Issue 16-21 May 27, 2022

Cover photo © Bob Hakins


 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Laurie Morvan. We have six Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Bernie Pearl, Charlie Musselwhite, Albert Cummings, Kenny Neal, Mark Nomad and Ronan One Man Band & Marko Balland. Scroll down and check it out!


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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.


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 Featured Interview – Laurie Morvan

imageBlues artists come from all directions in all directions in the modern world. And even if you’re born into a family rife with problems deep enough to sing about, your trip from home to the music can take mighty interesting turns along the way. Take the case of blues-rock guitarist Laurie Morvan for example.

Based out of Long Beach, Calif., since the early ‘80s, she’s a powerful vocalist and songwriter with high-octane, take-no-prisoners attitude. Standing 5-foot-10 and breathing fire through her Fender Stratocaster, she possesses a commanding stage presence, delivering original tunes delivered from a unique point of view and keeping audiences engaged with frequently humorous banter, too.

Give her a listen and you’ll be certain that place in the music world is where Laurie belongs. But her life could have been far different – and was for quite a while. Born in Jackson, Mich., she grew up in New Lenox, Joliet and Plainfield, Ill., only an hour or so from the heart of the blues on the South Side of Chicago but situated in the cornfields 50 miles or so – and light years — away.

“We moved from Jackson when I was about six months old…to Bittersweet Lane in New Lenox, Ill.,” she told Blues Blast in a recent interview. “How bluesy is that?”

The daughter of an alcoholic womanizer, Morvan’s birth father walked out of the home for good when Laurie was five years old. And life wasn’t easy for the ladies he left behind.

“After he left us, my mom and I spent years in various little, cheap upstairs apartments in non-descript, wrecked buildings in Joliet. I remember seeing the hardships that my mother was going through after the divorce,” she says. Despite her tender age, she had epiphany that I needed to always be able to take care of myself financially…that I had to acquire skills that would always put food on the table and a roof over my head.”

After her mom remarried, moved to neighboring Plainfield and the newlyweds built their dream home by hand. Life was far more upbeat, but the drive to succeed has propelled Morvan’s life ever since, noting: “My calling is to be a musician…I’m 100 per cent clear on that. That’s who I am.

“But I know I have other skills, and I’m gonna use everything I’ve got. And if I didn’t have my other skills, the last two years of COVID would’ve been unbearable!”

The new man in her life truly became “Dad” from the jump, and their new home was always full of music — everything but the blues. “Mom would put on WLS (the 50,000-watt rock radio giant out of the Windy City), and my dad listened to country, which – at the time – drove me crazy a little bit. But I did grow to appreciate the songwriting part of it.”

Like most Midwestern teens, Morvan was into all forms of rock, R&B and disco. And her new father was tolerant of everything except KISS, banning their music from the house. An honors student, Laurie played flute in a community-wide Catholic elementary school band because none of the parochial schools in the vicinity had music programs of their own.

“At the time,” she remembers, “I wanted to play drums. But my mom had this vision of a big, loud drum kit. Later on, she told me she had no idea that practice pads existed. She said: ‘How ‘bout the flute?’”

At the time, she wasn’t happy. Today, however, she’s glad she did because one of the benefits was that she learned how to read charts. When it came time for her to enroll in the public school, however, she kept playing flute in the concert band but became a percussionist in the marching ensemble.

“The very first piece of music I ever composed,” she says, “was for my high school percussion section when I was 17.” Composed of everything from bass, snare and cymbals and much more, it was a large unit and complicated chart that Morvan wrote out by hand. It proved to be such a successful effort that her band director adopted it as his regular drum cadence and continued to use it for years after she left.

Always an overachiever, Laurie started working at a Rustler Steak House at age 16 to saving money for college. She moved on to Gee Lumber – “there was no Walmart or Home Depot in our small town” — a year or so later. It was there that she met Brendan Ryan. Now a lifelong friend, he played a key role in Morvan’s eventual decision to become a musician.

“We were hanging out one day,” she remembers, “and he said: ‘Check out this acoustic guitar.’ I grabbed it, and he showed me how to make a chord. I strummed it, and it hit me like a lightning bolt: This is the best thing in the history of the world!”

imageHer love affair with the six-string has been unabated ever since.

Even so, however, Laurie grew up envisioning herself as an athlete, not a blues-rock guitarist. At the time, she says, like bands, there were no girls’ sports at Catholic grade schools, adding: “I knew I didn’t want to play with dolls – and I wasn’t trying to break any barriers or make a statement — but all I wanted to do was go out and play baseball and basketball, football and tag and all that. I was just a little kid sayin’: ‘Hey, that looks fun. I’m gonna do that.’”

She got finally her chance to compete during her freshman year at Plainfield High School. Title IX, a landmark ruling that barred sexual inequality in education, had recently gone into effect and — for the first time ever — girls were starting to field teams that competed against rival schools instead of being confined to intramural play.

“I earned 12 varsity letters in four years in volleyball, basketball, softball and track,” Morvan says proudly — doing so at such a high level that she was honored with eventual induction in the school’s athletic hall of fame. “When I was a senior, my volleyball coach came to me and said: ‘There’s some colleges asking about you.’

“But I said: ‘Tell ‘em all ‘no’ because I’m going to go to the University of Illinois and be an electrical engineer and I have to study all the time — and that’s all I’ll have time to do!’”

True to her word, once in Champaign-Urbana, she hit the books, but eventual realized she did have the time because she was also spending three hours a day in the gym in pick-up games against the boys. During her sophomore year, she finally approached an assistant volleyball coach at a game one day, asked if she was looking for any more players, got a tryout and eventually earned a full athletic scholarship for her junior and senior years – a major accomplishment in and of itself considering that it was a major-conference, Big Ten program.

“They called me up that summer to tell me,” Laurie recalls. “I cried, and my mom cried. I’d been working since I was 16 and had saved up enough money for the first two years, but I had no idea how I was going to pay for that next year of school.”

Even so, Morvan insists, “I was more of rock star as an electrical engineering student.” And she isn’t kidding. Graduating with honors, she also took home both of her department’s most prestigious prizes — the A.R. “Buck” Knight Award and George Hu Award — for outstanding achievement in and out of the classroom.

Heavily recruited and flown all over the country for interviews because of a boom in the engineering field at the time, she landed a job at TRW Aerospace in Redondo Beach, Calif. But her love for the six-string continued to be a growing, burning passion.

She bought her first electric, a Peavey T-60, and then traded it almost in immediately for a white Les Paul Custom fitted with gold hardware and an ebony fretboard. Not long after, she joined her first band, a rock cover group that worked greater Los Angeles, as its singer and rhythm guitarist.

Three years into her day job, she says, “I went into my boss – who looked exactly like the Marlboro man – and said: ‘Bob, I’m quittin’ engineering to go play music,’ and he about fell out of his chair. I said: ‘I gotta go do it, man. I gotta go do it!’

“He understood it. He said: ‘I get it. It’s a calling.’”

Morvan says the Les Paul eventually went by the wayside to pay the rent while she was playing everything from dive bars to upscale casinos with a Top 40 cover band in California and Nevada. But she’d already picked up her first red Strat along the way – and a burning desire to play lead, schooling herself by exploring the work of dozens of rock guitarists and practicing four or five hours each day before her nighttime gigs.

Her passion for the blues began through her discovery of Stevie Ray Vaughan – something that happened during a visit home when her friend Brendan suggested she give him a listen. “His sister’s best friend was married to Chris Layton (Stevie’s drummer and co-founder of Double Trouble),” Laurie recalls. “He said to me: ‘You gotta check out this guy!’

“Hearing Stevie’s music just grabbed ahold of my heart. He was my bridge. His melodic sensibilities…it was just an easy crossroad for me. It made sense because of my rock-‘n’-roll history. He was a musical genius…the perfect storm of ‘giftedness’…winning the biological lottery, realizing his calling, pursuing it against all odds and putting in about one billion hours of practice, too. I felt that visceral connection.

“Not only was he a great guitar player, but he was also a very, very good singer. It’s like B.B. King, another musical genius. He always knew exactly what to play and exactly what to sing, and the emotion came through every note. It was always right – and just what you wanted to hear!

“I never saw him live, which is tragic, because he’d be comin’ through town and I’d have my own gigs. I’d be like: ‘Well, I’ll catch him next time…’ Well, there was no next time. Let that be a lesson.

image“Live music is ephemeral. You’ve got to go out there and see it to experience it. It doesn’t matter how many videos you watch of somebody or how many magazines you read. You’ve just gotta go out there and get punched in the gut by it. You’ve gotta feel it live!”

Despite the epiphany, Morvan’s transition to the blues took time. Stevie was like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, leading her down the rabbit hole, but she still had to find her own way.

“He opened a gateway and I started exploring everybody else,” she says. “It wasn’t like ‘BOOM!’ overnight. It took me a while to make that turn. It was: ‘Yeah, this rock-‘n’-roll/pop stuff is cool, but this blues stuff over here kinda keeps calling me.’

“I kept turning my attention more…and more…and more…that way until it became my sole focus. The deeper I got, the more it connected. Stevie was an immediate pipeline to Albert King. Then I was exploring B.B. and Freddie King.”

After a while, when she started tracing Eric Clapton’s blues roots, her list grew exponentially.

“I was opening an unbelievable musical pallet,” she says, “and when you do that, you find things that are unbelievably tasty. I think acoustic blues is wonderful and beautiful, but it wasn’t as interesting to me as the more power-driven blues of Albert, Freddie and Albert Collins.

“Frankly, there’s not enough hours in the day to get good at all of it. The blues is such a huge pallet. And there’s also a lot of misconception of how easy it is. The structure is streamlined or kinda simple. But to do it well, there’s a lot of nuance that has to happen. That takes maturity and musical sensibility.”

As someone whose original songs are frequently deeply nuanced and almost always arranged in a specific manner, Morvan says she’s run into difficulties with musicians who’ve failed to do their homework in advance of an audition because they believe the blues to be nothing more than “good-time music.”

Laurie took years to find her blues footing, something that began slowly by working Jimi Hendrix and Clapton tunes into sets that also included plenty of Joan Jett, Heart, Scandal and other rockers. The scales started tipping more as Stevie, Freddie, B.B. and others started finding a place in her act alongside her own tunes, which were becoming more and more bluesy, too. The transition finally took hold for good in the early 2000s.

Through it all, she insists, she’s never been someone who’s tried to cop other artists’ styles note-for-note, adding: “Sounding like someone else has never been one of my goals. But studying what they do and understanding the music is.

“It’s important to acknowledge and respect the past while having it coexist in the music you feel in your own heart. My solos have to tell their own story. I’m not going to just go and flail. Some people can do it, and it’s great. But I sorta need a direction and know how I want the solo to move the song forward musically.”

Morvan always dreamed of a recording career but quickly came to realize that – as an independent artist – it’s an extremely costly proposition. Knowing that she’d almost certainly have to fund everything herself, she decided to go back to school in the late ‘80s, earned a master’s degree in applied mathematics and began teaching classes at Cypress College in Orange County, a side job that she’s maintained for the past 30 years.

Her debut came in 1997 while fronting the band Backroad Shack with the all-original CD, Out of the Woods. “That album was the beginning,” she says, “less blues and more rock. But you can hear the blues influence in the opener, ‘Shoulda Known Better.’

“That’s when I’m just starting to turn the ship.”

Her transition was finally complete seven years later when her unit, now billed as the Laurie Morvan Band, released the aptly titled CD, Find My Way Home. Its 2007 follow-up, Cure What Ails Ya, which emulated the sound of live performance, helped the group achieve what’s jokingly referred to in the industry as “overnight” success.

“I was finally starting to find my voice in the blues-rock world,” Laurie says, “and my songwriting, singing and playing are gaining a nice focus.”

Propelled by positive reviews and the tune, “Kickin’ Down Doors,” Morvan was interviewed in Guitar Player magazine, received airplay on Dan Aykroyd’s House of Blues Radio Hour and more. After winning local competition for the International Blues Challenge, the band made it to the finals in Memphis the following January and their CD was a finalist for best self-produced album, too.

“That’s the year that Trampled Under Foot won,” Laurie points out wistfully, “and you’re not gonna beat Trampled Under Foot. You’re not gonna beat Danielle Schnebelen. What a great voice! Kudos to her…she’s another one who won the biological lottery!”

imageMaking it to the finals and networking during the event proved to be a major door-opener though. Serving as her own agent, Morvan got on the phone and was soon booking tours that ventured as far as  the Midwest. Then her follow-up, Fire It Up!, which was co-produced with Steve Savage (Elvin Bishop/Robert Cray), her next album, took top honors in the 2010 IBCs and her next one, Breathe So Deep, lead to national and international tours.

“It was nice to have validation that I’m on the right track and doing something right,” she admits, “’cause the business is so-o-o hard and can tear at your confidence and tear at your will. When things like that happen, it is a little boost…it really does help.”

Unfortunately, despite the building momentum, Laurie’s career came to a sudden halt in 2014 when she broke her right wrist in a fall at home – an injury so severe that it required two surgeries to repair. But things were upbeat again in 2017 when she joined forces with Grammy-winning producer Tony Braunagel to record Gravity. Laid down at guitarist Johnny Lee Schell’s Ultratone Studios in L.A., it featured three of the organ master Mike Finnigan and other members of the Taj Mahal and Phantom Blues Band and keyboard giants Jim Pugh and Barry Goldberg, too.

“I’ve tried to grow with each CD, and I feel like that one’s the culmination of all the hard work we’ve put in before,” Morvan says, “and I’m not a person who can go in and do an album in one week. I admire people who can do that, but for me, it’s different.

“I record all the basic tracks – and, if things go well, some of my solos – in my home studio in a week or so. But then I take my time listening to everything while I drinking my coffee and wearing my fuzzy slippers (laughs). I have my guitar there, too, and try to play things I hadn’t played before…different things, different settings, new melodies and all of that.

“I don’t have the pressure of ‘oh, my god! It’s $100 an hour in the studio.’”

Sadly, by the time Gravity was finally ready, Morvan notes, COVID-19 was beginning to make inroads around the globe. “I know a lot of artists made new records during COVID, and I had intended to,” she adds, quickly getting emotional. “But my mom (now deceased) had a stroke…and that just leveled me. Honestly, I didn’t really care if I played another show. I didn’t have any music in me for a while.

“Now, I’m ready.

“Through it all, I’ve still been writing, of course. I have a lot of joys in my life, but writing songs is so satisfying to me that it’s hard to describe how good it makes me feel.”

The majority of her originals deliver upbeat messages drawn from her own life experience – something, she says, that pays off occasionally when someone in the audience approaches after a show, details his or her own troubles and relates how a certain one of her songs helped them to ease their suffering and make sense of it all.

“Woo! That raises the hairs on my arm!” Morvan admits. “I think we musicians have a sacred calling to get out there and spread love and healing – and you do that through every emotion in a song…joy, sadness, grief, anger…all that stuff. I feel truly blessed that I can do that and that people out there want to hear what I can do. I feel so lucky…(tearing up)…it’s a miracle!

“I still feel like Gravity is my ‘new’ record,” she says. “Hopefully, our tours can happen this year and we can promote it…fingers crossed…and I hope nobody else gets COVID or dies from it either.”

Laurie and her band are chopping at the bit to get back on the road. And they’re truly a “family” in more ways than through song.

imagePat Morvan, her ex-husband, has been playing bass with her since she landed in California. His wife, Susan, handles merchandise and does most of the driving. Laurie’s wife of 21 years, Lisa, shares vocals, and keyboard player Tommy Salyers has been with them for years. The only newcomer is drummer Robert Gates who’s just come aboard as a replacement for Lonnie Jones who recently decided to leave the road and go back to continue his education.

“We’re the Fleetwood Mac of the blues,” Laurie jokes, an azure version of Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie whose romantic ups-and-downs are imbued in rock-‘n’-roll history. “But – for us — that’s been a lo-o-ong time ago.

“It was really hard when those changes happened. But Pat and I, we have the relationship now that we were always supposed to have, which is…we’re friends. That’s what we were always supposed to be. We tried to be a married couple, and that just wasn’t the right time.

“When you get a divorce, you feel like your whole world crashes in. But for us, we continued to be respectful and nice to each other through all of that, which is why we can be friends. We never did ‘oh, you’re this terrible person ‘cause you did this…’

“Our personalities are such that we’re self-reflective – and we both just realized we were in a place we weren’t supposed to be. The fact that we both went on to find the true loves in our lives is a testament to that.

“The music held us together and allowed us to be friends. I can’t imagine my life without Pat and Susan.”

The second half of 2022 should be a big year for Laurie and her entourage if all goes as planned.

“It took a while to ramp things up because of COVID,” she says. “But after playing up and down California in June, we’re doing our first real Canadian tour into British Columbia and Alberta in July, playing the Calgary Blues Festival. We only played a few other Canadian festival dates in the past. Then we drop down and play the Billings Blues Festival in Montana, more dates in the Upper Midwest before touring the Midwest, where we’re headlining the Joliet Blues Festival, where I grew up! It’s so exciting!

“Then we return to California for a month before our first Southern tour, including the Bogalusa Blues Festival in Louisiana and then, two weeks later, the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Ark., with other stops in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi – and, hopefully, in Texas on the way back.

“It’s a routine we hope to repeat every six months so that they become part of our regular routine. I want to bring my music exactly everywhere! It’s unbelievable how our expenses have exploded in the past ten years and even more lately. But we’re blessed to have played in places enough times where fans have become friends and family, too.

“I call ‘em ‘blues angels,’” she says, “and it’s a tall order to have six up six people like us invading your house. But without that network that eases the burden a little, I don’t know what we’d do. We’re truly blessed.

“For anyone out there reading this, just know that the band you’re seeing today has gone through a gauntlet to be there for you. So, please, be nice to ‘em!”

Check out Laurie’s music — and where you’ll find them – by visiting her website: www.lauriemorvan.com

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.


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

imageBernie Pearl – Just The Blues Music

Bee Bump Music – 2022

www.berniepearl.com

14 tracks; 57 minutes

When Bernie Pearl’s wife suggested that he should produce an all instrumental album suitable for long car drives it made Bernie reflect on some of his previous recordings. Between albums made in the 90’s with Papa John Creach and Harvey ‘Harmonica Fats’ Blackston and two of his own band albums from this century, Bernie found enough instrumentals to form a new album. What we have here is both a retrospective of Bernie’s band and collaborations with older bluesmen but also an historical document, worthy of our attention.

The Bernie Pearl band is Bernie on rhythm, slide and acoustic guitars, Terry de Rouen on lead guitar, Hollis Gilmore on tenor sax, Mike Barry on bass and Albert Trepagnier Jr. on drums; piano is either Leon Blue or Dwayne Smith and, of course, Papa John Creach plays violin and Harmonica Fats harp on some of the tunes. The oldest material comes from an album entitled I Had To Get Nasty, made in 1991 with Harmonica Fats; seeing Bernie sell copies from the bandstand, Papa John’s wife saw that that was what her husband needed and Papa Blues followed in 1992, the violinist’s first album under his own name (though Classic Rock fans will recall his contributions to albums by Jefferson Airplane/Starship in the 70’s). The remaining cuts are drawn from Bernie’s albums Somebody Got To Do It! (2006) and Take Your Time (2013). Bernie wrote eight of the tunes, Fats three, Papa one and there are two tunes classed as traditional.

We start with the relaxed rhythms of “Sweet Life Blues”, the band soon joined by Papa’s distinctive violin and space for everyone to take a short solo. Next up Fats introduces the band on “Boogie All The Way” before Bernie pays tribute to one of the greats on “Blues For Lightnin’”, a guitar piece recorded live. “Scufflin’” is great, Papa back on his violin over a riff that sounds rather like Miles Davis’ “So What”, pianist Dwayne Smith featuring strongly. Bernie states in the sleevenotes that “Mississippi Raga” is his interpretation of an obscure Mississippi Fred McDowell tune and the well executed, stately slide work does indeed have an Eastern flavor.

“Low Desert” is a slow grinder written by Fats whose harp is well featured. The band ups the pace for “Slidin’ Defender”, again with Fats on harp and, as the title suggests, plenty of Bernie’s slide. “Baby Please Don’t Go” is the vehicle for Bernie and Papa to trade riffs around the classic traditional tune, both having great fun for over six minutes, supported just by sparse piano and bass. “Papa’s Blues” was concocted to fill a need for a slow blues tune for the album and Papa swoops elegantly over the band, playing beautifully. “Train To Memphis” rockets along, making a good contrast with the previous cut: Papa’s violin is again on board as the band finds a few soul riffs for saxman Hollis to enjoy and for Terry to show us his Steve Cropper licks – good fun!

“10.00 AM Blues” is a light, jazzy piece with Bernie limbering up for the day’s recordings, accompanied just by Mike’s bass. Fats makes his final appearance, blowing a storm on a country blues shuffle appropriately entitled “Harmonica Fats Blows” before two shorter numbers featuring Bernie: “California Hustle” was intended to be a finger-picking exercise but the rhythm section picked up the pace and made Bernie hustle, hence the title; the traditional “I’ll Fly Away” is played solo to close the album.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable album looking back at Bernie’s earlier albums and his two guests. The playing is exemplary throughout and sound quality excellent; it is also good that the running order of the album varies the pace and styles, rather than adopting a chronological approach.

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.


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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6 

imageCharlie Musselwhite – Mississippi Son

Alligator Records

www.charliemusselwhite.com

14 songs

Charlie Musselwhite has given us a gift. The prolific, always exceptional, Blueman delivers in his newest release, Mississippi Son, a personal and intimate dose of raw unadulterated Country Blues from his native Mississippi. Playing guitar, harp and singing, often unaccompanied, Musselwhite’s gift to us in his 79th year is a direct line to the Blues that has been at the heart of his varied and eclectic life in music.

Charlie Musselwhite is one of the leaders of the 2nd wave of Blues popularity in the 60’s and 70’s. After Blues became a national sensation with artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Chuck Berry setting fire to young people’s minds, artists like Buddy Guy, Etta James, Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, Magic Sam, John Primer and Musselwhite took up the Chicago Blues specifically and inhabited the expanded horizons of the hippie movement and the counterculture.

Musselwhite, with his perma-shit-eating-grin, has always exuded a bad boy cool. His often rough and tumble music reflected his younger days as a moonshine runner and day laborer in Memphis. But, Musselwhite has always deeply engaged his artistic soul, consistently producing exceptional and searching music and leading an endless string of killer bands. Mixing in Country Western, R&B, Ragtime, Jazz and even a little Rock, Musselwhite has always kept in the center his facile harp playing, his smooth and emotive voice and his commitment to real deal Blues.

Having recently moved back to Mississippi from his longtime California residency, Musselwhite follows up a string of collaborative projects with Ben Harper and most recently the triumphant duet album with Elvin Bishop, with this personal homecoming album. Mississippi Son features 8 original Blues standing tall next to choice covers of John Lee Hooker, Charlie Patton, the Country legends the Stanley Brothers and surprisingly the late great Austin, TX singer/songwriter Guy Clark. Occasional support is offered by Ricky “Quicksand” Martin on drums and Barry Bays on acoustic standup bass, with understated complimentary accompaniment.

The revelation of Mississippi Son is Charlie Musselwhite the Country Blues guitarist. A renowned harmonica master, Musselwhite started his musical journey as a child with the guitar and has occasionally bent the six strings on previous records. However, Mississippi Son features Musselwhite fully realizing his solo Bluesman muse. Playing with the kind of deeply rhythmic and often raw emotive power of John Lee Hooker and mentor Big Joe Williams (whom he pays tribute to here with an instrumental played on one of Williams’ old guitars), Musselwhite draws in the listener with his pitch perfect performances and expertly idiosyncratic playing.

Musselwhite has always let his Mississippi and Memphis roots shine through his singing. Here the smooth deep golden baritone of his voice perfectly buttresses the effortless phrasing and road worn rasp of his mature singing. Songs like the solo performance of the original slow Blues drag “In Your Darkest Hour” is devastating. Singing with a near whisper “in your lonely room, in your darkest hour, honey call on me,” Musselwhite conveys both exhaustion and strength. The spoken word Guy Clark poem “The Dark,” is given the Blues stamp. Musselwhite simply deploys his speaking voice and perfectly conveys the menace and protection that Clark was so exactingly describing.

Musselwhite demonstrates his genius as a Bluesman throughout this moving album. But, on the original album opener “Blues Up the River,” Musselwhite truly shows his mastery of the form. Supported by Martin and Bays, Musselwhite snakes his electric guitar and harp work through a song that is deceptively simple. Describing how his blues up the river “flow down to the gulf” he’s gonna “drink muddy water till I’ve had enough.” Musselwhite celebrates the Delta while also acknowledging the mud and dirt that comes with it. This song sets the stage for what is to come while firmly rooting the affection and connection Musselwhite feels to the land, to the region of his birth.

Charlie Musselwhite clearly has nothing to prove. He has released over 40 albums and is a living legend. He is a Grammy winner and has played with most of the significant musical icons of the past 50 years. Instead of simply repeating what works, Musselwhite is a searcher. He finds new collaborators, he stays on the road to keep testifying to the Blues, and he makes a record like Mississippi Son. This album is daring in its simplicity. It is moving in its expressiveness. And it’s endlessly entertaining. Thanks for the gift Charlie.

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.


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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6 

imageAlbert Cummings – Ten

Ivy Music IMC0001

www.albertcummings.com

13 songs – 51 minutes

Williamstown, Mass.-born guitar slinger Albert Cummings established new ground on his most recent previous release, the well-rounded and bluesy Believe, which was recorded in Muscle Shoals, Ala., infusing country into his usual mix of blues-rock. And he keeps the trajectory going with this one – the tenth album in his catalog. Not only was it recorded in Nashville, but it also features country giant Vince Gill in the lineup.

Downhome music has always played a major role in Albert’s life. After all, he started out playing banjo through his love for bluegrass, he started becoming interested in the six-string in his late teens after picking up a couple of Stevie Ray Vaughan records. But he wasn’t hooked until attending college in 1987 and being overwhelmed when he finally caught Stevie in concert.

It took another decade before Cummings played out in public for the first time and subsequently formed his first power blues trio, Swamp Yankee, which spent just two hours in the studio recording the critically acclaimed The Long Way, their only album. Albert went solo in the late ‘90s after winning the right to compete in the International Blues Challenge, and he recruited Vaughan’s first Double Trouble rhythm section, Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton, to produce and play on his debut CD, From the Heart, in 2003.

Cummings has been in the spotlight nationally since serving as B.B. King’s opening act, he’s never shied away from incorporating other forms of music into his blues. And he’s always worked with top-shelf folks in the studio, including Grammy winner Jim Gaines who was at the controls to produce Believe – something that continues here with fellow Grammy winner Chuck Ainlay supervising this one at Peter Frampton’s Phenix Studios in Music City.

Albert handles guitar and vocals aided by several of the top session players in the city, including Michael Rojas (keys), Sam Levine (saxes), Roy Agee (trombone), Steve Patrick (trumpet) and Rob McNelley on second guitar. Bassist Glenn Worf and drummer Greg Morrow hold down the bottom with backing vocals from Vicki Hampton and Perry Coleman throughout. Gill lends his voice to one track.

Albert penned all 13 emotion-rich tracks, several of which delve farther into storytelling than he’s gone in the past, and all of them combine to encapsulate his life up to this point – something he notes on his website. “Need Somebody” powers out of the gate to open, delivering the driving, riff-infused blues-rock that fans love, as Cummings’ vocals cry out for a lady to love. An uptempo shuffle, it flows into “Too Old to Grow Up” as Albert describes himself as someone who “won’t come home ‘til the partyin’ is all done” – words that are imbued with just the slightest Southern accent.

He goes semi-acoustic and the sound mellows for “Hard Way,” which builds in intensity as it honors Albert’s dad who grew up on a farm and served in the military during a war — “a hard man with a heart of gold who walks around town with a story untold.” A sweet tribute, it’s accented by rich choral accompaniment throughout. The blues and country are first cousins, and that’s never been more apparent than in “Last Call,” a fast-paced number aided by Gill that describes – what else! – closing time in a honkytonk.

The feel shifts once again for “Beautiful Bride,” a gentle ballad that Cummings first sang at his wedding. It celebrates his undying love for wife Christina, describing her as “my umbrella when it rains and my rescue when I’m in pain.” Sweeping guitar runs open “Sounds Like the Road,” a rocker that describes a trip to the doctor during which Albert’s prescribed instructions to assemble his band and get back to doing what he does best.

“Meet the Man,” an acoustic ballad with country flair, announces the impending demise of the singer before Cummings adopts a sound akin to the blue-eyed soul of Jerry Reed – think “Amos Moses” — in “Two Hands,” a rocker that pushes the message that hard work will always pay off. Another red-clay pleaser, the ballad “Take Me Away,” describes driving in the country in an attempt to leave troubles behind in an effort leave troubles behind while the horn-powered “Alive and Breathing” kicks up the funk as Albert celebrates finding solace after all.

Another powerful love song, “She’s the One,” follows before “Got You Covered” delivers a little Nashville soul and the quiet ballad, “Remember,” brings the disc to a close.

Blues fans will find a lot to lot to like with this one. And don’t be surprised if a couple of tunes cross over to the country market, too. They rock!

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.


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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6 

imageKenny Neal – Straight From The Heart

Ruf Records – 2022

www.kennyneal.net

11 tracks; 47 minutes

Kenny Neal returned to his Louisiana roots to make this record, having never before recorded on home turf. The recording studio was in Baton Rouge and mixing was done by Boo Mitchell at Royal Studios in Memphis. Kenny might be considered a veteran, yet this album has a freshness and vibrancy, making it his best in a long time, the music ranging widely on six originals and five covers. Kenny is on vocals, guitar and harmonica and is joined by Darnell Neal and Terrell Griffin on bass, Michael Harris and Bryan Morris on drums, Arnet Hayes, Brandon Adams, Orlando Henry and Darrell Jefferson provide keyboards and a two man horn section contributes to every track: Ian Smith on trumpet and Jason Parfait on sax, with arrangements by Kenny and Brandon Adams. Backing vocals on two songs come from Sharisse Norman and Shontelle Norman-Beatty while Tito Jackson and Syreeta Neal join Kenny on vocals on one song. Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. and the Zydeco Twisters appear on two cuts: Anthony Dopsie, Dwayne Dopsie and Big Nate Williams on accordion, Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. on washboard, Lee Allen on bass and Kevin Menard on drums; Rockin’ Dopsie also adds his washboard to the final track, “New Orleans”.

The album opens in fine style with “Blues Keep Chasing Me”, that classic tale of being dogged by the blues, the horns outstanding, but “Mount Up On The Wings Of The King” is simply superb, recent Grammy winner Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram co-writing and sharing guitar duties, with perhaps a message for some of Kingfish’s fellow Grammy winners: “Don’t touch a string until you’ve listened to some BB King”. Showing that he has deep respect for more than one King, Kenny follows that with a brilliant cover of “I’ll Play The Blues For You”, demonstrating as sure a touch on the typical Albert bends as he did on the BB tribute. Tito Jackson guests on vocals on “Two Timing”, a slinky Rn’B tune about infidelity written by Tito’s regular songwriter, Michael Kurt Jackson, and there are two zydeco tunes on which Kenny is backed by The Zydeco Twisters, “Bon Temps Rouler” and “Louise Ana” (or Louisiana!). Kenny closes the album with a swaggering tribute to “New Orleans” including a few cheeky quotes from New Orleans classics.

Of course, Kenny plays harmonica as well as guitar, as he does on the gently rolling “Louise Ana” and “It Don’t Cost Nothing”, an urgent call for people to behave better to one another: “If you let evil get the best of you, you are the one to blame”. He also plays some high-pitched harp on his late father Raful’s “It’s Been So Long”. A fine version of Junior Parker’s “Someone Somewhere” is dedicated to Raful and is another outstanding cut with great sax and guitar. The cover of Joe ‘Survival’ Caruso’s “I Got To Tell Somebody” has arguably Kenny’s best guitar work on the album, but, frankly, every track is great. Definitely 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.


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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

imageMark Nomad – All One

Blue Star Records

https://marknomad.com/

CD: 11 Songs, 43 Minutes

Styles: Acoustic Blues, Harmonica Blues, Live Album, Solo Album

One man. One guitar. One harmonica. One stage. One album, entitled All One.

“Recorded completely live, some place, some time,” reads the back of the CD cover.

All righty, then. What to make of this solo album? It’s not a random offering from your local coffee-shop performer. It’s a release from Mark Nomad, personable and prolific, whose songs have been heard on radio stations all over the world, and in commercials and film. His blues have been tempered by years of living and experience, expressed by the plaintive cry of a bottleneck or the driving funk of his electric band. Here, he relies on his harp and acoustic guitar to carry him through eleven songs – seven originals and four covers (“Mellow Down Easy,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” “You Got to Move,” and “My Trouble Blues”).

The good news? All the tunes are pure blues. There’s no funk, no rock and roll, no country, no R&B, no Americana. The less-good news? Despite Nomad’s love of the music and enthusiasm for it, All One lacks energy. Verve. Pizzazz. I understand that not every blues artist is Walter Trout, but yours truly would have appreciated a thundering, hard-driving number in the midst of mellow ones such as “You Took More Than You Gave” (a highlight) and “Green Eyes” (which has a hook you won’t get out of your head for the rest of the day or night). Nomad’s talent is clear, especially on instrumentation, but his vocals are a bit on the muffled side. Maybe that’s the mixing board’s fault, but if your pipes aren’t your strength, all the better to capitalize on guitar.

The Nomad moniker was born in Chicago when he sat in with the Jimmy Johnson Band at B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted Street. Nomad began playing the blues in the 1960s, and by the ‘70s, he was sharing the concert stage with many of the biggest names in show business. He was co- founder of the original Little Village. Their debut album is considered a collector’s item and the band was legendary in the Northeast. Nomad penned a jingle for the Subway fast food chain in their early days. Another composition was used as the theme for WBAB, a major New York radio station, for 10 years. Nomad has performed at venues such as the Bottom Line, House of Blues, Bushnell Memorial, Toad’s Place, China Club, Iron Horse, Palace Theater, New Haven Colosseum and scores of colleges and blues festivals.

Make no mistake. All One is a decent effort. However, if you’re looking to party, this CD would serve better as background music at an outdoor barbecue than in your favorite bar’s jukebox.

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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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

imageRonan One Man Band & Marko Balland – Long Way From Home

Self Release

https://www.markoballand.com

13 songs time-64:14

Blues pared down to the basics via hellhound gruff vocals, gritty guitar beats, harmonica delivered ala John Lee Hooker style, R.L.Burnside-Junior Kimbrough North Mississippi blues style or an amalgamation of the two. Sports fans this is sh*t kicking juke joint blues for the most part. They do slow things down a few times. If you are looking for melodies or ballads, boy did you come to the wrong place. If you want to get shaken to your core, this is the place. Crank it up and fasten your seat belts. Ronan One Man Band is the possessor of one wicked other-worldly blues growl of a voice. He drives the songs with his powerful electric or acoustic guitar antics. Supposedly he provides the percussion with some outside help.

His partner in crime on a great wandering harmonica sound is Marko Balland. Where is this virtual juke joint you may ask? Well, but of course, France. You heard it right. Actually it isn’t that surprising, as many American ex-pat blues musicians have taken France as their second home and to much success.

A version of John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillun”, here titled “Boogie Chilum”, Is a good introduction to the raucous grooves that make up the major part of this project. Ronan’s powerful growl of a voice combined with his hard guitar attack are a force to be reckoned with. Variations of the John Lee Hooker boogie rear their head throughout the recording. Marco Balland’s amplified harmonica is a constant companion, weaving it’s sinewy self in and around the grooves. “Going Down South” bares a close resemblance to R.L. Burnsides’ version. Ronan beats the hell out of his National Steel guitar on “Nothing But The Blues”, the only song with more traditional drums via Stephane Avellaneda.

Mathieu Pesque’ provides banjo on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Poor Boy” to add to the National Steel to enhance the “stringy” front porch feeling. Also the omnipresent harmonica doesn’t hurt one bit. Among the other blues chestnuts covered here are Anna Meyer’s “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” that she recorded in 1922. Over the years it has been recorded by Billie Holiday, Jimmie Witherspoon and Mississippi John Hurt among others. Blind Willie Johnson’s “In My Time Of Dying” benefits from Hooker boogie injection. Ronan’s feral growl appropriately manifests itself in “Lonesome Wolf”. Marko’s harp really shines here juxtaposed to the National Steel jangle.

File this under slow intensity-“Too Tired”. Yes the growl works on the slow stuff as well. Acoustic slide guitar entangles with the warbling harmonica to cast a spell on the listener. By the end of this I’m deep in the Louisiana swamps. The classic “Walking Blues” receives a slow and deliberate reading to good affect. The Hooker boogie takes things home on the intense “Feeling Bad”.

This record is a great respite from the tamer band driven blues. If this stuff doesn’t kick butt, butt can’t be kicked. What a manic voice paired with driving music. Nothing more to say…Just crank this dude up !!!

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


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