CD Reviews: What Do You Want The Girls To Do ?

After my weekend at Kennys Castaways in NYC, I decided I needed to give some props to the ladies out there who are hitting it hard in the Blues world these days. Each is different from the other, all are killahs and there are tons more of them out there. So here’s some CD’s you might wanna get yer little opposable thumbs on and maybe the rest of yer hands too.

Gina Sicilia: Can’t Control Myself
(VizzTone Records)
This is the young Philadelphia singer/songwriter’s third release. Engineered and mixed by Dave Gross, who also plays practically every instrument on the record. It starts out strong and hits ya right in the ears with Addicted, a dark and sensual ode to the joys that are contained within any addiction. She (writes) and sings “I take a puff of my camel, pop and drink up all I got, pull a dollar out my pocket, put a quarter in the slot…then I pull on the lever, find out what I’m gonna win, the only place I’m going is the only place I’ve been, cause I’m addicted.” Damn, this is just great songwriting.
Ms. Sicilia offers us what seems to be a very personal look behind her eyes and into her psyche. Her songwriting has matured to the extent that her singing has. Both are very close to the top of their game, if not already there. Within her songs there is a dark, brooding almost ‘film-noir’ feeling, the world that these words inhabit is frail but not weak. The strength comes from the beliefs that are held very close to the heart but they always seem to be just on the edge of teetering off kilter. But reclamation comes from resignation in a closely tied knot of emotional bondage.
Ms. Sicilia puts three covers on this release all wonderful choices that seem to be naturals for her. Willie Dixon’s Crazy ‘Bout You Baby, which had me thinking of Linda Ronstadt and the sound of the seventies with that chunka-chunka guitar intro.
A very interesting choice is the Larry Addison song Member’s Only made famous by Bobby Bland. I don’t know too many artists who would take this on, and even less ladies, but Gina nails it and Dave’s syrupy thick slide work is a beautiful accompaniment to her deep soulful voice.
The third choice is a somewhat folksy crescendo build up A Place In The Sun. Somewhat county, somewhat folksy but right on the spot with her treatment.
This might be her best release, and makes me want to hear what she has in store for us next time around. She is a rising star and has been touring a lot and you should go see her, there is no disappointment in that space.

Cee Cee James: Seriously Raw, Live at Sunbanks
(PWG Records)

This is a live recording in which we can all get a feel for what Ms. James is all about. It is all good. Throaty, raspy and cigarettes and whiskey soaked blues. Not that Ms. James adheres to this lifestyle but that is what I hear when she sings. The opening cut is a super ‘get off yer duff and start dancing’ version of Crossroads – if this don’t get your hips shaking then Jack you’re dead ! A funky version of I Ain’t Superstitious follows right behind, and offers a nice alternative take on the often heavy-handed versions of this fine song.
This release has (lucky) thirteen tracks on it, and on each we are treated to some fine work by Cee Cee and the band. Contained within them are three originals while the remainder are covers of fairly standard blues tunes – and a few that are not (Nutbush City Limits is an example).
Her original writings are full of inspiration and determination, including ‘Make It To The Other Side’ in which Ms. James sings of the power of belief in whatever form you choose to help us make to that other side. Her on-stage ramblings are worth the price of admission, and she puts out such a fun persona that we can’t help but get behind her message. ‘I Got A Right To Sing The Blues’ recalls her childhood struggles as she openly recalls her life and testifies to the fact that she indeed does have a right to sing these Blues.
Of course the three-hundred pound gorilla sitting on the stage is the fact that Ms. James has similar vocal qualities to that of the late Ms. Janis Joplin. She openly addresses the issue with two songs, my favorite of them is her version of Me and Bobby McGee. Cee Cee is not ashamed or uncomfortable with the comparisons to the late Ms. Joplin, she embraces them and acknowledges them and moves on. Ms. James has often stated that she does not copy Ms. Joplin, but rather that this is her voice and it always has been. She is not a cover band, she is a strong voice for ladies in the Blues and if she is anything like the music she sings and plays then she is a blessing to us all.

Rory Block: Shake ‘Em On Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell
(Stony Plain Records) –
release date 3/29

It seems as though Ms. Block is always bettering her prior fantastic effort. This is reinforced by the fact that she has won five BMA’s, inspired the likes of Ms. Bonnie Raitt, and earned the praise of media ranging from The New York Times to Guitar Extra. Always keeping her focus and her eye on the prize, Rory is determined and dedicated to paying tribute to the music of the fathers of the Blues in the way it was intended to be presented.
In this effort Ms. Block sheds her light on the works of Mississippi Fred McDowell. She had the pleasure of meeting Mr. McDowell at a time when she was most impressionable and the effect he had upon her is etched in her music on this release. What stands out is that Ms. Block has written several original songs that capture the essence of Mr. McDowell and his music.
Her first personal offering is the opening track, Steady Freddy. In it she seems to be telling a biographical story from Mr. McDowell’s own mouth. Within the narrative she references his famous line “I do not play no rock and roll’, but using it as his mother’s advice to a young Fred. All of Rory’s original songs are faithful to the feel and style of Mr. McDowell’s playing. Another original song is her relating of a rather personal moment between Fred and her when she was fifteen, titled Mississippi Man. It is a fantastic piece of song-writing that completely knocked me over.
What has become a recurring action point for Ms. Block, is her messing with stereotypes, and she certainly did so with her version of Good Morning Little Schoolgirl where she gender adjusted it and acknowledges that it’s a much different time we are living in these days. Her guitar playing throughout the release is crisp, thoughtful and solid.
Ms. Block’s faithful renderings of Fred’s music fits right in with her avowed path of recreating, revitalizing and reinterpreting the Delta Blues. Along these lines Ms. Block has produced two other albums featuring the music of forefathers of the Blues, one on Son House (whom she knew and played with) and one on Robert Johnson (whom she feels is the highest form of achievement and that we should all strive to reach his level), and is working on a ‘Mentor’s Series’ of releases which would incorporate these releases and future ones into it.
A quick side note Ms. Block’s web site is full of great info, including links to her e-book autobiography, and tons of other really super info, do check it out.

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,

photos courtesy of  Artist
© 2011

John Mayall – ‘Tough’ and Other Thoughts

2009 marked a new year with a new band, a new album and a new lease on John Mayall’s musical life! Disbanding the former Bluesbreakers was not a decision made lightly and, like so many of John Mayall’s former band members they will continue to be successful and grow.

Mr. Mayall’s current touring band, notably including his latest guitar discovery from Texas, Rocky Athas, is rounded out with a hard-hitting blues rhythm section from Chicago: Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on drums; and, of course, John Mayall on keyboards, organ, harmonica, guitar and vocals. Blues411 got a special chance to talk with the ‘godfather of British Blues’ and here is what transpired. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did speaking with this iconic British Blues man.

B411:Tough’ marks your 57th release – congrats. This release feels more ‘urban’ than from previous releases.
JM: That’s a good description, a very modern, hard hitting release.

B411: How did this happen, was it a set direction that you wanted to take, or did it just emanate from the players who joined you in the band?
JM:  Yes very much so from the band. I think that the energy that they brought was such a lift that it was just amazing, the recording that emerged was a product of all of us at that moment. The recoding was mostly first takes of everything, tracks were all done in three sessions. It just took care of itself with the expertise of the musicians.

B411: Greg and Jay are from Chicago area, Rocky out of Texas, how did they come together as a band?
JM: I have worked with Greg before, about eight/nine years ago, because I knew Greg’s worth I asked him to recommend a drummer, you know that the bass and drummer must dovetail to get the best out of them. Greg suggested Jay and I hired him straight off without giving it a second thought. It has worked out very well because they have worked together many times over.
With Rocky, I knew he lived somewhere near Buddy Whittington (previous guitar player for band) lived, they were friends. I met him and heard him when we were playing together a few years ago, we went to a club afterward and Rocky was playing. That’s how I got connected with him. It was a big surprise for Rocky to have me call him after several years and offer him the job.

I had only met Jay when he came into town, a mere three days before we went into the studio. So Greg and Jay arrived and shook hands on a Friday – we did a gig on Sunday, and Monday we went into the studio and by Thursday it was done. Another fact is that nobody had met Rocky before, so there were all these threads that came together.

B411: I think that happens because of the atmosphere you create, and your attitude and encouragement with the musicians that you work with.
JM: It’s a very free atmosphere, cause that ‘s the only way that music will come – if it is relaxed, and everyone is on the same page.

B411: You always seem to ‘push the envelope’ when it comes to the Blues. When you enlisted Jon Mark & Johnny Almond for ‘The Turning Point’ release it seemed to set the Blues Music world in a tizzy, did you expect that reaction?
JM: Hah hah hah, I thought that it would be somewhat of a gamble, but I had very good faith in the fact that we could come up with something that showed you didn’t really need drums to have rhythm in it. The thing is it did work. It was the confidence I had which came from hearing The Jimmy Giuffre 3,  they were just a trio with no drums, and they swung like mad. I knew it could work, but, as always, I have faith in what I attempt.

B411: How is the current state of the Blues?
JM: I think the Blues is definitely alive and well. Everywhere you go in the world, it seems like there’s a Blues club, somewhere in just about every city. It’s definitely taken root in the overall picture of what goes on in music. It is here to stay, and it’s also noticeable that with each generation it is alive and well with people wanting to play it.

B411: Then it is still vital?
JM: I think so, yes. The test of time will be who emerges with something original to say. As long as there’s club where people can have a go and play that’s great.

B411: That’s great to hear, can I just say sometimes I think we are preaching to the choir within the community and does it resonate outside our family group?
JM: I do think there is an aspect of preaching to the choir here. In my particular case after all these years it doesn’t get space or entries into the Grammy’s or anything like that (or Hit Parade) but in the meantime I’ve had all these years of finding my audience, maybe more than some of the hit paraders out there.

B411: Well this year I discovered the pre-grammy telecast on live feed and was able to see Mavis Staples, Buddy Guy, Maria Muldaur and others sing and receive awards.
JM: Oh really, that’s great. To tell you the truth it depresses me cause I’m not in them. I am the ultimate outsider, but it’s nothing new to me, as long as I have my audience and can still play for them.

B411:  I understand, and you have maintained that audience over these many years, that’s an accomplishment not many have achieved.
JM: Yes, quite so, thank you.

B411: How do you look back on your releases, any favorites that stand out?
JM: It’s very hard to compare your work. That’s sort of like asking which of your children is your favorite. They all have their own place in time and in your memories, and when I hear any of these pieces of albums they just remind me of the times and stories of the life I was leading, it’s a musical diary.

B411: I mentioned to Debbie Davies that I would be speaking to you, and she sends her love. She recalls you being a major mentor for her and how she played rhythm on the 1990 release  ‘Sense of Place’, because of her ability to cop a Jimmy Reed riff.
JM: Oh my! I had forgotten about that. That’s quite true. I think it was the simplicity of the riff and the tone of the guitar, it was not really Sonny Landreth’s expertise, and Debbie felt right at home with that.
Speaking of that moment in time, we caught one of Coco’s Montoya’s shows out here, and he’s made such improvements. I was really impressed with his choices of material and the subtleties that have entered his repertoire, they are just quite amazing, a great performer and entertainer.

B411: Do you often get a chance to listen to music these days, it seems that the life of a professional musician is chocked full of things that take up lots of time and leave little room for guilty pleasures like listening to music.
JM: I got a good collection of Jazz and Blues and beyond. But I don’t get much chance to listen unless I am on the road. I put the CD’s in my car to listen to them. It’s really the only chance I get to give them a listen.

B411: I really appreciate your time here and I hope that I did justice to you and your career. See you when you get to Rochester in April.
JM: Thank you, it’s been fun, you’ve done well. See you then.

To listen to some sound bytes from Mr. Mayall’s illustrious career click here – and the link will also take you to his site on the web, where you can see his tour dates and other great info. 

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,

photos courtesy of  Artist
© 2011

CD Reviews: Fly By Music, Or Is It Music To Fly By ?

Well with 2 hours of delay added my flight from Rochester to Chicago, and headed to San Francisco, I had ample time to listen to a few newer releases from some artists that I had not been familiar with. This was pretty cool, it offered me a chance to hear (and re-affirm) just how many great musicians there are in the Blues family. Oh yeh, managed to get to the connecting flight by running to the gate and huffing and puffing my way onto the flight. And as you can tell by pictures, had a great time in San Francisco.

Billy Thompson: A Better Man: (Papa Lee Records)

Okeh kiddoes, the line up here is butt-kicking. Produced by Tony Braunagel, who also plays the drums. Featuring Mike Finnigan, Johnny Lee Schell, The Texicali Horns (Joe Sublett/Darrell Leonard) and Kenny Gradney & Hutch Hutchinson this is kinda like the Phantom-Bonnie Raitt-Little Feat- Blues Band or what Blind Faith only hoped to be, a super group, even if they are just on this release.
I’d like to talk about the title track ‘A Better Man’, first of all. Since Mr. Thompson titled the release after this song I felt there was a connection that I needed to explore. Good thought, to quote Fred Sanford ‘you big dummy’….

In it Billy sings of the hope and belief that after all the crap, disappointment, failures, missed opportunities that occur to us that we will come out of it and become ‘better men’. As he sings regarding the “grief and glory’ that we go thru one cannot help but feel the truth ring out in his words. It truly is our quest to live thru these hard times and to come away being ‘a better man today’. The feeling of redemption is helped along by some seriuosly righteous work by Mike Finnigan.

Billy provides us with an intersting take on the oft’ used term, ‘Born Again’. In this song he tells us how his lonely prayers were answered by the love of his woman and, and in doing so it provided the saving he needed and thus made him feel as if he was born again. With this usage it somehow seems more real than the hackneyed politico/religious phrase that we have become used to.

Billy possesses a fine, gruff-tinged voice the he uses well to convey the often intricate points he makes with his music. His guitar work is spot-on, never overplaying and always being in the right place at the right time and in the right form needed. His songwriting is intelligent and thought provoking with such lines as ‘what was up down under you’ from ‘Who Knew’ and his work on ‘the aforementioned ‘Better Man’, but does not stop there. His songs that seem to come from ‘everyman’ and he has graciously put pen to paper and share with us. There is an ever-present upside to Billy’s music which I believe comes from a man who has lived life on all sides of life and survived. His tales remind us al that life in not written in stone and there is always redemption and we can all move on and become ‘a better man’.

This is a fine album and the production by Mr. Braunagel only adds to the deep soulfull feel of this release.

Nerak Roth Patterson: Brown Angel  Self produced!/profile.php?id=100000570040266

Out of Yellow Springs, Ohio a hotbed of the blues, Mr. Patterson is an up and coming singer, songwriter, and guitar playing Blues man, who has logged serious time with Guy Davis, and many others. Mr. Patterson’s latest release showcases his multiple talents in a wide variety of music for our enjoyment.

He offers 2 versions of title track ‘Brown Angel’ and the instrumental ‘Brown Angel Blues’. They differ in approach, which allows ‘Roth’ to showcase his singing and shuffle based guitar licks in the first version, and the ‘Blues’ version provides us with a driving guitar based sampling of his fine fretwork. Reminding one of SRV but with a keen ear for bends and understanding the value of the space between notes. Personally I would like to hear more instrumental tracks – let the instrument(s) take center stage and play on brothers and sisters. But that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Showcasing a nice mix of style and substance Mr. Patterson spends time getting funky in ‘Everybody Counts’, banging the Reggae beat with ‘Lovin’ Each Other’ add to those a taste of New Orleans, a-la The Neville Brothers, in Raisin’ Hell. I like the thoughts expressed in ‘Raisin’ Hell’ as Nerak, the protagonist, raises to much hell down below that the Devils has taken to drinking beer and sent Nerak back up to Earth cos he can’t deal with him down below. Just a funny, nice twist showing some real originality in his song writer song writing skills that venture out of the ordinary.

Earlier I mentioned SRV style guitar playing, Mr. Patterson is not a one style player. His roots and influences vary and are backed by a solid skill set in each ‘style/form’ of the Blues he plays. There are hints of Otis Rush, B.B. King, and T-Bone Walker, but with him doing that he makes them part of his own sound. It is quite apparent on the cut ‘It Ain’t Over’ where there is a semi-trippy feel to the song and his guitar has a very cool sound here.

The final cut is ‘Truckin’ Man Blues’ which features Ian Anderson and Doane Perry from Jethro Tull (yeh them). This song provides us a great ride on 61 Highway, with Mr. Patterson,  Mr. Anderson and Mr. Perry providing the bumps, twists and sharp turns before delivering us, unharmed, at the very crossroads we have often heard about in the Blues. I must share a quote that Ian Anderson said about Mr. Patterson…
“Roth is a rare find and an increasingly soul-less and machine driven musical world.” Now ain’t that the truth.

As mentioned earlier this is a self-produced release, I must say that I would like to hear what Mr. Patterson could turn out if he was availed of a full blown studio, and all the accoutrements that come with it. Is anybody out there ?

John-Alex Mason: Jook Joint Thunderclap (Naked Jaybird)

 First off, anyone who shares my birth date (not year, goodness NO) is OK with me, got that straight. Cool.

Now, there will always be that historical rift that runs between the sacred and the profane that has tormented Blues singers such as Son House, Skip James and Dion Dimucci. In Mr. Mason’s latest effort he confronts the problems that these others have done in the past, and in doing so comes to a stand-off, which is probably as good as one can ask for.

Featuring guest appearances by such luminaries as Gerry Hundt (harmonica, 9-string banjo), Cedric Burnside (Drums) and Cody Burnside (vocals) and Steve ‘Lightin’ ‘ Malcolm (guitar, bass), 2011 IBC winner Lionel Young (fiddle, bass), and percussionist Fara Tolno & Alya Sylla. This collection of ten songs shakes all the walls of artificial genre classifications. Equally at home in Roots, Delta, Spiritual, Jam and Modern.

Outstanding amonsgt these songs are “Gone So Long’ we see Mr. Mason tapping into the spirit of that postwar Memphis sound, his guitar snarling and licking at it’s own flames as he sets the stage for Mr. Cody Burnside to lay down a dynamic staccato rap (thank you gentlemen for doing this) that will have you re-thinking the idea of rap and it’s place in the Blues world (thanks again LOL).

Let’s take that thought and move to another cut featuring Mr. C. Burnside and world percussionists, Yolno & Sylla. ‘Riding On’ is a maelstrom of poly-rhythmic impressions that somehow fuse together what I believe will be a much sought after sound-marriage in the future.

Just to differ somewhat “Diamond Rain’ offers us a tear down of the illusionary borders between Blues and Country. Re-establishing the formers rightful place in the Blues house. A toe-tapping jaunt, with Mr. Mason laying the groundwork for Mr. Young to clean up with his fiddle playing bringing both grace and fire to it.

I do believe this release has successfully bridged the gap between Church music and the Devils music, but also between the generations of Blues artists and fans. Hopefully this release will reach across the borders and create a massive upheavel of what is thought of as these different styles of music and bring some light in the form of truth to us all.

Love, Peace & Chicken Grease

photos courtesy of  Artists, chefjimi.
© 2011