Thursday, March 26, 2020

Time For The Blues ~~ March 28, 2020

Avoid crowds, listen to Time For The Blues! Henry Cook and I hope you will join us this Saturday night, March 28, at 10 for yet another slam bam throw it to the mat and make it say “uncle” episode of Time For The Bues!
Trust me, we are not making fun of this scary situation we all find ourselves in, but Mr. Cook and I have always seen our job as Court Jesters or Rodeo Clowns that get to distract our audience for 59 minutes a week using the two tools we have at our disposal – great music and bad jokes.
This will be a fun show, Henry planned it from stem to stern and he swears it’s chock full of great music, so you know the jokes are going to be awful. Sorry about that. Let’s see what he’s got up his sleeve.
Hmmm, it looks like we’re going to visit with the legendary McKinley Morganfield, aka Muddy Waters. He’s got one lined up that features Waters with two other legends, Johnny Winter and James Cotton. He’s got a couple from Waters’ comeback album, Hard Again and one more from the album that caused him to need a comeback, Electric Mud.
Yeah, wouldn’t you have liked to be in the meeting where somebody said, “You know what would be great? Let’s get the world’s most famous bluesman and get him to make a psychedelic rock-blues album, and let’s make a far out cover on the album.” You can pretty much guess that Waters himself wasn’t in that meeting…
Henry’s also got some Unusual Suspects for us. In case you haven’t heard one of those segments yet, that’s where we find artists who don’t normally perform blues let loose and drop a blues song. Some are more blues than others, but every one of them is cool in its own way. I won’t spoil the fun, mainly because Henry leaves their names off of my show sheet so I have to guess who it is he’s playing. He even claims he’s found an artist who is the most unusual of them all.
Want some new stuff? Well, we got it for you. We have new releases from Roomful Of Blues – a band that’s been together for 50 years! That’s only about half as old as our best joke! We’ve also got a track from the Grammy ® Nominated Rick Estrin & The Nightcats, as well as one from one of our favorite people walking the planet, Janiva Magness!
Just for a little throwback, we’re going to head to one of our favorite cities, Memphis, TN. We won’t have time for barbecue (of course we would get take out), but instead of sampling culinary delights, we’re going to sample the sounds of the city. How about two from Sam And Dave and Otis Redding? We’ll also visit with Goldwax, that tiny studio with a lot of talent and almost no budget.
We’re still working on the logistics, but you know where to find us – point your browser here, or join us on one of these great VPM Stations: 89.1 WCVN, Northern Neck; 90.1 WMVE, Chase City; and the flagships, 93.1 and 107.3 VPM-Music, Richmond, where it’s always Time For The Blues!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Albert Castiglia ~~ Wild And Free

Live records are often a gamble. On the one hand (pro), a live album can capture an artist’s energy better than a studio album which is usually cut in a controlled, no audience manner. On the other hand (con) shoddy recording can muddy the sound to the point where you would just rather go back to the studio albums.
Guitar slinger Albert Castiglia’s newest album, Wild And Free, on Gulf Coast Records, is thankfully a case of the former. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing Castiglia live, you already know what I’m talking about and are most likely nodding your head in agreement. If you haven’t had that opportunity, as soon as this nation-wide quarantine is over, find out where Castiglia is paying and get tickets pdq.
Castiglia may have been born in the Big Apple, but he grew up in Florida, another hot bed for musical influences. He was exposed to rock, blues, and Latin music on the radio and in local musical establishments. He worked a day job for years while honing his skills with bar bands before joining Junior Wells’ band.
From there he has gone on to release 11 albums, and has now finally released his first live album. The 11 songs on the album include several originals, three covers, and a few written by friends. Castiglia plays guitar and handles vocals and he is joined by Justine Tompkins on bass and vocals; Ephraim Lowell on drums; and Lewis Stephens on piano and B3. Guests include producer Mike Zito adding guitar to one song and keyboard wizard John Ginty playing B3 on two.
Recorded at The Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton, the album starts off with one of Castiglia’s signature songs, Let The Big Dog Eat. Castiglia’s blistering guitar takes the first spotlight, setting the tone for the rest of the album. His voice is a growl, and his powerful presence can easily be felt through your speakers.
He follows up with the Mike Zito written Hoodoo On Me. Zito, aside from being the producer of the album is also one of the co-founders of Gulf Coast Records and worked extensively with Castiglia on his previous release, Masterpiece. The fireworks continue as if Castiglia plans to blow the roof off the joint, and he just might do it!
Just when you think he might take a break he immediately launches into I Been Up All Night. The guitar cuts like a blowtorch on a dark night and his vocals have the sound of a wired man who is both worried and running on fumes. It’s another cool number and one that has proven to be a hit with live audiences.
The first song on the album written by Castiglia is Heavy. It’s also the first one where the tempo has been slowed. The previous three songs were delivered with the intensity of pure punk rock, but this one takes a more mellow approach. Castiglia’s vocals are up to the task as he pours his heart into the number.
In concert, Castiglia often introduces Get Your Ass In The Van as a “tender love story.” Instead it is a fun look at what it takes to get noticed as an artist. How many great performers started off going from gig to gig in a beat up car, truck, or fan? Hauling instruments and equipment that were worth more than the money they would make that night. Putting their souls on the line for audiences who couldn’t care less about the artistry of these performers, but just wanted cheap beer and a place to land. Damn, sometimes I really miss those days…not very often mind you.
One thing I’ve noticed now that we’re at about the half way point is the recording doesn’t include very much of the audience’s reactions. For my money, I would like to hear what must have been enthusiastic applause, and also Castiglia’s banter with the audience. I’ve seen him several times and have always enjoyed his interactions with everyone. I want to hear the transitions from song to song! Okay, sermon over.
Searching The Desert For The Blues is a cool song and one that stands out as different than the other songs on the album. The lyrics by Graham Wood Drout are poetic and Tompkins adds some very good backing vocals. Castiglia adds his trademark guitar and Stephens’ B3 gets quite a workout.
The next song, Keep On Swinging, takes a heavier approach to the music. It is very much driven by the bass and drums and takes more than a minute to get to the vocals. I love the sentiment of not letting anyone take away your dream, just be ready when something good comes along. It’s an easy lesson to say, but a hard one to learn. Still a very cool song.
Johnny Winter’s Too Much Seconal follows with Zito and Ginty joining the fun. I would have like to hear them introduced, but their playing is so good, I’ll get over it. This is a gritty sound (in a good way) and serves as a great tribute to one of the guitar masters that obviously influenced both Castiglia and Zito. It’s a lot of fun listening to them trade licks.
Ginty sticks around for Paul Butterfield’s Lovin’ Cup. On this song and the previous one, you actually get to hear the band jam for a bit. Despite the strain that singing for as long as he has, Castiglia’s voice is holding up well. He’s still full of energy and the band is truly working hard but having fun.
Castiglia follows up with another original, I Tried To Tell Ya. The first minute belongs to his guitar and then the menacing growl comes back to life. Several of the songs on this album are destined for airplay on Time For The Blues, I just haven’t decided which ones. Wild And Free is an album with backbone – a strong, powerful collection of songs where any single song deserves play, but finding the best ones to play will be difficult.
Freddie King’s Boogie Funk closes out the show and the album. King has been a big influence on Castiglia and it shows in the reverential way he preserves the spirit of the song without it becoming a note-for-note reproduction. I’ve recently been watching a number of live performers who start and end a set with instrumentals. A couple of friends clued me in that is a Chicago thing. I’ve never noticed it before, but Castiglia often closes with an instrumental (or does one as an encore) which would make sense given the time he spent playing in the Windy City. Great way to give the band one last dance in the spotlight and to end the show.
Wild And Free is an exceptional live album containing some of Albert Castiglia’s best known songs. He seems to be hitting his stride with his writing and playing. He’s more assured and while he’s always been willing to take chances musically, he’s making bold choices and turning in great songs.
You can find more information at Castiglia’s website and while you’re at it, be sure to check out the Gulf Coast Records website

Burn                                    2004  
The Bittersweet Sessions   2006  
A Stone's Throw                 2006
These Are the Days            2008  
Keepin On                          2010  
Living the Dream                2012  
Solid Ground                      2014  
Blues Caravan 2014          2015  
Big Dog                              2016
Up All Night                        2017  
Masterpiece                       2019  

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Times They Are A-Changing...All Over Again

By now, almost everyone in my social circle falls into one of two categories: either they are sucking up every news report from every news outlet and trembling at their prospects, or, they are tired of hearing about it and while they are taking precautions, they just want their life to get back to normal.
I’m as concerned as anyone about the prospect of what might happen if I contract Covid-19 (I have an underlying health concern), I can’t tell you how much I miss the normalcy of my life before. Aside from getting lots of great music from bands and publicists from all over the world, I enjoyed getting out to as many shows as possible. There were several great blues shows scheduled over the next couple of months, including several with friends, but they have all been rightly canceled.
I know, wah wah wah, poor John, can’t give up his live music.
Apparently, a number of musicians feel the same way, but for different reasons. Most professional musicians count on gig money and for those that are touring, they need a certain amount per day in order to cover expenses. With all the clubs closed, there’s no place to play and no chance of making any money.
CD sales are down and forget making money on downloads. If the artist or band isn’t out in front of an audience, there’s little to no chance of making new fans, so little to no chance of making a living.
What to do? What. To. Do?
As the old saying goes, “If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, Mohammed must go to the mountain.”
Here, that mountain is the audience and the artists are bringing live performances to audiences via social media.
“There’s something special about the energy of a live performance,” says Bobby BlackHat, leader of the Bobby BlackHat Band. “You can listen to CDs but it’s not the same as seeing something live in front of you and that’s the experience we are trying to bring to everyone.”
Bobby BlackHat is about to do his first live show via YouTube on Sunday, March 22nd. The event will be broadcast without admission, but the band will have a digital tip jar for people to show their appreciation to the band.

This follows closely on the heels of a house concert featuring Jason Ricci and the Bad Kind. Ricci was joined by John Lisi on guitar, John Perkins on drums, and Jack Joshua on bass. In front of a too small black backdrop adorned with a New Orleans Saints flag, the band worked their way through an hour and twenty-minute set that was full of Ricci’s manic energy and humor.
Not to say it was a flawless performance, there were a few buffering issues, sound drop outs (including losing the last half of his last song), and more than a couple of times the camera fell over giving the audience more surreal moments than normal. However, the excitement of a live show translated through our computer screens and no matter where we were physically, we were all in that room in New Orleans enjoying the performance.
At one point after a song, Ricci said, “I didn’t think we would be able to pick up on an audience’s energy playing like this, but I am really feeling it right now.” Lisi agreed and it was obvious that they did indeed feel that way and were grateful for the opportunity to play together.
Ricci and company also had the electronic tip jar out and those who felt moved to were able to send tips via PayPal and Venmo. I have no idea how many people contributed to them, but I certainly ponied up a few bucks for the cause and I suspect I am not alone.
Is this the wave of the future? Sorry, I can’t look that far ahead. But for a while at least, it’s a way to check in with favorite bands in intimate settings. “It’s going to be a steep learning curve for most of us,” says Bobby BlackHat. “Nothing will ever take the place of a live performance, but for a while we may have to get creative with the way we put on a show.”
If you’re on Facebook, you can find a page that will keep you posted on upcoming internet shows here or here. You can also follow Bobby BlackHat here
Until we can have more than 10 people in a room, or stand closer than 6 feet apart, support these musicians who are determined to continue to bring us the music!  

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Time For The Blues ~~ March 21, 2020

Avoid crowds, listen to Time For The Blues! Now, completely COVID-19 free! If you are anything like us, you just might be climbing the walls by now while you are social distancing from the rest of the world. Henry and I have been practicing social distancing for years, so let us be your guides for an hour this Saturday night!

You see, we’ve got the music you’ve been missing and we can’t wait to share it with you this week. You can find us at the usual place, VPM-Music at 93.1 or 107.3 on your FM dial or online at, Saturday night, March 21st, at 10:00. I’ll be on time, but all bets are off that Henry will be ready (he won’t), but we have some great music lined up for you.

How great, you ask? We’ve got two – not one, but two – of the hottest bands working today. First up is the Altered Five Blues Band. You may remember their previous release, Charmed And Dangerous, we sure do and were so glad to receive a copy of their latest, Ten Thousand Watts. These guys are high energy all the way and have some great lyrics (one of the songs we’re queuing up is Great Minds Drink Alike) and for us they are the total package.

You want more, you say? Okay, Oliver Twist, we’ve got a lot more for you. How about one of the best known and most honored bands around? I’m talking none other than Rick Estrin & The Nightcats! Harmonica giant, main lyricist, and frontman, Estrin is so much fun to listen to (and watch – catch these guys live when we’re allowed to have shows again), and all of The Nightcats rock hard. We’ve got a few selections from their latest Alligator release, Contemporary.

If you think that the show is a little testosterone heavy, we’re going to try and balance some things out with a set of hard driving women blues artists. We’ve got tracks from Larkin Poe, the Rae Gordon Band, and Casey Hensley. Every one of these women rock hard and I am sure you are going to enjoy them.

We’ve got even more stuff for you. How about new work from Heavy Drunk? Yes pilgrim, that’s the name he goes by these days. If you’re feeling low though all of this social isolation, we’ve got the cure from the Soul Doctor himself, Jimmy Carpenter. And we’ve got a little bit of Tampa Red from Chris “Bad News” Barnes’ new live album.

All this can be yours if you tune in Saturday night, March 21st at 10:00. Henry and I will be wearing hazmat suits that we picked up from an army surplus store so there’s absolutely no chance of you catching anything from us. I can’t swear that the jokes will be any good or that we’ll stay on topic, but I can vouch for the fact, that every single song we’re spinning is going to be great.
We’ve got everything all laid out and ready to go, all we need is you and a few hundred of your closest friends, all in separate places of course. You know how to find us, point your browser here, or join us on one of these great VPN Stations: 89.1 WCVN, Northern Neck; 90.1 WMVE, Chase City; and the flagships, 93.1 and 107.3 VPM-Music, Richmond, where it’s always Time For The Blues!

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Something Special This Way Comes

Hello Readers and Followers of this blog;

Sorry for the delays in posting, I assure you it's not for a lack of great music - I've been receiving some amazing CDs lately - it's more of an overwhelming thing. Those of you with ADHD will understand completely. 

But there's no excuse for ignoring you and so, let me take a moment to talk about some great upcoming shows for our area. This is in no way a complete list, I'll leave that to the fine calendar of the River City Blues Society, which you canfind here.  

However, along with great shows coming up from Walter Trout, the Billy Price Band, The Nighthawks, and Selwyn Birchwood - all of whom will give you more bang for your buck, there's one name who just might disappear if you're not careful.

Unless you're a long time reader of this blog blessed with a great memory, the name Diana Rein might not ring a very loud bell. But let me throw in my two cents, Rein is a performer of great talent who hasn't even reached her musical powers. 

Rein has released two albums Long Road and Queen Of My Castle and has signed on with Gulf Coast Records, the recent company started by Mike Zito and Guy Hale. You might know Zito for his incomparable guitar work, excellent performance standards, and mad producing skills, but one of his best hidden talents is finding and nurturing other people's hidden talents. 

We have a chance to catch her as her star ascends on Tuesday, March 17 at the Tin Pan. I know it's a work/school night, but I'm going to risk going to work tired in order to catch her in an intimate setting. I doubt it will be long before we won't have a chance to catch her in a similar venue for some time.

Call, go online, make those reservations, I'll be there and I hope to see you too!


  (Richmond, VA) - Rising Gulf Coast Records recording artist Diana Rein brings her 2020 Queen Of My Castle Tour (named for her most recent album) to The Tin Pan, 8982 Quiocassin Rd., Tuesday, March 17. Showtime: 8pm. Tickets: $10. (advance), $15. (door). Info: (804) 447-8189 or visit

Monday, January 27, 2020

Jangling Sparrows Fly High with Bootstraps And Other American Fables

I first encountered Paul Edelman and his band Jangling Sparrows on their 2017 album, 140 Nickels. That album came my way from a publicist who knew I have a deep appreciation for that amalgamation of music known as Americana. Part rock, part country, part folk, part blues, it’s just pure-bred American-mongrel music as my old friend Page Wilson would say.
I have always loved performers like John Prine, and Steve Goodman, guys that weren’t satisfied to just play one genre. They wrote and performed music that moved them – some were fun, others deep, and still others pure poetry. Heck, Prine made an a capella gospel number the title track of Diamonds In The Rough. I still sing it when no one’s listening.
Without hesitation, I put Paul Edelman in that pantheon. I think he’s a superb writer and his voice tells a story with every song. Many of you rely on this blog for the latest in blues, but this new album, Bootstraps And Other American Fables is pure Americana. There’s one song that’s fairly bluesy, but not in a typical AAB rhyme scheme.
Aside from Edelman as writer, vocalist, and guitarist for the band are Louis Stein on bass and Joe Grey on drums. If there are any overdubs, I missed them, it sounded pretty much like it was recorded live – and that appeals to me very much.
Estuaries opens the album with a sweet psychedelic feel. This is so reminiscent of the lyrics and music of the late ‘60’s – a time when rock was unpredictable and more than a little challenging. Edelman is a songwriter that is steeped deep in the tradition of the bard poets and singers. Enjoy this ride, but be prepared to expect the unexpected, this is not prefabbed music with a lot of autotune and sanitized for your protection. These are musical artists with a lot of muscle behind their art.
Next up is All That I Was Never Afraid, and I would like to ask a question: Who among us have done something when we were younger that continues to haunt us for the rest of our life? Probably every one of us. This is a song of an older person telling a younger person that he knows what they are going through from experience. Strong song.
The Jangling Sparrows then follow that with Carolyn. It’s a sad part of human nature that when someone from the wrong side of the tracks finally makes good, that can trigger all kinds of deep seeded insecurities. Can people actually see us for what we are or for the illusion we’ve become?
She is easily one of the greatest American Heroes, and the JS pay homage to her in Hey! Hey! Harriet Tubman. Born into slavery, she escaped and managed to help some 300 plus slaves make their way to freedom along the underground railroad. She deserves an anthem, and now she gets one!
Speaking of moving on down the road, Highway Jawn breathes new life into the “life on the road” trope. It’s not just about traveling and playing, it’s about meeting new people, making new connections, making people feel special in their own home town and discovering the magic in every new place. I spend a number of years on the road and always enjoyed getting out and seeing every new town. I hated coming in to a town and going straight to a hotel and then to the venue rinse and repeat. Take time, find your world.
After that is Follow Me Down. This one is a dark country flavored tune with some of the best poetry in the lyrics on the album. It reminds me of some of Bukowski’s favorite subjects: women, muses, bars, and a slow descent into the hell of madness. Very cool, and if I had an Americana show, this one would be getting played pdq.
From there the band moves onto True Fine Now. It’s a good follow up to the previous song, they connect through the idea that life flies by quickly and all we really have are moments that are strung together on some kind of connecting thread. We hope and pray that we will collect as many of those moments as we can so that we can feel like we have accomplished something by the end of our life.
Violynne follows and it’s a song about being knocked down and getting back up again. Resilience is something more people need in their lives, but it’s often in short supply. But if we don’t get back up, we really surrender our ability to control our own life. Maybe I read too much into Edelman’s lyrics, but I find him to be a first rate songwriter and it’s a shame that music like this rarely finds its way onto our airwaves.
I actually had to look up the subject of the next song, Joshua Chamberlain. Chamberlain was a highly educated man – a college professor who spoke nine languages and who joined the Union Army and fought in the Civil War, most notably at the Battle of Gettysburg. After the war, he returned to his teaching, became President of his University, and served four terms as Governor of Maine. Edelman brings the story up to date and personalizes it and it inspires us to be those who serve to preserve our country. Impressive, and makes a nice book end with Hey! Hey! Harriet Tubman. Politics aside, it would be nice to have a few more leaders like Joshua Chamberlain.
After that is Label’s All Mine, a story of an old man who runs a still on his property and guards it jealously. The opening cackles sent a chill up my spine. It’s definitely a swampy story song and a lot of fun. The next time I catch the JS, I really hope they open with this one. I may have to sneak this one onto Time For The Blues.
They close out the album with Bootstraps, a song for those who have hit rock bottom and continued to dig deeper. It’s the American Success Story to be able to pull yourself up from those metaphorical bootstraps, and damn near impossible to do. Still we continue to believe in myths and try again and again. Try and fail, it’s a sad cycle and it makes a great ending for this surprising album.
The Jangling Sparrows are based out of Asheville, North Carolina, one of my favorite cities in the entire world. For those of you who have never experienced this jewel of the Smoky Mountains, it’s a lovely town filled with eccentrics, poets, and dreamers. The closest city I’ve found like it is Portland, Oregon. The art life in Asheville is vibrant and accommodating and is a perfect place for an artist like Paul Edelman.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Time For The Blues ~~ January 18, 2019

Hello there, Henry Cook and I would like to welcome you to the new year. Yeah, we’re a little bit late, but that's not unusual around here. We tend to miss a few deadlines in the pursuit of the best music and once in a while a decent joke. We hope you will join us this Saturday Night a 10 either on VPM-Music or stream us at 
There’s really something about the word “new.” New Year, new attitude, new baseball season; it always gives us a feeling of hope. Let’s add to that a new Time For The Blues. For this week we’re featuring the BB King Blues Band and Gracie Curran. 
It’s hard to believe that the world lost the immortal Riley B. “B.B.” King in May of 2015. King was a great ambassador of the blues, appearing around the world and crossing all sorts of lines to bring the music to audiences that may not otherwise have contact with the blues. Since his passing, members of his touring and recording band have gotten together for shows and now they have released an album that includes reworkings of great King classics. 
We have three of those classics for you and a fourth that features BB King playing with another master of the guitar, Eric Clapton from their album, Riding With The King 
After that we’re going to introduce you to Gracie Curran who has a very cool new album out on VizzTone. It’s called Come Undone, and it is killer. We’ll feature three from that album, and I found one where she performs a duet with our pal Mick Kolassa called Double Standards 
By the way, we just received a copy of Mick’s latest CD, Blind Lemon Sessions, and I can guarantee that it will be on my list of the best discs of 2020. I can’t wait to feature some of the great songs that are on this album. Look for a rave review over the next couple of days!  
Shameless plug over, we’re going to take one last ride with Cadillac Baby! We have already done five – count ‘em – five sets with the various artists who performed for this independent label in Chicago. The label (Bea & Baby Records) never had serious financial backing but managed to record several great artists on the way up, and a few on the way down. Regardless, they turned out some damn fine music, and thanks to our friends at Earwig, we are able to share them with you.  
But wait, there’s more…How about some new releases from Bruce Katz off of his new Solo Piano album. Katz came through Richmond not long ago to play and Buz & Ned’s Real Barbecue. He has an amazing resume with stints with the Allman Brothers to heading up the jazz piano program at Berklee. The album is mostly jazz oriented, but so good. How about the Altered Five Blues Band? These guys have been on the show before and never leave without rocking the joint. We’ve got a great one from their recent album, Ten Thousand Watts, that we know you’re going to love. How about one from Alex Lopez from his new album, Yours Truly, Me…? What, you don’t know Lopez? You will after this show.  
If you’re a regular listener, we know you’re going to do whatever you need to do to join us at 10:00. If you’re new to Time For The Blues, drop by and find out what everybody is talking about.  
We’ve got everything all laid out and ready to go, all we need is you and a few hundred of your closest friends. You know how to find us, point your browser here, or join us on one of these great VPN Stations: 89.1 WCVN, Northern Neck; 90.1 WMVE, Chase City; and the flagships, 93.1 and 107.3 VPM-Music, Richmond, where it’s always Time For The Blues!

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

A Tribute To Sean Costello: Don’t Pass Me By

Sean Costello did more on this earth in his 28 short years than most people accomplish in a lifetime. His near flawless guitar work set high standards for future players and it often overshadowed his vocals and songwriting, even though those were also of the highest quality.
He came on like a comet, sudden and on fire, starting at the age of 16. Before long he had performed with the likes of Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin, and Susan Tedeschi. He was even touring with Tedeschi and his band became her backup band while on tour.
Costello averaged about 300 dates a year, crisscrossing the country time and time again, then heading to Europe, and returning. When he wasn’t touring or recording, he would keep busy playing clubs in and around his home in Atlanta.
After he passed the day before his 29th Birthday of an accidental overdose, his family revealed that Costello had been suffering from Bipolar Disorder and had been in a manic phase for several days. They set up a fund, The Sean Costello Memorial Fund For Bipolar Research – the website is at the end of this entry – and the profits from this tribute album will be donated to that fund.
“This album” is actually titled A Tribute To Sean Costello: Don’t Pass Me By on Landslide Records, and is a compilation of great artists who have recorded one of Costello’s songs. It was a lengthy labor of love for the producers bringing together an outstanding collection of talent. It’s a bittersweet moment, realizing that some of the people most associated with Costello passed before they could add their voices. I’m speaking of Nick Curran, Hubert Sumlin, and Levon Helm. Two of the artists who played in this album have also sadly left us as well. We will have the music of Candye Kane and Mike Ledbetter, but our world is a little darker without them in it.
Albert Castiglia starts the album off with Same Old Game. It’s a dark number, a surprising choice for Castiglia who is known for his wild guitar playing. Here, he’s more controlled, he melds into the band and sets the table for what’s to come. Okay, I spoke to soon. Castiglia delivers one hell of a break just shy of the 2:00 mark.
Next up is Steve Mariner performing How In The Devil. The staccato guitar burst in the opening will wake up the soundest of sleepers. The fuzzy delivery adds a lot to it. Hearing so many good renditions of Costello’s work makes me smile, but also makes me wonder what if. This tribute is flat out great and we’re only two songs in.
Watermelon Slim and Dennis Gruenling team up on an electrifying version of Who's Been Cheatin' Who, the shortest song on the album at 2:48. Drummer Ray Hangen lets loose with a flurry of percussion and Gruenling shows why he’s a master of the harp. Slim is no slouch on the vocals and even the honkytonk keys rock the joint. I know I’ll be playing this one – a lot!
Grammy-nominated pianist and vocalist Victor Wainwright takes a turn with the slower, mellower Don't Pass Me By. After the frenetic energy of the previous two songs, it’s good to take a breather and just slip into the world of the song. This is a song Costello wrote with Amy Helm, Levon Helm’s daughter and a great musician in her own right. Helm will perform on the last song on the album.
One of my favorite performers is the late Candye Kane, who worked with the amazing guitarist Laura Chavez and the two teamed up for their rendition of I've Got To Ride. Chavez does her magic on the guitar and Kane unleashes that tremendous voice of hers. Such a great song.
No discussion of great guitarists can take place without Bob Margolin being mentioned early on. Here, he teams up with harpmaster Dennis Gruenling on a stellar version of Low Life Blues. The duo delivers one of the best cuts on an all-star album. This one is deep deep blues.
Seth Walker takes us through a beautiful soulful version of All I Can Do. This one could have been a torch song during the Big Band era. Walker’s mellow delivery is ethereal and heartbreaking. Gorgeous song…
Sonia Leigh performs Costello’s No Half Steppin' with intensity and her vocals are razor sharp. I love the keys in this one and her delivery is focused and alive. When you listen to the lyrics against we learned about Costello’s struggles, it becomes even more poignant and powerful.
One of the hardest working bands over the last couple of decades is definitely The Nick Moss Band. Here, Moss was working with the late Mike Ledbetter on a version of Hard Luck Woman. This is one that mixes blues with Southern Soul. It’s a great choice and a great song. Time to rediscover some of the originals to go with this great tribute album.
You want blues that are steeped in the motherland of the blues? Well Brothers and Sisters, look no further than the North Mississippi All Stars          who drop the powerful and emotional song. Father. Their work on this one is a solid punch, and if you’re not already a fan of the group, you will be after this song.
The next group, The Electromatics, threw me as I wasn’t able to place them. They are an Atlanta-based blues, jazz, Americana band and their lead singer/harp player, Jon Liebman  often played and recorded with Costello. Their contribution is She Changed My Mind and it’s a jumping swinging number that’s a lot of fun. Hope these guys get a little more exposure, or I take a trip to Atlanta. Fun times.
Another brilliant guitarist and singer, Debbie Davies is up next with her version of Don't Be Reckless With My Heart. Davies gives us some blues that rock and takes off on her guitar. She sings with verve and plays like a demon. More great work. It’s amazing to see what artists can do when they have a deep emotional connection to the music and to each other.
I’m also not familiar with the next band, The Morning Life who perform You're A Part Of Me. It’s a lovely song and a nice addition to the album. I need to find more information about the group. I’ve found a Facebook page and some information on Reverb Nation. I’ll need to do some more research as they do a fine job on their track.
The next song, Can't Let Go, is performed by Wauchope/Zachary/Prather and I’m definitely going to have to do some serious research. I love the congas and the organ in the song. The lead singer gives a wonderful soul performance and this is a rhythm and blues song that I could listen to for hours.
The album closes out with a duet featuring Oliver Wood and Amy Helm          performing Feel Like I Ain't Got A Home. Looking at the title against Costello’s bipolar disorder, it causes a twinge of pain. Especially paired with the previous song (despite it’s happy delivery) it just seems like Costello was able to pull the disease out of his body one note and word at a time. This closing song is pure emotion and a powerful statement to make.
Sean Costello meant so much to so many people, and losing him to a condition like bipolar disorder is very painful. Costello actually meant even more to people who only brushed against him when they listened to his music or saw him perform. His family is now trying to spread that influence even further by donating profits from the sale of this amazing album – A Tribute To Sean Costello: Don’t Pass Me By – to fund further bipolar research.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Guy Bélanger ~~ Eldorado

It’s difficult to believe that it was way back in 2017 (remember that simpler time) that I first heard and got the chance to write about Canadian Harmonica Maestro Guy Bélanger. Rooted deeply in the blues, Bélanger explores many different styles of music, most notably jazz, but also all forms of roots music.
Bélanger’s music has often been used as soundtracks for his brother Louis. They have collaborated on three films: Post Mortem (1999), Gaz Bar Blues (2003), and The Timekeeper (2009). This makes perfect sense to me as after listening to Bélanger’s music, images are evoked in his playing.
His latest disc is Eldorado and features Bélanger on harp, lead vocals, and even piano on one track. Joining him are Robert MacDonald on guitars; Marc-Andre Drouin on bass, and Michel Dufour on drums. Guests include Eric Longsworth on violincello on one track; Paul Picard on percussion on three songs; Bob Stagg on B3, piano, and Wurlitzer on three songs; Mathis Haug on vocals and guitar on one track; Stef Notari on percussion; Ben Rapetti on bass; and Rod Huard on backing vocals.
Seven of the eleven tracks on the album are written or co-written by Bélanger.
The first song on the album is an instrumental, Carving The Wind. I love the title and I enjoy Bélanger’s energetic playing. For those who believe the harmonica is an easy instrument to play, come listen to a real master give you a class on how it’s done.
Van Morrison’s Bright Side Of The Road follows and Bélanger and company deliver a good version of a great tune. The vocals are handled by Huard and his smooth delivery adds a new dimension to the proceedings.
Next up is the title track, Eldorado, that mythical city of gold searched for by European explorers after they found their way to the New World. Bélanger uses some haunting guitar and some different drumming to create the dreamy mood. This is a lovely instrumental that is going on my late night playlist.
Next up is some sweet crooning that flies over Stagg’s keyboards. When Will I Know is a slow emotional question set to music. It’s delicate and a delightful number from an album that’s a unique experience with every song.
There’s a bit of funk in the bassline for Wicked. This one plays like a fun jazz jam with each player stepping in for a run before handing off to another member of the band. Low key fun for this instrumental, just let the journey take you wherever you want to go!
Bélanger plays the piano as well as harp on Hummin’. Now this is blues, incorporating that well known delta beat into the song and adding sweet soaring harp licks that could have been handed down by the masters of old. This is a song that basically kicks ass and invokes those who have gone before and opened the door for the current artists.
Next up is an exploration of Indian music dedicated to the Goddess of the Ganges River. Ganga is an instrumental that explores some of the images one might have of India. It’s a lovely meditation and a great soundtrack for meditation.
Prince’s Sign O’ The Times features vocals and guitars from Martin Haug, a friend that Bélanger made in France some years ago. It’s always interesting to me to see how musicians reinterpret well known songs to bring a new perspective to the work. As Prince is one of the premiere singer-songwriters-multi instrumentalist-producer-etc, people take on his work at their own risk. Bélanger and Haug put their own stamp on it in a respectful but not slavish manner. Cool cover.
Hope & Faith are two very powerful words that we should take to heart and give to the people in our lives. This was written after Bélanger played a two-week tour of Paris after the 2015 attacks. There was tension, fear, and mistrust everywhere and he played a concert that featured a “harmonica choir” comprised of children who were understandably shaken. But through the performance they began to come out of their shells, giving their parents hope and faith for the future.
This jaunty little number could grace just about any bandstand in the world and nearly everyone can identify with the title: Four Little Words (We Need To Talk). Nice vocals through some kind of phased mic, and great key work from Stagg. It has a nice 1940’s feel like it belongs in a black and white movie of lovers who have come to a crossroad. Sweet and lovely.
The album concludes with Stillwater, a western flavored instrumental that is just about the joy of playing the harmonica. No deep meanings, it just feels good to play. If you play one, you already know and if you don’t, pick up one sometime and just give it a try. There’s no feeling like it, so make a joyous noise while you can!
Blues lovers may not be the ones lining up to find this album. Guy Bélanger may not end up on your Mount Rushmore of great blues harpists, but he is a great musician and I’m glad that he’s on my radar. Sometimes, I just love to steep myself in a little bit of jazz and other forms of music, and Eldorado delivers that and then some!  
(Okay French speaking people of the world! I’m going to try to translate that article into French. Any mistakes, feel free to let me know. It’s been a long time since I read and spoke French, so for this one I had a little help from Google Translate. But the mistakes are still mine.)
(D'accord, les francophones du monde! Je vais essayer de traduire cet article en français. Toutes les erreurs, n'hésitez pas à me le faire savoir. Cela fait longtemps que je n'ai pas lu et parlé français, donc pour celui-ci j'avais un peu d'aide de Google Translate. Mais les erreurs sont toujours les miennes.)

Guy Bélanger ~~ Eldorado

Il est difficile de croire que c'était bien en 2017 (rappelez-vous cette époque plus simple) que j'ai entendu pour la première fois et eu la chance d'écrire sur le Canadien Harmonica Maestro Guy Bélanger. Enraciné profondément dans le blues, Bélanger explore de nombreux styles de musique différents, notamment le jazz, mais aussi toutes les formes de musique roots.
La musique de Bélanger a souvent été utilisée comme bande originale pour son frère Louis. Ils ont collaboré à trois films: Post Mortem (1999), Gaz Bar Blues (2003) et The Timekeeper (2009). Cela me semble parfaitement logique car après avoir écouté la musique de Bélanger, les images sont évoquées dans son jeu.
Son dernier disque est Eldorado et présente Bélanger à la harpe, au chant et même au piano sur une piste. À ses côtés, Robert MacDonald à la guitare; Marc-Andre Drouin à la basse et Michel Dufour à la batterie. Les invités incluent Eric Longsworth au violoncelle sur une piste; Paul Picard aux percussions sur trois chansons; Bob Stagg sur B3, piano et Wurlitzer sur trois chansons; Mathis Haug au chant et à la guitare sur une piste; Stef Notari aux percussions; Ben Rapetti à la basse; et Rod Huard sur les choeurs.
Sept des onze morceaux de l'album sont écrits ou co-écrits par Bélanger.
La première chanson de l'album est un instrument, Carving The Wind. J'adore le titre et j'aime le jeu énergique de Bélanger. Pour ceux qui croient que l'harmonica est un instrument facile à jouer, venez écouter un vrai maître vous donner un cours sur la façon de le faire.
Bright Side Of The Road de Van Morrison suit et Bélanger et compagnie livrent une bonne version d'un grand morceau. Le chant est géré par Huard et sa livraison fluide ajoute une nouvelle dimension à la procédure.
Ensuite, la chanson-titre, Eldorado, cette ville mythique de l'or recherchée par les explorateurs européens après avoir trouvé leur chemin vers le Nouveau Monde. Bélanger utilise une guitare obsédante et des percussions différentes pour créer une ambiance de rêve. Ceci est un bel instrument qui se passe sur ma playlist de fin de soirée.
Ensuite, un doux crooning qui survole les claviers de Stagg. When Will I Know est une lente question émotionnelle posée en musique. C'est un numéro délicat et délicieux d'un album qui est une expérience unique avec chaque chanson.
Il y a un peu de funk dans la ligne de basse de Wicked. Celui-ci joue comme un jam de jazz amusant avec chaque joueur faisant un pas avant de passer à un autre membre du groupe. Amusement discret pour cet instrument, laissez le voyage vous emmener où vous voulez!
Bélanger joue du piano ainsi que de la harpe sur Hummin ’. Maintenant, c'est du blues, incorporant ce battement delta bien connu dans la chanson et ajoutant de doux coups de langue de harpe qui auraient pu être transmis par les maîtres d'autrefois. C'est une chanson qui donne un coup de pied au cul et invoque ceux qui l'ont précédé et ouvert la porte aux artistes actuels.
Ensuite, une exploration de la musique indienne dédiée à la déesse du Gange. Ganga est un instrument qui explore certaines des images que l'on pourrait avoir de l'Inde. C’est une belle méditation et une excellente bande originale pour la méditation.
Prince’s Sign O ’The Times présente des voix et des guitares de Martin Haug, un ami que Bélanger a fait en France il y a quelques années. C’est toujours intéressant pour moi de voir comment les musiciens réinterprètent des chansons bien connues pour apporter une nouvelle perspective à l’œuvre. Comme Prince est l'un des premiers chanteurs-compositeurs-multi-instrumentistes-producteurs-etc., les gens prennent son travail à leurs risques et périls. Bélanger et Haug y ont apposé leur empreinte de manière respectueuse mais pas servile. Couverture fraîche.
L'espoir et la foi sont deux mots très puissants que nous devons prendre à cœur et donner aux gens dans nos vies. Cela a été écrit après que Bélanger ait effectué une tournée de deux semaines à Paris après les attentats de 2015. Il y avait de la tension, de la peur et de la méfiance partout et il a joué un concert avec une «chorale d'harmonica» composée d'enfants qui étaient naturellement secoués. Mais à travers la performance, ils ont commencé à sortir de leur coquille, donnant à leurs parents espoir et foi pour l'avenir.
Ce petit numéro jaunty pourrait honorer à peu près n'importe quel kiosque à musique dans le monde et presque tout le monde peut s'identifier avec le titre: Quatre petits mots (nous devons parler). De belles voix à travers une sorte de micro phasé et un excellent travail clé de Stagg. Il a une belle sensation des années 40 comme s'il appartenait à un film en noir et blanc d'amoureux qui sont venus à un carrefour. Doux et adorable.
L'album se termine avec Stillwater, un instrument à saveur occidentale qui est à peu près la joie de jouer de l'harmonica. Pas de sens profond, ça fait du bien de jouer. Si vous en jouez un, vous le savez déjà et si vous ne le faites pas, prenez-en un à un moment donné et essayez-le. Il n'y a aucune sensation, alors faites un bruit joyeux pendant que vous le pouvez!
Les amateurs de blues ne sont peut-être pas ceux qui font la queue pour trouver cet album. Guy Bélanger ne finira peut-être pas sur votre Mount Rushmore de grands harpistes de blues, mais il est un grand musicien et je suis content qu'il soit sur mon radar. Parfois, j'aime juste me plonger dans un peu de jazz et d'autres formes de musique, et Eldorado le livre et alors certains!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Johnny Burgin ~~ Live With Special Guests Rae Gordon, Charlie Musselwhite, Nancy Wright

Johnny Burgin, aka Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, is one hell of a busy man. I’ve received several albums that he has released over the last 18 months or so, and there’s not a weak one to be found.
Now, he’s released a live album, Johnny Burgin Live, on Delmark that was just recorded in January, 2019. Every previous disc has indicated that Burgin is great in the studio and I’ve always wanted to catch him live to see how he does with an audience.
The album consists of eleven originals and three covers and Burgin has surrounded himself with a number of great West Coast artists on it. Burgin is on guitar and vocals; Chris Matheos on bass; Steve Dougherty on drums; with Aki Kumar on harp for two songs and percussion on two others; and Kid Andersen plays piano on two songs and guitar on a whole bunch more.  
Special guests are Rae Gordon vocalizing on four songs; Charlie Musselwhite on harp for three; and Nancy Wright on sax on five songs.
What a lineup!
 As you might guess, the album kicks off with a rocking number, You Got To Make A Change. Kumar’s harp rocks the hardest and has a great break around 1:15. It’s high energy and infectious. Unless I really miss my guess, this is going to be a great performance. The crowd seems to agree with me.
Burgin shifts gears from overdrive to second with the slow blistering number, Can’t Make It Blues. The long intro sets up the song, and Burgin’s vocals do the rest. It’s pure emotion and oh so sweet. I’m not sure who is taking the bulk of the lead guitar runs, either Andersen or Burgin, but they are really top notch.
They go straight in to She Gave Me The Slip. It’s a nice shuffle with some good drumming anchoring the rhythm section. Fun song, for whatever reason, it doesn’t pull me into the song, but it’s still fun with a good guitar break. Burgin launches a swinging number next. You’re My Trinket is kind of a cool song, although female listeners might disagree. Good song, but not one I’m dying to play on Time For The Blues.
Up next is the first cover of the night. Burgin and Company play Earl Hooker’s The Leading Brand. Hooker was long noted as one of the leading guitarists in all of Chicago and they do a great job covering the song. Some seriously good guitar on this instrumental!
Rae Gordon comes up to help out on Robert Lockwood Jr’s I Got To Find Me A Woman, and will stay for the three following songs. Also up for the first time is Nancy Wright on sax. Damn, this is a fun song and it’s obvious that both Burgin and Gordon are having a great time. There’s mutual respect and chemistry. Wright’s sax adds just the right amount of sass.
Gordon then tackles Late Night Date Night, a song she wrote with Burgin about the perils of dating a musician. After all, most musicians don’t get off work until three a.m. and flirted with all of the audience members during their show. Still, there are advantages, to being the one he or she comes home to. (Yes, that’s a weak sentence, but what can you do?)
Gordon continues on You Took The Bait, and rocks it hard. Paired with Wright’s sax, this song would be at home on the biggest clubs and stages. It’s a great example of that lovely Chicago sound and Burgin throws in a strong guitar break for good measure.
Gordon’s last song of the evening is Daddy’s Got The Personal Touch. A song with a strong beat, and joined by Burgin on vocals as well. It’s a lot of fun and the percussion just flat out rocks. It says a lot about Burgin to bring up a guest the stature of Gordon when it’s his live album. That impresses me even more than his great music.
The next cover is Louisiana Walk. Wright and her saxophone are still hanging around and adding some great sounds to the evening. It’s the second instrumental on the disc and it shows just how remarkable the band really is. If I read the liner notes correctly, several of the musicians have never played with each other. It’s fun to jam, but to do something like this on a live recording? That takes some stones.
The last cover of the night features Charlie Musselwhite on harp for Blues Falling. I always gravitate towards the harp players, and Musselwhite was one of the first who caught my ear (Rockabilly great Billy Lee Riley was the first), and he’s in great form on this one. Great song, excellent delivery.
Next up is California Blues and Musselwhite is still on stage. It’s a slow mournful number very much in the delta style. Then it kicks into high gear and fairly swings the rest of the way. This is just one of the songs you’re going to hear on the show. Love this one!
Musselwhite sticks around for one more. When The Bluesman Comes To Town is a sort of autobiography of those who have traveled the road playing the blues. Rarely staying in town for long, but bringing happiness to those who come to see him/her. It’s a poignant number and very good.
Wright’s back up for the last song, Jody’s Jazz. It’s a sweet jam of a number that unites blues and jazz in a most delicious way. I know some blues fans don’t care for jazz and vice versa, but I happen to love both and this instrumental is going onto my private playlist for driving, thinking, or working around the house. Excellent job from all concerned.
Just to reiterate what I mentioned before, Johnny Burgin is a busy man – writing, playing, recording, touring, it seems like he never stops. The music world is much better for his drive and work ethic. If you have not yet sampled Burgin’s catalog, Johnny Burgin Live is a great place to start.
Great music and great guests make this one a must have. Be sure to catch Burgin where you can. Head over to his website and find out where he’s playing and pick up some merchandise while you’re there!