Issue 6-50, December 13, 2012
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Cover photo by Marilyn Stringer © 2012 MJStringerPhoto.com
In This Issue
Jim Crawford has our feature interview with Blues guitar legend, Debbie Davies. Mark Thompson and Tom Carter have a review of the first Bradenton Blues Fest.
We have 6 music reviews for you! Jim Kanavy reviews both a new CD and a DVD from Dennis Jones. Rainey Wetnight reviews a new release from Brad Wilson. Mark Thompson reviews a new release from Willie McBlind. Rex Bartholomew reviews a new album from Rick Randlett. Steve Jones reviews a new CD from Franc Robert & The Boxcar Tourists. We have the latest in Blues Society news from around the globe. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
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Featured Blues Interview - Debbie Davies
There have always been women Blues performers. Big Mama Thornton, Bessie Smith, Ruth Brown, Koko Taylor, Billie Holiday, and Etta James, to name a few, who have made their mark and whose music is still heard and remembered today.
But, not too many women have been able to take their places on stage next to the men and show them how it’s done on a Stratocaster or Telecaster. Debbie Davies has been showing the world how it’s done for the last 30 years with no plans to stop anytime soon.
She’s developed into an absolute master at electric Blues and has earned the respect of many of the (male) giants who consider her their equal when it comes to scorching the room with her pedal-to-the-metal style.
Debbie Davies grew up in a musical family and says she listened to all types of music growing up in Southern California. Both of her parents were professional musicians who spent countless hours sitting at the piano or filling the house with the sounds of big band jazz, harmony vocal groups, or the pop biggies of the day from the discs on their turntable. Young Debbie soon discovered she was particularly attracted to her father’s Ray Charles records and his Blues sound.
“I was 12 when I knew I wanted to play the guitar,” Debbie recalls. “I started out playing an acoustic because that was what females played in those days.”
Then, at age 13, it all changed for the young Debbie Davies when she heard Eric Clapton with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.
“I knew then that I wanted to play electric guitar,” she says. “It was just so hard to be taken seriously. There weren’t too many female guitar players at all. But I had a rebellious streak in me and said ‘I’m going to do this anyway.’ I got no encouragement from my parents who were musicians. They didn’t think it was right for a girl to be playing guitar. It was such a different time.
“It was an intense anger that fueled me more than anything,” she explains. “When I got a little older I worked all kinds of day jobs and went to see the older Blues cats play at night. I had shelved the idea of playing electric and I was very depressed because of it. So, at age 24, I made a decision. ‘Do I still want to do this?’ (The answer was ‘Yes.’) I started practicing six hours a day. I learned licks from listening to records. I’d go to the Blues clubs to hear live music. It was my passion. I just dug in. I moved to Northern California and played all over the Bay Area for 10 years.
“I’d go to these celebrity jams they’d have at the clubs in San Francisco,” she recalls. “It took a long time before they’d ask you to sit in. You have to work your way up. Once the guys heard me playing they thought it was cool. That’s where I met Coco (Montoya in the ‘70s) and he and I became an item for a while.”
Coco still sings Debbie’s praises.
"Debbie is one of the direct links to the originators of this music,” Montoya said recently. “She knows what the Blues is all about and you can hear it in the passion of her playing."
After 10 years Debbie says she thought it was time to “try the big pond” and she moved back to Los Angeles in 1984 where she landed a gig playing lead guitar for Maggie Mayall (John’s wife) and The Cadillacs.
“That lasted almost four years and led to many tours,” Debbie says. “Then Albert Collins heard me play and invited me to join The Icebreakers in 1988. I stayed with him for three years. He and I formed a great friendship. He was great to work with. I learned a lot from him.
“I stepped through a door into the real Blues world when I joined Albert’s band,” Debbie says in her bio. “It’s one thing to listen to the records and pull off the licks, or sit in the audience watching these artists play. But actually going out and touring with one, turned the Blues into something completely three-dimensional for me. I knew then what a special opportunity this was, but I know it even more now.”
During her time with Collins, Debbie was invited to perform on John Mayall’s 1990 album, “A Sense of Place,” and in 1991 she recorded with Albert Collins and the Icebreakers on the Grammy nominated self-titled release for Point Blank/Virgin Records.
"I believe my reputation backs up my ability to recognize exceptional Blues," explained John Mayall in a 2000 interview. "Such a one is Debbie Davies."
Since 1993 Debbie has been fronting her own band and since then she has produced 11 solo albums and two collaborative CD’s with Tab Benoit, Kenny Neal and Anson Funderburg and Otis Grand. Other artists who have joined her in the studio reads like a Who’s Who of the Blues: Albert Collins, Ike Turner, James Cotton, Mick Taylor, Peter Green, Coco Montoya, Duke Robillard, Tommy Shannon, Chris “Whipper” Layton, Sugar Ray Norcia, Mudcat Ward, Charlie Musselwhite, Bruce Katz, Per Hanson, Noel Neal, and Rod Carey. Not too shabby for a girl.
Debbie says the legendary slide guitarist Bonnie Raitt has been one of her first and biggest inspirations.
“I love Bonnie Raitt,” she says. “Then there’s Sue Foley and Joanna Connor. Both great Blues guitarists.”
There are a lot more good female guitarists now and Debbie’s a big fan.
“I’m so proud of Laura Chavez (who plays lead guitar in Candye Kane’s band). She’s the real deal. I love Candye, too. She’s got a great band and they are all good people. Trampled Under Foot is a tremendous band. Danielle (Schenbelen, TUF bass player) is such a little thing with this huge voice. They are a phenomenal band and deserve everything they get.”
After many years living the life in sunny Southern California, Debbie now makes her home in Connecticut, a little north of New York City.
“My record company is located here and touring is a lot easier here,” she explains. “A majority of my gigs are in this area. I’m constantly on the road which is part of the game. New York and Boston are filled with Blues clubs. I prefer the west but you have to go where the work is.”
The Blues is in its continuous state of flux and Debbie cites a number of factors for the constant upheaval.
“I think the music had its last hay day in the ‘80s and ‘90s,” she says. “It wasn’t so expensive to tour or to go out to a club to hear good music. The police are a lot different now. A lot of the originators were still alive then and it was just a better scene. The big cigarette and beer companies sponsored a lot of the big shows until it became politically incorrect.
“Now we’ve got home entertainment systems,” Debbie explains. “There have been so many changes in culture and economics. Plus the boomers, who make up the majority of our audiences, are staying home a lot more.
“But there are still a lot of great young artists who are apprenticing and the scene is still very viable. The whole thing is still influenced by the masters.”
Most recently, Debbie and her band have been involved in the popular Blues cruises which are gaining bigger audiences.
“They are a great gig,” she says. “They’re a floating festival and everybody has a wonderful time and experience. They’re also a good opportunity for young players to get some exposure. Everyone is easily accessible and you can get lots of good pictures to share with your fan base.
“The outdoor festivals are really dependent on the Blues societies,” she says. “I hope they can keep them going. They (festivals) have kind of hurt the club scene because they make it easier for the whole family to go and spend the day listening to music and having fun. It’s hard to take the family to the club. This does make it harder for us to tour though.”
Debbie began a long-awaited collaboration with rising Blues star Robin Rogers in 2009.
“She was just starting to break out,” Debbie says. “We’d done a festival together and hit it off immediately. We stayed in touch because we had the same agent. We’d planned a project and did some more festivals together. Then she was diagnosed with cancer. We did several shows together where she was so sick and looked really rough but she refused to cancel. She had a dream to do this and nothing was going to stop her. She really had it all, this big, raspy voice and she brought it every night. I miss her a lot.”
Robin’s death in 2010 hit Debbie hard. Robin’s death coupled with a broken arm forced Debbie to the sidelines where she wrote the material for her current CD, “After the Fall” on MC Records. The all-original CD also features songs written by Debbie’s long time drummer Don Castagno and a guest appearance by pianist Bruce Katz.
“It’s (the record) coming from a different place than where I usually go for ideas,” she said. “There’s Robin’s Song and some boogie tunes. It’s more of an introspective record. It’s all original, too.”
Currently Debbie is winding down a busy year. Her CD is getting plenty of radio play and it’s in the Top 10 on the Blues charts. She’s just finished a Blues In The Schools instructional video, and she’s collaborating on a Blues project with Dion.
“He’s like a little kid,” she says. “He’s so excited to be involved in the Blues.”
As for the Blues, Debbie says there is still a lot of work to be done.
“I’d love to see the spotlight on the music as opposed to the flash,” she says. “I want to see someone come forward and take it in to the future.”
If anybody can do that, Debbie Davies can.
Photos by Marilyn Stringer © 2012 MJStringerPhoto.com
Interviewer Jim Crawford is a transplanted Texan and the current president of the Phoenix Blues Society. He’s a fan of lots of different types of music but keeps his head mostly planted in the Blues today. He received his first 45 rpm record, Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man,” at about age 8 and it stuck. He hosted the “Blues Cruise” on KACV-FM 90 in Amarillo for many years and can be found on many nights catching a good show at the Rhythm Room, Phoenix’s Blues Mecca.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE.
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Featured Blues Reviews 1 & 2 of 6
Dennis Jones - My Kinda Blues CD
Blue Rock Records
CD: 13 tracks; 53 minutes
Dennis Jones was brought up in Baltimore County, Maryland and first picked up a guitar at age 13. He lists among his influences not just the “Three K’s” as he calls B.B., Albert, and Freddie but also the “Three J’s” as in Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter and surprisingly, Jimmy Page. His songwriting is informed by hard times and hard living he has seen, experienced and avoided. Dennis formed his eponymous band in 1996 but in 2004 won the International Blues Competition held annually in Memphis as a member of Zac Harmon’s band. Dennis’ new album My Kinda Blues on Blue Rock Records is his fourth since his debut Falling Up in 2003.
After the first listen, it was clear Dennis Jones has carved out a piece of the post-Stevie Ray blues environment. He has a thick tone from Fender guitars and over-driven amps, he kicks up dust on full throttle shuffles, melds rock and blues influences seamlessly and isn’t afraid to acknowledge the influence of Jimi Hendrix on the blues. What separates him from a pack of imitators is his writing. Not only is the music spirited and inventive, but with his words he gambles on relating to modern problems, trends, and expectations. He avoids clichés and he has the guts to say what a lot of people are thinking. His voice is confident; a little rough around the edges, but mostly smooth and his delivery takes ownership of the words. He means what he plays and says.
My Kinda Blues starts off with the social commentary of “Jesus Or The Bottle” which includes newscast snippets and is ostensibly about preachers and televangelists but really comes down to what guides you and how you allow it to affect your life. Jesus can be as bad as the bottle and both give you crutches to lean on when you should be walking upright on your own. Maybe it’s a song about responsibility. Maybe it’s a song about hypocrites. Whatever the case, it rocks a stuttering riff all the way to confession. “Text Us Girl” looks at the impersonal aspects of personal relationships in cyberspace. Instead of being physically connected the protagonists are separated by satellites and cell phones when they could just be seeing and feeling each other in person.
“Best I Can” is about dedication to his craft at the expense of his personal relationship. He’s on the road, playing music that comes from within, and he doesn’t just want to play it; he has to. His other half doesn’t understand the drive, the need, or the feral desire. Naturally he misses home too and all the while he has in the back of his mind the needs of his family and he’s doing the best he can. You can tell he has experienced all these feelings, and the song and his playing are emotional releases of the pent-up frustration of the balancing act.
Kenny Neal guests on vocals and harmonica on the acoustically driven “Same Train” and Guitar Shorty gets on board for a pair of hair-raising solos on “You Took My Baby.” Thankfully you don’t have to guess which ones are Shorty. The liner notes kindly direct your ears to the right channel. More artists should let the listener know what channel to find the guests. “They Say” is about the media and how the messages manipulate us if we let them. Again, Jones shows he is a free thinker; an intellectual voice for reason, observation and the questioning of all the answers provided for our own good.
Live At The Temecula Theater DVD
While the CD is a hot plate full of blues, the DVD Live At Temecula Theater is a barnburner from start to finish. The trio of musicians parallels the CD with Jones, bassist Sam Correa and drummer Michael Turner bringing their kind of blues to the stage with high energy, confidence and swagger. The live set features music from all of Jones’ CD releases and features his laser point focus on issues like drug abuse on “Kill The Pain”, knowing when enough is enough on “I’m Good,” self-respect and confidence on “Big Black Cat” and getting your act together on “Brand New Day.”
Jones alternates between a Les Paul and a Strat – guitars favored by 2 of the 3 J’s – and plays for all he’s worth. Correa and Turner keep up with him at every twist and turn displaying their affinity for playing music together. They are a tight band that looks and sounds like they are having fun. They never heard of a thin tone; this is a trio that knows how to fill out the sound and maximize the potential of their instruments. They are tight but loose which just about the best tribute they could give to an influence like Jimmy Page. They bring blues and rock together on Live At The Temecula Theater for a day of reckoning neither will soon forget.
Overall, Jones seems like a self-confident, self-aware man who has created his own destiny and openly disdains those who lack self-respect and pride. He seems to be above the pettiness of modern life and implores others to do so as well. Blue Rock Records is his creation. He writes, sings, and plays his songs. He brings his message to the people. He is a positive role model in a world of bad habits, late nights, and carnal sins. Dennis Jones and his band have earned a spot in your CD player, your play list, and your Pandora channels. It’s up to you to make sure he gets there. You might just find it’s your kinda blues too.
Reviewer Jim Kanavy is the greatest guitar player in his house. He has been reviewing albums in his head for 30 years and in print since 2008, and is deeply committed to keeping the blues alive and thriving. For more information visit http://jimkanavy.com.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE
Featured Blues Review 3 of 6
Brad Wilson - Blues Magic
Cali Bee Music
11 songs; 43:34 minutes
Styles: Blues Rock, R&B, AmericanaA title, the artist’s name, his silver-marker autograph, and an iridescent flame: these are the unassuming aspects of the cover art of Californian Brad Wilson’s fifteenth album. When aficionados open the CD case, will they find “Blues Magic” inside? Wilson certainly hopes so, and this reviewer knows so! This expressive artist presents eleven original tracks, skillfully mixing blues, rock, R&B, and Americana for a mesmerizing experience overall. He may not have waved a wand or pulled a rabbit out of a hat, but Brad’s nonetheless a magician as well as a musician. He and his band (drummer Adam Gust, bassist Brian Beal, and keyboardist Kirk Nelson) play over 100 shows per year and grace such Western venues as Reno’s BBQ, Oregon’s Chowder, Blues and Brews, and Southern California’s Bluesapalooza. Surprisingly, Brad’s music has even been featured in John Carpenter’s last two films and soundtracks: “Vampires” and “Ghosts of Mars.” With his being such a prolific performer, it’s rather difficult to choose only three songs that bedazzle on “Blues Magic.” However, with these up his sleeve, Wilson can’t go wrong:
Track 01: “Blues Magic”--The title track’s sultry semi-rhumba truly is a feat of instrumental prestidigitation--not to mention Wilson’s blazing-hot guitar! There is a full sound combining the smoothness of Steve Miller and the spice of Melvin Taylor and the Slack Band; it’s no wonder that Wilson chose this song as this album’s opener. “I’m lost in your spell,” he tells his lover, and in this case, the “spell” might very well be the music itself. Blues rock enthusiasts will be enchanted.
Track 04: “Hot Stuff”--Guilty pleasure alert: this shameless ode to urgent need may not be the most profound on “Blues Magic,” but it’s a surefire earworm. Fans should either grab their partners for a spin around the dance floor, or start “moving and grooving to the beat” when no one‘s watching. “I need a scratch of your--rhythm and blues,” Wilson implores, but listeners might smirk as they imagine three other words to substitute for the ending.
Track 05: “My One Desire”--Slow blues is a perennial favorite of purists, and this album’s fifth track delivers nearly flawlessly. Some might think the sentiments expressed here were done so with more sincerity on the previous song, but this one’s about love instead of lust. Every blues album needs, or at least features, a number such as this one: danceable and romance-able. Kirk Nelson’s keyboards set the mood, while Wilson’s longing guitar licks seduce.
Brad’s website is a treasure trove of photos, press articles, tour dates, free music streaming, and even journal musings. He and his fellow musicians definitely have a sunny California vibe, especially in the areas of “Blues Magic” and Americana!
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 32 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.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE
Featured Live Blues Review - Bradenton Blues fest
Bradenton Blues Fest a Rousing Success!
After months of planning plus a series of events designed to generate attention and interest, the inaugural Bradenton Blues Fest was held on Saturday, December 1 – a sunny day in Florida with a temperature around 80 degrees. Held on the brand new Riverwalk complex along the Manatee River in downtown Bradenton, the festival was a collaboration between Johnette Isham and her staff at Realize Bradenton, a group dedicated to the revitalization of the city and generating economic growth, and over fifty sponsors.
Organizers had a modest expectation of selling 800 advance tickets. They ended up with 50% more than that by the day of the fest. Blues fans arrived in large numbers as soon as the gates opened at 10 am. and kept coming until the festival site was full. At the end of the day, more than 3,100 tickets had been sold, an outstanding total for a first-year festival and a fitting testament to all of the hard work done to organize, promote and operate the event.
Opening the fest was the Steve Arvey Horn Band. Arvey grew up in Chicago and played guitar for greats like Hubert Sumlin. Now residing in Florida, he got the audience fired up with help from his dynamic five piece horn section plus the stirring vocals of Rebecca Bird and special guest Henry Lawrence, a former All-Pro lineman for the Oakland Raiders turned soul singer.
Next on the bill was Homemade Jamz, a group comprised of the three Perry siblings – Ryan on guitar, Kyle on bass and Kaya on drums. The teenagers have three well-received recordings to their credit that charts the group's maturation as musicians. Their tight grooves, animated performances and homemade muffler guitars made them an early audience favorite.
On the breaks between each act, Ben Prestage kept the music going on a small stage to the left of the main stage. Prestage plays deep blues in a one-man band format that includes steel lap guitar, drums, harmonica and other instruments. Whether interpreting classic blues songs or playing original material, he repeatedly reminded listeners about the roots of the music.
Southern Hospitality brings together three dynamic musicians – guitarists J.P. Soar and Damon Fowler plus Victor Wainwright on keyboards. Fresh from recording sessions for their upcoming release on Blind Pig Records, the trio took turns sharing the spotlight. Whether they were playing classic tunes like “The Hustle is On” or jamming on new material, it was obvious that they love making music together. Fowler, who lives in Bradenton, was joined by his wife, Lucy, and his two-month old son Maxwell, who was attending his first blues festival!
A good portion of the audience may not have been familiar with Johnny Sansone but once he took over the stage, he quickly captured their full attention. Switching between harp, accordion and guitar to support his raw vocals, Sansone thrilled listeners with originals like “Invisible”, “Poor Man's Paradise” and the title track from his last recording, “The Lord is Waiting the Devil is Too”, which won this year's Blues Music Award for Song of the Year.
Dave “Biscuit” Miller paid his dues as the bass player for bands backing Lonnie Brooks and Anthony Gomes. Now he fronts his own funky aggregation that got the crowd up on their feet and dancing to songs like “Butter My Biscuits” and “Let's Go Fishing” as well as shuffles like “Walk With You Baby”, all featuring Miller's soulful vocals.
Kenny Neal added the sounds of the Louisiana bayou to the party with an exciting set that featured a long blues medley that included snippets of “ The Things That I Used to Do”, “Since I Met You Baby”, “You Don't Have to Go” and “Honest I Do”. Neal is equally adept on harp or guitar as well as being a moving vocalist. He finished his set with his 2009 Song of the Year, “Let Life Flow”.
There couldn't have been a better choice to finish off the superb day of music than Ruthie Foster. Her powerful, rich voice mesmerized the audience, holding them spellbound throughout her set. Foster's musical universe includes all facets of American roots music from Brownie McGhee's “Walk On”, the traditional gospel piece “Death Came A-Knockin' “ or David Crosby's “Long Time Gone”. Her band – Tanya Richardson on bass, Samantha Bankhead on drums and Scottie “Bones” Miller on keyboards – added beautifully harmonized backing vocals as Foster closed the festival with a moving rendition of the Son House classic “People Grinnin' In Your Face”.
Veteran concert promoter Paul Benjamin (North Atlantic Blues Festival) served as the consultant for the festival and deserves accolades for putting together the outstanding line-up of musical talent.
Congratulations to everyone involved for a superb day and a wonderful festival experience. There is no doubt that many who attended are already eagerly anticipating next year's event. You'd be hard-pressed to come up with a better way to spend a Saturday in December!
Reviewed by Mark Thompson with photos by Tom Carter, President of the Suncoast Blues Society, one of the contributing sponsors of the Bradenton Blues Fest.
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Blues Society News
Maximum of 175 words in a Text or MS Word document format.
The Mississippi Valley Blues Society - Davenport, IA
The Mississippi Valley Blues Society welcomes Scottie Miller and the Reuptake Inhibitors to Martinis on the Rock on Sunday, December 16. The show will start at 6:00 p.m., and admission will be $7.00 for members and $10.00 for non-members. Martinis on the Rock, an MVBS business member, is located at 4619 - 34th Street, Rock Island, right on the beautiful Rock River.
Also the Mississippi Valley Blues Society presents, for your holiday pleasure, a “powerhouse” of a blues show featuring blues veteran and multi-instrumentalist Lucky Peterson, his wife Tamara on vocals and, tearing it up on guitar, the “Canadian Face-Melter” Shawn Kellerman. Showtime is 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, December 19 at Rascal’s, 1414 15th Street in Moline. Admission is a very reasonable $10 ($7 for MVBS members) for a show of this caliber. Visit www.mvbs.org for more info
The River City Blues Society - Pekin, IL
The River City Blues Society presents Rob Williams and The Soggy Bottom Blues Band with opening act Chris Stevens: Friday December 21st from 7:30 pm – 11:00 pm at Goodfellas 1414 N. 8th St. Pekin, Illinois. Admission: $5.00 general public or $3.00 Society Members.
Also on Wednesday January 9th The River City Blues Society presents James Armstrong from 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm at Goodfellas 1414 N. 8th St. Pekin, Illinois. Admission: $5.00 general public or $3.00 Society Members. For more info visit: www.rivercityblues.com or call 309-648-8510
The Prairie Crossroads Blues Society - Champaign-Urbana IL
Prairie Crossroads Blues Society welcomes legendary Soul Blues performer Johnny Rawls to the High Dive, 51 East Main Street in Champaign, Illinois on Friday December 21 for a 9:00 p.m. show.
Born in Columbia, Mississippi Rawls began performing when he was still in high school. He is a multi-nominated artist whose career spans more than four decades and includes the release of several CDs including “Soul Survivor,” his latest on Catfood Records.
Known as one of the hardest working entertainers around, Rawls routinely does as many as 200 shows each year and has performed at some of the biggest festivals around including the Chicago Blues Festival and The Portland Waterfront Festival.
Rawls is honored with a Blues Trail Marker in his home state of Mississippi which he shares with the likes of two other famous Soul Blues performers Little Milton and Tyrone Davis.
The Sugar Prophets will open for Rawls at 7 p.m. Admission to the show is $8 before 8:00 p.m. and $10 after. For more information, www.prairiecrossroadsblues.org
Illinois Central Blues Club - Springfield, IL
The Illinois Central Blues Club presents "Blue Monday" every Monday night for the last 25 years - BLUE MONDAY SHOWS - Held at the Alamo 115 N 5th St, Springfield, IL (217) 523-1455 every Monday 8:00pm $3 cover. December 17 - R. J. Mischo, December 23 - Blue Sunday With The Blue Suns, December 30 - Blue Sunday With Mojo Cats And Tombstone Bullet Open Jam. More info available at icbluesclub.org
Featured Blues Review 4 of 6
Willie McBlind - Live Long Day
Trains have figured in blues songs for decades, from the early acoustic blues through the advent of music going electric. But as air travel grew in popularity due to ease and faster travel times, train imagery slowly faded away as grist for more contemporary songs.
Willie McBlind seems to be on a mission to singlehandedly restore trains to their once lofty spot as source material. Four of their original compositions plus the bonus track have the word “train” in the tittle while four other tunes are built around railroad themes.
The other unique aspect of the band is their use of micro tonally tuned guitars and bass. Jon Catler employs a 64-tone Just Intonation guitar along with a 12-Tone Ultra Plus in addition to fretless guitars. His “harmonic blues” explores the pitches and tones found in between notes on the standard Western scale. Mat Fields uses a 12-Tone Ultra Plus bass as well as fretless instruments. Lorne Watson handles the drums and percussion. Catler shares the vocal responsibilities with Babe Borden, whose three octave range and conservatory training make her a formidable presence whenever she is singing.
They get things rolling on the opener, “Sittin' in the Train Station” with Catler's spitting out a flurry of dark-hued notes while Borden echoes his work with several piercing screams. “Live Long Day” finds them reworking the lyrics to “I've Been Working on the Railroad” over an ominous musical landscape. The lyrically challenged “Slow Moving Train” is a shuffle that gives Borden a chance to once again utilize the full force of her impressive voice, easily sliding into her upper register to unleash some cries that rival Geddy Lee or Robert Plant in full flight.
“One Thing” manages to name-drop Casey Jones in the midst of repetitive lyrics that advocate “..play the blues until your fingers bleed.” The band offers a more subdued approach on “Mighty Long Time”, with Catler's heartfelt vocal a highlight while his solo shows the unique tones his harmonic system is capable of generating. There's a hint of rockabilly on “Down the Road”, a leaving song that has Catler playing a chugging train guitar riff.
Train” builds momentum through a opening sequence with the focus on
Catler's harmonic guitar work, then he shares the lead vocal with Borden
while adding a frenzied solo to the proceedings while she uses an
autoharp to accent the arrangement. Their version of Robert Johnson's
“Love in Vain” keeps the locomotive motif going and Borden's vivid
singing goes from a deep growl to full-throat wail.
Reviewer Mark Thompson retired after twelve years as president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. and moved to Florida. He has been listening to music of all kinds for over fifty years. Favorite musicians include Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Magic Slim, Magic Sam, Charles Mingus and Count Basie.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE
Featured Blues Review 5 of 6
Rick Randlett – Change Coming On
Self-released through Fox Run Studio Records
13 tracks / 46:13
Rick Randlett has been a staple of the North Central Florida music scene since the 1980s, and many weekends each month you can find him playing out around the Gainesville area. He has a distinctively growly voice, and smooth acoustic, slide and electric guitar skills that express the inspiration of his diverse influences which include the Yardbirds, Robert Johnson and Hank Williams. Over his career he has recorded three albums, the latest of which breaks down blues and country music down to their more basic levels.
Change Coming On is a bare bones release that is promoted as an acoustic album, and it is mostly unplugged with just a few electric guitar parts thrown in to mix things up. Rick performed the vocals and all of the guitars parts, which are all that can be heard on the CD, as there are no drums, bass or keyboards. He also wrote all of the tracks, recorded it at his own studio, and coproduced it with Donny Weatherford of Gainesville’s 1st Street Music & Sound Company. So, if you find anything wrong with it, the buck stops on Randlett’s desk.
But there is not much of anything to complain about, and you will get a good idea of what the album will be like from the title track, which comes up first. From the start it is apparent that Rick is not aiming to show that he is a great singer or a fabulous guitar player (but he is very good), but rather wants to tell stories and entertain through his songwriting. “Change Coming On” is a short blues song (only around three minutes), so it only starts to tell the story of a life gone wrong that still has a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Through the magic of studio tracks, Randlett’s acoustic guitar holds down the beat while his slide guitar sets the atmosphere in the background.
The mood lifts and the tempo picks up on “Goodbye to You” as he dreams about living the good life that can be found anywhere but where he is right now. There is some nifty acoustic guitar picking and at least three or four layers of guitars on this one. With a healthy dose of pedal steel, the theme goes more country with “Promise of Freedom” as he examines the feelings of moving on no matter how much life brings you down.
From here, Rick continues to explore the blues and country genres, including some nice 12 bar blues on “All Mixed Up.” He keeps things from growing stale by adding in new elements here and there, including nice vocal harmonies on “Fool for You” and jaunty finger popping on “Big Spender,” which also has some gloriously fat acoustic tones on it. Changes of pace help to keep the album from falling into a rut, as the tempo varies considerably from track to track.
“Seeing Nothing” is the final track on the CD, and it is also the one that breaks the mold that he cast for the rest of the songs. The lyrics of this acoustic rock ballad are gloomy and Bob Seger-esque, and the picked acoustic guitar has a harpsichord feeling and sound. Over these components there is tasty and ethereal electric guitar work that fits in perfectly. I think this was a good choice to end the album, and to remind his listeners that he is not a one-trick pony.
Overall, Change Coming On is a collection of thirteen relatively short tracks that do a good job of conveying the feel and message of classic blues and country music. None of them are flashy or complicated compositions but they work well when considered as a single entity, and it is apparent that Rick Randlett’s hard work has paid off. There was a ten year gap between’s second and third albums, and I hope he does not take as long to come out with his fourth!
Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician. His blog can be found at rexbass.blogspot.com.
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Featured Blues Review 6 of 6
Franc Robert & The Boxcar Tourists - Mulligan Stew
Franc Robert & The Box Car Tourists are a solid set of musicians who play a variety of styles of original blues tunes. Robert pens all the songs for the band, plays all the guitars and fronts the band. Trent Sholl on bass and Dave Simmons on drums also provide backing vocals. Lee Pons on keys and Smokin’ Joe Sadowski on harp also lend a hand to the effort. The songs present a good mix of blues styles, and Franc plays his guitars (from acoustic and electric to lap steel) with great dexterity. The band is tight and in a good zone throughout, giving us a dozen nice performances.
“Let’s Go Jukin’” and “The Devil at Your Door” are two cuts made available for radio download. “Jukin’” opens the CD and is a rousing party time cut. The band bounces and boogies through this one in a big manner. “Devil” is at the other end of the spectrum, a subdued acoustic cut that highlight’s Robert’s finger picking. “Lay My Body Down” an “It’s Morning Time” also showcase Robert’s acoustic talents.
The lap steel gets showcased early on “Coal Burnin’ Locomotive,” a hot, driving track with big rocking guitar and a head banging beat. The heat from the coal here is intense, and it’s my favorite song on the CD. Monster guitar, a thumping beat and just a lot of fun. The title track verges on rockabilly with some more nice guitar work. “Ya Can’t Have Nothin” is slow blues done up spicy and hot. “You Worry Me” hops and bounces about, another good dance tune with slip sliding guitar and harp and vocals trading off well.
If I have one complaint it’s in the vocal mix. Robert’s vocals sound a little nasal, breathy and at times like he is gasping for air. I suspect that his live sound is a bit more realistic. Despite that, this is a pretty intense album of rocking blues. For those who like a big guitar sound, a big backline and greasy harp, you’ll get a kick out of this Tampa Bay area bands’ latest release!
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 work with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.
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