Music Reviews by the Rock Doctor – June 8th, 2019

COUNTRYWIDE SOUL Jim Cuddy (Warner Music Canada) *** 

A new solo album here from the voice of Blue Rodeo, ‘re-imagining’ solo material and Blue Rodeo gems. Covers of songs by George Jones and Glen Campbell are included, plus 2 new songs.  All in all, a reasonably pleasant diversion.

After touring to support his last solo album Constellation, Cuddy and his band reconvened at his farm in southern Ontario. Countrywide Soul was recorded live on the top floor of Jim’s barn and kept as natural as possible, capturing the ambience of the room and the energy that only comes from playing together live. “When choosing songs for the album, I tried to find those in which I could change the mood and tone, songs that had been underdeveloped on previous records” Cuddy says.

Countrywide Soul sounds like a long lost Blue Rodeo record, thanks to Jim’s voice and the songs themselves.  I question re-doing previous material, but with Cuddy’s band playing the songs on the road, it makes sense they would want to re-cast them.  “The songs evolve and become part of our collective imagination” Jim notes, “but on tour is where they really take flight. We are connected by art, by what we create together- that’s what I wanted to capture (here).  I enjoy listening to the band (as they) reveal their imagination and add their creativity to the songs.”

Countrywide Soul was produced by Cuddy, Tim Vesley and Colin Cripps, sounds just as an album with a title like this should, and the playing is superb.  I’m not intimately familiar with everything Blue Rodeo or Cuddy have done, so these songs feel new to me.  For bigger fans the new songs plus the Jones and Campbell tunes will be the most fun, though you’ll enjoy comparing the Blue Rodeo/ Cuddy numbers to the originals too.   Either way, this is like a welcome visit from an old friend.

KEY CUTS:  Glorious Day, title track, Rhinestone Cowboy\

BEST OF LIVE Karen Lawrence and Blue By Nature (Hostel Records) ****

In a crowded genre- the blues- it’s hard to stand out, but not for Karen Lawrence.  Her muscular and ferocious voice puts her head and shoulders above other contenders and Best Of Live, though previously released material, is exciting.

It’s lazy to compare female blues belters to Joplin but in the case of Karen Lawrence, it’s actually warranted.  Her rough edge and physical power make you think ‘this isn’t somebody to mess with’.  Yes it’s older material; 8 of her most requested tracks, re-mastered, from 1998’s Live At The Lake, but the songs and performances are outstanding.  That she has shared stages in the past with Koko Taylor and Buddy Guy and been praised by John Lee Hooker is believable- she has the chops to hang with the big dogs.

On Best Of Live, Lawrence sounds like the kind of singer Melissa Etheridge tries to be.  There is so much raw strength in every line she sings but incredible control too, and her band’s passionate musicianship is a perfect match.  This was a sweat-soaked gig, primal blues coupled with R&B grooving capable of packing the dance floor, and I can only imagine how great it must have been to be in the audience that night.

Best Of Live accomplishes what a live record should; make you wish you had been there.

KEY CUTS:  You Got Me Workin’ It’s All About You, It’s Been So Long

REVELATION Tullie Brae (Endless Blues) ****

A sultry blues escapade beckons from the 10 tracks that make up Brae’s new album Revelation. Part Alannah Myles and part Gladys Knight, this disc takes us to church and then takes us back home on a riveting blues thrill ride.

Tullie developed her musical skills in churches in Louisiana, imbuing her new music with gospel soul, punch and emotion.  All the songs on Revelation are originals and, together, they make an impressive statement.  The emotional content alone puts you on the edge of your seat; Price of The Blues is a powerful exploration of domestic violence and home-grown justice, and Mississippi Rain tells the story of a failed love that just won’t fade from memory.

Aside from her expressive voice, Tullie also plays piano, Hammond B3 and slide on various tracks, and the other musicians she and producer Jeff Jensen surround themselves with raise the level of these songs so high, a track like Ain’t No Good packs the same power as pumping grace in a Pentecostal church on Sunday.  I freely admit that, upon first seeing the album cover I was apprehensive- what could a woman this good looking possibly know about the blues?  Plenty, as it turns out.  As soon as she starts to sing on the opening cut such misguided notions are quickly set aside for an extremely gratifying trip.

Revelation is a blues record with gospel passion that should be heard by as many people as possible.  Tullie Brae is a singer/ songwriter I hope to hear more from in the future.

KEY CUTS:  Price of The Blues, Mississippi Rain, Ain’t No Good

FIGURE IT OUT Luca Kiella (independent) ***

An EP here from Luca Kiella, an Italian transplant to the city of Chicago.  A mix of blues, funk and soul with a jazzy deftness, these 5 songs are a good time.

The struggle of finding his true identity in life and music is at the centre of Figure It Out. Luca’s got a likeable voice that reminds me a wee bit of Elton John, and his keyboard work, particularly on piano and Hammond, contain echoes of his heroes Ray Charles and Jon Cleary. He’s toured for years as a sideman to artists like Toronzo Cannon and Popa Chubby, making a name for himself as one of the Windy city’s premier sidemen.

Figure It Out is a set of blues and soul songs with kind of a vintage pop feel, the lyrics heartfelt and the piano playing adding a brightness and soul to the tunes.  The blues and gospel are closely related, and this disc makes a compelling case.  My biggest complaint?  I wish there were more songs but it’s like the old showbiz adage; “always leave them wanting more”.  Kiella does just that.

KEY CUTS:  Unnecessarily Mercenary, I Can’t Stop Loving You

KIND OF BLUES Adam Holt (Zenith Records) ***+

A new album for this Alabama based roots singer/ guitarist. Kind Of Blues combines country with blistering southern rock and the blues in an irresistible and soulful mash-up that fans of The Band and Skynyrd will appreciate.

“The title, Kind of Blues, is a reflection of the styles within the sound of the album” Holt says, “a blend of blues, country, Americana and rock & roll, tied together by contemporary blues licks.”  The name is also a nod to Miles Davis and his legendary Kind of Blue record, owing to the fact that trumpet was Holt’s first instrument, from middle school through college. So there’s more to these blues than meets the eye.

Kind Of Blues was produced by Adam, recorded at his commercial studio in Alabama on analog equipment.  The band played together to get the basic tracks, with guitar solos and backing vocals overdubbed later. Lots of good storytellin’ here too; “With every song I wanted to speak from the heart” Holt says, “be it my own experiences or the experiences of those that I love.”  The opening cut, Mr. Morning Drive, is a charmer.  Co-written with his wife Jillian, it’s about the amazing life of her grandfather Jack Bell, who was a radio DJ for over 50 years and retired at the golden age of 90; the kind of radio career I had hoped to have.  The song even uses Jack’s actual voice at the beginning and end of the song- how cool is that?

American music at its core, with Alabama blues and rock at the fringes.  Kind of Blues is an album that’s worth getting to know.

KEY CUTS:  Mr. Morning Drive, The Bourgeoisie, Bobby

AGITPOP Lowest Of The Low (Warner Music Canada) ***

This is the 6th album since LOTL’s 1991 formation and more of the punk-inspired jangle pop that made them the darlings of the Queen Street West club circuit of Toronto… and I like it.

On Agitpop, Lowest wear the influences of their youth on their collective sleeve; The Clash, Squeeze, The Specials and Elvis Costello & the Attractions to name a few.  Bandleader Ron Hawkins says this is one of the most overtly political records he’s written, certainly since their beginning and the days of Reaganomics. . “With fascism on the rise again throughout the world and the steaming wreckage of neo-liberalism proving that it has no answers for the liberation of the world’s population, it’s time to put the capital ‘P’ in politics again” he says.

I’m leery of music for righteous causes, but Agitpop is an enjoyable stylistic throwback to New Wave.  This is a collection of songs about revolution and redistribution, liberation, love and justice; songs that sound and feel good but have more to offer the deeper you’re willing to dig.  Still, “songs don’t make a revolution, that’s not their job” Hawkins notes. “They exist to be the oxygen we breathe or the nutrients we need to keep the blood pumping to get shit done.  Your heart is a muscle, and it’s as big as your fist.”

Agitpop was recorded in Toronto and produced by David Botrill, who’s worked with Tool, Muse and Smashing Pumpkins-  a man skilled and getting the best out of malcontents.  Good sound, good energy, this is pretty cool.

KEY CUTS:  Night Of A Thousand Guns, Bottle Rockets, The Barricade

BLUES GOT MY BACK Tom Euler (independent)  **** +

Virginia’s Tom Euler follows up his debut demo EP Fool Me Once with this, a full length album of energetic, infectious and well played blues.  Blues Got My Back feels like the start of something big.

As Euler and his band started getting material together for this album, they made a successful semi-finalist run at the International Blues Challenge in 2018.  With the songs for Blues Got My Back written, arranged and field tested, Tom took the band into the studio to lay them down.  That kind of preparation explains why this is so tight and swingin’.  Euler’s vocals are passionate and his guitar solos well thought out yet with a feeling of exciting spontaneity. Drummer Michael Behlmar lays down snazzy grooves you could set your watch to with some help from bassist Von Jose Roberts, plus some great keyboard textures and soloing from Lucy Kilpatrick help pull it all together.

At first listen Blues Got My Back has a sort of Colin James thing to it, quite versatile within the blues framework.  Leading up to this Tom spent some years on the road opening for artists like Delbert McClinton and Patti Labelle, and he was clearly paying attention, judging by the depth of soul on this disc.  The gospel blues of a song like Forgive Me is a powerful tonic, and the title track testifies to the healing power of the blues.  Cool songs, engaging musicianship- Blues Got My Back is the kind of disc you’ll  tell your friends about.

KEY CUTS:  Blues Got My Back, Tricky Business., Forgive Me, Bridge You Ain’t Burnt

ALL BLUES The Peter Frampton Band (Universal) ****

I’m not normally into covers records, but Frampton’s All Blues is sweet.  It’s a collection of his favorite blues classics recorded with his longtime touring band which, if you saw them opening for Steve Miller last year (I did), you’d be as excited about this as I am.

When my wife and I saw the Miller/ Frampton show in Edmonton last April, we agreed that Peter and his guys stole the show outright.

Recorded at his Nashville studio and co-produced by Frampton and Chuck Ainlay, All Blues has been percolating for a couple of years.  “I have always loved to play the blues” he says on his website.  “When we formed Humble Pie, the first material we played was just that.  For the last two summers I had been playing a handful of blues numbers every night on stage with The Steve Miller Band.  I enjoyed this immensely and it gave me the idea of doing an ‘all blues’ album live in the studio with my band.”  There are 10 tracks on this album but 23 were recorded, so let’s hope there’s a Volume Two coming.

Over the years Frampton has made a successful leap from pop tart to guitar hero, with 2006’s instrumental Fingerprints being a declaration of intent.  All Blues bristles with serious blues muscle from all concerned, including special guests Kim Wilson, Sonny Landreth, Larry Carlton and Deep Purple’s Steve Morse.  The songs are all blues standards that genre fans will know and I think you’ll agree they stand up to and, on occasion, surpass the originals.  The instrumental version of Ray Charles’ Georgia On My Mind is languid and gorgeous, I Just Want To Make Love To You (with Kim Wilson) kicks the album out with confidence, and Frampton’s take on the BB King classic The Thrill Is Gone with Sonny Landreth is the centerpiece.

Peter Frampton did All Blues for his love of the blues and it shows- glad I bought this!

KEY CUTS¨I just Wanna Make Love To You, The Thrill Is Gone, Georgia On My Mind

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