Issue 14-35 August 27, 2020

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Cover photo © 2020 Arnie Goodman


 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with Blues Rocker Joe Bonamassa. We have 7 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Friends of Lazy Lester, Emilio Arsuaga & The Mad Reeds, Catfish, Bridget Kelly Band, Smoke Wagon Blues Band, Wayne Nicholson and John Campbelljohn and Bobby Rush.


 From The Editor’s Desk 

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Hey Blues Fans,

Nearly 9,000 of you have already voted in the 2020 Blues Blast Music Awards so far. Voting is easy and free.

Have you voted yet? Voting is open until September 5th. You may only vote once.

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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 BBMA Voting – VOTE NOW! 

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Have you voted yet? Voting for the Blues Blast Music Awards if free and easy. (You may only vote once!) Vote for your favorite artists HERE!


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 Featured Interview – Joe Bonamassa 

imageTwenty years into his career, Joe Bonamassa is known internationally for his outstanding guitar abilities, songwriting and a vocal style that’s evolved through both hard work and study.

Few artists have established such a devoted fan base — something that’s paid off with 23 albums that have reached the top of Billboard’s blues charts, including his latest, A New Day Now, an accomplishment made possible by incorporating a sound marketing strategy and building a team of professionals who use social media platforms and available revenue streams in a holistic approach that works so well, it should be a model for all musicians.

Even with the world in a tangle, Bonamassa is moving steadily forward with multiple projects that will come to fruition and delight his fans in the immediate future, kicking off with a 20th anniversary re-release of his first record, A New Day Yesterday, in an expanded format. The original album was produced by the legendary Tom Dowd, the man who invented multi-track recording while working for Atlantic Records.

The updated set, A New Day Now, features changes Bonamassa’s made to pay tribute to Dowd, who left us 2002. The new version was supervised by Kevin Shirley, who took the baton from Tom and has been in the control room for all of Joe’s CDs since You & Me in 2006.

“I first met Tom at a BBQ place that was one of the house gigs I had as a kid in 1998, a place where we had to wait for them to clear the tables off the stage around 9:30 pm so that we could get set-up,” Bonamassa remembers. “They used to plead with us not to order dessert because things were already running late.

“Tom came out at the behest of Michael Kappus, who ran the Rosebud Agency. I was recording some demos for Epic Records for a development deal I had with them at that time. Tom came out, heard us, and liked me. He particularly liked my enthusiasm while understanding that I was an artist that needed some help. I was surprised that he decided to work with us. He mentored and nurtured me, taught me everything that he could in the time we had together.”

“He was 73 years old when I met him. When we picked him up at the airport, he looked around and said, ‘You know, I haven’t been in this part of the world for 60 years!’

“That is something to hear as a 19-year-old! Tom was a brilliant musician. That was the first time I was hip to the fact that he was from the old school, where the producer was the best musician in the room. He listened to everything. He was very cognizant of the kick drum pattern versus that of the snare drum…Is it rubbing with the bass? Is the guitar playing right and fitting in sonically?

“And, of course, he wanted to know if the songs were good. That debut record we made, A New Day Yesterday, was a college education for me in how to record — and a lesson in music history, too.”

“For the 20th anniversary issue, I re-sang all the vocals in Tom’s honor. I wasn’t a good singer at all back then. We also remixed it. There was an issue because some of the original tapes got lost when we took over ownership of the masters from Sony Music. So we had to go with what we had. Thank God that there was something from each song! Kevin Shirley did a wonderful job of piecing it all together.

“Tom and Kevin have similar styles,” Bonamassa says. “Tom liked cutting stuff live, and we still do that. It’s song first, then tempo, because they produce records from the bottom up. That means the drums have to be right. The thing I have learned from all of the great producers I’ve recorded with is that the drums are hypercritical. Everything else can be overdubbed.

image“Both of Tom and Kevin are very musician-oriented. But it all starts with the drums, the backbeat, the feel. One click out of tempo can make something feel too fast, like skipping a rock across a pond. You want the beat to be tough and grounded, like a tugboat.”

“The biggest different in the productions, Joe insists, “is that I’ve learned how to sing. I had some vocal issues when I was 28. My ear, nose and throat doctor said that he could remove the nodule from my vocal chord, but that won’t fix it long term. He suggested that I go learn how to sing and come back in six months for a follow-up.”

“So I went to see Ron Anderson, the guy he recommended. It doesn’t matter if you’re Myles Kennedy — singing hard rock with Slash — or Kenny Wayne Shepherd or Steven Tyler or Joe Bonamassa singing blues, there’s one guy who’s name comes up consistently, especially when singers are trying to save their career, and that’s Ron Anderson.

“I was lucky to be able to work with him, and I still go in for my 100,000-mile check-ups because you develop bad habits. Ron was able to improve my vocal range by almost an octave.”

The A New Day Now release has some bonus tracks, too — three cuts that were captured at a 1997 recording session in New York City — an event spearheaded by another well-known guitarist who had a great appreciation of what Bonamassa was doing at that time: Steven Van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen E Street Band and Sopranos fame.

“I met Little’ Steven in New York,” Joe remembers. “He was looking to branch out into production and some other things, We started writing some songs together. Again, I wasn’t an artist at that point — I was a kid! I was in a band, and I played guitar. That’s not really an artist.

“So I learned a lot from Steven. I sucked back then! One of these days, I’d like another opportunity to work with him.”

Despite the acclaim he’s already achieved, Joe’s still always looking for new opportunities. Earlier in the year, he and his manager, Roy Weisman, announced the start of a new label, Keeping The Blues Alive Records. Their first release, Blues With Friends, spotlighted a true musical legend, Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer Dion DiMucci, who grew up a major blues lover and became a superstar in the ’60s as front man for the Belmonts, producing a string of hits that include “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer,” among others.

“Dion approached us about putting out the record,” Bonamassa says. He already had the music in the can and was trying to find a home for it with a label.

“He’s a neighbor of my manager, and they had a number of discussions about getting it out for people to hear. We told him that, these days, you really need a strong marketing effort behind the release to make people aware. He could have gone with a number of other labels, but chose to work with us.”

The guitarist and his manager already had a label, J&R Adventures, which only releases Bonamassa’s records. They decided to initiate Keeping The Blues Alive Records to put out Dion’s album and create an imprint for future CDs with some sort of charitable connection involved in the process.

“It’s a pretty incredible CD,” Joe insists. “First of all, it’s Dion! Then he has all of these special guests, including Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Gibbons, Van Morrison, Jeff Beck, and Samantha Fish.

image“He’s a legend, and an icon. He’s 80 years old, looks like he is 50, sings like he’s still 30, and has more energy than both of us put together! Dion loves the blues, and he is beloved by so many music lovers. Working with him was a no-brainer. It made sense to me, so that’s what we did. What better way to launch a new label, your first release with a true icon.

“We already have the non-profit 501 (c)(3) sat up with the Keeping The Blues Alive Foundation. Through our previous efforts, we’ve already raised about $1 million dollars for music programs, blues and music awareness. And our new Fueling Musicians initiative was created to provide pandemic financial assistance, where we are giving away $1,500 packages to full-time touring artists that are really buggered right now. Artists can go to the Keeping The Blues Alive website to fill out the application and apply.

“It just made sense to put the records out under the Keeping The Blues Alive umbrella because, to me, that is kind of what we are doing in a sense.”

With Dion’s release garnering plenty of attention — it spent six consecutive weeks in the No. 1 spot on blues charts, Bonamassa already is working on several other projects for the new label. He is very excited about being able to cut an album with Joanna Connor, another fine guitarist he feels deserves far more recognition.

“I’ve known about Joanna for years,” he says, noting that she really caught his attention.. “I saw a video of her playing at the Chicago Blues Festival and she ripped into something. I thought: there’s some playing that I haven’t heard in awhile!

“Later, I showed up at a show she was doing at Kingston Mines in Chicago. I listened to her set, watched her working her ass off. She typically does that five, six nights a week, four to five hours each night.:

“She was great, he insists, but was playing “a set that unfortunately plays to the tourist crowd, meaning it is covers of blues and soul tunes. I wanted to figure out how to bottle what I heard in that video. I approached her to ask if she would be interested in making an authentic Chicago blues record.

“From watching her show, there were a couple of moments where people weren’t really paying attention. That was when the real Joanna Connor showed up. She got tough, and I saw the fire. I knew there was a punk-rock Chicago blues record in this woman. She’s been a fixture on the scene for many years. I let her know that I wanted to do a record that sounds tough, rough and ready — and asked her to trust that I had her back.

“When she got to Nashville to start recording, I let her know that my bedside manner in the studio may not be what you would expect. I’m tough, and I have a singular vision of what you should be doing. I am so proud of her. She brought her A+ game.

“With just a little prodding from myself, I believe that she made the record of her career. I am very excited for people to hear it because Joanna deserves it. She deserves a career resurgence. I love seeing people like Bobby Rush, in his 80s, finally getting the attention he deserves.

“A lot of times these great artists are under-serviced in the marketplace, and taken for granted. I didn’t want that to happen to Joanna. She is a wonderful human being, guitar player and vocalist. People need to know that she is just as a good a singer as she is as a guitar player -– and she proved it!

“My strategy was very simple: Get an A-list band that knows the material, that has a real authentic feel for the material. She stared talking about playing this rhythm, or that rhythm. I told her not to worry about that because Josh Smith and I would play rhythm guitar.

“I also made it clear that she was going to play lead guitar, that I was going to frame her up like Albert King, so when she comes in, it will be a big event. It is like the blues acts I would see when I was growing up. They didn’t play chords, they played solos. That was an art. They sang, then they played one note that brought you to tears. Joanna has that ability.

image“You just have to put her in a situation where she can flourish.”

In addition to those projects, the guitarist has his own new release, Royal Tea, set for release on J&R on Oct. 23. It’s a homage to the pioneers of British blues — John Mayall, Eric Clapton and Cream, Led Zeppelin and Jeff Beck — and features ten originals full of amazing guitar tones and arrangements full of dazzling sonic textures. Lending a helping hand are members of his touring band: Anton Fig on drums, Michael Rhodes on bass, and Reese Wynans on keyboards.

“For me, Clapton is at the top of the list,” Joe says. “He’s my favorite singer, songwriter and guitar player all rolled up in one person. I can’t tell you how much respect I have for him as a person and as a musician. He’s given back, helped many people like myself and others. And he’s been involved in making some of my favorite music ever made with Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Derek & the Dominos, Cream, his solo recordings.

From The Cradle, to me, is one of the greatest blues records ever recorded. That was the template I used for Joanna’s record. It is all covers, but done his way. He was passionate about the music, like he was opening up his musical diary.

“It is fucking criminal that John Mayall is not in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. But it is what it is. He is 86 years old, so what are they waiting for? The guy was involved in changing the world, changing the music. If that is not the definition of deserving to be in the hall of fame, then I have no idea what the criteria is.

“We were trying to capture that spirit on Royal Tea. I wrote the majority of the record with guitarist Bernie Marsden and Pete Brown. I also got help from keyboardist Jools Holland, Kevin Shirley and Dave Stewart. We were all just hanging out in London, trying to get that sound. The record is not so much a tribute to guitar players, but more of an experiment to capture that sound.”

Despite the pleasant title, he says, the disc isn’t for the faint of heart. Many tracks exhibit a fierce energy that leaves listeners wondering if songs like “Why Does It Take So Long to Say Goodbye,” “I Didn’t Think She Would Do It,” ‘Lonely Boy” and “Beyond The Silence” were themes pulled from the universal gestalt or were they far more personal for the guitarist.

“This one is straight out of the diary,” Bonamassa says. “I had a long break-up in a long-term relationship. It took a while for her and I to sort it out. We still have great respect and love for each other. But I had a few things that I had to say.

“When One Door Opens” is one I wrote with Pate and Kevin, one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever written. Pete came up with the line, ‘When one door opens, another closes on me.’ When I read that, I said it is a very eloquent British way of saying if it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all. So we had a blues song!

image“Another song, ‘Conversation With Alice,’ is about a therapist I once saw — only for two sessions. I learned pretty quickly that I was unrepairable! I am a character. At least I’m not hurting anyone. Like all humans, I’m just flawed. Once the music business kicks me out, I will do my decade of atonement, mellow out, and start an antique store or something.”

Bonamassa crossed another item off his bucket list when he decided to record the album at the legendary Abbey Road Studios, where he’d previously done a 2012 session with Jon Lord, the composer/keyboard player known for his work with Deep Purple and Whitesnake.

The magical history of the studios had an immediate impact on the project.

“We started recording these songs that I wrote with these British artists,” he says, “and after I heard the first track, I said I love it when a plan comes together.

“We’d hatched this project back in 2018 with Bernie and Pete when I was working with Ginger Baker. I had always wanted to come to London and write a British record. As soon as we heard the first track, Bernie started laughing and said, boy, that worked right. Being at Abbey Road did what it was supposed to do, it’s not a sound-alike thing.

“We wrote the record in a little office at Abbey Road that we rented. The magic wasn’t so much that that was where the Beatles and other artists had recorded iconic music. It was the fact that every day we would get out of the cab, walk in the front door, go to our office with a gig bag and a note, thinking this is not the uncoolist thing we have ever done!

“There were people out there taking pictures, but we had pressing business to take care of in the studio.”

The guitarist also has scheduled a livestream concert from Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on Sunday, Sept. 20, which will feature the material from Royal Tea plus tracks from his first record. It’ll be the first time Bonamassa’s ever delivered a concert in which he played a full album before its release to the public.

He’ll contribute $1 from each ticket purchased to his foundation’s Fueling Musicians program. If you’re interested, tickets are still available at https://joeb.me/JBW

Bonamassa’s a busy, busy man despite the uncertain times we live in, but he remains focused and committed to moving forward with all his projects while doing what he can to use his public visibility to make a difference in the world around him.

“I’ve been very lucky in my career to weather a few storms,” he says. “Now it’s time to give back to my friends who fight the good fight every day and who’ve had the rug ripped out from under them.

“So far, we’ve raised over $300,000 for Fueling Musicians, and we’ve given it all away to over 160 musicians from all types of genres, not just blues .

“Funds are available to touring musicians who’ve had dates canceled. We made the decision to keep the program going as the need’s still there — well into next year. People are really hurting.

“It will be a very different, and difficult, landscape when things do come back. I wish I could raise more. If we get a million dollars, I’ll gladly give all of it away. We want to be there for people in need at their time of need.”

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 7 

imageFriends of Lazy Lester – Lazy Lester Forever

Rock CD Records

www.gregizor.com

www.facebook.com/madreeds

14 songs, 44 minutes

The late great Lazy Lester was a singer, songwriter, harp blower, band leader, educator and innovator. The Louisiana legend created a legacy of eclectic music that drew many disciples from all over the world. Two accolades, Spaniard harp master Emilio Arsuaga and Austin based Blues legend Greg Izor have created a fittingly joyous homage to their friend in Lazy Lester Forever. Pulling together a group of “Friends of Lazy Lester,” Arsuaga and Izor have put together a collection of tunes, most of which written by Lester, that memorialize the diverse aspects of the master’s career.

This record is a family affair. Recorded in Austin, TX at Izor’s home studio this record is live and in the moment and has the ebullient feel of absolute monster players having fun. Guitarist Eve Monsees and her husband drummer Mike Buck were part of Lester’s band. Lester sang the song “Real Combination For Love,” which Izor absolutely slays on vocals here, at the couple’s wedding. Lester six stringer and Austin transplant Grady Pinkerton locks in with his former band-mates. Austin mainstays Emily Gimble on keys and vocals and Randy Glines on bass along with percussion work from Carlos Arsuaga, from Emilio’s band the Mad Reeds, round out the session.

In spite of all the camaraderie and selfless service to the songs, this record is clearly helmed by Arsuaga and Izor. Arsuaga takes the lead on 7 songs, one of which he wrote, and Izor 4, two of which he wrote. Arsuaga kicks off the proceedings with “I’m So Tired,” a chugging jump Blues plea for love and understanding. Izor’s rendering of the aforementioned “Real Combination for Love” smolders and has love’s soft caress. Izor’s original “Jail” is a simple guitar, harp, vocal piece that brings old school early Blues to the party, reminding the listener that Lucky Lester started out in a time when this type of music was still popular on the airwaves. Arsuaga’s early R&B doo-wop-ing of “I Love You I Need You” shows off the pop side of Louisiana music as well as Lester’s eclectic side. Arsuaga’s original tribute to Lester from his album I’m Here To Stay, “Thank You, So Long,” gets a harder Soul reading here that offers more jump to this mournful reflection on the loss of a dear friend.

Lazy Lester Forever is a fitting tribute to the innovative Blues pioneer from people who knew him in the second half of his life and revered him as the mentor he was. As fun and loose as this record is, it is recommended that listeners track down the original music that Arsuaga and Izor play individually. Their respective careers have been multifaceted and exceptional.

Similarly, as with any tribute album, it is recommended that listeners unfamiliar with Lazy Lester track down his music right away. You are in for a treat.

Reviewer Bucky O’Hare is a Bluesman based in Boston who spreads his brand of blues and funk all over New England. Bucky has dedicated himself to experiencing the Blues and learning its history. As a writer, Bucky has been influenced by music critics and social commentators such as Angela Davis, Peter Guralnick, Eric Nisenson, Francis Davis and Henry Louis Gates Jr.


 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 7 

imageEmilio Arsuaga & The Mad Reeds – I’m Here to Stay

Rock CD Records

www.facebook.com/madreeds

11 songs, 35 minutes

Emilio Arsuaga is a devotee of Lazy Lester. The harp blowing singing/songwriting Spaniard was one of the young musicians mentored by Lester before his death and the lasting effect of the master’s teaching overflows out of the music on I’m Here to Stay. Recorded at Estudio Brazil in Madrid, Arsuaga and his band The Mad Reeds fully embody the unique swampy Louisiana mix of Blues, Zydeco, Swamp Pop and Country Western that was Lazy Lester’s hallmark.

The Mad Reeds are a tight unit. Creating the flowing and flexible murky waters on which Arsuaga pushes air through his harp and his vocal cords are Carlos Arsuaga on drums, Cesar Crespo on guitar, Marino Orejana on bass and Javier Dias Castillo on piano and organ. Mixing highly effective originals in with covers from the likes of Louisiana harp legend Johnny Sansone, harp Mount Rushmore member Little Walter, and contemporaries like the Austin Bluesman Greg Izor, Arsuaga and the Reeds are not imitating American Music, they are living it.

Title track “I’m Here to Stay” is a great example of how Arsuaga and his band define their voice within the tradition. This song is a simple 12 bar Blues shuffle. It’s easy to make a 12 bar shuffle boring, these guys do not. The secret is to keep the beat popping and steady at a medium fast tempo. If it lags it dies. Secondly the guitar, bass and keys have to hit that perfect balance between unison chugging and divergent counterpoint. Again these guys nail it with telepathic ease. Crespo plays the relentless 1-2 shuffle picking way back near the bridge of the guitar making the rhythm pattern a crunchy reckless drive through the backwoods. Diaz Castillo accents and flourishes with classic organ runs. Arsuago sings about difficult relationships, perseverance and defiantly proclaiming he is here to stay.

The Mad Reeds take on the Fats Domino chestnut “I’m Ready” hits a modern voice within Domino’s highly defined style. Diaz Castillo again showing depth and sensitivity, hits all the correct Fats’ conventions without being derivative. This 2 minute and 43 second blast of early Rock and Roll fire burns with emotion and fun. Similarly the take of Little Walter’s “Can’t Hold on Much Longer” is a hard hitting Chicago burn that is stylized but not blindly devotional. Blowing perfect Walter style harp, Arsuaga testifies while Crespo plays perfectly within the Jimmy Rodgers style of rhythm guitar.

Album closer “Thank You, So Long” is a medium tempo Country Western waltz. Resplendent with pedal steel from Pere Mallen and lush background vocals from Isabel Urzaiz, this original is dedicated to Lazy Lester and a fitting cathartic ending to this Louisiana backwoods riot of a record. Arsuaga moans a benediction to Lester as he rides on into the sunset showing again how adept he is at creating honest and effective music within the tradition. “Thank You So Long” is indicative of this whole album, an unassuming master work of form and invention within traditional music. The music of I’m Here To Stay is the result of years of dedicated study, miles and miles of road honing craft, and, sacrifice and commitment to a specific art form that if not carried on would fade into the ether. We are all lucky there are players like Emilio Arsuaga and the Mad Reeds taking the time to do this work with respect, creativity and artistic honesty.

Reviewer Bucky O’Hare is a Bluesman based in Boston who spreads his brand of blues and funk all over New England. Bucky has dedicated himself to experiencing the Blues and learning its history. As a writer, Bucky has been influenced by music critics and social commentators such as Angela Davis, Peter Guralnick, Eric Nisenson, Francis Davis and Henry Louis Gates Jr.


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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 7 

imageCatfish – Burning Bridges

www.catfishbluesband.co.uk

self release

11 songs time-59:30

Shades of Pink Floyd, Camel and more heavy rockers are conjured up by this quartet from The United Kingdom. All songs written were written by either or both Paul and Matt Long (Paul & Matt are father & son ) except for one by bassist Adam Pyke co-written with Matt Long. The songs cover ground from moody prog-rock, hard rock and the occasional lighter moment. Both Longs share vocal duties. Matt has total control of his guitar riffs, while Paul adds melody and texture with his variety of keyboards. The solid rhythm section holds everything together..

Droning, eerie early Pink Floyd-ish sounds lead into power chords and the nifty hook of “Up In Smoke”. Matt’s yearning lead vocal is supported by Alice Armstrong’s backing vocals. Paul’s organ undercuts Matt’s soaring guitar solo as it morphs into the wah-wah universe. The band achieves the European vibe of the British band Camel on “Ghosts”. Paul’s smooth vocal and Matt’s melodic guitar are reminiscent of Camel’s Andy Ward. They come on like a heavier Camel in the crunchy rock of “The Root Of All Evil”. Paul’s organ is prog-rock funky leading into a soaring guitar interlude.

Ominous moans lead into a catchy riff on “Soulbreaker” that features a vocal by Matt. A portion of the guitar on “Too Far To Fall” is played through a Leslie speaker. There is also an organ part. Matt’s gruffly deliberate vocal supported by Alice Armstrong’s soaring backing vocal on the pensive “Archangel” cuts to the very soul. “The Big Picture” harkens back to classic arena rock with its’ distorted guitar riff and wandering slide guitar. Kind of like Bachman-Turner Overdrive meets Foghat. More of the same with “Under The Gun”, sans slide guitar.

Now for something completely different. Paul accompanied solely by his acoustic piano delivers the plaintive ballad “One More Chance” with his mellow endearing vocal. Ominous, textured guitar riffs fill the ten minute opus of “Exile” with Matt’s hearty vocal bolstered by Alice Armstrong’s backing vocal. The song builds to guitars swirling around with organ.

Various British prop-rock influences are melded together with hard rock attitudes to create something new yet curiously familiar. While not a real Blues album, the band’s playing is about as tight as can be.

Imaginative lyrics abound here in Catfish Land. If you yearn to feed your seventies fix, this is just the place. They have the genre down pat. Nothing slip shod here, this is well crafted and energetic music at its’ finest.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 7 

iageBridget Kelly Band – Dark Spaces

Alpha Sun Records A1A.2020

13 songs – 69 minutes

www.bridgetkellyband.com

Almost all of the music you hear today is written from a historical perspective, dealing with social injustices, bad love affairs and more. Once in a while, though, a group’s ahead of its time. And that’s the case with this ensemble led by the husband-wife team of vocalist Bridget Kelly and guitarist Tim Fik.

This all-original set was composed while they were on tour last year and deals with themes that range from isolation, loneliness and more – elements that affect virtually everyone in the world today because of their difficulties living under the threat of COVID-19 and the deaths and illnesses of so many loved ones. Fortunately, they temper the mix with a little hope and unbridled optimism, too, to ease the pain.

Based out of Gainesville, Fla., but road warriors who’ve played several of the top festivals across the U.S., the band features the strong, sultry vocals of Bridget and six-string wizardry from Tim. He’s a 2019 Keeping the Blues Alive winner from the Blues Foundation, and their band reached the semi-finals of the International Blues Challenge in both 2015 and 2016.

Their most recent releases — 2016’s Bone Rattler and 2018’s Blues Warrior – both spent six months on American charts and received airplay around the globe, delivering a mix of modern, progressive sounds that range from straight-ahead, 12-bar blues to Southern rock and more. And this one should follow suit.

Kelly and Fik penned all 13 cuts here with Tim producing. They’re backed by a trio of drummers – Alex Klausner, Sonny Rock (Tas Cru) and Boss Jones – with Fik splitting bass duties with Mark Armbrecht. And as Bridget explains in the liner notes, Dark Spaces was conceived to describe “the sacred space in your heart when you’re in crisis and carry pain that others may not see… The songs focus on optimism and that with God, positive thinking, and perhaps even dancing, you can get through anything…”

“Free Me” – an intense, steady, mid-paced shuffle — opens the action with a brief, emotional guitar run before Bridget launches into lyrics that describe her urge to escape from the captivity of a 10×10 room. Tim’s single-note solo mid-song emphasizes her pain. The mood’s more upbeat for the rocker, “Sky’s the Limit,” which stresses the need to reach for the stars by breaking down the walls you build for yourself internally.

The title cut, “Dark Spaces,” is a slow, bluesy shuffle that looks for answers as the singer examines the crevices of her mind, while the blues-rocker, “Find My Way Back Home,” is aurally different with Tim on slide as it reminds listeners that they have to plant the seeds today to enable their dreams for the future to germinate and bear fruit. “Someone to Hold on To,” a plea for love, follows before the theme turns upbeat again with a pair of positive affirmations, the sweet “Things About to Change” and the driving “Sometimes You Gotta Dance.”

The mood darkens again for the slow blues-rocker, “Moments,” which offers up more introspection about inner turmoil, before brightening once more for “In the Spirit (Souls in the River),” which rejoices about the accomplishments we can make when we all work together for a positive goal. Two tunes about romance — “No Use Tryin’,” which deals with the aftermath of a failed affair, and “Back Seat Love,” a fiery dance number – follow before the rocker “Southern Wind” and “Your Days Are Numbered,” a seven-minute slow blues, bring the disc to a close.

Available via Apple Music and about a dozen other digital services, Dark Spaces is a powerful, bittersweet statement that puts into focus all of the struggles humanity’s enduring today.

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 

imageSmoke Wagon Blues Band – The Ballad Of Albert Johnson

Self-Release – 2020

13 tracks; 53 minutes

www.smokewagonbluesband.com

This Canadian band formed in 1996 and this is their seventh album release. The band is a seven-piece with frontman Corey Lueck on vocals and harp, Mike Stubbs on guitar, slide and lap-steel, Steve Sherman on guitar and percussion, Brandon Bruce on keys, Gordon Aeichele on sax, flute and washboard, Jason Colavecchia on bass and Tibor Lukacs on drums; everybody apart from Gordon provides backing vocals. The material is all-original apart from one Fats Domino cover, Corey being the main writer, involved in all twelve originals, with Mike, Brandon, Jason and Tibor all contributing. Steve engineered and produced the album, apart from the final track which is a live recording.

Corey’s vocals are so gruff on the title track that it is not always easy to catch the lyrics over the pounding boogie beat but the story appears to be a tragic one. The band moves into soul territory with a funky tune which relates life on the road fueled by “Memphis Soul” and that soulful vibe carries over into the ballad “Ain’t Gonna Be Your Fool”, a classic tale of love gone wrong with brooding sax and solid piano. Both those instruments also feature strongly on a robust take on “The Fat Man” which evokes both Fats and New Orleans, the Crescent City also the focus of “Lay Say Lay” (an adaptation of the Cajun saying ‘laissez les bon temps rouler’). Another change of direction occurs with “Mescaline” which features Gordon on flute, giving the song a light, jazzy sound though the lyrics are again quite difficult to grasp but appear to be about getting high in Montreal. “Sacrifice” is a strong song with Brandon’s swirling keys leading into fine guitar and sax solos; the rhythm section pushes this one along in Doobie Brothers style, the bass getting a short feature too.

The next two tracks both have blues in the title: “Poor Man Blues” shuffles along nicely with slide, sax and Corey getting his harp out to good effect; “Matapedia River Blues” is the longest track here, coming in at just under six minutes, a slow blues which takes its time to describe the area in Quebec through which the river runs. The more relaxed pace suits Corey’s voice and the whole band stretches out impressively on a very enjoyable cut. “A Song For Cheryl” is another well done slower tune which also name-checks the Matapedia as Corey rues the loss of the title character: “when I need to tell somebody, who will I call?”

The next track adds some jump blues to the band’s portfolio, Corey bemoaning his luck in all manner of activities but concluding that you “Can’t Take The Blues” away from him – a very catchy number. The familiar title “On The Road Again” is not the old Canned Heat song but another original, this time in country style, one of the band doing a decent impression of Johnny Cash in duet with Corey. Last we get a live recording, the title “Steaming Comrades Harp Boogie” giving away that this is a harp-led boogie tune which probably went down very well at The Ontario Power Boat Championships!

The Smoke Wagon Blues Band shows us a wide range of styles here and listeners will be able to pick out their preferences. It is also fair to say that the album is well packaged with a vintage oil wagon on the cover and the band members photographed in front of an old steam locomotive on the inside.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 7 

imageWayne Nicholson and John Campbelljohn – Elmore’s Blues

Grindstone Records

www.facebook.com/ElmoresBluesWayneNicholsonJohnCampbelljohn

CD: 14 Songs, 48 Minutes

Styles: Blues Covers, Tribute Album, Contemporary Electric Blues Rock

Once upon a time, in the early days of the Internet, a fiction subgenre was born. Written by fans for fans of a particular book/movie/video game, it was dubbed “fan fiction” or “fanfic.” No one got paid for it, but they could finally insert themselves into their favorite fantastical universes. Tribute albums consist of “fan music,” played by fans for fans of particular artists. As with fanfic, its quality varies, but the end result is invariably enthusiastic. Case in point? Wayne Nicholson and John Campbelljohn’s latest album, Elmore’s Blues, an homage to Elmore James. Featuring twelve commendable covers and two original tunes (“If I Was Blue” and the closer, “Dancin’ with the Blues,”) it celebrates James’ most renowned work with the casual zest of a backyard barbecue. Some tracks are more flavorful than others (“I Believe,” “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” “Sinful Woman” and “Sunnyland”), but on the whole, these two have nailed it. Nicholson’s robust vocals and Campbelljohn’s storied guitar work, it’s a must for die-hards.

Wayne Nicholson has long been considered one of Atlantic Canada’s greatest blues-rock vocalists, often compared to legends such as Paul Rodgers, Jim Morrison and David Clayton-Thomas. Having grown up with the sounds of early jazz and blues, Nicholson evolved into his own musician with a unique understanding of the genre. With a career spanning fifty years, he recorded eight albums, touring with artists such as Ike and Tina Turner, Gregg Allman, James Cotton, Jeff Healey, and more. As for John Campbelljohn, he’s a multiple award winner that includes wins and nominations for Maple Blues Awards, East Cost Music Awards, Real Blues Awards, and other plaudits. He’s recorded and released fourteen albums and has been featured on numerous others throughout his career.

This is essentially a duo album, as depicted on the CD jacket cover and the middle inside flap. Nicholson stars on vocals and flute for “Strange Kind of Feeling.” John Campbelljohn takes center stage on guitar. Joining them are Bruce Dixon on bass, Neil Robertson on drums, Barry Cooke on piano, and Kim Dunn on organ.

How well do the two original tracks fit into the overall repertoire of Elmore James songs? In a word, perfectly. “If I Was Blue” boasts a killer slide guitar intro with melodic beauty throughout the entire number. Nicholson’s vocals are full of vim and vigor, well-suited to the heartache of the narrator. “Dancin’ with the Blues” will make listeners get off their seat and on their feet, ending this CD with a memorable bang. Barry Cooke’s piano and Bruce Dixon’s bass sound terrific here, and Neil Robertson’s drums provide a swinging mid-tempo beat.

Elmore James would be mighty proud of his two aficionados and their feisty “fan blues” tribute!

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 7 

imageBobby Rush – Rawer Than Raw

Deep Rush Records – 2020

11 tracks; 45 minutes

Although now well into his 80’s, ‘King of the Chitlin’ Circuit’ Bobby Rush slows little sign of slowing down, this release following soon after last year’s Sitting On Top Of The Blues though it is far more closely tied in style to 2007’s Raw, a solo disc which was Bobby’s initial acoustic foray. Raw was an all-original set but this one mixes Bobby’s songs (some reprized from earlier, electric, discs) with a few of his influences, all drawn from the Mississippi Delta tradition. Although born in Louisiana, Bobby can trace his family roots to Mississippi and has lived in Jackson, MS since the 1980’s. He was fortunate to meet all of the bluesmen covered here, becoming friends with some, sharing stages with others. When you realize that the musicians concerned are Skip James, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Muddy Waters and Elmore James you start to understand why Bobby wanted to release this tribute to these masters of the blues and massive influences on his career. The tracks were recorded over a number of years in Jackson with producer and engineer Randy Everett, so very much a labor of love.

This is purely Bobby Rush – vocal, guitar, harp and foot stomp. The format is to intersperse Bobby’s originals with the covers (or should we call them ‘tributes’?), the album opening with the sprightly “Down In Mississippi” which celebrates visiting the Magnolia State: “I went down to Mississippi, sure had a wonderful time, I got high down there, high as a Georgia kite.” Bobby met Skip James when Skip was ‘rediscovered’ in the 60’s and plays a respectfully slow version of “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” (here entitled “Hard Times”) which Skip originally recorded during the Great Depression in 1931, yet it sounds very relevant for our current, troubled times. “Let Me In Your House” is one of those originals which Bobby plays with a knowing wink as he attempts to persuade the girl to let him in: “If I can’t sleep in your bed, let me sleep on your floor. If I walk in my sleep, you’re the only one who’ll ever know. If I can’t be your full-time lover, let me be your part-time man.”

Howlin’ Wolf was a huge influence on Bobby who admired his individuality and determination to do what he wanted, regardless of what others thought: Bobby says he feels the same! Bobby holds Wolf in such high esteem that he covers two of his successes, “Smokestack Lightning” and “Shake It For Me”, Willie Dixon’s song recorded as a B-side by Wolf in 1961 but perhaps best known for ‘influencing’ Led Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love”. Bobby plays some excellent harp on “Sometimes I Wonder”, a gentle reflection on the ageing process that acts almost like a mid-album interlude.

Bobby met SBW II (Rice Miller) when he was working with Elmore James in 1947. “Don’t Start Me To Talkin’” became a hit in 1957 and Bobby gives the familiar song a lively reading. Bobby’s “Let’s Make Love Again” does what the title suggest, the song sharing some of the lyrics of “Statesboro’ Blues” and sets the scene nicely for Muddy Waters’ “Honey Bee, Sail On” which is played in a very laid-back style, just guitar and an almost imperceptible foot stomp. Bobby knew Muddy from his time in Chicago and in the sleeve notes confesses that “I really wanted to be like Howlin’ Wolf. I wanted to dress like Muddy Waters. I wanted the showmanship like Wolf. Muddy Waters was a clean, sharp dresser, with a suit and tie on every day.” He certainly has done both of his great influences justice here.

We then get one of Bobby’s funniest songs (and still very much part of his stage act), “Garbage Man” – “of all the men my woman could have left me for, she left me for the garbage man. Every time I see a garbage can, I think of her and the garbage man all the time.” As Bobby says at the end of the song, “and that’s the blues for you”! To conclude the album Bobby covers “Dust My Broom” which could be interpreted as a tribute to its composer Robert Johnson, but Bobby never knew RJ, so his version references Elmore James’ famous version. Bobby met Elmore in 1947 when he was sneaking into clubs under age with a fake mustache!

In the liner notes Bobby is at pains to stress that these are not the only Mississippi musicians he would like to cover and regrets that there was no room for Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Son House and BB King. Maybe a second volume is called for, Bobby! Meanwhile enjoy this fine album of authentic Delta blues played by the one and only Bobby Rush.

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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