Friday, February 15, 2019

Head Honchos ~~ Bring It On Home

Getting this blog up and running again has taken more than a few twists and turns lately. Fortunately, there are a number of good people who remind me regularly that I need to get back to it. All I can say is, I hear you, and I will make a concentrated effort to post more reviews and interviews here and migrate everything to my website when it is up and running.
One of those good people is a transplanted Philadelphian who reps a variety of good artists. Thanks to this person, whom I’ll call Double-D, I’ve been turned on to some great music and more than a few great artists. Double-D checks in with me frequently and has become a good friend above and beyond the siren song of the music.
Recently Double-D sent me a new group, The Head Honchos, out of Indiana and their first album, Bring It On Home. Trouble is, it came in as an electronic file, and as many of you know, my ability with computers lies more in the psychology of the human-machine paradigm that actually knowing how to run one of the damn things.
Fortunately, I was able to figure out how to listen to the album, and it’s a good thing I did, because it is a hard rocking blues album – and while that’s not usually my strong suit, I found that the group, which is comprised of the father and son guitar team of Rocco Calipari Sr. and Jr.; Roberto Agosto and C.C. Copeland split time on bass; and Scott Schultz on drums.
Special guests on this album include Steve Bell on keys; Phil Smith on additional percussion; Jo Jo Dotlich on harp; Joe J. Brown on sax; and Mitch Goldman on trumpet.
The album starts off at a blistering pace with the pounding high energy of Not For Me. This song is one for the heavy rock blues fans with some solid guitar runs and heavy percussion taking over the breaks. It’s doubtful that the classic blues lovers will embrace but for those that love over the top rock mixed with their blues, buckle in, it’s going to be a wild ride.
The Honchos get funky with the next number. Old And Tired has got a solid rock beat that reminds me of late ‘70’s works that dropped in a little dance beat to go with the rock. While hard rock blues is generally not my cup of tea, the younger listeners that I shared this with were breaking into spontaneous air-guitar demonstrations.
Next up is a quick, almost punk rock energetic son titled Work. Few truer words than “Everybody’s got to work for a living” have been spoken. Or in this case, sung. By now the traditional blues fans may have moved on leaving the rest of the album for those who love the harder edged material. Good song and impressive in its attitude.
The band brings the tempo down to 11 with Come Strong. It’s a powerful song, almost a ballad in comparison to the first few numbers. One thing that is truly impressive is  Schultz’ percussion and Calipari père et fils‘ guitar. Both are tightly controlled but give the impression that they could veer off into the stratosphere without notice. Nice trick.
Next To You brings out a little funk along with some solid guitar licks. It’s easy to see why The Head Honchos have invited comparisons to the likes of Johnny Winter and Stevie Ray Vaughan. While that’s mighty lofty company to hang with, they deserve the praise. This is another good time dance inducing number that has got to be a crowd pleaser live.
They follow up with a smoking track. Mean Old World showcases some sweet guitar runs and this is the kind of song that blues rock fans grab onto and play over and over. I admit that this is my favorite song off the album so far. It’s blues enough to make you happy with a rock edge that’s reminiscent of some of Gary Moore’s work and I’ve always enjoyed his approach.
There’s some nice keyboard work on Fire On The Bayou, another song with the intensity turned up way past 11. It has a ton of energy and attitude and this one, along with the previous track should be getting some serious airplay. I would love to catch this one live, just to see the interplay between the band members. They trade licks like the best jazz bands and that’s pretty high praise.
The opening of Lucky’s Train is one that sucks you into the song quickly and appeases my blues loving heart. Unfortunately for producers of blues terrestrial radio shows, there’s a phrase (“shit-eating grin”) that might limit air play. Shame, because the song rocks, and features some nice harp work by Jo Jo Dotlich.
The drive keeps going with the next number, Whiskey Devil. I’ve met that devil on a few occasions and this song brings back memories of many a lost night. I like this song a lot and it truly packs a punch. They follow up with the aptly named That Driving Beat. The beat does drive and it drives hard. It would be hard to pass on getting out of your seat and hitting the dance floor on this one.
The Honchos slow things down a little for 99 1/2 Won’t Do. It’s a ballad but on their own terms, nothing too slow and sentimental and with some killer guitar licks. Listening to this group, you might have to go way back to find two such accomplished guitarists in the same band. For six string fans, this album has been a treat.
Things don’t slow down for long as the Honchos kick into overdrive on Going Down. This is vintage Allman Brothers sounding and they nail it from the first lick through the entire song. Very good song and one that should also get airplay.
The album closes with a seven-minute jam on Soul Free. Coupled with the previous track cements my opinion that they favorably compare with the Allmans. This is a lovely anthem that is a great closer and showcases the bands prodigious talents.
If you don’t get out to The Head Honchos’ home in Indiana very much, you might have to make a trip to the Hoosier State in order to catch them live. Probably not for long however as news of this strong album moves out to the rest of the world. I can easily see them playing major festivals and converting new fans the way that Bring It On Home converted me.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Bobby BlackHat ~~ Put On Your Red Shoes

Virginia’s Ambassador Of The Blues is undoubtedly the writer-producer-performer-actor-comedian-harmonica maestro-and-sartorially splendid Bobby “BlackHat” Walters. This veteran – of both the blues and the United States Coast Guard – has not only been a major contributor to the genre with thousands of shows and several previous albums under his belt, he is also the foremost cheerleader for other blues performers and spends much of the year producing shows that include many of the groups that he admires and wants audiences to know better.
His latest independently released album, Put On Your Red Shoes, is his strongest album to date and is the album that will make him a household name. Several of the tracks have received major airplay on national blues programs, and he continues to tour with a solid kick-ass band.
The band consists of Brian Eubanks on bass and backing vocals, Tom Euler on guitar and backing vocals, Michael Behlmar on drums and backing vocals, and Lucy Lawrence Kilpatrick on keys. With this group, Walters made it to the 2016 IBC Finals in Memphis. Guest artists include Cal Hamlin on organ and backing vocals, Larry Berwald on guitar and pedal steel, and the effervescent Lucius Bennett III as a featured vocalist on one cut and background vocals on another.
Of the 12 tracks that comprise the album, 11 are originals and the only cover is a strong cover of a well-known song, although not one usually heard at a blues concert.
The album starts off with a very strong number, I Smell Another Man On You, that artfully moves from Walters’ harp and Euler’s guitar. This is one that’s been getting some play on satellite radio and there’s a good reason for that, it’s a good song and plays off a number of blues topics. Don’t underestimate Behlmar’s drumming or Kilpatrick’s cool keys, but it’s Walters’ harp that carries the song.
The follow up with Overdose Of The Blues, a very cool Chicago style track that should get some serious airplay. I know I’ll be featuring it on Time For The Blues, and while I haven’t heard this one performed live, I know it would be a killer. Walters’ harp break is outstanding and the band supports him extremely well.
I swore Walters wrote the next song, This Grey Beard, about me. When I told him that, he had a good laugh and told me he didn’t. He said is about all of us grey bearded guys who had been around long enough to have gained a little wisdom along the way. It’s a slow, languid ballad that touches a lot of key points. Listen for the plaintive approach with the harp and compare that to the way he’s been playing up until now. Great song, even if it’s not about me…
The next song is the funk blues anthem Put On Your Red Shoes. The song is almost guaranteed to get even the shiest members of the audience up and dancing. Walters, in his trademark Black Hat, leaps into the song along with guest vocalist Bennett, and the band tears into the song with gusto. Catch him doing this live when you can and see if you don’t get your feet moving – even if you're not wearing the requisite red shoes!
Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah has been recorded by many different artists over the years. Without a doubt, it’s one of my favorite songs, and Walters’ skillful interpretation on the harp is my absolute favorite version of the song. I’ve heard him perform this beautiful number live on many occasions and I’m delighted to finally be able to add it to my collection. When I first listened to the album, I must have hit the repeat button five or six times. Beautiful song.
BlackHat and Company get rocking on the next song, Baby Mama Drama Blues. It’s another song that blends a great beat with some very strong lyrics. You might find yourself bopping along to a painful story. The interplay of the band, especially between Euler and Kilpatrick drives the album into new territory. Definitely one that will be getting airplay.
They follow up with a dark number, Grim Reaper. While Walters wrote this song early in his career, the subject of your own mortality scares more than one person. I’ve actually performed this song live with the band and it’s a chilling experience. Listen to the almost pleading tone of the harp and the way Behlmar taps his cymbals to create the creepy mood. Very cool, and a definite emotional drop after the fun of the previous song, but at almost 10 minutes, it probably won’t receive as much airplay. Still, very atmospheric and theatrical.
Photo of me joining Bobby on Grim Reaper
A surprise song, May I Have This Dance, is next, and I say surprise as this is a real departure for BlackHat and the Band. This is a sweet country song that is delivered with assurance and verve. It’s more like old-school country, and one I would like to hear being picked up and covered by more traditional acts. It’s been said that you’ll never know what you’ll get at a Bobby BlackHat show, and apparently that goes for his albums as well! Enjoy.
The group is back to some swinging blues with Back To Cleveland. A love letter to BlackHat’s hometown, it’s got a strong backbeat and some sweet keyboards from Kilpatrick before BlackHat’s harp takes over. It’s a fun song, and let’s face it, kind of a rarity considering most blues songs evoke Memphis or Chicago. Nice to see Cleveland get a shout out.
He drops the tempo for the emotional When I Cry It’s Ugly. In an era of toxic masculinity, it’s nice to hear a song with a sensitive male approach. Behlmar’s creative drumming sets the tone for the song and Euler’s guitar break makes for a sentimental connection. A delightful and affecting number. Just let it wash over you.
Next up is You Got Me Runnin’, a faster paced number that the entire band gets a chance to shine. A more traditional shuffle tune that sets up a good dance groove and should get the audience moving and shaking. Guest artist Hamlin’s organ work adds a nice touch to the song.
The album closes with a 10 ½ minute version of I Hear Mama’s Voice that is guaranteed to bring tears to just about everyone’s eyes. Walters wrote the song not long after his own mother passed and he began to hear her voice in his head whenever he needed advice. For those lucky enough to have had a good mother in their lives, you know how comforting her voice and her words can be. This is another song that is a highlight of a Bobby BlackHat live performance.
Put On Your Red Shoes is the album that’s going to bring a lot of attention to Bobby BlackHat. He’s well-known here in the Mid-Atlantic area and thanks to his strong performance at the IBCs, he’s a favorite among blues musicians worldwide. Now that he’s getting more airplay, other fans around the country are discovering him for themselves.

Check him out, he’s one of the best – as well as being one of the best people in music. The world needs a few more like him, but there are very few to be found. I recommend the album without reserve – traditional fans will be attracted to his approach as will those who like a little experimentation in their music. One thing though, I don’t think any album can contain the joy that one experiences at a Bobby BlackHat performance. Those just have to be experienced to be believed. 

(Photo of Bobby BlackHat and The Professor by Anita Schlank. Used by permission.)