Wednesday, May 31, 2017

King James & The Special Men ~~ Act Like You Know

I know one thing; if I ever throw a rent party, I want King James & The Special Men to be the house band. This New Orleans based group knows how to bring the party wherever they go and on their debut CD, Act Like You Know, the energy is non-stop from beginning to end.
King James & The Special Men is fronted by Jimmy Horn on vocals and guitar. He is joined by Ben Polcer on piano; Robert Snow on bass; John Rodli on guitar; and Chris Davis on drums. The killer horn section is comprised of Jason Mingledorff on tenor sax; Dominick Grillo on baritone sax; Travis Blotzky on tenor sax; and Scott Frock on trumpet. Jason Jurzak adds tuba to the song 9th Ward Blues.  
There is a special New Orleans meets Spanish guitar flair to Special Man Boogie. It’s a great way to open the album with the Latin rhythms infused into the jazz and blues that permeates the Crescent City. The song lets us know immediately that this is not your typical album and we need to pay attention because the band just might throw us for a loop. Got to enjoy those fat horns.
Next up is Baby Girl, a smoldering number that tears at your heart thanks again to the horn section and Jimmy Horn’s vocals.  Horn stands behind the microphone open and vulnerable and lets us take a listen to the pain he’s singing. Two songs quickly showcase that the band is capable of moving in a number of directions. Like the best New Orleans music, there’s a mix of just about everything in this musical jambalaya.
Some very cool barrelhouse piano mixes with the horns for Eat That Chicken. This is a great song that is an homage to the vastly underappreciated Jessie Hill. This is a quick number at just a shade over three minutes and a lot of fun. I’ll definitely be playing this one on Time For The Blues.
Another slow blistering number follows, Tell Me (What You Want Me To Do). This song reminds me of the best collaborations between Doc Pomus and Johnny Adams, and trust me, that’s high praise indeed. Horn does some of his best vocals on this number and he reaches into the depths of his emotion to bring them out. It’s a lovely, heart rending song and I can only hope that it gets some airplay so more people can hear it.
King James and The Special Men then tell us The End Is Near. This jazzy number celebrates what we need to do if the end is inevitable, and since it’s not going to happen tonight, let the good times roll. I love the interplay between Polcer’s piano and the horn section. It’s a medium tempo, but somehow raucous philosophical treatise on why we should have a good time while we’re here. Like this one a lot, but watch out for that ending, it sounds like Sun Ra has returned for a visit!
The famous, or infamous Ninth Ward of New Orleans is the home of Fats Domino, and the largest of all of the wards in New Orleans. It’s the easternmost ward, and the one that got hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina. 9th Ward Blues is a tribute to that great spot of earth. The longest track on the disc at almost 14 minutes, it’s a wild ride of a song that is pure New Orleans. That is, it mixes together all the styles it can and makes it into a rocking number. Yeah, this jam session of a song is going to be a big hit at my rent party.
Act Like You Know is currently on pre-order and scheduled to release on July 21. In the meantime, if you happen to live in New Orleans, they play all over the place, so keep your eyes open and you just might be able to catch them live. If you do, please drop me a line here and let me know how they sound live.
King James & The Special Men are a great group. They are tight yet know how to improvise. Somehow they have developed a group mind that allows them to know what the others are about to do and they can change directions on a dime and give you five cents change.
Be sure to check them out at their website: https://specialmanindustries.com/ to see where they are playing and to check out their sound. You can also find them on Facebook and you can read more about them at their publicist’s website: http://www.howlinwuelf.com/clients/king-james-the-special-men/





Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Mark Cameron Band ~~ Live At Blues On The Chippewa

Recorded in August of 2016, and released in time to get ready for the 2017 festival, The Mark Cameron Band has delivered a record of their hot set at the Blues On The Chippewa Festival. For a few days each year, the town of Durand, Wisconsin becomes the blues capital of the world.
For this Cop Records release, Live At Blues On The Chippewa, Cameron has teamed up with Dan “The Hit Man” Schroeder on drums, Scott “Thunder” Lundberg on bass; Bill “Killer” Keyes on harp, and Sheri “Shaker Sheri” Cameron on sax and percussion. The high energy 11-song disc delivers 10 originals and one cover to an extremely appreciative audience.
After some warm applause comes Keyes’ harp kicking off Doctor In The House. The band is ready to have a good time and you can tell that they want the audience to come along with them. Keyes takes a solid harp break before handing off to Cameron on guitar. Damn, this is a great way to kick off a set.
Without even pausing for applause, the band launches into Somewhere Down The Line. Lundberg lays down a funky bass line and his rhythm section partner Schroeder answers with some cool drums. Cameron takes a couple of seconds to introduce the band members and the audience answers with cheers and applause. Very cool song that lets the band showcase themselves.
They follow up with a dark number that is a lot of fun, Dicey. This is one of those blues numbers of a guy getting caught in several difficult situations, women, money, and other things that are just tricky to escape leads one into dicey moments. The troubles just pile up and just make the listener smile.
Next up is the smoldering Borrowed Time. So slow, so intense, and oh so good. This is one of those late night in the spotlight numbers that relies mainly on the emotion in the singer’s voice. On this track, Cameron’s guitar break offers as much emotion as his vocals. Very sweet song.
There’s an upswing in the tempo on Mood Shuffle, as the song starts off bouncy. Sherri Cameron does a fine job on sax on this number and especially on the previous one. It’s a fun number and one that could just get an audience out of their chairs and onto the dance floor.
No pause before moving on to Hammered By The Blues. Keyes’ harp sets the stage and the band drops the tempo down to let Cameron’s vocals take over. It’s old-school blues and a solid number that could have stood up with the best blues performers of any generation. Cameron’s guitar break is a stone killer.
The only cover on the album is the classic song, Killin’ Floor. The guitar and harp play off each other so well and the rhythm section keeps it tight. Cameron gets a little gritty on his vocals, and this is one of those songs that’s been performed by so many of the greats it’s hard to break new ground, but Cameron and Company do a credible job on it. It’s a good interpretation. It may also include the only egg solo ever recorded…
Playing Rough starts off with some solid blues licks and Keyes’ great harp. Cameron keeps an edge on his vocals and the song drives hard. The group is in top form and they have fun with a couple of breaks. I could have some fun playing this one on Time For The Blues.
Gotta love that steel guitar on Done Me Wrong, it gives the song that down home swampy feeling. Cameron’s voice is in fine form and the harmony from the backing vocals is tight. This is a great song, pure blues with no apologies and the kind of song that should receive a good deal of airplay. I know it will on my show…
No pause and Cameron keeps it going with that steel guitar on Rusty Old Model T. It’s a cool number and Keyes’ harp comes in at just the right moments. Sheri Cameron adds some nice harmony vocals and this could be put up against all the other great American songs about cars. Cars make perfect metaphors for so many things – and people…
Cameron and company bring the album to a close with Back Seat Boogie. Perfect timing, following a song about a car. It’s a swinging number that leaves the audience with a big smile on their faces as they just witnessed a great band deliver the goods.
Live discs can sometimes be tricky. Even with advances in recording techniques, there are often things that can happen and on a live album, once it’s there, it’s there. We’ve all seen those live performances that the artist would rather forget than record, but The Mark Cameron Band was on fire this time, and it’s a good thing they were recording as now, those of us who missed last year’s festival can listen to at least a part of it.

They might not be a household word, yet, but they are a great band with a growing reputation. This is an album that’s going to get them some attention and hopefully even more airplay. Check out The Mark Cameron Band at https://www.markcameronmusic.net/ and see where they’re going to be playing next. And if you want to head to Wisconsin this August to check out Blues On The Chippewa, you can find their corner of the world at https://www.bluesonthechippewa.com/#home1

Monday, May 29, 2017

Ana Popovic ~~ Trilogy

(The Professor says you might want to pack a lunch before you tackle this review. It’s going to be a long one…)
Consummate artists like Ana Popovic have high standards for themselves. They have the vision, God knows they have the vision, but they go the extra several miles necessary to bring that vision to fruition. She has set the bar extremely high for herself and every album that she releases is ambitious, challenging, and ultimately a kick ass record of her dream.
Sometimes those dreams take on almost mythical proportions. Like her most recent album, Trilogy, which is available now on ArtisteXclusive Records. As the name implies, it’s three discs that make up this single release. She designed it to be records for different parts of the day with different styles of music for each.
She hasn’t abandoned the blues, indeed she plays a great deal on the album, but she also plays some rock and funk, and stick around for Disc 3 for a wonderful surprise.
For the first disc, Vol. 1 Morning, the musicians are Popovic on vocals, guitar, and slide guitar; Ivan Neville on keys and backing vocals; Jason Clark on keys; Derwin Perkins and Harold Smith on rhythm guitar; Mark Mullins on trombone and horn arrangements; Bobby Campo on trumpet; Jason Mingledorff on tenor sax; George Porter Jr on bass guitar and backing vocal; Jackie Clark and Tommy Sims on bass guitar; Raymond Weber on drums and backing vocal; and Peewee Jackson on drums. Other backing vocals are provided by Angie Primm, Anjelika Joseph, and Erica Falls. Guests on single tracks are Joe Bonamassa on guitar and Robert Randolph on lap steel guitar.  
The horns blare and we’re into the first song, I Love You, Tonight. Popovic is swinging her way through some jump blues, and this is the kind of song that can wake you up and get your heart racing even before you’ve had that first cup of coffee. It’s a great song and sets up the album nicely. As you might suspect, Popovic’s guitar break is a killer.
She follows up with the funky She Was A Doorman, another song that gets things jumping. She’s been featuring this one lately in her live shows and her backing band really makes it rock. It would be hard to miss her break on the song and her vocals really have a distinct edge to them. Another cool song.
Another song she’s been showcasing in her live performances is Show You How Strong You Are. It’s funky and one that keeps the mood going from the previous song. Popovic is a master of melding blues with other genres without losing those special things that makes the blues the blues. Aside from the positive message the song brings, it’s just damn fun.
Next up, the horns open Fencewalk, and the band is having a grand time bringing the song to life. The guys are taking the bulk of the backing vocals and it sounds like some of the best soul that came out of STAX mixed with some amazingly hot guitar licks. Popovic’s guitar lights up the song and it’s a wild ride.
She follows up with Train, which features Joe Bonamassa on guitar. If there were ever two guitarists with a closer style, I’m not sure I could name them. Popovic performs this one live as well, and even without Bonamassa’s contributions, she rocks it. Here, on the album, she delivers that smooth soul that we just don’t hear much of anymore. It’s a great change of pace and demonstrates her versatility.
Popovic continues with that sweet soul on If Tomorrow Was Today. She wrote or co-wrote seven of the nine songs on this disc, and she really impressed me with her lyrics. It’s well established that she’s one of the great guitarists working today, for my money one of the best of all time, but not much attention is given to her lyrics. She has a strong style that deals with powerful and often uplifting words and phrases. This is one of those songs.
She follows up with Long Road Down. Here, she is funky and bluesy at the same time. This is another song she’s been showcasing for enthusiastic audiences. Since I’ve talked about her playing and writing, let me mention that she is no slouch on vocals either. She has the ability to sharpen the edge in her voice or to make it purr seductively, and visit every style in between.
Popovic’s cover of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s Hook Me Up features am appearance by Robert Randolph on lap steel guitar. The song has plenty of that old-school feeling and Popovic’s guitar plays beautifully. This is a gorgeous song and one that just might make you fall in love with someone. It made me fall in love with her voice, that’s for sure.
She brings the first disc to a close with Too Late. It’s a soft ballad and she pours a great deal of emotion into both her vocals and her guitar. It’s a lovely number.
I couldn’t wait to play the next disc, the one she prepared for Mid Day. So, as soon as this one ended and that last note faded away, it was time to pull that one out and sample the next.
On Vol. 2 Mid-Day, the musicians were Ana Popovic on vocals, guitar, and slide guitar; Michele Papadia and Jason Clark on keys; Jackie Clark and Mark van Mears on bass guitar; Tommy Sims on bass and rhythm guitar; Cody Dickinson on drums and keys; and Stéphane Avellaneda and Edward Cleveland on drums. Backing vocals were provided by Angie Primm. Guest vocal on one song was Al Kapone.
This disc opens with Popovic’s blistering guitar. You Got The Love catches your attention on the very first note. It’s a blues rocker with the emphasis on rocker. The song drives hard and Popovic never lets up on the six-string pyrotechnics. If you like your music with a harder sharper edge, this is the song for you.
She follows up with Johnnie Ray, a darker moodier song. It’s hard not to like this solid number, the lyrics are pure blues and the arrangement is very cool. Popovic’s vocals are quiet and ache with emotion. It’s a beautiful song and I think it’s one that could see quite a bit of airplay.
Next up is Woman To Love, and it is a soulful number with a good blend of rock and funk. It’s also the powerful story of having a woman to love and all of the things that can happen to you when you do have her. Her voice is strong as she describes the feeling of having that woman in your life.
Popovic takes on Curtis Mayfield’s Let’s Do It Again with the help of guest vocalist Al Kapone. Mayfield wrote the song and the Staples Sisters took it to Number One back in the mid 1970’s. You can’t get much more soulful than that pedigree and Popovic’s vocals are spot on. Kapone has guested on a few albums lately and turned in credible performances on each. This is a sweet soul number, and Kapone’s vocal rap is really a nice touch.
Up next is Who’s Yo’ Mama?. The guitar is fast and furious and comes across very swampy. I love the rockabilly feel of this one, simple drum and bass and a guitar that soars into the stratosphere. It’s a great instrumental and man can this group rock.
She slows things down on Wasted, but keeps up the intensity. It’s a well written number and on most albums would be a standout. There is so much good material on this collection however that it’s difficult to crack the top five songs. Still, it’s enjoyable and adds a nice wrinkle to the stories Popovic is telling.
She brings the second disc to a close with Crying For Me. Some nice slide opens along with the drums and her vocals are delivered with a serious edge to them. That’s two discs sampled and now it’s time to visit Ana Popovic late at night.
Down boys…
The last disc, Vol. 3 Midnight, showcases yet another road on Popovic’s musical journey. For this one, the musicians are Popovic on vocals and guitar; Delfeayo Marsalis on trombone and horn arrangements; Khari Allen Lee on alto sax; Roderick “Rev” Paulin on tenor sax; Scott Johnson on baritone sax; Kyle Roussell on piano; David Pulphus and Barry Stephenson on acoustic bass; Herlin Riley and Bernard Perdie on drums.
The acoustic bass of New Coat Of Paint, gives way to a tight horn section and we are squarely in jazz territory. Popovic proves that she can handle a sophisticated jazz vocal with ease. Her band plays like a combo that’s been together for years, anticipating leads and putting out a sound that harkens back to the best night clubs of the jazz age. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Tom Waits song delivered like this, but I would love to hear more…
Next up is a Popovic original, Waiting On You, that shows that she can write jazz as well as she writes the blues. When I saw her on tour, she sampled a few of these songs and her band did a great job playing them, but I do hope to one day catch her fronting a larger band performing all of the jazz songs she might want to sing.
She follows that with Duke Ellington’s In A Sentimental Mood. It’s one of the classic jazz standards and Popovic takes it on like she owns it. The song starts out low and slow with the orchestra coming in also low and building. It’s her vocals that make this song even more special. It’s a gorgeous interpretation.
She follows with Curtis Lewis and Nate Adderley’s Old Country. She handles the vocals like she’s been singing them all her life, and I suspect she has. Coming from Europe, jazz and blues have better reputations than they do in the States, so their influence reaches further. This is a lovely cover and this disc really makes me want to hear so much more like this.
While she just sang Waiting On You a couple of songs ago, here she delivers the number in Double Time Swing. It’s a much quicker tempo and it adds a different feel to the song. I can picture her singing this song in front of a great big band in a Harlem nightclub in the Golden Age. It’s a great version and I love being able to put them side by side.
Her next number is Heaven’s Crying aka Song For The Next Generation, and it features Bernard Purdie on drums. The orchestration is stripped down and it focuses all of the attention onto Popovic’s vocals, and what a job she does on them! Her lyrics are very strong here and it’s one of my favorites over all three discs.
Popovic brings this disc and the entirety of Trilogy to a close on the ballad, You Don’t Know What Love Is. It’s a philosophy that you can’t know what love is until you’ve experienced the pain of loss. It’s a popular sentiment and a beautiful song. It makes a gorgeous sunset for the album, but since she wants us to play this late and night, maybe it’s really a sunrise on another day.
Very few artists would have the nerve to explore jazz, blues, funk, and rock on the same project in the depth that Ana Popovic has on Trilogy. The shear audacity of it, and the ultimate satisfaction that she delivers makes this, in my opinion anyway, her best album to date. I’m sure there will be those that disagree with me, preferring this or that album, and that’s great. I won’t fight your opinion.
I will tell you this, when Popovic performs live, she connects with an audience like few other entertainers. Her guitar playing is electrifying and I easily rank her among the very best that have ever picked up the instrument. Her singing is solid and she delivers a song like nobody’s business, and she knows how to give an audience what it craves.
Trilogy is a challenge that Popovic threw down for herself. The songs she created had to meet her highest standards and so did the musicians that performed them with her. This was not one of those albums where all the tracks were laid down in an afternoon – this took time and careful planning.
We, as music fans, are ultimately richer for her efforts.
Pick up the album as soon as possible and enjoy it. Then go to her website and see where she’ll be playing next. You can find her at http://anapopovic.com/home. As for me, I’m hitting repeat on Disc 3 one more time and revel in her jazz playing.

(All photos of Ana Popovic playing live at the Tin Pan in Richmond, VA are by Jeff Scott, my friend and photographer extraordinaire. Check out his website at http://www.jeffscottshots.com/ where you can find these and many others available for purchase. He’s great and gives me permission to use these on the blog.) 


Sunday, May 28, 2017

John Mayall and Company Deliver A Stunning Show At The Tin Pan ~~ May 27, 2017

Photo by Anita Schlank
Before Paul McCartney, before Mick Jagger, there was a guy named John Mayall who was the leader of the revolutionary blues band, The Bluesbreakers. Still going strong at the tender young age of 83, Mayall is out on the road fronting a tight combo and rocking every club he can find.
Earlier this year he dropped a new album on 40 Below Records, Talk About That, and now he’s out supporting it while reaching out to new and existing fans. Catching Mayall in an intimate setting like the West End’s Tin Pan is always a treat. For one thing, you are right on top of the stage, and there’s not a bad seat in the house. For another, you don’t have to worry about food and drink, the establishment has plenty of both and lots of great help to ferry them out to you.
On a stormy night, one in which hail had fallen earlier, Richmond packed the house to greet the blues legend. Prior to the show, Mayall spent a couple of hours hanging out in the lobby talking to everyone on the way in and autographing his new album, or just about anything the audience member wanted. I was lucky enough to catch Mayall when no one else was coming in and he gladly signed the new CD and six others I brought in from my personal collection.
Photo by Anita Schlank
When the show started, he casually strolled onto the stage and beckoned to his rhythm section to join him. Greg Rzab and Jay Davenport, who played bass and drums respectively, stepped up to the stage and the band ripped into a jazzy version of Dancing Shoes.  
That set the tone for the rest of the evening, Mayall and the guys playing off each other and each taking some decent breaks. For that first song, Mayall’s vocals were a little low, but were quickly adjusted. Mayall had two keyboards set up with his harps on top. His guitar stood alone at the back of the stage just waiting to be called in to duty.
From there, he launched into a great version of the title track from the latest album, Talk About That. For this number, he played both keys and harp and then picked up his guitar for the first time and they played Moving Out And Moving On. Mayall alternated playing guitar and keys in a very impressive display.
I would have been happy to listen to Mayall tell stories of his time in the blues world, but he wasn’t interested in traveling down memory lane. He was much more interested in playing great music and letting that speak for itself. He played an outstanding version of Parchman Farm. Mayall mentioned Mose Allison’s great cover of the song, but Mayall’s would compare well with any version. It earned him a standing ovation from about half of the audience.
After that, he had a little fun with Why Did You Go Last Night and Louis Jordan’s Early In The Morning. Rzab took an extended bass break and even slipped in a little Deep Purple riff which the audience ate up and applauded.
Another new tune from Talk About That followed, Going Away Baby and I’m A Sucker For Love. He quipped, “There are probably a few of you out there who feel the same way.
Mayall took a personal turn on the next song, Give Me One More Day. He talked about how he stopped consuming so much alcohol 25 years ago and he credited that with his being able to still be around today. I loved the lyric “I was a liquor store outlaw,” and probably more of the audience could identify with the sentiments in the song. Whatever you’re doing Mr. Mayall, keep it up…
One of the more enthusiastic audience member shouted out a question to Mayall about where he got his guitar. Mayall had already said he couldn’t hear what they were shouting, so Rzab stepped in and quipped that the guitar was for sale for $97,000! That started a bidding war, which fortunately was quickly squelched.
Next up was a smoldering slow blues number, Drifting Blues. Mayall delivered a gorgeous extended version of the Charles Brown classic that again the audience responded with a standing ovation. The ever gracious Mayall thanked the audience and reintroduced Rzab and Davenport again (he actually introduced them several times during the show, making sure they got their time in the spotlight) before introducing their “Closing Concerto.”
He called it that because all the guys would get a chance to take some extended leads and they never knew from night to night where it might lead. They played a song from Mayall’s first album, Chicago Line, and pretty much tore the house down. They received a well-deserved prolonged standing ovation peppered with cheers, whistles, hoots and hollers.
Returning to the stage, they told the audience they were going to play their most requested song which brought a chorus of song titles from the still standing throng. Mayall responded that they had “a number of great requests but they only knew one.” He then extended his introduction to Room To Move and the place erupted.   
Even after hanging out prior to the show and rocking hard for 90-plus minutes, Mayall still took the time to greet everyone as they left, autographing more CDs and shaking hands.
Catching a legend up close and personal in a great setting is something that every blues fan dreams of. I’ve heard so many stories of some of the greats stepping into a small club and last night it was Richmond’s turn for one of the greats to drop by and play a fantastic set.
One last thing, hey Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, why is this man not enshrined in your hall? Considering the contributions he’s made to blues and rock, he deserves his space.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Guitar Slim Jr. ~~ The Story Of My Life

Finally available again on CD and for the first time on vinyl, Orleans Records has released Guitar Slim Jr.’s seminal album, The Story Of My Life. Nominated for a Grammy Award in 1989, the album sort of disappeared over the years.
I was surprised and delighted to find a copy in my mailbox the other day and I pounced on it. I had only heard a couple of songs off the album over the years and now I have the opportunity to enjoy the album in its entirety.
Guitar Slim Jr, the son of Guitar Slim was born Rodney Glenn Armstrong in the Crescent City, New Orleans. He grew up seeing some of the best blues performers of the day playing with his father. He had already been playing for years before he made this, his debut album in 1988.
The ten tracks on the album contains seven written by his father, and Slim was surrounded by some of the best musicians around including drummers Shannon Powell and Kerry Brown who played for Preservation Hall and Lawrence Cotton and Guitar Slim Sr. respectively; Rene Coman (The Iguanas, Alex Chilton) and Charles Moore (Deacon John and the Ivories) on bass; and pianist Jon Cleary (future Grammy winner and Bonnie Raitt band member). Milton Batiste Jr. (Olympia Brass Band, Professor Longhair and others) played trumpet and arranged the horn charts.
The album starts off with the soulful Trouble Don’t Last. Slim Jr has a great voice and this is one of those songs that gets inside of your heart within the first few notes and doesn’t let go. You can’t escape that New Orleans sound no matter how hard you try. It’s in his DNA, thank God, and this is one of those great songs that just stay with you.
The very quick (under two minutes) Letter To My Girlfriend follows with a nice swing rhythm. It’s the kind of number that warms up an audience quickly, and when it’s done live and the band can jam a little, will get the people up on their feet.
Next up is the title track, The Story Of My Life, a gorgeous ballad in which Slim Jr pours everything he has into the vocals. Even though this was originally done by his father, Jr delivers an amazing rendition. The instrumentation is stripped down to guitar, bass, and drums, and it really makes the song stand out. Slim Jr’s break is strong and the song is a standout.
Bad Luck Blues is just a pure blues song from the opening note. It’s a slow emotional number that is very well delivered. Slim Jr has such a great voice and he’s a hell of a guitar player, it’s a damn shame he hasn’t recorded more albums than he has. It’s no wonder why the album was nominated for Best Traditional Blues Recording (the award that year went to Willie Dixon’s Hidden Charms, so you can’t really fault the voters…)
There’s some funk brewing on the next number, Can I Change My Mind. I just can’t get over how good this album sounds, it’s beautifully recorded – not to mention the great musicianship and Slim Jr’s vocals. I listen to a lot of new albums, and this one just smokes most of them.
Some soaring guitar opens Too Weak To Fight and plays against the horns. It’s not funk, but it is soul blues much in the way Solomon Burke would approach a song. It’s a solid number and one that satisfies…
Next up is the only song on the album that cracks four minutes, Reap What You Sow, a slow, blistering number that beautifully blends Jr’s vocals and guitar. This is one of those songs that I could listen to over and over again. The lyrics are good, the playing is tight, and the delivery is top notch. I have to play this one on Time For The Blues at the first opportunity!
Well, I Done Got Over It is a swinging tune that has some fun with the piano and sax. It’s another quick number, at two-and-a-half minutes it would be a blip on the radio, but it’s good and tight and one that is extremely enjoyable.
Next up is Turn Back The Hands Of Time, with its solid funky bass line and some cool electric piano. It’s a lost love song with some throwback backing vocals. Can I really call them throwback if they were recorded in the late 1980’s? Slim Jr does a credible job covering the song which was a hit for R&B singer Tyrone Davis in 1970.
Slim Jr closes the album with one last song written by his father, Sufferin’ Mind. It’s a terrific rendition of this classic number and he pulls out all the stops on his vocals delivering a great performance. It’s a satisfying way to end the album and it just makes me wish that instead of recording ten songs, he recorded twenty more.
Guitar Slim Jr stays close to home, but can you blame him? He’s always working in and around New Orleans and he really doesn’t need to get out on the road. The Story Of My Life is one of the finest debut albums that I have ever heard, and given the fact that he has been a professional musician for so many years prior to recording it, I am not surprised.
What does surprise me is why it took so long for the album to resurface. I know that there can me a lot of politics in the recording industry, so I’m sure that there are things of which I have no knowledge working behind the scenes. Still, I wish I had found this album earlier, but at least it’s out there now.

If you find yourself intrigued by this great artist, get on over to his little piece of the world wide web at http://www.guitarslimjr.com/Home.html. And if you find yourself in New Orleans be sure to find out where he’s playing and get yourself a seat PDQ. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Darryl Ellyson ~~ Been Out Traveling

It was a few years ago that my good friend, Mark Daniel, brought Darryl Ellyson to my attention. At one time, Daniel and I were co-producing a series of country shows, he took on the music and I handled the administration and the emcee duties. It worked out well and we had fun, but I was more interested in working with blues, and he wanted to write, record, and produce.
We stayed in touch and one day he reached out to me and say he had just listened to some raw recordings from Ellyson and he thought I might like him. Those raw recordings turned into the CD, It’s Such A Shame, and I did indeed like it. I liked it a lot.
Now, Ellyson has returned with an independent follow up album, Been Out Traveling. An artist with a persistent vision, Ellyson wrote all of the music and lyrics as well as provides the lead vocals, some of the backing vocals, and plays some guitar. He’s had help from a number of friends, Velpo Robertson, Bill Roberts, and Janet Martin on guitars; Rusty Farmer and Bill Roberts on bass; Kip Willilams and Bill Roberts on drums; Kevin Simpson on sax; and Jerel Lewis, Carlos Chafin, and yes, Bill Roberts on keys.
Backing vocals include Velpo Robertson, Jerel Lewis, and Bill Roberts who apparently has six or seven clones who are all proficient in music.
Ellyson kicks off the album with the title track, Been Out Traveling, along with some speedy swamp licks. The song swings and it’s a great song to get your groove on. I’m not sure if it’s Ellyson or one of the others who is playing the slide, but whoever is doing the picking, it is a righteous sound. He’s got me intrigued and I’m looking forward to see what he’s got coming up on the rest of the album.
He follows up with some funky blues on Lovin’ You. The keys carry the song as well as the percussion and they combine to create a very cool sound. Ellyson’s voice is pretty soulful and the guitar lead is very strong. It’s kind of a retro song and I like it a lot although some blues purists may find it a bit funky for their taste.
Simpson’s sax opens up Ain’t Gonna Let You Go, and it’s a strong opening. Ellyson is going for that Chicago sound and it’s a good attempt. He’s got the vocal chops and Simpson does a good job with the sax. The rhythm section has a lot of fun and all in all it’s a pretty decent song.
More funk follows with Baby’s Love, with the bass and horns making a potent combination. It’s a solid number and it’s good to see Ellyson making some music that will get the audience up on their feet. It really makes me want to catch him live. Albums are great, but I really want to see how he connects with an audience.
I love the Floyd Cramer-esque piano opening of Lost In Your Love. This is Ellyson at his most soulful and it’s a very moving song. His lyrics are strong and his delivery is very sweet. This song could be a crossover hit if he got the right exposure. The lyrics are pure blues, and the music is gorgeous but defies being classified. One of my favorites…
He picks up the pace and adds a little funk to Pushin’ Against My Heart. It’s a great blues tune that can get you up and moving around. Ellyson likes to rock a little bit and this is one of those songs that gives him a chance. There’s a little edge to his voice, but whomever is playing lead adds even more.
The Sweet Times starts out with a little slide over the rhythm section. Ellyson pours emotion into the ballad and his vocals are strong. He keeps the music tight and it’s another solid offering. Ellyson and his other guitarists have turned in consistent high quality work.
He follows up with another gorgeous ballad, Everything I Do. I would be willing to bet that whoever played keys on this one also played on Lost In Your Love. They sound very much alike musically and Ellyson delivers his vocals in a similar manner. This one has an old-school country feel to it and that’s a sound I greatly enjoy. It’s another winner, although it’s not a particular bluesy song. But Ellyson doesn’t claim allegiance to one genre, he likes to sample from several and let the song dictate the approach. To me, it’s another winner.
Now the blues are definitely back on I’m Gone. The guitar sets the tone and the rhythm section provide the backbone. Ellyson’s got an edge to his voice on this one and the song really packs a punch. This is one that could see some airplay on Time For The Blues, I can tell you several of the songs on the album will be gracing our airwaves soon.
He closes out things with Won’t Include You. Some very cool drums open followed by the keys and Ellyson is deep in blues territory on this song. The lyrics are sharp – he’s always been an interesting lyricist – and his delivery is dead on. This is a song that has some good legs, it just needs that little push to be heard by more people.
That’s always the issue, isn’t it? So many great artists are making great music and there just aren’t enough airwaves to accommodate them all. Or shelf space for those of us who like to have the physical copies of these great albums.
So far I’ve heard two of Darryl Ellyson’s albums, and I’ve enjoyed them both. I’ll be sharing several of these songs – and maybe one from the first album – with you. I like his writing and I like his playing. He’s surrounded himself with talented musicians who can deliver on his artistic dream.
I don’t know how Ellyson defines success. If it’s producing a great album, then he is one of the most successful men out there. Been Out Traveling is a fine album and I will be rooting for more people to discover it – and its creator.

Ellyson doesn’t appear to have a website, at least that I can find, but he does have a presence here: https://www.reverbnation.com/darrylellysonbluelightdistrict where you can pick up his albums and see where he’s going to be. Since he’s close to where I live, you just might find me at one of those shows. Or maybe more than one…

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Time For The Blues ~~ May 27, 2017

Henry and I hope you will join us this Saturday Night, May 27, at 11:00 Eastern as Time For The Blues has some great soulful music, some electrifying guitars, and we’re going to take a trip to visit some of the best entertainers in the Great White North!

We’ll probably have some bad jokes in there somewhere just to break up the greatness in the music we’re bringing to the airwaves.

Like Billy Price! Oh my goodness, can this man sing. Recently I latched on to a copy of an album he recorded with the late great Otis Clay (This Time For Real), and I was blown away by the incredible blend of these two soul stylists. Shortly after I wrote about it for my blog (you can read that review here) , I received an advance copy of his new album, Alive and Strange, which is available now on Nola Blue Records.

I was honored to be the first person allowed to review the album and once again, Price just blew me away. (You can read that review here)  Well, as you know, we’ve been a little backed up around Time For The Blues World Headquarters, but we have three great cuts for you from the album, and you definitely want to catch them.

Another great feature focuses on master guitarist Gary Hoey. Hoey has been recognized by the press and his peers as one of the best guitar players working today in any genre and we’re going to sample a few tracks from his most recent Provogue release, Dust & Bones. Then, to give you a look back at some of his earlier work, we're including a track from his Deja Blues release. 

You may not know this, but both Henry and I are world travelers. Since we’ve never been to outer space, technically anywhere we go is on this world, so, that makes us world travelers. Seriously, Henry held positions as an engineer that sent him all over the globe (seems his bosses didn’t like him hanging around the offices for some reason), and when I was performing stand-up or guest lecturing – every day meant being in a new place.

As a result, we both developed a deep appreciation for the country of Canada. Great people, great food, great big frikking mosquitoes…

Okay, the mosquitoes I could do without, but the rest of the country is very cool. Especially in the winter…

John, stop with the jokes already. Lately we’ve been getting some great material that’s come in from north of the border and we’re going to share three of them with you this week. We have selections from Steve Strongman, the Steve Kozak Band, and Chris Antonik. Three guys, three styles, and they are all very good. Now pass the poutine will ya?

We’ve also got some new tracks from Jon Zeeman from his new CD, Blue Room; the internationally known Lazy Eye from Australia with a very cool CD, Pocket The Black; and a great duo, Jim Gustin & Truth Jones teaming up on their second album, Memphis.
So do what you have to do to join us at 11. Sleep late, take a nap, grab that caffeine, just be sure to join us. We’re going to have a great time and we sure would love for you to come along for the ride. You know where we’re going to be, point your browser to http://ideastations.org/radio or join us on one of the Idea Stations: 89.1 WCVN, Northern Neck; 90.1 WMVE, Chase City; and the flagship, 88.9 WCVE-FM, Richmond, where it’s always Time For The Blues!


“Hey, if you’re a planning person,” if I may quote our live music correspondent, Anita Schlank, who is always reminding those of us with planning deficiencies that we need to look at upcoming events to make sure we’re there. So, plan on joining the River City Blues Society at their annual Blues Challenge on June 11, 2017 at the Capital Ale House Downtown. The fun starts at 1:00 p.m. and will go until 6:00. Every year, the River City Blues Society selects a band to represent us at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in January. If there are enough solo/duo acts to compete, there could be two representatives carrying the Richmond banner.

I don’t know who the competitors will be this year, that information is still developing. Plus the organizers like to play it close to the vest as they don’t want to let the judges know who to expect. I do know that the Master of Ceremonies for the event will be a certain Professor who hangs out with Henry Cook on the radio once a week. I don’t remember his name, but I’ve heard he’s the most handsome man in the blues industry.

Okay, it was my mom who said that, but it still got said. Join me, a bunch of great musicians, and a wild and raucous audience as we see who will represent Richmond in Memphis. Bands and solo acts, you still have time to get in on the fun, all the details are at http://www.rivercityblues.org/.


See you there! 










                 

                          

                 


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Micki Free ~~ Tattoo Burn-Redux

There’s a restless spirit that lives inside of musician Micki Free. After cutting his teeth on rock and roll, he joined the band Shalamar and appeared with them on two monster soundtracks, Footloose and Beverly Hills Cop. The latter won him a Grammy Award.
From there, he joined forces with Jean Beauvoir to create Crown Of Thorns, a hard-hitting rock band that shook up the 1990’s. After that, he began to explore his Native American roots and released albums of spiritual flute music.
You know, just the average path of a guy who has just released one of the hottest blues albums on 2017. Yeah, right.
Free’s new album on Mysterium Blues Records, Tattoo Burn – Redux, is an album that is difficult to pigeon hole, just like the artist who made it. At its heart is the blues, pure and simple, but there are elements of rock, gospel, and sometimes you can hear some Native American rhythms in the percussion.
Free had some help from some great players on the album. Aside from handling the lead, slide, rhythm guitars and lead vocals, Free also played a little bass. Other musicians include Cindy Blackman-Santana and David “Hawk” Lopez on drums; Bill Wyman, Jack Dailey, Kenny Gradney, and David Santos on bass; Hammond organ played by Mark “Muggy Doo” Leach and Brother Paul Brown with Leach also playing the Fender Rhodes; and Randy Singer on harmonica.
Special guests include Howard Hewett on the lead vocal duet and background vocals on God Is On The Phone; and Cary Bowden on 12-string guitar on Sometimes In Winter.  Backing vocals were provided by Shea, Wendy Moten, Trish Bowden, Hewett, and Free.
The first few funky notes set us up thinking the album is going to go one way, then God Is On The Phone gets going and you realize it’s heading in a different direction. Can we call this a spiritual funk tune? It has a few of the trappings of gospel, primarily with the keyboards, but the guitar is slick funk and they come together in a very satisfying combination.  
Free follows up with the title track, Tattoo Burn, and the opening guitar over drums creates an exciting sound. His music and lyrics put this one square in the blues category. I’m not sure if this is the first blues song to use the tattoo allusion, but it’s the first one I can recall. It adds a new territory to explore. Good song, I think it’ll end up with some airplay.
Free dedicates the album to his mother, Delores Marie, especially for her “glorious greens and barbecue.” So, it’s only fitting that he pens a song called Greens & Barbecue. It’s a slow burning blues song and Free and company are in total control, both of the music and the vocals. I like this one a lot.
That slow burn keeps coming with Six Feet Down In The Blues. This is easily one of the best tracks on the album. It’s tight, and Free’s voice hits every emotion without becoming overblown. I could see this one being a hit for any number of great blues artists who have come before and I think it will stand up among the very best for some time to come. Airplay? That’s a given.
The next song, Mojo Black Coffee, has got a great title and starts off with a true blues riff. I know at least one person who shares my house for whom this song will become their mantra. I’ve learned not to speak until that first cup of coffee has been downed. Sounds like Free is in that same boat. It’s a clever song and the music is as strong as a 32-ounce cup of deep Black Insomnia! That’s the strongest coffee I’ve found to date, if you have another, please let me know so I can share it with Mrs. Professor!
He follows up with the mellower Co-Co-Gin, which has a nice throwback sound. Free’s guitar is good, but he’s reigned it in a little in favor of the keyboards. His vocals are softer, but the story is still as strong as they come. I think by now, Free has got me firmly in his corner. He’s mixed in a few styles, but his heart is entrenched in the blues and he does a great job with them.
There’s A Hole In The Heart Of The Blues starts off with some heavy rock and a scorching guitar riff. Once again, I was thinking that the song would go one way and Free takes off another. This one may be a little heavy for the blues purists, but for those who like their blues dipped in rock, this is going to be one of their favorites.
Next up is Angels In The Room, and Free is back to the slow controlled burn of a master bluesman. I’m not sure who is providing the backing vocals for this number, but she has a great voice. Free does some good slide work and the percussion is solid. It’s a good song, and on a lesser album would probably be a standout.
The one cover on the album is Jimi Hendrix’ Hey Baby (The New Rising Sun) (remix). The artist that first made Free want to become a musician was Hendrix, so it’s only fitting that he include a cover and homage to the man. You can hear a lot of Hendrix’ influence in the way Free plays guitar, but that can be said of many guitarists. It’s finding that heart that Hendrix had that’s the tough part. I think Free’s spirituality comes through in many of his songs, and not just lip service to the spirit. Free faces the dark as well as the light and recognizes that both are part of this life.
There’s some hard rocking that opens Five Minutes Till Christmas. This is one that will be getting a ton of airplay come the holiday season. It’s a solid number with some clever lyrics, and it hasn’t been played to death previously. Free released this as a single to radio stations last Christmas and it was a welcome addition. Santa Blues is going to add this one to his playlist…
Free closes the album with Sometimes In Winter, which features Bowden on 12-string guitar. It’s a mellower sound with some very churchy organ opening with some good guitar riffs filling in. I love the choir of backing voices that lift the song up and over the norm. It’s a fitting ending and a lush song.
Free’s songwriting impressed me a lot. True he’s a hell of a guitar player and his vocals are nothing to sneeze at, but even a good voice and a great guitar can’t elevate a bad song. There’s really not a bad song in the bunch, although a few songs may be too heavily rock oriented for some, but there’s no way to please the entirety of a large group of blues lovers.
I will be watching to see what direction(s) Free’s music might take from this point on. He’s explored rock, he’s explored his Native American heritage with albums of traditional music, and here he’s dropped a pretty damn good blues album. I have a feeling that he will continue to mix these different styles as they are all a part of his musical DNA.

Be sure to find your way to his website http://www.mickifree.com/ to see what other people have said about Free and check out his earlier recordings and his touring plans. I can’t wait to catch this cat live somewhere down the road. If you see him first, drop me a line here and let me know how you liked it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Larry Griffith Band ~~ Shake It Loose

The city of Atlanta is a cultural crossroads. It’s not just an airport destination with a ballclub, you can find just about anything you want in the city including a thriving blues scene. Friends of mine who live in the area are always reporting about catching great national acts, and every so often I hear about a local artist or group that have great potential.
One of the artists that recently came to my attention was Larry Griffith, who fronts the Larry Griffith Band. Griffith is one of those people who was weaned on music practically from birth. There was always music in his house and surrounding neighborhood, primarily blues and funk, and he gravitated towards a career in music starting with the drums.
After establishing himself as a drummer and relocating from his native Cincinnati to Atlanta, Griffith found himself immersed in the blues world. While traveling through Clarksdale he was struck by a powerful dream in which he was rocking out on a guitar and swaying all the people in the club. He took it as a sign and began working on his chops.
His most recent independent album, Shake It Loose, was sent to me via his publicist and I’m glad that she sent it along. It’s a cool soulful album that showcases Griffith’s unique voice and several great players as well. Griffith is joined by Mike Lowry on lead guitar; Dana McCarthy on bass; Rashaan Griffith on keys and drums; Steven Milsap on drums; and Michael Milsap on keys. The wonderful backing vocals are provided by Sanctuary, consisting of Darshana Gettle, Tyra Tomlinson Beatty, Shannon Hill; and Lavaida Monique.
Griffith and company start things off hot with the soulful Keep Ridin’. It’s the kind of auto-erotic double entendres that make just about anyone stand up and take notice. Milsap plays some good chords on the keys, keeping everything anchored while Griffith and the background vocalists trade off on the lyrics. There’s a nice guitar break from Lowry just to add the icing on the cake.
Next up is Every King Needs A Queen, a slow soul ballad that showcases Griffith and the backing vocalists. It reminds me a little of how Solomon Burke would approach some of his work – unleashing his oversized personality on the song and elevating it in the process. There’s some gospel flavor and Regeski does a good job with the horns.
Griffith gets a little funky on All I Really Wanna Do, with some fat horn sounds and some cool electric piano behind his vocals. It’s a throwback sound very reminiscent of some of the best slow funk from the ‘70’s. Griffith seems to be the most at home when he can take his time with a song. The man is in absolutely no hurry to end a song, he likes to stroll rather than run and the leisurely pace is a nice change from a lot of the music rolling out.
He follows with the lush Our Love Is In Good Hands. It starts out with some beautiful guitar and keys before Griffith takes over on the vocals. The song interprets today’s news through song and reminds us that better days are ahead as long as we keep our trust in the all-powerful hands. Griffith does an excellent job in presenting the song and I’m sure it has to be a real crowd pleaser when he does it live.
He picks up the pace slightly with Ain’t Puttin’ Up. It’s got a good rock beat and Lowry and Milsap bring the introduction to life. The song is one that most blues fans will enjoy, that is, if they like their blues with a little bit of jump in them. Griffith’s got a good soulful voice and he uses it in a calm manner. So far, he’s not gone out with an edgy or gravelly voice. He just comes out and slides in with the smooth.
Griffith closes the album with the title track, Shake It Loose. He’s having fun with what sounds like a little Texas funk. He lets the band kick it up a couple of notches, but his vocals keep a tight rein on the proceedings, letting us think that the music is going to bust out at any second. If you’re looking for a dance number, this is one you can shake it to, just watch out for the tempo changes. It’s a fun song and a good way to bring the album to a close.
While Griffith may have only put six songs on the album, each song clocks in at better than five minutes and half are over six minutes. It’s like getting a live album with the way his musicians get their chance in the spotlight. I like his voice and I think he’s got a good band. They deliver the goods and if you like soulful blues, this is a good one to pick up.
Griffith has three other albums and a couple of singles that he’s release previously. I’ll have to see if I can get my hands on them to check out what he did prior to Shake It Loose. I have a feeling with his background, there’s plenty of soul and maybe a little funk mixed in with those blues.
If you’re interested in checking him out for yourself, the best place to start is at his website, http://larrygriffithmusic.com/, and if you happen to be in the Atlanta area, be sure to catch him live when you can. If you do, please drop me a line here and let me know how you enjoyed the show.