Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Bruce Katz ~~ Solo Ride

I’ve always been fond of the artists who refuse to be labeled. Not that there’s anything wrong with committing to one particular style or genre, in fact, most artists quickly find their strengths and stay with them throughout their career.
But there is something about those restless spirits who search in different directions and find their happiness in different places. Some artists would be more commercial if they stayed within the confines of a popular genre while others find deeper satisfaction in exploring whatever comes their way.
Those latter artists are the ones that intrigue me, constantly reinventing themselves and finding their place in the journey rather than the destination.
That’s a long winded way of introducing a new CD, Solo Ride, from keyboard wizard Bruce Katz. Katz, who has had a very successful career touring as a sideman for the likes of Ronnie Earl, Delbert McClinton Band, Jaimoe's Jasssz Band, John Hammond, and many other legendary artists. Perhaps he is best known as a member of the Gregg Allman Band from 2007-2013.
There’s more to Katz’ resume than those outstanding achievements. Katz has lead his own band, the aptly named Bruce Katz Band for over 25 years and was also an Associate Professor at the Berklee College of Music for fourteen years (1996-2010), teaching Harmony, Hammond organ labs, Blues History and Private Instruction.
What’s surprising to me about Solo Ride is that it took Katz a long time to record it. I thought his natural curiosity would have led him to release a solo work before now. And by solo, I mean just by himself. There are no other musicians on the album, and no other instruments. It’s an even dozen songs, eleven written by Katz with one cover of a great Tampa Red song, with no vocals, no guitar runs, no drum solos or any real sweetening of the music that I can detect.
Katz gets things off to a fast and raucous start with Down At The Barrelhouse. I love this style of barrelhouse piano and it just seems like it doesn’t get played enough. I think we’ll remedy that! The boogie woogie fans, rockers, and swing blues folks will really enjoy this one.
He follows up with Crescent Crawl, jazz, with the flavor of New Orleans. Some incredible runs and a virtuoso performance. Hopefully this will get played on our jazz program. Katz is no worried about staying in his lane and he plays jazz just about as well as any you can name.
The one cover on the album is from the great Hudson Whitaker, aka Tampa Red, It Hurts Me Too. This is one of the most interpreted blues songs (first recorded in 1940), it has become one of the standards. Katz does a good job with it, using a rather heavy left hand to add a percussive tap to the rhythm.
From the title, Praise House, I was expecting something a bit more gospel like. Instead, it’s certainly jazzy and would be perfect for jazz shows. The next track, Red Sneakers, has a kind of old fashioned charm about it. Like parasols and hoop skirts charm. Fun, jaunty number, very lighthearted.
His song, Dreams Of Yesterday, is very heartfelt. Even without words, you can feel his emotion in every note. Again, Solo Ride is not for people looking for a 12-bar shuffle, but if you’re looking for some beautiful music, this is a great album to have.
Midnight Plans is a cool dark jazz number. Like many of the songs on the album, they are not quite right for Time For The Blues but could easily find a home on jazz stations. He follows that with Easy Living, a quiet ballad that feels like it should be a standard.
From there he jumps into Going Places, a quick tempo swing number that I could see audience members getting out onto the dance floor. Sweet tune. And then he segues into The Way To Your Heart, an emotional song that’s slow and moving, not in a hurry at all.
Just for fun, Katz then plays Watermelon Thump, a little bit of boogie that might find its way onto the show. Lively, spirited, and a lot of fun to listen to. Might have to team it with Marcia Ball’s Watermelon Time, and maybe something from Watermelon Slim just for a watermelon trifecta.
He closes out the album with Redemption, which to me sounds like a song of searching, a song of striving. Of course, with instrumentals, the music often becomes a Rorschach Test to be interpreted by the listener in his or her own way. Your experience with the album may be entirely different than mine.
Katz is an amazing player. I’ve followed him for a number of years and had the pleasure of catching him live in a very intimate space. He’s impressive and I know that Solo Ride will be on my personal playlist when I write in the future.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Jon Spear Band Delivers Surprising Show At Tin Pan

It’s no secret that I am a big fan of the Charlottesville blues group The Jon Spear Band. I discovered them when I received a copy of their first CD, Old Soul, and since they were from Virginia, I moved them up to the top of my “Need to Check Out” pile, but never expected much thinking they might just be a regular bar band that went into a studio.
I’ve never been so happy to have been wrong in my life. The album was fresh with good musicianship and strong lyrics. We featured it on Time For The Blues, and soon after I was fortunate enough to meet the guys: Jon Spear guitar and vocals, Dara James on guitar, harp, and vocals, Andy Burdetsky on bass and vocals, and John Stubblefield on drums.
We got along like five brothers: bickering, sniping, and bonding over shared experiences with music. Since then, almost every time they’ve played in Richmond, I’ve been there. Ditto catching them at major events in Charlottesville, and even once in Staunton. Hopefully, I’ll be back there again next year, good lord willing and the creek don’t rise.
Anyway, I’ve reviewed their live and recorded shows on several occasions, and thought I might just skate on this show and just sit in the audience and be a fan. After all, I’ve assumed the mantle of “Leader of the Spearhead Nation,” and thought it would be great just to enjoy the sounds of a favorite band.
What they delivered was so unusual for them, so absolutely different, that I found myself taking notes in order to capture this performance.
What we saw that night in the Tin Pan was not a typical blues show. I don’t think I heard a single 12-bar shuffle. Nobody looked over yonder’s wall, and the only example of a woman doin’ anybody wrong, was their song Mean Mean Woman.
Instead, what I heard truly defies labels. They played about 15 songs in a 90-minute set and every single one of them was an original, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the group happier to play. James, who plays mostly lead guitar and handles the majority of vocals was in rare company as his guitar runs covered the gamut from roots rock to psychedelic riffs. I’ve heard him play many times in the past and always considered him a very good player, but tonight, he played with beautiful tones and it was easy for audience members to hang on every note and lick.
Spear played chords and sang the rest of the lead vocals. He, too, seemed to be playing on a different level tonight. His songs set up James’ runs, and occasionally they “dueled” with each other – one playing a run and the other answering.
Burdetsky and Stubblefield are a very tight rhythm section. I’ve always felt neither has gotten the recognition I feel they deserve. This night, they dug so deep setting the groove, that if they had gone any deeper, they would probably have struck oil. Burdetsky is such an animated player that he might as well be in a Pixar cartoon. He doesn’t just play the bass, he embodies the bass. His face and body never stop moving throughout the entire performance.
I knew the evening was going to be wildly different when they led off with Yellow Moon. I’ve heard them play that as an encore, but leading off the show with it sets a completely different tone. From there, they slid into Too Much Family and then Cheap Whiskey.  At no time did they break between songs to work the audience, just letting the music speak for itself.
In fact, they really didn’t engage the audience until the sixth song, other than to say a quiet “thank you” after some of the songs. They were lost in the music, and the audience did not seem to mind in the least.
I spent much of the show trying to figure out how to describe what we were seeing. This wasn’t really blues, not just rock. It certainly wasn’t country. I couldn’t decide what to call it. It wasn’t exactly pure jams, but the only thing I could put my finger on, is it was like listening to an Allman Brothers show – just without the keyboards and some of the attitude.
The Jon Spear Band once sang, “Live Music is better,” and they are absolutely right. I get up on my soapbox from time to time and I understand that not everybody wants to go out every night – or can afford to. I get it. But the small audience that gathered at the Tin Pan was treated to a great show. Judging from the response of the crowd, they will all be back the next time the band comes to town.
This is a new direction for Spear and Company. It’s too early for anyone to say if this is going to be the way the band goes from here on out, but if it is, I won’t complain.  
Left to Right: Andy Burdetsky, John Stubblefield, Professor, Dara James, Jon Spear


Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Debra Power ~~ That’s How I Roll

Oh, my great Blues God, where did this woman come from and why have I never heard her amazing voice before? That’s the question I pretty much shouted after only a couple of songs from Debra Power’s brand new album, That’s How I Roll.
I have had this album for a little while – it released on May 31st – but it hadn’t made it very far on my “must listen” pile. It arrived in a nondescript package from one of the Canadian publicists who sends me great music, but with its whimsical cartoonish cover, it looked more like it might be a cutesy roots or folk music album.
There was no way I was expecting the amazing barrelhouse piano that greeted me and I was totally bowled over by her voice. Oh, that voice! It was as if someone had lit a blowtorch in a dark room. So clear, so powerful.
Power hails from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Like a typical American, I know almost nothing about Calgary, but if it means catching her live, I’ll be booking a plane trip asap!
There’s an even dozen songs on the album, all written by Power and while she is on all tracks playing piano and belting out vocals, she is joined by some fine players who back her with energy and enthusiasm. She is joined by Mike F. Little on Hammond B3; Russell Broom on guitar; Chris Byrne on bass; Lyle Molzan and Kelly Kruse on drums; Tim Williams on slide guitar for one song; Jack Semple on vocals and lead guitar for one song; Joey Landreth on slide guitar for three songs; Chris Brzezicki on upright bass on one song; Steve Pineo on harp for one song, and Ann Vriend on background vocals for one song. Other backing vocals are provided by Cindy McLeod, Elsie Osborne, and Katie August McCullough. There’s also a horn section comprised of Mike Clark on tenor sax; Ian David Hartley on trumpet; and Pat Belliveau on baritone sax.  
Power starts off the album with a rollicking number, All Night Playing The Blues. Add her rough voiced vocals and you’ve got an opening that’s guaranteed to hook just about everybody. She calls the roll of several great blues artists, invoking their spirit and they all answer with love. Oh yeah, you’ll be hearing this on Time For The Blues, and if there is any justice, every other blues show as well.
There’s more high energy in the gospel flavored Takin’ The High Road. Power preaches complete with a swinging horn section wedded to her pounding piano. Her voice reaches for the heavens as she tells us how she’s leading her life. A great uplifting number.
Power slows things down and strips down the sound beautifully in Blue Tears. It’s a gorgeous near solo song (piano, trumpet, drums) that made me think of late nights I spent in a jazz or blues club when the singer would bare her soul behind a microphone lit by a single pin spot. Okay, we’re three songs in and I am hooked for life.
Next up is the title track, That’s How I Roll. She has some slide guitar on this song to play off of her piano and vocals. There’s a slight country flavor added to the jump blues mix she creates. Fun song, definitely a great upbeat number and I love her piano break augmenting the slide. Sweet sounds.
Next up is a duet with Jack Semple, Last Time I’m Lovin’ You. The story of a couple who may be great together in one way, but maybe not so much in every other way. The percussion sets up the funky rhythm for the song and the Hammond B3 adds the backbone. You can feel the chemistry between these two and I bet this is a great live song.
She delivers a heartfelt song next, If We Haven’t Got Love. Her subject has broadened to take on more of the problems of the world. She accomplishes this without getting preachy, appealing to our better natures and what we can do.
She drops another pleading ballad with Don’t Ever Leave Me. It’s a beautiful number with a stripped down sound that can break your heart and still give you hope. For those with a sensitive soul, you might even shed a few tears. Let ‘em come and enjoy the song. PS – I’ll admit to getting very choked up over this one…
She picks up the pace quickly with I’m Comin’ Around. If this doesn’t get an audience out of its chairs and onto the dance floor, I’m not sure what will. Her piano coupled with some great guitar make for some raucous swinging. Oh yeah, a great fun song!
She follows up with a sweet number, My Grateful Song. How hard is it for us to find the simple things that we need to be thankful for every day? For most of us, damn hard, and we can use this gentle reminder that there’s much to treasure.
There’s a big band ballad feel to Let Me Love You Tonight. Power delivers powerful vocals that would be right at home with all of the great torch singers. There’s a little early rock and roll feel just under the surface, and the Hammond B3 chords enhance the song.
Her piano rollicks into Please Forgive Me Blues, a deceptively simple song telling a man off. She’s not the one asking for forgiveness, she’s the one telling the jerk that he’s going to be back singing those please forgive me blues. Ah, such a fool. You tell ‘em Debra!
Power closes out the album with an interesting song, Side On Sue. I’ll confess that it took a couple of listens for me to get into the song. There’s some great harp by Steve Pineo, and it’s an unusual take, a story song about an unsavory character. What got to me finally is the darkness of the song and Power’s lyrics. It’s poetry and paints an amazing picture. I’m going back to listen to it again…
Being a high energy female piano player inevitably brings comparisons to Marcia Ball. While that’s flattering to both performers, as they are both amazing performers, Debra Power should be judged against herself. She is a unique talent that commands any space she occupies.
That’s How I Roll is easily going on my year-end Best Of list and if the future, any of her future albums – no, make that every one of her future albums – will immediately move to the top of my “Must Review” pile. She has released one previous album, Even Redheads Get The Blues and I am placing my order for it today. 

You can get both of her albums to date from her website and can check out her tour schedule as well. I suggest you do both and add this great performer to your playlist.  

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Billy Price ~~ Dog Eat Dog on Gulf Coast Records

When I hear that certain artists are coming out with a new album, I get very excited and all fan-boy about it. Billy Price is one of those artists. I was a little late to the party, really only discovering his collaboration with Otis Clay which absolutely blew me away. Even though that record had been out for a while, I just had to review it and did.
Price’s then-management saw my review and slipped me a well in advance copy of his follow up, Alive And Strange, and I was fortunate enough to post the first review of it. While it’s always an honor to drop the first review, the only thing I really care about is spreading the word of how great Price is on his new album on Gulf Coast Records, Dog Eat Dog.
While the album isn’t due to be released until early August, the great publicists who keep me in music sent me an e-copy so I could wax poetic about the album. I’m afraid my vocabulary may not have enough words to describe how it made me feel.
Price has once again joined forces with Chris Kid Andersen at Andersen’s recording studio, Greaseland, and his guitar work is evident on the album. Other musicians include Alex Pettersen on drums; Jerry Jemmott on bass; Jim Pugh on keys; Eric Spaulding on tenor sax; Jack Sanford on baritone sax; and John Halblied on trumpet. Guest artists were John Otis (son of the great Johnny Otis) and Vicki Randle on congas; Randle also added background vocals along with Lisa Leuschner Andersen, Charlie Owen and The Sons of the Soul Revivers gospel group.
Very special guests include Rick Estrin, Alabama Mike, and Gulf Coast co-founder Mike Zito.
The album kicks off with the soulful Working On Your Chain Gang. Co-written by Price and longtime collaborator Jim Britton, it evokes the Sam Cooke classic while being its own very different song. There’s some sweet organ and the use of the congas by John Otis and Vicki Randle give it a refreshing sound. A little R&B to prime the listener for what promises to be another great album in Price’s discography.
Next up is a song with a depressing title, Lose My Number, but Price’s emotional vocals turn into a great number. You can feel the pain in his voice and the sparse orchestration adds to the overall effect. The plaintive sax heightens the feeling of loneliness and raises the song to another level. Beautiful and heartbreaking.
Price gets swinging on We’re In Love and he’s having a lot of fun. The horns make the song light and carefree and the organ chords anchor the song nicely. There’s some good percussion, but not overbearing. It’s a fun number that should get some people on the dance floor while others stare into each other’s eyes.
He follows up with the title track. Dog Eat Dog was originally written and performed by Rick Estrin, and Estrin returns to join Price for this interpretation. Estrin’s harp adds some serious backbone to the song and Price sings the hell out of it. He even adds the great Alabama Mike to share the vocals and it makes for a great song. I know I’ll be playing this one on Time For The Blues, and I believe it’s going to receive a lot of airplay on other shows.
After that, Kid Andersen delivers some blistering guitar on a great cover of Otis Rush’s My Love Will Never Die. This is hard-edged blues that punches you in the gut right from the start. Price’s vocals are sharp and the mix of guitar, organ, and percussion create an amazing dark mood. I really like this song a lot and should be adding it to my playlist.
The mood picks up with All Night Long Café. Price and company are ready to party their way through the song and into the night. Sometimes you just want a fun time number that will make you tap your feet and shake what you got. This is a goodtime tune that should put a smile on just about everyone’s face.
Price stays soulful with Walk Back In, a solid R&B number written by Jim Britton. This song is very reminiscent of some of the best songs I heard over the radio in the ‘70’s, songs that I loved but rarely received the airplay I desired. This is one of those songs I will come back to time after time. I think you just might do the same.
They move from soul to funk on Toxicity. With a title like that, you know the music has to be somewhat jarring and the rhythm section does a great job of creating a deep pocket and the horns and organ fill it in nicely. Price’s vocals are softer and backed by some beautiful female voices, and that gives it a little edge. Cool song.
The opening to Remnants sets up a dark mood and Price’s vocals complete the picture. It’s a noir blues soul song that gets under your skin and takes up residence. If you’ve ever been done wrong by someone you love, then you have lived this song and Andersen’s guitar runs have been the anger that ran through your brain. Good song, and very well produced. It’s a two-hour movie in a five-minute song.
After that is a beautiful cover of Same Old Heartaches, originally done by The Impressions. It has gorgeous harmonies punctuated by the horn section and together they make Price’s vocals stand out even more. I’ll be playing this one on my personal playlist for years. I love this style of song so much, and since they rarely get much airplay, it’s up to those of us who love it to keep preaching about it.
The beauty continues with the follow up, More Than I Needed. Great soul and the orchestration gives Price a large canvas to fill with his voice. This is more of that soul R&B that filled my record collection for many years. This is the kind of music that will stir your heart and fill you with love.
Price and the gang close out this outstanding album with You Gotta Leave, effectively telling the listener the show’s done and it’s time to get back to your life. For me, that meant hitting repeat and listening to the whole thing one more time. I’ve been told that I can’t share the music on the show until closer to its release date in early August, but you better believe I’ll be featuring it as soon as I can!
Billy Price and company are a bit of a throwback to a different style of music. They are not locked into one particular style, nor are they performing the same material as everyone else. They have carved out a niche for great soulful music, sweet harmonies, and music that can make you dance or break your heart.
Dog Eat Dog is a fantastic album and one that will easily be on my Best of 2019 list at the end of the year. Go ahead and do yourself a favor and get your copy on order now. While you’re at it, be sure to drop by Price’s website where you can pick up other albums and check out his touring schedule.