Issue 15-8 February 25, 2021


Cover photo © 2021 Joseph A. Rosen

 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with Nora Jean Wallace. We have six blues reviews for you this week including a new book by Adam Gussow plus new music from Steven Taylor, Cousin Harley, Martin Lang, John McLean, Charles Barkatz & Friends and Rowland Jones.

 From The Editor’s Desk 

imageHey Blues Fans,

It is that time again! Details coming in the next issue.

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser


 Featured Interview – Nora Jean Wallace 

imageAnyone who has heard the recent album BluesWoman by Nora Jean Wallace had to be knocked out by the singer’s powerful voice, coupled with four original songs she penned that are highlights among the ten tracks on the disc. If the name sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because Wallace had two prior releases under her then-married name of Nora Jean Bruso. While her career careened from high points to missed opportunities and periods of unfortunate timing, the singer has remained steadfast in her belief that there is a place in this world for her God-given talents.

Born in Greenwood, Mississippi, Wallace and her family moved when she was 11 years old to a plantation that was about forty miles to the east. Growing up, she cooked for her seven younger siblings, chopped and picked cotton in addition to going to school.

“It was a challenge. Sometimes I had to stay home from school to take care of the little ones while my parents worked out in the cotton fields. Then, when I got to be 16 years old, I got pregnant and had a baby out of wedlock. So then I had to work in the cotton fields to get money to pay the mid-wife and buy clothes for the baby. I also needed money to buy school clothes for me. My mother would take care of the baby while I was in school.”

When her school had a talent show, Wallace and several of her girlfriends decided to enter.

“They sang background while I did the lead vocals. We were the Grand prize winner at the event. Other schools heard about it, so they would invite me to perform at their events. Once school was out, I went to work at the cotton gin to earn money to take care of me and my baby. My parents, bothers, and sisters had already moved to Chicago. I was the only one left, staying with my grandmother. I saved some of the money to buy bus tickets for my son and I to go to Chicago.”

One Friday afternoon in 1976, they boarded the bus for the trip north. Wallace was 19 years old. Once they arrived in Chicago, they were welcomed to stay with an aunt, her mother’s sister. Working at a company that made TV frames, her aunt tried to help her niece out by getting Wallace a job there.

“Auntie told me to keep the house clean and to cook a meal every now and then. One night I was cooking when she got home from work. I was singing while I cooked. I don’t know how long she had been standing there listening to me, but when I turned around, she said, damn girl, you can sing! I didn’t know you could sing that good. Then she told me she had a friend, Scotty, of Scotty and the Oasis band. My auntie would go out to see them every Saturday night. Next thing, she was asking me if I had sung in front of band. She wanted to know if she got me up with the band, would I be able to sing. I told, yeah, of course.”

Shortly after, the two women headed out to the Majestic Lounge at 14th Street and Pulaski on Chicago’s Westside. Scotty was sitting at the door when they arrived, collecting the cover charge. Her aunt excitedly made him aware that her niece was there from Mississippi, and that she was quite a singer.

“So Scotty asked if that was true. I told him, I guess so. So he invited me to come up during the second set to sing with the band. After the break, he introduced me to the house and brought me on stage. Then he asked me what song I wanted to do. I told him “Tonight Is The Night,” one from Betty Wright that was a hit in 1975.

image“Scotty wanted to know what key I wanted to do it in. I didn’t know nothin’ about no key! Told him I didn’t know no key! He said to just start singing. So I did, and then the band jumped right in. It was like I had been singing with them forever. I sang blues when I was a little girl. But later on, as I grew up, I was into R&B and soul, because my friends would laugh at me, saying I liked that old folks music. So I backed away from the blues to do other music.

“Scotty wanted me to do another song, so I asked for “Shame,” a disco hit for Evelyn “Champagne” King. Scotty said to sing it, so I did, and the band jumped right in again. The audience just went wild. After the set, Scotty asked me who I was working with. I didn’t know what he meant, so I said my auntie was trying to get me a job. No, no, he said, who are you singing with, what band. When I told him no one, he gave me his card, told me they did rehearsal on Tuesday’s. The card had his phone number and address. He wanted me to call, and he would send someone to pick me up. So, I started working with Scotty and the Oasis Blues band, staying with them up until 1982.”

“His name was Purvis Scott, and he was the bass player. He had a little building that he would rent out the apartments. He co-signed a note for one of his tenants so the guy could buy a car. After a bit, he stopped making the payments. Scotty told him if he didn’t keep up on the note, he have to take the car back. The guy told him, over my dead body. They finally came and got the car. One night after work, Scotty got home, the guy was sitting on the steps waiting for him. They had words, and Scotty got shot. He died on the way to the hospital,”

The band fell apart when Scotty was killed. Wallace was in living in one of Chicago’s housing projects when one of her friends said they should go down to a new club at Lake and St. Louis to hear a band that was booked the following evening.

“Lisa and I went to the club on Saturday night. Jimmy Dawkins was up in there with his band. We were sitting there drinking when Jimmy came over, asking me if I was the singer that used to work with Scotty. He also asked who I was working with now. I told him I was back to singing around the house. He asked me if I wanted to sing with his band. Of course I did, so once again I got on stage and did one tune.

“Later Jimmy wanted to know if I had anything on wax. Again, I didn’t know what that was, so I told him no. I asked him what “wax” was, and he said, do you have a record out? The answer was still no, but Jimmy said that if I could write a song, to let him know, and he would cut a record on me. He said I needed to put out a record.

“I got home about 2 am the next morning and called my friend Eddie, who was the drummer in the Oasis band. I told him I had met this guy named Jimmy Dawkins. Eddie said, oh, he’s kind of famous! Then I told him what Jimmy had said and asked Eddie if he could come over right now to help me write a song. So he came over, sat down, and started beating on my kitchen table. I heard that beat, grabbed a pen, and started writing. We came up with “Untrue Lover.”

imageThe next day Wallace called Dawkins to let him know that she had a song ready. Needless to say, the guitarist was a bit surprised, and somewhat skeptical. But he came over to hear Wallace’s new tune.

“Eddie and I had recorded the song on a little tape recorder I had. When he heard the recording, Jimmy said it was good. Then he told me I needed another song for the other side of the record. He said he had some music he wanted me to hear. So I took his music and wrote the song “Oh My Love.”

That was my first record on Jimmy’s label, Leric Records. I started touring with him, going everywhere, I mean everywhere, to promote that 45 rpm record. We did a whole month touring in Europe with Guitar Junior (Lonnie Brooks).”

In 1992, her career came to a screeching halt. Her mother had been taking care of her daughter’s two sons while Wallace was on the road.

“She made it clear that I needed to stay home to raise my boys. She said, “I done raised sixteen of y’all. I’m not gonna raise your babies.” So I had to quit singing. My oldest son eventually went into the Navy. My youngest got into some trouble, did some time in the pen. I had to stick around to go visit him to keep his spirits up. When he got out, he did good for himself.”

Some years later, another Dawkin’s band member, guitarist Billy Flynn, thought Wallace would be a good fit for an upcoming album. The initial contact was handled by another notable Chicago blues artist.

“I got a call from Willie Kent, the great bass player. Willie had one of the baddest band’s I have ever heard. When he called, my husband at that time, Jerry, answered the phone. Willie told him that Billy wanted me to cut a CD with him. My husband replied, what are you going to pay her? Willie said he was quite sure that Billy would pay me. Jerry said he would leave it up to me. I called Billy and let him know I’d be glad to help him.

“So I went down to the studio and cut some songs for Billy. It felt so good! That made me decide to start back to singing. My kids were grown and I didn’t have any grand kids to take care of. So I asked my husband about getting a band together. He was a bad guitar player but never wanted to do anything with it. He worked as a truck driver. He passed away in 2000.”

Wallace appeared on four tracks on Flynn’s 2002 release on his Easy Baby label, Blues And Love. She kept working Chicago clubs until fate intervened yet again.

“One night Mark Bruso heard me at a club. He wanted to know if I had a CD out. I told him all I had was a 45 rpm record, and it was old. Mark felt I needed a CD, so we started talking, and talking. He asked me if I was married, and next thing you know, we were hooked-up together. After we got married, I cut Nora Jean Bruso Sings The Blues, my first full length album released on Red Hurricane Records. That’s how people started knowing me, through Mark Bruso. But we couldn’t make it.”

imageIn 2003, she had a second album released on Severn Records, David Earl’s label, entitled Going Back To Mississippi. It featured some of Chicago’s finest blues musicians with Carl Weathersby and Dave Specter on guitar, Harlan Terson on bass, Rob Waters on keyboards, and Marty Binder on drums. Her husband sang backing vocal on one track. The singer wrote or co-wrote all 12 songs on the album, highlighting the songwriting skills she had been developing for years.

“I’ve probably written over 700 songs. Every one that I have written on paper or tape recorded, are over at Mark’s house. He kept my songs, my masters from the first two records, he kept all of that when we divorced. I don’t know why he didn’t give me my songs. But I have written about 80 new songs. I not as into it as I was when we were still together.

“Mark was the one that screwed things up. I used to just go and sing. People weren’t tired of me. They were tired of him. He was my business manager. When the booking agents stopped calling to book dates, he took it out on me. That’s when I told him I wanted out, that he could have everything in the house. I wanted out, and that’s what I did. Every penny he and I ever made I gave to him. He screwed it up.

“I haven’t seen him or spoken to him since 2006. I don’t know where he is. Now I just want my name back. I am going through the courts to change my name. But I can’t find the marriage license to save my soul. Now I live in Michigan City, Indiana, but we were married in Chicago, so I will probably have to go up there to get a copy. Then it will be all over.”

To make ends meet, the singer took a job as a school bus driver. She continued to play gigs, getting some bookings with the help of booking agent Harry Turner, but it was tough to find steady work. She was signed to the Piedmont Talent Agency by the late Steve Hecht, but when her husband and Hecht got into it, the agency dropped her.

In 2015, just as she felt things were starting to roll again, Wallace had to drive down to Mississippi when her mother got sick, bringing her back north to live. That meant taking a couple more years off from her career to care for her mother, who passed away in 2017. She started up again with a regular gig at the Kingston Mines club, but not much else. A phone call changed all of that.

“I think it was 2018 when David Earl called, asking if he could cut another CD on me. I shouted, “Praise the Lord!” David has always treated me with respect. He told me to get some songs together. As it turns out, me and Stanley Banks, a keyboard player, were already working on some songs. I was thinking about cutting an album at Stan’s studio, but he doesn’t have what David has, especially the connections in the business. Stan is a terrific songwriter. I told David about him, and he flew Stan in to play keyboards on the sessions for my latest recording. Stan and I are already writing songs for the next project.”

imageBluesWoman, released in August of last year on Earl’s Severn Records label, features several members of the current line-up of the Fabulous Thunderbirds – Johnny Moeller on guitar, Steve Gomes on bass, and Kevin Anker on organ. Veteran Robb Stupka mans the drums. Steve Guyger adds his fine harmonica work, with Kim Wilson guesting one one track. Even with all of the instrumental firepower, it is Wallace’s voice that dominates the proceedings, erasing any doubt that the long stretches of inactivity had dulled her prodigious vocal skills.

“It’s too bad that it came out in 2020 in the middle of all of this Covid stuff. But it’s all in God’s hands. I won’t miss what he don’t want me to have. In my faith, I trust God. Whatever I am doing, I pray on it, asking God if I am doing the right thing. We are not supposed to put anything before God. People don’t believe me, but God talks to me sometimes. When Covid started, I asked God if it was real. Then as plain as one, two, three, he said, obey your authority. So if people tell you to wear a mask, wear the mask.

“I know God will protect me, like last October when I had a stroke. I was sitting there working at the computer, when my shoulder got numb going straight down the right side to the top of my feet. When I stood up, the spirit told me it was a stroke. I looked in the mirror to see if my face was twisted up. It was fine. So I went out and did my show that night. The next morning, I got up to go to work, but the spirit told me to call the job, and go to the hospital.

“That’s what I did at 5 o’clock in the morning. When I got to the hospital and told them I was numb, they rushed me in, started hooking stuff up, and ran tests, finally figuring out that I had a mild stroke. I started praising God, because it could have killed me. I’m live by myself. I don’t have no man! I might have laid in my house for days. Most of the feeling has come back, so that’s good. Strokes run in my family – my Dad and brother died from it, my Mother and sister had strokes. They had me work with a dietitian to change what I eat. Praise God, I’ve dropped some pounds – and I look good!

“That’s why you don’t see me out there in the clubs now, still trying sing with everything going on. I have money in the bank, a new truck, and two good jobs. The other one is taking care of old folks, which I really love. I told my son, here I am about to be 65 years old this year, and I’m out here taking care of old folks. Somebody should be taking care of me! I was talking with Toronzo Cannon, because me and him were going to do something together. When I told him I was working two jobs, he said, Nora, you need a man.”

Wallace hopes to cut a gospel album some day to share her faith with the world, to spread the healing power of music. She firmly believes that all music is God’s music, and Wallace wants to make full use of the talent she has been given.

“Some people think I sing too loud. That’s my voice, it’s who I am. I get teased about the way I talk too, because I have a bit of a speech impediment. I’m not changin’ for nobody but God! I listen to tapes where they speak perfect but I just can’t do it.”

These days, Wallace hopes to get some help to kick her career in high gear when the time comes. Her latest album has received rave reviews, and is nominated for a 2021 Blues Music Award in the Traditional Blues Album category along with titles by Elvin Bishop & Charlie Musselwhite, Jimmy Johnson, Ronnie Earl, and Sugar Ray & the Bluetones featuring Little Charlie Baty. That is mighty impressive company.

“I need someone to manage and promote me. Don’t expect anyone to do nothin’ for free. Someone who doesn’t look at the money, but at the talent. Because if you have the talent, the money is going to come. I’m a private person who loves God, her family, fans and friends. When I get to be 66 years old, then I will think about retiring from my other jobs. My body may be old, but I don’t feel old, and I am happy!”

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!

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

IMAGEAdam Gussow – Whose Blues?: Facing Up To Race And The Future Of The Music

The University Of North Carolina Press

332 Pages Paperback edition

There is no question that blues music was born out of the experiences of a subjugated population brought to this country in chains, enslaved, and treated as property. From that misery came sounds that shared the pain, heartache, and hope of these people, often sung in coded language to express the raw emotions and thoughts on a world dominated by white people, without incurring the wrath that would follow a more forthright declaration.

Over a hundred years later, blues music has spread around the world. While it has never represented more than a minuscule share of the overall total of recorded music sales, the genre has still managed to be the catalyst for several unique businesses, including the Blues festival circuit and the Legendary Rhythm & Blues cruise, not to mention an international assortment of clubs that had featured live blues music in the days before the pandemic.

Yet, as the music extended it’s reach, some began to question if the true roots of the music were being lost as white musicians, promoters, record label moguls, and club owners always seemed to get the attention, along with the power that comes with the spotlight. That is the question that author Adam Gussow examines in his latest work. Is blues a black music, rooted in a culture of surviving and rising up against the forces of oppression – or is it now a music of universal appeal, welcoming any and all who choose to embrace some aspect of the musical legacy?

Gussow is uniquely qualified to delve into this issue. He has authored five other music-related books, including Mister Satan’s Apprentice, which chronicled his partnership with Sterling “Mr. Satan” Magee that started as they busked on a Harlem street corner and eventually lead to record deals and international tours. He also has been in the forefront of on-line teaching through his Modern Blues Harmonica website. In his spare time, Gussow is a professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi.

He sets the stage by establishing the opposing viewpoints. There is the “Blues is black music” ideology that artists like Corey Harris, Billy Branch, and Sugar Blue have been eloquently supporting. The other side of the coin advocates that color does not matter, it is just the blues, a sentiment that Gussow points out was once a very popular phrase on a best-selling t-shirt in Memphis stores.

The author than delves into an in-depth examination of the merits of both positions, taking readers back to the early days of the first blues recordings. The early blues “stars” were women like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, establishing blues as black popular music for a period of four decades. Gussow devotes three chapters to separate elements of the music. In “Blues Conditions,” the focus in on forces that shaped the music, particularly the constant fear of violence from the racist white system that far outweighed any pain from troubles with love.

Those conditions naturally lead to “Blues Feelings,” and how blues artists express their reactions to loneliness, abandonment, hopelessness, rejection. Those feelings come out through “Blues Expressiveness,” using the familiar AAB song form, call and response, signifying, and talking drums. Together these parts form the “blues ethos,” which Gussow describes as “An attitudinal orientation toward experience, a sustaining philosophy of life”.

Subsequent chapters find the author assessing W.C Handy’s self-proclaimed status as the father of the blues before making a case for the impact of the poetry of Langston Hughes on the blues ethos. Author Zora Neale Hurston’s best works sprang from her experiences in the jook joints surrounding a Florida lumber camp, earning her a spot in the blues literary tradition. The impact of southern violence is illuminated through works by Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison.

Gussow also looks at the black arts movement that sprang up in 1965 in response to the dominance of white culture. While blues music was not at the forefront of the movement, it certainly was part of the foundation for jazz music, performing arts, and poetry that were used as the voices for equality.

Throughout the book, questions are raised, and information is shared, that challenge readers to move beyond t-shirt slogans to do some deep thinking on a critical issue in the blues community, with all of it’s components. Could blues music survive without the white audience, or white artists? If it is a black music, where do artists of other colors fit in? How do women get their equal share? Have things progressed past the point of no-return, that the music’s universal appeal has pushed it far beyond the claims of any group, as righteous as they might be?

This thought-provoking work comes highly recommended for anyone interested in stepping beyond the music itself to gain a broader understanding of the forces that have fashioned it into a powerful musical form that transcends boundaries of all kinds.

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!


 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6 

IMAGESteven Taylor – Existential Blues


CD: 12 Songs, 46 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Ensemble Blues

When you think of the word existential, you might imagine philosophy class and Jean-Paul Sartre’s maxim that “hell is other people.” You might not pair it with the word blues, but Mississippi-born musician Steven Taylor does on his new album. The stepson of Kim Wilson bases his work on a solid backup band with invigorating instrumentation that shines on such original songs as “She’s a Dime” and “Ride the Wave.” Taylor’s vocals take some acclimatization, resembling a poor man’s John Fogerty. If you’re worried about obscure symbolism in the lyrics, let Ms. Wetnight put your fears to rest. The insights “This world’s crashing into me,” and “You’ve got to fight for what’s right every single day of your life,” are as close to existentialism as Taylor gets. He’s at his best when performing covers such as “Midnight Hour” by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, “Easy Baby” by Magic Sam, and “Funked Vibe” by B.B. King. The other nine originals are down-to-earth.

As Steven relates on his website, “Born in Flowood, Mississippi, I was instilled into Blues music through my stepfather Kim Wilson early on. He inspired me to pursue my dream of being a musician. I’ve shared the stage with a list of incredible musicians and bands, including The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Junior Watson, Kid Ramos, Nathan James, Johnny & Jaalene, Anson Funderburgh, Johnny Moeller, and many more! I’ve been inspired by B.B. King, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Magic Sam, and Gatemouth Brown, to name a few. They are some of my biggest heroes both in music and in life.”

Joining Taylor (guitar and vocals for all tracks) are Marty Dodson on drums, Kim Wilson on harmonica, Taryn Donath on piano and organ, Bruce Rubio on baritone sax, Vincent Bury on guitar, Scot Smart on electric bass, Zander Griffith on electric and upright bass, Maria Macias on electric bass, Austin Fulsher and Mark Wilson on guitar.

The CD’s standout track is number five, with a fitting title (mentioned below). A jump-blues number with a knockout punch, it runs for four minutes and thirty-nine seconds of delight on the dance floor. It’s flat-out fun, and the musicians sound like they’re having a ball playing it. Contrast this with the rather fastidious effort of “Fight for What’s Right,” a politically-charged number with a capital-M Message. The two are like a lightning bolt and the earth that grounds it. “Fight” may feature Kim Wilson on spot-on harmonica, but if you want to get down, “Ride the Wave.”

Existential Blues plays it light on the philosophy and heavy on contemporary big-band sound!

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 – 3 of 6 

imageCousin Harley – Let’s Go!

Little Pig Records LPR011

10 songs – 32 minutes

Firing on all cylinders, Cousin Harley are a power-blues trio out of Vancouver, B.C., who bill themselves as hillbilly rockers, but they’re far more than that. They swing steadily from the jump, blending blues, rockabilly, swing and a taste of punk in a pleasing mix that will keep your toes tapping when they’re not on the dance floor.

They’re fronted by vocalist Paul Pigat, a multi-dimensional, world-class guitarist with three critically acclaimed instructional DVDs to a credit. Despite credentials that include work with James Burton, Jeff Beck, Brian Setzer and others, he flies under the radar North of the Border with this group, his own three-piece classical jazz ensemble and work as an acoustic soloist.

Pigat delivers fat, reverb-driven guitar runs throughout this set and has a strong singing voice with limited range. This album shows why he and his rock-steady rhythm section – Jesse Cahill on drums and Keith Picot – have built a devoted, cult-like following wherever they appear. A hard-driving, all-original ten-tune set, this one was recorded at Afterlife Studios and Little Pig Headquarters in Vancouver. Marc L’Esperance, who mastered the CD, provides harmony vocals on two tracks.

“Right Back with the Blues” heats things up from the jump as Pigat describes jumping back on the roller coaster of life with a troublesome lady who’s “like a no-good dog with a back to scratch/Been gone two years and now you’re back/With nothin’ in your pockets but two bucks and a bottle of booze.” His mid-tune solo stings like the pain that comes with acceptance.

The theme continues with the blazing “Let’s Go!” which shifts gears aurally thanks to a lower-register guitar hook atop a pounding bottom. This time, the lady’s even more of a pain: a motorhead with a monkey on her back who’s addicted to racing, but possesses exactly what the singer needs.

The mood changes and the band gets funky with the Latin-tinged “El Swartho’s Big Adventure,” a stop-time pleasing instrumental, before the message reverts to the opener in “Rained Like Hell.” In this one, lightning strikes the town and the skies open on a cloudless night for no apparent reason the moment the person arrives. Pigat’s fretwork here dazzles.

A Pink Panther-like bass line opens “She’s My Baby,” another number with a Latin beat that professes eternal love despite the fact that the lady’s just been sentenced to five years in the can. The light and airy instrumental, “Dancing for Bobo,” comes across with a sweet, retro feel before “Where’d She Go” comes complete with an amped-up country two-step feel.

“Who’s That Lyin’” poses the question atop an arrangement that sounds much like The Ventures high on methamphetamines before things calm down dramatically for the tasty “Gone, Gone, Gone” before Pigat flies over the strings for the instrumental “Merle the Gypsy” – delivered with a regimental beat – to close the set.

Definitely not for the faint of heart, Let’s Go! is in high gear throughout as Cousin Harley stays firmly on the edge of the blues. Available through iTunes, CDBaby and multiple download services, and recommended for anyone with grease in their gears!

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 

Martin Lang – Bad Man

Random Chance Records

CD: 12 Songs, 45 Minutes

Styles: Traditional Chicago Blues, Harmonica Blues

If you closed your eyes for forty-five minutes straight and listened to Martin Lang’s Bad Man all the way through, you’d swear to three things: 1) Mr. Lang is African-American; 2) he’s an unsung icon from the 1960s, and 3) the album is an undiscovered masterpiece. On two of three counts, you’d be wrong. Martin is a Caucasian maverick from the Midwest, a Chicago Hall of Fame Master Blues Artist and one of the most marrow-deep musicians you’ve never heard of. If you have, great, but this is yours truly’s first encounter with Martin Lang and his marvelous music. “Either you have it or you don’t,” my sister said about the blues. Martin has it, and then some. On twelve numbers – eight originals and four covers – he draws you into the crimson history of Chicago blues. The Windy City oozes out the pores of every single song. There are no misses here, no throwaway tunes, no songs for spits and giggles. This is genuine-sapphire blues.

According to Kim Field, author of the liner notes and Harmonicas, Harps, and Heavy Breathers, Mr. Lang’s enthrallment to the blues began long ere this album came out. “Thirty years before, he had arrived in Chicago determined to make a name for himself as a blues harmonica player. ‘I bought a cassette of Little Walter’s greatest hits on Maxwell Street right after I got to town, and when I heard it, it was like there was a crystal chandelier hanging in my brain and somebody fired a twelve-gauge at it.’” He’s shared the stage with many a hallowed blues idol such as Pinetop Perkins, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Sam Lay, and Dave Myers, content in reflected glory, at least for a while. “‘My life was the life of a side man,’ Martin says. “I worked on my craft, showed up and blew, collected my cash, and went home. Everything else was somebody else’s job.’ Then came a phone call from Rick Congress of Random Chance Records. Rick called me and said, ‘I’m ready to do another album, but this time you’re going to have to write your own songs, and you’re going to have to sing them.’” The result is nothing short of a miracle.

From the chuckle-inducing opener “Reefer Head Man,” to stunning instrumentals such as “The Mix Up” and “Mood Indica,” Martin Lang never lets up on his harp or his heart. He doesn’t just play the blues or even feel the blues. He lets the music transform him so that he becomes the blues. Professional dancers say they let the music dance them. Lang lets the blues play him. Martin’s the flesh vessel for the pain, the passion, the all-around rawness of the genre. If the songs begin to sound similar after a while, that will only be because you’ve listened to it six times in a row like I did.

Joining Martin (harp and vocals on all tracks) are Grammy winner Little Frank Krakowski on guitar, Grammy winner Billy Flynn on guitar and mandolin, Illinois Slim on bass, Dean Haas on drums, Gerry Hundt on organ, and David Waldman on piano.

James Yancey Jones, also known as Tail Dragger, has this to say about Mr. Lang: “Martin, he got the weight. The tone, that’s what brings out that heavy blues feeling to it. He blow under your singin’, with that tone, and he helping you, and you don’t have to work so hard. He’s heavy, man.” Yes, indeed!

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 

imageJohn McLean, Charles Barkatz & Friends – Shadow Man

TreeTops Records

10 songs – 44 minutes

Here’s one of the most surprising albums you’ll hear this year. American jazz flute and bagpipe virtuoso John McLean teams with French guitarist Charles Barkatz and all-star band from Austin to make his debut as a blues artist on this disc, and the results are a spectacular blend of interesting grooves that will have you yearning for more.

A fixture in the Paris music scene for decades and age 80, John has served as leader of several ensembles, including the Fairweather Quintet and the John McLean Quartet, a partnership with three of the foremost jazz artists in the U.S.: guitarist Paul Bollenback, flautist/sax player Alex Coke and bassist Ed Howard. He and Charles, a guitarist, frequently work in duo settings, too.

In his early 60s, Barkatz grew up in France heavily influenced by Muddy Waters, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker and Jimi Hendrix, but turned to jazz after witnessing Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell live. When not working with McLean, he performs in multiple settings with pianist Patt Burter, frequently delivering music inspired by Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim. He also has a footprint in America, playing regularly at the Five O’Clock Club and Blue Rooster in Sarasota, Fla., with guitarist/vocalist Al Fuller and in Tampa with singer Pete D’Straw.

A follow-up to their 2019 CD, So Nice to Come Home To, McLean and Barkatz share vocals here under the direction of Mark “Kaz” Kazanoff, one of the top producers in the Austin music scene. They’re backed by Kazanoff’s Texas Horns – Mark on tenor sax and harmonica, John Mills on baritone sax and Al Gomez on trumpet – with a lineup that includes Derek O’Brien on guitar, Nick Connolly on keys, Chris Maresh on upright and electric bass and John Chipman on percussion. They’re augmented by guest appearances from Alex Cole on soprano sax and flute and Elaine Barber on harp.

Barkatz adds guitar, but McLean sets his instruments aside to let his voice do the work, sounding a lot like John Mayall in the process, beginning with “Leaky Shoes Blues,” a driving shuffle that describes being stuck in a rainstorm. A thoroughly contemporary number, it’s propelled by jazzy, deep-azure guitar runs and features a stellar muted trumpet solo. The horn section opens “The Brooklyn Blues Café,” which pays tribute to a Paris nightspot that’s certain to offer respite from the storm.

The album quiets dramatically for the ballad “Lucia,” a love song that imagines dancing under the moon on a beach by the bay, accented by light and sweet guitar runs throughout. The tempo quicks for the highly danceable “Shadow Man,” which features Maresh powering a funky bottom before the full band joins in. “She Cry Blues,” meanwhile, is an interesting, slow blues that describes a lady who’s in tears morning, noon and night over the loss of a daughter as the singer wishes for a way to bring her back again.

The heartache continues in “Sister of Mine,” an understated, jazzy blues that yearns for a reunion after leaving for reasons that aren’t explained, and the harmonica-driven “Bathtub Blues,” which is delivered from the point of view of a man soaking his troubles away after losing his lady because he kept cheating.

Barkatz takes to the mic for the haunting “Silver Lake,” which is delivered in French and describes birds gliding in the sky above a troubled world. “Black Train” chugs along with more stellar guitar runs before the Chicago blues, “New Life,” ends the action on an upbeat note.

Available through most major retailers, Shadow Man provides unequivocal proof that the blues – both classy and easy/greasy – run through McLean and Barkatz’s veins. It’s too bad it’s taken them so long to make this side trip from the jazz world because it’s a treasure!

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 – 6 of 6 

imageRowland Jones – Rowland Jones Live!


CD: 11 Songs, 42 Minutes

Styles: Acoustic Blues, Solo Album, Live Album, All Original SongS

“Back to basics.” What does that phrase conjure up in your mind? Perhaps a de-cluttering mindset. Life is complicated, often too complicated. Why add and end up with more frustration when you can subtract and end up with less frustration? Sometimes simple things are best. Nevertheless, in certain things like art, music, and chess, the more you simplify, the more precise you have to be. Take acoustic solo blues. It’s a whole different animal from band-based electric blues. With the latter, the instrumentation is the focal point rather than vocals and lyrics. If your high notes are off-key, there’s always the colorful camouflage of other musical elements. When all you have to rely on are your acoustic guitar and your voice, no such backup exists. There’s no safety net. You’re walking a tightrope of timbre and tone: an exacting balancing act.

The UK’s Rowland Jones performs it on his latest Live album, featuring eleven original songs with sophisticated, spot-on lyrics (“Still the Blues,” “Squeeze Me Right,” “How It Is”) and sophistication born of a decades-long and unwavering love affair with blues music. Nevertheless, he teeters on certain numbers, such as “Don’t Play with Fire.” It’s a more-than-satisfactory ballad, but imagine if Eric Clapton or even Richard Marx would have had a go at it. The narrator is trying to warn a special someone, about whom he cares deeply, regarding his or her next partner. The title should be sung as a desperate plea, not a moody, almost sullen imperative. Jones does better on peppier songs where his melodic guitar can lift everyone’s spirits.

Says Rowland on his website biography, “Growing up in the 60s, I first fell in love with the blues when I heard John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton. . .and I still have my original mono copy framed on the wall! I was stunned and wanted to know where this music came from. We used to get LP’s of Robert Johnson and Big Bill Broonzy out of the public library – and then there were the great blues tours with five or six top acts on one bill! We were so lucky!

“My plan last year was to go back to basics – probably just guitar and voice. I began 2020 with a gig at The Rock and Blues Festival in Skegness, which I recorded just to have record of it, but I was so pleased with it that with a bit of fettling in the hands of Mark Lewis, I had a new album to which I gave the wildly imaginative title Rowland Jones – Live.”

Imagine this CD not as a sell-out concert meant to inspire hundreds to play their own blues, but an intimate conversation between Jones and his listeners. He means to reach you and teach you what the blues is about, not just grandstand for the benefit of social and other media. Acoustic solo blues puts one on a high wire, and Rowland, for the most part, keeps his equilibrium.

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 40 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

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