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Dave Riley and Bob Corritore
Travelin’ the Dirt Road

Blue Witch Records

By James “Skyy Dobro” Walker
10 songs; 51:07 minutes; Highly Recommended

This week let’s get introduced to newcomer Dave Riley. The “newcomer” part is a joke, of course, based on Riley’s “new found” recognition and acclaim. Born into a lifetime of music, Dave Riley has quietly been playing his blues and paying his dues, nationally and internationally,  waiting for the big break that this CD will hopefully provide.

When it comes to playing the Blues, some folks decide to do it, and some are born to it. Born in 1949 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Riley brings real-deal experiences to his art: picking cotton, Chicago habitation near Maxwell Street, combat duty in Vietnam, working as a Joliet IL prison guard in the “tombs” segregation unit of death row, alcohol and substance abuse and recovery, broken neck in near fatal car wrecks (that’s plural), and associations with everyone from “Pops” Staples to Jimmy Reed to Sam Carr to Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee, who backed him on bass guitar, and now, this duet-plus-friends with Bob Corritore on harmonica.

Travelin’ the Dirt Road is a thoroughly enjoyable album of Mississippi and Chicago styled blues that is remarkable for being unremarkable. Nothing in the CD is virtuoso-tic (singing, lyrics, guitar, harmonica, innovation), yet the more than competent musicianship and elements all meld into one of the best traditional blues audio releases of the year. 

Produced by Chicago raised but now Phoenix-based Corritore, a prolific, Grammy-nominated producer in addition to club owner and radio host, Travelin’ the Dirt Road features eight original songs by Riley, who handles guitar and vocals, with two others created by the late John Weston, Riley’s friend and former band mate. Studio guests are Riley’s son Dave Jr. on bass, Johnny Rapp on second guitar, Matt Bishop – piano, Paul Thomas – bass, and Tom Coulson – drums.

The songs feature Riley’s wonderfully gruff and powerful, world-weary voice and an understated but tone-rich guitar style. Corritore provides Little Walter inspired harp on the title track and does some uniquely interesting playing, often continuing to play through the vocals (as opposed to fills between choruses) and playing simultaneous solos with the guitar (as opposed to sharing leads). The lyrics at times are: just an excuse to delve deeply into a song (“Let’s have Some Fun Tonight”); humorous (“Well, they say I shouldn’t wear no overalls / Well because, you know, I don’t wear no doggone drawers”); blues cliché (“My Baby’s Gone”); and spiritual - from Riley’s youthful, Gospel days (“Safe At Last”).

Dave Riley has been on a journey to success since he was born, and if he has to Travel with a partner on a Dirt Road to get there, so be it. Look for this one among Blues Music Awards nominees.

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