Sunday, August 11, 2019

Jason Ricci ~~ My Chops Are Rolling and On Tour

 It was a rare Thursday night at Buz And Ned’s Real Barbecue in Richmond’s West End as Jason Ricci and The Bad Kind rolled in for a sold-out show. Ostensibly it was a CD release party as Ricci is signed to EllerSoul Records, a Richmond based label that has been releasing great titles with very little recognition for the quality of their product.
This album could really change things for Ricci, for EllerSoul, and for Richmond.
First off, the new album, My Chops Are Rolling, was recorded in Bloomington, Indiana, an area Ricci knows fairly well and features a collection of top players. When Ricci is in familiar territory, he’s more relaxed and definitely inspired to take his music to a higher level. His live shows tend to be intense – he plays the blues differently than many, eschewing the traditional for his own hybrid style that mixes the traditional with raw doses of rock with an honesty that makes everything accessible to even the most casual listener.
Early in his career, critics used to use the term “punk blues” as a backhanded compliment. Trouble is, they probably didn’t realize that the term is an apt description in many ways, none of which are pejorative. Originally Punk as a musical genre was an attempt to break down rock from the bloated excess that it had become. It tore the music down to a basic three chords and attitude. It didn’t need to hide behind obscure lyrics, it stripped down everything to the barest levels and used plain street language to get its message out.
Ricci has a similar attitude with his approach to music. His songs are honest, raw, much like the old blues artists. In fact, Ricci has a great resect for the classic blues and records in that style with guitarist/singer J.J. Appleton.
It’s in his style where he truly shines however, and backed by guitarist John Lissi, drummer John Perkins, and bass player Todd Edmonds, the group created a sharp sound – actually the best sound of his three trips to Buz And Ned’s – that was powerful without being overwhelming.
A quick note about the backroom of Buz And Ned’s: it only seats 80-90 people so the audience is up close to the performers. The wait staff moves quickly in and out moving ribs, barbecue, and the occasional fried catfish plates to and from the tables. It gives me the feel of some of the coolest clubs in Chicago and the people who were there added to the atmosphere and amplified the experience for all.
While discussing the recent show for Ricci and the Bad Kind, I’m going to have to also talk about the new album, so this review may be a little long. Bear with me, hopefully it will all be worthwhile.
Starting with the live show, Ricci opened with some early blues before moving on to a selection from his previous EllerSoul release, Approved By Snakes. (I may have some of the titles wrong as I did not have much of a chance to review them with the band, but I will correct them as I can.) From there he changed pace and played a slow, blistering song, Way Down In The Hole.
He followed up with the title track from My Chops Are Rolling. It was a happy uptempo number that got the audience even more excited about the performance. Ricci then delivered one of his most powerful songs, The Way I Hurt Myself. This is the song of someone who carries a great deal of pain in his soul and the only way to exorcise it is to scream the pain out. Ricci had beautiful tone and phrasing throughout the song and he received a partial standing ovation for his efforts.
After that performance, Ricci needed a small break so, he played harp and Lisi sang the next two songs, before Ricci got behind the mic for a cover of R.L. Burnside’s Jumper On The Line (aka Jumper Hangin’ On The Line). It’s appropriate for him to cover some of Burnside’s music as he spent some time living with the family and developing his truthful approach to lyrics. He received a second standing ovation after the song.
He then brought the first set to a close with a new personal song, Sleeping On Biscuits. While taking a few minutes to step outside and vape, during which time he was greeted by old friends and signed autographs for new fans. I had a couple of minutes to reconnect with John Lissi, who told me his band Delta Funk will have a new album out this fall. Lissie is a guitar virtuoso and I am so looking forward to hearing it.
The second set started off with “one from the streets” Way Down In New Orleans. Lissi then performed one of his songs, My Mom Is Gonna Yell At You which led into an extended instrumental jam. After that, Ricci and The Bad Kind did a strong version of Sonny Boy Williamson’s Don’t Shoot The Messenger.
Ricci is one of the best musical story tellers, as he weaves in and out of the vamping music. I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was about, but I can tell you that I laughed my way through a lot of it. Pausing for a few minutes after that, he acknowledged a birthday in the room (Happy Birthday, Jessie!) by playing Happy Birthday on his harp and then playing Broken Toy, a favorite of the birthday girl.
He was not looking forward to performing the song, it’s very personal and emotional, but he made it through, even improvising new lyrics that improved the song in my opinion. When I asked her what she thought of Ricci performing the song for her, she replied, “The recording on Approved By Snakes is fabulous, with his passionate singing, but when you hear a favorite song in person, enveloped in the physical music floating through the air and filling the room, it’s a whole other experience!”
For the purists he closed out the show with Slim Harpo’s Scratch My Back and received a well deserved standing ovation. The four men took their bows and didn’t even pretend to leave the stage. Once the ovation slowed down, they regrouped and gave us an encore of I’m A New Man/Walk On The Wild Side. While some may not consider the Lou Reed classic to be a blues song, a song that celebrates outsiders surviving is pretty damn close subject-wise.
Now, to the actual new album. My Chops Are Rolling! is an extremely well-produced album. Ricci worked closely with Lissi and Rich Morpurgo to capture his sound as closely as possible. Ricci has so much energy that it is difficult to contain him on a disc. However, this album does come close to fulfilling that promise. Part of Ricci’s talent is his ability to be spontaneous at a high level, something that doesn’t always come across on any other medium but live performance.
Ricci handles most of the vocals and the harp and he’s joined by Lisi on guitar, dobro, and vocals; Andy Kurz on bass and backup vocals; John Perkins on drums and backup vocals; and Kaitlin Dibble on vocals and backing vocals. On one song that is released in two versions are Slats Klug on squeezebox; Ginger Darling on vocals; Mona Lisa on vocals; and Danny Deckard on percussion.
Strangely enough, he starts off the album not with one of his compositions, but one written by and sung by Lisi, Break In The Rain. I think Lisi is a fine performer and songwriter, it’s just that many artists would want the spotlight immediately and Ricci stands aside and lets his friend have it to kick off the album.
Ricci takes over for Don’t Badger The Witness, another song that sounds like it was stripped from real life. One thing about Ricci is he does not shy away from his demons past and present. No, he mines them for material and takes them out to dance in the moonlight.
Okay, song number three (and number eleven in a slightly different version) is F_ck The Falcons (Who Dat Nation). You have to know I am not a football fan but know many friends and family members who are. The song sounds like it was written in a sports bar with several pitchers of beer and many baskets of hot wings consumed. I love its spirit, and for SainAts fans, it will become an anthem. For radio producers, we might not get to share it with our audiences, but I will turn it up when I’m listening to the CD in the car!
Next up is an instrumental, Going To California, written by Jimmy Page. It’s perfectly situated on the album to calm things down after the drunken football celebration that precedes it. There’s a real surprise that follows, a song from Kaitlin Dibble. Dibble sings a gorgeous number, If You Should Lose Me, a Barbara Lynn tune. Dibble has a rich voice and I truly wish she had been able to come with the group on this current tour.
**Note to EllerSoul** Maybe its time to sign her to a contract and put together a full release of her singing. I eagerly await your decision…
Ricci follows up with the title track, My Chops Are Rolling. This is a rollicking raucous number that is a definite crowd pleaser. The songwriting credit goes to Ricci, Kurz, Lisi, Perkins, and Edmonds. If you read the review of the live show, Edmonds is Todd Edmonds who is playing bass on the road with Ricci. Ricci also says the song was inspired by Edmonds.
The next song is Sleeping On Biscuits, a number about the consequences that come from eating in bed. Especially KFC biscuits and chicken. It’s kind of hysterical and kind of scary at the same time.
Ricci then plays Snow Flakes And Horses before performing the seven-minute soul searing number The Way I Hurt Myself. Ricci is trying to release many of the demons that have inhabited his soul for years. It’s an incredibly personal and brave song that is much more than the average song. I put this song up with poetry stripped down to the most essential elements and don’t know how anyone can hear it and not be moved.
He bookends the opening Lisi track with Think It Over also by Lisi. It gives the album a certain symmetry and balance. True he does a second version of Who Dat Nation as the last song, but as it is a radio edit it’s not a new song but an afterthought.
If you made it through this entire review, I thank you. I recommend highly both My Chops Are Rolling! and the current Jason Ricci on tour. One thing that I’ve noticed is that Ricci is bringing in more and more audience members here as the word gets out. He’s a great player (several awards are on his resume) and a passionate performer who leaves everything on the stage.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Time For The Blues ~~ August 10, 2019

Henry and I hope you will join us on Time For The Blues this Saturday night, August 10 at 10:00, when we unleash what will surely be – another episode of great music, and some of the worst jokes ever uttered on this or any other radio station.

By now you’ve probably heard that we have a new identity: VPM-Music. As a result, Mr. Cook has been burning the candle at both ends, and using a blowtorch to do it. He tried to borrow my flamethrower to really light things up, but it was in the shop that week.

Seriously, he’s been working night and day doing that engineer stuff that goes over my head. Fortunately, I have very little to do around here except sit in for other hosts when they want a day off. I’m ready to jump in and play classical or jazz pretty much at a moment’s notice, but my heart and soul are firmly rooted in the blues.  

If you’re up for it, let’s see what tasty treats we’re serving up this weekend. For starters, we’ve received a brand-new release from Savoy Brown. The group has been kicking around since the mid-sixties and while there’s only one original member left, they are still making great music. This new album is called City Night and is available from Quarto Valley Records. We’ve got three songs from that album for you to enjoy. 

Speaking of artists who have been around for a while, our next feature focuses on the great Peter Frampton (yes, that Peter Frampton) who has just released an all Blues album, called coincidentally enough, All Blues. Listening to radio in the seventies meant that Henry and I heard a lot of Frampton, and after seeing his performance in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, we didn’t hear so much from him again. 
Remember this guy?

Frampton shows off his guitar skills and does a credible job interpreting some classics. It surprised me when I first heard it, and I hope you will like it as well.

Frampton has a connection to our unusual suspect for this week. I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but I think this week’s selection is the most unusual suspect of all. In fact, it’s taken me a long time to track down one of the songs we’re playing (it was recorded in 1964 under a different name), and Henry quickly filled in with the rest. Stay intrigued, and see if you can guess who it is.

And there’s even more beyond that smorgasbord of great music. We have a new release from Virginia guitar wizard Tom Euler, one from rock blues impresario J.D. Simo, and one from the band with the coolest name of the week, The Jersey Swamp Cats!

Do you want to take a chance on missing all this? I don’t think so. 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. We've changed the address, but you know how to find us, point your browser here, or join us on one of the 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!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Guitar Wizards Tab Benoit and Eric Johanson Cast Spell On Tin Pan

Check one off the bucket list. I’ve been chasing Tab Benoit for the better part of two decades trying to catch him live. Every time he’s been near my town I’ve been someplace else or otherwise committed to something that I could not change or miss. When the opportunity presented itself to catch him live at Richmond’s Tin Pan, I was excited to finally catch him live.
Even though I loved his albums and many friends told me how great he was live, I was slightly worried that his performance would not live up to my expectations. Within a couple of notes I knew it was going to be a great time and could relax and enjoy the ride.
Benoit started out the evening playing drums for guitarist Eric Johanson along with bass player Corey Duplechin. Johanson released one album, Burn It Down, on Whiskey Bayou Records in 2017, and another with Tiffany Pollock on Nola Blue in 2019. I’m a little behind in my reviewing the disc with Pollock, and never picked up a copy of his debut disc, but after his three songs, I made a beeline for the merch table.
Johanson is an accomplished guitar player and singer and he got the evening off with some fast and furious playing. I didn’t catch the name of his opening number, but now that I have his first CD (also recorded with Benoit and Duplechin), I’ll find it later. He followed up with Live Oak, a slower number before ending with Till We Bleed.
I really enjoyed his set, and hope to catch him somewhere down the road with a full show. I think he’s got the chops and stage presence to become a real player in the blues world. Judging from the audience’s reaction, I’m not alone in that assessment.
It didn’t take long for the performers to set up the stage for Benoit. Jeffrey “Jellybean” Alexander replaced Benoit on drums, Duplechin returned to his bass position, and Benoit strapped on his guitar and the trio launched into a wild, fast, version of Why People Like That?
The group paused for just a few seconds before playing the swampy number Whole Lot Of Something. (Note, I may call some songs by the wrong title due to my ignorance, but if anyone can correct me, please drop me a line at and I will happily make the correction.)
“Swampy” is a good description for Benoit, as he hails from the swamp lands of Louisiana and has done a lot of charity work on behalf of preserving the wetlands. It also describes a lot of his music, that kind of blues that conjures up high humidity, Spanish moss, and dark subjects.
After the song and the audience’s applause died down, the Richmonders politely fell silent waiting for the next song. For the first time that night, Benoit addressed the group asking, “Why y’all so quiet?” He then proceeded to regale us with a story of how he uses his home environment to create his work. According to him, his method is to “go fishing and catch a song.”
Benoit would tell several stories throughout the night, all of them lighthearted and almost all were gut-busting funny. The stories rarely reflected anything to do with the songs he was introducing and no one cared. Sometimes he meandered around in circles looking for a place to land, but always managed to find a way. While some of these interludes may have been repeated over and over, but judging by the response of his band – laughing at every story like it was the first time – it may have very well been spontaneous.
He moved on to a Zydeco number that he says he spent four minutes writing it and four minutes recording it so we were going to get “eight minutes of really hard work.” Originally, he recorded the song If It Takes All Night with the late Dr. John, but tonight the Zydeco sounds came from his guitar and Alexander’s drums. While he was playing this song, I noticed for the first time that he was playing entirely without pedals. He got some of the most amazing sounds out of his guitar the old fashioned way.
Needless to say, I was impressed.
So was the rest of the audience as he received his first standing ovation of the night.
The group then went into a very slow blues, Dirty Dishes Blues. Afterwards a story about his friendship with Albert Collins and how Collins taught him “how to be, not how to play.”
He played a few more songs that had me too focused on the performance to jot down titles until he got to Nothing Takes The Place of You. He closed out the performance with a blistering version of Medicine, a song he wrote with Anders Osborne, most likely while fishing.
This led to a loud and prolonged standing ovation until he came back on stage joined by Duplechin and Alexander. Also, Eric Johanson returned and the band delivered an incredible version of Night Train before saying goodnight.
Most of the sold out crowd went to the merch table to pick up some CDs and tour t-shirts. I always encourage that as many artists that work this hard and keep their music honest (no overdubs, no sweetening of vocals, no faking), don’t make as much as a living as most of us believe. In a world of downloads, these throwback road warriors remind us all of the music we used to have and could have again.
Many of these artists have dedicated their lives to mastering their craft and sharing it with us, let’s all take advantage of this great opportunity to hear live music. There could come a time when clubs like The Tin Pan won’t exist, and the work of artists like Tab Benoit and Eric Johanson will only be found on dusty CDs that can’t be played anymore.
Whatever music you love: blues, country, jazz, rock, folk, disco, polka, punk, it doesn’t matter. Just get out and support it. You’ll feed off the energy and the music will continue to live on!

(All photos by Anita Schlank. Used by permission with many thanks.)

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Bruce Katz ~~ Solo Ride

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

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Jon Spear Band Delivers Surprising Show At Tin Pan

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


Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Debra Power ~~ That’s How I Roll

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

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

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Billy Price ~~ Dog Eat Dog on Gulf Coast Records

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

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

BK Music To Close Doors June 20, 2019

Mgr Renato Walthew and Bill Kennedy
It’s the end of an era for some of us as BK Music closes its doors for good on June 20th. The independent record/CD/DVD store has been a mainstay for the Richmond music community for many years, first at its Midlothian Turnpike location and lately in the Stratford Hills Shopping Center.
Proprietor Bill Kennedy and his wife Gina have decided that it was time to retire and to start a new chapter in their lives. I can only wish them well as they move on to their next adventures.
For me personally, BK Music has been a haven for me as I search for older titles that I need in order to produce Time For The Blues. But it goes back much further than that, growing up as a music-obsessed kid, I spent many hours in various record stores – back in the day when there WERE various record stores – checking out new releases, older releases of favorite artists, and generally just reading liner notes and seeing where that would take me.
While I was rarely a top-40 guy, I did listen to what was on the radio and eventually discovered the eclectic stations like WGOE that played all kinds of music and exposed me to a more radical view of what was available. I had to find out more about these different artists, and that inevitably led me back to the record stores.
They even had great names: Gary’s, Harmony Hut, The Gramophone, Peaches. They all had their styles – some were like pristine department stores, others more like head shops complete with burning incense and strange paraphernalia at the counters. I loved them all.
I discovered BK Music because of their old television ads of people going on and on about their favorite artists. I specifically remember one person who loved KISS and another who loved The Grateful Dead, but I believe there were others. Shortly after those commercials started airing, I stopped in to see what they had and discovered well stocked shelves and friendly employees that were enthusiastic about a variety of styles and artists.
Even other customers got into the act, asking about what I was listening to and telling me about what they had discovered. It was like a great well-stocked bar where everyone knew one another but could occasionally slip into their own world for a while without any outside demands.
It was kind of heavenly…
When Henry and I started producing Time For The Blues in 2006, we were woefully short on material. The station had very few quality blues albums for us to use, and pretty much nothing from newer artists. We dipped into our own personal collections for many of those early shows, and knew that if we were to survive, we would need a lot more.
BK Music became my go-to place to fill in some of those gaps. Not only did they stock new artists, but they also had a deep pool of blues from which to pull. And pull we did. Over the next several months, my collection more than tripled as the vast majority of my paycheck went to BK every month. Fortunately, Mrs. Professor understood as we stretched our already thin budget a little further.
Even after getting through that initial crisis, I continued to haunt BK Music. I was always on the hunt for something new and unusual. I rarely came away empty handed, and many times I came away extremely happy. With their collection of used CDs, I was able to discover artists I might not otherwise have encountered, and with their bargain titles, I was even able to produce entire shows of quality music for almost no cost.
Being thrifty appeals tremendously to my Scottish heart and soul.
Now it’s time for owners Bill and Gina Kennedy to retire from the retail world. Plans include helping out their son with his business in Colorado. Bill and Gina plan to stay in Richmond, although several trips west are already being planned.
The rest of the staff will continue to work closing up the store as they must vacate by June 30 and will no doubt find new adventures of their own.
I know I will miss the place very much. It was an oasis for me and many other music lovers. I knew I could always count on good musical advice from the staff, and well, it just felt like home. Mom and Pop stores built America, and I’m afraid we are losing so many of them now to chain stores and online shopping. Many of my favorite places, bookstores, record stores, and even video stores are nearly extinct.
I have nothing against online shopping, it’s often the only way I can find some obscure material, but I will always prefer the human experience to click and submit. BK Music truly defined the human experience. Good luck to Bill and Gina, and to all of the staff of the store, and thank you for welcoming me, and all the others into your hearts.

Monday, June 17, 2019

River City Blues Challenge ~~June 16, 2019

The Battle for Memphis has begun. Every year, the city of Memphis, Tennessee hosts blues artists and fans from all over the world for a week of intense showdowns to determine who are the best bands working today. Winners of this prestigious event have gone on to sign with major labels, tour the world spreading the magic of the blues, and long and influential careers.
Success is not guaranteed, but many doors open when an artist or band is able to put the prefix “IBC Winner” in front of their name.
The River City Blues Society, Richmond’s blues society, starts their search earlier than many such groups, to ensure that they get some of the best acts entered for their competition.
Let me rant about the word “competition” for a minute. I do not feel that this is a competition, even though the act that comes out on top definitely receives some rewards. It’s a challenge, a celebration even, for the best of the best to raise their game and perform to the absolute best of their abilities. In a competition, only one person or group emerges victorious. In a challenge, everyone who enters it in the spirit of elevating their performance wins.
So does the audience members who are treated to amazing performances.
The River City Blues Challenge took place at the Capital Ale House in downtown Richmond on Sunday. There were eight acts entered in two categories: Solo/Duo and Group/Band, four in each.
The Solo/Duo Category consisted of Daniel “Mojo” Parker; James Lester and Gary Ford; Cole & Mary Ann; and Paul The Resonator and Vince “Fireball” Farabaugh. Only Parker and the tandem of Paul and Farabaugh had been entered in the challenge in prior years.
The performers in the Group/Band Category were Dan Schutt Band; Sorrento; Burn The Batteau; and Joe The Spy. None of these acts had taken part in any of the previous Blues Challenges.
The way the Challenge is decided is by a panel of judges who have a great deal of experience in the blues field, evaluating each act on a series of criteria that include blues content, originality, stage presence, and overall execution. This is to ensure that any act advancing to the IBCs will represent their area with the highest level of professionalism.
The judges for this challenge consisted of long time club owner and talent booker Randall Plaxa; musician, past IBC Finalist and current IBC Memphis judge Bobby BlackHat Walters; and the manager of the three-time IBC Semi-Finalists The Bush League, Kenya Watkins. One could really not hope for better judges of talent.
To make sure everyone had the same advantage, all performers used the same sound set up, which was controlled by the sound engineer, Bobby Phillips. Each act had a 30-minute window in which to perform and was allowed a 10-minute period to change out and reset the stage for their act.
It was a ballet of some precision to make sure that everything flowed smoothly, and for the most part, Phillips and the band members made that happen.
Unfortunately, due to my emcee duties, I was unable to take extensive notes about what each band played, but I was able to catch many of the performances from the back or side of the stage. Here are a few impressions, please forgive the quick sketches, much of their time on stage went by me like a speeding train.
Mojo Parker started things off, and I’ve known Parker for several years now and know him to be the consummate performer. He quickly got the audience involved with his high energy singing, playing, and foot stomping. He also engaged the audience, talking to them like old friends and by the time he left, anyone who didn’t know him before was a quick convert to new fan.
James Lester and Gary Ford were old friends who have recently reunited to play blues and roots music. They were very good, but somehow seemed like they were searching to find that groove that would ignite the audience. Still, I enjoyed their set, but Parker set the bar high.
Cole And Mary Ann, who came up from Nags Head were next, and they brought a great deal of energy to their performance. They traded off licks from Cole’s left-handed slide and Mary Ann’s soulful harp. I heard more than one person go crazy for her playing and with good reason, she’s damn good! In fact, this duo could very easily represent any blues society proudly in Memphis. They have a good chance of winning, and I’m keeping my eye on them for future CD releases.
Paul The Resonator and Vince Fireball Farabaugh were back again this year with some serious old-school style gospel tinged blues. I didn’t get much of a chance to listen this year, but am familiar with their work from the CD Soul Of A Man. Good act, but a little low-key in my opinion, they’re going to have an uphill battle if they’re going to take the challenge.
The Group/Band category started off with the Dan Shutt Band who were high energy, but not very bluesy. They are a local rock band who plays some bluesy rootsy numbers, but they were not as blues oriented as they could have been. A good band, I would love to hear them do a full set, but rock is more their specialty.
Sorrento was next, and they were a jazz-blues trio that was very good musically, but not as heavy on the blues side as they needed to be for the challenge. Plus, they had the disadvantage of calling out numbers rather than having a tight set planned. Again, I would love to hear them in their environment, but I don’t think they would be ready to represent in Memphis.
Next up was Burn The Batteau from Halifax, Virginia, which is near the North Carolina border. These guys were polished, sharp as a tack, and ready to play. They had a horn section of trumpet/flugelhorn and sax that set them apart from the other groups. I liked their sound a lot and with a little more seasoning think they could become a force to be reckoned with in the area.
The last act was Joe The Spy, a group that included a sax player, a conga drum percussionist, and a smoking lead singer in Apollonia Morris. I have very high hopes for the band and as performers, they did not disappoint. They were very entertaining and Morris has an enormous wealth of talent. I did not find them to be as blues centric as I would like, but they are high energy soul and I would love to see them do a full set sometime.
In the end, the judges decided on the top three acts for the day and they were: Number 3) Burn The Batteau; Number 2) Cole & Mary Ann; and Number 1) and the representative for this year’s IBC in Memphis – Mojo Parker.
Congratulations to all of the participants, and here’s looking ahead to next year. Good luck to Daniel Mojo Parker in Memphis – go for the glory my friend, you have the talent, you have the drive, and I hope you get the luck of the draw going forward.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

JJ Appleton and Jason Ricci ~~ Beautiful Slop ~~

Way back in 2015, guitarist-singer-songwriter JJ Appleton teamed up with punk-rock blues harpist Jason Ricci for the album Dirty Memory. I managed to snag a copy a couple of years later at one of Ricci’s shows and I was immediately impressed by this acoustic gem.
I wasn’t very familiar with Appleton at that time, but I was getting to know Ricci fairly well. Ricci, a two-time instrumentalist of the year for the harmonica, is well known for his darkly flamboyant style to match his multi-colored hair. Sometimes though, Ricci is better known for his style and we tend to forget just how good of a harp player he is.
On his follow up record with Appleton, Beautiful Slop, the two have once again gone to their acoustic roots, and delivered a fun album that plays ten tracks of acoustic Piedmont style blues. They are joined by Derek Nievergelt on acoustic bass and no other musicians are credited.
Both Appleton and Ricci write several songs with Appleton writing four and Ricci penning three.
Ricci is out on the road again with his band, The Bad Kind, playing their lively brand of swamp rock blues. Catch them where you can, from all reports from my friends along the tour route, he is burning up the stages wherever he plays.
Appleton has some fun with his Resonator on the opening song, Don’t Take Advantage Of Me. Ricci adds some old school harp and Nievergelt’s bass ties it all together. Radio producers and parents beware, there is a GD expletive that shouldn’t affect too many folks. The FCC may frown on its use, but it certainly fits the lyrics of the song.
They follow up with Ricci’s Hurt Myself, a slow emotional number that screams from the pain that Ricci was in as he wrote this song. If you remember John Lennon’s scream therapy songs, this is along that same vein. Ricci is raw, untamed, seething from the pain. The acoustic rendering of the song makes the pain even more palpable. Damn, this song is amazing, but not for the faint of heart.
Appleton wrote the next track, I Got The Feeling. It’s a peppy, happy song a much lighter touch than the previous song. This is some sweet front porch music that should make just about every blues fan happy. It should receive a good share of airplay, especially on the acoustic shows.
The guys perform another Appleton song, Distraction, which is a little darker than the previous number. It’s still quiet but the lower register adds another layer to the song. Ricci’s harp swings in and out like a bird in flight. When Appleton slips into his head voice, the song becomes somewhat ethereal. An interesting song that I’m going to have to think about for a while.
The next two songs are by Ricci. After the raw nerve of Hurt Myself, I’m not sure what to expect. The first, Geaux Nuts Kids, is an old school New Orleans instrumental that should make just about anyone get out of their chair and head towards the dance floor. It will wake you up and get you going.
The second, Don’t Badger The Witness, makes more great use of Ricci’s harp playing on this slow number delivered with a faux New Orleans accent. Ricci trades off with Appleton and the two drop a song that has little in the way of lyrics, but you can feel the frustration in every line. Good one.
Appleton takes over the vocals on Standing In The Safety Zone, and drops another peppy upbeat song. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a great front porch song that sounds at home in front of a crowd of 10,000. It’s a Piedmont style blues number that really sounds sweet.
The next two songs are written by Appleton. The first is Brighter Days, a slower darker number. It’s got an edge to it and Ricci’s harp sharpens it into a razor sharp blade. The second, For The Very Last Time, let’s Appleton cut loose and Ricci turns his harp into a staccato machine gun. It’s a bit of a rocker and when Ricci takes his break, it’s hard to fathom someone playing so fast and so controlled. Pretty good tune for my money!
They close the album with Stay. The bass leads them in and Appleton’s vocals take over with a determined croon. Ricci’s harp is distant, an observer setting the mood with a few jazzy riffs. A very interesting choice to bring this energetic album to its end.
JJ Appleton and Jason Ricci are two great artists, and it’s fascinating to me to watch Ricci eschew his normal harmonica pyrotechnics in order to serve the world of each acoustic song. The Blues started out that way; little or no instrumentation, just playing loud enough to catch the attention of a raucous crowd.
Beautiful Slop has taken a lot of ingredients: good songs, strong lyrics, good guitar, excellent harmonica playing, a strong bass, and have thrown them into the stew pot. That’s how the make Jambalaya in Louisiana, and Mulligan Stew by hobos on the road. Apparently, that’s how they made this tasty album as well. Add it to your collection and enjoy the deliciousness.  

JJ Appleton website           
Jason Ricci website