Cover photo © 2021 James Watkins
In This Issue
Marty Gunther has our feature interview with legendary Jackson 5 member Tito Jackson. We have nine Blues reviews for you this week including a new music from Lea McIntosh, Chris Bergson, Eddie 9V, Dr. Bekken, Franck L. Goldwasser, Pack Mule Project, Dave Kalz and Tommy Z.
Featured Interview – Tito Jackson
Why does an artist who’s sold millions of records in the the worlds of R&B and pop turn his sights on the blues? For some, the move comes after finally realizing that the music we love are – like Willie Dixon said so succinctly– “the roots and everything else is the fruits.” For others, it’s simply a side-road trip, a temporary diversion from their comfort zones.
But not Tito Jackson!
At age 67 and after a star-studded, platinum- and gold-plated history with The Jacksons and Jackson 5, the Rock-‘n’-Roll Hall of Famer is about to shock his legion of fans and turn the world on its collective ear with the release his first-ever blues CD. And as Blues Blast learned recently in an intimate interview, Tito’s truly coming home to his first love — the blues – and not venturing into territory unknown.
As strange as that might seem to just about anyone outside his immediate family, Tito grew up to the backbeat of the blues. The third child of Joe and Katherine Jackson, he came into the world on Oct. 15, 1953, in Gary, Ind., which – like Chicago and Calumet City, Ill., a few miles to the west – is steeped in the tradition of the music.
“My father, my mother,” Jackson says, “they played a lot of blues at barbeques, family gatherings and things like that. They played a lot of Jimmy Reed (who lived in the city), Muddy Waters, Albert Collins. You name it, they played ‘em all!
“And any time we’d go over to other families, they’d be playin’ blues, too. So we were a ‘blues family,’ yeah!”
Born in Fountain Hill, Ark., Tito’s dad grew up in neighboring East Chicago, Ind., after his parents’ divorce. A Golden Gloves boxer who dreamed about career as a pro, he raised nine kids by working different jobs at Inland Steel Corp. But he also spent his nights and weekends playing blues guitar, too.
In the early ‘50s, Joe formed a short-lived band named The Falcons, which featured high school student Thornton “Pookie” Hudson on vocals. Desperate to secure a recording contract, they tried everything they could, but failed. They disbanded when Hudson founded a separate group, The Spaniels, a doo-wop ensemble that’s credited with being the first R&B stars ever to emerge from the Midwest thanks to a string of hits on Vee-Jay, most prominently “Baby It’s You” and “Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight.”
Now a familiar sight thanks his trademark bowler hat, sunglasses and burly physical demeanor, Tito’s a gentle man who’s far more down-to-earth than you might imagine after all of his and his family’s success. Brother Michael described him succinctly: “Tito is very quiet and soft, but can be really strong when necessary. He’s always there when we need him, and manages to project an inner calm which is vital within a family unit.”
That calmness runs like a river as Jackson talks today.
Tito started playing guitar at age ten after his dad caught him in the act fooling around with his ax and breaking a string in the process. “It was the blues that got me interested in the guitar,” he says.
And, fortunately, instead of being admonished him for his indiscretion, Joe bought him his own six-string a short while later instead.
The household broke into song often, and Joe quickly realized that sons Jackie, Jermaine and Tito had a special talent a few months after the guitar incident. He created the first iteration of the family band, The Jackson Brothers, shortly thereafter, which evolved into The Jackson 5 when which seven-year-old Michael took over as the front man two years later.
“Back in the early days, when we used to play the High Chaparral and Pepper’s Lounge (two legendary showrooms on Chicago’s South Side), we had blues in our act,” Tito remembers, “usually three or four blues songs every night.
“I remember that we played in Peoria, Ill., a few times and opened for Johnnie Taylor (the man who made ‘Who’s Makin’ Love (to Your Old Lady,’ ‘Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone’ and ‘Disco Lady’ Billboard R&B chart No. 1 hits). We were right in the middle of that sweet R&B music, blues and that whole thing! We did that for many years.
“Then we started doin’ the Jackson 5 thing and Motown, and that’s a whole different thing altogether.”
After winning several local talent shows, they captured top honors at amateur night competition at the Apollo Theater in New York in 1967, and their career exploded. Joe got them inked to Steeltown Records in Gary later that year. Their single — “Big Boy” – was released in 1967 and proved so successful that it caught the ear of Berry Gordy, who signed the boys to Motown.
Despite their proximity to the Windy City and the fact that Reed, Big Daddy Kinsey, harmonica player Middle Walter – yes, there was one, and he was great, too! — and artists lived nearby, the only bluesman Tito met during his childhood was B.B. King, and that was only during a fleeting encounter.
“I got to know him a little better in his older age,” Jackson remembers. “He came to my neighborhood one time, The Country Club nightclub, where he played every year. I went to the club, and a friend was there with his guitar. I said: ‘Hey, man! Why you here with your guitar?’
“He said: ‘You don’t know?’ I said: ‘I don’t know what?’ He said: ‘There’s a part of B.B.’s show where he calls anybody up on stage that’s got a guitar to come up and play with him.’
“I didn’t live too far from that place, so I ran home and got mine. I came back, and wouldn’t you know it…that section of the show was over!
“Two years later, B.B.’s back in town and I’m gonna bring my mother and my guitar and everything. I sit in the audience with it and wait for that part in the show to be called up – and it never happened.”
King had eliminated that section of his performance from his regular routine. But Jackson did get to go backstage and chat with him in his dressing room at the end of the night. “He signed my guitar,” Tito remembers fondly. “It was the very first guitar that Berry Gordy had bought me and the same one I played on The Ed Sullivan Show.
“I wanted that guitar because that’s what B.B. played back then – a Gibson 345 Stereo. I still cherish it today. And every time I’m down in Indianola, Miss., I always make it a point to visit him and his museum.”
Tito established himself as a top-flight guitarist himself during Jackson 5 performances, but Joe never allowed him to play on any of their records – or allow any of the boys to write their own material — until they jumped from Motown to CBS in 1976.
The final version of the family band, The Jacksons, also included Randy, Jackie and Marlon in different lineups when everyone began to go their separate ways in 1984 after their Victory Tour, the only time when all six brothers were on stage simultaneously. Their last visit to the studio came in 1989 with the release of 2300 Jackson Street, an album that used their former home address as the title.
In the years since, Tito has remained pretty much out of sight from the public eye, but he’s remained busy behind the scenes as a session guitarist, producer and family man, raising his own three sons – Taj, Taryll and TJ – and brother Michael’s children, too, following his untimely death in 2009.
When his boys launched a career in R&B as the group 3T, Tito followed in his father’s footsteps and became their manager – also to great success. In fact, their debut CD, Brotherhood, sold more than 3 million copies.
But the itch to perform again simply proved too strong to resist, he says, noting: “I decided to take a little break after the Victory Tour, but the break lasted so-o- long, I couldn’t take it anymore!
“I wanted to play some music, and I wanted to be on stage again. I’d been playin’ the Jackson 5 stuff for all my life practically, but the blues had been the main music in my family. I just wanted to jam, but I couldn’t get no pros to do that kinda thing.
“I was livin’ in Oxnard, Calif., then (a couple of hours northwest of Los Angeles). It’s not a huge city like L.A. So I started a little blues band with some of my buddies. Music was their secondary job though…you know…the kinda guys that play the drums on the weekend and have regular jobs durin’ the week.
“I could only do so much with these guys because I didn’t want to pull them from jobs and take them all away from the benefits they’d been building up for 15-20 years…you know how the music business is! They just weren’t able to continue with me.
“At the time, I was doin’ a lot of weddings, church benefits and basically rehearsin’ durin’ the afternoons in my buddy’s club — a location where all the people who worked in the vegetable fields would come in for a few beers and play pool after a hard day. He had three or four tables, and they didn’t give a damn about blues. They wanted mariachi music!
“That was a good time for me to practice, to be in front of people (as a bluesman) for the first time – even though they wasn’t payin’ attention,” Tito says. “I was more or less gettin’ myself prepared because I’d never been on a stage before without my brothers.
“It took six months or so, but I was buildin’ a show and that whole thing. After that, I started movin’ around the country, got (booked on) a cruise and other shows, gigs overseas in Japan and France. The next thing I know, I was on the American Blues Tour in Europe and then a few others. It just grew from that point.”
For a while in 2003, Jackson played in a blues group that included guitarist Angelo Earle, best known for his work with Al Green, Bobby Rush and The Bar-Kays, among others. Later on, he served as a judge on BBC-TV’s Just the Two of Us celebrity singing competition – replacing Lulu in the lineup — and then as executive producer of The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty, the reality series released after Michael’s death. He’s also collaborated with dozens of other artists, including Philadelphia music kingpins Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, L.A. Reid and Babyface, and Howard Hewitt, too.
The one thing that was missing in his life was an album under his own name.
“I said to myself: ‘I’m doin’ all this, but I have no music (songs of his own),’” Tito admits. He wanted to record, but was torn between R&B and the blues. So he consulted with his family.
“To make a long story short,” he says, “I said I can always do blues because blues is a music that really doesn’t have an age. The older you are, probably, the more acceptable it is. But I decided: ‘I’m gonna do this “Jackson” album first.’”
Released in 2016 as a CD in Japan and distributed through iTunes in the U.S., it was entitled Tito Time, and deeply imbued with the Jacksons’ trademark sound. Tito became the last of his siblings to score a hit single when “Get It Baby” — which featured hip-hop legend Big Daddy Kane — hit the Billboard R&B charts and created a temporary dance craze.
“Michael was the one who inspired me to continue,” Tito insists. “I had done a few songs, and my sons had done a couple of tracks and played ‘em for him. They were good. And he said it’d be good for me to keep goin’ and finish the project. But at the back of my mind, I wanted to do a blues album. My love really sits with that genre of music.”
Prior to COVID-19, he’d already been touring and recording with the B.B. King Blues Band. “Actually, COVID worked in my favor as far as being able to do the blues album,” he says. “I started working on it in October or November 2019, and because of COVID, I was able to catch friends at home to ask them if they’d collaborate.
“There were no shows or anything else, so people had time. And, fortunately, I’m a homebody, too. I’m used to bein’ home all the time. Before COVID-19, there were times when I wouldn’t leave my house for a week or two…just workin’ on music or bein’ around the house.”
Entitled Under Your Spell, it will be released on Mike Zito’s Gulf Coast Records in association with Hillside Global on Aug. 6, and features a lineup that includes Bobby Rush, Stevie Wonder, Kenny and Darnell Neal, George Benson, Joe Bonamassa, Eddie Levert, Grady Champion, the B.B. King band and Tito’s brother Marlon, too, among others – almost all of whom contributed to the project remotely.
From the opening bars, listeners will know instantaneously where the music’s coming from because it has the rich, layered production values fans have loved from the Jacksons since the mid-‘60s. But it has a deep blue feel that captures the colors of soul-blues and Southern soul that emanates from Chicago, Memphis and Mississippi. Never overpowering, it lays down a deep groove that will have you rocking from beginning to end.
“Kenny’s a great person to work for and work with,” Jackson says. “He’s a great personality and fabulous musician. It worked out great that he was able to bring things together the way he did with his family and the others.”
Most of other songs were written by Tito in partnership with Michael K. Jackson – not a family member, but another artist with strong R&B credentials as a member of the new jack swing group, Portrait, who scored big with the tune “Here We Go Again!” in 1995 and as someone with strong behind-the-scenes cred.
“Back then, he worked as ‘Kurt,’” Tito points out, “because they had another Michael in the group and when someone said the name, they both turned around.”
One of Jackson’s favorite numbers in the set is a completely reimagined cover of B.B.’s “Rock Me Baby.” Recorded prior to COVID, it features the King and one of his daughters, Claudette.
“She kills it!” Jackson insists.
The only other tune he didn’t write is special for another reason, Tito says. It’s a duet with Levert entitled “All in the Family Blues,” and one of the first blues songs ever penned by Gamble and Huff, who pioneered what’s known as the Philly Sound. “I called Kenny because Eddie had said he’d love to do a song with me.
“But I thought to myself: ‘What song am I gonna do? How the hell am I gonna write a melody for Eddie Levert, of all people?’ So I called Kenny and asked if he had anything. A week later, he sent me the perfect song,” driving home the message that everyone in a family has to work together to overcome life’s hurdles, to keep everyone happy and for everyone to succeed. “It’s really unique,” he adds, “because I don’t remember Gamble and Huff doin’ any straight blues.”
The song “Love One Another” – which was released as a single a few weeks ago – also is special. “I mixed blues artists with pop artists on that one (including Neal, Benson, Bonamassa, Rush, Levert and Marlon),” Tito says. “It also delivers a message, and it came out great!
“What I’m tryin’ to do with that one is to invite some listeners of other genres back to the blues,” he says. “What the blues world needs is another crossover album like The Thrill Is Gone. Hopefully, it’s that one! The blues deserve a chance, and I tried to make a record that folks will play at barbecues and family gatherings and have a good time when they do.”
Tito will be touring soon along with Mike Zito’s Big Band, and they’re also booked for the fall Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise. Check out his new CD and where he’ll be playing next by visiting his website: www.titojackson.com
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 9
Lea McIntosh – Blood Cash
Shark Park Records
CD: 7 Songs, 32 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Soul, All Original Songs, Debut Album
Dreams. The ones you have while you’re asleep can blow your mind. The ones you have while you’re awake can fuel your mind for future achievement. Time and again, we see and hear stories of single-minded individuals pursuing a single lofty goal until they reach it: sports stardom, fashion notoriety, the NYT bestseller list. Yet Lea McIntosh has made her mark in several areas: the culinary arts, designing, marketing and multimedia. Following several dreams to their successful conclusion has laid the foundation to return to her true calling: music. On her debut album, Blood Cash, Lea presents seven original offerings of “Modern Soul with a Retro Feel.” Indeed: she’s fused the best of classic and contemporary blues with significant swagger. Her vocals lie midway between Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin, roughly speaking, but her attitude? That’s all McIntosh. No one else can come out of a background situation like hers swinging so hard. If Steve Earle were in a woman’s body, dark, kinky tresses and all, it would be Lea’s.
Lea was born to sing the blues. She grew up in a troubled household where she witnessed drugs, violence, and criminal mayhem. Her mother was murdered when Lea was only eleven, and her early years found her dealing with physical and emotional abuse. As a result, she’s given voice to her tumultuous past and reasserted herself with a record that reflects both her talent and tenacity.
Prior to the spread of COVID-19, she was starting to attract notice on the West Coast, and once the pandemic passes, she looks forward to sharing stages again. Also, she’s begun working with the iconic blues master J.P. Soars, and the two have some recording projects and a California tour in the works.
Performing alongside our leading lady are Travis Cruse on guitar, bass, vibanet and drums; Andy Just on harmonica; Myron Dove on bass; Deszon Claiborne on drums; Eamonn Flynn on piano and Hammond organ, and Tammi Brown and Will Bell on harmony vocals.
The title track starts McIntosh’s initial album off with a “bang, bang.” “Blood Cash” is a gritty ballad of a killer who “paid the devil forward, pulling back that trigger.” Travis Cruse is an absolute beast on guitar, bass and drums, and Andy Just blasts hellfire-hot harp. If you’re not stomping along with the solo in the middle, you’ve got no rhythm and no soul. “Blue Stoned Heart” takes listeners back to the 1970s with wah-wah Hammond organ and a killer bassline by Myron Dove. Despite the funky groove, the song’s a tragedy: “You’ve got a map running down your arms, telling you it’s time for more. Your veins burn the midnight oil while your heart plays tug-of-war. Please don’t make me bury your blue stoned heart.” “Tennessee Hurricane” features smooth harmony and an ominous overtone, while “Fantasy Woman” will inspire knowing smirks. “Purple Suede Boots,” the CD’s surefire highlight, mixes blues and soul in equal measure. Get up and dance, because this number’s made for it. “Soul Stripper” burns slow and sultry, and afterward, “The Fire is Coming” in an electric boogie rush. Can you dig it? I can!
Lea McIntosh’s Blood Cash is worth every penny, from a debut artist returning to her original dream.
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 – 2 of 9
Chris Bergson – All I Got Left
Continental Blue Heaven
10 songs – 40 minutes
Covid-19 has given us precious little to celebrate over the last 18 months but, without diminishing the terrible suffering it has inflicted on so many, the pandemic has inspired the release of a number of superb albums with writers and musicians seemingly galvanised by what they are witnessing, and recordings being produced in novel ways.
All I Got Left, the latest effort from New York City guitarist, singer and songwriter, Chris Bergson, is a prime example of this. Recorded live over two days in March 2021 at Brooklyn’s Excello Recording studio, the album is an intimate, stripped-down effort, with Bergson’s electric guitar the only accompaniment to his glorious blue-eyed soul vocals, in sharp contrast to his previous band-focussed material. Producer and engineer Hugh Pool has captured a warm, live sound, as if Bergson were just playing and singing in his front room to a small group of close friends.
The ten songs on All I Got Left include some new Bergson songs, some re-recordings of previously released tracks and some fascinating covers. The title track, which opens the album, sets the tone perfectly as Bergson extracts a variety of beautiful tones from his guitar as his voice laments the events of the pandemic: “So let’s keep in our hearts those who didn’t make it. Say one for John Prine and my friend, Marc. Those stranded alone in nursing homes, watching the sky fade from black to dark. Isolation and loss, what will be the human cost?” But he consistently finds reason for hope. His closing line that “I love you with all I got left” raises an optimistic, positive note in a period of overwhelming pain. The track also showcases Bergson’s impressive ability to play rhythm guitar and lead guitar simultaneously, mixing jazz-blues single note runs with passing chords.
The sparse guitar backing throughout the album only emphasises the strength and variety of the songs. “Laid Up With My Bad Leg In Lennox”, a co-wrote with frequent Bergson collaborator, Ellis Hooks, hits a funky ZZ Top-esque groove with keening slide guitar, while “Hector And Donna” is a finger-picked ballad that sounds like Chris Smither were the great man to pick up an electric guitar. “Low Hanging Clouds” has more of a soul feel with more outstanding chordal work mixed with complex single note runs as Bergson remembers a walk along the New York waterfront. Glenn Patscha’s “Last Lullaby” is re-imagined with a gospel-soul feel, while Bob Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell” is slowed to a hauntingly funereal pace that only adds more depth to the foreboding lyrics. This song closes the album, and its words are startlingly apposite given the empty streets of NYC during the lockdown: “Seen the arrow on the doorpost saying, ‘This land is condemned, all the way from New Orleans To Jerusalem.’”
Bergson’s warm, bluesy voice fits the material perfectly, recalling at times the magic of Eric Lindell and he imbues each song with humanity, warmth and hope. He is also a top-notch guitarist, whether letting rip with his slide on Richard Julian’s “Cheap Guitar”, nailing a rollicking rock’n’roll groove on Chuck Berry’s “Back To Memphis”, or finger-picking the wistful “Silver Surfer”, an instrumental dedicated a late friend that sounds like something Jimmy Page wishes he’d written in one of his more folky moods.
All I Got Left is a formidable release from Bergson. There is really nothing not to like about it.
Reviewer Rhys “Lightnin'” Williams plays guitar in a blues band based in Cambridge, England. He also has a day gig as a lawyer.
Featured Blues Review – 3 of 9
Eddie 9V – Little Black Flies
Ruf Records – 2021
12 Tracks; 48 minutes
When Atlanta native, Eddie 9V, made the album Little Black Flies, he set out to capture the feel of hearing his band live in a bar, and he succeeded. There are no overdubs or correction of mistakes, the casual comments by band members made between the songs were left on the recording, and at the end of the last song you can even hear bottle caps hitting the floor. For this blues party, Eddie gathered together nine extremely talented musicians, (Including Cody Matlock on guitar and bass, Jackson Allen on Harp, Tedeschi Trucks bassist Brandon Boone, and Chad Mason on Organ and Fender Rhodes). Although he has said this was their first time playing together in months because of the quarantine, you would never guess that. And, while all the musicians did a wonderful job, it is Eddie’s distinctive voice that really makes this album special.
The nine originals and three cover songs include a mix of soul blues and standard Chicago blues styles. It opens with what sounds like a standard soul love song; however, a closer listen to the lyrics of this title track reveals a quite heavy topic. It describes how Eddie was in love with a woman who lived upstairs, and he could hear her being beaten by her lover. This song ends with Eddie trying to rescue her but getting shot by her man. That’s not the only song in which he sneaks in some very meaningful lyrics. The catchy tune in “3 am in Chicago” might make you think it must be a famous cover, but it is an original song about racial inequality: “A house in the ghetto, no lights on inside. A house in the suburbs. You will hear no children cry.” Additionally, “Columbus Zoo Blues” is a traditional slow blues song that begins with lighthearted talk about getting high, but ends with the sad reality of the conditions animals must endure at zoos.
Of course, no blues album would be complete without at least one song about love gone wrong. On the track “Reach into Your Heart,” Eddie’s voice seems to cry with emotion as he sings “I gave you my soul, and you said you wanted more.” A beautiful guitar solo is well placed in that song. The album also includes great renditions of Albert King’s “Travelin’ Man,” “Miss James” (written by Lewis & Thompson, but best known for being covered by Howlin’ Wolf), and a great, more energized version of Jimmy Reed’s “You Don’t Have to Go.”
There really is not a significant flaw anywhere on this album. Even the photos on the album cover are intriguing, with my favorite being the sign listing everything that is prohibited: “No Loitering, No Rollerblading, No Halter Tops, No Hoodies, No texting, No Kids,” (and many more things which are not allowed). This album will make you want to find out where Eddie 9V is playing next, and then do everything you can to attend the show. It will also make you want to root for him to win that Sean Costello Rising Star Award for which he was not surprisingly nominated.
Reviewer Anita Schlank lives in Virginia, and is on the Board of Directors for the River City Blues Society. She has been a fan of the blues since the 1980s. She and Tab Benoit co-authored the book “Blues Therapy,” with all proceeds from sales going to the HART Fund.
Featured Blues Review – 4 & 5 of 9
Dr. Bekken – Stone Blues, Vol. 3 and Dark and Somber
CD 1: 6 Songs, 29 Minutes; CD 2: 6 Songs, 38 Minutes
Styles: Piano Blues, Instrumental Blues, Solo Albums, All Original Songs
Here is some terrific news, lovers of piano blues! This time I have a two-fer from Norway’s Dr. Tor Einar Bekken. One of the most amazing things about both of these (short) albums is how soon they’ve arrived after 2020’s In Fonk We Trust, also reviewed by this magazine. Many authors would kill for such a turnaround time. Then again, when you have all the time in the world due to COVID lockdown and quarantine, inspiration has tons of room to strike.
When the Doctor found himself inspired, he laid down six terrific instrumental blues tracks, compiling them under the title of Stone Blues, Vol. 3. This year, he composed Dark and Somber, another selection of six scintillating songs. Even though his style lacks edge and visceral, down-and-dirty riffs, don’t mistake that for a lack of piano blues mastery. Consider it a sign of Tor’s veteran musicianship that he knows himself and his music well enough not to pound the ivories instead of tickle them. Leave the lightning to Ben Levin. Dr. Bekken is a gentle summer rain.
The reason I haven’t put his title in quotes is that “Doctor” is his official designation, not only a blues nickname. He has completed his dissertation on Piano Tradition in New Orleans, as well as holding the title of Assistant Professor of Music at Sør-Trøndelag University College. As if those academic credentials weren’t impressive enough, he has also earned a Master’s degree in English Literature, with a specialization in African-American poetry.
Highlights of Stone Blues, Vol. 3 include “The Lowdown,” the title track, and the introspective, reflective jazz closer “Thomas Lauritzen.” All of them demonstrate why it’s often harder to play instrumentals than tunes with lyrics. Lyrics provide refrains, choruses and other verbal cues that tell you exactly where you are in the song, and what elements to play at what times: an intro here, a blistering solo there, phrasing and emphasis on certain words in the verses. With instrumental blues, all of that is absent. You have to rely on musical memory like muscle memory. How does Dr. Bekken’s stack up? Let me tell you: he’s a graceful athlete on piano.
Dark and Somber, the longer offering at thirty-eight minutes, is even more of a challenge. What will you recall more in terms of musical memory: a three-minute song or a seven-minute song? Nevertheless, Tor becomes Thor during the course of this CD. A contradiction? Not at all. Hammers are not only weapons but tools, meant to ring for a purpose. Although the length and style of the six tracks here will inspire one’s mind to wander, nary a single note is wasted or misplaced. That’s the difference between him and less-seasoned, less-careful piano blues artists. In my opinion, the title track and “Black Boy Shine” demonstrate this succinct quality most clearly.
Let Dr. Bekken cure what ails you with his melodic, complex, and soothingly-stormy blues!
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 – 6 of 9
Franck L. Goldwasser – Going Back To Paris; The Paris Slim Mountaintop Sessions 1998-1999
Franck Goldwasser, better known back in the day as Paris Slim, took recordings from three live sessions and produced this great album of his work from the 1990’s. Joining him are Gary Smith, Rusty Zinn, Johnny Ace and Jim Pugh, among others, and it’s a wonderful set of sixteen blues cuts that will certainly delight any blues fan. It’s a no brainer that this was nominated for a Blues Blast Music Award- what an outstanding album!
Goldwasser was born in Paris, France but moved to Oakland in 1983 where he honed his skills as a bluesman with the likes of Lowell Fulson, Percy Mayfield and Jimmy McCracklin. He’s played with many a legend over the years and helped found the original Mannish Boys band. He even spent time Portland, Oregon with Curtis Salgado as a member of his band. He moved back to California in 2013, took a year off and then continued playing and recording. He’s an amazing talent on guitar and vocals.
Franck plays guitar and sings throughout. Music from three sessions from 1998 and 1999 make up this recording. Session A features Jim Pugh on keys, Leonard Gill on bass, and John Hanes on drums. Session B has Rusty Zinn on guitar, Gary Smith on harp, Johnny Ace on bass (and vocals on track 6) , and Walter Shufflesworth on drums. Session C is just Johnny Ace on bass and Robi Bean on drums with Goldwasser.
“Gonna Move To Texas” is a slick shuffle with a driving beat, lots of great piano and some distorted and cool guitar work. “Rollin’ Stone” continues with fantastic driving blues as Goldwasser plays some mean guitar licks and the backline keep the time with precision. Franck turns down the heat with the sublime “Love Is Just A Gamble,” a pretty, slow blues. The guitar stings and the vocals are poignant. Some greasy and tasty harp is added for “Harp de Triomphe,” a short but sweet and quite delightful instrumental that Franck plays harp on. “Low Down Dog” follows with Goldwasser howling out the lead vocals and another tune with a very danceable and great beat. Goldwasser and company continue to showcase their musical skills. The tempo and tone get turned down for the cowboy ballad-like blues of “It’s a Sin.” Goldwasser shows a softer side here and pulls it off really well with some nice slide to boot.
The tempo doesn’t stay down long when “Can’t Raise Me” starts and gets the blood flowing again. “House Full Of Blues” follows, and here we get some interesting keyboards added and a bit of a funky groove is laid down for us. The beat is midtempo but it’s got somewhat of a lilting feel to it that builds into a sweet guitar attack and finish. Next is the swinging “That’s What You Do To Me.” The cut jumps and bounces as Franck and the band give us some fine West Coast blues to savor. The classic Son House song “Death Letter Blues” comes up next and it’s Franck and his resonator laying out some really mean blues- well done! “Tell Me, Baby” gives us some more harp to enjoy as the band plays a sweet shuffle, another winner.
Slow blues return with “Slim’s Business,” a deep and dark instrumental cut with some cool and emotive guitar. “Going Back to Paris (Short Version)” follows that, another great little shuffle with more ambitious and genuinely nice guitar work. Up next is “Four Walls,” a down home blues with harp and acoustic guitar. “15 3629 Grove” is next, another beautiful instrumental cut with striking guitar and organ soloing. The album concludes with “Sixth Avenue Meltdown,” another slow and deliberate blues that grab the listener. It’s an instrumental with Franck occasionally testifying to the crowd with an exclamation of passion. Another winner!
This is a fantastic album of West Coast blues done superbly. Goldwasser and company are in top form in each of the sessions. Recorded in Oakland, the live and no over dub recordings make the listener feel right there with the music. Crank it up ad enjoy it- this is truly some music you won’t forget!
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 – 7 of 9
Pack Mule Project – Depth of Field
11 songs, 50 minutes
Music is such a beautiful thing. People of all talents and all walks of life can play and find common ground. It can sooth and it can excite and it can make decades of distance melt away. That is what the Pack Mule Project’s labor of love Depth of Field is all about. After surviving life threatening surgery in 2018, guitarist Mike Pack called up his old bandmates from the 1980’s, enticed them to come from far reaching parts of the US to Seattle to record a collection of Blues Rock with a twist. This collection of equal parts originals and classic covers is sentimental and easy going and the band’s joy in playing together is infectious.
Pack describes himself as the weak link, having to knock off the rust from years of day job drudgery. In spite of his modesty, Pack is a strong Blues guitarist whose playing holds down the thread of this record. Manny Foglio on most vocals and harp has a scratchy husky tenor that rasps well especially on his original compositions. Bart Richards on bass works well with studio ringers Mike Stone and Jen Gilleran alternating drum seats. But, the really unique element of this group is the flute stylings of Ben Klein. Adding the flute’s airy ethereal tambour to hard driving Blues shuffles and middle eastern flaring instrumentals, the addition of the flute is especially interesting.
The covers Pack and co. choose are not just run of the mill. Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “Let Me Explain” and Otis Rush’s “Checking On My Baby” sit nicely next to more well known numbers such as “Walking the Dog” and “Close to You.” Original pieces such as “Change One Thing” and “Rest When I’m Dead” highlight the cathartic experience the musicians had making this record. There are two originals that stand out. The song that Pack recorded the night before his surgery, “Flying By the Seat of My Pants,” is an acoustic rag about being sick and reflecting on not having enough time. The instrumental “Bo Desert Raga” written by flutist Klein is reminiscent of the Butterfield Blues Band’s “East West” with Klein’s flute slithering it’s way through like Bloomfield’s guitar.
Depth of Field is an elevated passion project. Taking the often wide gamut of style that an amateur musician often brings to a project like this, the Pack Mule Project brings focus to this wide array and ends up with a great sounding record that is endearing.
Reviewer Bucky O’Hare is a Bluesman based in Boston who spreads his brand of blues and funk all over New England. Bucky has dedicated himself to experiencing the Blues and learning its history. As a writer, Bucky has been influenced by music critics and social commentators such as Angela Davis, Peter Guralnick, Eric Nisenson, Francis Davis and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Featured Blues Review – 8 of 9
Dave Kalz – Relish
Gulf Coast Records
CD: 11 Songs, 42 Minutes
Styles: Guitar Monster Blues, Southern Rock, Debut Album, All Original Songs
Constant Readers, if you crave shredded shredder, here’s a recipe to Relish: an Allman Brothers base broth, Eric Clapton’s meaty musical style, a pinch of Santana and a dash of Joe Walsh. That’s the guitar gumbo Midwestern bluesman Dave Kalz serves up on his debut album. Consisting of eleven all-original selections, it’s sure to satisfy your appetite for licks, riffs, and blistering solos. To top it off, Kalz has been mentored by one of the country’s most famous postmodern blues brewers: Mike Zito. Having been friends for three decades now, it’s fitting that they’d join up to create a debut CD that will leave listeners’ ears with a spicy glow after it’s done. Kalz’s Southern-rock stew doesn’t quite top that of the OG’s I mentioned earlier, but whose can, especially the first time around? Dave earns high marks for presentation. His vocals do the job every time, and he lets his savory instrument of choice add the rest of the flavor.
“When I first met Mike Zito, he was working at Metro Guitar Shop in St. Louis and playing in a country band with a DJ from a popular St. Louis radio station,” recalls our front man. “I was playing in a St. Louis band that had become very popular on a local level. Mike and I immediately hit it off. We heard a lot of the same tones in our heads and listened to a lot of the same music; we saw the world from similar points of view…and we shared a love for Fender Telecasters. We’ve been friends ever since, and when I knew I was going to put out this record, I wanted to do it with Mike. It was never a question of ‘if,’ just a question of ‘when.’”
Mixing it up along with Kalz (guitar and vocals) and Zito (slide and other guitar) are Greg Hulub on bass and backing vocals; Kevin McDonald on drums; Lewis Stephens on organ for the opener “Mexico,” and Tony Campanella on guest-star guitar for the closer.
To start things off, head south of the border with habanero-hot “Mexico.” You’ll swear Greg Allman played the intro, if not his legendary brother Duane. The song combines the blazing heat of the desert, which he mentions, with the poignancy that Kalz’s prime influences bring. The title track has the tempo of a late-night stroll through the bar and club district of a midsize city, and Dave’s vocals are a pure homage to the aforementioned Joe Walsh. Since this is a mid-pandemic album, of course there’s an ode to quarantine: “Now I can’t go shopping, can’t go downtown. I’m stucker than stuck in this old Rust Belt town.” No matter where we are, we can all relate. “Route 666” (no typo) possesses a fiery intro, and at the end of the line, enjoy a jaunty jam called “Playing the Blues with my Friends.” It’s the perfect dessert to satisfy your blues sweet tooth.
Overall, Relish is a well-crafted, commendable effort perfect for live crowds, once they’re safe to be in. Yours truly can imagine these musicians commanding a throng of hundreds outdoors, or scores indoors. Whatever your pleasure, Dave Kalz aims to fill it with his debut smorgasbord!
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 – 9 of 9
Tommy Z – Plug In & Play
South Blossom Records – 2021
11 tracks; 58:37
Blues fans understand there’s a wide variety of emotions within songs. It’s not just about sadness, but also anger, fun, romance and lust. Tommy Z, the Buffalo, New York product, spotlights many of these different feelings on Plug In & Play, but often focuses on double entendre and crude humor that takes away from Z’s fluid guitar and lovely vocals.
The cover of Plug In & Play features a scantily clad woman lying on a bed, eyes closed in rapture as a poster of Z, his guitar plugged straight into the woman’s headphones, floats above her on a pink striped wall. The image feels immature, like something a teen boy might conjure up and not an accomplished musician. The cover doesn’t feel connected to the music, although given the clock on the woman’s night stand, it might be a nod to the track, “My Alarm Clock.”
That particular track bounces along to a solid groove, with Z using the titular clock as a metaphor for his phallus. The lyrics feel forced (“I want to wake as many pretty women as I can”), with the breakdown featuring a woman giggling and yelping in delight, until an alarm goes off, leading into a tasty Z solo that even flirts with jazz, without taking the song too far afield. The performance is spot-on, the melody as catchy as anything, but a little bit of subtlety or character development would give the track some depth and resonance, rather than feeling like a comedy sketch.
Part of the reason “My Alarm Clock” stands out so much is because the album has some sweet, honest moments. “Please Come Back to Me,” a T-Bone Walker cover, benefits from some of Z’s Middle Eastern flair in the guitar work, making it a unique take on a slow blues. “Ain’t Gonna Wait,” a Rae Gordon Band cover, is a low-key ballad. The original is a woman singing about asserting herself, demanding better treatment from, presumably, a romantic partner. Z’s version, from a male perspective, is vulnerable, even as electric piano gives the tune a bit of a dark, masculine, Doors vibe.
And lest you think those tracks work because they’re covers, there’s also “Fur Elitist,” a gorgeous rock tune about scorned love. The lyrics are straight-forward but the melodies throughout the tune are gorgeous. All three tracks are examples of how good Z can be when he’s connecting to the heart of the song and not trying to go for the guffaw.
Z knows his fan and his tastes, but for me, as a forty-something father, hearing a refrain like “dicking your dong,” which is the subject of the track, “DYD,” takes me out of the musical moment in a way that Billy Ward and his Dominoes’ proto-rock virility anthem “Sixty Minute Man” never does. An artist with Z’s ample, impressive talent doesn’t need to rely on juvenile jokes to put across the complexity of human emotions.
Reviewer Steven Ovadia writes about music and technology. You can see more of his music writing at https://steven.ovadia.org/music/.
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