BENEATH THE BLOOD MOON Jim Roberts & The Resonants (KKP Records) ***Formerly known as The Jack Roberts Harvey Band, Jim Roberts & The Resonants are making the scene with a little slice of southern heaven that combines roots rock, the blues and southern rock, powered by Roberts’ slinky slide work.Once a semi-big deal in the 70’s and 80’s, Roberts ditched the music biz to concentrate on fatherhood and spent 16 years as a cop. These 10 tracks have a decidedly southern sensibility, and Jim’s vocals are warm and comfortable. In addition to slide, Roberts also plays a 3 string cigar box guitar, which I’ve not heard since Harry Manx.Beneath The Blood Moon is pretty decent, but the production misses the mark and the rhythm section needs to relax and become a little more elastic. Otherwise, decent stuff.
ESSENTIALS: Bayou Beau, The Hell Hound’s Due
FEELIN’ FREAKY John Nemeth (Memphis Grease Records) ***2014 Soul Blues Artist of The Year… 2015 Soul Blues Album of The Year… 2017 nominee for BB King Entertainer of The Year… people are paying attention to this Robert Cray-ish soul/ R&B singer, spiritual kin to Otis, Sam and Jackie.Nemeth draws from his blues and R&B influences as well as hip-hop and rock & roll, paying little mind to barriers of style and genre. The songs are groove and melody driven, with thoughtful lyrics and occasional stabs of humour. Subjects include social issues plus the hedonistic joys of dancing, sexuality and marijuana.Produced by the Grammy nominated Luther Dickinson, Feelin’ Freaky will make your troubles disappear, if just for a little while. Gotta love that red pickle on the cover too, and a man that doesn’t take himself too seriously.
ESSENTIALS: You Really Do Want That Woman, Kool Aid Pickle
BLACK CROW CALLIN’ Polly O’Keary & The Rhythm Method (independent) ***½ Seattle is more than grunge, they’ve got the blues too. That’s where these guys hail from- Black Crow Callin’ is their 4th album, and it’s a stone groove.O’Keary is a powerful singer- a primal force- but she can overdo it, like on the opening cut Hard Hearted World where it sounds like she’s trying too hard. But the rest of the disc is cool, and as a bassist she really locks in with drummer Tommy Cook and guitarist David Miller. Mastery of the groove is everything- if you don’t have that you’re missing the point, and Polly O’Keary & The Rhythm Method have it down cold .O’Keary is a gutsy vocalist, but it’s the instrumental passages (and Miller’s guitar) where these guys shine brightest. Extremely cool.
ESSENTIALS: A Man Who Can Stand, On Life
DESIRE Lauren Mitchell (independent) ****As a blues singer Lauren Mitchell is a revelation. Informed by a tumultuous year that included the dissolution of her marriage and parting ways with her band, Desire is bristling with emotion.“The blues is a song of victory” declares Mitchell. “It’s a way for me to say ‘I’m over it, and now I’m turning it into this beautiful thing that can help some one else heal.’ That’s what this record is for me.” Stellar in-the-pocket performances from all the musicians involved go a long way to making Lauren’s vision for this album come spectacularly true.Desire has plenty of mojo and smells like the truth. A deft mix of original songs and covers of tunes once performed by artists like Etta James, Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin, Lauren Mitchell is a force to be reckoned with.
ESSENTIALS: Jump Into My Fire, Anti-Love Song
MANSION FULL OF GHOSTS Jesse Waldman (independent) *****Here is the first solo effort from East Vancouver’s Jesse Waldman. Warm, simple and sparse, Mansion Full Of Ghosts is like a warm hug on a cold, rainy evening.Unlike most of the albums featured in today’s column, Ghosts isn’t a blues record. It’s a generous helping of finger-pickin’ acoustic folk songs- sometimes with a band, sometimes not. Jesse’s thoughtful lyrics and gentle melodies are a very agreeable counterpoint to an increasingly cacophonous world, a series of intimate conversations that feel like they’re imbued with some sort of healing power.Mansion Full Of Ghosts is a meditative listen- the booklet includes lyrics for each track, and the inner sleeve lists the musicians involved in each song. Dedicated to Joan and Sol Waldman (Parents? Grandparents?), this disc is like a massage for the soul.
ESSENTIALS: Hummingbird, Another Lost Soul
ALIVE AND STRANGE Billy Price (VizzTone) ***A new live album from Pittsburgh legend and former Roy Buchanan band singer Billy Price. He’s been plying his trade since the 70’s, and Alive & Strange is one of the best recorded live albums you’re likely to hear.A&S is too uptown to be hard blues, with tasty keyboards and cool horn action. There are 6 guys in the Billy Price Band, with a few guys popping in to jam for good measure. Billy’s vibrato is like a young Robert Cray, and the soul of this record leans heavily on the guitar of Steve Delach and Jim Britton’s keyboards.Expert musicianship and songs like Lifestyles Of The Poor & Unknown- what’s not to love? Alive & Strange is soulful with plenty of white guy funk- enjoy.
ESSENTIALS: It Ain’t A Juke Joint Without The Blues, This Time I’m Gone For Good
TUG OF WAR Gina Sicilia (Blue Elan) *****I already have a couple of Gina’s albums so was pleasantly surprised to find this in my mailbox. Sicilia’s sultry vocals get right to the heart of the matter and Tug Of War should be a big record for this singer/ songwriter.This disc packs an emotional wallop, speaking of her own experiences. “I’ve been through a lot in the last 3 years” she says. “I suffered through a painful and dramatic event in my life and needed to start over, (entering) a period of really challenging myself as a songwriter.”Produced by Grammy winner Glenn Barratt and Grammy nominated Dave Darling, Tug Of War is the blues with some gospel firepower courtesy of Sicilia’s voice. This disc sounds great, and it feels great too… Gina Sicilia is the real deal.
ESSENTIALS: I Don’t Want To Be In Love, Abandoned
GO ALL IN Mike Biggar (Busted Flat) *** ½ A rockin’ roots record here, displaying Mike’s East Coast sensibilities. Go All In is his 3rd album, and it sounds like what a lot of modern country albums want to be- emotionally honest, rockin’ and darn near irresistible.As a songwriter Biggar feels like Matt Andersen, one of my favourite writers and performers. The songs on Go All In are catchy, authentic and believable lyrically, and the musicianship is forceful. He’s shared stages with Steve Earle, Matt Andersen and Stephen Fearing, so if you like those guys Biggar has something to say that you’ll want to hear.More roots n folk than anything, Go All In is one of those discs you’ll be wanting to share with friends. Mike Biggar may not be a household name yet, but it’s only a matter of time.
ESSENTIALS: Kinda Sad, I Just See You
SILENCE IN THE CITY Lighthouse Sweden (Moody Maraccas) ***Driving folk/ rock Americana here from a Swedish band, combining those elements with country and melancholy pop leanings. Silence In The City is a bit of a toe tapper, and it’s certainly not short on drama either.Lighthouse Sweden is led by Mats and Linda Brandemark. Though inspired by American music, perhaps the sense of longing in these tracks can be attributed to the artists being so far from the shores that inspired them. And in the vocal harmonies in particular, I hear echoes of The Poppy Family, who were led by Terry and Susan Jacks.You’ll hear country influence on songs like Silver & Gold, but this is more a rockin’ folk record than anything. Silence In The City may not set the charts on fire, but it’s good company all the same.
ESSENTIALS: Easier To Lie, Silver & Gold
TAJMO Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’ (I-Tunes purchase) *****These two powerful blues artists decided to get together and make an album- who are we to argue? Tajmo is firmly rooted in blues traditions, yet ruled by a playful sense of adventure.Tajmo happily exceeded any expectations I may have had. These guys have known each of for decades, and it shows in the easy give-and-take on the songs. “There wasn’t a bunch of cryin’ and wringin’ hands, we just got together and it came together pretty naturally” says Taj Mahal. “I think it’s a pretty upbeat, celebratory record.”Guests include Joe Walsh, Sheila E., Lizz Wright, and Bonnie Raitt, who lends her voice to a cover of John Mayer’s Waiting For The World To Change. The Zydeco remake of The Who’s Squeeze Box is pretty damn cool too.
ESSENTALS: Squeeze Box, Waiting On The World To Change