Hot Wax Album Reviews by the ROCK DOCTOR Aug. 15, 2022

BITCHES BLUES Sass Jordan (Stony Plain) *****

Some people were born to sing the blues, like Sass Jordan. One of the mightiest female blues singers since Janis, Sass has powerful pipes.  Previous flirtations with rock ‘n’ pop stardom aside with hits like So Hard and Tell Somebody, the new album (Bitches Blues) accomplishes two  things; proving that 2020’s Rebel Moon Blues was no fluke, and that Jordan is embracing the blues fully and whole heartedly.

Fans know Sass Jordan as a gifted rock singer. She’s worked alongside bands like Aerosmith, The Stones, AC/DC and Van Halen, whom she was asked to try out for. Born in the UK and raised in Montreal, she hit pay dirt right off with the title track from her 1988 debut Tell Somebody and has been nominated for a pile of Juno awards. She also starred in an off-Broadway production of Love, Janis and was the only female judge on Canadian Idol for all six seasons.  So yeah, she’s kept herself busy… but singing the blues is where she belongs.

“There’s been an undercurrent of blues throughout my whole career” Jordan notes. “The music that I have been mostly drawn to has always had that gritty, rootsy vein running through it, and that’s why I’m enjoying making these records so much.”   Playing behind Sass and leaning into it pretty hard on Bitches Blues is an absurdly talented band that includes guitarists Chris Caddell and Jimmy Reid, drummer Cass Periera, keyboard player Jesse O’Brien, and Monkeyjunk’s Steve Marriner on bass and harmonica.  With these master musicians BB comes off like the coolest jam session ever, as opposed to a late career attempt at relevance.  That wouldn’t be Sass’s style; sings this music because she believes in it.

On one hand I wish Bitches Blues (and Rebel Moon Blues before it) were longer.  On the other hand, at just 8 songs this disc leaves you wanting more instead of wearing you out.  She takes on stuff you’ve heard Johnny Winter and The Rolling Stones play plus a track like Chevrolet, which has been done by practically EVERYBODY.  Bitches Blues has heart, soul and balls, and I can’t wait to listen to it again.

HOT TRACKS: Still Alive & Well, You Gotta Move, Chevrolet

PREACH TO MY SOUL Spencer Mackenzie (Gypsy Soul Records) *****+

Here is the 3rd album from this absurdly talented young artist.  Playing with the panache of a much older musician, Preach To My Soul will make you a believer. He’s an uncommonly expressive guitar player and a fine singer too; this is one hell of a record.

Spencer has been a busy lad winning several awards, placing 3rd in an international songwriting competition in the blues category, being The Toronto Blues Society’s Talent Search winner, plus recording his new album while completing 4 years of college as a music major and now honors graduate at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario.  He has a vintage sound with the phrasing of a seasoned pro.  It reminds me of the first time I heard Kingfish a couple of years ago; I couldn’t believe the maturity of the singing and playing coming from someone so young.

I’m not saying that Spencer is pretty good for a kid; Preach to My Soul demonstrates loud and clear that when it comes to the blues he’s shit-hot, period.  “On Preach to My Soul, I’m thoroughly connected to my roots” Spencer says.  “The title track essentially refers to just that. The powerful influence of those that came before me is fundamentally preaching to my soul, channeling their passion, communicating their love for the blues to come through me in my music.”  He’s not just blowing smoke- when I listen to a track like Paranoia Blues the hair on the back of my neck stands up.  This is music will make you feel something, maybe even grab you and shove you up against the wall.  A review from 100 Percent Rock Magazine puts it perfectly; “The proof, as someone once said, is in the pudding and Mackenzie is not only a mean guitarist with a throaty and surprisingly mature voice, but he has an obviously innate feel for the blues that some players spend a lifetime not connecting to.”

Preach To My Soul has its share of hard blues but the songs are soulful too.   As much as I enjoyed his previous two albums Spencer has matured and come into his own on his third record. This feels like the beginning of something big, maybe even huge.

HOT TRACKS:  Paranoia Blues, Baptized By Cold Water, Preach To My Soul

BLOOD ON MY HANDS Emanuel Casablanca (Kings County Blues) ****

Here is the debut El-Pee for this Brooklyn based guitarist, and it’s a wild ‘n’ hairy ride. Blood On My Hands is a rough around the edges feral blues throw-down that will have a few guitarists laying down their axes and practicing the phrase “you want fries with that?”

On first listening to Blood On My Hands the production left me cold as it seemed to not live up to the power of Casablanca’s playing.  HOWEVER… on the 2nd and 3rd run through it came together and made sense.  It’s rough and not as meaty as I might like but it works, and that’s what counts.  The album is a generous helping of 16 tracks and there some talented guests too; Paul Gilbert, Eric Gales, Kat Riggins, Albert Castiglia and Jimmy Carpenter to name a few.

Blood On My Hands is one of those records that come straight from the gut, that’s what I picked up on once I settled my issues with the sonics. “I feel a burning passion when it comes to making music” Emanuel says, “I’ve felt that way as far back as I can remember. I’m inspired by so many musicians, different genres, poets and performers.  However, the message I want to convey in my music is more about emotion than anything else.  I don’t overthink it; I just let the feelings take charge and wherever those sentiments lead, that’s the place my playing needs to be.”

There’s absolutely no doubt that Blood On My Hands is a blues record, but the argument could be made that this is rock & roll too.  Casablanca’s rip-roaring guitar work is a good fit in either world and when those worlds collide the results are breathtaking… maybe like Stevie Ray Vaughan meets Neil Young.  The disc was produced by Emanuel along with engineer Paul Howells and it’s anything but polite… more like a street fight with guitars.  If you’re a blues guitar freak, this thing is going to really light your fire.

HOT TRACKS:  Blood On my Hands (with Eric Gales), Like A Pulse (with Kat Riggins), Shaky Tables

BLACK & GOLD Thundermother (AFM) *****++

Fucking rock & roll assassins, that’s what Thundermother are.  Black & Gold is the Swedish all girl band’s 5th and hottest studio album yet, thick and juicy, a planet killer, a bullseye.  Listening to this will remind you of the first time you heard AC/DC’S Highway to Hell and maybe even The Crue’s Dr. Feelgood.  Yeah- it’s THAT good.

“In our view, every one of (these) songs is a hit in its own right” enthuses guitarist/ founder Filippa Nassil.  “For us, this was all about taking the next step in the wake of our 2020 release Heat Wave.” That ain’t just the old ‘we’ve pulled out all the stops this time’ braggadocio, she actually has a point.  Opening up their creative process is just one of the reasons Black & Gold has the heft and swagger that it does. “We cut full demo versions of a total of 20 song concepts” Filippa says, “and played them to friends and colleagues so we could choose the twelve strongest tracks based on their evaluations.”  Well, it worked- like a hot dam.

Aside from Nassil on guitar Thundermother is Guernica Mancini on vocals, Emlee Johannson on drums and Mona Lindgren on bass.  Johanson and Lindgren, as a rhythm section, have the brute force of a locomotive under full power and Mancini is an excellent hard rock singer.  Fillipa has quickly become one of my favorite guitar players, an amalgam of the Young brothers with a touch of Ace Frehley’s reckless swagger.  Throw on Black & Gold and your pulse will start to race, then all you can do is rock out.

The new album was produced, mixed and mastered in Stockholm and Copenhagen by Soren Andersen, who was also on the mixing desk for 2020’s Heat Wave.  “Our new album is definitely a positive development in every respect, from a compositional and from a production point of view” Nassil says.  Black & Gold is the kind of fierce guitar driven rock & roll that makes you glad to be alive; I’ve had the album for a week now and cannot put it down.  Gene Simmons says rock & roll is dead? He needs to put this on and shut the hell up.  B&G is one of the most righteous rock & roll albums I’ve heard in at least twenty years.

HOT TRACKS:  Black & Gold, Hot Mess, Loud And Free


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