The Record Box for Monday, August 24th

FIND A WAY TO CARE John Mayall (Forty Below) ****A terrific new album here from the British blues legend.  He’s been working with the same musicians for several years now- that, and his deep knowledge and love of the blues makes this one of the first truly great blues records of the fall.Produced by Mayall (who also did the graphic design and artwork for the album) and label president Eric Corne, Find A Way to Care was recorded at the House Of Blues studio in Encino, in about a week. If you’ve been following his music of late, you’ll notice a distinct difference in the sound. “I really wanted to feature John’s keyboard playing on this album” says Corne.  He’s truly one of the most lyrical, economical and underrated keyboardists around.  We also wanted to change this up a bit after the success of A Special Life (the disc previous to this), and the addition of a horn section to several of the tracks was a really fun way to do that.” Corne concludes by noting that “As good as the last album was, I think this one is even better.”As Mayall does with each record, he has again mixed well chosen covers with new originals that cover more current topics.  “As always, I draw from my own experiences and thoughts about things in my life so that from album to album I create an ongoing diary of my life- the blues never lets me down!” he says.  The result of this kind of thinking is yet another set from Mayall and his musical merry men that has roots in the Delta and yet somehow remains timeless.  There’s even a bit of jazz and swing in some of these grooves.Along with John in the studio as always are drummer Jay Davenport, bassist Greg Rzab and guitarist Rocky Athas- not just the best guitarist Mayall has had since the 90’s but one of the best blues players in the game today- I’d put him up there with early Clapton, he’s THAT good.  Though Find A Way is a keyboard-centric record, but when it’s time for Athas to step and solo, he nails it every time.  This is a band that’s been together for a number of years, and you can feel and hear it in the ease with which they communicate musically.Find A Way To Care is a blues album with heart and musically speaking, it’s jolly good fun too- I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see this on my Top Ten list at the end of the year.ESSENTIALS:  Long Summer Days, Long Distance Call, Ropes and Chains SONGS FROM THE ROAD Canned Heat (Ruf) *** +More great live music from this German label’s ongoing series of recorded and filmed shows that includes other artists like Luther Allison, The Jeff Healey Band and Coco Montoya.  Canned Heat is a band with a very long history, and the men playing the music today are doing their predecessors proud.The rhythm section of bassist Larry Taylor and drummer Adolpho de la Perra appear to be the sole surviving original members, but that is neither here nor there.  The band is playing a lively brand of blues, just as they have all long, and with this release are proving to be fine ambassadors for this music that so many of us love.  There is a real joy in these performances, and you can genuinely feel what the music means to them.Listening to this lively set had me thinking of other bands too, like Downchild and Roomful of Blues and the way they preserve the blues and carry it forward.  Here they mix their classics with newer numbers, even having the balls to open with On The Road Again and, just a few numbers later, busting out a swingin’ new instrumental called Nighthawk.  “We’re all amazed and thankful that we’re still here” explain the band, “living out our dreams of making a living doing what we all love; playing the blues, traveling the world and giving a taste of the boogie to audiences everywhere.”Canned Heat may have been started in ’65 by blues scholars Bob “The Bear” Hite and Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson on the West coast, but after listening to Songs On The Road a couple of times over the weekend, I get the distinct feeling that they would be proud and give the thumbs up to the way the guys are carrying on what they started 50 years ago.  This is a great live blues album- don’t miss it.ESSENTIALS:  On The Road Again, Nighthawk, Going Up The Country ROMANTIC AS IT GETS Dennis Ellsworth (Busted Flat) **** ½ Here is the 5th album for Ellsworth, and his 2nd with a group of musicians from Athens, Georgia that he refers to as The High Life Band.  This is a sweet collection of songs, beautifully written vignettes and observations of life and love.  If you dig Blue Rodeo, you’ll find that Romantic As It Gets will really speak to you.Those Athens-based musicians mentioned above include Thayer Sarrano on keys, Matt Stoessel on electric guitar and Seth Hendershot on drums, with producer David Barbe pulling double duty on bass.  When talking about an artist or band people aren’t immediately familiar with, the question is always “Who do they sound like?” The answer, this time, is Blue Rodeo meets Ron Sexsmith.  Lyrically and vibe-wise Sexsmith, and sonically Blue Rodeo- at least that’s how this one feels to me.  Check out this lyric from one of my favourite tracks, Full Moon Blues; “I think I see that light, from behind the door/ coming in through the cracks/ and here I am, afraid of what’s in store/ wasted, and thinking the past is coming”.This is the same crew that Ellesworth made his last album with and he couldn’t be more thrilled. “I really wanted to pick up where we left off and make a new record with the same team, so I did and it has proven to be my most focused, well crafted record to date” Dennis says. “Reconnecting with this crew was the best move I could’ve made.  I know I will do it again down the line, it just works so damn well.”  That kind of consistency can be rare in the creative arts, so I say ride the wave while you can.Packaging is fairly basic but it does include lyrics, something I always enjoy- particularly when listening to an album for the first time.  Romantic As It Gets is a deep and emotionally intriguing album, built for those times when maybe a glass of wine and thinking about stuff feels like the right move- something I think we do more often as we get older.  LOVE this disc, it’s out Sept.11th.ESSENTIALS:  Full Moon Blues, Beauty Is Sad, Dancing All AloneSONGS FROM THE ROAD Spin Doctors (Ruf)   ****+The true measure of a band is not how they are in the safe confines of the studio, but who and what they are on stage.  Many might know Spin Doctors by Two Princes and Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong, but then they’re missing the larger picture.  The latest installment in Ruf Records’ ongoing Songs From The Road series reveals a seasoned group of musicians with a gift for jamming who, in the face of expectations, deliver above and beyond the call.Spin Docs came up through the NYC blues scene in the late 80’s, though you might not feel that from the above mentioned hits. “Those blues clubs were our bread and butter in the late 80’s” says drummer Aaron Comess “and people loved that we stretched out and jammed out.”  The group came full circle with 2013’s magnificent blues statement of purpose and return to their roots If The River Was Whiskey, which caused me to consider the group in a whole new light. I had no idea of the group’s blues roots, but was immediately taken with the record and still consider it to be one of the best of 2013 in any genre.Recorded live at The Harmonie Club in Bonn, Germany on October 17th, 2013, Ruf managed to catch lightning in a bottle as Spin Doctors charge through their much loved studio material, twisting it into bold new shapes.  “Aaron, Eric and Chris are the most amazing improvisers I’ve ever played with in my life” notes bassist Mark White, “It’s almost like we’re four jet fighters, and we’ve all got each other’s backs.”  High praise for this set comes from The New York Times; “Their sound hasn’t aged a bit:  it still reflects fondness for the honky-tonk lurch of The Rolling Stones, the psychedelic reach of Jimi Hendrix and the rubberized funk of The Red Hot Chili Peppers”… with a description like that, who wouldn’t want to listen?As with other chapters in this ongoing series, you get a DVD of the live performance to watch if you like, but I thoroughly enjoyed the CD as I sped west on highway 16 towards home, with old favorites like the obvious hits flowing seamlessly into new favorites like Scotch & Water Blues, and as of this writing have yet to watch the DVD- but I’ll get around to it.  Songs From The Road gives you a broader musical picture of Spin Doctors rather than just that one album from 1991, with the added pleasure of hearing them in the natural habitat, the stage, playing to a clearly appreciative audience. I’ll leave the final word to Aaron; “Some bands, you go and see them 25 years later and they’re just up there going through the motions… but I think because  everybody is so serious about their craft, to me, we sound better than ever.  We sound world-class now, I think.”ESSENTIALS:  Scotch & Water Blues, Jimmy Olsen’s Blues, Some Other Man Instead POOR LAZARUS Sugar Brown ((SBCD) ***This is the harrowing follow up to 2014’s Sugar Brown’s Sad Day. Once again recording live off the floor to full track mono, Poor Lazarus sounds like it could’ve come from the 40’s- or last week.Sugar Brown is the stage name of Dr. Ken Kawashima, PhD., a scholar and professor of East Asian history as well as a scholar of music.  His chosen form of expression is the blues, and this particular record had a specific genesis.  “The spark for this record came from a 1911 folk song Po’ Lazarus, which I found in John and Alan Lomax’s edited book Folk Song USA” Sugar Brown says on the back cover of the CD.  “It’s a tragic song about the shooting of a black man at the hands of a vengeful sheriff.  The song stood out for me because when I found the song it was just 2 months after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.”Poor Lazarus is a mix of original songs and smartly arranged covers of songs by artists like Frankie Lee Sims and Tom Waits. While I find the lo-fi approach to recording distracting, the blues publication Lonesome Highway praises the new album by noting “…this excellent musician, singer/songwriter has produced a ground breaking take on the blues medium that is at once ancient as the hills and refreshingly modern in its stripped bare honesty.”  As I listen, it strikes me that a more modern production approach might have made it almost too easy to listen to- the deliberately older sound of this disc demands that you pay closer attention and dig a little deeper to unearth everything it has to offer, which can be both exhausting and worthwhile.“The blues of this album was inspired by the Texas blues of Frankie Lee Sims and Lightnin’ Hopkins (cousins!), by the great Chicago blues songs of Muddy, Wolf, Bo, Jimmy Reed, Willie Dixon and John Lee Hooker, and finally by the hill country blues of R.L. Burnside” Brown continues on the back cover. “I’m also happy that I was able to animate a Lewis Carroll poem- The Mad Gardener’s Song- by giving it an improbable blues afterlife.  Last, I’ve included the theme song to my favorite Japanese film of the 1960’s Tokyo Drifter.”  So, Poor Lazarus is a lot deeper than just a bunch of guys charging into the studio, putting up some mics and seeing what happens.  I like that there is thought, purpose and an easy to follow narrative but the deliberately ancient sound, while an interesting approach, can be a bit of a problem for ears (like mine) more attuned to a more current sonic approach.  Poor Lazarus is one of those records that I’ll have to be in the right mood to sit through, but when I am, nothing else will do.  Out Sept.4th.ESSENTIALS:  The Mad Gardener’s Song, Get Behind A Mule, Train Sixty-Four VICKSBURG CALL David Gogo (Cordova Bay) ***** +It can be truthfully said that I’ve never met a David Gogo album I didn’t like.  Vicksburg Call, his 14th disc, contains some of his best songwriting to date- it may even be THE album of his career.VC reminds of those old Foghat records I dug in the 70’s- I felt the rock first and, as a teenager, it only occurred to me later that what they were doing was also the blues.  Gogo sums up his mission in the first track, Cuts Me To The Bone, in terms of what we can expect- rockin’ high octane blues that just blows the doors wide open, sound not unlike something from Randy Bachman’s recent Heavy Blues album.There’s the highway, love won and lost, dealt with over some rockin’ beats as well as hair-standing-up-on-your-arms slows blues jams too.  “The blues is the blues” David said recently in The Nanaimo News Bulletin. “You can sing about happy things, you can sing about sad things- but it’s all the blues.”  Of the subject matter dealt with across these 10 tracks, in that same interview he notes that “There’s a lot of relationship stuff, but from all sorts of different perspectives. We all have our ups and downs, and so this album talks about that a lot in more of a mature manner than I have in the past.”Vicksburg Call was recorded in Nanaimo, a town on Vancouver Island where the Gogo family owns a Christmas tree farm.  Special guests include Shawn Hall from The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer (a guest on 2013’s Come On Down too, if memory serves) and guitarist Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown.  The sound is spacious yet tight, dry and punchy- sounds great at any volume in the PT but of course, the louder the better!I like the mix of acoustic and electric elements too, particularly on songs like Our Last Goodbye which I daresay contains one of the best solos Gogo has ever committed to tape. The disc goes from a scream to a whisper and back again, never sitting too long in any one groove, and so it keeps you engaged all the way through.  Emotions are close to the surface, both lyrically and instrumentally, as they usually are with the best blues- giving you lots to think about, and lots to feel too.7 of these tracks are originals, the exceptions being Neil Young’s The Loner (a rocker), Jet Set (Sigh) by Stephen Stills (by far the greasiest, bluesy-est song on the album) and a spine-tingling remake of Annie Lennox’s Why that’s pretty much guaranteed to bring the house down if he plays it live- I’m sure Annie would approve.Vicksburg Call isn’t just a great blues album, it’s one of the best discs I’ve heard all year, period.ESSENTIALS:  Our Last Goodbye, Why, Cuts Me To The Bone, Jet Set (Sigh) NINA AMELIO E.P. Nina Amelio (independent)  *** ½A singer and vocal coach from my old hometown of Castlegar with whom I’ve become familiar in the last couple of years.  With the right breaks- and it looks like they’re starting to happen- this young lady has a very bright career in front of her.Nina is a 2015 Factor recipient for recording grant, placed in the top 10 of CBC’s “Searchlight” contest, and she also auditioned for The Voice back in 2010.  The casting director called her personally and told her they thought she had a great voice, but as a Canadian citizen she was unable to participate in the show- all of which goes to say I’m not the only one that is noticing her talent.The E.P. I received in the mail a couple of weeks ago has 4 songs, plus a couple of live ‘bonus’ tracks, performances of Valerie and the Adele staple Rolling In The Deep, which she absolutely nails.  Produced by Brandon DeLyzer and Sam Weber, this is modern pop music with a foot firmly in traditional pop territory.  The single Who Do You Think You Are is a message song, a kiss-off, and it’s catchy as hell.  Tides, the first song of Nina’s that I heard, is on here too- I love the relaxed pace and the tremolo guitar melody.  It’s also the first song of hers that I heard- I shared it a couple times on a blues radio show I used to host on the K-Rock stations in Wainwright and Cold Lake Alberta, part of a group of stations I’ve worked for since 2010, in the area of the province where I now live.Nina Amelio is a singer with real talent and stylistic range, something surprisingly rare these days.  Don’t take my word for it, though- you can hear the proof on her website; www.ninaamelio.comESSENTIALS:  Tides, Who Do You Think You Are, Rolling In The Deep


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