Issue 18-27 July 4, 2024


Cover photo © 2024 Bob Kieser

 In This Issue 

Ken Billett has our feature interview with Brandon Santini. We have four Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Reverend Scottie Williams, Sr., Sierra Green & the Giants, Jack de Keyzer and Susan Santos. Scroll down and check it out!

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 4 

imageReverend Scottie Williams, Sr. – Beams of Heaven: Gospel Hymns & Songs

The Sirens Records, LLC

11 Tracks  – 55 minutes

Scottie Miller, Jr. was born on March 22, 1967, in Greenwood, Mississippi. He was one of three children born to the Reverend R.L. Williams and his wife, Mary Ann. His father was the pastor at the Calvary Baptist Church in Yazoo City, MS. Scottie grew up singing in the choir at the church. Williams embraced his motto early in life – “A Man on a Mission from the Master”.

His studies took him to the New Orleans Theological Seminary; the Sanford University Extension in Carrolton, AL; the Ministerial Institute & College in West Point, MS; and the Baddour Management Seminary in Memphis, TN. Numerous church assignments including his establishment of the Christian Faith Baptist Church in Sackville followed. IN 1988, he moved to his Chicago where was ultimately promoted to his present position as the Senior Pastor at the Christ Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago.

The Christ Tabernacle became famous for the Thompson Community Singers which was led by the church’s Reverend Milton Brunson. That choir became famous when it started in 1948 as a ground for vocalists from all religious denominations to come together in one massive choir.  In the midst of the choir was Elsa Harris on piano and Richard Gibbs on bass and keyboards, who have recorded their own solo performances as well as backing other gospel performers.  These two have continued their careers with Reverend Williams on this recording, his debut album.   The album was recorded live at the church on March 5, 2024.

Elsa and Richard determined that Reverend Williams must be heard. Both provide backing vocals on the album with Richard playing the organ. Scottie has a deep, rich voice. He is further joined by Kenard Pulliam on drums, with backing vocals by Felicia Coleman-Evans and Armirris Collins.

The album is a mixture of traditional gospel hymns and more contemporary penned hymns. the album opens with the traditional song “When the Gates Swing Open”. That is followed by “I Am Redeemed”, “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand”, “Your Mother Loves Her Children”, Trouble in My Way”, The Lord Will Make a Way Somehow”, He Will Remember Me”, “In the Garden”, “Beams of Heaven”, “Pass Me Not”, and concludes with the six minute “He Knows Just How Much We Can Bear”.

Scottie’s vocals show an emotional depth, expressing joy or pain, as the song’s themes demand. As might be expected from a gospel recording, the backing vocals are generally call and response.

Reviewer 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 – 2 of 4 

imageSierra Green & the Giants – Here We Are

Big Radio/Righteous Path Records

10 songs – 39 minutes

A captivating, wall-rattling vocalist who’s known at the Queen of Frenchman Street, Sierra Green has gone from a New Orleans street singer to a star at several of the top clubs in the Big Easy. And she shows off her talents in the best way possible on this debut disc, an album guaranteed to have you boogieing on your feet.

Born in the city’s Seventh Ward – a community that produced Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton and Allen Toussaint — and trained as a pre-teen in gospel, Sierra formed the Giants last fall in partnership with Dave Torkanowsky, who might be an unfamiliar name to you but has been a driving force in the region for 50 years. A Berklee College of Music-trained keyboard player, his credits include membership in Luther Kent’s Trick Bag, work with Irma Thomas, Zigaboo Modeliste, Ellis Marsalis, a decade as Dianne Reaves’ bandleader and appearances on more than 200 albums, including several of his own, and scores to major Hollywood movies, too.

Their band includes the cream of the crop of local talent, including guitarists JD Simo, Paul Provosty and Joe McMahan, bassists Miguel Perez and Ted Pecchio, drummers Adam Abrashoff and William West and a horn section composed of sax players David Ludman and Robbie Crowell, trombonist Maurice Cade and trumpet players Brandon Nater and Emmanuel Echem.

Recorded and co-produced in at the House of Grease in Nashville and Downman Sound Studios in New Orleans with Simo (Beyoncé, Stevie Nicks, Jack White), Sierra and her Giants will grab you from the jump here and never let go.

A brief keyboard intro kicks off the original, “Can You Get to That,” and Green confident, pleasant mid-range voice comes straight from the church and street and immediately catches your ear. She describes herself as previously feeling she was “one among many…or at least I seemed to be.” While looking back with regret at all the hard decisions she’s had to make to get to where she is today, she announces the beginning of her new, bigger journey.

It takes confidence to cover a tune like Ann Peebles’ “Come to Mama,” and Green is definitely up for the task next. The Giants simply cook as she makes the tune her own. The same holds true for her readings of the passionate ballad, “Girls Can’t Do What Guys Do,” a hit for Betty Wright in ’68, and the Big Easy’s Betty Harris’ “Break in the Road,” which scored gold a year later.

A regimented drumbeat and a score that picks up intensity throughout drive the original, “Dreams,” as Sierra recounts awakening with the blues, dragging herself out of bed and putting on her walking shoes. She heads to a hilltop to overlook the city below before finding peace of mind and becoming aware that she’s had nighttime reveries to remember. It flows into “This Is a Man’s World,” a retitled version of the James Brown classic, which would have left the Godfather of Soul smiling.

“He Called Me Baby” — a country number penned by Harlan Howard and a retitled hit for Patsy Cline in the ’50s and an R&B chartbuster for Ella Washington and Candi Staton – takes on a brand new shine before the funk kicks in big time for an updated version of “Get Low Down,” a number first recorded by June “Curley” Moore, the vocalist for Huey “Piano” Smith & the Clowns. Stellar takes on David Shaw’s “Promised Land” and Magic Sam’s “Same Old Blues” bring the disc to a close.

Sure, there are plenty of covers here, but Sierra & the Giants add a special sauce to the mix throughout. This stellar debut is definitely worth your ear and probably will be under consideration for awards somewhere down the road. It’s just that good!

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Mason, Ohio, 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 Interview – Brandon Santini 

imageVeteran bluesman Brandon Santini was upfront and honest when asked if he was excited about getting back out and touring. “Yeah, I’m kind of losing my mind here at home, you know. I’m not used to redundancy a lot of time. My girlfriend would probably kill me for saying that. But I miss (performing). My last gig was January 5th and that was here in town (Springfield, Illinois). But before that, it was in December, so I haven’t been on the road in almost seven months now.”

In early February, Santini elected to have spinal fusion surgery on the L5 S1 disk section of his lower back. “The main problem was a sciatic nerve that was getting pinched. And it’s been kicking my butt, you know, over the last few years and then last year (2023) I spent touring most of the year just lying in the bench seat in excruciating pain. So last year was really challenging for me.”

Santini attributed his back problems to a musician’s life on the road—being on stage, rushing around from gig to gig, traveling long distances by van or car, and years of lifting equipment. Prior to his surgery, Santini and his band toured extensively, sometimes logging upwards of 200 shows a year from one side of North America to the other, with European dates as well.

“I’ve always been touring…I’m one of those guys that just road dogged it. So, it’s odd for me to be off this much.” He said he appreciated all of the love and support he’s received online and in text messages from fans and fellow blues musicians while he’s been home. “I really do miss getting out there (and) being on stage. There’re so many great folks that we’ve met over the years and a lot of fans, and those fans who have become friends. You really get used to seeing them in person, rather than just on social media or through phone calls.”

During Santini’s recovery, he’s kept himself busy writing new songs, scheduling studio time to record those songs for a new album, planning for the upcoming tour, and signing on with a new management company. As he said, “It’s nice to be at home with my girlfriend and my dogs, but there are only so many episodes of In the Heat of the Night that you can get caught up on before you’re done with it.”

Santini and his bandmates are scheduled to hit the road in early August and plan to tour steadily through November and into early December. Planning for the tour has helped keep Santini from going stir crazy. “I look forward to getting back out and, I’m getting excited, seeing all the dates come in, and the business is starting to (pick up). My daily administrative tasks are landing on my desk for things for me to do.

“Being on stage is where it’s at for me and being able to pour emotion into it and to try to lift people up because, in turn, they lift us up whether they know they’re doing it or not. So, I really miss that.”

imageSantini has a reputation for dynamic high-energy performances and is considered one of the finest frontline harmonica players on the current blues scene. Raised in North Carolina’s Piedmont region, Santini discovered harmonica at the age of fifteen and learned to play by “trial and error,” listening to blues greats such as James Cotton, Junior Wells, Little Walter, and Paul Butterfield.

While he prepares to return to the road, Santini also intends to get into the studio and record new material. The plan is to record in August in between tour dates. Santini is eyeing a recording studio in Memphis with long-time friend and fellow bluesman Jeff Jensen as the producer.

Jensen, who lives in Memphis, is known for his intricate guitar work and his explosive playing style. He and Santini were once bandmates and had a side project called Tennessee Redemption. Jensen was the first person Santini thought of when the label asked him who he wanted as producer.

“We understand one another and can almost complete each other’s sentences. It’s that kind of thing. He knows how to get out of me what’s inside…he can pull that out of me. We have such a near seamless way of working together, and, musically, he’s such a great, great musician.”

For the recording sessions, Santini will be joined by members of his band, including Timo Arthur on guitar, Ron James on the drums, and bassist Cliff Moore.

“We’re looking to get in the studio and have a new release out sometime early next year. So, I’ve got about thirty songs that may or may not be fully complete and demoed here at home, but we’ve got a good pool to choose from and, I imagine, there will be a few more that are partially written before we actually get into pre-production. So, I’m excited about it.”

Santini said the new album will be with MoMojo Records, a label imprint of Nola Blue, Inc. According to Santini, MoMojo has been a “godsend,” which began a few years ago when the label picked up distribution of his back catalog. “They’re going to be doing more (once I have) new music come out, and they’ve been great to work with and they really believe in what I do and I believe in what they do.”

As Santini reflected on working with a new label and recording new songs, he talked about the focus of the upcoming album and the new sound that fans can expect to hear.

“My last album that I released was called The Longshot. It came out in 2019. That was a departure from the more traditional aspect of my sound, and I wanted it to kind of be a gateway to set up…a second album with that label, which was American Showplace Music out of New Jersey.”

imageUnfortunately, as Santini explained, his producer, Ben Elliott, died from cancer during the height of the pandemic, which ultimately led to the shutdown of American Showplace. As a result, Santini was unable to record the second album.

“That second album was meant to be even more of a stretch from the traditional stuff…that twelve-bar blues, heart blowing, you know, blow like hell kind of harmonic all over it. Not to say that stuff’s not there, it’ll always be there for me. I’m huge traditionalist when it comes to music. It’s the music I love, those old Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters records, Little Walter, all that stuff are what got me into what I do, but for this upcoming material, it’s even more of a step further towards the contemporary, I don’t want to say blues rock, but (the) more contemporary blues scene.

“Not only am I a huge fan of the old blues artists who influenced us all, (but) I was born in the early eighties…my formidable years of music were in the nineties, so I was listening to a lot of rock classic rock. I’m a huge fan of Blues Traveler…that was my gateway into playing.”

According to Santini’s bio, after hearing Blues Traveler’s John Popper play harmonica, he was instantly hooked and soon gravitated towards listening to blues harmonica greats like Paul Butterfield. He was also a huge fan of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Creedence Clearwater Revival—both groups known for their harmonica riffs—which also influenced his playing and writing style.

“I like writing ‘song songs,’ rather than just 12-bar blues all the time. I think there is more on that canvas. I picture my career as an artist as a huge open canvas like an actual artist—a painter—or, someone (who) draws. I picture a huge canvas painted (with) different parts.”

Santini went on to explain that this huge canvas is highly influenced by those bluesmen from the past, the rockers of his youth, and the current state of the world.

“(This album) will have even more song-oriented material…there’s a lot going on (in the world today) and there’s some angst in there of things that I just need to get out.”

Musically, the upcoming album will continue Santini’s creative evolution that began back in 2019 with The Longshot album.

“I think there’s going to be even more structure and utilization of different tones on guitars, and maybe even less harp. Some songs may not even have harp, and it may just focus on my vocals. I think we got some really cool stuff that can be relative to today’s music scene. Not to say that I’m turning my back on traditional blues. I’ll always be rooted in that.

image“But things evolve, right? And music evolves. A good example of that is in the harmonica world. I’m not one of the traditionalists that will say that the harmonica needs to still sound like the 1950s. There are men and women who have done that (played harmonica) very well, and I’ll never be able to top that. I carry that spirit on, but I think we’re getting farther and farther away from those generations. Music has evolved, and I would like to think that if Little Walter were alive today, what would he have done? He probably wouldn’t have kept it just that 1950s Chess Records’ tone.

“Having said all that, I am immensely grateful for the path that they (blues harmonica legends) set me on. Being a Blues Traveler fan, it really had me be more open minded to more contemporary music.”

Santini added that, obviously, Little Walter and those guys didn’t have all the music of the eighties and nineties as an influence.

“I also appreciate people that stay in that (traditional) realm and carry on that tradition at a very precise level. I think of guys like Dennis Gruenling and guys like that who can play that stuff so well and much better than I play it…and Rick Estrin, guys like that.”

Santini is also excited about working with his new management company—Mediaforce Management, based outside of Philadelphia. He said that having an agency handle his social media, those daily administrative tasks, and develop long-term growth strategies will free up Santini to “actually get back to putting more time into creating music. I’ll tell you what, man, there’s a lot of (administrative) work behind what we do. And the things I get to do least is sit down and write and play my instrument.”

Steve Hill of Mediaforce Management will be Santini’s manager. Mediaforce also works with Amanda Fish (Samantha’s older sister), Billy the Kid and the Regulators, and the Jake Walden Band out of South Florida, among others.

“I’m really looking forward to being able to kind of breathe and not be under all of the work,” said Santini.

Ultimately, Brandon Santini is a road warrior who loves touring and performing.

“I was (talking) just yesterday about how much I miss being in the van and being with the band, and just the great memories we’ve made and the laughs we had…and the goofy things we do. Yeah, I really, I really do miss those guys.”

The tour will be called The Comeback Tour 2024, and Santini said the name started as a play on words and then added “we’re tossing (it) around…and I was like, ‘I like that.’ Not only is it a play on words, but it is really a comeback because I haven’t been on the stage since late last year.”

imageHe went on to say that a buddy of his questioned using the term “comeback” because it implied that Santini had been gone or had been down for a very long time.

“I’m like, well, you’ve got to have something to push nowadays, and I’m very much into humor. I think humor is something that is important, and, I can laugh at myself with the best of them. I’m proud of that fact. I thought that we’ve got to do something like this because, why not?”

Santini then laughs.

He’s eager to get back up on stage and reconnect with his fans. Blues may be unique in that its fans can have tremendous access to the artists they love to listen to and watch perform. Whether it’s a blues cruise, the Big Blues Bender, the Durango Blues Train, or the International Blues Challenge.

That accessibility, Santini said, “creates one-on-one special moments, and the access we have to them, in return, is wonderful for us.”

Blues fans have “always been a very nurturing community,” he added.

“This might be a stretch but they can see them themselves in us because most of, if not all, the musicians work hard and, at the end of the day, we’re just ordinary people who, essentially, are trying to pay the bills. We go through the same struggles and things affect us the same way.”

Blues, Santini explained, is a very relatable music being a form of American roots music. “Our fans are mostly hard-working individuals, and it’s not easy out there today. So, I think it’s really neat (the accessibility fans have to blues artists). We’re all just mixed into one big barrel and that’s the (key) ingredient to what I think today’s blue scene is.”

Regarding his back, Santini says that, after almost six months, he’s having more good days than bad, and that he wants to give himself plenty of time to heal. “I have a tendency to get back to work too soon, and I don’t want to do that.”

He knows once he’s back to work and on the road, Santini will have to continue to take care of himself. “I just need to be a little more cautious and not digging in or lifting too much.”

Santini reflected on his time away from performing and the healing that remains.

“It’s a daily thing. Like I said (earlier), there are more good days than bad days, and I’ll take that.”

Visit Brandon’s website to see where he is playing near you at

Writer Ken Billett is a freelance writer based in Memphis. He is a Blues Foundation member and former docent/tour guide at the Blues Hall of Fame. Originally from Tampa, Florida, Ken writes about travel, music, and the Mississippi Delta.


 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 4 

imageJack de Keyzer – Solo

Blue Star Records – 2024

13 tracks; 39 minutes

Like many musicians during Covid, Canadian guitarist Jack de Keyzer filled the period of no gigs by revisiting tunes by great bluesmen of the past and recording them on the musicians’ date of birth. Thirteen of those efforts are included on this release which finds Jack playing everything you hear (apart from one appearance by sax player Richard Thornton); Jack plays acoustic and electric guitar, rack harmonica, bass and percussion, as well as all vocals. A genuinely home grown effort, Jack recorded, mixed, mastered and produced the album himself.

The material includes songs that date back to the earliest days of recorded music and extends into the 1960’s. The first five songs here were all written by blues greats: Robert Wilkins’ “That’s No Way To Get Along”, Robert Johnson’s “Crossroad Blues” and Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Shake ‘Em On Down” are all solo acoustic versions, J.B. Lenoir’s “Feeling Good” adds sax and congas and Slim Harpo’s “I’m A King Bee” is performed on electric guitar with rack harmonica and maracas played against a guitar case! Jack tackles two of Lead Belly’s best known tunes, “Black Betty” and “Gallis Pole”, as well as Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Black Snake Moan”, all played on acoustic guitar. For Eddie Taylor’s “Bad Boy” Jack straps on his Gibson ES 330, adds harp and an overdubbed second guitar part.

Four songs are drawn from sources closer to rock and soul. “Baby Let’s Play House” was written by Arthur Gunter and covered by Elvis, so Jack plays it in appropriately rockabilly style with two guitars, bass and drums overdubbed. “Share Your Love” was a hit for Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland and Jack plays a respectful and soulful version on his Strat while he attempts to emulate Steve Winwood’s distinctive vocal style on an acoustic “Can’t Find My Way Home”. Perhaps the most left-field choice is “Baby I’m Gonna Leave You” which most will remember from Led Zeppelin’s debut album; Jack correctly adds original composer Anne L Bredon to the usual Page/Plant credits and does a good job on the tune which, at 5.29 is by some distance the longest cut on the album.

Throughout the album Jack sings and plays very well and it is an enjoyable run through some classic tunes. Certainly a useful way to fill the down time during Covid!

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer 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 – 4 of 4 

imageSusan Santos – Sonora

TWH Records

8 songs – 36 minutes

Sonora is Susan Santos’s sixth album, and her first since 2019’s No U Turn (favourably reviewed in Blues Blast Magazine issue 13-28). On her new release, Santos continues to mine the same reliable guitar-driven blues-rock vein as evidenced on No U Turn.  The Spanish singer/guitarist/songwriter is a serious talent, with a soaring, sensual voice, a sophisticated, impressive guitar technique, and a knack for writing timeless blues-rock songs.

Recorded at Black Betty Studios in Madrid, Spain, Sonora was produced by José Mortes and Santos. Together they captured a vividly raucous series of performances from Santos and her band. The band comprises Juli El Lento on drums (other than on “So Long”, where Mario Carrión takes over the stool) and David Salvador on bass. Santos provides lead and backing vocals, together with electric, baritone, and acoustic guitars, banjo, and theremin.

The album’s title may reference the desert located in northwestern Mexico and the southwestern United States. This would be consistent with the lyrics that return repeatedly to the desert and to desert people. The songs tell stories ranging from survival, thirst, outlaws, escape, and freedom against a backdrop of scorpions, lizards, and roadrunners.

The songs are well-constructed, often displaying a refined use of dynamics, as in the changes of pace and color in tracks like “Let It Ride” or “What I Want” and recalling the great Tom Petty in the irresistible simplicity of tracks like “So Long”.

Santos is a seriously badass guitarist, and she lays down a series of impressive solos, which often take the listener in an unexpected but always entertaining direction, from the Hendrix-inspired freak-out of “Let It Ride” to the rockabilly drive of “Voodoo Wheels” or from the reverb-laden slide and psychedelic fuzz of “Snakebite” to the country-tinged lead that precedes the classic rock solo of “Hot Rod Lady” and the pop perfection of “So Long”.

The majority of the tracks are powered by overdriven guitar riffs, although the gentler, swinging “Have Mercy” is actually one of the album’s highlights (with another belting guitar solo).

It’s a relatively short album, but every track packs a powerful punch. There are no fillers here. It’s the kind of album that should be playing at full volume as you drive across a desert in a convertible with your favourite adventure companion in the passenger seat.

Sonora sits squarely in the blues-rock genre. There are no standard 12 bar blues here, and the songs are played with attitude and aggression. If your tastes extend to the likes of ZZ Top, The Black Crowes or early Deep Purple, or if you like hearing guitar-driven blues-rock songs played with grit and fervor, you will find a lot to enjoy on this album.

Reviewer Rhys “Lightnin'” Williams plays guitar in a blues band based in Cambridge, England. He also has a day gig as a lawyer.

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