Issue 16-20 May 19, 2022

Cover photo © Joseph A. Rosen

 In This Issue 

Anita Schlank has our feature interview with Danielle Nicole. We have eight Blues reviews for you this week including a new book by Larry Simon plus new music from Son House, Jose Ramirez, Angela Easley, Karl Stoll and the Danger Zone, Dylan James ‘Boogie Boy’ Shaw, Henry Gray and Josh Hyde. Scroll down and check it out!



The Blues Blast Music Awards honor contemporary Blues artists and their recordings.

Artists with major labels and independent artists are eligible. All submissions are digital. No physical CDs needed.

For complete information, click HERE.


 Featured Interview – Danielle Nicole 

imageThere are very few musicians who appear to physically throw themselves into the performance of every song, but Danielle Nicole is certainly one of them. Danielle was initially known for her work as part of the three-sibling group, Trampled Under Foot, (who received the highest honor competing in the 2008 International Blues Challenge), but she then struck out on her own with her unique combination of blues, roots and soul as the Danielle Nicole Band. Winner of five Blues Music Awards and nominated for a Grammy, this talented bass player also has one of the best singing voices around. And audiences are consistently so moved by her emotive performances that it is not uncommon to see some with tears streaming down their face as they listen. In addition, fans love her poetic songwriting, especially those which describe relationships gone wrong. Blues Blast Magazine had the opportunity to catch up with Danielle via Zoom recently, just prior to her heading to the Blues Music Awards, where she received her third award for Best Instrumentalist-Bass. She confirmed that there truly is a strong physical component when she plays.

“It does take me a minute to recover after songs. And there are only three of us up there, so we need each other. Brandon just pours his heart out through his guitar, and It’s exhausting when you have such an emotional experience. To relate to a crowd of people watching it–I see them feeling the same way I do and it’s a vulnerable moment to be emotional in front of strangers. It’s not a show or a performance. If I just wanted to go up and pretend, I could do that—I love dancing and took professional jazz, tap and ballet, and even competed in it. But that’s not what I want. When you experience that kind of emotional vulnerability and freedom it is outer-worldly. It’s a really cool feeling. I’m blessed that I play with two musicians that understand that, and they give every bit of it too. It’s not an easy life. I’m lucky that my guys work super hard, and they play it like there’s no tomorrow.”

Some songwriters say they are constantly writing songs, scribbling notes on scraps of paper, while others need to go to a quiet place to write when it is time to put out an album. Danielle’s writing is a combination of these techniques.

“I’m always continually piecing songs together—I’ll get one or two lines at a time and record it in my notes on my phone. Then I’ll think of a groove and look at some of my notes and see if any of the ideas match the groove or the chord progression that I’m writing. I write on a six string and write the bass line later. But sometimes songs just come straight out of you. You just write them in just a few hours, especially if you are writing a memory, while other songs take forever.”

Danielle stated that the most therapeutic song she ever wrote was “Bobby,” a song she wrote for her father. She was asked if she would also write a song for her brother, Kris, who recently passed away. Kris was in her band when Cry No More was released, so they toured extensively together before he died. She stated that she most likely would and hoped it wouldn’t take her as long it took for her to write the song about her father.

Danielle’s last two albums were produced and co-written by Anders Osborne (for Wolf Den) and Tony Braunagel (for Cry No More, which was nominated for a Grammy). While those two men seem to have very different personalities, they are similar in that they both appreciate spontaneity and are extremely skilled in songwriting.

image“Anders is definitely a man of spontaneity. He just feels where it is going. I was able to go to New Orleans and have a writing session with him. That was really cool. I was in New Orleans for three or four days and I got to watch him in his element—sitting on his floor in the front room. For example, I had the verses for a song, but it just needed to go somewhere—it needed that rug that would tie the room together. We repeated the verses over and over again, and then he went up to the five and did this gospel change, and it changed everything. It was very powerful.”

“For Cry No More Tony had flown into Kansas City a few months prior and we laid down some demos. Until then I had been sending him voice notes of me on an acoustic guitar. I kept struggling and struggling with some of the lyrics, and he said, ‘you’ve got to stop fighting’. Tony has a really open mind—he likes spontaneity. Thankfully we did it right on the spot and when I did that, I was able to cut my lyrics in half instead of just repeating myself in different ways. It all just came together. I had been fighting it for eight months—I just didn’t know how to get there.”

One of the best parts about making Cry No More was when Bill Withers unexpectedly showed up and was so impressed with Danielle that he offered her one of his unrecorded songs, “Hot Spell”

“There was a knock on the door and Bill Withers walks in. Tony was trying not to act like a fan-boy and I was trying to not lose my shit and act like a fool, but I was pretty excited. Bill listened to “Just Can’t Keep from Crying” and then he asked me to come out to his car for a moment. We were sitting in his SUV in the driveway of the studio, and he was thumbing through some CDs in the glovebox, and he pulls out this CD of his daughter singing a demo of the song. He warned me that the lyrics were a little risqué. I really dug the song, and the bass line was awesome. He asked if we were interested in recording it, and I said it would be an honor. It had been written in the 1970s, but nobody had ever recorded it. He was ad-libbing on the demo where the guitar solo was supposed be, but we thought that was really cool and wanted to keep it. We hoped to use his voice as a cameo, but when we told him we would love for him to sing that part, he said ‘I dig your interpretation of the song, but I don’t feel like I can creatively add to it.’ So, we didn’t get the cameo we hoped for, but instead of adding a guitar solo, I just sang that part.”

Like every other artist, Danielle had many gigs cancelled due to the pandemic. Many musicians reported feeling stung by the message that musicians were considered “unessential”, and the pandemic made them question whether they could remain on the career path they had chosen.

“It made me question the longevity of the artistry. It was proven that it could stop and be taken away indefinitely. We were the first to go and the last to get back up again. We did a few ticketed livestreams. I also got a sewing machine and taught myself how to use it, and I’ve always loved cooking, so I made new recipes. I also got to spend more time with my two sons.”

Danielle noted that being off the road also helped her fulfill her promise to her brother, Kris, to help with remodeling the home he was able to buy before he passed.

image“I was where I needed to be, to be able to be home with my brother. With the donations at his benefit and through very generous people, he was able to purchase a home for his family and completely redid the upstairs. We literally just finished the basement yesterday—we promised him that we would. We’re very thankful for all the donations and the kind people. We have a special day planned for his musical life celebration on July 30, and we’re going to do it right for him.”

Family is clearly extremely important to Danielle, and while she is passionate about her music, she appears just as passionate about doing what’s best for her family and making sure that her children adjust the best they can after their parents’ breakup.

“Back in 2017 I declined a couple of very high-profile tours. I stayed home to be a mom because that’s what my son needed at the time. I am thankfully in a good co-parenting situation, but I need to watch myself. I do the best I can, but it takes work to have a cordial relationship when heartbreak is involved, and betrayal is involved. I do my best to keep the peace despite my feelings. I’m emotional—I’m hot-headed. And I know it puts them in weird spots—being a child from a broken home with different rules at dad’s house and mom’s house. They have enough to worry about without mom and dad fighting and saying mean things. So, I try to take that into consideration and be the best mom I can.”

Danielle reported that both of her children appear to have inherited some of her family’s musical abilities.

“Both of my sons sing a lot, and Eli plays guitar and drums. On occasion I hear him messing around on the bass, but he definitely gravitates more towards the drums and guitar. Michael likes to play the piano. His father plays the piano, and it helps with his hands, because he is only six. It’s worth celebrating the generational gift, the genetic gift to relate to life in a musical way. But I always tell my boys they can be anything they want—a firefighter, mechanic, open a grocery store, whatever—just follow your dreams. You don’t’ have to follow music, but it’s in your blood. I hear you singing all the time. Even if you don’t pursue it professionally, you can still learn to play and learn to write. You can do lighting, do dancing, do costumes. You don’t’ have to be a musician. If you don’t want to be in entertainment at all, that’s fine too. Just follow your dreams. I could have six million followers, but that is not success to me. Success is raising a family and showing them that you can follow your dreams, have a passion, and make money doing what you love. I want to teach my children that you can chase your dreams and make money at it.”

Most artists report being somewhat unprepared for the business part of being a musician, and Danielle was no exception to that rule. She reported that she is self-managed and had booked herself up until recently, when she joined Bonfire Music. She indicated that she was glad she didn’t jump at the first opportunity to sign with a booking agent

“I’m glad I waited. He wasn’t my first opportunity to book, but I would rather do the slow and steady route, and it was a good decision—he’s badass! But you know, nothing prepares you for the business part. Brandon has a business degree, and out of every musician I know, he’s the only one who has his shit together in that area. Whenever I get asked the question about advice for young aspiring artists, everyone says practice, practice, and then practice some more. I say yes—practice, but also learn to do accounting. I don’t recommend that they learn marketing because that will change. How you market a band ten years ago is different from now and is different from how it will be five years from now. It’s accounting that is important–making sure that you know where your money is going. With Kris leaving his children as infants it made me think more about issues like that. I realized that luckily, we are here to make sure his portion of Trampled Under Foot sales go to his children, but who will make sure of that for me? If I own my music, then I can make sure that future sales go to my children. I can make sure they get the benefit of that and are able to control what they believe their mother stood for. I say learn the business and trust your gut and be confident in who you are, and don’t compare your journey to someone else’s.”

imageLike other female artists, Danielle has had to face some sexist attitudes, although she noted that by starting out playing with her two older brothers in the band, she was safer than most young females entering the music industry and had already established herself as a serious musician before she started her own band.

“With my two older brothers there, I was the safest person in the venue. Now I’m fortunate to be in a position to be able to say something makes me uncomfortable and I don’t need to do this. There are a lot of women who don’t get to say no and still get asked back. I’ve been on my own for over seven years and I’ve been in some uncomfortable situations, absolutely, but I’ve always been fortunate. I have worked with a lot of very good promoters, and I’ve been able to whittle away the creeps.”

Despite her years of being established as a talented musician and winning awards for her skills as a bassist, Danielle is still occasionally the subject of sexist remarks, such as men who say she should ‘get out from behind that bass.’

“Because we’re supposed to be seen. We’re supposed to be fit and quiet unless we are singing. And we can only sing about things that are approved. The standards are absolutely ridiculous. When I was in my twenties and had a banging figure, I never felt like I dressed or acted like a slut, but I still got spoken to like I was one. But I also believe that if any girl wants to be hot—more power to her. It’s not an invitation for misogyny or hate speech. A lot of guys just feel entitled to speak on it. Dressing hot is not an invitation to get preyed upon. And I’m honored to have been the first woman nominated for a Blues Music Award for playing bass, but I wonder why I am the only woman to be nominated this year for that award? Justine Tompkins is an incredible bassist. TK Jackson is an incredible drummer, but she didn’t get nominated. We have come a long way, but unfortunately you still often see festivals with only one female act on the bill.”

Danielle’s next album is already recorded and is again produced by Tony Braunagel. She noted that as she is in a much happier place in her life, the tone of the songs reflects that change.

“There are definitely a lot more love songs—positive ones. We had a really chaotic upbringing and a chaotic childhood and how we dealt with the madness was singing miserable blues songs to try to get through the pain, almost by wallowing in it. This is a lot more about love. But it’s still about personal experiences, and we had a really great time recording it.”

The best blues songs may tend to come from painful experiences, but with Danielle Nicole’s exceptional talent, this upcoming album of positive, life-affirming songs are bound to be just as impressive as her past releases. You can find out more about the release of her upcoming album, her tour dates, and the celebration of her brother’s life at

Writer 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 – 1 of 8 


imageSon House – Forever on My Mind

Easy Eye Sound EES-024

8 songs – 44 minutes

One of the most important bluesmen who bridged both the pre-War and folk-boom eras, Son House continues to live on through frequent compilation albums, but none of them are as fresh as this eight-song set – a never-heard-before collection that was recorded a short time after his “rediscovery” in 1964 and sat on a bookshelf in the home of one of the folks who found him unheard until now.

Born in Lyon, Miss., on March 21, 1902, Edward “Son” House Jr. grew up in a church-going family and hated the blues as a youth but loved music thanks to his tuba-playing father. As a young minister, his love for booze and women left his life in conflict, and he fell in love with bottleneck guitar – and blues — after hearing one of his drinking companions play.

He began gigging a few weeks after acquiring his first guitar at age 25, spent a couple of years in the notorious Parchman Farm prison following a juke joint shootout, but became a rising star shortly after his release when first-generation superstar Charley Patton caught him busking on the street and took him under his wing.

When Patton recorded for Paramount Records in 1930, Son came along for the ride, laying down nine songs himself – eight of which were released but failed to sell. He performed with Patton until Charley’s death in 1934 and then with another major star, Willie Brown. And Alan Lomax recorded him twice for the Library of Congress in the early ‘40s. But by 1943, he’d vanished, relocating to Rochester, N.Y., where he worked as a porter and chef for New York Central Railroad.

He remained invisible until 1964 when — at the height of the folk boom that brought country blues to prominence — three young blues lovers – Dick Waterman, Nick Perls and Phil Spero – showed up at his door scouring the Delta for him. Then 62, Son was completely unaware that his old 78s were now playing around the world on LPs been rereleased by Folkways and Original Jazz Library.

The songs you’ll hear here were captured on reel-to-reel tape when House performed before about 50 people at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., on Nov. 23, 1964 – five months prior to Son’s first “modern” session for Columbia’s Father of Folk Blues LP and during a time when Son was taking lessons from Alan Wilson of Canned Heat, one of his biggest fans, to learn how to play like himself because he hadn’t touched an instrument in decades.

Kept on a bookshelf in Waterman’s home for the next 58 years, they’ve been remastered in crystal-clear clarity by M. Allen Parker at Easy Eye Sound in Nashville, the label owned by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. They capture Son in what can only be described as his fresh-out-of-the-Delta, natural state prior to any of the studio and live albums – and devoid of the stories and performance patter that dominated the final years of his performing life.

Deeply nuanced guitar licks and a trance-like feel dominate throughout beginning with “Forever on My Mind,” a tune that House played frequently live but never recorded in studio. A haunting ballad that describes a woman “who told me you loved me, but I believe you told a lie,” it’s described in the liner notes as a “living lesson in the improvisatory Delta blues” because it incorporates a taste of Brown’s classic, “Future Blues.”

The mood brightens and the pace quickens slightly for “Preachin’ Blues” in which Son announces that he’s going to get religion, join the Baptist church and become a “preacher so I won’t have to work” – which draws an immediate response from one of the women in the audience who shouts: “I’ll be so glad when this corn liquor runs out!”

A unique step-down run on the strings opens “Empire State Express,” a sprightly blues that finds House in the railroad station and begging the agent for permission “to ride the blinds” – hobo underneath the covering between two passenger cars – before House launches into his standard, “Death Letter,” which is built along the same structure of one of his earliest recordings, “My Black Mama, Part 2.”

Sweet slide runs kick off “The Way Mother Did,” which hints at Barbecue Bob’s “Motherless Child” throughout, before yielding to the bittersweet, “Louise McGhee,” a song of separation in which the singer’s “hours seem like days.” Two more true-blue standards — Patton’s “Pony Blues” and “Levee Camp Moan” – bring the set to a pleasing close.

Son House never sounded better than he does here. Essential listening for anyone with a love for real-deal country blues. It’s 58 years in coming, but definitely worth the wait!

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 8 

imageLarry Simon – New York City Blues: Postwar Portraits from Harlem to the Village And Beyond

The University Press of Mississippi

360 Pages Softcover edition

When conversations roll around to discussing the metropolitan areas that figure prominently in the arc of the history of blues music, it would be no surprise to hear names like Chicago, Memphis, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Detroit rapidly offered up for consideration. It is doubtful that many people would add New York City into the mix. That very oversight is addressed by author Larry Simon in a book that delves deep into the city’s blues scene, bringing to light the stellar accomplishments of a number of blues artists who have flown under the radar for most blues listeners.

As a guitarist who has been working in New York for decades, Simon has worked with a number of the artists under consideration in the book in addition to forays into the experimental music and “punk/funk” scenes. He also has composed music for productions ranging from dance to theater. As the Editor of the book, John Broven brings a wealth of knowledge about blues. He was involved in the start-up for two outstanding British magazines, Blues Unlimited and Juke Blues. Broven has also authored several books, including Walking To New Orleans: The Story of New Orleans Rhythm & Blues, which was inducted into the Blues Hall Of Fame, and Record Makers And Breakers: The Voices Of Independent Pock ‘N’ Roll Pioneers, a study of the impact of independent record labels.

In his introduction, Broven paints a picture of the confluence of forces that impacted the local scene. Many of the key players had migrated to the city, rather than being home-grown talent, not unlike the what occurred in other cities. New York was a recording capital, full of record companies yearning for hit records. That meant that top-notch players could usually find plenty of work playing recording sessions, which paid better in many cases than live performances in clubs. And over the course of five decades that started in the 1940s era, the city has had many fine clubs and concert halls, with the Apollo Theater at the top of the list.

Simon takes the lead in the next section of the book with ten interviews with key players, including familiar names like John Hammond Jr. and the late Paul Oscher, who provides details of his journey from growing up in East Flatbush to playing in black clubs in various boroughs, ultimately leading him to blow harmonica as a member of Muddy Waters’s band. For a decade, Simon was the bandleader for singer Rosco Gordon, who had several hit records with an offbeat feel that were also very popular in Jamaica. Those records are often cited as a main component in the formation of ska music.

Another remarkable interview features Bobby Robinson, a legendary figure for his Bobby’s Happy House record store, and a variety of labels that generated hits from Wilbert Harrison’s smash “Kansas City” to Elmore James to one of the original rap groups, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. His story is unlike any other, and Simon works hard to get as much detail as possible enthusiastic entrepreneur. “Wild” Jimmy Spruill’s was a mercurial guitarist who was admired for his personal approach that elevated many records and influenced more than a few guitar players.

Larry Dale was another artist that Simon worked with, helping Dale expand the reach of his club bookings. The author refers to little recognized musician as ”one of the finest blues guitarists and vocalists of his time,” as witnessed by his fretwork on Champion Jack Dupree’s classic album Blues From The Gutter. Simon also conducted an enlightening interview with piano man Bob Gaddy, who played with Dale, Spruill, and recorded for Robinson, and provided accompaniment for Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

Other interviews include Hyman “Hy” Weiss discussing his career releasing blues and doo-wop records on his Old Town label, the husband and wife team of saxophonist Noble “Thin Man” Watts and singer June Bateman, and vocalist “Al” Pittman, also known as Doc Pittman or Dr. Horse, who listed Louis Prima and Louis Armstrong as big influences.

The following section offers a short interview by Richard Tapp with guitarist Bob Malenky, who shares his recollections of the early 1970s era when he worked with Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sonny Terry, singer Victoria Spivey and her partner, Len Kunstadt, at Spivey Records, and Bill Dicey, a harmonica player who aided Malenky’s entrance into the NYC blues world.

Val Wilmer has been documenting blues music for decades as a writer and photographer. Three examples of her work comprise the next section. One piece, originally published in Melody Maker, delves into the relationship between Victoria Spivey and Bob Dylan. A second short article looks at the influence Rev. Gary Davis had on the music of acoustic guitarist and singer Larry Johnson, who recorded several fine albums during his career, but is another artist that has been slowly disappearing into the mists of time. The last piece is a quick summary of the career of Tarheel Slim and his wife, Little Ann, who had a major hit with the song “It’s Too Late,” while Slim cut the rocking side like “Number 9 Train” and “Wildcat Tamer,” featuring his savory guitar picking.

The B&W photographs of Robert Schaffer are liberally featured throughout the book, with additional photographic contributions from Wilmer and Paul Harris.

The interviews that Broven contribute finish the book off in grand style. His portrait of Billy Bland highlights the singer’s engaging nature that helped make “Let the Little Girl Dance” a career-defining hit. Even better is his conversation with Billy Butler, a master guitarist with many records to his credit, none more famous than Bill Doggett’s “Honky Tonk (Parts 1 & 2)”. Butler’s part continues to inspire guitar players around the world.

Most readers will draw a blank on Rose Marie McCoy. Originally attempting to make it as a singer, she discovered she had a knack for songwriting, penning hit material for a wide range of artists that extended from Big Maybelle and Ruth Brown to Nat King Cole and Elvis Presley. Reading her comments on being a woman in what was then a male industry make this another highlight of book. The last artist in Broven’s series is another songwriter, Doc Pomus, who wrote hits for Presley, the Drifters, and Joe Turner in addition to being a blues shouter with several fine records to his name.

There is much to enjoy here. Many of the artists made surprisingly important musical contributions that often went unrecognized by the general public, just as the collection of talent and hit records seemingly failed to give New York City it’s just due as a major component in the legacy of blues music. Simon, Broven, and their friends have put together an absorbing assessment that entertains, educates, and ultimately ignites a desire to learn more about this talented community. Don’t miss this volume that may well be a classic in the making!

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 – 3 of 8 

imageJose Ramirez – Major League Blues

Delmark Records 872

10 songs – 52 minutes

Guitarist Jose Ramirez has lived a charmed life since emigrating from his native Costa Rica to pursue a career in the home of the blues. A finalist in the 2020 International Blues Challenge, he became the first-ever Latin American bluesman to sign with Delmark Records after his debut disc, Here I Come – which was produced by Anson Funderburgh, struck a positive chord with fans and reviewers alike around the world.

Still only 34 years old, his ascendency continues with this CD, a pristine collection of traditional and contemporary blues that includes backing from 90-year-old Bob Stroger, one of the most revered bassists of his generation, and guitarist Jimmy Johnson in some of his final recordings prior to his passing earlier this year at age 93. As Delmark notes in the liner notes, Jimmy was approvingly moved to tears the first time he heard Jose play.

Heavily influenced by Johnny “Guitar” Watson, T-Bone Walker, Ray Charles, B.B. King, Buddy Guy and others, Ramirez grew up in his parents’ bar in San Jose, a city where salsa and reggae dominate. But his parents adored Ray Charles, Motown and Stax, and played the music constantly at work when Jose was a child. He received a guitar from his grandfather at Christmas in 1999, but his dad insisted that, if he truly wanted to learn the instrument, he had to listen to recordings of blues masters and absorb the feel of what they were doing into his DNA.

Ramirez took the advice to heart, and it’s paid off in spades. Three days after emigrating to Florida as a young adult, he landed the guitar gig in regional favorite Lauren Mitchell’s band, eventually becoming her band leader. He’s split his time between Tampa Bay and the Nation’s Capital ever since, representing the D.C. Blues Society in the IBCs, where he was runner up to the Canadian Horojo Trio, a group composed seasoned blues veterans.

This disc was captured in two sessions recorded about a year apart. The first four tracks were laid down at Riverside Studio in Chicago in August 2021 with backing from The Delmark All-Star Band — Stroger, Johnson, guitarist Billy Flynn, keyboard player Roosevelt Purifoy and drummer Willie “The Touch” Hayes –definitely one of the most polished veteran units the Windy City had to offer.

The six closers feature Ramirez’s touring unit — keyboard player Andre Reyes Jr., drummer/bassist Antonio Reyes, bassist Kenny Watson Jr., percussionist Evan Hoffman and vocalist Shelly Bonet, who co-wrote three of the eight originals in the 10-tune set – and were recorded at Purple Ridge Studio in Canton, N.C., in September 2020.

The original title number, “Major League Blues,” kicks off the action with Johnson on lead for a brief introduction before Jose launches into autobiographical lyrics that express his appreciation for all of the blessings he’s received through the music and his gratitude for being in the place he is today. It’s a steady rocking shuffle with stop-time feel that lists many of his childhood guitar heroes and features a stellar mid-tune solo from Jimmy, too, his sole appearance in the set.

Ramirez’s pleasant voice – he sings in perfectly unaccented English — almost breaks with emotion in the unhurried ballad, “I Saw It Coming,” as he describes the pain of a broken relationship, and Purifoy takes listeners to church on the Hammond B3 organ as Jose realizes it’s time to move on. The mood brightens and pace quickens from the opening bars of the Taylor standard, “Bad Boy,” and features fantastic fretwork from Flynn before yielding to another emotional reading of Magic Sam’s familiar “My Love Is Your Love.”

The all-original Canton recordings open with “Whatever She Wants,” an unhurried, searing contemporary blues that professes love for a woman “who knows exactly how to make my body sing” – so much so that he’s yielded all control to her. His adoration of the blues comes to the fore in the tribute, “Here in the Delta,” a slow-as-molasses number imbued with images of the mighty Mississippi and the lowlands, and the action heats up instantly in the sexually charged “Forbidden Funk,” which gives Jose space to work out on the strings.

The flavor of Ramirez’s homeland fuels “Are We Really Different,” a universal complaint about the need for understanding that can apply to relationships, race and more. It gives way to “Gotta Let You Go,” another view of the desire for romantic separation, a message that reverses course in the closer, “After All This Time,” which insists the lovers should stay together to overcome what’s transpired in the past.

Like the title infers, this truly is Major League Blues, and Jose Ramirez is a star ascendant. Run, don’t walk, to pick up 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 – 4 of 8 

imageAngela Easley – Rise

Class A Records – 2022

6 tracks; 25:51

Singer/pianist Angela Easley worked a four-year residency at Nashville’s Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar which tells us two things: she’s got enough talent and magnetism to regularly draw in an audience and she knows how to pace a set. If there’s any doubt about either of those two statements, her EP Rise proves both ideas to be true.

Easley’s been in music for a while, from church, to local talent competitions, with the vocation eventually moving her from Mississippi to Nashville. Easley’s voice is huge, with a resonance that never feels shrill or insincere. There’s a restraint to her singing that gives her songs—even the more bombastic ones—a nuanced gentleness. It’s all the more impressive on a six-song EP where an artist might feel like she needs to shock-and-awe the listener. Easley has the confidence to rely upon her talent.

For example, “I Can Let Go,” which features The McCrary Sisters, a Nashville gospel quartet, could easily get out of hand with a singer trying to establish her vocal credentials immediately. On some albums this plays out like the advice for a new prisoner to start a fight with the biggest person in the jail yard: to display toughness and send a message. Easley keeps things low-key, allowing her voice to blend with her guests, certainly taking her place in the spotlight, but also showing a lot of control within the sweet, spiritual number.

“Rise,” with its horns and easy groove, has a bit of an adult contemporary vibe, but the song’s melody is pretty. And the chorus, supported by Shelly Fairchild’s lovely background vocals, builds in anthemic way. It’s not rock or blues, but there’s a serious spiritual energy that gives the tune a charming sincerity.

“One More Last Time” is a slow blues, featuring atmospheric saxophone and blues guitar. It’s a familiar-sounding track, even though it’s an Easley original, but it’s a chance to show off her vocals, and her ability to ratchet up the song’s energy before returning it to a simmer, her piano quiet in the mix, but subtly holding the song together.

I’m surprised when an artist opts for such a short album, because a few tracks often aren’t enough time to give a true sense of the artist. Rise is cleverly constructed, and well-executed, so that you finish listening, in about the duration of a sit-com, and walk away with an appreciation of Easley’s vocal and songwriting talents.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

imageKarl Stoll and the Danger Zone – The Workhouse


CD: 11 Songs, 51 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Ensemble Blues, Americana, All Original Songs

In the Victorian era (think Dickens as well as the Queen), The Workhouse was a fate on par with jail. Perhaps worse, because your only crime was being poor. You slaved for up to sixteen hours a day to earn your living – shabby room and board which you shared with your fellow laborers. You had a roof over your head and food in your belly, but the price was steep. Karl Stoll and the Danger Zone, from Washington, D.C., are right to liken this place to a modern-day prison farm.

Their sophomore album pays homage to it on the fourth track out of ten original songs. They’re a boisterous mixture of electric blues rock, ensemble blues, roots and Americana. A few slow-dance numbers appear (“Open Your Arms,” “Sometimes,” and “Fantasy Girl”), but for the most part, they’re fast and furious. Consider the opening number, which made me go “Wow, I like this” before the intro was halfway over. It’s called “Meet Me in New Orleans,” and you’ll go there in your mind if not in person. It’s the first song I’ve heard in years where the drum solo is at the beginning – a refreshing change of pace. So is my favorite tune here: “Love is a Two-Way Street.” It’s a slapdash ditty that makes no apologies for its short, reductive lyrics (“Love-love-love-love is a two way street” and “High heels, short skirt/Tight blouse, fur coat. Blonde hair/blue eyes. Hot moves/cool vibes”). I can’t stop looping and listening to it.

In other news, “He Was My Dad” and “Why Does it Feel So Good?” serve as back-to-back sermons on how not to turn your life into a train wreck. As my own father would say, “We’re hard-wired for sin. Get smarter faster.” What’s a lyrical example of not doing this? “You can lie. You can steal. You can act like it’s no big deal. . .You’re in big trouble. You’re gonna burn. You should know better. You never learn! Why does it feel so good to be so bad?” I know the feeling.

Karl Stoll and the Danger Zone have been playing on the D.C. area circuit for many years. The band features our leading man on guitar and lead vocals, John “Mojo” Dickson on harmonica, Brian Alpert on drums, and Dean Dalton on bass. Other guests include Steve Wolf, Tommy Lepson, Shep Williams on keyboards, Joe Brotherton on trumpet, Megan Nortrup on sax, Grammy nominee David Sager on trombone, Josh Howell on percussion, and the Too Much Sisters (Anita King and Caz Gardner) on female vocals.

Overall, this is a great CD, but sometimes the Danger Zone forgets less is more. The title track pounds home its message like a sledgehammer. By the two-minute mark (of 6:26), we’ve gotten the point. Instrumentally, there’s lots going on. The complexity of all the melodies at the same time can quickly overwhelm. If they find a better balance among their various tools of their trade, they can transform their already-notable work into a future collection of masterpieces.

Has life locked you up in The Workhouse? Let Karl Stoll and his posse free you from your chains!

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 8 

imageDylan James ‘Boogie Boy’ Shaw – Blues Piano Sessions

Self-Release – 2022

9 tracks; 33 minutes

Dylan James ‘Boogie Boy’ Shaw is just 14 years old but has been playing piano since he was 3 and has already achieved a lot in his short life. He comes from a musical family, has won competitions, earned scholarships, played with a who’s who of musicians, including Chuck Leavell, Bruce Katz and Bob Margolin and even has his own internet show where he encourages kids to get into music. This album gives us a taste of his precocious talents as he handles piano, Hammond B3 and vocals, supported by Jon Zoog on drums, Todd Parsons on guitar, Kevin Bailey on harmonica, Joyce Spencer on sax and his mother, Christine Winburn, on vocals. The album was recorded on home turf in Dallas, Texas, with Eric ‘Scorch’ Scortia (Omar & The Howlers) producing. There are no writing credits given, but one assumes that, apart from the obvious covers, the remaining material is original.

Half the tunes are instrumentals, starting with Dylan on the B3 with a great version of that classic of the Soul-Jazz repertoire, Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’”; a second version appears at the end of the album with Christine on vocals. There are solo piano outings on “Pinetop Smith’s Boogie Woogie” (on which Dylan plays those rolling rhythms brilliantly, changing the pace well and showing us his great strength on the instrument), more boogie woogie with “Marie”, while Oscar Peterson’s “Hymn To Freedom” takes a more sedate road than the boogie tunes, bringing a gospel feel into Dylan’s playing.

Vocals are often a problem for very young performers and Dylan’s voice still needs to develop quite a bit, but, assisted by Christine’s harmony vocals, he carries off “Blues Mobile”, a catchy tune that tells us about his transport to gigs, harmonica also appearing on this one and the piano work excellent. “Rockin’ Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu” is paired with “Mardi Gras In New Orleans” on a solo piano piece which is played convincingly and Dylan tells us that “Blues Life Is My Life” as he is joined by sax; “Me And Chuck” is dedicated to Chuck Leavell and bounds along to a boogie beat. Dylan’s vocals on these tunes sound a bit distant and thin.

It is good to hear such a precocious talent on piano (and organ) and there is little doubt that Dylan will make it to the top as an instrumentalist.

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 – 7 of 8 

imageHenry Gray – Shake a Hand

Wolf Records CD 120.634

18 songs – 55 minutes

Although he was dwarfed in fame by many of his peers, piano player Henry Gray was unquestionably one of the most important artists of his generation in a career that spanned seven decades before his passing at age 95 in 2020. And he gets to live again in this lovingly produced release of long-forgotten recordings made across Europe in the mid-1990s.

A 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards lifetime achievement honoree who was born in a New Orleans suburb and raised on a farm near Baton Rouge, Henry began playing at age eight and entertained troops when serving in the South Pacific during World War II. His career took off after emigrating to Chicago after his discharge, where he picked up his percussive, two-fisted playing style from Big Maceo Merriweather, one of the early proponents of the Windy City sound.

When Maceo lost the use of his left hand following a stroke, Gray shared the bench with him during his gigs and served as its replacement. Henry’s first recording session came with Jimmy Rogers in 1952 and he worked regularly with Jimmy Reed, Sonny Boy Williamson II and a who’s who of others before spending 12 years in Howlin’ Wolf’s band and serving as a session player on many of the hits emanating from Chess Records in the ‘50s and early ‘60s.

When Henry returned to Louisiana in 1968, he became a key cog in the Gulf Coast music scene as the keyboard player on many early swamp blues hits. Beginning with the release of They Call Me Little Henry on the Bluebeat imprint in 1977, he enjoyed a successful career as a front man on several labels and gigging frequently with harmonica player Bob Corritore, his partner on his final two CDs.

Captured during live performances in London, Stafford and Shiplake, England; Schwelgen and Alesund, Norway; Dunkirk, France; and Belfast, Northern Ireland; in 1994 and 1995, this set was produced, recorded and mixed by Steve Coleridge who served as the bassist on several of the sessions. The instrumentation varies from cut to cut and includes guitarists Derek Holt, Andrea Curbelo, Colin John, Richard Rhoden and Big Moe, drummer Keith “The Baron” Webb – who handles vocals on one cut — and harp players Shakey Vick, Jolly Jumper and Errol Linton.

After a brief introduction from The Baron, the action kicks off with a cover of “Shake a Hand,” an R&B chart-topper that was first recorded by Faye Adams in 1953. Gray’s powerful bass runs with his left hand support delicate trills with his right, and his voice is full of emotion as the tune opens as a ballad, erupts into a rocker and alternates to a close. He dips into the first generation of Chicago blues for a propulsive cover of Leroy Carr’s “How Long” before an uptempo attack on the standard, “Sweet Home Chicago.”

Big Moe’s slide carries the Gray original, “All in My Sleep,” with Henry taking a break from the 88s to provide vocals and launching into a rollicking, but unhurried version of “Down Home Blues,” which dominated the airwaves via covers by Z.Z. Hill and Denise LaSalle a decade earlier. “It Hurts Me Too,” a song the pianist played frequently behind Elmore James, follows before he revisits the original, “I’m a Lucky Man,” the tune that put him on the map as a band leader.

A muscular rendition of Lowell Fulson’s “Sinner’s Prayer (aka Lord Have Mercy)” Lowell Fulson precedes the self-penned “How Can You Do It?” before Gray pays tribute to two of his former frontmen with traditional takes of Wolf’s “Little Red Rooster” and Reed’s “Boogie in the Dark” before Little Richard’s “Tutti Fruitti” and Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” bookend Memphis Minnie’s 1932 classic, “Everybody’s Fishing.” Wolf’s “Howlin’ for My Darlin’” and Fats Domino’s “My Girl Josephine” follow before “Good Bye Baby,” a tune Henry recorded with harp player Alfred Harris and guitarist Little Hudson in 1955, bring the set to a close.

Henry Gray released great CDs late into his golden years. But he’s at the top of his game in this flashback. It’s a treat for anyone with a passion for traditional blues piano.

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 – 8 of 8 

imageJosh Hyde – Parish Blues


CD: 9 Songs, 30 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues, Mellow Blues, All Original Songs

Are the 1990s a decade you want to remember or forget? If the name Nirvana sends a shiver of revulsion up your spine, don’t worry. There were also gentler, more mellow artists such as the Dave Matthews Band, Matchbox 20, and Eric Clapton in the days of Journeyman (1989, but close enough) and Pilgrim (1998). Louisiana’s Josh Hyde, in offering us Parish Blues, brings the languid, lucid style of twenty years ago back to the forefront. On guitar, he’s top-tier and aiming for god-tier. On songwriting, he’s a promising poet. His vocals take acclimatization and multiple repeats of this CD in your stereo or MP3 player, but, hey. Not everyone thought Dave Matthews sang superbly on “Crash Into Me.” Also, the blues on tap here borders on easy listening. “So Sweet” and “So Long” are so good, and as for the rest? “Where to Start”? At the beginning.

Josh was born in Baton Rouge, LA, spending most of his youth in that city and the Big Easy. He grew up with blues, jazz and zydeco as part of the landscape, not just trendy musical fads that he happened to like. He was barely seven when his family moved to New Orleans for a time. At 11, he wrote “Mississippi Bridge,” a deeply personal song about riding the bus to visit his father every two weeks. As a teenager, he became surrounded by the blues in the Baton Rouge music scene. While playing at Tabby’s Blues Box, he got to meet the Neal Brothers, Tabby Thomas, and Silas Hogan. His Into the Soul album received critical acclaim, including in this venue.

He performs on guitar and vox, along with Jamey Bell on drums, Jimmy Wallace on keyboards, Rockin’ Jake on harmonica, Shawn Stroope on bass, and Derrek Phillips on percussion.

Sonny Landreth has described his guitar style as “funky, atmospheric and soulful.” Not to be outdone, Elmore Magazine praised his “emotive voice, shifting of moods, and melodic touch.”

What about Blues Blast Magazine? As Rainey Wetnight, I cannot speak for every listener or every reviewer. I can say that Sonny and EM are absolutely correct regarding his musicianship. If he maintains his passion while improving his vocal and other technical skills, I guarantee that he’ll be a household name before the decade’s up. He’s certainly got the love and atmosphere for the blues.

Parish Blues brings the longing, mellow side of the 1990s and the genre as a whole back in vogue!

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.


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