Cover photo © 2021 Marilyn Stringer
In This Issue
Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Lisa Mann. We have six Blues reviews for you this week including a book by drummer Howard Grimes plus new music from Avey Grouws Band, Robert Billard & The Cold Calls, Chris Corcoran, Seth James and Daniel De Vita.
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Featured Interview – Lisa Mann
In the old days, blues artists emerged straight out of the cottonfields or the dirt floors of jukes scattered across the South. In the modern era, however, the road to stardom isn’t as direct. Take the case of Lisa Mann as a good example.
A two-time Blues Music Association bass player of the year, she possesses jaw-dropping vocal chops in addition to her prodigious rhythm section skills. She’s friendly, down-to-earth and easily approachable in meet-and-greets, making herself a fans’ delight. Hardly any of them are aware that she started out as a metalhead rocker.
Based out of Portland, Ore., since her teens, when her mother uprooted the family to distance herself from her abusive father, Mann was one of the busiest road dogs in the blues world prior to the pandemic, but has stuck close to home for the better part of the past two years, wary of bringing COVID-19 into the house she shares with hubby Allen Markel, bassist in Sugaray Rayford, and his elderly mom.
“Slowly and surely, though, things are getting better,” she says optimistically, speaking from the office of her home, which has deep rock roots, too. Known locally as the Van Halen House, its former resident was Noel Monk, the manager of that band and the Sex Pistols, too, and Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth visited often.
The road to the blues has been an interesting trip for Lisa, who was born in Charleston, W.Va., to parents she describes as “not hippies, but hippie adjacent” and raised Jewish, but frequently exposed to gospel music, too, because her temple in her youth had an exchange program with a black church nearby.
“I remember it very vividly,” she says. “They’d come to the synagogue, and we’d go to the church. And, of course, everything at the synagogue is like ‘let’s say a kaddish for the dead’ – very formal…and pretty boring as a child. But we went to this church, people singing were at the top of their lungs, dancing in the aisles, playing a tambourine. They had a band.
“It was a profound experience. It was physical and musical…and I’ve never forgotten it.”
And when combined with Lisa’s parents’ eclectic musical tastes, it provided the perfect initiation for an eventual life in the blues.
“My mom loved singers,” she says, “Barbara Streisand, Judy Garland, Melissa Manchester, Yma Sumac (a coloratura soprano from Peru with a four-plus octave range and one of the world’s most famous proponents of exotic music in the ‘50s) and Ronnie James Dio, too. She had an Yma Sumac record that I used to sing along to…something I can’t do anymore because I don’t have the range I used to as a child.”
Her father, meanwhile, had more pedestrian tastes: Steppenwolf, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and more. The bass players on those records and ‘70s AM radio were like Pied Pipers, luring Lisa to the bass even in her youth, when deejays played “Convoy” one minute and a disco tune the next.
Her world changed forever when KISS hit the airwaves in ’77 or ’78, she says, noting: “I gravitated to Gene Simmons and his bass. He was just really cool, man! He could breathe fire and fly. He was like a superhero.
“I decided…that’s it! That’s what I want to do…play bass!
“I started plugging out Deep Purple songs on my mom’s acoustic guitar. The first bass line I ever learned was Roger Glover’s ‘Space Truckin’.’ It was very solid and catchy – probably because, as I know now, it’s blues-influenced. He was my original inspiration.”
John Paul Jones’ work on the bottom for Zeppelin quickly attracted her, too, she says, noting: “I kinda came to the blues through the back door…the English back door (chuckles).”
Mann saved her school lunch money and bought her first bass at age 11. And she started dreaming of becoming a rock star a year later after a friend gave her a copy of Iron Maiden’s Killers album. Almost instantaneously, Lisa says, she became a metalhead and began turning to that band’s founder, bassist Steve Harris, and Bob Daisley, his equal in Ozzy Osbourne’s bands, for inspiration.
The transition was pretty natural, she points out, because the Brits had taken the blues and used it to create heavy metal, then stripped it away and added classical elements to initiate the separate entity that it is today.
“But don’t get me wrong, though,” she insists, “those bands – along with Judas Priest, Manowar, Mercyful Fate and Dio — were part of my youth, and playing along with them taught me how to sing and play. But I’ll never stop loving, singing and playing the blues.”
Lisa joined her first band — the metal/punk group Dead Conspiracy — at age 15. “We played this absolute dive bar,” she remembers fondly. “It was like the CBGB of Portland…really gross bathrooms and all that. We got paid $13, and I had to ask my cousin for four quarters so that we could split the money evenly (laughs). So thank you, Simon, for the quarters!”
Now known for her skill on the six-string bass, Mann has been eschewing four-strings since attempting to play along with songs from Manowar in her mid-teens. “They had a really busy bass player, Joey DeMaio,” she recalls. “He had a six-string and an eight-string bass.”
At 16, she picked up an eight-string, then turned to the six-string she uses today because “I was working on Paganini’s ‘Caprice No. 24’ — and I ran out of frets!”
The extra strings provide access to low B, something that comes in really handy when playing in the keys of C and D, Lisa says, stressing that blues lovers shouldn’t freak out, though: “I’m not going to be playing Paganini in the middle of a blues song. I know where the money frets are – don’t worry about it!”
Mann started playing in Top 40 bands in her late teens and moved to Seattle for a few years at age 23 after she married ex-husband Dave Melyan, the drummer she still works with on a regular basis today. “We were best buddies,” she insists, “and we’re still great buddies.”
In that era, most Top 40 groups were fronted by a cute chick who handled vocals – and that wasn’t Lisa, who was still holding down the bottom and provided occasional backing. That began to change when she eventually joined another ensemble fronted by the male guitarist and she started delivering the tunes with original female leads. It was a natural transition because she’d frequently attended karaoke with her mom in her youth, where she’d perform the Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight tunes she’d heard on radio.
After five years in the Emerald City, Mann moved back to Portland in 1998 and began taking whatever gigs she could. “I ended up in an Irish band with a brilliant guitar player named Dale Morris,” she says, “and we’d play gutter Irish songs – ‘Whiskey, You’re the Devil’ and stuff like that. I also subbed with a reggae band and took all kinds of others, too.”
Her move toward the blues began at jams – especially at the Candlelight, a club known locally as the “Scandalight” because it was a notorious go-to place for romantic hookups. But it was also a great locale for musicians to network, too, because Linda Hornbuckle — an Oregon Music Hall of Fame vocalist with a major pedigree in both the blues and gospel worlds – ran the show.
Lisa still brims with gratitude because Hornbuckle took her under her wing.
“Her soulful voice, her stage presence, her sophisticated phrasing…there was really something about being in the room with Linda,” Lisa says fondly. “And hearing her voice right in front of you…not through the P.A…there’s something visceral about that experience that reminds me of being at that black church when I was a child.
“I learned a lot just listening to her.”
Lisa’s entry to the blues world began after Hornbuckle introduced her to guitarist Sonny Hess, a longtime fixture on the local scene, who founded Northwest Women of Rhythm and Blues, an ensemble that performs female showcases, Christmas charity shows and other events throughout the year. Sonny recruited Mann to be the group’s bassist – a position she still maintains along with being its musical director today.
“I didn’t know squat about the blues – or thought I didn’t,” Mann insists. “But all those John Paul Jones and Roger Glover licks were still in the back of my brain from all those years ago.”
It didn’t take long before Lisa’s ability to double on bass and vocals made her an in-demand talent herself, leading to work with established veteran blues keyboard player David Vest as well as blues harp giant Paul deLay when his regular bassist, Dave Kahl, wasn’t available.
“When I finally started playing real blues,” she says, “I was able to rely on that rock knowledge – and the Zen-like repetitive bass lines — to at least fake my way through it. But I really wasn’t very good at it (chuckles) – and Paul would let me know!”
Drawn to Etta James, Koko Taylor, Bonnie Raitt and Little Milton, she’s been hooked on the blues ever since.
“Some players complain about playing it,” she notes. “They say it’s boring because you are going to repeat the same box pattern or walking pattern over and over and over again – and that’s your job.
But I find it really grounding. And there’s a way to be creative with a limited pallet that you can’t with unlimited rock arrangements. It’s like if you give a child a box of Crayons with 100 different colors, he might just sit there and stare at it — but if you just give him five, he might start drawing immediately.”
Embarking on a solo career at age 36 in 2006 with the release of the CD, Self Material, Lisa admits that it took a while for her to establish herself in her hometown, she says, because — even though she’d lived there for a large portion of her life — she was basically “the new girl” without any roots in the local blues community.
But, man, did she ever establish herself! Now a member of the Oregon and regional Cascade Blues Association halls of fame, she’s won more of that group’s Muddy Awards than you can count – most recently the top prize for 2020-21 live-stream performance in early November.
Two more self-produced albums – Chop Water in 2008 and Lisa Mann in 2010 – followed before her career took off. She and her Really Good Band represented the group at the 2011 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, making it to the semi-finals, but her instrument was already earning her major attention within the international bass community with articles about her appearing in major trade publications.
“I was walking Beale Street, checking out the other bands to see who’s kickin’ ass and who’s the competition, when we weren’t playing,” Lisa recalls. “I saw this dude playing a fiddle, and remember coming back to my band and saying: ‘This guy and his band is so good that he’s gonna win – and if he doesn’t, it’ll be a travesty.’
“It was Lionel Young. And when we moved on to the semis, we were in the same room. I had to tell my guys that we were toast — and I was right. He beat us…by this much and then went on to win it all.”
Looking back, she says, it just wasn’t her time, adding: “I wasn’t fully formed. Video of me playing that competition looks weird to me today – like I was trying too hard…I dunno!”
For Mann, the best was yet to come.
Possessing pipes that move fluidly between blues, country, soul and rock, she’s a gifted songwriter whose material is most often imbued with gritty observations about life – something established with the release of her first mainstream blues album, Satisfied, in 2012.
Lisa was in the middle of writing and recording that one when she lost her mother after a long illness. Her original, “Surrender to the Blues,” dealt with the grief she experienced during the ordeal – something that hit home full force a short while later when she lost her voice for several months because of stress combined with an injury.
“I went through some tough times,” she says. “But you just have to keep going forward. You can’t let it stop you” – a theme she expressed in detail on the 2013 follow-up, Move On, which took her emotions about the subject – and her career — to an entirely different level thanks to her own perseverance.
“It started with Satisfied getting some airplay,” she says. “But even back when I released Lisa Mann in 2010, which is kinda a compilation of some underground albums I put out, I spent hours every day creating a blues-radio database. I Googled ‘blues radio’ for every state, every major city. Then I searched out who all the blues deejays were, and I messaged them, acting as if I was my own p.r. agent, and started sending them CDs. The thing is…if people like the music, they like it,” she says. “If they don’t, they don’t. I can’t make ‘em like it, but I can get them to hear it!
“By the time Move On came out, they were starting to get familiar with what I was doing. Finally, after two rounds of painfully trying to self-promote (something she now leaves to others), it started happening for me.”
That album hit the Top 25 on Living Blues charts and the Top 20 on Roots Music Report, laid the groundwork for the fruits that were to come, beginning with Blues Blast presenting her with its 2014 Sean Costello Rising Star Award, a prize that honors the memory of the world-class talent who died suddenly at age 28.
Always a person with a deep social conscience, Mann received her trophy from Costello’s father that night and was so moved by the ensuing discussion that she’s been a steady supporter of the Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research ever since. Whether it’s a medical issue or social problem, she often lends a hand.
“It’s usually something that presents itself…like when my friend Sonny got cancer,” Lisa says. “She just celebrated her 17th anniversary of being cancer-free, but had to get chemo, saw children there, and it just broke her heart. She said: ‘I have to do something to help these kids. And I said: ‘Yeah, count me in. Let’s do this!’
“That’s when we switched our Christmas events to a group called Candlelighters, which helps children with cancer. They actually helped my little cousin who passed away to pediatric cancer several years ago. And now our blues society president has cancer and has had a stroke, and he and his wife are in dire need. So all the local musicians are pitching in on that right now.”
While Lisa wasn’t the first woman to capture bass player of the year honors from the BMAs – Danielle Nicole cracked that glass ceiling after 35 years of male dominance in 2014 – she’s completely blown away by the fact she took home back-to-back trophies in ’15 and ’16 – a major accomplishment in fields that included Bob Stroger, Bill Stuve, Larry Taylor, Patrick Rynn, Charlie Wooten, Willie J. Campbell and Michael “Mudcat” Ward.
As a recording artist, the momentum she established with Move On picked up speed with the release of Hard Times, Bad Decisions, an album that demonstrated the depth of her songwriting ability, the same month she won her second BMA.
“I like to tell stories,” Lisa says, “real-life stories. The title song is semi-autobiographical…just because you’ve had hard times, it’s not an excuse for the bad decisions that you’re making. You can’t say ‘I had an abusive childhood. Therefore, I’m gonna drink myself to death.’ You’re a grownup now. You have to parent yourself – and put the plug in the jug.
“And the song ‘Two Halves of One Broken Heart’ – the duet I did with Andy Stokes – is based on friends who almost got divorced. It’s such a romantic story: One day, he was playing guitar and she came downstairs and fell in love with him all over again. I had to write a song about it.”
That disc received recording-of-the-year honors from the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. Her growing trophy case also includes a 2018 European Blues Award for best live performance, and her song It’s the Monkeys or Me,” which appears on her 2020 EP, Old Girl, took home first place in the blues category in the recent Unsigned Only Music Competition after hitting the Billboard blues chart, too.
“That was very cool,” she says. “I did a Bandcamp pre-sale and spread it out to everybody, telling ‘em to buy one for themselves and one for their friends. People were sharing it like mad on social media, selling enough copies to land in Billboard’s Top 10!”
As a blues artist, Mann frequently works with several other top acts from the Pacific Northwest, including Karen Lovely, Ben Rice, Lloyd Jones, Kevin Selfe and others. But she’s also involved in other projects, too. She’s also been a key component of Cry for Eden, a symphonic rock project that delivers positively uplifting music about life in modern times, and — just prior to COVID-19 — she signed on for lead-vocal duties in Splintered Throne, a hard-rock group that’s currently working on a new album.
Since the shutdown, Lisa’s finally been able to fulfill her childhood dream, too.
Billing herself as White Crone, she’s released of The Poisoner, a full-length CD that mixes prog- and proto-rock and features balls-to-the-walls dual guitar solos and iron-fisted basslines – something that’s earned her international acclaim as a metalhead rocker. She came up with the concept while voting in the Grammys, but it took her four years, working in her spare time, to put it together.
She tracked all of the parts herself, including percussion on a Roland V drum kit and seven-string Schecter guitar – which she learned how to play via YouTube videos, with guest appearances from guitarist Mehdi Farjami of the band Glacier and Hall of Heavy Metal inductee Vinny Appice, the percussionist best known for his work with Dio, Black Sabbath and Heaven & Hell.
The idea came to her in 2016 when she was screening submissions for best metal performance. “There was this band from Sweden called Ghost that wears makeup and plays really schlocky horror-rock stuff. I heard this song, ‘Cirice,’ that was so different, creative and very ‘70s retro sounding. It was so inspiring that I started listening to their music.
“All of a sudden, I started hearing heavy-metal melodies in my head that reminded me of the stuff that I used to listen to. So I started singing them and playing ‘em on my bass and recording them with my phone app. I collected dozens and dozens of these little melodies and thought: ‘I should do something with this.’ So I started stitching them together using Samplitude that my husband Allen turned me on to — a digital platform similar to Pro Tools.
“I was hearing drums in my head, and I couldn’t just bang ‘em out on the table, so I got an electronic drumkit, taught myself how to play guitar – and it just happened…it just started coming out!
“At first, I thought it was gonna be fun and just for me. But then I thought: ‘These songs are quality enough that other people are gonna want to hear it.’”
And she was right. The response has been so great that she recently did a song with blues-rock guitarist Alastair Greene for a White Crone cover of the Dio/Rainbow tune “Stargazer” as a follow-up.
But fear not, blues fans! Lisa has no intention of turning her back on the music we love. As she states succinctly on her White Crone website: “Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE blues music and will never stop playing and singing the blues! Coming to blues felt like coming home.
“But playing metal feels like running away from home!
‘That don’t mean I’m walking away from blues… Hope y’all don’t mind me having a little rowdy fun. I know a lot of you are secret headbangers anyway!”
As this interview was taking place, in fact, Mann was getting ready to hit the road and get the blues ball rolling again. She was all geared up for a Ladies of Blues Rock showcase at Riverside Casino in Iowa on Thanksgiving eve in a lineup that includes Gaye Adegbalola, Eliza Neals, Terrie Odabi, Lara Price and Jeni Grouws, lead vocalist in the host Avey Grouws Band.
Like almost all artists the past two years, it’s been virtually impossible for Lisa to do much planning with gigs scheduled, cancelled, rebooked and then cancelled again. If you’re in Oregon and Washington, she’ll be working there through the end of the year, and she’s already booked for next year’s Flagstaff (Ariz.) Blues Festival with more dates to come.
“I’ve got the pandemic blues, man,” she says. “But I want to express my gratitude to all of the fans out there. I did a lot of live-streaming last year and earlier this year, and people from all over the world tuned in and stayed in touch. You supported us when we couldn’t come to you. And, hopefully, we’ll be back with you before you know it!”
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
Howard Grimes with Preston Lauterbach – Timekeeper: My Life In Rhythm
149 pages Paperback edition
Anyone with more than a passing knowledge of blues and soul music recorded over the last sixty years has heard the work of Howard Grimes, but many listeners still fail to grasp the impact that he has had with his stellar work behind the drum kit on one hit record after another, and then some. Right from the start, on a song by Carla and Rufus Thomas entitled “Cause I Love You,” released on Satellite Records in 1960, Grimes has been the unerring backbone of rhythm that flows through records by Al Green, O.V. Wright, Otis Clay, Ann Peebles, Denise LaSalle, and Syl Johnson. For many of those recordings, he was part of the famed Hi Rhythm Section along with the Hodges’ brothers – Mabon “Teenie” Hodges on guitar, Charles on organ, and Leroy on bass guitar.
Born in Memphis in 1941, Grimes was raised in a loving family situation, living with his mother at her father’s home. There were a number of clubs featuring blues music in the neighborhood, including one where B.B. King and Bobby Blue Bland held Blue Monday shows. Despite blues music permeating the air, Grimes credits his experiences in church as the key to his understanding of rhythm. He notes, “My ear got tuned to people rocking their feet……I heard that through the floor. Soul came out of that floor. That’s what carried the beat. Everything fit into the rhythm”.
Eventually a friend of his cousin begins to teach him the rudimentary skills like how to hold the sticks in addition to developing the coordination of hands and feet to play basic drum patterns. After a stint in a drum and bugle corps, his real education begins at Manassas High School, under the watchful eye of Mr. Emerson Able, who stressed the need to hold the beat, lock in and stay there no matter what. Commenting on his student, Able said, “But I knew one thing, he’s a human metronome, Wherever he start the beat, that’s where it’s gonna end up.”
From there, Grimes tells his story in chronological fashion, mixing vivid memories with colorful stories and thoughtful comments to create a lively story-line that easily holds your attention. He makes a point of crediting those musicians who helped him find his way, and some who did him dirty. Descriptions of colorful neighborhood characters like Mama Yaya, Sissie Charles, Peaches, and Ms. Shake Right draw readers into his community. Meanwhile, he is backing artists like Rufus Thomas in clubs and on the road as a teenager, gaining invaluable experience.
While the drummer had great experiences on the road, there were moments when the inevitable racism threatened his safety, as it did during a tour he did with Paul Revere and the Raiders in the Deep South, culminating in a show of strength that carried the day. And he is there for the formative years of the Stax record label, working with organist Booker T. Jones. One memorable story answers the question of how Al Jackson Jr. ended up playing on the “Green Onions” recording session in place of Grimes.
As Jackson began to hold sway at the Stax sessions as part of Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Grimes eventually takes over for him with Willie Mitchell, the recording guru of Hi Records, who teams him with the Hodges brothers to form the second killer studio assemble on the Memphis scene. That jump-starts the era of hit after hit, with his work with Al Green redefining soul music, with the drummer crediting Mitchell with teaching him to relax the beat, to make people happy through the groove, a hallmark of Green’s style.
As good as things were, the money wasn’t always right, and egos started coming into play. The worst news came in 1977, when Hi Records was sold, and despite promises that all would remain the same, Grimes soon finds himself no longer needed in the studio, leading to a downward spiral that left him destitute and living with his mother, forgotten by many friends, fading away in the mists of musical history. Through his abiding faith in God, the love of a woman, and the helping hand of Rev. Green, he is able to get right with life, and once again enjoy the respect and admiration of the music world for his considerable contributions.
Many readers may find themselves wishing Grimes had shared more of the stories from his life, given the easy-going approach that he and Lauterbach utilize, one that would make a book twice as long just as captivating. The drummer tells it like it is, sharing the ups and downs, the joys and the moments of regret, speaking from his heart at every turn.
As he states at the end, “The Memphis sound will return. When it does, my time will come again. That’s my dream”.
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!
For other reviews on our website CLICK HERE
Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6
Avey Grouws Band – Tell Tale Heart
Navy House Records NHCD2021
10 songs – 41 minutes
Fronted by honeyed vocalist Jeni Grouws and six-string master Chris Avey, this Iowa-based quintet delivered The Devil May Care, a CD brimming with promise last year, achieving international airplay and reaching the Top 10 on Billboard’s album chart. And they continue their ascendancy with this all-original collection, which mixes blues, rock, funk and more.
The former lead guitarist for Arizona Blues Hall of Famer Big Pete Pearson and a 2009 finalist at the International Blues Challenge, Chris met Jenny at a jam at a club in Bettendorf, one of four towns that form the Quad Cities on both sides of the Mississippi River, in 2015. The magic that night was so palpable that they quickly formed a duo that evolved into a full band two years later.
With a lineup that includes Randy Leasman on bass, Bryan West on drums and Nick Vazquez on keyboards, they’ve become a national presence through multiple appearances at the IBCs themselves, twice making it to the semi-finals – most recently in 2019. The Devil May Care reached the finals in the best debut album category at the 2020 Blues Blast Music Awards, and their tune, “Come and Get This Love,” took home third place in the International Songwriting Competition and captured top honors in the Unsigned Only Songwriting Competition.
The third album in their catalog, which also includes an EP entitled Road to Memphis, this is an all-original effort that was penned by the two principals and produced by Grammy winning multi-instrumentalist Casey Wasner (Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal) at East Iris Studios in Nashville and The Purple House in Leiper’s Fork, Tenn.
Penned at the height of the coronavirus epidemic, much of the material on this one deals with the crisis and the political and social upheavals that it left in its wake. The driving blues-rocker, “Love Raining Down,” opens the action on a hopeful note as it invokes a wish for more peaceful times ahead. The deluge continues and the mood brightens considerably in “There for Me,” a feel-good love song that celebrates the support of a good man during these trying times.
Avey powers out of the gate on the strings to open “Bad, Bad Year,” an unhurried ballad that describes a world and relationships in turmoil amplified by having to endure days that fade into darkness and nights that last too long. “Hanging Around,” a breezy pop number with an ‘80s feel, is up next. In this one, Jeni maintains hope that her unsupportive lover will change his wayward ways – a theme that continues in “Tell Tale Heart,” a blues-rock torch song that remembers the good times and recognizes that her man is hurting but recognizing that he won’t stop cheating.
The seven-minute instrumental ballad “Mariana” starts quietly and builds intensity throughout as it allows Chris to shine — and Jeni to give her voice a rest — before the band goes acoustic with the light and airy “Daylight,” which serves up the idea that every sleepless night will end with a sunrise and the promise of better times ahead.
The funk kicks in for “Heart’s Playing Tricks,” a blues-rocker that describes the unsubstantiated belief that the man’s been unfaithful again. The feel continues in “We’re Gonna Roll,” which looks forward to good times ahead, before Avey and Grouws share the mic for “Eye to Eye,” which finds them at odds but always knowing they couldn’t have a better friend.
If you’re a fan of contemporary, original blues, you can’t go wrong with this one. Strongly recommended.
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
Robert Billard & The Cold Calls – Stop
10 songs time – 45:43
Rustic roots music emanating from what sounds like the heart of the Canadian spirit from singer-songwriter Robert Billard. He possesses a hearty mountain man of a voice. The liner notes don’t stipulate what he plays, but from photos, it looks like he accompanies himself on acoustic guitar. He is surrounded by a respectable stable of musicians on this endeavor. It’s the usual suspects of guitar, keyboards and drums. He has managed to wrangle up two fine electric guitarists in Tony “Wild T” Springer and JW-Jones. The rest of the crew offers sturdy support values.
The music within is largely of a gritty variety. Robert’s commanding vocals hold your attention. “Road To Nowhere” begins with the pops and crackles of a vinyl record. It’s a mournful song that includes a haunting uncredited slide guitar part. Gowan lends his piano skills to “Six Ptarmigan”. JW-Jone does a bang-up job on guitar. Robert’s vocal on this song ranges from quiet to a more emotive delivery. JW once again features on his expressive guitar on “Waiting For The Land To Dry”.
Tony “Wild T” Springer shows off his inventive guitar on “No Shape For Talking”. Murray Porter executes some nifty piano on the track. A musical intro to “I’ll Leave You Alone” bears resemblance to the intro of Cream’s “Tales Of Brave Ulysses”. The song has a definitely mysterious vibe to it. JW-Jones lends his wicked slide guitar to the insistent groove of “Groove”, lol. Springer turns up again on guitar on “Well Enough Alone”. He leaves his mark again, but more reined in.
“Waiting On Time” serves up more of a pensive atmosphere, once again with Mr. Spriner’s unique guitar stylings. Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne makes his one and only appearance on piano on “Nothing Can Stop Me Now”, which also includes the blistering guitar of JW-Jones. The song that clocks in with the longest time, “Home”, appropriately takes the proceedings home. Tonye Aganaba adds her haunting and soulful secondary vocal to the song.
A truly enjoyable slice of Americana is served up here in the able hands of Robert Billard & The Cold Calls. He possesses a voice worthy of a seasoned mountain man. He also co-produced this effort with Andrew Conroy. The lyrics throughout drip with sincerity. It’s all enveloped in a Canadian sensibility. A well-executed project.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6
Chris Corcoran – Inferno
CD: 11 Songs, 30 Minutes
Styles: Swing/Jump Blues, Instrumental Blues, All Original Songs
What better CD to review the day after Halloween than a musical bonfire called Inferno?
The latest offering from the UK’s Chris Corcoran roars with the big-band intensity of jump blues, forgoing sheer volume in favor of masterful melodies and prominent passion. All of the eleven songs on this album are originals: another boon. The best thing about Inferno is its flow, each track streaming effortlessly from one to the next. It’s more like a novel, each chapter interconnected and interrelated, than a computer folder containing a hodgepodge of disparate files. The worst thing? It’s thirty minutes long. Then again, short = sweet.
Widely respected as one of the UK’s finest blues guitarists, he was profiled in Issue 406 of Guitarist magazine (May 2016), with examples of his signature licks and accompanying video on its YouTube channel. Guitarist followed this in 2017 by inviting Chris to produce a series of jump blues articles and videos. The former were reproduced in Guitar Techniques, Issue 296. Chris also taught a BIMM Institute London Masterclass on October 14 and earned a spot as a finalist for “Blues Instrumentalist of the Year” in the UK Blues Awards for 2021. To top it all off, this CD is already shining in the Monthly Album Spotlight for the Blues Junction Productions. Hopefully, all this leads to greater recognition in the United States and worldwide.
Alongside Corcoran on guitars, bass and percussion are Claudio Corona on Hammond organ; Rob Pokorny and Paul Richardson on drums, Snowboy on percussion, Sean Blake on bass, and Steve Croft on keys.
One of the hardest things for any writer to do is to describe instrumental music in words. How to convey tone, timbre, harmony, atmosphere, and the overall essence of songs without lyrics? Descriptors and superlatives can only do so much, and go so far. I’ll try describing the mental pictures that spring into my consciousness as I behold my favorite sparks from this immolation.
Track one is called “Made to Move,” and it lives up to its name. From the very first notes, it grabs and holds listeners’ attention. Like a boiling pot of New Orleans gumbo, it mixes sass, spice, and the hearty meat of the blues to produce a swinging stew worth savoring. “Lost Souls,” rather than being a pensive plod, sounds like a Beach Boys track. Surfers lose themselves as they ride the waves, and you’ll lose yourself riding this one. It’s clear blue with a soothing crest. “Dark Tones” might have switched titles with the second track, because it’s got a haunting vibe. Not hellish – the Devil’s malice isn’t there – but suitable for a smoke-choked bar in purgatory. The title of the third tune made me laugh out loud. It’s a great song that should have been five seconds long, but in order to hear the “Twang of Rage,” go to the 0:47 mark. “Future Time” boasts a Latin beat, and further on down the line, “Cut & Thrust” boasts peppy Hammond organ. One thing’s for sure: you won’t feel “Burnt Out” by the time you hear the superb final number.
Buy this CD. Download it. Stream it. Whatever you do, let it kindle an Inferno within you.
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 41 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.
Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6
Seth James – Different Hat
Tiny Ass Records
14 songs, 50 minutes
It’s always kind of cool when the music an artist makes doesn’t fit their image. Like Buddy Holly helping to create the foundation of what would be Punk Rock in his big horn rimmed glasses. Seth James, the fellow Texan and a rancher, is like this. The image of a cowboy with big cowboy hat, work shirt tucked into a big belt buckled pair of (what have to Wrangle) jeans, Seth sings, plays guitar and writes with a pop-wise rootsy funk. On his 4th studio album Different Hat, James leans into this juxtaposition in a big way. Matching his own excellent eclectic originals with well chosen covers by Roots predecessors such as Delbert McClinton (who also seems to be a bit of a mentor to James), JJ Cale, and Robbie Robertson. James’ originals stand tall next to the giants he has chosen to summon creating a wild rollercoaster of snappy Roots Rock, funky NOLA styled shuffles, Soul balladry and Texas Blues.
Different Hat works because of the stellar performances of the band, a cohesive unit seamlessly moving from motif to motif. Kevin McKendree’s keyboards are the melodic anchor for the ever changing environments. Rhythm guitarist Bob Britt and bassist Steve MacKay connect stridently with main drummer Lynn Williams and Yates McKendree who sits at the drum set for 3 songs. Background vocals from Wendy Moten, Jessica Walker, Glen Clark, and Bekka Bramlett add layers and accents throughout. Similarly the horns of Jim Hoke on tenor and baritone and Roland Barber on trombone juxtaposed to the strings of Austin Hoke on cello and Laura Epling on violin and viola add bombast and lushness respectively. Fellow Texan special guest guitar wranglers Anson Funderburgh and Lee Roy Parnell each add their seal of approval to James’ real deal cred on a track each.
The music is a revelation, creating something unique and special, when James is walking that fine line between styles. On the McClinton penned “Solid Gold Plated Fool” studded with horns and swirling with backbeat, this song has an effortless Band style arrangement. The extended horn break, strolling barrelhouse piano and stop time chorus reinforce the irreverence of the story. James channels his inner Al Green wailing over what could have been an outtake from Let’s Stay Together on his own “World Full of Strangers.” This song is especially poignant in it’s agoraphobic COVID lock down lament.
The earworm of the record is the annoyingly catchy “Moonpies.” Starting with the open breathy chorus that sounds like the prelude to an old Judy Garland number in which the narrator describes all the things he would do to catch the Santa Rosa Roundup Queen (including diving for moonpies?). “Moonpies” breaks away to a funky, fat and splotchy, 2 chord stomp. The juxtaposition is maddening and James knows it, hammering the listener with that opened up chorus and then driving the listener into a trance with the funk. I was humming it for days in spite of myself.
Seth James is a unique and talented singer, songwriter and guitarist. Listening to Different Hat, one gets the feeling of a big live band doing their raggedy thing in a Texas barrelhouse in the middle of nowhere. Or maybe it’s just James’ image. This music is actually quite slick and refined, executed with the precision and depth of feeling that a tight professional R&B band would have. Either way it is a fun hat to try on.
Reviewer Bucky O’Hare is a Bluesman based in Boston who spreads his brand of blues and funk all over New England. Bucky has dedicated himself to experiencing the Blues and learning its history. As a writer, Bucky has been influenced by music critics and social commentators such as Angela Davis, Peter Guralnick, Eric Nisenson, Francis Davis and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6
Daniel De Vita – Lost in Translation
Lunaria Records – 2021
9 tracks; 32:08
A great slow blues is like a bicycle daring to go as slowly as possible. The excitement, and the risk, is that if you’re too slow on a bike, you’ll topple over. Similarly, bands often push the tempo, afraid the song will fall over if they don’t keep things moving. Singer/guitarist Danie De Vita isn’t afraid to slow things down, which he shows off on Lost in Translation.
Lost in Translation‘s best moments are the more relaxed ones. “6 Years Blues” is a slow blues that isn’t scared to drag. But De Vita and his band thrive within a track where it feels like there’s a little less than a lifetime between each and every beat of the drum. De Vita uses the space to show off his tasty guitar playing and soulful singing.
“My Sweetest Regret” also trundles along, with a skipping beat, augmented with lovely organ work. Even the faithful cover of “D/FW,” from the Vaughan Brothers Family Style, is a bit more laid back than the manic original.
Even though he’s serving as the lead guitarist, De Vita provides plenty of space for his band, allowing organ, piano, and harmonica to take the lead at various points throughout the album. At the same time, he also has plenty of moments where he gets to show off his guitar playing. One such moment occurs on “Black Chicken 37,” a Buena Vista Social Club cover given a funk blue edge that highlights both De Vita and his band. The beauty of the tune is that, like the original, it’s intense but also low-key.
The Argentinian has a distinctly American sound and sensibility which is no accident. His album credits include both a vocal coach and a pronunciation one. The coaching pays off, as there aren’t any tells that De Vita wasn’t born in the American South. And while his voice is higher pitched than many blues singers, his vocal timbre has interesting textures that don’t leave you wanting any bass to flesh out his sound.
De Vita seems to feel some degree of self-consciousness about English not being his first language. You can infer that from the album title and from the cover art, which features pronunciation symbols around his name and the album title. But De Vita nails the blues vibe, creating a solid album of contemporary electric blues. He’s internalized the form and has a unique take on the genre that’s strongly rooted in a classic sound.
Reviewer Steven Ovadia interviews blues artists about their songwriting process for Working Mojo.
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