UNCLE JOHN’S RECORD BARN #2- APRIL 21ST, 2013Good to see you again, glad you could make it! It’s been two weeks since I last opened the doors here at the old barn- I had really hoped to have more reviews for you, but I’ve been busy having a life, listening to music just for the fun of it, and preparing for a phone interview I had with JJ Grey just this past Friday morning. I hope to post a transcript that sometime this week, time and willingness permitting. He couldn’t have been a cooler guy, wish I had more studio time.As I write this (Sunday April 21st), yesterday was Independent Record Store Day. Lacking such a store in Lloydminster where I live, I went to the HMV at the local mall to pick up some vinyl, to honor the day and to keep it holy. My choices are significant for reasons I will reveal presently.LEGEND: THE BEST OF BOB MARLEY14 songs and, like the title implies it’s his best, most well-known stuff. I have said for many years, decades even, that I find reggae boring to listen to even when I’m stoned. Turns out I was just listening the wrong way. I found it quite relaxing in a meditative way- better late than never.THE SMILE SESSIONS THE BEACH BOYSI’ve long held a grudge against The Beach Boys, not because of the music but because they coasted on former glories for decades, long after they’d had hit records- turns out that was all Mike Love’s fault. It’s insane to hold a grudge against someone for wanting to earn a living, so in the last couple of years I’ve learned to let that go- with a little help from my friend Dean, one of their biggest fans, and almost a decade younger than me to boot!Having said that, this is a friggin’ weird album. Little song snippets mostly, half-finished tunes and weird songs like Vege-Tables. 2 LP’s, 180 gram vinyl, and an interesting glimpse into the madness that was consuming Brian Wilson. He was still a helluva producer as this set attests but with the exception of a couple tunes, the lights were on but nobody was home.I also purchased Buddy Guy’s biography (finally!) for my Sony e-reader yesterday to- only 50 or 60 pages in, and thoroughly enjoyable reading. Definitely recommended for fellow blues fans. THE RIVER JJ Grey & Mofro (Alligator) ****Including a compilation album and 2011’s superb live CD/DVD set Brighter Days, this is JJ Grey & Mofro’s 8th album, their 6th studio record overall. An energetic mix of southern funk and soul, The River has old school charm capable of winning fans over at the push of a play button.Throwing this on, and particularly Your Lady She’s Shady had me thinking about the 70’s when I used to hit the record bar at the local drugstore and pedal home with the latest Sly & The Family Stone record under my arm. A decade of touring and working to bring their grimy blend of front porch soul and down-home storytelling is paying off big time for JJ and the band. “A friend of mine once said that we’re all characters if we’re given enough room to be one” say JJ, “(and) I was lucky enough to be surrounded by plenty of room.”The thing that appealed to me most on first hearing JJ Grey & Mofro 3 or 4 years ago was the feeling of truth in their songs- an honesty in the performances without trying to showboat, and the real characters that JJ’s songs bring to life. “The best songs I ever wrote, I never wrote- they wrote themselves” he observes. “To me, these things come from the power of an honest moment, and I guess I’m trying to live in that power and not force life to cough up what I want.” So many other artists try to do the exact opposite, perhaps explaining why JJ’s music resonates so deeply with fans.Many successful musicians can look back over the career and recognize a tipping point where things really began breaking in the right way. For JJ Grey & Mofro that would be 2011’s amazing live set Better Days, featuring a concert DVD and companion CD. Up until then I could say “I really like this guy”- but while watching the show and hearing live version of songs like Better Days, A Woman and the show-stopping Lochloosa I said “wow”- and if memory serves, the missus and I said it more than once.For This River, instead recording parts separately and layering in overdubs, under long-time producer (and friend) Dan Prothero the band played the new record mostly live off the floor. The end result is a live, organic feel that digital recording techniques and programs like Pro Tools just can’t tap. “We set up much like we do for our shows, and cut the tracks as close to live as possible” he states. “There’s something about everybody getting into one room and playing together- it brings some spark that can sometimes get lost in the shuffle of too much overdubbing.” This is a soul and R&B album above anything else, a living, breathing thing. Drummer Anthony Cole, playing on a stunningly simple kit, has the best groove of any drummer I’ve ever heard, and the rest of the band is expert at riding that groove.Earlier albums like Country Ghetto embody the sound of a band trying- This River is the sound of a band doing. This is the closest they’ve come yet to matching their live show in a studio setting, and it’s a beautiful thing. With the album out this past Tuesday (April 16th) the band is on the road in the US, with European tour dates mixed in through July. Here’s to hoping they add some Canadian dates too. If JJ Grey & Mofro end up playing anywhere nearby, do yourself a HUGE favor and take in the gig. If you can’t wait, I’ll be featuring 6 cuts from this album, a handful of older cuts, and some phone conversation with JJ on the April 28th version if How Blue Can You Get, airing Sundays at noon Alberta time at www.953krock.comCOOL CUTS: The Ballad of Larry Webb, Your Lady She’s Shady, This River INDEPENDENTLY BLUE The Duke Robillard Band (Stony Plain) ***Here is the latest release for the Grammy nominated/ blues award winning guitarist. Though never a manic or agitated player, this is one of Duke’s most laid back and instantly enjoyable discs in some time.“Independently Blue is a special album to me because it blends many of my favorite elements of blues, early rock & roll and jazz music” says Duke and perhaps that’s why, in part, this set works so well- it’s not trying too hard in any one direction, and there’s a unifying feeling of ‘bluesness’ throughout all 12 tracks. They band was having fun, and it shows- guitarist “Monster” Mike Welch, a featured guest on this disc, brought in a couple of instrumentals (Stapled To The Chicken’s Back, This Man This Monster) that really allow the guys to stretch out and play.I like Independently Blue mostly for the eclectic vibe. From the mournful New Orleans jazz feel of Patrol Wagon Blues to the crunchy Chuck Berry number Laureen (written by Duke about his wife), this is mostly an old-school sounding album, very relaxed, just a bunch of cats in somebody’s basement or on a dinky little stage in some dive blues joint, playing the music just because it feels so damned good to do so.“The variety of musical styles is all part of what I am all about and the blues sensibilities within all the tracks- even when nodding to rock and roll, R&B or jazz- shows our strength as a band” Duke notes, and indeed it does. No matter what grooves they inhabit over the course of this record, they each sound quite comfortable in their own musical skins. Independently Blue and its old timey, unassuming charm make it a comfortable and familiar feeling guest in the CD player.COOL CUTS: Stapled To The Chicken’s Back (featuring a friendly head cutting duel between Robillard and Welch), Laurene, This Man This Monster SINGING IN MY SOUL Lisa Biales with Ricky Nye & The Paris Blues Band (Big Song Music) *****I’ve just found my favorite blues album of the year- so far, at least! I’m Singing In My Soul, following on the heels (more or less) of 2012’s terrific and freshly surprising Just Like Honey, is a gentle, vintage, jazzy breath of fresh air.This disc is, in its own way, along the same lines as the terrific blues based releases Maria Muldaur has been releasing in recent years, particularly last year’s tribute to Memphis Minnie. 9 of these ten tracks are deft remakes of many long-forgotten classics, like Sister Rosetta Tharp’s Strange Things Happening Every Day, Mississippi John Hurt’s Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me and You Got To Know How from the pen of Sippie Wallace. Despite gathering songs from so many different artists, the whole set meshes together spectacularly well into a sublime, smoky backroom vibe that, frankly, is too delicious for words- even my thesaurus said “you’re on your own here, pal!”Ricky Nye, a Cincinnati based piano player, also produced the record and plays on it too. The band is actually from Paris; Thibaut Chopin on upright bass, Anthony Stelmaszack on guitar and Simon “Shuffle” Boyer on drums. There’s almost an old cabaret feel to this disc and while it’s not bluegrass, I get the feeling it would be quite comfy next to the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack in the CD changer. As with music of this sort it’s very sparse and uncluttered- while enjoying the performances overall, I was particularly taken with the mellow, supple jazz runs of Stelmaszack’s guitar.Though this is only my 2nd Lisa Biales disc, it is in fact her 7th or 8th album, so it looks like there’s some catching up to be done. At 10 tracks and a playing time of just over 31 minutes, Lisa & The Paris Blues Band wisely heed the old showbiz axiom “always leave them wanting more”. Singing In My Soul is definitely on my ‘essential listening’ playlist. Chances are looking fairly decent that I’ll be able to score a phone interview with Lisa sometime in the next month for my radio show How Blue Can You Get, which airs and noon Alberta time on Sundays at www.953krock.com I’ll keep you posted.COOL CUTS: Strange Things Happening Every Day, I only Have Eyes For You, Write Me In Care Of The Blues GOD IS DEAD? Black Sabbath (Universal/ Republic) **** ½ This is the first single from Sabbath’s forthcoming new album 13, due June 11th, the first to feature Ozzy on vocals since 1978`s Never Say Die. Doom-laden, crushingly heavy and about 2 years in the making, it is a good sign of things to come.It`s almost the reunion everybody wanted; Osbourne with guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler, plus Rage Against the Machine`s Brad Wilk on drums, standing in for original skinsman Bill Ward, who opted out due to the always elusive `contract dispute`. Despite producer Rick Rubin`s penchant for overdriving everything, it`s a solid sounding tune.The first 6 minutes or so are slow and plodding- in other words, atypical Sabbath fare. Then Iommi kicks into a swinging riff before the group settles into a groove reminiscent of Fairies Wear Boots. Great, meaty riffing from Iommi, Ozzy`s vocals recall his late 80’s/ early 90`s solo years because, apparently, producer Rick Rubin advised him to sing in keys and registers that he could pull off live. Brad Wilk (Rage Against The Machine) acquits himself nicely on drums, but the real star of the track is bassist Geezer Butler. From moody bass lines during the early verses to a mad gallop through the faster sections, he gives the song weight and really makes it happen.The track does feel a bit long, but give it a few spins and it will grow on you. I wish the guitar solo was longer but hey, it’s their song not mine. Perfect? No- but it would be foolish for them to lead off with the strongest number. God Is Dead is a promising start, and I`ll reserve final judgement for when I hear the rest of the album in June.