TAKE YOUR TIME Ben Levin (VizzTone) *** ½
Cincinnati-based 22 year old Ben Levin’s 5th and latest album comes fresh off the end of a European tour. No it isn’t a live record, but Take Your Time is an inspired combination of past and present blues. For this disc Levin shifts the spotlight away from himself to highlight some living blues legends; 92 year old bassist/ vocalist Bob Stroger, Chicago blues legend Lil’ Ed and Louisiana bluesman Lil’ Jimmy Reed, giving the album a juicy vintage feel.
“With the help of legendary blues artists, this album features the heaviest blues I’ve ever recorded in the studio” Ben says. “I’ve always had a lot of respect for and revered the elders of blues, and these sessions are some of the highest honors I’ve had in my career so far.” Take Your Time is a rollicking piano powered blues record with Levin leading the charge, but his special guests bring at least as much to the proceedings as he does. Produced by Levin and recording engineer Matt Hueneman it has a mid-60’s vibe sonically speaking, which suits the material perfectly. 5 of the 12 songs are Levin originals while the others may be more familiar to blues fans. The aforementioned Bob Stroger came in with Jazz Man Blues.
According to the liner notes written by Bob Corritore, “Ben has been able to time travel to blues styles many times older than he is. That’s exactly what this young man aspires to do, to bridge the generational difference with the timeless sacred tradition of the traditional blues stylistic language.” Having 4 of Levin’s albums, I have to agree with Bob; Ben is one of the connections between past and present styles that ensure this music will continue. Hyperbole aside, Take Your Time is just a bunch of fun to listen too.
HOT TRACKS: Take Your Time, I’ve Been Drinking Muddy Water, Lump Of Coal
THE MIDNIGHT DESERT TALK RADIO Andrew Browning & The 9 Pound Hammers (independent) ***+
This is the 2nd album from this former honky-tonk cover band from LA. The Midnight Desert Talk Radio is dusty outlaw country, also labeled as genre-bending gonzo country. There’s some rockin’ and swinging’ on this disc, but there’s still plenty of cow pie on its boots too.
The Midnight Desert Talk Radio is an odd album title, but there is an explanation. “(It’s) a reference to the late nights I spent listening to Art Bell as a kid during my misspent youth” Browning says. “I’ve long tried to escape that prodigal past but as I began to write this record I realized that I had enough tree bark on me to embrace it as part of who I am.” There’s a scrappy looseness to the playing here, a sort of Neil Young or Stones-like swagger that makes the songs approachable, not like the shiny produced to within an inch of its life kind of stuff we hear in country (and pop music in general) today. Organic? Maybe. Natural? Certainly.
If you don’t see yourself in the songs here you’ll see people you know. “These songs bring to life a patchwork quilt of characters who are part me and part who I envision others, like me” Andrew surmises. “These songs are about the families we make as we move through life, the complex dualities we experience, and the deep, imperfect love and lessons that come from those life changing relationships.” His band, The 9 Pound Hammers, hail from all over the US and Europe, but LA is where they came together; you can feel all of that in the music.
With this album, Andrew Browning & The 9 Pound Hammers deliver a fresh brand of Outlaw Country that cuts through the static takes us on one hell of a midnight ride.
HOT TRACKS: Goddman Girl, The Midnight Desert Talk Radio, Unburden Me
GOOD TROUBLE Paul Deslauriers & Annika Chambers (VizzTone) **** ½
This new collaboration from newlyweds Paul Deslauriers and Annika Chambers is about to knock you on your ass. Good Trouble has it all; deep, soulful vocals and great guitar playing that delivers healing magic for the soul. This is really good stuff.
Annika describes the record as “Mavis Staples meets The Rolling Stones” and that’s just how it feels. Paul is a 3-time winner of the “Maple Blues Entertainer Of The Year” here in Canada, and Annika is a 2-time winner of the “Soul Blues Female Of The Year” at The Blues Music Awards. Good Trouble started as pandemic therapy when they got together with guitarist JP Soars and drummer Chris Peet at Chris’s ’home studio in Florida. Before too long, they had a powerful album on their hands. That’s a shitload of talent in one room.
New songs reflecting today’s issues mingle comfortably with choice covers of songs by Joe South, George Harrison, Little Willie John, Peter Green, and a balls-out version of the Mountain classic Mississippi Queen. It’s fair to call Good Trouble a blues record but it’s so much more than that as the tunes rock, roll and inspire, often at the same time. I have albums in my collection by The Paul Deslauriers Band and Annika Chambers, but as much as I dig them separately they are so much more powerful together it’s enough to make you giddy… a combination of their natural talents and their shared love as newlyweds I would guess.
This album has a big heart and the performances from Paul, Annika, Chris and JP will fill you up. Good Trouble is a well-executed, potent artistic statement- it really is that simple.
HOT TRACKS: Mississippi Queen, You’ve Got To Believe, Need Your Love So Bad
STANDIN’ PAT The Lucky Losers (VizzTone) ****
San Francisco’s Lucky Losers are back with their 5th album, and it’s a winner. Standin’ Pat is their unique blend of spirited blues, R&B and Americana with a satisfying retro feel.
The Lucky Losers, led by Cathy Lemons and Phil Berkowitz, are fresh off an impressive haul at the 2021 Independent Blues Awards, taking home 5 of ‘em. Cathy’s voice is, in turns, gritty and angelic while Phil’s vocal is a perfect foil, along with his masterful harp work. Standin’ Pat was produced by Kid Andersen at his fabled Bay area Greaseland Studio, and this record is all about the groove; check out the bump ‘n’ grind feel of Down In Memphis Town and tell me I’m wrong- you can’t.
Standin’ Pat is the kind of album that takes you all over America, from Rust Belt Blues to Try New Orleans. Lyrically the disc addresses the issues that currently challenge the American psyche- and truth be told, the struggles many of us outside the U.S. face too- but I suppose that’s the nature of the blues, isn’t it? Aside from Lemons’ and Berkowitz’s satisfying vocal blend and Phil’s harp playing, the lively horn parts and the performance of the rest of the band (no doubt producer Andersen, a talented guitar player, pitched in too) is as much a part of why SP works so very well. It’s a blast to hear these talented players bouncing off of each other.
While the songs on Standin’ Pat are entertaining (the two-stepping Rich Strike about a nobody horse who won The Kentucky Derby), a tune like Somewhere In The Middle is a battle cry for unity in a country that continues to fracture along blue and red lines. Nobody wants to be lectured all the time, and this record knows when to lighten up.
HOT TRACKS: Rust Belt Blues, Try new Orleans, Down In Memphis Town
KEEP GOING Dave Jordan (independent) ***+
As much as I enjoy driving fast to Black Sabbath or Judas Priest, I love good singer/ songwriters too. Dave Jordan has been described as “the swampy lovechild of Tom Petty, John Prine (who gets a shout out in Pink Super Moon) and Dr. John” as well as “the personification of the New Orleans ethos”. Keep Going, Dave’s 3rd collaboration with Ander Osborne producing, takes you on an Bayou adventure.
‘Americana’ is the label most likely for Keep Going, but it feels like country with Louisiana soul- and Dave’s voice recalls Dwight Yoakam. Aside from Anders Osborne the music on this disc also features Chad Cromwell (Neil Young, Mark Knopfler) on drums, Rurik Nunan on violin and viola, plus George Porter Jr. (The Meters) on bass. The album was recorded at Dockside Studios in Maurice, Louisiana, and you can really feel that New Orleans something.
Musician and longtime WWOZ DJ Marc Stone calls Dave Jordan “one of New Orleans’ great songsmiths and band leaders”. Keep Going is 9 songs in all, including a faithful reading on Dire Straits’ So Far Away From Me with a Louisiana flair. As someone writing album reviews and who used to make a living writing radio ads, I often feel like less than a ‘real writer’, and admire those that really know how to turn a phrase. In his review of this album for Offbeat Magazine, Jay Mazza mentions this line from the opening track Gone Again; “sometimes it feels like a hurricane/ when it ain’t nothin’ but some wind and rain”. It’s just like when I listen to old Tragically Hip and think “Jeez I wish I could write like that.”
Great stories, fine writing, just the right music- this one’s a keeper.
HOT TRACKS: Gone Again, Pink Super Moon, I Don’t Wanna Leave This Dream
TRIBUTE TO PETER GREEN Rick Berthod (independent) ***
Over the years there have been a number of albums paying tribute to the tortured genius of the founder of Fleetwood Mac, but if you want a disc that really captures his spirit and the sound of those early Mac records, Rick Berthod’s Tribute To Peter Green is what you’re looking for.
If you know 60’s era Fleetwood Mac many of these songs will be familiar, particularly Black Magic Woman, Need Your Love So Bad and Rattlesnake Shake. Rick Berthod’s vocals are eerily similar to Green’s, who died in 2020. As a guitar player his feel for the blues was emotionally satisfying, which Berthod works hard to emulate on this disc too, and largely succeeds- making this a real deal blues record.
I’m impressed with the musicianship on Tribute To Peter Green and how much it feels like an actual Peter Green album, but if you really dig his stuff, why not just put on one of those early albums, or a compilation like The Best Of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac? That’s not a knock against what Berthod has achieved here artistically, but I think Peter would have loved it if these songs had been picked up and taken somewhere else, you know?
Tribute To Peter Green was produced by Berthod and guitarist Stoney Curtis who, along with the other musicians involved, have done an outstanding job of capturing the spirit and vibe of early Fleetwood Mac. If you’re not familiar with that era of the band and love the blues, this is a good gateway album to lead you back to the early stuff as you discover the originals. At the end of the day, this is some really tasty bluesmanship.
HOT TRACKS: Oh Well, If You Be My Baby, Need Your Love So Bad