Archive for October, 2013

Dave Keyes review…October 26, 2013…

DAVE KEYES

RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW

KEYESLAND RECORDS  DKR 1008

HERE SHE COMES AGAIN–YOU THINK I DON’T KNOW–NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE–SHADOW BOOGIE–SIT RIGHT HERE–WHO STOLE THE BABY JESUS–NEVER SAY GOODBYE–NOW’S MY TIME–DELTA QUEEN–WRONGED MAN BLUES

Native New Yorker Dave Keyes is a brilliant keyboard player.  He’s won the IBC (in 2000) and has four previous releases to his credit.  Also, he was the musical conductor for the Broadway production of “Smoky Joe’s Cafe,” playing and singing on that Grammy-winning soundtrack.  He brings that emotion, fire, and passion to his latest release, an all-original, ten-cut affair entitled “Right Here Right Now,” that further showcases Dave’s immense  musical talents.  And, there are some cool special guests along the way, such as Popa Chubby, Dave Fields, Jeff Pevar, and Woody Mann on guitar.

Dave’s Broadway background comes into play on several of these cuts, too, which range from straight blues, soulful R & B, and even some New Orleans-flavored Americana.  The set opens with the jump-blues of “Here She Comes Again,” the rollicking tale of a lover who comes and goes as she pleases, and, for Dave, he “doesn’t ask, and she doesn’t tell!”  The horn arrangements are spot-on, and both Dave and Popa Chuuby fire off some extended solos herein.  “You Think I Don’t Know” is a gritty, soulful piece that looks at love from Dave’s point of view, after he’s “seen all the signs” that “she’s found another guy.”  “Sit Right Here” is a spiritually-uplifting tune that shows the triumph of the human spirit, done up in a zydeco style, with Dave on the accordion.  And, perhaps the most unusual cut on the set is “Who Stole The Baby Jesus,” an uptempo shuffle that traces the “theft” to a young boy who, upon receiving a much-treasured red wagon under the Christmas tree, simply wanted to express his thanks by giving the Baby Jesus the first ride!  It has a dynamite horn section, and a Broadway-styled backing chorus.  “Now’s My Time” features some deep slide guitar from Popa Chubby over Dave’s danceable groove, and the set closes with Dave’s Delta-inspired tale of a man who was lied on by his lover’s best friend, leaving him with those “Wronged Man Blues.”  Wody Mann adds the acoustic backing guitar, as well.

We had two favorites, too.  The horn section again spices up the Fifties-era tale of a lover who’s left Dave with “Nothing Left To Lose,” with Dave Fields on guitar.  And, Dave’s original instrumental, “Shadow Boogie,” is a stone-cold, stomp-down, left-hand-rockin, beat me daddy, boogie-woogie lover’s dream!

Dave Keyes has carved quite a niche’ for himself since his IBC victory.  He just keeps gettin’ better with each album, and “Right Here Right Now” is his best and most diverse to date!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow

 

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Michael Packer review…October 24, 2013…

MICHAEL PACKER

I AM THE BLUES: MY STORY

IRIS MUSIC GROUP  IMG RECORDS 986

MR. PACKER (NARRATION AND VOCAL)–MY FAMILY (NARRATION)–UNCLE AL–EARLY YEARS– PAPA NEBO (NARRATION)–BAD TIME JACKSON–SAN FRANCISCO BLUES (NARRATION)–I CAN’T KEEP FROM CRYING–FREE BEER (NARRATION)–I’M IN LOVE–BOB DYLAN AND ME (NARRATION)–RIVER OF WINE–THE LOVE OF MY LIFE (NARRATION)–LOVE OF A WOMAN–CHRISTMAS ON THE BOWERY (NARRATION and VOCAL)–THIS TRAIN–SEE THAT MY GRAVE IS KEPT CLEAN

Anyone who doubts how an upstate-New York-born, self-taught guitar-playing white boy like Michael Packer can sing the blues only needs to give a listen to his latest CD, “I Am The Blues;  My Story” to see what he has survived.  Over the course of this hour or so of narration and music, Michael explores several musical genres’ in giving the listener an overview of a life that makes one wonder just how he’s still alive.  He’s played with Honeyboy Edwards  and Nick Gravenites among many others, and counts Dylan and Paul Butterfield as friends.  He’s also recorded for RCA and for Ahmet Ertegun at Atlantic.   Sadly, he’s made a few friends he’s not so proud of, namely drugs and alcohol, which also played a major role in his life.

He starts the set with a brief description of his family, stating that perhaps his darker side could be traced back to the 1874 arrest of his “Uncle Al” Packer, who was originally sentenced to death for murder and cannibalism, only to have the conviction reversed thru the actions of the “Denver Post” newspaper, who wanted Al as part of a traveling circus.   Michael plays this tribute to Al in a somber, acoustic way.

Michael is a self-proclaimed “product of the Sixties” with his aforementioned penchant for getting high.  Musically, he was influenced by Dylan, Thelonius Monk, and Lightnin’ Hopkins, among others, and formed his band Papa Nebo at age 19.  “Bad Time Jackson” finds Michael’s vocal reminiscent of Dylan, also utilizing piano and violin.

Michael’s addictions continued to mount, and he relocated to Frisco in 1972, and the song “I Can’t Keep From Crying” has that psychedelic, West Coast vibe running thru it.  A return to NYC in 1974 led to the formation of the group called Free Beer, and “I’m In Love” features harp and a backing chorus that is a fine example of mid-Seventies blues-rock.  A meeting with the great Dylan resulted in the predominantly-acoustic “River Of Wine,” again sung in Dylan’s folkish style.

Michael met the love of his life in New York, but his addictions eventually caused him to lose her.  She came back briefly after he detoxed, but she realized she could not change him after his habits continued to resurface.  That story plays out in the electrified folk-rock musings of “Love Of a Woman,” which “brought me down and out.”

Michael closes the narrative portion of the set by recounting his “Christmas In The Bowery,” done in a sparsely-arranged horn-and-piano-driven slow blues.  His eight months in Riker’s Island is ‘highlighted,” if you will, by his leading of the prison band in a rousing rendition of “Walking The Dog.”  The set proper closes with the uplifting “This Train,” which shows the triumph of Michael’s spirit over adversity, and an acoustic slide rendition of “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.”

Does Michael Packer have a right to sing the blues?  You’re damn right he does–he’s paid his dues with a loan shark’s interest tacked on, and “I Am The Blues” says it all!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don crow.

Steve Howell review…October 21, 2013…

STEVE HOWELL AND THE MIGHTY MEN

YES I BELIEVE I WILL

OUT OF THE PAST MUSIC

I HAD A NOTION–WALK ON BOY–KEEP YOUR LAMPS TRIMMED AND BURNING–COUNTRY BLUES (AKA HUSTLING GAMBLERS)–FUTURE BLUES–WASTED MIND–MR. BLUE–DEVIL’S SIDE–I KNOW YOU RIDER–RAKE AND RAMBLING BLADE

Steve Howell received the prestigious Academy Of Texas Music Historical Significance Award in 2012, and has four well-received albums already to his credit.  A classic storyteller and extraordinary fingerpicker, he specializes in music from the era where traveling troubadours hoboed on freight trains and spread blues and folk music all across the land.  For his fifth album, “Yes, I Believe I Will,” Steve Howell and the Mighty Men—Chris Michaels on second guitar and bass, Dave Huffpauir on drums, and Jason Weinheimer on keys–take the listener on a predominantly-acoustic, ten-cut trip that covers several traditional folk/blues songs and some contemporary music done in Steve’s inimitable “lonesome” style.

Check out Steve’s take on Mel Tillis’ 1960 “Walk On Boy,” presented herein as a larger-than-life folk tale of John Henry Brown’s trials and tribulations as a levee camp worker.  Steve recounts the tales of gamblers, corn whisky, and pretty women learned from a Dock Boggs recording, “Country Blues.”  “Future Blues” ihas a mid-tempo shuffle beat and was written by Willie Brown, a contemporary of Robert Johnson mentioned by name in the lyrics of “Crossroads.”  Steve’s sparse arrangement and hushed vocals makes “Mr. Blue” even more of a tear-jerker than The Fleetwoods’ Number One version from 1959.  It also features a fine electric solo from Chris Michaels.  Steve closes the set with another traditional Irish folk tale of rascals, rogues, and robbers, “Rake And Rambling Blade,” with Chris’ muted banjo adding to the ambience.

We had two favorites, too.  Steve delivers the Biblically-inspired message of “KeepYour Lamps Trimmed and Burning” with serious conviction, realizing that this song was used in slave times as a signal to those escaping to the North to freedom via the Underground Railroad.  And, “Wasted Mind” takes a long, hard look at the generation(s) of youthful slackers who, altho they are the future of this country, are too busy “trying to sound like Eminem,” and “on a first-name basis down at the police station.”

Steve Howell can take any song and make it uniquely his own.  His deft fingerpicking and marvelous vocal style makes him an ideal modern-day troubadour, and “Yes, I Believe I Will” is another long, cool drink from his bottomless wellspring of great blues!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow.

Billy Thompson review…October 18, 2013…

BILLY THOMPSON

FRIEND

SOUL STEW RECORDS  606

SOLDIER OF MISFORTUNE–GARDEN–INTERLUDE–FARMER KENNY–HALF A MAN–MANY FACES–THEN I, MY LOVE–AIN’T BUT ONE–GOT TO BE DID–AIN’T NO SUNSHINE–WHILE THE WORLD’S WINDING DOWN

 

Billy Thompson sings in “Soldier Of Misfortune” that he’s a “seasoned veteran who’s seen many a campaign,” and, musically speaking, that’s the real truth.  He’s captivated audiences with his soulful singing and guitar playing all over the world, and, for his latest release, “Friend,” he wanted to re-create a live feel on the album.  Basic tracks were cut at an old grist mill, giving the proper ambience.  The eleven cuts present Billy at his best, delivering a good gumbo of blues, funk, and New orleans-based R & B.  Add to that the incredible lineup of guest musicians on board, and this is one sweet ride across the musical landscape.

Check out Little Feat’s Bill Payne on piano as Billy’s slide rides all over that Big Easy groove of  “Garden,” resurfacing later on the second-line pattern of “Satisfied,” finding Billy lookin’ to hook up with his “sweet angel” and “enjoy the ride!!”  “Farmer Kenny is a mid-tempo shuffle with a funky horn section and a message–do not take life for granted, ’cause you never know when you’ll be like Kenny and “buy the farm.”

“Interlude” is a strong, reverse-look at infidelity, from the man’s point of view, as Billy finds himself the one “played like a master plays his instrument,” as the minor-key slow-burn of this one is augmented by Billy’s flourishes of stinging notes that feel his pain.  He visits vintage soul on the plaintive “Half A Man,” and on the uplifting title cut where Billy vows to “always be there for you.”  He closes the set with a too-cool-for-school shuffle, “While The World’s Winding Down,” with great guitar and organ interplay between Billy and Phantom Blues Band keyboard whiz Mike Finnigan.  It’ll remind many listeners of those great cuts by Albert Collins and the Icebreakers.

We had two favorites, too.  The funk is in full bloom on the topical tale of what’s in one’s heart being more important than the color of one’s skin,” Many Faces.”  And, Billy pays a sweet tribute to Jimi, for, we all know, “there Ain’t But One voodoo chile,” and name-checks all the greats from Eric to Freddie and Muddy to Buddy.

Billy Thompson is one of those rare men who can play anything you want to hear any way you want to hear it.  That versatility is what makes “Friend” such an enjoyable listen!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow.

Sean Chambers review…October 16, 2013…

SEAN CHAMBERS

THE ROCK HOUSE SESSIONS

BLUE HEAT RECORDS  BHR 103

WORLD ON FIRE–SINCE I’VE BEEN DOWN–HEALING GROUND–MEANT TO BE–COME TO POPPA–YOUR LOVE IS MY DISEASE–HOLDING ON–JUST FOR THE THRILL–MONEY IN A MINUTE–IT HURTS TO SEE YOU GO–CHOO CHOO MAMA

The UK’s “Guitarist” magazine named Sean Chambers as on of the top 50 Blues Guitarists of the 20TH Century, and for good reason.  Sean served as Hubert Sumlin’s bandleader from 1998-2003, and, since then, has released four critically-acclaimed albums with the Sean Chambers Band.  As an aside, he is currently working as the front man for the seminal Seventies Southern-rock band Blackfoot.  (Hey Sean—next time you’re on stage, how ’bout “Train Train” for us, ok?)

Which brings us to his latest album for Blue Heat Records, “The Rock House Sessions.”  It once again finds Sean at his fret-firing best, this time recording as just Sean Chambers, using a strong cast of studio musicians.  In fact, this set has a great “Nashville Connection.”  It was recorded at Kevin McKendree’s Rock House Studio, and was produced by keyboard legend Reese Wynans, with Tommy McDonald on bass, and Tom Hambridge on drums.

The set kicks off with a Rick Vito tune perfect for the uncertainty that permeates today’s society, where Sean asks the Lord to “send more love to this World On Fire,”  His Doomsday guitar licks and TJ Klay’s wailing harp mesh perfectly to set the verboten  tone on this one.  Sean and Reese’s love ballad, “Meant To Be,” is reminiscent of Bob Seger’s classic ballads from the Seventies.  Speaking of Seger, Sean and Etta Britt, who adds the female vocal, pull out all the stops on a struttin’ read of “Come To Poppa.”  “Money In A Minute” is another fret-burner, this one the tale of a lover after “cold cash,” and will take money over real love any day.  The set closes with a strong tribute to the Lee brothers and Ten Years After, with the flash and fire of “Choo Choo Mama.’

We haxd two favorites, too.  TJ’s harp and Sean’s guitar visit classic Chicago blues with “Just For The Thrill,” while Gary Nicholson and Kenny Greenberg’s “Healing Ground” recalls vintage Faces or the Stones.

Sean Chambers just gets better with each release.  His playing and singing are impeccable, and the musicians he surrounded himself with on “The Rock House Sessions” seemed to inspire him to new heighs.  This set is highly recommended listening for all blues fans!!!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow.

The Sojourners review…October 14, 2013…

THE SOJOURNERS

SING AND NEVER GET TIRED

LITTLE PIG RECORDS   LPR 007

DON’T KNOCK–CHRISTIAN’S AUTOMOBILE–FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH–EZEKIEL–MILKY WHITE WAY–DRESSED FOR HEAVEN–WHY AM I TREATED SO BAD–HIDING PLACE–THIS TRAIN–WELCOME TABLE–I SHALL BE RELEASED–I AIN’T GOT NO HOME

There’s no doubt that these are some trying times, indeed.  For some folks, us included, good music offers not only a respite from the daily dose of bad news that permeates the media, but also offers a message that there’s hope for the future.  That’s the good news about the latest set from The Sojourners, “Sing And Never Get Tired.”  It’s a sweet tonic for what als us all.  These three incredible talents–Marcus Mosely, Will Sanders, and newcomer Khari McClelland–not only blend their voices in the spirit of traditional gospel, but, on this one, they show a gritty, bluesier edge than on their prior releases.  Produced by guitarist Paul Pigat, he encourages the trio to make the connection between the spiritual songs and the songs of social action that sprang up during the VietNam protests of the Sixties.

The set opens with a song made popular by Roebuck “Pops” Staples, “Don’t Knock–just walk on in Heaven’s door!”  Monkeyjunk frontman Steve Marriner adds harp on “Christian’s Automobile,” where “prayer is your drivrer’s license, and faith is your steering wheel.”  The harp and the harmonies give this one a deep delta blues feel.  Traditiona gospel is well-represented, too, thru cuts such as “Ezekiel” and “Milky White Way,” the latter featuring brilliant old-school gospel piano from Michael Van Eyes.  The fellows give an excellent read to another Staples Singers gem, “Why Am I Treated So Bad,” also freaturing a sweet spoken-word passage.  And, “This Train is bound for glory” follows an uptempo, spiritually-uplifting beat, again with harp from Mr. Marriner.

We had two favorites, too.  Perhaps the bluesiest cut on the set is the trio’s take on one of the seminal protest songs of the VietNam era, Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It Worth.”  And, the set closes with a breathtaking a cappella rendition of a Depression-era Woody Guthrie song, “I Ain’t Got No Home,” with only the men’s voices backed by hand claps.

With “Sing And Never Get Tired,” The Sojourners have created a gospel album done up in a very blues-oriented style.  It offers a ray of hope to listeners to remind them that the power of music can get you thru even the toughest of times.   Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow

Johnny Rawls review…October 11, 2013…

JOHNNY RAWLS

REMEMBERING O. V.

CATFOOD RECORDS  CFR-018

INTO SOMETHING (I CAN’T SHAKE LOOSE)–PRECIOUS PRECIOUS–BLIND, CRIPPLED, AND CRAZY–NICKEL AND A NAIL–POOR BOY–EIGHT MEN, FOUR WOMEN–DON’T LET MY BABY RIDE–ACE OF SPADES–I’VE BEEN SEARCHING–BLAZE OF GLORY

Altho Overton Vertis  (O. V.) Wright may not have enjoyed the commercial successes of his contemporaries such as Solomon Burke or Wilson Pickett, his voice was no less soulful.  He possessed one of those once-in-a-lifetime deliveries that straddled the line between passion and pain, the profane and the sacred.  Singing in church as a young man served him well throughout his career, and his seminal Sixties and Seventirs sides literally defined the genre’ of Southern soul.

Johnny Rawls was O. V.’s guitar player and bandleader from back in the Seventies, and was indeed with O. V. when the great singer passed on in November, 1980.  Johnny was approached to do a tribute album several years ago by XM Satellite Radio’s Bill Wax, but initially passed on the idea, until realizing that, perhaps, he was the best man for the job, as he recalled the way Wright captivated audiences with these classic songs.

And so it is–Catfood Records has released Johnny Rawls and “Remembering O. V.,” as he puts his own indelible stamp on nine of those great cuts, with one touching original, written by Johnny and bassist Bob Trenchard.  The Catfood Records house band, The Rays, also serve as Johnny’s backing crew throughout.

No one knows these songs better than Johnny Rawls, and his deep-rooted, soulful delivery breathes new life into these classics.  The horn arrangements are authentic and spot-on, and embellish perfectly cuts such as “Blind Crippled, And Crazy,” and the cleverly-done reference to suits in a deck of cards which finds  Johnny declaring “I’m the Ace Of Spades, and you can’t beat me in the game of love!”

One of the set’s highlights is the somber story of the dream-like sequence of being “convicted of loving you” by the “Eight Men, Four Women jury of love,” as Johnny really brings the heat on this one thru his heartfelt vocals and spoken-word passages.

Johnny is joined by another in the short list of soul men still around who knew O. V., Otis Clay, on the leadoff “Into Something (I Can’t Shake Loose), and “Nickel And A Nail,” with excellent guitar from Johnny McGhee.  They close the set with the brilliance of the aforementioned original, “Blaze Of Glory,” where both men vow to carry the torch for classic soul music “til my last dyin’ day.”

Johnny Rawls urges everyone to take the time to discover the music of his great mentor, and with a set as powerful as “Remembering O. V.,” Johnny can add himself to another short list–“they don’t make singers like him any more!”  Until next time—Sheryl and Don Crow