Issue 6-49, December 6, 2012
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Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2012 Blues Blast Magazine
In This Issue
Terry Mullins has our feature interview with Nick Moss sideman, Michael Ledbetter.
We have 6 music reviews for you! Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony reviews a new release from Toney. James "Skyy Dobro" Walker reviews a new release from Rick Holmstrom. Mark Thompson reviews a new release from Little Feat. Jim Kanavy reviews a new album from Leo Hull. Rex Bartholomew reviews a new album from Jimmy Herring. John Mitchell reviews a new CD from The Blues Broads. 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,
Last weeks issue was our second Blues Overdose Issue. On the last Thursday of each month Blues Blast Magazine is featuring free Blues music downloads from some of the best new artist releases in our Blues Overdose Issue.
Last weeks issue featured FREE music downloads from Teeny Tucker, Jackie Scott, Shaun Murphy, Liz Mandeville, Matthew Curry, Ernie Southern and The Billy Thompson Band.
These artists are offering these tracks for a limited 30 day period so get your free music before time runs out. To see all the great artist tracks from last weeks issue, CLICK HERE
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Featured Blues Interview - Michael Ledbetter
Michael Ledbetter is a man on a mission.
You can hear it by the measured determination in his voice when chatting with the engaging and upbeat young man off stage.
And you can really see it when he’s under the bright lights on that stage.
Yep, no doubt about it, Michael Ledbetter is a man on a mission.
And thankfully for blues lovers everywhere, Ledbetter is bound and determined to succeed at that mission.
“This is what I would like to do; along with bringing our new brand of the blues along, I would like to also keep the straight-ahead Chicago blues alive. There’s not a lot of people trying to do that these days. It’s almost like they want to keep them (Chicago blues) in a museum case or something. But the best blues that ever happened came during the golden days of Chess Records,” Ledbetter said. “I would really like to get back to people having an appreciation for those kinds of blues. That’s what we try to do in every show we do. The Nick Moss Band – and myself personally – are on a mission to do that for the music world. And I’m going to do the best I can for the rest of my life to do so.”
Ledbetter, who plays rhythm guitar and sings in The Nick Moss Band, is armed with one powerful weapon on that mission – his voice. Seemingly as if he just hits some secret switch, Ledbetter can go from channeling Magic Sam to David Ruffin and on to Steve Perry, all the while flavoring the tunes he sings with a deep cut of soul on the side.
Though Ledbetter may not have been in all of the previous incarnations of Moss’ group that garnered five straight nominations (2007-2011) for Blues Band of the Year at the Blues Music Awards, he still knows that he’s part of something special these days.
“With the lineup that we have (Moss, guitar and vocals; Patrick Seals, drums; Travis Reed, keyboards; Matthew Wilson, bass; and Ledbetter, guitar and vocals), we are one of the best bands in the world right now. And with the new music that we’re coming up with right now, I don’t see anything that can stop us,” he said. “(In the near future) I see us being far and away straight ahead of what we are right now.”
While it might not have dawned on him at the time he was fashioning the current lineup of his band, Moss, who notched his 20th year of playing the blues in 2011, went from being the youngest member of the unit (in the Fliptops) to being the elder statesman in the bunch, almost over-night.
So, does that mean that he hears chatter about retirement, social security and rocking chairs from the rest of the guys?
“No, we really can’t do that, because he’s still really a young guy,” laughed Ledbetter. “Yeah, we are a bunch of young lions, but we can’t look at him –especially with his personality – like an old guy. He’s still so damn youthful. But in the past, he was always the guy making fun of all the old guys (in his band) and now the roles are reversed and it’s his turn all of a sudden. But he’s still young enough to beat the tar out of all of us. Anyone who’s ever seen Nick Moss knows you ain’t too sharp in the head if you try to deal on him.”
The group has racked up plenty of miles zigzagging across the country in 2012, miles that started out on the high seas.
“It’s been fantastic. We started off this year with a big bang on the Blues Cruise and that was just an excellent experience,” Ledbetter said. “And all the way through this year, the band has really been gelling together and really learning how to play with one another. And we’re having a ball doing it. It’s just been fantastic, moving around to all the different states and countries.”
You’ll have to forgive Ledbetter if just a short couple of years ago he really had no idea that he’d be playing an endless string of clubs and blues festivals – all over the world – with Nick Moss.
The highly-skilled vocalist simply thought he was just going in the studio to lay down some backing vocals on Here I Am (Blue Bella Records) and then would be going his own way.
“Yeah, the way I got into the band was, I started doing backup vocals on the newest album, Here I Am. That was my role. After I did the track “It’ll Turn Around” – did my little solo at the end there, he (Moss) came up to me and said, ‘Hey man, do you want to go on the road?’So it kind of just worked out for me.”
Ledbetter’s contribution to “It’ll Turn Around” is hard to ignore. Just as the gospel-tinged tune is about to reach its climactic pitch, Ledbetter blows through it like a gale-force wind, pushing the tune into the same territory that the Rance Allen Group used to occupy during its glorious hey-day for Stax Records in the 1970s.
“I don’t know if he had plans for me (to join the band) before that, but it just sort of came about that way. I just got lucky.”
Luck or not, Ledbetter was not simply content just to join The Nick Moss band and start collecting paychecks. Instead, he rolled up both sleeves and got right to work; making sure that he had earned the right to stick around.
And apparently, there’s no end in sight, as Ledbetter has progressed from singing backup - along with handling lead vocals on a song or two – in his early days with the group, until now, when he takes care of the lion’s share of the vocal chores on a nightly basis.
“As time went on, Nick started giving me more songs to sing and now it’s expanded to me singing my own songs,” Ledbetter said. “But that’s what’s always been great about Nick – whether in any of the lineups of The Fliptops or in The Nick Moss band – he’s very giving to the other musicians. He’s always had great lineups where he could say, ‘Hey, here’s this guy in my band and he can do this.’ It’s just been a wonderful experience and a learning experience for me. He’s really been teaching me how to do my thing.”
If the name Ledbetter rings a bell, it’s well that it should.
Huddie William “Leadbelly” Ledbetter was not only known as the King of the 12-String Guitar, he also was a major inspiration to blues and folk singers, along with a ton of rock-n-roll bands, all who covered his classic songs. Leadbelly was also probably the only human on the face of the earth talented enough to sing his way out of prison – twice - a real legend, indeed.
And he’s also a distant relative of Michael Ledbetter.
“Well, that’s what I hear. We talk about it some in the family, but I’m not as close to the Ledbetter side as I am to my grandmother’s side. But she’s told me that he’s my grandfather’s cousin,” he said. “So there’s talk in the family, and it’s certainly a good name to have if you’re going to make blues music your life. I mean, he created probably one of the best song catalogs in American music. But I try my best not to use that; I’m just trying to make my own name.”
As supremely gifted of a singer as Ledbetter is, he also understands that there’s a major difference between being a talented musician on stage and being a talented front-man on that same stage, a front-man who can take an audience on a journey, getting them there and back and giving them something to remember days after the show.
“There’s a comfort level that has to be there. If you’re just putting on a show, but are trying too hard, the crowd sees that,” he said. “And they really don’t take to that. You’ve gotta’ be comfortable and you’ve got to be with them. If you’re having fun up there, they’ll be right with you.”
Having the good fortune to spend time and play some gigs with Curtis Salgado seems to have paid dividends for Ledbetter’s stage presence.
“Just watching him (Salgado), he’s not one of those guys that screams and yells and dances around a lot. But you see that the crowd is with him the whole time,” said Ledbetter. “He does that with words, making them comfortable and bringing them in and then he holds them there with his voice. So that’s one of the many lessons that I learned from him during the short runs that I had with him – how to make music lovers feel what you’re doing on stage. Curtis is amazing at what he does and I tried to pick up as much from him as I could. I really enjoyed watching the crowd stick with him. He just made it so effortless.”
Effortless would also be spot-on when describing the way that Ledbetter sings, and for most that have seen him on stage, it should not come as a shock to learn that the young man was raised with a healthy dose of classic soul music spinning constantly in his childhood home.
“I started singing very early on – as early as I can remember,” he said. “I grew up in a soul household and my parents were always playing a lot of it. That was my main influence growing up. And as far as blues goes, my father was - and is - a huge B.B. King fan. So that was my introduction to the blues.”
What might catch them a bit off guard, however, is the fact that Ledbetter spent the better part of a decade singing opera across the city of Chicago.
“When I started to go into my teen years, I started to develop a love for other styles of music, like classical and opera. It just kind of found its way into my life and I started doing that, as well. I sang opera for a good eight years in the Chicago-land area.”
As far-fetched as it might seem from the outside looking in, according to Ledbetter, there are some common denominators between opera and the blues, or between opera and any other kind of music.
“They seem like very independent kinds of music, but for me, my favorite artists and singers – whether they are blues, soul or opera – were the most passionate singers. The ones that the passion just flowed from their voices,” he said. “I never enjoyed the most technically-sound singers in the classical realm because I didn’t feel much from them. The people that I could feel the passion in their voice were always the people that I was drawn to. But that’s what music of any kind is – the passion, the emotion, the expression. As long as that’s there, that’s the common ground for all music.”
Unlike singing, guitar playing is not second nature to Ledbetter. Still, you probably couldn’t tell that he’s not been playing guitar since birth by the deft way he takes care of rhythm-guitar duties for The Nick Moss band.
“Basically, I learned everything I know about blues guitar – well really, about any guitar – from Nick, whether it came from playing, or from him telling me who to listen to. I listen to all the old recordings learning how to be a better rhythm player,” he said. “Stuff like Jimmy Rogers and a lot of Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson, because I like what Robert Junior Lockwood and Luther Tucker were doing in the background. But just all of the great rhythm players is what I love to listen to. But Nick Moss, and Joe Moss as well, those guys are teaching me about blues rhythm-guitar playing. Those guys are my main teachers. And on down the road, I plan on being a far, far better guitar player and singer than what I am right now.”
With his hunger and eagerness to never stop learning – or improving upon his already impressive skill sets – it really does seem like the sky is the limit for Michael Ledbetter.
You could almost say that music was pre-built into Michael Ledbetter’s DNA and that he is simply traveling down the path that he was destined to, a path that he set foot on so many years ago, he can’t remember ever walking anywhere else.
“I don’t know if I ever wanted to do anything else, honestly. I don’t really think there was a moment that hit me where I said, ‘I want to be a professional musician,” he said. “You have certain things in your life that you love to do, but I’ve never really felt like there was anything other than music that I really had that I wanted to do in life. It’s a need. It’s not a want. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I WANT to do this.’ No, it’s what I NEED to do. There’s no choice, really. If I want to be happy in life, music is what I need to do and I’m lucky enough to be able to live my dream right now.”
Photos by Bob Kieser © 2012 Blues Blast Magazine
Interviewer Terry Mullins is a journalist and former record store owner whose personal taste in music is the sonic equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder. Works by the Bee Gees, Captain Beefheart, Black Sabbath, Earth, Wind & Fire and Willie Nelson share equal space with Muddy Waters, The Staples Singers and R.L. Burnside in his compact disc collection. He's also been known to spend time hanging out on the street corners of Clarksdale, Miss., eating copious amounts of barbecued delicacies while listening to the wonderful sounds of the blues.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE.
Blues Want Ad
Blues Blast Magazine Seeks Volunteer Music Reviewers
Blues Blast Magazine is looking for persons with a solid Blues background interested in helping us review the large number of CDs we receive from Blues artists all over the globe. We need reviewers to write clear concise 400 to 800 word reviews. Must be willing to review a minimum of 2 CDs a month. The reviewer keeps the CDs for doing the review.
Featured Blues Review 1 of 6
Toney - Born To Live Free
Baby Deer Recordings
On this his first release under his own name, multi-tasker Toney provides all the sounds and production, except for piano on one song. He also wrote every song. The promotion package is vague, but it appears he is from and/or based in Delaware. He commits himself quite handily on mostly funk-based material with flourishes of blues. Everything here is cohesive; none of the “patchwork” sound of some one man plays all efforts.
A cool and atmospheric groove is attained on “Empty”, introducing the listener to his soulful and pleasant vocalizations. Again on “Explode” he shows his knack for cushioning his tunes on a bed of comfortable riffs. The echoed guitar near the conclusion is the “icing on the cake”. “Set Me Free” can best be called a rollicking romp, for a lack of better words. An updated “field chant” is offered up in “Heavy Water” with its storm effects. Toney displays his versatility on the stark and moody “Miss You”, where Aubrey Everett’s poignant acoustic piano and Chris Kirby’s backing vocals are the only other elements in the song.
The title song is a defiant independence anthem. His textured guitar skills are on display at various times throughout, but he brings all those skills together in the brilliant guitar showcase instrumental “It’s About Time”. For my ears this is the highpoint of the CD. The guitars battle it out over the keyboards, as they change from a blues-rock style to wah-wah…back and forth. They reach a mellow middle section featuring gentle piano, only to reignite the guitar onslaught. This tune never ceases to entertain, play after play. The CD closes out with a brief and stark reflection on life’s struggles, augmented only by minimal percussion.
What this record amounts to is an urban vision of music melding elements of funk, soul, R&B, blues-rock, blues, jazz, etc. to create the artist’s own vision. He definitely has the right tools for the job. He knows how to layer instrumental textures to present his songs in the best possible light. His soulful and yearning voice fits perfectly into the mix. This is certainly a CD that will show new and interesting facets with each repeated listening. The adventurous listener will find many hours of enjoyment here.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE
Featured Blues Review 2 of 6
Rick Holmstrom - Cruel Sunrise
12 songs; 50:31 minutes; Suggested
Styles: Americana, Blues Based Roots Rock,
Phil Plates is an expert gamer; he is a genius on competition boards. He plays Checkers so well that he has following fans. But, Phil is so talented that he can’t help but branch out and play Chess and other games, too. Now, the Checkers purists are mad at him because he indulges in other games.
Similarly, Blues purists get upset with Rick Holmstrom when he strays from the rigid parameters they have established - in their own minds. But, singer, songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire Rick Holmstrom is just too talented to be restrained to one genre only. His restless passion for all music reminds me of Tim “Too Slim” Langford who also refuses to be boxed in. Sure, Holmstrom’s deft work with Johnny Dyer, William Clarke, Rod Piazza and R.L. Burnside proved that he could play Blues with a sonic quality found only among the best of them, but on “Cruel Sunrise” the California guitarist’s sixth album and first in five years, Rick was looking to let his creative juices flow.
In an interview on Amazon.com, Holmstrom explained the impetus of the album, “My band (Stephen Hodges drums and Jeff Turmes bass, guitar, saxophone and backing vocals) played a regular Sunday residency for years in LA. That audience just wanted to relax, drink and enjoy some good music, not be pummeled by it. We realized we sounded better as we played quieter - going for ambience, rather than the punch or impact needed for a Saturday night crowd. And as we got quieter everything sounded bigger.” The CD features that stripped down trio of Turmes and Hodges, two very resourceful, long pedigreed band mates, as well as a guest appearance on two songs by Holmstrom’s current employer for tours, gospel/soul legend Mavis Staples. The CD is available in two forms: the all original 12 song “Cruel Sunrise” CD or as a Deluxe Edition that includes a bonus disc of 12 instrumental cover songs. Throughout, there is an abundance of guitar sounds imbued with Holmstrom’s patented feel, an amalgamation of his heart, brain, and fingers.
There is a strong rock beat and shimmering guitar in the opener, “Need to Dream.” The lyrics’ message seems simple enough – we all need to dream for mental sanity. Yet, there is a pounding passion here that hints of the bigger importance of dreams as an acceptable alternative to alcohol, for example. Turmes adds great harmony background vocals. The title track follows with catchy guitar hooks and Holmstrom's distinctive guitar tone. The mid-song guitar solo is especially hot as the lyrics extoll the night owl life of most musicians.
Mavis Staples takes over the vocal chores for “Owe You Everything,” as Holmstrom's reverb drenched, tremolo guitar smokes. Here, and on Staples’ other appearance, “Lord Please,” we get tasty touches of Holmstrom’s highly regarded Gospel and Soul expertise. The biggest sing along ear-worm is the slow, harmonic “You Drive 'em Crazy” telling about a repeat offender, use’em and lose’em female, done in a Neil Young style.
Check out the release in the burning guitar solo concluding “It's Time I Lose,” the CCR shuffle sounds and the incredible guitar solo in “Creepin’ In,” and Holmstrom’s promise to his young daughters that “I’ll Hold You Close” when “monsters and villains” lurk behind doors. The message is sweet, but the guitar line is as haunting as the images they fear.
“By My Side” marries Country music and Blues the way Paul Thorn has popularized, ahead of the set closer. An almost seven-minute mid-tempo instrumental featuring Turmes’s midnight hour sax and upright bass, Hodges’s wood block metronomic rhythm, and Holmstrom’s progressive, thought provoking single guitar notes close the CD.
“Cruel Sunrise” is a record from a creative genius. Rick Holmstrom's melodic tunes, killer guitar hooks, and tight, creative trio deliver music from the heart to the heart. No, there are no 12 bar Blues shuffles nor A-A-B rhyme schemes, but the essence and emotion of cathartic Blues is still there.
Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and at www.wkccradio.org in Kankakee, IL.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE
Blues Society News
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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 3 of 6
Little Feat - Hot Tomato Records
There aren't many bands that have a history that spans four decades. Even fewer manage to remain relevant across most of those forty-plus years. Little Feat has managed to survive the death of founding member Lowell George, a long hiatus in the 80's and the passing of another original member, Richie Hayward, two years ago. Now the band offers up new material for the first time in nine years.
While the line-up has changed over the years, the band's signature sound remains intact - a hearty mixture of tight rhythms, excellent vocals and outstanding musical interplay. They also explore a variety of blues influences on this one, starting off with a rousing version of Mississippi John Hurt's classic, “Candy Man Blues”, featuring Paul Barrere on lead vocal as well as plenty of his distinctive slide guitar. The arrangement is fleshed out by Bill Payne, who doubles on piano and organ. Kim Wilson helps out on the closing cut, blowing some exquisite harp fills behind percussionist Sam Clayton's gruff singing on “Mellow Down Easy”.
In between, the band depicts a variety of points across their musical landscape. “There's a Church Falling Down” is a sorrowful lament with gospel overtones from Fred Tackett, whose shimmering mandolin work offers a glimpse of hope amidst the darkness. He trades vocals with Clayton on another original, “One Breath at a Time”, that has plenty of the funky rhythms that have always been a part of the band's allure. The band storms through “Jamaica Will Break Your Heart”, adding Darrell Leonard on trumpet and Joe Sublet on sax before slowing the pace on the final Tackett composition, the dream-like “ Tattooed Girl”.
Payne wrote four tunes with the help of Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. 'Salome” starts out with Barrere's slide channeling the Sonny Landreth sound. The music builds as Ken Gradney's bass kicks in and Larry Campbell's violin injects a touch of the backwoods behind the group vocal. “Rag Top Down” is a tribute to classic cars and equally fine women. “Way Down Under” sets a blistering pace with Payne's organ prominently featured. The title track is a joyous celebration with acoustic slide guitar and mandolin plus Campbell's violin weaving around each other while Payne piano urges them on.
“The Blues Keep Coming” was written by Payne and drummer Gabriel Ford. It ventures into the rock side of the blues with some atmospheric guitar playing over yet another robust rhythm. The late songwriter/guitarist Stephen Bruton helped Barrere compose “Just a Fever”, which rocks as hard as anything on the disc, with Barrere's slide guitar leading the way.
If you were once a fan of Little Feat but lost track of the band over the years – or, if you have never taken the time to get familiar with the group – you need to know that they remain a formidable musical brotherhood. This project is chock full of moments that illustrate the enthralling qualities that have always invigorated the their signature sound. Let's hope that we don't have to wait another nine years for another record of this caliber!
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.
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Featured Blues Review 4 of 6
Leo Hull - Bootleggin’ The Blues
9 tracks; 34:57
There really are only two kinds of Texas shuffles: fast ones and slow ones. Leo Hull & The Texas Blues Machine cooks both to perfection, simmering and stirring with equal facility and serving them up hot with a side of Rock & Roll and a dash of Country & Western on their new disc Bootleggin’ The Blues. With Buddy Whittington, formerly of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, on guitar, Ron DiIulio on keyboards, Jerry Hancock on bass, Larry Randall on sax, and Chuck “Popcorn” Lowden and Warren Dewey alternating on drums, the Machine is a well-oiled Longhorn Caddy rolling into Bluesville on a Saturday night with a trunk full of homemade blues.
The band kicks up plenty of dust on two “road” songs, “Road” and “Road Hard,” with hard-chugging rhythms and Hull’s wry delivery of his roadhouse research results. Hull is proud of his Texan musical heritage and name-checks Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Winter and other Texas icons of the blues but he gives it up for other elders of the blues, namely Jimmy Reed and Muddy Waters, in the heartfelt tribute “Bootleggin’ Blues.” From Chicago to Austin and all points in between, the electric blues has inspired musicians the world over and Leo Hull celebrates the fact that his blues are distilled from the original recipe but are not exactly the same.
Leo Hull is originally from Oklahoma and it shows in the way he draws out a lyric with his laid back vocal delivery. He may be a Texas legend but it’s clear his inner clock is running on Tulsa time. Hull stretches the words beyond the beats and chord changes, making a familiar form fresh and surprising. He makes you hang on every syllable of his words, drawing you into the action. Hull gives his band plenty of space too and they are a tight ensemble. Guitars, saxophone, and keyboards share the sonic landscape creating layers of sound on many tunes including “Blow Torch Baby” where the sax is blaring under popping guitar licks and bouncing piano runs. “Between You And Me” is a slow shuffle that gives keyboard player Ron DiIulio plenty of opportunity to strut his stuff, Larry Randall soars on sax in “Running Away Again,” and there are guitars-a-plenty on “Pistol #69” which also has some amusing lyrics from Hull.
I have complaints about this disc, but none about the music. The CD cover depicts Leo Hull by himself, with a road-worn guitar case, on a country byway in the middle of nowhere. It gives the impression this might be a solo acoustic, or possibly a bare bones disc. Even on the inside Leo is pictured holding mostly acoustic guitars, which unless they’re buried in the mix, don’t appear on the disc. This is electric Texas blues and letting people know on the cover might help sales. I must say, I did not expect the music I heard when I first played this disc. Instead I got a raucous case of the blues.
There probably isn’t a case of the blues that a Texas shuffle can’t cure anyway. You want world peace? Send Leo Hull and the Texas Blues Machine to the UN. Send them to the Middle East. Send them to Capitol Hill to lay down the boogie in the rotunda. Who can resist the laid back groove, boogie woogie piano, Leo Hull’s charm and Buddy Whittington’s slinky solos? Bootleggin’ The Blues rocks and bops, percolates and pops, stings, swings, sings and all kinds of things. Its 35 minutes of Heaven, Hell, and Houston will get you moving, get you smiling, and it will quench your thirst for some bootleg blues.
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.
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Featured Blues Review 5 of 6
Jimmy Herring – Subject to Change Without Notice
10 tracks / 59:54
Whenever I get a new album, I always try to figure out what genre the music fits into and often times find that iTunes does not agree with my gut feeling on the matter. Subject to Change Without Notice from Jimmy Herring defies my attempts to categorize it, as there are no two songs that fall into the same genre. And this is cool with me, because a CD with ten songs that all sound the same would be pretty darned dull. By the way, iTunes says this collection is “Dance & House” music, which is not even close in my book.
North Carolinian Jimmy Herring has led a wonderful life as a guitarist, having studied at the two best guitar schools in the United States: the Guitar Institute of Technology and the Berklee College of Music. Plus he has played all kinds of music with some of the best musicians around, including Phil Lesh, Derek Trucks, John Popper, the Allmann Brothers and members of the Grateful Dead. But most currently, he is the lead guitarist for Widespread Panic, which has to be the most underappreciated southern rock band on the planet. Flipping though his discography I found that he has appeared on over twenty albums for various bands and artists, and all of them are quality projects.
Subject to Change Without Notice is Jimmy Herring’s second solo release, following up on 2008’s Lifeboat. He plays guitars on this album and is joined by musicians Neal Fountain and Etienne M’Bappe on bass, Jeff Sipe on drums and Matt Slocum on various keyboard instruments. Jimmy wrote seven of the ten tracks, and the remaining tunes are respectful covers of songs from The Beatles, Jimmy McGriff and John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra. Studio legend John Keane took care of the production chores, and contributed some sweet pedal steel as well.
Jimmy Herring is a guitarist, so it is no surprise that this is a guitar-centric album, and his fans will note that this disc strays further afield than his previous release, which was more of a jazz fusion effort. “Red Wing Special” starts things off with a bang as Nicky Sanders plays a mean gypsy fiddle while Herring shows off his nifty picking skills. The speedy bass and boppy drums complete this very complex 5-minute package, and prove once again that in the music world it is entirely possible to have the total equal more than the sum of the individual parts. This stuff just works thanks to the superlative musical skills of all of the participants. By the way, this tune is an instrumental (as is the rest of the album) so you will need to be inspired by the music, not the words.
The slow rock jam “Kaleidoscope Carousel” is up next and we get to hear Jimmy’s slide and rhythm talents, which are bundled together over the very pretty keyboard layers. Then on “Aberdeen” we get to hear Herring play truly smooth guitar solos in a waltz tempo. His guitar takes the place of the human voice in this song, and makes the mood while B3 master Ike Stubblefield lays down some serious gospel organ on this track. Ike also pitches in on Jimmy McGriff’s “Miss Poopie,” which has a marvelous groove.
Carter Herring (Jimmy’s son) lends his cello to the mix on a faithful re-do of George Harrison’s “Within You Without You” and John McLaughlin’s ethereal song “Hope.” His instrument is an unexpected voice that works well in conjunction with his dad’s guitar. Bill Evans provides a tasteful jazz tenor saxophone break on “Hope,” a song that has held up well since it was originally recorded back in the 1970s.
My favorite track on Subject to Change Without Notice is “Curfew,” which features the most popular banjo player on the planet, Bela Fleck. This song has really fancy country picking that would do Albert Lee or Chet Atkins proud. The drums and bass back off to more simple lines, allowing Jimmy and Bela the opportunity to shine as they play in perfect sync and then riff off of each other. The upbeat mood of this tune carries over into the finale, “Bilgewater Blues.” Matt Slocum brings the funk out on this one with his mighty keyboard skills, and Jimmy lets loose one last time with his mighty guitar chops.
With its wide range of genres there is a little something for everybody on Subject to Change Without Notice, and you do not have to be a guitar aficionado to appreciate the great collection of music on this disc. Be sure to check out this release and Jimmy Herring’s other work, as he is a real American treasure.
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
The Blues Broads
CD 10 tracks; 44.21 minutes: DVD 11 tracks; 51.38 minutes.
Originating in occasional concerts when Tracy Nelson was on the West Coast, the ‘Blues Broads’ developed into the current project. On November 11 2011 Tracy Nelson, Angela Strehli, Dorothy Morrison and Annie Sampson took to the stage at the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, California with a band including ‘honorary broad’ Deanna Bogart on piano, sax and vocals (apparently Deanna was deemed too young to be a real ‘broad’), Steve Ehrmann on bass, Paul Revelli on drums, Gary Vogensen on guitar and Mike Emerson on keys. The results are now available on this CD/DVD package. The CD contains ten tracks which also appear, in a slightly different running order, on the DVD, which also has an extended version of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”.
For anyone who is not familiar with all these vocalists, Tracy Nelson started out with Charlie Musselwhite in Chicago and then moved west to found Mother Earth. Since then she has recorded in blues and country fields. Angela Strehli started out booking acts at Antone’s in Texas and ended up performing herself. Based in the Bay area since the start of the 1990’s, Angela has released several solo albums. Dorothy Morrison is a renowned gospel singer and was the lead vocalist on the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ worldwide smash “Oh Happy Day”. Annie Sampson was in the original production of “Hair” and a founder member of Stoneground and has been an active performer on music and theatre stages.
For the purposes of this review I shall use the DVD running order. “Livin’ The Blues” is Tracy Nelson’s song and she shares the lead with Angela Strehli. However, as soon as the four vocalists combine on the chorus you appreciate the value of the Broads’ collaboration. Next up is Annie Sampson’s “Bring Me Your Love”, a great piece of soul on which Deanna Bogart straps on her sax to add to the Memphis feel of the song – definitely a stand-out track for this reviewer! Dorothy Morrison then reprises Ike and Tina’s “River Deep, Mountain High” which is a daring thing to do, given the spectacular Phil Spector production of the original. However, this band acquits itself magnificently and Dorothy brings a special flavor to the lead vocal. Oliver Sain’s “Walk Away” is a slow blues with superb guitar and organ accompaniment to Tracy’s vocals.
There is then a double feature for Angela Strehli on her own compositions. “Two Bit Texas Town” is autobiographical, an upbeat account of a young person looking for fun in a small place and discovering the blues, a song which Angela performs solo with more superb accompaniment from the band. In contrast Angela’s “Blue Highway” provides a great opportunity for Angela, Tracy and Dorothy to harmonize. Deanna then sings lead on “It Won’t Be Long” (McFarland/Leslie), a song once performed by Britain’s Dusty Springfield. Here it’s a vehicle for some fast-paced gospel shouting from the Broads and some fine singing and boogie piano playing by Deanna, who adds at the end that “next time we’ll do it twice as fast”! Annie Sampson is solo on the Dylan song and it’s a great version too, with Gary Vogensen plucking lovely chords beneath Mike Emerson’s beautiful organ before Deanna solos magnificently on saxophone at the heart of the song. Annie then steps forward to sing the final verse without microphone, accompanied just by bass drum. The song is a tour de force all round and I find it odd that it was omitted from the CD version.
Everyone is back on stage for the final three songs. The Spinners’ “Mighty Love” is a fine slab of catchy Philly soul before the four singers are joined by Deanna on the accappella “Jesus, I’ll Never Forget”. The full band returns for the finale, inevitably “Oh Happy Day” which includes a short opportunity for audience participation: “I think they know this one”, smiles Dorothy who is clearly loving the moment.
Generally I am not a huge fan of music DVDs, feeling that the music can make its own case for attention without the visuals. However, this is an exception as the DVD does bring an additional element to the appreciation of the performance, as well as allowing us to hear (and see) the great version of “Baby Blue”. If any of this music has touched you over the years, do not hesitate, just go out and buy it!
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music.
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