GHOST STORIES Blue Oyster Cult (Frontiers) *** ½  

An intriguing chapter is being added to BOC’s 53 year history.  Ghost Stories is a disc of tracks originally recorded between 1978 and 2016.  They were transferred from analog tape to digital audio where the collection of vintage multi-track recordings were de-mixed, re-mixed then re-produced by Steve Schenk and Richie Castellano to become this album.

Blue Oyster Cult was routinely referred to as “the thinking man’s heavy metal band” which never sat well with me. but I did think of them as a talented rock group.  Due to the nature of Ghost Stories it’s likely this is geared towards the fans as opposed to winning new converts.  Some of this material, recorded between 1978 and 1983, is from workshopping for an album, some from performance rehearsals.  Exceptions are If I Fell(the Beatles tune) from 2016 and the only known studio recording of Kick Out The Jams, an MC5 cover they used to play in concert. All were recorded in hopes that they would eventually see the light of day… it turns out that day is April 12th, 2024.

Additional studio work for Ghost Stories was completed by Castellano along with remaining original BOC members Eric Bloom and Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser.  Both Albert Bouchard and Rick Downey appear on drums with additional overdubs from Joe Bouchard.  Having all these ‘classic’ members on this Frankenstein of a record makes for a story that spans several decades; and who better than them to bring this one home?

As intriguing as Ghost Stories is in both concept and sound, it will never rival classic BOC efforts like Fire Of Unknown Origin or Agents Of Fortune.  Taken at face value it rather feels like an album of filler but when you realize that these songs- long considered by Blue Oyster Cult aficionados as lost gems- within the story arc of the band it raises the curiosity factor and their inherent value to the history of the group by a considerable margin.  The guys are certainly lucky to have a label like Frontiers behind this effort. 

Of the 16 studio albums they’ve done I’d place Ghost Stories in the bottom quarter of their discography due to its haphazard nature, but covers like If I Fell, Kick Out The Jams and We Gotta Get Out of This Place have the potential to garner the set a fair amount of attention.  Fans will go bananas for this.

HOT TRACKS:  Late Night Street fight, We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, So Supernatural

SOLO Jack DeKeyzer (Blue Star) *****

There’s something about the warmth and intimacy of a solo acoustic performance, particularly when it relates to the blues, that you just can’t beat.  I was reminded of that again and deliciously so, by Jack DeKeyer’s new disc Solo.  These are tunes by classic bluesmen of the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, treated by De Keyzer with affectionate reverence…it’s a beautiful thing. 

The genesis of Solo is intriguing.  During the darkest days of the pandemic, Jack decided to record a song per day based upon famous musical birthdays.  Learning and recording them at his home studio every day kept him from going stark raving looney, and he came out the other end with a riveting blues record.  We have to assume these are just the cream of the crop of what he laid down, and I’m hoping that if this disc does well there could be another volume or two coming our way.  I can dream, can’t I?

The only musician on Solo is, of course, DeKeyzer.  He sings, plays acoustic and electric guitars, rack harmonica, percussion and bass.  No fancy effects or production tricks to get in the way on his 13th album; he’s a fine guitarist and simply doesn’t need them.  Blues fans will know many of the songs DeKeyzer tries on here and I’m willing to bet the rent that they are pleased with the results.  Half the fun of Solo is recognizing some of the songs and comparing them to versions you’ve previously known. From Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson to Steve Winwood and Led Zeppelin, it feels like you’re making some new discoveries and getting re-acquainted with some old favorites at the same time.

Ghost Stories is basic, unvarnished and beautiful, the work of a master musician stretching out to play and enjoy a particular type of music that moves him.  You’ll notice his singing voice as perhaps you never have before… we’re usually so focused on his guitar playing that it’s nice to be able to focus on something else for a change.  If 2024 turns out to be my final year of writing album reviews, I’ll consider myself lucky to have been able to hang around and tell you about Solo. I can’t wait to play this on my internet radio show “Hellhounds On my Trail; GREAT stuff.

HOT TRACKS:  Crossroad Blues, Baby I’m Gonna Leave You, Can’t Find My Way Home

O-60 The Mike Clark Band (independent) **** ½

This is the guitarist/ saxophonist’s sixth record. 0-60, is a gift from Mike to himself on his 60th birthday.  Although this is blues at its heart the disc is jazzier than expected, due in part to his sax playing.  With pop smart melodies and razor-sharp musicianship, this is a keeper.

“0-60 is (a collection of) songs about life, love and the current state of being” Mike says.  “Old friends, passed friends and new friends all play a large role.”  There’s a spiritual, soulful sound to this album that is comforting and relaxing, and the up-tempo numbers are quite playful.  The mid-paced, smoky groove of Turn Away that kicks off the album is the one overtly political and angry number here.  “With this whole media circus with Trump coming back, it’s like ‘oh man, aren’t we done with this shit yet?’” the Calgary-based musician asks. “It’s not our country, but it affects the whole world. It’s like the circus left, but the clowns are still here. That song is about that, and then the war in Ukraine and then Gaza and all of that. We’re still doing this shit?  Why?!?” it makes the “tra-la-la’s” in the chorus sound downright sarcastic.

There are some talented groove-centric musicians involved on 0-60, some of Canada’s finest; Thom Moon on drums, Jeremy Coats on bass, Brett Spaulding on guitar, Don Muir on keys, and Marina Joy & Jenni heaven on background vocals.  Mike Clark certainly has an ear for good hooks as songs like Never Gonna Not demonstrate, with melodies and refrains sticking in your noodle after a single listen.  The players just mentioned (and Mike) play with deceptive simplicity, keeping what serves the songs best in mind with every note they play.

0-60 was recorded at Airwaves Studios in Calgary and mastered at Wreckinghouse Mastering by Peter Letros and produced, I assume, by Mike Clark.  These things are worth mentioning as this is one of the best sounding discs I’ve heard in my nearly 66 years.  ‘The Mike Clark Band’ might not be a name on everyone’s lips, but thanks to albums as good as 0-60 it SHOULD be.

HOT TRACKS:  Turn Away, Never Gonna Not, Let Us Be

CRAWLIN’ KINGSNAKE John Primer & Bob Corritore (VizzTone/ SWMAF Records) *****

This is the 4th collaboration between these two blues brothers from other mothers, and it’s a KILLER. Crawlin’ Kingsnake has a simultaneous rocking forcefulness and an uninhibited gliding ease that makes these songs sheer magic that sound just like Muddy Waters’ old band.

If you love Chicago-style blues (and who doesn’t) Crawlin’ Kingsnake should be an essential addition to your playlist.  The band is a stunning, authentic gathering of blues masters; aside from Bob on harmonica and John on guitar and vocals we have Bob Stroger on bass, Jimi “Primetime” Smith on second guitar, the amazing Anthony Geraci on piano and Wes Starr on drums.  To say that all concerned are playing at the top of their game here is an understatement.  When you have artists like Primer and Corritore who have devoted their entire lives to the purity of the blues surrounded by sympathetic musicians like these in the studio, their track record of award nominations and wins as well as hall of fame inductions is secondary to the authentic Chicago blues sounds they have conjured up here for our enjoyment.

The blues is not a complex style of music to play, but to get it right is not an easy thing to do.  John Primer and Bob Corritore have proven time and again that they each possess the key, through their 4 collaborations and well as the work they’ve done apart.  Crawlin’ Kingsnake, so named after an old John Lee Hooker number, embodies that Chicago blues spirit as few other albums can, particularly in the modern age.  Primer wrote Hiding Place but most of the other numbers here are stone cold blues classics by legends like Willie Dixon, BB King and, of course, Muddy Waters.  The way this band plays combined with the source material makes for a spine-tingling, genuine blues experience of the highest order.

It all comes down to this; Crawlin’ Kingsnake isn’t just good blues, it’s GREAT blues.  John Primer & Bob Corritore have just hit another one over the centerfield fence.

HOT TRACKS:  Crawlin’ Kingsnake, Stuff You Gotta Watch, Feel Like Going Home


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