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The hard-copy of Blues In The South (BITS) carries regular reviews of CDs and other media. The following is a sample of reviews we have published recently.
LAURENCE JONES – The Truth (Top Stop Music)
Young British blues-rock singer and guitarist Laurence has come a long way since making his debut album in 2012, with further albums and a Blues Caravan tour for Ruf Records, and associations with the likes of Walter Trout, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Mike Zito and legendary producer Mike Vernon along the way. This album finds him working more in a pop and rock category; the opening track opens with some fierce guitar work before easing into a steady groove, making for a very strong start. ‘Don’t You Let Me Go’ is more melodic rock, with a blues-rock guitar break, This is the template for much of this set – try ‘Keep Me Up At Night’ for a good example, though ‘Give Me Your Time’ is an energetic and powerful riff-rocker, and ‘Gone Away’ has a soul inflected blues-rock sound – Laurence cites Lenny Kravitz as an influence for this one. A few tracks are more reflective though, as on the wistful ‘Take Me’ and ‘Can’t Go On Without You’, the bluesiest track of the set with tinges of Bill Withers. This is certainly an interesting and enjoyable release.
RONNY AAGREN & HIS BLUES GUMBO – Close To You (Hunters HRC012017)
There are some very fine blues bands in Scandinavia and here’s another. Norwegian band leader Ronny and his three accompanists do just what the name says, a fine mix of different blues styles, from straight-ahead Texas shuffles such as the opening ‘Trying To Get Close To You’ with its echoes of BB King, Freddie King and Albert Collins, to the swamp-pop influenced ‘There Is Hope’ and the southern rock styled gospel of ‘Precious Lord’ – as with the other ten songs, written by Ronny himself. He is also a fine singer and a subtle guitarist, happy to rock out, hit an infectious, pop-py groove as on the slide guitar driven ‘I Love That Lady’, or come over all intense – lend an ear to the West side Chicago blues of the closing ‘Sometimes’. Of course, this kind of music can sometimes stand or fall on the quality of the rhythm section, but drummer Ole-Christian Rydland and bass player Roar Paulsberg are certainly equal to the task, whilst pianist and organist Alexander André Johnsen lays down a fine cushion and takes some excellent instrumental breaks. As you might have guessed, this is a lovely modern blues set that impressed me a lot!
Norman Darwen (https://www.facebook.com/RonnyAagrenAndHisBluesGumbo/)
JIM SHANEBERGER BAND – Above And Below (Industry Standard Entertainment)
Jim Shaneberger is a singer, guitarist, and bandleader out of Grand Rapids, Michigan with a very energetic approach. On this set, the follow-up to the band’s debut album “Work In Progress”, and with Jeffrey Baldus on bass and Steve Harris on drums, there are elements of a power trio approach, particularly on the powerful, blues-rocking ‘Indifference’ and the Hendrixtinged ‘Above & Below’. ‘Ain’t Your Daddy’s Blues’ is indeeda fine blues, and ‘I Can’t Sleep’ adds a funk flavour to a rocking number, whilst the bluesrocking ‘Way Down South’ is very loosely based on the venerable ‘Rollin’ And Tumblin’’ – it has a wild guitar solo too! For perhaps the best example of the band’s capabilities though, try the funky, almost five minutes long instrumental ‘Just Sayin’, Bro’, which has a sound far bigger than expected from just three musicians. The set closes out with the soul-tinged ‘Whole Lotta Soul’, an intelligent original composition as are all nine tracks. Worth checking out.
Norman Darwen (www.jimshanebergerband.com)
STERLING BALL, JOHN FERRARO AND JIM COX – The Mutual Appreciation Society (Favored Nations FNM 543)
Now this is cool, hip and guitar-laden. What doesn’t come across in the band name and CD title is the presence here of big name guitar guests like Steve Morse, Steve Lukather, Steve Vai, and, proving you don’t have to be called Steve to be a contemporary guitar god, Albert Lee, John Petrucci and Jay Graydon. Yes, I know most of these have only a tenuous connection with the blues, but for this set, co-ordinated by bass player Sterling Ball (son of Ernie Ball – and you were wondering how they’d managed to get these guys together? - drummer John Ferraro, and keyboards player Jim Cox, they came together by both accident and design in the studio and recorded favourite tunes from their youth (note that the album is all-instrumental). So, what we have here are numerous shred-masters over a kicking rhythm section tackling soul tunes like ‘The In Crowd’ (featuring Steve Morse), blues such as Steve Lukather’s take on ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’, Steve Vai playing Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs rock and roll hit ‘Sugar Shack’, Albert Lee with a couple of good-natured country classics and John Petrucci on, er, a ‘Disney Medley’ – but it works. All the guitar lovers in the house can buy with confidence.
CURTIS SALGADO AND ALAN HAGER Rough Cut Alligator ASIN: B07765H5DH
Curtis Salgado has led his own soul/blues band for many years featuring himself singing and playing occasional harmonica but this record is mainly a duo record featuring Curtis on vocals and harp and his guitarist Alan Hager. Hager's playing is spellbinding, he's a master of many blues styles, including slide, but has managed to create his own unique style from these where he plays country blues licks on an electric guitar. Similarly Salgado's vocals are outstanding, very impassioned - probably reflecting the serious health issues he's suffered including heart problems and cancer and his harp playing is a revelation as he plays not only his normal Chicago-style but also down-home country blues, listen to "I Want You by My Side" where he sounds like De Ford Bailey! The record features a mixture of originals like the dramatic opening track “I Will Not Surrender”, as well as blues covers such as Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Too Young to Die”, Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and Elmore James' "You Got to Move". “Morning Train” is a traditional gospel song where Curtis is joined by Larhonda Steele on vocals and Curtis plays piano on his own amusing Fats Waller-like song “Hell in a Handbasket”, while Hager takes the vocal on Robert Wilkins’ “Long Train Blues” (which has some lovely country blues harp). The instrumental "The Gift of Robert Charles" is a beautiful piece featuring Hager's slide guitar sensational playing! I didn’t expect to like this record so much but it is really very good, with a pleasing variety of styles and sounds and both men's performances being outstanding.
SHAUN MURPHY Mighty Gates Vision Wall Records ASIN: B076BKG349
Shaun Murphy is a mature blues and rock singer originally from the Detroit area, she's vastly experienced and worked as a backing singer with amongst many others Eric Clapton, Bob Seger, Phil Collins and Alice Cooper - and she also did a longish stint as Little Feat's lead vocalist after Lowell George died. This is a very professional record produced by Kevin McKendree (who also plays keyboards) the title track is a power ballad by Dobie Gray delivered with great phrasing and drama, the opening track the blues shuffle “I Don’t Need Nobody” is a nice song written by guitarist Kenne Cramer, who also wrote “Blues In The Morning” with both songs featuring Shaun's relaxed blues vocals interacting with Cramer's guitar.
I was surprised to hear not just one but two tracks by British singer Frankie Miller - “Down The Honky Tonk” and “Be Good To Yourself” - both done to perfection with Shaun's powerful vocals matching Frankie all the way and guitarists Cramer and Tommy Stillwell providing the perfect backing. More Brit blues with “Walk In My Shadow” by the band Free, with Shaun again matching the original vocal performance by Paul Rogers and the band, featuring the rocking rhythm section of Tom DelRossi on drums and John Marcus on bass locking in behind, with superb rock blues guitars from Cramer and Stillwell. It's not all rocking out though, on the ballads “A Night Like This” and “I Never Stopped Loving You” Shaun sings beautifully, restrained and poignant but turning on the power when needed.
I thought that this was a very good record, with good production from Kevin McKendree, great playing from the band and an interesting selection of songs that were the perfect vehicle for Shaun's singing. I’ve only seen her live once and that was with Little Feat and as a big Lowell George fan I was prepared to hate her, however I was really impressed by her pitch perfect unshowy performance, and she repeats that 'Feat' again here with another excellent performance.
VARIOUS ARTISTS Hard Core Harp Electro-Fi Records ASIN: B0781T6KBX
This record celebrates the 20th anniversary of Electro-Fi Records with a collection of tracks featuring current harmonica players including James Harman, Mark Hummel and Harmonica Shah, together with older players like Snooky Pryor, Billy Boy Arnold and George ‘Harmonica’ Smith etc. The 19-track collection is compiled from CD's released between 1997 and 2016, with special guests including the late Pinetop Perkins, bass player Bob Stroger and guitarists Mel Brown, Billy Flynn, Jack De Keyzer and Rusty Zinn.
In truth the selection of tracks is a bit random, biased towards Electro-Fi artists and tracks licenced to the record company. That said there are some nice performances here, I’d never heard of Al Lerman before but his “Liquified Boogie” is a swinging instrumental bopper, I’m always a sucker for Billy Boy Arnold ever since I first heard him playing with Bo Diddley – this isn’t the original version of “I Wish You Would” but nice all the same. Mark Hummel is a great harmonica technician and is always worth hearing, as are James Harman, Snooky Pryor and George ‘Harmonica’ Smith but there are better harmonica compilations that feature the real heavy weight blues harmonica stars like Little and Big Walter, both Sonny Boy Williamsons, James Cotton, Junior Wells, Paul Butterfield et al.
ROBERT FINLEY Goin’ Platinum! Nonesuch ASIN: B076188VCZ
Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys saw a video of Robert Finley busking and was so impressed that he decided to work with him and then signed him to his record label. This is Robert’s second album and features the singer/guitarist with ace session musicians including drummer Gene Chrisman (Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin), Bobby Woods on keyboards (JJ Cale, Bobby Womack) and guitar legend Duane Eddy. 'Goin’ Platinum!' was co-written and produced by Dan Auerbach and also features writing credits by songwriters such as John Prine and Nick Lowe.
"Get it While You Can" is a rocking starter, it sounds like a cross between the Beatles' "Paperback Writer" and "Watch Your Step" by Bobby Parker and Robert Finley has a great voice on a par with all the great soul singers, such as Otis Redding and Wilson Picket, but that reminded me most of Tom Jones! Auberbach gets a great sound and the band really cooks but it’s Robert’s voice out front that is the real star - although he doesn't ham it up and get too emotional and on songs like "Honey Let Me Stay the Night" and "Empty Arms" he is very subtle. “Three Jumpers" is the most bluesy song and the closer "Holy Wine" is a testifying heart-wrenching soul ballad, while "Medicine Woman" is an unusual, powerful song.
THE ROLLING STONES On Air Polydor (Universal Music) ASIN: B077TM4HYX
This double CD features recordings are taken from BBC radio shows including Saturday Club and Top Gear, and although the production on some tracks isn’t wonderful - it sounds a bit too ‘empty and hollow’ - it is clear and well-balanced. All of these tracks have been available as bootlegs for many years. The opening track Chuck Berry's "Come On", the band's first single, is symptomatic of many of the Stones' early covers in that they didn't do a straight copy of the Berry song but put their own spin on it, with Keith coming up with an completely original guitar riff and adding harmonica from Brian rather than the sax on the record, and the whole thing swings along nicely courtesy of Charlie and Bill. The band's early repertoire contained many Chuck Berry numbers "Roll Over Beethoven", "Route 66" ", Memphis, Tennessee", "Around and Around" "Carol" etc - which let to conflict between them and the more 'serious' blues and jazz musicians but made the Stones more acceptable to the general public as these songs were also being played by beat (pop) groups at the time. They also tackle other songs that thanks mainly to them became R&B classics - "Walking the Dog", "Hi Heeled Sneakers" and "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" etc, as well as some more obscure blues like Buster Brown's "Fannie Mae" and Don Raye's "Down the Road Apiece". We also hear the Stones trying their hands at writing their own songs, first with "The Spider and the Fly" and then with "Satisfaction" and "The Last Time".
Listening to these performances again now what really stands out for me is Mick Jagger - his vocals are really good and he sounds so confident and cocky, he's also singing in his own voice, albeit a drawling primeval estuary English, not really trying to sound black and despite being a bit raw on some tracks he really swings and is completely at home with this new "rock" idiom. The guitars of Keith and Brian sound a bit weedy on many tracks - which was just the way that they were recorded in those days - but they were definitely trailblazers, mastering all the different genres of blues and R&B - "Hi Heeled Sneakers" has been covered many times but this is one of the most successful versions without being a note-for-note copy. Brian also plays slide guitar on the Beatles' "I Wanna Be Your Man" and Muddy Waters' "Can't Be Satisfied" and adds his harmonica to other tracks which really gave the Stones an edge over rival bands. And at the back powering the band along were Bill and Charlie - eschewing the
limelight, not flash but the firm foundation that everything was built on.
Listening to the Stones in my early teens made me a life-long blues fan and I went on to track down the original versions of all the tracks that they covered - some of these I liked much better than the Stones' versions but some others I preferred the version by the Stones - the first version that I'd heard.
This is a fabulous compilation that shows the Stones as a young, yet very accomplished blues and R&B band on the verge of developing their own style and conquering the world. I don't know how people coming to these recordings for the first time will view them, sure they sound raw and a bit crude but they are also brimming with enthusiasm and joy and, listening all these years later, I was really surprised how good the Stones were right from the start.
ZOE SCHWARZ' BLUE COMMOTION - The Blues and I Should Have a Party
One of the real joys of producing a publication month after month, year after year, is that you get to hear bands grow and develop as they wend ther own path to their musical Nirvana. Such a band has been Zoe Schwarz’ Blue Commotion. From the earliest days, I have always felt that there is something special about the ‘front’ talent, Zoe, and her partner in life and music Rob Koral and this album confirms that they are indeed, something special.
Zoe is an outstanding singer, steeped in jazz inflection (a huge fan of Billie Holiday) she has the capacity to move from sultry to sassy with consummate ease. Rob Koral is a subtle master of the guitar also bringing jazz flourishes to his work but with an inventiveness about his playing that is sometimes jaw-dropping, here accompanied by Pete Whittaker (keys) and Paul Robinson (drums) the ensemble have produced their best work ever. Thirteen tracks of blues mastery.
As usual all the music is by Zoe and Rob but two of the tracks feature lyrics written by Pete Fenestra, one (Down In The Caves) about the Caves at Chiselhurst in Kent and the sensational music and musicians that have played there, the second a reflective poem, Time Waits For No One, that has verses in a minor key but bursts into a joyous major key in the choruses. The remaining songs are a mix of party and thoughtful, The title track is enhanced by some magnificent work by Rob, sounding at times like early Freddie King and demonstrating a phenomenal mastery of the fingerboard.
The first track, Please Don’t Cheat on Me, opens like a tornado coming down the valley. It is a rock bluesy piece, again with some outstanding and firey axework and some excellent drum and bass work. You’ve Changed, is a kind of Billie Holiday tribute with some nice reverb background chords. Super song. Shout, is a simple but delightful foot-stomper of a song, that constantly reminds me of some of the 1960s bands (Spencer Davis?) that were influenced by the blues.
Another award winner IMHO. Watch out USA, before too long, the British Are Coming AGAIN
Ian K. McKenzie
DAMNED AND DIRTY - Revelation
I am delighted to say that I have been a fan of the Damned and Dirty since their earliest recording was issued as a free online download in 2012. I played tracks from it on my radio shows within weeks and have never stopped playing stuff from their growing number of albums . Starting as a duo Kevin de Harde (harp and vocals) and Micha Sprenger (guitar and vocals) have released four more albums (this EP is the fifth issue), each one of which has demonstrated growing musical skills and songwriting expertise. Kevin is a great singer with a resonant bass-baritone voice and is a powerful and inventive harp player. Micha is a consummate guitarist capable of highly skilled finger picked intricacy, as well as forceful and imaginative electric rhythm and lead.
This new album is a different animal from those that precede it. Produced by Mario Goossens who is also the (excellent) drummer on most of the tracks, the album has a kind of swampy feel about it, as far removed from the acoustic blues of their earliest effort as is possible. With added keys by Bram Slinger, backing vocals by Marlou Vriens, and some excellent bass work by Karel van Mileghem, this album is a dramatic change of direction and (guess what?) a revelation. Not just an acoustic duo but a but a blues band, sounding to me a bit like the early Stones this is treat for the ears and the brain. Nice songs, well recorded and with excellent arrangements and musicianship but ( you knew there was a ‘but’ coming didn't you?) a very limited amount of Kevin’s outstanding harp work. Shame, Shame, Shame as Jimmy Reed once said. Perhaps when (if) this EP turns into a full album that will be rectified. Nevertheless a nice piece of work that will garner more fans for these outstanding Dutch blues men. How about some enterprising promoter bringing them to the UK?
Ian K. McKenzie
O.V.WRIGHT "Treasured Moments" The Complete Back Beat / ABC Singles Play Back Records PBR8501
Well, here we are again, another one I missed on it's release in 2016... how this one was overlooked I really don't know, as O.V. Wright is one of my all time soul singing heros. Just a quick look at my record shelves will reveal four albums, three 45's and, until now, one CD him. The late Bill Rowe (older readers will remember Bill) had many of Wright's singles, plus some doubles, two of which he gave me - both on the Back Beat label and one of those was actually "Treasured Moments" (B side of "Heartaches Heartaches"). This double cd package is an absolute essential purchase for any
fans of soul music. Sure, you're gonna find a few of these tracks duplicated elsewhere, the same as you would by buying any release of an artist who's no longer with us. Even the albums of his in my collection double up on certain tracks!!! The fact that he was so good allows me to overlook this and, personally I'm quite happy to listen to such a gifted vocalist. Here's the minimal 'blurb' from the back of this cd packaging.... 'A complete compendium of O.V.Wright's scorching 45rpm singles, originally released 1965-1976 on Don Robey's Back Beat label and ABC Records. An essential cornerstone of any Southern Soul collection!' I doubt I could've said it better myself. So, here they are - all on one (double) set at last... and yes, it was a Christmas present... once spotted, it was immediately added to my present request list! Do not (sorry 'bout that, PLEASE do not) let this slip through the net, if you're able to buy it, please do so a.s.a.p. and listen to one of the best soul singers ever, from the days when soul singers actually did have soul. Highly Recommended.
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