Issue 14-15 April 10, 2020

Cover photo © 2020 Bob Kieser


 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Ruthie Foster. We have 10 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Mark Hummel, Andrew Jr. Boy Jones & Kerrie Lepai Jones, Jimmy Johnson, Tyler Morris, Brian Cain and the Jazz Project, Carnes & Shew, Tas Cru, Roomful of Blues, DownRiver Dan and Ron Addison.


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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 – Ruthie Foster 

imageThroughout the blues world, almost everyone identifies Ruthie Foster as one of the most laid-back artists on the circuit, something that’s clearly evident in a trophy case that contains dozens of honors, including the two most recent Blues Music Awards as traditional female vocalist of the year.

After all, anyone who’s crossed paths with her knows she’s as downhome as her Texas roots, and her music – which mixes blues, gospel, soul and more – carries forward the songster tradition established by the first generation of bluesmen a century ago. Usually backing herself on acoustic Gibson guitar in a small-band setting, her golden pipes deliver a potent musical stew that warms both your heart and soul.

Don’t be fooled, though. Ruthie’s got plenty of uptown cool in her, too.

It might come as a shock when fans discover that she’s fronting a 14-piece orchestra and backup singers and swinging from the hip old-school on her latest album, which was recorded live in Austin. And believe it or not, it’s the culmination of a longstanding dream to break out of the mold she’s establishing during the past 20-odd years and to return to the roots that longtime listeners haven’t a clue exists.

A gentle, friendly, welcoming person whose manner makes you comfortable the moment she opens her mouth, Blues Blast caught up with Ruthie by phone recently. Instead of being on a tour that would have taken her to Memphis, Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga., as she’d planned, she was relaxing at home with daughter Maya as the world around her quickly screeched to a halt.

She remained calm, cool, collected and soft-spoken despite the troubles that are currently sweeping the globe, clearly exhibiting the positive energies she exhibits on stage as she moves confidently from one song to the next and leaving folks in even the cheapest of seats feeling like they’re the only folks in the room.

Considering that she was raised in a family of gospel singers and blues lovers, though, it’s not surprising.

“I grew up in a family of churchgoers, for sure,” she says, “and everybody sang. In fact, singin’ solo in the choir was kinda a rite of passage in my family. Everybody had to do it.”

It was an accomplishment she achieved at age 14.

Foster spent her childhood growing up in the unincorporated town of Gause, Texas, a hamlet with more churches than schools and about 400 residents who live in the Brazos Valley about 150 miles southeast of Dallas and a half-hour west of College Station.

Her earliest influences came through the recordings of gospel superstars Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mahalia Jackson as well as Aretha Franklin and the Rev. James Cleveland, the man credited with updating the artform in the ‘30s after it had been created by Rev. Thomas Dorsey –formerly known as the blues singer Georgia Tom, a decade before. Cleveland’s work laid the groundwork for modern gospel, which incorporates elements of soul, pop and jazz today.

“My mother used to listen to all those albums,” Foster says, “especially Sister Rosetta and the young Aretha, when her father, Rev. C.L. Franklin, put out albums and Aretha was part of the service. I grew up listenin’ to that.

image“And my dad had a pretty fair collection of blues cassette tapes, and would make sure I’d have access to those. He’d actually make up a playlist of different songs for me to listen to…Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins and others.”

The most heavily recorded country bluesman of his era, Hopkins grew up in Centerville — not far in Lone Star State terms from Gause, and Ruthie actually got to meet several members of his Houston-based family at the dedication of a statue honoring him in neighboring Crockett, near the site of a juke joint where he used to play.

The songster tradition – a mix of folk songs, ballads, dance and minstrel tunes – came to her “by osmosis,” Foster says. “It’s in my DNA, for sure!”

Despite that influence, however, the seven-time winner of the Blues Foundation’s Koko Taylor Award consistently delivers music in a contemporary manner despite being rooted in the sounds of previous generations. And all of her albums reflect what’s going in her personal life and the growth she achieves along the way. Take her most recent previous CD, Joy Comes Back, as an example. It was a vehicle that celebrated her recovery following an extremely difficult romantic breakup.

Ruthie’s first instrument was piano, not guitar, and she was taught by her great uncle, her grandmother’s brother. “He played piano in the church,” she says. “So he worked with me on playin’ the organ next to him. And then I took formal lessons when I got into fifth- or sixth-grade all the way through high school.”

She turned to guitar after discovering Phoebe Snow — the singer-songwriter-guitarist from New York with a four-octave range, whose first two albums went gold in the ‘70s – and someone who left Ruthie speechless when they finally met.

“The ‘70s were all about musical variety TV shows,” Foster remembers. “I remember seein’ her on The Midnight Special (which ran late-night on Fridays on NBC between 1972 and 1981). I said to myself: ‘Oh, my gosh! This is awesome! I want to do that!’

“Janis Ian – (best known for the monster hit ‘At Seventeen’) – was another influence. Seein’ a woman play a guitar — just by herself…without a band – really stood out. It was kinda like watchin’ Sister Rosetta Tharpe.”

In that era, Ruthie notes, it was an extremely rare event to see a woman performing on her own, adding: “I come from a world where men play guitar – even in the churches. When the groups would come by, you didn’t see very many women playin’ guitar at all where I lived.

“But things have changed. Today, I love goin’ on the blues cruise and hearin’ women just wreck the place on guitar and bass!”

After high school, Ruthie relocated to Waco to attend McClennon Community College, graduating from its commercial music program with a concentration in vocal performance. She also studied audio engineering for a couple of semesters and fronted the Joe Silva Blues Band, which was composed of fellow students, too.

“It was fun – and a big lesson on how to front a band,” she says. “We played smaller towns in the area, but never Austin, opened for the Fabulous Thunderbirds a few times and played quinceaneras (15th birthday celebrations) a couple of times, too,” she laughs. “That was our call to fame right there!

“Okay! We’re great! We’re makin’ it now!”

Foster’s life changed dramatically when she enlisted in the Navy.

“I really wanted to do somethin’ other than music,” she says now. “I got to a point where I kinda burned myself out. I was still livin’ in Waco for about a year after graduating and workin’ in clubs as either a side person to the audio guy or just workin’ the bar or just playin’.

“The recruiting officers are usually all lined up with each other – Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines. I looked through the window of the Navy office, and the guy had his feet up on his desk and he’s readin’ a paper. I thought: ‘Okay. That’s pretty relaxed. Let’s try this! I can do that!’

“I can still remember my recruiter, Gail Chandler. It was the one office where everyone seemed relaxed. Officer Chandler introduced me on how to chill – and get paid for it, too! (laughs)”

But Foster didn’t stay away from music for long. After boot camp, she attended the Navy School of Music in Norfolk, Va., before being stationed in Charleston, S.C., where she became part of Navy Band Southeast, an operation that oversees 15 individual musical groups.

Ruthie was assigned to Pride, a show band whose duties include playing pop and funk at recruitment drives and much, much more. But she could have had a higher calling.

“There’s another unit called The Commodores, which plays in Washington, D.C.,” she says. “I tried out for it and was accepted, but turned it down. I’d just gotten married, and just went to see if I could get in. Am I good enough for this?

“When they told me I was, I figured out right in front of the admiral: I don’t really want this (laughs). No disrespect, but I really hurt my commanding officer when I turned it down because there was an automatic pay increase for him, extra two stripes…extra everything.

“For me, though, it was like signin’ up for another four years plus – and I really wanted to do things on my own terms – to sing what I want to sing and play what I want to play.

“And I did! I got busy.”

While still in uniform, she returned to college in Charleston, studied broadcasting and ran sound as a production assistant during TV news broadcasts there, too. After her discharge, Foster moved to New York City, where she tried her hand at being a folk and blues singer, quickly drawing the attention of executives from Atlantic Records who wanted to sign her to a developmental contract.

“Who’s gonna pass that up?” she asks.

“I got in there and got a really good lawyer who counseled me on what happens to artists when they’re handed a contract that’s really not a record deal – it’s a wait-and-see to a what’s-gonna-become-of-this-artist deal. It’s not the best deal, but it’s got the Atlantic stamp around your name.

“I got out and I used that, and it got me into any club I wanted to play and into the front door of any songwriter…any Grammy Award-winning songwriter’s living room…to sit and play and learn how to write songs.

“That’s how I got to meet Guy Davis for the first time. He was playin’ at Terra Blues down on Bleaker Street and my husband at the time introduced us. Guy let me play during his breaks. That’s how I got my break, really, playin’ the Bitter End and all those great clubs.”

imageFoster’s time in Manhattan — and her relationship with Atlantic — came to a sudden end in 1993 when she returned to Texas to take care of her mother, who’d been battling lupus for years and was experiencing kidney failure that would eventually claim her life. Ruthie became a camera operator and production assistant at KBTX-TV in Bryan, which was located down the street from where her mom was being cared for in assisted living, and sang locally.

In 1997, a year after her mom’s passing, Ruthie finally released her first CD, entitled Full Circle, initiating a relationship with Blue Corn Music that endures today. Joy Comes Back was the tenth release in her career, which includes three Grammy nominations, 2019 induction in the Texas Music Hall of Fame and work with Papa Mali, The Blind Boys of Alabama, William Bell, the Funky Meters horns, Derek Trucks and a host of others.

The honors have come fast and furious, including selection as Living Blues magazine’s Critics’ Poll blues artist of the year honors after the release of The Truth According to Ruthie Foster in 2010 and the prestigious Berresford Prize – an unrestricted $25,000 award presented by the United States Artists organization, acknowledging the significant contributions she’s made toward the advancement, well-being and care of other artists.

Through it all, she’s remained humble and grateful – so much so that, when she captured her first BMA award, she wondered if she really deserved it because of all the diverse influences that color her music.

That feeling ended quickly, however, when she crossed paths with Koko Taylor for the first time at the ceremony. After being introduced by Koko’s daughter, Cookie, Taylor quickly complimented her and asked: “When are you gonna write something for me?”

Instantly, Ruthie realized that not only was she worthy, but that she’d truly become a keeper of the flame when it comes to delivering traditional blues for future generations.

Foster takes a break from her stellar touring band and takes step back into her Navy past for her new CD, Live at the Paramount, which is due out on May 15. It’s a tour de force production arranged by John Beasley, who’s worked with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Sergio Mendes. The orchestra includes a ten-piece horn section as well as a trio of backup singers.

“For folks who don’t know my history,” she says with a chuckle, “that’s what I did with the Navy. One of the things I did was to front a 15-piece big band, and I also was in a funk band as well.

“I so-o-o loved it!

image“One of the things I did in Norfolk at the School of Music was spend a lot of time in their library archives. No one else would do that. I don’t know why because there’s so much history there. These guys still have the archives from the USO shows with Bob Hope, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Edie Gorme and Robert Goulet, Nancy Wilson.

“I was in there, puttin’ these reels (of tape) on the machine and just listenin’ to all of this music that you just don’t hear any more – live recordings that no one’s heard. I just fell in love with the music and the way big band singers sing.

“The biggest lesson I learned,” Ruthie says, “was that you’ll never out-sing horns because they’re brass and they’re blowin’ right at you the entire time. The secret is to find those in-betweens and just keep it swingin’, and Frank Sinatra and Ella were just brilliant in that. So I studied them for six months, and never got the chance to do it (sing with a big band) again.

“This CD gave me the opportunity to do songs – most of them — that I had recorded before and get a top arranger in Mr. John Beasley out of L.A.

“I got a chance to do his arrangements with a band over in Europe a couple of times and decided to just go ahead and record it here. I used Austin players for this, a couple of whom are professors at the University of Texas, and it turned out really well.”

Squeezed in among such Foster favorites as “Death Came a-Knockin’,” “Runaway Soul,” “The Ghetto,” “Stone Love,” “It Might Not Be Right” and her smoldering version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” among others, are covers of the Quincy Jones/Tony Bennett take on Sinatra’s “Fly Me to The Moon” and Ella’s version of Bobby Darin’s standard, “Mack the Knife.”

Fear not, however. Despite the big band arrangements and pop classics, all of the tunes in the set come complete with the true bluesy feel that Ruthie always instills in her work. There’s a huge connection to gospel through it all, too, she says, because the same elements that make gospel singers so great makes crooners shine, too.

“It’s the same energy,” she says. “It’s about movin’ the room.”

That show was so much fun that Ruthie’s thinking about doing something similar with her regular band of merrymakers somewhere down the road. Right now, however, she’s more concerned about their well-being and that of their families now that they’re no longer working and on the road.

Meanwhile, she’s busy at home, talking with family, singing karaoke with her daughter — who’s about to turn age nine and introduces her on the new disc — and thinking about the multitude of friends and fans she’s made circling the globe.

“I think I’m in trouble,” Ruthie chuckles. “I’ve got a little singer on my hands!”

On a more serious note, she says: “These are tough times for all of us. Stay strong. Stay positive – and put some music on. Dance. Move. Hopefully, you’ll be able to find some solace in the music that I make, too!”

Find out more about Ruthie, her tunes and where she’ll be appearing traveling when the world returns to normal by visiting her website: www.ruthiefoster.com

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 10 

imageMark Hummel – Wayback Machine

Electro-Fi Records -2020

16 tracks; 59 minutes

www.markhummel.com

Harmonica player Mark Hummel is perhaps best known for his Blues Harmonica Blowout shows where he tours with an assembly of great harp players. Over the years he has been fairly prolific under his own name and his last release Harpbreaker (Electro-Fi 2018) took a look back at his career to date. On this latest album he goes a step further by producing a disc that harks back to the 1930s/40s, especially the Bluebird label, with songs by the likes of Tampa Red, Sonny Boy Williamson I and Jazz Gillum. With the aim of creating a ‘rural feel’ and to add authenticity to the project, Mark used The Deep Basement Shakers (Aaron Hoffman, piano, Dave Eagle, washboard/percussion) with Kid Andersen on bass and Billy Flynn on guitar. Drums are absent apart from on one track where Alex Pettersen sits in and there are guest appearances by Rusty Zinn (guitar on one track) and Joe Beard (guitar/vocals on three tracks); bassist R.W. Grigsby plays on one track that is his own composition.

The album opens with R.W. Grigsby’s “Flim Flam” which sounds like a thinly disguised dig at the current incumbent of The White House. There is strong harp over our first encounter with the piano/washboard backing, Rusty Zinn also involved on guitar. Mark contributes two originals of his own: “Road Dog” is an autobiographical account of the life of a touring musician, Mark concluding that he won’t find life on Easy Street but will just keep moving; “Say You Will” is a solo acoustic guitar piece sung by Joe Beard. In the sleeve notes Mark describes how Joe met Son House when Son moved to Rochester, NY, introducing himself when he heard Joe playing on his front porch. Joe’s other two tracks are covers of Eddie Boyd’s “Five Long Years” and Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s “Mean Old Frisco”.

The rest of the album is made up of the classic music of the era under scrutiny, starting with a fine version of “Hello Stranger”, a 1953 tune by Baby Boy Warren, and definitely well before politically correct considerations: “Mattie Mae is five foot two, hips are kinda wide. She ain’t no great big woman, she’s just on the heavy side. Hello stranger, sure do remind me of Mattie Mae; should you ever need a favour call on Baby Boy right away.” We get three Sonny Boy 1 (John Lee Williamson) tunes: “Reefer Head Woman”, “Good Gal” and “Cut That Out”, the latter having been covered so well by Pinetop Perkins and Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith on their Grammy winning album Joined At The Hip. Mark’s version returns the song to its country blues roots and is one of the standout tracks here. Other artists to get covered more than once include Tampa Red (the almost inevitable “Play With Your Poodle” and “So Much Trouble”) and Jazz Gillum (“Gillum’s Windy Blues” and “Crazy About You”), the former with some nice, jazz-inflected guitar from Billy, the latter having quite a ragtime feel to it as well as featuring Dave’s percussion in a sort of ‘percussion solo’. Aaron takes over the vocals on “Rag Mama Rag” (Blind Boy Fuller, not The Band!) with just harp, piano, washboard and assorted whistles, etc from Dave.

This is yet another fine release recorded at Kid’s Greaseland Studio in San José, CA. Fans of straight-ahead acoustic harmonica and country blues will appreciate the authenticity and feel of this album and the absence of drums or extended guitar solos is a refreshing change from much of what is being produced at present.

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 – 2 of 10 

imageAndrew Jr. Boy Jones & Kerrie Lepai Jones – Jr. Boy & Kerrie’s Blues

Galex’C Records – 2019

13 tracks; 59 minutes

www.jonesbluesband.com

Andrew ‘Jr. Boy’ Jones is a Texan guitarist who cut his teeth with Charlie Musselwhite, Katie Webster and Freddie King amongst others before producing a series of eight solid solo albums on labels like JSP, Rounder and Electro-Fi. His latest release is on his own label and features his wife Kerrie Lepai Jones who released her own solo effort Organic Blues in 2017, also on Galex’C. In support here are Tim Tlee Waites on bass, Tommy ‘The Thrill’ Hill on drums, John Street on keys and Debra ‘Bo’ Bohannon on backing vocals. Andrew and Kerrie share the vocals and Andrew plays all the guitar parts. The music is all original, Andrew being the main writer with other band members contributing to four songs.

We start with Andrew and Kerrie inviting us to a “Blues Party” and it sounds like a fun time with Andrew’s Freddie King styled guitar leading the way with John’s warm organ work supporting the leisurely shuffle. “She Shed” sounds an odd title but all is rapidly explained by Andrew as he amusingly describes his girl setting up the equivalent of a man-cave at the bottom of the garden, Andrew becoming increasingly concerned that it may turn into a ‘love shack’ as he plays some excellent, restrained guitar in which you can hear every note clearly. Kerrie then leads the way on a song that warns girls of “Mr Slick” who may be “tall, dark and handsome” but is definitely a danger to the young ladies; that song definitely uses a classic blues theme and nothing is more classic than the excellent “Blues At Sunset”, a superb, late night instrumental, and one of the picks of the album for this reviewer – Andrew plays brilliantly and John’s piano solo is a bonus. Andrew is a little self-deprecating when he describes himself as an “Old Joker”, a fine shuffle with more great guitar work. Kerrie takes center stage on a soulful ballad as her character asks her unfaithful partner “Do You Ever Think About Me?”.

A second instrumental “Just Us” is the four instrumentalists playing a very lyrical piece before Andrew ups the pace with the funky “Road Doggin’”, a tale of how a working band operates. The couple celebrate their love together with “Good Life”, Andrew giving us some nice BB King licks on this rather sentimental number. “Sunday Drive” is an instrumental with a relaxed, slightly latin, vibe and Kerrie sings very well on “Blame It On Me”, another number with a similar musical feel and heartfelt lyrics about keeping love going. The album closes strongly with the upbeat “Don’t Mess With Me” as Andrew overdubs some fine lead guitar over his rhythm work behind Kerrie’s strong vocal.

There is not a weak track on this very enjoyable album – no overlong solos or showboating, good songs and fine vocals – this is a modern blues album with touches of soul, so ticks a lot of boxes.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 10 

imageJimmy Johnson – Every Day Of Your Life

Delmark Records – 2020

9 tracks; 45 minutes

Chicago stalwart Jimmy Johnson has been playing the blues since the 1970s, having previously performed in the soul field, accompanying the likes of Otis Clay and Denise LaSalle. His first blues release was in the late 70’s and since then he has released albums on several labels, including Delmark to whom he has returned for this release.

Jimmy wrote five new songs for the album and covers four classics on an album recorded in just three days, using two different bands of Chicago aces: the first band is Rico McFarland on rhythm guitar, Roosevelt Purifoy on keys, J.R. Fuller on bass, Pooky Styx on drums, plus Typhanie Monique on backing vocals on one track; the second band is Brother John Kattke on keys, Curt Bley on bass, Ernie Adams on drums and Julia Miller and Elbio Barilari (Delmark’s co-owners) on B/Vs on one track. Jimmy sings and handles lead guitar throughout, apart from the final track which is Jimmy solo on vocal and piano. Jimmy has always had a light voice and this has stood him in good stead as his vocal powers have not waned at all – nor have his guitar skills!

The title track is a gently funky track with good vocal harmonies by Typhanie Monique, a recommendation from Jimmy on how to live: “Live every day like it’s your last; go out every night, have yourself a ball – ain’t nowhere to run when your name is called”. Wise words indeed! Relationships feature on “My Ring” which has a touch of reggae behind a bitter-sweet tale of how the rosy future he expected turned grey after he proposed and “Rattlesnake” is that classic tale of the “friend messing with my wife”. “Down In The Valley” rolls along with strong gospel tones and “Better When It’s Wet” is an instrumental with bubbling organ by Brother John and a really catchy tune. Jimmy’s lead guitar work throughout is excellent.

The four covers are well selected and feature some strong performances. BB King’s ‘I Need You So Bad’ has wonderful piano by Roosevelt and Jimmy makes his guitar sing in BB style. Fenton Robinson’s ‘Somebody Loan Me A Dime’ has been covered many times (not least by Boz Scaggs featuring a young Duane Allman) and is always enjoyable to hear; Jimmy wrings the emotion out of the vocal lines but also plays exquisitely here. Percy Mayfield’s ‘Strange Things Happening’ is the slow blues here with plenty of space for Jimmy’s guitar and Roosevelt’s piano. Perhaps the best is saved for last with Jimmy sat alone at the piano for a moving version of ‘Lead Me On’, best known from Bobby Bland’s version.

Having seen Jimmy live at the Blues Blast Awards in 2018 (when he was given a Lifetime Achievement award) and at his regular Sunday session at Lagunitas Brewery in Chicago I know that he still performs brilliantly. This album would come highly recommended whoever had recorded it, it’s that good. The fact that Jimmy has recorded a disc like this at 91 years young is staggering – and in just three sessions too. This superb album should be on every blues fan’s shopping list and will be on many ‘Best Of’ lists at the end of the year.

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 

imageTyler Morris – Living in the Shadows

VizzTone Label Group VTTM-02

11 songs – 50 minutes

www.tylerdmorris.com

One of the fastest rising guitarists in the Northeast, Tyler Morris makes his debut as a vocalist on his one as he teams up with three of the top fret masters in the business – Ronnie Earl, Joe Louis Walker and Mike Zito –for this intense, pleasing follow-up to Next in Line, his promising first appearance on the VizzTone imprint.

Still only 21 years old and someone whose skill on the six-string is a fiery as his red locks, the Boston native proves to be as solid at the mike, too, adding his pleasant tenor to seven of the ten cuts with Walker, Zito and former Blues Blast Sean Costello Rising Star nominee Amanda Fish sitting in for another.

But that should come as no surprise for anyone who knows Tyler, a multi-skilled talent who’s been playing professionally since age 11, beginning at B.B. King’s in Beantown, has a knowledge of the blues that far exceeds most men his age and a history that includes holding his own – and more — on stage with everyone from Sammy Hagar and Steve Vai to Leslie West and Walter Trout and Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and Robben Ford.

Morris made his recording debut in his mid-teens with And So It Begins in 2015. He’s left the singing to others on two subsequent releases while proving himself to be an incendiary performer with an infinity for multiple forms of music and a skilled songwriter to boot.

In addition, he’s an electrical engineer who’s designed audio effects for a who’s who of clients, including Joe Bonamassa, Brian May of Queen, Warren Haynes and others. And his instructional videos – released in collaboration with Guitar Player Magazine – have a large following, too.

While his most recent previous release – which reached the No. 8 position on Billboard’s blues charts and was chockful of over-the-top guitar pyrotechnics — proved a godsend to fans of blues-rock, this collection of six originals and four covers is a deep-in-the-pocket pleaser that contains plenty of fireworks, but will attract folks with more traditional musical sensibilities, too.

Produced by Zito and recorded at Blue Door Studios in Groton, Mass., NRS Studio in Catskills, N.Y., and at Weights and Measures Studio in Kansas City, Morris is backed here by Lewis Stephens on keyboards, Terry Dry on bass and Matthew Robert Johnson on percussion throughout. Mike sits in on guitar for three cuts with Ronnie and Joe Louis joining for one each.

A trio of familiar, but completely reinvented covers open the action, beginning with a blazing rendition of late British blues-rocker Gary Moore’s “Movin’ On” and Tyler handling vocals like he’s been doing it in the studio all his life. The action slows, the sound gets funky and Morris is at his bluesy best for a rock-steady take on Don Nix’s “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven” before the pace quickens slightly for Tony Joe White’s “Polk Salad Annie” – on which Walker adds stinging slide guitar lines and he and Zito share vocals.

Morris is back in charge for the original rocker “Living in the Shadows” – built atop a driving guitar hook – and “Temptation” — an unhurried, self-penned blues ballad – before Amanda’s vocals power a musical in-your-face response to a put-down in “Better Than You,” a Southern rocker penned by Zito. The loping “Why Is Love So Blue” finds Tyler ready for another go-round after a little romantic heartache before he finds himself in a hopeless situation, working a day job in the rocker “Nine to Five.”

Earl and Morris trade likes in “Young Man’s Blues,” an interesting tune that invokes Robert Johnson, Albert King and Eric Clapton, states unequivocally that “this modern music/Don’t have much soul,” notes that he’ll leave it behind for others leaving it for others and says: “Don’t come between me and Freddie/’Cause that’s what I listen to.” Two more originals – the dark, powerful blues rocker “Taken from Me” and slashing “I’m On to You” – bring the disc to a close.

Available through most major retailers, Tyler Morris should no longer be Living in the Shadows with this one. His time is now.

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.


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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 10 

imageBrian Cain and the Jazz Project – Painted Silence

Indiana Phoenix

www.facebook.com/Brian-Cain-and-The-Jazz-Project-110930873656815

CD: 6 Songs, 23 Minutes

Styles: Jazz-Influenced Blues, Instrumentals, All Original Songs

What’s the difference between jazz and jazz-influenced blues? Traditional jazz typically features horns, but in the case of Brian Cain and the Jazz Project from South Australia, they substitute harmonica, guitars and bass for various brass instruments. Even though this brief journey lasts only twenty-three minutes, it’s as smooth as a ride down a lazy river. One could listen to this ensemble forever, and Painted Silence, their newest CD, is worth more than one or two plays. With quirky titles such as “Caramba” (track one) and “Diversion” (track six), these original instrumentals constitute the perfect ambiance for a night at home, one’s favorite coffee or wine at the ready. If I were to encapsulate the album in one word, it would be cozy.

The Jazz Project consists of leading man Brian Cain on harmonicas, Steve Wilson on guitars, Peter Nixon on bass, and Jim Judd on snare drum and brushes. Painted Silence was recorded at Phoenix Studios Normanville in South Australia in September of last year.

What better way to start a jazz-influenced instrumental album than with a spicy little number called “Caramba?” Even if you don’t have a partner, its Latin groove will make you move on the dance floor. Not only that, but Cain’s harmonica and Steve Wilson’s melodic guitar phrases add flavorful dashes of pure blues. Next comes “For Rose,” a traditional slow-burner that will make listeners imagine what the lyrics might have been. Steve Wilson does more than play guitar: he caresses it, transforming its notes into sweet nothings whispered into Rose’s ear. Who was she? We’ll never know, but from the sound of this sultry mood-setter, she wasn’t a platonic friend. “Stomp for Greg” follows, an upbeat little ditty that could have been called “Shuffle for Greg.” There’s no grit here, no edge, no reason to crack the floor with one’s footsteps. As it is, your feet will be moving too fast on the floor for you to do any real stomping. “Jump” is another one of those imagine-the-lyrics tunes. Yours truly immediately thought up a first line. It’s a jumpy but not frenetic tune, reminiscent of the big-band sound of the 1940s. It’s as classic as red velvet. Track five’s entitled “Sunny Drive.” Also a leisurely one from its Sunday-afternoon pacing. Last but not least, a “Diversion” arrives,” and it’s so subtle you might confuse it with another song.

Nevertheless, all of them are winners, so bask in the Painted Silence and let all your cares fade away!

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 – 6 of 10 

imageCarnes & Shew

Self-Produced

www.facebook.com/CarnesandShew

CD: 7 Songs, 27 Minutes

What do an ancient oil lamp, a glass bottle, and a tappable top hat have in common? On the surface, they’re plain, unassuming objects, but they have magic inside. The self-titled debut CD from Bloomington, Indiana’s Carnes & Shew has nothing but the title printed on the disc itself. However, once you slide it into your stereo, vibrant colors will pour out of your speakers faster than you can say “howlin’ hot harmonica.” This trio is the real deal, the Three Amigos. the Three Musketeers of ensemble blues. Starring Mark Carnes on guitar, harmonica and pitch-perfect singing, along with percussionist Dane Clark and Jeff Shew on upright bass and background vox, the band presents seven original songs – all of which are lucky. They’re pure magic, embodying the musical trifecta of great lyrics, instrumentation and vocal prowess. The only bad news is that the album runs less than half an hour. A few more numbers, or even several more, would turn this from a quick bite into a musical meal to savor.

Carnes & Shew formed in 2018 as an acoustic duo, featuring a unique instrumentation composed of upright bass, harmonica, guitar and shared vocal duties. As songwriters, they use the blues tradition of storytelling, sharing real-life events with mostly a dark, minor-key tone. Mark Carnes has been performing since the 1970s and has toured the country with many notable acts. Jeff Shew started playing blues music in the Chicagoland area and has been performing and writing for over twenty-five years. This album was recorded with Dane Clark and released in November 2019. It’s definitely geared for national, international, and online airplay. Look out, Sirius XM!

“Raised in Chicago” starts things off, an electric jolt combining upright bass, acoustic guitar and harp in equal voltage. It sounds like it should be featured in a remake of The Sting. The lyrics even say, “I’ve been running my mouth so much, I can’t believe I ain’t been shot!” Next is an autobiographical tale of “Dwight Carnes,” Mark Carnes’ late, beloved brother, who would have been alive today had he received a liver transplant. Due to uncured Hepatitis C, however, as well as cancer, Dwight passed away. After such a foray into one family’s personal hell, are you in a dancing mood? Never fear: “One Night in Louisville,” an up-tempo jump blues number, will get you hopping like the Easter bunny. If you don’t know how to pronounce the city in question, listen closely to the band’s inflection. Following that is “Passed Out Again,” a Pink Panther-esque anthem featuring jazzy high-hat drums and verses about getting dead drunk. “Kat Kickin’ Riding Boots” is characterized as a biker anthem, but even if you’ve never ridden a motorcycle in your life, you can imagine the song’s subject: a long-legged lady in her favorite footwear. “Pieces” and “The Darkest Hour” close things out with aplomb: the first a bouncy breakup ballad, the second a Gospel-tinged message of hope. Every one of these is classic and classy.

Carnes & Shew are the Penn & Teller of ensemble blues: their magic is second to none!

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 – 7 of 10 

imageTas Cru – Drive On

Subcat Records

www.TasCru.com

10 tracks

Mixing modern and traditional blues with rock and an overall original sound, Tas Cru and company once again deliver the goods on his second Subcat Records release. All the cuts are new and fresh. All the musicians are in synch and very exceptional. All the vocals are spot on. We have a veteran musician doing what he does best with seven super accomplices. What’s not to like???

Tas handles the vocals, lead guitar and harp work. Mary Ann Casal backs Tas on vocals and shares the lead on one track. Leanne MacRaye and Cary Manes-Neal also help on backing vocals. Anthony Geraci does a super job on organ and the keys. Anthony Terry adds much to the recording on sax. Gabe Stillman joins in on slide. Bass guitar is shared by mostly by Bob Purdy and on two tracks by Colin “Yellow Dog” Beaty. Andy Hearn handles the drums on six tracks, Sonny Rock on two and Cathy Lamanna on another. Ron Keck does percussion and engineered the album. All the songs were written by Tas; Mary Ann Casale shared penning “Devil In My Heart” with Tas.

Tas kicks off the album with a blues rocker with Anthony Geraci on B3 entitled “That Lovin’ Thang.” A driving beat with a killer groove, Tas and the backing vocalists deliver the goods and the B3 and sax wail in support. Geraci’s solo is killer and then Tas comes in and nails his solo on guitar. Nice hook for a great album! “Money Talks” is next, and we get to hear 2019 IBC Albert King/Gibson Guitar player of the Year on slide with Tas. Gabe Stillman plays some great slide, Tas gives an impassioned vocal delivery and the band is in high gear as Geraci, Stillman and Terry really shift things into overdrive. The title cut is up next. Tas and the band get a great groove going as Tas sings with grit. More superb support on sax and organ and Tas does an outstanding job on guitar. “Save Me” follows, a shuffle with a good tempo and another driving beat. Tas’ solo work is solid and the song builds in passion as it moves on; well done. “Cry No More” features Mary Ann Casal and her singers accompanying Tas on this pretty ballad. Tas picks out some nice licks on acoustic guitar and the backing vocalists play a bigger role rounding out the sound in this emotional cut.

Tas gets the boogie bug with “Kinda Mess,” with some cool sax and guitar work. Tas’s vocals are strong as he growls and shouts. The slide is outstanding, too! The dance party keeps going with “Shookie Shake,” a nice little rocker. Guitar and sax solos are solid and the organ work by Geraci also add so much to the sound. Another ballad follows, this time all-instrumental. “In This Moment” we get a nice blending of Tas with Geraci and Terry. Guitar, piano, organ and sax blend in an emotional mélange of cool musicianship. “Memphis Blue” is a swampy cut with slide and a great NOLA sound. Tas blows some great harp, Mary and the girls are right there with Tas and it’s a bouncy and fun song. Piano, guitars and harp are all in the forefront making sweet sounds. Tas and Mary Ann share the vocals on a dark duet entitled “Devil In Your Heart.” Acoustic guitar and a very bare and stark overall approach make for a spooky and haunting cut that is just fantastic and a marvelous close to a great album.

In the liner notes, Tas talks to us about his status and career as a road warrior. He relishes his ability to sing and play so much original music for people and, frankly, I am glad he does. We enjoy Tas’ visits to the Midwest and his support of our Blues in the Schools program. His programs and evening show for us each visit are always highlights for us. The songs here are a major part of his show as are so many other great songs Tas has written and recorded.

This is a fine CD as have been his past ones; here Tas takes out all the stops, assembles a fantastic band and gives us his best effort. This album really showcases his abilities as songwriter, singer, guitar player and band leader. I loved the CD and each song is certainly something that the listener will find as something to savor. I most highly recommend this album for your listening pleasure!

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 – 8 of 10 

IMAGERoomful of Blues – In a Roomful of Blues

Alligator Records

13 songs – 45 minutes

www.roomful.com

One of the longest-running bands in the modern era, Rhode Island-based powerhouse Roomful of Blues celebrates their 50th anniversary with the first CD they’re released in seven years and the first that’s chockful of clever, fresh material sure to keep you swinging at the hip and thinking, too.

A legendary unit that was founded by Duke Robillard and Al Copley at the equally venerable Knickerbocker Café in Westerly, R.I., the lineup’s always featured top talent, including guitarist Ronnie Earl and vocalists Curtis Salgado, Mark DuFresne and fellow Ocean State veteran Sugar Ray Norcia along the way.

Despite approximately 60 personnel changes through the years, the band still remains skintight and delivers a knockout punch every time they take the stage. They’re led by Chris Vachon on guitar and tenor and alto sax player Rich Lataille – a duo who’ve accumulated 80 years of service time with the organization.

Lataille signed aboard at the jump in 1970 when Roomful decided to expand from a four-piece Chicago-style blues band into the eight-piece horn ensemble it remains today, and he’s maintained oversight of the charts throughout, keeping the sound consistent despite the lineup shifts through the years. A relative “newcomer,” Vachon joined the lineup in 1990. Even though he doesn’t have as big a name as the giants who came before him, he’s a stellar picker in his own right.

The golden throated Phil Pemberton has been handling vocals for the past decade, and the current alignment includes Rusty Scott on keyboards, Carl Gerhard on trumpet and Alex Razdan on baritone and tenor saxes with drummer Chris Anzalone and upright bassist John Turner holding down the bottom. They’re augmented by Jeff Ceasrine on backing vocals and percussion with Bob Moulton adding rhythm guitar and backing vocals and Dick Reed adding accordion on one cut each.

Delivering material that’s somewhat more contemporary and slightly darker than what the band’s issued previously, In a Roomful of Blues was produced and mixed by Vachon and recorded at PM Studios in Wakefield, R.I., and The Power Station NE in Waterford, Conn. The eight of the ten originals in the 13-song set were written by Vachon – five in concert with Moulton, one with Pemberton and two on his own – with the others contributed by Scott and Razdan.

Roomful dips into the songbook of Don Robey for the obscure “What Can I Do?” to get things started. It swings from the start, propelled by a propulsive horn line, as Phil wonders what it’ll take to win his lady’s heart. The love theme continues in the searing, modern blues, “You Move Me,” as the pace slows to a medium shuffle. As usual, the lush arrangements provide ample space for everyone in the crowded lineup to deliver brief, razor-sharp solos.

“In a Roomful of Blues” is another azure love song in which a couple have survived a long succession of troubles, but remain at each other’s side as they seek a way to leave their past behind them. “Phone Zombies,” meanwhile started out as a joke among the bandmates before it evolved into a clever criticism of folks who spend their lives addicted to their handheld devices. The cautionary, guitar-driven “Watch Your Back” is a driving blues that speaks out against many things plaguing modern society, including drug lords, fake news, racism and a litany of much, much more.

The mood slows for the ballad “She Quit Me Again” before Roomful cooks with “She’s Too Much,” a Latin-flavored pleaser with a Cab Calloway-style horn arrangement. A taste of New Orleans follows in “Have You Heard” — a zydeco-flavored dance number penned by fellow Rhode Islander Gary Cummings – before the band exploded for the driving rocker, “We’d Have a Love Sublime.”

“Carcinoma Blues” — delivered in the third-person by Pemberton, but based on Moulton’s real-life battle with cancer — paints a bittersweet picture of someone going through chemotherapy. But the mood brightens dramatically with a throwback cover of “Too Much Boogie,” which was written by Doc Pomus, the man who facilitated the band’s self-titled debut recording in 1977. The bluesy “Let the Sleeping Dog Lie” advises avoiding trouble before the jazzy “I Can’t Wait” brings the action to a close.

Available through most major retailers, and strongly recommended.

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.


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 Featured Blues Review – 9 of 10 

imaGEDownRiver Dan – Here to This

Self-Produced

www.downriverdan.com

CD: 10 Songs, 43 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, All Original Songs

The cover art of Here to This, the sophomore offering from Detroit’s DownRiver Dan, is perfectly descriptive of its music: bright, colorful, and clear. Some may call the blues down-and-dirty or downright mean, but Daniel Kalicki aims to bring the springtime sun back to the blues sky. He’s a rockin’ Millennial with gregarious guitar, vibrant vocals, and an air of joviality, even while playing contemplative songs such as the title track, “Dreamer,” and “Lonely Road.” All of the selections here are strong blues-based originals that will appeal to younger fans (even those who have reached the big 4-0). Boomers might miss the growl and grit they’re used to, but once they note Dan’s fluid style, they’ll kick back, relax, and enjoy their favorite adult beverages. Reminiscent of John Fogerty on vocals, he pours out his heart without pouring on the volume.

On his website, Dan reveals the reason he first started playing guitar: “My answer is – I had to. It all started in 2004. My life and many others’ were changed forever [by] the loss of my best friend and source of inspiration, my mother. Heartbroken and lost, I found shelter in music. [It] eventually led me to writing songs. Always having an ear for the rock and blues records in my Dad’s collection, it was a natural direction for me to go. I’ve been performing several nights each week to audiences everywhere…At age 21, I released my debut original album, Without You. It has received widespread acclaim from fans and radio hosts across North America.”

Performing alongside Mr. Kalicki on guitars and vocals are Billy Reyna on drums and harmony vocals; Bill Salisbury on bass guitar; Evan Mercer on organ, and Josh Ford on the guitar outro for the first track, “For a Fool.”

Speaking of which, it’s a jumpin’ jive that will get people of all ages out on the dance floor. “Honey, I won’t lie. It’s the end of the line. Don’t you play me for a fool, for a fool.” Such simple, succinct lyrics suit the clean-cut ‘50s-style vibe. Dig that solo in the middle and Evan Mercer’s snazzy organ backing. “Here to This” comes next, blues rock bordering on soft rock and calling Poco’s “Call It Love” to mind. Dan’s guitar is especially melodic, the perfect complement to some of his best vocals. “Get Me Gone,” a grungy stomp, is loud, proud, and in-your-face. “Used to Know” is a loping, strolling song for a trek around the neighborhood, and the harmonies aren’t bad, either. On the tail end of this album is “Misery & Me,” with an intro that hooks you and a haunting aura that spooks you. This is the kind of song a recovering junkie might sing, someone lost and alone, the city streets stretching endlessly before him.

DownRiver Dan has a future so bright, he’s gotta wear shades!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 40 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.


 Featured Blues Review – 10 of 10 


imageRon Addison – Testify

www.ronaddison.com

Self Release

10 songs – 34 minutes

Testify is the debut release from Abindon, Virginia, singer, Ron Addison. After a career in the military as a helicopter pilot and then a second career as a Virginia State Trooper, Addison returned to his first love, music, and he and his band, the Tomcats, gig around Southwest Virginia, playing a mix of blues, blues-rock, classic rock and country. Testify however sits very much on the blues-rock side of the equation and is a very impressive first offering.

Featuring nine songs written by Ron Addison and one penned by Martin Addison, Testify is a relatively short album but one on which there is little filler. Addison has assembled a variety of excellent musicians to assist him, including Don Eanes on clavinet, organ and piano, Billy Crawford, DC Wolfe and Victor Lawson on guitars, Martin Addison on bass, Mike Stephenson and John Grayson on drums, Mary Munsey on saxophone, Duane “Catfish” Frye on harmonica, and Charlotte Austin, Renee Mort and Lori Addison on backing vocals. Together, they essay a variety of different blues-rock styles, from the funky blues of “Long Way Down”, which deals with the harsh economic realities of the modern age, to the high octane rock and roll of “Keep Loving Me” and the sax-soaked soul-blues of “No Damn Good”. The trio of Crawford, Wolfe and Lawson lay down a variety of interesting and stylistically different guitar solos, while Munsey, Frye and Eanes also make the most of their solo spots. The ballad “Long Ago Another Time” also features a lovely duet with Samantha Grayson.

Lyrically, Addison addresses the traditional love/lust lyrical themes of many blues songs in tracks such as “Never Gave Up Loving You” but also reaches beyond to address issues such as child abuse in “Crayons In Heaven”. On the title track, he espouses the power of truth in relationships while referencing images of court testimonies and church choirs (memorably emphasized by the massed backing vocals on the chorus).

Addison himself sings with an endearingly worn and weathered voice and a vocal style that contains hints of his country background, at times recalling the great Billy Joe Shaver, especially on the dreamy love song of the closing “Oyster Man”. There is an authenticity and deep emotional connection to his voice that makes it very listenable, and is particularly effective when contrasted with the band’s deliberately slick and smooth approach on tracks such as “Chocolate Cherry Pie”.

Recorded at Classic Recording Studio in Bristol, Va, Testify was expertly engineered and mastered by Mike Stephenson and produced by Addison.

Ron Addison may be releasing his debut album in one of the later chapters of his own life, but it is a highly commendable effort that suggests there is plenty more music yet to come from this Virginian. Impressive stuff.

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


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