Issue 8-52 December 25, 2014

Cover photo by Gary Eckhart © 2014 Blues Blast Magazine

 In This Issue 

Terry Mullins has our feature interview with 2014 Blues Blast Music Award winner, Lisa Mann.

We have 7 music reviews for you including new music from Kirby Sewell Band, Doug Prescott Band, The Bella Reunion, Ken DeRouchie Band, Bobby “Hurricane” Spencer, Paul Lamb & The King Snakes and Marlon McClain.

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,

Happy Holidays to everyone. This is our last issue of 2014.

It has been a record year for us. 9,000 new subscribers, 12,000 votes in our Blues Blast Music Awards, a record number of advertisers and more than 375 Blues music reviews.

Thank you for all your support. Best wishes to you and your family from all of us at Blues Blast Magazine.

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 7 

Kirby Sewell Band – Girl With A New Tattoo

Smelly Cat Records – 2014

10 tracks; 39 minutes

This is the third release from this Canadian band. Singer Kirby’s lead vocals handle the bluesy rock material pretty well and the twin guitars of main writer and producer Neil Gunhold and Morgan Turk produce some excellent moments. The rhythm section is Jim Johnston on drums and Jae Cho on bass. One thing immediately evident is the care and attention given to the packaging here with a good quality gatefold (featuring three girls with tattoos who are credited in the sleevenotes!) and a booklet with full lyrics.

The title track has some amusing observations from Kirby: “Is that a daisy or an orchid? I don’t know flowers all that well…Is that a map of South East Asia. I bet you’d be helpful on a trip.” Opening cut “The Devil’s In The Details” follows a fairly routine funk-rock pattern but then unveils an exciting, faster-paced middle section with the guitar really cutting loose, driven by the increasing pace of the drums. Morgan gives us some swampy slide work on “Stop And Go!”, a solo which again emerges a little unexpectedly from the main tune. The full-on rock assault of $1.11 has some clever lyrics (“I sold my soul for a dollar, I sold my dreams for a dime, I sold my heart for a penny in a pawn shop on the corner, now I’ve got $1.11.”). The two guitarists play well together on “Kiss You Tonight” which has a loose Black Crowes/Stones feel about it and the muscular riff and brooding bass that propel “Cryin’ All The Way”, a sad tale of being abandoned by his girl who also took with her most things of value in the house!

When the band drops the pace they tend to edge into country rock territory. “Simply Not Enough” has a relaxed feel with ringing, melodic guitars and Kirby singing in a more restrained, romantic style. “A Better Reason” also takes a country rock approach though here Kirby seems to be struggling a little to reach all the notes. The album closes with some acoustic picking on “Till The River Starts To Overflow”, probably the closest we get to a blues on the album.

With good guitar playing and interesting lyrics there is certainly something worth investigating here but blues purists can let this one pass by.

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 – Lisa Mann 

One little word can sure make one big difference.

It can turn excellence into also-ran or change superb into merely passable.

Portland blues woman Lisa Mann and The Really Good Band have been kicking butt and taking names at an alarming rate these past few months, spreading their red-hot brand of blues to bandstands far and wide.

Those that have seen Mann and her crew take the stage by storm are sure to remember the name.

However, before-hand, things can get a bit confused sometimes.

“Well, we had a promoter mess up a sign one time and demote us to ‘The PRETTY Good Band.’ I had to call him up and say, ‘Excuse me … we’re ‘The REALLY Good Band,’” laughed Mann.

Banner snafus aside, things have been REALLY good for Mann and company this fall.

The bass-playing dynamo took home the Sean Costello Rising Star Award at this year’s Blues Blast gala, after she had practically burned down the stage with her performance earlier in the evening at the annual shindig. And even more recently, Mann found her name on the list of nominees for Best Bass Player at the upcoming Blues Music Awards (BMAs) in Memphis.

“It’s been kind of a whirlwind and a lot of this has really taken me by surprise. A lot of the guys that were up for the Sean Costello Award have some history and labels and people behind them. And me, I’m an indie artist … but apparently I have more fans and friends than I knew were out there,” she said. “For one thing, (awards and nominations) it means fan recognition. It’s kind of like getting a big round of applause. But it’s also getting recognition from my peers. I was so honored just to get the nomination for the Blues Blast award in the first place, because I know they (nominators for Blues Blast awards) are people who are in the industry and are people who listen to a lot of blues. There’s so much good music out there, for them to choose me was a big honor. That industry recognition is really special. And it’s the same way with the BMA nomination. Just to be put in the company of such great bass players is really an honor. It feels really good and I feel really humbled.”

Mann and The Really Good Band won a Muddy Waters Award – presented by the Cascade Blues Association – for Contemporary Blues Act of the Year this past November, while Mann was also named Bass Player of the Year and her latest album, Move On, took Recording of the Year honors that were handed out by the association.

Even though she doesn’t have some huge corporate marketing machine in her corner, Mann’s latest compact disc has still managed to find a comfortable home on the playlists of most blues DJs since its release. A big part of that is due to an almost grass-roots like effort on the part of a whole host of folks in the blues community.

“For this last CD, I hired Todd Glazer (noted blues and roots music radio promoter) and he did a great job. I have to really give him a lot of credit,” she said. “And over the years, I’ve made a lot of great connections with blues DJs all around the world. There are a lot of really good people out there playing the blues on radio programs and most of them are volunteers who are willing to support independent artists.”

It’s never been uncommon to find a female fronting a blues (or really, any) band, but when you tack on the duties of singing lead and laying down the low-end on bass to fronting duties for a female in a blues band, the list narrows quickly and considerably. That might lead to issues or hurdles to jump for some, but not for Mann.

“I guess the only real issue I’ve run into is the comparison with Danielle Schnebelen (bassist/singer for Trampled Under Foot) and with Esperanza Spalding (Grammy-winning jazz bassist, who also calls Portland home). I just seem to get compared to those two because they’re also female bass players,” Mann said. “When Spalding won the Grammy, I kept getting messages from all these people that were like, ‘Wow! Female singer and bass player wins Grammy!’ And I’m like, ‘Well, I don’t sound anything like her and don’t play anything like her.’ So, that’s kind of been some of the comparisons I’ve been getting, although I really am not sure why.”

Mann, who was born in West Virginia, doesn’t spend a lot of time or energy worrying about who she might ultimately be compared with. At the end of the day, Mann is a fantastically gifted bass player who is also a bad-ass vocalist, meaning that she’s more than capable of – and in fact, loves – pulling double-duty when required.

“Really, I’m two people in one, in some respects. I’ve been hired as a side-person on projects many times because I am the bass player that they would otherwise have to hire and I am also the female singer that they would have to otherwise hire. So I’m a two-fer. But being a bass player has been nothing but a plus for me, because I’m the one driving the car. The bass is the heartbeat of the song and the bass player is driving the car,” she said. “If anyone knows how the song goes, it’s the bass player. So I’m able to go into any situation – for example, playing with Andy T’s band at the Blues Blast awards was a piece of cake, because I understand basic music theory and we were able to communicate.”

The list of bassists that play the blues on a six-string instrument (as opposed to the stand four-string) is also an exclusive club. But for Mann (who is in the Cascade Blues Association’s Hall of Fame), playing a Tobias or Warwick six-string is just the way it’s been for a long time.

“I started out on the four-string, but I purchased my first six-string bass when I was 20 years old and that was a long time ago,” she laughed. “But that’s just what I play. To me, it would be weird to play a four-string bass now. The six-string is just very comfortable for me.”

The Really Good Band (Jeff Knudson, guitars; Michael Ballash, drums; Brian Harris, keyboards) is certainly aptly-titled and is both a clever, and at the same time, simple, moniker. As with most things that are truly genius, the origin of the band’s name is rooted in a humble beginning.

“Back when I had Dave Melyan and Alex Shakeri in the band – they ran off to be in The Insomniacs soon after – we were finishing up a show and we were talking about what to name the band. We were tossing around all these silly names, like Lisa Mann and Her Men … just corny stuff like that,” said Mann. “While we were talking about that, three people in a row came up to us and said, ‘Heyyyy … you guys are really goooood.’ One after another, you know, drunk people at the end of the night, they said that. One of us jokingly said, ‘We should just call it The Really Good Band.’ And we all laughed and said, ‘OK. That’s it then.’”

Of the 12 tracks that are contained within Move On, all but three are authored by Mann herself, although that may not have been the game-plan going into the project.

“I don’t think I intended to put out an album that has mostly original music, but I think what happened was I just come up with songs. I don’t co-write, I just write songs by myself,” she said. “I come up with these songs and they’re like babies that want to be born, you know? There are all kinds of life experiences that inspire me. And not all of them are my experiences; sometimes I write about the experiences of people that I know.”

The title track to the album was born as an almost catharsis or healing process to a very dark period that Mann went through, both personally and professionally, before sessions for Move On had begun.

“It’s a pretty-simple song, but it was inspired by my mother’s passing and a loss of my voice that I experienced. I started writing that song in 2012 and we recorded it at the end of 2013. There was a long period in 2012 when I couldn’t sing, or even speak. I had choked on a piece of food and had injured my throat,” she said. “It took us a long time to figure out what was shutting me down, then we pin-pointed that. But that happened not long after my mother passed away, so it was just a really crappy year. But you’ve heard that saying, ‘When you’re going through Hell, keep going?’ Well, “Move On” was kind of that message … just to keep going.”

Mann summarizes her songs as “character studies” and like any author worth their salt, she’s not afraid to turn her gaze inward from time-to-time, as evidenced by the last tune on the album, “This Bitch.”

“This Bitch” is the most auto-biographical song I’ve ever written,” she laughed. “I’ve been clean and sober for a number of years now, but there was a period of time where I was not the nicest person. So that’s kind of like the old me and I’m coming to terms with the person that I used to be, kind of pointing to myself and laughing at myself. It’s a re-release from a previous CD. When I perform that song live, so many people have come up and asked me where they could get that song. It’s on a record that’s out of print, so I re-released it on Move On.”

Her life-changing moment occurred in the church – just as it did with so many other blues performers – but Mann’s moment of clarity came with a bit of a twist.

“When I was little, I was raised in a Jewish family and we did kind of a cultural exchange with a black church that was near the temple. Folks from the black church would go to the synagogue service and folks from the synagogue would go to service at the black church,” she said. “My parents took me there (to the service at the black church) when I was about 7 years old and we walked in and people were dancing in the aisles, there was a drummer with a drum set, there was this woman singing at the top of her lungs with a tambourine and the skin on the back of my arms just bubbled up. I don’t remember a whole lot from my childhood, but I really remember the impact that that music had on me as a little kid. It was something completely foreign to my experience.”

Soon after that experience in church, Mann started to fall head-over-heels in love with the bass guitar. So much so that it almost became an obsession for her to acquire one, which she did by sacrificing something mighty important to a person’s daily routine.

“When I was 11 years old, I was in seventh grade and I walked home from school every day. I saved up my lunch money and bought my first bass guitar with that lunch money. I was probably mal-nourished. I would get home and eat some bread or maybe a can of beans – we didn’t have much money, but I just had to get one and I had to play the bass.”

That acquisition of a bass guitar quickly led to visions of world dominance dancing through little Lisa Mann’s head.

“Oh, yeah. I thought I was going to be a rock star. People would ask me at 12 years old what I wanted to be when I grew up and I would say, ‘I’m gonna’ be a rock star.’ I would insist on that. And hey, I’m not a rock star, but I am a full-time, working musician and I have a career and I’m writing songs … so if you dream it and believe it, you can do it.”

While she may not have ‘Rock Star’ scribbled on her resume these days, Mann’s path to the blues did begin with a wade through the world of British rock-n-roll.

“Growing up, I listened to a lot of the British bands like Cream, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, stuff like that, the very blues-oriented stuff. I played hard rock and heavy metal and was in pop bands … I would take any kind of gig I could get, because I was a working musician at the age of 19,” she said. “When I moved back to Portland in the late ‘90s, after living up in Seattle and playing in the rock scene there, I fell into the blues scene. And when I started playing with blues musicians and learning those songs and that vocabulary, it was like a little light went off. I said, ‘Wait a minute, I know this because I know Jack Bruce. I know this because I know Led Zeppelin.’ So I kind of came into the blues through the back door of the British rock acts that were influenced by the blues. I really think the British saved the blues form oblivion.”

It may be next-to-impossible to decipher by listening to Mann belt out the blues, but her vocal influences run the gamut from show tunes to pop music to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

“They’re all over the map, really. I sang along with my mom’s Yma Sumac record and her Barbara Streisand records and my dad’s Deep Purple records. And when I was a teenager, I was a metal-head and fell in love with Ronnie James Dio and Paul Rodgers and Bruce Dickinson … most of the singers I listened to and modeled myself after were male singers.”

Another major inspiration on Mann’s vocals came from a source that may not have been universally heralded very far outside of the City of Roses.

“When I joined up with the blues scene in Portland, I became really influenced by a local singer named Linda Hornbuckle, who just recently passed away. She was a big influence on how I sing. I would go and see her at this little dive bar in Portland called the Candlelight and I would hear this voice coming right at me. Sometimes I would sit in with her and the voice that I heard was not coming over the PA, it was coming from right next to me. It made a big impression on my vocals. And Paul deLay (late, great harpist and singer), I performed with him here in Portland and he had this real gruff way of singing and his phrasing was so sophisticated, too.”

The soulful side of Mann’s singing style has roots in some of the all-time greats.

“I love Aretha Franklin and Etta James (Editor’s note: Mann does a scorching version of James’ “At Last”) and Little Milton (Campbell) are some of my favorites, along with oddly enough, Jimmy Reed,” she said. “So I’m really all over the map … I’m like a sponge. I mean, I’m taking Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and Koko Taylor and Ronnie James Dio and throwing them all in the pot, mixing them up and spittin’ ‘em back out.”

The recent flurry of glowing accolades that Mann and her band have garnered has certainly got their names out there in front of the blues-loving masses. Now, the next logical step is for Mann to make sure her name stays on the tongues of those blues fans.

“I’m kind of just going to keep doing what I’m doing, which is try to play the best music that I can and try to produce the best CDs that I can and to kind of wave my arms and jump up and down and say, ‘Notice me!’ I’m just going to keep on plugging away and whatever opportunities open up, I’m going to walk through those doors as they open,” she said. “What I’ve learned since joining up with the blues scene 15 or 16 years ago, is that the blues is a family. There are far more people that support the blues and volunteer their time to keep it alive than there are musicians that are playing it. It’s really special to be a part of that scene and I’m very grateful.”

To see a video of Lisa performing at the 2014 Blues Blast Awards, CLICK HERE!

Visit Lisa’s website at

Photos by Gary Eckhart © 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 

Doug Prescott Band – Karma & The Big Caboose

Howlin’ At The Moon Music Publishing Company

CD: 10 Songs; 33:37 Minutes

Styles: Blues Rock, Country Blues, Americana

In March of 2014, Blues Blast Magazine reviewer John Mitchell showcased a CD by the North Carolina-based Doug Prescott Band, called Blues in the Key of Sea. It’s somewhat unusual for musicians to release more than one album per year, but Doug and his ensemble are on a roll. On Karma & The Big Caboose, they present eight quirky original songs and two covers. Overall, their offering is a mixture of blues rock, country blues, and Americana. On the inside cover is the ‘Big Caboose’, with Prescott standing proudly on it. He should be proud after having made the top twenty on the Reverbnation charts recently. This bodes well for all his future feats.

Doug is a blues artist of many specializations, playing bass, trumpet, and acoustic guitar as well as singing lead vocals. With him are Tommy Hartley on acoustic, rhythm, slide and lead guitar; Ken Johnson on bass, rhythm and lead guitar; Andy Cheek on drums; Tony Bowman on piano, organ, keys and vocals; Craig Fuller, Nancy Middleton, Jill Kuhn Sexton, Jason Merritt, Jeff Hart, Holden Richards, Keith Buckley, and Tom Maxwell on vocals; Eric Kulz on trombone and trumpet; Eddie Blair and Berkeley Grimball on sax; John Simonsen on tuba; Allyn Love on pedal and lap steel guitars; Charles Pettee on mandolin; FJ Ventre on acoustic bass; Willie Painter on lead guitar; John Teer on fiddle; and Beverly Bosford on conga drums.

The following three songs will certainly be conversation starters among blues fans:

Track 03: ‘Coffee Shop Girl” – This country acoustic number might have been better backed by a balalaika: “There’s a girl in the coffee shop – she’s a Russian spy. I see her there every day, hacking the wi-fi…Hey, Natasha, give me a sign. Tell me things will always be just fine. I can see us trading stories over a vodka. Can’t you? You and I both know that’ll never come true.” With Russia/U.S. tensions running high, such lyrics are unnerving and hilarious at the same time.

Track 08: “Black Bone Snake” – No other blues song concerning reptile-related vendettas is better. “I’m gonna cook his goose. He’ll simmer in his own juice. He’ll get too hot, and then he gonna fry. I’m gonna get his caboose!” Ken Johnson plays great electric rhythm guitar.

Track 10: “Sailin’ Shoes” – Originally composed and performed by Lowell George, the final number is Doug’s homage to all things sea-related. From Prescott’s killer bassline to Tony Bowman’s crisp piano keyboards, all the instrumentals might call Elvin Bishop to mind.

Even though Doug’s vocals are a bit flat at times, his creativity helps makes up for it. Purists might not find themselves completely satisfied with his mixing of genres, but for those who like a bit of country and Americana mixed in with their blues, this CD will please their palate!

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.

The Bella Reunion – Introducing…

American Girl Studios – 2014

7 tracks; 25 minutes

This short CD (more EP than album) really does act as an introduction to a new band from Queensland, Australia. The band is truly international with Irishman Alan Boyle on vocals, UK expats Chris Harvey on guitar and Toby Baron on drums, with Australians Steve Russell and Jeremy Klysz on keys and bass respectively; the appropriately named Neil Keys plays piano on one cut and producer Beachy Wild plays slide guitar on the opening track “Bullets” on which drummer Toby plays acoustic guitar and Jamie Symons adds some harp. All the songs are credited to the full band.

Opening track “Bullets” fades in to an organ-led shuffle that reminds you of Billy Boy Arnold’s “I Ain’t Got You”, a song once covered by the Yardbirds, a good reference point as this first track has a definite 60’s British blues feel with some nice flourishes from Chris on guitar. “Tell Me Why” is a slow tune with some angst-ridden lyrics which suit Alan’s slightly gruff tone well. The tune is not really a blues but the guitar solo certainly is. Some slow piano introduces “Shuffle St” but that is deceptive as once the tune gets going it matches its title well. “This Ain’t Love” adds a dash of soul to the mix, particularly in the churchy organ and clipped Steve Cropper style guitar, backed up by a stinging solo in the middle.

The driving beat behind “Sort It Out” takes us back to the blues shuffle style, piano to the fore as Alan sings of his friend needing to “sort your own shit out” or the relationship is over. “Big City Lights” is a little more frenetic as befits a song about going out to the big city on a Saturday night, even quoting from “Blue Suede Shoes”, before the CD closes with a big ballad in “Lay Me Down Easy”. The piano leads the tune and Alan’s agonised vocal is probably reminiscent of the rock and roll era style of those songs but works less successfully than on the rest of the record.

The band’s website seems to suggest that a full album is in the works so this EP is acting as an introduction to the band. On that basis it works pretty well and indicates that The Bella Reunion has a broad palette of styles within which they can work, so it will be interesting to hear the next recording to see which way they choose to head.

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 

Ken DeRouchie Band – Muse

Self-produced CD

15 songs – 1 hour 12 minutes

Veteran Ken DeRouchie gathered together several all-star musicians from the Pacific Northwest to produce this interesting, multi-layered collection of 14 originals and one cover that run the gamut from soul to blues and funk.

A native of Dearborn, Mich., who received most of his early musical training from brother Doug, 16 years his senior, and now based in Portland, Ore., DeRouchie is a soulful singer and multi-instrumentalist on guitar, drums and keyboards who’s received international airplay with three previous, successful releases. Recognized as one of the best bands in the Upper West Coast, his regular unit is a nine-piece ensemble with full horn section that’s guaranteed to keep folks on the dance floor.

Joining him on Muse are three Cascade Blues Association Muddy Award winners – guitarist Jeff Knudsen of Lisa Mann’s Really Good Band, keyboardist Alex Shakeri of the Insomnics and vocalist Rae Gordon – as well as three-time Grammy nominee Steve Moretti on drums. Rounding out the sound are Gavin Bondy and Caleb Denison (trumpet), Clayton Daffron and Marc Hutchinson (saxophone), Mark Steele (keyboards), Rob Busey (bass) and Tracy Klas and LaRhonda Steele (backing vocals). A regional soul legend, Steele relieves DeRouchie for lead vocals on two numbers.

Dedicated to his brother Doug, who died after engineering eight of the tunes that follow in his studio, the album was created during two distinct periods in DeRouchie’s life: the first during the final years of a failed marriage, the second during the first years of a new romance. Ken kicks off the CD playing everything but horns with the tender and soulful “Guide You Home,” in which the woman has a troubled heart over a long-lost love while her current man pleads to “be your safe place…your light in a storm.” The full band kicks in for the funky “Unglued,” a horn-fueled complaint about losing one’s balance in life: “My inner radar tells me/There’s trouble up ahead/But there’s no one to catch me as I fall.”

Hutchinson contributes a solid sax line and LaRhonda’s featured on mic for the jazzy “Trying To Tell,” a love song from the woman’s point of view in which, not unlike “Guide You Home,” she promises always to be there. Next, DeRouchie assumes all instrumental duties as well as vocal chorus for “All Of You,” a slow-paced, simply charted burner about a man longing to have a woman all to himself. The mood changes dramatically for the outstanding “No Do-Overs,” a funky regret for mistakes made during a bad romance, while “This Too Shall Pass,” looks at relationships in a more positive light as it promises a shoulder to cry on and support no matter come what may.

The only cover in the set, a stripped down, slowed down version of Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone To Love,” precedes the title tune, “Muse.” A solitary guitar riff quickly yields to a hard-hitting horn chart as DeRouchie wonders why he’s been rejected. LaRhonda takes the lead again for “Sexual Chocolate,” a soulful number that clearly demonstrates the band leader’s Motown roots, delivering the tune complete with the full range of romantic innuendo. The mood cools once more for “True To You,” another declaration of love after a fitful night, while the funky “Family Life” sings praises about lessons learned from Mom and Dad and how they relate to DeRouchie’s music and having to end one band before fulfilling his parental destiny with another.

“Where Do We Go Now,” the memory of spending the night trying to drink someone out of his life, leads into “Hey Baby,” sung from the position of a lucky man who wants his gal to come to his side. “Learn To Live” delivers lessons in life before the instrumental “Dark Betty” concludes the action.

Muse is totally soulful from beginning to end. DeRouchie is a masterful songwriter, and the varying musical textures used keep you interested throughout. Available through all of the major websites, this isn’t your granddad’s blues. It’s totally modern in every way and definitely worth a taste.

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 

Bobby “Hurricane” Spencer – Hurricane Unleashed

Annie Mae Records

12 songs – 50 minutes

Veteran West Coast vocalist, saxophonist and songwriter/arranger, Bobby “Hurricane” Spencer started his musical career in Oakland, cutting his teeth in the tough chitlin’ circuit of the Bay Area, although he now calls LA home. Which perhaps makes the funky opener to Hurricane Unleashed, “Gotta Get Back to Chicago”, slightly unexpected. It is however a fine opening statement, with Spencer’s husky, time-worn voice subverting the listener’s expectations as he sings: “I’m here in California, where the sun always shines, but a California woman is driving me outta my mind. I gotta get back to Chicago, California just won’t do. I gotta find a Chicago woman, one whose love is really true.”

Spencer’s muscular, melodic tenor sax playing can be heard on records by Timex Social Club, Sonny Rhodes, JJ Bad Boy Jones, and Jimmy McCracklin, amongst others, and his songs have been recorded by the likes of Koko Taylor. Over the years, he has played with a veritable Who’s Who of blues musicians, including Etta James, the Whispers, Carla Thomas, Lowell Fulsom, and ZZ Hill. He has also been a full time teacher in the Los AngelesUnifiedSchool District for nearly 30 years.

Hurricane Unleashed contains touches of many of the different genres that Spencer has played in the past, from the shuffle blues of “Camarillo” (featuring some fine vocal scatting from Spencer) to the soul of “You’re All I Need” and the gospel hints of “Lover’s Hill” in which Spencer implores: “So, if you’ve lost a lover, you don’t have to look no further. You’ve got to meet me up on lover’s hill.” The backing vocals of Kelly Chappue, Bosa Mora and Dominique Toney are particularly impressive on this track.

The majority of the songs are written by Spencer himself. There are however two classic instrumental covers on the album. Grover Washington, Jr’s easy listening jazz instrumental “Magic” features Spencer exuberantly “putting some dirt on it.” The second cover is a fine version of Bill Doggett’s “Honky Tonk”, which starts out relatively faithful to the original before Spencer’s powerful solo starts trading licks with LesterLands’ guitar, all the time retaining the good humour and swing of the Doggett’s version.

In the guitar-centric world of modern blues, it is wonderful to have sax players like Spencer to remind us of the power and joy of great horn playing. He also has a warm, sensuous singing voice, capable of injecting knowing tongue-in-cheek humour at will, such as on “Little Mama” where he sings “Little mama, you know you are so cool. The way you wear those skinny jeans, mama, is nothin’ but cruel.”

Spencer’s first-class band includes Andrea Balestra and LesterLands on guitar, Matias Alvear Fall on bass, Dario Benzoni on drums and Mo Beeks on keyboards. Albert Trepagnier, Jr adds congas and Tyler Combs contributes vibes. The other horns on the record include Josh Agular (trumpet) and Wesley Smith (alto sax).

Hurricane Unleashed is Spencer’s second solo album, after 2003’s I Got The Blues and it’s a fine representation of his playing and singing skills. It is however also a slightly curious release, comprising eight new recordings and four “bonus” tracks from I Got The Blues. Spencer is clearly a capable songwriter and it would have been great to have heard more of his originals, or even some different covers.

That minor issue should not however dissuade you from giving Hurricane Unleashed a listen. If you like blues with a heavy dash of soul and funk, topped off some top-of-the-range sax playing, you will like this.

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 

Paul Lamb & The King Snakes – Hole In The Wall

Secret Records

15 songs time-56:14

With close to forty years in the British blues game under his belt, Paul Lamb offers up his latest record showing no signs of slowing up or running out of ideas. Although some of the membership of The King Snakes has changed over the passing years, the current line-up keeps Lamb’s dedication to the blues idiom as strong as ever. His son Ryan has recently assumed lead guitar chores and although he isn’t quite the “hot shot” as previous players he adds his own style with versatility. Paul and his mates manage to stick to traditional-styled blues without sounding dated or stale.

The title track, a song from Sonny Terry And Brownie McGhee’s repertoire serves as a gospel-y homage to the duo. Sonny’s “whoopin'” harmonica style is one that Paul often references. The original funky and soul-tinged “Sometime Tomorrow” features some catchy guitar playing and Chad Strentz’ usual well-suited, gritty vocals. “Jump Little Judy” shows off some energetic jump blues, what could well be considered the band’s signature sound over the years. Paul’s harmonica playing serves the song as he stays away from “showboating”. “A Better Place To Be” is slow, deliberate and country-churchy with fine acoustic and electric guitar. The Nicole Johnson Singers reinforce the religious feel at songs end.

“The Pillow(Part 2)” feels like a walk down a Mississippi country road with some chugging and whoopin’ harmonica. Motown-meets-the blues on the Smokey Robinson “chestnut” “You Really Got A Hold On Me” and the meeting id satisfactory. “Send For Me” receives a mellow treatment. “Way Down Low” has a Memphis-hipness to it much like a Charlie Musselwhite song.

Paul gets his slow harmonica showcase on “Mr. Lamb’s Groove Walk”, a change of pace from most band’s high-speed instrumental workouts. “Stranger Blues” is taken at an extra lonesome pace with harmonica the sole accompaniment. Late blues-rocker Gary Moore’s “Still Got The Blues For You” is given a mellow rendition.

The dedication to and true love for the blues idiom shows through and the combination of blues knowledge and musical skill touches everything these guys do.

As a long time follower of their music, my only regret is that they have never graced our country with their presence.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 7 

Marlon McClain – TBC

Mac Man Music

9 tracks / 37:06

There are a few folks in the music industry that seem to always be busy and plugged into many diverse projects, and Marlon L. McClain is a shining example of this. After cutting his teeth in Portland, Oregon’s favorite funk band of the 1970s’, Pleasure, he had a stint with the Dazz Band before demand for his writing and producing sent him behind the stage. After many successes with artists as diverse as George Clinton, Tower of Power, George Benson, Kenny G and Joan Baez, he is finally back to making his own music for us to enjoy.

Over the past four decades, McClain has only had time to record three solo discs: Changes in 1981, TBD in 2010, and this year’s release, TBC. Marlon wrote all nine songs on this latest self-produced album, and he also took care of the guitars and keyboards. Al Turner laid down the bass lines, Thomas McElroy played the keyboards, and the drum parts were all handled electronically, with programming by McClain, McElroy, Soulpersona, and Ken Sato. Do not get the impression that this is some sort of 1980s beat box album, though – the drums sound real and are spot on throughout.

The tracks are mostly instrumentals with vocals added here and there as needed to accentuate the action, including the opener, “Me & You.” This is a super-funky tune with jazz influences that shows what a masterful guitarist Marlon is, and his playing is as smooth as silk. Guest artist Curtis Salgado brought his harmonica in for this song, and he does a fabulous job of mimicking McClain’s lines, so that at times it sounds like there are two guitars playing.

After listening to the rest of the tracks, it would be difficult to categorize this record into any one genre, as there is a little bit of everything, but if you dig deep enough there a foundation of funk for all of them. The most divergent song from the blues would be “Positivity,” a bouncy dance track with a disco groove and tightly intertwined guitar/vocal lines. You will also find that “Step into the Light:” is quite danceable, though at a slower and sultrier pace.

Blues-rock is represented in the mix, too, with the harder-hitting “Radiation Blues” which has minimal vocals, round bass, tons of high hat, and smoking guitar from McClain. This is a marked contrast from “That Ain’t Right,” which is more of a loose funky jam session, with a cool give and take between Marlon and Turner’s killer bass lines – it is almost like the whole song was built over a bass solo, which is not something you will find on your average blues album.

There are fairly drastic changes of pace and feel from track to track. For example, “Tokyo Time“ is smooth and jazzy with a laid-back vibe, and then the listener is hit with “GWUWGWUN.” This song has a lot plenty going on, besides a lot of consonants and an unpronounceable title. Marlon’s guitars are up front in this fast-paced tune, but there is also a lot of synthesizer work with simulated flute and trumpet patches, and all of this is playing all over a popping and funky bass line. Both of these instrumentals are catchy and could get stuck in your head for days, which is not a bad thing in this case.

The last song in the set is “You Know,” which is notable for its simple lyrics and complex guitar lines. It is a healthy dose of funky rhythm and blues with more layers of guitar than you can count, and all of them are soaked with distortion and wah pedal galore. After only 37 minutes the album ends, and it definitely leaves the listener wanting more – a few more tracks would have been welcome. We can only hope that Marlon heads back to the studio again soon, as his songs are well written and are a pleasure to listen to.

There is a lot to like about Marlon McClain’s TBC – it has catchy songs that cross genres and hypnotizing grooves that would make it an awesome party soundtrack or even a nice pick-me-up for the morning drive to work to brighten up an otherwise gloomy day. If you like your blues on the jazzier side with a healthy helping of funk, this might be just what you are looking for!

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:

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Prairie Crossroads Blues Society – Champaign, Illinois

Saturday, January 10th join PCBS as we celebrate our IBC solo/duo winners, Monica Morris and Josie Lowder and raise funds to help send them to Memphis. The party starts at 5 pm at Bentleys, 419 N. Neil St., Champaign. Monica and Josie will be performing. Local musicians Jiggy & the Source and Susan Williams will be sitting in. Cover is $5 and goes to Monica and Josie. Visit

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!!

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”

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. 29 – James Armstrong

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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