Issue 14-30 July 23, 2020

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Cover photo © 2020 Bob kieser


 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Chicago bluesman Johnny Burgin. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Ken Millroy, Raphael Callaghan, Rae Gordon Band, One Dime Band, Eliza Neals, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Sonny Landreth and Evelyn Rubio.


 From The Editor’s Desk 


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Hey Blues Fans,

Nearly 6,000 of you have already voted in the 2020 Blues Blast Music Awards so far. Voting is easy and free.

Have you voted yet? Join in the fun and vote now at:

http://www.bluesblastmagazine.com/bbmas/vote/

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser


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 Featured Interview – Johnny Burgin 

imageA fixture on the Chicago blues scene since the ‘90s, guitarist Johnny Burgin has gone through plenty of changes in the past few years, first uprooting himself from the Windy City for California before finally settling in Portland, Ore. And he’s even changed his nickname, too!

Formerly known as Rockin’ Johnny, he’s now The Worldwide West Side Guitar Man – and for good reason: his affinity for touring relentlessly and hooking up with top-notch, foreign-born musicians no matter where on the planet they might be.

For someone who cut his teeth in the gritty bars that dominated the landscape along Madison Street and Roosevelt Road a few miles west of The Loop, it should come as no surprise. During the three decades he spent in Chicago, dozens of international talents who emigrated to the U.S. to study at the feet of the masters frequently shared the stage with him as they learned their craft.

As any true music lover with adventurous ears knows, the roots of blues are firmly planted in Mississippi, Memphis and Chicago, but its tendrils span the planet and its simple three-chord, 12-bar passages speak a language that’s truly universal – something that’s evident in Johnny’s recent recording success, which includes albums with Spanish harmonica master Quique Gomez, Norwegian blues giant Kid Andersen and Mumbai-born Bollywood reed-bender Aki Kumar.

And he ventures into new territory with his brand new Delmark CD, No Border Blues, which delivers tunes filled with the spirit of the golden era of the music in the Windy City, but was recorded during a tour of Japan with a lineup of Asian artists who truly make it their own.

An adventurous musician who’s never shy about taking chances, Burgin regularly fronts a tight three-piece ensemble that includes Wisconsin-based drummer Stephen Dougherty and Los Angeles-based bassist Chris Matheos, frequently calling out tunes during performances they’ve never played before. And they regularly join forces with other top musicians wherever in the world they land.

As Blues Blast learned in a recent interview, Johnny’s always been comfortable being a stranger in a strange land, something that’s been the case since virtually the first time he played in a blues bar while a student in Chicago. The son of an actor father who doubled as a folk singer, he was born on July 17, 1969, in Williamsport, Pa., but grew up in Starkville, Miss., and Greenville, S.C.

“My dad taught me how to play,” Burgin recalls. “He was into stuff like Josh White…a real folkie…the kinda guy who felt betrayed when Dylan went electric.”

Johnny, meanwhile, was more interested in more modern, eclectic sounds.

“My dad he had one of those 10-in. Django (Reinhardt records that I loved,” he remembers. “It was Django playing electric. I don’t think my dad played it very much, but I did!

image“When I was in high school, there was a little club in Greenville that would let kids in. I got to see Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown, Eddy Clearwater and (former Muddy Waters guitarist) Luther ‘Guitar Junior’ Johnson — who’s like the most perfect bluesman ever! Sleepy LaBeef and the (psychobilly band) Flat Duo Jets, too.

“There was a whole lotta stuff going on. It was an exciting time!”

Burgin’s musical interests were pretty broad when playing in bands as a youth, but he was eventually drawn to the music of the Windy City after listening to John Littlejohn’s 1969 Arhoolie release, Chicago Blues Stars, Magic Sam’s Black Magic and West Side Soul on Delmark, and Maxwell Street Alley Blues, an album recorded by Big John Wrencher – the one-armed harmonica player who was a fixture at the historic, open-air market — for Barrelhouse Records in 1974.

Of all the guitarists, though, Earl Hooker remains his all-time favorite.

“Really,” he insists, “that’s all I play…Earl Hooker, Eddie Taylor and Luther Tucker. Almost everything I do comes outta there. And then there’s a little Bobby King, Fenton Robinson, too.”

In fact, the guitarists who appeal to him the most all played in a style he terms “off-handed and a little chaotic” – something embodied in the work of Magic Sam and the often overlooked Hip Linkchain, whose tunes “Cold Chills” and “Confusion Blues” Johnny frequently performs today.

The “lump-de-lump” groove common to music of that era “always grabs you and will never go out of style,” he says, “and I take it in old directions! (laughs) I’m nuevo-retro, man!”

As Elvin Bishop describes him: “His guitar style is raw and rude and real — on the vocal side, a nice original style — he’s damn good!”

And, like Elvin, his path to the music came while enrolled as a student at the University of Chicago. Majoring in a writing program, he spent his nights spinning indie rock records for the school’s community radio station, WHPK-FM. His life changed forever when fellow student and deejay Dave Waldman insisted that he tag along and travel to the West Side to catch James Yancey Jones — known internationally as Tail Dragger — in action.

Like Burgin, Waldman was also an aspiring musician. He was already gigging with Tail Dragger and Otis “Big Smokey” Smothers. Still active in the city’s bluescape today, he’s recorded albums with Barrelhouse Chuck, Big Wheeler, Michael Coleman and other locals.

The trip to Mary’s Lounge – a small tavern that was far more like a Mississippi juke than a big-city nightclub — proved to be a real eye-opener. For less venturous folks daring enough to experience it, it was akin to Luke Skywalker entering the unnamed bar on planet Nar Shaddaa in the first episode of Star Wars when he seeking safe passage to Coruscant.

A dark hole-in-the-wall in the heart of the poorest neighborhood in the city, it was located at Pulaski and Van Buren and at the polar opposite side from the safe confines of Hyde Park – a multi-ethnic, well-to-do community housing one of the greatest universities in the world – where Burgin resided.

It was packed with a mix of hard-partying mix of transplants from the Delta and the children of others who’d migrated North in seek of a better life decades before. They were living in the heart of one of the worst urban ghettos in America, and the few whites who joined them consisted of musicians, young men who wanted to be or foreigners yearning for a taste of the blues at its source.

As Johnny describes it, it was nothing short of a train wreck when Tail Dragger invited him on stage to play that night. As good as a guitarist as he thought he was, he quickly realized he had to forget everything he thought he knew about the instrument if he was ever going to fit in.

It was a shocker, but he wasn’t discouraged.

image“Everything was like Christmas to me back then, man,” he says. “It was like a grand adventure that never ended. I realized that if I was really going to get up and sit in with bands, I needed to really learn from the first brink in the ground.

“Tail Dragger was always good to me and gave me a chance.”

Away from class, Burgin spent hours each day with the guitar in his hands – something that paid off when Tail Dragger — who’d received his stage name from Howlin’ Wolf himself — eventually invited him to join his band, a lineup that included Waldman and Steve Cushing, a first-call percussionist who also worked with Bo Diddley, Magic Slim & the Teardrops, Studebaker John & the Hawks, Lurrie Bell and others and who’s been hosting the five-hour, nationally syndicated Blues Before Sunrise radio show for the past 40 years.

“Those guys were taskmasters on what to play and how to play,” Johnny insists. “They got me rolling.”

Back in that era, Burgin notes, Tail Dragger’s biggest priorities were more often directed at women and booze. Johnny remained at his side until the singer reported to prison to serve a sentence for a murder he’s always claimed was an act of self-defense.

The band remained together without him, calling themselves The Ice Cream Men – a name adopted from a 1950s song by John Brim. Backing a revolving roster of featured artists – including Golden “Big” Wheeler, Jimmy Lee Robinson, Bonnie Lee and Tail Dragger after his release, they held down a regular Thursday-night gig at Lily’s, a popular club on the city’s North Side a few blocks from DePaul University and a short walk around the corner from both B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted and the Kingston Miles.

Johnny eventually earned a University of Chicago sheepskin while playing music five or more nights a week as a sideman with several popular acts, including Eddie “Jewtown” Burks, Little Arthur Duncan, Little Mack Simmons, Jimmy Dawkins and Littlejohn, frequently earning a whopping $35 a night for his efforts.

Initially upset that he’d chosen music over a writing career, his parents’ attitude changed after he’d backed Brim on the main stage for a Chicago Blues Festival gig in front of 200,000 fans. When he informed them that he’d made enough money from that one-hour show to pay his rent for a month, they finally gave him their blessings.

Johnny’s association with Delmark began in 1992, when he entered the studio for the first time to lay down licks for Wheeler’s Bone Orchard and then Robinson’s Lonely Traveler a year later. He subsequently toured the Midwest with keyboard player Pinetop Perkins and Dave Myers, the Windy City stalwart who rose to prominence in the early ‘50s as bass player in Little Walter’s backing band, The Aces, who subsequently became stars in their own right.

Two years on the road with Sam Lay, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame drummer who was a founding member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, followed and helped complete Johnny’s blues education. “Sam played so hard every night,” Burgin remembers, “he showed me what to do and taught me by example, teaching me how to concentrate and how to give a perfect performance.”

The lessons paid dividends in 1994, when Johnny began what would become a multi-year Monday-night residency with guitarist Jimmy Burns at Smoke Daddy, a barbeque joint in the burgeoning Wicker Park neighborhood in a unit that frequently included Kelly Littleton (Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials) or Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith on drums and Martin Lang, another UC student, on harp.

imageTwo years later, Delmark owner Bo Koester dropped in to hear them one night and liked what he heard so much that he signed both Burgin and Burns to his label, producing Jimmy’s Leavin’ Here Walkin’ CD in 1996 and releasing the Rockin’ Johnny Band’s debut album, Straight Out of Chicago, in 1998 – a disc that featured Lay and the sensational Robert Plunkett (Luther Allison, Eddie Shaw) on percussion.

International tours followed and Burgin was becoming a popular national act, too, but he quit from the business altogether in 2002 to raise his daughter, selling all of his equipment in the process. He returned to the stage seven years later after the disintegration of his marriage, and has been working relentlessly ever since, spurred on by the European following he developed after playing at a festival in the Netherlands shortly after ending his “retirement.”

No Borders Blues marks the 11th album released under his own name and fifth at Delmark in a career that also includes stops at VizzTone, West Tone and Marquis — in addition to work as a sideman for Liz Mandeville, Kumar, Willie Buck, Paul DeLay, Paul Jones, Eddie Taylor Jr. and several others.

Taylor’s father, Eddie Sr., was the first American bluesman to set foot in Japan in the early ‘70s – the music equivalent of Commodore Matthew Perry, who opened the nation to foreign trade. The music took hold through subsequent visits by The Aces – brothers Louis and Dave Myers and Fred Below, Otis Rush, Dawkins and Robert Lockwood Jr.

By the late ‘70s, several Japanese musicians and blues lovers began establishing themselves in the Chicago music community – something that continues today through keyboard players Sumito “Ariyo” Ariyoshi and Lee Kanehira, guitarists Shoji Naito, Shun Kikuta and others.

But it didn’t take long for Burgin to discover that there were other, equally deserving artists bubbling under the surface in their homeland.

Johnny began visiting the Far East at the suggestion of close friend, former classmate and bandmate Dr. Ken Kawashima. The son of a Japanese father and Korean mother, he grew up in Ohio, but now lives in Toronto, where he’s both a music scholar and PhD in East Asian history. He’s also another former Tail Dragger protégé who plays original, but early-sounding modern blues and records under the stage name Sugar Brown.

“He’s wa-a-ay more lo-fi than me, more traditional in a way,” Burgin points out. “I played on his last album, Calling All Blues, a couple of years ago, and I’ve recorded some of his songs over the years.”

They first set foot in Japan in 1996, meeting and befriending several musicians close to their own age while establishing themselves on the local, underground blues circuit. Johnny still appears at some of those clubs – Bright Brown in Tokyo and ChicagoRock in Osaka – today.

“I didn’t go back until 2014,” Johnny says. “I went with Yoshimi Hirata, a wonderful bass player whose whole goal in life is to play like Dave Myers and who played with me frequently after I met her the year before.

“Her goal in that trip was to find a way to share me with everybody. That right there tells you how much different the Japanese approach is.”

The groundwork for Johnny’s new CD was laid during that journey and two more that followed. The first-ever U.S. release ever to feature the Japanese blues scene, it features contributions from 11 Japanese artists with Johnny sharing vocals with Kanehira, guitarist Nacomo Tanaka and a trio of harp players – Kaz Nogio, Iper Onishi and Kotez.

They produce a sound that captures the essence of the Windy City in a set that includes four originals and seven interesting reworked covers, a couple of which are delivered in their native tongue. Burgin’s regular rhythm section is present, too – but only on one cut, which was recorded at Delmark’s studios in the good old U.S.A.

It should serve as a real eye-opener for the American audience, he says, noting: “There may be some people who are gonna be turned off at first blush because of an accents or whatever. But it’s important to confront people with that and get them to look beyond it because I think albums like this one are a really effective way – and the right way – to bring the music forward…to widen the tent and widen the audience and keep things current for the blues in general.

“Everyone should be able to play the music if they can play it, and everyone deserves to be heard without these biases that we carry around.”

The Japanese blues scene today is much like what Johnny says he first experienced in Chicago: “Peace, love and kumbaya…let’s help each other.”

imageUnfortunately, he notes, that’s not always the case in the Windy City anymore because the community has become more cutthroat and competitive because of money.

“That’s one of the reasons I left,” he says. “Most of my peers and mentors were either dead or retired – or it was just time to go (move away). I should have done it a long time ago. It’s not a regret, though…you have to recognize endings.”

Burgin had already resettled in Petaluma, Calif., prior to that recording. He was playing about 250 gigs a year internationally and working locally with Kumar, Andersen, Alabama Mike, Nick Gravenites, Nancy Wright and Andy Santana, earning a Blues Music Award nomination for his work on the Andersen-produced Wolf tribute compilation, Howlin’ at Greaseland, in the process.

He also traveled to Chile, Russia and the United Kingdom in support of Kumar for his Bollywood Blues album. And he’s grateful that Charlie Musselwhite provided a hand on his most recent previous CD, Johnny Burgin Live, while he was there.

Prior to being sidelined because of the coronavirus epidemic, he was playing and touring out of his new home base in Portland, Ore., traveling constantly and developing new markets both here and abroad. More recently, however, he’s been stuck at home, teaching remotely at the Chicago Blues Institute and considering what the future holds.

““I really enjoy that…deepening students’ understanding of this music,” he says. “It’s never about the money. That’s kinda what keeps me going. But it’s going to be interesting to see what happens after all of this and to see which bars survive.

“You can’t expect these clubs to operate at half-capacity. You just can’t. No one’s gonna be able to do things like the way they used to do it.”

Johnny frequently supplemented previous tours by working as a featured guest artist at local jams – something he’s extremely reluctant to do going forward. But he is interested in increasing bookings for house concerts, which have also been a welcome part of his time on the road.

“I really them,” he says. “As an artist, it’s great to get rid of the middle man. We don’t need a venue to present ourselves. We need a space, not a bar. Right now, I’m liking the alternative thinking.

“The way things are now, with my rhythm section in Wisconsin and L.A., I’m not sure what we’ll be doing when things get up and running again. But that’s a really good unit, and I really like the trio sound and adding in guest artists, whether its (harp player) Kim Field from up in Seattle or (Portland-based vocalist) Rae Gordon. I like coloring it out with somebody.

“And I’d love to bring some of these Japanese folks…get Yoshi to take a holiday and do a tour with me. I’d love to have a rhythm guitarist again.”

He’s also interested in developing a podcast and recruiting friends to record an instrumental guitar album, noting: “I’m excited by some younger players…Dylan Bishop, Eddie 9V. I can’t believe how good he is. I’ve always wanted to record with Big Joe Louis. And I might go to Europe and play with some guys over there.

“I just want to collaborate with people I admire and who come at it from different angles than I do.”

And don’t be surprised if Burgin does another No Borders project, too. “I’m getting into a niche with this,” he believes. “It could be something I’m going to be doing for the whole rest of my career, man. I don’t know where it’s going to go next.

“I played some with (the band) Jesus on a Tortilla, and I’d love to do more with them. And I’d also like to be a little more exotic…go to Nepal or Vietnam…or somewhere…and just see what’s there and do some interesting collaborations. I’m gathering information now about Southeast Asia and other places for when the world opens up again.”

Check out Johnny’s music and find out what he’s up to next by visiting his website: www.rockinjohnnyburgin.com

Late breaking update: As this story was being prepared for print, Burgin uprooted himself again, departing for a brief reunion with Tail Dragger in Chicago before planting new roots in New Orleans.

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 8 

imageKen Millroy – At It Again

Self-produced CD

10 songs – 26 minutes

No website

Based out of Edison, N.J., Ken Millroy is a multi-instrumentalist who plays an interesting mix of contemporary, original blues on this CD, accompanying himself on electric and 12-string guitar, bass and percussion.

There’s literally no information accompanying this disc other than a listing of songs, and Millroy has virtually no footprint on the internet. But the Jersey native apparently been active on the local music scene for a couple of decades as the alter ego founding member of the four-piece Engaging the Enemy, a “groovy metalcore” band that’s been working out of Edison since forming 2004.

Ken penned all of the material on this CD with another – The Back Porch Tapes, a collection of originals written years ago and given new life during the coronavirus lockdown – scheduled for release in the near future and another – a collaboration with other artists – planned for some time next year.

“Black Cat” opens the action with a loping low-register guitar bass/hook before Millroy launches into lyrics that describe the feline at his window and “tryin’ to get in/And all I’m holdin’/Is an empty bottle of gin.” As Millroy launches into an unhurried, single-note guitar solo mid-tune, you realize the image has deeper meaning – something that becomes apparent as the cat subsequently scratches at his door and then follows him down the road.

“Electric Blues” opens as a ballad with Ken adding keyboard accents created on his six-string aided by pedal effects. His tenor voice is slightly thin, but pleasant throughout as he reflects on the realities of life after growing up believing he’d live happily almost every day. As the truth sets in, the song intensifies aided by a rock-steady drum line and wah-wah effects on the guitar before returning to the root to close.

Millroy’s fingerpicking skills come to the fore for the bare-bones, 86-second instrumental “Just Say You Will” and the sweet, subdued “Willows” before things heat up with “Someone Else’s Blues,” which describes awakening with a pain in the head and what appear to be another person’s troubles – an illusion because the singer subsequently heads to work and learns he’s no longer employed despite possessing several charms to bring good fortune.

The blues-rocker “Here Comes Another” is up next, structured atop a circular guitar hook and mid-tempo shuffle. It’s a song of confrontation and the realization of the importance of not throwing away your life in unworthy pursuits. A quartet of well-crafted instrumentals — “Etown Shuffle,” “The Long Way,” “Back in the Day” and “You and Me” – bring the disc to a close.

Available on Amazon or as a download through Spotify, iTunes and other sites it is also available as a CD by emailing Millroy directly at kmillroy@optonline.net, this one’s a pleasant surprise considering its minimalistic packaging and information. It’ll be interesting to see what Ken Millroy serves up next.

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 8 

imageRaphael Callaghan – Blue Lies

www.raphaelcallaghan.com

Blue Cee Recordings

13 songs time – 51:43

On this his second solo release Liverpool native Raphael Callaghan presents this basically acoustic project except for his occasional electric bass and only one guest spot. The specter of the blues hovers over the proceedings which are often singer-songwriter efforts. He previously recorded with Jim James, Breakdown and Blue Cee. He’s a master of the acoustic guitar with a mellowed warm vocal delivery and a lyrical gift. The music is comforting as he gives the impression he’s singing to an audience of one. Eleven out of thirteen songs are self penned.

Somewhat of a title song “Little Blue Lies” is about the telling of white lies. It features slide and nicely ringing guitar. The semi-autobiographical “Blues For Mr. Bean” is a saga about being dysfunctional. Raphael’s voice has an earnestness to it being a personal blues song with an easy going quality to it. “Tell Me A Lie” features him in folkie-singer-songwriter mode.

The narrator reflects that when things are going right he starts to worry in “Untitled Blues”. He tones down Skip James’ classic “Special Rider” that includes ominous mournful and distant backing vocals. Nifty guitar riff on this one as well. “You ain’t fooling me, I can do that all by myself” is the sentiment heard on “Fooling Me”. Some wicked slide doesn’t hurt one bit.

Voice and harmonica only for the blues of “Time To Leave”. “Wee Small Hours” is a nice little slide infused ditty. Charley Patton’s “Poor Me”, the only other cover here is given a hauntingly melancholy treatment. Bass and harmonica are inserted into the jaunty “Born In Liverpool” which serves as a bit of a theme song. Blue Jeans are used as an analogy for love on “My Old Denim”. The pleasing melody, lyrics and vocal delivery brings Ronnie Lane’s rustic and sentimental sound to mind. Tom Degney’s dobro adds the right countrified tinges to it. Lane’s vibe is also felt on the tender “Cake And A Candle”

This is a thought provoking and heartfelt presentation of blues and roots music related with Raphael’s own unique vision. His adept vocals and soothing acoustic guitar technique give this effort a warm and soothing touch courtesy of the production by Tom Degney and Raphael Callaghan. Here is something that shows the artist’s creative gifts in a glowing light.


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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

imageRae Gordon Band – Wrong Kind Of Love

Self Released

www.raegordon.com

10 tracks

Rae Gordon may have taken third place in the 2017 International Blues Challenge but she is a winner when it comes to serving up fantastic vocals and original blues. Her powerful voice expresses a wide range of emotions and really stands out. Her band is equally up to the task, providing outstanding support musically and backing her vocals. Representing the Cascade Blues Association, Oregon’s Gordon has gotten her name out there with her fine showing at the IBC and also appears regularly up and down the west cost of the US and Canada.

This is Rae’s fourth album and all the songs are originals. Six songs were written by keyboardist Pat McDougall, three were co-written by Rae and Pat, and the other one was written by Portland area guitar player Rod Furlott. Her 7-piece Band is featured here on the album; they are Rae on lead vocals, Kivett Bednar on guitar and vocals, Pat McDougall on keyboards and vocals, Ed Pierce on drums, Joseph Conrad on bass, Allan Kalik on trumpet (and he does the horn arrangements), and Scott Franklin on saxophone. Six songs were written by Pat McDougall, three co-written by Rae and Pat, and one by Portland guitarist Rod Furlott.

The album opens with “Comin” Back For More,”vocals a jumping and swinging cut with Rae’s vocals front and center. The guitar groove sets a funky pace and the horn section does a spectacular job. Things slow down a bit with “Don’t Look Now,” a slower blues ballad with Rae testifying and the band aptly supporting. Piano and horns are right up there with her and the band backs her well vocally. “How You Gonna” continues with a tender pacing and phrasing as Gordon emotes and asks her lover how they are going to tell her they are leaving even though she still loves them. The band helps set the mood with thoughtful fills and an impressive organ solo. The pace quickens with “Might As Well Be You,” another swinging song with a great groove. Nice instrumental work including a great sax solo are featured here. “Sea Of Blue” is a somber cut with Rae testifying how she’s “drowning in the deep, darl sea of blue.” The guitar solo is thoughtful and quite impressive.

The title track opens the latter half of the CD. The song opens with some distorted guitar, then the organ joins in and then the horns appear before Gordon begins emphatically singing and stating, “That man had the wrong kind of love!” Bednar’s guitar stings as do Gordon’s vocals. “How Much I Love You So” is a pretty cut with piano up front in support as Gordon croons of her love. The band is stalwart in their support here and throughout. Bednar showcases his guitar skills again in another fine solo, too. There is an air of intrigue to “Got To Have You” with some soulful trumpet work; beautifully done! “Last Call” is a dark cut with nice sax and trumpet work along with Gordon’s vocals as she stresses that folks need to leave the bar and the annoying person she’s singing to needs to leave now, too. Gordon belts out the vocals with passion. The CD finishes up with “Get Right With The World,” a mid-tempo blues rocker with a nice little driving beat and everyone filling in well. The organ solo is cool and the song wraps up a great CD of new tunes.

I enjoyed Gordon and her band at the IBC and I also really enjoyed this recording. She is a powerful vocalist and her band is top notch. The songs showed a nice variety of tempos and themes and all the performances were great. I highly recommend this one!

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 – 4 of 8 

imageOne Dime Band – Hoodoo & Holy Water

Toneblanket Records – 2019

11 tracks; 56 minutes

www.onedimeband.com

Friends and bandmates since their schooldays, Paul Gallucci and John Brauchler have played in bands and as an acoustic duo act for many years. Based in the Boston area, the pair established their latest musical incarnation, The One Dime Band, in 2017 and this is their second album release. Paul is the lead vocalist and plays harp, along with some rhythm guitar and percussion while John is the lead guitarist and also plays banjo and resonator. Assisting the main duo are bassists Paul Konchanski and John Grube and drummers Chris Anzalone and Jay Gillies; Alizon Lissance adds keys and accordion to five tracks, David Gordon Jr organ to one, Jackie Damsky violin to one and Donna Tritico vocals to one. John ‘Blue Horn’ Moriconi (trumpet) and Mario Perrett (tenor sax) add horns to three tracks. All the material was written by Paul and John, apart from one track on which author Tim Curry plays acoustic guitar and adds vocals.

The title track rocks along nicely with piano and guitar setting the rhythm, the horns pushing things along and a catchy chorus, a solid start to the album. “Something Good” is perhaps the standout cut here, the churchy organ at the start giving way to a soulful tune with Paul asking everyone to “do something good every day”, the solo spots going to the two horn players who take full advantage. The extended “Facing Yourself” takes its time to deliver an introspective set of lyrics about time wasted and opportunities missed over a gentle tune with a delicately plucked guitar solo. Tim Curry plays acoustic on his song “Hard Luck Daddy”, allowing John to bring his banjo and resonator skills into play, Paul’s harp work also adding to an increase in the blues content; indeed, the semi-acoustic tracks are generally closer to blues than the larger band, electric cuts, as can be heard on “Nobody’s Dog” where piano is featured behind Paul’s vocal and harp. “Call It Home” is a gentle love song which opens with the ‘scratchy’ sounds of old 78’s and has a slightly country feel with accordion playing subtly in the background.

The horns return for “Witch Child” which brings John’s electric guitar to the fore on a gently funky number on which Paul sings of what sounds like a dangerous woman! Childhood memories are recalled on the stripped back “Mama’s Chair”, with upright bass and minimal percussion, violin and gentle guitar chords before the intriguingly titled “Weak Back Man” brings us back to the blues with Paul using a gruffer vocal tone as John switches to his resonator and the rhythm section again keeps to a minimal approach. “Salaryman” brings a catchy Caribbean lilt to the album with John’s wah-wah rhythm work and the album closes with another gentle, country-tinged, acoustic tune “Little Time” with harmonies created by Paul and the two John’s.

The One Dime Band shows that it is not constrained by categories, combining elements of blues, country, soul and reggae. This makes for a pleasant and varied listen with no excessive show-boating from any of the players involved.

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 – 5 of 8 

imageEliza Neals – Black Crow Moan

E-H Records

10 songs – 45 minutes

www.elizaneals.com

Eliza Neals packs a potent punch. A multi-instrumentalist who concentrates on keys here, she roars like a hurricane with an operatically trained voice that’s mellifluous, but has a rough-cut urban edge – something that comes through loud and clear on this long-awaited follow-up to her most recent full-length release, 2017’s well-received 10,000 Feet Below.

A blond powerhouse whose delivery can go from sugar sweet to menacing in a heartbeat, Neals usually delivers a healthy mix of electric blues, psychedelic rock, Southern soul and more when fronting her regular band, The Narcotics. A perennial honoree in the Detroit Music Awards and songwriter, her releases consistently score the charts.

The Detroit native tempers her usual balls-to-the-wall delivery on this collection of nine originals and one cover aided by a diverse lineup that includes both Joe Louis Walker and Motor City heavyweight Howard Glazer on guitars and an extensive roster of top talent from Michigan and New England.

Rounding out the lineup are Mike Puwal and Derek St. James (best known for his work with Ted Nugent) on guitar, Bruce Bears (Duke Robillard Band) and Jim Alfredson on keys, Chuck Bartels, Jason Kott and Lenny Bradford on bass, Jeffrey “Shakey” Fowlkes, Demarcus Sumter, Brian Clune, John Medeiros Jr. and Skeeto Valdez on percussion and Valerie Taylor and Kymberli Wright on backing vocals.

The album opens with “Don’t Judge the Blues,” an uptempo foot-stomper with a Hill Country attack. The repetitive slide guitar hook and accompanying handclaps will definitely get you out of your chair and onto the dance floor. At only 2 minutes 35 seconds, however, it ends abruptly and gives way to the slow blues, “Why You Ooglin Me,” a syrupy, but wall-of-sound ballad that finds Eliza simultaneously disturbed and attracted to the man giving her the eye.

Walker joins the action for the first time, doubling Neals’ vocal for the chorus that opens the funky “The Devil Don’t Love You,” before laying down a steady stream of chicken-scratch licks as he yields to Eliza for the verses. This one will take you to church as it urges the listener to get down on his knees to pray. Things calm down dramatically for “Watch Me Fly,” a powerful ballad with an inspirational message and ‘80s pop appeal.

Eliza’s voice is the star for “River Is Rising,” a blues-rocker aided by Glazer that flows gently before slowly picking up strength as the singer warns a lady friend about the trouble brewing in her mind. The mood brightens considerably for “Run Sugar Run,” a keyboard-propelled rocker with a go-go beat.

Walker returns for the title tune, “Black Crow Moan.” It’s a haunting, slow-blues duet that describes the torment of a young woman who’s the daughter of a mother who always tried to save her and father who always blamed her. As Joe Louis’ fretwork sear with her pain, she still remains optimistic about the future.

St. James sits in on the next two tunes — “Never Stray,” a quiet ballad that urges a lover to be her one-and-only man, and a cover of Big Mama Thornton’s familiar “Ball and Chain” – before Neals’ is at her appealing best for the stop-time rocker, “Hey, Take Your Pants Off,” to bring the album to a close.

Available from Amazon, Apple Music and other sites, Black Crow Moan is at her best on this one. If you’re a fan of modern blues-rock, this one’s definitely for you.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

imageRobert Randolph & The Family Band – Brighter Days

Provogue Records – 2019

10 tracks; 39 minutes

www.robertrandolph.net

Robert Randolph & The Family Band have been on the scene for some years with their distinctive mix of sacred steel gospel and rock-blues, placing rhythm very much at the heart of the music. The band is a genuine family affair with Robert on steel guitar and vocals, his cousins Danyel Morgan on bass and Marcus Randolph on drums, plus his sister Lanesha on vocals. This review was based on a download of the album and no other credits were available so it has not been possible to identify other musicians involved though keyboards are clearly present. Equally there are no writing credits though most of the album appears to be original. For this latest project Robert teamed up with Dave Cobb who is best known for producing alt-country stars like Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton.

The opener “Baptise Me” has plenty of Robert’s steel guitar set over a tough rocking tune while the rhythm section sets a frenetic pace on “Don’t Fight It” though the lyrics are rather repetitive. The pace drops for “Simple Man” which states how Robert sees the world: “Tell you what’s wrong in the world today, people gone done and put the bible away. Watch where you’re going, remember where you’ve been, that’s the way I see it, I’m a simple man.” “Have Mercy” is another ballad that rolls along with steel accents over bubbling bass and piano/organ backing as Lanesha shares the vocals with her brother, a fine piece of modern gospel music. Things get heavier on “Cut ‘Em Loose” which has a definite rock edge to it, Robert sounding as much like a Metal guitarist as a sacred steel player, and on “Second Hand Man” which has strong piano underpinning a chugging rocker. The elegant ballad “Cry Over Me” is a feature for Lanesha’s vocals who proves to be a fine singer here, supported by choral backing vocals, Robert stepping in to play a lovely solo.

Two shorter tracks follow: “I Need You” is a classic ballad which Robert sings well, supported by choral vocals; “I’m Living Off The Love You Give” (Homer Banks/Raymond Jackson) is the Little Milton song, covered here as a catchy rocker with a hook-laden chorus. The album closes with the longest cut, “Strange Train” which barrels along at a frantic pace using the familiar image of needing to get on board the train that will take you to salvation.

Fans of the band will be pleased to have a new album and one that returns to the cornerstones of earlier releases. Those who like fast-paced steel guitar picking will also be well served.

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 – 7 of 8 

imageSonny Landreth – Blacktop Run

Provogue Records – 2019

www.sonnylandreth.com

CD: 10 Songs, 36 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, All Original Songs

“You’ll know it’s Sonny Landreth when you hear him. He has a unique style.” Truer words were never spoken, whether by Ms. Wetnight or her father, in this case. “Mr. Slydeco,” the favorite slide guitarist of “Mr. Slowhand,” returns with a roaring vengeance on his fourteenth overall album and third on the Provogue label. In only thirty-six minutes, he traverses territory broader than the entire globe. Landreth’s music has always been about the journey, not the destination (hooks, choruses, all the bells and whistles that turn songs into hit songs). He’s reached stardom not by studio script or digital algorithm, but the true hard way: grueling effort. His blood, sweat and tears pour through every track, nary a note wasted or overused. Blacktop Run is not for you if you’re looking for ten-minute solos a la Jimi Hendrix or Duane Allman. That’s not how Sonny rolls. He plays what the very core of his being needs to play, then rests content.

The Louisiana artist’s latest compilation of ten original compositions stretches from hard-edged electric forays to wistful acoustic ballads. The project’s range is the fruit of a renewed collaboration. Producer RS Field – who helmed Sonny’s trio of breakout albums – joined six-stringer and co-producer Tony Daigle to finish the record. Boon companions on Landreth’s odyssey are bassist David Ranson, drummer Brian Brignac and keyboardist/songwriter Steve Conn.

“His brilliance and creative energy recharged us,” Landreth said of reuniting with Field. Most of the tracks were recorded live at Dockside Studios on the Vermilion River south of Lafayette, LA. “We came up with new and better ideas, and that’s what you want. It couldn’t have gone better.”

Forget all the chirpy tunes about hope, faith, and the power of positivity. The title track is the one single song 2020 needs. Paradoxically, it speaks to the one thing that endures forever: change. The world’s been stuck in quarantine for more than sixteen weeks. What better way to lift your mood than to travel with Sonny on his Blacktop Run? With a gorgeous dobro intro and carefree spirit, Landreth expresses our current wish, whether silent or spoken out loud: “Between the life I left and the edge of Next, I’m headed down the road.”

On the opposite end of the album lies “Something Grand,” which moved me to tears. It’s a tale of forgiveness, the healing that occurs when “tender mercy becomes something grand.” What of mistakes that can’t be undone, wounds that turn to scars instead of scabs that fall off without a trace? Sonny knows that “some broken things were already bound to fall. Grace yields to gravity, and you can’t catch them all.” Nevertheless, his plea stands. All of us could use tender mercy in our current condition.

By far and away, the best track lies “Beyond Borders,” right in the middle. Bringing to mind a NASCAR racer, a dancer experiencing a physical and performative breakthrough, and a fugitive running out of time and sanity, this complex, nuanced instrumental is a legal dose of crystal meth. It’s how writers and poets describe sex. It’s a ritual, whether divine or profane. Imagine what you will, but it’s that good. I’d listen to it for four years, not four minutes.

I used to think Sonny Landreth the Shakespeare of slide guitar. Not anymore. He’s the Homer. As author Donna Tartt says in The Secret History, “For if the modern…is whimsical and discursive,” as the Bard could often be, “the classical…is narrow, unhesitating, relentless.” Blacktop Run? Classic and classical.

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 – 8 of 8 

imageEvelyn Rubio – Crossing Borders

Self-Produced

www.evelynrubio.com

CD: 15 Songs, 65 Minutes

Styles: Soul-Influenced Blues, Latin Blues Rock, Torch Singer Blues

I fell in love with the Spanish language and culture in high school. Not only was the class a hoot, but I couldn’t get enough of the rhythm, the poetry, the words themselves. When my sister gave me Selena’s 1995 album Dreaming of You for Christmas, I was instantly transported to el cielo (heaven). Fast forward fourteen years. Mexico City’s Evelyn Rubio crowns the stage like a queen, Crossing Borders among Latin rock, soul, torch-singer tunes, even a touch of pre-war blues greatness in her cover of “Besame Mucho.” She’s a triple threat, possessing beauty, talent and wit in equal measure. Her voice is vibrant and versatile, navigating the worlds of lust (explosive opener “One More Last Time”), love (“What A Way to Go”) and utter heartbreak (“I Don’t Understand”). The album contains fifteen total tracks – eleven in English and four in Spanish. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the latter tongue, the last three songs are Spanish versions of “Cruel,” “Border Town,” and Al Staehely’s “He Did Me Wrong, But He Did It Right.” With over an hour of marvelous music, this CD is sure to keep one wholly entertained. For a full and extensive list of co-performers, check the liner notes.

Evelyn also boasts superior saxophone skills and a resume that can’t be beat. Not only has she performed as a lead on children’s television shows, but also toured as Mary Magdalene in a Canadian production of Jesus Christ Superstar. After that, Rubio would leave the stage and tour with a rock band in Mexico, honing her skills on the sax and building those famous musical chops that everyone in the business raves about. She would also divide her time with a ten-piece orchestra in Mexico City so that she could take care of her mother and family. When Evelyn came to America to foster her musical growth, she would meet and record an album with Mr. James “Boogaloo” Bolden: B.B. King’s band leader and lead trumpet for thirty years. She performed with Mr. Bolden, and the two remain close friends. She went on to record the album Hombres in two separate versions: one in English, one in Spanish. It went on to debut on the Billboard charts at #1 Latin Pop, #3 Top Latin and #6 Blues.

Ever been hooked, whether on food, drink, or something that satisfies a different appetite? Evelyn can SO relate: “I’m addicted to the kicks. I’ve been trying to quit, but I’m still in a fix. I can taste you, baby, all alone in my room. I shake and I sweat, and I howl at the moon.” She claims she’s “walking away,” but still wants “One More Last Time.” Uh-huh. Por supuesto (of course). The awesomeness of this song cannot be overstated, whether on vocals, lyrics or instrumentation. All of them would blow Carlos Santana’s mind. So would the next track, “Still On Your Side,” and “Just Like a Drug.” That’s the trifecta, but “He Did Me Wrong” might pass them all up by several lengths. “I Don’t Understand” comes next – a beautiful ballad, but a downer stronger than Valium and alcohol. To get the party started again, “Mistake” and “Cruel” fit the bill. So does the dynamite cover of Latin rock hit “Besame Mucho,” with a classic sound hearkening to the early days of the blues. When these two genres mix, magic happens.

“The Blues has no Borders,” says Evelyn Rubio’s website, and she’s fantastic at crossing them!

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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