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A FORCE OF NATURE Sari Schorr (Manhaton Records) ***** +

Man, this is some hard blues.  Produced by Mike Vernon (Fleetwood Mac, The Blues Breakers, Savoy Brown, Clapton, Peter Green), Schorr’s debut is full of all the bluster, fire and passion you could hope for.

A Force of Nature is a blues/rock tour de force. As a singer Sari reminds me of Melissa Etheridge on her first couple of records, and guitarist Innes Sibun (formerly of Robert Plant’s band) is a fluid and tasty player who can really lean into it when the song calls for some soul scorching aggression.  The amazing Walter Trout is also featured on a track he wrote, Work No More.

The centerpiece of this disc has to be the stunning remake of Black Betty.  Melodically rewritten with a dark back porch Bayou intro and a sinister bump and grind vibe, it’s the coolest blues tune I’ve heard in years.  I’ve long been sick of Ram Jam’s version of this Leadbelly classic- heard it too many times- but this one stops you cold.

A Force Of Nature is one of the most exciting debuts I’ve heard since Zeppelin I.

ESSENTIALS:  Black Betty, Ain’t Got No Money, Work No More

SHUFFLIN’ THE BLUES Holly Hyatt & Jon Burden (Flood Plane Records) **** ½

Recorded in front of an intimate audience, this is the 3rd release for this primarily acoustic act.  Shufflin’ The Blues is a spine-tingling tribute to Chicago blues, Delta blues, plus home style original blues.

Shufflin’ is the kind of album that casually draws you in.  On first spin my reaction was “Oh that’s nice”, but I was busy doing other stuff. When I sat and really listened, the disc started revealing itself big time.  5 electric and 4 acoustic tracks, recorded live at The Silverton Gallery in Silverton, BC this is a thing of intimate, infinite beauty.  Their vocals are a perfect fit, and Jon’s guitar work is very tasty while Holly’s bass playing provides the right rolling grooves along with Marvin Walker’s percussion.

Shufflin’ Blues is a sweet mix of originals alongside songs better known by Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, and it says something about Jon and Holly’s songwriting that their stuff mixes in effortlessly with such legendary tracks.  Laid back and exciting at the same time, this is a damn sweet disc.

ESSENTIALS:  Lowdown Blues, Left Handed Soul, Blow Wind Blow

BROOKLYN BOLERO Eric Sommer (Clyde is Thinking) *** ½

If you’re up for some well written, (mostly) rootsy acoustic music, Eric Sommer speaks your language and Brooklyn Bolero is right up your alley.

Eric started his career as a singer/ songwriter in the Boston area before hooking up with the Brooklyn trio for his new batch of songs.  Great vocals and tight arrangements characterize this disc along with tasty slide work and harmonica grooves, but it’s more than just a blues record.  Black Mountain News says Sommer’s songwriting abilities merit mention in the same breath as Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson and Nick Lowe and, for my money, that’s some damn fine company.

Eric Sommer has been on the road, in the studio, on the stage, in front of or behind people like Jerry Douglas, Leon Redbone, John Mayall, Dr. John, Andy McKee and John Hammond Jr., and that gives you a sense of where he’s coming from. All original songs here, from the buoyant Hold Your Hand to slow jams like Doin’ Wrong, his vocal style is Barney Bentall-ish, and he has a way with words I really enjoy.  Very cool record.

ESSENTIALS:  Doin’ Wrong, Red Dress, Hold Your Hand

BY MY SIDE Buddy Rogers (JBR Records) ****

A blistering set of guitar based blues here from a truly talented player. Throw By My Side into your CD player and it’s guaranteed to get your mojo workin’!

In ’95, at the age of 19, Rogers teamed up with former BB King bassist Russell Jackson and began a tour that last 5 years.  That kind of dedication and sheer road work sure shows in his fierce playing, which reflects his acknowledged  influences; Johnny Watson, Jimmie Vaughan and the three Kings- BB, Albert and Freddie.  In fact, alongside the 10 originals in this set he does an urgent, grinding version of Freddie’s classic Goin’ Down.

In some ways Rogers reminds me of Robert Cray, though I find Cray usually too smooth and jazzy for my taste in the blues.  On By My Side Jimmy is backed by his longtime band in bassist Mike Wedge and drummer James Badger.  Joining them for this CD is B3/ Wurlitzer wiz Lewis Stephens, who has also played with Freddie King, Delbert McClinton and the amazing Mike Zito.  Some fine and fierce blues in these grooves.

ESSENTIALS:  Runnin’, Come Back To Me, Goin’ Down

WAY BACK HOME Backtrack Blues Band (Flaming Cheese Records) *****

White men might not be able to jump, but some of ‘em can sure play the blues and Florida’s Backtrack Blues Band is a case in point on this, their fifth CD.  They have swamps in Florida, and you can sure hear that in these grooves- GREAT stuff!

Way Back Home is guitar-based blues led by and drenched with singer Sonny Charles’ harmonica.  I hear a dirty version of Downchild Blues Band when this is on, but others have likened this set to Paul Butterfield and early Fabulous Thunderbirds.  One thing is for sure, this is roadhouse blues of the highest order- no wonder these guys have won awards and played at festivals around the world, having shared stages with SRV, BB King, Buddy Guy Robert Cray, John Lee Hooker, Johnny Winter and so many more, they’re THAT good.

The rhythm section flows effortlessly while Charles’ harp and Kid Royal’s Texas blues guitar sting and bite like a rattlesnake.  From song choices to writing to performance to production, there’s absolutely nothing about Way Back Home that I DON’T like.  Killer.

ESSENTIALS:  Your Funeral My Trail, Shoot My Rooster, Heavy Built Woman

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