Cover photo © 2021 Marilyn Stringer
In This Issue
Steven Ovadia has our feature interview with Austrailian blueswoman Fiona Boyes. We have six blues reviews for you including 2 new releases from Andy Cohen plus new music from Duke Robillard & Friends, Patrik Jansson Band, Billy J and Willie May.
Featured Interview – Fiona Boyes
Singer/guitarist Fiona Boyes holds up a cigar box guitar she hand-painted herself. On its front, a heart with an eye in it levitates above a dollar sign, the images floating against a sky-blue background, bisected by strings and lipstick pickups. An Australian ten-dollar bill is painted on the back.
You wouldn’t be surprised to see a piece like this like this hanging in an American folk art museum, with a curatorial note explaining it belonged to some sort of blues artist. But what Boyes has in her hands is too bright, too new, and too Australian, to have come out of the American South. It’s a contemporary piece created out of a love for the South.
The cigar box guitar, a classic instrument, built by Boyes’ husband and brought to life by Boyes’ own folk art, summarizes Boyes and her music. She’s respectful of blues traditions and works within them, but also finds ways to bring out her own perspective. Like the guitar’s eye within a heart, she’s all seeing, and doesn’t let her knowledge of blues history drown out her personal voice.
Boyes is known for her classic blues sound, both acoustic and electric, her guitar work driven by fingers and slide. She’s won the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge. She’s been nominated for eight Blues Music Awards, a rarity for an Australian. She won a 2017 Blues Blast Music Award (Best Acoustic Blues Album) for Professin’ The Blues and was nominated in 2010 for Best Traditional Blues Recording (for Blues Woman). Boyes came to the guitar and blues later in life, in college.
“It was like some missing part of my life was suddenly put into place,” she says of discovering the blues. She graduated and worked in graphic design until the pull of music proved too strong to resist: “[I] was about in my late 20s, just about 30, when I had my midlife crisis early, quit my job, borrowed a guitar I couldn’t play really, and joined a band,” she says.
Of course, the notion of a band during COVID is different than it was when Boyes first started playing. Right now she’s at home in Australia, jamming with her band online until she can travel to be with them in-person. In the meantime, Boyes is working on projects, from the liner notes to her 20th anniversary reissue of Blues in My Heart, her solo debut, to creating and leading online classes and performances, to the aforementioned art and cigar box guitar experiments. All of these activities, while not the same as touring the world, have helped Boyes reflect upon the blues.
Boyes always intended to do something special around the 20th anniversary of Blues in My Heart but being at home provided more time for the project than she expected, allowing a deep dive into her past. “I thought one of the things that might be interesting for a wider audience was to give that reissue some context,” she says.
“So I took some time to really, literally dig out boxes of junk that I’ve been dragging around through a host of house relocations. You know, including moving from Australia to America for a couple of years, and back. I had boxes of stuff, files, photos, and I went through a lot of that stuff. And it was good actually, to reflect on what led me to record that album. And then going forward, what happened next for the last two decades of traveling my career.”
Returning to her solo debut also made Boyes realize how much the blues changed her life.
“Part of this interesting reflection was how discovering the blues and falling in love with it really set a course for me, for my life,” she says. Blues in My Heart led to her first trip to America, “which opened up all these wonderful Cinderella moments, really, where I would have an opportunity to meet some of my blues heroes and play with them. And visit some of the the famous historic places for the blues. And so really, it was a pivotal point that was going to kind of launch me on the next adventure, which is ongoing,” she laughs.
For now, the next adventure is online teaching and content creation, which gives fans an opportunity to interact with Boyes in ways that might not have been possible pre-pandemic.
“Recently, I did a Zoom concert for the Blues Society of Central Pennsylvania, which was delightful, because it was one of the first times I’ve done a Zoom concert, and it did mean that afterwards, I could chat to people,” she says. “And that was really satisfying, to actually have a chance to chat with people afterwards, and show them the instruments and all that stuff.”
Boyes is grateful for the internet, as a tool of connection, but also for its blues information depth. While not everything ever created is available online, it often feels like it is.
“When I fell in love with blues, and I was first a fan, you couldn’t get all these old players on YouTube; you had to find the stuff” she recalls. “And I remember once paying a whole year’s subscription to to an inner city film society, because I looked through their whole schedule for the season, and discovered that they had one night playing footage of old blues players. I bought the whole season ticket just to go to that one night. And that’s the sort of stuff anyone can can get these days on YouTube.“
Boyes is also leading a blues songwriting class for an Australian regional youth development group, something she has time for now that she’s not on the road. This project allows her to demonstrate the simultaneous beauty and complexity of the blues.
“On the face of it, blues may seem to be a simple [form] and there’s this sort of reductionist view, often from people who are not well acquainted with the music, that goes, ‘Well, it’s just, you know, 12 bars and it all sounds the same’ and that’s where I just have to get my blues flag and fly it at that point,” she says.
“And I love it when when people say ‘I don’t really like blues but I like what you’re doing.’ And I get to say them, ‘Yes, that’s blues too!’ Because I think blues is a much, much wider genre than a lot of people give it credit for. And there’s so many shades of blue, there’s so many styles and that’s been one of the things that I’ve found fascinating and sustaining about the blues.”
Like so many, Boyes learns through teaching.
“You don’t often think about these things [like songwriting] until someone asks you, how do you do it,” Boyes says. Leading a songwriting workshop for the Augusta Heritage Center helped her realize distillation is a strength of blues songwriting. “[It’s] that idea of taking something personal, but managing to simplify it and render it universal,” she says. “
And I think something that’s really important about blues is the idea that you can take something that’s very personal, and tell your own story, but if you if you make it sound bluesy, you have to simplify it, you have to reduce it to its very essence.”
Boyes cites the inscription on back of blues singer/guitarist Memphis Minnie’s grave (Boyes paid her respect to the fellow blueswoman on her first trip to the United States) as capturing her own songwriting philosophy:
“Because sometimes I’ve had people say to me ‘That last song, that made me laugh, or that last song that was sad, that really touched me, and I had just that thing happen to me,’” Boyes says. “And if you sit down together over a drink, and you’ll find out that their experience is very different to yours. But [there’s] something about that simplification, connected in that moment and I love the idea of that inscription on Minnie’s grave. It’s very cool.”
Boyes is a dedicated student of the blues, having met many of her heroes and taught herself a wide variety of styles. Understanding different types of blues allows Boyes to write her own music.
“It’s like when you see someone doing something and it looks so easy,” she says. “I think that’s at the heart of a lot of roots music. And part of it is, yeah, to kind of be immersed in it. I mean, you certainly can’t write whatever style you choose to write in. You have to immerse yourself in that style. You can’t really expect to write in any style if you don’t kind of [understand] what you’re aiming for.”
The fluency with different blues idioms impacts Boyes’ songwriting, but also her instrumentation.
“In some ways, I’ve ended out now almost, not consciously, but alternating my album projects between acoustic and electric projects, which sort of allows me to roam in my playing and my songwriting across different regional styles of blues. So you can go from jaunty fingerpicking to my latest enthusiasm with exploring, single-chord, Mississippi-style, riffy things on cigar boxes.”
Cigar boxes, with fewer strings than a guitar, and a different sound are more than a canvas replacement for Boyes’ artwork. They also play a role in her songwriting process.
“I think what’s interesting about the cigar boxes is that from the point of view of the guitarist, there’s certain licks and riffs that fall under your fingers in different keys,” she says. “So it’s why, sometimes you’ll, find like C is a good key for the licks that go with rag timey stuff and E is a good key for doing Mississippi stuff, because it’s got open strings.”
But fewer strings and different tunings means fingers no longer magically fall where they need to land. “It makes you just have to rethink everything, and just strip it back to total essentials. You can’t just go ‘I’ll just play that lick.’ Because you have to find new licks with one or two notes.”
The way cigar boxes disrupt familiar fretboard patterns allows Boyes break out of songwriting routines.
“It’s nice to have the different palettes because sometimes the inspiration comes from lyrics and sometimes it comes from exploring a new instrument or visiting somewhere or listening to someone from a particular regional style. The inspiration for songwriting for me comes from a host of different places.”
“I used to keep the acoustic and electric repertoire really separate,” Boyes says. “But then, increasingly, and I think it started with Blues for Hard Times, which was an album that had acoustic and electric stuff on it, everything’s blurred.”
There are artistic reasons for this, but also logistical ones. “Financially it’s often easier for me to tour solo. And certainly in the last eight years or so, I’ve spent a lot of time on the road overseas, and in Europe, so I’m often playing solo or picking up a rhythm section, so everything got blurred. I tend to think about songs [in terms of if] they’re either a solo acoustic song, or I might play them on electric. Or they might be a band song, but it’s a great song. So I need to work out how I can do an effective version of that solo, because I may well be promoting and playing a band album, but on the road, by myself, or maybe just with the drummer or percussionist. I think for the purposes of recording, the acoustic/electric thing is more important.”
Boyes loves crafting albums, obsessing over track order and liner notes, striving to give her fans an experience. Unsurprisingly, this attention to detail also extends to album art.
“With Voodoo in the Shadows, my most recent electric album, I had the music and I had the track order and I was looking to do the album artwork. And I ended [up] doing a hand print of the type.”
“The typography is actually hand designed; it’s one of my pieces of artwork. I was experimenting with this whole idea of folk art and and one of that kind of the Do It Yourself ideas of folk art is using junk and what you’ve got to hand so I started doing a series of prints that were like hand-pulled, I guess like a lino print or something like that. But the block was made out of panels from the polystyrene of old takeout containers. So I was reusing them, just scratching into them to make, and then doing it with with roller ink and blocks. So the type on that album cover is a print. So it’s like with everything there is a possibility here for all creative aspects to be incorporated. And that to me is part of the joy.”
Visual artists seem drawn to blues music. Blues-loving rockers like Jimmy Page and Keith Richards attended art school. Boyes sees a link.
“One of the things I found really interesting and quite compelling, particularly as I got a chance to spend more time in places like Clarksdale, was how many of the musicians were artists, and vice versa,” she says. “You have people like Stan Street at Hambone Gallery, who is an artist, but also a musician, and people like Super Chikan, creating these incredible funky artworks and decorating these crazy homemade cigar box instruments. So you do find tradition, in a lot of places, or in the south, of musicians and artists. Those different disciplines seem to be complementary.”
Boyes is looking ahead to when she can get back on the road, although even that will probably look different for COVID and non-COVID reasons.
“I look back on some of the schedules that I’ve been keeping in recent years, and what I should have been doing over the last year, and I feel almost queasy. It’s very difficult to stop. And speaking to a lot of other musicians, it’s difficult too, to imagine going back to some of the things that we were doing. You realize how much it does take out of you.”
It’s an issue for Future Boyes to grapple with. For now, she’s immersed in music, art, teaching, and reflection upon a unique moment that’s given her time for herself, but at the cost of her livelihood. She’s realizing that like many artists, exploration and creativity drivers her work, not economics.
“I’m doing my best to stay connected with my people and nurture creativity,” she says. “It’s interesting that the songs I’ve been writing recently all seem to be reflections on the music industry. I’ve just written a song called, “I’m So Busy Taking Care of Business, I Think it’s About Time Business Took Care of Me.”
Maybe it sounds too upbeat? It’s nothing less than you’d expect from her.
“I have been told I smile too much to play the blues, but I think it’s either rampant, unrealistic optimism [laughs] or, you know, what are the options?”
Reviewer Steven Ovadia writes about music and technology. You can see more of his music writing at https://steven.ovadia.org/music/.
Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6
Duke Robillard & Friends – Blues Bash!
Stony Plain Records – 2020
10 tracks; 41.33 minutes
All Blues Blast readers will be familiar with Duke Robillard who has been making music since the 1960’s. He founded Roomful Of Blues, has played with The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits and has produced over thirty solo albums that range across all types of blues, swing and jazz. The intention on his latest release was to produce a record “like the ones that made me want to play the blues in the first place”. Did he succeed? Definitely! Every disc Duke makes is top quality but this ranks as one of my personal favorites and arguably his best since Stomp! The Blues Tonight, back in 2009.
The core players on the album are Duke regulars: Duke on guitar and vocals, Bruce Bears on keys, Mark Teixeira on drums, Marty Ballou and Jesse Williams sharing bass duties. Horns feature on most tracks, the lion’s share going to an all-sax trio of Roomful alumni: Greg Piccolo (tenor), Rich Lataille (alto) and Doug James (baritone); on one track Al Basile (cornet) and Sax Gordon (tenor and baritone sax) replace them. Other musicians involved are harmonica player Mark Hummel, pianists Bob Welch and Mark Braun and drummer Marty Richards. Vocals are shared between Duke (four), Chris Cote (three) and Michelle Willson (one). The material comes from a range of blues greats, plus three Duke originals.
Duke pays homage to author Ike Turner with slashing leads and use of the whammy bar on “Do You Mean It”, the horns riffing away and Bruce Bears pounding the piano. Perhaps the revelation of the album is vocalist Chris Cote who sings really well on his three songs and this is an exhilarating start to the album. The horns sit out Duke’s “No Time” which is more of a Chicago blues with stop-start rhythms featuring Robert Welch’s piano and Mark Hummel’s acoustic harp. The horns return to fuel a rocketing take on Roy Milton’s “What Can I Do” on which Bruce Bears again shines on piano. The jump style reminds you of Roomful as Lataille takes the opening solo, even more so when Chris Cote comes in, sounding very much like current Roomful vocalist Phil Pemberton and it is an absolutely outstanding cut.
Duke gives us a salutary warning that “Everybody Ain’t Your Friend”, a song from the repertoire of Al King on which Johnny Heartsman was the original guitarist. Lefty Bates’ instrumental “Rock Alley” brings in some more Ike Turner style twang and a feature opportunity for Piccolo on tenor while the rhythm section really swings. Michelle ‘Evil Gal’ Willson reprises Helen Humes’ “You Played On My Piano” with a suggestive wink while Duke pulls out a cool solo, the sax solo this time being given to Mr Low’s baritone.
The alternate horn section appears with Mark Braun’s New Orleans-flavored boogie piano on “Ain’t Gonna Do It”, written and first recorded by Dave Bartholomew but probably best known from later covers by Fats Domino and Smiley Lewis. Chris Cote then makes his final vocal contribution on a short and sweet take on “You Don’t Know What You’re Doing” as made famous by T-Bone Walker, one of Duke’s heroes. The album closes with two Duke originals: “Give Me All The Love You Got” is reprized from one of the early Pleasure Kings albums and here has a great horn arrangement on top of the rocking rhythm; the ten minute instrumental “Just Chillin’” gives plenty of solo space, from the opening double bass/drums section, to organ work by Bears that is very much in the 60’s organ trio style and space for Piccolo’s breathy tenor. Duke plays in a relaxed, jazz-inflected style, again showing that he is a master of whatever he chooses to play.
Blues Bash! was on many 2020 ‘Best Of’ lists (including mine) and looks a strong bet for the next Blues Blast Awards nominations. Hardly surprising that you are recommended to make sure that you add this one to your collection!
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 – 2 & 3 of 6
Andy Cohen – Tryin’ to Get Home
Andy Cohen with Moira Meltzer-Cohen – Small but Mighty: Songs for Growing People
Earwig Music CD 4976 and 4977
17 songs – 57 minutes/13 songs – 31 minutes
Looking for a little aural relief from all of the songs focusing on the misery of modern times? Give these two understated treasures a listen as virtuoso fingerpicking guitarist Andy Cohen delivers a pleasant, 17-song mix of intimate, first-generation Delta, Piedmont and original blues on Tryin’ to Get Home as well as a companion 13-tune CD targeted for the young and young-at-heart joined by daughter Moira on vocals.
A product of the ‘60s, Cohen grew up listening to Dixieland jazz as a child and initially studied cornet, but became hooked on the blues after hearing the music of Big Bill Broonzy and the Jim Kweskin Jug Band for the first time in the folk music era. He’s been a devoted scholar and practitioner of the artform ever since, influenced greatly by Davis, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Skip James, Brownie McGhee and several of their contemporaries.
He served his apprenticeship as lead boy for Jim Brewer, Brother Daniel Womack, Reverend Dan Smith and Davis, too, and supported himself by washing dishes, working on the railroad and as an archeologist. As a performer, he’s toured with the legendary string band Martin, Bogan and Armstrong, Honeyboy Edwards and John Jackson and worked extensively with blues artists Big Joe Jackson, Son Thomas, Etta Baker, Pigmeat Jarrett and Big Boy Henry.
A self-described “walking, talking folk-blues-roots music encyclopedia” and now based out of Memphis, Cohen’s released about two dozen previous albums. He accompanies himself on six-string, 12-string and steel guitars and piano throughout assisted only by Randy Seppala on bones for a single cut.
Andy’s attack on the strings will grab you from the jump of Blind Boy Fuller’s “Step It Up and Go.” His rapid-fire touch is light and precise – complimented by his understated, behind-the beat vocals. He shifts to lower register for Charlie Patton’s “Pea Vine Blues” before shifting to the 88s for his original “Louis Jay Meyers Memorial Stomp,” which sounds as if it were written in the 1920s. His steel guitar rings like a bell for the traditional “Riley and Spencer,” a complaint about broken love and life in the dry world of Prohibition.
Cohen dips into the catalog of ‘50s star Dave Van Ronk for “Bad Dream Blues” before ripping and running with “Puffin’ That Stuff,” an unabashed tribute to marijuana with a ‘30s feel that never calls it by name. Sonny Terry’s “One Monkey Don’t Stop the Show” and Mississippi John Hurt’s “Talkin’ Casey” follow before Andy delivers a tip of the hat to Davis in the self-penned instrumental “Reverend Gary Rag.” First recorded by the title artist in 1963, “Bob Dylan’s Dream” leads in to a pair of Davis covers, “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” and “Tryin’ to Get Home.”
“Earwig Stomp,” another dazzling original instrument, follows before Lawrence J. Penn’s “Time to Go,” Clarence Williams’ vaudeville classic “I Ain’t Gonna Give You None of My Jelly Roll,” Blake’s “West Coast Blues” and the original, “Planxty: Miss Joanna Swan,” bring Tryin’ to Get Home home.
If you’re a fan of Two and a Half Men and remember Charlie Sheen’s Charlie Waffles character who sang to children, you’ll enjoy Andy and Moira’s Small but Mighty, too, because a couple of the tunes have the same light, humorous appeal. Tommy Collins’ delightful “Boob-i-Lak” opens with Moira joining in on the chorus before Cohen shifts to banjo for the instrumental, “The Brand New Baby,” a number penned for his daughter and dedicated to a grandson.
Delivered in French and with Cohen on accordion, “Mon Petit Chien” is an original written about Andy’s favorite dog, while “Uncle Stinky” – about personal hygiene – will have you chuckling. Paul Arnoldi’s “Happy-Go-Lucky” – delivered with gypsy flair – describes a car that’s 40-feet long. “Chicken” – about the bird and more – comes across with adult themes before former Moira’s at the mic for former Tonight Show host Steve Allen’s “Gravy Waltz.” Two more fresh tunes — Joe LaRose’s “Mighty in the Kingdom” and the self-penned “Funnel Cakes” – follow to conclude the set, joined by four numbers from the first disc.
Available through most major online retailers. If you’re a fan of first-generation blues, you’ll enjoy both of these efforts. Andy Cohen’s personality, his warmth and his attack shine like diamonds on the material both old and new.
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 – 4 of 6
Patrik Jansson Band – IV
9 songs time – 42:17
Semi-Deja Vu here as I reviewed the band’s previous CD ‘So Far To Go’. This top notch Swedish outfit retain the same high level of musicianship but this time out there is no outside help such as horns or a harmonica player. It is solely the four band members performing Patrik’s original songs. Besides Patrik on guitar and vocals there is Lars Eriksson on keyboards, Thomas Andersson on bass and Martin Forsstedt behind the drum kit. Blues-rock meets the blues with an occasional touch of jazz overtones. Patrik’s expressive vocals remain a constant.
Things get off on good footing with the lead-off track “She Ain’t Gonna Come Back Any More” with it’s funky jazzed-up vibe, prominent bass line, cool organ and razor sharp guitar attack. “A Love Like Yours” kicks in with it’s smooth groove shuffle. Patrik’s guitar here is bluesy with a light touch. Cocktail lounge piano and slow and deliberate guitar glide through “Love Will Find A Way”.
Breezy jazz takes over for the instrumental “She Said What?”. Chicago style blues is the recipe for “Play Me The Blues”. Bouncy piano moves it along nicely in compliment to fleet-fingered guitar. A moody and atmospheric mysterious night vibe is conjured up in the slow “Only The Lonely”. The plaintive “Nothing But The Blues” ends the disc on a pensive note with it’s yearning guitar pushing the song through.
Blues-rock is alive and well in the hands of this Swedish bunch of top-notch purveyor’s of the genre. Their treatment veers more towards blues than some other outfits. Cool jazz is interjected at times as well. Each of the four members is first class on their given instruments. Patrik’s fluent guitar playing is complimented by the commanding keyboard skills of Lars Eriksson, the distinct contributions of Thomas Andersson on bass and Martin Forsstedt on drums. The talent is spread pretty evenly throughout. Along with his ample guitar skills Patrik handles the self-assured vocals, all songwriting, arranging and production.
A category description isn’t really applicable here. If you are an appreciator of well crafted and performed enjoyable music, you have arrived at the right place. Dig in music lovers!
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6
Billy J – Rise Above
10 tracks; 46 minutes
Billy J is a transplanted blues-rocker from Philadelphia to South Florida. He’s a Fender Stratocaster playing, song-writing vocalist, with a penchant for bulldozing blues and straight forward lyrics. “Rise Above” contains nine original songs, and one cover song “Cat’s in the Cradle” originally by Harry Chapin.
The album’s production is flawless, and the line-up of backing musicians is jaw-dropping. Billy J, with Dave Fields, a New York Hall of Blues Famer producing, managed to recruit an all-star team of top-flight “name” musicians. On drums, the now sadly deceased, Yonrico Scott is accompanied by another Derek Trucks alumni, Todd Smallie who plays bass guitar. Also lending his bass chops to the album, is the formidable Charlie Wooton, of the New Orleans bands: the Suspects, Royal Southern Brotherhood, Zydefunk and Zabaduo.
Jeremy Baum on keyboards has toured and/or recorded with Shemekia Copeland, Levon Helm, the North Mississippi Allstars, John Hammond Jr., The Official Blues Brothers Revue, Jim Weider, Melvin Sparks, Sue Foley and Debbie Davies among others. The producer Dave Fields steps out from behind the console and contributes piano and slide on the title track. Filling out the studio line-up are J. Robert on steel drums and violin, and Steve “Buzzy” Krist on percussion.
The instrumentation is perfectly suited to the songs and balanced and equalized expertly. The songs range in styles just enough to keep your attention as you play through the album’s sequence, musically the most exquisite track is the original song “She” – with a perfectly placed guitar bridge which floats onto an all too brief harmonized section. Another strong track is “New Car” a minor key slow tempo twelve bar in the Texas style. A great advantage of having Dave Fields produce, is that Fields himself is an extremely accomplished guitarist, as he has coaxed what I suspect is some of Billy’s best guitar playing – and captured the resulting sounds perfectly.
“Sweaty Melons” suffers from teenage lyrics – but is supported by a genuinely and seriously funky backing track, which saves the song. “Boomerang” kicks in nicely with a satisfying fast Texas style 12 bar guaranteed to keep your pulse moving. “She’s Mine” the opening track roars in like the finale of a stadium show and delivers a hint of the classic live shows in the 70’s of Bachman Turner Overdrive – not a bad musical flavor for a new blues-rock album!
Reviewer Conrad Warre originally from London, England, is a freelance writer and plays lead guitar in the Boston-based acid-blues band Bees Deluxe..
Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6
Willie May – Blues for Sugar
CD: 10 Songs, 39 Minutes
Styles: Ensemble Blues, Swamp Blues
Ever opened the fridge and noticed you’re out of milk, or even more direly, beer? Have you opened your cupboards that look like Old Mother Hubbard’s? How would we survive without our staples, whether staple foods or staple blues artists? Bluesmen such as Willie May are like cheese, crackers, and our favorite adult beverages. They may not be exotic like hummus or of exceptional quality like Omaha Steaks. Nevertheless, we need them around. They fill us up.
On Blues for Sugar (another staple food), May and company present ten tracks ranging from danceable ditties (“Love Sweet Love,” “Ruff Stuff”) to spooky swamp rock (“Forest of Stone,” “Zombie Dance”) to atmospheric ballads and instrumentals (“Set Me Free,” “Tres Teresa”). Willie could have put a bit more thought into some of the lyrics, but on the whole, he keeps you satisfied for thirty-nine minutes of dependable, tasty music.
Throughout the course of his extremely productive career, May has has performed back to back on stage with Alvin Lee, Steve Marriott, John Kay and Steppenwolf, Bachman Turner, Overdrive, Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter, Otis Clay, The Climax Blues Band, Zorra Young, Jerry Portnoy, The Legendary Blues Band, Buddy Guy, Lonnie Brooks, and many more. The Willie May Band is a 5-time Buffalo Area Music Award winner voted Western New York Blues Beat Magazine’s Band of the Year.
Joining Mr. May (vocals, guitar, kalimba and ocarina) are Brandon Santini, James Cotton, Mark Panfil, and Jeremy Keyes on harmonica; Evan Laedke and Stan Szelest on keyboards; Hayden Fogle and Ron “Sugarman” Kain on guitar; Jim Bohm on flugelhorn; Mark Garcia, Owen Eichensehr, and Randall Corsi on drums, and Mark Harris, Tom Corsi, and Robert “Freightrain” Parker on bass. Mark Panfil also plays accordion on track six, and Ron “Sugarman” Kain does lead vocals on track eight.
This band’s strength is no-holds-barred instrumentation, delivering the good time it promises without being overproduced. Slick dubbing and editing can only go so far, and it doesn’t fit Willie’s raucous energy or exuberant style. Ergo, it’s not here. This is swampy blues, not just swamp blues. For polish and power a la Tab Benoit, look elsewhere. If you want solid, staple blues, look and listen here on Blues for Sugar!
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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