Hot Wax Album Reviews by the ROCK DOCTOR Oct. 3, 2022

FALL BACK HOME Suzie Vinnick (Independent) *****+

This is the most charming and inspiring record I’ve heard all year. Fall Back Home, Vinnick’s 7th disc, is a delicious mix of rock, folk, blues, even jazz under a ‘roots’ umbrella.  The eloquence and consistency of the songs makes for unforgettable listening.

Suzie has earned 10 Maple Blues awards in her three decade long career, has a trio of Juno nominations, and a pair of wins at the prestigious International Songwriting Competition; the girl has talent and chops up the wazoo.  Fall Back Home touches on several different styles, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with her work. “I am an artist who loves a lot of different musical styles” Suzie says. “I think of someone like Bonnie Raitt who dips her toes in a lot of places but still has a cohesiveness to her work and what she presents. I aspire to that.”

FBH was recorded at Toronto’s Cantebury Music Company (as was Lee Palmer’s debut in 2013) with remote recording from various studios for additional instrumentation, and exquisitely produced by Danny Greenspoon.  The 11 songs include 7 Vinnick originals plus covers of Chilliwack’s Raino (Bill Henderson plays guitar on it),Roy Forbes’ Let Me Make It Up To You Tonight and John Fogerty’s Big Train (From Memphis).  She has a knack with Fogerty’s stuff;  listen to her version of A Hundred and Ten In The Shade from 2018­– go ahead, I’ll wait.

The title Fall Back Home is a lyric from Talk To Me, co-written with Matt Andersen who contributes vocals to the track too.  In addition to Andersen an elite group of Canadian roots musicians took part here including Steve Dawson, Kevin Breit, Colin Linden and Alec Fraser just to name a very few.  From the gospel tinged Lift You Up to rockin’ blues like Salt & Pepper (already played on one of my radio shows) and cozy warm ballads like Talk To Me, as you listen you just can’t wait for Ms. Vinnick to tell you another story.  Her clear and bright vocals have a sort of playful early Rickie Lee Jones vibe with a quiet, seductive swagger, especially on numbers like Let Me Make It Up To You Tonight.

I’ve heard lots of great discs in 2022, but Fall Back Home is one of the most compelling. When she sings The Pie That My Baby Makes accompanied only by Russ Boswell’s stand-up bass, you’ll be putty in her hands.  This album isn’t just good, it’s great.

HOT TRACKS:  The Pie That My Baby Makes, Talk To Me, Raino

MIDNIGHT BLUES Crystal Shawanda (True North Records) *****

Crystal Shawanda is one of my favorite blues singers of either gender, any generation.  Midnight Blues is powered by the full throttled raspy voice that she wields with frightening authority.  This is fire ‘n’ brimstone blues, and Shawanda is at the top of her game.

“Growing up, all of my favorite music had these breadcrumbs that led me to the blues” Crystal says.  “I often quote Willie Dixon; ‘Blues is the roots and everything else is the fruits’.  Even in today’s pop music, there’s all this influence that derives from the blues. I was always just really attracted to the rawness and realness of the blues.”  Midnight Blues is her 8th album, fifth since switching from a chart topping career as a country artist.  Produced and engineered in Nashville by her husband and long-time collaborator Dwayne Strobel, there’s nary a false note on the entire record; she sings it like she means it.

Shawanda’s voice is a thing of incredible power, along the lines of a Janis Joplin, Sass Jordan or Beth Hart, and she holds nothing back.  That was not the case in her time as a country artist. “I had a country hit on the radio, and I would show up at country music festivals and I’d do a BB King cover or Buddy Guy or Etta James” she remembers. “As much as I loved (country music), I had to restrain my voice a lot.  It’s very hard to hold back, and sometimes it was exhausting, whereas with the blues I could just let it fly.”

One of the great things about Midnight Blues is the live energy it has, an electricity in the songs and performances.  She co-wrote most of the songs with Dwayne, and notable covers include Howlin’ Wolf’s Evil and Buddy Guy’s What Woman Is This, originally heard (by me anyway) on his 2005 record Bring ‘Em In.  She sings them all with passion and fire because ultimately that is where her heart lays. “I’m a purist at heart, so (I’m) always diving back to learn from the masters” she says, “like Etta James, as far as vocalists; Muddy Waters, as far as feeling; and Buddy Guy, as far as stylists who have a lot of swagger.”    The album also includes multi-instrumentalist Steve Marriner and the late, great Harpdog Brown, so the blues community at large recognizes her talent and passion for this music.

It’s quite simple, really; Midnight Blues is one hellaciously excellent blues album that belongs in your collection.

HOT TRACKS:  Take A Little Walk With The Moon, Evil, What Kind of Man Is This

ONE FOOT IN THE GROOVE The Boneshakers (Take It to The Bridge Records) *****

If ever there was a perfect album title, this is it. One Foot In The Groove grooves ‘til the freakin’ cows come home. I wanted to like this disc as soon as I saw the title but The Boneshakers have really gone above and beyond.  Soulful vocals over a constantly flexing funk backdrop with blues attitude makes for a thrilling record.

The Boneshakers are led by guitarist Randy Jacobs of Was (Not Was), Jenny Langer of Moonshine Society is their new singer, and their meeting was serendipitous.  Jenny was in LA working on her next album with Moonshine Society when producer John Wooler called in The Boneshakers as her studio band with Jacobs as musical director.  The musical connection was instant- you can feel it here- and a whole album was clearly called for.

One Foot In the Groove is no holds barred funk, blues and rock, a soulful mixture that marries the sound and spirits of Detroit, Memphis and Muscle Shoals. Producer Wooler (Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter, Pops Staples, Robben Ford) has a particular genius when it comes to this kind of music and bringing it out of whomever he works with.  Some special guests were involved here too including The Texicali Horns, guitarist Coco Montoya and Stones backup singer Bernard Fowler.  You can feel all of the musicians vibing off of each other in a big way… hearing all of these talented players pulling in the same direction gives you goosebumps.

As musical director Randy Jacobs can claim a good share of the credit for how this record turned out.  His old bandmate Don Was calls him “one of the funkiest and most original guitar players on Earth.  Contrary to the (album) title, (this disc) finds him up to his knees with both feet in the deep in the groove.”  But what makes One Foot a great album instead of a good one is singer Jenny Langer.  Her raw, passionate style holds nothing back as she sings with muscle and soul, putting her right up there with any of the great blues/ soul shouters you’d care to name.  Calling her a ‘powerful singer’ doesn’t even begin to touch how impressive she is here.

From an incredibly soulful version of The Stones’ Let’s Spend The Night Together that buries the original to any other track you’d care to name, The Boneshakers have managed the nearly impossible; a perfect album.  One Foot In The Groove is incredible.

HOT TRACKS: Let’s Spend The Night Together, Ain’t Got The Fever No More, Ice Cream and Cigarettes

MONSTERS UNDER MY BED Lost Pyramids (independent/ bandcamp) *** ½

Never been much into jam bands, but Lost Pyramids tickled my curiosity.  Self -described on their website as “an improvisational, psychedelic jam band that keeps it fresh with dynamic grooves and spacey jams”, Monsters Under My Bed is a delight.  It defies regimented analysis, instead asking you to go with the flow.  Are you up for that?  As it turns out, I am.

Monsters Under My Bed is their debut, and the band includes Chuck Wilson on guitar and vocals, Larry Sheridan on bass and vocals, Andrew Stump on keys and vocals, plus Nate Hockenberry on drums and vocals.  Their laid back approach to these songs belies the quality of musicianship as they groove relentlessly and seemingly effortlessly.  The relaxed, spacey swing of this disc makes getting inside the music itself a pleasure; you’re on the inside before you even know it. Their stuff is described- again, on the website- as “an eclectic mix of originals heavily influenced by the music of Phish and The Grateful Dead with a hint of jazz fusion- you never know what you’re gonna get.”

Sheridan and Hockenberry keep the backbeat easy to track, while Wilson’s Wes Montgomery-esque flights of guitar (often lengthy as is the jam band way) are central to the appeal of these 9 cuts.  There is a distinct jazz feel to much of what they do but the band doesn’t play above our heads… they want us to come in, put our feet up and go with the ebb and flow of wherever their creative muse takes them.  Decent vocals here- not sure who’s singing when- but they are a self-described “improvisational, psychedelic jam band”, so it’s on those stretched out instrumental sections where Lost Pyramids make their bones.

Other than what’s already been described above, it’s hard to put into words what makes this band so dang cool to listen to.  After a blood curdling run in the rat race, Monsters Under My Bed seems nigh on the perfect disc to put on when you need something to pull you back down from the ceiling.  It’s dreamy, it’s groovy, it just might be what you need to help lower your blood pressure.  Been a profoundly weird week where I live and this does the trick for me.  Check out their website, or go to and give a listen for yourself.

HOT TRACKS:   Party In The Rain, The Fool, Blindside

DEFINED BY LOVE Miss Emily (independent) ****+

Oh MAN what a voice!  The new studio album from Kingston Ontario’s Miss Emily is like a warm embrace from a long lost friend or family member. Defined By Love is a deeply personal meditation on deception, pain, resilience and finding strength among the ruins of heartbreak.  The album’s message is as simple as it is compelling, spelled out by the title; be defined by love.

When it comes to soulful singing, there aren’t many that can hold a candle to Miss Emily.  With Aretha and Ray Charles as her mentors and k.d. lang as the benchmark to reach for, her soul drenched gumbo of blues, old-school R&B and jazz reaches right into your chest cavity to give the ol’ ticker a good squeeze.  In the wrong hands Defined By Love (her 4th album) could’ve turned overly sweet, but with Steve Marriner (Monkeyjunk) at the helm, he brought out some startling performances from her and supplied a forceful backdrop.

Aside from a powerful voice, Miss Emily (Fennell is her last name) as also a good looking woman (similar to Phoebe on Friends), but despite the advice of some highly placed music biz insiders, she steadfastly refuses to put on a persona.  What you get with her is the real deal, her genuine self on stage and off, and Defined By Love is driven by her commitment to the truth in her art.  The disc is a warts-and-all diary of a year filled with confusion and anger, lost relationships and found humanity, and I think we c an all relate to that.

Defined By Love is an emotionally blistering set of songs as Miss Emily sings with the gospel fervor of a young Aretha, a blend of soul and blues that will knock you on your ass if you’re not ready for it.  Most of these 12 cuts were written by Emily with the exception of Radiohead’s Just, To The End Of The World written by Colin MacDonald, John-Angus MacDonald and Chris Kirby, plus a co-write with The Hip’s Rob Baker on The Keeper.  There’s lots of rockin’ stuff here, but the soul of the record is summed up in the ballad Three Words with just Miss Emily’s passionate, dramatic vocal and a piano.  I’m listening to it as I type this and getting goosebumps.

Defined By Love is dramatic, personal, truthful, well produced, heartfelt, startling, deep and rich.  I could go on for hours about how wonderful the album is but instead of listening to me quack, give it a spin for yourself.

HOT TRACKS:  Three Words, Defined By Love, Just

QUEEN OF THE HILL Niecie (Ride The Tiger Records) *** ¾ 

This is Niecie’s latest album, and she has a mess of ‘em.  She’s a raw and soulful Detroit-style blues belter, an old schooler along the lines of Hurricane Ruth, and Queen Of The Hill is a fierce and passionate piece of work.

Niecie has been around awhile and has shared stages with stone cold legends like Koko Taylor, Larry McCray, Magic Slim & the Teardrops and former member of The Allman Brothers Band Johnny Neel, who exec-produced Queen Of The Hill.  There are some very talented younger artists out there to be sure, but the blues in the hands of someone with mileage and experience possesses a type of magic that you just can’t tap into any other way; you can hear and feel that.

Niecie is a ballsy dame and her vocals are weathered but not gruff.  Praise is due to producer Neel, who drew in a number of superb players to rollick and roll behind her.  They play to Niecie’s strengths, and the result is a band and singer than come together for something earthy and natural that spills out beyond the blues.  A laid-back mid-tempo number like Nothing Left To Lose sounds like it could even cross over to country radio but let’s keep it to ourselves shall we?

Blues Blast Magazine says “If you are an entertainer that’s going to go by one name (like Sting, Cher or Bono), you had better have the talent to back it up, and Niecie passes this test easily.”  She turning to the blues via a chance meeting with Magic Slim.  She was doing a gig with her rock band in Lincoln, Nebraska.  She stepped outside for a break, and unbeknownst to her it had been heard by Magic Slim who was on a break from his gig at another bar.  Slim approached her and said “girl, you need to sing the blues!” and invited her to join him onstage at the Zoo Bar.  The rest, as they say, is history…. Or should we say ‘blues history’?

Queen Of The Hill is straight up blues with some Motown funk and gospel muscle, a set of songs that just plain works. Kudos to all of the musicians involved for some mighty sweet playing, and to Niecie herself for a soulful and rockin’ performance with swagger and attitude.  Dig it.

HOT TRACKS:  Nothing Left To Lose, Leave It All Behind, Every Kinda Blues


Previous articleEffect Change: National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
Next articleRingo Star cancels Penticton show due to COVID-19
The Rock Doctor is in the Cyber House to tell you how it is! (or at least my own opinion). Want a music review? email: \m/


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.