Just a quick note before we get started today. I have a pile of CD’s plus a number of streams and downloads that have been waiting anywhere from a number of days to a few months for review. So, to help get caught up as best I can, this column as well as the next one will be shorter than usual reviews as I try to fit 10 albums in the same space where I would usually fit 5. In recent months the reviews I write have been 300-400 words each, but for the next two columns (maybe three) including this one, I’ve set a hard limit of 150 words per review. Everyone will get their moment in the sun, and it allows me to clear the decks while figuring out how to start a podcasting career too- wish me luck.
ROLLIN’ WITH IT John McNamara (Bahool Records) **** +Blues and soul are not strange bedfellows, and nowhere is that more apparent than on the latest disc by Australia’s John McNamara. With a voice that recalls Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, and Bobby “Blue” Bland, McNamara is a real player on the scene.Rollin’ With It is soulful blues with tasty horns that give these tunes some mojo. McNamara is a blues guitarist that makes you feel every note, with a smoky voice that gives the lyrics depth. 6 of these 10 tracks are originals, with John’s stuff standing up next to tracks by guys like Otis Redding.The mark of a good blues record is when the songs really talk to you, and Rollin’ With It can take you all the way down.
ESSENTIALS: Ask Me Nothing (But About The Blues), Under The Weight Of The Moon
PICK YOUR POISON Selwyn Birchwood (Alligator) *****If you want your electric blues deep and hard, boy have you come to the right place. With a gravelly, lived in voice and an aggressive, physical playing style that makes this Florida born bluesman sound like Texas, Poison kicks ass.Selwyn’s admitted influences on guitar include Hendrix, Albert King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins and especially Buddy Guy, plus I hear some Johnny Winter in his lap steel stuff. As a 19 year old (he’s 32 now) he went on the road with the legendary Sonny Rhodes. “Sonny always said ‘play what’s in your heart’, and I never lost sight of that” says Birchwood.Pick Your Poison is brawny and exciting, and sounds like a lifetime of experience. This is another one of 2017’s “must have” discs.
ESSENTIALS: Reaping Time, My Whiskey Loves My Ex
TWANGADELIC BLUESOPHUNK Gary Cain Band (independent) ****Weirdly, that title sums up how this disc sounds. Cain is a ridiculously talented, genre-bending blues guitarist, and Twangadelic Bluesophunk is a stunning collection of songs.“It was normal to play every day, 6 or 8 hours” says Gary about when he picked up the guitar. “In summers, when school was out, it would be 13 hours a day- it’s all I ever wanted to do.” His dedication the instrument is evident on each of these 10 tracks- I defy you to listen to the opening track Live Wire and not say “Oh DAMN!!”This is blues with a strong rock and blues influence. Cain has a fine singing voice and the other guys in his band, bassist Tom Nagy and drummer Donnie McDougall, supply the bedrock Gary needs to soar. Twangadelic is a jaw-dropper.
ESSENTIALS: Live Wire, Faith Healer
PRAYER FOR PEACE North Mississippi Allstars (Sony Legacy) *****Mountain blues and southern rock are compatible bedfellows, and you don’t need to look any further than this band and their spectacular new album. Rough yet modern in all the right ways and all the right places, Prayer For Peace is mesmerizing.The Wall Street says “The North Mississippi Allstars have been standard-bearers of sorts since they released their first album in 2000, keeping alive an endangered blues tradition from the hill country of the state that lent its name to Luther and Cody Dickinson’s band. It’s a role they take seriously” and they’re right on the money.Prayer For Peace continues their tradition of rough and tumble excellence. The guitar sounds overdriven, but it gives these anthems of hope and peace real oomph- this one might catch you by surprise. Available everywhere June 2nd.
ESSENTIALS: Prayer For Peace, Deep Ellum
BLUE AGAIN Janiva Magness (Blue Elan Records) **** I’m surprised to see new music from Janiva so soon after 2016’s Grammy-nominated Love Wins Again but hey, I ain’t complaining! This EP is a spirited bunch of tunes made famous by Bo Diddley, Freddie King, Etta James and Nina Simone, and it kicks!Blue Again was produced by Dave Darling, who clearly understands Janiva’s artistic gifts. Few female artists understand and articulate the blues like Ms. Magness can. Here she recalls Etta James in full flight with just a touch of Billie Holiday, with vocals soaked in passion, spirit and, occasionally, a broken heart.If I have a complaint about Blue Again it’s that there are only 6 songs instead for the traditional 10 or 12. This disc packs a real emotional wallop- all I can say is “wow”!
ESSENTIALS: I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know, Tired Of Walking
LIVE IN KANSAS CITY Nick Schnebelen (VizzTone) *****+This disc is so hot I’m surprised it didn’t set off the smoke alarm. The new live album from Nick Schnebelen’s power trio is down, dirty, and utterly powerful. Like early Jeff Healey Nick sets the frets on fire in a tough display of how blues guitar should be played.Schnebelen is a founding member of the popular family band Trampled Underfoot but this raw display of his vicious talent is really something else. Recorded December 3rd, 2016 at Knucklehead’s Saloon in Kansas City Live crackles with energy and excitement and, like any good live record should, makes you wish that you had been there.For those that love powerful blues guitar, with echoes of Freddie King and Buddy Guy Live In Kansas City is an orgasmic treat- meet your new guitar hero.
ESSENTIALS: Fool, Mean Town Woman Blues
TOOK YOU LONG ENOUGH Brad Stivers (VizzTone) *** ½ This young (mid-20’s) guitar slinger from Austin is making his mark on the world with twang-fuelled blues and roots music, and Took You Long Enough is an entertaining musical adventure.Stivers is an entirely different guitar player from label mate Schnebelen but is no less exciting. The retro-funk title cut is pretty cool, and the instrumental that ends the album really displays Stivers’ chops. Dipping deep intro the Austin talent pool, Brad Stivers has come up with a collection of songs that are going to get him noticed big time.Produced by Stivers himself and mixed by Nico Leophonte, Took You Long Enough is a sharp sounding collection of roots n blues tunes with some country soul- just what you’d want out of Texas. Enjoy!
ESSENTIALS: Took You Long Enough, Nickel And A Nail
MONTSERRAT Ivor S.K. (Independent) ***Stripped back and simple- when you’re a one man band, that’s the way to play it. Ivor Simpson-Kennedy’s full length debut disc travels the gamut of the blues and, as No Depression’s Grant Britt says, he “reinterprets Delta Blues so faithfully, you’d swear he was a muddy-footed native.” High praise for this Aussie artist.Ivor plays guitar, drums (though they sound programmed) and bass, plus he’s singin’ the tunes. Ranging from Cuban reggae to chain gang stomp to humorous country blues, this dude leaves no river rock unturned. No heroic guitar solos here just good, solid song writing. Produced by Ivor S.K. the sound is basic and uncluttered, suiting the songs well.Ivor’s smoky voice is perfect for getting these everyday stories across, and this 26 year old is off to a solid start.
ESSENTIALS: I Been Had, Murder Tonight
SANCTIFIED Low Society (Rezonate Records) *** +Recorded in Belgium and Memphis, Sanctified is the 3rd time out for this international Americana roots n blues outfit. Singer Mandy Lemons is the mastermind, and her Belgian rhythm section knows how to hold down the groove.Lemons sings with a wild enthusiasm that channels Joplin as she sacrifices accuracy for the sake of passion, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They’ve been described by one critic as having “a feral and untethered spirit”, which will make sense to you once you’ve given Sanctified even a single spin.Low Society’s first two albums received enthusiastic support from BB King’s Bluesville channel, and I see no reason why lightning won’t strike a 3rd time. It takes a few songs for the album to get going, but once you get to the middle you’re along for the ride.
ESSENTIALS: Nina, I’d Rather Go Blind
LET’S JUST BE REAL Laura Tate (811 Gold Records) ***** +Laura Tate is here with her 4th album, and it’s a beauty. A sultry, sexy mix of jazz and blues, Let’s Just Be Real flirts with Bossa Nova grooves that have totally swept me off my feet. A mix of originals and cool covers, I can’t get enough.Let’s Just Be Real re-casts Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back In Town as a gorgeous swinging piano ballad, and holy hell does it ever work! The disc is a journey through the cycle of love- new love, passion, break-ups and jumping back in with both feet again… and who can’t relate to that?Tate has a gorgeous voice that you’ll want to hear again and again, and the chemistry between her and the band is absolutely undeniable. VERY swankalicious!
ESSENTIALS: The Boys Are Back In Town, Nobody Gets Hurt