Tuesday, March 31, 2020

John Blues Boyd ~~ What My Eyes Have Seen...

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, I hope you are staying safe. If you don’t have to be out and about, don’t! I’m using my time away from the studio to catch up on some long overdue listening to new CDs and reviewing some of them.
Normally, when I write these, I try to listen to the album first then read the notes sent to me by the label, publicist, or artist to learn a little backstory for the introduction. For today’s review, however, I want to shake things up and give you my first impression of the artist and album.
So, when I reached my hand into my overflowing collection of music, I pulled out What My Eyes Have Seen by the artist John Blues Boyd. I’m not familiar with Boyd, but as the album is released through Gulf Coast Records, I have high hopes for it. It’s a relatively new album started by Mike Zito and Guy Hale.
A couple of powerhouses who have really been turning out great work. Opening up the flap, I see Chris “Kid’ Andersen’s name everywhere – another good sign. I’m starting to get excited about this. I see a number of names I recognize from other albums, including Jim Pugh on keys and Nancy Wright on sax.
On the cover, it’s obvious that Boyd is just another young punk trying to make it in the get rich quick blues industry. Must have been the lure of easy fortune and fame. Boyd looks like a well seasoned artist, and I’ve had a lot of luck with people who have lived a long life and have some perspective on things.
Let’s see how this goes…
Kid Andersen’s sweet guitar announces the opening song, In My Blood. It’s a biography song for Boyd and should get plenty of airplay. This will kick off a show for Time For The Blues just as soon as I can play it. Boyd’s voice is wise with experience but is not jaded or world weary. It’s a refreshing take on the blues.
After that, Boyd takes a minute (1:11 actually) to reach back into his life with a story. He calls it My Memory Takes Me There. Accompanied by Kid Andersen on guitar and organ, I believe this one serves as a set up for the remaining four.
Next up is the title track, What My Eyes Have Seen, a meditative take and soulful look back on some of his experiences over the years. “I’ve been with you in the shadows,” he sings at one point, underlying the changes he has born witness to over the years. I really like this one a lot.
The next song, I Heard The Blues, also uses the past tense as he looks back. It seems obvious that Boyd has a lot to share if we will only listen. It’s lovely and sweet with a touch of gospel organ. It’s another song that I really enjoy and I can see why Boyd has been nominated for a Blues Music Award. This is the first song on the album written by Boyd. He honestly conveys the way the music made him feel. Too many times those of us who only write about music, as opposed to living it, tend to talk from our heads rather than our hearts. Myself included. This one gets into your soul and reminds you why you got into music in the first place.
Boyd and friends transition into On The Run. This is a swinging number that Boyd co-wrote with Andersen and Hale. It is a quick musical lesson that reminds us where the sparks of the Civil Rights Movement became a roaring flame. The powerful lyrics set against the lively music makes for quite the contrast and catches our attention right away.
My Memory Takes Me There Pt 2 is a melancholy moment, a snatch of lyric in which Boyd describes that will he was often mistreated, there were others who appreciated him and his memory is absolutely clear of the events that happened to him.
After that comes Her Name Was Dona Mae. The spoken introduction brings up the “best thing that ever happened to John Blues Boyd.” This is an homage to his late wife, and his voice conveys the great affection he still has for her. With so many blues songs highlighting the roughest patches of life, it’s refreshing to hear a song about a love that transcends time and distance. Got to love the horn section weaving in and out of the song.
His next My Memory Takes Me There, (Part 3) takes a serious tone. He remembers that “some are gone and some are forgotten” and he’s “sad that some are still here.” I like these short connecting pieces, but after I finish this review, I plan on programming my disc player to play only these short pieces and see what kind of a full song they might make.
Dealing with the horrible 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, Why Did You Take That Shot? uses simple rhymes to relive the tragedy. Boyd asks the question over and over looking for reasons, and he even leaves the door open that it might not have actually been James Earl Ray who fired the fatal shot. The organ brings in a little church feel to the proceedings and once again Boyd captures the feeling of those times. Listening to the song for the first time, my stomach dropped and I remember then tension and violence that erupted after the assassination.
Next up is My Memory Takes Me There Pt 4, and it starts off with the low building fervor of a preacher in his pulpit. This album has been a revelation, Boyd has been kicking around the blues for a long time, and none of his previous albums have crossed my path. His voice is incredible: rich, vibrant, and stunning in his approach. His vocals command attention and his delivery is among the best I’ve ever heard. I would stack up this album with the best of any performer from any era and it would stand up well. There are five more tracks on What My Eyes Have Seen, and unless they drop off in quality mightily, this will easily be on my Best Of 2020 list.
He follows with the story of his coming to the West Coast in Oh, California. He’s talked about his having to leave home in 1963, his marriage, his feelings from some of the events in his life, and now he brings us to sunny California. The song is light and fun and a whole different approach to the blues.
Next up is the bouncy, swinging That Singing Roofer, about his day job while getting himself established. You can feel the shift in attitude in his approach. It’s an amazing musical autobiography. Putting on my theatre critic hat, I would absolutely love to see this get developed into a play incorporating the music in with some stories. It would be killer!
Things slow down for the next song, Forty Nine Years. You can feel the time passing as he tells the story of his life with his wife. The mournful sax, the light percussion, and the keyboards make for a beautiful collaboration. Boyd’s voice is full of emotion as he recounts those days. It just might make you well up a little bit as well.
Time to get a little funky with I Got To Leave My Mark. Nearly every human wants to leave an indelible mark on their world. This album is Boyd’s mark, and it’s chiseled in stone. That voice, that story, one doesn’t just sing the blues, one has to live them and John Blues Boyd has certainly done that!
Appropriately enough, the album ends with the last My Memory Takes Me There Pt 5. With a sparse musical background, somewhat reminiscent of portions of The Doors’ The End but without the buildup, the song finally gives Boyd a chance to rest from his labors. It’s a gorgeous coda to this amazing album!
Okay, if you’ve read this far, is there anything else I need to say? John Blues Boyd is a great treasure and his name should be on every blues lover’s lips. His voice is exquisite and Kid Andersen has produced a beautiful album what will only grow over time. No, it doesn’t have a whole bunch of quickly manufactured songs that sound like every other formula song – each song has its own soul, its own life, and by listening to these songs, we all become a part of his life.
Don’t hesitate, order your copy of What My Eyes Have Seen now. Stores, Online services, or heck, just go right to the people who made it, Gulf Coast Records. You can findtheir website here
While you’re at it, if you find any of the albums below, grab ‘em up, because I’m looking for them too!

Previous Albums by John Blues Boyd
Sing A Happy Song
The Real Deal
John, The Blues Is Calling You
Can’t See The Forest For The Trees
Born To Sing The Blues

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 VPM.org, 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 https://www.tinpanrva.com