Music Reviews by the Rock Doctor: Oct. 23 2019

FRIENDS OF THE BLUES 2 Myles Goodwyn (Linus Entertainment) ****+
April Wine leader Myles Goodwyn follows up last year’s successful (and Juno nominated) blues collection with another volume. Friends of The Blues 2 builds on the success of its predecessor with excellent tuneage.

The first Friends Of The Blues set came together over several years but, inspired by the reception afforded that disc, Goodwyn got the new album together in relatively short order. Once again, he called on several friends to help out; this time the guest list includes Jack de Keyzer, Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne, Bruce Dixon, Matt Andersen, Sherman Doucette and many more. He duets with award winning singer Angel Forrest on Being Good (Won’t Do Us Any Good Tonight), and Nanaimo bluesman David Gogo contributes some killer guitar solos to I Saw Someone That Wasn’t There (And It Was You), a remake of a song from April Wine’s final album Roughly Speaking.

Had April Wine released another album the public might’ve said “eh, who cares?” but like Gary Moore and Leslie West before him, the blues has given Goodwyn an unlikely 2nd act beyond his initial courtship with fame. Friends of The Blues 2 takes his blues game to a higher level, from playing and songwriting to production- no doubt the result of this being a more focused project. Some of the songs are toe tappers, others like Fish Tank Blues are lowdown, dirty- delicious… there is no filler here at all.

As an AW fan since my teens I’m always interested in what Myles is up to and with his ‘new’ career as a bluesman he has hit the ground running. Friends of The Blues 2 is a satisfying listen from start to finish.

KEY CUTS: Hip Hip, Being Good (w/ Angel Forrest), I Love My Guitar, I Saw Someone That Wasn’t There (w/ David Gogo)

SATURDAY NIGHT Matchedash Parish (Make It Real Records) ****
Matchedash Parish is a multi-generational new powerhouse band, Saturday Night is their debut, and it’s a joyful explosion of soul, blues and roots. The songs on this disc will put a bounce in your step long after the final track has ended.

Saturday Night takes me back to the days of groups like The Band and Lighthouse with a feel, spirit and gospel energy that gives you a real lift. There are 12 people in the band but multi-instrumentalist Matt Weidinger, singer Quisha Wint and keyboard player/ producer Lance Anderson are the leaders. They’re a relatively new band, though you wouldn’t know it by the interplay here. Matchedash Parish’s premiere performance was as the main stage closer at last year’s Mariposa Folk Festival, and they received several standing ovations.

Lance wrote 8 of these 11 songs and Matt the others, save for a cover of The Beatles’ Lady Madonna. The grooving on Saturday Night is superb, very much like a live album where the musicians and singers are feeling each other’s performances to push each other to a higher plane. I don’t go to church but there’s a gospel oomph to many of these songs that will reach out and touch you in unexpected ways. It’s the kind of record that, after it’s over makes you want to go out and do better, be better.

Gord MacAuley, a reviewer from Saskatoon says that Matchedash Parish “sets the bar ten rungs higher”, and there’s something to what he says. They’ve accomplished an enthusiastic debut that other bands should aspire to, and once you spin Saturday Night you’ll feel that too. It captures the joy of musicians coming together to blow off a little steam, and you’ll want in on the fun.

KEY CUTS: When The Rains Come, Afraid, Hopeless Romantic

ALL OUT Fuel Junkies (independent) *****+
A startlingly excellent sophomore disc here from this Montreal-based blues band. They do jump blues, slow grinders and everything in between. All Out definitely kicks the blues up a few notches.

Grounded in the blues, Fuel Junkie is also strongly influenced by funk and soul. One thing that sets them apart is that, aside from drums, bass, guitar and voice, the band also has 3 sax players. What I thought at first was a great horn section turned out to be an excellent pack o saxes. Fuel Junkie was founded in 2014 by singer/ tenor sax man Mark LeClerc with close friends he met during his music studies. As the singer and composer in the band, it was Mark’s idea to bring a saxophone section to the spotlight with modern arrangements.

The songs on All Out display a love and facility with the form, played with casual yet precise discipline. This is also one of the best produced albums I’ve heard all year- the drums were recorded perfectly, the bass rumbles and flows confidently through the bottom end, LeClerc’s voice is positioned well in the mix… everything sounds very alive for a studio recording. They’ve performed at the big festivals in Quebec; Montreal Blues Society’s Quebec To Memphis competition, the Festival de Jazz de Montreal, Festival International du Blues de Tremblant and Festival de Blues de Victoriaville, and there’s no doubt in my mind that they went down a storm.

All Out is a rare album, technically and performance-wise faultless. The saxes provide much groove, and Antoine Loiselle’s guitar work is extremely tasty. This one will definitely make my ‘best of 2019’ list, at or very near the top- it’s THAT good.

KEY CUTS: All Out, Bad Luck, Get Out On The Road

CHICKEN GREASE Biscuit Miller & The Mix (American Showplace) *** ½
Dirty, greasy blues with funk running gear- that’s what Biscuit Miller & The Mix bring to the table on their new album Chicken Grease. This is how you play good-time blues.

Biscuit Miller, bassist and vocalist, is the winner of 2 prestigious BMA awards for bass player of the year in 2012 and again in 2017. The band includes Doctor Love on drums and vocals plus Bobby B. Wilson and Alex “Southside” Smith on guitar and vocals. Produced by Ben Elliot and John Ginty, who also contributes some tasty work on keys, Chicken Grease has just the right amount of blues sleaze to make it a bunch of fun. Miller’s bass playing isn’t overly complicated but it provides the backbone for each track that makes everything else possible, and nowhere is that more evident on the atmospheric Lonely Road.

All 10 tracks on this disc are Miller originals, some written with other band members, and it sounds like they’re having a great time- it’s a nice energy to have around. Like the press release I received with the CD says, “his soulful blues style is sure to put a smile on your face. Keep it funky and have yourself too much fun!” At times the funk on this disc, particularly the title track, has a James Brown feel and hey- you gotta love a bunch of guys that sing about fried chicken!

My only real quibble with Chicken Grease is that the drums sound a little muffled, buried in the mix. If Doctor Love’s snare drum had a little more ‘snap’ to it I think it would’ve helped elevate the energy and feel of these tracks, but maybe that’s just me. Ultimately that’s just a minor issue; this disc has some serious moves.

KEY CUTS: Here Kitty Kitty, Two Legged Dog, Chicken Grease

THIS GUITAR AND TONIGHT Bob Margolin (Vizztone) *****
Raw, unadulterated back porch blues from Muddy Waters’ guitar player. As much as I thought Bob’s self titled last album missed the mark, This Guitar And Tonight really nails it. As Margolin says on the back cover, this is “original songs of Blues, love, blessings, challenges, stories and fun. No sugar added.” It feels almost as monumental as Son’s House’s Death Letter. Yeah- I said that.

This Guitar And Tonight is my first all-acoustic album” Bob says. “Inspired by my 1935 parlor guitar, Muddy Waters telling me 40 years ago that he actually preferred acoustic guitar (to electric), and Amy Brat’s idea that an all acoustic album would be a fresh adventure. This album made itself- new original songs came easy.” When it’s just a guy and his acoustic guitar, there’s nowhere to hide. Other than Jimmy Vivino playing guitar on the title track and Bob Corritore blowing some sweet harp on Blues Lover, this is all Bob Margolin and nothing but. As he notes “the recording approach is pure, the music sounds right in front of you, no added sugar. No artificial ingredients; just wood, steel, body and soul.”

The only instrument Margolin plays here is his 1930’s Gibson L-00 parlor guitar, whose beauty and nuance he says inspire him deeply, and you can feel that on every single track. This Guitar And Tonight is like rolling up to his back porch, maybe offering him a couple of pulls on your bottle of Wild Turkey. As he pulls out his guitar he looks at you and says “I’ve got some stories to tell”, then gets down to business. TG&T doesn’t just harken back to simpler, more primitive spot on the blues timeline… the simplicity and depth of feeling makes this a timeless record.

KEY CUTS: This Guitar And Tonight, Blues Lover, I Can’t Take Those Blues Away

DAMN! I SPILLED THE BLUES Brody Buster’s One Man Band (Vizztone/ Booga Music) ***+
High energy countrified blues, all played by one guy from Kansas City. I’ve heard one man bands before and found them gimmicky but Damn! I Spilled The Blues is a spirited and enjoyable adventure.

Starting as a harmonica prodigy, Buster became an accomplished multi instrumentalist and songwriter. He took the 2017 International Blues Challenge in Memphis by storm, winning 2nd place in the solo/duo category and 1st place in the harmonica player category. In the wake of that success, Brody Buster’s One Man Band has been playing international festivals. Playing a kick drum and snare drum with his feet as he plays guitar and harp, I bet he started doing it just to see if he could. He sure as hell can.

The feel on these songs is basic but compelling. It’s all rhythm guitar with no show-offy solos, which I miss, but Brody is an expressive harp player and his singing voice is tres cool. To be honest when I saw ‘one man band’ on the cover I didn’t think I would like Damn, but thankfully the opposite is the case. His songs are soulful and often dramatic, which is maybe heightened by the instrumentation; no fancy stuff to get in the way of the songs themselves.

Some pretty solid boogie ‘n’ blues here, a delightful surprise from the pile of discs on my desk awaiting attention. Next time you’re in the music store or online and want to give something fresh a shot, put Damn! I Spilled The Blues in your basket. I think you’ll be delightfully surprised… I sure was.

KEY CUTS: Old Dog Blues, Alligator Blues, The Wind

…TOOK A WHILE The Mike Duke Project (Little Village Foundation) *****+
Over 45 years in the biz as an in-demand musician and performer, Mike Duke has finally gotten around to releasing his debut album. Combining archive material, 4 newly-recorded band tracks and a recent live solo piano piece, Took A While is sweet southern soul magic to my jaded ears.

Mike’s story is quite a tale. He was a member of Wet Willie in the 70’s, and in 1981 a cassette of his music was sent by an LA music publisher to Bob Brown, Huey Lewis’s manager. Some of those tunes became hits by Huey Lewis & the News, like Doing It All For My Baby, Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do and Let Her Go and Start Over, presented on The Project in demo form for the first time. The 4 newly recorded tracks, with Mike on piano and vocals, feature an all-star list of guest musicians; Elvin Bishop, Kid Andersen, Jim Pugh and Angela Strehli to name a few. Soul intertwines with gospel here, and the results are food for the spirit.

Mike’s gentle, captivating voice puts you at ease and his earnest, heartfelt lyrics make you feel like you’re in good hands. Took A While is really a compilation of tunes from nearly 40 years, but it plays as if it was intended to be heard this way all along. After living under some fairly tall shadows and pitching his songs to others Mike Duke’s music is where it should be, for everyone to hear.

In 1998 Bob Brown purchased an old country roadhouse (Rancho Nicasio) and talked Mike, who was then in Nashville with Delbert McClinton, into returning to California. Not only is he a member of The Rancho All-Stars at the roadhouse, he manages the general store too. Took A While is Mike Duke’s time to shine, and shine he does.

It’s worth noting that the label, Little Village Foundation (founded by Jim Pugh) searches out, discovers, records and produces music that otherwise would not be heard beyond the artist’s family and community. Not only is there no expense to the artist, Little Village Foundation gives ALL proceeds from sales back to the artists. And so shines a good deed in a weary, often vicious world.

KEY CUTS: Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do, That’s What’s Good About The South, I Can’t Let You Go

BLUES MEETS GIRL Blues Meets Girl (independent) ****
This is a collaboration between British blues veteran Mr. Downchild and Texas born singer/ songwriter Kasimira. Blues Meets Girl is a fusion of their influences and experiences that result in down home, smokin’ hot, sexy blues you can use.

Downchild is a London born, international bluesman whose vocals, harp work and guitar were recognized by the legendary Robert Lockwood Jr. Kasimira cut her teeth on musical theatre and worked her way through a variety of bands. She proved adept at the belting and bluesy qualities of storytelling, and jumped at Mr. Downchild’s offer to collaborate. When you hear this album you’ll think the same thing I did; “this was meant to be.” They’re a hand in glove perfect fit.

The production is as uncomplicated and unfussy as the songs are direct. The band also includes Sean Carney on guitar, Scott Flowers on drums and Ray Deforest on bass, with each playing to serve the songs as opposed to trying to hog the spotlight. Blues Meets Girl (the album) is all original tunes, written by Downchild, with the exception of Sean Carney’s magnificent Swinging With Hank. Even so, the disc has the sound and feel of a classic blues album; rough around the edges in the right ways, vivid lyrics that tell some great stories, and some pretty righteous musicianship that just feels… right.

I remember being told once by a program director, after pitching a weekly blues show, the “no, because the music just isn’t popular.” I didn’t say but I thought “what a tool.” Blues Meets Girl is another terrific example of this relatively simple, honest, straightforward music making an emotional impact. This is the good stuff.

KEY CUTS: Nightgown, #87/ Oh Baby, Swinging With Hank

TWICE AS NICE Brad Vickers & His Vespapolitans (Man Hat Tone) ***+
They say that music is one of the surest ways to time travel, and Brad Vickers & His Vespapolitans have it down. On Twice As Nice, their 6th album, they take us back to the sixties for a heaping helping of what they call “blues, folk, jump and great American roots ‘n’ roll”, celebrating the music they love with obvious affection.

Twice As Nice is a collection of lively exchanges by all of the musicians involved, replete with some great sax solos and fine playing by all. Vickers has a lived in voice that doesn’t always nail the note head on, same with bassist Margie Peters who shares vocal duties, but that gives these tracks a kind of wobbly charm that’s hard to find in music these days. Brad in particular reminds me of John Mayall- not the strongest singer, but unforgettable and easy to recognize his voice when he steps up. Vickers learned his craft on the job playing, recording and touring with blues and roots masters Pinetop Perkins, Jimmy Rogers, Hubert Sumlin, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Odetta and Roscoe Gordon. Knowing that before you put this on gives you an idea of what to expect.

This disc is a mix of originals and blues standards, like Worried Life Blues (taking its cue from Chuck Berry’s version), Tampa Red’s Look A There Look A There and Jimmy Reed’s Close Together. Produced by Vickers, Peters and V.D. King, the sound here is straightforward and uncomplicated, much like it would have been done back in the day when Brad was playing with the people listed in the previous paragraph. As Brad says in the press releases, “I hope you have half as much fun listening, as we had making Twice As Nice!” You know? I kinda did.

KEY CUTS: Worried Life Blues, Coast to Coast, Everything I Need

MEET ME ON THE FAR SIDE OF A STAR Christine Smith (Foxy Loxy Records) ***
This singer/ Piano player steps out of the shadows to have her say with Meet Me On The Far Side of A Star. This is Great American Songbook craft paired with a deft undercurrent of dark Goth cabaret. Not everyone will get where Christine is going- and I’m not convinced that I do- but still, it’s a fascinating trip.

The press release says “it’s like listening to George Gershwin, Patti Smith and Simon LeBon in deep cocktail conversation, their repartee exchanged not in words, but in song.” It was that description that led me to giving this a spin, and I’m glad I did. Smith is best known for touring and recording with acts like Crash Test Dummies and Ryan Adams, and she has shared stages with Springsteen, Amy Grant and Lenny Kaye of The Patti Smith group, to drop a few names. So yeah- she has credentials up the hoop.

Meet Me was written over the span of a year, beginning as a long distance collaboration with Texas singer/ songwriter Victor Camozzi after he and Christine discovered a mutual love of 30’s and 40’s American classics. Late night kitchen demos with her Spanish accordion revealed each song’s arrangement, then Christine would hit the studio in search of a timeless sound. She played most of the instruments herself, with her old friend Tommy Stinson (The Replacements) putting the final touch on one of the tracks.

The ‘demo’ sound quality of Star was a deliberate decision certainly, and that’s where I have a problem with the record. I dig the feel she is going for with this batch of songs, but the piano is poorly mic’d (I think) and it also sounds like it hasn’t been properly tuned in ages. There’s a simple beauty to the songs that I think would’ve been better served with more astute production values. I enjoy Meet Me On The Far Side Of A Star, and perhaps a few more spins are needed to really get inside.

KEY CUTS: I Know This Moon, You Can’t Hurt Me Anymore, We’re Never Going

ROCK & ROLL: A TRIBUTE TO CHUCK BERRY Mike Zito & Friends (Ruf) *****+
One of my favorite guitar players and some pals pay tribute to one of the architects of rock & roll in spectacular fashion. The songs are simple and the playing on this set is inspired and joyous. I can’t imagine anybody not wanting to have this.

Rock & Roll sees Zito returning to his roots with a bunch of guitar playing pals to cover 20 Berry classics that should be a part of every guitarist’s DNA. Guests include Joe Bonamassa, Walter Trout, Eric Gales, Robben Ford, Sonny Landreth, Luther Dickinson, Albert Castiglia, Anders Osborne, plus Chuck’s grandson Charles Berry III. Sounds like an invitation nobody wanted to say no to.

“This was a very special project for me” Mike says. “I lived in Chuck’s hometown of St. Louis for 32 years, and I worked at a small instrument store where his drummer also happened to be employed. Chuck’s son was an icon, and he would drop by as well. He was an icon, and rightfully so. I’ve been playing his songs since I was a kid. He was a tremendous influence on my career and, of course, many other musicians’ as well.”

Rock & Roll was mainly recorded at Zito’s own Marz studio, mixed and mastered by David Farrell. “We recorded the basic tracks and then sent them to each guest musician” Mike says. “They added their contributions and then sent the files back to us. The process took a year to complete.” Zito has the talent and chops to do something like this on his own, but having so many well known and talented guest players elevates the record to a higher plane, ensures more recognition, and gives it a certain cache too.

Far from being a carbon copy of the primitive original versions of these songs, Rock & Roll feels like a modern rock and blues record with muscle and swagger. The band is in the pocket throughout, Mike’s passionate vocals and those of the guests that sing sell the songs, and the guitar solos are ecstatic. I’ll be listening to this often, and loud- very loud.

KEY CUTS: Wee Wee Hours (w/ Joe Bonamassa), Johnny B. Goode (w/ Walter Trout), School Days (w/ Ally Venable)

SURVIVING Jimmy Eat World (Sony) *****
You gotta love a rock & roll album with pop smarts and that’s what Surviving, the latest from Jimmy Eats World, is. Dense production, propulsive beats, and hooks that won’t quit… this is really friggin’ good.

Though Surviving just came out October 18th of this year I was somehow transported back to the 90’s, musically speaking. The optimistic energy here is a blast. It’s been a tough week, struggling with some internal issues, but having this in my headphones right now somehow makes everything okay. This is the band’s most personal and ambitious album to date and front man Jim Adkins proves himself to be a talented and prolific songwriter. 555, for example, is poignant and soul searching, about resisting accepting your reality and the damage that can cause. It’s probably closest to my heart of all the 10 songs here as it’s an issue I’ve contemplated of late.

Produced by the band and Justin Meldal-Johnson, who produced 2016’s Integrity Blues, it’s a terrific sounding record that gives your stereo a sweaty workout. I rail occasionally at modern pop music and all the slick, digital production techniques, but here the heart of the music isn’t obscured by fancy studio tricks. The drum sound is thick and meaty, and as an old rock dude I find the walls of guitar particularly gratifying. Even the synthy sound of 555 is pretty cool.

The goal of music in general is to make you feel something, whether it lifts you up, pisses you off, makes you cry, or call a friend you haven’t talked to in a long time, and that’s what Surviving will do for you; make you feel. There are times when it rocks on tracks like All The Way (Stay) or the title cut, and it’ll get you thinking about stuff too. In a sea of lifeless, plastic, shiny music, Jimmy Eat World’s Surviving is a gem of a record.

KEY CUTS: Surviving, 555, Criminal Energy

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