Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Samantha Fish ~~ Belle Of The West

When I was a kid and first mastering the art of coloring, for some reason I could never keep the crayons in the lines where they were supposed to be. My green grass and blue skies ended up joining together and to me that seemed perfectly natural.
I have to wonder if Samantha Fish did the same thing. Earlier this year, she released an album, Chills & Fever, that delved more into gritty rock and roll and R&B than blues. It caught a number of her fans by surprise, but they gave it a chance and the album was a big hit with audiences and critics alike.
Now she has come back with a second album for the year, not an easy feat by any means, her latest effort on RUF Records, Belle Of The West, explores her more country and roots side. Will her audience embrace the effort? It’s too early to tell, but sales have been strong and she’s delivered enough blues material to whet the appetite of longtime fans while creating a new sound that will most likely deliver new fans to her camp.
It’s not out of the question for an artist to explore these new sounds, especially as Fish came out of the Kansas City music scene. Kansas City is a major crossroads artistically, and it would have been difficult for Fish, or any artist for that matter, to remain isolated against all those influences.
Belle Of The West starts off quietly with a drumstick countdown and acoustic guitar joined with a fife played by Sharde Thomas. American Dream signals a totally different approach for Fish who has been known for her hard rocking blues and her last album was a salute to gritty R&B – this one is indelibly stamped as an exploration of the country roots of the American sound.
Fish and company use some beautifully realized vocals to introduce the next track, Blood In The Water. It’s a darker edged song filled with mystery and Lillie Mae’s violin sets the mood. This is a great song and is layered nicely with each instrument dovetailed into the others. It’s finely crafted and is the kind of song that can lodge itself into the listener’s soul.
Need You More follows with some sweet country guitar and a touch of violin. It’s a song of longing for establishing contact with a loved one – both the joys and frustration of life on the road. Fish’s lyrics are poetic and she captures the traveling performer’s life succinctly. Her emotions are strong and she shows her vulnerable side.
The next song, Cowtown, picks up the tempo and tells the story of someone longing to catch the first thing smoking and get out of town. It’s a nice companion piece to the previous song about being tired from the road to capturing the dreams of someone who has hung around just a little too long.  
Daughters follows with a slower, more deliberate pace and adds the next chapter to the previous song. The story picks up after the singer has left the Cowtown and moved on down the road. Fish’s vocals are very emotional and the almost marching beat of the drums propel the song forward in search of that American dream.
Fish’s next number, Don’t Say You Love Me, starts out low and slow with some strong attitude. This is one the blues fans will gravitate towards, but Fish isn’t going back all the way, just exploring a little blues fusion. It’s a very cool song and just demonstrates how well she can deliver a song from the heart.
The title track is next, Belle Of The West is the first song on the album not written by Fish. James Mathus penned the number, and it is about as country as fried catfish. Samantha Fish has a great voice and this song reminds me of the traditional country that I listened to when I was much younger. Fish obviously loves the music and delivers a sweet melancholy song here.
Poor Black Mattie features Lightnin’ Malcolm and is the strongest blues song so far. The percussion drives the song and the guitar adds the spice. Malcolm adds his vocals and (I assume) his harp to the mix. The blend is very satisfying and this is one that will be popping up on Time For The Blues.
The next track, No Angels, has a solid bluesy approach and is one that Fish’s longtime fans will enjoy. The song is gritty and manages to combine the blues with the roots sound she’s exploring on this album.
Nearing Home features violinist Lillie Mae who wrote the song and it is an uplifting sweet song with some beautiful harmony. This is one of my favorite numbers on the album and to me anyway, shows that Fish can operate in just about any genre.
The album closes with Gone For Good, and the song opens with a little studio camaraderie. Fish then swings into the number that delivers a very strong country roots song. It’s a good way to take the album out with some energy and leaves the listener wanting to hear more.
Samantha Fish has truly delivered a surprising album with Belle Of The West. Not content to make the same album over and over, she has listened to the siren call of the music and explored different genres twice this year. It will ultimately be up to her audience to see how many of her longtime fans will respond positively and how many of her newer ones will go back and search her catalog to discover what she’s already released.
Personally, I love an artist who is not afraid to stretch her boundaries into new areas. I believe that music doesn’t need to be confined to labels, and if you happen to find something that speaks to you, you should listen and genre labels be damned. Blues, country, Americana, roots, and good old rock and roll are all just variations on a theme, so to me, it’s only natural that a real artist would want to blur the distinctions between them and just make the music she wants to perform.
Check it out for yourself. If you want to see what Fish can do with country sounds, this is a great album. If you just want to hear her sing the blues, there are a few songs on here for you as well. Be sure to catch her live wherever you can – saw her earlier this year and she really rocked the joint! I can’t wait until she comes back around in the future.

More information can be found at her website: http://www.samanthafish.com/.  

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Time For The Blues ~~ November 25, 2017

Henry and I hope that you all have (or had, depending on when you see this) a great Thanksgiving and found yourself surrounded by people you love. And who are good cooks. We also hope you saved a little room for the dessert we call Time For The Blues, which you can hear Saturday night, November 25, at 11.

Every year at this time Henry and I celebrate our favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, as we can do most of the things we love to do – eat, watch football (Henry), eat, watch the annual Mystery Science Theatre 300 Marathon (John), eat, listen to blues, and eat. Our large extended families are populated by a number of good cooks, and our feasts include such delights as turkey, ham, mashed potatoes (thank you Henry’s sister), corn pudding (thank you Mrs. Professor), greens (thank you John’s sister), sweet potato casserole with tiny little marshmallows sprinkled on top, real cranberry sauce – not that stuff that comes out of a can, dressing, rolls, and lots of things for dessert.

Personally, I draw the line at pumpkin pie. As my good friend, comedian Brett Leake says, “Dessert should take the taste of vegetables out of your mouth.”

It’s also the time of year when we put together our signature show – Hot Leftovers! This is Henry’s idea – and his baby – as every year we look at the best material from our shows and find some of those great tunes we somehow never got around to playing. For whatever reason, whether it was time or just the sheer number of good songs on an album, so many of these songs go unplayed and this is our chance to rectify that mistake.

Want to know who’s dropping by to get those leftover sandwiches? Well, we’re going to fix you a plate of some of the best around. Would you like a slice of the Cash Box Kings from their great CD, Royal Mint? We’ve got that and there’s enough for everybody.

How about a heaping helping of the Knickerbocker All-Stars? You can’t go wrong with them. In fact, you’ll probably like that so much that you’ll ask for seconds. We just might be able to indulge you on that.

We’ve also got music from several people with whom we've become friends with this past year. That includes Tommy Castro and the Painkillers performing a killer song from the great drummer Buddy Miles, the wonderful Janiva Magness (and yes Janiva, we are sending you that package of cool music very soon – right, Henry?), the ever delightful Ana Popovic, and our favorite new swing band, Eight O'Five Jive.

You know Henry loves his classics, and we enjoy bringing you music that has stood the test of time, so we’ve got some great artists including Gary Moore, Etta James, Al Kooper, and from an amazing concert from the Land Down Under, Jon Lord with the Hoochie Coochie Men.

And there’s still more in our cornucopia of cool tunes. We’ve got a terrific number from Rick Estrin & the Nightcats from their great new album, Groovin' In Greaseland. Usually when we ask for requests, we are greeted with silence, but our Special Live Music Correspondent, Anita Schlank, said it has been a while since we played anything from Beth Hart, so for her we’ve got a selection from Hart and Joe Bonamassa from their amazing album Live in Amsterdam.

We know you’re going to be fighting that tryptophan haze, 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!


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Popa Chubby ~~ Two Dogs

He may have been given the name Ted Horowitz, but he has recreated himself as the larger than life Popa Chubby – an oversized heavily tattooed guitar slinger of the first order. If you ever get the chance to catch a live performance, get those tickets and strap yourself in for a wild ride.
Chubby just released his second killer album of 2017 (the first was The Catfish), Two Dogs, and it is eleven studio and two live tracks of pure fun and amazing musicianship. Chubby wrote almost all of the songs on the studio portion by himself just co-writing one track.  The two live songs are covers of well-known classics, one by the Rolling Stones, the other by Leonard Cohen.
Two Dogs is strictly Chubby’s baby. Aside from writing the vast majority of songs and handling the guitars and vocals, he also added percussion to each number and played bass on five songs and drums on two. He was joined by longtime keyboard collaborator Dave Keyes on all tracks, and when Chubby wasn’t playing bass or drums, those duties were covered by Andy Paladino and Sam “Freightrain” Bryant respectively. Daughter Tipitina added trumpet and composed the horn section. Andrew Garrison played tenor sax.
The album starts out with a bang with It’s Alright, a driving, yet somehow thoughtful number that reflects Chubby’s love for hard rocking music with softer, reassuring lyrics. Not only is the guitar work stellar, if you enjoy soaring breaks (and who doesn’t), but Keye’s keyboard work adds strength to the supporting music.
He follows up with Rescue Me, with its attacking choppy guitar licks. It’s another strong rocking blues song that showcases his virtuosity on the guitar.
With all the talk about health coverage, it was only a matter of time before they worked their way into a song. Chubby delivers the extremely clever Preexisting Conditions next. The lyrics are sharp and the music has a solid groove, it’s a great combination.
After the giddy fun of the previous song, Sam Lay’s Pistol is a love song to the great drummer who was best known for his work with Howlin’ Wolf, The Paul Butterfield Band, and even backed Bob Dylan at that infamous appearance at the Newport Festival. As you might expect, the drumming on the song is inventive and the story is very cool. It’s blues noir at its finest.
The title track, Two Dogs, follows. Chubby keeps the dark mood from the previous song going, but slides back into his soaring guitar mode. Here he’s exploring a little psychedelic blues, both in the music and the lyrics.
The next number, Dirty Old Blues, is a straight ahead rock blues song that has a driving beat and takes a hard look at the world around us. Bryant and Paladino create a rhythm section that sets up Chubby’s guitars beautifully.
Shakedown follows with an intense, somewhat softer number. Chubby rarely lets up on the power he exudes in his music, and this song is no exception. It’s got a different take on the music but doesn’t slack on Chubby’s playing. Very cool song.
The net track, Wound Up Getting High, is a softer ballad that relies on guitar and piano to set the mood. Chubby’s vocals are gentle but with an edge as the man describes his intentions, and what was the actual result. Just when you think you’ve got him pegged as this hardass character, he surprises you with this melancholy number.
He gets a little funky on the jazzy Cayophus Dupree. Chubby played guitars, bass, and drums on the song and acquits himself very well. He knows how to put together an instrumental as well as anyone and here he delivers a lovely number that builds around his solid fretwork. Dave Keyes adds some solid keyboard work that fleshes out the song.
After that is the anthem like Me Won’t Back Down. Chubby employs a choppy guitar with driving drums and bass. The lyrics are defiant and delivered in a protesting chant style. Given all that seems to be going on in the word today, this song could support just about any side in the struggle.
Chubby’s Boogie is a fun southern rock instrumental that lets his supporting players get one more chance to strut their stuff in the spotlight. Keyes especially takes advantage of the opportunity. I love instrumentals and this is one that I greatly enjoyed.
That’s the end of the studio segment of the album. Chubby drops a couple of live tracks in as a bonus, starting with a killer version of the Rolling Stones classic, Sympathy For The Devil. Recorded in France with bassist Francesco Beccaro and drummer Andrea Beccaro, he strips the song down to its barest components and lets his vocals carry the song. Damn, this is a good version!
He ends the album with Cohen’s Hallelujah, one of the most covered songs in history. It’s a lovely rendition that’s made more powerful by the simple orchestration and the chorus of people that sweeten the number. Chubby delivers the song with gospel fervor, and while you can hear some distracted crowd noise, it still can’t undercut the beauty of the song.
Popa Chubby is a true character. The world needs those people who aren’t afraid to get on the stage and unleash wild and powerful music. As I’ve mentioned before, he plays like a demon but he has the soul of an angel and delivers some of the best music around.
Two Dogs is just his latest of what I hope will be many more excellent albums. It’s a highlight of the latest releases and one that I highly recommend, especially if you like your blues with a rock sensibility.

You can find out more about his work and any travels that might be heading your way by hitting his website: https://www.popachubby.com/

Independent Release  68 minutes

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Time For The Blues ~~ November 18, 2017

Henry and I hope you will join us on Time For The Blues this Saturday night, November 18, at 11 as we drop our latest show for your listening pleasure. And have we got some pleasurable listening ahead for you.

Most people know that Kim Wilson is not only the driving force behind The Fabulous Thunderbirds, but also a great solo performer as well. Keeping up with his solo and guest work is an exhausting task, but fortunately Wilson has just released a brand new album on Severn Records called Blues And Boogie Vol 1. The good news is, with a title like that, it indicates that there will be at least one more Volume in the future (and for my money, I hope it’s more than that), and the better news is – this is a fantastic album!

Wilson has utilized the talents of a number of his friends and we are going to sample a few cuts from this album, and Henry has pulled out a cut from a previous album just for fun. We both think that Wilson is one of the best harp players working today and after listening to these songs, I doubt anyone would argue the point.

A group that was only peripherally on our radar – we knew they had released a couple of albums, but hadn’t heard them yet – is Val Starr & The Blues Rocket. When I got a copy of their new album, I Always Turn The Blues On, I slipped it into my player kind of late at night and didn’t get up from my chair until it was over. I really enjoyed their sound and I think you will as well. We’ve got a few cuts from the new album and even went back and picked up one from one of their earlier releases – ‘cause that’s the kind of guys we are.

You know we’ve got more. Oh yes, we’ve got more.

Story time. While emceeing a show that featured the EllerSoul Blues Revue, an all-star band that includes Li’l Ronnie, Big Joe Maher, and Ivan Appelrouth, I re-discovered that blue-eyed soul artist, Julius Pittman. Pittman, who is currently the leader of the Soul Revival (a great band that plays all around the area – watch for ‘em), has had a long career in the blues and soul field and EllerSoul has recently released a retrospective of some of his best work on an album called Soul Journey.

I loved this album and am delighted to be able to share it with you this Saturday night. Check it out, and then check him out when he’s got a live show. And look around, because I will probably be in the audience somewhere…

That’s still not everything we’re going to be playing! We’ve also got numbers from Lloyd Spiegel and Al Corte’. We’ve even got one from our good friend Albert Castiglia from his latest RUF Release, Up All Night. That one is just to whet your appetite as we’ve got a full set from Castiglia on a future show!

Henry and I have more than a little magic up our sleeves, 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!


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

David Garfield and J. Paris ~~ I Lied (Single)

Recently a new single from David Garfield showed up in my inbox and I was eager to hear more from this talented musician. Especially since this was a song he co-wrote with the legendary Smokey Robinson. While my mind was racing with the possibilities of what these two would come up with, I can safely say that the song they delivered, I Lied, was 180 degrees from what I thought it would be. I was expecting a kind of jazzy R&B number, and what I heard coming through my speakers was some of the sweetest country sounding music that I’ve heard in quite some time. Vocalist J. Paris has a great voice that is perfect for country and the pedal steel, played by Dan Dugmore, adds just the right accents to make this song stand out.
As this is only the second single that I’ve heard from Garfield’s upcoming project, my appetite has been whetted to hear the final project in its entirety. I’m not sure when that will be yet, information has been spotty so far in that regard, but I will surely let you know when I know more about it. In the meantime, keep your eyes open for anything he’s got out, you will no doubt be as impressed by his virtuosity as I have been. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Jangling Sparrows ~~ 140 Nickels

Here’s a warning for my regular blues readers, today’s review is not about a blues band. It’s about a great new release from an Americana Roots band, the Jangling Sparrows who have just unleashed an album titled 140 Nickels.
There’s not much that I know about the group, other than it’s the brainchild of Paul Edelman, a songwriter and poet now working out of one of my favorite cities, Asheville, NC. Asheville is perhaps best known as the birthplace of the American novelist Thomas Wolfe and his final resting place is in a cemetery on the edge of town, and that same cemetery also has the author O. Henry, whose birth name is William Sydney Porter.
I always enjoy the opportunity to be exposed to new to me artists, and since we’ve been stretching out lately to include some non-blues artists, let’s give a listen to 140 Nickels, which translates to seven bucks, the amount that’s usually left in my pocket on the Monday after payday…
The album opens up with the raucous The Party Ain’t Over featuring some acapella vocals and clapping percussion. It reminds me of the way bands would bring a high energy song to kick off a frat party just to get everyone in the mood for a wild time. There’s some great Irish frills to leave no doubt that the Jangling Sparrows are in the room and are going to provide an over the top musical backdrop for the rest of the album.
The band follows up with Look Away Twice, relying on some great percussion to set up the song before the rest of the instruments arrive to complete the number. The accordion stays in the background but adds a spicy zydeco flavor.
Next up is Burnin’ A Hole with a slower tempo, but maintaining the intensity of the previous two songs. While I’m really enjoying the album already, I would truly love to catch the group live to see how they interact with their audience. This song is one I suspect that would cause a lot of nodding heads from the audience as they get into the song. I certainly did. Great song.
Another introspective number, Take Home Your Coat, follows. The lyrics are sweet and painful at the same time. Straddling the fine line between country and blues, it’s a satisfying song that creates a melancholy feeling and shows that the band is not a one trick pony, but one with depth and passion.
After that is Ain’t Waiting For The Paint To Dry, with a nice opening. The organ adds a little gospel flavor and Edelman’s vocals are strong. There’s a plaintive harp that adds a lost feeling to the song. One thing about Edelman is the poetic nature of his songwriting. He finds new ways of expressing universal feelings and the music behind it frames his words beautifully.
One Good Piece Of Advice starts out with some guitar and accordion giving us a nice rock and roll and zydeco mix. The Jangling Sparrows are not shy about mixing musical genres to create their own sound. This another song with a great rhythm for dancing and exciting a crowd.
The next track, Great American Limbo, starts off with a sweet country groove and Edelman is in good voice. There’s a tightrope that artists often walk with country, and while I am a fan of classic country, I’m not as big on so-called “modern country,” and this song leans more towards the classic sound. Love the guitar work and especially the bass in the song.
After delivering a beautiful country song, the band drops the next song, Cheaper Down The Road, with some cool funk in the bassline. Don’t fret, while the bass adds a little punch, the song is dark and mysterious for the most part and the kind that just about everybody will find something that draws them in to it. Solid drumming and great guitar fills keep the song moving at a brisk pace.
The following song, Eyes Of A Stranger, is a sweet ballad and a real change of pace utilizing acoustic guitar and vocals before bass and accordion join the music. The lyrics are poetic and it’s the kind of song that just makes your heart swell. This is music for the soul and a welcome addition to my playlist.
As The Jangling Sparrows seem to love that party sound, Catch That Ride, is a zydeco flavored number that has a strong but somewhat subdued backbeat. Once again, the lyrics are fresh and the music is fun. I repeat my earlier wish to catch this band live – they seem like they would be a fun group to watch and I can guarantee that folks will be springing up to their feet and shaking what they’ve got!
The album closes on Pops Is Comin’ Up, a languid number that leaves us with a taste of country. It’s melancholy and contemplative and contains my favorite line on the entire album, “He’s got a heart like an Irish woman’s ass.” It’s one of those lines that very few people could write and it fits the song so perfectly.
If you’re still reading this review, thank you (I know many of my readers are tried and true blues fans), you might want to expand your library to include some Americana and you just might find yourself enjoying The Jangling Sparrows. I can tell you with no hesitation that 140 Nickels is going onto my personal playlist and I’ll be cranking up the volume.

Give them a chance, and check out their little corner of the world wide web at https://janglingsparrows.com/ to look at this – or earlier – material and also to see where they might be appearing next. And if you’re ever in the vicinity of Asheville, NC, be sure to stop in, enjoy the scenery and the various wonderful artists that the city has to offer. It’s one of my favorite places on earth.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Time For The Blues ~~ November 11, 2017

Henry and I hope you will join us this Saturday Night, November 11, at 11 for another rip snortin’, rootin’ tootin’, big time extravaganza we like to call Time For The Blues. We have more fun and tell the worse jokes on our station at that time than any other blues shows – and we do it all for you!

Well, okay, we also do it for the paycheck and the adulation that comes with being blues hosts, but that’s another story…

Henry’s picked the show this week, so there are lots of twists and turns to look for as he winds his way through his musical collection. In fact, he’s calling this musical smorgasbord, Henry’s Retro Shelf.

See, Henry and I each have our own collection of Blues Albums and CDs in our offices. Henry has one tall shelf filled with older titles, mostly from his own library, where I have two shorter ones in order to put some of my toys, radios, rocks, and shells on a level where I can look at them when I need a momentary break from my roommates. If you look closely at the picture on the blog, you’ll see a little bit of my distractions.

Henry’s distractions include lots of electronic equipment that he uses to keep the station on the air, and reproductions of posters from some of the bad movies we talk about. Oh, and he’s also got an autograph from the Scarecrow from The Wizard Of Oz.

Anyway, back to the shelves in Henry’s office. They contain some very cool CDs that we haven’t played in a very long time. Part of that is my fault, because I jump all over the new titles that come in and love putting together shows that showcase that new material. Henry has a deep love of artists that were big from the send of World War II through the mid-1970’s.

Henry got to thinking the other day that it was high time we took a look back at some of the great music and musicians that have been waiting patiently for a turn in the CD player.

Like The Yardbirds. One of the more influential groups that came out of Britain in the 1960’s has got a deep blues background and followed the Rolling Stones’ success in both blues and rock.

Speaking of The Rolling Stones, they’re going to make an appearance on the show as well, joining forces with the great Muddy Waters for a night of fun at Chicago’s famous Checkerboard Lounge in 1981.Fortunately, the show was recorded and you can feel the live energy from these legendary players.

The Stones also get their chance to shine on their own and show off some of their own blues chops on a rousing number. And only Henry would then go looking for another group, Dr. Feelgood, who learned more than a few things from Mick, Keith, and Company. One thing about Henry is that he always finds influences that others of us miss.
Riddle me this, dear readers, what do you get when Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Bo Diddley walk into a recording studio? I’ll let you decide for yourself because we’ve got the results and will be playing them just for you. They called themselves The Super, Super Blues Band, and they were very aptly named. Trouble is, they all wanted to be the one in the spotlight. See who you think won that battle.

What else is going to be on this wild show? How about some favorites like Otis Rush, Bonnie Raitt, and the one and only Magic Sam?

But even that’s not all! There’s even something new from Rick Estrin & The Nightcats and a fantastic live cut from our new friend Janiva Magness!
It’s a labor of love for us and we hope you will be there. 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!