Issue 8-51 December 18, 2014

Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2014 Blues Blast Magazine

 In This Issue 

Terry Mullins has our feature interview with 2014 Blues Blast Music Award nominee, Bernie Pearl.

We have 7 music reviews for you including new music from Joe Bonamassa, Jo Harman and Company, The Mackenzie Blues Band, John Cee Stannard and Blue Horizon, Magnus Berg, Ruthie Foster and David Pinsky & Phil Newton.

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

 From The Editor’s Desk 

Hey Blues Fans,

The annual Grammy Award nominations for Best Blues Album are out and 2 of them were also on this years Blues Blast Awards nominee list. Charlie Musselwhite’s Juke Joint Chapel was nominated for Traditional Blues Album and Bobby Rush and Blinddog Smokin’s Decisions won Best Soul Blues Album at our awards this year. The other Grammy nominees for Best Blues Album were Common Ground – Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play And Sing The Songs Of Big Bill Broonzy, Promise Of A Brand New Day by Ruthie Foster and Step Back by Johnny Winter. Good luck to all the nominees.

Also, we got a press release announcing the new Alligator Records Radio, an online radio station playing continuous music from the Alligator recordings catalogue. If you got the press release you may have noticed, the link in the press release did not work. We have the correct link here for you.

Check it out if you want to hear some of their great artist’s music.

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 7 

Joe Bonamassa – Different Shades Of Blue

J&R Adventures – 2014

11 tracks; 49 minutes.

Joe Bonamassa has established his formidable reputation on both sides of the Atlantic by constant touring and an album a year for the last fifteen years; in the UK he has gone from dingy London pubs to sell-out gigs at the Albert Hall in little over ten years. Joe did not release a solo studio album in 2013, preferring to concentrate on writing with a number of experienced Nashville songwriters and the resulting CD is another strong addition to his catalogue. Collaborators include James House, Jerry Flowers, Jonathon Cain, Jeffrey Stele and Gary Nicholson. Regular producer Kevin Shirley is again at the helm and a stellar cast of musicians were assembled in Las Vegas to support Joe’s guitar and vocals: Reese Wynans on keys, Carmine Rojas and Michael Rhodes on bass, Anton Fig on drums, Lenny Castro on percussion, Lee Thornburg on trumpet and trombone, Ron Dziubla on sax, Doug Henthorn and Melanie Williams on backing vocals plus the ‘Bovaland Orchestra’ who add strings to one track.

The CD opens with a brief snatch of Hendrix’s “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)” which is played pretty straight by Joe. The Hendrix tease is appropriate for the next track “Oh Beautiful” which veers between unaccompanied vocal and very heavy rock riffing, very much in Jimi style but also with a touch of Zeppelin, particularly in the heavy drums and bass. The horns add some funk to “Love Ain’t A Love Song” which rattles along at a fast pace with one of several lyrics that talk about the breakdown of a relationship: “All I know is a woman I knew, she didn’t get me too far. Ain’t nobody work harder, ain’t nobody love you more” – is this personal or just the songwriter’s art? Joe’s angst in the lyrics spills over into a wild solo over the baying horns. “Living On The Moon” is a busy shuffle with the horns and organ leading the way and Joe riffing furiously in his solo. Two more ‘break-up’ songs follow in different styles: “Heartache Follows Me Wherever I Go” finds Joe playing under his vocals on a mid-paced chugger, the horns behind his angst-filled vocal (“I’ve been down to the bottom and I know that it hurts”) which is underlined by his solo, played with plenty of heavy wah-wah; “Never Give All Your Heart” sounds like the advice of a man who has had his fingers burned by love and appropriately Joe’s guitar rings out like a warning bell at the start of this rock ballad on which Reese’s piano playing is also a feature. Classic rock in style, this one recalls Free in their prime with fine vocals and an outstanding solo from Joe – a definite highlight.

Joe then gives us a great Elmore James riff as he explains just how much he sacrificed in the relationship – “I Gave Up Everything For You, ‘Cept The Blues”. This is a real foot-tapper with Joe’s fast-fingered riffing backed up by the horns and piano – great stuff! The title track “Different Shades Of Blue” is another standout with Joe’s weeping guitar underlining more tragic lyrics: “When you got nothing left to lose, might sound good, but I’m not sure that’s true. You carry the pain around and that’s what sees you through”. Swirling organ and an attractive guitar figure open “Get Back My Tomorrow” which again delivers a story of sorrow in a mid-paced rocker. The horns return to assist on a strong ensemble performance of “Trouble Town” which works around a core riff that recalls “Black Cat Bone”, Joe using slide on the outro section. The album closes with the only song that Joe wrote alone for this album, “So, What Would I Do?”. Reese’s gospel-tinged piano and organ are at the heart of this ballad on which the strings are also featured. Joe’s soulful, BB King inspired guitar works very well against that background to close the album on another high point.

Joe’s legion of fans will be certain to enjoy this album, especially with virtually all the material being original. Those who see Joe as just another rocker may be surprised by the quality of the playing and the variety of styles on offer, from heavy rock to classic balladry – different shades of blues indeed.

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 Interview – Bernie Pearl 

Brownie, Sonny, Lightnin,’ Sam said;

Learn this music and understand;

It comes from true life into your heart;

And we’re going to help you make a start.

– From “Sittin’ On The Right Side Of The Blues”

The above lyrics from the title track of California bluesman Bernie Pearl’s 2011 compact disc name-check some highly-regarded and well-respected pioneers of the blues. But those are more significant to Pearl than just some random names pulled out of a dusty ‘ole history book. Those are some of the names that Pearl saw play, hung out with, got to know as people and even shared the stage with on many occasions at the fabled Ash Grove. Those are some of the names that helped Pearl first step onto what has now became a lifelong path of playing the authentic blues. Even the title of that song, ‘Sittin’ On The Right Side Of The Blues” is an homage to those legends, for it was on the right side of the stage where Pearl sat at the Ash Grove, just so he could watch their hands in action.

Pearl gives a tip of the hat and hearty thanks to Mississippi Fred McDowell, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, Big Joe Williams and more, on his newest long-player, Take Your Time (Bee Bump Music). Just like his previous release was, Take Your Timeearned a Blues Blast Award nomination for Best Acoustic Album this year.

“It’s been a year of challenge and it’s been a year of great satisfaction. I had a health issue at the end of last year (2013), which has been solved and I’ve been fine ever since. But really, it was my first time ever having any kind of health issue and I’m 75, so my apple cart was upset a little bit, but it’s under control and I’m fine,” Pearl said. “That coincided with the finishing of Take Your Time and really from the start of the year, promoting the album and doing my CD release concerts, along with various other gigs, it was a real challenge. But the way it’s worked out – with the Blues Blast nomination and with the airplay it’s gotten and all the good reviews – has been very gratifying. I do think it’s my best work.”

Take Your Time represents more than just an album title to Pearl. It’s also a fragment of advice that was given to him by Rossville, Tennessee’s favorite son – Mississippi Fred McDowell.

“That’s what he used to say and I think that’s good advice for not only playing music and playing the blues, but also when used as a life lesson; don’t hurry,” Pearl said. “Mance Lipscomb used to say similar things, but that was one of Fred’s things he would say when we were playing, ‘Take your time, take your time. Don’t hurry it, let it go where it needs to go.’”

The fantastically-gifted Barbara Morrison makes a special guest appearance on Take Your Time, lending her prodigious vocal talents on three of the tracks. Even though Pearl and Morrison had never sang together on an album before, their vocals mesh and intertwine spot-on, complementing each other as though they’ve been playing together on a regular basis (“That’s a tribute to her artistry,” Pearl said. “I’d never had the audacity to sing with her before.”).

“I had met Barbara in 1981 when we were both involved in a stage production that was an adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s play called Yerma. The director wanted to put it in a fictitious deep-south setting with an all-black cast. He got in touch with me to provide some authentic music that would work with the songs and the dialogue,” he said. “Barbara was a member of the cast and as soon as I heard her sing, I recognized her as somebody extraordinaire. It turned out that at that time, she was working with Johnny Otis and ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson and Big Joe Turner and people I knew, so we became friends at that time.”

Friends, but not yet collaborators at that point in time; that would come several decades later.

“We always talked about doing something together – and this was in 1981 – so we come to 2014 and I mentioned to her that I had been in the studio for the first session, which was just the bass player and myself. I wrote her an e-mail saying that I was really happy with the session and she wrote back to me and said, ‘Could you use a girl singer?” laughed Pearl. “And she wanted to do it, so we had one session with her and remarkably, the session was on a Wednesday and she came over the Monday night before that and we went over the songs and I made a tape for her of them. She learned them and we had the lyrics in the studio and we went through them, mostly in one take on everything. One of the things that I was most pleased with out of the sessions was the way our vocals worked together … I mean, I really didn’t know what was going to happen when we sang together, so I’m glad it came off like it did.”

Once in the studio, the spirit quickly moved through Morrison and her natural talents easily sprang to life.

“We were listening to the Lightnin’ Hopkins tune (“Katie Mae”) that the bass player (Mike Berry) and I had recorded and she said, ‘Oh, that makes me want to moan.’ And so she did it (moaned) in the studio in an entirely different place (in the song) than where it ended up,” said Pearl. “When we got to that place, I said, ‘Let’s see if we can move her moaning over here and use it instead of a sax solo.’ It was just completely fortuitous and it worked out perfectly and brought a great deal of smiles to all of us.”

Pearl’s lifelong involvement in blues music covers more territory than simply just playing guitar, singing and writing songs. He’s also been a producer, a promoter of concerts and festivals, a teacher (of guitar), an educator (on the history of the blues) and a disc jockey. That’s a lot of different balls to juggle – sometimes all at the same time – but Pearl just seems to take it all in stride.

“Well, the only real time when that becomes a challenge – and I’m glad I don’t do it anymore – is when I’ve produced a festival or show and was also emcee, producer and bandleader,” he said. “That’s hard … too hard. But I love teaching. When I go out to play a festival, I always offer instructions or workshops or lectures of some kind. I really enjoy sharing my perception of things. I don’t play every style of blues, but I’ve taken on certain styles that I’ve made headways with.”

All the different styles of blues that Pearl has played and experimented with over the years had a comfortable and cozy home on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles from the late ‘50s until the early ‘70s at the fabled Ash Grove. There, Bernie’s brother Ed Pearl, the owner and operator of the Ash Grove, booked artists such as Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Taj Mahal and Sleepy John Estes – to name just a very few – as well as now-iconic roots-based performers such as Bill Monroe, Doc Watson and Flatt and Scruggs. And for the lion’s share of those 15 years the coffeehouse/club was thriving, you could bet that Bernie Pearl was there, soaking it all in.

“In the ‘50s, there was a very vital black scene (in southern California) that I and very few other white people had anything to do with or any connection to. We had such a depth of everything from ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson to T-Bone Walker and Pee Wee Crayton – the more polished acts – to guys like George “Harmonica’ Smith and Harmonica Fats and dozens and dozens of great players like that in those days. The Ash Grove was where people got exposed to hearing the real stuff … it was a real forum. I give a lot of credit to my brother for being so open to bringing in not only the Son Houses and the Bukka Whites, but also the local black performers that started coming in because people like Big Mama Thornton and Howlin’ Wolf played there,” Pearl said. “That helped some of the local artists to find a home there and that’s how I ended up meeting most of them.”

Not only did Bernie Pearl meet and hang out with most of those legendary artists that stopped in to play at the Ash Grove, he was also fortunate to end up calling many of them ‘friend’ and along the way, he picked up some priceless first-hand lessons on how to play the real-deal blues from the hands of the masters themselves.

“It was a revelation. And really, most of the education came from the hanging-out part. I, for one, didn’t approach them from a ‘teach-me-how-to-do-that’ perspective; it was more from the personalizing aspect of knowing them as people and their entirely-different experiences,” he said. “They were only too open to talk about their lives, and in many cases, they willingly shared their music. But more importantly to me, they shared the background of the music and what it meant. They never set up a standard of ‘you’re white, so you really can’t do it.’ Along that tangent, they were pretty much universally upset – in their own language – that ‘my own peoples don’t learn my music.’ They were very much afraid that their music would die with them. Most all of them expressed that and were all very encouraging. The really great revelation was how they were as people … some were more gregarious than others, but they were all pretty open to friendships and personal relationships; and these were the legendary masters.”

One of those masters – Brownie McGhee – ended up spending some one-on-one time with Pearl, showing him some of the nuances of the Piedmont style of blues picking.

“I approached him and asked him for some paid lessons and ended up taking a few of those with him for a couple of years. I don’t play much in Brownie’s style, but that was really my start. It was sitting in my brother’s kitchen with me and Brownie on guitar and Sonny Terry sitting beside, gently blowing his harp and going ‘Whoop, whoop, whoop.’ That’s a pretty good kick. And learning with Brownie prepared me for Lightnin’ who came along a year or two later. I got a lesson from him and started working on his stuff and pretty soon, I was playing with him. I never did take the stage with Brownie, though. Lightnin’ would say, ‘Learn this.’ Then go away for a couple of months and come back and we’d pick right back up.”

Although he may not have criss-crossed the globe with her, Pearl did pull a tour of duty in Big Mama Thornton’s band back in the day.

“I was only with her for like six weeks. I had just came back from a summer in New York and showed up at the Ash Grove and my brother asked me who played better blues on the electric guitar, me or my partner David. I said, ‘I do.’ And he told me that Big Mama’s guitar player either quit or was fired and she needed a guitar player for that night,” Pearl laughed. “So I went and got my guitar and sat in the dressing room and played some B.B. King riffs for her and she liked them, so she hired me. I was with her for a few weeks and she was indeed a character. She was a real person; she could be rough-and-tough, but my take on it was she was a woman alone in a rough man’s world and she had to have a gruff exterior to survive. I was really not that well-versed on the electric guitar at that time. I was looking to do more Lightnin’ Hopkins kind of stuff, and to be truthful, I didn’t cut it after awhile and I was let go. But we remained friends after I left her band. She was a great artist.”

Pearl never really had any sort of master-plan or grand designs on becoming a musician. It’s not like he just woke up in 2014 and realized that he’d been playing the blues for five decades, but …

“It was kind of a gradual decline; I slowly fell into the pit and only come up for air by teaching and doing this or that,” he laughed. “But I love the whole thing. I love the blues, I love the blues people, I love the repertoire … I love the comradery, and I’ve pretty much just tried to focus on that.”

A defining moment in Pearl’s transformation into a bluesman came early on, way back in 1958, when not as a performer, but rather as a customer, he attended a show at the Ash Grove.

“Yeah, my epiphany came very early on. I was sitting at a table with a couple of friends and it was a folk music show – the headlining act was some local folk renown at the time, one that the crowd came to see – and the opening act was Jesse Fuller, the one-man band. When he started playing, me and my friends went nuts. At a certain point I looked around and was expecting the house to be jumping, but the folk music crowd was just sitting there, sipping their cappuccino and waiting for Jesse to get off the stage,” he said. “So that’s the moment that the drum started beating in my head. I thought that was way too compelling. At that time I didn’t think I would ever understand what he was playing, or what the blues were, I just knew I was seeing something special.”

Southern California still has a healthy blues scene these days, but in Pearl’s eyes, it’s hard-pressed to keep pace with what it once was when the Ash Grove was the destination for real-deal blues and folk.

“I have to say that it’s (the blues scene in southern California) devolved into something that I’m not much a part of. I don’t hear a lot of variety in approaches and I don’t hear much traditional blues being done,” he said. “A lot of it is really rock-oriented, and then you have the west coast jump thing, but it’s primarily a white scene. So I haven’t been really involved with the local scene for awhile. There’s a lot of blues and a lot of blues bands and blues players here. I’m constantly amazed at how many really good guitar players there are. But ultimately, I think a lot of them have not adhered to the ‘take your time and be yourself’ principal. I do get a little tired of the emphasis being on the show, rather than the more palpable content of the blues.”

Tentative plans are being made for Pearl and Morrison to reunite next year for a set of country blues in a festival-type setting. Fingers are being crossed that the duo has the opportunity to head back into the studio and lay down some of those country blues tunes onto disc. Whether or not that comes to fruition, one thing is certain; Bernie Pearl is going to keep doing what he’s done for over five decades now, which is just to be Bernie Pearl.

“Lightnin’ Hopkins and Smokey Wilson gave me the same advice, decades apart, and that was to be yourself,” he said. “So I don’t try anything that is not of myself. That’s what I do.”

Visit Bernie’s website at

Photos by Bob Kieser © 2014 Blues Blast Magazine

Blues Blast Magazine Senior Writer Terry Mullins is a journalist, author 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 7 

Jo Harman and Company – Live at the Royal Albert Hall

Chief007/A BBC Recording

CD: 8 Songs; 51:34 Minutes

Styles: Blues Rock, Blues Ballads, Roots Rock

In 2012, this reviewer and e-zine discovered a blues chanteuse ‘across the pond’ in the UK named Jo Harman. Back then, she and her ensemble performed Live At Hideaway; now they’re Live at the Royal Albert Hall. This year Jo was selected from six finalists to be “Female Vocalist of the Year” at the British Blues Awards. According to her promotional materials, she revealed, “I’m not entirely sure music should be a competition in quite this way, which is why I never particularly mentioned the nomination or campaigned for votes.” This attitude is refreshing in an era of ‘winner-take-all’, no matter what the endeavor or the cost. Jo is never afraid to be herself above all, giving everything to her sultry take on blues rock and ballads. On this album, it’s typically low-key, despite a few fast and gritty numbers. Six out of eight are compositions either written or co-written by Harman herself. The three mentioned below showcase her voice best.

With her are Dave Ital on guitar and vocals, Steve Watts on keyboards and vocals, Andy Tolman on bass, and Martin “Magic” Johnson on drums. Says Harman of their finished product, in the liner notes: “This is a caught-in-the-moment, as-it-happened, honest recording made by the BBC. There are no edits, no fixes, no processing, no colouring…What you hear is what we played, raw and untampered.”

Track 02: “Cold Heart” – Slightly reminiscent of Sheryl Crow’s “I Shall Believe”, this original song is almost eerie. It’s a slow burner, but as hot as a certain infernal place. Harman tells her partner what absolutely no one wants to hear: “You’ve got one thing: a cold heart.” It’s an ultimatum as much as a description, the final word in a broken relationship. Steve Watts is understated yet brilliant on piano keyboards, which complement Jo’s lilting voice perfectly.

Track 03: “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” – This cover of an R&B hit by Michael Price and Dan Walsh, popularized by Bobby “Blue” Bland, is absolutely super. “Ain’t no love in the heart of the city; ain’t no love in the heart of town. Ain’t no love, and it’s sure ‘nuff a pity. Ain’t no love, ‘cause you ain’t around.” A timeless sentiment such as this is best backed up by Dave Ital’s rollicking electric guitar solo.

Track 05: “Underneath the River” – With an irresistible rock ‘hook’ and thumping backbeat by Martin “Magic” Johnson, track five just might drive blues rock fans insane with excitement. It’s a surefire party anthem with just the right touch of sweetness amid the spice. “Girls,” Jo explains beforehand, “I think you’ll understand there are times when we feel a little bit crazy, and you know what? The men, too.”

Jo Harman and Co. will delight fans in Britain and worldwide with Live at the Royal Albert Hall!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 35 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 – 3 of 7 

The Mackenzie Blues Band – Slam! Bam!

Self-Release – 2014

12 tracks; 52 minutes

The Mackenzie Blues Band comes from Ontario, Canada and has competed twice at the IBC’s. This is their second CD release and the songs are all written by the band apart from one contributed by Drew McIvor who plays some keys on the album. The band is Tara Mackenzie on vocals, Trevor Mackenzie on guitar, Joel Dawson on bass, Wurlitzer and B/V’s and Mike Weir on drums and B/V’s. Drew McIvor and Rob McLean add keys, Chris Murphy sax and Rod Ramsay harp. Tara has a strong voice which at times recalls Janiva Magness and the material gives her plenty of opportunity to demonstrate her 3.5 octave vocal range. The album is interestingly presented with a comic book style story line featuring the band and a credits page built into the sort of advertising copy one had in the 1950’s.

After a short choral “Prelude” the CD opens with “Down With Love” which is also subtitled “Slam! Bam!” so can be counted as the title track. This one is an upbeat rocker with harp added to the guitar-led band. “Sweet Stuff” again has the harp in the mix on a more conventional blues shuffle, sax comes in after the first verse and a swinging guitar solo fits the song well. “Move On” opens with a classic rock riff from Trevor and this one is definitely more rock than blues. “Bone Cage” again opens with some choral vocals before Tara sings of being “thrown down in the bone cage, left me there to die” – pretty dramatic stuff and the music reflects that dark feeling as the band sets a slow, mournful rhythm behind Tara. An epic guitar solo would have fitted the song well but does not appear, leaving the song a little repetitive. “Burned When You Play With Fire” on the other hand is very much guitar-led, another mid-paced number. A ballad “On The Other Side” follows, a song with a spiritual aspect as Tara sings of a currently unsuccessful relationship: “if I get to heaven don’t want to see you on the other side”.

“Ain’t Tryin’ To Hide” is keyboardist Drew’s song, a slow blues in classic style as Tara emotes and Trevor takes a strong solo. The longest track on the album is the slow-burner “I Feel A Storm Coming” which opens with discordant guitar and harp before Tara joins in, first at the lower end of her range but soon after she gives full vent to her vocals. This one at 8 minutes feels like it needed editing; the extra space allows too much over-indulgence from the band, especially Trevor whose extended solo is a bit tiring.

The band clearly has a spiritual side to its material and the final three tracks all demonstrate that. The fast-paced “Up! Up! Up!” pounds along well in a very simple but effective arrangement; “Higher Road” takes a soulful approach with strong organ accompaniment, some nice harmonies and a fine solo from Trevor; “Spiritual Power” is overtly gospel. With Trevor in restrained mood the gospel feel of this one suits Tara’s voice perfectly as she sings emotionally about a friend’s struggle with cancer – the outstanding song on the album.

Overall this is a CD that has some good moments but also some overwrought playing and singing on some numbers. Tara has an excellent voice and it is a thing of splendor. Trevor shows that he is a fine player on several tracks, but also has his moments of ‘going over the top’.

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 – 4 of 7 

John Cee Stannard and Blue Horizon – Bus Depot Blues

Cast Iron Recordings CIRCD 024

12 songs – 44 minutes

One of the biggest stars in the folk music movement in Great Britain during the 1970s, John Cee Stannard attacks the blues format to deliver this collection of 11 originals and one cover, his second work in the format in a career that’s stretched back more than 40 years.

A solid guitarist and songwriter, Stannard achieved cult status in the 1970s as founding member of Tudor Lodge, a folk ensemble featured at festivals drawing crowds of up to 150,000 music lovers, which toured through the 1980s. He’s worked as a radio host and actor, appearing in small roles in several box office blockbusters, including The DaVinci Code, James Bond Skyfall, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire. He began shifting to the blues in 2011 after penning several songs in the genre that struck a positive chord. “It’s as if I’d finally found my voice,” he says. It was a dream he’d nurtured for decades.

Those tunes and several that followed comprise his first blues release, The Doob Doo Album, out of which Blue Horizon was formed. The band’s a trio, featuring Mike Baker on second guitar and Howard Birchmore on harmonica. They’re joined in the studio by drummer Julian Bown, bassist Andy Crowdy and violinist Melissa Lynch with Alex Steer appearing on tambourine and Alison Rolls contributing backing vocals. The sound they produce is modern while being somewhat a throwback to that of many of the small folk-blues groups that played coffeehouses in America in the 1960s. The material’s highly original, and is delivered clean, in a straightforward manner with Birchmore’s harp prominent in the mix throughout.

Available through CDBaby or any of the major download sites, the album kicks off with “Solitary Vacation With The Blues,” a sweet number about meeting a woman who appears out of nowhere to turn the singer’s life around in a positive way.” It features a bright, upbeat acoustic guitar line with harp response. The trip continues with “Bus Depot,” a syncopated country blues memory of a dark, damp wayside where Stannard’s character landed after the end of a love affair. The theme continues with “Hard Times – 83,” about an investment in a company that fails. The figure in the title refers to the age of the subject at the time the firm failed…and the age at which he wishes he’d died, too.

“Lady Luck” is a heartfelt plea for better times, followed by “I’ll Take Care Of Mine,” which affirms the singer’s resolve atop some solid brush work on the skins and an all-too-brief guitar solo. A spritely cover of Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “That’s Alright” precedes “Blues In My Life,” an image-filled complaint about how the mood colors the singer’s life. The moody “Flood Water” features a repetitive slide line to drive home the feeling of the water rising steadily since the singer’s woman’s left home.

The music brightens for “When You Need Them Most,” while the theme of lost love and life lived in reverse gear carries forward as the singer yearns for friends to lift him up when they’re only letting him down. “Bad Luck Rain” features a Spanish-style guitar intro before Stannard addresses his troubles as the personification of the title and demands it leave town. The album concludes with “Best I Can For You,” which delivers a lounge band feel, and “Not Until It’s Gone,” an uptempo country blues number that about being unable to understand the depth of loss until the separation already has occurred.

If your tastes run toward acoustic folk blues, you’ll enjoy this one. The instrumentation is sharp throughout and the songs, which being familiar in theme, sparkle with originality.

Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. His firt 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 – 5 of 7 

Magnus Berg – Cut Me Loose

Screen Door Records

10 songs – 44 minutes

What is it about Norway? A country with a population of just over 5 million people, it has a thriving blues scene. It holds a number of great blues festivals every year (including the magnificently-titled Hell International Blues Festival, held – perhaps obviously – in the town of Hell); it is the home nation of the ludicrously-talented Kid Andersen (guitarist with Little Charlie & The Nightcats since 2008); and now it has produced 18 year old guitarist, singer and songwriter, Magnus Berg and his red-hot band.

Cut Me Loose, which features seven originals and three well-known covers, is Berg’s first album, but he has already packed a lot of experience into his CV, including recently touring as lead guitarist for multi-talented singer/songwriter Kirsten Thien. And, as a statement of intent, Cut Me Loose serves notice that Berg is a seriously talented musician.

The album features a wide range of blues styles, from the opening blues-rock of “Cut me Loose”, which sounds not unlike an early ZZ Top tune, to the country blues of Jim Jackson’s “Kansas City Blues” and the John Lee Hooker-influenced “St. Pete Boogie”.

Berg’s first-rate band features Bjørn Tore “Daffy” Larsen (harmonica), Håvard Sunde (drums) and Roy Oscar Pettersen (bass). Guest musicians include Kirsten Thien, Erik Boyd on bass and acoustic guitar, Magnus Westgaard on upright bass, Ola Overby on drums and Kristian Koppang on keys. The musicians manage to convey a real spark and attitude on the songs, which makes for enjoyable repeated listening.

Berg’s guitar playing itself is assertively melodic, cleverly mixing approaches and going in unexpected directions. The interplay between Berg and harp virtuoso Larsen is particularly impressive, with the musicians often playing parts in tandem to add extra drive to the already motoring rhythm section, for example on the swinging “One Way to Please You”, which rumbles like an electrified “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”.

A highlight of the album is the country-inflected “When It’s Gone”, on which Thien turns in an emotionally-charged and genuinely moving vocal performance while Berg plays acoustic slide guitar. She perfectly captures an aching desolation as she sings “A wisdom came upon me in the night time. A flash of hope was gone before I woke. I can chase it all I want, but one thing life has taught me. When it’s gone it’s gone and that’s no lie.”

Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man” is often covered and regularly massacred by bar bands around the globe. Berg’s inventive interpretation works however because his version deliberately strays from Muddy’s approach, smoothing out the stop-time “rhino beat” and adding slashing slide guitar.

The third cover version is Freddie King’s classic instrumental “San-Ho-Zay”, which is given a modern blues-rock makeover, with hints of Ronnie Earl’s cover of the same song.

The album closer, “One Too Many”, is a great swinging jump blues with witty lyrics dealing with the protagonist’s repentance after misbehaving: “I got down on my knees, I said ‘baby please, baby please don’t go’. She said ‘I’m not leaving, but there’s the door and your clothes will be on the lawn’. I had one too many.”

With his raspy singing voice, gritty Telecaster playing and songs at the rockier end of the blues spectrum, its possible to discern the influence of Jonny Lang on Berg, but it is also an indication of his talent that Cut Me Loose is such an entertaining, enjoyable slice of modern electric blues. It’s safe to say that we’re going to hear a lot more from Magnus Berg in the future.

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 – 6 of 7 

Ruthie Foster – Promise Of A Brand New Day

Blue Corn Music

12 tracks total – running time/42:17

Ruthie Foster is a strong woman! Her lyrics will grab your heart with genuine stories about real life situations that we can all relate to. Starting over, finding yourself, loving, losing, and healing are all part of the story for this album. We have all been there, done that, or are in the middle of figuring it all out! Fosters knock you off your feet vocals will find your soul and quite possibly make the hair on the back of your neck stand up! Promise of a Brand New Day was released in August, 2014. Seven of the twelve songs are written or co-written by Foster. Prior to this disc, Fosters last two albums were Grammy nominated for Best Blues Album. From Austin Texas, her roots shine through with many undertones of pure gospel, deep blues, and Motown soul.

Other musicians on the CD are as follows: Meshell Ndegeocello, bass; Chris Bruce, guitar; Ivan Edwards, drums; Jebin Bruni, keys; Nayanna Holley, background vocals. Two guest musicians on the CD are guitarist Doyle Bramhall II and vocalist Toshi Reagon. Bruce has played with rock star Cheryl Crow, Bruni has ties to musician Aimee Mann, Bramhall has a steady gig with Eric Clapton, and Reagon is the daughter of Sweet Honey in the Rock founder Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon.

The record is chock full of emotional, real songs. Some highlights include “Singing The Blues”, “It Might Not Be Right”, and “Second Coming”. “Singing The Blues” is vocally silky smooth with bluesy roots. Bobby “Blue” Bland gets mentioned in this tune and rightfully so. “It Might Not Be Right” leans toward love and marriage that may not be viewed right from society’s stand point but it’s alright with “this girl”. “Second Coming” has handclaps and acoustic guitar strewn throughout with that folk-gospel sound that Foster nails!

Foster admits that the heartache, tough times, and tribulations were not always hers alone. She often had close friends nearby that were experiencing similar situations and she could then relate them her own life and put them in a song. Foster was just in St. Louis, Missouri on December 13, 2014. Rumor has it she put on a stellar performance opening for the Blind Boys of Alabama.

And Promise of a Brand New Day follows suit with another Grammy nod this year!

Reviewer Shannon Courto has been a Blues enthusiast since 1999. Her favorite types include delta Blues, Chicago Blues & jump/swing. She is lucky to live in St. Louis, Missouri where the music is flourishing.

 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 7 

David Pinsky and Phil Newton – Over the Moon

Self Release

11 tracks / 49:35

With the many diverse subgenres of blues that are being recorded today, it is good to regularly touch home with where the blues came from so we do not lose track of where we came from. Oregonians David Pinsky and Phil Newton are creating just this kind of bare bones music and are doing a very good job of it, as evidenced by their first album together, Over the Moon.

PInsky and Newton have known each other for years and started playing gigs together a few years back with their brand of Delta style roots and blues, and it caught on. This dynamic duo had enough juice to win the completion that allowed them to represent the venerable Cascade Blues Association at the 2014 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Competition was stiff and they did not prevail, but the door did not close and they again won the right to represent the CBA again in 2015 at the IBC. I wish them luck!

They came back from Tennessee with none of their fire diminished, and they headed into a Central Point, Oregon studio this past summer to cut their first album together. The album was produced, engineered, and mastered by Thomas Hartkop and it features Dave and Phil on vocals and harmonica, with Dave also providing the guitar parts. That is it – no horns, drums, bass, keyboards, or trio of beautiful backing vocalists. Instead, we get 11 original tracks written with honesty from these two veterans of the Pacific Coast blues scene, and it is a good trade-off.

The set kicks off with “Memphis by Midnight,” and the blues listeners get exactly what they are looking for, which is bare bones acoustic blues. This is a raw recording with woody sounding acoustic guitar that is recorded so well you can hear the strings hitting the frets. The weathered vocals recount this year’s trip to Memphis, with plenty of their recollections, impressions and images. Rounding out the package are a few harp breaks that are muted yet still pretty.

There are other songs that throw out a little of the duo’s history. “Black Highway” is a howling Delta-esque ode to Oregon Route 238, the highway that David and Phil both live on. And “3303 Burdeck Drive” brings back memories of growing up in the cold clime of Oakland, California, this time with a country blues feel thanks to the carefully picked guitar lines and the doubled guitar/harmonica intro.

One of the standout tracks is “Mama’s in the Kitchen,” which brings a lot of Louisiana spice to the table. This is accomplished with Pinsky and Newton’s minimal instrumentation by having the harmonica mimic a squeezebox, and at times you can be fooled into thinking it actually is an accordion. The guitar lays in the background playing heavy downbeats while the lyrics take the front of the stage (as they do on most of the album), but this time in a Fats Domino style.

Looking at the album as a whole, this is the kind of music that a couple of friends would get together to play at a backyard cookout or in a slow-paced roadhouse, and these two old buddies can do it better than most anyone else around.

Things draw to a close with “Your Turn to Go” with some beautiful harmonica work and aggressively strummed acoustic guitar. The lyrics recall remorse for how things have gone so badly in life, but realizing the need to move along anyway and hope the future gets better. This is what the blues is all about!

If you like what you hear on David Pinsky and Phil Newton’s album, you should try to catch their live show, as they have gigs almost every week for the next few months, including the IBC on Beale Street in Memphis this January. But, if you cannot make it to Oregon or Tennessee, the next best thing would be to pick up a copy of Over the Moon. Taking this journey to the roots of the blues and Americana will definitely be money well spent. Plus, picking up a copy will support their trip to the IBCs, which is a cause worth standing behind!

Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at

 Blues Society News 

 Send your Blues Society’s BIG news or Press Release about your not-for-profit event with the subject line “Blues Society News” to:

Maximum of 175 words in a Text or MS Word document format.

Southeast Iowa Blues Society – Fairfield, IA

“Rockin’ in the Blue Year” Double Feature…Sena Ehrhardt and John Nemeth, two of the hottest Blues Singers around, all in one night, January 3rd, 2015. All happening at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center in Fairfield, Iowa. Doors open at 6:30 music begins at 7pm. Tickets $15 advance and SIBS members…$18 Day of Show

For more information visit or call Gary at 641-919-7477…you don’t want to miss this one!!

Utah Blues Society – Salt Lake City, UT

Friday, December 19th marks the date for the Utah Blues Society Member Appreciation Holiday Party!! And it’s FREE! Join us at The State Room (638 South State Street) for a holiday hoopla of humongous proportions!!! 7 p.m. Doors – Social Hour (you’ll also be able to sign up as a member, but best to do so beforehand!). Membership not strictly required to get it but it sure is “APPRECIATED”!

8 p.m. – 9 p.m. Blues Trivia Contest w/UBS President & KRCL blues programmer Brian Kelm – prizes galore! Fun for all, increase your blues knowledge to impress that certain someone at the next blues gig!

9:15 p.m. – 10:15 p.m. Pat McEwen and Kenny Kruckenberg of River House Band & friends

10:30 – 11:30 p.m. Candy’s River House Band Special guest appearances by Utah’s stellar all-star blues musicians too!

DC Blues Society – Washington, D.C.

The DC Blues Society rings in the New Year with Severn Records’ newest recording artist, Ursula Ricks. On December 31, 2014 from 7:00 pm – 12:30 am, the “Queen of Baltimore Blues” will provide the dance groove at the American Legion Post 268, 11225 Fern Street, Wheaton MD 20902. The Party includes a southern-style dinner, party favors, midnight champagne toast & a reasonable cash bar. Seating is limited. Buy tickets at or call 301-322-4808: $35 in advance ($30 for DCBS members); $40 at the door ($35 for DCBS members). Metro accessible. Ample parking.

Ursula Ricks is a blues singer & songwriter with a rich, sultry velvety voice evocative of Etta James. She brings her soulful, deep-throated, blues-driven approach to a wide range of songs.

“Ursula’s unique vision and vocal ability made recording her debut album a real pleasure….Ursula has flown under the radar for so long. We are excited that the world will finally get an opportunity to experience her incredible music.” –David Earl of Severn Records, on Ursula’s new release “My Street”

Colorado Blues Society – Windsor, CO

Join the Colorado Blues Society for the 3rd Annual Colorado Blues Society Members Choice Awards are 2PM Dec. 22 at Herman’s Hideaway on South Broadway, Denver. Come out and see who are the favorites of CBS members, over 500 nominees in over 35 categories. The day is also a CD release party for our BSPCD entry, “JAM For Blues in the School”. Performing that day will be many of the local performers who made that CD possible including Dan Treanor and Afrosippi featuring Erica Brown, the 2013 IBC third place finishers in Memphis! Check our website for more info

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. Dec. 22 – Mary Jo Curry & Tombstone Bullet, Dec. 29 – James Armstrong

Additional ICBC shows: Nov. 20—James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm, Nov. 22 – Hurricane Ruth CD release party at The Alamo, with special guest, Mary Jo Curry & Tombstone Bullet, 7 pm, Dec. 4—James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm, Dec. 18 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm.

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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