Cover photo © 2021 Bob Hakins
In This Issue
Mark Thompson has our feature interview with Tia Carroll. We have four Blues reviews for you this week including new music from AWEK, EG Kight, Davis Chris and Mr Foster and Ghostleg.
Featured Interview – Tia Carroll
Every so often a recording appears by an unfamiliar artist, one of those albums that grabs hold of you right from the jump, and never lets go. Finding one of these “diamonds in the rough” is one of the joys of being a serious music listener.
You can add the latest from vocalist Tia Carroll to the list of “must hear” recordings. A fixture on the Bay Area music scene for decades, Carroll is finally getting some long-awaited recognition that includes a bevy of praise from the critics, and a 2021 Blues Blast Music Award nomination in the Soul Blues Album category. She credits Executive Producer Noel Hayes for getting things started.
“Noel and I have known each other for quite a few years. We were also DJ’s on the radio station that I am on right now, KPOO FM in San Francisco. I have the slot that he turned over. Noel approached me last year to ask if I would be interested in doing a project with him. Of course I said yes, and this is what happened, You Gotta Have It! Noel approached Jim Pugh at the Little Village Foundation about putting the album out. And Noel is pretty much affiliated with Kid Andersen at Greaseland Studios. It was probably a no-brainer that we would record at Greaseland, knowing the quality of the players and music you will get there.”
Carroll worked with Hayes on the song selection. Each compiled a list of possibilities, then they both listened to the songs that other had picked out, finally narrowing things down to 15-18 selections.
“Over the course of several weeks, we settled on fourteen songs, which eventually got whittled down to 11 songs. One of the ones that didn’t get in was one of my originals. It just wasn’t the right fit for this particular project. It was divine intervention that these 11 songs ended up on the CD the way they did. The album really resonates with me. I feel that every song is about something I have already gone through, am going through right now, or something that I am going to be dealing with. And not just me but a whole bunch of other people as well.”
You Gotta Have It showcases Carroll’s powerful singing style in addition to the full scope of her musical palette, ranging from her original, “Leaving Again,” a slow blues heartbreaker, the horn-driven cover of Rick Estrin’s “Don’t Put Your Hands On Me,” and finishing with a stirring cover of the Staple Singers classic, “Why Am I Treated So Bad.”
“There is an interesting story to the song “Move On.” I was at an anniversary party for a venue in San Francisco, a party/jam where they would invite as many of the artists as possible that had played the venue throughout the last year to come perform, and to have them bring their friends. It is a big old fun time. I was invited this particular year, as was Kid Andersen. I didn’t really know a lot about the blues, but it was a blues jam because that was a blues venue.
“I did a standard cover song when I got up on stage, one that I can’t recall. They wanted me to do another one, and I’m thinking, oh lord, what am I going to do now because I don’t know anything else. So I did what I often do. I picked a key and a tempo, then turned to the bass player and said, make it funky. So the band got started. I let it marinate for for about 16 bars, then I looked out in the audience and just started coming up with stuff.
“I saw a real pretty woman out there. I thought she could probably take my man! So I started singing, I didn’t like the way she walked, I didn’t like the way she talked, but I had to move on. So that song sprang out of a blues jam. It took ten years for it to finally make it onto an album, played by musicians who knew what to do with it. That is the most unique story.
“Even When I’m Not Alone” came out of my experiences from the days when I was touring quite a bit. Some of that story is embellished, about being away from home so much. I have always been a one-man woman, but I could see how something like that could happen. “Leaving Again” is another one of the not-embellished songs. That one is real life. Love will make you do some crazy things.”
The singer more than holds her own with the stellar group of musical talent that back her on the album, including Pugh on keyboards, Andersen on guitar, Derrick D’Mar Martin on drums, and guest appearances by the Sons of the Soul Revivers on backing vocals, Gordon “Sax” Beadle on saxophone, and Igor Prado on guitar on “Move On”.
There was another very special guest, a musician known for his work as a jazz artist.
“I had never met guitarist Charlie Hunter. That is another funny story. The connection to him comes from Jim Pugh, and probably Kid as well. Jim was adamant about having the song that opens the album, “Ain’t Nobody Worryin’,” on the CD. I had never even heard the song before, but as I listened to it, it felt like something I could do. Jim got the music together and had Charlie playing the bass and guitar lines. I had never heard of anybody who could play both at the same time on a string instrument.
“So the music was finished when I went in to record the vocal. It was just Kid and me. I wasn’t in the sound booth, just standing in the studio with the sheet music. I went ahead and sang the whole song. Kid came out of the booth, saying I thought you were just going to practice. I said, did you hit record? And he answered, I always hit record!
“Kid wanted to work on a couple of things before we tackled another song, so I sat on the couch and I was wondering who this Charlie Hunter guy is, so I looked him up on Facebook. I thought, hey, he’s kind of cute! Ya’ll should have led with that! I will be performing at the San Jose Jazz festival pretty soon. They have multiple stages. Charlie and his group will be performing on the same day, so I am hoping that I’ll get to meet him and thank him for such an awesome recording. And perhaps tell him the story. The Sons of the Soul Revivers will also be at the festival, and I haven’t met them either. I’m excited about meeting all of these people. They did an awesome job on the backing vocals.
“Not to toot my own horn here, but I have listened to the CD a lot, and I haven’t gotten tired of it yet. There are some recordings out there……how do I want to say this. I don’t feel they are my best work, let’s put it that way. I’m not going to throw myself under the bus because I’m driving the bus.
“Some of those recordings I just don’t want to hear again. But this one has me listening to this song, oh wait, let me hear that again, now I’ll let it play through, now I’m going to sing along. The album is making me so happy, just as God makes me happy, and waking up every morning and being alive makes me happy.”
Her discography includes a Christmas album along with titles recorded in Italy and Brazil with two noted guitarists.
“The one from from Italy, I Want To Tell You, came from a tour I did with Dany Franchi, who has toured in the US in recent years. The other one, Brazil Sessions, was done over a period of time with Igor Prado and his band. Igor, that is my little brother right there! We did several tracks on my first or second tour there, then there are some more from a live show we did together, and other tracks were originals we did in a home recording studio. The keyboard player, Flavio Naves, came up with some screaming Hammond B-3 organ parts. He asked me to put lyrics to a couple songs, which were the originals on the record.
“I also have a live album. Part of it came from the Expression Center here in California. It is school for learning the technical aspects of the music business – how to set up a stage, the lights, and how to record in a studio using state-of-the-art equipment. When you go in there as an artist, you are at the mercy of the students. But they did an amazing job for me. That record was all covers.”
Carroll was born in Richmond, California. From an early age, she remembers humming and singing along with whatever was playing on the radio or television. The two popular radio stations at her house were KDIA, a soul, blues, and R&B station, and KFRC, which mixed rock, pop, and a bit of country music. Adding to the mix were jazz albums by singers like Lena Horne and others that were played in the house.
“I just loved to sing. You never think that anyone would enjoy hearing you sing. But whenever I got the chance, if the doorbell rang, I knew it was my parents’ company, but as far as I was concerned, it was an audience! I would be the first one to the door, ready to sing my little heart out. Fast forward more than a few years until the third decade of my life, when my ex-husband had been listening to me singing around the house. One day he told that I should find a band, because I had a really good voice. You would think that somebody would have told me that a long time ago. Or maybe they did and I just wasn’t listening, probably drowning them out with my singing!
“Where I was working at that time, there was a guy who had a band, so I asked if I could audition for him. The name of the group was Yakety Yak, an old time rock-n-roll band. The audition turned into a rehearsal, and I ended up staying with them for almost five years. Things just evolved from there, different groups, different genres of music. Fast-forward a few more years, and I meet Jimmy McCracklin’s daughter on the same job, probably around the water cooler. We ended up talking about music. She mentioned that her dad was looking for another vocalist to add to the backing vocals.
“I had never sung background before, didn’t know anything about harmony or blending. Still, they let me in and I figured it out quickly. I’m not hard to work with. I ended up going on tour with Jimmy right away, so it was one of those right place, right time situations. It was an amazing time, giving me a springboard that lead to further opportunities.”
McCracklin was a West coast blues legend. He was a singer and piano player, with hit songs like “The Walk,” “Georgia Slop,” and “Just Got To Know,” which highlight his skill as a songwriter, who by his own count composed over a thousand songs, earning four gold records. Another song he wrote, “Tramp,” was a huge hit for guitarist Lowell Fulson.
Carroll has fond memories of the her time with a member of the Blues Hall of Fame. “Jimmy reminded me a lot of my Dad. One thing that always cracked me up is that he would never call me by my name. He would call me Tora, Trina, or Trudy, never Tia. I know he knew my name. That was just his way of getting all of us to laugh. He would say, Trudy blah blah blah, and I would look over at the other women singing back-up and we would all crack up.
“I also got to work with Sugar Pie DeSanto at the same time, as they were touring simultaneously. I learned a lot from her. I’ll tell you, that woman knows how to get an audience right in the palm of her hand, and then close her hand, not to squeeze the audience but to keep them close until she’s done. Then she opens her palm to release them. If you had to follow her, you had better be ready because she already took your audience.”
Like a lot of working musicians, the singer kept busy in a variety of ways. She did a duo with a guitarist, then spent time paired with a piano player before forming her own rock band for a brief spell. Her first recording was a four song EP.
“I would say that was my first professionally done at home project. My husband worked on the graphics. We ordered a thousand cassettes! There are probably 500 of them still sitting in my garage. I was singing rock for 4-5 years. Then I moved on to contemporary R&B, doing things like Anita Baker and Regina Belle.
“Next, I saw an advertisement on Craigslist for audition/rehearsal for the Dave Matthews Blues Band. I remember thinking that I didn’t realize Dave Matthews had a blues band. Something didn’t seem right. But I decided to find out. So I went to the audition to find out that it was a different Dave Matthews, from here near my home, who played harmonica. He was very into blues. I honed my skills as a blues singer with that band for about four years. After I left that band, another guitar player I knew brought me some Koko Taylor music, probably because he heard some of her in my voice. Once I listened to that music, I went, whoa, ok, so THAT is how you deliver a blues song. And I have been at it ever since.”
Despite decades spent performing professionally, appearing on many stages at a variety of venues and clubs, Carroll has never garnered the level of attention that someone with her vocal prowess and songwriting ability deserves. Her latest release is a coming-out party of sorts, letting the wider blues community in on her secret.
“I am apparently on the right stage now. Everything wasn’t given to me all at one time. The path that was laid out for me has been gathering these little pieces and parts as time went on. It has definitely kept me humble, which is an attribute that I am proud to have. It feels like I have been riding along on this train with my seat belt fastened, being well-behaved, and enjoying the ride. Now I have this nice euphoric feeling that I don’t know how to explain. But I am a late bloomer.
“I believe that singing is a gift given to me, not to hold onto, but to share with those who need it. For me, music is medicine. So if I can touch, shake, or make someone feel something, that is what I am supposed to be doing. You Gotta Have It is getting plenty of exposure, so now people who haven’t heard of Tia Carroll before are finally hearing this music I have to share, and they are enjoying it. They are opening the door to their hearts and letting me in. I thank God for that! Never forget that it is never too late to do something that you love.”
Check out Tia’s website atwww.tiacarroll.net.
Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the past President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a former member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!
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Featured Blues Review – 1 of 4
AWEK – AWEK
16 songs – 67 minutes
Based out of southwestern France, AWEK are a veteran four-piece ensemble that do things the traditional way, delivering deep-in-the pocket, straight-ahead Chicago-style blues – something they’ve been doing for the better part of three decades.
This disc is a welcome follow-up to Let’s Party Down, one of two albums Kid Andersen produced for the band at Greaseland Studios in California. And even though it’s missing the presence of several American bluesmen who assisted on that one, it’s sure to please any music fan with old-school sensibilities.
Recorded in Toulouse, AWEK delivers 11 originals and four covers here in a lineup that includes Bernard Sellam on vocals and guitar with Stephane Bertolino on harp and a rhythm section composed of percussionist Joel Ferron and bassist Olivier Trebel. They team together seemingly effortlessly to produce a relaxed, original sound that melds classical blues stylings with the cocktail lounge sophistication of their homeland.
Formed in the mid-‘90s, the group’s built a presence in the U.S., too, performing at top clubs, including Antone’s in Austin, and making to the finals of the 2008 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, where Bertolino took home the Lee Oskar Harmonica Award for top reed-bender player in the competition.
This is their 12th CD since debuting with Back to the Same Place in 1997. It was engineered by Jérôme Cotte at Studio du Moulin in the Toulouse suburbs, but mastered at Alnico Studio in Texas. The only outside help here are Fred Cruveiller, who contributes second guitar on two cuts, and Pascal Rollando, who adds percussion on another. Sellam’s warm tenor delivers lyrics in English with only the slightest of accents.
Recorded in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, AWEK opens with “We’re Gonna Make It Through,” a medium-paced shuffle that recounts watching the news and the horrors that spread, but offering hope for a positive outcome — as long as folks stay together. Stephane’s harp runs shine high in the mix and the rhythm section swings like a metronome throughout with Bernard rising to the fore with rock-solid single-note solo mid-tune.
The tempo quickens slightly for “Bring It On,” a percussive, humorous love song that describes a one-of-a-kind woman who “swears like a trucker” and “has no class.” The theme continues in “She’s All Mine.” This time, she’s a hard-working honey who leaves home early and comes home late. Sellam wonders if the relationship is in trouble, but assures her that they’ll take things nice and slow.
The medium-fast instrumental, “Smokin’ Mambo,” will have you bopping before AWEK launches into a trio of covers — Jimmy Rogers’ “Goin’ Away Babe,” Charles Brown’s familiar “Black Night” and Dave Bartholomew’s “Gumbo Blues” – all of which are delivered in a manner that would make the originators smile. Things heat up again with the Latin-flavored “I Like to Be Alone,” which finds the singer feeling uncomfortable in social settings except for sex, before settling into a slow shuffle for “Wink of an Eye,” a love song delivered with a strong traditional feel.
The sprightly jump-blues instrumental, “Beer O’Clock,” is a harp-driven pleaser with call-and-response interplay with guitar and a couple of tasty solos. Jimmy McCracklin’s “Just Got to Know” follows before the uptempo “The Healer,” speaks out against being proselytized by religious fanatics and do-gooders. Three more originals – the guitar-driven “The Dream,” a vivid nightmare fueled by coronavirus; “Tell Me What’s the Reason,” a jump blues delivered at the end of a relationship; and “I’m Staying Home,” another loping blues dealing with being housebound during the lockdown – bring the disc to a close.
Strongly recommended for anyone who’s loves straightforward, contemporary blues with old-school sensibilities.
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 – 2 of 4
EG Kight – Trio Sessions
Blue South Records
EG’s newest album Trio Sessions was nominated for a Blues Blast Music Award for Acoustic Album, and Kight was also nominated for Best Female Artist. One listen and you can see why. Kight is a superb vocalist and she and the trio give the listener some really great music to enjoy here. Her Georgia drawl and southern roots are evident here. She lives on land her family has owned for four generations and her performing career began at age four as she broke into her mother’s choir rehearsal; her harmonies made the trio into a quarter.
Kight handles the vocals . Drummer/percussionist Gary Porter and guitarist/dobro player Ken Wynn are the res of the trio and they back EG vocally; there are some well done harmonies here. These three have played together since 2018 and offer a tighter, more close knit approach to performing and recording together.
“You Don’t Get It” is the opening cut. EG sings passionately about dumping her man. It’s a bouncy little cut with nice guitar and Kight’s always great vocals. “Evil” is next with some greased-up harp and a slick rendition of this classic. The harmonica is marvelously done and adds to the feel of the cut and then the guitar offers up another well-done solo. Kight growls and sings with grit here. “Burned” is a really good ballad about yearning after someone who is not worth the effort and hope for a new start. We get some more resonator slide licks to enjoy; a very down home and darker song. “Come On In My Kitchen,” the Robert Johnson song that the Allman Brothers and others have imbed into our musical consciousness. Kight again does a fine job as does the resonator in support. Next is “You’re Driving Me Crazy” with some cool resonator slide work and keeps in the theme of significant others who have issues. Kight sings with soulful emotion and the guitar work is fantastic.
“Feelin’ A Healin’” follows, an upbeat cut about redemption and life getting better. This one has a southern rock feel to it; the slide guitar helps to give that impression. “Tell Me” follows that, a sweet ballad with thoughtful electric guitar doing responses, fills and a solo around Kight’s tender vocals. This one’s theme is about being afraid to lose her man instead of wanting him gone and she delivers the message well. Up next is “Falling,” a song that has a great groove and a driving beat. Kight again excels vocally as the guitar rocks along with her. She is “standing on the edge of falling in love,” so it’s positive theme again. “Alone Too Long” is next; we get a nice serving of special electric guitar work and EG’s superb vocals. Kight bemoans being lonely and alone and is looking to get out and about more- she says she’s not gonna be the same. The great Leonard Cohen praise song “Hallelujah” follows and Kight knocks it out of the park. She sings with deep feeling and makes the listener well up and get emotional. It is a sweet and soulful final piece in a really super set of tunes.
Ten tracks; tasteful originals and well-done covers. There is nothing not to like here. Kight once again delivers the goods and gives the listener a fine album to truly savor. I recommend this one to all blues lovers. It’s mostly acoustic but it’s got enough feeling and drive to it to satisfy all blues fans.
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 – 3 of 4
Davis Chris and Mr Foster – Wings and Blue Cheese
CD/EP: 7 Songs, 18 Minutes
Styles: R&B, Funk, Rap, All Original Songs
Many times over the years I, a late Gen X’er or Xennial depending on whom you ask, have asked myself the question: What is the future of the blues? Once all of its hallowed progenitors have yielded themselves up to time and history, what will the blues sound like? Which sounds and rhythms will remain basically unchanged, and which will have morphed into rarer, more exotic forms? If the blending of blues with other genres continues in force, how will newcomers and veterans alike recognize the genuine article? Davis Chris (real name Chris Davis) and Shane Foster (aka Mr Foster) will inspire aficionados to ask these questions as they listen to Wings and Blue Cheese, this duo’s latest album featuring guest stars such as W!ll, CHEL, Andy Horton, and Cecily Wagner. It’s not so much a CD as an EP, clocking in at a paltry eighteen minutes.
Is it blues? Funk? R&B? Rap? Try “all of the above” and then some. Each of the seven tracks here are catchy, energetic, and full of vigor that’ll banish the worst spiritual ailments. That said, it’s extremely difficult to distinguish pure blues at any point. These two have talent oozing out of every pore, on both vocals and instrumentation, but they’re not Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf. They’re more like Boyz II Men, Lauryn Hill, and other ‘90s favorites of mine. Before I ever fell in love with “I’m Ready” or “Spoonful,” I swooned over “End of the Road” and “Doo Wop (That Thing).” Songs like these prepared me for the good stuff, the old-school purity that led me to write for this magazine. Keep that in mind as you listen, and reserve judgment until the end.
In an interview with PRNewswire, the question was posed: “In general, what led you guys to music?” Davis Chris replies: “I used to step and dance. I was always fascinated by rap battles on YouTube. While in boot camp in the US NAVY, I made a song about boot camp that was a hit around base. I made a room of 1,000 people applaud and from that moment on I knew I had a gift.” Says Mr Foster: “I grew up playing the drums in church, also played with go-go bands, While in the military I owned a club where I dealt with a lot of artists and organically built relationships and started understanding the business. After 5 combat tours and receiving the Combat Action Badge and other various medals I knew it was time for a change and to be in a profession that I would love.”
From the funky intensity of “Marinate,” the saucy opener, to the gorgeous harmonies of “Play Ya Part,” to the relentless earworm “Chattanooga,” there’s a lot here for Millennials and Gen Z. What would the blues or even R&B be without younger generations? Nevertheless, Wings and Blue Cheese might be a bit too eclectic for some. The fire’s there for sure, but what about the low-down achin’ chill? You decide, loyal readers, and pave the way for future fans!
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 – 4 of 4
Ghostleg – Cobblestone Blues
11 songs – 44 minutes
There is a rough-hewn charm to Cobblestone Blues, as evidenced by the opening “Change My Ways”, which features some fine slide guitar although the focus is very much on Hamm’s sandpapered bellow of a voice that manages to sound as old as dust whist also intimating a certain vulnerability. The title track follows a similar path albeit with extended guitar solos. As one might infer from its title, “Funk In A” is a funky instrumental with some excellent saxophone and organ.
“Down That Road” opens with some atmospheric 60’s-esque slide guitar before launching into a heavy blues-rock riff, while “Down In Mississippi” features dueling slide guitars with a sound that is closer to Aerosmith than Muddy Waters. Hamm’s voice is probably more suited to the rockier tracks such as these, given his propensity to roar at times, which means that his full-bore approach can be something of an acquired taste.
“Pretty With A Mean Attitude” is a glorious title to a track that the Georgia Satellites would love to have written. “Why I Put You In My Song” features some superb single note guitar playing that nicely echoes the anger in Hamm’s vocals.
The album works best when Hamm dials back the overdrive on the guitars and the bark on his voice. The simple, hypnotic groove of “Death At My Door” is a prime example and is one of the highlights of the CD. In addition, the rhythm section of Niehaus and Lee or Meyer law down a series of first-rate grooves. It’s very hard to listen to a song like “Charlie And The Slinger” without one’s foot tapping along (and kudos to Liston for her backing vocals on this track).
Cobblestone Blues was recorded at Blue Lotus Studio in St. Louis, MO, and recorded, engineered, and produced by Niehaus, who has done an excellent job in capturing a raucously live sound. On a track like “Rolling Down The Track”, there is a distinct sense of the band flying by the seat of its pants.
Sadly, Hamm passed away in October 2020, for there is more than enough evidence on this album to suggest that Hamm had plenty more good music in him. Cobblestone Blues is well worth investigating if you like your blues-rock with lashings of slide guitar.
Reviewer Rhys “Lightnin'” Williams plays guitar in a blues band based in Cambridge, England. He also has a day gig as a lawyer.
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