Issue 13-46 November 14, 2019

Cover photo © 2019 Nate Kieser


 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Russ Green. We have 10 Blues reviews for you this week including A Piedmont Blues
compilation album, Ruf Records 25 years Anniversary CD and DVD, plus new music from Big James Montgomery, Zac Harmon, Lil’ A And The Allnighters, Kerry Kearney Band, Wily Bo Walker & E.D. Brayshaw, Cliff Stevens, The Cornbread Project and Charlie Wooton Project.

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



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 Featured Interview – Russ Green 

russ green pgoto 1A multitude of blues artists have emerged from Chicago in the past century, but no one has taken a more circuitous path that gifted harmonica player and vocalist Russ Green.

A finalist for the Sean Costello Rising Star Award at this year’s Blues Blast honors, Green grew up in what can only be described as the true ground zero of Windy City West Side blues sound — area where Otis Rush, Luther Allison, Jimmy Dawkins and plied their trade in the small neighborhood clubs that flourished along on Madison Street a hop, skip and jump to the north and Roosevelt Road a mile or so to the south.

In fact, Russ never had any desire to become a professional musician. He didn’t pick harmonica full time until he’d already reached adulthood, had graduated from college, served a stint as an enlisted man in the U.S. Army and after already establishing himself as a budding star in the TV and film industry.

It took a genuine blues Pied Piper in the form of Sugar Blue to lead him down the road he travels today.

An extremely focused, well-spoken man who’s the son of a career telephone lineman and installer and a stay-at-home mom, Green grew up near the intersection of Kostner and Jackson, and regrets that he simply was too young to have been able to soak up the action in the musical sea that surrounded him in haunts that already were fading into history as he achieved manhood.

“I really would have lo-o-oved to walk in and see Howlin’ Wolf and some of the great older folks,” he says. “Unfortunately, I didn’t have that opportunity.”

Blues played a minor role in the fabric of music Russ listened to back then, he says, “but I was listening to my parents’ music. It was Motown. It was War. My father had Rare Earth albums, the Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf sessions that they did in London – it was all kinds of stuff.

“But I did hear blues on AM radio, and I did have relatives who listened to it — my paternal grandparents. B.B. King was always a huge thing in the house, Muddy and a whole bunch of others.

“I was always listening to classic rock, and always a (Jimi) Hendrix fan. I loved the Cream…oh, my God, man! For me, I wasn’t going to fall into the trap of ‘you’re only supposed to listen to certain things or certain music.’

“I don’t care. If it’s good, I wanna hear it. Nowadays, though, I find myself listening to more blues than anything else – blues and reggae.”

Hendrix was a profound influence.

“When I discovered him, I remember that I was in my parents’ basement in the mid-’80s,” Green remembers. “It was fall, and it was really cool. I was going to City College, had a job at night and had to get up early for school. I turned on this classic rock station, and Hendrix’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’ comes on.

“It just captured me – it took me a long time to realize it was a Bob Dylan song. Then I started listening to more and more of Hendrix. I went: ‘Oh my God! This is making it okay to be me! It’s okay to have the thoughts that I have in my head.’ That’s what Hendrix said to me.

“The thing was that he was so different, that there was a spirituality to his music and his persona and seemingly what he was trying to accomplish. To me, that’s who I was. I was always different from the people around me because I was trying to explore new stuff.”

Years later, when Russ finally picked up a harmonica for the first time, Jimi’s influence remained a driving force in his life. After two years of general studies, he wanted to attend a four-year college, but realized he had no way to pay for it. So he enlisted.

“I was the oldest child,” he says, “and had two younger sisters. I went: ‘Okay, I won’t ask my parents any more to burden themselves for education for me. I’ll go and take care of myself and let them concentrate on my sisters.’”

It was a decision he’s never regretted. The military, he says, reinforced his focus, his self-discipline and his confidence that he’d be prepared no matter what difficulties he faced.

After discharge, Green studied film at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, splitting his time between classes and shooting movies on film in the era that just preceded digital recording. He picked up the harp there for the first time in the midst of a true blues crisis after remembering that he’d purchased one from a pawn shop on the West Side years earlier.

“I was going through a rough time,” Russ remembers. “I was going with a girlfriend who no longer wanted to be my girlfriend, but didn’t tell me until much later.”

He sought solace in music.

“I wanted to play guitar like Jimi Hendrix,” he says, “but all my money was going to my student films. That’s when I remembered I had the harp, which I’d bought with no intent to playing it, although I did take it with me in the Army, and took it out and blew on it occasionally.

“I said: ‘Okay, now I’ll be Jimi Hendrix of the harmonica.’”

Little did he realize it at the time, but someone else held that moniker – and become someone who would change his life dramatically down the line.

“I spent the rest of my time in Carbondale playing out and sitting in with folks,” he says. “I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but they still let me (laughs)! Then, I was hanging out at a park at an outdoor concert, and somebody said to me: ‘Hey, man, when you get back to Chicago, make sure you go and check out Sugar Blue.’

“I went: ‘Sugar…what?’

“He said: ‘Sugar Blue. He’s one of the best harmonica players around.’

russ green photo 2“I went: ‘…Okay.’ I had no idea in the world who he was.”

On Green’s first Friday back in the Windy City, he picked up a copy of The Reader, the popular, free weekly tabloid that contained extensive entertainment listings, and noticed Blue was appearing that evening at B.L.U.E.S. Etc. – then a larger sister club to the smaller B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted, which still thrives today.

“I was standing outside and handing the doorman my money,” Russ recalls, “and the band starts playing. I can hear this song – boonga, boonga, boonga – and it sounds so-o-o familiar. So I said to myself: ‘Wow! This is pretty cool!’”

What he was listening to was the countdown and opening licks to “Miss You,” a monster hit for the Rolling Stones in the mid-‘70s, and a song that remains Blue’s signature tune today – and for good reason. Those are his harp pyrotechnics that helped turn the song into a classic and remain a powerful force whenever they appear in classic radio rotation today.

“I walk into the bar,” Green says, “and I suddenly hear this harmonica play. Oh, my God! It’s the most incredible thing I’d ever heard. I thought to myself: ‘Whoever is playing this thing is torturing this instrument!’

“As I walk farther, I look at the bandstand at the far end of the room, and don’t see a harmonica player. I keep walking, and I see the dance floor, and I can see there’s two women dancing and there’s a guy between them with his hands cupped around his mouth playing the harmonica.

“I went: ‘Oh, God! That’s what I want to do!’”

Only after Green took a seat did he notice an advertisement for the night’s performance in a plastic holder on the table. It read: “TONIGHT at B.L.U.E.S. Etc.: Sugar Blue, the Charlie Parker of the blues harp and the Jimi Hendrix of the harmonica.”

As Blue delivered wave after wave of notes and danced and bobbed his way around the room dressed in his familiar beret and French paratrooper pants at the time, he cast a spell, and Green was instantaneously hooked.

“I spent the next three months in Chicago,” he remembers, “and every chance I got, I’d go check out Sugar Blue. I’d just watch him — blown away – like: ‘How does he do this?’”

His stay was short, however, because Seattle – a city he feel in love with after being stationed at Fort Lewis – was calling. He attempted to break into the TV and film industry there and did work on one commercial, but quickly realized there wasn’t much of an opportunity there because, even though the Pacific Northwest was hot at the time, the great majority of the jobs were based in Alaska and Vancouver, B.C.

He landed a day job with a company that rented equipment instead, often shipping it to film crews in those locales, and he started sittings in with bands and playing at jams every night he could. And he spent every waking moment with a harmonica.

“The damn thing was in my mouth all the time,” he insists. It didn’t matter whether he was simply sitting on the couch at home, driving his truck at work or simply walking through the neighborhood. He was always practicing and — unbeknownst to him at the time — living a life that was eerily parallel to Blue, who was known to practice his scales every waking hour of the day during that era.

“I stayed in Seattle for about three years,” Russ says. “But I had come home for a Christmas visit one year, and a friend who was a buddy from the Army told me: ‘Sugar Blue’s playing at Rosa’s tonight. You wanna go?’”

It was Christmas Eve. Green said yes.

“Those three months that I’d spent in Chicago before, I never said a word to Sugar Blue. I was so-o-o intimidated,” he remembers. “But we went out that night, and during a long break between sets, he was shooting pool on the table at the front of the bar. He had a Hohner CX12 chromatic harmonica with him, and I said: ‘Hey, did Hohner give that to ya?’

“He goes: ‘No, it’s just one I’m tryin’ out.’

“Then he asks: ‘Do you play?’

“I said: ‘A little bit.’ He goes: ‘No! If you play ‘a little bit,’ you play a lot. You play!’”

Their friendship blossomed quickly after that initial conversation. Later on that evening, Blue invited Russ to the bandstand, where he helped back singer Shirley King, B.B.’s daughter, who was also in the audience. Then they hooked up again for more of the same when Sugar gigged the next night.

“He said: ‘Where you live?’ I said: ‘Seattle.’

“He said: ‘What the hell you doin’ out there? Come back to Chicago and I’ll teach you what I know.’

“I hadn’t intended on doing so,” Green remembers. But 18 months later, he finally came to the decision that, if he really wanted a career in film production, the best place to be was the Windy City, where he could establish himself before a move to Hollywood, and not the Pacific Northwest.

It choice was a door-opener for Russ in two worlds.

Beginning as a production assistant on TV commercials, he graduated to assistant director before eventually becoming a member of the Directors Guild of America. His credits include E.R. and Prison Break on TV and a host of major motion pictures, including Soul Food, The Break-Up, Save the Last Dance, Road to Perdition, Source Code and more alongside Paul Newman, Tom Hanks, Daniel Craig, Vince Vaughn, Vanessa Williams and Jude Law, among many other stars of the small and silver screen.

One of his favorite memories during that era, was working with harmonica aficionado Bruce Willis on the movie Tears of the Sun in Hawaii and getting to play with Willis and his band, which he’d brought to the islands for a few gigs.

“It (TV and movie work) was a great experience,” Green says.

A blues man at heart, however, he walked away from it completely in 2012.

“It was my goal to establish myself here, then L.A., and live and work out of Seattle – a lot of folks in the industry don’t live in L.A.. But I’m still here!”

As you’ve probably figured out my now, Blue proved true to his word, and Green became an eager, diligent student who’s the master’s most accomplished protégé to date.

russ green photo 3“When I wasn’t working (in film), I would go and hang out with him,” he remembers. “It was probably the greatest inspiration that I could have had because I knew, based on my personality and who I was, that I was going in a certain direction (with the harp).

“I wasn’t necessarily going to be traditional. I didn’t want to be Little Walter — as much as I love him and Big Walter and all the older guys. That’s been done already.

“He taught me that it’s okay to push the envelope, to go further — as long as you’re maintaining your authenticity towards the music.

“What he was basically telling me was: Don’t worry about it. Be authentic to the music and be you. For a long time, I really tried not to sound like him. But there’s nothing wrong with copping those techniques. They’re head-and-shoulders above what other people are doing.

“That was the biggest thing I can say I took from him – because, at one point, folks were saying: ‘You sound too much like Sugar Blue.’

“In my mind, I’m thinking: ‘Give me a chance to develop my own style. Everybody starts off sounding like someone. Give me a chance to get to my own.’

“It took me a long time just to get to that point,” he says. “When I first met Sugar Blue, I was a lip pursing. And your lips get tired when you do that, but I didn’t know any better. He asked me about it, and said: ‘No, do tongue blocking.’

“He said that before he came to Chicago, he was lip pursing and it took him a year to get used to it. …Took him a year (laughs!). It took me a while. But once I started doing it, I said: ‘Oh, my God! The world has opened up! Dig this!

“’This is working for me!’”

But Russ has another, equally important task master, too, in the form of veteran Chicago harp wizard Billy Branch.

As Green likes to describe them, they’re “two little devils standing my shoulders, whispering in my ears ‘do this’ – ‘no, do that!’

“I take more stylistically from Sugar than I did from Billy,” he adds, “but I still have some of Billy’s stylings, too, which are based on Carey Bell and Big Walter, Cotton and the other old-timers.

“He’s always been a tremendous support. He was that way from the moment I met him, and it’s always appreciated. He already knew who I was from speaking with Sugar Blue, and he’s always tried to push me to maintain a more traditional blues sound.

“And at the same time, though, Sugar Blue’s like: ‘Hey, do what you’re gonna do, man (and be more progressive)!’”

Green and Branch worked together on Blues Hip Hop Experience, a mixed-media show that debuted at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago in 2006 and then traveled to other venues, blending artists from both worlds. And Russ has also served as Billy’s understudy/fill-in for another play, Muddy Waters (The Hoochie Coochie Man), which enjoyed a run at the Windy City’s Black Ensemble Theater.

It took about 20 years before Russ released his first full-length CD, City Soul, last year. But despite his limited credits as a front man in the blues world, he’s no stranger to the studio, having recorded and toured with both John Primer and Lurrie Bell in addition to recordings in support of Toronzo Cannon, Wayne Baker Brooks, Vince Agwada and Frank Bang and The Secret Stash.

He’s also appeared as a soloist on a pair of well-received compilation CDs issued under the auspices of Severn Records: singing and playing on Chicago Blues Harmonica Project: Diamonds in the Rough in 2005 along with Omar Coleman and four older harp players and its sequel, More Rare Gems, in 2009, on which he was solely an instrumentalist.

Because of his work in film, Russ couldn’t commit to many long-term music ventures during those years, although he and Agwada worked together for a while in the band The Chicago Blues Project, which gigged around town and appeared at the Chicago Blues Festival.

Green’s life began to change one day in 2011 when the phone rang.

“John Primer called me and said: ‘Hey, man, you wanna play?’” Russ recalls. “I said: ‘Sure, John. Just one gig?’ and he said: ‘Nah, I need somebody regular.’”

Green jumped at the chance, eventually splitting his time between John and Lurrie before then hitting the road with Bang, former second guitarist in Buddy Guy’s band. Russ’ career really took off after he hooked up with Big Llou Johnson, the deep baritone voice of Sirius/XM radio’s B.B. King’s Bluesville, for what would become Johnson’s 2013 album, They Call Me Big Llou.

“I was still working in film at the time, but close to the end,” Russ remembers, noting that he’s always had a “fairly decent” speaking voice and always wanted to do voiceover work for shows and commercials. After speaking to an agent friend about pursuing that dream, she referred him to Big Llou, who was another one of her clients, believing that they could help each other because she knew Johnson was already working on the album.

“I didn’t realize he was the voice of Bluesville because I hadn’t listed to it much,” Russ says. “But he called me up and told me what he was trying to do. We can do the voice thing for you, too. But I want to do this CD because I want to start singing. I said: ‘Sure, dude!’”

Green ended up serving as the album’s producer, assembling the band and delivering stellar harp work that probably left many folks thinking they were listening to Sugar Blue throughout. Recorded in two days, it earned Big Llou best new artist debut honors at the 2013 Blues Music Awards.

With his TV and film work behind him, Russ has been fronting his own band ever since. He co-produced City Soul along with Sam Clayton, a friend based in France. The effort took about five years from start to finish – primarily because Green financed it himself.

Russ’ choice of material was both very focused, encompassing mainstream blues with elements of hip-hop and soul, too. Like the title indicates, it delivers a view of life in the inner city, and pushes the boundaries of songwriting by including aspects that might not always be pleasant, but be true to his goal always to get to the emotional heart of the story.

russ green photo 4“When it came to writing these songs and my particular point of view of blues, I didn’t want to try to imitate anybody else,” he notes. “I wanted to be authentic to the music and to the legacy of the genre, but I also had to figure out a way to move towards the future – and again, maintain the authenticity.

“I also wanted to write songs that people can think about, can have an emotional and/or intellectual connection to – something that makes you think about it even when you’re not listening to it. Something that makes you look at our society and wonder what’s going on, what is the true nature of who we are as human beings.

“I did a lot of soul-searching in what I was trying to say,” he adds, “and there’s a great deal of variety in it – something I believe in because I think it helps tell your story. The CD itself was probably much more cohesive in terms of connections between most of the songs and the overall theme of the album.

“There was so much I was trying to accomplish, and I didn’t get too fancy with it. But there’s still some substance there – and things that are very personal. Overall, I’m pretty happy with it. It turned out pretty good!”

The critics agree. Downbeat magazine, for one, honored City Soul as one of its picks for best blues album of the year for 2018. And it also garnered a bronze medal for contemporary blues album and songwriting in the Global Music Awards for “Goin’ Down South,” which Russ wrote with perennial BMA nominee and acoustic blues master Eric Bibb, who makes a guest appearance on the recording.

Green believes that people “connect to the blues because of the electricity you feel when you hear it. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough people trying to cultivate that connection. First, you have to understand that that’s a part of the music, and you’re not just playing the musical form.”

The link, he adds, remains as true today as it did when the music was born in slavery. The slave masters stripped away human dignity, but the one thing they couldn’t steal from their subjects was their innate ability to connect with one another and share real emotions. Blues proved to be the vehicle they used – both as a means to express injustice and as a way to communicate real emotional love.

“That’s the kind of thing you get when you hang around with people who are truly connected to the music,” Green says. “We’ve got nothing to give but love, nothing to give but ourselves – so let’s do that! For me, that really comes out in the music. I don’t think enough of us are really appreciating that or acknowledging and celebrating that and trying to perpetuate it.”

What’s next? Russ isn’t sure at the moment, but you can look forward to another album down the road, whether self-produced or in partnership with a label. As this story was being written, he was about to pack for a 24-date European tour that would take him to France, Spain and Belgium, and he already has booked to play Russia next Spring. You’ll definitely find him playing somewhere in Chicagoland upon his return.

Check out his music and find out where he’s playing next by visiting www.russgreenmusic.com

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., 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 – 1 of 10 

big james cd imageBig James – A Dose Of The Blues

Jamot Music

www.facebook.com/bigjamesmusic

11 Tracks/51:43

After several decades of billing as Big James & the Chicago Playboys, trombonist James “Chief” Montgomery now gets the headline attention on his own. It would be hard to deny him the top billing as he handles all of the vocals, wrote eight of the disc’s eleven tracks, served as the Executive Producer along with his mother, Yvonne Montgomery, and his brother, David Montgomery Esq., and released the project on his own label, Jamot Music. With the Playboys backing, Montgomery has four other releases on his label plus two critically acclaimed albums on Blind Pig Records, with The Big Payback, a live recording, coming out seven years ago.

Montgomery’s initial interest in music stems from a concert his father took him to at the age of seven, seeing James Brown in all of his glory. The youngster took a liking to Fred Wesley, the star trombonist in Brown’s renowned band. Originally a guitarist, he switched to trombone in high school, playing in the jazz band. While in college, the horn player was offered a chance to go go on the road as a member of Little Milton Campbell’s band. To the dismay of his parents, Montgomery jumped at the chance to tour with a legendary blues artist. He later worked a short stint with Albert King. Over the last two decades, he and the Playboys have made regular appearances at Buddy Guy’s Legends and other Chicago blues clubs.

While his music is firmly rooted in the blues traditions, Montgomery has always mixed in liberal doses of soul and classic R&B sounds, infusing his originals with a contemporary sound that extends his appeal to a wider audience. The deep, funky groove on the title track underscores the leader’s rugged exclamations about the lack of blues programming on the radio airwaves. Joined by Kenny “Amazing” Anderson on trumpet, and Ronnie “G” Graham on saxophone, the horns add some mighty blasts around a gritty trombone solo from Montgomery, then long-time Chicago Playboy Mike “Money” Wheeler wraps it up with a fiery guitar workout. “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love” is a like a tender caress, albeit with a sturdy back-beat compliments of Phillip “Dante” Burgess on drums. Burgess also appears on “I Am…,” as Montgomery shares details of his upbringing, the people and places that made him the man he is today. The fine keyboard work of Roosevelt “Mad Hatter” Purifoy percolates underneath the the mighty horn declarations, with the leader blowing another memorable solo sequence.

“Friends And Family” is a driving shuffle dominated by the horn section, with Wheeler, Brian Lupo on rhythm guitar, and Purifoy locking in to give the cut a compelling sense of urgency. It wouldn’t be the blues if there wasn’t any woman trouble, and Montgomery has plenty on “Problems…,” with two women in his life, each offering something that speaks to his soul. The vibrant horn accents lighten the mood a bit but the singer is at wits end over what to do. “Bingo Blues” sports another horn-centric arrangement, including a fine solo from Montgomery, who is hoping to finally break a long losing streak, needing to here a “B7” call. The following track, “Giving Me The Blues (Wake Up Call),” finds the singer ruminating over mistreatment at the hands of a younger woman. Once again, the band delivers energetic accompaniment, especially when they shift gears at the end for a rousing coda, making the cut a worthwhile listen in spite of generic lyrics. Another highlight is the autobiographical “Terror Town,” a minor key, slow blues classic full of pistol shots, evil women, and mean times. Wheeler unleashes a noteworthy solo, then Purifoy closes things out with an intricate piano excursion.

A cover of George Jackson’s “All Because Of Your Love” features one of Montgomery’s strongest vocal turns, engaging in a lively call & response with the horns. “2 Much Heaven Last Night” is a song that Little Milton cut for Malaco Records thirty years ago. Montgomery’s gritty rendition doesn’t stray too far from the original, adding an extra layer of emotional weight for a man in the middle of a “cheating in the next room” scenario. Since O.V Wright was one of the finest soul singers of all time, covering one of his tunes is a true challenge. Montgomery once again comes through on “I’m Into Something I Can’t Shake Loose,” the band matching him every step of the way with an electrifying performance, with Paige “Bam Bam” Murry setting the pace on drums.

If you love horns, you must buy this disc. If you have a hankering for blues with a contemporary sound, played by an cast of outstanding musicians, buy this disc. If you are looking for music with real passion and unrelenting drive, buy this disc. Big James and his band of merry men give you all that and more on a disc that will undoubtedly get played time and time again.

Reviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the past President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!


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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 10 

zac harmon cd imageZac Harmon – Mississippi BarBQ

Catfood Records

www.zacharmon.com

11 Tracks/48:12

Born and raised in Mississippi, Zac Harmon got an early start on his music career when he played guitar for singer and noted harp blower Sam Myers. That lead to more work with touring blues and R&B artists including Dorothy Moore and Z.Z. Hill. But eventually Harmon fell under the spell of the bright lights, big city, leading to a move to Los Angeles, where he wrote songs for a variety of artists as well as working on films and television shows. At one point, he was a staff writer for Michael Jackson’s team. He received a Grammy nomination for his writing and production with the reggae band Black Uhuru.

After the turn of the century, Harmon felt his roots calling him home, so he made the decision to play blues music. That move paid immediate dividends when he was named the top blues band at the 2004 International Blues Challenge, the annual event in Memphis sponsored by the Blues Foundation. More recognition came when his 2005 release, The Blues For Zacariah, won the Blues Music Award in the Best New Artist Debut category.

On his seventh release, Harmon showcases all of the aspects of his artistry. His songwriting is featured with two originals and another five co-written with Executive Producer and label owner Bob Trenchard. You know that the music will sound fine with noted producer Jim Gaines behind the recording console. Seven tracks feature the Catfood house band, the Rays, featuring Trenchard on bass, Richy Puga on drums, Johnny McGhee on guitar, Dan Ferguson on keyboards, Mike Middleton on trumpet, Andy Roman on alto saxophone, Nick Flood on tenor and baritone sax, and Drake Dominigue on trombone and tuba. Harmon’s own band appears on four tracks, with Corey Carmichael on keyboards, Chris Gipson an bass, Ralph Forrest on drums, and Texas Slim on rhythm guitar. Harmon handles the lead vocals and guitar parts throughout the disc.

The opening number, “Gypsy Road,” finds Harmon”s strong voice soaring over the Rays’ solid rhythm, with the leader’s searing guitar work making a lasting impression. The horns are prominently featured on “So Cold,” as Harmon bares his soul over a dying relationship. The mood isn’t much better on “Smoke And Mirrors,” a funky elegy to a trickster femme fatale with more tightly drawn guitar work. On “Make A Dollar Out Of Fifteen Cents,” Harmon and his band establish a groove reminiscent of the later stages of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s career on a song that finds Harmon strapped for cash, stating “I was so hungry, I’d fight a dog for a bone”.

The title cut flows along like a cool summer breeze with visions of friends gathering for BBQ chicken, ribs, collard greens, and cold beer. Harmon adds another righteous guitar interlude while getting vocal support from Janelle Thompson, Shakara Weston, SueAnn Carwell, and Carmichael. “Sunday Morning After Saturday Night” is a tight shuffle with Texas Slim’s biting guitar answered by blasts from the horns. Another highlight is the tale of a brief entanglement told on “Desperate Love,” once again told by Harmon in convincing fashion. Carmichael’s rolling piano licks spark “Honey Pleez,” another straight-ahead blues with guest Bob Corritore blowing a brief harp solo. Harmon provides a unflinching recounting of his past on “Lord Save Me From LA,” a song that won’t win the hearts of folks at the local Convention & Visitors Bureau.

One of Harmon’s originals, “Since You Been Gone,” finds him doing fine after a break-up, unwilling to consider reviving the love affair. Munyungo Jackson adds additional percussion to the track, one of four cuts he appears on. The disc ends with a cover of Bob Dylan’s oft-covered “Knocking On Heaven’s Door”. Harmon leads with a biting guitar intro, then gives an uplifting vocal turn that pushes his voice to the edge before ending with a beautifully crafted guitar solo.

As good as Harmon’s previous releases were, this one just might be the best yet. If you haven’t heard him before, grab a copy and become of a fan. A fine release from start to finish!

Reviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the past President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!


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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 10 

lil A cd imageLil’ A And The Allnighters – Hip Ya

Straight Up Blues – 2019

10 tracks; 47 minutes

www.facebook.com/LilAandtheAllnighters

Alex ‘Lil’ A’ Woodson is based in Southern California and this disc is his first national release, an earlier disc being more of a demo recording made for the purpose of getting gigs. Recorded in just two days, the ten cuts represent an array of harmonica influences on Alex’s playing and include two originals. Alex handles lead vocals and harp and is well supported by Johnny Minguez on drums and Brion Munsey on bass; guitarists Billy Bates, Geoff Gurrola and Mark Amparan share the six string work, sometimes singly, often in pairs.

Alex’s style on harp is full-out attack, well demonstrated on the opening original instrumental ‘”Poppin’ Corn” on which producer Kenny Huff plays the bass, the cool West Coast style guitar making a nice contrast with the harp work. The title track “Hip Ya” is also Alex’s and it’s a strong cut with a pounding shuffle, great guitar work in West Coast style and good lyrics about warning a girl about how her guy is cheating on her. Darrell Nulisch’s “Love And War” goes back to his early album Business As Usual and Alex gives it a rumba rhythm with just Geoff on guitar for this one. Alex then covers tunes by some of his major harp influences: Alex’s vocals on Junior Wells’ “Country Girl” are good and the tune bounces along with Bill and Geoff dueling well on guitar while on Little Walter’s “Too Late Brother” the rhythm section pushes things along well. Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips” is a song that is frequently covered but, to be fair, Alex and the band do a great job on it, generating a fair amount of excitement over the four minutes. William Clarke appears to be a particular influence as there are two of his tunes here: “Chromatic Jump” provides a second instrumental vehicle for Alex’s heavily amplified, slightly distorted sound while an extended take on “Must Be Jelly” closes the album. Alex plays it as a slow blues but places a high energy middle section into the tune which is great in itself but is an oddity, sounding as if we have left the main tune behind completely, before we return to the slow blues style!

The other two tracks depart a little from the ‘giants of the harmonica’ theme and bring more of an Rn’B feel to the album as guitarist Mark Amparan plays some great stuff. The two songs in question are Betty Everett’s 1958 single “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” and Earl King’s “Those Lonely, Lonely Nights”, perhaps best known from Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’s version: both are very well played but are perhaps less suited to Alex’s voice.

Already an established part of the SoCal blues scene this CD will enable people in other parts of the US to hear what Lil’ A And The Allnighters have to offer.

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 10 

kerry kearney cd imageKerry Kearney Band – Smokehouse Serenade

Highlander Records

www.kerrykearneyofficial.com

12 tracks

Celebrating 20 years on making music, Long Island based Kerry Kearney and his band play a style of music they call “Psychedelta”, their own unique style combining rock. Blues and roots music. Kearney has honed his craft for 40 years. The band is Kerry Kearney (guitars, vocals), Mario Staiano (drums), Gerry Sorrentino (bass) and features regular guests who are listed as band members David Bennett Cohen (keyboards) and Nydia Liberty Mata (percussion). The outside guests are Jeff Naimoli (percussion), Frank “Kingbee” Latorre (harp 1st track), Victor Portez (trombone 2 tracks), Mark Mancini piano on the same 2 tracks above and “Sittin’ On Top Of The World”), Bob Paolucci (harp on track 11), Ann Sullivan (shaker on track 11), Dawn & Dave Banks (backing vocals on 1st track) and additional arrangements by Elizabeth Seton.

“Shaking Like Jelly” starts off the album and is a heavy, mid to up tempo rocking cut with big guitar riffs and solos. Mixing blues and hard rock, this one certainly is designed to get the blood flowing quickly. “Long Tall Mama” is a cowboy sort of tune, upbeat and rollicking stuff. Kearney lays out some nice slide work in this one. “Statesboro Blues” gets transformed from Blind Willie McTell blues and Allman Brothers blues rock to more of a honky tonk blues with back to back piano and trombone soloing giving it a unique sound. The harp solo is also an interesting touch. The guitar does get its’ turn finally, but the flavor is in keeping with the honky tonk style rather than driving rock. “Fireplug” is as gritty and grinding cut with dirty vocals and massive guitar sound. When Kearney unleashes his solo it’s “Katy bar the door” time because it’s big and bold and only stops when he’s ready to be done. Another piano solo is offered up here, too, to spice things up. The acoustic “No Way Back Blues” is a change of pace in sound and tempo. A throbbing bass drum beat and pretty finger picking on the guitar make this one cool. A long instrumental lead in is featured and then Kearney comes in with some emotive vocals. “Wake Me, Shake Me, Bake Me” follows, another big guitar cut with guitar, harp and piano blazing. The guitar shreds and burns as Kearney attacks the strings with abandon. Percussion and bass even get a brief turn being showcased at the end.

The old classic “Sittin’ On Top Of The World” is next. Acoustic guitar and a gritty lead vocal are the approach here. The tempo is picked up and Kearney certainly puts his spin on the tune. Piano and guitar solo (twice) as Kearney breezes through this one. The title cut is combined with “Camptown Races.” Kearney gets things kicked of on banjo with crowd noises and then the song quickly moves into a modern, mid tempo, rocking style. A prolonged instrumental, Kearney showcases his guitar skills. “Girl From Memphis” is another acoustic cut with a frolicking pace, nice guitar picking, and pretty harp and slide work. “Creole Woman” features a stinging guitar and more dirty sounding vocals. A driving beat, and a piano and then a huge guitar solo are the focus here. “Goin’ To The Mardi Gras” is next, an up tempo creole rocker that’s fun and features some swinging harp, trombone and piano. The CD concludes with “Pretty Baby.” It’s another major league guitar piece with more hard rocking, unabashed rocking blues guitar.

If you like your blues raw and big and rocking, then check this one out. Kearney holds little, if anything, back in his style. He also mixes things up well stylistically in these 10 originals and 2 covers (with a little swing-through cover intro). A member of the New York Blues Hall of Fame, Kearney delivers gritty vocals and a big sounding guitar, so if that’s your style of music taste then you will certainly enjoy this one!

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.


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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 10 

wiley bo walker cdWily Bo Walker & E.D. Brayshaw – The Roads We Ride

Self Produced

www.wilybo.com

2 discs, 6 and 7 tracks respectively

Film noir script? Pulp fiction novel? One story, two paths and three people is what’s claimed. Lots of accompanying materials support the two CDs as Scottish born Wily Bo Walker joins up guitarist E.D. Bradshaw for this storybook of an album. Walker’s website credits his work as Rock, Blues, Gospel, Soul, Classic R&B, Jazz, AAA and Americana and it’ that and more. Most of what we hear here is rock laced with all the other stuff.

Walker handles the vocals and storytelling, Bradshaw wails on the guitars, does the instrumentation and does backing vocals as do a few others here and there. . It’s quite the undertaking for two guys.

“Storm Warning” opens the first CD, a driving rocker showcasing Bradshaw’s guitar and Walker’s gritty vocal style. Haunting backing vocals are also featured. “I Want To Know” follows. It’s low keyed with lots of organ, more subdued guitar and harmonizing vocals. “Motel Blues” is a Loudon Wainwright tune with a bit of a country of even rockabilly flair. Walker growls the lyrics out then Bradshaw goes into another big solo before Walker takes us home. “Loan Me A Dime” is a Fenton Robinson song from Alligator Records in 1974. It gets transformed from upbeat Chicago blues to a very down tempo and downtrodden sort of cut. Haunting and slow, it’s interesting. Bradshaw solos mid song and closes it out with his guitar. “September Red” continues the down tempo theme in another dark cut. The organ and piano support is well done and the solo guitar takes up most of the latter half of the song. “Killers On The Run” picks up the tempo a bit and has lots of cool backing vocals. Bradshaw again does a full frontal guitar assault. At 9-1/2 minutes, it’s a massive story unto itself.

“Running Wild” gets the second disc started. It’s a rocking cut heavily laden with guitar as is the following “Night Is A Hunter.” Massive guitar solos and hard rocking licks abound. Next is “Tennessee Blues” which turns the heat way down; it’s got a pretty intro; the lyrics are a bit muffled in delivery but it’s still a nice, country blues rocker. “After The Storm” is a gritty cut with a driving beat with more big guitar and some good organ accompaniment. “The Ballad of Johnny and Louise” is a long story that starts off lower keyed but builds into a huge guitar wall of sound. “The Roads We Ride” is acoustic guitar and somewhat of a ballad to begin. It transforms into electric guitars and builds into much more than a ballad. The opening track of the first CD is reprised briefly to close. It’s a mellow and acoustic that takes us home to an abrupt ending.

Except for the two covers credited above, Bradshaw and/or Walker wrote the rest of the cuts. The cuts run over into each other to give it an LP sort of sound. If you’re into the eclectic and like heavy duty electric guitar and riffs galore, then this one may be for you! It’s dark, it’s interesting and it’s got a lot of rocking guitar and gritty vocals.

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.


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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 10 

cliff stevens cd imageCliff Stevens – Nobody But You

Self-Release – 2019

11 tracks; 46 minutes

www.cliffstevens.com

This is Canadian guitarist Cliff Stevens’ fourth disc under his own name, having played for years as a sideman with a variety of groups before going solo. The CD was recorded, mixed and mastered in Montreal, Cliff producing the album himself and writing all the material. This is the first of Cliff’s music that this reviewer has heard and it is immediately apparent that he has a decent voice and plays guitar in a melodic and understated style. Cliff handles lead vocals and guitar but also covers the bass on seven cuts, making way for Domenic Romanelle on four tracks; Eric Sauvé is on keys, Sam Harrisson on drums and Kim Feeney on backing vocals. The PR sheet suggests that Cliff will appeal to those who like Clapton, SRV, Winter, Bonamassa, Allmans, Tedeschi Trucks and Kings Albert and Freddie – a long list that covers quite a few bases but in fact the music mainly falls into that area where blues meets melodic rock but does avoid the excesses that some blues-rock guitarists indulge in, making a pleasant listen.

Opening track “How Long” is a shuffle built round Cliff’s solid riff and some good piano work while lyrically we are in the area of breaking off a relationship: “how long before the chains are gone and I’m a free man”. Cliff plays a funkier style of guitar on “Say What You Mean” and the title track bounces along over an organ riff that gives Cliff a bit more space to show us his chops in a tasty solo. Two tracks with familiar titles follow: “Little By Little” drops the pace on a moody, late night blues that seems to suit Cliff’s voice less well than the preceding upbeat tunes; “Morning Rain” has Cliff playing acoustic guitar and adding electric accents on a song that is more Americana than blues, rather downbeat lyrically though Kim’s attractive B/V’s help Cliff out here.

“Cry Baby” starts with a Booker T style organ riff before Cliff hits the wah-wah pedal on the sole instrumental track here; the middle section swings like mid-6o’s Rn’B before the wah returns to take us home. “World Of Worry” has acoustic and dobro over brushed drums, a tune that musically reminds you of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” but lyrically uses some of the classic blues lines about being tied down and unable to escape the clutches of the woman, a good combination. Cliff regrets his behavior and begs his girl to “Come Back”, the heavy drums and slide a winning sound on a good foot-tapper before the insistent guitar riff and keyboard work of “Bad Luck”, Cliff again using the wah pedal on his solo. The next song finds Cliff bemoaning much of what is going on in the world but all that he can do is

“Keep My Love Alive”, parts of the tune sounding a little like “A Change Is Gonna Come”. The catchy “Truth Don’t Lie” has more piano work and a very EC style guitar solo to admire and makes a good finale to the album.

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.


 

 

 


 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 10 

cornbread project cd imageThe Cornbread Project – Catawampus

Straight Shooter – 2019

10 tracks; 33 minutes

www.thecornbreadproject.com

Here is a very different listening experience! Conceived by Laust ‘Krudtmejer’ Nielsen and Peter Nande of Straight Shooter Records, the idea was to blend traditional blues themes with contemporary music production techniques like loops, samples and beats; Catawampus means something out of alignment, askew or off-kilter. In some cases Nande pulled vocal performances from unissued recordings he had to hand, in other cases the vocals were freshly recorded. One issue with the disc is that no musicians are credited other than the singers and there are no writing credits (though some of the songs are very well known, of course). The artwork shows some traditional blues images – a blood moon, the grim reaper, gravestones, a bottle of bourbon, a tornado and musicians clutching guitars – but quite why a British steam locomotive is passing through this landscape is hard to fathom!

There is lots of harmonica on Sonny Boy Williamson 1’s “My Little Machine” with Britain’s Big Joe Louis impressing on vocals on one of the songs that is less affected by the ‘samples and beats’ approach. Richard Farrell fares less well as the music and extracts from weather broadcasts behind him dominate on “Autumn Shakedown” while Troels Jensen’s gruff vocals on Fred McDowell’s “Kokomo Blues” are set against a country hoedown rhythm which gets the toes tapping. Mud Morganfield reprises his father’s “Mannish Boy” but the sluggish rhythm simply does not fit with his powerful vocals, the harmonica sounding as if it is from a different song – disappointing, as Mud is a wonderful interpreter of Muddy’s music.

Three artists get two songs each. Big Creek Slim performs John Lee Hooker’s “Hobo Blues” over some weird train noises and a disembodied humming choir, no doubt intended to represent an other-worldly experience but the overall effect is to rather lose Slim’s vocals in the surrounding noise. Slim also features on the traditional gospel song “On My Way” which opens with some strange sound effects but improves as Slim’s vocals take over. Danish singer Sahra da Silva sounds convincing on “Change My Ways”, a gospel-influenced tune on the traditional ‘meeting the Devil at the crossroads’ theme, her vocals rising well above the minimal accompaniment; Sahra’s other song is “Rollin’ & Tumblin’”, a real success with lyrical bass lines and a lively feel to the music, including a nice guitar feature. James Harman guested on a 2009 recording of “You Got To Choose” by Peter Nande and Tim Lothar and here features on both harp and vocals over a loping rhythm with more funky bass work giving the tune a 70’s feel. James closes the album with a spoken (and very detailed) description of his “Grandma Lurleen’s Recipe” for cornbread; it sounds absolutely delicious too!

Does the musical concept work? In parts, yes, but the overall effect did not add much to some familiar material. Not an album that this reviewer will return to in a hurry but others may hear it differently, of course – that is the beauty of music!

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.


 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 10 

ruf 25th cd imageVarious Ruf Records Artists – 25 Years Anniversary

Ruf Records

CD – 14 Tracks/53:27

DVD – 62 minutes

Founded in 1994, Ruf Records was initially conceived as a vehicle to further the career of Luther Allison, His manager, Thomas Ruf, formed the label, christening it with the motto, “When the Blues Crosses Over”. Over the last two and a half decades, the label has released over 300 recordings from a wide range of artists including Allison, his son Bernard, Candye Kane, Samantha Fish, Robin Trower, Walter Trout, Royal Southern Brotherhood, and the latest release, Mike Zito’s star-studded tribute to Chuck Berry.

The audio disc starts off with a rocking “Texas Honey,” the title track from Ally Venable’s release from earlier this year, her guitar spitting out crunching chords. Jeremiah Johnson shows off his fretboard dexterity on “Straitjacket,” another title track. Things get funkier as Bernard Allison imparts a tale of betrayal on “Backdoor Man,”seeking consolation through his mournful slide licks. Two more title tracks are offered, with Samantha Fish giving a sultry performance on “Chills & Fever,” while Mike Zito treats listeners to drivin’ expression of gratitude on “First Class Life,” his slide guitar work front and center.

Guitarist Vanja Sky offers a raucous run-through of “Hard Working Woman” that is sure to delight fans who want plenty of rock with their blues. Next, Kim Simmonds shows he hasn’t lost a thing, leading the most recent edition of the venerated band, Savoy Brown, through a taut “Why Did You Hoodoo Me”. The BB King Blues Band takes listeners for a stroll through the New Orleans musical landscape on “Low Down,” then guitarist Michael Lee, who has fronted the band at times, gets his turn with “Weeds,” a tune more fitting for a pop music audience.

While many of the Ruf releases are guitar oriented, the label also features the soulful voice of Big Daddy Wilson on “Deep In My Soul,” a dark lament with horn accents and Laura Chavez on guitar. Grammy nominee Victor Wainwright pounds his piano with his band, the Train, in hot pursuit as they do their best to cure the “Boogie Depression”. Another piano player, Katrina Pejak, adopts a calmer approach, her smoky voice a fine fit on “She’s Coming After You”. Ina Forsman melds hip-hop and blues influences over a wah-wah guitar on “Get Mine,” with surprising results. The final cut features the Ragtime Rumours, a quartet from the Netherlands that won the European Blues Challenge last year. “Faker” showcases the band’s eclectic approach to the blues tradition.

The DVD compiles live performances taken from Ruf’s Songs From The Road or the Blues Caravan series, getting off to a rousing start with the gritty vocals of Thorbjorn Risager, with backing by his large band, the Black Tornado, on “If You Want To Leave”. The disc primarily focuses on other artists on the label, so viewers get to experience Dana Fuchs using her powerful voice to revive the Janis Joplin legacy on “Bliss Avenue”. The next track starts off with a close-up of the late drummer, Yonrico Scott, as he kicks off “Moonlight Over The River,” from the Royal Southern Brotherhood, with Mike Zito, Cyril Neville, Devon Allman, and Charlie Wooten.

Two other guitarists appear, with Joanne Shaw Taylor packing plenty of emotion into her original, “Diamonds In The Dust,” while Oli Brown, a blues rocker popular in the UK, shows off his frantic fretwork on “Here I Am”. Following that are five videos taken from the annual Blues Caravan, that pairs three Ruf artists in a traveling roadshow. Venable, Forsman, and Pejak were this year’s group, turning in a version of “The House Is Rocking” that starts out slow and easy before bursting into a fast paced boogie with Pejak’s keyboard work a shining moment. “Low Down And Dirty” finds Zito, Sky, and Allison having too much fun, sharing the lead vocal while Allison’s slide guitar steals the show.

Equally fine is the clip of Big Daddy Wilson wrapping his rich voice around the “Country Boy Soul Medley,” with Chavez and Vanessa Collier on alto sax providing the instrumental highlights. The 2016 edition featured Forsman with singers Layla Zoe and Tasha Taylor, the latter nowhere to be seen in an engaging cover of “Honky Tonk Woman”. Albert Castiglia joined fellow guitar slingers Laurence Jones and Christine Skjolberg for some high-octane string bending on “Join Me On The Blues Caravan”. “So Sad (The World’s In A Tangle)” has a latter day line-up of Canned Heat, with original members Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra on drums and the late Larry Taylor on bass with Dale Spalding on vocals and guitar along with John Paulus, filling in for Harvey Mandel. Saving the best for last, closing the disc is a clip of Luther Allison pouring his heart on his original, “Living In The House Of Blues,” bringing the Ruf story full circle.

With the ever shrinking number of record labels still putting out quality blues music, this set serves as a reminder of riches to be found in the Ruf catalog, and the label’s enduring dedication to the genre in its many forms. No doubt there are plenty of treats to be enjoyed on this fine Anniversary package!

Interviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the past President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!


 Featured Blues Review – 9 of 10 

carrying on the legacy cd imgeVarious Artists – Carrying On the Legacy

Patuxent Music

CD: 20 Songs, 73 Minutes

Styles: Piedmont Blues, Blues Compilations

Carrying on the Legacy is, in a word, encyclopedic. Why do encyclopedias remain the gold standard of information in the days of Wiki? The answer is threefold: their info is factual, thorough, and vetted. This outstanding compilation from Rockville, MD’s Patuxent Music ranks right up with Britannica. Every one of its twenty entries, under P for Piedmont, is a genuine article. From William Lee Ellis’ “Trouble I Once Knew” to Phil Wiggins’ “Roberta” to Robert Johnson’s “Last Fair Deal Going Down,” this subgenre is explored with discursive gusto. It’s a must-have for any blues scholar, and it’ll turn fans into scholars. In fact, it’s a companion CD to the book Sweet Bitter Blues (Phil Wiggins and Frank Matheis, University Press of Mississippi).

States Matheis in the album’s liner notes: “When Phil Wiggins and I wrote the book, we reflected on the acoustic local blues scene during the life and times of Phil Wiggins in his own African-American community. At its core, the D.C. area ‘down home’ blues scene was rooted with a small group of musicians, proud and beloved men and women…The musicians in Washington, D.C. who are no longer with us have left an important legacy: ‘Carry on this music. Keep it going.’ Our friends and compatriots who are featured on this collection were all connected in some way to the elders, [carrying on] the Piedmont tradition and related acoustic roots music with passion, love and reverence.”

These friends and compatriots constitute an extensive list: Eleanor Ellis, Phil Wiggins, Erin Harpe, Neil Harpe, Rick Franklin, Tom Mindte, Piedmont Bluz Acoustic Duo, Mike Baytop, Jay Summerour, M.S.G. Acoustic Blues Trio, Warner Williams, the Chesapeake Sheiks, Lauren Sheehan, Resa Gibbs, and Dom Turner. Each one of the tracks they present has been featured on a different album, listed in the liner notes for further listening and research.

From the beginning, the album casts a poignant spell. Eleanor Ellis’ haunting, world-weary vocals chant its first incantation: “Body was broken, spirit set free. Body was broken, spirit set free. Body was broken, spirit set free. Fare ye well, fare ye well.” The second track, “Harmonica Rag,” is one of the spiciest tunes in this collection. After the opener, it’ll cause a serious case of mood whiplash. Better play air harp while you can, because it’s only one minute long! Other highlights include the hilarious “Winnie the Wailer” (who loves many a sailor), “Standing on the Landing” (another harp-based hit), and “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” almost orchestral in its beauty yet earthy enough to make the dead hit the dance floor.

Some may compare Carrying on the Legacy to Will the Circle Be Unbroken, but they’d only be half-right. Overall, Circle had a conversational, nearly improvisational vibe to it. Legacy lays out its treasures with care and caution, the reverence Frank Matheis mentions. Peruse this CD and its companion book Sweet Bitter Blues at your leisure, long-time Piedmont fans or newcomers!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 40 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 – 10 of 10 

charlie wooten cd imageCharlie Wooton Project – Blue Basso

Wild Heart Records – 2019

10 tracks; 47 minutes

www.charliewooton.com

New Orleans-based, Charlie Wooton was the bass player in Royal Southern Brotherhood and the New Orleans Suspects. Like every electric bass player over the last thirty years, Charlie was influenced by Jaco Pastorious, to whom this album is a tribute, with a cover of one of Jaco’s tunes and one track named after the late Weather Report bassist.

The Project is Charlie on bass, Jermal Watson on drums, Keiko Komacki on keys and Daniel Groover (great name!) on guitar; Arsène DeLay adds vocals to six tracks and there are guest spots for guitarists Sonny Landreth, Damon Fowler, Anders Osborne and PFunk’s Eric McFadden, plus Living Color bassist Doug Wimbish. There are two covers but the rest of the material comes from within the band, everyone contributing with Charlie and Daniel getting six credits each.

The album opens with “Jaceaux”, a funky instrumental tribute with both Charlie and Doug Wimbish featured on twin bass leads. Two fine vocal performances follow: “Reflections” is a lovely tune graced by Arsène’s vocals and some excellent guitar work by Daniel, very much in Carlos Santana mode; arguably even better is the uptempo “I Don’t Know”, Damon’s lap steel adding to Daniel’s guitar, Charlie’s bass bubbling along underneath and driving the song forward – great stuff! Those who recall “Come On, Come Over” from Jaco’s first solo album will recognize the bass lead over some fine NO drumming but the distortion used on Arsène’s vocals detracts from the performance, in this reviewer’s opinion, especially as she sings so brilliantly on the two preceding tracks.

Daniel’s “Dimenote” is a jazzy instrumental with lots of striking drum work by Jermal leading into Daniel’s fast-picking guitar work. Arsène returns to the microphone on the lilting ballad “One Night”, Anders Osborne adding some fluid guitar lines before “Fulton Alley”, named after a NO club, which runs to seven minutes with the core quartet locked into a churning groove so typical of New Orleans funk styles. Sonny Landreth appears on the next two cuts: “Tell Me A Story” has a frenetically funky rhythm as Arsène sings of a bluesman whose playing could bring crowds to a frenzy without opening his mouth – most appropriate therefore to have Sonny working his slide magic here! “Front Porch” does what the title suggests as the band plays in acoustic mode as Sonny and Daniel have a conversation.

To close the album Eric McFadden adds his guitar to a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You”, the rhythm section hitting a NO funk style, Arsène delivering the familiar lyrics. It’s a slightly odd choice for an album paying tribute to Jaco Pastorious but it works well enough in itself.

This is the third album released on Samantha Fish’s Wild Heart Records label but is not blues. However, there is plenty to enjoy if your tastes range widely, especially towards jazz and New Orleans influences.

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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Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL

Crossroads Blues Society has many shows coming up in the Rockford, IL area. The monthly shows at the Hope and Anchor in Loves Park continue $5 cover, 8 to 11:30 PM: Sat Dec 14th – Ivy Ford. Radisson Hotel and Convention Center, Rockford, IL, 7 to 10 PM $10 admission Sat Nov 23rd – Nick Schnebelen. Lyran Society, Rockford, IL, 7 to 10 PM No Cover Fri Nov 15th – Ivy Ford, Fri Dec 6th – Trinadora Rocks Sock Hop, Fri Dec 20th – Bob Frank.

The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL

The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for Blue Monday live performances and other shows held at the Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 7:00pm to 11:00pm. Additional information on any performer listed below is available upon request. Nov 18 Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat, November 25 – Paul Niehaus & Bob Kamoske, December 2 – Marry Jo Curry, December 9 – Studebaker John, December 16 – The Mud Bugs, December 23 – Brabdob Santini, December 30 – James Armstrong.

Friends of the Blues – Kankakee, IL

Shows start at 7 pm, and are open to the public. Food and Beverages available at all Friends of the Blues shows. Texas comes to the Kankakee Valley: November 19 – Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat – Manteno Sportsmen’s Club. More Info at: http://www.facebook.com/friendsoftheblues.


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