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

Alex Maryol - In the Meantime

Alex Maryol

In the Meantime
Self Release

Review by John Taylor

Take enough roads and you’ll probably end up cursing a wrong turn or two, hitting some dead ends and doing some backtracking.

Ask Alex Maryol. He’s been there.

And the Santa Fe-based Maryol lets us ride shotgun as his eighth album, In the Meantime, revisits Mississippi, Chicago and Texas, mixing smooth guitars and raucous rhythms into a sound that’s all his own. The music is authentic and the lyrics don’t hold back.

Apparently, we can thank a little studio meltdown for that.

According to Maryol’s website, he and his engineer, Tim Stroh (who’s worked with the likes of Dwight Yoakam and Robbie Robertson) got into it on the first day of recording at Stroh’s new studio, Mad House Recorders in Leadville, Colorado.

Fortunately, they smoothed things over quickly. But the blowup seemed to free everyone up to stop being polite and bring their raw feelings to the table. It was good timing for Maryol, who’s just turning 40 and says that after years of soul-searching, he’s ready for some genuine, warts-and-all creativity. He calls In the Meantime “both a rebirth and a return.”

“It is a new era for me,” he says. “I feel like I am free to be myself, and express a deeper level of sincerity. It feels like the time to get back to a raw, from-the-gut approach to my music.”

The result of all this honesty and creativity? An album that’s being hailed as Maryol’s best yet – a breakthrough, maybe.

The 11-song work has echoes of the unvarnished, gutsy blues he cut his teeth on as a teenager in Santa Fe, and which defined much of his earlier music.

Dating back to the 1990s, Maryol has opened for names like Etta James, G. Love and Special Sauce, Bo Diddley Bonnie Raitt, Lyle Lovett, Leon Russell, Corey Harris, Blues Traveler and Otis Taylor. And it sounds like he’s learned a lot from his experiences.

In the Meantime ranges from rockers like “Telluride” to “Hey Now Baby,” which Stevie Ray Vaughn himself would envy. Some sleek guitar work snakes its way through true-blue numbers like the title cut as well as “All Night,” “Rain Been Coming Down” and the reprise of “Love Is What We are Made for.”

The diverse sounds mark Maryol as a bluesman who’s come into his own. He’s equally adept at wading into soggy Delta blues or muscling out some classic Chicago-style riffs.

Throughout In the Meantime, though, he’s true to his own story. Each song reflects his personal take on modern blues and the roads he’s taken to get here. He’s picked up a few nicks and a scar or two along the way. But he’s earned some swagger.

With this one, he’s also earned some bona fide blues credentials that should put him on the map.

Total Time: 48:50

Love Is What We are Made for / All Night / Rain Been Coming Down / Made in Santa Fe / In the Meantime / Love Is What We are Made for – Reprise / Worry / Telluride / Hey Now Baby / Feeling Good / Where the River Flows

Blue ACiD feat. John Blake – EP

Blue ACiD feat. John Blake 

EP
Black and Tan Records

Review by John Taylor

Five years ago, a couple of Dutchmen — who’d sung, played, produced and promoted the blues for more than a quarter of a century each — holed up with a guy they describe as “a mysterious singer hailing from the Deep East of Holland.”

From that shadowy gathering of Jan Mittendorp, Mischa den Haring and the singer, John Blake, an EP has arisen. And with the release of “Blue ACiD feat. John Blake,” it’s as if the spirits of the Mississippi Delta have returned with a message for blues lovers of today.

That message? American roots music is still very much alive, evolving and thriving as it absorbs new influences and technologies.

“Like moonshine,” a release from Blue ACiD says, “this music was slow brewed in seclusion during all-night-and-day marathons attended only by the two members and the ghosts of the past, who were eager to have their voices echo into the modern world.”

The modern world had better be listening, too. This four-song collection is a playlist of blues as authentic as anything released this side of the graves of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf.

Two tracks – “Georgia” and “Gallows Tree” — could just as well have been among the songs Alan Lomax recorded when he toured the Mississippi Delta in the 1950s, documenting traditional work songs.

The other two – “Keep It Burning” and “No Time” – bring the kind of heat you’d expect at a house-rocking Chicago blues joint.

With the raw power of Blake’s voice and the measured musicianship of Mittendorp and den Haring, the boys of Blue ACiD are making good on their goal of “preserving the power and originality of American roots music but at the same time not excluding influences from any other musical styles nor any technology that is available today.”

Somewhere deep in the Delta, spirits are kicking back and resting easy.

 

Total Time: 17:32

Georgia / Keep It Burning / Gallows Tree / No Time

 

Early Times & The High Rollers

The Corner
VizzTone

Review by Greg Johnson

Blues guitarist Early Times started his career working in Northern California joining up with artists like Johnny Heartsman and EC Scott. He is also known for hosting a show on Sirius XM’s BB King’s Bluesville station. With a handful of recordings since 1990, Times is releasing The Corner, his first disc since 2017’s Hit & Run.

Early Times has a knack for writing descriptive stories filled with eclectic characters, which can easily be seen in his lyrics on the new album; perhaps most vividly in the track “Do What She Do” populated with people like Mary in the Cha Cha Hat. He is not a guitarist that puts too many notes within a song; just enough to give the right edge to deliver his music and he shows this in the instrumental number “Rosie’s Herbs N’ Things” and the jazzy “Say, Man.”  But less notes does not mean that he’s a lesser guitarist. On the contrary, he knows exactly what is necessary to bring the perfect mood and flow for each number. There is a nice string-work interaction by him and guest Popa Chubby on “She’s About To Lose Her Mind.” There is also a nice jump of stylings between the songs, as you have rockin’ tracks like “Charmlemagne,” a Bob Dylan-esque feel to the closer “Return Of The Queen” and a slower acoustic piece “Someone Help Mary.”

Overall, The Corner is a fun trip to make to escape the every day distractions happening in the world. Early Times will take you in with his all original views of life and the people who live within it. Musically this is a terrific disc, packed with great vocals and stories, and produced by the amazing Jay Messina. Recommended!!

Total Time: 36:12

Come On, Let’s Ride / On The Corner / Do What She Do / She’s About To Lose Her Mind / Rosie’s Herbs N’ Things / He’s Got A Jones / Say, Man / Charlemagne / Someone Help Mary / Return Of The Queen

Jimmy Reiter

Live
Pogo Pop

Review by Greg Johnson

A nicely done live performance by German bluesman Jimmy Reiter with a sharp band that sizzles in its presentation. Velvety smooth delivery with fluid guitar playing leading the way through two sets of shows recorded in Osnabruck, Germany and Vienna, Austria. This is the fourth recording and first live disc for a musician who has been named the top contemporary blues artist in the country in 2015, and his band, Reiter on guitar, Nico Dreir on keys, Jasper Mortier on bass and drummer Bjorn Puls, named best in 2018. They are joined on these live dates by sax players Dmitry Suslov and Jurgen Wieching.

Reiter is an exceptional songwriter and his original pieces fit nicely next to songs written by Willie Dixon, Allen Toussaint, Dr John, Luther “Guitar Jr” Johnson, Peter Green and Luther “Snakeboy” Johnson. A highlight has to be the 12-plus-minute “Give It To Me Straight,” where Reiter brings out various guitar riffs and can even draw the audience to a rapturous attention with nearly silent moments. Another standout is the closing tribute to Reiter’s guitar heroes Freddie King and Magic Sam, simply titled “Jimmy’s Boogie,” it is an absolutely infectious instrumental as it builds its pace right up to the end.

The main focus on these performances are without doubt Jimmy Reiter’s guitar playing. Front and center throughout, it is marvelous and straightforward start to finish. He can hold you spellbound at one moment and want to jump and dance the next.

Total Time: 1:18:43

Waiting For My Luck To Change / What You Need / What’s In It For Me? / Too Many Cooks / I Shouldn’t But I Do / Hard Times (Have Surely Come) / I’ll Take The Easy Way / Give It To Me Straight / Woman Don’t Lie / It’s Easy When You Know How / I’m Givin’ In / Hooked / Who’s Minding The Store / Jimmy’s Boogie

Harvey Brindell - Pennies on the Dollar!

Harvey Brindell

Pennies on the Dollar!
Self Release

Review by Greg Johnson

Long before Harvey Brindell moved to the Northwest, he had made himself quite a reputation playing the blues in the Midwest. Rubbing elbows with world-renowned artists such as Magic Slim, Jimmy Thackery, Shawn Holt, Guitar Shorty, Mike Zito and numerous others, as well as being a regular act playing on the stage at Lincoln, Nebraska’s, famed Zoo Bar, Brindell has earned his rights to play the blues. That is certainly true listening to his first recording since arriving in Portland a few years back. There is an authentic Chicago-sounding delivery that purrs full of jumping blues.

Brindell hooked up with a number of friends that he met over the years mixing a collection of original songs at Jimi Bott’s Portland studio, Roseleaf Recording. The talented friends Brindell brought into the songs include the likes of John “Honeyboy” Turner (who he used to record with back in the Midwest), Mitch Kashmar, JW Jones, Johnny Burgin and of course Bott.

The album itself is sensational with not a sore spot to be heard anywhere. It flows with exceptional playing from all, especially Brindell’s guitar work and vocals. “Pennies on the Dollar” opens with a bouncing beat as Brindell explains the tribulations of working for next to nothing when it is all said and done, the true life of a musician. “The Old Zoo Bar” is a tribute to the renowned club that has hosted the greatest blues artists during its 50-year history, with Brindell naming several. “Short Flight” is a nice tuneful instrumental, while he lets you know of his adoration for his old stomping grounds in a couple of tracks about Omaha. Brindell definitely has a knack for turning a phrase blues-wise as he does repeatedly. A favorite personally is “Mississippi Medicaid” with a humorous take on “alternative” medicine only found in the South that just might include a few unorthodox ingredients like a black cat bone, mojo hand, John the Conqueror root and a little gris gris, too. But honestly, this album hit it quite enjoyably start to finish. Well done!

Total Time: 36:52

Pennies On The Dollar / Need Him And Weep / Take The Boy Out Of The Country / The Old Zoo Bar / Blues For Omaha / Mississippi Medicaid / Short Flight / That’s The Blues / Omaha Bones / Queen Of High Waters (Des Moines 1993)

Joyann Parker - Out of the Dark

Joyann Parker

Out of the Dark
Hopeless Romantic Records

Review by Greg Johnson

Minneaapolis-based Joyann Parker releases her first disc in three years with the outstanding Out of the Dark. She is backed by her talented band that includes Tim Wick on keys, Brad Schaefer on bass and Bill Golden on drums, plus her songwriting partner, guitarist Mark Lamoine, with whom she penned all 11 pieces.

If you haven’t yet heard Joyann Parker, prepare yourself for an incredible vocalist who soars with a beauty and determination stretching her voice to peaks very few can find.

Standout guest performances include harmonica on “Bad Version of Myself” handled by Rory Hoffman, and the twin guitars of Lamoine taking on acoustic alongside the slide work of Paul Mayasich on “Either Way.” Throughout the album Parker enhances her work with a variety of approaches with background vocalists, horns and even strings on a couple of tracks. They can come across funky, rockin’ or jazzy, but definitely it’s the blues.

The recording of Out of the Blue began more than a year ago, but like so many others they were sidelined in finishing things up right away as the pandemic took hold of the world. It allowed her to rework a number of parts, making them just right, and the extra time paid off with a collection of very expressive and strong songs to work with. The release coming a year later than expected is a perfect example of how some things worked out for the better. This is an album that brings to the forefront a vocalist of world-class proportions and sounds better with every spin on the player. Check it out!

Total Time: 40:50

Gone So Long / Carry On / Bad Version Of Myself/ What Did You Expect / Either Way / Predator / Dirty Rotten Guy / Come On Baby (Take Me Dancing) / Fool For You / Hit Me Like A Train / Out Of The Dark

Leadbelly Calls - Tribute To Huddie Ledbetter

Leadbelly Calls

Tribute To Huddie Ledbetter
Grand Cru Records

Review by Greg Johnson

German musicians Timo Gross and Adax Dorsam share a fond love for the legendary American folk and blues artist Lead Belly. Joining with a band, they have created quite the unique take on a dozen of the master’s songs, which often utilize non-traditional instruments with the blues, such as sitar, saz, charango and jaw harp. It brings about contemporary readings while still maintaining their original Old World feel.  It mixes traditional takes on tracks mixed with more modern readings, using formats like electronic, country and rock approaches mixed slyly with the blues for a heavily listenable delivery.

The album opens with an intense biographical reading of who Lead Belly was. That is followed by a rambunctious take on “Black Betty” that may lean more toward Ram Jam’s or Larkin Poe’s versions. Yet it still sounds entirely original and takes on Lead Belly’s feel behind the number. “Cottonfields” is up next and includes a bit of country-styled guitar work. “Where Did You Sleep” (aka “In the Pines”) is one of Lead Belly’s most haunting numbers, and comes across exactly as such, even with sitar filling that sounds quite like a mandolin here. The album continues with a number of Lead Belly’s most known songs, including “Midnight Special,” “Goodnight Irene” and “The Gallis Pole.” Each has their own take that is fresh and alive.

Timo Gross is known for his vocal delivery and his guitar work. Adax Dorsam is an exceptional producer and composer who has worked on various artists’ material in Europe along with his own and is a master of multiple instruments.

Leadbelly Calls is a terrific collaboration bringing the works of Lead Belly that have long been in the repertoire of many artists since he first recorded them back in the 1930s and on. But these takes are not time-worn, they’re exceptional and ear catching. This is a tribute that is a knockout and one that is going to garner a lot of new fans not only to Lead Belly, but to these two German artists on an international level, too. Very highly recommended.

Total Time: 52:32

Prologue Leadbelly / Black Betty / Cottonfields / Where Did You Sleep / Take This Hammer / Western Plain / It’ll Blow A Poor Man Down / Blow My Blues Away / John Hardy / Midnight Special / The Gallis Pole /  My Baby Left Me / Good Night Irene / Epilogue Western Plain

Veronica Lewis

You Ain’t Unlucky
Blue Heart Records

Review by John Taylor

Listen to a few bars of a Veronica Lewis song and you just might begin to believe in reincarnation. How else could a 17-year-old play 1950s-style boogie-woogie and blues so convincingly?

Whatever else you want to think, take this as gospel: Her debut album, “You Ain’t Unlucky” – set for a Feb. 19 release – is a sparkling dash of energy that feels pretty refreshing after a winter like this.

Lewis’ three-piece combo (she sings and plays a rip-roarin’ piano, while Don Davis slips in some spirited sax and Mike Walsh delivers on drums) has rolled out a real-deal record in the tradition of old-school recording sessions.

“I imagined I only had one shot to lay it down in the studio,” Lewis says, “as if I walked into a recording studio somewhere back in time, like Sun or Stax, and the producer just pressed the record button and said, ‘OK, kid, let me hear what you’ve got.’ ”

Here’s what she’s got: a smooth, rangy voice with a twist of vibrato that belts out six original songs and a couple of tributes to two of her heroes, Louis Jordan (“Is You Is My Baby”) and Katie Webster (“Whoo Whee Sweet Daddy”).

The album opens with the title track’s no-nonsense advice to cheer up and not feel sorry for yourself.

“It might not feel good, but that don’t mean it’s bad,” she admonishes. “Lemme tell you, it’s just another one of those things.”

But Lewis is just getting started.

“Ode to Jerry Lee” is a raucous salute to another of her influences, Jerry Lee Lewis, while her take on “Is You Is My Baby” takes a dusky tone – Lewis shows the versatility of her voice as she conveys the loneliness and insecurity of a worried lover.

Her “Put Your Wig on Mama” is a groover that Lewis wrote for her mother — apparently Mama had better get ready for a loud, sweaty night on the dance floor.

And “Clarksdale Sun” simmers with the knock-you-down heat of a Southern scorcher.

Throughout the recording, Lewis’ keyboard drives the sound, interacting naturally with her voice and Davis’ sax. Walsh’s backbeat keeps the sound tight.

Nope, nothing unlucky about this album at all. This one’s all talent and heart. It’s a keeper of a debut.

With any luck, we’ll be hearing a lot more about Veronica Lewis from now on.

Total time: 32:15

You Ain’t Unlucky / Clarksdale Sun / Put Your Wig On Mama / Is You Is My Baby / Fool Me Twice / Whoo Whee Sweet Daddy / Ode to Jerry Lee / The Memphis Train