Issue 10-3 January 21, 2016

Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2016 Blues Blast Magazine

 In This Issue 

Henry Carrigan has our feature interview with Marcia Ball. We have 8 Blues music reviews for you including reviews of music from Mindi Abair & The Boneshakers, Todd Wolfe Band, Colin Linden, Les Copeland, Tommy McCoy, Dudley Taft, Webb Wilder and MonkeyJunk.

Our video of the week is Marcia Ball performing her song “That’s Enough Of That Stuff”.

We have the latest in Blues society news. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!

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 Featured Blues Music Review – 1 of 8 

Mindi Abair & The Boneshakers – Live In Seattle

Heads Up HUI-37996-02

14 songs – 74 minutes

This sensational live recording pairs two of the strongest acts in contemporary American music: Mindi Abair a two-time Grammy nominee saxophone player who spent two years on American Idol and toured with Aerosmith and Max Weinberg and worked with Paul Schaffer on the Late Show With David Letterman, and The Boneshakers, the electrifying Detroit roots ensemble lead by guitarist Randy Jacobs and featuring Sweetpea Atkinson on vocals. The end result is a product that will keep you moving on the dance floor.

The daughter of a touring musician and granddaughter of an opera singer, Abair spend her first few years on the road before settling in St. Petersburg, Florida. She picked up the horn at age eight and eventually graduated magna cum laude from Berklee College Of Music, along with Julliard one of the most prestigious music school in the U.S. Despite her feminine appearance, she attacks the sax in a style akin to King Curtis and Junior Walker, but totally her own. She’s released seven soulful albums that have produced ten No. 1 hits on radio and achieved two No. 1 spots on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz album charts.

The Boneshakers, meanwhile, came into being when Jacobs, a veteran of Was (Not Was) and work with Willie Nelson, Mitch Ryder, Steven Bruton and Bonnie Raitt, met Atkinson, who’s worked with Neil Diamond, Raitt, Bob Segar and Keb Mo’, and hit it off in a recording studio. The half-dozen or solo albums they’ve released so far feature everything from James Brown funk and hard soul to jazzy R&B.

They decided to work together after Abair sat in with The Boneshakers at the Newport Beach (Calif.) Jazz Festival a couple of summers ago. This performance was recorded live at Jazz Alley last Valentine’s Day weekend and includes Rodney Lee on keyboards and a rhythm section of drummer Third Richardson and bassist Derek Frank, both of whom provide vocals. The disc features 11 originals and two novel covers.

A brief 69-second introduction, entitled “Here She Comes,” brings Mindi to the stage before the music explodes with the instrumental “Wild Heart,” the title song off her most recent previous album. Propelled by the band’s throbbing rhythm pattern and putting Abair’s fat tone on display for the first time, it flows effortlessly into “Haute Sauce,” a rapid-paced, soulful seven-minute shuffle that quiets down to allow Lee a jazzy mid-song solo before pulsating to the finish.

Mindi provides a vocal intro before launching into a rap-flavored vocal on the funky “I Can’t Lose,” which delivers a message to be positive in life and celebrate victories rather than dwelling on defeats. Atkinson takes the stage for the first time during a brief intro, entitled “Bring Him On,” before launching into “Ball And Chain,” a swinging blues that features rock-steady stop-time rhythms. It’s a song of obsessive love in which the singer knows the object of his affection will never leave her current man.

“Be Beautiful” follows with Mindi delivering a tune she wrote as an anthem to help fight breast cancer, but speaks to everyone because its message is not to be fixated on your physical flaws and live free. Sweetpea provides vocal support on this one and “Gone,” one of three new tunes in the set, in which Abair she announces the end of a relationship to a lover who’s been totally oblivious that the end was coming. Next up, “Make It Happen” is the debut of song Mindi wrote with the legendary Booker T. Jones. It’s an easy-flowing, bluesy, instrumental rocker that becomes more powerful as it progresses.

Jacobs’ guitar comes to the fore for “Bloom” before the band delivers a taste of Memphis with “I’ll Be Your Home” and then a cover of the classic “Summertime.” A guitar-lead funk, “Flirt,” precedes a fiery, blues flavored take on James Brown’s “Cold Sweat,” which concludes the set.

Consider yourself fortunate if your tastes favor modern R&B with strong blues overtones. The Abair-Boneshakers partnership has produced one of the best live performance albums this reviewer’s heard in a long time.

Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. 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 Interview – Marcia Ball 

Like her fingers that rove so energetically over her piano keys, Marcia Ball seldom stays still.

As with other brilliant musicians, Ball constantly searches to find that new sound, to entertain an audience, to write a kind of song she’s never written before. She’s a tireless performer, delivering her rousing blend of blues, country, rock, jazz, and ragtime night after night. Last year she played between 100 and 120 gigs—”that helps keep the lights on,” she laughs. On New Year’s Eve 2015, she headlined the show re-opening Antone’s, Austin’s premier blues club, and she’s just returned from a little over a week on Delbert McClinton’s annual blues cruise in the Caribbean, where, according to McClinton, she’s a staple.

Her new album, The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man (Alligator Records) dropped in the fall, and now she’s back on the road, filling clubs, honky tonks, and halls with her signature soulful shouts and her boisterous piano rolls, punctuating her performance with a country shuffle or a touching ballad or a barrelhouse rocker.

Ball’s new album illustrates her deep comfort with every musical style as well as her abilities to turn in a stunning song that keeps listeners singing long after the record has finished. With this album, she says, “I’m at this point where I have a band I really enjoy playing with, and they’re the same band that travels with me. Also, the producer Tom Hambridge is someone I’ve wanted to work with a long time, and I got to do it here.”

The album opens with a boisterous tune that tells the tale of this love affair between the tattooed lady and the alligator man, delivered with Ball’s signature bluesy growl and supported by her New Orleans-style piano. The song pulls us into the album with its seductive tale and its romping rhythms. “That title track just came,” Ball reflects, “sometimes songs just walk up on the porch and say ‘hi’.” The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man confirms Ball’s curiosity and versatility as a songwriter. “Can’t Blame Nobody but Myself” is a shuffle. “It’s the first song I wrote for the album,” she says, “and I’d never written a shuffle before and wanted to write one.”

Lest we think that Ball is all fun and games, she turns serious on a couple of songs. “Human Kindness,” opens with gospel-inflected chords that lead into the reflection that “this world is what we make it/every day/we can try to save it/or throw it away” and then rues the state of humankind these days: “all this separation/the walls we have made/we’ve got the same dreams/we’ve got the same plans.” By the time the heavenly strains of the chorus kick in—the voices of Shelly King, Carolyn Wonderland, and Amy Helm—Ball moves us from despair at the human condition to the hope that we can indeed repair the torn fabric that we’ve ripped because that power lies within us; all it takes is a little kindness, love, desire for justice: “we’ve got to raise our voices up for our fellow man/when we open our hearts the light comes shining through/human kindness flow from me and you.” “I always need to find one serious song,” Ball muses, “and on this album it’s ‘Human Kindness’.”

Although Ball’s rumbling piano chords might be what first grabs us, it’s her writing that sustains us. “The most important evolution for me as an artist,” she says, “is becoming a songwriter.” Ball says that while she grew up always playing piano, the writing came a little later. It was around 1980, after she’d already put out a country album, Circuit Queen (Capitol) in 1978, that she found a drummer and bass player to work with. “I started writing, in earnest, not long after that, and Soulful Dress (Rounder, 1983) was the first album where I was singing songs I had written.”A

Rodney Crowell once said that “talking about songwriting is like doing card tricks on the radio,” and Ball confirms that she can’t, nor does she necessarily want to, uncover the process of writing songs. There are no rules, she points out. “You cannot separate the words from the melody: can you say “On the Road Again”?” And, she’s never been able to make an appointment to go into a room and write songs all day. “You sit in front of a piece of paper until blood appears from you,” she laughs, “and I can’t do that.” Ball can, in fact, write most anywhere: “I’ve written entire songs in the driver’s seat, and I’ve written them in the passenger seat.”

For Ball, songwriting is much more fluid and dynamic, a kind of evolving question. “I am an eavesdropper; I listen to the world around me and pick up phrases and ideas. I read and I read all kinds of stuff; it may be some poetry that I read that drives me to write.” Ball mentions Crowell—”he has these great lyrics” and Texas singer-songwriter Carrie Elkin as writers she admires. Like other songwriters Ball draws on her experiences when she writes. “I write about personal experiences, and we all do that sometimes to exorcise our demons,” she muses. But she also writes songs—like “Human Kindness”—that express her feelings about the way of the world. Audiences who’ve come to hear her good time barroom blues aren’t always comfortable when she lights into a song that deals with politics or religion or events around them. “You know,” she laughs, “as singers, we’ve all been told to “shut up and sing”—which if you notice is impossible—but we’re minstrels and we’re commenting on events.”

Ball co-writes many of her songs, too. She and the band’s guitarist Michael Shermer penned “Human Kindness” and “The Squeeze is On” on The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man. “One of my best co-writers,” she recalls, “was Stephen Bruton; I called him my song doctor,” she laughs. On her previous albums, she’s also written with Gary Nicholson: “If you go into a room with Gary, you’re gonna come out with a song.” Delbert McClinton has also been a huge influence on her career as a songwriter, Ball says. No matter the process or the circumstances, she emphasizes, “where there’s great writing, it’s a great song.”

Although Marcia Ball’s musical influences run very deep—her father was a composer, her grandmother played ragtime and Tin Pan Alley songs—”she always had a lot of sheet music”—and her aunt played Gershwin and the pop music of the ’50s—she heard her true calling when she was 13 and went with her aunt and cousin to New Orleans and saw Irma Thomas. “She just blew me away and caught me totally unaware,” Ball recalls, “and once I started my own band, the first stuff I did was Irma’s.” “I grew up at a great time for rock and roll,” she recalls, “and when I was in high school, soul music was big. Plus, I’m from south Louisiana where people like to dance to Cajun and zydeco.” All of these ingredients Ball poured into her music, mixing up a steaming pot of musical gumbo that nourished and sustained her and to which she added even more spices when she left home for college in Baton Rouge at LSU.

Around the time Ball saw Thomas, she also wanted a guitar badly, and her parents gave her one. Though she’d been playing piano since she was four, it was hard to carry that off to college so the guitar went with her to Baton Rouge. Around 1968, hippies started making their way into the LSU scene, and “my roommate and I were immediately attracted to them,” Ball laughs. “I was playing rock and roll, and started singing in a cover band doing Janis Joplin and Grace Slick songs.” A couple of times, Ball says, she thought about quitting music and focusing on her English major, but “both times music won out,” she says.

Ball arrived in Austin in 1970 when the music scene was burgeoning and migrating in the direction of “hippies playing country music for other hippies,” she laughs. “There were all these great clubs; we had Antone’s, One Knight, Armadillo World Headquarters. Kenneth Threadgill had this gas station that he made into a bar, and Janis Joplin played “Me and Bobby McGee there in the summer of 1970. And we had Doug Sahm, who walked all sides of the musical lines.” During these heady years, Ball started to add some new ingredients to her soul and blues stew, playing country and country rock with Freda and the Firedogs. “I sang “Me and Bobby McGee with them; I mean, I had been ‘busted flat in Baton Rouge’ so I knew what it was like.”

In 1975, Ball reached what she calls one of her turning points. “I could join a band, start a band, or go do something else,” she laughs, “so I started my own band. For the first time it was up to me what musical direction I’d take; I knew I was going to go back to my roots.” Maybe it took a few years to arrive fully at what today is Ball’s signature soul stew, but her vision was clear: “sing in the style of Irma Thomas and sing the songs of Allen Toussaint,” she recalls. She released a single in 1975 that illustrated her ability to straddle both worlds: the A-side was Patsy Montana’s “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” but the B-side was Thomas’ “Done Got Over.”

By 1978, Ball herself had done got over country, and she never looked back as she migrated to the music she loved best on her next three records: Soulful Dress (1983), Hot Tamale Baby (Rounder, 1986), and Gatorrhythms (1989). The latter two established her squarely in the New Orleans Professor Longhair jazz and blues school of music, and she solidified that standing even more with the gorgeous Dreams Come True—”that’s still one of my favorite albums,” she says—which she recorded on the Antone’s label with her dear friends Lou Ann Barton and Angela Strehli. Ball signed with Rounder Records in 1983 and, with the exception of Dreams Come True, recorded six albums there over fifteen years, from 1983 to 1998. On her last album with Rounder was a fitting close to her time there, for Ball had the chance to sing with Thomas, with whom she has since many times, and with Tracy Nelson on Sing It! “Rounder had always wanted to do a record like this, and Irma and Tracy were with Rounder; it was a thrill for me.”

Ball moved on from Rounder to Alligator Records, releasing her first album on that label in 2001, Presumed Innocent, and since then she’s released another seven albums with the label, including her newest one. “I had good years at Rounder and they were making the kind of music of which I was a part, but they started headed in a little different direction from where I was headed; sometimes you have to go try something new, and Alligator is dedicated to the kind of music I play; for Bruce Iglauer, that’s his life.”

While the blues have been good to Ball, she recognizes that “it’s always been a subgenre. But, I tell you,” she says, “blues fans are the most loyal ones out there; we have blues societies and festivals that keep the music alive. However, we’ve lost that first generation of bluesmen and blueswomen, and we need to continue give our nod to the original players. It’s important to carry that style forward.” Ball shares that among her greatest influences are Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Etta James, Mickey Newbury—”a fabulous songwriter”—Dan Penn, and Ray Charles—”I could sell my soul to the devil to get Ray Charles’ voice,” she laughs.

Above all, it’s human kindness that permeates Ball’s music, her songwriting, and her attitude toward life.Her encouragement of other musicians, especially young musicians, her straight-to-the-heart lyrics whether in a rousing blues stomp or a gospel-inflected anthemic ballad, and her dedication to delivering soulful music from her heart to ours clearly adds to the deep wealth of this music we call blues and soul.

“I’ve been very fortunate in the people I’ve worked with, and I’ve been able to figure out how to put the right people together to play music with. I hope I’ve been able to add to the lexicon of this music we listen to.”

Visit Marcia’s website at

Photos by Marilyn Stringer © 2016

Henry L. Carrigan, Jr. writes about music and music books for No Depression, American Songwriter, Country Standard Time, and Wide Open Country.

 Video Of The Week – Marcia Ball 

Click on the image above to see this video – Marcia Ball performing her song “That’s Enough Of That Stuff” in 2013.

 Featured Blues Music Review – 2 of 8 

Todd Wolfe Band – Long Road Back

American Showplace Music

12 songs – 58 minutes

Veteran guitar slinger Todd Wolfe follows up his 2013 release Miles To Go with this collection of material that delivers in-your-face blues, blues-rock, swamp, jam and funk with themes collected and perfected during a recent 200-day tour that took him and the band around the globe.

A native New Yorker who grew up influenced by ‘60s blues-rock bands like Cream and Fleetwood Mac and guitars who included Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Mike Bloomfield, Wolfe emerged on the scene in 1979 in a power trio, Nitetrain. Later, when playing with Troy & The Tornados, another Manhattan favorite, he befriended Sheryl Crow, then an upcoming backup singer.

Throughout the ‘80s and into the ‘90s, his and Crow’s careers were intertwined. She moved to Los Angeles, and he joined her briefly to co-write material. Later on, he relocated to the West Coast and formed a new band, but eventually served as her lead guitarist for six years before venturing own again, including working with Mountain’s Leslie West on two albums and another with Bob Dylan.

Long Road Back is the ninth CD in his catalog and features his regular lineup of Roger Voss and Justine Gardner on drums and bass and 2015 BluesBlast Music Award nominee John Ginty on Hammond B3 organ, electric and acoustic pianos. All three provide backing vocals and contributed songwriting to ten of the 12 songs on this disc, which delivers tunes that are totally new and original but come with a familiar feel.

The album kicks off with “Poison,” a funky number that describes a woman who’s difficult to resist, comes on like a freight train, but is nothing but trouble. She came out of nowhere and took what she wanted. When she decided to leave, he begged her to stay. But Wolfe quickly assures the listener that he “won’t take that poison anymore.” The drums are high in the mix as he launches into a smoking solo mid-tune, displaying perfect control as he squeezes out notes that are the verge of a scream.

“Mercy” is a blues-rocker that begs for mercy as the world seems to close in after experiencing a horrible dream in which angels come to the rescue. An ending six-string solo drives home the point that he has no time to wait. “Outside Woman Blues,” written by Cream, provides a dramatic aural departure from what’s come before. It’s a warning to avoid pitfalls of the road because “you can’t watch your wife and your outside woman, too.”

The tempo slows to a walk for the straight blues “Never Walk Alone,” which promises a lady that if she grabs his hand and holds it tight, they’ll make it through the night and she’ll never walk alone again. Wolfe picks up his acoustic for “Peace Unto You,” a memory of being taught that it’s essential to live a life in which you lend a hand to your fellow man. “Fire Me Up” deals with another favorite poison, this time a female singer looking for love, before “Long Road Back” describes the cost a musician has to pay for being away from home and family for so long.

Bass and organ take command to kick off “Gone,” a syncopated jam about the passage of time, before “Annalee,” a statement of love laid atop a rapid-fire rhythm pattern with a Southern rock feel, which continues for “One Shot,” a woman’s statement that her man has more more attempt, not a second chance, to make her heart dance. “Black Queen” is a wah-wah pedal fueled cover of the Stephen Stills classic. It precedes “Hoodoo River,” a swamp blues instrumental, which concludes the set.

Available through Amazon or iTunes, Long Road Back is a welcome return for the Todd Wolfe Band. They play on the edge, but always maintain control. Highly recommended for anyone with a taste for modern rock-flavored blues.

Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. 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 Music Review – 3 of 8 

Colin Linden – Rich In Love

Stony Plain Records SPCD1386

12 songs

Toronto-born, Nashville-based Colin Linden is one of the most heavily recorded artists in the blues with credits on more than 500 CDs as a singer, guitarist, session musician or producer, but Rich In Love is the first studio album he’s recorded in six years – and the wait is definitely worth it.

Mentored by Howlin’ Wolf before he was a teenager, Linden was just 15 years old when he embarked on his first tour as a musician, working with acoustic powerhouse Don McLean on a journey that took him across Canada, through America’s Rust Belt and into the Mississippi Delta. A winner of eight Juno Awards, Canada’s top blues trophy, and a multiple Grammy winner for work on O Brother Where Art Thou and Down From The Mountain, which won top honors in Best Album and Best Folk Album categories in 2002.

A tasty, talented slide guitarist, Linden’s also an accomplished songwriter whose works have been covered by a wide range of artists, including Keb Mo’, The Blind Boys Of Alabama, Colin James and The Band. He’s spent the past few years in the studio with Gregg Allman, Rhiannon Giddens and Diana Krall and on the road backing Bob Dylan.

This album marks Linden’s return to the Stony Plain imprint, where he began his studio work with the album The Immortals 30 years ago. A thoroughly modern CD with a timeless feel, all of the material on Rich In Love was penned by Linden or in collaboration with his novelist wife Janice Powers or bassist John Dymond as well as a pair of Grammy winners, Gary Nicholson and Tom Hambridge.

The format is basically a three-piece band with Gary Craig, who teams with Dymond as The Rotting Matadors, on drums. And if that’s not enough, Colin’s brought in four more heavyweights to round out the sound: harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite, organists Reese Wynans (Stevie Ray Vaughan) and Tim Lauer (Keb Mo’ and Lady Antibellum) and Levon Helm’s daughter Amy, a recording artist herself, on backing vocals.

One of the most novel love songs I’ve heard in a long time, “Knob & Tube,” kicks off the album. Linden backs himself on mandolin as he uses imagery about electricity and food to describe the attraction he feels with his woman: “I am the pole/You are the line/We’ve got electricity running blind” and “Wanna be bacon to you/Like chicken in a pie/Sixty-second cycle/Runnin’ side by side.” Next up is “I Need Water,” a song of loss that deals with both parched farmland during a drought and the inability to cry any more after a woman’s packed up and gone.

“Delia Come For Me” is based on an old country blues ballad, but with a modern twist. Linden sings it in the first person in the body of Troy Davis, a convicted murderer who was executed in Georgia in 2011, but might have been exonerated if more evidence had come forward before his death. A Musselwhite moan on the reeds introduces and runs beneath “The Hurt,” a modern blues that deals with Etta James, Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston, like a river of pain as Linden describes the suffering they endured before people would believe their stories.

The mood brightens for “Everybody Ought To Be Loved” with Colin fingerpicking on acoustic guitar and Helm doubling his vocals for the chorus. The them continues, albeit a little darker, in the minor-keyed ‘Rich In Love.” In this one, the singer knows his lady cries in bed while he’s sleeping, and he’s going “down, down, down to find out” what she’s been dreaming. The imagery is haunting.

“Date With The Stars” is a sweet, slow reverie about watching the night skies, written when Linden was dealing with a bout of insomnia. It’s followed by the acoustic “And Then You Begin” and “No More Cheap Wine,” a blues that delivers the message that life’s too short to sell yourself short in anything from your choice of beverage to anything else. The country blues “Luck Of A Fool” sings about achieving success in spite of self-doubt before the bittersweet ballad “I Made A Promise” recounts a broken oath to a loved one before “Paybacks Are Hell” serves as an epilogue to conclude the set.

A seamless production from beginning to end and that’s both beautiful and hard to categorize, Rich In Love remains packed with blues elements and proves once again why Colin Linden is one of the most important voices in roots music for the 21st Century. Available everywhere.

Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. 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 Music Review – 4 of 8 

Les Copeland – To Be In Your Company

Earwig Music

18 songs – 60 minutes

It has been five long years since the release of Les Copeland’s first album, Don’t Let The Devil In (also on Michael Frank’s Earwig Music), but To Be In Your Company is well worth the wait. 18 songs are packed into the CD and there is not a duff effort amongst them.

Opening with the title cut, British Columbia native Copeland pays loving tribute to Honeyboy Edwards, his teacher, musical partner and travelling companion of 15 years. For the next hour, the listener can sit back and soak in some of the best music released this year.

To Be In Your Company is a primarily acoustic affair featuring Copeland’s superb finger-picked guitar playing and wonderfully warm, weathered voice. Effects are used subtly on a couple of songs and Sari and Cat Wells add wonderful backing vocals on three or four tracks – at times there are hints of Willie B. Harris’ ethereal voice behind Blind Willie Johnson on his classic recordings. Check out “Why We Love Each Other”, “I’d Be Lonely Too” and “Somethin Sweet And Nice” especially. Copeland also demonstrates some fine slide guitar playing on “Borderline.”

While Copeland wrote the majority of the songs, demonstrating a quirky, intelligent sense of humor in his lyrics, his selection of covers is outstanding, ranging from Bob Dylan’s “Moonshiner” to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Ribbon Of Darkness”. And his imagination appears to be limitless when it comes to producing new interpretations. The Kinks’ classic trippy “Sunny Afternoon” is reworked as a Rev Gary Davis workout. Jim Stafford’s “Swamp Witch” is dipped in the gurgling brew of the Louisiana Bayou, resulting in a much darker and more threatening interpretation, with an oddly beautiful instrumental bridge. Billy Joe Shaver’s “I’m Just An Old Chunk Of Coal (But I’m Going To Be A Diamond Someday)” is dragged from its famous modern electrified country version back to its acoustic, finger-picked roots and is all the better for it.

Copeland’s own songs are equally as impressive, from the weariness and longing of “Bessie” to the upbeat ragtime of “I Dream About You” in which he declares “Sure don’t wanna tell you of my nightmares, how they creep me out so bad – it’s true. But now all the while, I wake up with a smile, I’d like to tell you about my dreams because I dream about you.”

One of the highlights of the album is “Knucklehead”, which features a heavily-chorused guitar that is both strikingly unusual and utterly perfect for the song coupled with a hilarious story of a man whose loving partner, Cherry Red, insists on calling him Fred or Jed or Ted and jokingly dismisses him as a knucklehead before admitting she does love him.

To Be In Your Company is a fantastic release. It is one of those albums that keeps finding its way back onto this reviewer’s playlist, always offering something new to enjoy, and it is highly recommended.

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.

 Featured Blues Music Review – 5 of 8 

Tommy McCoy – 25 Year Retrospective

Earwig Music Company

30 songs – 133 minutes

Some retrospective collections can leave the listener wondering how on earth the artists in question managed a career in music at all, let alone that such careers lasted long enough to warrant the release of “high points” of such a career. Other collections, however, serve to emphasize just how talented some people are and how much good music they have produced over time. Tommy McCoy’s new release, 25 Year Retrospective, is very much in the latter camp. Two CDs, both packed full of well-written, superbly played blues and blues-influenced songs, each with enough subtle twists to keep one entertained on repeated listening – what’s not to like?

Florida-based McCoy may not have achieved the international renown of other roots musicians, but the appearance of the likes of Lucky Peterson, Tommy Shannon, Chris Layton, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Commander Cody and Tony Coleman on 25 Year Retrospective underscores the respect in which he is held by his peers.

27 songs come from McCoy’s previous albums, dating back to 1992. There are also three new original tracks recorded in 2015. The powerful solo acoustic of “Sugar Cane,” recorded at Gary Vincent’s studio in Clarksdale, Mississippi, superbly captures the oppressive heat and humidity of the region, whilst the uptown 50’s-style R&B of “I Got A Reason” has as many pop ingredients as it does soul and blues – great sax backing and a lovely melodic guitar solo. They are both fine tracks. McCoy chose perhaps the most emotionally-charged of the three songs, however, to open the album. “The King Is Gone,” a moving tribute to B.B. King, opens with MCoy channelling King’s guitar style over a minor key structure. Taking King’s own “The Thrill Is Gone” as his starting point, McCoy’s lyrics name-check Lucille and many of B.B.’s songs before he launches into another powerful solo.

High points abound. McCoy’s cover of Pink Floyd’s “Money” (from his 1995 CD Love N’ Money) is an absolute belter, played just slightly faster than the original but with significantly more groove. The West Coast blues of “Black Eldorado Red” is an irresistible foot-tapper with a sparkling piano solo from Commander Cody. “They Killed That Man” features just an acoustic guitar and Ed Lanier’s haunting bowed bass. And McCoy’s collaboration with Lucky Peterson on the up-beat “Blues Thing” is a reminder of how joyful a simple shuffle can be.

McCoy is a superb guitarist, peeling one great solo after another. He is also a fine singer with a wry line in lyrics. In “Cars, Bars and Guitars” he sings “I was ridin’ like a wheel. I didn’t know what was the deal. The time was coming up fast. I’d gone through all my cash. I spent it all on cars, bars and guitars.” There are a surprising number of us in the same club.

The consistent quality of both the production and the songs is noticeable throughout the album, which some artists struggle to do over the course of just one CD when the songs are all recorded together. 25 Year Retrospective is a really enjoyable release and is warmly recommended.

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.

 Featured Blues Music Review – 6 of 8 

Dudley Taft – Skin And Bones

American Blues Artist Group

11 songs – 44 minutes

Guitar slinger Dudley Taft had a plan when he went looking for a new house with space for a recording studio. But he struck gold when he landed a pad in Cincinnati formerly owned by rock superstar Peter Frampton. All he had to do was turn the key and he was ready to go.

An artist who likes to put down songs in one take and make adjustments later, Taft combines blues, rock and grunge as he puts a personal stamp on his high-octane music that comes across with a Delta feel. With his background, he really doesn’t have anything to prove. While still in high school, he formed the band Space Antelope with future Pfish frontman Trey Anastasio.

Taft needed a little help setting up what he now calls Muchmore Studio, and there was a phone in the studio that was dedicated as a connection to a help line. When he needed to use it, he was shocked because it led directly to a conversation with the former owner.

A veteran of the Seattle grunge scene, where he was a member of Sweet Water and Monster Magnet, Taft’s been a member of two of the most important groups on the rock scene, Flaming Lips and Alice In Chains. One of his singles, “Vintage Eyes,” made it as high as No. 10 on rock radio charts. But he’s always maintained at least one foot in the blues.

Skin And Bones, the third disc in Taft’s catalog, came about as a result of three one-take at-home sessions with drummer Jason Patterson and bassist John Kessler with other sessions at Omni Studios in Nashville. Joining the trio are longtime friend and former Stevie Ray Vaughan keyboard player Reese Wynans with a guest appearance from organist Eric Robert and backing vocals from Rachel Williams and Ashley Christensen.

The album consists of ten originals and one cover, and If you didn’t know better, you’d think that the first cut, “Skin And Bones,” was the product of a Hill Country band. It features some flashy slide work and single-note runs atop a steady beat as it delivers lush images of city New Orleans while pleading for help to mend a broken soul. The theme moves up river for “Lonesome Memphis Blues,” where the singer yearns for the return of his woman who “turns blues to rock and roll.”

The subject becomes upbeat with “Ain’t Nothing Gonna Stop Us Now,” a fast shuffle driven by a single-note guitar run and Wynans’ organ before an extended guitar solo. It suggests the listener “release your inner passion…You’re the movie star we all want to know.” Taft puts his own stamp on Johnny Winter’s “Leland Mississippi Blues” before launching into “One Of These Days,” a haunting, minor-key look to the future when the obviously troubled singer will be back up on his feet and back with the woman he loves.

Taft gets plenty of use out of his fuzz pedal on “Fuzzy Dice,” a tip-of-the-hat to Air Force pilots during World War II, when the title object often dangled above the control panel and gauges. It’s delivered with an interesting fingerpicked four-note run and answering rhythm pattern in the style of Lightnin’ Hopkins and Hubert Sumlin, but with grunge overtones. The rocker “Without You” sings about the burning pain the singer feels each day while at a distance from the person he loves, while “Space Cake” alludes to the mythological Greek figure of Sysyphus, the deceitful king who crossed the gods and was condemned to spend eternity pushing a boulder up a mountain, as it deals with frustration of daily living and needing to get away.

“Ain’t About The Money” is a rocker all blues artists can relate to as it speaks of living on the killing floor. It leads into “Coming Home,” a simple statement about what’s really important in life, before a funky blues, “Mojo Woman,” brings the album to a close.

Available through Amazon or direct download from the artist’s website or several online sources, Skin And Bones is direct and powerful. Taft’s a true professional. Despite the one-take nature of the recording process, the end product is clean and crisp. If you like your blues with a rock edge, you’ll find this one both different and appealing.

Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. 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 Music Review – 7 of 8 

Webb Wilder – Mississippi Moderne

Landslide Records

14 songs – 46 minutes

Webb Wilder, has been producing intelligent, catchy roots-based rock’n’roll for decades. Long based in Nashville, his latest release, Mississippi Moderne, is a delightful homage to his original state and his early influences. The album manages the impressive feat of acknowledging the past whilst remaining utterly up to date. With large dollops of blues, country and rockabilly, plus some soul and even some British rock, the end result is a distinctive musical gumbo that offers something for everyone to enjoy.

The album is nicely book-ended by two versions of “Stones In My Passway”, a Webb original that nods towards the Robert Johnson classic of the same name while adding an early gospel edge. The first is a 30 second acapella snippet on which Webb sounds as old as Methuselah. The second version adds a driving train-like rhythm to the same vocal line. In between, there is the country ballad, “I’m Not Just Anybody’s Fool”, a driving reboot of the Kinks’ “I Gotta Move”, savage re-interpretations of Conway Twitty’s “Lonely Blues Boy”, Charlie Rich’s “Who Will The Next Fool Be?”, Frankie Lee Sims’ “Lucy Mae Blues” (sounding almost techno) and Otis Rush’s “It Takes Time” (sounding very unlike Rush, but with a gorgeous guitar solo from Bob Williams). There’s also Jimmy Reed’s “I’m Gonna Get My Baby”, played straighter than Reed would have done, with haunting, echoed slide guitar adding a tremolo-like effect.

Wilder’s own songs sit easily alongside these classics. The retro-rock of “Rough And Tumble Guy” is played with wild abandon while the Stones-esque “Too Much Sugar For A Nickel” takes a phrase Wilder picked up from his mother (when something was too good to be true) and is a beautifully crafted song of unrequited love: “There ain’t no substitute baby, for a good-hearted man. I don’t think he’s the one, but maybe I am. Too much sugar for a nickel. Too good to be true. Call off the deal if you feel that it ain’t sweet enough for you.”

Wilder is primarily backed by his long-standing road band of Bob Williams on guitar, bassist Tom Comet and Jimmy Lester on drums. Guests on various tracks include guitarists Joe V. McMahan and George Bradfute; drummer Greg Morrow; percussionists Jon Radford and Bryan Owings, Micah Mulscher on piano and organ; and Patrick Sweany, Ann McCrary and Regina McCrary on backing vocals.

With witty, clever lyrics (that often contain unexpected moments of pathos or heart-touching sensitivity), well-constructed songs, a willingness to trample over perceived genre boundaries, and a distinctive vocal style, Wilder has hints of the likes of Bill Carter or John Hiatt while still remaining very much his own man. This is mature music that does not let the intelligence behind the songs get in the way of deep emotion that is on display on every track.

Mississippi Moderne is a very impressive roots rock album with plenty of blues influences. It is a very modern release that warmly embraces the influences that touched it. Top notch stuff.

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.

 Featured Blues Music Review – 8 of 8 

MonkeyJunk – Moon Turn Red

Stony Plain Records

CD: 10 Songs; 43:19 Minutes

Styles: Swamp and Roots Rock, Blues Rock

Five words that no one will ever say while listening to Moon Turn Red, the blazing fourth album from Canadian band MonkeyJunk, are: “I can’t hear the guitar.” Indeed, this is an incendiary box of electric explosives. Once swamp and roots rock fans “Light It Up,” the fretwork fireworks begin. What this album is not is a pure, traditional blues CD. Only one track, reviewed below, even possesses the requisite swaying rhythm for slow blues. It’s worth a listen, though, especially at roadhouse bars, outdoor festivals, and parties involving several adult beverages. MonkeyJunk knows how to have a good time, and they’ll help crowds of any size do the same.

Their website reveals: “The 2008 birth of the Ottawa-based band MonkeyJunk came along just when music fans needed them the most. They brought an accessible and refreshing blend of swamp-rock roots and blues to the table and haven’t looked back. In the relatively short time they’ve been performing and recording together, the members of MonkeyJunk have won a collective 20 Maple Blues Awards, two Canadian Independent Music Awards, a Blues Music Award (USA), and have been nominated twice for a JUNO Award, taking home the coveted hardware in 2012.

“Straight out of the gate, MonkeyJunk quickly became one of the most popular new bands on the scene, performing at festivals and packed venues across the country, amassing a large audience of devoted fans, affectionately called “MonkeyJunkies”. In fact, they hit the road for a tour before their debut album Tiger In Your Tank was even released.”

Performing nine original songs and one cover are the regular band members: Tony Diteodoro (known as Tony D) on lead guitar and backing vocals, Steve Marriner on lead and backing vocals, baritone guitar, harmonica, vibes and keyboards; and Matt Sobb on drums, percussion, and backing vocals. Joining them are guest musicians David Wilcox (guitar and vocals on the cover of his classic “Hot Hot Papa”); Gordie Johnson and Steve O’Connor on Hammond organ; Ken Friesen and Nick Diak as gang vocalists along with the band on “Love Attack”, and harmony vocalists Kelly Prescott and Kelly Sloan.

As mentioned earlier, the following tune is the sole representative of the traditional blues genre:

Track 07: “Learn How to Love” – Lucky number seven, a romantic slow-burner, features a staccato guitar intro reminiscent of those from Too Slim and the Taildraggers. Its lyrics are hard-hitting yet sweet: “The wardrobe is empty. The pictures are gone, with all your possessions that made this a home. Tossing and turning where we used to dream – if time only gave us a chance to redeem.” Kelly Prescott provides background vocals as crisp and flavorful as Canadian maple syrup, and Steve Marriner’s haunting harmonica is to die for.

One thing this CD has in spades, which some conventional blues albums lack, is terrific vocals. Some guitar players believe that if they play a decent shredder, that’s all they need to make a fantastic release. Not MonkeyJunk – they know how to make the Moon Turn Red for lovers of swamp and roots rock!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 36 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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Prairie Crossroads Blues Society – Champaign, IL

Prairie Crossroads Blues Society is holding a Fundraiser for our IBC representatives, Friday January 22, at Memphis On Main, 55 E. Main St. in Champaign. Our Solo/Duo representative, Jiggy & the Source opens the show at 8:00 with their unique sound and blues style. At 9:00 our Band representative The Blues Expressions will put on a show featuring their soulful R&B based blues. We’ll be raising money to help our acts head to Memphis, TN where they’ll compete in the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge. Come out to Memphis on Main and show your support for some of the best blues musicians Central Illinois has to offer. Cover is only $5. We’ll have a 50/50 raffle and other fun ways to help raise money for their trip.

PCBS is also a sponsor of the Bentley’s Blues Jam held on the 4th Wednesday of each month. January’s host band is Billy Galt and The Blues Deacons. They’ll play the first set then open things up to all the jammers in the house. Bring your instrument and plan on sitting in. For more information visit our website at

Crossroads Blues Society – Byron, IL

Crossroads has lots of great blues events planned for 2016!

Hamilton Loomis is in town for a two day evening harmonica workshop on Monday and Tuesday January 25th and 26th at the Brewhouse, 200 Prairie St., Rockford IL. The cost is $60 per person and includes a 10-hole harmonica, practice CD, & handouts/materials. Register at or call 832-978-5451. Hamiliton will also be conducting two Blues in the Schools programs on the 26th.

The Hope and Anchor English Pub in Loves Park, IL features shows on the second Saturday of each month from 8 pm to midnight. March 12th – Tweed Funk, April 9th – Reverend Raven and the Chain Smoking Altar Boys, May 14th – The Jimmys

Blues in the Schools is also scheduled for Friday, January 22nd with two programs for Dave Weld and the Imperial Flames and two more programs with Dan Phelps. In February, Dan Phelps will be doing a two week in school BITS residency with East HS teaching song writing and guitar.

Friday Night Blues at the Lyran Club in Rockford continues mostly on the third Friday of the month with a few other special dates to boot. Currently booked are: January 22nd – Dave Weld and the Imperial Flames, February 19th – Ron Holm’s Roy Orbison Tribute, March 18th – Smilin’ Bobby, April 15th – Breezy Rodeo, May 20th – Dave Fields. Shows are free from 7 to 10 PM.

Stay tuned for more upcoming events!

The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL

The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for the Blue Monday live performances and jam sessions held every Monday night at The Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 8:00pm to midnight. January 25 – The Susan Williams Band, February 1 – Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys, February 8 – Gina Sicilia, February 15 – Chris O’Leary Band, February 22 – Dave Lumsden Factor.

Additional ICBC and ICBC partnered shows: Jan. 21 James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm, Feb. 4 James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm, Feb. 18 James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm w/ guest host Mary Jo Curry, March 26 ICBC 30th Birthday Celebration @ Knights of Columbus on Meadowbrook – Shawn Holt, headlining, w/opening act Robert Sampson.

P.O. Box 721 Pekin, Illinois 61555 © 2016 Blues Blast Magazine (309) 267-4425

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