Archive for July, 2018

Karen Lawrence review…July 29, 2018…

KAREN LAWRENCE

AND BLUE BY NATURE

BEST OF…LIVE!

HOSTEL RECORDS

FUN AND GAMES–I HAD IT ALL WRONG–ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER MILE–YOU GOT A WAY ABOUT YOU–I’LL GET ALONG ALRIGHT–YOU’VE GOT ME WORKIIN’–IT’S BEEN SO LONG–IT’S ALL ABOUT YOU

The comparisons are inevitable with an artist the caliber of Karen Lawrence.  A music performer since the age of nine, Karen has fronted New Wave bands going back to the Nineties, but seems to have found her calling as a blues singer.  A double-CD of live material from 1998, entitled “Live By The Lake” was described by critics back in those days as “a bit on the wearing side.”  Cue up the rhythm guitarist from that set, Fred Hostetler.  He hand-picked and edited the original versions of the songs to make them, perhaps, more “critic-friendly, with Robbie Cribbs aiding in the remastering process.  The results are the eight vibrant cuts that comprise Karen Lawrence And Blue By Nature with “Best Of…Live!”

The cuts showcase Karen’s spot-on writing skills as she tackles life, love, relationships, and being female in a “good ole boys”-dominated industry.  Her vocals will immediately call to mind Joplin, Tina Turner, and Bonnie Bramlett from my generation, and the likes of Dana Fuchs in today’s contemporary arena, and they are emotion-packed and as powerful as they come.

Up first is a monster love ballad, where an uncaring lover is only playing “Fun And Games” with her emotions.  Rick Dufay is all over the wah-wah and lead guitar of the ultra-funky story that finds our heroine unable to “wait to play the field,” but, sadly, soon finds out, “I Had It All Wrong.”

Karen offers up a couple of cool, female-empowerment anthems that served as our favorites.  Set over a roadhouse-rockin’ arrangement, she tells off a lover who’s up to no good that “you can leave me flat, I’ll Get Along Alright!”  Then, Karen and Rick, (on that killer slide guitar!), strike a Delaney and Bonnie groove on “You’ve Got Me Workin’, like a fool for you!”

If any flaws did ever exist in the original versions of these songs, Fred and Robbie buried them—deep.  They left us with eight stunning recordings that define an ebullient, fun-loving, lover-of-life singer, Karen Lawrence And Blue By Nature, with “Best Of…Live!”  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

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Big Harp George review…July 28, 2018….

BIG HARP GEORGE

UPTOWN COOL

BLUES MOUNTAIN RECORDS  BMR 03

DOWN TO THE RITE AID–INTERNET HONEY–ALTERNATIVE FACTS–I WANNA KNOW–NOBODY’S LISTENING–IN THE FIRST PLACE–STANDING IN THE WEATHER–BULLETPROOF–COLD SNAP BY THE BAY–JUST CALM YOURSELF–UPTOWN COOL–LORD MAKE ME CHASTE

Big Harp George’s instrument of choice is that big ol’ chromatic harp.  Most players eschew it as it is larger and more cumbersome than the more common diatonic, but in George’s hands, it is a powerful conduit for his tongue-in-cheek, humor-laden lyrics, twelve of which comprise his latest set for Blues Mountain Records, “Uptown Cool.”  He uses his lyrics to mirror back to us in today’s society, all done in the spirit of fun and good-time blues.  George has also mastered the ability to fit his huge tone from that harp alongside a horn section so that the two peacefully coexist.

The party starts with one of our favorites, where, instead of goin’ down to the blues clubs, now he’s headed “Down To The Rite Aid,” where there’s “body parts saggin’ all over the place!”  Props to Chris Burns on the keys, and Little Charlie Baty on guitar, too.  The fellows hit a solid Memphis groove for the tale of the all-too-common “swipe left, swipe right” of today’s society and tryin’ to find yourself an “Internet Honey!”

George settles into a torch-y mode, with brush-stroked drums and Chris’ jazzy piano, on the story of a love affair that was over long ago, “Nobody’s Listening anymore,” since she’s always been “a bubble off plumb!”  The set closes with George’s plea, “Lord, Make Me Chaste, (but not yet!),” when it comes to liquor, women, and other vices!  It starts out as a gospel-fired, Sunday-morning-down-South testimonial, and climaxes as a full-on, Rampart Street romper!

We had two other favorites, too.  George and duet partner Loralee Christensen teach a valuable lesson about “ready, fire, aim” with the playful “Just Calm Yourself, and take your foot off the gas!”  And, today, there’s just no escaping the idea that “truth just distracts,” and “you can reach your full potential” on those ever-common “Alternative Facts!”

Big Harp George brings that big ol’ chromatic back into mainstream blues with the twelve originals of “Uptown Cool.”  Perhaps more importantly, he brings a sense of humor into his music that is sorely needed in this world today.  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow.

James House review…July 27, 2018….

JAMES HOUSE

AND THE BLUES COWBOYS

VICTOR HOUSE RECORDS

JAIL HOUSE BLUES–ARKANSAS WOMAN–AIN’T NO WAY–LONG WAY DOWN–GOOD LOVE

MOVING ON OVER–WELL RAN DRY–GONE AGAIN–BOOMERANG–BALLAD OF THE IKINGS

For years, James House has been writing songs for other folks, such as Martina McBride, Beth Hart, Joe Bonamassa, and Dwight Yoakam, to name just a few, while his fans have been clamoring for him to cut an album of his own.  That time has finally arrived, with the release of the self-titled “James House And The Blues Cowboys.”  Recorded in his rural Nashville studio, Cabin In The Woods,  James uses a unique “Side A” and “Side B” format to present these ten originals, each batch of five featuring different musicians.

Side A features James on vocals, guitar, and keys, and also has Nashville’s Will Kimbrough on guitars.  Highlights included the set-opener, the swampy tale of a young man with “too much time on my hands,” leading to those “Jail House Blues,” where, “I’ll never see the light of day.”  “Ain’t No Way” deals with a lover that there’s just no gettin’ over, even after tears, whisky, and moving away!  That same feeling of hopelessness after an affair ends is the theme of “Long Way Down,” complete with those “hounds of Hell barking right outside my door!”

Side B again features James on vocals, guitar, and keys, and this side utilizes the guitar talents of Lou Toomey, Todd Sharp, and our long-time acquaintance, Kenny Greenberg, whom we first met when he backed Bobby Bradford’s Blues Band down at Cantrell’s, circa 1980!  This lineup is responsible for perhaps the set’s most unique cut, the story of a man’s emotions that are so powerful that, when things go South, there ain’t enough tears to cry, “Well Ran Dry.”  “Boomerang” is the set’s most bluesy cut, with a backbeat heavy on the John Lee Hooker influence, as our lovers seem to be “off” as much as they are “on,” and the whole thing “keeps coming back to you and me!”

James House creates songs from his soul to which we can all relate, and has a voice that was perhaps best described by Beth Hart—“pure emotion, heart-breaking and soul-calming at the same time.”  Enjoy the fine original blues that comprise “James House And The Blues Cowboys!”  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

Sugar Brown review…July 25, 2018.

SUGAR BROWN

IT’S A BLUES WORLD..(CALLING ALL BLUES!)

HUMMINGBIRD–LOVE ME TWICE–LOUSY DIME–SURE AS THE STARS–IT’S A BLUES WORLD–HARD TO LOVE–OUT OF THE FRYING PAN–THOSE THINGS–WHAT I KNOW–TIDE BLUES–LOOKING FOR TWO O’CLOCK–DEW ON THE GRASS–BROTHERS

Sugar Brown is a Toronto-based bluesman who is the son of a Japanese father and a Korean mother. (His real name is Ken Kawashima).  Raised in Ohio, he moved to Chicago as a young man where he hooked up with Rockin’ Johnny Burgin And The Headhunters band, then later joined Tail Dragger’s La-Z-Boys, playing harp during the Nineties.  In 2017, he reached the Finals of the IBC’s, and is a global festival favorite.  Sugar loves all manner of blues expression, from deep in the Delta to contemporary and everything in between.  That love of varying sounds and styles is the theme of his latest album, and third overall, the aptly-titled “It’s A Blues World…(Calling All Blues!).   On this set, Sugar is on vocals, harp, and guitar, and his old friend (and ours, too!), Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, is on lead guitar.  All the songs are Sugar’s originals, and they all reflect his many influences that helped define his style.

The party blasts right outta the gate just like that V-8 motor made of modern design, with the juke-joint romp of “Hummingbird,” featuring a cool sax break from Minnie Heart.  “Love Me Twice” is loosely-derived from Dylan’s “It’s Not Too Late,”  with Farfisa organ throughout, and a recurring guitar riff from Rockin’ Johnny that is reminiscent of his “Grim Reaper” days!  “Hard To Love” is pure country-blues, as is the set-closer, which served as one of our favorites.  We all gotta realize that we’re all “Brothers” and “doin’ the best we can,” no matter what the circumstances!  This one is humorous, and sho’ nuff ain’t politically-correct!

Our other two favorites had Sugar taking a long, hard look at the shortcomings of today’s society.  “Lousy Dime” looks at “the lifestyles of the rich and famous,” that have “left us behind,” and features banjo from Nichol Robertson and haunting fiddle again of from Minnie.  Sugar’s mournful harp adds to the vibe of the minor-key title cut, where “there’s no other name” for a world filled “with so much shame!”

Sugar Brown has crafted an eclectic set of songs that covers a wide musical territory.  It ain’t no time to sit still and scratch your head and wonder, it’s time for “It’s A Blues World…(Calling All Blues!).  Until next time…Don and Sheryl Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

 

Young Gun Silver Fox review…July 24, 2018….

YOUNG GUN SILVER FOX

AM WAVES

CLION CD 26

MIDNIGHT IN RICHMOND–LENNY–TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT–UNDERDOG–MOJO RISING–JUST A MAN–LOVE GUARANTEE–CAROLINE–KINGSTON BOOGIE–LOLITA

British duo Young Gun (Andy Platts) and Silver Fox (Shawn Lee) pay a sweet tribute to the sounds of the Seventies’  pop music with the ten originals that comprise the much-anticipated follow-up to their 2016 debut, “West End Coast,” this one entitled “AM Waves,”  The songs are heavy on hooks and melody, and brim with great harmony from the fellows.

The set begins with its linchpin, and one of our favorites, “Midnight In Richmond,” with Young Gun on the vocal.  It finds our hero unable to get past the memory of a lost friend, where “time stands still,” and “I’m forever lost at midnight in Richmond.”  Poignant and thought-provoking, it is an excellent leadoff portent of things to come.  “Lenny” was actually borne of a dream from Young Gun, about Lenny Kravitz owning a bar and offering our lovelorn lad some serious “poison for my pain.”  This one has a cool Hall and Oates vibe going thru it, too.  “Underdog” is a funky, horn-and-keys driven ode to those that defy all odds, and, likely, there’s a bit of all of us somewhere in this song.  “Love Guarantee” strikes another danceable groove, and finds Young Gun vowing to a lover that his love will stand forever.  That groove continues toward the end of the set with our other favorite.  Lenny’s Bar is down on Kingston Street, where young lovers “rock beneath crystal waves” and perennially celebrate the days of their youth doin’ the “Kingston Boogie.”

For those of us who came of age during the Seventies, the music of Andy Platts and Shawn Lee evoke a slew of fond memories.  They capture the breezy vibe and harmony-and-hook-laden tunes that make Young Gun and Silver Fox and “AM Waves” a beautiful listen!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

Travis Bowlin review…July 22, 2018….

TRAVIS BOWLIN

SECUNDUS

MOONBEAM RECORDS

STRANGE VIBES–IN THE WORST WAY–DANCIN’ WITH THE DEVIL–ALL OVER AGAIN–DON’T LEAD ME ON–VICKSBURG BLUES–GO TO GIRL–YOU KNOW YOU ARE–CASAURINA SAND–I CAN LET GO–RECORD SHOP–SLOW COOKER MAN

“Secundus” is a Latin term for “second,” and also translates into “lucky” or “favorable.”  Travis Bowlin is the second so named after his father, and he considers himself lucky to be making a living doing what he loves.  Thus, his latest album is “Secundus,” featuring twelve originals written in whole or in part by Travis, and they capture his takes on life, love, and the eternal balancing act between the two.

Everything gets off on the good foot with the leadoff funky Broadway scratch of that wishy-washy woman who always keeps you guessing, and who’s heavy on the “Strange Vibes.”  Travis and another lover are “playin’ with fire” and “bound to get burned” when they go “Dancin’ With The Devil,” set over a rapid-fire arrangement with a brooding, Crossroads feel. The rootsy, Delta spin of “Vicksburg Blues” finds our hero in damage control mode, trying to get the girl he left behind to take that leap of faith and head to greener pastures in the Windy City!  This one plays out as a cool, novella-in-song, as does one of our favorites.  It has a jazzy backbeat, and is a tragic tale of two lovers, he, oil, and she. water, who are always at odds.  You know the worst is gonna happen, and it sho’ nuff does, as he “leaps off a cliff and washes up adrift, on the Casaurina Sand.”  “Record Shop” took us back to the days of our youth, where that was not only THE place to be, but, for us, THE place to work as well!

Travis closes the set with our other favorite.  It’s a wah-wah workout of the highest order, tellin’ the swagger-riffic tale of that hard-lovin’ “Slow Cooker Man,” guaranteed “to do it better than yo’ frying pan can!”

Travis Bowlin is one of those rare artists who has an old-school soul in a young man’s body, with the vocal chops to make it work.  He’ll be leaving for a tour of Iceland at the end of August, and with a set as strong as “Secundus” driving him, it’s a sure bet we’ll be hearing much more from this young bluesman in the future!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

Whitney Shay review…July 21, 2018….

WHITNEY SHAY

A WOMAN RULES THE WORLD

LITTLE VILLAGE FOUNDATION 102

AIN’T NO WEAK WOMAN–BLUES DOWN HOME–DON’T YOU FOOL ME NO MORE–LOVE’S CREEPING UP ON YOU–A WOMAN RULES THE WORLD–FREEDOM BLUES–GET IT WHEN I WANT IT–CHECK ME OUT–EMPTY HAND–GET DOWN WITH IT

Whitney Shay is a two-time winner of the San Diego Music Award for Best Blues Artist, and rightfully so.  She is a tremendously-talented, fantastic singer that will put you in the mind of folks such as Carla Thomas, Etta James and other Sirens of soul and blues.  Her latest album is her first in six years, and showcases her fine writing talents also.  It is entitled “A Woman Rules The World,” for the Little Village Foundation.  It is an album full of moments of empowerment, recorded at Greaseland Studios, with the honorable Kid Andersen producing and on guitars and strings throughout.  Jim Pugh is on keys and serves as executive producer as well.

This rockin’ soul party kicks off with the anthemic “Ain’t No Weak Woman, just ’cause I had a weak moment.”  It churns with gospel-fired intensity and features a great sax break from “Sax” Gordon Beadle himself!  Aki Kumar is on the harp and “everybody gets it” on the gritty “Blues Down Home,” while Brazilian blues master Igor Prado is on the duet vocal for a sexy and playful B. B. King-inspired tale of a soon-to-be affair where “Love’s Creeping Up On You,” one of our favorites.  Whitney gets right to the point with another lover that she just can’t quite get over, asking him to let her “Get It When I Want It, and you put it where I need it.”  Kid is all over the slide on this one, too.

We had two other favorites, both with Little Richard’s DNA all over them.  The set closes with Whitney gettin’ down ‘n’ funky on the dance floor, calling all players to come on and “Get Down With It!”  One of our all-time favorite songs in any genre’ was written by Eskew Reeder and Little Richard, and it’s a protest song from back in the day called “Freedom Blues.”  We’ve never heard a woman do it, ever, but Whitney makes it seem as if it were written for her!  She helps us all “get rid of that old man Hate,” and shouts out “everybody’s got to be free!  This one has Gordon on sax, and Kid is on the sitar, giving this one an authentic early-Seventies vibe.

Whitney Shay is a festival favorite, with incredible vocal chops and glamour-girl good looks.  What’s not to love?  Be it known that, for the blues, “A Woman Rules The World!”  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.