Archive for June, 2014

The Nighthawks review…June 17, 2014…

THE NIGHTHAWKS

444

ELLERSOUL RECORDS  ELL 1405

WALK THAT WALK–LIVIN ‘ THE BLUES–444 A. M.–YOU’RE GONE–HONKY TONK QUEEN–GOT A LOT OF LIVIN’–CRAWFISH–PRICE OF LOVE–HIGH SNAKES–NOTHIN’ BUT THE BLUES–NO SECRETS–LOUISIANA BLUES–ROADSIDE CROSS

The last time we saw The Nighthawks, we were shaking hands with them.  Yep, their table was next to ours at the 2011 Blues Music Awards in Memphis, and we helped to congratulate them on their award for Acoustic Album of the Year, “Last Train To Bluesville.”  Their latest set isn’t all-acoustic, but it does hearken back to the days of Sun Records, with nods to straight blues, rockabilly, and even an Elvis tribute!

Their latest is “444,” and serves as their debut for EllerSoul Records.  These guys have peen performing as a group for some five decades, with harp man and vocalist Mark Wenner logging in more than forty years at their helm.  Paul Bell on guitar and Johnny Castle on bass have more than a decade as members, and drummer Mark Stutso has five years in.  That’s why their sets are so well-received, because everyone gets a vocal turn and gets involved in the total production, making for a truly complete band effort.

The show starts with a cool call-and-response number “Walk That Walk,” with excellent group harmony behind Mark’s vocals.  “Livin The Blues” finds Mark “feelin’ so bad, I don’t want to get better,” while the title cut is stone Sun rockabilly.  “Honky Tonk Queen” is a fine example of roots-rock reminiscent of The Blasters, while the set closes with a “tragedy song,’ of sorts, as the “Roadside Cross” serves as a somber reminder of those whose lives were lost on the highway where the cross sits.

This set has a lot of pure fun, too.  Mark turns in two fine tributes to Elvis and his movies with a rockin’ “Got A Lot Of Livin’ To Do” (from “Loving You”) and a faithfully-quirky read of “Crawfish” (from “King Creole”)  And, there’s nothing quite like catching your lover intertwined with another, and explaining it as just “the blues, the whole blues, and Nothin’ But The Blues!”

Our favorite had a sweet country-blues feel.  Mark’s haunting harp  over Paul’s minimalist guitar lines makes their tribute to Muddy, “Louisiana Blues,” totally satisfying.

As their press release proudly proclaims, “before there was Americana, alt-country, or roots rock, The Nighthawks were already playing it!”  That’s why “444” may be their best set yet!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, Nashville Blues Society.

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Colleen Rennison review,,,June 15, 2014…

COLLEEN RENNISON

SEE THE SKY ABOUT TO RAIN

BLACK HEN RECORDS  BHCD 0074

ALL LA GLORY–WHITE FREIGHTLINER–WHISKEY, WHISKEY–OLEANDER–WHY DON’T YOU TRY–FANCY–BLUE WING–STAGE FRIGHT–COYOTE–THE FOOL IS THE LAST ONE TO KNOW–MY CREW–SEE THE SKY ABOUT TO RAIN

Colleen Rennison is a native Canadian singer-actress with roles in several Canadian features, and U. S. releases such as “Boot Camp” and “What Goes Up,” to name just a few.  We are also familiar with her work as the lead singer of the Vancouver-based blues-rock band, No Sinner, a clever play on words that is Rennison spelled backwards.  She has one of those sultry, soulful voices that lends itself well to her excellent choice of material for her debut for Black Hen Records, “See The Sky About To Rain.”  On this set, she takes a bit of a break from the raucous offerings of No Sinner and focuses on songs and songwriters that she has admired since childhood, allowing her voice to take center stage.

Steve Dawson serves as producer, and his incredible string wizardry is prevalent throughout the set.  Also joining in are some of Canada’s finest players, including Darryl Havers on keys, Geoff Hicks on drums, and Jeremy Holmes on bass.

On this set, Colleen creates a multi-genre’ affair.  There are traditional-sounding folk songs such as “Oleander,” featuring the McCrary Sisters on backing vocals, and Steve’s tremolo guitar.  Brush-stroked drums and Colleen’s quirky, partially-spoken-word vocal define the Bohemian vibe of Joni Mitchell’s “Coyote,” while Tim O’brien adds fiddle and mandolin over Colleen’s ramblin’ vocal on the country-blues of Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner.”  And, nowhere on the whole album does her voice convey more passion than on the somber, tragic tale of self-destruction that is Tim Russell’s “Blue Wing.”

These are highlights, indeed, but we had two favorites that show more of Colleen’s versatility.  She turns in a soulful read of Bobbie Gentry’s tale of a young woman’s simultaneous coming-of-age and escape from a poverty-stricken background, the immortal “Fancy.”  And, a song that would be right at home at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is a straight-up country cheatin’ song, where Colleen laments that “The Fool s The Last One To Know,” with Steve on the cryin’ pedal steel and Darryl wailin’ the fire outta that sixth chord on the piano.

Colleen Rennison is an amazingly-multi-talented young woman.  With “See The Sky About To Rain.’ she has taken songs that have a special meaning to her and wrapped her lilting, passionate voice around them for us all to enjoy!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, Nashville Blues Society.

Vaneese Thomas review…June 14, 2014…

VANEESE THOMAS

BLUES FOR MY FATHER

SEGUE RECORDS  SRVT 2014

SOUTHERN CENTRAL BLUES–10 X THE MAN YOU ARE–WRONG TURN (DUET WITH CARLA THOMAS)–WRAP YOUR ARMS AROUND ME–CORNER OF HEARTACHE AND PAIN–CAN’T EVER LET YOU GO (DUET WITH RUFUS THOMAS)–WHEN MY BABY GETS HOME–LOVE ‘EM AND LEAVE ‘EM BEHIND–SOUTHERN GIRL–LONELY ME–THE OLD MAN DOWN THE ROAD–BLUE RIDGE BLUES

Vaneese Thomas is the youngest daughter of blues and R & B icon Rufus Thomas, and sister to Carla and Marvell, all of whom recorded for Stax during its Sixties-Seventies heyday.  Vaneese has made a name for herself not only as a singer (with four albums already to her credit) but as a writer, arranger, and producer for the likes of Melba Moore, Patti Austin, and Diana Ross, to name just a few.  On her latest album for Segue Records, “Blues For My Father,” there are ten originals and two covers that pull together Vaneese’s recent studies of blues in particular, and her father’s early works, which were decidedly blues-related, in specific.

Vaneese’s vocals are incredibly spot-on, and literally letter-perfect throughout this set.  She leads things off with a nod to that mystical “Mystery Train” of Sun Records fame, as she begs those tracks to “bring my baby back” on “Southern Central Blues,” featuring some fine slide work from Tash Neal for ambience.  She gives an old lover the boot in the form of a struttin’, swagger-filled vocal that paints her new lover as “10 X The Man You Are!”  She cleanses herslf of another lover’s cheating ways thru the minor-key, deep blues of “Corner Of Heartache And Pain,” while she takes the opposite approach on the crunching, horn-fueled stomp of “When My Baby Gets Home,” because by then she’ll have packed up her “ebony Benz” and will be long gone!  The set closes with one of the most powerful vocals on the set.  On the country-blues feel of “Blue Ridge Blues,” Vaneese is the woman whose moment of indiscretion has cost her the love of her life.  Her chilling vocal pleas for his return are augmented perfectly by the equally-haunting acoustic guitar work of Rob Mathes.

We had two favorites, too.  She recalls the glory days of 926 E. McLemore on a cool duet with sister Carla, as both women tell a potential suitor  that “I made a Wrong Turn when I left you!”  And, the set’s most heart-rending moment is a product of modern technology.  Through the efforts of Vaneese’s husband and the set’s producer, Wayne Warnecke, her vocals are intertwined with those of her late father, Rufus, on a bittersweet duet on one of Rufus’ early Stax hits, “Can’t Ever Let You Go.”

Vaneese Thomas has given blues fans and fans of Rufus Thomas reason to celebrate with the release of “Blues For My Father.”  Her vocals are meticulously done, as are the arrangements that accurately trace the history of the music that will forever bind her and her family together.   Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, Nashville Blues Society.

 

Ronnie Earl And The Broadcasters review…June 13, 2014…

RONNIE EARL AND THE BROADCASTERS

GOOD NEWS

STONY PLAIN CD  SPCD 1372

I MET HER ON THAT TRAIN–CHANGE IS GONNA COME–TIME TO REMEMBER–IN THE WEE HOURS–GOOD NEWS–SIX STRING BLESSING–MARJE’S MELODY–BLUES FOR HENRY–PUDDIN’ PIE–RUNNIN’ IN PEACE

On May 8, 2014, at the 35TH Blues Awards, Ronnie Earl was named Best Guitarst.  June 17 will usher in more “Good News,” which just happens to be the title of his eighth set for Stony Plain.  it consists of ten predominantly-instrumental cuts that explore Ronnie’s love for the blues–in fact, he refers to it as his “mother music,” and, as such, tries to reach into the soul of the listener to help them feel what he’s feeling as he plays, which is yet another reason why that Best Guitarist award was so well-deserved.

Joining Ronnie are the Broadcasters, who have been with him since the late Eighties.  Dave Limina is on keys, Jim Mouradian on bass, and Lorne Entress on drums.  Also, Diane Blue adds vocals on a few cuts, and guest guitarists Nicholas Tabarias and Zach Zunis round things out.

Ronnie’s guitar literally speaks volumes on this set.  “Time To Remember” is a breezy, samba-styled jazz groove, while “Puddin’ Pie” has a mellow, mid-tempo swing thing goin’ on.  Dave Limina’s original piece serves as the title cut, and his B-3 work gives this one a decidedly good-time gospel feel.  “Blues For Henry,” co-written with Hubert Sumlin, is a perfect “3AM and it’s last call” song, where you can immerse yourself in that slow, deep groove and just let it wash your troubles away.  And, the set closes on a somewhat somber note, with the tribute to those affected by the Boston Marathon bombings from April, 2013,  as “Runnin’ In Peace” features  lyrics written by Ilana Katz Katz, who was near the finish line when the first bomb exploded.  Diane Blue’s vocal mixed withRonnie’s guitar and Dave’s B-3 really convey the deep emotions associated with this song.

We had two favorites, too.  The set’s leadoff cut is “I Met Her On That Train,” and the vintage sounds he brings out of his guitar will transport you back to a time when Elvis and Junior Parker rode that train that was always “sixteen coaches long.”  And, the inspiration for the album itself is tied in historically with the 50TH annicversary of the release of Sam Cooke’s album, “Ain’t That Good News.”  It featured a song that would become the anthem for the Civil Rights movement, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” and Diane Blue’s fever-pitch vocal captures the passion and spirit that was Cooke’s original intent.

Ronnie Earl has that innate ability as an artist to create things of beauty out of one’s deepest pain, using just the strings on his guitar.  “Good News” adds more luster to his legacy as one of the finest guitarists of our generation.  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow.

Forrest McDonald Band review…June 11, 2014…

FORREST MCDONALD BAND

TURNAROUND BLUES

WORLD TALENT RECORDS

TURNAROUND BLUES–CHECKING ON MY BABY–RIVER OF TEARS–CROSS MY HEART–I’M A FOOL–V-8 FORD–R &  R BYE BYE BYE–ONLY LOVE–WOMAN ACROSS THE OCEAN–FUNNY THING BABY–NOW I KNOW–STAY OR WALK AWAY–TWO FOR THE MONEY, PARTS 1 & 2 (INST.)

Yes sir, buddy.  That indeed is Austin native Forrest McDonald’s guitar all over one of the most recognizable songs of the entire rock era, Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock And Roll.”  It’s been used to sell cat food and Tom  Cruise immortalized it in film in “Risky Business.”   (You can read all about how it came to pass on Forrest’s website, and also over at  http://www.songfacts.com–it is a very cool story!)   Forrest has a bluesman’s soul, tho, and he has just released his twelfth set for World Talent Records, “Turnaround Blues,”  fourteen cuts that show why Forrest McDonald has had a career that covers some fifty years—he’s a helluva guitar player who can bring a crowd to its feet with a driving boogie shuffle, or bring ’em to their knees with a slow-burner, and even get a bit tripped-out on the spacey jam that he shares with Tony Carey that closes the set, “Two or The Money.”

Along with Forrest on guitars and Tony on keys, there is Andrew Black on vocals, Lee Gammon on bass, John McKnight on drums, and Jon Liebman on vocals and harp.  They really lay down a tight groove over the whole set, starting with the rockin’ funk of the title cut, a song that Forrest has been playing since 1972.  Jon Liebman’s harp drives Junior Wells’ “Checking On My Baby,” and he and Tony do some serious wailing on “Cross My Heart.”

As the set progresses, the music turns a deeper, darker shade of blue, and the fellows get into some ferocious jamming.  “Woman Across The Ocean” is Forrest’s and Andrew’s “answer” to Freddie King’s “Woman Across The River,” and this one has a happier ending, and Andrew sho’ nuff kicks ass on the vocal, too. He shines on another slow blues, too, Forrest’s tribute to the classic sounds of the 40’s and 50’s, “Only Love.”

We had two favorites, too.  Jon Liebman burns up the reeds on his harp and the grooves on the record on the Chicago blues classic, Cotton’s kinda-morbidly-funny tale of “ridin’ down to your burial in my V-8 Ford!”  Presented here as a slow blues, it’s a killer.  And, Andrew Black turns in perhaps the set’s most outstanding vocal performance, reminiscent of Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes, on the soulful “I’m A Fool,” another good ‘un that Forrest has had in his back pocket since 1970.

Forrest McDonald pulls no punches.  Everything he plays is “Certified Blue” all  the way through.  With “Turnaround Blues,’ he and the band have cooked up another sure-fire winner!!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow.

 

 

Steve Freund and Gloria Hardiman review…June 10, 2014….

STEVE FREUND AND GLORIA HARDIMAN

SET ME FREE

DELMARK RECORDS  DE 837

YOU GOT ME (WHERE YOU WANT ME)–THAT’S ALL RIGHT–JAMMIN’ WITH SAM–THE WAY YOU LOVE ME–LET ME DOWN EASY–DR FEELGOOD–WELL I DONE GOT OVER IT–NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES–THE THINGS I USED TO DO–KIDNEY STEW BLUES–HOMEWORK–KIDDIO–SHOPPIN’ AND SNACKIN’–SWANEE RIVER BOOGIE

The good folks over at Delmark Records have done it again!  Hot on the heels of their re-issue of Queen Sylvia and John Embry’s “Troubles” earlier this year from the Razor label, they have just released “Set Me Free” (also originally on the Razor imprint), the very first recordings of guitarist Steve Freund, keyboard whiz Ken Saydak, and the unbelieveable vocal stylings of Gloria Hardiman!

Steve Freund was born in Brooklyn,  but became a true Chicagoan thru his guitar work on several of his own sets for Delmark, as well as numerous guest spots for other artists.  Gloria Hardiman was literally an unknown when this set was recorded.  All that was for sure was that she possessed one of the toughest, most passionate voices in any genre’, honed thru a lifetime of gospel influences from her family’s church worship.  She was “discovered,” as it were, by the set’s producers at one of Steve’s after-hours gigs, and the seeds for this set were sown.

The music is classic Chicago soul and blues at its grittiest, down-home best.  Gloria’s lead vocals grace nine cuts, while there are two outstanding instrumentals, and Steve takes a turn on lead vocal on “The Things I Used To Do,” with Ken’s barrelhouse piano and Sam Burckhardt’s sax backing.  The set closes on a somewhat unusual note, but it is well worth mentioning for us.  A rare 45 RPM of Ken Saydak ends the set.  He has long been one of our favorites, and is one of those genuine unsung heroes of the Chicago scene.  His “Shoppin’ And Snackin” is ne of the funniest, most politically-incorrect songs we’ve ever heard!  And, Fats Domino’s “Swanee River Boogie” has always been a favorite of ours, and Ken matches its fire and intensty with just him and his 88’s.

Steve and Gloria really turn up the heat, tho.  She sings Jimmy Rogers’ “That’s All Right” from the woman’s point of view, with Steve’s blistering runs and Sunnyland Slim’s piano adding emphasis.  Ron Sorin adds harp on the classic minor-key read of “I can’t do my Homework any more,” and a jazzy version of Brook Benton’s “Kiddio.”

Her gospel influences fired up her two best performances, tho.  She downright testifies as the pleading lover in “Let Me Down Easy,” then gets her groove on over Steve’s West-Side sounding guitar on Aretha’s ode to the ultimate lover, “Dr. Feelgood!”

Obviously, this is a set that we cannot say enough good things about.  Steve Freund has since relocated to the Bay area, but one could tell from this debut he would be a great player, and Gloria Hardiman’s dazzling vocals led to the title of this project, as the power of the blues presented herein will sho’ nuff “Set Me Free!!”  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, Nashville Blues Society.

The Reverend Shawn Amos review…June 9, 2014…

THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS

TELLS IT

PUT TOGETHER RECORDS

HOODOO MAN BLUES–(THE GIRL IS) HEAVY–I’M THE FACE–SOMETHING INSIDE OF ME–GOOD MORNING, SCHOOL GIRL–SOMETIMES I WONDER

Bluesman Shawn Amos is the son of former William Morris agent Wally “Famous” Amos, (yes, the cookie mogul!), and R & B vocalist Shirlee May.  He cites his biggest influence was just being around the L. A. scene as a young man which led to him producing and performing with Solomon Burke.  As such, he has dedicated his lsatest release, a six-song EP entitled “Tells It” to Burke’s memory.

Shawn is also an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church, and his ability to “testify” translates well onto the groovres of these four covers and two originals.  Shawn is on harp and vocals, with Don Medina on drums, Chris Roberts on guitar, Ed Terrio on bass, and Anthony Marinelli on keys.

And, testify he does, about his amazing lover, “(The Girl Is) Heavy,” not in the “kilogrammatical” sense, but, let’s just say that everything she does, she sho’ nuff does it good!  Cool accompaniment comes in the form of Chris’ vibrato guitar and funky B-3 from Anthony.  Shawn’s harp takes center stage on a swampy, Excello-fied take on the Who’s “I’m The Face,” as Shawn turns up the swagger over Don’s pounding backbeat.  And, Shawn treats us to a bit of upper-register falsetto on his vocal in the stripped-down slow-burn of Elmore James’ “Something Inside Of Me,'” with Chris’ guitar ringin’ like a bell over the whole thang.

As for favorites, we gravitated toward the first and the last.  Shawn again channels that braggadocio of Jumior Wells in a burnin’ read of “Hoodoo Man Blues,” with his harp unleashed and Chris doin’ his best Buddy Guy-amped-thru-the-Leslie interpretation.  And, the set-closing original, “Sometimes I Wonder,” is a perfect example of Shawn’s R & B influences.  When he sings tthis one, he digs deeply into his soul, telling his lover that “you’re gonna see what my love can do!!”   For us, this one ended much too soon…..

The Reverend Shawn Amos had a literay “blues Epiphany,” and the strong, testifyin’ vocals in this set are honest, sincere, and full of the passion he brings to all his endeavors.  Sho’ nuff, Shawn Amos “Tells It” like it is!!  Until next time…sheryl and Don Crow, Nashville Blues Society.