TRIBUTE Jack de Keyzer (Blue Star Records) ****
The latest record from this Canadian blues guitar hero is a six string feast. Combining the bluster of classic rock with blues finesse, Tribute is a powerhouse record that John Valenteyn of Maple Blues calls “a rock blues album with nods to guitar influences Clapton, Hendrix and Page.” If you enjoy great guitar playing, this disc will see you right. Turns out he’s a pretty good singer too.
While I love all kinds of blues, the stuff that rocks is the kind of blues that sticks with me the most and stays the longest in my CD player. Tribute does that so very well, but Jack steps out with some smooth soul and aggressive funk too. The album was recorded, mixed and mastered by de Keyzer- not so shiny as to lose its depth, and not so rough around the edges that you wish he’d have kept a tighter rein on things, all in all a well balanced attack, musically aggressive when it needs to be and in the pocket in spots like the reggae-ish Keep The Fire Burning, not unlike mid-period Clapton. It’s kind of the same feel, to me at least, as SRV’s In Step, which was also equal parts blues and rock.
Tribute is a powerhouse record fuelled by de Keyzer’s virtuosity, complimented by the diversity of material. There’s the aforementioned reggae number, a slow blues like You Turned My World Blue and hard charging rockers like Are You Ready and Forever which open and close the record. Jack’s band mates rate a mention here too; Richard Thornton on sax and percussion, Alan Duffy on bass, Nick Succi on keys, and Peter Grimmer on drums; the playing is tight with grooves you can really feel. Rockin’ blues with chunks of funk and a whole lotta soul- I could definitely get used to this.
KEY CUTS: Forever, Supernatural, If My Baby Left Me
JOHN THE REVELATOR John Fusco & X-Road Riders (Checkerboard Lounge Recordings) *****
Fusco is a screenwriter as well as a blues musician, and fans will best know him for the screenplay for 1986’s Crossroads starring Ralph Macchio and the late Joe Seneca. John The Revelator is his second album, full of all the mojo we could hope for.
Nobody creates in a vacuum and John Fusco is no different. Aside from his band The X-Road Riders, a veritable who’s who from the blues world rolled up their sleeves and pitched in here. Cody Dickinson (the North Mississippi Allstars) who produced Fusco’s first is behind the board once again- he also contributes some drums, guitar, dobro, piano and electric washboard. We also have Memphis soul singer Risse Norman (NMA, Samantha Fish). Sarah Morrow, former trombonist for Ray Charles and bandleader for Dr. John is a new collaborator, and renowned jazz guitarist/ producer George Walker Petit is also along for the ride. John The Revelator feels like a long, hot southern summer, and at 20 cuts over two discs it’s a very generous helping.
John The Revelator, with a retelling of the old Son House classic kicking things off, is emotionally power modern blues-infused Americana with splashes of gospel, pop, soul and rock woven into its fabric. Fusco’s weathered voice wears these songs well, and no doubt it’s his screenwriting experience that lends his lyrics a cinematic touch as listening to each song feels much like watching a movie. It gets pretty deep and quite dark in some places, with the gorgeous minor key blues of the lengthy Bad Dog on disc one being the musical and emotional centre of the album. For that one John brought back the ‘Northern chapter’ of the Riders; Kurt Pierson (guitar), Danny Diego (bass), Magic Mark Lavoie (harp), and Spencer Perry (drums). He takes on Trump, too, with Snake Oil Man.
You’ll find a lot of times that long records- double albums- usually overstay their welcome, a good record that could’ve been great if they dropped a pile of songs. The case with John The Revelator, however, is the opposite; even after 20 songs you’ll find yourself wanting more. This is a dark, gorgeous, beautifully executed set of songs that couldn’t possibly be any more gripping and absorbing if it wanted to.
KEY TRACKS: DISC ONE: Bad Dog, Why You Chose Me
DISC TWO: Language Of Angels, Song For Peter
TENNESSEE RUN Loyd Jones (VizzTone) ****
This is a delicious serving of swampified American roots music, and Jones has the talent and mileage to pull it off with debonair ease. Tennessee Run sees Lloyd bringing together some of Nashville’s mightiest players for a giddy, free-wheeling adventure.
Lloyd Jones’s early years found him working with some of the greats; Earl King, Charlie Musselwhite, Big Mama Thornton and Albert Collins. With 9 solo albums under his belt containing songs covered by countless others, Lloyd has landed in Nashville and the results are magic. Tennessee Run was inspired on the Delbert McClinton “Sandy Beaches” cruise and brings together some truly jaw-dropping talent from music City USA. Jones wrote all 14 songs, and the album includes keyboardist/ producer Kevin McKendree along with special guests Delbert McClinton and Teresa James.
Tennessee Run is an album with tons of groove, feeling at times like James Brown meets Dr. John. It takes a supple, twisting path through the heart and soul of Tennessee, a record that delights and inspires at every turn, with what feels like a sprinkling of Louisiana hot sauce as those horns weave in and out of the vocal melodies. I really enjoy the relaxed tension of the rhythm section that includes Ken Blevins on drums, more R&B than blues or country, really. Swampified American roots music really is the best description for this particular party; it’s no wonder that guys like Gatemouth Brown, Coco Montoya, Joe Louis Walker and Curtis Salgado have seen fit to cover some of Lloyd’s tunes in the past when you consider how great this record makes you feel.
Lloyd’s arrival in Nashville may be relatively recent but if Tennessee Run is any indication of what he can come up with in that environment, he should stick around town for awhile. This is a jubilant album that’s full of life, smiles and good times, like R&B and country’s carefree yet soulful bastard child; excellent company in these dark times.
KEY CUTS: Where’s My Phone?, Love Is Everything, Chevrolet Angel
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WALKIN’ THE BLUES Federico Luiu (independent) **** ½
What we have here is a funked up expression of the blues. Walkin’ The Blues is his first solo record, and even at just 7 cuts it feels like a heaping helping of jazzy goodness.
Luiu’s passion for music was passed down through his dad’s record collection containing Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter, SRV, Albert and BB King and Albert Collins. Naturally talented he began playing at the age of 13 and progressed quickly from home performances to larger concerts in his hometown of Sardinia, Italy. He moved to Canada in 2012 and fell in with other talented players like Jorn Andersen (Alannah Myles), Michael Fontana (Lou Reed), Al Cross (Big Sugar), Joey Landreth (Sonny’s brother) and his musical idol Matt Schofield. Federico helped form Sons of Rhythm, a well known combo on the festival circuit, but by 2019 decided to stretch his wings and go solo.
Walkin’ The Blues is a set of blues with some walking bass lines and an upbeat, jazzy and sophisticated feel that can also rock. It features guest appearances from Alexis Baro, Anthony Brancati, Joey Landreth, Matt Schofield and Alison Young to name a few. Federico’s a smooth player, not unlike his hero Schofield, with maybe a touch of Colin James. This sounds more sophisticated than the title might lead you to believe, but if we insist on calling this blues I’d go with ‘jump blues’ as a description. That said the instrumental Like A Woman that ends the album is definitely country, sounding like a high speed Vince Gill guitar twang-fest workout.
Walkin’ The Blues may not sound exactly like what I was expecting, but in this case that’s a delightful surprise. This feels like blues played in a suit as opposed to a t-shirt and jeans, and that’s refreshing. Production is clean and well balanced and the musicianship is absolutely top shelf all around. If I have one complaint about this disc, it’s too short… but don’t forget the old showbiz adage about leaving them wanting more. In regards to Walkin’ The Blues, I definitely want to hear more.
KEY CUTS: She’s Gone (with Matt Schofield), Funky Bee, Like A Woman
OVERLOOK Blind Fiction (independent) ****+
The second album from this Milwaukee-based blues/rock trio is a force to be reckoned with. Overlook incorporates tasty guitar licks with jam band-style grooving as guitarist/ vocalist Tim Wright sings about relationships and mental health issues. It took me a few spins to pick up on that, but now I’m all in.
Blind Fiction have created their own sound while paying homage to some of their musical heroes like Clapton, The Allman Brothers, The Grateful Dead and John Mayer. If you like any of those guys, chances are pretty good you’re going to really feel this one. BF is singer/ guitarist Tim Wright with Eric Madunic on bass, guitar and keys and Nick Lang on drums. There are also a number of guests on horns with some guest spots on keys, guitar and bass too. As Overlook plays I’m thinking it feels more like jazz than anything else… they like to settle into a groove and it kind of feels like they’re following wherever the music leads them.
The production notes on the back of the CD cover are too tiny for my aging eyes to read, but Overlook has a tight, uncluttered sound that gives everyone room without the musicians stepping on each others’ toes, and as listeners we get to sort of just catch the wave and go along for the ride. It’s a record you can appreciate on lyrical and musical levels, at the same time or separately if you prefer. I’m on my third run through as I write this and so far have been enjoying the music itself and how that makes me feel. The one-sheet is where I got the line about the lyrics being about “relationships and mental health issues”, so perhaps the next time through (or the time after that) I’ll zero in on exactly what Tim is singing about.
Blues, jazz, call Overlook whatever you like; this is damn tasty playing.
KEY CUTS: I’ll Deal With you Later, Better Man, Waiting On A Tragedy.