Archive for November, 2017

Ilya Portnov review…November 29, 2017….

ILYA PORTNOV

STRONG BREW

SUNNY AFTERNOON BLUES–SURFIN’ THE BALTIC SEA–DANCE OF A LONELY DOLL–CINCINNATI FLOW RAG–IN A TOWN GARDEN–BEHIND THE WALL–STRONG BREW–1928–TILL THE EARLY MORNING

Ilya Portnov was born in the USSR in 1989, and his dad was always playing British Invasion rock such as the Beatles and Stones around the house.  Young Ilya  started out with classical piano, but was always drawn to the sound of the blues harp.  He found one of his dad’s old ones, and, as the old folks say, “boys, that was all she wrote.”  Ilya studied seriously at the New England Conservatory in Boston, and became the first person to be accepted with their main instrument being the diatonic harp.  In his youth, he had a harp teacher in the USSR who taught him the “overblow” technique, enabling him to play a full chromatic scale on the diatonic.

Those unbelievable chops are all over the nine instrumental cuts of his debut solo set, “Strong Brew.”  He touches on blues, jazz, and, even some of his homeland’s music along the way.  The whole shootin’ match was parlayed over at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios out in sunny San Jose, and features Kid on guitar and bass, Chris Burns on keys, June Core on drums, Rob Vye on acoustic guitar, and Ben Andrews on the fiddle.

Ilya and Ben team up quite well on the set’s opener, the jazzy original “Sunny Afternoon Blues,” with the harp and fiddle playing in lockstep.  They re-appear a bit later with another swingin’ cut, a cool read of the Rev. Gary Davis’ “Cincinnati Flow Rag,” with Rob Vye on acoustic guitar.  And, he closes the proceedings with the tango-riffic “1928,”  followed by a brisk, Diddley-esque shuffle “Till The Early Morning,” with Kid wearin’ out that tremolo guitar.

We had two favorites, too.  “Surfin’ The Baltic Sea” is sho’ nuff a surf number, backed by Kid’s twangin’ licks.  And, “Behind The Wall”  is straight, no-chaser Chicago blues all the way, done up in a style that would make Carey Bell and both Walters proud as can be!

Ilya Portnov brings a ton of styles to the table and pulls ’em off with aplomb.  That versatility drips all over the grooves of this set, and all blues fans are urged to take a long pull from this mighty “Strong Brew.”  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow…The Nashville Blues Society.

 

 

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Miss Freddye review…November 26, 2017….

MISS FREDDYE

LADY OF THE BLUES

MFB 1001

MISS FREDDYE’S GONNA FIX YA–LUV YA BABY–LADY OF THE BLUES–DON’T APOLOGIZE, RECOGNIZE–HOME IMPROVEMENT–USE THE BACK DOOR–CHAIN BREAKER–DOORWAY TO THE BLUES–THESE ARE MY BLUES–FREIGHT TRAIN BLUES–A LOSING BATTLE

Miss Freddye is a fixture on the contemporary blues scene in and around Western and Central Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Eastern Ohio.  She’s so popular up in Steel City  that she’s known as Pittsburgh’s “Lady Of The Blues.”  She and her stellar backing band have just released her latest album under that same name, recorded at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios up in San Jose, CA.

Miss Freddye, like many of the greats before her, started out as a teenager singing in church.  As you listen to her, you’ll hear all her influences, from Koko to Etta to Sarah Vaughn to Denise LaSalle and many more.  Her big voice is the star of  this set, and she has several special guests backing her.   Kid Andersen is on guitars, and she employs four killer harpmen–Aki Kumar, John Nemeth, Andy Santana, and Brandon G. “Dr. B” Bentz.  Most all the cuts were penned by the band members, too.

Check out the jazzy duets between Freddye and John Blues Boyd.  First up is “Luv Ya Baby,” and, a bit later, they return with the torchy tale of two lovers on the skids with “Don’t Apologize, Recognize.”  A cool, Fifties-inspired rocker with honkin’ sax finds Freddye lookin’ for her lover to “make things right tonight” with a little bit of “Home Improvement!”  Everybody gets in a rhumba-riffic groove on “Chain Breaker,” while our heroine “wonders what I’ve done right” on the harp-driven, Delta-styled “These Are My Blues”

We had two favorites, too.  Freddye tells a no-good lover who’s on the way out to “Use The Back Door–I don’t want my friends to see you leave!”  This one has that good Denise LaSalle vibe running thru it, too.  And, John Nemeth is on the harp as “Miss Freddye’s Gonna Fix Ya Up fine,” after a long, hard day at work!  You can’t deny the danceable, Excello-fied groove pumping over this one!

Miss Freddye shows off her incredible vocal talents on what might well serve as her autobiography.  “Lady Of The Blues”  is sho’ nuff a powerful bowl of musical soup for your soul!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

Kevin Breit review…November 25, 2017…

KEVIN BREIT

JOHNNY GOLDTOOTH AND THE CHEVY CASANOVAS

STONY PLAIN RECORDS  SPCD 1397

CHEVY CASANOVA–C’MON, LET GO–I GOT ‘EM TOO–THE KNEE HIGH FIZZLE–COZY WITH ROSY–ZING ZONG SONG–THE GOLDTOOTH SHUFFLE–CRIME HOLLER–A HORSE BY ANOTHER STRIPE–ONE MO BO–DR. LEE VAN CLEEF

Think, for just a moment, of some of the most unique film franchises of the last 50 years or so.  You can start with The Man With No Name roaming the Old West, then move forward to the “Pulp Fiction”/”Kill Bill” movies.  Toss in a touch of humor with the Austin Powers phenomenon, then consider their soundtracks.  All of the music associated with these films is just as quirky as the characters within the films, and the same can be said of Kevin Breit’s latest set for Stony Plain.  Yep–one might say that all these film soundtracks have a little bit of Johnny Goldtooth And The Chevy Casanovas in them.  It’s one avant-garde, eclectically-wild ride!

Kevin is no stranger to the spotlight.  Literally a Canadian “musical treasure,” he’s played with Norah Jones, Rosanne Cash, and many others, and has appeared on albums by other folks that have won a total of ten Grammys.  His creativity is unparalleled, and the eleven cuts  (all of Kevin’s albums feature eleven cuts), are all instrumentals, each with its own uniqueness.  Also, most all the set was recorded in Kevin’s basement studio in his home, and he plays virtually all the instruments.

Leading off, the title cut, “Chevy Casanova,” has the vintage feel of being in a 50’s R & B club, with Austin Powers shootin’ craps in the back.  “C’mon, Let Go,” is full of retro twang, while “I Got ‘Em Too,” The Knee High Fizzle,” and “Cozy With Rosy” all have decidedly-C & W overtones.

Our two favorites closed the set.  “One Mo Bo” has that cool Diddley bounce, while “Dr. Lee Van Cleef” pays tribute to those classic “spaghetti Westerns” scored by Ennio Morricone.

It’s obvious that Kevin Breit had a lot of fun creating “Johnny Goldtooth And The Chevy Casanovas.”  It’s also a guarantee that this one is bound to make you smile.  It’s raw, wild, and emotion-packed!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

Mama Spanx review…November 24, 2017….

MAMA SPANX

STATE OF GROOVE

IDEAL SCENE MUSIC

ROCKET–WILD EMOTION–CRAWL–BEING BEAUTIFUL–WRONG SIDE OF THE GARDEN–ALLIGATOR BOOGALOO–THINKIN–ANYWHERE YOU ARE–STATE OF GROOVE

New York Blues Hall Of Fame inductee Nikki Armstrong loves a good groove and folks who know how to play it just right.  She’s assembled a seven-piece, bi-coastal funk band to back her, and they call themselves Mama Spanx.  Their debut set is called “State Of Groove,” nine cuts of classic, old-school funk and soul the way it was meant to be played.

Nikki collaborated with soul/jazz guitarist Melvin Sparks for several years prior to his passing in 2011, and it was he that coined the band’s moniker, and to whom the set is dedicated.  Nikki wields her supple vocal style to easily bring the funk to life on these nine cuts.  The set starts (and concludes) with the sound of a needle dropping onto a slab of vinyl, and Nikki draws the comparison of being in love to “a Rocket, and I’m never gonna stop.”  But, when things go south,  rock-bottom is often hard to “Crawl” away from.  “Thinkin” has overtones of vintage James Brown, with the horn section getting in a fine funk workout, and  Steve Johnson’s guitar scratchin’ it just like ol’ Jimmy Nolen used to.

Nikki’s got a softer side, too.  Through the use of only Harlan Spector’s piano and her vocal, she gets in that torchy, “quarter to three” mood for the tender “Anywhere You Are.”

Our favorite was easy.  A cool cover of Lou Donaldson’s “Alligator Boogaloo” has Nikki hittin’ just the right amount of sass, brass, and class for this red-hot  dance floor funk bomb.

The set closes with the band’s credo of spreading the funk and good times with each member contributing their individuality to create the whole package.  Hey–you can’t lose in this “State Of Groove,” and, spank you for listening, from Mama Spanx!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow.

Jangling Sparrows review…November 23, 2017…..

JANGLING SPARROWS

140 NICKELS

PALACE/FLOPHOUSE RECORDS

THE PARTY AIN’T OVER–LOOK AWAY TWICE–BURNIN’ A HOLE–TAKE HOME YOUR COAT–AIN’T WAITING FOR THE PAINT TO DRY–ONE GOOD PIECE OF ADVICE–GREAT AMERICAN LIMBO–CHEAPER DOWN THE ROAD–EYES OF A STRANGER–CATCH THAT RIDE–POPS IS COMIN’ UP

Americana-roots band Jangling Sparrows is the brainchild of guitarist/songwriter/singer Paul Edelman, and the latest set from this eclectic, North Carolina-based group is entitled “140 Nickels,” and, really, when you get down to it, is a look at all of us thru the eyes of a road warrior who’s learned a lot of life’s lessons over the course of his career, and  is more than willing to share them with us.  Toss in his wickedly-keen sense of humor and over-the-top guitar skills, and you can easily see how this album evolved.  Check out the leadoff,”The Party Ain’t Over ’til the roses die,” working in a clever lyric regarding “Hemingway and (Charles) Bukowski walked into a bar,” adding to the party-time groove  of this one.  “Look Away Twice” features a nice, second-line rhythm pattern, with NOLA-flavored accordion, and deals with the end of a love affair, where sometimes it’s best to walk away and make a clean break.  “Ain’t Waiting For The Paint To Dry” features sweet country-blues harp as it details the life of a traveling musician.  “Catch That Ride” continues that troubadour’s quest and zest to follow one’s dreams, and “One Good Piece Of Advice,” one of the set’s most uptempo cuts, might well be a good autobiography for Paul, as, during his formative years, he was always seeking something he could build upon and “take it on down the line!”

The set’s closing cut served as our favorite.  Sung from the perspective of the Lord Himself, “Pops Is Comin’ Up”takes a reflective look at mortality, and serves as a reminder to celebrate life to the fullest.

Paul derives the title of this album from his days as a struggling musician,  literally looking for loose change to buy something to eat.  The songs are well-crafted and reach out and grab you at first listen, and the Jangling Sparrows’ “140 Nickels” is a clarion call to never give up on a dream!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

Sweet Pea Atkinson review….November 22, 2017….

SWEET PEA ATKINSON

GET WHAT YOU DESERVE

BLUE NOTE RECORDS

ARE YOU LONELY FOR ME BABY–SLOW DOWN–AM I GROOVIN YOU–AIN’T NO LOVE IN THE HEART OF THE CITY–YOU CAN HAVE WAYTERGATE (FEAT. MINDI ABAIR)–YOU’RE WELCOME, STOP ON BY–JUST LOOKIN’–JUST ANOTHER LONELY NIGHT-LAST TWO DOLLARS–GET WHAT YOU DESERVE

We’ve been fans of Sweet Pea Atkinson from the beginning of his tenure with soul/blues outfit The Boneshakers.  For Sweet Pea’s latest album, he employs the services of guitarist and long-time collaborator Randy Jacobs for “Get What You Deserve” on Blue Note Records.  Seven of the ten cuts were produced by Keb’ Mo’, while the remaining three were done by Don Was, and Sweet Pea’s soul-man’s vocals carry the day.

Leading off is a cut from the Freddie Scott canon, “Are You Lonely For Me Baby,” and brings another Scott hit to life later in the set, a funky one for the ladies in the house, “Am I Groovin’ You.”  Speaking of songs for the ladies, Sweet Pea gets his smooth groove on, explaining to his lover that he’s “tired of being the second guy,” and urges her to “Stop On By, You’re Welcome.”

He pays tribute to some of the best in the bidness on our three favorites.  He shows some love to Johnnie Taylor with the iconic tale of the “lady at the casino,” and her “Last Two Dollars,” and comes out swinging on the hard-hitting, gritty story of “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City.”  The funk sho’ nuff hits the fan as Sweet Pea and Mindi Abair, our favorite “Sax Machine,” get down’n’dirty on a vintage cut from Fred Wesley And The JB’s, the Seventies’ throwback throwdown, “You Can Have Watergate!”

Sweet Pea Atkinson has always loved the soul/blues greats, and that love is all over the cuts that make up “Get What You Deserve.”  His unique voice and delivery puts him in their category, as he can be a crooner or a testifier, doing whatever the occasion calls for.  Fans, enjoy a fine set from a classic soul man!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

Ronnie Earl And The Broadcasters review….November 19, 2017..

RONNIE EARL AND THE BROADCASTERS

THE LUCKIEST MAN

STONY PLAIN RECORDS   SPCD 1396

AIN’T THAT LOVING YOU–SOUTHSIDE STOMP–DEATH DON’T HAVE NO MERCY–JIM’S SONG–HEARTBREAK (IT’S HURTIN’ ME)–HOWLIN’ BLUES–NEVER GONNA BREAK MY FAITH–LONG LOST CONVERSATION–SWEET MISS VEE–BLUES FOR MAGIC SAM–SO MANY ROADS–YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT LOVE IS

As a guitarist, Ronnie Earl is one of the most versatile and well-respected on the planet.  Since 1983, he has released a total of 25 albums,  11 for Holger Petersen’s Stony Plain Records.  The latest, “The Luckiest Man,” continues Ronnie’s penchant for albums that include his love for his “mother music,” which is traditional blues, along with forays into gospel, soul, and jazz.  With this album also comes a touch of sadness, as the long-time, beloved bass player for this band, Jim Mouradian,  passed away after a show back in January.  It’s one of Jim’s fond sayings that serves as the album’s title.  He’d always say, “I’m the luckiest man you know—and I don’t even know who you know!”

That spirit runs through this album, and there are numerous highlights.  Leading off is Diane Blue’s jazzy vocal over a swingin’ arrangement of  the Don Robey/Bobby Bland chestnut, “Ain’t That Loving You.”  She keeps that jazzy groove rollin’ with “Heartbreak (It’s Hurtin’ Me),” this one featuring fine keys work from Dave Limina.

It wouldn’t be a Ronnie Earl And The Broadcasters album without some cool, bluesy instrumentals.  Dave’s on acoustic piano this time as Ronnie’s guitar rides the rails for “Howlin’ Blues,” and everyone, including the horn section, gets their collective West Side groove on with “Blues For Magic Sam.”

The set’s most poignant moments served as our favorites.  Ronnie wrote the reverent, pastoral instrumental,  “Song For Jim,”  for his fallen comrade, and he uses a  layered, acoustic/electric guitar arrangement over Diane’s heartfelt-yet-chilling vocals in Rev. Gary Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy in this land.”  And, a slew of former Broadcasters from those early-80’s recordings, including Sugar Ray Norcia, (on vocal and harp), Anthony Geraci, Monster Mike Welch, Neil Gouvin, and Mudcat Ward guest on the ten-minute, slow-blues of “Long Lost Conversation.”

Ronnie Earl And The Broadcasters have more shades of blue in “The Luckiest Man” than Tom Noll used in his painting of Ronnie that serves as the album’s cover art.  This set serves as a loving tribute to Jim Mouradian, and fortifies Ronnie’s resolve to live with faith and gratitude,  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.