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CD Reviews: Friends With Benefits

No not those kind of benefits, more along the lines of artists who are or have become friends over the years and have allowed me to listen to their new releases.
So here I have compiled a short list of some of these talented folk and hi-lighted their releases so that you might grab a hold on to them and enjoy them also.

Johnny Sansone: The Lord Is Waiting and The Devil Is Too
(Short Stack Records)

When I first heard Johnny Sansone’s ‘Poor Man’s Paradise’ (2007) I knew that this man understood the world’s dark side and how it was an eternal struggle to find the light of salvation. I have met Johnny several times and found him open, friendly and very charismatic, almost the other side of the coin from this taut release.

Working with Anders Osborne (producer, guitar, vocals, and additional vibes) and Gallatic drummer Stanton Moore, this 10 track stripped down and raw look at a life as it reaches that all important crossroads where one has to make the choices and decisions that will effect the future for a long long time.

Starting with ‘Sinking Ship’ if one takes this literally – you really don’thave to walk the plank on a sinking ship cos we all are going down on it no matter what. It seems to set the stage for what Mr. Sansone offers up in the remainder of the album. So whether it is a relationship, a job, and it’s sinking there’s no need for the embarrassment of being made to walk that plank. ‘Corn Whiskey’ is an instrumental that allows Johnny to showcase his excellent harp playing skills in a rough and tumble cut that signifies the title. He has become equally adept at both the diatonic and chromatic harmonica and knows how to get down and dirty with them throughout this release.

One might find these songs disturbing and too dark and primal for casual listening, but I urge you to put this baby on and listen to it. His handling of this time in his life is laid out here for us to listen to and be part of the resolution. ‘Johnny and Janie’ paints a picture of the fragility of what appears to be a strong, unchallenged man and how a love gone bad can make him do desperate things. The title track is just a raucous New Orleans romp with sharp overtones of menace and once again the subject of choice and how it is up to the individual to make the choice – but ya better make the right one cos ‘the lord is waiting and the devil is too’.

This fine release is unlike anything else Mr. Sansone has previously shared with us.  This is his 6th release and the very first that features him on harp only. It is modern, yet strongly connected to past both in theme and sound. Within the framework of this release Mr. Sansone proves his worth lyrically, vocally and instrumentally. A good candidate for nominations across the Blues field I cannot be happier for him.

Grace Askew & The Black Market Goods
(self titled and released)

Davis Coen was kind enough to introduce me to Ms. Grace Askew in Memphis while attending the Blues Music Awards this year. A friendly, cheerful young lady who is performing constantly in one of the best musical cities in America.

What I didn’t expect was the depth of her work here on this disc. This release captures a wide range of music – music which I refer to as American Roots music – incorporating Blues, Alternative Country, and a dash of alternative modern. With these 11 cuts Ms. Askew treats us to some of the more sultry vocals that I have heard of late. Her voice falls somewhere between Etta James, Tom Waits and Neko Case. That is not a bad thing.

‘Been Broken Too’ and ‘Go My Way’ are two of the bluesier tunes. With a solid swampy feel Ms. Askew and the band paint pictures that are more complex than we first realize. Like a fine dinner offering from a top notch chef, we at first, take in the general appearance (sound wise) then as we begin to immerse ourselves in it we only then fully appreciate what is being presented to us. ‘Midtown‘ offers us a musical film-noir commentary on the urban landscape and it’s inhabitants that could exist in almost any inner city neighborhood.

There is so much to be enjoyed on this release (10 of the 11 are originals and 1 is co-written with Davis Coen). I firmly believe that we need to embrace what these young, talented artists are bringing into the Blues – without them I fear the tent will not grow and wither from inside.

Bobby Radcliff: Freaking Me Out
(Krellno Records)

I was first introduced to Mr. Radcliff through Mr. Brad Vickers at Kenny’s Castaway’s in NYC earlier this year. A quiet man who gave no hint at the powerful playing he was capable of.

Blues man Bobby Radcliff spent quality time back in the 60′s with ‘Magic Sam’ Maghett which bound him forever to that raucous mixture of deep blues and flashy funk that was seemed to define the sound of Chicago’s West Side. He is a throw-back, old-school, hard-core blues-funk (I wanted to see how many hypens I could use!) master.

Slip this CD into the player and stand back, ‘Invisible Man’, the first cut, screams out the blues at it’s best. With the current re-discovering of The Butterfield Blues Band, Mike Bloomfield and bands like PG&E we don’t need to look any further than Bobby for current, alive and vital sounds that made that era one of the most exciting around. Backed by Chris Matheos laying down some of the funkiest bass-lines in town, and Robert Danielson on drums putting the heat in the beat we immediately get comfortable because we feel like we have heard these songs before.

‘Quake’ is a hard driving instrumental that changes gears but holds the road with aplomb like a classic car. His rapid fire picking straddles the line between country, rock and blues and displays a sensitivity to the piece that sets him apart from many of his contemporaries. ‘Black Hearted Woman’ finds Mr. Radcliff in a very comfortable blues set-up. His vocal treatment lands somewhere between parched and warbly – but it fits so perfectly with the lyrics and overall feel of the tune that we wonder how he decided on that approach. A personal favorite is ‘Picking On Me’ just a fun shuffle relating the constant annoyance from someone who if they keep it up will leave nothing behind of the victim (the singer). ‘Bad Dreams’ harkens back to Michael Bloomfield and the Butterfield Blues Band – there is that sound that says 60′s white boy blues – but it’s real, not an attempt to re-create it for gain or recognition. Bobby has this down pat, from the reverb to the dry tonal quality this baby you know he is laying it out there for us to enjoy.

A refreshing track finishes off the disc ‘Billy’s Nocturn’, an instrumental that reshapes our concept of what an instrumental could be, a feeling of Danny Gatton, and Roy Buchanan permeates the sound and guitar work. Quality work that is at once lyrical and strong, this is a most pleasant composition to ride into the sunset with. I just have to say any artist who can put a painting of ‘Dirty Harry’ as the cover art and call the release ‘Freaking Me Out’  has me on their side, it just is so cool on so many levels !

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
©Blues411.com 2011
photos: Courtesy of artists.

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Filed under Blues, Blues411, Bluescruise, 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, http://www.rockyathas.com/index.html
or visit Mr. Mayall’s site http://www.johnmayall.com/index.html.

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
©Blues411.com 2011


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

At Home With The Blues-NYC Style

It is not often that one gets to ‘go home’, and it is even less likely that one gets to go back on their own terms. I was quite fortunate to be able to accomplish this bi-fecta (hah bet ya didn’t see that coming). On March 20, 2011 Big City Blues Magazine held a celebration of Spring at Kenny’s Castaways in Greenwich Village. It was a celebration of what might have been the birthplace of the folk revival, which in turn spawned talented musicians who have shaped our lives thru the decades and still do now.

Did I hear disbelief amongst you? John Hammond, Pete Seeger, John Sebastian, Maria Muldaur, Rory Block, more, The Holmes Brothers, The Lovin’ Spoonful, some guy named Bob Dylan. I’ll stop there, but you can do some research on it if you are still not believing, or wish to go deep on this. Check out the links at the end of story.

I grew up in NYC back in the 60′s, and goodness me, there was a revolution going on in the city long before it hit the media and press corps. The music was changing, it seemed like, overnight, Mr. John Sebastian recalled a night he was playing at Gerdies Folk City to a crowd of finger-tapping beatniks, when at the front of the house was but one, long haired girl, dancing what was soon to become the iconic dance of a generation. John, and Zal Yanovsky looked at each other on stage and mutually hoped she would return with her friends. She did. Within days the crowd had changed, gone were the beatniks whose understated coolness disappeared as quickly as it had appeared and they were replaced by ladies dancing to the music, becoming one with the groove and thus leading to the next great movement of American music.

All of this took place in and around Greenwich Village, a.k.a. ‘the Village’ which historically has been known to be the cultural center for Bohemian lifestyles. This has been the case since the earliest part of the 20th century when free (unaffiliated) small presses, art galleries and experimental theater thrived. By the late 1950′s it had become the spot for alternative theater. Known as ‘off-off Broadway’ it was in reaction to Broadway and Off  Broadway which seemed all the same and mundane at best. But quite possibly it’s influence on music then and now is it’s claim to fame.

Enough of the history but I felt I needed to put into perspective how vital and influential it was to be growing up in NYC at the on-set of the musical and cultural revolution that ran from the 50′s thru the 70′s, and may be alive again in the Village. I say this because on this past First day of Spring I was treated to an unprecedented display of some of the most powerful Blues performers in the five boroughs and at least three adjoining states could provide, all at legendary music club, Kenny’s Castaway’s.

‘With a ’3PM till . . . ?’ notice rakishly taped on the front door, I wandered in about 2:30 to say hi and claim a spot in front from which Leslie and I could do our thing. We felt we needed to be up front because we really only knew one or two of the performers and wanted to be sure to get the full frontal experience from the bands. There were some folks hanging around both in the club and on stage, shuffling about and seemingly starting to feel the edge creep in, when suddenly the stage erupts into a fierce number by the Michael Packer Band that left everyone slack-jawed and wondering what just happened. With a sly grin on his face, Mr. Packer steps to the microphone and wryly states the obvious ‘Good Morning’. Ohh-ohh, I think it’s time to hit the adult beverage concession cos it’s gonna be a hell-raiser. As if in step with my thoughts, Eddie Jackson steps away from the percussion and gives us what might have been the anthem for the day/night ‘Back At That Bar Again‘.

Now that’s pretty scary – this was the FIRST band. Our music coordinator for the event was Dave Fields, and let me say now, that he did an amazing job of keeping the musical threads in line. There were 14 (give or take 2 or 3) bands that would play for this day and never was there a hitch in the fabric. Mr. Fields would have made a fine ‘shnayder’ which is Yiddish for tailor (or from the Germanic Schneider). Mr. Tailor, errh, Fields, took the stage and formed a patchwork coalition of a band with some of his regular players, and various friends and entertained the crowd with so much energy and excitement. He ripped into a bluesy version of Zeppelin’s Black Dog. A special visitor had arrived during Dave’s set, Mr. Pat St. John from Sirius/XM and WCBS-FM radio. Pat is a legend in NYC music, having been a D(isc)J (now a Digital J) from the beginning of alternative/free-form radio with such classic stations as WPLJ and WNEW FM. Pat was thrilled to see Dave do some good Jewish Blues, and was ‘verklempt’ over the ‘Rabbi Blues‘ which Dave wrote and performs regularly to foot stomping Hora processions thru-out the land. Part of his ‘entourage’ was vocalist and energizer bunny Ms. Nikki Armstrong who gave new meaning to the old Hambone Willie Newbern song ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin‘ ‘. Ms. Armstrong has co-authored several songs with Mr. Fields and they seem very comfortable on stage with each other. I must say that whenever Dave plays one never knows what he will pull out of his bag of tricks, a truly entertaining performer and quite exceptional musician, in my book.

An import from the Motor City was Luther ‘Badman’ Keith, whose guitar slinging and vocals were reminiscent of what the Motor City made famous. POWER. Sporting a street legal, modified guitar and a voice that reflected tones of Gas, Tires and Oil (the GTO in GTO) Mr. Keith to me would have been a better player than Eminem for that Detroit is coming back commercial from the super bowl. More real, more believable and way more plausible than a posturing wanna be could ever be.

The harp hit was Mikey Jr, and the Stone Cold Blues Band. Hard hitting, genuine, and fun are all words that you can apply here. Mikey can get some serious tone on his harps. whether they be diatonic or chromatic. His songs are witty, yet poignant and this guy knows how to command a stage, brothers and sisters. A solid band are the Stone Cold’s, but the guitar player, young Mr. Matt Daniels looks like a rising star, oh yeh cool shoes Matt !

At about 6:20 or so, we all were exposed to the Alexis P. Suter Band. Holy crap people ! A seven piece band featuring Ms. Alexis P. Suter as the lead vocalist, Ms.’s Vicki Bell & Linda Pino offering much more than background vocals, Bennie Harrison (keys) Peter Bennett (bass) Ray Grappone (drums) and sitting in Arthur Neilson (Shemeika Copeland) on guitar. Man were we ever un-prepared for this band’s performance. Stunning baritone notes ring from Ms. Suters’ diaphragm, as the ladies accompany her and fill in the cracks with soulful harmonies and stylistic shouts and moans. Each band member contributes to this effort, they seem almost as one giant quaking construct of the music itself. They are currently touring and will be releasing their new album in April.

The event’s honorees The Holmes Brothers received the ‘Happy To have The Blues’ Award from Jr., and Sugar. The running gag for the day was we were all ‘Holmes brothers’ and when they took the stage for a few unplanned numbers we certainly to a person ‘happy to have the blues’.

For fear of over staying my welcome inside your eyes and brains, dear readers, I will quickly touch on one or two more things that stood out for me. Believe me I could do just what I did above for every act from the show – they were all that good. That being said, Mr. Bill Sims working with a broken string early in his set, proceeds to remind us that the Blues is made for a guitar, bass and drums and that it draws influences from everywhere. To the point, his breaking out a bluesy version of Neil Young’s ‘Down By The River’.

Bobby Radcliff pouring his heart and soul into this set, backed by Brad Vickers on bass. Blue-eyed soul indeed.

Big Ed Sullivan attacking his nicely worn guitar with a half filled Budwsier beer bottle (I knew Bud had to be good for something) and using it as a slide and pick, then him and Dave Fields battling it out in ‘king of the hill’ fashion on guitars. Lest we forget the ever on the spot, right there when you need him Mr. David Keyes on the ….keys !

The aforementioned Arthur Neilson, just tearing the place apart with his hi-powered, talent laden guitar work. Did you know he was the lead guitarist for Blue Angel ? Yeah Cyndi Laupers’ original band…..just sayin’…..He tore through his original composition ‘Fenderbender’ and then moved right into Pipeline, hottdamn. Currently Arthur is with the Shemeika Copeland band.

Ok so here we are in the village listening to Blues and who should appear on the stage (another one of those who they heck are they) but Better Off Dead ???? It was like Nick Lowe, Dave Edmonds, Conway Twitty, Carl Perkins and Dashiell Hammett collided and this is what was formed. That’s a good thing ! Appearing as a four man band toweringly led by (great name) V.D. King (told ya) on vocals and guitar, assisted by Don Kenny on guitar (lead) and vocals, these guys just jumped the place and when they ended everyone was wondering what hit them. They are the undisputed demented dukes of musical mayhem from Jersey City, check them out.

For me the true telling of the tale came to light when Brad Vickers and The Vestapolitans came on stage. Featauring Margey Peters on bass, and vocals and a licorice stick/saxaphone artist who just thrills the crowd. Here we were celebrating the music that formed in the Village back in the day, and every band did their best, to honor that goal. But what was that music that was being played back then? In it’s most primal form, it was folksy, old-timey music that tapped into the rag time tradition. Brad and the Vestapolitans brought that to light with their set. With get happy, swinging music they provided the musical link to what was then, and is, now one of the most creative and avant-garde spots on this planet – or any other – the Village.

LINKS (in no particular order):
www.alexispsuter.com, www.bobbyradcliff.com, www.davefields.com,
www.mikeyjr.com, www.michaelpackerbluesband.com,
www.arthurneilson.com, www.nikkiarmstrong.com,
www.kennyscastaways.net, www.theholmesbrothers.com, www.bigedsullivan.comwww.davekeyes.comhttp://billsimsjr.com/ http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/Vestapolitans?sk=info

for more on Greenwich Village:





Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,

photos courtesy of  Leslie K. Joseph
©Blues411.com 2011


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