Monday, July 31, 2017

Milligan-Vaughan Project Releases Self-Titled Album

It has to be tough to be the child of a famous person. Oh sure, there are perks and doors will be opened for you at some point if you want to follow in that famous parent’s footsteps, but let’s face it, if you don’t have the chops to go out on your own once you step through that door, you’ll end up disillusioned and be quickly forgotten.
How many children of star athletes can you remember who don’t live up to those crushing expectations? Or actors? Or singers?
The self-titled debut album of Texas-based performers Malford Milligan and Tyrone Vaughan, collectively known as the Milligan-Vaughan Project arrived just ahead of its August 4th release on Mark One Records. The Vaughan in question is the son of Jimmie Vaughan, one of the best-known guitarists of his generation, and the nephew of Stevie Ray Vaughan, a legend around these parts for everything he was able to accomplish in his short 35 years on this earth.
I promise I will try to focus on Vaughan for his own merits and not go on and on about his famous family. The door has been opened and it’s time to see if he stands on his own.
The album contains eleven tracks, nine are studio recordings and the remaining two are live cuts that were recorded at the One 2 One Club in Austin, Texas.
While Milligan took on the vocals and Vaughan the guitars, they had the help of a number of top musicians including Chris Maresh and Jeff Hayes on bass; Brannen Temple and Kenneth Furr on drums; Michael Ramos and Jay D. Stiles on keys; Jorge Castillo on guitar; and Mike Cross on backing vocals.
Along with producer David Grissom, they wrote or co-wrote six of the songs on the album and chose work from such artists as Buddy Guy, James Cleveland, and a showstopper from none other than another Texas legend, Freddie King himself. (Another legend whose life was shortened.)
First up out of the chute is the funky rocker Soul Satisfaction. Written by Grissom and Davey Knowles, it has a scratchy rhythm and heavy percussion. It might not be straight blues, but considering the pedigree of the guys making the album, it does show some fireworks that just might make for a dazzling show.
They follow up with Dangerous Eyes, and Vaughan shows off some sweet guitar licks. The group is still rocking, but it has a stronger blues edge to the music.
Vaughan wrote Little Bit Of Heaven, and surprisingly he keeps his guitar in the background during the opening, favoring the organ and percussion to set the mood. However, once he starts in on his run, he cuts loose and lets it soar. Very solid number that should keep the rock blues fans happy.
Driving You is written by both Milligan and Vaughan and it’s a slightly different style from their previous cuts. It’s still got an edge, but it has a little more of a swing to the beat. Milligan’s vocals have been gravelly throughout the album, not bad, and not so hoarse that you can’t follow him lyrically. Four songs in and they are delivering on their promise.
Their interpretation of Buddy Guy’s Leave My Girl Alone is flat-out one of the best songs on the album. Vaughan’s smoldering guitar creates a gorgeous canvas on which Milligan’s vocals complete the picture. It’s slow, controlled, and searing. This is one I will be playing, and wishing I could insist of every other show do the same.
There’s some jazzy funk that follows in Compared To What. Originally made popular by Les McCann, this song kicks some serious butt. It’s the kind of song that has to get an audience out of their seats and out on the dance floor. I would love to see the guys play this one live. Vaughan has a lot of fun with his guitar.
Another song written by Grissom and Knowles, Here I Am, is next. It’s a heartfelt ballad that has got some real country flavor to it. Milligan does a great job on the vocals, he’s very expressive and adds some gospel fervor to his delivery.
Next up is Devil’s Breath, which Vaughan co-wrote with Dan Dyer. It’s a dark song, as one might suspect given the title, with a menacing rhythm and the kind of song that could make a brave man look over his shoulder, just in case. It’s a southern gothic story in four-and-a-half minutes.
The final studio track is James Cleveland’s Two Wings. It’s a song of hope, the essence of the blues, and with Cleveland’s gospel background it’s totally understandable. The song is stripped down to Milligan’s vocals and Vaughan on an acoustic guitar. Lovely version.
What follows is a couple of live tracks, starting out with a Grissom number, What Passes For Love. No matter how good a studio recording is, the test is always going to be how do they do in a live setting? You can hear the energy coming off the stage while they play.
They end the album with one Freddie King’s signature songs, Palace Of The King. Written by the trio of Donald Dunn, Leon Russell, and Don Nix, it became one of King’s best-known songs. Vaughan throws out some amazing guitar pyrotechnics and the band rocks their way through the song with ease.
Earlier I asked the question, can Tyrone Vaughan stand on his own? You better believe it. He’s definitely got the chops to carve out his own career. And while some licks may have a certain familiarity to them, he seems at home with funk, soul, jazz, a touch of country, and rock to go along with those blues.
The Milligan Vaughan Project has dropped an impressive debut album. Can anyone say where it will lead? I wouldn’t hazard a guess. Considering their age and their place in the music industry, I fully expect they will have their pick of other projects for the future.

Let’s just kick back and enjoy whatever they choose. In the meantime, you can find out more about the group at, and be sure to see where they will be touring in the future. If you’re like me, you can’t wait to catch them live! 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Natchel Blues Network Blues Challenge ~ July 30, 2017 Williamsburg, VA

The heat finally broke after a day or so of long overdue rain, and the sky was a beautiful October blue, even though it was only July. After a leisurely drive from Richmond to Williamsburg, I was ready for the Natchel Blues Network Challenge to begin.
If you’ve not attended a Blues Challenge, it’s a gathering of some of the best blues acts in the area who showcase their best work as they try to get selected to represent one of the many blues societies in Memphis for the International Blues Challenge (IBC). The IBC is the largest gathering of blues acts on the planet and it all takes place in various venues over one week’s time. If you win an IBC, your career is pretty much set.
No matter the outcome, you’re bound to be seen by a fair number of people, and there will be labels, managers, and other power brokers that can help you further your position in the blues world. Even if you go as an audience member, you’re guaranteed to see some of the best acts from around the world all playing and jamming the night away.
To get there, you need to take the top position at one of the local challenges. In each challenge sponsored by a blues society, in this case the Natchel Blues Network which represents the area from Williamsburg to Virginia Beach, there were six who answered the challenge. There are three categories: youth (under 21), solo/duo, and group (three or more).
Today’s line-up did not include anyone in the youth category, there were four in the solo/duo category, and two in the group category. I was familiar with one of the solo/duo acts, Roots2 Music, who won the challenge in Richmond last year. They were joined by Tidewater Stomp, Ruth Wyand and The Tribe Of One, and Kelly Curtis.  
Roots2 Music has an unusual sound, mixing sweet country blues with Appalachian Mountain music. It’s a great combination, although these days country blues can be a tough sale to audiences who have become accustomed to loud more raucous groups. Still they persevered, even though they were first out of the gate and the audience was still arriving while they were playing.
They played some originals and a few covers and even played a Luke Jordan  tune. Jordan was a blues artist from Lynchburg whose work was primarily in the Piedmont style. His work hasn’t been covered by a lot of current artists, so it’s always good to hear Roots2 Music deliver their interpretation.
After they finished, Tidewater Stomp took the stage and demonstrated their eclectic playing. They opened up with a rollicking number with some sweet harp, then followed up with a heartrending ballad, and a wild instrumental that demonstrated just how tight of a sound they have.
Tom Dikon, the harp playing part of the duo, did most of the talking and worked the crowd like he’s been doing it his whole life. They ran through several more originals before finishing up their time.
Ruth Wyand, a 2017 finalist at the IBC, was next. Wyand is a solo performer with a guitar, tambourine, and two kick drums going simultaneously. She sings like an angel, plays guitar like a demon, and her percussion creates a mighty sound. I’ve caught a few one-person bands over the years with mixed results. Wyand is undoubtedly one of the best I’ve seen.
The last performers in the category went by the name of Kelly Curtis. The two performers each contributed one of their names to create the new duo. They ran into some trouble almost immediately when the guitarist’s instrument wasn’t connecting with the sound system and they stopped in mid song to locate a new one.
That’s why it’s called a challenge and not a competition. As an artist, you will face challenges – broken strings, persnickety sound, laryngitis – it’s up to you to rise above those challenges and continue to perform.
Kelly Curtis rose above that challenge but it was definitely a bit of a struggle for them. Still, they acquitted themselves very well.
Next up was the group portion of the show, starting off with In Layman Terms. Brother and sister Cole and Logan Layman along with their drummer Austin, and a trumpeter whose name I didn’t catch, ripped through a high energy set of mostly originals (one cover) and did a great job connecting with the audience.
The last performer of the afternoon was the Billy Jo Trio consisting of Billy Joe Daniel, Chris Serrano, and Kevin Payne. Daniel has a good slow hand on the guitar and the group handled their mix of originals and covers with ease. Daniel even did a little showboating and played the guitar behind his neck during one extended solo.
The event was staged at a great club in Williamsburg called The Triangle. It was my first visit there, but won’t be my last. They have a great stage and a delicious menu – well, the food was delicious, I never actually tasted the menu. Definitely worth the trip as they have lots of live music – a rarity in a lot of places.
After some deliberation, the winners were chosen Ruth Wynand And The Tribe Of One will be returning to Memphis to chase the solo/duo prize while In Layman Terms will also representing the Natchel Blues Network in the group category. There was a snafu in the scoring and The Billy Jo Trio was originally announced as the winners. The scoring has been corrected and apologies have been made to the group for the error.  
Thanks to everyone at the Natchel Blues Network and The Triangle for a great afternoon and we’ll see you again next time!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Dusty Discoveries ~~ Jake’s Blues ~~First Time Out [1995]

If you’ve known me longer than five minutes you probably realized that I’m a very thrifty man. I think Jack Benny was a spendthrift.
Apparently I’m old as well…
I don’t spend my money willy nilly. Part of the reason is I just don’t have that much to spend. Another reason is I have this undying need to find all sorts of cool stuff, and no room to put anything else in my house. If you ever run into my family members, they will tell you, I’m about a deck of cards away from being the Christmas episode of Hoarders
But I do like to shop for stuff, so I spend just about every waking moment looking for bargains. Every thrift store in a 60-mile radius knows me as I’m always there looking for used CDs, albums, books, and anything to do with blues and roots music.
If it even looks like blues music I’ll buy it. I’ve been burned a few times, but not enough to worry about. When I realized that I was turning up all sorts of good music for a buck or two, I decided that I needed to share these finds with you. Hell, if it’s new to you, it’s new music.
The first album I want to tell you about is a group from Guy’s Mills, PA, Jake’s Blues. The album I found for $1.25 is called First Time Out, and it’s over 20 years old and it’s as fresh as if it was just pressed yesterday. The band consists of Jake Banta on guitar and vocals; Ron Bissell on bass; and Alan Chaffee on drums. Special guests on the album include Roddy Calona on drums and Riley Osbourne on Hammond B-3 and piano.
I was completely unaware of the band prior to finding this disc, but I wish I had known about them, I definitely would have played them. They have a good sound and a whole lot of heart.
The album opens up with some rocking blues with She’s Satisfied. While on the surface they sound like a good bar band, as you listen you hear how tight they are and how they make slight changes in the song. They’ve got a good feel and this makes me think the album is going to be better than average.
Next up is Down In The Gut, and Banta lays some choppy guitar over some cool B-3 licks by Osbourne. I like the sound, it has a bit of a funky blues vibe that would have been perfectly at home at a studio like STAX. I bet this one has to be a good one when done live.
Bo Diddley’s Sick ‘N’ Tired follows with some great boogie piano adding a lot to the song. Banta’s guitar plays off of the piano very well, and Banta has a lot of fun with the vocals. They follow up with an instrumental, Huckle Boogie, that’s quick and gives they guys a chance to stretch out. I like instrumentals, some may disagree with me, but sometimes I just want to concentrate on the purity of the music. This is one of those songs.
Next up is the slow burn blues of Telephone Man. Banta’s guitar sounds so sweet when laid over the B-3 of Osbourne. It’s a great late-night song that is filled with emotion and it showcases some of Banta’s best work, both vocally and musically. It’s the longest song on the album at nearly eight minutes, but it is a real tour de force, and I know it’s got to be a killer when done live.
Pass Me My Pain starts out with some audience noise giving the song a live feeling. It segues into a solid blues song with some good lyrics and a bounce to the delivery. I like the effects. They get rocking on Let Me In, another bouncy song with a stripped-down delivery and the addition of Osbourne’s boogie piano adds a nice touch. It’s a cool song and has to get an audience up on its feet.
Banta and Osbourne set up the next song, I Was Wrong. The B-3 has a STAX sound and the choppy guitar adds its touch to recreating that cool era. This is a righteous R&B tune.  
Little Willie John’s I Need Your Love So Bad follows. It’s a slow country blues number with some of the sweetest guitar you’ll ever hear. Osbourne’s piano is reminiscent of Floyd Cramer and this is the kind of beautiful song that every singer wishes he could latch on to. Banta just pours his heart and soul into his vocals.
They end the album with Drivin’ South (Part 2). It’s a fast paced rocking instrumental that gives the band a chance to show what they can do. It’s heavy on the guitar and Banta makes it sing. Yes, he shreds it, but he doesn’t forget that aimless shredding means nothing and he gives his instrument a strong soul.
I don’t know who donated this album to the thrift store where it eventually made it into my hands, but I’m glad they did. Jake’s Blues is a fine example of a great blues band that I otherwise might never have come across. First Time Out is not their only album, and I plan to track them down and get the others.
Wherever you may be, I’ll bet there are great bands nearby. Feel free to share them with us here at The Juke Joint. I’m always looking for my next favorite artist or group, so, if you know ‘em, tell ‘em about us here. They can get in touch with me here or at my email,

In the meantime, check out Jake’s Blues at, and when I find out more about them, I will pass it on to you as well!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Dry River ~~ Prayin’ For The Rain

Geologically speaking, a “dry river” is a valley, gulley, or a streambed that only holds water during the rainy season. They are most common in Asia, Africa, or other desert environments. In Southern California, the Santa Anna River would be a dry river except for the runoff water the city runs through it dividing the city into two separate areas.
Musically speaking, Dry River is a band that comes from both sides of the Santa Anna River and create a wonderful blues roots sound. Their latest album is 2016’s Prayin’ For The Rain, an independent release that has just made its way to my desk.
The four-person band includes Oliver Althoen on guitar and vocals; Dave Forrest on harmonica; Joel Helin on bass and backing vocals; and Ruben Ordiano on drums. Guest musicians featured are Paula Gabriel on backing vocals; Satch Purcell on tablas; and Jeremy Hatch on keyboards.
Althoen is the primary songwriter on the album, writing twelve of the songs and co-writing the other two: one with Sinda Althoen and one with Dave Forrest.
The album starts off with Lift This Stone, a swampy number that features Althoen’s guitar and vocals and Forrest’s plaintive harp. It’s a lonely feeling song with gospel roots that’s slow and powerful. Good opening, unfortunately I won’t be able to play it on the radio due to the use of a common expletive. Doesn’t mean I like the song any less, just got to jump through those FCC hoops…
Next up is Dry River Blues, a rocking song that picks up the pace and gives the album a different feel. Two songs, two distinctly different sounds, the band probably has a few other tricks up their collective sleeves.
They follow up with Lost In The World, another song with a solid rocking beat. Helin’s bass gives the song its backbone and Forrest’s harp is sharp and adds a whole new level to the song.
There’s a old-school country blues vibe to the next song, Breakfast, with Forrest’s harp running wild over acoustic guitar. It’s a fun energetic number that keeps your toes tapping from start to finish.
They go from country roots to a little funky blues on Divided For Love. Dry River has played around with some different styles, but they never stray too far from the blues that form the basis for their sound. They are a lot of fun to listen to, and I would very much like to see them live just to see how they interact with the audience.
A real change of pace follows with the lush Hildegard. It reminded me of the English folk rock artists of the late-60’s early-70’s who blended elevated language with subtle guitar and woodwinds. It’s a lovely song.
Death Comes Knockin’ follows with a heavy blues sound. The song is slow and powerful. Althoen’s vocals are among the best on the album and Forrest’s distant pleading guitar is sentimental and emotionally evocative. This is a great song that I could hear so many of the greats singing. Can’t wait to share it with our audience!
They follow up with Free Man, which has a similar feel as Hildegard, but actually veers more into country and away from the English folk. It’s still a lovely song, but probably not one that the blues purists would gravitate towards – but that’s not the audience they are looking for. I enjoyed the song and will add it to my playlist.
Next up is Lovesick Blues and it’s a kicking song. They rock the blues on the song! Althoen plays some cool guitar and Forrest has a blast with the harp. Yeah, this one is going to get some airplay.
The next song is low and slow and deeply moving. Lay Down And Die doesn’t pull any punches lyrically or musically. It’s powerful and very emotional and pure blues from beginning to end. Give it a listen and see if you are as moved as I was…
Next up is some more old-school sounds on Makin’ Biscuits. Yes it’s got a country feel to it and Forrest’s harp gets a good workout while creating the mood of the song. It’s a cool instrumental that offers a call and response between the instruments, primarily guitar and harp.
Shine Your Light On Me mixes more of the folk sound with blues. It’s more of a blues mood than utilizing any of the elements usually associated with the genre. Although Forrest’s harp is, as always, a nice touch and there are some good harmony vocals. Sweet song.
The next song, Tryin’, however, starts rocking on the first note! It’s a quick number and really keeps things moving. Yeah, once again I get to comment that Forrest plays a wicked harp…
They close out the album with Who Am I. It’s a gentle introspective song that shows that the band may move around from genre to genre, but their lyrics are always intelligent and poetic. They are not locked into just one sound, but find different ways to showcase their talents.
Dry River is a very good band who has already released three albums. Prayin’ For The Rain is the only one I’ve had the opportunity to check out, but I’m impressed enough that I will be hunting down their others.

Be sure to check them out at to get a sample of their work, find their CDs, or see where they’re going to be playing next. I don’t know that I’ll catch them live any time soon being on the other side of the country, but any of my California readers that might catch them, please send me a review!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Joshua Jacobson ~~ Good Little Thing

Sometimes it’s the packaging that catches my eye and moves an album to the top of the review pile. Especially those acts that are new to me – the extra boost of some fancy artwork just might be what it needs to get noticed.
That was the case with Joshua Jacobson, who just dropped a fun acoustic Piedmont style album, Good Little Thing. The cover art is by Frederick Carlson and is done in the R. Crumb style. If you’ve ever seen Crumb’s beautiful portraits of old-time blues artists you will recognize the style immediately.
Plus, he’s got a Crumb-esque woman dancing off to the side. No one draws thighs like Crumb, but these are close.
A little bit of research turns up Jacobson’s impressive resumé and I’m getting interested in hearing what he’s got. Firing up my CD player, I’m quickly transported to a different time, when blues like these ruled the bandstands and acoustic shows might not have all of the different instruments at any given time.
Jacobson is a heck of a songwriter, penning seven of the thirteen songs on the album, including the opening half-dozen. The others are written by the likes of Curley Weaver, Tampa Red, and Blind Willie McTell. There’s even a traditional gospel number to end the album.
Jacobson sang the lead vocals and played a variety of guitars, including six and twelve strings as well as some slide guitar. He was joined on various songs by Dickie Betts on electric guitar; Damon Fowler on slide guitar and backing vocals; Matt Walker and Pedro Arevelo on stand-up bass, Bouzouki, and background vocals; Aaron Fowler on percussion, washboard, and backing vocals; Jeffrey “Jeff” Arevelo on percussion; Clark Stern on piano; Chris Flowers on piano and backing vocals; Mookie Brill on harp; Hill Roberts on stand-up bass and backing vocals; and Allan Jolley on banjo.
The Jacobson originals tend to deal with modern problems with old-school blues. The album kicks off with Baby’s Mama Really Don’t Care, and while the language may be modern, the sentiments are probably as old as time. It’s the second longest song on the album and one of only two to crack 5:00. Chris Flowers really does a great job on the piano.
He follows up with a short song, Codependent Katie that makes the most of his guitar and Brill’s harp to create a mournful sound. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a blues song with the word “codependent” in the title, but it’s one with which many of us can identify.
Some slow piano opens up Long Lonesome Day and the song is a great controlled number that gives Jacobson a chance to bare his emotions through his vocals.
Pistol Packin’ Papa features the great Dickey Betts on electric guitar. Don’t get too hung up on tradition, just enjoy the sound that Betts brings to the song. It’s just a little different flavor and it seems right at home, just maybe a little jazzier than the other songs.
This is the song that I think Carlson was trying to capture for the cover. Twerkin’ Lil’ Mama is a bouncy song (sorry, I couldn’t resist) and I can only imagine the dancers that this song has inspired. The lyrics are fun and you have to have fun with it.
The last Jacobson song (for a while), Bipolar Mama is the story of a woman with a mood disorder and the blues that causes her and the people around her. It’s a sad song and the orchestration underlies that with rapid drums underneath some washboard percussion. Interesting effect.
The first non-Jacobson written song is Curley Weaver’s Ticket Agent. He’s got some good swing on the song and the use of Jolley’s banjo changes the focus of the song nicely.
Willie Cobbs’ You Don’t Love Me follows. It was a regional hit when it was first released, but copyright issues kept it from being a bigger hit. Jacobson delivers tight vocals and Brill’s harp adds a lot to the music. It’s a decent number and while it was originally an R&B song, here it has more than a little country flavor added.
Next up is Jacobson’s version of Tampa Red’s It’s A Good Little Thing. He strips down the sound even further to guitar, stand-up bass, piano, harp, and vocals. He does a good job of capturing Red’s unique sound.
Hide Me In Thy Bosom was written by Thomas Dorsey and he recorded it with the Dixie Hummingbirds. It’s been covered by a number of other artists, but Jacobson captures the feeling of tent revival with its joyous feeling. It’s a good, over-the-top feeling sound that just might put a smile in your face and your hand reaching out to add something to the collection plate.
Next up is another Jacobson original, Mind Blowin’ Blues. This is a little darker than his earlier songs and it tells a more involved story. Jacobson plays the slide on this one and does a pretty good job on it.
Blind Willie McTell’s Baby It Must Be Love follows. This is one of the swingingest numbers on the album. It’s a great time and I can just imagine Jacobson playing this one live – it’s got to be a real crowd pleaser. That’s Stern on the piano and he turns in a great performance.
Jacobson closes out the album with the traditional gospel tune, Cross The River Of Jordan. He goes for an old-school interpretation of the song keeping the music limited to his guitar and Fowler’s percussion. To me, it sounds like it was performed at the riverside, just two players presiding over an all-day baptism. It’s a very good song, and one that captures that country sound in all its glory.
Not everyone likes the same blues, and there are a lot of fans of players who can tear up their guitar and deliver great long solos full of effects. Nothing at all wrong with that, but if I had to listen to just one style of blues, I would find myself getting bored right quick.
I like that country sound a lot. I also like players who can shred a guitar. I like players that mix their blues with jazz. I think it’s healthy to listen to as many styles of blues as you can get your hands on. And it’s not easy to find that many Piedmont style players who are turning out albums with this kind of production values.
Put Joshua Jacobson on your radar, I guarantee he’ll be on mine. I’ll be dropping a smattering of his songs into some upcoming episodes of Time For The Blues, so be sure to listen for them. I enjoyed Good Little Thing a lot – and I’ll be watching to see where he might be playing next. You might want to do the same.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Time For The Blues ~~ July 29, 2017

Henry and I hope you will join us this Saturday night (July 29) at 11:00 as we gear up for another slam-bang, action packed episode of Time For The Blues. You got the ticket, now it’s time to take the ride!

You won’t have far to travel far this weekend, we’re featuring a couple of great acts from right here in the Old Dominion. I always enjoy finding excellent performers that are usually within a few hours drive time – and we’ve got them for you.

First up is an old pal, Forrest McDonald, and the Forrest McDonald Band, a two-time winner of the River City Blues Society’s Blues Challenge (and a semi-finalist at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in 2015). McDonald has been kicking around the blues and rock world for more than a few years and he’s only gotten better.

McDonald recently released a new album, Stand My Ground, and I was fortunate enough to be one of the first people to write an official review of it. It’s really a top shelf album that pretty much rocks from the first note on. We’ve been trying to get this one played for a few weeks now, and finally – it’s going to happen!

Besides McDonald on guitar, the rest of the band is made up of lead vocalist Becky Wright; John Hanes on drums; Pix Ensign on harp; and Lee Gammon on bass. They have a great sound and they have assembled a fantastic album that we are delighted to share with you.

Another treasure from Virginia is the Jon Spear Band from Charlottesville. We’ve been friends with Spear and his merry men for several years and have played each of their previous albums just as quick as they dropped them. (Look back a few days on the blog to see a review I wrote for their recent appearance at The Tin Pan.)

Their new album, Hot Sauce, has got some solid blues and some rock, and even a song with heavy Caribbean influences. This tight foursome is comprised of Spear on rhythm guitar and vocals; Dara James on lead guitar and vocals; Andy Burdetsky on bass; and John Stubblefield on drums.

Just for fun we’ve got a few tracks from Hot Sauce and one from their first album, Old Soul. I think you’re going to like them as well, giving you two hard working blues bands from within 60 miles of each other.

Since we’re spending time here in Virginia, how about we take a little road trip up I-95 and see what’s happening north of here. One of my all-time favorite bands is The Nighthawks, and they have a brand new album out called All You Gotta Do. We’re going to sample a song from that album as a prelude of a show to come soon. Another performer I’ve gotten to know through her work is Patty Reese, and I can’t wait to share a recent track from her latest CD.

We’ve got more for you as well, recent releases from the Dogtown Blues Band, King James & The Special Men, and the Scottie Miller Band.

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. 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. This just might be the first episode where Henry will be on time. But I doubt it!
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 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 are looking for some great shows to see this summer, may I recommend some of the following:
Sunday, July 30
Natchel' Blues Network's Blues Challenge Triangle, Williamsburg, 1:00 PM [This will feature some of Virginia’s best blues bands vying for a chance to represent the Hampton Roads area at next year’s International Blues Challenge in Memphis! Also somebody you know will be acting as a judge for the competition.]
Tuesday, August 1
The Charles Walker Band with The Analogue Republic at The Tin Pan
Thursday, August 10
Bobby "BlackHat" Walters      Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 6:00 PM Richmond Jazz Festival
Saturday, August 12
Tajmo (Taj Mahal and Keb Mo)       Maymont, 5:30 PM Richmond Jazz Festival
Sunday, August 13
Robert Cray        Maymont, 5:15 PM Richmond Jazz Festival
Friday, August 18
Janiva Magness   Tin Pan, 8:00 PM (doors 6:00), $30-35
Friday, September 8
Selwyn Birchwood        Capital Ale House Downtown, 8:30 PM
Saturday, October 21
ZZ Top       Altria Theater, 8:00 PM

Our Live Music Correspondent, Anita Schlank, is always finding the great shows to see. For these, and so many other great shows coming to town, take a look at the River City Blues Society’s Calendar page at   

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Natchel Blues Network's Blues Challenge ~~ July 30, 2017

Plan on a road trip to Williamsburg on Sunday, July 30, to see the Natchel Blues Network’s Blues Challenge to be held at The Triangle, 601 Prince George Street beginning at 1 p.m. All of the various local blues organizations around the country are holding events to find bands, individuals or duos, and youth performers to represent them at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis next year.

At the River City Blues Challenge held earlier this year, Parker And Gray and The Tom Euler Band were selected to represent the Richmond area.

I only know one of the participants in the solo/duo category, Roots2 Music, who represented Richmond last year. They are a fine duo who mix traditional country blues and Appalachian Mountain Music into an exciting creation. The other participants, so far, include Ruth Wyand and The Tribe Of One, Kelly Curtis, and Tidewater Stomp.

I am looking forward to seeing what each of these performers will bring to the stage.

So far in the band category, there are two participants: In Layman Terms and the Billy Joe Trio. I am familiar with both of those bands and they rank among my favorites so it will be interesting to see what they will do with their chance in the spotlight.

I understand other bands may be added to the lineup, but this already makes for a compelling showcase.

The Natchel Blues Network serves the blues community in the Tidewater area, and one of their favorite sons, Bobby “BlackHat” Walters made it to the finals of the International Blues Challenge in 2016. It’s the blues, maybe lightning will strike twice!

Tickets are $10 and proceeds go to offset costs for the bands chosen to compete in Memphis. Various raffles will be held throughout the event.

For more information, check out their website

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Nighthawks ~~ All You Gotta Do

I’ve been a fan of The Nighthawks for many years. I’m talking going back to high school, and if you could see my long silver hair, you would realize that high school was several decades ago. In those pre-driver’s license days that meant bus rides to and from Richmond to Washington DC and walking or taking a cab to the venue. Not to mention carrying a fake ID in order to get into the club.
Then I had to do it all in reverse and get back in time to sneak into the house. I’m pretty sure my parents knew something was up, but what the hell, I was on the honor roll and never missed a day of class, they never said anything.
Why would I travel so far in order to catch a band? In a couple of words, they rocked! The Nighthawks had and amazing energy that would get under your skin and give you a thrill that would last for hours or even days.
Over the years I saw the band go through many incarnations and the present lineup of Mark Wenner on harmonica; Paul Bell on guitar; Johnny Castle on bass; and Mark Stutso on drums – and everyone sings – stacks up against their best lineups of the past.
They have just released their latest album, All You Gotta Do, on EllerSoul Records, the Richmond-based label that has been bringing out some great music from the likes of Jason Ricci, Reverend Billy C. Wirtz, Joe Stanley, The Mike Henderson Band, and of course Li’l Ronnie and the Grand Dukes. The Nighthawks even recorded the album in Richmond, the same as Ricci and Wirtz did for their latest albums.
The opening track, That’s All You Gotta Do, is a flat-out rocker and the band delivers a raw blend of rock and blues with rockabilly to create enough power to light up the East Coast. Not to mention any dance floor within a two-state radius. Great song, and a great way to start the album.
Next up is a good version of Larry Campbell’s When I Go Away. The song was originally written for The Dixie Hummingbirds and has been covered by a number of bands since, including Levon Helm and The Grateful Dead. The Nighthawks give it a mournful feel and Wenner’s harp adds a touch of poignancy to the song.
Willie Dixon’s Baby, I Want To Be Loved follows, and the band pulls out all the stops to recreate the Chicago Chess sound. Since they all pretty much grew up on that sound – or at least it was on their radar – they are able to duplicate almost perfectly. Good version of the song!
Next up is Randy Newman’s Let’s Burn Down The Cornfield. It’s a slower, intense number that seems to swell up from the bottom. Castle’s bass is powerful and menacing and Bell’s guitar summons up a demon’s hiss. Great song and very bluesy, although not in a traditional sense.
The next couple of songs were actually written by members of the band, starting with Johnny Castle’s Another Day. It’s a solid rocking number and Castle takes the lead on the vocals, allowing Wenner a chance to blow the harp throughout the song. It’s a song of urban paranoia – or the truth…
Mark Stutso’s VooDoo Doll follows. It’s a slower number but it still has some swing to it. If you’ve ever felt like there’s somehow out there who is manipulating you, causing everything to go wrong, this is the song for you!
Sonny Boy Williamson’s Ninety Nine is next and Wenner really shows why he is one of the best harp players working today. Don’t take my word for it, please listen to any of the songs in their repertoire, or check out the albums where he has guested and I think you will come to the same conclusion. This is a great interpretation of a well-known blues song and a real highlight of the album.
Three Times Your Fool starts off low and slow and Wenner uses his harp to simulate a horn section. The vocalist reaches deep into his soul in order to find the emotions needed to sing this song. It’s a very moving number of the heartbreak variety.
Jesse Winchester’s Isn’t That So is the next track and the band gives their blues a dark country feel. It’s the kind of song that moves you and stays in your soul for a good while.
The next song, Snake Drive, is written by the tandem of R.L. Burnside and Kenny Brown. I like the way those guys write and this song is a lot of fun to hear. I’m not sure what to call it, maybe an “instrumental with words” or a “semi-instrumental,” but I get tired of labels, just give it a listen and see if it moves you.
Mark Wenner wrote the instrumental Blues For Brother John using the old French lullaby Frère Jacques as a starting point. It’s a jazz blues number that may have grown out of some jamming, however it came to be, it shows Wenner at his best – and trust me, that’s pretty damn good.
They close out the album with Ed Cobb’s Dirty Water. Cobb was a great musician and producer who passed away in 1999. He wrote the song for The Standells in 1966 about an experience Cobb and his girlfriend had by the Charles River in Boston. The Nighthawks get gritty on this song and capture that garage rock sound perfectly.
Like I said at the beginning, I am a fan of The Nighthawks and have been waiting patiently for All You Gotta Do to arrive on my desk. It was worth the wait and I guarantee that several songs will be featured on Time For The Blues shortly.

You don’t have to wait any further. You can get the album in all the usual places, or you can visit their website at for more information about purchasing the album or seeing where they will be playing next. You can also find EllerSoul Records at their website, for information about their other acts.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Altered Five Blues Band ~~ Charmed & Dangerous

Once again, a nice pile of CDs landed on my desk and I had the pleasure of going through them to find some very cool music. One that caught my eye was an album from a group that was completely unknown to me, but came from a very reliable source.
After looking online for some information about the Altered Five Blues Band, I discovered that they were a well-known band out of the Midwest and had a stellar reputation and a few other CDs to their credit. Charmed & Dangerous looked like a really good package, so that became my focus.
The Altered Five Blues Band consists of Jeff Taylor taking on the lead vocals, Jeff Schroedl on guitar, Mark Solveson on bass, Raymond Tevich on keyboards , and Alan Arber on drums. All 13 of the songs on the album were written by band members, usually in collaboration, almost always a good sign.
The opening track, coincidentally the title track, Charmed & Dangerous, kicks off with an explosion of sound – plenty of funk (especially in Solvenson’s bass) and some very cool blues lyrics. This sounds like a band that kicks ass and plays loud. They have a great sand and I’m eager to see what they will do for the rest of the album.
Next up is the swinging Mint Condition. Schroedl’s guitar keeps the song going, but don’t discount Tevich’s keys adding a nice touch on the organ. Taylor does some great shouting on the song, and this one would definitely be a crowd pleaser when done live.
For Three Forks, they get back to some funky blues. Taylor’s voice is very impressive and they add Steve Cohen’s harp to great effect. I like this song a lot and play on dropping it in an episode of Time For The Blues. Oh man, can Schroedl play a guitar break. Damn, these guys are good.
They follow up with On My List To Quit, a strong blues rock song. Taylor’s voice has a great edge on this song and Arber gets a good workout on the drums. This one is great swamp funk! After that is If Your Heart Went Public, a slower more intense number that really gives Schroedl a chance to shine. It’s a unique song that kind of caught me by surprise in a good way. This is a sweet blues number that should satisfy just about any lover of the genre.
There’s a great opening to Gonna Lose My Lady, and the tempo keeps rolling through the entire song. It’s a fast-paced blues song that trades off Schroedl’s guitar and Tevich’s keys. I like this one a lot and think that it could get some solid airplay.
Some blistering guitar opens up Cookin’ In Your Kitchen, layered on top of some very cool keyboards. Taylor then steps behind the microphone for a good old-fashioned preaching blues song. This is about as old-school as you can get, the the band delivers in a big way. I can’t wait to share this one with our audience.
She’s Still Crazy opens with a lot of energy and some fancy fret work from Schroedl. It reminds me of some of the best of STAX’ releases, solid blues with some funky R&B backing it up. Tevich plays some amazing keys on the song and this one is a great one to play to get an audience up on the dance floor. Even though he’s not listed on the song, it sure sounds like Steve Cohen is playing the harp.
The next song, Eighth Wonder features Candice Smith on backing vocals, and while Steve Cohen is listed as playing harp, I can’t really pick him out. Probably a blown headphone on my part. It’s a smoldering number, a blues confessional if you will, and Taylor carries the song with a deep reverence. The percussion gives it a gospel flavor and Taylor’s voice reaches to the heavens, as does Schoedl’s guitar.
Three Alarm Desire follows and, as the title indicates, it’s a smoking number. The band kicks into high gear and then ebbs and flows, but when they are rocking, they are rocking hard. After that is Small Talk, which features Candice Smith again adding her vocals to the mix. By now it’s more than obvious that this band can handle blues, funk, R&B, and rock with ease and they blend them all together to create a raucous partying style.
Speaking of funk and rock, Rotten, the next number, has a bit of both in it. I like the number a lot, it has plenty of blues in the lyrics, but plays a little with the music creating a very cool dark number. Listen for Tevich’s break on the electric piano.
They close the album with Look What You Made Me Do. It’s a traditional sounding blues song with a touch of swing. This is a very versatile band that performs some very strong down-home blues. Yeah, they are that good.
The Altered Five Blues Band is a Midwest phenomenon and it is high time that they were exposed to the rest of the country. They are good, solid musicians that write and play at a very high level. Charmed & Dangerous is easily going to be on my list of the Best of 2017, and this is one of those albums that I am going to have a difficult time deciding what to share on the show.
They are also part of something bigger – there is so much great music being performed by amazing individuals and bands. I will never be able to cover all of them, no matter how hard I try. I implore you, please get out and support those bands, discover them, let me know about them, and keep supporting those clubs that give these bands a chance to entertain you.
Be sure to check out The Altered Five Blues Band’s little piece of the world by stopping by, and see what they’re up to, and where they will be playing. I can assure you that if you catch them live, you are in for a great time!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Jon Spear Band Flying High At The Tin Pan

Dara James, Jon Spear, John Stubblefield, Andy Burdetsky.  Photo by Anita Schlank
The Jon Spear Band is the band that said, “Live music is better,” and they took over the Tin Pan’s spacious stage and filled it with some of the best music I’ve heard in quite a while. With only four pieces in the band, Dara James on lead guitar and vocals; Jon Spear on rhythm guitar and vocals, Andy Burdetsky on bass and backing vocals; and John Stubblefield on drums, they managed to create the sound of a much larger group.
James is a guitar wizard who can move from playing a standard lead to delivering a blistering break that could actually cause the audience to break into applause before he even finished playing. Spear is a helluva player as well, great on the vocals, and writes most of the band’s material. Spear has also loosened up a little bit and even managed to break out a few dance moves that were well-timed and it added value to their performance.
Burdetsky is a very animated bass player who made several songs come to life and Stubblefield is a very underrated drummer who threw in some great fills throughout the night. Together, the four of them dropped some great blues in support of their latest album Hot Sauce, and mixed up a very spicy meal.
They kicked off an evening of rocking blues with a great rendition of Can’t Help Myself and quickly segued into Casting My Spell. That set the tone for the evening as they moved rapidly from song to song yet still managed to connect with the audience, many of whom were friends or fans of the band.
Next up they launched into Shake Your Boogie which got the first set of dancers up and on the floor. They would reappear throughout the night, and a typical Richmond audience threw caution to the wind and were actually having a good time unselfconsciously. Good for you, dancers, and I hope more folks follow your lead.
After that came Noah’s Blues and Beginner At The Blues before moving into the bouncy breezy number, Geographical Cure. Then they launched into the most intense song to that point, Wintertime. James’ break was electrifying and many in the audience burst into spontaneous applause.
After that, the audience needed something to change the mood and Spear obliged by dropping a fun number, I Love My Skin. Then came several more songs from the latest album starting with the title track, Hot Sauce, with another killer guitar run from James. After that was the adult joke turned cool dance son, Hit The Quarter and an amazing blistering song about the fire at the Rhythm Club in April, 1940, Natchez Burning. That incident cost over 200 people their lives when the fire broke out inside an overcrowded theatre that had locked all of the exits except one. The song was a beautiful tribute and James’ voice was the best on this number. It was like he was channeling those lost souls through his vocals. It was a very moving moment.
After that number, the band launched into a song about my early life, Cheap Whiskey & Stale Cigarettes. Another powerful song followed, Blues For A Soldier which gave Stubblefield a chance to do some great work on the drums. When he switched from straight drumming to a march time, it was an exciting moment.
They went all the way back to their first album to play the title track, Old Soul, and then called an audible and played Mean Mean Woman. One of the songs many of their fans were waiting for, Tin Pan Alley, was next and for the next several minutes the audience was enthralled by the darkness of the song and the beauty of James’ guitar break.
They finished out their 90-minute set with Devil’s Highway, which again got a number of audience members up on their feet and dancing with abandon. They had one more song up their sleeve and performed the funkiest version of Black Cat Bone that I’ve ever heard.
Charlottesville has always been a hotbed for great music. There’s been plenty of good rock that grew up around Mr. Jefferson’s University and all of the pubs and clubs that support live music in the area. Whatever you like, you can find it in C-ville, and if you like the blues, you’ll find it being delivered by the Jon Spear Band.
While you’re supporting those great bands, support those clubs who are brave enough to play live music. It’s cheaper to throw a DJ up behind a sound system, but there’s nothing like the electricity that a live band creates. Remember, as Ellwood Blues said in Blues Brothers 2000, “no pharmaceutical product could ever equal the rush you get when the band hits that groove; the people are dancin', and shoutin', and swayin'; and the house is rockin'!”
And brothers and sister, the Jon Spear Band brought the rush tonight!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Scott Ellison ~~ Good Morning Midnight

It was a couple of years ago when I got my first Scott Ellison CD, Elevator Man. I enjoyed the heck out of it and we played several cuts from the album on the show.
We didn’t hear much about Ellison after that, and that CD stayed on my shelf waiting for some new material to join it. Well, the wait is over, and I am happy to report that Ellison has released a monster of an album entitled Good Morning Midnight.
The album has got a lot to offer. Besides the great blues and blues rock that Ellison is known for, he’s also got some swing music, a big band instrumental, and one song that had me reaching for a tropical drink.
There’s some holy music opening the album on Sanctified. It’s got gospel fervor and some sweet backing vocals from Marcy Levy. The song has a good rocking beat and a hot guitar break. All in all, it’s a great way to open the album. Preach, brother!
Ellison follows up with some swing on No Man’s Land. It’s some fun music that will definitely make you want to get up and dance. His vocals have the requisite growl and his guitar sings just as much as he does.
Next up is Gone For Good, a slower blistering kind of number. With a title like that, you know you are heading deep into Blues Territory, and he delivers a great lost love song. You can feel the emotion in both his voice and his playing. Love this song, and don’t be surprised when you hear it on Time For The Blues.
The only song that Ellison didn’t have a part in writing, Last Breath, follows. It was written by fellow Tulsa bluesmen Steve Pryor and Scott Hutchison, and it gives the rhythm section a line that they can sink their teeth into. It’s a solid rocking blues song that should satisfy any fan who likes their music on the edgy side.
Next up is Hope And Faith, a bouncy number that seems to have an island rhythm in the percussion. If you’re looking for straight blues, you might be disappointed, but I like the direction he’s heading, and let’s face it, reggae has a lot in common with the blues. Artists have to push envelopes, so, give it a listen and you might find you like it.
I used to utter four words whenever things got tough at work. Ellison uses them as the title for his next song, Another Day In Paradise. Ellison makes this song a bouncing blues track that’s a lot of fun. Ah, yes, we all want that something that we don’t have – yet…
Another slow song follows with some great guitar work. You Made A Mess (Outta Me) features one of Ellison’s best vocal work and whomever is playing the B3 delivers some great keyboards to go along with the sweet guitar. I really love the control that this song exhibits and would love to see it performed live.
The title track, Good Morning Midnight, is next, and Elllison is back in a swinging mood with some good organ and harp work. It’s a good blues number, great lyrics and a vocal delivery that should satisfy the staunchest blues fan. I really liked this one a lot…
Ellison and Company get back to rocking on Tangled. It’s a good song with some nice slide and honkytonk piano driving it forward. It’s another song that I would love to see live, it sounds like it would be a real showstopper.
Next up is the lone instrumental on the album, Wheelhouse. It’s a true swinging sound – big band style. This is the kind of song that I love, simply because you don’t hear it very often and when you do, the results are sometimes lacking. They’re not lacking here brothers and sisters and if you can dig your blues with a jazz flavor, this is the song for you.
Ellison is back to straight up blues with Big City. He uses his guitar as a weapon, slashing through the music and his vocals have a razor’s edge. It’s a gritty urban song and one that pushes more than a few envelopes.
Got to love the percussion that sets the table for Mysterious. Ellison’s guitar and quickly steps in and carries much of the song, but it’s the rhythm section that gives the song its backbone. I like this one, and it’s got a great mix of some jazz with solid kick ass blues.
Ellison closes the album with When You Loves Me Like This. He’s got some swamp in his lyrics and his music and he plays it like he owns it. Blues lovers that like an edge are going to enjoy this song a lot and I think it might get some airplay. Jimmy Junior Markham’s harp is stellar and I wish it had been included on a few more songs.
Scott Ellison has a ton of talent. But he also has a certain intangible quality that sets him apart from the rest of the pack. He’s got a style that lends itself to blues, rock, jazz, as well as a little bit of country and reggae. Most of the time he’s a straight up bluesman, but he also throws in a few spices to mix up his musical mélange.

Good Morning Midnight is a welcome addition to the Time For The Blues library, and I am eager to share some of his music with you asap. If you haven’t yet sampled his work, I hope you will take a few minutes to see what his website has to offer. You can find it at, and keep a weather eye open to see where he’s going to be while on tour. If he comes anywhere near you, be sure to catch him!