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

Artur Menezes - Fading Away

Artur Menezes

Fading Away
VizzTone

Review by John Taylor

Go ahead. Call it rock if you like.

But despite its raw edge, Artur Menezes’ fifth album, “Fading Away,” is authentic, bare-knuckled, indie blues at its core. The all-original album’s murky tones and dark themes are in the tradition of a long line of blues masters.

Five years after moving to Los Angeles, the Brazilian-born Menezes – an accomplished guitarist, singer and songwriter has – produced what might be his most impressive work yet.

With the help of producer Josh Smith (who chips in some guitar work for a track called “Free at Last”) and the great Joe Bonamassa (whose guitar provides a jolt of extra power on the belligerent “Come On”), Menezes has an album you’ll want on your playlist for a long time.

Menezes’ masterful guitar drives the album, sparking rock cuts like the title song and slowing down for deep exhales on “Fight for Your Love,” “Until I Can See” and his autobiographical “Green Card Blues.”

Among the standouts: the chilling “Devil’s Own,” a shadowy blend of Menezes’ writing (“She’s gone, he’s gone, two birds one stone …”) and the lost-soul wails of his guitar.

Recorded at L.A.’s Flat V Studios, Menezes has some impressive backups for this one.

Gui Bodi plays bass on nearly everything, yielding to Travis Carlton on “Free at Last,” and to Chris Chaney on “Fight for Your Love.” Lemar Carter’s on drums, with an assist from Zé Leal on “Northeast” and Gary Nowak on “Fight for Your Love.” Matt Mitchell brings the rhythm guitar on “Free at Last.”

Carey Frank plays B3 organ and piano, while Kesha Shantrell and Revel Day round out the crew with backing vocals.

While the album was largely completed pre-pandemic, Menezes reportedly layered on the lyrics and vocals during quarantine – which might account for some of the tone.

But whenever and however it came about, “Fading Away” is a statement album. Artur Menezes has established himself as legitimate blues-rocker who deserves to be heard.

Total Time: 46:03

Fading Away / Devil’s Own / Come On /  Northeast / Fight for Your Love / Free at Last / Until I Can See / Green Card Blues

Curtis Salgado - Damage Control

Curtis Salgado

Damage Control
Alligator Records

Review by Randy Murphy

When I first began to listen to Curtis Salgado’s new release, “Damage Control,” it only took a couple of bars from Jim Pugh’s stout piano and Mike Finnigan’s sparkling organ to hook me completely. I hear a lot of new music, but during the last few years there have only been a couple of albums that immediately took off the top of my head. Shemekia Copeland’s “America’s Child” was one. So too was Ole Firmer’s “Live in Appingen.” But now there are three. Salgado’s combination of fervent, rough-hewed vocals, kick-ass bandmates, and splendid songwriting has produced an album that moves effortlessly from rock-infused blues and ‘50s-inspired rock ‘n’ roll to soulful R&B and lovely gospel — all of which Salgado neatly wraps up in sardonic, and often elegiac, lyrics. This is an album of superb musicianship, but it also has a vast, doozy of a heart.

Frankly, while writing this review I felt like a man splitting firewood with an icepick — I wasn’t sure I had the right tools for the job. There’s a sublime character to this album that’s difficult to describe. Any musician can play with feeling, but it takes something else, perhaps just potent insights into the nature of the human heart, to take music beyond mere feeling. Whatever that thing is, it’s here in spades.

There’s hardly a single dud on the record. Things start out with “The Longer That I Live,” an up-tempo tune steeped in a rock groove with Kid Anderson’s tasty guitar licks weaving around and through Pugh and Finnigan’s keyboards. It’s a stunning start to the album. Two other tunes deserve highlighting: “Always Say I Love You (At the End of Your Goodbyes)” and “You’re Going to Miss My Sorry Ass.” These two songs set the stylistic margins for this heady musical mix; the former a restrained, poignant plea to never assume loved ones will be here tomorrow, the latter a boisterous, pungent warning that one should take care when selecting those loved ones.

Not sure what else there is to say about this terrific recording but to point out that any album that delves into the career of Julius Caesar (“Hail Mighty Caesar”) easily crosses the Rubicon on its journey to musical nirvana. Go buy this album now.

Total Time: 51:21

The Longer That I Live / What Did Me In Did Me Well / You’re Going To Miss My Sorry Ass / Precious Time / Count Of Three /Always Say I Love You (At The End Of Your Goodbyes)  / Hail Mighty Caesar / I Don’t Do That No More / Oh For The Cry Eye / Damage Control / Truth Be Told / The Fix Is In / Slow Down