Issue 7-19, May 9, 2013
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Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2013
In This Issue
Terry Mullins has our feature interview with Linsey Alexander.
We have eight music reviews for you! Rainey Wetnight reviews a new CD from Lou Pallo of Les Paul’s Trio. Marty Gunther reviews a CD from Johnny & The MoTones. John Mitchell reviews a new release from Nicole Hart & Anni Piper. Rhys Williams reviews a new album from Al Miller Chicago Blues Band. Steve Jones reviews a new release from Hadden Sayers. Rex Bartholomew reviews a new release from The Mojo Roots. Mark Thompson reviews a new album from Robert 'Top' Thomas. Gary Weeks reviews a new album by Bea B and The Axxmann. We have the latest in Blues Society news from around the globe. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
Featured Blues Interview - Linsey Alexander
As diverse as blues music is these days, when a person steps off a busy street into a hot-and-sweaty juke joint, there’s no telling what kind of blues their ears will be greeted with.
It might be some soul blues, some acoustic Delta blues, some blues rock, or perhaps some good ole’ traditional Chicago blues.
That’s part of the charm of going out for an evening of live blues music – there’s no shortage to the variety that you’re likely to experience.
However, just imagine traipsing into a blues venue on the north side of Chicago and hearing … the King of Pop?
“I had some people come up to me one night in this club I was playing in and said, ‘We’ve been looking for you, man. We’ve been at this other club looking for some blues and the first thing that came out of the guy’s mouth (on stage) was “Beat it” by Michael Jackson,’” said Chicago bluesman Linsey Alexander. “They said, ‘We didn’t go in there to hear that. We want some blues.’ So they tracked me down and I took care of ‘em. They had a group of about 22 people that came looking for me that night, ready to hear some blues. And that’s just what they got from me; some blues. But you know, people get very depressed and disappointed when they go into a blues club and they don’t hear no blues.”
Alexander has been entrenched in the Chicago blues scene since 1959 and based on the response his latest CD – Been There Done That (Delmark Records) has received, you could say that the native of Holly Springs, Mississippi is certainly enjoying the fruits of all those years of hard work.
And while Alexander does admit that it has taken years of hard and intensive labor to reach this point in his career, he’s also quick to point out who deserves the bulk of the credit for the way that Been There Done That turned out.
“I put that CD in the hands of God. When Delmark told me they wanted me to record for them, I said, “Lord let me go in there and you tell me what to do … give me some songs …’ And you know, it happened,” he said. “It was all in God’s hands. But what Bob (Koester) told me was, ‘Anybody can play the blues, but not everybody can sing it.’ So in order to produce a good CD, you’ve got to be able to sing the blues, too.”
Alexander’s fierce and emotive guitar playing is the first thing that usually catches a person’s ear when they slide one of his discs into their player – and while his guitar playing is definitely worth all that merit – his heartfelt and passionate vocals are like icing on the cake.
Not one to really puff out his chest and endlessly crow about his abilities on the six-string, Alexander merely wants people to understand he’s just trying to be himself on the instrument.
“Well, I’m a pretty good guitar player, but I’m not a rock guitar player. I’m strictly on the level of like a Little Milton, B.B. … a little bit of Albert … but most of all, I’ve developed my own style,” he said. “And I want that signature myself. I don’t want someone coming into a night club I’m playing and say, ‘Oh, man that sounds like Stevie Ray Vaughan or B.B. King.’ I want them to say, ‘That’s Linsey Alexander.’ I really don’t consider myself a fantastic guitar player, but I can get up there and hold my own … I can do what I do.”
Alexander’s understated musical talents have sure not gone unnoticed by the legion of Chicago blues fans that have flocked to see him play in numerous venues around the Windy City for over 50 years. And they didn’t slide under the radar of Steve Wagner, Delmark’s general manager and producer, either. Out to watch Toronzo Cannon (who would go on to sign with Delmark), Wagner ended up with kind of a two-for-one that evening.
“Steve was down at B.L.U.E.S. (to see Cannon) and I came in that night and after Toronzo got done what he was doing, he called me up to play. And then afterwards, Steve gave me his number and told me to call him,” Alexander said. “And he said, ‘We kind of like that one song that you did and we might want to record you.’ So that was the beginning of my career with Delmark. Everything just seemed to happen right then.”
Although that does sound like it’s part of a script from a Hollywood blockbuster, Alexander’s career has been built more on pure old sweat and hard work than it has been on lucky circumstances. Long before inking with Delmark, Alexander had a couple of different stints as the house band at a couple of blues venues around Chicago, one gig lasting a decade and the other one encompassing a dozen years.
That means he’s no overnight sensation and has had to roll up his sleeves and get busy in order to make a name for himself outside the Chicago city limits.
“That process is very, very, very difficult. I mean, I appreciated the venues that had me there for so long … but it can kind of be like a dying quail … you’re not really going anywhere, you’re just there,” he said. “It was a good way to make money, with the tourists coming to see you, and it allowed me to make and sell my own CDs, but it all came because I was a good, steady worker. But everywhere I’ve ever played at, I’ve never had just a short-tem relationship with them; they always wanted me back and wanted me to stay. When I go in to do what I do, I go in there and do it, man. And I try to do it well.”
Like a lot of the very best blues musicians in Chicago did before him, Alexander blew into town after spending a good deal of his youthful years down south. But leaving Memphis for Chicago with his sights set on becoming a member of the elite bluesmen in the electric blues capital of the world was not Alexander’s original intent for heading across the country on a bus.
“I blame it on a girl. My mother had passed and I was living with my brother and was working at a motel cutting grass and doing linen work and that kind of stuff, making close to $30 a week. I was still in school at the time and a girl came down from Chicago – her sister worked at the motel I was working at,” Alexander said. “I started dating her and we got tight. Then she left and went back to Chicago … we were never intimate or nothin’ like that. Well, I knew I had a brother up there, so I pawned my guitar, got a (bus) ticket and headed for Chicago. That’s how I ended up here. And I never did get nothin,’ (from the girl) either.”
It didn’t take Alexander very long before he realized that the Windy City had plenty to offer a young man fresh off the bus from Memphis, Tennessee.
“Chicago was a very exciting place. When I got here, White Castle amazed me. I mean, you could get a hamburger for seven cents. Oh, Man … this is where I want to be. Then I ate so many of those hamburgers that I got sick of ‘em. But when I got here, I really had no idea what a hamburger was all about,” he laughed.
He may have not have been familiar with the pleasures of White Castle before his arrival in Chicago, but young Linsey Alexander did know his way around the neck of a guitar when he stepped off that Greyhound bus in Illinois – all thanks to a family friend back in Memphis.
“Well, after my mother had passed and while I was living with my brother, this guy named Otis used to come by the house with his guitar. He would sit there and play and I would watch him very intently. And sometimes (when he left) he would take his guitar with him and sometimes he’d leave it,” said Alexander. “He was a little bit more mature than I was at that time and I guess he was going by a girl’s house and he’d just leave his guitar. And I’d sit around on the porch and fumble around on that guitar. So I don’t what happened to this guy, but one day he left … said, ‘See you later, man’ ... and he left the guitar for good. He never did come back to retrieve it.”
In short order, Alexander and that guitar became inseparable, and he would take it everywhere he went; to work, to school, even to play football.
“I had to walk about three or four miles to go play football and I’d make that walk while playing my guitar. When I’d walk back home at night, everybody would be sitting on their porch and as I walked by playing, they’d go, ‘Here comes that %&*@! Linsey,’” laughed Alexander.
While Otis’ forgotten guitar did not make the trip to Chicago with Alexander, he could not have made the trip without. It was that very axe that he pawned in order to buy his bus fare from Memphis to Chicago.
Once in Chicago, Alexander began to make regular trips to the city’s hotspots to catch cats like Tyrone Davis, Lefty Dizz and the one-and-only Howlin’ Wolf at a place called The Playhouse.
“He (Wolf) had a girl drummer with him at that time and every Wednesday night, I would be sitting there faithfully watching Howlin’ Wolf,” Alexander said. “And then I messed around and bought a little guitar and with some guys I knew, started a band. We ended up entering a talent show there at The Playhouse. We were called The Hot Tomatoes and the first song we played on stage was “Let it all Hang Out.” And we got a big response from that.”
Alexander’s first real paying gig took place at a spot known as Boots N Saddles, in Phoenix, Illinois. It was there that he found out in order to be a professional musician; you must know how to handle adversity.
“It was a New Year’s Eve show and it seemed like it was about 35 degrees below zero. Wasn’t nobody in the place except for me, my girlfriend, the drummer and his girl and the bartender,” said Alexander. “We made $19 that night. But after that, I started surrounding myself with better musicians. That helped make me better. And the bass player in my band now, we’ve been together about 45 years now.”
You can tell from Been There Done That that Alexander has a deep and reverential respect for traditional Chicago blues. But at the same time, it’s not like he’s regurgitating the same old material that’s been done thousands of times since the 1950s.
“I really don’t like to do other people’s songs. I mean, they’ve already made their money off those songs, now what you gonna’ do with them? I like to come up with my own songs,” he said. “That helps keep things fresh and helps keep the people interested in what you’re doing.”
The material that makes up Been There Done That covers a wide range, moving from humor (“Raffle Ticket”) to sentiment (“My Mama Gave Me the Blues”), all without sounding disjointed.
The title cut is about getting shot down in an attempt to hook up with the opposite sex. “It’s slang, like when you go up to a girl and try to date her and you try to tell her something and she goes, ‘Been there, done that.’ So that’s where that came from,” Alexander said.
But the cut on the disc that really showcases Alexander’s song-writing style has to be the last one on the disc, “Saving Robert Johnson.” It’s the way that Alexander mixes in the old legend of Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil with the technology that dominates today’s times that makes the song such an intriguing listen.
“I got the idea of that song from when I go down to Clarksdale to (Highway) 49. One night the guys where laying down some funky shit … boom, boom, boom … and I just got up on stage and said, ‘I’m going down to Highway 61’ and then I had to think of something that’s going to run into 49 … you know, the crossroads. And so I said, ‘I’m going to e-mail the devil.’ Then I said, ‘I’m gonna poke him on Facebook,’” Alexander said. “Then I said, ‘If you hear the screamin’ guitars, it’s just me and the devil. We’re gonna’ play the blues all night – ain’t nobody gonna’ get no sleep.’ You know, Robert Johnson was supposed to have sold his soul to the devil, and so I was comin’ to save him, so he could get some rest.”
Photos by Bob Kieser © 2013
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.
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Featured Blues Review 1 of 8
Lou Pallo of Les Paul’s Trio - Thank You, Les – A Tribute to Les Paul (Deluxe CD & DVD)
CD: 21 songs; 74:14 minutes, DVD: approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes
Styles: Modern Electric Blues; Jazz - Covers/Tributes
Where would the blues and rock world be without Les Paul? He was a pioneer in mastering one brilliant equation: electricity + guitar + amplifiers = pure magic. Millions around the world know his name and consider him an irreplaceable icon. So does Lou Pallo, of Les Paul’s trio. After close to forty years of performing with Les Paul weekly, Pallo has invited close friends in multiple genres to help him pay homage to their friend and mentor, preserving Les’ spirit through recording a collection of timeless standards adored by Mr. Paul himself. They all want to say “Thank You, Les”, and have composed a comprehensive CD and DVD set filled with music and memories. Notable artists featured here are Steve Miller, Keith Richards, Frank Vignola, and Slash, among others. None of the twenty-one tracks on the album feature Les Paul himself or are originals, as mentioned above, but these cover tributes are just as powerful. Three of them especially come to mind for their nostalgic poignancy:
Track 01: “Avalon”--Before the title of this song became the name of a Toyota model, it was the mythical place where King Arthur’s sword Excalibur was forged. This instrumental cover certainly contains as much power as that legendary blade. Originally composed by Jolson and Rose, they would certainly be proud of the way the quirky quartet of Lou Pallo, Frank Vignola, Paul Nowinski and Vince Ector go all out.
Track 13: “Nature Boy”--Steve Miller guest stars on vocals in this haunting ballad. Featured in the 2001 blockbuster “Moulin Rouge!” - its message is eerily clear: “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is to love and be loved in return….” The notes of John Colianni’s piano fall like cool rain on a summer day, as do those of Lou Pallo’s guitar. Sometimes, the gentlest messages and truths are the most effective.
Track 18: “St. Louis Blues”--This captivating cover of W.C. Handy’s classic hit features sizzling trumpet by Bob Leive and wry slide guitar and harmonica by Jon Paris. There’s an almost whimsical touch to the musical style here, delightfully tongue-in-cheek. Suitable for radio play even if other versions of “St. Louis Blues” have been staples, it’s a keeper because of its overflowing pizzazz.
The accompanying DVD features music videos of several of the songs on this album, along with commentary and humorous stories about Les Paul told by the musicians who loved and admired him most. The only disappointment is that there is no footage of Mr. Paul himself on it. Regardless, along with them, we blues aficionados want to say “Thank You, Les” for your life, licks, and ongoing legacy.
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 33 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.
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Featured Blues Review 2 of 8
Johnny & The MoTones -- Shake It
13 songs – 55 minutes
Johnny & The MoTones come out swingin’ long and strong with their self-produced collection of soul-based swing, jump swamp and gospel blues. They want you to “Shake It,” and deliver on all counts.
The band’s drawn international acclaim with three previous recordings, including one disc laid down at the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis and another devised at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala. Both of them spent months on Roots Music Report’s world blues charts. Like their most recent CD, “Nothin’ To Lose,” this one was recorded close to home -- Mosinee in north-central Wisconsin -- and mastered in Madison. The group’s led by vocalist Johnny Altenburgh on keyboards and percussion. He shares singing duties with Mitch Viegut, who doubles on guitars and dobro. They produced and engineered this project and wrote 12 songs in the set. They’re joined by Ryan Korb (drums and percussion), Bruce Lammers (bass), Chris O’Keefe (rhythm, slide and lead guitar), Paula Hall (vocals), Bob Kase (trumpet) and John Greiner (saxophone). Otis McLennon guests on harmonica for one tune, and Ann Applegate adds keyboards on another. The overall sound is that of a traditional blues-based dance band, and the MoTones perform their material with gusto, as they have since their founding in 2005.
They hit the bricks running with “Swimming Hole,” a guitar-driven boogie perfect for a roadhouse and sure to get you heading to the dance floor. It sings the praises of a midnight swim with someone special. The horns come to the fore in “I Gotta Run,” which features an extended organ-guitar break sandwiched between powerful, well-timed, swinging vocals. “Shake It” follows with a modern take on a traditional jump blues theme, as keyboard, guitar, horns and bass all take turns at driving the melody. “Row Me Down The Muddy Mississippi” is an ode to fishing, drinking and the simple life, punctuated by some nice horn lines and the phrase: “Gotta get back to my Louisiana home/Where the music plays, and I’m hearing Satchmo.” It leads into the gumbo flavored “Walkin’ Down The Road,” in which the traveling man keeps strolling until he finds a place he wants to stay. The song gives Altenburgh a chance to stretch out on the 88s before McLennon chips in with a tasty break on harp.
The band switches to jump stylings again for “She’s Still Here,” in which the singer wakes up with the greatest fear after a one-night stand. The title says it all. Who came blame him if he wants to “Get On A Harley,” the next tune. “I don’t like to wear a shirt and tie to work/I don’t date no woman who loves wearin’ skirts/I like the stars and dark blue sky/Get on my Harley and ride, ride, ride.” The band switches to a gospel feel for “Woke Up In The Morning,” which delivers a message diametrically opposite to “She’s Still Here,” and provides space for several short instrumental solos atop a strong guitar line. This time, the singer’s alone and not liking it a bit. “Set The World On Fire” is a rock flavored song of longing, this time for a woman who’s been the longtime object of his desires.
The mood slows for the Memphis-style love song, “Wonderful,” perfect for some slow grinding on the dance floor, before sliding into two R&B pleasers, “Magic Love” and the six-minute “Call My Name,” which was written by Kase, features another sweet organ solo and Hall on vocals. The disc concludes with smoky “Booze & Blues,” in which the singer plays the latter in the morning and drinks the former at night, much to the displeasure of his woman.
Pick this one up, you’ll like it. But be sure to find a partner and grab your dancing shoes. You’re going to need ’em !
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.
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Featured Blues Review 3 of 8
Nicole Hart & Anni Piper – Split Second
12 tracks; 54 minutes
Australian Anni Piper and Floridian Nicole Hart both record for Blues Leaf but had never met until the label came up with the idea of pairing them up in the studio. The band assembled for the recording brought together several players with associations with the New Jersey label: Sandy Mack (harp), John Ginty (keys), Sim Cain (drums), Juke Joint Jonny (acoustic guitar/dobro), Ron Rauso (guitar) – collectively known as ‘The Blues Leaf All-Stars’. Anni plays bass as well as sharing the vocals with Nicole. In terms of material this is mainly a covers album, each girl contributing just one song. Anni’s “Ain’t Nobody Watchin’” is a mid-paced blues with plenty of harp; Nicole’s “Listen To The Rain Fall” a sad ballad with shimmering electric guitar and melodic harp over acoustic rhythm. Although the sleevenotes do not indicate who is singing lead where, Anni’s voice is a little deeper than Nicole’s, with a grittier edge.
The covers range across material from established bluesmen such as Memphis Slim to contemporary writers. There are also versions of the Everly Brothers “Walk Right Back” and Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby” which certainly have no blues content. With such well-known tunes I would want to find a new aspect but these are pretty straight covers and, for me, among the weaker tracks here. A seven minute version of Janis Joplin’s “One Good Man” gives plenty of opportunity for the girls to demonstrate their grittier side and Rauso his guitar chops but, for me, overstayed its welcome.
“Twelve Bar Blues” (Trudell/Hartsoe) which moves along at a fast pace, recounting its tale of “my night for drinking”. A trio of songs by contemporary writers appears mid-way through the disc: Sugar Ray Norcia’s “Why Should I Feel Bad?” gets a torrid vocal makeover while Sean Carney’s “Bad Side Baby” is a harp-led shuffle. Tom Gray (Delta Moon) wrote “You Can’t Make Somebody Love You” and Anni’s deep voice gives the song the feel of old blues, accentuated by the acoustic guitar support. Homer Banks and Allen Jones’ “What Will Later On Be Like” adds a touch of Memphis soul to the cocktail and finds the girls in testifying mood.
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. Current favorites from recent releases include Chris Antonik, Shaun Murphy, Barbara Carr, Johnny Rawls, Andy T/Nick Nixon, Otis Grand and Doug Deming.
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Featured Blues Review 4 of 8
Al Miller Chicago Blues Band – In Between Time
17 songs – 1.2 hours
Despite a blues resume dating back nearly 50 years, singer and harp player Al Miller has a habit of disappearing for years on end. This is a shame, because his experience reflects the regard in which he is held by other musicians. In Chicago in the early 1960s, he played with the legendary blues mandolinist Johnny Young and was a member of The Wurds (perhaps the first white blues band signed by Chess Records, in an attempt to cash in on the success of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band at Electra Records). This was followed by a couple of years in the Bay Area in the late 60s playing with Michael Bloomfield and a great (if under-rated) 1995 solo album, Wild Card. Now he is back with In Between Time, which was originally recorded over three days back in 1999 and 2000 and released independently. It has now been re-issued by Delmark and, for fans of classic Chicago blues, it’s an essential purchase.
Miller uses a crack band of Chicago musicians (or, perhaps more accurately, two crack bands - one featuring on the two 1999 dates and one on the May 2000 session). Musicians include John Primer, Billy Flynn and Dave Specter on guitars, Mike Schlick, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and his son Kenny Smith on drums, Harlan Terson and Billy Flynn on bass and Barrelhouse Chuck and Ken Saydak on piano. Miller also produced the album, doing a great job on capturing the Chicago sound of an early Buddy Guy/Junior Wells album.
There is nothing new or ground-breaking on this album, but it does exactly what it says on the tin (you’d probably be unimpressed if the “Al Miller Chicago Blues Band” actually played Scottish reels). Of the 17 songs, only seven are originals (five written by Miller and one each by Flynn and Primer). The other 10 are a mixture of well-known classics, such as BB King’s “I Need You So Bad” and Willie Dixon’s “Dead Presidents” and some oft over-looked gems, including three by the aforementioned Johnny Young. All the songs expertly mine the traditional Chicago blues style and the originals fit seamlessly with the covers. Miller’s lyrics even address the joys (or otherwise) of living in the Windy City in “A Better Day”, “Lake Michigan Waters” and “Blizzard”.
The furthest Miller moves away from traditional Chicago blues is on the previously unreleased “Blizzard”, a proto-rock song that actually sounds like it might have been written in the 60s rather than the late 90s. It adds a ferocious punch to the album.
Miller is a fine singer and harmonica player but he is also a generous band-leader, offering his band plenty of opportunity to shine. Billy Flynn in particular turns in some dazzling guitar playing, not least on “Lake Michigan Waters” and in his Earl Hooker-esque wah-wah work on “A Better Day”. John Primer takes the lead vocals on two songs: “I Need You So Bad” and “Dead Presidents” (the only song that also features a horn section). “My Baby Walked Out” is a prime example of Miller’s inclusive approach: two verses of singing are followed by a Barrelhouse Chuck piano solo and a Billy Flynn guitar solo before Miller himself lets rip on the harp. All the while, Willie Smith is laying down that classic Willie Smith groove. The album also features three instrumentals that allow the musicians even more space to stretch out: the harp-led “I Got It”, and the more guitar-focussed “Billy’s Boogie” and “Lawhorn Special”.
There is a tangible “live” feeling to this album, perhaps not surprisingly so given that all 17 songs were recorded in just three days. It is clear, however, from the fact that Flynn plays both guitar and bass on five songs that this was not always the case. Either way, Delmark are to be congratulated on re-releasing this album, and we have to hope that Miller does not leave it so long before his next one. This is an absolute belter.
Reviewer Rhys Williams is a blues guitarist who lives in Cambridge, England, where the geography is so flat that the bitterly cold winds coming from Siberia make English summers not dissimilar to lakeside Chicago in the depths of winter.
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Featured Blues Review 5 of 8
Hadden Sayers - Rolling Soul
Hadden Sayers return to the limelight with 2011’s Hard Dollar put him squarely in position to relaunch his career. On the album was the cut "Back to the Blues;" it was nominated for the Song of the Year Award at the 33rd Annual Blues Music Awards and, in fact, was my favorite new song in 2011. I was excited to get Hadden’s new CD in the mail to review and I was not disappointed when I listened to it– it is another big hit!
Foster returns to guest on a track. “Lay Down You Worries” was written
while Sayers was in Cancun. The song reflects that the people in one’s
life is what is most important to us. Foster and Sayers were made to
sing together. They compliment each other so well and get into a groove
together that is so natural and easy to listen to.
“Tippin’ In” is a swinging tune, with Hadden bopping and bouncing as he flips over his gal as is "Crazy enough;" Sayers can make you want to dance or cry oh so effectively. The closing tune “Can’t Get You Off of My Mind” blends some sweet sounding slide into the mix and Sayers gives us another solid performance. “Insomniac Blues” takes it slow and Sayers strips it down effectively. He groans out the tune as he yearns for his women. In “Alone With the Blues” I wanted to male sure he had no sharp objects near by as he bares some very dark emotions. Very edgy and cool!!
All the cuts here are great. Sayers has another solid effort and once again has delivered a killer CD for us to enjoy. I really recommend this one!
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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Featured Blues Review 6 of 8
The Mojo Roots – What Kind of Fool
11 tracks / 48:48
I made it a point to catch some blues shows when I was in Missouri last month, and I have to say that every time I go to a bar there to check out a band I never come away disappointed. Somehow over the past few years I have missed The Mojo Roots, but after listening to their new CD, I will have to make a better effort to find one of their gigs the next time I am in the area.
The Mojo Roots are based out of the Show Me State, and the band is made up of Jordan Thomas on vocals, harmonica and guitar, Trevor Judkins on lead and slide guitar, Jim Rush on bass, and Andy Naugle on drums. Thomas also produced this album, and this sophomore effort includes six original cuts and five cover songs from the likes of Albert King, Otis Redding and John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers.
The first thing that struck me when listening to this album is how well-constructed and easy it is to listen to. This is apparent from the get-go with the original title track which is a nice bridge between traditional blues and a more contemporary sound. Thomas’ voice is smooth, and the plot is the usual tale of a man whose lady is stepping out on him. The guitars are artfully layered with a righteous dose of slide and it is perfectly mixed and recorded. This song is a slick as they come, and was the perfect choice to get things started. I wish we had a radio station in Los Angeles that would play stuff like this!
From there they transition into a modernized take on Albert King’s “I Got the Blues” which is highlighted by a sublime patchwork of rhythm and lead guitars. With half of the play time and no horns or keys this song ends up with a different character than the original. Despite its more bare-bones personality, The Mojo Roots were able to make this is one as smooth as silk. Another well-done cover is the 1965 Otis Redding A-side, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” This truly beautiful song is a classic and Thomas’ voice is certainly up to the task. John D’Agostino contributes some tasteful organ work that makes the mood on this track complete.
Their original songs have clever lyrics and are well-constructed. “That Kind of Girl” did not go where I expected from the title, but instead ended up as a celebration of a woman that is totally out of reach. “Deaf, Dumb and Blind” is the heartbreaking tale of a woman who desperately pins her hopes on a man that will never treat her right. The quality of these songs makes me wish they could have included a heavier mix of original tunes on.
The boys finished up this project with a Chicago-tinted cover of Little Johnny Jones’ “Hoy Hoy Hoy.” This fast-paced romp features Thomas’ harmonica, and he coaxes a marvelous tone out of his harp. The band performs like seasoned veterans that they are; Rush keeps things moving throughout with a relentlessly walking bass line, while Naugle (the human metronome) beats his snare and crash cymbal to death. What a fun way to bring the curtain down on the show!
If you think that there is nothing new or exciting in the more conventional blues genres, What Kind of Fool will change your mind and give you hope for the future. This band is fresh and delivers the goods with eleven first-rate tracks, and they obviously went all out to give us their finest effort. Any up-and-coming artists should pick up a copy of this album so they can see how high the bar has become, and to get some pointers on what can be done with a modern blues album.
As I said earlier, I am jonesing to catch The Mojo Roots’ live show, and apparently there are a few other folks who agree, as the band was a semi-finalist at the 2013 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee. Give the CD a listen, and if you are in the Missouri area and like what you heard, check them out for yourselves. You might run into me there..
Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at www.rexbass.blogspot.com.
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Featured Blues Review 7 of 8
Robert 'Top' Thomas - The Town Crier
It is not uncommon for a new recording to appear featuring a veteran musician who, despite a lengthy resume, has managed to escape the notice of the majority of the blues community. Sometimes these musicians have spent their careers backing “bigger” names. Other times they may not have strayed too far from home in order to be there for their family or to hold down a day job. In some cases, the musician is competent but lacks the extra talent and skills needed to successfully front a band.
No need to worry about any of those concerns with Robert “Top” Thomas. A founding member of Smokehouse, a band that recorded for King Snake Records in the 90's, Thomas has played guitar and added vocals to the bands of Lazy Lester, Bill 'The Sauce Boss' Wharton, Noble 'Thin Man' Watts and Victor Wainwright. A native of Florida, Thomas serves up a concoction that is part Delta, epitomized by Muddy Waters, mixed with a dose of the loping rhythms from the Louisiana swamps that sparked the work of Lightnin' Slim and Lazy Lester. Throwing in some Jimmy Reed for seasoning, Thomas ends up with a potent brew that would sound right at home in Florida's swampland.
Thomas hits it hard right from the git-go with producer Stephen Dees on bass and Billy Dean on drums laying down a tough boogie beat on “Mississippi Quickie” behind the leader's raw vocal and urgent guitar work. Stephen Kampa gives listeners a taste of his prowess on harp that helped him win the 2012 Florida Harmonica Championship. The pace immediately downshifts into a more relaxed groove on “Blues Grass” with Thomas bemoaning the current economic climate and using his slide guitar to drive the point home over harp ace Brandon Santini's fine blowing. Beth McKee's accordion lends a sprightly Cajun touch to “The Same Thing Could Happen To You” while Thomas's vocal tone and delivery recall Watermelon Slim.
Highlights include “King Snake Crawl” with Thomas paying tribute to some of his musical compadres including Watts, Ace Moreland an d Root Boy Slim. Another musician that Thomas worked with, Mark Hodgson, maintains the high level of harp playing. The tune, written by Thomas and Dees, takes you deep into the blues netherworld with a hypnotic beat that offers your only escape from the clutches of the swamp. Wainwright plays piano and organ throughout the disc and joins Thomas for a compelling duet on “Bad Seed”. Victor's soulful style pairs well with the rough-hewn singing from the leader, who delivers a taut guitar solo to answer Wainwright's stately organ solo. Thomas does some nice acoustic picking on “What's the Matter Ma” and trades licks with Damon Fowler on dobro on “I'm a Freight Train. Santini contributes another standout performance on “Daddy's Gone” while Thomas bluntly says good-bye to a no-good woman.
There is a gospel element to “It Ain't Easy”, a song that illustrates the limitations of Thomas's voice. He returns to his element on the title cut backed by Patricia Ann Dees on tenor sax and Jeffrey Willey, another harp player, singing about another woman that broke his heart and seeking solace through his guitar, then suffering a humorous breakdown as the song ends. After a brief, dazzling opening from Wainwright on piano, Thomas rolls through “Sugar Shop” as he attempts to entice a woman to give his loving a try. “YeeHaw Junction” is the lone instrumental with Kampa and Thomas getting the chance to stretch things out a bit.
Thomas and Dees had a hand in writing most of the material with Wainwright helping out on two tracks. Collectively, they manage to maintain a high standard that gives Thomas plenty to work with. And he is up to the task. This recording has a authentic down-home feel and stays in the pocket, never falling victim to screaming solos or straying too far from the blues traditions. Thomas may not break any new ground – but he knows how to make good music. This little gem proves it time and time again.!
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!
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Featured Blues Review 8 of 8
Bea B and The Axxmann - Born With The Blues
M Mac Blue Publishing
Although this CD is made up of only eight songs and clocks in at a little more than half an hour, it is ample introduction enough to unveil the talents of singer Bea Bahr and Matt “The Axxmann” Macdermaid.
The only cover tune is the Curtis Mayfield hit “People Get Ready.” The rest of the material is written by Bea B and The Axxmann and suffice it to say it is pleasurable listening.
From attending church services as a child in Laurel, MS, Bea Bahr seemed to find that singing was going to be her natural vocation in life. For Matt MacDermaid the sounds of the Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Blues breakers were to be his keys in nurturing his growth as a musician. And like any other musician wanting to make a comfortable living, he was playing a variety of styles. Teaming up with Bea Bahr is probably his coming out party and for MacDermaid this is a relaxed environment for him as he can lay down his favorite blues licks. The CD is very much a laid back affair and you are eased into it with opening cut “Hush Y’all” which is a nice mid tempoed number with The Axxmann adding his notes in the right spots and not overplaying to turn this piece of work into guitar driven blues rock. It’s all about creating a palette for Ms. Bahr’s vocals bordering on sultry and nicotine infected.
It’s not to say MacDermaid stays hidden in the background. The title track “Born with the Blues” sounds like a musical distant cousin to “Rock Me Baby” but The Axxmann’s slide bolsters this baby along nicely as it lopes along and kicks things up a notch or two in third track “I Will Always Love You.” Eric Kot’s sax is a nice little party favor and the party seems to be shifting into high gear as jazz and swing are made contemporary enough without having to think it’s old fashioned and by throwing good old fashioned rock n roll into the mix you can’t really go wrong.
And if you were waiting for a slow blues burn to create your own personal crossroads, than “Hole In The Floor” can be your medicine to a better life. The Axxmann is given a lot of solo space and here he cuts loose with a solo with the effects of a dam about to burst. It’s the perfect prequel to “Flint City Blues” which can be categorized a blues rock but if you’re up and dancing is you really going to bother with labels?
Bahr’s prayers for salvation are unfurled in “Crying In My Sleep” with MacDermaid’s guitar lines carrying the song to its promised land with the Axxmann exorcising his demons through emotional guitar playing seeking redemption from the storm. It’s these musical high spots that enable Bahr to take it home to church and we would be happy enough to be her disciples going down whatever path she chooses.
This CD might not be the most requested on certain blues stations but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t deliver the goods. Through repeated listening’s there is something to be found and enjoyed. Two individuals crossed paths and through their meeting produced an album showcasing material written not to compete with other gangs on the block but to have some fun in the studio with other musicians who were more than willing to bring their best game face into the picture. At least it’s honest and in a musical climate full of poseurs and image seekers, integrity like that is very hard to come by these days.
Reviewer Gary Weeks is a contributing writer. He resides in Marietta, GA.
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Blues Society News
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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. May 13th - Tombstone Bullet http://tombstonebullet.info, May 20 - Peter Karp & Sue Foley http://www.karpfoley.com, May 27th - Gina Sicilia http://www.ginasicilia.com/fr_home.cfm, June 3rd - Hard Rock Blues Band, June 10th - Jarekus Singleton http://artistecard.com/jarekussingleton, June 17th - Laurie Morvan Band http://www.lauriemorvan.com/, June 24th - Reverend Raven & Chain Smoking Altar Boys Http://www.reverendraven.com. More info available at icbluesclub.org
Madison Blues Society - Madison, Wisconsin
The Madison Blues Society will host their 11th Annual Blues Picnic
on Saturday, June 23, 2013 at Warner Park in Madison, Wisconsin,
with headliner Matthew Skoller. This free public festival will
feature the Boys and Girls Club's “Blues Kids” and a fantastic
line-up of popular local and regional blues bands.
Crossroads Blues Society - Rockford/Northern Illinois
The Inaugural Rockford Field of Blues Festival will be held on Saturday, June 22nd at Rockford Aviators Stadium, 4503 Interstate Drive, Loves Park, IL. The event features Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials as headliners and also has Willie Buck and Taildragger with Rockin’ Johnny Burgin to celebrate Delmark Records 60th Anniversary. Delmark’s Dave Weld and the Imperial Flames and Toronzo Cannon are also featured on the bill as are Madison’s Aaron Williams and the HooDoo and the Flaming Mudcats from Auckland, New Zealand!
Advanced tickets are only $10; gate admission is $15. Attendees can bring a lawn chair and sit on the field or relax in the stands; there is a large, covered pavilion on the stadium promenade for shade. This event is conducted by Crossroads Blues Society and all proceeds support their Blues in the Schools Program. They have done 116 programs for over 35,000 students in Northern Illinois since May 2002.
Crossroads is excited to bring a blues festival back to the Rockford area. There has never been an annual blues event in the Forest City, but Crossroads aims to fix that. They hope to keep this going and even expand to two days next year if this is successful. Local response has been superb and there is a great buzz for this deep blues event that they have planned.
Tickets are available on line at http://fieldofblues.blogspot.com and information on mail order sales is also available there. Local Rockford area venues selling tickets include Aviators Stadium, Guzzardo’s Music on Charles Street, the Adriatic Bar on West Jefferson Street, Kryptonite Bar on West State Street, CD Source on East State Street, Toad Hall Records on Charles Street, Just Goods Fair Trade Store on 7th Street and the Cumulus Broadcasting Office on Brendenwood Road. Call 779-537-4006 for more information.
Also Crossroads Blues Society is planning other hot stuff for local blues fans! Friday May 24th: Ana Popovic at the Adriatic in Rockford. Start time 9 PM. $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Tickets printed and available for purchase for this great guitar diva's first show ever in Rockford! Wednesday June 12th: Dave Fields at the Adriatic. Info TBD, in the works. And Saturday August 24th: 4th Annual Byron Crossroads Blues Festival in downtown Byron IL. Gates open at Noon, music 1 PM to 10:30 PM. $7 advanced tickets, $15 at the gate. For more info see www.crossroadsbluessociety.com.
River City Blues Society - Pekin. IL
The River City Blues Society presents the following shows at Goodfellas 1414 N. 8th St., Pekin, Illinois - Dave Chastain DC3: Friday May 24th 7:30 pm, Laurie Morvan Band: Wednesday June 19th 7:00 pm, Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin Altar Boys: Friday June 28th 7:30 pm. Admission for all these shows is $6.00 general public or $4.00 Society Members. For more info visit: www.rivercityblues.com or call 309-648-8510
The Piedmont Blues Preservation Society - Greensboro - NC
The Piedmont Blues Preservation Society’s 27th Annual Carolina Blues Festival presented by YES! Weekly is being held in downtown Greensboro, NC, May 18, 2013. We’re excited to announce Janiva Magness and Kenny Neal will be headliners for the day-long event.
Janiva Magness has been nominated for five Blues Music Awards: B.B. King Entertainer Of The Year Award, Contemporary Blues Female Artist Of The Year, Album Of The Year, Contemporary Blues Album Of The Year, and Song Of The Year. The Awards Ceremony happens just 9 days before our festival.
Kenny Neal, 2011 Louisiana Music Hall of Fame Inductee, is an acclaimed multi-instrumentalist and is widely renowned as a modern swamp-blues master. His new release, Hooked On Your Love, follows the triumph of his multi-award-winning 2008 comeback album, Let Life Flow. The CD raked in the accolades: three Album Of The Year awards, two Song of The Year awards for the title track, and Kenny himself garnered two Artist of the Year honors. More Info at http://fest.piedmontblues.org
Friends Of The Blues - Watseka, IL
Now in their seventh season, The Friends of the Blues present 7 pm early shows: May 16 – James Armstrong, Venue TBA; May 30 – Bryan Lee, Kankakee Valley Boat Club, 1600 Cobb Blvd., Kankakee IL 815-939-1699. Thur, June 6, Ori Naftaly Band from Israel, Kankakee Valley Boat Club www.orinaftaly.com, Tues, June 25, Laurie Morvan Band, Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s Club www.lauriemorvan.com, Thur, July 18, Jerry Lee and the Juju Kings - Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s Club - Outdoors! www.jujukings.com/index1.htm, Thur, July 25, Albert Castiglia w/ Donna Herula, The Longbranch Restaurant in L’Erable, Outdoor show www.albertcastiglia.com www.donnaherula.com, Thur, Aug 15, Ivas John Band, Moose Lodge www.ivasjohn.com, Thur, Aug 29, Little Joe McLerran, Venue To Be Announced www.littlejoeblues.com, Thur, Sept 19, Reverend Raven and Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys, Kankakee Valley Boat Club www.reverendraven.com, Thur, Oct 3, Too Slim and The Taildraggers – “It’s Everybody’s Birthday Party” - Kankakee Valley Boat Club www.tooslim.org, Tues, Oct 22, Kilborn Alley Blues Band - Venue To Be Announced www.kilbornalley.com, Thur, Nov 7, Terry Quiett Band - Venue To Be Announced http://www.terryquiettband.com More information: www.facebook.com/friendsoftheblues or email@example.com
West Virginia Blues Society - Charleston, W.V.
The West Virginia Blues Society, Inc. presents the return of its rockin’ annual event, the 6th Annual Charlie West Blues Fest (CWBF), Friday, May 17th and Saturday, May 18th at Haddad Riverfront Park in Charleston, WV.
This free event, which has gained national attention throughout its five year history, will play host to some of the most talented and up-and-coming blues artists in the country and from around the world. The return of the legendary Ava Popovich as well as Davina and the Vagabonds will surely get you moving, and other highlighted artists include Kim Wilson & The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Tinsley Ellis, Mud Morganfield, Kristine Jackson, Grand Marquis Band, Southern Hospitality, Bryan Lee & The Power Blues Band and Mojo Theory, just to name a few..
The CWBF is an annual event dedicated to support wounded service members through the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP)—a nonprofit organization whose mission is to honor and empower wounded warriors. For information on sponsorships and donations contact Jack Rice, West Virginia Blues Society at (304) 389-1439or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.wvbluessociety.org.
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