Issue 14-50 December 17, 2020

Cover photo © 2020 Bob Hakins


 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Big Harp George. We have 21 Blues reviews for you including new music from Gráinne Duffy, Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne, Hurricane Ruth, Jonas Scott Cowan, The Barrett Anderson Band, Jörg Danielsen, Bobby Parker, Darren Watson, Brandon Miller, Sonny Green, Jeremiah Johnson, Kerry Kearney, Devin B Thompson, Geoff Carne & The Raw Rox Band, Jack De Keyzer, Liam Docherty, Peter Veteska & Blues Train, Harmonica Shah And Howard Glazer, Danny Brooks & Lil Miss Debi, Head Honchos and Artur Menezes.


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 Featured Interview – Big Harp George 

imageBig Harp George earned Blues Music Awards and Blues Blast Music Awards nominations for best new artist of the year in 2014, an amazing feat considering that he was making his debut as a front man at age 59. But as great an achievement as that is, it pales in comparison to many of the other earlier accomplishments he’d made in life.

A dapper dresser with a rich tenor voice and a unique view of the troubles we all endure in this world, he was born George Bisharat in Topeka, Kan., in 1954, but has been based in San Francisco for decades. Far more than an entertainer, his back story is so deep that it will amaze you even more than his talent on the chromatic harmonica – a technique that’s redefining how his instrument can be played.

One of the best educated performers in any medium, music has always played a role in George’s life, as Blues Blast learned in a recent interview. In fact, it’s the reason he’s here with us today.

His mother, Mary, was working in a store in Connecticut that sold music and books when her future husband, Dr. Maurice Bisharat, dropped in to purchase sheet music, beginning a love with no end. She was the product of a prominent New England family, and he was a Palestinian Christian who’d emigrated to the U.S. after his family’s palatial ancestral home in Rafidia – now a neighborhood in Nablus in the West Bank – was seized by the Israelis in the late ‘40s.

Devoted, loving parents, they wanted to be certain that all of their children assimilated into the culture of their father’s adopted home, giving all of their kids American — rather than Arabic — names and taught them only English because the father felt Arabic was too difficult and complex to learn.

A physician who’d graduated from American University of Beirut (AUB), one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the Middle East, Maurice was studying for an advanced degree in psychiatry at Menninger Clinic – now based in Houston – when George was born. The family relocated frequently after he graduated and started practice as a military physician – a job that landed him at Fort Meade in South Dakota and other spots in the Midwest before settling in Southern California.

“My dad loved Western classical music – something he’d gotten into while still living in Palestine,” George remembers. “His other musical love was tango. I have a lot of memories of him dancing around the house with my mom or other guests when I was young. And my mom, she loved classical music.

“My dad was particularly obsessed by violin music. They used to take us to concerts, classical mostly, and he tried to get me to play violin, which I did for a couple of years when I was eight, nine, ten.

“I really have to say I loathed it,” Bisharat chuckles. “I didn’t enjoy it one bit. Despite his best efforts, I gave it up. My mom was much broader in her musical tastes. I think she actually took me to a performance by Josh White about that same age — that’s the first blues I ever heard in my life. She took me to see Pete Seeger, too.

“And my sister took me to the Ash Grove (the famous folk club in Los Angeles) and to see the Rolling Stones at the Hollywood Bowl, and Bob Dylan, too. She played piano, my older brother played cello and another played guitar, so there was a lot of music going on in the family.”

Extremely bright from birth, George skipped kindergarten, enrolling in first grade at age four. Despite witnessing White – one of the most important figures in the early-‘60s, folk-blues era, he didn’t truly discover the blues until after Bill, his eldest brother, caught the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in action when he attended a love-in – one of the peaceful gatherings that focused on meditation, music and sex during the psychedelic period of the late ‘60s.

“He came home raving about him,” Bisharat says. “Soon, we had East-West blaring on the stereo through the house.”

imageOne of the most successful releases the band’s catalog, in addition to featuring Butterfield’s breakthrough riffs on harp, it also featured both Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop on guitars. And although Bisharat didn’t credit it in this interview, it’s almost certain that – because of its modal chord changes and extended jams that incorporated jazz element — it instilled in him some of the choices that appear in his own music today.

At the time, he says, Butterfield’s harp play really stood out in a time in which “no one really played it competently” in popular music — think Neil Young, Bob Dylan and a young John Mayall, just to name a few.

Bisharat picked up a diatonic harp – a gift from his guitarist brother who’d never done anything with it — sometime in his freshman or sophomore year of high school, after the family had relocated to Sacramento. A vocalist in rock bands, George had long, flowing locks at the time – something, he says, he got away with after pointing out to his mom that all of the Founding Fathers on U.S. currency had long hair, too.

“I remember trying to play what everybody else was playing in those days…Paul Butterfield’s version of ‘The Work Song,’” he says. “But I had a friend who said: ‘Butterfield and John Mayall and all those guys are fine, but you’ve really gotta listen to Sonny Boy Williamson.’

“I got my first Sonny Boy album…my first real blues album…and that sent me. I was also listening to Taj Mahal, and saw him a number of times. All of that got me going on the harp.”

Bisharat graduated at age 17 and enrolled in University of California-Davis, where he roomed with his sister, who was also a student. He joined his first band as a harmonica player after meeting a couple of musicians who were working alongside his sister in the school’s genetics lab.

“It was acoustic guitar, electric guitar and me,” he says. “And my older brother who played cello played bass with us for a while. He had no idea about what he was doing (chuckles)! We played a few parties and a bar in Davis that I wouldn’t have been able to get in if I didn’t look a little older than I was. I had a goatee and mustache by that time, so I passed for a 21-year-old.”

Bisharat left the band and California altogether after his sophomore year for a break year to follow in the family tradition of studying abroad. Like his father and several other relatives, he traveled to Lebanon to enroll at AUB, where one of his aunts was working as an English professor.

At the time, Beirut was still considered to be “The Paris of the Middle East,” a lush paradise of cypress and tall palm trees, a welcoming middle ground that fused the best of Eastern and Western culture and tradition in a modern setting – something that would change dramatically only two short years later when the civil unrest that had been bubbling for years exploded into open warfare.

“It was a very gripping experience to be there in those days,” George says today, noting that there were occasional skirmishes, military flyovers and signs of trouble on the horizon. “I totally fell in love with the place…a beautiful city, wonderful culture, great food, beautiful women and a free social environment.”

Shortly after his arrival, Bisharat fell in with what he terms “a mixed bag of musicians – Americans and Arabs from differing locales. “They’d already been playing together for a while, but their harp player had returned to the United States,” he says. “I came in and took over his seat.”

It was George who suggested they call themselves the Bliss Street Blues Band, a name that honored one founders of the university, Daniel L. Bliss, and the road that borders the campus on one side while also alluding to the feeling they hoped audiences would achieve when listening to their music.

It was no ragtag group. The lead guitarist was Otis Grand, a Beirut native now based in London. A musical nomad of sorts who’s also lived in Paris and the Bay Area who’s worked with Joe Louis Walker, Guitar Shorty, Sugar Ray Norcia and Luther Allison, he was a fixture in the ‘80s at Eli’s Mile High Club in Oakland and was a W.C. Handy Award nominee in 1992 for the album He Knows the Blues in 1992.

“He was good then, too,” George says as an understatement. “He’s a very smart guy, and was very hard-working and dedicated to his instrument.”

Still a neophyte at the instrument, Bisharat quickly became aware of Junior Wells, James Cotton and Little Walter through his bandmates. “That year, I grew a lot as a harmonica player and started gaining an understanding of the blues genre,” he says. “We had fun gigs and exciting times. We were sorta the top band in the city, and have enduring ties today amongst all of us. The drummer, Raja Kuwar, played on my first two albums.”

It was only natural that George began studying Arabic while based in the Middle East, albeit in a colloquial Lebanese dialect, he says. Although the sounds are difficult for many people, he quickly realized that they weren’t foreign to him after hearing them at family gatherings.

imageReturning home for his senior year, he planned on pursuing his interest in the language and enrolled in UC-Berkeley primarily because it wasn’t offered as a course of instruction at Davis. He subsequently received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and planned on returning to Beirut — where he had a teaching fellowship awaiting him — for post-graduate studies.

With the war raging, Bisharat arrived in Lebanon to find the university shuttered. He attended Georgetown University and earned a master’s in history there instead. “I had a fabulous experience in Washington,” he says. “There’s the real city of D.C., and there’s the political city. I’m not saying that ‘never the twain shall meet,’ but they’re very different. It’s a really cool, Southern city.

“And there was a lot of great music going on. The Childe Harold club was only four blocks from my home. I wasn’t playing with anybody, but I was listening a lot, going to clubs and working on my own chops. I bought my first chromatic when I was living in D.C. It was a Hohner CBH.”

Distinctly different from other chromatics, this one was designed by Cham-Ber Huang, the classical performer who was considered to be the Paganini and Stradivarius of the instrument. He also co-designed Hohner’s popular Golden Melody diatonic. His chromatic positioned the slide internally and lower on the body that other models to prevent bending when dropped, and its body was constructed out of a hard plastic resin that improved its resistance to wear.

“Like a lot of blues players,” George admits, “I didn’t do much with it. I did a little third-position playing with almost no use of the slider. Bliss Street had a reunion in Beirut in 2006, and I think that was the first time I ever played chromatic on stage.”

Unlike diatonics, which are built to specific keys and require the player to bend reeds to play the flatted notes required to play the blues scale, the great majority of chromatics are constructed in the key of C and two sets of reeds that allow the musician access to all keys in the musical scale — providing they develop the skill required to alternate between reed plates through use of the button – something few achieve.

Most blues tunes played on chromatic are played in third position and in the key of D, George points out, primarily because all of the required notes – including the flatted third and seventh “blue” notes –are available by blow and draw without having to shift plates.

Harmonica – and music in general – took a back seat for Bisharat once he reached adulthood. He subsequently attended Harvard, where he received a PhD in anthropology and Middle East studies and where he graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School, then returned to the Bay Area and worked as a criminal defense attorney and deputy public defender.

In 1991, he became a professor at UC-Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, a position he maintained full time until 2016. Now a professor emeritus, he’s been splitting his time between performing and teaching criminal procedure – a course he developed – since “retiring” from his full-time career.

Away from the classroom, Bisharat’s the author of Palestinian Lawyers and Israeli Rule: Law and Disorder in the West Bank. Published in 1990 and based on his doctoral dissertation, it remains an important text in the field. He’s also worked in concert with the Palestinian Legislative Council in an effort to reform and develop its judiciary system. A member of the editorial board of the Journal of Palestine Studies, his commentaries on Israeli-Palestinian relations have appeared in Wall Street Journal and New York Times and on national TV news broadcasts.

Now, a committed blues artist, his background plays heavily in the tunes he writes today – songs that reveal a deep understanding and compassion for victims of injustice wherever it’s found, not just the Middle East or in the courts and slums of the New World.

George’s desire to play again started to develop in 2001, when Otis Grand planted the seed during a stay in the Bay Area while recording the album Guitar Brothers with Joe Louis Walker.

“He came home from the studio one evening and said: ‘Hey, George, we’re one song short of an album,’” he recalls. “’Why don’t you come down and record?’

“We sat in my living room and ran through the song a couple of times, an instrumental he called ‘Bliss Street Blues.’ We went in and knocked it out the next day.

“At that time roughly, he said to me: ‘George, look… You’re doin’ professional quality stuff. Why don’t you get yourself a little band and start performing?’ I kinda hemmed and hawed. I was busy with my career and had my kids. They were still pretty young at the time.

“But something that he said really stuck with me. I was saying: ‘What do I have to contribute to the blues world? What do I have that would be a contribution to the musical discussion in the blues?’ He said: ‘George, you never know what you’re capable of until you try it.’

“That really resonated with me – especially later, when I started doing the chromatic and started to produce sounds that I never heard anybody else do before.”

imageAt the time, he says, he still was carrying a diatonic harp in his pocket or briefcase wherever he went, and he regularly pulled it out to tickle the reeds while walking between the train station and his office. But he wasn’t involved in the music scene in any way.

“But I’d get bored by the music I was listening to,” he remembers. “Then I bought this harmonica compilation album (Essential Blues Harmonica on the House of Blues label), and it had Paul deLay’s song, ‘Why Can’t You Love Me’ on it.”

For Bisherat, it was a life-changer.

He’d always been an admirer of George “Harmonica” Smith, who played with Muddy Waters and teamed with Rod Piazza in Bacon Fat. And he was well aware of William Clarke, another great player, too.

But deLay was different. Like Little Walter on diatonic, Paul’s attack on the instrument had taken it into territory it had never gone before. A native of Portland, Ore., who lived a troubled life and succumbed to leukemia at age 55, his inventiveness as a songwriter was also beyond compare

“Paul was like he came from a different planet,” George says today. “That song…it took me a while before I could figure out that he wasn’t playing in third position. He plays it in second position – something I’d never heard anybody do before – not to say that others hadn’t done it before him.

“Then I started listening to his other stuff, and it really, truly inspired to me. When I began my turn to chromatic, I was trying to play Paul deLay stuff. His progressions are unlike anybody else’s. It got me going. As I continued to experiment, I found that I was trying to kinda transfer my bag of diatonic licks to chromatic.

“Some worked. Some were more difficult. Some came out with modifications. Some came out sounding different – and sounded cool.

“I kept going, and it gradually came to be…to be completely honest…that it was on the chromatic that I finally found my own musical voice come out. Until that time, I’d describe my own playing as ‘derivative.’ Before then, if I sounded any different from the standard, it probably was because I wasn’t as good! My musical ideas were pretty conventional.

“But as I worked more and more on it, I’d say: ‘Man, I’ve never heard anybody play this! And I think it sounds good!”

Clarke has also been influential, George says, but not to the same degree, adding: “If you listen to the song on my first album, ‘Cocktail Hour,’ it is played in second position, which is not something Bill did very often. But it still has a structure that’s similar to his song ‘Greasy Gravy’ – something that was fine with me because it wasn’t exactly his sound, but pretty much inspired by him.

“And his whole jazzy, swinging feel was something that I really, really loved.”

By 2012, Bisharat finally realized he was on to something – a style he now calls “21st Century artisanal blues,” a distinctive, sophisticated and contemporary blend that incorporates jazz, New Orleans and Memphis rhythms and a flavor of Latin America and the Middle East into the blues root.

“That’s when I started having the ambition to record,” he notes. “Before that, I thought: ‘What’s the use? Everything I was doing up until then, people had done before me – and probably had done better.”

The turning point came, he says, when he entered a swing songwriting contest sponsored by David Barrett, the harp player and author who created and operates Harmonica Masterclass Workshops and who founded the first-ever School of Blues in San Jose, Calif., and the man who helped Aki Kumar and a host of others perfect their talent.

“I’ve worked on and off with Dave, taken some lessons from him,” George says. “I decided to enter ‘Chromaticism,’ which I recorded originally to a jam track. I was one of three finalists, and we had the opportunity to play those songs live at Yoshi’s, a nice club we have in Oakland, as part of Mark Hummel’s annual Blues Harmonica Blowout. The backing band included Little Charlie Baty and Billy Flynn on guitars, Bob Welch on keys and June Core on drums.

image“The song is in G, and I go up there with my big, 16-hole C chromatic, and Charlie looks at me and says: ‘What (key) do you want?’ I called the key: ‘It’s G.’ He says: ‘Do you mean G or D?’ When I told him G, he looked at me like ‘are you nuts?’

“We did the song, and somebody else – a really good person and good player – won. The following day, by total coincidence, I ran into Charlie on the street in Berkeley, and he said: ‘What you’re doin’ is really cool. Don’t give it up.’

“Coming from a giant like him, that meant a lot to me…that I’m not crazy. What sounds good to me sounds good to some other really accomplished musicians. That’s what gave me the confidence to invite Charlie to join me on my first album – and all the others, too.”

A chat with Hummel led Bisharat to start working with producer Chris Burns, the longtime keyboard player for Maria Muldaur, as he prepared for his debut album. Burns who suggested Bisharat record at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios, a marriage that was made in heaven.

“Kid convinced me pretty quickly that he knew how to achieve the sound that I was trying to get – especially on harp,” Bisharat remembers, noting that he’d experienced issues in another studio in the past when neither he nor the engineer knew anything about what they were doing.

“Needless to say, after doing four albums with him, I see no reason ever to go anywhere else. I’ve made a lot of progress from my first to fourth recording, and his capabilities are growing as well. He was great six years ago, and he’s even greater now – and I’m the beneficiary of it.”

In addition to Andersen’s ear and skill as a multi-instrumentalist, George says, his sense of humor keeps things loose in the studio despite working at a high level of professionalism. And it doesn’t hurt that Kid’s wife, Lisa Leuschner Andersen, has a beautiful voice, too, which has enhanced the sessions.

Even though Bisharat excels today as a songwriter, he admits that he’d failed miserably in the past. Other than Chromaticism, which mixed six covers and six originals, all of his subsequent CDs have included all of his own material, which puts a unique spin on modern themes – everything from dealing with legal problems, social unrest and the health-care industry to subjects as benign as dating and dealing with modern technology.

“In the past, I’d written a song or two, but they were basically blues clichés,” he says. “I came to realize that I had to do in my songwriting what I do in my harmonica playing, which was to be myself, to write from my own experience.

“Every human being has some kind of blues. You can be wealthy or poor, it doesn’t matter. I needed to look inside, think about things from my own perspective and write songs about my own life – which is not to say that I don’t write songs about other people that I’m around. Once I kinda applied that logic, then the songs started not only to flow but to be a really fun, satisfying experience.”

Today, his arrangements deviate from standard blues progressions to incorporate complex blends of West Coast jump and swing imbued with foreign elements gathered from his travels to South America and across the Arabic crescent, too. And the world has taken notice – so much so, in fact, that Living Blues magazine tagged him as one of 15 rising stars in its harmonica issue that fall almost simultaneously with his debut CD’s release.

“It’s been great working with the people that I do,” George says. “Charlie (who succumbed to a heart attack in March) was a joy. He was a very different personality than Kid – a little gruff, but a smart guy and a gentleman. I think he was inspired a little bit by what we were doing.

“I asked him to play acoustic on ‘Wash My Horse in Champagne,’ the title song of my second album, which was based on Brazilian history and a tune that I’d heard when I was down there. I discovered that Charlie was a big fan of chorinho music, too. He told me that it was the first time he’d ever been invited to record on acoustic guitar.

“I think doing these kind of things was like a breath of fresh air for him. He was just fantastic on all of the stuff he played for me.”

Living in the City, Bisharat’s most recent album, picks up where his 2018 release, Uptown Cool, left off. An hour-long set, it weaves an intricate tapestry of blues with instrumentation that includes the gospel ensemble Sons of the Soul Survivors, Carlos Reyes on Paraguayan harp, Firas Murkus on zither and qanun, Loay Dhbour on iique (an Arabic percussion instrument) as well as a guest appearance from vocalist Amal Murkus, Firas’ mother and a major star in the Holy Land.

image“After each release, I meet with Chris, who’s produced all of my albums – although it’s a responsibility that’s shared by Kid and me, too — to set goals for the next one and to determine what I can do better,” George says. “Going into this one, I thought my vocals could be better, more complex, more interesting. Not just one voice.

“As a musical listener, I crave a certain amount of musical novelty and freshness. I don’t like to hear the same thing over and over. I still go back and listen to the masters, but I’m always looking for new sounds – something that made Paul deLay so inspiring when I first heard him.

“Having the Sons of the Soul Revivers on six songs really changed things up – as did having Lisa Lueschner Anderson help out on some vocal parts and layering her with Loralee Christensen, who’s been on all of my albums. I think that’s the biggest step forward musically with this album. And Amal, too!

“The interest of mixing in some Arabic influences had been on my back burner for a while,” Bisharat says, “even though I’m not trained in Arabic music myself. I’ve heard a lot of it, and it’s pretty bluesy with the microtones and that sort of thing. So I’ve always been intrigued with the possibility of blending it in.”

George had previously met Firas at a fundraiser and recruited him and his mother to participate in the song “Meet Me at the Fence,” which concludes the album. Its music is based on a tune by Brazilian vocalist Ana Carolina, but delivers a universal plea for peace and understanding that applies to the Middle East and so many other trouble spots around the world.

“I was super pleased that Amal and Firas agreed to do it,” he says. “Everybody involved in the song felt that it really came from my heart. Mike Rinta wrote beautiful horn charts for it, and it all blended together into what I think is the best song I’ve ever written. We’re working on a video for it that we won’t release until 2021. The visual part of it will make it very powerful.”

Bisharat is eager to spread his music and message again – something that’s even more important to him because Living in the City was released in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. He’s already thinking about his next release, although it’s still in the planning stages. And he was just about to release a couple of new tunes for the holidays as this interview was conducted.

He remains grateful for all the support and encouragement he’s received in the past few years and he stands in solidarity with his fellow musicians. “This is a devastating time for many people in this business, and my heart goes out to all of them,” he says. “There are some wonderfully talented people in this music and others, and these are tough times.

“To all the people out there who love and make the music, I love them all, support them all and look forward to seeing them all down the line when we’re past this terrible stretch.”

Check out George’s music and, hopefully, where he’ll be playing next by visiting his website: www.bigharpgeorge.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 21 

imageGráinne Duffy – Voodoo Blues

Self Released

www.grainneduffy.com

10 tracks

Gráinne Duffy is an Irish blues rocker who offers the listener slick guitar work and impassioned vocals. Specializing in blues, soul and Americana, Duffy writes all her own music and sings with a Celtic sort of Memphis soul. Playing electric and acoustic guitar, Duffy grew up early on in a home with no TV but with a record player. After listening to the likes of music from Aretha Franklin to The Rolling Stones and The Pretenders, Duffy then discovered Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac. Her foundation in his electric blues is evident in her music. She obtained a music degree at NUI, Maynooth, Ireland and has extensively toured the UK and the continent of Europe.

Now in the fourteenth year of her career, this is Duffy’s fifth album. She does all the vocal work and plays guitar and acoustic guitar. Also on guitar is Paul Sherry. Dale Davis is on bass and Troy Miller is on drums and Hammond organ. Ronan Morgan backs her vocally on two tracks. Miller also produced and engineered the CD. Duffy and Sherry co-wrote all the tracks.

Things start off with the title track, a rocking cut where Duffy howls out the lead and backing vocals and the guitar and bass drive the cut along smartly. Duffy sings with passion in this cut not made for the faint of heart- a big performance. “Mercy” is the next cut, a short rocker where Gráinne begs her lover for mercy for her errors and the song seems to be a form of rocking “make-up sex.” “In “Blue Skies” we have a bouncing, rock anthem sort of cut as Duffy forthrightly leads with her vocals as the guitar and backline sets a groove for her. Guitar and organ fill out the cut nicely, too. Up next we have “Shine It On Me” where the guitar plays a bigger role, responding to Duffy’s calls. A medium tempo-ed pacing, a little acoustic guitar and Hammond organ, more fine vocals and a big electric guitar lead and solo make this one cool. “Roll It” rounds out the first half of the songs. A nice rhythm, a rocking sound and an emphatic delivery by Duffy help sell this cut.

“Wreck It” begins with some heavy guitar and Duffy comes in with a breathy but big delivery of her lines as she promises, “we’re gonna wreck it all.” A driving cut with a big but restrained guitar solo will gets heads bobbing and feet tapping. Duffy and Morgan fill in on vocals to make the sound richer. “No Matter What I Do” takes the tempo down a few notches in this ballad with guitar and vocals offering up a composed start to the cut. Things build on the choruses as Gráinne claims that, “No matter what I do, I come back to you.” The electric guitar work is really sweet here and more than once in a while we hear the layers of guitar making things more musically appealing and interesting. Following that we have “Tick Tock,” with the sound of a wind-up alarm clock that opens the piece to set the pace. More rocking good stuff here as Duffy and the lead guitar musically spar. Big guitar and more well-done vocals are featured here as the song builds into a frenzied dervish before the song drives to conclusion and then the clock fades us out. The album concludes with “Hard Rain.” Here we have more of what Duffy excels at: singing with deep emotion. The music throbs along to a steady and forthright beat, making the listener’s heart seem to get in synch with the song. Things close with a mix of semi-distorted organ and guitar pedal work mixed to drive us to an interesting finish.

There is a lot more rock than what I’d call straight up blues here, but it’s well done, the songs are crafted nicely, and the vocal work is great. If you like your blues rock more heavily leaning to the rock side, then this one’s for you. Here we have an album of all original stuff that grabs the listener and shows them what Duffy and the band are made of. Only one song tops four minutes; this is old-school songs where you’re presented with the idea, the chorus makes some sort of confirmation, you get another verse, repeat the chorus and in most cases your done. There is no dilly dallying about here, it’s driving tunes that give you what you need to hear and they are done. Duffy quickly gets her ideas and points across both musically and thematically; it is actually refreshing not to have the cuts pointlessly drag on as they do on some albums. I liked this album and it served as a cool introduction for me to Gráinne Duffy; I hope to be able to see her and her band live some day soon.

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 – 2 of 21 

imageKenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne – Go, Just Do It!

Stony Plain Records

www.kennybluesboss.com

13 songs, 51 minutes

Contemporary Blues is a melting pot of influence and style most interesting when tipping the hat to the legends while developing something personal and unique within a well worn and, sadly at times, hackneyed idiom. Kenny ‘Blues Boss” Wayne, the Canadian based pianist, band leader, singer and songwriter, is a modern master of eclectic cross genre Contemporary Blues. On his most recent self produced album Go, Just Do It! the Blues Boss lays out 9 originals, 2 Percy Mayfield covers (the Bob Dylan of the Blues) and a surprisingly effective cover of J.J. Cale’s bar-band abused “Call Me the Breeze.” Studded with female guest vocalists led by the powerhouse Dawn ‘Tyler’ Watson and the cool emotive legend Diane Schuur and a hip rap verse from Wayne’s son Cory ‘SeQual’ Spruell, Go, Just Do It! is a fully realized multifaceted Blues party full of R&B thump, Boogie Woogie stride, stanky Funk and songwriting that goes from fun and sexy to deep and meditative.

Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne is a performer with style and flash. Wearing colorful suits and sporting a tight hard hitting band resplendent with horns, Wayne is a hard charging pianist and a soulful singer with a slightly more baritone B.B. King style of delivery who puts on a show behind his 88 keys. Sometimes a first rate live experience doesn’t translate when put down on record, not the case here. Wayne’s band is anchored by ex B.B. bassist Russell Jackson and Joey ‘The Pocket’ DiMarco. Sherman ‘Tank’ Doucette adds harmonica here and there and Wayne’s ‘Best Man’ Barry Sharbo plays tambourine throughout. Tasteful and song-serving guitarist Yuji Ihara interplays with Kenny’s piano playing. Important to note that although the piano is an important part of Wayne’s delivery and certainly is central, this is not piano centric music. Complimented by Jerry Cook on saxes, Vince Mai on trumpet and background vocals from Julie Masi, this band serves the song. All musical voices support the vocals and the trajectory of the lyrical narrative. It is part of the reason why the 3 duets (2 with Watson and 1 with Schuur) and the Rap/Blues crossover (which are rarely as seamless and holistic as it is here) work so well.

So what does Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne’s contemporary mix of Blues really sound like? It can only be described as eclectic. Lead title track “Just Do It!” is an Albert Collins styled Funk Blues romp. This duet with Watson has horns flashing over a Johnny B. Gayden styled slap bass. Mr. Wayne’s piano solos are even indebted to the Iceman’s economical stinging Tele stabs. “Sorry Ain’t Good Enough,” another Watson feature, is a minor key Prince informed groove about heartache. “That’s The Way She Is” is an upbeat feel good song about how fine his object of affection is that would fit right in more mainstream Blues artists such as Keb’ Mo’ or Bonnie Raitt’s catalogues. Then of course Wayne, a boogie woogie practitioner, also knows how to jump the Blues in the Louis Jordan school, examples include the two instrumentals: mid-tempo “Bumpin’ Down The Highway” and album closer “Let The Rock, Roll.”

The two Percy Mayfield covers are both incendiary for very different reasons. Dueting with Diane Schurr, “You’re In For A Big Surprise” is a smoldering medium-slow testimony of a person’s self worth in the face of adversity. Schurr is truly featured as the first voice we hear taking all the verses while Mr. Wayne takes on the “B” sections of the arrangement in full Ray Charles anguish. A soulful sax solo precedes a delicate and smooth piano solo. And hold out for Ms. Schurr’s final falsetto wail at the very end, it’s chilling. On the flip side is the boogie funk of Mayfield’s “I Don’t Want To Be the President.” In this electoral year this is a timely cover pull. This is the track with Wayne’s son SeQual’s rapping. Taking the spot where an instrumental solo would be, SeQual raps with an assured flow and a voice that has the same deep baritone inflection as his dad. Musing about being a mechanic or maybe just a good man and musician like his “pops,” SeQual’s verse fits because the musical foundation of the track has the strong beat and no frills bass needed to successfully rap over. A triumph in cross-genre (and cross-generational) exploration.

Kenny Wayne truly is the “Blues Boss.” A unique and gifted talent, Wayne is a complete package. An effective and creative songwriter (often hard to find in the Blues), an impassioned singer, a master pianist, a slick and powerful live performer, a band leader who obviously has great relational management skills and a thoughtful and sensitive self-producer. Go, Just Do It! is a new career high water mark for the Blues Boss.

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 21 

imageHurricane Ruth – Good Life

American Showplace Music

10 tracks – 35 minutes

www.hurricaneruth.com

Hurricane Ruth LaMaster’s Good Life features her hard rocking blues style in her fifth studio album and debut on the American Showplace label. Ruth’s seasoned voice that Willie Dixon once described as “the only hurricane I can appreciate” sings the blues from a female’s perspective, sharing stories of joy, strength, heartache and friendship, peppered throughout with a mother’s advice to all. Good Life’s lyrics are personal incorporating counsel from her mother with her own life affirming credos. In fact, the whole album feels like a tribute to her mother and strong women.

Sharing her life choices with us through the blues comes naturally to Ruth, as she was raised with music as a family business. Ruth’s father Milt LaMaster played drums and trumpet as well as owning and managing with her mother The Glendale Tavern, in Beardstown, Illinois. Here she was influenced by musicians who came from all over the region to perform blues, jazz, country, rock ‘n’ roll and big band. All of these styles shaped her vocals and musical choices which can be enjoyed in this album.

Good Life‘s 10 tracks include 8 songs written or co-written by Hurricane Ruth plus Grammy-winner Gary Nicholson’s “Torn In Two” and “I’ve Got Your Back” written by Karen Leipziger/Freda McCrary/Irene Kelley. Joining LaMaster in the studio on Good Life are Scott Holt (guitar), Bruce Katz (Hammond B-3, keyboards), Calvin Johnson (bass) and Tony Braunagel (drums).

Heading off the album is a fun honky-tonk blues stomping song, “Like Wildfire” about her temperature rising when she is around someone with whom she has chemistry.

“Dirty Blues” is a song every lady can identify with who loves the blues and dancing at a club to live music; every singer can identify watching those joyous ladies on the floor who “needs no partner.” Ruth and lead guitar (Scott Holt) are in a conversation throughout the song, which does make the “foot stomping girls” want “to get out there and dance.”

In “What You Never Had” Ruth shares her mom’s advice “Why worry about what you never had. life’s about living, not what you have.”

And that kernel of wisdom leads into a poignant, soulful ballad “Good Life” (written with Scott Holt) that originated from a conversation Ruth had with her mom about a year before she passed away. Ruth asked her questions about her life and what she would have done differently. Ruth recalls in the lyrics her mother letting her know “There’ are somethings that I wish could change but I ain’t afraid of dying because I’ve had a good life.” Ruth laments ”Mama what will I do without you?” and her mom replies “You’re strong just like your mother, you will be okay, always remember I love you and live each day likes it your last day.”

“She’s Golden” speaks to a woman who has lived a hard life but is stepping out “from the darkness into the light” to “rise from the ashes of her life.” “Black Sheep” honors Ruth’s bad ass side and “Who I Am” is an ode to accepting oneself. Wrapping up the album is “I’ve Got Your Back” which everyone wants to hear whether you’re her lover, friend or listener.

Hurricane Ruth is truly living a Good Life in song.

Reviewer Gloria Reiss is a graduate of UC Berkeley in literature and UCLA in computer science. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA, a town she loves for the redwoods, ocean and blues community.


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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 21 

imageJonas Scott Cowan – Parlor Tricks – Exhibit A

Melrose Hill Records

10 songs – 32 minutes

Parlor Tricks – Exhibit A is the sophomore release from Indiana-based acoustic country blues singer and guitarist, Jonas Scott Cowan. It’s quite a bold move to open an album with “People Grinnin’ In Your Face” given Son House’s rightly-lauded, emotionally-fraught original, but Cowan, accompanied only by handclaps, carries it off with aplomb. The specter of House can also be heard in “Church Street” with its resonator slide guitar and stomped feet accompaniment, although Cowan cleverly slips in a Chris Smither-esque finger-picked middle-eight to emphasize that he is carving his own path. House, of course, stood with one foot in the blues and the other in the Church, having spent years as a preacher and a pastor before discovering the enticing exhilaration of the blues. Cowan, the son of a Kentucky Baptist minister, wryly acknowledges the myriad bonds between the two cultural constituents in the Robert Johnson-influenced “Evil On My Mind”.

By contrast, the finger-picked “Whisky’d Down Soul” and “Where Has My Sweet Thang Gone” explore a more acoustic rock sensibility with the focus very much on Cowan’s warm, weathered, road worn voice.

Cowan mixes up the instrumentation nicely throughout, overdubbing guitars on tracks like “Maddie Mae” and pulling out a harmonica on the bouncing ragtime of “Low Down Foley Blues” and Richard M. Jones’ classic “Trouble In Mind” but he also makes good use of various guest musicians to add color and depth to his songs. Lacy Jean’s fiddle on “Don’t Come Knockin'” is a particular highlight, while elsewhere Bill Sievern adds superb piano to “1011 Blues”, on which Cowan channels his inner Tom Waits, and Jon Rochner contributes bass.

Parlor Tricks – Exhibit A was recorded, mixed and mastered by Tommy Stillwell at Twin Lakes Sound Studio in Owensboro, KY, and he deserves credit for capturing a very natural, warm and live sound. There is no indication on the album who actually wrote the songs, although the only two covers this reviewer recognized were “People Grinnin’ In Your Face” and “Trouble In Mind”. One suspects the remaining songs were written or co-written by Cowan, since there is consistency both in structures and in the vivid images captured in the smart lyrics. He is also a rock solid guitar player, alternating with facility between slide and standard finger playing.

There is a lot to enjoy on Parlor Tricks – Exhibit A (Exhibit B is due to be released in 2021). This is country blues for the modern age. Clever lyrics in well-constructed songs, fine playing, and great singing. Very nice.

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 – 5 of 21 

imageThe Barrett Anderson Band – HypnoBoogie

Whitaker Blues Records

11 tracks; 70 minutes

www.barrettandersonband.com

Barrett Anderson reminisces fondly about his days as a Boston teenager, 7when local clubs soared with the deep and dark sounds of Mark Sandman and Morphine. Shake that up with the house rocking and partying visage of The J. Geils Band. The blues pulled him in early as well. At the age of 15 he was backing Muddy Waters Band icons Pine Top Perkins and “Steady Rollin’” Bob Margolin. This led to joining up with Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters at the age of 16, and later with The Monster Mike Welch Band. Anderson released two solo albums, All The Way Down in 2007 and The Long Fall in 2012, both of which displayed a raw yet original style of electric blues and a talent for originals and covers. Though it’s easy to pick out influences like Muddy Waters, Magic Sam, and Howlin’ Wolf in much of this early material, the ghost of Mark Sandman is recognizable in songs like “Gone” and “Jinx Blues.” These initial credits didn’t go unacknowledged by Boston blues fans either, as Anderson had won “Blues Artist of the Year” in 2013, topping New England icons Roomful of Blues and James Montgomery.

It all leads up to HypnoBoogie, recorded live at The Fallout Shelter in Norwood, Massachusetts, on Feb. 1, 2020. The band is Barrett Anderson on vocals and guitar, Charlie Mallet on guitar and vocals, Doug MacLeod on drums, and Jamie “Black Cat Bone” Hatch on bass and vocals. Originals from Anderson’s two solo works, as well as a few gripping covers, highlight the evening. “We brought it,” Anderson said of this incredible night. Charlie Mallet said that they gave it everything they had. The music is undoubtedly exciting and electric.

The show opens with a driving “Mona.” Anderson’s rich baritone voice stands out robustly amid the intense twin guitar drive that moves the signature Bo Diddley rhythm along. Piercing guitar chops are all over the fan favorite “Good Man.” In the same groove is the Magic Sam instrumental staple ‘Lookin’ Good.” Anderson displays genuine respect for the original, yet beefs up the guitar flight to the max. “Not Your Baby,” from his sophomore album The Long Fall, is much stronger and funkier in the live setting here. Anderson belts out the chorus, “I’m not your baby,” as backup singers repeat, leading into a hypnotic lead guitar solo that’s heavy on wah-wah. “Emma Lee,” from The Long Fall as well, is a deep, lethargic blues jaunt that seeps with Sandman influence.

A thirteen minute instrumental titled “The Long Fall” is next, and it’s a hypnotic treat. Named after his second solo album, the melodic journey isn’t showoff fancy or technically bloated as some electric guitar instrumentals can be. It’s just incredibly melodic. It’s soft in places, unpretentious and humble, yet most of all the sound is genuine and natural. The guitar tone is as beautiful as the melody itself. I’m sure it was even more mesmerizing in the actual live setting. Following a deep and bluesy slide guitar performance of Son House’s “Grinning In Your Face,” the band gets into another instrumental in “Blind Faith.” More exquisite slide guitar notes, mesmerizing and hypnotic as well. The set eventually closes with a rocking rendition of the J Geils Band staple “House Party.”

Hypnotic and boogie, two words emulsified in to one as a portmanteau, make a lot of sense. HypnoBoogie is evident throughout the album. Much of it is laden with one or the other, and sometimes with both. But it’s kind of a tease, too, a remembrance of what we’ve been deprived of in the Covid era: the exciting live performance. HypnoBoogie makes you want to get back to it, and get back to it quickly. But it’s good enough for now, as it has everything needed for a thrilling live performance: great vocals, excellent instrumentation, and songs that excite in both the blues and rock styles. This is Boston nightclub music at its finest.

Reviewer Brian D Holland is a music journalist, author, and former musician. He has written for many present and former music magazines, both online and in print. His prolific writing includes a few short stories and a novel. Brian and Nancy Holland live in Massachusetts, close to both Boston and Providence. They have two grown children and one grandson.


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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 21 

imageJörg Danielsen – Guess Who’s Got the Blues

Wolf Records 120.986

12 songs – 43 minutes

www.joergdanielsen.com

Austrian guitarist Jörg Danielsen literally blanketed the world to produce this album, a power-blues trio set that primarily delivers original material with the amped up feel of 1950s Chicago. He and his bandmates – who bill themselves as the Vienna Blues Association – recorded this disc in Switzerland, but it was mastered in Argentina before being released on Wolf Records, his hometown label.

Now in his late 30s, Danielsen was born in Vienna but raised in what he terms the middle of nowhere far out in the country. He fell in love with the music as a child through his father and claims to have “terrorized” classmates with it through school. At age 16, he and his dad attended a concert by local favorites Peter Kern and Sigi Fassi in the Austrian capital and made such an impression that Danielsen eventually decided to launch his own musical career.

Jörg founded his first band three years later, and hasn’t looked back. This CD is a follow-up to his 2018 release, Chicago Blues Straight Outta Buenos Aires, a disc he recorded with several top South American artists. A frequent host of jams, he’s been very active in the studio recently, producing one CD in partnership with guitarist Edi Fenzl and two others with his trio bandmates, Walter Walterson on bass and Christoph Karas on drums, a solid team who provide backing vocals here.

This set was captured and mixed by Felix Müller at Tonstudio Nagelfabrik Vintage Recording in Wetzikon, Switzerland, and mastered by Daniel DeVita in Buenos Aires. Danielsen has a driving, single-note attack on six-string and sings in a complimentary tenor that’s hindered somewhat by lyrics delivered in English colored by the accent of his homeland.

The band fires out of the gate with four originals, beginning with “Twice as Blue,” an incredibly fast shuffle that offers up the familiar advice that, if you have a good woman, you’d better treat her right. Danielsen’s mid-tune and closing solos are on point. The tempo slows slightly for the stop-time “Sunshine, Sunshine” with Jörg chording to support his vocals that yearn for a reunion with his lady before laying down more tasty runs.

“Pour Me Some Whiskey,” a medium-paced Windy City blues built on a repetitive riff, follows before the syncopated “Keep It Straight” offers up a plea for honesty in dealing with fellow human beings. “Whisky Drinking Woman,” penned by American jazz great Lou Donaldson, is delivered as a slow blues before the stop-time original, “I Don’t Care,” which borrows heavily from Willie Mabon’s “I Don’t Know” at the open before evolving into something new.

The self-penned instrumental, “Monkey Jump,” comes across with a ‘50s feel before two more originals, the rocker “All I Need” and “When Will You Be Mine,” a two-step, Gulf Coast-style pleaser. Three covers — Clay Hammond’s “Part Time Love,” once a major hit for Little Johnny Taylor, Don Nix’s familiar “Same Old Blues” and Magic Slim’s “Bad Boy” – bring the album to a close.

There’s no question that Danielsen and his crew had a blast making this one. It comes through in the grooves. Available through Amazon and other online outlets, it’s a pleasant, occasionally derivative production that will still have you bopping despite its minor flaws.

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 – 7 of 21 

imageBobby Parker – Soul of the Blues

Rhythm and Blues Records RANDB060

52 songs – 153 minutes

The world of music is full of people who deserved far more attention than they received during their lives, and guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Bobby Parker is among the best. But despite being a major influence to John Lennon, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana in the ‘50s and ‘60s and performing regularly around Washington, D.C., and at blues festivals until his passing at age 76 in 2013, his musical legacy and talent has been overlooked despite his importance.

This two-CD set – the first-ever compilation that focuses solely on his music – should change that. One listen, and you’ll be wondering why he flew under the radar for so long.

Born in Louisiana, but raised in Southern California, Parker was influenced heavily by T-Bone Walker, Lowell Fulson, Pee Wee Crayton and Johnny “Guitar” Watson, but developed his own stinging attack on the six-string. An equally soulful vocalist, his career began after winning a talent contest sponsored by R&B legend Johnny Otis and Otis Williams scooped him up to provide backing for his chart-topping doo-wop group, The Charms.

Parker subsequently toured by Bo Diddley, appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, then moved on to work with jazz and blues bandleader Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams, who revolutionized R&B by being the first person to incorporate honking saxophone into his sound. He launched a solo career in the mid-‘60s and never looked back.

His recording legacy under his own name is pretty limited, including about a dozen 45s and two stellar CDs – Bent Out of Shape and Shine Me Up – for the Black Top imprint in the ‘90s. Santana was so pleased with Bobby’s re-emergence that they shared billing during an arena tour in 1994.

Parker’s best known for the 1961 single, “Watch Your Step,” a tune that charted on both sides of the Atlantic and was subsequently covered by Santana, the Spencer Davis Group and several other British rockers. The Beatles used Parker’s now-familiar hook for the opening bars of “I Feel Fine,” and Led Zeppelin borrowed it for “Moby Dick,” too.

Accompanied by a detailed, 24-page booklet, this set includes vocals that Bobby recorded between 1956 and 1969, several stunning instrumentals and other fabulous fretwork culled from the catalogs of The Emeralds, Diddley, Williams, Noble “Thin Man” Watts and several others as well as some previously unreleased songs he recorded for a radio broadcast in 1995. There’s so much material here that they’re not enough space to detail it all. Here are the highlights:

The hits come fast and furious on disc one, beginning with “Sally Lou.” Parker penned the tune for The Emeralds. Released in 1954, he lays down a loping rhythm on the strings throughout, while his attack turns to single-note responses and stop-time leads for Diddley’s “I’m Looking for a Woman.” But his talent comes to the fore in a four-song set backed by the Paul Williams Orchestra, vocally mimicking a horn solo to open “Titanic” before launching into a melismatic, first-person recounting of the luxury liner’s sinking and delivering guitar fills that were way ahead of its time — work that continues in “Once Upon a Time, Long Ago, Last Night” and the interesting “Up, Up, Up,” which has an extended instrumental break.

Bobby’s front-and-center for most of the remainder of the disc, highlighted by the original ballad “Blues Get Off My Shoulder,” “(Baby) You Got What It Takes” – a Parker song that was a Billboard Top 10 hit for Marv Johnson and resurfaced with other accreditation in recordings by Marvin Gaye and others – the afore mentioned “Watch Your Step,” the vocal workout “It’s Too Late Darling” the instrumental “Night Stoll (Part 2),” “Hot Gravy” and “Soul Party (Part 2)” and the blues “Don’t Drive Me Away.”

A six-song block from the radio broadcast opens the second set, with far more of Bobby’s guitar skills on display, including a great cover of “Born Under a Bad Sign,” the self-penned “Bent Out of Shape,” “I Call Her Baby,” “Break It Up” and “Bobby-a-Go-Go” as well as a heaping helping of pleasers from Bo, Hucklebuck, Thin Man and more.

Run, don’t walk, to buy this one. Bobby Parker was a treasure. This one’s going on my short list for historical album of the year, and, once you hear it, you’ll probably feel the same way, too.

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 – 8 of 21 

imageDarren Watson – Getting Sober for the End of the World

Self-Produced

www.darrenwatson.com

CD: 9 Songs, 36 Minutes

Styles: Ensemble Blues, Acoustic Blues, “Traditional Contemporary” Blues

2020 has been quite a year, to put it mildly. The timing of celebrated New Zealand songster Darren Watson’s new album could not have been worse – or better. It’s called Getting Sober for the End of the World. The CD cover art depicts a blurred Mr. Watson pushing a nearly-empty bottle of Chivas Regal scotch aside while savoring his last tumbler. It’s a rite of passage, as these tumultuous past months have been. Although we’ve lived it up for the past decade, it’s time to reassess our choices and redeem ourselves to “our fellow human beings.” That’s Darren’s sage advice, whether on the title track or pointed political satires like “Self-Made Man” and “One Evil Man.”

The guilty-pleasure ditty “Alison Jane” and a cover of Robert Johnson’s “Preachin’ Blues (Up Jumped the Devil)” balance out the moral messaging and remind us that after all, this is a blues album. What fantastic blues it is! From start to finish, it reverberates with “traditional contemporary” sound. No techno-tricks; Darren keeps it real while also keeping it on the cutting edge of current events.

This release is the long-awaited successor to 2018’s critically-acclaimed Too Many Millionaires. It’s Watson’s most ambitious project yet, being entirely self-produced and recorded. He says, “I was stoked with Millionaires and how it was received, but I reckon Getting Sober is [a] big step up. I literally poured blood, sweat and tears into every part – the lyrics, the arrangements, and the recording and mixing. Then there’s the band’s playing! Everyone played their asses off. We captured some really dynamic performances. This one breathes, it really does.”

Performing alongside Darren (guitar, vocals, percussion, bass guitar, organ) are Delia Shanly on drums and percussion, Steve Moodie on double bass, Terry Casey on harmonica, Dayle Jellyman on piano, Craig Denham on accordion, Rick Holmstrom on electric guitar for “Alison Jane,” and the Cold City Horns: Jacob Wynne on trumpet and Nolan Plunkett on trombone.

It’s hard to pinpoint the best song on the album when they’re all super, but the one that soars the highest is track number five, a haunting ballad by the name of “Ernie Abbott.” According to the official website of the New Zealand police, “On Tuesday, 27 March, 1984, Wellington Trades Hall caretaker Ernie Abbott was locking up for the day. At 5:19 PM, he picked up a suitcase which had been left unattended for several hours, intending to secure it.

“The movement triggered a bomb, and Ernie was killed almost instantly. He was the sole victim of the attack and despite numerous investigations, police have always struggled to identify a motive for the bombing. No one has been brought to justice for Ernie Abbott’s murder.”

Darren Watson mourns the loss of “this peaceful man,” hinting at a cover-up when he mentions “the many bowing down to the few.” Then he points the finger at everyone and no one: “Somebody got to know who put Ernie Abbott’s soul in God’s hands.” Even Stephen King couldn’t come up with a more spine-chilling way to describe murder.

Getting Sober for the End of the World is far from a downer. It’s an uplifting, exhorting, beautiful, brilliant CD from one of New Zealand’s most renowned musicians. Whether you’re chill and mellow or freaking out like most of us, it’s the tonic you need to bolster your spirits.

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 – 9 of 21 

imageBrandon Miller – Virtue and Vice

Self-produced CD

13 songs – 70 minutes

www.brandonmillerkc.com

Best known as a founding member of the Danielle Nicole Band, Kansas City-based Brandon Miller steps out of the shadows for the first time in six years as a front man for this powerful collection of blues drenched Americana that shows why he’s a fan favorite wherever he appears.

A product of Gardner, Kan., where the Santa Fe and California Trails split about 35 miles southwest of Eight Street and Vine, Miller always dreamed about a musical career in music, something that was enforced by witnessing Aerosmith, Rush and Kiss up close in childhood. His interest in guitar began at age 17 when he saw Kenny Wayne Shepherd for the first time.

Influenced heavily by Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Warren Haynes and Joe Bonamassa, Brandon studied music through high school and college before launching a band under his own name, releasing two CDs in the process – Long Goodbye in 2011 and Slow Train three years later. His 2017 album, Live at Knuckleheads, exhibited plenty of the six-string fireworks you’ll hear here.

A gifted songwriter who switches off between electric and acoustic arrangements, Miller penned 11 originals here — blending blues, rock, country and roots — in addition to covering one song each from the catalogs of Tom Petty and George Harrison. Recorded at Weights and Measures Soundlab in the City of Fountains, he’s backed by Damon Parker on keys, Go-Go Ray on drums and Dylan Reiter on bass.

“Gone” opens the action with a quiet acoustic intro before erupting into an unhurried, driving blues-rock complaint about Brandon finding himself alone at home and knowing he has to move on after his woman splits. It quiets briefly at the break before exploding prior to a diminished acoustic close. The tempo quickens slightly for “Fire” and “Virtue and Vice,” which continue the sense of loss forward atop a percussive shuffle.

The seven-minute ballad “Dirt to Stone” is up next, announcing that the relationship truly is a broken dream. It’s highlighted by a mid-tune break that features Brandon’s soaring, bittersweet, single-not guitar runs juxtaposed to Parker’s steady chording. The mood brightens with the medium-paced shuffle, “Bad Situation,” which expresses the realization the singer stayed too long, a message that continues in the driving rocker, “Ain’t Welcome Here No More.”

A fairly faithful cover of Petty’s “Honey Bee” is up next before the acoustic ballad “Captured by You” comes across with a slight, pleasant country feel. The energetic blues-rocker “Losing Control” describes the feeling of living life too fast before things quiet again momentarily for “Win to Lose,” a powerful statement in which Brandon wants to run away to save himself from another seemingly impossible relationship.

It’s a difficult discovery, which Miller expresses in “Love Ain’t No Guarantee,” the realization of which is expressed subtly by the brightness and lack of tension in the arrangement despite the subject. “Road Less Traveled,” a country-tinged number with Brandon on slide, and a stellar take on Harrison’s familiar “While My Guitar Weeps for You.”

Available in CD and LP format through most major retailers or autographed direct from the artist (address above). If you favor blues-rock, this one’s definitely for you, although – in a world plagued with coronavirus – you’d better be in the right frame of mind because of the downer messages within.

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 – 10 of 21 

mageSonny Green – Found! One Soul Singer

Little Village Foundation

11 Tracks – 41 minutes

With the passing of Wee Willie Walker and Frank Bey, the ranks of down-home soul singers has become mighty thin. Fortunately, Jim Pugh and his Little Village Foundation organization have found another gem of a singer who has been flying under the radar for decades.

Originally from Monroe, Louisiana, Robert “Sonny” Green got his start as the vocalist for saxophonist Big Jay McNeely, then later settled in the Los Angeles area, where he has been performing for over 40 years. While he released a number of singles with some success decades ago, this album is his first full-length release. One listen to this outstanding project will certainly have you wondering what took so long!

Green has a raw style that is rarely heard these days. And, at 77 years old, his voice still packs plenty of power and suppleness. Listen to his gritty performance on the opening track, “I’m So Tired”. He rides the horn accents perfectly, laying out his heartache caused by a cheating lover. When he revives one of his old singles, “If You Want Me To Keep On Loving You,” he bares his soul with another superlative performance.

Other standout tracks include a slower, funky take of “Cupid Must Be Stupid,” originally released by co-writer Terry Hanck, who contributes a beautifully crafted tenor sax solo, followed by Mike Rinta digging in on his trombone, and Chris Burns keeps things rolling with some tasty keyboard work. On the ballad “Are You Sure,” written by Willie Nelson, Green sings with an intimate style that recalls the legendary James Carr, considered by some to be the greatest soul singer of all time.

Recorded at the famous Greaseland Studios, the project was produced by owner Kid Andersen, who also adds plenty of taut guitar licks to the proceedings. The sound quality and mix are up to the high standards that listeners have come to expect of Greaseland productions. Pugh gets a chance to strut his stuff on “I Beg Your Pardon,” turning in a killer organ solo that matches the intensity of Green’s vocalizing. A rousing run-through of the Syl Johnson hit, “Coming For A Taste Of Your Love” finds Green in fine spirits, letting out passionate shouts and cries at every turn.

Several other guests make memorable contributions. “Trouble” has a dynamite duet with Alabama Mike, the two singers sharing an old-school vibe over an infectious groove. Andersen composed “I Got There” with Rick Estrin, a love song finding Green in throes of passion, encouraged by the muscular tenor sax efforts from Sax Gordon.

The rhythm section comprised of Endre Tarczy on bass and Ronnie Smith on drums shine on a burning cover of Little Milton’s “If Walls Could Talk”. Green more than holds his own with a commanding vocal turn, backed by Rinta, Jeff Lewis on trumpet, and Aaron Lington on tenor and baritone sax.

“Blind Man” provides ample proof that Green has plenty of experience with the blues. He is at his heart-wrenching best, pouring out his emotional torment with a vivid intensity that stays with you.

It all adds up to a recording that is sure to become a fixture in your CD player. Sonny Green is indeed a soul singer who’s time has come. With top quality material, backing band, and sound, he makes quite a statement on an album that undoubtedly will take him from obscurity to nominations for a variety of awards. That means this one comes highly recommended!

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 – 11 of 21 

imageJeremiah Johnson – Unemployed Highly Annoyed

Ruf Records

www.jeremiahjohnsonband.com

8 songs time – 41:16

Blues rocker Jeremiah Johnson continues his streak of finely crafted recordings with his latest that reflects the current difficulties caused by Covid-19, while not coming off as a “Debbie Downer”. All his guitar, singing and songwriting skills are still in evidence. His strong vocal presence suits this music just fine. I had the pleasure of reviewing his ‘Straitjacket’ CD. His previous CD to the current one flew under my radar, but from what have read it is another winner. This time out he is just backed by Paul Niehaus IV on bass and keyboards and Tony Antonelli on drums, achieving a full sound from only three musicians. Paul also handled the clean and crisp production found here. One cover and all others penned by Jeremiah.

The Southern rock influence ala the guitar sound of Duane Allman and Dickie Betts is obvious on “Burn Down The Garden” and “Daddy’s Going Out Tonight”. Both tunes sport catchy upbeat riffing courtesy of Jeremiah’s red hot guitar styling’s. The atmospheric “Muddy Black Water” attains its’ substance from wah-wah guitar played over electric piano, as well as a effective set of lyrics. Jeremiah unleashes a take no prisoners guitar assault on the sole cover, Luther Allison’s “Cherry Red Wine”.

The title track is a commentary on the travails of the current Covid-19 crisis. It comments on the lockdowns and lack of human closeness while trying to strike a positive outlook. The biting guitar on the slow and deliberate “Different Plan For Me” cuts like a knife while he laments more on our current situation as it relates to the lack of work and the loss of life. It’s clear to see that an arrangement was worked out for guitar parts, it not just a “Let ‘er fly” situation.

The tender and melancholy “Love And Sympathy” speaks to personal relations during the pandemic. Chuck Berry-ish guitar prevails on the boisterous “Rock N Roll For The Soul” along with high energy organ as Jeremiah longs for a return to live music. It’s a fitting send off to a well crafted blues rock extravaganza.

By gosh, Jeremiah and his power trio have done it again. While expounding on the dire situation they offer a beacon of hope through their musical diversity. Dang these guys can sure play. You can’t get out to a concert but this is a close second. Crank this puppy up!

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 12 of 21 

imageKerry Kearney – Tales From The Psychedelta

Highlander Records – 2020

12 tracks; 45 minutes

www.kerrykearneyofficial.com

Kerry Kearney is an experienced guitar player from New York state. He has produced a string of CDs over the years, several bearing the word ‘Psychedelta’ which is the term Kerry has coined for his mixture of blues and roots music. Kerry is a strong slide player and most of these tracks feature that aspect of his playing, in electric and acoustic styles. The material comes from Kerry’s previous releases, some remastered, making this effectively a ‘Best Of’ package. There is consequently a long list of collaborators supporting Kerry’s guitar and vocal: drummers Eileen (Evan) Murphy, Mario Staiano and Louie Appel; bassists Frank Calenza, Peter Bennett and Pete Kiernan; percussionist Jeff Naimoli; keyboard players Jack Licitra, Tony Campo and Mark Mancini; harmonica players Charlie Wolfe and Ken ‘The Rocket’ Korb; Elizabeth Seton is credited with ‘ambiance’ on all tracks. In addition mandolin player ‘Papa Jim’ Fleming and vocalist Sam ‘Bluzman’ Taylor contribute to one track each. It should be noted that Sam Taylor passed in 2009 and drummer Louie Appel (Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes) in 2010, poignantly underlining the fact that these are archival recordings.

Last year Steve Jones reviewed Kerry’s Smokehouse Serenade which seems to have been more of a blues-rock album but here it is only really opening track “Five Time Man” that fits that description with some intense shredding from Kerry which at times overpowers his vocals. “Fatherless Boy” is a far gentler affair with outstanding dobro playing on a song that builds on the old “Motherless Child” gospel tune with a chorus of “the time has come to put away those toys; you’re a motherless child, I’m a fatherless boy”. Kerry further underlines his slide credentials on “Mississippi River Stomp” with some exciting playing that recalls Sonny Landreth and then plays “Trouble In Mind” at a jaunty pace, making it into more of an uptempo country blues than the usual versions.

Sam ‘Bluzman’ Taylor was a stalwart of the NYC blues scene (see the review of Legacy, a tribute to him by his former band members, in the October 25 issue) and here duets on vocals with Kerry on “Thank You, Jesus”, a gospel-tinged lyric sitting over a classic twelve-bar blues tune. Searing, fast-paced electric slide features on “Memphis High” which has a funkier edge courtesy of the keyboards while “Mean Old Frisco” is reprised from Kerry’s Ghosts Of The Psychedelta, reviewed by yours truly in October 2012. Perhaps it’s the gentle country blues feel of this track or the fact that Clapton covered the song in the 70’s but Kerry’s vocals certainly brought Slowhand to mind here! The pace increases on “V-oodoo Down The River” where the keyboards and guitar interchanges provide a melodic rock feel as Kerry solos intensely. The third non-original is the traditional “Lawdy Mama” (another tune covered by Mr Clapton back in the day); Kerry’s fast-paced version is great and provides a splendid vehicle for his expert slide playing, plus swirling keys and tough harp work.

The longest track here is “Runnin’, Weepin’, Tremblin’” which has plenty of guitar across its six minutes. “World Train” returns to Kerry’s acoustic side with fast-picked dobro set against minimal bass/drums, the song following a train journey through the Delta, also accompanied by Papa Jim’s mandolin and Charlie’s mournful harp. The final track “Schaefer Time/Duck House” is just Kerry on dobro, foot-stomps and gentle bass on a combination of a delicate tune which segues into a piece of Delta blues.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable album of slide-driven music that runs the gamut from acoustic to full-on electric blues. The siren call of blues-rock is mainly avoided and throughout the album Kerry demonstrates that he is a master of the slide guitar.

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 – 13 of 21 

imageDevin B Thompson – Tales Of The Soul

Severn Records – 2020

11 tracks; 55 minutes

Raised in Joliet, just outside Chicago, Devin B Thompson started singing in church and has a super smooth vocal style. He started playing trumpet in his older brother’s band but the biggest influence on him was a family friend, Willie Newsome, who had recorded under the name Frankie Newsome. Devin was unaware that his Dad’s buddy was a singer until he asked who the singer was on an old 45! Looking into possibilities for recording Newsome, Devin was in touch with Tad Robinson who naturally connected with his own label, David Earl’s Severn Records. An initial session at Severn’s Maryland studio gave positive results but further recording had to be abandoned when Newsome became ill with cancer, succumbing to the dreadful disease in 2019. David Earl had noted the younger man’s vocals, suggested they might work together and this album is the result.

The Severn house band of Kevin Anker (piano), Benjie Porecki (organ), Johnny Moeller (guitar), Steve Gomes (bass) and Robb Stupka (drums) is present and correct, with Mark Merella adding percussion and a four-man horn section of Kenny Rittenhouse and Joe Donegan on trumpets, Antonia Orta on sax and Bill Holmes on trombone; guitarist Robben Ford sits in on two tunes and Jimmy Earl replaces Steve on bass on one cut. The backing vocals are by Devin, Caleb Green, Christal Rheams and Kennedy Thompson. There are eight originals written by Devin with some assistance on three songs from Hiram J Grigsby Jr, Kevin Anker and David Earl. The album was produced by Devin, David and Kevin.

The album opens with three covers, the sources of which neatly define the overall direction of the disc. Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s “Love To See You Smile” is a great opener, “I’m Gonna Cry A River” was a Little Milton single on Stax and Joe Simon hit with the Gamble and Huff penned “Something You Can Do Today”. Devin’s light tenor delivers a delightful version of the much-loved Bobby Bland tune, “River” is enhanced by Robben Ford’s contribution and the Joe Simon song provides something of a template for the deep soul ballads that dominate the album.

The originals begin with a gently funky “Back Together”, one of two songs written by Devin and Hiram, their second contribution being “Get Home Tonight” in which Devin is keen to leave work and get back to his lady. There is plenty of percussion, wah-wah washes and swirling organ on both tracks, with strings on the latter and flute flourishes on the former. The song written by Devin, Kevin and David is “Can’t Get Over You”, a romantic ballad in which Devin is totally in thrall to his girl, whatever may occur. The other five songs are all Devin’s own work: a chugging rhythm makes “I Ain’t No Good” one of the more uptempo tunes here as Devin reflects on some of his less desirable qualities, even warning people “when you see me coming you better start to running”! “Deeper” has a good horn arrangement as Devin celebrates the depth of his love; “Read Your Mind” again features Robben’s tricky guitar figures which fit well against the slightly more uptempo rhythms as the song is driven forward by bass and percussion; piano and churchy organ lead into the gospel-soaked ballad “Time After Time” on which the backing vocals are excellent, the horns sitting this one out. The usual topic of love and relationships is dropped for the final track “Tell Me” on which Devin has plenty to say about race relations in the light of the Black Lives Matter campaign: “Tell me, what it is about my skin you don’t like? Tell me, what would you do if you watched people dying who looked like you do?”. Johnny catches the mood with an aggressive wah-wah solo.

On some of the photos on the album Devin looks like Isaac Hayes on Black Moses but I hear more elements of Stevie Wonder and George Benson in his vocals. It would have been good to hear Devin handle a few more uptempo tunes but this is still a solid debut – an enjoyable album of contemporary soul-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.


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 Featured Blues Review – 14 of 21 

imageGeoff Carne & The Raw Rox Band – Big City

Advision UK – 2020

10 tracks; 35 minutes

www.geoffcarne.com

Geoff Carne is a UK-based musician whose earliest influences were Paul Rogers and Free. He spent many years writing and performing across different music genres but returned to blues and rock-based material in 2014, forging a successful duo with drummer Mick Hatz until Mick’s retirement in early 2020. Geoff produced three solo EPs in early 2020 under the title Acoustica 1-3 and then looked for a band to flesh out the songs in a full band setting. Geoff’s producer Paul Mex reached out to contacts among session musicians and the Raw Rox Band was the result: Andy ‘Slash’ Rockman on lead guitar, Bob Calvert on keys, Jim Black on bass and Zoki Jovanoski on drums; Geoff himself handles lead vocals/rhythm guitar and wrote all the material.

We are generally in British blues-rock here, the blues element being quite a small part of what is on offer. Opener “Are You Ready?” pounds along pleasantly but is lyrically rather repetitive as Geoff repeats the title many times over. “Hold On” was released as a taster single and is not dissimilar to the first track, not least in the repeated title. “She’s On Fire” has a touch of 80’s sound (Duran Duran, perhaps?) in the keyboard motif behind the riffing guitars. Geoff professes to have been “stuck in a rut, need to make a change, gotta move on to the big town, find something new” on the title track which perhaps demonstrates more clearly its acoustic origins with a clearer, less ‘muddy’ sound. “A Heartache” retains the less dense sound on a riff-driven tune with a catchy chorus.

The next four songs are all the sort of blues-rock that is successful for emerging British bands like King King: “Feel The Blues” has a chugging riff underpinning some clear lead guitar work, swirling organ and a strong vocal as Geoff feels he is being “dragged down because it makes you feel better”; “Good Man Down” has a solid riff at its core with wailing guitar overlaid; “Midnight Blue” and “Are You Strong Enough?” follow a similar pattern with strong choruses and ringing guitar. Geoff changes things up a little on the final track “Free” which starts with the acoustic guitar framed by keyboard and bass before it builds as electric guitar and drums join in. A song about feeling confident to be yourself, the song gives a lyrically positive finale to the album.

Frankly there is little or no actual blues here so traditionalists can certainly pass on this one. There are lots of blues-rock bands around, so it will be hard to break into that well-filled category, but Geoff and his band are at least producing all their own material which is a positive.

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 – 15 of 21 

imageJack De Keyzer – Tribute

Blue Star Records – 2020

12 tracks; 49 minutes

www.jackdekeyzer.com

In 2018 Canadian guitarist Jack De Keyzer paid tribute to Chess Records on Checkmate, a collection of covers of Chicago classics. His latest release is entitled Tribute and this time it’s an all-original program which tips the hat towards some of Jack’s guitar influences from the wider world of rock and blues. Jack handles all vocals and guitar work with Nick Succi on keys, Richard Thornton on tenor sax and conga, Alan Duffy on bass and Peter Grimmer on drums. The album was recorded in Clarington, Ontario, with Jack at the controls.

“Are You Ready?” is a most appropriate title for an opening track as Jack asks if we are all “ready to boogie all night long”. Jack’s leads could reflect the influence of Hendrix or Page but Freddie King also comes to mind, as he does particularly on “Coming Up” which has echoes (not just in the title) of “Going Down”, with Nick’s insistent piano work as well as Jack’s great guitar work. Clapton may well be another influence, the slow blues “You Turned My World To Blue” being one example and closing track “Forever” has twin guitar work that takes us right back to the halcyon days of Eric recording “Layla” with Duane Allman. The opening of “Shake What Your Mama Gave You” reminded this reviewer of Cream’s Disraeli Gears (think “SWLABR” for instance), although the boogie piano is a welcome addition to the power trio’s style. Supernatural was the title of Santana’s best-selling album of the turn of the millennium; this engaging latin tune has both acoustic and electric guitar leads very much in the style of Carlos Santana.

“That’s How We Make Love” has some lovely, soulful guitar, perhaps influenced by Curtis Mayfield or George Benson. The jagged rhythm guitar work offsets Jack’s lilting leads and the caress of the sax but one should also recognize how well Jack sings this one, a standout track. “Just For The Funk” does what the title suggests and Jack’s scat singing may be another reference back to George Benson. Jack gives us another style on “Keep The Fire Burning” by combining reggae rhythms with some searing leads, again in Santana territory, while “If My Baby Left Me” is a Chicago blues and the closest link back to the material on Checkmate. “On The Money” has sax behind Jack’s fiery guitar while “Let’s Do It” has more of a 60’s pop feel with a dash of Motown in the rhythm section.

My review of Checkmate concluded that “there are plenty of covers of these songs around but if you want to hear them well covered this is an album to get”. This album is the other way round: a thoroughly entertaining set of originals that pay tribute to a diverse set of influences. Recommended!

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 – 16 of 21 

imageLiam Docherty – Modern. Magic. Melody.

Self-Release – 2020

12 tracks; 39 minutes

www.liamdochertymusic.com

This is the debut disc from Liam Docherty who is just thirteen years of age. Before readers start thinking about other very young artists one should note that Liam is a solo acoustic blues performer, not an aspiring blues-rocker or SRV wannabe (though he does say on his website that he is saving to buy a decent electric guitar!). Liam started playing at just four and has performed in public since he was seven. Seeing Tommy Emmanuel in concert and meeting him after the show was an inspirational starting point: Tommy’s version of Doc Watson’s “Deep River Blues” got Liam started and discovering Robert Johnson put him on the road to finding Charlie Patton, Son House, Muddy Waters, etc. A native of British Columbia, Canada, Liam is known locally as the ‘Red-Headed Blues Boy’ and he seems to love all the masters of the blues but also writes his own songs, inspired by the old-time blues and this debut release combines seven of Liam’s songs with five classic covers, each a favorite of Liam’s. Everything was recorded live off the floor by producer Doug Cox and there are no overdubs or splices, so, to quote acoustic great Doug McLeod, Liam played these songs “exactly like that”.

Liam’s finger-picking style is terrific, nowhere better than on that song that first inspired young Liam, “Deep River Blues”. Liam still has a higher pitched youth’s voice alongside his great dexterity on the guitar. A higher singing style was typical of Skip James and that actually works in Liam’s favor as he tackles “Cherry Ball Blues”. Big Bill Broonzy’s “Hey Hey Baby” is played quite faithfully and the covers are completed with two from the Woody Guthrie songbook: a stately “Vigilante Man” and the traditional “Rising Sun Blues”, better known as “House Of The Rising Sun”, not perhaps the most appropriate set of lyrics for a thirteen-year old!

Liam’s own songs show great respect for the traditions. Three are Liam’s solo compositions: two instrumentals, “Banned Blues” and a short instrumental “Intermission” sits neatly between the Skip James song and “House Of The Rising Sun”. Liam’s “Wipe My Weeping Eyes” is a striking opener with its references to rising floodwaters reminding us of classics like “When The Levee Breaks”. The other songs have writing credits shared with K Docherty (Liam’s father?): “Drive Away Blues” is an interesting song with a mysterious theme as “he sprinkled hoot foot powder all around his Daddy’s door”, but quite why that means that he has to leave town remains unclear. The album closer “These Blues Are Red” adds Gerry Barnum to the writing credits and Liam plays some storming slide on this upbeat tune.

It will be interesting to follow this young man’s development. Sure, the vocals are still those of a youth, but that will change and we already know what a talented player Liam is, so the future looks bright for him.

Meanwhile let’s celebrate the debut of a young player whose heart is in the blues, rather than rock!

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 – 17 of 21 

imagePeter Veteska & Blues Train – Grass Ain’t Greener on the Other Side

Self-produced CD

10 songs – 46 minutes

www.peterveteskabluestrain.com

Peter Veteska has established himself as one of the classiest artists in the New York metropolitan area in the past decade, fronting the group formerly known as Peter V & Blues Train and delivering a bluesy mix of big-city R&B and jazz. But the guitarist/vocalist reinvents himself with a new name and new lineup here and delivers a CD that’s just as successful, but shifts closer to the blues root.

The original Blues Train formed in 2013 and made its debut two years later with a self-titled album so good that the Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation selected it as its representative to compete at the International Blues Challenge. As good as that one was, people really started taking notice in 2016 with the release of On Track, which earned Peter induction into the New York Blues Hall of Fame.

Major bookings in the tri-state area and two more releases – Running Out of Time and Shaken but Not Deterred – followed in short order, and both were listed in the Top 100 on Roots Music Report in the contemporary blues category with the former peaking at No. 3 on the charts.

Only percussionist Alex D’Agnese remains from the original lineup, but the feel here remains the same – intense and polished throughout thanks to the new members: keyboard player Jeff Levine, who’s recorded and toured with Joe Cocker, Clarence Clemons, the Chambers Brothers and others, and bassist Coo Mo Jhee, who held down the bottom on Veteska’s two prior CDs.

Engineered by Joseph DeMaio at Shorefire Studios in Long Branch, N.J., while a hurricane was forming outdoors, the disc features several guest stars: harp player Mikey Junior, Delaware-based guitarist Roger Girke and Jersey Shore favorite Jen Barnes, all of whom deliver vocals, and Chuck Hearne, who sits in on bass for two numbers.

Mikey’s traditional harp runs open the original, “Am I Wrong Pretty Baby,” a steady shuffle that wonders if the singer’s mistaken in wanting to hold his woman tight, with Peter laying down a solid foundation before launching into a tasty six-string solo mid-tune that yields to Levine to conclusion. Penned by Clyde Otis and most famously recorded by Dinah Washington and Brook Benton, “Baby, You’ve Got What It Takes” follows the same format as Veteska and Barnes trade polished vocals atop by rich, steady bottom.

Peter’s in charge for the set of three originals that follow. A regimented drumbeat kicks off “Running Like a Dog,” a complaint about a woman who’s both demanding and threatening to leave that’s accented by stinging contemporary guitar runs. The pace slows and the arrangement simplifies for “I’ve Been Missing You,” but warms steadily throughout beneath a simple lyrical hook before the uptempo, “You Give Me Loving” blazes throughout.

“Learning the Blues,” a 1955 hit for Frank Sinatra, gets an unhurried, azure overhaul as Peter holds his own emulating Old Blue Eyes on mic before yielding to “Thinking and Drinking,” an uptempo rocker in which Veteska’s doing both in the absence of his women while contemplating what she means to him. A pair of covers — “Heartbreaker,” written by Ahmed Ertegun, recorded by Ray Charles and featuring shared guitar and vocal licks with Girke, and Willie Cobbs’ familiar “You Don’t Love Me,” which is delivered in an extended jam version made famous by the Allman Brothers – lead into the original, blues-rock title cut, “Grass Ain’t Greener on the Other Side,” an urban blues with plenty of six-string fireworks, to bring the disc to a close.

No matter the structure of the band that shares the stage with him, Peter Veteska is one of the most talented, but overlooked artists in the blues world today. One listen to this one proves it!

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 – 18 of 21 

imageHarmonica Shah And Howard Glazer – Ain’t Gonna Worry About Tomorrow

Electro-Fi Records – 2020

13 tracks; 65 minutes

This Detroit blues duo recorded a 2003 set for Electro-Fi, Tell It To Your Landlord. Since then they have toured together as well as pursuing their separate careers; Howard Glazer has been heard on recent releases by Eliza Neals and both men have released their own albums. This disc, however, reunites them in an authentic blues setting and although Howard can play the sort of rock-blues that one associates with Eliza Neals, here his more restrained blues style suits Shah’s harp sound. There are ten originals penned by Shah and three covers. They do play as a duo on some tracks but there is a band on most: Skeeto Davis on drums, Steve Glazer on bass (with Ben Moore depping on one track), Mike Blaskiewicz on guitar, Howard on lead guitar and Shah on harp and vocals.

Shah sounds like he plays harp without using a harp mike, giving a clean sound that takes us back to country blues. He also writes some sharp-witted songs, like opener “Reality Blues” in which he realizes that he is far too old for the girl, the band playing a classic Chicago blues riff; indeed, Shah’s vocals have a touch of Muddy’s style to them. Sometimes Shah is willing to try anything to salvage a relationship, even claiming that “(I Just Wanna Be) Your Floormat”! He can also admit that he can be a bad sort, as in “Dirty Bastard Blues”: “I sleep all day, rob and steal all night, everything I tell you, sugar, you know it ain’t right, ‘cos I’m a two-faced, dirty old bastard, everything I do is dirty and no good”. Shah tries to persuade a girl to stick around and have some fun with him, which will be fine, he says, until “When My Wife Comes Home” after a weekend away, one of the duo tracks on the album. Perhaps Shah’s problems stem from the age-old problem of alcohol, as in “My Bottle Is My Bank Account”?

In “Pretty Girl, Pretty Girl” Shah seems to have met his match as a younger girl has taken him for a ride, now leaving him for a younger model. Played over a moody riff, this one is a duo performance which sounds pretty ominous! “Please Respect Me” is a classic slow blues with the full band and, again, Shah’s girl is going with a younger man behind his back. “First Train South” is an instrumental that gives Shah full rein to show off his train sounds on the harp and the CD closes with the title track, another slow blues. Several tracks run to over six minutes, giving the musicians space to stretch out in fine style.

The three covers are familiar classics but re-imagined for this particular album. Fenton Robinson’s “Somebody Loan Me A Dime” is usually played in a soul-blues style but Shah and Howard convert it into a slow blues that is virtually unrecognizable; Paul Marshall’s “So Many Roads” will be known to everyone from versions by Otis Rush (or maybe Joe Bonamassa, for younger readers!) and is further slowed down from those versions, whereas Howling Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talking?” is actually sped up a little! All three are attractive covers and successfully complete this solid 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.


 Featured Blues Review – 19 of 21 

imageDanny Brooks & Lil Miss Debi – Are You Ready? The Mississippi Sessions

HIS House Records/AVA Entertainment

www.dannybrooksmusic.com

20 tracks

Texas transplants Danny Brooks and Lil Miss Debi met Tom Easley from AVA in 2019 and the two former Canadians and Easley set in motion the plan to record a throwback album in the small suburb of Jackson Mississippi of Raymond. Tom assembled a team of musicians to make this recording a reality. Brooks wrote all but one track, the John Prine song “Angel From Montgomery.” Danny handles the lead vocals, guitar, slide, harp and stompboard while Debi helps on vocals and cajon and adds her “The Deb Bone Suitcase Snare.” The back line of Joel May (drums) and Micah May or Geri O’Neil (bass) are solid throughout. Greg Martin adds guitar and slide as does John Fannin. The keys are handled well by Chalmers Davis and Sam Brady; Davis adds accordion while Brady does the piano work. James Lawlis does the baritone and tenor saxes, clarinet and flute and on “The Battle” the tuba is done by Peter Hysen and the trumpet by Paul Mitchell.

The title track starts things off. It’s a southern rocker with really nice horns and guitar work. A short tenor sax and guitar solo are also featured. “Jesus Had The Blues” follows, a slow and gritty tune about yearning for his love, and he says, “love is a hurting thing, that’s why Jesus had the blues.” A nice guitar solo is offered here and the organ support helps the musical flow. Things switch to a funky Caribbean style with “Jamaica Sun.” Here we get a good harp solo and the harmonica helps take this home, too. “We Do Whatever It Takes” is a somber, bluesy ballad with the organ and backing vocals giving us a churchy feel. Next we get a little rockabilly feeling with “Let Me Know,” a driving and high energy tune. We get a pretty guitar solo to savor, too. Up next is “No Easy Way Out,” a slower tune with slide, organ and horns making things interesting. We finally get to hear Lil Miss Debi leading the vocals for part of the tune and she does a fine job. The slide guitar is haunting and cool. “Angel From Montgomery” follows, with a sultry and easy going country feel to it. Debi returns and sings kind of angelically, as the title certainly implies. The harp and flow is a slow country ballad and it’s well done.

“Coming Home” is a bouncy tune and picks the pace up a bit and we get some testifying about returning home. The vocal work here is by far the best effort since the start. That is followed by “One More Mile (To Mississippi);” it’s got sort of a hill country vibe to it and the harp work is well done. The vocals again are better and the Debi’s back up is sweet. “Rock and Roll Was The Baby” hearkens to the roots of rock in the blues. It’s a down home cut that pays homage to the blues giving birth to the blues. More interesting harp here and some good call and response. “Where Will You Stand” is a Gospel blues that asks where will you stand on the day of judgement? It’s a cool cut with powerful lyrics and feel and we all go to church musically. The organ sets the tone and a little harp helps, too. “Hold On To Love” has that down home sound that guitar, organ and piano give us in this sad but slick downtempo number. The guitar solo is probably the best one of the album and really helps express the feeling of the cut. “Broken” rocks out and changes things up from the last track. It’s a bouncy, driven little cut that talks about how people and hearts can be broken but love repairs us and gets us back together. The slide guitar here is also nicely done. “Climb That Mountain” slows the pace back down with another blues ballad. The lyrics are powerful and tell a great story about growing and learning to become a better man. The harp returns to help out nicely again.

“Put A Little Rock and Roll In Your Soul” is a bouncy and jumping country piece from the hills with a call and response theme going. It’s fun and the harp gives it more of that do si do, get up and do an old time country dance feel. “Without Love” is a soulful song that talks about losing love and a broken heart. “Without love you can’t get very far,” is the choral theme; more harp work abounds. “Me And Brownie McGhee” is a bio song that tells the story of meeting Brownie and getting to play with him on stage. Harp soloing pays homage to McGhee here. “Tell Me About It” is an upbeat cut that explains life ain’t fair but together he and you can get through it if you do what the title says. “When I’m Holding You” returns to the ballad theme and the lilting electric guitar makes this slow southern rocker have feeling. The final track is “The Battle” and opens with some tuba which continues to carry the piece as the vocals grind out and the horns support the piece. The devil is telling us we’re in a battle for your soul in this dark conclusion to the album. Harp and guitar add their stuff in solos and throughout, but it’s big horn groove that also helps drive this along.

The original songs feature great lyrics and the performances are all solid musically. The one downside for me is Danny’s vocals; they are rough and gruff and his voice cracks a lot. I suspect that is part of his charm but it was a little off putting to me as he strains and tries to deliver real emotion. The emotion is there, however, and Brooks does get his feelings across. Debi’s voice is silky smooth and she backs Brooks with great harmonies; when she does get the opportunity to front the band, she does so superbly.

There is a lot of music here, 20 songs in all, 19 originals and one cool cover. Brooks delivers some really good tunes and if you can get by or like the vocals then things are good. A lot of good work went into the plethora of songs here. The instrumental work is great and the harmonies are excellent. Southern rock, roots music and a smattering of other styles get blended up well and offer up a nice variety here, with something for all musical tastes while blues rock solidly centers the effort.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 20 of 21 

imageHead Honchos – Blues Alliance

Grooveyard Records

www.theheadhonchosband.com

CD: 11 Songs, 43 Minutes

Styles: Hard Rock, Guitar Monster Blues

Question: Does including songs such as “Evil” by Willie Dixon and “I’m a Ram” by Al Green and Mabon Hodges morph a hard rock album into a blues album? In the case of Blues Alliance, the new CD from Valparaiso, Indiana’s Head Honchos, the answer is no. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a blistering, searing, scorching guitar spectacular that will leave your ears reeling for hours, even days if you’re wearing headphones or earbuds. The band’s vocals are also far above average, both lead and backup/harmony. The thing is, in trying to appeal to rock and traditional blues audiences, they lean too far in one direction and not enough in the other. The imbalance will irk blues purists, while rock devotees might wonder why a Willie Dixon cover was featured and not a White Stripes tune. Constant Listener, if you’re not picky about the distinction between the two genres, party on.

The Head Honchos’ credentials are certainly impeccable. Its front man, Rocco Calipari, Sr., is a veteran of the rock scene, a skilled guitar teacher, and the lead guitarist for Howard and the White Boys since 1995, recording with Buddy Guy on that band’s CD The Big Score. Additionally, he has played with Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Carl Weathersby, Son Seals, and many more famous artists. As one of Chicago’s great contemporary blues guitarists, Rocco has played in 40 states and 12 countries around the world. His son, Rocco Jr., first sat in with Howard and the White Boys when he was 15 years old. He attended the Guitar Institute in L.A. where he studied with Carl Verheyen (“Super Tramp”), jazz/blues great Scott Henderson, and the famed blues instructor/writer Keith Wyatt. His approach to the guitar, while grounded in rock and blues, is keenly aimed at a postmodern interpretation of American roots music. Bassist Mike Boyle wrote and composed the album’s eighth track, “Midnight Ride.” Will Wyatt rounds out the quartet on drums, percussion, harmonica, and backing vocals. Special guest star Mark Landes steps up on keyboards for “She Got That Thang.”

The opening number is a rip-roaring roller coaster ride with a puzzling name: “Stuck Between the Middle.” Are you an English teacher? Your head might explode reading that. The rest of you? Dig the Caliparis’ sizzling shredders instead of trying to parse it. This song should come with a volume alert and a lyrics translation. The only part I could figure out was “Stuck between the middle, no end in sight.” Sounds like all of 2020, doesn’t it? “Mr. Bad” and “Number One” are ambitious in terms of both fretwork and flair. Truth be told, that’s the case in all the songs, each trying to top the previous one. This album is like a bullet train consisting entirely of bullets, zinging one after the other in a relentless barrage. What’s the climax, the standout hit? “Midnight Ride,” perhaps. It has the most grit, the most potential to be featured in the soundtrack of the latest drag racing movie.

There are no slow songs, no ballads that invite you to grab a partner. No matter. Blues Alliance is a shot of guitar adrenaline that’ll wake you up in the morning – or the middle of the night!

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 – 21 of 21 

imageArtur Menezes – Fading Away

VizzTone Label Group

www.arturmenezes.com

8 tracks/46 minutes

Brazilian native Artur Menezes made a name for himself in Mexico, South America and the UK before settling to America in 2016. His band took third place in the 2018 International Blues Challenge and he won the award for best guitar player in the IBC  that year too. Menezes combines an in-your-face style and restraint to give the listener guitar playing of a superior nature to enjoy. Mostly rocking but showing some blues and Brazilian influences, Menezes gives the listener a lot of thrills on his guitar.

In addition to Artur on guitar an vocals, we have Gui Bodi on bass, Lemar Carter on drums, and Kesha Shantrell and Revel Day on backing vocals. Carey Frank is on B3 organ and piano. “Free At Last” features Travis Carlton on bass and Matt Mitchell on rhythm guitar. Zé Leal adds percussion on “Northeast” while Gary Nowak (drums) and Chris Chaney (bass) appear on “Fight For Your Love.” Joe Bonamassa and producer Josh Smith make special appearances as noted below. The album was produced in Los Angeles at Flat V Studios.

Menezes opens with “Fading Away,” a blues rock cut that features some hot guitar work by him. It’s a slick cut that bounces along sweetly. He follows that with “Devil’s Own” which is a darker song about murdering his woman. There are all sorts of dark images presented here. Abusing alcohol to remove the memories of worse actions starts us off and things get darker when we find out what he’s done. The guitar here is plays a huge role in setting the emotions here with big but restrained solos. The backing vocals help build the song to a crescendo before we get taken home in desperation. It’s very dark yet “Come On” is next, a free-wheeling guitar rocker with Joe Bonamassa making a guest appearance. It begins as a whirlwind romp and then settles into a huge guitar solo that is a big trademark Bonamassa production before returning to the frantic pacing of the song. The next cut is “Northeast,” a big instrumental with lots of guitar to listen to. This one is also not for the faint of heart as the guitar takes one to soaring heights as Menezes makes his guitar sing. Here he blends Brazilian baião rhythm and rock into Artur’s own sound.

“Fight For Your Love” is a mid-tempo rocker with Menezes again showcasing his guitar work. “Free At Last” has producer Josh Smith making an appearance. The song is mostly an instrumental with some ethereal vocals layering the song title sung over the music. The B3 plays a bigger role but it’s really the guitar that is featured here once again. Funky and slick, it’s a nice six minute ride. He follows that with “Until I See,” a thoughtful piece that is the most bluesy of the tracks. Featuring gospel-like harmonies, it’s a cool song that rises to a crescendo of vocal and musical sounds. The biographical “Green Card Blues” describes Menezes’ influences, life and career that brought him to playing blues in the USA. A throbbing, stomping beat drives the song along and about half of the almost 10 minute song is a display of Artur’s guitar virtuosity.

There is not a lot of what purists would call blues here. Its rock with heavy guitar on each track. Menezes wrote all the songs and lyrics here and displays good craftsmanship in his work. There’s lots and lots of guitar licks to savor here; nothing is overdone and he never breaks into out and out pure shredding (which in my mind is good), making his notes on guitar count. If you like guitar and blues rock, then this one’s for you!

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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