The Proven Ones - You Ain’t Done

You Ain’t Done
Gulf Coast Records 

“You Ain’t Done” is the second recording by today’s freshest and one of the best blues-rock supergroups, The Proven Ones. Falling in the paths recently paved by acts like Southern Hospitality and Royal Southern Brotherhood, the combination of highly recognized musicians teaming together blends the individual expertise of each member to form a nicely constructed flow and presentation. Guitar mastery from Kid Ramos, keyboard wizard Anthony Geraci, tight rhythm section Willie J Campbell and Jimi Bott, with the perfect vocalist to enhance this band in Brian Templeton. All are respected with multiple accolades for their accomplishments over the years. Horns provided and arranged by Chris Mercer and Joe “Mack” McCarthy just add extra drive and flavor to the mix in all the right ways. 

The band’s debut  album reaped a Blues Music Award nomination for Best Debut that blew the gates open for this release to rise up the charts immediately upon release. The new album was recorded at Gulf Coast Records, under the direction of Jimi Bott and Mike Zito, who also guests on the album on acoustic guitar and background vocals on a handful of songs. Other notable guests include Ruthie Foster on a stunning duet with Templeton on “When My Soul Loves” and background vocals on several tracks by LaRhonda Steele. 

Musicianship is at an extreme as is to be expected. Barrelhouse keyboards from Geraci on “Already Gone” and impressive slide and rock guitar chops from Ramos on numbers like “Get Love” and “Nothing Left To Give” stand out. The album’s overall selections are diverse, with unique sounds that feature a little psychedelic, country, soul and even Latin approaches. But it’s all blues-rock done in its highest form. “You Ain’t Done” is an impressive example of a combination of artists working together as you’d dream about, all come to actual life. 

by Greg Johnson 

Total Time: 48:14 

Get Love Intro / Get Love / Gone To Stay / You Ain’t Done / Already Gone / Whom My Soul Loves / Milinda / Nothing Left To Give / She’ll Never Know / I Ain’t Good For Nothin’ / Fallen / Favorite Dress 

 

Little Albert - Swamp King

Swamp King
Aural Music

Little Albert - Swamp KingLittle Albert is a side project for Italian heavy-doom-metal guitarist Alberto Piccolo that stands apart from his band Messa. Piccolo has always held a fascination for the blues, and before you start pointing out his metal background, remember that he is a graduate of jazz guitar studies. His playing, as expected, tends to lean toward blues rock than Delta or Chicago-based stylings. There’s a lot of Robin Trower-esque feel here, which is evident with his inclusion of a spot-on cover of “Bridge Of Sighs,” which seem appropriate. There’s also a nice take of Blind Joe Reynolds’ “Outside Woman Blues,” perhaps best known through Cream’s take on the song.  This album is filled with really nice guitar tones and smooth playing.

Total Time: 33:58

Swamp King / Bridge Of Sighs / Mean Old Woman / Blues Asteroid / Maryclaire / Outside Woman Blues

Jimmy Johnson - Every Day Of Your Life

Every Day Of Your Life
Delmark Records

Jimmy Johnson - Every Day Of Your Life“Every Day of Your Life” is Blues Hall of Fame inductee Jimmy Johnson’s first recording for the Chicago-based blues label Delmark in forty years, and it’s actually his first in the past ten years. As was the case previously on Delmark, including the classic 1979 release “Johnson Whacks,” he is once again delivering blues that forces us all to pay attention.

At 91 years of age, Johnson shows no sign of slowing down. While I was in Chicago last year for the blues festival, he was presented the key to the city for his contributions and longevity as one of the elite musicians. Aside from that festival set I also caught him at a club a couple night later where when it came to closing time he was far from wanting to stop playing. Check out his monthly calendar and he always seems to have a gig or more every week.

This new album is packed full of great instrumentation, particularly with Johnson’s guitar playing. His take on Fenton Robinson’s “Somebody Loan Me A Dime” is over the top delicious as is the slow blues “Strange Things Happening. He also throws down a truly exceptional take on Bobby Bland’s  beautiful “Lead Me On” as he plays solo on piano. Guitar pairing with Rico McFarland on the funky “Rattlesnake” is spectacular, while he delivers a reggae feel to “The Ring” with the story that the last time he saw his wife smile was on their wedding day, “yesterday was sunshine, but today is rain, and I don’t believe it is ever going to change.”

He states in the title track, “Live every day of your life as if it will be your last, one day you will be right, it’s going come to pass.” Let’s hope that is a far way off for Jimmy Johnson, because when he releases albums the caliber of this one it makes us yearn for more, and as stated earlier his performances are still extraordinary after 61 years tearing it up on Chicago stages. Keep it going Jimmy Johnson!!

Total Time: 44:17

Every Day of Your Life / I Need You So Bad / My Ring / Rattlesnake / Somebody Loan Me A Dime / Down In The Valley / Strange Things Happening / Better When It’s Wet / Lead Me On

Jesse Mae Hemphill

Run Get My Shotgun
Big Legal Mess Records

Jesse Mae Hemphill I’m a sucker for the Mississippi Hill Country Blues of R. L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, Fred McDowell, Ranie Burnette, and of course, Jessie Mae Hemphill. This particular genre of  blues possesses an urgent intimacy that can not be faked. Its mesmerizing pulses of rhythm and stripped-down musical structure provides a stalwart vehicle for the expression of raw, often brutal, emotion. Like muddy flood waters spilling over a dam, a gritty authenticity gushes from this music.

And Jessie Mae Hemphill was a master of Hill Country Blues. Hemphill, who passed away in 2006, was a member of Mississippi blues royalty — the great granddaughter of the revered fiddle player Dock Hemphill and granddaughter of bandleader Sid Hemphill, one could use the cliché here and be entirely justified: The Blues was indeed in Hemphill’s blood.

This new album, “Run Get My Shotgun,” of hitherto unreleased songs was recorded on New Year’s Eve, 1989 and is a soulful and righteous collection of field recordings that verify just how powerful a performer Hemphill was. Her voice migrates effortlessly from the angry resentment of the title track “Run Get My Shotgun” to the hypnotic in the gospel-infused “Holy Ghost,” to soulful longing of “Married Man Blues,” as she pleads for her man to “please don’t go.” But as compelling as her voice is, her exquisite guitar skills are no less impressive, particularly on the cuts “Train Train” and “Feelin’ Good.”

For any fan of Mississippi Hill Country blues, this album is a fine example of the genre and its possibilities. Highly recommended.

Total Time: 34:29

Run Get My Shotgun / Shame On You / DC 9 / Go Back To Your Used To Be / Holy Ghost / Married Man Blues / Train Train / Nothing That You Say / Feelin’ Good / Eagle Bird

Dom Flemons Prospect Hill

Dom Flemons Prospect Hill

The American Songster Omnibus
Omnivore Recordings

Prospect Hill was originally released in 2014, the third solo outing from Dom Flemons, the multi-instrumentalist founding member of the Grammy winning Carolina Chocolate Drops. It was a wonderful sampling of Americana music done at its best. Featuring songs with a Pre-War feel that included blues, string & jug bands, jazz, and country and instrumentation offerings of guitar, banjo, quills, rhythm bones, clarinet, fiddle, even drum & fife groupings. Just can’t get any more rootsy than that. He is backed by some pretty fine musicians, who are exponents of the Americana scene in their own right such as Guy Davis, Keith Ganz, Pura Fe, Kobie Watkins, and International Blues Challenge winners Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons.

Flemons returned to Prospect Hill this year and expanded the album with a second disc filled with alternate takes, instrumentals, the material from the previously vinyl only EP What Got Over and newer numbers adding twenty-one new selections to a recording that already stood tall on its own. In this new format it now should be a must hear for anyone who loves traditional roots music.

Total Time: 1:26:48

35 Tracks

Crawling Up A Hill

Crawling Up A Hill – A Journey Through The British Blues Boom 1966-71
Grapefruit Records

Crawling Up A Hill

This is an extensive look at the British Blues scene beginning with the release of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton and pushing through an eclectic mix of bands that were all performing their take on the genre. It’s definitely not the first compilation of British Blues, but it is the first to offer an overall look that is not aimed at a specific label such as the prominent Blue Horizon which is still represented by Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack, and Duster Bennett. Within its fifty-six tracks it covers a blend of rocking numbers, country blues, covers of well-known American originals, and a touch of psychedelic, which considering the time frame, should be expected. There’s even a little humor thrown in with The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and the Liverpool Scene.

Because the collection offers only one tune from each artist, there’s a good variety of music here and plenty of the performers on this three-CD collection will be familiar right off, including Savoy Brown, Free, Spencer Davis Group, Taste, Alexis Korner, Graham Bond Organisation, Jeff Beck, Status Quo, Ten Years After, Jeremy Spencer, Bloodwyn Pig and Stone The Crows. And you’ll find many of the future heroes of British blues and rock scene playing in outfits before becoming huge stars: Robert Plant, Rory Gallagher, Christine Perfect, Gary Moore, Dave Edmunds, and the band Quiet Melon who was basically an early version of The Faces. And it should be noted that the acoustic performances from highly successful acts in their homeland like Ian A. Anderson, Jo-Ann Kelly and Mike Cooper are more than exceptional.

Packaged in a small box, there is a 40-page book that offers background about each of the included acts in order of their appearance on the discs, plus a little history about the British music scene of the time in England and Ireland. Much of what is found is truly hard-to-find on their own, so it makes a good deal here indispensable. It is a well put together collection, thoughtfully covering a period of time with acts that explored and pushed the boundaries of the blues and set the feel for what a good deal of British music was to follow.

Total Time: 3:50:02

56 Tracks

Anni Piper

Blow Up Doll
Sugar Daddy Records

“Blow Up Doll” is Anni Piper’s first recording since relocating to Oregon several years ago. Produced at Jimi Bott’s Roseleaf Recording, Piper brought together an impressive collection of some of the area’s finest musicians and laid down an incredible mix of original and cover material of rousing musical depth and accuracy. Piper is in fine form, both vocally and instrumentally, and her songwriting here is some of the best she has ever produced. There is never a lull throughout the disc, and her accompanying musicians offer fiery support for her performances, all the more impressive since much of the disk was recored live in the studio, often using the first take.

Piper’s originals compositions often take their inspiration from her life experiences. These tunes deal with the failed relationships of those who needed to be in control and her new resolve to move forward. The title track, “Blow Up Doll,” a semi-finalist in the International Songwriting Competition last year, details a former partner who treated her as something to just cast aside once he found what he was looking for. “Big Bengal” describes her new direction in relationships by focusing on her pet cat, while the closing “24 Guys Named Dave” is a humorous tune about dating only guys named Dave and what they’ll offer to her.

On the tracks that Piper covers, they’re all completely redone in her own fashion and may take a moment before they’re recognized. “Get Right Church,” “Cake Walk Into Town” and “Sailin’ Shoes” are great examples of how well she teams up with guitarist/vocalist Bob Shoemaker. Other first-rate covers include Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac” and Willie Dixon’s “Built For Comfort; and again Piper has treated them as her own making them fresh and exciting.

There is a bevy of tremendous guitar playing throughout the album aside from Shoemaker’s remarkable work, including great riffs from Joseph Barton on “Contagious” and interplay between AC Porter and Ben Rice on “Big Bengal,” and Troy Johnson lays it out nicely on “Uncrustables.” Other artists contributing are Steve Kerin on keys, Melonie Owen on vocals, drummers Dave Melyan, Jeff Hudis and Jeff Aboott, and of course engineer/producer Jimi Bott delivers nice percussion, too.

“Blow Up Doll” is one of those albums that will be considered as one of the best of the region when this year comes to an end, and it should be played for a great deal of time long once this year is over. Anni Piper has created a true gem here.

Total Time: 45:30

Uncrustables / Get Right Church / Big Bengal / Pink Cadillac / Blow Up Doll / Two’s Company / Cake Walk Into Town / Built For Comfort / Contagious / Sailin’ Shoes / 24 Guys Name Dave

Tom Gilberts ~ Old School

Old School
Polymerase Records

Review by Greg Johnson

Tom Gilberts ~ Old School On his sophomore release, Old School, guitarist Tom Gilberts continues to display his full-tone sound and tasteful string work. He hits the notes just as they’re supposed to be—with meaning and clarity. Once again, the music selections are more instrumentals than songs. And that is just fine with me, because it is performed with a dimension of subtlety that says more within his music than words are ever going to convey. Not that the tracks that are sung don’t hit home as well, Gilberts offers some nice wordsmith that fits in his output here perfectly.

The album also brings Gilberts back to the proven teamwork of Terry Robb in the producer chair and Dennis Carter behind the engineer mixing at Falcon Recording. And it just isn’t going to get much better than Dave Captein on bass and Brian Foxworth on drums, both Oregon Music Hall of Fame inductees. Their inclusion offers such a clean flow throughout the disc and the perfect foil behind Gilberts’ stunning guitar work. The music itself crosses the basics of blues, jazz and rock; all of it coming together in mix that holds your attention and tastes just right as it should. Definitely another fine outing from Mr Gilberts that’s going to find a lot of playing time for me.

Total Time: 38:19

“Lady” Luck / Zoot Suit Shuffle / Ass, Gas Or Grass / Sun Vibe / Old School / The North Fork / My Paper Bag / You Missed Me / Brown’s Camp / Nighttime / The Fuzz

Tinsley Ellis - Ice Cream in Hell

Ice Cream in Hell
Alligator Records

Review by Randy Murphy

One could quite quickly exhaust a long list of adjectives trying to describe Tinsley Ellis’s new album, Ice Cream in Hell. “Searing? Sure. “Gutsy?” You bet. “Combustable?” Beyond any doubt. But this recording, Ellis’s 18th to date, never succumbs to the shopworn guitar pyrotechnics or vapid blues postering one hears in many new blues-rock releases nowadays. A subtle power lies beneath Ellis’s guitar playing and earnest vocals that he always uses in the service of the tune, never to call attention to his own considerable talent. It’s a neat trick to maintain some musical constraint while still offering boozy, gut-chomping, and heat-igniting blues. Not many can pull it off, but Ellis, judging from this release, has obviously sorted out how it’s done.

The album has several standout cuts: the raw but understated “Hole in My Heart,” the funky groove-laden “Evil Till Sunrise,” and the horn-drenched, mid-tempo “Last One To Know” that features some of Ellis’s finest guitar playing. All of these tunes, indeed the whole album, illustrate the appeal of Ellis’s music—while flirting with other musical styles and offering hints of other genres, Ellis remains rooted firmly in rich blues soil.

But the pinnacle of the album is its title track, “Ice Cream in Hell,” that soars light-years beyond the routine, cliche-ridden “woman-done-me-wrong” theme through the use of a delightful metaphor: “I won’t face another day puttin’ up with all of your crap/ When they serve ice cream in hell/ I’m going to take you back.” “Ice cream in hell” is a brilliant analogy for “ain’t gonna happen.” One does wonder though if that ice cream’s going to be served with Devil’s food cake on the side.

This is a simply a terrific album that stands up to repeated listing and never fails to reward a listening session. Highly recommended.

Total Time: 50:54

Last One To Know / Don’t Know Beans / Ice Cream In Hell / Foolin’ Yourself / Hole In My Heart / Sit Tight Mama / No Stroll In The Park / Evil Till Sunrise / Everything And Everyone / Unlock My Heart / Your Love’s Like Heroin

Richard Ray Farrell

Three Pints Of Gin
Blue Beet Records

Richard Ray FarrellReview by Greg Johnson

There are those artists that, when you hear they have a new recording, you just can’t wait to get your hands on it and give it a spin. Richard Ray Farrell is exactly that type of musician to me. Whatever he seems to put together is always beyond expectations, whether performing with other artists in a duet (as he has done with harp masters Steve Guyger and Marco Pandolfi), with a full band, or simply on his own. For his latest disc, Three Pints Of Gin, it is in the mode of the latter, and with startling results.

An exceptional guitarist and songwriter; qualities that have always worked to his advantage, Three Pints Of Gin raises the bar as he straps a harmonica into a rack alongside that trusty acoustic guitar of his. All the tracks presented here were laid down live in the studio with no overdubs whatsoever. It is a masterful display of traditional blues.

All but three of the selections are Farrell originals. Those three being Lonnie Johnson’s “Lazy Woman Blues,” Fulton Allen’s “Funny Feeling Blues,” and the traditional “He’s In The Jailhouse Now” (most recognized by the early versions from Blind Blake and Jimmie Rodgers).

But if there is any question on the skills of Richard Ray Farrell’s own ability of writing original music, you’re going to become a true believer as you take your first listen to this amazing recording. It takes quite an adept musician to perform on both guitar and racked harmonica to make things flow smoothly and flawlessly. Farrell does just that as demonstrated right out of the gate with “Juke Joint Swing.” That’s followed up with some great popping guitar on “Everything’s Right.” You’re definitely going to enjoy the lyrics as well as the instrumentation. They’ll make you smile and think.  I cannot point to one song over another, they’re all a ton of fun, be it “Triflin’ Preacher Blues,” “Buttercup,” the gorgeous “Listen To The Falling Rain” or the closing gospel-like “I’ll Be Comin’ Home.”

After you’ve listened to Three Pints Of Gin and fallen in love with Farrell’s creativity, do yourself a favor and go back and pick up his entire catalog. This is an artist who truly deserves to be heard time and again.

Total Time: 55:20

Juke Joint Swing / Everything’s Right / Oh Begonia / Triflin’ Preacher Blues / Three Pints of Gin / Lazy Woman Blues / Buttercup / Gotta Have Love / Ice Man / Funny Feeling Blues / Bohemian Life / He’s in the Jailhouse Now / Listenin’ to the Fallin’ Rain / Dope Shootin’ Woman / Evenin’ / I’ll Be Comin’ Home