Before I get started, a correction to my column of October 9th. In my review of The Detonics, I compared them to Thorbjorn Risager & The Black Tornado, whom I mistakenly referred to as a Dutch blues band, when they are in fact Danish. My apologies- I should have said the European blues scene bears closer investigation!
PIANO & MICROPHONE 1983 Prince (Warner) *****
An intimate performance, released to mark Prince’s 60th birthday. Piano & Microphone 1983 is a home cassette recording of Prince at home at his piano.
It’s doubtful this would have come out if Prince were still alive. It’s a raw, bare bones recording, similar to his Piano & A Microphone tour of 2016. Prince is unguarded as he works through a bunch of tunes, many of which would become familiar later like 17 Days and Purple Rain. Also included; a cover of Joni Mitchell’s A Case Of You.
While I am mostly familiar with his hits, I found this a revelatory listening experience, free of studio trickery. Some studio chatter and hearing Prince’s feet thump on the pedals as he plays makes us feel like we were next to him on the piano bench as he played and sang. Piano & Mic ’83 is extremely cool and unexpected.
KEY CUTS: 17 Days, Cold Coffee & Cocaine, Why The Butterflies
JONATHON LONG Jonathon Long (Wild Heart Records) *** ½
This, the 3rd album for this Baton Rouge singer/ guitarist, feels like The Allman Brothers meet Lynyrd Skynyrd. These songs have a spirit and heart that cannot be ignored.
Of the sessions for this record, produced by 2018 Contemporary Female Blues Artist of The year Samantha Fish, Jon says “We went into the studio with the idea of a more cohesive effort with a collection of completed songs, rather than just tunes to jam on; all the songs and arrangements were written beforehand.” Fish’s production is flexible and sympathetic and, recorded in New Orleans, you can hear Big Easy kind of soul here too.
“You can’t be hesitant, you have to own it” Jonathon says. “Everything I do is to connect with people in a positive way.” Southern blues with some Crescent City swagger- this feisty album may become one of your favorites.
KEY CUTS: Bury Me, Pray For Me, Pour Another Drink
LIVE FROM THE 805 Alastair Greene (Rip Cat) *****
A 2 disc live set recorded on Greene’s 2017 tour. They’ve drawn comparisons to Gov’t Mule, ZZ Top and Cream- The Alastair Greene Band’s sheer firepower is humbling.
Blues In Britain rightfully enthuses “Imagine a meld of Cream, Johnny Winter, North Mississippi Allstars, Jimi Hendrix and Santana, and you will have some idea of the music laid down by the Alastair Greene Band.” Down Beat Magazine says “fronting a power blues-rock trio, guitarist Alastair Greene breathes in sulfuric fumes and exhales blazing fire.” I haven’t been this excited about a guitar player since Jeff Healey’s first album.
These are songs from Greene’s first 5 albums plus some sweet covers. On stage is where the blues comes alive, and Live from the 805 (in his hometown of Santa Barbara) is as nasty and swaggering as it gets. Freakin’ AWESOME.
KEY CUTS: The Sweetest Honey, Down To Memphis, Last Train Around The Sun, Shoe On The Other Foot
TRACES Steve Perry (Fantasy) ****
Perry returns with an emotionally rich, exceptionally well crafted pop album. Traces is a record that lifts you up and brings you down at the same time.
“I though music had run its course in my heart” Steve says on his website, explaining his absence from the music scene. In 2011 he met Kellie Nash, who had breast cancer, and fell madly in love. Sadly, she passed in 2012. “When Kellie was very ill, she made me promise not to keep isolating myself anymore” he remembers. The next step was to express himself once again through music.
Traces feels like slick 80’s pop music, but dig deeper. Many of the songs appear to be about Kellie but singing from his heart is what Steve does best. We can all relate to a song like No More Cryin’, and In The Rain will break your heart- it did mine.
Traces takes us back to when it was okay to wear our emotions on our sleeves and songs were powered by superior musicianship. Welcome back Steve, we’ve missed you.
KEY CUTS: No Erasin’, No More Cryin’, In The Rain
FREE Amanda Fish (Vizztone) *****
This is a powerful follow-up to Fish’s 2015 debut Down In The Dirt. Free contains a dozen tracks driven by a terrifically groovin’ band and Amanda’s gospel-inspired, from-the-gut vocal style… very intense stuff here.
Free is blues-inspired rock and Amanda’s influences are on full display, from R.L. Burnside to Nirvana. She plays a wide range of instruments; all bass tracks, acoustic guitar, electric and 12 string guitar, mandolin and piano. Glen James played drums on all tracks, and the few spaces left were filled in by a list of guest musicians that includes Alastair Greene plus label mates Bob Margolin, Tyler Morris and Richard Rosenblatt.
The musicianship on Free is exciting, but it’s Amanda’s voice that really commands attention. Whether it’s a nasty jam like Going Down or a mid-tempo acoustic number like The Ballad of Lonesome Cowboy Bill, the stories are enthralling. Been spinning this all afternoon and I’m not ready to stop yet.
KEY CUTS: The Ballad Of Lonesome Cowboy Bill, The Bored And Lonely, Going Down
NOT MADE FOR HIRE The Bennett Brothers (American Showplace Music) *** +
Speeding tickets while blasting this one are a distinct possibility. After years of playing with others, Jimmy and Peter have their own band together and are looking forward to some roadwork to take this to the people.
Jimmy and Peter Bennett have played along side Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, BB King, Bo Diddley, Rick Danko and many more. Helm invited them to his home in Woodstock to make music, and they were soon opening shows at “The Midnight Ramblers” where Hubert Sumlin and Johnnie Johnson were guests in the early days.
Produced with a rough edge by Ben Elliot, Not Made For Hire also includes John Ginty on keys (The Dixie Chicks) and Lee Falco on drums, with Linda Pino lending her vocal talent to I Just Don’t Want The Blues Today. Overall, this is blues with rock & roll soul. The production sound could’ve been crisper, but maybe that’s just me. Not For Hire boogies with wild abandon, and that’s a real good thing.
KEY CUTS: I Just Don’t Want The Blues Today, Rocking Chair, Junkyard Dog
SPACEMAN Ace Frehley (Ear One) ***
Frehley’s late career renaissance continues with this, his 8th solo studio album. Spaceman is what you expect- which is good or bad, depending on your point of view.
Ace replicates his ’78 solo disc, sort of, in terms of structure and feel. He even limits this to 9 songs too. This is a mix of heavy rockers with more melodic fare, and you’ll hear some cool acoustic work as well. Spaceman contains 2 co-writes with Gene Simmons; Without You I’m Nothing (Gene plays bass on it) and Your Wish Is My Command.
Spaceman is more focused than recent work, but he can still get lazy. “I never sit at home for hours trying to figure out a solo, you know?” he said in a recent Guitar World interview. “I like to do things spontaneously and without a lot of preparation. They come out more natural and sincere that way.” Maybe, but I think his more structured soloing with Kiss was far better. Ace won’t score new fans here, but he isn’t trying to.
KEY CUTS: Your Wish Is My Command, Pursuit Of Rock & Roll, Quantum Flux
DOPAMINE MACHINE/ ACOUSTIC DOPAMINE Hadden Sayers (independent) ****+
This is the 9th album for this veteran Texas singer/ songwriter/ guitar slinger, whom Billy Gibbons calls “pretty much my hero”. Dopamine Machine is a fist pumpin’ adventure, while Acoustic Dopamine is a stripped down look at the same songs.
Dopamine Machine feels similar to Too Slim & The Taildraggers, reviewed a few months ago; bluesy barroom rock, just the sort of thing needed to fuel a weekend. For Acoustic Dopamine, Hadden rearranged the whole album as a solo acoustic set, aided only by Ruthie Foster’s soaring vocals on Waiting Wanting and a friend on percussion.
A completely different perspective on any album is rare, but I’m glad Hadden put in the effort. Either album feels complete in its own right- Dopamine Machine is made for rockin’ down the freeway, and Acoustic Dopamine is for driving alone on deserted highways in the dead of night- a mystical experience. I advise getting both versions to be fully prepared for either eventuality.
DOPAMINE MACHINE: Hit The Road, Good Good Girl
ACOUSTIC DOPAMINE: Dopamine Machine, I Feel Love
THE ATLAS UNDERGROUND Tom Morello (I-Tunes purchase) *****
Whether it’s his Night Watchman stuff, the records he’s done with Prophets of Rage, Audioslave, Rage Against The Machine or even Springsteen- when Tom Morello speaks through his music, I have to listen. So here we are with The Atlas Underground.
There’s a long list of studio collaborators in the studio with Tom on this one; Marcus Mumford, Portugal, The Man, Bassnectar, the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA & GZA, Vic Mensa, K. Flay, Big Boi, Gary Clark Jr., Pretty Lights, Killer Mike, Tim McIlrath, Steve Akoi, Knife Party and Whethan. Most of these names I either don’t know or have only read in magazines, yet I find myself turning Atlas up.
There are the strange noises Tom coaxes from his guitar, but my attraction to his music has more to do with him being a straight shooter and truth seeker… and his sense of musical adventure is infectious. The Atlas Underground really floats my boat.
KEY CUTS: Lucky One, Where It’s At Ain’t What It Is, Battle Sirens
WHEN I RISE Cary Morin (Maple Street Music) *****+
More soulful tunes and great finger pickin’ here from Morin to follow last year’s incredible Cradle To The Grave. He’s surrounded himself with a sympathetic cast of all-star musicians, resulting in perfection.
“I had the luxury of being at home for longer than usual to work on this project” Cary notes about When I Rise. “I had plenty of time to record and refine. At the time I was listening to and exploring a lot of music, much more so than when I’m on the road. I was able to spend time crafting the songs and recording them in pre-production, sometimes multiple versions of the same song. It was great to have the time to experiment.”
When I Rise is a dozen tracks; 10 originals plus covers of the Jerry Garcia/ Roberta Hunter song Dire Wolf, and a gorgeous version of Duane Allman’s Little Martha. Production is clear and spacious and Morin is an amazing finger picker. As a singer his voice has a friendly huskiness. When I Rise is as good as it gets- superior stuff.
KEY CUTS: Let Me Hear The Music, When I Rise, Little Martha/The Last Pint
PLAY IT ALL DAY Terry Blersh (independent) ****
A warm, expressive set of songs is what we have here from Blersh. His writing and playing is rooted in the blues, but not confined to it; on Play It All Day you’ll also hear a mix of R&B, rock, Tex-Mex, reggae and jazz. All in all, it’s an agreeable concoction.
Play It All Day was produced and arranged by Blersh, and he called in Jimmy Bowskill (The Sheepdogs), John Mays (Fathead), John Finley (The Checkmates, Rhinoceros) and Quisha Wint (Jacksoul, Matt Dusk) to lend a hand. Terry’s warm and easy voice gives the songs an agreeable vibe, and as a guitarist he’s considered one of the tastiest, most musical players in Canada. It took me a couple of spins to hear that- as you know I prefer grimier blues- but once it became apparent I thought “how did I miss that?”
As a lyricist Blersh has a wry and diverse perspective, and the way he handles the cover songs here (Lightfoot’s Early Morning Rain with Jimmy Bowskill, King Creole) is quite refreshing. In the space of an afternoon I’ve gone from “eh, this is okay” to “I really like this”- I hope it’s the same for you too.
KEY CUTS: Treat Me Right, Early Morning Rain, Jammin’ II
WELCOME TO MY BLUES Sean Chambers (American Showplace Music) *****
This is the 7th album for this Florida bluesman, and my 4th disc of his. Like Trouble & Whiskey before it, Welcome To My Blues was produced by Ben Elliot, who has recorded guys like Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Billy Gibbons and Steve Miller. This is genuinely exciting stuff.
Chambers began his blues career in ’98, touring with the legendary Hubert Sumlin as his guitarist and bandleader until 2003. During that time, Britain’s Guitarist Magazine named Sean as “one of the top 50 blues guitarists of the last century”. The songs are strong and brawny- when Chambers takes a solo, you can feel him really leaning into it. The dude just lets it all hang out, and that kind of controlled recklessness is breathtaking- leading us up to the edge of the cliff then pulling us back just in the nick of time.
Welcome To My Blues is 8 Sean Chambers originals and 3 covers; Luther Allison’s Cherry Red Wine, T-Bone Walker’s All Night Long and Box Car Willie by John Ginty, who plays keys on this disc as well as The Bennett Brothers album reviewed earlier in this column. This disc is rough and manly and Sean Chambers is definitely a he-man of the blues guitar. This album is really doing my soul some good tonight.
KEY CUTS: Box Car Willie, Welcome To My Blues, Keep Movin’ On