PIER 43 Paul Filipowicz (Big Jake Records) ****
This is the 11th album from this blues hall of famer, and it’s a slippery one. Pier 43 is gut bucket blues led by Paul’s occasionally on key vocals, slide guitar and delightfully off kilter solos. It took a few tunes to lock in on this one… what I initially perceived as weaknesses morphed into a weird sort of strength. This is nasty, dirty, pure blues.
Pier 43 is 9 fresh tracks plus a couple of cuts pulled from a live 1979 radio show that include the legendary Clyde Stubblefield (James Brown) on drums, a mix of vocal and instrumental tracks with mojo to spare, informed by 50 years of one nighters and playing to tough-as-hell crowds. Filipowicz’s mileage really shows on this disc, and it’s a glorious thing.
I guess you could call this ‘party blues’ with tracks like When I Get To Town that’ll make you want to boogie ‘n’ dance all night long- at least until the cops shut ‘er down- or the title cut, a moody instrumental that harkens back to Paul’s life as a longshoreman on the docks in Milwaukee circa early 70’s. What Pier 43 lacks in precision it makes up in attitude and oomph.
In the quotes included in the press material, the one that best sums up this disc comes from bmansbluesreport.com; “Such raw grinding playing I haven’t heard in a long time. This captures the spirit of Hound Dog Taylor, ZZ Top, Johnny Winter and Buddy Guy but doesn’t sound like any of them”, and that’s pretty friggin’ accurate. Filipowicz is not a great singer by any stretch, but I heard Rod Stewart say once that you don’t have to have a great voice, it’s more about style, and I think that observation applies here. Pier 43 is dirty, nasty… you know, the blues.
HOT TRACKS: Poor Man’s Throne, Pier 43, When I get to Town
AS THE CROW FLIES Seth Rosenbloom (independent) *****
Want to hear some blues guitar to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up? As The Crow Flies is the first great blues album of 2023. Rosenbloom’s guitar playing is assertive and self-assured- couple that with an excellent batch of songs and a voice like John Mayall in his prime and you’ve got a truly moving blues experience.
Born into a musical family Seth began playing classical violin as a child, then picked up the guitar at 11. By the time he was 16 he had earned a performance merit scholarship from Berklee College Of Music. After spending a few years as a sideman he turned his focus to recording and performing, resulting in an EP, the album Keep On Turning in 2019, and now As The Crow Flies. Sweet Jesus… if you look up “chops” in the dictionary, Seth’s face should be there. In a world full of wannabe guitar heroes, this guy is the real deal. As Blues Blast Magazine has noted, “Seth Rosenbloom is a guitar player’s guitar player. His ceiling is unlimited.”
The album was produced by Rosenbloom and engineered by Craig Welsch, and from the uncluttered mix of the instruments to Seth’s guitar tone to the Bonham-like crack of Mark Teixeira’s snare drum, the sound is lively and engaging; dare I say perfect. Other musicians in the core band include Ryan Taylor (rhythm & slide guitar), Jesse Williams (bass) and Bruce Bears (keys). A number of the tracks were written by Rosenbloom, but he and the band also take on numbers by Tony Joe White, Isaac Hayes and Ronnie Earl. All in all is a good mix of blues numbers; originals and covers, fueled by stunning musicianship.
I could prattle on endlessly about how great this disc is but let me make it simple; if you like guitar-driven blues, you absolutely MUST add As The Crow Flies to you collection.
HOT TRACKS: As The Crow Flies, Blind Eye, Did You Try To Break My Heart
ROUGH AROUND THE EDGES Lonestar Mojo (independent) ***
Individually, these guys are road warriors of the blues scene around Wichita, Texas, working together in various combinations going back to 1985. Covid hit, work dried up, and singer/ B3 player Joe Spawn approached the other guys about making an album. The result was the band Lonestar Mojo and the album Rough Around The Edges, a disc that embodies Texas while combining ZZ Top, BB King and maybe a little Frank Zappa to show you a good time.
Rough Around The Edges is a 15 song ramble through the rough, gritty landscape of Texas blues that lives up to its title. The production is a tad sketchy but the playing is solid and the songs catchy with inventive arrangements. Don’t think the blues can make you smile? Throw on Big As A Bus and let me know how you feel coming out the other end. The band has the luxury of drawing from several songwriters within its ranks; singer/ B3-ist Joe Spawn, guitar player Mark Snyder and guitarist Scotty Biggs for their debut effort. The tradition of grungy Texas blues is definitely alive and well in the grooves of this bad boy.
Rough Around The Edges is certainly Texas blues, but I’m feeling elements of funk and classic soul when I listen to this too. The production doesn’t suck exactly, but I think it could definitely be improved upon. As a homegrown project I’d imagine budget was a consideration, but imagine how much bigger and exciting this thing could’ve been with someone like Tom Hambridge at the controls. The overall sound of the album definitely lives up to the title, and I suppose that’s part of its dusty charm. As a singer Spawn recalls Bob Margolin- not a golden throated blues belter, but a lived in voice that serves the songs quite well.
Despite any misgivings mentioned above, Rough also has a sort of ramshackle charm that cannot be ignored. Maybe I need to listen to this again…
HOT TRACKS: Big As A Bus, Not In The Groove, Victim of The Blues
LIVE FROM THE RED SHED Kurt Allen (independent ****+
There are few things to match the thrill of live blues. Only having been there at this show could trump Kurt Allen’s new album Live From The Red Shed. Allen is a blues/rock machine and this disc showcases his fusion of gritty old school blues with vintage soul and swampy Bayou funk
Kurt Allen and his band were off the road for most of 20/21, and their joy at playing for audiences again is palpable. Recorded live at The Red Shed in Hutchinson, Kansas, was almost an accident. “”I hadn’t planned on doing a live record, but since we’ve been able to get back out on the road more consistently, I’ve gotten in the habit of recording our shows at venues I know have a great sound” Kurt says, “mostly so I can go back and critique things and make mental notes on changes to make everything better. Some nights you just know that what you’re doing is special, there’s a feeling in the room when everything’s firing on all cylinders.” He knew lightning had been captured in a bottle on this night. “I felt that way about this show when we were playing” he notes, “but when I went back and listened it was even better than what I remembered. I knew I had to put out a live album.”
Live From The Red Shed includes numbers from Allen’s studio releases along with new and previously unrecorded songs, plus a hot version of Son House’s Death Letter. Kurt Allen is a solid blues singer, but his guitar playing- traditional soloing as well as slide work- are the real stars of this show. From the blues stomp of the opening cut Graveyard Blues to the greasy groove of When I Fall, he doesn’t miss any tricks. I’ve used this term before, but the right way to describe what’s happening here is nasty blues with rock & roll muscle. I only wish I could’ve been there when it went down. Live From The Red Shed is pretty fuckin’ great.
HOT TRACKS: Graveyard Blues, When I Fall. Death Letter