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

Skylar Rogers - Firebreather

Skylar Rogers

Firebreather
Self Release

Review by John Taylor

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 left America’s second city in ruins. Now, 150 years later, Skylar Rogers — whose soul might’ve been forged in those flames – is setting the blues world ablaze with her first full-length album, “Firebreather.”

Trust us, this native Chicagoan’s self-described “soul-rockin’” blues really smoke.

Citing Tina Turner, Etta James, Billy Joel, Koko Taylor and even AC/DC as influences, Rogers sets off a powerful collection of original songs fueled by her upbringing in some of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods. Her band, the Blue Diamonds — guitarists Stephen J. Hill and Marty Gibson, bassist Jerry Ewing, keyboardist Pete Zimmer and drummer Bradley Arl – brings some serious muscle to the room, but Rogers’ sinewy voice holds its own.

From the rock-driven title cut to the rock-solid “Hard-Headed Woman,” the groove of “Back to Memphis” and the house-rockin’ “Like Father Like Daugher,” the music is convincing, authentic and original. Rogers wrote or co-wrote all of it, with the help of Arl, her drummer.

She draws lyrics from pain she’s endured in her own life. A few highlights:

— “Gonna get lost in the music until my soul is finally free,” she vows in “Back to Memphis.” “I’ll let Memphis heal my broken heart one note at a time.”

— In “Like Father Like Daughter,” she describes how the student has become the teacher: “You taught me how to say bye-bye, how to walk away, how to sweep it all under the rug and hope that it don’t come back to bite you someday.”

— And on “Insecurities,” she offers tender advice to people struggling with self-images on confidence.

Themes of strength and inspiration are run throughout the album. Rogers’ music and faith have clearly guided her through miles of good – and not so good – times.

“Music,” she says “survives the worst, and celebrates the best.”

“Firebreather,” recorded at Sawhorse Studios in St. Louis, follows Rogers’ 2019 debut EP, “Insecurities” and her first national tour. As national health restrictions allow, she plans to tour more this year.

Let’s hope that means she’ll be heading out our way. We could use some warmin’ up around here.

Meantime, keep this album handy. You’re gonna want to listen to it again and again.

Total Time: 39:00

Hard-Headed Woman / Back to Memphis / Work / Like Father Like Daughter / Failure / Firebreather / Movin’ On / Drowning / Thankful / Insecurities

Ed Neumann & Friends - Mr. Blue

Ed Neumann & Friends

Mr. Blue
Roseleaf Records

Anybody familiar with the blues in Portland will instantly be familiar with the name Ed Neumann. A stalwart on the music scene, he has played with perhaps everyone at one time or another, including a long-time stint in the legendary Jim Mesi’s band, as well as hosting a number of jams around the city. One of those jams has been taking place at The CI in Tualatin for a number of years and brings in many of the best players each week. A few of those are gathered here on Neumann’s latest disc, Mr. Blue, recorded at Jimi Bott’s Roseleaf Records.

The base of this collection of 12 tracks is without doubt Neumann’s prowess on the B-3, and his charcoaled vocals make his performances instantly recognizable. Mostly cover songs that Ed has made his own through the years, such as “Cry to Me,” “Body & Fender Man,” and “Steal Away,” he throws in a couple of his own self-penned numbers that fit in perfectly, “April’s Swing” and “Mr. Blue.”

The band backing Neumann is a strong unit that has worked with the very best themselves, with Jimi Bott on drums, Jim Solberg on bass and the vocal lead on “Steal Away,” and guitars by Rouke Vanderveen and Mark Shark who is also the featured vocalist on “Keep Your Hands To Yourself.” This is an A-Team band delivering an over-the-top, first-class performance. Hands down a lot of fun is found on this recording. And despite the title of the closing number, “Too Much Cool,” there’s never enough cool when it comes to Ed Neumann and his friends.

Total Time: 54:42

Mojo Mambo / I Wanna Thank You Baby / Keep Your Hands To Yourself / Cry To Me / Steal Away / April’s Swing / Body & Fender Man / Good Rockin’ Mama / Mr. Blue / Squeeze Me In / Teeny Weeny Bit / Too Much Cool

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)