Monthly Archives: April 2011

CD Reviews: Old Friends, New Releases

Spring is here, at least for the moment, so it’s time to take stock and go thru closets and sort things out that matter. So what I have done for these reviews is to take some artists who, for whatever reasons, are considered ‘old friends’. I may have been listening some to them for years, or known them for a good spell of time. With that in mind, I’m reviewing their new releases and enjoy the comfort they bring, but also the excitement that they provide in their new works. I hope you too, will pick up on some of this and maybe they will become ‘new friends’ to you.

Tracy Nelson: Victim Of The Blues (Delta Groove)
Possessing a signature voice that seems to shine with the ligfht of truth, regardless of genre or niche, Ms. Nelson is qualified as an old friend to me. From her early days in 1964 with the release of ‘Deep Are the Roots‘ and through to her forming of the band, Mother Earth, Ms. Nelson has set a standard for female vocalists that still holds sway today.

Victim of the Blues‘ opens with the Willie Dixon cut ‘You’ll Be Mine‘ a rolling piano provided by Jimmy Pugh, that is matched in it’s intensity by Mike Henderson on gutiar and we hear THAT VOICE – unmistakable, full of intent purpose as she dictates the line ‘you’ll be mine’ leaving no doubt about the outcome of this situation.

Ms. Nelson offers up interpretations of some songs fromn the ancestral tree of the Blues: Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Lightin’ Hopkins and Ma Rainey. But one that caught my ear is the incredible song by Mr. Earl Thomas, ‘Lead A Horse To Water‘, In her liner notes she states her love for the song when she ffirst heard and acknowledges her surprise when she learned that it was from a contemporary artist and not written back in the day. This song is a favorite of mine by Mr. Thomas, and Ms. Nelson infects it with a touch of gospel and deep rooted soul as she calls and is answered by Mr. James ‘Nick’ Nixon. Add to that some swampy slide guitars out to a first rate version of a top notch song. Thank you for singing this !

The title cut is a Ma Rainey tune, and as with every release, Ms. Neslon includes a song by Ms. Rainey or Ms. Bessie Smith, two of her earliest influences. In 2010 Ms. Nelson lost practically everything in a fire at her 100+ year old farm house near Nashville, wherein the local Fire Department said they could save just one room, she choose the studio. This album somehow survived that fire and it is aptly titled – her rendition of the tune is more of a confession and release of all that has occurred up to this point.

Ms. Nelson has some outstanding guests contained within this release. Ms. Angela Strehli offering up advice in ‘Howlin’ For My Baby’, Ms. Marcia Ball combining vocals and her unmistakable piano style on ‘Shoot My Baby’. Not to mention Ms. Reba Russell on background vocals (how good is that )? The final cut which was made famous by Ms. Irma Thomas ‘Without Love’ is such a soul stirring and uplifting version as Mr. John Cowan adds his superb voice in a vocal duet that takes us out of the dark and shows us the true light that shines for and in us all.

Brad Vickers & His Vestapolitans: Traveling Fool (ManHatTone)
With his third release, Brad and his Vestapolitans take us back to the days when the road was king, music simpler and made for joy, and rock and roll was young and fresh. From the first notes of the title cut ‘Traveling Fool’, you are drawn in and made a comfortable partner, riding shotgun in this musical excursion. The Vestapolitans are named after the open Vestapol tuning, and they show that there are legions of super sounds available in open tunings that you just cannot achieve in regular tuning. Brad features a very special guest in the person of  Bobby Radcliff a guitar player who is so tough that it has been said he should carry, and pass out meat tenderizer with him at gigs. Mr. Radcliff add some very tasty and tender licks in his appearances on this release. Another guest is Mr. V.D. King on guitar who adds an uncanny knack for capturing era-sensitive and kick ass licks to two songs here. Brad offers an up-tempo version of the Sonny Terry classic, ‘Diggin’ My Potatoes’, which is a rollicking jaunt through the back roads complete with feet swinging to the beat while trying to maintain vertical on the running boards.

What Mr. Vickers and his band offer us is fun. Yes, a good time mix of eleven originals and four interpretations that span blues, ragtime, rock & roll and American roots music, materfully produced b whiz-kid Dave Gross. Each cut is strong, and are different enough to show you the versatility of this fine band. ‘Uh-Oh’, an original by Mr. Vickers, had my darling bride doing the frug, swim and looking for her go-go boots. What might very well be my adopted song for South Carolina (where I split my time) is by Ms. Margey Peters called ‘Skeeter Song’. A fine blend of saxophone punctuations, and rolling piano is a segue to an killer acoustic solo by Mr. Radcliff, all building to a fun ending that makes it right for all (‘cept the skeeter).

Two fine interpretations are the J.B. Lenoir ‘Low Down Dirty Shame’, and the classic Leroy Carr ‘How Long Blues’ take us to the final cut “Rockabilly Rumble’ which harkens back to the days when the saxophone was yielding to the electric guitar as the king of instruments.

In his liner notes Brad thanks Rosco Gordon, Pinetop Perkins, Jimmy Rogers, and others who Mr. Vickers has played with over the years, and he has learned so well from them, in this release he expresses and demonstrates a deep understanding of music and styles and they would be damn proud of this release.

Tas Cru: Jus’ Desserts (Crustee Tees Records)
Dubbed the ‘master of the triple entendre’, Mr. Cru offers life lessons to us with a certain flair that resonates deep. His ‘triple threat’ skills at songwriting, guitar playing and soulfull singing make him one of upstate New York’s jewels.
With his latest release Tas serves up a piping hot, eleven course meal of original songs for those of us who enjoy our blues with a literate twist. Opening with a nice down homey groove ‘Just Let It Happen‘ which extolls the virtues of learning to ‘just lettin’ things be’. This is so true. To reinforce this thought he offers us some tasty acoustic slide guitar by Jeremy Walz, that will get the point to you if you haven’t gotten it already.

Glad To Be Alive‘, is a nice jazz-tinged shuffle in which extolls the virtues of his baby and how she makes him so glad to be alive. This is a nice cut as it is electric and I am more accustomed to Mr. Cru’s acoustic work. A nice helping of straight up blues work is mixed in the cut ‘Eau De ‘Nother Man‘ which is a story about fragrances or scents that we all carry with us, and tell-tale other scents that can give ones transgressions away. This is prime Tas Cru writing, slick, funny, but spot on. All the Tas tunes are tasty but I have special fondness for ‘My GPS Mama’, and title track ‘Jus’ Desserts’ where Tas demonstrates his under-rated skills at harp playing. Mr. Cru is more than a funny singer-songwriter, true he does use humor and wit in his songwriting, but the message and depth of his music is more than strong enough to stand up to close examination. Jus’ Desserts offers us a toe tapping, laid back, thoroughly enjoyable release that will keep you coming back for more. Do check him and his releases out.

We are coming up fast on the Blues Music Awards in Memphis, May 5th, so that will involve travel and a gathering of the tribes for the week. Looking forward to seeing everyone and spending some quality time hanging out, catching up and listening/seeing some of the very best Blues artists. To see more about the Blues Music Awards you can visit this link and while you are there consider joining the Blues Foundation – read about all the good they do for the musician’s, the Blues in Schools, the H(andy) A(rtist) R(elief) F(und) and so much more. You can join for as little as $25 USD, and youths
(14-20) can join for free.

Until next time,

Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,

photos: courtesy of Artists
© 2011

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Filed under Blues, CD Reviews, Entertainment, Music, Rock & Roll

The John Mayall Finishing School for Blues Artists: In Session

Some musicians seem to step up and it give their all only when surrounded by extraordinary players – others do it every time, night or day. Mr. John Mayall is of the latter example. The senior statesman of British Blues displayed his uncanny knack of putting on a great show anytime or anyplace, as well as bringing the best out of his band members.

There seemed to be certain factors that were working against this show. Sunday night might not be the prime slot for catching a Blues show with Monday following so close behind it. Mr. Mayall’s former bands have included such luminaries as Eric Clapton, Jon Mark, Sonny Landreth, Peter Green, John McVie, and most recently guitarist, and fan favorite Buddy Whittington. Fans get attached to performers, they bond on a certain level not unlike the way they do with athletes. One could hear the not so quiet murmurs in the pre-show crowd, questioning the new band, and at times edging toward a ‘show-me’ attitude concerning Mayall’s latest configuration of players and the past glories of his former bands. Historically, Mr. Mayall has always done this – change, refresh, and recreate. I think that more than a band that Mr. Mayall forms with other musicians, it is a school, the John Mayall Finishing School for Blues Artists. And once again he chose his students wisely, and seems to have taught them well.

Precisely at 8:00 PM, he was introduced to the crowd, as he made his way in black jeans and shirt, onto the stage. With genuine joy in his voice and his eyes (now behind spectacles – like many in the crowd) he said, before bringing out the band, he would give us a little ‘boogie-woogie’, and he did just that, Stationed upright behind his keyboard he proceeded to roll those eighty-eight’s, and set the stage for the remaining band members to join him. I found this an endearing and self-effacing path for a performer of Mr. Mayall’s status, wherein most artists at that level usually open up with the band playing a few numbers and THEN the main attraction comes out to join them – touche’ John. The band came out and began with Otis Rush’s classic ‘All Your Love‘ which Mayall originally released on the famous ‘Beano’ album with Clapton & McVie. Familiar enough but with subtle differences to allow for the guitar work of Rocky Athas to reform the song into his interpretation of this oft’ covered nugget.

Now Mr. Athas has the chore of replacing the aforementioned Mr. Whittington who had been with Mayall for over fifteen years. Rocky’s resume reads as well as anyone’s out there: growing up with Stevie Ray Vaughn and being inducted into Buddy Magazines’ Texas Tornadoes, two years before SRV would get the same prize.
To read more about Mr. Athas go to his web page,
or visit Mr. Mayall’s site

On with the show – with much the feeling of an old time barn storming, chitlin’ circuit revival, Mr. Mayall and band rocked, boogied, and second lined their way through many classic songs. Not only Mayall classics but those of the original blues men, Sonny Boy Williamson, Albert King, and Freddy King. Mr. Mayall leads the stage with comfortable aplomb, enjoying his role as the heirophant of the Blues. His smile (and those of the band’s) were quite the evidence that this was as good a good time for them as it was for us in the audience. His new band features Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on drums – these two came from the Windy City and add an urban toughness to the sound and as a rhythm section, they were captivating and provocative. Mr. Rzab was featured in a call and response with Mr. Mayall on their take of the classic Mayall anthem, ‘Room To Move‘ . With fingers flying Mr. Rzab not only pouted, mugged, smiled and cajoled with Mr. Mayall, but matched ‘the teachers’ harp gymnastics note for note on his bass – much to the joy of the crowd who erupted after each give and take.

As for Mr. Mayall, his playing and genuine enthusiasm was contagious. He often accompanied himself on keys while playing harp – and sometimes in conjunction with Rocky’s guitar – and at one point blowing his ‘har-mini-monica’ that he wore as a necklace, doing some serious justice to the little half-octave jewelry piece that we all thought was just for show. His vocals were as good as ever, tinged with the natural onset of roughness and deep blue hues that comes with living life to a fine age, his voice seemed more at ease with the intended sensibilities of the selected numbers. His harp playing was solid and just hard edged enough to generate the feel of a jook-joint bar on a Sunday night.

What was, for me, the moment of realization of how good this band was, occurred when Mr. Mayall announced that they were going to do a number from their new release ‘Tough‘, a song entitled ‘Nothing To Do With Love‘. This new song is much along the lines of your John Mayall penned composition, intelligent social commentary. Not the ‘love’ that we would immediately think of it is more about the actions going on in the world today and that lack of love that is driving the insanity that we see everyday. Those familiar with Mr. Mayall’s song writing will see the connections to his earlier stuff and appreciate, yet another, classic Mayall hit.

With this musical op-ed piece the band seemed to come together as one. It was their song, having put it together in the studio it was a part of each of them and they each put some element of themselves into the song and it was quite a thing to see and hear.

With smile still firmly in place, Mr. Mayall graciously thanked each of his band mates, and hi-fived those in the front row (and beyond) as they left the stage. Their leaving was not for long though, they were summoned back for an encore number. ‘Hideaway‘ was their choice, and once again, it showed that this band’s interpretation of the familiar is a good thing as they surprised us with new twists and orchestral hi-jinks to delight us all.

On this night Mr. Mayall and his new band, did several things. They won over the ‘old fans’ who have held on tightly to their favorite players of the past, showed ‘newbies’ the path of enlightenment that can only be found in the Blues, and proved that the John Mayall Finishing School for Blues Musicians was alive and well – and still doing a great job of it.

To read Blues411′s interview with Sir John, please visit: 

To view more photos from the show please visit: 

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,

photos courtesy of  Leslie K. Joseph
© 2011


Filed under Blues, Entertainment, Music, Performance Review, Rock & Roll

CD Reviews: It’s Not Who You Know, It’s Who You Don’t Know

Wow, there is so much good music coming out these days it’s hard for a guy to keep up widdit all.
So I am now going to give this space to some artists who I am not familiar with. Some of you folks might know them, others might be in my camp of the unknown. Either way it’s got to be good stuff because they are getting some ink (?), errh, maybe internet ink, web space, anyway, they are here for your pleasure, enjoy !

Terry Quiett Band: Just My Luck (Lucky Bag Records) release date: April 19, 2011

 Hooked, with the first cut, Karma, which comes on with a funky groove-laden rhythm and slightly distorted wah effects reinforcing the groove. Love the line ‘when karma comes back around’ that surely is a warning for us all, or at least words to live by.

This three piece band out of the rural plains of Kansas, features Aaron Underwood on bass, and Rodney Baker on the drums. Together they provide a solid back line for Mr. Quiett to work his varied guitar techniques and styles to near perfect execution. His work is equally spot on whether he grinds the full metal axe or exhorts the hell-hounds to let him be on his acoustic. They participated in the 2011 International Blues Challenge in Memphis to rave reiviews.

His styles range from the aforementioned funky ‘Karma’, to a jazz tinged, yet smoldering ‘Work For It‘ – his take on some of the ladies who make themselves available to musicians. A very nice somewhat autobiographical number is ‘Pound of Flesh’ wherein Terry openly fesses up to his own transgressions and faces up to the Devil wanting his pound of flesh. This is done with real nice slide work, and a bangin’ groove that will have all the guys drumming on the table tops, trust me!

This is a mea-culpa kind of release for Mr. Quiett, the songs lay bare the facts of his actions and their resulting implications. In doing so, Terry’s confession is a joy for us all to listen to.If confession had only been this good when I was a child I might have done it more often !
Oh yeh, gotta love the cover art, check it out, all I can say is, yeh no kidding !

Ron Tanski: Dragged You Down (Self Produced)

When a song starts with ‘it’s a marvelous night..’ I shudder at the thought of hearing ‘for a moondance’! Fortunately Mr. Tanski does NOT go there. Where he does go is deep into the cigarette tainted, whiskey primed world of piano blues.

His opening number ‘Marvelous Night For The Blues’ is an upbeat call to arms for him and his baby to ‘go downtown and throw a little cash around’ stating outright that if they don’t play they both gonna blow a fuse. This release contains twelve original songs by Mr. Tanski, and he performs solo on all but three of them.

A superbly versatile player, he can boogie-woogie with the best of them, as shown in ‘Hurricane Boogie’ , and then proceed to take us way down in the alley with ‘Never Have Another Chance With You’ and then stroll through the double entendre ‘Cookieman’ with aplomb and all seriousness. As a chef I can attest to cravings for a nice warm cookie, while still appreciating all the other kinds of sweets that are available. In spite of it’s church like start, the title cut ‘Dragged You Down’ has sheer rocking energy and a killer guitar solo from Mr. Andrew Hiestand, as Ron apologizes with tongue in cheek to his put upon partner (ending with the line “… gonna put you back on the streets’.)

There is a strong hint of Tom Waits here, but ‘Mr. T’ is not that dark and foreboding, he makes us all very comfortable with the blues and in turn we become voyeurs to his journey all the while staying safe with our headphones on and a drink in our hand.

Marion James: Essence (EllerSoul Records)

Originally released in 2003, Essence has been re-released by Ellersoul Records, features Nashville’s Queen of the Blues, Ms. Marion James. Like many great R&B singers Ms. James’ musical background is rooted in the church. In 1966 Marion had a top ten hit with ‘That’s My Man’ featuring guitarist Johnny Jones (aka Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland) for the Excello label. During the early sixties her band consisted of side men Billy Cox and Jimi Hendrix (Jimmy James ?) back in the day. Yeah that’s all great I hear ya saying, but . . .

Well what we have here is aptly titled – Essence defined as the following:
essence is the attribute or set of attributes that make an object or substance what it fundamentally is, and which it has by necessity and without which it loses its identity. OK kind of deep here, but that is what this release is it is the essence of Soul and Blues music.

Starting with the funky soul trippin’ song ‘Tables‘ we hit the groove spot and go from there. Add horns, wacka-wacka wah wah guitar and solid lead vocals we hear the truth in her statement that the ‘tables are gonna turn on you’ and we know that to be true because this lady is not one to be messin’ with. With a lyrical reference to the old male-oriented blues lyrics of buying a penthouse and calling it a shack, Ms. James let’s the men know that it’s a two way street, and she is the crossing guard.

Give me Love’ is slow Blues at it’s best, with traditional workings in the I-IV-V with tasty guitar, horns and B3. Ms. James’ vocals are reminiscent of the great ladies of Jazz and Blues, and the band she works with know how to step in and step back as needed. Featured performers are Reese Wynans (keys), Jack Pearson (guitar), Bob Babbit (bass) and Chuckie Burke (drums).
If I didn’t say the year this was originally released, you would not have asked. It is that vital, and has a contemporary feel (I guess that makes it timeless) that will not fade from its grooves (oh darn they ain’t got no grooves anymore – ah well you know what I’m sayin’).

Cousin Harley: It’s A Sin (Little Pig Records)

Paul Pigat is Cousin Harley, yes it is true. An alter ego, Motorhead Rockabilly at it’s very finest. Throw in some Dick Dale, the Ventures and what you get is a stripped down form of rock and roll that mixes in blues, country and really is a genre busting form of music.

The best example of this would be the final cut on the release, ‘Spaghetti No Sauce’ it hits the ground running and you will be left looking for waves and your surf board but not on the earth but on a distant planet where only few dare to go.

The title track ‘It’s A Sin’ rides in on an old steam powered railroad train that has been juiced up enough to make it dangerous. As it pulls into the station we hear a Johnny Cash type of voice pleading for some form of intervention to be divinely laid upon his lady because she has no room in her heart or life for him or anyone else, and has no first-hand knowledge of herself at all and it’s a sin.

Spooks’ is similar to the great instrumentals of The Ventures and the late great, Danny Gatton wherein ‘Cuz’ paints us a picture of a landscape at night that is alive with life, death and after-life all enjoying and sharing the streets and co-existing in harmony, sweet harmony.
One might hear the influence of Carl Perkins and others in the snubbingly titled “I’ll Keep My Old Guitar‘. Here we are treated to some wonderful lyrical loyalty, as he expresses his preference to his guitar over fly by night ladies of all sorts.

No release of this sort would be complete without a nice minor blues number. Cuz gives us that with ‘The Ballad of El Swartho’, a catchy title and really fine instrumental that allows us to see the varied influences and styles that make Cousin Harley’s ‘It’s A Sin’ release a fun filled romp on them frets!

Sabrina Weeks & Swing Cat Bounce: Tales From Lenny’s Diner (self produced) how do people come up the names for their bands? Well, I can answer for this band. “Swing Cat Bounce” was inspired by them listening to a radio show on the CBC about economics and the ‘dead cat bounce’. So, after some healthy discussion around the campfire, it morphed into “Swing Cat Bounce”, because ‘you ain’t got a thing, if you ain’t got that swing’. Really!

‘Ain’t My Time To Sing The Blues’ really gets to the point of this release, good times are the main focus and that light at the end of the tunnel is the glow of a cold bottle of Molson’s and a campfire. ‘Boogie Downtown‘ swings into high gear, and paints a picture of playing downtown at a fun spot, but there’s a hardly anyone around. So within the framework of good times the message is real and it expresses the sometime harsher realities of being a band and playing 200 plus nights a year.Fingers In My Pockets’ is a Jimmy Reed riff based swing number that has Sabrina at her story-telling best.Independent Woman is a sultry, sexy, to the point statement of Sabrina’s been there and done that learning of life’s lessons. A searing, funky guitar solo helps us get the point and then the chorus kicks in with a call and response and reaffirms that she is indeed standing on her own two feet. I am sure that seeing this band live would be a fun filled evening and hope to catch up with them in the future.

This five-piece band from Kamloops, BC, offer up some ‘feel good bounce and boogie blues’ with ample good vibes to make almost anyone tap their feet. With Sabrina offering heart felt vocals, and Mike Hilliard throwing some snazzy lead guitar work, they are backed by a rhythm guitar, bass and drums that keep that pocket in place. Full sound without being overpowering – the addition of horns seems a natural thing for the style of music and offers a nice touch to this release.

With eleven cuts (ten originals) covering the full range of bouncing boogie. They each explore differenet themes but all are rooted in good times and hitting the dance floor. The final cut , Independent Womanis a sultry, sexy, to the point statement of Sabrina’s been there and done that learning of life’s lessons. A searing, funky guitar solo helps us get the point and then the chorus kicks in with a call and response and reaffirms that she is indeed standing on her own two feet. I am sure that seeing this band live would be a fun filled evening and hope to catch up with them in the future.

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,

photos courtesy of  Artists
© 2011


Filed under Blues, CD Reviews, Entertainment, Music, Rock & Roll