Issue 17-3 January 19, 2023

Cover photo © 2023 Laura Carbone

 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Albert Castiglia. We have eight Blues music reviews for you this week including new music from The Duchess’ Jureesa McBride, The Rick Ray Band, Jimmy Hall, Lil’ Red & The Rooster, Rochelle & The Sidewinders, Joe Flip, The Texas Horns and Angela Strehli. Scroll down and check it out!


 Featured Interview – Albert Castiglia 

imageIt seems almost incongruous to use the word “subtlety” when it comes to Albert Castiglia. After all, there are few blues-rockers who can match his powerful delivery and talent – someone who, on stage, is about as subtle as a tornado – a fury that’s taken even greater dimension through his burgeoning partnership with Mike Zito as one half of Blood Brothers.

But take a close look at Castiglia’s musical output during the past few years and you’ll realize that the occasionally brash, in-your-face attitude he presents to the world on stage. Underneath it all, however, he’s exposed another side of himself as a man with a deep social conscience, something that’s perceptible in both the songs he’s been writing and in his newfound approach to life, too.

It’s a powerful transition – and one, as you’ll learn here, that occurred after a call from a “stranger” out of the blue.

Albert was fresh off the road from a Blood Brothers tour and on the verge of celebrating the holidays with his family when Blues Blast caught up with him a few weeks ago.

The son of a Italian-American father and a Cuban-born mother – strict parents who loved doo-wop and country music, Castiglia was born in New York City on Aug. 12, 1969. Raised in Miami from age five, he grew up in a home instilled with old-school values and the necessity to attend college, find a decent job and stick with it until ready to retire.

Fascinated by the six-string after watching an uncle play, Albert received his first guitar at age 12 and was still in his early teens when he discovered the blues by accident one day after acquiring a copy of Eric Clapton’s Just One Night, a two-disc live set recorded in Japan and released in 1980 that included covers of several azure treasures, including Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Further on Up the Road,” Otis Rush’s “Double Trouble,” Robert Johnson’s “Ramblin’ on My Mind” and Big Maceo’s “Worried Life Blues.”

His interest peaked three years later after listening to a cassette of Muddy Waters’ Hard Again. “I’d never heard anything like it,” Castiglia exclaims. “It was raw, lowdown dirty, primitive, primal!”

Following his parents’ wishes, Albert attended the University of Central Florida, graduated and was hired by the State of Florida as a social worker, spending the next four years in Miami, primarily screening applicants for food stamps, Medicaid and treatment for the various forms of trauma that many of the clients endured before applying for care.

“If we couldn’t help ‘em, we’d refer ‘em to other agencies. It was great fun,” he says sarcastically. “But it gave me a greater appreciation for what I do now.”

It was a task that still haunts him.

“Looking back, it just wasn’t for me, but it was a great life experience,” he admits. “And it didn’t kill me. It made me stronger! At least twice a year, though, I’d wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, still thinkin’ I’m late for work. After a couple of seconds, I’d realize I don’t have that job anymore – and go back to sleep!”

Throughout that period, however, Castiglia was working seriously on his guitar chops in his off hours. He joined his first band, Miami Blues Authority, shortly after graduation, and eventually became such a standout that the Miami New Times weekly anointed him as the best blues guitarist in the city in 1997.

It was the year that Castiglia’s path in life would change for good.

The previous New Year’s Eve, he’d been in attendance at the Back Room, a popular nightspot in Delray Beach about 45 minutes to the north, to catch Junior Wells in action. Early in the night, a chance conversation with Wells’ road manager/nephew, Michael Blakemore led to an invitation to sit in. But it came with a warning that he’d better be good because Junior – who wasn’t shy about berating musicians in public – wouldn’t hold back if he wasn’t.

“I got up with the band to kick of the second set,” Albert remembers. “They played three songs without Junior, and I jammed with them. Then Junior came up, and I did three more.”

It was a brief encounter, but Castiglia made an impression, and Michael exchanged phone numbers with him when the night was done.

A month later, Blakemore – who eventually spent years on the road with Magic Slim – called and asked him if he’d like to fill in on guitar for a week on Junior’s gigs in Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit – a run that proved so successful that Michael called again a few weeks later and asked if he’d like the fulltime gig.

At age 27, Albert accepted on the spot – taking a position formerly occupied by Phil Guy, Sammy Lawhorn, Lefty Dizz, Byther Smith, Louis Myers and John Primer, among others. And – fortunately for him – his parents’ attitude had softened through the years and they gave him their blessing.

Castiglia relocated to Chicago, but his stay got off to a rocky start. He spent the first night at the loft of a cousin who’d just gotten married but was asked to leave because the newlyweds couldn’t endure his snoring. Junior’s other guitarist, Stevie Lizard, took him in for a couple of nights before he settled into a fleabag hotel on the North Side for $20 a night.

image“It was somethin’ right out of Blues Brothers,” he remembers, “a transient hotel with hobos, crack whores, pimps and johns – and there was a chalk line in my room. It was really classy! (chuckles). I stayed there for a couple of weeks ’til another cousin let me stay at his place and I got settled in.”

It was a struggle, but Albert believed it was the greatest time in his life – and a quality learning experience, too – especially where music was concerned.

“Before I met Junior, I thought it just was all about playin’…you took your guitar, put your head down and played and sang,” he says, an attitude that changed dramatically after watching Wells in action. “I came to realize that there’s much more to it than just that…you have to engage the audience, make them feel part of the show – and you have to be vulnerable. And Junior was a master of opening himself up and makin’ em feel like…aw…they matter.”

Wells’ stage mastery was a lesson in and of itself, but he also passed along sage advice verbally, too, Castiglia says, recounting one incident that occurred when they were spending a week, playing aboard the Ultimate Blues Cruise, a precursor to the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise.

“We did two sets on the main stage…played one and had a break,” Albert recalls, “and Michael asked me to keep an eye on Junior while he took care of some business.

“So Junior and I sat at the bar, had a drink, and he told me stories about growin’ up with Earl Hooker and doin’ a lot of gigs together before he hooked up with Buddy Guy…how they used to play for change on trolley cars in Chicago when they were kids. And then the topic became me. He asked me what I wanted to do with my career, and I said: ‘Well, I just wanna stay with you. I wanna hang with you ’til the end.’

“And then – in his own way — he said: ‘Well, I appreciate that. But I don’t expect you to be in this band for the rest of your life. You’re gonna have your own band someday, and the reason I’m tellin’ you this is I want you to learn from this experience because one day it’s gonna be up to you to keep the blues alive.’

“It was time for us to go back and play, and between the bar and the auditorium was this casino full of lovely ladies who had their eyes fixated on Junior because he was always so impeccably dressed. He kept stopping to talk and flirt with ‘em…‘Hey, pretty mama! You see Junior Wells and a bulldog in a fight…who are you gonna help?’ It was a line he used often with women.

“He kept draggin’ ass gettin’ to the auditorium, and Marty Saltzman (his personal manager) was pullin’ his hair out: ‘What’s goin’ on, Albert? You’re supposed to be back on stage!’

“I said: ‘What am I supposed to do? I can’t tell Junior…’

“We get near the outside of the auditorium and I hear applause. I peek through the door and the whole band’s onstage…and start playin’…without me. So I run up the aisle, get up onstage, and the whole band’s eyeballin’ me. But we kept on playin’.

“A few months later, I was hangin’ with my roommate, Van Samuels, who was the bass player, and he says: ‘Remember that night when you were late…’

“I said: ‘I wasn’t late. Junior made me late…I was just lookin’ after him, doin’ what I was told…’

“He says: ‘I know…but we had a meeting that night without you and Junior…and everybody in the band wanted you fined $50.’”

And there was a reason. Every time someone in the band received and paid a fine, the money went into a kitty, Albert says. And when it grew big enough, everyone in the band would get a satin Junior Wells tour jacket, which was a prize beyond compare.

Confronted with their decision, however, Wells shouldered all of the blame. “He paid the fine for me,” Albert says, “and swore everybody to secrecy. He didn’t want me to know!

“Junior could be very cantankerous and tough…really tough…he could do some hardcore shit. He could cuss you out on stage. But my dad did it all the time, so it didn’t bother me. But he was good-hearted to a fault. He loved his fans, and he loved people. And he was extremely charitable, too. Someone told me that after Louis Myers passed away, he actually paid for the headstone.”

For Albert and the band, the future truly looked bright that fall. Not only had Wells received a Grammy for traditional-blues album-of-the-year nomination for Come on in This House the previous year, he’d followed it up with another for Live at Buddy Guy’s Legends. Riding the crest of that success he and the band were working so steadily, he was planning to put everyone on salary and major shows, including a tour of South Africa, were looming just over the horizon.

Unfortunately, however, Junior’s health was in rapid decline. After suffering a heart attack and being diagnosed with cancer, he passed away at age 63 on Jan. 15, 1998, just eight months after Castiglia had been brought on board full time.

But the lessons Wells imparted are still bearing fruit today.

“It was a really important part of my life,” Castiglia insists. “And him bequeathing the responsibility to keep the blues alive has been my mission ever since.”

In the years that followed, Albert worked briefly with several other top bluesmen, including Phil Guy, Linsey Alexander and Charlie Love – all of whom were stars in the Windy City but deserved bigger names elsewhere — before a stint backing Sandra Hall, the reigning Empress of the Blues in Atlanta, appearing on her 2001 CD, Miss Red Riding Hood. Produced by Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, it included contributions from fellow Chicagoans Tom Holland, Allen Batts and Brian “B.J.” Jones.

“I’d met Sandra on that blues cruise, and she and Michael Blakemore were really tight,” he says. “After Junior died, he reached out to her and said the band needed work. She hired me and Junior’s rhythm. I went all over the country with her for three-and-a-half years. I was the only member of her touring band who made it onto that record, which meant a lot to me.

image“It was a great experience. She was – and is — very charismatic…a blues shouter in the Koko Taylor type of vein. I often wonder why she’s never gotten as big as she deserves. She’s as good a performer as anybody.”

As much as Castiglia loved the Windy City, however, he returned to South Florida after coming to terms with the fact that Chicago had become unaffordable. Not only had the price of everything risen exponentially since he’d arrived, but quality gigs were also hard to come by because of large roster of quality guitarists competing for a limited number of decent-paying positions.

“I moved back, and I felt like I was a failure,” he says. “But it turned out the best thing for me.”

A stint in the Alligator Alley Allstars – a regional supergroup that included fellow fret master David Shelley, a native Californian who previously worked with Cher – followed before Albert formed his own band and released his debut CD, Burn, in 2004. The disc featured several tunes by Graham Wood Drout, a legendary figure in the Miami blues scene as leader of the band Iko Iko.

They’ve been frequent songwriting partners since Castiglia’s Miami Blues Authority days, a relationship that continues whenever possible today, Albert notes, adding: “I just recently grabbed a song from his older catalog, ‘Bag Me, Tag Me, Take Me Away,’ for the Blood Brothers record that’s comin’ up.”

The duo actually shared credits on Castiglia’s second CD, a live set entitled The Bittersweet Sessions.

Albert’s continued to pay tribute to Junior throughout his career. He covered three Wells tunes — “Hoodoo Man Blues” and two other songs from his setlist – on his 2006 disc, A Stone’s Throw, and then penned a song in his honor, “Godfather of the Blues,” for These Are the Days two years later. Another song from that session, “Bad Year Blues,” went on to receive a BMA song-of-the-year nomination.

Castiglia’s career ascended steadily throughout the 2010s. Both Keepin’ On and Living the Dream, which were released by New Jersey’s Blue Leaf Records, captured album-of-the-year honors from Roots Record Report before he moved on to the German Ruf imprint – a relationship that was initiated thanks to a helping hand from Zito and which produced four more blues-rock pleasers, Solid Ground, Blues Caravan 2014 (co-headlined with British blues-rocker Laurence Jones and Norwegian guitarist Christina Skjolberg), Big Dog and Up All Night.

Despite his steady output, Albert admits, writing tunes on his own has often been a struggle. But that began to change one traumatic, emotional day in 2018, when he received a call from a young lady named Rayne who informed him that he was the father she’d been searching for her entire life – something that had been revealed by a DNA search that lead her to one of his cousins and, eventually, him.

It was a life-changing moment. Not only did Castiglia – then in his late 40s – learn that he was a father, but he was also on the verge of becoming the proud “Pop Pop” to a granddaughter and grandson, too.

The news couldn’t have come at a better time because Albert’s grandmother had passed earlier that day. “I was on tour,” he remembers, and couldn’t make the funeral. But I think my daughter was a gift from her as she left the earth – the greatest gift I’ve ever received.

“I have no doubt that my grandmother was a conduit for that whole thing. When I saw her picture for the first time, she looked just like my grandmother – the same hair and same nose!”

It was love at first sight, something that’s grown even stronger because, quickly became to understand, “she grew up to be a wonderful person, great wife and mother even though I wasn’t around to help.”

Even better, he says, “she’s got a lot of my traits. She never sang in public before she met me. But she’s taken an interest in singing and just sat in with me recently at a jazz club near her home! She’s a folk singer…that’s what’s in her wheelhouse…but she’s takin’ chances now, doin’ (the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins classic) ‘I Put a Spell on You,’ and did a great job with it!”

It’s truly influenced his songwriting, Castiglia says, noting: “When I was in my 20s, I couldn’t convey what I was feeling when I was goin’ through things back then. I wasn’t very good at expressing myself musically. With age, I’ve gotten better at writing. But my daughter finding me opened up a creative wellspring for me.”

In fact, it’s given him a completely different perspective.

Previously, he says, “I was a married man with no children who was touring the world. My subject matter was limited to stuff that affected me and my wife and the road – and, all of a sudden, I get a whole new family and the scope of my world view becomes a little wider.”

Castiglia was already undergoing somewhat of a metamorphosis thanks to another tragic event: the slaughter of 17 students and teachers and injuring of 17 others by a gunman who’d opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a city just 15 miles to the north of his home.

“It devastated my community,” he says, “and it devastated me to the extent that I even sent a letter to my local Congressman asking him to do something about gun violence.

“Then, a couple of months after that, I discover I’ve got a child and two grandchildren. Now, I’m really thinkin’ about what kind of world we’re gonna leave for these kids. It’s personal now.

“It really hit home – and a slew of songs came out from that…from the shooting to discovering I had kids…to my daughter tellin’ me that every time she drops the kids off at school, she fears for their lives.”

The emotions he experienced surfaced in his powerhouse Masterpiece CD, which was honored as the 2020 BMA blues-rock album of the year. The disc’s title tune is an easy-breezy love song directed at his newfound family and states that his greatest accomplishment in life came “before my prime in 1989,” when Rayne was born. But it’s accompanied by deeply thought-out social commentary in “Love Will Win the War” and “Thoughts and Prayers.”

A major departure from Castiglia’s previous work, the album was recorded in a duo setting with Zito at Mike’s studio in Nederland, Texas, with both me contributing guitar and bass and Zito adding keyboards and percussion – a concept that came about after Albert had sent him demos of some of the material. Mike suggested they team up and “give the band a break,” but Castiglia was initially skeptical. He eventually jumped at the concept after hearing tracks that Zito had previously recorded in a similar format.

Still signed to Ruf, Albert sent the finished product to Germany, but met with resistance. Label owner Thomas Ruf wanted to make changes, feeling it was “a bit too heavy and a bit too raw.” But Castiglia had so much invested in it, he says, he was unwilling to compromise.

What could have been a major problem came to a speedy, positive conclusion. Thomas Ruf, the label owner, graciously worked out a deal to free him from his contract, and Albert immediately signed with Zito’s Gulf Coast Records, a label he co-owns with Guy Hale. It’s been Castiglia’s home ever since.

“I think I was Gulf Coast’s second artist,” Albert says. “And Mike had no intention of signing national acts. He wanted to give the spotlight to friends he grew up with who he felt deserved the recognition” – a decision that subsequently changed. It really turned out to be a good thing, and it’s paid off with two Blues Music Awards.

“Every record we’ve put out has charted on Billboard. Everything happens for a reason!”

imageThat includes Wild and Free, a live set recorded at the Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton, a passionate, high-energy performance in line with his work in the past. But the follow-up, I Got Love – which hit the Billboard No. 1 spot last spring and has earned him a 2023 BMA nomination for both blues-rock artist and album of the year, gave Albert a platform to bare his emotions like never before as he mined material from both family and the COVID crisis.

“The title song, ‘I Got Love,’ came from the place of havin’ all my work dry up and tryin’ to figure out how to survive during the pandemic…but knowin’ that the love of my family was gonna carry me through. Money’s not as important as a support system,” he insists.

Early on, Castiglia decided to stop performing and give guitar lessons via Zoom during the crisis instead of playing out, something that was still possible because of the lax regulations across Florida that allowed hundreds of venues to remain open. It was a choice he finally had to abandon because his savings were running out.

The decision resulted in major blowback from a portion of his fanbase, which was divided. The inner conflict planted the seeds for several tunes on the second half of the disc, including “Depression Blues,” “Freedomland” and “You Don’t Know Hell.” And the downside resulted in coming down with a bad case of COVID that sidelined him for months during a long period of recovery.

Fortunately, those days are in Castiglia’s rear-view mirror. He’s looking forward to a year that will include heavy touring – both on his own and with Zito, someone he describes as “the brother I never had. He can be a pain in the ass…but that’s good! He’s always lookin’ out for me, and I’m always lookin’ out for him no matter how bitchy we get towards each other.”

Mike’s produced Albert’s five most recent CDs, beginning with Big Dog, but their friendship began in 2008, when Castiglia went to see the St. Louis native play at a club in Boca Raton after both artists had been hearing about each other for years through a mutual friend, Missouri-based promoter Monte Lorts.

“We hung out that night and then started running into each other on the road,” Albert says. “We had a lot in common. We’re about a year of each other in age, had similar paths musically – startin’ off listenin’ to rock-‘n’-roll and then gettin’ bit by the blues bug.

“And we grew up listenin’ to the same stuff, the same records. We’re both big Johnny Winter fans, and our taste in Johnny’s albums are the same…Let Me In and Johnny Winter and…, a live album that Johnny hated. I love that raw shit, man!”

He’s especially excited about their Blood Brothers CD, which was co-produced by Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith, recorded at Smith’s Flat V Studio in Southern California and should debut in March.

“It was definitely a bucket-list thing to work with both of them,” he says. “People can say what they want about Joe…that his style is not blues or this and that…but he’s done a lot for the genre. He’s an amazing guitar player, and listenin’ to him on record is great.

“But to witness his greatness in the studio…it takes it to a whole other level. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen Josh – who’s a helluva guitar player, too — happier sittin’ in the production chair.”

What can folks expect?

“It’s gonna be very bluesy,” Albert says, “a little Southern rock and elements of jam…it’s probably as close to an Americana album as I’ve ever created. But what is Americana anyway? It’s everything. There’s very much a JJ Cale/John Hiatt/Allman Brothers vibe to it.

“Tinsley Ellis wrote a song for us. And I got asked to write a ballad to balance things out. It’s about unrequited love, which is somethin’ I had to dig outta my past – somethin’ I could never convey before. I’m really curious to find out which song’s gonna get a lot of airplay. I usually bet on it – and I’m usually wrong!

“I very much pushed the envelope on this. They definitely took me out of my comfort zone at times. But it’s a great record, and I can’t stop listenin’ to it.”

No matter what, Castiglia remains appreciative for the fans who’ve kept him out on the blues highway for so long. “Because of you, I’m able to make a decent living and do what I’ve always wanted to do,” he says. “I’m living my best life because of YOU, and I’m very grateful!”

Check out Albert’s music and where he’ll be playing next by visiting his website:

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 – 1 of 8 

image‘The Duchess’ Jureesa McBride – My Time to Shine

J.S.S. Records

10 songs – 41 minutes

When you grow up in Mississippi, your birthright is the blues, and full-throated Vicksburg-based vocalist Jureesa McBride – aka “The Duchess” – is poised to claim her fair share with this sensational CD, a powerhouse effort that was produced and arranged by Grammy-winner Paul Nelson.

A small-town country girl who was raised in Port Gibson, halfway between Vicksburg and Natchez on Hwy. 61, Jureesa grew up listening to a roux of blues, R&B and gospel. A songwriter since childhood, she composed her first tune – about her dog Spikey – at age nine before performing at the Mississippi Cultural Crossroads Center and as a member of the Peanut Butter Jelly Theater.

Possessing a polished, strong mid-range voice, she counts Koko Taylor as her biggest influence and draws other inspiration from Denise LaSalle and Dorothy Moore and Latimore, Bobby Rush, Bobby “Blue” Bland and Elmore James, too. Now 41, the Duchess has been singing in earnest since 2011, when she entered the four-week Face the Music Tournament, an event sponsored by V-World Entertainment in Jackson, and taking home top prize in the competition.

A published author and radio personality who’s earned masters degrees in music business and education, her recording debut came a year later with the singles “Let Me Be Your Super Mistress” and “Put Your Cookies in My Milk,” the latter of which earned her a Jus’ Blues Foundation nomination for best new artist of the year. In the years since, she’s released two EPs – I’m a Woman First (The Tales of The Duchess) in 2013 and Personal Love Vendetta in 2015 – and several more singles, which were compiled on another release, The Soul of a Southern Girl, last year.

The producer responsible for Johnny Winter’s Grammy-winning 2014 CD, Step Back, Paul Nelson’s one of the most respected guitarists on the planet, is supervising this set, which was mixed and mastered by Buzz Pickens at Hummingbird Studios in Vicksburg. Pickens also handles keyboard duties throughout in a lineup that also includes Calvin Johnson and Kimble Slaton on bass and Tommie Green on drums.

“My Time to Shine,” which opens, is a simmering, autobiographical soul-blues pleaser in which Jureesa announces she’s a patient lady but ready for more. A contemporary number with traditional appeal, the arrangement puts the spotlight on her pipes. The backing unit cooks steadily underneath throughout other than a mid-tune guitar solo. It gives way to the stop-time “Tom Thumb,” which describes a man who lives in a “big ol’ house on a big ol’ hill, a big ol’ truck with a motor with his motor for the thrill.” Unfortunately, though, when it comes to lovemaking, he simply doesn’t measure up.

The Duchess alters the lyrics and pays tribute to Elmore James by putting a female spin on his best-known number, “Dust My Broom,” before haunting slide runs open the ballad, “Don’t Mind the Rain,” a treatise that elevates the stature of the Black man by stating that, despite all the pain he endures, the sun still shines in his eyes and he’s a king on a throne who shouldn’t be denied. She honors Koko by covering “I’m a Woman” to follow before launching in on “I Choose Me,” a medium-fast shuffle in which she heaps love upon herself.

Another ballad, “I Just Wanna Wake Up,” continues the message forward as it wonders why so many other folks suffer and live in frustration because they don’t appreciate themselves the way they should. Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle,” a monster hit for Koko, follows before the languorous “Don’t Love Me Now” announces her impending departure from a bad romance and the funkified “Good Loving Blues” brings the set to a close.

One listen to this one and you’ll agree: The Duchess’ time has come. Look for My Time to Shine to be a strong entry in “best new artist” voting down the line. It’s definitely a worthy entry.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

The Rick Ray Band – Under The Sky, plus The Rick Ray Band Live at East Shore Park

Neurosis Records

13 and 11 tracks respectively

Rick Ray offers up some music that is a throwback to the 1960’s with psychedelic garage rock. They self-describe as, “A four piece psychedelic progressive hard rock fusion band featuring Kip Volans on drums, Dave “Shaggy” Snodgrass on bass and vocals, Rick “Sarge” Schultz on reeds and wind synth, Rick Ray on guitars and vocals.” Sam Guinta guests on keys. The sound is certainly trippy and out there, but they work hard to pull it off. This is their 36th album since 1999, a prolific set of works.

Under the Sky features all new originals except the final cut, which is the title track of their 2001 album, a reprise of sorts. The first two cuts, “No Remorse” and  “1974”are driving, heart stopping rockers. ‘Were They Ever Here” slows things down a bit but remains out there for those who enjoy this style of music. It builds into a quagmire of confusion and long sax and guitar instruments that make one’s head bob to the beat. “Lost in the Fog” offers some semblances of many bands from the late 1960’s and early 1970s. “Casualty” is a mid tempo piece about tragedy and despair. “The Note Police” is a cut about a man gone bad who criticizes all music since 1978. The driving rocker “”It’s Been Awhile” follows, a frantic ride not for the faint of heart.

“Best from Afar” starts out with a spoken intro that reminds me of a police show opening. It continues with that pacing as instrumental and then more vocals to close. “Where Ever I’ll Be” follows, a somewhat ethereal cut with musical drama throughout the cut. “Frozen In Time” continues the slower pacing; it’s almost ballad-like, where Mott the Hoople meets Zappa. Up next is “Absent Friends,” a slow and grandiose number that gives the listener flashbacks to times gone by. Things move out rapidly with “The First, The Last,” a driving rocker with a repeated guitar riff that becomes the song’s centerpiece and builds jazz-like throughout. The studio album concludes with a synthetic organ sitar sound and heavy guitar, delivering the message how our DNA has been manipulated to control things. It’s odd but grabs at the listener.

The second CD is 73 minutes of live music from Ray and the band featuring ten straight driving, rocking cuts of their older music. It concludes with a moderately paced instrumental entitled “No More” that gives the listener breathing room after a blistering set of over an hour of fast paced music from the East Shore Park. This second CD is built on listeners absorbing the sounds to enhance the voyages they are taking. It’s trippy stuff and really gives me musical flashbacks to the late 1960s.

If this is your bag of tricks, you’re gonna love it.  It’s way out, spatially enabled, heavy, psychedelic stuff that drives and soars and throbs in a mix of rocking stuff.  As I said above, it’s not for the faint of heart, but if you need something to soar by, then grab these CDS!

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 – 3 of 8 

imageJimmy Hall – Ready Now

Keeping The Blues Alive Records

11 tracks – 49 minutes

Mobile, Alabama native Jimmy Hall started working with Capricorn Records which led to the formation of southern rock group Wet Willie in 1970. The group released nine albums before breaking up in 1979.  Many hit songs came from the group including “Keep Smilin’ ” and “Dixie Rock”. The group briefly reformed in 2004 for one more album High Humidity.

After the breakup of Wet Willie, Jimmy moved to Nashville and started a solo career. He released his first solo album in 1980 with five more albums ending in 2007 prior to his latest. In 2008, he briefly joined the Brothers of The Southland , a group of southern rock performers that included American Idol winner Bo Bice on vocals.

Let’s establish that Jimmy Hall is a harmonica wizard. If you have never seen him in concert, he generally brings out a large case containing a huge array of harmonicas of all different sizes and types and over the course of the concert will demonstrate his absolute mastery of many of them. But Jimmy is also an excellent vocalist having been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocalist for his performance on Jeff Beck’s Flash album

Joe Bonamassa identified the fifteen-year gap in Jimmy’s solo recording career leading to this release on his KTBA blues label. Joe and Josh Smith co-produced the album with Joe playing lead guitar on most cuts with Josh also adding rhythm and taking the lead on a few cuts. The group is rounded out with Reese Wynans on keyboards, Michael Rhodes on bass, Greg Morrow on drums and percussion, and Jade MacRae providing background vocals.

“Jumpin’ For Joy” opens the album in rousing fashion and quickly proves the former Wet Willie leader has not lost any of his panache over the years as he delivers pure southern soul. He says “Wow oh! I feel alright”, a feeling you will quickly gain listening to the song and will not lose as you listen to the rest of this album.

Next up “Risin’ Up” offers some southern soul as Jimmy states “Only love can lead the way.  Lead us to a brighter day” and his harmonica rings throughout the song. “Dream Release” offers a gospel touch with a dedication to Gregg Allman. “Girl’s Got Sugaris an all-out rocker led by Josh Smith’s guitar as Jimmy notes how sweet she is but adding “She’s got a sweet left hook”. Warren Haynes guests on slide guitar as Jimmy cites that he is “Ready Now” “…to stare my demons down”.

“Holding On for Dear Love” is a paean to his wife noting “Love is a long, long road, when you’re starting out.  Every step of the way, you may have doubts. But you and me honey, we’ve seen it all.” with Jade MacRae providing strong harmony vocals and Joe adding some tasty licks.  “A Long Goodbye” is a slow, solemn lament about failing love. “Will You Still Be Here” is a question to his audience as he gets back on the road noting “Been away so long, hope the house is packed”, but it is also a question to his wife who has been by his side since 1979 asking “Honey, will you still be here when I get back?”. Jimmy’s harmonica provides a strong lead on this one.

“Without Your Love” continues his love story stating “I can’t live without your love” with Jared James Nichols adding guitar.  A soulful cry on “Love for It” says “If it means enough to ask the good Lord for it, then you’ll find it in your heart to love for itThe album ends with Blackberry Smoke’s Charlie Starr providing acoustic guitar on “Eyes in the Back of Your Head” as Jimmy provides the advice “Don’t you forget where you came from. There ain’t nothing like them good ol’ days”.

The album proves Jimmy Hall still has all of the power that he showed backed in the 1970’s and certainly provides a welcome addition to his significant recording career.

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 – 4 of 8 

imageLil’ Red & The Rooster – Keep On!

Blue Heart Records

11 songs time – 42:12

Lil’ Red & The Rooster embody what they call a “Retro Modern Blues Sound” on this their second release. Lil’ Red(Jennifer Milligan) and The Rooster(Pacal Fouquet) deliver the goods in a fresh and energetic manner. Lil’ Red handles the vocals, rhythm guitar and washboard. The Rooster supplies electric and acoustic guitar and Gitjo. They handpicked a superior rhythm section for this project-Kenny “Beedyeyes” Smith on drums and Felton Crews on bass. Also present are sax man Jean-Marc Labbe and various background vocalists. Lil’ Red and The Rooster wrote all songs except one traditional tune.

This CD starts life with a cool funky groove as the guitar and sax are in lockstep to create a catchy as all hell vibe on “Cool Trap Boogie” that seems to be about a club. Here as elsewhere, Lil’ Red’s vocals are sassy and fresh. The Rooster plays his axe like he hails from Chicago rather than France. The sax is all sexy in “Whiskey Sip Of Time”. “Take this weight off my shoulders, breathe a brand new world”.

Billy Branch, a harmonica wizard and great singer as well, duets on “Keep On Lovin’ You” with his way cool delivery. The Rooster contributes some jazzy acoustic guitar on this one. The theme of “Love The Hell Right Out Of Ya” is about chasing evil and the devil’s influence out of someone. Jeff Morrow adds an extra voice. Lil’ Red breaks into some scat singing near the song’s end.

Two instrumentals are featured. “Shakin’ Em Up” is an instrumental save for Red’s occasional cool exclamations of “shakin’ em up”. The song maintains a hipster vibe groove with dreamy electric guitar and funky sax. “Step It Up”, the closer, is an aggressive guitar driven blues-meets-jazz instrumental underpinned by a strong bass line courtesy of the amazing Felton Crews.

Jeff Morrow helps out on backing vocals on the traditional “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” that pushed along by for a lack of better words, snappy guitar. The sax returns for the Rosa Parks saga “Back Of The Bus”. A Howlin’ Wolf inspired guitar groove propels the political, patriotic and anti-racism themed “American Made”. “Little Girl” speaks to the empowerment of woman.

Fear not, great music still peeks out from time to time to counteract the effects of the mainly subpar mainstream music that has poisoned our airwaves. It is here in the form of Lil’ Red & The Rooster plus cohorts. Their music embodies the blues tempered by jazz, funk, R&B and God knows what else, while employing top notch musicianship, lyricism and buoyant energy. The subjects range from the frivolous to the profound. A musical fun fest awaits you the lucky listener.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

imageRochelle & The Sidewinders – 3rd Time’s A Charm

Self-Release – 2022

16 tracks; 72 minutes

This is the third album from Rochelle & The Sidewinders, a five piece based in Austin, Texas. All the songs on this very generous helping of music are original, written by singer Rochelle Creone and guitarist Tom Coplen, with assistance from Todd Frenzel on one tune. The other members of the band are drummer/percussionist Danny Reyes, bassist Adam Spafford and multi-instrumentalist Jim Trimmier who plays sax, harp and keys; Todd plays keys on the track he co-wrote, studio engineer Jason Frankhouser plays guitar on one cut and George Storey plays bass on one track and adds B/V’s across the album. Tom Coplen designed the cover, did the artwork and also co-produced the album with George Storey.

The music mixes blues, rock and roll and dashes of other styles, but it is Rochelle’s vocals that stand out, clear and strong without resorting to excess. “Still Livin’ The Blues” has strong guitar and sax providing a solid base for Rochelle to deliver a song about paying your dues, the rolling rhythm getting the toes tapping, a great start to the album, quickly followed by “My Baby Came Back” which rocks along well with a great sax solo. “Tit For Tat” adds a touch of funk with bubbling bass work before the extended ballad “I’ll Take You To The Moon” which starts with smooth sax, jazzy chords, double bass and brushed drums, providing an opportunity to showcase Rochelle’s vocal range. Rochelle urges us all to “Get Off (The Couch)” on a rather repetitive, funk-based tune, salvaged by a fine middle section courtesy of the sax. On the other hand “Make It Snappy” is a winner with the initial rhythm riff overlaid by electric guitar and booming bass as the rest of the band enters the fray; pretty well impossible to keep still to this one as Rochelle insists that we need to “pick up the pace”. Todd adds some rocking piano to the middle section as Jim solos on sax.

“No Time” is full-blown rock, heavy guitar riff and rousing chorus while the title track is a sharp contrast with subtle sax and a late night feel, Rochelle sounding romantic about her relationship: “the third time’s a charm, we’ve been down this road before, it’s so familiar, yet still we’re up for more”. The instrumental “Showdown At The Hoedown” opens with chickens clucking and then bounces along in country hoedown style, sax and plucked guitar exchanging notes against enthusiastic hand claps! “Clown Cone” is more of a pop tune with a jungle beat and cool vocals. We are quite a long way from the blues on these four cuts but the band gets into more of an R&B feel on the short but attractive “Flip Side”.

The moody “See Things Clear” is a great feature for Rochelle’s vocals as Tom picks out the main theme on acoustic guitar and sax is again the featured instrument before “You Like It Like That”, a fast-paced tune in finger-snapping jazz style. “Snake Eyes” rocks things up again with Rochelle spurred on by the guitar riff while “Sad Song” does what the title suggests, as Rochelle pours out her heart about lost love on a ballad that winds up the emotions musically as a fine sax solo is followed by some great dueling guitars on the coda. It is not clear why “Hangman’s Tree” is labelled a ‘bonus track’ but it certainly provides a dramatic finale to the album with jagged guitars and lyrics that recall the traditional “Gallows Pole”.

Rochelle & The Sidewinders offer us a diverse set of tunes here. Some are blues-based, some are not, but the common thread is the quality of Rochelle’s voice, backed by a solid band. On the basis of this album it is not hard to see why the band holds down regular gigs on the highly competitive Austin scene.

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 8 

imageJoe Flip – Home Sweet Home

Loud Folk Records – 2023

14 tracks; 55 minutes

Minnesota’s Joe Flip seems to be a busy guy. His website shows that he plays in a Texas covers band, is available for weddings, makes and sells oil can guitars and is a music educator involved in Blues In The Schools programs. However, for this review we are interested in his blues credentials: this is his second blues album, following an acoustic duo release Tin Can Tunes with Tony Cuchetti, an album that garnered a nomination for Acoustic Album Of The Year in the 2019 Blues Blast Awards. Here Joe shows a wider range of skills, playing all manner of guitars and handling the vocals, assisted by Swanny Rose on backing vocals, Toby Marshall on keys, Michael DuBois on drums and Trent Boldt on bass; studio engineer John Wright replaces Trent on one track. The material is all original except for two covers.

The title track blazes out of the traps with Joe paying tribute to his home and delivering some scintillating electric slide as the rhythm section lays down a frenetic beat – a great start! The keys are prominent on a rocking tale of Saturday nights at the local bar where Joe has to resist the lures of a persistent femme fatale, telling her that they have to be “Just Friends”. After two electric rockers it’s time to reach for the dobro on “Mississippi Country Road”, the rhythm section maintaining a fast pace throughout. The instrumental “Jimi Swing” references Hendrix as Joe plays electric guitar with plenty of reverb, a telling tribute.

The first cover is an unusual choice, Britney Spears’ “Toxic”, an opportunity for Swanny Rose to feature on lead vocals. Joe plays both acoustic and electric here but the track does fit oddly with the rest of the album. We get back on track with “Anna Lee”, a fast-paced instrumental with Joe playing some frenetic guitar, and “Mess Around”, a mid-paced vocal tune with a slight country edge.

From here on it’s mainly instrumentals. “Whipping Post” is not the Allmans tune and “Tulsa Time” is not the song associated with Clapton, but respectively a stately acoustic slide tune and an uptempo electric slide piece with distorted vocals, both cuts making you think that this guy must be terrific live.

“Put Your Lovin’ On Me” is a loping blues instrumental and “4th Street Alley” again finds Joe on dobro on a relaxed blues piece. “Café” is classed as a bonus track because it was previously released as a single in 2021, just acoustic guitar accompanied by minimal percussion. We then get Joe’s tribute to SRV in a fine live version of “Lenny”; the atmosphere created here is sustained in “Invictus”, another lovely tune, dedicated to a lost friend.

Joe has skilfully blended styles here, showing that he is a guitar player equally at home plugged in or acoustic. There are plenty of instrumentals to showcase his guitar skills and several attractive vocal rockers, so something for most blues fans to enjoy.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.

 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 8 

imageThe Texas Horns – Everybody Let’s Roll

Blue Heart Records

13 songs, 53 minutes

There is magic in the music made by lifers – musicians who have dedicated their lives to walking the crossroad studded path of the Blues. The music that these people make crackles with the countless stages they have mounted, the millions of miles they have traveled to spread the good Blue word, the endless 12 bar jam session. The Texas Horns Everybody Let’s Roll is a summit of these master craftspeople at their loosest and most effective. The music therefore is remarkable, uproarious and a testament to the depth and breadth of Texas Blues.

Horn players often form into 3 or 4 piece units who can develop a marketable sound. The Texas Horns are one of the most distinct and well respected. Mark “Kaz” Kazanoff on tenor sax, vocals and harmonica, Al Gomez on trumpet and John Mills on saxophone (often the bottom rumbling bari sax) have for the past 25 years plus graced some of the most important records and most prestigious stages in the Blues world. For their 3rd record under their own name they pulled together a core band of Johnny Moeller on guitar, Matt Hubbard or Sean Giddings on keys, Chris Maresh on bass and Tommy Taylor, Jason Corbiere and Brannen Temple taking turns on drums.

Everybody Let’s Roll is aptly titled because a who’s who of real deal Texas, or Texas associated, Blues musicians seamlessly flow in and out of the record. Most prominent, but always understated and tasteful, is the six string wizardry of Anson Funderburgh, playing his distinctive lead on 5 of the tunes. Carolyn Wonderland and Mike Zito only offer their vocal ranges on a track each not each of their distinct guitar prowess. Inversely Marcia Ball tickles the ivories while forgoing showing off her soulful pipes. Jimmie Vaughan and Mike Flanigin bring their deep bass-less organ vibe to 2 songs. Jimmie wrangles strings and sings because, well, he’s Jimmie. Austin local legend Guy Forsyth rasps out 2 songs next to 1 song each for Texas Jazz singer Carmen Bradford and Michael Cross.

What distinguishes this record is that there is no loss of quality or engagement between the various singers taking center stage or between the sung tracks and the instrumental tracks. Original instrumental compositions “Apocalypso” and “I Ain’t Mad with You” stand tall next to covers like the Blues romp “J.B.’s Rock” which features Vaughan and Flanigin. What will probably knock listeners out is the lounge flecked take on the Beatles “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” A great tune to take as an instrumental, The Texas Horns slink through the melody line dripping with cool.

The Texas Horns really can do no wrong. These journeyman horn players have brought their craft to a high level of individuality and expression. Through hard work, deep passion and commitment, they have developed a unique and immediately identifiable sound. By bringing their community of colleagues together on Everybody Let’s Roll, they let us the audience in on the party.

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 – 8 of 8 

imageAngela Strehli – Ace of Blues

Antone’s/New West Records ANT-2513

12 songs – 39 minutes

Once a prime mover in the Austin music scene, where she reigned supreme as the Queen of Texas Blues,  Angela Strehli is 77 years old and hasn’t released a solo album in 17 years but does so in style with this disc, and fans can rejoice because it might never have happened if her husband had not suggested that it had been far too long!

A native of Lubbock, Tex., who became addicted to the blues thanks to late-night shows she picked up on her shortwave radio, Angela has only released a handful of well-received albums in her career, but she’s worked tirelessly behind the scenes, joining forces with Clifford Antone to open the nightclub that became ground-zero for the blues in the Lone Star State, before launching the record label that’s served as the home for James Cotton, Eddie Taylor, Pinetop Perkins, Joe Ely and dozens of others.

A mentor to Stevie Ray Vaughan – with whom she preformed often, Strehli’s been located in Marin County, Calif., since the early ‘90s, where she and hubby Bob Brown own and operate Rancho Nicasio, an indoor-outdoor restaurant, special-events center and nightclub that regularly plays host to major talent across the blues/Americana spectrum. She is a member of The Blues Broads, a supergroup vocal ensemble that includes the legendary Tracy Nelson, Dorothy Morrison and Annie Simpson.

Not only is this disc a welcome return to the studio for Angela – her most recent solo release, Blue Highway, appeared on the M.C. imprint in 2005 – it also marks the rebirth of Antone’s, which has been dormant since Clifford’s early death in 1996.

Co-produced by Strehli and Brown, recorded at Laughing Tiger Studios in San Raphael, Calif., and mixed by Kid Andersen at Greaseland Studios in San Jose, the lineup features Mighty Mike Schermer on lead guitar throughout.

He’s joined by Gary Vogensen, Kid Andersen and Walter “Gomez” Morgan Jr. on six-string, Steve Ehrmann and DaQuantae Johnson on bass, Kevin Hayes, Bill Gibson and Paul Revelli on drums, Jim Pugh, Mike Emerson, Johnny Allair and John Lee Sanders on keys and Mark Kazanoff on harmonica along with a horn section composed of Rob Sudduth and Johnnie Beaumont on saxes and Marvin McFadden on trumpet. The Sons of the Soul Revivers and Lisa Leuschner Andersen provide backing vocals.

With the exception of the closing number, all of the tunes – some cherished standards, others minor hits obscured by time — are culled from the catalogs of Angela’s favorite artists, mentors and biggest influences. A horn flourish opens “Two Steps from the Blues” before Angela’s rich, assertive alto delivers a warm, unhurried reading of the title song of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s first LP. It flows into a reinvented version of Elmore James’ “Person to Person.” Normally, a traditional Chicago blues, it takes on new appeal as a soul-blues propelled by the horns.

Strehli follows suit with O.V. Wright’s “Ace of Spades” to follow before launching into Muddy Waters’ “I Love the Life I Live,” aided by Kasanoff’s harp and then heating heat up dramatically with a driving take on Chuck Berry’s “You Can Never Tell” before a run of five Windy City numbers: Otis Rush’s “Gambler’s Blues” – which gives Schemer space to shine, Howlin’ Wolf’s “Howlin’ for My Darling,” Otis Clay’s “Trying to Live My Life Without You,” Jimmy Reed’s “Take Out Some Insurance” and Little Milton’s “More and More” before Dorothy Love Coates’ gospel pleaser, “I Wouldn’t Mind Dying,” takes you to church in style before “SRV,” an original penned decades after Vaughan’s passing, honors a long-lost friend to close.

Sure, Ace of Blues serves up a heaping helping of covers. But don’t let that dissuade you in picking up this one. All of the tunes take on a different dimension thanks to Angela’s unique interpretations. As a bonus, you’ll enjoy the extensive liner notes that detail her musical legacy and provide personal notes about each song and why she chose them. You’ll enjoy it. I know I did!

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

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