Issue 14-49 December 11, 2020

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Cover photo © 2020 Joseph A. Rosen


 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Duke Robillard. We have eight Blues reviews for you including new music from Erin Harpe, Johnny Rawls, Nora Jean Wallace, Dustin Arbuckle And The Damnations, Ramon Taranco, Stratcat Willie & The Strays, Laura Tate and Ole Frimer Band.


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 Featured Interview – Duke Robillard 

imageThere are few artists in the world of music who wear more hats than Duke Robillard. The exceptionally gifted guitarist has been a force of nature since a teenager, when he founded Roomful of Blues. But he’s far more than that.

As a guitarist, Duke stands out from the crowd, playing blues, jazz, swing, old-school rock-‘n’-roll and more with such as precise touch on the strings that his approach seems effortless despite the complexity of his attack. He consistently receives high praise from magazines including Guitar Player and Downbeat as well as the New York Times, which has described him as “a soloist of stunning force and originality.”

A warm, personable individual despite his fame, he’s a modern-day Renaissance man whose musical talent is akin to the tip of an iceberg because there’s a whole lot more to discover beneath the surface of the deep blue sea of blue notes he plays.

Based out of Pawtucket, R.I., a stone’s throw north of Providence, Duke needs a spare closet for all of the hats he wears. In addition to his work as a performer and songwriter who fronts one of the most highly polished bands in the business, he operates separate jazz and blues labels, devotedly produces albums for others and hosts a weekly radio show, too, using it as a vehicle to educate a new generation about his heroes from the past. And…oh yeah…he’s a talented black-and-white photographer and abstract artist with multiple gallery showings, too.

Deeply influenced by the guitar stylings of T-Bone Walker, which still contribute to his approach today, Robillard was just 18 years old in 1967 when he and keyboard player Al Copley founded Roomful in Westerly, R.I. Conceived as a straight-ahead Chicago-style blues band, they gradually incorporated horns to pursue their love for jump, swing and early soul.

By the time he split about 12 years later, yielding the guitar chair to Ronnie Earl, he was recognized as a world-class guitar talent and the group were a New England institution who’d signed with Island Records, served as opening act for Count Basie and served as the backing unit for everyone from Jimmy Witherspoon, Jimmy McCracklin and Roy Brown to Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Big Joe Turner and Earl King.

Duke subsequently served as the guitarist for Robert Gordon, the punk rocker turned rockabilly revivalist, before hooking up with Bob Margolin, Jerry Portnoy, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Calvin “Fuzz” Jones after they split from Muddy Waters and rebranded themselves as Legendary Blues Band.

He toured and recorded two LPs with them before returning home to launch a self-named band that quickly evolved into the The Pleasure Kings, a three-piece unit that played blues rock and released two albums in the ‘80s. Even then, though, Robillard was making a name in jazz, too, with Swing, an album he recorded with saxophonist Scott Hamilton that received international acclaim.

Duke also replaced Jimmie Vaughan in The Fabulous Thunderbirds for a few years in the early ‘90s, but still maintained his solo career leading his own groups and taking time out to collaborate with guitarists Herb Ellis, Gerry Beaudoin and J. Geils in jazz ventures, too.

A two-time Grammy nominee in the traditional blues category for the CDs Guitar Groove-a-Rama in 2006 and Stomp! The Blues Tonight in 2009, Duke’s a four-time recipient of guitarist of the year in the W.C. Handy/Blues Music Awards – a feat he accomplished in a five-year period. And behind the scenes, he’s supervised recordings by Witherspoon, McShann, Rosco Gordon, Billy Boy Arnold, Joe Louis Walker, Billy Price and Otis Clay, Bryan Lee, Eddy Clearwater and a host of others.

He’s worked with dozens of top names, including Bob Dylan, Johnny Adams, Tom Waits, Ruth Brown, Jimmy Thackery, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Pinetop Perkins, Ruth Brown and more. And his partnership with Jesse Finkelstein in the blues imprint Shining Stone and jazz label Blue Duchess has a catalog that includes albums for award-winning keyboard players David Maxwell and Anthony Geraci as well as guitarists Paul Gabriel and Brazilian Nuno Mindelis and Hamilton, too.

But as Blues Blast learned it a recent interview, none of that rich history might have happened if Robillard hadn’t circumvented his mother and tricked his father into helping him build a guitar as a child.

“I didn’t grow up in a musical family,” Duke says today. “My mother and father, neither of them played any music, and it didn’t really mean anything to her at all.

image“But my father enjoyed music. And my uncle, my mother’s brother, played bass and guitar in a country-and-western band, The Westones, around Burrillville, where I grew up. They actually had a Saturday morning radio show. I was just totally blown away by live music, and they’d play at my aunt’s beach parties at Spring Lake.”

Another early influence came from Jerry Leveille, a guitarist in The Bel-Aires, who have been playing rock to enthusiastic audiences locally for most of Duke’s life, something they continue to do today. Leveille lived across the street and was a friend of one of Robillard’s older brothers. Two brothers had guitars laying around the house, although one of them had purchased a vintage Martin solely as an investment.

“Being ten years younger, as soon as I was old enough, I heard them play at the dances they held in a hall above the fire station in Pascoag,” Duke remembers. “That was the first place I ever sat in with a band.

“Back then, my mother was totally against me playing guitar. She said: ‘You have a clarinet.’ I love clarinet now. But at the time, it was the last thing I wanted. I wanted to play guitar, and I wanted to play electric guitar!

“By the time I was six, rock ‘n’ roll was coming in, and I showed a lot of interest in that music. But she saw Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis on TV and said: ‘Oh, no! You’re not doin’ that!’

“But I was determined! Fats Domino’s ‘Blueberry Hill’ had just come out. I heard that great piano intro that went into that riff with the horns and the bass and guitar all playing together, and said: ‘This is for me!’ In the eighth grade, I had to write a piece about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Mine was about being a professional guitarist. I was totally captivated. That was it!

“I was a really shy and quiet kid, and I was asthmatic, too – so much so that I missed a lot of school because of it. But you would have had to tie me up and gag me to stop me from being a musician. My mother came close, but she didn’t.”

Robillard’s love for the music grew quickly in his youth because one of his brothers was bringing home 45s. “When I heard Chuck Berry doin’ ‘Wee Wee Hours’ (the flipside to his 1955 Chess 45 of ‘Maybelline’), that changed my life,” he remembers. “’Maybelline’ was so powerful and fast with incredible guitar. But when I heard ‘Wee Wee Hours,’ for some reason, that slo-o-ow moaning, lamenting in that song just drove me crazy! I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know what blues was, but it just…I started looking for more music like that.”

He subsequently found the same sounds in the recordings of the Rolling Stones and Animals in the ‘60s. Ardently studying the liner notes, he realized that many of the songs he loved best were written by names he didn’t recognize, but quickly discovered were the top names in the blues. His path to jump, swing and horn bands came through the music of B.B. King, another early influence.

“He really got my attention,” Robillard says. “I loved that sound. Then I heard T-Bone Walker with horns and then Basie and realized that a lot of the material was just blues – blues form, blues songs, boogie-woogie. Just blues.”

It’s the thread, he knows now, that connects all American music from jazz and swing to country and rock, often in 12-bar format.

The incident that turned the tide in Duke’s battle with his mom came the day that an uncle gifted the Robillard boys with an old Kay acoustic, he says. “The neck actually attached with a wingnut – a really cool invention, which made it for easy adjustments. They should be using that now, but don’t.”

Now a quick-thinking 13-year-old, Duke separated the neck from the body shortly thereafter and approached his dad with it.

“I told him I needed to build an electric guitar for a science project,” he says, “and he bought it! He had some three-quarter-inch marine plywood in the basement and glued two pieces together because it wasn’t thick enough. I drew a Fender Telecaster shape on the board. He cut it out on the jigsaw, and we built it together. I was in my first band with that guitar.”

By the time Robillard was 19, he was a seasoned veteran who was holding down a regular Thursday night solo gig at Bovi’s Tavern in East Providence, a club with a long, cherished local history as a showroom for top jazz and blues acts and big bands, too.

A veteran road dog, Duke’s basically been in self-imposed isolation since the corona-virus shutdown, venturing out solely for trips to the grocery or the doctor for scheduled appointments while keeping busy in his Mood Room, his basement recording and art studio, and tending to his garden.

“Technically, I’m doin’ fine. But it is taking quite a toll on my psyche,” he admits.

Fortunately, he’s been able to deal with the shutdown better than most because of a medical issue that almost ended his playing career for good about five years ago. Sixty years of touring with a guitar strapped to his shoulder had taken a toll. He’d been in discomfort for years, gritting his teeth and playing through the pain until he could endure it no more.

imageEven after surgery, docs feared, he might never recover well enough to play again.

Fortunately for music fans everywhere, however, the operation to repair the affected tendons and muscles proved reasonably successful. Like almost all other patients, recovery for Duke seemed to take forever. He’s now pain-free. But one side effect from the surgery, he says, is that he’s lost a great deal of the movement he’d previously enjoyed – something, he admits, that has slowed down his attack somewhat.

“The fact that I’m able to play at all is simply amazing,” he says. “But in some ways, it might have improved my playing. There’s not as much flash, and I concentrate more on what the notes mean, which is a good thing — and that’s what older musicians do anyway.

“One thing it did was introduce me to painting, which was something I dabbled with in the past. I spent a year and a half where I couldn’t touch a guitar. I got heavily into abstract painting. I’d come down here to my basement at eight o’clock in the morning and stay down here for eight hours painting.”

That’s one talent that does run in his family. His brother Gerald, ten years his senior, is a world-class, college-trained landscape and seascape artist who also collaborates with luthier/grandson-in-law Mike Falco to produce their own line of artistically enhanced instruments.

“Painting just completely gave me a release that I needed,” Duke says, “because, you know, music is my life. It was a very good substitute – not that it was a replacement, but it did help me.”

Another thing that’s helped in his “down time” is Duke Robillard’s Mood Room, the radio show he hosts every Saturday afternoon over WICN-FM, a public broadcasting station based in Worcester, Mass.

“Besides the blues, I’ve very interested in jazz and early American popular music in general,” he says. “I’ve studied many styles, and where they originated…how they came up and how they became popular. I play music primarily from the ‘20s and ‘30s – all types, but based on jazz and blues because blues has been a very big part of popular music for a long time.”

Running from 4 to 6 p.m., the show takes a great deal of prep work.

“I pre-tape it, and I have incredible amounts of records to go through,” Robillard says. “I do it all from 78s and vinyl. It’s a real chore because, besides picking music, sometimes I’ve got to ask myself: ‘Is this record in good enough shape to put over the radio?’

“Sometimes, they’re not, but I play ‘em anyway because of the importance of the music. And I don’t go with mp3s that have been homogenized — put through the washing machine of digital equipment so they don’t represent what the music actually sounded like when it was recorded. There’s a warmth that comes from vinyl that’s lacking in digital.

“Contemporary music can be made on digital equipment and be made to sound beautiful. It can sound great and be made to sound warm. But it will never capture what was there in older music that was recorded in analog. If it’s later, from the ‘50s or ‘60s, it can be improved to someone’s ear – that means no noises. But listening around the hiss or hum or rattle to hear the original sound, to me, it’s worth it.”

Robillard comes as close to it as humanly possible with latest project, Blues Bash!, his brand-new CD on Stony Plain Records, which feels like a blast from the past, but has a contemporary feel.

“All of my albums have a lot of blues in ‘em,” he notes, “but jump around and have some swing, jump and rock in ‘em or songs that are just roots-based. This time, though, I thought: ‘I just want to do an album of real blues without any bullshit” – meaning the over-the-top instrumental hooks or contrived, catchy lyrics that usually produce hits.

“I decided: ’I’m not going to try and write anything funny. I’m just gonna make a blues album like the kind I used to buy as a kid. Just blues. Period.’

“Don’t get me wrong. It’s really good to write great songs. But the blues is just…expression. There’s a lot of songs in the blues that are just totally ‘common,’ but give you a lot of feeling and passion. That’s what I was going for – simple, ordinary blues that sounded like it did when I started out in the ‘70s — because that’s still what I’m all about.”

Keeping it simple is something that younger blues musicians tend to lose sight of today, Robillard says, noting: “There’s a lot of people who’ve been brought up in this day and age who think you need monster chops to play the blues. But that isn’t what the blues is all about.

“Even if you have monster chops, you have to ignore them in order to play the music the way it’s meant to be…relaxed. There’s a time to be aggressive, of course. But all the older blues people I used to sit in with…Muddy, Joe Turner, Cleanhead…the big line they gave you when you were takin’ a solo was always: ‘Take your time, son. Take your time!’

image“In other words: Play the notes that count, but think about them. You don’t have to impress us with flash.”

Released with billing as Duke Robillard & Friends, it’s an ensemble project that’s not intended to be a throwback release despite the theme, he insists. “I didn’t try to make it a low-fi recording, just with a live feel that emulated great records of the past.”

The lineup includes Duke’s skintight core band – Bruce Bears on keys, Mark Teixeira on drums and Marty Ballou on bass – with guest appearances by Michelle “Evil Gal” Willson and Chris Cote, a pair of Boston favorites, who join Robillard on vocals. The roster also includes Greg Piccolo, Rich Lataille and Doug James – the original Roomful horns – as outstanding Boston-based bassist Jesse Williams and two players from the West Coast: harp player Mark Hummel and Bob Welch, the longtime Elvin Bishop band member, who sits in on piano.

They swing from the hip in a set that includes classic material culled from Big Joe Turner, Roy Milton and Dave Bartholomew, a few dusty, rediscovered treasures and a trio of Duke originals, including “Give Me All the Love You Got,” a tune originally released in 1985 as a blues-rocker when he was fronting The Pleasure Kings.

“I wrote it when I was with Roomful as something like Lowell Fulson would have recorded early in his career,” he says. “I finally got to do it in the way it was meant to be played.”

Despite all of the balls Duke has in the air at home, he’s itching to get back on the stage again to play for the multitude of fans he’s built up across North America and elsewhere for the past 50 years. “I’m especially looking forward to getting to Europe again,” he says. “That’s been one of the greatest thrills of my life – to be able to tour foreign countries. It’s so stimulating.

“And it’s so great how people all over the world love the blues and amazing how much they’re studied it. When I first went to Finland, Sweden and Norway in the early ‘80s, I couldn’t believe it.” To his shock, he played to sold-out shows and found that his debut Pleasure Kings album was a hit across Scandinavia prior to his arrival.

One thing’s for certain, he says: “I have no intention of stopping as far as recording and touring – if it ever opens up again. But I think this (corona-virus) is a message to the world to be aware of what’s important in life in general.”

Meanwhile, he’s hard at work, trying his hand at something new. He’s been hard at work and in the final stages of writing an autobiography, which promises to be chockful of intimate memories of a life well-lived and packed with intimate details of behind-the-scenes experiences with many of the greatest names in music history.

Check out Duke’s music, find out where he’ll be playing next, check out his fine-art photos of blues superstars, look for an announcement about the release of his book and more by visiting his website: www.dukerobillard.com.

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



 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

imageErin Harpe – Meet Me In The Middle

Vizztone Label Group – 2020

10 tracks; 37 minutes

www.erinharpe.com

Erin Harpe is a second generation, finger-picking guitarist from New England who has established a strong reputation with her band The Delta Swingers but here, on her fourth outing on Vizztone, she has stripped things right back. The sessions were recorded at home in June 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic, so it is just Erin on vocals, acoustic guitar, dobro, kazoo and foot percussion; her husband, Jim Countryman, engineered the sessions, plays ukulele bass and adds backing vocals. The result is a thoroughly entertaining disc as Erin explores six old-time and traditional songs set alongside four of her own compositions.

The disc opens with three of Erin’s songs. “All Night Long”, a classic song about love (and lust!), makes an excellent opener with Erin showing her skills with the slide and providing a suitably sassy vocal. Erin then bemoans her fate as a “Hard Luck Woman” who seems to be beset by problems on this rolling country blues before the title track “Meet Me In The Middle”, the slide guitar opening of which reminded this reviewer of “No Expectations” by the Rolling Stones. Erin’s lyrics explore how folk with different tastes can get together by compromising, a good principle by which to conduct oneself.

Sippie Wallace’s “Women Be Wise” has been covered many times but Erin does a very good job as Jim’s bass lines underpin the tune nicely and Erin gets her kazoo out for the first time. Less frequently heard is Lucille Bogan’s 1934 song “I Hate That Train Called The M&O”, a slow blues which describes how the girl feels as the train takes her man away from her. After that Erin picks up the pace with “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” which is often credited to Muddy, sometimes to Hambone Willie Newbern, but here classed, probably correctly, as ‘Traditional’. Whatever the correct source it’s an all time classic and Erin shows us her chops on slide guitar as well as singing the familiar lyrics convincingly.

The very obscure country blues singer Geeshie Wiley is the source for “Pick Poor Robin Clean”, the song dating back to 1931 when she recorded it with Elvie Thomas. With Erin’s kazoo and Jim’s bass both getting solo features this is a fun arrangement whilst the traditional gospel tune, “When I Lay My Burden Down” takes us to church with the familiar “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah” refrain. In complete contrast a beautifully finger-picked take on Memphis Minnie’s “What’s The Matter With The Mill” raises the sauciness levels again and makes you realize how well Erin sings these sorts of songs.

We close with Erin’s “One Fine Day” which in a way blends everything we have heard until now. The song has a classic structure with gospel accents although the lyrics are entirely secular as Erin looks forward to being reunited with her love (or is it the rest of the Delta Swingers she is missing?). A gentle, affectionate note on which to end a very enjoyable album.

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 – 2 of 8 

imageJohnny Rawls – Where Have All the Soul Men Gone

Third Street Cigar Records

10 songs – 40 minutes

www.johnnyrawlsblues.com

Soul-blues giant Johnny Rawls has always had a deep love and respect for his peers and elders. After all, his most recent release was entitled I Miss Otis Clay. And, certainly, he knows the answer to question he poses in this one. Many of his peers have gone on to their Great Reward. But fans of the genre have reason to rejoice. As this disc shows, Johnny’s still with us and the torch they lit is still burning strong in his songs.

A Mississippi native who was born in 1951 and grew up on the Gulf Coast, Rawls initially made his name as a guitarist, working behind several of the top artists the South has ever produced: Joe Tex, Little Johnny Taylor and Z.Z. Hill before becoming band leader for one of the biggest names and best songwriters ever, O.V. Wright, too.

After O.V.’s passing in 1979, Johnny kept his band together, eventually forming a partnership with singing partner L.C. Luckett and finally making his debut as a front man with You’re the One on Canada’s Touch Records in 1989 and following it up with Can’t Sleep at Night on Rooster Blues five years later. He’s been on his own since 1996, when he released Here We Go on Britain’s JSP Records.

One of the smoothest and richest voices in the business in addition to being an outstanding tunesmith, Rawls has released about two dozen albums in the years since, compiling dozens of awards in the process, including 19 Blues Music Awards nominations and two wins. His most recent release, I’m Still Around, captured soul-blues album of the year honors from both the BMA and Living Blues magazine.

Where Have All the Soul Men Gone is Johnny’s third recorded under the auspices of Third Street Cigar Records. It was captured at Heyman Street Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark, prior to the coronavirus outbreak in February and Bigfoot Studios in Waterville, Ohio, this past June.

Johnny handles all vocals and contributes guitar and keys backed primarily by a lineup of veteran sessions musicians. Alberto Marsico delivers keys with Kenan Ӧzdemir on guitar, Levent Ӧzdemir on percussion and Erkan Ӧzdemir on bass. They’re augmented by Larry “Entertainment” Gold, who provides guitar solos on two cuts, as well as The Waterville Horns: Travis Geiman (trombone) and Mike Williams (alto sax).

Rawls composed the entire ten-tune set, all of which is fresh but jam-packed with traditional feel, beginning with the rock-steady “Where Have All the Soulmen Gone,” which strings together memories of his friends and heroes singing their biggest songs as he wonders where the years have gone and “why am I here all alone?” while noting that it’s his responsibility that “even when I look tired…to keep the dream alive.”

The pace picks up slightly and the feel continues, but the mood brightens for “Bottom to the Top.” It’s the celebration of a love affair that’s turned Johnny’s life around from a constantly feeling sad to joy in the knowledge that he’ll always have his lady to lighten his blues whenever they return. The message continues in “Can’t Leave It Alone,” which dovetails perfectly as it describes having tried to get away, but finally realizing that her “hook was in too deep” and that he wants to be with her always.

If you have any fear that Rawls might be thinking about retiring, fear not because he going to “Keep on Doing My Thing” until he drops — something he relates in the tune that follows. The mood shifts for the ballad, “Love, Love, Love,” in which his lady’s kiss makes him feel brand new, before quickening once more for ironic “Money,” which acknowledges that it’s the root of all evil, but you need it anyway.

Propelled by a driving rhythm, “Town Too Small” offers up a complaint about living in a world where things are so strange that he wants to scream, but can’t. The cycle of life always features prominently in Rawls’ work, and comes to the fore once again in “Time,” a reminder that no matter how things are now, things can – and will – change and that all you’ll be left with is photos of yesterday. “Baby, Baby, Baby” – an unrepentant love boast – follows before Johnny takes you to church with “Calling on Jesus” to close.

Johnny Rawls may be the senior member of today’s senior soul-blues community, but he shows no sign of slowing down. Pick this one up. Like Johnny, it’s a treasure!

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 8 

imageNora Jean Wallace – Blues Woman

Severn Records

10 tracks

Nora Jean Wallace returns to singing the blues after a hiatus to care for her ailing mother. Wallace (formerly Bruso) received a BMA nomination in 2004 for her Going Back To Mississippi album. I met her when she was touring in support of that album and was floored by her voice and stage presence. Discovered by Jimmy Dawkins in 1985, Wallace’s career began to take off. She appeared on two of his CDs, released a single on Leric and an LP on Red Hurricane (Nora Jean Bruso Sings the Blues in 2002) and then her BMA nominated CD in 2004. She appeared at many a major festival before her time off. It is good to see her back and performing again.

Joining her on this new effort are Johnny Moehler on guitar, David Earl on guitar, Steve Gomes on bass, Kevin Anker on organ, Steve Guyger on harp, Stanley Banks on keys and Rob Stupka on drums. Kim Wison makes a guest appearance on “Rag and Bucket.” Earl is also the label head at Severn and produced the CD.

The album kicks off with “Martell,” a song about going out and drinking some cognac. Wallace unleashes her husky and powerful voice as Guyger blows some mean harp and offers us a great solo, Banks bangs the piano smartly and Moeller plays some slick licks. Banks wrote the song and it’s a great hook to start off her new CD. Syl Johnson’s “I Can’t Stop” follows; Moeller and Earl lay out a nice groove as Wallace attacks this with passion. The organ fills in sweetly and we get a nice guitar solo, but it’s Norma Jean’s vocals that are again the highlight. Banks wrote the next cut and title track. Wallace testifies that she’s, “A blues woman, from her wig down to her shoes.” Moeller picks out some cool stuff behind her, Banks hits the piano key and Guyger blows harp. Up after that is a Susan Tedeschi cut from 2005 entitled “Evidence.” Wallace’s version offers up a heavy dose of Chicago blues influences as the guitar, organ and electric piano weave into the emotions and description of infidelity expressed in the cut. Wallace penned “Victim,” a slow and lamentful blues with a cool guitar intro. Wallace offers another deep and emotional performance, testifying she is a victim of her man’s love. The guitar work offers a nice parallel to the vocals here.

“Rag and Bucket” is another of keyboardist Stanley Banks’ works. Wallace sings of cleaning her house today, which is more of disposing of the memories of her man than removing dirt and grime. Guyger’s harp offers good punctuation and response to Wallace’s vocals here. Wallace wrote the next three cuts, starting with “Look Over Yonder.” It’s a more uptempo cut with harp blazing, piano and a great little groove that moves the song along. Wallace and the harp once again spar and counter each other as both singer and harpist offer up some well done stuff. And here the harp player is Kim Wilson, adding his unique sound and style to the performance. “I’ve Been Watching You” follows, a cut where Wallace confronts her man with his deceptions and lies. Her powerful voice demands the listener’s attention as it does figuratively the the man she is singing to about watching his shenanigans. Soulful and powerful, Wallace again serves up an emotional cut for us to enjoy. Nice guitar work complements the piece throughout. “Dance With Me” is the next track and features organ and guitar in a sweet soul blues where Nora Jean asks her man to get up and dance with her. The final track is “I Don’t Have to Beg You to Love Me,” another one of Banks’ songs. Slow and thoughtful blues introduced by the guitar and keys. Wallace threatens her man that she doesn’t need to beg because there are others waiting for the opportunity to love her. Wallace again delivers the goods forcefully and filled with strong emotion, and there is a solid guitar solo and work to assist, too.

I loved this CD. Sixteen years is a long time to wait for new music, but Wallace makes it worth the wait with these 10 fantastic tracks. I highly recommend this to all blues fans– Wallace is the real deal and her songs are worth repeated listens!

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

imageDustin Arbuckle And The Damnations – My Getaway

Self-Release – 2020

11 tracks; 48 minutes

www.dustinarbuckledamnations.com

When Moreland & Arbuckle broke up in 2017 harmonica player and vocalist Dustin Arbuckle immediately set about establishing a new band. M&A drummer Kendall Newby stayed on board and the two are joined by guitarist Brandon Hudspeth (Levee Town, Hudspeth & Taylor) and bassist Dr Mark Foley; Caleb Drummond is on bass instead of Mark on three tracks. The band is based in Wichita, Kansas, where the album was recorded. Dustin had a hand in seven songs, writing in combination with other band members and there are four songs from outside the band: friend of the band Ryan Taylor provides three songs and the title cut comes from the late Lee McBee. The band plays a wide range of styles, from Hill Country blues to country-tinged Americana, resulting in a nicely varied album.

“Say My Name” is the catchy refrain of the opening track with hypnotic drums and harp behind some striking guitar work. “Across The Desert” combines upbeat boogie and John Lee Hooker references as Dustin sings about fighting through difficulties, including crossing paths with the Devil, before “Daniel Fought A Lion”, the first of the Ryan Taylor songs. The delicate guitar opening is followed by haunting harp on this slower tune in which biblical references abound. The band adopts a more upbeat approach on the more conventional blues theme of being betrayed in a relationship “You Got To Go” before the interesting lyrics of “Dealer’s Lament” in which we are invited to feel sorry for the drug dealer whose clients don’t seem to want to form a deeper relationship: “you all want my candy, not my company; you come and go but you never want to stay”. Some good playing here, from Brandon’s slide work to Dustin’s strong vocals, but it is hard to empathize with the protagonist!

“Half A Piece” opens with strong harp work over a gritty slide riff, the title referencing ‘losing (part of) your mind’ when things go south in a relationship. In contrast “Darlin’ Dear” is almost country with gentle acoustic guitar, overdubbed weeping slide and campfire harmonica before the title track “My Getaway”, a grinder from the pen of harp player Lee McBee that gives Dustin plenty of space to show off his harp chops. The final three songs show the wide range of styles that the band can cover: “When A Song Comes Along” is a country tune with a little French chanson rhythm; tough harp and ringing guitar sit over the top of the low-down blues of “Friday Evenin’” and the album closes with a surprise as the band shows it knows its way round a swing/jazz instrumental, appropriately entitled “Swingling”. Dustin’s low register harp is accompanied by some relaxed playing with brushed drums, upright bass and the sort of guitar that you might hear from Little Charlie Baty, Duke Robillard or even Barney Kessel to close a varied and enjoyable album.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

imageRamon Taranco – Cuban Blues Man

Self-Produced/MAPL

www.ramontaranco.com

CD: 8 Songs, 42 Minutes

Styles: Guitar Monster Blues, Experimental Latin Blues, All Original Songs

I’d like to present a riddle, Constant Readers: How is the blues like a supersonic jet? It flies around the world, reaching countless ports of call, and travels faster than the speed of sound. Along the way, it picks up passengers such as Canada’s Ramon Taranco, a Cuban Blues Man. He and his Havana Blues Revue Band infuse their music with traditional and experimental Latin rhythms. It’s always refreshing when artists test and transcend the boundaries of their genre instead of sticking to grooves and riffs you’ve heard a hundred times before. Nevertheless, sometimes less is more.

There’s a jarring improvisational feel to songs such as the opener, “Desperate Love,” and the third track, “Complicate Blues.” That one’s about not complicating romantic relationships, but it should take its own advice in terms of the instrumentation. On the other hand, numbers like “Devil Can Blues,” “Suicide Hotel Boogie” and “The New York Shuffle” are remarkably catchy. So is “Debi Mexico,” a smooth slow-dance meditation with good harmony from everyone involved. Overall, the lyrics are on the basic side, but try to keep up with this delightful tongue-twister: “The devil can be your mother, your lover, your best friend too.” Yours truly wishes Taranco and company would’ve included instrumentals so she could get her Santana groove on.

Cuban-born Ramon feels at home performing all blues styles. He enjoys thrilling audiences while his songs continue to garner airplay on radio stations in over fifty countries. During the eighteen years he lived in NYC, he performed at numerous jazz and blues clubs (La Belle Epoque, Izzy Bar, Mozart Café, Cornelia Street Café, and The Groove); festivals (Soul of the Blues, Harborside Jazz), and colleges (New York State University, Monroe College, Manhattanville College). He has also given eight concerts in the Guggenheim Museum’s World Beat Jazz Series and performed in a blues concert celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday at Newark Public Library. Ever heard of Manhattan station WBAI’s Gutbucket Blues Show? Taranco has played live on it.

Joining Ramon (vocals and guitars) are Juan Pablo Dominguez on electric bass; Amhed Mitchel on drums; Raul Abreu Pineda on drums and percussion; Ruben Vazquez on piano and organ; Brian Gagnon on stand-up bass and background vocals, and Maureen Leeson on female backing vox.

It’s hard to know what to make of the album’s uneven style. Some of its offerings make for smooth soaring while others encounter turbulence. Still, this Cuban Blues Man is worth a listen!

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 – 6 of 8 

imageStratcat Willie & The Strays – On The Prowl

Self-Release – 2020

13 tracks; 60 minutes

www.stratcatwillie.com

Willie Hayes has had a long career in the blues, starting out in the 60’s under the influence of Michael Bloomfield, T-Bone Walker, Johnny Winter and BB King amongst others. He was encouraged to form a classic rock covers band but resisted that siren call to play the blues and formed Blues Plate Special in 1995 to play original music plus some selected covers and the band worked the southern end of New York state to good effect, issuing four albums along the way. On his first release under his alias Stratcat Willie he has joined forces with keyboards man Neal Massa and two different rhythm sections (bassist John Wisor/drummer Dave Fiorini on six tracks; bassist Vinnie Burvee/drummer Dave Salce on seven); Jeremy Hummel adds percussion to one track. The result is a varied set of all original music which includes songs written as far back as 2002 but all recorded in 2020 and finalized as lock-down was beginning.

The first five tracks here all explore the eternal question of what constitutes the blues while also covering five different blues styles. “Come On In” starts with a hint of Elmore James and moves into a BB King style shuffle. The autobiographical song states that whenever Willie “heard the blues a-knokin’ I always said ‘come on in’” and Willie recognizes that he “Sure ‘Nuff Got The Blues” on a funky Louisiana style tune with lots of fine piano work. The driving beat of “I Know” is well supported by Neal’s swirling organ and Willie’s slide work which he recognizes is a nod towards Sonny Landreth’s style. “Since You Left Me” has a latin/rhumba rhythm as Willie slyly suggests that his confusion is the result of being abandoned by his lover and the ballad “1.38 In The Morning” plays around with the traditional lament of sleepless nights worrying about a deteriorating relationship.

So far, so good. Solid playing, some well crafted lyrics but nothing we have not heard before. However, the pace of the album seems to alter with the instrumental “Scramblin’” which has the sort of organ playing that recalls Booker T combined with Stevie Ray on guitar. Willie plays some lovely stuff on the soulful ballad “It’s Just That Way” before Willie and Neal both shine on the jazzy shuffle “I’ve Got It Bad” which has some amusing lyrical touches. A highlight track is “Life Is Good” which sounds like a lost Allman Brothers track with its uplifting lyrics and a tune that builds on two of Dickey Betts’ finest moments – “Blue Sky” and “Back Where It All Begins”. Guitar, piano and percussion all impress across close to seven minutes of musical excellence.

After that tour de force the band strips things back with double bass featured on the late night “Take It Easy Baby” before a track that Willie says reflects his experience of the ‘annual trek to the IBC’s’, “Eat, Drink, Boogie, Repeat”. The title is certainly one to which many blues fans can relate and the fast-paced tune gets the toes tapping and the head nodding! The album closes strongly as Willie imagines a road trip to New Orleans on “Big Easy Bound” and summarizes his philosophy about how blues can heal us all on the rousing “Good News Of The Blues”, both tracks featuring plenty of good playing, particularly the spiraling guitar solo that takes us out of the final cut.

There is a lot to enjoy here as Willie and his cohorts take us on a wide-ranging tour of the blues.

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 – 7 of 8 

imageLaura Tate – Live From El Paso

811 Gold Records – 2020

12 tracks; 50 minutes

www.musicbylauratate.com

Laura Tate is an actress and singer who is based in El Paso, Texas, where this album was recorded. Laura revisits most of the material from her 2017 album Let’s Just Be Real, together with three songs from 2016’s I Must Be Dreaming and handles all lead vocals with a stellar band behind her that includes members of both The Phantom Blues Band (Tony Braunagel on drums, Joe Sublett on sax and Darrell Leonard on trumpet) and Teresa James & The Rhythm Tramps (Teresa on backing vocals, Terry Wilson on bass/B/V’s); the rest of the band is Lee Thornburg on trombone, Jeff Paris on piano/B/V’s and Doug Hamblin on guitar. Laura includes four songs by Californian Mel Harker whose songs were the focus of I Must Be Dreaming, three written by Terry Wilson, plus covers that include Allen Toussaint and Stephen Bruton.

It should be stated from the outset that this is not a blues album, rather a good selection of songs that run across Americana, soul and rhythm and blues, even including some touches of jazz in the mix. Laura sings well throughout and “No Place To Hide” is a fine start with Joe Sublett playing some lovely sax and again featuring on “I’ll Find Someone Who Will”, one from The Rhythm Tramps catalogue. A very interesting version of Phil Lynott’s “The Boys Are Back In Town” moves the song well away from Thin Lizzy’s original, the first verse played at a very slow pace before the horns develop the song into a big band production that works very well, the trumpet work being particularly notable. A late night feel pervades “I Need A Man” which is perhaps the closest to blues we get with trombone and piano featured before Laura has fun with “Hittin’ On Nothing”, an Allen Toussaint song under his pseudonym Naomi Neville and once a hit for Irma Thomas.

A run of four slower-paced tunes comes mid-album, starting with the semi-spoken vocals on Terry’s “Can’t Say No”, Laura finding herself quite incapable of refusing a guy who only calls “when you’re down on your luck – I know you call me ‘cos I can’t say no”. “Still Got The Blues” is not the Gary Moore song but a Mel Harker and Doug McLeod collaboration and “Nobody Gets Hurt” is from the pen of the late Stephen Bruton, Jeff switching to electric piano while the horns sit this one out. Two more Mel Harker songs follow: the jazzy piano on “What A Way To Go” leads us into a rapid-fire vocal with guitar featured as the horns are again absent but they return to provide a warm cushion for “Cowboy Jazz”.

Laura finishes the set in style with two fine, uptempo numbers. “Big Top Hat” is a second dip into Stephen Bruton’s catalogue, a big production slice of Texas Rn’B with the whole band on top form, from the twinkling piano and powerful horn arrangement to Laura’s commanding vocal as she really enjoys the chorus: “Gonna have to learn to live with what you got to live without, I can see those tables a-turning, there ain’t a shadow of a doubt. Bet I get a phone call when you’re living hand to mouth. You can kiss my ass till my hat drops off, I’m heading South”. Terry and Jeff wrote “If That Ain’t Love” and it adds a dash of soul to the show with strong harmonies on the ear worm chorus and a Memphis style horn arrangement.

Laura has a relaxed style and conveys all the lyrics with clarity and a definite sense of what the song is seeking to convey, whether it be raw emotion or humor. For a live album the sound is excellent and the performances on the money with no excessive soloing from any of the band. Anyone who missed Laura’s last two albums can enjoy many of those songs here in live performance.

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 – 8 of 8 

imageOle Frimer Band – Live In Eppingen

www.olefrimer.dk

Katti Records

8 songs time – 49:14

Danish guitar wiz Ole Frimer’s got the guitar gift. Blues-rock, blues or jazzing it up at times live at The Eppingen Jazz Festival in Germany. Plus a three piece band that is on the money. Ole is a first class guitarist as well as possessing a warmly husky voice. Niels Ole Thorning is a virtual keyboard wizard. All this backed by a spot on rhythm section. Half covers and half original songs all done up in fine fashion.

Ole’s guitar reaches for the highest highs ala Jeff Beck and Robin Trower on the original instrumental “The Clearing”. What sounds like the organ being turned on followed by a brief snare shuffle leads into a melodic and atmospheric burst of guitar Nirvana with bits of piano and organ. “Sheltered Roads” is our first introduction to Ole’s warm husky voice. Keyboards compliment the ringing guitar. Eddie Boyd’s “The Blues Is Here To Stay” one of the three blues songs on this disc. Niels Ole Thorning contributes a tasty turn on blues piano.

Here’s a nifty one for you sports fans…”Single City” is sung in Danish with the translation on the CD sleeve. Guitar and organ play in unison and it also features a nicely toned guitar riff. The Eric Clapton-Robert Cray penned “Old Love” is long and slow and includes a nicely done piano solo. The Albert Collins song written by his wife Gwendolyn “Got A Mind To Travel” is given a bit of a jazzy flair. Ole presents a close approximation of Jeff Beck’s style on Beck’s “Brush With The Blues” that captures Beck’s intensity.

The band’s live sound is captured perfectly with clear separation of instruments. Needless to say the playing by all those involved is top notch. Ole leads the way with his versatile command of his guitar and vocals. All the songs are executed in a truly professional manner.

This is one fine effort that shouldn’t be ignored by any discerning music buff.

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


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