Rock Doctor Music Reviews
KNOCK A HOLE IN IT Mr. Sipp (Malaco Records) ***** Oh man, talk about guitar heroics! Not that “weedly-weedly” stuff, but muscular gospel/ R&B infused knock-you-on-your-ass serious rockin’ out. That’s exactly what Knock A Hole In It is, and exactly why you need to have this album.Mr. Sipp, also known as “The Mississippi Blues Child”, is the alter ego of gospel guitarist Castro Coleman. He was born in Mississippi in 1976 and started playing quite young. “I was born a musician” he says. “Both of my parents were in singing groups and played some type of instrument- it’s just a natural part of me.” Coleman has played in several gospel groups, and also taken a ‘behind the scenes’ role, playing on more than 50 gospel recordings while also learning how to produce as he honed his songwriting and entertaining skills.Mr. Sipp/ Coleman has a great singing voice for this kind of gospel and R&B powered blues, and as a guitarist he’s a cross between Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix with a brawny, in-your-face playing style that commands attention- I’ll go as far as saying he’s even better than Gary Clark Jr. A dozen of these songs were written by Coleman, plus there’s an absorbing version of Hendrix’s Little Wing that closes out the disc. Knock was produced by Coleman, and he obviously picked the right guys to play along side of him.There’s been a lot of great blues so far this year, but Knock A Hole In It is one of the best- an earth shaker full of heart, soul and attitude.
ESSENTIALS: Knock A Hole In It, Gotta Let Her Go, Little Wing
INGLORIOUS II (Frontiers) ****Wow- this is like the history of classic rock boiled down to one album. Pounding, bluesy riffs and dirty vocals make this band and their new album a force to be reckoned with.Inglorious is the brainchild of singer Nathan James. The rest of the band have done their homework, being praised by Brian May as a “ potent young Deep Purple” and drawing the interest of producer Kevin Shirley, who mixed II, calling Inglorious “the best British band I’ve seen since… I could say The Darkness, but I really mean Led Zeppelin.”So how does Inglorious II sound? Wonderfully heavy riffery from guitarists Andreas Eriksson and Wil Taylor, underscored masterfully by bassist Colin Parkinson and drummer Phil Beaver. Nathan James, the singer, is a cross between Rainbow-era Graham Bonnett and Jimmy Barnes- together the band’s collective vibe is late 80’s Whitesnake.Of the recording process Nathan says “For so long people have been hiding mistakes, singers using auto tune to make them sound perfect, double tracking to make it sound bigger and using click to play in time. There’s none of that on this album.” Thinking of the classic rock albums he loves, he asked himself “Why are those albums so awesome?” The answer was pretty obvious, and something old rock buzzards like me have been advocating for years, as the singer notes “Not only in rock but in Motown and even classical music they tracked everyone in the same room at the same time. The air movement from a bass drum, that same excitement you get when you perform, that’s exactly how I wanted the album to feel.” And boy does it ever!The wheel has not been reinvented here, but Inglorious II is a hard rock album that has been done right and done well. The songs won me over, and the brute strength of the performances has done the same- another great album for high speed summer cruising.
ESSENTIALS: I Don’t Need Your Loving, Change Is Coming, Hell Or High Water
SHOULD’VE SEEN IT COMING Steve Krase (Connor Ray Music) **** ½ Good blues is about attitude as much as technique, and the latest album from this Houston based harmonica ace scores top points on both counts. Should’ve Seen It Coming is a party record that needs to be turned up LOUD.Krase blows harp the way SRV played guitar- with attitude and sass, bending the notes to his will, so it’s no wonder that he has been recognized in multiple categories over the years by the Houston Press Music Awards, most recently in 2016 as “best player”. He was also a semi-finalist recently at the 2017 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Produced by Krase (vocals, harp) and his bass player Rock Romano, Should’ve Seen It Coming has a rowdy sound and texture that feels like a great party waiting to happen. “As always I try to make a fun record that people want to turn up loud at a party or crank it on the car radio on a long road trip” Steve says. Mission accomplished.The disc includes 5 originals, and among the covers are Krase’s take on music from the likes of Willie Dixon, Fats Domino and Clarence “Frogman” Henry. The majority of the album was recorded live over 2 nights at The Red Shack in Houston, which gives it a fluid energy that would not be possible otherwise. It even includes 2 bonus tracks, ‘explicit’ versions of the album cuts Should’ve Seen It Coming and Repo Man.Krase’s band is excellent, maybe even untouchable, led by Steve’s harp and vocals, and David Carter’s guitar. Should’ve Seen It Coming is as blues as blues can be, nasty and lowdown- you know, from the heart and from the, um, ‘naughty bits’…
ESSENTIALS: Brand New Thang, The World’s Still In A Tangle, Make You Love Me Baby
SAD CLOWNS & HILLBILLIES John Mellencamp (Republic Records) *****Here is Mellencamp’s 23rd studio album, a country influenced affair that involves significant contributions from Carlene Carter. He reminds me of one of those old blues guys in that, at this stage of his career, his music is getting deeper and more satisfying. Sad Clowns was born out of Mellencamp’s collaboration with Carter on the soundtrack to the movie Ithica and the musical Ghost Brothers Of Darkland County, a project with Stephen King. According to a recent interview with Katy Couric, John says “It was going to be a religious record. It started out like ‘Look, let’s go back and do an old country religious record. We’ll try to write songs that sound like those songs, but they’ll be new.’ And then it just kept evolving and evolving and evolving, and the songs that she was bringing and the songs that I was bringing- they weren’t so religious.”This disc was originally billed as a duets album, but that’s not the way it really works as John and Carlene only sing together on 5 of its 13 tracks. “It’s a wonderful conglomeration of his songs and my songs” Carter notes. “Some are duets and some are by themselves- it’s different, but that’s how John and I roll. We are very like-minded and on musical ground that really feels right.” It’s a very natural collaboration too- nothing about Sad Clowns & Hillbillies comes across as forced or unnatural.Apart from his first few albums I get the feeling John Mellencamp has made the records he has wanted to make, and now that the commercial heyday of his career is behind him, that seems especially true. Produced by Mellencamp and recorded in Belmont Indiana (where he still lives) as usual, Sad Clown has a rustic country thing going, but there are some cool, atypical JCM rockers here. All Night Talk Radio, a standout track halfway through the album, is actually a leftover from the sessions for 1996’s Mr. Happy Go Lucky, with a few new elements added.I won’t go as far as saying this is as good as The Lonesome Jubilee, but Sad Clowns & Hillbillies is the best thing Mellencamp has done in a good long while.
ESSENTIALS: Easy Target, All Night Talk Radio, Grandview
UNDER THE INFLUENCE The Mojo Stars (independent) *** 1/2Some West coast blues for you here courtesy of Vancouver’s Mojo Gurus. Equal parts Powder Blues and Fabulous Thunderbirds, maybe Downchild too- I bet these guys put on a hell of a show.Under The Influence is feel good blues, a lively mixture of 5 studio and 6 live cuts, and the energy of the performances is infectious. The band is led by singer Randy Clarke and guitarist Mark Rankin and includesTom Gould (sax), Rob Marr (bass), Shawn Soucy (drums), Kenny Boychuck (Hammond B3), and Steve Soucy (keys). Together they make what I call ‘uptown blues’, or ‘jump blues’ if you prefer- real party music.Under The Influence was recorded in 2 places; the studio tracks at Spirit Studios in Vancouver, and the live cuts at New Westminster’s Columbia Theatre, all mixed by Brock McFarlane. It’s a testament to the band and their playing that the energy level is consistent throughout all the cuts- a neat trick if you can manage it. The dedication on the inner sleeves aptly sums up what it feels like The Mojo Stars are about; “Life and music are what drives us, defines us and what always inspires us. We share our experiences about good times and bad, dark places and light, together or alone in hopes that you too are inspired to enjoy your life and share your stories.”The band is tight, the performances are solid and occasionally inspirational. Under The Influence is capable of heavy lifting if you’re feeling down and your soul needs a boost… what could be better than that?
ESSENTIALS: No Use In Crying, Stay A Little Longer, Lock The Door Mama