarket, let alone a multi city tour). As a result, you can spot the chemistry between them and that’s what leads to the trust and experimentation that helps the album succeed.
He does mix in a horn section sparingly to fatten up the sound to great effect.
Mayall mixes originals with some great covers of Don Robey’s Mother in Law Blues, Percy Mayfield’s The River’s Invitation, Lightnin’ Hopkins’ I Feel So Bad, Long Distance Call from Muddy Waters, Lee Baker’s I Want All My Money Back, and Drifting Blues from Charles Brown.
The album starts off with the well-known Mother In Law Blues. Mayall’s version is faithful to the original while still staying with his signature sound. Here, he’s shouting and calling and is in good voice already.
The horn section takes the spotlight and then slips behind Mayall’s keys on The River’s Invitation. The feel is pure Chicago style bliss. The jam on the break is exciting and it’s hard for me to believe that Mayall is a 50 plus year veteran and not a fresh faced kid trying to make a name for himself.
The band slows the tempo just a smidge on Ain’t No Guarantees, but amps up the power. It’s got a solid backbone and Mayall’s vocals once again take over. While Mayall does spend a little time on guitar and harp on the album, it’s his keyboard work and vocals that really get the workout.
The guys get to rocking on I Feel So Bad, the Lightnin’ Hopkins classic. The horn section gets a few riffs in and the keys get a good workout. This song is one that Mayall and Company play while out of tour and give it a real high energy treatment. It’s a fun song and really gets the audience worked up.
The title track, Find A Way To Care, gives the horn section another workout. Mayall is in a reflective mood for once and reminds us that we need to find a way to bring our own spirit to the troubles of the world. It’s a good song and his voice is very expressive.
After the horn section taking control of the previous track, Long Distance Call strips the sound down and gives it that late night bar sound. It’s definitely old school. Athas’ guitar and Mayall’s piano blend nicely and Davenport’s quiet drums (brushes?) give it that jazzy feel.
Mayall and the band step things up a notch with I Want All My Money Back, a swinging number that gives Mayall’s shouting voice a workout. Don’t worry, he’s more than up to the task. Athas’ lead is strong and assured and trades off with Mayall’s keys.
The tempo slows down for Ropes And Chains, and Mayall punctuates the song with his harmonica playing. It has a more languid feel to it, almost a country feeling. It’s a lovely song.
We’re back into jazzy blues territory with Long Summer Days. This one has kind of an early Traffic feel to it, and that’s just a testament to Mayall’s influences from over the years. Listen to him for a while and remember who he worked with and you see an almost perfect cross pollination with every British act from the 1960’s to now.
The very slow Drifting Blues perfectly captures Charles Brown’s spirit. Once again Mayall uses his voice and piano to great effect. The song is stripped down to its quietest essentials to give it that drifting feeling.
The organ opens the first bonus track, War We Wage. It has a darker sound than any of the previous songs – a little 1960’s activism perhaps? Of course, we are currently experience a resurgence to people standing up to outside forces, so maybe the more things change, the more they stay the same. It’s a good number and Athas’ guitar really gets a workout.
The album ends with Crazy Lady, a nice ragtime style bouncy number. It’s fun and takes us out feeling good.
Mayall is in good voice and is obviously still having fun with the music. At this stage in his life, it would be very easy to just kick back in a lounge chair sipping his beverage of choice and yell at kids to stay off his lawn.
It seems like he’s surrounded himself with more talent and giving us all a ride through the blues. If you’re interested in what his concerts look like, here’s a review I posted of his appearance at the Tin Pan in Richmond, VA. You can find it here,  or here

Of course if you want to check out more about this historic artist who is still kicking ass and taking names, be sure to check out his website at http://www.johnmayall.com/ and you can see where he’s going to be touring, and even where I “borrowed” a picture or two.





Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Back Porch Party Features The Nighthawks LIVE

A lot of people toss around the title of “The Hardest Working Band In Show Business” and while we may never have a definitive answer as to who truly owns that crown; for my money The Nighthawks at the very least deserve a nomination.
Catching up with the guys at a recent show (we had never met before, but I’ve been following them for years) I got a chance to add some more of their albums to my collection, including a recent release that I somehow missed. BACK PORCH PARTY, available on EllerSoul Records captures them raw and acoustic.
No matter how you experience The Nighthawks, it’s going to be over-the-top and raucous. They have a lot of fun on stage and it translates into an audience that is more often than not whipped into the proverbial frenzy.
Over the years, there have been a number of members of The Nighthawks (for their history, be sure to get your hands on their new DVD), and the current quartet is comprised of Mark Wenner on harmonica and vocals; Paul Bell on guitars and vocals; Johnny Castle on bass and vocals; and Mark Stutso on drum and vocals.
BACK PORCH PARTY was recorded live in Richmond in front of an enthusiastic audience and it captures the essence of one of their live shows – high energy, some surprises, and one hell of a performance.
The album starts out on a high note with Rock This House and almost immediately you are drawn in to the acoustic sound. It’s not as overpowering as an electric set, but no less energetic. The song is more of a promise than a warning, after all, anyone coming to hear The Nighthawks should know what to expect.
The Patsy Cline classic Walkin’ After Midnight gets the full treatment from The Nighthawks. Cline blurred the lines between country and pop, and here the song comes out sounding very bluesy. It’s a tribute to the song itself and to the band being able to translate it so completely.
Things start out slow and low on Down In The Hole, but thinks kick up on this gospel flavored blues. Wenner’s harmonica takes a blistering soulful lead and then the band switches into more of a jazz mode. It’s a very cool take on the song.
Ike Turner’s Matchbox gets a swinging interpretation. I’m not sure who took the vocals on this one, but there’s some nice shouting going on. Wenner once again shows why he’s one of the best harp players around as he really rocks it. Bell shows he’s no slouch on the guitar and makes those six strings sing.
Next up is a very cool rendition of Willie Dixon’s Tiger In Your Tank. The band has kicked it up a notch and they are definitely firing on all cylinders on this classic. Makes you wonder why more bands don’t cover the song.
Jana Lea is a Nighthawks original by Johnny Castle. The song has a real Sun Studios Rockabilly sound and you can tell the band is having a lot of fun playing the song.
Muddy Waters is well represented by his song, Rollin’ Stone. Waters was a mentor to Wenner and he and the band capture that feeling. It’s a strong cover and very powerful. And yes, for those of young to remember the story, this is the song that Mick, Keith, and the rest of that famous band got their name.
Another Nighthawks original, Guard My Heart, by Mark Wenner is next and the band is in swing mode again. His vocals are good and the harp punctuates the song. It’s a solid jazzy number and a definite crown pleaser.
That’s one thing about The Nighthawks, they know how to blend songs near perfectly. There is just the right mix of originals and covers on this live album to keep the crowd rocking. They are terrific songwriters and can easily fill up a CD with great original music, but they know that their audience also loves to hear the way they approach the well know songs.
On this next original credited to Norm Nardini and drummer Mark Stutso, Down To My Last Million Tears, is good old fashioned shouter that gives Stutso a chance to unleash his vocals and let the rest of the band add harmony. This is one of my favorite songs on the album.
Johnny Castle contributes the next original on the album, Hey Miss Hey. This is a good old fashioned rocker that I could easily have heard Little Richard sing in his heyday. It’s fun and fast paced and pretty much guaranteed to get an audience moving and shaking on the dance floor.
Another fun old school style song, Rooster Blues rocks the audience one more time. This has that late night bandstand feel as the band was winding down but the crowd wants just a little more. Love this song.
The album ends up with a Nighthawks collaboration, Back To The City. It is credited to the entire band and it’s easy to see why.  It’s got that “last call” feel but it definitely leaves the audience wanting to see more. Just like at every Nighthawks show.
Very few bands survive the years the way the Nighthawks have. They have evolved, changed personnel, but somehow managed to keep that spirit alive. I’ve been a fan for years – long before I ever met the guys, but now that I’ve met them and had a chance to see more of their shows, I’m an even bigger fan.
Give this album a listen and you’ll see why.
In the meantime, if you want to catch them live or pick up some of their amazing CDs, be sure to visit their website at http://www.thenighthawks.com/.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Obsessed With Shari Puorto’s My Obsession

God bless those people who turn me on to new music. Whenever someone reaches out to me and says, “You need to hear this,” I will do it. It might happen right away, it might happen in six weeks, or even six months, but it will happen. I have notebooks filled with artists that I need to hear.
Of course if someone puts a copy in my hands, it tends to happen much quicker.
Recently I received a copy of Shari Puorto’s album MY OBSESSION and I can honestly say that I am obsessed with her. No, not in that creepy stalker kind of way, in that oh my great God, what an amazing talent kind of way. After hearing her vocal energy on a CD, I can’t wait for the opportunity to catch her live.
Since she tours California consistently, and I rarely get out there, I’ll be sending all of my West Coast friends to catch her live and report back to us. Of course, if Ms. Puorto ever steps into my neck of the woods, I’ll be first in line for tickets.
Her voice has been compared to all of the greats: Bonnie Raitt, Melissa Etheridge, Etta James, and the one and only Janis Joplin. Those are fair comparisons, but it is my belief that future women singers will be compared to her. Her chops are silky smooth, or gritty, depending on the song; but they are always filled with soul. Her emotion is flat out in your face and there may be precious few that can do it any better.
In case you haven’t gotten the message, she’s the real deal and belongs not only in your record collection, but on every major stage you can find.
She is backed by so many great musicians: Tony Braunagel on drums; Johnny Lee Schell on guitars and bass; Jimmy Vivino on lead guitar for three tracks; Steve Fisher on lead and slide guitar for two tracks; Johnny Hawthorn on guitars and lap steel guitar for three tracks; Mike Finnigan on Hammond B3, piano, and electric piano on three tracks; frequent co-writer Barry Goldberg on piano for Workin The Room; Jim Pugh on piano and electric piano for three tracks; Bob Glaub on bass; Raymon Yslas on percussion; Darrell Leonard and Joe Sublett on horns; Background vocals were provided by Kenna Ramsey, Julie Delgado, and Mike Finnegan with Deb Ryder and Johnny Lee Schell providing backing vocals on What’s The Matter With The World.
I mentioned that Goldberg was a frequent co-writer with Puorto, as she wrote or co-wrote eleven of the twelve songs on the album. Other collaborators included Johnny Hawthorn, Tony Braunagel, and Jimmy Vivino.
The album kicks off with some prog rock sounds as she leads us into It’s A Damn Shame. It gets funky and STAX-y right quick and before you know it, she hooks you with the grit in her voice. This should get airplay on rock stations as well as the blues stations. Great opening that promises so much more.
She keeps right on rocking with Home Of The Blues, a hard driving number that grabs you quickly and doesn’t let go. It’s another strong song that I bet is a killer when performed live. Don’t even think about not moving around to this song.
I was a little surprised by the lyrics to Six Months Sober, as it was nothing like I thought it would be. Instead it was much better. Puorto and the band are still kicking in high gear – she’s got the energy of early punk rockers but the soul of a blues angel.
She slows the pace down for Sugar Daddy, but still keeps the funk up. This is the kind of song you would expect in a smoky room as she sings to all those men who dream of something other than what they’ve got. Just remember gents, it all comes with a price.
The tempo stays slow and steady for the title track, My Obsession. We all have some obsessions and Puorto is playful and she picks up the tempo describing her obsession with possessing every pair. It’s a fun number that I’m sure gets a great response live.
She strips down the orchestration for the country flavored Old Silo Road. It’s slow, languid, and beautiful to listen to. The B3 adds a little gospel feel to the song and this one bears hitting the repeat button a few times. Lovely song, just lovely.
We go honkytonking with Workin The Room, a fun number that should get just about any party started. Goldberg’s piano gets a great workout and they rhythm section gets into the swing of things nicely. This is another that has to be fun to see live!
We get back into the funk neighborhood for Better Left Unsaid. The STAX soul feel is unmistakable and would have been right at home on that label during their heyday. It’s a terrific song that might get a little overshadowed by some of the other songs on the album, but anyone that loves that sweet soul sound will gravitate to it quickly.
She tries to stay upbeat with What’s The Matter With The World, although she raises so many questions. We’ve all asked that question many times for many different reasons, but probably never with the great guitar licks and strong drum backbeat.
The tempo slows down, but the intensity increases for All About You, and when she turns the heat up, it goes way up. This is a great warning song – as in she is warning you about how things are going to be. Wise up fool.
There’s a country feel on Turned To Stone and since blues and country share a common ancestor, that’s not so bad. Hawthorn plays a little lap steel on the song to give it that feeling, and Puorto’s vocals are every bit at home in this arena as she is with the blues.
She ends the album with the only song she didn’t write or co-write, the classic When A Man Loves A Woman. She’s silky smooth with a voice that soars to the heavens. The song takes on a different feel with her vocals giving it an ironic twist. A very nice touch and it should help even the most jaded listener come around to loving her.
Yeah, I guess I’m an unabashed fan of Shari Puorto and can’t wait to hear what else she’s going to produce. I’ve gone the entire review trying not to mention how beautiful she is, as I don’t want anyone to think that that is the main reason as to why I love this album.
I’ve seen many beautiful women struggle to be taken seriously in music and I don’t know if Puorto has faced that same obstacle. I hope for her, and for all women’s sake that she did not. But any person who listens to her – and I mean really listen – they are bound to be affected by the depth of her talent and the beauty of her voice.
As I mentioned earlier in this review, she is based out of California, Los Angeles I believe, and may not tour too far from home. There are so many great venues and festivals in the Golden State, she may have no real reason to get out on the road. But if you want to know where she is playing, or you want to help yourself to some CDs, the best thing you can do is check out her website at http://www.sharipuorto.com/. Tell ‘er The Professor sent you.


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Crossroads Duo Releases Debut Album


True to their name, Crossroads Duo is comprised of just two outstanding musicians. There are no guests on their self-titled album now available through Full Force Music. (Okay, Jennifer Dierwechter does add a sweet vocal to Tube Steak Boogie.) The two in question are Sterling Koch (pronounced “COOK”) who plays 6 and 12 string guitar, dobro, lap steel guitar, bass on three songs, and even sings his share of vocals and Jack Kulp who plays harmonica and provides vocals.
It’s about as stripped down as you can get, but the sound is old school, the kind you might have heard at an old juke joint when only a couple of guys showed up to play.
Koch and Kulp know their music very well and play from the heart as they work their way through this seven song album. One song is original (Koch’s Nothin’ But The Blues) but when you are interpreting the sounds of some of the masters like Otis Rush, John Lee Hooker, Hound Dog Taylor, Jimmy Reed, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and ZZ Top, you don’t need to add as much of your music to the mix.
The album kicks off with the Koch original, Nothin’ But The Blues and it serves as a nice invitation to their sound. If you are expecting big pyrotechnics, you will be disappointed, but if you want to hear good honest playing with some decent vocals, you’re in the right place.
Things slow down a little bit on Rush’s My Baby (She’s A Good ‘Un). Koch does the vocals while playing the strings and Kulp taking his harp out for a walk. The format allows the duo to maximize their playing by adding extended breaks.
John Lee Hooker’s Dimples gets the duo treatment with Kulp’s harmonica playing a quiet counterpoint to Koch’s vocals. Finger snaps provided the percussion and gives the song a feeling like your sitting around with a couple of world class musicians who just start jamming.
The lap steel guitar gets a workout on Hound Dog Taylor’s It’s Alright. These two have the country blues style down pat and recreate the sound as well as anybody I’ve heard play this style of blues. I wasn’t as familiar with Kulp as I was with Koch, but after listening to him play on a few songs I can state emphatically that the guy has some good chops. I want to hear what else he can do.
The duo puts a little countrified funk into Jimmy Reed and Ewart Abner Jr’s Dizzy. The number has a slower tempo but it’s full of heart and even a little vocal harmony. I would like to see this one performed live as I think it has enormous potential in front of a hot crowd.
Sonny Boy Williamson II’s Checkin’ Up On My Baby has a solid musical backbone and Koch’s vocals give it that gravel voiced approach that really sparks up the number. The guitar break trades off nicely with the harmonica and blend together to give the song a good feel.
ZZ Top’s Tube Snake Boogie is a little surprise for the album, hand claps provide the drumbeat and Koch tears into the guitars while Kulp adds harp and harmony vocals. This is a good rocker that really gets the blood pumping and the feet tapping.
Both Koch and Kulp have been around the block a few times – you don’t play with this kind of feeling if you haven’t – but I don’t know that the tour all that much out of their home state of Pennsylvania. You can find out where they will be, or even order some of their CDs from Koch’s website: http://www.sterlingkoch.com/.
If you are a fan of the more acoustic style of blues, country blues, or just good playing in general; CROSSROADS DUO is a good album to have and a great band to watch.



Saturday, March 19, 2016

Jeff Chaz Sounds Like The Blues To Me

I first discovered Jeff Chaz earlier this year when I mentioned to a good friend that I was looking for one more New Orleans player for a show I was putting together. He asked if I was going to play any Jeff Chaz and my obviously blank expression spoke volumes.
Blank expressions should not be on the face of people called “The Professor,” but this time it was me getting schooled.
When my friend shared Chaz’ album, Chronicles, with me, I was blown away by his music and his story. He was one of the multitudes wiped out by Katrina. He lost everything in that devastating storm and was just beginning to pick up his life. In the midst of doing that, he put together an amazing album that just blew me away.
I wanted to build a show around him and found out he was releasing a new album, SOUNDS LIKE THE BLUES TO ME, so I had to cool my jets until I could get that one. Once it hit my desk, I literally pounced on it and I’m glad I did. This is a terrific album that covers a lot of musical territory and Chaz’ vocals and guitar playing are as soulful as ever.
This new album is rich and expressive and calls on Chaz’ many years studying and playing the blues. Chaz wrote or co-wrote every song on the 12-song disc and you can feel his emotion in just about every bar of music. He is joined by Doug Therrien on bass; Doug Belote playing most of the drums but sharing with Allyn Robinson and Willie Parker; David Hyde on bass for You Look So Good To Me; John Autin on Hammond B-3 organ and Steinway grand piano; A.J. Pittman on trumpet (and horn arrangements); and Ward Smith on tenor and baritone sax.
Chaz kicks off the album with the title track, Sounds Like The Blues To Me. It’s the story of dealing with the pain, and when the heart starts talking it all sounds like the blues. It’s catchy and emotional at the same time. It also shows Chaz’ chops on the guitar as he lets those six strings sing the blues for him.
He gets a little funky with Make Love To You In The Sand which sounds romantic and painful at the same time. Still, the horn section gets a good workout with this bouncy number.
Chaz slows things down and strips the orchestration down with Hitchhiking In The Rain. It’s the late night story of a man who has been tossed out by his woman and he’s trying to find a place to go. It’s one of those perfect bar songs a la One More For My Baby (And One More For The Road), and Autin’s piano is plaintive and lonely. This is a great song that should be getting lots of air play.
The tempo picks up with I Am The Blues, a song that covers a lot of territory. “I was here when Eve bit into that apple, I was here when the first slave was sold…” Chaz points out that everybody needs the blues from time to time and punctuates it with some serious guitar riffs. The lyrics are clever and the music bouncy.
The horn section and Chaz’ guitar get a good workout on You Look So Good To Me. It’s got an old school feeling and is one of those songs you know will chase the folks out of those chairs and get them shaking on the dance floor. It’s a real party song and sure to be a favorite.
You have to love any song with the title Mysterious, Exotic Lady. I’ve fallen in love with more than a few of those in my lifetime. And even if they leave before we meet them, they stay a part of our lives and we wonder about them for years to come. It’s an honest song with some very telling lyrics.
I’m Goin’ After Moby Dick In A Rowboat tells the story of those of us with big big dreams, but who might not have the means to pull it off. I was hooked within seconds of this song and smile at the imagery. It’s a very well written song, funny and poignant at the same time.
More than a few roosters kick off the next song, Four In The Morning. Chaz’ guitar gets a good workout amongst the crowing and you can feel the resignation of the man who has to get up at that God Awful time of the morning and work.
The next song, Will You Be Mine, is a heartbreaker with the singer digging deep into his emotional well to ask that most important question. There comes a time in a relationship where you just have to be with that other person because you both know it’s right. This is that time.
Things start swinging with Walkin’ With My Baby. The lyrics are bouncy and sweet, but it’s the music really drives the song. This is Chaz’ crooning like it’s the late ‘40’s and everyone is optimistic about the future. While he’s walkin’ with one baby, he’s sure playing the heck out of another baby – his guitar. Or maybe, they’re one and the same…
He’s still swinging with The Mt. Vernon Blues, a fun instrumental that gives everyone in the band a chance to shine. I’ve become fascinated with blues instrumentals and the way the music conveys such great emotion. This is a solid addition to that collection.
Chaz offers up a blistering guitar riff to open You’re Bound To Get Us Both Hung. His vocals are gritty and fearful and this is one of those songs that makes you sit up and listen. It’s an interesting choice to end the album on, and it really makes me want to hit that repeat button on the CD player one more time.
SOUNDS LIKE THE BLUES TO ME is such a good album and it has that essential New Orleans feel to it. The great mix of music, the late nights, the beautiful women – it’s always how I remember that amazing city. Chaz’ manages to catch that essence and turn it into an album that’s already on my short list for the best of 2016.
If you want to discover Chaz for yourself, pick up this album (and maybe a few others while you’re at it) and find out where he’s playing next at http://www.jeffchazblues.com/. You won’t go wrong adding him to your collection as all you will want to do is laissez les bon temps rouler!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Kelly Richey Has Got Plenty Of Shakedown Soul

Sometimes it takes a couple of listenings before my mind catches up to the music. That was the way it was for me with Kelly Richey when I started listening to her recent album, SHAKEDOWN SOUL. Too many distractions took me away from the album and when I went back to hear it with fresh ears, I came away very impressed by her playing and her vocals.
Richey has a unique sound that comes from her power trio. Aside from Richey’s expressive guitar and gritty vocals (she has been compared to the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Janis Joplin), she is joined by Rikk Manning on bass and Tobe “Tobotious” Donohue on drums, percussion, scratching, sequencing and other duties. They band is augmented on some tracks by Lee Carroll on keys; Robby Cosenza on drums and percussion; and Blake Cox on bass.
One thing about Richey is that she is not afraid to push boundaries. She finds ways to take her music into unexpected directions and the sound – while maybe not the blues that some purists may want to hear – is very much driven by experience and emotion. To ensure that she is being true to her own art, Richey has written or co-written every one of the ten songs on the album.
Richey kicks off the album with Fading and a nice strong guitar riff. Her vocals are exciting and expressive and the level of musicianship is quickly established. She has a take no prisoners attitude that I like – kind of if The Runaways played the blues.
She keeps the tempo turned up with You Wanna Rock, an anthem dedicated to those slight differences couples have. She tells her lover, “You wanna rock, I wanna roll.” All with some solid hard d riving licks and drum beats to push the point. Listen for her lead; trust me Richey can play with the best of them.
Lies kicks off with a Mark Knofler style guitar riff and her voice is evil and seductive at the same time. It’s the kind of sound that lures you in with a promise – even though you’ve already broken your promise to her. Great song with a haunting ending.
Things slow down slightly for the more introspective The Artist In Me. The rhythm section is still pounding, but Richey’s guitars are softened. Her vocals have reached down to the deepest parts of her soul and the effect is chilling.
Richey drives the next song, Love, with staccato guitar work but she amps up her vocals to emphasize her lyrics. This is not some mushy love song; this is a song with backbone. The reality of love, both the great parts, and some of the not so great parts as well.
Next up, Richey shines the spotlight on one of the most common fears human beings have, Afraid To Die. There is also a paralyzing fear that goes with it – being afraid of not really living. We go through the motions on a daily basis, but how many of us can release the shackles of leading a humdrum life. This is another good song that deserves a couple of repeats when you play the album.
There’s a bit of funk happening on Only Going Up with a solid bass and drums. Richey’s vocals are sometimes a little muddy behind the instruments, but the music itself is strong.
The band comes out rocking with Just Like A River, with a decent CCR vibe. Rivers are great metaphors in all forms of literature including poetry, prose, and the blues. Here she navigates the song well and with its catchy hook and lyrics, it’s a lot of fun.
Richey and company are still rocking with I Want To Run. This is a great song to get people out of their chairs and onto the dance floor. I would love to see the band do this one live, you know it’s got to be killer.
To end the album in a different direction, Richey shows her versatility by adding an acoustic version of the first song, Fading. Here’s a song for the traditionalists and her deep voice makes this song a stand out. She shows quiet power and her guitar work rings out nicely. It’s a great way to end the album, and I am ready to go find more.
Fortunately for me, and for the rest of us who have yet to discover Kelly Richey’s magic, more of her CDs can be found on her website, https://kellyrichey.com/. If you happen to have a hankering to take music lessons from her, there’s a place on the website to tell you how to do that as well.

I’m just going to check out where she’s playing, order a few CDs and kick back and listen to her again and let the world go away for awhile.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Love Wins Again…So Does Janiva Magness

From the first time I heard her music, I’ve been a fan of Janiva Magness. The depth of her vocals, her ability to connect with the darkness of emotion appealed to me very much. Her sultry delivery didn’t hurt, but it was that ability to plumb the depths of her pain hooked me for life.
Let’s face it, the blues can drag you down if you don’t watch out.
But as we’ve talked about recently, the blues’ power is in the transformation of pain into happiness – that by confronting those past demons we are able to transcend them and come out whole. Even if someone has done us wrong, the music is the philosopher’s stone that brings us out of darkness and restores us to the light.
With this album, LOVE WINS AGAIN, Magness has declared that she has moved more into that light and has found a way to stand stronger against the forces that have opposed her in the past. It’s a brave statement and a great album.
Magness has written or co-written five of the eleven songs on the album and worked with producer Dave Darling to craft a piece of art that brings hope that we too deserve happiness and a place in the sun.
She is backed by some great musicians including Matt Laug on drums; Gary Davenport on bass; Arlan Schierbaum on piano and Hammond organ; Phil Parlipiano on piano’ Alfredo Ballesteros on sax and backing vocals; Dave Darling on guitar, bass, and backing vocals; Zach Zunis and Garret Deloian on guitars; Ismael Pineda on percussion; Brie Darling on backing vocal and percussion; and Bernie Barlow, Gary Pinto, and TJ Norton providing backing vocals.
She kicks off the album with the title track, Love Wins Again, a bouncy number that hooks you quickly. It’s optimistic, upbeat, and promises good things for the future. It’s a joyous number and a great way to start the CD.
Magness gets a little funky on Real Slow, which exhorts us to “Take your time. What’s your rush?” It’s a fun number that has a little ‘70’s feel to it.
Things slow down with When You Hold Me, a sensual number that has that late night lovers feel. Magness’ sultry low voice is seductive and promising. It’s the kind of number best listened to while holding someone you love close and you can be lost in the emotion.
Magness picks up the tempo with Say You Will, a request for someone to be there during the toughest of times. It’s nearly impossible to face those times without someone being behind you to offer support.
Doorway has an ethereal feel to it, it’s a song that clearly falls outside of traditional blues. It has more of an alt country feel, but it’s so emotive, so evocative, that I don’t care. It’s a very moving song and Magness’ voice is nearly angelic. Love this song.
It may be an often used metaphor for how we are attracted to the things that can destroy us, but Moth To A Flame is another good song. There’s a bouncy funk in the music and there is a strength in Magness’ voice.
Magness picks up the tempo with Your House Is Burnin’, a jump swing song with a strong back beat that will get the audience up and moving. The lyrics are a warning to get up and pay attention to what’s going on around you, but the music is fun.
She slows things down with Just Another Lesson. The song recounts the aftermath of a situation and how the things we go through form the life lesson that we will understand later. They are rarely easy to learn, but it’s the painful lessons that stay with us the longest.
Things stay slower with Rain Down, another powerful song that takes us through the bad times and those trouble that just seem to rain down on us from time to time. But we can escape those times, we can persevere and come through to the other side. Magness’ voice aches during this number, she reminded me of the best of Joplin’s vocals. There is a lot of power in this song.
She takes John Fogerty’s Long As I Can See The Light, and makes it seem like it was written just for her. Some journeys take us out for miles while other journeys take us inward. It’s a nice selection and has a little gospel tinge which the piano greatly adds to that flavor.
The album concludes with Who Will Come For Me, an almost mystical number of wondering what we can do as time runs away from us.  As we age, is there someone who will come for us and bring us some form of happiness and love? It’s a very brave song.
While Magness has been a blues singer for her whole career, with her last album, and especially with LOVE WINS AGAIN, there is a shift in her approach. Blues emotion certainly still dominates her vocals, but you can hear other influences and almost a completely different voice. She has power that only comes from claiming her own soul and the direction she is moving in now is deeply personal.
Perhaps I am reading more into her personal journey than I should – after all, music is often the mirror by which we are able to see our own lives. If so, this album touches me deeply and moves me. It may not be traditional blues in the sense of structure, but that is one of the great things about music – it doesn’t have to. All it really needs to do is connect with us and we will follow it on our own journey.
If you want to see what Magness is up to, or to find out if she’ll be appearing anywhere near you, I suggest you head over to http://janivamagness.com/ for all the details.