A NIGHT AT THE RHYTHM ROOM Until The Sun (independent) *****
One of the great pleasures of writing album reviews is hearing great music from a band you’d never heard of before. Such is the case with A Night In The Rhythm Room, the latest from Until The Sun. It’s a scorching soulful blues/rock record with finesse and panache, mixing in elements of jazz and psychedelia for unforgettable listening.
A Night At The Rhythm Room almost never came to be. “I booked the show just after the lockdowns were lifted” says guitarist Brandon Teskey, “then the Omicron spike happened and I thought the show was sure to get cancelled. It wasn’t until we were all there that day, loading in (and) setting up that I actually believed it was happening.” The band is firing on all cylinders here; Teskey on guitar, drummer Chris Tex and Jay Zarecki on bass. While the solid rhythm section and gorgeous guitar playing are important, the key (for me at least) is singer Alyssa Swartz, loading the songs with sass and attitude, adjusting her approach to whatever the song at hand requires. She’s one of those singers you could listen to all day.
Something that makes Rhythm Room unusual is the use of new material. “We wanted an album with mostly new material, as opposed to a live version of previously released songs” Brandon says. I appreciate the band taking the creative risk, which pays off… one set, one night to get it on tape, and they pull it off. The album is 8 new tracks plus covers of Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love and the Etta James classic At Last and they nail it- from Alyssa’s scorching vocal to the band’s thoughtful groovature it’s perfect, rivaled only by Etta’s version itself.
“We won’t be going into the studio and re-recording (these songs), this is a stand-alone record that just happens to be live” Teskey says. A Night At The Rhythm Room is proof that capturing lightning in a bottle is possible.
HOT TRACKS: At Last, Arisen, Death In Disguise
RIFFIN’ THE BLUE Tas Cru (Subcat Records) *****+
Don’t have Tas Cru’s new album yet? Better get on that. Riffin’ The Blue is gorgeous, exciting in-the-pocket blues, the kind you’ll want to listen to time and time again. Believe me- I know.
The riff is central to all good music, blues or otherwise. It’s the melody you sing in the shower, the one that wanders through the back of your mind all day and, if it’s a good one, it will sing you to sleep at night too. That’s the thought process behind Riffin’ The Blue; this is a set of songs, born from and raised up on Tas Cru’s melodic riffs. From Tas’s smoky voice to his supple guitar playing- not unlike Ronnie Earl- what we have here is a batch of original songs that will stick to you like glue.
Riffin’ The Blue was produced by Cru and aside from his usual cadre of studio cats, it includes contributions from keyboard wiz Bruce Katz and blues/rock guitar he-man Mike Zito, whose lead work is heard on the title cut as it opens the disc. Mike also throws down some tasty Duane Allman-like slide for Memphis Gone at the other end. The sound overall hangs on Cru’s expressive guitar playing, thoughtful and never rushed, and that carries through to the other instruments as well. The songs are never crowded and each player is given just the right amount of space to express themselves and contribute to the songs without stepping on each other’s toes. I don’t know if that makes sense to you, but I can sure hear it as I listen to the record.
I’ve used the term before, but Riffin’ The Blues sounds and feels like the blues played with jazz finesse. The playing is juicy and nuanced as each song draws you in and envelops you. It’s only February but this one is going to be tough to beat when I tally my best of the year 10 months from now. Congrats to all for a job spectacularly well done.
HOT TRACKS: One More Time, Memphis Cone, Riffin’ The Blue
BETTER DAYS AHEAD Kate Weekes (independent) *** ½
Looking at this album cover, I was afraid of what I might find inside; a woman in a straw hat playing a banjo set off all kinds of alarms. Alas, Better Days Ahead charms you right from the get-go. The 10 songs on Kate’s 4th solo record have a strong whiff of bluegrass but they cover much more territory than that. From Appalachian-influenced murder/ suicide ballads to folk pop to whimsical instrumental waltzes, this is quite the adventure.
Weekes’s crystalline singing voice is the focus here, recalling at times Alison Krauss. Better Days Ahead has a relaxed, organic spirit as Kate and her banjo are supported by a diverse range of instruments like fiddle, flugelhorn, frame drum and fretless bass. From a buoyant pop number like Empty Bottles to Floating Face Down or the arguably political Liminal Space the disc is a bracing set of tales that only require imagination with a touch of curiosity to fully engage.
I have no idea what the recording studio was like, but my mind’s eye sees these songs being created and played in some out of the way backwoods cabin. Weekes guides her core band- Rob Graves (percussion) and Brian Sanderson (horns) plus producer James Stephens (fiddles, harmonium, fretless bass, electric mandolin, electric tenor guitar)- through a supple musical journey that touches on a surprising array of moods and sounds.
While the songs on Better Days Ahead are eclectic sonically and lyrically, they also sound like they belong together. Kate Weekes has been described as “an artist fiercely unbound by musical convention yet precisely able to articulate her vision”, and you’ll feel that when you give this a spin. Though quite different from him, Better Days makes me feel similar to when I first started listening to Matt Andersen, and I can take that all day long.
HOT TRACKS: Sinking Ships, Empty Bottles, All In The Letter
THE WORLD IN A JUG Jimi “Primetime” Smith & Bob Corritore (VizzTone/ SWMAF) ****+
Another stunning release from Bob Corritore’s vaults. The World In A Jug is real deal Chicago blues as these two friends and blues vets tear it up through a rousing selection of tunes. This stuff is down ‘n’ dirty good time music to keep you going through your dark times.
Corritore is a harp maestro and his from The Vaults series of releases continues to satisfy, delight and amaze. Jim “Primetime” Smith learned guitar from Jimmy Reed as a teenager and over the years has performed with many other artists at major clubs and festivals. Bob has been teaming up with Jimi since the two reconnected in Arizona 7 years ago, and this disc is a fair document of their musical adventures so far. 8 of the 10 tracks presented here were recorded during 4 sessions between 2017 and 2020 at Tempest Recording in Tempe, Arizona, while 2 were captured live at Corritore’s club “The Rhythm Room”.
The World In A Jug is good, rowdy blues, the kind of stuff you’d want to hear when you walk into any legendary joint on the Southside. You can feel the friendship between Corritore & Smith as they counter-punch their way through these lively tracks with big smiles, each giving the other room to swing. This is one of those instances where you give a listen and think “yeah, these guys should be playing together”. Jimi is a fine blues guitarist with a husky voice, and Bob’s harp playing on this disc is so evocative that if you close your eyes, you can almost see the sessions as they unfold, as if you were in a front row seat.
Lots of people involved but it’s Jimi “Primetime” Smith and Bob Corritore’s show. The World In A Jug is blues you can feel and use… gotta spin this again before I turn in tonight.
HOT TRACKS: In A Spin, Fire & Ice, Walkin’
WEIGHT OF THE WORLD Joe Louis Walker (Forty Below Records) **** ½
A stunning new record here from this blues legend. Weight Of The World sees this blues hall of fame inductee flex his considerable musical muscle in a number of directions; soul, gospel, jazz and, of course, blues. This stuff gets right inside your heart.
It’s been said of blues and roots musicians that they age like fine wine, and that’s certainly the case with Walker. The best quote I’ve read about him comes from the New Times, saying he “is a singer with a Cadillac of a voice. His guitar solos are fast, wiry and incisive, moaning with bluesy despair.” While that is certainly true, Weight Of The World also contains explosions of joy like Is It A Matter Of Time. The album, produced by Eric Corne (John Mayall, Walter Trout, Sugaray Rayford) really showcases the depth of Walker’s musical talent across several genres that hold the blues as a base note.
Joe Louis Walker has been putting out albums since 1986 and with the new disc it feels like he’s reaching another plateau or milestone in an already stunning career. With Weight he finds himself mixing genres like gospel (Hello It’s The Blues), soul (the title track) Indie blues (Root Down), New Orleans second line (Waking Up Dead) and jazz (Deep In The Blues), and yet it’s cohesive. He’s got a rich, well-seasoned voice and an inventive guitar style that ties everything together in a compelling package. No wonder his Everyone Wants A Piece record was nominated for a Grammy in 2015, and he’s a 6 time Blues Music Award Winner.
To be honest Weight of The World hits as much like a soul record as it does blues or anything else for that matter. The press info says you’ll dig this if you like Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Kingfish and BB King, which feels about right. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this get nominated for a Grammy too.
HOT TRACKS: Waking Up Dead, The Weight Of The World, Hello It’s The Blues
BLUES ALL AROUND Savoy Brown (Quarto Valley Records) *****+
A fantastic, bittersweet album from these British blues legends. Blues All Around, recorded as leader Kim Simmonds battled colon cancer, contains some of his most expressive vocals and multi-layered guitar parts. On December 13th, just a week after turning 75, he passed away.
Thanks to the chemo treatments Kim received during cancer treatments, one side effect is peripheral neuropathy which deadened the nerves in his fingers and hands, leading him to playing more slide on Blues All Around than normal, which in turn makes the disc satisfyingly greasy. “The new album continues the approach I’ve been taking with the band this past decade” Simmonds said at the time of the sessions. “It’s all blues-based rock music- I try to find new and progressive ways to write and play the music I’ve loved since I was a teenager.”
Produced by Simmonds and executive producer Bruce Quarto, Blues All Around was built in a different way. “My tracks- guitar, vocals, etcetera, were laid down first” Kim said. “Pat (DeSalvo) and Garnet (Grimm) then added bass, drums and percussion, and the whole process worked beautifully. The concept wasn’t my brainchild; engineer and studio owner Ron Keck suggested the approach due to my failing health to make things easier, and I’m forever grateful.”
Though being released in the shadow of Kim’s death, Blues All Around is a remarkable album in spirit and performance. The abundance of slide guitar really kicks things up a notch, and knowing that this was his final kick at the cat, Simmonds gives everything he has and leaves it all on the studio floor- the same goes for his band mates and those behind the scenes too. I don’t love Blues All Around because of the desperate circumstances under which it was made, I love it because it’s a fucking great blues record. “Enjoy this set of energetic blues/rock songs as much as I’ve enjoyed making them” Kim says in the liner notes, and we most assuredly will.
HOT TRACKS: Going Down South, California Days Gone By, Blues All Around