Music Reviews by the Rock Doctor. Aug 19, 2019

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COMING IN HOT Coco Montoya (Alligator) *****

The latest album in Montoya’s impressive career is a stunner. For raw blues right from the guts Coming In Hot is as good as it gets. It hits the streets August 23rd.

Coco played drums in Albert Collins’ band and was mentored by the Iceman until he was elevated to rhythm guitar. Later, after seeing him jam one night, John Mayall hired him to help restart The Bluesbreakers. Coco is a left-handed player playing a left-handed guitar that is strung upside down, making his dizzying guitar work all the more amazing.

Coming In Hot was produced by Tony Braunagel (Eric Burdon, Curtis Salgado, Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt) and he captures Coco’s soul-baring yet unforced vocals and stunning guitar work with clarity. The disc ranges from the blistering, hard-rocking title cut to a gritty blues shuffle in Water To Wine. For a master class in blues guitar, I refer you to his take on Albert Collins’s Lights Are On But Nobody’s Home– makes the hair on my arms stand up thinking about it; emotional pain rarely sounds this beautiful.

Liner note nerds like me will recognize names like Bob Glaub and Mike Mennell on bass, keyboardist Mike Finnegan, rhythm guitarists Billy Watts and Johnny Lee Schell, with producer Braunagel on drums. Together they’ve created the perfect storm.
As a young drummer who dabbled in guitar, Montoya remembers the night his life changed- seeing Albert King open for CCR in 1969. “After Albert got done playing” he says, “my life was changed. When he played, the music went right into my soul. It grabbed me so emotionally that I had tears welling up in my eyes. Nothing had ever affected me to this level. He showed me what music and playing the blues were all about. I knew that was what I wanted to do.” Coming In Hot will affect people the same way too.

KEY CUTS: Lights Are On But Nobody’s Home, Trouble, Coming In Hot

BURN IT UP Cheyenne James (independent) ****

Holy guacamole, it’s the 2nd coming of Beth Hart! Burn It Up is Ms. James’ debut, and she’s a blues belter in every sense of the word. Man, this is good.
By the time she was 10 Cheyenne was already singing Aretha Franklin, Billie Holliday and Etta James. With a voice as big as Texas and a taste for R&B, she won’t be a secret for long. Other than her natural talent, 15 years of roadwork in every Lonestar State club there is has helped form Cheyenne into a singer that cannot be ignored. Burn It Up is 10 tracks in all; 6 originals along side covers of tunes by artists like Willie Dixon and Van Morrison. It’s the blues, but it’s more than the blues if you get what I mean.

I love her band and what they give her to work with, but James’s voice is the star of the show as she scorches your ears and your heart in ways that leave you begging for more. It was cool to note that the spine-tingling harp work here is by Steve Krase; I have a couple of his albums and love the way he plays. The horn stabs and rolling rhythms on Roll Your Coal give it an almost big band vibe that I really enjoy too.

There’s fire in Cheyenne’s soul and you can feel it in these songs too. With that gigantic voice and a suave band, the sky’s the limit. If Burn It Up is what she has to offer right out of the gate, I can’t wait to find out what’s next.

KEY CUTS: Rock, Grits Ain’t Groceries, What Does It Mean

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD SOUNDTRACK Various Artists (Sony) *****

Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie- you’ll marvel at how this soundtrack puts the flick up on the widescreen in your mind.

Quentin’s soundtracks are as important as his films, which is obvious if you follow his work. They recall the atmosphere, the plot and the characters and this, his 9th movie and soundtrack, are perfect. The canvas is 1969 Hollywood and the Manson murders as we follow the lives of a washed up cowboy star (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double (Brad Pitt) in gritty detail. I’ve only been to Hollywood once, in 2015, but have no trouble believing that it was just like this in ’69.

The devil is in the details and, as with Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is an epically rendered sketch. QT doesn’t just assemble a bunch of tunes that played in prominent scenes; this is hits and obscurities that sum up the period well. Where other soundtracks of his include dialogue from the movie in question, this one includes actual clips (jocks and commercials) from KHJ, the boss radio station in LA at the time. The effect is startling; listening to this is like driving around in an gigantic old ragtop with the radio blasting away. The right music is like time travel, and this s/t takes you right back- even if you were never there.

No spoilers here but I will say I enjoyed Quentin’s version of the Manson thing. Although there are well known songs present by Deep Purple and Neil Diamond this is mainly forgotten gems and rarities that gave my eardrums a chubby. I was 11 in 1969 and so much of this music feels familiar. The Once Upon A Time In Hollywood soundtrack goes into the car exactly as is.

KEY CUTS: California Dreamin’ (Joes Feliciano), Treat Her Right (Roy Head & The Traits), KHJ Batman Promotion

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT SOUNDTRACK Various Artists (Sony) *****

I haven’t seen the movie yet but will soon. It’s about a Pakistani Springsteen super fan in the UK and has become a ‘must-see’ movie of the summer for me.

The Blinded By The Light Soundtrack was released a week before the movie. The easy way out would have been to release a ‘Bruce’s Hits’ compilation that would have done well enough but hits, rare cuts, film dialogue and songs by other artists from the time period paint a full picture of a fan falling in love with Springsteen’s music. If you’ve had that sort of experience with any artist then you know how truly powerful it can be. The filmmakers have made their soundtrack a deep experience too.

Though I’ve been aware of Springsteen’s music since college in the late 70’s and enjoyed the hits, fandom came later for me; the older I get the deeper his music gets for me. I have most of his official releases plus the 4 disc Tracks box set of rarities and leftovers from throughout his career. Speaking strictly of the Blinded By The Light soundtrack, though, it’s a joy to follow Javed’s deepening love for Springsteen’s music and what it means to him and his friends. I’m looking forward to seeing exactly how that plays out on film. As a fan I appreciate the inclusion of songs and live performances that go above and beyond the cattle call of hits. It really feels like Blinded By The Light sums up the soul of the film, and you can’t ask for more than that from a soundtrack.

KEY CUTS: Thunder Road (Liver At The Roxy Theatre), I Never Knew Music Could Be Like That (cast), Maar Chadapa (Heera)

KISS MY SASS Annika Chambers (VizzTone) *****

More Texas-style blues for you here on this, Annika’s 3rd solo album. A title like Kiss My Sass is a wonderfully descriptive title for this funky, soul-drenched adventure.

Fresh off her 2019 Blues Music Award for Soul Blues Female Artists of The year, Annika is back with a fully expressive set that does not let up. She is a powerful, dynamic singer, and listening to her wrap her considerable gifts around this batch of songs is amazing. Ms. Chambers has a blues filled soul, but Kiss My Sass is so much more than that. She is surrounded by terrific musicians including producer/ drummer Tony Braunagel, who also worked on Coco Montoya’s new record. The overall sound is thick, rich and sexy, even in my cheap headphones.

Kiss My Sass also features duets with Ruthie Foster and Toronto’s Paul Deslauriers, and pays homage to Texas blues women Angela Strehli and Carolyn Wonderland. Her phrasing leaves you hanging on every note, full of anticipation for whatever might be coming next, and she never lets us down. It might be premature in her career for me to say this, but Annika Chambers’ voice has the righteous power to put her alongside greats like Aretha. Yeah… she’s that good.

From rousing tracks like Let That Sass Out that starts off the record to the lowdown and intimate blues of Two Bit Texas Town somewhere in the middle, Kiss My Sass is one of those discs that needs to be heard and felt to be believed. You’ll say “oh wow” too.

KEY CUTS: Kiss My Sass, What’s Your Thing, Two Bit Texas Town, Stay

SOLO RIDE Bruce Katz (American Showplace Music) *** +

A truly solo album here from this keyboard player for the stars. Solo Rise is exactly that; an all-instrumental album with Bruce and a grand piano- that’s IT.

I have trouble digesting all-instrumental albums, particularly truly solo projects like this. Bruce is a stunning player with great feel, but I find myself missing a backing band and maybe even a vocal track or two. Lord knows Katz has paid his dues and played alongside an impressive list of artists like Gregg Allman, Delbert McClinton, John Hammond, Ronnie Earl and many others. He was also a Professor of Piano for 14 years at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and his pedigree is on full display here.

Solo Ride features a range of styles, from barrelhouse boogie to jazz, classical, gospel and New Orleans influenced stuff, even a country waltz. Bruce isn’t just banging on the keys here, his playing is detailed, nuanced and adventurous with bluesy overtones that will have you warming up to him as the disc plays. Solo Ride plays like a jazz record with blues overtones. As no less than Pinetop Perkins once said of Katz, “now that’s a piano player” and if anybody would know, it’s Pinetop.

What I miss here, as with most solo instrumental records, is the groove and interplay that comes when musicians play off each other and explore, sometimes sailing off on a tangent just to see if it pays off. Solo Ride really is interesting and cool, but how far and hard you fall for it will depend on how much you love the piano itself.

KEY CUTS: Down At The Barrelhouse, Redemption, Dreams of Yesterday

WE ARE NOT YOUR KIND Slipknot (Warner Music) **** ½

Slipknot’s 6th album is a killer. My son Richard, one of their biggest fans, tells me We Are Not Your Kind has the potential to be one of their biggest- he just might be right.

I always thought Slipknot’s use of masks and disguises was cheesy, but I’m a Kiss fan so what do I know? We Are Not Your Kind, the group’s first album in 5 years, was produced by the band & Greg Fidelman, and the early reviews have been impressive. Billboard Magazine says “Iowa’s greatest musical export has only improved on its genre busting sound” and the UK’s New Music Express simply calls it “an astonishing record”.

Corey Taylor’s mainly extreme vocals, while not uncommon in modern metal, are an acquired taste for cranky guys in their early 60’s- ahem. Once I committed to having serious listen though, the diversity of sonic textures throughout and the range of Taylor’s vocals, from whisper to anguished scream, were a revelation. A song like Spiders has an almost mainstream feel, Unsainted is a full frontal assault, and while Orphan starts out quietly it is one of the most sonically and lyrically violent songs I’ve ever heard.

It’s going to take awhile to absorb We Are Not Your Kind, there’s just too much going on for me to take it all in at once… sort of Pink Floyd meets Cannibal Corpse. It’s the albums that you have to work to get inside of that tend to stay with you the longest, and the couple of hours I’ve already spent listening already have been a rich experience.

KEY CUTS: My Pain, Spiders, Unsainted

LUCKY GUY The Nick Moss Band (Alligator) *** ¾

Blues guitar virtuoso Nick Moss and harmonica Ace Dennis Gruenling are on a tear. They just got together in 2016 and this is already their second album. Lucky Guy is spirited, fun-loving jump blues that is sure to keep the party going.

Lucky Guy was produced by Rick Estrin & The Nightcats’ guitarist Kid Andersen, who is becoming quite the big time blues producer. Lucky has a swingin’ Chicago sound but, as Moss himself notes, there are a few other flavors too; Louisiana swamp pop, West Coast blues, New Orleans funk and early period rock & roll. “When the band and I get on stage, the music takes over” Moss says. “We can’t hold back and the energy just comes pouring out. We get carried away.” Listening to the masterful interplay between Nick, Dennis and rest of the guys here, that is quite likely the case.

Lucky Guy feels like it could have been made in the 60’s, there’s a wildness to the mix and performances. All but one of the 14 songs, Johnny O’Neal Johnson’s Ugly Woman, are original compositions. The band grooves like crazy, and the soloing from Moss on guitar and harp by Gruenling are full of emotion and controlled abandon. The energy is right there from the beginning and it’s infectious throughout, this must be what the band sounds like on stage too. A bunch of great musicians having a good time? Yeah- put me next to that any time. Lucky Guy is a winner.

KEY CUTS: Movin’ On My Way, Ugly Woman, Simple Minded

SITTING ON TOP OF THE BLUES Bobby Rush (Deep Rush Records) *****

Here is Rush’s 75th release. Sitting On Top Of The Blues is R&B-infused magic, and Bobby, at 85, is at the top of his game with this superb release.

“I’m sitting on top of the blues” Bobby says on his website. “I’m a bluesman who’s sitting on top of his game, proud of what I do, proud of who I am and thankful for people accepting me for what I am and who I am.” After decades of sweating it out on the chitlin’ circuit in no holds barred funk-fests, with this new album Rush’s time has come. He is a blues singer with few peers, and he’s followed up his Grammy win for 2015’s Porcupine Meat with a very worthy successor.

Rush’s influences include his preacher father, Louis Jordan, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Bobby Bland and BB King. “When you hear my music you can hear a little of this, a little of that” he says. “You get about 20 guys I like, put ‘em all in a bowl and stir ‘em up… that’s a Bobby Rush blues soup.” Bobby’s sly and sensuous vocals and spicy harp work deliver the goods as elastic grooves simmer and surge behind him. The result on Slow Motion is Barry White level blues/funk aural porn.

The beauty of the blues is the older you get, the more oomph your music has. That’s the case with singer/ harp players like Bobby Rush; he’s well into his 80’s and still making great music. If Rush wins another Grammy for Sitting On Top of The Blues, I won’t be a bit surprised.

KEY CUTS: Slow Motion, Bow Legged Woman, Good Stuff, Bobby Rush Shuffle

RAIN CITY BLUES Arsen Shomakhov (independent) *** ¾

Another Kid Andersen production here. This Vancouver based Russian singer/ guitarist combines rockin’ & jump blues and funky boogaloo with R&B, rock ‘n’ roll and ska/ shuffle/ reggae to make Rain City Blues an enticing and lively listen.

Tom Harrison, a music critic for The Vancouver Province that I’ve read for decades, accurately sums up Shomakhov when he says “his excellent guitar work pays rare attention to tonal variety and to creating strong rhythms as well as fleet-fingered, inventive solos.” As a singer, he reminds me of the great John Mayall. Rain City Blues is 10 original songs, including a couple of cool instrumentals.. The band behind Arsen includes producer Andersen on bass, keys and background vocals, Alexander Pettersen and June Core on drums, and Aki Kumar blowing some tasty harp on the opening cut, Full-Time Lover. As is important for an album like this, it also sounds like they were having a pretty good time.

Arsen Shomakov is a Maple Blues Awards nominee who is dedicated to the roots of the blues and yet he never hesitates to borrow means of expression from other genres to achieve his musical goals. That’s just one of the things that makes Rain City Blues such an enjoyable listen. On my first spin it felt a little too clean and tight, particularly for the blues, but now on my 4th trip through it’s apparent I just wasn’t paying attention. Named for the city he now calls home, this disc actually does feel like Vancouver. The more I listen, the more I like; that’s always good.

KEY CUTS: Full-Time Lover, Women And Whiskey, Strolling In San Jose

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