TALK ABOUT THAT John Mayall (Forty Below Records) *****
Mayall has reached a creative peak with his latest album, and that’s saying something! Recorded in Encino and featuring Joe Walsh on two cuts Talk is also the last Mayall disc to feature guitarist Rocky Athas, who is embarking on a solo career. When John’s entire recording career is considered, Talk About That belongs near the top.
Perhaps more keyboard-centric than his last few albums- at least it feels that way- Talk is a lesson in how to groove. Though Mayall is noted historically for working with great guitar players like Peter Green, Eric Clapton, Coco Montoya and Rocky Athas, I love his keyboard playing. A three piece horn section gives some punch to some of these tracks, and the energy of the album overall is irresistible.
The Devil Must Be Laughing, a song about the current political and world climate, is one of two songs to feature Joe Walsh. “A day before we recorded (that song), we got a message through the studio owner that Joe Walsh wanted to come by and possibly play on a track or two as a guest” recalls Mayall. “Who was I to say no to that idea! So, Joe turned up on the appointed day and with only a quick listen, plugged in and we did the song in one take. The second song closely followed, and with a smile and a quick photo, he was done and on his way. What a kick for all of us that day!”
As for working with John Mayall, Walsh says “He was the complete gentleman and fine, fine musician I had always hoped he would be. When you meet a hero who helped shape your career- it’s a wonderful feeling to find they’re even cooler than you always thought they were.”
Talk About That is well played and well produced, and is about more than just the blues- you’ll also find some funk, soul and even a taste of New Orleans in here too. The broadness of scope on this record is a very pleasant surprise- I think you’ll really enjoy it.
ESSENTIALS: Talk About That, The Devil Must Be Laughing, Blue Midnight
THE BEAT OF MY HEART Lisa Biales (Big Song Music) ****
Lisa’s new album (her 9th), due out February 20th, is simply wonderful. I expected a more traditionally ‘blues’ record, but sometimes not getting what you expect is better- wayyy better.
The Beat Of My Heart is a supple, luxurious set of songs. Yes she sings the blues and does it very well, but much of this record I would call ‘torch’ songs too. One of the more interesting tracks is Crying Over You, written by Alberta Roberts- Lisa’s mom. “Hearing my mother’s voice after all these years (on that old 78) brought a chill to the bone” Lisa says, “I realized I had to put her song on this project.” On this song you’ll hear Lisa’s mom at 24 years of age on the first verse, and as Lisa takes over it’s a goose-bump-worthy performance.
This is my 4th Lisa Biales disc and it’s different from the others, but not in an “I can’t believe it’s the same person” sort of way. She’s on the same road, but maybe taking a quick detour up an adjacent path. Her marvelous voice is at home on the up-tempo stuff, but on a cut like Romance In The Dark you can really feel her playfully wrapping herself around the lyric. Several different musicians are involved on this disc and, judging from the results, the right combinations were used on each track as the songs come to life in an almost 3-dimensional kind of way.
The Beat Of My Heart is extremely romantic, an album of mood, feeling and nuance, and Biales is an outstanding singer. To describe this album in one word, I’d go with “sultry”. Extremely cool set. Too bad it’s not out ‘til Feb.20th, a disc like this would prove to be, um, ‘useful’ on Valentine’s Day.
ESSENTIALS: I Should Have Known Better, Disgusted, Don’t Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down
STRIPPED DOWN & SURRENDERED Cee Cee James (FWG Records/ Burnside) **** ½
It’s been 4 years since James’s last record Blood Red Blues but it has sure been worth the wait. She digs deep on Stripped Down and comes up with songs that shine on truth, hope and love, music that is impossible to ignore.
Cee Cee refers to the title track as “the anthem for the second half of my life” as she strips her soul down and comes to terms with inner demons. That sentence may look lofty or verbose on paper, but put Stripped Down & Surrendered on your stereo and you’ll feel it. Musically this disc is gorgeous and heart-wrenching with a key element (James’s smoky voice aside) the sparse, delicate guitar playing of her husband Rob “Slideboy” Andrews as a cross between Buddy Guy and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.
Although I’m a sucker for great guitar playing and can appreciate Stripped Down for that alone, it’s the stories in these songs that really draw me in and keep me coming back for more. Whether you relate directly to a song like Hidden & Buried or Love Done Left Home you’ll feel their truth and appreciate them for being more than just a set of words that conveniently rhyme.
Stripped Down & Surrendered is a well produced, great sounding record, and the booklet also contains the lyrics for each song. In a world dominated by artists who favor image over substance, James is the real deal and this is a disc that will stick with you for a long time to come.
ESSENTIALS: Cold Hard Gun, Hidden and Buried, Miner Man’s Gold
CRADLE TO THE GRAVE Cary Morin (Maple Street Music) *****
Wow. Some wonderful finger-picking and a batch of spiritually deep songs, just guitar and voice with nothing else to clutter the songs- Cradle To Grave is a fine, fine musical adventure.
As a singer, Cary sounds similar to Harry Manx and his guitar playing is breathtaking. Lyrically the songs range from blues to folk and sometimes shine a light on his Native American heritage as well as small town America. 8 of these songs are originals and there are three covers, including a surprising version of Prince’s Nothing Compares To U. “The goal was to create a sort of triptych of my solo finger style journey, one that demonstrates the evolution of my progression with songwriting” Cary says. “Cradle To The Grave” is a culmination of my musical efforts as a soloist thus far.”
Each of these songs hits me like a prayer as much as anything else, and Dawn’s Early Light was written with the situation at Standing Rock in mind. “I’m not really a protest song sort of writer, but this song seemed important” Morin notes. “This song may be an oversimplification of the situation, but I have always felt that the honoring of a treaty, no matter when it was made, is not a complex idea- honor the treaty… simple as that.”
Cary Morin is a wonderful guitarist, deft and playful and always interesting to listen to, from the jaunty stuff (like Laid Back) to the ballads. He tells stories worth hearing, and the songs are easy to appreciate on a purely musical level too. No matter how you approach it, once you find Cradle To The Grave you’ll have a hard time letting go.
ESSENTIALS: Dawn’s Early Light, Cradle To The Grave, Mississippi Blues
MY ROOTS ARE SHOWING Andy Band (In dependent) *** ½
A solo album here from Andy Bernstein, front man for about 30 years for New Jersey roots rockers The VooDUDES. It’s a little all over the place (in a good way), with more country soul than anything, though you’ll also hear rockabilly, rock, gospel and American roots music, with a healthy dose of spirituality showing you a lively time.
Andy’s voice has been described as “the sound of a bourbon bottle lined with gravel”, yet there’s a smoothness to it that I really connect with, a sound that invites you in to listen to what he’s got to say. According to the liner notes about 15 musicians are involved here. Kudos to John Pittas for flawless engineering and mixing, plus production alongside Andy B. There’s a depth and clarity to the way Roots sounds, and while horn parts can be overpowering, when used here on songs like Slow Dancin’ Barefoot they fit in with everything else perfectly- consider this song a master class in how to mix in a horn section.
My Roots Are Showing is good storytellin’ music too. The song Mary Ellis, featuring some great fiddle work, is an historically accurate story of the grave in a Loews Theater parking lot, supposedly the same story that inspired Looking Glass’s song Brandy. My Baby’s Gone, though appearing on Andy’s solo record, is in fact performed by The VooDUDES.
The musicianship and Andy’s voice on My Roots Are Showing will pull you in, and you’ll want to stay to hear the stories. Enjoy!
ESSENTIALS: Mary Ellis, Slow Dancin’ Barefoot, Incandescent Lightbulb Blues