THE DEVIL DON’T LIKE IT Dedicated Men Of Zion (Bible & Tire Recording Company) ***
North Carolina’s Dedicated Men Of Zion, a fiercely talented gospel quartet, follow their 2020 debut Can’t Turn Me Around with another winner. What these guys are all about is clear in the band name as well as the title of the new record, The Devil Don’t Like It. Their beliefs, delivered with raw passion, are clearly on display.
As their Bandcamp page says, The Dedicated Men Of Zion “didn’t come to play, they came to work for the Lord.” While I don’t share their religious conviciton I admire the dedication to their central message- there’s an elemental spirituality in the songs of TDDLI as well as the performances that you can’t help but connect with. Produced with a knowing touch by label founder Bruce Watson, this disc has the direct power of a fervent 60’s or 70’s gospel record.
The Men themselves are Anthony Daniels, Antwan Daniels, Marcus Sugg and Dexter Weaver. Without a band they’d just be an acapella group, so thanks go to The Sacred Soul Sound Section; Will Sexton- guitar, Matt Ross Spang- guitar, Mark Edgar Stuart- bass, George Sluppick-drums, and Al Gamble- organ. The Devil Don’t Like It has real atmosphere, with the music underneath making you feel as much as the vocal quartet does. It seems like I’ve talked a lot about ‘groove’ in reviews lately but for music to really move you it has to have plenty of it and this album does, by the bucket load- even for those that don’t consider themselves religious.
What makes The Devil Don’t Like It work as well as it does is the righteous blend of fervent gospel belief, a soulful approach, and the joyous way with which each of these ten songs is delivered and performed, with a fire and passion that you’d have to be deaf not to hear. The combination of the band and the blend of the voices, particularly the background vocals behind the passionate lead voice on a song like the title track, are hypnotic. The Devil Don’t Like It needs to be heard and felt to be believed. https://dedicatedmenofzionnc.bandcamp.com
HOT TRACKS: Lord Hold My Hand, A Change Is Gonna Come, Up Above My Head
LEAVE TO COME HOME Just A Season (independent) *****
Here is the mesmerizing third album, for this Vancouver band. Leave To Come Home is mainly about hope, something that seems in short supply given what we’ve all come through and what appears to be coming down the road. This is a disc with quiet country soul in a Blue Rodeo meets Barney Bentall way, which feels real good right about now.
Singer/ guitarist Scott Smith has worked with Barney Bentall and Aaron Prichett along with a slew of other west coast acts, so it’s a kick to hear him switching from sideman to front man. Produced by Eric Nielsen, Leave To Come Home carries on the Americana vibe established by the band’s first two records. Joining Scott here are guitarist John Sponarski, drummer Liam McDonald, harmony singer Ashley Grant, bassist Brad Ferguson and multi-instrumentalist Matt Kelly (City and Colour), whose pedal steel and organ playing add some real depth to these songs.
I’m not real keen on the term ‘Americana’, it feels like a buzz word like ‘influencer’- but if it means country flavored pop/ rock, then it applies to Just A Season. If you’re familiar with Barney Bentall’s stuff that Scott Smith has been a part of, then Leave Or Come Home will sound comfortably familiar to you. There’s also something about this that has me thinking early period Eagles, but that could just be the pedal steel or the harmony lead breaks in You’re Gonna Be Okay. Nothing too frantic happening here, there’s a loping, mid-tempo grace to some of the tunes that feels… nice.
As I said at the outset, Leave To Come Home is a record about hope… whether its about helping a friend chase their dreams in Queen Of The Underground, overcoming addiction in I Will Fight, I Will Fight and I Will Win or the optimism of You’re Gonna Be Okay, the message is that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. The title track is perhaps the most uplifting of them all, speaking of how hard times make the good times that much sweeter. In the last verse Scott sings “strike a chord on your guitar/ add your voice to the choir/ don’t let them make you turn it down/ don’t let them put out your fire”, something we could all stand to hear more often. This is a record that speaks to your heart and, like me, you’ll want to play it often. www.justaseason.ca
HOT TRACKS: I Will Fight I Will Fight and I Will Win, You’re Gonna Be Okay, Never Too Far From The Blues
BLUES FROM CHICAGO TO PARIS Kenny Blues Boss Wayne (Stony Plain) ****+
Subtitled A Tribute To Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon, the latest from boogie-woogie piano maestro Kenny Blues Boss Wayne is a rafter shaking pile of fun. Blues From Chicago To Paris pays rousing homage to a pair of post-war Chicago’s legends, piano-pounding Memphis Slim and bass slapping legend Willie Dixon. The focus here is on late 50’s and early 60’s, when Memphis and Willie teamed up to tour the world. At 17 cuts it might seem overly generous, but when the last song ends you want to hear more.
“Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon were a team, and their styles worked great together” Kenny says of the artists who inspired his latest album. “Out of many other blues piano players I’ve listened to, I found a unique playfulness between these two men, unlike the many other great blues artists.” As he did with 2020’s Go, Just Do It Wayne (now 77) produced this album too. He invited bassist Russell Jackson, a veteran of BB King’s 80’s band and drummer Joey DiMarco to sit in on the sessions. Driven by Kenny’s piano, there’s an easy charm to Blues From Chicago that’s you just can’t miss.
When it comes to blues fireworks nothing beats someone with a guitar in their hands that knows how to use it. For the seductive, romantic side of the blues, a piano in the hands of a master like Kenny Blues Boss Wayne wins the day. His fluid and jubilant playing on BFCTP, underscored by Jackson’s seductive bass and the grooves established by DiMarco’s drumming, is wonderful. As a blues fan I have a lot more to learn, and I’m more familiar with Willie Dixon’s stuff than with Memphis Slim, so the songs here feel like familiar surprises. Kenny has a deep, rich singing voice, not unlike Dixon’s, but it’s the musicianship of these 3 blues masters that is the star of the show.
As you might expect this disc feels very much like the era it pays tribute to, but with better production values. If Magic Slim and Willie Dixon could hear how their songs have been treated on Blues From Chicago To Paris, I expect they’d be well pleased. www.kennybluesboss.com
HOT TRACKS: One More Time, Rock and Rolling This House, African Hunch
DOWN HOME BLUES REVIEW Bob Corritore & Friends (VizzTone) ****
Here is the latest release from harmonica master Bob Corritore’s impressive archives. Down Home Blues Review includes exuberant performances by Honeyboy Edwards, T-Model Ford, Henry Townsend, Big Jack Johnson, Robert “Bilbo” Walker, Smokey Wilson, Tomcat Courtney, Dave Riley, Pecan Porter and Al Garrett. If you love old timey blues, this is one disc you don’t want to miss.
Corritore continues to impress with regular releases from his vast archives. This collection of old school down home southern blues and juke joint dance numbers (predecessors to modern Chicago blues) was recorded in Phoenix between 1995 and 2012, and Bob had the smarts to hang onto the tapes, knowing that there was magic buried there that the public would want- even need- to hear.
Down Home Blues Review plays like a time travel trip to the early 60’s, when the public at large was finally beginning to get hip to what the blues men (and women) were throwing down. The overall sound is basic, almost primitive, but not barbaric; these are good quality recordings, not just somebody’s portable cassette deck plopped on the coffee table in the living room. Far from the sterile efficiency of more modern recordings, these songs have a rusty patina that works in their favor. You’ll recognize classic numbers like Mean Old Frisco and I Asked For Water, but most of the songs I’m not immediately familiar with and that’s good- it’s kind of exciting, actually.
Most of Bob Corritore’s “From The Vault” releases I’ve heard to date have involved single artists, but Down Home Blues Review involves several artists on one album, giving it a wider breadth of expression. There are many musicians involved over these sessions, but Corritore’s harp can be heard on every track. When Bob moved from Chicago to Phoenix in 1981 he never expected to create a southwestern Mecca for the blues, it just sort of happened. He was joined by friends like Louisiana Red, started doing a weekly blues radio show, and in 1991 he opened the now legendary Rhythm Room blues club. Corritore would book his favorite blues artists there and arrange recording sessions too, resulting in his From The Vaults series.
Down Home Blues Review will certainly capture the imagination of any blues fan and, as was the case upon hearing previous discs in this series, I can’t wait to hear what’s next. www.bobcorritore.com
HOT TRACKS: My Money Done Run Out (with Al Garrett), Mean Old Frisco (with T-Model Ford), Take A Little Walk With Me (with Honeyboy Edwards)
MAJOR LEAGUE BLUES Jose Ramirez with The Delmark All Star Band featuring Jimmy Johnson (Delmark) *** ½
It appears that they have the blues in Costa Rica too. As the first Latin American blues artist signed to the label, with Major League Blues Ramirez amply proves that he’s up to the challenge. Thanks to his guitar and some of the legendary guests pitching in this is some spine tingling blues with 8 originals and a pair of classic covers.
At the age of 34 Ramirez has already played with righteous blues artists like Buddy Guy, Anson Funderburgh, Janiva Magness, Mark Hummel, Bryan Lee and Mike Wheeler. Sessions for Major League Blues were last August with The Delmark All Star Band. Jimmy Johnson trades licks with Ramirez on the title track, proving that Jose can play with the big dogs. It’s said that, after all was said and done, witnesses to that session were moved to tears; that’s what great blues can do.
Major League Blues, produced by Julia A. Miller and Elbio Barilari, isn’t all fancied up with snazzy production tricks or gimmicks. This is straight-ahead-no-bullshit blues that recalls a simpler time in music, when a song would just reach into the chest cavity and give your heart a good squeeze. As a guitarist Ramirez reminds me somewhat of SRV’s older brother Jimmie Vaughan plus Albert Collins, particularly in terms of tone. He doesn’t have the biggest voice but he knows how to use what he has to solid effect, injecting great feeling and soul into what he sings.
Jose Ramirez is surrounded by fine blues players here, making for a particularly tasty batch of tunes. Major League Blues has kind of a vintage sound overall which could be a turn off to some, but not me- it contributes to the feel and soul of the album. During the sessions last summer Jose received the seal of approval from two legendary bluesmen, bassist Bob Stroger and guitarist Jimmy Johnson, so the old guard is recognizing Ramirez as one of the artists to help carry the blues into the future. The Latin flavor of a song like Are We Really Different proves too that Jose has his eyes on a wider horizon than just Chicago. Watch out for this guy. www.delmark.com
HOT TRACKS: Are We Really Different, Major League Blues, Bad Boy
NO SAINTS IN THE CITY Ghosts Of Sunset (Golden Robot) *****
Holy poo is this cool! Ghosts Of Sunset is the project of singer/ songwriter John Merchant from Western Michigan and singer/ songwriter/ multi-instrumentalist Todd Long. Equal parts Tom Petty, Rhino Bucket and Smashing Pumpkins, No Saints In the City is something of a concept album; a classic rock tinged tour through New York City. As you can tell by the 5 star rating, I’m enjoying this a whole bunch.
No Saints follows their debut EP, 2021’s Headed West, which utilized a cast of musicians rooted in 80’s hair metal including members of Ratt, LA Guns, Enuff Znuff, Kix, Lita Ford and more. The concept there was to follow a fictional mid-western band as they moved out to Los Angeles for a grab at the brass ring. No Saints In the City follows various characters through NYC as they seek everything from fame, love and redemption to freedom, oblivion and darkness- some great rock & roll stories are being told here. Giving this one a spin will leave you feeling slightly dirty; gotta like that.
The best way to describe No Saints is hair metal with pop song writing smarts. Lots of cool hooks and melody lines, suitably dramatic storytelling, and a surprising variety of melodic textures. Crunchy guitar-based rock & roll is my favorite type of music and trying to undress the through story itself is fun too, so I was glad to spend a few hours with this last weekend. The production notes I got with this weren’t particularly detailed, so I’m thinking John and Todd split the vocal duties, depending on who brought the song in. Their vocal styles have a sort of snotty English attitude, giving the songs an extra layer of crud that just makes them work that much better. Production could’ve been bigger and bolder… but on second thought that might have actually been detrimental.
No Saints In The City is a straight up rock & roll record, skuzzy like an early Motley Crue record but that’s as it should be. I have no idea what Ghosts Of Sunset’s endgame is, but as I listen to the disc yet again, it strikes me that the story and the songs would make for a pretty good Broadway play. Not as cheesy as Rock Of Age mind you, but over the top dramatic nonetheless. This one is gonna stay with me for awhile. https://www.facebook.com/ghostsofsunset
HOT TRACKS: Tonight, Look Me Up (If You Come Down), Bastards Of The Bowery