Issue 13-50 December 12, 2019

Cover photo © 2016 Bob Kieser

 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with harmonica legend Kim Wilson. We have 10 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Dov Hammer, S.E. Willis and the Willing, Benjamin Vo, Odds Lane, Professor Louie & The Crowmatix, Hat Fitz & Cara, Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley, Paul Gabriel, Rick Estrin & The Nightcats and Toronzo Cannon.

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

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 Featured Interview – Kim Wilson 

imageWith a career that reaches across five decades, Kim Wilson has never tired of playing the music he loves. While his solo excursions are far less frequent these days, his singing and top-flight harp playing always take you deep into the real blues traditions. His primary musical vehicle continues to be the Fabulous Thunderbirds, the band he founded along with guitarist Jimmie Vaughan in 1974 in Austin, TX. Over the years, the band has gone through numerous line-up changes, with Wilson being the lone constant along with a musical approach that serves up blues, flavored by doses of soul and rock-&-roll.

He has received an amazing twenty-one nominations for the Blues Music Award in the Blues Instrumentalist – Harmonica category, receiving the award three times, most recently in 2017. Other recognition came in 2004, when the title track from hisLookin’ For Trouble album was recognized as the song of the year, and in 2006 when he received the Contemporary Male Blues Artist award. Wilson has also garnered three nominations for theB.B. King Entertainer award, in addition to seven nominations in the Contemporary Blues Male Artist category, plus nominations for three solo projects and two other releases where he shared billing with Barrelhouse Chuck and Mud Morganfield, theFor Pops (A Tribute To Muddy Waters) record which was named the 2015 Traditional Blues Album.

Wilson received a 2018 Blues Blast Music Award in the Traditional Blues Album category for his last solo project, Blues And Boogie Vol. 1 released on Severn Records. It is a record that he is particularly proud of on several levels. “My thanks to the Blues Blast readers for that recognition. That award meant a lot to me. I am always thinking about getting music on tape. These days I am really into mono analog recordings. To me, especially when you are talking about traditional music, mono is the only way to listen to it. It will eventually go to digital but you want to start in analog. One day I got a call from Nathan James, asking me if I wanted to come down to his studio in Oceanside and record some tracks. The price was right, so I decided to give it a try and, if I didn’t like the way things turned out, I just wouldn’t go back”.

“Well, I went down there and ended up cutting twenty-five tracks in one day. We started with a lot of different gear, including a Webcor tape recorder that you can’t even use to rewind the tape. If you do, it will strip the coating off the tape. We got some pretty good stuff with Nathan on guitar, Marty Dodson on drums, and “Big” Jon Atkinson on guitar. No bass. Nathan and Jon added a little bass on a couple of things. After that, I just kept going back….and going back. We added stuff with Billy Flynn, Barrelhouse Chuck, Richard Innes, Larry Taylor, Kedar Roy, and Troy Sandow. Once I started listening to the stuff, I thought it was pretty damn good. So I kept going and going, until I had hundreds of tracks. We were cutting more tracks in a day than most people cut in a couple weeks to a month. It was a great experience for me”.

Additional tracks were cut with Atkinson in San Diego, some of which have been released under Atkinson’s name on his Bigtone Record label. Wilson is glad that those tracks were released. “He put a few of the tracks. I wish he had put out a few more. Jon wants to develop his sound in the studio. My opinion is that document the stuff as you go. We did a great version of “Take A Little Walk” on the Webcor that is basically unmixable. That hasn’t been released yet. We did some recording on a Teac deck that Nathan had, which had eight tracks, but we would always end up mixing everything down to mono. “Big” Jon had a two or three track machine that we also used. When Jon moved up to Hayward, I took everybody up there for sessions. Now Jon is in Virginia, so I will probably make a trip there to record, although that is more difficult”.

“I also have done some recording with Bob Welsh, who is a joy to record with. He plays excellent piano, the most complimentary piano player I have worked with since Barrelhouse Chuck. He really knows how to accompany, which is so important in blues, or any kind of music. That Is what I tell my son, who is a guitar player. You have to learn to accompany before you even think about taking a solo. You have to know how to create that sound that sets up the person who is singing or soloing”.

image“Steven is my step-son. His father is Greg “Fingers” Taylor, the great harmonica player. Steven has a very healthy attitude, and I am very proud of him. His technical approach to playing is very, very difficult. He picks with his fingers, like Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown or Magic Sam. He is a work in progress, not just a blues guy. But he has listened to all of the correct stuff all of his life. I made sure of that. To me, “Gatemouth” might be the greatest blues guitar player of all. He got a little country in his old age. But he had unbelievable sound and technique, plus he was a great singer. When it comes to accompaniment, you know who I like – Luther Tucker, Robert Jr. Lockwood, and all the guys from Chicago who were just great at it, like Eddie Taylor”.

“What I love about Chicago blues, and the records from labels like Duke and Peacock, is how dark most of them were. I’m not here to be telling jokes. I want the mood to be dark. Of course, depending on how you play it, the music can have a sense of humor. But what always attracted me to the music is that it was f**king heavy! When Nick Curran was in my band, he could swing. He played an unbelievable version of “Okie Dokie Stomp”. And I really liked Lightnin’ Slim and a few other Excello Records guys, but that was more R&B, lighter blues music. That stuff is appealing but I prefer the darker edge, like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller). Oh boy, Sonny Boy wrote some comedic lyrics, but he sure didn’t attack that way. This isn’t elevator music. The mood is everything. It is about life, and that is how you have to play it”.

There will be a Volume 2 of Blues And Boogie coming out in 2020, compiled from the multitude of tracks that have already been recorded. Wilson is excited that more tracks will finally be heard. “It will be all Big Jon stuff. It is pretty heavy. I have picked the tracks, and it will be released on Severn Records. David Earl already has everything. The next album may be even better. So we will see what happens”.

“Honestly, I was very disappointed that the first one didn’t win Traditional Album at the Blues Music Awards. I don’t care about harmonica or awards for entertaining. I thought if it deserved anything, it was the award for Traditional album. In my opinion, it was by far the best traditional record of the year, if not the last decade. So that was very disappointing. Real blues is not going to sell millions of records no matter what. . And if it is heavy and dark, it’s not going to appeal to everyone. I mean, Muddy Waters and Little Walter never won Grammy awards, and Walter had a number of hit records.”.

Wilson continues to play festivals with the Fabulous Thunderbirds, a band that has undergone a number of line-up changes over the years. One common thread is the list of stellar guitar players that can claim membership from Jimmie Vaughan to Duke Robillard, Kid Ramos, Curran, Kirk Fletcher, Mike Keller, and for the last twelve years, Johnny Moeller. “We are writing songs right now for the next T-Birds project. It will be mostly original songs that will feature a lot of big-name guest artists. We have things in place and will probably be recording in Los Angeles at a future date”.

Over the years, comments have been made about changes Wilson periodically makes to the the band’s line-up. He feels that those remarks are unfair. “People have commented that I must be an asshole or difficult to work with. If you know me, you know that is not true. I make changes because I have to do it until I get it right. I mean, I posted on Facebook that Johnny Moeller is the most under-rated guy in music. He is an incredible musician. The current band also has two great veterans with Steve Gomes on bass and Kevin Anker on keyboards. The newest member of the band is Nico Leophonte on drums. He is from France, moved to Austin, TX in the 1990s, and I have been very pleasantly surprised with his contributions”.

“You don’t want players that need coaching. You want to be able to share your experience with everyone. One of the problems that I had in the past is that I wasn’t getting the accompaniment that I wanted, especially before Johnny came abroad. It is a very difficult job to be able to play blues, rock & roll, and a little bit of R&B. These guys are very sympathetic to who is ever out front at any given moment. They are all great, great musicians. We are getting lots of great response from audiences. When you play a festival, you might have a rock band on before your slot, a band that claims to play blues. That means we have to get aggressive to compete with the loud, million note, no-tone bullshit that seems to be the current trend. It almost becomes a search-and-destroy mission. But it is important that we do that in a cool musical fashion. You can mix in some subtlety, and this band is good at playing the music a lot of different ways”.

“The band is getting better all the time. I am very optimistic about the band’s prospects. We just played the Lucerne Blues festival. We hit them hard, and got a great response. Amazingly, I just got a letter through my manager from the fest staff thanking us for playing their event! It is an incredible blues fest. They really take care of you. As far as the treatment, it is the best of any festival I have ever played. And I have played just about all of them. And it is such a beautiful place! It had been sixteen years since I played the fest, and never with the Thunderbirds. They had a European all-star band that was quite good, with Steve “West” Weston on harmonica, Raphael Wressnig on organ, Andreas and Michael Arlt from B.B. & the Blues Shacks, and Nico Duportal on guitar. They played real blues. And the audience was proud of their guys. They had a better feel for the blues than a lot bands in the states”.

imageThe last two Thunderbirds discs.On The Verge and Strong Like That, veered away from the blues into a more soulful style. When asked about those releases, Wilson had a blunt response. “It was a mistake. Severn was trying to make me into a soul singer, which I am not. I am a blues singer. I did go along, thinking it might work out. They are good records, but I think they went a little too far away from what I do well. One thing about audiences, they aren’t real crazy about change. Now we are coming back to featuring blues with rock-& roll, which is a lot more comfortable for me. We have to enjoy what we are doing. That neo-soul and R&B stuff is more dated than the blues stuff. Amy Winehouse was great at it. But that is a very, very sad story. All her fans wanted to hear was “Rehab”. She wanted to be a jazz singer, probably didn’t want to be in the limelight like she was”.

“People need to hear music on the radio to be able to relate to it. But that kind of radio is over. If you want to hear Taylor Swift, knock yourself out. My favorite guy these days is James Hunter. He isn’t playing soul, it is more old-time R&B. He is great, you can’t take him out of his game. I had a chance to interact with him last year. He is a great talent that really stands out. Blues is blues, soul is soul. Rock & Roll is Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and all those guys. Rock music is just that – it doesn’t mix with anything. It does have some blues influences but they are so bastardized, most of it. For me, rock music was born and died with Jimi Hendrix, period. Everybody else is trying to be Hendrix when they play. When Eric Clapton was with Cream, he made a pretty good effort. I liked those guys back in the day when I was a kid. Other than Clapton, it has been a feeble attempt that I don’t think has worked out”.

“Guys like Albert King and Little Milton help bring about greatest modernization of blues music. That first James Cotton record on the Verve Record label was the first blues album I ever listened to, and that became the template for the Fabulous Thunderbirds. It had “Knock On Wood,” which Cotton sang like a blues singer, as did Albert and Milton. Albert Collins played with a lot of funky beats. When the major labels started putting these kids out there playing rock music but calling it blues, that was the final nail in the coffin. I love listening to people like Jontavious Willis. He is very traditional. I see that he is nominated for a Grammy Award in the Traditional Blues category. From what I could see, that is the only traditional blues in the category. I don’t know how it happened. But he has talent”.

“There are several reasons why rock keeps slamming into the blues. One is that the people who allegedly play real blues are disappointing. That is why rock has crept into the music. So there is a lot of wanking going on, and when it is played a loud volumes, it attracts listeners. The people that are supposed to know how to play blues have not come through. That’s why it is great to see Willis get recognized. I don’t know of too many musicians out there doing the “thing”. I am a harder nut to crack than most people when it comes to playing the music right”.

While Wilson has had six releases under his own name, starting with Tigerman in 1993, the Thunderbirds remain his primary focus these days. His solo excursions are limited to a couple of brief tours, usually sticking to California venues. “I put out solo records, but I don’t really have a solo career. I did do a couple of festivals in Europe after Blues And Boogie Vol. 1 came out, and that worked out fine. I have my annual Christmas ten day thing coming up here in California. That is about it for the year. The rest is all T-Birds. The traditional stuff is very satisfying for me, which is why I am doing more of it with the band”.

“If I could make a living playing Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, and Kim Wilson, I would gladly do it. I would do nothing but that. I’m sorry, but clubs are not the answer. Clubs are very satisfying musically but they are not the answer financially. Before my heart surgery, I had been on the road with guitarist Dean Shot. I love the way he plays. We were playing tiny places, fifty to maybe a hundred people. The band was great and we filled the rooms. If you can’t fill those kinds of places, something is really wrong! Without mentioning names, when my booking agent for the T-Birds went back to one of those clubs, looking to book a date for more money, the club owner’s response was, oh no, I can get Kim Wilson for a lot less than that. That is when I realized that I probably wouldn’t be playing those clubs any more. I am having a hard time figuring out how to negotiate the solo traditional stuff. I got great response after the last album, so maybe when Vol. 2 comes out some things will open up. The thought was to play clubs that I will never be able to play with the T-Birds. But it does not make sense at this point to go backwards financially. Like everyone else, I have bills to pay. If I stuck to playing traditional music all the time, I would have to be working 300-plus days a year to support myself and my wife here in California. So, with the T-Birds, you get rock & roll, the so-called “hits,” but also a healthy dose of traditional blues. That will satisfy me for now, at least until I win the Lotto. Than I will be playing Jimmy Reed every day of my life!”

Wilson still feels the loss in recent years of several of his musical compatriots, musicians who shared his passion for traditional blues and were fixtures in the bands that backed him on his solo tours. “Barrelhouse Chuck, Richard Innes, and Larry Taylor were among the greatest blues musicians of their time. Larry played with Tom Waits and, of course, Canned Heat. He was the best blues bass player for years. Then if you talked to Barrelhouse, the first thing he would tell you is that he is a blues piano player. And I am a blues harmonica player, so we got along just fine. He was the greatest blues piano player of several generations. I wish I had started working with him sooner. We had our time together and I miss him dearly. Richard was the real thing. He was at the top all-time, with guys like Fred Below, S.P. Leary, and Sonny Freeman. I heard it, so I know. When you put the three of them together, you’ve got some serious shit going on. And it was just as dark as you wanted it to be”.

image“They are impossible to replace. You can’t think about that part, you have to think that this guy is great in his own way. Take somebody like Bob Welsh, who is an incredible musician, every bit the accompanist that anybody has ever been as far as I am concerned. He is quite a bit different than Chuck on the piano, but I am thankful that I get to make music with him at times. Marty Dodson on drums is fantastic in his own way. Then there is this younger drummer, Andrew Guterman, who I will be playing with this month, looks like the real deal to me also. There are some real good upright bass players out here like Kedar Roy, Mike Long, and Troy Sandow. And the guy playing bass in the T-Birds, Steve Gomes, is an unbelievable bass player. Don’t sell that band short! They are all fine musicians”.

“But the guys we are talking about were deeply skilled with a lot of soul. They were their own entities and are irreplaceable in the music world. I loved them all like brothers. It is still very sad for me to talk about them. There is nothing more that Richard wanted than to see Blues And Boogie Vol. 1 come out. He did not live that long, which just kills me. Luckily, we still have people like Billy Flynn, Big Jon Atkinson, Doug Deming, Rusty Zinn, and Junior Watson, all really fine guitarists. For me, Billy Flynn is the epitome of blues guitar playing. He is so improvisational. Big Jon has an great ear for the music and a fine accompanist. And there are other guys like Kid Ramos, another great blues player. But Billy is at the pinnacle of what a blues guitar player is supposed to be. Plus he is a sweet guy. I am very proud that I was able to play with Barrelhouse, Richard, and Larry, that they respected me, and thought I was the shit! They were all great guys. It is a sad state of affairs when you don’t see other musicians picking up the mantle to play like those guys, to have that kind of feel. I’m blessed to be able to play with the few guys out there that can generate that feel”.

Another aspect of Wilson’s artistry is the demand for him to make guest appearances on other musician’s recordings. His vocals and stellar harmonica playing have been featured on a wide range of recordings. “I have recently appeared on some Big Jon’s stuff, the latest Ronnie Earl, my son Steven’s disc, a Peter Frampton title, Doug Deming’s last one, and one by my brother, Brad Wilson. I can’t even count how many records I have been on. I am happy to be sought after. I believe I get the calls because I am able to harmonize with anyone without changing to much of what I do. That is why I got to work with artists like Mark Knopfler, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, or Little Feat. I enjoy doing my best to enhance other projects. It is a blessing to be in demand”.

“All of the masters of the music that I played with taught me to set it up, to create the mood. Lowell Fulson told me a long time ago, he said you don’t have to play all over this shit! Muddy Waters once told somebody to listen to Kim, because he knows how to get in and out of there. In a nutshell, that’s it. I learned from being up on the bandstand. I will say that they didn’t have to tell me much. I was in a band two or three months after I started playing. Within a year, I was doing gigs with guitarist Eddie Taylor. I played with people like Lowell, George “Harmonica” Smith, Pee Wee Crayton, Luther Tucker, Albert Collins, so many people in the first three to five years of my career. I was well versed in listening to people accompany other people. That is something I don’t get to do much any more as far as the older guys. My last one of those was probably the album that Rusty Zinn produced for Dave Myers (You Can’t Do That on Black Top Records). Then there’s the stuff with Big Jon as well as the last two discs that Barrelhouse Chuck did. Those opportunities are few and far between”.

“How nice a person is when you get into the studio means a lot to me. Do they respect you? Are they nice people in general, are they a fan? Not that I don’t always try to give my best. I thrive on compliments, like most people. The Mark Knofpler sessions were very cool. He is a wonderful musician and was a great, great leader in the studio. The rest of the band were top-notch musicians. I was very impressed by him. The session with Bonnie Raitt was another standout moment. I have played with everybody from Willie “Big Eyes” Smith to Paul Simon. The one drawback to playing on other artists albums is that you don’t have any control of the final outcome. There are times where you end up buried in the mix. You gave them your best work, and now it is up to them. I just don’t like leaving it up to other people very much! Most of the time, things turn out pretty damn good”.

When asked to sum his career, Wilson went straight to the point. “With me, what you see is what you get. When I walk into a place with confidence, people sometimes get the wrong impression. My ego is not so out of control that I am an asshole. You can come up and say something to me, then you can find out about who I really am. I have a lot of dear, dear friends in this business, which should say something. It is true that I don’t like everything or everybody. I might be bitter about losing my three friends not receiving the accolades they deserved while they were alive. But I am adamant that I love the music more than I ever loved it. I love the real thing, and the right thing. We are all human. And humanity is something that we are losing these days. That is something I do not appreciate. Hopefully we will soon be a lot more human”.

Check out the Fabulous Thunderbirds website at:

Reviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the past President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a 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!

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 10 

imageDov Hammer – BlueSoul

Self-produced CD

11 songs – 41 minutes

Born in Akron, Ohio, but based in Israel for decades, Dov Hammer rules the roost as the top blues harp player in the Middle East. This is his first self-titled release in 15 years, and definitely worth the wait as it delivers a mix of traditional and modern sounds and tunes that cover everything from straight-ahead Chicago blues to New Orleans funk.

Heavily influenced by West Coast blues harp legend Paul deLay and Mississippi-born soul-blues singer King Ernest Baker and now in his early 50s, Hammer is a stellar entertainer who was a 2005 International Blues Challenge semi-finalist. His family relocated to Tel Aviv when he was a child and he fell in love with the blues because of his sister’s affection for John Lee Hooker.

The Israeli blues community was still in its infancy when he hooked up in 1990 with another ex-pat, guitarist Ted Cooper, whose band is credited with laying the groundwork for the scene that flourishes today. Dov subsequently joined the reggae/funk band Kaya for a couple of years before finishing the ‘90s with Damesek Eliezer Blues Band and The Daily Blues. For most of the 2000s, he was one half of CG & The Hammer, an IBC competitor. Most recently, he’s fronted The Blues Rebels, occasionally visiting Chicago, where he’s worked with several top artists.

Pierre Lacocque, the harmonica player who founded the Windy City band Mississippi Heat, is one fan. “This is not a player who relies on repeating previously recorded licked by other masters,” he says. “He has his own signature sound.”

Recorded in Israel in multiple formats and produced with assistance from Acum’s Social & Cultural Fund, BlueSoul is Hammer’s tenth CD, but only his second solo effort following Going Deep in 2004. The lineup includes Gil Katzir, Yair Fine, Assaf Rosov, Danny Manor and Ori Beanstock on guitar, Kfir Tzairi on keyboards, Amos Springer and Oren Laor on bass, Nir Segal, Shlomo Deshet and Tzafrir Lichtenstein on percussion with Naomi Jo Hammer on backing vocals. Amir Hacoben sits in on multiple uncredited instruments for one cut.

The all-original set opens with a simple harp run before launching into the loping shuffle “Make It Count,” which states that Dov’s putting 100 per cent into whatever he does. He’s a strong baritone whose timing, like his harp play, is slightly behind the beat, propelling everything forward. And the band is top notch throughout. The sprightly “I’m Gone” opens with a funky regimental beat as Hammer insists that it’s time to “stop reading the news/Gotta get back to the blues/Before anyone sees that I’m gone.”

The slow-and-steady “Find a Way” is an interesting number in which Dov states that he’s got to get a handle on his temper and praises his lady for remaining at his side, an appreciation that continues in the uptempo “Magic.” Their relationship “feels so right/It feels so wrong/And it feels insane.” Up next, however, “Bad Luck Charm” finds Hammer wondering if the lady’s cursed and wishing he’d never met her at all. It comes across with an easy, breezy feel reminiscent of Rick Estrin.

The theme continues with the stripped-down ballad “The Fighting Blues,” which finds the singer ready to battle back from despair, while “Tear It Down” announces atop a rapid shuffle that he’s ready to start all over again. Dedicated to King Ernest and featuring Rosov on shared vocal, the sweet ballad “King” describes the deep influence Baker still has on Hammer’s life two decades after his passing.

The straight-ahead “Dance the Blues” gives Dov space to vocally accompanied only by Fine on slide guitar, before the percussive “Taking My Time” allows room for his harmonica skills to come to the fore. The title tune, “BlueSoul,” brings the disc to a close with an extended rap that deals with being a member of what Hammer terms the “wilderness generation.”

If you think all great bluesmen have to be based in the U.S., listen to this. Simply stated, Dov Hammer is one tasty, albeit understated, harp player and songwriter who can hold his own with anyone. BlueSoul is modern blues at its best. Available from Apple Music and several other vendors.

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.

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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 10 

imageS.E. Willis and the Willing – Too Much Love

Mr. Suchensuch Records MS 19008

11 songs – 44 minutes

Although veteran West Coast multi-instrumentalist Steve Willis is better known for his 19 years as a member of Elvin Bishop’s Grammy-winning road band, he’s a powerhouse band leader and songwriter in his own right – as this star-packed CD clearly demonstrates.

It’s been five years since the gifted keyboard, accordion and harmonica player has released a solo album, but it’s well worth the wait for anyone who loves their blues simple, sophisticated and with touches of Americana, country, zydeco and rockabilly.

A 50-year veteran of the music scene who hails originally from West Virginia, Willis began playing harp and keys at age six and was a fixture playing rock in the honkytonks along Route 66 in Arizona. As an adult, he’s spent time in the bands of Roy Gaines, Chuck Berry, Albert King and Meters drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste, among others, and he’s been releasing albums under his own name since the late ‘90s.

Willis is joined here by his longtime rhythm section – drummer/vocalist Bobby Cochran (Tom Fogerty, Edwin Hawkins Singers) and bassist Ruth Davies (Charles Brown, John Lee Hooker, Elvis Costello) — as well as an all-star roster that includes guitarists Kid Andersen, Bob Welsh and Danny Caron. Marina Crouse handles lead vocals on one cut, and Steve’s brother John and Lisa Leuschner Andersen also provide backing vocals.

Steve’s harp opens “Turn Back,” a percussive blues with a gospel feel, which finds him recounting the lessons in life he learned from his parents. Now that’s he’s closer to the end of life, however, he feels uncomfortable with his current position and wishes he could go back in time and make some changes.

The ballad “My Happy Home” follows and comes with a country two-step feel as it describes dancing alone in the dark after a relationship has come to an end. The theme continues in “I Sure Don’t Know Who Does,” a smooth duet shared by Cochran and Crouse. It’s a horn-driven rocker that could have come straight out of the ‘50s or early ‘60s in which Willis makes it known that there’s someone else for him waiting on the horizon.

The sprightly stop-time instrumental, “Apocalypto,” keeps the feel going with some sensational fretwork from Kid before Willis turns to accordion for “Crawl Off and Die,” a slow-and-steady admonishment of the way society worships money after reading the news and seeing the homeless living under overpasses.

Cochran’s back on the mike for the soulful “Let That Be the Reason,” a message to his woman that he doesn’t need any more excuses if their affair has come to an end, while the R&B ballad “Wake Up” describes in third person being lost in wonder if the singer’s marriage is going to survive. Apparently, the answer is yes because, as Cochran states in the song that follows, he has “Too Much Love” to gain.

The pure country “Honky Tonk Romance” features Willis and Wright in vocal harmony. It’s another two-step pleaser propelled by Steve on the squeeze box and harp. The old-school rocker, “I Study the Room,” describes finding Ms. Right – and a couple of Ms. Wrongs – in a crowded room before “Honky Tonkin’ Night and Day” brings the set to a close.

Too Much Love delivers good-time music from the jump. It’s perfect for anyone who loves their blues upbeat and tempered with plenty of traditional feel. Available through most major retailers, it’s an unexpected treasure.

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.

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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 10 

imageBenjamin Vo – Blueberry & Country Sugar

self release

9 songs time – 44:35

Shades of Peter Green’s guitar tone and haunting exotic tendencies pervade this recording. Guitarist-singer-song writer Benjamin Vo approaches the blues with an obvious rock leaning to achieve a rewarding result. The Pennsylvania based Vo delivers a fresh take on blues and blues-rock. No information is offered on the accompanying musicians as the CD arrived in a plain sleeve with just track listing and that he wrote all songs. Drums, bass and rudimentary piano is evident. Creative musicality is the prevalent device at work here.

An powerful guitar riff on what sounds like a National Steel propels the energetic “Splinter In My Finger, Spider In My Shoe”. Here as elsewhere Benjamin’s vocal is treated to have a bit of a metallic quality to it. “Brown Cow” has electric slide and standard guitar just gloriously shooting to and fro. The lyric is rather repetitive but who cares when the song is so hot. It also includes some nice piano by an unidentified player.

The music to “Devil’s In My Kitchen” borrows very liberally from “Rollin’ And Tumblin'”. The specter of Mr. Peter Green raises its’ head on the slow mesmerizing “It’s Been So Cold” in guitar tone as well as vocal delivery. It’s a very welcome influence that Vo works his magic on so well. He wrings every heart felt note out of his axe. He dusts off the National again in jaunty style on “Oh My My, Pretty Woman”. A hearty bass line, pervasive percussion, the usual guitar goodness and sprightly piano once again visit Peter Green territory on “Blueberry Jam #27” a nifty instrumental workout. Solo acoustic guitar closes out the song, a device that harkens back to the original Fleetwood Mac.

Delicate electric guitars intertwine ala…You guessed it Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac on “Nothing I Can Say”. “Just A Little Country Sugar” is a slow guitar-piano exercise. Why change now while your on to a good thing? Slow dreamy guitar “Mac” style instrumental segues into some heavy-handed guitar rock, then back and back again on “On A Cloud”. Clocking in at just a tad over eight minutes thirty, this slice of magnificence you wish would never end.

Similar to what Robin Trower does with the essence of Jimi Hendrix, Benjamin Vo does here with Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac. He doesn’t imitate, but rather infuses that vibe into his own imaginative vision and to great effect.

Call this music what you will, I call it a thing of musical beauty!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 10 

imageOdds Lane – Lost & Found

Gulf Coast Records

CD: 11 Songs, 42 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, All Original Songs

Almost nothing catapults an artist’s career like a famous mentor. Exhibit A? Rising blues superstar Mike Zito’s collaboration with Odds Lane, a dynamic duo from St. Louis. Zito’s praise for them is effusive: “Doug Byrkit and Brian Zielie have a sound that is second to none. Great songs, great playing, truly original. Almost a modern-day Steely Dan.” As a Steely Dan fan, I concur. They may lack that legendary band’s harmony, but they certainly possess the energy. Not only that, they pay homage to Santana, Clapton, and even the White Stripes in their unique brand of blues rock. Sometimes the guitar overpowers the other instrumentation, but their eleven original tracks are party tunes. Big-city-driving tunes. Tunes to dance and imbibe to, for sure.

Doug Byrkit (vocals, guitar, bass) and Brian Zielie (drums) have been friends since the eighth grade. They formed their first band in high school, and in the last twenty-five years, they have toured both nationally and internationally with various artists. When they were fresh out of college, they met Mike Zito (slide guitar), who was looking for a rhythm section to support his band. They were a perfect match. The trio began playing clubs around the St. Louis area, and in no time, they were working seven nights a week. In the late ‘90s, they recorded Blue Room, which was recently remastered and released on Ruf Records for its twentieth anniversary.

Odds Lane relies on solid grooves that don’t veer too far into Hendrix-style esotericism. “Don’t Give It Away,” the album’s opener, proves this. It’s a stomp that’s loud even on low volume, catchy and barroom-gritty. “You’ve got to make that money. Baby, don’t you give it away,” says an older maven in this song. “Seven States” brings back some 1950’s flash before “Ain’t Missing You” announces itself as a more traditional blues track. The album’s first standout is “Hard Rain,” a cautionary tale for the heels among us. “There’s only so much evil that a man can do,” warns our narrator while guitar notes spray like mist upon one’s mind. Next comes “Blood on the Van,” a perfect setup for a horror movie. Boogie down to this one on Halloween night. If you’ve got the munchies instead of the heebie-jeebies, “White Castle Blues” is just the ticket. Listen carefully to the lyrics, because they’re hard to hear over the jaunty shredder and drums.

Mike Zito knows how to pick a winning blues band, even if it consists of two people. Blues rock magic roils off of Lost & Found in waves, so pick it up and give it a listen on Friday night!

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 10 

imageProfessor Louie & The Crowmatix – Miles Of Blues

Woodstock Records

10 songs – 46 minutes

Miles Of Blues is the 15th release from Woodstock, NY-based Professor Louie & The Crowmatix and it is a fine collection of electric blues, combined with dashes of roots and Americana. With decades of experience playing with the likes of The Band, Levon Helm, Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, one would expect a high level of technical expertise and emotional connection from the various band members. What is perhaps most charming about Miles Of Blues, however, is the vitality of the performances and the delight the musicians appear to take in playing together. The funky one-chord vamp that ends the New Orleans-groove of “Rain 40 Days” is an excellent example of a band wholly at ease with each other and the music.

The tone of the album is set in the first song, “L-50 Blues”, which opens with solitary acoustic slide guitar. The track slowly builds in intensity as different instruments and voices enter the fray. It is not structured as traditional I-IV-V blues but is 100% a blues song. The rest of the album follows a similar approach. The focus is on the song, not the soloist, and the groove is key. “Funky Steamboat Blues” successfully blends a Bo Diddley jungle beat with strong hints of Billy Boy Arnold’s “I Wish You Would” to create something quite novel. “Exit Zero” combines a traditional blues structure with some excellent organ work, giving the track a cool ’60s feel.

The Crowmatix comprises Professor Louie on vocals, keyboards, Hammond organ and accordion; Miss Marie on vocals, piano, percussion and whistling; Gary Burke on drums (and horn arrangement on the bonus live track “Bull Frog Jam Blues”, which also features the Woodstock Horns: Nick Driscoll, Jim Buckley, Danny Coyle and Chuck Smith) ; and John Platania on guitars and backing vocals. “Oh My Lady” also has has guest appearances from Bobbie Van Detta on guitar and backing vocals and the great Tom “Bones” Malone on horns.

The Professor and Miss Marie co-write seven of the tracks on the album. Platania contributed “L-50 Blues” and there are covers of Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone To Love” and The Band’s “Orange Juice Blues”. The song range from the blues-rock of “Love Bound” (with great vocals from Miss Marie) to the jazzed-up stop-time of “Passion In My Life”. The classic blues ballad, “Please Send Me Someone To Love”, loses the horns of the original while “Orange Juice Blues” is played relatively faithfully to Richard Manuel’s original, albeit with a great piano solo.

The nine minute live version of “Bull Frog Jam Blues” captures Professor Louie & The Crowmatix tearing it up on-stage. Plantania throws in a beautiful slide guitar solo before every other musician is given the opportunity to stretch out over a funky backbeat.

Miles Of Blues was recorded at LRS Studios in Hurley, NY, and was produced and engineered by the Professor. The songs are cleverly structured with smart lyrics and played with the consummate ease of experienced professionals. This is a very good blues album and a very enjoyable one too.

Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 10 

imageHat Fitz & Cara – Hand It Over

Self-Produced/Rhythm Section

CD: 9 Songs, 37 Minutes

Styles: Roots, Country Blues, Folk

When musical icons make gigantic tracks, artists who follow in their footsteps work all the harder to leave their own mark. John Prine and Bonnie Raitt made history with their haunting hit “Angel from Montgomery.” Australia’s Hat Fitz and Cara attempt to capture that spirit on their fifth album, Hand It Over. As elusive as such an oeuvre proves, this duo does a decent job. They tap into the improvisational style of roots music, letting their vocals and instruments wander. Their nine tracks (eight originals and Blind Willie Johnson’s “Trimmed and Burning” are fine fodder for the imagination. Those who love prewar blues featuring acoustic guitar, slide guitar and banjo will find this CD an entertaining romp.

Married mavericks Hat Fitz (vocals, electric guitar, fretless banjo) and Cara Robinson (vocals, drums, and acoustic guitar) have clocked up a decade of worldwide touring, festival performances and album releases from their base of operations in southeast Queensland. “Fitzy” served his musical apprenticeship in the 1980s, touring around western Queensland and playing the show circuit with his father’s band, alongside boxing tent shows and rodeos. He still holds the record for the most consecutive shows at Byron Bay Bluesfest. Meanwhile, Cara was growing up in a commune on the other side of the world, living a gypsy lifestyle around various parts of the coast of Northern Ireland. Through a substitute teacher at school, she was introduced to the blues of Leadbelly, and to Atlantic soul at the age of 13 via a cassette tape. Together, they’ve won Blues Album of the Year at the 2013 Australian Chain Awards and UK Spiral Earth, Best Vocal of the Year at the 2015 Chain Awards, and were finalists in the 2015 IBC.

Performing along with Hat Fitz and Cara is Cye Wood on violin and viola for “Chiko Train.”

These two channel Prine and Raitt to mixed effect on their original numbers, beginning with “Step Up.” Sit back and savor Fitz’s slide guitar. The best song, however, is the third: “Hold On.” If you close your eyes, you’d swear Bonnie herself was singing. The harmony between these two is smooth yet smoking, as between two newlyweds. “Harbour Master” follows, with a beat that’ll make audiences play air guitar and air drums. As the album progresses, however, its experience becomes more eclectic. This is jam-session folk and blues, not polished studio blues. Later on, the end of “ADHD” will have some folks scratching their heads. Others will dig it.

Would more instrumental balance and structure help Hat Fitz and Cara gain more mainstream appeal abroad? Most likely, but then again, the mainstream isn’t what this team is aiming for. Hand It Over hearkens to an earlier era of folk and blues. That’s a great thing per se.

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




 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 10 

imageRob Ickes and Trey Hensley – World Full of Blues

Compass Records

CD: 12 Songs, 43 Minutes

Styles: Nashville Blues, Dobro Blues, Country Blues

Have you ever watched America’s Got Talent? Once in a blue moon or supermoon, an act that exceeds even Simon Cowell’s standards receives the Golden Buzzer. Confetti flies, contestants cry, and careers soar high. That’s how good the newest album from Rob Ickes (rhymes with “bikes”) and Trey Hensley is. World Full of Blues puts dobro on center stage for nine perfect original numbers and two fantastic covers (Grateful Dead’s “Brown Eyed Women” and Robben Ford’s “Rugged Road”). Not only is this CD devoid of bad songs, but mediocre songs, too. Every track is a masterpiece. The icing on the cake is that Hensley’s diction is flawless, all his lyrics crystal-clear. Nashville blues fans won’t find any more exquisite art than this.

Take a 15-time International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Dobro Player of the Year and a Tennessee-born prodigy who made his Grand Ole Opry debut at age eleven, and you have a pair of pros that has galvanized the acoustic music scene. On World Full of Blues, they’ve added two iconic guests: Vince Gill and Taj Mahal. The album itself was recorded live at Grammy-winning producer Brent Maher’s Nashville studio, The Blueroom, with minimal overdubs. Says Rob Ickes, “Ultimately, we’re the unifying factor. It’s obvious we’re into all these different styles, but there’s a commonality in the sound of our instruments that, blended with Trey’s voice, makes it one sound.” Such seamless quality is rarely found, but it’s on this release in spades.

Joining Ickes (dobro) and Hensley (vocals and acoustic guitar) are John Jorgenson and Pete Wasner on Hammond B3; Mike Bub on acoustic bass; John Alvey on drums; Giovanni Rodriguez on percussion; Jim Hoke on tenor sax, baritone sax and clarinet; Steve Herrman on trumpet; Bill Huber on trombone; Vince Gill on lead and harmony vocals; Suzanne Cox, Aija Penix and Crystal Taliefero on harmony vocals; Taj Mahal on National Resonator guitar and vocals, and Vicki Hampton, Wendy Moten, Paul Andrews, Brent Maher, and Paul Schiminger on background vocals.

“Born with the Blues” has the best dobro intro of 2019, bar none. It’s so excellent that when Hensley starts singing, enthusiastic listeners will be plunged over the edge into ecstasy. After Vince Gill lends his powerhouse chops to “Brown Eyed Women,” “I’m Here but I’m Lonely” hits you right in the feels. It’s country-fried country, but if Sirius XM isn’t playing it already, I’ll eat my hat. Next, “Thirty Days” lightens the mood and makes your toes want to tap. Then comes Taj Mahal’s classic-sounding intro to “World Full of Blues,” featuring his trademark growl. The song itself is starkly political but spot-on. “The Fatal Shore,” an instrumental watermark, will make even the greenest amateurs play along for practice. The last standout is “Both Ends of my Rainbow,” an optimistic life-on-the-road tune that’s relatable to all who are pursuing dreams.

World Full of Blues earns the “Blue Buzzer” from yours truly. It’s absolutely phenomenal!

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

 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 10 

imagePaul Gabriel – Man Of Many Blues

Smoke Ring Records

13 tracks; 66 minutes

Paul Gabriel was on three albums with the late Harry Chapin and played slide on Rory Block’s Grammy-nominated Mama’s Blues. This solid disc is his second collaboration with Duke Robillard following 2013’s What’s The Chance. Paul wrote all the material, collaborating on two songs, and handles vocals and guitar with a core band of Robillard regulars, Mark Teixeira on drums and Bruce Bears on keys with bass duties divided between three players: Scott Spray, Frank Davis and Paul Opalach. Duke plays second guitar on six cuts and Christine Ohlman of Saturday Night Live fame adds B/Vs to four. Tenor and baritone saxes are added to five tracks by Roomful Of Blues horn man Mark Earley, three of which also feature another Roomful alumnus, Doug James, on baritone. Duke produced the album, recorded at Lakewest studio in West Greenwich, Rhode Island, with Jack Gauthier behind the desk.

Opener “I Feel Good” is a mid-tempo blues groove driven by the twin horns while Paul delves into soul-blues on the outstanding cut “Cold, Cold, Cold”, a lovely tune with fine horns by Mark. Paul’s voice works particularly well on this one, adding a touch of vulnerability on a song with bittersweet lyrics and aided by Christine’s backing vocal support on the chorus. The horns also work well on “No Finance, No Romance” which has a Little Feat feel (who also did a song with a similar title – “Romance Without Finance” on their 1995 album Ain’t Had Enough Fun).

Paul gives us a fine, relaxed instrumental mid-album with “Blues For Georgia”, dedicated to Georgia Lewis, a gospel vocalist with whom Paul worked for many years. Paul’s sense of humor shines through on “Second Story Man” as a femme fatale attempts to lure him up to her apartment, played to a T-Bone Walker stroll, and on the oddly titled “Face Full Of Frown”, in which Paul is clearly finding the relationship heavy going, a jump blues with the horns back on board as Paul and Duke exchange strong solos.

Two songs towards the end of the album are particularly noteworthy: the positively charged “On That Train” again benefits from Christine’s B/Vs and has a hint of gospel in the chorus whilst “Dear John Letter” makes a rousing finale to the album with a memorable chorus and Paul rocking out on guitar. Where Duke joins Paul the music has hints of jazz, as on “Maybe We Can Talk Awhile” and on the relaxed title track “Man Of Many Blues”.

A varied and interesting album, well worth seeking out.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 9 of 10 

imageRick Estrin & The Nightcats – Contemporary

Alligator Records ALCD 4996

12 songs – 51 minutes

Anyone who’s ever spent time listening to Rick Estrin and his band of melodious merrymakers since their debut in 1987 knows they’ve always delivered tunes that reflect modern ideas and sentiments with a great deal of insight and humor. But he and The Nightcats put it in overdrive for this release, their 15th title in the Alligator catalog.

Even though they’ve been there all along, it’s a tongue-in-cheek effort to break through the glass ceiling into the world of mainstream music, and it works on all counts as the band seamlessly stretches its comfort zone to include new, no-holds-barred numbers that incorporate elements that are more familiar in hip-hop and other art forms.

Fear not, though. Contemporary is cutting-edge blues through and through, a template that works perfectly as it stretches sounds formulated a century ago in Mississippi and creates a blueprint that will appeal to music lovers in all genres in future generations.

The core lineup of The Nightcats – Estrin on vocals and harp backed by multi-instrumentalist/producer Kid Andersen and keyboard player Lorenzo Farrell – remains intact since the band reformed after the retirement in 2008 of guitarist and former headliner Little Charley Baty. Amping things up on this one is the addition of Derreck “D-Mar” Martin on percussion. A music educator of note, his background includes 17 years with Little Richard and work with a who’s who of blues and soul artists, including Bobby Rush, Carla Thomas, Syl Johnson, Dorothy Moore and dozens more.

Recorded at Andersen’s award-winning Greaseland Studios in California, the mix also includes former Nightcat Alex Pettersen on drums and Quantae Johnson on bass for seven cuts and guest appearances by Jim Pugh on organ and backing vocals provided by Lisa Leuschner Andersen and James, Walter and Dwayne Morgan, the gospel trio who record as The Sons of the Soul Revivers.

One of the most inventive lyricists of the modern era, Estrin opens the action with “I’m Running,” an unsettling description of being chased by Father Time and having “no time for looking back.” His intense mid-tune solo is interspersed with the ticking and chiming of clocks and the call of the cuckoo. Andersen’s guitar is featured on the soulful “Resentment File,” Rick’s advice for men to treat their women better.

The title tune, “Contemporary,” is up next. After obsessing on claims that “the blues is goin’ nowhere,” he comes to the conclusion that it’s time to change his sound. After a light, breezy and bluesy opening verse, the band erupts atop a deeply funky beat and progresses through multiple formats, including a stellar rap delivered by D-Mar. By the finale, Estrin assures listeners he’s got the “key to guarantee triple-platinum success” and plans to kick everything off with a farewell tour.

Fear not, though, The Nightcats return to their root with “She Nuts Up,” Rick’s hipster description of his lady, who occasionally goes off the rails because of some unexplained past horror. It’s delivered in the same easy-greasy manner fans have come to know and love. Folks will rush to the dance floor for “New Shape (Remembering Junior Parker),” which is propelled by a heavy bass beat and professes love for a woman who’s gone from rail thin to heavier and extra-fine.

The pleasing stop-time instrumental “House of Grease,” and anthem to Kid’s recording studio, features Andersen trading guitar licks with Farrell on keys and stellar work on the kit from D-Mar before Rick wonders if money is the “’Root of All Evil,’ what’s it called bein’ broke?”

The slow blues, “The Main Event,” finds Estrin on chromatic and reflecting on his inevitable demise, surrounded by friends as his body’s been lowered into its grave, before the mood brightens for “Cupcakin’,” a jazzy instrumental penned by Lorenzo on which the entire band has space to shine.

“New Year’s Eve,” which looks forward to turning the page on 2019 and flipping the calendar, precedes a cover of Detroit bluesman Bobo Jenkins’ 1959 hit, “Nothing but Love,” before “Bo Dee’s Bounce,” another pleasing instrumental, closes the set.

Rick Estrin gets more space to show off his prodigious harp skills here than most previous albums, and The Nightcats are at the absolute top of their game on throughout. Available wherever fine CDs are sold — and definitely a strong contender when next awards season rolls around. Pick it up. You won’t be disappointed.

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.

 Featured Blues Review – 10 of 10 

imageToronzo Cannon – The Preacher, The Politician Or The Pimp

Alligator Records ALCD 4996

12 tracks; 57 minutes

Famously a CTA bus driver by day and a bluesman by night, Toronzo’s lyrics often use material overheard on his bus or his own take on current issues, all presented with soulful vocals and dynamic guitar style. This is Toronzo’s second album for Alligator, recorded in Chicago with Roosevelt Purifoy on keys, Marvin Little on bass and Melvin ‘Pooky Styx’ Carlisle on drums; the album also includes guest appearances by Billy Branch, Joanna Connor and Nora Jean.

Opener “Get Together Or Get Apart” recounts a failed relationship with a choppy rhythm and plenty of strong guitar. The title track finds Toronzo explaining that appearances can be deceptive over some jazzy piano, a gentle wah-wah wash and latin percussion before “The Chicago Way”, an uptempo tune with autobiographical lyrics and, coincidentally the title of his previous album release. Toronzo’s sense of humour surfaces on “Insurance” where he realises that he cannot afford basic medicines, a piano and harp-led blues (plus it is not often that you hear “colonoscopy” in a lyric) and on the hilarious “Stop Me When I’m Lying”, a rumba-based tune with a horn section of Mark Herbert on baritone sax, Chris Shuttleworth on trombone and Joe Clark on trumpet adding to the fun. The rocking duet with Nora Jean “That’s What I Love About You” combines elements of soul and rock and roll while Toronzo extols the “Ordinary Woman” of his dreams and asks to “Let Me Lay My Love On You”, all excellent cuts.

The woman takes the fall for the murder of an abusive partner on the extended slow blues “She Loved Me” whereas it was Toronzo’s character that actually fired the gun. “The Silence Of My Friends” features Roosevelt’s piano and handclaps which add a gospel feel as Toronzo criticises the way that men sometimes act – another outstanding track. “The First 24” is another serious song about one’s final moments, even including the long bleep of a flat-line monitor, as Toronzo breaks out the acoustic. The album closes with “I’m Not Scared”, Toronzo leaving the vocals to a trio of Lynne Jordan, Cedric Chaney, Maria Luz Carball who each recount how they survived abuse; Toronzo’s torrid wah blends with Joanna Connor’s slide to decorate the compelling piece.

The Preacher, The Politician Or The Pimp has really got the lot, good songs with interesting lyrics, a variety of styles, great playing and vocals – it comes highly recommended by this reviewer! Toronzo Cannon is now one of the stars of the Chicago scene. The Chicago Way was one of the top releases of 2016 and Toronzo has done it again here with a disc that should be in the running for blues album of the year.

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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Southeast Iowa Blues Society – Fairfield, Iowa

The Southeast Iowa Blues Society presents “ROCKIN’ IN THE BLUE YEAR” Saturday, December 28th, 2019 at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center, 200 N. Main St., Fairfield, Iowa (641) 472-2000) Featuring, hot out of Chicago, TORONZO CANNON & THE CHICAGO WAY with opening act the JEFFCO BLUES EXPLOSION

Doors Open at 6:30pm and music begins at 7:00pm. There will be Sweet n’ Saucy BBQ and beverages of your choice. Tickets are $20 and $15 for SIBS members & all other card carrying Blues Society members. For more information call 641-919-7477 or go to

Prairie Crossroads Blues Society – Champaugn, IL

Prairie Crossroads Blues Society presents our IBC fundraiser for The Smokers Blues Band Sunday January 12 at Pipa’s Pub, 604 S. Country Fair Dr. in Champaign. They’re heading to Memphis later in January as Central Illinois representatives to compete in the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge. Bring your instrument and join in the fun. For more info visit:

Sacramento Blues Society – Sacramento, CA

“Holler Out Loud! Nikki Hill is on fire!” The Sacramento Blues Society Annual Holiday Membership Party, featuring the fabulous Nikki Hill will be held on Friday, December 13th at Harlow’s Nightclub & Restaurant, 2708 J Street, Sacramento. Doors open 6:00 pm, Show starts 7:00 pm. Free for active SBS members (bring your membership card) and $25 for non-members (but this $25 also buys you a one-year membership into one of the oldest Blues Societies in the Country – the Sacramento Blues Society.

This will be the SBS party of the year and a show you won’t want to miss! For tickets or to RSVP: HERE  For more information go

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 Dec 14th – Ivy Ford. Lyran Society, Rockford, IL, 7 to 10 PM No Cover  Fri Dec 20th – Bob Frank.

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.  December 16 – The Mud Bugs, December 23 – Brabdon Santini, December 30 – James Armstrong.

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