Issue 13-44 October 31, 2019

Cover photo © 2019 Bob Kieser

 In This Issue 

Bill Dahl has our feature interview with Chicago’s own, Mary Lane. We have 4 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Brad Vickers and his Vestapolitans, Tullie Brae, Arsen Shomakhov and Al Lerman.

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

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 Featured Interview – Mary Lane 

mary lane photo 1It’s finally happening for Mary Lane.

The veteran Chicago blues vocalist has released two new CDs in the last year, Travelin’ Woman (the debut release on the Women of the Blues imprint) and the five-song The Real Mary Lane, produced by its guitarist Michael Bloom for Random Acts Media. Director Jesseca Ynez Simmons made the engrossing documentary I Can Only Be Mary Lane, which tells the riveting story of Mary’s struggles and triumphs as a blues performer based on Chicago’s West Side for more than half a century.

In October, Lane performed at the venerable King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas, marking the first time she had returned to her native state in more than six decades. While at the festival, she was given the “Sunshine” Sonny Payne for Blues Excellence Award, named after the legendary King Biscuit Time radio host.

To top things off, Lane was recently nominated for a pair of Blues Blast Music Awards: Traditional Blues Album for Travelin’ Woman as well as for Female Blues Artist. She performed at the gala September awards ceremony in Rockford. “It was great,” reports Mary. “Great, great, great!” All in all, not a bad year for one of the last living links to the hallowed days when genuine giants roamed every nook and cranny of the Windy City blues circuit.

“Don’t you think it’s about time?” asks Lane, who celebrates her 84th birthday on November 23 by performing at Buddy Guy’s Legends. “Well, like I say, all I can hope for is the best.”

Travelin’ Woman, produced by Jim Tullio at his own Butcher Boy Recording in Evanston, Illinois, was put together differently from a customary blues album. Apart from one track, the CD was a true 50/50 collaboration between Lane and Tullio. He created a series of sumptuous, evocative musical backdrops with a skin-tight group of studio musicians, and Mary brainstormed deeply moving lyrics that she proceeded to sing over each track. “I just came up singing as the music played,” says Mary. “I just come up with lyrics in my head, and go with the music. So that’s the way I did all of them.

“I don’t sit and write them like some people write their lyrics out. I’ve got the names of my songs and everything, I’ve got all of that written out and copywritten. But I’m talking about, you start to playing some music, and I just come up with some lyrics to fit what the music is. That’s what we always did.”

Recording in such an unorthodox manner was a departure from Lane’s past projects. “I always was into the Elmore James music and Jimmy Reed music,” she says. “So this was all the way in a different thing for me. But I worked on it, and I came up with ten tunes that fit the music that he had. And he was grateful for it. So hey, I was grateful for it too, once I heard it.”

Tullio brought in a cadre of all-star musical guests who contributed to one song apiece. Saxophonists Gene “Daddy G” Barge and Terry Ogolini and trumpeter Don Tenuto–the Chicago Rhythm and Blues Kings’ integral horn section—grace the grinding opening title track, while the late Eddie Shaw contributes plaintive harmonica to the surging “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More.”

“I used to work at his club, the 1815 Club, that Eddie had over there on the West Side,” notes Mary. “When he had that club over there, that’s the first time I met Jimmy Reed over at Eddie’s club. I really didn’t get to know him, but I went over there and I met him that Sunday. And a week later, (Jimmy) had died.”

Shaw wasn’t the only harp master that Tullio invited to participate in the sessions. Corky Siegel does the honors on the tough shuffle “Some People Say I’m Crazy,” and Billy Branch takes over on mouth organ for a romping “Ain’t Nobody Else.” Although the versatile Tullio handles quite a bit of the guitar and bass duties himself, Dave Specter turns up with some crisp licks on “Bad Luck And Trouble.”

“The most one that I had a little trouble with, and it took me as long as it did, is the one about ‘Raining In My Heart,’” Lane reveals (the insistent stormer boasts stinging slide guitar from Phil Miller and an unexpected bridge halfway through). Far more surprising is the moving soul ballad “Let Me Into Your Heart,” a long way indeed from straight 12-bar fare. “It took me a while to fit some words into it that fit with the music,” Mary says. “But I came up with it.”

mary lane photo 3“Make Up Your Mind,” the closing piece, is an entrancing collaboration between Lane and Canadian guitarist Colin Linden, whose acoustic slide dobro is its lone backing instrument. Amazingly, the two never actually met; Lane was given the music track and intuitively crafted her lyrics around what she heard (the recording of Mary’s vocal is included in the documentary).

“The recording came before the movie did,” adds Mary. “A friend of mine, Jesseca, she decided she wanted to get all the information from a lot of the stuff that I had did, and put it on film.” Through enlightening interviews with Mary, her family and musicians, and various observers (including this writer), the documentary offers vivid insight into Mary’s life.

Travelin’ Woman remained in search of the right label to release it until music publicist/WNUR-FM blues deejay Lynn Orman Weiss, creator of the Women of the Blues Foundation, stepped up to the plate. “One of the objectives of the film was that they were in search of getting Mary a record deal, kind of one of the premises of the movie,” says Orman Weiss. “I love the movie, and Jesseca and I were talking, and we were talking about the Women of the Blues Foundation, and what my mission was—to give power and keep the blues alive of the great blues legends, the women of the blues.

“I went over to Jim’s studio after they had tried to pitch it to a couple of different record labels, and it wasn’t to their liking what the labels had to offer. Jim said, ‘Why don’t you put it out yourself?’ I had already been talking to Jim about ideas for my Women of the Blues: A Coast To Coast Collection compilation CD. It ignited a flame in me to have Mary Lane be the first artist to feature. I partnered with Allen Winkler and we created OWL Music & Media, which funded Women of the Blues Records.”

Over the decades, Lane has crossed paths with an incredible array of blues legends, all of whom helped shape her tough, no-nonsense vocal delivery. She got started singing as a child in her rural hometown. “I used to play on the corner in Clarendon, Arkansas,” she says. “There used to be a guy we used to call Uncle Al (Montgomery). He used to play guitar in Clarendon every weekend. He would come over to my mother’s house, and there was this little juke joint—we called ‘em a juke joint–down the street from where I lived at. He would get his guitar and get me, and he’d get a stool and go down there. And he’d get a little bucket, and he’d sit there and start to playing the blues, and I’d start singing the blues. I was real young then. Then the people come up there, and they’d start putting all kinds of money and change and stuff in the little bucket.”

Mary’s early musical exploits weren’t limited to weekends with Uncle Al. “They used to have me singing all the time in the fields,” she says. “They would be in the field, and I did everything. Boy, they sounded good. And the next week or two, they heard me singing. From then on, they wanted me to sing. They kept me singing. I’d start singing, and they’d say, ‘Mary, go on and sing!’” she laughs. “The more I’d sing, the harder they’d pick that cotton.”

Lane’s nightclub singing debut occurred at a juke joint where slide guitar legend Robert Nighthawk, who began recording in 1937 for Bluebird as Robert Lee McCoy and cut for Aristocrat, Chess, and United during the postwar era, was the headliner. “My sister lived in a place called Marvell, Arkansas,” says Lane. “My brother used to go to town every weekend. And he told me, ‘I’m going to take you to Marvell tomorrow night, ‘cause I’ve got somebody that I think you would sound good with!’ And we went to Marvell that night, and Robert was playing the slide guitar. He didn’t even call me up. It sounded so good, I just went on up there and grabbed the mic and started singing. And everybody started hollering and going on. And every weekend, I was up there with him. I was the onliest woman that sung with him down there. I was in my teens.”

Another of Mary’s primordial connections was with one-man band Joe Hill Louis, who cut for Columbia, Modern, Checker, and Sun during the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. “That was fun! He’d have the guitar in his hands, he’d have the harmonica around his neck, and he was playing the drums with his feet. That was in Memphis,” says Mary. “People enjoyed him. He sung and blowed his harmonica and played his drums and everything. Joe Hill Louis, the Be-Bop Boy!”

Particularly important to Mary’s musical maturation was a juke joint owned by her uncle called the White Swan. “Brinkley, Arkansas, that’s where I was brought up,” says Mary. “That’s where I met all the guys at—Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Parker, James Cotton, all those guys. I met all those guys at the White Swan. That was my uncle’s club by marriage, the White Swan nightclub, right by the railroad tracks. Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland (played) at the big old White Swan club, and in the back they had a little gambling spot back there in the back. A lot of guys that weren’t playing, they’d go back there and gamble. We’d be up there singing. They had a lot of different bands there. Howlin’ Wolf, he let me up in there. Little Milton and all the big guys, they played there.” Soon she branched out.

mary lane photo 4“I used to be down in West Memphis, Arkansas. That’s where I used to work with Howlin’ Wolf too, on 8th Street in West Memphis,” says Lane. “Down there in one of those clubs, you’d just walk right off the street, right in the club. You know, right off the dirt, right in the club. That’s where I played with him.”

Those smoky, rough-hewn Arkansas juke joints couldn’t hold Mary forever. In 1957, she migrated north to Chicago, then a little further north still to Waukegan, Illinois, which hosted its own small but vibrant blues scene. Guitarist Morris Pejoe was a regular attraction in Waukegan, and Mary became involved with him, both personally and professionally. “When I came to Waukegan, they had one little club that really had little bands they called Shug’s,” she says. “That’s where I met Morris Pejoe at. He used to play there on weekends, and I used to go down there. I met him and started singing with him. Then I came over here to Chicago, and I’ve been here ever since.”

Pejoe was already an established name on the Windy City blues scene. The Louisiana native had first recorded for Checker in 1952 and made mid-‘50s followups for Vee-Jay and Abco prior to teaming up with Lane. The pair moved to Chicago in 1961 and raised a family before going their separate ways during the early ‘70s. Three daughters followed in their mother’s blues-singing footsteps, including the estimable Lynne Lane. “All three of them, they sing their asses off,” says Mary proudly.

While singing with Pejoe’s band under the sobriquet of Little Mary, Lane cut her 1964 (or thereabouts) debut single for Freddy Young’s Friendly Five label with Pejoe on guitar and Henry Gray manning the ivories. The driving “You Don’t Want My Loving No More” borrowed its opening 12 bars from a then-recent Chicago blues instrumental smash.

“We got that tune from Freddy King,” says Mary. “That’s the music that he had with ‘Hide Away.’ But it didn’t do nothing. Because Fred Young, he’s the one that recorded that, and Morris and them, they were so in a hurry to get a tune out—we just went on and did that tune. But it didn’t do nothing.” The track and its tough flip side “I Always Want You Near” boded well for Lane’s future, although it sold so sparsely that it’s now extremely rare. “I don’t even have one,” Mary laments.

Somehow Mary didn’t find her way back inside a studio for more than three decades. But even without fresh vinyl to showcase her vocal talents, Lane remained in demand in local clubs. Her friendship with Howlin’ Wolf continued. “He told me to come over to Chicago and come to Sylvio’s. That’s where he used to play, right there on Lake Street all the time,” says Mary. “One thing he wouldn’t do—he wouldn’t let other people get up and sit in with him. Now I was somebody that he would call up to do things with him on his show. I was with Morris then, and Morris didn’t like that because he never would call Morris Pejoe up. He would always call me up and not Morris, not knowing that I met him when I was in Arkansas. Wolf was great. A lot of people didn’t like him, but he was a real great guy. He didn’t allow no drinking on his bandstand like the guys do now, get up with a bottle in their hand and a glass in their hand, drinking. He didn’t allow that on his bandstand. He was a great guy, as far as I’m concerned.

“Elmore James, I used to work with him when I came to Chicago. I used to play with him, and then I used to play cards with him every night when we’d get off of work. We used to go to my house. They all liked to play poker. And they all would go up to my house. Cassell Burrows, Howlin’ Wolf’s drummer, he loved to play poker. Eddie Shaw did too. But we all would go and have us a little poker game.

“He was great. One night he was playing down at—I forget the name of the club. Eddie Elem and them used to have a little club down there on the West Side. And he was playing there one night, and I walked in. He looked at me and started laughing. Said, ‘Get on back, girl. Ain’t no table in front of me!’ He was talking about the cards. And we started laughing and just joked it off. Elmore, he was great. He was a great guy.

“All those guys were great guys.”

mary lane photo 2Lane went right on performing during the ‘70s, sharing stages with Hip Linkchain, Lonnie Brooks, Johnny Christian, and Denise LaSalle. At the beginning of the ‘80s, she put in a long stint at the fabled Theresa’s Lounge on the South Side. “I worked down there with Junior Wells for three years—me and Sammy Lawhorn and John Primer and B.B. Odom. I worked with all the guys,” says Mary. Wells could be a tough taskmaster. “He would work the hell out of me! Like it might be slow, wouldn’t be too many people in there, and he’d want me to sing and do all the singing. But time the people would pile up in there, then he’d want me to take the show. But I didn’t care as long as I was getting paid.”

In 1997, Lane finally released her debut CD, Appointment with the Blues, on the Noir label. It was a fine representation of the no-frills West Side blues approach, with Johnny B. Moore and Robert Mell splitting guitar duties, Detroit Junior on the 88s, and Mary’s husband, Jeffery Labon, holding down the bottom on skin-tight bass. All too few people noticed its existence. “I don’t really know what happened with that Appointment with the Blues,” says Lane. “I had really did nothing of my own since that Friendly Five thing. It didn’t do nothing, but I didn’t give up. I kept on trying. And that’s all you can do—try.”

Labon suffered a serious stroke a few years back that temporarily sidelined him from playing, but he’s back in action on bass with Lane’s No Static Blues Band. “He was out about nine months when he first had the sickness,” says Mary. “Then I had to find a bass player to try to fit in to do my shows that I had. So I was grateful he was able to come back out and use his hands.” Other No Static core members include guitarist Minoru Maruyama (a veteran of the bands of Johnny B. Moore and Billy Branch) and drummer Cleveland Taylor.

Unlike so many of her peers, Lane doesn’t tour Europe on a frequent basis. In fact, she’s only visited the continent once. “Jimmy Johnson talked me into going over there. We were over there for 29 days,” she says. “But I promised myself I’d never fly no more. Like I told Lynn, you can get gigs around in the states, but when you come to flying, I’m out of it. I won’t fly no more. And the people over there, they treat you like you’re somebody. They respect you. I love that. But I don’t want to fly no more. I’m broke and I’ll be broke, but I’m not going to fly. I’m not too fond of cars, because I’ve been in three accidents and made it out of them alright. But no plane for me.”

When she’s not onstage performing, you’re likely to find Mary in the kitchen—her downhome cooking is nearly as renowned as her singing. “My mom taught me how to do that. And I learned how to do that from scratch,” she says. “So I always have the guys over, cooking dinner that they enjoy so. And they love that. I had Eddie C. Campbell over. I had Willie Kent over. That was one of my favorite guys, Willie Kent. I worked with him, him and Johnny B. Moore. I worked at Blue Chicago for about three years.”

If you haven’t had a chance to view I Can Only Be Mary Lane yet, don’t fret. “We have plans to offer blues societies the film for free to show to their societies,” says Orman Weiss. “We would love to have Mary and Jeff come out to do a Q&A following the film and maybe perform with the local blues band.”

As the last of her generation of woman blues singers to grace the Chicago scene, Mary Lane is a treasure. “It is such an honor to have her on Women of the Blues Records,” says Orman Weiss. “I hope it can help raise awareness of who she is, to have her music played on radio stations around the world, for Mary and her No Static Blues Band to get more dates playing out and to be recognized by music organizations like the Blues Foundation. Because Mary Lane is the real deal.”

“I’m just trying to do something and get a little pleasure out of my work I did before I leave here,” says Lane. “I know I ain’t going to be here forever, but I’m doing what I can while I’m here. And all of my good friends that I know that really sang the blues and was down with the blues, they’re gone. So I feel grateful.

“I really haven’t got the break that I think I deserve. But I haven’t given up yet. I may give out, but I ain’t gonna give up!”

Interviewer Bill Dahl is a lifelong Chicago resident who began writing about music professionally in 1977. He’s written for Vintage Rock, Goldmine, Living Blues, Blues Revue, Blues Music Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, and the Reader, and is the author of The Art of the Blues, a 2016 book published by University of Chicago Press, and 2001’s Motown: The Golden Years (Krause Publications). Bill was awarded the Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive Award in journalism in 2000.

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 4 

brad vickers cd imageBrad Vickers and his Vestapolitans – Twice As Nice

Man Hat Tone Records

11 tracks

Brad Vickers and the Vestapolitans are champions of an old time music sound. Ragtime, hill country, and all sorts of other roots influences are mixed together with a singing style that matches the music. The Vestapolitans are Brad Vickers on vocals and guitar/bottleneck guitar, Jim Davis on clarinet and tenor sax, Margey Peters on bass and vocals, and Bill Rankin on drums. Special guests abound with Charlie Burnham on violin, Dave Gross on guitar, Mikey Junior on vocals and harp, Dave Keyes on keys, V.D. King on sax, guitar upright bass, banjoele, percussion, keys, and vox, and Den Shot on guitar.

Things open with “Worried Life Blues,” the Big Maceo tune that Chuck Berry rocked to. Brad and Company slow things down and give it the down home treatment. Nice guitar by Dean Shot here, sax and piano solos are also featured here. “Mississippi Swamp” seems to me to be a remake of “Rolling and Tumbling” with Vickers on bottleneck guitar and Mikey Junior blowing some mean harp. “Love Can Win” features bass player Margey Peters on lead vocals, a slow to mid tempo blues. Brad and Margey share the vocals on a slow and interesting Jimmy Reed cover; “Close Together” gets turned into a Vestapolitan-styled blues. Things pick up with “Coast To Coast,” a driving tune with Dave Keys leading the assault on piano and V.D. King on baritone sax. Peters wrote the tune and Vickers fronts the band here as he rocks and rolls and swings on guitar. Peters also wrote the title track which she sings in an old-time style as Jim Davis lays out some slick licorice stick and tenor work as Vickers excels on the bottleneck guitar again.

“Red Dust” features both Brad and Margey on vocals along with Mikey Junior. Vickers slides nicely and King pounds out the percussion in a Native American Indian lament that is both interesting and thoughtful. “Everything I Need” pays tribute to Jimmy Reed again, this time in a great sounding Chicago shuffle. Will Shades’ jug band song “Stealin’ Stealin’” gets Vestapolitanized with Margey fronting the band with Mikey in support, an old time sound with a fun pacing. Tampa Red’s “Look A There Look A There” with Shot on guitar again and Mikey laying out some mean harp. Davis on tenor and King on baritone sax blend sweetly, too. Dave Gross joins the fray for the final tune “Brooklyn Evenings.” The guitar is sublime and the song hearkens back to a time before all of us were born.

Vestapolitan fans will clamor for this one. If you are not familiar with Vickers and his band and their style, this will give you a full taste of the sort of things they do. Featuring a great group of regular and visiting musicians, you’ll get a good sampling of their stuff and how they mix music and a little humor to practice their craft.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 4 

tullie brea cd imageTullie Brae – Revelation

Endless Blues Records

10 songs, 38:44 minutes

Tullie Brae started singing in the Louisiana church where her Father was pastor, near the Mississippi delta, the home of the Blues. At a young age she became the choir director and began touring in Gospel groups. Her base in gospel was a relatively easy transition to the blues.

Her vocal range is as wide as her musical choices, Delta Blues, hard driving rock blues, and ballads. In addition to the lead vocals on her new album, Brae plays many instruments. She plays Hammond SK1, Hammond B-3, grand piano, and cigar box slide guitar. If that’s not enough she also penned all ten songs on Revelation. Ms. Brae has headlined festivals and shared the stage with B. B. King Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt and Coco Montoya to name a few.

Blues-E-News magazine named her one of the top 25 Women in music. The Rock Doctor, John Kereiff stated that “Revelation is a blues record with gospel passion that should be heard by as many people possible”

In addition to Brae there are numerous artists on the album. The players include: Jeff Jensen (Guitar & hand claps-he also produced the album); Bill Ruffino (bass and hand claps); David Green (drums); Rick Steff (Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer and additional organ); James Cunningham (percussion and additional drums); Susan Marshall and Dauniele Hill (Backing Vocals); Mick Kolassa (Hand claps and backing vocals); Brad Webb and Sturgis Nikides (slide guitar); Brandon Santini (Harmonica); Alice Hasan (Violin); Myra Hall (Viola); and Alisa Horn (Cello).

Revelation begins with “Price of the Blues”. Tullie wastes no time to show her vocal range here. Her organ solo is wonderful and the lead guitar is outstanding. In Seven Bridges she opens with a vocal solo then some backing vocals are added to song to give a spiritual feel. “Mississippi Rain” is a moving slow blues number with a soulful sound

“Break the Chains” is a bold song with a driving beat. The vocals jump out and grab you before Santini’s harmonica solo. At the albums halfway point Ms. Brae gives us the ballad “New Shoes” Her writing in this tune compares a relationship to the shoes. One again her singing shines throughout. “Devil in Deville” is another solid song with a throaty sound bass that gives the feeling to the offering and mixes well with the vocals. Next is a ballad with heart “Ain’t No good” and again the singing shines brightly.

“Watch He Move” is a story about a strong woman who is a single mother on her own. Tullie’s vocals as well as the backing vocals are superb and the lead guitar work is among the best on the album. “Shine” A slow dance style number is a throwback to my youth and school dances. The album closes with “Thank You Mom” which is a tribute to her Mother.

Reviewer Bob Swofford is a retired educator and now is a man of leisure. He has been part of Delta State University’s International Blues Scholars program and a presenter at their annual conference. A product of the sixties he found the blues from the bands of the British invasion. The rest is study and history.

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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 4 

arsen shomakhov cd imageArsen Shomakhov – Rain City Blues


CD: 10 Songs, 34 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Guitar Monster Blues, All Original Songs

According to Wikipedia, “Rain City” refers to several places on the map: Rasht, India; Seattle, Washington; Keelung, Taiwan; Bogor, Indonesia; and Taiping and Perak in Malaysia. Arsen Shomakhov, a native Russian, is now based in the sixth item on the list: Vancouver, Canada. He presents Rain City Blues, a crisp collection of ten original tracks that’ll drive wet-weather woes away in no time flat. Even on slower numbers such as “Sunset Beach,” he ignites his guitar. His style’s a bit SRV, a dash of Too Slim and the Taildraggers, and all-explosive. Steve Miller would be proud of his laconic, sardonic vocals. Witness them on “Full-Time Lover,” where dry humor runs deep. Where Arsen really shines, though, is on instrumentals. More on those later. For now, no wonder he has been a semifinalist at the International Blues Challenge twice (’14 and ’16).

Although the album was only released in September, it’s garnered a lot of prestige. Living Blues awarded it with a spot in its Top 25 radio report for last month. It also reached #1 in Canada and #12 worldwide on the RMR blues charts for the week of September 21st, and #17 in the list of Top 40 most-played albums in the UK for the whole month. In addition to the IBC, he has also performed at blues festivals in Canada and worldwide, including the King Biscuit Blues Festival, Waterfront Blues Festival, Edmonton International Blues Festival, Montreal International Blues Festival, and the Calgary International Blues Festival. Shomakhov works tirelessly to make his way and name in the global blues arena, and mightily succeeding.

Accompanying Arsen (guitar and vocals) are Kid Andersen on electric and upright bass, Hammond B3 organ, piano, vibraphone and background vox; Alexander Pettersen on drums for tracks one through five; June Core on drums for tracks six through ten; and Aki Kumar on harp.

“Full Time Lover” starts things off, with our narrator ticking off an extensive list of part-time paramours. Each one covers a different sphere of his life, from laundry (Rosie) to chauffeur duty (Betsy) to alcohol purchases (Linda). One has to wonder: do all these women know each other? Next up is a ‘50s-style boogie and a promise not to party, broken several times over: “No More!” Of the ten, it’s the funniest. “I feel so nauseous. Someone help me, please. I looked in the mirror and I screamed, ‘OH, JEEZ!’ Who is the stranger with his eyes glowing red? I want a cold drink of water and to go back to bed.” Ironically, you’ll want to break this vow just like our hero does and dance till you drop. Funky “Sunset Beach” lowers your tempo afterward, with terrific Hammond organ by Kid Andersen. Fourth comes a wry warning about “Women and Whiskey,” the most traditional of the five tunes. When your hangover’s done, go “Strolling in San Jose,” an instrumental meant for powerwalking due to its energizing tempo. Santana fans will love it.

The title track showcases Shomakhov’s rip-roaring riffs, “Boogaloo” his 1970’s sensibilities, “Three Arrows” his band’s mastery of trance-inducing bass, and “Sitting on a Fence” their good-natured sense of letting the good times roll. Here’s a little word about “Hello, Little Bird,” the album’s closer: phenomenal. It brings such a creature to mind, the instrumentation exquisitely balanced between the chaotic fluttering of its wings (Arsen’s shredder work) and the steady thumping of its heart (June Core’s drums).

Rain City Blues is short, sweet, and impossible to beat!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 40 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 4 

al lerman cd imageAl Lerman – Northern Bayou


11 songs, 43 minutes

Al Lerman is a Blues singer/songwriter. Like legends John Lee Hooker and J.B. Lenoir or contemporaries Eric Bibb and Doug McCloud, Lerman writes his own highly effective Blues songs within the tradition. Similar to all the aforementioned, Lerman is equally adept at solo performance and full band arrangements, the latter of which is gloriously evident on his newest disc Northern Bayou. Northern Bayou is a laid back medium tempo romp through various rhythmic Blues styles; not a guitar showcase but a song and vibe showcase. Recorded primarily live in the studio with minimal overdubs, Bayou features Lerman as storyteller, as down-home philosopher. Bassist/producer Alec Foster works in perfect sync with drummer Chuck Keeping and pianist Lance Anderson to cradle Lerman’s stories of nature, fidelity, aging, the pleasures of a good life and the deprogramming of institutional racism.

Al Lerman is a veteran Bluesman with a highly personal style. Deeply influenced by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Lerman plays a churning rhythmic guitar and blows an impassioned and fluid harp. He sings in a nasally slightly jive-accented tenor and phrases with an engaging talking lilt. One of the best examples comes on opener “Down To the River,” a celebration of a day fishing. His opening lines chastise the listener for having a “dirty mind” when he sings about grabbing his “pole,” fishing that is. This conversational relationship with the material draws the listener into the house party of “Red Maple Road” and the sole cover, the traditional “Deep Ellum Blues.” Born out of years of solo performance, Lerman knows how to engage an audience and pulls off the feat of recreating that on wax.

Northern Bayou strolls, chugs and hops the Blues. The four musicians, with the help of Morgan Davis on electric guitar on the instrumental jam/co-write “Delta Stomp,” are able to move seamlessly through the windows of Country Blues, Chicago Blues, Soul Blues, Americana Blues Rock and New Orleans Blues. A track like “You Think You Know Me” which is pure 1940’s Big Joe Williams and Sonny Boy Williamson, the first, Chicago Blues, sits nicely next to “Everybody’s In the Mood” which could be a 1970 outtake from Bonnie and Delaney or Clapton’s 461 Ocean Blvd. The feel good soul of “A Few More Miles” and the taut major-chord snap of “Hand in Hand” are love songs without being lovey-dovey. The social commentary of “Hand-Me-Down Hate” is perfectly complemented by the 1969 psychedelia of the music.

Al Lerman is touring solo on this new record, as seems to be his main mode of live performance. His effortlessly muscular playing, blowing and singing coupled with his wry and thoughtful songwriting make him an engaging and hypnotic solo performer. It is the handing down of a certain type of solo Blues performance. Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Leadbelly, Big Bill Broonzy, Big Joe Williams – musical acts who were able to enthrall and delight with the power of their voices, the intoxication of their unrelentingly rhythmic picking and the personality they expressed. Al Lerman does this equally on Northern Bayou as he does in his live performance. As Chris Smither often remarks, the added musicians on the record are to make up for what is lost from the live performance. In Lerman’s case this is true, BUT just like Smither’s records, Northern Bayou stands as its own self contained experience and is a highly engrossing ride.

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

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The Charlotte Blues Society – Charlotte, NC

Sun Nov. 3rd: 8-10pm: doors at 7pm Crank Sinatra – Blues Youth Group featured Artist at The Rabbit Hole 1801 Commonwealth Ave. Special performance by the young group of musicians know as “Crank Sinatra”. As an affiliate of the Blues Foundation, we have the privilege of selecting a youth group to sponsor for the trip to Memphis. At our October 6th event, the “Crank Sinatra” was formed initially as a trio, Alex Macri, Trey Tarzia and Luke Tracy. They added 2 horn players Matthew Seeley and Greg Rubidge in early 2019 and have been performing extensively throughout the area at various venues. Come out and support the next generation of blues!

The show will be held at The Rabbit Hole, 1801 Commonwealth Ave., Charlotte, NC. Admission is free for members with valid cards and $5 to everyone else. Doors at 7:00; music at 8:00. It will be a great evening of music!

We continue to collect non-perishable food items for Loaves and Fishes. Cash donations are also welcome. 1 can? I can! More info at

Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL

Crossroads Blues Society has many shows coming up in the Rockford, IL area. The monthly shows at the Hope and Anchor in Loves Park continue $5 cover, 8 to 11:30 PM: Sat Nov 9th – Reverend Raven and the Chain Smoking Altar Boys featuring Westside Andy Linderman, Sat Dec 14th – Ivy Ford. Radisson Hotel and Convention Center, Rockford, IL, 7 to 10 PM $10 admission Sat Nov 23rd – Nick Schnebelen. Lyran Society, Rockford, IL, 7 to 10 PM No Cover Fri Nov 1st – Harpo’s Revue, Fri Nov 15th – Ivy Ford.

The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL

The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for Blue Monday live performances and other shows held at the Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 7:00pm to 11:00pm. Additional information on any performer listed below is available upon request. Nov 4 Mike Morgan & The Crawl, Nov 11 Susan Williams & The Wright Groove, Nov 18 Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat.

Friends of the Blues – Kankakee, IL

Shows start at 7 pm, and are open to the public. Food and Beverages available at all Friends of the Blues shows. Texas comes to the Kankakee Valley: November 6 – Mike Morgan & The Crawl – Kankakee Valley Boat Club, November 19 – Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat – Manteno Sportsmen’s Club. More Info at:

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