Issue 16-9 March 3, 2022

Cover photo © 2022 Bob Kieser

 In This Issue 

Steven Ovadia has our feature interview with young Bluesman Stephen Hull. We have six Blues reviews for you this week including new music from John Hammond & The Wicked Grin Band, Louisiana Red & Bob Corritore, Bob Corritore & Friends, Mississippi MacDonald, Katie Henry and Michael “Mudcat” Ward. Scroll down and check it out!

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 Featured Interview – Stephen Hull 

Singer/guitarist Stephen Hull, of the aptly-named Stephen Hull Experience, wasn’t always a blues dynamo, capable of nailing just about any blues style, yet somehow projecting a distinct, personal voice. Before that, he was a child in a car, going with his father to get his weekly haircut. And listening to the radio.

“On my way to the barber shop [the blues] would be playing on the radio in the car out of Milwaukee station called 1290 [AM], WMCS I think it was,” Hull, now 23, recalls. “Phil Anderson was the host and I loved that guy.”

Those car rides with his father, who’s from Mississippi but wasn’t a blues fan himself, led to Hull working to earn money to buy a guitar. The guitar was a tough sell to his family, given he had given up on piano lessons. So instead, Hull turned to the only job market available to someone still years away from the SATs: babysitting and cutting grass.

Those gigs turned into a Squier Stratocaster from Guitar Center. “It’s sitting over in the corner right now,” Hull says. “It’s like a green metallic color with black hardware. I almost didn’t get it because they cancelled the order. They ran out at the warehouse, and the local [Guitar Center] just so happened to have one, or a couple of them, in fact, so my mom went and grabbed it after work.”

Hull came from a Motown-loving family, but his burgeoning interest in the blues made everyone into converts. “No one liked blues before I really came along,” he says. “It was me reintroducing the blues to my parents. My mom, I remember I was practicing on my little practice amp and my first guitar, and she was in the other room. She just came in one day and she’s like, ‘That was you? Sounds good. Keep it up.’ And she walks back out. After that I was like, ‘Alright, I think this guitar thing is gonna be pretty easy.'”

No one can say how easy the transition actually was for Hull, but he was gigging by 15. He began playing guitar as a sideman before stepping in front of the microphone for B.B. King’s “Sweet Little Angel.” Hull recalls his nerves that fateful night, standing on-stage, shaking in his cowboy boots, less a sartorial choice than a side-effect of his time riding horses.

“The drummer did most of the singing and I didn’t want him messing up that song,” Hull says, laughing. “He was like ‘Alright, you sing it,’ and I was like, ‘Well here goes a whole lot of nothing.’ It didn’t sound good but it didn’t sound bad. And so I just kept practicing.”

imageHull is a vocal proponent of the power of practice, approaching it with a discipline that’s unusual for many artists. His advice for new musicians looking to form a band is to start by learning their favorite 10 songs. “You find a band that either knows these songs or are willing to learn these songs with you,” Hull says. “Start there, and you keep hammering those songs home, and then maybe you add two songs a week or something like that. And then before long, you have 20 songs. And after that, with 20 songs, that’s an hour set.”

At this point, according to Hull’s band-building theory, you start to pick up paying gigs. “You have to do that for a couple of years,” he says. “Then you’ve got about a hundred songs or so, and you just keep building off of that. And then you can work on transitions between songs. You get to do fun things, you’ll find your favorite musicians to do these songs with, and they’ll start inputting songs. I’ve been pushed to do several songs I never really thought of, but everyone else thought it was such a good idea. And I was like, ‘You guys are nuts. I can’t sing like that!’ [laughs].”

This is actually more than a theory for Hull, though, as he estimates his repertoire is around 250 songs, assuming he could remember them all (“I have forgotten so many songs, that’s ridiculous,” he says). Part of the reason for so many songs is to keep things fresh for himself and the band. But there is also the need to keep fans coming back to live shows with new content. With the rise of livestreaming, and the inevitability of YouTube’d performances, Hull doesn’t want listeners to think they’ve heard everything from him. “Nobody wants to hear me do the same setlist 40 times,” he laughs.

Hull is quick to mention that many of the songs in his set list aren’t all that different from each other, which is the nature of the blues. However, he is just as quick to clarify that he doesn’t find it limiting. He’s often asked if he gets tired of the blues. “I just laugh and I go, ‘No,'” he says. “I never do get tired. Right now, I’d have to say my favorite song to perform is “Caldonia” by Louis Jordan. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a version of the song I don’t like. Its just a good song, from the original to B.B. King’s cover, to Muddy Waters’ cover. I think I do a marvelous job [laughs] but I never get tired because these are my favorite songs.”

He also appreciates other styles, though. For instance, he’s a big jazz fan. “I love jazz so much,” he says. “Duke Ellington and Count Basie are my heroes, simply because Duke Ellington’s just… He’s one of those, I wouldn’t say few band leaders, but I mean, he’s one of the band leaders that he’s just great the entire way through. I wasn’t aware that you could lead a big band, and be so well versed in like, a combo setting. He knew his chords. Down pat.”

Eventually Hull was ready to front his own band, leading to the Stephen Hull Experience, which began in 2018. At first, he needed to keep backing other artists to keep paying the bills. But the musical side hustle also had other benefits: it led him to his current band. Hull’s rhythm section of drummer Victor Reid and bassist Sam Winternheimer came from that other band. Hull worried about the optics of appropriating someone else’s musicians. But not for too long. “I was like, ‘I don’t know. This might give the other dude the wrong idea, I just stole his whole band and walked off,'” Hull says. “Which is exactly what I did [laughs]. It’s nice to see both of them jump in with both feet and stick the landing. We just need to rehearse maybe once or twice on a song and we [have] basically got it down.”image

Gigging helped Hull shape his singing voice, but he also spent off-stage time developing it. “I’d spend some days at home where it’s like, ‘Okay, I’m working on singing today, I’m gonna work on like, hitting various notes, hitting various runs that will improve my vocal range, and I’ll be able to work on my pitch and being able to slide into pitches,'” Hull says.

Hull values precision and professionalism because running a band is also running a business. “That’s why people [when] say, ‘Oh, you’re so good under pressure.’ I was like, ‘Look, this is nothing [laughs].’ Start running your own band, where you’re the frontman. Oof. It’ll put hair on your chest.” But Hull isn’t just a CEO looking to manufacture blues licks for profit. He values the musical and personal interactions that occur on- and off-stage. That’s led him to spending time with fellow blues artists, like Jontavious Willis.

“We’re brothers,” Hull says of the young blues star. “I don’t really think we’re working on anything but we talk all the time. If one of us gets bored, we’ll call the other, play some stuff on guitar, and put each other onto different kinds of music.” For example, Willis turned Hull onto acoustic blues. “But I was in Georgia not so long ago, he was recording some music, just for some personal use, I think,” Hull continues. “We recorded a couple of songs, which I think they sounded really nice.”

Hull jokes that the songs won’t see the light of day until both are much, much closer to retirement age, but he’s serious about the blues community he’s active within, which began on Facebook in 2018. “A lot of people complain about how boring Facebook is or how it’s for old people,” Hull says. “I’m like, ‘You are using the wrong Facebook. Alright’ [laughs]. Because I get awesome memes all day long, and music. That’s basically all that comes on my newsfeed and it’s amazing.”

The group of young blues artists hanging out on Facebook includes Hull, Willis, Marquise Knox, Dylan Triplett, Sean McDonald, DK Harrell and Lashawn Hopson, with the group transitioning to a real-life meeting in July 2020. When the pandemic shutting the world down, everyone was stuck at home, but that summer seemed like a good, and safe, moment.

The meetings, virtual and face-to-face, are a comfort to Hull, who is based in Wisconsin, which doesn’t have the same community of young blues artists you might find in other parts of the country. “[We] got to meet each other and sit down and play blues and swap stories and just enjoy each other’s company,” he says. “It was amazing.”image

Wisconsin’s blues scene also seems to feature more white artists than Black, which has sometimes been an issue when Hull is drawing attention to contemporary social issues. For instance, after he gave an interview explaining how the blues connects to the Black experience, he was disappointed by the reaction of other musicians. “People tend to move a little bit differently after you take a stance on something and so I watched several people just kind of shut down their louder opinions around me, just so that they wouldn’t piss me off or so,” Hull says. “And you watch people like that, because it’s like, ‘Well, what are you hiding?'”

For Hull, it’s important to understand the history and context of blues songs. They’re not just words and licks, but represent personal experiences. “I can understand wanting to distance yourself, and race relations and all kinds of things like that, because you’re just trying to play music, but at the same time, that’s highly irresponsible,” he says. “Highly irresponsible, because if you’re not willing to acknowledge what is going on in today’s world, then you are just simply ignoring, what the songs that you’re singing are about. And the traditions behind them, because you can’t sit here and sing “Stormy Monday,” and not know what they’re talking about when ‘the eagle flies on Friday?’ Like, how many people don’t know exactly what that means?” For the record, Hull explains the T-Bone Walker lyric refers to payday.

Hull says authenticity is a pre-requisite for quality music. “You can play any kind of music that brings your heart joy and [does] it justice, but if you don’t know why you’re playing that music, what that music stands for, and what it means to the people who are listening to it, then it’ll never come across,” he says. But rather than mentioning artists whose music doesn’t resonate, Hull cites one who personifies everything good about the blues: Christone “Kingfish” Ingram. “We can all sit here and try to get it in our heads that this guy, he’s only human, but I’ve met humans,” Hull says of Ingram. “Most of them, if not all of the other ones, can’t do that [laughs]. He’s a great person on top of just being a phenomenal guitarist. And his singing? Oh, man. I didn’t know that much soul can come out of the person.”

Hull plans to release his debut album this spring and is heading into the studio, rehearsing songs with his band. After resisting the idea of recording, he now thinks it’s time. “Enough life development happened,” he says. “I was like, ‘Alright, well, I’ve been through enough heartbreak now. Let’s go ahead and write some songs, shall we?’ And I think my voice has had a nice chance to mature because when I first started singing, I could not stand the sound of my voice. I still don’t necessarily like it, but I hit a few good notes.”

Hull’s journey from car passenger to the stage has taken time, but is still impressive given how young he is. The idea of an album is intriguing, because so much of his body of work up until now has been about his ability to interpret. But with so many ideas and influences, it seems certain his album and songs will be something special.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6

imageJohn Hammond & The Wicked Grin Band – Wicked Grin Live

MIG Music – 2022

18 tracks; 1:28:03

Live albums exist to capture a moment but also as a nice reminder of music that might have slipped past our radar. John Hammond & The Wicked Grin Band’s Wicked Grin Live is a live version of Hammond’s 2001 album, Wicked Grin, which was a recording of Tom Waits songs produced by Waits himself.

The live album is taken from a 2002 show in Bremen, Germany and includes all of Wicked Grin, plus five additional Waits’ songs. The studio band included musicians who had previously worked with Waits. However, by the time this show rolled around, Hammond’s band was guitarist Frank Carillo, bassist Marty Ballou, and drummer Stephen Hodges, Hodges the only holdover from the album. Luckily, they all convey the music’s soul.

The show is faithful to the studio record, so it’s hard to review the live album without also getting into the original. Hammond has said Wicked Grin is a beloved album and a one-time thing that he would never follow-up with a sequel, which time seems to have borne out. But the live collection is a great way to get the songs and music back out into the world again, not a re-release so much as a different take.

Waits is an interesting artist. His gravelly voice and raw music either turns people off or makes them fans for life. And despite his idiosyncrasies, he’s an often-covered songwriter, including within the blues world. While Waits isn’t a typical blues musician (or typical anything, really), his music is powered by the spirit of the blues, which is readily apparent to anyone open to hearing the connection.

Hammond is a dedicated Waits fan, but it’s his understanding of and appreciation for Waits’ songwriting that makes the albums, both studio and live, work so well. Hammond manages to bring out the natural blues energy within Waits’ songs, without losing Waits’ spirit. There’s plenty of blues vocals and harmonica, two markers of the style, but you still hear Waits’ storytelling. Hammond isn’t doing straight covers, nor is he trying to twist the songs into his own voice. He’s paying tribute to a beloved artist, keeping what is Waits and figuring out what is Hammond.

All of this works live. The production, as one might expect given its vintage, isn’t as pristine as it might be were it recorded today, rather than 20 years ago. The studio album has a certain intimacy that’s lost in some of the production crud of a live album; specifically Hammond’s vocal clarity. It’s a minor detail established by listening to both albums together, a way in which the average person probably won’t enjoy the live album.

Hammond’s voice is beautifully soulful and smoky, like Waits without the growl. His band is tight, but not afraid to play behind the beat, giving the tracks an authentic blues groove. Fans of the original studio album will appreciate the live setting, plus the additional songs, and those of us who missed out on the original release will be grateful for a second chance to appreciate what are now two wonderful albums.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6 

imageLouisiana Red & Bob Corritore – Tell Me ‘Bout It

VizzTone Label Group

11 tracks

Bob Corritore offers up two new releases in his “From The Vaults” Series. His archives of recorded music are huge and we get to hear some magnificent music in these releases. The album with Louisiana Red album is a superb release featuring 11 tracks, recorded in seven sessions from 2000 to 2009 when Red would stop by Bob’s Rhythm Room as he toured the US. Louisiana Red passed on in 2012 but leaves a great recorded legacy of music behind and here were get seven never released cuts on top of four that were prior releases. Red wrote nine of these tracks and his wife Dora penned the other two.

Let’s look at the four tracks that were previously released. “Mary Dee Shuffle” opens the album. Joining Red and Bob is Buddy Reed on guitar and Matt Bishop on piano who does a delightful job backing and soloing. Red tells us about his days in New Jersey with a gal named Mary Dee who hung out at the Hideaway Club. Red sings with passion and Bob blows some great harp. “Alabama Train” is a driving and slick cut and Red hearkens to the girls in Pennsylvania, more references to time in the Northeast along with singing about the train to take him home. David Maxwell is on piano here and Little Victor plays some mean guitar; it’s a cool cut. Johnny Rapp adds some slick slide guitar to “Freight Train To Ride” as Red howls and Corritore explodes on harp. “Tell Me ‘Bout It” concludes the prior releases and here we have Chris James on guitar and David Maxwell on piano. It’s a great slow shuffle that just resonates with charm and emotion.

The new released cuts start with the second tracks on the album “Early Morning Blues” with just the duo of Red and Bob. Red picks out some licks as he sings and plays some pretty, slow blues as Bob punctuates things with his harp. “Caught Your Man and Gone” has Rapp on guitar again and it’s a another nice cut with Red, Bob and Johnny doing some classic blues. “New Jersey Blues” follows that as Red continues to hearken back to his days in the Garden State. New Jersey is a place that would be hard to forget for many a reason; here we have Red bemoaning the winter snow there and his woman who took his relief check to buy beer while he’s working hard in the steel mill. Reed is on guitar here and we get some more great slow blues to savor. Both Red and Buddy offer up some fine guitar work.

The last four tracks on the album are all newly released. ‘Earline Who’s Been Foolin’ You,” a bouncing cut with Buddy Reed adding his guitar. Corritore is spectacular on harp and Red remains vigilant fronting the band. The next track opens with a familiar guitar tone; Bob Margolin is featured here supporting Red and Bob on “Edith Mae,” a gal back in Mississippi that Red yearns for. Margolin slips and slides on guitar and Red howls and moans for Edith Mae as Corritore aptly supports them. Next is “Bessemer Blues” where Buddy Reed plays lead guitar. Bessemer is the Alabama town Red was born in and he pays tribute to returning to the town of his mother. Guitar and harp solos are well done again and Red sings with great feeling. Johnny Rapp’s guitar opens the final track, “Bernice Blues.” Bernice is another New Jersey gal who must have made an impression on Red. Another excellent slow blues that the listener can appreciate.

Red handles all the vocals here and plays guitar. Corritore’s harp on each track is exemplary. The lead guitarists and piano players for each track were noted above; bassists were Paul Thomas (six tracks), Mario Moreno (two cuts), and Billy Troiani and Patrick Rynn with one cut each. The great Chico Chism plays drums on six cuts while Brian Fahey does so on three and Alex Petersen plays on another. This is a fine album with some superb music.

Louisiana Red is a great talent and Bob Corritore and he seem to have a great vibe going when they get together. There are fine musicians on each cut who know how to play the blues. If you want to hear some great stuff from this Alabama legend that Corritore and friends make even better then go grab this one.

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.


 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6 

imageBob Corritore & Friends – Down Home Blues Revue

VizzTone Label Group

11 tracks

Bob Corritore reaches back into his treasure trove of music and pulls From the Vault two albums being released simultaneously. This release features Corritore joined by ten blues legends. Honeyboy Edwards, T-Model Ford, Big Jack Johnson, Robert “Bilbo” Walker, Smokey Wilson, Henry Townsend, Dave Riley, Tomcat Courtney, All Garrett and Pecan Porter are featured here, each appearing a track. Walker gets to appear on three tracks and Ford appears on a pair of songs.

“Bilbo” Walker’s tracks are “Rooster Blues,” “Still A Fool” and “Baby Baby Baby.” He plays and sings and some guitar is added by Johnny Rapp on all three tracks. The first track bounces and swings as Walker sings of the animals who help him rock out. Corritore solos sweetly and Rapp gives us a sweet groove. The second tracks from Muddy Waters is some delicious, slow blues, served up hot and greasy. Guitar and harp give us some licks to enjoy together on this one. Sam Cooke’s track gets a nice groove going as Walker sings passion as the song moves along smartly.

“Mean Old Frisco” (Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup) and “I Asked For Water’ (Howling Wolf) are the two T-Model Ford cuts offered up. Chris James is on guitar in support as is his partner Patrick Rynn who handles the bass; Martin Reinsel is on drums. The former cut is a deep and down home blues while the latter is obviously more in the vein of Chicago blues. Both are cool and well done. Ford howls for us on the second track in Wolf’s style.

The single cuts begin with Tomcat Courtney; he does his song “Clara May,” with Corritore. James also adds some guitar. The three of them deliver a fine performance. Henry Townsend does his song “Nothing But Blues” where it’s just he and Bob. Townsend sings and tinkles the keys on the piano as only he can as Corritore fills in on harp. Smokey Wilson does his original entitled “Don’t Know What I’m Gonna Do.” He sings with the grit and emotion that is his style. He handles the guitar and Bob blows some cool harp here. Bass and drums lay down a nice groove to play behind. Honeyboy does a Robert Lockwood song, “Take A Little Walk With Me.” Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums rounds out the trio here in this fine rendition of a blues classic.

Pecan Porter adds “Let’s Work Together,” the song made famous by Canned Heat. He sings in similar style as Johnny Rapps adds his guitar to the mix; it’s a lot of fun! Porter is no slouch himself on the guitar as he does the second solo. Al Garrett does his song “My Money Done Run Out,” a slow and excellent blues. Rapp is also featured here and the bass and drum support are well done. Dave Riley and Bob are great friends and we get to hear them together on “Home In Chicago;” he handles all the guitar as Yahni Riley plays bass and Brian Fahey handles the drums. Corritore plays some nice fills and solos and Riley picks out a good solo, too. Dave and Bob do a nice instrumental section together, too. The final cut is Big Jack Johnson on “Bluebird Blues,” a Sonny Boy Williamson tune. Johnson sings and does an amazing job. He and Rapp handle the guitars and Corritore does some pretty harp. The bass and drums are also well done.

The yet uncredited bass and drums from the above cuts were handled by Paul Thomas and Chico Chism. They each appear on seven tracks and do a super job. Bob brings us ten legends to appreciate here– it’s a great sampler of work he’s done with some amazing talent from the blues world. If you need an intro to these artists, here’s a great way to learn a little about them. Long time blues fans will enjoy hearing this stuff that Corritore has brought out of his vault for us to enjoy. Thanks to him and also to Vizztone for supporting Bob and releasing this outstanding new album!

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.


 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6 

imageMississippi MacDonald – Do Right, Say Right

Another Planet Music Ltd.

9 tracks

London-based soul and bluesman Mississippi MacDonald has spent time at Al Green’s church, he’s hit the Memphis studios, paid homage to the birth and burial places of many a great blues man, and he is a student of the blues and soul music. He even helped secure a marker for the previously unmarked grave of O.V. Wright. Thrice nominated for British Blues Awards, he now has seven albums under his belt. The newest one here from 2021 is a fine album of original tunes and the one, final cover track.

MacDonald handles the vocals and guitar. Phil Dearing adds keys and guitar, Elliot Boughen is on bass, Mark Johnson-Brown plays drums and Lucy Dearing adds backing vocals. The album was recorded and produced at I. Sound in London by Phil Dearing.

The album opens with “I Was Wrong” with a heavy dose of organ, synthesized horns and guitar. MacDonald sings with passion, the guitar licks invoke memories of B.B. King and the overall sound is tight. “I Heard It Twice” has some more delightful and soulful blues to savor. The vocals are strong, the guitar picking is well done, and the organ work is solid. He sings about his woman not liking his blues, having heard it twice…the first time. Next is “It Can’t Hurt Me,” another midtempo soul blues with a nice guitar intro. He warns the backdoor man intruding on his love life as he sings with passion and grit. The guitar expresses the same emotion as his vocals as he attacks the strings. “Drinker’s Blues” follows, a slow and expressive blues that gives his testimony along with some slick backing vocals, piano and organ giving the cut a bit of a Gospel tinge. “Let Me Explore Your Mind” is some more nice, slow and sultry blues to savor.

“That’s It I Quit” follows, picking up the pace a bit with tongue in cheek lyrics about the trials and tribulations of a blues music career. MacDonald enjoys himself as he delivers his licks and lyrics. More slow and greasy blues are delivered in “If You Want A Good Cup Of Coffee,” another slow and simmering pot of four bar blues Joe. MacDonald continues in this vein with “Keep Your Hands Out Of My Pocket,” another slow and mournful blues with a warning not to tell his woman to leave and not try and rip him off anymore. The final number is a Denise LaSalle song delivered in a manner similar to Little Milton’s cover of the song. He warns fellow adulterers about their cheating spouses in another fine, slow blues as he and the band deliver another fine performance.

You can hear the influences of guys like O.V. Wright and Little Johnny Taylor in MacDonald’s music. He has certainly been schooled well. If I have one small complaint about the album it would be I was hoping he’d pick up the pace and let it all hang out for a song or two, but other than that minor bit I think the album is a fine and expressive set of tunes showcasing soul blues from the other side of the Atlantic. Oliver “Mississippi” MacDonald is a great singer, songwriter and guitar player who knows his stuff. I’d not heard him before and look forward to hearing his other stuff and I hope to be seeing him perform live someday!

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.

 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

imageKatie Henry – On My Way

Ruf Records – 2022

10 tracks; 38.12 minutes

Katie Henry’s 2018 debut album High Road received a lot of praise and was a nominee for a Blues Blast Award for New Artist Debut Album. Since then she has signed for Ruf and will be on their 2022 Blues Caravan tour with Ghalia Volt and Eddie 9V; no doubt she will be promoting this album. Recorded in NYC, the album features Katie’s three-pronged attack of vocals, piano and guitar on an all-original selection of material written by Katie and bass/slide guitar player Antar Goodwin: other musicians involved are Kurt Thiem on keys, Greg Wieczorek on drums and producer Ben Rice on guitar and vocals; British harmonica player Giles Robson sits in on one track. The material ranges across blues and Americana and Katie’s attractive voice works well on all the songs.

The opener has a great rhythm track over which layers of guitars are added as Katie decries two-faced people who will try to put her down; she certainly sounds confident that she is “On My Way”! In “Empty Cup” Katie sings that “it would be a sin to fail before we begin”, her bright piano to the fore of an attractive arrangement. If that track is Americana in style, “Without A Fight” is almost country-rock with jangly guitars and a bouncing rhythm, Katie sounding defiant in tone. We get more of a blues-rock feel on “Bury You” with its pounding drums, lively guitars and cautionary refrain of “bury the past or the past will bury you”. “Setting Sun” has a quiet, acoustic opening before piano and drums come in; Katie sings this one particularly well and gives the wistful lyrics an emotional feel.

We switch back to a more uptempo style on “Got Me Good” with solid guitar work over a busy rhythm section and warm organ wash. “Blessings” is another country-inflected tune with Katie’s piano, acoustic and slide guitar and an earworm chorus that gives a positive message of leaving the bad stuff behind you. Giles Robson’s harp ups the blues quotient on the chugging “Too Long” on which you can clearly hear several guitars at work. Following the pattern of alternating slower and heavier tunes, “Running Round” is another emotional, piano-led ballad in which Katie confesses that she always believed that she would eventually find “someone with a heart of gold”, but she never did. Album closer “Catch Me If You Can” races along with busy drums, slide and piano accents, a song about letting go and following “a new plan”: maybe it’s a message to Katie’s fans that she is off and running.

Interestingly, in the album sleeve notes, Katie thanks her parents for “the Eagles concerts and piano lessons” and there is certainly something of an Eagles feel to songs like the last two on the album and “Without A Fight”. The blues can be more obviously found on tracks like “Too Long” and “Bury You” but, if pure blues is what you are after, this one is not for you. On the other hand, if you enjoy good vocals and catchy tunes, do check Katie out.

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 – 6 of 6 

imageMichael “Mudcat” Ward – self titled

Self released

11 songs, 43 minutes

Michael “Mudcat” Ward is a Blues legend. The Maine born and bred, Boston based bassist has played with a who’s who of Blues royalty. A founding member of Sugar Ray and the Bluetones and Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, Mudcat has added the integral low-end to countless seminal recordings since the late 1970’s. Amongst Sugar Ray and Earl, artists Ward has played with include Muddy Waters, Hubert Sumlin, Jimmie Rogers, Big Walter Horton, Pinetop Perkins, and James Cotton just to name a few. Mudcat is also an elder statesman of the New England Blues and Roots scene, encouraging younger players and continuing to be one of the the driving forces for a still thriving community.

On this his first solo record simply self titled, Mudcat pulled together an assortment of friends, family and colleagues to put together a 10 song all original reflection on a life lived in music. A self described “Covid record” this album was put together in pieces, in isolation throughout 2020-2021. But, the relative separation of the musicians does not hamper the comradely and affection that comes across this labor of love. Mudcat plays bass – both electric and his signature stand up acoustic – throughout while overdubbing vocals, piano, organ and lap steel. Engineer Andy Plaisted locks in the drums with Ward on 7 tracks. Local stalwart and go to Blues/Roots vocalist Dennis Brennen offers his pipes, guitar and harmonica on 2 tracks. The remaining cast of guests all contribute one song each: Ward’s talented guitar playing brother Peter, Boston’s local guitar-god Monster Mike Welch, fellow Boston guitar leader Duke Levine on mandola, the Roots music innovators Eric and Ulrika Bibb heavenly sing, Sugar Ray Norcia blows raw harp, Cajun accordionist Steve Riley, guitar connoisseur Kevin Barry on acoustic nylon-string requinto and vocalist Carrie Johnson.

This collection of music is Roots eclectic, meaning there is a smattering of Gospel, Country, Blues and Folk. Highlights include Dennis Brennen’s contributions “Just Before Forever” and “My Isabelle” both acoustic ballad love songs Ward wrote about his wife. The lilting arpeggiated instrumental “B’s Song” featuring Duke Levine is tender. The slow Blues of “Get Me Out of Here” features Monster Mike Welch’s signature big reverb laden guitar emoting. Topical reflections land nicely in the instrumental “Blues for Parkland” a Sugar Ray spotlight and the the Bibbs’ pipe organ feature “Bless This Earth.”

Mudcat Ward knows the Blues and more broadly has music flowing through him. On his “debut” record (debut feels like the wrong description for a musician who has had a 40 plus year career) Mudcat offers a glimpse into his music, his concept, his approach. Mudcat sings in a warbling spoken word style that is a little inconsistent, but his musicianship is so natural and effortless that the music of this album transcends. For a musician who has spent his career backing up the greats, it is refreshing to hear what happens when he pulls together his “musical family,” as he identifies them in the liner notes, and takes center stage.

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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