RAWK ON Tundra Music Collective (Good People Music) *** ½
The big payoff for writing music reviews for as long as I have (33 years next month) is being exposed to music I wouldn’t encounter otherwise; such is the case with Tundra Music Collective and their debut, Rawk On. They’re an Afrobeat collective from Montreal, addressing social concerns, and while this is a little outside my musical wheelhouse, I dig it.
Tundra originally started in 2015 and is rooted in a feeling of not doing enough as it becomes increasingly difficult to stay unconcerned about the social inequities of the world we live in. Helmed by Richie, co-founder of the electro-irreverent outfit aRTIST oF tHE yEAR, their music is the blend of afro-beat and hip hop, two genres noted for their messages of social change. The mix of dreamy, trance-like music with the percussive attack of hip hop may seem like strange bedfellows, but here they seem to work quite well together, almost in counterpoint with a jazz-like sense of adventure and soulful vibe. It’s a gathering of Canadian artists portraying their multicultural heritage that have a world music view of the issues that concern us all.
Afrobeat is a mesmerizing blend of influences, engaging and hypnotic, while hip hop emphasizes the power of words that crosses borders and resonates across different cultures and generations. Together, as Rawk On demonstrates, each is more powerful with the other than they are on their own. The album is easy to appreciate on a purely musical level, but to get your money’s worth you’ll need to dig in and grasp what they’re singing about- not everyone’s cup of tea to be sure.
Approach Tundra Music Collective’s Rawk On with open ears and open heart; I think you might like very much what you find.
HOT TRACKS: Suspension Of Disbelief, Rawk On, Modified
LIVE AT THE FALLOUT SHELTER Diane Blue All-Star Band (Regina Royale Records) ****+
What a voice! Live At The Fallout Shelter is the latest solo outing by this Boston-based singer and harmonica player. She’s a white chick that sings with the soul of Gladys Knight and with a severely talented band on stage with her, she can do no wrong.
If the name ‘Diane Blue’ rings a bell, perhaps it’s because she’s the first female member of Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters and has been featured prominently on their last 6 albums. When she’s not with The Broadcasters she fronts her own world-class band, and that’s where this album comes in. As a singer her performance is captivating and heartfelt, and on harmonica the late Big Jack Johnson called her “a monster on the harp.” When this band is playing and Diane is singing, you can really feel it, and isn’t that what the blues is all about?
Live At The Fallout Shelter is 7 original songs plus 2 covers, and features special guest guitarist Ronnie Earl, one of the finest players to ever pick up a Strat along with Dave Limina on Hammond B3, Chris Vitarello on guitar and Lorne Entress on drums. The album is clean and well produced by Ms. Blue and Entress, captured live at The Fallout Shelter in Norwood, MA. The crowd is clearly appreciative one as the react enthusiastically at the end of every number.
As solid and tight as the band’s performance is, Diane Blue’s voice is clearly the star of this album. In the liner notes she says that “many of the songs on this album were written during the Covbid-19 pandemic, when there was plenty of time to think” and you can feel that soul-searching introspective quality in the original numbers. Live At The Fallout Shelter can be rightly described as a soulful blues record, a righteous album to have in your collection.
HOT TRACKS: Leave Me Alone (with Ronnie Earl), I got A Good Thing, I’m Gonna Get You Back
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES Ten (Frontiers) ****
This is the 2nd of two albums written and produced by these UK hard rockers. In the last year. Something Wicked This Way Comes is not a sequel to Here There Be Monsters, just the result of a talented band with some forced downtime on their hands. Their 15th album overall is thick and dramatic yet quite tuneful- just the sort of thing you’d hope to hear from a band that has shared stages with the likes of Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy, Magnum, Giant and UFO.
Built around singer/ songwriter Gary Hughes, the band also includes guitarists Dann Rosingana and Steve Grocott, along with bass player Steve McKenna, keyboard maestro Darrel Treece-Birch and guest drummer Markus Kullman (Sinner, Glenn Hughes, Voodoo Circle). I suppose in one respect you could call this atypical hair metal; cool riffs, a straightforward rhythm section (I don’t hear double kick action from Kullman, but I could be wrong) and rich keyboard textures to really thicken up the sound; plenty of melodic hard rock excitement to be had here.
Something Wicked This Way Comes was once again produced by Gary Hughes and mixed and mastered by Dennis Ward, who has worked with the band since 2011’s Storm Warning, so clearly they work very well together. In sticking with the ‘hair metal’ template the disc includes the requisite power ballad in New Found Hope, which I’m willing to bet will be played at more than a few weddings in the years ahead. Not mine though- 3 trips to the altar is my limit!
Hughes is an excellent rock singer with the warmth and range to really make this stuff fly, and the guitar work of Rosingana and Grocott is rock solid without being overly showboaty. On one hand it can be argued that this is fairly typical of the hair metal movement of the 80’s and I have to admit there is some truth to that… but on the other hand millions of people have always loved that sort of music, and it’s certainly no stranger in my collection. This is wicked good fun.
HOT TRACKS: Brave New Lie, The Fire and The Rain, New Found Hope
LIVE AT THE PALLADIUM Damon Fowler (Landslide Records) *****
When people talk about the blues you hear all about Chicago, Memphis and The Delta- but man, we have got to start mentioning Florida’s Gulf Coast. Damon Fowler hails from Tampa, and he’s just released what’s sure to be one of the hottest live blues discs of the year. Live At The Palladium is one of those albums that will give you goosebumps on your goosebumps.
Fowler is an excellent blues singer and even better guitar player. Having done time in Butch Trucks’ Freight Train band and in Dickey Betts’s band, the mileage shows in the very best and most awesome way. The blues is a music you feel as much as hear, and Live At The Palladium is electrifying. Critics have compared Fowler’s guitar work to Johnny Winter and Jeff Beck, and one listen to this will have you saying “Yeah, I can hear that” out loud. Damon’s slide work recalls the late Duane Allman and he can play mind boggling runs like nobody’s business, but his lyrical work on lap steel and dobro lift him head and shoulders above the crowd.
Live At the Palladium is Fowler’s 9th solo release, recorded in front of an appreciative crowd in St. Petersburg, Florida. Produced by Damon and George Harris, it features Fowler’s working band; Justin Headley (drums) and Chuck Riley (bass) along with special guests Jason Ricci (harp), Eddie Wright (guitar) and Dan Signor (keys). These ten songs are 9 originals and a cool cover of Little Walter’s Up The Line that will leave any true blues fan breathless.
Having played multiple tours of the US plus well-received sojourns to the UK and Scandinavia, Damon Fowler is a hard working blues warrior that should be at or very near the top of every blues fan’s playlist. Live At The Palladium is genuine guitar-powered blues excitement and while it’s much too early to make the call, I’m certain this will be at or very near the top of my “Best Of 2023” list when it comes to tally that sucker up. Now excuse while I go spin this again.
HOT TRACKS: Taxman, The Guitar, Fruit Stand Lady