Monday, November 5, 2018

Eric McFadden ~~ Pain By Numbers

It’s time to get more comfortable with the 21st Century. How’s that for an oblique lede? What I mean by that is that I have to get more comfortable with receiving great music electronically. See, I love to get the albums I review as easy-to-hold honest-to-goodness CDs or records that I can put in (or on) a machine and play them.
There’s just something even more ethereal when I open an email from a trusted source, and the entire album is available to me for a couple of clicks. It’s a world that still confuses me. It’s not that I hate computers, but I certainly don’t trust this brave new world. Thank you Aldous Huxley.
It may be difficult to admit and understand, but I’m a blogger/reviewer that still does most of his work on one of five typewriters scattered around my house. Or on one of the many notepads that are in every single room in my house. If I get up to go to the kitchen, I never wonder what it is I wanted because it’s written on a sticky note that’s still in my hand.
But I guess I need to learn to embrace the new, even if it’s just to keep my kids from laughing at the old man.
All this stems from me receiving a copy of Eric McFadden’s brilliant album, Pain By Numbers, from a very reliable source. One of the people who keep me in quality music in any form, and I just had to get over my reluctance to sample it.
About two or three notes in I was over that reluctance, just by the sheer power of the performance of McFadden, who is signed to Tab Benoit’s Whiskey Bayou label. His playing is definitely his own style, but you can hear the same kind of power that Benoit brings to the table.
McFadden starts off the album with the very atmospheric and dark While You Were Gone. The guitar is fuzzy, underlying the pure emotion of the vocals and the rhythm section plays in a powerful, no nonsense way. It’s raw, exciting, and promises a lot for this album.
He follows up with Love Come Rescue Me, a song with a much lighter approach. Here, he’s filled with hope and the keys and chorus make the song soar. It’s striking in its contrast with the previous number and immediately highlights McFadden’s versatility.
The next track, Long Gone, has a dark patina as McFadden opens up his emotions. I like this song a lot and it has the feel of the swamp riding along the edges. Very cool, with a couple of surprise guitar licks on the break. It’s a unique quality and seems perfectly at home with his style.
The Girl Has Changed comes out of the gate rocking and tells the story of an old friend who has definitely moved in a different direction. It’s open as to what has been the catalyst for the change – could be drugs, fame, or any number of things. Strong lyrics and a solid approach. The guitar break truly soars and if you like your blues with a rock approach, this one is for you!
The next song opens with a light sound, but don’t be fooled. Skeleton Key quickly moves into a hard rocking, hard driving number that pushes forward with a great deal of power. Then, just when you think it’s hit the end, more soft noises followed by low growled vocals under a strong guitar run. Cool song…
McFadden then strips down the sound for I Never Listened Too Good. This is a solid Delta-style number that is powerful with just the barest essentials. It’s raw, truthful and the kind of song that makes you sit up and listen harder because it is so close to the heart of the blues. My favorite so far and one I would love to share on Time For The Blues.
He follows up with another emotional track, So Hard To Leave, that gets back to his electric sound. Putting these two songs together creates a strong connection and McFadden racks up another song that will tear at your soul.
You would expect a title like If I Die Today to be a morbid maudlin heart-tugger. What you get is a solid rocker that drives hard and takes no prisoners. This is another of the best songs on the album, but with its different lyrics really could not have been unleashed any earlier. Love this one!
He slows the tempo down for the follow up song, Fool Your Heart. The lyrics are kind of pop – a different approach from the previous few songs, but pleasant in their own way. McFadden is not a one-trick pony. We’ve all heard those artists who start off in one style on an album and all the songs sound the same. Eric McFadden is not one of those artists. Sure, there is an artistic consistency, but he approaches almost every song with a new look. He’s given us hard rock, soft ballads, and even with this song, he drives us with a powerful guitar. While I probably wouldn’t play this number on Time For The Blues, it is going on my walk around playlist and should stay there a long time.
He winner of the strangest title on the album award goes to The Jesus Gonna See You Naked. It’s a gospel flavored rocker that delivers on several fronts. The lyrics are strong and the pulsing guitar drives the song. Can’t ignore the harmonizing voices. For those who believe, we know that when we stand before the Almighty, everything is known and we can’t hide any of our thoughts or sins. Unusual song, but very moving.
The last couple of songs on the album are up next, starting with Don't You Want To Live. McFadden uses the fuzz and distortion that he used on the opening track, and his lyrics here are rushed and delivered with little pause, they spill out of his mouth all at once and take on a chanting style. More power, and definitely a walk on the dark side. Shakespeare may have said, “To Be Or Not To Be,” but then again, Shakespeare never had access to a soaring electric guitar to punctuate his thoughts…
The album ends on Cactus Juice, a little flamenco style opening slides into a beautiful jazz combo feel that would be at home on just about any intimate bandstand. McFadden has great feel and tone in his fingers and the drums add a steady rhythm. It’s a lovely instrumental that is most assuredly going onto my private playlist. What a nice surprise to close out a great album.
I gladly admit that I was not award of Eric McFadden prior to receiving this album, but after listening to it, I will never be able to say that again. I am thrilled by his musicianship and he has assembled a group of great players to help him achieve a remarkable sound. I highly recommend Pain By Numbers, and you can find out much more about him at his website:

Now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to try to figure out how to download these songs so I can share them with you. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Movie Review ~~ Sidemen: Long Road To Glory

If there is ever a Mount Rushmore erected to celebrate the contributions of American Post War Blues Artists – and for my money, that’s a great idea – then two of the faces on that edifice would belong to Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. (Okay, since you're probably wondering who are the other two faces, for me, it would be Willie Dixon and B.B. King. Argue amongst yourselves…)
Muddy and Wolf achieved their success alongside a series of band members, who, while possibly unknown at the time, would eventually read like a Who’s Who of the Blues. Many of these sidemen would leave and start their own successful bands.
The list includes: Little Water Jacobs, Jimmy Rogers, Otis Spann, Willie Dixon, Bob Margolin, Pinetop Perkins, Junior Wells, James Cotton, Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin, Luther Johnson, Earl Hooker, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Jody Williams, Lee Cooper, Otis “Big Smokey” Smothers, Freddie Robinson, Detroit Junior, and Eddie Shaw.
Several of these great sidemen played with both of these legendary artists and Willie Dixon wrote a number of songs for each man. They both influenced an entire generation of blues and rock artists in America as well as in England and Europe. Without these men, the face of modern music in the second half of the 20th Century would be very different.
Both Wolf and Muddy needed the best musicians standing with them, and behind them, crafting that sound that made them so unique. Three of the men who helped shape that sound over the years were piano player Pinetop Perkins, drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, and guitarist Hubert Sumlin and prior to their passing within eight months of each other in 2011, all three of these men gave interviews about their times near and out of the limelight to documentary filmmaker Scott Rosenbaum.  
Rosenbaum has now added comments from more blues artists including the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Gregg Allman, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Tim Reynolds, Shemekia Copeland, Robby Krieger, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joe Perry, Joe Bonamassa, Guy Davis, Walter Trout, Eric Gales, Warren Haynes, Bobby Rush, Elvin Bishop, and Johnny Winter.
The result is Sidemen: Long Road To Glory, a riveting, must-see movie about the men and women who made the blues and continue to push it forward. It’s been difficult to see until now as the film did not receive a larger distribution deal. Now that it’s available as a DVD through the website of the film, a copy was provided for me by the American Music Educators, a very cool organization run by Ellen Foster and Tina Terry of the Tina Terry Agency, who organize talk back sessions to go with screenings of the film.
I will be writing more about AME in the very near future to discuss how they connect artists with groups who want to learn about different aspects of blues and the life that the artists led. You’ll want to stay tuned to find out who is working on this great program, but SPOILER ALERT, it’s some of the people interviewed in Sidemen.
Sidemen: Long Road To Glory is bookended by scenes of Pinetop Perkins walking to a piano in an empty theatre and playing. Playing not for an audience, but for himself and the love of the music. Telling the story of the migration out of the deep South by ambitious men who were drawn to the possibility of a better life, each of the three men recognized in the film endured hardship as they established themselves in a new world.
While all three eventually entered orbit around the two biggest stars in the blues universe, one problem with being a sideman is that the spotlight doesn’t fall on you, it lights the star. The money doesn’t pour into your pocket, it flows into the stars’. The adulation is all on the other person, and while your contribution may be of utmost importance and the world may now the leader’s name, you remain completely unknown to the general public.
For any fan of the blues, this oral history is heartwarming and heartrending at the same time. The music is remarkable and the stories told by and about Perkins, Smith, and Sumlin are at turns funny, serious, and occasionally so sad that it’s hard not to cry over the way they were treated at low points in their lives.
Using some of the techniques Ken Burns has popularized by making still photos look like moving pictures and a narration by actor/comedian Marc Maron, the film moves along briskly and at no time bogs down. Using a host of interviews with key blues artists, even the most casual fan can’t hope but come away deeply impressed by their contributions.
As there are so few of the original blues artists left, those that can bridge the era of World War II and beyond, this is an important document and should be treasured for preserving their stories along with their music.
One sad fact that is driven home during the last third of the movie is, despite Hubert Sumlin’s incredible influence on lead guitarists and the way he changed the way the guitar was played in blues and rock, he is still not in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. Even though the members of The Rolling Stones revere Sumlin and have lobbied on his behalf, their pleas have been ignored.
What’s it going to take to finally enshrine the man who influenced Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, and the young Jimi Hendrix?
Sidemen: Long Road To Glory is a must see for every blues fan, no question. It’s also a must see for anyone interested in the history and evolution of rock music. And it’s a must see for anyone who is a sucker for a great story of perseverance, dedication, and recovery from the hardest of times. See it in a theatre, a festival, or go ahead and shell out the bucks to buy your own copy.

You will not be sorry. 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Waydown Wailers ~~ Backland Blues

It was like Christmas again at my house. Several packages of CDs arrived and instead of sifting through all of them to see what special goodies might await, I opened one at random and pulled out the first disc I found.
Today’s winner is the Waydown Wailers, a group from near the New York-Canadian border that have just released a new album, Backland Blues. The band is made up of two guitar playing brothers, David and Christian Parker, Conner Pelkey on bass, and Michael Scriminger on drums.
The album starts off with a good blues rocker, Back Door Woman Blues. It’s a tried and true blues trope and the guys work the well worked theme and get a song that makes the listener’s ears perk up. I like them already and want to see what else they are going to do.
The follow up with some heavy electrics on I Want Your Soul. For a bunch of guys from up north, they do a pretty good of recreating a full force version of that Southern Delta sound. It’s energetic and packed with power. If you like your blues on the heavy rock side, this one is for you.
The first cover on the album is Elmore James’ Done Somebody Wrong. They catch the spirit of the song without being a slavish imitation. So far, I get the feeling these guys are going to go their own way when it comes to interpretations. I’m not sure which of the Packers is playing lead on the song, but he does a heck of a job.
Another Bump In The Road is a great song with a strong shuffle beat and Scriminger’s driving drums taking the lead. There’s also some great piano work from Professor Louie (of The Crowmatix fame). It’s a great honkytonk style song that should make a grumpy man happy. Nice!

Still rocking, but at a more deliberate pace, No Mercy follows. It’s not a bad song, a little more rock than blues, but give the guys credit, they are not locking in to the same exact sound on each song – for example there’s a sweet guitar break that combines a little more of that Delta sound, and the Professor’s keyboards offer up a little gospel pie.
The second cover is that great rocker, Dizzy Miss Lizzy. Although written and recorded by Larry Williams in 1958, it’s the cover by The Beatles in 1965 that most people remember. That version relied heavily on overdubs whereas the original was more of a twelve-bar boogie. This version is sort of a cross with some heavy guitar resembling the Beatles version, even with some of the high pitched wails in the background. Not a bad cover, but not as good as some of the other songs on the album.
The Waydown Wailers get back to their originals with the next song, Every Passing Mile. This one has a nice driving beat and a completely different sound than any of the other songs on the album, and some excellent guitar work and vocal harmonies. Kind of laid back and mellow. They stay in the land of the mellow for the country tinged Somewhere In The Middle. With a title like that, you know this is not a song of revolution or even rocking the boat, but it is the middle path that will get you through life more peacefully.
The next song features some gravelly vocals, I’m On The Hunt. This one is pure attitude with a dangerous edge. The lyrics are fairly simple but they are sung over keys and heavy bass that drive the song home. They go backwoods country on the follow up number, State Of The Union – Remix, that again delivers a lot of attitude and it’s the complete opposite of Somewhere In The Middle. This one is all about taking action to take back the country.
The last song on the album is also their last cover, Roger McGuinn and Jacques Levy’s Lover Of The Bayou. Originally performed by the Byrds and recently covered by Mudcrutch, the Waydown Wailers add their own juju to the song. It’s a decent cover although more for the Americana/Roots fans than blues fans.
I enjoyed listening to the Waydown Wailers very much and will be playing several of their songs on upcoming shows. Backland Blues is a solid addition to any blues lover’s library, especially those that like their blues with a side of rock. Be sure to look for them on their website where you can find out more about this release and their live shows. If you catch them on the road, be sure to drop me a line and tell me how you liked it.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sunday Round Up ~~ July 29, 2018

I actually like working Saturdays at the station. For one thing, it’s rare when anyone else is around, so it’s quiet and I can get things done that allow me to relax some during the week. When I arrived this Saturday however, there was a gaggle of Canadian Geese walking back and forth by the front door almost daring me to try to enter the building.
I could tell they were Canadian by their accent, but unlike most Canadians I’ve met, they were definitely NOT polite. In fact, the Drake darted his head at me in an aggressive manner telling me to stay the flock away from his wives.
Fortunately, there’s more than one way to skin a goose and I was able to go to a secret side door, known only to humans and get inside in time to make sure the opera was running smoothly. After I had that done, I began to wonder if the universe was sending me a sign that I needed to goose up my reporting on several Canadian Artists whose CDs were languishing in my “To Be Reviewed” pile.
So universe, here’s my take on five (5) newer Canadian CDs and I promise to be more diligent in the future. Unless the geese come back and threaten me again. Then I just might have to cut a sucker…

Myles Goodwyn And Friends Of The Blues – Self Titled
This is a fine traditional Chicago style blues album with an occasional full blown band style. There are several good flat out rocking numbers including I Hate To See You Go (But I Love To Watch You Walk Away), Good Man In A Bad Place, Brand New Cardboard Belt, and Last Time I’ll Ever Sing The Blues. There are also slow, powerful tunes like It’ll Take Time To Get Used To, I’ll Hate You (Till Death Do Us Part), Weeping Willow Tree Blues, and Nobody Lies (About Having The Blues). Goodwyn wrote all but one of the twelve tracks and the album will be appearing frequently on upcoming Time For The Blues shows and should satisfy any lover of the blues.

Sons Of Rhythm – Self Titled EP
Here are six songs from this power trio and a handful of guests that are very enjoyable. There’s some hard rocking with the first couple of songs, a couple of ballads, and they close with a great swinging number. Five of the songs are original and there is a cover of Allen Toussaint’s Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky. The two ballads, You’ve Got A Friend and Will I Ever See You Again? are very effective. It’s a very good collection that just makes me hungry for a full album.

Spencer MacKenzie – Cold November
I’m not sure if this young Canadian is related to Bob and Doug MacKenzie of SCTV fame, but I can tell you that he is one hell of a blues player. And not a bad writer either. Eight of the ten songs on the album are written by him along with Richard MacKenzie and the two covers are by Robert Cray and Gary Clark Jr. MacKenzie plays a good shuffle style and let me tell you, the title track is moody and haunting. There are good keyboards from Miles Evans and MacKenzie’s guitar sings. His playing is fresh, crisp, and shows great promise for what lies ahead. I need to track down his previous release, Infected With The Blues, to see how much his approach has grown. He is definitely a rising star who has all the tools to break out in a big way.

Dan McKinnon – The Cleaner
Dan McKinnon fronts this blues rock power trio that straddles both genres while creating their own sound. All ten songs are written by McKinnon, but he owes a credit to wrestler Ric Flair for the inspiration (and many of the lyrics) of Walk That Aisle. Even though these are all originals and almost all of the tracks are recorded live straight to disc (one contains some overdubs), you can hear respectful influences from the likes of Albert King and Junior Kimbrough. Another young musician with a great future I look forward to seeing how his fortunes increase from here.

Justin Saladino Band – A Fool’s Heart.
This one starts out quietly and really has more of a California pop sound that a blues album. Saladino wrote eleven of the twelve songs by himself and collaborated on one with Jessica Spilak. While it’s not a big blues album, it is a pleasant relaxing collection. Saladino is a good songwriter and he has a nice delivery. If you’re not looking for a hardcore blues album, this one just may be right for you. I’m certainly going to put several selections on my folk/Americana playlist.
(As a service to our French Speaking Canadian friends, and to my French Speaking Readers around the world, here is my feeble attempt at translating the above article for your amusement. Any mistakes are mine, so have a good laugh.)

(En tant que service à nos amis canadiens francophones, et à mes lecteurs francophones du monde entier, voici ma faible tentative de traduction de l'article ci-dessus pour votre plaisir.Toutes les erreurs sont à moi, alors amusez-vous bien.)

Sunday Round Up ~~ 29 juillet 2018

J'aime vraiment travailler les samedis à la gare. Pour une chose, c'est rare quand quelqu'un d'autre est autour, donc c'est calme et je peux faire bouger les choses qui me permettent de me détendre pendant la semaine. Quand je suis arrivé ce samedi, cependant, il y avait un troupeau de bernaches du Canada qui marchaient d'avant en arrière près de la porte d'entrée, me défiant presque d'essayer d'entrer dans le bâtiment.
Je pourrais dire qu'ils étaient Canadiens par leur accent, mais contrairement à la plupart des Canadiens que j'ai rencontrés, ils n'étaient certainement pas polis. En fait, le Drake me lança la tête d'une manière agressive me disant d'éloigner le troupeau de ses femmes.
Heureusement, il y a plus d'une façon de peler une oie et j'ai été capable d'aller à une porte secrète, connue seulement des humains et de rentrer à temps pour m'assurer que l'opéra fonctionnait bien. Après avoir fait cela, j'ai commencé à me demander si l'univers m'envoyait un signe indiquant que j'avais besoin d'écrire des rapports sur plusieurs artistes canadiens dont les CD languissaient dans ma pile «À revoir».
Donc univers, voici mon avis sur cinq (5) nouveaux CD canadiens et je promets d'être plus diligent à l'avenir. A moins que les oies ne reviennent et ne me menacent à nouveau. Alors je pourrais juste devoir couper un ventouse ...
Myles Goodwyn et ses amis des blues
C'est un bon album de blues traditionnel de style Chicago avec un style de groupe occasionnel. Il y a plusieurs bons numéros à bascule, y compris je déteste te voir aller (mais j'aime te regarder partir), bon homme dans un mauvais endroit, ceinture en carton flambant neuf, et la dernière fois que je chanterai jamais les bleus. Il y a aussi des mélodies lentes et puissantes comme Il va falloir du temps pour s'habituer, je vais te haïr (jusqu'à ce que la mort nous sépare), Weeping Willow Tree Blues, et personne ne ment (About Having The Blues). Goodwyn a écrit tous les morceaux, sauf un, et l'album apparaîtra fréquemment dans les prochains concerts de Time For The Blues et devrait satisfaire tout amateur de blues.

Sons Of Rhythm - EP intitulé
Voici six chansons de ce trio de puissance et une poignée d'invités qui sont très agréables. Il y a du hard rocking avec les premières chansons, quelques ballades, et elles se terminent par un grand nombre de swing. Cinq des chansons sont originales et il y a une reprise de Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky d'Allen Toussaint. Les deux ballades, tu as un ami et vais-je te revoir? sont très efficaces. C'est une très bonne collection qui me donne juste envie d'un album complet.

Spencer MacKenzie - Novembre froid
Je ne sais pas si ce jeune Canadien est apparenté à Bob et Doug MacKenzie de SCTV, mais je peux vous dire qu'il est un joueur de blues. Et pas un mauvais écrivain non plus. Huit des dix chansons de l'album sont écrites par lui avec Richard MacKenzie et les deux reprises sont de Robert Cray et Gary Clark Jr. MacKenzie joue un bon style de shuffle et laissez-moi vous dire, la chanson-titre est morose et obsédante. Il y a de bons claviers de Miles Evans et des chants de guitare de MacKenzie. Son jeu est frais, vif et montre beaucoup de promesses pour ce qui nous attend. J'ai besoin de retrouver sa version précédente, Infected With The Blues, pour voir à quel point son approche a grandi. Il est définitivement une étoile montante qui a tous les outils pour se démarquer.

Dan McKinnon - Le nettoyeur
Dan McKinnon dirige ce trio de puissance blues rock qui chevauche les deux genres tout en créant leur propre son. Toutes les dix chansons sont écrites par McKinnon, mais il doit un crédit au lutteur Ric Flair pour l'inspiration (et beaucoup de paroles) de Walk That Aisle. Même si ce sont tous des originaux et presque tous les morceaux sont enregistrés directement sur disque (l'un contient des overdubs), vous pouvez entendre des influences respectueuses de Albert King et Junior Kimbrough. Un autre jeune musicien avec un bel avenir, j'ai hâte de voir comment ses fortunes augmentent d'ici.

Justin Saladino Band - Un coeur de fou.

Celui-ci commence tranquillement et a vraiment plus d'un son pop californien qu'un album de blues. Saladino a écrit lui-même onze des douze chansons et a collaboré avec Jessica Spilak. Bien que ce ne soit pas un gros album de blues, c'est une collection relaxante agréable. Saladino est un bon compositeur et il a une bonne livraison. Si vous n'êtes pas à la recherche d'un album de blues hardcore, celui-ci pourrait bien vous convenir. Je vais certainement mettre plusieurs sélections sur ma playlist folk / americana.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Jon Spear Band ~~ Live At The Tin Pan

Virginia is rich with many strong blues bands and among the very best is a four-piece group based out of Charlottesville. The Jon Spear Band is named for its founder and one of the two outstanding guitarists in the band – the other being Dara James who delivers most of the vocals. The remaining two members are bass player Andy Burdetsky and drummer John Stubblefield.
The band is extremely tight. They’ve performed hundreds of shows together and recorded three albums and like long time friends they can tell with a mere nod of the head what the other players are thinking and they can turn a song on a dime (or a quarter, but more about that later) and take an audience from cold to red hot in a matter of seconds.
Even with a light crowd in attendance at Richmond’s Tin Pan, the JSB pulled out all the stops from their opening number and before long had people dancing in the aisles and were the recipient of a couple of standing ovations.
They started off with Bullets which got the crowd excited before moving into Too Much Family which featured the first time that Spear and James traded off hot guitar licks. This is a trademark of the JSB and the two switched back and forth from rhythm to lead guitar without missing a beat.
Spear and James were able to take such risks because of the rhythm section of Burdetsky and Stubblefield. Simply put, John Stubblefield is the most underrated blues drummer working in Virginia. Not only does he play well, he does so without drawing focus but still creates exciting sounds. His performance may seem low key, but his playing is high energy.
Burdetsky is an entertainer through and through. He only steps up to the microphone to add occasional harmony vocals or to address the audience. However, while playing, he is incredibly animated, moving his body with the grace of a Cirque de Soliel contortionist. Together these two create such a deep pocket that James and Spear are able to go off on flights of fancy that electrify the crowd.
The band next moved into Up The Line and then Noah’s Blues, an original song about the blues surrounding the environment.  From there they jammed on Beginner At The Blues.
While it may be blues music that brought them their following, the JSB is adept at other genres as well. Sometimes they slip into the rock category, but for Geographical Cure, they became more of a Caribbean band. I swear, if they had congas and a steel drum, this would become a Jimmy Buffet style hit.
From there, they returned to the blues with a smoking version of Wintertime and some blistering guitar work that had the audience screaming their appreciation. They received their first standing ovation after the number.
After that came a song Burdetsky wrote that became the title track on their most recent album, Hot Sauce. Speaking of Hot Sauce, they delivered an up tempo dance number that started out as an off-color joke, Hit The Quarter. No, I’m not going to tell it to you now, this is a family blog. You can still enjoy their version as it has nothing to do with the joke and it’s fun to boogie to.
One more song from that recent album, Bottom Of The Bottle, followed. With a title like that, you know it’s pure blues all the way. Next up was Mean Mean Woman, a song Spear wrote back in 1974. Gerald Ford was President and we were going to work our way out of economic malaise by wearing buttons that reminded us to Whip Inflation Now. I don’t remember what those buttons cost, but I probably couldn’t afford one back then.
Mean Mean Woman is a great song and one of my favorites from the JSB. On the surface it’s about a bad relationship and how many of us have endured one of those. If you listen a little deeper however, it becomes a song about trying to come out from under the thumb of addiction. That’s never easy to do, and this song really drives that point home.
Just to give you a chance to hear it for yourself, I’ve put in a link to a version of the song the band recorded live in Charlottesville. Take a few minutes and see if you agree with my assessment. 
From there the band invited some audience participation with Too Much Stuff and then James channeled the late Stevie Ray Vaughan on a blistering version of Tin Pan Alley. They closed with a funky version of Black Cat Bone to another standing ovation before dropping an encore of Yellow Moon.
The audience milled around the guys for about 20 minutes talking to them about their experience seeing the band, many for the first time. The Jon Spear Band left everything they had on the stage and everyone who saw it, appreciated their effort.

I forget which album they said it on, but it’s still true today, Live Music IS Better. Especially when it’s being played by the Jon Spear Band.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Rory Block ~~ A Woman’s Soul

Aside from Singer-Guitarist Rory Block turning out her own music, she has made a large part of her career, tributes and reinterpretations of some of the greats of the Blues. In the past she has released albums of the music of Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Robert Johnson, Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, and Skip James.
Recently Block has started a new series, one that has been percolating in her soul for many years, a look at the women pioneers of the blues. She calls the series, Power Women Of The Blues, and her first release, A Woman’s Soul, is a look at the great Bessie Smith.
Smith, also known as “The Empress of the Blues” was an extremely popular performer during the 1920’s and ‘30’s and a prolific recording artist prior to her untimely early death at the age of 43.
Block went all out on this recording, reworking all of Smith’s arrangements (originally more of an orchestral backing) into simplified works, and then played all guitar parts, bass, and percussion while supplying all of the vocals as well. This really is Rory Block’s passionate vision that we are experiencing on this album.
The album starts off strongly with Do Your Duty. The country style guitar perfectly backs Block’s vocals. She’s got that beautiful growl and her guitar work is absolutely stellar. She follows up with Kitchen Man, a purring celebration of the man that stirs things up and gets cooking in the kitchen. It’s a fun song, not as innocent as the music may suggest; just listen to the lyrics and smile knowingly to yourself.
Next is a song, Jazzbo Brown From Memphis Town, that I had had little exposure to but found myself liking very much. It’s a jazzy number with some fun rhythms and Block’s delivery is great. I can picture Block or Smith on a bandstand belting this one out in a crowded nightclub. Sweet number.
She then launches into the song that seems to be receiving the most airplay, Gimme A Pigfoot And A Bottle Of Beer. It’s a fun tune that’s been covered by a number of other artists, so there is a certain recognizability factor with it. Her voice turns inward and sounds small and far away. It’s a voice of innocence that turns to experience when she reaches the chorus. Another great nightclub number. Yeah, I’ll be playing this one on Time For The Blues.
Another well-known song from Smith is Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl, and by placing these two in consecutive order, Block delivers a little present to more casual blues fans. Of course, it’s a present that every listener can share. She’s jazzy with a sultry attitude. Smith was forthright and sexy in her delivery, very ahead of her time, and Block conveys that very well on this song.
You know a title like I’m Down In The Dumps is not going to be at all roses and sunshine. Great artists don’t necessarily need flowery language, they just cut to the chase and lay their emotions out for the world to see. That’s what happens here and it’s a strong track.
Block’s stripped down style of country blues perfectly suits Black Mountain. It’s not a sophisticated song and works off the same rhythms and rhyme schemes of Delta work songs. Still, her voice is haunting and the song is very effective. With lyrics like these, how could it be anything else?

Got the devil in my soul, and I'm full of bad booze
Got the devil in my soul, and I'm full of bad booze
I'm out here for trouble, I've got the Black Mountain blues
Following up with another well-known Smith recording, Weeping Willow Blues keeps the mood going. Block just opens up her emotions to recreate Smith’s approach and it’s another strong song. If at all possible, I would love to sample some of the original recordings on the show before playing Block’s versions. I think the compare and contrast style of play would give a deeper appreciation to both artists.
She picks up the tempo with the next song, On Revival Day, adding some gospel fervor to her delivery. So many blues artists were accused of playing the devil’s music, so they would stick one or two more religious numbers in their repertoire to keep on the good side of the God-fearing community. Also, so many got their start singing in church, so it was an easy transition to add a song for the audience. This is a good one and it’s hard to believe that it’s Block singing all the choir parts.
She closes the album with the longest song on the record, Empty Bed Blues. It’s also one of the most direct songs, no hiding its meaning from anyone, just the pure emotion of being alone. I love this song, and I will bet you that it will be appearing on the show very soon.
Rory Block is more than an interpreter of other artists’ songs. However, she should be commended for bringing these songs to new audiences. I’ve long maintained that a deeper knowledge of the music will enhance your appreciation of what’s coming out today. Block conveys more than the notes and inflections, she finds the soul that is deep within the music.
A Woman’s Soul is a great opening salvo for this series. So many women faced mistreatment in order to sing the devil’s music for crowds. It was tough enough for the men, the women had to be even tougher in order to survive. That’s one of the things that has always attracted me to women who sing the blues.
Don’t take my word for it, even though I absolutely loved this Stony Plain release. And by the way, thank you Stony Plain for your continued support of this style of blues. It’s good to know that you’re out there working hard to give these artists a place to release their music. Check out Rory Block at her website, listen to a couple of songs, and pick up her albums while you’re there. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Stone Stanley ~~ The Mudstomp Tapes

One expression my father used to use on his children when he was feeling particularly angry at something we had done was, “I’m going to stomp a mudhole in you and walk it dry.” That description always confused me, although there was no mistaking his intent at that particular moment. Fortunately, the new Stone Stanley album, The Mudstomp Tapes seems to take a very different approach.
Stone Stanley is the brainchild of Jason Robert, a singer songwriter from California who is exploring music in the Roots/Americana/Blues/Rock vein. He straddles the various genres with the grace of a tightrope walker. He picks bits and pieces from each and rearranges them into a new a musically delightful pattern.
The musicians Robert is working with include, but are not limited to Scott Longnecker on bass, Jim McComas and Ralph Gilbert on guitar, and Pat Lucca on harp.
The album starts off with the electric delta sound of Bitter End.  It’s an effective crossing of the traditional sound of the crossroads kind of song that which focuses on pleasure over burden, longevity over burnout.  However, it incorporates that tight heavier instrumentation of later blues. It’s an auspicious beginning that promises so much more.
They follow up with Drop It. It’s a song of warning not to covet things. As Hannibal Lecter reminded us, “We covet what we see,” no matter what it is. So keep your hands to yourself. In the meantime, the song has a nice rocking rhythm and the lyrics are clever. A little more rock than blues, but there’s some cool percussive string plucks that stand out.
After that is So Glad. It’s very much a Southern Rock song with some guitar distortions, and the lyrics are strong. To me, it’s a freeing kind of song, a celebration of escape. Whatever it is that you may need to get away from, this completes that feeling.
For all of us with a well-developed self-destruction gene, Beast Inside is the song for us. No matter what it is, so many of us have that within us and have to fight to keep it in its cage on a daily basis. Very cool blues song, that I think just might be appearing on an upcoming episode of Time For The Blues.
Cobble Hill is the next song, a story of an old residence of Robert’s with some very cool guitar work. He writes that it’s his version of Roadhouse Blues and he captures a feel of a dark place with friends and “outlaw music.”
Like so many artists, Robert feels a need to comment on the political activities of today. On Iroquois Chant, he stands with those who stood tall at the Dakota Pipeline battleground. He incorporates a driving rhythm into chants to create the song. While there are no lyrics in the modern traditional sense (itself an oxymoron), there is no mistaking the power of the track.
The next song, Be With Me, details those tricky waters that monogamous relationships navigate. There are tricky currents and dangerous rocks everywhere. Musically we’re in that blues-rock hybrid that recalls some of those great groups, so for those who enjoy that genre, this is a solid song that you will enjoy.
An instrumental, Unfaithful Woman, follows. It seems that I’m writing more about instrumentals lately, and I’m not sure if this is becoming more of a trend with artists or I’m just taking note more of them. This one is dark and moody; with a title like Unfaithful Woman, I can only guess what pain Robert may have been working through or empathizing with. It’s a powerful number.
The second song to utilize the word “chant” in its title, Freedom Chant tells the story of triumph over adversity. Like the previous Iroquois Chant, he reduces the lyrics to soundbites and overlays them on a steady percussive drumbeat. It’s a good song but a little hard to classify at the moment.
There’s a sweet electric opening on My Shame. Like he did on Beast Inside, Robert explores what it’s like to hit bottom either personally and by extension as a country or species. No matter what side of the aisle you come down on, there is a general lack of conversation and as a result, we are all sliding down.
Next up is a cover of Warren Hanes’ Soulshine. After listening to Robert's take on hitting bottom, it’s nice to be reminded that there is always the light of hope if we just look up in the darkness. This is a sweet quiet rendition that comes at just the right time. Love this version.
Stone Stanley ends the album with one more collection of personal memories with Bottled. Anything that opens with a soundbite from Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory has got to be an unusual song. There are references to all sorts of things from the 1980’s and they jumble together nicely. As Dylan Thomas reminds us, “The memories of childhood know no order.” These do give us a framework to better understand Robert and his take on the world. Even though we all grew up at different times and in different places, I feel that there were more things that united us in childhood than divided us. Nice song.
All in all, I enjoyed listening to Stone Stanley and find Robert to be a songwriter that finds new ways to explore old themes. The music runs the gamut from ethereal to rocking. Robert also has heart and soul and is certainly not afraid to put them out on display.
Find out more about the group, the album, and their touring dates at their website.