Cover photo by Marilyn Stringer © 2012 MJStringerPhoto.com
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In This Issue
We have the latest in Blues Society news. Terry Mullins has our feature interview with Ana Popovic. Tim & Becky Richards have photos and a review the Bonita Springs Blues Festival.
We have six CD reviews for you! Rainey Wetnight reviews a new CD from Joe Zaklan. Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony reviews a new CD from Ray Bailey. Jim Kanavy reviews a new CD from Boy Wells. John Mitchell reviews a new CD from Otis Taylor. Mark Thompson reviews a new CD from Shawn Starski. Steve Jones reviews a new CD from Bottom Up Blues Gang. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
We made it out to a great set by the 44s at Illinois Central Blues Club's Blue Monday show last week. The Los Angles based Blues quartet includes Johnny Main on guitar and vocals, Mike Turturro on bass, J.R. Loranzo on drums and the legendary Tex Nakamura on harmonica.
They put on one heck of a show for a packed house. Catch them if they come to your town. You'll love it, promise!
We are accepting submissions from labels and artists until April 15th, 2012. Artist do not necessarily have to submit their releases to be considered but any that do will have their recordings actually screened by the nominators. (Our Nominators can't nominate something they haven't heard!)
We have 30 nominators so you need to send 30 individual copies to be considered before April 15th, 2012. Any received after that date may not get sent to the nominators.
There is no charge for this. We will cover the cost and effort to get your eligible CD or DVD release into the hands of the nominators if you send them in. We reserve the right to change this policy in future years. CD's received after April 15th, 2012 may not reach the nominators so hurry and get your submissions in today! For complete details, CLICK HERE
Nominators begin submitting their nominations May 1st and final nominations will be announced after May 31st, 2012. Voting Begins in July.
Featured Blues Interview - Ana Popovic
Often times our eyes can mislead us when we let them do the job that our ears are supposed to do.
Case in point – Ana Popovic’s latest compact disc - Unconditional (Eclecto Groove Records).
Unless they’ve been living under a rock since late summer, most fans of music – blues or otherwise – have at least seen the cover of Unconditional.
While it might be easy to gaze at the cover featuring the lovely Popovic wearing nothing but a vintage Fender Stratocaster and come to the conclusion that she’s trying to compete for attention with the current crop of pop divas, that would be a huge disservice to the music that awaits inside when one opens up the CD case.
And according to Popovic herself, the outside cover has everything in the world to do with the music found inside.
“Well, the cover is my take on blues. A lot of people, when they think of blues, think of an old man with a guitar in his hand and the picture should be in black and white. But for me, the blues never has been an old genre,” she said. “It (the blues) still inspires and is still very vibrant. I was trying to point out that for me, I am aware of the basics and am aware that less is more. And it’s also about being one with your instrument. That’s what Hendrix and Robert Johnson and Elmore James had. They were one with their instruments. So basically the cover is about the beauty of the basics and being one with your instrument. And on the cover, I was actually wearing the most expensive clothes ever! Someone said, ‘what happened to the clothes?’ and I said, ‘there was no budget for the clothes (after paying for the guitar).”
As attention-grabbing as the cover certainly is, the real beauty of Unconditional lies inside. And the reaction of the blues-loving masses seems to back that up.
The album peaked at number seven on the Billboard Blues charts and enjoyed a nine-week run there.
Along with that, Unconditional has been nominated for Best Contemporary Blues Album at the 2012 Blues Music Awards, and Popovic is also on the list for Contemporary Blues female Artist of the year.
Since bursting onto the scene with the Jim Gaines’ produced Hush! (Ruf Records) back in 2001, the Belgrade born and raised Popovic has managed to create quite a stir with her fiery guitar playing, along with the amount of passion she pours out on a nightly basis, whether taking the stage in Finland or in New York City.
But when it came time to begin work on what would become her sixth full-length CD, Popovic changed up her method of operation a bit.
“I decided to spend three months in New Orleans and really enjoy the city and prepare for the record,” she said. “Instead of rushing into the studio like I’ve always done before – touring, writing your songs on the tour bus and then running into the studio and then rushing back out to get back on the road – I actually canceled some shows, went to New Orleans, found a vocal coach and just enjoyed the whole process of preparing a record. From January through March of 2011, I was in New Orleans and loved the whole process.”
That process started with the decision to get back to the basics of the blues, momentarily shelving some of the jazzier parts of her playing that were highlighted on 2008’s Still Making History.
“I wanted to go back and do a blues record. But I didn’t really want to just pick out 12 blues standards. I thought I should go deeper and try to write some songs like they did 40 or 50 years ago,” she said. “But then again, I couldn’t write stuff like, ‘woke up this morning feeling bad,’ or ‘been out in the cotton field,’ either. I wanted to take modern subjects and put them into blues form. Not bluesy-feeling, but strict blues form. I wanted the songs to have a meaning, where you could read between the lines and have them relatable for the modern, young people.”
What Popovic might not have bargained for in this return to the roots of the blues was the painstaking time and effort that it would take to churn out some of the songs that would end up on Unconditional.
“Yeah, songs like “Fearless” and “Count Me In,” these songs took the most time to come up with. If you read them, you’d think they’re just a simple blues song with some things repeating, but then those songs were the most challenging and the most time consuming,” she said. “I’ve listened to blues for years, ever since I was little, and for me, writing those songs was a big step, a big learning experience - getting into that frame of being very precise and going back and trying to make the songs very bluesy without the help of crossing over to fusion or rock, or whatever. Musically and lyrically, both.”
Just like all blues songs worth their salt should be able to do, the songs that Popovic crafted for her new album have managed to help pull some of her fans through some dark times.
“Lyrics have been a big part of my music for all these years. And to write a simple blues text that has deeper meaning and inspires people … it’s been really challenging,” she said. “But I have young girls calling me up and saying, ‘wow. When I hear “Fearless,” no matter how down I am, I feel like I’m on top of the world,’ that’s wonderful. And that lets me know I achieved what I wanted to. To have them listen and find the deeper meaning in a simple blues text is an amazing thing.”
The list of amazing music to pour out of the Crescent City over the course of the past 50 or 60 years is a mighty impressive one, and that list spans every known genre from rock to jazz to funk to country and blues.
And though the spirit of the city was definitely present during the sessions for Unconditional, Popovic wanted to make sure that heavy presence didn’t sonically dominate her latest project.
“I knew I didn’t want to make a New Orleans record. I wanted to make an Ana Popovic blues record. But the city did influence the record by just the way that the city is and the way that the people in that city are,” she said. “I found it very unique. I’m a big fan of America and have a couple of favorite cities, but in New Orleans, it was the first time, anywhere in the world, ever, that I saw that much positive energy and love in a city. They make everyone feel welcome there. Even after all they went through with Katrina - losing everything they had – they have just moved on and are not looking back. We made so many friends in those three months. And that truly inspired me. It kind of reminded me of Belgrade after the war.”
A couple of Popovic’s friends – Jon Cleary and Jason Ricci – lend helping hands on Unconditional – as does one of her idols, slide guitarist supreme, Sonny Landreth.
The two guitarists went fretboard-to-fretboard on the appropriately-titled “Slideshow.”
“Obviously, that was my favorite day in the studio. At that time, most of the tracks were already done so we knew we could relax a little and play. And when I wrote “Slideshow,” I had Sonny in mind. It really reminded me of his type of song,” she said. “I grew up listening to Sonny and spent hours and hours copying his licks – along with Roy Rogers’ and Elmore James,’ as well. And I sent him a demo and he said he wanted to play on it, which was amazing, of course. And having him in the studio was fabulous. We did the song in three takes. And for me, it was a big moment. I proved to myself that I could stand the heat of playing with the best slide guitarist around. It was a lot of fun and a dream come true.”
As challenging as her rise has been, going from a young girl with a guitar in Belgrade to becoming one of the brightest young blues’ stars on the horizon, Popovic’s biggest challenge to date might have started a little over three years ago, when she gave birth to her son Luuk.
But the way she sees it, if you’re grounded properly and have the proper amount of help from your family and friends, you can fit watching Mickey Mouse cartoons with your child one evening comfortably next to sharing the stage and jamming on “One Room Country Shack” with Buddy Guy the next evening.
“You realize that you have to make time for those people that actually need you in their life. You realize that being on the road and being a musician is not the most important thing in the world. I try not to forget that in my relationship, my marriage, and being a mom as well, that music doesn’t necessarily have to come in first place,” said Popovic. “You want to have a successful life, one that includes being a mother and a wife. And I think that saying ‘no’ sometimes is not a bad thing. And I’ve done that. I get my energy in life from balancing things; from being a person that people back home can count on and from taking my son to school and spending quality time with him and my husband. I treasure being a wife and a mother and I also treasure my life as a musician. You can have both a family and a musical career. You can be a Superwoman of sorts, especially if you have the wonderful support group to help that I have. And I think if a mother is happy, the baby will be happy, too.”
Luuk not only has turned into a veteran road warrior, hitting the concert trail when he was barely six weeks old for his first tour of the States, he’s also becoming quite the drummer, as well.
“We just started jamming and even though he’s just three-and-a-half years old, he has a great sense of rhythm. He can really back it up and when you get to the bridge of a song and need more energy, he kind of picks it up,” said Popovic. “And my husband plays four or five songs on bass, so finally we have a family trio and we love it. We jam together and I think that’s a way better way to spend an evening than sitting in front of the television.”
Family-themed jam sessions back in Belgrade played a major role in Popovic’s desire to one day grow up and play the blues on a much bigger stage than the family living room.
“When I grew up in Serbia, my dad encouraged us to play, you know, singing Howlin’ Wolf songs and Bukka White and Victoria Spivey … that was way before I could understand any of the lyrics. But that’s how I remember my childhood,” she said. “Thanks to my father, I was introduced to great records at a young age. He had a very good taste in music and in blues in particular. It was difficult to get those records over there in those days, but they would swap them and people would bring them back from the states and sell them. But my father was a true lover and whenever there was a new Stevie Ray Vaughan record out, we had it in our home. That, along with the three Kings and Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, Taj Mahal … you name it and we had it. I was very well educated.”
That musical education really intensified and picked up steam when young Ana was finally able to play her way into the jam sessions that her dad would host in their house.
“His friends would get together and play and I would stay up really late, after my mother and sister had went to bed, sometimes until four in the morning, listening to them play,” she said. “And finally when I was about 12 or 13, I could play a couple of Elmore James songs, and I was the only slide player around, so I could get my five minutes jamming with my father’s friends. And that was what really inspired me to play.”
And that inspirational continues to this day.
“I don’t think it ever stops. I hope it never stops – that mission to always strive to write a better song or play a better guitar solo or things like that,” Popovic said. “The line to get better gets higher and higher all the time. Music is a beautiful thing and is definitely my passion. It’s a wonderful thing when you’re on stage. I can’t compare it to anything else. It’s one of the things that I live for.”
Photos by Marilyn Stringer and Bob Kieser © 2012
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.
Featured Blues Review 1 of 6
Joe Zaklan - There Ain’t No Better Time
10 songs; 39:26 minutes
Styles: Modern Electric Blues, Rhythm & Blues, songs with swinging feel-good rhythms
When blues artists record albums or perform live concerts, they exude innate energy. It can be soulful, sly, edgy, funny, and in Joe Zaklan’s case, relaxingly good-natured. Zaklan’s education started in earnest at age twenty when he hit the road with J.B. Hutto, gigging with the slide master in the blues haunts of Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Madison. This talented guitarist, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist “sideman,” who was once a member of the Chicago blues scene of the 1970s and 80s playing alongside Lonnie Brooks and Little Mac Simmons, has made his solo debut. As for the result, “There Ain’t No Better Time” to listen to it!
Eight well-crafted original songs and two covers (“Get Ready” and “Tonight”) compose Zaklan’s fresh(man) offering, and Jon Norton of radio station WGLT in Normal, Illinois says, “...his warm and confident voice is a pleasant surprise. ...it’s taken a long time” to get this CD into listeners’ hands. Nevertheless, blues fans everywhere will be glad it’s here, especially when they hit the jackpot with these three numbers:
Track 2: “Chicken Bone”--More aptly classified as jumping blues, this snappy ballad tells the tale of a harried employee who’s looking forward to “another kamikaze weekend”: “I drove all day and, man, you know I worked all night. The boss man told me, ‘Son, you ain’t done a damn thing right.’ I’ve got some money in my pocket and I’m on my way home--you know it’s on - like a chicken bone!” Some might find that turn of phrase strange, but not Jim Curless’ swinging sax working solos alternately with Zaklan’s smoking guitar! This song is the perfect antidote to a woeful work week, or even a cruel commute.
Track 3: “Ain’t No Better Time”—Those of histrionic vocals (and perhaps rappers in particular) could certainly take some pointers from Joe Zaklan if they want to initiate musical seduction. In this gentle masterpiece of slow blues, Joe sways his lover to “see things my way” without profanity, crudity, or misogyny. Joe simply points out, “There ain’t no better time than there is right now!” The title track of Zaklan’s CD represents a refreshing accomplishment in blues music, and this reviewer welcomes the change. Ed Pierce plays atmospheric second guitar on this romance-inducing enticement.
Track 6: “Quiet as Kept”--The title of this mid-tempo rhythm-and-blues serenade is a lyrical oddity, but rest assured that the song is a winner! Garard Montague guest stars on sultry saxophone as Joe vividly describes his lady’s love: “Just like an old leather jacket--you know, the kind that’s really broken in--it’s just like snuggling in my baby’s arms, when outside I hear the howling wind…” The imagery is cozy, and “Quiet as Kept” will wrap listeners’ ears in its warm and positive embrace! They’ll wrap their arms around their partners on the dance floor, too.
Joe Zaklan, according to Jon Norton’s liner notes, was “smack dab in the middle of the Chicago blues scene of the 1970’s. He was in the house band at the venerable Pepper’s Lounge...” making his blues pedigree notable. The “talented sideman” has now become the “Front Man” singing and playing wonderfully tasty guitar that never goes over the top. And, really, “There [just] Ain’t No Better Time” for it to happen!
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 2 of 6
Ray Bailey - Cruisin’ For A Bluesin’
After a promising start with 1994’s “Satan’s Horn” and being named “Artist Most Deserving Of Wider Recognition” by Living Blues Magazine, health problems and the rigors of a life on the road curtailed Ray Bailey’s career. Now here he is with his first studio release since “Satan’s Horn”. Possessing a strong voice and a varied arsenal of guitar styles his latest release should create some buzz among blues fans and music fans in general. The accompaniment is the basic line up of bass-drums-keyboards as well as harmonica on one track. The individual musicians are allowed to shine through in this clean production.
Ray’s guitar sound and song style owes much to B.B. King at the onset, then travels through jazz-shadings and Jimi Hendrix inspired distortion. All aspects are handled with skill and taste. A story of a woman who loves money, “Ho’s Heart”, introduces us to his commanding voice and traditional blues guitar style. “Tie A Knot” finds him using a more aggressive vocal and guitar attack to good effect, as he squeezes tortured notes from his axe. It’s an emotional and effective tune of perseverance. The very next tune, “Red Headed Stepchild” is a quick change of pace as it leads in slowly with acoustic country-blues style guitar. He deftly plays two guitar parts to complement each other.
And now for something completely different…The title track is a jazzy-blues instrumental that also features Mikal Majeed sounding like Jimmy Smith on some tasty organ work and Ray sounding like Wes Montgomery. The first use of Hendrix-inspired distortion is on the crunchy delightful, noise-fest that is “My Baby’s On A Mission”. “I’m Gonna Keep On Loving You” begins as a slow band-backed tender acoustic ballad… then he says “Like this ya’ll” and unleashes a burning “Foxey Lady” guitar assault, all the while keeping the song’s slow and tender pace. His guitar playing compliments his plaintive vocals perfectly. Otis Spann influenced piano coupled with a lazy guitar part and a Muddy Waters vocal approach makes “Little Girl” sound like a long-lost Muddy song. “Get Out Of Jail Free Card” is a cautionary tale of money excess done up in classic blues style punctuated by Denis DePoitre’s Little Walter-like harmonica style.
The guitar distortion thing backfires on “I Just Can’t Cry No More”, where it becomes a mess of unwanted noise not doing service to the song. Fortunately the record closes out on a high note with a nice and slow, cool-jazz tinged version of “Going Down Slow”, a song closely associated with Howlin’ Wolf. Ray could have opted for a guitar workout, but instead he used it as a chance to display his warm voice.
A variety of styles is achieved here with just using different guitar tones and styles. It shows that there is thought behind the playing here, along with the emotion. They could have included exotic instruments and grand production to attain a potpourri of sounds, but perhaps what was done here was more creative. Clear production and a rock- steady rhythm section make this collection a pleasing listening experience.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
Featured Blues Review 3 of 6
Boy Wells - Blue Skies Calling
Marcel Marsupial Recordings
12 Tracks; 44:24 & 1 mp3; 59:18
Boy Wells may be the next in a short but significant line of “world’s greatest unknown” guitar players from the southern Maryland/Washington, DC area. In the early 70’s it was Roy Buchanan; early 80’s it was Danny Gatton and fast-forwarding to the early twenty-teens, it’s a Gatton protégé – Boy Wells. Widespread success eludes these Maryland pickers, perhaps precisely because they are so good. They master all variations of guitar playing and incorporate many into their writing and performing. It makes for eclectic collections, easily appreciated by musicians and musical aficionados but less so by the general public, especially these days, with a listener’s attention span barely covering the length of an iTunes preview track. Nonetheless, Boy Wells, aka Mark Schultz, unleashes an album of Americana and roots music showcasing his myriad guitar talents and rich singing voice.
Blue Skies Calling is the debut album from a musician who has been toiling away since the late 70’s. It covers as much ground as he has in his years as a traveling musician. The lead-off track is a funky, jazzy instrumental called “Mr. Coluzzi” in which Boy Wells shares the spotlight with the horn section of Bill Watson on sax and Brad Clements on trumpet. Wells’ guitar sizzles over the groove, spreading like lava to every crevice. The fire is stoked by the adroit talents of drummer Bruce Crump, formerly of Molly Hatchet. Molly Hatchet’s full-on, heavy Southern Rock must have been artistically frustrating to Crump, whose playing on Blue Skies Calling expertly ranges from delicate and nuanced to funky and loose.
The record features several instrumental pieces such as “Marcel Marsupial” which is also the namesake of Wells’ recording company. It is a piece that would seem at home on a Phish or Widespread Panic setlist and would probably create excitement from both crowds. It starts off with a chord that sounds like the “The End” by The Doors, some Branford Marsalis style saxophone and soaring slide guitar ala one of Wells’ musical heroes, Duane Allman. The instruments create a musical landscape that ends before it is fully realized, like a backdrop for a movie scene that never happens. At 3:52, this is truly a song that could be pushed to the limits in a live setting and I wish it was longer here.
Title track “Blue Skies Calling” is reminiscent of Saddle Tramp-era Charlie Daniels or classic, mid-70’s Marshall Tucker Band. Open chords, sprawling solos, violin melodies and Boy Wells’ engaging voice tie it all together for a piece of classic, country-style Southern Rock. The record also rides the rails of the South with “World Weary And Blue” which is a rocking slide guitar work out, and “Bring it Back” which sounds a like a lost 90’s Allman Brothers tune. It’s a little bit crunchy with harmonized guitar build-ups, a soulful vocal delivery and blistering solos from Wells and sax-man Bill Watson. The album closes with two bluegrass infused instrumentals featuring fine picking from Becky Taylor on banjo. Wells weaves electric guitar into the mix “Tin Winter” and wraps up the album with the pristine tones of “Traveller.” These two tracks are a resonating reminder that guitar virtuosity is not exclusive to the electric instrument and doesn’t preclude melody, harmony or hum ability.
Blue Skies Calling is not without its straight blues moments. “Devil’s Backbone Blues” is a sublime acoustic slide-guitar piece and “Broke Down” is two minutes and seventeen seconds of pure bent note blues, vaguely reminiscent of Roy Buchanan. Much of the album though is reminiscent of the more laid back Southern Rock from the mid 70’s mixed with strategically more succinct elements of the modern jam band scene. The Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker Band, and Charlie Daniels Band all combined bits and pieces of blues, country, jazz and rock to make unique, individualized music under the flag of Southern Rock, a term which is unfortunate and redundant since Rock & Roll was born in the Southern US anyway. Boy Wells explores the same territory as the genre’s founding fathers and adds his own twists and sly tips of the hat to New Orleans and Memphis.
Boy Wells offers up an eclectic disc, but there is a blues thread that binds most of it together. It’s easy to say this is an “Americana” album and in many respects it’s true, but categorizing music is something the record companies do so the stores can fit the product in neat little bins. So what kind of record is this? It’s a good record and if you appreciate fine musicianship and memorable songs you’re in for a treat.
Reviewer Jim Kanavy is the greatest guitar player in his house. He has been reviewing albums in his head for 30 years and in print since 2008, and is deeply committed to keeping the blues alive and thriving. For more information visit http://jimkanavy.com.
Featured Live Blues Review - Bonita Blues Festival
Bonita Springs Blues Festival - March 10-11, 2012 - Bonita Springs, Florida
Even though our Michigan winter was pretty mild by most standards, I was ready for some sun and warmer temps. So my wife and I set out for the land of orange juice and snow birds. The Bonita Blues Festival is not a huge festival by any stretch and that’s exactly what we were looking for. The one thing that really impresses me is that the festival is run by a non-profit and all funds (after expenses) are donated to various local charities. The Bonita Springs Charitable Foundation is host and organizer and this year’s profits were going to Music for Minors, the Wounded Warrior Project, The Bonita Springs Assistance Office and new for this year is the Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida Music Therapy. I mean how cool is it when the foundation putting on the festival starts their own blues society, the Southwest Florida Blues Society. Very cool! I think its called dedication to the blues. To further reinforce what I’m saying, on Friday they announced that Skyla Burrell could not make the festival because of a burst appendix. Now most festival organizers would run around screaming about “what are they going to do now.” This group instead of panicking announced that they were still going to pay the band half of their fee and would pass the hat around through the crowd to take any donations. From the crowd came almost $1,000.00. It came from people that understood that being musicians you have no insurance and if you’re not working, you’re not eating. That alone makes this a special festival.
With the temperatures in the mid 80’s all weekend it was perfect weather to kick back in the beautiful Riverside Park and listen to some blues. Opening the weekend was Mudbone a Southwest Florida favorite featuring Rick Howard a multi-faceted guitarist/vocalist whose style runs the gambit from blues to soul, funk and all point between. Guitarist/vocalist Mario Infanti is a New Jersey transplant who has toured with Grammy winner Chuck Mangione. The rhythm section is comprised of Michigan native David C. Johnson on bass and vocals (who tours with the Neville Brothers) and St. Louis native Bill E. Peterson on drums. They proved to be a perfect kick-off to the festival with forays into blues and funk that gave the crowd a serious case of happy feet. One of my favorites was a slowed down funked up version of the Rascals hit Good Lovin’.
Given the task of following them was Deb & the Dynamics and boy were they up for it. Slinging blues in Florida for the past ten years, this seven piece band swept the stage with a mix of original and covers that flowed from R&B to funk to Memphis horn driven soul and never let up. Featuring the vocals of bassist and band leader Deb Salyers who for four years toured in Deborah Coleman’s band is the catalyst of this band which includes Dan Keadly on vocals and guitar, Don Hulgas on tenor and baritone sax, Newt Cole on tenor, alto and baritone sax, Nick Longobardi on drums and Michael Bear on piano. They hit the stage running and never let up much to the enjoyment of the crowd.
One of the bands that I was looking forward to seeing was the Damon Fowler Group. I’d seen and met Damon in 2000 at the Tampa Bay Blues Festival and never could connect with him since. Boy, what a treat to see how he’s matured into a dynamic young performer. Fronting a power trio Damon has strayed away from strictly blues and has ventured into the jam band arena and the transition has been a smooth one. While he hasn’t forsaken blues entirely, he has taken on a sound more like J J Grey and that’s not a bad thing. Culling songs from albums as old as Roots and Branches and from his new Blind Pig release Devil Got His Way, Damon showed a maturity to his music that can only be gained through road time and lots of playing. Although his career was sidelined for a while as he recuperated from a car accident a few years ago, he’s back and better than ever.
Another band I’d never seen was Karen Lovely. Wow, what a voice! After a 2nd place finish at the 2010 IBC Karen’s career has been catapulted to festivals and shows across the U.S. and Europe and with good reason. Her passionate approach to her music commands your attention while she’s on stage. Coupled with the fine musicianship of Bobby DiChiro on bass, Leonard Griffe on guitar, Taylor Murphy on drums and guest keyboardist Lee Pons, the band proved a solid platform for Karen’s dynamic mixture of contemporary and old school blues. If she comes Anywhere near you, make the effort to go see her, you won’t be disappointed.
Headlining Friday was veteran road warrior Tinsley Ellis. As always Tinsley laid down some blistering guitar work accompanying his easily recognizable vocals. Backed by the rumbling rhythm section of The Evil One on bass and drummer Jeff Burch, Ellis had the fence in front of the stage packed with screaming fans. Pulling hits such as The Highway Man, To the Devil for a Dime, A Quitter Never Wins, Ellis filled the balmy Florida night with his brand of Southern Rock/Blues guitar that spans the spectrum from full on assault to delicate ballads. One thing for sure, where ever he goes he leaves an impression on people converting them to fans.
Saturday was day two of bands I’d never heard and if Friday was an indication of what I had to look forward to, I was gonna be a happy camper. Kicking off day two was Gator Nate Augustus & the Gladezmen who bill their music as Swamp-a-Billy. OK…..let’s see where this takes us. I’m about to eat crow here so pay attention. I’ll admit I went into this with a pre-conceived idea as to what I was going to hear. Let’s just say that I was partially right. But what I was wrong about was the talent that this band had. Nate it turns out has an outstanding singing voice and his song lyrics are hysterical. I mean c’mon, when you hear him sing about the girl of his dreams who’s a waitress at Waffle House leaving him for the GM at IHOP and he finds out about it when he read it on the Burger King bathroom wall. You have to admit, that’s funny. All his songs were so well written and performed that you just had to enjoy it and people did. They also covered classic nuggets like Ghost Riders and Poke Salad Annie. But it was the originals that made the day. Who else would sing about a 4-wheel drive ’57 Chevy. They even brought them back for a well deserved encore. Backed by Mississippi Matt (aka The Honey Badger) on drums, Antkiller on vocals, guitar and a bright metallic green Doghouse bass along with Scotty Crow on washboard and Stumpfiddle (see photos) they were excellent entertainers.
The Kim Page Band followed and they once again surprised me with the talent found on stage. Boston native Kim Page dropped out of college to form her first band and is currently working on her third CD. After a twelve year hiatus, Page teamed up with keyboardist/writer Peter Orifice to form her current band that includes Tim Ruger on drums, Evan Dowling on sax, Eric Jeffcoat on bass, and Ricky Howard on guitar. Together they have formed a uniquely cohesive band that takes classic blues and reinvents it as their own along with a generous supply of originals. With the band in high gear and Kim’s growling vocals in the spotlight, it was a fun set.
Another regional band that surprised me was Stringtown. Formed by Rick & Danette Russell in 2009, they excel in Americana roots music and are multi-talented on many different instruments. They blend roots music with blues, jazz, gospel, and country to create a level of music that wraps you in its warm embraces and just makes you smile. In addition to the Russells (Rick plays guitar, dobro, banjo, harmonica, piano and sings while Danette plays electric and upright bass, mandolin, flute and vocals) Whew! They are joined by Jeff Jodice on drums, keyboards, bass and vocals, Mike Carrington on guitar, bass, drums and vocals. You know, it would have been a lot easier to just say, these people play everything! To say that I was impressed would be a gross understatement. They played originals and covered some great songs like the Tom Waits penned Chocolate Jesus and of all things, Led Zeppelin. Yup, they took Rock and Roll and slowed it way down and put their own twist on it. Incredible!
Mel Melton & the Wicked Mojos weren’t a Florida band, but they were neighbors coming from North Carolina and they brought with them a whale of a good time. The zyde-cajun blues onslaught took me by surprise and almost immediately had the crowd on their feet and dancing. Backed by Max Drake on guitar, T.A. James on bass and Kelly Pace on drums, the Wicked Mojos were the perfect foil for Mel’s on fire harp and rub board work that accompanied his vocals. Bridging the gap between southern swamp music and down home blues, the band were brought back for an encore and if time hadn’t been an issue they would have been brought back more times. They were just a fun time! If you’re around the Durham North Carolina area, make sure and stop at Mels’ restaurant, Pap Mojo’s Roadhouse and prepare for some good food and even better music.
Trampled Under Foot was another band I’d only heard about and had never seen. I can only hope I have the opportunity to see much more of them. After winning the IBC in 2008 and guitarist Nick winning the Albert King Award for guitar excellence, the Kansas City based Schenbelen siblings, Nick on guitar and vocals, Danielle on bass and vocals and Kris on drums and vocals took off on the blues trail. Opening their set from sitting behind the drum kit and using the bass drum to keep time while playing a National Steel, Nick showed both his vocal and guitar prowess on Mean Old town and It takes Me Back. My only complaint about this wasn’t with the performance, but when sitting behind the drums you could hardly see him. In my humble opinion it would be much more enjoyable for the crowd if he sat in a chair center stage and used a stomp box. But, that’s just my opinion. After being joined by his siblings, the power trio took off and never stopped. Danielle’s vocals can range from velvety smooth to emotionally raw. Coupled with Nick’s vocals and Kris’s in the pocket drumming, the trio had the crowd in awe and I’ll admit, I was really impressed myself. TUF culled a lot of material from their newest release Wrong Side of the Blues and that’s fine with me, it’s a great CD. Brought back for an encore, they rocked it out with Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll.
Headlining Saturday was the blues warhorse Magic Slim & the Teardrops. This 74 year old Mississippi native originally started out as a piano player, but due to the loss of his little finger in a cotton gin accident he switched to guitar under the tutelage of Magic Sam and since then has never looked back. Still very much in demand on the festival and concert circuit, Slims band opened with a couple of numbers before the master himself appeared, but after that it was apparent who was running the show. The very polished band consisted of Jon McDonald on guitar and vocals, Andre Howard on bass, and Brian Jones on drums. These guys were as rock solid as it gets and provided a great platform for Slim to work his Magic.
As with all good things it must come to an end. As the last of the music echoed off the shell in beautiful riverside Park, we were sad it was over so quickly. Excellent entertainment, great causes to support and some of the most gracious people we’ve had the pleasure to meet. Even though it rained both days, the showers only lasted 20 minutes or so, not even enough to stop the music. Geesh, it wasn’t even enough to make the people stop dancing. If your suffering for the winter blues and want to go where the breeze is warm, the people friendly and the music great…….this is the place.
Photos by Tim & Becky Richards © 2012
Reviewer Tim Richards & his wife Becky spend the summers combing the Midwest for small blues festivals to promote. They've been traveling now since 1998 and have three daughters and four grandkids.
Featured Blues Review 4 of 6
Otis Taylor – Otis Taylor’s Contraband
14 tracks – 58.18 minutes
Otis Taylor has received consistent praise and critical acclaim for his CDs in recent years. His albums have received numerous awards and nominations and Otis Taylor himself has been a nominee for best instrumentalist (banjo) at the BMAs. He is also a prolific bluesman, this CD being his tenth release in as many years and his eighth on Telarc. As usual, all the songs are originals and contain a number of songs with historical and/or political messages. Accompanying Otis are his daughter Cassie on bass and vocals, Larry Thompson on drums, Anne Harris on fiddle, Chuck Campbell on pedal steel, Jon Paul Johnson on guitar, Brian Juan on organ, Todd Edmunds on bass, Ron Miles on trumpet and Fara Tolno on djembe. A choir led by Sheryl Renée also features on two tracks. A dedication to the memory of the late Gary Moore (who appeared on several of Otis’ earlier releases, appears on the sleeve.
In general the sound is somber. Otis’ voice is deep and resonant but often mixed quite low so you have to listen extra carefully to appreciate all the lyrics. Otis’ music has been called ‘Trance Blues’ and you can see how it got that name as several of the tracks have a regular, almost hypnotic, rhythm. Cassie’s bass carries the sound on several tracks and Ron Miles’ trumpet is one of the instruments that adds colour to the mix on the tracks where he is featured.
Within this general framework there are some tracks that stand out. “Open These Bars”, for example, has a sparse arrangement of just Otis’ acoustic guitar and Cassie’s bass plus Jon Paul Johnson’s electric guitar sounding distant and mournful – entirely appropriate as the song recounts how the false word of a white woman has condemned the narrator to being lynched for being over-familiar, a far too common occurrence in the Jim Crow years in the South. Title song “Contraband Blues” reveals that during the Civil War some slaves who escaped to the North were held as ‘contraband’ by the Union Army, just as if they were property – so much for the illusion that the Union was fighting against slavery! For this song the larger band provides a more up tempo beat with Anne Harris’ fiddle sounding ominous in the background and the djembe providing additional drama as Otis implores his people to “wake up”. Opening track “The Devil’s Gonna Lie” proposes that when there is peace the devil will lie to cause war as the Devil wants hatred to prevail. Strong percussion, the choir and Ron Miles’ trumpet add to the fullness of the sound. “Never Been To Africa” recounts the story of a black soldier in the First World War trenches realizing that he is fighting in that terrible European war despite the fact that he has never had the opportunity to discover his roots in Africa.
There is not a lot of lightness in this album, most songs being either poignant (“Blind Piano Teacher”) or dark and serious such as the songs cited above. One track that has the potential for humor is “2 or 3 Times” a song about a man bragging about his lovemaking abilities! However, it is one of the sparse arrangements and proceeds at a funereal pace. Otis demonstrates his banjo picking skills on several tracks, with “Lay On My Delta Bed” being a very sprightly tune.
For those who have enjoyed Otis Taylor’s previous CDs this will be another winner and may well garner more nominations for awards.
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music and is currently planning a visit to the Tampa Bay Blues Festival.
Blues Society News
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Mississippi Valley Blues Society - Davenport, IA
The Mississippi Valley Blues Society presents The Chris Duarte Group, led by blues master and guitar virtuoso Chris Duarte, in concert at Rascal’s, 1414 15th St., Moline, IL on Thursday, March 29 at 7:00 p.m. Ticket prices are $12 to the general public, $10 for blues society members. http://www.mvbs.org
Santa Barbara Blues Society - Santa Barbara, CA
The SBBS, the oldest existing blues society in the U.S., celebrates its gala 35th. birthday by presenting lauded bluesman James Harman and his band on Friday, March 30, 2012 in Warren Hall at the Earl Warren Show grounds. Originally from Alabama, Harman has been a star exemplar of the West Coast blues sound for over 3 decades, and a multiple nominee of Blues Music Awards from the Blues Foundation. His appearances for the SBBS, including his most recent in 2006 with stellar guitarist Jimmy Thackery, have been consistent sell-out crowd-pleasers.
The show will feature a large dance floor, BBQ snacks, and birthday cake! as well as great music. Doors open at 7 PM, with opening act by S.B.’s own Stiff Pickle Orchestra. For information, log onto www.SBBlues.org or call (805) 722-8155.
The Great Northern Blues Society - Wausau, WI
The Great Northern Blues Society is putting on our annual Fundraising Show “Blues Café’ 2012” on 3/31/12 at the Rothschild Pavilion near Wausau, WI. Chris Duarte’, Albert Castiglia, Howard & the Whiteboys, Jumpship Blues Band, and Donnie Pick & the Road band will be performing from 1:00PM – 11:00PM. www.gnbs.org for further information. $15 in advance - $20 at the door.
River City Blues Society - Pekin, IL
River City Blues Society presents: Bringing The Blues To You with the following shows - March 23rd at 7:30PM • Hurricane Ruth, March 28th at 7PM • Albert Castiglia, April 11th at 7PM • Sean Chambers. Location Goodfellas 1414 N. 8th St, Pekin, Illinois $5.00 non-members $3.00 members. For more info visit: www.rivercityblues.com or call 309-648-8510
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. Mar 26 – RJ Mischo, Apr 2 – Brad Vickers & His Vestopolatans, Apr 9 – JP Soars & the Red Hots, Apr 16 – Too Slim & the Tail Draggers, Apr 23 – Andrew Jr Boy Jones. icbluesclub.org
The Friends Of The Blues - Watseka, IL
Friends of the Blues present 2012 shows:
Thur, March 29, Albert Castiglia, 7 pm, Kankakee Valley Boat Club
Tues, April 10, Sean Chambers, 7 pm, Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s Club
Tues, April 17, Too Slim & Taildraggers, 7 pm, Kankakee Valley Boat Club
Thur, April 26, Al Stone, 7 pm, Kankakee Valley Boat Club
West Virginia Blues Society - Charleston, W.V.
The West Virginia Blues Society, Inc. and Thornhill Auto Groups present 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: Friday April 6, 1st Friday Blues, Johnny Rawls. For more info: www.prairiecrossroadsblues.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
Featured Blues Review 5 of 6
Many of you are familiar with guitarist Shawn Starski from the series of memorable shows at Big Cities Lounge that he was involved with as a member of Jason Ricci's band, New Blood. Now Shawn gets the opportunity to step into the spotlight and he quickly shows that he is ready for the attention.
Starski wrote all of the songs and handles most of the lead vocals, with his wife Elle taking over on two cuts. The rhythm section is comprised of Todd Edmunds on bass and Steve Johnson on drums, also former members of New Blood. On three tracks Starski is joined by Geoff Newhall on bass and Jimi Foglesong on drums. Phil Wolfe handles the keyboards and organ parts throughout the disc.
The disc opens with “Sea of Faces”, a dark tune about a man with little hope left and des-perately seeking love. Starski's measured vocal over his snarling guitar lines convey the appro-priate amount of despair. The mood immedi-ately improves on “Was It You”, complete with a funky backbeat and more of the leader's tasty guitar work. “Dirty Deal” finds Starski firing off lightning quick licks on a fast shuffle. The som-ber “For Us” is a late-night, slow blue instru-mental that gives Starski plenty of room to stretch out with Wolfe on organ filling the space behind him.
“Cry Baby” is a rocker with Elle's sultry voice backed by Wolfe's keyboard wizardry and biting guitar from her husband. Her work on the bal-lad, “The Truth”, is equally impressive. Starski breaks out his slide on “How It Come to Be” and tears it up over his distorted vocal. Another highlight is the instrumental “Hallows Eve”, as Starski shows he has some serious jazz chops. Cole Bergus elevates the cut with his intense sax solo. “Means Nothing Now” is another up-tempo number with Starski expressing his feel-ings about the plight of people who have lost their jobs.
This is a very impressive first effort for Starski. He has delivered a strong batch of tunes and, no surprise, his guitar work is a consistent de-light. A very well-done project that merits your attention!
Reviewer Mark Thompson is president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. He has been listening to music of all kinds for fifty years. The first concert he attended was in Chicago with The Mothers of Invention and Cream. Life has never been the same.
Featured Blues Review 6 of 6
Bottom Up Blues Gang - Handle It
This is the third album for this St. Louis-based band. I really like the St. Louis-New Orleans styled music, with a good brass section and honky-tonk approach to their music. They tour heavily, about 225 shows a year, with 1/3 at home, 1/3 in the Big Easy and the last third across the country. The official “band” is just Kari Liston and Jeremy Segal-Moss. They share vocal duties while Kari does kazoo, whistle and percussion and Jeremy plays guitar. Fifteen other artists share the studio with them on bass, harp, piano, guitar, percussion, organ, and various horn section instruments. All the songs but one are original and show their skills in songwriting.
Kari’s vocals are down home and authentic. She has a great, nasal drawl and vocal quality that makes her singing evocative and interesting. She is gritty and earthy, and can be sexy and sultry or just in your face and bold; I really enjoyed listening to her! Jeremy fills in here and there; it is mostly Kari’s “show” fronting the band vocally. “Lover Foe” is one cut where they share the vocals and the duet sounds like something you’d hear on a porch in Mississippi or Louisiana, with both of them trading off and singing together and then letting Adam Andrews do his dirty work on the harp. The three of them give us a very real and guttural performance that could be today or 100 years ago but good nonetheless.
They open the discs with “South Broadway Blues”, and by the time the song is over you know you are in for an old time treat. Kari sings and whistles as Jeremy play guitar, Matt Murdick strokes the keys and Dawn Weber plays trumpet. It blends well and sets the stage for 9 more interesting cuts. Kari opens the next with her kazoo as Murdick bounces up and down the keyboard. “First of May” is another great cut, this time with Jak Jurzak on tuba, Charlie Halloran on trombone, and Aurora Nealand on soprano sax. It sounds complex, balanced and very cool in a New Orleans brassy sort of way; the sax really “sells” the overall sound of the song. They only use a bass (upright or electric) on half of the tracks, but Joey Glynn and Sharon Foehner/Tom Maloney respectively do a great job adding to the mix on songs like “New World Blues” and the cover, Ray Charles’ “Drown in My Own Tears”. The Hammond B3 on track 4 by Nathan Hershey along with the trumpet and added percussion and guitar (Joe Meyer and Tony Esterly) gives the cut a “bigness” the other tracks don’t have- it fills in and grabs you by the throat and says, “I’m here!” Very well done! The only person I did not mention was Eric McSpadden who adds his harp on one track, “New World Blues”; Andrews is featured on harp as noted and on 4 other cuts and both are excellent.
The disc is packed in a very cool and old time looking cardboard wrapper. The packing and layout are nice and includes a fold-out set of lyrics. I am happy to have been acquainted with these musicians and hope to hear more from them. They are a fun group with a cool sound. If you like an old-time sound done right, this band and CD are for you!
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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