GOOD MORNING MIDNIGHT Scott Ellison (Red Parlor Records) ****
You’ve heard the old saying “there must be something in the water”; I’m thinking that applies to the music scene in Tulsa. Clapton has long held a fascination with the Tulsa sound, from around his Backless record in ’78. Then you have artists like Tulsa-based blues guitarist Scott Ellison. His new album Good Morning Midnight is quite the charmer- his laid back vibe and fluid grooves are a thing of beauty.
Ellison grew up in Oklahoma, in the heartland of America, and so is steeped in the rich musical influences and traditions of the south- it shows in his writing and performances on the new disc. Ellison has shared stages with many rock and blues legends including Joe Cocker, BB King, Levon Helm, The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Buddy Guy and, as so many of those artists are no longer with us, his music serves as a living link to this storied and glorious past.
On Good Morning Midnight, Scott continues his longtime collaboration with fellow Tulsa icon, producer/ songwriter/ pianist Walt Richmond, who co-wrote several of these songs and co-produced the album. Talk about the right man for the job; Richmond is also known for his work with Clapton, JJ Cale and Bonnie Raitt. Ellison’s guitar playing is expressive, a cross between Clapton and BB, and as a vocalist he reminds me of a cross between Duke Robillard and John Hiatt. Midnight has the same kind of soul and flow as all those guys.
“Ellison is a prolific songwriter, and his work reflects influences from the British Blues Invasion, Motown, and Memphis rhythm & blues”, or so says Blues In Britain, and that seems a fair description. Overall, Good Morning Midnight is full of great songs and you’ll find the laid back vibe irresistible- I sure as heck did!
KEY CUTS: Last Breath, Hope And Faith, Tangled, Wheelhouse
GROOVIN’ IN GREASELAND Rick Estrin & The Nightcats (Alligator) ****+
Descended from Little Charlie & The Nightcats, Rick Estrin & The Nightcats check in with their 4th record for Alligator since 2009. Powered by Estrin’s saucy harp work and the incredible guitar work of Kid Anderson, Groovin’ In Greaseland is a homerun.
The Chicago Sun-Times sums Greaseland up best when they say “These are some serious musicians having a hotter than hot good time. It’s tough to stay in your seat when Estrin and his musical cohorts get cooking.” Leading the charge are Estrin’s muscular harp work that recalls Little Walter and a husky Baldry-esque singing voice loaded with sass and attitude. We also have Kid Anderson’s ferocious guitar work, keys by Lorenzo Farrell and drummer Alex Petterson’s straightforward sense of time upon which everything hangs. Put it all together and you get great records like this.
Having worked as a radio advertising writer for over 20 years, the over-use of certain words really gets to me- but I can’t think of a better way to describe Groovin’ In Greaseland than calling it an ‘authentic’ blues experience. Switching gears from the upbeat and cheeky Dissed Again to a slinky, lowdown cut like Tender Hearted then slipping into the surf instrumental MWAH! comes naturally to these guys, and they handle the usual blues topics of love and loss with lowdown charm. The Nightcats are wildly fun, musically fearless and bursting with bravado, and throwing on this disc will give you a delicious contact high. If you’re looking for a good time, sailor, Groovin’ In Greaseland has exactly what you’re looking for.
KEY CUTS: Looking For A Woman, MWAH!, Cool Slaw, Another Lonesome Day
MVP Milligan Vaughan Project (Mark One Records) *** +
You can’t grow up in Texas with the last name ‘Vaughan’, especially if your dad’s name is Jimmie and your uncle is Stevie Ray, and NOT play guitar. Tyrone Vaughan and gifted blues singer Malford Milligan are off to a fine start with their first album, MVP.
Thanks to his lineage, Tyrone started hanging out at the legendary Antone’s at a young age- Muddy Waters even gave him one of his harmonicas one night. He got his first ‘real’ guitar, an old Harmony scored from a local pawnshop by uncle Stevie, for his 5th birthday. Later on Stevie, Lou Ann Barton and WC Clark threw in together to get him a Fender Musicmaster. Uncle Stevie and dad Jimmie were happy to see young Tyrone Vaughan follow in their footsteps, and over the years he’s jammed with Pinetop Perkins, SRV’s Double Trouble, John Popper and Billy Gibbons. You could say he was born to the blues.
Milligan attended the University of Texas in 1981, but he was soon to forsake academics in favor of singing at Monday night blues jams. He helped form the Texas supergroup Storyville, releasing two stellar albums on Atlantic and, as a session singer, Malford has always been in demand.
All of which brings us to the new album, MVP. There’s definitely some high quality blues here, with studio originals written by Milligan, Vaughan and producer David Grissom, as well as 3 covers and a couple of bonus live tracks from their first ever live gig together. Milligan has a gritty voice born to sing the blues and, as you would expect, Vaughan is a fierce guitar player- though he sounds nothing like his famous uncle. You only have to put MVP’s version of Buddy Guy’s Leave My Girl Alone next to the one from Stevie’s In Step album to hear the difference.
MVP is straight up blues, well played and spectacularly well sung, and immensely diggable.
KEY CUTS: Leave My Girl Alone, Two Wings, Palace of The King
OLIVIA Tucci (Hideaway Records) *****
There’s some great blues coming out of Florida, like Tucci’s new CD Olivia. With special guests Larry McCray and Dan Toler, this is an Allman-esque set of spirited songs that will stick with you for a very long time.
The Tucci band continues on a path set by its previous incarnation The Toler- Tucci Band, which featured Allman Bros. guitarist Dan Toler and recorded the acclaimed CD Doc’s Hideaway in 2012. Toler passed away in early 2013 after a long battle with ALS, but not before laying down some great guitar work on Play By The Rules, featured on this new disc.
Steve Tucci remembers that “Several years ago, over a sushi lunch, Dan Toler asked if I had any interest in forming a band with him that would be strongly based on friendship. He believed that good friends would be positive influences on each other and hence, quality and creative music would result.” It’s this spirit that guides the band today, and no doubt part of the reason why Olivia feels and sounds so damn good.
After Dan’s death the band was at a crossroads of sorts, unsure how to carry on. “Our friend and great bluesman Larry McCray offered to come down to Florida and collaborate with us on the Olivia CD” says Steve. “Larry’s influence, vocals and guitar playing was the prescription the band needed to heal and get on with our mission to create and perform good music. Larry fit perfectly into the goal of Tucci being a band of friends and brothers seeking a good time through music.” Though not a permanent member of the band, McCray features prominently on the new album, and has an open invitation to get up and jam with the band wherever they may be playing.
This one’s real simple; if you like southern fried blues and are known to have an ABB album or two in your collection, Tucci’s Olivia absolutely belongs in your CD player.
KEY CUTS: Hey Florida, High Roller, Without You
PALESTINE BLUES Lew Jetton & 61 South (Coffee Street Records) *****
If you’re looking for a raw blues experience, you’ve just found it with the latest from Lew Jetton & 61 South. A sometimes brutal memoir of a 10 year period in Jetton’s life which included struggles with alcohol, drugs, depression, joblessness, frustration and a spiritual tug of war, Palestine Blues is as real as it gets.
“Palestine is the community in which I live but it’s also a place of historic significance for being scared, while at the same time, a place of conflict” Lew says. “I know a lot of blues is happy and uplifting. This is not. I’m OK with that. I wanted it to be real blues in the emotional sense, and that’s what Palestine Blues is.” This is a very dark record, noted by some to be Gary Clark Jr. meets Townes Van Zandt. Palestine Blues is about real pain and the struggles of life that all of us go through- it’s frighteningly easy to see yourself in some of these songs.
Recorded as a 3-piece for the most part, Palestine Blues is pure, unfiltered emotion. With just guitar, bass, drums and voice, there’s plenty of room for the essence of these songs to shine through. No posing, nowhere to hide- just raw, straight up gutbucket blues full of helplessness, anger and sadness, with the occasional glimmer of hope. That’s what makes this disc so easy to fall for- never for a second will you feel that Jetton is being coy or pulling punches. He’s giving us the straight goods… sometimes we can nod and relate, other times it stings like a good slap across the face. Great playing and deep songs make Palestine Blues one of the year’s very best blues releases.
KEY CUTS: Drinking Again, Don’t Need No Devil, Oh My My, Bout Time