Hot Wax Album Reviews by the ROCK DOCTOR June 14, 2022

RUN TO DAYLIGHT The Groove Krewe (Sound Business) ****+

If this album doesn’t make you move, check your pulse.  The spirit of New Orleans style R&B is alive and well in the hands of The Groove Krewe featuring Nick Daniels III.  Run To Daylight is a smartly executed bit of rhythmic fun loaded with ebullient soul.

This band and album are the creation of Rex Pearce and Dale Murray, south Louisiana writers, musicians and record producers, and their music has been in movies, on national TV and on the radio.  The Groove Krewe is a group of top notch session players assembled by Rex and Dale to bring Run To Daylight to life and boy, DO they!  The singer, Nick Daniels III, has a deep, barrel-chested voice, and he lays down some deliciously funky bass lines; just as he’s done for The Neville Brothers, Allain Toussaint and Etta James, as well as Dumpstaphunk. The title track (and first single) is catchy as hell and gives you an excellent feel for the other 9.  Run To Daylight was built to party.

Run To Daylight has as much of a connection to 70’s funk and soul as it does to Crescent City grooviosity.   While much of the disc leans heavily on Nick’s singing and impressive bass playing but the other musicians are no slouches either.  Punchy horn lines by Jason Parfait and Ian Smith punctuate the songs with precision while drummer Eddie Bayers propels the band with gusto.  Much of the disc’s New Orleans feel comes from Nelson Blanchard’s joyful keyboard playing, and the guitar work of Jonathon Long and Rex Pearce lends some excitement to an already impressive show of musicianship.

At the end of the day Run To Daylight is a joyous celebration of life, light and love, the sort of record that just makes you feel good- and who can’t use more of that?

HOT TRACKS:  Run To Daylight, Where Ya At In Life?, Raising Cane On The Bayou

LET’S ALL GO INSANE Tony Baltimore (Conch Town Records) *****+

This abstract pop gem is Tony Baltimore’s 3rd record.  Throwing Let’s All Go Insane into the CD player was like putting on an old Harry Nilsson album; bright, sharp pop music loaded with hooks, and lyrical observations that look at some universal truths from a different angle.  Lighthearted and deep at the same time, this is an engaging experience.

This innovative popster calls Key West home, and Let’s All Go Insane is about triumphing over tough circumstances, enjoying life, and going a little crazy once in awhile- a very therapeutic pursuit, you have to admit.  This disc was pieced together at home during the pandemic, and you can feel the songs pushing against the restrictions most of us endured during that time.  Baltimore is called a “genre-bending roots rock musician”, and I suppose that fits well enough if you’re into labels, but in terms of melody and structure I’d say his pop music acumen is fierce and original.  He toys with different styles within that framework too; the title cut definitely has a Harry Nilsson feel to it, Loot The Joint is a ragtime number, and Seaside Blues fits into that group as a bunch of songs inspired by the multicultural melting pot that is New Orleans.

Let’s All Go Insane reminds me a lot of pop music in the 70’s, when it wasn’t necessary to tread a narrow path to express yourself; it was okay to be a little bit of everything if that’s what really moved you.  As such this disc is a celebration of musical talent and freedom, a tribute to individuality and instinct that occupies the middle ground between the melodic and the abstract.  I shudder to think what today’s radio programmers would think of this charmer landing on their desk; it exists between pop and rock & roll and doesn’t fit easily into any one genre or format.  All the reasons those guys would probably toss it are the same reasons I love it.  The big radio conglomerates may give it a pass, but Baltimore’s latest will be heard on my internet radio shows- you can count on it.

HOT TRACKS:  Let’s All Go Insane, All Day, Seaside Blues

JUST FOLKIN AROUND Juke Joint Jonny & The Kindred Spirits (independent) *****

There’s a lot more to New Jersey, musically speaking, than Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi. This is a captivating set of acoustic blues introduced to me by Jersey bluesman Andy Bernstein, and I can’t stop listening to it.  Just Folkin Around is a blues set list of songs by folks like Robert Johnson, Taj Mahal and Willie Dixon, plus an original,  played with back porch authenticity via Jonny’s husky voice and deft guitar playing.

In an interview on the blog post Jonny says “My passion for the blues comes from a very spiritual place, the bittersweet life I have led, travel, love, work, loss, passion for life- just like anyone else.”  The simplicity of Just Folkin Around is part of its considerable charm; aside from Jonny on guitar and vocals we have Steve Rusin on harp & guitar, Ben Bernstein on stand up bass, Dave Peterson on electric bass and Mike Stevens on percussion.  Putting this cd on is like walking into a cool after hours joint where some cool cats have spontaneously decided to bust out their instruments and run down some classics.   There’s an ease and jaunty spaciousness to this recording I love.

Juke Joint Jonny has paid his dues when it comes to the blues.  In that same interview he says “I have spent 40+ years wandering this world and no matter where I go I gravitate to bluesmen and women with the same passion as I do to express pain and joy.  To make people dance, laugh and cry is universal in the blues. Even when there is a language barrier, people feel it.”  It’s like the man says; “you don’t choose the blues, the blues chooses YOU.”  Jonny learned his blues on the streets and in the dingy joints in some of the biggest cities in the world, from NYC, London and Paris to Vancouver and beyond.  Even after a single spin of JFA, there’s no doubt he’s earned the right to play these blues.

Simple, heartfelt acoustic blues is what Just Folkin Around is, and it’s a beautiful thing.

HOT TRACKS:  I Can’t Be Satisfied, Terre Haute Blues, Fishin’ Blues

SPLASHDOWN Broke Fuse (independent)  ****

This new EP from Scarborough’s Broke Fuse is their 3rd release in as many years.  Splashdown is a short, enjoyable collection of harmonica driven instrumentals that could easily fit into a Quentin Tarantino film score.

Broke Fuse is actually a one man band, Jay Moonah.  Since the beginning of the dreaded pandemic he has created and released 2 full length albums in Why Should I Be Blue? (2020) and Rocket Ride (2021), and this instrumental bonus began with the sessions for the latter. “Having done those two albums a year apart, I really hadn’t intended to release anything else for awhile” Jay says.  But while recording Rocket Ride I started on a couple of additional instrumental ideas that I just kept working on.  And as those came together, I felt compelled to get them out in some form.  So I came up with a few more pieces, and the next thing you know I had enough for an EP.”

Splashdown covers a remarkable amount of territory in a short time and just 5 songs.  South Scarborough Hoedown¸ which opens the disc, combines southern rock with folk and a touch of psychedelia.  Big Noodle Boogie is a 12 bar blues rave-up, Rabbi From Texas Too originated 20 years earlier in Moonah’s old band Uncle Seth but never fully realized.  The two songs that began during the Rocket Ride sessions are a surf number called Caught In An Eddy and Solace, a number that ends things on a mellow note.

I’ve reviewed and dug both of Broken Fuse’s previous releases and must say that with Splashdown Jay Moonah packs a pile of entertainment into 5 relatively short instrumentals.  You’d be smart not to let this one fly under your radar.

HOT TRACKS:  Caught In An Eddy, Big Noodle Boogie

INTO YOUR BLUES Johnny Sansone (independent) ****

Johnny Sansone’s new album, 2 years in the making, is a soul-drenched bluesy delight.  Into Your Blues is stacked with fine performances from all concerned, from Sansone on down through his band and special guests, a disc that makes you glad to be alive.

Johnny Sansone started out playing music early.  His dad, a saxophonist in Dave Brubeck’s band during WW II, got Johnny started on sax when he was 8. By age 10 he was picking up guitar and harp and, at the age of 12 his life was transformed by seeing Howlin’ Wolf live in Florida.  It was that very night that Johnny realized that the blues was for him.  He sat in with Honeyboy Edwards at the tender age of 13, and during the 70’s he studied blues harmonica with James Cotton and Junior Wells, then in the 80’s he toured with Ronnie Earl, John Lee Hooker, Jimmie Rodgers and Robert Lockwood Jr.  So when it comes to the blues Johnny has the requisite experience and mileage. It’s like that line from O Brother Where Art Thou?: “he’s got prospects- he’s bonified.”

Into Your Blues, produced by Sansone himself, isn’t a particularly slick album- it has just the right amount of dirt and grease to make for an authentic blues run-in, doing mentors like Howlin’ Wolf and Jr. Wells proud.  He plays on standard blues themes with a twist on cuts like New Crossroads where he sings down at the crossroads/ waitin’ for the future to unfold/I don’t need no devil bargain/ never done what I was told.  His harp playing carries a hint of Jr. Wells and, as a singer, he reminds me of Howlin’ Wolf more often than not.  The talking blues number Willie’s Juke Joint with its slinky, recurring guitar motif and guest Little Freddie King, sums up the spirit of this disc quite well.

Into Your Blues is about as authentic a blues album as you’re likely to hear.  If you want a blues record that will “take you back home”, this one will do it for you.  In my mind’s eye I can see this music as well as hear and feel it; this is the good stuff.

HOT TRACKS:  Willie’s Juke Joint, The Getaway, New Crossroads, Single Room

BETTER DAYS Cliff Stevens (independent) *** ½

Here is the fifth solo album from this Montreal based blues/rock guitar player.  Better Days is informed by some of the hard roads Cliff has traveled to get to where he is now.  Like Colin James with a hint of SRV, this disc hits many of the right notes.

Stevens writes, sings and produces his own albums with an elemental grace, pulling inspiration from the likes of Clapton, SRV, Johnny Winter and Rory Gallagher. Like so many before him, Cliff spent much of his career in relative obscurity.  When the non-stop grind of the road, booze & drugs took its toll, Cliff stopped touring to make his living as a  taxi driver in Toronto.  After much soul searching and painful life experiences he finally got sober in 1998 and hasn’t looked back since.  With a newfound sense of gratitude, he focused on writing and started a solo career- which brings us to this point.

Better Days is a blues rock gem with a jazz/pop overlay.  His voice really reminds me of Colin James, while his guitar playing style has elements of the influences mentioned in the previous paragraph.  The album ranges from driving blues rock to acoustic country blues and my favorite, slow classic blues where he wrings the emotion out of every possible note.  The songs feel personal and introspective, as if he’s sitting us down and saying “this is where I’ve been and what I’ve gone through to get to where I am now”, and isn’t that the underlying purpose of blues in general?  I sure think so.

In addition to being sober for 24 years, Stevens deepened his knowledge for his craft by getting a Master’s degree in music and education from Concordia University in Montreal.  They say wine improves with age, and so do blues musicians like Cliff Stevens; his life experiences and struggles have served his craft in playing, singing and songwriting, which is as it should be.

This has a crisp and clean sound and though I like my blues a little scruffier, it has proven to be a very enjoyable journey. Better Days is definitely worth checking out.

HOT TRACKS:  I Love You Still, Better Days, I Been Thinking About You


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