Dave Keller

Dave Keller

You Get What You Give
Tastee Tone Records

Review by Greg Johnson 

Like so many of us, witnessing the murder of George Floyd by the police on a Minnesota street last March brought about fury and disbelief in our public services and government by their actions, and non-actions, following the event. It was one of way too many such occurrences that have taken place over time.  

Vermont-based Dave Keller, arguably one of the finest soul and R&B vocalists of our time, was among those who were outraged. Though a white artist, Keller recognizes that the origins of his career and the music he performs is wholly based in the black community. He wanted to respond in a manner that could not only pay tribute to that fact, but could also help movements such as Black Lives Matter. And being an artist, he saw that route with his music. So he recorded an album featuring duets with many of his favorite friends, with all proceeds resulting from its sales going to groups working for racial justice and equality. 

The idea was widely accepted and he had many people wishing to help with the project. But being 2020 and living in times of public shut-downs, having many of those friends being able to record directly in a studio with him was next to impossible. But he gathered his working band and some of his regional buddies were able to show up to lay down tracks. Others, living farther cross country, were sent recordings of Keller and the band which they in turn offered their parts to the mix, which was all pieced together back in Vermont. It all comes across seamlessly, sounding as if they were all in the same room with one another. 

Participating friends include blues legends like Joe Louis Walker and Johnny Rawls, highly regarded vocalists like Trudy Lynn, Annika Chambers, Dawn Tyler Watson and Minnesota’s Annie Mack. Lesser known artists across the country include New England religious performer Brother Bob White and spoken word artist Toussaint St Negritude. 

Everything comes together through Keller’s stellar songwriting and his voice leading the charge. This is an amazing recording, and despite the reason behind its making, it stands proudly beside his earlier, highly acclaimed releases. Thank you, Dave Keller, for such an enlightened project and for music we want to hear again and again. 

 

Total Time: 56:17 

One More Tear / That Thing We Do / You Get What You Give / The Evil That Men Do / Scratchin’ At Your Door / Your Kind of Fool / God Is Love, Love Is Everything / The Spark / Make It to Tomorrow / Land of the Lonely / Precious Lord Take My Hand / The Kiss I Want / I’m Gonna Let It Shine 

Danielle Miraglia

Bright Shining Stars
VizzTone

Review by John Taylor 

If Danielle Miraglia says she can walk through barbwire, outrun the hound dogs or give a shining star a new home, we’re inclined to believe her. The Boston guitarist and singer, whose fifth album is becoming her most successful (it hit No. 15 on the Billboard Blues Charts) has just released an acoustic collection that we can’t get out of our heads.

We’re not sure we want to, either. Putting her own subtle twists on traditional classics like “C.C. Rider” and “When Things Go Wrong (It Hurts Me Too),” covering Janis Joplin’s “Turtle Blues” and Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” and adding some fresh new compositions of her own, she’s tied together an album that’s tough as rawhide, but smooth as blended whiskey.

Her website bio says she holds a “strong steady thumb on an old Gibson and an infectious stomp-box rhythm.” Her music says she embodies the best of Bonnie Raitt, Etta James and Joplin herself. By turns, she’s playing blues with elements of country, folk, roots and rock.

She gets some help from Laurence Scudder (a member of Boston-based Glory Junkies band) on viola, Peter Parcek on guitar and Rich “Rosey” Rosenblatt on harmonica. But Miraglia’s talents carry this one. 

 Her versatile voice is riveting, and her lyrics are spellbinding — chilling sometimes. 

Take these menacing lines from “Pick Up the Gun,” for example: 

   I pray every day 

   I don’t need to repent. 

   It’s no sin if it’s self-defense 

   — so go on, kid, pick up the gun 

   Gimme a reason to shoot. 

Or this line from “You Can Love Yourself:” 

   When nobody loves you 

   You’re feeling like dust on an empty shelf. 

This a recording that’ll have you hitting the repeat button repeatedly — it’s a work to savor, share with your friends and then listen to all over again. 

And it’s one that makes us eager to see what Miraglia will come up with next, because it sounds like she’s just getting started. 

 

Total Time: 36:11
 

Sounds Like Home / C.C. Rider / You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go / Pick Up the Gun / Turtle Blues / Famous for Nothin’ / You Can Love Yourself / Meet Me in the Morning / When Things Go Wrong (It Hurts Me Too) / Walkin’ Blues / Bright Shining Stars
 

 

 

Bob Margolin

Star of Stage and Screens
VizzTone

Review by John Taylor 

The pandemic is still on, and Bob Margolin is still sitting at home … brooding about it. 

Fortunately for us, he has a 1930s Gibson and a National steel guitar handy. He uses both to express his frustrations and fears in his 12th solo album, a raw, acoustic EP titled “Star of Stage and Screens.” 

When “Steady Rollin’,” as he’s known, talks screens, of course, he means phones. Unable to perform on a live stage since March, the 71-year-old award-winning bluesman who spent seven years backing Muddy Waters has been reduced to singing in front of electronic devices, reaching out to audiences via social media. 

Like the rest of us, he’s had plenty of time to dwell on the bygone days, the importance of the people and things that he loves — and who’s to blame for this whole debacle. 

It’s clear that among the great loves of his life are the audiences for whom he’s performed for nearly 50 years. “I’d love to turn off my phone and grip the neck of my guitar and play all night for you,” he sings on the title song. But for the moment, he notes sadly, “House party means my house.” 

With “For My Teachers,” Margolin reaches deep into his past for the wisdom he’s learned from people who’ve passed through his life and helped shape and guide him. “I think of all those passingsand I think I understand at last,” he sings. 

He offers some wisdom of his own on songs like “Let It Go:” “You can’t make it better, but you sure can make it worse,” he cautions. His advice to people chafing at everyday annoyances and injustices: Take a breath and let it go. 

At the same time, he’s no advocate for rolling over. His “March 2020 in Stop Time” makes clear who he blames for the country’s current predicament: “How did it get so bad? Just follow the money.” 

He sounds some of the album’s most hopeful notes on “After Party,” which conveys his wishes for a not-too-distant day when all of this might be behind us, and we can savor the gatherings we once took for granted. “I stay at home,” he sings with a hint of defiance, “but I still play.” 

Besides a revealing portrait of how painful 2020’s isolation has been for artists who crave crowds and live to share their art, “Star of Stage and Screens” is a masterful display of musicianship from a guy who doesn’t need to prove much of anything anymore. It’s an intimate visit with a man who understands his art — and himself. And he understands he needs to get back out on the stage. 

Yeah. We’re ready for that “After Party,” too. 

 

Total Time: 23:26 

Star of Stage and Screens / Love and Thanks / Let It Go / The After Party / For My Teachers / March 2020 in Stop Time 

Adam Scramstad

It’s a Long Way to Go
Djangosfire Tunes

 review by Greg Johnson

The one thing you need to remember when it comes to solo acoustic musicians: Nobody else is playing alongside you to hide if you happen to make a wrong note or some other mistake. Of course, those can always be mended inside the studio during editing. 

But you need not worry about anything like that when you’re talking about, or more so listening to an artist like Adam Scramstad. Each note, every time he picks up his instrument, is always spot-on perfect. 

It takes meticulous practice to create this perfection. And if you’re throwing in your voice singing your material, too, it also has to be right on target. And again, Scramstad is right there. His voice sounds like a second instrument accompanying the music. Exactly as it should be. 

It has been a long time since his 2006 debut release, No Sun Around Blues, but rest assured he has not been idle during those years. Working on his music and playing with friends, he has put together a new disc that proves he is an artist ready for worldwide attention. That disc, It’s a Long Way to Go, easily stands among the absolute best acoustic blues and Americana releases. Simply said, it’s that good and more. 

Scramstad’s songwriting is just as on par as his instrumentation. The songs are memorable and meaningful. The opening number, “Dreaming Of The Blues,” is a whimsical piece finding him in all kinds of favorable situations, only to wake up finding he was actually just dreaming. He closes the album with another great tune, “It’s Just Right.” Here he describes how everything in his life is just right because he has found the person who makes it all worthwhile. 

There are a trio of cover tracks that give justice to the originals while still making them work as his own. These are Elizabeth Cotton’s instrumental “It Ain’t No Lie,” Willie Brown’s classic “Future Blues” in a duet with his longtime mentor Terry Robb, and Muddy Waters’ “Louisiana Blues” with Scramstad playing slide resonator, again with Robb and harmonica ace Dave Mathis. 

Most of the selections are just Scramstad playing solo, giving him the opportunity to show us just how spectacular his string work shines, whether fingerpicked or slide. Take note of this on the instrumental “Transitor Radio,” a piece that brings to mind guitar greats like John Fahey and early Leo Kottke. A piece like “In Memory” is the exact example of how his voice works as a second instrument. Other guests include harp player Ben Small working as a duo with Scramstad on “Hot Rod Tracy.” And the Terry Robb Band with bass master Dave Captein and drummer Gary Nolde bring a jazzy note to “Sad & Lonely State Of Mind.” 

Perhaps my favorite track of the album is another instrumental, “Blues Bring Hard Times,” again played on the slide resonator. This song sounds so right in performance, it feels like it is taking you to a completely different place where you are alone with the guitarist and his notes are hypnotizing into a soothing, relaxing zone that feels so right 

It’s a Long Way to Go may have taken a while to be completed, but for what is delivered here, it’s just right and more. This is a master work from one of the best acoustic musicians to be found. And I repeat one of the best anywhere. 

Total Time: 33:16 

Dreaming the Blues / Oh Babe It Aint No Lie / It’s a Long Way to Go / Hot Rod Tracy / Future Blues / Sad & Lonely State of Mind / Transistor Radio / In Memory / Louisiana Blues / Blues Bring Hard Times / It’s Just Right  

 

Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band

Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band

Straight To You Live
Provogue

Review by Greg Johnson 

 

During this time of COVID and the lack of being able to attend live events on this scale, the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band releases this much-needed live performance on both audio and video formats. Taken from a live set at Germany’s Leverkusen Jazzstage in 2019, he captures the band at full dynamic strength, easily displaying why they have been one of the most appreciated live concerts going. The band starts out on fire and just becomes more incendiary as the performance progresses. 

 Shepherd may be front and center with his guitar prowess that absolutely shakes the stage throughout one song after the other, but he is backed by a tight-knit group that complements one another as one cohesive unit to perfection. Chris Layton on drums, Joe Krown on keys, Scott Nelson on bass, with saxophonist Joe Sublett and trumpet player Mark Pender rounding out the instrumentation. And then there is Shepherd’s ever-present, longtime partner Noah Hunt on lead vocals, which he often hands over to Shepherd or they work as a vocal tandem, sharing words on the same song. It has been a masterful pairing that continues to get stronger with every release or performance. 

Recorded during the tour promoting their last release, The Traveler, the band delivers stunning interpretations of some of their best material from that disc such as “Woman Like You,” “Long Time Running” and his covers of Joe Walsh’s “Turn To Stone” and Neil Young’s “Mr. Soul.” There are also older classics from earlier discs, such as “Shame, Shame, Shame,” “Diamonds & Gold,” “Blue On Black” and “Heat of The Sun” that drive the intensity of the show ever upward. 

The concert also puts together some terrific takes of well-known covers that stretch the band into overdrive: Elmore James’ ”Talk To Me Baby,” Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee” and the closing dynamo of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” giving Shepherd one more opportunity to set off guitar fireworks before ending the night. 

For those missing out on large-scale live events, having this recording will surely hold you temporarily smiling, at least until we can experience the real thing again. Straight To You is without doubt a sensational live presentation of a band that continues to amaze us every time out. Check it out now! 

 

Total Time: 1:10:27 

Woman Like You / Mr. Soul / Long Time Running / I Want You / Diamonds & Gold / Talk to Me Baby / Heat of the Sun / Down for Love / Shame, Shame, Shame / Turn to Stone / Blue On Black / I’m a King Bee / Voodoo Child (Slight Return)  

 

Ole Frimer Band 

Ole Frimer Band 

Live in Eppingen
Katti Records 

Review by Randy Murphy 

I listen to a lot of new music, and most of it is fine, solid blues and blues rock produced by musicians dedicated to keeping blues-oriented music alive and culturally relevant. I will admit, however, that it takes quite a stirring album for me to think–yeah, I’d buy this. The Ole Frimer Band’s new release, “Live in Eppingen” fits that bill dead on. The fact that these guys hail from Denmark (not Denmark, Oregon—the other Denmark) makes this recording all the more remarkable since it testifies to the lasting power of blues rock to pick up sticks, move to Europe, and not miss a (guitar) lick. 

My own blues prejudices lean toward the traditional, so it’s difficult for more rock orientated blues bands to gain traction with me, but when the music’s this compelling and so well preformed and of such high quality, there’s no chance it wouldn’t win me over. Ole Frimer supplies the guitar and lead vocals, and his band mates, Niels Ole Thorning on keyboard and organ, Jesper Bylling on bass and Claus Daugaard on drums (Bylling and Daugaard also supply backing vocals) are a tight little outfit equally at home with a bit of straight-ahead rock (“Sheltered Roads”), lethal blues ballads (“Single City”), or boogie-infused madness (“Got A Mind To Travel”). These are all ace musicians, and while there’s not a clunker cut on the album, the highlight is their rendition of Eric Clapton and Robert Cray’s tasty “Old Love.” The whole band shines on this classic blues number, particularly Thorning’s subtle, soulful piano handiwork, which is some of the finest, most sensitive playing I’ve heard on a blues album in quite a while. Bravo! 

This is just one terrific record I recommend highly—it’s a keeper–and yeah, I’d buy it. You should too. 

Total Time: 49:10 

The Clearing / Sheltered Roads / The Blues is Here to Stay / Why Are You Stayin’ / Single City / Old love / Got A Mind to Travel / Brush with the Blues 

 

 

 

 

 

Dudley Taft

Cosmic Radio
American Blues Artist Group

Review by John Taylor 

Finally. Something good has come of the COVID-19 catastrophe. 

Though the damage the pandemic has done to the live music business is “a real blow to the solar plexis,” blues-rocker Dudley Taft says, he admits that spending endless hours in quarantine has at least given him unexpected time to craft the 12 tracks on his latest album, “Cosmic Radio.” 

And the extra work shows. 

Imaginative lyrics, polished sounds and memorable melodies power “Cosmic Radio” to some previously unexplored terrain. 

The album launches with the title cut, which Taft wrote while vacationing in the Bahamas. With vocals amped with rock-style reverb, a rolling drum line and axes cutting a wide swath, “Cosmic Radio” seizes your attention from the first downbeat. 

Taft says he wrote the song in one night – along with a second song, “Hey Hey Hey.” 

“There’s something about the Bahamas that spurs my creativity,” he says in a liner note on his website. “Maybe it’s the weed?” 

One of the most notable standouts on the album is “Relentless,” Taft’s first formal collaboration with his daughter, Ashley Charmae. She takes lead vocals on the song and adds backups on several others on the album. 

Other must-hears: “The Devil,” “Left in the Dust,” “The End of the Blues” and the soft ballad “I Will Always Love You,” which features more Charmae vocals and incorporates a World War II-era piano that an old family friend wanted Taft to have. 

Written between fall 2019 and this past spring, “Cosmic Radio” also presents some of the first music written about the pandemic. “I’m a Believer,” for example, was born of Taft’s frustration with the ongoing problems and limitations the coronavirus has caused. 

Jason Patterson and Chicago’s Walfredo Reyes Jr. – who’s worked with Santana, Traffic and Steve Winwood — split the work behind the drum kit, while Kasey Williams sits in on bass. John Kessler — who worked with Taft when the two were playing in rock bands in the Seattle area starting back in the ‘90s, and who’s headed up the Puget Sound’s KNKX blues program for the past two decades — takes a turn on bass for “Goin’ Away Baby” and “The End of the Blues.” 

The 54-year-old Taft built his reputation during the 1990s as a rocker with the Northwest bands Sweet Water and Second Coming, but in recent years he’s returned to his native Midwest. The great-great-grandnephew of President William Howard Taft established his home base in Cincinnati in 2013. 

He also seems to have built himself a comfortable home in the blues. 

 

Total Time: 55:14 

Cosmic Radio / Left in the Dust / The Devil / Goin’ Away Baby / One in a Billion / The End of the Blues / Relentless / Fly With Me / Hey Hey Hey / All for One / I’m a Believer / I Will Always Love You 

 

Danny Brooks and Lil’ Miss Debi  Are You Ready? The Mississippi Sessions  Hishouse Records

Danny Brooks and Lil’ Miss Debi 

Are You Ready? The Mississippi Sessions
Hishouse Records
 

Review by John Taylor 

Part memoir, part altar call, Danny Brooks and Lil’ Miss Debi’s “Are You Ready? The Mississippi Sessions” is a masterful work that’s timely, yet timeless. Like a favorite Bible verse, it’s one you’ll want to turn to more than once — it’s salve for the soul in an anxious age. 

Joined by an impressive collection of backing musicians, the 69-year-old “Texassippi Soul Man” has produced a 20-song album that revisits familiar sounds and places with the wisdom of a man who’s traveled far, learned much and now sees things from a hard-won perspective. 

Summoning revival-style gospel, harmonica-rich Mississippi country blues, a little downtown Memphis style and some smooth slide guitar work, Brooks offers encouragement to the sinner, comfort to the weary and warnings to those who would take love for granted. 

As the note introducing the title song puts it: “Life can be brutal at times and beautiful at other times. It’s what we make it, in spite of being dealt a bad hand. Life comes at everybody like a freight train, it does not pick favorites. There is no easy way out, but there is peace for those that seek it.” 

The playlist further underscores the point. 

“I know I’m not a righteous man,” he sings on “Climb That Mountain,” “but sinners need help, too.” 

Other songs – “We Do Whatever It Takes,” “No Easy Way Out,” “Where Will You Stand?” and “The Battle” come to mind – also speak to truths Brooks has learned the hard way. 

The Canada native has tight-roped between sin and salvation from his childhood days of reciting Scripture on street corners at his father’s bidding to a short-term prison stay in the 1970s. But these days, living in Llano, Texas, he’s made peace with his mistakes — and he’s made his decisions. 

“You learn how to win when you know what it’s like to fall,” he adds on “Climb That Mountain.” 

One of the more poignant moments on the album comes on “Angel From Montgomery.” It’s perhaps the most heartfelt and genuine rendition of John Prine’s classic since he released it back in 1971. 

Recorded in Raymond, Mississippi – just outside Jackson – the band includes guitarists Greg Martin of the Kentucky Headhunters and John Fannin, who formerly worked with Rusty Weir and Jerry Jeff Walker. Micah and Joel May comprise the rhythm section, James Lawlis plays horns and Geri O’Neil provides bass and background vocals. Chalmers Davis and Sam Brady round out the group, along with Professor Andrew Lewis, who mixes in keyboards on “We Do Whatever It Takes.” 

Like Brooks and Lil’ Miss Debi, the versatile group can tighten up or ease off at will, but they remain consistent and true throughout the album. 

And consistent and true might be the best two words to describe their overall effort here. 

 

Total Time: 79:34 

Are You Ready? / Jesus Had the Blues / Jamaica Sun / We Do Whatever It Takes” / Let Me Know / No Easy Way Out / Angel From Montgomery / Coming Home / One More Mile (to Mississippi) / Rock ‘n’ Roll Was the Baby / Where Will You Stand? / Hold on to Love / Broken / Climb That Mountain / Put a Little Rock ‘n’ Roll in Your Soul / Without Love / Me and Brownie McGhee / Tell Me About It / When I’m Holding You / The Battle 

 

Ron Thompson  From The Patio

Ron Thompson 

From The Patio: Live At The Poor House Bistro, Vol. 1
Little Village Foundation 

Review by Greg Johnson 

Bay Area favorite, guitarist Ron Thompson, may have passed on earlier this year, but thanks to the folks at Little Village Foundation, we have this terrific live recording from San Jose’s Poor House Bistro that will continue to allow us to enjoy his music again. Holding a fourteenyear Wednesday night residency, these songs were picked from two nights in 2014, the masters were mixed by Kid Andersen atGreaseland Studios, who also produced the album and plays on a couple tracks himself. 

Thompson’s guitar work really shines, as it should. The man was among the first-call West Coast players having worked with John Lee Hooker, Little Joe Blue, Big Mama Thornton, Etta James and Lowell Fulson as well as many others. With a natural ability on both finger and slide guitar styles, Thompson could supercharge an audience with electrifying, energized and even haunting performances; all displayed on the selections offered here. 

Covers of Don Covay & Bobby Womack’s “That’s How I Feel,” Lowell Fulson & Lloyd Glenn’s “Sinner’s Prayer, Willie Dixon’s “Meet Me In The Bottom,” Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Bring Me My Shotgun,” and Buster Brown’s “Doctor Brown” are all delivered with excitement and passion. A trio of his original numbers, “Mardi Gras Boogie,” “The River Is Rising” and “When You Walk That Walk” showcases his own prowess at songwriting. The entirety of this collection is excellent and well delivered. 

Playing behind Thompson on these dates were organist Jim Pugh, Scotty Griffin on drums, Sid Morris on piano, and bass players Dave Chavez and Gary Rosen. Aside from Kid Andersen mentioned earlier, harmonica ace Gary Smith also appears for a number. 

Ron Thompson may no longer be with us, but his memory will live on with recordings like these. The title states volume one, let’s hope for more yet to come. 

Total Time: 44:56 

Meet Me In the Bottom / Bring Me My Shotgun / Mardi Gras Boogie / Tin Pan Alley / One More Chance With You / I Done Got Over / Sinner’s Prayer / The River Is Rising / That’s How I Feel / Doctor Brown / When You Walk That Walk 

Jody Carroll 

World of Man Anthology:  

Volume One – Old Dogs 

Volume Two – Lost in Time 

Volume Three – Promise Land 

Thahaylia Music 

Review by Greg Johnson 

Jody Carroll’s three-volume compilation, World of Man Anthology, is an impressive masterclass in the basics of American music. It’s rare that such a large project can capture so much magic, especially considering they were all recorded within little more than a month and released simultaneously. If this was a career’s worth of music being compiled it would be a treasure trove worthy of a lifetime’s recognition. But it is not, Carroll has been quite prolific, releasing music regularly, all of it over-the-top exceptional. It is a testimony of his talent, imaginative creativity and his knowledge of music history, be it blues, folk or various forms of roots, that make up the huge cauldron behind his repertoire.  

The majority of the input of the three albums are his own original material, with a few traditionals and covers offered on the first disc. Almost all of it is recorded acoustically, with the exception being “Burning Hell.” The song’s fuzzy overtones on both his instrument and the recording of his voice bring to mind the rawness of North Mississippi Hill Country music from the likes of Junior Kimbrough or RL Burnside. 

Carroll’s playing rivals any of the bygone masters. His vocals are immediately recognizable. Flat out, he is an overlooked genius when it comes to songwriting and performing. Easily one of the very best of his time. 

Available individually at Jodycarroll.bandcamp.com 

Volume One: 38:30 

Fishing Blues / The Train That Carried My Girl From Town / Wildwood Flower Field / The Cuckoo / Why She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye / Columbus Stockade Blues / Elk River Blues / Up In Illinois / North Land / Burning Hell 

 

Volume Two: 41:19 

Hear That Whistle Blow / Cairo Lost In Time / Even When She’s Not There / Long Gone Train / Throw Me Down / Lost Within Your Lies / The World Of The Blues / Waiting For A Sign From Above / Nightlife / My Soul Is Going Home 

 

Volume Three: 41:25 

The World Of Man / Moonshine / Jimmie Moore’s Blues / Oh The River Oh the Sea / Heaven Knows / Hard Times In The Valley / The return Of The Last Gunfighter / Lazy Ol’ River / Promise Land / Lafayette Locks On The Fourth Of July