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Bette Smith review…September 10, 2017…

BETTE SMITH

JETLAGGER

BIG LEGAL MESS RECORDS  BLM 0545

I WILL FEED YOU–JETLAGGER–I FOUND LOVE–FLYING SWEET ANGEL OF JOY–MANCHILD–DURTY HUSTLIN’–SHACKLE AND CHAIN–MOANING BENCH–DO YOUR THING–CITY IN THE SKY

Bette Smith possesses a voice that’ll take you right back to the day when women such as Etta, Koko, and two other famous Bettys–Wright and Davis–ruled the airwaves, and music was real, with no outside artificial help.  That sass, power, and attitude is all over her debut full-length album, “Jetlagger,” for Big Legal Mess Records.  It’s also produced by Jimbo Mathus, who’s  on guitars, keys, and backing vocals throughout.

Betty grew up poor in the notoriously-rough Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, and sang in church under the tutelage of her father, the church choir director.  The ten cuts on this set mix covers hand-picked by Mathus and originals chose specifically for Bette to get the optimum results from her outstanding range.

The set begins with shimmering guitars over Bette’s lovelorn vocal on “I Will Feed You, with everything I got.”  Her rich gospel roots run deep on  “Flying Sweet Angel Of Joy,” and on the set’s closing tune, made popular by Mavis Staples, “City In The Sky,” where “we sho’ ain’t gonna miss the city we leave behind.”

The funk steals the show, tho,and Bette can sho’ nuff bring it on.  One of Jimbo’s originals, “Manchild,” has Bette just wanting someone “I can teach my lovin’ to!”   Jimbo lays down some more mean slide on the country-blues tale of the “Moaning Bench,”  and Bette flat-out gets all over the groove of Isaac Hayes’ “Do Your Thing.”

Nothin’ hit harder than “Durty Hustlin,” tho.  Another of Jimbo’s originals, Bette gets down ‘n’ durty with the funkified tale of what goes on with “all my friends scufflin’ in the streets all night.”  All this one needs is a visit from John Shaft and a big ;ol  DAMN RIIIGHT!

Bette Smith and the band cut “Jetlagger” live in the studio, and she threw out all her inhibitions (as if she ever had any!)  and just let her voice take the lead.  There’s no pretentious pop here–just pure, raw, emotion-packed soul power the way the greats did it, and is a welcomed set from a dynamite talent!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

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Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx review…..September 9, 2017….

GARY LUCAS AND NONA HENDRYX

THE WORLD OF CAPTAIN BEEFHEART

KNITTING FACTORY RECORDS

SUN ZOOM SPARK–MY HEAD IS MY ONLY HOUSE UNLESS IT RAINS–SURE ‘NUFF YES I DO–I’M GLAD–THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTE BLUES (OR THE BIG DIG)–HER EYES ARE A BLUE MILLION MILES–SUCTION PRINTS–SUGAR AND SPIKES–WHEN BIG JOAN SETS UP–TOO MUCH TIME–WHEN IT BLOWS ITS STACKS–TROPICAL HOT DOG NIGHT

The world knew Don Van Vliet as Captain Beefheart.  From 1967 to 1982, he released a total of thirteen albums with several incarnations of his Magic Band.  The Captain was one of the original envelope-pushers, melding psychedelic rock, blues, jazz, funk, and most everything under the musical sun to create an avant-garde sound that arguably changed the face of popular music, and opened up the acceptance of other like-minded artists.  His untimely passing in 2010 left a huge void in the music world, but some of his contemporaries are bent on keeping his sound alive and introducing his music to a whole new younger audience.

Jazz and soul singer Nona Hendryx is a cousin to Jimi—the family spelled their name with an “i”–and she was also a part of Patti LaBelle and the BlueBelles.  She has long been an admirer of the Captain’s music, and she possesses the pipes to match his multi-octave vocals.  She is in part responsible for one of our favorite Christmas songs of all-time.  Head over to YouTube and search out Graham Parker and “Soul Christmas,” and you’ll see  what we are talking about.

To do a Captain Beefheart tribute, you also must have a stellar guitarist.  Gary Lucas is just such a player, as he played on the Captain’s last two albums, and was the perfect choice to pull this off.

The whole affair is entitled,  “The World Of Captain Beefheart,”  for Knitting Factory Records.  Gary and Nona tackle some of the Captain’s best works, and give equal importance to his soul-blues cuts as well as his more quirky, left-of-center offerings.

There are highlights aplenty.  Nona’s soul background is ideal for the tale of how far a lover will go for another, “My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains.”  That breezy vibe continues in the Sixties-pop flavored “I’m Glad,” and the groove of both of these is right in Nona’s wheelhouse.

Gary’s guitar goes all over the sonic landscape in the good-time instrumental, “Suction Prints,” and sets the stage for the more offbeat cuts.  Nona gets into the partly spoken-word groove of “The Smithsonian Institute Blues (Or The Big Dig)” over Gary’s droning lead lines.  The set closes with another oddity, this one full of sly double-entendres’, on a “Tropical Hot Dog Night, like two flamingos in a fruit fight!”

Our favorite was easy.  Gary lays down some mean Delta-fried slide boogie as Nona rides the blinds on the bluesiest cut on the set, “Sure ‘Nuff Yes I Do,” with killer 88’s from Jordan Shapiro.

Captain Beefheart was a true cult hero and an acquired taste.  Thanks to the efforts of Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx, with “The World Of Captain Beefheart,” this lovable icon and waaay-ahead-of-his-time artist will always be fondly remembered.  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

Ali Handal review…September 9, 2017….

ALI HANDAL

THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID

RED PARLOR RECORDS  RDP 1706

YOU GET WHAT YOU SETTLE FOR–SMOKE MORE POT–THE WORLD DON’T OWE YOU A THING–LET GO–I LOVE MY PUSSYCAT–WHAT IS AND WHAT SHOULD NEVER BE–ENOUGH FOR ME–THANK GOD FOR BIRTH CONTROL–NOT A PRETTY GIRL–EVERYBODY’S SO NAKED–BETTER MAN–LAST LULLABY

Women in blues and rock have always had a certain degree of what we like to refer to as “badassery”—a combination of talent, wit, wisdom, and swagger that serves them well in a predominantly male-dominated biz.  Memphis Minnie and Etta James had it, Bonnie Raitt, Kacey Musgraves and Samantha Fish all have it, and you can add Ali Handal to the list.  A buzz-worthy guitarist, her writing is geared so that it almost seems like she’s conversing with the listener.  You’ll find that out as you listen to her latest release for Red Parlor Records with the too-cool-for-school title of “That’s What She Said.”   There are twelve cuts encompassed by ten originals either written wholly or in part by Ali, and two unique covers.

Ali was gonna be a pianist in her formative years, that is until she got a load of Plant and Page.  She punted the 88’s and grabbed a guitar and never ever looked back, and that passion in both her playing and composing is what makes this set so entertaining.  There are songs of love, lust, and loss, with an underlying thread of hope throughout, as Ali is a cancer survivor, and uses this music as much to heal and empower as to entertain.

Up first is a slide-heavy story of relationships, where “you complain about him endlessly, but you call him back for more,” and, in the end, “You Get What You Settle For.”  Her life-long adoration of felines is documented in the sly-and-ultra-sexy, “I Love My Pussy.Cat!”  Another touch of humor comes thru in the pitfalls and pratfalls of parenthood spelled out in “Thank God For Birth Control.”  This one has a jazzy groove, and you can hear Steve Aguilar bangin’ away on a toy piano!  Ali waxes philosophical as she ponders life without a serious relationship, “what if I’m Enough For Me?”

We had three favorites.  Her Plant-Page tribute is a soulfully-bluesy read of “What Is And What Never Should Be.”  Another shot of humor aimed at “breakin’ all my Mama’s rules” is her secret wish to “join an all-girl band” and just “Smoke More Pot!”  The set’s tour de force, tho, is her powerful ode to persevering in the face of cancer, realizing that, when you get “hit by a sucker punch,” sometimes you just gotta “Let Go of the things that just don’t matter.”

Ali Handal has had songs featured on “Sex And The City,” “I Carly” and other shows, and her fans love her soulfulness, sass, and strength in her songcrafting.  “That’s What She Said” is the voice of a brilliant and talented young artist!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

Syl Johnson reviews…September 6, 2017…..

SYL JOHNSON

DIFFERENT STROKES ’69-’71

TWINIGHT RECORDS  TRI2005-001

DIFFERENT STROKES–TRY ME–COME ON SOCK IT TO ME–SORRY BOUT DAT–I CAN TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS–DRESSES TOO SHORT–I’VE GOT THE REAL THING–I RESIGN–SOUL DRIPPIN–SOMEONE LIKE YOU–I FEEL AN URGE–HOME WORK–TRYING TO GET TO U–WIGGLES–SAME KIND OF THING–GOING TO THE SHACK–NEW DAY–LET THEM HANG HIGHER–ODE TO A SOUL MAN–SKINNY LEGS–TAKE ME BACK–DON’T GIVE IT AWAY–ABRACADABRA–COME ON SOCK IT TO ME (INST.)

SYL JOHNSON

IS IT BECAUSE I’M BLACK?  ’69-’71

TWINIGHT RECORDS  TRI2005-002

RIGHT ON SISTER–IS IT BECAUSE I’M BLACK–COME TOGETHER–CONCRETE RESERVATION–WALK A MILE IN MY SHOES–ONE WAY TICKET–KISS BY KISS–BLACK BALLOONS–GET READY–TALK ABOUT FREEDOM–NEW DAY–THANK U BABY–YOUR LOVE IS GOOD FOR ME–WE DO IT TOGETHER–THAT IS WHY–WIGGLES–TOGETHER FOREVER–IS IT BECAUSE I’M BLACK 2006–MS FINE BROWN FRAME–TELL THE TRUTH

Syl Johnson is one of the last living links to the classic soul era of the Sixties and Seventies, himself a contemporary of legends such as Al Green, Pickett, and Solomon Burke.  Syl recorded for Twinight Records during his heyday, and they have painstakingly reissued these ground-breaking sides over two CD’s, “Different Strokes 69 -’71,” and “Is It Because I’m Black?-’69-’71.”  Each have arrangements done by Donnie Hathaway, and we offer our review for each set herein.

Syl has a rare vocal quality that combines the suave cool of Sam Cooke with the fire and brimstone of James Brown.  And, as with many artists of that era, being socially-conscious carried as much weight as having a hit on the charts.  As such, over the course of these two CD’s, you will find dance floor grooves standing alongside songs of social and racial injustice.

We graciously begin with the second set, full of these hot-button cuts, as well as a few vintage love songs.  The title cut says it all–Syl spoke for his entire race in this song, where he knows that, deep down, “something is holding me back.”  “Concrete Reservation” deals with the gritty conditions of ghetto life, while he urges us all to realize our need to be free, “Talk About Freedom.”  And, in our favorite politically-charged cut, Syl urges politicians to “Tell The Truth”  about the Katrina disaster in 2005, with this immortal lyric—“the government or Katrina–who is meaner?”

The first set is considerably more upbeat, with songs primarily geared for the dancers and the dance crazes of the day–the Boston Monkey, Philly Dog, Boogaloo, and others.  His first hit is here, “Come On Sock It To Me,” along with other gems such as “Different Strokes,” “Wiggles,” and three of our favorites, “Going To The Shack,” “Dresses Too Short,” and its “answer song,”Let Your Dresses Hang Higher.”

Syl could sing for the ladies, too.  Check out “I Resign,” and a great duet with Syleena Johnson’s mother, Brenda, on “Someone Like You.”

The rap community owes a huge debt of gratitude to Syl Johnson and his music, as Syl is one of the most sampled R & B artists of all-time,  with artists such as Wu-Tang Clan, Tone Loc, and many more using their music to spread Syl’s legacy.  As for us, being able to revisit and review these historic sides from our youth has been both an honor and a privilege.  Syl Johnson is not only a dynamite entertainer, he became a spokesman for an entire race thru the seminal sides contained in these two excellent collections.  Right On, Syl!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

Hamilton Loomis review…September 5, 2017….

HAMILTON LOOMIS

BASICS

HAM-BONE RECORDS  HBR 109 CD

SUGAR BABY–IF I WOULD’VE–CANDLES AND WINE–REASON–AIN’T WHAT IT AIN’T–BREAKING DOWN–LOOKING INTO A DREAM–GETTING SO BIG–CLOUDY DAY–COME AND GET ME–LOVE CAN DO–PRAYER–FUNKY LITTLE BROTHER

Hamilton Loomis has been on our blues radar since we first saw him at B. B. King’s Nashville ’round 2003 or so.  Even back then, you knew he was somethin’ special, with his soulful vocals and ability to play virtually any instrument.  His myriad of talents are all on display with his latest release for Ham-Bone Records,”Basics,” thirteen cuts all written or co-written by Hamilton.  And, fans, there ain’t been this much pure funk on a platter since Bruno Mars went uptown.   Hamilton is playing for a cause, too.  His three-year-old son has hyperinsulinism, (HI), which causes dangerously-low blood sugar.   He dedicates the sweetly-funkalicious opening track  to Congenital Hyperinsulinism International,  as their researchers continue to work to combat the disease.  This tune is a cool single-chord progression named  after what doctors call children with this disease, “Sugar Baby,” featuring Hamilton on some sweet harp!

Hamilton knows a thing or two about love and relationships, too, both the good and not-so-good kind.  “If I Would’ve” traces the “coulda woulda shoulda” of a love affair that never was, because he wouldn’t “take that chance.”  But, everything’s gonna be alright when you find that special one that “makes the sun come out,” “Reason.”  It follows a breezy, summery groove, as does his story of growing up as a child, then having kids of his own, and just how fleeting life really is, “Getting So Big.”

The pitfalls of being in a long-distance affair feeds the funk of “Cloudy Day,” and Hamilton busts out his best Prince Rogers Nelson falsetto vocals.  “Prayer” goes out to all the families with children who are all, ’cause “all we can do is try.”

We had two favorites, too.  A clever play on words closes the set, as Hamilton and several of the Houston-area youngsters he mentors give a  spirited, hi-octane read of “Funky Little Brother.”  And, if you want a straight blueser, then cue up the harp-and-guitar driven look at an affair on the rocks.   Yup–when “she ain’t thinkin’ ’bout you no more,” the best thing to do is man up, ’cause “It Ain’t What It Ain’t, it is what it is, so let it be what it’s gonna be.’

A great man once said, “It’s too funky in here,” and Hamilton Loomis has showed up and showed out by going back to the “Basics.”  Plus, he’s on a mission to spread the word on HI, making this one a definitive “can’t ,miss!”  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow.

Jake La Botz review…September 4, 2017….

JAKE LA BOTZ

SUNNYSIDE

HI STYLE RECORDS

HOW I WISH SHE WAS MINE–HOBO ON A PASSENGER TRAIN–SUNNYSIDE–FEEL NO PAIN–INFLATABLE DUCK–THE HOTEL (FIX ME NOW)–FOR NICKELS AND DIMES–HARD TO LOVE WHAT YOU KILL–DAMSEL IN DISTRESS–THE TREES IN CALI

Jake La Botz dropped out of high school and followed his Muse by heading to the famed Maxwell Street in Chicago and learning the blues directly from masters such as Honeyboy Edwards and Jimmy Davis.  Adapting their traditional blues into his own unique sound,  Jake has become part Kerouac, part Sid Vicious, and part Haggard, and could be the “poster person” for “been there, done that.”  He’s been an addict in southern California, an actor, and a Buddhist Meditation instructor who now calls Nashville home.  His life experiences play out over the course of the ten original tunes of his latest release, “Sunnyside,” for Hi Style Records.

The characters in his songs mirror some of the stories from Jake’s life–grifters, down on their luck denizens of cheap motels, and small-towners looking  for the “big break” that never materializes.  The arrangements are, for the most part, sparse, to let Jake’s messages take front and center.  The subject matter is sometimes quite dark and foreboding, with precious few lighter touches.

The dangers of falling in love with your best friend’s girl is laid out in “How I Wish She Was Mine,” with a vibe that has a vintage Chess feel.  Jake describes his idea of freedom as being a “Hobo On A Passenger Train,” while folks who have a true passion for their music are those who busk “down subway stairs” for “Nickels And Dimes.”  “Feel No Pain” is Jake’s ode to summertime, with our favorite being the tale of the hotel that “stands in disrepair” filled with society’s rejects begging for their own fixes, with the appropriate title of  “The Hotel (Fix Me Now).”

Jake La Botz is an artist who takes traditional blues, folk, and gospel and forges his own sound, transferring it  into his characters, literally from “life’s other side.”  Enjoy the ride of his latest set, and try to keep on the “Sunnyside.”  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

Trevor Sewell review…September 2, 2017….

TREVOR SEWELL

CALLING NASHVILLE

AN AMERICANA ADVENTURE

SOME DAY–MOUNTAIN OF GOLD–FADE TO GREY (FEAT. JANIS IAN)–MATTER OF TIME–LONG TIME AGO (FEAT. TRACY NELSON)–YOU AIN’T WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR–TEAR IT DOWN–STAND NEXT TO HIM–WAY YOU ARE–BLANKET OF HOPE–SHADOWS (FEAT. JANIS IAN OM PIANO)

Trevor Sewell hails from the UK, and spent several years as an accomplished “session man” before hitting out on his own.  He’s got five albums, six American tours, and a whopping seventeen international awards already under his belt.  For his sixth album, he ventured to the Sound Emporium here in our fair city and got Geoff Wilbourn on board as producer.  The result is eleven all-original cuts of blues, roots, and Americana, aptly-titled “Calling Nashville :An Americana Adventure.”  On this set, the multi-skilled Trevor is on vocals, bass,  mandolin, guitars and keys, and has several well-known folks as guests, including Tracy Nelson, Janis Ian, and Vickie Carrico on duet and backing vocals.

These cuts indeed take the listener on an Americana adventure of sorts, as the aforementioned genres’ included herein are augmented by Trevor’s unique, burnished-quality vocal style.  Leading off is a gospel-fired cut that utilizes Kellen Michael Weinrich’s fiddle before blasting off with Doomsday guitars to warn us all to “Some Day, break that chain, and treat each other right!”  “Mountain Of Gold” deals with relationships where one party is seemingly never satisfied, “chasing the horizon that will always disappear.”  The set takes a jazzy turn, with Trevor and duet partner Janis Ian at odds over having each other’s backs during hard times, “Fade To Grey.”  Ian returns to help close the set, as her piano and Trevor’s vocal are the only instruments in the somber ode to that one true love, “you chased the Shadows away.”

We had two favorites, too.  Tracy Nelson adds the duet vocal on the story of a couple who’ve had their share of good days and bad days, vowing to stay true to themselves, “Long Time Ago.”  And, on the set’s bluesiest rocker, Trevor’s guitar fires off one furious run after another  over the swingin’ groove of a potential paramour  who just “Ain’t What I’m Looking For.”

Many fans wonder where the “real” music is nowadays.  We’ve had the good fortune to report on much of it within the pages of this humble forum, and artists such as Trevor Sewell are right in the middle of it, giving listeners a varied collection of great songs within “Calling Nashville.”  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow.