Issue 14-13 March 26, 2020

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Cover photo © 2020 Laura Carbone


 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with rising harmonica star, Andrew Alli. We have 10 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Alex Dixon’s Vintage Dixon, Andrew Alli, Big Dez, Soggy Po’ Boys, Johnny Rawls, Zack Walther Band, Laurie McVay, NoName James, C.W. Ayon and Frank Bey.

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


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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 on available our website at:
www.bluesblastmagazine.com/blues-blast-awards

Submissions accepted until May 15th, 2020.


 Featured Interview – Andrew Alli 

imageOn his Grammy nominated recording Spectacular Class, Jontavious Willis included a track “Daddy’s Dough,” where he did the vocal and played acoustic guitar. He was joined by Andrew Alli, who creates a solid rhythmic thrust with his fine acoustic harmonica accompaniment. That track and one other, “The Blues Is Dead?,” undoubtedly are the first opportunities for many listeners to get acquainted with Alli’s considerable talents, developed over the twelve years since he was first attracted to the harp. And now Alli has a new release, Hard Workin’ Man on EllerSoul Records, that will undoubtedly delight blues fans, particularly those partial to traditional electric blues.

Given the current situation, one might think that the harp player would be discouraged by the coronavirus news dominating everyone’s attention. Alli has a more philosophical outlook.

“We are in very interesting times. When we look back at this period of time, we may find that this might be a catalyst for a lot of creative endeavors. I think we will hear a lot of great music, and see plenty of great art. When you think back to a song as well-known as “St. James Infirmary,” that was written for a specific reason and time. We have been fortunate up to this point in that we haven’t dealt with anything like they did back in the early 1900s.

“As these things unfold, we will see how influential it is on our art and culture. We are being forced to be creative. If this ain’t the blues, I don’t know what is!”

Alli grew up in a family environment that welcomed a variety of music.

“I was always listening to music. My Mom and sisters were into the performing arts, singing and dancing. I never gave any thought about pursuing music until I was in college, when I heard a guy playing harmonica, busking on a street corner in Richmond, Virginia at a local market. What he was doing really resonated with me, the sound he was getting on the harp.

“After talking to the guy about what he was doing, I went to the local music store to buy a cheap $5 harp. I appreciated all types of music, including blues, but never really gave it a good listen until I started playing the instrument. After tooting a couple notes on it, it opened up a new world of possibilities, that I could be a musician if I wanted to. It felt so good, providing an outlet that I didn’t even know I needed”.

Early on, Alli made a promise to himself, that if he was going to take music seriously, he would need to learn to play the instrument the right way. It was important to him to pay homage to the instrument, to work his way back through the history of the harp and blues music.

“Once I started listening to players like Big Walter Horton, Sonny Boy Williamson, and of course Little Walter, I just got sucked in. At that time in my life, it was magical to me, the sounds those guys were making on this little instrument and the possibility that I could even get close to that sound. It was the inspiration to dive deeper into the music, to the point where I was skipping classes at times”.

“Looking back, I realize now that I made a lot of social sacrifices. I spent countless nights at home trying to learn a certain lick or song, or just listening to the music. Eventually I gained a greater appreciation for the blues. Up until then, I did not have the proper context to give it a good listen. The more I got into it, the more it resonated with my life. People used the music as an outlet to talk about life, which made so much sense to me.

“Music is nothing but a reflection of where we are culturally. Whether they want to admit to or not, some people wanted to move beyond blues music because of the connections to a lot of struggles that specifically the African-American people in this country have dealt with. It wasn’t that people didn’t like or appreciate the music. They just did not want to deal with the troubling history”.

image“For me, those issues will always be a part of the music. But the blues is much more than that side of the story. Blues music is a complex thing.

“There are people out there who say the music is nothing more than twelve bars, the I-IV-V pattern, three chords. The reality is that blues is full of subtleties and nuance. My blues forefathers and foremothers were masters of the subtleties of the different styles. If you just look at the form of the music, you will never understand what it really is. You have to be a complete student, constantly learning and listening because there is so much depth to the music”.

Managing to make enough classes to complete his college education, Alli earned a degree in Environmental Science.

“There was a point where I was in-between on what I wanted. But I pushed through. That was what made the most sense. I am a big outdoor person. As a kid, our parents used to lock me and my sisters out of the house all day. It made sense to do something where I could be outside as much as possible. But I consider playing blues to be a privilege. I am still learning to fully appreciate it. It always has something to teach you. I have learned a lot about people, my history. I can’t find the words to explain what it means to me in my life and my relationships”.

Learning by listening, Alli developed a good ear for hearing the nuances, which has served him well.

“We all have a natural ear for sounds. And we all know classic songs, something simple like “Happy Birthday.” You can just toot away on the harmonica until you find those notes, the right ones. That is how I started to understand how to play. The notes are there, you just have to find them.

“I would listen to a Little Walter tune, or one from Big Walter. It would take some time to figure out what key harp they were playing in, what position they are in. Once you get that, you feel like you are part of the song. It is rare to find two harp players that sound alike. To me, it is an extension of your voice. Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller) sang like he played. He had a strong vibrato and his phrasing was very unique. No one else played it like him. As you listen, you start picking up patterns and styles. How did he get that sound, that tone?”

Additional help came from several area harp players. Alli also attended several SPAH conventions (Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica), where he heard some great players like Ronnie Shellist and Adam Gussow who inspired him early on, musicians who also teach people how to play.

“Being around other musicians, I’ve developed a sensitive ear, which really helps to break down a song to figure out what is going on, to make the distinction between players. To the general public, the average person will not hear much difference between a well-seasoned player and even a beginner. They hear some notes, and they are content with that. In the world of musicians, there is a higher bar. You have to be able to listen, to put your harp down sometimes to hear the music.

“I used to get so excited about hearing a new song that I would immediately start trying to play along, instead of listening to the whole song, to really think about the groove and the sound they were trying to get. My playing has improved because I am willing to listen more than play at times”.

As his skills improved, the harp player started doing front porch parties for friends, blowing some tunes at 2 am for a few people. He gradually connected with other local players and learned about some opportunities to sit in with blues and jazz musicians.

“That is the natural process when you first start playing out a bit. That is how you get accustomed to how live music is done. I would go down to the local jazz club on Friday night, waiting until midnight when they switch over to blues, and hope I could sit in for a song, hoping I could play a couple twelve bars. Then I would come back the next Friday to do it again”.

Finally getting the urge to start his own band, Alli teamed up with some musicians from the clubs to form the Morganfield Five, a short-lived ensemble. His first real band was the Last Night Blues Band, paying homage to a Little Walter song. There weren’t a lot of harmonica players in the Richmond area, so Alli got lots of invitations to play. He did some touring with several singer-songwriter musicians.

image“My roommate told about these two guys, Josh Small and Tim Berry, that were playing a benefit show in a local park. He said they played some blues and might let me sit in. As a harmonica player, you always have your harps with you. I dropped by as they were playing a Howlin’ Wolf song. It was a relaxed setting. I sat in, and after hearing me, they asked if I wanted to play the rest of the set.

“At the end, they asked me if I wanted to do an East coast tour that was starting the following week, I said let’s do it! Next thing you know, we did a European tour followed by an Australian tour. I went to all these places just because I decided to go see if I could play. With any musician, when you put yourself out there enough, the momentum starts to pick up, like the old saying – fake it until you make it. I don’t think anyone really “makes it”. But there is certain point where there is enough momentum that you have to keep riding it, especially if you love what you are doing. That is all I have been trying to do”.

Growing up in the Piedmont region, Alli gradually acquired a liking for that style. A fine mentor was close at hand. The duo of guitarist John Cephas and Phil Wiggins on harmonica were internationally known performers of the Piedmont style.

“Some years back I was invited to the Richmond Folk Festival to co- teach some workshops with Phil Wiggins. That was a big honor because he has been a huge influence. When I delved into that style, it sounded like home. Since then, Phil has invited me to be a teacher and performer at the Augusta Blues & Swing up in West Virginia. I believe this will be my fifth year as a part of that event. It is a great place to share and talk about where the music is going”.

Once the Late Night Blues Band had run its course, a new band was formed, Andrew Alli & the Mainline. That group included the late Ivan Appelrouth on guitar, Chaz Hibbler on drums, and Ken Kellner on bass guitar. They started touring and playing more festivals. Applerouth was another musician who had a big impact on Alli’s approach.

“Ivan was a really good friend of mine. He was the guy who changed my perspective on the sensitive ear. We would spend nights drinking beer and listening to records all night, not playing, but appreciating what they were doing. I owe so much to him for teaching me that approach. He was a very tasteful player. One big lesson was to take my time when I play. I’m still grappling with the loss of him as he was a very good friend”.

Alli first connected with Jontavious Willis at the Augusta fest three years ago.

“We had talked a bit on the internet. Once I saw him, I wanted to get with him because he plays the stuff I like! He was also a teacher & performer there. We hit it off right away. He is a true student of the music. We are constantly digging up obscure tunes and texting each other new stuff we find. It is really heartening to find someone young who is just as enthusiastic as I am about learning. He is on the same wavelength. He is a busy man, and I have a crazy schedule, but whenever we can combine forces, it is always a good time”.

You often hear musicians talk about the importance of tone. Count Alli as one of them.

“Tone is making one note sound good. It is being able to confidently play a note and be ok with that one note being part of the groove. Some people say tone is a relative thing. Some players try to mask a lack of tone. As far as how the harp can and should be played, there is a certain response that the harmonica likes. A good tone will reflect a strong foundation and good phrasing. Big Walter was a tone master. My man could play one long note over twelve bars. It would sound like it was exactly where it needed to be. He didn’t need to play any more, or any less. And that note would be so rich with feeling”.

“All of the old cats were tongue blockers. I do tongue blocking too. Tone on a technical level is about how you are breathing as you are playing the note on the harp. Tongue blocking gives a better tone because you have more of your mouth over the harp. If you don’t play the harmonica with the right kind of breathing, it can sound trebly. You want to do everything you can to fatten the sound, widen it, and soften the tone. It also gives you percussive qualities and the ability to play octaves, which you can’t do if you don’t tongue block.

“Tone is all you! And if you don’t have a good tone acoustically, you probably won’t have good tone amplified. The amp is not a solution to tone, it is a projection of your tone. One of my favorite records is one by Big Walter, The Soul Of Blues Harmonica. He plays acoustically through the whole album. No amp, playing with his hands, getting all of these different sounds. It’s like he was making the point that he could get a good sound, amp or no amp. It is a beautiful album. In some ways, you can’t get a lot of sounds and textures playing with a microphone versus playing acoustically. You have to be able to use both hands, so there are some constraints.”

For equipment, Alli favors the old standby, Hohner Marine Band models.

image“I have gone full circle, trying everything out. The classic Marine band is fine. Usually they play great right out of the box. I have a few that Joe Filisko has worked on, modified them a bit so there is night and day difference from the stock version. He is not only a fine technician, but also a master harp player. But I kind of like the idea of opening up a new Marine Band and discovering its unique character. They are never going to respond the same. I like that as a challenge because it forces me to be more aware of my playing. It makes you think about your playing more so than how the instrument plays. You have to make adjustments to that. As you learn the natural limitations of the harp and the reed, the Marine Band was what I like to play. If Little Walter and Big Walter made all those amazing records using Marine Band harps, we don’t need all of the custom models. It goes to the idea of gear versus player. I like the idea of using what you’ve got and making it work”.

When it comes to songwriting, the artist has some clear ideas about his process.

“I never bought into the idea that blues is just about being down and out, sad. On a commercial level, the music shouldn’t be constrained to just the struggle. There are plenty of happy blues songs out there. Some songs are inspired by a situation, others by a certain groove. One example is the title track for my new album, Hard Workin’ Man, that looks at the duality of where I am right now. I am still working a day job, and not ashamed of not playing music full-time yet. Every song has it’s own story, tales about what is happening around you in life, delivered with truth and honesty”.

EllerSoul Records was a natural fit, being based in Richmond, plus owner Ronnie Owens is a veteran harp player. The relationship grew over time.

“Once I started playing out, I got to know Ronnie. We had talked about doing a project together. It just took awhile for the timeline to work out. I was proud to be a part of their Blues For Big Walter tribute album from four years ago. There were a lot of great musicians on that one. I was really happy to be part of that project as Big Walter was one of my biggest influences. Now they have released my full-length album. They have always been supportive of what I have been doing. I had been hearing a lot of great records recorded at the Bigtone Studio, which was out in California. Then Jon Atkinson moved to Bristol Virginia. It was like they came to me. It made sense because to me as there is nothing like the analogue sound. It is a warmer, richer sound that you can’t get digitally. And those guys are killer musicians in addition to being awesome sound technicians. They play the good shit! I met Carl Sonny Leyland at the Port Townsend fest in Washington. He is a fine piano player. I was so happy that he was down to be a part of the project.

“For a lot of the songs on the album, I was going for that horn sound. I love that rich sax sound you can get from a nice old Masco or Epiphone amp. But I am already scheming to do more acoustic front-porch stuff on my next album. It would allow me to show the variety of sounds that I can play. For this recording I used a 1960s Masco, the old Epiphone, an old Gibson GA30 that I really love, and a little Harmony model. Amps for me have come and gone. You find a new sound that you like, so you play it for awhile. I am playing smaller amps lately as I am trying to turn the volume down. I have really sensitive ears. I don’t know if that is from work from running chainsaws all day, but really loud sounds really cut through my ears. I’m not very particular but I do want tube amps. Again, I try to make what I have work.

“I love the music so much. Harmonica players a rare breed. I really appreciate the variety and unique flavors that are coming out from some of the new players. I have nothing but love for all of them”.

Visit Andrew’s website at:www.andrewallirva.com

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 former 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 – 1 of 10 

imageAlex Dixon’s Vintage Dixon – The Real McCoy

Dixon Landing Music

www.dixonlandingmusic.com

11 songs – 37 minutes

www.vintagedixon.com

No one in the world today is rooted in Chicago blues as firmly as producer/bassist/keyboard player Alex Dixon, and that comes through loud and clear on this CD. Serving as the recording debut of vocalist Lewis “Big Lew” Powell, it delivers a powerful reminder that the old-school sounds of the Windy City are just as important and viable today as they were in their heyday in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

Alex was raised by grandfather Willie Dixon – without question one of the most important bluesmen ever, and grew up in a home that welcomed a steady stream of superstars. He took piano lessons from Leonard “Baby Doo” Caston of Big Three Trio fame, his uncle Butch and Little Brother Montgomery. And at age 10, he played keys in various styles as Willie narrated as the duo laid the groundwork for what would become the international Blues in the Schools movement.

Now based in the San Francisco Bay area, Alex toured with Willie for four years and wrote co-wrote 40 tunes with him, including “Study War No More,” a key cog in his grandfather’s last album, the Grammy-winning Hidden Charms. As an adult, he’s a past-president of the Dixon family’s Blues Heaven Foundation, and currently serves as royalty director of Hoochie Coochie Music, Willie’s extensive songwriting catalog that’s been covered by Cream, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and hundreds of others.

This is the third CD Alex has written and produced, following The Vintage Room, a 2007 blues-rock collaboration with guitarist Cash McCall billed as The Blues Experience, and Rising From the Ashes in 2009, billed as The Alex Dixon Band. Dixon met Powell – the drummer for Chicago vocalist Nellie “Tiger” Travis – at the 2015 Chicago Blues Festival, fell in love with his voice – a powerful baritone reminiscent, but rougher than his grandfather – and has been developing this project ever since.

Powell’s featured throughout with Dixon doubling on electric and upright bass and piano. They’re surrounded by several of the most important second- and third-generation blues artists today, including Sugar Blue and Steve Bell – Carey’s son – on harmonica and Alvino Bennett (Koko Taylor, Mighty Joe Young) on drums with Melvin Taylor and Gino Matteo on guitars throughout with guest appearances from Rico McFarland and Joey Delgado on two cuts each. Alex’s 13-year-old daughter Leila and Maori sound weaver Whaia sit in on backing vocals.

Composed of seven originals penned by Alex and four familiar covers from Willie’s catalog, this album was recorded at EastWest Studios in Hollywood, Calif., the site of the elder Dixon’s final recordings and fulfills Alex’s desire to deliver music with an authentic traditional Chicago blues sound.

Blue explodes out of the gate to open “Nothing New Under the Sun” with Powell hot on his heels, proving he’s a blues belter of the first order, albeit with limited range. It’s a hard-hitting shuffle that takes its time before flowing into “Spider in My Stew.” A soul-blues hit for Buster Benton in 1973, it gets a complete makeover and comes across with an uneasy feel that enforces the subject: that the singer suspects his lady’s cheating.

The tempo picks up for medium-paced shuffle “The Real McCoy” in which Powell cautions that he can spot a phony in a glance and warns: “The time right here/Is all we got/I’m gonna love you/If you like it or not.” An unhurried harp solo opens the ballad “My Greatest Desire,” the original complaint that the singer’s given his lady everything she wanted, but he’s in agony now that she’s gone.

A block of three Willie numbers — “When I Make Love” first recorded in 1973 by Margie Evans, “Howlin’ for My Darlin’” — co-written with Howlin’ Wolf and released by Chess in 1959 and “Groanin’ the Blues,” first laid down by Otis Rush on Cobra in 1957 – follow before four more originals fill out the set.

The percussive “10,000 Miles Away” – which features Bell and Whaia — revisits the separation theme, this time with Powell stating he has to move halfway around the globe because his love’s still strong before the action heats dramatically for the stop-time pleaser, “Chi-Town Boogie,” featuring McFarland. “I Want to Be Loved” borrows heavily from Willie’s “I Want to Be Loved” before the band reprises the previous song as “Chi-Town Boogie Instrumental.”

This one’s available in all formats and is a definite recommendation for anyone with old-school tastes.

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 – 2 of 10 

imageAndrew Alli – Hard Workin’ Man

EllerSoul Records

www.andrewallirva.com

36 minutes, 12 songs

The Blues is heritage music. It is music that is passed down from the old guard to the youngbloods either in person or by recorded inspiration. Many youngblood musicians try to sound like the old masters with varying degrees of success. And often young-uns abandon the pure Blues before their style is fully developed in favor of more commercial success with Rock or Pop oriented hybrids. But there are some true devotees who have fully digested the “raw fat tone(d)” soul food of the heritage and are then able to create something completely within the canon and also fully modern and personal; Alvin Youngblood Hart, Pokey LaFarge, Rhiannon Giddens, Shemekia Copeland, “Monster” Mike Welch and the tragically departed Michael Ledbetter just to name a few. Richmond, VA native, Andrew Alli can officially be counted among this group. Alli’s dazzling debut Hard Workin’ Man is a fully realized artistic statement of Blues, played in a traditional way, that honors the heritage while also being thoroughly personal and unique.

Andrew Alli is a harmonica player. A student of the instrument, Alli plays with the depth of range, haunting tone and classy economy that exemplified the masters who he covers on this record: George “Harmonica” Smith, “Big” Walter Horton and Little Walter. Alli’s harp knowledge is deep. In his playing also lives shades of the clarion horn blasts of Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller), the ecstatic zoom of Junior Wells and the nimble big toned facility of William Clarke. But Alli’s blowing is his own. Amplified, ragged and grinding dissolves into clean, swinging and beatific. Alli complements his harp revolution with a strong Blues holler. Singing and blowing work in perfect call and response. Going for broke with every phrase, Alli testifies his Blues with conviction and confidence.

Hard Workin’ Man was recorded at Bigtone Studio in Bristol, VA by owner, engineer and front line Real Deal Bluesman “Big” Jon Atkinson. Atkinson plays guitar and bass and helps Alli create, as is stated on the album packaging, a “raw fat tone.” What contributes to that tone is that this record is mixed in mono, meaning the sound is as big and sturdy as an Appalachian mountain range. Ramping up the authenticity, Alli and Atkinson wisely employed the piano wizard Carl Sonny Leyland in support. Leyland is one of the few dozen piano players alive who understands the complexity, sensitivity and depth of harmony and melody required to play like Sunnyland Slim, Little Brother Montgomery and Pinetop Perkins. It’s hard not to think about the late great Barrelhouse Chuck when listening to Leyland’s pitch perfect playing. Danny Michel on guitar offering harmonic counterpoint and drummers Devin Neel and Buddy Honeycutt lay down the kind of rocking, swinging understated powerhouse foundation needed for this type of music.

So what does the music sound like? It is fully realized, original music (only 3 covers) played in the post-war Blues style of Helena, Memphis and Chicago. The title track pounds the listener out of the gate with menacing stop time pummels that makes one think the hard work is being done in some mid evil mine. Jazzy solos swing out of the clang and boom to whip the song into a frenzy. Slow Blues “30 Long Years” is a claustrophobic response to Eddie Boyd’s “5 Long Years.” Except instead of the misogynistic missteps that often befall Blues lyricism, the enlightened millennial Alli sings about how his town has let him down and his need to move on. The roiling Latin-esq “Going Down South,” featuring fluid slide guitar, finds Alli singing into his harp mic. The effect is eerie and blurs the line between vocal cords and harp. Little Walter’s “One More Chance” is a delicate plea for one more romantic shot. The band swings and Alli blows a nimble harp that never overloads the ear but also keeps the song ablaze.

Hard Workin’ Man has 4 instrumental tracks, all of which are based on the 12 bar Blues. This is a third of the record, and the first instrumental is the second track on the album! In less capable hands this could be a nightmare of boring, uninspired open mic night style jamming. Not for Alli and company. These instrumentals (3 originals and one cover of Big Walter’s “Walters Sun”) are taut, disciplined, melodically rich and harmonically satisfying. Style and form are varied creating integral parts of this excellently crafted album. The seemingly effortless courage and sheer force of artistic will to put these instrumentals in the sequence the way they are is indicative of the unapologetic and specific nature of this record.

Hard Workin’ Man is a fierce raw statement of individual vision standing right at odds with, and fully disregarding of, larger mainstream music trends. This is real, deeply emotional music played by master technicians at their best. If you are a Blues fan of any sort, listen to this record and find out what a true and clean expression of the music can be.

Reviewer Bucky O’Hare is a Bluesman based in Boston who spreads his brand of blues and funk all over New England. Bucky has dedicated himself to experiencing the Blues and learning its history. As a writer, Bucky has been influenced by music critics and social commentators such as Angela Davis, Peter Guralnick, Eric Nisenson, Francis Davis and Henry Louis Gates Jr.



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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 10 

imageBig Dez – Last Train

SOCADISC

www.bigdez.com

12 tracks

Twenty years in the making, Big Dez is the brainchild of Phil Fernandez and his musician friends in Paris, France. A 2009 entry in the International Blues Challenge representing France, Phil and his band now have 8 albums under their belt with this new one. Electric blues with flavors of Texas and France blend together in one smooth and savory stew of good music.

Dez on vocals and guitar is joined by Rodolphe Dumont also on guitar, Steve Belmone of drums and tambourine, Marc Schaeller on harp, Laurian Daire on keys, and Cyrile Catois on bass. Horns are Sax Gordon Beadle on tenor, Bertrand Luzignant on trombone, and Benjamin Beloir on trumpet. Leng Woods and Benjamin Collins are backing vocalists.

Things begin with a mid tempo funky cut with some stinging guitar entitled “Bout You.” The organ work is also quite well done (Lucky Peterson) and Dez howls out the lead. “Back To The Little Street” is a sweet, little bouncy number with nice horn support and backing vocals. The guitar work is well done and it’s a fun number. Up next is the more driving “In The Meantime.” Dez sings with emotion and plays some cool lead guitar and solo work.”Last Train” is a another driving piece with a jumping beat. Horns, synthesizer and guitar are all prominent. The title track rocks out and gives the listener quite the enjoyable ride. “By Yourself” is a strident and powerful tune with nice vocals, piano and guitar. “That’s The Way You Can Change” has some great organ throughout and some guitar interspersed that is cool. A funky groove and cool beat sells this one.

“The Felione” offers the listener some big and moving guitar lead and solo work that rocks. “You Know What I Mean” is an angry sounding cut with another driving beat and vicious harp licks and guitar that are nicely done; B3 is added by Lea Worms and gives us a treat to listen to. . Next is “Until The Broad Daylight” with some nice keys and big vocals. “We Gotta Make It” is another rocker with a little bit of a French country twang and feel to the guitar and sound. Gordon lays out some wicked sax here, too. “Any Way You Want To Swing It” offers up an fast paced ride with big guitar and just a frenetic pacing that’s fun. The organ support is well done but the guitar is the star here. The CD concludes with “Memphis,” another driving cut with lots of boogie woogie piano, more big vocals and good guitar work.

This is a fun album that gets the blood flowing. Fernandez and company offer up some tunes to dance to and enjoy. The tunes are rocking and the ride is fast. The blend of Texas blues rock and French artists shows that the blued are alive and powerful there- vive la France! If you are looking for rock blues album that is hard charging and gives you a dozen hot and original cuts, then this one’s for you.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 10 

imageSoggy Po’ Boys – All in Favor

www.soggypoboys.com

self released

12 songs, 40 minutes

New Orleans is the fertile basin of all things funky and syncopated; mixing Caribbean rhythms, R&B, Jazz, Indigenous People’s Folk music, Blues and everything in between. There are so many great bands that keep the New Orleans’ torch lit and so many inspired by it all around the world. From the cold North Eastern tundra of Derry, New Hampshire comes a group of young people so inspired: the Soggy Po’ Boys. Born out of a Tuesday night jam (which they still hold down 8 years later), the Po’ Boys (or should we call them the Soggies?) hit all the traditional acoustic notes of early to mid 20th Century New Orleans Ragtime, Jazz, Blues and Second Line. Their fourth album All in Favor is a covers only, live in the studio, collection of their most swinging and hard hitting live repertoire.

The Soggy Po’ Boys’ music is an old-timey riot of ensemble horns, funkified rhythm, strolling piano and transcendent husky singing. What distinguishes this band and adds legitimacy is the three piece horn section of Eric Klaxton on clarinet and soprano saxophone, Zach Lange on trumpet and Nick Mainella on tenor saxophone. These horn players do the chaotic, talking-over-each-other group improvisation of New Orleans so well. They then smash the discord right back down on the 1 beat and hit lush harmonically expansive passages. Brett Gallo on drums and Scott Kiefner on upright bass give the music depth and deep wooden funk. All brush work and hot jazz thump, this rhythm section never sounds antiquated and never drops the pulse.

The real secret weapons of the Po’ Boys is Mike Effenberger on piano and Stu Dias on vocals and acoustic guitar. Effenberger is the glue that pulls the rhythm section and the horn section together. With tasteful yet expansive playing, Effenberger is one of those spellbinding players who has a strong unique musical voice within a possibly overwrought tradition. The true MVP of the band is the selfless and highly musical singer Stu Dias. At times brash and all encompassing and then withholding and coquet-ish, Dias conveys depth and maturity in his singing that belies his youth. The quality of his voice is so muscular and ragged yet warm and engaging it is impossible not to be drawn into his performances. Truly the cherry on the top of an irresistible ice cream sundae soaked in a whisky Sazerac.

The song selection of All in Favor is a primer in what makes New Orleans, New Orleans: Caribbean chants of “Gin and Coconut Water;” Ragtime explosions of “Shag:” R&B balladry when “It’s Raining;” classic stalwarts “My Indian Red;” instrumentals al la Louis Armstrong’s Hot 5’s and 7’s that are “Hotter Than That;” religious balms like “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho;” and, possibly most appealing to the die hard 12 bar Blues lover, the haunting minor key lament of “Lotus Blossom.”

The Soggy Po’ Boys get it right. They are authentic but not shackled by tradition. Not only do they breathe life and their own personal sound into these covers, the Po’ Boys write, and record on previous albums, their own original material inspired by their chosen aesthetic. This is a creative, highly proficient bunch of musicians who are master technicians and historians and unique artists with perspective. Go see the Soggy Po’ Boys when they are in your town, or better yet, hit Derry on a random Tuesday and get your soul straightened out!

Reviewer Bucky O’Hare is a Bluesman based in Boston who spreads his brand of blues and funk all over New England. Bucky has dedicated himself to experiencing the Blues and learning its history. As a writer, Bucky has been influenced by music critics and social commentators such as Angela Davis, Peter Guralnick, Eric Nisenson, Francis Davis and Henry Louis Gates Jr.



 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 10 

imageJohnny Rawls – I Miss Otis Clay

Third Street Cigar Records

www.johnnyrawlsblues.com

10 songs time – 37:25

Long time soul-blues singer’s latest is a tribute to his friend of about forty years, singer Otis Clay. Aside from vocals Johnny provides rhythm guitar and keyboards, while his four piece band and horn section take care of the rest. The CD consists of light soul music without a hard edge. The songs vary from moderate speed to slow.

“California Shaking Again” is a bit of horn driven soul-blues fluff. Like on other tunes Johnny supplies the background vocals as well on “Give A Toast To The Blues” that is a soul song except for some bluesy guitar. The title track, the only song recorded outside Ohio was recorded in Copenhagen, Denmark. It’s taken slow with some tasty organ and piano. “Can’t Read Your Mind” is a classic soul tune employing a nifty horn riff and smooth backing vocals.”Motion Of The Ocean” is about love making set against a hypnotic beat.

Everything else included here follows pretty much the same light smooth soul formula whether taken fast or slow. “Kissing And Hugging” uses synth strings as one of the only changes in sound. The closing song “The Wind” is a slow soul ballad. “Slow Roll It” has a particularly easy groove to it.

If you are a fan of smooth southern soul music that isn’t intrusive this is the ticket for you. Johnny’s voice is mellow and soothing. Johnny wrote or co-wrote all the songs on this effort. He also handled the production with an able hand and good instrumental separation.

Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.


 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 10 

imageZack Walther Band – The Westerner

www.zackwaltherband.com

self release

10 songs time – 36:39

Although touted as an Americana-Roots band, the Texas based Zack Walther Band comes off sounding more like a Midwestern rock outfit. Zack handles vocals and guitar, Matthew Briggs on drums, guitar, vocals and bass with Mike Atkins on keyboards, vocals and bass. Various others contribute here and there. The nine originals along with one cover tune are given solid musical treatment.

“DFW” could find steady rotation on an “album oriented rock” radio station with it’s infectious guitar riff and soloing. It’s “Hey Hey” refrain is straight out of the Midwest rock scene. “What Kind Of A Man” is guitar fueled yearning rock and roll. They introduce a nifty synth riff and piano to “Payin’ For It Now”, a tale of misspent youth. The narrator of “I’m Going Out Of Your Mind” regales a girl he is leaving. Jeff Plankenhorn delivers some luscious lap steel to this one.

Next up is the upbeat “When The Show Comes To Town” with a reference to the cobra riding cowboy on the CD cover. Stinging guitars and horns propel this one. “Bad Girl” is a solid rocker while “Casualty” is more of a subdued rocker. Susan Gibson supplies an additional vocal on the catchy “Meet In The Middle”. The band delivers a good version of the Sam And Dave classic “Hold On I’m Coming” complete with horns and an un-credited harmonica player. The unknown harmonica player pops up again on “Bailey’s Light”, a bit of a breezy stroll of a song with a nice piano and guitar interlude.

All in all an enjoyable slice of rockin’ goodness that is sure to grow on the listener with each additional listen. Nothing here that approaches the blues, but everything it approaches is nicely done. If you are in the mood for a bit of a throwback sound you have definitely arrived at the right stop.

Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.


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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 10 

imageLaurie McVay – East Side Blues

Reef Bay Records

www.lauriemcvay.com

CD: 12 Songs, 41 Minutes

Styles: Soul Blues, Harmonica Blues, Ensemble Blues

In order to discover the ethos of East Side Blues, the sophomore offering from the UK’s Laurie McVay, flip to the inside of the CD jacket. Its title is whimsically etched in beach sand, a happy white pooch in the midst of it, tongue lolling out. This is the bad-mood killer of all bad-mood killers. On twelve terrific tracks – eleven originals and one cover – Laurie McVay croons his way to soul blues paradise. That’s where listeners will be, even at the start. He also plays searing blues harp that would make Rick Estrin jealous. There’s not one bad or mediocre song on here. Laurie captures the essence of his brand of blues in a fluid, almost effortless manner. It’s hard for Ms. Wetnight to believe this is only his second CD. Quality of this caliber sometimes shows up by one’s third or fourth release, but trust me: McVay absolutely nails it.

Laurie has toured extensively in Britain and Europe with his band the High Rollers. East Side Blues follows his successful debut, My Kind of Blues, released in 2014. The title of his current album is a nod toward one of his heroes, Magic Sam, and Sam’s classic 1967 album West Side Soul. It also relates to McVay’s present home on the east coast of the Isle of Wight in southern England. Laurie describes East Side Blues as “more of a band album and probably more of a straight-ahead blues album than My Kind of Blues.” His influences, along with Magic Sam, include Bobby Bland, Fenton Robinson, and Little Walter.

Performing alongside McVay (vocals, harmonies, blues harp and acoustic guitar) are Andy Charles on lead and acoustic guitar; Stephen J. Parkes on keyboards and piano; Tim Hollis on bass; Graham Matthews on drums, and Miranda Jokel on harmonies.

“All I Ever Wanted” pumps up the beat and listeners’ spirits, hearkening to Delbert McClinton at his best. It’s a perfectly-balanced ensemble number. All the instruments can be heard clearly and crisply, with none outshining the others. Those who don’t dance to this one are six feet under. “Back On My Feet Again” and “When You Were Mine” follow, showcasing Laurie’s respective talents on harmonica and postmodern blues shredder. After that comes a funky cover of Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man,” featuring Graham Matthews’ catchy rat-a-tat drums. The real stunners, however, are tracks five and eight, putting the SOUL in soul blues. The former is a poignant ballad about what happens when an ex-lover won’t depart, even one’s slumbering mind. “You’ve been haunting all my days. Won’t you leave my dreams alone?” The notes of the guitar solo in the middle fall like a gentle shower of rain that turns into a thunderstorm. The latter, “Can We Leave It Until the Morning?”, is smooth and vocally brilliant, an indictment of a lying partner. “Never go to bed angry,” goes the proverb, but methinks the narrator will still have a beef come breakfast time. “I Hear You Calling” and “Monroe Blues” are great closers.

In a melancholy mood? Let the UK’s Laurie McVay brighten your day with East Side 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.


 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 10 

imageNoName James – Orange

Live Bug Music

www.facebook.com/nonamejamesmusic

CD: 13 Songs, 63 Minutes

Styles: Acid Blues, Contemporary Electric Blues Rock

“This music is not mastered. If you want it loud, turn it up!” Orange is indeed a loud color, as exciting as red without being as fear-inducing. Red is for panic buttons. The latest album from “NoName James” Scios (hailing from Orange, New Jersey) is for partying – loud partying. The disclaimer on the back of the CD cover is completely true. What it leaves out is the second rationale for having fourteen “unmastered” tracks – nine originals and five covers. Both this artist and Jimi Hendrix use instrumentation to induce musical trances, allowing listeners to “get in the zone” or “zone out.” Whereas Hendrix relied upon droning guitar riffs to achieve this effect, NoName James and his companions crank up all the instruments at once so that it’s nearly impossible to discern one line from another. Even more remarkable is that there are only three types involved: guitar, drums/percussion, and bass. This is rompin’, stompin’ acid blues.

Says James: “I have been playing many years (that is a 1976 Strat in the cover photo) I bought new, and played a few years before that. [I’ve] backed up many people, had many of my own bands. Worked thousands of gigs and been to a million jams. This is my third studio CD under NoName James. It has been getting some airplay around the country and here in NJ.” There’s a lot to be said for someone whose musical career has spanned more than forty years, no matter if he’s become a household name or not. It takes perseverance, willpower and a genuine love for blues and blues rock to live the dream of being a touring performer. Hopefully, this CD will catch fire on Sirius XM Radio and stations around the globe.

NoName James does triple duty on guitar, vocals and percussion, with bassist Auturo Baquer and drummer Tom Papadatos alongside him. Mustaffah Mysteriouso guest stars on congas and electric drums.

Right from the get-go, the instrumental tsunami surges. “Hey Baby” features this powerhouse trio pulling out all the stops: “You used to love me, love me, love me, love me, love me once or twice every night. You used to gimme, gimme, gimme anytime, day or night. Now to get a little somethin’, somethin’, I got to stand in line.” Who’s our narrator’s competition? “Some fool on your phone.” Most folks focus on the intro when they want to strut their stuff, but James’ outro will blast one’s speakers to smithereens. Later on come commendable covers such as Tom Fogerty’s arrangement of Bill Monroe’s “Rocky Road Blues,” the Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride,” and Paul Anka’s “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.” James’ best original tune is “The Ice Man Cometh,” a sly ballad about getting rich as a bluesman instead of a lawyer. There’s smooth harmony here, but you’ll have to check the included lyrics booklet to discover all the humor in the verses.

“Turn it up” with NoName James and company – just don’t summon the police!

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.


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 Featured Blues Review – 9 of 10 


imageC.W. Ayon – What They Say

www.cwayon.com

Self Release

12 songs – 42 minutes

Cooper “C.W.” Ayon is a New Mexico bluesman channelling the Hill Country Blues of the likes of Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside, but adding his own individual personality and creating something wonderfully timeless and yet thoroughly modern. What They Say is Ayon’s ninth album, although this reviewer had not had the pleasure of hearing his music before. Whether you are a long-standing fan of Ayon’s music or whether you are new to it, however, What They Say is an worthwhile release, featuring six brand new songs and re-recordings of six songs from various older albums by Ayon. As such, it serves both as an excellent introduction to his music but also as an snapshot of his career to date.

In addition to writing all the songs and singing in his winningly unaffected voice, Ayon plays a variety of acoustic and electric guitars (primarily a 1964 Silvertone, but also an acoustic Breedlove, an Ibanez Artcore and a custom-built Partscaster). He lays down a series of subtly differing tones through both the variety of guitars he uses but also the way he attacks the strings. He is an excellent guitar player, establishing a series of grooves with neatly repetitive yet catchy riffs, while adding rhythm through a simple kick/snare and tambourine setup. He is joined on upright bass by Felipe Toltecatl and together they produce a mesmerising sound that touches on rock, hints at soul and is all blues.

The first track on the album, “Little Stuff”, sets out Ayon’s stall pretty accurately with its memorably almost-pop riff, and it’s uplifting message that “don’t you worry about what you got left. In the end it’s all just little stuff.” “End Of My Rope” has echoes of a John Lee Hooker boogie while the single string guitar melody underlines the vocal melody. The music draws you in with its trance-like grooves and rhythms, but never gets boring or tired. The simple four note hook in “I Need You Now” is so obvious and inevitable one wonders why nobody has coined it before. The one-chord stomp of “Well I Know” runs for over five minutes but there isn’t a wasted second on the recording.

Ayon has a lighter touch on guitar than Kimbrough and Burnside, and he does not have the same grit and gravel in his voice (although it is none the worse for that). Indeed, there is a lightness and melody to the songs that separates them from traditional Hill Country Blues, even while retaining the incessant and irresistible rhythms. There are hints of early Kelly Joe Phelps or even The Wood Brothers here, but the music is also distinctly individual.

This is an album with very few overdubs. The atmospheric closing instrumental, “Nautilus”, features some tasty finger-picked acoustic guitar, with a haunting background melody overdubbed on slide guitar. Otherwise, it’s just Ayon and Toltecatl, recorded live, and what a glorious sound they create.

Recorded and mixed by Gary Laney at Nautilus Studio in San Angelo, Texas, What They Say is a very impressive release that bears repeated listening. Highly recommended.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 10 of 10 

imageFrank Bey – All My Dues Are Paid

NOLA Blue -2019

13 tracks; 56 minutes

www.frankbeymusic.com

The title of this album is certainly apt for Frank Bey who became disillusioned by the music business and abandoned singing for many years. Since his return to the stage the Philadelphia-based soulman has released six albums and this one is top quality, recorded in California at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studio with Kid and Rick Estrin producing. A host of Northern California players are involved, including all members of The Nightcats: drums are by Alex Pettersen, Derrick ‘D’mar’ Martin and Paul Revelli; bass is handled by Jerry Jemmott and Paul Olguin; keys are by Jim Pugh and Lorenzo Farrell; Kid plays guitar throughout. Horn players involved are Nancy Wright, Eric Spaulding and Jack Sanford on sax, John Halblieb on trumpet and Ric Feliciano on trombone. Percussion is added by Vicki Ranfle, D’mar and Martin Windstad. Backing vocalists include Lisa Leuschner Andersen, Loralee Christensen, Vicki Randle, Rick Estrin and the late Wee Willie Walker. The material includes two songs each from Rick, Percy Mayfield and Mighty Mike Schermer (Marcia Ball’s guitar player) plus a selection that includes two modern classics adapted brilliantly for Frank’s soulful voice.

The amusing “Calling All Fools” was recorded by The Nightcats on 2012’s One Wrong Turn while the late night blues “I’ll Bet I Never Cross Your Mind” dates back to the days of Little Charlie Baty; both benefit from the addition of horns (and check out Nancy Wright’s sax on the latter cut). Percy Mayfield’s intensely swinging “Never No More” has brilliant guitar by Kid and the obscure slow blues “Ha Ha In The Daytime” might have been written for Ray Charles for whom Mayfield was working at the time. Mighty Mike’s “It’s A Pleasure” has swirling organ and gospel backing vocals from the Sons Of The Soul Revivers and, with the rousing “One Thing Every Day”, really raises the soul quotient. Former Nightcat drummer Alex Pettersen was a member of the Billy T Band back in Norway and perhaps he suggested “One Of These Days”: certainly soul ballads suit Frank and this one and Arthur Alexander’s “If It’s Really Got To Be This Way” work really well for him. Kid’s wife Lisa sings some excellent harmony vocals on the Billy T tune. The autobiographical title track finds Frank telling his life story over hot Memphis style backing with a storming sax solo by Jack Sanford and the opening cut “Idle Hands” rails against man’s inhumanity to man over a busy, funky backing with great horns. Switching styles Frank tackles “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, a country standard recorded by George Jones: blues and soul fans not familiar with this song should grab a box of Kleenex before listening!

There are two standout tracks which show that Frank and his team are not afraid to spring surprises – Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” and John Lennon’s “Imagine”. Frank’s vocals are superb on both, the horn arrangements transform the songs into something special and across nearly seven minutes the decidedly agnostic “Imagine” transforms into a full-on gospel tune!

All Frank’s albums since his return to music are well worth hearing and this may just be the most impressive to date – recommended.

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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