31 Glass Tiger (Warner Music/ Halo) ****+
Normally, re-recording your hits is a half-assed contract filler, and besides- when was the last time Glass Tiger made the charts? But GT has done it right; taking classic songs and drastically re-working them, as Page & Plant did in the 90’s with their Un-Ledded project. 31 is a reminder of just how good these guys are.
In 2015, singer Alan Frew had a potentially career ending stroke. During his recovery he talked with his good friend Johnny Reid, who suggested creating an album that celebrated the truly important things in life. “We talked for hours on end about such things as love and friendship, health and happiness… and, of course, family” says Frew. “The emphasis, (Johnny) felt, should be on Glass Tiger’s beautifully crafted pop songs that already felt like ‘old friends and family’ and that, if re-imagined, they could once again join us by the fire for an evening of fellowship and song.”
Produced by Reid and recorded in Toronto and Reid’s own Nashville studio, 31 introduces traditional acoustic instruments like the penny whistle, bodhran, banjo and uillean pipes to give new warmth and expression to these songs and melodies we already know so well. “31 is simply a celebration of family and friendship” says Johnny. “Having the opportunity to work with the boys on this album was an absolute pleasure.”
Comparisons to the original versions are inevitable and to be honest, I prefer the originals in most cases. The new arrangements and the songs’ ‘acoustic-ness’, though, the Celtic flavoring, opens them up and allows them to “join us by the fire” as Johnny intended. Alan Doyle joins in on My Song, Julian Lennon is featured on Thin Red Line, and Johnny Reid is featured on the new cut Wae Yer Family. Also included are a French language version of Someday with Veronic DiCaire on vocals, and Diamond Sun with Susan Aglukark singing in First Nations.
31 isn’t a replacement for your copy of Glass Tiger’s The Best Of The Best but a companion to it, a way to enjoy the songs from a different angle and a reminder of what fine songs they are in the first place.
KEY CUTS: Thin Red Line (w/ Julian Lennon), Don’t Forget Me, Wae Yer Family (w/ Johnny Reid)
THREE FOR THE ROAD John Mayall (Forty Below Records) *** ½
If you like piano based blues, you’d be hard pressed to find anything better than this new release from Mayall. Recorded in Dresden and Stuttgart during last year’s European tour, Three For The Road has the electric mojo you’d hope for from a live show.
Produced by Mayall and label president Eric Corne, Three captures band an audience in total synch. “I hope the fans will enjoy the fireworks that the three of us came up with during a tour of Europe last year” John states, in reference to his band mates Greg Rzab on bass and drummer Jay Davenport. “The songs come from my extensive library of material composed by some of my favorite blues players.”
The band became a trio by accident. “I’ve been using the trio format for our live shows for a year already” John says. “My guitarist Rocky Athos wasn’t able to make a festival gig due to airline cancellations. Since then, I found that the interplay and dynamics have created a more personal upfront sound in my live performances. Greg and Jay, who have been my band-mates for the last ten years or more, (bring) their Chicago roots to the fore every time we get onstage together.”
Another word that describes Three For The Road’s 9 tracks other than being loaded with mojo, is groove. Rzab and Davenport are Chicago guys so they came up through the blues and Mayall, now 84, is the Godfather of the British blues scene, so it’s not unreasonable to expect (even demand) magic here- and this disc delivers, as the audiences attests with wild applause after each performance.
We have a fine blues exploration in Three For The Road to keep us company here, but John Mayall is already looking to the future. “As for recording, I shall be exploring the talents of guitar players who will be pretty well known to all lovers of rock & roll, they will be strongly featured on the next studio album.” The sessions are set for the end of the month and I already can’t wait!
KEY CUTS: Tears Came Rollin’ Down, I Feel So Bad, Lonely Feelings
THE ICE QUEEN Sue Foley (Stony Plain) *****
As fine a slice of traditional blues as you’re likely to hear, The Ice Queen is Sue Foley’s first album for Stony Plain. “I’m extremely excited to be working with Holger Petersen and Stony Plain Records’ Sue says. “Holger is one of the most knowledgeable ‘real music’ people in the business.” Based on my own experience with the label and what I’ve just heard in the last hour, I predict a long and satisfying partnership between them.
Produced by Mike Flanigin who also plays organ on the disc, The Ice Queen was recorded in San Marcos, Texas. Joining her on a cut each are band mates from the side project “Jungle Show”; Jimmie Vaughan and Billy F. Gibbons, Chris Layton (of SRV’s band), along with Charlie Sexton, The Texas Horns and more. These tracks were recorded mostly live in the studio which, aside from some great songs and fine playing, at least partly explains the vibe.
Foley’s emotional vocal delivery really cuts to the heart of these songs of lost love, anguish and struggle, and she’s also a wonderfully adept and expressive guitar player. From the slow blues of the title track to the inspired remake of The Carter Family’s Cannonball Blues to the more up-tempo numbers, I can’t think of a single song here where I thought she missed the mark or should’ve had another go- after a couple of listens there isn’t a single note on The Ice Queen that I would change.
Sue Foley won a Juno in 2001 and also holds the record for the most Maple Blues Awards too, which has led to The Ice Queen- an excellent album, due out March 2nd.
KEY CUTS: The Ice Queen, Fool’s Gold (w/ Billy Gibbons on vocals & harp), Cannonball Blues
LOVE IS AN ARMY Janiva Magness (Fathead/ Blue Elan Records) *****
Magness’s 14th album is a stunner. With echoes of the past and present she bridges classic soul and country with the blues and a touch of gospel heat, creating a spine-tingling collection of songs.
Janiva’s voice is deep and soulful as she digs into these themes of love and protest. “Right now, my truth, in this world and in these times… Now more than ever- is to stand up, speak up, write it, shout it, sing it, and try to be heard” she says in the liner notes, and therein lies the engine that drives Love Is An Army”. It’s a great sounding album too, produced and mixed by Dave Darling for a thick, rich texture. Some excellent guest appearances on some tracks too by singer Delbert McClinton, harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite and guitarist Cedric Burnside- they’re worth searching out.
I have a handful of Janiva’s albums in my collection and enjoy them all, but this is the first one that really pushed me down the stairs. Love Is An Army has real heft to it sonically and emotionally, it’s impossible to miss what she wants us to hear and what she’s trying to make us feel. The musicianship is expert but loose and Magness has raised her game. She was nominated for a Grammy in 2016 and has been nominated for the Blues Music Award 27 times (!), with 7 wins including “Entertainer Of The Year”, but with this record it feels like that was just a warm-up for what is to come.
I approached this initially as a blues album, but Love Is An Army is an amazing and inspirational set of songs by any yardstick. When it comes out Feb.23rd, you really need to buy it.
KEY CUTS: Love To A Gunfight, Hammer (with Charlie Musselwhite), What Could I Do (with Delbert McClinton)
VOODOO WOMAN Crystal Shawanda (New Sun Records) *****+
Stunning, absolutely stunning. With the possible exception of Beth Hart, I haven’t heard a woman sing the blues with this much power since Koko Taylor. Voodoo Woman is the hard, hard blues and Crystal Shawanda holds absolutely nothing back. This is the sound of an artist finding her voice.
Crystal Shawanda is a Juno Award-winning singer/songwriter with a soulful, rootsy sound that bridges the worlds of blues and country seamlessly. Her unique aboriginal background can make her feel like an outsider, but Voodoo Woman finds her embracing and truly celebrating her unique place in the music industry.
Voodoo Woman is a sonically powerful set with her amazing voice commanding a talented gathering of musicians. Produced by Dewayne Strobel and Shawanda and engineered, mixed & produced by Owen Lewis, this disc has a physical power that must be felt and heard to be believed. It’s a great selection of songs too, 3 originals co-existing very well with classics like Ball & Chain, Wang Dang Doodle (a hit for Koko Taylor), I’d Rather Go Blind and Misty Blue. As a singer Crystal is like Janis Joplin meets Beth Hart- equally powerful but with more control. She also has the ability to break your heart with the turn of a single phrase… listen to her version of I’d Rather Go Blind included here and it will leave you breathless.
There is literally nothing about Voodoo Woman that I do not like. The band swings and grooves and Crystal’s emotional vocals are truly a force of nature- when she sings it, you have no other choice but to feel it. This album has an animal grace that we can only marvel at and revel in; it’s the most powerful disc of the year so far.
KEY CUTS: Ball & Chain, I’d Rather Go Blind, Bluetrain/Smokestack Lightning Revisited