Issue 16-30 July 28, 2022


Cover photo © 2022 Roman Sobus

 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with renowned drum master Kenny Smith. We have six Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Johnny Sansone, Early Times & the High Rollers, Rune Robert Friis, HowellDevine, Juke Joint Jonny and the Kindred Spirits and Mike Morgan & The Crawl. Scroll down and check it out!



 Featured Interview – Kenny Smith 

imageWhen the conversation rolls around to the top blues drummers, Kenny Smith will certainly be one of the first percussionists to be mentioned. Learning from his father, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, the Hall Of Fame drummer who was a key member of the Muddy Waters Band, the younger Smith has been a fixture on the blues scene, a first-call musician who can adapt to the various styles of the music while laying down a rock-solid rhythmic foundation at every turn.

In 2017, Smith released a project under his own name, Drop The Hammer, on his own Big Eye Records label, formed as a living tribute to honor his father. His instrumental backing came from a group he named the House Bumpers, which consisted of an array of veteran guitar players including Billy Flynn, Guy King, Ari Seder, Greg Guy, and Nelson Strange, along with Felton Crews on bass, Luca Chiellini on keyboards, plus Sugar Blue and Omar Coleman on harmonica. Smith handled the drums and percussion, wrote the arrangements, and laid down the lead vocals.

“My goal was to feature musicians who normally are in the background, making music all the time but never getting to be the focus. So even though I called them the House Bumpers, it was a group effort. Everybody participated, there wasn’t just one shining star. On stage, people would see a variety of faces making strong contributions because they are comfortable in their element.

“Musically, for me, that album was stuff that had been brewing in my head and needed to come out. It was the way I felt, feelings that needed to come out right now at that point in time, in the styles and approaches that I used. Of the twelve songs, I wrote all but one. The other one I co-wrote with Billy Flynn. But the big thing was letting the musicians have a chance to shine. Like me, they are typically in the background. Normally, all you see of me is the top of my hat! It was a refreshing change.

“I know the business, how things work. I still work with other record labels. But I want to be an all-around guy, so I wanted to put my skills to good use. I released a couple albums with my father while he was still alive. It’s nice to be able to do your own thing. I remember the days when it cost $20,000 or more to do an album. It is a lot more economical now.”

The relationship between Smith and Flynn goes back to the drummer’s childhood. The duo has played countless gigs backing other artists as well as stints with the Cash Box Kings.

“I’ve been knowing Billy since I was ten years old. We first met when my father, drummer Willie Smith, was playing with Billy in the Legendary Blues Band. He used to come to our house. We hit it off immediately. I was already writing songs back then. Billy used to ask what I was working on, did I have any new songs. I gave some of those songs to the Legendary Band, and they actually did a few of them.

image“Since then, we have been like bread and butter. He is a good friend. As a guitar player, Billy not only has the passion, but he can play any style of the music, and beyond that, he has the “touch”. He knows when to put the pedal to the metal, and when to stroke the guitar strings like a feather. Right there, that sets him apart from a 1,000 other guitarists. He is a world-class musician, and a great guy who is never in a bad mood on stage.”

Bob Stroger is another musician who has been a big part of Smith’s career. The veteran bass player has a new album, That’s My Name, out on Delmark Records. But Smith featured Stroger on their 2014 project, Keepin’ Together, with additional backing from Flynn, Jerry Portnoy and Joe Filisko on harmonica, and Barrelhouse Chuck on piano.

“Bob and I are very close. We speak all the time about life. I wanted to push him out there just as I pushed my own father. I wanted him to be confident about what he has to offer, to be able to really shine and share his gift so he could see how people truly enjoy it.

“Bob automatically brings the floor. He is a solid, solid player who knows the material. You can feel his gentle soul coming out through his playing. It gives me chills sometimes, to feel that energy. He digs into the bass, not trying to be flashy. It’s like the turtle and the rabbit. Bob can do both if you want him to. You might forget that he is there because he is so solid. It is good to see him stepping out more and more to the front of the stage.”

When it comes to playing the blues shuffle , there are few drummers who have Smith’s level of mastery of the seemingly simple rhythm. His resume includes numerous award nominations, resulting in a 2021 Blues Music Award in the Blues Instrumentalist – Drums category, and has garnered similar recognition numerous times from Living Blues Magazine. He also has recently received a nomination for a 2022 Blues Blast Music Award in their new Drum category. Smith has also been recognized for his ability to play a “triple” shuffle.

Asked to explain the art of the shuffle, Smith lets out a hearty laugh.

“Normally when I try to explain it, it is like looking at a deer in the headlights. The shuffle is the go-to rhythm in blues music, so if you are going to play drums, you better know how to really dig into it. If you don’t, the audience, the musicians you are playing with, they will know the difference. For me, it is like a surfer riding a wave. You have to listen to the music and practice the shuffle to even remotely be able to play the basic part.

“Most drummers say, yeah, I can play that. When it actually comes time to lay it down, that is when all hell breaks loose on stage. It is more than playing a beat. The song can be in 4/4 time, but that timing is going to move, not stay the same. You have to know when to play the downbeat as opposed to the upbeat, and anticipate what the musicians around you are doing. Otherwise you will end up sounding like a shoe in the dryer!

image“I have played the straight shuffle and double shuffle all of my life. Eventually, you start progressing as you build up the muscles in your arms and hands. I can’t explain what the triple shuffle sounds like, but I am definitely playing it. Part of it is how I hold the stick, and I know how to play a double shuffle. The faster you run, the better you get. I like to study, to find ways to enhance the shuffles, and the beats.

Through the Covid lock-down, Smith’s survivalist tendencies served him well as he was prepared to deal with effects of the pandemic. He weathered that period pretty well, even venturing deeper into the survival mode. He welcomed the chance to be home with this three children.

“Like everyone, I was sad that I couldn’t get out to see my friends, and especially missed the opportunities to play with my fellow musicians. I used the time to make a few good videos on how to play blues drums, and put those out there free of charge for other people to help them learn how to play, and to help them stay sane.

“I am always moving so fast, so it took a bit for me to learn how to slow down. I learned it pretty good. It was a blessing, a good reset that got me well-grounded. It also helped me rationalize some other aspects of life, to regain my balance. The bright light for me was that it gave me a true self-perspective of myself and my own well-being.”

In his decades of playing music, Smith has learned a great deal about the ins and outs, ups and downs of choosing music as your career. For him, there are a few simple truths to live by.

“It is like being in the Marines. You want to protect the guy on your right, protect the guy on the left. You want to protect the brothers around you. It is the same feel when you are on the bandstand. You want the best outcome for every musician around you. When you have that, that is when the magic is really made on, and off, the stage. You get the job done by listening to each other, but once you have that bond and connection, it drives you to play even better.”

Another career highlight for the drummer was playing on the 2010 release, Joined At The Hip, featuring his father on harmonica and vocals along with Pinetop Perkins on piano, who was 96 years old when the album was recorded. The album received the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album.

“That was fun times in the studio. When they originally started it, I thought it would be a long process getting everything done. Instead, everybody went in and boom, just felt the music. There were no hardcore rehearsals. For me personally, I was trying to give my father and Pinetop my best, not just keeping the beat, but playing with all the love and respect that I have for them. Just being able to back them on stage was the best gift ever.”

In keeping with his efforts to polish his skills while extending his reach into various aspects of the music business, Smith also works as a booking agent, managing to find time to book gigs for other artists despite his own demanding schedule.

image“It comes from learning the business. It is another part of the puzzle for me. You can book a gig, I can book a gig. It is nice to know how to navigate those things. I have probably worked with 100 or more musicians in and around Chicago. A lot of them are blues artists. The business has been going very well. Interestingly, sometimes I can sell my own self out there for an event, and get paid the kind of money that a high-profile blues artist would make a given festival. I have made my own road,

“I book tours for artists, I put together bands to back me at my gigs, and set up club dates for local artists. No event is ever the same. People have a general idea of what they want to do at their event or venue. I try to cater to those things. In the blues world, I have a pretty decent name, so I sell that down a different avenue. Another part of the puzzle is booking out bands all over Chicago, Wisconsin, and up into Minnesota. A couple of weeks ago there was a group here from Singapore. They were having an event, found me, and I know how to sell it.”

Over the last five years, Smith has been gathering music and lyrics, working on getting a batch of songs together. But he is struggling as to how to deliver the new material to the world.

“This is the question that is going back and forth in my head. My hold-up is that it takes a lot of time and effort to put it all together, and I don’t know what outlet to use right now. I don’t really want to do another CD. They are pretty much obsolete. Yes, I can sell a few. But I don’t even have a CD player in my car any more. So I am stuck in a spot of trying to figure out what format or medium I want to use. I could sell discs, or even some LPs, but that is not the real trend. But what is the real trend? Eventually I will figure it out.”

Never afraid of working, Smith maintains a full schedule, fitting for a drummer well-versed in the various shades of the blues world.

“I am doing some All-star stuff. Bob Stroger and I work together quite a bit. I do shows with Billy Flynn, also with the slide guitarist Donna Herula, and the amazing guitar player Joel Paterson, who I know from my time in the Cash Box Kings. There are a lot of moving parts, different bands and acts. I jump in, and get in where I fit in!

“Typically, these days, I am playing about 4-5 days a week. Since Covid, I have slowed things down. I used to run ragged going from show, to show, to show. Now I am using the “Work smarter, not harder” mentality. I am more selective, making it more about playing the music, not just getting on stage to keep the beat. In the past, I would do gigs where the musicians are fighting on stage. I didn’t like the energy but I would do it. I don’t do things like that any more. Now I am selective about who I want to play with.

“I love working with Donna and her band. They have great energy and great souls. I love being around the energy they bring, and the music. She goes deep, very deep. I respect that. I’m pushing her to get started on another project. I always feel good after playing one of her shows.”

imageAs you might expect, Smith has an assortment of drums, cymbals, and drumsticks that he has acquired over the years. One might wonder where he manages to find room to store his collection.

“That’s the fun question! Sometimes I play a hybrid kit because I enjoy the variety of different sounds. I have a Roland set that I play, as I have an endorsement deal with them. I also play a Tama kit and a Ludwig set. Then there’s what I call the “mud” kit, because it has a little bit of everybody. Another favorite is a smaller Pearl kit that is small, compact, and easy to carry. I like using it when I need a smaller footprint, but I still get a nice sound from it.

“For cymbals, I never play a matching set. I have an older Paiste 505 model that I got at a pawnshop about 20 years ago. Everything else I like are Zildjian, including one that I call “frying bacon” because it sizzles. The snare drums get changed around, too. There are over 20 kits in my collection. So it’s not just guitar players that have to have one of everything. But they probably have a bit more room than I do! For sticks, I have a variety including some non-breakable ones. I’m pretty certain that I have about 70 sticks in one bag, mostly because I play so many variations of the blues that I want to be prepared.”

Like many blues artists, Smith understands that the music needs to grow. At the same time, he is adamant that the music has stay true to its roots.

“You can’t grow the music without the root. To be a part of the future, you have to respect the past. To me, the big picture was starting to feel unbalanced. There were artists popping up that weren’t really part of the music, just playing the old lump-da-lump. They don’t care about the heritage of the music, just get up on stage and play. We do have a handful of younger musicians that I know of that are playing the real music, like Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and Jontavious Willis, who is taking the music way back. Covid probably helped start the reset. So, I think the music will last. I’m not worried about that part. One thing for sure, as long as I am around, I will continue to try to express myself as best I can.”

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the past President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a former member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!



 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

imageJohnny Sansone – Into Your Blues

Short Stack Records – 2022

11 tracks; 51 minutes

Johnny Sansone spent the last two years producing this album and it was definitely worth the time invested as Johnny produces a blues album that may well be a contender in those ‘best of the year’ awards. Recorded on home turf in New Orleans, Johnny sings lead and plays harp (plus a little resonator guitar) on an all-original set of songs, one written in collaboration with Wacko Wade. A strong cast of musicians is involved with guitar duties shared between Chicagoan Johnny Burgin and Texan Mike Morgan, Tom Worrell is on piano, Chris Spies on B3, Jeffrey Bridges on bass and John Milham on drums; horns appear on several tracks, Brad Walker on tenor and baritone saxes, Steve Lands on trumpet. Tiffany Pollack adds backing vocals, Michael Sinkus percussion and two fellow New Orleans residents make guest appearances, Jason Ricci and Little Freddie King.

The album opens with the title track, a full band production with the horns right up front in the mix, guitars ringing out and Johnny singing strongly: “This is your game, you make the rules, you just keeping falling deeper, down into your blues”. Johnny’s harp takes center stage as the track fades out, a great start and just makes you want to hear more. Johnny sings sarcastically that he wants the listener to “Pay For This Song” on a Jimmy Reed styled blues that gives him the chance to play some high-pitched harp, very much in JR style.

We then hear Johnny’s soulful side on “Desperation”, warm organ, horns and shimmering guitars providing a gentle groove for him to show us his vocal chops. The longest track on the album, this one provides space for fine guitar and sax solos. Next up is “Blowin’ Fire”, definitely the right title for Jason Ricci to spar with Johnny on both harp and vocals! Little Freddie King then does the same on “Willie’s Juke Joint”, a semi-spoken, back porch affair.

The full band is back for “People Like You And Me”, an uptempo number with piano and both guitarists featured and a strong chorus with Tiffany joining in to support Johnny. The shortest track on the album is “The Getaway”, Johnny’s buzzing harp well supported by guitar and the rhythm section on a sparse production with no keys, horns or backing vocals. Johnny takes us down to the “New Crossroads”, playing both resonator and some deep-toned harp as he tells us that he “don’t need no Devil’s bargains, I never done like I was told”, another stripped-back tune.

There certainly is “Something Good Going On” as the horns return on a swampy blues on which Tiffany’s vocals are to the fore on the choruses, Johnny playing in unison with slide guitar. “Single Room” also has that funky, Southern feel on a song with gloomy lyrics, ominous sounding harp and good ensemble guitar work from Johnny and Mike who both feature strongly on the last track, an instrumental entitled “Southern Dream” which features delicate guitar work from both players to close out the album in tranquil manner.

A strong album from Johnny and his collaborators, well worth hearing.

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 – 2 of 6 

imageEarly Times & the High Rollers – Electric City

Dealer’s Choice Records

11 songs – 46 minutes

New York City street poet/blues-rocker and SiriusXM deejay Early Times hit all the right notes with The Corner, his 2021 release that featured tough rhythms and gritty, clever lyrics, and keeps the beat going with this all-original follow-up aided by guest appearances from Blues Hall of Famer Bobby Rush and Detroit powerhouse Eliza Neals.

Early grew up in Sacramento, Calif., where he established himself as a bluesman to be reckoned in the Sacramento Music Awards by compiling more nominations than anyone in its history in addition to taking home top honors as its guitar player of the year. He also owned an internationally distributed record label there for a while, during which he teamed with future blues giant Johnny Heartsman in a jazz combo.

A career in rockabilly and swing followed prior to touring nationally as the lead guitarist for vocalist E.C. Scott at the height of her career. Early subsequently joined Sirius Satellite Radio in 2001 seven years prior to its merger with XM Satellite Radio, where he became a major player in the digital airplay revolution. He’s been based out of the East Side of Manhattan since 1998, where he operates currently Manhattan Recording and Dealer’s Choice Records out of his studio.

In addition to Rush and Neals, who sit in on one song each, Early’s joined here with a potent veteran lineup that includes Brian Mitchell (Levon Helm, Bob Dylan) on keys, Anton Fig (David Letterman Band, Cyndi Lauper) on drums and Conrad Korsch (Rod Stewart) on bass. The sessions were produced by Jay Messina, who’s worked with Miles Davis, Kiss, Cheap Trick and more.

A brief but powerful guitar hook kicks off the stop-time “Aloha, Leilani,” a medium-paced shuffle delivered with upbeat gusto. The singer announces he’s about to leave town — possibly for the last time — but invites the lady over for one last fling, noting that she sways like a palm tree and that he loves the way she bends, then adding: “You’ve always been my best friend and my favorite who-o-o…a-a-ah!” Early’s rockabilly past resurfaces in a brief solo.

“Good Soul Music” features a duet with Bobby and comes with a funky, percussive, uptempo good-time island beat “Orphan Train,” a straight-ahead blues, describes a nightmare about trouble in an alley in which “somebody lost an only child and someone said ‘so long.’” Borrowing the title from a welfare program that transported children from the Northeast to the Midwest during the Great Depression, Early feels like he’s been riding those tragic rails for so long and wonders what he did to deserve it.

The slow blues, “Heartbreak Insurance,” follows and describes a “divorce estate sale” in which everything must go before the rocker “American Kid” announces that his friends can take all he has but that he’ll still take a bullet for them if need be. It flows into “Ching-a-Ling,” which celebrates having money in his pocket, good friends and more before “Tippin’ Through the Tulips” blasts off at breakneck speed, chockful of thinly veiled sexual innuendo.

The tempo slows dramatically and Eliza joins Early at the mic for “Bonnie & Clyde,” a rocker that celebrates a relationship in which the lovebirds have “too much fun and wouldn’t have it any other way.” Urban funk kicks in with a plea for “Tips for the Crew” next before “Dark Chocolate” – which describes a lady who looks “good enough to eat” – and the jazzy, stop-time instrumental, “Succubus,” bring the action to a close.

Contemporary blues with bite, you’ll love this one!

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 – 3 of 6 

imageRune Robert Friis Presents – Built For Comfort, Vol. 1

self release

9 songs time – 39:15

Just when you thought real solid, well performed, well produced and imaginative blues was gasping its’ last breaths, who comes along to save it? The Danish of course. This project conceived by Rune Robert Friis gathers a band of Danish musicians that have a real feel for the blues. Friis wrote seven of the nine songs and this gang of musicians do them justice with their fine playing. It is blues that is often infused with R&B. This music is like new blood pumped into my veins.

Nils-Ole Poulin handles most of the lead vocals with an appealing snarly growl of a voice. They get off to a funky R&B inflected blues with “Never Comin’ Down” propelled by Uffe Steen’s commanding guitar play and a firm horn section. The piano of Rasmus Lohde adds a percussive feel. Sarah Jana Westphal bolsters the vocals behind Nils on “Summertime Ghost”. Mellow organ and piano from Rasmus Stenholm add to the lazy Sunday summertime vibe of this feel good tune.

Oscar “Big-O” Martin Eriksen’s harmonica is a force of nature on “Cold Water”. It is a darn shame he only appears on this one track. Jesper Heinz adds his guitar and slide to the tune. A pensive start backed by organ leads into the thought provoking “Truth Don’t Rhyme”. Perry Stenback and Rune do the guitar duty here. A song curiously co-written by Kanye West, “Say You Will”, works via great percussion and Rune’s powerful bass lines.

Sarah contributes her energized pipes to the horn driven and slide guitar infused “Fresh Start”. “Falling Skies” is a bit of a curiosity as it features a blues synthesizer solo that actually works in the context of the music. It is a yearning slow blues benefitting from the guitars of Stenback and Heinz. Rasmus Stenholm does a fine turn on his synth bit. “Uphill” is a R&B influenced slow and deliberate blues. Chris Grey’s guitar stands out here. They bring things to a close with a slowed down version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In The Dark”, rendering it hardly recognizable except for the drawn out lyric delivery. All the excitement is drained from the song. Not a great note to go out on considering the quality music that preceded it.

Rune Robert Friis has gathered a worthy crew of enthusiastic and well-versed musicians to realize his blues vision. Well-crafted original songs that adhere to the foundations of the blues while being totally fresh in execution. Rune has absorbed a deep feel for the blues and managed to represent it authentically via himself and his hand-picked ensemble of like-minded musicians. These Danes are a blessing to the blues.

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



 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6 

imageHowellDevine – Strange Time Blues

DynaPhonic Records 101

10 songs – 43 minutes

Based out of San Francisco but delivering their own blend of traditional Piedmont, Hill Country and Chicago blues, HowellDevine are an acoustic trio with plenty of contemporary appeal, and they serve up a treat with their fifth CD, which intersperses four originals with six covers, all of which deal with the problems all of us are facing while living in a disease-wracked, troubled world.

Formed in 2011, the band is led by vocalist Josh Howell, a double threat on harmonica and guitar. A fixture in the Bay Area blues scene since age 14, he held down the harp chair in the house band at Eli’s Mile High Club in Oakland when still too young to drink. Influenced by six-string masters Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bukka White, Robert Johnson and R.L. Burnside, he enjoyed success as a luthier but has been devoting himself to the stage full-time since relocating to Thailand for a couple of years, where he played 15 solo gigs a week.

He’s backed by Pete Devine, a Maine native who’s been performing in blues, jazz and jug band setting on the West Coast since the ‘80s, on drums and Joe Kyle Jr., who’s being playing upright bass with roots and swing bands in the Bay Area since the early ‘90s. They combine to deliver hypnotic, deep-in-the-pocket grooves throughout.

After four successful albums on the Arhoolie/Smithsonian Records imprint, this is HowellDevine’s maiden effort on their own label. It was recorded at Hyde Street Studios in San Francisco, the renamed landmark where Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby Stills Nash & Young and The Grateful Dead all laid down tracks for legendary engineer Wally Heider in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

An interesting reworking of McDowell’s “East St. Louis” sets the tone to open with Howell laying down unhurried bottleneck slide runs on his 1931 National Steel Duolean resonator, Devine on brushes and Kyle delivering a haunting bottom. It describes dark clouds forming overhead as the singer wonders what troubles lay ahead.

The sound sweetens for the original, “Smoke,” but runs counterpoint to cautionary lyrics imbued with fiery images that speak out against the effects of human ignorance about pollution and global warming that might push all of us into extinction. Howell drives home his message with a powerful harp solo. The mood brightens quickly, however, with the instrumental “Hey! Oh Really?” with Devine simultaneously doubling on the skins and porcelain whiskey jug as Josh rips and runs on the reeds.

A sweet cover of Blind Boy Fuller’s “Untrue Blues” has new, hidden meaning in a world inundated with fake news before unique takes on R.L. Burnside’s “Long Haired Doney,” Memphis Minnie’s “When the Levee Breaks” and Muddy Waters’ “Long Distance Call” before Howell recounts the true story of “Nila,” an elderly, cancer-stricken woman who struck and killed by a neighbor who was speeding in his truck down the lane. Another haunting instrumental, “Strange Time Meltdown,” deals with the solitude of living in the midst of a pandemic before Rev. Robert Wilkins’ classic “That’s No Way to Get Along” brings the action to a close.

Sure, the themes are dark on this one. But if you have an appreciation of great picking and playing, there’s a lot to like with this one.

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.



 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

imageJuke Joint Jonny and the Kindred Spirits – Just Folkin Around


CD: 12 Songs, 44 Minutes

Styles: Blues Covers, Folk, Acoustic Blues, Best of 2022

Don’t judge a cover by its cover. The correct fourth word is book, but hear me out. As blues fans, we’ve heard countless versions of Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” “Walkin’ Blues” by Son House, and “Fishin’ Blues” by Taj Mahal. Veterans will also be familiar with “Blow Wind Blow,” “(You Need Meat) Don’t Go No Further,” and “Dust My Broom.” They’re classics. Yet they CAN BE like overplayed, overrated, over-danced songs at weddings: “Macarena,” “The Chicken Dance,” “Shout” and “YMCA.” Got anything new for us, DJ?

Juke Joint Jonny and the Kindred Spirits do, although eleven out of twelve songs on their newest album are covers. They’re not Just Folkin Around. They’re more than the real deal,. Like Jules Verne’s protagonists in Journey to the Center of the Earth, they take a journey to the center of the genre: its thrumming core. It resonates with a magnetism we all can feel, in our bones and in our hearts. This CD reminds me why I fell in love with the blues in the first place. Each note, each vocalized lyric, is raw and unrefined – yet more beautiful than any polished gemstone. Not a lick or riff is out of place. Every facet is how it should be, how it’s meant and destined to be.

Accompanying our hero (guitars and vocals) are Steve Rusin (harp and guitar for track seven), producer Ben Bernstein on stand-up bass and bass drum for track six), Dave Peterson (electric bass for tracks six and ten), and Mike Stevens on drums, percussion and jaw harp.

Before I plumb the depths of my favorite cover, I’d like to discuss the sole original: lucky number seven, “Terre Haute Blues.” It’s a jaunty acoustic stroll down the streets of one of Indiana’s biggest cities, but our narrator wants to put on his “walking shoes” and get out of there. It showcases our leading man’s raspy vocals, more akin to Eric Bibb’s than Rod Stewart’s. You’d never catch Juke Joint crooning “Maggie May.” If you can’t understand the lyrics, which run at a pretty fast clip, have some fun playing air guitar. It’s also suitable for a jitterbug.

Now for the real stunner – a postmodern rendition of Leo Kottke’s poignant instrumental “Sailor’s Grave on the Prairie.” When I saw this title, I said: “Wait, what? Sailors travel over seas and oceans, not plains.” Then I remembered history class and the Oregon Trail. Covered wagons were often called “prairie schooners.” Their plain appearance disguised their ingenuity. They were uniquely designed for the hardships and rough terrain of intercontinental travel in the 1800s. Many an American pioneer, a prairie sailor, met their end before they reached the end. This homage is pure 2020s techno-slide, though. Don’t let it faze you. Listen. Learn. Love.

How good is this CD? Near-perfect. How necessary is it? Essential. How uplifting is it? I hate housework, but it made me want to spend hours tackling gross chores instead of Just Folkin Around. That is how much I, and you, need to purchase this masterpiece and loop it. For days.

Allow Juke Joint Jonny and his band to become Kindred Spirits to you. They certainly are to me.

And I’ve never heard them before.

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 43 year old female Blues fan. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.


 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

imageMike Morgan & The Crawl – The Lights Went Out In Dallas

Must Have Music – 2022

13 tracks: 58 minutes

It is great to have a new album from Texan Mike Morgan who produced a string of albums between 1990 and 2008, including several on the Black Top label, working with Darrell Nulisch, Lee McBee and Jim Suhler, amongst others. After his last release on Severn Records in 2008 Mike stopped touring and made his living selling motorcycles, just playing locally at the weekend, but got the itch to play full-time again and this album is the result of that change. Produced by fellow Texan Anson Funderburgh, the album features ten originals and three covers, including roadhouse rockers, tender ballads, Mexican-influenced tunes, accordions, horns and guitars, so a great mix of Texas music. Mike named his band The Crawl after a Lonnie Brooks tune and the current rhythm section (Drew Allain on bass, Kevin Schermerhorn on drums) is supplemented by familiar names like Shawn Pittman on piano, guitar and vocals, Christian Dozzler on piano and accordion and Mike Flanigin on Hammond B3; horns appear on three tracks, courtesy of Chris McGuire. Reo Casey adds guitar, drums and piano to a total of seven tracks, Dave Perez is also on accordion, and backing vocals are added to four tracks by Pappy Middleton and Andrea Wallace. Mike himself is on guitar throughout and handles the vocals on all bar two tracks.

As soon as you take the disc out of the sleeve you are faced with Clint Eastwood’s image, wearing an eye patch, as does Mike himself. Then you put the CD in the player and you hear a stellar version of Jerry McCain’s “Ding Dong Daddy”, pounding piano and Mike dueling on guitar with producer Anson to produce an outstanding cut. There are, of course, Texas shuffles to enjoy, like “Out In The Jungle” and Mike’s slide work on the cover of Joe Clayton’s “Goin’ Down To Eli’s” also stands out. Mike’s voice is better suited to uptempo numbers like “Aiight” (‘All Right’) which has some tough guitar on it, or the rough and tumble rockabilly of “Workin For The Man” (on which he shares vocals with Shawn Pittman) but he does tackle a couple of ballads towards the end of the album, as well as a tribute to “Lazy Lester” who Mike describes as his musical inspiration.

Changing things up, there is a soulful groove to “Please Accept My Love” (not the Percy Mayfield song but a Morgan original), complete with horns, female backing vocals and a lovely, delicate guitar solo, while “A Woman” adds accordion to give a swampy sound to a tune that also has hints of Country. Mike’s guitar playing comes to the fore on the instrumental “Funkafacation” and trumpet adds a border feel to the spoken tale of “The Fracas By The Pecos”. The title track “The Lights Went Out In Dallas” recounts a severe storm which caused damage and loss of life, Mike warning us that “we all take too much for granted as we go from day to day”, the track featuring great guitar work over warm Hammond, making it another standout cut.

It is a genuine pleasure to say ‘Welcome back, Mike Morgan’!

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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