Issue 9-8 February 19 2015

Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2015 Blues Blast Magazine

  In This Issue 

Blues Blast Magazine Senior Writer Terry Mullins has our feature interview with Chicago Blues diva, Holle Thee Maxwell.

We have 13 reviews for you including reviews of new music from William Purvis And The Seventh Sons, Bill Phillippe, Doug Otto and Hurricane Harold, Fabrizio Poggi & Chicken Mambo, Vance Kelly, Dana Fuchs, Lady Bianca, No Refund Band, Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion, Brandon Santini, Tangled Eye, Breezy Rodio and Robin Banks.

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,

Our friends at the Mississippi Valley Blues Society just announced that they are moving the date of their annual Blues festival. For the past 30 years their festivals have always been held on the 4th of July. But for 3 of the last 5 years the Mississippi River has flooded their festival site at LeClaire Park in Davenport, Iowa forcing them to move the festival to an alternate site that incurred additional coast and loss of revenue.

So they announced this week that they are permanently moving the festival date to Labor Day weekend to avoid the spring flooding in LeClaire park. For more info on this and how you can help with your financial support to continue this 30 year old festival visit

Also, these are the last few days to get one of the new Blues Blast Magazine t-shirts for as low as $12 with FREE US shipping. The sale ends on February 28. So show your support for Blues Blast Magazine and get yourself one.

We had a huge response from mentioning this last week but we still have lots of sizes and colors available, some in long sleeve, plus we also have ladies sizes to fit the stylish Blues woman in your life! Get yours now. Click Here.

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 13 

William Purvis And The Seventh Sons – When Tequila Does The Talking

Self Release

available at

12 songs time-44:54

William Purvis And The Seventh Sons deliver a thoroughly pleasing and enjoyable musical experience. The Charlottesville, Virginia native headed to Chicago upon graduating from college. Chicago found him steeped in the blues. The move afforded him the opportunity to observe legendary bluesmen such as John Lee Hooker, James Cotton and Dave and Louis Myers of The Aces, both while at college and later in Chicago. Prior to this release his band’s sound leaned more towards blues and soul music. This time around a touch of country and western music flavors their blues approach. Purvis handles vocals, slide guitar, rhythm guitar and harmonica while Mark Wydra plays lead and rhythm guitars.

Tony Wisniewski plays upright bass while Mark Fornek and Alpha Stewart (one track) share the drum chores. Brian O’Hern contributes occasional piano and keyboards. Fiddle and horns augment the band at times. The band is sure-footed at every turn. You’ll find no “grandstanding” guitar displays, just solid playing. Some tunes favor a more easy-going rock style. When they take on the blues they have a solid grasp of the genre.

Purvis’ “everyman” vocals fit nicely into every song here. The title track starts things off with an easy rollin’ country pace with harmonica and jangly guitar. This is a get happy song. It’s infectious. The country influence permeates “State Of Mind”, complete with country guitar from Mark Wydra and Brian O’Hern on piano. Rick Veras lends his fiddle playing to compliment the slide guitar on the breezy “Used Car Blues”.

Real deal blues are brought into play on “Sure To Follow”. The vocal gets gruffer and Mark plays some nifty guitar solos while William gets down on the blues harp. The blues get taken at a slower pace on the melancholy “Unlucky Whiskey”. The slide guitar here is nicely sinewy and whiny. The guys turn in a bouncy slide guitar-guitar instrumental workout with “Walk Ins Welcome”. This band can play their butts off.

They cook-up a honky-tonk weeper with “Trophy Wife”, a tale of a plan gone wrong. Mexacali horns, fiddle and pedal steel-like slide guitar create the atmosphere. “Stretch Limousine” is loads of fun, chock-full of country-ish guitars as the narrator dreams of luxury. The slow and moody harmonica-guitar instrumental “Particles” sounds like something out of Charlie Musselwhite’s songbook. It once again shows the diversity of all musicians involved. A blues torch song “Too Sad To Sing The Blues”, brings up the rear. It’s full of a night club ambiance… jazzy guitar, schmaltzy horns and cocktail piano.

When musicians are truly having fun and enjoying what they are playing it’s impossible to hide it. Being first-rate players to boot it creates a perfect package. The listening experience here is warm and friendly as if you’ve listened to this records for years. Hearing something as genuine as this makes me appreciate the rewards of being a reviewer. There are a lot of riches among the occasional coal, but every once in a while you uncover a gem such as this.

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

 Featured Blues Interview – Holle Thee Maxwell 

Chicago blueswomen-supreme Holle Thee Maxwell has never lacked in confidence, nor has she ever had to beg for attention.

Her immense vocals talents and the passion and energy she has stormed the stage with for well over six decades now have seen to that. Her nomination for a Lifetime Achievement Award at the upcoming Chicago Music Awards further confirms this.

But as outstanding as Maxwell’s voracious vocals continue to be, there was a time when her concert attire might have easily matched her larger-than-life personality.

“I wore an outfit that looked like (big) grapes covering my body. The material was net and was the same color as my skin, so it looked like I was naked under the grapes. I had no problem going on stage like that over in France. I was in absolute heaven like that,” Maxwell said. “My mother was a genius seamstress and a master taylor and artist. You could tell her what you wanted made and she could draw it out and then make it. Well, there was this outfit that Josephine Baker had worn, which was basically bananas all over her. She had bananas on her head, on her breasts, on her (private parts) … just all over. So that’s where my inspiration for the grape outfit that my mom made me came from.”

Public displays of fruit-wearing aside, that was just another evening on the bandstand for an amazing artist that has long been known as ‘The Black Blonde Bombshell.’ Maxwell explains where she picked up both her stage maneuvers (as well as her outrageous costumes) and her colorful handle from.

“Joyce Bryant (famous singer/actress from the ‘40s and ‘50s) and Josephine Baker (dancer/singer/entertainer who was also known for her civil rights work) are my SHE-roes. Joyce Bryant went into this nightclub in New York and saw Josephine Baker, who was known as the ‘Bronze Venus’ and ‘Black Pearl’ and was really a flamboyant performer. Well, Joyce wasn’t going to let Baker out-do her, so she went and got some silver-radiator paint and spray-painted her hair with it. She walks into the club with this see-through dress that was real-tight to the knees and then flares out to the floor. When she walked in the door, she stole the show from Josephine Baker,” Maxwell said. “Joyce Bryant was called ‘The Bronze Blonde Bombshell.’ So that’s where I got the concept from and I became the ‘Black Blonde Bombshell.’”

If it’s hard to exactly nail down what makes Maxwell such a distinctive vocalist, it’s because the well that she draws her powers from is such a deep and mighty one. Jazz, blues, R&B, country, pop, soul and even opera all provides the foundation on which Maxwell’s impressive vocals are built on. In the United Kingdom, where Maxwell is as big a star today as she ever was, her style has been tagged ‘Northern Soul.’

“I think all those styles do link together in my vocals. I’m so complicated, I can’t even explain me sometimes,” she laughed. “I’m lost for words sometimes (in how to explain her vocal style), but there’s something in my voice where you can hear the classical training; you can hear the R&B feeling; the words can be like the blues and then, the phrasing can be country, hip-hop and jazz. This is the truth – in the ‘60s and ‘70s, record companies could not label me. They didn’t know what to do with me, which is why I never had a major hit … they didn’t know how to market me, being a black artist coming from an opera background with so many vocal styles. They were baffled with me.”

Plans are currently underway for Maxwell to work on a country CD later this year, with a late 2015 or early 2016 tentative release date slated.

Though she may not have had any major hits, Maxell did have a number of the songs she recorded for Star, Smit-Whit, Constellation and Curtom Records – tunes like “Philly Barracuda,” “Only When You’re Lonely,” “Suffer,” “One Thin Dime” and “No One Else” (written by Curtis Mayfield and with The Impressions back-grounding) – which turned into regional smashes that spoke volumes about Maxwell’s talent.

With so many weapons in her armory to choose from, it would probably make sense for Maxwell to have one that she prefers over the others. Turns out, that’s really not the case.

“I really don’t (have one style she prefers singing over the rest). For me, it’s the words of the song, the feeling of the song, the rhythm of the song, that most interests me. I mean, I love Anne Murray’s “You Needed Me,” but when I did it, I did it more in a church mode. I did it with another rhythm; that’s just how I do things like that. I take a song and make it completely mine; that’s what I do, I just can’t help it.”

With degrees from both the Chicago Musical College at Roosevelt University and The Julliard School in NYC under her belt, it’s no wonder that Maxwell, who sang her first song professionally at the age of 5 and has studied classical voice and piano since she was 9, is so well-rounded musically and socially. But in addition to her schooling, the emotional foundation that has turned out to be one of Maxwell’s greatest strengths was also honed razor-sharp at an early age, although it may have been anything but an easy part of the process, as one traumatic evening when she was just 12-years-old proves.

“Well, my mother married the wrong man and on May 18, 1958 she shot and killed my step-father. That was on a Saturday night and the next day – Sunday afternoon – I was being presented at the (Chicago) Civic Opera House. So my mother was handcuffed and standing behind the (stage) curtains, because they let her come and see the concert,” Maxwell said. “I was on the stage singing German, French and Italian opera and I finished that concert with tears in my eyes. I cried through the whole thing. There was (a contingency of) Europeans there that was going to take me back with them to study (overseas). But they didn’t understand why I was crying, so by me crying on stage, that blew my opportunity to go over there and study … they just didn’t understand.”

The act of violence committed by Maxwell’s mother was in retaliation for her husband sexually-abusing her daughter. That whole turn of events ended up changing Maxwell’s life in more ways than just one.

“Somewhere in my head, I never wanted to sing opera again. That whole thing … the rape and everything traumatized me and shook my head,” she said. “I started slippin’ around listening to other music and I started to sing R&B and some of the other music of the day.”

There’s really no way to describe just how essential Maxwell’s mother – Eula – was to what has turned out to be seven decades of playing music and entertaining audiences all over the globe.

“My mother was the heaviest influence on my life for positivity and for my musical background. Sometimes she wouldn’t have the money for us to get on the bus to go down to Roosevelt University and we might have to walk from 71st and Wabash all the way downtown, but she did have the money for those lessons when we got there,” Maxwell said. “That’s how devoted my mother was to me becoming something.”

Maxwell started hanging out at a club on 39th Street called Peyton Place and it was there that she quickly fell under the spell of R&B.

“Oh, man! I saw Otis Clay and Little Johnny Williams and they were stompin’ and singing and it looked like smoke was coming up from the floor,” she laughed. “And I wanted to do that but I couldn’t. It was like I was empty or something was missing from me inside. Later on, I realized that it was all my classical training that had taken that raw soul out of me. But even though, I still went for it. The music just got to me.”

In her early 20s – again at Peyton Place – Maxwell indeed ‘went for it.’ And the results bordered on disastrous.

“I told the emcee – whose name was Hi-Fi White and he was a character unto himself – that I wanted to do a guest spot with the band. So I got up there with my arms folded in front of me and told the bandleader – James Wheeler – “Misty” in E-flat.’ He looked at me like, ‘Say what?’ I said, “Misty” in E-flat, please.’ (she starts singing) ‘Look at me, I’m as helpless as a kitten up a tree’ – and those people (in the audience) looked at me like they’d seen a ghost. They started throwing apples and bananas and anything else they could find at me. I ran off the stage crying … and I never will forget, out of everything Hi-Fi White told me that night, he said, ‘Baby, you can sing, but you ain’t got no soul.’”

Those cruel words and rough reception may have been enough to send others off chasing another line of work, but not Maxwell. Instead, she rolled up her sleeves and got down to ‘getting some soul,’ although that journey wasn’t completely pain-free, either.

“Well, I knew that I could sing. I mean, couldn’t nobody tell me I couldn’t sing, whether I had soul or didn’t. So I went home and stayed in the house for six months, listening to Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight. But the closest person I could relate to was Aretha, because of the musical range that I had. I told my husband (Maxwell had recently married at that time) as he came home one day, ‘Baby, I got it.! I been working on it and I got it.’ So he said, ‘OK, let me hear it.’ I said, (starts singing “Respect”) ‘What you want, baby I got it, what you need’ … and he goes, ‘Uh-uh. That ain’t gonna work at all; you ain’t got a damn thing.’ He hurt my feelings. He said, ‘Let me tell you what you got to do. You got to holler in tune.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘You’ve got to learn to holler in tune.’ I had never heard anything like that in all my musical training.”

That concept may have been foreign to the classically-reared Maxwell, but she did get the gist of what her husband was recommending her to do.

“I started re-training myself, that’s what I did. Everything I had learned through my classical, technical musical training, I reversed. I un-learned and reversed the whole process,” she said. “But like I said, I knew I could sing, so that part I already had down. My life has been such a contradiction and I guess that’s just what I thrive on.”

Not one to just sit around and watch the grass grow, Maxwell is presently hard at work on a weekly variety show – dubbed Thee Maxwell Café – that will be available to view via the internet when the show’s launch date is scheduled for later this spring.

“We’re going to have a live audience and we’re going to have a live band; it’s going to be like the female Johnny Carson Show. I’m also going to present a segment on the show called Seniors Still Got Talent,” she said. “The show will be filmed right here in Chicago.”

Maxwell’s foray into the world of television started out rather innocently, when she was a featured guest on Star Planet Television’s Straight Talk segment a couple of years ago.

“In June, 2012 I went to be interviewed by W.L. Lillard, who is the host of Straight Talk and the owner of Star Planet TV (a 24-hour, web-based television network located in Chicago). In the middle of the interview, he (Lillard) looks at me and says, ‘You’re going to be my entertainment producer.’ Well, I was on camera, and I was smiling, but I was looking at him through clinched teeth with an ‘I’m gonna kill you’ look,’” laughed Maxwell. “But that’s how that happened. I became the entertainment producer for Straight Talk. On Mondays, we called it (Maxwell’s segment) Straight Talk Presents Music and we did the shows live.”

With Lillard more interested in current political and social topics than music, it made perfect sense for him to hand the entertainment/musical reigns over to Maxwell, who basically took the ball and ran with it. Archives of Maxwell’s programs on Straight Talk can be viewed via the on-demand button at

Why stop with just recorded music and live television? Turns out, Maxwell is not limiting herself to just those two mediums. She’s also involved in a couple of written projects; her life story, as well as the journals of her time with a dude whose reputation has always seemed to precede him – Ike Turner. Maxwell replaced Tina in Ike’s band from 1977-1985 and then sang with Turner – one of the founding fathers of rock-n-roll – again for a spell in 1992.

“I’m in the process of finishing up a book on the time I spent in Ike Turner’s band, called Freebase Ain’t Free. This book isn’t my life story, just my time with Ike. He was not like he’s been depicted; they’ve assassinated his character and that’s why I want to put this book out. He’s gotten a dirty deal. The man was a musical genius and I would even say that he was a God-blessed man that had a lot of devils around him,” she said. Maxwell is currently scheduled to appear on the TV show Unsung this summer, discussing her time in Turner’s band.

As if all that isn’t enough to fill up Maxwell’s still-being-completed book on her life story, another chapter of that tome might touch upon her onetime co-ownership of a club just 15 minutes outside Paris, France.

“The name of the club was called the Maxwell Street Café, which is where the inspiration for my TV show comes from. It was in Neuilly-sur-Seine, which is about 15 minutes from the center of Paris. I got a break from Gerad Vacher (who had seen Maxwell perform at the Kingston Mines in Chicago), who was the original owner of the club when it was called Quai du Blues,” said Maxwell. “I ended up moving there in ‘95, but I would come back-and-forth (between France and Chicago) to see about and take care of my mother. I was just so prolific in the nightclub scene over there and Paris was my scene. If it hadn’t been for my mom being over here (in the States), I wouldn’t have ever moved back; I’d still be living there. In my head, I went over to Paris to be Josephine Baker. The people over there just loved me so much.”

According to Maxwell, the first step that any artist has to take in order for their audience to love them, is to start with the simple act of loving themselves.

“A lot of performers won’t say this, but it needs to be said. We are in such an abusive country that people are taught not to love themselves. We’re always taught to put somebody else first. That carries over to the performers and entertainers over here; we don’t love ourselves,” she said. “Well, guess what? We don’t realize, but in order to perform, we have to be loved and we have to be adored and have to have the attention. There’s a conflict going on in us and that’s the reason why some of us make it, why some of us don’t make it, and why some of us make it but don’t last. I’ve lasted for seven decades because my mother taught me to love myself. That’s very, very important. But that meant that I couldn’t be around too many people, because I would be called selfish, you see? That’s not selfish, or being a diva, or being narcissistic or cold-blooded, that’s called being a performer and performers have to be loved … but it all starts with loving yourself, first. Nobody says this, because they don’t know the truth. Well, I know the truth, so I’m puttin’ it out there. It all boils down to the fact that we as human beings are not taught to love ourselves first. I don’t like to sugarcoat anything.”

It would probably be a bit of a misjudgment to label Maxwell as arrogant, a malcontent or even brash, because she’s none of the above. What Maxwell is, however, is an entertainer that is fathoms deep in self-confidence, along with self respect for herself and what she does, and that is a healthy quality if there ever was one. It has to be more than a mere coincidence that Maxwell’s middle name is what it is.

“I’m very happy with myself and I have learned the hard way that I can’t get too close to people, because they can’t accept the fact that I’m brutally honest and I just can’t help that,” she said. “The fact is, me and my mother are the only two people in this world that legally have ‘Thee’ in our names. Her name is Eula ‘Thee’ and I’m Holle ‘Thee.’ I always say that God put that in my name because he knew I didn’t have a clue, but that I would get the hint.”

While she was still in high school, Maxwell had a job at a shop called Danny’s Doughnuts, around 51th Street, not too far from the El. It was during her shift one morning that Maxwell decided – maybe sub-consciously – what she was going to be doing for the rest of her life.

“I went in there at 5 a.m. and worked a couple of hours before school. But at 6:30 in the morning, I don’t care what else I was doing, I would go to the jukebox and press a Billie Holiday song and would sing along to it. I did that every morning and would look around and I’d have an audience. At 6:30 in the morning, they knew there was going to be a show going on,” said Maxwell. “So one morning, Danny the owner looked at me as I was getting ready to head to the jukebox and said, ‘If you take that damn apron off, don’t come back.’ I said, ‘OK.’ So I took my apron off, went over and played the song on the jukebox and then walked out the door.”

Visit Holle’s website at

Photos by Bob Kieser © 2015 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 13 

Bill Phillippe – Ghosts

Arkansas Street Records

13 songs – 53 minutes

San Francisco singer/guitarist Bill Phillippe offers up an outstanding serving of traditional country blues in this tastefully conceived CD, which fluidly reinterprets songs in the public domain and mixes them with first-generation blues hits as well as a few originals to produce one cohesive musical package.

Phillippe settled in the Bay area about 20 years ago after a long stint in Chicago and achieved regional popularity with a band that played New Orleans-style funk. His overwhelming interest in early artists – including Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson and others — brought about a career change. About, ten years ago, he abandoned the band setting, embarking work as a solo acoustic artist, and he hasn’t looked back.

Phillippe borrows heavily from the repertoire of his personal favorite, Blind Willie Johnson, for much of this disc, but delivers all of the tunes here in his own guitar stylings and with an attack that makes each tune his own.

First up is a new take on the Robert Johnson classic, “Come On In My Kitchen.” Phillippe’s pace is deliberate and unforced as he urges his lady inside on a rainy day. His vocal delivery is strong, slightly nasally and maintains the feel of his elders. Three original tunes follow. “Father’s Lament” is a sweet song of comfort delivered from the end point of a dad’s life. “Wedded Heart” and “Broken Cup” are a pair of love songs softly delivered from different perspectives.

The singer follows with a haunting version of Blind Willie’s 1928 classic, “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning,” before two more originals — “Tightrope,” a pensive look at romance, and “Big Bill’s Dream,” a reverie about freedom delivered through the eyes of bluesman and freedom fighter Big Bill Broonzy.

Most of the remaining numbers on Ghost rely or refer to Johnson’s catalog. A version of “Motherless Children,” first recorded in 1927, precedes the Phillippe-penned “The Ballad Of Blind Willie” before versions of two more Johnson tunes, “God Don’t Never Change” and “In My Time Of Dying,” which proved to be a hit for Led Zeppelin. Reinterpretations of Son House’s “Death Letter” and Blind Willie’s 1933 recording, “You’re Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond,” conclude the set.

Respectful to the original artists but original throughout, Ghosts should appeal to anyone who loves acoustic blues. Phillippe’s delivery is always respectful to the medium and never forced, his music powerful in its subtlety. Available through CDBaby.

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 – 3 of 13 

Doug Otto and Hurricane Harold – Blues at Barkin’ Jack’s

Self Release

10 tracks / 36:53

A lot of new blues music has to be described in terms of the other genres that have influenced its sound, for example, blues-rock, country-blues, and the old standard: rhythm and blues. There is no struggle to figure this out with Doug Otto and Hurricane Harold’s new CD, Blues at Barkin’ Jacks. This release is mostly blues at its most basic level – guitar, voice, and harmonica, and all of it is played with a remarkable brilliance. No drums, bass or keyboard were needed to achieve their goals, and the effect is really cool.

Both of these gentlemen hail from the Twin Cities, and those long cold winters in the great white north have apparently given them the opportunity to hone their chops! Doug Otto provides the guitar and vocals for this project, but he also finds plenty of work with his own bands, the Getaways and North Country Bandits, as well as sitting in with the No Accounts. Hurricane Harold Tremblay is a master harmonica man (a mentor of Curtis Blake), and co-founder of Cool Disposition. He also hosts a weekly blues show on KFAI radio in Minneapolis and leads the All-Star Revue, which features some truly fine artists from Minnesota – he is a genuine renaissance man.

The album has ten tracks that are mostly covers of wonderful vintage blues tunes, along with three originals that were written by Otto. It was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs and no more than two takes for any song. Jeremy Johnson did a wonderful job of engineering and mixing the guys’ time in the studio, and the final product has a clean sound that makes it sound like these guys are playing in your living room.

After starting off the set with a slow-driving rendition of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Asked for Water,” the duo plays the first of the three originals, “Broken Thoughts.” Otto’s writing on these songs has more of a roots and country-blues theme, and all of them are well suited to his pleasant tenor vocal range (which makes him sound a bit like Eric Clapton). His songwriting is mature, with good imagery and phrasing, which can also be found on “Heart to Heart” and “My Time is Moving Slow.” The latter gives Tremblay a chance to sing harmonies, which is a cool effect as his voice lends a unique droning effect. This is the standout track in the album, without a doubt.

The rest of the songs are straight-up Maxwell Street blues material, as can be heard from Muddy Waters’ “Long Distance Call,” which uses subtle electric guitar chording with a heavy bass beat while Harold shows off his fine feel for the harp. Otto’s guitar tone is outstanding on Skip James’ haunting classic “Hard Time Killing Floor,” and he also delivers a surprisingly good falsetto vocal performance, which is a hard thing to accomplish for most singers.

The classics continue with Lonnie Johnson’s “She’s Making Whoopie (in Hell Tonight)” which would be a hard song to write today, but in 1930 there were no political correctness police to contend with. There are also a couple of well-done Robert Johnson tunes, “Hell Hound on My Trail” and “Kind Hearted Woman,” that are delivered in a wonderfully laconic style.

Despite the good craftsmanship these gentlemen showed on the cover tunes, the originals are exceptionally special, and are the highlight of this disc. A full-length album of Otto-penned originals would surely be a good listen, and hopefully this pair will have the chance to continue their work and head back to the studio to give us a bit more of this wonderful stuff.

There is a lot to like about this CD and Doug Otto and Hurricane Harold really delivered the goods. Their bare bones live sound is clear, and the selection of tunes that they assembled works well together. There is no mistaking this album for anything but the blues, and you should certainly give it a listen!

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

 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 13 

Fabrizio Poggi & Chicken Mambo – Spaghetti Juke Joint

Appaloosa – 2014

13 tracks; 64 minutes

Fabrizio Poggi has been playing the blues for many years in his native Italy as well as across Europe and the USA. In 2013 he worked with Guy Davis on his BMA nominated CD Juba Dance and over the years he has played with many leading American blues artists. His 18th album was recorded in Milan with his regular Italian band Chicken Mambo, a recording of mainly covers from the classic blues canon, with three tracks credited to Fabrizio. The band is Fabrizio on harp and vocals, Enrico Polverari on guitar, Tino Cappelletti on bass and B/V, Gino Carravieri on drums, with Claudio Noseda adding accordion and keyboards to some tracks, Stefano Spina singing B/V’s on one track and adding percussion to two others, Claudio Bazzari adding slide to one track and Sara Cappelletti adding B/V’s throughout and singing lead on one track. Special guest guitarists on one track each are Sonny Landreth, Ronnie Earl and Bob Margolin.

Fabrizio’s vocals are not particularly strong and he sometimes adopts more of a spoken than sung approach; his accent is discernible but does not prevent us understanding the words. That is not an issue on opener “Bye Bye Bird”, a tune by Sonny Boy Williamson II which has very limited lyrics but bombs along with some wild guitar from Enrico and convincing harp from Fabrizio. Slim Harpo’s “I’m A King Bee” finds Sonny Landreth adding some appropriately swampy slide to the mix and it’s arguably the strongest cut on the album. Claudio Noseda’s piano is added as well and the whole band plays a storm, inspired by a typical Landreth performance. The cover of Little Milton’s “The Blues Is Alright” fares less well, despite the presence of Ronnie Earl on guitar, as Fabrizio intones the familiar words (plus an additional verse of his own) in his semi-spoken mode of delivery. Ronnie’s picked guitar is in contrast to the full-on electric approach that Enrico generally adopts on the album but the track does not really spark into life.

The first original is “Devil At The Crossroad” which blends some familiar Robert Johnson lines like ‘hellhound on my trail’ and ‘devil at the crossroad’ with a typical Muddy Waters riff. Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train” (here spelt ‘Mistery’) starts well with some nice organ supporting the rapid rhythm section. Fabrizio gets some good train sounds from his harp solo and the country hoedown feel of the track is well done, including some whooping from the leader. Tom Waits’ “Way Down In The Hole” is a less obvious choice and finds Fabrizio playing in the higher register and Sara singing some strong harmony vocals against Fabrizio’s lead. The band returns to SBW II for “Checking Up On My Baby”, another frequently covered tune which swings along well, the organ again adding to the basic quartet.

Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “One Kind Favour” is less often covered than many of the songs here and the band uses a version that has additional lyrics by Guy Davis. It is very different to some we know and love like Canned Heat, played in laid-back style with some gentle rhythm guitar and warm organ. Enrico’s distorted solo seems at odds with the rest of the tune. “Mojo” is claimed as a Fabrizio original but takes so much from Muddy’s tune of a similar name that it is hard to say that it is not a cover. However, few musicians honour Muddy’s legacy better than Bob Margolin and if he was happy to add some trademark slide work to the tune it must be OK!

If there is a tune which should be protected against any further covers it must surely be “Rock Me Baby” and the version here does not add significantly to the many fine versions recorded over the years though the use of accordion is different. The traditional “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” features Sara Cappelletti whose shared lead vocal demonstrates Fabrizio’s limits as a vocalist. Enrico’s solo is wild and rocky. Fabrizio’s “I Want My Baby” uses a familiar blues riff and has very repetitive lyrics but the band plays it well with guest Claudio Bazzari adding some nice slide work.. The CD closes with a short run through of Big Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go”.

And why the title? Fabrizio explains in the liner notes that after the abolition of slavery plantation owners were short of manual labor and recruited poor Italian agricultural workers who were often treated as badly as the slaves who had preceded them. Fabrizio imagines that one Italian might have indeed opened a juke joint and if he had, might it not have been called “Spaghetti Juke Joint”?

There is nothing startlingly new here but some solid versions of old favorites.

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 – 5 of 13 

Vance Kelly – Live At Kingston Mines

Wolf Records

13 tracks

Vance Kelly has nine Wolf Record releases blending blues, soul and R&B. With this, his second live effort on CD, Vance lets it all hang out and puts on an energetic show with his band and with a special appearance by his daughter Vivian Vance Kelly.

Live At Kingston Mines offers up Chicago blues classics in a live performance at one of Chicago’s classic (albeit at times tourist oriented) clubs. A protégé of Buddy Scott and Little Johnny Christian, Vance has fine tuned his craft since he picked up a guitar at age seven. He entered and escaped the disco scene and became part of A.C. Reed’s band prior to venturing out on his own. His first Wolf release was recognized by Living Blues Magazine as best contemporary CD of 1994. Since releasing Call Me, Vance has given us seven more CDs prior to this one.

Vance does not blaze any new paths for us here, but offers up blues and soul classics that please the crowd at Kingston Mines. They will also please fans of the Chicago blues scene who enjoy hearing them done right. Blues like “Ain’t Gonna Worry About Tomorrow” pays tribute to his mentor Johnny Christian are the majority of cuts here while soul tunes like “Members Only” (a Malaco Records hit by Bobby Bland) provide a cool counterpoint to the blues.

Ballads like that and “I’ll Play the Blues For You,” slow blues like the stuff he does by Jimmy Reed along with big rocking tunes like “Let The Good Times Roll” and “Mustang Sally” show us his range and the diversity of styles he is comfortable with. “Clean Up Woman” features his daughter on vocals; she is an exemplary singer and performer in her own right and she does a bang up job here, too.

Anyone needing a fix of straight up Chicago blues done by a “second generation” Chicago blues artist will enjoy this set. Along with Vance and his daughter there is Jowynne Scott on bass, Tyrone Mitchell on drums, Delby Littlejohn on keys and Ethel Reed on percussion and backing vocals. While there is nothing new here, the performance is energizing and fun; it offers the listener a window into the realm of the big Northside Chicago blues clubs of today.

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.

 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 13 

Dana Fuchs – Songs from the Road

Ruf Records

CD: 16 Songs; 77:34 Minutes; DVD: 17 Songs; Approximately 90 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues and Blues Rock

One of the challenges the blues genre faces is how to keep itself alive in these rap-and-techno times. Many aficionados ask: “How do we attract young people to the blues?” Most likely, Millennials haven’t grown up listening to the original masters, and think “Muddy Waters” is just a description of the Mississippi River. What to do?

One solution, as proposed by the feisty Florida-born Dana Fuchs, is to swirl the blues with fire-engine-red rock and roll. That’s why purists may grit their teeth as Dana roars like a lioness. Where are the eight-and-twelve-bar rhythms, the repeated A-A-B lyrics, and the timeless themes they treasure?

Fret not: This fearless chanteuse will give everyone their blues “fix” on her new album Songs from the Road. Recorded live at Highline Ballroom in New York City, it contains several songs from her previous releases. The sixteen-track CD is coupled with a seventeen-song DVD, approximately ninety minutes.

Alongside Fuchs on lead vocals, guitar, and percussion: Jon Diamond on guitar and backing vocals; Matt Beck on guitars; Jack Daley on bass; Pete Levin on keyboards, and Joe Daley on drums. Together, on the CD, they perform fourteen original tracks and two covers. On the DVD, there is one more original song. Accompanying the band are the Screaming Sirens – background vocalists Elaine Caswell, Nicki Richards, and Bette Sussman. Of all the tunes, these three compositions of Dana’s are tops:

Track 03: “Livin’ On Sunday” – This gospel-influenced blues ballad tells of a churchgoer who’s not completely satisfied with salvation: “I want more than living on Sunday. I’m not sure how to live any other way. I want more than living on Sunday. I want more; I want more; I want more.” Daily life is “nothing so amazing” as the influence of the Holy Ghost, although the background vocals of the Screaming Sirens might be. Pete Levin’s organ keyboards are glorious as well.

Track 08: “Sad Salvation” – Perhaps the solution to the above conundrum is experiencing earthly as well as heavenly joy. However, even that may fail: “Sometimes love is a sad salvation. We can’t stay warm in its feeble glow, no. Sometimes love is a sad salvation, but it’s the only love she’s known.” Here, Fuchs takes a break from her gritty, growling vocal repertoire and sings with a delightful sense of sweet defeat.

Track 10: “Love to Beg” – Only found on the DVD, its tenth track is a rollicking rocker. “I love to swallow all your pride. I love to swallow mine,” Fuchs sultrily reveals. The band pulls out all the stops, turning up the volume as well as their instrumental energy.

Even though Dana’s vocal range and versatility are rather low, she sure can belt out the blues! Savor her Songs from the Road, especially if on the road, taking a long journey.

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 – 7 of 13 

Lady Bianca – Real People Music

Magic-O Records

8 tracks

Lady Bianca Thornton’s latest effort is a short but interesting set of tunes delivered by a woman with a powerful voice. Six originals, an Otis Redding number and a traditional tune are featured here. When Bianca is singing, the show is smoking.

Along with Ms. Thornton are Billy Young on organ, Charles Spikes on guitar, Oshmin Oden on bass, Joey Truso on drums, Juan Escovedo on percussion, Nancy Wright on sax, and Paul Lozano on backing vocals. Bianca sings and narrates, plays piano and clavinet and also does backing vocals.

The soulful and funky original “Missing You” starts things off on the album. Bianca’s empathy and emotions are deep as she lays her heart out here. Nice organ and guitar work give this a Philadelphia sort of feel to it and I liked it a lot. Redding’s “These Arms of Mine Follow” and Bianca gives the cut her own special interpretation. Her breathy vocals and intense feelings really grab the listener. She plays the piano in support of her vocals and it’s quite cool; a very restrained guitar and support by the band maintain the feeling she is trying to achieve. “I Know You Don’t” is another soulful and dark song full of feelings from broken relations. Bianca again lets her emotions come out as she delivers an outstanding performance. “Party Like You Wanna” is a spoken cut. Bianca gives us an almost stream of consciousness sort of dialogue that encompasses virtually the entire song. While it was cool, I thought it was a bit much as the dialogue went on for over four and half minutes.

Bianca opens the next cut with about three minutes of spoken dialogue with “You’ll Be Leaving With Her.” However, she also delivers another four minutes of very deep and soulful vocals in another heartfelt original number. “This Time I’m Gone For Good” was co written by Thornton and she delivers a very gritty performance. Spikes’ guitar solo and overall work her is also spectacular and the backing organ is quite cool, too. “Frying Pan” is the last soul number and the first and only real up tempo cut (not that that matters). Bianca sings about a relation where she’s gone “out of the frying pan and into the fire.” A great groove and more well done support make for another sweet tune. The sax really burns it up on this number, too. Lady Bianca closes by taking us to church. “Woke Up This Morning With My Mind Stayed On Jesus” is a beautiful performance filled with real feeling. I was really moved by her work on this one. She goes on for eight minutes but it’s eight minutes well spent in soulful praise.

While I’m not a huge fan of spoken cuts, they may be your cup of tea. It’s not mine but I can’t say that that sort of stuff is bad- Bianca really gets into it. Her singing, however, is spectacular and if I have a real complaint it’s that there is only about 38 minutes of music here. The good thing is that Thornton packs a helluva lot of soul and feeling into 8 cuts over the 38 minutes. I enjoyed this CD and any lover of well done soul and blues will too!

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.

 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 13 

No Refund Band – Current State of Blue


CD: 12 Songs; 49:51 Minutes

Styles: Traditional and Contemporary Electric Blues, Blues Rock

Anyone who’s ever had the blues knows that they don’t stay the same. One’s reasons for sadness shift and change. That’s what the Texas-based No Refund Band demonstrates well on their sophomore album, Current State of Blue. Most of its selections relate to love-based trouble. However, whatever their form, music is a universal cure-all.On twelve songs (nine originals and three rather unnecessary covers), they show considerable prowess on instrumentation such as lead guitar and horns. Lead singer Ricky Jackson’s vocals are slightly reminiscent of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s, but with less crystal clarity.

The No Refund Band is an ensemble starring Ricky Jackson on lead guitars (both electric and acoustic) and vocals; Mike Crownover (the band’s founder) on rhythm and lead electric guitars; Rik Robertson on bass and vocals; Jim Brady on trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion and vocals; and Anthony Terry on soprano, tenor, baritone saxes and vocals. Additional musicians include Paul English on trumpet, piano and synthesizer; Travis Doyle on Hammond B3 organ; Randy Wall on piano; Kelly Dean on alto sax; Warren Sneed on tenor sax; Tyson Sheth on drums and percussion, and fellow guest drummers Joey Riggins, Walter Cross, and Mike Burch.

The following original songs give the best “bang for one’s buck,” as the saying goes:

Track 01: “Buy the Blues” – No one would pay a cent to experience the blues – failed romance, being broke, job hassles, etc. However, mastery in playing the blues is absolutely priceless. “You can have a lot of money, have a lot of money, it’s true. You can have a lot of money, but you’re never going to buy the blues.” The entire band is in full swing on this traditional track, from the dominant electric guitar to the delightfully high-strung horn section.

Track 02: “Current State of Blue” – This cool, laid-back and jazz-influenced tune will put one in a mellow mood – perfect for sipping a drink or holding someone close. “You drive around in your brand new shiny car, and there’s a real big chance I really never know where you really are,” our narrator sulks. “When you have a minute, call me up and say, ‘Where the hell are you?’ I’m sitting here alone. That’s my current state of blue.” Check out the sizzling saxophone solo.

Track 05: “Love Unmade” – In the style of the band Santana, number five is a spicy Latin rocker. Tyson Sheth keeps his dynamo drums rolling, but the real star of this song is Ricky Jackson’s soliloquy on acoustic guitar. In fact, several keen instrumentalists take turns making musical speeches. The most valuable venue for this ballad is a live show. It’ll get crowds on their feet.

The No Refund Band performed at the 2015 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, having won the Houston Blues Society challenge. They performed at BB King’s on Beale on January 21 and 22. One thing’s certain: their Current State of Blue is red-hot!

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 – 9 of 13 

Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion – Exposed

33 Jazz, United Kingdom

13 Songs Total; 56:49 Minutes

Zoe and the band have been together for just 3 years. Together with guitarist and co-bandleader Rob Koral they cherry picked the members of the band from people they had worked with before. Each member of the band is a well-established musician in their own right…for example, drummer Paul Robinson was Nina Simone’s main drummer for 19 years…. he has also worked extensively with Van Morrison, Paul McCartney and many more. This release has 13 original tunes; 12 written by Zoe and Rob…. and 1 written by Rob and Sue Hawker.

The sound is very unique & captivating ranging from jazz, blues, and soul. The band pride themselves in filling their albums and live sets with high quality, original material. The proof of the band chemistry is well demonstrated by the sheer out-put of material (3 albums in 3 years) and the tangible intensity and passion of this album. The musical diversity of the band members bring a depth and uniqueness to their sound which is hard to pigeon-hole and categorize. The sheer virtuosity of each of the band members is given free rein to express itself and bring personal magic to the song writing of Zoe and Rob.

Interesting and vibrant songs that caught my attention are listed below:

Song 11: “I Wonder Who My Next Man Will Be”-this track was written at breakfast after the band decided another “earthy” blues tune was needed. There is infectious hand clapping during the song along with sweet harmonica playing.

Song 10: “I’m Glad”-Apparently this was Zoe’s catch phrase at college. A nice, happy, and upbeat song that will make you feel good if nothing else.

Song 4: “Let’s Explain”-This track is a tribute to the late Billie Holiday. The song is slow, sexy and very captivating with biographical lyrics. It is easy to get lost in this one.

Song 7: “If I Had Wings”-Rob Koral wrote a poem the day his and Zoe’s daughter was born. The lyrics speak of warmth and love that the couple shares. Heartwarming words of “together we can’t fail” will certainly pull at the listeners’ heartstrings.

Band members are as follows: Zoe Schwarz, vocals; Rob Koral, guitar; Pete Whittaker, Hammond organ; Si Genaro, harmonica; Paul Robinson, drums & percussion.

The entourage has been called “a whip-crack band and a six-foot blond clad in black with bling…Zoe’s expressive voice and a confident band with impressive material.” Other sources note, “Zoe and her band have reached the point where they cannot be ignored and are poised to make the international breakthrough they deserve”. Other accolades include the fact that this is the bands third album effort. Previous releases were done in 2012 and 2013.

Zoe tours and has many gigs overseas. Exciting things are on the horizon for this up and coming band.

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 – 10 of 13 

Brandon Santini – Live & Extended

Vizztone Label Group

12 tracks/66:08

It has been eleven years since Brandon Santini made the permanent move to Memphis to further his career. The singer and harp player has toured constantly, honing his talents and putting together a band that is as sharp as the crease on Rick Estrin’s pants. The move has paid off in recent years with several Blues Blast and Blues Music award nominations, giving Santini a much higher level of visibility throughout the blues community.

Last summer the band headed north for an engagement at the le Petit Imperial, a concert venue in Quebec City. It is obvious from the start that the band is loaded for bear. Nick Hern on bass and Chad Wirl on drums lay down a mean shuffle on “One More Mile” while guitarist Timo Arthur lays down some tantalizing rhythmic phrases. The leader unleashes his deep, expressive voice before attempting to blow out the reed in his harp with two edgy solos. Santini co-wrote “This Time Another Year” with Charlie Musselwhite, which means there is plenty of dirty harp before they break things down to give Arthur an opportunity for some delicate guitar interplay.

Santini is right at home on a laidback take of “Elevate Me Mama” until his wailing harp kicks things into another gear. “Evil Woman” keeps things down in the alley and Arthur finally gets to run through his arsenal of guitar chops. He sets the pace as the band races through “Have A Good Time” before finishing off the first part of the program with a swinging rendition of “Help Me With The Blues”.

The second set is more of the same as Santini hits the stage blowing with gale-force intensity on the classic “Got Love If You Want It,” which glides into “No Matter What I Do,” another romping shuffle complete with a vocal dripping with soul. “What You Doing To Me” provides a needed respite as the band slips into a country blues groove, the ideal setting for one of Santini’s best vocal performances.

“My Backscratcher” features more of the leader’s fat harp tone and another blistering solo from Arthur. The frantic pace of “I Wanna Boogie With You” undoubtedly got the audience out of their seats, especially when Santini summons up the intensity of one of his harp mentors, James Cotton. Most performers would have stopped on that high note. But Santini and his cohorts tear through one final number, “Come On Everybody,” just to make sure that their fans got their money’s worth of high-octane blues.

Throughout this masterful performance, Brandon Santini displays the sheer artistic command of an artist in complete control. His thick-as-molasses vocals and muscular harp playing combined with a band that backs his every move make this package a real gem that stands solidly in the blues tradition. Recordings like this are hard to come by, so make sure you don’t miss out on a disc that is sure to lead to a few more award nominations for Mr. Santini.

Reviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying life without snow. He is a member of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and the past president of the Crossroads Blues Society of Northern Illinois. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!

 Featured Blues Review – 11 of 13 

Tangled Eye – The Other Seven Songs

Black and Tan Records

7 songs – 28 minutes

Tangled Eye released their debut album, Dream Wall, in 2014. They actually wrote 21 songs for that album, but were only able to fit 14 of them on the CD. With impressive (and not misplaced) self-confidence, they have now decided the remaining seven songs were worth recording and releasing as well. The result is a digital download entitled The Other Seven Songs.

There is something enjoyably different about both the band and the album. The band is an American-Dutch three piece, comprising Dallas native (now transplanted to Europe) Dede Priest on vocals and violin; together with Dutchmen Jasper Mortier on drums and bass and Jan Mittendorp on guitar. Many blues fans will be aware of Mittendorp through the record label he runs, Black and Tan Records, which has released a series of great blues albums over recent years from the likes of Doug MacLeod, Byther Smith and Big George Jackson.

The album neatly straddles both traditional and modern blues, for example on “I Am”, which is essentially a 12 bar blues in structure. Mortier’s forceful drums and Mittendorp’s gritty overdriven guitar add a rocky edge to the track, but the guitar is mixed quite low while Priest’s violin weaves in and out of the vocals on top. When Priest does start singing, her lyrics are powerfully minimalist, where the repetition helps to build an ever-increasing tension: “I am, I am, I am, I am, I am, I am, I am, I am, I think therefore I am.” This is an effective tactic, also used on “Sister’s Blue Door” or “Posioned”, where she asks the listener again and again: “Have you ever, have you ever, have you ever, have you ever had to suffer?”

Priest’s violin is a distinctive differentiator for the band, adding a haunting edge to the songs, and reminding the listener that the fiddle is a wonderfully natural instrument on which to play the blues. In the early 20th century, the fiddle was a common fixture in blues bands, particularly in the Mississippi Delta (Big Bill Broonzy played violin professionally for several years before he first picked up a guitar). Priest’s playing raises the question why more players haven’t followed the path blazed in the past by the likes of Bo Chatmon, Henry “Son” Sims, Gatemouth Brown and more recently two time International Blues Challenge winner Lionel Young.

While Priest takes the majority of the solos on The Other Seven Songs, Mittendorp also turns in some fine guitar playing on the likes of “Poisoned”.

This is a blues album, but Tangled Eye sits at the adventurous end of the blues spectrum. “India Blues” opens with Mittendorp playing some exotic Eastern-sounding scales over Mortier’s dramatic cymbal rides before Priest’s melancholy, melodic violin and clear, powerful voice leads the song in a rockier direction. Likewise, the droning, insistent single chord boogie of “Sister’s Blue Door” recalls both John Lee Hooker and The Doors.

This is a short album, not quite reaching half an hour, but the band’s decision to release these songs is to be applauded. There is something different about Tangled Eye and The Other Seven Songs suggests there are many more great tracks to come from this band. This is a fine album of contemporary blues with attitude and is warmly recommended.

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 – 12 of 13 

Breezy Rodio – So Close To It

Windchill 2014

15 tracks; 67 minutes

Italian guitarist Fabrizio (‘Breezy’) Rodio started out in New York but relocated to Chicago where he has worked with Guy King and Linsey Alexander, as well as working on an emerging solo career. His latest blues album (he also plays reggae!) follows on from 2011’s Playing My Game Too which featured Chicago greats Lurrie Bell and Bob Stroger. This time around the guests again include Lurrie as well as Billy Branch, Joe Barr and Carl Weathersby. The core band is Breezy on guitar and vocals, “Ariyo” Sumito Ariyoshi on piano, Chris Foreman on organ, Light Palone on bass and Lorenzo Francocci on drums. A horn section of Bill Overton on sax and either Art Davis or Doug Scharf on trumpet appears on six cuts; Billy Branch and Quique Gomez play harp on one track each, Lurrie Bell handles vocals and guitar on one track and Joe Barr and Carl Weathersby share the vocals on one track.

There is also a ‘live in the studio’ bonus track featuring Breezy’s regular band of Luca Chiellini on piano, Brian Burke on upright bass and Rick King on drums. The album was recorded in Chicago and produced by Breezy, Pete Galanis and Steve Wagner. Kate Moss’ artwork is evocative of many Delmark and Blue Bella releases and the musical content is very much straight ahead, modern Chicago blues. Breezy wrote eight of the tunes and there are seven covers.

Breezy seems to have a fondness for BB King and T-Bone Walker. The CD opens with a solid version of “When My Heart Beat Like A Hammer” (Sonny Boy I) which has excellent guitar, piano and organ to make an excellent start to the album; “Sneakin’ Around” (JM Robinson) is beautifully played, Breezy’s guitar superb in BB style and the horns providing a warm background; “Please Accept My Love” (Jimmy Wilson) has some fine churchy organ from Chris Foreman and a chorus embellished by the horns. These ballads make considerable demands of Breezy’s vocal abilities and he betrays more of an accent here than on some of the songs that are vocally less taxing.

T-Bone Walker is the source for the bonus track, a late-night “Evil Hearted Woman” on which Breezy’s regular pianist Luca stars, as well as the comical “Too Lazy” – “I’m too lazy to work, too nervous to steal” – on which Ariyo and the horns, especially Art Davis’ trumpet, lead the way. Ray Charles is also represented with a short, snappy run through of “Just About To Lose Your Clown” (J McRae) with Chris doing sterling work on the organ and the horns emphasizing the Latin feel of the tune as Breezy unleashes a super solo. Even Elvis is not too far a step for Breezy to try as he tackles Otis Blackwell’s rockabilly classic “One Broken Heart For Sale”. Breezy does a great job on the vocals here and Ariyo’s piano and the horns deliver a rocking punch over which Chris lays out a fine organ solo.

Breezy’s originals stand up well alongside the selection of classic covers. The title track “So Close To It” is a fine shuffle with Quique Gomez’s harp and additional backing vocals from Jen Williams featured, a song that asks the question: “If you don’t like the music, why do you stand so close to it?” Breezy’s clean, plucked solo impresses before developing into a series of bends. “Walking With My Baby” features some high note blowing on harp by Billy Branch and twinkling piano from Ariyo, a rolling blues that name checks well-known Chicago places like Halsted and State Street. However, in this song Breezy has come prepared for trouble: “I’m walking with my baby, she’s so fine. You better stay away because I’ve got my 38.”

The horns propel “Time To Come Back Home”, an uptempo swinger featuring Chris Foreman’s organ and Ariyo’s piano, Breezy giving us another fine solo before the coda takes the pace up yet another notch for a final rave-up. “I Can’t Get Enough Of You” is another swing-style tune with more of Ariyo’s superb piano and Breezy’s relaxed and inventive guitar. “Mary” is a mid-paced piece with some stinging guitar at the beginning, very Albert King in style and the extended “The Day I Met You” (a co-write with Pete Galanis) is a fine ballad on which Joe Barr and Carl Weathersby share the vocals. Lurrie Bell shares guitar duties and handles the vocals in his inimitable style on the slow T-Bone influenced “I Win Some More”. A final slow blues, the stately “How Much More Can A Poor Boy Take” completes the originals with a wry look at how relationships can go astray.

This is a very good album of Chicago blues mixing classic styles across a blend of original tunes and covers. The playing is consistently excellent and Breezy writes some interesting songs so there is plenty for fans of Chicago blues to enjoy here.

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 – 13 of 13 

Robin Banks – Modern Classic

Self-Release 2014

12 tracks; 48 minutes

Robin Banks is a vocalist and songwriter who has lived in Texas and Jamaica but is now back in her native Canada though she still returns frequently to Jamaica where she is a popular performer. If you had to name a dream team for a studio band you could well be thinking of the following ensemble: Duke Robillard on guitar and production, Bruce Bears on keys, Brad Hallett on bass, Mark Teixeira on drums, Doug James on baritone sax, Mark Earley on tenor sax and Doug Woolverton on trumpet – i.e. Duke’s current touring band + Roomful Of Blues horns on half the tracks! This was the band assembled in Rhode Island to back Robin on twelve originals and they play brilliantly throughout.

The CD opens with “A Man Is Just A Man”, the horns doing a superb job, especially Doug Woolverton whose trumpet is featured. Duke’s guitar leads the tune which has a touch of Caribbean lilt as Robin advises the ladies not to get too attached: “A man is just a man, much like a bus another one will be right along”. The horns sit out “Superhero”, a gentle tune that might fit into the songbook of Lionel Ritchie, Duke’s guitar and Bruce’s keys providing shimmering accompaniment to Robin’s relaxed vocal.

A jazzy “I Really Dig You” has Bruce digging deep on piano and the horns giving warmth, including a fine tenor solo by Mark. Doug James’ bari leads the way on a latin-flavoured “Crazy” on which trumpet and tenor get solos and the listener can’t help but tap along with the insistent rhythm. The bluesiest track to date is “My Baby Loves Me” though there are equally jazz touches in Bruce’s piano, all the horns adding their individual touches to the music. Lyrically Robin seems to have found a fan: “My baby loves me, not just my cooking. He thinks I’m sexy looking, that blows my mind”. Duke’s sinuous solo is the final touch of class on a fine tune.

“A Little Bit Of Heaven” is a classic ‘Great American Songbook’ style song. You can imagine Dinah Washington having sung this one as Duke’s band excels without the horns who return strongly on the soulful “I’ll Meet You There” which has a touch of the great Memphis soul ballads, Bruce’s organ and the horns carrying the melody as Duke stabs out some licks from the Steve Cropper handbook and Mark delivers an excellent tenor solo. It’s the longest cut on the album and you really don’t want it to end though the later “Bite Your Tongue” is another Memphis R n’ B piece with a dash more funk. The horns are absent on the intervening “Tonight” which returns to a jazzier style and Robin’s voice works perfectly on a small band piece in which the whole band takes short solos.

The last three cuts cover a good range of styles using just the core band without the horns. “You Boogie Too Fast For Me” does what the title suggests, Robin doing a great job on the vocals as Bruce is the featured player on a superb piece of swing. Try as hard as you may, your feet will not stay still through this one! “A Place In The City” is a country ballad with Duke’s guitar in suitably twangy mode and Bruce’s piano echoing “The Green Green Grass Of Home” as Robin sings of settling into a new apartment in the city. The final track “Some Day Soon” is a short jazzy piece with Bruce again outstanding on piano. Duke’s production skills are in evidence here as every nuance of the band’s playing can be heard clearly beneath Robin’s perfect vocal.

If you are looking for a hardcore blues album this is not for you but if you are a fan of the area where jazz meets blues (with a couple of detours into soul) this album is definitely worth checking out. Fans of Duke Robillard will enjoy this one and the presence of the Roomful horns is an added bonus!

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

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The Colorado Blues Society – Windsor, CO

The Colorado Blues Society Remember John-Alex Mason. The legacy of John-Alex Mason’s music is an essential part of Colorado Blues History. Please join us for this amazing event, headlined by the Cedric Burnside Project, as we celebrate the memory of John-Alex on Sunday, February 22nd. Held at the beautiful Soiled Dove Underground in Denver, all seats are reserved, so get yours early for what promises to be a celebration of one of Colorado’s own.

The Colorado Blues Society is putting together a special show to benefit the John-Alex Mason Scholarship Fund. In addition to Cedric Burnside this will be an acoustic blues show with some interesting pairings, the tentative lineup has Dan Treanor & Randall Dubis; Erica Brown, MJ and Michael Hossler; Nic Clark, Andy Sydow and Curtis Hawkins; Dr. Izzy, Robert Morrison and Richard Yale; Rex Peoples & Jack Hadley; Eef & Stacey Turpenoff, and possibly more. John-Alex was a huge believer in getting our youth involved in blues and music and his scholarship continues that belief today. Doors open at 1PM and the show starts at 2PM. Info at

Madison Blues Society – Madison, WI

Madison Blues Society will host the 8th Annual Wild Women of the Blues featuring Lisa Wenger and her Mean Mean Men on March 5, 2015, 7:00PM at the High Noon Saloon, 01 E. Washington Avenue in Madison.

This is a Benefit for Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS), the only Dane County area shelter for survivors and children of domestic violence. DAIS continues to promote awareness and education to our communities through several vital programs, and has made phenomenal strides in providing necessary resources for those in crisis and need. More info:

Also supporting MBS Blues in the Community programs. This event celebrates the talent and empowerment of women in an environment of inspirational musical performance. An exciting national blues act and her band result in a not-to-miss event.

Tickets: $15 advance / $18 day of show or MBS for members: $12 advance / $15 day of show. More Info:

The Great Northern Blues Society – Wausau, WI

The Great Northern Blues Society of Wausau, WI (GNBS) is Proud to announce the lineup for our 16th Annual Blues Café fundraiser to be held at the Historically Registered Rothschild Pavilion (near Wausau, WI) on 3/14/15.

The Lineup will include Left Wing Bourbon, Crankshaft and the Gear Grinders, Bobby Messano, The Chris O’Leary Band, and Samantha Fish. Doors open at noon, and Music will start at 1:00PM and continue non-stop until 11:00PM. Chairs, Food, and Cold Beverages will be available on-site. Special Hotel Rates available at the nearby Stoney Creek Inn utilizing the Code: “BLUES20”. Limited supply of rooms available so make your reservation now.

Please come, sit by the huge stone fireplace, with a beverage of choice in hand, and join us for 10 hours of non-stop glorious Blues Music on 3/14/15. Artist Biographies, directions, and Tickets are available on our Website at –

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. February 16 – David Lumsden and Friends, February 23 – RJ Mischo

Additional ICBC shows (all held in Springfield, Illinois): Feb. 19 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm, March 21 – Ronnie Baker Brooks ICBC 29th Birthday Party w/special guests the Blues Expressions. K of C Hall on Meadowbrook Rd. Springfield, Illinois.

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     © 2015 Blues Blast Magazine 309 267-4425

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