Issue 14-34 August 20, 2020

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Cover photo © 2020 Laura Carbone


 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Jeff Jensen. We have 7 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from JD Taylor, Kat Pearson, Paul Gillings, Henry Turner Jr. & Flavor, Broke Fuse and Friends, Wily Bo Walker & Danny Flam and John Fusco And The X-Road Riders.
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 Featured Interview – Jeff Jensen 

imageThere’s no mistaking Jeff Jensen when he hits the stage. The blues-rocker’s a high-energy, high-intensity performer from the jump, crisscrossing the floor in rapid-fire movements, drawing a roar from the crowd as he doffs his cap and lets his freak flag of long locks fly free for the world to see.

A gregarious road dog, Jeff’s shows are cram-packed with original material infused with the heights and depths of human emotion, baring his personal struggles, vulnerabilities and honesty in the process. But as well as even his biggest fans think they know him, there’s far deeper that even they might imagine.

There’s no question that he’s a full-on wild man in performance. When the house lights dim, however, and he’s at home with his wife and newborn daughter, Raelyn, he reveals himself to be a different creature entirely: a deep-thinker with strong family values and concerns for his fellow man.

Like most folks in music today, he’s balancing precariously on a blue tightrope, dealing with putting food on his table and keeping a roof over his head in the midst of an unbelievable, inconceivable international tragedy, fully aware that his only source of income is gone and fearful that the entertainment world might never recover from the damage it’s already experiencing.

At age 39 and based out of Memphis for most of the past decade, Jensen’s already had plenty of ups and downs in life. But nothing like this – as Blues Blast learned when we caught up with him by phone recently. It’s particularly difficult, he says, because he’s always been imbued with a strong work ethic.

The son of a hard-working construction contractor, he grew up on a ten-acre ranch in Green Valley, Calif., about two hours north of Los Angeles and surrounded on three sides by San Bernardino National Forest. And even though his family weren’t farmers, there were plenty of animals – cows, pigs and chickens — and other chores afoot to keep him busy. “We grew most of our own food,” he remembers, “especially meat. We raised a cow a year, slaughtered it and had a deep freeze with hundreds and hundreds of pounds of beef in it.”

Jeff grew up listening to ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s rock, primarily through his mother’s extensive record collection, which lead him directly to the blues. “I realized that some of my favorite songs weren’t written by the guys playing them,” he says. “I kept seeing names like Willie Dixon and Robert Johnson in the credits. As soon as I got my first Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters albums, it was all over – the blues got me!

“When I wanted to play guitar, I was ten, and my parents were like: ‘Yeah, you can play guitar, but you have to get a job and save up enough money to buy one. Do it, and we’ll help you out with lessons.”

The youngster started doing whatever odd jobs he could find – everything from painting fences to mucking out stalls, saving every penny he could and finally earning enough to pick up his first six-string a year later. After experimenting with rock, funk and jazz, he started playing professionally after high school, eventually landing a gig in a blues band that worked as far south as San Diego a few times a month.

He’s been a hard worker ever since – even working behind the scenes as a 23-year-old to found the Santa Clarita Valley Blues Society in 2003, an organization he initiated with an older friend, Chris Sabie, after becoming interested in the Blues Foundation and traveling with him to Memphis to attend the International Blues Challenge. Based in Newhall, Calif., the group remains active today.

imageJensen founded his own band about a year later and worked out of Southern California from 2005 to 2009, playing about 200 shows annually and releasing two albums: The Jeff Jensen Band and I’m Coming Home on Swing Suit Records. The group competed at three IBCs during that period and served as the opening act for B.B. King during his tour to celebrate his 80th birthday.

Always interested in producing, Jeff’s been heavily involved in the studio since 2008, when another friend, John Parker – who was in the midst of a five-year war with cancer — enlisted him to supervise the recording of his own, self-titled album. That disc was finished just prior to Parker’s death and released a few months later. It’s loaded with inspirational originals, including “Forget All My Fears,” which deals with his battle. That song’s become an anthem that’s frequently played at American Cancer Society events, and Jeff sometimes incorporates it in his own sets today.

Jensen relocated to Portland, Ore., in 2009 and re-formed his group, but trouble was on the horizon. By the time he left in 2011, he’d lost everything, including his band, his house and his lady. He was ready to head back to California, abandon music altogether and get a real job when a friend extended an offer to put him up for a while in Memphis until he could get back on his feet.

It proved to be one of the best moves in Jeff’s life. He arrived dead broke, without a car or a plan – just a suitcase and a guitar in hand. Less than two days later, he crossed paths with Brandon Santini for the first time at a jam on Beale Street. In short order, the harp player hired him to serve as both his lead guitarist and musical director.

Jensen’s career has been on a major upswing ever since. After a two-year stint in the Brandon Santini Band, he relaunched his own unit, but still found time to produce Brandon’s stellar Same Time Another Year CD, which earned a Blues Music Award nomination. In the years since, Jeff’s released four of his own albums, beginning with the highly autobiographical Road Worn and Ragged in 2013 and, most recently, Wisdom & Decay in 2018, earning nominations for two Blues Blast Music Awards Sean Costello Rising Star honors in the process.

Still extremely close friends and still touring with their own groups, he and Brandon reunited in 2017 as The Santini-Jensen Project for a few select festival dates. The response proved so great, it was impossible to ignore. With guitarist Timo Arthur, bassist Bill Ruffino and drummer David “Alabanimal” Green from their own bands in tow, they started working up new material and rebranded the spinoff as Tennessee Redemption, a supergroup that now works independently at bigger shows when individual schedules allow.

As 2020 began, Jeff and his cohorts were awash with great reviews for their Tennessee Redemption CD, which debuted last September, and their calendar was filled up with major bookings across North America and Europe, promising to be their most rewarding year yet.

Then coronavirus hit, something that – for Jensen – has been both a blessing and a curse. He’d already anticipated the April birth of Raelyn by blocking out a couple of months of down time from his schedule – but nothing like this.

“As a new father,” he says, “it’s hard to separate them. From a parental, emotional-bonding point-of-view, how many men have the opportunity to spend multiple months with their infant, where they’re home all the time? There’s no way this would have happened.

image“In a normal year, I would have been on the road for 50 to 65 per cent of the days of 2020. I would have been gone a lot. To be home with the baby has been awesome. To be a first-time parent, being off the road is a blessing…but

“Now, because of COVID-19, the entire career that I’ve been cultivating and harvesting for decades is nonexistent. It’s financially straining, but it’s also a pretty big emotional hit, especially on somebody who’s used to being self-sufficient.

“I had a dad who is and was one of the most hard-working dudes I’ve ever met, and I’ve tried to live like him. But now, I’m on the opposite side of the coin of what he went through when I was born. He was working 60 or 70 hours a week. My daughter’s born, and I’m like…I’m unemployed…I’ll figure it out when my industry comes back. I’m a hard worker myself, and that’s tough, man!”

The realities are both devastating and brutal for every musician during this difficult time, Jensen insists. “We’re very much living in unprecedented time for all of modern humanity. But what a lot of the people who aren’t in the music business don’t fully understand is that this is the greatest individual economic depression in the history of the recording industry.

“Obviously, it was caused by this global pandemic. But even during the Great Depression (note: the influenza pandemic in 1919 occurred six years before the release of the first 78-rpm record), there were still bands that could play live, that could tour and entertain people. Now, we have multiple other sources of entertainment as well as it’s simply not safe to gather in groups of large people.

“As a musician, it’s a pretty scary thing to be going through. Even though I’m almost always a really optimistic person and believe that — when all this ends –we’ll all figure it out, the future of what we do is definitely in limbo right now. The future of what we do is on a tightrope. Obviously, the longer the lockdown goes on, the more small and independent venues where most blues bands play are going to go out of business.”

Jensen cites recent research that shows that as many as 90 per cent of individually owned music venues are currently at risk of closing, and – like the virus itself – the wave of closures is starting to pick up speed.

“Most places were able to weather a couple of months of this,” Jeff points out. “But now we’re at the point that about five venues a week are closing down in the States.

“As this continues,” he wonders, “how many venues are going to be left? When we reopen – and it’s safe to gather again – how many of them will be left standing, and will there be enough for touring artists to profitably and sustainably tour?”

No one knows the answer.

“And the next question,” he says, “would be: Are we at the time in history where people would be willing to put new money into live music venues? If we were to lose 30 or 40 per cent of them, how long would it take for new ones to open…or would they?”

That’s a concern that troubled touring musicians long before COVID-19 because many long-established clubs were already shuttering for good and even the best artists were finding it increasingly difficult to secure enough work to make their tours profitable enough to support themselves and their bandmates once they returned home.

Jensen’s young enough not to remember the glory days in the ‘80s or early ‘90s, when it was still possible for a group to put together a series of gigs at four or more clubs across the country, where they’d work five or six nights in one place for a week before moving on.

In the current era, virtually all bands play one-nighters that are frequently located hundreds of miles apart and pay for their own lodging on nights they aren’t gigging. Today, there are fewer clubs that are even farther apart, and the great majority limit national bookings to mid-week and weekends, forcing many groups to seriously consider abandoning the road because they’re paying out more money on off nights than they’re making when playing.

imageAt present, the biggest problem virtually all blues musicians face today is the fact that their income comes solely through performance, leaving them without any other economic lifeline. They make all their money on the club circuit through appearances and direct contact with their fans and the CD and merchandise sales that result between sets and after gigs.

“It’s pretty much all of our revenue,” Jeff stresses. “Most people aren’t cognizant of or very sensitive to the fact that nobody is really selling (a large amount of) albums and nobody is really doing ample merch sales outside of the venues themselves.

“Of course, there are different levels of success. As an example, if Gary Clark Jr. would release a single, it’s pretty reasonable that, No. 1, it’ll get real FM radio play – which pays real royalties, and, No. 2, he has superfans out there who are actually going to go out there and buy his merchandise even if he’s not playing concerts. And No. 3, he has a name, reputation and label in place that place his music into commercialized environments — movies, TV shows and advertisements — creating additional revenue.

“But the real working-class guys like me, we just don’t sell much merchandise outside of gigs and don’t have people working on commercialized placement.”

Everyone in the working class would like to work toward that level of success – a concrete money stream in the form of what’s known as “mailbox checks,” but it’s more of a pipedream rather than an attainable reality, Jeff says. And getting airplay via services like Spotify provide virtually no help whatsoever in the majority of the blues world.

Spotify claims it pays out from 6/100ths to 6.8/100ths of a cent per stream – a figure disputed by industry watchdogs Ditto and Soundcharts, which claim the actual figure is more like 3/100ths to 6/100ths of a penny. No matter what the true figure may be, it’s nothing but chump change — and it’s paid out to the band as a unit — not individually to each member – to divide amongst themselves.

“One single person needs something like 320,000 plays on Spotify per week to make the equivalent of what he’d make on a minimum wage job,” Jensen points out, “and that’s every single week – not some crazy, weird fluke.

“If you have a Spotify account, it’s easy to see how much money artists are making. You can go look at the artists’ accounts and see how many hits they’re getting and do the math. Look at the blues artists and you’ll find that nobody’s getting those numbers, and they’re having to share what they do receive with their record labels and other people in their organizations.”

It’s far different for the dominant mainstream acts – so much so, in fact, that Cardi B dropped a new tune, “WAP,” recently and received 50 million plays in a single day…something impossible for any blues artist to conceive of even in the wildest of dreams.

“If I got 50 million plays in one day, I’m fine!” Jeff exclaims. “That’s real money coming in. But that’s not happening in the blues.”

The time to act to save the blues for future generations is today, Jensen insists, and everyone involved in the industry needs to be involved in finding answers “because ALL of us are the people who are going to keep this going one way or another.

image“And we’re going to have to get creative in the future about what kind of concerts we can play. If a club that books blues five nights a week goes out of business and is replaced by one local fan with a big yard who wants to host a house party, there’s no balance there. You don’t have to do the math. It simply doesn’t work unless there’s a network of folks doing it – something that’s worked in other forms of music.

“Again, I like to be the voice of positivity and optimism,” Jeff stresses, “but at some point – when you talk about business and numbers – we also have to be realistic. There are genres of music where the middle-class, working-class sector has essentially disappeared entirely.”

As an example, he says, the singer-songwriter community flourished in bars and small clubs across America for decades, but no more.

“You can be a super-successful singer-songwriter – like Ray LaMantagne – or a local (artist) who goes to your local open mic to play. But how many singer-songwriters today are able to tour for a living and really make ends meet?” he says. “That sector’s almost completely gone.”

While the current future for all musicians is precarious, blues lovers have something special going for them, Jensen believes. “What’s really special is that the blues has a really passionate working-class, middle-class sector of musicians – the folks who make all of their money off their music and their artistic pursuits, whether it’s performing, producing or whatever.

“We have our really famous artists – Gary Clark Jr. and Joe Bonamassa, the legendary figures – Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton – and then a massive quantity of hobbyists and bar bands who do it for fun. And don’t get me wrong: those people are important. They bring something special to it.

“But what really keeps the creativity alive and what continues to allow the genre to continue and grow in an artistic and creative way is that working (touring) sector. What happens if that’s eliminated…if, when it all comes back, there aren’t enough bars to play and you’re either a bar-level musician who can’t make a living on music alone and have to get a job to subsidize it – and the only other option is becoming a famous rock star?

“Of course, that’s not a choice. If we had one, we’d all want to be in Gary Clark Jr.’s position. We all aspire to reach that level. But what if Nick Moss can’t play blues for a living? Or John Németh? Or Victor Wainwright? Or Samantha Fish?

“What happens to the actual art itself,” Jensen wonders, “and how do we continue to grow it if that happens? We’re at the point where we really need to have conversations about whether or not we truly value the working-class musician.”

If the answer is “yes,” he says, it’s time for everyone involved to figure out a way to support the industry so that’s it’s sustainable and will flourish. If the answer is “no,” then everyone involved will have to get a meaningful job and suffer the consequences — being unable to focus on their craft and everything that comes with it.

The time for conversation is now, Jeff insists. If musicians, fans, promoters, publicists and bar owners wait, when they finally do sit down to talk, it may be too late to bring corrective actions to fruition.

One thing that will help, he believes, is to insist that every blues society include the words “preserve and promote blues music” in their charters, insisting: “If there’s ever a time for the blues societies to really implement what their charter is all about, it’s right now.

image“If there was ever a time for the Blues Foundation to step up more than they ever have to preserve and promote blues music, now is the time. And if we can have our community, our blues societies, our deejays, our publications and our artists really coming together to define how much we value each of our entities, then – maybe—we’ll be able to create a way to get through this COVID lockdown and be sure we have the future of the music we all love.”

Meanwhile, Jensen – like many of his peers – is soul-searching for solutions to all of the issues detailed above. “There are definitely exceptions for what I’m about to say,” he stresses, “and I don’t want to stereotype people, but when you’re allowed to focus on an artform exclusively, usually you have the ability to get to another level in whatever you’re doing.

“Sure, there are some hobbyists that really achieve a really high level of artistry and musicianship. That is possible. But for the most part, most of the musicians who get to a prolific level are fulltime professionals who get there because of the tens of thousands of hours they’re allowed put in to it – holding their instruments in their hands for 200 gigs a year, working in the recording studio for themselves and others and more.

“I worked construction most of my early life because that’s what my family did,” Jeff says. “And when you’re out there swinging a hammer all day, that’s hard work that messes up your wrists, your fingers and hands, your tendons. So it gets harder to play your instrument and develop the micro-muscles you need to achieve elements of finesse.

“Professional musicians almost have a strategic advantage because they’re able to play so often. If we eliminate that whole class of people, we’re left with the potential of having nothing but very corporatized rock stars and a large community of passionate hobbyists who have to spend the majority of their time working on cars or doing construction or computer work when they’d rather be playing.”

The time to talk is now, Jensen insists, because the life of the entire blues community is tottering on the brink and in desperate need of a plan of action created by smart, capable people ready to take leadership roles that will enable the industry to return to stability after everything reopens.

The message is grim, Jeff admits, but he remains upbeat despite the thoughts swirling in his head as he sits at home, tends to his daughter and searches for answers to the big questions himself. Meanwhile, he’s extremely grateful for all the love and support he’s received from fans around the globe since the birth of Raelyn.

“I’ve literally have lost count of all the social media private messages I’ve gotten from folks either congratulating me and my family or asking if there’s any way they can help us out,” he says. “So many people have asked for my address and my Paypal info and have contributed to make sure that me and my family are okay. It’s un-believable!

“If there’s any evidence of how powerful a community can be and how important being a member of it can be, the blues community and my fans are the perfect example. There’s an important physical and emotional connection between us. And the line is blurred between friendship and fan. It’s hard to tell how many of my shows you have to go to where I give you a hug, talk and shake hands or exchange Facebook messages it takes before we really are friends.

“It’s a really beautiful connection, and a lot of blues artists share the same experience. I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who’ve simply reached out to see how I’m doing and the others who’ve gone way above and beyond that, too. Man, we’ve had people who’ve sent us diapers, made us quilts…it’s been overwhelmingly beautiful.

“It gives me hope, energy and focus to get through all this. When you have fans that treat you with dignity and respect the way mine have been treating me, that’s really beautiful, and I’m extremely grateful!”

Learn more about Jensen, pick up some of his music or even reach out to him directly with encouragement and solutions by visiting his website: www.jeffjensenband.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 7 

imageJD Taylor – The Coldwater Sessions

Vizztone Label Group

11 tracks

Harp player JD Taylor picked up a harp at thirteen back home in Tennessee and went on to lead the band Little Boys Blue for over 25 years. With 5 albums under his belt, he has gone solo and remains with Vizztone. This album showcases him with some all star associates including singers from Southern Avenue and The Reverend Charles Hodges on B3 organ from Hi Records. This is a blues and soul fest for the listener’s pleasure.

Taylor wrote all the songs but one. He sings and plays harp. The guitar work is split in various pairs with John Hay, Landon Stone, John Holiday, Joe Restivo and Zack Lees. Matthew Wilson is on bass and Danny Banks is on drums. Hodges is on B3 and backing vocalists are Tierini Jackson and Tikyra KhamiirJackson. Mikey Junior plays harp and sings on Anastasia . The horn section is provided by Marc Franklin on trumpet and mellophone and Art Edmaiston on the saxes. This was recorded at Zebra Ranch Studios in Coldwater, MS, along with some work in Memphis.

“Got Me Where You Want Me” opens the CD. Taylor blows some mean harp and sings with forceful passion and the ladies back him nicely. Up next is “Ooh Wee” which reminds me a little of Otis Rush and his “Ooh Wee Baby.” A nice pair of back to back guitar solos gives this a cool, retro feel, too. Taylor later gives us a nice solo on harp for good measure, too. “Nothing Left To Say” is the following cut and JD takes us down soul street on this slow and mellow number. He lays out some dreamy lyrics and the organ supports the feeling as do the backing vocals. The first guitar solo is vibrant and cool and the latter one reprises the feeling and takes us all the way home. The horns do a fine job here, too. “Cocomo” is up after that, a bouncy little number that shimmies and shuffles in a sweet way. Mid song we get another restrained guitar solo and some harp punctuates things later on. “At First Glance” is the following cut; it’s got a churchy organ vibe and mellow horn arrangement that leads into Taylor’s impassioned vocals. Taylor rings us home with some slick harp. “By All Means” bounces back with a mid tempo rocking blues. Taylor sings and the guitar responds with it’s own prolonged solo. After another verse and chorus Taylor gives us another solo on his harp and then finishes us with some more cool singing.

The band funks it up in “It Ain’t Good.” The guitar, organ and horns lay out a good groove and carry the song along as JD and the women deliver another fine performance. We get another well done guitar solo here, too. The harp opens up the jumping cut “Hanging On” and Taylor jumps and jives fronting the band. Another guitar solo and then a later the harp mixes it up for the listener. “Honey Honey Baby” is the next song as Taylor asks his honey what’s on her mind. He squeaks out a neat harp solo and backing vocals are again in fine support. The guitar solos are thoughtful and back to back as earlier, a nice touch. “Anastasia” features Mikey Junior and is the only non-Taylor cut; no credit is listed for writing the song. Mikey sings and plays with grit and the guitar laments along with him. Harp leads the charge for the last third or so of the song as the angst filled song concludes. The concluding track is a jumping instrumental called “The Coldwater Swing” The guitar is slick, the organ is effusive and things rock and jump along nicely. It sounds like Taylor gives us some low harp tones and the pair of guitar solos are great. Taylor then lays out his last solo on the harp before switching back to the chromatic and he and the organ and band takes us to the album’s finish.

The CD travels some familiar sonic paths but Taylor makes the songs fresh and slick. I thoroughly enjoyed the CD and fans of soul blues, jump blues and a little R&B will also get a boost from this record. It is well worth many a spin!

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


 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 7 

imageKat Pearson – My Roots

Tone Trade

www.katpearson.com

9 tracks

Born in the states and predominantly raised in Los Angeles, Kathleen Pearson fell in love with London on a family trip when she was 18. After repeated visits, she finally relocated to the UK where she explored here music career. The blues found her (or she rediscovered the blues) while in Spain ang when she returned to London she found blues musicians and the band Kat & Co. began. Here 2013 and 207 CDs were well received and her work since resulted in this fine CD as part of her “Kat Pearson” project. She also appears as part of The Speakeasy trio.

Joining Pearson (who handles the vocals) are Francesco Accurso on guitars, Marco Marzola on the double bass, Mico Menci on piano, and Lele Barbieri on drums. Recorded in London live at Resident Studios, the sound is clear, cool and balanced. Pearson sings with passion and grit and the band is excellent in her support and on their own.

“Cane Creek” opens with some nice guitar as Pearson joins in telling her vocal tale about growing up in the old, hard days in Cane Creek. More spoken word than song, the overall feel is cool and the guitar is somber and quite cool, solo and in support. “When The Blues Is Over” follows, a mid tempo cut mixing blues and jazz stylistically to good effect. She sings with feeling and the piano work is super. A guitar solo follows on the heels of the piano and it is also up to the task. Next is “Where I Belong,” a slow blues with Kat testifying breathlessly and with emotion. There’s more tasteful piano here along with Kat’s vocals. “The Truth” is another slow to mid-tempo jazzy blues and here we get a good guitar solo with a bit of bite to it. “Ode To My Mother” is a slow, lamentful blues where Pearson and Accurso both emote through their instruments.

“Can’t Leave It Alone” is a lot more uptempo beat-wise, although thematically Pearson sings about the emotional barriers from her relationship. Piano and guitar offer apt support and it’s another well done tune overall. Distorted guitar opens “Until I Get What I Need” (almost 2 full minutes), and then Kat come out with sass and basically tells her lover she needs more attention. She sings with gusto as she and the guitar so it alone and play well to each other. Up next is “Nothing Left To Lose,” a cut with a little swing and jump to it. More emotional baggage is exposed as Pearson sings her woman has left her and that’s what the title is all about. A stinging guitar solo is featured here along with Kat’s sassiness and some more cool piano, bass and percussion. The album finishes with “Labour’s Train.” Some big-time guitar and gritty vocals make this one fun as Pearson sings about growing up poor and black in the 1960’s. Guitar and vocals build to a conclusion and wrap up the set.

This is a good album. Pearson sings with a chip on her shoulder that give her delivery a cool edginess. The musicians are tight and do a great job. Pearson and/or band members wrote all the tracks and they are well crafted and delivered with obvious feeling. I enjoyed the album and folks looking for a good blues album with some jazzy overtones here and there will, too!

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 7 

imagePaul Gillings – Invisible Prison

Self-produced CD

13 songs – 49 minutes

www.paulgillingsharmonica.com

Based out of Suffolk on the east coast of England, Paul Gillings is a skilled multi-instrumentalist who’s comfortable across several styles of music and a first-call sessions musician on harmonica. But he steps out of the shadows here to deliver this flashy set of modern blues.

Gillings’ interest in the instrument began at age 11, when he became enthralled by the play of his Scoutmaster at Boy Scout cookout. He soon joined a youth harmonica group, Random Sound, which gigged at events including the famed Glastonbury Festival and appearances on Jools Holland’s Happening TV show as well as the Mickey Mouse Club, TNN’s Nashville Now and ABC’s Good Morning America during U.S. tours.

A 1993 World Harmonica Championship winner in the youth blues/rock division, Paul’s worked in the fields of jazz, symphony, folk, indie rock and blues as an adult, primarily toiling in the studio before finally releasing a solo acoustic blues album, You Don’t Even Know, last year. He’s also currently a member of the gypsy folk ensemble Zingaro Blue, and is featured on their latest release, A Handful of Songs.

Gillings plays all of the instruments but drums on this CD, which is a major departure from his first release, substituting grungy guitar lines and roaring runs on harp for the clean, acoustic riffs he laid down previously. Paul wrote all 13 tracks here, which were recorded at his home in Lowestoft, then mixed and mastered at Blaze Studios in Caister on Sea, Norfolk. Nathan Luker handles percussion, and Danny R. delivers lead guitar on one cut.

Paul fires out of the gate with “Start Over Again” atop a speedy, driving boogie beat. Somewhat reminiscent of Sugar Blue on the reeds, albeit with far fewer pyrotechnics, he’s a powerful singer whose attack is both rapid-fire and clean as he describes being at a crossroads in relationship and wondering whether it’s worthwhile going returning to square one. “I Ain’t Never Played an English Song with an English Guy” picks up where the first number left off. Apparently, it’s based on a real-life incident when Gillings stunned a band in Texas with his skills after being invited to sit in on a Beatles tune.

The pace slows for “Are You a Have or Are You a Have Not,” which opens with stellar single-note progressions on the reeds before launching into lyrics that questions whether the person in question truly belongs. Paul’s chops are on full display for the mid-song solo. Boogie’s back on the front burner for the hard-driving instrumental, “KWS,” before “I Don’t Know When I’m Beaten” comes across as an unhurried shuffle propelled primarily with low-register chord progressions.

The stop-time “It Hurts Like Hell” is a medium-fast modern blues that deals with the dissolution of love affair aided by another clever hook on harp before a major aural shift with “Passed Me By,” a barebones tune with a regimental beat and a country feel. Up next, the original, “Help You,” borrows heavily from Blue’s “Help Me,” slowing the pace slightly and altering the theme to deliver a message to a woman that he can’t come to her aid because she’s incapable of doing anything for herself.

Paul’s guitar skills come to the fore for the opening to the slow blues instrumental, “3 Heads Are Better Than 1,” then yield to a quartet of different views of a problematic relationship — the melodic “I’m Never Gonna Change” the uptempo “It Beats Me Baby” the driving “I Gave Up My Evening for This” and the slow-paced “Waiting Blues” – bring the action to a close.

Available as a digital download through most major websites or as a CD through Amazon, you’ll serve a pleasant stretch in Gillings’ Invisible Prison.

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 – 4 of 7 

imageHenry Turner Jr. & Flavor – NOW

Hit City Digital Records/Supreme Music 2000

10 songs – 35 minutes

www.henryturnerjr.com

A fixture along the Gulf Coast for decades, Henry Turner Jr. & Flavor deliver a silky smooth mix of blues, soul, funk and reggae that will have you sliding and gliding across the dance floor in this all-original collection that was ten years in the making.

A multi-instrumentalist who possesses a warm, rich baritone voice, Turner’s one of the leading lights in music-rich Baton Rouge, La., where he’s owned and operated Hit City Records since the mid-‘80s and launched Henry Turner Jr.’s Listening Room and Heritage Museum in 2014 to promote and support regional talent.

Founder of the Baton Rouge Mardi Gras and Soul Food Festivals, he also organizes the Ultimate Louisiana Party – two- and three-day shindigs that feature local musicians, artists and spoken-word performers and more of the food that’s made the region famous. He’s also a film documentarian, and his labors have earned him multiple honors as an official music ambassador from state government agencies.

This is the 11th full-length album for Turner, a guitarist who incorporates jazz chordings and doubles on bass and drums. He handles lead vocals throughout, yielding the mic to Char Robertson on one cut. They’re backed by Maestro, Tony Mitchell and JahB on accordion and keyboards, Lynwood Ourso on guitar, Joey Decker on horns, Andrew Bernard on sax and keys, Larry Bradford on percussion with Jenessa Nelson, Molly Milne and Wyanda R. Paul providing backing vocals.

The mouth-watering “I Love My Soul Food” — a funky, medium-slow Southern soul pleaser — kicks off the action with Turner yearning for chittlins over rice, collard greens, corn bread, black-eyed peas and fried chicken. The song title serves as a hook throughout as Henry adds wild game, sweet potatoes and more to the menu before he’s done.

The warm love ballad, “Long as I Live,” heats up the night as it recounts love at first sight that will last an eternity before Turner launches into “That’s My Saints,” an upbeat, accordion-driven tribute to his favorite football team, especially after the way they worked their magic in the Super Bowl. It’s followed by the ballad “I’m Not That Kind of Man,” a bluesy confessional that he truly longs for a lady who’s “smart, beauty and sensual” – something he prefers far more than fortune and fame.

The funk kicks in full force for the Big Easy send-up, “I’m Going Down to the Mardi Gras!” It’s a horn-rich, percussive, stop-time pleaser that looks forward to getting drunk, partying hard and dancing with the big chiefs and Indian queens. Robertson’s in charge for “1 (One) Wish,” an unhurried ballad that finds her realizing how her grandmother felt as she yearns for life to be kind as she ages.

The music heats up for Turner’s “Baton Rouge Theme Song,” which describes the capital city as a place no one can refuse – where you’ll have a good time whether you’re trying or not. It flows into the instrumental, “Irenkar,” a breezy jazz number that gives Henry plenty of space to lay down some tasty single-note guitar runs. The album concludes with radio mixes of both “I’m Going Down to the Mardi Gras!” and “I Love Soul Food.”

Available on digital platforms worldwide, NOW is a solid effort on all counts and should please anyone whose tastes fall somewhere in the soul-blues/Southern soul vein. The only criticism here is that the two radio mixes are redundant to the earlier versions, making this work much closer to an EP than a full-length CD.

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 – 5 of 7 

imageBroke Fuse and Friends – Why Should I Be Blue?

Self-Produced/MAPL

www.brokefuse.com

CD: 8 Songs, 28 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric and Acoustic Blues Rock, All Original Songs

“Don’t rob the world of your voice.” My mentor in a writers’ group on Facebook recently offered this piece of sage advice. If you have something to write, write it, and if you have music to play, play it. Everyone has something they want, even yearn, to express or their souls will shrivel. Jay Moonah, known as Broke Fuse, asks himself and the world, Why Should I Be Blue? Even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Moonah has found a way to make his voice heard and provide hope to others. As he reveals on his latest album’s liner notes: “Somewhat ironically, the moment I found myself unable to collaborate in person with other musicians was exactly the time I found myself in need of help bringing my songs to life. Although most of these pieces were written before the 2020 health emergency, I find many have taken on new meaning for me during these trying times.” As a stalwart of the Canadian music scene for more than thirty years, he knows that circumstances change, but music – especially the blues – lasts forever.

The album itself features eight original songs combining electric and acoustic rock to modest but heartfelt effect. On the title track, Broke Fuse even strums ukulele, as he is a co-founder of the Scarborough Uke Jam. He used to be a one-man band, but on this CD, he has collaborated with several talented souls: Frank Baraczka on drums; Alex Matthew on lead guitar; Mike McKenna on lead guitar; Matthew Bartram on piano; Paul Butters on lead and rhythm guitar; Alex Cheung on violin and string arrangement; Steve McNie on cello; Sandra Bouza on female vocals; ZenSkylar on drum loop; Frank Horvat on piano, and Attila Baraczka on bass.

This CD’s biggest plus, besides its lack of covers, is its smooth instrumentation. Collaborations are like jigsaw puzzles: all the pieces have to fit, or the overall picture looks strange. Thankfully for Broke Fuse and Friends, they mesh very well, especially on the opener “Blow All the Blues Away” and the peppy swing-time instrumental “The Runner Duck.” The biggest minus is vocals. Conversation is indeed a dying art, but talk-singing only gets one so far in the blues business. The one song where it works is “Bluffer’s Blues,” which also boasts hard-hitting lyrics: “I’m scared and I can’t face it. I wrote but can’t erase it…And by my own admission, I’m stuck in this position, a student who keeps failing the test.” Who among us hasn’t felt like this at least once? Such relatable sentiments keep one listening, engaged with Moonah’s music.

Broke Fuse’s latest offering may not be perfect, but in dark times, we need all the help we can get and all the inspiration we can give.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 7 

imageWily Bo Walker & Danny Flam – Ain’t No Man A Good Man

Mescal Canyon Records

www.wilybo.com

10 songs – 45 minutes

Wily Bo Walker and Danny Flam may not be names that are instantly recognizable to the average blues fan, a situation that can be easily rectified by one listen to Ain’t No Man A Good Man, one of the most impressive roots releases of the year. Featuring 10 tracks mixing blues, soul, swamp, rock, Americana, classic R’n’B and even some reggae, Walker and Flam use a wide range of musicians and instrumentation to create one gloriously uplifting album that bears repeated listening.

Wily Bo Walker (his first name is pronounced “Why-Lee”, as in Wile E. Coyote) is a Scottish singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist blessed with a distinctively ragged voice of mischievous but muscular power, at times sounding like an unholy combination of Dr John’s and Coco Robicheaux. On Ain’t No Man A Good Man, Walker also contributes guitar, electric bass, banjo, tambourine, percussion, sound fx, and backing vocals. Meanwhile, “Horn Guy”, Danny Flam, has won multiple Grammys for his work with artists such as Kanye West and Jay-Z and here he adds trombones, trumpets, sousaphone, Hammond organ and backing vocals. Together they are joined by a veritable legion of top class musicians, including Mike Ross, Pete Farrugia, Troy Redfern, Keith Mack and Geoff Slater on guitars; Tommy Rhodes, Clarky, Tom Welsch and Neville L’Green on bass; Max Saidi, Fran Asias, Anthony Sullivan and Marc Ambrosino on drums; Ron Bertolet, Kenny Rampton, Mark Gatz, Mike McGovern, Nir Naaman, Tony Gorruso, Steve Withoft and Alex Bland on horns; Karena K, Stevie Watts, Benjy King, Ruslan Agababayev and Paul Long on keyboards; Li’l Neill and the Brown Sisters of Chicago Gospel Choir on backing vocals; with the Cenovia Cummins String Quartet providing cello and violin. Unfortunately, the press release does not identify which musician plays on which tracks but, despite the multitude of musicians, there is a coherence and singular identity to the music that holds the album together.

Walker’s production is first-rate, as are the quality of the songs – primarily written or co-written by Walker, together with a striking upbeat cover of “St James Infirmary Blues”, which has an irresistibly driven walking bass line.

Highlights about throughout the album. The opening title track hints at Tom Petty’s rootsier numbers, if he’d had Blood, Sweat and Tears as his backing band, while the slide guitar solo on “Walking With The Devil (With Blood On My Hands)” sounds like something Ritchie Blackmore might have played in the early 80s. There’s also a beautiful guitar solo at the beginning of “Night Of The Hunter” that sounds like the Alan Parsons Project playing with raw blues emotion. Walker originally recorded “Ain’t Hungry No More” on his 2014 Rattlin’ Bones release. Here it is given a masterful reggae re-make, with horns that are both threatening and optimistic at the same time. The closing track, “Build My Gallows (Ain’t No Return) taps into the bombastic musical dynamics of Led Zeppelin, while cleverly referencing the title track in the lyrics, while the swinging “Did I Forget” contains a barnstorming baritone sax solo.

There’s a lot to like on Ain’t No Man A Good Man. Great songs, well played and well produced, with stabbing, swinging horn lines that permeate every song, providing impetus, articulation and dynamic contrast. This is a first rate modern blues/roots album that wears its influences proudly. Really impressive.

Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.


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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 7 

imageJohn Fusco And The X-Road Riders – John The Revelator

www.facebook.com/XRoadRiders

Checkerboard Lounge Records

20 songs – 92 minutes

John Fusco is perhaps best known as a screenwriter, producer, and television series creator. His screenplays include Crossroads, Young Guns, Young Guns II, Thunderheart, Hidalgo, and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. He is also a veteran blues musician (Crossroads is partly autobiographical – the teenage Fusco did actually run away from his New England home to play the blues in Louisiana and Mississippi) Indeed, it was when Fusco was back in the Delta to film his recent Netflix hit, The Highwaymen, that a series of jam sessions with Cody Dickinson resulted in the debut album from John Fusco and the X-Road Riders in 2019. John The Revelator is a superb follow-up, featuring 20 songs spread over an hour and a half of great music.

It is perhaps unfair to start a blues review by highlighting an individual’s achievements in a different artistic discipline. For too many years, it has been all too common for rock musicians or film or television stars to try to show their love of the form by demonstrating conclusively that they cannot play it or sing it. John The Revelator is different. This is authentic, emotionally powerful modern blues-infused roots music, with splashes of rock, soul, pop and gospel, superbly played and all held together by Fusco’s weathered voice, quality musicianship and storied lyrics.

The album is split into two CDs, with a band that is split between Red State and Blue State musicians; making an articulate political point in these ideologically fractured times that music recognises no boundaries or borders. The Southern Chapter includes Fusco, who provides lead vocals and plays Hammond B3 and piano as well as acoustic guitar, and Dickinson, who plays drums, bass, guitars, dobro and electric washboard. Dickinson also produced the album at his Checkerboard Lounge studio in Southaven, Mississippi. Fusco and Dickinson are joined by two other stellar musicians to complete the Southern Chapter: Risse Norman on vocals and Ray Charles and Dr John alumnus, Sarah ‘The Bone Doctor’ Morrow on trombone. The Northern Chapter hail from Fusco’s Vermont home, and include ‘Magic’ Mark Lavoie on harmonica, Patrick Ross on fiddle, Kurt Pierson on lead guitar, Dennis Diego on bass, Spencer Perry on drums, Baby J and Dan Alario on saxophone, John Clinger on trumpet and Brickett Bailey, Cassandra Machia, Julia Simons and Rosalie Wasser on backing vocals. Special guests include George Walker Petit on guitar and bass and Ronnie ‘Baker Mon’ Klingsberg on harmonica.

Fusco wrote the vast majority of the tracks, but there is also an exhilarating cover of “John The Revelator” as well as Oliver Sain’s “Don’t Mess Up A Good Thing.” The tracks cover a wide spectrum of blues and blues-influenced music. At times, there are echoes of Layla And Other Assorted Loves Songs as the musicians happily chase after a muse, not just in Dickinson’s magical slide guitar playing but in the overall rejection of any obligation to remain within a certain genre. Both “Why You Chose Me” and “Good Money After Bad” have some of the sense of musical wildness that made the Layla sessions so memorable, while tracks like “Fools Fire” have a cinematic quality both in the musical dynamics but also in the dramatic lyrics. And then there are ballads like “Baby, Let’s Not Borrow”, which nods towards Bob Seger’s masculine sensitivity, the Eagles-esque country of “Motel Laws Of Arizona” and the upbeat soul/pop of “Jacqueline”. Bringing the intensity down slightly, “Snake Oil Man” and “Ophelia (Oh, I Feel Ya) both feature just Fusco’s voice and his piano organ.

The album is beautifully packaged in a gate fold sleeve (with cover art by Bobby Whitlock of Derek And The Dominoes fame), with a lyric booklet. All proceeds from sales of the CD will be donated to the HART Fund, so there’s really no excuse for not picking it up.

Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.


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