Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Tas Cru – Simmered & Stewed

Great artists are always growing, always evolving, always learning new ways to make their art more personal. As a result, when they examine their earlier work (if indeed they do), they often fall into two camps: It is what it is – a product of where I was at the time OR God, I wish I could go back and redo that with what I know how to do now!
With Simmered & Stewed, the latest disc from bluesman Tas Cru, I think it’s safe to say that he is firmly in that second camp.
Before Cru made his last album prior to this one, You Keep The Money, he had made four journeyman albums. On those albums, which contained some of his most requested material, he was still learning his craft. For a perfectionist, everything has to come together; the songwriting, the recording, and especially the performance have all got to blend seamlessly, and in Cru’s mind these albums were good, but now he knew more about what it was he was doing.
In his mind, they all came together with You Keep The Money, and he was eager to apply his knowledge to his earlier work. That’s the idea behind Simmered & Stewed, revisiting some of that earlier work and tweaking it with his more mature approach. The result is a tight 11 song album, with 10 of those songs being written by Cru, and utilizing the talents of several great musicians to find each song’s sweet spot.
Aside from his songwriting and vocal duties, Cru also played electric, acoustic, resonator, and cigar box guitars. He was joined by Dick Earl Ericksen on harmonica; Ron Keck on percussion; Andy Hearn handled the drums on most songs, with Sonny Rock playing on two tracks and Josh Bloomfield on one; the bass was provided by Bob Purdy, three tracks, Joe Goehle, two tracks, Chris Wroblewski, three tracks, and Mike Lawrence on two tracks; Jeremy Walz played guitar on four tracks; and Chip Lamson handled most of the piano and organ work with David Liddy and Guy Nirelli playing on two tracks each. The background and additional vocals were provided by Mary Ann Casale, Alice “Honeybea” Ericksen, Jenny Macri, Meaghan Janovsky, and Montana Rodriguez.
Dat Maybe gets the album started quickly by jumping into the song feet first and never letting up on the pace a bit. You know that this is just a tasty morsel that lets you know you are in for a tasty feast. The pace doesn’t slow down on Grizzle N’ Bone, a romping honkytonk number that charts the falling of the relationship. It’s a great song that is sure to get you up and moving.
Next up is Feel I’m Falling, a slower, more intense number in which Cru’s voice softens and he wrings out emotion in every note. I really like the guitar work on this song and it’s got such an element of sadness. Very good work.
Time And Time is a slow languid gentle song that uses the most of Cru’s expressive voice. Ericksen’s harmonica takes the song into a solidly wistful direction and Cru’s guitar sets the stage beautifully. One of my favorites on the album.
Cru and company picked up the pace with the funky Road To My Obsession. This another fun song that plays a little with the blues genre, mixing in some other styles to create something unique.
They go very old school with Biscuit, starting off with just voice and harp before bringing in the rest of the band. Once they join in, it’s a fast-paced ride of epic proportions. Cover My Love is another old-school honkytonk of a song. The pace is quick and the lyrics are clever. It’s a real crowd pleaser.
I absolutely love the swampy feel to Woman Won’t You Love Me. The mix of a Resonator guitar, piano, and harp just has that one of a kind sound that has got to stir the soul of any blues fan. Just let this song wash over you and enjoy.
Cru starts out Just Let It Happen with bass and vocal before adding drums and building the combo feel. The background vocals choir gives it a little gospel flavor before bringing in the piano. A fun song with a great philosophy behind it.
Tired Of Bluesmen Cryin’ is the only song from this album that we have played previously on Time For The Blues. It’s a darker song with deep emotion and Cru is in great voice for this number. Loved it then, and I still love it now.
The album closes with the only song not written by Cru, Higher And Higher. The beautiful guitar opening is perfectly complemented by the gospel flavor that follows. Once you’ve heard the song this way, you’ll love it even more. Truly a wonderful interpretation.
With Simmered & Stewed, I’m not sure how easy it will be to find the earlier albums by Cru. I understand he won’t be restocking them, so if you do find one, latch on to it and you’ll be able to chart his growth as an artist. There’s a lot to admire about Cru and his work, not only as a performer, but as an ambassador for the blues going into schools and introducing kids to the beauty of America’s music.
But that’s a story for another time and I promise you, I will be delighted to tell it.
In the meantime, be sure to check out his website at http://www.tascru.com/ to find out where he will be playing and to pick up whatever albums you can. It’ll be worth the investment and I’m sure you will enjoy them as much as I have.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Sharon Lewis And Texas Fire – Grown Ass Woman

She may have been born in Texas, but she’s Chicago’s baby now! Sharon Lewis is back with another great release on Delmark, Grown Ass Woman, to follow up on her last release, The Real Deal. Deal had a lot of promise and Grown Ass Woman delivers on that promise; and a whole lot more.
Lewis came to Chicago sometime in the mid 1970’s and has been making a name for herself on the blues scene since the early ‘90’s. During her apprenticeship, she mastered the art of blues, soul, and funk. She’s got a voice that growls when it has to and purrs when it wants to, and trust me brothers and sisters, you have to listen to it.
As you might infer from the title of the album, this CD features a great deal of attitude to go along with the great music and vocals. We’ll pick that up as we go through the songs. But Lewis can back up the attitude with talent, and as that great American philosopher Dizzy Dean once said, “It ain’t bragging if you can back it up.”
Something that might get lost in the shuffle is just how good of a songwriter Sharon Lewis really is. Of the fourteen songs on the album, she penned six. Another six were written by her guitarist and band leader Steve Bramer and of the final two, one was written by B.B. King and Dave Clark while the last one was written by Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers.  
Aside from Lewis on vocals and Bramer on guitar, her core band consists of Roosevelt Purifoy on piano and organ; Andre Howard on bass; and Tony Dale on drums. Special guests include Joanna Connor adding some guitar on two tracks; harp maestro Sugar Blue adding his specialty on two numbers; Steve Bell sounds a lot like his father Carey as he plays the harp on one song; Ari Seder plays bass on a couple of tunes; and the Texas Horns, comprised of Kenny Anderson on trumpet, Hank Ford of tenor sax, and Jerry DiMuzio add their talents to four songs.
The album kicks off with Lewis’ salute to the current blues players in Chicago, Can’t Do It Like We Do. She also casually tosses a gauntlet to those who want to get their chance at the spotlight, that it takes a lot of work to get to that level, and even more to stay there. Sugar Blue adds some great harp to the number and this is a great way to kick off the album.
The Texas Horns add their stamp to the party anthem, Hell Yeah!, and the song kicks from the first note to the last. This is not a subtle little number but a kick-ass-grab-‘em-by-the-throat song that has got to get an audience up on its feet.
Lewis and company follow up with the powerful Chicago Woman, a blistering number thanks in no small part to Joanna Connor’s amazing slide work. This is a song that celebrates self, and by extension all of those other great women. And that’s all women, partner, and you better not forget it! This is a great song on so many levels.
Country and gospel give a lot of flavor to They’re Lying, a song in which the narrator has been slandered by gossip. But she’s not going to lie down and take it – she’s going to “stand up and put my foot down.” The theme of this album is empowerment and this one builds its power slowly but surely.
Lewis ups the funk factor with the first of Bramer’s compositions, Don’t Try To Judge Me. This is another song that emphasizes a woman taking the power and control over her life. It’s a hard-rocking number with a great organ break from Purifoy.
Lewis wrote the next song, Old Man’s Baby, as well as the first four, and this is a fun song that follows the philosophy that it’s better to be with someone who appreciates you than with someone who doesn’t have a clue. Love this song. That’s Steve Bell on the harp, another member of that great Bell musical family.
Next up is the title track, Grown Ass Woman, the last of Lewis’ compositions on the album. I don’t think there’s a better song on the album that displays the theme of empowerment. She’s definitely taking care of herself and can do whatever it takes to handle business.
The next five songs are all written by Steve Bramer starting with Walk With Me. This is a gentler song, but it’s still intense with a desire for respect. It’s okay to walk with this woman but you better be ready to share the responsibility.
Freedom is one of the more intense songs on the album, albeit with a bit of funk. This is a throwback to some of the great ‘60’s songs that introduced social consciousness to mainstream music. It’s never been more needed as it reminds us that no one is truly free until we are all free.
There’s a bit of swing in Call Home, and the Texas Horns make the most of the song. It’s a not so subtle reminder that whatever we need can be gotten if we only connect with those people we love. All you have to do is pick up that phone…
It’s old school time with Home Free Blues using Purifoy’s keys to set the mood. This one’s got some heavy heartbreak behind the lyrics and Lewis wrings all the emotion out of it. Great song.
High Road is a great companion to the song Grown Ass Woman. This is the stage with all the pain and the lessons learned from a hard life. It’s a powerful song that’s made even better with Sugar Blue’s harp. Very powerful.
The last two songs are covers with BB King’s Why I Sing The Blues serving as Lewis’ reasons for the choices she’s made. It’s almost a perfect bookend for the opening number and the band launches into it with almost religious fervor. This one rocks and swings and is a terrific entry to her repertoire.
Lastly is the Allman Brothers’ Soul Shine. This is one of those great songs of healing and she delivers with a pure gospel voice. It’s a beautiful song and a wonderful way to end the album. The old hippie in me is still smiling over this one.
Lewis is a major talent. I loved her last release and this one is surely destined to be on my Best Of list at the end of the year. She’s got a great voice and has a way of reaching into your soul and lifting you up and kicking you in the ass at the same time. That’s the real power of a woman.
I wish I could find a website to direct you to for more news, but can’t seem to find one dedicated to her. So, feel free to browse the Delmark website at http://www.delmark.com/ for more information about her and their other great artists.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Holger Petersen – Talking Music 2

Try as I might, I’m not sure that I will ever get used to reading a book on an electronic device. As a life-long insomniac, I am well acquainted with large stacks of friendly books piled up on a table beside the bed, waiting to entertain me or enlighten me as I wait for sleep that often doesn’t come until it’s nearly time to get up.
My long-suffering wife has finally given up and buys book lights by the dozens as well sleep masks to keep the light out of her eyes as she falls asleep faster than my Uncle Mort after a large meal…
But when there is something I really want to read, like Holger Petersen’s new book, Talking Music 2, I will take it in any format I can get. As it was nearing the final stages, and since I was being such a pest, the publishers, Insomniac Press, authorized Petersen’s representative to send me an electronic version.
I sure am glad they did as this was a great book, filled with interviews of Blues and Roots Music Mavericks (that’s on the cover, so I felt I better use it). If you are not familiar with Petersen’s work, well, it would take a few days to cover all of his accomplishments, so here are the highlights:
A life-long music fan, he is the host of Canada’s longest running blues radio show; he was the co-founder of Stony Plain Records and recognition for the label includes Grammy Award nominations, W.C. Handy Blues Awards, Juno Awards, Canadian Country Music Awards, Maple Blues Awards and Western Canada Music Awards; he was the founder of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival and served as its chairman for three years; his first book (Talking Music) was published in 2011; and he’s even found time to be the drummer for Spiny Norman's Whoopee Band and Hot Cottage.
He’s won more awards than you can shake a stick at, including many of Canada’s highest awards for contributions to Canadian culture.
If I ever grow up, I think it’s safe to say, I want to be like Holger Petersen.

Talking Music 2 is a great collection of conversations and interviews with some of the top names in the blues and roots music world. Aside from so many remarkable household names, there are in depth talks with other names, many of whom are notoriously shy around the press and therefore reluctant to discuss any aspects of their work.
Petersen conducted many of these interviews around the Edmonton Folk Music Festival – several in front of an appreciative audience – and others on his radio shows. As a music industry executive, he was able to talk to these artists on a different level – that of a peer rather than as a journalist looking for some sort of juicy story – and as a result was able to ask different questions and receive deeper answers.
He also talked to each of his guests as an enthusiastic fan appreciative of their work. It was obvious that these interviewees were at ease in his presence and enjoyed talking about their work to someone who understood what it was that they did and had a working knowledge of the artistic process.
Petersen’s interviews included conversations with B.B. King, Allen Toussaint, Bobby Charles, Zachary Richard, Billy Boy Arnold, Charlie Musselwhite, Rory Block, Sam the Sham, Ronnie Hawkins, David Clayton-Thomas, Amos Garrett, David Wilcox, James Burton, Albert Lee, Wanda Jackson, Chip Taylor, Townes Van Zandt, Tony Joe White, Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham, Solomon Burke, Dan Hicks, Steve Miller, Mose Allison, Van Dyke Parks, Bill Medley, Ronnie Earl, Maddy Prior, and Maggie Bell.
Where else are you going to find a line-up like that?
The stories are quick, engaging, and full of information for the casual fan and the ardent student alike. By having an electronic version, I found myself pulling out my phone whenever I had five to ten minutes of peace and quiet and could quickly immerse myself in someone’s story. It was blissful and I found myself slightly changing my opinion of reading books on a device rather than as pages between two covers.
Talking Music 2 is a welcome addition to my library of books about the music I love written by a man whose work I admire. I recommend it highly – in any format – and if you love the music and want to hear some stories I guarantee you’ve never heard before, pick up a copy tout de suite.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Frank Bang And The Cook County Kings – The Blues Don’t Care

I have to tell you that prior to receiving this CD, The Blues Don’t Care, I was totally unfamiliar with Frank Bang. A little bit of research piqued my interest as I discovered he had been a member of Buddy Guy’s band for five years. Playing alongside Guy during that time afforded him a master class on how to play the blues and exposed him to so many of the greats.
Bang already had an impressive resume and steady work, primarily in rock bands, where he was always the “blues guy.” Those experiences just added fuel to his fire to strike out on his own with a full-fledged blues band and album.  
To that end, he began crafting material and bringing together the players. He brought in the rhythm section of Brian “BJ” Jones on drums and who played behind the likes of Junior Wells, James Cotton, and Otis Rush; and Andre Howard who played with Jones in Magic Slim and The Teardrops.
Another key component was piano great Donnie Nichilo, who played with Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, and the last addition was harmonica master Russ Green.
With all of the players in place, it was time for Bang to realize his dream.
The title track kicks off the album and within a couple of notes you are under the spell of this great old school feel. The Blues Don't Care has some fine lyrics and Green’s harp is piercing while the band rocks hard. I’m already enjoying the album very much.
The band slows things down quite a bit with The Dream. It’s a blistering number and the guitar interplay with the harp sets up the darker mood nicely. Bang’s vocals are quiet and mysterious while his guitar runs soar with more than a hint of menace.
Million Miles Away keeps the pace slightly slower and just as intense as the previous song. It’s got a swampy feel to it and the rhythm section keeps the song driving. They kick it up a couple of notches on Till The Day I Die with Green’s harp screaming the introduction. Bang growls his vocals and the guitar and harp give the song a dangerous feel.
Bang and Company keep that danger going on the next track, Come On In This House (Mercy Mercy). This one has a strong beat to it thanks to Andre Howard’s bass and Brian “BJ” Jones’ drums. They provide the perfect background for Bang’s guitar pyrotechnics.
The next track, Can't Find My Way Home (Part 1 & Part 2), is a bit longer at seven minutes and change, and it makes the most of Bang’s distorted guitar and Donnie Nichilo’s piano. Green’s harp slides in and out of the mix. The song changes direction about three minutes in and picks up the speed and the song really takes off.
Possum In My Tree starts out with some serious guitar and bass giving the song a darker feel. The combination gives the song a strong psychedelic blues vibe. This one may not be for the purists, but it’s an exciting number.
We’re back in more funky territory on the driving Repo Man. Another seven minute song, but this one is almost guaranteed to get audience members on their feet and onto the dance floor. Still Called The Blues is more of a traditional blues rock number. Shorter, more pointed with a strong harp presence, this one is sure to satisfy just about everybody.
Bang closes the album with Can't Go On This Way, a hard driving number that gives the entire band a chance to shine. Bang growls through the lyrics and you can hear places where the band can stretch out for extended breaks live, but they keep it more economical here. Good ending.
The promotional material I received said that this was a record that was “25 years in the making.” Not literally. Bang and the band actually recorded the entire album in one day, what we hear is in almost every case the first and only take on the song. You can feel that energy in every song – this is a fresh and tight sound.
The claim of 25 years is how long Bang has waited to make this album. Spending all that time in other bands, learning and honing his craft and finding the right players to complete his dream. I think the result is well worth the wait.
Be sure to check out his website, http://www.frankbang.net/ to see where the band will be playing next and to pick up the album. I think you’re going to like it a lot.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Miller And The Other Sinners – 3 Nights At The Strand Live

My favorite artists tend to be those hard working bands that pour everything they’ve got into a performance. Listening to an album is nice, and maybe it’s my theatrical background, but I absolutely love to see a group work in front of an audience.
The way some bands connect with their fans is amazing to watch. There becomes kind of a collective sense with audience members – they transform from a group of strangers into a real honest to God living breathing organism for the time that they are watching the group. They are not just watching, they are participating and giving energy back to the performers.
Yeah, I love watching live shows, and I encourage you to catch as many live shows as you can. You won’t be sorry.
That’s a long way around to introducing the latest effort by a great live band, Miller And Other Sinners, 3 Nights At The Strand Live. The Miller in question is David M. Miller, who grew up in New York state and is well versed in a variety of styles of music. Like many a blues performer, he grew up in the church singing gospel, and was later exposed to a variety of music. His voice is rock solid as is his musicianship and he’s one helluva songwriter. Miller composed all nine of the songs on this live album and incorporates different styles while making them all sound like they come from the heart.
I love the concept of this album. Miller and his group have a tough schedule, putting somewhere in the neighborhood of 60,000 miles a year on the road. Ouch. I doubt if there is anywhere they haven’t played yet, and all that live playing has honed them into a razor sharp unit.
On 3 Nights At The Strand, Miller features the major components of their live shows. He often starts out as a solo acoustic, just him and his guitar joined by Jason Moynihan on sax. The second set was the normal four piece touring band. Finally, during the third set, the whole nine piece band joins them and they play some heavier blues. Perhaps this is Miller’s vision of the band in the future, and I have to say that it is a very bright future indeed.
Aside from Miller and Moynihan, the other sinners consist of Donta Myles on bass; Deshawn “D Ray” Jackson and Carlton Campbell on drums; Jimmy Ehinger on keys; Barry Arbogast and Jim Bohm on horns; and Sharon Bailey and Erinn Benning join Miller and Moynihan on vocals.
The first cut is one of two new songs on the album, Rise. While all of the other songs have been previously released, they were recorded in the studio, not as live versions. It’s got a pounding rhythm and a swampy feel that hooks you right off the bat. You can feel the gospel fervor in Miller’s voice.
He follows up with a slow emotional tune, Just Ride. The combo gives it a great sound and the guitar work is impeccable. As much as I like the song, and I like it very much, at 11:00 long, it will be tough for me to work it into a segment on Time For The Blues. That’s one drawback for those of us with limited time on the air – sharing some of these great live cuts, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying it personally…
Next up is the raucous Born To Lose, and the band is in top form. The energy is palpable and you can tell that the audience is really into this song. Nothing wrong with a good rocking number!
The gentle Carolina Bound may just be my favorite song on the album. A duo of Miller and Moynihan, it starts off with just guitar and voice and adds Moynihan’s plaintive sax later. It’s a breathy jazzy vocal with some beautiful poetry making up the lyrics.
Next up is another longer song, Diggin On Bill, that features the entire band. It’s got a jazzy blues feel showcasing the group’s versatility. Miller has such an expressive voice and he handles the different styles with ease.
Switching gears, he uses his guitar to usher in the next cut, Friend Of Mine. It’s a solid run that is very expressive and sets the mood nicely. Miller And The Other Sinners is not afraid to play quieter songs, forcing the audience to really listen to them. This is a beautiful number, and Moynihan plays the sax the way I always dreamed of playing it. Love it…
They raise the stakes somewhat on Movin On, using a pulsing driving rhythm to kick it off. It’s a blue collar song – solid, no frills; the kind of song that will get an audience involved.
Next up is the other new song on the album, a solo turn, Day To Remember. Very much like the previous Carolina Bound, it’s quiet and introspective. The song is one that washes over you and if you do, you just might find yourself really loving it. Again, Miller’s lyrics show great depth and he brings emotion out in every note.
The album concludes with the longest cut, Hope Finds A Way, which was previously recorded on the album Poisons Sipped. It’s a rocking number that gives the band a chance to show just how good they are.
There are so many great bands working that unfortunately haven’t received their big break yet. Some just curse their luck and fade away, while others keep on pounding on the wall until it breaks down, sometimes building a following one audience at a time. I won’t suppose which category Miller And The Other Sinners might fall into, because my money is on them to break through in a big way.
If you listen to the way they respect their audience and the way in which their audience loves them in return, I think you might just put your money on them as well. As I have pointed out, they are almost on the road somewhere, so keep checking your local establishments as they are sure to show up in the near future. Or you can check them out at https://www.davemillermusic.com/ to see where they are going to be and I suggest you pick up some of their previous albums to go along with this one. If I were a betting man, I would give you odds that this one is going to be on my Best of 2017 list.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Time For The Blues - January 28, 2017

We hope you will join us this Saturday night (January 28) at 11 on Time For The Blues as Henry and I are planning to have a lot of fun with some of our musical friends and we’re hoping you will join in the fun!
Okay, I hear you say, “What friends?” Thanks Poindexter, we have made a number of friends from all our years of spinning great records. At least six anyway, and we’re going to share some with you this week.
Our first big feature for the evening will be one of the hardest working men in the business, Tinsley Ellis, whom I caught up with at a recent Richmond appearance. Ellis puts on one heck of a show and if you’ve never seen him live, do yourself a favor and catch him the next time he comes through town.
While he was here supporting his latest release, Red Clay Soul, (it’s on his own Heartfixer label) I had a chance to hang out with some good folks from the River City Blues Society and Ellis rocked the joint for a couple of hours straight. I had to get the album and couldn’t wait for it to be sent to us, so I actually ponied up a few bucks and bought not only that CD, but one of his previous releases, Midnight Blue.
When you take the opportunity to catch these great artists live, bring along some extra cash and buy what you can. If the artist autographs the CD, you’ve got yourself a wonderful souvenir of the event. Over the past few years I’ve accumulated a number of autographed CDs and I’m looking forward to collecting even more this upcoming year.
Anyway, we have several selections from Red Clay Soul and one from Midnight Blue for your listening pleasure.
Our second big feature for the night showcases one of our friends that we haven’t met yet. Oh, we talk via social media and emails, but haven’t had the opportunity yet to meet Liz Mandeville face to face. We’re looking forward to it, and hopefully it will happen soon.
Last year we received a copy of her most recent CD, The Stars Motel, and absolutely loved it! I love the idea behind it. See, a number of her blues friends were going to be in Chicago (where Liz lives) and knew she had some room at her place where they might stay for a few days.
“Sure,” says Liz. “All you have to do is co-write and record three songs with me.” So out of these collaborations comes an amazing album. We’ve got a few selections from that album, and one of her from her earlier Earwig release, Red Top. You can’t go wrong with this vivacious lady who happens to play some mean blues.
Oh sure guys, I hear you say, but what else do you have for me? We’ve got a lot of newer material as well. How about the Mike Eldred Trio from their recent release Baptist Town?
We’ve also got a fun soul blues artist named Stevie J. Blues, and are playing a selection from Back 2 Blues. With the last name of “Blues” you know he’s got to be good and just might be related to Jake and Ellwood.
Not to be outdone, we’re going to unleash an awesome group that only recently landed on my desk and right away made my Best of 2016 list, Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch with a cool rocking number from Champagne Velvet.
Speaking of rocking, we’ve got Vaneese Thomas with a great selection from her CD, The Long Journey Home. Thomas has a wonderful voice and a royal pedigree, her father was Rufus Thomas. Make sure you check her out.
Recently we played a selection from Reggie Wayne Morris, a fine player from Charlottesville now living in Maryland. His album Don’t Bring Me Daylight is a lot of fun and I can’t wait for you to catch this song on Saturday night.
So do what you’ve got to do in order to join us this Saturday night at 11 Eastern time when we play all this great music and maybe tell a couple of bad jokes along the way. You can find us on the radio at 88.9 FM if you’re in the Richmond area, or anywhere in the world via the internet at http://ideastations.org/.
You know where to find us, we’ll be on WCVE, where it’s always (come on, say it with us, you know you want to) Time For The Blues!


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

David M’ore – Passion, Soul & Fire

Many years ago, when I was just a young pup, my father and I held many discussions about my taste in music. I won’t bore you with all the details because I’m sure many of you had many similar conversations with your own parental units. The usual final insult would be hurled that “it all sounds the same,” and then he would storm out of the room, his exit timed for dramatic effect.
Sure Pop, it all sounds the same. I often confuse The Rolling Stones with The Archies. And damn if Jimi Hendrix and The Carpenters are almost interchangeable.
I bring this up because a great many artists do use the sounds that their heroes created as a means of finding their own true sound. Some change their sound with every record or incorporate different styles into their own music. Think about Eric Clapton who has championed not only the blues for years, but also reggae and straight up rock.
This is a rather long winded way to get around to discussing Argentina born David M’ore and his new album, Passion, Soul & Fire. First off, that’s a great title. You have to think that there is no better description of what a musician must have in order to invest the time and effort necessary to become a true professional. Secondly, M’ore is a guitar wizard. Right now, I would put him up with many of the best who have ever picked up an axe, and in a few years when he develops more confidence in his slow playing, he’ll be one of those guys we all talk about and claim to have discovered.
Admittedly his vocals are a little rough. I’m not just saying that because of his Tom Waits-like gravelly growl, I think it’s more to do with the fact that he is so deeply invested in the guitar portion of the song that the singing takes a back seat. Don’t get me wrong, he can sing – and there are flashes of a deep connection with the song, but his main emphasis is clearly on the guitar.
M’ore handles all of the guitar and vocals and he is joined by Wade Olson on drums and David De Silva on bass. This power trio makes a mighty sound, and M’ore wrote all of the songs on the album except the last one, Deep Purple’s Mistreated. More on that one later.
The first song on the album is The Devil’s Land, and it’s a straight ahead blues rocker. M’ore and company seem to like to take their time with the introductions before moving along to the vocals. Of course, they are all strong players, so that’s not unusual. I like the song, and this is one you’ll be hearing on Time For The Blues.
He does slow things down for Love Again, a lush multi layered number. Here you can hear his love for rock, and his lyrics are strong. The rough vocal adds a different touch and might not be for everyone, but I kind of like the way the lyrics and vocals combine to make a different sound.
They follow up with a prog rock influenced Stronger Than I Realize. It’s a dark song, and at 8:36, it’s still not the longest cut on the album. I only mention that because it is difficult for those of us who work in terrestrial radio often don’t have the luxury of playing longer songs. Still it’s quite a number and would fit the format of the more progressive rock stations.
Next up is the first of two instrumentals on the album, Johan Sebastian Blues, which, as the title suggests, reimagines some of Bach’s work as a blues song. And it works. It just goes to show you that music can often be reworked into different styles without losing its power.
He starts off the longest cut on the album, You Said You Love Me, with a blistering guitar lead. He’s got a lot of power in his lead work, and while some of his riffs are slower and more controlled, he does seem more confident in his faster runs.
He follows that by switching guitars and the tone of the songs. Sweet Little Baby, is a gentler old school sounding number. He builds it nicely into a very good hard driving song.
The 12 Song starts out as another power song, the guitar riffs push and the rhythm section holds the song together. His growl is more pronounced on this song making the lyrics a bit more difficult to hear. He follows up with another powerful song, Cold Blooded. He’s using a Resonator style guitar to open the song before moving into his more comfortable guitar. Sorry tech people, I know he’s using a Strat, but I believe it’s custom made and I can tell you he gets good tone from it.
Next up is Every Time I Think Of You, a blistering number that makes the most of his growl as well as his six-string pyrotechnics. Funky It Up is the second instrumental and true to its title, brings a bit of crunchy funk into the mix.
The last song written by M’ore is Liar, a swinging number that has some serious blues chops. The group is in really good form on this song and this one will get some air play.
The album concludes with a fun flat out jam of Deep Purple’s Mistreated. To me, the interesting thing about his song is that is wasn’t intended to be a cover, it was just a spontaneous coming together at the end of the recording session. It was their own private celebration that just happened to be so good, M’ore and the group decided to include it on the album.
M’ore is a strong proponent of the rock and blues connection, and let me tell you, he can play with the best of them. He reminds me in many ways of players like Joe Bonamassa, Johnny Winter, and shows flashes of Hendrix as well. There is a certain strength in his playing, but despite those qualifications, he might not appeal to blues purists. Take some time to check him out at http://www.davidmore.net/ and if you like what you hear, pick up some albums.
Or see where he’s going to be playing. If it’s anywhere near me, you better believe I’ll be there. I have a feeling he puts on one helluva show!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Lurrie Bell – Can’t Shake This Feeling

If there were every someone who was born to play the blues, it would have to be Lurrie Bell. Son of the well-regarded Carey Bell, he picked up a guitar at the age of five, taught himself how to play, honed his chops by studying the musicians around his father, perfected his techniques while steeped in the gospel traditions of church, and eventually became the artist he is today by playing alongside the likes of father Carey, Koko Taylor and others before setting out on his own path.
Along the way, he formed the group Sons Of Blues with Freddie Dixon and Billy Branch and has been a major proponent of keeping the blues alive and thriving.
His most recent album, Can’t Shake This Feeling, which was released last year on Delmark, has been nominated for a Grammy Award and since we’ve featured him recently on Time For The Blues, I thought it was only fitting to give this album a closer look.
Aside from Bell who handles the vocals and guitar, the album features: Roosevelt Purifoy on piano, organ, and Rhodes; Matthew Skoller on harmonica; Melvin Smith on bass; and Willie Hayes on drums. The thirteen songs that comprise the album include five that were written or co-written by Bell.
Other songwriters include Eddie Boyd, T-Bone Walker, Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis, Willie Dixon, Milton Campbell, Oliver Sain Jr., Lowell Fulson, and Buster Benton.
The album starts off with a little swing on Blues Is Trying To Keep Up With Me. The title seems autobiographical and Bell’s growl of a vocal and the sweetness of his guitar combine to make this a great song. Purifoy’s piano is a great touch, as is Skoller’s harp.
Bell counts off the intro to Eddie Boyd’s Drifting and the band comes in with a vengeance. I don’t think there’s any reason to point out how Bell and company deliver an old-school sound, since they are old-school. If you are the blues lover I think you are, you are going to dig these songs a lot.
Next up is T-Bone Walker’s blistering I Get So Weary. Bell is screaming out the emotion from this song and his band stays in a slow but powerful groove. What a classic number delivered by an amazing performer.
Skoller’s harp and a different sounding guitar take us into Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis’ One Eyed Woman. The sound is stripped down to the barest essentials and sounds like it would have been a perfect fit on Maxwell Street itself back in the day.
Next up is a Bell original, This Worrisome Feeling In My Heart, and the guitar is lush, and the distant plaintive piano pulls us into the slow blistering nature of the song. This is a slow, deep song of dark emotion – and Bell has certainly known his share of that. Whatever darkness has been in your own heart and soul, this song speaks directly to that battle. Beautiful song.
Sit Down Baby, the first of two Willie Dixon songs is next. This one has a nice swing to it and the band is very lively. It’s full of Dixon’s playful songwriting and Bell is a great interpreter of Dixon’s work – after all he grew up around him, it only makes sense.
Milton Campbell and Oliver Sain Jr wrote the follow up song, Hold Me Tight. It definitely cooks and Purifoy’s keys get quite a workout. The rhythm section of Smith and Hayes hold the song together on this and the other songs so far. Sometimes bass and drums don’t receive the recognition they deserve, but without them most songs would be weaker.
The Lowell Fulson, Lloyd C. Glenn classic, Sinner’s Prayer, is next and Bell gets a chance to pour out his emotions through the lyrics. Those who have battled the darkest of demons can so identify with this song, and Bell delivers a powerful take on it.
Next up is the title track, I Can’t Shake This Feeling, another Bell tune. The band delivers a strong performance and Bell has a very good guitar break to carry the song. They follow up with Born With The Blues, an autobiographical tune that Bell wrote with Buster Benton. This is a slow, intense number that features some very good harp work by Skoller in support of Bell’s vocals.
Bell’s father Carey is represented with his song Do You Hear. The song kicks off in third gear and the band swings with it, never slowing down for a second. It’s a fun track and a nice tribute to a great performer. The Bells teamed up on a number of recordings and performances so I imagine it was a cathartic experience for Lurrie Bell to take on this song.
The second Willie Dixon song, Hidden Charms, is next and the band is up to the task. Bell’s vocals turn gravelly and Skoller’s harp adds flavor to the mix. It’s a good solid number that should appease just about every blues fan imaginable.
The album concludes with Faith And Music, Bell’s collaboration with producer Dick Shurman. It’s an introspective number that uses the barest essentials to tell Bell’s story. The quiet approach tells more than the words do, and this is basically his philosophy in three words. It’s a song that hits you with a solid gut punch.
There’s not much more to say about Lurrie Bell. He’s a hard working man – this album was recorded over a period of about three days and if you find yourself in Chicago, you’ll probably find him playing somewhere and then after his set, he’ll pack up and go sit in with someone else’s band.
Pull out just about any 10 albums from your collection and Bell probably played on one or two. He’s not only born to the blues, he’s one of its strongest protectors. And this is one damn fine album that definitely belongs in your collection.

Check him out at http://lurrie.com/ for more information. You won’t be sorry. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Thornetta Davis – Honest Woman

There’s a reason why Detroit native Thornetta Davis is often called “Detroit’s Queen Of The Blues.” It may be because of the 30 or so awards she has won for her blues and R&B work around the Motor City. It may be because of her in demand work with the likes of Bob Seger and Kid Rock. It may be because of her songs being featured in hit television shows and movies.
It might even be because of her appearances with the likes of Bonnie Raitt and Katie Webster.
But the simple reason is because she is that damn good.
Davis has a voice that commands your attention. Her songwriting is crisp and clear and she has a poet’s ear for language. Her latest album, Honest Woman, is a cause for celebration and while it was released in 2016, I only just received a copy, so it’s going into my 2017 pile so I can include it in my annual Best Of post.
Count on it.
Davis makes sure that Honest Woman reflects her vision. Besides providing all of the lead vocals, she also wrote or co-wrote all but one of the 13 songs on the album. Most of which will be receiving major air play on Time For The Blues and just about every other blues show I could name.
The album starts off with the only song not written by nor actually performed by Davis herself, When My Sisters Sings The Blues, a beautiful poem written and delivered by her sister, Felicia Davis. Speaking only for myself, I love poetry, and it was the words that originally attracted me to music. Felicia Davis delivers the poem with style, grace, and enough pizzazz that even those of you who are not usually entranced by spoken word performances might find yourself turning up the volume just a little to catch more of it. Brian (Roscoe) White provides a lovely plaintive backing guitar.
The rest of the album is very musical starting with her autobiographical anthem, I Gotta Sang The Blues. This cut features Kim Wilson joining in on vocals. Of course, he has to blow the harp as well and the song gets into a strong groove and never stops. An excellent song.
She follows up with That Don’t Appease Me, a soulful tune dealing with things that obviously do not make her happy. The percussion drives the song forward with a steady angry beat and the other instruments are sharp and pointed. Whomever this song is directed towards better beat a hasty retreat.
Davis tries a different tone on the next track, Set Me Free. It’s crisp and funky with sweet backing vocals. The musicians are in good form and there is a lot of power in the song.
Things slow down with Am I Just A Shadow. Davis’ vocals are sweeter, lush, but the lyrics tell a different story. I really like this song a lot – it’s well written and the kind of song that could cross over into other genres with its universal themes. Great emotion.
Davis gets back into her sassy groove with I Need A Whole Lotta Lovin To Satisfy Me. It’s a fun song and she spells it out for you as far as what she looks for in a lover. The horns really sell this number and I bet when she does this song live, a line forms at the stage door with men hoping to get their chance.
We’re back in funky territory with I’d Rather Be Alone. It starts off with a slow smoldering beat and build up. Davis speaks her delivery before moving into singing backed up by a chorus of voices that evokes those great girl groups of the ‘60’s. Very cool song that really delivers. And her purring delivery at the end of the song is hysterical and cruel at the same time.
She shifts gears with the optimistic I Believe (Everything Gonna Be Alright), using a touch of gospel to get us into the song. Then she moves into a driving rock beat with backing vocals that shoop shoop us. One thing about Davis, she is not afraid of mixing different sounds to great effect. She’s not strictly blues, not strictly R&B, she’s her own voice and that works for me.
Sister Friends Indeed starts out with a swampy feel and the lyrics speak of the strength of friendships between women. If anyone doubts that, take a few minutes to check out the number of women who stood shoulder to shoulder in recent marches. If women could all unite, think of the power they would wield.
Get Up And Dance Away Your Blues starts out with a great horn vamp and the song quickly moves into some serious swinging. This will probably be the first song, but certainly not the last, to be featured on Time For The Blues. It rocks, swings, soars and dives. Hold on to something because it’s a great ride.
The tempo slows down with Can We Do It Again. It has a big jazzy feel to it and once again Davis’ vocals really dominate. She’s in total command and the band stays in check for the most part in support. There’s a lot of playful fun in the lyrics.
Next up is the title track, Honest Woman, a soul-searching cut that examines her life. This is another song that could very easily achieve cross over status as it is so well written, so universal, a truly beautiful number.
The album closes with Feels Like Religion, a driving funk fest that rushes forward with great percussion, honkytonk piano, and some very strong lyrics. Yes, there’s some great gospel attitude in the song, but only as a bit of flavor. Very good guitar work as well to end the album on a high note.
I know this has been a long post, I tend to get a little wordy when I hear something that I like. And I like this album a lot. In fact, Honest Woman is the kind of album that makes me want to grab strangers by the lapels and ask if they have heard it yet.
Since I can’t do that without getting arrested – or maced – let me ask you, stranger, have you heard any of this album yet? Do yourself a favor and visit her website at http://thornettadavis.com/ to sample it and once you find yourself moved, open up that wallet and pony up a few bucks and get your own copy.

Thornetta Davis could be Detroit’s greatest export since the Mustang or the music of Motown. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Donald Ray Johnson and Gas Blues Band – Bluesin’ Around

Donald Ray Johnson has been kicking around music for a lot of years. Originally a drummer who worked with Nat Dove and Phillip Walker, he became a Grammy Award-winning singer and recently traveled to France to record the R&B infused blues album, Bluesin’ Around.
The CD actually hit my desk towards the end of 2016 and even though I gave it a listen, liked it very much, and even played a song on Time For The Blues, just never got around to reviewing it.
I would like to correct that mistake.
Working with the Gas Blues Band – named for guitarist Gaspard “Gas” Ossiklan I believe rather than for some form of gastric distress, he has found a way to mix his swing approach and old school style R&B with some straight up blues. The result is a very good album that might not get as much publicity, but can definitely stand up to the best that 2016 had to offer.
Aside from Ossiklan, the band consists of “Little Peter” aka Pierre Cayla on lead and rhythm guitars; Philippe “Pompon” Scemama on bass; and “Papayan” better known as Yannick Urbani on drums. Guests include Daniel Antoine on Hammond Organ and other keyboards; Samuel Dumont on sax; and Nicolas Gardel on trumpet.
The album starts off with some nice swing on Bad Luck. Johnson blends his version of rhythm and blues with blues lyrics and creates a good sound. He’s in good voice and his band is already cooking. This should be a lot of fun.
Joe Louis Walker’s Bluesifyin’ is up next. The tempo slows down and the power in the song becomes more concentrated. This song is definitely on the dark side, but so good.
Johnson and Company follow up with Willie Dixon’s Ain’t Superstitious. We’ve already played this selection on Time For The Blues and liked it very much. It’s nice and funky and has a great groove. Highly recommended.
We are in serious blues territory on Ninety Proof. The music is stripped down to the barest of essentials and Johnson’s voice is strong and full of emotion. This is a great late night song that would surely touch the heart and soul of anyone listening.
The 57 seconds that comprise the entirety of She’s French follows the longest cut on the album. It’s a live cut, or at least has some crowd noise and is a nice instrumental sorbet. It took me longer to type this than it did to listen to the song…
With break time over, we’re back with the swinging Big Rear Window. It’s a lighthearted number with more than a few metaphors and several double entendres for your listening pleasure. Nothing too overt, it’s more fun than anything else.
Johnson and the band turn up the funk factor on Distant. It’s got a real ‘70’s sensibility with some of the music, but Johnson’s vocals are his usual strong R&B approach. A soaring guitar kicks off She’s Dressing Trashy, and the bassline drives the song. It’s a solid number that’s probably a lot of fun to catch live when the band can stretch it out a little more. It’s a crowd pleaser…
Watching You is the first song on the album written by Johnson himself. It’s got a good hook and the song is fun. It’s not necessarily the purest of blues songs, but it is a throwback to some of the horn driven numbers of earlier times.
The next cut, Should’ve Been Gone, is also written by Johnson. This one has some very cool funk going on. Both of these songs would have been right at home on later Stax recordings or some of the West Coast labels of the ‘70’s. That’s not a slight by any means, as they are great to listen to and evoke a different time.
The album concludes with Lucky Peterson’s You’re The One For Me. Johnson is a great interpreter of other artist’s work and here the keys and guitar combined with his vocals make this a good song on which to end.
If you’re a fan of R&B mixed in with your blues, and I certainly count myself in that company, this is an album that is perfect for you. Johnson rocks and swings as well as belts the blues and his band handles his approach with the greatest of ease.
If you want to check out more about Donald Ray Johnson – after all, he’s had a long and illustrious career, make sure to check out his website at http://www.donaldray.com/. There’s more music, his bio, and information about his whereabouts.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Bob Lanza Band – Time To Let Go

I was fortunate enough to get a chance to review one of Bob Lanza’s previous albums (From Hero To Zero) in January 2016. You can read all about it here. That was their second album, and their latest Time To Let Go is their fourth release. Obviously, I have some catching up to do.  
I liked Lanza’s sound a lot. They are a stripped down straight driving blues band with touch of rock and enough showmanship to handle just about any audience from rowdy bar to sophisticated festival. Based out of the wilds of New Jersey, and signed to Connor Ray Music out of Texas, they bring a great deal of energy and talent to the table.
Time To Let Go is a bit of a departure for Lanza. During the recording process, he lost both his brother and his mother and those losses affected him deeply. It seems to have put Lanza into a more melancholy place and his songs reflect that.
Oh, there’s still a wink of the eye and a nod of the head to the audience. Starting with the cover photo of the album you know that Lanza’s wicked sense of humor is still intact. There’s an old saying that as long as a man can stay on the earth by holding onto a blade of grass, he’s not really drunk. Well, Lanza couldn’t find a blade of grass, but that brick walkway will do just fine.
The band consists of Lanza on guitar and vocals; Sandy Joren on bass; Vin Mott on drums (and harp on one song); Randy Wall on piano and B3; Arne Wendt on piano, B3, and Wurlitzer for three tracks; Steve Krase on harp for two songs; Don Erdman plays harp on one song; The Cranberry Lake Horns under the direction of Rob Chaseman appear on four songs; and The Robernaires add background vocals.
The album starts off with a bluesy rendition of Hank Williams’ Mind Your Own Business. This one is a hot song, swinging, and it gets things going on a high note. I like the energy that Lanza and company have on display. Oh, that sax is such a great addition.
Next up is the title track, Time To Let Go. This is a very personal song to Lanza as he deals with his own personal loss. It’s a reminder that we have to move on after tragedy. It’s a deep jazzy blues number with brushes on the drums, what sounds like an upright bass, and a horn. Lanza’s guitar takes a beautiful lead. This is a great song.
He keeps the mood consistently upbeat with the song When The Sun Comes Up. It’s the next day after all the problems and he’s ready to face whatever comes. It’s more of a rock song with some very good guitar/keys work.
He brings the tempo down just a bit on Your Turn To Cry, a song of surviving being done wrong by a woman. Again, Lanza’s guitar work is very good and overlays the foundation set up by the bass, keys, and horns. Good combo work that can explode at any second.
The guitar drives us in to Rush’n The Blues, and the horns add a swinging beat behind it. This blues instrumental really showcases just how good the band actually is and what they are capable of unleashing. Sometimes the band’s contributions get lost behind vocals and I always welcome a chance to hear them rip into a song on their own.
The harp brings us into a great song, Don’t Go No Further. According to the track listing on my album, it’s supposed to be Follow Your Heart, but it’s obviously not. Maybe it’s a rare mistake that will be worth something. Who cares, it’s a great song and they do it up proud.
Now we get Follow Your Heart, a solid number with a driving guitar. The lyrics are by Ronnie Earl and are very good and Lanza is in good voice. He’s working through some issues and reminding himself (and us) that to truly be happy, we have to find those passions and follow them.
He slows things down just a tad on Love Me Or Leave Me, a song that could be handled by a small combo as a late night piece. The bass line is very strong and the honkytonk piano adds a nice touch. It’s really good to hear contemporary artists revisiting the work of Percy Mayfield. So good.
Lanza has fun with a little Bob Wills style Texas swing on You’re Not In Texas. It’s a good story song that pulls you in quickly and keeps you moving throughout. If you want a party in a song, look no further.
Guitar and harp come together to set up the quick paced Johnny Smith. This is one that would get an audience up out of their seats and onto the dance floor. Muddy Waters’ Walkin’ Thru The Park closes out the album. It’s a good raucous rendition of the well-known song and Lanza does it justice.
It’s safe to say that I’ve seen a lot of growth from Lanza and Company and I already thought they were damn good before. I’ve pulled several songs to include on an upcoming show of Time For The Blues and will be eagerly awaiting his next release. Heck, I might even find my way up to the Garden State to catch a show or two. If you see me coming in the door, be sure to save me a seat at the bar.

And if you would like to join me, or just catch them for yourself, be sure to check them out at http://www.boblanzabluesband.com/ and be sure to pick up his previous albums to add to your collection.