Issue 14-26 June 25, 2020

Cover photo © 2020 Marilyn Stringer


 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with keyboard wizard and record label owner Jim Pugh. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Linsey Alexander, The Outcrops, Derek Fresquez and Cuttin’ the Chord, Mark Riley, Albert Castiglia and Charlie Bedford.


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 Featured Interview – Jim Pugh 

imageThere is little doubt that Jim Pugh is one of the elite keyboard players in blues music. His resume and recording discography is a virtual who’s-who of legendary blues artists as well as some top-selling rock musicians. But Pugh’s story took one of those unexpected turns a few years back when, for the first time in decades, he had time to ponder what meant the most to him.

Pugh started out playing piano at a young age. While in high school, he was part of a band with some friends. One of the members, Peter Dammann, is now the Artistic Director for the Waterfront Blues Festival. When he was about thirteen years old, Pugh would take the EL subway in to Chicago to buy records at the world-famous Jazz record Mart. Owner Bob Koester made a point of turning Pugh on to lots of cool records by artists like Gene Ammons, artists that he would have never listened to without Koester’s encouragement.

“The life I had then, I was shameless and fearless. As a freshman, I was told I needed some kind of activity. So I joined the Dance committee, and was immediately asked to hire a band for the freshman dance. With Bob Koester’s help, I called up Willie Dixon, who was managing Koko Taylor at that time. We negotiated the deal, but eventually I had to turn it over to Eunice Jackson’s mom, who was the adult on the committee. Years later I was doing the Santa Cruz blues fest with Robert Cray. Willie Dixon’s widow was there. She was talking to several blues authorities when I walked by. One of them, Mike Kappus, who knew the story, introduced me to Marie Dixon as the fourteen year-old who called Willie years ago. Just then, Dick Waterman, stepped in to visit with her. As I was walking away, I heard a woman saying, “excuse me, hey, excuse me”. When I turned around, Marie said, “I was the one who answered the phone call that day!”

“For those of us that grew up in the Midwest, the 1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival was ground zero for blues music. I wanted to go but at fifteen years old, my parents wouldn’t let me. I did attend the 1969 Chicago Blues Festival in Grant Park, which was the first one. They didn’t have artists like B.B. or Albert King. It was mostly Chicago blues artists like Otis Rush, Muddy Waters, Sunnyland Slim, and Big Joe Williams. Big Joe was amazing, to see that kind of history. That was real influential”.

Growing up along the North shore of Chicago in Winnetka, his family lived next to a train station, rattling the house with each passing locomotive. Pugh relives those days through a Facebook group of dedicated fans of Northwestern trains. Once he moved to California after finishing high school, Pugh started playing organ, influenced in large part by Chester Thompson, the organ player for Tower Of Power.

“At that time I wasn’t very happy, so it was just time to live somewhere else. I was the youngest one in my family. A lot of people I knew or were related to seem to end up Boston or New York, along one of the coasts. I figured it would it would be easier to live in California. I went to college at the University of the Pacific for about three months before dropping out. Then I lived in San Francisco playing any kind of music that I could find. I played dance classes, played Mexican music for years, and all types of music in clubs what was called the “ghetto” in those days. When I dropped out, my parents said that I could do what I wanted until I ran out of money, then I could home and they would tell me what I was going to do next. I never went back”.

imageIn the early 1970s, many of the venues he played at in Fillmore District and Hunter’s Point had an organ with bass pedals, not a piano. The clubs hired bands without a bass player, expecting the organ to cover the low end of the sound spectrum.

“I learned how to do that pretty quickly, otherwise you wouldn’t get the gig, even though it didn’t pay that well. In those days I was working with Joe Louis Walker and Fillmore Slim. When I was twenty-one, I joined a group that was made up of people from Sly Stone’s Band and Cold Blood. They had a record deal. I did that for 4-5 years. We were very successful regionally and at one point had a Top 15 hit record. The band was called Rubicon. After that, I started working with Elvin Bishop, and through that, I got connected at a well-known blues club called Larry Blake’s. Basically, if you look at the evolution of the Robert Cray Band, the Rat house band at the club ended up being the band in one form or another that backed up Cray up until I left in 2015”.

“At one point, I was playing a place called Joe’s Nairobi Lounge in East Palo Alto. I had really long hair, sort of a white Afro. One night this woman came in, saw me, and told me that if I came to her hair parlor, she could give me a six week relax, a blow-out that would make my hair more even and natural. I was playing there every night, so one day I went into this beauty shop. Being white and male were two things that were not common in this place. She applied this stuff on my hair that promptly burned my scalp. I believe it is the reason that my hair fell out early. When she was finished, I looked in the mirror – and it looked worse! It looked like one of those Civil War photos. I went home and naturally put away my Stacy Adams shoes and the sharkskin suit in favor of Levis, a work shirt, and my Converse tennis shoes. I was just going to be me”.

“A lot of the gigs I’ve had playing with different people came from playing in various house bands. There was a nightclub in San Francisco called Slim’s, which was owned by Boz Scaggs. I played with him in this straight-up, Texas roadhouse band backing up everybody from Earl King to Lee Dorsey, Albert Collins and Otis Clay. Sometimes I would tour up and down the West coast with people like Otis Rush. I knew Robert Cray for years before I started playing with him. It’s not always about the biggest and the baddest, but more about building relationships”.

The Rat band backed up Etta James for several shows. Her band was an amalgamation of players from all over California. Pugh ended up working with the legendary singer for a decade, touring and recording, even cutting several records with her after he had started in the Cray band.

“I knew her sons, who were in the band. The first time I went to Europe was with Etta, and that was an amazing time. I went to Nashville to make some records with her. She told me, you know how you play here, when you play with me, that thing that you do there, just do that all the time! It was a certain gospel turn, low, heavy left hand thing that she really liked. She used it as a pivot point to sing on, this low octave slam. She influenced me a lot, and was a big help. I have never been very good about copying people. I just play the way I play. She was instrumental in getting me to forget about other stuff and to just do what I do, who I am. So I worked for years with Boz, then worked with Chris Isaak for years, and also Todd Rundgren. But I didn’t really change the way I played much to fit. I can’t do that. I won’t say that I played straight-up Otis Spann stuff when I was with Rundgren, but more so than you might think”.

In 1989, Pugh started his tenure with Cray, which was a full-time job with a full-time salary. But along with the benefits of the job came plenty of work, as the Cray was working eight to nine months out of the year, a pace that came close to the schedule that B.B. King maintained for decades.

image“My kids grew up while I was on the road. But I am very, very lucky to be have been able to raise a family, own a house, get the kids through college. It hasn’t been easy. I’m going to be playing bar mitzvahs until I am ninety to pay for it! My wife and I had four kids together. We went from having two to having four in one afternoon, had twins. But I am very grateful that I was able to all this. Now, in the last five years, I guess I have sort of re-invented myself. I am having a lot of fun, and it seems like the Foundation is doing well, doing good things for other people”.

The idea for the Little Village Foundation came from months of soul-searching after Pugh’s twenty-five year stint as a member of Robert Cray’s band came to an end. Feeling quite cynical about the music business, not for the first time, Pugh found himself at a personal crossroads.

“First of all, nobody wants a sixty year old piano player! That’s not going to happen. And I wasn’t interested in getting back on a bus, riding to New York. I am done with that. A friend of mine told me to figure out what my passions are, then we can figure out a way to make some kind of thing out of it. It was a bit of a mid-life crisis. So I spent three months volunteering at a botanical garden every day shoveling mulch. It gave me plenty of time to think. This will sound corny as hell, but I realized is that I have a passion for music, I like helping people in small ways, not big ways, and I’m not a big “joiner,” so large organizations have little appeal. Groups like the American Cancer Society are great, but that is not what appeals to me. I like diversity, discovering the calm, and the commonality, of various forms of music and cultures. I can listen to “Call To Prayer” and it sounds like Johnnie Taylor. The emotional commonality really registers with me”.

“From that, some people that I know suggested the idea of starting a record label that would encompass those things. And maybe it should be a non-profit endeavor. I arrived at all of this slowly. So that is why the Little Village Foundation has never sold one CD. All of the proceeds go to the artists. They own all of their intellectual property. The label does not own the publishing rights to their songs. Not only do they own everything, they also don’t have to pay for anything. The productions costs, musicians, studio time, promotion, manufacturing, all the elements of the record company process that companies have traditionally charged to the artist don’t exist here. It all goes to the artist. Now I go around trying to find like-minded who would support something like this, as a not-for-profit. I have been really fortunate that as I get better at it, things at the Foundation have steadily grown”.

“Typically, I have found the artists on the label. Part of it is that I am not looking for the brightest and best, say in guitar players. I have played with Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, with Cray, and with Albert Collins, plus there plenty of great musicians out there, and I have recorded with lots of great musicians. But that is not necessarily the criteria that I use. These days, I believe that to go along with great musicianship, you have to have content that has something to say, is compelling, and tells a story. I am proud that the record we did with guitarist Chris Cain propelled him greater recognition around the world. That is the sort of thing we are interested in”.

“It is hard to imagine that singer Wee Willie Walker would have been offered a record deal, which is why we decided to do it. Rick Estrin and Kid Andersen were huge backers of that project. We recorded a couple of sessions with Wee Willie, but they didn’t know if there was any interest. They had contacted a few labels without success. So I said, I’ll start a record company and it will be a non-profit label. So I talked a friend of mine into donating the initial seed money. Then I got the local Rotary chapter to be the fiscal sponsors, so people could make donations and get a tax deduction. We weren’t a non-profit yet as the process to become a 501-C3 organization takes some time”.

“The whole Little Village Foundation came out of that record. A lot of the people that we have recorded would not have recorded in other circumstances. But many of them have now gone on to record with other people. Unlike many record companies where there is some kind of long-term, multi-record contracts, our artists are not locked in. If they want to go to a bigger label, a real record company, that is a metric I use with potential donors. We did a Chris Cain album, and now he is signed to Alligator Records. We did the Kevin Burt disc. now he is with Mike Zito’s label, Gulf Coast Records, and singer Whitney Shay is on Ruf Records. At least half a dozen of our twenty-five artists have signed with other labels. That is truly great”.

image“Music can be a competitive business. All of that bitterness and resentment is now gone for me. My only regret is that I wish I had started ten years earlier. But I don’t think I could have done it earlier, as I didn’t know then what I know now. I have been playing blues since I was fifteen, so that makes it fifty years. I can’t stray to far from that. Blues is such a wide genre, but I wish that it encompassed more. For example, I wish the Blues Foundation would consider gospel quartet music in their awards process. To me, the best blues band in America is a mile from the Foundation in Memphis. That is Lee Williams and the Spiritual QC’s. Their singing and playing is unbelievable. Just because you substitute “God” for “girl” doesn’t mean that it should be discounted”.

“B.B. King was in a gospel quartet before he ever played blues. There was a guitarist with the Dixie Hummingbirds, Howard Carroll, who was one of the first well-known quartet guitar players. He takes a fine solo on the song “Christian Automobile,” and it is not that much of a stretch to go from that kind of playing to the soulful playing of Curtis Mayfield, from Curtis on to Jimi Hendrix, and then to Stevie Ray Vaughan. So all of these guitar players who think they are playing Hendrix or Stevie Ray licks are really playing Howard Carroll licks”.

“I have had success with the one gospel quartet that I work with, the Sons of the Soul Revivers, in getting them on blues, folk, and jazz festivals. Their music translates across the board. Another example is a video on YouTube featuring the Five Blind Boys of Alabama on a 1950s gospel program. It sounds just like Magic Sam, but recorded ten years or so earlier. It sounds just like West Side Soul. I used to tell people that would come out to see me do shows in Oakland in churches that they could do anything they want, but not to raise their hand above your shoulders. If you do that, they will come and save you, dunk you in the water”.

“I am excited about a new partnership with Arhoolie Foundation to present short, sheltered-in-place live video recordings of artists. We are calling it the “Working From Home” series. Arhoolie Records got sold and given to the Folkways label, so they are no longer in the record business. The first video we did was on Xochitl Morales, which is two sisters, both of whom attend Harvard University, doing mariachi music. The second episode is with C.J. Chenier, then we will have with the Sons of the Soul Revivers, a gospel quartet. In the future for blues music, Mary Flower will do one, as will Kevin Burt. We will be interchanging those videos with ones from artists that Arhoolie previously had on their label”.

“It is great for me because, all my life, I have primarily been a blues musician. I feel like there is is a larger audience for blues music than the one exists right now for it. By having a diverse range of artists on the Little Village label, it brings people interested in other genres to the blues. That especially applies to fans of Latin, Hispanic, and Mexican music. There is a teen-aged mariachi band out in Bakersfield, they are all huge fans of Bobby “Blue” Bland. That cross-pollinization of music is what we are trying to further. It is all blues music to me, just in Spanish or in French by C.J. Chenier”.

Pugh manages to stay busy. His keyboard work is featured on the the latest release from saxophonist Terry Hanck, I Still Get Excited, and on the new album from guitarist Jose Ramirez, Here I Come, produced by Anson Funderburgh.

“To be honest, I am kind of glad that I am not a full-time musician right now, that I have this other job. It is hard for musicians to figure out how to monetize something to get by. It seems like the live-stream shows work well the first time you do it, not so well the more you do it. That is why we are partnering with Arhoolie on the streaming. I am trying to find a different lane, and their YouTube channel is connected to the Chris Strachwitz (founder of Arhoolie) archive at UCLA University. They are like-minded people”.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

imageLinsey Alexander – Live at Rosa’s

Delmark Records DE-862

9 songs – 52 minutes

www.linseyalexander.com

Few people in the world deliver real-deal Chicago blues better than Linsey Alexander, a native of Holly Springs, Miss., who’s been an institution in the Windy City since his arrival in 1960. Now age 77, he’s still at the very top of his game in this live set, which was recorded in front of an enthusiastic audience at Rosa’s Lounge on the city’s Northwest Side.

The son of sharecroppers, Alexander picked up the guitar for the first time at age 12, influenced by Rosco Gordon, Chuck Berry and Elvis as well as blues, country and early rock-‘n’-roll. After toiling as a hotel porter and bicycle technician in Mississippi, he pawned his only guitar to pay for his bus ride north to hook up with a lady he’d met in Memphis.

A former Chicago Police Department employee who retired with a pension after being wounded, he stretched his wings as a singer/guitarist with several South Side bands, including The Hot Tomatoes, The Equitable Band and others before drawing the attention of an agent who started booking him into the booming North Side scene, where he’s been a fixture for decades known as The Hoochie Man – a name derived from one of his most popular originals.

Alexander’s a stellar vocalist with a booming baritone and a straight-ahead, no-frills guitarist who displays more energy than most men half his age, something that’s easily apparent on this album, which follows the blueprint of label mate Otis Rush’s CD, All Your Love, I Miss Loving, a live set captured at the Wise Fools Pub and released in 2005.

Linsey’s backed here by a trio of Chicago veterans: Roosevelt Purifoy on keys, “Big Ray” Stewart on drums and Ron Simmons – his playing partner for 40 years – on bass with Russian import Sergei Androshin on second guitar. They deliver a mix of five originals and four covers that come across as contemporary blues with a familiar, throwback feel.

Linsey delivers stinging, single-note guitar runs and the band lopes out of the gate for the familiar “Please Love Me” to open. He makes the song his own despite being in circulation since 1953 when B.B. King first recorded it for the Imperial label. Purifoy shines on the mid-tune solo here and the original shuffle, “My Days Are So Long,” which follows. Built atop a funky, uptempo groove, it relates the need for a visit to a doctor for a prescription and a gypsy for good advice after the departure of a lady has left the singer wracked with pain.

Romantic themes run strong throughout the set. A top-notch cover of Freddie King’s familiar “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” takes on new life as Alexander re-invents it as a super-slow blues that amps up the emotion like never before of discovering his lady is seeing someone else. The mood brightens and tempo quickens once more for “I Got a Woman.” Not to be confused with the Ray Charles tune of the same name, it’s a sprightly Linsey original that sings praise of his love for a gal who’s so good that no other woman will ever do.

“Goin’ Out Walking,” meanwhile, finds him ready to head to San Antone to bring his baby home. It’s followed by a blues-ified take on Benny Latimore’s 1976 R&B chart-topper “Somethin’ ‘Bout ‘Cha” before Linsey’s uptempo delivery takes the chill off looking for a his woman on a freezing night when its “Snowing in Chicago.” Junior Wells’ “Ships on the Ocean” gets new life before another original, “Going Back to My Old Time Used to Be,” brings the night to a close.

A true blues master makes it sound easy, and Linsey’s one of the best. Live at Rosa’s is a winner on all counts. If you love traditional Chicago blues, run – don’t walk – to get this one. It’s that good!

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 – 2 of 6 

imageThe Outcrops – Peace Of Mind

Self Released

www.theoutcrops.com

8 tracks/37 minutes

Hailing from Northwestern New Jersey, the Outcrops debut album is a fun album with a bit of a retro sound yet it’s also very updated and fresh. Their Facebook page says they play blues and soul inspired rock and roll. I’d say that’s a correct way to describe their music. Blues, soul, funk, rock and an overall cool vibe permeate their music. They list influences such as Tedeschi Trucks, The Allman Brothers, The Band, Derek & the Dominos, Buddy Guy and Bonnie Raitt. The late 1960’s and early 1970’s stand out to me in their music, but they are also quite original in their approach. All the songs are new and penned by the band.

The band is comprised of Cassidy Rain Dube on vocals and guitar, Bryan Schroeder on lead guitar, Samuel Jazz Goldstein on drums and Jason Casanovas on bass. They add a horn section for the CD, arranged by alto sax player Nathan Peoples. Trumpeter Mathew Bricker and baritone sax player Austin Zaletel join Peoples in the effort. There is also an excellent keyboardist included on the album, Joe Biglin from the northwest Jersey band Doubleday. The album is produced by Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth.

The album opens with bright, fresh sounding opening riffs and vocals by Cassidy on “Your Girl.” The piano, horns and lead guitar quickly join in on this bouncy and fun cut. She sings with good presence and emotion, Biglin excels on the keys and Schroeder does a fine job on guitar. Overall, it’s a great hook to get the album kicked off with. Following that is “Death at my Door” which opens with a darker and dissonant feel. Desperation and the blues of the minor key are felt strongly as Dube sings about escaping death’s grasp. Next up is “Lost Days,” which is a funky and laid back cut with a cool vibe. The guitar riffs lay out the funk, Cassidy sings with passion and the bongos come in for effect. The keyboards are sublime and the later guitar solo is solid; soulful and funky stuff here. The title cut “Peace Of Mind” is a mid-tempo cut with poignant guitar and vocals. Dube again sings with feeling and sells the song effectively.

“Miss Melinda” has a sweet vibe with a restrained beat. Lots of good guitar work here to savor in this well-done blues rock song. With “Cryptic Blues” we get a somber mood set by the vocals and guitar. Piano and organ fill in nicely and we get some ethereal, semi-psychedelic stuff back and forth stuff between guitars and keys. Very 1960’s and very cool. Following that is “Skelton Key,” another number with some of that nice funk that The Outcrops seem quite comfy exuding. Piano, guitar and vocals share the spotlight and trade off the leads well. The album concludes with the peppy and upbeat “Wishing Well.” It’s got a Tedeschi Trucks/Allman Brothers feel to it with great guitar work and piano supporting Cassidy.

I liked the album a lot. It’s a fine debut album of original tunes with a talented young band. They show that they cut their teeth on the music that influenced them, but they bring a fresh and cool new feeling to their music that I think will serve them well. I’d love to hear them live in concert. It is always heartening to hear new, young talent taking the blues and making them their own! I recommend giving this one a spin!

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 – 3 of 6 

IMAGEDerek Fresquez and Cuttin’ the Chord – Something to Lose

Self-Produced

www.derekfresquezandcuttinthechord.com

CD: 10 Songs, 50 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Guitar Monster Blues

Make no mistake: Something to Lose, by California’s Derek Fresquez and Cuttin’ the Chord, contains explosive blues rock. If it were gasoline instead of music, your vehicle wouldn’t run because the octane level is 100%. Leading man Derek Fresquez takes several pages from the playbooks of Walter Trout (“Too Many Notes!”) and SRV, adding more than a footnote of Jimi Hendrix’s psychedelics. Nevertheless, in the midst of this wildfire, some aspects get scorched: vocals (Fresquez’s are blunt and workmanlike), lyrical depth (“I’m out with the boys for a night on the town. It’s time to cut loose, just messing around”), and instrumentation besides lead guitar. Even on slower, more angsty numbers such as “Walk Alone,” the volume is up full-throttle when the atmosphere and mood ought to be a bit lower. This is double-B blues: biker and barroom. Standout tracks include a cover of Albert Collins’ “Dyin’ Flu” (number four) and the original “Ridin’ Free” (number seven). Track eight, possessing surprising beauty, is one yours truly will discuss below.

This Sacramento-based band, “Cuttin’ the Chord,” is Derek’s way of honoring his family band, “Rumpshaker,” where it all began. Derek gives a very special thanks to his father, Mike Fresquez, for all he has taught him, and to his brother Eric Fresquez for the many musical experiences they shared growing up. Now in his thirties, Derek has studied the blues since age 14 when he got his first guitar. Some of his biggest influences are Smokin’ Joe Kubek, Robert Cray, and of course Stevie Ray Vaughan. You can expect to hear bits of Daniel Castro in his playing as well, as Derek has followed Daniel’s career and studied his playing style extensively.

Joining Derek (lead and rhythm guitar, lead and backing vocals) are Tony Holt on bass guitar and Vern Foster on drums and backing vocals.

“Walk Out That Door” is a gorgeous homage to Stevie Ray that would make him grin in heaven. Once Derek and his posse focus on melody and instrumental balance instead of sheer speaker-blowing loudness, magic happens. It begins with a light rainfall of electric notes upon one’s ears, soft drumming, and a murmuring bassline that’s so subtle it rests on the threshold of hearing. Then Fresquez starts singing. His anger and anguish are palpable: “Where you going, baby, without talking to me? Where you going, baby, after making love to me? You walk out that door, I won’t be here for you anymore.” Carlos Santana would also be proud of this nifty number.

Something to Lose is a shredder lover’s dream. Immolate yourself in the towering inferno that is Fresquez’ fretwork!

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 – 4 of 6 

imageMark Riley – One Word

PTM Records

www.mkrileymusic.com

CD: 8 Songs, 38 Minutes

Styles: “Traditional Contemporary” Blues

One Word, by Seattle-based Mark Riley, has earned itself a rather unique “Style” classification. All of the eight selections on this album are contemporary, yet their sound is so crisply classic that they might as well have been written in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The instrumentation is stellar, Dire-Straits-caliber on certain numbers, and Riley’s vocals channel Randy Newman. He presents seven original selections and one cover, a gut-wrenching rendition of “Lay Me Down Slowly Mumma” by Dean Haitani. The sincerity on every song is palpable. Riley’s playing the blues for real. Close your eyes and listen closely: you’ll hear the echoes of the masters, combined with the blues stars of the future. Even though it’s only thirty-eight minutes long, it’s fantastically filling.

Joining Mark (all guitars, banjo, bass and vocals) are Martin Vadalabene on drums, Ron Hendee on trumpet and flugelhorn for “Dream” and “Idyll,” Peter Evasick on violin for “Sonny’s Roadhouse,” and Patrick McDanel on double bass for “Idyll.”

From start to finish, this CD is a stunner. The title track begins with lovely acoustic slide guitar and perky pre-war style: “I’m gonna open up my heart, see what I can find. It might just be that one kind word could come and ease my mind. ‘Cause it’s gonna happen, gonna happen for everyone. I just hope I get to see it before my time is done.” “Serious Fun” comes next, combining the new with the old in funky fashion. It’s a take on the old ballad “Froggy Went A-Courtin.” “Now, Froggy loves Missy Mouse. He’s always hangin’ around her door. When Froggy comes a-courtin’, Miss Mousy hollers ‘more!’” The guitars growl and spit in the middle, leading into a solo that will set the wedding hall for these two lovebirds on fire. “Release” is a mellow breakup song that brings Riley’s raspy vocals to the forefront, backed by melody and melancholy. To perk up your mood, savor the “Idyll” of a smooth jazz number featuring Ron Hendee’s velvet-smooth horns. “Dream” follows the single cover on the album, an original tune in an alternative-rock vein. Now for the piece de resistance: “Sonny’s Roadhouse,” an atmospheric story without words. The instruments tell us all we need to know: the place is edgy yet homey, where everybody knows your name – and perhaps has punched you in the face. “Attitude,” featuring a funky wah-wah pedal, finishes the proceedings with a witty twist. “Grass doesn’t have to try to grow. Water doesn’t want to flow. It’s really not that hard, you know, but why do we make it seem so?” It’s always great when a blues album ends on an uplifting note.

If I were to encapsulate this album in One Word, it would be “sensational!”

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 – 5 of 6 

imageAlbert Castiglia – Masterpiece

Gulf Coast Records

11 songs – 46 minutes

www.albertcastiglia.net

Albert Castiglia serves up a celebration with this CD, discovering at the ripe age of 49 that he was not only a first-time father, but also a grandfather of two. Full of the fiery fretwork he’s known for, it’s also a deeply personal, introspective work that revels in his newfound joy, but also speaks volumes about the alienation and disconnect that many Americans feel today.

Castiglia has always possessed a deep social conscience that belies the brash, often tongue-in-cheek stage persona. A native New Yorker born to Cuban and Italian parents, he grew up in Miami, where he attended the university and dealt with the highs and lows of everyday life for four years as a social services investigator for the state of Florida.

At night, however, he quickly proved himself to be one of the top guitarists on the scene after joining Miami Blues Machine at age 19. Known for his visceral attack on the six-string, in 1996, he was in the audience at the Musicians Exchange, a long-running showroom in Fort Lauderdale, when Junior Wells invited him to join him on stage. He spent time backing Atlanta-based vocalist Sandra Hall for a while, but has been fronting his own bands since releasing his first solo album in 2002.

A five-time nominee in the Blues Music Awards, Albert finally took home honors for blues-rock album of the year this past May. Castiglia and Mike Zito handle all of the instrumentation here, sharing electric and acoustic guitar and bass duties with Zito adding keys and drums. It was recorded at Mike’s studio in Nederland, Tex., and released on his Gulf Coast label.

“Bring on the Rain” fires out of the gate fueled by a propulsive guitar hook amplified by second-guitar slide before Castiglia launches into lyrics that depict racing down the highway relentlessly while describing the mixed emotions racing through his brain. Zito opens “I Tried to Tell Ya” with a heavy Hill Country beat on the traps before Albert rips into a song steeped with political commentary about the Trump administration.

Things quiet down dramatically for the slow-paced ballad “Heavy,” which relies on imagery of being in a tunnel without a train and being soaked despite the absence of rain as Castiglia attempts to wash away his sins beside a levee. Then he offers up a little hope for the younger generation in “Keep on Swinging,” reminding them that they can accomplish anything if they choose to apply themselves.

The real gem on this CD, however, is the title tune, “Masterpiece,” an easy-breezy love song directed at his newly discovered family. Despite his success, he states, his greatest accomplishment came “before my prime in 1989” with the birth of his daughter, Rayne.

Castiglia’s mood changes quickly for the driving rocker “Thoughts and Prayers,” a description of the world in a spin and in which those wishes are accompanied by a loaded gun. It’s followed by a cover of Johnny Winter’s “Too Much Seconal,” a straight-ahead Chicago blues, that finds him reflecting on a long-lost friend while tearfully suggesting to another that she’d better change her ways or she simply won’t last. His mid-tune solo is one of the best he’s ever recorded.

The Southern rocker “Catch My Breath” offers up a rapid-fire pray for assistance bolstered by more over-the-top fret work before “Red Tide Blues” comes across with a swamp feel as it complains about algae build-up poisoning our shores. The bittersweet acoustic ballad “Love Will Win the War” describes senseless massacres at houses of worship in Charleston and Pittsburgh before a redo of Muddy Waters’ “I Wanna Go Home” offers up a simple desire to be with loved ones to bring the disc to a close.

This is Albert’s most focused release to date, loaded with powerful themes and plenty of the heavyweight fret work fans adore. There’s good reason it’s an award-winner. Pick this one up, you won’t be disappointed.

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 – 6 of 6 

imageCharlie Bedford – Good to Go

Blue Heart Records

CD: 12 Songs, 33 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Rock, All Original Songs

Author Aspen Matis has written a #1 Amazon new release, a travel biography and memoir called Your Blue is not My Blue. That might also have been an alternative title for the sophomore rock album from Charlie Bedford, Good to Go. This ain’t Boomer, X-er, or even Millennial music. Welcome to Gen Z. A native of Melbourne, Charlie’s only 19 years old. Nevertheless, he’s in the running to become Australia’s next guitar god. His overall style and vocals are reminiscent of Dwight Twilley, an American one-hit wonder from the ‘80s whose song “Girls” was a Top 20 contender. As for his latest offering, there’s only one (read: uno) traditional tune on it – a harmonica-infused instrumental, “Blues for John.” The other eleven original numbers would make the Jonas Brothers proud instead of Jimmy Reed. Bedford knows how to plug into the zeitgeist of the twenty-twenties as surely as one knows how to plug a charger into a cell phone.

Bedford journeyed to Memphis in 2017, ‘18 and ‘19 to perform at the International Blues Challenge Youth Showcase, representing the Melbourne Blues Appreciation Society. He returned to Memphis in 2020 and performed again in both Nashville and Muscle Shoals. Charlie has also played alongside and been mentored by some of Australia’s biggest blues artists. He has also had the honor of performing on stage in the US with band members from great acts such as B.B. King, Albert Collins, Ray Charles, Bonnie Raitt, and Wilson Pickett.

Accompanying Charlie (vocals and guitar) are Tim Anderson on drums, David Carr on bass, additional guitars and backing vocals, and Tim Wild on additional background vox. Special guests stars include Chris “Stibbo” Hanger on harmonica and Daryl Roberts on keyboards.

“Money Junkie” is a funky, spunky introduction to Bedford’s brand of rock, featuring good harmony on vocals and a guitar line that’ll get stuck in your head faster than corn on the cob gets stuck in your teeth. The title track has a free-wheeling summer vibe, making yours truly imagine a dude with sunglasses driving his red sportscar down the California coast. After that, “Windy Wednesday” tones things down a bit but doesn’t let your ears rest for a second. Who says “Monday Monday” has to have all the fun? Best of all, the reverberating “Telephone” channels Dire Straits to an absolute T, and the concluding “Blues for John” finishes things off with a wordless blues homage. It’s the real deal, and Chris “Stibbo” Hanger plays great harp.

Charlie Bedford’s latest isn’t everyone’s brand of blue, but Gen Z-ers will be Good to Go!

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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