BOUNCE The Paul Deslauriers Band (Bros Records) ****
Powerful sleeves-rolled-up-and-let’s-get-to-work blues based rock & roll- or is that rock & roll based blues? Either way Bounce, the new album from this Montreal based trio, is loaded with guitar driven excitement that swings for the fences.
In the trio format there is nowhere to hide. With Bounce The Deslauriers Band (Paul on vocals & guitar, Sam Harrisson on drums, newcomer Alec McElcheran on bass) exhibits a level of musical chemistry that other bands aspire to. They’re a blues band in the same way Foghat is and Zeppelin were, with a dirty approach to rockin’ the groove and telepathic interplay between the musicians. The songs on this disc have a manly presence.
Bounce is 11 originals plus a cover of the Anthony “Duster” Bennett song Jumpin’ At Shadows, popularized by Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, and Picked A Bad Day, a collaboration with American bluesman JP Soars- a highlight of the disc. Bounce is the group’s 3rd record, and with an infectious will to boogie it feels good.
Folks point to an album and say “that’s the soundtrack of my life”, but Bounce is the soundtrack to a life I aspire to; living each day to the fullest and wringing out every drop of excitement possible. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it and Bounce helps.
KEY CUTS: Feeling All Kinds of Good, Let`s Go Down In Flames, Loosy Goosy Jam #769
CITY NIGHT Savoy Brown (Quarto Valley Records) ***+
Savoy Brown are back again with City Nights, their 40th studio album since 1967 and 5th in the last five years. Led by the guitar and voice of founder Kim Simmonds Savoy Brown are still as deep in the blues as they were in the 60’s.
As Godfathers of the British blues/rock scene Savoy Brown needn’t work this hard, but they’re warriors and show no signs of slowing down. City Night is an aggressive, swaggering collection, full of the slippery slide work that is Simmonds’ calling card. The songs address traditional and modern lyrical concerns as witnessed on Neighbourhood Blues, and the title track is a rollicking celebration of the joys the world still offers.
City Night is not gentle music. Produced by Simmonds this is rough and tumble blues- thick and gnarly, relatively simple melodically but each track consistently igniting when Kim grabs a ferocious solo. I like his singing but think it should be more aggressive to match the energy of the music he, bassist Pat DeSalvo and drummer Matt Grimm are laying down. As my go-to blues singer I can definitely feel early to mid-period Joe Cocker doing these songs justice, vocally speaking.
Is City Night a stunning, genre-defining record? No, but it is a good bit of work. It’s a rock solid, beer-swilling chunk of rockin’ blues, and that’ll do just fine.
KEY CUTS: Walking On Hot Stones, Red Light Mama, Selfish World
SWEET OBLIVION Sweet Oblivion Feat. Geoff Tate (Frontiers) ***
Fans of 80’s & 90’s-era Queensryche, rejoice! Geoff has been joined by a team of skilled Italian prog musicians put together by Simone Mularoni. If early Queensryche tickles your ear hair, you’ll dig this.
The idea of Sweet Oblivion was to create a musical landscape for Tate to work with to re-visit that 80’s-era Queensryche style metal, plus throw some other musical influences in to sweeten the pot. Mularoni is the mastermind behind prog metal masters DGM, so this is familiar territory. Tate has done some good stuff since stomping out on you-know-who, but slipping back into this stuff is like putting his favourite leather jacket on again.
The band is Geoff Tate on vocals, Simone Mularoni on guitars and bass, Emanuele Casali on keyboards and Paolo Caridi on drums. Sweet Oblivion varies between the hard rock attack of True Color, the opener, to an atmospheric ballad like Disconnect that lifts itself into a power ballad groove for the choruses. This is not unlike Empire or even Queensryche’s beloved Operation: Mindcrime and, given the bitterness between them and Geoff, Sweet Oblivion is as close as we’ll get to those glory days.
Sweet Oblivion captures a time and a place that I sure don’t mind visiting again.
KEY CUTS: Sweet Oblivion, My Last Story, Disconnect
MOON & MERCURY Madison Galloway (independent) *****
A stunning full length debut here for this 19 year old Ontario-based roots artist. Her earthy blend of folk/rock and blues with mainly acoustic instruments is utterly charming.
Growing up in the small town of Fergus, Ontario, Madison began pursuing her passion for music at a young age. She discovered a love of nature, community and roots music that continues to inspire her today. Moon & Mercury can’t be pinned down to any one particular genre, at least not for long. Galloway and her band make good use of acoustic, slide and electric guitars, harmonica, keys. Ukulele, banjo and more for a spirited, beautifully off-kilter yet somehow right on approach to their songs, particularly numbers like Coffee Stains, a thoroughly engaging instrumental with middle eastern overtones.
Madison Galloway is as far from being a pop tart as you can get. She tours relentlessly, playing hundreds of shows with her band and as a duo and solo performer too. This a mature and fully realized disc, surprising for a first record from someone this young. Sometimes you have to hear an album a few times to get to know it and find your way in but making friends with Moon & Mercury was effortless. Madison has an easy, confident vocal style (Rickie Lee Jones? Edie Brickell? Maybe both?) with threads of mystery and intrigue weaving throughout the songs. This is one of my favourite albums of 2019.
KEY CUTS: Infectious Eyes, Devil In Her Eye, Rose Coloured Glasses, Coffee Stains
HELL TO PAY Billie Williams (independent) **** +
Lots of white chicks singing the blues these days but few do it as forcefully as Billie Williams. Hell To Pay, her second record with Grammy-winning producer Danny Blume, is fire and brimstone blues that will kick down doors when this drops July 19th.
Who is Billie Williams? Fair question; this is just her second album. She’s a New York Blues Hall Of Fame artist known primarily in the north eastern area of the U.S., but Hell To Pay has the muscle to break her wide open. This disc is 11 originals that showcase her song writing skills and blistering vocal power, drawing inspiration from heartbreak and our troubling times plus feminist causes and the ‘me too’ movement.
Williams and producer Blume have gathered a world-class band to realize the songs on Hell To Pay– names you likely won’t recognize, but you’ll really enjoy their playing. Steve Morse of the Boston Globe calls her “Riveting… she (sings) of joy and heartache with equal conviction” and that really nails what’s happening here. Billie’s vocals are so robust and self assured that you believe it when she sings it, whether she’s anguishing over lost love in Damn, the album opener, or the feminist anthem Ten Million Sisters at the other end of the record.
Hell To Pay is a powerful blues experience, not for the timid- better jump in.
KEY CUTS: Ten Million Sisters, Damn, Hour By Hour
ACOUSTIC & ELECTRIC GROWLS Paul Karapiperis (Band Camp) *** ½
The most intriguing release I’ve heard in 30 years of writing album reviews. Karapiperis, who plays harp, resonator guitar and sings for Small Blues Trap, goes on his own for the trippiest blues album ever.
The Greek Islands and the Delta aren’t strange bedfellows after all. Acoustic & Electric Growls combines sensuous acoustic blues guitar with haunting harp against a backdrop of understated percussion and intriguing sounds that create a dark, dramatic voodoo vibe. Paul’s heavily accented voice- he’s full-on Greek- is often a growling whisper and an exotically effective wild card. He reminds me of Yorgi, the leader of Anarchy 99 in the Vin Diesel film XXX. A&EG is very psychedelic- Hendrix would have loved this.
A&EG is Paul’s 4th solo album, following Fifteen Drops In An Ocean Of Blues Tales (2009), Somethin’ Like The Blues or Haunted Ballads (2012) and One Sin In Seven Parts (2014) which, of course, I’ll have to track down now. On Acoustic & Electric Growls he is accompanied by 8 other Greek musicians whose names I can’t possibly pronounce. Paul and his guys play by their own rules with barely any backbeats at all; Karapiperis’s vocals and harp, usually accompanied by acoustic guitar, gliding over a dreamscape of bluesy atmospherics. I bet this would be terrific to get into after some jazz cabbage.
For the blues fan thinking “I’m in the mood to try something different”, go to bandcamp.com and find Acoustic & Electric Growls– it’s weirdly cool.
KEY CUTS: Life Is Just Like A Bar Where There Ain’t No Booze, In This Juke Joint Of Bitter Music, Trapped In A Fox Hole
BARE KNUCKLES & BRAWN Blue Moon Marquee (independent) *** ¾
This is the third time out for this west coast blues duo, known for their original take on blues, jazz and swing. Bare Knuckles & Brawn is like time travelling back to speakeasy times, something they do so very well. The songs are jaunty and occasionally menacing.
Blue Moon Marquee is A.W. Cardinal on vocals and guitar and Jasmine Colette (Badlands Jass) on vocals, bass and drums. They write and perform songs that jump, groove and swing, proudly wearing their influences on their sleeves. You’ll feel them when you listen to B K & B, or the award-nominated Gypsy Blues and Lonesome Ghosts that came before it; Django Reinhardt, Memphis Minnie, Louis Armstrong, Howlin’ Wolf and more. People helping round out their ‘gypsy blues’ sound; Darcy Phillips on piano and Hammond B3, Jerry Cook on tenor and bari sax and clarinet Jimmy Badger on drums, Jack Garton on trumpet, and Paul Pigat on guitar for The Red Devil Himself.
Bare Knuckles & Brawn was recorded at Afterlife Studios, housed in the same building as Vancouver’s former Mushroom Studios. In keeping with their ongoing aesthetic of recreating a vintage jazz ‘n’ blues vibe, this was recorded to 2 inch tape with all vintage RCA mics, inducing the warm and inviting tone. The songs, all originals, were inspired by the characters they’ve met and places they’ve visited in their travels.
What Bare Knuckles & Brawn lacks in technical polish it makes up in its humanity and emotion. This disc feels like hanging out at Tom Waits’s house- how intriguing would that be? Really digging this right now- it comes out June 28th.
KEY CUTS: Big Black Mamba, Hard Times Hit Parade, Lost and Wild
WON’T STAY DOWN Lauren Anderson (independent?) ***+
This is Lauren’s 3rd EP, 4th release overall if you include her full length album, Truly Me from 2015. It’s the result of frustration from dealing with the music business and empty promises and as such she’s really full of piss and vinegar. On Won’t Stay Down, she lets ‘em have it right between the eyes.
Anderson has been delivering her unique blend of blues-rock, soul and country since 2014 but, having grown weary of the demands thrust upon her as a female artist, she left LA for her adopted home town of Nashville to write new material about strength and female empowerment, drawing on her own artistic journey for inspiration. As a singer Lauren is just this side of Beth Hart, smouldering with power and confidence as she sings “I want my rock & roll career/ I want my Hollywood premier” in Cake, twisting the traditional 12 bar blues format with horns and funky guitar.
Lauren is a blues belter with finesse and rock power, drafting soul elements when it suits her on songs like Cake. Won’t Stay Down is a battle cry from a powerful singer who’s mad as hell and won’t take it anymore. Take notice of Anderson, and get your hands on this when it comes out July 26th.
KEY CUTS: Wild And Free, Won’t Stay Down
RIDE ME BACK HOME Willie Nelson (Sony Legacy) *****+
Most 86 year old music legends would be content to rest on their laurels and coast into the sunset, but Willie Nelson has developed a habit of releasing subtly excellent records. With Ride Me Back Home he rounds out a trilogy of discs about mortality that began in 2017 and God’s Problem Child then continued with last year’s seminal Last Man Standing. The overall theme here is empathy, and the album is superb.
Ride Me Back Home includes 3 new tunes from Willie and song writing partner/ producer Buddy Cannon. Willie also pays musical tribute to a variety of pop and country writers and performers like Billy Joel (Just the Way You Are), Mac Davis (It’s Hard To Be Humble) and Guy Clark (Immigrant Eyes, My Favorite Picture of You). The title track, written by Sonny Throckmorton, was inspired by the group of more than 60 horses that Nelson has adopted over the years, rescuing them from the slaughterhouse.
Ride Me Back Home has mostly the sophisticated neo- jazz feel of 1978’s Stardust and, more recently, American Classic from ’09. Willie has been an incredible songwriter for many decades over 69 albums (!), and records like this show he is equally adept as an interpreter. Ride also includes Stay Away From Lonely Places, a song Willie wrote for 1972’s The Word s Don’t Fit The Picture. “I’m the biggest Willie Nelson fan there is and I thought I knew every song he ever did but I had never heard that song. It sounded totally new to me” said Buddy Cannon, who lobbied to get Nelson to re-visit the song. “He’s a born troubadour. It’s the greatness, that early genius that was him and his songs is still there.”
This is a great album- that’s all there is to it.
KEY CUTS: Stay Away From Lonely Places, Ride Me Back Home, Just the Way you Are