THANKS FOR TOMORROW Harrison Kennedy (Electro-Fi Records) *****++
If you love your blues deep, supple and (for the most part) laid back in a Keb’ Mo’ kind of way, Harrison Kennedy’s new album is going to make your year. Thanks For Tomorrow is incredibly soulful blues, and you’ll wonder how you lived without it.
Harrison Kennedy is an award winning bluesman; a founding member of Holland/ Dozier/ Holland’s million selling soul super group “The Chairmen Of The Board”. As one of the 21st century’s most inventive blues singer/ songwriters he’s garnered multiple Blues Music Award nominations as well as winning 2016’s Juno Award for Blues Album of The Year. On Thanks For Tomorrow he’s joined in the studio by Ruthie Foster and Colin Linden as well as Jesse O’Brien (Levon Helm) on keys and as co-producer, along with Blackie & The Rodeo Kings’ rhythm section of Gary Craig (drums) and John Dymond (bass) expertly guiding the groove. It’s like Living Blues says; “Harrison Kennedy is a modern blues master of true substance.”
Harrison has a smooth, rich voice that floats on top of the musical backdrops like a warm breeze. Musically, Thanks For Tomorrow feels like a cross between the Keb’ Mo’ stuff I have heard and Clapton’s mellowed out vibe of the last decade or so. As you get into the first track, a bluesy duet with Ruthie Foster called All I Need Is You you’ll be thinking “okay, I like this” and before you know it, you’ll be deep into the record. When Just Wanna Play finishes at the other end you’ll swear the record was only 5 minutes long and you’ll need to hear it again- that was my experience.
I can feel Colin Linden’s touch here but that’s cool as I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. The songs aren’t sparse exactly but the mix is roomy as nothing feels crowded or out of place. Thanks For Tomorrow is uplifting and downright soulful, deep and joyful at the same time. I know it will be at or very near the top of many ‘best of’ lists for 2022.
HOT TRACKS: All I Need (with Ruthie Foster), Thanks For Tomorrow, Crazy Love
ON A HOT TIN ROOF Stratcat Willie & The Strays (independent) *** ½
The blues- is it ‘downer music’? Not in the hands of Stratcat Willie & The Strays it ain’t. On A Hot Tin Roof is a party looking to happen. This is good time jump blues.
Stratcat Willie is an old school bluesman with plenty of mileage, writing and playing this kind of stuff for over 50 years. To give you an idea of where he comes from he counts T-Bone Walker, Mike Bloomfield, BB King, Johnny Winter and Duke Robillard as influences. He’s not some kind of 6 string hotrod player, going more for feel and vibe over speed- mighty tasty. On A Hot Tin Roof assembles 12 originals, played with maximum grooviosity by the same band he had for 2020’s On the Prowl, a record that was on Sirius XM’s Bluesville’s charts for 6 consecutive months; you can feel that familiarity and camaraderie of that disc in the performances here.
This is, of course, another ‘pandemic album’, so that pervasive sense of anguish, frustration and guarded hope can also be found here. This jump, jive ‘n’ wail style harkens back to the early 50’s, a vibe brought back to great effect by the likes of The Stray Cats in the early 80’s, so maybe it’s time is coming round again with Stratcat Willie & The Strays leading the charge. Pandemic considerations aside, with rampant inflation and bullies like Putin giving Ukraine a right boot-fucking, it feels pretty good- almost righteous- to have this album come along to help you get loose and get down, if only for a little while. We could all use some fun.
None of On A Hot Tin Roof’s songs belabor their point or overstay their welcome, with only 2 of the 12 even approaching 4:00. Willie is the producer here too and while I wish the sound was a bit cleaner and brighter, that can be at least partially solved by turning this WAY up; just ask Darlene next door. Not great, but pretty darn good.
HOT TRACKS: Have A Blues Party, Cryin’, Mezcal
WE SHALL OVERCOME Lord Vigo (High Roller Records) ***
An ambitious concept record here from German purveyors of epic doom metal. Of course We Shall Overcome is loud, brash, cacophonous and highly dramatic; what else would you expect from a band whose lead singer (and drummer) has chosen the stage name “Vinz Clortho”- sound familiar? It’s their 5th effort, as heavy as it is dense.
To give you a rough idea of what you’re in for, previous album titles include Under Carpathian Sun (2015), Blackborne Souls (2017), Six Must Die (2018) and Danse De Noir (2020). Vinz says that We Shall Overcome is a prequel to Danse De Noir, more of less, and the concept is startling. “We marry the universe of Rush’s 2112 with our own world” he says. “We Shall Overcome is a direct continuation of 2112, but the story takes place 25 years later. The ‘elder race’ was successful in abolishing a dictatorship of computers. However they did not succeed in installing a stable ecological and political system” Clortho continues. “This also happens in the real world all too often. Just think of the Americans withdrawing from Afghanistan; so-called ‘liberators’ more often than not do not have a real plan of what’s to happen after this ‘liberation’.”
That’s We Shall Overcome in a nutshell. If you like ultra heavy music, over the top drama and the storyline intrigues you, then hop on board… but if any of these notions are red flags for you, proceed with caution. “We are influenced by film noire” concludes Vinz, “and (Danse and Overcome) are both dystopian in nature… dark and rather bleak, but with a glimmer of hope. We have included a few more progressive elements this time around, although calling it ‘prog rock’ would be a step too far.” Don’t say you weren’t warned.
HOT TRACKS: The Heart Of Eternal Night, Since The Sun Was Young, A New Dark Age
THROUGH THE RAIN Lyle Odjick & The Northern Steam (independent) ***+
Music really is the universal language, reaching across racial and cultural lines. Through the Rain is a ravishing helping of Chicago-style blues from Odjick, originally from the Algonquin reservation of Kitigan Zibi in Quebec, now calling Ottawa home. This disc is a harmonica driven blues delight.
Odjick went from living in a small town with very little exposure to blues or live music, to teaching himself harmonica and starting his own blues band. After playing one gig with a borrowed house band, Lyle knew he needed to scout out some players on the Ottawa scene, and The Northern Steam was born. He made the leap from strumming in a small town to opening for heavy hitters like Colin James, Randy Bachman, Monkeyjunk and Paul Reddick. Odjick was smart enough to surround himself with players like these.
Through The Rain really does feel like authentic Chicago blues as the band jumps, jives and wails through an inspired batch of songs. The disc includes 8 Odjick originals plus covers of Taj Mahal’s Leaving Trunk and Rock This House from Jimmy Rogers. The band is Lyle on vocals, rhythm guitar and harp, Ben Griggs on guitars, Fred Sebastian on drums and Sean McGee on keys, plus several special guests and the overall vibe is suitably shady ‘n’ greasy… like a good blues album should be.
When Through The Rain first hit my stereo speakers the first thing to strike me was Odjick’s harp work; no idea how long the dude’s been playing but he’s laying it down with truckloads of soul. The rhythm section moves with a hypnotic sway, informing the tunes with a ‘lower east side of Chicago’ feel. Next to the harp there’s some mighty tasty lead guitar here that’s expressive but not overly flashy, never attempting to hijack the song at hand. The songs themselves are quite well written, though lyrically sometimes a bit trite. As this is Odjick’s first album though, I already see plenty of growth potential.
If Through the Rain has a weak spot, it’s Lyle’s singing. It’s not terrible or particularly bad, just sort of plain. Sometimes he even reminds me of Joe Jackson. The music itself has more horsepower than the vocals, so I’d like to hear his voice develop some muscle and balls to live up to the great band he’s already gathered around him. Through The Rain is good as debut albums go, but next time I expect better and look forward to it.
HOT TRACKS: Cut Me Loose, I Wanna Hold You, Through The Rain
ELECTRIC CITY Early Times & The High Rollers (Dealer’s Choice Records) ****
Well here’s a record that’s gonna blow some wind up your skirt. Electric City, the latest from Early Times & The High Rollers is definitely blues, but it’s full of sunshine too. A follow up to 2021’s The Corner, this one feels really good.
All of the songs on Electric City were written by Early Times, a singer and blues guitarist of considerable talent. They combine street-wise lyrical observations and urban rhythms, driven by a blues guitarist who knows what to play and what to leave out. And the band he has in the studio this time? Sweet Jesus!! Drummer Anton Fig (Late Night w/ David Letterman, Kiss, Cyndi Lauper, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Paul Butterfield, Mick Jagger, Joe Bonamassa), keyboardist Brian Mitchell (Levon Helm, Dylan, BB King, Dolly Parton, Little Feat) and bassist Concrad Korsch (Rod Stewart, Cyndi Lauper). This album also features guest vocals from Bobby Rush and Detroit’s Eliza Neals. Wait, I’m not done; the record was produced spectacularly by Jay Messina (Aerosmith, Kiss, Miles Davis, Cheap Trick), so Electric City has everything going for it- which pays off handsomely.
While the blues is the central building block for Electric City, an essential ingredient that informs every note played and sung, it feels like much more than ‘another blues record’. Songs like American Kid have a distinct Heartbreakers vibe about them, and Ching-A-Ling is straight up 60’s rock with a cool shuffle beat from Fig that mentions Snoop Dogg. It’s got that early days rock & roll energy to many of the songs to give you a kick in the ass- in a good way, that is. Maybe they should measure this in sunshine units instead of DB’s, it feels like such a positive experience.
Early Times is known nationally as a satellite radio host, and was once voted Best Guitarist in his hometown Sacramento’s Music Awards. With Electric City he’s delivered an album with grit and soul that you’re really gonna dig.
HOT TRACKS: American Kid, Ching-a-ling, Bonnie & Clyde (with Eliza Neals)
DISTURBING THE PEACE Hail Mary (Eonian Records) *** ½
Eonian Records has just excavated another rock & roll treasure from the pre-millennium LA rock scene. Hail Mary’s Disturbing The Peace is of particular interest to Leatherwolf fans. Built from the ashes of that group, Hail Mary make delightfully skanky rock & roll.
The story goes something like this; after the release of their 3rd album, 1989’s Street Ready, guitarists Geoffrey Gayer, Michael Oliveri and Carey Howe sensed their rhythm section had become indifferent toward the band. After recruiting a new bassist and drummer, they continued as Leatherwolf until legal issues with a former band mate necessitated a name change. With many fans of their former band ready to follow, their scorched earth live rock & roll shows became legend in Los Angeles. All they needed now was a record deal.
A&R reps were regulars at their shows, and Hail Mary ended up going into pre-production with Epic records as well as MCA. Then along came the rise of grunge, and… well we know how that story ended here, just as it did for so many classic rock and 80’s metal bands. The group did, however, track multiple pro demos , including a development deal alongside producer Tom Fletcher. The breakthrough Hail Mary hoped for never really did materialize, and the 3 guitarists re-formed Leatherwolf in 1999.
Disturbing The Peace is comprised of 11 tracks, including 2 demos. There’s a Motley Crue feel to much of this material, but darker and heavier. All but the 2 demo tracks at the end of the disc were recorded for that development deal with Epic Records with Tom Fletcher at the helm, whose long list of credits includes working with Yngwie, Scorpions, Metal Church, Motorhead, Dangerous Toys and Ozzy. This is old-school pre-millennial heavy metal, grinding and sneering. I’d like it to sound harder and cleaner, but given the source material here, it holds up surprising well. Disturbing The Peace may sound dated to some, but for cranky old bastards like me this is right up our alley.
HOT TRACKS: Media Lobotomy, Be My Suicide, D.A.D.