Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Johnny Mastro & Mama’s Boys – Never Trust The Living

Johnny Mastro is a wild piece of work. He and his band of musicians, Mama’s Boys started out in Los Angeles but relocated to New Orleans. Along the way, New Orleans rubbed off on the group and changed the way they approached music forever.
Let’s face it, there are unique cities all over the world, but New Orleans is on a whole different level. Every culture on this dark rock we call Earth seems to find its way to New Orleans and the mixing of cultures results in some of the most exciting music, food, dance, drink, and any other form of art that pops in to your head.
Since this is not a sociological examination, let’s just stick to a review of Johnny Mastro & Mama’s Boys new album, Never Trust The Living.
The band went into the studio, and ripped through 78 takes of 27 songs over a period of two days and then picked the 11 that appear on this album. That’s a staggering feat of epic proportions. The stamina that would take is enormous.
The band consists of Mastro on vocals and harp; Smoke on guitar; Dean Zucchero on bass; and Rob Lee on drums and percussion. I don’t see any guest players listed, and after listening to the album, I’m not convinced that any were needed or used. This album was recorded in a white hot frenzy and it may be the wildest I’ve heard in quite a while.
This album opens with an evil chuckled before giving way to the edgy music of Snake Doctor. You can tell that this is not your average disc, we’re going to be in the presence of something otherworldly. The music is strong, the vocals seem to come from somewhere else. Must be New Orleans…
Drinking in its various forms is one of the favorite subjects of the blues, bar none, and the song Whiskey delivers some serious old-school music and vocals. For some troubles, it just seems easier to curl up in the bottom of a bottle and let the pain wash away. In this case, it’s not the singer who has the issues, and all we get is a great song.
The longest cut on the album at approximately 6:30, Judgement Day is also the first song that Mastrogiovanni didn’t write. It starts out with some feedback before smoothing out with some harp licks. It’s a deep subject, and the slower ponderous rhythm is driving. It’s a mystical song, one of contemplation, and the dark music drives the point home.
Monkey Man starts out with a variation of the old children’s rhyme, “Monkey See Monkey Do,” before moving into the music. Again, the music is dark and heavy and gives a song a different direction. As other children’s rhymes get deconstructed, Mastro’s harp cuts through the music and the effect is chilling.
Next up is Don’t Believe, a slow smoldering number that makes Mastro’s vocal stand out more. It’s pretty much just him and Smoke’s guitar at first, with Zucchero’s bass and Lee’s drums contributing quietly in the background. Mastro’s harp is piercing and this is very much an old-school number of the first order.
The traditional song House Of Rising Sun gets the Mastro treatment as he did the arrangement of this classic. It’s one of the hardest rocking versions that I’ve ever heard, and his use of the harp as a lead works wonderfully. It’s an instrumental, but oh how it drives. Great version of a great song.
Speaking of hard rocking, the follow up song, Walking, utilizes plenty of distortion on Smoke’s guitar. I’m not always a fan of heavy distortion, I find that a little goes a long way, but you have to give it to Mastro & Mama’s Boys for pushing the envelope.
Next up is the title track, Never Trust The Living, with a nice shuffle rhythm. It melds some rock with the blues and it works. Lee’s drums carry much of the song and the lyrics are ethereal. Mastro’s harp picks up the tempo and push the song to the final notes.
Bucksnort Annie is a fast-driving number that I can’t imagine anyone not liking. It’s got a rockabilly sensibility driving the blues. This one will be popping up on Time For The Blues, and you just might want to get out your dancing shoes.
The second instrumental on the album, The Sad Night Owl, is next. It’s a slow, languid number that gets under your skin. It was written by the late great Freddie King and it has plenty of King’s signature moves. It gives you the feeling of late night loneliness and that feeling of despair that we’ve all known from time to time. That’s the blues for ya…
Mastro & Mama’s Boys close out the album with Indrid Cold. They are mixing those edgy guitar chops with some traditional blues approaches. It’s a wild story song that pulls out all the stops and even includes some spaceship noises to close out the song. Experimental and fascinating.
Some people are going to love this album, others may not respond with the same amount of enthusiasm. I find myself close to loving it, and think there are many songs that I will utilize on the show. However, that’s only my opinion, the final opinion rests with you.
I like experimentation. I like it because it pushes boundaries and offers up alternative ways to approach the creation of music. To me, all music is fluid and always changing and evolving. I may not always dig the direction in which that music flows, but the journey is what’s important.

I encourage you to check them out. I enjoyed a previous album of theirs very much and liked this one as well. You can sample them at their website: https://www.johnnymastro.com/ and find out more about their touring plans. Trust me, if I’m within a hundred miles of this group, I’ll be there!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Vin Mott – Quit The Women For The Blues

Say what you want about New Jersey, but let me tell you something, the musicians in the Garden State really know how to rock! After all, a state that has produced the likes of such luminaries as Frank Sinatra, Bruce Sprinsteen, and Whitney Houston could just rest on that trio forever. But when you add in the likes of artists like Dionne Warwick, Ice-T, Frankie Valli, Kool & The Gang, Southside Johnny And The Ashbury Jukes, and The Fugees, you get the idea that this is a musical state.
That’s not even mentioning the likes of The Sugarhill Gang, Count Basie, Connie Francis, Nancy Sinatra, Richie Havens, and of course Parliament-Funkadelic who reminded us to, “Make my funk the P-Funk.” My radio partner, Henry “The Encyclopedia of Musicians” Cook just reminded me about a couple of groups I had forgotten, the 1910 Fruitgum Company and the mythical rockers Eddie And The Cruisers.
Those last guys even had a movie made about them. Thanks Henry…
This trip down Musical Memory Lane should serve to point out just how good you have to be to make your mark in the Tri-State area. Today’s review is of a New Jerseyite (New Jerseyan?), Vin Mott, who is making his recording debut with the independently released Quit The Women For The Blues.
Those are some scary sentiments. I’m not sure I could quit the women for anything, even the blues, but it does show that Mott is a determined man. He’s also a talented songwriter, penning all ten songs on the album as well as providing the vocals and harp. He’s joined by Sean Ronan on guitar; Dean Shot on upright and electric bass, and Andrei Koribanics on drums.
The album starts off with the old-school sounding title track, Quit The Women (For The Blues). The band is tight, very tight, and the vocals growl with danger. This is a stripped down Chicago sound that would have been at home at any time since the end of WWII. He can play with the best of ‘em, and Ronan is a destroyer on guitar.
Next up is the swinging, gentler Make Up Your Mind, that has strong music and darker lyrics. Again, Mott and Company are well versed in that Chicago sound and I could hear either of these first two songs as a release on any of the early blues labels. I can’t believe he’s only in his late 20’s, he plays like he’s been kicking around the planet for a very long time.
I really like the follow up, Don’t Make Me Laugh, with its high energy and cool musical licks. I won’t be able to share it on the radio however, as Mott uses a couple of words that the FCC frowns upon. However, that shouldn’t stop you from playing your copy – loud – whenever you want to enjoy it!
I’m A Filthy Man continues with some good guitar and harp interplay. The rhythm section really does an outstanding job setting up the groove on this song, allowing Mott’s vocals and harp to take over. Especially his harp, it truly makes the song.
Next up is the slow, blistering song, The Factory. It’s a heartbreaking lament of loss in the modern world. He pulls out so much emotion out of every word, and the band is subdued, giving Mott the opportunity to explore his pain. We’ve all worked in that factory – real or metaphorical, and it sure isn’t easy when it tries to suck out your soul.
We get back into fast-paced blues territory with the rolling and rocking Freight Train. Koribanics gives us the driving rhythm of the rails, and Rogan’s guitar swings and gives Mott a chance to really hit the vocals and drop in some wild harp. Good song.
There’s a real shift in musical approach on I Wanna Get Ruff With You. It’s kind of a rhumba cha-cha number, but while it’s not blues, the lyrics are. And those lyrics are very clever and put a little twist on some old clichés. Give it a chance, it’ll grow on you.
With a title like Ol’ Greasy Blues, you get an idea of what you’re going to get. Unapologetic, fun blues with a nice shuffle from the rhythm section. The lyrics work and the harp sings. Just from these first eight songs, I can tell that Mott really enjoys playing the blues, and I’m willing to bet that he puts on a great show live.
Oh man, can this guy belt out a slow number. Living The Blues gives him and the band a chance to really shine. It’s a lonely quiet number of heartache and loss and one in which any person on the dance floor will just hold that other person tighter and dream. Anyone in the audience will just hold that bottle a little closer and remember what they had. Beautiful song.
The album ends with a fun instrumental, Hott Mott’s Theme, that gives every member of the band a chance to shine musically. This one would work at a live show as either an opening song or a closing, just to let the band stretch out and drive the crowd wild.
This album really rocks! I think that Mott shows a great deal of promise and if he continues at this pace, he will very quickly join that pantheon of great artists from New Jersey. I can’t find a website dedicated to just him, but Quit The Women For The Blues is available at all of the usual outlets. Be sure to give it a listen then add it to your collection. It’s a consistent solid effort and I feel confident that it will be on my Best Of 2017 list at the end of the year.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Billy T Band – Reckoning

Recently we’ve been getting quite a bit of soul music in and a few albums from the Scandinavian countries. It was only a matter of time before the law of averages came true and we received a soul album from Scandinavia.
Enter the Billy T Band, who hail from Norway, and who make great music. Their latest release, Reckoning, has just recently been released here in the United States after having been available for some time in Europe. Billy T, aka William Troiani, is American by birth, but who moved to Norway and has been pursuing his music ever since.  
Troiani has been a big part of nurturing blues musicians in Norway, including the likes of Amund Maarud and Kid Anderson, who has been playing with Rick Estrin & The Nightcats.
Aside from Troiani on lead and backing vocals and bass, the rest of the musicians on the album include Haakon Hoeye on guitar, rhythm guitar, organ and backing vocals; Ian F. Johannessen on rhythm, lead, slide, and wah way guitars; Robert Alexander Pettersen on drums; Martin Windstad on percussion; Kasper Skullerud Vaernes on tenor sax; Kristoffer Eikrem on trumpet; Isa Caroline Holmesland, Tara Terese Waaler Waervagen, and Lise Voldsdal on violins; Marius Roe Navik on viola; and Kaja Fjellberg-Pettersen on cello. Other backing vocals were provided by Adam Douglas Enevoldsen and Elvy Elisabeth Vefall.
The album starts off low and sweet with the title track, Reckoning. We’ve been fortunate here to receive some beautiful soul music, and if this cut is any indication, we’re going to experience another album of gorgeous music that is high on emotion and connections.
The only song on the album not co-written by Troiani, Shame Shame, is next. It too is a lovely throwback and the horns and bass give it a very cool Chicago sound. It reminds me of some of the old Atlantic tracks when they were distributing some of the best soul music around.
The follow up with the harder edged On Your Own, a song with a distinctly country blues vibe. The guitar slices through the song and the lyrics are strong. Lonely highways are one of the great American musical motifs, and it works here with this band from Norway. I guess the music truly is universal.
We’re squarely back in soul territory with Sad Man. This is a lonely song; the emotions are low even if the music is high. Troiani’s vocals are good and convey his feelings well. Nice guitar break.
One Of These Days starts off with a slow acoustic guitar, the song is stripped down to its essentials. Listen to the lyrics and you just might find this to be a good blues song. I especially love the way the other instruments are brought in just for emphasis during the first part of the song, and the backing vocals are very strong. Good song.
Congas bring us into the next song, Gone, along with choppy guitars reminiscent of the great Isaac Hayes and his STAX partners in crime. The strings add to the sentimental feel of the song. Things pick up with the up-tempo It Ain’t Right. This is a good number to get the audience up and moving around. A little social justice adds gravitas to the song.
Love Is Gonna Get You starts off with sweet instrumentation, almost a California cool sound. The bass line is strong, and Troiani’s vocals blends beautifully with the backing vocalists. This is one I could have heard on any of the soft rock channels back in the day. That’s not pejorative, this is a song that could very easily be a hit if people got the chance to hear it.
We get a dose of funk in our soul with the next number, Trouble. When you listen to the lyrics, you’ll see his blues background as this one deals with the most fundamental blues subject – trouble. All the forms that trouble takes in our lives, we all got ‘em, and this song is a good way to trot ‘em out and send them packing.
They bring the album to a close with I’ve Been A Fool. The organ intro and the slow feel of the guitar creates a gospel meets rhythm and blues vibe and it’s so good. This is a great way to end this album, slow and sweet and full of soul.
Obviously this is not a typical blues album, and that’s okay with me. While I love the blues deeply, I love to listen to many other genres and I am attracted to artists that explore these other genres and incorporate them into their sound. The Billy T Band does soul extremely well, and they have a nice touch with both funk and country.
However, the roots to all of these songs belong to the blues. The subject matter, the expression in the lyrics, even the musical lines are all derived from the blues. I enjoyed the album very much and even though there may only be a couple of songs that end up on Time For The Blues, there’s no reason the album shouldn’t end up in your collection.

I’m not sure when or even if The Billy T Band will be making the rounds in the states, so I’ll have to rely on our European friends to send us dispatches if they can catch them live. Otherwise, feel free to check out their website at: http://www.billytband.com/ to find out more about this – or any previous – release. 

Billy Price – Alive And Strange

Every so often I get to sneak under the tent flaps when nobody’s looking. When I do, it’s always my pleasure to report to you any of the interesting and cool things I see and hear. Today, I am lucky to be one of the first people to get to hear Billy Price’s brand new album, Alive And Strange, before its official release date of April 7.
Don’t worry, I’m going to share the pre-order link so you can get yours on order tout de suite. I’ll probably share it more than once, just in case. Here’s the first link: https://lnk.to/billyprice.
Price is not strictly a blues artist. He’s so well versed in soul, rhythm and blues, and jazz in addition to the blues and he mixes them together to create a beautiful concoction for our listening pleasure. Price’s instrument is his amazing and expressive voice, and he’s smart enough to surround himself with a number of other talented musicians and they blend in a delicious way throughout the album.
I'm assuming he's using his regular band for this record, and that would include Steve Delach on guitar; Tom Valentine on bass; Dave Dodd on drums; Jimmy Britton on keyboards; and Eric DeFade on tenor sax. Other musicians include Joe Henderson on trumpet; Matt Ferrero on tenor and baritone sax; and David Avery and DeWayne Chandler on backing vocals. On the last track, which was recorded separately from the live album, Jason Hollar played bass and Bob Matchett trombone.
Originally performed by Carl Sims, It Ain’t A Juke Joint Without The Blues kicks off the album. That’s a sentiment I can definitely get behind. Since this is a live album, there are going to be several songs that are longer than average, as the musicians get a chance to stretch out a number and have more fun with it. In the case of this song, it is one of three songs on the album that are over seven minutes in length. That’s not a problem when you are putting the disc in your player, but it does become an issue when you’re trying to program a one-hour blues show. Having said that, I will somehow, someway, get this one onto Time For The Blues because it’s simply a great song!
Price and the band follow up with their version of William Bell’s Lifestyles Of The Poor And Unknown. This is a very cool ballad that really showcases Price’s incredible vocals. Pure soul in every note.
Next up is the title track, Something Strange, which was written by Price and French guitarist Fred Chapellier. It’s got a funky beat and the horn section gets a chance to strut a little bit. This one is just flat out fun, and the lyrics are wild and very clever.
Price and the band segue into Bobby “Blue” Bland’s This Time I’m Gone For Good. This one was also covered by Price’s good friend, the late great Otis Clay with Dave Specter. The slow, soulful number wrings out all emotions and Price’s vocals are in good form. There’s some amazing jazz saxophone going on with this song by Eric DeFade. This is one that will be getting some serious airplay.
One More Day was written by a great guitarist, Mighty Mike Schermer along with Earl Thomas and recorded by Thomas. This is a very strong rhythm and blues number that blends the horns with some sweet backing vocals. I love this song. And as one might suspect from a song written by a great guitarist like Schermer, there’s a very nice guitar break that fades into a sax run.
Next up is a cover or Percy Mayfield’s Nothing Stays The Same Forever. Far too many of today’s blues fans have forgotten just how good Mayfield was. His lyrics earned him the nickname “The Poet Of The Blues” for good reason. This one is a beautiful ballad and the lyrics have a great deal of strength and they are tailor made for Price’s vocals. DeFade’s jazzy sax is great!
They follow up with Never Get Enough, a raucous number filled with funk and fun times. The call and response with the band is light-hearted and even though the audience response is muted, you can tell they’re having a good time. Listen for Jimmy Britton on the keys. This song was originally written by James Brown, Fred Wesley, and Bobby Byrd. 
Next up is the Magic Sam classic, What Have I Done Wrong. Again, it’s a near perfect choice for Price’s vocals and his band’s musicianship. It has that sweet Chicago sound that Magic Sam delivered and for those younger blues fans who might not have experienced him before, maybe this will open the door for them to explore Sam, and many of the other artists covered on this album. It’s respectful, but not a museum collection of tunes as Price puts his own stamp on the songs.
It’s been a long time since I heard James Brown’s Lickin’ Stick. Honestly, I had forgotten just what a great song it is. Price does a terrific job with this interpretation and with my eyes closed, I could swear that I was listening to The Mighty Flames. Maybe it’s a Southern thing – I can remember my father disciplining us kids with a “licking stick.” That is, a stick or branch we had to bring to the house in order for him to use it on our backsides.
They close out the live set with Roy Milton’s R.M. Blues. This one has been covered by the likes of John Lee Hooker and Jimmie Vaughan. It’s a great old-school number that let’s all the members of the band stretch out just a little and give the audience a showcase of their individual skills. You can hear some of the responses in the background, but somehow, I think the actual responses were louder. Gotta love this one.
The last track, recorded at Carneige Mellon, is a very cool rendition of Makin’ Plans. It’s a funky number with some very clever lyrics and a soulful rendition of Price’s vocals. This guy is some kind of smooth and he and his band deliver some of the best music around. I can’t understand why albums like this don’t get major coverage – I guess it’s like the difference between a fine wine and a cheap buzz. You have to invest in the wine.
Do yourself a favor and make that investment in Billy Price and The Billy Price Band. If you’ve read this far, you obviously appreciate good music and this is damn fine music. Go ahead and get your preorder in now at https://lnk.to/billyprice.

I have to find out when I can share some of these songs with you on Time For The Blues, but you better believe as soon as I get the go ahead, you’ll be hearing them. In the meantime, you can find out more at Price’s website: http://www.billyprice.com/

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Scotch Hollow – Little Tortuga

I have to admit that when I pulled this album out of its envelope, I wasn’t too sure what to make of it. I mean, c’mon, a cartoon one-eyed turtle playing a mean slide guitar while under the sea and a beautiful lady fish dancing in response?
Is this a kid’s album? Did I end up on some sort of Raffi inspired chain letter? I dunno.
When I turned it over to see the songs, my eyes immediately went to the three covers on the album. I couldn’t see my way clear for a children’s album to include the likes of Little Walter’s Nobody But You, Howlin’ Wolf’s classic, Moaning At Midnight, or even Blind Willie Johnson’s Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning.
Okay, now I’m intrigued. Maybe this band, Scotch Hollow, has got something that’s just out there, and I’m all about those bands that push the envelope and mix up styles. A little bit of information came with the CD and I discovered the band is a long-time Americana blues roots band out of Kansas City, a town with fantastic music and where the Professor has many friends.
The album is called Little Tortuga, which explains the turtle on the cover, and it comes with a back story. We’ll get to that in just a little bit.
The band consists of Mark Verbeck, songwriter and guitars; Carley Martin on vocals; JD Linn on bass; and Ben Scholz on drums. Special guests include Brody Buster (who took home the “Best Harmonica” nod from the 2017 IBC) on harp; and Joel Schuman on piano.
The album starts off with Hocus Pocus, a quick number that utilizes Buster’s amazing harp. Then Martin’s voice comes in, and damn, she can really sing. She’s got that edge that works so well on blues songs. Yeah, weird album cover aside, this group knows what it’s doing, so settle back and get ready, because anything can happen.
They follow up with Kansas City Pepper, and this one has some very nice dexterous guitar work and a nice bass shuffle. Buster’s harp chimes in here and there to add a little spice. I really enjoy this song, and Schuman’s barrelhouse piano adds a lot to it. These first two songs are definitely going to be on an episode of Time For The Blues.
They get slinky on Drop In The Bucket, with Martin’s vocals becoming a kittenish purr. They are more in their country roots comfort zone, but the song is a lot of fun to listen to, and like just about all the songs on the album, it’s quick and effective.
Too Bad Poor Boy is a fast-paced number that takes on the speed of a runaway freight train. This song is more of their roots style but for those of us who enjoy that, this is a cool song. One of those “damned if you do” songs that are prevalent in country and blues.
Little Walter’s Nobody But You gets the Scotch Hollow treatment next. Buster’s harp makes an appearance and Martin gives the song a beautiful twist with her silken vocals. A gorgeous jazz infused song that I would love to get on the show.
Ok, I said there was a backstory to the title track, Little Tortuga, and here it is. While they were living on a family farm in rural Kansas, they occasionally came across a giant sized one-eyed turtle and it sort of became their mascot. “Turtles may be slow, but they always get to where they’re going,” according to Danny Trejo’s character in Breaking Bad. This turtle became a mascot and an inspiration for the band as they began woodshedding the album on the back porch surrounded by all of nature’s beauty. Eventually they felt the need to immortalize their mascot in song, and this is the result. It’s a fun song, the lyrics are clever, and I really like the Resonator guitar and the interplay between Verbeck (I assume) and Martin is sweet and good.
Honey Baby Why? uses some tight harmonies to introduce the song. It’s got a nice sound, and the music is tight. Nice Americana style with some solid guitar work. They follow up with what may be the strangest title I have ever reviewed on this blog, Bamma Lamma Jamma & Thelonius Dude. However, it starts out with some lovely guitar work from Verbeck. The lyrics use a lot of clever wordplay and I found myself fascinated by the world the song creates.
The immortal Moaning At Midnight, made famous by the all-time great Howlin’ Wolf is next. Once again, they use Buster’s harp and Verbeck’s guitars to usher in the song and Martin’s vocals have their edge back. It’s obvious to me that this band can go in just about any direction it chooses to, and do so successfully. I like their interpretation very much.
Blind Willie Johnson’s Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning gets a wonderful interpretation next. Their down home reverential version is very true to the original recordings and the feelings from the vocals can actually raise the hair on your neck. This is one of the best songs on the album, and one of the best interpretations of Johnson’ song I’ve ever heard.
Scotch Hollow closes out the album with City By The Sea. Verbeck’s guitar gets a workout and the rhythm section sets up a nice driving beat. The harmonies are tight and the song is pure Americana. It’s a good way to end this surprising album.
There’s an old admonition that reminds us not to judge a book by its cover. That warning has fallen flat with modern marketing techniques. So, I apologize to the members of Scotch Hollow, and if I ever meet the original source for Little Tortuga, I’ll salute him as well. I stand by my original wonderment of the album cover, but the music, oh the music is sublime.
I’m not sure where or how often they might get out on the road – there are some great places in and near Kansas City to play – but if they do, do yourself a favor and go give them a listen. You can find out much more about the band at their website: https://scotchhollowmusic.com/.

And if you spot an ancient one-eyed turtle crossing the road, stop and tell him the Professor says hi! 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Derek Davis – Revolutionary Soul

Once again, a band that I have absolutely no familiarity with has magically appeared in my inbox. You may get tired of hearing me say how excited I get when that happens – you may think I’m blowing smoke because as a busy writer and producer, there’s no way I could have time to check out all those bands, let alone get excited by the prospect.
You would be wrong, however. I’m thrilled to get new music. Nearly every day it’s my birthday when the mail comes and there are no bills but a lot of CDs. I hope that every one of those artists will be awesome and that by the end of the day, I’ll have a new favorite band to share with you.
Sometimes, things don’t work out, but for the most part I can always find something good in a new band.
The band that arrived today is just new to me, not a new band. In fact, the “band” is Derek Davis himself. Vocals, all the instruments, producing, and writing most of the songs on the album. Be forewarned, this tour-de-force, reminiscent of Todd Rundgren, is not a predominately blues band. Davis works in the arenas of soul, funk, rock, and rhythm and blues, but when you listen, you’ll hear lots of blues elements in his work.
Within two seconds into the opening track, Revolutionary Soul, you know that this is going to be a funky ride. I definitely love soul and blues, and while I’m not as well versed in funk, I have a working knowledge of it and know what I like. I’m enjoying this right off the bat, and already want to see Davis live to see how he works a crowd. This is a quick number, under three minutes, but sets the mood well.
The follow up song takes a different track. Rapture is a kinder, gentler funk. It’s got a lot of soul mixed in with the California sound rock. This is the kind of song that mixes a hard edge with a softer touch. It’s intriguing and captivating.
Next up is Valerie, not the Monkees song from the ‘60’s but the Amy Winehouse song that Davis turns into his own version. It’s a quiet song, tender, and Davis’ voice really shines on the number. He’s well versed in soul and it really shows here. Great song.
Davis starts off Think About It, with some nice crunchy guitar chops. The funk is thicker here making this a great dance tune. Sometimes funk songs reduce the lyrics to a couple of hooks, but this song has more depth to it and I found it to be very enjoyable. This could have been performed by just about any of the big names in the ‘70’s.
The horns usher in Love And Abuse, a harder edged number. Davis paints a darker picture with this song. Plus, he doesn’t stick to a tried and true formula of songwriting and that gives the song an extra air of excitement. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out continues with the darker edge. The sentiments expressed here have been explored in other songs, but here the frenetic guitar and Davis’ vocals take the song into new territory. If it weren’t for one word in the lyrics, I could play this one on Time For The Blues anytime. Wild song.
Davis softens the delivery for Vicious Heart, a song of longing and loneliness. It has blues in its soul, but the music belongs to a different genre. More rhythm and blues, and the soul quotient is high. This one could get airplay on a lot of different types of station. Very nice.
Woman’s Gotta Have It starts off with some more funk – I am definitely having a ‘70’s flashback and that’s not a bad thing. Back then, you could hear a lot of different styles on the radio and in a way Derek Davis is recreating that feeling with this album. He’s mixed rock, soft rock, soul, funk, and rhythm and blues with contemporary lyrics and come up with a unique product.
He approaches King Of Fools softly, and let Davis’ vocals and the lyrics lead us in to this beautiful song. I get the feeling that this is the song where the lights go low, and the dancers hold each other tight as the band winds down near the end of the evening. Davis pours all of his emotion into his delivery.
Davis steps up the tempo for Picture Of Love. It’s another throwback rock style song, one that has a good driving beat and strong lyrics. This one has a lot of appeal and is another that could easily get air play.
The tempo is brought way down for the highly emotional and powerful Stop! Wait A Minute. Thank goodness he separated this song from King Of Fools as the one-two emotional punch may have been too much to take. It’s beautiful and devastating and the kind of song that stays with you long after it’s ended.
He ends the album with All The Roads, and return to the psychedelic funk that kicked off the album. The lyrics are some of the best on the album and the beat just drives things further. As Isaac Hayes once asked, “Can you dig it?” The answer for me is a resounding “Yes.”
Derek Davis would not have been on my radar without a little intervention. Not that I didn’t like the album, but I get buried under piles of terrific blues that I evaluate, review, and spin on Time For The Blues, so sometimes other great music gets missed.
Thank goodness there are people out there who make it their business to keep me, and other radio producers and blues bloggers up to date on great new music. If you belong to a band and have ever debated hiring a publicist, consider this my endorsement for the expense. They bring to us the music that I get to bring to you.

So, if you are craving that funk, if you have a sweetness for soul, or just want to find about a little bit more about the band and where they might be appearing next, check out their website here http://www.derekdavismusic.com/ for all the news and music. And tell ‘em The Professor sent you!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Time For The Blues - February 25, 2017

Couldn't you at least get us in focus?
Henry and I hope that you will join us this Saturday night, February 25th, at 11 for this week’s episode of Time For The Blues. We’ve got lots of great newer blues and a selection for an important, but often overlooked label.

Back a couple of years ago, I was fortunate to be the emcee for the 2014 Parkfest and had the chance to catch Moreland & Arbuckle live. They put on one heck of a show and I picked up their most recent album at that time. I’ve been waiting for the follow up since then and finally our patience has been rewarded.

Their most recent release, Promised Land Or Bust, is available on Alligator and we’ve got several selections for you. Just to give you a little sample of their previous work, we’ve got one from Just A Dream. We think you are going to be impressed with these gentlemen and find them to be hard rocking bluesmen!

And in case you’re interested, you can see some of my pictures from that event here. It was a great time and I hope that one day Richmond will be a major destination for a blues festival.

Another act that we’ve been following for some time is The Mighty Mojo Prophets. We’re going to play a few tracks from their most recent release, Record Store. They named the album after one of my favorite places to hang out, past and present. I love going into stores and just asking the more knowledgeable clerks for a suggestion. If they did well the first time, I asked for more.

Anyway, I digress. The Mighty Mojo Prophets would most likely have been one of the bands I might have missed if it wasn’t for friendly salespeople who took the time to find out what I liked and suggest new artists. Now, Henry and I get a chance to take those positions and suggest new artists for you. Let us know how we’re doing…

I mentioned the under-known label but didn’t name it. It’s the Chief label based out of Chicago and they only released a handful of singles. Many of them are quite good, but unfortunately the label didn’t have the financial resources to get them out in a big way. Still they had some terrific artists signed and we are going to hear tracks from Junior Wells, a duo that I can’t find any other information about - Bobby & Lucy, and one side from Frank Butler.

We also have some releases that we think you’re going to enjoy from In Layman Terms, Anthony Geraci and the Boston Blues All-Stars, and the one and only Sugar Blue. As an aside, our friends In Layman Terms, were also performers at the 2014 Parkfest. You can check out their pictures at that link above.

So, make your plans to join us this Saturday night. We’re on late, 11 p.m., or as we like to call it, the shank of the evening. If you need to take a nap, or sleep late, or chug some major caffeine, do what you have to do, because we are going to have some fun.

You know where to find us, either online at http://ideastations.org/ or online at 88.9 WCVE-FM where it’s always Time For The Blues!




Wednesday, February 22, 2017

John Mayall – Talk About That

It’s no exaggeration to say that without John Mayall’s influence, today’s blues landscape would be vastly different. His drive and passion are exceeded only by his ability to spot and nurture talent. I can imagine that “nurturing” might have included a bit of irascibility, but Mayall long ago decided whatever tool gets the job done is the one that has to be used.
Mayall is at that stage in his career when he could be taking it easy, just sitting in his rocking chair and yelling at kids to get off his lawn, but instead, he’s still working in the studio grinding out albums, including his latest, Talk About That.
Using the talented musicians from his last album and tour: Rocky Athas on lead and rhythm guitar; Greg Rzab on bass guitar and percussion; and Jay Davenport on drums and percussion. Mayall himself supplies vocals, Hammond organ, piano, keyboards, harmonica, and guitar. Special guest Joe Walsh plays Lead guitar on two tracks.
Mayall also serves as the writer or co-writer of eight out of the album's eleven tracks.
Mayall starts the album off with a touch of funk on Talk About That. It’s his take on growing older and he doesn’t really care about what other people think and how he’s doing as he pleases. It’s got a great keyboard break.
He follows up with It’s Hard Going Up, a song written by Bettye Crutcher, the legendary STAX writer. Once again, he’s using the piano to drive the song but now he’s added some sweet horns to the mix. This is a classic and I can’t wait to share it on Time For The Blues.
Joe Walsh makes his first appearance on lead guitar on The Devil Must Be Laughing. It’s a slow driving number that makes the most of Walsh’s pyrotechnics. Mayall’s voice is in good shape and there seems to be evil dripping from every note. This is the longest song on the album, clocking in at nearly seven minutes, but it’s incredibly powerful and moving. I don’t usually play songs of this length on the show, but I think I need to make an exception for this track.
He follows up with the raucous Gimme Some Of That Gumbo. Utilizing a Bo Diddley beat and some zydeco stylings, this is one fun number. Love the horns and the interplay with the piano. This has got to be a lot of fun when they do this live and get a chance to stretch out and jam a little bit.
They keep the fun going with Goin’ Away Baby, by utilizing Mayall’s facility on the harp. The song was originally done by the great Jimmy Rogers and has a real country flavor to it. Davenport’s drums are subtle and very effective.
Joe Walsh returns for his second turn on lead guitar on Cards On The Table. The song has a little swing action happening and continues with a little country flavor. Walsh adds a nice touch to the song on his break.
A powerful number, I Didn’t Mean To Hurt You, follows. The pace is slower, more deliberate, and Mayall finds the emotion in every note. It’s a quiet cut, one that makes the listener commit to engaging in the song, rather than assaulting the senses. Showcasing a little big band flair, Don’t Deny Me, swings with horns and piano and good lyrics. It’s got a classic feel, Mayall is in good voice and I have to believe that this one could be a lot of fun when done live.
There’s a nice jazzy feel to Blue Midnight. Sometimes I forget that Mayall is a great proponent of blending blues with jazz to create a great sound. Here, the song is stripped down to the essentials and the electric piano makes a unique sound. The rhythm section of Rzab and Davenport are in good sync and Athas’ guitar lead is very good. Like this one a lot!
The follow up song, Across The County Line, is credited to all four members of the band. It’s a rollicking fast paced run through of a fun song. Can’t beat the feeling that this song brings – once again using the horn section on top of one of the hardest working bands around. Athas’ break is great, and it’s no secret that Mayall finds the best guitarists to work with.
The album ends with You Never Know, another jazz blues number. The tempo is bouncy and the lyrics are those of a man who has had a rich full life not so much looking back, but looking ahead to what’s coming up next. It’s one thing to remember the past, but so much more important to look ahead to the future. 
True to that sentiment, Mayall reminds us that he’s not ready for the dustbin just yet. He’s still finding new talent, writing new songs, and making albums that can still kick some ass. Last year, Mayall hit the road to celebrate and promote his previous album, he just might have a few more tricks up his sleeve for this one.
If you want some more information about Mayall and his appearances, be sure to go to http://www.johnmayall.com/ and find out everything about the man and his music. Henry and I were fortunate enough to catch him live last year, and you can read my take on his performance here

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado – Change My Game

Out of the mean streets of Copenhagen come riding a new blues force, Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado! My tongue is only slightly in my cheek as I found this band to be a true powerhouse of a performing unit and their 2017 release on RUF Records, Change My Game, to be a lot of fun.
I missed their previous release, Too Many Roads, when it came out in 2014, and after listening to this album a couple of times, plan to rectify that mistake post haste! They have a driving sound that I enjoy and look forward to finding every scrap of material they’ve released up to now.
The band consists of Risager on vocals and guitar; Peter Skjerning on guitar; Emil Balsgaard on keyboards; Søren Bøjgaard on bass; Martin Seidelin on drums; Hans Nybo on tenor sax; Kasper Wagner on saxophones; and Peter Kehl on trumpet.
Risager handles the majority of the songwriting, writing nine of the songs by himself with Skjerning penning one song solo and the two of them collaborating on one other song.
Risager’s soulful voice tings out immediately on I Used To Love You. Many acts will start out with some sort of kick ass song right out of the gate, but if you really want people to listen – start quiet. That’s exactly what the band has done. It’s a beautiful song, low key but effective.
Now we move on into some kick ass territory with Dreamland. His voice takes on a knife’s edge sharpness and the song is driven by pounding drums and bass. The blues on this song are heavily influenced by rock and the song makes you want to move.
Next up is the title track, Change My Game. The song is funky cool and while the lyrics are repetitive, they are also fairly strong. The horn section on top of the funk gives it a real STAX sound. It’s a throwback, but a lot of fun.
The band takes a quick trip to the swamp on Holler ‘N’ Moan, with tight harmonies and a very cool Resonator guitar playing. They may be from Copenhagen, but they’ve definitely got some country soul in their blood. Love this song and plan on sharing it on Time For The Blues shortly. This song just may be my favorite on the album.
They follow up with a little California cool sounds with Hard Time. This one doesn’t sound much like a traditional blues song, but it is a sweet number with good a good mix of guitar and voice. Risager & The Black Tornado follow up this feel-good song with a little darkness and danger on Long Gone. It’s still a quiet number, but the bass gives it a sense of unease that plays well against the guitar. Very good song.
The band pushes things back into high gear with Hold My Lover Tight. This is blues with a metal energy and the song rolls along maintaining that momentum throughout. If you like your blues mixed with hard rock, this is the song for you! The energy level is still intense on Maybe It’s Alright, even if the tempo drops a bit. Risager and The Black Tornado are still using a strong rock beat on the song, but it’s firmly planted in the blues.
One of the most used blues tropes in the image of the train. The next song, Train, uses that and with the Resonator guitar the song becomes one of the strongest pure blues songs on the album. The rhythm section creates the drive of the train, and the honkytonk piano brings it on home. It’s the quickest number on the album and it really delivers the goods. Good song!
The opening to Lay My Burden Down, complete with analog hisses, is of an old school vocal and piano. It’s a dark number, one that describes a scene but offers so much more in the background. It’s a very cool song and one that will get under your skin quickly.
The album comes to a close with City Of Love. This one starts off with a little electronica before moving into some funky blues. It’s an interesting melding of the past with some present stylings of music. It’s not a bad mix at all, although purists may have a hard time with it.
I enjoyed this album a lot. There’s plenty of old-school blues and more than a little of rock and even a few other styles mixed in for fun. Artists have to experiment to find their sounds, whether new or old, and here Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado have pushed their own envelope in order to discover their unique sound.
I’m not sure what their travel plans might be, although I do hope they will be making the rounds of some of the United States festivals, as I would dearly love the opportunity to catch them live. If you’re interested, be sure to check out their website at http://risager.info/ and see what they have planned for the future.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Hurricane Ruth – Ain’t Ready For The Grave

I first encountered Hurricane Ruth thanks to a four-song EP I received around the beginning of 2016. If you feel so inclined, you can see what I thought about it here. I thought Ruth was a major talent then, and nothing has come along to change my opinion.
Now we are blessed with a full-fledged album, Ain’t Ready For The Grave, that is being released on her own Hurricane Ruth label, and if you are reading this prior to March 2017, just go ahead and preorder it. If it’s after then, by all means, pounce on it!
The Hurricane herself has teamed up with the amazing Tom Hambridge, who seems to be able to do all things blues related. He’s a songwriter, a musician, a producer, and if what I hear is correct, he makes the coffee in the morning and sweeps up at night. Any project would be made better as a result of his efforts, and if you have a talent like the Hurricane’s, well, so much the better.
While Hurricane Ruth LaMaster tackles the vocals and Hambridge the drums, they are joined by Reese Wynans on B3 and keys; Michael Rhodes on bass; and Pat Buchanan and Rob McNelley on guitars. Background vocals are provided by the wonderful McCrary Sisters and Wendy Moten.
LaMaster and Hambridge teamed up on most of the songwriting, with one or the other writing or co-writing all but one of the songs on the twelve-song CD.
The album announces itself with the fun hard driving ode to honkytonks, Barrelhouse Joe’s. It’s a quick song and sets the mood for the entire album. You don’t get a name like Hurricane by being shy out of the gate, and she’s come out rocking!
She keeps the beat going with the follow up, Hard Rockin’ Woman. This is an autobiographical song that gives us a glimpse of what she’s like behind the stage persona. Here’s a hint; it’s not much different! Love this song. And remember to turn it up, you can’t play it too loud…
The next song, Far From The Cradle, starts off slow and easy with some great guitar picking to set the mood. It’s got a swampy country feel and is a real change from the previous couple of songs. Her voice is still strong and has that edge, but it’s a comforting song and while this is not the title track, the title of the album does come from this song. Very strong and powerful.
LaMaster picks up the tempo again on Estilene, a warning song for her friend to “leave them married men alone.” We get a little more of Estilene’s back story in the song and the message is delivered in no uncertain terms. Will she ever learn? The next song, Beekeeper, continues whit the fast paced tempo, and it has some clever lyrics to go along with the driving beat. Listen for that B3 break!
My Heart Aches For You starts out as a traditional torch song ballad and the song is beautiful. The song is jazz tinged and the band has the feel of a small combo that lets her vocals soar over them. It’s a wonderful number and even at 6:34 in length, should be getting some extended air play.
The Hurricane gets funky on Cheating Blues. The band is channeling Isaac Hayes and LaMaster is tearing it up. This is a woman who has had it gentlemen, and you better not cross that line. She’s on to you, time to get to stepping before she does something evil.
What’s an AC/DC song doing on a blues album? Remember, that while Hurricane Ruth is best known for her blues, she’s got abilities in a number of different genres. True to her roots however, Whole Lotta Rosie, takes on a very bluesy feel with her interpretation.
After that driving number, it’s time to shift gears into something that’s slower, darker, a little swampier; and she does just that on For A Change. She uses a lot of traditional blues images and the musical arrangement is stellar. Love this one so much.
She and the band pick up the energy a bit on Let Me Be The One. This one has a little more country feel, if you drop the B3 and add a pedal steel, this would be right at home on any country station in the country. We all know that country and blues are fairly close cousins and it is songs like this that remind us of that fact in a fun way. It’s got plenty of blues in it though to keep even the toughest critic satisfied.
We’ve got some good rocking going on with Good Stuff. She’s unleashing some serious soul to go along with the STAX sound from the band. This song features the McCrary Sisters singing back up and they add a nice touch to the number.
The album comes to a close with Yes I Know, a gospel blues number that reaches deep into LaMaster’s soul. Sometimes we all just need that spiritual side to help us make it through the night. She picks it up in the manner of some of the great gospel numbers. Soul comes in many forms, and for my money this is one of the best!
It’s safe to say that I loved this album, and plan on playing several tracks on Time For The Blues. In fact, I can’t wait to play them. Hurricane Ruth straddles so many different genres of music and handles them all so well. I would be happy with albums that touched solely on country, rhythm and blues, soul, gospel, funk, and of course blues, but by mixing them all onto one disc, it makes me very happy.

If you haven’t listened to her before, what are you waiting for? Get yourself over to https://hurricaneruth.com/ and sample some of her music and then pick up this album. You’re going to like it a lot.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

BlueHouse Project

I’m always delighted when an artist contacts me through hearing the show of stumbling onto us on Facebook. Ron Fetner, the guitarist, vocalist, and driving force behind a Virginia-based band found us and sent me a copy of the band’s first effort, the self-titled BlueHouse Project.
You have to know that whenever a band based in my home state gets in touch with me, they move to the top of the ladder very quickly. That’s a big hint for the rest of you Virginia Bands!
After the first listen to the album, I was pretty well hooked. They have an interesting blend of sounds and seem very comfortable with rocking numbers, quiet sentimental blues, and even a flat-out instrumental. Even though this is the first effort by the four key members of the band, it is definitely not their first radio.
The four guys who make up the band are Ron Fetner on guitar and vocals; Mike Tramonte on keyboards, piano, and vocals; Tom McCarthy on bass and vocals; and Corey Holland on drums. The saxophones are handled by Mike Caffi and Bobby Read on three tracks each, and Scott Ramminger on two. Fetner is also the songwriter for all eleven of the album’s songs.
Special guests on the album include Mark Wenner from the Nighthawks playing harp on two numbers; Tim Tanner on guitar, slide guitar, and vocal; Randy Short on drums for two numbers; Rich Ridofino on bass for two numbers; Jordan Ponzi on upright bass for two numbers; and Tom Dikon on harp.
The very cool swamp flavored Piece Of My Heart starts off the album. And while most of the old guard probably would shy away from using the words “cell phone” in the opening line of the song, we all know the blues change. They are universal and adapt to their times. It’s a strong song and a good way to start it off. Nice sax break by Bobby Read.
The follow up song, Black Widow Spider, features Nighthawks front man and master harpist, Mark Wenner, in the first of two appearances. It’s a swinging number with some very dark lyrics. This will be the first song we play on Time For The Blues.
I Can’t Lose These Blues starts off with a very mellow sound behind Tramonte’s keyboards. It’s a slow number that is greatly aided by Mike Caffi’s sax. It’s beautiful, quiet, and more than a little heartbreaking.
Wenner and his magical harps are back for White Cotton. It’s the band’s version of some country blues – they are demonstrating that they are at home in just about every sub-genre of the blues. Tim Tanner adds some nice slide guitar to the song.
They pick up the tempo with Coal Mine, a song with more than a little rock beneath the lyrics. That’s not some kind of geological pun in case you were wondering – just a mix of genres to create their own sound.
The next song is the haunting Newport Blue. Fetner adds a mandolin to the mix – I don’t see who played it, but I’m guessing it was Fetner himself – and the song takes on a Mississippi String Band feel. It’s a sweet blue song, one of lost love. Beautiful number.
Changing the feel of the album close to 180 degrees, the band then launches into the instrumental Uptown Strut. It’s not as raucous as it could be, but you can tell the band is having a good time jamming. Fetner’s guitar plays well against Tramonte’s keyboards. I can’t tell who plays sax, but I recognize Tanner’s guitar lead. Fun times.
BlueHouse then shifts gears down with It’s A Good Thing. The song is a fairly straight forward blues-rock hybrid. The harmonies are good and Holland’s drums have a stronger presence in this song.
There’s a little more country on Play You The Blues, and that makes this a fairly accessible song. I like its simplicity and it works well as a solo or duo piece. This will be the second or third song we play on the show – it’s a good quiet number that has a good hook and plenty of sentiment.
Next up is the blue collar driving number, Going Down To Texas. This is one that’s got to be a hit when performed live. It’s got a full party behind the song and when they can stretch out, I bet it’s great. Read and Ramminger both add some sax appeal to the song.
The album closes out with Black Cat Blues (For Velvet). It’s another quiet song with an old-school sound. The opening is almost spoken word as opposed to singing but the guitar work is very strong. There’s a harp in the mix, that’s played by Tom Dikon. It’s not Wenner’s pyrotechnics, just a few notes here and there that are very effective and add a little spice. Cool song, very low key.
The members of the band are scattered around the Old Dominion. Some are in Northern Virginia, Fetner is in the Piedmont area, and they are all involved in other projects. I’m not sure how many opportunities we’re going to have to catch them live, so we should all check out their website at http://www.bluehouse-project.com/.

Even with their involvement with other bands and other commitments, I hope they will find the time to record a follow up to this very promising album. Fetner is a strong songwriter, and the various players work well together. It’s an all around winning combination.