Cover photo © 2023 Joseph A. Rosen
In This Issue
Bucky O’Hare has our feature interview with Veronica Lewis. We have six Blues reviews for you this week including new music from The Justin Saladino Band, Jason Ricci & Joe Krown, Guy Tortora, Dick Earl’s Electric Witness, Marc Broussard and Rhythm Krewe. Scroll down and check it out!
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Featured Interview – Veronica Lewis
“Because I started in the Blues I’m always going to keep that. But, I really consider myself a Roots player. I think bringing that joy and spontaneity between musicians will always be at the core of any of my music.”
Veronica Lewis is a 19 year old Boogie Woogie piano savant. She is also an emotive and reflective singer and songwriter. Hailing from Haverhill, Massachusetts with roots in New Hampshire she is the most recent recipient of a fine New England tradition of encouraging young talented Blues musicians to pursue their dreams.
Veronica has a unique style. Her debut record, 2021’s You Ain’t Lucky, melds the early Rock n’ Roll fire of Jerry Lee Lewis with the roiling shuffle of great Blues pianists like Memphis Slim, Sunnyland Slim or their contemporaries. Veronica then puts her own modern singer/songwriter aesthetic into this rich piano Blues pastiche creating something unique and fresh. Veronica seems to have been born with this individuality and drive to create her own identity.
“I’ve been playing piano, specifically this style of piano, since I can remember. Blues and Roots music found me when I was really young. It all started with improvising and writing over the I-IV-V Blues progression. I was listening to all the greats. Jerry Lee Lewis was really the first that got me really excited about piano. But you know then it spanned to Katie Webster who’s a big influence on me as well. Of course Otis Span and Dr. John, but, it did all start with the Blues and being confident in that I-IV-V progression. I think it was very conducive creatively for me as (chuckling) Little Veronica. It gave me some basic parameters and then I was able to improvise and start writing riffs and licks over it.”
An old piano which became a part of the family fascinated “Little Veronica” to teach herself how to play the music. Her piano was her playmate, her companion.
“It did all start with me alone at home with my 100 year old upright piano just trying to write riffs and songs over that 12 bar,” Veronica reminisces.
“So I started self taught. When I was 4 or 5 we moved to Haverhill. We found, I can’t remember, it was either from like a neighbor or on Craig’s List, this old piano that was in a barn. They were just gonna throw it out or like burn it or something (chuckles). And we were like ‘Oh, no, no we’ll take it.’ So we brought it on over to our house.”
“The name ‘Margaret’ is inscribed in gold, like fake gold glitter, on the front. It’s just the coolest old piano. We don’t know who Margaret is, but that’s just Margaret. When I was little I would say to myself: oh, Margaret’s gonna go get lonely. I better go play with her. I was so excited about it. It’s the only piano, actually, I’ve ever had. But, it’s almost like I don’t even want another piano, I just want Margaret.”
Veronica’s early talent led her to the warm embrace of the Granite State Blues Society. A vibrant and community minded chapter, Granite State helped elevate Veronica to the national scene.
“A big piece of my early story was the Granite State Blues Society. I spent half of the year in New Hampshire. I was born there and we have a little cabin in the woods. When I was 11 I won the Granite State Blues Society Youth Challenge. They’re just so great at the Blues Society, Audrey Frazier (president of the society), I love everybody involved. I got the chance to play at Tupelo Music Hall (venerable Southern NH music venue) which was really my first big show. I think I was 12 by the time I actually played the show. Then I got the chance to go down to Memphis.”
Of course Veronica’s trip to Memphis was her first of many entries into the International Blues Challenge. During one of these trips, Veronica and family took time to visit the Crossroads of the Blues: Clarksdale, MS. This pilgrimage was very transformational and inspirational to the budding songwriter.
“I went to Clarksdale, Mississippi and I got the chance to play at Ground Zero Blues club and meet all the locals who play at the club and work at the club. I got to meet a man named Abraham who’s working the pit barbecue out front. It was just a meaningful experience to come to the birthplace of the Blues. Seeing as my idols musically and on the piano came from this area and early Blues. It was just really powerful. It just struck me and I started writing songs on the way back home.”
Middle school Veronica was driven and full of music. Local New England promoters began booking Veronica as a solo act opening for national and then international Blues artists. More national recognition and momentum followed. Veronica was realizing her dreams to play the Blues.
But, high school and the demands of adolescence came as they do for everyone. Thankfully, Veronica is a level headed and enthusiastic learner. She brought the same determination to her studies as she did her ascending career.
“It was definitely a lot. It was definitely crazy. I’d get up at 6am and work till like (chuckling) midnight when I was in High School. Just trying to fit in music was a little tricky. In 10th grade I started doing online school. Then it was the pandemic Senior year so I basically just stayed on line. With online school you can kind of craft your class schedule everyday. So it was getting better, but definitely 9th and 10th grade was a little crazy. 2021 I graduated, I was actually valedictorian. I love school though, I love learning.”
Veronica says she “decided last year to not go to college and focus on my music.” Taking a deserved break from the double life of school and career she beams:
“Music is my entire life right now. I couldn’t be more grateful to just focus on it. Maybe I’ll go full time to a college eventually. But, right now I’m doing this and it’s my #1 priority, it’s everything.”
Veronica’s style is unique and refreshing. She doesn’t employ a bass player, instead handling all the low end with her left hand on the keys. This paired with a sympathetic driving drummer, wailing saxophone and rhythmically synced guitar made You Ain’t Lucky one of the stand out debuts of recent years. This line up came to Veronica pretty holistically over time based on the musicians she met. First was drums.
“When you’re in the moment you don’t realize how things form. But, it did really organically. I started doing shows solo from 12 to 16. Then very naturally, almost serendipitously, I found Mike Walsh my drummer. Of my God is he incredible. He’s been with me the longest. He and I have a special bond. He kind of reads my mind almost and he creates the backbone of the sound.”
It was this duo that won the Boston Blues Challenge in 2020 for solo/duo and went to the IBC that year. Then deepening her sound, Veronica added saxophone, a classic Blues and early Rock n Roll foil.
“We started with Don Davis on sax in 2019.” Veronica reflects, “for my music it fit better to have horns first. (Saxophonist) Joel Edinburg is on the album. I started working with him back when I was, gosh maybe 15, one of my first recording sessions he was working at Q Division (well established Boston recording studio). He played sax and we just came back together last year and he’s been joining me on the road.”
“Brad Dubay, my guitar player, we met like last Summer. He’s just awesome. He’s such a great player, very rhythmic. Brad does a great job with some great rhythm parts. It really takes a finesse player to hold down a rhythm, a very strong player. It’s like yeah you just got to hold it right down with the left hand of the piano. He does a great job of doing that and then he lets it rip on the solos too.”
The culmination of Veronica’s work came together for You Ain’t Lucky. This is a showcase for, incredibly for someone so young, almost 10 years of work, creativity and experience. Not only Veronica the fiery pianist, but, Veronica the singer, the songwriter jumped onto a bigger stage with the debut.
“Some of those songs I wrote when I was 13 and 14. This debut album was really marking a stakeholder for who I was as a musician, as a songwriter. Where I came from and what those early influences were in my career. My process for those songs, I would have a really cool experience, a really meaningful experience.”
“A lot of the process it starts with a visual image in my head of a song idea. Or it starts with a main idea of something I want to say. ‘You Ain’t Unlucky’, the title track, I came up with the main idea for the song. I started working the lyrics first and then the music came. I think a lot of the time the process is I have something I need to say and I want to share with people and then the music comes to compliment that”
When I complimented Veronica on her powerful and unique voice she demurred:
“Half the time I still don’t know if I can sing. I just naturally wanted to say something. I had things I wanted to express, you know, even when I was 11. I did a little bit on my own and then I had a couple vocal coaches and mentors. Pamela Stevens from Keene, New Hampshire worked with me over the past few years helping to find my own voice. You know I think when I first started out I wasn’t sure what my unique approach would be and I think I’m finding it.”
Veronica is on fire right now. She is co-headlined a tour with Quinn Sullivan and she is playing non-stop. This Summer she will play at the Levitate Festival south of Boston. She was specifically asked to play on Brandi Carlile’s day, a really big endorsement from a consistently authentic artist.
Veronica is also writing and recording a new record. Not willing to rest on her past accomplishments, Veronica is pushing her songwriting and delving deeply again for her new work. She is also conscious of the people her music has resonated with and she keeps her fans, her community, at the center.
“It’s all about that connection of musicians. About real instruments, about the real message of the songs. Very raw authentic vocals as well. I think the highlight of this next album is the song writing. How can I convey this message. The emotions of the song are important. How can I convey this song in a way that people can feel what I’m trying to say.”
“I think it will always be roots music but I’ve been trying to not force myself into any category as I’m writing the songs. I’m kind of releasing and saying: what do I want to say now? I’m growing up, I’m maturing as a songwriter and as a player, so that’s going to show in the music. There’s more serious and more personal things that I need to say. And I am saying it with my new album. Always at the core of my heart and of my being there’s gonna be the greatest love and appreciation for Blues music and for Rock n’ Roll and Roots. But, I’m allowing myself some freedom. I’m really excited for everyone to hear it.”
Veronica Lewis has been playing for a long time and has hit success early. But, she is also still at the beginning of her life’s journey. She is thoughtful about her art and about her life. She is clearly living in the moment. Not in some reckless wasted youth cliche, but in wringing every drop of experience out of everything she does; working as hard as she can to make the most of every moment. This is a deeply emotive artist who is humbly diving into the great things ahead of her.
“I’ve been having a lot of fun and a lot of inspiration. A lot of it’s been due to all the support. The real incredible community that has supported me for over the past 5 years, for goodness sake. None of the motivation or inspiration could happen without knowing that there’s all these incredible fans and supporters and musicians and mentors and friends and family behind me who believe in me. Yeah just a big thank you. ”
You can check out Veronica’s tour schedule and news at: https://www.veronicalewis.com/
Writer Bucky O’Hare is a slide guitarist, songwriter and singer. Based out of South Eastern Massachusetts, Bucky plays Slide Guitar Soul Jazz and Funk Blues inspired by the music of the 60’s and 70’s all around New England.
Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6
The Justin Saladino Band – Honest Lies
Ten tracks; 39 minutes
The Canadian band, The Justin Saladino Band, was nominated for a Maple Blues Award as New Artist of the Year in 2018, and represented Quebec at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis that year as well. Their latest release, Honest Lies, demonstrates why they earned those honors. The album was produced by Canadian guitarist, Ariel Posen, who is also included as a guest artist, playing guitar and providing backing vocals. Honest Lies starts off with an extremely catchy song, “Sink or Swim,” and the guitar is exceptional not only on that song, but also on all the remaining tracks. In addition, Gabriel Forget and Denis Paquin do an excellent job on bass and drums, respectively, and Melissa Pacifico offers some beautiful backing vocals.
Saladino is a skilled songwriter, and all of the songs on this album were either written or co-written by Saladino. The lyrics for many of the songs could serve as good encouragement for those wrestling with relationship issues. For example, in “Sink or Swim” he notes, “we’re going to make it through this together. I don’t want to live with regret. It’s either sink or swim, that’s the shape I’m in.” And, “Can’t Have You Around” offers support for those relationships that have ended: “Letting you walk away was the best damn thing I could have done that day!”
Saladino’s website describes his style as “rock, blues, folk, and funk with genre-blending compositions.” That seems to accurately describe what you will hear on this album. Blues purists may be disappointed, as the blues-influence can be a little difficult to find on a few of the tracks. However, Saladino is a very talented singer and guitarist and he surrounded himself with wonderful musicians for this project. Those who appreciate a variety of genres will find this a very enjoyable addition to their collection.
Writer Anita Schlank lives in Virginia, and is on the Board of Directors for the River City Blues Society. She has been a fan of the blues since the 1980s. She and Tab Benoit co-authored the book “Blues Therapy,” with all proceeds from sales going to the HART Fund.
Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6
Jason Ricci / Joe Krown — City Country City
Gulf Coast Records – 2021
12 tracks; 65 minutes
For the first time since 1993, New Orleans piano and organ master Joe Krown will miss the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival this year. The reason: he will be on tour in Europe with the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band. “I really enjoy playing with Kenny and his band. It’s a great gig for me,” says Krown, “but the potential of something like this happening is always there. My friends and fellow musicians refer to this as the ‘Golden Handcuffs’.” Indeed. Joe Krown has been touring with Shepherd since 2017 as full-time organ and piano player, but that’s only scratching the surface of his storied career as a Hammond-endorsed B3 virtuoso and pianist over the course of multiple collaborations, bands, albums and tours. After the passing of the legendary great Allen Toussaint in November 2015, Joe was selected to fill the maestro’s chair, playing piano with Toussaint’s band, and backing up greats like Bonnie Rait, Aaron Neville, Irma Thomas, Dr. John, Cyril Neville and others at the 2016 New Orleans Jazz Fest, Hollywood Bowl, Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center and more. Joe Krown is the embodiment of a “musicians’ musician.”
One of the New Orleans musicians drawn to Krown and his versatility and deep roots was harmonica master Jason Ricci, who first teamed up with Krown for local gigs a few years back, and now performs in New Orleans and tours with him as the Ricci Krown Trio. Ricci is a legend in the blues harmonica world, with multiple “Harmonica Player of the Year” awards from the Blues Foundation, SPAH (Society for Preservation of the Harmonica) and Blues Blast Magazine. His genre-defying harp skills are the epitome of technical virtuosity combined with a solid groove. Though completely at ease with Mississippi and Chicago blues harp standards, he has taken harmonica playing to mind-bending frontiers of innovation. He was chosen to represent the great Paul Butterfield for his induction into to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015, and his collaborations are too numerous to list here. His musical generosity is legendary – he has produced literally hundreds of YouTube teaching videos, accessible free to any and all aspiring harmonica players worldwide. He has endlessly toured the U.S. and Europe with his own band, The Bad Kind, and has frequent gigs with Krown, with guitarist J.J. Appleton, with J.P. Soars and Anne Harris, and soon with Chicago Bluesman Lurrie Bell. City Country City is the first album by Ricci and Krown, along with drummer Doug Belote.
From the first organ arpeggio on the title track, we are instantly in church, waiting for the choir to join in. But what comes next is Ricci’s unamplified harp on the “country” phrase, emulating the original by War’s Lee Oskar on the classic album The World is a Ghetto from 1972. Unlike War’s version, though, Ricci switches to amplified harp for the “city” phrases, played on the original by Charles Miller on clarinet and sax. This pattern continues throughout the track, switching from a rhumba in the major pentatonic scale in the country to a bubbling funky, jazzy beat in the city. The country sections remain calm and peaceful, but the interspersed city phrases become increasingly bold and frantic as the cut progresses, highlighting Ricci’s energy and virtuosity. A passing quote from “Eleanor Rigby” near the end of this instrumental gem reminds us of how impersonal city life can be.
Next up is “Down and Dirty,” a swinging shuffle by Krown, with a solid groove maintained by Belote on drums, and a classic but innovative organ solo, with tasteful support from Ricci’s amplified harp.
“Don’t Badger the Witness” features Ricci’s unique singing voice – sometimes pleading, sometimes gritty – in a song based on his experiences with the legal system. His skillful use of acoustic harp hand wahs is contrasted with some dirty amplified harp on the final phrase.
The Joe Sample tune “My Mama Told Me So” features tightly synchronized organ and harp, backed by Belote’s in-the-pocket drumming, building to one of Ricci’s mind-warping harp speed runs near the middle. We are then eased out by Krown’s mellow, jazzy B3 accented by occasional drum breaks. This is followed by the Ricci original “Feel Good Funk,” featuring an irresistible beat and Ricci’s distinctive singing interspersed with a bubbling harp line.
“It Starts With Me” is a sweet Ricci / Krown original instrumental with piano and acoustic harmonica, referencing the artists’ desire to make the world a better place through example.
Ricci’s “Down At The Juke” features a relaxed shuffle beat and Krown’s jazzy organ riffs complementing a Mississippi hill country theme. This is followed by “Upshot,” a punchy Grant Green instrumental with a tight groove and a downtown Saturday night vibe. The walking bass on this number (and others) is actually an organ bass line by Krown.
The slow Charles Brown 1945 classic “Driftin’ Blues” is slowed down further in the Ricci / Krown version, and Brown’s opening piano is replaced by Ricci’s pleading amplified harp. Krown’s B3 solo is understated but evocative, followed by Ricci’s 1st position acoustic harp which demonstrates how closely the harmonica can evoke the human voice.
“The Jimmy Smith Strut,” by Taj Mahal, is a bouncy uplifting shuffle that conjures images of a New Orleans street celebration. Both players swing at their best on this number. “Just A Playboy” switches to a rhumba beat that takes us further down a New Orleans side street and into a local dive, with a piano solo from Krown with an enticing boogie-woogie flavor, followed by some Ricci harp gymnastics that are his unique trademark.
The final cut, Bobby Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe,” is a most unlikely addition to a blues / jazz album, and bears repeated listening to appreciate its nuances. With the Ricci / Krown interpretation, in which the harmonica stands in for the vocal, this instrumental is not a cover tune, but an original.
According to Ricci, City Country City was recorded “mostly live” in 2 days at Jack Miele Productions Studios in New Orleans’ lower garden district. “There might be a couple of harp or organ overdubs,” says Ricci, but the production of such a gem live in 2 days speaks volumes for the mastery of craft and groove these 2 musicians share. As far as is known this is the only album by an amplified diatonic harmonica and organ duo ever recorded. Don’t miss it.
Reviewer Tom Watson is a Blues lover and physician in Florida.
Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6
Guy Tortora – Anywhere But Here
10 songs time – 53:30
Pasadena, California native Guy Tortora now plies his musical trade from London, England. He is more of a rootsy singer-songwriter than a bluesman, although some blues seep into his songs. Aside from singing, he handles all guitars and harmonica. His backup is mainly drums, keyboards, bass and some backing vocals. He wrote eight of the ten songs as well as co-producing with Tim Burns. This is his sixth album.
His main instrument seems to be his National Steel Guitar, as shown on “High Tide Deep Water”. He plays harmonica here as well. His slightly gritty warm voice makes these tunes go down like a cool drink of water. Janos Bajtala lends his piano skills to this one. The guitar is more out front on “Withered On The Vine”. Janos Bajtala commits a fiery organ solo. Acoustic slide guitar and brushed snare drum contribute to the atmospherics on the mysterious and ominous “The Stranger”.
Geez Louise…If he scrunched up his voice, “Pearl” would sound like Bob Dylan, even down to the similar organ sound he once used. There is a tad of a reminiscent delivery here as well. “While I was lookin’ for a diamond, I found a pearl”. Tentative guitar over organ “blurps” start off “Go Back Home”. Some Dylanesque attitude picks up its’ head on this one too. They take on The Grateful Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie”. They do some lyric shuffling around, but not to the song’s detriment. Quite a nice version.
They show their trippy folky side on the dreamy “Flower Street. Guy utilizes tender guitar licks that are well suited to the song’s vibe. A tad of Dylan organ makes an encore. A credible interpretation of The Drifter’s “Under The Boardwalk” includes Spanish style acoustic guitar and “E-Street Band accordion courtesy of Alan Dunn. Guy’s singer-songwriter side is in full bloom in the whimsical “Koffeeville”. Lilting piano is along for the ride. The album title comes from this song. The gentle acoustic guitar instrumental “Goodnight & Good Luck” almost closes out the album, until an uncredited solo acoustic guitar and “Bobby” harmonica version of “Koffeeville” pops up to some things up on a warm and mellow note.
I can’t think of a better or more relaxing way to spend some time on your ears and heart, than this very satisfying visceral journey. While this is not Blues, the sparse instrumentation along with a laid back feel make this better than therapy.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6
Dick Earl’s Electric Witness
11 tracks/53 minutes
Dick Earl Ericksen hails from Utah and his band Electric Witness won the Las Vegas Blues Society’s Blues challenge and represented them at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis this past January. Dick is a veteran of four decades in music and is a fantastic harp player, singer and songwriter who also can hold his own on guitar.
I first met up with Dick in 2014 after the Keeping the Blues Alive luncheon at the International Blues Challenge. Tas Cru and Crossroads both were awarded Keeping the Blues Alive Awards; Dick was playing in the band with Tas at the IBC jams. In January 2017, I finally arranged for Tas to come to Rockford to play for us and to do some Blues in the Schools programs. Dick, Tas and the band performed for almost 1.000 students at two schools in February. He returned with Tas in 2018 and 2019; in all, they did seven BITS programs for almost 2,500 students and also performed three evening shows for us. His harp skills were impressive and he was a super guy to hang out with. Given our similar body types, we both also enjoyed some good meals together.
A consummate family man, he and his wife Alice work together on musical projects. Alice produced this album and does backing vocals and percussion. His backline are also part of the family. His son Isaac plays upright bass and sings and his daughter Mari plays drums and sings. The acorn does not fall far from the tree; they are two talented young musicians in their own right. His other daughter Zoe also sings on the CD. Also appearing are John Houston on keys, Ryan Tilby on lap steel guitar, and the horn section of Jay Nygaard, Spencer Franks and Amy Paterson are respectively on trombone, sax and trumpet. Dick penned and arranged all the songs here.
The album begins with “Voodoo Kitchen,” a slick cut with a driving beat and some great harp and guitar licks. Next is “Deep Blues Sea,” a slow and haunting blues with a nice Gospel feel to it. Ericksen sings of being lost and alone; sadly, no one is out looking for him, He blows some more mean harp here to savor. “No Headlights” follows, a pretty piece with well done vocal harmonies and some organ layered in for nice effect. Dick sings and plays with restrained passion that builds in intensity. Solos on guitar and harp are both well done.
“Devil Don’t Own” is another big cut with wicked slide and harp and a pounding beat. Erickson sings emotively and there is a haunting vocal “echo” by Alice that helps to set the mood. He follows that with “Youth Is Beautiful,” a soulful cut with great work by the keys and horns. Vocals and harmonies once again shine. “Beautiful Girl” is a slow and moving love song that Ericksen nails and he adds another outstanding harp solo. A thoughtful guitar solo also adds well to the mix. Then it’s “Back Of A Mountain” where the beat picks up and Dick howls out the lead vocals. Harp and guitar are vibrant, cool and emotionally charged, too.
“Wolf Will Howl” is another excellent cut with some interesting harmonies and more great harp work. Slow blues is the order of business with “Sinner Or Saint,” a pensive and penitent cut where Dick plays and sings with deep feeling. The harp with organ backing and vocal harmonies take the listener to church. “Time Fades” shifts gears as Ericksen tells a story as he travels past the end of the road. Dick sings that, “Time fades your fences, but it just don’t take them away.” A great, slow and heavy groove drives the song as the harp testifies to us. Then the guitar breaks out the beat picks up as Ericksen tells the story of a no account friend who he repeatedly helps despite being used. Guitar and harp are nicely done as the band delivers a George Thorogood-esque performance. Time does fade fences, but the reality is that they are still there. The final number is a country piece entitled “Home Fires.” Ericksen gives a down home performance on vocals, acoustic guitar and harp. The harmonies come in and take us sweetly home. It’s beautifully delivered and wraps up a set of super tunes that I was thoroughly impressed with.
These songs and the performances are all top notch. Inspired by his faith and driven by his desire to make great music, Ericksen has delivered a superb album and deserves at least his third place finish in this year’s INC Finals! I most highly recommend this album!
Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer 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
Marc Broussard – S.O.S. IV: Blues For Your Soul
KTBA Records – 2022
12 tracks – 52 minutes
At age 41, Marc Broussard has already had a long history of philanthropic work starting with his self-released Bootleg to Benefit the Victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The sales from that album aided in the organization of the Monetary Setback Fund, which was created to provide financial assistance to those that were displaced by both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Ruth.
In 2015, he established the S.O.S. (Save Our Soul) Foundation, which provides a conduit to charities such as United Way, Habitat for Humanity, The City of Refuge in Atlanta, and Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, LA. As noted from the title, this is the fourth in a series of releases under the title of S.O,S. The first release occurred in 2007, prior to the formation of the foundation, but did start his further efforts to fund worthy causes. The other two preceding albums arrived in 2017 and 2019.
Over the years, Marc had become close friends with Joe Bonamassa. In deciding to focus the album on the blues, he reached out to Joe to see if he would be willing to be involved in the production of the latest S.O.S. album. Joe jumped at the opportunity and agreed to co-produce the album with Josh Smith on Joe’s KTBA label. Both Joe and Josh are guest players on the album, along with a vast array of other players including Jeff Babko on keyboards and B3, Calvin Turner on Bass, Lemar Cater on drums, a full horn section and strings by The Nashville Recording Orchestra. Marc identified that the purpose of S.O.S. 4 is to provide a significant amount of the funds received from the album’s sale to Joe’s “Keeping the Blues Alive Foundation”, which supports youth rehabilitation through music. That foundation also offers support to “Guitars Over Guns”, a Miami-based non-profit that offers students in vulnerable communities both music scholarships and mentorship.
The album consists of 11 classic soul blues songs and one original song penned by Marc, Josh Smith and Calvin Turner which concludes the album. Marc sought songs that would allow him to stretch across a wide range of the blues from songs from early blues greats to classic 60’s and 70’ssounds.
The first song on the album is “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination” originally recorded by Gladys Knight and The Pips and penned by Gerry Goffin and Barry Goldberg. Joe Bonamassa provides lead guitar and Eric Krasno plays rhythm. That is followed by “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water”, originally recorded by Johnny Taylor in 1968 and later by Lou Rawls in 1972. Jeff Babko’s piano drives the song and Josh Smith provides the guitar lead. Joe returns on guitar on “That’s What Love Makes You Do”, a Little Milton Campbell composition and single from 1970.
Roddie Romero, who is from Marc’s hometown of Lafayette, La. and is leader of the Ragin’ Cajun’s zydeco band provides the guitar on a very soulful version of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Cuttin’ In” from 1963. Bobby “Blue” Bland’s 1974 song “Dreamer” is given a very smooth rendering. That is followed by a jumping and slightly psychedelic version of a lost Son House song “Empire State Express” that first appeared in 1965 and was subsequently recently recovered and remastered by Dan Auerbach. A slow soul rendition of Bobby Womack’s 1969 “Love, The Time Is Now” features Bobby Schneck Jr., who has played with Devon Allman, on guitar.
JJ Grey joins in on vocals on Howlin’ Wolf’s 1969 “I Asked For Water” and, of course, “she brought me gasoline” with Dennis Gruenling blowing a mean harmonica. Eric Krasno takes the guitar lead on B.B. Kings’ 1973 song “I Like to Live the Love”. John Lee Hooker’s “Locked Up In Jail (Prison Blues)” originally released in the early 1950’s is given a throbbing treatment under Josh Smith’s guitar lead.
Roosevelt Sykes’ “Drivin’ Wheel Blues” was first recorded on Decca Records in 1936 and was subsequently performed by many other performers including B.B. King and as here named, “Driving Wheel”. Joe Bonamassa returns on guitar and Reese Wynans joins on the B3. Joe also plays on the sole original song, “When Will I Let Her Go”.
Marc and Joe have created a timeless soul masterpiece. Marc’s strong vocal presence can match any of the soul greats who came before him and certainly well serves the classic nature of every song on the album. The album’s guests are just a strong addition to the overall appeal of the album and offers credibility to its charitable aspects and support and also certainly deserves your support as well with a purchase of the album.
Writer John Sacksteder is a retired civil engineer in Louisville, Kentucky who has a lifelong love of music, particularly the blues. He is currently the Editor of the Kentuckiana Blues Society’s monthly newsletter.
Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6
Rhythm Krewe – Unfinished Business
12 songs time – 54:48
This Southern California based band began life in 1990 as Floyd & The Flyboys, a nine piece horn band. It is the brainchild of guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Steve Zelman. The band consists of first rate musicians that among them have performed or recorded with acts as varying as Ray Charles, Santana, Tower Of Power, Lyle Lovett and Brian Setzer, among many others. On this their debut release they incorporate genres ranging from blues, rhythm & blues, jump blues, swing, soul and who knows what else. Although they have a four-piece horn section, they don’t hog all the action, as all the players get to shine. Steve Zelman wrote nine of the songs as well as handling production chores.
Steve Zelman kicks off Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “She Moves Me” with a solid blues guitar intro leading into the horn section punctuating the groove. His smooth voice helps. Tenor sax man Chris Mostert lets loose a riveting solo, and Jim Blazer answers the call with his cool piano solo. Steve adds inventive guitar soloing to ice the cake. Gary Coppola sings over a rhumba beat on “One Hell For Another”, a tale of life’s ups and downs. Jim Blazer’s piano and the ever-present horn section give it a New Orleans R&B tinge.
The horns sit it out for a song of love and devotion in “Little Bit Of Heaven”. Zelman’s swampy guitaring attains a soothing atmosphere over the cushion of Jim Blazer’s electric piano. In “Better Late Than Never” Steve professes his love while lending his smooth guitar to the song. Coppola tells of unrequited love over bluesy guitar and Jim Blazer’s cocktail lounge piano on “Time Of Day”. In James Cotton’s “She’s Murder”, punchy horns contrast with blues guitar to good effect.
Professor Longhair’s “Her Mind Is Gone” is taken at a slightly slower pace than the original. The piano interlude has more of a jazz bent as opposed to that of Fess. Guest vocalist David Morgan voices “Prescription for Disaster”, a shuffle, in a gruffer tone than the other two vocalists. Chris Rhyne contributes organ, although incorrectly listed in liner notes as piano. The salsa infused “Wild Love” benefits from the drumming of Danny Pucillo Jr. and the tasty organ of Jim Blazer.
Gary Coppola handles the vocal on the title song. The horn section is used to full effect here. Chris Rhyne commits a tender piano intro to “Sweet Surrender”, a mellow change of pacer. Steve Zelman and Gary Coppola share the vocals on the swinging and lighthearted “Monkey Toes” that finales with a Bo Diddley beat. Steve includes some infectious slide guitar.
This is a welcome addition. Horn bands that are in short supply. All the instruments are tight throughout under Steve’s and co-producer Robert M. Biles’ expert production values. This is truly an amalgamation of talented musicians, smart choice of cover songs and crafty lyrics. It is a sure fire addition to any music lover’s collection.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
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