Laurence Jones review…August 28, 2016…

LAURENCE JONES

TAKE ME HIGH

RUF RECORDS 1234

GOT NO PLACE TO GO–SOMETHING’S CHANGED–LIVE IT UP–ADDICTED TO YOUR LOVE–I WILL–THINKING ABOUT TOMORROW–TAKE ME HIGH–DOWN AND BLUE–THE PRICE I PAY–HIGHER GROUND

Guitarist Laurence Jones has won the Young Artist Of The Year from the British Blues Awards in both 2014 and 2015.  His star continues to rise, and his fourth album, just released on Ruf Records, is entitled “Take Me High.”  Consisting of nine originals and one cover, this set also pairs Laurence with legendary producer Mike Vernon–yep, the same man who produced Mayall, Clapton, and Bowie in the Sixties, and countless others since.  He heard young Mr. Jones at a British festival, and knew he had to get him into the studio.

Mike told Laurence to relax and imagine himself back on the festival stage, to re-capture that “live” feel as best he could, and the results are quite dazzling.  The set starts off with two blistering looks at love.  Leading off is the tale of being on a merry-go-round of endless relationships, each leaving you feeling that you’ve “Got No Place To Go.”  Next up is the funky strut of “Something’s Changed,” as Laurence can feel his lover is no longer “the girl I used to know.”

We had a spate of favorites, too.  We enjoy hearing Laurence let loose on his guitar, and several cuts fill that bill.  A song encouraging us all to “Live It Up,” as “life goes by too fast” churns over a lightning-fast groove.  “Down And Blue” is another solid blues-rocker dealing with the struggles of everyday life,  while the story of a wishy-washy lover takes on a Delta feel, thanks to harp from Paul Jones, as Laurence bemoans “The Price I Pay just to say that I got you!”   And, the set closes on a positive vibe, with vocals from Reuben Richards on an energetic read of “Higher Ground.”

Laurence Jones has shown a remarkable maturity well-beyond his years.  Mike Vernon saw that, too, as “Take Me High” began to take shape. This set continues to show just what a blues force he has become!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

Joanna Connor review…August 26, 2016…

JOANNA CONNOR

SIX STRING STORIES

M. C. RECORDS  MC–0080

IT’S A WOMAN’S WAY–BY YOUR SIDE–WE STAYED TOGETHER–GOLDEN–SWAMP SWIM–LOVE COMING ON STRONG–HEAVEN–HALSTED STREET–THE SKY IS CRYING–YOUNG WOMAN BLUES

Joanna Connor  is one of the best slide guitar players–male or female–on this planet.  Based in Chicago, a town that has had its share of great blues guitarists, she juggles being a full-time mom with playing roughly 200 nights a year in the Chicago area.  Joanna always believed the recording process to be rather daunting,  but, after fourteen years, the good folks at M. C. Records have gotten her back in the studio for an all-new release, “Six String Stories.”  Along with her trademark deep blues, you’ll find examples of funk, gospel, and even a shot of “blues-metal” over these ten cuts, eight of which were penned by Joanna and her bandmate Lance Lewis, who doubles down as the set’s producer.

Listen to the way that Joanna rides that “shave-and-a-haircut” beat on the ode to a lover whom she always desired to be “By Your Side.”  A fantastic, deep, slow-blues is the story of sticking with a lover no matter what, “We Stayed Together,” with Lance on backing vocals.  She blasts off one killer run after another throughout this one!

There are a couple of fine examples of positivity and empowerment, also.  One of the cover tunes is the jazzy, soulful, “Golden,” written by Jill Scott.  Here, Joanna takes her freedom thru her music, and gives thanks to our Creator for his many blessings.  “Heaven” takes that premise to the next level, as Joanna reaches out to us to “tear down the walls of hatred, ’cause Heaven is right here!”  Lance, whose brothers are pastors, literally “takes us to church” with several recited Biblical passages throughout the song.

The other cover is a cool, stripped-down-to-its-bare-essentials, slow-burnin’ take on Elmore James’  “The Sky Is Crying,” vastly different from the original.  Speaking of Elmore, that brings us to our favorite.  You just cannot get any better than that unmistakable riff that opens the set, as Joanna lets her slide do the wailin’, because, today, sho’ nuff, “It’s a new day–It’s A Woman’s Way!”

Let us hope that Joanna Connor does not wait another fourteen years between albums!  For now, we can all rejoice and dig “Six String Stories.”  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

 

JJ Thames review…August 24, 2016…

JJ THAMES

RAW SUGAR

DECHAMP RECORDS

MALACO MUSIC GROUP

DCH 30003

OH LORD (FEAT. BEN HUNTER AND JOE SEAMONS)–HATTIE PEARL–I’M LEAVIN’–LEFTOVERS–WOMAN SCORNED–ONLY FOOL WAS ME–BAD MAN–HOLD ME–DON’T STOP MY SHINE–DON’T FEEL NOTHIN’–PLAN B (ABORTION BLUES)–RAW SUGAR–WANT TO FALL IN LOVE

JJ Thames is a Detroit native, but she cut her musical teeth down in Jackson, MS, on the “chitlin’ circuit,” with players such as Marvin Sease.  She’s been a  backing vocalist for a very eclectic list of bands, including reggae outfits such as Outlaw Nation and Fishbone, which definitely broadened her horizons, but she’s at her best when she’s belting out classic down-home blues the way they were meant to be sung.  Her latest release for DeChamp Records is “Raw Sugar,” thirteen original cuts done in collaboration with producer and guitarist Eddie Cotton, Jr.

There is so much good music herein, let us get started.  Up first is a beautiful original of JJ’s, and it’s as far from the blues as Sunday morning is from Saturday night.  “Oh Lord, I want you to help me,” features Joe Seamons on acoustic guitar and Ben Hunter on mandolin, and is a strong traditional gospel number.

She changer gears rapidly, with the juke-joint-rockin’ tale of gettin’ rid of a low-down dog, “I’m Leavin’  first thing in the morning!”  Another no-good lover gets his walkin’ papers, feeling the Hell-fired fury of the “Woman Scorned,” only this time, “I’ll take half of your possessions and you can keep your sad goodbyes!”

JJ knows her way around a ballad and a slow-jam, too.  Having no intentions of becoming “the other woman,” she tells it like it is–“I don’t do Leftovers–I want my own!”  “Hold Me” finds her giving her lover yet another chance, while the pain of a broken affair brings her to the stark realization that “The Only Fool Was Me.”  These latter two cuts are fine examples of good, old-school, “torch” songs.

We had two favorites, too.  The moral dilemma following an unplanned pregnancy after the babydaddy bails has JJ torn between doing what her heart tells her, or “signing the dotted line” for “Plan B (Abortion Blues).” And, pounding piano from Darryl Sanford over a frenetic beat pushes the down-home tale of “Hattie Pearl, make the men walk a country mile!”  One cannot listen to this one without making the inevitable comparison to “Miss Annie Mae” Bullock, either!

JJ Thames is another of those dynamite, big-voiced artists who can sing any style asked of her, and sho’ nuff sing it well.  Getcha some “Raw Sugar” and see how sweet the blues can be!!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

Matthew Skoller review…August 22, 2016…

MATTHEW SKOLLER

BLUES IMIGRANT

TONGUE ‘N’ GROOVE RECORDS   TNG 005

BIG BOX STORE BLUES–THE DEVIL AIN’T GOT NO MUSIC–BLUES IMMIGRANT–ONLY IN THE BLUES–TEAR COLLECTOR–STORY OF GREED–747–ORGAN MOUTH–MY GET IT DONE WOMAN–GET DOWN TO THE NITTY GRITTY–BLUE LIGHTS

Harp-blaster, singer, composer, and producer extraordinaire Matthew Skoller was born in New York, but he relocated to his “adopted” hometown of Chicago in 1987.  Over that nearly-30-year period, he has played with all the Windy City legends and blown harp on three Grammy-nominated sets over the last five years.  And, he’s found the time to record four CD’s of his own.  His fifth is slated for release on September 23, 2016,  and it is entitled “Blues Immigrant.”  It is a fine platter of Chicago-styled blues, produced by Matthew and Vincent Bucher, and they collaborated on the writing of the nine originals on the set.

Ya gotta have a great backing band, and Matthew’s sho’ nuff got one.  On keys is Johnny Iguana, on bass is Felton Crews, on drums is Marc Wilson, and guitar duties are shared by Giles Corey, Carlos Johnson, and Eddie Taylor, Jr.  The set kicks off with a cool harp-keys intro for Matthew’s 21ST Century update of Sonny Boy Williamson (1)’s “Welfare Store Blues,” this one lamenting the closing of “mom and pop stores” everywhere, in lieu of “The Big Box Store Blues.”  A tongue-in-cheek look at the business end of the blues reminds us of the old adage,  “if you want to be a millionaire playing the blues, it’s best to start out with two million!”  It’s a “funky situation, found Only In The Blues.”  It’s set over a cool rhumba-rockin’ beat, too.  “The Devil Ain’t Got No Music”  rides over a haunting beat, and connects that blurry line between gospel and blues.  “The Story Of Greed” fires a hard right cross at Big Business in today’s society, as Matthew’s harp moans over Brian Ritchie’s eerie shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese bamboo flute.

We had two favorites, too.  Matthew and the fellows rock the house with a song we first heard from Joe Louis Walker waaaay back in the day, “my baby caught a 747, ’cause the Greyhound runs too slow!”  And, the title cut is a cool biographical look at the history of the blues as seen thru the eyes of Matthew, a true “Blues Immigrant,” whose grandparents came thru Ellis Island in 1922.

Matthew Skoller continues to bring fans the best in harp-fueled blues, adapting the traditions of the past masters to fit right in with today’s contemporary audiences.  Always one to add a touch of humor into his blues, even with some deep, topical subject matter, “Blues Immigrant” is perhaps his finest effort to date!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

 

 

Hard Swimmin’ Fish review…August 19, 2016….

HARD SWIMMIN FISH

TRUE BELIEVER

SELF-RELEASED

TRUE BELIEVER–FIVE YEARS HARD LABOR–NO SHORTAGE OF THE BLUES–HOWLIN FOR MY DARLIN–OOH, THAT WAS CLOSE–LOVE ME OR YOU DON’T–COME TOGETHER–NEED YOUR LOVE SO BAD–GET GONE–ONCE UPON A TIME–MESS AROUND–DON’T LET THE DEVIL RIDE–WISH I WAS IN HEAVEN SITTING DOWN (HIDDEN TRACK)

Upon looking at the black-and-white cover photo of the latest set from Hard Swimmin’ Fish, one can see a young subject about to either be baptized or to receive a “laying on of hands,” as it were, from a group of church folks.  After you listen to the eight originals and four covers that comprise “True Believer,” you will also get the feeling that your soul’s been cleansed in the murky waters of the blues!

These fellows hail from Virginia and the surrounding states, and they have a keen sense of the rich traditions of blues and folk that defines this region.  Demian Lewis is on vocals, guitar, and banjo, Waverly Milor is on vocals and harp, Randy Ball is on bass, and Jason Walker drives the whole thing with his drums and Cajon, a box drum contraption.

The whole thing has a vintage Chess-by-way-of-Excello vibe, with mile-a-minute vocals, several acoustic-themed numbers, and a heavy dose of humor throughout.  Starting off is the title cut, as our hero was originally a “True Believer” in a lover, but finds out she was “nothin’ but a liar!”  After five years invested in a relationship, this time he gets the boot, but he and his “trusty .44” take care of bidness,  But, our hero gets “Five Years Hard Labor” for his efforts!  A cool country-blues is the story of several narrow escapes in the homes of irate husbands, and each one elicits an “Ooh, That Was Close” response!  And, please do not turn off your device after the traditional gospel fervor of “Don’t Let The Devil Ride” is over, or you will miss a sweet hidden track read of “I Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down!”

We had two favorites, too—one original and one cover.  The original is a tongue-in-cheek (and in other places, too!) look at the lengths a man will go for a woman’s attention.  It’s the double-entendre’-filled “Once Upon A Time.”  And, guitar lines replace the piano riffs as Billy Lee Riley-meets-Brother Ray in a delirious, amped-up, corn-likker-fueled, Sun-drenched rockabilly rave-up of “Mess Around!”

The good-time blues of Hard Swimmin’ Fish will sho’ nuff make a “True Believer” out of you!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

Mary Jo Curry review…August 18, 2016…

MARY JO CURRY

MARY JO CURRY

GUITAR ANGELS RECORDS

OOOOO WEEEE–HUSBAND #2–LITTLE BY LITTLE–WRAPPED AROUND MY HEART–STEPPIN–VOODOO WOMAN–WHEN A WOMAN’S HAD ENOUGH–HOMEWRECKER–SMELLIN’

Mary Jo Curry is quite the entertaining chanteuse of the blues, based out of Central Illinois.  She studied voice and theater performance in college,  and parlayed that into a stint with a major touring troupe.  ‘Bout five years ago, she fell in love with the blues, and, after you hear her self-titled debut, you’ll love her, too!

Over these nine cuts, Mary Jo wrote two, her husband and guitarist Michael Rapier wrote two, and she covers five songs that are inspirations for her from other well-known artists and writers.  The other guitarist in this band is the incomparable James Armstrong.  (After you finish reading this review, go over to YouTube and check out his version of “Take It To The Limit”).

Fellows, y’all better do right by Mary Jo, ’cause she sho’ nuff won’t take no mess!  Check out her original cut, the opening salvo where a no-good man finally leaves, and she’s so relieved she shouts “Ooooo Weeee, I’m finally free!”  The horn section has some fun with this one, too.  And, to all you chumps that are into making a woman “feel like a fool,” Mary Jo’s more than happy to start “looking for Husband #2!”  And, the set closes on a good “gotcha” note,  Michael’s original tale of a man who’s supposed to be out good-timin’ with his buddies, but, instead, he “comes home Smellin’ like sex again!”  Michael’s slide wails like that ole hellhound all thru this one, too!

We had three favorites, too.  Mary Jo’s vocal is as brash and sassy as you can get as she proudly proclaims “they call me the Voodoo Woman–I look thru water and spy dry land!”  Her original, “Homewrecker,” bumps-and-grinds as she calls out the “other woman” to “own up to what you done!”  And, “Steppin” finds Mary Jo temporarily fooled by another low-down dog who soon finds out “your steppin days are over!”  James busts out some mean slide on this one.

Great singers make a review like this one a real pleasure.  Mary Jo Curry is a confident, strong vocalist mixing outstanding material with a killer backing band.  She has sho’ nuff got it goin’ on with this set!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

Owen Campbell review…August 17, 2016…

OWEN CAMPBELL

BREATHING BULLETS

ROC RECORDS  ROCCD 0005

BREATHING BULLETS–ON MY KNEES–HOWLING–RATTLIN’ ROUND–EAGLE MAN–KEEP ON WALKIN’–SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE–RISE–STRUGGLE TOWN–COMING HOME TO YOU

Owen Campbell hails from waaay down under in Canberra, Australia.  He got his first guitar as a gift from his musician father at the age of nine.  He cut his teeth on folks such as Dylan and Van Morrison, enamored with the Celtic sounds they often incorporated within their music.  He made it all the way to the Finals of the “Australia’s Got Talent” TV show. Great talent always seems to find a way, and soon Owen was under the “producer’s eye” of Devon Allman.  Devon brought Owen to Memphis to the High/Low Studios to record “Breathing Bullets,” for Roc Records.

His comfortable-as-a-glass-of-Scotch voice is perfect for his storyteller’s vision of the ten songs on this set.  He’s on vocals, guitar, and harp, with a backing corps that includes Landon Moore on bass, Ben Isackson on drums, and Rick Steff on keys.  The plaintive title cut leads off, as he recounts the tale of “scratchin’ out a living off of dirty pavement,” also an allusion to his days spent busking on the streets of his homeland.  The acoustic-themed “Howling” is Owen’s plea to a lover, begging “won’t you let me in,” and comparing himself to a “Baskerville hound” in the process!  On “Rise,” he has us all take a long look at ourselves, as, sometimes, we are our own worst enemies.  However, by song’s end, he indeed “rises” to gain redemption.

We had two favorites, too.  The percussion-heavy story of the Indian warrior who meets a horrific and untimely demise teaches us to be satisfied with who we are and what we have and not end up like the “Eagle Man.”  And, the set closes on a bluesy, good-time note.  As much as Owen enjoys the traveling troubadour’s life, sometimes there’s nothin’ better than to “crack the wine–I’m on the midnight train, Comin’ Home To You!”

With an engaging voice, command of his guitar and harp, and ease in telling a story-in-song, it is no wonder that Owen Campbell won over so many Australian fans on their national TV.  With a strong set such as “Breathing Bullets” and upcoming Stateside dates with Devon and Andy McKee,  he’s going to make a legion of fans in this country as well!     Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

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