Issue 14-48 December 3, 2020

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Cover photo © 2020 Joseph A. Rosen


 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with Johnny Moeller. We have seven Blues review for you including a couple of new albums from Andres Roots plus releases by Goin’ Down South, Mick Hayes, Malaya Blue, Johnny Nicholas and Vanessa Collier


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 Featured Interview – Johnny Moeller 

imageBorn in Fort Worth, Johnny Moeller is another member of the storied line of blues guitar players from Texas. With more than 35 years of experience, his fiery playing always impresses with vibrant statements short in length, delivered with plenty of feeling and soul. Right from the start, he was listening to the right stuff.

“I simply got into playing guitar. I was nine or ten when John Lennon died. My mother bought his Double Fantasy album. Then, for a year or two, they were playing tons of Beatles and Lennon stuff constantly on the radio. That grabbed me, I loved it! So I went from being a Beatles freak to digging through my dad’s record collection, playing his Rolling Stones and Kinks albums. I kept digging and finally got to Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, which I thought was really cool, the guitar gods.

“My parents were splitting up at that point in time. My dad had a bunch of records. Growing up in Ft. Worth, blues music was real big in that area, so he had albums by artists like Jimmy Reed and Slim Harpo. When my parents parted ways, my brother Jay and I kind of inherited his collection. I still have those thick original vinyl records from the 1960s era.

“My dad was gone a lot. During those times, Jay and I would let our hair grow out long. All thirteen year old rockers want to grow their hair out! Then he would come back around, and first thing he was taking us to get a haircut. That always seemed to happen just as the hair got right where I wanted it. The barber he took us to, Bob Rhodes, was a blues guitar player. That was in 1983 or 1984, right around the time that the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Robert Cray were blowing up.

“Stevie was really big, so I knew who he was. The T-Birds were still flying under the radar as “Tuff Enuff” hadn’t hit yet. So the barber knew I played guitar, so he would ask me about my favorite players. I mentioned Stevie Ray, how I was into him. He said Stevie is great, but that I needed to hear his brother, Jimmie Vaughan.”

One evening, their father took the two brothers to a bar to hear the barber’s band, giving the teenagers their first taste of live blues. Johnny was hooked.

“Hearing the music live, I was like, wow, this is the shit! It wasn’t what I thought it would be. So I had to go dig out all the T-Birds stuff I could find. Then you figure out that they were listening to the Jimmy Reed and Slim Harpo records, too. So I dug further and started grabbing on to other artists like Lightnin’ Hopkins and Freddie King. At that point, I was a total blues nerd! Led Zeppelin is cool, but I’m into Freddie King now!”

The Moeller family moved to Kansas City, where they lived for two years. Once his parents finally split up, the brothers moved back to Texas. About a year later, Mom took her sons, along with a friend, to see the T-Birds and Stevie Ray Vaughan in Fort Worth.

“Paul Size went with us. He later played guitar for Lester Butler in the Red Devils. That night was it for all three of us. There was no going back. I was about 14 years old when we moved back to Texas, and Paul was one of the first people I met. He wasn’t really into music. I encouraged him to get a guitar but he was more into being a make-up artist. Once he started playing, he learned really quickly. At first, he was more into Stevie Ray’s playing more than Jimmie’s style.

“After we saw the T-Birds live, Paul was all over Jimmie’s playing. He acted like I hadn’t heard of Jimmie! He did the same thing with Buddy Guy. I gave him one of Buddy’s albums, and he acted like I had never heard of Buddy either. Buddy became his hero. It was a great thing for the three of us to learn songs together and push each other to be better.”

The three musicians formed a band, with the two guitarists taking turns on bass guitar, or using a two guitar format, Eventually, a younger friend of Jay’s started playing bass with band.

“As soon as we turned sixteen, we headed to Dallas to hit the blues jams. A short time before that, this older guy we knew drove down from Denton, which is about 40 miles north of Dallas. He wanted to go to a free concert in a park. Afterwards, we went down on Greenville Ave., where Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets were playing at Poor David’s Pub.

image“I’ll never forget it. We were walking along, and all of a sudden I start hearing the real blues. I could hear Sam Myer’s harmonica from down the street. I was trying to figure out where it was coming from, because that is where I wanted to be. My friends had no interest in going. They were into rock music. They decided to keep moving, said they would catch up with me later.

“There I was, 15 years old walking right into this bar. It was a Monday night, probably eight people in the place. I sat down right in front of Anson. Watching him play, I was finally able to see everything I was trying to figure out. There were plenty of “oh my God, that’s how you do that” moments. I couldn’t believe that I was sitting three feet away from him, and getting to see Sam Myers doing his thing.

Once he got home, Johnny quickly told Jay and Paul about his adventure in the Dallas bar. A few months later, once he had reached his sixteenth birthday, they all drove down to get in on the fun.

“We got there, and could not get in! There was this greasy, sleazy door guy that would not let us in. The guys started giving me a hard time, questioning if I really had gotten in. We kept trying to get in for years and, in doing so, got to know Anson, Sam, and the rest of the band. They would always laugh about it, hey look, there are those kids at the door again! Eventually we were old enough to get in. I am tight with Anson to this day.

“You have to see blues music live. It is not played by the books, there aren’t a lot of rules. So when you see somebody playing the little weird intricacies of the music, it helps a lot. I remember around that time I met Doyle Bramhall Jr. He plays left-handed on a guitar turned upside down, so his bends go down instead up. I was trying to figure out how that worked, the complete opposite of a normal right-hand guitar player.

“There have been several times where I have played a left-handed guitar. It is a different approach, makes you think about it, the way you bend notes and make chords. Some things aren’t as easy, and some things are more possible. Same as when you learn to play piano, it opens your mind a bit. With the free time we’ve had the last six months, I have been fiddling around on piano a bit.”

Another way that Moeller has been staying busy is doing some recordings as a duo with the current drummer for the T-Birds, Nico Leophonte. They are recording as Sons of a Tyrant.

“We get in the studio and push ourselves. We have one song we will be putting out soon that has both of us on keyboards with a real cheesy organ sound, plus we both play bass and guitar. I haven’t tried to get on the drums. We are trying to do anything to make some music. It has been fun.

“We also have played around Austin with Mike Barfield, who used to be in a band called the Hollisters. He is a country guy with the cowboy hat and boots, so you immediately think you are going to hear Johnny Cash music. But he does more of a James Brown funk thing. They call him the Tyrant of Texas punk. So when we started recording and needed a band name, Nico came up with Sons of a Tyrant. I thought it was perfect. We try to get together at least once a week at Nico’s place, Alnico Studio, to make some noise.”

After finishing high school, Moeller move to Austin, where his father was already been living in South Austin. Prior to that, a trip to visit him lead to another memorable evening.

“Looking back, it can be funny how your life takes the roads it does. When we could drive, Jay and came down for a visit. Dad took us to Antone’s on a Tuesday night when Little Charlie & the Nightcats were playing. There we were, kids hanging out with their dad. Next thing you know, we are talking to Clifford Antone, the owner. My dad was telling Clifford that his boys were all about the blues, that he should hear us play.

image“Clifford says we need to get these boys up on stage. I’m like, oh God no, me playing at Antone’s! So Clifford gets us up there. I will never forget that Rick Estrin sat down, and Little Charlie Baty gives me his guitar and he switches to harmonica. Let me tell you, Charlie could play the harp! I’m standing there wondering, does every great guitar player know how to play harmonica? Charlie was playing like Little Walter and I was hanging on for dear life.

“I got to know Clifford quite well. He gave me and my brother cards that would get us into the club any time. And he said to let him know if we were coming so that he could arrange to get us up and playing more. So I knew I had to be in Austin. Clifford was such a big help from then on. Through him, I started meeting people and getting gigs.

“Eventually he let us play at Antone’s every Monday night for years, the club that was on Guadalupe Street. So life became hanging out eating breakfast with Earl King at 3 a.m., or Hubert Sumlin. We got to listen to many of our personal musical heroes tell us stories about other heroes. It was an incredible time. Sue Foley was just getting to town. Teddy Morgan was playing a lot. Clifford nurtured a lot of people in their late teens and early twenties that were deep into blues. I met Teddy when I was playing with Darrell Nulisch. He was the one that told us to use Rob Stupka on drums.”

Hanging out at Antone’s, Moeller got to know Kim Wilson, thanks to Clifford’s constant support. At one point, Wilson asked for the guitarist phone number, commenting that he might need Moeller to fill in. The wife of the T-Birds guitar player at that time, Kid Ramos, was getting close to the due date for her pregnancy.

“I had forgotten about the conversation, because the way those things usually go is you never hear anything. Then I get a call from the band’s manager asking if I can fly out that evening! Kid’s wife went into labor, so he left to be with her. I flew out the next morning, did two gigs with the band. That got the whole thing started with the T-Birds. I finally joined the band about 13 years ago.”

Early in the 1990 decade, Paul Size packed up his truck and moved to Los Angeles, where he had auditioned for, and was selected to be the guitar player for the Red Devils. That lead to another one of those “twists in the road of life” stories.

“It was a crazy time. John Frusciante had quit as the guitar player for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who were huge at that time. Paul told their producer, Rick Rubin, about me and said I should audition for the band. So I drove out there. The first day there were 150 people in a line that wrapped around the corner. It was a big shit show. The band had some people they trusted auditioning the players. One guy in front of me went in, and came right back out three seconds later. He commented that it was weird, he walked in, plugged in his guitar, and they told him that was good.

“I went in and jammed with these guys. They said I sounded really good, and told me to come back on Monday to play with the band. It was Friday, I’m in LA, and so broke. I couldn’t believe it. On Monday, there were only two other guys in line at this big rehearsal complex, so I knew this was serious.

“They had a big Marshall amplifier set up with all of these effects pedals. I had never messed with pedals, ever. Their bass player, Flea, and the drummer Chad Smith were there, quite friendly. We jammed for about forty minutes. They kept changing the groove and I did my best to keep up. I think I threw up when I walked out of the room. That was the worst case of the nerves I had had in my life.”

Moeller has cut three albums under his own name. The first, The Return Of The Funky Worm, was cut in 1996 for a label run by Chuck Nevitt, founder of the Dallas Blues Society. Nevitt was a huge supporter of the music and the musicians.

“At that time, we had two different bands. One was me, Jay on drums, Mike Flanigin on keyboards, and Bret Coats on bass, based in Austin. Paul Size had a band in Dallas with my brother and Rhett Frazier on vocals. Chuck said we should go cut a record, so we combined the two bands. He put it out on his label. That record is still a great blueprint for all of the different musical styles we were into – blues, funk, soul, jazz, and rock & roll.”

Nevitt ended up releasing several great records on his Dallas Blues Society label that highlighted little-known blues musicians, including Zuzu Bollin, Henry Qualls, and Big Al Dupree. Moeller has fond memories of a session for one of those projects.

“Paul Size had gone down to Dallas and met Chuck at a blues jam. He invited us to a rehearsal session that was preparation for Zuzu’s album. So there we were, in a room with Zuzu and the great band, a buch of guys a lot older than us, passing around a joint. I had never smoked pot, as I was around 16 years old at the time. Of course, trying to be cool, I said yeah, I’ll give it a try. I remember driving back to Denton, feeling like I was tripping!”

He did a second record, Blues Aggregation, for Nevitt in 2001, going into the studio and throwing something down. His brother was on drums, Mike Keller and Johnny Bradley on bass, Homer Henderson on rhythm guitar, Matt Farrell on piano and vocals, and Shawn Pittman guesting on one track on piano and vocal. The band plays in a variety of styles that consistently have a 50’s retro feel.

imageThrough his work with singer Darrell Nulisch, Moeller got connected to David Earl and his Severn Records label. He did session work for the label until Earl decided it was time for Moeller to cut another album, which ended up being BlooGaLoo, released in 2010. Guests included Kim Wilson and Lou Ann Barton on vocals.

“That project started right after I had joined the T-Birds. I sang a couple of songs, but I hate singing, although I am trying to be better at it. I just turned fifty and feeling like I am starting to hit my stride. In those days we were drinking a lot, and not real focused. I never felt we put as much attention and awareness as we could have on those older records.”

These days, Moeller has some fun teasing Kim Wilson about seeing him with the T-Birds when Moeller was a youthful 15 years old. As you might expect, Wilson doesn’t need want any reminders about the passage of time.

“At some point, I realized it wasn’t in the cards for me to be Jimmy Page or Jimi Hendrix. But when I heard Jimmie Vaughan, that was perfect. I’m not as minimal as he is, but his whole approach supports the band and the song. It is not about the guitar first. He is probably the best rhythm guitar player ever. Figuring out his style lead me to other players like Steve Cropper and Curtis Mayfield, who play the song first.

“Being in the T-Birds is great. Kim Wilson is the best at what he does. I get to work with the best harmonica player, a great singer and songwriter. It has made me a much better musician. Early on, I learned that I had never been around a front man who keeps you on your toes all the time. It’s showtime – you can’t drink a beer between songs.

“I have never been good at learning things note for note. I work on getting the jist of it, the feel of a song. When we are on the road, I might learn a harp tune, something I know Kim likes. When I actually play on stage, he’ll look over and say, pretty good, but you missed that one note! Then he will hum the line for me and, damn, he’s right. Kim and Jimmie Vaughan know all of those cool little intricacies.”

Moeller was involved in another project, working with the Hal Leonard company on a DVD, 200 Blues Licks: Guitar licks Goldmine, released in 2011.

“A guy contacted me about it, saying they needed a bunch of blues licks for this series they were doing on blues guitar. He suggested that I write them out in tablature so that I remembered all of them, since they wanted 100 licks. He told me when we fly you to our office, you’ll need to be able to play them. So, we were on tour that year, when they had that big volcano eruption in Iceland. The band got stuck in Oslo for a week. I had nothing better to do, so I worked the guitar licks. I think some of them are on YouTube.”

When it comes to gear, the guitarist has some unique instruments.

“There is a guy that lives outside of Austin, Berly, makes knock-offs of different stuff. I have a couple that he calls the “Berlybird”. It’s like a Gibson Firebird with Fender Telecaster pick-ups, neck and bridge. I like those quite a bit. I also have a green Fender Jazzmaster that for awhile was the only guitar Kim wanted me to bring to T-Bird gigs, so I wore that one out in a couple of years. It needs some repairs. Two years ago, Kim got me a Gibson Les Paul Special in TV Yellow with P-90 pick-ups that I really love.

“For the amplifier, around here, I have an old Fender Silverface Vibrolux. Once I was in the T-Birds, it became apparent that I needed a couple of pedals. When you use backline amplifiers, you never know what you will get. The reverb might be crappy. And I like tremolo on the amp too. After a gig in Finland, a guy asked me if I ever used pedals. I told him I was thinking about it. He said he was just the guy, as he worked for Mad Professor, which builds effects pedals. He sent me a reverb, a tremolo, and a delay unit. Then I was hooked. They make things a lot easier, if you are not too much of a jerk about it.”

Moeller is excited about upcoming opportunities, especially the Sons Of A Tyrant Project, and the T-Birds are beginning to make plans for their next album.

“I want to thank everyone for their support, and glad to still be kicking it in these crazy times. Please keep a look out for upcoming releases from me and Nico, as we try to release something every couple months on-line. Jay and I have a 45 RPM coming out on Eddie Stout’s Dialtone Records label, which is pretty cool. It is hard these days to figure out when to release a record. The world is evolving quickly!”

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 

imageGoin’ Down South – Preacher Got A Gun

www.facebook.com/Goin.Down.South.Band

Self-release

7 songs – 32 minutes

Preacher Got A Gun is the fourth release from Chicago-based Goin’ Down South and the band continue to successfully mine the Hill Country Blues-via-Chicago vein that has worked on their previous albums. 2019’s Juke Joint Romp was warmly reviewed in Bluesblast Magazine in June of that year and, despite the arrival of new members Ricky Levi Nelson (bass) and Robert Mickey (lead guitar), the sound pioneered by original members John Liggett (guitar, harp and lead vocals) and Brian Mickey (drums, percussion and backing vocals) remains intact.

The album is relatively short, clocking in at just over half an hour, but there isn’t any filling here. Each track hits a groove and then relentlessly pursues it, often staying on the same chord throughout the song. The title track, for example, is a five-minute vamp that kicks off at pace and does not let up. “Make A Mess” slows the pace down but features the same heavily distorted guitar and insistent drive around a single electric slide riff. This is in-your-face, muscular music that openly acknowledges the obvious influences of the likes of Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside and John Lee Hooker. There aren’t a lot of harmonica solos, but the instrument is used to color the textures and depth of the songs, as on the opener, “Hit The Spot”. The guitar solos, such as on the toe-tapping Canned Heat-style boogie of “Feelin’ Real Good Blues”, constantly hint at the potential to really stretch out in a live setting, but are rightly reined in on a studio recording. Mickey eschews an overdriven lead guitar tone in favour of a very clean sound which works very well in distinguishing the instrument from the heavily distorted rhythm guitar.

The gospel feel to “Shine A Little Brighter”, with its entwining guitars and harmonies offers a different, more uplifting message while the closing track, “The Blues Are Alright”, benefits from a distinctive (but nicely) discordant guitar riff. “Boomtown” manages the neat trick of hinting at the Bo Diddley beat but actually offering something different.

The focus is very much on the rhythm and the groove, rather than instrumental virtuosity or lyrical depth but this is dancing and drinking music, rather than serious, navel-gazing introspection or an exercise in musical gymnastics.

Excellently engineered by Scott Herschler at Joe Quality Studio and mastered by John McCortney at AirWave Recording, there is an enjoyable looseness-with-attitude to the performances on Preacher Got A Gun that gives successfully the impression of a live recording. No doubt, Goin’ Down South must be a treat to see live. While we wait for live music to start up again, Preacher Got A Gun is a more than acceptable alternative.

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 – 2 of 7 

imageMick Hayes – My Claim to Fame

Self-Produced

www.mickhayesmusic.com

CD: 10 Songs, 34 Minutes

Styles: Ensemble Blues, Jazz-and-Soul-Influenced Blues, Southern Soul

Once in a blue moon (occurring on Halloween this year), a soul blues album shines so brilliantly that one wonders why its artist isn’t yet a household name. Such is the case with Mick Hayes and his stellar new CD, My Claim to Fame. It’s only thirty-four minutes, yet listeners will savor it long after its final notes have faded. Like the vibrant, melding hues of fall leaves, the album’s vocals, instrumentation, and overall style blend so beautifully that there’s not one wrong note, nary a word or emotion out of place. It does just what the blues is supposed to do: lift you up in the midst of misery through expounding on the misery itself. It’s absolutely transcendent.

Presenting “Southern Soul Music with a California Finish,” Mick Hayes is no stranger to the fame he claims. An official member of the Blues Foundation, Mick Hayes is a published songwriter, accomplished singer and guitarist who’s been on the Grammy ballot more than once, in a number of different categories throughout his career. Regarding his current masterpiece, he comments: “I spent nearly two years preparing for [its release], and it was recorded in the place where you get your Master’s Degree in Southern-Soul Music [Muscle Shoals, AL]. From the deep grooves of the in-house band to the analog grooves of the vinyl record, My Claim to Fame is just that! People have been saying that this could be the worst time in history to release music. I think it’s the best time in history to get folks to listen and experience it the way that we all used to.”

Hayes’ co-performers are also famous in their own right, bearing laundry lists of accomplishments: Justin Holder (James Le Blanc) on drums and percussion; Bob Wray (Ray Charles, The Marshall Tucker Band) on bass guitar; Clayton Ivey (Bobby “Blue” Bland, Etta James, B.B. King) on electric piano and organ; Vinnie Ciesielski (Gladys Knight, Lyle Lovett) on trumpet and flugelhorn; Brad Guin (Jason Isbell) on baritone sax, tenor sax and flute, and Will McFarlane (Bonnie Raitt, Levon Helm) on rhythm guitar. Don’t forget the harmonic background vocals of Marie Lewey and Cindy Walker, aka the Muscle Shoals Singers. As for Mick? He’s the man.

“Sweet to Me” begins the album, meshing Steely Dan style with the big-band sounds of yesteryear and a sizzling guitar solo from Mr. Hayes. Next comes the CD’s first surefire hit, “Hand-Me-Down 45’s,” an ode to the vinyl records that got Mick through his frustrating formative years. “I thank the good Lord for good hooks and good vibes, for my hand-me-down 45’s.” If this isn’t on B.B. King’s Bluesville yet, yours truly is going to be sorely disappointed. “Way Too Hard” channels classic R&B, featuring soaring harmonies and a searing guitar edge. “Parking Lot Romance” brings back the ‘50s in 2020, including an “ooo-wop” for emphasis. “My Heart” brings us back to the blues and allows Hayes’ vocals to command center stage. Grab a partner and hold them close on the dance floor. If you’re in the mood for a peppier number, try “Ramona.” “Political Funk” disses “governmental junk” in groovy fashion. “No Second Chances” lets the horns resound like heaven’s trumpets, and “Autumn Romance” is an underrated, understated musical poem. “Saddest Picture of Me” closes the album poignantly, the notes of the intro falling like October rain. It’s bar time, secret-divulging time, and Hayes nails it.

If anything fantastic ever came from 2020, it’s My Claim to Fame!

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 – 3 of 7 

imageMalaya Blue – Still

Blue Heart Records BHR1004

12 songs – 53 minutes

www.malayabluemusic.com

British-based and honey-voiced vocalist Malaya Blue delivers an old-school take on recording with this one, producing a “two-sided” CD that features distinctly different, six-tune sets – opening, as the title suggests, with a half-dozen introspective numbers before heating things up with a fiery run of uptempo blues.

A melismatic soprano with an exceptional, behind-the-beat delivery, Malaya exploded on the UK music scene in 2015 with the release of Bourbon Street, an album that led to bookings at the highly respected Colne and Birmingham International blues festivals, four nominations in the British Blues Awards and an invitation to be a finalist in the British Blues Challenge.

She followed it up in 2016 with Heartsick, which featured a guest appearance from British blues harmonica giant Paul Jones and earned airplay across the English speaking world, Japan and South America, too. Since 2018, she refrained from touring to finish her college education and polish up her songwriting skills under the direction of producer Dennis Walker, a double Grammy winner for his work on Robert Cray’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and Strong Persuader and another for B.B. King’s Blues Summit.

Still was recorded, mixed and mastered at Ashwood Studios in Norwich, England, under the direction of Sotos Yiasimi and with Walker advising. Blue penned 11 of the 12 cuts here, six in partnership with Walker. The only song she didn’t write is the title cut. The lineup includes Nat Martin on guitar, Stevie Watts on keys, Mike Horne on percussion and Eddie Masters on bass with Sammie Ashforth also sitting in on piano for one number.

The opener, “Still,” was written by Cray’s former longtime bassist, Richard Cousins, who sits in on the bottom for the arrangement as Malaya simmers while reflecting on the good memories in a relationship that’s gone bad. The theme continues in the funky “Down to the Bone,” a slow-and-steady shuffle in which she notes that her loneliness is so strong that two or three drinks won’t be enough.

Malaya’s in love and “got a need for pleasing in “It’s a Shame.” Unfortunately, the man doesn’t care. The feeling of heartbreak continues in the funky, mid-tempo shuffle “Love Can Tell” before the theme shifts dramatically in “Why Is Peace So Hard?” It’s the tragic story sung from the first person of a son returning from war and his mother going to the airport to receive his coffin. The first-side sorrow comes to an end with the upbeat “Love of Your Life,” a sweet, quiet ballad for which Blue is accompanied minimally by Watts on piano.

“Kiss My Troubles Away” announces the mood change in dramatic fashion – a propulsive, stop-time shuffle that’s delivered from the position of a woman returning home from work after a hard day to the loving arms of her man. “Settle Down Easy” slows the action as it puts a different spin on the theme. This time, Malaya’s unpacking after reuniting after a breakup and assuring her guy that they can both relax and settle in. The love theme runs strong in “Down to the Bottom” before heartache returns when Blue’s all alone again after another split in “These Four Walls.” Another song of regret, “I Can’t Be Loved,” follows before things brighten dramatically with “Hot Love” to end.

Do yourself a favor and give this one a listen. Walker probably won’t win a Grammy for this one, but the musicianship is just as good. And Malaya’s songwriting skills and vocal chops are top notch.

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 

imageJohnny Nicholas – Mistaken Identity

Valcour Records – 2020

10 tracks; 39 minutes

www.johnnynicholasblues.com

Johnny Nicholas has enjoyed a long and varied career. He is originally from New England, played with some of the blues greats, hitched round the southern states and fronted Western Swing band Asleep At The Wheel before raising a family and running The Hill Top Cafe, a bar/music venue in Texas. Along the way he has recorded eight solo albums which are very diverse in style. Here he returns to one of the places where he learned about music as a young man, South West Louisiana, where the album was recorded in producer Joel Savoy’s small studio. The core musicians are friends from Texas: Scrappy Jud Newcombe on guitar and mandolin and John Chipman on drums and percussion are both members of The Resentments and Chris Maresh is a go-to bass player whose credits include Willie Nelson, Marcia Ball and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Additional musicians include Max Baca on bajo sexto, Josh Baca on accordion, Chris Stafford on organ, Eric Adcock on clavinet and a host of backing vocalists: all three band members, Kelli Jones, Sabra Guzman, Kelly Mickwee, Alice Spencer, Walt Wilkins and Bill Small. Johnny plays guitar, harp, piano and mandocello, wrote nine originals for the album, plus a cover of one song by the late Stephen Bruton (also a former member of The Resentments).

While in Louisiana where better to start than with a tale of voodoo spells, “She Stole My Mojo”, a resonator-driven number which finds Johnny under the spell of a woman who “cut my toenails off and put them in a crack. She killed a chicken and put it in a sack, she stole my mojo and won’t give it back”! The stripped-back “Mule And The Devil” finds Johnny talking to an old man who tells him that “the world don’t owe you nothin’ but a taste of heaven and hell”. “Spark To A Flame” is also pretty relaxed with Johnny’s quiet but commanding vocal before the title track “Mistaken Identity” which has Johnny’s piano at the heart of a song about a relationship established on a visit to NOLA but which turns toxic. The lyrics are clever and amusing: “She dragged me in like an old ship’s anchor, I didn’t know if I should run or I should thank her”.

There is a suitably border feel to “Guadalupe’s Prayer” with accordion and latin percussion subtly used on a story about a boy who was expected to be a savior but was eventually gunned down senselessly. After such a sad and moving song Johnny gives us a pair of fun songs, the chugging “Wanna Be Your Baby” has understated harp work and the rousing “Tight Pants” has great energy, the pounding piano adding a Jerry Lee dimension as Johnny reveals a definite enthusiasm for girls in roadside cantinas dressed in a certain style. We return to the border feel with accordion and percussion on another song about love that failed to last, “She Didn’t Think Of Me That Way”. “Highway 190” pays tribute to the area where Johnny once lived and returned for this recording. The rocking boogie tune recalls Johnny’s earlier song “Rocking My Blues To Sleep” and has plenty of piano, the lyrics painting a vivid picture of how the locals have fun though Johnny has to defend his honor against accusations of indulgence: “I been thinking how much you been drinkin’ and I believe you had something to smoke. I said honest, Janette, it was a straight cigarette and a big old bottle of coke.” The sadly missed Stephen Bruton’s emotional “River Runs Deep” is a beautiful song with the memorable refrain “you’ll find your way and then you’ll take that leap. You’ll find that love’s a river and the river runs deep”, making a fine way to end the album.

This is far from a straight blues album but everything Johnny Nicholas does is imbued with the blues, even when he is taking us south of the Mexican border. As with all Johnny’s output, this is a rich album that reveals more of its qualities with repeat plays and is well worth hearing.

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 – 5 of 7 

imageVanessa Collier – Heart On The Line

Phoenix Fire Records – 2020

11 tracks; 45 minutes

www.vanessacollier.com

Since graduating from Berklee College Of Music in 2013 Vanessa Collier has wasted no time in establishing herself in the music world, touring with Joe Louis Walker and the Ruf Blues Caravan 2017, producing four solo albums and winning the BMA award for Horn Player of the Year in both 2019 and 2020. On her latest album Vanessa provides all the vocal and saxophone parts (alto is her prime instrument but she adds tenor, baritone and soprano as required); supporting her in the horn section are former Roomful Of Blues trumpeter Doug Woolverton and trombonist Quinn Carson. Laura Chavez is the guitarist, William Gorman plays keys and Nick Stevens drums; bass duties are split between CC Ellis (7 tracks), Scot Sutherland (three) and Cornell Williams (one). Vanessa offers us eight original tunes alongside three quite disparate covers.

Vanessa’s music has always included a degree of funk and where better to start than with James Brown whose “Superbad” is given a smooth and funky workout with the horns prominent and Vanessa taking an exuberant alto solo. “What Makes You Beautiful” fits its title in a gorgeous arrangement with great vocal harmonies over Laura’s gentle chords and another fine horn arrangement. Vanessa shows us a different dimension to her music on “Bloodhound” as she straps on a resonator guitar to deliver a stripped-back acoustic piece that takes us down to the Delta both musically and lyrically, Laura stepping up to deliver a stirring electric solo. Next up is the quiet ballad “I Don’t Want Anything To Change”, written by Liz Rose, Maia Sharp and Stephanie Chapman and sung by Bonnie Raitt on her Souls Alike album. Vanessa sings it very well and adds a haunting sax solo before the final cover, a strong version of Randy Newman’s “Leave Your Hat On” which returns us to the funky side of things as Vanessa sounds like she is thoroughly enjoying herself on this familiar anthem.

The rest of the album is entirely original, starting with “Take A Chance On Me”, in which Vanessa asks us not to judge her by her small stature as she has lots to offer: “get on board, you might be surprised; take a chance on me”. Laura’s guitar work matches the blues-rock style of this one before we move into more of a soulful feel on “If Only”, a song that talks about how many of us are never satisfied with what we have, even when we have a lot of pluses in our lives. “Weep And Moan” is a slow blues with an excellent vocal performance and, again, one needs to point out how good the harmonies are. On the longest cut on the album there is room for a well poised guitar solo and for Vanessa to play a fine solo over the full horn section on the outro – impressive stuff! “Who’s In Power?” features Doug’s trumpet on a return to the funkier side of things while the amusingly titled “Freshly Squozen” is Vanessa’s play-on-words blending squeezed and frozen. The album closes with the title track “Heart On The Line” which has a New Orleans feel with all three horn players in terrific form as Vanessa takes some time out at home to “kick my shoes off, hold a glass of red wine, stop putting my heart on the line”. It makes a good finale and may well be the best track of all on an album that is solid throughout.

Those who are already familiar with Vanessa Collier can expect an album that shows continued growth as both writer and performer; anyone who has not yet picked up on this charming young lady should give this album a close listen.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 6 & 7 of 7 

imageAndres Roots – Mississippi To Loch Lomond

imageTartu Lockdown – The House Arrest EPs

Roots Art Records – 2020

15 tracks; 47 minutes

13 tracks; 33 minutes

www.andresroots.com

Estonian slide guitarist Andres Roots (his real name, by the way) was born in 1976 and has been recording under his own name since 2010. He has played across Europe and in 2019 made his first visit to the USA, playing at the The King Biscuit Festival in Helena, AR and at the Deep Blues Festival in Clarksdale, MS. These two discs reached Blues Blast together though the second was an unplanned consequence of the Covid pandemic lockdown. On both these entirely instrumental discs Andres plays solo, using a variety of guitars, some borrowed as he was unable to bring his own guitars on tour with him to the USA and Scotland!

On Mississippi To Loch Lomond the first six tracks are from the Clarksdale festival, three come from an Estonian festival and six from a gig in Scotland recorded by another acoustic bluesman of note, Dave Arcari. There is plenty of opportunity to appreciate Andres’ skillful playing on an all-original program in Clarksdale. One track comes from a show on October 19 outside Cat Head Records where he plays a G&L Strat plugged into a Roland Micro Cube, the rest from Ground Zero a day earlier where the same Strat had to be plugged into a reserve amp, a Peavey Delta Blues. Andres varies the pace well, moving from the uptempo “In The Dark” to the reflective “Build Me A Statue” which sounds like a classic Delta blues slowed down to quarter speed. Titles like “Bullfrog Medley” and “Snake Girl Blues” presumably take their titles from the inspiration of the surroundings; after all, these are ‘field recordings’, no studio fixes or overdubs, exactly as played on the day and appreciated by the audiences. “Meow Meow” interchanges thumbed riffs with slide responses that may reflect the distinctive sound of a cat. The three tracks from Estonia are all short sketches played on Andres’ regular kit, a Squier Jazzmaster played through a ZT Lunchbox amp. In Scotland Andres played unplugged, using host Dave Arcari’s National Steel. The effect is a quieter sound but the picking remains excellent. Of particular note are “Spanish Run” which brings the feel of a Western movie soundtrack to the Scottish hall and “The Sheik Of Hawaii”, a blend of Middle Eastern rhythms and Hawaiian guitar sounds. The only non-original on either of these discs comes with “Station Blues Medley” which is classed as ‘traditional’ but definitely sounds like “You Gotta Move” to these ears!

Mississippi To Loch Lomond was released in March 2020 but any possibility of supporting it with live shows was negated by the pandemic. Stuck at home and with no outlet for his creativity, Andres decided to record some impromptu material, the result being three digital download EPs which were released in March, April and May 2020. House Arrest 1 finds Andres using a 3-string cigar box made by a friend Peter Lindberg, hence the buzzing opener being entitled “Lindberg Boogie”. Across the other tunes he uses his Squier Jazzmaster (as heard on the live disc), a Walden 550 acoustic and a one-string diddley bow (on the appropriately titled “One String Racket”). “Woof Woof” may be a dog ‘answer song’ to the cat reference on the earlier disc.

There is no doubt that Andres is a talented slide player and he is to be congratulated for finding a way to keep his music going during these trying times. Overall I found the playing and tunes on the live set more attractive than the more experimental material on the House Arrest material but you can see why Andres has wanted to issue these on CD in order to maximize potential income. As has often been said in Blues Blast, the blues knows no boundaries and Andres Roots is keeping the flame alive in Estonia.

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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