Chris Daniels Hazel Miller Dana Marsh & Friends

Chris Daniels, Hazel Miller, Dana Marsh & Friends

What We Did
Moon Voyage Records

Review by John Taylor

You know most of these songs, but you don’t know them like this.

“What We Did,” an album born of a virtual concert to ease the isolation of the pandemic and to raise money for Inner City Health in Colorado, grew to be something no one, including the performers, quite expected.

Chris Daniels, Hazel Miller, Dana Marsh and their friends recorded two live sets — five songs in July 2020 and five more in October 2020 — with no overdubs. Miller took the lead on vocals, Marsh covered the keyboards and Daniels added acoustic and electric guitars.

The result is a masterpiece of musical versatility that feels like a group of friends gathering around a piano for an evening of smiles and singalongs.

Daniels remembers it like this in the liner notes: “When we heard it, we sat back and started laughing because it was so much fun and Hazel said, “Look at what we did!”

The trio — with the help of Todd Park Mohr, Victor Wooten, Sam Bush, Kenny Passarelli, Greg Garrison, Christian Teele, Tom Capek, Mark Oblinger and Linda Lawson – slips effortlessly out of tight blues and into some easy-listening classics.

Not everybody can slide from songs like “Down Home Blues,” “Stealin’ Candy” or the Albert King blues standard “Born Under a Bad Sign” into feel-good favorites like “Cheek to Cheek,” “What a Wonderful World” and “You’ve Got a Friend.”

These folks can, though – and they make it look easy. (They even take a little side trip to “Kansas City” at one point.)

Northwesterners might not be as familiar with Daniels, but he and his seven-piece outfit, The Kings, have been around since 1984 and are enshrined in the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.

It’s easy to see why.

It’s as flawless as any polished studio album around, and its genuineness feels like a nice, warm blanket to get you through a cold, lonely night.

This is good medicine for a nation that’s been suffering with the COVID crisis for nearly two years. It’s hip, happy and hopeful.

We recommend you take two listens and call us in the morning.

And it’s not too late to help the album’s original purpose, by the way. Twenty percent of the proceeds from the endeavor go to Inner City Health, which treats underserved populations in the Denver area. To make a direct donation, visit https://innercityhealth.org

Total Time: 43:50

Takin’ It to the Streets / Born Under a Bad Sign / Cheek to Cheek / I’m Still Lookin’ / Could You Believe / What a Wonderful World / Down Home Blues / Stealin’ Candy / You’ve Got a Friend / Better Days

Tas Cru

Broke Down Busted Up
Subcat Records

Review by Anni Piper

This is the first acoustic album I have heard from a festival favorite who is known for his electric guitar prowess.

The pandemic affected every aspect of the entertainment industry. Cru has certainly taken inspiration from the isolation, his original compositions coming across as hopeful yet poignant. An artist who won’t be pigeonholed into any particular style, it’s interesting that Cru has chosen a time of modern apocalypse to release a rootsy acoustic album. After all, it’s still possible that we all end up in some kind of “Walking Dead” scenario in which society crumbles and there’s no electricity. So for me, this is a perfectly logical choice.

They say never judge a book by its cover, but this album cover tells me a lot about what I’m about to hear. Cru cradles an attractive acoustic guitar, leaning casually against a rust bucket with a bullet-hole riddled windshield.

The personality-filled performance of Anne Harris highlights many of these tracks. Clearly, she’s been down to Georgia and come back with a golden fiddle. The title track is the most radio friendly, a funky little number that showcases the talents of the entire ensemble.

Speaking of the entire ensemble, Mary Ann Casale co-wrote some of these numbers and is featured on vocal and dulcimer. Dave Liddy on keys, Garry Loiaono on guitar, Andy Hearn on drums, and bassists Mike Lawrence and Bob Purdy all bring their strengths to this recording.

It’s engineered and mixed by Ron Keck, who is also featured as a percussionist on the album. Being no stranger to the studio myself, I have found the engineer often ends up making this specific contribution to the recording. The drums sound so fantastic that I wasn’t surprised to find Keck is a world champion snare player. He’s mixed this recording with the kind of love and care that Grandma mixes into your favorite cookies.

I did most of my listening as I was driving and I deem it a most suitable soundtrack to take your mind off the grind. Tas Cru has delivered an album perfect for cruising.

Total time: 46 minutes

Where Do We Go / Broke Down Busted Up / Turn On the Light / River of Insanity / Be My Strength / All Stays the Same / You’re the Real Deal / Stay Home Blues/ So Damn Hard to Like / Henry / Write Me My Own

Johnny Tucker feat. Kid Ramos and the Allstars

Johnny Tucker
feat. Kid Ramos and the Allstars

75 and Alive
Blue Heart Records and Highjohn Records

Reviewed by John Taylor

Following the 2018 success of Johnny Tucker’s acclaimed, but austere “Seven Day Blues,” his manager, Bob Auerbach, figured it was time to open things up.

So Auerbach invited L.A. guitarist Kid Ramos and pianist Carl Sonny Leyland to pull together some serious talent and build a backup band for Tucker.

And boy, did they: John Bazz on electric and standup bass, Jason Lozano on drums, Ron Dziubla on sax and Bob Corritore on harp signed on as the Allstars.

Then Auerbach cleared the floor and let ’em play. The result? A genuine, one-take recording among friends on Tucker’s 75th birthday.

From the downbeat of the album’s first song, “All Night Long, All Night Wrong,” you know you’re in for a treat. Tucker’s voice summons distant, but distinct, styles – old-school Chicago, West Coast jump, New Orleans R&B.

The Fresno, Calif., native – who cut his teeth beating rhythms on pots and pans during family jam sessions – sings with the hard-earned authority of an artist and the joy of a master.

His casual asides and between-song conversations speak to his comfort level with his craft and his collaborators. And as the songs unwind, the mood relaxes.

Ramos and the Allstars frame Tucker’s vocals with stylish takes on traditional sounds. Ramos channels Albert Collins, Earl Hooker, Buddy Guy, while Bazz, Dziubla, Corritore and Lozano add rhythms, riffs and notes so sweet and spot-on that you’d swear they’d been playing together for decades.

“It just flowed in my head,” Tucker explains in the album’s liner notes. “I didn’t know what I was going to say until I said it. So it came out beautiful, man. Everything was right on time, like I’ve been doing the same songs for a long time, and that’s the first time I did it.”

Tucker devoted the CD to his wife, Georgia May Tucker, who sat in on the session, but passed before the album’s release. Wherever she is, we’re betting she loves this collection as much as we do.

This is one of the most authentic and enjoyable albums we’ve heard in a long time. We recommend you buy at least two copies – you’re either gonna want to pass one along to a friend, or you’re gonna wear out your own in a very short time.

 

 

 

 

 

Total Time: 51:18

 

All Night Long, All Night Wrong / There’s a Time for Love / If You Ever Love Me / Can’t You See / What’s the Matter / Treat Me Good / Snowplow / What’s On My Mind / Hookline / Dance Like I Should / Have a Good Time Tonight / Gotta Do It One More Time

Elly Wininger – The Blues Never End

Elly Wininger

The Blues Never End
Earwig Music Company

Reviewed by Anni Piper

Lulled into a false sense of security by the innocuous cover art, Wininger had me fooled for the first few minutes of the listening experience. Styling some silver bangs and sensible glasses on the front jacket of ‘The Blues Never End,” I must confess my first thoughts were of my favorite auntie or diner waitress.

“Oh, this will continue to be a nice ambling lazy Sunday mix of country, folk and Delta blues,” I said to myself, and went about my morning. That is, until Wininger launches into “Alabama Blues” and I realize I have been duped. Favorite auntie, she is not. Wininger is akin to a Valkyrie atop a flaming chariot, a veritable Boadicea of the blues, a badass in a bronze breastplate leading an army of amazons. Her lyrics are a scathing indictment of the restrictions that are being placed on access to abortion, and she also references incest as the reason for needing the procedure. This song could not be more relevant right now. Wininger’s boldness and courage in tackling these issues in her art, in the context of an America that’s as divided as a quotient, has to be commended.

It’s not just “Alabama Blues” that will get your attention. All the original numbers on this album glow like a white dress in a nightclub. From the slinky, sultry “Right Kind of Trouble” to the Zydeco bop of “(I Wanna Be Like) Rosie,” Wininger has obviously earned her place in the New York Blues Hall of Fame. She showcases her diverse understanding of blues styles, using a range of instrumentation, in tracks such as Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Black Snake Moan.” However, most of this album is carried by Wininger herself on vocal and guitar, and damn, she carries it well.

Total time: 51 minutes

Let That Liar Alone / Skinny Legs Blues / Right Kind Of Trouble / Special Rider Blues / Alabama Blues / The Blues Never End / (I Wanna Be Like) Rosie / As The Crow Flies / Black Snake Moan / God Moves On The Water / Range In My Kitchen / Leavin’ Blues / Old Riley

 

 

Review by John Taylor 

Wherever that edge is, we’re glad Mark Cameron wandered over to take a look. And we’re even gladder that he made it back OK, because he’s returned with an armload of great music, spiced with some satisfying lyrics. 

Cameron and his band, 2017 winners of “The Road to Memphis” challenge, have just buttoned up an album that moves easily from ultra-cool funk to driving, dirty blues to smooth soul and back again. It’s packed with the kind of sweat-it-out guitar, harmonica and slide riffs that suck even the most uptight among us out the dance floor. 

We were hooked at Scott Lundberg’s rangy, bass downbeat on the opening number, “It’s Alright.” As Cameron’s swaying guitar and Rick Miller’s Harp joined the mix, we were cranking up the volume. The lyrics – a bittersweet observation of modern economics (“doesn’t matter where the money went, ‘cause you’re never gonna see a cent”) – bring it all together. 

That perfect pairing continues throughout the CD. Whether they’re penning words or melodies, the Minnesota-based Cameron shows that after 30 years in the business, he and his outfit know what they’re doing. 

Cameron’s vocals, guitars and piano, backed up by Sheri Cameron on sax, flute, washboard, congas and shaker, Lunberg on bass, Miller on harp and Don Schroeder on drums power solid, driving beats on additional standout numbers like “This Is the Blues,” “All There Is to It” and “All Dressed Up.” 

An impressive list of guests doesn’t hurt anything, either: Tommy Barbarella (Hammond B3 organ), Suzanne Ernst (bass, flute), Tonia Hughes and Sarah Renner (soul vocals), Zack Lozier (trumpet and trombone), Nick Salisbury (bass) and Greg Schutte (drums). 

And like was said, playful or painful, song by song, the lyrics always seem just right. “You’re cookin’ up a story now because the truth just hurts too much …” Cameron croons on “This Is the Blues.” But he’s quick to lighten up with a line like “It’s never too late for a seventh chance,” on “All There Is to It.” 

No question about it. This is one you’ll want in your collection. And it’s one you’ll enjoy again and again, because it grows on you — fast. 

We don’t know what’s out there on the edge, but we like what we can hear of it. 

 

Total Time: 44:37 

It’s Alright / This Is the Blues / 2nd Job / Never See It Comin’ / All There Is to It / Back From the Edge / One Size Fits All / All Dressed Up / Dollar for Liquor / Lost and Found 

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)