Issue 14-44 October 29, 2020

Cover photo © 2020 Bob Kieser


 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with Johnny Iquana. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including new releases from Rev. Gary Davis, Big Harp George, Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters, Mark Searcy, Simon Kinny-Lewis and Andy Watts.


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 Help Wanted – Writers 

Do you really know your Blues and enjoy telling others about it?

Blues Blast Magazine is looking for a few good Blues writers to help us out. We need folks who know Blues and can write a minimum of 2 reviews or interviews a month. Our FREE weekly magazine has 42,000 subscribers and we get 70,000 monthly website visitors at www.BluesBlastMagazine.com.

These positions need a person who really loves the Blues and wants to spread the Blues word! Must have good writing and composition skills!

Experience with WordPress a plus! (If you are familiar with Microsoft Word, it is similar. Very easy to use!)

Experienced writers are encouraged to apply. Send an email to info@bluesblastmagazine.com and tell us about your Blues background. If possible send samples of previous work or links to it online.

Please be sure to include your phone number in your email reply.



 Featured Interview – Johnny Iguana 

imageBorn in New Jersey, Johnny Iguana (Brian Berkowitz) grew up in Philadelphia, where his family moved when he was eight years old. His career in music began when he started piano lessons with his mother, on the same day with the same teacher. One can only imagine what that experience was like!

“I don’t remember if I wanted to take lessons, or my parents wanted me to try. They bought a piano, and we took lessons. Mom did really well at first while I struggled. But then we went on totally different trajectories. My Dad has said that, at that time, my left and right hands could work independently of each other. That wasn’t the case for my mother, who got very frustrated, and eventually she quit.

“But I was really into it. By the time I was eleven, I would stay inside on a beautiful Saturday to practice. No baseball or anything because I was so obsessed. I was getting sheet music for piano for songs by Rush, Michael Jackson, and Van Halen. I wanted to play everything, including classical.”

Taking lessons until he was 13 years old, Iguana then started playing in bands. The next “aha” moment occurred when his uncle gifted him some life-altering albums.

“My uncle got me LP copies of Junior Wells HooDoo Man Blues on Delmark Records, Jimmy Smith’s Organ Grinder Swing, and he gave me some cassette tapes with the Treniers, Lonnie Mack, and the original Fleetwood Mac band recordings with Otis Spann on piano, which was a revelation.

“He was a guitar player who lived in Boston, and got to see Spann play live, told me that Spann’s left hand was uncannily steady. Once I heard Spann’s duo recordings with S.P. Leary on drums, I drilled for a whole day, endeavoring to learn those patterns and to get my left hand to keep a steady rhythm. Then I had to learn the Jimmy Smith bass patterns on the organ. By the time I was fifteen, I was pretty fully qualified as a bass player on the keyboards. The strong point of the players that I listened to was their left hand.

“By that age, I was into punk and New Wave. Still, there was nothing antique about hearing Hoodoo Man Blues. It sounded so fresh, like Junior Wells was taking the baton from James Brown within blues music. When you hear “Snatch It Back And Hold It,” it is hard not to turn that up and get excited. You can hear the sound of inspiration. None of that music seems old and tired to me.

“There is a lot of music that doesn’t justify its existence. But the best pre-war blues up through the 1960 and 1970 decades is full of swagger and pain. Those recordings led me to find other people that were into blues and jazz, and I started playing in blues bands when I was just old enough to drive.”

Iguana was playing on portable keyboards in those days, instruments that fell far short of doing the piano or organ any justice. It took some time before he was able to get a keyboard that had a credible sound.

“Usually you start off with an all-purpose keyboard. What I had then was more suited for a New Wave band sound. The piano and organ sounds were more of an afterthought in favor synthesized tones like a Roland keyboard. I remember playing with great enthusiasm. But I am sure if I listened to some tapes from those days, which I have, I doubt I would last very long. Too many notes, way too fast, too excitable, and the sound sucks!

“That band was three young white guys in suits playing in an all-black area in Philadelphia. The audience was half local black people while the other half was people from my high school who had fake ids, and were delighted to have a place where they could have a drink without anybody carding them. We were heroes in the school. But the people there realized how much we loved the music, this African-American contribution to world culture that is still one of the best things anyone has ever done!

“That was like our Cavern Club days. We did Monday nights at Carter’s, three sets. We were really excited kids, like a young version of the Yardbirds. We would play ‘Mustang Sally” and “Land Of A 1000 Dances” five times faster than the originals. It was three hours a night plus practice time, so you get up to speed pretty quickly.”

When he went to college, Iguana moved to New York City, where he got a job writing cover copy for the back of books, which fit nicely with his English major at school. While he wasn’t sure that he was going to play music for anything more than fun, he had a organ in his bedroom that allowed him to keep practicing.

“My local bar, Coyote Kate’s in mid-town Manhattan, was a place where you drink cheap beer out of a glass boot. They had a short-lived blues jam. The guy that ran it used to be in the Junior Wells band. One night he told Junior was going to be in town the next day or two. So I went to see him. Junior was between piano players. Rob, the guy who ran the jam, told Junior that I really knew his music.

image“So I had live tryouts in Boston and Providence, RI, after which Junior offered me the job, and I moved to Chicago. I had only been in NYC for two years, working at my job for 11 months. But there was no turning down being in Junior’s band. That was during the blues boom in the ’90s. At age twenty-three, I went on a 35 day European tour.

‘It wasn’t just that it was a cool gig and we traveled the world. Junior was my guy! He was the one that swept me into the music. We played every song off of Hoodoo Man Blues plus half of the songs off Southside Blues Jam, another classic album on the Delmark label. I had Junior’s phone number in my Rolodex. It was a very meaningful gig for me in particular. Before long, I also had the phone number for Otis Rush too.”

Other members of Junior’s band at that time included Willie “The Touch” Hayes on drums, who played in Magic Sam’s band when he was a teenager, and Little Joe Burton on trombone, who had been B.B. King’s band leader. On saxophone, the band featured Doug Fagan, who spent time in the James Cotton Blues Band.

“It was kind of a Spinal Tap situation. I was in the band for three years and there must have been eighteen players different during that period. Things changed pretty rapidly. At the start, it was mostly older people than me, all of them veterans of big name bands. At the end of my tenure, the band was younger players like me. I didn’t find it as invigorating to be around people like myself! I enjoyed learning from the elders rather than yukking it up with the kids.”

After leaving the Wells band, Iguana took another job as a writer, and formed a band with some childhood friends who had moved to Chicago. It was a trio named Stevie Lizard & His All Reptile Orchestra, kind of a reunion of the band that had held court at Carter’s in Philadelphia. That was the start of the many projects that he has been involved in over the last 20-plus years, and also the genesis of his Johnny Iguana stage name.

Another thrill came with a phone call from Otis Rush, asking Iguana to join his band for an East coast tour. The highlight was a festival they did in New Jersey along with Carey Bell, Jimmie Vaughan, and Little Milton.

“Otis was very sporadic with his touring in those days, and beyond. That made me really sad. When you hear an Otis Rush record, you are hearing the Pavarotti of the blues. His singing, and the vibrato on his guitar, are two of the most other-worldly, beautiful sounds that have ever come from the blues sphere.

“If he had kept it together, and kept putting out records, he could have been at the very top of the blues world for many years. He just wasn’t physically and spiritually aligned for that kind of output.

“After that, I had a band called oh my god, which I started with a singer I had heard. People described that band as Queen meets Medeski Martin & Wood. We did dramatic, slightly theatrical, punky but melodic rock. I played mostly over-driven organ with synth and piano. We did quite well, headlining at Park West and the Metro, which are really big venues in Chicago. The prime years were 2000 to 2004, then going on and off until the end in 2009.”

Realizing that touring provided opportunity, Iguana has continued to do free-lance writing on music, movies, and other things. His income from writing helps absorb a healthy portion of his touring expenses, sitting in the passenger seat writing for up to twenty hours a week.

He also played on the two Chicago Blues: A Living History Grammy-nominated recordings and the Muddy Waters 100 album. His participation included tours that took him to Indonesia, the Middle East, Europe, and Japan several times.

“I am lucky in that there aren’t as many fully-qualified Chicago blues piano players, like there are for other instruments. So I have been able to get some great studio and touring work. I have probably been on about 25 blues albums for other artists.”

imageIn 2010, Iguana started another band, the Claudettes, which is still going strong. Their first release, Infernal Piano Plot Hatched, came out in 2013, highlighting the piano/drums line-up, playing blues with a garage band attitude with Michael Caskey on drums and percussion.

“We had our fifth release come out earlier this year on Forty Below Records, High Times In The Dark. We worked with a known producer, Ted Hutt, who has done releases for acts like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Old Crow Medicine Show. The band now includes Berit Ulseth on vocals and the multi-talented Zach Verdoorn on bass, guitar, and vocals. Then Delmark decided to do the blues piano album, which is a thrill since one of my prized possessions is a signed copy of Junior’s Hoodoo Man Blues.

“So this was going to be my year. And, of course, the year I picked for all of this activity is the one with a once-in-a-century pandemic! I am not alone in this. I feel for so many people. There’s a lot of wreckage in the ravine. The question now is, are things going to get better fast enough to rescue the folks who really need rescuing?”

The Claudettes had the option of delaying the April release of the new album, but decide to press on.

“When a record sits on the shelf for a length of time, eventually it doesn’t resonate, even with the people who made it. The songs were meaningful, but now you have moved on. You are suppose to time the release with a spate of shows and, of course, we didn’t have any. We had a radio and PR campaign all lined up. Everything went great except for all of the shows getting canceled.

“So my office is now a graveyard of boxes and boxes of Cd and LP versions of the Claudettes album and my Delmark release. The saving grace is that they are both roots music, so they should age well. They should still sound great a year from now.

“It has always been so hard for musicians and venues to make enough money to get by. When you factor in decreasing capacity because of guidelines, or people fearing to go out, a lot of venues can’t open at half capacity. And the bands only stand to make half as much, which is not sustainable. It isn’t like it was happy days before this started, but most people were able to get by. Now it may be that we were in a golden age, and didn’t even know it.

“For older blues artists, like Billy Boy Arnold who just turned 85 years old, they don’t have a lot of time to lose. It’s not just about money. They are artists, and their output, their legacy is important. To take several years off creates a critical situation for them.”

Trying to make the best of it, Iguana feels he has been prolific during the down time, doing a lot of writing. He is not a big fan of live streaming, so he has limited his participation to one event. The Claudettes have recorded a new album piecemeal over a six month period, Covid-19 style. The band has developed a great chemistry, so recording the various parts independently still allows the band to put together a great record.

The plan for his blues piano record began with a text message Iguana received from producer Larry Skoller, who has received multiple blues award nominations for his work on the two Chicago Blues: A Living History projects, And Still I Rise by the Heritage Blues Orchestra, and the Muddy Waters 100 album.

Iguana was shooting pool at the time, trying to get over losing a desired slot at a Montreal festival.

‘I was grumpy, expressing my sour grape attitude. Larry said, you know what, I am going to produce a piano album for you. My other band, the Claudettes, has received a lot of great press, and we have toured around the world. There is blues in our music, but we are really more of an indie rock band with blues, jazz, and soul in there plus lots of piano. Larry felt that it was time for me to have a blues album out under my own name, and he wanted to produce it.

“Larry has only produced four projects, and he has received four Grammy nominations. He is choosy, but when he does something it has a strong concept. And he is really good at what he does. So I was very excited. We decided to not just feature me, but to make it a tribute to the masters of Chicago blues piano, with each track referencing a great point in that history.

“Then we combined those tracks with my own compositions, which are distinctive and idiosyncratic. Our goal was to honor the past while asserting the importance of maintaining your own voice, which is true in any type of music.

image“We had an ambitious plan for Chicago Spectacular!. It couldn’t have gone any better. Someone would have to not be a particular fan of Chicago blues to not enjoy it. Larry and I had a real concept of what we wanted, and what we wanted to avoid. I’m really proud of the way it turned out.

“The first thing we did was settle on which of my tunes we were going to use. Then Larry and I exchanged e-mails with different ideas for songs that had great piano players on the original session. The ones we settled on were songs that featured Little Johnny Jones, Big Maceo, Sunnyland Slim, Big Moose Walker, Memphis Slim, Otis Spann, and Joshua Altheimer, who played with Big Bill Broonzy.

‘One concept I had was that I didn’t want any bass guitar on the vocal tunes. My feeling is that there has been too much separation of instruments on blues records over the last forty years. The vocal is here, the guitar is over there, the piano in-between, everybody in their own little box.

“I wanted it to be like a Sonny Boy Williamson recording, kind of a Dixieland jazz idea. When the piano is soloing, so is the harmonica, so we get that live sound, kind of messy. We got plenty of help from Lil’ Ed, Billy Flynn, Bob Margolin, Matthew Skoller, John Primer, Kenny Smith, Michael Caskey, Bill Dickens on bass, and Billy Boy Arnold.”

When Iguana started planning for a tour, he knew that he would not be able to get those artists to join him, as they all had their own touring plans. Larry Skoller provided one name for Iguana to consider.

“Phillip-Michael Scales is B.B. King’s nephew. He was a late add to the project. As a younger singer and guitarist, he calls his music indie soul, but there is a roots element to it. He has resisted getting into blues, wanting to find his own way. So I called him, said I was looking for someone to be the front person on tour. As it turned out, he was ready to wave the white flag and get into the music that is his birth right. So we featured him on “Lady Day And John Coltrane,” which is a song written by Gil Scott-Heron.

“Sometimes I say that blues is Spanish, and jazz is Portuguese. I don’t speak any Portuguese, so I don’t really know how to play jazz. Growing up in Philadelphia, near where jazz organist Jimmy Smith was from, so I have always loved the stuff that kind of borders blues and jazz. Artists like Mose Allison, Bobby Timmons, Richard “Groove” Holmes, and Jimmy McGriff, people who never get too far from blues.

“On my song, “Hammer And Tickle,” I had Mose in my head when I went to take the solo. He was always so cool and relaxed. He never sounds spazzy. My criticism of myself is that I often get over-excited, start slamming the keys. I once played at a piano bar when I was with the Junior Wells band, when Van Morrison was in the house. He asked someone who the bloke was that was pounding on the piano. Sometimes I think Van was right, that I need to play with a little bit more elegance.

“I saw Mose several times. He had a certain intensity, yet he was such a cool customer. I envy that, because I am more of a hot customer! There was plenty of anger and frustration in his songs, but they where often delivered with a smile and a laugh. I was told once that he never really felt like he had a home in music. The people in the South considered him to be hoity-toity Northerner, more of an academic due to his literary and poetic skills. The people in the North thought of him as a southern rube. So he probably felt like a misfit.

“I can definitely identify with that to a degree. I love blues music, and I love playing it. But for some people, I am not bluesy enough because I play other music. I play classical and I grew up playing in punk bands. People in the indie rock scene think of blues as really square. You can upset people when you don’t easily fit into a box. I just hope folks will stay safe, and store up their enthusiasm for the live music experience. As Lou Reed said, ‘we need a busload of faith to get by’!”

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

imageRev. Gary Davis – See What The Lord Has Done For Me

Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop, Inc.

Disc One – 8 songs – 65 minutes

Disc Two – 15 songs – 55 minutes

Disc Three – 12 songs – 66 minutes

Born in 1896 in South Carolina, Rev. Gary Davis lost most of his vision at a very young age. Growing up poor, raised mostly by his maternal grandmother, he was expected to contribute to working the family farm, becoming adept at many of the tasks assigned to him. He was interested in music, first learning harmonica before switching to guitar. He started singing in a Baptist church, where he learned about salvation and sin, themes that formed the basis for many of his songs.

Over the decades, Davis became a standout as a guitar player, spinning intricate lines over a steady rhythm, creating music that a first listen seems to be the work of several guitarists. His picking on “Great Change Since I Been Born” on Disc 1 finds his fingers dancing around the fretboard, accompanying his raw vocal with runs of bright, ringing notes without a hint of strain.

The recordings on these three discs were done by Ernie Hawkins, a fellow guitarist who took lessons from Davis in addition to being his friend. When Davis visited Pittsburgh, he would often stay with Hawkins, the two men staying up late many nights playing music for themselves. On two occasions in 1968 and 1970, Hawkins used a borrowed tape recorder to capture his friend and mentor in the relaxed setting of his living room. The end result is more than three hours of music that makes it clear that in the later stages of his career, Davis was still a captivating performer.

Other highlights from Disc One include his haunting rendition of “Don’t Move My Bed ‘Till The Holy Ghost Come,” a minor key blues full of sorrow and death. “I Belong To The Band” is a traditional hymn that was long a staple in the Davis repertoire, celebrating his place in a heavenly band for more than eleven minutes, fleshed out with plenty of fine picking. “Blow Gabriel” impresses with the forceful interplay between Davis’ voice and guitar.

Disc Two has several instrumentals that provide listeners with fine examples of the six string mastery that Davis was capable of. “Penitentiary Blues” has a surprisingly sprightly tone given the thought of life behind bars. Another song that dates back to the start of his career, “Florida Blues” gets a brief run-through, enough time for Davis to make a solid impression. Davis seems to explore some different musical approaches on the standard “St. James Infirmary.” His deep, booming vocal rings out on “God’s Gonna Separate,” a parable taken from Biblical scripture.

“Down Home Rag” gets Disc 3 off to a strong start with Davis picking up a storm, at times creating the illusion of several players, when it is just him on an acoustic guitar. The same is true of “Piece Without Words,” with Davis spinning a magnificent piece of improvisation. His most inspired work is found on “Crucifixion,” a 19 minute sermon on the the death of Jesus Christ, his voice and guitar intertwining, forming a formidable message of salvation that never falters at any point.

The disc also has a fine instrumental take on one of his best-known tunes, “Hesitation Blues,” covered by many bands including Hot Tuna. Another instrumental, “Cincinnati Flow Rag,” has a sprightly moderate tempo that undoubtedly was a hit with the dancers, especially those interested in getting up close and personal. The set finishes off with a second rendition of ‘St. James Infirmary,” recorded a day after the previous version, yet worlds apart in their approach. The second one retains only the basic melodic elements as Davis once again takes listeners on a vivid musical exploration.

An additional feature of the set is a PDF file contained on the first disc. Hawkins spends several pages relating details of his friendship with his mentor, then noted guitarist William E. Ellis takes over. The godson of bluegrass legend Bill Monroe, Ellis supplies 30 pages of notes, providing background on each song along with musical keys and lyrics where applicable. The notes bring more depth to the music in addition to giving listeners a truer sense of Davis, the man.

(To access the file, put the disc in your disc drive, open Windows Explorer, click on My PC, then right click on the Disc Drive icon & click on “open.”)

These sessions make it clear that even a few years before his passing, the Rev. Gary Davis was still a musical force to be reckoned with. Guitar players will find plenty of material worthy of study. For those who appreciate the finer points of acoustic blues, mixed with a liberal dose of the Gospel, this set has much to offer. While the Rev. Davis discography lists over 35 titles, including a number of live recordings, it is a safe bet that most of them do not showcase the more intimate nature of his artistry as clearly as this set, on full display with each and every note, often with stunning clarity. Kudos to Hawkins and Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop for making this set available!

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!


 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6 

imageBig Harp George – Living in the City

Blue Mountain Records BMR 04

13 songs – 64 minutes

www.bigharpgeorge.com

Based out of San Francisco and one of the best educated bluesmen in the world, Big Harp George serves up one of the most interesting albums you’ll hear this or any year with Living in the City, the fourth release in his catalog since making his debut as a recording artist at age 59 just six short years ago.

A PhD in anthropology and a lawyer who graduated from both Georgetown University and University of California-Berkeley and an authority on Arab-Israeli legal and social issues, he didn’t start playing professionally until retiring from a career that included time as a public defender and private-practice defense lawyer before a lengthy stint as a professor at UC-Hastings School of Law.

A witty man and a sharp dresser who was born George Bisharat in Topeka, Kan., he picked up a harp for the first time at age 12 and hasn’t put it down since, drawing inspiration from the work of chromatic masters George “Harmonica” Smith, Paul DeLay and William Clarke. Despite his late entry into the blues world, he quickly established himself as both a stellar chromatic player as well as an insightful, clever songwriter and a pleasant singer to boot. His debut CD, Chromaticism, earned him multiple nominations for new artist of the year.

A follow-up to Wash My Horse in Champagne in 2016 and Uptown Cool in 2018, this album – like the others — definitely isn’t your standard old-school one-four-five blues. A self-penned, hour-long set, it weaves and intricate tapestry of modern blued that’s primarily infused with West Coast jump and swing, but contains elements borrowed from Latin America and the Middle East, too. And the instrumentation is just as unusual.

Recorded at Kid Andersen’s award-winning Greaseland Studios, Living in the City features a moveable feast of musicians. It’s dedicated to the late Little Charley Baty whose guitar talent shines on six cuts in some of his final recordings, sharing six-string duties with Andersen who contributes bass, too. It was produced by Chris Burns who plays keyboards throughout

The extensive lineup also includes Ben Torres (sax and flute), Michael Peloquin (sax), Mike Rinta (trombone), Carlos Reyes (Paraguayan harp and violin), Firas Zreik (zither/qanun) and Doug Rowan (baritone sax). June Core holds down drums throughout augmented by Derrick “D’Mar” Martin and Loay Dhbour, who plays iique, an Arabic percussion instrument. Joe Kyle is the bassist on six tracks, and Amal Murkus is featured on vocals for one cut. Backing vocals are delivered by Lisa Leuschner Andersen, Loralee Christensen and the Sons of the Soul Revivers (brothers James, Dwayne and Walter Morgan).

Constructed atop a funky backbeat from Core, “Build Myself an App” is a horn-fueled pleaser written after George checked his online sales revenue and decided to laugh instead of cry while Andersen’s guitar runs heat up “Smoking Tires” before George launches into a medium-paced shuffle that announces his intent to flee from a petite, but evil lady. Bisharat’s harp talent comes to the fore on “Living in the City,” which swings from the jump and features Little Charley at his jazzy best.

The music changes dramatically with the bluesy, samba-infused “Heading Out to Itaipu,” George’s tip-of-the-hat paean to a working-class beach in Niteroi, Brazil, before confronting the medical world with “Copayment,” a stop-time rocker about excessive charges for treatment, while “Try Nice?” glides and slides as it delivers an upbeat message to the difficult people who’ve tried everything else while attempting to survive.

Inspired by Count Basie, the instrumental, “Bayside Bounce,” gives George a chance to work out on the reeds before he offers up important legal advice to anyone involved in a court case: “Don’t Talk!” Simply stated, everything that comes out of your mouth can and will be used against you. “First Class Muck Up,” a tune with built-in train wrecks, provides a humorous breaks before “Chew Before You Swallow” picks up the previous message about thinking before you speak.

George gets stone serious in the final three songs of the set. The ballad, “Enrique,” describes a Central American émigré facing deportation despite living an honorable life, raising a good family and toiling long hours to support them while sending money home to his mother, too. “Pusher in a White Coat,” meanwhile, blasts doctors who create addicts and make a fortune from pharmaceutical companies by taking kickbacks by prescribing opioids. The final cut, “Meet Me at the Fence,” features Palestinian superstar Murkus and her son Firas as it offers up a plea for freedom and dignity in their homeland with a tango beat and Middle Eastern accents.

Available through CDBaby, Amazon, Apple and BlueBeat Music, Living in the City delivers a sonic treasure for anyone who appreciates deep thoughts and blues without borders. Pick it up today. You won’t be disappointed!

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6 

imageRonnie Earl & The Broadcasters – Rise Up

Stony Plain Records

www.ronnieearl.com

15 songs – 79 minutes

Rise Up is Ronnie Earl’s 13th album with Stony Plain Records and the 27th of what has been a prolific and magnificent career. A genuine virtuoso, he continues to release top quality, deeply emotional recordings. Opening with a solo acoustic version of the traditional gospel “I Shall Not Be Moved”, arranged by Ronnie as a finger-picked Delta blues, Rise Up features 15 tracks and follows the now well-established pattern for a Ronnie Earl album: some new songs; some covers of classic blues recordings; a mixture of instrumentals and vocal songs; a few tributes to Ronnie’s musical heroes and mentors and lashings of top drawer guitar playing.

Earl has always worn his emotions on his metaphorical sleeve and he has been open about his own suffering in the past. On Rise Up, he adopts a more openly political position than on previous releases, particularly in the beautiful instrumental, “Blues For George Floyd”, the fascinating talking blues, “Black Lives Matter”, and the moving closing track, “Navajo Blues”. Furthermore, one of the covers is Bob Dylan’s “Lord Protect My Child” which in the current climate can also be seen as a critique of governmental policy.

The current line-up of The Broadcasters (Dave Limina on keyboards, Diane Blue on vocals, Paul Kochanski on bass and Forrest Padgett on drums) maintains the band’s usual high standards, demonstrating a sophisticated understanding of dynamics, color and musicality whilst providing cultivated yet muscular support to their band-leader. Ronnie has often invited other guitarists to contribute to his albums and on this release Peter Ward adds some excellent guitar to several tracks.

Earl has long been a guitar player’s guitar player and while he may not play with the same otherworldly dexterity of 30 years ago, he can still coax a remarkable range of tones from his Fender Stratocaster. His ability to wring every drop of emotion out of a single note, to articulate pain or hope or despair or happiness, remains second to none. The ten minute “Blues For Lucky Peterson” for example is an object lesson in how to address a slow blues.

Highlights abound throughout the album. Diane Blue’s vocal performance on Eddie Taylor’s “Big Town Playboy” is outstanding. Ronnie’s brief opening solo to “In The Dark” is as deep as guitar playing gets. Limina’s rollicking piano on Ahmet Ertegün’s “Mess Around” could make the dead get up and dance. The power of “Black Lives Matter” is haunting. Several of the tracks extend over six minutes in length, giving all the soloists ample opportunity to stretch out.

“Higher Love” is one of several tracks recorded live from what was clearly a blazing set at a “Daryl’s House Club” show. Also featured from that show are “Albert’s Stomp”, the jazzy “Blues For J” and Fenton Robinson’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” The majority of the album however was recorded in Ronnie’s Boston home while he was recuperating from back surgery, just before the coronavirus pandemic hit the USA. The quality of both the studio and live recordings is superb.

Pretty much any Ronnie Earl album is an essential purchase, and Rise Up is no different. We are blessed to have such a rare genius still producing works of profound emotional depth and power.

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 – 4 of 6 

imageMark Searcy – Power Of Love

self release

www.marksearcy.com

10 songs time – 45:59

Texas based guitarist-singer-songwriter Mark Searcy brings a whimsical blues infused Americana vibe to his music. The line up consists of the basic guitar, bass drums, keyboards and of course the occasional tuba for good measure. He possesses a powerful set of pipes a full array of guitar styles. His guitar stings when necessary and adjusts it to suit the mood of any given song.

All songs are composed by Mark Searcy except for “House Where Nobody Lives” by Tom Waits. It’s not one of his signature “word play” songs, but the band does it more than justice with their poignant read on it. Mark’s commanding voice, slide and standard guitar make the song that more compelling. With it’s silly lyrics and fifties goofy vibe “Ding Dong Diddley Dadgum” reminds one of NRBQ, particularly with the inclusion of a mention of “An RC Cola and a Moon Pie”. A feel good tune from beginning to end.

The ballad “Free” features soaring guitar that just cuts through you. The title song is a pleasant ballad with George Harrison style slide guitar accents. A little down home good time lunacy with “Blue Star”. Now for Dickie Betts-Allman Brothers time on “Time Keeps Slipping”. Soaring guitar ala The Brothers. “Col du Tourmalet” is a slow and moody lament ripe with brooding electric guitar.

More whimsy in the old time rag of “Dead Boy’s Rag” with it’s nonsensical lyrics. “Back In My Arms” is a tender ballad with a beautiful electric guitar tone, piano and organ. Finishing things up is Jimi Hendrix-Robin Trower inspired instrumental “Farewell To Jake”. Guitars waft upwards to the heavens.

Mark and his crew have crafted a solid piece of work utilizing various genres of music. A worthwhile and truly entertaining project using a first class group of supporting musicians. Producer Matt Smith captured a clear sound that gives a clear picture of each instrument. A good time is guaranteed for all!

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


 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

imageSimon Kinny-Lewis – Another Day in San Jose

Self-Produced/SKL Music

www.sklblues.com

CD: 10 Songs, 44 Minutes

Styles: Guitar Monster Blues, Blues Covers, Contemporary Electric Blues Rock

Another Day in San Jose, the seventh release from acclaimed Australian blues rocker Simon Kinny-Lewis, presents a dilemma. If you’re a guitar monster, what’s a better medium for showing off your fabulous fretwork – covers or original songs? Kinny-Lewis is so skilled on his Strat that the answer’s a toss-up. This rip-roaring electric extravaganza features four fresh compositions and six covers, running the gamut from Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love” to John Mayall’s “Black Cat Moan” to Chris Cain’s “Trouble Making Woman.” Haven’t heard those last two in a while? They’re consummate highlights, especially the chill-inducing bass intro on Cain’s tune. It sounds like it should be in a blues-themed supernatural drama a la Crossroads. It’s frighteningly good. As for Simon’s originals, “Dagger Eyes” will hit you right between yours, and the sizzling stomp “Devil on my Trail” will heat up your immediate surroundings faster than any thermostat. If any flaws are to be found on this album, they’re artfully concealed amid riveting riffs.

Kinny-Lewis is no rookie re: blues-rock fame. He’s performed/recorded with blues icons: Chris Cain, Nate Ginsberg (Herbie Hancock), Christian Howes (Robben Ford), Simeon Cain (Henry Rollins Band) and many more. Robben Ford himself guest-stars on guitar for “Dagger Eyes,” and Nate Ginsberg plays keyboards throughout these ten tight tracks. Joining them are Andy Just on harmonica, DeWayne Pate on bass, Tony Boyd on drums, and Walter Jebe on slide guitar. Our front man belts out powerhouse vocals with a touch of Joe Bonamassa’s flair, and as for his prowess on shredder? It’s second to none in the land down under.

This is music to dance to, to drink to, to get lost in. It’s all about atmosphere and amplitude. Never mind the lyrics: Simon’s guitar does 99% of the talking, and it’s a brilliant orator. If you’re searching for tunes as crisp and cold as gunmetal, look no further than Kinny-Lewis’ latest!

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 6 

imageAndy Watts – Supergroove

10 songs – 44 minutes

VizzTone Label Group VT-BOOGA-02

www.andywattsguitarslinger.com

Recognized as the ambassador of the blues in his native Israel, guitarist Andy Watts has made a name for himself internationally by serving as the host to dozens of top American artists and teaming with them to deliver some of the hottest music in the Middle East. And that’s exactly what you get here: a red-hot set that’s co-produced by Kenny Neal and features guest appearances from Joe Louis Walker and Eliza Neals.

Recorded by Kenny for his new imprint, Booga Music, and released in association with Boston-based VizzTone Label Group, Watts lays down consistently rich, single-note guitar runs on this one when leaving the vocals to others and backed by his nine-piece orchestra, Andy Watts and Blues on Fire.

Based out of Tel Aviv, Watts fell in love with the blues after hearing it over the radio at age 12 and is deeply influenced by Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green. He’s been importing top U.S. talent – everyone from Neal, Neals and Walker to Lucky Peterson, Rick Estrin and Bernard Allison.

The musical alignment changes throughout this collection of five tasty originals and five well-conceived covers. Eliza and Joe Louis are at the mic for one cut each with the remainder handled by American R&B singer Roy Young and Danny Shoshan and Gadi Altman, a pair of equally talented Israelis.

Recorded by Matan Ashkenazy at Ozen Muzikalit in Ma’abarot – a kibbutz in central Israel, the lineup includes Eyal Klein and Matan Mochiach on keyboards, Ioram Linker on sax, Gregory Rivkin on trumpet, Moran Bar-On on trombone, Ilan Hillel and Tom Mochiach on bass and Tom Bollig on drums with Coastin Hank sitting for two tunes on harmonica.

Watts’ talents are on display for the original instrumental opener, “SuperGroove,” which was inspired by ‘60s soul-blues bands that featured baritone sax and Hammond B3 organs. It’s a pleasing stop-time shuffle that’s built up from the solid base of a low-register guitar hook before sliding into a modern blues. Linder’s solo is brief, but powerful.

Next up, Watts reinterprets Estrin’s “Living Hand to Mouth,” a tune that first appeared on Little Charlie & the Nightcats’ All the Way Crazy CD in the ‘80s. Not to be confused with the late British rocker with the same name, Young is at the mic, his smoky voice adding a different spin to the original, with Hank and adding fills. Andy’s mid-tune solo builds on lines laid down originally by Little Charley Baty.

Shoshan takes command for the original, “Straight Shooting Woman,” a medium-paced shuffle with horn arrangements, before Walker makes his solo appearance on “Burning Deep,” a song he and Watts co-wrote. It’s a deep-blues ballad with jazzy, soulful overtones that smolders from the jump with Andy’s guitar licks as it describes a troubled relationship. One of the highlights of the set, the lyrics complain: “You bring out the best of the worst in me.”

Young’s back in charge as Watts renews the Freddie King standard, “Pack It Up,” with an uptempo arrangement before the disc takes another interesting turn with Detroit-based, operatically trained Eliza reinterpreting one of Walker’s biggest hits, “Blues of the Month Club.” The unhurried, original ballad, “Don’t Take My Blues Away” a tearjerker delivered by Roy, is up next before Watts and Shoshan take on “Don’t You Let Me Down,” a tune first recorded by the psychedelic rock band Jericho in 1972. “Raw,” an original blues-rocker delivered by Altman, and the tasty instrumental, “Super Natural” — penned by Green and featuring a jazzy horn arrangement, bring the disc to a close.

You’ve probably never heard of Andy Watts previously, but he’s a stellar six-string master and band leader who definitely deserves your attention. Supergroove is a treasure from afar for fans of modern blues.

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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