Issue 11-8 February 23, 2017

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Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2017


 In This Issue 

Don Wilcock has our feature interview with Chicago Bluesman Matthew Skoller. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including reviews of new music from Austin Young Band, Little G Weevil, Grady Champion, Wendy Rich, Billy Pierce, Davy Knowles, The Apocalypse Blues Revue and Tatiana Para.

Our video of the week is Coco Montoya.

We have the latest in Blues society news. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!


 From The Editor’s Desk 

Hey Blues Fans,

Get Ready!

Starting on March 1st, we we begin accepting submissions for the 2017 Blues Blast Music Awards.

Any Blues album released between May 1st, 2016 and April 30, 2017 is eligible. There are 12 categories for 2017:

Contemporary Blues Album Traditional Blues Album
Soul Blues Album Rock Blues Album
Acoustic Blues Album Live Recording Of The Year
New Artist Debut Album Historical or Vintage Recording
Male Blues Artist Of The Year Female Blues Artist Of The Year
Blues Band Of The Year Sean Costello Rising Star Award

Complete information on how to have your recording considered are at www.bluesblastmagazine.com/2017-blues-blast-submission-information.

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

austin young cd imageAustin Young Band – Not So Simple

VizzTone Label Group VTAY-004

12 songs – XX minutes

www.austinyoungband.com

Ever since Austin Young made his fiery debut with the 2013 VizzTone release, Blue As Can Be, fans of blues-rock have been anticipating a follow-up. Despite his youth, the 16-year-old from Colorado Springs, Colo., showed exceptional talent at a young age.

It’s been a long wait for another release from the boy who was a four-time Colorado Blues Society Listeners Choice Award guitar player of the year, but the delay was worth it. Now a young adult, Austin’s Not So Simple clearly shows that he’s grown by leaps and bounds. He’s still a high-energy performer in primarily a power trio format, but the music he produces is biting and fluid without any of the shredding common to many of his contemporaries.

This is a bittersweet project for Young, a deeply spiritual person who’s involved with several charities, including Blue Star Connection and Habitat For Humanity. He picked up a guitar for the first time at age 12 under the encouragement of his father, Tim, who passed away in his mid-50s last year and to whom this all-original album is dedicated.

It features Alex Goldberg on bass and Forrest “The Rim Wrecker” Raup on drums, aided by guest appearances by Tom Capek on keyboards and Darwin Kramer, Bob Robboltz and Gabriel Mervine on horns. The material is an amalgamation of Austin’s influences, ranging from Albert King and Hubert Sumlin to Eric Gales, Gary Clark Jr. and Joe Bonamassa. And he remains totally grounded in his roots.

Modulated stop-time chording kicks off the opener, “Take Me Away,” as Young seeks an angel to take him away as he chooses his path in life. He’s heading west at the break of dawn in “Barren Road Blues” having realized he’s going to have to travel alone. The song chugs along with purpose atop a heavy bottom.

A syncopated military drumbeat kicks off the horn-fueled “Something More,” a realization that there’s something more important in life than money – especially lending a helping hand, before the title tune “Not So Simple” provides an aural break. It’s a slow blues-rock ballad about someone who deceives herself about the price a person has to pay for romance, while urging her to be kind to herself and others.

The music brightens for “Sets Me Free,” about the power of a lady’s love, before the horns drive “Heal My Heart,” a plea for a lady to let him know if he should stay or let her walk away. A catchy guitar hook kicks off “Letting Go,” which provides an answer to the previous tune, before the “Moving On” carries things forward with the assertion that the singer’s done holding on.

“Mountains On Fire,” a slow blues, serves as a metaphor from problems in life, before “Free” describes the realization of having lost one’s way and is delivered with powerful religious overtones. “Whirlwind” follows with a torrent of guitar pyrotechnics before Young delivers “Angel Flying Home,” a poignant tribute to his father, solo and acoustic, as he bares his soul to conclude the set.

Not So Simple is a rock-solid offering from someone who deserves your attention, and available through all major retailers.

Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. His first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.


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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

little g weevil cd imageLittle G Weevil – Three Chords Too Many

XLNT Records

www.gweevil.com

12 tracks

The blues can come from anywhere. In Little G Weevil’s case it’s Budapest, Hungary. Growing up with the blues, he became a musician and started his own blues band. He began as a drummer and at 17 he switched to guitar. European touring success led to US emigration in 2004 and Little G now resides in Atlanta. One could say he found success in America. In 2013 he won the IBC Solo/Duo Category and won the guitar for top guitar player in his category at the IBC. In 2014 he was nominated for a BMA for Acoustic Artist of the Year and a Blues Blast Music Award nomination for acoustic album of the year for his third album entitled Moving.

Success has not eluded him and this, his fourth CD, is a fine set of nine original and two cover tunes with a spoken track recorded in two settings (St. Louis for the first 5 cuts and Budapest for the remainder). Joining him are Paul Nieahus on upright bass, mandolin and guitars in the US session, Matyas “Champ” Pribojski on harp, Zoltan “Jambalaya” Nemes on piano and Zsolt Pinter on fiddle for one track. His 3rd release was on Bob Margolin’s Vizztone

“Apple Picker” kicks off the CD. It’s a nice slow blues with slick finger picking and gritty vocals in a very traditional style. The tempo picks up in “Dad’s Story,” a song about what the titles says it is. It’s a cool little piece. Jimmy Rogers’ “You’re The One” follows and Weevil does a fine job with it. The guitar and backing has a country porch sort of lazy goodness to it, giving a winding on and on feeling while sipping on a cold lemonade on a warm summer’s day. Little G offers up a really good solo here, too. “Going Back South” is a sultry and deep slow blues in a hill country style that was sweet.

“Place A Dollar In My Hand” is completely solo, just Weevil with his guitar and stomp box. He aptly demonstrates why he won the IBC with his music. “The Tale of Captain Seagal” is the first of the Budapest recordings and has the fiddle added for good support as he and Pinter give an upbeat performance as Weevil tells the story of the sea captain named Seagal. “One Little Cup” and “Wealthy Man” feature the harp and piano. The former is a jumping boogie woogie that is a lot of fun and the supporting cast does a superb job. The piano drives the song along and the harp punctuates well. Both offer well-done solos and Weevil’s vocals are great, too. The latter is a mid tempo cut with jazzy influences with Weevil singing about how this woman needs a man with lots of money to sustain her. Again the harp and piano add a lot to the song.

Solo slide guitar is featured next on “Outdated Citizen.” Little G does a nice job on the slide and vocals as he stomps out the beat. “Sunshine Blues” is another finger picking gem, slower in tempo as Weevil moans out his slow, traditional blues. “Meet Me In The City” is the last cut and it’s a thoughtful instrumental Junior Kimbrough piece. “Saving A Marriage” concludes things for real; it’s a spoken track of a story of sharing a bed with his drummer on tour in Lapland. It’s funny and maybe a little out of place, but what the heck- it’s his album.

The songs are well-crafted, the lyrics are solid, the sound is authentic and Weevils vocals and guitar work are very cool. The 11 songs are all an excellent listen and I recommend this for all fans of acoustic blues. Weevil gives us a highly professional and outstanding CD to enjoy here!

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.


 Featured Blues Video Of The Week – Coco Montoya 


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Coco Montoya at the 2016 Peoria Blues & Heritage Fest – “I Want It All Back” (Click image to watch!)

Coco Montoya is performing at the Tampa Bay Blues Festival on Saturday, April 8th, 2017.

For tickets and info to to see this Blues legend visit www.tampabaybluesfest.com or click on their ad below!


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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

grady champion cd reviewGrady Champion – One Of A Kind

Malaco Records

www.gradychampion.com

12 Tracks; 52 minutes

What can be said about Grady Championed that hasn’t already been said, including with the virtual pages of this very publication. You probably already know that he is the youngest of his father’s 28 children, and that he started singing gospel in church at the age of eight. I can’t say if the former influenced his music, but it’s very clear that the latter did.

He is dedicated to the blues and is committed to keeping the form alive. Some people say he is doing this by adhering closely to its roots. Others, me among them, believe he is doing it by following the trend of everything becoming blues/rock or some other fusion, ultimately ending up as Blues Lite.

Blues, both traditional and contemporary, has always challenged propriety. There was always something slightly dangerous about it. Think of the song “Black Snake Moan” and its none-too-subtle symbolism. This sense of danger crossed over into rock & roll. That’s why middle America turned Little Richard’s scream into Pat Boone’s croon.

There is nothing dangerous about Grady Champion. He is a happy guy who makes happy music. He may have even invented a new sub-genre, Happy Blues.

But oh, my, he is good at it. This is a terrifically well-produced album. The musicianship is stellar, right down to the fabulous backing vocals. Champion is a consummate professional – a good, but not great harp player; a very good, but not great singer, but a truly great entertainer. And an excellent songwriter, comfortable in blending different genres together to create his own sound.

You won’t find a dud song on this CD. You won’t find a spectacular, genre-changing one either, but you will find some catchy, swinging up-tempo blues songs that will get you going. I also really like the gospel influenced rhythms and backing vocals. In “Heels & Hips”, you can almost hear the Staple Singers singing back-up.

There are 11 new tracks on the CD plus a bonus track of the previously recorded GC Boogie, and there are a few that stand above the rest.

“Stone In My Path” is a harp-driven, funky, syncopated number that smokes. This is a very cool strut and Champion has the pizzazz to carry this off with authority. “Thin Line” is a moody minor key exploration with Champion’s best harp tone on the album. It’s also one his best vocal performances, brilliantly supported by his killer band and superb back-up vocals.

The title track, “One Of A Kind” is the most heart-felt track on the album and it gives Champion the chance to reach us with his vocals. And for the most part, he does make that connection.

There is one tune that gets under your skin and just won’t leave. “Move Something” is a fantastic dance tune. “If you don’t know how to dance, all you gotta do is move something …”

If this tune doesn’t make you want to dance, you need to get medical attention quickly. It’s an infectious tune that you will catch yourself humming long after you listen to this album.

This CD is not gritty, it’s not Delta Blues or even south side Chicago Blues. This is definitely an urbane, uptown work. It’s as if Grady Champion is proclaiming that the Blues has grown up and can take its rightful place at the American music table along with Jazz, Rock, Great American Songbook, R&B and the rest.

This is a CD that looks over its shoulder at where it comes from, but with a clear eye on where it’s going.

Reviewer Lex Dunn is a writer and musician living on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. He has fronted blues bands in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax and looks forward to his next venture on the Island. He is passionate about music in general and the blues in particular.


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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

wendy rich cd imageWendy Rich – It’s All Nothing

www.wendyrichmusic.com

Wendy World Productions

8 Tracks; 31 minutes

Wendy Rich is a blues and torch singer of the Old School. Her voice is resonant, expressive and evocative. She coaxes every last nuance of feeling from whatever song she takes on. You can hear it on every track of this journeyman album.

I call her a journeyman with respect. Because that is someone who’s a complete pro, who knows her voice and her craft, and has her technique nailed. It is someone who can handle diverse style without losing her central core.

Yes, Wendy Rich is a journeyman, and this CD is the better for it.

The opening track, “Back To Zero”, is a good, full speed ahead blues tune that shows that Rich can rock with the best of them. It’s not surprising that she spent a fair bit of time touring with Big Brother & The Holding Company (Joplin’s first band). She is even more at home with a “we’re through and there’s gonna be heartache” song – you can feel the pain in your soul.

Just listen to “Love And Happiness” and you’ll hear it, deep down inside her. This is perhaps the best cut on the CD. Rich’s impassioned vocals and terrific piano and guitar work from her band, which unfortunately goes unaccredited on the CD. A little digging reveals that it is Paul English on piano, Kenny Cordray on guitar, and Kevin McKendree on Hammond B3 (Rich really should the names somewhere on the CD cover). This is what was known in the business as a blues torch song, and Rich keeps the torch smoldering throughout.

“Losin’ You” is another torch song, but this time it is with a country twang. The song itself is fairly generic in its structure and chord progressions, and its lyrics and rather predictable, but Rich’s vocal work elevates the song above the cliché.

She goes from being the one bereft of her lover to being the one who does the kicking out on ‘Song About Nothing”. Her annoyance is supported by driving slide guitar and a snarl in her voice.

Rich can change the tonal quality of her voice to suit the song she is singing. I don’t like every choice she makes, but her ability to it should be commended.

What blues CD from a strong female singer would be complete without the obligatory, “I’m a cowboy-boot wearing, sassy wild child with regrets” tune. “Off The Deep End” is Rich’s version of it and she rocks it with conviction. She continues to get excellent support from the mystery band on every instrument.

Unfortunately, she wraps up the CD with “Get It Together” an uninspired take on the Bo Diddley beat. When are bands going to realize that if you’re not going to bring something startlingly fresh to a well-used form, it is best to leave it alone.

But this is what prevents “It’s All Nothing” from really soaring about the crowd. Wendy Rich has great pipes who can sing a lot of different styles, but the songs on this CD are, for the most part, very average.

I hope Ms. Rich finds some songs that are worthy of her and her band. She’s on the threshold of a real breakthrough. I hope she steps on through.

Reviewer Lex Dunn is a writer and musician living on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. He has fronted blues bands in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax and looks forward to his next venture on the Island. He is passionate about music in general and the blues in particular.


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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

billy pierce cd imageBilly Pierce – Shapes of Soul

www.billypierce.com

Self Release

11 songs – 52 minutes

Billy Pierce’s website does not tell the reader a vast amount about him other than that he’s a Wilmington, Delaware, blues slide guitarist. That may be true, but it hardly provides the full story. He is also a talented songwriter and his new album, Shapes of Soul, features 11 blues-rock tracks reeking with the pungent sounds of New Orleans and has a guest list that reads like a roster of modern day super-sidemen and women.

With a magical backing band of Charlie Wooton on bass, Doug Belote on drums and Keiko Komaki on piano and keys, the music on Shapes of Soul was always going to be immersed in the bewitching rhythms and grooves of Louisiana. When you add the assorted talents of Michael Doucet’s fiddle, Jason Ricci’s harmonica, Cindy Cashdollar’s lap steel, Mike Zito’s guitar, Jeff T Watkins’ saxophone and the Bonerama Trombones, you know there are going to be some irresistible rhythms laid down. The rock’n’roll of “Red Dog Saloon” is fine case in point, where Doucet’s fiddle adds an especially glorious layer of stardust.

Opening with the funky “Paycheck To Paycheck”, the Bonerama Trombones (Mark Mullins, Greg Hicks and Craig Klein) add some serious punch to proceedings. The Sonny Landreth-esque key-hopping “Acadiana” also benefits from Douchet’s spot-on playing.

There is something of a 1970s feel to the album at times, from Wooton’s full yet warm production (with Komaki’s keys high in the mix) to the way certain songs permit the musicians to stretch out as if at a live jam, for example at the end of “Tears Of Joy” or on “Katrina”.

Pierce is a fine electric slide guitar player, picking particularly melodic lines on the instrumental title track (with a lovely descending piano figure from Komaki) and on the minor key “Delta Queen” (perhaps inspired by the presence on the track of Cindy Cashdollar) and he also wrote eight of the 11 tracks on the album. He is a generous bandleader, affording ample solos to the other musicians throughout – although there is plenty of joy to be found purely in the constantly inventive rhythm patterns of Wooton and Belote. If there is a weakness in the album, it is probably in Pierce’s slightly one-dimensional voice, which lacks the confidence and joie de vivre of the music that flows underneath it. This is brought into greater relief by the tracks with guest singers (Paul Wooton takes on the funky blues of “Don’t Give Up” – which also highlights the wild sax playing of Jeff T. Watkins – and “Iko Iko” sees Pierce, Paul Wooton, Charlie Wooton and Kaitlin Dibble take a verse each).

Overall however Shapes of Soul is a highly enjoyable release. Any album that can give “Iko Iko” a new lease of life has to be doing something right, and the version on Shapes of Soul is outstanding. This isn’t a pure blues album, but if you like solid blues-rock music with a strong New Orleans influence, you should like Shapes of Soul very much.

Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.


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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

davey knowles cd imageDavy Knowles – Three Miles From Avalon

http://davyknowles.com

8 Tracks; 36:29 minutes

Davy Knowles is from the Isle of Man, in the heart of the Irish Sea between England and Ireland, much farther than three miles from Avalon, the mythical home of Ancient Britain’s Celtic priests. And apart from the title track, there is nothing ethereal or mystic about album. It is, simply, one of the best blues albums I have heard in years, and that includes from veterans and newcomers alike.

The CD could easily have been called Three Miles from America. Everything on this CD is firmly rooted in American rock, much the way the British Blues Invasion of the 60s was. You will hear influences from classic rock, gospel & spiritual, and even power ballad, but the blues is the bedrock on which Knowles built this album.

Knowles is an excellent guitarist who uses the instrument to serve the music, not overpower it. But it is his expressive, passionate voice that propels this CD to greatness.

Having said that, it’s a shame that the album starts with what may be the weakest track on the CD, the aptly named “Ain’t Much Of Nothing”. It’s not a bad song, but it doesn’t really give a hint of the excellent work to come. And it comes quickly.

The third track, “Falling Apart”, reveals Knowles authentic sound – voice, instruments, and arrangements. His vocals on this song are fantastic – he doesn’t try to show off his voice, he uses his voice to demonstrate his passion, which is deep and true.

By the time we get to the next track, “What You’re Made Of” (which should have been the opening one) the CD is in full flight. It starts with a syncopated guitar and then slowly layers the other instruments over it – first a very cool bass line, then drums, then a sweet Hammond organ played by the formidable Andrew Toombs, and finally, killer slide guitar played by Knowles himself.

The next stand out track is “Oxford MS”, and you can hear southern country blues through Knowles terrific slide, a repeating vocal motif reminiscent of the field hollers, underpinned by the strong strain of gospel. This is Knowles paying homage to the birth of the blues, and the track works on all counts.

Knowles does take a slight detour from Highway 61 with “Three Miles From Avalon”. But it is the same detour Cream took – you can almost hear Knowles catching up to Brave Ulysses. He plays and sings this song with the same commitment Jack Bruce and Clapton attacked their mystic explorations. The song may be shrouded in the mists of Avalon, but you can hear its blues heart beat rhythmically.

One of my favorite songs is the closing track, “What In The World”. This mournful tune wails its tail of woe with a crying guitar and bleeding organ trading pain and sorrow in a way that, ironically, lifts the listener to great heights.

I feel the need to emphasize once again the outstanding vocal work Davy Knowles unleashes on this CD. Every song is a virtuoso performance of blues and rock singing. The only thing wrong with this CD is that it has only eight tracks. I could listen to Davy Knowles and his superb band – Bryan Doherty on bass and backing vocals, Andrew Toombs on Wurlitzer and Hammond organ, and Michael Caskey on drums, percussion and backing vocals – all day.

Reviewer Lex Dunn is a writer and musician living on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. He has fronted blues bands in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax and looks forward to his next venture on the Island. He is passionate about music in general and the blues in particular.


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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 8 

the apocalypse blues revue cd imageThe Apocalypse Blues Revue – Self-titled

www.theapocalypsebluesrevue.com

Mascot Label Group/Provogue

12 Tracks; 58 minutes

Grab a seat with a harness and strap yourself in, this is going to be a high-octane fuelled, wild ride. This is what it sounds like when the blues meets the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, whose names are Ray “Rafer” Cerbone, Vocals, Tony “Big Tone” Rombola, guitars, Shannon “Apocalypse” Larkin, drums, and Brian “Bassgod” Carpenter, bass.

Yes the chords structures are based on the blues. Yes, many of the lyrics would be at home in your average 12-bar. Yes the guitar leads hit a lot of notes in the minor pentatonic + 1 “blues” scale.

But that’s where the comparison stops. Actually, it doesn’t so much stop as separate from each other the way a rocket booster falls away while the next stage heads for the cosmos.

You will definitely hear a lot of influences from the late 60s/early 70s here. Shades of Deep Purple, riffs torn from the Pages of Led Zeppelin, a vertical trail up the side of a Mountain.

Each one of these guys is a master as his craft. Powerful, expressive vocals; killer guitar tone and licks; drumming that ranks with the best of Bonham, Moon and Baker, and bass lines that glue them into one tight, exciting band.

The album starts out fairly easily (for these guys) with “Evil Is As Evil Does” but then shifts to a down and dirty 12-bar, filled with rage against “Junkie Hell”. This is not your father’s blues.

Once we’re in hell, however, we get the inside scoop on Be-Beelzebub. Seems the “Devil Plays A Stratocaster” and sounds a lot like Led Zeppelin when he does, except for the vocals, which plays against the screaming howl of the guitar, but with hints of Jack Bruce.

ABR does have their mellower moments. They don’t last long, but they are great transitions. “I Think Not” starts out like a nice mid-tempo blues but gains energy as it goes along, climbing like a F-14 Tomcat.

By now, you can probably guess what a song like “Whiskey In My Coffee” might sound like from this band. And you’d be right. I don’t know whether he prefers Jack, Jim or his Grand-Dad, in his coffee, but it’s enough to make a turkey go wild.

This terrific CD ends by evoking yet another legend. The bonus track, “When The Music’s Over” is an exploration of The Doors. The rhythms are pure Manzarek and I swear Ray Cerbone is actually channeling Jim Morrison.

This is a bunch of musicians at the top of their game. There is not a dud track on the album. Some are better than others, but which ones is a subjective argument. You’ll just have to get this CD and decide for yourself.

If you have any lengthy car trips ahead of you, don’t leave until you get this album, ready and cued up on your car stereo, and get ready to give ‘er. You might just make record time.

Reviewer Lex Dunn is a writer and musician living on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. He has fronted blues bands in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax and looks forward to his next venture on the Island. He is passionate about music in general and the blues in particular.


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 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

tatiana para cd imageTatiana Para – My Moods

www.tatianapara.com

Infinity Music

8 Tracks; 38 minutes

Tatiana Para can play guitar. The Brazilian woman has absolutely hit it out the park on previous albums that focused on blues or classic rock (including great versions of “Testify” and “All Along The Watchtower.” In her native country, she is revered as a “Blues Goddess.”

But this CD is about as far away from the blues as you can get, except for the first and last track. The CD is appropriately named. My Moods and is a guitar exploration of , well, her moods. This is an entirely instrumental album, which gives her the freedom to explore those moods in any way she likes.

Over the years, there have been several outstanding instrumental blues, rock and R&B recordings. Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Rude Mood”, Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice” and “Samba Pa Ti”, Booker T & The MG’s “Green Onions”, Eric Johnson’s “Cliffs Of Dover”, and just about anything by The Ventures.

What all those terrific songs did was to have either a great tune (Samba Pa Ti) or an amazing groove (Soul Sacrifice, Green Onions).

This CD starts and ends with great grooves and with a nice up-tempo blues exploration, “Blues Party”, reminiscent of SRV, which quickly establishes Para’s chops. As I said, this woman can play. And this would be an excellent tune to play at any blues party.

The final track, “Being Myself” is more aggressively blues/rock and once again, Para shows herself equal to the task. It is easy to hear why she is revered in Brazil as well as by guitarists around the world.

Unfortunately, the rest of the CD doesn’t have either a solid groove or memorable tune. Many of the songs have a very similar beat and tempo. Each song explores a mood, but the mood within the songs doesn’t really go anywhere. They are short on dynamic, rhythmic and melodic variation.

You won’t catch yourself humming any of these tunes after the last strains of the last track fade into the night. But if you like tuneless, but skilled musical explorations on a guitar neck, you will enjoy this album. It has flavors of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, John McLaughlin solo and Mike Oldfield’s less well-known work.

She has gone from blues to prog rock, which is her prerogative as an artist. Most artists want to explore their art, to try new things, to go in new direction, and that’s just what Tatiana Para is doing on this album.

Are these explorations great music. Well, everyone has their own taste, but on many musical levels, this album doesn’t quite succeed. It is too monotone, within each song and across most of the album.

Having said that, there is no question that Ms. Para is a gifted musician with whom I was not familiar before this CD. I have enjoyed listening to her earlier work and I look forward to following her musical journey going forward.

Reviewer Lex Dunn is a writer and musician living on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. He has fronted blues bands in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax and looks forward to his next venture on the Island. He is passionate about music in general and the blues in particular.


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 Featured Blues Interview – Matthew Skoller 

matthew skoller image 1“I feel like if you’re going to be a part of a music genre that comes from a very specific history and a very specific set of circumstances that you have to be very self-conscious about it, and you have to know that history really well, and that history in this case is American slavery. That’s what blues music comes out of, and you have to really work at staying away from hurtful traditions that come hand in hand. It’s a fine line.”

Matthew Skoller never forgets that he’s a white singer, songwriter, producer and harp player. But he’s also from Brooklyn, very bright, a bit arrogant, and a self-proclaimed subversive. As a “Blues Immigrant,” the title of his latest CD, he’s earned his green card. He sings about subjects that he knows about first hand. And he writes about them with bite, sarcasm, and humor that come from two decades in the trenches. He’s a veteran, and he walks that tightrope that all white blues artists have to balance in themselves. He knows he has to be wary of the “ugly affectations and mockery that sometimes are found in white blues artists’ works. In talking about Mick Jagger, for instance, he refers to the Stones’ vocalist’s “delicious affectation.”

He explains, “Part of why I think I can’t be accused of ugly affectations and mockery is because I write about things that only somebody from my background could write about.” In the chorus of “Blues Immigrant,” for instance he sings: “I need a green card to play the blues/I’m here for the duration/For better or for worse/My presence is no blessing/But it surely ain’t no curse/(y’all could do a whole lot worse)”

“It’s true that anybody that chooses to go down this road in this genre is going to be struggling their whole life,” he declares with stark candor, “and I don’t come from money. I don’t come from a well-to-do family at all. And you know, that’s part of what “Blues Immigrant” was about, too. My grandparents were immigrants, but that song really is about cultural exchange. It’s about exactly a white guy or a non-African American person playing this music.

“I’ve done symposiums, and I’ve delivered essays where I’ve used the metaphor of a visitor, a welcome visitor. I’d called myself a welcome visitor, and while I was putting this record together, I had all the tunes together, and I woke up at 4:30 in the morning. I was laying in bed thinking, ‘That’s bullshit. I’m not a f***ing visitor. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years.’ One of the definitions of a visitor is somebody who eventually leaves, so I’m not a visitor in this music. And I thought, ‘What am I? I’m much more of an immigrant, you know?”

On “Only in The Blues,” Skoller sings, “His girl friend is his manager/His brother books the gigs/Ex ol’ lady does the website/And supports his only kid/Thinks it’s only temporary/And he calls it ‘payin’ dues’/It’s a funky situation found only in the blues.”

He explains, “I feel like the infrastructure in general of blues music is inhabited by people that are fans and not totally professional at what they do, and when I see (journalists) cutting and pasting (my) biography, I just realize that they’re not really writers and that they don’t really have an opinion. That they’re just trying to put something out there. I see a glaring lack of critical thought when it comes to most of the blues reviews that I read.

“There’s no money and so a lot of the people that are truly professional managers and publicists can’t really afford to spend a whole lot of time working with blues people because there’s no money (in the genre). A lot of the blues industry is co-opted be fans, by people who love the music and are fanatical about it which is the roots of fans. They see a role that they could play, and suddenly they become blues professionals, you know? That’s one of the reasons I miss Susan Greenberg so much.”

matthew skoller image 2Susan was Lurrie Bell’s wife and mother of his child. She died in 2007. Skoller has written for and played with Lurrie Bell for decades, and he produced two of Lurrie Bell’s CDs. “Susan was a true photographer. I mean she had a fucking incredible eye, and she was one of the few that were really, really true gifted artists that were on the blues set, and we miss that in this music, so I feel the same way about the writers.”

Skoller sees a huge gulf between the dedicated artists and not just journalists but their their entire support network often made up of rank amateurs. “Most really good artists when their instrument is in their hands – no matter where they are – they feel like their life is on the line and that they’re only as good as their last song or their last performance. So, I think that since we’ve all put our lives on the line and devoted our lives to this that we bring a very high level of intensity to every note hopefully.

“That said, there is a phenomenon that I heard Rick Bates, one of the few really professional managers in the blues world, refer to a syndrome that he calls bar-gig-itis. There are points for everybody playing three 60-minute sets or two 90-minute sets or three 70-minute sets where you’re exhausted. You’ve done it for the last six years in the same club, and you go to another club, and you’re eking out a living doing these journeyman gigs. And you have to do it. It’s inevitable that there are moments when that intensity is not there, and you’re phoning it in. I won’t say that, but you’re getting bored by the whole situation.

“When you’re in these journeyman gigs that we all have to play to survive it can effect your playing, and you can’t expect everybody to always be able to attain the level of interest that they normally – that they weren’t kind of exhausted and burnt.”

“The Devil Ain’t Got No Music” appears on both Skoller’s Blues Immigrant CD and Lurrie’ Bell’s The Devil Ain’t Got No Music LP. It won the Prix Blues by L’Academie du Jazz in 2012 and was nominated for a Blues Foundation Blues Music Award: “The devil ain’t got no music/ The devil dried up the well/The devil ain’t got no music/That’s why his home is hell.”

“Things can take many different shapes, but they have the same function,” says Skoller, “and one person’s sanctified music can take place in a barroom, or it can take place in a church. On so many different levels the music is so connected that in some ways to separate them, especially by saying (blues) is the devil’s music, is just ludicrous. Mavis Staples (when an interviewer asked), ‘You got a lot of flak for playing the devil’s music’ said, ‘Baby, the devil ain’t got no music. Now I’ve also had people that I really respect tell me that the devil does have music (laugh) and that I’m wrong about that.’”

In this journalist’s interview with longtime Skoller collaborator Lurrie Bell that appeared in the February 16 issue of Blues Blast, I asked Lurrie about a quote in-house Delmark producer Steve Wagner made that blues musicians are divided into two categories: conscious competence and unconscious competence. Wagner said that Lurrie represented unconscious competence. I asked Lurrie what he thought Wagner meant, and he said, “Actually, he means that musicians that play by ear don’t read music. Unconscious competence meaning that you develop your own sound just by what you feel in your heart, I guess. I don’t know. That’s just my idea. Yeah, ’cause the way I play you can’t go to school to learn how to do that. It’s kinda feeling, you know what I mean?”

Albert Cummings always says simply if you’re thinking, you’re stinking. I think Skoller swings both ways.

“Uh-huh. I’m amazed that you took the words right out of my mouth. What I was going to say was you have to have both, and I think Lurrie Bell has both, too, or did, anyway, and still does. His playing has changed a lot over the years, obviously. I use the analogy of a basketball player who has a certain amount of conscious movement as he’s dribbling the ball to the (basket), and as he leaves the floor and gets into the air, something that I refer to as controlled abandon takes place. It sounds like an oxymoron, but I really think that it exists. I think the greatest players have controlled abandon.

matthew skoller image 3“When you’re up in the air, you don’t know what you’re going to encounter, and you have to improvise, and it can’t be in your head. You just have to be physical, and in music I think an emotional thing is that I think both things need to be at its purest when you’re not thinking, when you are sort of unconscious. In fact, they talk about ball players. They use that term when ball players are really in the zone. They think, ‘He’s unconscious,’ and I think that really applies to this, and yeah, I think I’m a little bit of both.”

There is a huge gulf between white blues artists who merely mimic the African American roots of the genre and those who are inspired by the legacy. Matthew worked with his brother Larry Skoller on Chicago Blues: A Living History that wont the a Blues Blast Music award and was nominated for a Grammy. “Our main goal was to stay true to the most important part of the blues tradition which is to allow the artist to be an interpreter of the standard, and we very consciously wanted to stay away from archival renderings of any of those songs.

“We wanted them to be modern day, and I think that’s why that project was so successful because it had all of these elements of deep and traditional blues including the factor that I think is key to real fresh performances which is that the artists are totally free to be themselves and let their own voice, either vocally or on their instruments, come through in a really organized and personal way, and there was no copying solos. There was no imitating the vocals of the original artists. We really encouraged everybody to be themselves, and to do their things and quite honestly with the artists that we chose, that was not something we really had to impress upon then. That’s how they roll.”

Skoller explains why he chose Vincent Bucher as his co-producer of Blues Immigrant. “The producer role is very much that of the director for a movie, and the performer really needs that objective ear to inform the player. So, having Vincent in the studio while I’m playing, he really takes on the role of the producer at that point. I don’t go into a project with a concept. Ok, the album is going to be based on love. After Lurrie Bell started interpreting songs that we had chosen, I realized there was a love theme going on in Let’s Talk About Love, and it was all about Susan, his late wife.

“So, that was something I learned during that process. You don’t force it. So, that’s part of the production process, assembling the right musicians is a part of the production process, but once you’re in the studio and you’re performing, to have somebody who knows you’re playing really well, who knows your instrument really well, Vincent is an incredible harmonica player. He’s one of the greatest harmonica players alive, and that’s not hyperbole, That’s just – He’s just amazing,

“I trust him implicitly. He doesn’t push me as an aggressive hit-it-harder way. He pushes me towards what he thinks is appropriate. For instance, for a certain kind of solo like, ‘Hey, man, just try this. Try and play really super minimally on this part as a for instance.’ He’s there for all that stuff. And he’s so musically sophisticated that he really understands what a song means at a given moment, and so that really is very, very helpful in giving me direction as a director, and that’s really what a good producer is, a director.”

The blues picked Matthew Skoller. He didn’t pick it. And if he gets a little gnarly around the edges, well, that just fits the genre like a silver slipper, doesn’t it? “(My blues mentors have) not just a grip on reality but a handle over language and poetry combined with a music form where the structure is so simple and interesting. These guys just have endless and brilliant amounts of phrasing and ability to instill such a basic structure with so much amazing control. So, it’s the hardest s*** in the world to play and make real and interesting. And plus, it’s a celebration of emotion.

matthew skoller image 4“It’s not just within the catharsis that it becomes positive. I mean, boogie woogie is blues. There’s nothing happier than a boogie woogie bass line. It’s just a celebration of all emotion, and it’s a survival music. It’s also the first protest music, and sort of follows in that tradition as well as the tradition of what used to be referred to as folk music, and I think that Blues Immigrant brings that out a lot, and I don’t separate the topical from the love song. I think that’s shallow.

“I don’t think “Caress Me, Baby” by Jimmy Reed is any less of a subversive song than “A Story of Greed” that I wrote. I think that in some ways it’s more of a subversive song in the fact that in our political system one of the elements that is necessary for it to succeed and to flourish is for people to be devoid of empathy and of compassion and that a love song like “Caress Me, Baby” by Jimmy Reed is a purely subversive tune because it’s so transcendently compassionate and empathetic and full of what I think is a natural human emotion – as they say in blues poetry feeling someone else’s core – that putting that out, and having people experience that, that that’s truly a subversive song. That’s truly a protest song.”

Skoller thinks of subversion as a positive thing. “Yeah, I mean to subvert the given structure of our society. And, honestly, I’ll probably get in trouble for this. I’m talking about capitalism. Let me not beat around the bush here. One of the things that is completely necessary in a capitalist society is for people to be devoid of empathy for their community, for their fellow human beings, and that’s what exploitation is about, and that is why somebody could easily say, ‘No, I don’t want to pay more for my healthcare so that five million poor people can be insured. If they’re not strong enough to go out there and bootstrap it and make enough money to pay for their own health care then f*** ’em.’

“They call it socialist. ‘He’s a socialist.’ I don’t know what it is, but when Obamacare came through, I got f***ed. I make just enough money to not benefit from Obamacare. Do I want to see the Affordable Care Act eliminated? Hell, f***ing no! No! Would I like to see a single payer happen? Absolutely, I would, but we’re at least taking a step toward. I mean there was at least five million poor people who did not have health insurance and who were dying before this capitalistic sentiment, and so when I hear a love song, I think of it as something that helps subvert that element of this particular political structure that we find ourselves living in.

“I guess (being subversive) is really about something or someone who is seeking to subvert an established system or an institution or that system. It can be positive or negative, and so that’s sort of what I meant. I suppose a subversive person could be thought of as a renegade. Or in the world of politics from people who are revolutionaries it’s a compliment. Yeah, it’s a compliment.”

“I’ve been under the radar for a long time. I don’t sort of move in the same way as a lot of these guys that are better known in this business than I am. I think in spite of that, I’ve done a lot of work that’s gotten a lot of attention. So, people know who I am. I certainly have never had a record deal, and I haven’t really wanted one. I’ve wanted to make my own records, and I want to have control over them, but anyway, that’s the story.

“Before we had the music done for Blues Immigrant, I read the lyrics of the title song to a 75-year-old African American professor emeritus poet who when I was done said that was one of the most honest poems he’d ever heard. He really understood it. He really got it, and he in the same way you said to me you’re a veteran. You’re not some weekend warrior.

“Yeah, I also hope that the humor of that song doesn’t escape people. I mean ‘Have I paid enough dues/I need a green card to play the blues.” I mean, come on, man. That’s f***ing funny. And there something toward the end of that tune I say,’ I really have no problem as a citizen of the blues.’ At a certain point an immigrant becomes a citizen.”

Visit Matthew’s website at: http://matthewskoller.com/

Interviewer Don Wilcock has been writing about blues for nearly half a century. He wrote Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues, the biography that helped Buddy Guy jumpstart his career in 1991. He’s interviewed more than 5000 Blues artists and edited several music magazines including King Biscuit Time.


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Central Iowa Blues Society – Des Moines, IA

Central Iowa Blues Society Announces Iowa Blues Hall Of Fame Class Of 2016. This year’s inductees include Ellis Kell, Tony Blew, Dan “DJ” Johnson, J C Anderson and Fletcher Henderson “Sonny” Lott.

Save the date for the Induction Ceremony to be held on April 8, 2017 at Noce’, 1326 Walnut St in Des Moines. The doors open and dinner provided by Flying Mango will start at 5:00 PM. IBHOF house band Sumpin Doo will perform at 6:00 PM with the ceremony at 6:30 PM and a Jam after the ceremony until 10:00 PM. Tickets will be available soon at Noce’ and Midwestix.

The nominated artist’s bios with additional info will follow and be posted at www.cibs.org and the CIBS Facebook page.

The Washington Blues Society – Seattle, WA

The Washington Blues Society’s annual Best of the Blues Awards returns to the Kirkland Performance Center on Sunday, April 9th to honor musicians and artists nominated by society members in 32 award categories. The 2017 BB Awards show features performances by select nominees and recognizes new inductees into the Washington Blues Society Hall of Fame.

The nominees represent the best blues performers throughout the Pacific Northwest. Long-time favorites Brian Lee and the Orbiters return with five nominations, including Best Blues Band, Best Performer and Best Songwriter. Fresh from their 2017 International Blues Challenge performances in Memphis, Polly O’Keary and the Rhythm Method garnered five nominations, including Best Band, Electric Guitarist and Female Vocalist of the Year. Stanislove, the blues society’s representative at the 2017 International Blues Challenge is also up for a Solo/Duo BB Award. First-time nominees include vocalist Sheri Roberts Greimes, guitarist Brett “Bad Blood,” Benton, Hammond B3 master Joe Doria and Kenmore’s Capps Club, home of the Washington Blues Society’s free Blues Bash held on the second Tuesday each month. More information: www.wablues.org

The Great Northern Blues Society – Wausau, WI

The Great Northern Blues Society of Wausau, WI (GNBS) is Proud to announce the lineup for our 18th Annual Blues Café fundraiser to be held at the Historically Registered Rothschild Pavilion (near Wausau, WI) on Saturday, March 11 2017.

The Lineup will include Joyann Parker Band, Jimmy Nick & Don’t Tell Mama, Ghost Town Blues Band, Brandon Santini, Becky Barksdale, and Bing Futch playing acoustic sets between main stage acts. Doors open at noon, and Music will start at 1:00PM and continue non-stop until 11:00PM. Chairs, Food, and Cold Beverages will be available on-site. Special Hotel Rates available at the nearby Stoney Creek Inn. Limited supply of rooms available so make your reservation now.

Please come, sit by the huge stone fireplace, with a beverage of choice in hand, and join us for 10 hours of non-stop glorious Blues Music on 3/11/17. Artist Biographies, directions, and Tickets are available on our Website at – http://www.gnbs.org

The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL

The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for the Blue Monday live performances and jam sessions held every Monday night at The Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 8:00pm to midnight. February 27 – Jeff Jensen, March 6 – The Rockin’ Johnny Band, March 13 – The Chris O’Lleary Band, March 20 – Joe Tenuto, March 27 – The Brother Jefferson Band, Aptil 3 – The Joe Moss Band, aptil 10 – Roger “Hurricane” Wilson & The Hurricane Homeboys, April 17 – The Green McDonough Band, Aptil 24 – Chris Ruest Featuring Gene Taylor.

Additional ICBC partnered shows: March 2 – Juke House Hosts James Armstrong Presents At The Alamo, March 4 – The Illinois Central Blues Club’s 31st birthday celebration at Knights of Columbus Meadowbrook featuring Toronzo Cannon, March 16 – Marry Jo Curry hosts James Armstrong Presents At The Alamo, April 20 – The MOJOCATS host James Armstrong Presents At The Alamo.  For more information visit www.icbluesclub.org.


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