Issue 15-41 October 14, 2021

Cover photo © 2021 Anne Bello

 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Tas Cru. We have six Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Tommy Castro, Blind Lemon Pledge, Roger Connelly, Big Daddy Wilson, Altered Five Blues Band and Rob Lutes.

 From The Editor’s Desk 

Hey Blues Fans,

This weekend is a good weekend for the Blues. Our friends at the Logan Art Center in Chicago have a great program for you this weekend that is available either live in person or live streamed.

On Friday they feature “Daughters & Sons of the Blues” with Shemekia Copeland & Ronnie Baker Brooks with Special Guests, Lurrie Bell & Steve Bell, and Demetria Taylor. On Saturday they have a live performance by Bobby Rush and Jontavious Willis and on Sunday they feature avery r. young’s “a strange bitter” with Melody Angel opening. They have many other events happening all 3 days including a photo exhibition, interviews and book signings. All of these performances and events are going to be streamed live for FREE. The Bluesfest livestream will be available until Saturday, October 24. This livestream includes all Bluesfests 2021 events, as well as pre-recorded events including interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. Livestream access is free but RSVPs are required. Complete info is at

Also this weekend our friends at the Lancaster Blues Fest have 3 days of amazing blues for you in various venues in Lancaster, PA. The lineup includes too many artists to mention but highlights are John Nemeth, Lil’ Ed and The Imperials, Chris Cain, Gabe Stillman, Charlie Musselwhite, Jontavious Willis and 24 other artist on Friday, Tommy Z, Eric Gales, Clarence Spady, Sugar Ray and The Bluetones, Joanna Conner, Joan Osborne and 34 other artists on Saturday and Josh Smith, Vanessa Collier, Shemekia Copeland, Reverend Peyton, North Mississippi Allstars, Larkin Poe and 26 other artists on Sunday. Check out the complete schedule of artists at

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser

 Fall Advertising Sale! 


Instead of 4 issues of Blues Blast Magazine and month on our website for $400, during our Fall Advertising Sale you get six issues of Blues Blast Magazine and 6 weeks on our website for the same price.

This package can add significant impact to your Blues advertising or promotion campaign. It is a great way to kick up the visibility of a new album or advertise an important event.

Blues Blast Magazine is a great way to promote the Blues. More than 42,000 Blues fan subscribers read our magazine each week. They are located in all 50 states and in more than 90 countries. Our website gets more than 75,000 visitors each month.

Normal 2021 ad rates are $150 per issue in the magazine and $175 per month for website ads. BUT, for a limited time, you can advertise in six issues of Blues Blast Magazine and on our website for six weeks for only $400

To get this special rate you must reserve and pay for your ad space before December 15, 2021. Ads can be booked to run anytime between now and October 30, 2022 for your 2022 Blues festival, album release or other music related product.

Reserve your space today! Space is limited and will be sold on a first come first served basis.

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 Featured Interview – Tas Cru 

imageAny true student of the blues knows that it delivers life lessons in all its forms, but Tas Cru – an enigmatic guitarist and tunesmith from Upstate New York – takes those lessons to an entirely different level.

He’s a modern-day Pied Piper of sorts who crafts songs packed with seemingly innocent, wry observations about the foibles of living in the modern world, and he regularly targets youngsters, too, creating a new audience by cleverly drawing them into the blues world.

And as Blues Blast learned in a recent interview, it’s definitely no accident. He’s truly a teacher whose medium is the blues.

Based near Syracuse along the I-90 corridor, he’s a veteran road dog who entered the classroom after a stint in the Navy during the Vietnam War. He went on to earn a master’s degree in English literature and then a Ph.D. — penning his dissertation on ways to incorporate aspects of Iroquois culture into the teaching curriculum at a school whose entire student body was composed of children from the Mohawk Nation, a confederacy of five Native American tribes that span both sides of the Canadian border.

He also spent decades as a college professor, devoting his final years working with future music teachers and instructing them how to incorporate literacy – reading, writing, listening and speaking – into everything else they’d be doing in their classrooms.

That’s pretty highfalutin stuff — but it’s all past history today.

He made a clean break from his former life in the mid-2000s, when he adopted Tas Cru as his stage moniker and hit the highway as a full-time musician. The separation is so complete today that he no longer responds to his birth name.

“It just kinda happened,” says Tas, a self-described “blues eclectic” who plays acoustic, electric, resonator and cigar-box guitars – and a little harmonica, too – in formats that range from solo to big-band formats. “I didn’t really plan on it.”

His path to the blues and other styles of music came through a beloved uncle during his childhood. “He was a Korean War veteran,” Cru remembers, “and he came back home when I was a little kid. Something was goin’ on…PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), I think…but they didn’t know about that back then. He just couldn’t hold things together.

“He ended up getting divorced, and lived in a little apartment in the house my father owned next door to where we lived. I used to hang out with him. He’d be gettin’ all duded up on a Friday for a night on the town and be playin’ records. I didn’t know it at the time, but they were these blues records that he’d been exposed to when he was in the Army.

“After the war, when all the Chess Records stuff came out, he followed that stuff…Howlin’ Wolf and everybody else. I was just hangin’ out at the time, and it just stuck with me.

“After that, I played with a band with a kid down the street,” Cru says. “His parents at the time were in a band that was playin’ all the Sun Records stuff. When I first heard it, I kinda dismissed it. But as time was goin’ on, I was like: ‘Wait a minute! I heard that stuff before! That’s what my uncle was playin’…but just different!’”

Tas was a teenager when the British invasion — the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Zombies, Kinks, Herman’s Hermits, Animals, Yardbirds and others – overwhelmed American airwaves in the mid-‘60s, and it didn’t take long for him to realize that many of them were updated versions of many of the same tunes his uncle had been spinning years before.

One of the musicians he admired most during that era was Freddie King because of both his extraordinary guitar playing and his equally polished vocal chops. He also was drawn to Taj Mahal and Bonnie Raitt because of the subtleties they brought to the music – an ability he describes as being able to “rock it out and get cerebral at the same time.”

For years in his early adulthood, Tas played in cover bands, usually handling vocals on Bob Seger songs and other blues-rock material. He started turning toward straight blues – and writing his one songs — in a major way in the mid-‘80s.

“Rock music had really turned to shit back then…hair bands and all that stuff,” he says, “and I gravitated to women singer-songwriters. I actually got more interested in their songs because they had more substance to ‘em. I really started to reconnect to my past and put it all together when I started writing myself and rediscovered the blues form.”

He expanded his musical education for a spell in Lafayette, La., a hotbed where blues, zydeco, Cajun, country and more compete for attention on steamy Southern nights. One of the biggest lessons he’s ever received came when invited to sit in with Henry Gray, the childhood friend of Little Walter who went on to be a bandmate of Wolf, Lazy Lester, Buddy Guy and a host of others before passing in 2020 at age 95.

“I was on stage with him, and all full of fire,” Tas admits, “and Lil’ Buck Sinegal (the beloved Gulf Coast legend who played guitar for both Rockin’ Dopsie and Katie Webster) leaned over and told me: ‘Man, you know what? There’s one man on this stage that these people come to see – and you ain’t him!’”

A man who seems all business and seemingly gruff on stage because he doesn’t smile much, Cru’s quite the opposite – outgoing and easily approachable — during meet-and-greets between sets and after his shows. “I do feel bad,” he says, “when someone wants to talk before a set and know, as a musician, that there are certain things I’ve gotta be doin’ – like tuning up, making a set list or whatever.

image“The person’s usually excited, and it’s hard to make that break. I just have to come out and tell ‘em to please understand…”

As difficult as those separations can be, Cru’s transition to his new life proved to be a great decision almost from the jump. He released his debut CD, Gravi-Tas, when in his mid-50s in 2008 followed quickly by Gristle ‘n Bone, which was included by Downbeat magazine on its list of best blues albums of the year. The editors also praised his songwriting, stating that he possessed “the soul of a poet.”

“I loved the academic life,” he says, “and I learned a lot — especially the importance of being honest and earnest with people when you work with them. I separated myself from it, but I still bring to the table my love of language and writing in what I’m doing now.

“I believe that words matter. And without being too cute, I try to make the lyrics mean something more than being a vehicle from one guitar solo to the next – which sometimes I think is goin’ on. The songs themselves are not all personal, not all autobiographical. Some are observations. Some are built around a turn-of-phrase from somebody that catches my ear.

“During the COVID thing, I was doing a Blues in the Schools program…some creative stuff with this music teacher who had a group of kids who wanted to explore songwriting. It was really a cool thing for me because I had to coalesce all of my thoughts on that in order to present that to somebody else.

“I summarized it for them: ‘I hear it all the time from interviewers: What comes first, the music or the words?’

“Basically, it comes in three ways: Sometimes I’ll be noodlin’ around and hear a musical line and go ‘I like that! What can I do with that?’ A good example is a song that SiriusXM has been playin’ for the past year and a half called ‘That Lovin’ Thing.’ It was a ‘like’ that I built a song around.

“Sometimes, it’s a lyric,” says Tas. “I’ll get an idea of something I wanna say in an interesting figure of speech, and that’ll turn into a song. Sometimes, it’s a concept…somethin’ I’m thinkin’ about.”

A 2014 Blues Foundation Keeping the Blues Alive Award honoree as an educator and 2018 Blues Music Awards nominee in the emerging artist category, Cru believes that feeling is more important than virtuosity when it comes to playing an instrument. “I like listening to a virtuoso player myself,” he notes, “but I can only do it for so long if there’s no feelin’.

“I’ve seen several highly regarded virtuoso players live, and they don’t do anything for me after the third song.”

While all of his original material is rooted strongly in the blues, he frequently incorporates influences from other genres into his diverse alignments. “Growing up and being surrounded by everything from Wolf to Johnny Cash to the Beatles and Stones and Jeff Beck, it’s only natural,” he says. “But I kinda turn my back on progressive rock. If I don’t hear a melody or a groove, I’m not there long.”

That musical stew is evident when you listen to his recent CDs. Simmered & Stewed, which earned the BMA nomination, was imbued with a Gulf Coast feel. Memphis Song — which followed and included contributions by keyboard master Anthony Geraci and rising guitarist Gabe Stillman — was a soul-blues love song that celebrated the city, and Drive On — which incorporated sax player Terry Anthony (Mel Waiters/Annika Chambers) — carried the feel forward while heading in an entirely different direction.

In addition to receiving airplay worldwide, all three discs captured album-of-the-year honors in the Syracuse Area Music Awards. And Broke Down Busted Up – which debuted in early September and features fiddle goddess Anne Harris and Mary Ann Casale, a gifted mandolin player in the lineup – changes things up once again. Drawing from diverse influences, it delivers a “quasi-acoustic” mix of thought-provoking tunes that bound together by steady grooves.

Broke Down Busted Up really was a plan to do something different,” Tas says. “I really wanted to go earthier from the pandemic side of things, when I was playing a lot of acoustic guitar during the whole thing. And then, when I got to know Anne a little bit more, I went: ‘Hmmm, I wonder if she’ll jump on this project?’ – and she did!

“Mary Ann came onboard a long time ago as the backing vocalist on my You Keep the Money album. She’s got a great voice, and some great song ideas, too – including (the title tune) ‘Memphis Song’ and several other songs on that album. She’s had a big role on several of ‘em, creating backing and crafting parts. She co-wrote three of the numbers on the new one, and sings lead on two.”

Cru’s role as an educator continues today through programs targeted for adults and – prior to COVID — frequent Blues in the Schools performances. You can draw a parallel between what Cru did with his Ph.D. dissertation and what he’s been doing in recent years to attract youngsters to the music.

His shows are chockful of life lessons delivered through song – especially the idea of thinking outside the box, a skill that, he notes, is often abandoned in childhood. And he also uses his platform to impart a little knowledge that all true blues lovers already know: that the music’s playing is the seed from which all forms of popular American music grows.

Especially for children of color, that idea reintroduces them an important contribution from their own culture that – more often than not — has been obscured because a great many African-Americans in recent generations have turned their backs to the blues because of its inherent ties to slavery and all the suffering and oppression that accompanied the creators in their musical missions.

imageWhatever his subject, Tas is never preachy when he delivers his message in a relaxed, frequently humorous manner – something evident when you give a listen to the two CDs he’s recorded with youngsters in mind. He released Even Bugs Sing the Blues in 2009, drawing his inspiration on the works of Eric Carle, the author-illustrator of several beloved children’s books, most prominently The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Cru’s second kiddie pleaser, Doggone Blues first appeared in 2016. Each song describes a pooch who’s definitely a character, and all of them live again in his own series of books now, too – something that came about following the success of one of the last Blues in the Schools shows he performed prior to the pandemic.

“I did it in England, and all of the kids were from different countries in Africa,” he says. “English was a second language to them, and it was a writing program. I asked them to pick a song off Doggone Blues and then write the back story to it…who this dog was, where he came from and all that. They’d never done anything like that before, and I had to model it all for ‘em.

“I had so much fun doin’ it, I couldn’t stop! I ended up writing a series about one of the dogs from one of the songs, ‘Bad Dog Bubba.’ I’ve got three books that I did during the pandemic that I self-publish.”

Entitled Bad Dog Bubba, The Doggone Blues Band and Muddy the Waters, they’re illustrated by Heather Brown, they tell the story of the title pooch — a bloodhound who lives with a musician in Louisiana – as he tries to convince all of his furry friends that the blues is cool. “They’re not into it,” Tas chuckles, “especially his girlfriend, a Russian wolfhound who’s into Tchaikovsky.”

Despite early roadblocks, they quickly begin exploring the music together, form a group and experience complications that they have to handle along the way – most prominently, a newcomer pooch who tries to cash in on their success. Available through Amazon and far more than simple picture books, they deliver a fun, easy-to-read story that unfolds quickly in 21 chapters across the three volumes.

Even though Tas’ latest CD is still fresh and gaining traction, he’s already outlined plans for his next one. “It’s gonna be 180 degrees different than Broke Down Busted Up,” he says. “I’m gonna go full-on blues-rock on the next album…full-on, crankin’ guitars with simple arrangements, simpler songs…electric bass, drums, Hammond organ, maybe piano, guitar, drums – that’s it!

“I’m gonna call it Riffin’ in Blues based on the idea that all of the songs are guitar-riff driven. I’ve got a bunch of them layin’ around that I’m workin’ up. I’m not gonna get crazy or goofy with ‘em. I’m just gonna full-on BANG – and I’m curious to see what happens! I know l’ll have a good time. I like to get on stage and rock it off, so why not?”

Cru just returned to the U.S. after a ten-date run in Germany. But like many people in the industry today, he’s still planning on holding off on major touring until next year, restricting his appearances across the Northeast until then.

“You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” he says wistfully about the past 20 months or so. “It’s time to appreciate it. Let’s live like it’s the 1920s when they came out of their pandemic. Those of us who want to live life to the fullest,

let’s do it!

“Life is short – we know that now. We’ve known it all along, but we got a wake-up call.”

Check out Tas’ music, his children’s books and where he’ll be playing next by visiting his website:

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 6

IMAGETommy Castro – Tommy Castro Presents a Bluesman Came to Town

Alligator Records – 2021

13 tracks; 47:52

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Tommy Castro’s Tommy Castro Presents a Bluesman Came to Town, subtitled A Blues Odyssey is a mouthful of a title, but the concept album is easy to enjoy, with blues-influenced songs in a number of styles, from gospel to Southern rock to country.

Castro is prolific, with 16 albums to his credit since his solo debut in 1994. His work is always honest and straight-forward, so while the idea of a concept album might cause many people to think of progressive rock, Castro’s concept is a simple tale of a farm boy discovering the blues. And the implementation is similarly restrained; Castro tells his story through bluesy guitar, and not a sea of synths.

Castro has a solid voice that works well in a number of musical scenarios. “Child Don’t Go” is gospel, with an infectious energy that spotlights his soulful voice. “You to Hold On To” is a pretty, 50s-inspired ballad that morphs into Allman Brothers guitar work. “Draw the Line” is adult contemporary, like Journeyman era Eric Clapton. The variety is a nice surprise, because one might expect a concept album to get formulaic, as the writer tries to link the songs together. Castro is content to join the songs lyrically, but lets the tracks stand apart musically.

Which isn’t to say there’s no blues on this. “Bring It On Back” uses a wild slide riff right out of the blues classic, “Rollin’ and Tumblin.” “Somewhere” also features slide and harmonica, with plenty of blues, but also a strong country influence. Castro acoustically reprises “Somewhere” at the end of the album, giving it a Delta sound, showing another side of Castro. Recording two versions of the same song works well here, bookending the album, and showing the song’s power by playing it in two different styles.

Ultimately, A Bluesman Came to Town‘s strength is that it’s a well-constructed album that happens to be built around a single theme. But the concept doesn’t define or hem in the record; even if you don’t pick up on the common thread, the album works. The concept is there if you want to see it, but you don’t need to know about it to appreciate Castro’s strong songwriting and impeccable guitar and vocals. Producer/drummer Tom Hambridge also deserves credit for the excellent production and his work co-writing the songs. They’ve crafted something high-concept that flows with a charming feeling of effortlessness.

Reviewer Steven Ovadia interviews blues artists about their songwriting process for Working Mojo.

 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6 

imageBlind Lemon Pledge – A Satchel Full of Blues

Ofeh Records

12 songs – 44 minutes

Blind Lemon Pledge delivers music that’s as quirky as his stage name, something that’s easily apparent from the first listen to this album, the ninth CD he’s released since adopting the name 13 years ago. Born James Byfield, he pays tribute here to the songwriters who inspired him as a youth.

A prolific San Francisco Bay Area tunesmith and multi-instrumentalist, he mixes acoustic and electric blues and Americana here in a continuation of his lifelong interest in the relationship between melody and lyrics. Blind Lemon started writing songs at age eight and spent his youth delving into pre-War country blues and then expanding his world to include the full range of what’s now considered to be Americana.

An artist with Renaissance sensibilities studied Chinese classical music and played in jazz bands, he’s also experimented with electronic music and recording techniques, and penned what’s considered to be the first-ever rock-music mass, attracting national press coverage in the process, before a lengthy career as a graphic designer and media producer.

Byfield’s first release under his new name was the self-produced Livin’ My Life with the Blues in 2008, a disc that mixed originals with classic covers. It proved to be so successful that, in 2015, he trademarked the Blind Lemon Pledge name, regularly fronting his self-named acoustic quartet. This release finds him in a stripped-down three-piece format, playing guitar and harmonica and backed by the understated rhythm section of bassist Peter Grenell and drummer Juli Moscovitz.

The uptempo original, “Wrong Side of the Blues,” finds Blind Lemon “shakin’ like a California quake” and his chest “achin’ like a Georgia heartbreak” as he describes a world of trouble in his relaxed tenor. The musical accompaniment is light and airy beneath his lyrics, but the harp line runs throughout and is a distraction, something that continues throughout. While Pledge is solid on the six-string, his attack on the reeds is – to be kind – limited.

The action brightens dramatically with the sparse ballad “If Beale Street Was a Woman,” a sweet tribute to Memphis that features some tasty picking and Moscovitz on brushes before the tempo quickens as Blind Lemon lays down Delta-style slide and professes his love for “Black Eyed Susie.” The object of his attention changes to “Sherri Lynn” in the laid-back, fingerpicked ballad that follows before “Heart So Cruel” serves up a smorgasbord of complaints about shattered romance.

The theme continues in the jazzy, bittersweet “Blue Heartbreak” before Pledge turns to ragtime as he describes a childhood crush in medium-fast blues shuffle, “Teacher, Teacher,” a clever number laced with double-entendre lyrics and hints of other school-themed tunes throughout. Without speaking his name, Blind Lemon recounts the death of Robert Johnson in “I Killed the King of the Blues” next, delivering it from the standpoint of the man who poisoned him for stealing his woman.

The loping “Detour Blues” comes with a Western swing feel before a reworking of Lead Belly’s traditional “Alberta.” Two more somber originals — “Before I Take My Rest” and “Death Don’t Ask Permission” – bring the album to a close.

A Satchel Full of Blues is a mixed bag of refreshing material that deserves to be unpacked by other hands.

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 – 3 of 6 

imageRoger Connelly – Lifetime of the Blues

Lyin’ Dog Records

11 songs – 50 minutes

A Chicago native who doubles on guitar and harmonica, blues-rocker Roger Connelly has traveled the world making music since the ‘90s, and returns to the studio under his own name for the first time in 20 years for this set of originals, all delivered from a unique point of view.

Now based in Nashville, where he most recently worked four nights a week as a solo act at the Millennium Maxwell House Hotel for the better part of three years prior to the COVID-19 shutdown. In the early 2000s, he was a member of Maxwell Street legend Jimmie Lee Robinson’s last touring band, a unit that had Bob Stroger on bass.

Shortly thereafter, Connelly uprooted himself for Catalina Island in California, where he spent 12 years, dividing his time between his own group, the Blues Merchants, and as a member of Welshman Spencer Davis’ Catalina Island All-Stars, contributing two songs to an eponymous album the group released in 2012. His tunes have appeared in two major films, including Rodney Dangerfield’s “Back by Midnight.”

The third release in Roger’s career as a bandleader and the first since 2001’s Reason to Cry, this one was primarily recorded at South Light Sound in Music City with additional tracks laid down in Glendale and Burbank, Calif. Connelly’s backed by keyboard player Dave Siebels, sax player Al Rappoport and a rhythm section composed of drummer Dave Criger and either Anthony Hood or Randy Landis on bass.

A stripped down guitar run opens before the band enters for the medium-paced shuffle, “Epitaph,” on which Connelly wonders who’s going to carry him to his grave. The tempo kicks up for the interesting “I’m Comin’ Down with Somethin’.” Fear not, however, it’s not what you think – just a case of love that no doctor can cure. Roger plays slide on the title tune, “Lifetime of the Blues,” a steady-swinging blues-rocker that states that nobody really understands him or his situation.

Things quiet a little for “It’s Only a Matter of Time,” a fingerpicked ballad with clever lyrics that advises living a life that’s less demanding and planting a seed of hope and watching it grow because your life will pass faster than you can imagine. Connelly’s back on slide for the bluesy rocker, “American Dream Machine,” on which he proclaims himself to be a “bad mama-jammer” who’s driving his ’57 Chevy through a storm to make it to his lady’s side.

Siebels’ keys open the soulful ballad, “Teach You How to Dance,” a song that pleads a woman for half a chance at romance, before the shuffle, “I’ve Got Nothin’,” finds him sitting in his car in pouring rain as he bemoans the loss of the lady and, apparently, everything worthwhile. The theme continues in “Oughta Be a Law,” starts quietly before exploding as Roger announces he’s going to petition Congress for protection from the way he’s been treated.

Another ballad, “Livin’ on Borrowed Time,” revisits the theme of fleeting existence before the acoustic instrumental, “A Song for Kathy,” finds Connelly hitting the high notes as he shifts between fingerpicking and slide before “Point of View” brings the set to a close with images of someone who’s crying frozen tears behind prison bars, but insists that the man inside is someone that he used to know.

Lifetime of the Blues is a pleaser on multiple levels, delivering quality musicianship throughout and well-polished tunes that pack a punch with their words. Despite Connelly’s background, this definitely isn’t Chicago blues. But if you’re interested in contemporary Americana with timeless appeal, this one’s right up your alley.

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 

imageBig Daddy Wilson – Hard Time Blues

Continental Blue Heaven Records CBHCD 2041

13 songs – 53 minutes

An ex-pat American born in Edenton, N.C., Big Daddy Wilson has been a star on the European acoustic blues scene in the ‘80s, but came full circle to his roots in 2019 with Deep in My Soul, a stellar, all-electric effort that proved his prowess in that format, too. He continues that journey with this powerful CD, venturing into territory he’s never gone before with a mixed-media set of originals infused with contemporary themes and deep religious overtones.

Born Adam Wilson Blount on Aug. 19, 1960, Big Daddy grew up in poverty, sang in the church and quit school at age 16 to join the Army. Despite having been raised in the heart of Piedmont blues country, he didn’t discover the music until adulthood in Germany, where he quickly won over audiences with his original tunes at jams.

Released on the Netherlands-based Continental Blue Heaven imprint, this is Wilson’s 13th album, which includes two early CDs on Germany’s Ruf imprint, stops at four more European labels – DixieFrog, Phamosa, Crossroads and New Music Distribution – before returning to Ruf for his four latest albums, the most recent of which was produced by Grammy winner Jim Gaines in Alabama.

Hard Time Blues was recorded in England, Sweden, Germany and Italy under the direction of Glen Scott, a multi-instrumentalist who also contributes drums, bass, organ, keys and electric guitar. A powerful, emotive baritone, Big Daddy shines on vocals in a set that includes appearances from perennial Blues Music Award honoree Eric Bibb.

While Wilson is an accomplished guitarist in his own right, he only picks up the six-string on one tune here, leaving those responsibilities to Scott, Bibb, Stefan Astner, Christer Lyssarides, Mike Titre and Cesare Nolli, who also doubles on banjo. Rounding out the roster are Klaus Grossert (harp), Nicolo Taccori (drums), Enzo Messina (piano) and Shaneeka Simon, Paolo Legramandi and Enzo Messina on backing vocals.

Big Daddy penned 11 of the 13 tracks, and Bibb contributed the two others, including “Yazoo City,” which opens the action with images of the Delta and describes almost losing his mind along with everything else after a levee break inundates the community and forces the singer to make a new life elsewhere. The search continues in “The City Street (Ps. 23),” which percolates from the jump as it intersperses Bible verses with a description of traveling down a lonely road.

The soulful title tune, the ballad “Hard Time Blues,” is another Bibb creation that continues the message forward, this time with images of Hurricane Katrina and the struggling humanity left in its wake while “Poor Black Children” is a stripped-down, gospel- and field-holler send-up that describes the kids toiling in the fields under a blazing sun as it insists that “all God’s children come from the same oak tree.”

Beginning with a medium-tempo, half-sung, half spoken intro, the mood brightens with “Meatballs,” a medium-paced love song that features Shaneeka sharing vocals. Big Daddy announces he’s on his way home with a hankering for collard greens and steak, but she replies that she’s got something else simmering on the stove. Images of growing up in poverty go hand-in-hand with deep faith in the spiritual, “He Cares for Me,” before the touching, soulful “Dearly Beloved” mourns the loss of a love eternal at the woman’s funeral.

The sweet ballad, “New Born,” celebrates the entry of a boy into the world and the love that created it, a theme that continues in the slow shuffle, “I Can’t Help but Love You,” before sounds of the Delta return in “A Letter,” which offers up a prayer to end racism. Three more tunes with deep spiritual messages — “Maybe It’s Time,” “Testimony” and “He Cares for Me (remix)” – bring the album to an inspirational close.

Big Daddy Wilson deserves far more attention in his homeland than he receives. This disc is an emotion-packed treasure. Give this one a spin. You’ll agree. Available through Amazon and other online outlets.

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 – 5 of 6 

imageAltered Five Blues Band – Holler If You Hear Me

Blind Pig Records

13 songs, 50 minutes

The Blues have often spoken to the daily life of communities of people. Many of the most eloquent and effective songwriters sang in direct language speaking to the audience’s shared experiences. Altered Five Blues Band, the hard stomping Milwaukee based Blues Rock band, does this for modern listeners. New record Holler If You Hear Me produced by the avatar of Rock snapped plain spoken Blues Tom Hambridge, if filled with provocations to come together to party and have a good time, tempered by the occasional declarations of love and regret.

The sound of Altered Five Blues Band is a balancing of the deep rooted Gospel tinged baritone rumble of lead singer Jeff Taylor and the post-Stevie Ray Blues Rock flair of guitarist Jeff Schroedl. Schroedl, the primary songwriter, is a fluid guitarist who balances flash with support of the song which is embodied by Taylor’s singular vocal talent. In many ways Schroedl’s clever songwriting and ace guitar is the muse for Taylor’s all encompassing artistic thrust. Taylor’s smooth warm toned voice is as monumental and undeniable as Howlin’ Wolf with the finish and flourish of B.B. King. The band is rounded out by rhythm section Mark Solveson on bass, Raymond Tevich on keys and Alan Arber on drums creating a taut unified Blues Rock sound that can easily morph from single chord stomp to 12 bar medium temp grind to upbeat thump. Special guest Jason Ricci adds facile harmonica to 5 tracks flapping in and out of Schroedl’s guitar lines.

This band’s music, and the blueprint for this record, is well defined by the lead off title track. A sticky guitar line leads the band into a medium fast groove. Taylor joins in low and calm at first then builds the vocal drama to the big “Holla if yah hear me” chorus. Singing of being too busy, overworked and stressed over an ebullient hard bouncing Gospel shuffle, Taylor exudes the emotions he’s singing – exhaustion in isolation to exhilaration in being in community. This melding of clear common man concerns, modern Rocking sensibility and traditional Roots music forms is where Altered Five shine.

The flip side of the coin is song two in the sequence “Guilty of a Good Time.” Starting with just Taylor’s voice and Schroedl electric guitar accompaniment, this full band co-write about gambling, drinking, smoking and partying is kicked off with a calm before the storm effect. The band kicks into a stinky strut for this 16-bar Blues (extra 4 bars at the beginning of the form). Wailing “I ain’t guilty, I ain’t guilty of no crime, baby I’m just guilty of a good time” Taylor inhabits that late night regret in which he ran up a big bar tab and got a “late night tattoo.” This hard partying vignette is what Altered Five also does so well. Connecting to the audience who have all been there: drunk, queasy and a little remorseful but fully alive.

Holler If You Hear Me is a strong cohesive album. Altered Five Blues Band have been at it for 19 years. This their 6th full length, pulls together many influences into a straightforward sound. Undeniably Blues, this music has a pop and crackle that takes its cue from drunken late night regional cover band grinding. But, Altered Five elevates with high end musicianship, clever songwriting and the duel knockout of Taylor’s pipes and Schroedl’s steel. Holler If You Hear Me is a fun loving party with a bit of depth and a lot of joy.

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.

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

imageRob Lutes – Come Around

Lucky Bear Records

12 songs time – 43:11

Canadian singer-songwriter Rob Lutes brings his unique style of roots music to his current album backed by a tight band of some of Canada’s brightest musicians. Rob wrote or co-wrote eleven of the twelve tunes. The approach here is of the singer-songwriter variety. Rob covers the songs with his raspy vocals as well as accompanying himself on acoustic guitar.

His voice recalls J.J. Cale particularly on “Knives”. “That Bird Has My Wings” just skips along over Wurlitzer accompaniment and breezy acoustic guitar. The title track “Come Around” is atmospheric with its’ acoustic guitar, Upright bass and piano gently weaving in and out.

Rob MacDonald’s electric slide guitar is appropriate on the Bob Dylan-like “Work Of Art”. He also contributes a wonderfully toned electric guitar to the traditional “In My Time Of Dyin'”. Life’s comforting moments are reflected on in “Fisherman’s Rest”. It delivers a soothing vibe. A similar feel is expressed on “Shediac Bridge”, a listing of reminisces of bygone days set against lovely finger-picked guitar.

A deep guitar tone permeates “Amsterdam”, another song that deals with melancholic memories. Bob Stagg plays his organ against a similar guitar tone on the pensive “Waiting For You”. The last vocal performance is on the upbeat, uplifting “By And By”. Dobro and Wurlitzer piano intertwine for a laidback groove. The acoustic guitar instrumental “Away” brings things to a mellow conclusion.

You find that you’ve just witnessed a rustic, thought provoking singer-songwriter thing of lasting beauty. The production of the musicians by Rob Lutes and Rob MacDonald melds the music and lyrics together as they were meant to be. Another Canadian gem drifted down to grace our ears.

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

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