Issue 14-21 May 21, 2020

Cover photo © 2020 Bob Kieser


 In This Issue 

Bucky O’Hare has our feature interview with Chris O’Leary. We have 10 Blues reviews for you this week including an autobiography by Denise LaSalle & David Whiteis, plus new music from John Primer & Bob Corritore, Whitney Shay, Jeremiah Johnson, Allen Finney, The Reverend Shawn Amos and the Brotherhood, Kyle Yardley, Lightnin’ Rod and the Thunderbolts, Peter Karp and Bag of Nails.


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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 deadline extended to May 30th, 2020.


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 Featured Interview – Chris O’Leary 


imageMuddy Waters’ 1977 masterpiece Hard Again had a life-altering, seismic effect on Chris O’Leary. So did a performance from his later-to-be boss. These epiphanies were the result of the guidance and influence of his father. Chris recounts:

“I grew up right here in New York, in Schenectady. And ah Dad, Dad played everything in the house. Everything growing up from Mantovani to Muddy Waters to Springsteen to everything. Yeah it was one of those households. It’s funny the first concert that I ever went to was The Band at Palace Theater in Albany. It was when Richard was still alive but it was after Robbie had left so it was the Cate Brothers and Levon and Richard and Rick and Garth. That was my first concert. So Dad was a really good musical influence. He bought me when I was 11 or so, I had heard “Mannish Boy” on the Last Waltz, so he bought me Hard Again and that was it. I heard James Cotton, I was done. It’s probably the most important record of my life. It is an amazing record. Afterwards I got into, you know, the 50’s Muddy with Walter and Jimmy Rogers and Otis Spann. And you know I love those records. But, my favorite Muddy Waters record is Hard Again. The production is, just everything about that record, the sounds, the performance, it’s just perfect.”

Chris O’Leary is a disciple of Levon Helm and James Cotton. Enamored with the harmonica at a young impressionable age by Cotton’s tour de force on Hard Again and having that holistic rustic group service-of-the-song trip of The Band baked into his consciousness with that first concert experience, Chris has continually honored and created within both traditions. O’Leary has also had the distinct pleasure of being befriended by Cotton and being mentored by Helm. A funny and instantly conspiratorial guy, O’Leary has made a living for the past decade on his own solo merit and hard work. Hard Again is often billed as Muddy’s “comeback” record. The truth is that Muddy never left, he and his brothers in arms like Cotton, lived their music, no separation between life and career. Muddy was able to continually reinvigorate his career by staying true to his music and being Real Deal. Chris O’Leary has lived his music the same way. He has had at least two Hard Again moments throughout his life and he is on the verge of a third.

First to understand Chris O’Leary you have to understand his love affair with the savage Cotton school of harmonica.

“As far as my playing technique I’m a Cotton guy. Like I said that Hard Again record, I’ve never heard anybody before or since who plays with that much balls. His playing on that record is just, I listen to it now. It’s just brutal. It’s straight heart through the instrument, it’s like mmmm. I’ve never really gotten past that, nor did I want to. That’s where I want to be and that’s what I aspire to do when I play. I’m a tongue blocker, but like Cotton I don’t tongue block everything. I’m not the greatest harmonica player in the world but I play from the seat of my pants. The best piece of advice I got was from Kim Wilson when I was with Levon. He said: ‘If you’re not playing by the seat of your pants you’re really not playing.’ You’re parroting or your regurgitating but your not in the moment.”

A former Hohner endorsee, Chris is now with Seydel Harmonicas:

“I had seen that a lot of the players that I respect so much: Charlie Musselwhite, Mark Hummel and James Cotton especially, had started playing Seydel Harmonicas. So I called up Rupert who was like the North American artist rep guy. I said ‘hey Rubert my name is Chris O’Leary.’ He said ‘hey Chris I know who you are.’ I’m like ‘ah, I’m looking for a home.’ He said ‘you like our harmonicas.’ I said I don’t know. So I got a Classic, basically it’s like a Marine Band, it’s a one comb, it’s like the old Marine Band. They’re like really quality instruments and I’m with Seydel and I’m happy. They’re really well made. The Green company is just as old as Hohner; it’s just they were on the other side of the border (laughs). That company spent most of last century in East Germany so their name isn’t quite the same as Hohner you know. But they’re still made there and they’re great instruments. Oh and the customer relations couldn’t be any better. So I became a Seydel endorsee.”

Chris’ search for Chicago harp perfection has brought him to a boutique corner of the gear world:

“As far as microphones and amps. My microphones are made by the same guy who makes my amps. He’s in New England, he’s in Connecticut. He’s a guy by the name of Gary Onofrio. He makes these Sonny Jr Amplifiers. And ah they’re great amps. I’ve been playing through his amps for a long time. They’re hand wired and they’re built for harmonica. He knows his stuff, not only that, he’s a fantastic harmonica player. I heard some demos of his amp and I really dug it. And, I went to him and he had a couple right there and I went and played a few. I’ve had three different models of his and they’ve all been great amps. You know sometimes, depending on where we are at, I’ll play an old Fender. But, when I can, I’ll play the Sonny Jr. I’m used to it and it’s got that old Chicago type tone. His microphone that he makes is basically an old Shure element. He gets these elements from these old 50’s Green Bullets. And he stuffs it into a little Turner type shell. My hands aren’t huge, I mean I don’t have Sonny Boy hands, you know. Sonny Boy could cup a basketball. So cupping that Green Bullet sometimes I can’t get the compression that I want. So this is the perfect compromise. It’s got that dirt like a Green Bullet but it’s got a small shell so I can get my mitts on it and get that dirty Chicago sound.”

imageIn upstate New York, Chris searched for direction and had his first Hard Again moment in his then fledgling music career.

“I got a harmonica and a guitar and got into the usual cast of characters. Then after High School you know I played in some bands. But, then I joined the Marine Corps, so music was kind of put on hold for a while. When I was down in North Carolina I got exposed to some real Blues, real live Blues. And that kind of planted the seed a little bit further. And then when I got out of the Corps, I had had it (laughs). After seven years I had had it. I went over to Desert Storm and you know I was done. So I came back and I went to this school on the Hudson River called Marist College down Poughkeepsie. There was this really great Blues community there revolving around this little shit hole (laughs) ah called the Sidetrack. It was this like little bar, literally on the wrong side of the track. I went to a music store in the area and asked where can I hear or play some Blues and they said ‘go Sunday nights down at the Sidetrack.’ It was that kind of place where you never knew who was gonna play. Hubert Sumlin would play there. Lowell Fulson would play there. And in the actual Hudson Valley community, in that area, there was Pete Kanaris from the Nighthawks, and this guy Andy Follett, and Little Sam Davis, and Bireli Coryell, and Joe Louis Walker ended up settling there, later. But all these people formed this great little Blues community.”

Chris’s musical trip was straight Chicago Blues and after seven years in the Marine Corps he was ready to push forward. He found some great help.

“I hooked up with this guy Pat O’Shea and we started playing the regional, you know locally and then regionally. And you know music became more important than school work. You know when you’re playing five nights a week it’s hard to um, get your school work done. And then somewhere along the line we made a demo. And this guy George Lembesis got a copy from me, while we were making it, like roughs, and brought it over. He was the photographer for the reunited Band, and he put it in Levon’s boom box. And Levon said (Levon accent) ‘who the hell are these boys?’ And George was like ‘they’re from across the river.’ And Levon was like ‘the Hudson River?’ (laughs) And George was like ‘yeah.’ Cause it was straight, like straight, Chicago. I mean I had real tunnel vision back then. I mean that’s what we did, traditional 50’s and 60’s Chicago type stuff.

So Levon came out and played on it (the demo). And then he started showing up at gigs and stuff. He had just finished his first bout with cancer. So he wasn’t singing, but he was playing his ass off. So we got this call one day, we were doing a jam in Hopewell Junction and we got a call from Butch, who was Levon’s manager, saying: ‘Tomorrow at 1 you guys got to come down to the barn. This is sort of an important deal. I’ve got a business proposition that the boss wants to put by you.’ So I went down and Levon said ‘I want you guys to be my house band at my club on Decatur Street in New Orleans.’ And that changed my life.”

Throwing everything he had at his music, Chris made the decision to jump in with both feet. This was the graduate school of Roots music with Professor Emeritus Helm at the snare drum wheel.

“I had just moved into a place with my soon to be wife/ex-wife. We had just gotten a place and I said ‘ah yeah I got to go.’ When a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-er asks you to be the house band at his club in New Orleans you sort of have got to go. So I did. I went down there and for years we played 5 nights a week with Levon down on Decatur Street. That opened up my mind. When I stepped off the plan, up until then I was like tunnel vision. It was Muddy, and Walter and Wolf and Junior Wells and Cotton. And that’s all I listened to, that’s what I lived for. When I got down into New Orleans my mind was blown. Music that still resonated as Blues was completely different. And different from street corner to street corner. Whether it was a Dixieland band or a band playing Meters type funk or a brass band whatever. New Orleans changed my entire musical outlook, it did. It was great.”

Levon Helm was Chris’s mentor and friend. They developed a strong loving bond over the years together. The lessons Levon imparted to Chris easily bubble up.

“Probably the greatest piece of advice I ever got musically was from Helm, and Helm said ‘play the song.’ Do whatever you’re doing, you know, the song is a song and it’s got a message or it’s got a story. If whatever you’re doing when you’re playing your instrument isn’t forwarding that then, you know, you’re up there playing for yourself. He said (haha) once about a certain guitar player who will go unnamed, he said (in Levon voice) ‘damn Chris there’s a lot of notes, that motherfucker have to play all of ‘em?’ He had 1,000 and 1 of those. ‘Someone’s got to tell that motherfucker it’s a bass guitar.’ There’s 1,000 and 1 Helm-ism that I could quote.”

Levon’s music and his legacy looms large on Chris. The lessons learned and the physical vibrations of the music are still at the forefront of his music.

“When I was with Levon I never sang Band material, I couldn’t. How could you sing a guy’s songs, a voice like that, with him behind you on the drums not being able to sing. So we never did any of that stuff. I regret it now. To have been able play ‘Don’t Do it’ or ‘Cripple Creek’ with Levon would have been the thrill of my life. So we do it now to pay homage to the guy because he made my career, I loved him and I miss him. And it’s some of the greatest music ever.”

After a long time on the road grafting his music with Levon to his life, Chris had another Hard Again moment.

“The club closed down a couple years later and Levon brought us out on the road as his band the Barn Burners. Me and Amy did all the singing, his daughter Amy. And Bobby Keys joined the band, from the Stones. It was the time, it was the time of my life. But, I lost my voice. I got vocal nods, or whatever they call those damn things. And I pushed it. You know I’ve never really been a trained vocalist or anything, I just sang from the seat of my pants. The doctor said ‘you got to stop singing or you’ll do irreparable harm.’ So that’s what I did. Life took over, you know. The one year turned into seven. Yeah, I got a job as a cop. But, seven years later in a divorce, theimagere was like a hole there. So I called up Levon and I called up Bob Margolin, some people, you know, people that I’d known. And I put out that first record. For about six years I did it part time. I was like balancing the cop job with music. I was doing the cop job full time and still doing a 100 nights a year. Then my back gave out, old injuries from the Marine Corps caught up with me. I couldn’t do the cop job anymore. So, last year we did 180 nights, this year we were on pace to do another really good year. But, that’s sort of fallen off until life comes back to normal. That’s it in a nutshell, that’s the story, it’s been a life (laughs).”

It is a testament to passion, talent and a pure ability to grind that Chris O’Leary was able to hammer out 100 nights a year while holding down a full time job as a Police Officer for so long. Chris works so hard, plays so much and is now so eclectic, it is hard for him to keep a consistent band. Drummer Andrei Koribanics has been with O’Leary for two albums and new bassist Andy Heniburg is the most recent person to hold down that seat.

“When I went full time, it’s tough to get somebody to commit to 180 nights a year when they have a family or they got home commitments. I had a road band, the saxes were always the same, bass, drums were always the same. I had Chris Vitarello for awhile but then he went with Bruce (Katz) and he could balance that for awhile. Chris is my favorite guitar player on the planet plus he’s my buddy. So I’m looking for a full time guitar player, I am. But the guys that I have are great. I use Pete Kanarus a lot. Pete played with the Nighthawks for a long time, for almost 10 years and he knows all the stuff. But he can only go out so far, so long. And there’s a guy, an old friend of mine, Pete Hop. He would be the perfect guitar player for the band but again he’s not ready to do all the road work that I want to do. And there’s one horn player that’s been with me since the beginning. And again he runs his own, he’s a contractor, his name is Andy Stahl. He can only do certain number of dates.

So, I’m either going to platoon guys like I’m doing right now, or find somebody. But, the gig is all over the place. My influences and my songwriting are all over the place, especially now. So it’s not the most simple gig in the world. It’s a lot originals, a lot of covers that run the gambit. But I’ll find somebody.”

Platooning musicians through a band that is as diverse and expansive as O’Leary’s is really tough. A band leader has to make sure he is able to do his thing and deliver to his fans, especially with a rotating cast of characters. Chris preps his bands.

“I got a whole bunch of live recordings. So before they come out on the road, we’ll do rehearsals of course, but they will get live recordings of us. They’ll get the studio stuff, and they’ll get video and audio recordings of the band live. So they’ll get a really good idea of what to play and what not to play before they step on stage. And of course we’ll rehearse. But I’m not one to over rehearse stuff either. People have lives, and there’s a fine line between tight and stale. I love a band that’s tight, but that can be accomplished by watching the band leader and knowing the music. It doesn’t have to be the same rehearsed stops and starts, sometimes that comes across show band-y and stale and that’s not where we want to be. Like I said it’s a fine line.

I watched this video of Van Morrison in the 70’s just working his band like he was James Brown, I mean just workin’ em. Everybody was in tune, everybody was on the same page. And you could tell it was different every night. They watched him, and sometimes they missed but who cares? It was live, it was real. I love that. I love it when it’s spontaneous but still tight. It’s music as far as I’m concerned. And Levon was all for that. He was in the moment man. He played in the moment. If there ever was a band that was truly a band, where the sum was the equal of its parts, you know, it was that Band. You take one person out and it’s not even close to being the same thing. Levon was all about that, he was all about making a band. God bless him, I miss him.”

Chris O’Leary is not only a great harp player and passionate singer he is an effective and prolific songwriter.

“I’m a songwriter, that’s what I like to do. I think I got something to say. And in this music I think my perspective is a little unique given my life and the stuff I’ve been through. So I try to write about what I know. I write lyrics first, I’m a lyricist first and foremost and usually there’s a story involved. And then once I have a lyrical hook then I’ll go to the guitar. I’ll go to the guitar and I’ll find a melody and find the key that works for me vocally. So it’s lyrics first, whether it’s a lyrical hook or something that sticks in my mind.

The greatest invention ever is the phone and that damn, that stupid memo recorder. I can’t imagine, well, I can imagine, I must’ve lost thousands of songs. Guys like Dylan, I can’t imagine, you know John Prine or Tom Waits. Just being able to come up, their inspiration, and come up with the stuff they do and then commit it to somewhere, somewhere permanent where it’s not gonna get lost. I read somewhere that Greg Allman wrote ‘Midnight Rider’ in like 5 minutes. He got it, it came to him and luckily he wrote it down. Because stuff like that is fleeting. Sometimes the faucet is on, sometimes it is off. And when it’s on, thank God for this phone, cause I’ll be driving or whatever and I listen to it and it’s a little brutal, you know. I try not to listen back to it with anyone else in the room you know, because it’s often brutal. But I capture it and that’s how I write. I’ll get an idea or a vocal cue or a vocal hook, a lyrical something and I’ll expound on it and expand into a melody on the guitar, find a key and then I’ll roll.”

imageChris’ past two records have been on Ben Elliott’s American Showplace Music. Chris met Ben under some unique circumstances:

“I had played on this Hubert Sumlin record (About Them Shoes) when I was with Levon. This record, I swear to God, is the most expensive Blues record ever made. I mean Levon’s on it, Clapton’s on it, Keith Richards is producing. They had me come in and blow some harp and do some vocals, and it was an experience. But I met this guy Ben Elliott, and Ben was the engineer, he was Keith Richards’ engineer. And it was this strip club/studio. In front is a strip club and in the back there is this studio (laughs). It was almost surreal. I’m sitting there at a strip club with James Cotton and Hubert Sumlin, Levon Helm, drinking beer, waiting to do our song. It was bizarre.”

Not being able to afford to self produce a record for his long time label Vizztone, Chris was shopping for a home. Chris found it at Showplace. It came with inspiration and a fertile space to continue to push his many influences.

“So I’d known Ben from those sessions. So I heard he’d put a label together. Bruce Katz was on it and Bruce hooked me up with Ben. The last 2 records I put out with American Showplace. I’ve never been with a producer that good, with an engineer that good, with those kind of ears. We had finished the last record which was 7 Minutes Late, and during those sessions we probably did 4 extra tracks of more like Americana type stuff actually, like a mix. As far as I’m concerned Americana, the fact that it doesn’t include Blues. A lot of the Americana you hear is so Country orientated. Blues is just as much American music, if not more, than any other music. The original material is sort of going in that direction.”

Chris is at the precipice of yet another Hard Again moment. Sadly, Ben Elliott passed away due to a longtime fight with cancer in April. The loss of his label president, engineer, producer and friend and the COVID-19 crisis have sent Chris’ future into flux.

“Just recently, 3 weeks ago Ben passed away. Yeah he had been fighting cancer and I thought he had it knocked. Ben was a fighter, I thought he had it knocked. He got a lung infection. He was the label. He was the studio. His vision, his ears, his expertise was the label…It’s just a shit storm between the COVID thing and losing Ben which I didn’t really see coming, I knew he was sick, but I honestly didn’t see it coming…who knows…like any other workin’ band I had up through July booked and nothing is going, but you make due. Like everybody else, just sitting here waiting for this crap to blow over.”

Chris O’Leary has lived a long life in just 52 years. He is a relatively new father. “Greatest thing ever. Waited a long time, I mean I’m 52 and he’s 4. But, man it’s the greatest thing ever. Truly.” Chris is appreciative of the many chances he has received and he has made the best of them. For those who want to sensationalize the trials and tribulations of life, he has had many “comebacks.” But he says he is “blessed.” He has been able to sit at the feet of his heroes and use them as role models for the entangled hard fought and Hard Again musical life. Chris has been rewarded by those heroes.

“I can say it about Levon and I can say it about James Cotton. It’s a rare thing and it’s a wonderful thing when your heroes exceed your expectations. You build somebody up in your head, cause like I’ve said James Cotton was the reason I play harmonica and The Band was the first concert I ever saw in my life. To become friends with Cotton and to play with Levon. I mean your hero could be a dick. And then where are you left? But in the case of these 2 guys, Cotton was a giant and not only that he was as forthcoming with information or stories or anything I wanted to know and Levon was just the same way. To a young musician it was everything, truly it was everything. I was blessed, I am, I’m blessed, cause I was a hacker (chuckles). I was in the right place at the right time, (chuckles) truly, I lucked out. I remember people telling me that. And the thing is, and I can relate this to losing Ben too, you always think you have more time. You always think, you know ‘I don’t have to tell this person how I feel or how important they are to me, cause I can always tell ‘em tomorrow.’ Until you don’t have any time left. I didn’t get to say goodbye to Levon. I was told that he was sick and by the time I got home, I was on the road, he was in a coma. And with Ben it was like BAM, he was done, it was over. I was just like, I was flabbergasted. But yeah, Helm and Cotton, it’s a wonderful thing when your heroes exceed your expectations.”

Find Chris O’Leary at http://thechrisolearyband.net/ and hopefully soon out on the road.

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 

imageJohn Primer & Bob Corritore – The Gypsy Woman Told Me

VizzTone Label Group VT-SWMAF-14

12 songs – 49 minutes

www.johnprimerblues.com

www.bobcorritore.com

John Primer and Bob Corritore make one helluva team when it comes to old-school Chicago blues. This is the fourth time they’ve worked together on an album in the past decade with sensational results, and this one’s probably their best yet.

The pair had known each other casually since the late ‘70s, when Primer – originally from Camden, Miss. — had assumed the guitar chair behind Junior Wells in the house band at the legendary Theresa’s Lounge, and Corritore – a recent high school graduate from suburban Evanston — was just starting to make a name for himself as a harp player in rough-and-tumble clubs of the city’s West and South Sides.

John has one of the best blues pedigrees of any musician today, having served apprenticeships in Willie Dixon’s Chicago Blues Allstars, the Muddy Waters Band and Magic Slim’s Teardrops before exiting the shadows and establishing himself as the world-class bandleader he is today. A Grammy nominee who was hailed by the Blues Music Association as its traditional artist of the year in 2016, he most recently garnered artist-of-the-year and soul-blues album of the year trophies in last year’s Blues Blast Music Awards.

Bob, meanwhile, paid his dues in support of Willie Buck, Tail Dragger and Eddie Taylor before relocating to Phoenix, Ariz., in the early ‘80s, where he teamed with Louisiana Red, Janiva Magness, Chico Chism and others before opening The Rhythm Room, a club that’s been one of the brightest stops on the blues highway for the past 25 years. A Keeping the Blues Alive honoree, his trophy case includes a Living Blues magazine harp player of the year honor and a BMA prize for best traditional album, too.

The duo crossed paths frequently across the decades but hadn’t played together prior to 2013, when spent five weeks crisscrossing Europe as part of an American blues festival tour. The magic they experienced playing off one another was instantaneous and quickly led them to the studio for what became the album Knockin’ Around These Blues later that year. Another well-received album, Ain’t Nothing You Can Do, followed and Primer was in the lineup last year for Do the Hip-Shake Baby, which was issued under the billing Bob Corritore and Friends. And through it all, they played with hand-in-glove precision, updating the traditional sound of Chicago and slightly refashioning it for 21st Century ears.

This disc mixes smoking electric and laid back acoustic arrangements. Captured at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios in California and Clarke Rigsby’s Tempest Recording in Tempe, Ariz., the lineup includes a who’s who of talent: Jimi “Primetime” Smith and Billy Flynn on guitars, Bob Welsh, Ben Levin and Andersen on keyboards, Kedar Roy, Mike Hightower and Troy Sandow on bass and June Core and Brian Fahey on percussion.

The grooves come hot and heavy from the opening bars of Chuck Willis’ “Keep a-Driving” with John’s baritone delightfully powering through the lyrics – he’s on the mike throughout – and delivering tasty single-note guitar runs while Bob’s harp lilts in the background. Muddy would be beaming with the cover of “The Gypsy Woman Told Me,” a 1948 on Aristocrat, the predecessor to Chess Records. Sax Kari’s funky “Knockin’ at Your Door” comes across with a steady Latin beat before Corritore’s harp comes to the fore for a bare-bones reprise of Lil’ Son Jackson’s “Gambling Blues,” one of his earliest releases on Gold Star in 1949.

The Primer original “Little Bitty Woman” is a medium-fast shuffle with a percussive railroad beat that dovetails perfectly with what’s come before. It’s delivered from the position of a man yearning for his lady with “meat shakin’ on her bones” to come back home. Bob’s on chromatic for the Little Milton classic “Walking the Back Streets and Crying” before both men shine on solos during J.J. Cale’s familiar “I Got the Same Old Blues.”

The duo put their own spin on Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “My Imagination,” Jimmy Reed’s “Let’s Get Together” and Jimmy Rogers’ “Left Me With a Broken Heart” before another great stripped-down, acoustic Primer original, “Walked So Long,” in which he’s treading with sore, soaked feet but determined to reach his baby’s door. The album closes with Little Junior Parker’s “Ain’t Gonna Be No Cuttin’ Loose,” which was also frequently in the set list of James Cotton, too.

Available through most major retailers, this one’s a pleasant labor of love from two good friends and masters of traditional blues, and the positive feelings flow in every groove throughout. 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.


 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 10 

imageDenise LaSalle with David Whiteis – Always The Queen: The Denise LaSalle Story

University Of Illinois Press

256 Pages

When people discuss the top female blues singers of all time, names like Koko Taylor, Etta James, Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, and Big Mama Thornton will undoubtedly be part of the conversation. Equally certain is that Denise LaSalle will not enter into the discussion, a remarkable oversight given her lengthy career, hit records, and a vocal style that defined the “southern soul blues” genre.

Born in Mississippi, Ora Dee Allen grew up with seven siblings, her parents working as sharecroppers on a series of plantations, a common arrangement in the 1940s decade in the Delta region. Growing up singing in church, she dreamed of performing in front of large crowds, far from the hard-scrabble life she was living. Allen started writing stories as a way to express her dreams, a talent that served her well a bit further down the road. Eventually she traveled to Chicago with her mother to visit family. The bright lights enthralled the teenager, who did not want to return home. Her mother would not entertain the idea, stating that her daughter would have to be married if she wanted to leave the Mississippi family home. So Ora Dee cultivated a relationship with a man with a Chicago address, escaping once they had tied the knot.

While the marriage was short-lived, the aspiring singer was now surrounded by music in Chicago. She was singing gospel while visiting clubs and stage shows at the famous Regal Theater. Allen also put her writing skills to work, composing songs to sing when her dreams became reality. Her first big break was getting introduced to Billy “The Kid” Emerson, who had ties to Chess Records as a singer, songwriter and piano player.

Under his guidance, with a new stage name, LaSalle learned how to command a stage, gained confidence in her vocal prowess, and was schooled in the art of the music, including protecting the rights to your songs. He released her first record, “Love Reputation,” on his Tarpon label. It quickly shot up the Chicago radio charts, establishing LaSalle as an exciting new artist. But things soon soured with Emerson, who was increasingly jealous of her rising fame. After a violent encounter left their relationship in tatters, LaSalle made a vow to go her own way, a promise that guided her through life’s twists and turns.

Another highlight occurred when she was paired with Westbound Records out of Detroit and the talented producer Willie Mitchell and his Royal Studio in Memphis. Her second release on the label, “Trapped By A Thing Called Love,” made it to #1 on the national R&B chart. She followed that with a string of records, most featuring original material that delved into real-life situations, culminating with the hit, “Married, But Not to Each Other,” her warm voice soaring over the funky arrangement.

She cut several albums for ABC Records, dabbled in disco, and then returned to the charts when she signed with the Malaco Record label in 1982. Being cast as a blues singer didn’t sit well with LaSalle, who felt her style hadn’t changed. But the fifteen year stint with the label was a personal high point and expanded the audience for her stirring vocals. She continued to write captivating songs like “Someone Else Is Steppin’ In,” a hit for Z.Z. Hill, and “A Lady In The Street” plus “Your Husband Is Cheating On Us”.

A strong woman who maintained control of her life and career with unwavering dedication, LaSalle also offers her reactions to those times when racism reared it’s ugly head. Another interesting tale involves a close encounter with the legend known as Bob Dylan. Possessing a strong faith, she makes sure readers know when she felt God’s presence at work in her life, leading to a return to her gospel roots later in life. When she is laid low with serious health issues, her indomitable spirit lifts her up, keeping the focus on her dream of a Blues Academy to teach children about the music.

LaSalle tells her story in unflinching terms, unafraid to identify those that did her wrong, and ready to admit to her mistakes, like a relationship with a mysterious, but exciting, lover that ultimately put her in the cross-hairs of several law enforcement agencies. Married several times, she seems to give each husband a fair and honest appraisal, discussing their business ventures that included a production company and record labels. The book includes an eighteen page section of B&W photos spanning her life.

Sadly, the singer passed in early 2018, before this book was finished. No doubt she would be proud of the work of co-author David Whiteis did to prepare her story for publication. A long-time friend of the singer, Whiteis has authored several books, including Southern Soul-Blues, Blues Legacy: Tradition And Innovation In Chicago, and Chicago Blues: Portraits And Stories. His intimate knowledge of LaSalle and the blues genre make him the ideal writing partner.

A singer, songwriter, and business woman who always spoke her mind, Denise LaSalle was crowned the Undisputed Queen of the Blues in 2009 by the Mississippi Delta Blues Society in her hometown of Belzoni, MS. While others have laid claim to that title, which caused some amount of hurt for LaSalle, this autobiography offers ample justification for the award. Just make sure you grab a couple of her recordings to listen to while reading this fascinating volume that comes highly recommended!

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 10 

imageWhitney Shay – Stand Up!

Ruf Records – 2020

12 tracks; 44 minutes

www.whitneyshay.com

Last year San Diego’s Whitney Shay was nominated for the Blues Blast Sean Costello Rising Star category and made a great impression at the Awards show. This year she was scheduled to be one third of the 2020 Ruf Blues Caravan tour (alongside Jeremiah Johnson and Ryan Perry) and, on the evidence of this disc, she would have blown the roof off the places they played – let’s hope that Ruf can reorganise the tour after the current Coronavirus crisis. This album was recorded in Austin, Texas, with a great band: Laura Chavez on guitar, Red Young on keyboards, Chris Maresh on bass and Brannen Temple and Tommy Taylor sharing the drum seat. Sax player Kaz Kazanoff arranged and produced the album and he and his fellow Texas Horns, John Mills on baritone and Al Gomez on trumpet, are on most of the tracks. Guest appearances come from Marcia Ball on piano, Guy Forsyth on vocals and resonator guitar, Derek O’Brien on slide guitar, Alice Sadler on backing vocals and Charles Godfrey on cowbell. Whitney handles the vocals on ten originals written by herself and Adam J Eros and two covers, all of which mine the soul/Rn’B sound extremely well.

The title track kicks things off in dramatic style, a horn-heavy Rn’B tune with a great guitar solo, and is immediately followed by “Someone You Never Got To Know” in which Whitney does not know how to mourn the passing of someone she hoped to know better, emotional lyrics over a catchy soul tune for which Laura Chavez gets a co-write credit. The horns sit out “Equal Ground” as Derek O’Brien’s slide and Laura’s guitar give a swampy, rocking feel to the song before Whitney puts an ego-driven guy in his place on “P.S. It’s Not About You”. Red’s churchy organ introduces “I Thought We Were Through”, a song in which Whitney sounds very firm in putting her ex straight, the lovely ballad including a fine Kaz sax solo.

Guy Forsyth duets with Whitney on the funky “Far Apart (Still Close)” and adds his resonator to “Boy, Sit Down” alongside Marcia Ball’s piano. This is a foot-stomper with some fine trumpet work as Whitney firmly establishes who is in control of their relationship! In fact it is clear that Whitney is a lady who likes to be in charge and the last two tracks on the album both follow that theme, “Getting In My Way” being a fine piece of soul-blues and “Change With The Times” an uptempo tune with a great baritone solo and a rave-up ending that harks back to James Brown. “You Won’t Put Out This Flame” is an uptempo Rn’B stomper with blazing horns, the backing vocalists singing a chorus of “watch me ignite”.

Whitney confirms that she knows the history of this music with a funky cover of The Five Royales’ 1958 “Tell The Truth” and the ballad “I Never Meant To Love Him”, a 1975 single by Jesse James which Whitney sings brilliantly – check out her vocal gymnastics here!

This fine album is sure to figure on the ‘Best Of’ lists at the end of the year and comes strongly recommended!

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


 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 10 

imageJeremiah Johnson – Heavens To Betsy

Ruf Records

www.jeremiahjohnsonband.com

12 songs – 42 minutes

St Louis-based Jeremiah Johnson has been making waves for several years now, with his previous release, Straitjacket, being warmly reviewed in Blues Blast and reaching #6 on the Billboard Blues Album chart. Johnson has always embraced his Southern Rock influences and his latest release, Heavens To Betsy, sees him exploring those roots in detail.

The album opens with the country rock of “White Lightning” – replete with harmony guitar leads – and a solo section that immediately puts Johnson’s heavily wah-wah’ed guitar to the fore. While Johnson is clearly a magnificent guitar player, and his six string antics are prominent on every song, his riff-based songs are balanced both by Frank Bauer’s excellent supporting saxophone and Johnson’s “song-first” approach. These are songs that would work just as well being strummed on an acoustic guitar around a camp fire as they do in a raucous electric band environment.

Johnson’s band are top drawer. In addition to Bauer, he has Tony Anthonis on bass, Benet Schaeffer on drums, Rick Steff on keyboards and ex-Devon Allman band member, Tony Antonelli, on percussion and backing vocals. This is a band that enjoys playing with dynamics, constantly shifting the intensity of a song in a manner that recalls The Black Crowes, even on a slower track, such as the gentle “Ecstasy”.

Johnson wrote or co-wrote 11 of the 12 tracks on HeavensToBetsy, with the sole cover being a funky interpretation of “Born Under A Bad Sign.” And while the majority of the tracks mine a solid vein of Southern Rock, tracks such as “American Steel” and “Soul Crush” even have hints of Deep Purple in their guitar riffs, key changes and interplay between musicians.

Lyrically, while Johnson explores traditional themes such as sexual desire (“Tornado” contains the gloriously bonkers metaphor that “She’s a hot coffee on a bumpy road”), he also addresses the economic hardships faced by farmers in “White Lightning”, his unbounded love for his new son in “Leo Stone”, and the pain of seeing his grandmother suffer from dementia in “Long Way Home”.

But addressing serious issues in his lyrics does not mean that Heavens To Betsy is depressing or introspective. Overall, this is the sort of album you will want to throw on to accompany a large BBQ or other opportunity to celebrate the good things in life. It’s a good time party album, as emphasised by tracks like “Castles In The Air”, which recalls GeorgeThorogood with its driving rhythm and honking sax in the background.

With warm production from Pete Matthews at High/Low Recording in Memphis, TN, there is a lot to like about Heavens To Betsy. This is blues-based Southern Rock as served up by the likes of the Allman Brothers, Hank Williams Jr. or Blackfoot. If that’s your bag, you’ll definitely want to check out Jeremiah Johnson.

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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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 10 

imageAllen Finney – In a Blue Frame

MoJo Music

CD: 11 Songs, 37 Minutes

Styles: Ensemble Blues, Roots, Americana, All Original Songs

Once in a blue moon, or In a Blue Frame, an album comes along that’s so perfectly balanced in multiple genres that it’s nothing short of remarkable. Sweden-based Allen Finney’s latest album fits like a glove into several categories: ensemble blues, roots, Americana, country, and jazz. With a down-home vibe and the vocals of a guitar-picking sage, Allen is akin to Merlin, casting a spell in whatever musical domain he favors. He plays great guitar, and his harmonica tells many tales. Joined by a chorus of multitalented musicians, he presents eleven original tracks that will worm their way into your head and heart. Some tunes could use a bit more razor-keenness, but for the most part, leave the stinging edge to Jimi Hendrix-style bands. Finney and company are here to entertain in an old-fashioned way in the second decade of the new millennium.

Says Allen on his MoJo Music website: ““I grew up in Sanford, Michigan. Small town, U.S.A. 1950s. Country Music and Rock and Roll. By the Tittabawassee river, the railroad tracks and the U.S. Highway 10, which ran smack through the middle of town. Two grocery stores, two gas stations, two bars, and five churches. Ice skating in the winter, baseball in the summer and fishing year ’round.

“I sang on the local radio and at talent shows and County Fairs when I was 5-6 years old in my little cowboy outfit. ‘Over The Prairie’. I still remember the lyrics. They told me later on that some talent scout, or maybe it was a bandleader wanted to take me to Hollywood, California, but my Mom wouldn’t let me go. Way to go, Mom! Sounds a bit creepy. Of course I made it out there later, Hollywood and all…One other thing. Look into the history and usage of words like honky-tonk and juke and jazz and mojo. Interesting stuff.” Indeed, as is Mr. Finney’s backstory.

Joining Allen (lead vocals, harmonica and guitar) are Robert Ivanson on bass and backing vocals; Björn Gideonsson on drums and percussion; Sebastian Nylund, Christer Lyssarides, and Max Schultz on additional guitars; Johan Lindström on steel guitar; Ted Hector on piano and organ; Mats Qwarfordt on harmonica and jaw harp; Mikael Augustsson on accordion; Per Sjöberg on bass tuba; Jana Persson and Britta Bergstrom on female backing vocals; Felicia Nielsen on lead vocals for “My Old Shoes,” and Hanna Francis on lead vocals for “Take the Change.”

One of Finney’s hallmarks is clever songwriting, as evidenced in the opening track, “Cloudy Sky Roll.” A creepy stranger shows up at Mama’s window, and she says, “Get your you-know-what away from my door. Don’t come back no more.” This song’s intro will hook you from its very first second. “Here I Am at 3 AM,” a jazzy number, is the perfect one for any insomniac. “Cold Quarter Moon,” number four, is a slow burner with a sinister soul and haunting harmonies. After that comes “A Guy Named Sly,” a cautionary tale about what might happen if you’re not hung up on “flowers and such” and remain a closed book to your partner. Oddly enough, the funniest song on the album is “You Ain’t Funny.” Everyone knows at least one wit who thinks s/he’s Robin Williams, but has the sense of humor of Lieutenant Haulk in Good Morning Vietnam. Last but not least comes “Walking On,” an anthem to continuing on life’s journey, come what may.

In a Blue Frame is, in short, a Swedish masterpiece!

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 

imageThe Reverend Shawn Amos and the Brotherhood – Blue Sky

Put Together Music

www.shawnamos.com

CD: 10 Songs, 32 Minutes

Styles: Harmonica Blues, Folk, All Original Songs

On an album entitled Blue Sky, by The Reverend Shawn Amos and the Brotherhood, one might expect to hear lighthearted tunes with a distinct gospel flavor. In this case, one would be wrong. The ten original numbers featured here have edge, grit, and a bit of swampy spookiness. Think Bruce Springsteen meets Paul Simon with a touch of Little Walter. Pack all that into an RV, as featured on the cover, and you have a traveling troupe with a notable name (Shawn is the son of Wally “Famous” Amos, of the cookie brand) and a lot going for them. With camper-loads of talent and an adventurous spirit that just won’t quit, Shawn and his brotherhood are destined for not only greatness, but iconic status. Tasty vending machine snacks may have made his father’s fortune, but luckily for harmonica blues and folk fans, Shawn has embarked on a different path. His vocals are smoothly understated, but there’s magnificent melody in it if one listens closely. The instrumentation he and his Brotherhood provide is superb, on par with Brother Dege. For thirty-two minutes, they take us to a veritable paradise.

Ever hear of actors and musicians “phoning it in” when it comes to a performance? That’s the one thing Shawn tries never to do. As he states on his website, “My whole artistic life has been a process of: how do I get all of me to show up? I fought hard to be here, so I’m gonna make sure all of me shows up.” That he does, from start to finish, on this masterpiece of an album. “When I first played blues,” the Rev says, “I had no interest in writing. I put up a firewall between the Rev and my Americana past…but I slowly got the bug again. This is the first time I’ve had the space to try to be more of a singer-songwriter within the confines of the blues.”

Performing alongside their Reverend are “the Brotherhood” – Brady Blade (Indigo Girls) on drums, bassist Christopher Thomas (Norah Jones, Macy Gray), and longtime Rev guitarist Chris “Doctor” Roberts. Also lending their pipes are “the Sisterhood” – Piper Amos, Sharlotte Gibson, Ruthie Foster, and Kenya Hathaway. Matt Hubbard plays piano, Wurlitzer, and Hammond organ; Ben Peeler on lap steel, pedal steel, dobro and mandolin; Jamelle Adisa and Mike Cottone on trumpet; Marc Bolin on sousaphone; Matthew DeMerritt on tenor sax; Tim Ganard on bass drum; John Montgomery on snare drum; James Saez on “sundry stringed and electronic things,” Johann Stein on guitar, and Dan Weinstein on trombone.

Standout tracks include the atmospheric folk opener, hard-hitting Texas stomp “Countin’ Down the Days,” with a refrain that’ll snare anyone and everyone (“I swore I wouldn’t get angry – this time”), and the surefire sing-along hit “The Job Is Never Done.” The flawless diamond, though, is “Troubled Man,” the second track. It’s an eerie breakup song to put all other breakup songs to shame, the tale of ex-lovers who fear they’ll “stand up and do it all again.” They suspect, however, that the stories they tell each other may not be 100% true: “People believe what they want to believe, say the world is flat and on fire. I’m gonna preach what I know. I ain’t never letting go of the hope that I hold inside.”

Take it from me: don’t miss the Blue Sky in your search for fantastic blues!

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 10 

IMAGEKyle Yardley – St Louis To Savannah

Self-Release – 2020

10 tracks; 49 minutes

www.kyleyardleyblues.com

Over recent weeks I have reviewed several albums on the Blue Lotus label out of St Louis and, although this disc has been released independently, it was recorded at the same studio and features the Blue Lotus chief Paul Niehaus IV on bass, alongside a crew of local musicians: drummer Rob Lee (probably best known for his work with Mike Zito in The Wheel), guitarists Aaron Griffin and Andrew Bochantin with Kyle handling all vocals and harmonica, as well as writing all the material. Kyle lives in Savannah, GA but is originally from St Louis, hence the album title. The music is straight down the line Chicago blues with just one detour and it’s a solid effort.

Kyle’s harp opens “She Left Me”, a classic Chi-Town shuffle reminiscent of the great days of Chess and Cobra. As Kyle starts to sing we get to appreciate his no-nonsense singing style as he recounts a classic tale of the girl who left him for another guy (“if the girl ain’t in Savannah Georgia she must be in Tennessee”) as well as plenty of great harp work. Indeed, the whole band is just so solid with ringing guitar over driving drums, a good start. “I Love You” has a touch of Junior Wells in the rhythms before Kyle stretches out on the longest cut “Country Girl” which runs to nearly eight minutes, the slower-paced tune leaving plenty of room for guitar and harp features – check out Kyle’s great, shimmering introduction to his solo at around five minutes in. A change of pace comes with “That Ain’t Right” as the rhythm section pushes things along on a classic Jimmy Reed-style riff with an excellent vocal from Kyle.

Then it’s guest time as another St Louis musician Brother Jefferson (see review of his latest album in the May 7 issue) shares the vocals on the upbeat shuffle “Going To St Louis” in which Kyle celebrates coming back to his native town and BJ enjoys meeting Kyle there to share their love of the blues. (Rockin’) Johnny Burgin is not from St Louis but turns up on “Little Girl” where he adds his Westside Chicago style with some well-crafted licks alongside a second guitarist on rhythm work on the classic blues theme of Kyle being badly treated by his girl.

“Half Past Six” is a tougher-sounding shuffle with Kyle blowing hard before the energetic “Savannah Georgia Women” which rattles along at a frantic pace as Kyle describes some of the attractions of his adopted city. The only real detour from Chicago blues comes with the instrumental “Island Breeze” which, as the title suggests, brings a touch of Caribbean flavor with a lilting rhythm over which Kyle plays splendidly. To close the album Kyle reprises “Country Girl” in an alternate, faster-paced and tougher version that runs to just over half the length of the first version. There is also some very good interplay between the two guitarists on this one.

Anyone who enjoys electric Chicago blues will like this album which is original but very much in line with the traditions.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 10 

imageLightnin’ Rod and the Thunderbolts – Long Road Back to Eden

Memphis Blues Records

www.lightnin-rod.com

CD: 9 Songs, 35 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock

Why do people play the blues? Some play for love. Others play for money. Still others know the blues as a calling, a compulsion, music they must play or their souls will shrivel. Is this the case with Kentucky-based band Lightnin’ Rod and the Thunderbolts? On the one hand, their new CD Long Road Back to Eden showcases leading man Rod Wilson’s prowess on guitar. On the other hand, beneath his flashy fretwork lies an incomplete core, a missing piece of the blues puzzle. Call it what you like – passion, drive, obsession, even madness – but you’ll search in vain. On nine songs – seven originals and two covers – Wilson and his compatriots give what they can, but it doesn’t sound like 110%. It’s good enough, but it could have been great.

A pity. Lightnin’ Rod has won recent critical acclaim in the past few years, including the 2019 Josie Music Award “ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR,” Jazz, Blues, Soul, and the 2018 Global Music Awards Silver Medal Winner for the album Delta Time. He’s shared the stage with members of the Allman Brothers, Bob Seger, The Steve Miller Band, Cher, Stevie Nicks, Steppenwolf, Chuck Berry, Robert Cray, The Temptations & Four Tops, among others. Some might accuse the band of resting on its laurels, but as any true artist knows, there are always more to earn. As much as these musicians seek to please fans of differing genres, they should really double down on the blues if they seek higher influence in its sphere. They’ve certainly got the skills.

Performing with Lightnin’ Rod (all guitars, lead vocals, and percussion) are Greg Kitzmiller on drums and percussion; Jimmy Seville on bass guitar; Tommy Cates on harmonica; David Sears on piano, and Kristi Kitzmiller, Danielle Gross, Tiffany Wilson, and Kaylee Bays on harmony vocals.

The theme of this album is redemption, and how long and hard one must work to obtain it. After the serviceable opener “Kentucky Mojo” comes “Reverend Jones,” an ode to a departed preacher who took a firm stand against evil and “never gave the Devil no slack.” The title track is a down-and-dirty blues rocker expounding on the wages of sin. “Eight thousand years, nothing learned as we watch ourselves crash and burn. You’ll never see the promised land if you don’t lay down a helping hand. A long, long, long road back to Eden.” If that’s too heavy for your party mood, try the lighthearted “Florida Shore” and Rod’s cover of “What a Wonderful World.”

Ever seen the movie The Lighthouse? It features a “wickie” who’s so drawn to the mysterious light at the top of the titular structure that he’s willing to do anything to tend it – including losing his soul and sanity. Not that Lightnin’ Rod and the Thunderbolts should go that far, but they could use a flare of St. Elmo’s fire in their music. The blues, like the sea, should be haunting.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 9 of 10 

imagePeter Karp – Magnificent Heart

Rose Cottage Records

13 songs – 54 minutes

www.peterkarp.com

Veteran songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist Peter Karp has always infused his music with insight into his life, deepest thoughts and observations of the world swirling around him, and that approach shines through like a diamond in this sometimes gritty, sometimes sweet collection of originals.

This is only the 11th album in Karp’s catalog, a follow-up to his The American Blues CD, which was released solely in Europe, in a career that’s included a lengthy, successful partnership with Canadian songbird Sue Foley and Mick Taylor, the former member of both the Rolling Stones and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Peter’s 2016 release, The Arson’s Touch – recorded in partnership with Taylor – was a Blues Blast Music Awards finalist for live album of the year.

A childhood accordion player who grew up in South Alabama, Karp doubles on guitars and keyboards. Early in his career, he rose to prominence in the underground music scene in New York, playing in the band They Came From Houses at CBGB and other top clubs in era. He subsequently became disillusioned with the music business and dropped out to raise a family and pursue a film career, but continued developing his songwriting skills, influenced by a cross section of the top names in roots music – everyone from Willie Dixon and Robert Jr. Lockwood to Bruce Springsteen and Ric Ocasek.

Deeply interested in the African-American culture, Karp returned to the stage in the late ‘90s after studying the indigenous music of the Gullah people on the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina. He’s been delivering a hard-to-define mix of blues, roots and rock ever since.

As always, Peter surrounds himself with all-star talent on this one. He handles vocals, six-string and piano with assists from harp players Kim Wilson and Jason Ricci, organist John Ginty and pianist Jim Eingher with son James Otis Karp and Paul Carbonara on guitars, Niles Terrat and Edward Williams on bass and Michael Catapano on percussion. Also featured are the Cold City Horns – Jacob Wynne (trumpet) and David Kasper (tenor sax) – and Eyrn O’Ree, who provides backing vocals.

The medium-paced shuffle “Sitting on the Edge of the World” opens the action. Inspired by a book Peter was reading while spending on the road in Hamburg, Germany, and gazing out at the rain-soaked streets of the city’s red-light district where he was staying. “The Letter” is a haunting pain-wracked treatise delivered after the demise of a romance, and the missive remains crumpled inside the writer’s pocket.

“She Breaks Her Own Heart” swings from the jump and brightens the mood despite the title as it pays poignant tribute to a lady who’s both hard to find and who’ll drive you out of your mind. Karp kept “This World” for himself during a fit of writer’s block when attempting to pen a tune for another artist. It’s an honest, bittersweet appraisal of life in general with all aspects balanced between good and bad and needing a little understanding.

“The Grave” comes with Hill Country feel and speaks about taking secrets to the hereafter while “Scared” is a ballad based on words by Peter’s late wife, poet Mary Lou Bonney Karp, features their son on guitar solo and deals with unspoken fears present in a loving relationship. The whimsical “Chainsaw” will put a smile on your face. The singer’s out on a limb, which his lady’s threatening to cut off.

“Let It on Out” percolated with a funky, urban blues feel, intensity that flows into “Cool Cool Thing,” which follows, before things quiet again for the acoustic ballad, “The Last Heartbeat” — which, Peter says, “is heard by none” – before three more pleasers — “Going Home,” “Compassion” and “Face the Wind” – bring the disc to an upbeat close.

Pick this one up! It’s a great CD for anyone who appreciates quality tunesmanship. My only criticism is that all of the typography in the accompanying literature, which includes the lyrics to everything you’ll hear here, is so small that it’s almost impossible to read without magnification.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 10 of 10 

imageBag of Nails – The Wolf Inside Me

Self-Produced

www.facebook.com/bagofnails/

CD: 10 Songs, 46 Minutes

Styles: Psychedelic Blues, Acid Rock, All Original Songs

Most of us know the old trope about “cranking the volume up to 11.” True story: In order to listen to the latest offering from the Greek band Bag of Nails, I had to crank the volume on my computer down to 40 (out of 100). Otherwise, my headset and eardrums would have been blown. This CD plays out exactly the way one would expect an album entitled The Wolf Inside Me to play out. Howling, growling guitar is the name of the game on ten hair-raising original tracks. Surprisingly enough, there are some good blues numbers along with the psychedelics, including “Daddy’s Blues” (track two), “In the Shadows” (track three), and the album’s closing song. On vocals, leading man Panos Katsikogiannis gives his all, but his accent is heavy. For example, “Dangerous Love” (track five) sounds like “dangerous load” upon first listen. Notwithstanding, the lyrics really aren’t the focal point. This is a boombox-blaster, loud, proud and exhilarating.

Bag of Nails are a psychedelic blues-rock trio from Athens, Greece. They’re characterized by their improvisational style and inspired by classic blues and rock songs from the 1960s and ‘70s. The songs that later formed the basis for this band were first written by Panos K. during his time with Mr. Delay and the Tallman (2012-14). Bag of Nails started in 2015 and released their first demo in 2016. Up until now, they’ve performed live at various venues in Athens and other big cities in Greece. They’ve taken part in the “B-fest” Festival (2016 and 2017) as well as the “Hard as a Rock” Festival (volumes one, two and three), and performed live on Greece’s national radio. Last February, they opened for the legendary Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash at Kyttaro Club in Athens and received great reviews.

Bag of Nails consists of the aforementioned Panos K. on guitars and vocals, Giorgos Antoniadis on bass and backing vocals, and Agis Gkritzios on drums and percussion.

“Daddy’s Blues” is the best traditional blues-rock track on the album. It forgoes Hendrix-style experimentalism in favor of a bouncy beat and sweet vocal harmonies. A heartfelt homage to the narrator’s old man, it’ll keep listeners on their feet and playing air guitar along with the band. Dig that bassline by Giorgos Antoniadis. It’s absolutely killer, and the best part is its subtlety.

Let the wolf inside you howl along with Bag of Nails!

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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