Lisa Mann - Old Girl

Lisa Mann 

Old Girl
JayRay Records 

Review by Greg Johnson 

Not to be one to sit idle, even during times of pandemic, Portland’s Blues Music Award-winning bassist has released two discs over the past months of shutdown. The first, an album from her alter-persona White Crone titled The Poisoner, is a step back to Lisa’s first love for metal music, which she delivers spot on. Known primarily as a blues musician internationally, she also found the time to put together a five-song EP that also is a first-class production and will definitely thrill fans of Lisa’s with little doubt. 

Her bass prowess is unquestionable as are her vocals, which can bring forth impassioned power or bring you to tears with her soft and touching emotions. Behind her is her full-time guitarist from her band, Jason “JT” Thomas, while drum duties are split between Michael Ballash and Dave Melyan, who both work and tour with her regularly. Louis Pain guests on a couple of tracks on organ and a stellar cast of vocalists backs her, too: Sonny Hess, Brian Foxworth, LaRhonda Steele and Arietta Ward – basically Portland’s A-Team. 

Of the five tracks, four are original numbers. She opens with the title track, a beautiful ballad in which  Lisa reflects on not being in her 20s anymore, but as an “old girl” (she’s definitely not) she is still making do. It’s hard to think that age is playing a role in her mind or how others might see her. JT provides a remarkable guitar break that adds to the ballad’s emotion. 

“It’s The Monkeys Or Me” is a humorous number about a relationship with a man who ran a monkey show and his house is filled with real live monkeys running the home. It may be cute at first, but they start to drive her crazy leading to the ultimatum, it’s either those monkeys or me. 

On “Everybody’s Making Money” Lisa looks at the music industry and it seems that she is putting out far more money than she brings in. Another superb guitar solo from JT here. The closing track pays homage to the musicians who came before in our area and paved the way for the artists who followed in their footsteps, never to be forgotten. 

The fifth song included is a terrific cover of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “That’s All.” Lisa has taken part in a handful of tribute shows to the guitar great, again replicated nicely by JT while Lisa growls her way convincingly, letting everybody know that people may in their own means think that they’re right or doing what needs to be done, but they really don’t know the facts at all. 

Old Girl is Lisa Mann at her very best. The only drawback on the album is that it is way too short and leaves you craving more. Let her artistic juices flow, we can only anticipate what may be following in this one’s footsteps. This is one disc that you do not want to miss out on — buy it now! 

 

Total Time: 21:22 

Old Girl / It’s The Monkeys Or Me / Everybody’s Making Money / That’s All / Around Here 

Fiona Boyes - Blues In My Heart

Fiona Boyes 

Blues In My Heart
Blue Empress Records / Reference Recordings 

Review by Greg Johnson 

Since her win at the International Blues Challenge back in 2003, Fiona Boyes has been one of the most noted blues guitarists of our time, with no less than eight nominations for Blues Music Awards, including Traditional Female Artists of the Year. Blues In My Heart, released in 2000, was the debut recording for Boyes, but sadly it didn’t see much distribution in the United States. Reference Recordings has now resolved that issue by releasing a newly packaged and newly remastered take on this Australian master work for its 20th anniversary. 

Fiona is in fine form here in what she self-describes as an acoustic album of fingerpicking ragtime blues. For those who have been following her career, you’ll recognize a good number of the songs featured, including such longtime live favorites as “Two Legged Dog” and her tribute to Memphis Minnie, “She Could Play That Thing.” Fiona is joined on the album by her original Australian band: Karen “Kaz” Dalla Rosa on harmonica, Gina Woods on piano, and Paula Dowse on drums and percussion. 

Made up of 16 tracks, 10 of which are original numbers, the album features first-rate covers by legendary artists Tommy Johnson, Leadbelly, JB Lenoir, Rev. Gary Davis, Red Hodges and Kid Bailey. This is definitely a must-add album for any fan of Fiona Boyes, especially in this remastered format. 

 

Total Time: 52:30 

Blues In My Heart / Pig Meat / She Could Play That Thing / I Let The Blues In / Have Faith / Honey You Can Take My Man / My Say So / Rowdy Blues / Mean World / Angel / Two Legged Dog / That Certain Something / Hokum Rag / Mercy / Canned Heat / Hotel Room 

 

Jim Gustin and Truth Jones - Lessons Learned

Jim Gustin and Truth Jones 

Lessons Learned
Self-produced

By John Taylor

After four decades of singing the blues up and down the West Coast, Jim Gustin and Truth Jones are ready to impart some of the wisdom they’ve gained along the way – and it’s wisdom well worth hearing. 

Pay close attention, because here are a few examples of what we can pick up from the Southern California duo’s third album: 

Drinking can lead to bad decisions that you’ll regret the next day. “I’d Been Drinking” recounts some vivid and instructive examples. 

If you treat a woman badly, you’re apt to regret it. “She might forgive you … but she’ll never forget,” the band warns in “Never Forget.” 

And no matter how far you think you’ve come, “Never Too Big for the Blues” reminds that pain and loss can track you down and make you hurt. 

We don’t mean to lecture, though. “Lessons Learned” is the work of some seasoned pros who know how to make some unapologetic blues. Wisdom aside, the music absolutely stands strong on its own. It’s easy to see why this band made the semifinals at the 2020 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. 

Gustin’s powerful voice sounds like aged-to-perfection whiskey, pairing perfectly with the versatile Jones, who makes everything from soulful blues to gospel seem effortless. 

Meantime, bassist Scott Duncan, drummer Chuck Strong, keyboardist Steve Alterman and saxophonist Lawrence Tamez are the backbone of the band, while a notable array of special guests flesh out an impressively well-rounded album. Listen for the contributions of trumpeter Lee Thornburg from Tower of Power, Harp Attack man Chris LeRoi Hansen, guitarist Tommy “Crooked Eye Tommy” Marsh and sax guru Jim Scimonetti. Jones’ daughter, Jill Hormon, sings along on a few tracks, too. 

Gustin produced the album, while Terry Wilson co-engineered, mixed and mastered it. 

When it’s all said and done, the instrumentation and unflinching vocals add up to a full-on sound that’ll have you longing for a night of live music, or at least maxing out your earbuds. 

Through all 11 songs on “Lessons Learned,” the band stays true to the motto inscribed on their logo: “Verum quaero” — to seek truth. And yup, you’ll find some true blues here. Perhaps even a helpful reference when you’re seeking your own truth. 

Keep this one handy. It’s gonna grow on you. 

Total Time: 42:47 

I’d Been Drinking / I Heard About You / The Truth / When This Ship Sails / I Hate to  See You Go / Never Forget / All You Ever Bring Me Is the Blues / Never Too Big for the Blues / Rockslide / My Love Is True / Three Things 

 

Too Slim and the Tail Draggers 

The Remedy
VizzTone/Underworld

By John Taylor 

Sure, they favor cowboy hats, tuck their pants into their boots and called Tennessee home for a while. But Too Slim and the Tail Draggers aren’t all hat. They’ve been delivering genuine blues/rock with a distinct Northwest accent for more than three decades now. 

The band born in Spokane and now headquartered in Boise has just rolled out its 15th studio album, making it an even 20 when you count five live albums. And they’ve proven up once again with “The Remedy,” a deliberate blend of blues hammered out of rock rhythms and riffs. 

With a lineup of Tim “Too Slim” Langford (lead vocals and guitar), Zach Kasik (bass, vocals and banjo) and Jeffrey “Shakey” Fowlkes (drums and vocals), the band’s latest packs a wallop.  

Guest harmonica men Sheldon Ziro, Richard “Rosy” Rosenblatt and Jason Ricci add some extra edge to this bust-you-in-the-chops follow-up to “High Desert Heat,” which was nominated for a 2019 Blues Music Award. 

Turbocharged guitars, slides, harmonica and even some banjos power this one through 10 original songs and an Elmore James cover (“Sunnyland Train”). Echoing everyone from the Allman Brothers to ZZ Top, Too Slim and the Tail Draggers continue to confidently ride the line between straight-on blues and rock. 

OK by us. 

Best enjoyed outdoors (with a beer tent and a dance area nearby), they’ve been one of the most popular road acts around these parts for years – a mainstay at many community festivals and concert series. 

The songs on “The Remedy” will only add to their repertoire if we ever get past the pandemic and back to enjoying ourselves in crowds. 

 

After kicking off the album with “Last Last Chance,” reminiscent of some 1970s Rolling Stones classic rock anthems, the band lays down “She’s Got the Remedy,” with a driving blues beat that could be the soundtrack for a nasty hangover. 

 

A thick stew of heavy guitar work is brewing on “Devil’s Hostage,” followed by “Reckless,” a harp-spiced trip “down to rock bottom, where I belong.” 

 

As you make your way down the playlist, you’re not likely to find any throw-aways. From the raucous “Keep the Party Rollin’” to the aching loneliness of “Half a World Away” to the band’s first-rate take on Elmore James’ “Sunnyland Train,” this album is sealed with solid workmanship. It’s what we’ve come to expect from some guys who have honed their craft to a point that they have nothing to prove to anyone but themselves. 

 

When you’re this comfortable in your own skin, you can wear whatever boots and hats you want. 

 

Total Time: 53:42 

Last Last Chance / She’s Got the Remedy / Devil’s Hostage / Reckless (feat. Sheldon Ziro) / Keep the Party Rollin’ (feat. Sheldon Ziro) / Sunnyland Train / Sure Shot / Platinum Junkie (feat. Jason Ricci) / Snake Eyes / Think About That (feat. Richard “Rosy” Rosenblatt) / Half a World Away 

 

Bai Kamara Jr & The Voodoo Sniffers - Salone

Bai Kamara Jr & The Voodoo Sniffers 

Salone
M.I.G. 
 

Based in Belgium for the past couple decades, Bai Kamara jr was born in Sierra Leone in West Africa and grew up in England. Deeply influenced by the music of his homeland, he found a distinct connection with American blues that he fell in love with during his school days. The rhythmic patterns between the two, despite the geographic separation, has always held ties that stretches back to the slave trade and the music brought to America by those in bondage. It is from those West African nations that the blues was truly born and the sound still prevails in the music today. 

It is easy to hear comparisons of Eric Bibb, Keb’ Mo’, Taj Mahal and even Habib Kote, listening to Kamara’s guitar playing and his casual baritone vocal inflections. The themes of many of the songs cross borders as well as they’re also universal; heartbreak from failed relationships, pain and hard times. These are expertly displayed on songs like “Cry Baby,” “Black Widow Spider,” “Cold Cold Love” and “I Ain’t Lying.” 

Although the album is credited alongside his band’s name, The Voodoo Sniffers, Kamara wrote all fifteen of the tracks and performed all the instrumentation and vocals himself. Salone is truly a piece of art and arguably one of the best acoustic blues recordings of the year. 

 

Total Time:  

Can’t Wait Here Too Long / Lady Boss / Black Widow Spider / Homecoming / Morning School Run Blues / Cold Cold Love / The Rest Of Everything / Cry Baby / I Ain’t Lying (Can’t Give You What I Ain’t Got) / Don’t Worry About Me / Naked Girls On The Merry-Go-Round / Time Has Come / Fortune / Riverboat Blues / Some Kind Of Loving Tonight 

Anthony Geraci 

Daydreams In Blue
Shining Stone Records 

By Greg Johnson 

Without question, Anthony Geraci is one of the finest and most soughtafter keyboardist in the blues world today. Renowned for his years of work in bands led by Sugar Ray Norcia and Ronnie Earl, and most recently with the super group The Proven Ones, Geraci shows that he is quite capable of fronting his own band with his third solo release, Daydreams In Blue. And he brings a fine class of friends to help him out here, too, including the likes of Troy Gonyea, Monster Mike Welch and Walter Trout on guitars, Mudcat Ward on bass, plus vocals and harmonica courtesy of Dennis Brennan.  

The recording finds Geraci mostly helming an acoustic piano, roaring through some mighty barrelhouse, boogie and shuffle numbers. Ten of the twelve tracks are originals written by Geraci, with the remaining two tracks including a piece written by Brennan and a cover of “Jelly, Jelly” from the Earl Hines/Billy Eckstine songbook. 

Brennan’s vocals are spot on perfect as a compliment to Geraci’s music, with special nods to his skills on numbers like the jazz”Love Changes Everything,” “Living in the Shadow of The Blues” and “No One Hears My Prayers.” Geraci takes a take on vocals himself on the New Orleans styled jumper “Tutti Frutti Booty,” that features Gonyea driving some swinging guitar work. And nimbly fingers through a little Chicago blues on the track “Mister” bringing the piano work of Otis Spann to mind. The horn work behind so many of the album’s numbers add so much flavor to the sound to make everything crisp and extra fun. 

Geraci’s previous pair of albums garnered him quite a number of Blues Music Award nominations, including for Album of the Year for both. Expect Daydreams In Blue to continue reaping those high accolades. Another brilliant release from a long time bluesman whose name should be forefront in every listener’s mind. 

Total Time: 48:26 

Love Changes Everything / Tomorrow May Never Come / No One Hears My Prayers / Daydreams Of A Broken Fool / Mister / Tutti Frutti Booty / Jelly, Jelly / Dead Man’s Shoes / Hard To Say I Love You / Living In The Shadow Of The Blues / Crazy Blues-Mississippi Woman / Ode To Todd, Ella And Mike Ledbetter 

Wayne Nicholson & John Campbelljohn 

Wayne Nicholson & John Campbelljohn 

Elmore’s Blues
Grindstone Records 

Reviewed by Greg Johnson 

Though the names may not be familiar to blues fans in the United States, in their homeland of Canada they’re musical icons. Wayne Nicholson has one of the country’s most notable voices, strong and gritty that he has developed with more than 50 years of performances. John Campbelljohn has released nearly twenty albums over his career and plays slide guitar that can be set next to the very best. These two award-winning artists joined forces for their latest recording, the outstanding tribute to the great Elmore James, titles appropriately Elmore’s Blues. 

Most of the tracks on this disc are Elmore James numbers, many instantly recognized just by their titles alone: “Shake Your Moneymaker, “Standing At The Crossroads” and “It Hurts Me Too,” but also perhaps lesser known numbers like “Sinful Woman,” “Happy Home” and “Sunnyland.” The pair turn in exceptional renditions and they also included a couple of their own originals done in James’ fashion that work remarkably well: “If I Was Blue” and “Dancin’ With The Blues.” 

It should be noted that alongside Campbelljohn’s guitar playing, the bouncing barrelhouse piano provided by Barry Cooke is smoking tasteful, too. Rounding out the band are Neil Robertson on drums, organist Kim Dunn and bassist Bruce Dixon delivering a great bluesy pace that fits just right. 

When paying accolades to an iconic bluesman like Elmore James, it should be noted that an artist should place their own mark on the material. Rather than just coming out and doing a note for note copy of the original, there should be something additional to make it sound fresh while not losing the master’s intentions. Nicholson and Campbelljohn do that quite well here. A beautiful tribute to James with enough fresh ideas of their own thrown in to make this album shake all on its own. 

Total Time: 47:46 

I May Be Wrong / Standing At The Crossroads / I Believe / If I was Blue / Knocking At Your Door / No Love In My Heart / Rollin’ And Tumblin’ / Sinful Woman / Happy Home / Shake Your Moneymaker / Sunnyland / Strange Kinda Feeling / It Hurts Me Too / Dancin’ With The Blues 

 

Mary Jo Curry Band - Front Porch 

Mary Jo Curry Band - Front Porch Mary Jo Curry Band

Front Porch
(Self Produced) 

Review by John Taylor 

People tell the damnedest stories out on the porch, and Mary Jo Curry’s got a few you’re gonna want to hear. So pull up a chair, grab a lemonade or a beer out of the cooler and get ready for some genuine house-rockin’ blues. “Front Porch,” the Mary Jo Curry Band’s second release, is something to write home about. 

Northwest listeners might not be familiar with this Illinois-based outfit, but they’re not exactly newcomers. Curry and guitarist Michael Rapier started playing together nine years ago, picking up bassist Chris Rogers and drummer Rick Snow four years later. In 2016, they turned heads with their first album, “Mary Jo Curry,” which broke out in the top spot on the RMR Classic Blues Chart, yielded three No. 1 hits and held court as the top blues album for three weeks. They’ve played regularly at stops all over the Midwest, and two recent Western tours took them through North Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska. 

Now they’re starting to get the recognition they’ve long deserved. As 2019 wound down, the Illinois Times named Curry Best Female Vocalist of the Year. 

Good call. Curry’s got a wall-banging voice that knows exactly where it’s going. And it’s got some places to go on “Front Porch.” 

First stop: the crossroads, where in “Nothin’ Is Easy, she encounters a shadowy figure in a burned-out pickup truck who tells her he doesn’t have any more deals to offer — she can’t even give her soul away. 

It doesn’t stop there. Throughout “Front Porch,” Curry’s muscular vocals belt out blues that stay true to tradition, but advance modern themes and relatable circumstances. 

“The Man” laments the pain of realizing that a love has cooled from dismissive to degrading. Which apparently leads to “Lookin’ ” – a rhythm-driven rhyme (featuring Andrew Duncanson’s guitar work) about when it’s time to move on to the next one. 

“Explaining the Blues” is a spot-on take on the complications and situations that only make sense to those who’ve tried to account for a complicated breakup to well-intentioned, but prying, friends. 

Or maybe it’s just time everybody got up to “Shake & Bake,” with the agile artistry of the late James Cotton’s guitarist, Tom Holland. 

The songs are solid, the sounds are tight – and the more you listen, the more this album sticks with you. This is a band with a powerful voice, and it’s not timid about raising it. 

The neighbors complaining about all that racket aren’t the only ones who’ll be taking notice of “Front Porch.” 

Total Time: 44:00 

Nothin’ Is Easy / Turn It Loose / All Your Lies (feat. Tom Holland) / The Man / Lookin’ (feat. Andrew Duncanson) / House Is Lonely / Explaining the Blues / Shake & Bake (feat. Tom Holland) / We All Had a Real Good Time (feat. Albert Castiglia) / Front Porch (feat. Albert Castiglia) / Joyful 

 

Lockdown Sessions CD cover

Lockdown Sessions CD coverLockdown Sessions
– An International 
Down Home Blues Revue 

Various Artists
CrossCut Records 

Review by Greg Johnson 

The idea wasn’t a hard one to come up with. Due to the Covid-19 virus music had pretty much come to a standstill in the ways of performances for musicians world-wide. Still in a creative mind, European harmoniuca great Roger C. Wade (Little Roger & The Houserockers) decided to put his ideas down to recording new material. He asked close friend guitar player Andreas Arlt (BB & The Blues Shacks) if he’d like to collaborate and that kicked things off in what turned out to be a project that spread around the globe with more people wishing to participate than they could handle on a double-disc recording.  

Appropriate to the time of uncertainty, the original songs that the artists contributed to the recordings had a theme regarding the loss and loneliness brought about by pandemic.  It’s not surprising to see titles such as “Lockdown Blues, “ “Personal Shutdown,” “Home Alone Stomp,” “Everything Has Changed, “Mean Old Quarantine” and most notably “Fuck You, M. Virus.” Being shut-in did not suppress their need for expression and as artists having their music was their outlet. 

The songs came about written by one artist who would send it to their friends to add their own input via the internet. Dubbed together in this fashion it is amazing at just how well everything comes together on every number. With multiple takes on blues, ranging from boogie, R&B, traditional and urban stylings. And the musicians lending a hand are some of the foremost from around the world, including Americans Larry Garner, Fred Kaplan, Big Daddy Wilson, Joe FiliskoAki Kumar and Nathan James, Germany’s Abi Wallenstein, Michael Van Merwyk and Tommy Schneller, Spain’s Victor Puertas, and Belgium’s Jack O Roonie amongst the many stand-out participants from throughout Europe and America. (The package includes a booklet with short bios on each of the musicians.) 

We all have been going through the hardships of being locked down and exploring music where we can find it, on-line and recordings. Listening to the Lockdown Sessions makes being shut-in a little more bearable and a huge thanks to these artists for trading their ideas amongst one another. In times of hardship such as this, expressions of frustration and loneliness can flow into a positive output that speaks for us all. 

Total Time: 1:25:06 

Lockdown Blues Can’t Get Too Close / Personal Shutdown Death Letter Blues / Mean Old Quarantine  Low-Down Lockdown / Get Me Outta Here / Blow A Poor Man Down / Boogie Galore / The Death Of Louisiana Red / Home Alone Stomp / World Crisis Blues / Be Ready When He Comes / Why You Lie Hey Sweet Marie / Destination Mississippi / Come See About Me / I Know Sax Supreme Fuck You, Mr. Virus / I Can Tell The World / Lockdown Shuffle Everything Has Changed / Come What May Give Me My Heart Back

 

Jose Ramirez CD cover

Jose Ramirez CD cover

Jose Ramirez 

Here I Come
Blind Racoon
  

Reviewed by John Taylor 

Costa Rican native Jose Ramirez, the second-place finisher at the 2020  International Blues Challenge in Memphis, has brewed a wicked concoction of straight-ahead blues, passionate soul, and tasty R&B with his debut release Here I Come.”  

Ramirez is joined here by famed producer and bandleader Anson Funderburk, who adds some fiery licks (check out his rapier-like lead guitar attacks on Gasoline and Matches) while drummer Wes Starr and bassist Nate Rowe supply a stone-solid rhythm section. Organ and piano marvel, and Robert Cray alumnus, Jim Pugh offers some sinuous keyboard playing, particularly on Goodbye Letter,” “One Woman Man,” and Waiting for Your Call.” All this is then topped off with The Texas Horns — saxophonists  Kaz Kazanoff and John Mills and trumpet player Al Gomez — and their tough, razor-edged horn riffs.  

Ramirez is as fine a songwriter as he is guitarist and singer, and while several of his original songs stand out on this album, Three Years,” a blues and soul-infused shuffle that echos Stevie Ray VaughanCold Shot” and features fine guitar work from both Ramirez and Funderburk along with some luscious organ lines from Pugh, is the finest track on the album and alone testifies to the promise of Ramirezs talent.   

Included on Here I Come” are remakes of two definitive blues numbers: T-Bone WalkerI Miss You Baby” and Robert JohnsonTraveling Riverside Blues.”  Ramirezs version of Walkers classic song manages to capture the spirit of the original yet sound fresh and dynamic, but his version of JohnsonTraveling Riverside Blues” is too languid. I appreciate the attempt to give that famous tune a new, slightly soulful spin, but its been covered so often, (I imagine at some point The Archies recorded “Traveling Riverside Blues) and by such heavy hitters as Clapton and Zeppelin that nearly any other recording is fated to fall short. Degree-of-difficulty points awarded for giving it a shot though. 

RamirezHere I Come” is a mature, rock-solid blues album steeped in soulful musicianship and superb songwriting. The fact that its a debut album makes it all the more impressive. Jose Ramirez is clearly an up-and-coming contender for the first rank of blues songwriters and performers working today and is a major talent to watch. One hopes, after all this virus craziness passes, to catch him on tour.

Total Time: 54:42 

Here I Come / I Miss You Baby / Gasoline & Matches / One Woman Man / Goodbye Letter / The Way You Make Me Feel / Three Years / As You Can See / Waiting For Your Call / Traveling Riverside Blues / Stop Teasing Me