Hot Wax Album Reviews by the ROCK DOCTOR May 3, 2022

BADDER TO THE BONE Eliza Neals (E-H Records) *****

When people talk about the blues Chicago and Memphis are mentioned, but Detroit belongs in that conversation too.  That’s where Eliza Neals hails from, and Badder To The Bone is all kinds of wicked blues and gospel horsepower with enough voltage to help the blind see and the crippled walk.  In case you can’t tell, I REALLY like this.

BTTB packs a rock & roll punch, thanks to Eliza’s gritty vocals and guitarists Lance Lopez, Michael Buwal and Billy “JC” Davis’s expressive playing.  Like so many albums I’m reviewing this year, Badder To The Bone is a product of the pandemic, and that forced isolation and concentration has resulted in Neals’ most powerful record yet which, 10 or so discs into her career, really says something.  There’s lots of high octane rockin’ stuff here, but it’d not all redlining material.  Consider the 1-2 punch of the opening cuts United We Stand and Queen Of The Nite, Bo Diddley-style rock/ blues number followed by a slow, orgasmic blues… a good way to let us know we’re in for a hell of a ride.

Eliza wrote or co-wrote 9 of these 10 tracks, the exception being a smouldering version of Steve Winwood’s Can’t Find My Way Home.  The album was produced by Neals so she knew exactly what she was after and dammit, she NAILED it.  As a singer I suppose Eliza sounds similar to Sass Jordan, and having a great band lifting her up certainly doesn’t hurt.  The Hammond B3 heard throughout is just the right blues spice, there’s some nimble bass work, and drums that key off of the vocals.  The sound has the girth and depth of a great live recording; more albums, particularly blues records, should have this kind of sonic heft.  A quote on her website from American blues Scene says “with the grit of Koko Taylor, Neals’ voice is like sand in a velvet bag, fired from a shotgun”- truer words were never spoken.

I can’t judge Badder To The Bone against Neals’ entire catalogue but it is the 5th of her discs to join my collection, and it’s the most powerful of an already impressive batch.  She provides a boatload of her trademark energy and power and, thanks to the extra time provided by the unexpected pandemic, is displaying an entirely new level of musical maturity.  I’ve already heard plenty of great blues in 2022 but this new Eliza Neals record is going to be very hard to beat- maybe even impossible.

HOT TRACKS:  Queen Of The Nile, United We Stand, Got A Gun

OH SUZANA BLUES David Owen (independent) ****

David Owen’s new album is a powerful blues statement, but in a completely different way from the Eliza Neals disc we just checked out.  Armed with just his voice, an acoustic guitar and a harp, Oh Suzana Blues is a deep, intimate blues experience.

Owen was last heard from in 2015 with Livin’ Life.  4 summers later, horrific personal tragedy pushed him into self imposed artistic exile when his estranged wife was killed in a boating accident.  David rushed their 3 children to the hospital to say their goodbyes, and it would take him months to write a goodbye song to his lost love.  He would end up with two, Oh Suzana Blues and Stella Marie, a song specifically about the night she was killed, the two being arguably the centre and the heart of the new album.  Oh Suzana, our time went oh so fast/ I wish I could have slowed it down and made it last he sings.

Oh Suzana Blues was produced in Nashville by Colin Linden (Bruce Cockburn, Keb’ Mo’, Bob Dylan. Lucinda Williams) who also plays on this too, along with Dominic Davies and Fats Kaplin.  OSB is intimate and powerful, almost conversational in tone.  While the songs already mentioned address his tragic loss, he also deals with wider issues like faith in No God But God, but every song on this record is tied together in some fashion.  I’d call the sound sparse, almost naked, with emotions laid bare particularly in the title song, where it sounds like David is inches away from breaking down.

Some fine acoustic guitar playing makes Oh Suzana Blues a fine listen, and I like that the album isn’t cluttered up but an excess of instruments, not even drums, leaving the path to Owen’s heart open and clear.  When a singer lets us in as far as David does here, it makes you hold what he has to offer just that much closer.  I’m not an overly emotional guy, certainly not demonstrative when it comes to deep feelings, so I admire it when people can go there- and David Owen is one of those guys.  This is some high, lonesome blues.

HOT TRACKS:  So Lonesome Without You, Oh Suzana Blues, 21st Century Retro Man

MMXXI LIVE AT THE PHOENIX Inglorious (Frontiers) ****+

Some top shelf hard rock here from the UK’s Inglorious.  From singer Nathan James down through the other 4 guys in the band, Live At the Phoenix sees the group really leaning into it, performing with the energy of caged tigers straining at the leash.

The performance featured on Live At The Phoenix (Blu-Ray, DVD and LP as well as CD) was captured September 2021 at Exeter Phoenix in Exeter, UK.  Inglorious draw from their 4 studio albums of original material plus their covers record Heroine, represented here by a blistering version of Heart’s Barracuda.  Known as a great live band, there’s a little extra something at work here- energy, adrenaline, whatever you want to call it- thanks to them finally being able to get out and do gigs after the pandemic lockdowns.  The name of the venue and the title of this album are particularly appropriate, as we bear witness to rock & roll’s rise from the ashes yet again, as it always seems to do.

The line-up we hear on Phoenix is the same one that toured behind their 3rd album Ride To Nowhere; singer Nathan James, guitarist Danny De La Cruz, guitarist Dan Stevens, bassist Vinnie Colla and drummer Phil Beaver.  If you haven’t heard Inglorious before, the closest I can come to describing them is classic, driving hard rock with vocalist that sounds, at times, like Bruce Dickinson.  The interplay between De La Cruz and Stevens is exciting; it makes me wonder why more metal bands don’t go for the twin lead guitar thing.  It works gangbusters for Judas Priest, and Inglorious too.  I hope this line-up sticks together,  the chemistry between them as they play on stage is undeniable.

After 5 studio albums including the aforementioned covers record, it feels like a natural point to pause and take stock of the band in a live setting before they move on to whatever is next.  No doubt they’ll make use of the abundant energy and enthusiasm displayed on Phoenix before they head back to the studio to write & record something new to tour behind.  I’m stuck in rural Alberta at the moment so my chances of actually catching a gig are slim; but MMXXI Live At The Phoenix will fill the gap nicely, thanks.

HOT TRACKS:  She Won’t Let You Go, Until I Die, Barracuda

LITTLE BANG THEORY Poison Rose (Frontiers) *** ½

This is a new project centered around singer Marco Sivo, a singer with an impressive set of pipes, a songwriter who’s sung back-up on a number of releases for Frontiers.  Label president Serafino Perugino was impressed enough with Marco’s skills to build a band around him.  The result is Little Bang Theory, likeable but quite average melodic rock.

Poison Rose is made up of musicians that Sivo was already friends with, people he’d worked with before including guitarist Andrea Seveso, guitarist Aldo Lonobile and drummer Edo Sala.  Bass, keyboards and backing vocals are courtesy of producer Alessandro Del Vecchio who, I’ve noticed, likes to get very involved with the records he produces.  It’s a very solid group of musicians, but the heavy 80’s vibe is inescapable; not sure if that’s the right way to try and launch a new band.

Marco Sivo is a talented rock singer with plenty of range- a cross between Jon Bon Jovi and Rainbow’s Joe Lynn Turner.  The rest of Poison Rose play with a tightness and unity that makes this driving brand of pop/ melodic rock music work as well as it does.  Frontiers describes this disc as ‘contemporary hard rock’ and I suppose that’s close enough; I’d say it’s not hard enough to qualify as metal, and the melodies aren’t pretty enough to really qualify as ‘pop’ music.  Think early Warrant and that gets you close.

Like most of the hard rock I like Little Bang Theory isn’t overly complicated, what with  a 4-on-the-floor rhythmic approach, and building a band around a singer like Marco Sivo is actually a pretty good idea.  If they get to make another record, I‘d like to see them loosen up, get a little more unhinged and show us what they’re REALLY capable of.  Don’t get me wrong I quite enjoy this, but it doesn’t exactly blow me away.  The guitar playing of Seveso and Lonobile alone makes me think that we can get a lot more from this band.  As a debut record Little Bang Theory makes me hopeful for their future.

HOT TRACKS:  Your Eyes Again, Older Now, Better Life

JUMPIN’ THE BROOM Markey Blue Ric Latina Project (Soul Sound Records) *****+

This is one of the swingin’-est, groovin’-est albums to come along in quite some time.  They’ve been at it for a decade now, and Jumpin’ The Broom raises the level of soulful blues perfection even higher; it’s also their first release as husband and wife; smartly produced and instantly enjoyable.  Every album they’ve done to date has been nominated for several blues awards, and I have no doubt the same fate awaits Jumpin’ The Broom.

Several of their songs over the years have been placed on TV and in film, so there’s a good chance you’ve heard their stuff without realizing it.  There’s a band exuding soulfulness giving Jumpin’ The Broom it’s velvet oomph, but the stars are clearly Markey

Blue’s earthy, soulful vocals and Ric Latina’s tasteful and often sparse guitar playing. The horn charts accentuate the songs in just the right places, underscoring the action while never being intrusive.  It’s handled by Chris West, who also lays down some flute that gave me an Isaac Hayes flashback.

Aside from the restrained yet powerful musicianship on display here, the Markey Blue & Ric Latina Project must be commended for the spectacular production on this, their 4th album.  I have to assume it’s self-produced, as I see no mention of an outside producer in the information I received with the cd.  Musicians of every discipline would be wise to study Broom to see and hear how it should be done.  It feels like every note is exactly where it needs to be, with nothing underplayed or overplayed.  No less than legendary guitarist Steve Cropper praises Markey Blue & Ric Latina as “absolutely the best in the business of blues and entertaining”, and he’s a cat that would know.

The Markey Blue Ric Latina Project has been labelled as ‘contemporary blues’, but such a description feel too limited.  I think of Jumpin’ The Broom as more of a soul record- at least feels that way to me- but as always the truth is somewhere in the middle, so let’s call it a little of both.  Regardless of labels, this is VERY sweet music to my ears.

HOT TRACKS:  Bad For Real, Right Kind Of Woman, Where Are You

SHELBY PARK Sarah Jane Nelson (Sarah Jane Nelson Music) *****

One look at the big Kiss blanket and the autographed album covers on the wall of my music room will tell you I’m not particularly a country music fan.  My problem with much of the modern stuff is that it seems insincere, pretending to be something it’s not.  Well, Sarah Jane Nelson’s Shelby Park, her 6th disc, is the real deal.  This gal has twang in her soul and she’s not afraid to show it.  This album is superb.

A little background on Ms. Nelson for you here; she got her start winning America’s Miss T.E.E.N. at 17, then spent the next 10 years as an actor/ singer on stage and in film & TV.  She was a winner at Merlefest and a finalist for the Kerrville New Folk Festival and the International Songwriting competition.  Press accolades include being called “a first rate singer” by The Hollywood Reporter, while The Miami Herald said she’s “a knock ‘em dead singer who can zero in on the ache in a lyric”, but perhaps best of all Wide Open Country says “Sarah Jane Nelson channels Loretta Lynn attitude”.

Joni Mitchell decided to quit singing and turned to painting as a creative outlet when a music industry exec told her that record companies were now only interested in female singers “with a certain look and a willingness to cooperate”.  Sarah Jane Nelson is a very attractive young lady, but she sidestepped that trap by working outside of the studio system and releasing the music she believes in.  It’s that bedrock honesty underlying her impressive vocal gifts and songwriting talent that makes Shelby Park such a winner.

This isn’t rock & roll or pop masquerading as country, it’s the real deal; simple, heartfelt sentiments, keening pedal steel, fiddles and acoustic guitars blending into what can only be called an authentic country sound.  Sarah weaves her real life experience with universal truths to tell her stories, and it’s spellbinding.  As a country artist, she has much more in common with Dolly, Reba and Loretta than she does with any of the current starlets, and that’s what separates her from the pack.  It’s something you can’t fake, and it’s something that makes an aging rock n roller like me a believer.

HOT TRACKS:  Drive, I Wish I Missed You, Mama Loves You


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