Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2012 Blues Blast Magazine
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In This Issue
Terry Mullins has our feature interview with harmonica great Phil Wiggins this week.
We have six CD reviews for you this week! James "Skyy Dobro" Walker reviews a new release by Big Papa and the TCB. Rainey Wetnight reviews a "Blues Opera" by Pete Herzog. Mark Thompson reviews a new CD from the Kilborn Alley Blues Band. John Mitchell reviews a new CD from Fiona Boyes. Ian McKenzie reviews a new CD by Amy Hart. Gary Weeks reviews a new CD by Mariella Tirotto & The Blues Federation. Steve Jones reviews a new CD from Kathi McDonald & Rich Kirch. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
From The Editor's Desk
Hey Blues Fans,
It has been a rough January to start off the new year for Blues fans. As you likely have already heard, we lost a couple of the greats last week with the passing of Johnny Otis followed 3 days later by the death of Etta James.
Excerpts from our good friend Bob Corritore's newsletter on these two Blues Legends:
Johnny Otis - December 28, 1921 to January 17, 2012
"Born Ioannis Alexandres Veliotes, Johnny Otis died at age 91 at his home in the Los Angeles suburb of Altadena after years of decreasing health. He began his musical career in 1939 as a drummer with Count Otis Matthew's West Oakland House Rockers. By 1945 he was leading his own band, and had his first big hit that year with "Harlem Nocturne". In 1950 he had ten songs that made the Top 10 on Billboard Magazine's Best Selling Retail Rhythm & Blues Records list. His early radio broadcast success led to a weekly variety show on television. "The Johnny Otis Show" was on TV in Los Angeles for eight years.
Johnny Otis discovered many legendary Rhythm and Blues singers such as Esther Phillips, Willie Mae "Big Momma" Thornton, Etta James, the Coasters, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Hank Ballard and Jackie Wilson. He produced and played on the original recording of "Hound Dog" with "Big Momma" Thornton. Johnny has been inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame, into the Blues Hall of Fame and into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame."
Etta James - January 25, 1938 - January 20, 2012
"Born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles, Etta began singing in church at age 5 and launched a professional music career while still in her early teens. In 1955 she teamed up with producer/musician/ bandleader/talent scout Johnny Otis to release "The Wallflower" which rose to #1 in the Rhythm & Blues charts. In 1960 she signed with the Chess label's subsidiary Argo Records where some of her most beloved hits were released.
Some of Etta's career highlights included opening for the Rolling Stones, winning Grammy and Handy Awards, singing the national anthem at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and being inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993 that unquestionably solidified her stature as a true music legend.
In 2008 the movie Cadillac Records featured Beyoncé portraying the Etta James character during the Chess Records years. Beyoncé's version of Etta's "At Last' from that movie would win a Grammy. The last few years found Etta dealing with many health issues including blood infection and leukemia. Through all of her trials and tribulations, Etta James will remembered for all time as a singer who, perhaps better than anyone else, could become the song."
We will miss these great Blues legends! We wish their friends and family well.
Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!
Featured Blues Interview - Phil Wiggins
It can take a whole lot of courage and conviction for a person to function outside of their normal comfort zone.
Whether they’re pushed - or whether they step outside by their own free will - leaving one’s area of security can be a very daunting thing to do.
But once outside of that protective cocoon, the possibility exists for some amazing - if somewhat unexpected - things to take place.
For harmonica virtuoso Phil Wiggins, that certainly seems to be the case these days.
After playing side-by-side with guitarist John Cephas for over three-and-a-half decades, Wiggins found himself at a virtual crossroads of sorts after his longtime partner and friend passed away in 2009, rendering one of the blues’ all-time great duos into a solo act.
While it’s not been an easy thing, Wiggins has still managed to bounce back onto the scene.
“It’s been a process for me, with all the different people I’ve been collaborating with since my partner passed on,” he said. “It’s been a lot of new adventures for me. As you can probably imagine, after playing with the same person for almost 35 years, it can be a difficult thing. But I’m trying to move forward on my own now.”
That journey of moving forward without John Cephas has led Phil Wiggins down a couple of new paths. Paths he may not have chosen to travel in years past.
“I am completely out of my comfort zone. And to be honest, I hadn’t really realized what kind of a narrow comfort zone that I was in, until I had to get out of it,” he said. “I’m constantly stretching out now. But my life right now is certainly out of what my comfort zone was.”
Since Cephas passed way almost three years ago, Wiggins has found several other sparring partners to play the blues with, including Rev. John Wilkins (son of Rev. Robert Wilkins, author of “Prodigal Son”) and West Virginia bluesman Nat Reese.
But Wiggins’ most intriguing post-Cephas pairing has been with Corey Harris.
Not strictly just a bluesman, Harris’ work has always been filtered through his love and devotion to reggae and world music, that in addition to his strong bond with the sounds of the American Delta.
To put it in plain terms, Harris is certainly no clone of any other performer and plays by his own set of rules.
“At this point, that’s probably the main thing that I’m working on, my combo with Corey,” Wiggins said. “We’ve had some great adventures. He’s a phenomenal musician, but he has a totally different approach, or aesthetic, than John did.”
The Piedmont blues, an East coast style that is known for its finger-picked, ragtime rhythm, was where John Cephas’ guitar playing was deeply rooted. As a matter of fact, since the late 1970s, it would not be a stretch at all to say that Cephas and Wiggins were the preeminent performers of the Piedmont blues.
But Harris’ entry into the orbit of Phil Wiggins has shaken and stirred things up a bit.
“His playing has more of an African kind of style to it, I guess you could say,” said Wiggins. “It’s got more of a groove, or a rhythm to it, with each of us jumping out front and soloing. It’s music that’s great for listening to, but it’s also more in the tradition of dancing. It’s an interesting change for me.”
That is a change that Wiggins has eagerly embraced and one that he is settling into with each passing performance.
“The combination of the two voices and instruments working together creates a different kind of groove than I’m used to playing,” he said. “When I was playing with John, he would play a couple of lines and then leave me some room for soloing. And that’s great to get that kind of immediate gratification. But for me, it’s also a pleasure to play – to create this weaving of fabric into this rhythm - this groove. It’s been a great thing. With John, I was mostly doing rhythm chops while he was singing, but Corey has such a powerful voice, with so much volume, that I can play in unison or play a counterpoint that won’t overpower his singing.”
But Wiggins hasn’t yet, nor will he probably ever, turn his back on the Piedmont style that he’s been associated with for so long.
He’s also been pairing up with Rick Franklin to play the blues.
“He’s more in the ragtime, Piedmont kind of guitar playing. He’s a friend of mine who lives closer to my home,” Wiggins said. “We’ve been playing a lot together. And the cool thing about playing with Rick is, he’s sort of a perfectionist in his approach to the guitar. And the songs that he brings to the table are all pretty much hand-picked by him because of some unique creativeness on the guitar, or some unique melody vocal. And it’s nice because I can latch onto those on the harmonica and it makes for a tighter kind of approach.”
Wiggins and Harris made a recording for Sirius XM Radio back when they first started playing together and fans of the duo can pick up a copy at one of their shows.
With a backlog of material that he’s complied over the years, Wiggins’ hope is to enter the studio in the near future and emerge with some of those tunes pressed onto a compact disc.
“Over the 30-some years that I played with John, I’ve been making up songs. And John and I maybe recorded eight or 10 of those original songs,” he said. “And now I have a whole lot more that I’m looking forward to recording. I like the idea that my songs might be considered useful and might help to strengthen or bolster someone’s life. That’s what I hope, that one or two of my songs will touch somebody and maybe help nourish them and help them in a positive way somehow.”
As he looks to carve out new ground in the ‘second half’ of his career, Wiggins is well aware that his name will be forever entrenched as being a purveyor of the Piedmont blues.
And while some labels or categories can really stifle, or even stunt, a career, Wiggins doesn’t seem bothered by such trivial things at this point in his life.
“I think at this point, people do probably think of that when they think of me. But it’s not really a problem. I love the Piedmont style,” he said. “A lot of the songs that I write myself are rooted in that style, and I like that style, because it has that lively rhythm to it. But it’s a very versatile style, too. It’s not a set-in-stone tradition. It’s a living, changing tradition. I know some ethno-musicologists have a very limited definition of things, but I’m fine having that label. But at the same time, I’m not going to limit myself. I’m going to stretch that label, too. Someone once described John’s and my music as urban acoustic blues and I like that tag. ”
Cephas’ and Wiggins’ long association really began when the two played in ‘Big Chief’ Ellis’ band back in the mid-1970s. After Ellis passed way in 1977, Cephas and Wiggins struck out on their own as a duo.
A partnership that was born despite a two-decade age difference (Cephas was older) and varying individual listening pleasures when it came to music.
“When I met John, he had been raised in that whole East coast style of blues. The music that we first played together when we met was stuff that he grew up with. My family’s roots are from Alabama, so I guess you could say that’s more of a Delta blues influence,” Wiggins said. “And I was listening to everything from delta blues to psychedelic music to Motown … rhythm and blues … I was into all that.”
The one common link that helped bridge the gap of the 24-year age difference between the two gentlemen and their collective music tastes was the sound of acoustic blues.
“Somehow the acoustic, rural blues - whether they were Piedmont or Delta or Texas - that’s what grabbed me and touched and inspired me the most,” said Wiggins. “And that was also what John really liked.”
Wiggins also liked the sound that the tickling of ivories made, and that turned out to have a huge impact on the way he chose to blow the harp.
“When I first started playing harmonica, I was more influenced by other instruments than I was by harmonica players. I stole a lot from piano. When I first started playing, I would say piano music was some of my favorite,” he said. “And if you listen to some of the licks and things I like to do, you can definitely hear the piano triplets and things in there. I also stole a lot from guitar and horn players, too. One of my favorite songs to play is “C.C. Rider” and the version that influenced was ‘Bunk’ Johnson’s, the trumpet player from New Orleans. But him and Louis Armstrong and a lot of sax players, they really influenced me.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that Wiggins did not also fall under the spell of some of the all-time great harp blowers.
“Some of my favorite harmonica players are guys like Little Walter, even though he played more of a Chicago style. He was such a genius of phrasing. When I first heard his music, it just stayed on my turntable constantly,” Wiggins said. “Maybe it was a mistake, but I never really sat down and tried to learn his songs note-by-note. I just listened to them constantly because I loved it so much and I must have absorbed some of that style. Also, Junior Wells to me is one of the most soulful players. And then there’s Sonny Boy Williamson – Rice Miller – who I really love. I use my hands a lot when I’m playing and that’s the thing I like about him. He had that big sound he shaped with his hands.”
Much like it does for most bluesmen that end up in it for the long-haul, music found Wiggins at an early age, right in his own house.
“When I was growing up, there was a lot of music going on in the house. My father played the piano and sang in church and my mother sang in church and my older brother is a very good guitar player and singer,” he said. “And the best musicians in my neighborhood were always hanging around to play with my brother, so there were lots of jam sessions going on and I’d always sneak in there.”
Wiggins was born and grew up in Washington D. C., but spent time down south at his grandmother’s house in Alabama over the course of several summers.
“When school was out, we’d go down and spend time at what my Mom called ‘home’ which was right outside of Birmingham. And going to my grandmother’s church down there had a huge influence on me,” he said.
Those early influences continue to have a big say in the way that Wiggins plays the blues, regardless of who is sharing the stage with him.
And even though it’s taken a bit of effort to get back into the swing of things since the passing of his longtime friend and musical foil, Wiggins still takes the stage with the same pride and passion that he always has.
“Corey and I just played to a sold-out audience in Cooperstown (N.Y.), but aside from Corey, the folks that I’ve been playing with, the concert presenters and promoters are not that familiar with. So, it’s been hard for me to get work at times,” he said. “They’re top-shelf people that have been at this for a really long time, but they’ve just not traveled that much, or have gotten a whole lot of exposure so far.”
Wiggins knows that with time, that will change. He also knows that people will always have a need to hear and experience the real-deal blues.
“The more technology takes over our lives, the more I think people will be reaching out for something real, something like a touch-the-earth kind of thing,” he said. “And I think people want, and will continue to want, acoustic blues - because, it is real.”
Interviewer Terry Mullins is a journalist and former record store owner whose personal taste in music is the sonic equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder. Works by the Bee Gees, Captain Beefheart, Black Sabbath, Earth, Wind & Fire and Willie Nelson share equal space with Muddy Waters, The Staples Singers and R.L. Burnside in his compact disc collection. He's also been known to spend time hanging out on the street corners of Clarksdale, Miss., eating copious amounts of barbecued delicacies while listening to the wonderful sounds of the blues.
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Featured Blues Review 1 of 6
Big Papa and the TCB - Dance with the Devil (Double CD)
Dream Pickle Music
Electric Disc: 10 songs; 40:20 minutes, Acoustic Disc: 10 songs; 39:02 minutes
Styles: Modern Electric Blues; Traditional Acoustic Blues; Blues-Rock; Jump Blues; “Back Alley Brawlin' Rhythm 'n' Blues;” “Rock ‘N’ Swing”
What do fans of the Super Bowl, Electric Blues, and Acoustic Blues have in common? Quite possibly, Big Papa and the TCB. This award winning California band had their song “Go Big Papa” featured in a Papa John’s Pizza commercial during the NFL’s 44th premiere game. And, the band’s fourth and latest CD has two discs of the same ten songs, one electric and one acoustic.
Chris "Big Papa" Thayer has been performing on the Southern California scene since 1990. As the front man of the River City Blues Band he got a first class seasoning in Blues guitar.
In 2006 he was nominated for the Inland Empire Music Awards in the “Best Male Vocalist” category. Shortly thereafter, he hooked up with several like-minded fellows who became “The TCB (Taking Care of Business)”. Laying down the low stuff is blues veteran Steve “Ice Cream Man” Brown on bass. Ray “Mr. Pittz” Wilson is the sticks and skins man gluing it all together.
These award winners have also recently had two songs appear in the hit A&E TV series, “Breakout Kings.” They won “Best Song” and “Best Blues Album” at the 2008 Inland Empire Music Awards for their second CD, “12 Gauge Insurance Plan.” Their first disc, Nice ‘N’ Greazy” won three 2007 IEMAs including “Best Live Band,” “Best Blues Album” and “Best Song.” Further, they were nominated for “Best Swing” in the 2008 Orange County Music Awards.
Their latest CD, “Dance with the Devil” was mastered by Grammy Award winning Robert Hadley of the Mastering Labs. Of the ten songs, eight are Thayer originals surrounding two covers: Lowell Fulson’s “Bending Like a Willow Tree” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Evil,” oddly credited to “M. Morganfield” [Muddy Waters] instead of correct song author Willie Dixon. While not breaking any new ground, the songwriting certainly meets contemporary standards of excellence.
The first disc’s songs are performed in their "electrified" versions featuring plenty of hot, slide guitar, and the second features the same songs in an old school, stripped down acoustic style. Jumpin’ Jack Benny Cortez adds tasty harp to four of the acoustic versions while Spiro Nicolopoules adds acoustic guitar and banjo on a couple.
The discs open with “Play with Fire,” a up-tempo warning that improper handling of love will lead to burn. And, how many times does this irony come true in our lives, track 2, “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”?
The real attention grabbers arrive with track 6, the haunting “Dead Wrong.” Performed as a tragic but powerful slow Blues number on both discs, the guitars are outstanding. Marc Gaston helps fill the bottom with tasty organ while Barbara Paul adds some deadly background harmony vocals, and Kelly McGuire adds percussion.
Track 7 is an excellent reading of Fulson’s “Bending Like a Willow Tree” with a wonderful wah-wah guitar solo in the electric set counter-balanced with Gaston’s soloed piano notes.
Track 8 (electric), “The Preacher” will get its first spin on the Friends of the Blues Radio Show in Hour 2 where we like to go completely upbeat, and the slide guitar here is kicking. This “Preacher” gives a bad name to all men of the cloth just like Rock and Roll gave 1950s music a bad name.
Track 9 tells about a female just the way most guys like them, a combination of “Naughty and Nice.” She’s got “an innocent smile, but there’s danger in those eyes.” This mid-tempo vehicle allows for plenty of workout on each instrument, especially guitar.
A first rate production and effort with some really good songs. Check out this hot band’s latest 2-CD package complete with a 16 page liner with photos. It reflects plenty of effort and professionalism and gives listeners unprecedented choice.
Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and at www.wkccradio.org in Kankakee, IL.
Featured Blues Review 2 of 6
Pete Herzog - Steel Guitar: A Blues Opera
2 CD set; Disc One runs 58:21, and Disc Two runs 41:52
Styles: Mellow Acoustic Guitar Blues; Libretto (Storytelling) Tracks
“Rock Opera” was transformed from an abstract term into evocative reality with the release of The Who’s album “Tommy.” Even lukewarm rock fans will never forget the saga of a “deaf, dumb and blind kid” who becomes a modern messiah -- while playing pinball! Few musicians have attempted to follow in The Who’s footsteps and write “operas” of their own, even if they wouldn’t meet the traditional definition of the word. Nevertheless, the Northwest's Pete Herzog has taken this bold step and creatively composed “Steel Guitar: A Blues Opera.” In it, Herzog combines 22 original songs with libretto, or storytelling, tracks. Together, these selections tell the tale of a timeless, traveling steel-bodied, chrome-finished acoustic, resonator guitar (a National brand?) and how it enriches the lives of those who play it. It’s a one man show easily holding attention as Herzog proves adept at guitar and warm and rich in vocals and narration. Always focused on the guitar, the story moves at a quick pace.
“Steel Guitar” tells the story of this instrument as it is passed from owner to owner. As it journeys, we meet colorful and lifelike characters, such as “Too Slim, Clyde, Willie, Stella, and The Sheriff.” The guitar is purchased and then, variously, is stolen, won in a card game, and inherited by later generations of players. According to Pete Herzog's website “Through its travels, the resonator sound is enriched by each person who plays it. Herzog’s 22 original songs are the glue between the stories and the lives of these characters, filled with love, loss and the pursuit of happiness, with a little rambling and gambling thrown in!”
Herzog's take: Listeners "will hear [my] songs give a flavor of blues history. [I] include musical styles that showcase elements of blues roots and development of different styles. I have often thought about vintage instruments I have played and wondered at their history and felt all those who had played them had colored their sound.”
Pete Herzog started playing at age eight on a lap steel. He learned the slide and playing using all the “harmonics and overtones he could wring out of an instrument. During the folk revival he switched to a regular guitar, but eventually was drawn to playing bottleneck slide. Pete discovered blues, bluegrass, and other roots-type music. Not knowing better at the time, he learned to play with a flat pick, not traditional but giving him a different style and sound. When he first heard the blues he was taken with the style, so similar to Hawaiian music in approach yet so different in sound and effect. Both types of music use the instrument as another voice, using all the harmonics and overtones to make the guitar sing."
As for “Steel Guitar,” it’s not exactly on par with “Tommy” (there are no songs as addicting as “Pinball Wizard,” for example), but it’s noteworthy in its concept and execution, and it’s perfect for making miles go by on car trips or a relaxing evening at home!
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 32 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.
Featured Blues Review 3 of 6
Fiona Boyes – Blues For Hard Times
16 tracks; 57.30 minutes
Fiona Boyes was the first Australian to win the coveted IBC solo award in 2003 and has also been the only Australian to be nominated for a BMA, so she has made quite an impact in a short space of time. On her new CD she returns to a stripped down, mainly acoustic approach, playing either solo or in a small combo format. The CD was produced by Mark ‘Kaz’ Kazanoff at Wire Studios in Austin and an array of Austin musicians help out: Jimi Bott and Frosty Smith on drums, Derek O’Brien on guitars, Nick Connolly on piano,Dave Kahl, John Mazzacco and Larry Eisenberg on bass. Bob Margolin puts in one of his trademark slide guitar features on “Baptised In Muddy’s Sweat” and producer Kazanoff adds harmonica to two tracks. However, on half the tracks it is just Fiona playing solo, sometimes accompanying herself on foot percussion.
The material is mostly original with just five covers. There is a fuller sound on tracks like JB Lenoir’s “Grandma’s Advice” although it is still just a trio of Fiona, Kaz Kazanoff on harp and Jimi Bott sounding like three men on the drums. “Guys Be Wise” is by Dan Grove and is a response to Sippie Wallace’s “Women Be Wise”, a song covered by Bonnie Raitt in the past. The track differs from most of the CD in having a fuller sound with a tuba and clarinet combination providing something of a classic era band sound. Fellow Australian Nick Charles’ “No Friends” adds bass and a second guitar but remains essentially an acoustic sound. A solo cover of Rev Gary Davis’ “Mean World” reminded me that there are a lot of songs with a very similar lyric and that this is not quite the same as Little Walter’s “Mean Old World”! The final track on the CD is a cover of another Aussie Chris Wilson’s “Jesus Took Possession” which sees Fiona alone with her guitar and foot on a song that harks back to old gospel songs and contrasts well with Fiona’s own tune “The Preacher” which immediately precedes it with its catchy tune and memorable chorus: “there ain’t nothing like a yellow haired girl to make a preacher lay his bible down”. The two songs together make a fine end to the album.
“Baptised In Muddy’s Sweat” takes a story related by one of Fiona’s friends about seeing Muddy live in concert and (as her excellent notes on the songs on her website explain) you could not have such a song without Bob Margolin’s expert representation of Muddy’s slide style. “Drink To Your Health” is a funny song, apparently about Fiona’s ex: “I’m sitting here drinking all alone; I’m gonna drink to your health, baby, until I ruin my own”.
Most of the songs here tell a tale: “God And The Devil” recounts the classic ‘good versus evil’ issue and how we are all at times torn between the two. Opener “Nickels And Dimes” takes an optimistic view of the current economic difficulties over a jaunty rhythm and some nice finger picking Piedmont style guitar. “I Let The Blues In” is an autobiographical piece about how Fiona found herself in the music she now pursues as a career. I particularly enjoyed the gentle beat of “High Time”, a song about getting away from your troubles: “I ain’t gonna check my mail, ain’t gonna do my books… you can’t make me look”, enhanced by Kaz Kazanoff’s excellent harp playing.
In an essentially acoustic setting there is nowhere to hide for the vocalist, so it is to Fiona’s credit that she can meet that challenge well. She has quite a deep voice, with just a touch of grit when needed and the words are entirely clear throughout the disc. There is a lot to appreciate here and the CD should add further to Fiona’s growing reputation. Definitely recommended to those who enjoy acoustic blues, solid musicianship, interesting songs and strong vocals.
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music.
Featured Blues Review 4 of 6
Amy Hart - Congratulations
Painted Rock Records
10 tracks 34.18mins
Born in Chicago, Amy Hart is a singer/songwriter who is developing quite a following as a purveyor of smoky blues, with a tinge of contemporary Nashville country music.
Here working with Nashville alumni, Wayne Killius (d), Howard Duck (b), Bob Bryant (g) Steve Bryant (b) and with some excellent, if occasional, resonator work by Gene Bush. Amy gives us 10 originals, moving from the opener, the title track Congratulations, a mid paced, loping song with a clever lyric through Get Ready, with some nice guitar work, to the (in my opinion) outstanding track on the CD, Rich Ass Daddy, a song of longing not for a handsome lover but for a man loaded with the necessary right stuff…C A S H.
Even County Gets The Blues is another of those Cowgirls With The Blues songs and sounds like something that might have graced the Nashville charts of twenty years ago and is a pretty futile attempt to join two genres – a melding achieved far more successfully by the likes of Johnny Cash and or Waylon Jennings.
There are shades of Sheryl Crowe in Amy’s vocal style and her voice often has a smoky tinge, although in some places her diction could do with a tad more care. (Although that has never affected Emmylou Harris.) The song, When Love Comes To Call, is pop music, an observation which points to one of the two problems with this CD. The first is that with some exceptions the songs drift towards MOR with a dash of blues, the second is that at less than 35 mins, this CD is a tad short. In some of the tunes, although there is space, there is rarely an extended solo and the result is, not to put too fine a point on it, unfortunate.
Let me, however, end on a positive note: this is a fine recording, Amy has a great voice and demonstrates some fine song writing skills. The musicianship is exemplary as you would expect from such Nashville luminaries and Amy’s fans will LOVE IT. However, with the exception of a few tracks, don’t expect too much airplay on blues based stations.
Reviewer Ian McKenzie lives in England. He is the editor of Blues In The South (www.bluesinthesouth.com a monthly flier providing news, reviews, a gig guide and all kinds of other good stuff, for people living and going to gigs along the south coast of England. Ian is also a blues performer (see www.myspace.com/ianmckenzieuk) and has two web-cast regular blues radio shows. One on www.phonic.FM in Exeter (Wednesdays: 1pm Eastern/ 12 noon Central), the second on KCOR – Kansas City Online Radio (on Fridays at 1pm Eastern/ 12 noon Central) www.kconlineradio.com.
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Illinois Central Blues Club - Springfield, IL
The Illinois Central Blues Club presents "Blue Monday" every Monday night for the last 25 years - BLUE MONDAY SHOWS - Held at the Alamo 115 N 5th St, Springfield, IL (217) 523-1455 every Monday 8:00pm $3 cover. Jan 30 - Tombstone Bullet, Feb 6 - Matt O'Ree, Feb 13 - Hurrican Ruth, Feb 20 - The Distillery, Feb 27 - The Blues Deacons. icbluesclub.org
The Diamond State Blues Society - Wilmington, Delaware
On Saturday, March 3rd it's the Diamond State Blues Society presents the 15th Annual House Rockin' Party. Opening the show at 3pm will be Nuthin' But Trouble, followed by Florida's great Blues Guitarist, Albert Castiglia, and headlining the show is the ironman himself, the phenomenal Michael Burks! Full details can be found at www.DiamondStateBlues.com
West Virginia Blues Society - Charleston, W.V.
The West Virginia Blues Society, Inc. and Thornhill Auto Groups prestent the 5th Annual Charlie West Blues Fest May 18, 19 and 20, 2012 at Haddad Riverfront Park, Charleston, WV including headline performances by Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers and Ruthie Foster. For more information visit http://wvbluessociety.org/
Prairie Crossroads Blues Society – Champaign-Urbana, IL
Prairie Crossroads Blues Society shows: Saturday, February 11, Painkillers, CD Release Party, 6-9 pm, Iron Post, Urbana; Thursday, February 16, Matt 0’Ree w/ Timmy D & Blind Justice, 7-11 pm, The Stop, Urbana; Friday March 2, 1st Friday Blues, Danny & the Devils, 8pm studio visit to WEFT 90.1FM during the Blues Live show, 10pm, performance at Memphis on Main, Champaign. $5 non-members, $3 members. Friday April 6, 1st Friday Blues, Johnny Rawls. For more info: www.prairiecrossroadsblues.org
The West Michigan Blues Society - Grand Rapids, MI
The West Michigan Blues Society and radio station WYCE 88.1 FM present the 2012 Cabin Fever Blues Series at Billy's Lounge 1437, Wealthy St. SE Grand Rapids, MI. Up coming shows include Feb. 11 Motor City Josh & the Big Three, Feb. 18 Hadden Sayers, Feb. 25 Nora Jean Wallace, March 3 The Chicago Rhythm & Blues Kings. Tickets are $10.00 per show at the door only. Doors at 7:00 PM Music at 9:30 PM. Info at: www.wmbs.org
Rosedale Crossroads Blues Society - Rosedale, MS
Rosedale Crossroads Blues Society presents The Crossroads Blues and Heritage Festival, Saturday, May 12, 2012 at the River Resort at Highway 1 South in historic Rosedale, MS featuring Bill Abel, Cadillac John, Big Joe Shelton, DSU Ol’ Skool Revue and other area artists.
Gates open at 12:00 noon, music starts at 1:00 Admission $5 – adults, $1 – children under 12 Bring your own ice chest – $10 No beer sold – No glass – No pets, please Parking $5
Capital Region Blues Network - Albany, NY
The Capital Region Blues Network is proud to announce The Mid-Winter Blues Bash on Friday, January 27th at The Roadhouse Grille (27 Fuller Road, Albany) at 8PM. Tom Townsley and Seth Rochfort will be coming in from Syracuse to open the night, followed by The Matt Mirabile Band with special guests Tom Healey and Tas Cru. Tickets are $10.00 at the door and $5.00 for Capital Region Blues Network members. For more info see our website @ www.capitalregionbluesnetwork.org
River City Blues Society - Pekin, IL
River City Blues Society presents: Bringing The Blues To You with the following shows - March 28th at 7PM • Albert Castiglia, April 11th at 7PM • Sean Chambers. Location Goodfellas 1414 N. 8th St, Pekin, Illinois 7:00 pm - 10:00 pm $5.00 non-members $3.00 members. For more info visit: www.rivercityblues.com
Featured Blues Review 5 of 6
Mariella Tirotto & The Blues Federation - Dare To Stand Out
Not many Dutch bands come out from the Netherlands with an insightful take on the blues. Very few catch a glimpse on this side of the waters.
Mariella Tirotto and The Blues Federation are fortunate that some members of the press are getting exposure to their music. The release of their second cd Dare To Stand Out might be their strongest attempt in getting radio airplay on blues stations across America.
Tirotto’s whiskey-soaked vocals front an outfit of musicians who mix a hodgepodge of jazz, blues and funk in the mix to make for a refreshing take on things.
And let’s not forget a dash of rock ‘n’ roll. A twisted Van Halenized guitar hook leads into opening cut “Drifting” that coasts on an ominous groove with Michel de Kok’s harp lines blending the histrionics of Charlie Musselwhite and John Popper. More or less Kok’s harp playing carries the songs sailing on a range of waters. The harmonica coaxes “Marked For Life” to romp on a New Orleans platter of funk and soul only to detour on side-roads of short psychedelia with airy solos by harpist Kok and guitarist Harold Koll.
Tirotto and Koll seem to be the resident songwriters at large. All the material is original which sets the band apart from some contemporaries who rather become traveling jukeboxes overplaying old standards to the point of ear fatigue.
Just because the band hasn’t traveled to the deepest south, doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate the back-porch ethics from which the music emerged. Koll and Tirotto’s “Lover’s Dance” with its dark Dobro playing is a spooky piece of imagery of Robert Johnson, Son House and Charlie Patton meeting after midnight by the crossroads. It’s as foreboding as sexy undermined by Tirotto’s lustful vocalizations that add pleasure to pain to music recorded six feet in the mud. The band is quiet but you can feel their evil presence. With Onny Tuhumena’s percussion and Tirotto’s spoken phrases, the overall effect is of being lost in an alcoholic nightmare.
As weirdly content you are to live in this space, that mood disappears. It’s up to the title track itself written by Tirotto to electrify the house. Koll’s guitar comes to the front leading the band through its funk rock nuances with Kok’s dancing harp lines. The atmosphere gets more cheerful in Tirotto original “Night Owl” that is so Paul Butterfield influenced you swear it was recorded in Chicago with its sweet upbeat shuffle.
And let’s not overlook the rhythm section. Mariella’s bass player/piano husband Heins Greten and drummer John Kakiay work like clockwork to provide a solid musical foundation to which the hot rhythmic soul floats over like steam.
Traditional song “Black Coffee” is the only song not an original. With Heins Greten ‘s gentle touch piano playing and Triotto’s enticing vocals, the song travails on a smoky jazz landscape reaching for the back alleys in Chicago and New York City with Kok once again adding soothing harmonica playing.
It seems the Federation cut this music to reach out to everybody. There is a little of everything for the purists, the rockers, the jazzers and party crowd. And though the band likes to maybe stretch songs into strange places best suited for today’s jams bands, at least soloing is kept in check so Mariella doesn’t have to wait long to sing.
The energy ebbs and flows throughout the remainder of the CD. Though some tracks could have been left off for the next album, the Blues Federation proves you don’t have to be a one-trick pony playing hard rock blues only. Credit the Federation for willingness to craft a piece of work touching on various aspects of a genre that needs fresh blood.
Reviewer Gary Weeks is a contributing writer. He resides in Marietta, GA.
Featured Blues Review 6 of 6
Kathi McDonald & Rich Kirch - Nothin’ But Trouble
Tear Drop Records
What do you get when you take two veteran blues musicians, nine classic tacks, and a backline of two of Chicago’s best? You get a great little CD that is a lot of fun!
Kathi has performed in some legendary bands and recordings, including being an Ikeette with Ike and Tina Turner’s Las Vegas shows, Leon Russell’s “Shelter Peole” recordings, The Rolling Stones “Exile On Main Street” and replacing Janet Joplin in Big Brother and the Holding Company. Rich toured with Jummy Dawkins and Jimmy Rogers while in Chicago, then moved out west and played with John Lee Hooker for 13 years. They bring their decades of blues and music experience to the mix for this record.
Frank Bandy is on bass and Marty Binder is on drums. This is one of the top backlines one can get in the Windy City, and then Brother John Kattke adds his great Chicago keyboard work to the mix. This is a great accompaniment to Kathi and Rick and they are all solid throughout!
They open with “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” where Kathi screams and growls and Rich wails on his guitar; it is a moving performance. Elmore James’ “Talk to Me Baby” has McDonald in the stratosphere while Kirch is steady and firm on his axe work. Up next is “Trouble” where the duo slows things down, but it is still hot stuff. A wicked guitar solo opens up the cut and then McDonald gives it her all as the band burns through great slow blues.
Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle” gets a nice, gritty cover, and then they lay into “Big Leg Woman” before Jimmy Reed’s classic “Baby What You Want Me Me To Do”. These are some tracks that defined the Chicago blues scene and they do them justice here. Kirch has spectacular tone and Kathi lays her soul out on vocals.
Ray Charles’ “What I Say” goes to a bluesier sound with McDonald and Kirch, nicely done, including the big guitar solo. McDonald sings to “Shake that thing” and testifies here nicely, and then the last two cuts are movers and “shakers”, too: “Shake Your Money Maker” and “Shake your Hips” close the set. Hot stuff!
This CD is for blues fans who want to hear things done Chicago style with electrically charged female vocals. Top notch guitar work is quite solid and impressive, too. Go give this a listen!
Reviewer Steve Jones is secretary of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and work with their Blues In The Schools program.
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