Issue 14-20 May 14, 2020

Cover photo © 2020 Laura Cabone

 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with soul bluesman John Németh. We have 10 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Jay Willie & James Montgomery, Val Starr & The Blues Rocket, BC Hudson, Wide Mouth Mason, Rory Block, Jim Gustin & Truth Jones , Bushmaster Featuring Gary Brown, Dedicated Men Of Zion, Avey Grouws Band and Mike Mattison.



Contemporary Blues Album

Traditional Blues Album

Soul Blues Album

Rock Blues Album

Acoustic Blues Album

Live Blues Recording

Historical or Vintage Recording

New Artist Debut

Male Blues Artist

Female Blues Artist

Blues Band of the Year

Sean Costello Rising Star Award

 Recordings released from May 1, 2019 to May 31st, 2020 are eligible.

Complete information and submission forms available at:

Submissions deadline extended to May
30th, 2020.


 Featured Interview – John Németh 

imageVisit Memphis and you’ll be standing at the launching pad where the blues was rocketed into space for all the world to hear. But the Bluff City is far more than that.

It’s Ground Zero, too – the place where B.B. King, Junior Parker, Rosco Gordon and Johnny Ace – then known collectively as The Beale Streeters – took the music out of the country, incorporated elements of big bands, jump and swing, infused it with intense big-city emotion and reinvented it into what we now know as soul-blues.

B.B. brought the music into the 21st Century along with Bobby “Blue” Bland, Otis Clay and Solomon Burke before passing the baton to contemporaries William Bell, Johnny Rawls, Don Bryant, Wee Willie Walker and others. But there’s no better standard bearer today for future generations than John Németh.

Possessing one of the most melismic, sweetest voices ever recorded, Németh has already proven himself worthy. At age 45 and still a teenager in blues terms, his resume is impressive. Since bursting on the scene in 2003 with the release of his first album, he’s garnered 20 Blues Music Award nominations and collected trophies for soul-blues artist and album of the year.

An inventive songwriter, his knowledge about the history of the music runs deep and his powerful sets often include forgotten tunes from past masters that have been gathering dust and unheard for decades. One of the most stylish singers in the blues today – he’s been compared vocally to both Memphis legend O.V. Wright and Godfather of Soul James Brown, John’s known for songs that are both groove- and melody-driven.

His tenor voice rings like a bell as he delivers lyrics like Muhammad Ali threw a punch. They float like a butterfly and sometimes sting like a bee as they deal with contemporary themes drawn from the life around him and laced with nuanced humor – everything from deep social issues like gun violence and class values to the simple hedonism achieved through dancing, sex or smoking marijuana.

Based in Memphis since 2013, Németh was born to sing the blues. And from the sounds he produces, you’d swear he was a product of the Deep South. But you’d be wrong. He’s a native of Boise, Idaho, in the southwest part of the state, and grew up not far from the Snake River, not the mighty Mississippi.

John was at home with wife Jaki and their young son and daughter, enjoying a warm spring day, when Blues Blast caught up with him recently. The birds were chirping, and he was clearly enjoying his family, his surroundings and the fact that, for the first time since last fall, he was finally free of the gnawing pain in a knee that made climbing stairs a challenge for months.

As anyone who’d seen him in concert during that time can tell you, he was walking with a noticeable limp, using a cane and performing from a chair instead of aggressively strutting across stage like they were accustomed to seeing.

“I’m walkin’ upstairs now, and nothin’ hurts,” he said with a smile in his voice. Doctors had initially misdiagnosed him as suffering from gout, but further tests revealed a serious infection and subsequent treatment finally brought relief. “The good thing is that I stepped on my dog’s toy a couple of days ago and it kinda unlocked everything that was locked up in my knee (laughs).”

Despite growing up in an out-of-the-way corner of the Pacific Northwest, Németh started developing an interest in music as a toddler because of his parents, who had distinctly diverse interests.

“My dad was definitely a character,” he says. A native of Hungary who grew up in an era of Communist oppression and Soviet dominance, he was mathematics wizard who’d studied to be an architect and became skilled in construction using concrete during Nazi occupation. After immigrating to America, he became an engineer who built bridges.

“He was like a smart farmer kinda guy – a hayseed genius kinda dude. He had his own sense of style. He’d wear his pants between his chest and his belly button, and he wore suspenders, too. And he could make one pair of shoes last 50 years, polishin’ them every day, gettin’ ‘em resoled and puttin’ saddle soap on ‘em, too!”

imageThe senior Németh’s father loved classical music – his countrymen included Franz Liszt and Béla Bartók – as well as Hungarian folk music, which was heavily rooted in the tradition of Gypsies who’d migrated from India – what John likes to refer to today as “European blues” because of it includes standard chord progressions and a great deal of improvisation.

“Talk about the ultimate jam band – those guys could really slow a song down or speed it up,” John says. “That music has been built upon for thousands of years and slightly modified from region to region. My dad put that music on every mornin’ and do the calisthenics that the Communists had driven into him. But he was a bad comrade – that’s how he got to the U.S.

“He didn’t read music, but played the old folk melodies by ear. He had a violin and clarinet, and we had a Wurlitzer organ and a piano. And my godmother – my mom’s best friend – went to Sherwood Community Music School in Chicago (now part of Columbia College), and she could sit down out of nowhere at the piano and throw down some Chopin.

“My dad loved that – probably the only reason he was so cool bein’ around her every day (laughs).”

Németh’s mother, meanwhile, grew up about an hour to the southeast in Glenns Ferry, a small town, but an important cog in the national railway system. The daughter of a Union Pacific engineer, she loved big bands, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Doris Day, all of whom played in Boise occasionally.

“She worked downtown at a café, and would meet all the people passin’ through,” John recalls. “She spoke like somebody hip from the ‘50s. She had all the jive lingo down – somethin’ she got from listenin’ to all the big-band music.

“There was a lotta music happenin’ in the house. It was really cool growin’ up listenin’ to all this jazz and Gypsy jazz – and I had all this ‘70s rock, Outlaw country, disco and funk that my brother and sister were listenin’ to ‘cause they were in high school. And I’d go to church, man, and the church music was great, too!”

Németh began taking piano lessons at age five at his mother’s insistence. “I’m playin’ all this classical music and what-not,” he says, “and I asked my piano teacher: ‘Would you teach me some chords…some way I could make my own music?’ I was five or six. She showed me three chords on the piano and says: ‘Okay, get outta here and have some fun.’

Now an accomplished harmonica player, John adds: “All of that made for a really interesting bag for me as a vocalist. It helped me be a blues singer because you can hear all the roots in all of those styles.”

He discovered the flatted third and seventh notes of the blues scale – the tones that truly make the music “blue” – because of his brother’s love for Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson and their song, “It’s Not Supposed to Be That Way.” The flatted seventh is prominent in that one throughout.

And he taught himself how to shift octaves vocally after hearing country superstar Johnny Paycheck do it in the tune “The Fool Strikes Again” – something he discovered at a later date that B.B. and Percy Sledge did regularly, too.

His love affair with the blues began at age 14 when a friend, Tom Moore, turned him on to Junior Wells’ breakthrough album, Hoodoo Man Blues. A 1965 release on Delmark that featured Buddy Guy billed as “Friendly Chap” because he was signed to another label, it’s considered by many experts as the first great blues album of the modern era.

“Tom was a supercool dude, man,” John says. “And he had some really hip guitar teachers. One of his instructors gave him the record, and he immediately gave it to me after making a copy ‘cause he knew I digged that kinda stuff. And he made me the ultimate mix tape for a blues beginner…Blind Willie McTell, Blind Blake, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, B.B. and Albert King, Bobby Rush’s ‘Chicken Heads.’

image“The way these guys would sing would cut right through whatever was surrounding me and — boom! –right into my ear. I remember the vibratos.

“Every one of these guys had a way different vibrato. They had been singin’ in places without probably amplification and projectin’ loud like a gospel singer would be singin’ in a church or somebody hollerin’ three or four acres away. They had the volume of an opera singer and the resonance of somebody who smoked two packs of cigarettes a day and drink whisky every night.

“There was a drive in these vocalists that I didn’t hear out of others, an urgency in their voice. They had the blues!”

It’s been 30 years since Németh heard that tape for the first time. But even today, it still resonates strongly with him because of the way those artists got lost in their songs and the seemingly surrealistic way they’d fashion their vocals. For John, who grew up in a rural community, all of the lyrical references to “bees, roosters, the whole damn barnyard, the rivers, the woods, the big lakes” had a major impact, too.

“It hooked me right away, and I’ve been a huge fan ever since,” he says.

Two years later, Németh and Moore formed their first band, Fat John & the 3 Slims. “We decided to all get together and play music at this kid Scott Handley’s garage,” he recalls. “He had a drum set and a bass, and he was on ‘house arrest’ and couldn’t go anywhere. So it was perfect (laughs)!

“We worked up these songs, man. It took a long time to get ‘em down – ‘One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer’ by John Lee Hooker, ‘I Can’t Be Satisfied’ by Muddy, ‘Tush’ by ZZ Top and ‘If You Don’t Start Drinking (I’m Gonna Leave)’ by George Thorogood — the songs Tom learned on the guitar. Whatever he learned, we were gonna play.

“Besides, they’re all great tunes, and my mom loved drinkin’ songs – ‘Tiny Bubbles’ and tunes like that, and I do, too!”

Their first paying gig came at a pinochle luncheon thrown by the local branch of the Catholic Daughters of America. But their big break came later when they played a talent show.

“One of the students filmed it and played it for a club owner,” Németh remembers. “That guy, Jeff Goff, was great, man! We met with him at a diner. He was all business. ‘I saw your video, I loved your show, and I wanna book you full time at my club in Horseshoe Bend,’ he said.

“We’re thinkin’: ‘Horseshoe Bend (population 700)! This is awesome! We got a gig, man!’ Horseshoe Bend was a small logging town, and they struck gold there, too. We didn’t find any gold, but we did find 250 bucks a night – which is pretty good for 16-year-olds.”

That band worked five to seven nights a week in Boise and the surrounding area for a decade, during which John taught himself to play harmonica while working as a truck driver for a freight company. As he describes in the song “Keep Your Elbows on the Wheel,” he kept his hands cupped around his harp as he played along with recordings while driving down the road.

“That was interesting,” he says, “’cause I had C harmonica and wanted to play ‘Snatch It Back and Hold It’ (which was recorded in a different key). I’m havin’ issues. I can play in B, but I can’t get the flat five…the F#. None of the licks are linin’ up, so I got a little disgruntled and didn’t know what to do.

“We didn’t have the internet back then, and I don’t think anybody at the music store knew jack about how to play blues harmonica. So I just learned how to play blues with what (notes) was on the harmonica.

“It was drivin’ my guitar player crazy. In C, I couldn’t get any blue notes. In D, I couldn’t get any major notes. In G, I could only get one blue note. But it was good for me. I was stuck, but I was developing a bag of my own before I even knew how to play it.

“I had this idea that, if I believed it, I could achieve it. It was what was immediately on the harp and the soul I could put into it. I was imitating tongue blocking. But at the time, I didn’t know that that even existed. Everybody in my town were pucker players. To play this stuff on the gigs, I figured I could curl my tongue up like a straw and blow my air right through it. It was too much work to get my lips goin’ to play puckered.

image“It was a great way to start playin’ the blues, ‘cause, when I discovered how to bend, man, everything started fallin’ into place.”

Németh discovered third position first – a technique that almost all beginners would find impossible to master. “I sat down at the piano,” he says, “and I’m like: ‘I got a C-major chord here…I’ve got a G-dominant chord here — boom! – I’ve got a D-minor key here. So I can work off of this.’ But I still didn’t know how to bend.’”

Already playing on gigs, he got by using the skills he’d already developed, frequently changing instruments to hit different notes, a technique that’s used by Charlie Musselwhite and others. John finally learned how to bend a reed from a substitute teacher who gave lessons at a local music store, but sent him on his way after only two sessions — probably realizing his student was already more advanced than he was.

Németh’s interest in deep-blues developed rapidly after he purchased a Percy Sledge release that contained the classic, “When a Man Loves a Woman.”

“’Man, I love that song,’ I said, ‘but it doesn’t look like the guy I saw on TV singin’ it (Michael Bolton).’ But I had a good feelin’ about the record. I bought lots of records like that. I took it home, and shit…when that song came up, it was amazing. Before, the closest I got to soul was listenin’ to Magic Sam because of my love for blues.

“I listened to the whole record and remembered all these songs…’Take Time to Know Her,’ ‘Out of Left Field,’ ‘It Tears Me Up.’ And I knew some of these players, and I knew the sound from somewhere. There was somethin’ connecting it to all those old Waylon and Willie records.

“Then I started listenin’ to (reggae great) Jimmy Cliff. Honestly, I didn’t know for ten years that those were some of the same players on all those (Sledge) records.”

Németh’s tastes soon expanded to include Otis Redding and James Carr, who’s best known for the song “Dark End of the Street” and is considered by some critics to be the best soul singer who ever lived despite a career that was waylaid by a bipolar psychiatric disorder and came to an end at age 58 because of lung cancer.

Then, another friend, Paul Morgan, loaned John a record collection so large that its boxes occupied the entire floor of Németh’s garage. It was full of vinyl treasures. “I stumbled across one and thought: ‘This looks pretty interesting,’” he says. “It was a pretty clean-cut guy. He was wearin’ a grey suit, had a short haircut and was wearing Buddy Holly kinda glasses. At first, I thought it was a gospel record.”

The artist turned out to be O.V. Wright, and the record was a life-altering discovery that turned John on to a long list of soul-blues classics Wright composed and recorded – Southern soul standards that include “A Nickel and a Nail,” “I Can’t Take It” and “(I’d Rather Be) Blind, Crippled & Crazy.” Other life-changers soon followed in the grooves laid down by Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex, Spencer Wiggins and others.

“Singin’ blues really came super natural to me,” Németh says. “But singin’ soul music was a little different. It took some work. I loved the country in it. That’s what was selling it to me. If that wasn’t there, it would have sounded just like gospel.”

As his musical boundaries expanded, Németh was filling clubs nightly across the region. But – much like the world we live in today — that came to a crashing halt after 9-11.

“The audiences went from 250 to 300 a night to 20 to 40, and the money started goin’ down,” he remembers. “I’m thinkin’: ‘Holy shit! What am I gonna do?’

“And (President) Bush didn’t help. He got people there super, super scared. Everybody in super-conservative Idaho was gettin’ ready for a Taliban invasion. People just lost their minds when he started blamin’ everything on Iraq. All the neighbors were coverin’ their windows with plastic and duct tape and puttin’ up supplies, gettin’ set for the end of the world.

“There’s a reason they call it ‘My Private Idaho (laughs).”

John had been sharing a house with three friends who worked on the Snake River. “They were great,” he says. “They were gone five or six months, but always paid their rent on time.”

imageAs the recession set in, he decided to relocate to San Francisco – not only to further his career but to follow his future wife, a lady who owned the best record collection of anyone close to his age and who was trying to establish herself as a Bay Area clothing designer.

It was a great decision on both levels.

“At that time, I’d already done a few tours with gitarist Junior Watson,” Németh recalls. “He was big news down there, and most of the blues community there already knew who I was.

“I got a lot of cool gig opportunities from different guitar players…Mighty Mike Schermer, Kenny ‘Blue’ Ray, Kid Andersen, David Bernstein. And the big guy in guitar out there, Elvin Bishop, he hired me, too. I did four albums with Elvin, so it worked out great!”

After serving as his opening act, Elvin quickly became a mentor, and John’s tasty voice and harp runs are a featured element on four of Bishop’s albums, including the Grammy-nominated The Blues Rolls On.

Németh recorded his first album, The Jack of Harps, in 2002 backed by his regular band, The Jacks. It’s now a hard-to-find, out-of-print treasure. He and his future bride lived in an apartment with walls so thin that he composed songs in the parking lot while seated behind the wheel of his Toyota pickup. A second self-produced CD, Come and Get It, followed in 2004 – about the same time he joined Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets for what turned into a two-year run after harp player/vocalist Sam Myers was sidelined with the illness that eventually claimed his life.

Funderburgh served as the producer when John was signed to make his first CD for Blind Pig Records. Entitled Magic Touch, it featured a heavyweight lineup — Junior, The Texas Horns, bassist Ronnie James Webber and drummer Wes Starr — and earned Németh a BMA nomination in 2009 for best new artist debut release.

The honor that year went to vocalist/SiriusXM announcer Big Llou Johnson, but Németh has been in the blues spotlight ever since, fronting his band, The Blue Dreamers, and performing a tasty mix of dusty, old-school covers and modern masterpieces – all of which come across are delivered with a no-nonsense approach that includes every fiber of his being in every note.

Faced with the steep cost of living in the Bay Area, one of the most expensive locales in the U.S., the Némeths lived across the bay in Oakland for a while, but finally decided to pull up stakes, drove halfway across the country and settled in the Midtown neighborhood in Memphis in 2013.

Considering John’s musical influences and the fact that he captured five BMA nominations including B.B. King entertainer of the year honors in the city that spring, it was almost a coming home for John even though he’d never lived there before.

“It’s a great city,” he says. “There’s a lot of blues venues here – and not just on Beale Street. There’s a real cool one here in my neighborhood, Wild Bill’s. There’s a guy that sings over there quite a bit named Booker Brown. He’s fabulous, man. He’s like Howlin’ Wolf and James Carr and Marvin Sease rolled into one, and he can hit some super-high notes like Johnny Adams.

“It’s interesting for musicians because Memphis is a town where you can make a livin’ playin’ music on Beale, and there’s lots of other places to play. But you gotta be somebody that gets around town and builds a fan base – ‘cause this town has been around a long time and had a lot of legendary talent roll through here.

“They’re great fans who still love blues and soul, rap and rock-‘n’-roll, and they’re still cuttin’ hit records outta here all the time. It’s an impressive city. I love it! It’s a town that has a feel, a sound, all of its own.”

That sound extends to the wildlife, too, Németh insists, pointing out that there’s a bird that shows up annually and warbles the turn-around to O.V. Wright’s “Don’t Let My Baby Ride,” something he proved after this interview by emailing an audio clip he’d captured a short while after our talk. Coincidentally, Wright’s home was in the same neighborhood and only a few blocks away.

And another bird whistles the hook to Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man,” he says.

The city’s certainly worked its magic for John.

The first album he recorded in the city, the analog release Memphis Grease, was produced by Scott Bomar and featured his classic soul band, the Bo-Keys. It climbed to the No. 4 spot on Billboard’s blues charts and took home a 2015 BMA for soul blues album of the year.

imageFeelin’ Freaky was a stellar follow-up produced by Luther Dickinson, and The Love Light Orchestra Featuring John Nemeth proved to be a pleasant change of pace, successfully uniting him with guitarist Joe Restivo’s 10-piece ensemble to deliver a gritty, sophisticated mix of uptown blues and deep soul covers. The end result would have had Bobby “Blue” Bland beaming – both because of the band’s delivery and the fact that their name was taken from his tune, “Turn on Your Love Light.”

Now that COVID-19 has John home for the duration, he spends his time keeping his youngsters busy and listens to the birds as he takes walks along the path of a former railroad trunk line that once transported workers and goods back and forth to a Sears factory a short distance away.

He’s also pretty far along in writing new material for two upcoming releases – one with the Blue Dreamers and the other with Love Light. “I got really lucky,” he says. “I started in March last year before we got busy on the road, and picked it up again in the fall, which is always good for me for some reason. A lot of songs start happenin’ for me that time of the year, and I was incorporating a lot of stuff that I knew the band was going to bring to it.

“I decided: Let’s cut this stuff while it’s hot. I booked the studio where I cut Memphis Grease — Scott’s Electraphonic Recording — ‘cause I wanted to cut an all-analog record again. It’s a warmer sound, and I like his gear. It’s funky gear, and he’d just gotten done doin’ the soundtrack for (the Rudy Ray Moore biopic) Dolomite Is My Name.

“I really love the new songs. And my rhythm section had just come off tour playin’ a lot of ‘em, and they’d just been doin’ some studio work for (alt rocker) John Paul Keith. I just thought: ‘Let’s strike when the iron’s hot, man.’ After all, the band’s already set up and ready to go.”

Three days later, Németh and his crew had an album in the can, all captured in two or three takes thanks to all the run-throughs they’d had on the road.

If all goes well, John’s going to be extremely busy in the fall. That yet-to-be-titled CD should hit the street in September along with a planned reissue of Memphis Grease – and a new Love Light album is already in the works, too.

“I’ve been a busy boy,” John says, noting that the shutdown couldn’t have come at a better time in his life, all things considered. “I’ve done a lot of different gigs in a lot of different places and a lot of different continents. And all this has been happenin’ since the kids have been home for spring break.

“It’s been a lot of fun hangin’ out with the family, playin’ Lego and figurin’ out how my website works. I never in a million years would ever thought I’d be doin’ that (laughs)!”

Meanwhile, he’s itching to get back in action. And he wants his fans and friends around the globe to know that he’s thinking of them often and hoping they’re all safe, healthy and doing well. “In this time of isolation,” he says, “remember: Music is food. You can eat as much as you want!”

Check out his tunes and where – hopefully – he’ll be playing next by visiting

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 – 1 of 10 

imageJay Willie & James Montgomery – Cadillac Walk

Zoho Roots

10 tracks

This is the sixth Zoho release for Jay Willie. It’s quite the eclectic mix of tunes, with one original and nine interesting covers. Jay Willie is a New England blues rocker who has released a number of albums featuring his incendiary guitar work. Here he brings in the legendary James Montgomery on harp and vocals to make quite the interesting CD. Montgomery’s four decade career has seen him with Johnny Winter, Aerosmith, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, The Allman Brother Band, Steve Miller, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, James Cotton and countless others. The guitar and harp work throughout are stellar, as would be expected from these two.

I addition to Jay Willie’s guitar and vocals and Montgomery’s harp and vocals are drummer Bobby T. Torello whom both are friends with and have worked with over the years (he’s in Willie’s band). On bass, lap steel, keys and simulated horns is Paul Opalach. The sound is big and deep, showing the depth of these fine players.

Leiber and Stoller wrote “Three Cool Cats” which opens the album; it was done originally by the Coasters and later the Beatles (among others). Featuring nice harp work and solid guitar play, it a good opener; Kyle Mangrove backs up the lead vocals here. The early punk rock band Mink Deville’s “Cadillac Walk” gets an interesting transformation here with some heavy slide guitar and with the harp blazing. Lee-Ann Lovelace also assists on vocals. “Neighbor Neighbor” is an Elvin Bishop track and its gets a rocking blues cover here. The harp and then guitar are once again featured to good effect. The Stone’s “Satisfaction” is next, the weakest cut on the CD. Mundane vocals but the harp and guitar once again shined. Tampa Red’s “Detroit Blues” gets a soulful cover; it is also Montgomery’s hometown. A nice, lazy sort of pace with thoughtful harp and guitar make this pretty and fun.

“Give Me One Reason” is Tracy Chapman’s famous cut and here Willie and Montgomery approach it with a blues feel and vocals that exude a bit of punk rock. Lovelace helps on the vocals again, a nice touch. The harp is prominent and well done. Jay Willie’s “Montgomery Boogie” features a driving beat and high powered guitar. It’s a slick instrumental with some great harp added, but the guitar is the key to this one’s success. The harp does take us home in a cool manner, though! Montgomery’s former bandleader Johnny Winter wrote and did “I’m Yours and I’m Hers.” The vocals remind me a bit of Winter’s style. The mid-tempo groove, solid guitar and passionate harp are all well done here. “Dry Onions” is a sweet old Willie Cobb harp cut and Montgomery does a fine job with it on the Mississippi saxophone. The vocals are more rocking and the guitar is a bit heavier, which are original touches to update this. The solos on harp and guitar are winners. Things finish up with another Winter tune, “Mean Town Blues.” Some slick resonator slide work and finger picking over a nice, driving snare beat make this special.

There are not too many complaints here. Jay Willie and James Montgomery are seasoned musicians who know how to play. The songs may not have started out as blues songs, but they are all transformed into blues and blues rock with interesting approaches to the covers. From traditional blues to punk rock, Willie and Montgomery put a big coat of new lipstick on these cuts and make them their own!

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.

 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 10 

imageVal Starr & The Blues Rocket – Lighter Side Of The Blues

Sandwich Factory Records

13 songs time – 58:00

On this their fifth release Californians Val Starr & The Blues Rocket live up to the albums title with upbeat music and mainly an uplifting message. Val has a pleasing voice and she also provides the rhythm guitar. She wrote twelve of thirteen songs as well as supplying new lyrics to an old classic. The core band is up to the task of supporting the songs, getting help from an outside keyboard player, sax players and a percussionist.

Right from the start it’s obvious that John Ellis’s bass playing is more prominent than is usually the case in many blues outfits. “Say Goodbye to the Blues(Like You Mean It)” is at once upbeat and melodic getting things off on the right foot. “Sactown Heat” has Timothy Brisson doing his best at duplicating B.B. King’s guitar sound. The song has just the right amount of grit.

On the title song Val fesses up to not growing up in the typical down and out blues situation. But like anyone from any station in life she has had ups and downs. Mr. Brisson fires off some nice guitar. Things slow up on the melancholy organ infused “All Or Nuthin’ Man”. Val gripes about getting no help around the house on “Lift A Finger”. It features Frankie Munz’s best harmonica playing on the CD as well as John Ellis on slide guitar.

“Mister Bassman” is an tribute to her husband John Ellis as well to all bass players. Timothy is no slouch on guitar on this one as well. Val adds new lyrics to “Big Boss Man(#Metoo)” changing it into a deriding of sexual harassment in the work place. Danny Sandoval shines on saxophone on the funky R&B of “Movin’ On”. Timothy Brisson opens up with the full fury of his guitar attack on the albums heaviest song “Shame On You”. A hearty blues “The Blues Doesn’t Pick Or Choose” finishes the set off in fine blues fashion.

Despite the album title everything here isn’t lightweight or wimpy. The songs range anywhere from mellow to hard hitting. A few songs get a little too lightweight bluesy, but it’s truly only a very minor set back. If you’re in the market for slightly more easy going blues, you’ve come to the right place. Be prepared for getting the house rocked from time to time.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 10 

imageBC Hudson – Jaded Heart

self release

10 songs time – 38:22

BC Hudson is the sole musician on his record. He sings, plays acoustic and electric guitar, bass and wrote all the songs. Kind of a folkie troubadour. He weaves his tales over rhythmic and oft times hypnotic guitar strumming at times augmented by electric guitar and bass.

What sounds like an amplified acoustic guitar underpins a song of longing for death if things life gets to be too much, “Way Down In The Ground”. The narrator of “Why You Do Me This Way” ponders why he is receiving bad treatment from a person. BC overlaps two acoustic guitars to fill out the sound on a song about mistrust, “Don’t Believe Me”. He often engages in plaintive laments such as “I Crawl To You”, that is enhanced by the inclusion of atmospheric electric guitar. He employs acoustic and electric guitars once again on the title track. The guitars build in intensity. An infectious riff is utilized on “Talk Of The Town”.

Double tracked acoustic guitars and occasional electric are used to great effect on “Blues On The Horizon” to give the song more depth. In “One And Only” he speaks to a woman that can be his soul salvation. “Time Stands Still” is a pensive exercise. A chunky and rhythmic acoustic guitar riff is augmented by some haunting electric slide guitar that sounds otherworldly. At one point the riff gets loud and eclectic briefly then reverts back to it’s acoustic origins.

BC spills out his inner thoughts over various guitar grooves. It’s a pretty unusual approach, but he’s following his own personal muse. Different sentiments reveal themselves upon subsequent listening’s. Those music fans looking for an alternative slant to music, this could be for you.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 10 

imageWide Mouth Mason – I Wanna Go With You


CD: 12 Songs, 38 Minutes

Styles: Guitar Monster Blues, Acoustic and Electric Blues, All Original Songs

Taking a look at the down-home cover art on Wide Mouth Mason’s eighth album, I Wanna Go With You, you might expect it to be a country blues album a la Will The Circle Be Unbroken. You wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Mason and his posse play fantastic acoustic guitar, including dobro and slide. However, they also get gritty, earning my “Guitar Monster Blues” tag for good reason. Vocally, front man Shaun Verreault channels Tom Petty in the truest sense of the word. Close your eyes and you’ll swear a certain Heartbreaker is the leader of this band. That’s not the only great thing about this CD. Another is the variety of musical styles and rhythms, keeping listeners on their toes. A boring album, this is not. One that’s hard to pin down? You bet. Its only real minus is the lack of an included lyrics booklet. Others might be disappointed at its svelte 38-minute running time. Wide Mouth Mason has a lot to say and play. They need not rush.

When one imagines the quintessential example of a blues band, the first thing that comes to mind is not a couple of Canadian kids coming of age in the 1980s. Nevertheless, Wide Mouth Mason formed in 1995 in Saskatchewan and released their debut album, The Nazarene, in 1996. It drew immediate interest and attention from the Canadian music industry. Re-recorded songs from that debut, as well as some new songs on their 1997 self-titled sophomore recording, cemented a major label record deal, Gold status in Canada, a JUNO nomination for Best New Group, and launched the career of one of the country’s most popular blues-based rock bands. Time and again, they’ve proven themselves a fresh new vehicle in the genre, suited for the 21st century.

Along with Shaun Verreault (singing, tri-slide lap steel, guitar and bass) are Safwan Javed on drums, percussion, vocals and “lawyering,” Ryan Dahle on bass and vocals, Darren Parris on bass, Shawn “The Harpoonist” Hall and Kelly “Mr. Chill” Hoppe on harmonica, and Tonye Aganaba on background female vocals for “Every Red Light.”

“Bodies in Motion” starts things with a bang – and a growl. Reminiscent of Too Slim and the Taildraggers, this is an anthem for folks on the go, adventurers who recoil at the thought of rest. “Bodies in motion got to stay in motion. Like the waves in the ocean, river to the sea.” Next comes “Every Red Light,” a magnificently moody number that Mr. Petty himself might like to cover. It’s catchy and romantic without being sappy: “I hit every red light on the way to your place tonight. I was stuck behind a slow-ass car. All I want to be is where you are.” This should be featured in an upcoming indie drama or romcom. “Some Kind of Requiem” features acoustic bliss, though it’s jumpy instead of plodding. Play along if you know how, or air-guitar if you don’t. Later comes “High Road,” a rip-roaring surprise. Never mind the methodical intro: this will get you on your feet faster than sitting on hot coals. “High ro-o-o-ooad,” Verreault sings with spine-tingling vigor. “You’re not on the map that I read. I’m down low, I’m down and almost dead.” The title track is another highlight, bringing a country vibe to the proceedings.

Make no mistake: Wide Mouth Mason’s guitar prowess is scary-good on their latest release!

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 – 5 of 10 

imageRory Block – Prove It On Me

Stony Plain Records

10 tracks

Rory Block has won six Blues Music Awards in her storied career and with this second installment in her “Power Women of the Blues” album series we get ten cool tracks where Rory pays homage to strong women who influenced her. Nine covers and one original are included, seven of which come from lesser known women who were important blues figures in the early days of the genre. Block does all the vocals, guitars and drums/percussion.

The album begins with Helen Humes’ “He May Be Your Man,” from the singer who replaced Billy Holiday in the Count Basie Orchestra in 1938. Block opens with some quick paced guitar work and then delivers a passionate vocal delivery of this great cut. She gives us some nice slide to enjoy here, too. Madlyn Davis’ “It’s Red Hot” is next, from a woman who little is known about except for her music. Block gives us a great rendition where she shines vocally and on guitar. Up next is “If You’re A Viper,” a Rosetta Howard tune. Howard was popular in the 1930’s in Chicago. Originally from Arkansas, she tried to regain popularity in 1947 when she was featured on recordings with the Big Three, including Willie Dixon and Big Bill Broonzy. They did not get good reviews, but this marijuana song was hugely popular. Block gives it a heady (no pun intended) interpretation. The title track comes to us from the famed Ma Rainey. Block sings and skats with authority and picks and slides coolly on her guitar. Juanita “Arizona” Dranes’ “I Shall Wear a Crown” was born blind and was one the first female gospel recording artists. Recording on Okeh Records in the 1920s, she was famous for her nasal style of singing. Block replicates that in parts of the song to good effect. This one is forthright and fun; block testifies and gives a gutsy performance.

The one original tune is entitled “Eagles,” done in a nice, early blues style. The lyrics are heartfelt and reflect an incident from her life. Block sings with great feeling and emotion. Up next is “Wayward Girl,” a Lottie Kimbrough cut. Lottie sang under a variety of last names. She garnered fame singing in Kansas City. A large woman, she got the nickname “The Kansas City Butterball” and was known for her powerful voice. Block does not imitate Kimbrough but puts her own spin on the song and does a nice job with it vocally and on slide. Memphis Minnie needs no introduction to blues fans; Block covers her “In My Girlish Days” here. Merline Johnson was know as “The Ya Yas Girl” and was known for a variety of juke joint blues. She was accompanied by Big Bill Broonzy, Lonnie Johnson, Blind John Davis, Buster Bennett, and Punch Miller and was most popular in the 1930s and 1940s. “Milkman Blues” is a cool cut with double entendres and Block delivers it well. She picks and plunks up and down the fretboard and delivers a fine performance. The album concludes with Elvie Thomas’ “Motherless Child,” one of two cuts she recorded for Paramount Records. She appeared on three others. She was from Houston and left school after fifth grade to begin her musical career at eleven. By age seventeen she was popular playing at country suppers. This pretty ballad is delivered with great feeling and Block plays some haunting slide with it.

Rory has produced 36 albums in her career, has toured all over the globe, won many an award and continues to produce great music. Her covering some more obscure artists is a great way to retain their memory and expose a larger audience to their music. Block does a fantastic job with these songs and I thoroughly enjoyed this CD. I recommend it to all fans of acoustic blues to want to hear a true professional at the top of her game!

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.

 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 10 

imgeJim Gustin & Truth Jones – Lessons Learned

Self Released

11 tracks

The gravelly voiced Jim Gustin and the power house voiced Truth Jones have released their third album with 11 new cuts. They were 2020 International Blues Challenge Semi-Finalists who represented their home of Santa Clarita, CA. Truth Jones (born Jeri Goldenhar) stands six feet tall and has a voice and presence to match her stature. Jim Gustin is a raspy and guttural vocalist who wields a powerful guitar sound.

The band is Steve Alterman on piano and organ, Scott Dunsan on bass and Chuck Strong on drums. All three also provide vocal backing. Lawrence Tamez is the band’s saxophonist and does a superb job on the horn in his support. These guys all do a fine job along with Gustin and Jones. Jim Scimonetti also adds some sax and Lee Thornburg (Tower Of Power) also appears on trumpet.

The CD begins with the romping “I’d Been Drinkin’” with both Gustin and Jones sharing the vocal duties. The sax blares and the guitar blazes as they and the band open the album in a forthright manner. There’s also a little trumpet in there. “I Heard About You” follows with Jones in the lead and some nice organ work and a guitar solo. Sax and trumpet fill nicely. “The Truth” is a cut with a driving beat and featuring the gutsy vocals of Gustin. A guitar solo and good backing vocals by Jones fill this one out well; the organ and guitar take us home to close things out. He ballad “When This Ship Sails” is a sultry and emotive cut with sax and piano backing up Jones. Thoughtful instrumental work on guitar, piano and sax make this one interesting, along with Jones’ lead vocals. “I Hate To See You Go” is a throbbing and dirty sort of cut with a sexy vibe as Gustin growls and moans. The sax blisters and the guitar cuts deeply in support. “Never Forget” is another duet where the two of them give a lesson in how a lady should be treated. Piano and guitar share solo time as Gustin and Jones school the listener that, “She might forgive you but she’ll never forget.”

The sax gets “All You Ever Bring Me Is The Blues” off to a big start and Jones delivers some big vocals as the piano, sax and guitar give us good solos. “Never Too Big For The Blues” is a down home sort of duet with Crooked Eye Tommy Marsh on slide and LeRoi Hansen on harp in support. “Rockslide” is just what the titles says, a rocking and bold cut with Gustin singing and playing with affirmation and as piano, sax and trumpet offer stout support. “My Love Is True” is a pretty and slow blues with jazzy overtones as the sax offers a long and pretty opening. Jones and Gustin once again share the vocal lead as they build and build into an emotional peak. The album finishes up with gospely “Three Things,” a song about faith, hope and love as Gustin and Jones tell us to keep our chins up and make the world a better place. Gustin’s guitar rings like a church bell of hope as the two deliver a nice finale to their CD.

All in all, this is a well crafted album. Gustin’s vocals are harsh but not hard, gritty yet emotional. He grabs the listener and does not let go. Jones has a powerful set of pipes and can go from sultry and seductive to in your face with equal authenticity and feeling. They make quite the interesting pair vocally. Gustin’s guitar is powerful but never over done or over stated. The band in support is solid and together. I enjoyed the CD and those liking blues with a cool, soulful, rocking and jazzy side that takes you from the bar room to the sanctuary at church will, too!

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 – 7 of 10 

imageBushmaster Featuring Gary Brown – Dancing In The Belly Of The Beast

GEM Records

14 tracks

Gary Brown is the Bushmaster and he has written all 14 of these great new songs. This is his fifth album and first since 2011. It includes many songs about the injustices that he and we all see almost everyday in society.

Born in Washington, D.C., Gary grew up with a diverse group of friends and was exposed to music all his life. His mother turned to church music while Gary was young but that did not deter him from listening to everything whenever he could. He played guitar since he was 11 and after high school he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He was at a Charlie Pastorfield and the Believers show and met the band (and his future wife Trudi) at the break. Pastorfield invited him up for a solo in the second set and Brown found his calling.

The album feature his band and some great guests. Gary Brown is on guitar and vocals. Justin Kimball is on bass, Justin Pinkney is on drums, Tim McDonald is on keyboards, and Daniel Weston Cohen is on slide guitar. Backing vocals are provided by the great Tracy Nelson and Vickie Carrico. Recorded at Sound Emporium Studios in Nashville, the album is produced by Geoff Wilbourn.

The album begins with “Profile,” a tune about what cops often do with people of color. The song itself has an up tempo beat and offers a slick guitar solo while the lyrics describe a continuing issue with law enforcement. “Ajax And The Hot Wax” is a tune of unrequited love, at least in a sense. A funky groove, cool lyrics, and a slick guitar solo sell this one. “Song For Freddie Gray” is another song with a social justice theme. Freddie Gray died due to spinal cord injuries while being transported in a police van in Baltimore in 2015. A driving (almost marching) beat and strident, forceful vocals make this quite effective a message and a good song. Next up is “The Blues,” a funked-up and cool cut about the labor of Brown’s love. A couple of big solos spice this up sweetly, too. “Nowhere To Stand” is more commentary about the problems of violence and shootings, whether it be in altercations in the neighborhood or with the authorities. This is a slow blues with a throbbing beat, a big organ sound and more of Gary’s guitar. Well done! “Mushroom” is next, a cool, angry, rocking tune about love gone wrong. “Miss Sexyfine” is a funky number Brown delivers with authority. He delivers a stinging guitar solo mid song to sweeten the pot.

“40 Acres And A Mule” is a driving blues about the broken promise to African Americans during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War. Brown sings he’s waiting for his promise to be fulfilled, being stuck in low paying jobs and paying into a future 40 acres a mule that never will come. Some very slick guitar work is featured here, too. Next is “Army Of Two,” a love song with super backing vocals. “Elevator” is a song warning his woman that the elevator goes two ways; more great guitar work here once again. The heavy funk groove of “Pressure Cooker” makes for a good backdrop for the commentary of how life has heated up and is ready to explode with unnecessary violence and injustice. Brown offers another stinging guitar solo, this time to take things home. “Jekyll and Hyde” is a slow blues about a relationship gone bad with a two faced woman– very well done with more great guitar and the organ adding an almost church-like feel to the cut. “Profit from Pain” is a cut about greed and poor treatment of employees; more great commentary and music! “Thing Back Home” concludes the set. Tim Jones is on acoustic guitar in this commentary about the current top administration in D.C.

Brown does not hold back his feelings here in this great CD about life in the U.S. He’s penned and played 14 great songs and has put together his best album yet– this is some powerful stuff.

This is one heck of a CD; mixing blues and funk, the Bushmaster’s got a real winner here!

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.

 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 10 

IMAGEDedicated Men Of Zion – Can’t Turn Me Around

Big Legal Mess Records – 2020

10 tracks; 39 minutes

This four man harmony group from North Carolina came together in 2014. Leader Anthony Daniels was raised singing harmonies at home in Greenville, NC, and is also a veteran of the Atlanta Rn’B scene, his son Antwan Daniels played keyboards in church while blending gospel sounds into his hip-hop work, Dexter Weaver met Anthony on the sacred soul circuit and Marcus Sugg was the last to join the group and is now Anthony’s son-in-law, so the group is joined by close personal relations. The group sings sacred soul and caught the attention of the Music Maker Relief Foundation and through that connection met Bruce Watson of Fat Possum Records who offered to produce this disc for his recently founded Bible & Tire imprint. This is the group’s second album and was recorded in Memphis with a band that knows its way round the classic soul/gospel sounds: Will Sexton is on guitar, Calvin Barnes organ, Mark Stuart bass and George Sluppick drums, with Jim Spake and Art Edmaiston adding horns. The result is an album that combines the sound and rhythms of Memphis with gospel sounds and religious lyrics, reminding us that the sacred and secular are intimately related.

It sounds as if all four singers get a turn in the lead though there are no credits to confirm who sings which song. There are also no writing credits on the album but one can assume that the material here is a mix of traditional church themes and some original elements. A good example is “It’s A Shame” which bemoans the continuing violence in our world and asks when this will change, the soaring lead vocal set against a full band production with the horns beefing up the sound. In contrast the final cut “Work Until My Days Are Done” is far more conventional gospel fare and sounds typical of Southern gospel church muusic though the horns again add an extra dimension; “A Leak In This Old Building” is classic gospel with the organ prominent as the singer takes his time to tell his story of salvation. Opening track “Father, Guide Me, Teach Me” has some fine guitar work and close harmonies on a traditional church theme of guidance from above while “I Feel Alright” is a beautifully sung ballad with the other three vocalists providing the sort of backing that classic soul singers would love. Will Sexton’s fiery rhythm guitar work stands out on “When I Look Back”, a track which fairly sizzles, one of several on which it is quite impossible for the listener not to move!

Every track brings the spirit to the music and the harmonies are excellent throughout. Whether you share the beliefs of The Dedicated Men Of Zion or not the quality of the music they make is there for all to appreciate.

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 

imageAvey Grouws Band – The Devil May Care

Self-Release – 2020

10 tracks; 36 minutes

This band has its origins in blues jams in the Quad Cities where vocalist Jeni Grouws met guitarist Chris Avey, formerly lead guitarist for Big Jack Pearson. The band reached the IBC Semi-Finals in both 2018 and 2020 and The Devil May Care is their debut release. The material here is all original, written by Jeni and Chris, supported by Nick Vasquez on keys, Randy Leasman bass and Bryan West drums; Nolan Schroeder (sax) and Dan Meier (trumpet) play on one track. The very clear production is a tribute to Travis Huisman who oversaw the recordings in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

From the start you can hear that the band has a really strong vocalist and a fine guitarist. Jeni teasingly proposes that we “Come And Get This Love” on the opening track, her strong vocals riding the riffs that Chris conjures up, the organ adding swing to the middle section and Chris playing an exuberant solo to close out the song. The nagging rhythm draws you into the title track and Jeni’s vocals keep you riveted as she tells her lover that “I want you to stay but I know that you won’t. The Devil may care about this sin, I sure as hell don’t” – another strong cut. The rhythm section sets a NOLA groove on “Rise Up”, a clarion call to turn our anger at injustices into action, Chris’ guitar catching the mood in an exciting, slightly rocky solo. The band shows that it can handle a soul tune on “Let’s Take It Slow” with plenty of Memphis groove in the guitar work, Jeni sounding pretty seductive on this one: “You get the wine, I’ll get the glasses, so we can do this thing just right. We’re gonna need a few records, ‘cos this could take all night”!

“Long Road” takes us some way from the blues, a rocking piece of Americana which celebrates the wide open spaces of the Midwest – big guitars, expansive keyboards and a powerful vocal performance. “Let Me Sing The Blues” takes us back to more familiar blues territory, the band aided by the piano and a classic blues riff before Jeni confesses that she feels “Weary” on a gentle tune with acoustic guitar and something of a folk feel. We return to the theme of illicit love that featured in the title track on a short track that packs a lot into 2.39 as the rhythm section plays a latin-inspired riff and Chris plays a lovely, light solo while Jeni does not sound at all apologetic about her “Dirty Little Secret”! Chris joins Jeni on a rocking duet entitled “Dig What You Do” before the horns add a jazzy element to the final track, a fun swinger to which many hard-working people will relate – “Two Days Off (And A Little Bit Of Liquor)”. The chorus is instantly catchy (whether you like a drink or not). Chris plays completely differently here, suiting the tune and showing that he is an accomplished player who can adapt across several styles.

This is an enjoyable and accomplished debut disc that should appeal to a wide audience and comes recommended by this reviewer.

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 – 10 of 10 

imageMike Mattison – Afterglow

Landslide Records

CD: 10 Songs, 40 Minutes

Styles: Roots, Americana, All Original Songs

Ever read a book, watch a movie, or listen to a CD and think, “It’s almost what I’m looking for, but not quite?” It lands a hairsbreadth short of the bullseye, though it’s nice enough as-is. Grammy winner Mike Mattison’s new album Afterglow consists of decent roots and Americana, smooth and melodic, but Rainey Wetnight was looking for some blues. At best, this release is blues-based, with lots of lovely riffs and harmonious vocals. Most of its ten original offerings sound similar, such as the opener and closer, “Charlie Idaho” and “Got Something for You.” On the whole, it ain’t half-bad, but those searching for down-and-dirty, growling, gritty numbers should search elsewhere. This is an atmospheric album for a drive down the scenic route.

You might remember Mike Mattison from such ensembles as Scrapomatic, The Derek Trucks Band, and most recently, the Tedeschi Trucks Band. As lead vocalist of Scrapomatic, he picked up a nomination for Minnesota Music Awards best male vocalist, and both he and co-founder Paul Olsen were also nominated for best R&B Group. He is also an active essayist who publishes on music and poetry. Since 2013, Mattison and Ernest Suarez have edited “Hot Rocks: Songs and Verse,” an ongoing feature in Five Points: A Journal of Literature and Art. He serves on the Council of the Association of Literary Critics, Scholars, and Writers. A native of Minneapolis, MN, Mike learned to play a variety of musical instruments before graduating from high school. He boasts varying degrees of prowess on the recorder, clarinet, tenor sax, trombone, bass, French horn, and of course, guitar. He graduated from Harvard with a degree in English and American Literature, though he has continued his musical career, finding it a complement to his education.

Performing alongside Mike (lead vocals, acoustic guitar) are Dave Yoke on guitars; Tyler Greenwell on drums, percussion and effects; Frahner Joseph on bass, Paul Olsen on guitars for tracks two, four, eight and nine; Rachel Eckroth on keyboards, and Kofi Burbridge on organ.

Mattison starts us off with a loping Western-style number called “Charlie Idaho,” with grim guitar and a chilling backstory. “The story of Charlie Idaho has somewhat morphed over time into a twilit legend,” Mike says. “He was a white man who ran a levee camp overseeing mostly black laborers and a large corral of working mules. Mr. Charlie was alleged to have murdered more than one uncooperative laborer. In those days, before there was anything like an Animal Welfare Act or PETA, the government would send out what was known as a ‘Mercy Man’ to make sure the mules weren’t being mistreated. Of course, no one was particularly concerned about the men.” In this song, Charlie shoots him, proving that even mercy can be killed. Fortunately, after that comes “Afterglow,” an upbeat little ditty with rat-a-tat drums by Tyler Greenwell. “Deadbeat” brings a young Tom Petty to mind, and later on, “On Parchartrain” possesses old-fashioned country harmony.

Afterglow may not have very much blues on it, but it still leaves a pleasant taste in listeners’ ears.

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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