Issue 14-12 March 19, 2020


 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Alex Dixon. We have 10 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Sue Decker, Ben Racine Band, The Cold Stares, Diana Braithwaite and Chris Whiteley, Rebekah Meldrum, Whitey Somers, Warren Storm, Angel Forrest, Dwane Dixon and Chantel McGregor.

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


image


NOMINATION CATEGORIES

Contemporary Blues Album

Traditional Blues Album

Soul Blues Album

Rock Blues Album

Acoustic Blues Album

Live Blues Recording

Historical or Vintage Recording

New Artist Debut

Male Blues Artist

Female Blues Artist

Blues Band of the Year

Sean Costello Rising Star Award


Recordings released from May 1, 2019 to May 31st, 2020 are eligible.

Complete information along with submission forms are available on our website at:
www.bluesblastmagazine.com/blues-blast-awards

Submissions accepted until May 15th, 2020.


 Featured Interview – Alex Dixon 

imageVirtually no one has been more important in the blues than Willie Dixon, the bass player, songwriter and producer extraordinaire whose work was the lifeblood of the music emanating from Chicago during its golden years in the ‘50s.

The native of Vicksburg, Miss., was irreplaceable when he left us, robbing the world of a beloved talent whose work behind the scenes helped build Chess Records into the powerhouse it became. His songs turned Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and others into household names before influencing the rock world in such a profound way that covers of his tunes still reverberate around the globe on a daily basis.

An intelligent, well-spoken man despite modest upbringings, Willie was a true caretaker and custodian whose love for the music – a labor that’s spanned far longer than the dynamic 76 years he spent on this earth. And, fortunately, he left a handpicked a successor who’s worked quietly behind the scenes, tending the bountiful fields he planted to assure the fruits he left behind would continue to grow.

That man is his grandson, Alex Dixon, and although you might not be very familiar with him, he’s truly a torchbearer for all seasons.

In 1975, Alex was raised from infancy by Willie and his grandmother Marie in the epicenter of the blues on Chicago’s South Side: the Dixon family home in the 7600 block of South Throop, where he was surrounded constantly by a virtual who’s who of the biggest names in the business when they dropped by for a visit or go to Willie’s famous studio, the Blues Factory, studio a few blocks away on South Racine.

His start in the family business began early, and his involvement in the blues music industry has never waned.

Although he no longer holds the position, Alex was the longtime vice president of Blues Heaven Foundation — the non-profit started by Willie in ’84 to promote the music and provide scholarships, royalty recovery advice and emergency assistance to musicians in dire positions. The organization has been based out of the former Chess headquarters south of the Loop since the mid-’90s and is now led by Willie’s youngest daughter, Alex’s aunt Jackie.

His responsibilities shifted about four years ago — after the passing of his grandmother – when he became the chief officer in Hoochie Coochie Music, which watches over Willie’s extensive songwriting catalog. Now splitting his time between California and Chicago, he’s founder of Dixon Landing Music, a label, publishing house and management firm he launched in the San Francisco Bay area to boost the careers of younger musicians.

At the time of this interview, Alex was on the verge of launching his most recent project: an album entitled The Real McCoy and issued under the band name Vintage Dixon, which marks the recording debut of Chicago vocalist Lewis “Big Lew” Powell, who powers through a collection of seven fresh tunes and four penned by his grandfather, all of which come with classic Windy City feel.

“I chose the title because I’m definitely trying to carrying forward the traditions I learned from all those older guys in Chicago,” says Dixon, a large, pleasant man who bears a strong family resemblance to Willie and can dwarf an upright bass much like his grandfather used to do.

image“I’m 44, but people always talk to me like I’m so much older because I know all these old guys,” he says. “I tell ‘em that it’s because I was raised by my grandfather and hung out with his friends. I’d know all these 70- or 80-year-old guys when I was younger.

“I got lucky to see all that stuff!”

When he was old enough, he even sold merchandise for Willie at some of his shows.

“Everybody was hustlin’ back then,” he remembers. “People will come up to me today and say: ‘I’ve got a picture of you at the Chicago Blues Fest at Navy Pier, and you was sellin’ your grandfather’s records out in the crowd.’

“But that’s what we were doin’ – selling records and T-shirts out of the back of the van, makin’ sure we got the old man’s music out there!”

Alex was just six years old in 1981 when the Rolling Stones were booked to perform at Soldier Field and made that famous unannounced appearance at the Checkerboard Lounge with Muddy Waters that captures them at their blues best and is still available on DVD today.

During that stay, they also made another spontaneous stop — at the Dixon residence.

Alex probably was too young to remember, but as Mick Jagger recounted to him last year when the band returned to the Windy City during another world tour, the band arrived in limousines in all their rock-star glory and created such a commotion that his grandmother literally kicked them out of the house.

Like his grandfather, the younger Dixon is a talented songwriter as well as bassist. But as a child, he was better known for his prowess on the keys – so much so, in fact, that he played a vital role in establishing what would evolve into the international Blues in the Schools program that brings the music to children around the globe today.

As a very young child, he took piano lessons from Leonard “Baby Doo” Caston, Willie’s former partner in the Big Three Trio and the founding father of the Minneapolis blues scene. He was also the man responsible for convincing Willie – a Chicago Golden Gloves heavyweight boxing champion in the ‘30s – to abandon the ring for a career in music.

Other lessons came from an equally impressive cast of keyboard giants, including his uncle Butch, who played in Willie’s Chicago Blues Allstars for years, Lafayette Leake, a mainstay in Muddy Waters’ band, and Eurreal “Little Brother” Montgomery, one of the most important musicians in his grandfather’s life.

Willie Dixon was only seven years old and growing up in Vicksburg, when he became captivated in the blues after seeing Little Brother play for the first time. A native of New Orleans, Montgomery subsequently relocated to Chicago first in the late ‘20s and then permanently in the ‘40s, where he helped mold the Windy City style of keyboard mastery.

Little Brother became a major influence to Alex, too, expanding his lessons beyond the blues he was learning from the others and schooling him in other stylings he’d mastered decades earlier in the Big Easy.

“He and his wife Janice would often come by the house and play boogie woogie/ragtime music and ballads,” Alex recalls fondly today. “He taught me how to play 44 Blues (a song first recorded by Roosevelt Sykes in 1929) using all black keys in F#. I remember that it was very difficult.

“All those guys taught me lessons at our house. Then, when we moved to California, ‘Uncle’ Baby Doo and his wife Josephine would come visit us, teach me songs from the Big Three Trio and help me get my left hand together.”

imageAlex was just six years old when he and Willie launched the pilot project that would eventually evolve into Blues in the Schools. As Willie narrated in the classroom, he’d accompany him, playing in different styles to provide a musical context as his grandfather described the music’s history.

“I’d play 44 Blues – I wound up switching it over to an easier key,” Alex recalls. “And How Long, Seventh Son and others. And I’d sing, too.”

Dixon also vividly remembers conversations with Robert Jr. Lockwood, who would regale him with stories about his stepfather, Robert Johnson – something that causes him a little embarrassment today in retrospect.

“I used to think he was crazy,” Alex says. “I asked him: ‘Are you serious?’ “He said: ‘Yeah. He was my stepfather. He was datin’ my mom!’ I thought it was the craziest thing because the movie Crossroads had just come out – and he actually met Robert Johnson!”

Dozens of world-famous guitarists passed through the home, but – according to Dixon – just one stood out from the crowd.

People always ask me: ‘Who was the greatest guitar player you ever heard?’” Alex says, “and I always tell ‘em: ‘Johnny Shines.’ He played some things I’d never seen on that 12-string guitar before and never since.

“I only saw Muddy Waters twice — once at Chicago Fest and another time when I was in the front row of his funeral with my grandfather. I kept asking him: ‘Why are all these TV cameras and monitors outside for people to watch the funeral?

“’Was he famous?

“He said: ‘Yeah, he was pretty big, and he was a friend of mine.’”

By the time he was ten, Alex was playing to much broader audiences than schoolkids, occasionally accompanying his grandfather in the Chicago Blues Allstars entourage and getting to share the stage with Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Koko Taylor, B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan, among others.

“Sometimes, I was so nervous that I didn’t realize I was playin’ with certain people,” he admits.

Alex was a regular member of the band for the final four years of Willie’s life, which ended in 1992 due to complications of diabetes, which had already forced the amputation of one of his legs. They also co-wrote 40 songs during that period, one of which is “Study War No More,” a stand-out tune on Willie’s final CD, Hidden Charms, which won a Grammy in 1989.

“We moved to Glendale, a suburb of Los Angeles in 1984, and he came to me and said: ‘This record company (Capitol) wants me to do one more album. Help me get it together,’” Alex recalls. “And the studio we used for The Real McCoy – EastWest Studios in Hollywood — was the same one where they recorded Hidden Charms.

“We had some fun on that project – and, ironically, Sugar Blue, who’s on the new album, was on that one, too!”

After Willie’s death, Alex played around Chicago occasionally with Aunt Shirley and guitarist Lefty Dizz, but eventually spent seven years as a police officer in L.A., while still remaining active with and Blues in the Schools and family business in the Windy City.

He founded Dixon Landing in 2009, the same year he released his first CD, The Vintage Room, a blues-rock collaboration billed as the Blues Experience with legendary soul-blues guitarist Cash McCall, who also co-produced Hidden Charms.

Alex planned on featuring McCall on another CD a few years ago, but the project never materialized because Cash was diagnosed with lung cancer just prior to his scheduled West Coast trip for an album songwriting session. His final appearance on disc occurred last year with the release of Going Back Home with longtime friend Benny Turner. But he didn’t live long enough to enjoy the praise it received, succumbing to the disease three months after its release in January.

Although he’s always preferred to remain out of the spotlight throughout his own career on stage, Alex does have one album out under the Alex Dixon Band name. A second 2009 release entitled Rising from the Bushes, he’s featured on keys in a lineup that included West Coast favorite and close friend Alan Mirikitani – better known as B.B. Chung King – on lead guitar, Marcy Levy – aka Marcella Detroit, the co-author of “Lay Down Sally” with Eric Clapton – on vocals, veteran keyboard players Alvino Bennett (Mighty Joe Young/Guitar Shorty) and James Gadson (Marvin Gaye/Bobby Womack) and bassist Gerald Johnson (Steve Miller).

image“It was a good album, and we had fun doin’ it,” he says. “But then I got busy seein’ that we could keep our (the Dixon family’s) songs and everything.”

And that job is no easy task.

As chief officer in Hoochie Coochie Music, he’s responsible for safeguarding his grandfather’s legacy, which includes rights to such classic songs as “Help Me,” “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Little Red Rooster,” “I’m Ready,” “My Babe,” “Spoonful,” “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” “Wang Dang Doodle,” “The Seventh Son” and hundreds of others – material that’s produced major hits for the Stones, Cream and others through the decades.

It’s a fulltime job unto itself, and a birthright that the family is eager to protect – especially considering the battles their forefather fought during his lifetime.

Willie Dixon became an outspoken ambassador for the blues community, an advocate for all artists when it came to securing all of the royalties they deserved for their music – and did so after one of the biggest rock bands of the ‘60s built their careers internationally by ripping him off.

He spent 18 years in court to reclaim his rights after Led Zeppelin blatantly stole elements of two of his tunes — “Bring It on Home” and “You Need Love” — and copyrighted them as the song “Whole Lotta Love,” which soared to the No. 4 spot on U.S. charts in 1969 and was the band’s only Top 10 American hit in their history.

Willie finally received an undisclosed, out-of-court settlement in 1987. Today, Alex is the point man as the family protects their interests regarding how the material is used and being sure that they reacquire rights to the songs once licensing agreements with labels expire.

Still, however, Dixon remained a musician at heart and the itch to continue that branch of the family legacy remained strong. And Vintage Dixon has become his latest outlet, showcasing the influences and lessons he learned in childhood and producing a powerful reminder that the classic Windy City blues sound is just as viable today as it was in the ‘50s.

“I wanted to produce something that speaks to folks who understand how it was back then without being too commercial and play all the stuff I did when I was a youngster,” he notes. “It’s hard to find bass players, and I winded up playing upright bass on the project myself.”

And while the sight of him standing beside the instrument instantly brings back memories of Willie, he says: “Apparently, no one had ever seen me playing it before.

“But I tuned that bass of his so-o-o many times and, of course, learned how to play it. It was an electric upright that the Grateful Dead gave him in the ‘80s. He couldn’t really play it well because the strings were kinda weird, so he gave it to me when I was a kid.

“That’s how I started playin’.”

Like his professors on the keyboards, you can’t argue with his instructors on bass: not only his grandfather, but Gerald Johnson, his Blues Experience bandmate, who is best known for the bottom he laid down on the Steve Miller hit, “The Joker,” in addition a career that’s included work with Dave Mason, Steven Stills, Les Dudek and The Pointer Sisters.

imageBut the true star of The Real McCoy is Big Lew Powell, a powerful baritone in his own right with a delivery that’s similar, but somewhat rougher and more powerful than Willie, and albeit a little less sweet. Dixon met him for a first time at the 2015 Chicago Blues Festival when Alex’s band was on the bill and Powell was holding down the drums for vocalist Nellie “Tiger” Travis, a one-time protégé of Koko Taylor who’s become an extended member of the Dixon family.

“They were doin’ a Willie Dixon/Muddy Waters tribute, and I was singin’ on main stage with Sugar Blue, Cash and all those old guys,” Alex remembers. “My daughter, Leila, always sings with me, and she wanted to go sing with Nellie, too.

“I met Big Lew playin’ drums. He wasn’t singin’ at all. But he did catch my grandmother’s attention one time when he sang at our Foundation. I remember she would always tell me: ‘There’s a guy down there…he’s big – and he can sing really well.

“’You need to work with him, Alex.’

“I was like: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. You tell me every week about different guys who can sing all the time.’

“She said: ‘No, no! You really need to talk to this guy!’

“I did, and found out that we had similar passions for blues. I always wanted to do a traditional blues album, and a lot of guys went: ‘Oh, that’s tired. It’s been done before. Let’s do somethin’ different.’ Not Big Lew.

“My family’s been known for getting young musicians exposure, and I wanted to get his name out there. I told him: ‘When we play our shows with my band, I’ll sing a few songs and you sing the rest – like a Memphis Slim-Willie Dixon thing.’

“He said: ‘Yeah! Let’s do that!’

“We started workin’ together, and I started writin’ songs for him,” Dixon says. “For the first song we recorded, ‘Under the Sun,’ I used a ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ beat to give him mojo, to get him relaxed, make him comfortable, and after that, we were off!”

Their backing band on the album is a mix of second- and third-generation blues talent, including Sugar Blue, who sent in his parts digitally from his new home base in Shanghai, and Steve Bell, the son of Carey and a friend since childhood, alternating on harmonica.

“The hardest part of being a producer with Sugar was that we couldn’t decide which one of the awesome tracks he sent us we should use,” Dixon says. “They were all so great and so unique!”

Rounding out the lineup are Bennett on drums and an all-star roster of guitarists, including Melvin Taylor, Rico McFarland, Gino Matteo and former International Blues Challenge winner Joey Delgado — all of whom remain deep in the pocket like it was done in the good old days. Daughter Leila and Maori sound weaver Whaia adding backing vocals.

But Dixon isn’t content to rest on his laurels. He’s already making plans for a project involving Taylor, who was once the hottest and tastiest young guitar player in Chicago in the ‘70s. A major presence on the jazz and blues scenes in Washington, D.C., and Virginia today, he’s about to relocate to the West Coast and there’s an album in the offing. After that, another project with Big Lew is on the horizon, too.

Check out Alex’s current project by visiting www.vintagedixon.com. And while you’re at it, delve deeper into his grandfather’s legacy at www.willie-dixon.com and www.bluesheaven.com, too!

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.


image


 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 10 

imageSue Decker – Outskirts of Love

SOCAN/MAPL

https://suedecker.com/

CD: 12 Songs, 46 Minutes

Styles: Mellow Blues, Americana, Roots, Debut Studio Album, All Original Songs

Natalie Merchant. Bonnie Raitt. Samantha Fish. Mavens and icons all, with Fish being one of the most prominent women in the blues nowadays. Canada’s Sue Decker aims to join their ranks with the advent of her debut studio album, Outskirts of Love. Its overall style is meandering and melancholy, beginning with the eerie “Lay Me Down in the Indigo” and closing with “Travellin’ Light,” definitely not to be mistaken for a cover of the J.J. Cale hit. The twelve original songs here are best experienced as one would a white-water rafting trip for beginners: down a gentle river, the journey smooth and soothing rather than riddled with boisterous bumps and rocky guitar riffs. Decker herself is an acoustic enthusiast, which is why her music not only belongs to the blues genre but to Americana and roots as well. Note to purists: You won’t find anything that sounds like the masters you venerate, but Sue’s paving her own eclectic path. What she lacks in vocal range, she makes up for in sincerity and keen songwriting, as featured on “Silver Anniversary” and the first track. With time, she’ll become as renowned as her idols.

“The ideal I’m always chasing as a songwriter is to use ordinary language to fuse everyday moments with the unspeakable and the extraordinary,” says Sue on her website. On stage, she creates a sense of community with her playful connection to the audience, and there’s also plenty of tasty lap-style slide guitar, whether she is playing solo or with a band. She also shares her undeniable affinity for vintage blues as the host of Back Porch Blues, a monthly acoustic blues session with a talented collective of fellow musicians in Victoria, Canada.

Performing along with Sue (vocals, slide guitars, guitar for track five) are producer Wynn Gogol on multiple instruments, Damian Graham on drums, and guitarists Bill Johnson, Kelly Fawcett, Adam Dobres, and Paul Black. Gavin Hodgins provides background vocals on three songs.

One stellar track that should be in an upcoming horror film is “Lay Me Down in the Indigo.” Picture the color for a moment. It’s suggestive of night, secrets, the inner mind and the depths of the grave. “Lay me down in the indigo, stay my body, save my soul.” Such a plea might have been uttered by a field hand in the Deep South in the days of slavery, yearning to “leave the devil I know,” although bondage is never escaped so readily. So evocative is this tune that one might look over one’s shoulder whilst listening, just in case… The guitar notes in the intro and outro are like the dying breaths of a fugitive, coming in long, slow rasps that fade into silent oblivion.

Outskirts of Love is an atmospheric, commendable debut from Canada’s Sue Decker!

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 – 2 of 10 

imageBen Racine Band – Live à Montréal

Self-produced CD

15 songs – 64 minutes

www.benracineband.com

One of the most respected groups from North of the Border, the Ben Racine Band returns home to Montreal to celebrate their tenth anniversary as they deliver this set of deep-in-the-pocket, horn-driven, soul-drenched blues.

Since releasing their first CD, One of a Kind, in 2013, the band has been in the forefront of the music scene despite issuing only one other disc, A Grand New Brew, in 2015 before this one. They’re remained firmly in the spotlight, however, as the backing unit for Dawn Tyler Watson — the queen of Canadian blues and reigning Blues Blast Music Awards female artist of the year – on her two most recent, award-winning albums.

They’re led by guitarist Ben Racine, a pleasant tenor who would have been a comfortable fit fronting an R&B band in the ‘50s. Their influences include Jr. Walker & the Allstars, Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder and Clarence Carter, among others. And they captured top honors at the 2017 International Blues Challenge with Racine walking away with the Albert King Award as the event’s top fret master.

The lineup has evolved through the years, but the one constant has been Mathieu “Moose” Mousseau, the baritone sax player who was formerly a fixture in the Kevin Mark Blues Band. He’s joined by Kaven Jalbert on tenor sax and Charles Trudel on keys with Franҫois Dubé (bass) and Nicky Estor (drums) holding down the bottom.

Consisting of 11 Racine originals and four well-chosen covers and partially funded through a Kickstarter campaign, this more than hour-long CD was recorded and produced by Estor and Nicolas Boutay and captured at two venues – Maison de la Culture Montreal-Nord and Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill – in the City of Saints. All four of the covers and two of the originals are fresh entries in the band’s recorded catalog.

A driving, unhurried cover of Duke Robillard’s “Addiction” opens the action with a delivery reminiscent of Roomful of Blues, but the attack from the horns is somewhat darker and heavier in tone, while “Too Busy Being Pretty” swings from the jump as it describes a lady with nice moves, but someone who’s probably not right in the head. It features an extended sax/organ/six-string solo.

The action heads up slightly for the debut of “Contagious,” a Latin-flavored pleaser that advises a lady not to get too close on the dance floor, before a percussive horn line drives “Modus Operandi,” which gives Racine room for a tasty solo as he warns that he might not be the right person to ask for advice. A redo of Billy “The Kid” Emerson’s 1957 B-side hit for Vee Jay, “The Pleasure’s All Mine,” follows before the band slows down Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s familiar “Cuttin’ In” — which first appeared on King in 1961 – as an emotional slow blues ballad.

The band’s on overdrive for the original, “One of a Kind,” which describes someone who simply knocks folks dead with a smile, and “Southbound Girl” before yielding to the funky “No Smoke Without Fire,” penned by British soul-blues superstar James Hunter. Beginning with “Grand New Brew,” the musical delights come in waves during the six originals that bring the action to a close. The highlights include “Bootprint,” which is laid down atop an interesting, plodding beat, “Mighty Good Time,” a call-and-response that swings with a ‘50s feel, and “Move On,” an easy/greasy number that makes its recording debut.

Available from multiple online outlets, the Ben Racine Band delivers on all counts if your tastes run toward old-school, blues-infused soul. This one’s perfect for dancing the night away!

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.



 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 10 

imageThe Cold Stares – Ways

Self-Release -2019

13 tracks; 47 minutes

www.thecoldstares.com

Unfortunately this album came to Blues Blast without supporting information and the CD sleeve contains few details. However, a quick Google search revealed that The Cold Stares is a duo: Chris Tapp plays all the guitar parts and Brian Mullins is on drums and since forming in 2010 they have released six albums and a few singles. Ways was recorded at Sam Phillips Recording Studio in Memphis, TN but it is not clear from the band’s biography where they are based. The fact that they are a duo may lead you to thinking that this will be a relatively quiet affair but the album is quite the opposite with lots of heavy riffs and it is quite surprising that there are not more musicians involved.

The band sets out its stall straight from the start: Opener “Any Way The Wind Blows” has a core riff straight out of the Led Zeppelin playbook, the title track “Ways” being a slower number in similar vein; Chris sings in convincing style on these numbers though the meaning of the lyrics rather drifted past on the heavy riffs. There is plenty of aggression on the frenetic “I Was A Fool” and wah-wah features heavily on “White Girl”. Indeed, the quieter interlude of “Thorns” is a relief as Chris plays some resonator in a folkier style and there are some decent harmonies also on a song in memory of a lost friend. The riffs are not absent for long as “Into Black” opens with a nod to Black Sabbath, not only in the guitar work but also in the lyrics: “Then I stood on the edge of the Earth, then I stepped off into black, then I fell through the gates of Hell just so I could get you back”. Further acoustic interludes occur with “I Ain’t The One” with biblical references to John The Baptist and the River Jordan, “Angeline” which sounds like it is played on banjo and piano and “Jackson Mississippi” which recounts a tragic tale in times of hardship; in these quieter moments one is reminded of Led Zep III, especially as they contrast so starkly with the heavier numbers.

Perhaps the pick of the album for this reviewer was “Might As Well Die”, a moody, rather depressing, slow-burner with an opening organ sequence that sounds very much like “Your Time Is Gonna Come” (another Zeppelin reference!) but those who like the rockier stuff will probably enjoy most of the material on offer here.

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 – 4 of 10 

imageDiana Braithwaite and Chris Whiteley – Gold Cadillac

G-THREE

www.hotblues.ca

CD: 11 Songs, 37 Minutes

Styles: Blues Covers, Jazz-and-Soul-Influenced Blues

Good blues makes one entertain the notion that the singer “feels your pain,” as former president Bill Clinton used to say. Great blues transmogrifies its performers into personal pals and crooners into confidants, for as long as the music lasts. Canada’s Diana Braithwaite and Chris Whiteley generate such intimate rapport with every note they sing and chord they play. Their chemistry and consummate musicianship are brilliantly showcased on the selections that their latest album Gold Cadillac features. However, what’s almost spooky is the way these two seem to enter into your living room, automobile, or other personal space you occupy and make you feel like they’re your closest friends. You’d tell them your secrets, for they would understand. They’ve been in the blues for so long that no heartache is beyond their ken. Although only three songs out of eleven are originals, every one of them is full to the brim with warmth and clarity. Whiteley, the winner of MAPL’s Best Horn Player of the Year for 2019, and Braithwaite, dubbed “a national treasure” by JAZZ FM, are two of a kind – two flawless blues diamonds.

Even though they’re not widely known in the United States, Braithwaite and Whiteley are mainstays of the Canadian blues scene. They’ve won countless awards, including several from SOCAN and MAPL, but they’ve also garnered the prestigious African American Women in the Arts Award and the Cable Ace Award. With roots in the southern United States , Diana’s ancestors escaped slavery through the Underground Railroad and lived for four generations in Wellington County, the first African-Canadian pioneer settlement in Ontario. Growing up, she spent summers in Montreal, Quebec, in a place called “Little Burgundy,” the historic African-Canadian neighborhood where her father and the great jazz musician Oscar Peterson were born. As for Chris, he’s had an illustrious music career spanning some forty years. His extensive touring career includes working with renowned jazz and blues legends such as Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and countless appearances on television and radio, including a special guest appearance on Saturday Night Live with international recording jazz artist Leon Redbone.

Alongside Braithwaite (vocals) and Whiteley (guitar, harmonica, cornet and vocals) are John Sheard on piano, Ron Johnston on bass, Vince Maccarone on drums, Neil Braithwaite on tenor sax, and background vocals by Bobbi Lee.

“Toodle Loodle Loo,” lucky number seven, is the first of the three original tunes. It’s a bouncy boogie with perfect big-band sound, not to mention terrific harmonica from Chris. John Sheard heats up the ivories to a sizzling temperature as well. Two songs later, the title track arrives, super-short (two minutes and forty seconds) and super-suave. Braithwaite’s velvety voice excites as she calls out, “Yeah, all you humdingers, all you bell-ringers, in the back of the line!” Polishing off this CD is “Down the Road We Go,” a slow burner and trip down memory lane.

Gold Cadillac is a winner for sure, presented by two classic Canadian confidants in the blues!

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.


image


 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 10 

imageRebekah Meldrum

Self-Release -2019

7 tracks; 30 minutes

www.rebekahmeldrum.com

Rebekah Meldrum came to our notice in 2016 with a debut release recorded live at The Slippery Noodle in her home base of Indianapolis. That album was credited to Rebekah and Paul Holdman and, although this time it is Rebekah’s name on the marquee, the band is very much the same: Paul on guitar, David Murray on bass and Kevin Kouts on drums. There are no covers on this short offering, all songs written by Rebekah and Paul. There is also harp on most songs with Patrick Long on two and Tad Robinson on four; Tad also adds vocals to one track on which horns are added (PJ Yinger, trumpet, Richard Dole, trombone).

The opening song “Set Your Soul Free” is a slow-burn tune that runs to almost six minutes. With moody slide and ominous harp work from Tad, Rebekah encourages us to all look inside ourselves and “enjoy the ride” with solid vocals containing the right amount of grit for this style of music. Probably not the solution to the angst of the first song (or a balanced diet) “Whiskey And Wine” is nevertheless a more upbeat listen and finds Rebekah confessing to a taste for the hard stuff, Tad again playing some great harp behind Rebekah’s vocals and Paul’s jagged guitar work. “Far Away” then takes us down a soulful road and Rebekah shows us a slightly different side to her vocals, Patrick Long taking over on the harp and adding a touch of country which is also picked up by Paul, an attractive and different song.

Two songs have a funky undercurrent: Rebekah is striking out on her own and is better off when she “Ain’t Thinking Bout You”, a short song driven by the bass line; a gently funky tune tells us about another independent woman who will make her escape and not be dependent on the “Coat Tails” of others. Between those two songs is arguably the most obvious blues of the set in “Gypsy” which recounts the story of Molly Malone, a dancer/singer traveling the road and living the life of the itinerant musician.

Saving the best till last, “I’m Here” is a fine tune, written about the almost taboo subject of suicide; a portion of the proceeds will be donated to a suicide prevention program. The despair caused by isolation is well captured in the lyrics: Rebekah takes the first verse, Tad the second and they share the third. The simple message is that you do not need to feel alone, there are friends who are there for you. Tad’s distinctive vocals are a personal favorite and he is superb here, as is guitarist Paul whose gentle chords fit the mood perfectly. To top things off there is a New Orleans style horn arrangement on the coda which accentuates the gospel feel of the song.

In a sense it is a shame that the disc only runs to thirty minutes but the quality is high with good songs well played. All this bodes well for further releases by Rebekah and her team.

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 – 6 of 10 

imageWhitey Somers – Down That Road

Motorhome Records

https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Musician-Band/Whitey-Somers-Music-174401442676430/

CD: 11 Songs, 44 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, All Original Songs

The wheel: It’s smooth, it’s round, and it moves things. Why reinvent it? Sure, we’ve got steel and chrome, forged and casted, but are any of them square? How about pyramid-shaped? Nope. When dependability is what you need, you can’t go wrong with one fundamental design. Whitey Somers and his posse prove this as they go Down That Road on their latest studio release. It’s an electric-guitar extravaganza that remains as reliable as the wheel when it comes to blues. Several of the eleven original songs have quirky titles such as “Frozen Toenail Blues,” “82% Done” and “Six Months Pregnant (3000 Miles Away).” Nevertheless, their rhythms and realities remain familiar – being broke, being without a partner, and being able to “Testify” about hard times. Even though some of Somers’ vocals are rather workmanlike, they get the job done. Where he truly shines is on his shredder, brilliant on slower numbers like tracks eight and nine. His meaty riffs and gutsy grooves will get people dancing, whether live and in person or at home.

Since the tender age of sixteen, Whitey Somers has been performing internationally at festivals, concerts and clubs, on the bill with many other talented artists such as Rick Fines, Stephen Fearing, Jeff Healey, Harp Dog Brown, David Essig, David Vest and Wicked Grin. Currently, Whitey performs solo acoustic shows with the Whitey Somers Band and as a guitarist for Blue Dog Ramble. As a side man and session player, he’s most recently worked with such artists as the Jessica Benini Collective, Alexander’s Bluestime Band, Beverly McKeen, Blue Cadillac, Lazy Mike and The Screaming Gas. His video for “Down That Road” took third place in the live category of the 2018 Canadian Songwriting Competition.

Performing along with Whitey (guitars and vocals) are drummer Nick Dokter (no typo), bassists Todd Sacerty and Brian Whitty, organist Larry Blatchford, and Nico Rhodes on piano.

A note on the eighth track, “Undecided” – it’s a stunner that Gregg Allman should have been able to sing. The intro is straight out of their playbook, so much so that it sends chills down yours truly’s spine. “I’m growing tired of all your indecision. So uninspired by your lack of vision. You told me lies; you’ll get your way, but I saw your eyes don’t tell what you say.” The background vox add an eerie vibe to this breakup ballad, soaring beyond conventional horizons. If that’s not reason enough to give this song more than one listen, savor the solo in the middle.

Down That Road doesn’t venture into uncharted territory, but why reinvent the wheel? Give Whitey Somers’ latest a spin in your boombox or on your latest playlist. It’s good, solid blues!

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.


 image


 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 10 

Warren Storm – Taking the World by Storm

APO Records

https://www.facebook.com/events/848630562320889/

CD: 11 Songs, 35 Minutes

Styles: “Swamp Pop,” New Orleans-Style Blues, Blues Covers

If the title of a work of art implicitly promises something, the aforementioned work should deliver. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon should take me there (it did). Robin Cook’s novel Shock ought to shock me (it did). When Louisiana’s Warren Schexnider, AKA Warren Storm, says he’s Taking the World by Storm, I’d better hear some thunder. The “Godfather of Swamp Pop,” whose musical career has spanned over seventy years, is back with a vengeance to reassert his title. Author and co-performer Yvette Landry has issued this album as a companion piece to her identically-titled book, available for purchase on her website and subtitled A Conversation with Warren ‘Storm’ Schexnider. She’s been a fan of his for years. Whether you’re also a longtime devotee or a newcomer to his music like me, when you’re done listening to this all-too-short offering, you’ll go, “Yowza-yowza-yowza!” as Warren does at the end of “Lonely Nights.”

The album itself is a compilation of eleven electric entries, including John Fogerty’s “Long As I Can See the Light,” Bobby Charles’ “Tennessee Blues,” Merle Haggard’s “My House of Memories” and two songs that became lifelong standards for Storm: “Prisoner’s Song” and JD Miller’s “Mama Mama Mama,” both of which broke into the Billboard Hot 100. All are graced by Storm’s vocals, as soothing as a springtime shower. His pipes may have aged, but they’re nowhere near rusty. He doesn’t mumble or stumble over any of the lyrics – in fact, on catchy numbers such as “Let the Four Winds Blow,” he imbues them with zesty Louisiana spice.

Alongside him are band members Eric Adcock on piano, Roddie Romero on electric guitar, Derek Huston on tenor and baritone saxophone, Chris French on upright bass, and Gary Usie on drums. Special guest musicians include Sonny Landreth on slide guitar for “Mathilda,” Richard Comeaux on pedal-steel guitar for “Tennessee Blues,” Beau Thomas on fiddle for that same track, and Willie “Tee” Trahan on tenor sax for “In My Moments of Sorrow” and “Troubles, Troubles.” Featured guest vocalists are John Fogerty for the opener, Marc Broussard for “Mathilda,” and Yvette Landry herself on “Mama, Mama, Mama.”

One thing’s for sure: Warren’s no tenderfoot in the Louisiana bayou, a rookie with everything to prove and everything to lose. He’s the gentlemanly Godfather of this subgenre. Taking the World by Storm is what he’s already done, time and time again, and will continue to do until time or the tides stop him. Until then, he’ll keep on rolling!

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 – 8 of 10 

imageAngel Forrest – Hell Bent With Grace

www.angelforrest.ca

Self Release

11 songs – 46 minutes

Hell Bent With Grace is the 11th album from Canadian vocalist Angel Forrest since her 1996 debut. Featuring 11 smartly-written blues-rock tracks, it’s a highly enjoyable release from the Montreal chanteuse.

The album was recorded at Tunebender, S.M.D. Studio R.P. and Morningstar Studio with expert engineering by Olivier St Pierre and Boris Petrowski. Hell Bent With Grace showcases an artist at the peak of her powers, with a confident assertiveness that emanates from every song.

Forrest is joined on Hell Bent… by her long-time partners, co-writers and producers, Denis Coulombe on acoustic guitar, bass and backing vocals and Ricky Paquette on electric guitars, dobro and backing vocals. The album also features Bernard Quessy on B-3 and Wurlitzer, Alex McElcheran on bass and Sly Coulombe on drums.

Forrest, Coulombe and Paquette are a tack-sharp writing team. With mature lyrics addressing everything from the menopause (“Menie The Monster”) and mental health (the Eagles-esque “The Blame Game”) to the simple joys of partying (“Get It On”), the music is essentially guitar-led modern blues-rock, but with sufficient dynamics and unexpectedly turns to keep the listener entertained throughout. So a ballad such as “Grace” sees a series of increasing crescendos rolling like waves over the course of the song. The gentle “Indian Moon” lasts only just over a minute and a half, but features some lovely acoustic slide playing from Paquette.

Forrest’s powerful voice is a raucous thing of beauty, with a delicious edge of grit, putting it perhaps half-way between Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin. The vulnerability she displays on a track like the disco-rock of “Bea” is winning, whilst her desperation and fury at someone trying to steal her man on “Bane Lorraine” is almost palpable (and nicely echoed in Paquette’s feedback-riddled breakdown). But to the credit of all concerned, the focus of Hell Bent… is very much on the song, rather than the singer or the soloist.

Reflecting the efforts put into the music and lyrics, significant thought has also gone into the CD cover, with its separate lyrics booklet that also contains some lovely sketches by Dylan Sky.

Hell Bent With Grace is a blues-rock album that is definitely closer to rock than blues. Having said that however the blues informs everything Forrest and her cohorts do, even the riff-tastic “Looking Glass”, which must be a highlight of their live shows (assuming they can duplicate the Thin Lizzy-styled twin guitar approach).

The photo of the band on the inner sleeve of the CD cover shows four of the five band members with huge grins on their faces and that happiness and confidence is reflected in music within. Hell Bent With Grace is a very impressive release and well worth investigating for those who enjoy modern blues-rock.

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.


blues and rhythm mag ad image

 Featured Blues Review – 9 of 10 


Dwane Dixon – Betting On A Gambling Man

www.dwanedixon.com

Self-release

9 songs – 37 minutes

Betting On A Gambling Man is Dwane Dixon’s third self-produced album, following in the footsteps of 2013’s Black Satin Blues and 2016’s Working Man’s Blues. The Canadian singer/guitarist/songwriter mines a series of classic blues-rock veins across nine self-written tracks, all played with an assertive muscularity and authority. While Dixon usually plays live in a trio, on Betting On A Gambling Man he handles all the instruments himself, providing vocals, guitar, bass, drums and keyboards as well as laying down a harp solo on “I Buried Your Bones.”

Dixon roars out of the traps with the opening wild rockabilly of the title track, which tells the true story of Dixon’s own father and his love of playing craps for money. He quickly follows it up with the ZZ Top-esque groove of “A World Of Hurt” and “Swallow That Pill”, which sounds like Queen’s “Tie Your Mother Down” if it had actually been written by Gibbons, Beard and Hill. He has a fine, powerful voice, is an adept guitar player and he lays down a series of elegantly rocky backbones on the different tracks.

“Ain’t No Big Thing” sees Dixon pull out his electric slide guitar while “I Buried Your Bones” has a country-folk feel, with its finger-picked acoustic guitar and mournful lyrics. A finger-picked acoustic guitar is the only instrumentation on the folky “Small Town Talking Blues”, while “Wanna Be Your Man” openly acknowledges its Howlin’ Wolf influence both lyrically and musically (think “You’ll Be Mine” updated and given a steroid injection). The raucous West Coast-via-The-Ramones of “Whiskey You Don’t Lie” has some gloriously frenetic playing although it is outdone by the closing instrumental, “The Awakening”, the least bluesy track on the album, which leans closer to heavy metal than classic rock. It also allows Dixon plenty of space to really stretch out on his guitar.

Dixon also produced Betting On A Gambling Man, which was recorded at Pink-Room Studios in Longueil, Quebec, and he captured a warm, natural sound and deserves significant credit for creating such a wide variety of sounds by himself.

Betting… is a pretty short album, coming in at just 37 minutes in length, but it also contains well-written blues-rock songs in a classic style, played with punch and attitude. “I Buried Your Bones” in particular is a gem of a song.

If you like classic riff-led blues-rock by the likes of George Thorogood and ZZ Top, you will definitely want to investigate this release.

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.


 Featured Blues Review – 10 of 10 

imageChantel McGregor – Bury’d Alive

www.chantelmcgregor.com

Tis Rock Music Limited

11 songs – 68 minutes

Chantel McGregor is an English guitarist/singer/songwriter, hailing from Yorkshire, and Bury’d Alive is a live album featuring songs from her first two albums together with one new track, “April”. The album was recorded at The Apex in Bury St Edmunds, hence the neat pun in the album title. (History buffs may be interested to learn that the now-ruined Abbey in Bury St Edmunds is where a group of Barons met in 1214 and swore an oath to compel King John to accept the Charter of Liberties, a proclamation of Henry I. This act led directly to the signing of the Magna Carta in June 1215 – “the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot”).

Backed by Colin Sutton on bass and Thom Gardner on drums, McGregor is a fine singer and equally excellent guitarist, with a smooth, fluid style. When she lets rip on tracks like “Walk On Land” or “Freefalling”, she can be quite mesmerizing. She also wrote or co-wrote all the songs on the album bar Jonathan Brooke’s “Inconsolable”. Bury’d Alive was produced, mixed and mastered by Wayne Proctor of House of Tone at Superfly Studios, and he has done an excellent job in capturing the power and excitement of a live performance whilst maintaining clarity and detail in the recording.

McGregor is billed as a blues-rock guitarist in her press kit and on her website, but that’s a bit of a misnomer. Bury’d Alive is a full-bore heavy rock album, with few hints of anything to do with blues music. It is muscular and powerful in the best traditions of heavy rock trios.

The album opens with the power-chord rock of “Take The Power”, with McGregor’s clean vocals to the fore. It’s a catchy hard rock number with a classic chorus. It is rapidly followed by the upbeat single note riff of “Killing Time”, where the descending note progression in the mid-section recalls Led Zeppelin (to whom the introduction to “Eternal Dream” also nods). McGregor brings the pace down with slower “Like No Other” with its arpeggio’ed verses and power chorded choruses. The 12 minute “Inconsolable” starts with gentle acoustic guitar and a lovely short bass solo from Sutton while McGregor switches to an electric guitar for the extended solo that is perhaps the musical highlight of the album. “Your Fever” has a riff that AC/DC would be proud of, while the psychedelic instrumental “April” lets McGregor experiment with some different effects.

McGregor is clearly a serious talent and Bury’d Alive does a great job of capturing her in a live setting. If your tastes range to guitar-driven heavy rock, you will find a lot to enjoy on this album. If you’re looking for blues, however, you should probably look elsewhere.

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.


image


BB logo

116 Espenscheid Court, Creve Coeur, IL 61610 © 2020 Blues Blast Magazine (309) 267-4425

Please follow and like us:
51