Paris Slim Super Trio

Franck L. Goldwasser

“Going Back to Paris – The Paris Slim Mountain Top Session 1998-1999”
Mountain Top Records

Review by Greg Johnson

At the time that these tracks were laid down at Mountain Top in the late 1990s, Franck L Goldwasser, then going under the moniker Paris Slim, had already made a home for himself in the West Coast blues scene for 16 years. Encouraged by visiting blues men to his home in France, where he often found himself playing alongside the likes of Sonny Rhodes, he took their advice and traveled to California, landing in the very hot blues bed of Oakland. Over the course of the following years, he worked in bands fronted by people like Troyce Key, Percy Mayfield, Jimmy McCracklin and Lowell Fulson before taking on his own bands.

It’s really hard to believe that these recordings were kept on the shelf for the past 22-plus years. This is really spectacular music here as Franck is partnered alongside some amazing session musicians, including Rusty Zinn, Jimmy Pugh, Johnny Ace and Gary Smith, with a rhythm section of bassist Leonard Gill and drummer John Hanes rounding out the group.

The guitar work, especially the interplay between Zinn and Goldwasser is spot-on incredible. It’s this guitar playing that has proven Goldwasser one of the premier string benders going today. The song selections are crafty and well-chosen originals and covers, all done in an original flavor, making it speak in Franck’s voice altogether. And he just doesn’t showcase his guitar, he gives a stunning piece of harmonica playing on “Harp De Triomphe.”

If you like your guitar playing bluesy, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find anything as over-the-top as what is being offered here. This is exactly the type of blues that cemented Oakland and the Bay Area as a birthing ground for the West Coast’s absolute best. It is truly criminal that these recordings were held back for more than two decades. They’re every bit as essential now as they would’ve been then. Franck Goldwasser strikes gold with each and every track on this fantastic album. Cannot recommend it enough!

Total Time: 1:10:31

Gonna Move to Texas / Rollin’ Stone / Love is Just a Gamble / Harp De Triomphe / Lowdown Dog Blues / It’s a Sin / Can’t Raise Me / House Full of Blues / That’s What You Do to Me / Death Letter Blues / Tell Me Baby / Slim’s Business / Going Back to Paris / Four Walls / 3829 Grove / Sixth Avenue Meltdown

Selwyn Birchwood - Living in a Burning House

Selwyn Birchwood

Living in a Burning House
Alligator Records

Review by Randy Murphy

Selwyn Birchwood’s one of those kind of musicians, quite rare nowadays, whose music always manages to sound sharp and interesting. His third release on Alligator Records, “Living in a Burning House,” deftly blends blues with rock to create an edgy and aggressive miscellany of sturdy, rough-hewn tunes.

In 2013, Birchwood won the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge and also took home the Albert King Guitarist of the Year award. Recently, the Blues Music Awards nominated Birchwood for Best Contemporary Blues Male Artist, and this new album utterly validates that nomination. Birchwood’s guitar playing here is simply combustible and his voice possesses a coarse authenticity and smokey weariness that embellishes the earned anguish of his music. Although, I must admit, the occasional clichéd lyric does annoy—“serious as a heart attack” is a bit shopworn—but Birchwood’s honest rendering of his music redeems any quibble one would have with it’s lyrics. This album is all about finding redemption, or something close to it, through music.

Two tracks stand out on the album. First, “You Can’t Steal My Shine” is a rocking stomp of a song that features some of Birchwood’s best, fiery guitar work on the album, and the title track, “Living in a Burning House” which offers up that nagging question that many blues tunes have tried to answer: what does one do when he “smells smoke” and fears his house has been set aflame, only to realize there’s no way out. Highly Recommended.

Total Time: 50:23

I’d Climb Mountains / I Got Drunk, Laid and Stoned / Living in a Burning House / You Can’t Steal My Shine / Revelation / Searching for My Tribe / She’s a Dime / One More time / Mama Knows Best / Freaks come Out at Night / Through a Microphone / Rock Bottom / My Happy Place

Chris Cain - Raisin’ Cain

Chris Cain

Raisin’ Cain
Alligator Records

Review by John Taylor

Let’s just cut to the chase; This album smokes.

With his 13th album (his debut with Alligator Records), Chris Cain isn’t just raisin’ Cain, he’s raisin’ the bar.

Guitar licks that flicker from blistering to blissful, soul-melting keyboards and Cain’s comfortably seasoned voice – this is a collection that B.B. King himself would’ve envied.

At 65, the native Californian’s writing is authoritative and his musical craftsmanship is flawless. But his creative fire still burns brightly.

The 12 original songs here are authentic and filled with recognizable feelings.

A West Coast blues favorite since the late 1980s, Cain sings of enduring the nicks and cuts of everyday love and its shortcomings, the aches of loss and betrayal and the hollowness of affairs that have reached their inevitable endings.

Starting off the album with the blazing guitar work of “Hush Money,” Cain lays out wise takes on keeping your spouse happy … and yourself out of trouble. He pays “hush money” to his love, he explains, to “keep my house all happy and quiet.”

But guitars aren’t the only things that Cain can raise. Horns, harps and keyboards carry their share on songs like “Too Many Problems,” “Down on the Ground” and the instrumental ”Space Force.”

That’s where Cain’s longtime band – including bassist Steve Evans and keyboardist Greg Rahn – comes in. Sky Garcia and D’mar Martin man the drums, Michael Peloquin supplies the saxophone, Doug Rowan adds baritone sax, Jeff Lewis plays the trumpet and Mike Rinta slides in some trombone.

This is one of the most complete and thoroughly enjoying records we’ve reviewed in some time. It’s house-rockin’ blues that echoes – and at times, equals – the all-time greats.

Easy call on this one: Just go get it.

Part Total Time: 39:17

Hush Money / You Won’t Have a Problem When I’m Gone / Too Many Problems / Down on the Ground / I Believe I Got Off Cheap / Can’t Find a Good Reason / Found a Way to Make Me Say Goodbye / Born to Play / I Don’t Know Exactly What’s Wrong With My Baby / Out of My Head / As Long as You Get What You Want / My Space Force

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)