Issue 15-5 February 4, 2021

Cover photo © 2021 Riccardo Piccirillo

 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with harmonica player Fabrizio Poggi. We have six blues reviews for you including new music from Catfish Keith, Dave Keller, Junior Wells, The BluesBones, Dione Taylor and Terminal Station.


 Featured Interview – Fabrizio Poggi 

imageIn today’s world, great blues artists come in all colors – and all nationalities, too. Even if you scoff at the notion, claiming the music is American through and through, it’s a fact that U.S. artists planted seeds around the world – that they’ve grown to fruition in such a way that the music emanating from foreign soil often compares favorably with what’s produced here.

If you have any doubt, consider the case of Fabrizio Poggi, a modest, soft-spoken Italian harmonica player who came thisclose to winning a traditional blues Grammy in 2018 for the stellar tribute album he recorded with Guy Davis to honor Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

And once you understand Fabrizio’s back story, you’ll realize that the honor was no fluke because – despite his ancestry, he’s as blue to the bone as anyone born in Chicago or Mississippi soil.

When Blues Blast caught up with him and wife Angelina recently, they were at home in Voghera, a sleepy town located in the rolling hills of the Burgundy region about 45 minutes southwest of Milan, where many of its residents commute to work every day and where they’ve sequestered themselves since the onset of the coronavirus onslaught.

Best known as a manufacturing hub and for the Chianti produced in its vineyards, the town’s 40,000 residents are revered traditionally as a prime example of Italy’s lower middle class – folks who lack big-city sophistication and education, but are hard workers willing to sacrifice everything to raise a family.

Born on July 1, 1958 Poggi – pronounced “Poh-gee” – has lived his entire life in the tight-knit community. An eighth-grade dropout, he spent 30 years toiling in various factory jobs before launching his musical career, working for a firm that produced small glass bottles for the drug industry.

Music has always played a major role in his life. While other kids were out riding bikes or playing soccer, Fabrizio spent his day spinning records and enjoying a multitude of musical styles – something that’s surprising because no one else in his family showed an interest in music whatsoever.

“In some ways, my parents thought music was not only a waste of time, but only useful when you are young and go to dance – to get a girlfriend or boyfriend,” he remembers. “My mother sometimes listened to the radio – Italian pop music. But not often.

“And my father…it was a miracle one time when he brought home a 45-rpm of Frank Sinatra’s ‘Strangers in the Night.’ It shocked everyone. My mother said: ‘But it’s in English, and we don’t understand a word… Why?’ He said: ‘He’s a great singer!’ (laughs) But it never happened again. It was just one shot!

“As a youngster, my favorite toys were a pot I could use as a drum, a toy piano and, of course, an out-of-tune harmonica,” Fabrizio says. “I didn’t care too much about toys in general. But when it came to musical toys, I went crazy. As I got older, I occasionally asked my grandmother for a little money so I could buy my own records.

“And when the music came from television or radio, Fabrizio was hypnotized! My mother still says: ‘When music came, he was in another world on his own cloud!’”

Poggi’s first exposure to the blues came through the Rolling Stones, John Mayall, Eric Clapton and other British rock bands that dominated the European airwaves in the era. But the seminal moment of his life came when he attended a screening of the Martin Scorsese-produced documentary, The Last Waltz.

“It was the late ‘70s, and I went to see it because of Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell,” Fabrizio says. “I didn’t know much about The Band themselves. But when I saw Muddy Waters, it was an epiphany.

“I was in this little, small-town movie theater with my mouth wide open, saying: ‘Who is this black man that all of my heroes are treating like an emperor…like the king of the world?’ I really didn’t understand why.

“But when he opened his mouth and started to sing ‘I’m a Man’…okay…got it! His voice hooked me for the rest of my life.”

A second shocker came a few moments later, Poggi remembers: “Then I saw Paul Butterfield play ‘Mystery Train’ and I said to myself: ‘That’s a harmonica?’ I never knew that a harmonica could have that sound.”

Enthralled, Fabrizio wanted to learn more. “But it was tough,” he says. “The next day, I went to the music store and asked for a harmonica to play the blues, and the clerk looked at me like I was crazy. ‘I don’t even know what the blues is,’ he said.

“I bought a (Hohner) Blues Harp. Despite the name, I knew it was a harmonica, not a harp. And it said ‘blues,’ so maybe…

image“But there were no instructions. And there were no other harmonica players in my town to go to for lessons. There were some in Rome or Milan who went to London to get information, but they were very secretive about what they’d learned.”

Instead, he turned to his records.

“I studied English in school,” Fabrizio says, “but Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf were my English teachers. In the beginning, I didn’t understand a word…just the vibe. Then I realized it would be better to read about it. But I had to do it in English — which was no fun at all. There was no other way to learn the true path to the music.

“Like me, when Europeans go into the blues, they go really deep. They want to get inside it all the way. We learn by imitating the way it’s played. But then we go beyond the songs and search out the stories to learn about the people. We don’t take anything for granted because it’s not our culture. And the lessons are difficult – especially for people of my generation.”

For the next six months, Poggi tried playing along with his LPs, but found it virtually impossible. The notes he was producing bore little resemblance to the sounds emanating from the grooves of the records. In his innocence, he mistakenly believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that his inability to emulate the blues was because he didn’t have the proper instrument – even though he already owned one and played it every day.

He was on the verge of quitting altogether.

“Then, one night, I went to a bar,” he says. “A local rock band was running a jam session. At the end of the night, I went to compliment the guitar player, who was very good. I remember it like it was yesterday. He asked me: ‘Are you a musician, too?’

“I said: ‘Oh, well, I just try to play blues harmonica. But here in Italy, we don’t have the right instrument…’”

Amused, but helpful and knowledgeable, too, the guitarist patiently explained that Fabrizio’s problem wasn’t his harp, but the way he was using it. It was through him that Fabrizio first learned about existence of the “cross harp” technique, which allows harp players to produce the flatted third and seventh notes of the blues scale.

Simply stated, the musician uses an instrument tuned four steps below the key used by the rest of the band – i.e., a C harp to play in G or D to play in A. By playing in second position – starting the scale on two-hole draw rather than four-hole blow, he’s able to perform in a complimentary key that produces the “blue” notes far more easily.

“He wrote it all out for me on a napkin at the end of the bar,” Poggi says. “I went home and tried it. Of course, I didn’t get it right away, but I was shocked. I was making some sounds that sound like blues!”

Primarily a lip player rather than a tongue-blocker in the style of Little Walter or Sonny Boy Williamson, Fabrizio admits that it took him years to learn how to bend a reed through trial and error. He’s been incorporating tongue blocking into his repertoire since the ‘90s after making American musician friends who suggested he do so.

Now a two-time Blues Music Awards nominee and a Hohner Lifetime Award winner, Poggi began jamming when time permitted at age 30 – something that wasn’t always easy because his factory operated on shifts 24 hours a day. He and some friends started jamming together early in the decade, eventually forming the band, Chicken Mambo, with whom Fabrizio’s recorded 11 albums and still plays with today.

“At the time, there were a lot of blues bands around,” he says. “I liked the name ‘Mambo,’ and I got the idea for the rest of it from Howlin’ Wolf, his song, ‘My Baby Caught the Train’ and Hubert Sumlin making scratching sounds on the guitar as the song drew to an end. I said to myself: ‘Maybe Wolf’s playing ‘Chicken Mambo.’ That’s been our name ever since.”

Their first venture in the studio came in 1993 with Mississippi Moon. They issued two more albums in the decade – Under the Southern Sky and Heroes & Friends. Although they were making progress, however, the bandmates agreed that their sound simply wasn’t “right.” Even though the engineers in the studio were well-meaning, as Italians, they simply didn’t have a good enough grasp on the blues medium. Eventually, they struck on a simple solution: record their next one in the U.S. under proper supervision — an extremely expensive proposition for foreign musicians who were still working day jobs.

“We saved all our money to go to America,” Poggi says. “We’d do a show and nobody got paid. It was a big sacrifice, but it was worth it.”

It took several American friends for their plans to come to fruition, he notes. In an era before computers and faxes, arrangements were made by snail-slow international mail service or very expensive international calls in which communicating in different languages also made things difficult.

image“You had to be patient,” he says.

Fabrizio and his bandmates recorded a much more satisfying album, Nuther World, in 1997, recording it in Austin — in 1997. “It really was another world,” he says, “because the music in America is the best!”

After that trip, Chicken Mambo returned to the U.S. frequently, touring in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, where they gigged successfully at Ground Zero and Red’s Lounge in Clarksdale, Miss., and the House of Blues in New Orleans.

“The people I got to talk to and play with during those trips were heroes to me,” Poggi says. “Never in my dreams did I think that, one day, I’d be sharing the stage with them. In the beginning, I think they were curious about me because – 25 years ago – an Italian who wanted to play the blues… They thought: ‘Let’s have fun with this one!’

“I always tried to be very polite, very humble…just to live my passion. They taught me to express myself, to be honest and open my heart…always. They said to me: ‘Fabrizio, if you’re always yourself and open your heart, you’ll be able to touch other people’s hearts, too. And don’t pretend to be a black man or an American. It doesn’t matter. Be yourself. It’s the best way.’

“Being with them made me a better person.”

Despite playing top venues across the U.S. in the years that followed, the best moment in Poggi’s career came far from the bright lights of the big city when he played at a juke in Greenville, Miss., one afternoon.

“The only white people there were my wife, Angelina, my guitar player and me,” he remembers. “After the first set, a very elderly black woman came to me, grabbed me gently, gave me a big hug and whispered in my ear: ‘Hey man, you touched my heart!’

“I cried like a baby. She didn’t know it, but she gave me a degree at Blues University…the right to play the blues. It doesn’t matter if my English is not perfect or that, when I sing, I sing with an Italian accent. If it didn’t matter to her, it shouldn’t matter to anyone.”

Jimmy Carter, the senior member of the Blind Boys, expressed something similar one night when Poggi sat in with them during a European tour and played the harp lines usually delivered by Musselwhite in America. “At the end of the show, I went to Jimmy and said: ‘Tell me, Jimmy, honestly…what do you think of an Italian guy that wants to play African-American music…blues, spirituals, soul?’

“He gave me a lesson that I’ll never forget. He says: ‘You know, Fabrizio, I was born blind. They had to explain to me what it means to be white, black, green or red. I have an idea, but it really doesn’t mean too much to me. When you come and sit in with the Blind Boys and I listen to the sound of your harmonica, the only thing that I think is: Oh, this is my little brother! And that’s enough!’

“With those words, he taught me how many cages we make for ourselves in our lives. But we’re a universal family…one that is meant to be together and free.”

Fabrizio still mists up a little when recounting meeting Charlie Musselwhite – a man who’d been one of his idols for decades – for the first time in the Delta. “He called me a friend,” Poggi recalls, “and said: ’you’re one of us!’

“Mark Wenner basically told me the same thing on the blues cruise a few years ago,” Fabrizio recalls. “I said: ‘no-no-no! You were the great harmonica player Mark Wenner of the Nighthawks 30 years ago, and it took me 30 years to arrive here. It’s not the same!’”

Poggi remains modest despite releasing 23 albums, which demonstrate his acceptance in the American music scene. Chicken Mambo was on board for Spirit & Freedom — which included contributions from the Blind Boys, Musselwhite, Willie Nelson harp player Mickey Raphael, Eric Bibb, Tejano superstar Flaco Jimenez and Billy Joe Shaver – and Live in Texas featured Marcia Ball, Jimenez, Ponty Bone, Floyd Domino and others. Texas Blues Voices included Foster, W.C. Clark, Lavelle White, Mike Zito and more. And another, Spaghetti Juke Joint, which featured Ronnie Earl, Bob Margolin and Sonny Landreth.

Away from the stage, Fabrizio is a storyteller who’s penned four books: Il Soffio Dell’Anima (The Breath of Soul): Blues Harmonica and Blues Harmonica Players and Angeli Perduti del Mississippi (Lost Angels of Mississippi): Stories and Legends of the Blues as well as one that deals with the use of harmonica in Italian folk music and another targeted for children.

But despite his acceptance and having played Carnegie Hall in 2016 in the company of Buddy Guy and Guy Davis, Poggi basically flew under the radar in the blues world until teaming with Davis for Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train and earning a 2018 Grammy nomination in the process.

imageLike Musselwhite and Wenner, Davis was another of the shining lights who led Fabrizio along his path to the blues. “I was a huge fan,” Fabrizio says, “I learned a lot of Piedmont-style, Sonny Terry-style first-position harmonica from his records. We finally met about 15 years ago at a blues festival in Italy.

“Chicken Mambo was supposed to play Saturday night, he was booked for Sunday. I invited him to come see our show – and he did!”

Poggi was dumbstruck with excitement that night when Angelina gestured to him from the side of the stage and told him: “Guy wants to sit in.”

“After the show, we went to a bar and had a long discussion about blues, about life…and we discovered that he – a black man from America – and I – a white man from Italy – were much more similar than different,” Fabrizio says.

“He told me something beautiful that night: ‘You have something inside you when you play that I don’t see often in the U.S., something that we Americans really appreciate…something that we save for special occasions. You always seem to enjoy playing the blues, always smiling – and people can feel that you’re living your dream. And you don’t know how much we African-Americans enjoy it when we meet people like you.’”

Truly brothers from other mothers, Davis and Poggi’s relationship built from there. They booked shows together across Europe and the U.S., and Fabrizio produced and appeared on Guy’s BMA nominated 2013 release, Juba Dance and his subsequent CD, Kokomo Kidd, two years later.

The idea for Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train was solely Angelina’s, he insists. She pressed them to do it, noting the importance of refreshing the memory of Terry and McGhee – two of the biggest stars in the industry in the ‘50s through the ‘70s — for a 21st century blues audience. Both Guy and Fabrizio initially resisted.

“But if Angelina gives you an order, you can’t say ‘no,’” Fabrizio says. “In the beginning, we had no idea of what to expect because a tribute to great musicians is always a challenge – especially when the great majority of the album reproduces material they’d previously recorded.”

For Poggi particularly, playing in Terry’s unique style was particularly difficult because of the trademark whooping sounds Sonny issued in the midst of his harp runs, let alone that he played in Piedmont style, which was popular in Virginia and the Carolinas and is far more country in its approach than what came out of Chicago and the Deep South. Ignored by most harp players in the current era, its best known practitioners include Davis and Phil Wiggins in the U.S. and Paul Lamb in Britain.

“It’s a bitch to play,” Fabrizio says succinctly. “If you think about the whooping, it brings you directly to the African roots of the blues…to the very beginning…because whooping was used by slaves in the cotton fields to communicate with each other.”

The album was recorded in Milan in a day and a half in the midst of a tour that took Fabrizio and Guy to Germany and France – thanks to plenty of prodding from Angelina.

“They said they didn’t want to do it, but I said they had to,” she insists, joining the conversation. “To make them more comfortable, I told them that I’d organize everything…’you don’t have to think about anything but playing and singing,’ I told them.”

They rehearsed during the day on the road and played at night. They were close to Rome – a six-hour drive from Milan — with two days off. “We left early in the morning after the last show, and I drove fast as I could to get to the studio,” Angelina says with a sense of pride. “We got there at four p.m., finished planning and recorded one song before dinner, called it a night and headed home an hour away to sleep.”

Back in the studio the next morning, Guy and Fabrizio stood face-to-face separated by glass as they recorded the rest of the entire album – 11 more tracks – in single takes.

“Later on, when I was editing and producing,” says Poggi, “I sent the files to Guy for approval and he kept asking me: ‘Don’t we have another take? My voice sounds very tired.’ I said: ‘It sounds very tired, but it’s the only one.’

“We did the best we could, but it was a struggle. About half the songs, Guy had never sung before, and just finding the right key was a problem. And I had ideas for the title song, ‘Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train,’ but we’d never worked anything out before we got into the studio. Guy did a wonderful job, taking my ideas and writing the song in just ten minutes.”

Poggi and Davis are still speaking and working with each other, and remain on the best of terms – quite a contrast from Terry and McGhee who only spoke on stage from the final 25 years of their partnership – fussing, fighting and giving each other dirty looks — after a disagreement that neither could remember.

Released on M.C. Records in the U.S., the album proved to be an instant success, landing Fabrizio and Guy at Madison Square Garden in New York for the 2018 Grammys. For Fabrizio, that alone would have been amazing enough, but it was even more shocking because their competition for traditional blues album of the year included the Rolling Stones.

image“When I was 16, I had the Stones’ poster on my wall in my little room in Voghera,” Poggi remembers. “If one of my friends came to me back then and said: ‘You know, Fabrizio, with the help of Guy Davis, one day you’ll be challenging the Rolling Stones for a Grammy,’ I would have told him: ‘Don’t tease me. It will never happen!’”

Mick Jagger and cohorts took the prize that night for their album, Blue & Lonesome, but no matter how you feel about the way the Grammys have treated the blues through the years or the fact that a rock band with a 60-year history took home the trophy, Fabrizio’s nomination was proof of how far all foreign-born musicians have come in the blues.

The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences launched the honor in 1959, but didn’t create a blues category until 1983, and the only non-American finalists among 300-plus nominees before Poggi and the Stones were Brits James Hunter in 2007 and Mick Fleetwood in partnership with American Rick Vito in 2010.

For blues artists from foreign lands, that night marked the dawning of a brand new day.

Never content to rest on his laurels, Fabrizio offered up something completely different with his latest CD, For You, which was released on Italy’s Appaloosa Records last summer. It’s a complete departure from the Piedmont sound — a gentle, deeply spiritual treasure that blends classical blues, gospel, folk, jazz and world music that delivers a message of love and hope for a troubled planet.

A multi-instrumentalist, Poggi adds guitar and ukulele to his sound here, delivering vocals in sweet tenor with backing from about 20 performers culled from the broad spectrum of the Italian music scene. A mix of original and traditional ballads taken from the American songbook, it opens on a somber note, mirroring the current world situation, and gradually instills hope for a brighter future with each passing tune.

“I wanted to challenge myself with this one,” Fabrizio says. “ For me, singing blues and spirituals connect me directly to the same way it was for African slaves in America when they sung about life in their old world – it’s a key to my survival.

“I’m definitely a blues musician, but I’m a contemporary man, too. I have some Italian friends who say: ‘I don’t like modern blues. I like old blues…Muddy, Robert Johnson.’ But I tell them: ‘When Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters were playing, they were pretty modern. And the music didn’t stop growing when they died. It doesn’t matter if a song isn’t a predictable (old-school) blues. If I’m playing harmonica on it, it’s blues – even though it might have a jazzy or folk feel.’

“I carry my blues experience inside me. And I truly feel blessed because most of the people understand the message. If you want to hear me play in a Piedmont style, you have Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train. But if you want to hear me playing with more jazz, classical and European elements, pick up this one. The blues runs through it all.”

There’s still plenty of room left in the blues to take it in new directions through practice and experimentation despite its relatively simple structure, he says, and it’s something he’s planning to do with his next album.

“At my age, with 23 records behind me, I still want to wander. Most of my dreams have already come true, but I’m still open to suggestions to try new things, too – something that’s true with For You.”

Check out Fabrizio’s music and – hopefully – 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 

imageCatfish Keith – Blues at Midnight

Fish Tail Records FTRCD018

13 songs – 51 minutes

Guitarist/vocalist Catfish Keith is a perennial favorite in the Blues Blast Music Awards, having won top honors in the acoustic album category with Reefer Hound in 2019 and making it to the finals with Catfish Crawl last year. But he doesn’t rest on his laurels for long – as evidenced by this release, a collection of 13 tasty originals he’s penned in his 40-year-career.

The son of educators who was born Keith Kozacik in East Chicago, Ind., he grew up in the shadow of the Windy City listening to the city’s blues greats on radio before moving to Davenport, Iowa, during high school. He’s been based out of Iowa City for decades, but traveling the world ever since.

A childhood fingerpicking guitar prodigy who was especially fond of Son House, Keith got his nickname from a diving partner while fishing for sponges in the Virgin Islands, where he also received pointers from Bahamian Joseph Spence, the Bahamian-born guitarist who served as an influence to Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder and others.

A four-time Blues Music Awards nominee, he’s toured constantly since releasing his first album, Catfish Blues, in 1984, which enabled him to pick up playing tips from several giants of acoustic blues, including David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Johnny Shines, Henry Townsend and Jesse Mae Hemphill – and, as Keith says, you’ll hear echoes of them in the grooves of this disc.

A hypnotic, rhythmic instrumentalist, he plays 13 different guitars here — ranging from a 1927 Gibson Nick Lucas Special to a 2018 National Reso-Phonic Exploding Palm Baritone Tricone and everything in between – all listed in the liner notes. He’s accompanied by Randy Sabien on violin and Peter “Madcat” Ruth on harmonica who make separate one-song guest appearances. His vocals are full of the same sweet tone as the six-strings he plays.

“Xima Road” opens the action with Catfish on steel guitar as he pays tribute to both a dusty back road in southern Mexico and the playing of the blues’ first true superstar, Charley Patton. “Pack My Little Suitcase” is a bittersweet remembrance of a romantic falling-out and plea for reunion, while “Jumpin’ Jack Rabbit” rings like a bell as it recounts the pain of separation.

Keith takes a trip to Hill Country with the title tune, “Blues at Midnight,” delivered in mesmerizing fashion on a 1930 National Duolian, before shifting west for “Pony Run.” The Tricone drives the action for “Weep Like a Willow (Hey, Pretty Mama),” a love song that questions why his lady’s so disagreeable but rejoices in her smile, followed by the sprightly “Your Head’s Too Big,” a dance tune inspired by Blind Blake.

Alternating slide and picking techniques, “Roll You in My Arms (Just Like a Wagon Wheel)” offers up more romance before Catfish offers up “Can’t Be Undone” — which states simply that past misdeeds are set forever in stone – before dipping back in to his Caribbean history for the pleasant, instrumental “West Indian Waltz.”

There’s a major aural shift in “Move to Louisiana” with Sabien joining the action for a fiddle-guitar duet. Keith describes it as his “graveyard-to-be.” The theme continues in “Way Out West” – in which the singer feels his time is near – before Ruth sits in for the bright-and-sunny romp, “Oh Mr. Catfish” – which offers up a slight tip of the fedora to John Lee Hooker — to conclude the action.

Don’t be surprised if Blues at Midnight figures in next season’s awards, too. Available direct from the artist (address above), and strongly recommended for fans of traditional acoustic blues.

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 6 

imageDave Keller – You Get What You Give: Duets

Tastee-Tone Records

13 Tracks/55:14

This past year of racial unrest in the United States seemed to exacerbate some old feelings of bitterness in the blues community related to appropriation of black culture by white blues artists. If ever there was a time when a record of solidarity was needed, it is now, and that is what Vermont’s Soul and Blues musician, Dave Keller, put together with his latest project. His CD, You Get What You Give: Duets, is dedicated to the Black musicians who mentored and befriended him, “sharing their gifts so kindly and selflessly”. And, all the money from album sales is being donated to groups working for racial justice and equality

With many diverse singers, covering several different styles, Keller crafted a unique compilation of duets, starting with a feel-good duet with the talented Annika Chambers, “One More Tear”. Mark Earley’s saxophone and Tom Palance’s trumpet complete the classic soul sound to this song. The initial “feel good” mood continues with Washington DC’s own Carly Harvey on “That Thing You Do,” a song about feeling like an outcast, but finding acceptance in another.

While the songwriting is excellent on most of this album, the most powerfully written and performed song is “The Evil That Men Do”. More than a duet, Annika Chambers, Trudy Lynne, Annie Mack, Johnny Rawls and Keller take turns to sing verses about racial injustice, referencing “the bodies in the river, the bodies hanging in the trees, and the bodies on the pavement being crushed beneath the knee…I know you feel it too, the evil that men do”. The quiet background, with only piano and a haunting trumpet solo compel you to listen closely to the emotionally delivered and moving lyrics.

Joe Louis Walker’s contribution helps the album take a blusier turn, with “Scratchin’ At Your Door,” followed by several inspirational songs, including Dawn Tyler Watson’s contribution, “God is Love, God is Everything” and Keller’s only solo song, “The Spark”. The bleakness of the COVID-19 pandemic is accurately captured in Keller’s duet with Chad Hollister, “Make It To Tomorrow.” While the song with the catchiest “hook”, (when Keller joins his mentor Johnny Rawls for “Land of the Lonely)” is equally powerfully written.

This album also includes collaborations with Annie Mack, Trudy Lynn, Brother Bob White, Katie Henry, and an unusual choice of spoken word by Toussaint St. Negritude, accompanied by Keller on acoustic blues guitar and harmonica. There is truly not a bad cut on the album, with the only negative aspects being that the lyrics are not included in the liner notes, and the song choice for Dawn Tyler Watson didn’t showcase just how amazing her voice really is. On his show, “Different Shades of Blue” Joe Bonamassa once mentioned that he wished blues artists would focus once again on writing truly great lyrics. It appears that Dave Keller has met that challenge, all while benefiting a great cause.

Reviewer Anita Schlank lives in Virginia, and is on the Board of Directors for the River City Blues Society. She has been a fan of the blues since the 1980s. She and Tab Benoit co-authored the book “Blues Therapy,” with all proceeds from sales going to the HART Fund.

 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6 

imageJunior Wells – Blues Brothers

Cleopatra Blues CLO 1936

13 songs – 44 minutes

One of the most beloved entertainers ever to grace a blues stage, Junior Wells left us in 1998, but he lives on in a new way today with collection that takes his original vocal and harmonica gymnastics and remasters him with new backing from several of the top guitarists on the scene today.

His longtime partner-in-crime, Buddy Guy, is nowhere in sight, and some of the tunes here have a little harder edge than you’ll remember with backing from Joe Louis Walker, Bernard Allison, Kirk Fletcher, Colin James, Eric Gales, Tyler Bryant, Mike Zito, Popa Chubby, Guitar Shorty and Albert Castiglia. Rhode Island-based harp player James Montgomery appears on six of the 13 cuts, adding a little fire, but consistently paying homage to the front man.

Wells was definitely one of a kind. A native of West Memphis, Ark., he learned harmonica from Junior Parker and Sonny Boy Williamson II before relocating to Chicago with his family, where he began playing in clubs at age 14. His first recordings in 1952, when he replaced Little Walter behind Muddy Waters, then establishing himself as a leader with several hits on States Records during the decade.

One of the flashiest dressers in the business, Junior possessed a vocal style that was as distinctive and as hard to duplicate as the clothes he wore. A genuine trendsetter of the first order, he was a three-time Grammy nominee, and his 1965 Delmark LP, Hoodoo Man Blues, is considered to be the first great album of the modern era. This disc – a partnership between Cleopatra Records and the Wells estate – was released to reignite his flame for another generation.

“Blues Hit Big Town,” the first of six Wells originals in the set, opens the action with James on the strings, providing counterpoint to Junior’s own high-end work on the reeds. Travers joins for a faithful cover of Sonny Boy I’s familiar “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” comping steadily in rhythm as Montgomery shines. They give way to Bryant, a former child prodigy from Texas, who adds Lone Star flavor to “Messin’ with the Kid,” the Mel London tune inspired by Junior’s daughter that became his trademark.

Montgomery channels Slim Harpo for “Baby, Scratch My Back,” which provides Castiglia the opportunity to reinvent the guitar runs he delivered dozens of times as a Wells bandmate for the last two years of his life, and he doesn’t disappoint, searing in a way that would have made Junior smile. Sleepy John Estes’ familiar “Worried Life Blues” finds Zito at his bluesy best before Mandel stays faithfully in the pocket for “When the Cat’s Gone the Mice Play.”

Next up, Gales adds a little hot sauce to “Lovey Dovey Lovey One,” delivering tasty solos that bear no resemblance to the original, but fit hand-and-glove, before Fletcher shows his understated mastery as Junior croons “You Gotta Love Her with a Feeling.” Then 86-year-old Guitar Shorty – the man who taught Jimi Hendrix the ropes — shows he hasn’t lost a step on “Two-Headed Woman.”

“Snatch It Back and Hold It” – the crowd pleaser Junior penned with Buddy — follows with Joe Louis delivering stinging runs before Chubby provides steady, percussive runs for the Wells original, “You Don’t Care,” and stylish fills. The disc concludes with Allison at his West Side best for “It’s a Man Down There” and Walker returning for a rousing take on “Hoodoo Man Blues.”

Available as both a CD and limited-edition vinyl release, Blues Brothers honors Junior Wells in the best way possible: All of the guitar players here add their own touches, but without the over-the-top histrionics on which many of them have built their careers. If you want those kind of fireworks, buy their albums. But if you love Junior – as I do – you’ll love what you hear.

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 

imageThe BluesBones – Live On Stage

CD: 12 Songs, 71 Minutes

Styles: Acid Rock, Guitar Monster Blues, Heavy Metal, All Original Songs, Live Album

Imagine a skeleton for a minute. A creaking, rattling, haunting, shaking skeleton. There’s no meat on it anymore, but sans our skeleton, we’d be a sentient pile of protoplasm. We need it to support everything else in and on our body. We may not notice it, but it’s our unsung hero. Live on Stage, the sixth album from The BluesBones, may not sound like traditional blues for most of its twelve original tracks. However, this Belgian band bases its acid rock, heavy metal, and “guitar monster blues” on real-deal riffs and rhythms. The bones of the blues hold up blistering instrumentation, clear vocals, and a relentless energy that’s so high it borders on scary. On super songs such as “Demon Blues,” “The Witchdoctor,” “Betrayal” and the 11:15-minute closer “Whiskey Drinking Woman,” this quintet pulls out all the stops and pleases a cheering crowd for over 70 minutes. There’s absolutely no distortion, no mic feedback, none of the pitfalls that might mar a live event. From start to finish, it’s a top-notch production.

Before COVID hit hard, they did, at an event organized in association with the team of the Swing Wespelaar festival, hoping to capitalize on the success of their critically-acclaimed 2018 album Chasing Shadows. No one had the faintest idea that two months later, this CD’s release and their scheduled promotion tour through Europe would be abruptly cancelled. Nevertheless, they decided to release it in 2020, commenting: “We hope this record will recall the atmosphere of a live concert without restrictions, and how life will hopefully look again in the near future.”

The BluesBones consist of front man Nico De Cock on vocals, Stef Paglia on guitar and backing vocals, Edwin Risbourg on Hammond organ, Rhodes and backing vocals, Geert Boeckx on bass, and Jens Roelandt on drums.

One of the best songs I haven’t mentioned yet is “Cruisin’,” number ten. From the way Nico De Cock announces it to his audience with undisguised glee, to its hard-driving rhythm, to the way it inspires people to imagine a fast drive down a long highway with a passionate passenger, it’s a bona-fide winner. Geert Boeckx’s drum intro propels the song like a rocket launcher, and Edwin Risbourg’s organ solo is nothing short of stellar. In my opinion, it should have closed the show.

If Live on Stage doesn’t really sound like classic blues, fear not. The bones are there, and the BluesBones know how much they rely upon the skeletal support of their root genre. It’s a rip-roaring guitar riot!

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 – 5 of 6 

mageDione Taylor – Spirits In The Water

Matay Records

10 songs time-36:41

Aside from all the fine musicianship and singing here the prominent instrument here is the outstanding production values of Joel Schwartz and Sandy Mamane. The instrument placement and tonal quality of the music jumps out at me, but I digress. Canada’s Dione Taylor commanding voice is the star of the show, followed closely by the talented musicians supporting her musical vision. The instrumentation is the usual suspects of guitar, keyboards, bass and drums along with banjo and violin on a few selections. All save one song are co-penned by Dione.

The album’s title is derived from the Tanasi River(Singing River) in Tennessee. Legend has it that there is a woman living in the waterway who sings songs to protect those who hear her. From the promo sheet-“This Musical odyssey explores the deep sacred, healing journey back to the self”.

The lead off track “Water” is a slice of stylized pop enhanced by Joel Schwartz’s textured guitar play. It’s essentially the title track. As elsewhere on the CD, the device of clicking drumsticks together is employed here, reminiscent of some Adam Ant songs. “Workin'” is an energetic slide guitar infused tune. An intense and mysterious vibe infuses the searching “Where I Belong” with its’ haunting Delta-ish guitar in the background.

“Down The Line” is about Sojurner Truth, the black female abolitionist and civil rights activist. Banjo, guitar and violin intermingle. The chance of reconciling a relationship is the subject of the moody “One More Shot” with its’ mournful dobro. Banjo competes with electric slide guitar on the gospel influenced rhythm fest “Spirit”. “How Many Times” carries on in a similar vain.

More mysterious swampy vibes on the haunting “Darkness”. Additional lyrics are added to the traditional “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” that speaks of racism and equality to a torrent of bubbling guitars. “Running” is an energetic force musically and lyrically.

A modern day eloquently delivered thought provoking journey through one woman’s humanity. The craftsmanship at work here is seamless and moving while steering away from slickness. Every element gels, resulting in a cohesive and satisfying musical experience. The instrumentation is apropos in every setting. This is a complex work worthy of revisiting time and again. No run of the mill project this one.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

IMAGETerminal Station – Brotherhood

Hard Rain Records

CD: 12 Songs, 52 Minutes

Styles: Guitar Monster Blues, Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, All Original Songs

According to the proverb, what is the spice of life? The Vancouver blues band Terminal Station dispenses variety in spades on their raucous third album, Brotherhood. Channeling such artists as the Allman Brothers, Walter Trout, Jimi Hendrix and others, they mix and match various styles of blues in an energizing effort. There’s a lot going on in terms of instrumentation, and it sometimes overpowers the vocals of leading men Scott Smith and Jeremy Holmes. However, this is a minor flaw if you’re in a party mood or driving down the highway. If your favorite recipe for the blues adds a dash of saxophone spice, a heaping helping of organ and piano, and hearty bass guitar to ground the other elements, this CD will be your cup of tea. On twelve original tracks, Terminal Station proves they’ve got what it takes to be internationally renowned.

As another old saying goes, you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family. Scott Smith grew up an only child in Vancouver, and although he had some good friends in high school, he truly found his brothers and sisters when he started touring the world as a musician back in the 1990s. He first met Terminal Station bassist Jeremy Holmes in 1996, when they played together in the rockabilly band Bughouse Five. They both met drummer Liam McDonald shortly afterward, and the three musicians have been in dozens of bands together ever since. Keyboardist Darryl Havers already goes back ten years with Terminal Station, and guest harpist Victor Polyik had appeared on Terminal Station’s debut album, Burnout Blues, in 2007 before moving to Australia. Victor actually planned a family trip to Canada in 2019, just so he could play harmonica on this album. That’s how strong this Brotherhood truly is. Other special guests include John Sponarski on guitar, Dominic Conway on saxophone, and Christopher Woudstra and Colleen Rennison on vocals.

Starting things off is a speaker-destroying extravaganza with a name you might not expect: “Barrelhouse.” Its main feature isn’t barrelhouse organ but guitar, shamelessly tearing its way through two minutes and thirty-nine seconds of choreographed chaos. Upon first listen, you might dig your fingers into your ears afterwards to stop the ringing. On second listen, you might break those fingers playing air guitar. It’s an adrenaline shot.

Next comes “One More Bottle,” a beautiful homage to the Allman Brothers. The harmony vocals and robust atmosphere bring out the best of Southern rock. The ballad “Poor Lightnin’” hits you like a thunderbolt, and later on, “It’s Not the End of the World” presents a rollicking take on the ride before the apocalypse on “a rocket straight to hell.” The seamlessly-interwoven “Booker D” and “Voodoo Queen” close the CD out with brash appeal, the former perfect for a movie about gamblers.

Terminal Station’s Brotherhood demonstrates the unflinching power of a collaborative effort!

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.

blues and rhythm mag ad image

BB logo

© 2021 Blues Blast Magazine 116 Espenscheid Court, Creve Coeur, IL 61610 (309) 267-4425

Please follow and like us: