Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2016
In This Issue
Terry Mullins has our feature interview with Chicago Blues harp master Billy Branch. We have 6 Blues music reviews for you including reviews of music from John Cee Stannard & Blues Horizon, Nick Fishman Blues Band, Aaron Curtis, Jimmy Burns, Rich Harper and Tomislav Goluban and Nebojša Buhin.
Arnie Goodman and Barry Fisch have photos and commentary from the Leadbelly Fest at Carnige Hall.
We have the latest in Blues society news. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
From The Editor’s Desk
Hey Blues Fans,
Starting on March 1st, we we begin accepting submissions for the 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards.
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Complete information on how to have your recording considered are at
Save The Date! The 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards ceremonies will be held on September 23, 2016 in Champaign, IL. Stay tuned for more info soon.
Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!
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Featured Blues Music Review – 1 of 6
John Cee Stannard & Blues Horizon – Stone Cold Sober
Cast Iron Recordings – CIRCD 025
12 songs – 56 minutes
Stone Cold Sober is John Cee Stannard & Blue Horizon’s third release, following The Doob Doo Album (positively reviewed in the 15 January 2014 Blues Blast issue) and Bus Depot Blues (also well received by Blues Blast in the 21 December 2014 issue). The new album however is perhaps the most impressive of the lot.
Recorded at Whitehouse Studios in Berkshire, England, Stone Cold Sober mines musical and lyrical seams similar to those visited previously by Stannard. So expect well-written songs heavily influenced by pre-war acoustic uptown blues, expertly played and sung, with a wide range of guest musicians to add spice to the basic gumbo laid down by Stannard’s resonator guitars and banjo, Mike Baker’s acoustic and electric guitars and Howard Birchmore’s harmonica. Guest musicians include Andy Crowdy on double bass, Julian Brown on drums, Simon Mayor on violin and mandolin, Matt Empson on piano, Roger Cotton on Hammond organ and Nicole Johnson on backing vocals. Mayor’s violin in particular adds delightful textures to three tracks: “This Rag Of Mine”, “So Long” and “The Story”.
Stannard wrote 11 of the tracks on the album, with the sole cover being a reworking of Blind Blake’s “Lead Hearted Blues”. Each song tells a specific story with Stannard assuming a variety of narrative personae to great effect. Displaying a particularly British sense of humor, Stannard’s lyrics often subtly subvert the expected lyrical tradition, for example on hilariously driven title track: “I’m stone cold sober when I get to my job. I’m stone cold sober when I get up. But on my home, I’ll have a bottle or two. I’d rather be out of my mind, than stone cold sober with you. You’re one in a million. You’re one of a kind. But you’re driving me out of my mind. And the way that you treat me, what else can I do? I’d rather be drunk as a skunk, than stone cold sober with you.” In every song he sings, however, Stannard retains sufficient emotional vulnerability to create an undercurrent of pain even when his narrator appears to be confident and in control.
He is not afraid to address current sociopolitical issues such as on the bleak, powerful strut of “Poverty Blues”, which was inspired by a BBC documentary about Americans who had lost their jobs and houses in the recession and found themselves living in tent cities in places like Detroit. Johnson’s superb backing vocals are a highlight here.
The vast majority of the songs however are upbeat and joyful, from “Rum Ol’ Do” – sounding like something Blind Blake might record if he were around today (and nodding warmly towards Blake’s great “Doo Wah Diddy” as Stannard sings “It was late at night, the lights were low. Another man’s wife? How was I to know?”) to the arm-around-the-shoulder of “Worse Off Than You” with its wise advice that “If you get started, you’d better not stop. It’s a long back from the bottom to the top. Exactly where you are depends upon your point of view, cos there’s always someone worse off than you.”
Stone Cold Sober is a great release. There is a sense that the musicians really enjoyed themselves in the studio and that feeling of joy translates to the album itself. Wonderful 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 Interview – Billy Branch
Hello, my name is Little Mack Simmons. I’m the world’s greatest harmonica player. I challenge anyone that can beat me to come down to the Green Bunny Lounge and if they can beat me, I will pay them $500.
– Radio advertisement that ran on Chicago’s WVON (1690 AM) radio station back in 1975
When it came to harmonica-fueled head-cutting on the bandstand back in the mid-70s, Little Mack Simmons was Chicago’s self-proclaimed ‘king of all kings.’
Simmons’ reputation certainly preceded him, and as evidenced by the above commercial that plastered the Windy City airwaves, the man did not lack for self-confidence.
Billy Branch, now a legendary harmonica blower and Chicago bluesman in his own right – but back then just an unheralded up-and-comer – remembers hearing those ads and being called into action by his friends.
“I heard that commercial and I asked some of my buddies if I should go down there. They was like, ‘Yeah, man!’ So it was my friends that urged me to go, because I wasn’t sure that I really wanted to. So the story is, that I won the contest (that night), but Mack was the judge!” laughed Branch. “This was a popular club back then and the place was packed – probably three hundred or so people in there. Well, as soon as I finished playing, people started yelling, ‘Give him the money!’ But then Mack runs out and says that the boss says it’s closing time. That’s when the place turned into complete pandemonium, with people shoutin’ and cussin.’ It was wild, but I just stood there, it really didn’t faze me.”
Despite the ‘judge’s’ lack of acknowledgement at his victory – and despite leaving without the promised $500 stuffed in his pockets – Branch still came out on the winning side of things that night at the Green Bunny Lounge in 1975.
“Yeah, that was the day that I was ‘discovered.’ All of the Chicago blues intelligentsia were there – Jim and Amy O’Neal (Living Blues founders), Bruce Iglauer (Alligator Records founder) and Dick Shurman (noted producer), along with other various members of the media and record companies, as well as a lot of the old-timers (Chicago blues musicians). I say old-timers, but they were probably in their 40s then. But when you’re in your 20s, that seems old,” he laughed. ” I was on the scene (back then), but I wasn’t known. I was just out of college and I’d go to the clubs and hang for a while and then I’d disappear for a couple of weeks. So only a handful of people really knew who I was (before his showdown with Simmons). I was also painfully shy in my youth and I think that the blues – and becoming a musician – helped me to overcome that shyness.”
Branch -who was the recipient of the 33rd Chicago Music Award’s Little Walter Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award – says that he was not intimidated or scared by the prospects of entering a bandstand battle with Simmons, but still, he had to be coerced into going.
“That’s right. I had to be talked into going by my friends … I almost didn’t go. That just shows you how fate is. If I hadn’t gone, I’m sure eventually I would have found my way into the recording studio – but immediately after that – I was in the recording studio,” he said.
Fans that had been salivating and anxiously awaiting a brand-new Billy Branch and The Sons of the Blues disc were finally rewarded for their patience with last year’s excellent Blues Shock (Blind Pig Records). Looking back now, it’s hard to believe that a full decade passed between Don’t Mess With The Bluesmen (2004) and Blues Shock. Branch certainly kept busy – way busy, as a matter of fact – during the time between albums with his name emblazoned on the cover, but why the long wait?
“The only reason that I was able to come up with that somewhat made sense was, that I was just going through a period of knowing what I didn’t want to do, but was not sure exactly what it was that I did want to do,” he said. “I had multiple recording offers over the years, but I just didn’t … I don’t know … sometimes as an artist, you just go through those periods, you know?”
Inspiration seems to move in mysterious ways for artists, which can ultimately turn into a stumbling block when it comes time to bring a new work of art to the light of day. But the way that Branch sees it, inspiration is sometimes not all its hyped up to be.
“My family and myself was in South Africa and the Poet Laurette of South Africa (Keorapetse Kgositsile) said that inspiration is over-rated. But sometimes you find yourself feeling that way, you know? You’re waiting for inspiration or looking for the ideal song or the ideal melody or the ideal lyric,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s just better to take a stab at it and given your ability and professionalism, you can probably come out better than expected anyway.”
Looking at it from the outside in, it sure seems that Blues Shock is one of Branch’s more personal albums. And although a song title like “Song For My Mother” suggests that it belongs to the author alone, Branch insists that’s not the case and sees it as more of a universal ownership of the cut.
“Yeah, “Song For My Mother,” which is an instrumental, has universal appeal to everyone; especially to those of us that have lost our mothers,” he said. “That was just a piece that we came up with and the title came later, but it seemed appropriate.”
While also steeped in personal recollections, “Going To See Miss Geri One More Time” is more of a historical account about an undervalued – but essentially important – member of the Windy City’s rich and storied musical culture.
“That song was based on a personal experience, but it also is a historical narrative and a tribute to someone (Miss Geri Oliver, who owned the iconic Palm Tavern for over 50 years) I felt got short-changed, given the fact that her legacy was not treated with more reverence and respect. That was my humble way of acknowledging a woman who is a very revered figure on Chicago’s south side,” he said. “That was a very difficult song to write and I say that it’s the best song, lyrically, that I’ve ever written – and perhaps also one of the most challenging. I had to make sure it was factually and historically accurate. I also had some challenges like rhyming this list of luminaries (like Miles Davis, Joe Louis, Frank Sinatra, to name a few of the mentioned in the song). I had Chicago’s’ foremost African American historian, Dr. Timuel Black, who is also a friend of Miss Geri Oliver’s, make sure I had historically accurate information. Miss Geri is about 95 years old and Dr. Black is maybe a year or two younger than her.”
It’s not easy to pigeon-hole Branch’s music into just one category, because it has a lot going on, featuring a number of twists and turns (sometimes even within the same song) that keep it from being predictable. That being said, there’s no doubt that the traditional Chicago blues is the chewy center of Branch’s music. Considering who helped to mentor his approach to playing the harmonica, that should be no surprise.
“Coming up when I did and immersing myself in the scene back then – learning from guys like Big Walter and Carey Bell and Junior Wells and James Cotton – I never thought of myself as practicing, but I really was. I made sure every moment that I got, I was in these clubs, some of which might be described as ‘bucket of blood clubs.’ But I never gave that a second thought; I was just drawn to the music and to the guys that played it,” he said. “I think by having the association and learning from such great players and having the chance to play with guys like Louis Myers and Dave Myers and Fred Below – Little Walter’s band – I was able to have the ability to play at a high level.”
As stated before, the Chicago blues is not where Branch’s music ends; it’s merely it’s springboard.
“Even though I was learning the style of these masters, I was still in the process of developing my own style. Most real musicians – even though they may be known for one style or genre – they listen to everything … to a variety of different things,” he said. “Personally, I listen to every type of music. If I’m in a meditative mood or want to read, I’ll put on some classical music. And when I came up in my teenage years, I was listening to what everybody else was listening to. Stuff like Motown and to The Beatles and The Stones and Hendrix … the whole gamut. I think ultimately, my style is a result of all those influences, as well as the traditional Chicago blues. It’s not really a conscious thing; it just develops once you reach a certain stage or level with your playing.”
Branch has been nominated for Best Instrumentalist – Harmonica, at this year’s Blues Music Awards (BMAs). That should certainly come to no great shock or surprise to the legion of Branch fans all across the globe. He’s also been nominated for three Grammy Awards over the course of his career and Branch tends to view such awards and accolades with a bit of a cautious eye.
“I’ve been nominated for three Grammy awards and that does look good on your resume. But the truth is, a lot of times, these awards are so politically-charged, so you take them with a grain of salt,” he said. “And that’s whether you win or whether you lose. A few years back, the (Grammy nominated) Chicago Blues: A Living History (Raisin’ Music) – not just because I’m on it – was really Grammy-worthy. Not to take anything away from anybody, but when we got beat out, it was by a country-folk singer. We were all at the Grammys (ceremonies) and we were all like, ‘What?’ So a lot of times, the process is flawed, for lack of a better term. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to express myself as a sore loser – it’s just that so many times you see these awards given and you realize that there are people that have been doing this for four, five and six decades that have not really been afforded that honor or that accolade.”
He then takes things a step further with another Grammy-related observance.
“When we were up for the Grammy for Chicago Blues: A Living History, we were there and watched the show – you know, all the big stars. The most spectacular thing that night was when one of these young stars was performing on a trapeze with all the pyrotechnics,” he said. “And we sat there and watched that and we all agreed that a good blues band would blow practically every act there that night right off the stage. A decent blues band would have smoked that place. I mean, everyone relates to the blues … it’s universal.”
He knows of what he speaks, since Branch served two consecutive terms on the Grammy Board of Governors and also founded the Grammy Blues Committee.
Maybe one of Branch’s most passionate endeavors over the past four decades has been his association with the Blues in the Schools program. He was one of the first performers to step on board that long-running project and was in fact the very first artist to involve his whole band in the process. He has mentored more young musicians than he could ever count and it’s hard to tell just where and when they will turn up.
“I played on Demetria Taylor’s – who is one of Eddie Taylor’s daughters – album on Delmark (Bad Girl). Well, I walk into the studio (for the session) and she says, ‘Who am I?’ I said, ‘I guess you must be Demetria.’ She said, ‘OK. When did you first meet me?’ I say, ‘I don’t know.’ She goes, ‘It was when you came to my school doing Blues in the Schools and I was in fourth grade.’ So that’s how long I’ve been doing that. The summer before last, I ran into three students – on three separate occasions – from my very first residency back in 1978. Each one of them told me they still listen to the blues and a couple of them said they still had their harmonica (from the classes). I’ve even had a handful of students that have went on to have professional careers; some of them bigger than what I’ve had,” he laughed.
Majoring in political science in college, Branch had thoughts at becoming a lawyer for his primary vocation. Luckily for blues fans, he instead decided to focus on blowing the harp on the bandstand, instead of focusing on arguing cases in front of a jury stand.
“Well, by all accounts, my wife and friends say I would have been a good one (lawyer). I’m sure it’s nice to have a big, hefty payday, because lawyers generally don’t do too bad,” laughed Branch. “But then again, they may not have as much as us bluesmen do. That’s why they call it playing (music). They ask where you’re going and you say, ‘I’m going to play.'”
Playing is just what Branch does today – and it’s what he has done for decades now. He’s played with everyone who is anyone and has played on well over 150 recordings (heck, probably a lot more than that). Over the course of those years and all those albums, a couple of things that Branch has never failed to do is to be himself and to fit into whatever surroundings he’s in.
“I just love recording in the studio and doing session work. I’m real relaxed when it comes to that. Part of my style and my musical approach is to be able to adapt to all musical situations,” he said. “Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of collaborative work with African groups, like Tinariwen … I play with them when they come to Chicago. And I’ve worked with a group called El Tri, who are like the Mexican Rolling Stones. They had me on their 40th anniversary concert as a special guest in Los Angeles back five or six years ago. And I’ve done work with (Malian artist) Vieux Farka Toure. I love being in different musical environments.”
Being able to fit seamlessly into all those ‘different musical environments’ has as much to do with the way that Branch approaches his instrument as it does with his willingness to step outside his normal comfort zone.
“A lot of guys learn how to solo on the harmonica fairly well. But for me, when I was developing my style, I learned how to compliment and augment the person that I’m accompaning, as well. When my band is playing, normally I’m playing throughout the entire song. I’m not just sitting out until my solo comes,” he said. “I’m always creatively trying to think like a rhythm guitarist, but I’m playing rhythmic harp. Or I’m hearing horn lines or hearing strings and I’m using that to enhance the music. The key to being a good session man is to be able to enhance what the artist that you’re recording with is doing. The challenge, then, in a solo is to play something consistent with the mood of the song. That’s something that I’ve become fairly adept at.”
The old saying ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ seems to be apropos in Branch’s case. He’s gone from playing the role of up-and-coming savior of the blues back in the late 1970s to now being rightfully recognized as one of the last of his generation carrying on the traditions and ways of some of the cats that he played with and learned from back in the day.
“Recently, I was playing at this club called Fitzgerald’s in Berwyn (a suburb of Chicago) and this photographer – who had shot pictures of me before – came to the show and he presented me with some very nostalgic photos from over 30 years ago. There was photos of me playing with Carey Bell and pictures of when I played with Son Seals in the Cook County jail,” Branch said. “We were reflecting about all the great guys that we were privileged to have been around and had been befriended by and associated with. And you know, they’re all but gone. When I first came on the scene, there were hundreds of musicians. I mean, you can still hear blues seven nights a week in Chicago, but not like you could back then. There was just so many more places back in the day to play and there were just so many great, great musicians.”
Branch may not have had some kind of grand scheme on how to further along the cause of the blues when he founded the Sons of the Blues, but that’s just what he’s done some four-plus decades after the fact. Part of that is because for many years now, the music has flowed through his veins with great purpose. Another part of that is because he understands the major – and historical – impact that blues music has had on society over the decades since it was first played and first heard.
“I don’t know that when I entered the fray that I was on any kind of mission, other than to just play this instrument the best that I could,” he said. “And then subsequently, I respected the men and woman that were so good at this and I came to understand the value of the blues and its role in the world. It’s bigger than just the United States, you know? I always say it’s the most powerful music on the planet, it just transcends so many barriers and so many categories. Embarking on a role as an educator with Blues in the Schools for all these decades, I’ve been acutely aware of how important it is to disseminate this information to these young minds, with the hope that they’ll spread it their children or to their friends. It’s important that we remember where this music came from. It did come from hard times and from struggles and it was the soundtrack of the Jim Crow era. It was the soundtrack of the post-slavery era. It has a lot of historical significance and we should never forget that.”
Visit Billy’s website at www.billybranch.com
Photos by Bob Kieser © 2016 Blues Blast Magazine.
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Featured Blues Music Review – 2 of 6
Nick Fishman Blues Band – California Fresh
10 songs time-41:20
You can have the best musicians in the world at you beck and call, but unless you have quality songs and a strong vocalist it is all for naught. Such is the case with drummer-band leader Nick Fishman and his “blues band”. The nine originals and one cover song are enjoyable at the time of listening, but become completely forgotten afterwards. Joshua Cook at first hearing appears to be a passable singer, but after repeated listening’s there is more depth to his “blue-eyed soul” vocals. The talent of the musicians gathered here is beyond reproach and Nick is a solid jazz-influenced drummer. The soloing of the individual players is a treat for the ears. The program here is mostly a mélange of jazz, funk, soul and R&B with a few blues tunes for good measure. At the risk of over using one of my favorite descriptions, this recording grows on you.
The title tune is a jazz instrumental that shows off the exquisite horn section of Ken Moran, Charlie Gurke and Henry Hung, the piano skills of Colin Hogan and the strong drum playing of Nick Fishman. “Make It Good” is ok white boy soul music and Joshua Cook also tosses in a good but brief guitar solo. “Baby Let’s” fairs better in the vocal department and the jazzy electric piano of Colin Hogan is a nice touch. The drums keep the snappy beat.
A nice and slow piano and horn section blues is the simmering “Broke”. A song composed by Little Richard and one of his freaky clones Esquerita, “Freedom Blues”, is spritely contains seemingly endless “nah nah nah nahs”. Kid Anderson’s funky guitar and soloing breath life into “My Girl San Francisco”, a heart felt ode to the city. It also features some energetic trumpet courtesy of Henry Hung. The other instrumental “Extra Simple” is a showcase for jazzy sax and piano excursions.
The final song once again features the guitar playing of Kid Anderson on the R&B flavored “Hole Where My Heart Used To Be”.
The solid musicianship throughout this recording makes up for the lack of any memorable tunes or riffs. The musical interludes are worth the price of admission. Everything here is well intentioned, but they could surely stand some stronger songwriting. It will be well worth it to see what this talented band does next.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
Live Blues Review – Lead Belly Fest
The Lead Belly Fest – Carnegie Hall February 4, 2016
After a successful event at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 2015, the Lead Belly Fest descended upon New York City’s Carnegie Hall. It was entertaining as well as educational. It was also very long, as the expected 2 ½ hour length ended up stretching out to nearly four hours.
An impressive list of twenty performers or so took to the stage, each giving the crowd one or two songs. Some were performed by Lead Belly himself, others were somewhat related to him and his influence on music today. In between acts, informative films were projected on the white Carnegie Hall backdrop, teaching the audience who this Huddie William Ledbetter, the King of the 12-String Guitar is, and how he has influenced many musicians and song writers today; some of whom performed this evening, others speaking on film.
The show’s opening performance came from guitarist Nick Moss and his vocalist Michael Ledbetter (who also happens to be a distant relative of Lead Belly). An acoustic version of “CC Rider” set the evening into motion.
Dom Flemons of the Carolina Chocolate Drops gave a banjo rendition of “Poor Howard”, in addition to being part time host of the evening.
The young Liverpudlian blues guitarist Laurence Jones and his band brought it up a notch with an energetic two song electric blues set.
Tom Chapin took on two of the more popular Lead Belly numbers; “Rock Island Line” and “Midnight Special”.
After a heartwarming introduction by his lovely wife Marie, Walter Trout took to the stage with some dazzling lead guitar work. Opening with his dedication to B,B. King “Say Goodbye To The Blues”, he finished with “T.S.Blues”, a song he identifies with as a survivor of a deadly disease.
Dana Fuchs almost stole the show with her amazing rendition of “Gallow’s Pole” to end the first part of the evening.
Highlights of the second part featured Edgar Winter, though his version of “Tobacco Road”, a standard from his own set, did not work well with the house band tonight.
Jerron ‘B;ind Boy’ Paxton was thoroughly entertaining.
Everybody was waiting for the arrival on stage of Eric Burdon, who performed a killer version of “In The Pines”, followed by one of the songs that catapulted him to fame with his group the Animals, “House of the Rising Sun”, a tune also made famous by Lead Belly.
Vocalist Sari Schorr stunned the crowd with her powerful voice covering “Black Betty”, augmented by the blues guitar wizardry of Innes Sibun.
This was followed by Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s electric set, the acoustics of Carnegie Hall echoing to the notes of his lead guitar playing.
The evening began to close with a touching set by the 87 year old Tom Paley, the last man alive who has played with Lead Belly, and who played on this same stage with him in 1949.
Then finally it was Buddy Guy and his band to instill in us all what the blues is all about.
The planned encore with all participants of “Goodnight Irene” never took place due to timing issues, but it was a good night for Irene and everybody else nonetheless. The last show Lead Belly ever played was at Carnegie Hall in 1949 and this evening showed how his music (and his influence on it) has come full circle.
Photos by Arnie Goodman © 2016. Commentary by Barry Fisch.
Featured Blues Music Review – 3 of 6
Aaron Curtis – River Rising
CD: 10 Songs; 32:34 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock
Many people listen to the blues for the same reasons they watch football: a) it’s loud; b) it’s high-energy; c) it’s addicting; d) it’s fun; and e) it’s tailor-made for drinking and partying. Fans should keep these things in mind while listening to London’s Aaron Curtisand his latest album, River Rising. Gary Grainger, the UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year, describes Aaron’s music as having“a great raw sound,” according to Curtis’ promotional info sheet. Such is consummately true, more so than on other albums. You won’t hear him playing Jimi Hendrix-style riffs, or trying to pull off the same fretwork finesse as Eric Clapton. Aaron sticks to traditional and contemporary blues rhythms, although basic, and compels listeners to turn the volume up. Vocally, he’s reminiscent of The Doors’ Jim Morrison and Warren Zevon (who performed “Werewolves of London”). However, he talk-sings through most of the album, with curiously-flat inflections on his love songs like “Sweet Rollin’ Baby”. With all of that said: Who cares?
This is barroom blues, tailgating blues, and above all, football blues. Complexity’s not necessary. The note that Aaron included with his latest CD contains a promising paragraph: “With his unique 21st-century-meets-old-school approach, Aaron has been rocking his native London and the South East for over ten years. His debut album, I’m Going to Tell You, drew widespread acclaim, and saw him performing venues from London’s Ain’t Nothing But to a headline spot at Ireland’s Cobh Blues Festival. Now, with his latest offering River Rising, Aaron takes another step forward, offering a stripped-down, guitar-and-drums-led sound that hearkens back to the roots of the blues whilst sounding startlingly modern. The album is already getting heavy airplay from top blues DJ’s like Gary Grainger (mentioned earlier) and John Brown.”
In a lot of ways, Europe is even more of a blues continent than North America is. Blues may have been birthed in the U.S., through the literal and figurative labor pains of African-American slaves, but it’s migrated “across the pond” – the Atlantic Ocean – in spectacular style. Unlike some European artists, who sound just as American as the music they play, you can definitely tell that Aaron Curtis is a Brit, and that’s a great thing. With him on ten original tracks (nine plus a ghost track) is Reg Patten on drums. Curtis himself performs on vocals and electric guitar.
The following song shows what’s right and wrong with River Rising:
Track 04: “Mojo Hand” – With a catchy, swinging beat that invites club-goers and football watchers to kick back and have a beer, track four isn’t half-bad. However, Curtis mumbles some of the lyrics, and the sentiments aren’t exactly new: How many mojo hands DON’T contain a “black cat bone”? “Ain’t hearing no back door slam. I’m packing my mojo hand.” How many mojo hands bring bad luck instead of good? One won’t find any on this CD.
When there’s a River Rising in your party playlist, blues fans, make the volume rise too!
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.
Featured Blues Music Review – 4 of 6
Jimmy Burns – It Ain’t Right
15 tracks / 57:58
Like all great blues players, Jimmy Burns has a pretty cool life story, and one that makes his musical approach unique. This Chicago-based musician was born in Mississippi during World War II and was raised on a cotton plantation where he learned how to play guitar. He grew up around Delta blues until his family moved to the Windy City in the mid-1950s. By 1960 he was recording and playing out, and he toured the country until he slowed down his music career in the early 1970s to raise a family and run his barbecue business.
Jimmy got back into the swing of things in the 90s, and began a long-running gig at the Smokedaddy Club in Chicago. Delmark’s Bob Koester found him there and set him up to record his 1996 debut on the label, Leaving Here Walking. This led to an international tour and a new record every three or four years, all of which are very good.
It Ain’t Right is Burns’ latest Delmark Records release, and it was recorded over a few days last February at the Riverside Studio in Chicago. Jimmy took on the vocals, guitar, and harp, and he was joined by his usual crew of Anthony Palmer on guitar, Greg McDaniel on bass, and Bryant “T” Parker on drums and backing vocals. Also along for the ride were Sumito “Ariyo” Ariyoshi on piano (from Billy Branch’s band), the super talented Roosevelt “Mad Hatter” Purifoy on organ, and a killer horn section of Marques Carroll, Chris Neal, and Aaron Getsug. Bringing all of this together was producer Dick Shurman, who you may know from his work with Albert Collins, Magic Slim, Otis Rush and Johnny Winter.
The first two tracks on the disc are originals that were written by Billy Flynn, a superb guitarist and esteemed member of the Chicago blues community. As you would expect, these tunes make the most of Burns’ guitar skills, but they also work great with Jimmy’s rich voice and his more than capable band. “Big Money Problem” has a cool bounce with melodic and bluesy guitar lines and great opportunities for Ariyoshi to work his piano magic. The other song is a nice rhythm and blues ballad, and “Will I Ever Find Somebody?” features Jimmy’s soulful voice along with a very tasteful horn arrangement and Purifoy setting the mood on the organ.
After this, the remainder of the album is an assortment of blues, rhythm and blues, and soul covers, and Burns worked his personality into all of them so that they form a very nice collection of classic American music. It should also be noted that this is a very well produced project with great balance and a very warm sound – Shurman has done his magic once again.
There are a couple of Percy Mayfield songs in the mix, and they have been reworked quite a bit. “Long As You’re Mine” may be the most energetic version you have ever heard, as it goes full-bore R&B with the horns leading the way. And “My Heart is Hanging Heavy” goes the funky soul route, with the fantastic backline presence of McDaniel and Parker and some powerful guitar playing from Burns. There is not enough space to write about all of these songs, but you will surely find one of your favorite artists in the mix somewhere, as there are tunes from Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Junior Wells, and Goree Carter. He even included Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” which has been covered a lot, but Jimmy gave it a super clean uptempo Latin feel which may sound odd on paper, but it works and ends up being a truly unique offering.
A standout track from It Ain’t Right is the straight-up blues song, “Hard Hearted Woman,” which was originally done by Jimmy’s older brother, the late Eddie “Guitar” Burns. The younger Burns’ guitar touch is wonderful and this tune is a touching tribute to a great Detroit bluesman, not to mention a really tasty serving of blues music. A close runner-up is the final track, “Wade in the Water” and this traditional song combines the Mad Hatter’s organ and a collection of lovely vocal harmonies to create a gospel tune that will put a smile on the face of any sinful soul.
Jimmy Burns does not cut a new album very often, but when he does it is perfect and It Ain’t Right is no exception. Jimmy and his band covered a lot of musical ground on this release, and along the way they took a lot of music you are already familiar with and presented it in their own voice. Give the album a listen and see what you think, and if you are in the Chicago area, be sure to check out Burns’ website to see if he has any shows scheduled, it will definitely be worth your time!
Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at rexbass.blogspot.com.
Featured Blues Music Review – 5 of 6
Rich Harper – Ellwood and Me
Kanawha Street Records
CD: 10 Songs; 37:43 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary and Traditional Acoustic Blues
In the blues, as in life, there are no guarantees. Sophisticated CD cover art and a world-famous record label don’t automatically ensure the quality of the music on the album within. Popular endorsements may be strong, but they can also mislead. The reverse is also true. The cover of Los Angeles-based Rich Harper’s seventh release, Ellwood and Me, features a simple photo of Rich, his guitar, and his beloved cat Ellwood by his side. Harper’s label is Kanawha Street Records, which may not be on par with Alligator or Blind Pig, but could be if it keeps featuring talented mavens such as he. Rich’s acoustic album is so marvelous that this reviewer played it for four straight hours, during a marathon PC gaming session of Fallout: New Vegas. Like the game, Ellwood and Me has a classic Old West feel: crisp, unpretentious, and putting listeners in mind of saloons and gunfights at high noon. Ten original songs set a rootin-tootin, good-time mood.
According to Harper’s website, “With the success of their debut CD, Don’t Think Just Play, the Rich Harper Blues Band was not only selected as one of Amazon.com’s prestigious “Emerging New Blues Artists”, but Taxim Records, a German label, joined the group’s growing list of blues fans…Radio stations worldwide welcomed [one of their new CD’s] with open arms, and this time one of the cuts, “As She Moved In (My Guitar Moved Out)”, topped Rolling Stone Magazine’s “MP3 & More Blues Chart” at #1.”
Recorded in Thailand, Sweden and the U.S., this CD features Rich Harper on guitars and vocals, John Stenber on upright bass, Danny Leoni and David Lucas on acoustic bass, Chris Cooke and Sam Orrico on drums, Mats Qwarfordt and Shannon Williford on harmonica, Keith Nolan and Jake Hill on piano and B3 organ, Brian Kramer on National Duolian Resonator guitar, and Bert Dievert on mandolin.
The following three songs are the ones that’ll make die-hard acoustic fans go, “Yee-haw!”
Track 01: “When Dad Paid All the Bills” – Being an adult is grand, except when one has bills in one’s hand. This CD’s opener is an ode to the carefree days of our narrator’s youth: “While Dad made a living working overtime, I was fooling around with only one thing on my mind. Yeah, it was easy then, easy just to chill – and get a thrill. Life was easier when Dad paid all the bills.” The traditional blues rhythm will please purists, as will the catchy sing-along lyrics.
Track 05: “Devil He Done Told Me” – With a haunting intro that would make Stephen King quake in his boots, this song’s about a seductress that even Satan spurned: “The Devil, he done told me he couldn’t keep you in line. You always drove him crazy, always playing with his mind…” Harp player Mats Qwarfordt and mandolinist Brian Kramer play with frenzied fire.
Track 06: “Why (Ally)” – This is one of the best acoustic dancefloor stomps yours truly has ever heard. Jon Stenber provides the irresistible upright bass backbeat, and Chris Cooke joins in on drums. “You did this to me – whyyyyy?” Harper laments, and his voice is pointedly perfect.
Acoustic blues cravers, kick up your heels to Ellwood and Me!
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.
Featured Blues Music Review – 6 of 6
Tomislav Goluban and Nebojša Buhin – For a Friend & Brother
CD: 12 Songs; 40:18 Minutes
Styles: Instrumental Blues, Contemporary Electric Blues, Harmonica Blues
Just how far has the influence of this magazine’s favorite subject spread around the world? So far, yours truly has reviewed blues CD’s from Australia, Africa, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, and the UK. Tomislav Goluban and Nebojša Buhin provide an exciting entry to this list: Croatia.
Their latest album on the Spona label, For a Friend & Brother, contains twelve instrumentals dedicated to Nebojša’s brother Dražen, who passed away in 2012. From the most excruciating loss a human being suffers can come some of the most beautiful art s/he can create. Yes, the blues IS beautiful, as Goluban and Buhin’s masterpieces prove. This duo knows the purpose of instrumental music is twofold: to set a mood, and to let listeners achieve a powerful emotional release in the absence of lyrics. Certain fans might ask, “Where’s the ‘baby, baby, baby’, or traditional rhythms we’re used to hearing?” No one will find any of that on this album, but never fear. Its blues is as pure as it comes.
Tomislav Goluban has been honing his harp skills since 1997, and his sixth studio album, Blow Junkie, debuted at #49 on the Roots Music Chart. “Nebo” Buhin has played in front of renowned guitar masters such as Johnny Winter and Greg Koch. Both of them have performed at International Blues Challenges in Memphis, TN. Hopefully, their names will be hailed far and wide in the U.S., because all of their songs on this rip-roaring CD deserve national airplay.
It boasts a staggering total of nineteen musicians – not only Goluban on harps and Buhin on guitars, but their compatriots as well: Vlado Simich Vava on slide guitar; guitarist Mike Sponza; bassist Mario Mikor; Jurica Štelma on double bass; Mladen Malek and Igor Vugrek on drums; keyboardists Jurica Leikauff and Goran Kovačić; pianist Bruno Krajcar, Toni Eterović on synth; Boris Šaronja and Zvonimir Bajević on trumpet; Robert Polgar on saxophone; Mario Šincek on trombone, Danko Burić on viola; Igor Križanić on kalimba; Darka Veronica Bisćan on violoncello; Lela Kaplowitz on backing vocals (track nine), and also on tap dance with Lucia Kaplowitz and Bojan Valentić.
It’s truly impossible to pick the best songs on this album, so let’s go 1-2-3, for simplicity’s sake:
Track 01: “Won’t You” – Haunting, melodic, and slow, the opener captures the angst of lost love without saying so out loud. Here, Goluban’s harp does all the talking, or should I say, screaming. Lovelier than that, however, is Boris Šaronja’s tantalizing trumpet. This is a song for long, cold nights alone, perhaps with a bottle of wine for sole company.
Track 02: “St. Martin” – Directly after that, it’s time for a throw-down boogie! Whoever says that string instruments have no place in the blues hasn’t heard Danko Burić’s va-va-voom viola. Perhaps the catchiest, however, is a bouncy bass backbeat, courtesy of Mario Mikor. Such a track is perfect for live shows, whether at outdoor festivals or indoor bars. Yee-haw!
Track 03: “Thunder Night” – Get ready to tell some ghost stories, blues fans, on a dark and stormy – well, you know. With an intro that would make Edgar Allan Poe as well as Stephen King proud, Goluban’s harmonica wails tales of specters past and gone. Jurica Leikauff’s keyboards add a psychedelic touch.
For a Friend & Brother is a monumental tribute to instrumental blues fans everywhere!
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.
Blues Society News
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Mississippi Valley Blues Society – Davenport, IA
The Mississippi Valley Blues Festival is returning to LeClaire Park, Davenport, Iowa for the 31st year on July 1 and 2, 2016. More than 10 acts will be booked, bringing the audience an array of Blues music for 2-days starting at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, July 1 and 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 2. Admission tickets will go on sale soon.
The acts for weekend are still being scheduled and the full lineup will be announced shortly. “We want the 2016 lineup to reach a wide audience while maintaining our Blues roots,” says Steve Heston, President of the Mississippi Valley Blues Society. “We’re confident this year’s lineup, featuring local, regional, and national Blues acts, will do just that and we look forward to celebrating our thirty-first year with music fans from around the world.”
In 2016, guests can expect the return of favorite attractions such as Blueskool along with some new experiences which will also debut at the festival this year. MVBS is still seeking corporate and individual sponsorship to help offset this year’s event expenses. Individuals can give monetarily during the months leading up to the festival through attending the scheduled fundraising events and by donating through a Go-Fund-Me campaign. For additional corporate and individual sponsorship information visit www.mvbs.org.
MVBS’ mission is to present a 2-day Blues music experience along the Mississippi River that will maintain the integrity of the festival from the past 30 years.www.mvbs.org
The Lowcountry Blues Society – Charleston, SC
The Lowcountry Blues Society is pleased to announce the 12th annual Blues By the Sea featuring Mississippi Heat, Mac Arnold & Plate Full of Blues and Randy McAllister, Sunday, April 10, 230-7 pm at Freshfields Village Green, Kiawah Island, SC. (40 mins SE of Charleston)
The event is FREE and is brought to you by the Kiawah Island Cultural Events Fund. Rain or shine (we are tented) Bring a lawn chair or blanket, coolers OK! A great time for the entire family! http://lowcountrybluesclub.blogspot.com
Blues Society of Central PA – Harrisburg, PA
The Blues Society of Central PA proudly presents the Mississippi Delta Blues of 83 year old Leo “Bud” Welch with Dixie Street on Saturday, March 5th 8:00 PM EST at Champions Sports Bar 300 2nd Street Highspire, PA 17034 Admission $10.00
Also, the Blues Society of Central PA welcomes Mark Hummel’s Golden State Lone Star Revue featuring Mark Hummel, Anson Funderburgh, Little Charley Baty with Wes Starr and R.W. Grigsby on Sunday, April 17th 8:00 PM EST at Champions Sports Bar 300 2nd Street Highspire, PA 17034 Admission $15.00.
The Blues Society of Central PA hosts an open blues jam every Thursday evening for 17 years running at Champions Sports Bar, 300 2nd St. Highspire, PA 17034 8:00 PM EST FREE Please drop by and join us if you’re in the central PA area! www.bscpblues.org
The Great Northern Blues Society – Wausau, WI
The Great Northern Blues Society (GNBS) announces that they are sponsoring a Blues In Schools (BITS) event featuring Guitarist and educator Greg Koch. Greg will be coming to the Wausau Area to perform live on Glen Moberg’s “Route 51” Public Radio Program on Thursday morning 3/3/16.
“Route 51” can be heard on AM 930 WLBL Auburndale/Stevens Point, 91.9 WLBL Wausau, 90.3 WHBM Park Falls, 89.9 WHSF Rhinelander/Eagle River, and 89.1 WHAA Adams/Wisconsin Rapids Thursdays at 10 a.m. It is also repeated Fridays at 7 p.m. on 90.9 WHRM Wausau.
Greg has established himself within six-string circles as a masterful technician, accomplished clinician (for Fender) and general bad-ass guitar-picker. Guitar Player magazine hailed him as “fiendishly talented”.
This event is free to the public, and will take place at 10:00AM on 3/3/16 in the James F. Veninga Theater on the UWMC Campus at 625 Stewart Ave Wausau, WI
Also the Great Northern Blues Society presents the 17th Annual Blues Café on Saturday 3/12/16 in the beautiful Historically Registered Rothschild Pavilion near Wausau, WI. Five Great Bands, plus an acoustic act to perform near the large stone fireplace between main-stage acts.
Acts include Aaron Williams & the HooDoo, Left Lane Cruiser, Ray Fuller & the Blues Rockers, The Lionel Young Band and Albert Cummings as the headliner.
Dan Phelps will be entertaining acoustically during changeovers. Cold Beverages of your choice, and multiple food vendors on site all day.
Come shake your tail-feathers, warm your cockles by the fireplace, and kickoff Spring 2016 at our 17th Annual Houserockin’ Blues Party! $15 in advance, and $20 at the door. Children under 12 free if accompanied by an adult parent, or guardian. See www.gnbs.org for details. (Tickets will be available for purchase on the website after the first of the year.)
Crossroads Blues Society – Byron, IL
Crossroads has lots of great blues events planned for 2016!
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 February, Dan Phelps will be doing a two week in school BITS residency with East HS teaching song writing and guitar. The residency will culminate in an evening show on March 17th at East HS at 630 PM. Dan and the students will be performing the songs they wrote and showing the music videos they created based on the novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” This event is free and open to the public.
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: 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.
Coco Montoyo comes to Rockford on Friday, March 25 at 8 PM. The Rockford Park District’s Nordlof Center is home to the J.R. Sullivan Theater where the show will be held. Tickets are available at the box office or on line at http://crossroadsbluessociety.blogspot.com; advanced tickets are $15 and the cost will be $20 at the door if not sold out.
Stay tuned for more upcoming events! www.crossroadsbluessociety.com
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. Feb. 29 – Country Bill & The Cadillac Daddies, March 7 – Black Magic Johnson, Mar. 14 – Lewis Cowdrey, Mar. 21 – 24th Street Wailers, Mar. 28 – Kirk Brown Band, April 4 – Joe Moss Band, April 11 – Kilborn Alley Blues Band, April 18 – Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch, April 25 – The Bruce Katz Band. www.icbluesclub.org
Additional ICBC and ICBC partnered shows: Mar. 3 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm w/ guest host Mary Jo Curry, Mar. 17 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm, w/ guest host Back Pack Jones, April 7 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm, April 21 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm
Also March 26 is the Illinois Central Blues Club 30th Anniverasary Celebration @ Knights of Columbus on Meadowbrook – Shawn Holt, headlining, w/opening act Robert Sampson.
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