A FOOL’S HEART Justin Saladino Band (Bros) ****+
This is the follow-up to 2016’s e.p. No Worries for this Montreal band. At just 23 Saladino has been on the music scene for about a decade with his brand of breezy, bluesy pop/rock, and I’m guessing he’ll be around a lot longer. Justin says “Developing a taste and ear for sounds that bleed over the genres and generations of the past century, this record is an amalgam of the music that has touched me up to now.” A Fool’s Heart is smooth and extremely likeable. KEY CUT: A Fool I’ll Stay
ENJOY THE RIDE Deb Ryder (Vizztone) ****
A rockin’ blues adventure and the 4th album by this powerhouse blues belter. 13 original tracks here that visit many different blues styles; back porch, hill country, gospel stomp, R&B and some sweet balladry. Overall this album smokes, smolders, rocks and grooves. With a big voice like hers, when Deb Ryder sings, you sit up and take notice- of course having a great band behind you doesn’t hurt either! Enjoy The Ride makes for very good driving music. KEY CUT: Nothin’ To Lose
SIDEWINDER Matty T. Wall (Hipsterdumpster Records) *****
If you like hard, blues-edged guitar based rock & roll Sidewinder is right up your alley. With the spirit and drive of early AC/DC circa Highway To Hell, fellow Aussie Matty T. Wall has a delivered a truly exciting album. Grammy winning producer/ engineer Bob Clearmountain provides the sonic sparkle that reveals Sidewinder in all of its gritty glory. Considering the kind of blues and rock & roll I enjoy, to my ears this may very well be the perfect album. KEY CUTS: Slideride, A Change Is Gonna Come
DON’T LET THE DEVIL RIDE Bob Corritore & Friends (Vizztone) *** ½
Harmonica ace Corritore enlists the help of several vocalists to deliver this old school treat. Sounding very much like a traditional early 60’s blues record, Don’t Let The Devil Ride demonstrates Bob’s considerable skills as producer, bandleader and arranger. This feels like an old Muddy Waters album, which I’m sure was the point. The performances from all concerned here are relaxed and natural, which comes from spending many years on the bandstand. If traditional blues is your groove, this is for you. KEY CUT: Thundering and Raining
UPTOWN COOL Big Harp George (Blues Mountain Records) ***+
A slick sounding set of tunes here that reminds me of The Powder Blues Band. There’s fine playing with witty lyrics about modern concerns like online dating and the human cost of disruptive technologies. No indulgent soloing here- just smart, tasteful playing on these 12 original tunes. Influences from Memphis and New Orleans can be felt here, along with Brazilian jazz and Chicago blues. Modern concerns over a blues backdrop here is restoring blues to its rightful prominence in American popular music. KEY CUT: Alternative Facts
IN THE BOYS CLUB Kat Riggins (Bluzpik Media Group) ****
What a voice- smoky, soulful, a real powerhouse. The press release calls Riggins “the spiritual grand daughter of Koko Taylor”, which a spin through this disc will confirm. From hard driving blues to lighter R&B stuff, all 12 songs were written by Kat and/or her band. Boys Club is meant to be a bold representation of the female presence in the man’s world of the blues, but sexual politics aside it’s just a damn fine album, a spirited set. KEY CUT: Hear Me
VELVET SPACE LOVE Tomislav Goluban & Toni Staresinic (Spona) **
Croatian chill music, anyone? That’s exactly what we have here; instrumental electronica with an occasional bluesy harmonica overlay. Goluban (harmonica) and Staresinic (keyboards) have their own bands, but got together to create Velvet Space Love. Where some find the repetitive music soothing and perhaps hypnotic, I’m kind of bored. Just not my thing I guess, but this could work for a movie soundtrack. KEY CUT: none
RECKONING Billy Price (Vizztone) ***+
The combined talents of soul singer Billy Price and guitarist Kid Anderson has resulted in Reckoning. Joining in is drummer Alex Pettersen, a band mate of Anderson’s from Rick Estrin & The Nightcats, providing a relaxed and supple backbeat. Tracks include songs written by Price and Jim Britton, plus covers of songs by artists like Bobby Bland, Otis Redding, JJ Cale, Swamp Dogg and Johnny Rawls. Smooth and soulful, Reckoning is a good one to throw on and turn the lights down low. KEY CUT: Dreamer
UNFILTERED Paul Filipowitcz (Big Jake Records) ****
This is the 10th record for Filipowicz, and the man done got the blues. Not the greatest singer in the world but he plays his guitar with such brute force that SRV would’ve been jealous as hell. France’s SoulBag Magazine says “Paul plays with the bitter intensity of Big Jack Johnson, Frank Frost and Albert Collins”, and you can hear that as you listen to the album. Paul and his guys sound like a greasy juke joint band on a Friday night, leaning into it and going for broke. It’s dirty, it’s filthy- I love it! KEY CUT: Unfiltered
KEEP PUSHING Artur Menezes (independent) *****
The 4th album for this Brazilian born/ LA based guitarist is intense. He won the Gibson/ Albert King Award for best guitarist and placed 3rd in the band category at the 2018 International Blues Challenge, so he has chops up the bum- sort of a cross between BB King and maybe Albert Collins. Artur plays traditional blues with mastery and respect, augmenting his sound with modern blues as well as other genres, and the results are spellbinding. If Menezes represents where the blues are headed, I am SO in! KEY CUT: Any Day Any Time
WAYWARD TROUBADOUR Mike Aiken (Northwind Records) *** ½
This a bluesy/rootsy album with a definite country feel- perhaps on a different day I’d be more receptive. I admit to finding the stories charming (8 of the songs are originals), but the ‘country-ness’ is putting me off for reasons I can’t quite figure out. It’s a friendly sounding disc, casual and inviting, and the lyrics paint real pictures that you can almost see as you listen… no wonder his last album, 2015’s Captains & Cowboys, was nominated for a Grammy. This is one I’ll need to re-visit down the road. KEY CUT: Travelin’ Bone
PROBLEM CHILD Dany Franchi (Station House Records) ***
An Italian born guitar slinger that sounds like he’s from Texas- who’da thunk it? With a soulful singing voice and a tone not unlike Stevie, it was no surprise to learn Problem Child was recorded in Austin, Texas. It’s a good album, but the title led me to expect something a little more like a barroom brawl than this. Some fine, world class playing here for sure, and Grammy Award-winning engineer Stuart Sullivan was behind the controls for this one, but a little more grit would’ve been nice. KEY CUT: Don’t Steal My Time
DRAGONFLY Long Tall Deb & Colin John (Vizztone) *****
An intoxicating blend of styles and sounds here that would make Page & Plant jealous. Dragonfly incorporates a bedrock of blues sensibilities with rock & roll, surf, spaghetti western, noir jazz, pop, Americana and world roots influences picked up in their travels around the world. Deb’s voice has buckets of soul, Colin is a multi instrumental maestro, and the other musicians involved sound like they’re having a grand time. Dark, mysterious and adventurous, this is definitely my favorite album here this week. KEY CUT: title track
REMEMBER WHAT YOU KNEW BEFORE Katy Guillen & The Girls (Vizztone) ****
An apt title as this Midwest trio revisits material from previous releases, putting fascinating touches on their established sound. The instrumentation is mostly acoustic as they explore the roots of blues, country and folk. The songs aren’t overly challenging melodically but they work, plus Guillen’s vocals and the attendant harmonies are the real stars of the show here. Remember What You Knew Before is an introspective, insightful piece of work that holds up well under repeated spins. Yeah- I really like this one. KEY CUT: Stalling On Dreams
A WOMAN’S SOUL: A TRIBUTE TO BESSIE SMITH Rory Block (Stony Plain) *****
After a series of stunning tributes to bluesmen that she’s encountered in her life, Rory launches her new “power women of the blues” series with this magnificent tribute to Bessie Smith- and it’s a fine way to start.
“Power Women of the Blues has been simmering in my imagination for 54 years” Block says. “It has been my longstanding mission to identify, celebrate and honor the early founders- men and women- of the blues. This series is dedicated to the music of some of my all-time favorite iconic female blues artists, many of whom were shrouded in mystery during the 60’s blues revival, while the recordings of others had simply disappeared.”
A Woman’s Soul was recorded at Aurora Studios in Chatham, New York, whereas many of Rory’s previous records have been home productions. She plays all guitar and bass parts plus a variety of unusual percussion instruments. Having listened to Bessie Smith’s music since 1964 as a teenager, Block’s knowledge of Smith’s songs enables her to take the original band arrangements and sculpt them for acoustic guitar.
A Woman’s Soul, aside from being a fitting tribute to a power woman of the blues, is an intimate and satisfying exploration that must be savored and should be shared.
KEY CUTS: Kitchen Man, Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl, Empty Bed Blues
SOMETHING SMELLS FUNKY ‘ROUND HERE Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio (Alligator) *****+
There are few things in life as genuinely thrilling as master musicians having a good time-that’s what is happening here. Something Smells Funky ‘Round here is the 2nd time out for Bishop, Bob Welsh (piano & guitar) and Willy Jordan (cajon) and it’s big fun!
The trio was formed in late 2015. After just a few of shows, the group’s instantly pleasing music and undeniable chemistry took the blues world by storm. “With a trio, there’s no place to hide” Elvin notes. “You’ve got to be pouring everything you got right out front. You need to be totally into it all the time. It’s really cool to see how people react to the goin’-for-it feel of the music.”
Something Smells Funky mixes rousing originals and reinventions of three Bishop classics with some soul-shaking covers. Willy Jordan sings lead on 4 cuts, including a righteous remake of Jackie Wilson’s Higher And Higher, Bob Welsh’s piano playing is a highlight throughout and Bishop’s guitar playing (a founding member of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band) is from the guts. “This album fell together easily” Elvin notes.
Great playing and tongue occasionally in cheek, like on the title track, Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here is one of 2018’s great records.
KET CUTS: title track, I Can’t Stand The Rain, Bob’s Boogie
LIVE AT OLYMPIC HALL Matt Andersen & The Mellotones (True North) ******
Oh wow. I’ve been a fan since the Banff Sessions record he did with Mike Stevens, but this is something else. Matt’s deep, rich, booming voice in front of a ten piece band at the legendary Halifax music hall is killer and this is one of the best live albums ever.
Matt’s usual thing is one guy/one guitar in soft seaters. “I don’t often get to play shows with everyone standing up” he observes, “(so) it was great to get on stage and have that kind of energy.” Andersen wanted a snapshot fans could come back to again and again, much like he did as a kid with Eric Clapton Unplugged. “A lot of people like to have that representation of what happened” he says. “Anytime I play a show, people ask; ‘which album is most like your live show?’ They want to take home the experience.”
The Mellotones are a ten piece force of nature, a fixture on Halifax’s live music scene; a smokin’ hot horn section, keys, drums and then some. “I felt like a rock star” Matt says. This combination of hot band, soulful singer and a responsive live audience have created the perfect storm and a wonderful experience. The album includes Matt Andersen classics with stuff like a stunning cover of The Band’s Ophelia that will leave you breathless; “great” doesn’t even touch how I feel about Live At Olympic Hall.
KEY CUTS: Alberta Gold, Devil’s Bride, Coal Mining Blues
ENDANGERED SPECIES: THE ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS Cyril Neville (World Order Entertainment/ Louisiana Red Hot Records) *****
Beaucoup de funk, n’est pas? After 50 years of sharing his musical gifts with the world, the youngest brother of the first family of New Orleans music royalty is celebrating becoming 100% owner and controller of his music with a 5 disc box set. In case that’s too rich for you, this finely distilled single disc sampler is the way to go.
Aside from being a member of The Neville Brothers, in 2011 Cyril became leader of The Royal Southern Brotherhood, who’ve released 4 excellent albums to date. Endangered Species is arguably the best of Cyril Neville’s catalogue. As Clarence Toussaint says in the liner notes, “His lyrics- the words and their flow- embody both the ancestral struggle of African-Americans and a joyous celebration of their strength. The essence of his music is in the combination of his spirit and a powerful connection to his African roots.”
There is a feeling in this music that you cannot help but connect with, like when you hear good reggae… the rhythms are similar and you’re tapping into something ancient and familiar- no wonder New Orleans is a party town! Put on Endangered Species and give a listen- you’ll feel better for it; I promise.
KEY CUTS: Second Line Soca, Running With The Second Line, Can’t Stop A Dreamer
RUN TO ME Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar (Fontana North) *** ¾
This, their follow-up to 2015’s debut Send Me A Nightingale, plays like an early 70’s soul record; smoky, sexy, and emotionally taut. Far from the stripped down affair the first disc was, here Martin uses an expanded band.
The combination of soulful songs and gospel-style harmonies goes down well, and Run To Me is like going to church. It’s an old fashioned sounding set emotionally and texturally and, as Serena Ryder has said of Martin’s singing, “she’ll tear your heart out one note at a time.” She’s also one of Colin Cripps’ favorite singers, who calls her “a powerhouse”. That voice has the gift of being able to take a lyric and make it connect.
Run To Me was produced by Darcy Yates, who has favored an old school, vintage approach to the sonics of this disc. While I appreciate the warmth that brings to these songs and how it places them next to the soul stuff in my collection, a cleaner, more modern sound might have worked better. That doesn’t mean I don’t like the disc- I do, a whole bunch- it’s just that a slightly different approach would’ve been more effective.
As sophomore albums go, Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar have hit an inside the park home run with Run To Me.
KEY CUTS: You’re The Love, Wanna Be Your Lover, All Night Long
ME & THE ORIGINATOR Al Basile (Sweet Spot Records) *****
I’ve always been a sucker for a good story, and Basile’s new album is full of ‘em. On Me & The Originator, he alternates stories told by an imaginary musician with songs. It’s an intriguing idea with arresting results.
Al Basile, a prize winning poet and musician, had something different in mind to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his label. “Inspired by the running narrative between the songs on Louis Armstrong: My Musical Biography, I decided to tell a story about an imaginary musician who found lyrics, set music to them, but never admitted he didn’t write the words after he got famous. It’s a story about blues songs- how they came to be, and who can claim them as theirs, that speaks to the history of the music as we’ve inherited it.”
Basile’s lived-in voice is the perfect vehicle for the narrative here, and producer Duke Robillard (who plays guitar too, as he does for everyone he produces) captures the vibe perfectly. I Love the songs, and the stories in between are captivating too. Me & The Originator would make quite a movie- in the meantime, if any road trips come up this summer, this disc is coming with me.
KEY CUTS: She Made Me Believe It, If It Goes It Goes, Poor Boy’s Day as well as all the stories Al tells between tracks)