Issue 12-11 March 15, 2018

Cover photo © 2018 Kevin Barton


 In This Issue 

Don Wilcock has our feature interview with Iowa bluesman, Catfish Keith. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Chris Murphy, Dave Keyes, Muddy Waters, Jeff McCarty, Bernard Allison, Janiva Magness, Jane Lee Hooker and Louis ‘Gearshifter’ Youngblood.

Our video of the week is Catfish Keith.

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


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 Featured Interview – Catfish Keith 

catfish keith photo 1“When you come from being a poor boy and just a wild-eyed dream of being a blues singer, and then you can actually go and do it, this goes along with what the American dream is really: that anybody can have a crazy idea and make it come true and really take it as far as you can take it. What could be sweeter than that? It’s fantastic.”

By most measures, Catfish Keith was the least likely candidate of anyone in the business to become a world class acoustic blues guitarist: a white guy from America’s bread basket in Iowa, the son of two teachers with advanced degrees. He was born in 1962, growing up just past Dave Van Ronk’s “great folk scare.” He in fact picked up the guitar at 12, soon tired of it and put it in the closet for two years.

“I was taking lessons from a guy that was a friend of a next-door neighbor, a World War II vet, and he said even for the ’70s (what he taught) was old stuff. I went through that period of sort of half-heartedly taking lessons from him, and then I just quit after about a year. So, the guitar stayed in the closet for about a year, and then when I was 14, a friend of mine was at a party. She had a guitar, and she was just making up songs, just making ’em up off the top of her head, and I thought, ‘Wait a minute. You can just make up songs?’ It was sort of a revelation.”

Keith’s mom taught English as a second language. His dad was a college professor and an administrator for a school district. “They never forced me to play sports. They kind of let me do whatever the heck I wanted to (chuckle) So, when I discovered music, it was a real magic thing for me, and they never discouraged me from any of that. They never said, ‘No, you must follow this path, or you must stay in school.”’

On the other hand, his parents never thought of playing music as being a career for their son. “I think they always wanted me to go to school and try to get a “real job,” but I think after 20 years of that, they realized I was really doing this for keeps. Yes, they did want me to go to school, and they had doubts that I would just be a pauper my whole life.

“By the time I started playing guitar in the early ’70s, that was kinda the music (acoustic folk blues) that really grabbed me and informed me, and so that’s still the music that’s most exciting to me, the kind of rediscovery period where guys like John Hurt, Skip James, Fred McDowell and Bukka White and all of those guys came out of the woodwork, and it still remains exciting to me. That music that it had a swell and about three or four comebacks after that. So, I think it must be here to stay.

“And I got excited about finger style guitar early on in my search for great music, and when I found out that guitar playing which sounded like three or four people playing at the same time was one person finger picking the guitar, a lightbulb went off in my head.

“When I got into people like Leo Kottke, John Fahey and even Paul Simon and Bob Dylan, I always wondered where did they get their music from? So, I kept digging and finding out about old country blues, and I took it back to the very beginning and found records by Blind Blake, Lonnie Johnson, Charley Paton and Son House and all those cool cats, but it really opened the world for me.

catfish keith photo 2“I pretty much felt like I was the only person in the world that liked that music then, but it really wasn’t the case. There were a lot of people sort of on their own similar journey finding the music all over the world really at that time, and I would hang out with record collectors, guys that had old ’78s from labels like Yazoo, and I would really hone in on that music and start to learn and enjoy, and really at the time there was hardly any way to actually learn it. But I guess that really made me good at listening very intently, both ears and the rest of my body, and that’s probably how I really kinda came up with my own style of playing the music in the way that I do ’cause these really weren’t the resources at the time.”

What I find most interesting about Catfish Keith is that he can write an acoustic blues song that’s indistinguishable from most old folk blues songs without having grown up in that environment, a trick of the tale that other white artists like Rory Block and John Hammond have difficulty doing even though both of them grew up around storied blues artists as children. Could it be because Catfish Keith was already a young adult before he met his idols and could better learn from them and be able to overcome complete idolization?

“I’ve been in awe of everybody,” he admits, but “I’ve been lucky enough to be at my age at the tail end of the last living country blues musicians. So, in my younger days I got to hang out with and have meaningful relationships with Jesse Mae Hemphill, Johnny Shines, Honeyboy Edwards, Henry Townsend. John Jackson and John Cephas.

“Knowing them gave me a connection with the culture of the music and a real feeling of being connected to it in a real way that just listening to records and learning that way you would not have. So, I feel very lucky to have all that, and when I write my music to my mind it’s the exact same thing as the old music really. When I take an old song, it’ll really be kind of re-imagined and recomposed because I just do it my own way, and when I write my own songs, they’re from that exact same wellspring.

“I can hardly tell the difference between some of my originals right next to my version of old songs. So, in other words, it doesn’t have a different quality to it. It’s from the exact same wellspring of inspiration. So, to me that’s what I hear and feel when I come up with my own songs. I’m fishing from that exact same pond. I’m pulling lyrics and themes right out of the Carter Family, Richard Rabbit Brown, Robert Petway and all these really great obscure artists.

“I never treated the music like it was in a museum. I always treated it as a live thing to be interacted with, and I kind of severely internalized all that music and culture. So, when I like music, it’s right out of that.”

He may have met his idols later in life than Rory Block or John Hammond, but it still was that personal connection that informs his work today.

“There are a lot of things you don’t get from a record. When I met Johnny Shines, I was 25 years old, and my buddy Mudcat Ruth, a harmonica genius, called me up and said, ‘Do you want to back up Johnny Shines?’ And I said, ‘Are you kidding me? Wow!’ I went to this festival in 1987, and got to play guitar with him, backing him up on stage, and I got to spend some time with him, and to hear his music. Your hair stands up, and it’s so deep and the guitar to me is the best of any of the original Delta bluesmen, just not really recognized as some others, but in his prime there was nobody better, but when I got to meet him and hang out with him, he was just so sweet and gentle and soft spoken and kind and to learn just how to be a human being is really so much of being in the world and everything.

catfish keith photo 3“So, I got lessons from him and Honeyboy Edwards. They didn’t call him Honeyboy for nothing. He was the sweetest guy you ever met, and there are just so many touching times that we had together, and with Jesse Mae Hemphill, she knocked me out. She was so special for a lot of reasons because her music was from that Mississippi Hill Country tradition that really only had male models before that: Fred McDowell, R.L. Burnside, but she took that hypnotic one-chord modal background and made her own unique and beautiful style from it and wrote her own songs.

“We really kinda became friends and bonded when I did some festivals with her in Eureka Springs, King Biscuit, Davenport and other places, she would just wack ass. She wore all these sequins, had jewels in her teeth, and she just was bigger than life to me. For her to go from being really very poor in a very little local place, Senatobia in the Hill Country, to really be a blues star all over the world. That was really an unprecedented thing. It just made her feel so validated and to just take her gift that far was just an incredible thing, and to be with her as she was doing that was so much fun, and she was so full of life.

“She even gave me a name. You know how they call Fred McDowell “Shake ’Em on Down” she laughed at that song that I played, and she would say, ‘Where’s Pepper in My Shoe at?’ And I’d say, ‘I’m right over here, Jesse Mae.’ And she was so much fun, and I really adored so much of the real deep quality of that music first by knowing her on a personal level, and there’s nothing more special that those kind of connections, and so for me to be able to be here 40 years into picking up the guitar and be able to take it all over the world myself and still remain just as true to that signal that inspired me is a phenomenal thing, and it is a true magic thing.”

Catfish Keith has recorded 17 records, all acoustic blues from the masters with originals sprinkled in.

“In the earliest days, being a young fella, I would do a record all in one day or maybe two and just kinda blaze through it with all the youthful testosterone, but now that I’m a little older, I’m a little more deliberate about things, and I think about it a little more, and also use my energy in a day when it’s kinda in its peak. I love recording at its peak summertime because you have the power of the whole world becoming ripe with the power of the sun that goes along with music, and I’m a big gardener, too. I love growing all kinds of flowers, and my vegetables that are grown in Iowa. So, all that’s kind of flowering at home as well. So, that’s a great time of year to make a record. Late July is great.”

For many blues artists, an idea may come to them in a flash. They’ll be driving along, and they’ll get an idea. They’ll stop and write it down, but there are usually many iterations between that gestation and what you finally hear on the record. But Catfish says most of his original songs come almost fully formed out of his head.

‘When I write my music to my mind it’s the exact same thing as the old music really when I take an old song. It’ll really be kind of re-imagined and recomposed because I just do it my own way, and when I write my own songs, they’re from that exact same wellspring. I can hardly tell the difference. So, in other words, it doesn’t have a different quality to it. So, to me that’s what I hear and feel when I come up with my own songs. I’m fishing from that exact same pond. I’m pulling lyrics and themes right out of the Carter Family, Richard Rabbit Brown, Robert Petway and all these really great obscure artists.

catfish keith photo 4Not too long ago I had these songs by Rev. Robert Wilkins in my head and this particular song I was dreaming, but I had this melody that was very much like one of the early Robert Wilkins songs. So, I’ll take the spirit and feel of something like that and the song kinda writes itself really, and that happens a lot in a lot of different ways. So, they’ll kinda stack up, and I’ll have lyrics laying all around the house, and I’ll find something that I wrote quickly, forgot about, but I try it out, and it’s like, hey, that’s pretty good, and we’ll try that, and in the studio when I do the actual recording.

“Mostly I write a song without ever even having a guitar in my hand. I write the whole song kind of in my head. I’ll write on an airplane or train or just sitting somewhere, and I’ll have the full melody and guitar notes and lyrics. They all happen pretty quick when I write a song. If I’m not done in half an hour, it’s very unusual. So, when songs pop out, they pop out fully formed like that, and I very rarely change any lyrics.

“(When recording) I’ll try four or five passes at a song maybe tops and if it’s not working, I’ll just leave it and go to the next thing ’cause sometimes songs are not quite ripe yet, or really ready which is ok if you only find that out when you actually record if it’s really ready or not.”

He talks about his most recent album, Mississippi River Blues and his current recording process.

“Well, here’s what I do. I get the recording date first which should be far enough in advance for some frantic planning, but really there’s a period of two or three or four months of kind of intensive crafting and preparation, but what I’ll do first is just lift out 100 songs I still want to do, and then in that process it gets a little down a bit, and also in that process I’ll find a bunch of songs that I’ve written and I’ll fully craft those.

“I just spend a month or two or three or four before the album and make sure every day I go, or what I can, I go and have sessions where I’m just kinda crafting these songs. A lot of songs I’ve known forever anyway. So, anyway, so some of ’em are already there.

“I have to work at it, the arrangements I like, but it’s really fun. It’s intense, and I love making records, and when I go in the studio mostly it’s solo. That’s what I plan to do again, make a solo record.

“Mostly, it’s me fooling around tuning the guitar, and it’s me getting ready, but I take about a week, and I do intensive three or four hours every day for about four or five, six days and within that time I have a record. That’s how we did Mississippi River Blues, and that’s how I’ve done a lot of the records.

“I’m a night owl, so the early part of the day is 10 or 11 in the morning for me. Recording – we’ll be done by two in the afternoon, but that way I put my strongest part of the day into making the music, and I think it makes for a better record, and it’s just a thing you learn after 50 or 60 years.”

What’s the average number of takes?

“It’s one or two, but sometimes it’s four or five. But if I don’t have the song within 20 minutes, and I’m kinda worn out trying on it, I go on to the next thing. So, that’s why within one week of doing three or four-hour sessions, we have more than enough for one hefty record, so it’s a great process, and I really enjoy doing it.

Catfish was looking out over the ocean in Mexico when we talked. “I’m not rich or anything, but we own a house, and we tour the world all the time. I make a reasonable living and can do anything I want really and it’s an amazing freedom, and I still love playing concerts, love playing music, and man, we are living the dream. It’s true.”

Visit Keith’s website at: www.catfishkeith.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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 Video Of The Week – Catfish Keith 

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Catfish Keith plays “It Won’t Be Long Now” by Frank Stokes on National’s M-14 Thunderbox. (Click image to watch!)


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

chris murphy cd imageChris Murphy – Water Under the Bridge

Teahouse Records

http://chrismurphymusic.com

CD: 14 Songs, 58:47 Minutes

Styles: Original Jazz, Blues, and Swing Violin Music, Instrumentals, All Original Songs

“I, more than anything, strive to have my music be a short little film, a movie. I probably could be defined as a frustrated film auteur. My music is like a live film score, you know? I’m inviting you on a journey into my world, filled with questionable characters and black-market deals, alleyways, men in trench coats and women in corsets and the police. I’m Chris Murphy. I play the violin. I write songs about love, loss, redemption, hope, fear…” What need more be said about this magnificently-multitalented muso from California and his new release, Water Under the Bridge? This: If you like the Nouveaux Honkies, jazz-influenced blues aficionados, this CD will be right up your wet and moonlit back alley. It features fourteen original songs so heavy and redolent with atmosphere that they’ll conjure mental images from their very first notes. Chris’ blues is nightclub, cocktail-party, wedding-reception blues. It’s as far from the barroom variety as the east is from the west. Nevertheless, it’ll keep listeners fully engaged from start to finish. A minor quibble is with the auto-tuned nature of the vocals – my operative word being “minor.” Otherwise, it’s perfect for a long road trip or quiet evening at home with one’s favorite red wine.

Murphy boasts more than ten albums to his credit, and has also made cameo appearances on records by Har Mar Superstar and the Dandy Warhols, among others. Murphy’s recordings include the likes of Steve Hodges and Larry Taylor from Tom Waits’ band, Nels Cline, Mike Watt, DJ Bonebrake and John Doe, Herb Pedersen, Tim O’Brien, Joachim Cooder, and Trevor Hutchinson. He’s been featured on TV programs The Ellen DeGeneres Show and ‘Til Death.

On this CD, he also boasts a Greek-sized chorus of co-performers: Nate Lapointe on guitar; Tom Moose on mandolin, guitar and banjo; DJ Bonebrake on drums; Ted Russell Kamp on bass; Olivia Brownlee on backing vocals; Jamieson Trotter on piano; Danny Frankel on drums and percussion; Tim Emmons on bass; Michael Abrahams on guitar; Benedict Brydern on violin; Bill Markus on bass; Marty Rifkin on dobro; and Adam Gust on drums. As for Murphy himself, he plays violin, mandolin, guitar, and percussion while doing lead vocal duty.

The following three songs are the picks of the litter, though they’re all of purebred quality.

Track 02: “Joan Crawford Dances the Charleston” – Interesting title; even more interesting instrumental. Yours truly is too young to remember Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, but she’s heard rumors about one of cinema’s most beguiling witches. This may sound like a jaunty, lighthearted little tune, but there’s an undercurrent of melancholy angst running through it. It’s suave and stylish, and if you let your mind wander, it might call 1930’s gangster films up.

Track 05: “I Swear I’m Gonna Learn This Time” – Chris Murphy and Olivia Brownlee perform this charming duet about trying (and failing) to discern a lesson from one’s mistakes. “I swear I’m going to learn this time,” they sing. “It’s hard when you’re heart’s beating in rhyme…I should know better after all I’ve been through, but one caress and I fall for you.” Love is irresistible, even if it’s a teasing temptation instead of the real deal.

Track 10: “Dog Ear Blues” – Guitar fans rejoice: track ten’s your number. It’s got an edge as hard as steel and as sharp as a CASE® pocketknife. Adam Gust provides gutsy drums on this foot-stomping extravaganza, and Marty Rifkin is the guest of honor on delicious dobro.

Blues fans, don’t dismiss Chris Murphy’s marvelous music as so much Water Under the Bridge!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 38 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.



 

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2018 Blues Blast Music Award Submissions Are Now Open

The Blues Blast Music Awards honor contemporary Blues artists and their recordings. Artists with major labels and independent artists are eligible to be considered.

The eligibility period for specific recordings is music released from May 1, 2017 to April 30, 2018. Categories such as Male Blues Artist, Female Blues Artist, Blues Band and the Rising Star Award are not tied to these specific dates but instead are based on our nominators recent observations of performances of touring artists over the past year. Submissions must be received by April 15th.

For Complete information on submitting your music for consideration click HERE

NOMINATION CATEGORIES

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


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Normal 2018 Advertising rates start at $150 per issue of Blues Blast magazine. BUT, for a limited time, this special gives you eight issues of Blues Blast Magazine for only $400. (A $1200 value!)

Blues Blast Magazine is a great way to promote anything Blues. 36,000 opt-in subscribers read Blues Blast Magazine. Our subscribers are located in all 50 states and in more than 90 countries giving your products global coverage at an affordable price. Weekly issues of Blues Blast Magazine are also posted on our popular website. We get more than 2,000,000 (That’s TWO MILLION) hits and 65,000 visitors a month at our website.

To get this special rate simply buy your ad space by APRIL 15th, 2018!!!! Ads can run anytime between now and December 2018. So get your ad package now for that fall album release!

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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

dave keyes cd imageDave Keyes – The Healing

www.davekeyes.com

Self-release

11 songs – 54 minutes

The Healing is the sixth solo CD from singer/keyboardist/songwriter, Dave Keyes, a sideline he runs in addition to his regular gigs with Pope Chubby, Ronnie Spector, Slam Allen and Alexis P. Suter as well as writing for television and media.

Featuring nine original tracks plus two covers, The Healing is a highly enjoyable collection of blues, roots and Americana, often served up with some gospel spice too. Opening with the distinctive shuffle of “Change” it is immediately clear that this is blues with a twist. It’s a shuffle with a kicking harp solo from Rob Paparozzi and a pure blues slide guitar solo from Arthur Neilson, but the track’s chord progression and the jazz-tinged piano solo give it a memorably different flavor.

The upbeat gospel-pop of “Dance In The Dark” features Keyes on B-3 while “Not So Nice Anymore” mines the roots rock seam with a punchy solo from Popa Chubby.

Keyes has brought a wide range of his friends to play on different tracks on the album, including guitarists Chubby, Arthur Neilson and George Naha, harmonica player Rob Paparozzi, bassist David J. Keyes, drummers Frank Pagano and Stephen Rushton, saxophonist Chris Eminizer, trumpet player Tim Ouimette and Diane Cricchio and The Ministers of Sound on backing vocals. The wonderful Vaneese Thomas adds her distinctive vocals to the bouncing “Ain’t Looking For Love” with its wry chorus: “Some folks are looking for love, some folks are looking for sex. Some don’t know the difference…that’s when the whole thing turns into one big mess” while The Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir lend powerful backing vocals to one of the many highlights of the album, the slow gospel-blues of “Faith Grace Love and Forgiveness”, with more excellent guitar from Neilson.

Of the covers, Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” is re-imagined as a loping, New Orleans-style groove while Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Strange Things Happening” is played at a wicked clip with roaring backing vocals from The Ministers Of Sound.

Keyes is a top drawer keyboard player, laying down a series of smart solos and fills on piano, B3, Wurlitzer and other assorted keys (the pounding piano barrelhouse instrumental, “Boogie For Stefan” is almost worth the price of admission by itself). He is also a fine singer with an unaffected yet powerfully emotional voice.

Lyrically, the theme that links many of the tracks on The Healing is the importance of holding onto our faith that things will get better. As Keyes writes in the CD liner notes, “With all that is going on, I knew it was time to make this album….” As a result, even the slower tracks, such as “Take You Back”, have a message of positivity and belief.

Superbly recorded at a number of different studios around New York and New Jersey (including Kaleidoscope Sound in Union City, Serpentine Sound in Central Valley and Mission Sound in Brooklyn), with some stellar performances from the musicians, if you want to hear some powerfully uplifting modern blues, gospel and roots music, The Healing is highly recommended.

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 – 3 of 8 

muddy waters cd imageMuddy Waters – Live At Rockpalast

MIG – 2018

DVD/CD1: 13 tracks; 61 minutes

DVD/CD2: 14 tracks; 72 minutes

www.mig-music.de

65 at the time of this concert on December 10 1978 in Dortmund, Germany, Muddy Waters was still a powerful performer and he had a fine band behind him: Pinetop Perkins on piano, Jerry Portnoy on harp, Bob Margolin and Luther ‘Guitar’ Johnson on guitar, Calvin ‘Fuzz’ Jones on bass and Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith on the drums. The set list includes several Muddy classics but also less obvious choices like St Louis Jimmy Oden’s “Soon Forgotten” which follows on from show opener “Hoochie Coochie Man”. Muddy is seated most of the time but his fiery slide work on the extended slow blues “They Call Me Muddy Waters” certainly excites the crowd, as does Pinetop’s superb solo. Jerry Portnoy leads the band into a sprightly “Walkin’ Thru The Park” which incorporates some latin rhythms before the pace slows for “Country Boy”, another feature for Muddy’s slide work. We then get two classics from other sources in “Kansas City” and “Caledonia”, often in BB King’s live repertoire, but here driven by Jerry’s harp work and the rhythm section’s foot-tapping work; both numbers leave space for strong solos from Bob and Luther and Pinetop gets in on the act with a verse or two of vocals on each tune. Little Walter’s “Everything Gonna Be Alright” has Luther taking the vocals as Muddy prepares himself for the big finale, a run of “Mannish Boy”/”Got My Mojo Working”/”Sweet Home Chicago”. This version of “Mannish Boy” is terrific as Muddy puts his guitar down, leaves his stool and gets the crowd going with his antics as he delivers the familiar lyrics, the ultimate boasting tune! The band leaves the stage but returns for the encores: first “Mojo” (on which Jerry and Muddy literally shake a leg – an image beautifully captured on the packaging of the set) and then the band returns a final time (without Muddy) for the Chicago ‘anthem’, led by Luther on vocals, Willie showing how to drive a Chicago shuffle while smoking a cigarette!

Sadly, disputes over money led to that band leaving Muddy in 1980 and Muddy then passed away in 1983. However, in the 90’s the band members reunited as The Muddy Waters Tribute Band and on the second DVD they are captured at an outdoor festival in Loreley, Germany, June 23 1996. Luther, Bob, Calvin and Willie are all still there but Pinetop was unable to travel due to health issues so there is no piano and Jerry Portnoy is replaced by Carey Bell who has a smoother style. Although we inevitably miss Muddy’s charisma the performance is good and the energy levels are high. Bob handles the slide elements that Muddy used to play and immediately shows how he learned from Muddy in the way he delivers his solo on “Clouds In My Heart”. Vocals are shared out, Luther sounding good on “Walkin’ Thru The Park” and “Can’t Lose What You Never Had” but Calvin, on Jimmy Reed’s “You Don’t Have To Go” and Muddy’s “Honey Bee”, is less convincing. Carey Bell sings “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”, plays some great low register harp on “Laundromat Blues”, a song more usually associated with Albert King, and brings us back to Muddy with “I’m Ready”. Willie takes over vocals for a frenetic version of “If The Washing Don’t Get You, The Rinsing Will” and his own shuffle “Hard Hard Way” before “Hoochie Coochie Man” which he delivers convincingly. Levon Helm of The Band guests on “Gone To Main Street”, sharing the vocals with Bob and seeming to enjoy himself immensely. The final two tunes are the inevitable “Mojo” and “Mannish Boy” which Bob sings in his deepest voice and certainly channels Muddy in his performance.

Overall a nicely presented box set which will allow the owner to see Muddy and the two bands on stage as well as being able to play the companion CDs while driving etc. Both concerts are well recorded, the earlier set perhaps having the best sound as a few feedback issues mar the later show. However, this will be a ‘must have’ for Muddy fans and would act as a great introduction to his music for anyone just starting out on their exploration of the blues.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.


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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

jeff mccarty cd imageJeff McCarty – Step Out

Whiskey Bayou Records

11 songs – 51 minutes

www.jeffmccartyband.com

Even though he’s a multi-instrumentalist with a long history in the Louisiana music scene, Jeff McCarty steps into the spotlight as a vocalist on this debut album, and he couldn’t have done it better . Not only is he backed by an all-star band, but he’s produced by Tab Benoit, who plays drums behind him and produced the CD on his own record label.

Step Out blends soul, rock, country and the blues into a pleasant gumbo, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of McCarty’s fans deep in the bayou. As a musician, he’s graced the stage with a wide variety of talents, including George Jones, Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson to REO Speedwagon, Styx and Bonham as well as many of the top names locally.

With the exception of one cover, Jeff’s written all of the material here, sharing credit with Benoit on seven of the 10 originals. The material ranges from love and loss to dreams of success and spirituality. Even though they both hail from Houma along the Gulf Coast, they’d known each other but never played together before this project. “Once we sat down and started writing…that was the fuel for the fire,” McCarty says. “He’s a great co-writer, and helped a lot with the lyrics and arrangements.”

All of the musicians here are based in south Louisiana. Bassist Corey Duplechin, who’s worked regularly with Tab and Chubby Carrier, anchors the bottom with Josh Garrett and Tillis Verdin, who shine on guitar and keyboards.

McCarty’s tenor voice is crisp and soulful on the upbeat opener, “One World, One Life, One People,” which notes that despite all of our individual differences, “the air is the same for everyone.” It’s a pleasant, percussive blues-flavored rocker. The driving “My Soul Will Never Be Free” takes its time as describes the torment of losing the love of a lady who has everything the singer needs, but can no longer have.

The theme continues with the blues ballad, “Angel Fly,” which urges the lady to return home to arms that will never leave her alone. The tempo picks up a little for the soulful title tune “Step Out,” which advises to keep moving forward in life rather than living with your head in the clouds. A cover of Bad Company’s “Live For The Music” gets a funk treatment before the tender ballad, “Love,” which sings praise of the blessing because that’s the only thing the couple have got.

McCarty describes a musician’s life on the road in the mellow “A Thousand Miles To You,” which promises to stay with the lady forever, before the action heats up with the loping “Dance With Me Baby,” a new tune that springs from familiar blues roots. The bayou waters run deep and strong in the two-step ballad “Make Our Love Stronger” before the funky “Figure It Out” advises that it’s time for the lady to stay home instead of running the streets with “the tramp who lives next door.” The disc concludes with the rocker “Let’s Ride,” an anthem that the singer will keep believing in his own success while stating that it’s “time to throw down” and have a good time.

Available from Amazon, iTunes and other online retailers, Step Out is a rock-solid debut for McCarty. All of the material is unhurried, fresh and original despite the familiar themes. This one’s right up your alley if you like your music modern, laid back and with a strong, soulful Southern sound.

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 – 5 of 8 

bernard allison cd imageBernard Allison – Let It Go

Ruf Records

www.bernardallison.com

CD: 12 Songs, 49:58 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary and Traditional Electric Blues and Blues Rock

Painful admission: When this reviewer saw the title of the aforementioned CD, she popped it into her stereo and fast-forwarded to that track, hoping and praying it wasn’t a cover of the pop hit from Disney’s Frozen. Then she thought, “Bernard Allison would never do that. He’s a legend!” His Let It Go is an original tune and an entire album besides. When blues runs in the blood as thickly and purely as it does between a father and his youngest son, nary a sour note is played. Bernard’s groove persists and embellishes itself throughout twelve tracks: eight of his own, two of Luther’s (“You’re Gonna Need Me” and “Castle,”) and two other covers (“Kiddio” by Brook Benton and Clyde Otis, and “Look Out Mabel” by Melvin London and G.L. Crockett). Perhaps the best part of Bernard’s blues is his vocals, savory as barbecue ribs: hot and tangy, just the thing to warm one’s ears like a full rack of “baby back” warms the stomach. Of course, his guitar is iconic, and it makes a bold appearance in electric, slide, and acoustic varieties. Ruf Records has done it again, providing pristine-quality music from a pristine-quality, traditional blues artist.

Let It Go was recorded at Bessie Blue Studio in Stantonville, Tennessee, with legendary music producer Jim Gaines,” recalls Allison. “We made the decision to not flood the CD with keyboards or horns, to go back to the true basic rhythm section sound – and to show more mature songwriting.” He adds, “We all just came together as a group to create this album, to show our chemistry as friends and bandmates. My favorite memory was watching the faces of everyone involved in the session. Everyone came to lay it down and gave 110%.”

Along with Bernard on lead vocals, slide guitar, lead guitar, talk, B3 and acoustic guitars are John T. McGhee on rhythm guitar, Jose Ned James on sax for “Kiddio,” George Moye on bass guitar, and Mario Dawson on drums, finger snaps, tambourine, and background vocals for “Leave Your Ego.”

The following three songs are diamonds in the midst of a twelve-gem tennis bracelet.

Track 01: “Cruisin’ for a Bluesin’” – Periodically, touring artists wax poetic about life on the road – the routine, the ins and outs of performing, and in the end, the perennial payoff. “Well, I wake up every morning, just about the break of day. One more cup of coffee, and then I get on my way…We’re cruisin’ for a bluesin’. We don’t know any other way.” Would that we all could be so lucky! Laid-back and good-humored, this opener should find its way onto Sirius XM’s playlists, if it hasn’t already.

Track 06: “Kiddio” – Winning my Best Instrumentation award is “Kiddio,” an endearingly sexy cover featuring sultry sax and lyrics that’ll melt a glacier. Also top-notch is George Moye’s bassline. Tap your toes and snap your fingers along with Mario Dawson, and croon along with Bernard as he sings, “I want you, baby. Don’t you say no. Make me feel good, kiddio.” Reminiscent of Steve Miller and Marvin Gaye, it’s a touch of jazz amid the blues.

Track 12: “Castle” – A gorgeous tribute to Allison’s late father, Luther, “Castle” will tug at one’s heartstrings and make one play along on acoustic guitar strings. It’s a melancholy ballad that fits perfectly as a closer, midway between blues and straight romantic serenade.

Are late-winter doldrums getting you down? Let It Go with the magnificent Bernard Allison!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 38 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.


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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

janiva magness cd imageJaniva Magness – Love Is An Army

Blue Elan Records – 2018

12 tracks; 45 minutes

www.janivamagness.com

After a couple of albums which took a step away from her blues and Rn’B roots, Janiva Magness returned to more familiar territory on last year’s EP Blue Again and her latest album continues in that direction, albeit with some elements of country to keep the mix fresh. Janiva has again worked with producer Dave Darling with whom she has made several albums now. Indeed, Dave had a hand in most of the songs here, writing four with Janiva, four with Lauren Bliss and Andrew Lowden, one with Colin Devlin and one with Gary and Natasha Pinto; one solo composition by Dave and a cover of a Paul Thorn song complete the material. The band is Dave on guitar, Arlan Schierbaum on keys, Doug Livingston on pedal steel and dobro, Phil Parlapiano on piano, Davey Farragher on bass and Stephen Hodges on drums; Darrell Leonard, Joe Sublett and Alfredo Ballesteros add horns to a few tracks and there are lots of backing vocalists: Sugaray Rayford, Gary Pinto, Natasha Pinto, Kudisan Kai, Thrones, Aurelia, Dave and Brie Darling. Guests include Charlie Musselwhite (harp), Rusty Young (pedal steel), Cedric Burnside (guitar), Courtney Hartman (guitar/banjo), Delbert McClinton and Bryan Stephens (vocals).

The ‘choir’ is well in evidence on the opener, Janiva on great form vocally on a mid-paced tune with discreet horns adding to a full production. Lyrically we are in ‘no way back from a break-up’ territory, Janiva resigned to her destiny – “Back To Blue”. Charlie Musselwhite adds his distinctive harp to the aggressve “Hammer” in which Janiva sings of the struggle to “keep swinging the hammer every single day”. Rusty Young’s pedal steel adds country rock style to “On And On”, a surefire winner in the way its chorus ends up in your head for hours afterwards – a real earworm! Janiva provides an appropriately moody vocal on Dave’s “Tell Me”, a song that acts as a call to arms in times of prejudice and fear. Janiva’s title tune continues in that vein with the opening lines “If love is an army, sadness the enemy, you know that I will fight for you”. A duet with NYC singer (and fellow Blue Elan artist) Bryan Stephens, this ballad is a great showcase for Janiva.

“Down Below” adds Courtney Hartman’s banjo to a Bliss/Lowden/Darling song with gospel influences in the lyrics and choral vocals but an Americana feel to the music. Janiva’s “What’s That Say About You?” celebrates selflessness as hard-working folk lend a hand to those less fortunate than themselves in a great piece of Rn’B that could have been recorded by any number of Memphis artists ‘back in the day’ – another standout track. Paul Thorn’s “What I Could Do” is a lovely ballad sung in heartfelt manner by Janiva and Delbert before the Pinto’s “Home” which features Cedric Burnside, better known as an award-winning drummer but here on guitar, the tune having something of the North Hill Country style that we associate with Cedric, a stripped back drum sound, Janiva singing with the choir and an uncredited male vocalist (perhaps writer Gary Pinto?).

The album concludes with a trio of Bliss/Lowden/Darling songs: “Love To A Gunfight” is another song that fits well with the unifying theme of ‘love conquers all’ that permeates the album; pedal steel features here and on the ballad “When It Rains”, giving a country feel to both songs; Janiva is accompanied just by gospel-infused piano on album closer “Some Kind Of Love” and we are again reminded just how well her voice works on this kind of material, the song also containing some memorable lines: “I’m reaching out for better days, like a desert praying for rain. It’s gonna take some kind of love to cure all this pain”.

In summary this is an outstanding album with several great songs, likely to figure in ‘Best Of’ lists at the end of the year. The band is terrific throughout and the guest stars all add distinctive elements to the mix, making this a disc to recommend to Blues Blast readers.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.


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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 8 

jane lee hooker cd imageJane Lee Hooker – Spiritus

Ruf Records

www.janeleehooker.com

CD: 10 Songs, 52:54 Minutes

Styles: “Punk Blues,” Contemporary Electric Rock

Blues fans, don’t let the name of this NYC band fool you. Jane Lee Hooker consists of rock mavens, pure and simple. They brand their style of music “punk blues,” but their sophomore album leans vastly more to the punk side than the blues side. One might make the same observation about Ana Popovic, another Ruf Records recording artist, and be absolutely right. The appeal of all these fabulous females lies in their Spiritus – spirit – which Jane Lee Hooker and her all-gal quintet bare, holding nothing back. With a touch of Sheryl Crow, a dash of Alanis Morissette, and a pinch of the immortal Janis, they know how to stir classic influences into their original material. Out of ten songs, only two are covers: Minnie Lawler’s “Black Rat” (reviewed below) and Don Robey’s “Turn On Your Love Light.” Unsurprisingly, these tracks are the ones that sound the most like traditional blues. On all selections, the usual New York City adjectives apply: realist, gritty, edgy, hard-bitten, electric, and of course, avant-garde. In the Big Apple, if musicians aren’t pushing the envelope of their genre, they might as well be pushing up daisies. Young blues fans may really dig this CD, but baby-boomer purists will probably look elsewhere to get their genre jones satisfied.

“We’re a gang,” says the lineup: Dana “Danger” Athens on vocals, piano and organ; Tracy “High Top” Almazan on guitar; Tina “T-Bone” Gorin on guitar; Melissa “Cool Whip” Houston on drums, and “Hail Mary” Zadroga on bass. “We’re a family.” As for the album itself, “Spiritus is almost entirely original music written by the band as a unit, which has been really exciting and really gratifying. We write so naturally together; it’s been pretty effortless.” When it comes to studio effects and slick editing, however, you won’t find much. “We wanted this album to sound like we do live – raw and high-energy. And we operated under the same credo we had with [our debut release] No B! – all live, no effects, no pedals, no overdubbing nonsense. I think we captured the excitement, and we have the same real sounds that we loved so much on No B!”

The following cover hurtles like a Maglev train toward its conclusion. There’s no stopping it.

Track 06: “Black Rat” – Listen well and listen fast. The lyrics come, and then they’re past: “You is one black rat. One day I’ll find your trail. Then I’ll hide my shoes right near your shirttail!” Moral? What goes around comes around, and for this rambling rodent, hopefully sooner than later. Every musician is on full-blast here, and “Danger” Athens’ vocals are spot-on Joplin.

When it comes to Jane Lee Hooker’s second release, they’ve delivered on all the goals and promises mentioned earlier. With that said, there’s one major caveat yours truly must deliver: It’s not that Spiritus isn’t good. It’s just not blues.

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 38 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.



 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

louis youngblood cd imageLouis ‘Gearshifter’ Youngblood

Self-Release – 2017

11 tracks; 47 minutes

www.gearshifterblues.com

Jackson-based Louis Youngblood has been around in his native Mississippi for many years, originally learning to play guitar from family relatives (Louis’ grandfather Arzo was a contemporary of Tommy Johnson). He played as a sideman for local bands, acquiring the ‘Gearshifter’ moniker because of his day job as a truck driver/machine operator, and has fronted his own band for some years. However, this is his debut album release, recorded in Mississippi with local musicians, essentially the same team that recorded the late Leo ‘Bud’ Welch for Fat Possum: Louis plays guitar and sings, Matt Patton (Drive By Truckers) is on bass and Larry Morrisey on drums; additional musicians include Jimbo Mathus on keyboards and Schaefer Llana on B/V’s, Kell Kellum adds steel guitar to one track and producer Bronson Tew provides rhythm guitar and B/V’s. The material includes four of Louis’ originals, adaptations of two traditional songs and covers drawn from both classic blues and more contemporary sources. A left-handed player with quite a high voice, Louis is known locally as a musician who draws from diverse sources and often includes country, soul and blues in his sets. This album shows all those styles but the main focus is blues.

The originals start with the rhythmic “Juke Joint” – “a fight likely to break out as soon as you step through the door but the blues play all night long” – and Louis goes on to describe the place in detail, some of it not for the squeamish! “No Working Blues” opens in similar style to John Hiatt’s “Riding With The King” and the interplay between Louis and Bronson propels a good tune with amusing lyrics about not working because “the boss kicked the bucket today”. “A Big Change” adds Jimbo’s organ to a tango-influenced rhythm over which Louis sings about being told by his woman to clean up his act and “Get Rich And Marry You” is a country tune with Louis and Bronson doing some fine acoustic picking.

St Louis Jimmy Oden’s “Goin’ Down Slow” is frequently covered but Louis approaches it with a funky and soulful slant that works well. Bobby Bland also covered “Goin’ Down Slow” and Louis tackles a second song from Bobby’s repertoire in “You’ve Got To Hurt Before You Heal” which suits his voice particularly well, Kell’s steel guitar blending a little country into the song and Louis’ acoustic solo making a nice centrepiece to the song. “Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On” comes from Jeannie Cheatham and is tremendous fun while “Rabbit In A Log” is a traditional folk tale performed in a blend of country and blues style. Lefty Dizz’s “Bad Avenue” was recently covered superbly in full electric mode by Albert Castiglia but here Louis provides a solo acoustic version that makes the song no less menacing. Another traditional song “Seven Sisters” gets a full band treatment as Jimbo adds some swirling organ to a chunky riff and electric guitar accents. A more contemporary cover is Mel Waiters’ entertaining “Hole In The Wall” in which Louis takes his refined lady to a juke joint and after her initial reservations they are still there the next morning!

It may have taken Louis over 60 years to record his first album but he has done a good job and there is plenty of variety to enjoy, as well as considerable quality, making the album worth seeking out.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.


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Ventura County Blues Society – Ventura, CA

The 13th Annual Ventura County Blues Festival, Southern California’s Longest-Running Yearly Big Blues Event, returns on Saturday, April 28, to Studio Channel Islands, 2222 E. Ventura Blvd., in Camarillo. Gates open 10:00 am, music begins at 11:00 am. Tickets $30. (Pre-Sale), $40. (Day of Show). Kids 12 and under, free with paid Adult General Admission. V.I.P. Tickets $125. (online only). Festival proceeds benefits Food Share, Safety Harbor Kids and other local charities (please bring a nonperishable food item to donate to Food Share). Info: (805) 501-7122 or visit http://venturacountyblues.com. Benefiting Safety Harbor Kids and other local charities. Donations welcome.

This year’s lineup features multiple former Grammy nominee, vocalist Earl Thomas; harpist-vocalist extraordinaire, John Nemeth; SoCal native daughter and longtime festival favorite, Deb Ryder; past International Blues Challenge semi finalists, Alan Wright Band; Sandy Scott & Blues to The Bone, featuring powerhouse vocalist, Sandy Scott. As per yearly tradition, the Ventura County Blues Society All-Star Jam closes out the festival, with special, unannounced guest performers

The Sacramento Blues Society – The Sacramento, CA

The Sacramento Blues Society will host a performance by the Johnny Rawls Band on May 25th, 2018. Doors at Goldfield Trading Post @ 1630 J St. Sacramento, CA will open at 3:30. For tickets visit: www.sacblues.com/event/johnny-rawls.

Johnny Rawls is a soul blues legend. In fact, the term “soul blues” was invented to describe his music. With a career spanning more than 50 years, he’s done it all. He’s an internationally recognized recording artist, music producer, and songwriter who tours extensively throughout North America and overseas.

The Blues Music Awards, Blues Blast Awards, Living Blues Critics Poll Awards, and the W. C. Handy Awards have all acknowledged Johnny with multiple awards and nominations, including Soul Blues Album of the Year and Soul Blues Artist of the Year. Living Blues Magazine described him as a “soul-blues renaissance man”

Johnny’s latest CD “Waiting for the Train” on Catfood Records was released in September 2017, and has been recognized as one of the top 50 blues albums of the year by Roots Music Report

The Charlotte Blues Society – Charlotte, NC

The Charlotte Blues Society announces its April Blues Bash, 1 April (no April fool’s joke here) featuring Joseph Michael Mahfoud, also at the Rabbit Hole, 7:00 doors, 8:00 show, with jam to follow.

As always, both shows are free to card-carrying members, only $5 for others. We are asking for donations of canned food or household paper products to benefit Loaves and Fishes. Hope to see you there! www.charlottebluessociety.org

Sacramento Blues Society – Sacramento, CA

Sacramento Blues Society is proud to present the legendary Johnny Rawls, Nominee for 2018 Soul Blues Male Artist and Soul Blues Album of the Year for “Waiting for the Train”, on Sunday, March 25, 2018, Goldfield’s Trading Post, 1630 J Street, Sacramento.

Doors open 3:30 p.m. ~ Show: 4 to 7 pm. Purchase tickets Advance Online: $29 Members, $34 Public at www.sacblues.com or at the Door: $30 Members, $35 Public.

Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL

Monthly shows at the Hope and Anchor in Loves Park, IL are on the second Saturday of the month. They are from 8:00 to 11:30 PM and there is a $5 Cover Charge. Scheduled shows: April 14 – Chicago Wind featuring Matthew Skoller and Dietra Farr, May 12 – Cash Box Kings.

The Lyran Society in downtown Rockford hosts first and third Friday blues along with a fish fry. No cover, shows 7 to 10 pm. Scheduled shows: March 17 – Ivy Ford Band, April 6 – Bobby Messano.

Contact Steve Jones at sub_insignia@yahoo.com for more info on any of these events or go to http://crossroadsbluessociety.com/.

The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL

The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for Blue Monday live performances held every Monday night at e Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 8:00pm to midnight. Additional information on any performer listed below is available upon request.

Blue Monday Schedule: March 19 – Maurice John Vaughn, March 26 – Kilborn Alley Blues Band, April 2 – The Brother Jefferson Band, April 9 – Bruce Katz, April 16 – Harper and the Midwest Kind, April 23 – Paul Bonn and the Bluesmen, April 30 – The Joe Tenuto Band. For more information visit www.icbluesclub.org.


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P.O. Box 721 Pekin, Illinois 61555 © 2018 Blues Blast Magazine (309) 267-4425

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