Issue 14-16 April 16, 2020


 In This Issue 

Bucky O’Hare has our feature interview with Tad Robinson. We have 10 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Christina Crofts, Casey Hensley, Ben Rice and RB Stone, Ryan Perry, Chanda Rule + Sweet Emma Band, Southside Denny, Watermelon Slim, Rott’n Dan And Lightnin’ Willy, The Soul Searchers and Layla Zoe.


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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.


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 Featured Interview – Tad Robinson 

imageChicago in the 1980’s. Tad Robinson gets an influential mix-tape:

“I remember Rick Estrin, the great harmonica player and singer, when I moved to Chicago as an older person, when I was in my 20’s. He showed up one day ‘cause he had heard me sing. He came down to a gig and he handed me a cassette. And he said ‘I know you know Percy Sledge, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson. But, here’s a cassette of some people you really need to know.’ And he was basically saying after hearing me sing, he felt like those were people I had to be hip to and it was people like James Carr, O.V. Wright, Howard Tate, you know, Bobby Womack, Johnny Taylor. And I became a total freak for Johnny Taylor, Bobby Womack, Dusty Springfield. All these people that I had not been hip to. And, I always kind of was appreciative that he, he heard something, Rick heard something in me that made him say, ‘oh, this guy’s gotta know about these people.’ And it’s true I had not really been aware of some of those artists and it opened up a whole ‘nother kind of scene and the literature of those great songs.”

Tad Robinson, the venerable singer and harmonica player whose work over the past two decades has defined the sub genre Soul Blues, has built his career on moments like this one. Robinson has consistently made himself available to guidance and mentor-ship from veterans and peers. Having his own kindness and openness reciprocated in countless ways, Tad Robinson is smart and alert enough to use the information and guidance he receives, without ego or guile, to dig deep into the tradition, develop his craft and push forward his own unique style.

Tad is a stalwart Blues singer and harmonica blower of the great 90’s Blues resurgence. Emerging in 1980’s Chicago with a fully formed, amber warm voice that conjures the timbre and texture of the innovative creators of Soul music that he is a student of, Robinson was part of that harp blowing, soulfully voiced crew of Bluesmen including William Clarke, Billy Branch, Kim Wilson, Estrin, and many others. In the 21st Century on Severn Records, he has become the standard bearer and the dynamic revolutionary of Soul Blues, taking the Southern Soul Sound of the 60’s and 70’s and marrying it with his own highly personal style. Tad is a generous, humble and unassuming powerhouse who creates his art through collaboration, relationship, and hard work. From his home base of greater Indianapolis, Robinson sums it up this way:

“I’m a gigger, if someone calls me for a gig I’m gonna do the gig. I don’t care if I’m the sideman or the leader, I’m gonna show up because that’s what I do.”

Tad, a singer with a deep, confident and distinct tenor, describes the mechanics of his singing technique and the development of his voice:

“When I was young and inexperienced I did a lot of unhealthy things to my voice. Oftentimes screamed myself hoarse thinking that people liked that, or that it was my duty to really dig in and get that raspy quality. But through the years you develop a keen sense of your limits as a singer, and you know exactly where you might hurt yourself. You learn to deliver songs using a healthy, comfortable range, and you learn how to let the microphone do the work for you. I’ve never warmed up, but I always open shows with a few songs that sound powerful, but don’t require too much vocal range out of me. Kind of slide into the set before really opening up the throat.”

Robinson is a strong and soulful harmonica player even though he doesn’t give himself enough credit for it. Blowing less on recent records, the harp has always been an important part of Tad’s music. Tad unassumingly describes the mechanics and quality of his harp playing:

“I’ve had a standard endorsement agreement with Hohner since 1984, one of my proudest accomplishments. I love that company so much, even though, frankly, I don’t think they consider me very high on the list of modern players, and neither do I. I just play what I play, and sometimes I surprise myself. I used to blow with the standard set up: Astatic JT30 (microphone) through a Fender Bassman (amplifier). But in recent years I’ve been blowing using an SM57 mic using any old amp that is around. Mostly Fender. I also have a nice custom made amp by an Indianapolis company called Hook, which sounds a lot like a Fender Deluxe amp. I’m not a gear-head at all. But I am very particular about harmonicas. I’ve played Hohner Marine Bands (Model 1896) for my whole life, since I was about 11 years old. And now I play the enhanced Marine Band that Hohner offers, the Hohner Marine Band Crossover. When I play third-position style harp on a chromatic harmonica, I generally play a Hohner Chromonica 270. For recording, I generally just blow through the vocal microphone.”

The journey of growth and identity for musicians is long and never ending. A great musician is always learning and developing. For Tad Robinson, the journey is all about relationships and the guidance, mentor-ship and collaboration he gets from his peers, veteran teachers (like Estrin) and supporting musicians or sidemen.

“It’s a constant journey, it’s a constant trip, just like other professions. Everybody is always tryin’ to hone their skills at whatever they do, and soaking up all the different influences and advice people can give you. But, for me I think that in some respects I’m kind of a late bloomer in that I’ve been doing this for years and years. But, only in the last decade or so did I kind of arrive at what I would call, you know, a real trademark style of my own. And a lot of that is, to me, the mentors that you meet through your career. I’ve always been fortunate that I’ve had mentors in my life. And a lot of times they’re your sidemen. They become your sidemen. And those people, oftentimes, your sidemen know you as an artist better than you know yourself. People that can tell you, ‘you know, here’s a good song for you.’ They almost become to you what they used to call A&R men or A&R women. Artists and Repertoire people. And those people are the people that shape you without you even knowing it. Because they’re throwing music at you that they think that you are really adapted for. Sometimes a singer, him or herself, is the worst judge of exactly what material they shine on. Because, you know, singers think they can sing anything (laughs).”

“You know, ‘cause your always learning and your always being taught by the people around you. Particularly singers, you know, we really engage with those, the musicians, who go through all the trials and tribulations with us.”

imageSome of the people who have gone through the trials and tribulations with Tad are,

“People like Alex Shultz, the guitar player. We kind of came up together in New York City way back in the day. And Alex, he acted as a kind of long time music director in my band. He also co-produced my first Severn record Did You Ever Wonder? He actually brought Severn label to my attention. Alex, he’s always, played, he’s played on almost all of my records… so he was one of those people that helped me find that voice. Dave Specter was another guitar player that I worked with. He kind of heard the Chicago Blues thing that I do and he helped me mold that. David Earl at Severn Records has been probably the most pivotal and important music, record man, you know, record guy, in my career. Because he came along and he heard something in me and he really developed it over the last decade and gave me some great opportunities.”

Tad Robinson, the “gigger,” is the ever collaborative leader:

“Singers, we’re kind of called the band leaders, we’re the leaders right? They say’ oh, it’s the Tad Robinson Band’ right? In essence we, the singer, particularly a stand up singer who doesn’t play guitar or piano on the band stand, it’s a real communal thing and we’re only as good as our band. So, I’ve been really lucky to work with just a lot of really creative musicians. You know they work with a lot of other people, they’re serving those other songs that the other artists do. When they’re focusing on the Tad Robinson Band they’re all in. You just can’t ask for more than that.”

“You’ll keep coming back to the best. The sidemen, that really have a heart for what you do. There’s no shortcut, nothing substitutes for being totally conversant in the style, and educated about the style. Like all the sidemen I’m mentioning are people who have studied Blues and R&B, you know, they’ve been doing it for 20 years. 20, 30, 40 years. They also bring a wealth of other music to the party…Their ears are open you know, it’s surprising how much their knowledgeable about a lot of other styles and they are hearing everything that comes up the pike.”

Tad’s Indianapolis based band is that crew that brings the heart to his music. Kevin Anker, de facto musical director and keyboardist, Paul Holdman on guitar and vocals, Dave Murray on bass and Brian Yarde on drums give Tad’s music shape.

“Right now I have a great guitar player here in the Indianapolis area named Paul Holdman, who is really coming into his own in the Blues world. And is known now as one of the real finest Blues guitar players in his own right. He’s another guy that you know, he’s one of those people that I lean on to mold that style that I’ve been working on. I’ll say also, Kevin Anker, my keyboard player who also is the current Fabulous Thunderbirds keyboard player. Kevin Anker is in my group and he’s been on the last four records for Severn…I’m lucky to have him on my team. And again, you know, and not only that, he’s also a songwriting partner of mine. So in that respect he’s right on the front line of creating the bedrock of what our sound is.”

Tad Robinson developed his sense of collaboration and exploration from formative childhood experiences of pop culture, family and the cultural revolution that was his native New York City in the 1960’s.

“Well for me, it was a very fertile time for music, you know, in the 20th Century, to grow up in the 60’s. So, you know, everybody sees their childhood through rose tinted glasses, but it still seemed to me that that was an age of the great R&B voices. So, growing up in a time, on your transistor radio, on AM radio in New York City, you could hear everybody from Ray Charles to Stevie Wonder, to Levi Stubbs with the Four Tops to, you know, Dusty Springfield and into Eric Burden and John Lennon and the British Invasion and their take on American R&B. It was really a fortunate time to grow up if you had eyes on being a singer. ‘Cause, you know, you had, who else?: Smokey Robinson, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye, people who come to mind. So as a child, those were the voices, that’s the soundtrack of life. And so, it made an indelible impression on a kid like me.”

One of three children to Ray and Phyllis Robinson, Tad reminisces:

image“I came from a family, they weren’t musicians, but, they were. It was a musical family in that everybody was very interested in music. My dad was a magazine editor, but he was also a pretty good crooner. He could sing kind of like the way Bing Crosby would sing and people like that, because that was his era. Because he was born in ‘20, so his era was the 30’s and 40’s and all the great songs that came out of that era. And then my mom too was musical, and she worked in City Government. She worked in the parks department as an administrator and she would kind of help with things like open spaces and Shakespeare in the park and things like that. So the arts were important in our house.”

“And then my brother played guitar and my sister sang. And my brother introduced me to all of, he was older, he was my older brother, he bought all of the 45s. So he was spinning on his record player all the tunes of that time (the 1960’s), like I’ve said. From the Beatles to the Stones to Motown, Otis Redding on through Aretha, Stevie Wonder, etc. So that was the music going, you know. Between my parents love for the show tunes, all of the Broadway stuff we experienced being New Yorkers, and then we were getting the constant flow of new music from the Rock era. And I mean at that point I wasn’t hip to the Blues scene, being a little kid in New York. But, it was the voices that led me later to discover the more earthy, more obscure artists that were always there but were invisible to me. Because I was a child of the 60’s and hearing what was popular. It took a while to claw through and get down to the artists that were more essential.”

Music was all around young Tad who had a proclivity for it. His inspiration came as much from pop culture as the influence of his siblings’ musical experiments:

“When I was growing up, we had an upright piano in our apartment. I fooled around and began trying to write simple songs and accompany myself singing. I had a rudimentary self taught piano ability that made it possible for me to bang out the unadorned chords. This was the 1960s, and my sister, Nancy, was very into the folk music scene. Artists like Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, Donovan, Dave Van Ronk. Oftentimes I remember singing harmonies with her. And my brother, Steve, would chime in too. This was mostly on the standard folk repertoire and protest songs of the era, anti-war songs, workers’ rights anthems, left-wing stuff. It was so fun and natural to get that effortless three-part-blood-harmony going. I view that experience as the seed of me wanting to sing. In 5th grade, I was in my first rock band. Through high school I continued to be in bands, plus that’s when I got seriously into harmonica as well.”

In actuality that seed for singing was in Tad when he was born:

“One of my best childhood friends tells me that his mom remembers me when we were playing as little toddlers in the sandbox and I was singing James Darren’s ‘Goodbye Cruel World.’ And so you know, I was a mimic, I was hearing what was on the radio and it kind of dawned on me that I could do that.”

The influence of his family, his City and the decades of his youth gave him the raw material to feed his natural talent and move his art forward:

“I took a few voice lessons and I learned a lot about being a musician that way. I learned philosophical things from voice teachers, but not too much that helped me with the type of singing that I wanted to do. I got that from listening to records by folks like Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Eric Burden and David Ruffin. That was the source material, and would always continue to be.”

After a short stint at his father’s alma mater, Columbia University, Tad decided he needed a change:

“After a year at Columbia, where I was less than a half hearted student. I decided I wanted to study music, and I ended up moving to the Midwest and attending Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington. Being a singer, I still wanted to know something about theory, and I thought that would be the place to learn. Bloomington…was where my serious education in the blues scene would happen. I was in a little blues band in my I.U. years. We played as openers for Muddy Waters, Albert King, John Lee Hooker, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Bo Diddley, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and others, as so many of the up-and-coming roots music bands of that era did. It was kind of a rite of passage.”

After undergrad in Indiana, Tad attended the graduate school of Blues Dues Paying in Chicago, where a burgeoning new wave of young Blues musicians was taking shape.

“That’s to me the time of my life when I was an apprentice in this music. Because when I was in Chicago in the 80’s the main people doing the music were people like Jimmy Johnson, Lonnie Brooks, Son Seals, Willie Dixon, Carey Bell, Lurrie Bell, Billy Branch, Sugar Blue, Levell White. And so this was the music that was all around me in Chicago. And so then I fell in with the people that I really respected. Like Steve Freund, who’s one of the most creative Blues guitar players I’ve ever heard. He was a person in Chicago who was a real important linchpin between the post war Blues like Sunnyland Slim and Lonnie Brooks and all those people and to the white cats that came later that were fascinated with the music. Like me. And like Ken Saydak was another one. He was a great piano player coming out of the Blues tradition.”

“And I was always really intimidated when I came and I heard Steve Freund and Ken Saydak and people like that who were doing Blues in such a non-compromising and traditional way. But, also making it their own and making it seem honest. And that’s when the light bulb went off in my head. That’s what I really want to try and accomplish. To be in that scene and yet not be a fraud (laughs). Because that’s what I saw in them, I saw they were totally genuine in what they were doing. They weren’t like a guy wearing someone else’s suit that didn’t fit right. They were totally at home in the music and totally respected by the people who were the innovators, the creators of the music. I felt like I came late to the party.”

imageDave Specter was a Chicago native who, like Freund, Saydak and Robinson, was pushing for his own sound within the tradition. Robinson and Specter joined forces in the 1990s for yet another collaborative and influential chapter in Tad’s growth as an artist:

“Dave was developing his own inimitable, really interesting, style. He’s a musician that, we are talking about, how do you get a trade mark style? Dave is one that you can pick him out right away by his sound and the notes he chooses…We were both in that same community. He was looking for a singer. I did some gigs with him. And he was kind and heard something in me and said ‘hey man do you want to record?’ He was doing a record at Delmark. He was doing his second for Delmark. After Barkin’ Bill Smith did his first record with him. So, I was in some high expectations, because Bill was such a great swinging singer. Dave wanted to do a different type of record. And we ended up doing a kind of earthy Chicago Blues record. I brought a little of the Soul thing to it. I did “That’s How Strong My Love Is” the O.V. Wright tune that Otis Redding had covered. So we kind of leaned in that direction for a minute on that record.”

“But, I don’t know. When you’re a singer, I mean I just looked at it as in Dave’s band I’m a sideman. And that’s just the way that I approached it. He would come out and do some instrumentals that are kind of his trademark, really cool compositions that he comes up with. And then I would come on and blow some harp and do some tunes. At that time, I worked for a while when he also had Jesse Fortune in the band too. And I also worked with Dave when he had Barkin’ Bill Smith in the band as well. It was kind of like a Blues Review. So Dave had that kind of Blues Review going on… You know every musician is always spinning a lot of plates. So when I was in Dave’s band I was also, like, doing gigs as me. And sometimes using Dave as a sideman. It’s almost like whoever gets the call becomes the leader for that date.”

Robinson’s time with Dave Specter did offer new exposure. In parallel with his Specter work he released his first solo Delmark record One to Infinity. Tad also took his first trip to Europe with Specter as featured guests of German band B.B. and Blues Shacks. This first European trip started an arm of Robinson’s career that he values deeply and has been long lasting.

“European Bands will invite you over because they are hip to your music and they want to get the chance to play with you and learn what you have to offer. It opens some doors for them… It becomes a symbiotic relationship. It opens more doors and you end up playing more countries. At this point I work about 21 countries in the world. They have become ongoing gigs that you come back to year after year.”

Robinson’s European booking agent Erkan Ozdemir, owner/operator of LowTone Music, has orchestrated Tad’s European presence and does a tremendous amount of work for other American Blues musicians going to Europe. Tad has first hand knowledge and respect for the European Blues scene and how it is a testament to Blues Power:

“Some of the European musicians who are playing Blues and R&B are really to be reckoned with… some of these cats are absolute head cutter great players and also great people. It’s a win/win. Because it makes the world a lot smaller place when you are able to go back to these countries and play with great musicians that are there. But, also have these almost, like, family connections with all these great people. The African American tradition of Blues and the gift of Soul Music and all those things have really resonated worldwide and are embraced worldwide. And are just cherished. And for me to be a part of that even though my music is a distant cousin to the early traditional Blues music that came out of the African American experience and the suffering of the abomination of slavery…It’s very interesting to me that it’s embraced all over the world, that music. And that’s part of what causes these strong relationships. We Americans who go over there to play, we develop it, it’s part of that whole history.”

Sixteen years ago Tad Robinson started a fruitful partnership with David Earl’s Severn Records. A label dedicated to high quality soulfully made music, Severn Records and the style of collaborative songwriting and recording he found there was the spark that ignited Tad’s current artistic breakthroughs; taking the grit and grind of the post-war harmonica driven Chicago Blues and marrying it with the deep pocketed bounce, hop and honey of classic Soul and R&B. Tad, humble and forthcoming about his newest collaborative process:

“When I was at Severn label for the last 10 years. David Earl, like I say, has been a real blessing to me. Because he’s allowed me to work with kind of like a house band that he’s developed over the years. So I’ve had Steve Gomes on bass, who is currently with the Fabulous Thunderbirds. He is a great writer and producer. Steve is one of these guys, that he always has an idea for a song on the tip of his tongue. But it’s just like almost there, it’s in the back of his mind. It’s just about to be developed and he plays it close to the vest. Like he’ll say ‘well I have an idea’ and then it turns out he has an incredible idea. And he’ll sit down and he’ll say ‘but, man I just can’t get the last verses.’ So sometimes I’ve been able to work with people who have really been able to coax me out of myself and into writing with them.”

“So at Severn Label a lot of times we’re writing together as a team. Kevin Anker, Steve Gomes and I have written a whole bunch of stuff together for my records, kind of on the clock. Like we’ll go to the session when it’s time to record and we don’t quite have a whole record’s worth. And we’ll just set up and we’ll write. And so that’s kind of a different way of writing. Some writers write every day. You know, I’m not the kind of writer that writes just like wakes up every morning with a cup of coffee and writes. I’ve kind of written for these projects.”

Tad’s Severn work is undeniably strong and distinct. 2007’s A New Point of View, with arrangements from the legendary soul maestro Willie Henderson, set a high water mark for what the sub genre Soul Blues can be. Modern and classic, hard and warm all at the same time. 2015’s Day Into Night fully realized the modern sound with a deep dark R&B thump that is bottomless and round.

On his fifth Severn release Real Street, Robinson fully stepped into the sweet Southern Soul Music he is inspired by.

image“I was given a grant from The Arts Council of Indianapolis. I was given a grant to visit Memphis. And my idea for the grant was to kind of be a fly on the wall and just to visit Memphis for an extended period of time and check out the status of the Southern Soul Sound that Memphis is the birthplace of. And I was gonna hear, you know, who was still playing from the old days and what was the new take on the music. That was my original idea for the grant.”

“I did receive the grant. But, I mentioned it to some friends in the industry: John Nemeth, Dave Keller and Curtis Salgado. Kind of colleagues of mine if you will (chuckle). And they all mentioned, they said to me ‘man, when you’re down there you owe it to yourself to record with the Hi guys who are still around,’ rather than just going to Memphis and you know eating BBQ and taking in the sights and sound, they said ‘you owe it to yourself to do this.’ John Nemeth had names and he had the idea that I’d go to work with Scott Bomar at Electraphonic Recording. You know the guys kind of gave me that advice. And I mentioned it to David Earl at Severn Records, I said ‘hey man I got this grant. I have some money to make some recordings. I think I’ll go down there and record with Charles Hodges on Hammond, and Leroy Hodges on bass and Howard Grimes on drums.’ And he said ‘why make 3 tracks?’ He said ‘I’ll match the grant. Why don’t you go down and make a record.’”

“So you know that got the wheels turning. We both had the idea that I’d bring Kevin Anker along… I gave him (Anker) the ideas I had for the record, 10 songs. And with David’s blessing and The Arts Council of Indianapolis sending me and their blessing, I went down and recorded with the Hodges brothers and Howard Grimes. And Kevin Anker on piano and a great Memphis guitar player named Joe Restivo who rounded out the quintet.”

“The Hi Rhythm section brought such wisdom and grace and solidarity and joy to the session. I mean I couldn’t have asked for a better vibe in terms of how we all approached playing together. I mean it was truly like, not to be clique, but it was truly like coming home for me. And I am forever grateful for the spirit and the way they brought, what I consider anyway, to be their A game to my little session.”

Real Street was done in the old style and it shows. The band cut live in the studio on mostly 1st or 2nd takes. A Blues Music Award nominee, for Robinson Real Street:

“is certainly the most recent major sign post on my road in this journey as a singer, and it, you know, it comes in this very uncertain era that we live in. It’s something that I will always look back on and just marvel at how fortunate I was and how lucky I was to be able to work with the guys that were the architects of the Southern Soul Sound. When I found out I was going to work with them I went to my record collection and started seeing them in all of the liner notes.”

Tad Robinson lives a good life. He says:

“I am a family man: My wife, Amy, is an artist, a teacher and a realtor. My sons, Tyler and Avery are 31 and 24 respectively. We have two pugs, Leo and Louise… thought it would be incomplete not to mention that there is life outside of music! Ha.”

Robinson has made himself available to Blues and Soul music throughout his life and followed it’s calling from the East Coast to the Midwest, from Europe to Memphis. All the time, Tad has been open and ready for learning.

“There was a funny story: Kevin and I, we were trying to describe the type of groove we wanted on one of the tunes, on the opening track. And we said ‘Well, guys it’s kind of like ‘Trying to Live My Life Without You’ by Otis Clay, you know it’s kind of got that bounce.’ And Howard and the Hodges brothers looked at each other and said ‘oh, yeah we know that, we played on that.’”

This is a parable for Tad Robinson’s trip. Revere the source, know how it works, and create your own personal voice within it. Be a “gigger” and always show up.

Check out: Tad Robinson at http://www.tadrobinson.com.

Interviewer 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 – 1 of 10 

imageChristina Crofts – Just How Love Feels

www.christinacrofts.com

Self Release

9 songs – 35 minutes

Christina Crofts is an Australian singer/guitarist who released her debut solo album, MidnightTrain, way back in 2008. Since then, she did release a four-track EP, Like We Used To, in 2016, but spent much of the intervening period caring for her husband and mentor, guitarist Steve Crofts, who suffered from Huntingdon’s Disease and who eventually passed away in 2016. After his death, Crofts then suffered from her own anxiety disorder. Just How Love Feels is a glorious return from Crofts, however, showcasing her song writing, singing and blazing slide guitar.

Just How Love Feels is a short album, with all nine original songs packed into just over half an hour, but it’s a blazing half hour, bristling with attitude and bite. With muscular backing from bassist Stan Mobbs (Crofts herself also played bass on two tracks), drummers Ross Clark and Tony Boyd, this is traditional blues-rock played with an almost punk attitude without ever losing its heavy blues influences. Crofts spits out the lyrics with real venom, and she is totally believable when she snarls on the opening track, “Looking Back On You”: “The best sight I ever saw was looking back on you. You were crying on the highway in my rear view.” Some commentators have likened her voice to Lucinda Williams, but there is also some of cold fury of Jimmy Barnes and the wry coolness of Chrissie Hynde.

Equally important as her voice is her stellar slide guitar playing, which nods towards Rory Gallagher but retains the righteous ferocity of the great Rose Tattoo. She is one of the most impressive electric slide players this reviewer has heard in recent years. Her melodic playing on tracks like “Someone Younger” lifts the song onto a different plane.

Just How Love Feels is a blues-rock album that straddles the divide between the two styles beautifully. There are no “pure” blues songs on the album – indeed, in structure the songs sit firmly in the rock spectrum – but Crofts’s exemplary slide guitar playing ensures that every track is imbued with some deep blues. A song like “Just How Love Feels” would not sound out of place on a Cold Chisel album but the slide guitar is all blues. The minor key “Miss My Man” is perhaps the closest to a blues song, although there is also a hint of the Americana of Slaid Cleaves there too.

Although recorded as a threesome (with over-dubbed guitars and additional backing vocals from Ty Coates on two songs), Just How Love Feels has a warm, full sound so great credit is due to producers Russell Pilling and Marshall Cullen at Damien Gerard, as well as Don Bartley, who mastered the album at Benchmark.

If you enjoy the likes of Rory Gallagher, Rose Tattoo or even early Hanoi Rocks (on tracks like “Voodoo Queen” or “A380”), you will find a lot to enjoy in Just How Love Feels. Here’s hoping Crofts does not wait so long before releasing her next album. There is some serious talent here.

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 – 2 of 10 

imageCasey Hensley – Good as Gone

VizzTone Label Group VTCH-002

9 songs – 34 minutes

www.caseyhensleymusic.com

Based out of San Diego, Casey Hensley set the blues world on its ear in 2018 with her self-titled first release, which earned Blues Blast nominations for both best new artist debut and best live recording. And she doesn’t miss a beat with this all-original follow-up, a mix of jump, swing, Chicago blues and rock.

A fiery redhead who’s still only 26 years old, her Casey Hensley Live Featuring Laura Chavez climbed to the No. 10 spot on Living Blues’ radio charts in addition to regional honors that found her nominated as artist of the year in the 2019 San Diego Music Awards and recognition as a rising star by critics at the Los Angeles Times.

A powerhouse blues belter who might remind you of the late Candye Kane. She rose to prominence in 2015 after handling vocals at several sold-out shows that celebrated Kane’s life after she finally succumbing to pancreatic cancer after a seven-year battle. Both Chavez and Candye’s percussionist son, Evan Caleb Yearsley, regularly tour with Hensley and are present on this one. And when Laura – a phenomenal talent in her own right – is not available, West Coast six-string masters Kid Ramos, Johnny Main, Anthony “The Fallbrook Kid” Cullins and others rotate in her place.

Recorded at Grease Punk Studio in Lakeside, Calif., Good as Gone was co-produced by Casey and Laura. With a roster that includes Marcos C. on bass and Jonny Viau (Sha Na Na and Ramos) and Steven Ebner delivering horns. Hensley’s dynamic pipes shine here in a collection of nine originals that primarily deal with different aspects of romance as they demonstrate her skill as a songwriter, too.

“Good as Gone” opens acapella with Casey’s alto at gale force before launching into an uptempo complaint about never getting her own way with her man, advising that she’s no fool and that she’s ready to hit the door. Chavez’s mid-tune solo echoes the opening: Beginning with stinging chords before launching into a blazing run that slightly hints of Freddie King’s “Going Down.”

The tempo slows dramatically for the slow, driving Chicago blues, “You Should Be So Lucky,” in which Hensley details the reasons why a prospective lover will be fortunate if he’s lucky enough to be chosen to stay at her side. This one’s built out from the ground up from the hook first laid down by Magic Sam in “Easy Baby” and features plenty of high-quality vocal gymnastics.

Casey takes you to church next with “If I Pray,” which starts as a guitar-assisted field holler until erupting into a heavily percussive request for relief from the hard times coloring her life. The band swings from the hip and the horns make their first appearance for “Be My Baby (What Do You Say?),” a West Coast-style jump-blues pleaser. The song has definite old-school overtones, and Hensley’s delivery brightens and sweetens dramatically in the process.

The mood shifts once more for a pair of ballads — “Love Will Break Your Heart,” a soul-blues with a Memphis feel, an overdubbed vocal chorus and killer guitar solo, and “Searching for a Man,” a stripped-down, bluesy rocker with a ‘50s two-step dancehall feel – before shifting gears for “What’s a Woman to Do?” – a horn-driven rocker suggestive of ‘60s all-girl pop rock. The love ballad, “Don’t Want It to Stop,” gives Hensley plenty of space to shine vocally before “All In,” a rapid-fire West Coast jump, brings the disc to a rousing close.

Available from most major retailers, Good as Gone is a keeper on all counts. If you like singers with B-I-G voices, this one’s definitely right for you!

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 – 3 of 10 

imageBen Rice and RB Stone – Out Of The Box

Middle Mountain Music

www.RBStone.com

www.BenRiceLive.com

11 tracks

Out Of The Box is an album featuring a mix of cigar box guitars played by Ben Rice and RB Stone. Eleven original cuts written by Rice and/or Stone, the two deliver a superb set of tunes that will give he listeners something to savor. Using guitars with 3, 4 and 6 strings, the duo give fantastic performances on this album with a double entendre title. Joining Stone and Rice are Dave Melyan on drums, Joseph Barton on bass and Jimi Bott on tambourine (he also recorded and mixed the CD).

Stone and Rice first met up in Oregon when one of Stone’s shows was cancelled. Rice invited Stone to double bill his gig and they apparently hit it off because this collaboration is exceptional. Using a mix of cigar box/custom guitars and shared vocals, guitars and song writing, they’ve craft a winner!

The album opens to the rock a billy styled “Hot Rod Mama,” a wild ride with the two of them playing and singing. The pace is fast and furious and the guys wail on their guitars in this super-fun cut! Both play six string washboard guitars here. Rice follows on six string washboard on “Easy Rollin’ Down The Road,” a slower paced cut with a haunting melody and more restrained guitar play. “Hey Politician” features Stone on a Swampeast CBG and Rice on the 6 string washboard. Stone delivers this one in a style reminiscent of John Fogerty and Creedence. Very cool stuff with a very pretty big guitar solo. “Hoodoo Workin’ Overtime’ has Rice again on the same guitar and Stone on harp. Rice takes the vocal lead here while playing guitar as Stone fills in nicely on the Mississippi saxophone. “The Swamp East Boogie” is next, a raucous and rousing cut featuring Stone on the CBG and vocals. A driving beat and really sweet boogie groove make this one a winner! Stone lets loose on guitar and it’s a thing of beauty. Rice and Stone play 4 and 6 string washboards respectively on “Jesus Needs a Gig,” a cool, midtempo tune. Stone takes the vocal lead and gives us some sweet country blues with interesting lyrics.

The pace picks up again on “Meet Your Maker,” featuring Rice on the Swampeast CBG and vocals and Stone on harp. Rice slips and slides and gives us another great cut to enjoy. Stone takes up the Swampeast CBG on “Bad Blood On Mean Whiskey.” The pulsating groove and driving nature of the song sell this cut. Rice leads on the 6 string washboard on “Crushin’ On The Bartender” as he sings about a sweetie behind the bar. A midtempo cut with a nice groove and another winner as Rice sings and slides about. He continues on the 4 string washboard on “Train Of Time.” The album concludes with a viciously cool instrumental with Stone on Lobo Guitar and Rice on 6 string washboard. The two banter and blaze as they attack the strings in this super-cool cut. The pace is frenetic and the sound is cool, a whirling dervish of a song. Well done!

Earthy, gritty, and sublime stuff is recorded here for you to enjoy. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and will be listening to it a lot- this is a really fun album. The songs are cool, the sound is cool, the vocals are cool and the guitars are utterly cool! It is a winner on all accounts- I highly recommend going out and getting this one to add to your collection!

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 

imageRyan Perry – High Risk, Low Reward

Ruf Records

www.ryanperryband.com

11 tracks/52 minutes

Ryan Perry has matured into a superb guitar player and artist with the release of his first solo album. Debuting in 2007 at 13 years of age with the Homemade Jamz Blues Band and then, as the youngest entry ever, taking second place in the International Blues Challenge, Perry shows his chops with some fine original songs and some covers played and sung with authority.

Ryan Perry is one of the three artists appearing in the current Ruf Records Blues Caravan; Whitney Shay and Jeremiah Johnson are also with Perry in the effort. This album was recorded by Ruf in Germany. Producer Roger Innis play bass in support of Perry here. Lucy Pipe is on the drums and Jeffrey Staten and Stefanie Bechtold provide backing vocals.

Perry sets up a cool, mid-tempo groove for the opening cut, “Ain’t Afraid To Eat Alone.” His guitar rings sweetly as he solos nicely in this cut about a relationship breaking up. “Homesick” follows, a cut about the lure of his home back in Mississippi. A stinging guitar solo is featured here. Next up is “Pride,” where Perry sings about his remorse in being prideful and losing the one he loves. He closes the song with another nice guitar solo. “A Heart I Didn’t Break” is a tune about loving one’s self before loving someone else. The song builds as Perry takes the listener home. “Why I Sing The Blues” takes BB King’s classic down a funkier path in a very interesting cover. He bends each note in tribute to King but the groove and approach is very cool and original. Perry’s guitar work is solid and well done. “One Thing’s For Certain” opens with some nice guitar riffs; it’s another slick and funky cut with a restrained and cool guitar solo to enjoy.

The title track is next, with a grungy and distorted sound. It is an interesting mix with a throbbing, hill country vibe. Well done! “Changing Blues” takes us down a different path, with a slow and somber cut about where the blues genre is headed. The pacing is reverently slow and respectful. “Oh No” begins with some blistering guitar that introduces a slow blues sung and played with passion and pain. Written by Wilson Blount, this is a another great new cut. Willie Dixon’s “Evil Is Going On” gets made over Ryan Perry-style with a modern, funky approach. A pair of fiery guitar solos and well-paced lyrics make this a winner. The album concludes with “Hard Times” as Perry again gives us some hill country guitar to savor. The lyrics about the struggles in today’s America are equally cool. The song builds and builds into a dervish of guitar and fuzz to drive the listener home.

Perry lets us explore his feelings about life, love and relationships here as he moves his music from the stuff from his Homemade Jamz Band to a darker and more poignant style. This more mature musician and his work is quite good; he is one of the leaders of a new generation of blues musicians who will move the blues along while remaining in touch and in synch with the roots of the music. I enjoyed this album and recommend it highly!

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.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 10 

imageChanda Rule + Sweet Emma Band – Hold On

PAO Records/Blu Jazz Productions

www.chandarule.com

9 tracks/3 minutes

Born in Chicago, Rule makes her home between there, New York, and Vienna. After graduating from Washington DC’s Howard University, she got into musical theater in New York and toured Europe in “Hair” and then made a mark in the jazz vocal world. Her love of gospel goes deeply back to her youth and this CD of gospel and blues moves her firmly to notice in those genres. She is also . An interfaith minister and graduate of Union Theological Seminary in New York City, Rule shows us some great spiritual stuff here.

Her band is named after the Preservation Hall Jazz Band pianist Sweeet Emma. Mario Hall on trumpet, Osian Roberts on tenor sax, Paul Zauner on trombone, Jan Korinek on Hammond organ and Christian Salfellner on drums and percussion comprise the band. Zauner is also the record label owner, band leader, festival promoter and holds a major festival each year during the Christian Pentecost celebration.

The traditional “Another Man Gone” opens the CD. Simple harmonica and percussion accompany Chanda to start. The organ and band come in for a soulful and inspirational performance highlighted by Rule. “I’ll Fly Away” follows, an Albert Brumley southern gospel tune. Upbeat and jazzy, Rule sings with an airiness and lightness that is intoxicating. Another traditional cut “Rosalie (Be My Husband)” follows. Jazzy, slick and cool is the feeling here. Rule sings, the sax plays and the trumpet then plays as the organ and drums move the tune along. Next is “Motherless Chile,” a great old gospel tune. We go to church just with the organ intro and then Rule comes in and really takes us to church. Rule sings with passion and feeling and then the trumpet and organ come in for their killer solos.

“Carry It Home To Rosie” has a nice African vibe as Rule does another excellent cover of a traditional song she’s spiced up. Dissonant sounds from the horns, an intriguing beat and interesting vocals make this one cool. The title track is next, and Rule once again takes a traditional song and makes it hers. The rendition has minimal support with some organ, snare and a bit of trumpet for most of the cut. The band steps in at the end as they and Rule build up for the finish– nicely done! Next is “Sinnerman” which is another slick arrangement. The horns all play a big role as they and Chanda give us a very jazzy and cool cut to enjoy. Rule concludes with Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday” and Rule sweetly and spiritually gives us a performance with deep feeling and solemnity. The sax solo is so restrained and nicely done in support of the emotions displayed. A somber yet powerful conclusion to a fantastic CD.

This is seminal stuff. Chanda Rule takes her showmanship, jazz and gospel background to fantastic heights here. She takes seven traditional songs and two more modern spirituals and delivers powerful message in her songs and work. Expressive vocals, cool arrangements and beautiful musicianship make this an extraordinary album. I most highly recommend it and expect to see in in the Gospel Blues Awards Categories in all upcoming blues awards. She and her band are the real deal!

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 – 6 of 10 

imageSouthside Denny – Rollin’ Home

Blu Jazz Productions

www.facebook.com/SouthsideDennySnyder/

9 tracks/35 minutes

Southside Denny Snyder hails from South Bend, Indiana but has made his home on Montreal for over a dozen years. A fixture on the Chicago blues scene, he left for the Great White North and is now big on there music scene with his blues rocking style.

His trio is Jay Davenport of drums, percussion and backing vocals, Frank McClure on bass and himself on guitar, slide and vocals. They are tight and the songs are all originals. The guitar playing is solid and not overstated. He plays with good air between the notes and restraint even when he’s playing with abandon. I like his style.

The album begins with a acoustic cut, the title track. Denny slides and picks with great skill as he lays out a very cool instrumental for the listener’s pleasure. “No Time” follows, a rocking, electric guitar cut with solid fret work, a funky guitar solo and vocals. “I Would Do Anything” is a slow and remorseful cut with Denny singing about getting his woman back. He offers up a slick guitar solo which adds to the feel of the cut. Next up is “How Long Is It Gonna Last,” a mid tempo with a nice instrumental opening. Denny some in stridently on vocals and then lays out another nice solo. “It Breaks My Heart” has an expressive vocal lead and a funky little groove. Denny sings about a relationship gone wrong and does some more soloing again.

“Dan Ryan Blues” is up and Denny gets a little Bo Diddley beat going as he sings about one of Chicago’s bottled up expressways. A couple of guitar solos give the listener something to grab hold of as Denny lets out his traffic aggressions. “Evil Woman” speaks lowly about some women in a nice little cut with good vocals and guitar. “Everything Woman” is another well crafted blues rocker with a more positive relationship spin. A big guitar solo and then another to take us home make this one interesting. He concludes with the bouncy and fun “Food For Thought.” Rocking good stuff here with more outspoken guitar work.

This is my first introduction to Denny and I enjoyed the CD. Nice original tunes, excellent guitar, good lyrics and an over all sound delivery. It’s a fun and enjoyable blues rock CD!

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 – 7 of 10 

imageWatermelon Slim – Traveling Man

Northern Blues Records

www.watermelonslim.com

Two discs (11 and 7 tracks respectively)

Riding high on the success of this 2019 Church of the Blues CD which was nominated for two Blues Music Awards, Watermelon Slim released this live solo double CD from two 2016 recordings in Oklahoma. Disc 1 is from The Blue Door in Oklahoma City from 9/24/16 and Disc 2 is from The Depot in Norman from 2/28/16. Most of the songs appear on Slim’s other CDs and a few appear recorded for the first time. Mixing many of his own songs and some of his favorite covers, this CD gives the listener some interesting cuts to enjoy.

His first album from 1973 Merry Airbrakes had to wait 29 years for a second one follow it. That album, Big Shoes to Fill and it’s successors brought Slim to national fame and now have resulted in 20 BMA nominations and two wins so far for his discography of 14 albums. The songs here that previously were recorded were on Big Shoes to Fill, Church of the Blues, Escape from the Chicken Coop, Into the Sunset, Jimmy Bell, Up Close & Personal, Watermelon Slim & The Workers and on his Live DVD.

The first disc starts with “Blue Freightliner” where Slim picks some cool stuff and growls out the lyrics. “Truck Driving Songs” follows, with Slim picking and crooning nicely. “Northern Blues” is new to his library of recorded music: Slim sings about winter in Massachusetts (Slim hails from Boston) and howls out the lyrics in typical Watermelon Slim fashion. He picks his guitar with abandon as the crowd falls in love with his work. “The Last Blues” follows, a post heart attack cut. “Scalemaster Blues” is next, a cut about avoiding getting ripped off in his rig. He picks out some mean licks here. “300 Miles” is a song Slims about growing up after losing his mama and being raised by a hard drinking daddy. Seminal stuff with Slim wailing about his next rest which will not be for 300 more miles. Slim breaks out the harp for “Jimmy Bell’ and lays out some cool licks. He returns to the guitar on “Highway Blues” for more well done blues from the road, his first recording of this cut. “Smokestack Lightning/Two Trains Running” mixes Howlin’ Wolf and a Blues Project Song (Slim claims it to be the Yardbirds from 1963 but I think its more like 1966 and the Blues Project) into a cool testimonial as only Slim can do. “Frisco Line” is next, more uptempo and rollicking but staying in the train theme. Slim growls deeply and picks sweetly.”Holler No. 4″ is one of a few of what Slim entitles his hollers and he hollers as few can.

Disc 2 begins with “Let It Be In Memphis” and seems to be a more “upfront” live recording. Slim picks and sings this homage to Memphis, Tennessee and picks out a cool tune. “Into the Sunset” follows, another of Slim’s cuts we’ve savored before. “John Henry” is a favorite at his shows and this is a first for him to lay down on CD. Slim picks with emotion as the guitar goes out of tune a bit but it matters not as Slim is unique. He returns to be more in tune for “Archetypcal Blues” where he picks with abandon. “Oklahoma Blues” is a song he’s sung from early in his career and more howling in Watermelon Slim style. “Devil’s Cadillac” comes from the Workers era, where Slim slides and picks about riding shotgun with the devil. He concludes this CD with “Dark Genius,” a cut about John Kennedy that Slim records for us the first time ever. It’s a cool song about Kennedy standing up to the Russians and Cubans and other things from his career before being assassinated.

If you are a Watermelon Slim fan and go get this- two shows from his career from 2016 sitting solo and playing his guitar while howling on stage- this is what Slim is all about. No accompaniment, no frills, just Slim howling and picking and sliding a bit only as he can. Four of the songs are new to his recorded repertoire; if you’ve followed him they will be familiar from his live shows. Those new to slim have an opportunity to see what this interesting and eclectic musician is all about. I enjoyed this double live solo CD- it’s well worth a listen!

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 

imageRott’n Dan And Lightnin’ Willy

www.facebook.com/sweetsweetacousticblues

self release

10 songs time – 32:13

This is the first outing for the Canadian acoustic duo of Rott’n Dan Shinnan and Lightnin’ Willy Ryan who deliver blues in Pre-War, Piedmont and Country Blues styles. Dan on harmonica and Willy on guitar with both taking turns on the vocals. The harmonica is up front with Willy vamping behind on acoustic guitar, often playing unison lines. Dan’s harp playing is exuberant to say the least, at times sputtering around like a Whirling Dervish. They do justice to five covers.

Mississippi John Hurt’s “I’m Satisfied” is probably more familiar to listeners as done by Taj Mahal as “Satisfied And Tickled Too”. It skips and bounces along at a jaunty pace. Willy takes the vocal here. The original “My Belle” features Dan’s husky pipes. Willy’s guitar follows the harp at every twist and turn. Willie again takes vocal chores on “Coliseum Station Blues”. Harmonica dominates here as on most of the songs.

Willy penned the instrumental “The Lightnin’ Rag”, largely played in tandem at break neck speed. The pace eases up with Blind Blake’s “You Gonna Quit Me Blues”. “Lead Water Blues” captures the old time country feel just nicely. Both guys sing “100 Days Or More” in unison. The old blues lament “Delia” by Blind Willie McTell is taken faster than it usually is. Over the years it’s been covered by David Bromberg, Roy Book Binder and Bob Dylan among others.

“Good Gravy” from Sonny Boy Williamson I is a rag featuring fast paced harp playing and whoopin’ ala Sonny Terry. “Mercedes Benz” is supposedly Janis Joplin’s song done instrumentally, but strangely bares no resemblance to the song.

The duo formula varies in tempo with the harmonica always the focal point instrumentally with Lightnin’ Willy’s guitar in hot pursuit. A great find for the acoustic blues aficionados out there.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 9 of 10 

imageThe Soul Searchers – Lounging at the ‘Wood

Self-Produced

www.thesoulsearchersband.com

CD: 11 Songs, 65 Minutes

Styles: Soul, Funk, Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, All Original Songs

To be enthralled is to be charmed, captivated, beguiled and bewitched. In a darker, more archaic sense, it also means to be enslaved or subjugated. My feline is currently enthralled by her catnip mouse toy. Yours truly is currently enthralled by The Soul Searchers’ Lounging at the ‘Wood. The eleven original songs on their new album wash over you in gentle waves, lulling your mind into a sense of familiarity before dragging you under, into a psychedelic paradise. Presenting over an hour of mesmerizing music, these dynamos from Des Moines won’t let go of you until the final notes of this CD fade into silence. Perhaps not even then. They’ve earned high praise from such critics as Michael Swanger from Cityview and Bruce Iglauer of Alligator Records: “[The album features] everyone playing the blues with a real sense of the tradition, no desire to show off, and real ensemble work.” What more needs to be said? Let the band do the talking.

Since the 1990s, The Soul Searchers have been one of the most in-demand live music groups in Iowa. The group, whose music is best described as boogie-woogie blues, typically performs more than 100 dates a year at music festivals, bars, wineries, breweries, company gatherings, wedding receptions, and graduation parties. The band’s members, Scott Eggleston (guitar and vocals), Neil Stoffregen (piano and organ), Erich Gaukel (electric and upright basses) and Mark Grimm (drums), have toured and performed onstage with Pieta Brown, Bo Ramsey, The Nadas, Sam Salomone, The Turner Center Jazz Orchestra, R.J. Mischo, Rockin’ Johnny, Aki Kumar, Jim Viner’s Incredible B3 Band, among many others.

The instrumental title track seamlessly blends blues and jazz with more than a little bit of soul, featuring guitar by Scott Eggleston that’s as crisp as a Michigan apple. Neil Stoffregen’s organ adds spice aplenty. “Look Whatcha Done” arrives next, a traditional blues track with a smooth Chicago-style beat and a mid-‘60s atmosphere. “Spooky” possesses a bassline that will subtly possess you, while “I Smell Trouble” burns slow and steady. Give the drummer props galore on “Grimm Reminder,” because he certainly deserves them. What will wear out first: his wrists or your dancing feet? My money’s on the latter. The song that’ll receive the most airplay on Sirius XM might be selection number eight. “Every night she smiles – well, she’s got me hooked, but it’s not me she’s loving. She’s in love with my pocketbook.” As much of a groaner as our narrator’s situation is here, it’ll have listeners singing along. Last but not least comes surfer anthem “Avalandis,” which would make the Beach Boys and Frankie Avalon proud.

Loungin’ at the Wood is a lure for anyone who loves melody and good vibes above all. When they play, the Soul Searchers don’t plumb the depths of their psyches. They plumb yours.

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 

imageLayla Zoe – Retrospective Tour 2019

Self Released

www.layla.ca

7 tracks and 6 tracks on two CDs

Layla Zoe was born in Victoria, Canada, and was raised on Vancouver Island. Zoe early on developed a love of the blues from her Dad’s record collection. She honed her skills in the bar scene and coffee houses and after, attending workshops, Zoe released her first EP You Will in 2005. She worked with Vancouver guitar player Chris Raines from 2006 to 2008 and released her next albums Shades of Blue (2006) and Hoochie Coochie Woman (2007), a mix of originals and covers. In 2009 she self-produced and released an original acoustic album entitled The Firegirl with Dallas Neudorf on guitar and Layla on piano and vocals.

Cable Car Records owner Henrik Freischlader signed Layla to his label in 2010, and they released three albums: Sleep Little Girl (2011), The Lily (2013), and her first double album Live at Spirit of 66 (2015). Zoe signed with Ruf Records in 2016 and toured in Ruf’s Blues Caravan; she released Breaking Free (2016). Her first live CD/DVD was released in 2017 as part of the Songs from the Road series. She self-released her most recent album GEMINI in 2018, a double studio album.

Zoes’ travels and endeavors overseas and in Canada have been prolific. She has worked with Jeff Healey, Sonny Landreth, Susan Tedeschi, John Mayall, Coco Montoya and Walter “Wolfman” Washington. She has done much work in Europe and has recorded and/pinsky lived in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium and has appeared all over the globe and has released 13 albums. This double live album was recorded in Bremen, Germany and features a retrospective of her work. In addition to Zoe on vocals and harp are Krissy Matthews on guitar and backing vocals, Paul Jobson on bass, keys and backing vocals, and Frank Duindam in drums and backing vocals.

The first disc is her first set and all songs here are penned by Zoe her and writing partners. The blues rocker “She Didn’t Believe” opens the set. Zoe sings with guts and the guitar stings in support and offers up a huge solo. “Leave You for Good” follows, a mid-tempo cut with more big guitar work and Zoe growling and howling out the lead with abandon. Two guitar solos and a testimonial sort of threat to her cheating man give the listener the idea that she and band mean business. “Someday” is a bouncy cut which won Zoe the 2010 Comp 10 Finnish blues song writing competition. Big guitar and big vocals are the order of the day; Matthews wails on guitar and Zoe blows the roof off with her vocals. Her “Don’t Wanna Hurt Nobody” from Hoochie Coochie Woman is an emotion filled restrained blues ballad with heartfelt vocals and more cool guitar.

“Never Met A Man Like You” has another pair of huge guitar solos and it’s a rousing and rocking dance cut. Her GEMINI album gives us “Little Sister,” a funky, bluesy reggae feeling cut. Matthews again gives us another big solo and Zoe engages the audience in a fun sing along. “Black Oil” is a song about the US oil spill and features a driving guitar lead to open the song. It’s a song of tortured feelings and strong emotions as both Zoe and Matthews weave a strong picture with their music.

Disc two is the second set and is again all original music except for the final track. “Backstage Queen” starts the set, another rocking blues with a hard driving beat. Matthews shreds to the delight of the crowd as Zoe groans and howls. “Weakness” is next, another cut where Zoe schools her man but forgives his indiscretions in a dramatic fashion and we get another major guitar solo. “Bitch With The Head Of Red” follows, with some more shredding and Zoe getting down and dirty. She follows with “Ghost Train,” a cut where Zoe continues her vocal assault and Matthews tears it up on guitar again, too. “Hippie Chick” turns the pace down as Zoe gives us a ballad that builds and then ends with a guttural and moaning finish. The encore is Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.” Jobson is featured on organ here for the entire cut. Zoe sings and then Jobson and Matthews take us home.

Zoe (it’s pronounced “Zoh,” by the way, not “Zoh-ee”) has a big voice with lots of emotion and raw power. The crowd at the recording session was into the performance as she laid out her soul for all. Fusing blues and rock, Zoe and company put on a good show. With vocals blazing, guitar wailing and a big back beat, the songs range from introspective to out and out rocking good times. It’s not for the faint of heart- this stuff is in your face music which at times is really out there. It is an interesting set of blues tunes that provide a good introduction to listeners for Zoe’s music. Her fans will enjoy the live performance of cuts from her career and twelve prior albums.

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


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