Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2012 Blues Blast Magazine
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In This Issue
This weeks issue has a mega dose of Blues! We have the latest in Blues Society news from around the globe. Terry Mullins has our feature interview with slide guitar master, Doug MacLeod. Jim Kanavy has a photo essay on the 2012 Briggs Farm Blues Fest. Marilyn Stringer has a photo essay from the 2012 Monterey Bay Blues Fest.
We have seven music reviews for you! John Mitchell reviews a new release from The Phantom Blues Band and also reviews a new release from JW Jones. Rex Bartholomew reviews a new CD from Cameo Blues. Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony reviews a new release from Tim Ainsley. Steve Jones reviews a new CD from Big Dog Mercer. Mark Thompson reviews a new release from Bob Margolin with the Mike Sponza Band. Rainey Wetnight reviews a new album from Albert Castiglia. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
From The Editor's Desk
Well we are nearly 3 weeks into the voting for the 2012 Blues Blast Music Awards and almost 2700 votes have been tallied so far. We noticed that the large majority of those who have voted are new Blues Blast Magazine subscribers. So we want to welcome you aboard and hope you enjoy the magazine.
Now the question is, why have the rest of you current subscribers not yet voted? (more than 22,000 current subscribers)
Well to entice you to please help us by voting, we began drawing voter email addresses for prizes last week. We are in the process of notifying the winners of their prizes.
What kind of prizes can you win by voting? We gave away copies of some of the nominees CDs, some free Blues Blast T-shirts, and we even gave away a signed copy of Buddy Guy's Grammy winning, BMA winning and Blues Blast Music Award winning CD, Living Proof this week.
We will be announcing the wining voters first names and cities next week as we get permission from them to do so. Meantime, be sure to get your vote in. CLICK HERE to vote now.
Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!
Friday, July 20th
Saturday, July 21st
General Electric Employees Club
1750 General Electric Rd, Bloomington, IL
Featured Blues Interview - Doug MacLeod
Singer, song-writer and guitarist Doug MacLeod is one engaging individual.
He's the kind of guy whose easy-going approach and dis-arming smile make it impossible not to find him likeable.
Stories roll off his tongue easier and more gracefully than a river flows down stream.
MacLeod is also blessed with a razor-sharp wit – listen to any of his songs for further proof of that – and he's also very adept at thinking quickly on his feet.
And that particular ability to improvise on the fly has gotten him out of some potential jams over the years, including one situation involving Big Mama Thornton, who was known to be a bit on the cantankerous side at times.
His introduction to Big Mama came through George “Harmonica” Smith, who hooked up MacLeod, who was a young guitarist at the time, with the larger-than-life singer for a gig.
“I had heard all the stories about her and I was real nervous. So I just played real simple, tasteful guitar – Albert King style – with not a lot of notes but with a lot of feeling,” MacLeod said. “So we get done with the set and I'm sitting by myself – I thought I had done alright. Big Mama comes over and got right up in my face and said, 'You like me?' I said, “Yes, Mama, I like you.' She said, 'What you like about me?' And the first thing that came to my mind and out of my mouth was, 'I like your eyes.' I was sweating, but she said, 'Ohhh, baby.' And she turned to George Smith and said, “George, you know what little Doug said to Mama?' And you could tell George was worried about me and he just shook his head. Then Mama said to him, 'Little Doug likes Mama's eyes.' And George went, 'He do?' But from then on, Big Mama loved me. I could do no wrong with her.”
Over the ensuing years since that fateful evening when he adroitly managed to woo Big Mama Thornton, MacLeod has really earned his stripes in the blues world and has became a living, breathing example of how the forefathers of the genre used to carry out their business, armed with not much more than just an acoustic guitar and a sack full of hand-crafted tunes, traveling the world by any available means.
There's not many fans of the blues that have not had some form of contact with MacLeod, either by listening to one of his 20 albums, by reading the charming and amusing stories he wrote for Blues Revue magazine for a decade, or by gazing at his portrait that hangs inside the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
MacLeod's latest studio effort, Brand New Eyes (Reference Recordings/Fresh), garnered him a pair of Blues Music Award nominations this year, one for Acoustic Artist of the Year and one for Best Acoustic Album.
His name is regularly found when the BMA nominations are handed out, but winning has proved a bit elusive to MacLeod, although he doesn't seem to be too down in the dumps about wearing the 'forever a bridesmaid' tag.
“Well, yes and no. I've done an awful lot of records and have had a real good career, so on that side, it doesn't affect my career much,” he said. “But on a personal note, I'd love to win one. You know what I mean? For me to sit and say to you that it doesn't bother me … that's not true. I'd love to win one. I'm starting to feel like Susan Lucci, you know what I mean? Always nominated and never winning one.”
MacLeod first got his feet wet in the coffee house folk scene back in the 1960s, an extremely fertile time for music and a period that not only saw the birth and rise of future superstars like Bob Dylan, but also saw the 're-discovery' of forgotten legends such as Skip James.
And according to MacLeod, the differences between the folkies and the blues cats was really paper-thin.
“Well, I realized that the blues are a great medium for singer-songwriters. And that's what I am – a singer-songwriter. But the blues is the thing I do. When you think about it, Son House was a singer-songwriter. Blind Boy Fuller was a singer-songwriter. Big Bill Broonzy, Lightnin' Hopkins, Robert Johnson, those guys were all singer-songwriters. They were folk musicians. And I just like to think I'm kind of carrying on that tradition.”
While they may have shared several similarities, there may have also existed a bit of envy between the folk singers and the bluesmen of the day during that time frame.
“Back in the late 60s, when this folk movement was going on, the blues guys were kind of like the rebels of that movement,” said MacLeod. “The folkies were jealous of us blues guys because of our lifestyle and the way the girls were all after us.”
When all the layers are peeled back from a good song, what you have at its very core is a story. That's no doubt one of the reasons that MacLeod has became such a prolific and gifted songwriter lies in his ability to tell a good story. MacLeod's stories and songs have found a way to get to the very essence of the human condition – both the good side and bad side.
That ability was quickly recognized by many throughout the industry, including by the one man that most point to as the greatest blues songwriter of all time.
“I was fortunate enough to meet Willie Dixon when he was in L.A. And he actually liked a song of mine. That's how we met. We were at a benefit for Shakey Jake Harris and I was sitting right next to him, as close as could be, and was really nervous. It would be like a baseball player sitting next to Henry Aaron,” MacLeod said. “And he said to me, 'I love that song you wrote called “Grease in My Gravy”. And that's one of my funny ones, right? So that broke the ice and we started talking and he told me the blues is the true facts of life. Everything that goes into life.”
That conversation with Willie Dixon about the DNA of a blues tune took MacLeod all the way back to the 1960s and a gentleman by the name of Ernest Banks who lived in a small Virginia town, as did MacLeod at that time.
“It was a small town back then. Now it's not, it's a big, ole place, but back then, in order to find someone's house, you had to know which Magnolia tree to turn by and then you'd go down a little path about the size of two tire tracks and then you were there,” he said. “And I was singing all these songs at that time about picking cotton and all this stuff. And this man told me, 'Never write or sing about what you don't know about. If you ain't lived it, you got no business singing it.' And I said to him, 'Well, Mr. Banks, I don't know … what am I going to write about?' And he looked at me with that one eye he had and said, 'Have you ever been lonely? Have you ever needed a woman or some money for that little room where you stay down there?' And I said, 'Sure.' And he said, 'That's the blues, too. Write about that.' I thank my lucky stars that I was fortunate enough to have met Mr. Ernest Banks back when I did.”
Armed with that powerful advice from a man that surely knew what he was talking about, MacLeod started authoring a string of songs that rapidly weaved their way into the very fabric that holds the blues culture together.
A number of MacLeod's countless compositions have been covered by artists like Joe Louis Walker, Coco Montoya, Billy Lee Riley, Albert King, Dave Alvin and many more.
“I remember the first time I heard Albert Collins do a song of mine, “Cash Talkin' (aka The Workingman's Blues). And one of my favorite organ players – and Albert's, too – was Jimmy McGriff. And he played organ on that song. One of my songs,” MacLeod said. “And with Albert playing and singing on it... man I nearly died when I heard that.”
The late, great Eva Cassidy, an immensely talented singer who unfortunately never really achieved stardom until after her death, also chose one of MacLeod's songs to cover.
“The first time I heard her version of “Nightbird” was when my wife and I were on our way back from National Guitars. I'm a big St. Louis Cardinals fan and they were playing the Dodgers and Vin Scully was going to be on the radio announcing it. And I was going to be in baseball heaven. My team with Vin Scully on the call,” said MacLeod. “We were in the car and the game was about to start, but my wife Patti said there was something she wanted me to hear. I said, 'Patti, it's the Cardinals and the Dodgers … Vin Scully.' She said, 'Douglas, there's something you've got to hear. ' So she puts in this CD and I heard it (“Nightbird”) and said, 'That's my song.' And her version moved me so much that I had to pull over to the side of the road and listen to it. And I'll tell you the truth without being too maudlin – a little tear came out of the corner of my eye. And I have yet to do that song again. I tell people that is the version of that song to listen to. She did such a great job.”
MacLeod spent the first part of his life in Raleigh before his family re-located to New York, where he was soon turned on to the wonderful sounds of doo-woop and R&B classics of the day.
“They had these big, ole R&B shows at the Brooklyn Theater, but guys like Big Joe Turner were on there, too. So I listened to that kind of music in New York,,” MacLeod said.
After moving once again, this time to the Midwest and St. Louis, MacLeod was exposed to the blues.
“Well, it was the blues, but it was still called R&B in those days,” he said. “But it was Albert King, Lightnin' Hopkins, Little Milton and all the soul guys. And there were two stations, one on the left (side of the dial) and one on the right and they played that kind of music 24 hours a day. And that's when I started to want to be around that kind of music.”
Before long, MacLeod decided to enter into the fray himself, with the bass guitar serving as his first portal into the world of playing live music.
But, it wasn't long before MacLeod realized the bass guitar might not be the proper instrument for him.
“I couldn't get any girls. I couldn't get any girls with the bass, so I switched to the guitar,” he laughed. “So I started playing acoustic guitar and when I joined the Navy, I started playing in the coffee houses and so on.”
His dalliance with the acoustic guitar took a bit of a left turn when MacLeod fell under the powerful pull of Kenny Burrell and B.B. King's jazzy, electric guitar playing.
“I heard those guys and couldn't get them out of my head. So, I changed over to the electric guitar,” he said. “And my first four albums were with an electric band. But then I realized that I really wasn't connecting with people – because I'm a storyteller, too. So I told my wife that I wanted to dissolve the band and go back to being a solo act. I knew it meant playing smaller rooms and a little less money, but I thought I would be happier and be able to touch more people that way. And without blinking an eye, she said, 'Do it.' And that turned out to be a great decision she made. That was in '92, so 17 albums later, she made the right decision for me.”
And MacLeod seems truly happy traveling the world by himself, without band mates, a wall of amps or a huge entourage.
“I'm comfortable with all that. Me, I travel with one suitcase and one guitar, that's it,” he said. “That's what the real old cats used to do. Me and Honeyboy (Edwards) used to talk and you know, back in his day, they didn't have two or three guitars. They just took one with them and they were lucky to even have that one. They tuned it to the different tunings and that's what they used. I have one National now – one that I call Moon – it's a black M1 and it's one they made for me. I love it. They called and wanted me to have one that was in the catalog, so they made that one for me. And I use it for everything.”
Everything from playing small blues tents in the American heartland to some of the world's biggest stages at the world's biggest festivals overseas.
“That doesn't bother me at all. I've played some big, big festivals in Europe and the people will ask me, 'Are you alright on that stage all by yourself?' And I absolutely am. I love it. I'm just real comfortable as a solo act.”
As anyone who has ever read an installment of Doug's Back Porch in Blues Revue knows, George “Harmonica” Smith and Pee Wee Crayton were a couple of central – and colorful – characters in the development of MacLeod's life. On and off the band-stand. And it's clear that he very much treasures the time he spent, and the lessons he learned, from Smith and Crayton.
“Their smiles. I miss their smiles. I think back about the friendship and the camaraderie that we had. And just what a joy it was to be with them,” MacLeod said. “The laughter and the lessons in life … I mean, George was a very spiritual guy. A lot of guys knew him before, when he was a rascal, but I knew him as this wonderful, spiritual gentleman. And I was easily accepted by them - Pee Wee's the Godfather of my son.”
All it takes is just a casual glance over some of MacLeod's columns to understand that he not only has a way with putting together words that rhyme and setting them to life with music, but that he is also a highly-entertaining author of prose on a page, as well.
In addition to his journalistic efforts and his singing, songwriting and guitar playing, plus, the appearances that he does in various workshops and the occasional instructional DVD that he puts out, MacLeod never seems to hit the idle switch for very long.
But no matter what he's doing, you can bet that the blues are involved and that there's another song, just around the corner.
“Blues is what I call a deceptively simple music. It tells a story and if you listen to that story, it can change your life,” he said. “There's a song on my last album (Brand New Eyes) called “Some Old Blues Song” and I wrote that song about the power of how one blues song can reach into your heart and your soul and somehow make it to your brain and tells you that you can make it. It gives you confidence and reassurance.”
And there's nothing like a shot of confidence and reassurance when a case of the low-down, in-the-gutter blues rears its head.
“In my mind, this is not a music about suffering. It's not a music about partying all the time. It's a music about overcoming,” MacLeod said. “Not everybody gets a good shake in this world. Most of us don't. And this music talks about how you overcome that. When you're in the bad times – know that you can overcome. And then when those bad times are gone, this music helps you celebrate that, too.”
Visit Doug's website at www.doug-macleod.com.
Photos by Bob Kieser © 2012 Blues Blast Magazine
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 7
Phantom Blues Band – Inside Out
13 tracks; 51.14 minutes
“Inside Out” is the third album produced by the Phantom Blues Band and it is perhaps the best yet. On the earlier discs, the band stuck mainly to covers, but here there are six originals and, as ever, plenty of variety, stellar playing and singing. The band started out as a studio band to back Taj Mahal, but the combination worked so well that they have continued to tour with Taj as well as all being regular session musicians of the highest calibre. The acts they have played with is a veritable who’s who of blues and rock, names such as Bonnie Raitt, Etta James, Little Feat, Joe Cocker and Crosby, Stills and Nash. The band consists of Tony Branaugel on drums, Larry Fulcher on bass, Mike Finnigan on keyboards, Johnny Lee Schell on guitar and the horn pairing of Darrell Leonard on trumpet and Joe Sublett on sax, a.k.a. ‘The Texacali Horns’. Ace percussionist Lenny Castro helps out and jazz pianist Joe Sample plays keyboards on one track. Vocals are shared out between Finnigan, Fulcher and Schell.
Taking the originals first I particularly enjoyed “Boogah Man” with its surging rhythm, great harmonies and organ solo. In contrast “So Far From Heaven” is a jazzy tune with Joe Sample’s keys prominent and an outstanding solo from co-author (with Larry Fulcher) Joe Sublett. The horn arrangement here is superb and the whole piece has the feel of Steely Dan at their peak. “Having A Good Time With The Blues” is a good rolling blues, a collaboration between Schell, Charlie Musselwhite and Barry Goldberg, with strong guitar playing throughout.
Schell also contributes “It’s All Right” with its strong chorus and horn charts. Darrell Leonard provides “Where Did My Monkey Go”, the only instrumental here. As you would expect the horns are strongly featured, but the whole band moves this one along with some latin percussion and hot guitar. “Change” is one written by the whole band, more great horns on a song with something of a political message: “Running the world is a mighty big job, but it seems we’re running on fear. Times are hard, jobs are scarce but the stock market’s doing real well”.
The covers come from a wide variety of sources. Doc Pomus’ “Boogie-Woogie Country Girl is great fun, piano to the fore but the horns also rocking hard. Son House’s “Death Letter” is obviously at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum and has been covered many times. The Phantoms slow it right down, making the tragic lyrics even more harrowing. Schell’s slide guitar adds to the oppressive atmosphere, the horns punctuating the song with well-timed blasts. The vocal here is particularly effective but I was not sure who sings which song and the sleeve notes do not help there!
Charlie Rich was best known for his C&W songs and so seems an odd choice for the Phantoms but “Feel Like Goin’ Home” works well, Finnigan’s keyboards underpinning the sad lyrics of the slowest song of the set. Dave Bartholomew is a more obvious choice and his “Little Fernandez” is a delight, the tale of a small guy with a bigger woman. The latin feel gives an opportunity for Leonard to display his Mexican style on trumpet. Jimmy McCracklin is another guy who is frequently covered and here “Shame, Shame” gives the band the chance to play some soulful music. That leaves the opening and closing cuts – opener is Smokey McAllister’s “I Can’t Stand It” which provides an excellent upbeat statement of intent from the band. The call and response vocals on the chorus add a definite touch of classic soul to the song. Closing the CD is “Stone Survivor” by David Egan, best known for his contributions to Cajun music and to the Lil’ Band Of Gold in particular. Finnigan’s piano is at the heart of this one but, once again, it ends up as a whole band piece with the horns and guitar taking a bow too.
This is a great CD by a band that cannot be dismissed as ‘just Taj’s backing band’. No, they are far more than that and this CD deserves to do really well. Highly recommended.
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 enjoyed the Tampa Bay Blues Festival in April.
Live Blues Review 1 of 2 - Briggs Farm Blues Fest
The 2012 Briggs Farm Blues Festival celebrated its 15th anniversary this year and did so in style with a line-up full of exciting and talented performers. Since 1998 the festival has continually grown and has become an annual tradition for blues fans from around the world. Thousands of people camp all weekend keeping the music going all night, sometimes with the help of performers who stick around to mingle with the fans long after the stage lights have faded.
There is a family friendly feeling to the festival with fresh food made on site by Briggs’ staff along with blues singer/guitarist and BBQ Pitmaster extraordinaire Lonnie Shields and his sister Pearly Mae, and fans are welcome to bring coolers, food, chairs, blankets, and friends. The weather this year was hot even for July, with heat indexes topping 100 degrees, but armed with battery powered fans, ample sunscreen, plenty of ice, and copious amounts of cold beverages the attendees were able to withstand the warmth even as things heated up on stage.
Briggs Farm Blues Festival, as always, got underway on its Back Porch Stage with some regional acts playing as fans slowly trickled in but things got moving on the Main Stage around 4pm when Chris Beard, the Prince of the Blues, brought his soulful, funky electric blues to the Farm officially kicking off the 15th Anniversary celebration.
Next on the main Stage, Alexis P. Suter Band kept spirits high with their Gospel tinged R&B. Alexis was nominated for best "Soul Blues Female Artist" Blues Music Award this year and is a veteran of Briggs Farm with 2012 marking their 4th appearance at the festival.
Linsey Alexander is one of the hottest Chicago Blues performers in the Windy City these days and he brought his brand of urban blues to the farm on Friday afternoon. Linsey is a charismatic entertainer full of amusing stories, colorful wit, and devastating guitar solos. In true blues tradition, Linsey took the music to the people, walking through the crowd for a few songs all the while posing for pictures and showing off his fretboard finger work to the ladies.
Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater closed the first day at Briggs Farm Blues Festival with a rousing set rockin’ blues in his inimitable West Side Chicago style. The Chief’s band is tight, and together they gave the crowd a powerful performance worthy of men half his age. Eddy may have given his woman “a damn good leavin’ alone” but he gave the fans at Briggs Farm a damn good set of blues and even brought up his Chicago buddy Linsey Alexander for the final song of the night.
The Back Porch stage runs concurrently with the Main Stage performances making it impossible to see everything at Briggs Farm and if you stay glued to big names on the big stage you’ll miss a lot of great music on the porch. In the past, the porch has hosted David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, Terry “Harmonica” Bean, and many others. Lonnie Shields takes a break from cooking each night and plays sets of music that deserve to be on the main stage. His energy is palpable and he works the crowd into a frenzy. The days usually start with local acts and work up to regional and national performers and Briggs Farm staff member James Owens is an accomplish blues harp player and regularly sits in with the Back Porch performers for memorable jams. This year featured Blues Hall of Fame member Michael Packer and soon-to-be inducted Clarence Spady. The CKS Band, a trio comprised of Bruce Katz and Scott Sharrard of Gregg Allman’s band and Randy Ciarlante of The Band & The Levon Helm Band played a blazing set and Mikey Junior’s harp playing left the crowd breathless.
Rory Block opened day two on the main stage with storm-shortened set full of classic delta blues including an acapella version of Son House’s “Grinnin’ In Your Face” and tracks from her recent album I Belong to the Band: A Tribute to Rev. Gary Davis. Lightning struck in the distance and clouds grew dark as Rory played the devil’s blues to the delight of the crowd.
Butterfield Revisited took the stage shortly after the rain delay and played a high energy set of electric blues to get everyone back in festival mode. Butterfield Revisited is the brainchild of Gabriel Butterfield and Jimmy Vivino who put the band together as a tribute to the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Gabriel is the son of Paul Butterfield and he is working on a documentary of his father’s life in and out of the music business. Jimmy Vivino is an accomplished guitarist and vocalist who is currently band leader of the Basic Cable Band on Conan O’Brien’s late night show Conan. The band’s first performance was at Briggs Farm and the ensemble, which includes the incredible Steve Guyger on harmonica and vocals, Pete Levin on keyboards, Jim Curtin on bass, and Jimmy Eppard on guitar and electric sitar which he used to great effect on “East West.”
After the Butterfield Revisited set, Michael Packer presented Blues Hall Of Fame induction certificates to Gabriel Butterfield, Steve Guyger, Jimmy Vivino, The Butterfield Blues Band, and to Briggs Farm commemorating 15 years of top notch blues.
The thunder from the afternoon storm was nothing compared to the visceral electric boom brought forth by festival favorites Moreland & Arbuckle who first played at Briggs Farm in 2010, and the band brought back by popular demand did not disappoint. They energized the crowd and got people moving even in the sweltering heat.
The festival closed out with next- generation star Bernard Allison, son of Blues legend Luther Allison. Bernard has made a name for himself with his own style of blues incorporating funk, soul, and Hendrix-style rock into a crowd pleasing fusion.
The music is of course the main draw of Briggs Farm Blues Festival but there is plenty to enjoy all weekend. There are vendors offering products like jewelry made from utensils, blown glass, folk art renderings of blues legends, a multitude of apparel including hats and many fine tie-dye creations, cigars and even cigar box guitars hand-crafted by Young Customs in Nuremberg, PA. This local vendor provided a custom cigar box guitar to mark the 15th anniversary of the festival, which was raffled off to a lucky winner. Each year the festival also gives away one acoustic guitar per night signed by the acts from that day.
The smell of the barbecue smokers kept drawing people back for Lonnie Shields’ mouth-watering pulled pork sandwiches, wings and sausages. This year the Briggs Farm crew added home-style macaroni and cheese to their menu which was a big hit, along with the perennial favorite – fresh, roasted sweet corn. Other vendors provide desserts like Strawberry Shortcake and Pecan Pie as well as some fresh cut French fries to go with the barbecue. Some of the vendors were hit hard by the storm that swept through on Saturday afternoon but with the help of some concert-goers got their stands back in order. Unfortunately some were not as fortunate and many gazebo tents were found in the garbage on Saturday night. Altogether it was another successful year for the Briggs Farm Blues Festival which continues to raise the bar for high-quality festival experiences. Maybe we’ll see you there next year.
Photos by Jim Kanavy © 2012.
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 Blues Review 2 of 7
JW-Jones – Seventh Hour
Solid Blues Records (Crosscut in Europe)
10 tracks – 36.39 minutes
JW-Jones is a Canadian blues guitarist and singer who has started to gain recognition in the States with a series of albums that featured some of the biggest names in the blues – Charlie Musselwhite, Kim Wilson, Hubert Sumlin, Junior Watson and Little Charlie Baty. Across his six previous albums he has produced a wide range of material from swinging big band sounds to classic blues but for this seventh album he has gone back to basics, recording almost entirely in a quartet format in his own living room. The band here is JW on guitar and vocals, Jesse Whiteley on keyboards, Jeff Asselin on drums and Marc Decho on bass (upright and electric). The only significant input from outside the band is steel guitar by Jeremy Wakefield on two cuts. Eight of the tracks were written by JW, three in collaboration with Tim Wynne-Jones, the two covers coming from the songbooks of Little Milton and Roy Orbison.
Listeners are grabbed by the throat from the start by opener “Ain’t Gonna Beg” with its pounding drums, ringing guitar and strong vocal. As those of us who have enjoyed JW’s material before know he is very good at writing hook-laden songs and this is another and JW’s stinging solo is a perfect fit for the song. “Let It Go” follows, another uptempo number which might have worked well with a horn section but here it is the B3 which drives the melody along. “In A Song” is clever, a song that catches your attention: the girl who has ended their relationship is told that she may well reappear in a future song! I particularly liked the way that the rhythm changes as the band moves from verse to chorus. “You Got Caught” is a more sparse arrangement and also the bluesiest track on the disc so far, with some stellar guitar playing in the solo.
“All Over Again” is a fast-paced tune with another catchy refrain. Here the guitar and arrangement is almost pop, a notion emphasised by the organ solo but countermanded by the guitar which is far tougher than the rest of the song – an interesting contrast. “Heartbreaker” whips along at terrific pace with some jazzy chording from JW and steel guitar in support, much more of a jump style than what has come before. The pace slows a little for “Do For You” as JW asks what he can do for his girl: possibilities include climbing the Eiffel Tower, shooting Niagara Falls and crossing the Kalahari desert in the full noon sun, any of which JW will do for her love. More strong guitar features in the middle solo which made me think of Otis Rush. “What Is Real” is a gentle piece, a story about keeping life in perspective, taking its inspiration from the tale of a couple who won the lottery and gave the money to charity. Musically this is the quietest tune on the album with the main instrumental focus being JW’s acoustic guitar, acoustic bass and gentle organ.
The two covers appear towards the end of the album. Little Milton and Oliver Sain’s “I’m Tryin’” is given a fine reading with JW’s guitar ringing out and his vocal delivering the familiar lyrics well. Roy Orbison and Sam Phillips’ “So Long I’m Gone” goes way back to Roy’s early days at Sun Records and has a suitably rockabilly feel with JW’s twangy guitar and Jeremy Wakefield’s steel guitar adding the touch of country that suits the song.
Although the appearance of famous guests on some of JW’s earlier albums was great, this latest CD is none the worse for simply concentrating on JW’s talents as writer, singer and guitarist. I remain amazed that he is not better known in the States: for me this is another fine addition to his discography.
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 enjoyed the Tampa Bay Blues Festival in April.
Featured Blues Review 3 of 7
Cameo Blues – 10,000 Hours
Make it Real Records
11 tracks / 44:49
There is a popular theory that one must put in 10,000 hours of practice to master most complicated skills. I have seen the rule applied to soccer, golf, hockey, and of course music – all you have to do is practice 20 hours a week for 10 years, and you are set. The Beatles did their 10,000 hours by performing over 1200 eight-hour sets in Hamburg between 1960 and 1964, and came back as seasoned performers. They were not an overnight sensation.
Well, 10,000 Hours also happens to be the title of Cameo Blues’ new album. This is their second album, but don’t let the size of their catalog trick you into thinking these are a bunch of newcomers, because this Toronto-based band has been around in one form or another since 1978. If these guys haven’t gotten their 10,000 hours in yet, they must be pretty close because they sure do sound tight.
Cameo Blues is made up of John Dickie on lead vocals and harmonica, Mike Sloski on drums, Ray Harrison on the keys, John Bride on guitars, and Tom Griffiths holding down the low end on bass. They collected 11 tunes for this album: seven originals by Mr. Dickie and his buddies in the band, and four well-known covers. They arranged the album so that all of the originals are up front, and the covers are the last four tracks.
Cameo Blues wisely chose to kick the album off with “Penguin Walk,” a rock and roll boogie that showcases Texas guitar tone, some nice organ work and a driving bass line. The lyrics are smart and the music is well-suited to the band, setting a high bar for the listeners’ expectations. The title track comes up next, and the pace does not let up as Dickie’s distorted voice tears into “10,000 Hours.” Sloski does some very tasteful and appropriate drum work on this tune, and its message about paying your dues should make this song required listening for every new band that hopes for overnight fame and fortune.
The mood lightens up a little with the clever lyrics of “21st Century Rockit 88,” which is a piano-driven bluesy rock number with plenty of slide guitar. Harrison does a fabulous job on the keyboards in addition to receiving writing credit for this track.
“Plowing Our Row” is a thoughtful look at our dependence on fossil fuels, without going overboard on political commentary. This is a more straight-up blues song with strong vocal harmonies over a foundation of organ. But the serious tone of this tune is offset by the next track “Gasoline,” which rocks out with a great guitar intro and a thumping bass line. At a little over three minutes, this song ended too soon for me…
10,000 Hours also gets some gospel-inspired Hammond B3 (courtesy of Lance Anderson) on “Hold Your Love,” a sweet ballad that also has some nice piano work by Harrison. Bride provides a super-smooth guitar solo in the middle too, showing he has soul as well as chops.
The last original track is “Talk Radio,” which bemoans what has become of our airwaves. I miss the days when you could actually find decent music on the radio too, guys. Griffiths’ bass is plenty growly on this tune, which is a nice counterpoint to the complicated (and upfront) keyboard parts.
The covers are popular tunes, but all of them are done differently than I have heard before. The first is Willie Dixon’s “Howlin’ for My Darlin’”, which has been shortened to “Howlin’.” Dickie has the perfectly seasoned voice for this straight-up Chicago blues track. Going with the theme, next up is a masterful version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Sittin’ On Top of the World.” This song has nice interplay between Bride and Dickie, the latter on both vocals and harmonica.
Perhaps the most unexpected track is the cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” which has enough organ to lend a circus/horror show vibe to the proceedings, without veering too far off into Emerson Lake and Palmer territory. It is a complete departure from the original, but rocks just as hard. I will have to sneak this one into my next DJ gig.
The last track on 10,000 Hours is Jimmy McGriff’s “All About My Girl,” and this hard-rocking instrumental gives everybody in the band a chance to shine one last time. This was a great choice to finish up with, and is a capper to a uniformly solid album.
It is nice to find an album with 11 tracks that are all well done, with the added bonus that each of them is unique and steps out in a different direction. I highly recommend that you give Cameo Blues a try and add 10,000 Hours to your play list.
Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at rexbass.blogspot.com.
Featured Blues Review 4 of 7
Ainslie’s Vibes - Standing Ten Feet Tall (and Raging Like A Bull)
“Wanted-Singer and lyric writer for hot-shot-inventive English blues-rock guitarist and band.” Tim Ainsley leaps right into the fray with his energetic guitar skills, until a roadblock caused by his spoken word “vocals” throws a “spanner (a wrench to you non-anglophiles) into the works”. He comes close to sounding like Long John Baldry doing his spoken word bits. Hard to make heads or tails of the meaning of the lyrics. The music is just great, as the rhythm section is tighter than a bull’s backside.
In “Tell Me Straight”, as in everything here, the guitar riffs and solos are fantastic and imaginative, but no proper vocals to speak of. In the bluesy-jazzy “Tim’s Crones” he rips off a really hot solo. The band churns up a nifty shuffle in “If Only” that also features a nice organ solo by Roger Cotton, a former member of Peter Green’s Splinter Group, who also helped in recording, mixing and remastering the record. The acoustic guitar and drum driven “Blue Eyes” works on a melancholy level. The fearless leader conjures up some inventive playing on “Divine Intervention”, the kind that is fun to follow. His guitar can just cut and slash through atmosphere. The title song sounds like it is backed by Johnny Cash’s Tennessee Three providing a train groove as Ainslie does his rip-roaring thing.
If this record were stripped of vocals it would be a blues-rock tour-de-force. Sadly, as we all know “ifs” don’t work in real life. Oh heck I need to use one more “if” to get my point across hear…If the guitar playing sounds as powerful in live, it’s the kind of playing that would draw your attention from a distance and improve as you got nearer. His playing stands with the best of today’s blue-rock “top guns”. He can rip off fast, flashy notes that are well placed. The one glaring miscue here is the absence of quality vocals and lyrics. I really don’t know what else to say. If you can stand the “talk-singing” you’re in for tons of blazing guitar goodness.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
Live Blues Review 2 of 2 - Monterey Bay Blues Fest
27th Monterey Bay Blues Festival (MBBF)
The Monterey Bay Blues Festival is held every year at the Monterey Fairgrounds, with walkways between the stages lined with good southern (festival) cooking, vendors, three stages, and beautiful cypress trees. Many years the festival is cloaked in the famous Monterey Bay Fog but this year was an exception!! The weather was gorgeous and the music was great, as were the fashions and gathering of friends from all over northern California. The festival begins on Friday evening, with jams each night after the festival. This Friday night started out with blues performances from Alvon Johnson, Adrian Costa, and some great soul blues from Rose Royce, Sai Whatt, Five Tempting Men, and Evelyn Champagne King.
Alvon Johnson can be both warm and touching or just plain goofy fun but I caught him on the first of the two moods and was mesmerized by his set. His band included Bass: Ron Perry, Sax: Stabe Wilson, Keys: James McKinney,Drums: Eddie Hall
Adrian Costa, an engaging, talented, and very entertaining bluesman from Spain was backed up by the bay area greats Henry Oden (bass), Carl Green (sax), Dennis Dove (drums), Dale Ockerman (keyboards) and the thoroughly committed (and the best dressed!) Tovia Bradley on drums. Although Adrian was new to me, he has quite a fan base in the bay area.
Fresh from Las Vegas, the Five Tempting Men Soul Revue, was just that!! And they had their act down – every dance move, hand motion, and songs were highly coordinated and I have to say FUN!! The area was packed and everyone was singing every Temptations and 60-70’s chart topping soul hit made. I didn’t want to leave (having a happy nostalgia attack) but more music was happening with Sai Whatt on the President’s stage and Rose Royce followed by Evelyn Champagne King on the big arena stage. What a night!
Saturday was another great day full of variety on the three stages. After the day was over, the Monterey Herald wrote a glowing article that brought tears of joy to so many people with a headliner something like “Paula Harris Storms The Blues Festival”. Winner of the Monterey Battle of The Bands, which then took her to Memphis to come in 3rd at the IBC’s (International Blues Challenge), The Paula Harris Band won the honor of opening the festival on the main Arena Stage on Saturday. And because the festival artist directors were so impressed with Paula, she did a second set on the President’s stage later in the day – which was good as the Arena stage was not well attended in the morning. Being the professionals that they are, Paula’s band blew away the people in the morning audience, the word traveled, and the second set was packed. Number one is Paula’s blues voice, presence, and energy and right next to that is a band that can’t be topped. D’Mar (Derrick Martin) has been Little Richard’s drummer for over 16 years and brings a beat and entertainment factor to match Paula’s energy. Bay Area’s famous performers completed the ensemble: Terry Hiatt (guitar), Eddie Neon (guitar), Joey Fabian (bass), Simon Russell (keys). I usually keep my personal opinions out of these articles but this time it is not going to happen….Paula Harris is going places!! Don’t miss her!! Book her & the band!! Stay tuned!!
The rest of the day was full of many favorites, so as to not play favorites they will be listed in alphabetical order…and of course they are all great!! And perhaps a few comments about their style.
Andre Thiery & Zydeco Magic - Zydeco
Big Cat Tolfree – Smooth Blues, Bay Area Favorite, Funky Bass. Great band!!
Bay Area Caravan of Allstars – these guys are the true heroes of bands around the bay area and together they put out a very great sound. And most of the members will appear in other bands throughout the weekend.
Dale Ockerman’s Musicskool – Dale play keyboards and guitar and is very involved in bringing music to the schools and each year he brings his very talented students to play a set. This year his wife Connie Troupe also belted out some blues with the band.
Grady Champion – Grady, as always puts on a fun filled set. And apparently he has spent the last year learning to play the guitar (surprise!)and is doing quite well on that along with his searing harp. Grady loves to run through the crowd and flirt with everyone on & off the stage. His band includes Nathan Keck (guitar), Marquis Champion (bass – yes it is his son), and Calvin (drums).
JC Smith Band – JC has a great band, fully resplendent with a horn section. JC is really generous about sharing the stage and invited Demetria Taylor up to sing. JC met 12 year old “guitar wonder” Ray Goren in Chicago a few weeks earlier and invited him to come play with the band. (This was the 4th time to see Ray play in the last two months and he is very impressive).
JJ Grey & Mofro – Saturday night’s headliner was JJ Grey & Mofro. Historically the headliners at the MBBF are big R&B Revues and draw large crowds. JJ Grey is extremely popular in the Pacific NW (I am a fan!) but not well known to this particular festival crowd and a completely different style than usual. True to form JJ put on a great set even though the attendance was low. (He certainly pulled in the adoring crowds last week in Portland!)
Kenny Neal Family Band - played two sets on Saturday and as always is fabulous! Kenny loves to highlight his family and brought his son, Mica, in to perform. Mica sang “Diggin’ On James Brown” with great vocals and trumpet work. The band also included Bryan Morris (drums), Darnell Neal (bass), and Fredrick Neal (keyboards).
Larry McCray – blues at it’s purest and finest. What else is there to say? His band includes Kerry Clark (bass), Shawn McDonald (keyboards), and Steve McCray (drums).
Minor E Williams – played two sets. Great blues! Minor plays drums and lead vocals with James Henry (percussion).
Stu Heydon Band – great local blues band!
Sista Monica Parker – SMP performed cuts from her new blues CD “Living in the Danger Zone”. Monica’s band is stellar and the blues was in the house!! Her new blues band (as opposed to her gospel choir band) includes Danny B (keyboards), Danny Sandoval (Fantastic Sax!!), Bill Vallaire (guitar), and smooth vocals by William Russ Jr.
Sunday was a short day for this blues reporter but I thoroughly enjoyed the performances through the day. Roy Taylor & New Directions – the day started with the gospel sounds of Roy Taylor. The performance was cut a little short as Ray’s health is suffering. The band picked up the slack and kept the gospel going strong.
Beaufunk – Getting the blues and funk down were Keith Brown (vocals), Jim Peterson (Sax), Lorenzo Hawkins (keys), Timm Walker (bass), and William Allums (drums).
Charlie Musselwhite – Everybody’s favorite blues harmonica player, Charlie is always a treat!! And his band, well known to bay area music fans, is just more treat!! Matt Stubbs (smokin’ guitar), June Core (smokin’ drums), Mike Phillips (smokin’ bass)
Cole Foneseca & Joe Boy Watson – I only caught the last song of Cole Fonseca but was very impressed. Handicapped by an accident, Cole learned to play the lap steel with one hand. Amazing young man who can play the blues with the best of them. Another quick stop for me was Joe Boy Watson – I caught some great blues from his band as I ran to another stage.
Demetria Taylor – Got some great Chicago blues from this set with Carl Green (sax) & Ronnie Stewart (guitar) from the Bay Area Caravan backing her up.
Tebo & Funk – This set was great fun. A little zydeco, a little Texas, a lot of blues & attitude. And popping through the bushes, Kenny Neal came to hear the band. His timing was perfect as Tebo had just told the crowd that Kenny Neal was on his newest CD. Tebo was getting down on the bass while Myrna Cooper did some funky on the rubboard.
Jackie Greene – the last set of the day for me, Jackie and his guitar partner Nate Dale put on a great show with a lot of variety in their styles. They work well together and always sound great!!
A final nod to the Blues In The Schools Honor Band. The Monterey Bay Blues Festival always schedules the Honor Band on the main and garden stages and encourages and supports young musicians in a way that I have not witnessed at any other festival. We, as blues fans, constantly hear “Keep The Blues Alive” and I thank the MBBF for keeping this concept as an important part of their agenda and throughout the year. Music is such an important part of a childs’ life and development. Thanks to all the members of the board, volunteers, staff, and crew for another great weekend in Monterey.
Photos & Comments By Marilyn Stringer © 2012 MJStringerPhoto.com
Blues Society News
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Decatur Blues Society - Decatur, IL
Decatur Blues Society will hold their annual "Road to Memphis" blues challenge on Sept 22, 2012. Open to both band and solo/duo. Winning band and winning solo/duo will represent the Decatur Blues Society in the International Blues Challenge held in Memphis in Jan 2013. Entry forms and complete info can be found at www.decaturblues.org.
Minnesota Blues Society - St. Paul, MN
The Minnesota Blues Society presents 2012 Minnesota Hall of Fame inductees. MnBS would like to congratulate this years' honorees: Big Walter Smith, "Blues Performer"; James Samuel "Cornbread" Harris, Sr., "Blues Legend"; Dan Schwalbe, "Blues Sideman"; Electric Fetus, "Supportive of the Blues (non-performer)"; Cyn Collins, "West Bank Boogie", "Blues Art and Literature"; Lamont Cranston, "Tiger in your Tank", "Blues Recording"; Will Donicht, "Blues on the Bank", "Blues Song". 2012 Minnesota Hall of Fame event will be held, Sun, Oct 14, Wilebski's Blues Saloon, St. Paul. Mn details to follow @ www.mnbs.org
River City Blues Society - Pekin, IL
River City Blues Society presents: Bringing The Blues To You with the following shows at Goodfellas 1414 N. 8th St, Pekin, Illinois - July 25th at 7:00PM • Laurie Morvan, Aug 8th at 7:00PM • Chris Beard Admission: $5.00 or $3.00 for members For more info visit: www.rivercityblues.com or call 309-648-8510
Long Island Blues Society - Centereach, NY
The Long Island Blues Society will be hosting the following events:
8/12/12 Tas Cru. Frank Celenza opening, at 2PM Bobbique in Patchogue NY. LIBS Members $8, all others $10.
9/16/12 Long Island Blues Talent Competition (LIBTC) to select a representative for IBC. $10 donation to help defray winners expenses in Memphis. Location TBA. Now accepting applications for Band, Solo/Duo categories. Requirements on website www.liblues.org
Dayton Blues Society – Dayton, Ohio
The Dayton Blues Society will be holding our “Road to Memphis” Blues Challenge on July 22nd at Gilly’s Nite Club in downtown Dayton. We are now accepting applications for our Band and Solo/Duo categories. Please go to www.daytonbluessociety.com for complete details.
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. • 7/23/2012 - Roger "Hurricane" Wilson • 7/30/2012 - Biscuit Miller and the Mix • 8/6/2012 - Matt Hill • 8/13/2012 - Rockin Johnny • 8/27/2012 -Dennis Gruenling • 9/3/2012 - Eric Guitar Davis • 9/24/2012 - The 44s • 10/1/2012 - Levee Town • 10/8/2012 - Rich Fabec 10/15/2012 - Jason Elmore. Other ICBC sponsored events at the K of C Hall, Casey’s Pub, 2200 Meadowbrook Rd., Springfield, IL from 7:30pm - Midnight - Jun 30 – Matt Hill . icbluesclub.org
The Friends Of The Blues - Watseka, IL
Friends of the Blues present 2012 shows:
Tues, July 24, Laurie Morvan Band, 7 pm, Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s Club
Thur, August 9, Too Slim and the Taildraggers, 7 pm, Kankakee Valley Boat Club
Wed, August 22, Smokin’ Joe Kubek w/ Bnois King, 7 pm, Kankakee Valley Boat Club
Thur, Sept 6, Ivas John Band, 7 pm, venue TBA
Tues, Sept 18, Smilin’ Bobby, 7 pm, venue TBA
Thur, Sept 27, Jerry Lee & Juju Kings, 7 pm, venue TBA
Thursday, Oct 18, Morry Sochat & The Special 20s, 7 pm, TBA
Featured Blues Review 5 of 7
Big Dog Mercer - Big Dog Mercer
Electro Glide Records
One of the fun things abut reviewing music is that you get a lot of stuff from guys and gals you have never heard of to review. On the surface that could sound like it was a bad thing. What I have found is that more often than not it is a local artist who is working their craft, trying to get some exposure. For good, bad or indifferent, I have also found that there are a lot of pretty damn good guitar players, musicians and singers out there and some of them can write pretty good original songs. Marty Mercereau (aka Big Dog Mercer) is one of them.
A Wisconsin boy schooled in Chicago blues, Marty has won accolades in Chicago and its' south suburban areas for his guitar play, vocals and band. The CD is on a growing label and for the most part was recorded live in the studio with no over dubs, so what you hear is what they've got. He proudly claims to have only used Delay and Wah pedals only on one tracks and that he plugged directly into the amp and played.
Big Dog is on guitar and vocals, Bobby Scumaci is on B3 and piano, John Huet and Doug Horan share the bass duties and Larry "The Animal" Ortega is on drums. The band is focused and tight throughout and the songs are all original and written by Mercer. The band seems to have done their time together and work as a team. The sound is big and driving but not overpowering. Clean riffs and leads, really good backline stuff, and (when featured) the organ and keys are savory and sweet.
Mercer starts with the semi-biographical "Big Dog's Blues", a hot and romping track with nice piano and guitar solos. He's "been in the doghouse so long" that they now "call me the big dog" won't win him any Pulitzer prizes, but it sure is fun. He bemoans being plagued by a voodoo doll in "Stickin' Pins Into Me," another driving and rocking track with good guitar. The Delay and Wah are not overdone on "Wimmen Trouble" and his vocals also sell this one. "Some Other Fool" gives us some more driving beat and throbbing guitar with some gutsy vocals that remind me a bit of a gruffer styled Warren Haynes. Mercer adds a stinging guitar solo, too. Slow and real down and dirty blues are what we get with "Drinkin' Blues;"nice opening guitar work and we finally get to hear the B3. He sings of the life in taverns and quitting drinking. Well done.
Marty then rocks out a bit with "Prelude", a nice instrumental more in the rock vein. "Helpless" is a bluesy southern rock sounding testimonial where Mercer describes he s helpless and asks God's assistance. The slide reminds me a little of Dickey Betts on this one. He picks up the pace on "It's Because of You, " a somewhat frantic and rocking blues. "Big Dog Will Treat You Right" is more gutsy vocals and driving guitar, and he describes his Big Dog prowess with the "wimmen." Closing up is "Thank You, Jesus," classic slow blues where we get to hear the B3 again where this time they send us to Church. He thanks the Savior for what he's done for the Big Dog. I especially love the big organ solo followed by the guitar solo here.
This is a good CD and a fun listen over all. No bad songs, some really good ones and a nice overall sound. I loved the vocals and guitar and the keys/B3 on 3 tracks were excellent. I enjoyed a taste of the Big Dog's music and I hope to see him live- this is worth a spin or two in your CD players!Reviewer Steve Jones is president 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 since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and work with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.
Featured Blues Review 6 of 7
Bob Margolin with Mike Sponza Band - Blues Around the World
Last year guitarist Bob Margolin did a short, ten date tour in six European countries backed by the Mike Sponza. An avid admirer of Margolin’s work, Sponza suggested the idea of the two musicians joining forces to form a formidable two-guitar line-up with solid rhythmic support from Sponza’s bandmates, Moreno Buttinar on drums and Mauro Todd on bass. The excitement and chemistry that the musicians felt on stage coupled with the over-whelming positive audience response to their shows made it an easy decision to try to capture the magic on a recording.
The disc opens with some wicked slide guitar from Margolin on “Lost Again” before slipping into a far gentler groove on “Blues Lover”, an ode to a woman devoted to blues music. The lilting rhythm forms a fine backdrop for Sponza’s fine fretwork before Margolin finishes the track with more slide licks that cut to the bone. Another original, “While You’re Down There”, is a swinging number with the pickers again trading energized solos.
The band switches to an acoustic mode on the confessional “Crazy ‘Bout You Baby”, with Sponza showing off his slide guitar skills. On “Hard Feelings”, Margolin’s gripping vocal matches the intensity of a tune based on a Peter Gunn-like riff. Sponza adopts a menacing guitar tone that serves as a counterpoint to Margolin’s brighter slide licks. The leader spins one of his tales from the road on “The Door Was Open”, which describes a late-night rendezvous with a willing woman – complete with a brisk tempo and some rockabilly-style guitar.
Sponza wrote two of songs and handles the lead vocal on both. His heavy-hearted performance on “Rather Than Being Free” is a highlight along with the intimate conversation between the two guitarists. They really turn up the heat on the smoking hot “It’s Hard to Be on the Road”, the two men sharing the vocal before Margolin unleashes a blistering solo that will burn a hole in your soul!
The three covers are well-worn tunes with “Down in the Alley” benefiting from robust singing from Margolin as his trademark gruff voice captures a variety of emotional expressions while he trades scintillating licks with Sponza. “Rollin’ and Tumblin’“gives the leader a chance to play slide in the style of his former boss, Muddy Waters. The disc closes with a downcast Margolin easing the sorrow of the loss of Chloe, one of his beloved Border Collies, on “Love in Vain” with help from Richard “Rosy” Rosenblatt on harmonica.
In the press release for this disc, Margolin states that this may be the best recording of his lengthy solo career. You can be sure that he won’t get any arguments from me on that point. This one packs a potent punch with the leader singing with a vibrant enthusiasm that is consistently matched by the stellar interplay between Margolin and Sponza’s guitars. And don’t forget about Margolin’s bone-chilling slide guitar tone! This impressive effort makes me hope that we will someday get the opportunity to hear Margolin with the Mike Sponza band here in the States. Don’t miss this one!!
Reviewer Mark Thompson retired after twelve years as president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. and moved to Florida. He has been listening to music of all kinds for over fifty years. Favorite musicians include Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Magic Slim, Magic Sam, Charles Mingus and Count Basie.
Featured Blues Review 7 of 7
Albert Castiglia - Living the Dream
Muddy Kid Music
12 songs; 55:53 minutes
Styles: Modern Electric Blues and Blues Rock
Floridian Albert Castiglia’s tunes are on the “rock” side of blues rock. Nevertheless, he’s “Living the Dream” of musicians: to make a living pursuing his passion! According to the bio on his website, Castiglia’s (pronounced “ka-STEEL- ya”) history is as colorful as his hometown of Miami. In 1990, he played for The Miami Blues Authority, winning awards locally for “Best Blues Guitarist.” He got a big break after meeting the legendary Junior Wells in 1996, and became his last lead guitar player before Wells died in 1998. Albert toured the U.S. and Europe with Junior and then found himself in Chicago when Junior passed. However, he soon returned to southern Florida after deciding to launch his solo career with “Burn” in 2002. His latest album, number six, is evidence of the success of his ventures sans Wells, and here are three songs out of twelve (five originals and seven covers) that prove it:
Track 02: “The Man”--In this blistering ballad, Albert’s not naming any names, yet still calls out “the man” in the abstract (i.e., people in power): “Handful of suits thought they’d have some fun--held up the country without a gun. Handful of suits should be sitting in the can, but no one’s getting nowhere but The Man!” Guest star Emedin Rivera’s rat-a-tat percussion and cymbals keep this song’s danceable beat rolling.
Track 05: “Sometimes You Win”--“Sometimes you win, and sometimes you don’t win. Sometimes you’re lucky; sometimes you lose….” Albert knows that the recreational activity called ‘gaming’ can exact a brutal price. On this cover of Graham Wood Drout’s masterful ballad, chronicling a hustler‘s rise and fall, his acoustic guitar is relentless. It drives its refrains into listeners’ ears without mercy. “Sometimes You Win” is almost eerie in its message and melody, especially on the poignant instrumental solo in the middle.
Track 09: “I Want Her for Myself”--Our narrator wants the exclusive attention of his girl, yet it’s doubtful whether he’ll get it: “She got lovers like fish in the sea, and one of them fishes is poor old me. My baby does me fine, she loves somebody else--I ain’t complaining. I just want her for myself!” Sandy Mack’s harmonica and Juke Joint Jonny Rizzo’s acoustic slide guitar are both fantastic here.
Even though non-blues rock blues purists may be skeptical of this album, Castiglia’s bold style, witty lyrics, and fiery riffs compensate for a lack of traditional sound on certain tracks. Regular bandmates Bob Amsel and A.J. Kelly co-perform with Castiglia on drums and bass, respectively. Also, check out John Ginty’s piano and B3, livening up the score on such tracks as “Fat Cat.” One thing’s for sure: Albert’s “Living the Dream,” and his rising star is inspiring countless other blues artists to reach for theirs!
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.
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