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 

Johnny Burgin CD No Border Blues

Johnny Burgin CD No Border Blues

Johnny Burgin 

No Border Blues
Delmark Records 

Review by Greg Johnson 

If you take a look at the touring itinerary that Johnny Burgin carries on a yearly basis it surely shows what a road dog he really is. Whether touring with well-known Chicago musicians such as Billy Boy Arnold or on his own with local musicians thrown together, Burgin always brings forth the tastiest of Chicago-based blues. You wouldn’t expect anything less from somebody who has been such an impact on Chicago’s scene as he has himself. And it may be a surprise to many, that fact also comes across with the bands he puts together while touring Japan. 

Japan has long been addicted to the blues. Perhaps birthed during the 1970s when artists like Jimmy Dawkins, Eddie Taylor and Otis Rush made their way through the country. Burgin has collected a handful of Japan’s most talented blues artists and listening to them perform you just may believe that you’re sitting in Kingston Mines or Rosa’s listening to a Chicago-based band rather than half-way around the world in Osaka. Players such as guitarist Yoshi Mizuno, bassist Zee Yanaga and drummer Takagiman handle a number of the tracks, with Lee Kanehira (Cash Box Kings) also laying down killer piano riffs. Burgin appears on guitar on all numbers and vocals on four, while others like Kanehira, Nacomi Tanaka, Kotez, Iper Onishi and Kaz Nogio fill in their voices throughout the disc. 

The song selections filling this recording are more than exceptional. There’s a lot to take note of, including Burgin’s own composition “Old School Player” as well as pieces written by John Brim (“Rattlesnake”), Carey Bell (“One Day You’re Gonna Get Lucky”), Tampa Red (“Sunnyland”) and Robert Johnson (“Sweet Home Chicago” reworked under the title “Sweet Home Osaka”).  The nearly six-minute instrumental “Samurai Harp Attack” features the trade-off performances of three harmonica masters in Onishi, Nogio and Kotez that is not to be missed as is Little Walter’s “I Just Keep Loving Her” sung in Japanese as “Mada Sukinanda.” Don’t be surprised if you start singing along with the latter. 

If you haven’t paid attention to blues artists from other locations around the world, you just may not know what you’re missing. No Border Blues is a great place to start digging into world blues. And Johnny Burgin is the perfect leader to bring us all along. 

Total Time: 44:16 

One Day You’re Gonna Get Lucky / Sunnyland / So Crazy About You / Hurry Up Baby / Pumpkin’s Boogie / I Just Keep Loving Her (Mada Sukinada) / Rattlesnake / Old School Player / Two Telephones / Samurai Harp Attack / Sweet Home Osaka 


Gerald McClendon - Can’t Nobody Stop Me Now

Gerald McClendon 

Can’t Nobody Stop Me Now
Delta Roots Records

by Greg Johnson 

Chicago vocalist Gerald McClendon releases his latest disc, Can’t Nobody Stop Me Now, offering a dozen original tracks that blend everything you can possibly desire in pure R&B and soul music, done in the bluesiest of fashions. Using the basic themes of undying love, cheating partners and broken hearts, McClendon magnificently and smoothly sings of human passions that are true and straight to the heart. 

It’s easy to see that McClendon has heavy blues influences from the likes of Bobby Bland and Z.Z. Hill, but listening to his catalog of previous releases you’ll also find reminisces of folks like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. It all comes through with his vocal presentation that channels the very best in the business.  

The songs on this disc are filled with imagery that is easy to visualize while listening. On “Cut You Twice” the narrator’s wife walks in on her cheating partner in the act and lets him know, “I’m gonna cut you once, shoot you twice, you better start running for your life.” On “Mr Wrong” he simply asks if he can be Mr Wrong until Mr Right comes along.” On “She Don’t Love Me Anymore,” the tables are on the opposite side as he comes home and finds out that all of his clothes have been thrown outside and the locks changed, because while he was sleeping, she was midnight creeping with somebody else. The wordplay on every number is absolutely brilliant and the finished product flows perfectly. 

With a sensational array of Chicago side-men backing him, including stand-out performances by saxman Skinny Williams and songwriter, producer, drummer Twist Turner, McClendon flows smoothly from one song to the next while displaying his authenticity or masterful delivery. Known by his peers in Chicago as “The Soulkeeper,” it’s quite obvious how fitting that title really is after one listen to Can’t Nobody Stop Me Now. Excellent album and highly recommended!! 

Total Time: 45:09 

Can’t Nobody Stop Me Now / Where Do We Go From Here / Groove On Tonight / She Don’t Love Me Anymore / Runnin’ Wild / It’s Over Now / Mr Wrong / I Started Over / You Can’t Take My Love / Why Can’t We Be Together / Cut You Once / I Think About You 

Johnny Rawls

Johnny Rawls 

Live In Europe
Continental Records Services

Review by Greg Johnson 

If you’re new to the field of soul blues, then it’s time for you to sit up and take notice. Going directly to Johnny Rawls may be one of the best options to introduce yourself. The multi-Blues Music Award winning vocalist is like something sweet that is going to make you crave hearing him more and more. Like maybe your favorite ice cream or dessert, once you hear his voice you immediately turn up the volume and listen even closer. 

It’s always a treat to see a master musician perform live, especially when they possess the capacity to draw a crowd into their hands. Makes you want to dance; makes you want to smile. On this new disc, Live in Europe, (released on the Dutch label Continental Records Services) Rawls only needs to take nine songs to bring your senses to attention. He is backed by a German trio known as The Özdemirs, and Italian Hammond player Alberto Marsico. The group toured throughout Europe in 2019, including this performance recorded in Hildeshiem, Germany, and in Vejle, Denmark, where they captured a take on T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday.”  

Most of the selections, like “Stormy Monday” are covers, but all done in his own sensual and smooth rendition. Songs like The Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden,” OV Wright’s “Into Something (I Can’t Shake Loose),” Tyrone Davis’ “Turning Point” and James Carr’s “Pouring Water on a Drowning Man,” are all done with just the right Rawls’ touch that is heartfelt and spot-on soulful. “Lucy,” one of his own signature tunes, closes the performance and also hits home. You know as he calls the ladies down front that this is a party by all means; and if you’ve ever caught Johnny Rawls in a juke joint or small stage, he is going to get a little raunchy and suggestive, too. Inciting the audience to get your hands in the air and swing that thing! “Come on, Lucy, get juicy, honey, get on down and down and work that coochie.” 

The album closes with a very nice take on Rawls’ tribute to his friend, Otis Clay, the title track to his previous American release “I Miss Otis Clay.” He brought this touring band into the studio in Copenhagen to lay this take down. Get your hands on this incredible album, because Johnny Rawls is arguably the finest soul bluesman in the world today. He’s going to lead you into a sure-fire love affair with soul blues without doubt. 

Total Time: 41:14 

Beast of Burden / Country Boy / Too Weak To Fight / Can I Get It / Turning Point / Stormy Monday / Into Something (I Can’t Shake Loose) / Pouring Water on a Drowning Man / Lucy / I Miss Otis Clay[Text Wrapping Break][Text Wrapping Break] 

Linsey Alexander 

Live at Rosa’s
Delmark Records 

 by John Taylor 

The “Hoochie Man” lives. And Linsey Alexander, whose blues are as authentic and Chicago as they come, is living well, if his “Live at Rosa’s” album, released May 15, is any indication. 

The eight-song collection comes from a recent show at the storied Chicago blues club, Rosa’s Lounge. Listen to three or four notes of this disc, and you’ll feel like you’re sitting at the best table in the house. Alexander’s vocals and guitar cut a wide swath, and he’s got plenty of muscle behind him: Sergei Androshin (guitar), Roosevelt Purifoy (keyboards) Ron Simmons (bass) and Ray Stewart (drums). 

Alexander turns 78 in July, but he’s in his prime here. He’s playing the kind of blues that thump in your chest. Full. Solid. Satisfying. The kind you only hear when you head downtown. 

Alexander’s signature lyrics and playful style is on full display. His light licks accent songs like “Please Love Me,” but he seizes the strings and powers them down on cuts like “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” and “Ships on the Ocean.” You might even want to get up and do a little dancing when he plays “Goin’ Out Walkin’ ” or “Snowing in Chicago.” 

No doubt about it. This guy’s still the real deal, and he’s keeping real blues alive and relevant. You’re gonna want to savor “Live at Rosa’s.” So here — pull up a chair and dust that snow of your coatYou can sit with us. 

We got another round on the way. 

Total Time: 53:03 

Please Love Me / My Days Are So Long  / Have You Ever Loved a Woman / I Got a Woman / Goin’ Out Walkin’ / Somethin’ ’Bout ’Cha / Snowing in Chicago / Ships on the Ocean / Going Back to My Old Time Used to Be 


Victor Wainwright & The Train

Victor Wainwright & The Train 

Memphis Loud
Ruf Records

by Greg Johnson 

Victor Wainwright is without doubt one of the piano kings of our time. On his latest disc, Memphis Loud, he takes us on a compelling journey through a series of musical styles where he expands on his range of playing, from his well-known boogie to soft ballads to a touch of country. And it all screams to be heard. 

Wainwright’s band, The Train, is a mixture of amazing musicians from Memphis and afar: Terrance Grayson on bass, drummer Billy Dean, twin guitars from Pat Harrington and Dave Gross, plus horns provided by Doug Woolverton and Mark Earley. If that’s not enough, the guest list of friends joining in is an all-star collection in its own right: Reba Russell, Monster Mike Welch, Gracie Curran, Greg Gumpel, Mikey Junior and Chris Stephenson. Thus The Train is a fitting moniker as there is a lot of locomotive energy behind this band. 

The opening track, “Mississippi,” draws you forth with Wainwright’s frolicking fingerwork, gliding and glistening across his keys. The pace increases and the tone is set for what to expect through the rest of the album. The music and lyrics are going to hit on all angles, heartbreak (“Disappear”), humor (“South End of a Northbound Mule”), gospel-influenced soul (“Reconcile”), there’s even a love letter written for his dog (“My Dog Riley”). Horns that bring to mind classic jazz bands like Duke Ellington; there’s musical grounds of Memphis, New Orleans and more; and of course that pounding piano that hearkens to boogie masters such as Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. Wainwright covers all that ground and more in splendid fashion on Memphis Loud. 


Total Time: 57:49 

Mississippi / Walk The Walk / Memphis Loud / Sing / Disappear / Creek Don’t Rise / Golden Rule / America / South End of a Northbound Mule / Recovery / My Dog Riley / Reconcile 



50 Years of Como Ms. Blues

Various Artists

50 Years of Como Ms. Blues
Wolf Records International 

by John Taylor

Wolf Records International recent compilation album, “50 Years of Como MS Blues,” serves as an excellent primer for anyone who’s interested in learning more about the foundations of North Mississippi Hill Country Blues that flourishes in The Magnolia State. Its nineteen cuts include performances from Jessie Mae Hemphill, Fred McDowell, Ranie Burnett, Eli Green, Othar Turner, and R.L. Boyce, and every tune is splendid. What often sets Hill Country Blues apart from traditional Delta Blues is its reliance upon a repeating, one-chord percussive arrangement, rather than the latter’s more recognizable twelve-bar, three-chord melodic structure. This creates a mesmerizing groove—the popular phrase today to describe Hill County Blues is “hypnotic boogie,” which works for me; I can find no better label. And this CD is packed with nothing but that hypnotic boogie. 

The album also includes several unreleased recordings, three by R.L. Boyce, two by Ranie Burnett, and one each by Jessie Mae Hemphill and Othar Turner, and these songs are the quill, especially Boyce’s renditions of “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “Lonesome Road.” There’s an extraordinary, nearly overwhelming, authenticity to these performances—a distillation of bleak pain and bitter suffering into seductive and compelling music. “Lonesome Road” in particular offers an interesting juxtaposition with Junior Kimbrough’s version of that song from his album “Meet Me in the City.” While both Boyce and Kimbrough’s versions fit recognizably into the Hill Country tradition, they’re effective markers for the stylistic variety inherent in this tradition. Kimbrough’s tune revels in its distorted rumble where Boyce’s version is less aggressive, more organic and plaintive. 

With so many musical genres tending to fuse nowadays (is it blues rock or rock inspired blues?) it’s refreshing to find this music in its pure form, played by musicians for whom music was not so much a way to make a living, but a way to make a life, or at least make life make sense. This album chronicles an important slice of American music history that deserves wider recognition. Highly Recommended. 

50 Years of Como MS Blues is available from Austria through Wolf Records (https://www.wolfrec.com/produkt/50-years-of-como-ms-blues/), but may be difficult to find in The States. I have it on good authority that it’s also available on Spotify. 

Total Time 1:12:28 

Jessie Mae Hemphill: Go Back To Your Used To Be / Shame On You (Takes 1&2) /Train, Train / Eagle Bird / Shake It, Shake It 

Fred McDowell: Frisco Line / You Gotta Move 

Ranie Burnette: I Wonder Why / I Call My Baby / I’m Goin Away / Moonshine Blues / Come On Baby 

R.B. Boyce: Gonna Boogie-Poor Black Mattie / Child Of God—One Of These Days /Baby Please Don’t Go—Lonesome Road 

Eli Green With Fred McDowell: Brooks Run Into The Ocean / Bull Dog Blues 

Othar Turner: Rooster Blues