Cover photo © Jim Hartzell
In This Issue
Bucky O’Hare has our feature interview with Beth Hart. We have six Blues reviews for you this week including a review of the Blind Raccoon & NOLA Blue Collection Vol. 4 plus new music from Chris Barber, Vince Salerno And Gerald McClendon, Kurt Crandall, Johnny Ray Jones and , Spookyman and the All Nighters.. Scroll down and check it out!
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Featured Interview – Beth Hart
“I’ve been very lucky that I’ve never had to be cursed with fame. I can’t even imagine how difficult that would be. Not the obvious with the paparazzi not being able to go anywhere. But, I mean creatively when people expect a certain thing and you don’t want to let them down, you wanna make them happy. Whereas with me (speaking excitedly) nobody can expect anything because I’ve never had a hit. So it’s fucking great, I can do whatever the fuck I want to do. It makes it so I can move and shake and go wherever I want to go and there’s no worry.”
Beth Hart certainly moves and shakes. Her powerful resonant voice is matched by her emotive piano playing and vulnerable revealing songwriting. Starting out with a hard Punk edge and moving into the Adult Contemporary Rock of the early 90’s, Beth became her own artist in the early 2000’s when she fully embraced her eclectic, often dissonant, muses. Beth also fully stepped into her trauma and mental health. A courageous advocate for taking care of one’s self, Beth speaks openly in song and interview about her trials and tribulations, demystifying mental health journeys by example.
At the core Beth Hart is a quick witted and endlessly creative artist. Someone who challenges herself to push forward, who thinks in often conflicting analytical and emotional terms. Beth lights up as much when she talks about the nuts and bolts of recording to a click track and post production as she does about the creative spark and the moments of creative conception. It is this ability to manage dichotomy that has allowed Beth to endure and what makes this unique child prodigy so engaging.
“When I was 4, I remember sitting underneath the den table and I had yet to play the piano. And there was a commercial for selling pianos and it was the most beautiful song that I’d ever heard. And I didn’t know of course who it was, it was ‘Moonlight Sonata,’ Beethoven. So that night in the middle of the night, my parents walked out and I was playing the beginning of ‘Moonlight Sonata.’ And they said holy shit we gotta put this kid in with a teacher.”
“So I got with Ms. Davis, but my first recital at 4, I didn’t play that bullshit ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ or whatever the frick that crap was that they were teachin’ us. I got to play some original stuff that I had written. I wasn’t singing, it was just some original piano playing. And my sister Sharon, the one who passed, I was so scared that she’s the one who sat next to me at my first recital while I played those couple songs.”
So Beth was always rebellious, from the start shunning lesser music and instead doing it her own damn self. But a precocious child operating with a high level of intelligence needs skilled support and close stewardship.
“My teacher made the mistake of always playing the piece that she was having me learn before I’d go home. So I wasn’t learning to read music, cause when you’re young you remember everything you hear right. So I’d go home and just remember what she’d play and I’d pretend I was reading. Until I hit around I don’t know 8, 7, and the material started getting harder and she went what the frick, why are you missing that note, what note is that? And I was like I don’t know and she fired me she was so angry. She had spent those 4 years, 5 years and I hadn’t learned to read.”
Beth did eventually learn to read music and did transcend Ms. Davis’ rebuff. Beth has had a prolific career producing remarkable solo albums: 2010’s My California was an amalgam of her Adult Contemporary songwriting with her Roots Rock sensibility. Her numerous collaborations with Joe Banamassa are high points in the Blues Rock genre. 2012’s breathtaking Bang Bang Boom Boom could rightly be considered her first step into a fully realized mature style. Over her prolific career thus far, Beth has learned and stayed fully present to her process and present to her collaborators.
“Whenever I’m doing a new record with whomever the producer is, I always turn in a lot of songs. So I turn in at least 50 songs. I give a very broad overall, usually I say eclectic. I’m not interested in doin’ a record where it all sounds like the same song in a different key. Even though I think there are artists that do that and it’s phenomenal, I can’t do that.”
Although Beth does have go to co-writers she often works with, her songwriting voice is singular and distinct. Songwriting is another intersection where Beth’s technical, Classical, grounding and her emotional availability intersect.
“Usually the deal is I always go downstairs everyday and frick around with the piano or the guitar, bass or whatever. And then when I make a mistake playin’ a song, it’s one of my songs or somebody else’s songs, the moment I make a mistake I hear a new chord. And for some reason that new chord just gives me this excited feeling it’s like foreplay. And now I want to frick around with that.”
“So it’s always the music that’s written first, chords and then melodies just start comin’ in and counter melodies. And then what will happen is, whatever that is, whatever genre that’s in, it will remind me of either like an old pain of mine or someone else’s that they’ve shared with me. Or a hope, a desire, a fear, of something that’s going on now. Or a projection of the future. It’s usually like, it’s either my story or it’s someone else’s story that I connect to with my own life, right. That’s what the music does, the music tells me what is the narrative, what’s the overall of what this thing is about.”
“Or, sometimes I’ll be in the kitchen cookin’ or whatever and I’ll just hear the whole song. And that’s rare but like ‘Sister Dear’ that was written in 10 minutes, ‘Mom, This One’s for You’ was written in 10 minutes. So it just wrote itself, it was just done. But that’s very rare. So ‘Tell Her You Belong to Me’ that took 2 years, the music a week, but the lyric 2 years. This pandemic there’s a couple a songs that also took over 2 years to get the lyric right. But, the music usually gets done right away.
“The lyric I’ll work on it and work on it. And the arrangement, the arrangement I’ll work on that really hard too. What I love about the piano is, the piano can give you all the drum parts, bass parts, string parts, guitar parts, it can do everything, it can give you all those counter melodies. Just like the Classical composers all played the piano for that very same reason. You can write for an entire orchestra cause you have everything you need at a piano.”
For some songwriters, writer’s block is devastating. Causing a shame/fear spiral, the blocked writer may never tap into the muse ever again – it’s all over! But…the lasting artist, the survivor like Beth, develops work around, with the luxury of time.
“I have a different relationship with writer’s block now. Now when I have writer’s block instead of panicking like I used to, I used to think oh shit it’s over. Now I’ve learned that no your pulling from the same well and that well has ran dry. So now you have to be willing to go to a new well. So usually what will encourage a new well is listening to a different artist, finding new artists. Going back to old artists, listening to different genres. Or going to see a lot of film and listening a lot of new soundtracks. Listening to the latest soundtrack songwriters and composers, things like that. It challenges me, lights a fire under my ass.”
Her most recent high water mark, and a major creative step forward, was 2019’s War in My Mind. Enlisting super producer and music industry bigwig Rob Cavallo, with War Beth was able to employ all her learning about her art and her creativity.
“I had started doing a little more listening. I went back and started listening a little bit more to Beethoven, I’d gone through a phase of listening to more Classical Music. I was pulling away from the Blues stuff, I was doing a lot more writing in Classical or Jazz. And I was also going through some mental turmoil. So it only made sense to use a lot of darker chords.”
“I said (to Cavallo) you just choose the songs that you love. Because I kinda learned along the way that when a producer doesn’t want to do a song it’s nothing personal against the song. Usually has to do with what they get excited about, what they can do with it. That was something interesting to me that I just started doing with the last several producers I’ve been working with. I just started saying you choose it, whatever the frick, I don’t give a frick. These are all songs I love, you know whatever you want to do.”
Having met at a dinner party, Hart and Cavallo’s first meeting is almost like something out of a movie.
“I ended up going to a party of my best girlfriend and her sister is Rob Cavallo’s wife. I happened to be at their dinner party and he had a piano there and I’d just written ‘Sister Dear’ and ‘War In My Mind’ and ‘Woman Down’ that week. So I got up and played those 3 pieces. He (Cavallo) came up to me and he said ‘hey, I would really love to record those songs.’ And I said well yeah that would be great and it evolved into him doing a whole album.”
One would love to have been in that room when Beth Hart sits down at the piano and plays those songs for the first time publicly. But after that initial meeting, the work of building a creative relationship takes time, patience and maybe a little deception.
“He was really sweet and kind. I’m really emotional and I’m really insecure. He could tell how nervous I was and he was so patient and Doug his engineer, oh my God, just as patient and awesome. So I got really lucky to not only be with people of that level of talent, but to be such kind people so that allowed me to be able to be myself. You know there have been some producers I’ve worked with that don’t like the way I play piano and they have great pianists step in and play all my shit. And I get that cause I’m not a play to a click guy, I play live with the band or I lay it down alone and you build the band around me, one of the two.”
“With Rob, he wanted to do everything to a click and I kept in the nicest way I could, cause I was so nervous to work with him, I was like dude I can’t play to a click the way I write these things move a lot in tempo. I think it comes from coming up and listening and playing in Classical orchestra growing up for so many years. Cause that’s why you have a conductor, the tempos are constantly shifting and changing, right. So I’m like that’s just kinda the way I write. So for the first couple of tracks I turned in demos that he kept and then built upon them. So those were already clicked out like “Bad Woman Blues” and stuff like that.”
“I’m such a frickin’ addict right, of course we addicts are so good at manipulation, so I come up with a plan one day (laughing as she’s talking) where I show up and I’m like: (with a silly pretend innocent voice) Rob, um, I was wondering if I could just get on the piano and maybe play 9 songs down in a row and maybe you record them or not it’s up to you. And then I’ll go to the other piano and I’ll play those 9 down just so we can see for a good sound. He’s like sure no problem. So I went to the piano I knew he loves the most, (innocent voice) oh I’ll just go for this one first. And I recorded the 9 down and when I was done he said those were all gonna be kept and I’m gonna have the band build ‘em. And I’m like this…yes! Inside, right. So that was the bomb, it frickin’ worked.”
The pandemic has been a struggle for everyone. Often exacerbating underlying struggles, the isolation was at times defining and unbearable. Beth began her time doing what one might have thought as therapeutic, writing songs. But it was not.
“I was doin’ a lot of obsessive songwriting, like not healthy. Just stayin’ up for days and days and writing. I was getting manic cause I was taking this diet pill called phentermine. So it was making me really manic and thinking I was like Chopin and bullshit like that, all this shit was so brilliant (laughing). Finally the phentermine made me so sick so I quit that and I’m like oh my God all these songs are shit.”
Beth took the opportunity of time that the pandemic offered to continue her journey of mental health. Speaking openly about mental health allows everyone to know they are not alone. Beth is open and honest about her experiences over the pandemic.
“I finally got off my antipsychotics which I’d been on for 14 years. Antipsychotics are really dangerous, you’re only supposed to be on them for 5 weeks until lithium builds up in your system. I refused to go on lithium because the few times I did I got really really really angry and aggressive so that drug just really didn’t work for me. I was with this psychiatrist who had convinced me I was bipolar 1. Where as my trauma specialist, who I’ve worked with since I was 28, he said absolutely you are not a bipolar 1 you’re borderline personality disorder and chronic PTSD which does not need medication. But I refused to believe that so I took frickin’ seroquel forever.”
“I was having so many organ issues and so much illness from seroquel so finally cause of pandemic I was able to wean off of it and I had to go on beta blockers for my heart. Because getting off the seroquel, even though I weaned off, it made my resting heart rate 150 beats per minute. Even on beta blockers, dude, my heart rate the lowest it got was 130, resting. Thank God I did it I didn’t get the Tardive Dyskinesia which is permanent brain damage. I would have never played piano again. I fired that frickin’ psychiatrist and I dove in really deep with my trauma specialist. So my brain now is adjusting cause I’ve been used to being so suppressed emotionally the last 14-15 years that now I’m feeling everything again. So I’m struggling with that.”
All these emotions came flooding in. It’s hard to imagine how someone as empathic and in touch with her creative spark could deal with this. Beth also kicks ass and is unapologetic, so rage, fire and intensity came. Fortunately Rob Cavallo had a Led Zeppelin jones he was chasing down and Beth was at the center of it.
“Thank God I had this Zeppelin record to work on. That was something to get out all that rage and that fear. It was really stimulated by pandemic and by getting off seroquel. I didn’t want to do the record at all because I didn’t think I could. But, once I started feelin’ all that energy again it was like fuckin’ A muthafucka send that shit over. I will learn that shit, yeah.”
The “Zeppelin Record” is A Tribute to Led Zeppelin in which Cavallo and Hart put together a faithful reading of 12 Zep classics. “The talent of that band,” Beth effuses, “they were so young to be that creative and insane. Like wow all of them, they were all brilliant.” But Beth only realized this when she was making the record.
“I didn’t grow up listening to Zeppelin cause my stuff as a kid was all Classical, Jazz, Blues, Soul, Baptist and Reggae, I was a huge Reggae nut, ah Punk and then like Black Sabbath. I loved Black Sabbath, I loved Rush, that kind of stuff. But of Zeppelin I knew of ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,’ I loved that, and I knew of ‘Black Dog.’ But those were the only 2 pieces and then later when I was like 30 my band had me learn ‘Whole Lotta Love,’ but that was it.”
“This was such a new world for me and (drawing out each syllable) mind blowing, dude. Because I didn’t realize what a level of a genius Page was. He was litterly taking the Classical; fuckin’ you can hear Beethoven, you can hear Rachmaninoff, you can hear Classical orchestration meets Black American Blues. And then his ability to produce. And then of course you can hear Plant was listening to a lot of Black Blues singers, so you can hear that in his singing. But then you hear what a poet Plant was cause he didn’t write just about getting coochie which, of course, all guys are gonna write about that at that age. He was writing some deep shit. And I was like wow, ‘No Quarter,’ unbelievable. I mean frickin’ ‘Stairway to Heaven’ is so unbelievably spiritual and beautiful. Yeah I was so humbled by their music man, I couldn’t believe it.”
Your interviewer balked when he saw “Stairway to Heaven” on the track list. Images of middle school dances awkwardly slow dancing as the gym lights come up to the overplayed arpeggios of “Stairway” haunt me. But Beth transforms this song not by reinterpreting but by feeling it. She sings it out and infuses it with emotion. I told her as much.
“I love that you say that cause that was my least favorite song. But what got me to go wow I get the song was to me it’s about my sister Sharon who died. I had to watch her die so slow, you know, 12 years of battling AIDS and finally she fuckin’ died. And it was so horrible back in those days when they had nothing for that disease what people turned into. So when I listen to that song I realized that’s really why I hated that song. It wasn’t cause I always heard it all the time at karaoke bars and wherever, I love karaoke bars. But like dude, the lyric is so beautiful. So now I just sing it for my sister.”
Beth Hart’s Led Zeppelin record works because she and Cavallo don’t reinterpret the music. They don’t defang the songs and turn them into Sambas or funky jams (not that there is anything wrong with that). The brilliance of this record is that it is in essence a modern Classical suite. Taking the cue from the source material, Zeppelin can be seen as modern repertoire music. But, to get it right is challenging to say the least.
“There were a lot of challenges. One challenge obviously was the technique. Robert Plant’s got such a huge range. Thank God I’m still with my vocal coach I’ve been with since I was 16, that muthafricka has dialed me in over the years off and on. So I knew the placement and I got to study that. But, the most challenging thing was to respect the way Plant sang it without doing a copy. So I knew I had to make it like if I wrote those songs who and what personally it would have been about for me in order to bring anything I would have to offer to it. And it’s such a fine line because it’s such hallowed ground so that was a concern. Be you but respect that this is hallowed ground. It was funny I didn’t realize that Rob Cavallo felt the same way until the mixing stage he was worried about the same thing as a producer. Tricky, definitely tricky.”
Beth concludes: “Either people are gonna like it or somebody’s gonna try and shoot me on the frickin’ street man. I mean you got to pray for me. Freakin’ Zep fans are hard core, you know.”.
Beth Hart is a moving and powerful artist. She is intense. Her music, even when it’s playful and fun, is deep and serious. Beth is a scholar of music, a child prodigy, a dedicated pianist and a reckless Punk. She holds conflicting identities within her art and, one suspects, within herself. It is what makes her music so moving, so pervasive. She keeps pushing forward and keeps surviving.
“I’ll tell yah the best advice I ever got was actually from Jeff Beck. He said the moment you start to get comfortable or get a lot of accolade about something make a left turn and get the fuck out of there as soon as possible. Because if you don’t, he said, your art will become all about your ego and just trying to continually get fed the ego of what you know is working and that’s when your artist dies. He goes, so have the courage to be very uncomfortable and keep making yourself uncomfortable.”
“It’s why I work with new producers a lot. Because it’s very uncomfortable. Sometimes when I’m working with a new producer they can be pretty fuckin’ brutal. But I’m grateful for that because it’s extraordinarily humbling, challenging, it beats me up. It kinda keeps me in that uncomfortability which keeps everything fresh and moving forward.”
Beth Hart is on tour adding Led Zeppelin tunes into her already massive catalog. Check her out at: https://www.bethhart.com/
Reviewer Bucky O’Hare is a slide guitarist, songwriter and singer. Based out of South Eastern Massachusetts, Bucky plays Slide Guitar Soul Jazz and Funk Blues inspired by the music of the 60’s and 70’s all around New England.
Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6
Chris Barber – A Trailblazer’s Legacy
The Last Music Co.
4 CDs 69 tracks 293 minutes
If you mention the name Chris Barber to most American blues fans, chances are good that you will get a blank look in response. In the U.K., Barber is a legend for his trombone playing as well as leading a band for more almost 70 years. Additionally, Barber was instrumental in bringing blues musicians to England, many for the first time, and often expertly backed by Barber’s fine band. Proof of Barber’s importance to the British blues scene is provided by a quote from Rolling Stone bass player Bill Wyman, who commented, “Without Chris Barber the Stones and The Beatles would not be where they are now.”
This deluxe four disc set offers an overview of Barber’s illustrious career, spanning 67 years of musical merry making. Enclosed in a small, hard cover bookcase, the discs are firmly lodged tightly in full page sleeves, followed by pages of photographs, notes covering the music song by song, and a complete track-list with information on the musicians involved on each track. There is also a piece written by a friend and race car driver David Brodie, detailing Barber’s passion for auto racing.
As a boy, Barber studied the violin. After the end of World War II, he went to school in London with the intent of becoming an insurance actuary. But after spending his evenings listening to jazz in the city’s clubs, he spent three years in music school, then put together a band with seven other like-minded musicians.
The set starts off with the first tracks released by Chris Barber’s New Orleans Jazz Band in 1951, “Stomp Off Let’s Go,” taken at a sprightly tempo, shows that the band had a solid understanding of the New Orleans jazz traditions. By 1954, Pat Halcox on trumpet and Monty Sunshine on clarinet have joined the band. Both became fixtures and key contributors. Also included is “Rock Island Line,” a massive hit for singer Lonnie Donegan and his Skiffle Band, consisting of Barber on bass and Beryl Bryden on washboard. The song ignited the skiffle craze, which subsequently sparked interest in blues music as fans dug into the roots of skiffle sound.
With the arrival of Ottilie Patterson, the band had a big voiced singer who had a natural affinity for the blues, as witnessed on her stellar take on “Nobody Knows You When You Are Down And Out.” Her performance on a live version of “St. Louis Blues” electrifies the audience, then she stirs up memories of Bessie Smith with a fine rendition of “Careless Love.” Meanwhile, the band solidifies its sound over the six year stretch covered, finally scoring their own hit with Sidney Bechet’s “Petite Fleur,”with Sunshine on clarinet in the spotlight.
The second disc opens with the band backing Sister Rosetta Tharp on an enthusiastic take of “Every Time I Feel The Spirit”. They also provide sympathetic backing on two tracks for Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. On “Betty and Dupree,” Terry blows some fine harp to accompany McGhee’s measured vocal. Patterson and McGhee take turns singing on “Do Lord Do Remember Me,” the track ending rather abruptly just as things seemed to be heating up.
Other highlights include a stirring Patterson performance on the slow blues “Moonshine Man,” then she easily glides along with the sprightly tempo on “Well Alright, OK, You Win”. Barber handles the vocal on “The Sheik Of Araby,” as Sunshine delivers a sparkling clarinet solo that elicits equally fine efforts from Halcox and Barber that make the nine minute track a real treat. Barber had a deep admiration for Duke Ellington and his orchestraScott Jo, paying his respects on “Rent Party Blues”. Their musical interplay on Scott Joplin’s classic “The Entertainer” is one more delight.
Disc 3 finds Barber back on bass while another British blues legend, Alexis Korner, handles the guitar backing James Cotton’s subdued vocal and brilliant unamplified harmonica blowing on ‘Love Me Or Leave Me”. Patterson impresses on another slow blues, “Lonesome Road” with Ian Wheeler taking over on clarinet, then the band tears into “Weary Blues,” a track bound to give listeners a case of happy feet. The band proves their mettle on two songs featuring Louis Jordan’s smooth vocals on “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby” and “Don’t Worry ‘Bout The Mule, his alto sax adding to the band’s musical firepower. A live rendition of Ellington’s “C Jam Blues” features New Orleans jazz legend Albert Nicholas’s wailing clarinet. The disc ends with Sammy Price getting a chance to show off his prowess on piano on “Tailgate Boogie”.
The final disc documents the band in transition. A 1965 cover of “Jeep’s Blues,” composed by Ellington and Johnny Hodges, finds Eddie Smith’s banjo being replaced by John Slaughter on electric guitar. The band continues backing visiting musicians, as witnessed on an inspired run-through of “Couldn’t Keep It To Myself” with gospel legend Alex Bradford. The band offers a more contemporary sound on “Mercy, Marcy, Mercy,” with the leader laying down a fine trombone solo. Things get real interesting on “Oh Didn’t He Ramble,” with Van Morrison adding his voice to the proceedings, with Dr. John on piano.
“Sideways” is credited to the Chris Barber Jazz and Blues Band, a aggregation from 1978 that featured multi-instrumentalists Sammy Rimmington and John Crocker. Wheeler is back on clarinet on a medley of tunes from the Band, “The Weight/Caledonia Mission,” with Barber and Crocker on tenor sax taking solo honors. A New Orleans session paired Barber with Eddie Bo on vocal and piano along with a cast of stellar local veterans on the funky “Wake Up”. Chris Barber’s Six Piece was a 2010 line-up that tackled a Jelly Roll Morton classic, “Winin’ Boy Blues,” with Jools Holland on piano and lead vocal. The closing cut was recorded live at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London, with Barber and band playing “Savoy Blues,” a song the leader had recorded sixty years earlier.
Throughout the set, listeners will be impressed with top-notch musicianship and beautiful arrangements that the band created, not to mention the inspired playing on virtually every track. Barber knew how to find players that shared his passion for the music, as is evident in the joy you hear in every note. The music alternates between blues, New Orleans traditional jazz, and all points in-between. What listeners are left with is a marvelous tribute to a musical giant who deserves recognition on this side of the pond.
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
Vince Salerno And Gerald McClendon – Blues From All Points
Pravda Records – 2022
11 tracks; 40 minutes
Vince Salerno has been a mainstay on the Chicago scene for many years but only made his debut recording a couple of years ago. Regrettably, I did not get the chance to hear Grabbing The Blues By The Horns, because if it was like the disc currently under consideration it would undoubtedly have been right up this reviewer’s alley! Vince is on tenor and baritone saxes, harmonica and flute, Gerald McClendon, Chicago’s “Soulkeeper”, handles the vocals and the support comes from Thomas Klein on guitar (who also produced the album), Thomas Linsk on keys and accordion, Michael P Fiorino on bass, Chuck Schwartz on drums, Ellis Clark on percussion and Ron Haynes on trumpet. The material is a mix of six covers and five originals; writing credits go to Thomas Klein (three), Gerald (two), Vince (two), Ellis and Thomas Linsk (one each). The material is a great collection of blues and soul plus a touch of jazz.
The album opens with “Hip City”, the first of two Junior Walker tunes here. The funky, stop-start tune suits Vince’s high energy sax style and Gerald’s enthusiastic encouragement to people to “get on the floor”. Two McClendon/Klein originals follow: “Antidote For Love” sets Vince’s harp against slide guitar and plenty of percussion as Gerald testifies in style about how his girl’s love may end up killing him; “Do Drop In” is an outstanding piece of soul music mixed with rock elements, Gerald describing the club setting: “Everyone was waiting for the band to begin and we were having fun pouring whiskey and sin”. Thomas’ guitar provides a classic Keith Richards lick, the horns sound terrific and Vince steps out for a rasping tenor solo – what else could a soul music fan want? Gerald sings the familiar lyrics of T-Bone Walker’s “Street Walking Woman” convincingly, Thomas showing a completely different side to his playing and Vince again soloing impressively. Sticking to classic blues, the band gives us a fine version of “Highway 49”, a Joe Williams tune best known from Howling Wolf’s version, slide, piano and harp all to the fore.
The original “Flame To Ash” has a catchy guitar riff and chorus, a blend of soul and rock, before the band tackles “Bessie’s Blues”, an instrumental from the John Coltrane songbook. Vince is straight into some serious tenor work as pianist Thomas covers the whole keyboard in a great solo and the rhythm section excels on this jazz number. Clifton Chenier’s “Ay-Tete Fee” (“Hey Little Girl” in English) is a complete contrast, busy accordion backed by bubbling baritone. The second Junior Walker tune is the instrumental “Cleo’s Mood”, Vince back on tenor and lots of organ work from Thomas L. Another instrumental, the rollicking “Harpacordia”, features accordion and harmonica and the album closes with Gerald returning to the mike for the Rn’B tune “Blues And Trouble”.
Overall this is an excellent album with a variety of styles, solid vocals and good instrumentalists. It may have taken Vince Salerno forty years to release an album under his own name, but this second one is definitely a keeper.
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.
Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6
Kurt Crandall – Starts On The Stops
Yester Year Records – 2022
10 tracks; 43 minutes
Kurt Crandall is based in Virginia but has moved around a lot, playing and studying the blues in Kansas City, Washington, DC, Macon, Chicago and Seattle. Over the course of his career he has proved to be a fine harp player, singer and song writer and all of those attributes are present on his fourth album Starts On The Stops. The CD is divided into two sets with different personnel. Kurt is on harp and vocals throughout and the ‘First Set’ finds him in a small ensemble of Karl Angerer on guitar, Bill Heid on piano, Rusty Farmer on upright bass and Aaron Binder on drums; Jaisson Taylor and Lawrence Otis add backing vocals to the vocal tracks. The ‘Second Set’ is a slightly bigger band: Karl Angerer remains on guitar but shares the role with Reid Doughten, Clark Stern is on piano, John Sheppard electric bass and Johnny Hott drums; Carl Bender adds sax to one track. Kurt wrote eight tunes and there are two covers.
The First Set opens with the instrumental “Skedaddle”. Jungle drums lead into a harp-led, jazzy swinger, with guitar and piano also featured. “Early Bird Special” also mixes jazz and blues in a relaxed shuffle with amusing lyrics about the attractions of a cheap menu: “Grandad forgets what he can’t recall, in fact he can’t remember anything at all! Forgot Grandma’s birthday, anniversary too, but somehow remembers when the day is through – Early Bird Special”. “Razz My Berries” swings like crazy as Kurt uses the lyrics playfully: “Razz my berries, girl I swear it’s true, pray every day I’ll razz your berries too”! Great piano on this one! “Devil Got A Hold On You” is a slower tune with deep-toned harp and a gospel feel, especially in the hummed chorus and lyrical references to Jacob’s Ladder and the Devil; Karl steps out to play some lovely, relaxed guitar in the middle section. The First Set concludes with a New Orleans-flavoured instrumental “Beignets And Coffee” that gives everyone solo space over some excellent second line drumming.
The Second Set starts with Chicago style harp on “Home At Last”, a Rudy Toombs tune, Reid’s tougher guitar style working well against the harp. Carl Bender’s sax adds a big band R&B sound to “Goes Without Saying”, a song that could easily have been found in the repertoires of West Coast guys like T-Bone Walker and Karl’s lead guitar work is very much in that vein on this standout cut. Kurt’s sprightly harp takes the lead on a more stripped-back production in which Kurt tells us all about his life with a “Bull Headed Woman”; she tells him “when to start, tells me when we’re through”. Sonny Boy I (John Lee) Williamson, classic “Bluebird Blues” is the second cover, taken at a leisurely pace with Clark Stern’s piano featuring strongly alongside Kurt’s higher register harp work. A third instrumental, “Sidecramp”, is a feature for Kurt who tears it up on this uptempo romp to close the album.
This is a fine album and will appeal in particular to lovers of harmonica blues. Combine Kurt’s expertise on the harp with solid supporting musicians and good material and you have a winner. Recommended!
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.
Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6
Johnny Ray Jones – Way Down South
Moondogg Records MDR 1077
11 songs – 41 minutes
A native Southern Californian who sings with soulful swagger, Johnny Ray Jones has been a professional musician since the 1980s, but flew under the radar until releasing the debut album Feet Back in the Door in 2017. This stellar follow-up – which was produced by Grammy winning producer/percussionist Tony Braunagel – should take his career to an entirely different level.
Johnny was immersed in the Los Angeles music scene from his youth, when he drove the legendary Sam “Bluzman” Taylor to gigs and recording sessions in exchange for voice lessons. He proved such a good student that his godmother, Tina Mayfield – Percy’s widow – eventually hired him to perform at her club, Blues Unlimited, on a weekly basis. He’s worked alongside John Fogarty, Big Joe Turner and L.A.’s favorite blues-rockers, The Red Devils.
Jones mixes blues, roots and soul into a seamless package here. He possesses a warm voice with low-end range that’s one part velvet and one part grit. The album was recorded, engineered and mixed at Ultratone Studios in Studio City, Calif., by Johnny Lee Schell, Braunagel’s bandmate in both the Taj Mahal Band and Legendary Blues Band, and features a lineup that includes a who’s who of West Coast talent, including Coco Montoya, who sits in on six-string for one cut.
Schell delivers stinging, well-modulated guitar throughout with Braunagel on rhythm. They’re joined by Mike Finnigan on keys, James “Hutch” Hutchinson on bass, Lenny Castro on percussion with Maxayn Louis and Kudisan Kai providing backing vocals. They’re enhanced by Joe Sublett on tenor sax, Richard “La Bamba” Rosenberg on trombone, Mark Pender and Darrell Leonard on trumpet, Marty Grebb on baritone sax and piano and Jimmy Powers on harmonica. Julie Delgado and Nita Whittaker provide additional vocals.
Jones only penned one of the 11 cuts on this disc, but he truly makes the ten covers his own, beginning with Tony Joe White’s uptempo rocker, “Steamy Windows” – no coincidence because some critics have labeled him as the second coming of The Swamp Fox, who left us four years ago. It’s no small feat, but Johnny actually kicks it up a notch. He dips into the Otis Redding songbook next, putting a blue-eyed soul spin on “I Got the Will” before a pleasant update of “Don’t Burn Down the House,” once a ‘70s hit for both Albert King and Gladys Knight & the Pips.
“Way Down South,” penned by Red Devils harp player Lester Butler, features a full horn section and a funky beat before Johnny pays tribute to Bluzman covering his original, “Shine on Me.” Another White pleaser, “Tunica Motel,” follows before the self-penned “L.A. Fog.” Featuring Grebb with Montoya on lead guitar, it’s a medium-slow shuffle that describes the joy of hooking up with a lady who “put the rock in my roll” after “a life that’s never been peaches-and-cream.” The fog’s lifting and the singer looks to nothing but good times ahead.
Three more well-executed numbers — “Ninety Nine and a Half (Won’t Do)” penned by Steve Cropper, Eddie Floyd and Wilson Pickett, Redding’s “Give Away None of My Love” and Memphis soul-blues giant Toussaint McCall’s “Nothing Takes the Place of You” – bring the set to a pleasant close.
Don’t miss this one – it’s that good!
Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.
Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6
Spookyman and the All Nighters – Blood Sweat and Tears
CD: 10 Songs, 36 Minutes
Styles: R&B, Harmonica Blues, “Traditional Contemporary” Blues, All Original Songs
True confession: I’m writing this review of Blood Sweat and Tears, from Spookyman and the All Nighters, as midnight approaches on the first official day of spring. Fall isn’t the only season when the blues is frighteningly good. Even if you’ve never heard of this Italian ensemble, it sure knows how to do R&B and what I call “traditional contemporary” blues: modern music with a classic ‘50s and ‘60s sound. There’s also a hefty dose of harmonica to get your blood pumping. The coolest thing about the album is that it has a different atmosphere when you listen to it in the daytime versus night. Sunlight fills these ten original tracks with pep and pizzazz; the lack of it gives them a film-noir edge. The only things that might scare you off are the vocals by leading man Giulio Allegretti. They’re not bad, but they are heavily accented – so much so that you might only catch every fifth word – and Spookyman takes the talk-singing route. Despite this, the band’s instrumentation rests on the edge of fantastic. You’d swear the late, great SRV and Bob Corritore were guest artists. Let Spookyman’s dark magic see you through the darkest times.
Allegretti has been active on the music scene since 2008, when he made his debut with the original one-man-band “Spookyman,” in which he accompanies his voice through a modified guitar, hits suitcases with his feet and also cowbells, tin boxes, and everything in between. From 2010 onward, he worked as a composer and soundtrack performer with several Italian theatrical companies, directors, and videographers.
Spookyman now collaborates with pianist and composer Simone Scifoni, guitarist Marco Di Folco, and harmonica player Andrea Di Giuseppe. He adds “the All Nighters” to his stage name in reference to the phrase “all night long,” utilized in many blues lyrics.
He recorded his first studio work, a self-titled and self-produced album, in 2016. It consists of thirteen original selections: twelve in English and one “ghost track” in Italian. On March 22, 2021, he released this CD despite the restrictions caused by COVID-19.
Without a doubt, its first half is the best. “Blood Sweat and Tears” features a sly, strutting beat and a killer pair of instruments. Di Folco on guitar and Di Giuseppe on harp are a match made in heaven. They transform a catchy tune into a bona-fide earworm. Second is the mid-tempo “Back to Me,” which will get you dancing even if you have two left feet. “No Peace” is a harmonica lover’s paradise along with “As the Sun Will Rise.” Though short, its melodic intro and smoldering heat call for a cry of mama mia! You won’t complain about “Woman Complaints,” either. The next four songs are slight retreads of the first five, with “So Long” ending on wry ragtime-piano notes.
The lyrics may be hard to comprehend, but Spookyman and the All-Nighters have poured their Blood, Sweat and Tears into their sophomore studio offering!
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 43 year old female Blues fan. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.
Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6
Blind Raccoon and NOLA Blue Collection – Vol. 4
NOLA Blue and Blue Heart Records
2 discs, 34 tracks total
Blind Raccoon’s new collection of tunes, along with their partner NOLA Blues and their new joint label Blue Heart Records, have delivered up two fine CDs with seventeen songs each. This collection is loaded with a lot of super, new tunes, many of which have been included in albums Crossroads Blues Society has reviewed in the past year. Blind Racoon’s Betsie Brown and NOLA Blues’ Sallie Bengston have produced so much fine music and with this sampler we get to hear a song from almost three dozen new albums. This is their 4th annual effort and it is the 8th annual production if you count just Blind Raccoon’s compilation CDs prior to that.
The CD is currently not for retail sale except on NOLA Blues’ website as a download. It was physically produced for promotional uses and is also given away for fundraising efforts. Space limitations prevent me from mentioning all 34 songs. This collection even features a tune from legendary actor and comedian Dick Van Dyke, now in his nineties. Dick was helping some people he befriended who were doing music education in a local Malibu school. The friendship blossomed and Van Dyke not only supported and sang with them but also resulted in an album of Blues standards that Dick loved. Included here is “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” and the 96 year old nails it just like he did as the chimney sweep in Mary Poppins back when I was a kid. There is some great sax and piano work along with band accompaniment, but Van Dyke skats and sings in a way that belies his age and I was really impressed.
There is some truly memorable cuts on this. We have reviewed like “So Far So Good” by guitar whiz Peter Veteska & Blues Train and “If Your Phone Don’t Ring” by Trudy Lynn. “Born Under A Bad Sign” by Chris Daniels, Hazel Miller, and Dana Marsh is soulful and beautifully done. Clarence Spady’s “If Only We Could” is a great tune, too. “Funky Steampunk Blues” by Professor Louie & The Crowmatix is fun as is “Back Door Woman Blues” done by the Waydown Wailers.
Traditional acoustic blues like “Never Gonna Change” (David Gogo), “Hard Times Coming” (David Rotundo Band), “She Might Meet Me” (Kenny Parker) and “Bang At The Door” from one of my favorite 2021 albums (Donna Herula) are offered up aplenty. Soulful cuts abound; Skylar Rogers “Firebreather “ and “Takes One To Know One” (Teresa James & The Rhythm Tramps) are also included. Swinging and jumping cuts like “Ruthless Boogie” (David Lumsden) and adding a sultry side to the mix like “Livin’ For Me” (Tiffany Pollack & Co.) make for great variety.
Like I said, I can’t mention them all but they all are good songs and done well. Blues, rock, soul, swing, and more are offered up and it’s a fun ride. If you especially like a song, then there is usually an album of more you can dial up, purchase and enjoy, too. I always enjoy the Blind Racoon/NOLA Blues samplers; it’s like a musical pot luck where Food Network chefs provide the meal; all the artists are at the top of their games and you get to hear them doing what they do best– singing and playing the blues!
Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.
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