The Record Box for Friday, June 20th by John The Rock Doctor

LIVING OUT OUR DREAMS Johnny DeMarco (independent) ****This looks to be DeMarco’s 2nd album, the song We Are All Canucks, played before every Vancouver hockey game not withstanding.  There’s a real rootsy/ blue collar vibe to this collection of songs that makes it easy to like.Johnny may not be in the same commercial league as Springsteen, but he drives the same kind of car.  He sums up his philosophy at the top of the bio page thusly; “If the belief is, all that is created co-exists within the universe, then there is a deep rooted knowing, that life is a gift, love is the answer, and everything matters.”  It is this kind of energy and thinking that is behind songs like Everything In Your Heart, Long Way From Home and the title track.Dreams is most certainly rock & roll, but it casts a wide net into world music like the reggae pulse that rolls along with Sunflower.  Want a heartbreaking ballad?  The manic depressive in me totally identifies with the poor bastard in Never Gonna Be Good Enough.  We all try at romance, and we don’t always succeed, falling short of the ultimate love we long for.  Sometimes, it just doesn’t work.  Another example of Johnny’s understanding of the subject matter is a stark re-make (just voice and guitar) of Stop In The Name of Love at sub-light ballad speed.Johnny’s straight ahead way of examining life feels pretty good- I’m going to have to backtrack and find that first album, see how it measures up to this.  A definite thumbs up on Living Out Our Dreams.HIGHLIGHTS: I’ll Wait, Living Out Our Dreams, GOOD NEWS Ronnie Earl  (Stony Plain) ***** +It’s ALWAYS good news when I open my mail and there’s a new Ronnie Earl album to consider, absorb and enjoy.  Proclaimed the “Stratocaster Master” and named best guitarist at the 35th annual Blues Music Awards, when it comes to playing with economy and taste Earl has few peers.  This new set of tunes is, quite simply, delicious.Joined again on this new disc is Ronnie’s band of over 25 years, The Broadcasters, he creates another disc of supple, groovy instrumental music. Guest vocalist Diane Blue is a force to be reckoned with, finding her own space within the songs she contributes to, fitting in seamlessly with the rest of the band. Even on the standards included here like Sam Cooke’s Change Is Gonna Come and Amos Blakemore & Buddy Guy’s In The Wee Hours, Ronnie and The Broadcasters own these songs.As with past albums, Ronnie likes to stretch out musically- 3 of these 10 songs are under 5 minutes, but their version if Wee Small Hours just mentioned above clocks in at 11:53, yet it doesn’t feel too long.  Blue’s vocals are smoky and sensual, the groove is beautifully laid back, and Earl’s soloing is delicate, spacious, and quietly mind blowing.  Hell, I’m getting goose bumps on my goose bumps just talking about it!This is the 8th album by Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters, and it’s safe to say I never met an album by these guys that I didn’t like. `My greatest love in music is the blues; this is my `mother music`” explains Earl.  “And I dig deep- I have no choice; playing, for me, is a very emotional experience.  I put every particle of my soul into it.  I’m just trying to get into people’s souls and reach their humanity.”  I’ve always loved their music but Good News really kicks it up a notch and takes into another zone.  It really doesn’t get any better than this- Good News is one of the best guitar albums I’ve heard in my life.HIGHLIGHTS:  In The Wee Hours, Change Is Gonna Come, Six String BlessingTHE BEST OF THE STONY PLAIN YEARS Long John Baldry (Stony Plain) ****This is an unpretentious compilation, curated by label chief and bluesologist Holger Petersen. If you followed John’s career from the time he moved to Canada to his death in 2005 you’ll know most of these tracks, but Holger has thrown in a couple of gems to make the set worthwhile for everyone.Long John Baldry was a pivotal figure on the 60`s blues scene in the UK, working with Alexis Corner and Cyril Davies, not to mention discovering a young and drunk Rod Stewart on a train platform, singing and blowing harp while waiting for a train after a Rolling Stones gig.  He also mentored a young Elton John, eventually earning a shout out in Elton’s Someone Saved My Life Tonight.  Ever wondered who he was talking about when he sang “Someone saved my life tonight sugar bear”?  It was Long John Baldry.Baldry signed with Stony Plain in 1991 and stayed with them until his death.  While I recommend tracking down It Still Ain’t Easy, On Stage Tonight- Baldry’s Out, Right To Sing The Blues, The Long John Baldry Trio Live and Remembering Leadbelly,  this compilation is a wonderful sampling of the joyous music he still had in him.  This is a crop dusting on the best tracks from those years, with a couple of incentives incase you already have those records; the previously unreleased Dimples, and the promo-only release Black Girl featuring the late Kathi McDonald.The Best Of The Stony Plain Years is the sound of a man who loved music, right up to his last breath- enjoy.HIGHLIGHTS:  Gallows Pole, Dimples, Midnight In New Orleans.THE BEST OF THE STONY PLAIN YEARS Joe Lewis Walker (Stony Plain) ****A 2013 blues hall of fame inductee, Joe Louis Walker recorded three albums for the label between 2007 and 2010.  A fiery guitarist, in his hands the blues are a joyous rockin’ thing.  he records for Alligator Records out of Chicago now- in fact I’ll be talking about his newest album in a few minutes- you just gotta hear this disc!As I listen to this it strikes me that Joe could be Robert Cray’s big brother, musically speaking.  It’s interesting to note that, according to Holger’s liner essay, Walker has recorded with a number of the biggest names in the blues- but performed nothing but gospel music from 1975 to 1985 with The Spiritual Corinthians, which explains the ‘church’ you’ll notice in some of these tracks.  During that time he attended San Francisco State University, earning degrees in English and Music.  Then, after living in France for two years, he signed with Stony Plain.If you’re interested in tracking down the albums he made for Stony Plain you’ll need these titles; Witness To The Blues, Between A Rock & The Blues and Blues Conspiracy.  Or, you can make due with this excellent compilation.  Me?  I prefer to do both.HIGHLIGHTS:  Black Widow Spider, Highview (with Duke Robillard), Ain’t That Cold (with Johnny Winter).HORNET’S NEST Joe Louis Walker (Alligator) *****Walker’s new album for Alligator is rightly praised by Billboard as “fine and fierce… gritty gutbucket blues, joyous Stones-style rock and aching R&B.”  To me this smoke- belching/ fire-breathing beast of a blues record will rock your world.A ferocious blend of rock, blues and R&B spiced by Joe’s gospel background this disc is fierce, untamed, adventurous and fun- just what I like in a guitar player.  Like Buddy Guy and BB King before him Walker is as formidable a vocalist as he is a guitarist, something that producer Tom Hambridge used to full effect.  “It comes through loud and clear” Joe says.  “If I don’t believe it, nobody is gonna believe it.  And ain’t nobody gonna listen to it or buy it.  Tom made everything exciting.”Walker’s band this time through is Hambridge on drums (he’s pulled double duty on the Buddy Guy albums he’s produced) Double Trouble’s Reese Wynans on Hammond B-3, Rob McNelly on 2nd guitar and Tommy McDonald on bass.  This band moves and grooves as one, and it sounds like they had a blast making this record.Not much else to say about Hornet’s Nest, really- only that it rocks and rolls with an intense heat and, like any really good album, it lifts you up to where you can almost touch heaven.  Yeah- it’s THAT good.HIGLIGHTS:  Hornet’s Nest, Don’t Let Go, Ramblin’ Soul THE HUNTING PARTY Linkin Park (Warner) ** ½ The new album, just out this week, was preceded by hard rockin’ singles Guilty All The Same and Until It’s Gone.  A mixture of the expected rap/rock, it also feels a bit like time traveling, back about 10 years or so, bringing Linkin Park back home where they belong. This band has been a big deal for years but seemed to be so instantly hot that I have more or less ignored them throughout.  Hard, melodic rock with elements of rap was hardly a new idea, but these guys have sure perfected the formula.  Banging your head and having a melody you can whistle when you’re done?  Not a bad trade-off. LP depended on a little help from their friends to bring this one to the finish line, enlisting the aid of Page Hamilton, Rakim, Daron Malakian, and guitarist Tom Morello, each adding their thang to different tracks, making it okay for the masses to like heavy music.  The band wandered a way from their core sound over the last couple of albums, layering their music with more electronic sounds and beats.  The Hunting Party brings them back to a decidedly harder edge, closer to the nu-metal/ rap metal that they perfected in the late 1990’s, which will no doubt please longtime fans.  I like it when a band that’s been around this long wants to experiment, but I also know that, sometimes, you just gotta go home- and that’s just what this record is for Linkin Park.HIGHLIGHTS:  Guilty All The Same (w/ Rakim), Mark The Graves BROTHERHOOD The Holmes Brothers (Alligator)  ***+Timeless, deeply soulful and uplifting gospel-drenched blues, street corner doo-wop, ballads, R&B, country and funk-I didn’t use that sentence first to describe the Holmes Brothers album, The New York Times did- it’s perfect, so I’m stealing it. If you want to talk about making a joyful noise, The Holmes Brothers have it nailed.  This is like Gladys Knight & The Pips meet BB King- steady rollin’ soul wearing a bluesman’s suit.  The band expertly blends Saturday night’s roadhouse rock and blues with gospel of Sunday morning’s church service.  There are 8 Holmes brothers originals here with 6 covers, like Ike Turner’s You’ve Got To Lose and Booker T Jones’ My Kind of Girl. Though you feel the church throughout these songs, they bring the house down on the final track, a frankly astounding make-the-hair-on-your-arms-stand-up version of Amazing Grace.  This is a record that really takes you places. Brotherhood is mostly upbeat numbers, the kind of stuff you can really drive to if you know what I mean.  Lots of groove in these tracks, even in the ballads; the aforementioned Amazing Grace that puts this album to bed, as well as Darkest Hour and Loving You from Afar.  It’s a spiritual blues album, this, and a worthy follow up to 2010’s Feed My Soul.  This is, quite simply, musical food for your soul.HIGHLIGHTS: Amazing Grace, Darkest Hour, Stayed At The Party LET ME PROVE IT TO YOU Steve Strongman (Independent) *****Holy cow, Steve Strongman’s new album is one of the most fun blues records I’ve heard in maybe ever.  Full of cheek, heart and good playing, Let Me Prove It To You has all the ingredients necessary to be a genuine Big Deal. “After the overwhelming response to my previous acoustic driven CD A Natural Fact, I wanted to get back to the electric blues I love” says Steve.  “This album is what I do with my band every night on stage- no holds barred, this is who I am.”  For an album that was recorded over a month during the coldest, longest winter in recent history, this is hot stuff.  Prove It starts with an infectious jump blues called There’s Something Going On, its chorus full of playful double entendres that’ll have you saying “Yeah- been there, done that” , and the pace doesn’t let up through the rest of the 11 original tunes.  Produced by Rob Szabo this disc has a lively but uncluttered sound, with the party vibe alluded to by Strongman above, the feel of one of the best Friday nights of your life. More than just Steve, there’s a great band in the studio too that fully understand what he was trying to capture on tape. Strongman, along with Dave King, Adam Warner, Alec Fraser, Mark McIntyre, Marc Rogers, Jesse O’Brien and Emma-Lee, along with a guest appearance by harp virtuoso Guy Belanger, have captured lightning in a bottle. Let Me Prove It to You, blues or otherwise, is one of the most genuinely exciting records I’ve heard in some time. Great songs + great performances = the perfect storm.HIGHLIGHTS:  There’s Something Going On, Older, Lookin’ For Trouble (featuring Guy Belanger) ONCE MORE AROUND THE SUN Mastodon (Warner) *** ½  It’s the sixth full length album for this hard rock juggernaut as Mastodon orbits around themes of loss and rebirth overtop of their signature riffing and thunderous grooves.  An urgent and personal record, Once More will likely have fans (like one of the producers at the radio station where I work) stampeding to the record stores or i-Tunes when it becomes available on Tuesday. “Quite literally, (the title) means a year in the life” says drummer Brann Dailor.  “Lyrically we’re discussing things that happened to us recently, whereas in the past we looked further back for inspiration.”  “It’s about being a man and trying to survive in the world’ notes guitarist Brent Hinds.  “You’re facing all the crazy shit that goes along with it, you’ve just got to keep rolling.”   “The title itself deals with cycles’ adds bassist Troy Sanders, but perhaps the deepest meaning applies to guitarist Bill Kelliher; “A lot of crazy and epic things have happened in the nutshell of the past year” he observes.  “For me, I had recently gotten sober. I really focused my time on writing instead of drinking and being hunger over.  We were in a different space here- another year has gone by, and we wrote this record.” Bringing in Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Rush, Alice In Chains, Deftones) to produce was clearly the right move.  Once More Around The Sun is pulverizing yet tuneful, a sort of epic, grinding precision that has peers like Metallica, Pearl Jam and Queens of The Stone Age taking note and singing their praises.  This disc is a solid chunk of oomph- if you’re not yet familiar with Mastodon, I’d say they’re in the same neighborhood as QOTSA- and, given the emotional weight and immediacy of the subject matter at hand, it’s a heavy album in more ways than one. HIGHLIGHTS: Chimes At Midnight, Diamond In The Witch House, Tread Lightly


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