Altered Five Blues Band - Holler If You Hear Me

Altered Five Blues Band

Holler If You Hear Me
Blind Pig Records, Sept. 3, 2021

Review by Anni Piper

You might think volunteering for your local blues society would be all sassafras and tedium. However, that would be terribly misguided as there are perks involved, including being the first to hear great new music like this.

“Holler If You Hear Me” is the sixth studio offering from the Altered Five Blues Band, featuring 13 original tracks penned by guitarist Jeff Schroedl. The title track opens this release, and keyboardist Raymond Tevich lets you know you’re going to church. Quickly you realize, with the addition of wailing harmonica from special guest Jason Ricci, that the service is being held in a sawdust-strewn roadhouse.

Frontman Jeff Taylor plays the exuberant preacher and repentant sinner in equal measure. His commanding vocal presence draws your attention to the snappy storytelling in the lyrics. This is a collection of lyrical bluesman’s tales, each track an unglorified depiction of a life lived hard and fast – drinking, smoking and chasing women.

It’s more sophisticated than the “Got my whiskey, got my gin, come on now baby won’t you let me in” school of lyric writing. For example there’s more modern and relatable lines like “I got Ketel One and Keb Mo’ when I’m feeling low” in the moody “I Got All I Need.” Bassist Mark SOlveson and drummer Alan Arber drive solid grooves on booty shakers such as “Full Moon, Half Crazy” and “All Suit, No Soul.”

Masterful production from Tom Hambridge contributes to the success of this recording. The layering of instrumentation is never obtrusive. I love the way the guitar has been made to sound so close up and personal. This is achieved by using a lot of the sound from the small room the amplifier was placed in when recording. When this isn’t done correctly, it feels like getting stuck in a broom closet with the guitarist. But Hambridge shows just how to get it right, and there is such an intimacy created that I could be curled up on one end of my couch with guitarist Schroedl at the other.

Altered Five Blues Band has delivered a funky, contemporary blues album that’s both joyous and gritty. When are they coming to Portland?

Ben Rice - Shake a Hand

Ben Rice

Shake a Hand
(Self-release)

Review by John Taylor

Ben Rice’s latest album is called “Shake a Hand,” and you’d best shake a leg and get your hands on a copy.

Recorded by Keenan McRae in New Orleans and engineered by Jimi Bott at Roseleaf Studios here in Portland, this six-song collection is a definite keeper.

The tone is true, and it proves up Rice’s liner note introduction: “This recording originated during a late-night jam session in New Orleans. Finding myself in the Crescent City, I chose songs with roots to that magic place.”

With the insistent rhythms of Rice’s guitar, Kennan Shaw’s bass, Ben Partain’s keyboards and Eddie Christmas’ drums, the album warms to a low simmer with “Big Legged Woman” and “Got My Mojo Working.” Then it heats up to a slow boil with “Mojo Hand,” which cooks with Rice’s slide work and Mitch Kashmar’s harp.

Specialty appearances add tasty spices to the gumbo the band’s stirring on this one. In addition to Kashmar’s harmonica on “Mojo Hand” and “Got My Mojo Working,” Saeeda Wright’s soaring voice adds extra lift on “Peace Will Overcome” and the title cut. Bott’s percussion, meantime, also adds nicely to the mix.

“Shake a Hand” features some satisfying organ, bass and guitar solos that power a soulful song that suits the mood and style of New Orleans.

This is an album that’s true to tradition, but open to new ideas and interpretations. But at it’s core, it’s all blues.

Like we said, you’d better shake a leg and get hold of “Shake a Hand.”

Total Time: 37:21

Big Legged Woman / Got My Mojo Working / Mojo Hand / Shake a Hand / It All Went Down the Drain / Peace Will Overcome

Guy Davis - Be Ready When I Call You

Guy Davis

Be Ready When I Call You
M.C. Records

Review By Randy Murphy

List your favorite records, your musical top-10, regardless of genre, and ask yourself what they have in common. For most of us, I’d wager each recording has something we could call “authenticity,” the feeling that the music touches on some form of, well, truth. In short, our prized records take us beyond mere music to bring us to a place that’s larger than ourselves. At least mine do.

Guy Davis’ new recording, “Be Ready When I Call You,” possesses that ability. Davis, the son of actors and civil-rights icons Ruby Dee and Ozzie Davis, offers a blues- and folk-tinged record that combines superb musicianship, courtesy of drummer Gary Burke, guitarist John Platania, keyboardist Professor Louie and bassist Mark Murphy, with some sharply targeted, hard-edged political and cultural commentary. Thankfully, Davis succeeds in avoiding the dreary sanctimony we often associate with protest music, chiefly by playing things down the middle. On “Palestine, Oh Palestine,” for instance, Davis mourns the toll this conflict has taken on the common humanity of both Palestinians and Israelis. It’s a poignant lamentation on the price of an unyielding war, and in lesser hands it might have turned into simply one more diatribe against this or that group. But here Davis’ protest is against the senselessness of the whole sordid affair.

Several of the tunes on “Be Ready When I Call You“ relate to the terrible history of America’s wretched race relations, the most powerful being the folk-blues infused “God’s Gonna Make Things Over” that recounts the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots, the destruction of its Greenwood district, and the massacre of its Black citizens. “Though my people may be buried down in nameless graves / God’s gonna make things over one of these days,” Davis sings while accompanying himself with his plaintive harmonica. This is where Davis gives us a somber look at an irretrievably vicious chapter of our history that, until rather recently, was largely whitewashed and forgotten.

Not all of the album deals specifically in protest music. The one cover here is Howlin’ Wolf’s ”Spoonful,” and Davis turns out this old warhorse with a lethal groove — it’s a pure jewel. Similarly, “I Thought I Heard the Devil Call My Name,” with its percussive banjo setting its languid pace, easily transports us to a sidewalk in New Orleans. These tunes offer a respite from the historical struggles catalogued on this disk. As with most protest music, this is not an easy record to absorb, but it’s an important one that manages to transcend the genre. It pays off both musically and spiritually.

Total Time: 58:12

Badonkadonk Train / Got Your Letter in My Pocket / God’s Gonna Make Things Over / Be Ready When I Call You / Flint River Blues / Palestine, Oh Palestine / I Got a Job in the City / I’ve Looked Around / Spoonful (It’s Alright, It’s Alright)

200 Days / I Thought I Heard the Devil Call My Name / Every Now and Then / Welcome to My World

Cedric Burnside - I Be Trying

Cedric Burnside

I Be Trying
Single Lock Records

Review by John Taylor

Cedric Burnside’s latest take on North Mississippi Hill Country blues is one of the most refreshingly genuine, unpretentious and heartfelt albums we’ve run across in a while.

Raw, plain spoken and honest at every turn, “I Be Trying” stands as a modern milepost marker for the direction of today’s blues.

“It’s nothing you can read off paper,” the twice Grammy-nominated, third-generation bluesman told American Songwriter recently. “I feel that in my heart.”

And that comes across in this 13-song, largely original collection, recorded over a few pre-pandemic sessions at Royal Studios in Memphis.

Burnside, 42, explores the troubling turbulence of the times and the need for respite and healing, moving naturally from the shivering loneliness of “The World Can Be So Cold” to the casual street-dance rhythms of songs like “Step It Up” and “Get Down.”

With notable contributions from North Mississippi Allstars guitarist Luther Dickinson, Alabama Shakes bassist Zac Cockrell, drummer Reed Watson and Burnside’s lifelong hometown friend, Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, the tone of his fifth album is pitch-perfect throughout.

Slide and acoustic guitars establish the framework for an album that stays true to the Hill Country’s traditional, unvarnished styles.

A special treat: Burnside’s youngest daughter, 15-year-old Portika, makes her debut with backup vocals on the title track.

Another gem: Burnside’s cover of “Bird Without a Feather,” a song written by his grandfather, R.L. Burnside. “Hands Off That Girl,” an update of Junior Kimbrough’s “Keep Your Hands Off Her,” is a must-hear, too.

With unflinching and insightful lyrics, Burnside addresses current political divisions, the darkness of domestic turmoil and heartbreak. In “What Makes You Think,” he writes simply and compassionately about the stark reality of a man who’s squandered his last chance: “I don’t believe you no more, she said …”

“I Be Trying” is the work of an artist whose truth predates him. Described as an old soul soon after he began playing music at 13, Burnside brings an earnestness to his art that quietly commands respect.

This one belongs in the collection of anyone who takes blues heritage seriously.

Total Time: 47:06

The World Can Be So Cold / Step In / I Be Trying / You Really Love Me / Love Is the Key / Keep On Pushing / Gotta Look Out / Pretty Flowers / What Makes Me Think / Bird Without a Feather / Hands Off That Girl / Get Down / Love You Forever

Bob Corritore - Spider in My Stew - VizzTone

Bob Corritore

Spider in My Stew
VizzTone

Review by Randy Murphy

Blues impresario Bob Corritore’s newest release, “Spider in My Stew,” is a rousing collection of (mostly) definitive, old-school Chicago blues interpreted by an impressive roll call of musical talent.  Lurrie Bell, Alabama Mike, John Primer, Johnny Rawls (whom the CBA will sponsor at this year’s Waterfront Blues Festival), Shy Perry, Oscar Wilson, Diana Greenleaf, Francine Reed, Willie Buck, and Sugaray Rayford all supply impressive vocal performances. Several tunes deserve special attention.

First is Shy Perry’s sinewy rendition of “Wang Dang Doodle” that tears off like a bourbon-fueled  and makes this old blues warhorse sound as if it’s brand new — no mean trick. It echoes Koko Taylor’s famous version, ups the ante a bit, and avoids sounding derivative. Next up is a cover of Muddy Water’s “Soon Forgotten” that includes a dazzling mixture of Corritore’s stirring harp, Fred Kaplan’s fertile piano and Willie Buck’s throaty moan. But it’s Mr. Rayford who, as usual, threatens to steal the show. In his “Big Mama’s Soul Food” Sugaray lays out a potent soul-food shuffle accompanied by Corritore lethal Hohner harmonica and Kid Ramos’ rough-hewed guitar licks. It’s tasty and mouthwatering and completely marvelous.

Corritore manages a nice balance of gritty, Chicago-style blues—both old standards and newer, less well-known tunes. The one misstep is Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” which, coming at the end of the recording, seems like an afterthought. The problem’s not with the musicianship, it’s first-rate, or with Francine Reed’s fervent vocals, no. It’s that “I Shall Be Released” simply doesn’t fit in with the texture of the album. Beyond this, though, it’s such an iconic song that any recording will struggle to escape The Band’s definitive version lurking in the background like a specter.

But this is merely a quibble. This is an album that contains some serious musical chops and boatloads of fun. Highly Recommended.

Total Time: 55:20

Tenessee Woman (feat. Oscar Wilson) / Big Mama’s Soul Food (feat. Sugaray Rayford) / Whatcha Gonna Do When Your Baby Leaves You (feat. Alabama Mike) / Don’t Mess With the Messer (feat. Diunna Greenleaf) / Spider in My Stew (feat. Lurrie Bell) / Wang Dang Doodle (feat. Shy Perry) / Drop Anchor (feat. Alabama Mike) / Sleeping With the Blues (feat. Johnny Rawls) / Mama Talk to Your Daughter (feat. John Primer) / Why Am I Treated So Bad (feat. Francine Reed) / Soon Forgotten (feat. Willie Buck) / I Can’t Shake This Feeling (feat. Lurrie Bell) / Look Out (feat. Alabama Mike) / I Shall Be Released (feat. Francine Reed)

Eddie Turner - Change in Me

Eddie Turner

Change in Me
7-14 Productions

Review by John Taylor

The way he delights in stirring up styles and mixing in melodies, you could see Eddie “Devil Boy” Turner as some kind of musical sorcerer. He summons blues and rock songs from the deep past, puts them under his spell, then transforms them at will.

But he leaves their spirits whole as he conjures up new creations of his own.

With “Change in Me,” the fourth solo album from the former member of Otis Taylor’s outfit, Turner breathes his mojo into classics popularized by the likes of Muddy Waters, Lou Reed, Taj Mahal and Jimi Hendrix.

Produced by Turner, Kenny Passarelli and Tim Stroh, the album was recorded in two locations – Leadville, Colorado, and Brooklyn, New York.

Turner’s guitars – sometimes shimmery, sometimes shadowy, often ethereal — guide the album, and he gets some help on vocals from Passarelli and Jessie Lee Thetford. Passarelli also provides bass and keyboards, while Neal Evans plays the Hammond B3. Evans, Dean Oldencott and David Brenowitz team up on drums.

The Cuban-born Turner, who grew up in Chicago and started playing guitar at age 12, has pulled off a magical work here. The expressiveness and versatility of his voice can send chills down your spine, and his effortless guitar work infuses the songs with a subtle sophistication you might not appreciate until your third or fourth listen.

He handles the covers reverently, but experiments with new sounds with the kind of fearless abandon that comes only after years of apprenticeship and practice.

His 10-year run with Otis Taylor – who gave him the “Devil Boy” nickname, reportedly because Turner used to push Taylor’s patience to its limit – is evident on “Change in Me.” But it doesn’t define it.

Turner’s an artist who’s following his own muse and taming his own creative demons.

“Change in Me” is a change for the best. It’s music you’ll definitely want to own – but beware: It might be in your possession, but it will possess you.

Part Total Time: 45:36

Change in Me / Dignify Me / My Friend / This Is Your Night / I’m Waiting for My Man-She Caught the Katy / Standing on the Frontline / Another Sign of Weakness / Whoa, Whoa, Whoa / Let My Soul Run Free / Hoochie Koochie Man

The Blue Quarantinos - Phoning It In

The Blue Quarantinos

Phoning It In
Keeping the Blues Alive Records

Review by Greg Johnson

The Keeping the Blues Alive Foundation was created by Joe Bonamassa in an effort to support touring musicians who have been unable to make their livelihood during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. The Blue Quarantinos is a trio of renowned artists led by project creator Jimmy Vivino on guitar, bassist Jesse Williams and harmonica player/vocalist Rob Paparozzi. The group put together a collection of a dozen performances of blues covers featuring 20 of the most notable and talented musicians of our time.

Titled “Phoning It In,” this is an album that does not let up from start to finish, with more highlights than water in a bottomless well. Bonamassa appears on a take of Johnny Winter’s “I’m Yours and I’m Hers.” Shemekia Copeland presents a stellar version of her father’s “Down On Bended Knees.” The North Mississippi Allstars showcase slide guitar from Luther Dickinson with second guitar from Vivino and nice harp work by Paparozzi on “Skinny Woman,” originally cut by Sonny Boy Williamson with this number going more toward the RL Burnside recording.

There is not a track not worth listening to, especially with a line-up that also includes the likes of Joe Louis Walker, Bernard Purdie, Dion, John Sebastian, Wayne Baker Brooks and Bob Margolin, among others.

“Phoning It In” is a digital download available at KTBA.org and Amazon; it can also be streamed at Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music. All sales will go directly to musicians to help them return to touring once again.

Total Time: 46:02

Mojo Hand / Hoodoo Man Blues / I’m Yours and I’m Hers / Leaving Trunk / What Is That She Got / Down on Bended Knees / Rockin’ Daddy / Skinny Woman / Mercy / Shake ‘Em on Down / Write Me a Few Lines / Belly Button Window

Paris Slim Super Trio

Franck L. Goldwasser

“Going Back to Paris – The Paris Slim Mountain Top Session 1998-1999”
Mountain Top Records

Review by Greg Johnson

At the time that these tracks were laid down at Mountain Top in the late 1990s, Franck L Goldwasser, then going under the moniker Paris Slim, had already made a home for himself in the West Coast blues scene for 16 years. Encouraged by visiting blues men to his home in France, where he often found himself playing alongside the likes of Sonny Rhodes, he took their advice and traveled to California, landing in the very hot blues bed of Oakland. Over the course of the following years, he worked in bands fronted by people like Troyce Key, Percy Mayfield, Jimmy McCracklin and Lowell Fulson before taking on his own bands.

It’s really hard to believe that these recordings were kept on the shelf for the past 22-plus years. This is really spectacular music here as Franck is partnered alongside some amazing session musicians, including Rusty Zinn, Jimmy Pugh, Johnny Ace and Gary Smith, with a rhythm section of bassist Leonard Gill and drummer John Hanes rounding out the group.

The guitar work, especially the interplay between Zinn and Goldwasser is spot-on incredible. It’s this guitar playing that has proven Goldwasser one of the premier string benders going today. The song selections are crafty and well-chosen originals and covers, all done in an original flavor, making it speak in Franck’s voice altogether. And he just doesn’t showcase his guitar, he gives a stunning piece of harmonica playing on “Harp De Triomphe.”

If you like your guitar playing bluesy, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find anything as over-the-top as what is being offered here. This is exactly the type of blues that cemented Oakland and the Bay Area as a birthing ground for the West Coast’s absolute best. It is truly criminal that these recordings were held back for more than two decades. They’re every bit as essential now as they would’ve been then. Franck Goldwasser strikes gold with each and every track on this fantastic album. Cannot recommend it enough!

Total Time: 1:10:31

Gonna Move to Texas / Rollin’ Stone / Love is Just a Gamble / Harp De Triomphe / Lowdown Dog Blues / It’s a Sin / Can’t Raise Me / House Full of Blues / That’s What You Do to Me / Death Letter Blues / Tell Me Baby / Slim’s Business / Going Back to Paris / Four Walls / 3829 Grove / Sixth Avenue Meltdown

Selwyn Birchwood - Living in a Burning House

Selwyn Birchwood

Living in a Burning House
Alligator Records

Review by Randy Murphy

Selwyn Birchwood’s one of those kind of musicians, quite rare nowadays, whose music always manages to sound sharp and interesting. His third release on Alligator Records, “Living in a Burning House,” deftly blends blues with rock to create an edgy and aggressive miscellany of sturdy, rough-hewn tunes.

In 2013, Birchwood won the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge and also took home the Albert King Guitarist of the Year award. Recently, the Blues Music Awards nominated Birchwood for Best Contemporary Blues Male Artist, and this new album utterly validates that nomination. Birchwood’s guitar playing here is simply combustible and his voice possesses a coarse authenticity and smokey weariness that embellishes the earned anguish of his music. Although, I must admit, the occasional clichéd lyric does annoy—“serious as a heart attack” is a bit shopworn—but Birchwood’s honest rendering of his music redeems any quibble one would have with it’s lyrics. This album is all about finding redemption, or something close to it, through music.

Two tracks stand out on the album. First, “You Can’t Steal My Shine” is a rocking stomp of a song that features some of Birchwood’s best, fiery guitar work on the album, and the title track, “Living in a Burning House” which offers up that nagging question that many blues tunes have tried to answer: what does one do when he “smells smoke” and fears his house has been set aflame, only to realize there’s no way out. Highly Recommended.

Total Time: 50:23

I’d Climb Mountains / I Got Drunk, Laid and Stoned / Living in a Burning House / You Can’t Steal My Shine / Revelation / Searching for My Tribe / She’s a Dime / One More time / Mama Knows Best / Freaks come Out at Night / Through a Microphone / Rock Bottom / My Happy Place

Chris Cain - Raisin’ Cain

Chris Cain

Raisin’ Cain
Alligator Records

Review by John Taylor

Let’s just cut to the chase; This album smokes.

With his 13th album (his debut with Alligator Records), Chris Cain isn’t just raisin’ Cain, he’s raisin’ the bar.

Guitar licks that flicker from blistering to blissful, soul-melting keyboards and Cain’s comfortably seasoned voice – this is a collection that B.B. King himself would’ve envied.

At 65, the native Californian’s writing is authoritative and his musical craftsmanship is flawless. But his creative fire still burns brightly.

The 12 original songs here are authentic and filled with recognizable feelings.

A West Coast blues favorite since the late 1980s, Cain sings of enduring the nicks and cuts of everyday love and its shortcomings, the aches of loss and betrayal and the hollowness of affairs that have reached their inevitable endings.

Starting off the album with the blazing guitar work of “Hush Money,” Cain lays out wise takes on keeping your spouse happy … and yourself out of trouble. He pays “hush money” to his love, he explains, to “keep my house all happy and quiet.”

But guitars aren’t the only things that Cain can raise. Horns, harps and keyboards carry their share on songs like “Too Many Problems,” “Down on the Ground” and the instrumental ”Space Force.”

That’s where Cain’s longtime band – including bassist Steve Evans and keyboardist Greg Rahn – comes in. Sky Garcia and D’mar Martin man the drums, Michael Peloquin supplies the saxophone, Doug Rowan adds baritone sax, Jeff Lewis plays the trumpet and Mike Rinta slides in some trombone.

This is one of the most complete and thoroughly enjoying records we’ve reviewed in some time. It’s house-rockin’ blues that echoes – and at times, equals – the all-time greats.

Easy call on this one: Just go get it.

Part Total Time: 39:17

Hush Money / You Won’t Have a Problem When I’m Gone / Too Many Problems / Down on the Ground / I Believe I Got Off Cheap / Can’t Find a Good Reason / Found a Way to Make Me Say Goodbye / Born to Play / I Don’t Know Exactly What’s Wrong With My Baby / Out of My Head / As Long as You Get What You Want / My Space Force