Issue 8-21 May 22, 2014

Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2014 Blues Blast Magazine

 In This Issue  

Terry Mullins has our feature interview with Jonny Lang. Marilyn Stringer has photos and a review of the 2014 Blues Music Awards.

We have nine music reviews for you.  Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony reviews a new album from Larry Nath. Rhys Williams reviews new albums by Berdon Kirksaether and Brian Cober. Tim “Bluzybiker” Petty reviews a new album from Kelly’s Lot. Marty Gunther reviews a new release by Big Smooth And The Hellraisers. John Mitchell reviews a new release from David Vest and a new album from Roomful Of Blues. Rainey Wetnight reviews new albums by Brent Johnson and Alex Lopez.

We have the latest in Blues Society news from around the globe. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 9  

Larry Nath – Visions And Revisions

 ELL Digital Media

 A rootsy singer-songwriter with a strong blues bent, Larry Nath paid his dues in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for over thirty years. He released his debut solo record “Live It’ in 2007 to a positive reception. He pulls a lot of sound from mostly sparse musical accompaniment featuring his ample vocal, guitar and songwriting skills. His long time cohort Jimmy Adler from their tenure with the late eighties hard rocking blues band The Mohicans bolsters the proceedings with his deft guitar skills.

Things kick in with a bit of a Rolling Stones vibe via their patented crunchy, hesitating rhythm guitar and Jimmy Adler’s slide guitar hot on on the heels of the vocal. Clear ringing guitar and a forceful vocal propel “You’re Killin’ Me”, a tale of the wiles of a woman. Melodic acoustic guitars carry “Love Foll” away on a mellow cloud featuring pleasant vocals by Larry with help from Savanna Smith.

Jimmy Britton of The Billy Price Band adds his piano to the mix of slide guitar, harmonica and Savanna Smith’s haunting backing vocal. Larry handles all the instruments including acoustic guitar and synth- strings on the wistful lament “Mystery”. The narrator professes his love of bountiful woman on “Big Girl”. A syncopated beat and electric guitar flourishes brighten up ” Try a Little Love”. Guitar, harmonica and piano battle it out on a driving and noisy blues tale of steel mill life on “Gods Of The Molten Iron”.

Dylan-esque harmonica adds to the melancholy atmosphere on “Still Over You”. Larry’s biting electric guitar burns a swath through the hard-driving blues of “Long Gone”. This one will surely get your attention. The momentum continues on “Fonk(Part 1)” as Larry’s harmonica catches fire on this instrumental. The band rocks on out of the recording with the powerful “Sometimes I Feel”.

What results here after the dust clears is a passionate and heartfelt execution of a singer-songwriter’s vision tempered by blues, rock and roots music. The heavy as well as the slower songs all benefit from just the right arrangement for each. The small group of musicians gathered here deliver a lot of music. Life experiences and lessons run through the lyrics, making this a very personal recording. Pulling fifteen well written original tunes from out of thin air is no small feat. Larry’s craft and talent should take him well into the future with many more interesting and enticing efforts.!

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

 Featured Blues Interview – Jonny Lang  

When he initially embarked on his journey almost two decades ago, he may not have been looking to change the rules of the way that the blues should be played.

But change those rules is just what he did.

First, he proved that you don’t have to be old (he was 14 when he recorded his first album) or from Chicago or Mississippi (he was born and raised in Fargo, North Dakota) to play the blues.

If that wasn’t enough, now Jonny Lang has proven that it’s possible for a bluesman to have crossover appeal – appeal with faithful devotees of Christian music.

In its first week of release, Fight For My Soul (Concord), the 33-year-old’s latest studio album, hit number one on the Billboard Blues Album chart; number two on the Billboard Christian Album chart; and number 50 on the Billboard Hot 200. It was also named BBC Radio 2’s Album of the Week immediately after it was released. A harbinger of things to come took place back in 2006 when his then-current studio album – Turn Around (A&M Records) – made it all the way to number one on the Christian Album charts.

“That was like the biggest shock of my life, to be recognized in that genre. I mean, Turn Around was definitely a more spiritual record (than some of his prior works), but I didn’t really make it with the intention of having it marketed as a ‘Christian’ record,” Lang said. “We just released it and it found its way over there. I mean, I’m happy just to have my music played anywhere that people want to hear it. It’s great.”

Perhaps the most special aspect of Fight For My Soul’s popularity on the Christian charts is that the album was not marketed to that genre, nor were there any singles pulled off it specifically for Christian radio. The whole process was organic and natural.

That’s a remarkable string of success for any roots-music artist to achieve, but when you consider that Turn Around also came away with a Grammy Award, what you have is a feat that’s really noteworthy.

“To be honest, I struggled with what kind of importance that I should place on it (the Grammy Award). I mean, I felt honored, of course. It’s obviously about the most prestigious award that you can get for music in our society. So it’s a great honor,” Lang said. “It’s something I’m really proud of, but the thing that surprised me was the category it got nominated in, which was gospel. I’m super-happy about that, but surprised. When I first started playing music, I never thought I’d win a Grammy to start with, but especially a Grammy in the gospel category.”

Lang’s conversion to Christianity back at the dawn of the new millennium has done more than just touch his personal life. It’s also had a profound influence on the way that he goes about creating music these days. His songs are still filled with the same kind of fiery passion and performance that brought him to the attention of audiences worldwide with Lie To Me (A&M Records), his major-label debut back when he was a precocious 16 years old. But added to the mix is a depth and sense of personal well-being that was absent from some of his earlier albums … as Lang himself categorized it, something ‘more spiritual.’

“I would say that my last three records have been pretty different from their predecessors – not too incredibly different, like a complete change of genres – but they’re still different. It’s always interesting to gauge the audience’s response when you come out with new material,” he said. “There’s always this kind of interim period where not everybody knows the music. But after it’s been out for awhile and people get to know the music and are singing along to the songs, I’m always more happy about it then. It’s that way with every record, really.”

There’s really no substitution for hitting the road and taking your music to the masses and that’s just what Lang and his bandmates have been doing since Fight For My Soul – which was his first new album in seven years – first hit the streets last September.

“We’ve probably toured more for this record than we have for the past two records. We’ve been hitting it pretty hard and it seems like the record is being received pretty well everywhere we go,” he said. “The selling of records is just such a crazy business right now; it’s really a roller-coaster unto itself. The (musical) landscape is just ever-changing.”

Instead of spending useless hours figuring just where his seat on that ‘roller coaster’ is, Lang is content to just focus on creating the kind of music that moves his own personal Muse, and after that, just let the chips fall where they may.

“It’s funny, but when I’m writing stuff it never occurs to me that possibly thousands of people might be hearing it later. It’s just kind of this cathartic thing (song-writing) that I’m doing. And then you play it and record it and all of a sudden, everybody’s hearing it,” he said. “But that whole thing never really hit until I started doing interviews and people would ask me what this song or that song was about. Then I was like, ‘Wow. I haven’t really even thought about how to answer that.’ So the songs are a really personal thing, but they’re also a very public thing, too.”

The bones of Lang’s last trio of long-players no doubt have roots back in the bluesy, rough-and-tumble sounds of his first couple of albums. But thanks to the modern sensibility that the songs are presented in, along with some exceptional production values – records like his new one – along with Turn Around, have managed to escape the trap of being caught in some kind of time vacuum that dates back to the mid-90s. Instead, they sound focused, mature and have a real contemporary feel; call them blues for the modern days.

“It’s just been a natural kind of thing for me; the direction that I’ve went in. It’s not something that I’ve ever tried to steer or tried to control. I just write songs and then we go play those songs in the studio and that’s how they end up,” he said. “There have been times – not so much these days, but earlier – when I’ve started to realize that, ‘Man, these are not blues songs, or these are not the kind of songs that people are expecting of me.’ So there was a period that I did wrestle with it (the direction his songs were going), but I decided that I would be forcing it to make the songs more traditional blues songs. So this has really been a naturally-occurring thing. But there’s still a good amount of blues influences in my music these days.”

The tone and timbre of Fight For My Soul are not the only separating properties of Lang’s latter-day output as compared with Lie To Me or Wander This World. The manner in which the songs actually came to life has undergone a bit of tweaking, as well.

“The process is still pretty simple, but when it would come time to do a record in the past, it would be like, ‘OK, now it’s time to write.’ And then we would sit down and write a song. Now, it’s like, ‘Let’s not do that. Let’s just wait until the song comes.’ And then we sit down and write and when we have enough of those moments down, then we go make a record, instead of the other way around,” he said. “It’s been positive in a lot of ways, but it’s been negative in a few ways, too, to do it that way. It’s not as precise or as good time-management wise.”

As anyone who has listened to the radio in the past decade or so can attest to, blues and other roots-related music – while occasionally present – is mostly relegated to second class citizen status. However, categories and pigeon-holes are things that Lang doesn’t spend a lot of time or energy dwelling on.

“Well, for me it has been a little bit stifling to be categorized. Because music is so emotion-driven and feeling-driven that your left brain is telling your right brain, ‘Hey, you don’t need to be so categorical and wrestle with me here, I’m trying to help us both.’ And your right brain is going, “No, get in this box.’ So therein lays the whole thing,” Lang said. “It’s easier if you can just let it go and know that it’s something that doesn’t truly exist. It’s become a lot easier for me as a creative person to just try and let all that go and just make music and if folks like it, they like it. When it comes down to it, when someone likes a song and they’re singing along to it, I don’t think they stop and wonder what category the song is in. They’re just singing and enjoying it.”

Regardless of which way his songwriting takes him, the one constant that always figures to remain in place is Lang’s exquisite and thoroughly-dynamic style of guitar playing, highlighted by his beautifully-controlled vibrato. If having a signature series Les Paul named after you isn’t enough to prove your mettle, if you can manage to pop up on Eric Clapton’s radar as a guitar player of note, you have truly achieved something special. Since Lang has made multiple appearances at Clapton’s mammoth Crossroads Guitar Festivals, it’s safe to say that his peers fully acknowledge his skills on a six-string. And at the core of Lang’s well-honed guitar sound lays the sound of the blues.

“I think my guitar playing will always be bluesy and blues-based. I’ve tried to stretch out, but I just can’t,” he laughed. “I’m just kind of a blues guitar player. That will always be a part of me.”

In addition to traveling all over the globe to tirelessly support Fight For My Soul, Lang somehow found time to squeeze another tour of duty on the eighth Experience Hendrix Tour into his daily planner. Alongside longtime Hendrix friend and Band of Gypsys bassist Billy Cox, Lang, along with a who’s-who of jaw-dropping guitarists, including: Buddy Guy, Zakk Wylde, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Dweezil Zappa, Eric Johnson and Ana Popovic – to name a few – criss-crossed the country spreading the gospel of all things Hendrix this past Spring.

“It’s great on a few different fronts. Just getting to know the other musicians is great. At first I thought when all these guitar players get together it’s going to be a big ego-fest, but it really wasn’t that at all,” he said. “I think everybody knows honoring the memory of someone like Jimi Hendrix is bigger than all of us put together. It’s really a humbling thing, all of us getting together and traveling on the same bus – crammed in together, out on the road on this tour. It’s kind of like the old-school way of touring. So the inter-personal part of it is really cool.”

Getting together with a bunch of fellow guitarists, talking shop, trading tips and swapping licks has got to be way-beyond cool, but at the end of the day, the Experience Hendrix Tour is really all about one thing.

“Jimi’s music. Getting to play all those great songs is amazing. And getting asked to be a part of the tour to begin with is just such a great honor,” said Lang. “It’s just been a really positive thing for me.”

Standing on a stage playing your own music to a set of your own fans is certainly not without its challenges. But when you’re standing on stage playing some of the most revered songs ever crafted, by one of the most iconic musicians to ever touch down on the face of the earth, that presents its own set of pitfalls. Especially when you have an audience filled to the brim with people that want to … well … Experience Hendrix.

“I do feel a little bit different when I play songs that someone else has written as opposed to the ones that I’ve written myself. There is a difference there,” Lang said. “In this case, you’re trying to do your best to make these songs adequate and the mental hurdle there is pretty big for me. I mean, it’s Jimi Hendrix. And this is not just any ‘ole gig where you’re playing Jimi Hendrix songs. His family is involved and this is like a sanctioned event. So you do feel a little bit of pressure to pull it off in a decent way. But of course after a while, you settle in and get comfortable and it just becomes fun.”

As impressive as his guitar playing was as a teen-ager, the magnificent roar of young Jonny Lang’s voice was equally headline-grabbing. Sounding nothing like most pre 20-year-olds, Lang’s pipes were a force to be reckoned with and sounded like they had been fed a steady diet of whisky and cigarettes for 60-some years.

“I’d always loved singing when I was growing up and listened to tons of R&B and soul singers and that was the kind of stuff I loved singing to. Around the time I joined the first band I was in, when I really went to sing in front of a live microphone, this other voice just came out,” he said. “I guess I really hadn’t been singing up to that point. It was like the emotion was all there and it was time to really sing for people and something changed and that’s what came out. I don’t know … I guess it was in there and just had to come out.”

Time certainly has a way from getting away from all of us and we get entangled in our day-to-day routines and rarely have the time to stop and look up for even the slightest of seconds. After all, it seems just like yesterday that “Lie To Me” a new single from a hot young bluesman named Jonny Lang was burning up the airwaves. Now, that young hot-shot has turned into a sage and wise veteran of the blues some 20 years later.

“For a long time now, I’ve looked at music differently than I did at first. When I first started out, I looked at it like it was something that was fun for me. Lately, I’ve been looking at it like it’s something that’s more for other people. If there’s a goal in it for me, it’s that my music can be of help – or a blessing – to somebody that’s listening to it,” he said. “We’ve all heard that one song that fixed us, or helped us through a difficult time at some point, and the opportunity to be that for someone else is really amazing when you stop and think about it. That’s something that I’ve been taking a lot more seriously lately. I think what it boils down to is music is like medicine. It can get you through a time of pain, or helps you enjoy a time of happiness. It’s medicinal.”

For more on Jonny Lang visit Jonny’s website at:

Photos by Bob Kieser © 2014 Blues Blast Magazine

Interviewer Terry Mullins is a journalist and former record store owner whose personal taste in music is the sonic equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder. Works by the Bee Gees, Captain Beefheart, Black Sabbath, Earth, Wind & Fire and Willie Nelson share equal space with Muddy Waters, The Staples Singers and R.L. Burnside in his compact disc collection. He’s also been known to spend time hanging out on the street corners of Clarksdale, Miss., eating copious amounts of barbecued delicacies while listening to the wonderful sounds of the blues.

 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 9  

Brian Cober – Austin Wired

 Self release

 9 songs – 35 minutes

 Brian Cober is one of the world’s best double slide guitar players (if not the best), a fact that is ably demonstrated on his new release, Austin Wired.

When played well, slide guitar enables players to hit microtonal notes and to emulate the human voice more adroitly than on a regularly fretted guitar, creating a singularly emotional experience for the listener. Electric slide players may play in standard tuning (Warren Haynes, Rory Gallagher) or tune to an open chord (Duane Allman used open E primarily; Muddy usually used open G, although his later recordings were often in standard tuning). With a slide on one finger of one’s left hand and particularly when playing in a major key tuning, however, it can be very difficult for slide players to voice minor chords (the sad chords) or dominant seventh chords (which Chuck Berry loves) in different songs.

As a result, only very rare and extravagantly talented musicians such as Derek Trucks or Sonny Landreth have the technique and application to work around this limitation through fingering strings behind the slide or angling the slide at gymnastic angles. Originally a lap steel guitar player, when he was 15 Cober found a novel way around this problem when he invented what is now know as the double slide technique, which involves using two guitar slides simultaneously, both worn on the left hand.

Cober’s invention expands the sonic range of slide guitar. He wears one slide on his middle finger, and places a modified thumb slide on his thumb that is able to cover two strings. Playing a standard six string guitar tuned to open E tuning, the double slide would be just a novelty gimmick were it not for the fact that Cober also employs superb technique, bags of attitude and no little humor. His playing on “Nuestro Viento” in particular is both beautiful and moving.

Austin Wired is a very enjoyable album, because Cober deploys his slide playing in support of the song, rather than using the song as an excuse to demonstrate his technical facility. The album kicks off with the belting “What Will Come”, an upbeat, country-rock song that sounds not dissimilar to The Nighthawks’ “Hard Living”. A wide range of blues-inflected songs follow, from the Latin-tinged instrumental of “Nuestro Viento” to the blues of “Delivery Man”, the blues-rock of “Woulda Coulda Shoulda” and an enjoyably turbo-charged version of Robert Johnson’s “Preachin’ The Blues/Blues Walkin’ Like A Man” (Cober cogently argues in the liner notes that the usual title given to this song is not what Johnson would have called it).

Cober wrote seven of the nine songs himself. The two covers are Noah Zacharin’s “Find My Baby” and the aforementioned “Preachin’ The Blues”. The songs are well-written and Cober demonstrates a fine ear for an interesting vocal melody. Ably backed by Big Ben Richardson on bass and Tom Lewis on drums and percussion, Cober’s energy, soul and sense of humour are evident in every song. The panned guitar solo “argument” in “Run and Hideaway” is both utterly bonkers but also somehow in keeping with the overall song.

Expertly recorded and mixed by Stuart Sullivan at WIRE studio in Austin, Texas, in two sessions (March 2011 and May 2013), Austin Wired is a short but highly enjoyable CD of high octane blues rock.

Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.

 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 9  

Berdon Kirksaether & The Twang Bar Kings – Latenighters Under A Full Moon

 Roller Records

 11 songs – 39 minutes

 Latenighters Under A Full Moon is a brave piece of music, to say the least. An all-instrumental concept album, it relates (through the medium of music) the story of a tight-knit group of male friends on an all-night bender one Saturday night. It starts with the men warming up and getting into a party mood, then follows them as they visit various clubs, drinking, chasing women and soul-searching. Some of the gang drop out as the evening progresses, finally leaving three friends to crawl home under the full moon of the title.

If this sounds uncomfortably close to the sort of thing Spinal Tap would have done after “Jazz Odyssey”, then the first song, “Go Cat Go”, will do nothing reassure you. It fades in to the discordant sound of a band warming up over a ragged jazz groove, with the musicians not quite playing together, bent notes not quite reaching pitch and the groove being missed by a mile. If you are aware that the music is deliberately trying to capture the sensation of a group of guys separately trying to get ready for a night out together, you may be more tolerant of it, but it is difficult to imagine too many people deliberately adding “Go Cat Go” to their favourite playlists.

Things do however pick up as the album progresses. The second song, “Cool Cats On The Move” features nicely atmospheric, echoed arpeggio guitar lines that give the song the feel of a film soundtrack. Jump numbers such as “Conrad’s Bar Bounty” and “Jumping The Night Away” add a welcome shot of the blues to an album that touches on jazz, blues, rock and even Latin music over the course of 11 songs.

The album is the brainchild of Berdon Kirksaether, a Norwegian guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer. Kirksaether and his band are well-established in the Norwegian blues scene and this 2013 CD was partly recorded in Norway, partly in Germany. Kirksaether is joined by bassist and keyboardist Stein Tumert and drummer Olaf Olsen. Additional support is provided by Øyvind Sørby (saxophone), Finn Tore Tokle (bass on “Rendezvous”) and Leo Volskiy on organ and piano for three songs.

Kirksaether wrote all the songs and this is very much his album. All of the songs are led by and heavily feature his guitar. He is clearly a solid blues-rock player, but on the evidence of this album, it is less obvious that he is a natural jazz or pure blues player. There is little variation in tone or texture in his playing within individual songs, bar the occasional lowering or raising of volume. In addition, some of his bends are microtonally flat, creating a disconcerting sensation for the listener. His best playing is on the rockier/poppier numbers, such as the Latino groove of “Rendezvous” or the blues-rock of “Midnight Haze”. Tumert and Olsen provide solid support, particularly on the jazzier numbers.

The blues is primarily a voice-led music; as a result, instrumental albums are rare and successful ones even more so. The acknowledged classics in the genre have tended to lean towards jazz (for example, Ronnie Earl or Duke Robillard) or are written with memorably catchy melodies (Freddie King, Rick Holmstrom). Successful instrumental concept albums are even rarer. Indeed, in today’s digital world, it is difficult to understand the thinking behind them. The listener can only learn about the storyline by reading the CD liner notes or checking the website, which may severely limit MP3 sales. In addition, many music fans like to mix a number of albums together and use “shuffle” as the default setting on their MP3 players, again undermining the very point of a concept album.

There is however a lot to enjoy on Latenighters. It is clear the musicians are really enjoying themselves and there is some high quality playing, although it feels more like a soundtrack album than a collection of instrumental songs. It captures moods in moments, rather than laying down standalone songs with identifiable melodies and structures. It is a brave experiment, which is to be applauded, but it is one that is only intermittently successful.

Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.

 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 9  

Kelly’s Lot – Live in Brussels

 FC Music – 2011

 Sixteen tracks listed with a total running time of 1:10:26

 Live in Brussels is the latest CD release by the L.A. based band Kelly’s Lot. On this recording the band consists of Kelly Zirbes handling the vocals, Perry Robertson on guitar, Rob Zucca also on guitar and bringing up the rhythm section is Matt McFadden on bass with Robert Dill on drums. While there are 16 tracks listed on the cover there are actually 14 songs with two intros. All songs were written by Zirbes and Robertson with the exception of track #7 which is “Crossroads” written by Robert Johnson.

The band was formed in 1995 as a trio and it seems blues was not the main focus at that time. Now, eight CDs later, its seems Kelly’s Lot is still a blend of sounds/influences and not necessarily a straight ahead “blues band”. They have opened for Blues greats such as Tommy Castro and John Mayall on the festival/concert circuit.

The band seems to have a penchant for tempo changes and display that inclination throughout the recording. By track #6 “Better Way” picks up the pace with a rumba blues number that is a warning to all that “…nobody will ever me hurt again…” Zirbes’ voice has quite a range and she can belt a number when needed while speaking lyrics occasionally. “Come to This” (track 7) is a bouncy tongue in cheek blues lament of how some women end up with men who, shall we say, don’t exactly meet up to expectations. For the slow blues shuffle lovers the band offers up track #9, “Tired” – a 12 bar standard that logs in at just over 10 minutes.

Other highlights include the up tempo “Right Now” (track #11) with some sweet driving guitar licks. “Pistol” (track #12) has a bit of a country feel and mixed with Zirbes’ sultry vocals its message may leave some male listeners longing to check out her loaded pistol.

Kelly’s Lot appears to be a hard working band with extensive touring and festival experience in Europe as well as America. By the looks of the web site if you want to see then live any time soon it will be in Southern CA or wait till the end of July when they’ll be in France.

Reviewer Tim “Bluzybiker” Petty spent 42 years building railroads and now spends his time supporting the music he loves and riding motorcycles – sometimes at the same time.

 Live Blues Review – Blues Music Awards  

35th Blues Music Awards – 2014 Memphis, TN 

The Blues Music Awards in Memphis is a four day event starting on Wednesday in Memphis and ending on Saturday at Hopson Plantation and Clarksdale, MS. As the nominees and fans arrive in Memphis, the schmoozing, networking, reuniting, and events are non-stop. Wednesday included the Hall of Fame Reception, Ceremony, and a Big Llou’s Tribute Jam at the Hard Rock Café, The Vizztone Blues Party on Beale at Rum Boogie, a jam at BB King’s, and the general party all up and down Beale Street.

Thursday was the big day. With people still arriving, the Recording Academy had a gathering to discuss the importance of the blues categories in the Grammy Awards, Yellow Dog Records Showcase was going on BB Kings, and a free health screening was conducted in the afternoon at the Sheraton. After that it was time to polish up and head to the Cook Convention Center for the reception before the awards ceremony. Let the fashion show and music begin!

Performing at the reception was Pinetop Perkins Piano Player nominee Dave Keyes, followed by Best New Artist Debut nominee Gracie Curran & the High Falutin’ Band.

Throughout the evening, the awards were presented. Below are the awards that were presented to the winners who were present (for a complete list of all nominees and winners go to Accepting their awards were: Traditional Blues Male Artist: James Cotton; Koko Taylor Award: Diunna Greenleaf; DVD: Ruf Records, Songs from the Road (Royal Southern Brotherhood); Soul Blues Male Artist: John Nemeth; Instrumentalist-Horn: Eddie Shaw; Historical Album: Bear Family – The Sun Blues Box; Pinetop Perkins Piano Player: Victor Wainwright; Soul Blues Album: Down in Louisiana – Bobby Rush; Instrumentalist-Harmonica: Charlie Musselwhite; Album & Traditional Blues Album: Remembering Little Walter – Charlie Musselwhite, Mark Hummel, Kid Andersen (Not pictured Billy Boy Arnold, Sugar Ray Norcia, James Harman); Acoustic Artist & Album, There’s a Time: Doug MacLeod; Instrumentalist-Guitar: Ronnie Earl; Song: Blues in My Soul – Lurrie Bell; Instrumentalist-Drums: Cedric Burnside; Best New Artist Debut: Daddy Told Me – Shawn Holt & the Teardrops; and accepting for both Contemporary Blues Album: Badlands – Trampled Under Foot and Instrumentalist-Bass: Danielle Schnebelen was Kris Schnebelen.

All the performers and bands, throughout the evening, were nominees (nominations are listed). What a great lineup of talent! In order of performances were:

Adrianna Marie and Her Groovecutters, Double Crossing Blues – Best New Artist Debut with Adrianna Marie (Vocals), LA Jones (guitar), Bill Stuve (bass), and David Kida (drums).

Shawn Holt & the Teardrops, Daddy Told Me – Best Artist Debut

Lurrie Bell – Song – Blues in My Soul (Winner). Lurrie was backed up by Shawn Holt & The Teardrops and Dave Keyes (piano).

The Hound Kings – Acoustic Album – Unleashed

Frank Bey & Anthony Paule Band – Soul Blues Album, Soul For Your Blues. Frank was joined by Anthony Paule (guitar), Kid Andersen (bass), Jimi Bott (Drums), and Lorenzo Farrell (keyboards).

Remembering Little Walter – Album & Traditional Blues Album (Winner-Both) – featuring Mark Hummel, Billy Boy Arnold, and Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica, Billy Flynn and Chris “Kid” Andersen (guitar), Jimi Bott (drums – Nominee), and Bob Stroger (bass-Nominee).

Anson Funderburgh – Traditional Blues Male Artist – playing with the Andy T-Nick Nixon Band with Andy T (guitar), Sam Persons (bass), Jim Klingler (drums), and Larry Vanoon (keyboards).

Between some sets were individuals performing: Rory Block – Acoustic Album & Artist; Doug MacLeod – Acoustic Album & Artist (Winner-both); Beth Hart – Contemporary Blues Female Artist; and Little G Weevil – Acoustic Artist.

James Cotton – Album – Cotton Mouth Man and Instrumentalist-Harmonica (Winner). James was joined by Tom Holland (guitar), Darrel Nulisch (vocals), Tom Hambridge (drums), and Elvin Bishop (guitar).


Ronnie Earl – Instrumentalist – Guitar (Winner) invited his friends to play: Bob Margolin (guitar) and Kim Wilson (Vocals & harmonica –Nominee) with Tom Hambridge (drums).


Trudy Lynn – Koko Taylor Award (Traditional Blues Female). Trudy was joined by Bill Stuve (bass), Jonn Del Toro Richardson (guitar), and Steve Krase (harmonica).

Teeny Tucker – Koko Taylor Award (Traditional Blues Female). Teeny’s band included Robert Hughes (guitar), Robert Blackburn (bass).


Kim Wilson – BB King Entertainer & Contemporary Blues Male Artist. Kim was joined by Kid Ramos (guitar), Billy Flynn (guitar), Willie Campbell (bass), and Jimi Bott (drums).

Brandon Santini – Instrumentalist – Harmonica. Brandon was joined by Jeff Jenson (guitar), Chad Wirl (drums), Chris Stephenson (organ), and Nick Hern (bass).


Mike Zito & the Wheel-Rock Blues Album of the Year – Gone to Texas. Mike’s band included Scot Sutherland (bass), Jimmy Carpenter (sax – Nominee), Lew Stephens (keyboard), and Rob Lee (drums).



And closing the evening was The Cedric Burnside Project. Cedric won the Instrumentalist – Drummer. He was joined by Trenton Ayers (guitar).

The evening was great success. Friday still had more events to attend with Generation Blues – Play It Forward Benefit – at the Hard Rock Café, Tas Cru’s Jam and Rum Boogie, Davey Keyes Trio at King’s Palace, and the Beale Street Mess Around on Friday Night, with a cavalcade of performers rotating on and off the stage. For those of us who didn’t quite have enough, on Saturday we headed down to Clarksdale for some street music, and finally off to Hopson Plantation for a jam with both adults and youth. What a great blues saturation. Congratulations to all the Nominees and Winners! For more information about all the different programs and the Hall of Fame being built in Memphis, visit and get your blues on!! And don’t forget to support your blues artists.

Photos and review by Marilyn Stringer.  Visit Marilyn’s website at

 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 9  

Big Smooth And The Hellraisers – Old School Rockin’ Blues

 12 songs – 51 minutes

 Self-produced CD

 Big Smooth And The Hellraisers are an uptempo outfit who have been delivering high-energy urban boogie blues at clubs and festivals from the upper Midwest as far south as Florida since 1998 make their recording debut with this hard rocking CD.

Steve “Big Smooth” Mazur founded the group in Detroit. A veteran of the Grande Ballroom, once one of the top blues venues in the Motor City, he wanted to provide younger audiences with an alternative to the chronically mellow blues and jam bands that dominated the area and were favored by the older crowd after folks like Paul Butterfield, Albert King and Peter Green had faded from the scene.

Mazur fronts the seasoned ensemble, doubling as harmonica player and lead vocalist, providing a wake-up call and kicking the party into high gear each time he hits the stage with his aggressive style of play. The lineup includes Scott Lewis on guitar along with drummer Terry Lynch and keyboard player Mark Heckert, who also engineered the CD. Traci Garneau and Mark Miller share bass duties.

The Lou Rawls soul-blues classic, “Drink Muddy Water,” kicks off the set, played like you’ve heard it before. Introduced with a brief harp line, it literally races out of the starting gate with guitar and harmonica each taking rapid-fire breaks mid-tune and concludes with call-and-response vocals. The disc mellows somewhat and kicks off with a Memphis feel for “10 Toe Dance,” a guitar-driven paean to a night of romance. After the first number, which is delivered almost in spoken word, this tune gives Big Smooth a chance to stretch his vocal cords.

The subject changes to a woman’s seduction prowess in “That Girl Could Shimmy” before the band launches into an updated version of The Clovers’ 1959 hit, “Love Potion #9.” Another uptempo cover, “Walk Right In,” follows before yielding to “If Mama Ain’t Happy,” a straightforward shuffle that warns about treating your mama right. The band delivers “Leroi’s Tin Roof,” a speedy piano-driven blues-rock tribute to a Louisiana roadhouse, before the funky “What It Is,” an extended complaint about mistreatment from a woman who’s cheated after receiving everything she desires from the man who loves her.

The pace heats up again for another blues-rocker, “Why Why Me,” a tale of regret after falling in lust with a woman on the dance floor and ending the night broke and alone. The similarly themed “Smokin’ Hot” follows. This time, however, the song ends with a “happy ending.” Another song of ill-fated romance, “Make Arrangements,” follows before the Hellraisers end the set with “Be My Baby.” It’s a bluesy love song, not the classic by The Ronettes.

Available through the band website, this CD is in your face from beginning to end, and will appeal to folks with a taste for a power-based bar band sound.

Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. 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 – 6 of 9  

David Vest – Roadhouse Revelation

 Cordova Bay – 2014

 11 tracks; 39 minutes

 David Vest is an American now living in Canada. Like his previous CD “East Meets Vest”, this is a quartet recording with David’s piano and vocals backed by the rhythm section of Downchild, Mike Fitzpatrick on drums and Gary Kendall on bass, and Fathead’s Teddy Leonard on guitar. The supporting players carry the tag of ‘The Willing Victims’! The CD was produced by David and Gary, Teddy and Mike lending a hand on the mixing, so everyone was closely involved in the making of this album. David wrote all the material with one collaboration and one cover.

There is plenty of piano here and two solo features for David; the CD closes on the aptly titled “Pretty Things For Anne”, a beautiful short piece of solo piano which finishes far too soon after just 1.12. “Santa Fe Steamer” in contrast lets David loose on a boogie piece which will get anyone’s feet tapping. More great piano features on “Freight Train Rolling” which starts with the drums and piano locked into the train rhythms before David sings the first verse, supplies some strong right hand accents and Teddy weighs in with an excellent rock and roll flavoured guitar solo to start the album with a bang. “Stand Your Ground” rocks hard with a guitar riff that comes out of the Rolling Stones’ songbook. David’s lyrics seem to have a touch of desperation as he asks if the protagonist has the strength to stand his ground and there are strong solos on both guitar and piano here. Less successful is the cover of Hank Williams’ “Ramblin’ Man” where David felt obliged to try a ‘yodel’ on the vocal which did not work well to these ears (although the rest of the song is fine and adds a touch of country to the mix). “You Came Through” is arguably the strongest cut on the album with a sensitive lyric and a catchy tune. The song reminded me of Dylan in his prime: “In my time of lost connections you reasoned with me while the world was turning blue. Peace of mind is what you gave me and when only love could save me you came through”. With an elegant and expressive guitar solo as well, this is an impressive song.

“Streetcar” is more piano-based, almost jazz/ragtime in style as David recounts the odd tale of a ghost streetcar and the presence of a long-lost love. “Gone Too Far” is a short jaunty blues, with some country flourishes on guitar. “Crooked Politician” is a co-write with the late Paul deLay, a real putdown of political corruption with the memorable lyrical finale “just a low down crooked politician, you can tell him you heard it from a blues musician”. “That Happened To Me” returns to the blues in a piece with plenty of left hand piano notes to accompany the rather downbeat lyrics of knowing how it feels to be ‘down on the bottom’. The final full song “Heart Full Of Rock And Roll” counters the depression with some more upbeat music in which David tells us that he has “a mind full of trouble, a heart full of rock and roll”. The applause at the end confirms that this one was recorded live.

As with previous albums from David, this is another solid set of varied material. An enjoyable listen and one worth investigating. .

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 9  

Roomful Of Blues – 45 Live

 Alligator 2013

 14 tracks; 65 minutes

 There can surely not be a blues fan who is not familiar with Roomful Of Blues! Whether the band is at the top of your personal lists will depend on whether you like the big band, horn-driven sound that typifies the band. For this reviewer they remain one of the genuinely great acts on the circuit and it is wonderful to have this live recording of the band’s celebration of its 45th year of playing, recorded over two nights on their home patch of Rhode Island. Roomful has been recorded live before but not for many years and this CD brings together material from literally every period of the band’s existence.

On this recording Phil Pemberton is on vocals, band leader Chris Vachon on guitar, longest-serving member Rich Lataille (43 years and counting) on alto, tenor sax and clarinet, Mark Earley on baritone and tenor sax, Doug Woolverton on trumpet, Rusty Scott on keys, John Turner on bass and Chris Rivelli on drums.

Basically every track is a delight from early songs such as “Crawdad Hole”, originally recorded with Big Joe Turner, and “It All Went Down The Drain”, recorded with New Orleans guitarist Earl King. Another great that Roomful played with often was Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson and although it was never recorded with Eddie “Somebody’s Got To Go” was a regular in their sets, so that record is set straight here with a new version of Big Bill Broonzy’s song. In the liner notes Chris Vachon is quoted as saying that some of the horn arrangements were tricky to adapt to a three man section (the old Roomful once had five horn players!) but you would not think so listening to the gorgeous arrangement of “I Left My Baby” where the horns sound as rich as Duke Ellington or Count Basie (the song was originally sung by Jimmy Rushing with Basie’s orchestra). The band is equally at home with the second-line rhythms of New Orleans and “Jambalaya” (recorded on their second album in 1979) is a good vehicle for that style. If Chicago blues is your thing take a listen to Roomful’s extended version of Magic Sam’s “Easy Baby”. For lovers of BB King’s big band blues try “You Don’t Know”. The only instrumental “Straight Jacquet” is a big band jazz piece in tribute to sax player Illinois Jacquet. The variety of music is simply stunning.

The opening and closing sections of the CD also provide ample clues to the continuing popularity of Roomful. The CD opens with “Just Keep On Rockin’”, Chris Vachon’s tribute to the band’s loyal fans, presented as a piece of big band rocking blues. To close the CD we get two magnificent pieces of music. First the rampaging “Turn It On, Turn It Up” builds the tension superbly before delivering its chorus: “Turn it on – play that music that stopped the world turning”. Not many tunes could follow that message from this band but Mark Earley’s “Flip Flap Jack” is a fine choice to finish the disc with its refrain of “it’s time to go”, the horns blaring out and Phil in fine voice, as he is throughout the album.

Those of us who already have most of Roomful’s extensive output will love these fresh takes on some classic tunes. Anyone who is new to the band need look no further for a great primer to this East Coast institution which comes highly recommended.

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 – 8 of 9  

Brent Johnson – Set the World on Fire

 Justin Time Records

 CD: 11 songs; 63:53 Minutes

 Styles: Blues Rock, Traditional Blues Covers

 Whenever newcomer musicians release their debut album, they try to “Set the World on Fire.” New Orleans-based blues rock guitarist Brent Johnson is no exception. According to the liner notes, written by Blues Blast reviewer Mark Thompson, “[Brent’s spent] the last eleven years on the road with the ‘Braille Blues Daddy’ himself, Mr. Bryan Lee, as a member of the Blues Power Band…He has steadily honed his skills as guitarist and songwriter, creating his own style and sound that rivals his mentor. This project was years in the making as Brent is his own toughest critic.” Even so, or perhaps because of this, Johnson’s first CD is a winner.

Combining smooth, laid-back vocals reminiscent of Steve Miller, keen lyrics, and furnace-temperature guitar, he presents eleven tunes – seven originals and four covers. Performing alongside him are bassist and background vocalist Bill Blok, drummer John Perkins, Wayne Lohr on keyboards, and special guest guitarists Alvin Youngblood Hart and Sonny Landreth. The following three songs are Johnson’s own compositions, and the very best for radio play:

Track 01: “Don’t Make a Sound” – This catchy opening number will open one’s eyes to the joys and pains of life on the tour circuit: “Caught my eye on the devil drinking at the end of the bar – hands wrapped around a cocktail glass, smiling like a movie star. He said, ‘Where are you going after the show? I got a car, a place we can go. Somewhere we’ll throw the money around. I’ll do all the talking; don’t you make a sound.” Anyone who wonders where this CD’s title came from should listen to Brent’s infernal guitar solo.

Track 06: “Long Way Back to New Orleans” – It’s no surprise that an ode to Johnson’s home city is the most spectacular selection on his debut offering. Featuring a rollicking hand-jive beat and Sonny Landreth’s magnificent mojo, track six will propel people onto the dance floor. Even at huge outdoor festivals where crowds might be packed in like sardines, they won’t be able to resist this bayou boogie. Swaying hips and singing lips shall be found far and wide.

Track 11: “Set the World on Fire” – The title track makes this CD go out with a bang instead of a whimper, especially toward the end. A mid-tempo ballad with beautiful harmony between Brent’s guitar and Wayne Lohr’s organ and piano keyboards, it’s a plea for lowered expectations in a relationship: “Now you’re saying it’s over; you’ve made up your mind. You want to leave ashes of what once was our life. You don’t have to set the world on fire.” He certainly does with his final shredder beat.

“The blues can indeed be a harsh mistress,” comments Mark Thompson. As proven by his debut CD, Brent Johnson knows this full well, but still manages to “Set the World on Fire”!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 34 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

 Featured Blues Review – 9 of 9  

Alex Lopez – Back Bedroom Blues


 CD: 11 songs; 41:14 Minutes

 Styles: Classic Blues Rock

 When it comes to a burgeoning career, everyone has to start somewhere, whether it be at a local fast-food joint, a farm, or even a local bar or club. In the case of Cleveland, Ohio’s Alex Lopez, it began with organ lessons and performances at church and school functions. He’s come a long way from those ‘gigs’ to his debut album, “Back Bedroom Blues.” Inspired by the Beatles and British blues rock bands, Alex learned to play the guitar as a teen, developing a style influenced by guitar greats Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix. While playing in local bands like Midnight Voyager and Sahara, Alex spent part of young adulthood recording original songs in small studios and polishing his songwriting skills. After moving to Florida to attend college, Alex played in local bands until his band Sahara also relocated to Florida to join him in their pursuit of a music career. They had some modest success with a few of Alex’s original songs, eventually receiving local airplay.

Alex took a long break from actively pursuing his music career to raise a family. It was during this period that Alex reconnected with his blues roots, studying the guitar style of blues greats like BB King, Albert Collins and Buddy Guy. He also took this time to write and record a voluminous amount of original material while continuing to master his guitar skills. With his family grown, Alex rekindled the musical fire by joining the classic rock band Reminiscion, which has been performing steadily in Tampa-area clubs and venues for years. While remaining a member of this band, he continues performing, writing and recording his own music. No one can fault Lopez for his endless energy or passion for the blues, although his vocals are an acquired taste. What drove Alex to this distinct genre of music?

In the “About Me” section of his website, he reveals, “After years of rocking, somewhere in my late twenties I settled into a ‘regular’ life. No complaints as I’ve been blessed with an incredible life: good health, beautiful family, great friends and success in business. But I’ve never stopped playing and writing music and now I have rekindled the fire. I play in a great classic rock band Reminiscion, performing regularly. I’ve built a quality recording studio and released my first album. And now I’m in rehearsals with an incredible blues band to start promoting my music. Where will it all go? I don’t know but its [sic] never too late to chase your dreams. I hope you like what you hear and thanks for visiting.

Back Bedroom Blues is a collection of rock/blues songs. It is now available on digital outlets everywhere…iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, Spotify just to name a few. With over a 1000 fans now on social media, the album has been well received and is getting frequent plays/likes….” Check him out!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 34 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

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Natchel Blues Network – Norfolk, VA

The Natchel’ Blues Network and Beach Events presents The 21st Annual Blues at the Beach Festival September 5 & 6, 2014 at 17th Street Stage – Virginia Beach VA.

Lineup includes Jarekus Singleton and Lil Ed & The Blues Imperials on Friday and Doug Deming & Dennis Gruenling w/ The Jewel Tones, Dirt Cheap Blues Exchange Dance Workshop, Damon Fowler Group, Bernard Allison and Tommy Castro & The Painkillers on Saturday.

$5.00 Daily / $8.00 Weekend Pass. For more info visit

Friends of the Blues – Kankakee, IL

2014 Friends of the Blues Concert Series –  All shows held in Kankakee, IL unless otherwise noted.

Tuesday, May 20, Ori Naftaly Band, Moose Lodge, Thursday, June 5, Sad Sam Blues Jam, Moose Lodge, Tuesday, June 24, Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch, Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s Club, Tuesday, July 8, Brandon Santini, BB Sportsmen’s Club , Wednesday, July 16, Albert Castiglia, Longbranch Restaurant, Thursday, July 31, Terry Quiett Band, Venue TBA, Tuesday, August 12, Laurie Morvan Band, Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s Club, Tues or Thur, August 26 or 28, Nikki Hill (& Matt Hill), Venue TBA, Thursday, October 02, Sena Ehrhardt, Moose Lodge

Crossroads Blues Society – Byron, Illinois

Crossroads Blues Society is proud to present the second annual Field of Blues Festival on Saturday, June 28th at Rockford Aviators Stadium in Loves Park.  Advanced tickets are on sale now. The festival will be held at the Rockford Aviators Stadium in Loves Park off Riverside (just east of the I39/90 exit). You can order tickets online for $10 plus a service charge at:

You can also send a check for $10 per ticket and a SASE to: Field of Blues Festival Tickets, c/o Crossroads Blues Society, PO Box 840, Byron, IL 61010.

You can also go to the following locations in Rockford: Guzzardo’s Music, Culture Shock, CD Source, Toad Hall Records, Alpine Bank (Highcrest, Springcreek, East State and Cherry Valley Branches), Just Goods Store, and the Rockford Area Arts Council. In Loves Park The Hope and Anchor is also selling tickets. Gary’s Guitars in Beloit will also be selling tickets as will the Aviators box office and other locations.

Headlined by the great blues and soul singer John Nemeth (8 PM), Crossroads has a great lineup for 2014! At 6 PM Doug Deming and the Jewel Tones will appear with Dennis Gruenling on harp. The 4 PM band is the ever popular Jimmys! Liz Mandeville is on stage at 2 PM and the day opens with Crossroads Blues Challenge winner the Alex Wilson Band. Dan Phelps will appear between acts.

Check us out at or call festival chairman Steve Jones at 779-537-4006 for more information!

The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL

The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for the Blue Monday live performances and jam sessions held every Monday night at The Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 8:00pm to midnight. Additional information on any performer listed below is available upon request. May 26 – Luca Giordano & Quique Gomez, June 2 – James Armstrong, June 16—Mary Jo Curry & Tombstone Bullet, June 23—Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys, June 30—Chris O’Leary Band

Other events sponsored by ICBC – May 31 – Lake Press Club, BBQ & Bues, James Armstrong, with special guest, Mary Jo Curry & Tombstone Bullet, 6:00 pm, June 7 – Luca Giordano & Quique Gomez @ The Thirdbase, Blues at the Base series. 8 pm, June 14, Blues for Abraham Festival @ K of C on Meadowbrook Road, 2 – 10 pm. Rick Estrin & The Nightcats. w/Susan Williams Band, Monica Morris & Josie Lowder, Robert Sampson & The Gumbo Band, Black Magic Johnson. Followed by and after fest jam at Casey’s Pub, hosted by Mary Jo Curry & Tombstone Bullet & The MojoCats.

Questions regarding this press release can be directed to Michael Rapier, President of ICBC, at at 217-899-9422, or contact Greg Langdon, Live Events Chair, at or by visiting

P.O. Box 721 Pekin, Illinois 61555     © 2014 Blues Blast Magazine 309 267-4425 

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