THE ROCK DOCTORS HOT WAX ALBUM REVIEWS – TOP 25 OF 2023
#25- ROCKSTAR Dolly Parton (Butterfly Records)
When Dolly Parton first announced her rock album I thought she was kidding, but the thought was intriguing. Now here we are with Rockstar in our hands, 30 songs, mostly covers of big, fat hits as she collaborates with artists like Ann Wilson, Rob Halford, Joan Jett and Sting. The big question; is it any good? Yes, and perhaps shockingly so.
HOT TRACKS: Every Breath You Take (with Sting), Bygones (with Rob Halford), Either Or (with Kid Rock)
#24- DRASTIC SYMPHONIES Def Leppard (Bludgeon Riffola/ EMI)
Def Leppard is far from the first rock band to crawl in bed with a symphony, but nobody has done it better. Drastic Symphonies is a re-working of some of their classic numbers and deep cuts, using a combination of original audio, new recordings by the band, and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The results are stunning.
HOT TRACKS: Paper Sun, Pour Some Sugar On Me, Animal, Switch 625
#23- EYES CLOSED, DREAMING Steve Dawson (Black Hen Music)
This is the third album of material written and recorded by Dawson during the pandemic, also his third release in about a year. Eyes Closed Dreaming is absorbing and conducive to letting go as were Gone Long Gone and Phantom Threshold. Some seriously excellent playing and evocative storytelling is happening that takes you away.
HOT TRACKS: Let Him Go On Mama, Hemmingway, Singin’ The Blues
#22- WOMEN IN BLUES SHOWCASE Bob Corritore & Friends (SWMAF/VizzTone)
Bob Corritore’s “From The Vaults” series has thus far been richly rewarding, but he’s outdone himself this time. Women In Blues Showcase is a series of great recordings with spectacular blues women that cover a wide stylistic spectrum- this is essential blues.
HOT TRACKS: What Kind of Man Is This (with Koko Taylor), You’re Gonna be Sorry (with Barbara Lynn), Wang Dang Doodle (with Shy Perry)
#21- CHEAT THE DEVIL Anthony Rosano & The Conqueroos (Whiskey Bayou Records)
Hairy knuckled blues with simplicity, feral power and the ability to raise the dead; that’s what I first thought when I heard this album. Cheat The Devil is slide powered blues with rock & roll attitude, and it’s an exciting listen.
HOT TRACKS: Sweet Little Devil, What Kind of Fool, Rosalita
#20- HOLD ON TO LOVE Shakura S’Aida (independent)
Talk about a record with a timely message- Hold On To Love, Shakura S’Aida’s first album in a decade, is a dozen songs saying the kinds of things we all need to hear. It’s also a record with soul and groove, on the same level as vintage Stevie Wonder. This, kids, is the GREAT stuff.
HOT TRACKS: Ain’t Got Nothin On Me, Takin’ It To The Streets, Complicated
#19- WHAT KEY IS TROUBLE IN? Nick Schnebelen (VizzTone)
Is that the perfect name for a blues album or what? What Key Is Trouble In is a high energy blues record with a rock & roll profile. With a smoky voice born to sing the blues and a tight, self-assured guitar playing style he’s crafted a record that will knock you out.
HOT TRACKS: Big Mean Dog, Ten Years After Fifty Years Later, Hard Driving Woman
#18- CLASSY WOMAN Mizz Lowe (Mizz Lowe Records)
This is the debut for Mizz Lowe. Classy Woman is an intoxicating swirl of blues, R&B, southern soul, pop, A/C and hip-hop with a whiff of country that will knock you off your feet. Her sultry voice over a rich, lush music bed is about at seductive as it gets.
HOT TRACKS: Honey Tree, This Love, Drink Drink
#17- HALLUCINATE Bees Deluxe (independent)
This is what Steely Dan would sound like if they played the blues. Bees Deluxe is a British/ American acid blues band and Hallucinate is their 4th time out (if I read the ‘disc’ section of their website correctly), and it’s fair to say I’m smitten with their atmospheric magic.
HOT TRACKS: When Is Yesterday, Houdini, Sharkskin Suit
#16- DOG BITES BACK Dyer Davis (Wild Roots Records)
For low down steam driven blues, this is the album for you. Dyer Davis is a 23 year old guitar player from Florida, and Dog Bites Back is just the kind of thing a title like that suggests; a growling junkyard dog that doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and the songs are heartfelt. This is the most exciting thing I’ve heard since Cristone Kingfish Ingram’s debut.
HOT TRACKS: Train Wreck, Walk Away My Blues, Dog Bites Back
#15- CRIMSON & STONE Vermilion Whiskey (independent)
Heavy metal southern style- that’s Vermilion Whiskey’s third album, Crimson & Stone. Recalling Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society with a touch of Doc Holliday, this is brute force blunt trauma rock & roll, and I love it.
HOT TRACKS: Down On You, Confidence, Hollow
#14- EXORCIST Selwyn Birchwood (Alligator)
Electrifying, terrifying… that’s Selwyn Birchwood’s new record. Exorcist manages to take many blue traditions and spin them into something new that keeps touch with the past even as Birchwood has his eye on the future. This Florida bluesman calls what he does “ Electric Swamp Funkin’ Blues”, a heady blend of deep blues, blistering psychedelic rock , booty shaking funk and sweet southern soul… don’t say you haven’t been warned.
HOT TRACKS: Swim At Your Own Risk, Horns Below Her Halo, Ila-View
#13- MEMPHIS CALLING Emma Wilson (independent)
An incredible voice and an incredible 2nd album here. Emma Wilson’s Memphis Calling is drenched with soul and spirit, enough to move mountains. Her debut won her “Emerging Blues Artist Of The Year” at the UK Blues Awards last year, and the new record shows every indication of climbing higher. It fascinates me how British artists capture and re-interpret the blues so spectacularly well- this is soul music that soars.
HOT TRACKS: Since I Fell For You, A Small Word, What Kind Of Love (with Don Bryant)
#12- RIDIN’ THE BLINDS Hudspeth & Taylor (independent)
It happens… as my wife & I prepare for a life-altering move to the west coast (Victoria on Vancouver Island) some stuff will get lost between the cracks and this album was one of those but hey, better late than never. Ridin’ The Blinds has been on my desk since the end of May and I’m just getting to it now. The latest from Brandon Hudspeth (guitar) and Jaisson Taylor (vocals, percussion) is 12 songs, all steeped in the traditions of Mississippi Delta blues, mostly from the 20’s an 30’s. It’s like a blues history lesson from a modern perspective.
HOT TRACKS: Blues In The Bottle, Hard Time Killing Floor Blues, Parchman Farm Blues
#11- ENCHANTMENT Until The Sun (independent)
Until The Sun’s new album is a glorious, hot mess and I mean that in the best possible way. No matter what tickles your ear hair- blues, funk, psychedelic rock, more funk- Enchantment is high energy rock ‘n’ blues that makes sitting still a problem.
HOT TRACKS: Ghost In The Prayer, Dragon Below, Dancing On The Floor
#10- REAL GONE Ally Venable (Ruf Records)
This 23 year old guitar slinger’s 5th album is a stone cold killer. That high, clear voice and vicious guitar chops make Real Gone a rip-roaring Texas blues adventure. None of that “she’s pretty good for a girl” crap please; Ally can flat-out wail with great style and tone, I’d put her up against anybody. Buddy Guy loves her stuff, and that’s a cat who knows his blues.
HOT TRACKS: Two Wrongs, Texas Louisiana (with Buddy Guy), Real Gone
#09- WRITING ON THE WALL Coco Montoya (Alligator Records)
When you talk about great blues guitar players, Coco Montoya should be near or at the top of your list. Writing On The Wall is the definition of exciting blues, even better than 2019’a Coming In Hot, and I friggin’ LOVED that record. This one is a scorcher!
HOT TRACKS: Stop, I Was Wrong, (I’d Rather Feel) Bad About Doin’ It
#08- NOTHING BUT TIME Monster Mike Welch (Gulf Coast)
If you’re in the mood for he-man blues guitar playing, Boston-based Monster Mike Welch is your guy and Nothing But Time is the album you need to hear. Mike plays with controlled abandon- this is the kind of stuff that will put goosebumps on your goosebumps. I haven’t felt like this about a blues album since Buddy Guy’s Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues comeback record in 1991.
HOT TRACKS: Walking To You Baby, I’ve Got Nothing But Time, Offswitch Blues
#07- FAN FAVORITES VOL.1 UNPLUGGED Michelle Malone (SBS Records)
Michelle Malone’s new record is just what the name implies; stripped down acoustic versions of songs that have become staples of her gigs. If you’re not familiar with Malone, Fan Favorites Vol.1 Unplugged is the perfect way to become acquainted and yes, you can thank me later.
HOT TRACKS: Feather In A Hurricane, Avalon, Tighten Up The Spring
#06- HOME AGAIN Voodoo Ramble (independent)
Prepare to be blown away. Home Again, the latest from Croatia’s Voodoo Ramble, is a blues/rock powered wrecking ball. Fantastic songs enforced by exciting musicianship and beefy production make this a contender for Album Of The Year in ANY genre. I should have known when I had a chance to preview the lead single Waterfall some months back… I dug it so much I played it on my blues and rock internet radio shows, more than once.
HOT TRACKS: Waterfall, Home, Love
#05- TIME TO SHINE Garnetta Cromwell (bandcamp)
Every now and then an album comes along that lifts you up and just makes life feel better, and Time To Shine is just such a record. This is Garnetta Cromwell’s debut and it’s a lively, soulful adventure with the energy of Gladys Knight and The Jackson Five. The songs are as deep as they are effervescent, what Maple Blues Magazine calls “A delightful musical tale that weaves through time, resilience, passion and the transformative power of music.”
HOT TRACKS: Miss Marva Ann (about her mum), Singing The Blues, Hey You Girl
#04- THE PRESENTATION OF SELF IN EVERYDAY LIFE Stephen Clair (independent)
You gotta admire someone that has a different view; sort of left field, but not in a “what-the-hell-is-he-talking-about” sort of way. Stephen Clair is one of those people and his new album, The Presentation Of Self In Everyday Life is a jewel. It’s just his voice and his acoustic guitar, save for the rickety piano on the opening cut Pizza and Fairy Tales. It feels like he’s taking us into his confidence as he observes the world around him in his own unique way.
HOT TRACKS: I Imagined I Was An Elevator, Watering The Flowers, Bubble Bath
#03- LIVE IN LONDON Christone “Kingfish” Ingram (Alligator)
The third release since 2019 from this 24 year old Clarksdale, Mississippi native is a jaw-dropper. Live In London, recorded at the UK’s famous club Garage Club is rich and exciting, as I knew it would be. NPR Music correctly notes that “Ingram plays guitar with dramatic, searing tone and sure-handed authority. And that’s just in the studio; he’s even scarier live.”
HOT TRACKS: She Calls Me Kingfish, Empty Promises, Mississippi Night
#02- HACKNEY DIAMONDS The Rolling Stones (Polydor)
This is The Stones’ first disc since 2016’s covers album Blue & Lonesome and their first of original material since 2005’s A Bigger Bang. With Mick having just turned 80, Keith hitting that milestone in December and Ronnie Wood bringing up the rear at the tender age of 76, it’s fair to wonder if they have enough gas in the tank for another go. The answer in the form of the new record Hackney Diamonds is a resounding and emphatic FUCK YEAH!
HOT TRACKS: Sweet Sounds Of Heaven, Angry, Bite My Head Off
#01- BLOOD BROTHERS LIVE IN CANADA Mike Zito & Albert Castiglia (Gulf Coast Records)
Blues played with the brute force of rock & roll; that’s Blood Brothers Live In Canada. Capturing the raw excitement of these two 800 pound gorillas on guitar from their recent tour, Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia have plenty to proud about with this steaming new album.
HOT TRACKS: You’re Gonna Burn, Hey Sweet Mama, Hill Country Jam, Rockin’ In The Free World
BEST NEWCOMER… UP NEXT Mathias Lattin (VizzTone)
Holy funk ‘n’ blues, Batman! Up Next, Lattin’s debut for VizzTone, is a beautifully built record where blues, funk and soul mingle freely. A Tasty guitar player with a smooth singing voice that recalls Robert Cray, Mathias Lattin has hit it wayyy out of the park.
HOT TRACKS: Lose Some Weight (live), You Know This Won’t Do, 2nd Degree
BEST ANTHOLOGY…SATISFIED: AN ANTHOLOGY Gaye Adegbalola (VizzTone)
If you don’t think socially conscious and/or politically astute blues can be a blast, you’ve never listened to Gaye Adegbalola. Satisfied gathers material from 9 of her solo projects, ranging from classic 20’s blues to biting, present day commentary. Gaye just has so much damn fun!
HOT TRACKS: Big Ovaries Baby, Hetero Twinges, 3 Hour Shoes, The Dog Was Here First
BEST TRIBUTE ALBUM (TIE)… BUFFALO ROCK CITY II various artists (Bandcamp)
Another blistering tribute here to the hottest band in the land from some of Western New York’s most talented rockers. Spearheaded once again by John Jeffrey of the tribute band KISS THIS!, Buffalo Rock City II follows a similar template as the first; follow the original arrangements closely with KISS THIS! And Do Driver recording the backing tracks for a consistency of sound, and going for more album cuts instead of hits, which adds up to a disc that matches and occasionally exceeds the magic and muscle of Vol.I.
HOT TRACKS: Saint And Sinner (Do Driver), Makin’ Love (Kiss This!), Love For Sale (Billy Sheehan & Jeff Scott Soto)
BEST TRIBUTE RECORD (TIE)… THANK YOU, BROTHER BILL: A TRIBUTE TO BILL WITHERS Kevin Burt & Big Medicine (Gulf Coast Records)
Yup, a 6-plus. If you’re going to do a tribute record for someone like Bill Withers you’d better have your shit together; and Kevin Burt does. Along with his band Big Medicine Burt, one of the most soulful singers on the scene today, makes Thank You Brother Bill every bit as good as you’d dare hope it would be.
HOT TRACKS: I’m Her Daddy, Grandma’s Hands, Just The Two Of Us
BEST RE-MIX… 1962-1966 (2023 REMASTER) The Beatles (Universal/ Apple)
I’ve fallen for this before with Kiss, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin; buy the re-mastered albums only to find little difference between the old and new. I also bought the Beatles catalog on CD when they were re-released in 2009. Nope, not gonna get suckered again. AND YET… after chatting online with deejay colleagues in the UK and being assured these new mixes are worth it, I bought an I Tunes card, took the plunge and dammit, they were right.
- DISC ONE: She Loves You, Ticket To Ride, You Really Got A Hold On Me
- DISC TWO: Day Tripper, Nowhere Man, In My Life (my favorite Beatles song)
BEST RE-MASTER… LIVE EVIL 40TH ANNIVERSARY SUPER DELUXE) Black Sabbath (Rhino)
This is a reissue of a record that came out in January of 1983 in digital, CD and vinyl formats; a re-master of the original 2 disc release, and a re-mix of the same. I pre-ordered it on I Tunes and am also expecting the vinyl from Amazon shortly. Live Evil 40th is as bold and powerful as I had hoped it would have been in ’83.
HOT TRACKS: Voodoo, The Mob Rules, Heaven & Hell, War Pigs, Children Of The Grave