Issue 14-27 July 2, 2020

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Cover photo © 2020 Joseph A. Rosen


 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with harmonica virtuoso Jason Ricci. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Nancy Wright, The Proven Ones, The Spectaculars, Jerry Velona, Jay Walter & The Rectifiers and Beth Hart.


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 Featured Interview – Jason Ricci 

imageFew – if any — folks in the blues community are more complex that Jason Ricci. An undisputed innovator who’s taking the harmonica in directions it’s never gone before, he’s a shining star with no apparent limit to his creativity. The only obstacles in his way on the road to success have been his own self-admitted personal issues.

Throughout a career filled with incredible highs and cataclysmic lows, Jason’s always spoken frankly about his drug addiction — something that’s landed him in jail and rehab on multiple occasions — as well as his sexual ambiguity, an anachronism in which he both openly identifies as a “queer/bisexual” and lives happily in a loving relationship with a woman.

Considering that he’s living in a world currently plagued by disease, political and social upheaval and his own history, you might be concerned that Ricci, like many of us, might be approaching a breaking point again.

After all, the most recent time Blues Blast caught up with him in 2015, he’d just moved to New Orleans from Indianapolis, where he’d been sequestered for past indiscretions. He was upbeat after just getting hitched to longtime girlfriend and vocalist Kaitlin Dibble, but the music he was producing was still loaded with dark and gritty images of life on the street intermingled with heavy occult overtones.

Fear not though. He’s in a far happier place today despite the chaos that’s swirling around us and keeping us all trapped in a painfully troubled loop akin to Groundhog Day.

“If you ask my wife,” Jason says, “there have been setbacks! I’ve put together some long periods of sobriety in the past 20 years, but they have not been continuous. Twelve years one time, and four years another. Since then, there hasn’t been one consistent year in which I hadn’t relapsed in a selfish way. I gained some knowledge each time I screwed up.

“Those screw-ups were costly to people around me — not only my wife, but also my booking agent, Tina Terry, clubs, band members and fans that didn’t get to see shows because I didn’t show up.

“But where I sit right now…aside from the whole Covid-19 and the end of my music as we know it for 2020…it’s been secondary to my sobriety, which is a beautiful, beautiful thing…the idea that I’m not getting sober to have a good job or to do a good job. I’m sober now because I really want to be. It’s coming up on a year now, and I feel great.”

It hasn’t always been that way.

“The first time I got sober in the late ‘90s,” he recalls, “I did it because I didn’t want smoking crack to impede my music career. I couldn’t simultaneously do those two things. I stayed sober for 12 years.

“And then, in 2010, I decided that the music didn’t matter, that I’d rather smoke crack and feel good than continue on with what I felt was a charade of living the American dream – owning a house, having a nice car and a boyfriend.

“I started doing drugs again. And, for me, sitting around, drinking pina coladas, smoking pot and snorting coke…all that was recreational. When I really used drugs, I locked myself in a room, did heroin, smoked crack and looked at pornography for seven or eight days without sleeping.

“The second time I got sober… four years later…that was because I didn’t want to die. But I didn’t necessarily want to live, either. Sobriety, for me, has never been dictated by law. If I didn’t have a better reason than that, I was going to jail.”

Fortunately, those episodes are currently in Jason’s rear-view mirror, a place where, hopefully, they’ll remain.

He’s come a long way since his childhood in Portland, Me., where his high-school dropout father co-founded the now-shuttered Elan School, a private boarding facility criticized for using controversial behavior modification techniques as it educated eighth- through 12th-graders.

Born in 1974, Jason was raised by his mother Cheryl after his parents’ divorce and his dad’s subsequent early death. His interest in the blues developed through listening to her record collection.

“My mother wasn’t a big blues fan,” Ricci says, “but she was a product of the ‘60s. She was aware of Janis Joplin, had heard of Albert and B.B. King. She owned Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters records. And when I got into playing harmonica, she took me to see Charlie Musselwhite, James Cotton…people like that.”

imageAn early punk-rock enthusiast as a child, Jason was heavily into 7 Seconds, Minutemen and Firehose before moving on to the Dead Kennedys and The Misfits. He joined a punk band as its vocalist at age 14. He switched to harp at his mother’s suggestion to keep his spot in the band after the lead guitarist started singing.

Ricci had already fallen in love with the instrument after discovering the sounds of Big Walter Horton and Carey Bell when they were trading leads on “Trouble in Mind,” the closing number on their sensational, self-titled 1972 Alligator LP. While the song’s now a blues standard, its origin is vaudeville. It was penned by jazz pianist Richard M. Jones and first recorded by Thelma La Vizzo for Paramount Records in 1924.

“That was the song that got me interested in the music, not just the harmonica,” he stresses. “There was a sincerity in it that was probably there in other blues music that I was listening to prior to that, but hadn’t affected me in the past.

“Some of the other blues stuff that I had heard was joke-y…about women and booze, partyin’…this kinda stuff. And that song…when Big Walter says he’s gonna ‘lay his head on some lonely railroad line’…I felt like he was sincere…that at one point in his life, he felt like killing himself. I felt that was real. That made me pay attention.

“In addition, that song has jazzier changes than a lot of blues songs, too, and I think that was like my early manifestation of my love of jazz coming out – even though I didn’t know it.

“I was originally a guitar student,” he says. “Then my mom found out my teacher — Dave Daniels — was also teaching harmonica. I’d recently gotten one, and asked him if we could do one lesson on that for one week, and it just sorta turned into a harmonica teacher-student relationship from then on.”

Daniels’ lessons didn’t venture into tongue-blocking or other complex techniques, but he laid out the basics and opened Ricci’s ears to a whole new world by turning him on to Rick Estrin, Kim Wilson, Mark Hummel, Sugar Blue and Howard Levy. Other influences included Portland favorite DW Gill, Paul Butterfield, Adam Gussow, Little Walter and Pat Ramsey.

For a while, Jason considered switching to saxophone because of the broader pallet of notes it offered. But those thoughts evaporated after discovering the breakthroughs achieved by Levy, who’s credited with single handedly revolutionizing the instrument because of his advanced overblow technique – something than enables players to approach the musical landscape of the sax.

Although most music lovers don’t realize its significance, Portland has produced several world-class performers, including ‘50s folk star Will Holt, singer/songwriter Jonathan Edwards and the pop/punk band The Leftovers as well as two of Jason’s childhood friends: Per Hanson, the longtime drummer in Ronnie Earl’s Broadcasters, and jump-blues guitarist Nick Curran.

By the time Jason was 16 or so, his mother allowed him to take the car and drive two hours south to Boston to see an older, college girl he was dating and to catch punk bands in action. By age 21, he was living in Memphis. He recorded his first album a short while after winning top honors at a harmonica contest sponsored by Sonny Boy Blues Society – the folks who run the King Biscuit Blues Festival – in Helena, Ark.

He took up residence in Potts Camp, Miss., living with bandmate David Malone Kimbrough, eldest son of Hill Country legend Junior. That relationship led to gigging with both Kimbroughs and R.L. Burnside at Burnside’s juke in Holly Springs. Payment often came in the form of corn whiskey and pot, and Ricci says now that he spent the time living like a tourist in a foreign land.

He subsequently moved to Jackson and joined K.C. Phillips & the Hounds. But that gig was six-months on, six-months off because they had another harp player, Greg “Fingers” Taylor, who held the chair when he wasn’t touring in his other gig as a member of Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band.

A serious brush with the law sidelined Ricci for a year in jail, and he eventually returned home to Portland, where he bonded with another young artist, childhood friend Nick Curran, who was also destined for blues stardom.

“K.C. decided he didn’t want to play music any more, and I had no place to go,” Jason remembers. So I went home to Maine to regroup. I had a couple of regular jobs…dry cleaning and working in a department store. And I met Nicky when he was 14 or 15.

“We really connected and started doing gigs together. He’d hire me, and I’d hire him. We’d go to jams together and take little trips to Boston to check out musicians there as well. Back then, Ronnie Earl was a huge force – and a major influence on the Maine scene, too – along with Duke Robillard, Jerry Portnoy and others.

image“It was difficult, though, because Nick was so young. His parents were skeptical about him getting in the vehicle with me when he was not yet of age. Fortunately, his father, Mike, was in a band called The Upsetters, a really great band of multi-instrumentalists who could play anything. They were and institution in barroom blues in Maine. Because of that, I think, Nick’s mom gave him a little more leeway than a normal mother would have.”

A jump-blues and rock singer/guitarist who grew up in Biddeford, a few miles south of Portland, Curran drew major comparisons to T-Bone Walker and Little Richard as well as Doug Sahm and The Ramones as an adult.

Three years younger than Ricci, he started as a drummer and then progressed to six-string and harp. A lover of the sound of old 45s and 78s, he recorded all of his CDs on vintage analog equipment, and his music was featured in the soundtrack of HBO’s True Blood and played regularly on Little Steven’s Underground Garage.

One of the most tragic young artists in recent times, Curran was diagnosed with oral cancer in 2009 and subsequently “cured,” but he succumbed to the disease at age 35 in 2012. And Jason still feels his loss dearly today.

“What makes it so hard,” he says, “was that Nicky was so unbelievably, ridiculously, almost freakishly talented that there’s no saying where his career would have gone. But certainly, he was experiencing a momentum that would have catapulted him at least into the highest realm of blues musicians – if not, stardom!”

Curran is one of three extremely close, lost friends for whom Ricci still grieves. Pat Ramsey and Sean Costello are the others.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t experience a sense of loss for all three of those individuals,” Jason says. “I wasn’t as close to Nick (at his passing) as I was before he moved away from Maine. We hooked up whenever we could and talked a couple of times a year. I talked to Sean more than Nick, particularly in the months leading up to his death, including the day before – or the day — he died. But Pat…I was in contact with him constantly my whole life.”

A native of Shreveport, La., Ramsey’s best known for his work on Johnny Winter’s White, Hot and Blue album as well as spending time with the Allman Brothers. He fought a valiant battle against hepatitis C, but left us in 2008 at age 55. He’s honored annually with the Pat Ramsey Big Bend Hospice Benefit Festival, an event that takes place at Bradfordville Blues Club in Tallahassee, Fla.

Jason credits Pat with instilling in him the rapid-fire pentatonic attack he uses on the reeds – something that Ramsey was known for. More important in Ricci’s eyes, however, was that he was both a close friend and a sounding board.

“He was more of a mentor, not a teacher,” Ricci notes. “He wasn’t very much about sitting me down and showing me anything. But I hung out with him as much as I possibly could. When we talked about stuff, it was mostly sobriety.

“When Pat passed, it was hard…because he was somebody that I looked up to and could talk to. Unlike Nicky, he had lived what was a fairly complete life. And, if we’re being honest, it was a relapse on drugs and alcohol that led to the complications that ultimately led to his severe liver damage.

“If we’re also being honest, the medication that existed then – Interferon (which had long-term side-effects) — was not sufficient to treat hepatitis C for everybody. There were a lot of musicians that we lost to hepatitis back then.

“But what was particularly tragic about Pat’s death was that soon after that, they came up with a cure – which, by the way, I’ve taken and am now cured.”

For that reason, he admits, he still has “a little bit of survivor’s guilt.”

That’s also true in the case of Costello, too.

Born in Philadelphia, but raised in Atlanta, Sean was known for his fiery guitar style, and released eight stellar CDs before passing at age 28 in 2008, a victim of an accidental overdose of drugs he was prescribed to control a bipolar disorder. Blues Blast honors his memory every awards season. The rising star prize is named in his honor.

“When Sean died, it was hard for different reasons,” Ricci insists. “I had survivor’s guilt from that, too…because how much dope and crack have I smoked and shot – and not died? I can say with a fair degree of certainty: a lot more than Sean Costello did. So why did that happen?”

Ricci experienced what he terms as an “existential crisis” after Costello’s passing, noting that the true nature was a sense of extreme loss of “such an incredible musician and such a sincere vocalist, songwriter and musician. He was one of the greatest artists.

“When I listen to Nick Curran or Sean Costello,” Jason says, “I don’t see them as contemporaries even though we were about the same age. I don’t see them as colleagues. I cannot by any stretch of the imagination put myself in a category that’s even similar to these people.

image“Sure, we were working the same clubs and booking with the same agents, labels and things like that. But all three of these people were so advanced and so complete in their musical and artistic visions that I couldn’t possibly compare myself to any of them.”

One thing that infuriates him is that all of them died before reaching the acclaim that they truly deserved – something they also never achieved after their passing.

“These motherfuckers were in-credible!” Ricci says. “They didn’t benefit from the cliché of ‘when you die, you get famous.’ That didn’t happen at all.”

Instead, their greatness has faded with the passage of time, leaving them overlooked talents who’ll hopefully be “rediscovered” sometime down the road.

With his own history and that of his friends, it’s no wonder that Jason’s an outspoken advocate for causes that help others dealing with mental health and addiction issues in addition to work in support of the LGBT community.

A musical wanderer, this is the third time Ricci’s called New Orleans home, beginning with a 15-month run as a member of Big Al & the Heavyweights in the ‘90s. Other stops in his journey have included Raleigh, N.C., and Delray Beach, Fla., where, for three years, he was a member of the Nucklebusters while in rehab and subsequent recovery (a band co-founded by this author).

He’s always surrounded himself with top-flight musicians, he formed Jason Ricci & New Breed in 2002. The band released six CDs before disbanding, earning three nominations by Blues Wax magazine as its band of the year. The lineup included Shawn Starski, who was named by Guitar Player magazine as one of the ten hottest new fret masters in the industry during the band’s run.

Jason returned to the Big Easy in 2009 and took home harp player of the year honors in the 2010 Blues Music Awards. He joined the band John Lisi & Delta Funk, a unit that evolved into Ricci’s current organization, The Bad Kind. But all wasn’t sugar and light.

After being picked up on a decade-old warrant for assault on a police officer, Jason was sidelined for three years in Indiana, where he supported himself by giving harp lessons via Skype and serving as a booking agent, bringing several of his favorite bands to Indianapolis. He’s been back on the street ever since, and although he admits that his life still has its hiccups, it’s gotten better with each passing year.

His life changed dramatically in 2015. Not only did he contribute harp to Johnny Winter’s Grammy-winning Step Back album, but he was also chosen as a featured artist alongside the Paul Shaffer Band to honor Paul Butterfield during his induction ceremony at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction.

“Johnny contacted me at my lowest point,” Ricci admits. “I had just gotten out of jail and was serving a suspended sentence/probation that could have put me behind bars for 12 years.”

2017 was another year of note. Not only did he exchange vows with wife Kaitlin, a talented vocalist in her own right, but also because the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of Harmonica (SPAH) presented him with its Bernie Bray trophy for international harp player of the year.

He and The Bad Kind also released Approved by Snakes – a CD with dark themes and heavy occult overtones — on the EllerSoul imprint, which earned him a statuette for rock-blues album at the BMAs a year later.

Most of the material on that one, he says, was written either when he was either looking back at the throes of addiction or incarcerated, adding: “I had to perform those songs for a couple of years to promote the record, and reliving that material every night was very taxing.”

Because of his inventiveness and vision, Ricci frequently stretches the boundaries of the blues, but he maintains a healthy respect and admiration for the founders even his material doesn’t necessarily reflect it.

“Over the years, there’s been a few recordings…at least…where I’ve stepped over that line,” he admits. “I do love blues music and I can play in the traditional language of my instrument that comes from Little Walter, Cotton and Junior Wells and George Smith, etc. But there were times when I was making music – like on Rocket Number 9 (his 2007 debut CD for Eclecto Groove)…songs like ‘The Rocker’ or ‘Loving Eyes’ – where I simply did not care if that element really wasn’t there.

“As I get older, though, I’m lapsing much more into sort of a stable, more traditional language that includes that stuff. It’s not that I’m any less rebellious. It’s just that that formula is much more familiar to me and it’s easier for me to operate out of.

“And by ‘formula,’ I mean a certain concept of certain scales, certain notes and certain chord changes. I find the language of traditional blues music to be more valuable to me…not just a stepping stone, not something I’m just emulating. It’s become a part of how I express myself.

image“As I’ve slowed down a little bit, I’ve come to realize how much I love this music. When I listen to guys like Little Charlie (now Rick Estrin) & the Nightcats or Nick Moss, there’s a reverence for them because there are fewer people now doing that (playing traditionally) than ever before. When I was coming up, it was the opposite.

“The rebellious nature in me as a youth had me saying: ‘Fuck that! I’m going to play something different.’ Now that the circuit’s become more instilled with people who don’t know that language, the rebellious nature in me to go back to that suddenly comes out.

“I’m the kind of person who’s constantly at odds with what’s currently happening – much to the detriment of my own serenity (laughs)…and success.”

Jason’s most recent release, My Chops Are Rolling!! – issued on EllerSoul in 2019 – is the “first record I’ve ever done that every song isn’t about the devil and drugs,” Jason says. “It’s a lot happier than anything I’ve ever recorded.

“After Snakes, the natural urge to start writing music that was on the happier side was for two reasons: I was tired of talking about dope and prostitution, the devil and things like that. And there was also the fact that I was living better. I was writing about what I was experiencing at the time…a degree of peace, humor and fun. It’s remarkably lighthearted.”

His favorite track is a cover of the Barbara Lynn song, “If You Should Leave Me,” a track that features wife Kaitlin on vocals. The only downer in the set is a reprise of “The Way I Hurt Myself,” a tune he’d recorded years earlier, in a collection that includes confection-laced “Going to California,” “Snow Flakes and Horses” and “Don’t Badger the Witness,” which he describes as “a humorous take on post-modernism and the idea that you’re no longer allowed to be negative.

“There’s a name for it now that therapists are using,” he notes. “It came out after the song was written: ‘Toxic positivity!’ The song’s poking fun at it, asking the listener to listen to their friends and instead of saying ‘well, you need to do yoga or change your attitude’ to just identify with that person for a moment and say: ‘You know, that sucks!’”

A hardcore football fan, Ricci delivers some not-so-subtle rage on the disc, too, in the form of “F_uck the Falcons (Who Dat Nation),” a profane diatribe about the bad calls that robbed his favorite team, the Saints, of a spot in the Super Bowl. While that version will never receive radio airplay, the PC take that ends the album maintains the outrage but is politically correct for fans both young and old.

“That song goes over particularly well in New Orleans,” he chuckles, “but we also have a good time playing it in Atlanta, too.”

Jason currently has two distinctly different new releases in the planning stage. The first will be a partnership with Joe Krown — the longtime keyboard player in Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s band—guitarist John Fohl – who spent more than a decade with Dr. John – and percussionist Doug Belote — who’s worked with Samantha Fish, Bobby Rush and Jerry Douglas – with additional horns.

“It’ll be New Orleans jazz-funk,” Ricci says. “It’ll be me doing my best to be groovy and jazzy on the harp, playing it a la Stanley Turrentine on the saxophone, and we’ll be covering some Grant Green, Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Smith and The Crusaders.”

The lineup’s been working together occasionally in the Big Easy, and there’s no timetable to produce it, he adds, noting: “If everyone survives and it takes three years to make, it’ll be that much better because we’ll have played longer together. But I am in a sort of a rush right now to make a blues album where I’d play nothing but traditional songs and play them as traditionally as possible.”

The dream lineup for this one will include a rhythm section composed of Nick Moss’ Brazilian-born bassist Rodrigo Mantovani and either Mark Hummel drummer Wes Starr or The Nighthawks’ Mark Stutso in addition to his regular band, too.

image“The Band Kind is a wonderful band that’s capable of playing lots of different kinds of music,” Jason insists, “and, above all, they’re fun, cool and unpretentious. They play music in New Orleans by connecting with audiences composed mostly of tourists. So there’s a high degree of social relaxation that comes out in watching that band play.

“However, with that,” he admits, “sometimes I’m not completely happy with the way my band approaches certain pieces of music. There are some pieces where I’d like them to approach with a fair degree of judgment and pretense…some reverence. But when it comes to traditional blues, they didn’t spend 14 years listening to just Little Walter.

“That’s probably a good thing, right. That’s why they’re hired and in my band. Make no mistake, they’re all capable of playing a fair degree of traditional blues in the spirit that the music calls for. But there are certain songs where I recognize that there are other people out there who have done nothing but dedicate their lives to playing that type of music. So why wouldn’t I want to pick and work with them because they’ll bring out the best in me?”

One of the foremost harmonica instructors in the world in addition to his career as a performer, Ricci has posted dozens of in-depth instruction videos on both YouTube and his own website. He’s a co-founder along with former SPAH president of Winslow Yerxa of Harmonica Collective, which hosts an annual conference and conducts online instruction for players.

And he continues to spend a great deal of time teaching harp via one-on-one lessons over Skype, taking on students of all skill levels with the sole proviso that they’re willing to invest the time needed to practice and work to succeed.

On an island of relative peace with troubles of the world swirling around him, Jason remains humble and grateful for all of the support that he and his band have received from fans since they’ve been off the road.

“I’d like to give a huge shout-out to everybody who’ve made contributions to our live streams,” he says, “and another to my Patreon supporters, who are donating money on a monthly basis in exchange for videos that I put up on YouTube for free, something they don’t have to do. They’re making a big difference in my wife and I surviving during the pandemic.

“And I’d like to thank the Lone Wolf Blues Co., which produces pedals and my signature mike for harmonica, and Blue Moon Harmonicas, which has not only been contributing instruments for me to play, but also been allowing me a fair degree of income through endorsing their products.

“Without the fans, my students and these companies, I would not be in this good of a mood right now. If I don’t do that publicly, folks won’t know how hard it is for artists like me to make ends meet during all this.”

Check out Jason’s music and learn more about him by visiting is website, www.mooncat.org. And if you’re a serious student, inquire about lessons directly by hitting him up at jasonricci1@gmail.com.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

imageNancy Wright – Alive & Blue

Vizztone – 2019

12 tracks; 78 minutes

www.NancyWrightMusic.com

Nancy Wright’s sax work has been featured on many albums in recent years, including releases by Frank Bey, Johnny Burgin, Chris Cain and Mighty Mike Schermer amongst many others. She has also released three studio recordings but this is her first live album. Recorded at the famous Saloon in San Francisco (where Tommy Castro started out), the album features Nancy on sax and vocals with her regular band of Jeff Tamelier on guitar/B/V’s, Tony Lufrano on keys/B/V’s, Karl Sevareid on bass and Paul Revelli on drums. This vastly experienced outfit can boast names like Robert Cray, Joe Louis Walker, Tower Of Power and Elvin Bishop on their CVs! The recording was a spur of the moment decision, Nancy approached Greaseland Studio the day before and engineer Bobby Yamilov was available to record the gig, Kid Andersen mixing the results back at base in San José, CA. The material includes five of Nancy’s originals and seven diverse covers. The generously filled album provides several extended numbers on which the players get plenty of opportunity to stretch out; indeed only one track comes in at under five minutes.

The album opens in funky mode with the original instrumental “Bugalu”, immediately followed by Lonnie Mack’s “Been Waiting That Long”, one of two reprises from Nancy’s 2016 release Playdate! Lonnie was a mentor to Nancy and the song shows that she can handle the vocals as well as play sax. A fast-paced run through Bobby Bland’s “I Don’t Want No (Wo)Man” (suitably amended for a female vocalist) concludes the opening trio of uptempo tunes. The soulful “In Between Tears” comes from the Irma Thomas songbook and has a fine piano solo and a bright style that continues into another original instrumental “Jo-Jo”, a jazz-tinged tune with a nice plucked guitar feature.

“How about some blues?” enquires Nancy as the band launches into “Sugar Coated Love” on which the band gets up a real head of steam and Nancy blows some wild sax. Another reprise from Playdate!, “Warranty”, is the only original here with lyrics and Nancy sings it soulfully as we return to the funkier side of things with Jeff playing wah-wah rhythm on a song that states that relationships never come with extended warranties. Nancy suggests that the slow instrumental “Bernie’s Blues” might be a good tune for some “belly rubbing”! It’s a late night blues with breathy sax over twinkling piano and, although it runs to over seven minutes, the track does not outstay its welcome at all. Indeed, to this reviewer’s ears, the last 30 minutes or so of the disc are the best, starting with this track.

We then get a great version of the old jump warhorse “Hands Off” (Priscilla Bowman/Jay McShann) which rockets along in splendid fashion driven by Paul’s drums and with a really exciting solo from Nancy that threatens to blow the roof off The Saloon. Claiming to need to catch their breath after that the band eases into King Curtis’ “Soul Serenade”; it is always a pleasure to hear this wonderful tune and this is an excellent version which takes its time and offers solo spots for all the front line players: Nancy’s raspy sax leads the way with an extended solo before she gives way to Tony’s electric piano stylings, followed by some gentle guitar work from Jeff before Nancy returns to take the tune home. Karl’s bass work is a vital part of the success of the tune as the rhythm section follows every twist and turn – great stuff!

Allen Toussaint’s “What Do You Want The Girl To Do” is a bit of a challenge for Nancy’s vocal range but the music is excellent with swirling organ, piano highlights and a rousing sax solo. The band closes their set with “Rutabagas” which, I learn, is a cross between a cabbage and a turnip, what we in the UK call a ‘swede’. What this has to do with the tune is unknown but it is a cheerful instrumental with a slightly jazzy feel and a very catchy tune that makes a satisfying end to the album.

Captured live with no overdubs, this set demonstrates that Nancy has assembled a very tight band who can play across styles with ease, making for a varied and enjoyable live album.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6 

imageThe Proven Ones – You Ain’t Done

Gulf Coast Records

www.theprovenones.com

12 tracks

The Proven Ones are Jimi Bott on drums and percussion, Willie J. Campbell on bass, Anthony Geraci on all things keyed, Kid Ramos on guitar, and Brian Templeton on vocals and harp. Also appearing on trumpet is Joe “Mack” McCarthy and on tenor sax is Chris Mercer; they shared the horn arrangements. Mike Zito adds acoustic guitars and backing vocals on a few tracks and LaRhonda Steele also does some backing vocals.

“Get Love” is a big, hard rocking cut with a short and cool intro prior to it. Templeton sings with raw emotion and Ramos blazes on his guitar. “Gone To Stay” follows with some slick horn arrangements added for fun. It’s a mid-tempo, rock-a-billy meets late ‘70’s rocker that has a good groove. The title track is up next, a strident blues rocker with horns, organ and a big guitar sound. There are some great solos here and Steele’s backing vocals are a good addition. “Already Gone” has a twangy, southern rock feel to it in Templeton’s vocals and Ramo’s guitar. “Whom My Soul Loves” features guest vocalist Ruthie Foster fronting the band with Templeton. The song really has a feeling like The Band for me. Great keyboard work by Geraci along with the impressive vocals by Foster and Templeton make this special, and the horns and guitar are also well done which makes things even better. The song builds to an emotional and impassioned conclusion- well done!

“Milinda” starts the second half and Ramos gives us some pretty slide work to kick it off. More country/southern rock mixed in here; Templeton sings with good feeling as Ramos’ guitar and Geraci’s piano offer apt support. We get a bit of a Santana groove going with “Nothing Left to Live.” The guitar lead and percussion have some African-Latin influences and the horns really blare! “She’ll Never Know” is up next, a slower blues rocker with good horns and backing vocals; Templeton lays it out vocally for al to enjoy and Ramos gives us some pretty licks, too. Up next is “I Ain’t Good For Nothing;” here Mike ZIto takes on the lead vocals while Templeton delivers some harp for us to enjoy. The vocals are a bit thinner and I don’t think compare favorably in comparison to the rest of the album. Trumpet, sax and piano also give solid solos here and the guitar work remains stoically solid. “Fallen” is a darker blues rocker blending guitar, horns, and piano into a great sound as Templeton gives a really passionate performance and Steel is there in fine support, too. “Favorite Dress” concludes the album with more well done music. Templeton sings with emotion and power, the guitar is spot on, the piano work is top notch and the horns are once more excellent. It’s a really good conclusion to a really good set of tunes- they were all great!

Mike Zito and the folks at Gulf Coast Records have produced a fine blues rock album that leans way more to the rock side than blues with this all-star ensemble of musicians. The sound is exceptional, the musicianship is outstanding and the songs are first rate. I really enjoyed this disc- it’s really some good, kick-ass rocking blues!

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 

imageThe Spectaculars – Let’s Hear Us, Now!

Spex-Tone Records

www.thespectacularsband.com

CD: 11 Songs, 47 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, All Original Songs

When it comes to certain bands, their names are as iconic as their music. The Doors. The Who. Fleetwood Mac. Diarrhea Planet (okay, not that last one, but it was an actual band). Whether consciously or subconsciously, names create expectations. If you name your band The Spectaculars, you’d better deliver. Fortunately, this veteran Milwaukee family ensemble, boasting thirty-plus years on the blues scene, delivers in spades – especially on instrumentation. Their vocals show their age, but no matter when blistering guitar, reverberating bass, zesty keyboards and dynamite drums are at full throttle. On their latest album, they demand: Let’s Hear Us, Now! They’re ready to take their place in the contemporary electric blues rock hall of fame. They present eleven original songs that might make listeners’ speakers blow. From start to finish, their energy is relentless, even on slow numbers like the heartfelt “Surrogate Blues.”

Founded in 1986, The Spectaculars consist of patriarch Leon Olson on bass, his son Mike on drums, his son Eric on guitar, Joe Loeffelholz on guitar and vocals, and Rob Waters on keyboards. Anexis Olson guest stars on background vocals for track ten.

Kicking things off is “Mean Old Woman,” a groovy ballad about what happens when love goes sour: “She don’t pretend to like me. It’s time to move her out.” For our narrator, however, his partner won’t leave without a price. He wonders what he did wrong. “Was it the booze? Weed? Staying out all night? Lying? Cheat[ing]? I don’t think that’s right…” With a lover like this, who needs an enemy? Next comes a sing-along, “What Was I Thinking,” a Chicago-style takedown of a hookup. Perhaps our hero was thinking after all, but with a different part of his body. Too bad he wound up in the county jail. Rob Waters’ tongue-in-cheek keys inspire smiles. “Lost Another Friend” laments a more tragic loss than an “unfollow” on Facebook, and “Sleepless Night” brings the late, great Sean Costello to mind. It commands attention on all fronts. So does “Power,” with the best vocals and angsty vibes all around. Who among us hasn’t felt the need for autonomy, or at least a little validation from the boss? Check out the guitar solo. It’s a scorcher.

The real standout, though, is “Surrogate Blues.” It’s a slow ballad that’ll bludgeon all of your emotional capacities at once: joy, sorrow, pride, humility, pain and triumph. “You called me Papa. That suited me fine. All of those moments etched in my mind…” As much stock as we put in lineage, family history, and biological descendants, sometimes it’s the ones we rear, not just the ones we birth, that have the most impact. “You called me Papa, too short a time.” If that doesn’t wrench your heart, it needs oil.

Last but not least comes “That’s a Track, Jack!” Indeed. This instrumental might result in shaking walls, raucous cheers, and partygoers dancing on tables. What a fantastic closer!

What’s in a name? The Spectaculars nearly live up to theirs on blues rock fit for a king.

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 

imageJerry Velona – About Funk in Time

Self-Produced

www.jerryvelona.com

CD: 14 Songs, 54 Minutes

Styles: Blues Covers, Soul, Funk, R&B

About Funk in Time, the new album from New Jersey’s Jerry Velona, is the kind of CD that might be featured in a sequel to The Wedding Singer. His multitalented ensemble (check the liner notes for the full list of performers) plays music that’s colorful, fun, entertaining, and a tad bit goofy. On three original compositions and eleven blues, soul, funk and R&B covers, Velona and company go all out on the instrumentation. However, Jerry’s vocals are an acquired taste. He does all right on “It’s Alright,” a terrific sing-along, and “She’s So Good to Me” ain’t bad, either. However, he’s just not a crooner. Witness his version of “I Have Dreamed” by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Sound familiar? It’s from The King and I – the original Broadway production, not the movie. Jerry tries his best, but all the magic’s in the background, not the microphone. He’s at his best when performing his own material, such as “Dope Springs Eternal” (a meditation on his less-than-stellar love life) and “Tight Little Suit,” a tight little ditty about road rage. Overall, this release is a must-have for fans, but those who’ve never heard of Mr. Velona might be at a loss.

Jerry certainly boasts an impressive curriculum vitae. His voice has been used in radio and TV commercials, a cartoon pilot and the song “At Last (There’s You)” from the documentary film Lifestyles of the Poor and Unknown. His songs have been used on MTV Cribs as well as an HBO special, and have received significant international airplay. He won a Billboard songwriting award for “Hip Hop No More.” “Dream Girl,” another of his original works, reached #20 on the smooth jazz charts.

Velona is determined to not let his life experience go unrecorded. About this new album, he says, “I’m hoping to connect the generations with some of this great music, as it has connected my personal life. The energy and universal positive spirit that the songs engender still motivate and excite me. I’ve loved them my whole life, and I think the music deserves attention from a younger audience, many of whom are not that familiar with their rich musical heritage.”

Jerry Velona offers a musical map for a life well-traveled and lived. And, as he says with a smile, “You can dance to it!”

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 

imageJay Walter & The Rectifiers – Rectification

www.jaywalter.com

self release

11 songs time – 47:59

Yes Margaret real blues based on The Chicago blues sound and other blues influences does exist. By golly Jay Walter and The Rectifiers actually do live up to the build up of their promo sheet. Unlike some other bands that tout themselves as playing authentic blues but put out nothing but rock songs declaring themselves as bluesmen, here’s a band from Minnesota of all places dishing out the genuine item with dedication and talent to spare. Jay Walter Wilkins and company deliver the goods. Jay is a natural on vocals and expressive on the harmonica. He wrote all the lyrics and wrote or co-wrote all the music excluding the one cover song. He has enlisted solid musicians and co-produced along with John Franken.

Throughout the music drips with authenticity without sounding like copycats. They draw from the wellspring of the blues greats that went before them while making the music sound vibrant and fresh. “Rectifier Man” ponders about the use of vintage equipment, blues men of old while working in a love sentiment. All gears click right from the get-go and Jay’s splendid blues voice and harmonica playing take you to the Chicago in your head.

The easy rollin’ blues of “Hitchin’ 94” muses on hitch hiking on I-94. “The Legend” paints a picture of a somewhat phony music “star” using a super infectious guitar riff. Jay stretches out on harp over Bruce McCabe’s “tinkling” piano and the usual guitar goodness of John Franken and Dan Schwalbe on the upbeat “Mean Hearted Woman”. The band toughens up their approach a bit on the muscular Chicago Blues of “You Saw Me See You”.

The slow blues of “Lies and Secrets” is a good change of pace. It owes much to the classic tortured blues tomes of days gone by. It’s back to more upbeat blues sounds on “Early Saturday Morning(Worky’s Song)”. John Schroder’s sturdy bass pattern supports the Chicago groove of “Sweet Lovely”. The hep cat jive of “Con Man” is made more enticing with the addition of boogie-woogie piano and rockabilly-ish guitar.

The lone cover Jimmy Reed’s “Gonna Find My Baby” stays true to the master’s easy loping style. Bringing down the curtain is the swinging instrumental “On The Beam” that let’s Jay’s harmonica skills shine.

Jay’s voice has the spot on blues attitude to give these tunes authenticity. That carries through to his tough harp skills and his hand-picked crop of first rate musicians from the Twin Cities blues scene. If you have a hankering for fresh sounding blues that owes a debt to the masters, you just can’t go wrong here.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

imageBeth Hart War In My Mind

Provogue – 2019

12 tracks; 52 minutes

www.bethhart.com

Beth Hart is hugely popular and regularly performs at big concert halls and festivals; I saw her perform myself at The Tampa Bay Blues Festival a couple of years ago. However, listening to this album it is hard to find any trace of actual blues in her music, so it seems strange that she is so frequently covered in blues magazines, and now here in Blues Blast. This review will, therefore, take as read that Beth’s album will be of minimal interest to blues aficionados but those whose tastes range more widely may well enjoy parts of the album and Beth’s many fans will be delighted by it.

The album was produced by Rob Cavallo (Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Dave Matthews Band, Goo Goo Dolls), a man that Beth had hoped to work with some fifteen years ago but the arrangement did not work out. Working from a download there was no information on the musicians on the disc but the range of instrumentation and depth of sound on some tracks suggests that a large number were involved. At the core of the music are Beth’s distinctive vocals and piano playing. Those familiar with Beth will know that she wears her heart on her sleeve and her songs are almost confessional. On this album she sings of relationships with her family as well as her well-documented struggles with addiction, the sleeve notes making clear that she feels that she has reached an age where she can accept herself as she is: “I’m comfortable with my darknesses, weirdnesses and things that I’m ashamed of – as well as all the things that make me feel good”. The songs here cover all those aspects.

“Bad Woman Blues” opens proceedings with a touch of gospel in the chorus vocals at the beginning before Beth’s pounding piano begins to drive the rocking tune along. Beth is the bad woman of the title: “I’m not your Momma, I’m not your wife”. The title track is a big production number with strings and dark lyrics about addiction. A solo double bass opens “Without Words In The Way” and that sets up a jazzy ballad with Beth’s breathy vibrato very clear in the uncluttered production. An anthemic ballad entitled “Let It Grow” has stirring lyrics about rising above life’s challenges before “Try A Little Harder” on which Beth goes rather over the top vocally, making the lyrics hard to grasp.

The piano-led “Sister Dear” is almost a letter of regret and an attempt at reconciliation with her sibling, another confessional song with Beth’s voice getting very wobbly towards the end. Musically “Spanish Lullabies” is different to the rest of the album with Spanish guitars and what could almost be the soundtrack to a Clint Eastwood movie. Talking of movies, the next track “Rub Me For Luck” builds into the sort of dramatic, over the top performance that you often get on James Bond soundtracks – maybe they should approach Beth for the next blockbuster? “Sugar Shack” is a pounding rocker with a very 80’s sounding sequencer riff (remember ZZ Top’s Eliminator?) before Beth gives us another lush ballad “Woman Down” in which she confesses to be love sick. The album concludes with two quieter songs: “Thankful” has an almost hymn-like quality as Beth gives thanks for everything she holds dear in life, the song building in intensity from solo piano to a touching finale; Beth claims not to be a hero, rather “I Need A Hero” in a final solo piano piece.

This album will definitely appeal to Beth’s legions of fans and will further enhance her reputation. However, as stated at the beginning, it is definitely not a blues record.

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


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