SOUL SERVICE Tony Holiday (VizzTone) *** ½
Tony Holiday has done it again. He follows up last year’s Porch Sessions with Soul Service, a record that validates the praise from blues heavyweights like Charlie Musselwhite. The dude can sing, and he can sure play that harp..
Holiday’s singing voice is a powerful, soulful instrument, and Soul Service has a 60’s Memphis fluidity that just feels real good. Produced by Grammy nominee Ori Naftaly (Southern Avenue, Stax Records), this album was laid down at Zebra Ranch, the Dickinson family studio in Independence, Mississippi and no doubt soaked up some of the local atmosphere. It features Tony on vocals and harp, Landon Stone on guitar (as he was on the stunning Porch Sessions), Max Kaplan on bass, Danny Banks (The John Nemeth Band) on drums, with special guests Naftaly on guitar and Victor Wainwright on keyboards. All together they make a slinky, jazzy, bluesy sound.
Soul Service doesn’t jump up and grab you by the collar, demanding your attention. It’s more like a good soak in a nice, warm tub- especially tracks like Day Dates. Of course you’ll have to get out of that tub, towel off and get ready to dance for the following number, Ol’ Number Nine, which ends the record. At 8 songs and roughly 30 minutes in length overall, Holiday doesn’t overstay his welcome; leave them wanting more as the old showbiz adage goes. After the last tune you’ll be going “Wait, that can’t be it, I gotta hear this again.” That’s what happened for me- I’m on my 4th spin as I type this.
Soul Service is not a spectacular disc with exciting twists nor does it achieve a Leon Redbone level of chill. The truth of it, as with all things, is somewhere in the middle. I may not reach for Tony Holiday’s new album every day, but I know there will be times when it will be absolutely perfect… and that works for me.
KEY CUTS: Day Dates, Ol’ Number Nine, Paying Rent
HER CHARIOT AWAITS Her Chariot Awaits (Frontiers) ****
This is an exciting collaboration between Spanish singer Ailyn, and guitarist Mike Orlando of Adrenaline Mob, put together by Frontiers who are really good at this sort of arrangement. Her Chariot Awaits, their self-titled debut, is melodic metal marked by spectacular vocals and exciting guitar playing that really sticks with you.
HCA is aggressive and melodic at the same time, walls of crushing guitars topped by acrobatic leads and hummable melodies. Ailyn isn’t exactly a stranger to this kind of music, being the former vocalist for Norwegian symphonic/ Goth metalers Sirenia. After taking a couple of years off, she says this new collaboration has “allowed me to experiment and explore a new side to my singing, working together with a great musician. (This) is a new step forward in my musical career.”
Guitarist Mike Orlando is thrilled with the results too. “It was a pleasure to write and perform with a singer like Ailyn. (HCA) is a great collection of hard hitting yet melodic commercial hard rock tracks, which I hope you will all enjoy.” Putting two absurdly talented artists together doesn’t always work; egos clash, tempers flare and often the work is less than the sum of its parts. Her Chariot Awaits, however, is an exception to that rule. Orlando has already enjoyed international success with Adrenaline Mob, but the music he’s made with Ailyn genuinely excites him. Mike produced the album, and with drummer Jeff Thal and bassist Brian Gearty bringing the thunder, this disc is a kick in the ass the genre could really use about now.
Aggressive, modern, extremely catchy, heavy as hell… maybe on this side of the Atlantic metal is mostly a boy’s club, but with Ailyn at the mic, Her Chariot Awaits is able to move mountains. My apologies to the lady next door, my wife, daughter and granddaughter- I’ve been enjoying this record a lot. Crank it up- don’t be a pussy.
KEY CUTS: Misery, Just Remember, Constant Craving (yes, the k.d. lang song!!)
HARD WORKIN’ MAN Andrew Alli (EllerSoul Records) *** ½
If you want blues that takes you back home, this is it. Hard Workin’ Man, the debut by Andrew Alli, is like a slice of living history- long on the traditions of deep blues.
When I first put HWM in the CD player, it sounded like an album I could’ve grabbed from a pile of 60’s blues records- it has that feel, that patina. Andrew is a fine singer, and his overdriven harp work puts him right up there with some of the greats. Produced by Alli, Hard Workin’ Man was recorded at Bigtone Studios in Bristol, Virginia, engineered, mixed & mastered by Jon Atkinson. If they were going for a vintage, authentic down home feel on this record, they’ve succeeded admirably. It feels very much like an old Muddy Waters or Little Walter set.
Strange to think that this is Alli’s first record, the music feels like he’s been in it for decades. There’s a breezy confidence in many of the songs- try his version of Little Walter’s One More Chance on for size and you’ll feel what I mean. When you hear people talking about an ‘authentic blues experience’, this record is exactly what they’re talking about. Not sure if Jon Atkinson is playing electric bass here, it sounds and feels like stand-up acoustic bass, which further underscores what Andrew Alli is trying to do.
It’s funny; as a longtime broadcaster I often say that I was born 20 years too late to really enjoy the golden age of radio, though the 70’s and 80’s were a blast. I wonder if someone like Andrew Alli feels the same way about the blues. There’s lots of rockin’ fire & brimstone blues out there, but Hard Workin’ Man recalls an older, perhaps more pure time in blues history that we would all do well to remember. Thanks to guys like Andrew Alli and his debut release, that fire still burns.
KEY CUTS: AA Boogie, One More Chance, 30 Long Years
ONE OF THESE DAYS Louisiana’s Leroux (independent) *****+
Good Lord. In the business of writing record reviews, every once in awhile you get blown out of the water- it makes all the lonely hours holed up in the music room worthwhile. Such is the case with One Of These Days, LL’s 7th album since they began in 1978. Soulful and brimming with life this is one of the best records you’ll ever hear.
That Leroux could come back so strong after a ten year hiatus is, in and of itself, quite an accomplishment. Produced by Jeff Glixman (Kansas, Gary Moore, Georgia Satellites, Yngwie Malmsteen, Tony Iommi), One Of These Days packs quite a bit of oomph and yet all the instruments have plenty of room. Lots of people in this group; 8 principal players and a handful of special guests too. The album has a real southern feel/ Louisiana vibe and feels related to The Allman Brothers Band too, though I think I’m picking up some of that from the percussion.
I suppose Nelson Blanchard’s Hammond B-3 gives these songs some church and Jeff McCarty’s vocals really put some soul into them too… I haven’t heard a singer quite like him since Ronnie Hammond in the early days of Atlanta Rhythm Section. While all of the musical elements blend beautifully together, I have to say the icing on the cake is Jim Odom’s guitar leads; emotional and dramatic without being ‘showboat-y’. These guys have toured with The Doobie Brothers, The Allman Brothers, Journey, Kansas,, Heart and Marshall Tucker and have no doubt inspired them all.
One Of These Days is one of those records that gives off a tangible vibe and spirit, an undercurrent of voodoo that Robbie Robertson of The Band can likely relate to. As you listen- and I’ve done that repeatedly today- it just kind of carries you away to a swampy bayou, a trip I will gladly take over and over. And you’ll notice that, though tempted, not once in the 3 previous paragraphs did I use the word ‘gumbo’. Street date July 24th.
KEY CUTS: Lifeline (Redux), One Of Those Days, Nothing Left to Lose, Sauce Piquante
GRAVEL & GRACE Gravel & Grace (independent) *** ¾
A promising debut from this young band that is taking California by storm. The yin and yang combination of innocence and experience that singers Ava Grace and Big Earl Matthews bring to the table is what really makes this 7 piece band happen.
Big Earl is a blues veteran with 20+ years under his belt, and that experience shows in his vocal delivery. Ava is a 17 year old junior high student whose family ties in Mississippi have nourished her passion for singing the blues. That their paths crossed at all is fortuitous, and the music they make with their band mates has grit and soul. They have a national tour under their belt, and here you and I are talking about their debut album; not bad for a group that had their first gig in April of 2019. With either singer at the front they would have gone places, but with Ava and Biog Earl trading off at the mic, they’ll be going bigger and better places.
Gravel & Grace, while bluesy for sure, feels like more of a soul record, no doubt in part due to the ‘sax appeal’ of William Melendez. The band as a whole has an impeccable sense of groove, and you don’t hear a lot of showing off either as they all play for the song, not the spotlight. Every track here is an original composition except Love On The Brain, which is credited to Rhianna. Pennies is the first single, though I have to say I rather enjoy the Trini Lopez-style guitar on When I’m Hung Over- which Earl sings with the voice of experience.
What I’m hearing on Gravel & Grace is an already talented band that will grow into themselves quite handsomely. Big Earl is a husky vocalist and while Ava is already a gifted singer, I’m looking forward to when experience, mileage and time help her grow fully into what I expect her to be. This album has soul by the bucket load.
(no website yet, so look for their facebook page)
KEY CUTS: Scares Me, Pennies, When I’m Hung Over
THE GYPSY WOMAN TOLD ME John Primer & Bob Corritore (Vizztone) *****
If you like Chicago blues watch out, this bad boy is gonna give you some wood. The Gypsy Woman Told Me by John Primer and harp maestro Bob Corritore (their 3rd collab) is straight from the Southside and it’s one of THE blues experiences of 2020.
These two guys get together often. Primer, a well seasoned guitarist and vocalist, has passed through bands led by Muddy Waters, Magic Slim and Junior Wells. Bob Corritore is an acknowledged master of blues harmonica, a Stevie Ray of the instrument that plays with fire and passion. Following semi-recent releases by Bob Corritore & Friends, The Gypsy Woman Told Me continues that thread of passionate, authentic blues. Much like the album by Andrew Alli I just reviewed this one really takes you back home.
With both Primer and Corritore so well versed in the expressive vocabulary of Chicago-style blues and a team of A-list players to bring it to life, if Gypsy Woman had turned out less than spectacular it would have been a shock. Produced by Bob with Clarke Rigsby and Kid Andersen, the guys were joined on the studio floor by Billy Flynn, Jimi Smith, Kid Andersen, Bob Welsh, Ben Levin, Kedar Roy, Troy Sandow, Mike Hightower, June Core and Brian Fahey. That’s quite a list of helping hands to pull off this deceptively simple sounding music, but that’s the rare magic trick they’ve just pulled off.
The sound of The Gypsy Woman Done Told Me is natural and uncluttered, devoid of pedals and studio trickery, not unlike some of the records that came out during the blues’ resurgence of the 60’s, and I’m sure this basic vibe is what they were going for. The melodies will sound familiar overall, Primer’s unadorned guitar sound is a breath of fresh air in a gimmicky age, and Corritore’s harp playing is juicy. In these times of social distancing and limited travel, I can’t make the trip to Chicago that is on my bucket list… but instead, Gypsy Woman has brought Chicago to me. Hallelujah!
KEY CUTS: Walking The Back Streets & Crying, Keep A-Driving, Gambling Blues
BLUES WITH FRIENDS Dion (Keeping The Blues Alive Records) *****++
Here is one of the few first generation rock & rollers still seriously pursuing new avenues of expression. In the last several years he’s come out with riveting blues records and Blues With Friends, featuring many high profile collaborators, absolutely kills.
I always thought of Dion as the guy that sang songs like The Wanderer and Runaround Sue. During a trip to Kamloops to visit by 2 youngest sons, they took me to a used music shop downtown. The place was having a sale, I picked up Dion’s Tankful Of Blues from 2011 on a whim and it blew me away. Dion, a bluesman- really?!? The idea seemed odd but it works and Tankful has become one of my favorite blues albums, thanks to songs like Ride’s Blues (for Robert Johnson). If you’re not familiar with it please do pick it up. “The blues have been at the heart of my music since the early 60’s” Dion notes. “The Wanderer is a twelve bar blues and I was covering Willie Dixon and Jimmy Reed in my early years at Columbia, much to the dismay of my corporate masters.”
Blues With Friends, features songs written by Dion, who says “I wanted an album of songs that were strong and memorable and told stories worth telling.” To tell those stories, he surrounded himself with a formidable guest list of players including Billy Gibbons, Jeff Beck, Joe Bonamassa, Rory Block, Van Morrison and Mr. & Mrs. Springsteen. His thought process was “I need to round up the best guitarists and musicians alive and pick them from every generation, every variation of the blues.” The result of gathering such star power on a project has been disjointed and underwhelming in the past, but this is clearly an exception. These collaborations reflect a nuanced devotion to the blues rather than being a collection of gratuitous displays of vulgar virtuosity.
The liner notes for Blues With Friends, penned by Bob Dylan, say in part “Dion knows how to sing, and he knows just the right way to craft these songs, these blues songs. He’s got some friends to help him out, some true luminaries. But in the end it’s Dion by himself alone, and that masterful voice of his that will keep you returning to share these blues songs with him.” Who am I to argue with Dylan? This is one of the best albums of the year in ANY genre.
KEY CUTS: Blues Comin’ On (with Joe Bonamassa), Bam Bang Boom (with Billy Gibbons), Told You Once In August (with John Hammond & Rory Block)
SO MANY BEAUTIFUL MEN (SO LITTLE TIME) Linda Carone (independent) *****
The label ‘smooth jazz’ can be a turnoff that conjures images of Kenny G. So Many Beautiful Men, Linda Carone’s new single, is a smooth, noir jazz cocktail that harkens back to the 40’s. It’s a luscious, beautiful thing.
Linda is a subtle jazz/ blues vocalist from Toronto, and she’s gathered a stellar set of musicians to realize this fun, hip, upbeat song. “I’ve found another gem of a song that felt right from the moment I first heard it” Carone says. “(It) was originally written by a lesser known jazz artist from the 1950’s, Kitty White, whose musical forte leaned to offbeat tunes. Here is a woman speaking my language!”
From Carone’s suave delivery to the Latin percussion, sparse piano and the walking stand-up bass lines, the song is cool and hypnotic with lyrics that were quite cheeky for their time. When I listen to a single to consider for review or to include on one of my UDJ radio shows, it better have my attention by the first chorus or it gets tossed. So Many Beautiful Men had me in its pocket by the time Linda finished singing the first line.
A LITTLE BIT OFF Five Finger Death Punch (RPM Promotion/ Better Noise Music) *****
This is the latest single from Five Finger Death Punch’s new album F8. I checked it out on a whim and ended up liking to song… well, loving it.
A Little Bit Off is an acoustic number with punch, the lyrics are dark and brooding, no doubt reflecting the times we live in. Got A little too high today got lost inside a sea of madness/ crashed a little bit hard today, crashed a little too hard today. Though I can’t say I’m all that familiar with the band’s stuff, judging by this new track they sure seem to know how I tick.
F8 was recorded last year before all this madness, plus it features new drummer Charlie Engen. For the overall record itself singer Ivan Moody says it’s his pardon after what he’s been through in terms of addiction and of friends he lost during that time of struggle, such as Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington. Knowing what Moody has been through and what he’s trying to say, A Little Bit Off makes complete sense, which makes it an important song. What makes it great is that the story here is something most of us can relate to. Having been down the emotional rabbit hole often, I can say this is a story I’ve lived many times. The darkness still comes, even without booze and drugs, and now I have this wonderful song to hang onto, to see me through.
LIONHEART Lynn Jackson (Busted Flat Records) *****
Lynn Jackson’s brand new record, her 11th, is her most dynamic and satisfying collection yet. Lionheart is deep, fierce, tender, courageous, vulnerable, powerful.
While her last album (2017’s Follow That Fire) was produced by Cowboy Junkies’ Michael Timmins and included contributions for members of Skydiggers Lynn, having a specific vision in mind, decided to produce herself this time. She uses her core band, but the presence of strings and horns give many of the songs a dark beauty. There is such a richness to the music that supports Jackson’s intimate vocal style that you’ll find yourself drawn into each every song totally and completely- and you’ll go willingly.
Most of the tracks are laid back and flowing, and some of them (like Cobwebs) rock out in an Eagles-ish way. “”I guess I’m considered a folk/ roots artist” Lynn says, “but if my writing and ideas take me outside the genre, I’m not afraid to stretch out creatively. There are no rules when it comes to songwriting.” It sort of reminds me of the few Lucinda Williams records I’ve heard in my time… not always 100% sure of what to expect, yet knowing the songs will lead me to shadowy and interesting places.
If cornered and asked to describe Lionheart in one word, I’d say “mesmerizing”. Her stark version of John Lennon’s Working Class Hero is surely right for our times, a rallying cry that asks for a return to more solid morals than the shit-show society has become. Then you also have a roots rocker like Running It Down, the stripped down folk of Stormy Eyes and the minor key blues of Outcast. Something for everyone, as the old cliché goes. Lionheart is the sort of record that makes me want to listen a little closer each time to get as much out of each song as I can, and you can’t ask for more than that.
KEY CUTS : Outcast, Running It Down, The Sound Of Everything