Issue 11-41 October 12, 2017

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Cover photo © 2017 Roland Kempfner

 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with Karen Lovely. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Davis Coen, Boogie Patrol, Tom Leggett, Stacy Jones, Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, The Nighthawks, The Milligan Vaughan Project and Susanne Plahl and the Lightning Rod.

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

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 Blues Wanderings 

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We had a great time at the King Biscuit Blues Fest last weekend. Good weather and smokin’ Blues. Some of the great guitar players they featured included Larry McCray, Laura Chavez, Warren Hayes and Tab Benoit. We will have a complete photo review of the fest in an upcoming issue.


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Blues Blast Magazine is a great way to promote the Blues. More than 36,000 opt-in Blues fans read our magazine each week. They are located in all 50 states and in more than 90 countries. Our website gets more than 75,000 visitors each month.

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

davis coen cd imageDavis Coen – These Things Shall Pass

Soundview Label

12 Tracks/43:43

In the last seventeen years, singer and songwriter Davis Coen has had a prolific career, at least based on the fact that he now has ten recordings on his resume. Typically his music is a mix of blues and country. However, he has long harbored a desire to record an album that features his spiritual influences. Enlisting a number of friends to help out, Coen delivers a primer on spiritual salvation with eight original hymns, two co-written, and four covers.

Drummer Ryan Rogers establishes a solid foundation on the opener, “Working For Jesus,” written by the legendary Willie Mitchell and originally done by Willie Banks and the Messengers. Coen expounds on the difficulties of maintaining the faith as Eric Carlton on organ creates the appropriate atmosphere.

The title track, written by Stuart Hamblen, adds the singer’s country influences, thanks to the pedal steel guitar of Kell Kellum. “Lesser Man” is built around Carlton on piano and an earnest vocal from Coen. Guitarist Patrick McClary joins the leader for several duets, “Saint Christopher” being a gently rollicking blues-country-gospel highlight while “Jesus’ Hand,” which the two singers wrote, dials up the gospel fever over the Nathan Robbins thumping bass work.

Standout tracks include “Diamonds In Your Back Yard,” a song reminding listeners that joy is all around us, waiting to be discovered. Coen is equally compelling on “Shifting The Tide,” sharing his passion with a vocal chorus to create a Sunday experience. The stripped-down arrangement for “You Are the Onliest (God I Know)” leaves plenty of space for the singer’s personal testament on faith. Kellum’s returns on “Stand By You,” setting up an stimulating musical interplay between his pedal steel and Carlton on piano. Coen’s measured approach fails to inspire on two stalwart hymns, “What A Friend We Have In Jesus” and “Old Rugger Cross,” the later getting a boost from Jonny Ciaramitaro on mandolin. Several other artists, singer Damein Wash and bass player Stuart Cole, also make contributions to the project.

Davis Coen can cross this one off his bucket list. While this project is centered on faith and religion, the singer refrains from trying to recreate the passionate performances of the best gospel groups. He utilizes a laid-back style that suits his abilities, and allows him to deliver his message utilizing a range of styles. It is a solid effort from this well-traveled musician, aimed at those who feel a need for redemption.

Reviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!

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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

boogie patrol cd imageBoogie Patrol – Man On Fire


10 Tracks/36:44

Based out of Edmonton in Western Canada, Boogie Patrol has been around for a decade, garnering lots of praise for their energetic live shows. If their latest recording is indicative of the band’s live performances, they definitely are a band worth seeing. Half of the ten tracks on their fourth release were also recorded for an album released last year, capturing the band on stage.

The band hits it hard right from the start, a three piece horn section surrounding Rott’n Dan Shinnan’s gritty vocal, getting a further assist from guest Marc Arnould on keyboards on a track that generates plenty of uptown funk. Next up, the rhythm section of Nigel Gale on bass and Emmet VanEtten on drums lay down a rapid shuffle on “Whole Lotta Gravy,” featuring Shinnan blowing some harp while the twin guitars of Yuji Ihara and Chad Holtzman are featured. Shinnan shows his strength as a vocalist on “Foolish Mind,” which is built around a Stones-like guitar riff. The band creates a back-porch feel on “Just Wanna,” another track with an alluring Shinnan vocal turn.

The singer shows his versatility on the soulful ballad “Hard To Tell You,” then the slides into a smooth groove as they pay tribute to a woman’s mighty attributes on “Shaker Down Below”. Shinnan’s harp leads the way on the frantic, boogie-infused “Easy To See” before switching back to the funk on the lively run-through of “Got One On Ya”. Power guitar chords, boisterous vocals, and howling harp keep “Let’s Get Randy” interesting, leading to the title track to close the disc. Once again, the horns – Kim Beachum on trumpet, Gareth Hughes on tenor sax, and Carsten Rubeling on trombone with arrangements by Murray Pulver – cushion the raw vocal from Shinnan until one last guitar chord brings the proceedings to a close.

This is the type of disc you could play at your next party to keep your guests entertained and, for those so inclined, dancing in your living room. Ten originals with plenty of hooks delivered with an abundance of enthusiasm and a mixture of styles that make it a real pleasure to listen to!

Reviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!

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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

tom leggett cd imageTom Leggett – Jewel in My Crown

Self Release

10 tracks / 39:11

Tom Leggett has been in the music business since he was a teen growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, but the influences of his new hometown, New Orleans, have added a distinct flavor and character to his expression of music, and his tunes certainly have a lot of character! His sophomore solo album, Jewel in My Crown, is a cool collection of ten original songs that he performed with some of the finest musicians in the Crescent City.

New Orleans has helped to make Tom what he is today. After arriving in town in the late 1990s, he honed his craft with the legendary jazz guitar instructor Hank Mackie, and soon after founded Idletime, a jazz-funk band that played hundreds of gigs per year. After the terrible hurricane season of 2005 took its toll on the Crescent City and his bandmates, Leggett started working as a guitarist wherever he was needed, which gave him the opportunity to play with an amazing variety of quality talent. In 2013 Tom released his debut album, Spinnin’ My Wheels, and now he fronts his own blues and roots rock band.

Jewel in My Crown has ten original songs that were written by Leggett, and the studio crew includes a nice selection of that aforementioned NOLA talent. Tom produced the album and handled the vocals and guitars, and the first three tracks include Scott Jackson on bass, Terrence Houston on drums, Rik Fletcher on piano, and the horns of Leon Brown, James Martin, and Terrance Taplin.

The title track comes up first, and “Jewel in My Crown” is an upbeat song of love and life, with a warm New Orleans vibe, a heavy bass line, and a warm horn arrangement that works well with the organ of Mikey “B-3” Burkart. There is a similar feel with “Little Things,” which features a sublime trumpet solo from Brown, and it is fun to listen to Leggett’s voice as it has an edge that gives it a unique character. Then band shifts into a funky rock mode for “She Prays,” giving Tom the chance to throw down some highly competent guitar leads.

The horns take a break after this first part of the set, and Derek Eidson takes over on bass, which takes the forefront on a fine tribute to NOLA, and “Further I Roam” is a refreshing reggae tune with a catchy chorus. The listener will find a similar syncopated beat on “Happy Song,” which contains a message of hope in an otherwise troubled world. Leggett also works a love song into the mix, and “This Time” is an easy-going 1950s style ballad with cool vocal harmonies, a more modern guitar tone, and a nice touch of B-3 from Burkart.

Setting up the finale is “Come on Back Home” which has the feel of an Irish pub song with its ¾ time signature and its straightforward lyrics. Then, after 40 minutes, the set finishes up with “Whiskey Goin’ Round,” a laid-back roadhouse tune that with more than enough drinking references plus some lovely harp work from Jimmy Sweetwater and jazzy piano from Tom Worrell.

Tom Leggett did well with Jewel in My Crown, as the songs are well written with vivid stories and imagery, and his fellow musicians are all top-shelf selections. This is a nice collection of roots, blues, and rock, which ends up being a cool bit of Americana. If you dig the New Orleans scene, this album would be a fine addition to your collection, and if you are going to be in the Big Easy make sure you check Tom’s website for the gig list, as he is a fixture of the club scene there.

Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at

 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

stacy jones cd imageStacy Jones – Love Is Everywhere

Self-Release – 2017

11 tracks; 43 minutes

Stacy Jones is based in the Pacific Northwest and although she is still relatively young this is her seventh album release. A multi-instrumentalist, Stacy plays acoustic, rhythm guitar and dobro, harmonica, Hammond B3 and tack piano on this record, as well as handling all lead vocals. Stacy also wrote all the songs bar one and she produced the album – phew, that is real multi-tasking in action! Her band is Jeff Menteer on electric guitar, Tom Jones (Stacy’s Dad, not the Welsh singer) on bass and Rick Bowen on drums.

The album opens impressively with “Mojo Potion #61 &49” which perhaps reflects Stacy’s own story of finding the blues at the crossroads. The tune adds Sean Denton on second guitar and Angelo Ortiz on washboard, giving it both a rocking blues and a second line New Orleans feel. That and the closer “I’ll Be On My Way” are the closest to straight blues tunes here though Lee Oskar’s duel on harmonica with Stacy on “Stomp Jump Boogie”, written by Jeff and the band, is an excellent instrumental feature. In another change of style “One Stop Light” is a rapid-fire jump blues/jazz piece with Mike Marinig’s sax added to good effect.

Elsewhere the album has some attractive playing in non-blues contexts: “Wait For Heaven” is a slower tune with excellent guitar from Jeff and sad lyrics dedicated to a departed friend. Stacy does seem to force her voice a little on the quieter numbers, as here and on the ballad “Can’t You Be Mine”. Stacy wrote “Love Is Everywhere” after the Orlando nightclub tragedy, another quieter number with an exciting rock guitar solo on the outro. Stacy moves into a country vein on two songs towards the end of the album: “Gotta Get Over You” is a fun tune with duelling harp and guitar while Tracy wants to avoid sentimental stereoptypes as she declares that “Tough Girls Never Cry” – “I’m a tough girl, please don’t buy me flowers, I like it much better when you tell me me how they just die.” Stacy makes good use of a bass line influenced by “These Boots Are Made For Walking” on the jaunty “Can’t Find Love” and sounds very much like Sheryl Crow here, a comparison that comes to mind again on “I Fell In Love”, a joyful celebration.

This album is not all blues but does have some strong songs and performances, sufficient to be of interest to Blues Blast readers.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

kenny wayne shepherd cd imageKenny Wayne Shepherd Band – Lay It On Down

Concord Music Group – 2017

10 tracks; 41 minutes

The band’s 2014 album Goin’ Home revisited some tried and tested blues favourites but this time around KWS returns with an album of contemporary blues rock full of the sort of hooks and melodies that he and his band are really good at. The band remains Noah Hunt on lead vocals, Chris Layton on drums, Kevin McCormick on bass and newcomer Jimmy Gorman on keys, Kenny Wayne handling all guitar duties and sharing the vocals with Noah. Additional musicians are co-producer Marshall Altman (percussion, keys, B/V’s), Russ Pahl (pedal steel), Carlos Sosa (sax), Raul Vallejo (trombone) and Paul Armstrong (trumpet). Kenny wrote all the material here with assistance from a number of Nashville writers such as Dylan Altman, Danny Myrick, Keith Stegall and Brian D. Maher as well as long-time collaborators, Tia Sillers and Mark Selby. The songs cover quite a range from straight down the line rockers to big production ballads, acoustic tunes and even some country influences, the emphasis being more on the songs than on extensive soloing.

Noah Hunt has always been a magnificent vocalist but Kenny holds his own on several songs on which he leads, perhaps the result of his experience sharing vocals with Stephen Stills in The Rides. Kenny certainly sounds utterly convincing on “Baby Got Gone” which makes a great opening cut with all the ingredients present and correct: a rousing chorus, short and interesting guitar solo. “Diamonds & Gold” adds horns to the mix on another uptempo cut that points an accusing finger at the excesses of some people and features another great chorus, Kenny laying down some heavy wah-wah. “Nothing But The Night” brings Noah to the mike sounding pretty sexy/romantic on a mid-tempo tune with a real groove to it, Kenny producing a ‘sit up and listen’ solo.

“Hard Lesson Learned” shows its Nashville roots with Russ’ weeping pedal steel, the harmonies giving the song an Eagles feel, Noah singing commandingly in a different style and Kenny adding some nice touches on guitar. The first of two KWS/Sillers/Selby songs is the title track, a ballad which Kenny sings in a wistful manner as well as playing some delightful acoustic guitar. The song is about broken dreams: “You flew for a while with kingpins and kings, they’d snap their fingers and you’d sing. They’d take what they want, tell you sweet lies, in the cold bed of dawn leave you to cry. Who broke your will now honey, who stole your dreams like money?” Their second collaboration is “Louisiana Rain”, a superb ballad sung impressively by Noah, the choral harmonies with Kenny spot on and a lovely short solo. Fans will recall that this is the team that also wrote “Blue On Black” and it is sad to note that Mark passed away just after this album was released.

“She’s $$$” finds Noah admiring a lady who may just be out of his reach, an uptempo tune with some country influences while “Down For Love” rides Jimmy’s organ before Kenny launches a wide-ranging solo to remind long-term fans that he is still a formidable axe-man. Kenny’s Rn’B flavoured rhythm work sets a frantic pace on “How Low Can You Go” before he pulls out a fleet-fingered solo, possibly the song here with the highest blues content. Album closer “Ride Of Your Life” plays out a fictional ride out of town, combining Kenny’s enthusiasm for cars and guitars, Noah sounding suitably macho in his vocal delivery.

Readers will note that the word ‘blues’ has been little used in this review. This is a very good album with good songs, well played and sung, but there is little blues here. Nevertheless, it is a fine rock album with hints of blues, notably in Kenny’s guitar, and is well worth investigating, both for long-term fans or for those who might be new to KWS’ music.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

the nighthawks cd imageThe Nighthawks – All You Gotta Do

EllerSoul Records – 2017

12 tracks; 43 minutes

Over recent years The Nighthawks have produced a regular series of albums, all of which include a blend of straight up Chicago blues, rock and roll, country and garage rock. Jimmy Thackery was a Nighthawk in the early days and their discography goes back to 1974. The band still comes from DC and is a very stable unit of original harpist Mark Wenner, Paul Bell on guitar, Johnny Castle on bass and Mark Stutso on drums; as the CD cover states, “everyone sings”, all bar Paul taking turns to lead. The typically eclectic mix of material includes four originals and a wide range of covers befitting the varied style.

Wenner leads the way with a great take on a Brenda Lee hit “That’s All You Gotta Do” before Stutso sings the moving “When I Go Away”, written by Larry Campbell for the late Levon Helm, a song sure to bring a tear to the eye. The Nighthawks always include some Muddy Waters and “Baby, I Want To Be Loved” is a classic Willie Dixon song played here at a slower speed with great harp work. Paul’s torrid slide is a feature of Randy Newman’s atmospheric “Let’s Burn Down The Cornfield”, a song the band learned for a tribute to Randy held in DC and which then stayed in the set.

Johnny Castle’s rocking “Another Day” points an accusing finger at some of the government’s actions and Stutso’s “Voodoo Doll” finds the singing drummer in trouble: “my feet swell up, my elbow hurts, I done bumped into the wall, somebody’s sticking pins in my voodoo doll”! Another blues classic, Sonny Boy II’s “Ninety Nine” gives Wenner the chance to play some very low register harp. A co-write with Norman Nardini, “Three Times Your Fool” is reprised from Stutso’s solo album and is a soulful ballad with expressive vocals, Wenner managing to sound like a horn section at times. It is perhaps worth mentioning that there are no additional musicians on this album, everything you hear is from the four band members only.

Wenner sings Jesse Winchester’s “Isn’t That So”, a song he learned at a jam which adds a hint of country, especially in the echoey guitar. RL Burnside’s Hill Country style seems an unlikely pairing with The Nighthawks but their slide-driven, mainly instrumental take on “Snake Drive” works well before a completely instrumental take on “Frère Jacques” that Wenner calls “Blues For Brother John”, created for use in harmonica teaching and providing an almost jazzy platform to which Paul responds on guitar. The album closes with Johnny singing Ed Cobb’s 1966 song “Dirty Water”, a tale of life on the rough side of Washington, DC. and Paul pulling out a solo that includes a Beatles tease.

As always, The Nighthawks provide an entertaining range of material on another album that their many fans will enjoy.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 8 

miller vaughan project cd imageThe Milligan Vaughan Project – MVP

Mark One Records

11 songs – 43 minutes

Some albums carry an imprimatur before one actually hears the music. Take MVP, for example, the debut album from The Milligan Vaughan Project. Any band with ex-Storyville singer and front man, Malford Milligan, and Royal Southern Brotherhood guitarist (and scion of the Vaughan clan), Tyrone Vaughan, is going to be a fascinating prospect. Add in all-star backing from Chris Maresh and Jeff Hayes on bass; Brannen Temple and Kenneth Furr on drums; Michael Ramos and Jay D. Stiles on keyboards; David Grissom and Jorge Castillo on guitars; and Mike Cross on backing vocals, and things look even more enticing. And the 11 songs on MVP are a smart mix of originals with a couple of classic covers and some inspired lesser-known choices. Even the photos on the album cover depict Milligan and Vaughan looking impossibly cool.

It is perhaps surprising, therefore, that when the music does kick off, it sounds closer to the heavy blues-rock of AC/DC or early Whitesnake than something that should be reviewed in Blues Blast Magazine. The opening track, “Soul Satisfaction”, was written by David Grissom and Davey Knowles, but with its over-driven guitars, stop-start verse riff, and keyboard waves, it would not have sounded out of place being played by Dokken on MTV in 1985. “Dangerous Eyes”, which follows, is another riff-based heavy rock song reflecting an ‘80s influence, although it does contain some fine slide guitar. By the time of the pop-rock of Vaughan’s “Little Bit Of Heaven”, it is clear that MVP is not a blues album.

There are some heavy blues on the album in the shuffle of the Milligan/Vaughan original “Driving You” (with a cool ascending guitar riff on the bridge), the stuttering grind of “Devil’s Breath” and Buddy Guy’s “Leave My Girl Alone”, but even then each track is played with such muscularity and assertive power that any blues present can only be viewed through a rock prism.

There is plenty of good music to enjoy on the MVP. The funky workout “Compared To What” (originally popularised by Les McCann in 1969) is given a fresh breath of life as its original anti-Vietnam war message is applied to the modern day. The Rev. James Cleveland’s wonderful gospel song “Two Wings” is played with just Vaughan’s strummed acoustic guitar backing Milligan’s soaring voice. The gentle, Clapton-esque ballad “Here I Am” also features a superb vocal from Milligan. Indeed, Milligan sings well throughout in his endearingly rough, rasping vocal style and Vaughan’s guitar stylings reflect the taste and restraint often found in the best Texas players. The album is also expertly produced by Grissom and Omar Vallejo.

Two bonus live tracks close out the album, the Grissom-penned “What Passes For Love” (also previously recorded by John Mayall) and the Freddie King classic, “Palace Of The King”. Unfortunately, the poor recording quality does little to convey the dynamism or potential of the band in a live setting.

If you are looking for a modern blues album, then MVP is not what you are looking for. If, however, you enjoy hard-hitting, guitar-led, classic blues-rock that sits firmly at the rock end of the blues-rock spectrum, then this album is definitely worth investigating.

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 Review – 8 of 8 

susanne plahl cd imageSusanne Plahl and the Lightning Rod – Colours

Styx Records

CD: 14 Songs, 60:50 Minutes

Styles: Jazz-Influenced Electric Blues, “Eclectic” Blues, Ensemble Blues, All Original Songs

I couldn’t help but think of Lewis Carroll, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, when I beheld the cover art of I, from Austria’s Susanne Plahl and the Lightning Rod. There certainly are a great many of them, on the outside and the inside of this CD. Its instrumentation explodes with vibrant grandiosity, going all out like the grand finale of America’s 4th of July fireworks. Don’t linger too long on any one musical shade – just enjoy the bang. Paradoxically, it’s Plahl’s voice that lacks sizzle, for the most part, more Sheryl Crow than Bonnie Raitt or Samantha Fish. (In Ms. Wetnight’s humble opinion, what makes Crow’s songs great are their catchy hooks and choruses, not how long Sheryl can hold a high note.) In Plahl’s defense, however, she’s found a niche in the subgenre of what I call “eclectic blues,” especially through the kaleidoscope of jazz. A similar artist is Israel’s Eleanor Tallie, whom I’ve seen and enjoyed live more than once. All of the fourteen tracks here are original, but none would please purists who enjoy the old masters.

According to Susanne’s promotional information sheet in English (her website is in German), “Susanne grew up singing along with her Beatles and Stones tapes while paying close attention to the harmonies. She discovered Bo Diddley as a youngster and was blown away by the rhythm. A few years later, she found herself in a garage band, but was dissatisfied with her then-side role as a singer. She decided to pick up the harp after meeting a harp player from the Viennese blues scene with extensive knowledge of the instrument. This move gave her more perspective and opened the door to a much wider musical range. From 1994 to 1999, as front woman of the Moondogs, a Southern rock and blues band, she opened for international stars like Eric Burdon, Colosseum, Spencer Davis, Little Feat, Chicken Shack, Rare Earth, Mick Taylor, Mother’s Finest, Molly Hatchet and Alvin Lee.”

Performing alongside lead vocalist and harpist Plahl are Stephan Kutscher on guitar; Constanze “Consti” Höffinger on bass and vocals; Christoph Kögler on keys and vocals, and Reinhard Höbart on drums. Special guests include Herby Dunkel on guitars; Benji Hösel on upright bass; Peter Müller on drums, and Steve Criss on background vocals.

The following song sounds the most like the kind of blues most fans love to hear. It’s raw, rough-and-tumble, and has slide guitar slicker than the roof of a kid’s mouth on Halloween night.

Track 02: “Restless Blues” – Just like Alice in Wonderland, we’ve all felt the itch to wander. “Sometimes the world is wicked. Sometimes the world is strange,” comments Suzanne, and who among us can say they haven’t felt the same way? Paired with Plahl’s haunting harp and Benji Hösel’s insistent upright bass, her voice gives shape to feelings many of us wish we could act upon. “I want to see the world. I want to know how to live, ‘cause life is way too short, and I’ve got too much to give.”

Even though Susanne Plahl’s voice could use more Colours, this CD blazes with eclectic glory!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 38 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

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 Featured Blues Interview – Karen Lovely 

karen lovely photo 1Most people would feel truly blessed to be able to earn a living doing something that they love. Karen Lovely certainly appreciates the opportunities that life has presented to her, particularly due the struggles she dealt with prior to starting her career.

“Singing is everything! Physically, I will go into withdrawal if I go too long without singing. It is catharsis for me, especially the live performances. One of the things I love about the blues is that it isn’t just a young & pretty music like pop. The blues community doesn’t shut out older people, we embrace them. It is music for people who really care about music”.

Growing up in Boston as the oldest of nine children, Lovely was surrounded by the voices of her mother and grandmother, who were always singing. “ My grandmother had old Victrolas and phonographs, so we would listen to records together. She also taught me how to dance the foxtrot, the Charleston, and other dances from earlier years. I would pick the record, wind up the Victrola, and we would dance together. The first song that I fell in love with was Billie Holiday singing “Pennies From Heaven”. The content qualifies as blues. It was my grandmother’s favorite song, so I sang it for her when she passed away”.

Lovely’s family lived in an ethnically diverse area in the shadow of the Mystic River Bridge, then known as the Tobin Bridge. She bought a lot of rhythm and blues 45’s, as that music was very popular at that time. Her musical training started with piano and guitar lessons while she honed her vocal skills in the local Catholic church choir, a religion not held in the highest regard at the time. But one event changed all that.

“When John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States, it was a huge moment for my family, our neighborhood, and the city. It was remarkable that a Catholic became President. My family was always politically active. I was very aware of civil rights issues growing up. For all of it’s diversity,

Boston has some of the most ethnically intolerant neighborhoods. I was keenly aware of social injustice and also that I had a part in making the world a better place. My family always voted and I raised both of my children to do the same”.

The singer did some traveling, with stops in Los Angeles for nine years, London for a year, and time in Portland, Maine before settling in Oregon twenty years ago. Breaking out of an abusive relationship, Lovely spent a year living on the streets. “That really colored everything I’ve done after that. It showed me the best, and the worst, in life. It was an eye-opening experience that made me sensitive to a lot of issues. It led to my involvement in domestic violence advocacy and outreach. Ten percent of the money that I raised through crowd-funding for my latest recording, Fish Outta Water, was donated to RAINN, the nation’s largest organization that works with victims of sexual assault”. (

“For each one of my albums, I write songs that specifically deal with social issues like homelessness, domestic violence, addiction, mental illness, and suicide. I am trying to not just raise awareness, but to also provide avenues for people to get help and to learn to recognize when people do in fact need help. I see homelessness in a different way due to my experiences. As an artist, I am blessed to have a platform to reach people, to help build a world of zero tolerance, to offset some of the darkness out there”.

“My music has pretty much stuck to social issues, not politics. But with the way recent elections have gone, I specifically chose to include some political songs on my latest recording. That is why I decided to work with producer Eric Corne. He is a great writer of that type of song – “Waking Up The Dead,” “Molotov Cocktail”.

karen lovely photo 2Eric is Canadian, so he is looking at it saying, holy cow, did this really happen in the States? After the progress in recent years, it just exploded overnight. People need to research candidates and better understand the consequences of voting. I am disgusted that half of our country didn’t vote. And there are groups looking at just how much of our election was actually manipulated. We think of our country as a democracy but it is horrifying to realize how quickly the election process exploded”.

“Growing up, I watched Walter Cronkite, when journalism was revered. We are a bit naive, not used to fake news, so we got fooled. And the media doesn’t always show us what is actually happening. Right now, there are huge protests against Putin’ taking place in Russia, but we don’t ever see coverage of those protests in mainstream media. The protesters are trying to expose the corruption of their government. I saw a picture of an empty auditorium. There was a piece of paper with the name and picture of a journalist affixed to the back of each seat. They were journalists murdered during Putin’s government. Every seat had a piece of paper”.

The time she spent living on the streets had a profound impact on Lovely’s view of life and the world. She cautions that many of us are not too far insulated from being in a similar situation. “It is easier to end up homeless than anyone could ever imagine. Most of us know we are a paycheck away from living on the streets, unless you have good resources like family and friends. Many families are living paycheck to paycheck. I’m sure there are a few out there, but I don’t know any rich blues musicians. We struggle to get by like everyone else”.

“Situations of domestic violence cut across any social-economic bracket, across all considerations of race, religion, or sexual preference. It is not easy for women to uproot their family and move away. We don’t have all of the resources we need to do that. For me, it was a decision not to stay in an abusive relationship, so I left everything behind. My former partner had complete control over my financial life, so it took me a long time to work my way back. It took a year to save up enough to get my own apartment, which was hard on me and my son”.

“At the time, I was a working musician trying to tour. As a society, we have failed in a lot of ways to provide resources to take care of people. A large part of the homeless population are teenagers who have run away from home to escape physical or sexually abusive family situations. They think they are safer on the streets that at home. And I have lost several friends to suicide because they didn’t get adequate intervention. When you are homeless, you tend to be very quiet about it. Very few people knew about my situation during the year I was dealing with it. I was ashamed, embarrassed. And I felt bad as a parent that my son was going through it with me. That is why I work so hard to raise awareness for domestic violence and mental illness”.

Lovely has always wanted to sing. When she tried out for the choir, she hoped to get selected for one of the five spots that were open. All of the kids trying out would sing and the nuns would listen, then tap the shoulder of the students selected. When it came down to the last spot, Lovely was praying for divine intervention. “They kept walking by me without a tap. Finally, the torture ended. As is typical of my life, they gave a reluctant tap, which made me the happiest kid anywhere, but they immediately followed up with the comment that it was not because I was good, it was because I was loud! That comment stuck with me for a long time”.

“When I was living in London in 1988, my boyfriend and I were at a wedding reception for friends. As a wedding gift, I was asked to sing “Summertime”. I had been drinking champagne and was just drunk enough to agree to do it. The next morning, a guy that attended the reception called because he wanted me to sing in one of his clubs. So we did a trio thing for him. I was incredibly nervous, major stage-fright”. After that year, Lovely moved to Los Angeles and didn’t sing publicly again until 2007. As she got older, the thought of a singing career became a faint glimmer.

karen lovely photo 3When her son became ill, Lovely unexpectedly got some life-altering advice. “ The nurse practitioner at the doctor’s office told me my son would be ok. But she was worried about me. So she invited me to join a womens choir she was involved with. That got me back into singing again and saved my life. I started going to blues jams, having so much fun that I stopped being afraid. I finally asked a club owner to give me my own show, because I was tired of doing jam songs. So, on September 29, 2007 was my first professional gig since leaving London”.

“I cut some songs in hopes of getting work as a back-up singer or in jingles. I was a forty-eight year old middle aged woman. Who is going to want to hear me? I did cover songs of older blues tunes as a demo tape. My keyboard player, Michael Vannice, was great friends with Dennis Walker, who produced Robert Cray. He thought Dennis could make it better, which he did. For the next record, Still The Rain, I worked with Dennis and Alan Mirikitani. They brought me so many great songs. That is how things got started. I competed at the International Blues Challenge and came in second in the band category. Then the album came out and got three Blues Music Award nominations. In one year, my life was totally turned upside down. It still just blows my mind”. Lovely was nominated for a Blues Blast Music Award in Female Blues Artist category in both 2011 and 2016.

Her Prohibition Blues album highlighted 1920 & 1930 blues songs from female artists. Lovely does workshops that cover the role that women played in that era to make blues a popular genre. On the follow-up, Ten Miles Of Bad Road, she switched to highlighting her own songs. “I wrote or co-wrote all but one song on that record. I intended to do the same for Fish Outta Water, but I didn’t have all of my songs ready. I like to learn something when I am blessed to work with really great songwriters. It certainly helps me perfect my craft. My next one will include more of my stuff’. Having worked with Dennis, Tony Braunagel, and Eric Corne on my studio projects has been a real education”.

Mirikitani had a big role in shaping Lovely’s music. “Al was a really good friend of mine and was involved in every album through Ten Miles Of Bad Road. Dennis & Al were two of the best songwriters I have ever met. Al was also a great vocalist, engineer and player, He was extraordinary, a genius. One of his songs we did was “Company Graveyard”. His lyrics were, “Ain’t gonna die in a company graveyard”. I was singing it as “Ain’t gonna die”. We talked about it. He said nobody lives forever. I replied that music lives forever. We were joking about it until he said ok, do it your way. About three weeks later, he passed away during a recording session. He is very much a part of everything musical that I do. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t miss him. Now I hear him through his songs”.

“I have been a writer my whole life. That is what I want to get good at. We can say so much with our songs. Too much of the blues is rooted in the traditional I-IV-V progression. What made the blues back in the day was it was simple music with so many layers of meaning. There were a lot of signifiers in the lyrics that meant one thing to a white audience and something else to a black audience. The level of sophistication in songwriting was pretty amazing. But it often seems to have gotten lost in contemporary writing. It is a dumbing-down of the blues in some ways. The song is king to me. Every song is a story. And I always have to tell a good story”.

Check out Karren’s website at:

Interviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying life without snow. He is the President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and the past president of the Crossroads Blues Society of Northern Illinois. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!

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Minnesota Blues Society – St. Paul, MN

Minnesota Blues Hall of Fame is Sat., Oct 14 at Famous Dave’s, Calhoun Square, Minneapolis

Pre-show, 4-5pm: Annie Mack and Tom Kochie. Awards, 5-8pm Honoring: Scottie Miller (performer), Robb Stupka (sideman), Dee Miller/Jimi ‘Primetime’ Smith (blues song), Willie Walker (blues recording), Sue McClean and Associates (supporter), KBEM-FM 88.5 (art/literature), Dave ‘Snaker’ Ray (legacy), ‘Famous’ Dave Anderson (legend). $15 GA, $20 VIP $2.00 beer specials

Continue the fun after awards 9-12, Toronzo Cannon $7, free with awards tix More info:

The Detroit Blues Society – Detroit, MI

The Detroit Blues Society will present “A Tribute to Howard Armstrong” featuring Ralphe Armstrong on Bass, Ray Kamalay on Guitar and John Reynolds on Violin. Saturday October 21, 2017 2:00PM at the Scarab Club 217 Farnsworth in Detroit’s Cultural Center. A $5.00 donation is requested.

Howard Armstrong was declared a “National Treasure” by the National Endowment for the Arts. A Multi-instrumentalist (Violin, Mandolin and Guitar) who began performing in the 1920’s Armstrong ,along with Ted Bogan and Carl Martin, appeared at the 1933 World Fair backing Blues musicians such as “Big Bill Broonzy and Memphis Minnie. His association with Ted Bogan and Carl Martin was renewed in 1971 when the three reunited and began performing once again. Martin, Bogan and Armstrong (as they were billed) were considered the last great African American String band.

For more information please call the Scarab Club (313-831-1250) or contact Ed Schenk at

The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL

The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for Blue Monday live performances held every Monday night at The Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 8:00pm to midnight. Additional information on any performer listed below is available upon request.

Blue Monday Schedule: Oct 16 – Levee Town, Oct 23 – Bex Marshall, Oct 30 – Lionel Young.

Additional ICBC partnered shows: Oct 19 – James Armstrong Presents ~ Soundfire @ 6:00 PM. For more information visit

Central Iowa Blues Society -Des Moines, IA

Central Iowa Blues Society 25th Anniversary Party is Sunday, October 22, 2017 from noon to 9:00 pm

Come celebrate 25 years of smokin’ blues at the Des Moines Social Club, 900 Mulberry Street. Free admission and open to the public! Featuring Malcom Wells & the Two Timers, Bob Pace Band, Soul Searchers JC Anderson Band Revisited, Bob Dorr, Dan “DJ” Johnson, Tom Giblin, Jeff Petersen, Del “Saxman” Jones, Sam Salamone and more. Keep an eye on the calendar at

Friends of the Blues – Kankakee, IL

Nov 14 – Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat, Manteno Sportsmen’s Club. More Info at:

BB logoP.O. Box 721 Pekin, Illinois 61555 © 2017 Blues Blast Magazine (309) 267-4425

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