THE BLUES JUST MAKES ME FEEL GOOD John Latini (Smokin’ Sled Dog) ****
Well I sure can’t argue with the sentiment of that album title! Latini is a 3-time solo Detroit Blues Challenge Champion, he’s won songwriting awards and film music awards, and this is his first full length blues record- a joyous, beautiful thing.
Lots to sink your teeth into here, from John’s deep growling baritone voice, to his smooth yet muscular and hard driving guitar playing style, to the well written songs. The core band is Latini on guitar and vocals, Nolan Mendenhall on bass and vocals, Brian Roscoe White on guitars and percussion, and Todd Glass, ably assisted by a pile of special guests. Produced by Mendenhall the sound is clean, uncluttered and well defined without being fussy, and just the right amount of ‘dirt’ on the guitars.
Maybe I’m influenced by the album title, but in listening to this a couple of times I can really feel the joy in the writing and performances. This is the sound of a man who is comfortable in his own skin, writing songs and playing music he clearly loves. The Ann Arbor Observer calls his voice “alternately celebratory, remorseful, seductive and dangerous”, and from what I’ve heard in these 13 tracks that is certainly true- it pulls you in and holds your focus when you’re not busy marveling at his six string skills.
In spirit at least, …Feel Good reminds me of an Elvin Bishop disc, only smoother sounding. I’m on my 3rd listen as I write this and enjoying it more with each spin, which is a very good sign. The Blues Just Makes Me Feel Good is definitely a keeper.
ESSENTIALS: Lord Made Me A Weak Man, title track, My Town’s Got A River And A Train
OPTIMIST BLUES Jonathan Roy (Siena/ Warner Music Canada) ***+
Don’t let the title fool you, this isn’t really a blues album. A mix of pop styles with a distinct reggae and Caribbean flavor, Roy’s debut album is delightful.
You’ve probably heard of Jonathan’s dad, former Montreal Canadiens’ star goalie Patrick Roy. He was bent on following in his famous father’s footsteps until Jonathan was called into the coach’s office and told by Patrick he didn’t have what it takes to make the NHL. “Hey kid, it’s not meant for everyone to play hockey. You just don’t have the talent” Roy told him. Dad stressed further education, but Jonathan wanted to be a musician.
In 2013, looking to find a creative mentor, Jonathan’s father reached out to an old friend to assess his son’s talent and possibly help further his career. That friend was Corey Hart and, as luck would have it, he was looking for a new artist to sign to his label Siena Records. “When Patrick first asked me to meet his son and get back to them with my honest feedback, I did not hesitate out of my respect for him” remembers Hart, “but I had zero expectations or idea what I was about to witness. Holy shit! Jonathan’s been gifted with a God-given voice.” Of their work together Jonathan says “Corey always pushes me to the max by his natural intensity and constant pursuit if excellence. It’s inspired me to become a deeper, more versatile musician.”
An interesting back story to get us to this point to be sure but ultimately meaningless, unless the record is any good- and it is pretty dang good. The songs have a positive, breezy energy that’s impossible not to like, and the public has already noticed. Daniella Denmark was a staple last spring on Canadian radio, You’re My Ace was a top 5 smash in Quebec last summer, and Good Things is the single launching the album itself. Roy is a good, expressive singer, these 9 songs are insanely catchy, and the production is engaging. Take having a famous dad completely out of the equation… Mr. Optimist Blues is a great sounding and feeling record in all the ways that count.
ESSENTIALS: You’re My Ace, title track, Beautiful Day
LIVE IN GHENT Manitoba Hal (Hal’s Kitchen) ***
If acoustic blues is your thang, boy have I got a record for you! This double disc set, recorded live last April at Missy Sippy Blues & Roots Club in Ghent, Belgium, is a combination of masterful musicianship and an enthusiastic, receptive crowd.
Never been a huge fan of the ukulele, but as Hal’s main instrument it might be time to change my mind. His playing is percussive and adroit has he combines originals with cuts by Robert Johnson, Bukka White, Mississippi John Hurt, BB King, and more. From the ambience of Live In Ghent I’m guessing it’s a small club, and a perfect setting for this style of blues.
Manitoba Hal has a confident baritone voice that’s been heard at festivals, house concerts and in soft seaters all over the world. Canada’s ukulele bluesman offers up an intimate evening here that you’ll wish you’d been witness to, but thank God we have this double CD. Produced by Nicole Colbeck and Halbround and mixed at Hal’s Kitchen in Shelburne, Nova Scotia the sound is clean and sparse, pretty much just the man with his voice and axe with nothing else to get between us and the songs.
Tasty performances by Manitoba Hal and lively versions of well worn classics we all know alongside his original stuff make Live In Ghent a very good time.
ESSENTIALS: Come On In My Kitchen, Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women, Dig Me A Grave, The Thrill Is Gone
UNFINISHED HUMANS Samson’s Delilah (Independent) *** ½
‘World Beat’ is a genre I’ve not paid much attention to- there’s a lot of music out there, and only so many hours in the day. I came across this while de-cluttering my inbox, seems I’ve had this since last summer… well, better late than never! Unfinished Humans is an impressive and stirring set of songs that will take your imagination and run with it.
Samson’s Delilah’s style has been rightly described as “heavily influenced by Latin guitar, reggae, rock opera and other world music and driven with thought provoking songwriting”, a summation in the bio that made me think “Hey, might be an idea to check this out after all.” Seth MacDonald and Shara Gustafson are the creative force behind S’s D, and the band has played festivals throughout BC and Alberta, and they’ve opened for artists like Sultans of String and Matt Andersen, to drop a couple of names.
The more I listen to Unfinished Humans the more it affects me- lyrically sweeping and dynamic, intricate world beats and virtuoso musicianship. It’s pretty dramatic stuff, with Latin rhythms and reggae beats feeling particularly exotic, especially given what’s usually found blasting from the speakers here in The Bat Cave. I don’t know who produced it- probably Seth and Shara- but whoever it was deserves a tip of the hat for a job very well done.
Set the lyrics and Shara’s vocals aside for a moment and Unfinished Humans is all about vibe and ‘guroove’ and you can enjoy the record on that alone, even as they rock out towards the end of Small Soldier. Also included here is a thoroughly engaging version of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. If you want something dramatic, exotic and inspiring, try this disc on for size and thank me later.
ESSENTIALS: Small Soldier, Rain, Prayer, Thriller
SMASH Stephen Pearcy (Frontiers) ***+
Here is the 4th solo album from the former (and future?) Ratt vocalist. Mixed and mastered by the legendary Beau Hill, who did the same for Ratt’s first 4 records back in the day, what we have here is a hella-decent hard rock record.
Can’t say I’m a huge Ratt fan- I noticed Out of The Cellar back in the day, and their greatest hits is all I need in my collection now- but Smash is a riff rocker that’s fun to listen to. Ratt-like to be sure, with Pearcy’s voice and a sound that seems to come directly from the 80’s with a vibe that feels immediately familiar.
I like his solo band here better than you-know-who; Eric Ferintos, rhythm & lead guitars, sounds like a Jimmy Page fan… Greg D’Angelo on drums, with a straight ahead 4-on-the-floor style… Matt Horn on bass, following the guitar when he needs to, but not content to just thump out the 8th notes… and Chris Hager, guitars and lead guitars on Shut Down Baby, a terrific slice of sleaze rock. “I am very happy with the new music and the diversity of the songs” Pearcy says. “It’s taken some time- I’m sure the fans will be excited too.”
Robert Plant he ain’t, but on Smash Stephen Pearcy acquits himself nicely. This record is a straight up 80’s flashback, more muscular than the Ratt records I’m sure you’ll be comparing this to. It’s the kind of stuff that would sound perfect blasting out of an early 80’s Trans Am with a T-roof… a guilty pleasure perhaps, but what the hell? Crank it up and let them turn and stare as you drive by.
ESSENTIALS: Shut Down Baby, Hit Me With A Bullet, Summer’s End