ELVIN BISHOP’S BIG FUN TRIO Elvin Bishop (Alligator) *** +
Elvin Bishop is the master of good time blues, and his latest disc is yet further proof. In a trio format everyone has to be on their game- Elvin with Willie Jordan on cajon and vocals and Bob Welsh on guitar and piano give each song everything they have, with satisfying results.
Bishop has been busy since 2014’s Can’t Even Do Wrong Right… he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, The Blues Hall Of Fame, and won a pile of awards for that album too. Big Fun Trio is a loose, easy going record that will sound familiar if you’ve heard his last few albums. Willy Jordan has played percussion on some of Elvin’s stuff, and Bob Welsh is a member of his regular band. “In a trio, there’s no place to hide” Elvin says, “You need to be totally into it and you got to have the right guys. The combination of the three of us clicked big time- we went out and played a couple of gigs, and it was really cool to see how the people reacted to the goin’-for-it feel of the music.”
The album’s laid back front porch vibe mixes 4 Bishop originals with 3 co-writes and 5 well chosen covers. The blues usually involves some harmonica too, so Elvin reached out to his friends Charlie Musselwhite, Kim Wilson and Rick Estrin to come have some fun too, and the mix is just right. Like the Chicago Sun-Times says; “It’s impossible not to like Bishop. He’s always singing something lowbrow and uplifting.” Now if THAT isn’t a good time, then what is?
I prefer Elvin’s 2014 disc Can’t Even Do Wrong Right because I find it more energetic, but as far as ‘uplifting’ goes, I’d put Big Fun Trio on the same level. 3 great musicians having a good time with friends dropping by to blow harp, this one hits the spot.
ESSENTIALS: Keep On Rollin’ It’s All Over Now, Southside Slide
TEARING UP THE RAILS Lucas Haneman Express (independent) ****
Has Ottawa become a hotbed for the blues? So it seems. Dan Deslauriers is from there and so is Monkeyjunk- now here comes the Lucas Haneman Express with their sophomore set, released in December. Upbeat, modern blues and haunting ballads with a touch of country here and there, this one really hits the sweet spot.
The more I listen to this, the more I like it. As a singer Lucas (vocals & guitar) recalls Steve Miller, particularly on Steve’s last couple of records, blues efforts called Bingo! and Let Your Hair Down. Some great original material here, high energy stuff like The Verdict and Fire Storm. If you’re into ballads- and with the blues you have to do those just right- check out Waiting At Your Door, which features delicate organ work from guest Jessica Whitely of The 24th Street Wailers. The biggest surprise, and I would think the song with the best chance at chart action, is the slow stomping blues version of Bryan Adams’s Run To You which also features some great harmonica work from Monkeyjunk’s Steve Marriner- a guy that really seems to get around!
Three of the tracks on Tearing Up The Rails were recorded at Sun Studios in Memphis to capture a bit of that southern magic, and they did- Give Me Life, Blind Man’s Blues and That’s The Truth. From a totally rockin’ take on Steppenwolf’s classic Magic Carpet Ride to slow and deep blues like That’s The Truth, this disc is bound to make waves.
ESSENTIALS: That’s The Truth, Run To You, Waiting At Your Door
LIKE A RIVER Allbut6ix (Last Tango) ****
Here is the follow-up to Allbut6ix’s 2013 self-titled debut. Almost a throwback to 70’s/80’s pop song craft, a 7 song cycle of upbeat and optimistic songs that that move fluidly between folk/roots, blues based soul and acoustic pop with some Brazilian flourishes. If you liked their first album, you’re gonna love this one!
Allbut6ix is the brainchild of Montreal’s Dwight Druick. As he explains it, the group “…was an idea that was born in the hearts and arms of those that love me, and was brought to fruition with a little ‘king sized help’ from some of my closest musical friends.” What’s refreshing about Like A River, aside from the musicianship, is that these are pop songs with quite a bit of depth- not chart chasers, but honest songs that really speak to you. The title cut is a celebration of new life chapters, Everyday People is a tribute to hardworking folks, and I Don’t Need To Know is a Brazilian promise of a moment of stolen love. There are 7 songs in all, and I could’ve done with a few more.
Ultimately, Like A River is a set of songs that does what good music does best- carry you away, take you away from the day-to-day world of b.s. and give you the power to dream, if only for a little while. “You can take Allbut6ix as a celebration of the power that music has always had to connect people” says Dwight. “You can take it as a finger in the face of the doubters and downers, but please- just take a moment to listen.” Pop music as escapism instead of aural wallpaper? Yeah… I’ll take some of that.
ESSENTIALS: Heaven Must Feel This Way, I Don’t Need To Know, Like A River
HE SAW IT COMIN’ Jack Russell’s Great White (Frontiers) ***
Back in the day, I can’t say I was a Great White fan. I liked their version of Ian Hunter’s Once Bitten Twice Shy, and after that horrific club fire in Rhode Island that killed 100 people, I joked that they’d just killed off their fan base- a dick thing to say. But this is a mostly different band today, and He Saw It Comin’ is a better record than expected.
Aside from Jack Russell, the only holdover from the old band on He Saw It Comin’ is former bassist Tony Montana, now on guitars and keyboards. “The music comes across very dynamically, it’s what I always wanted it to be” says Russell. “Tony was a catalyst for moving forward. We never had the opportunity to write music together before, I also never knew he played guitar. He’s my co-pilot, one of my best friends… I wish we would’ve been this close back in the day.”
He Saw It Comin’ is actually a fairly diverse record. Jack Russell is sort of a journeyman rock vocalist- no Robert Plant, more Jon Bon Jovi-ish, but he gets the job done. In terms of the songs, it sounds like the group is trying to avoid sounding like an 80’s throwback, though I’m sure many of their fans come from those days. I assume the difference in name, too, is an attempt at that tricky balance- attracting fans that remember the Great White ‘brand’, but the singer being a part of the band name signaling that it’s somewhat different too. It seems a similar plotline to Seventh Star from 1984, credited to “Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi”, when the guitarist had actually intended it as a solo record. The longer a band stays around, the weirder things tend to get.
I don’t see He Saw It Comin’ setting the world on fire, but it’s a pretty agreeable record and probably decent company on a good highway burn in the summer days that seem so far away right now, something for riff rockers to sink their teeth into.
ESSENTIALS: Blame It On The Night, She Moves Me, Love Don’t Live Here
BACK TO THE SHACK Jack Mack & The Heart Attack Horns (SSR Freeroll Records) *****
Once upon a time, this was just another disc in a pile on my desk waiting to be reviewed. Little did I know that it would shake my soul and become one of my favorite records of all time. If you’re into Stax/ Volt, if Sam & Dave, Booker T., Wilson Pickett and The Blues Brothers show up on your play list regularly, you’re about to fall in love.
Produced by guitarist Andrew Kastner and sax player Bill Bergman, Back To The Shack is a supple, passionate musical adventure. 9 of these 10 songs were co-written by Bergman and Kastner along with vocalist Mark Campbell, so this is who they are. The dedication on the back cover will give you a real clue as to what they’re about here; “This album is dedicated to those who inspired our musical journey; James Brown, B.B. King, Solomon Burke, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Albert King, Marvin Gaye, Wilson Pickett and so many others.” You don’t have to listen too intensely to hear that, as the band proudly wear their influences on their sleeves.
Back to The Shack is exciting, funky and soulful Southern flavored R&B. Andrew Kastner’s guitar playing grabbed me right away, muscular and forceful in an SRV sort of way, and the horns don’t just sound ‘tacked on’, they’re the lifeblood of these songs. 12 musicians and singers in all on this disc, with each pulling their own weight. The keyboard work of Carlos Murguia and Mike Finnigan, especially the fender Rhodes-type stuff, really gets me- almost a mysterious voodoo kind of thing.
I have to agree with what Cleve Baker of Confessing The Blues says about Back To The Shack; “From jump ‘til the final note, this album is nothing short of astounding.” Likely one of the best records I’ll hear this year.
ESSENTIALS: Standin’ Before The King, Somethin’ In The Water, Bad Habit