Tune into the Weekend: Don Bryant & The Bo-Keys

Don’t let the name of the program fool you: this recent performance from singer/songwriter Don Bryant on PBS’ Bluegrass Underground just oozes with bluesy soul, with Bryant backed by The Bo-Keys for a number of songs off his new comeback album Don’t Give Up on Love (Fat Possum Records) — including Bryant’s take on the soul classic “A Nickel and a Nail” plus Bryant originals like “Something About You”, “I Got to Know” (previously recorded by The “5” Royales), and “How Do I Get There?” — as well as another well-known song Bryant co-wrote some years back with wife Ann Peebles called “I Can’t Stand the Rain”.

If you like what you hear here, you’ll want to be sure to check out the rest of Bryant’s new album, with tracks like the smooth, swaying “First You Cry” and punchy “Can’t Hide the Hurt” and “One Ain’t Enough” being the first we’d recommend!

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Former Howlin’ Wolf players Tail Dragger, Henry Gray join star-studded tribute to the Wolf on Howlin’ at Greaseland

For longtime bluesmen Henry Gray and Tail Dragger, the late, great Chester Burnett — a.k.a. Howlin’ Wolf — didn’t just serve as an inspiration. For them, he was a band leader and mentor, and the inclusion of these now senior statesmen of the blues is just one of the things that helps to make Howlin’ at Greaseland (West Tone Records) such a special tribute to this true giant of the genre, along with contributions from names like harmonica player Rick Estrin, multi-instrumentalist (and project recorder) Kid Andersen, horn man Terry Hanck, and keyboardist Jim Pugh (Robert Cray Band), among others.

While the album probably didn’t need additional star power beyond the strong vocals delivered by Alabama Mike, John Blues Boyd, Lee Donald, Aki Kumar, and Hanck, combined with the sharp playing of the rotating backing band that Andersen assembled at his San Jose, California, Greaseland Studios for the recording, the presence of Gray and Tail Dragger on almost a handful of tracks does help to add a nice extra bit of authenticity and raise an already commendable project to an even higher level.

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Under the Influence (of the blues!)

Let the blues take over with this intoxicating edition of our BluesPowR Radio Hour, featuring music from Gregg Allman, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Guy Davis & Fabrizio Poggi, Bette Smith, Hurricane Ruth, a doubleshot from Colin James, and more!

Playlist
Under The Influence – The Mojo Stars (Under the Influence)
Louise, Louise – Guy Davis & Fabrizio Poggi (Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train)
Durty Hustlin’ – Bette Smith (Jetlagger)
Boogie Funk – Colin James (Blue Highways)
Riding In The Moonlight/Mr Luck – Colin James (Blue Highways)
Blood Moon – Too Slim and the Taildraggers (Blood Moon)
Down For Love – Kenny Wayne Shepherd (Lay It On Down)
Cheating Blues – Hurricane Ruth (Ain’t Ready for the Grave)
I Woulda Been Wrong – Al Basile (Quiet Money)
Tattoo Burn – Micki Free (Tattoo Burn-Redux)
I Love The Life I Live – Gregg Allman (Southern Blood)

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Savoy Brown still wickedly good on Witchy Feelin’

Five decades after its beginnings as part of the British blues explosion, Savoy Brown continues to cast a familiar blues-rocking spell on the band’s latest album Witchy Feelin’ (Ruf Records). Now down to a trio made up of founding member Kim Simmonds on vocals and guitar joined by Pat DeSalvo on bass and Garnett Grimm on drums, the band rolls through just shy of a dozen tracks thick with stinging guitar and rich, steady grooves.

Opening on the powerful, shuffling “Why Did You Hoodoo Me” and a gritty, crawling “Livin’ on the Bayou” that mixes Simmonds’ often Mark Knopfler-like vocals with some David Gilmour-ish guitar solos, Witchy Feelin’ is already a winner before you even arrive at the album’s creeping title track and such other gems as the steady-rocking “I Can’t Stop the Blues”; a laidback and lonesome “Standing in a Doorway” that will help fill up your musical drinking glass with its gentle vocals and thick slide riffs; a hard-driving, Cream-like “Can’t Find Paradise”; and a slow-cooking, wah-filled “Thunder, Lightning & Rain” on which the band brings things down a bit to allow Simmonds’ guitar to do much of the talking.

The album concludes on the soft instrumental “Close to Midnight” and, if you like that, you might also want to check out another somewhat recent project in the form of Simmonds’ solo Jazzin’ on the Blues, a jazzy and quieter instrumental acoustic album that also finds Simmonds contributing harmonica and bass on several songs, joined only by Ron Keck on percussion.

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Tune into the Weekend: Big Bad Coraline

Today, we launch another new feature here, an occasional post to help get your weekend off to a good start with a track that’s caught our ear. Sometimes, the song might be a standalone single; other times, a tune we just can’t wait to highlight in an album review or on our BluesPowR Radio Hour, or something that we feel really stands out from an album we may not otherwise get to tell you about.

It’s all just another way of helping to introduce you to some of the other blues acts and music on the scene, with our inaugural track coming from a recently reunited blues duo by the name of Screamin’ John & TD Lind (who first worked together in a band called Edenstreet), a swinging, blues/early rock n’ roll style number off their forthcoming album Gimme More Time (Down in the Alley Records). Here’s to the weekend!

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Rocking new EP brings Black (Stone Cherry) to Blues

It’s been several decades now since the great Muddy Waters was booed by blues purists for introducing an electric guitar to his live blues performance. During that time, plenty of acts have of course tried to take the blues to a whole new level of rocking, with bands like Led Zeppelin and Cream being perhaps some of the first names to jump to mind and the likes of Gov’t Mule helping to still carry on the tradition.

Here’s one we mentioned in our recent review of George Thorogood’s new roots album as another upcoming example of rockers undertaking all-blues projects. We hadn’t heard much of Black Stone Cherry‘s music before now, but have to say we really dig the sound of this six-song Black to Blues EP (Mascot Records), featuring the most unique, hardest-rocking versions of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Albert King, and Freddie King covers you’ll possibly ever hear.

This isn’t the southern rockers’ first foray into the blues, with the band having, for example, included Howlin’ Wolf’s “Evil” as a bonus track on their 2016 Kentucky album and both Son House’s “Death Letter Blues” and a “Lonely Train” that borrows its chorus from Bo Diddley’s “You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” on their Thank You/Livin’ Live album.

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Mojo Risin’: Time-trippin’ with Bette Smith’s Jetlagger

On the opening track of her debut album Jetlagger (Big Legal Mess Records), Brooklyn-born soulstress Bette Smith promises “I Will Feed You” and that’s exactly what she proceeds to do musically, moving from the haunting, Macy Gray-ish sound of that number and others like “Flying Sweet Angel of Joy” to such rockers as a Tina Turner-ish take on the Little Steven Van Zandt co-written “I Found Love” (Lone Justice) and heavy soul R&B of “Manchild”, one of several songs penned or co-penned by Jimbo Mathus, who also produced and provides some nice guitar, keyboard, and background vocals on the project.

There’s also the slow-grinding blues of an Ursula Ricks-sounding “Durty Hustlin'”, a “Shackle & Chain” that sounds like it could be a soul classic but really is only just destined to become one (being tied down has never sounded so good!), and a slow-grooved, patient take on Isaac Hayes’ “Do Your Thing”, as well as the country-flavored “Moaning Bench”, the chugging title track, and the closing, uplifting gospel sounds of the Staples Sisters’ “City in the Sky”. It’s all driven by Smith’s soulful, deep sultry voice and some terrific Memphis horns, along with modest yet impressive parts from other backing musicians, making Jetlagger one of the most powerful and feisty debuts we’ve heard in some time.

Here’s Smith with the official video for “Manchild”:

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You’ve got to hear it: soulman Chris Pierce’s latest release You’ve Got to Feel It!

We don’t know that we’d really heard of Chris Pierce before either, but it turns out that we did enjoy — along with a few million other fans of the show — the song he co-wrote that was prominently featured on an episode of NBC’s smash TV hit This is Us, you know, the tune that Randall’s biological father William penned in his younger days for his cousin’s band during an extended visit to Memphis, something called “We Can Always Come Back to This”.

Pierce didn’t write any of the songs included on his latest album You’ve Got to Feel It! (Calabama Recordings), but he did do an awfully nice job of selecting a dozen soul classics to cover here, from the “We Can Always Come Back to This”-like sway of Otis Redding’s “That’s How Strong My Love Is”, a gospelish take on James Carr’s “The Dark End of the Street”, and the slow, closing ballad “Many Rivers to Cross” (Jimmy Cliff) to the slightly more uptempo “Slip Away” (Clarence Carter) and Blues Brothers-ish grooves of “Stop” (Howard Tate) — with its powerful soul/R&B combination of horns and vocals — and swinging “Is It Something You’ve Got” (Tyrone Davis) to the tougher, Tommy Castro-like blues of “Don’t Fight It” (Wilson Pickett) from which the album’s title derives and that features background vocals from the Grateful Dead’s Donna Jean Godchaux (if this one doesn’t get you moving, we don’t know what will!) and a biting, funky take on Al Green’s “I’m a Ram”.
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Walter Trout & friends are All in This Together on blues-rocker’s latest

“After the heaviness and emotional intensity of creating my last studio album, Battle Scars, I just wanted to go in the studio and have some fun and jam with some friends.” — Walter Trout

After a couple of albums announcing his return to the fray of the music biz from a last-hour liver transplant in the 2015 studio project Battle Scars and then the live follow-up ALIVE in Amsterdam, blues-rock guitarist Walter Trout is back again, this time bringing along a few friends, as in one for each of the 14 tracks on this latest album, appropriately titled We’re All in This Together (Provogue Records/Mascot Label Group). A follow-up to Trout’s 2006 Full Circle album that included tracks recorded with the likes of Jeff Healey, John Mayall, Coco Montoya, Finis Tasby, Joe Bonamassa, Bernard Allison, Junior Watson, Guitar Shorty, and James Harman, among others, We’re All in This Together finds a largely new contingent of mostly guitar-slinging, sometimes harp-wielding, guests lending their instruments and, often, their voices, on a baker’s dozen of original songs all written or co-written by Trout along with a cover of one blues classic.

Both Mayall and Bonamassa return here — the first on the stripped-down, guitar-and-harmonica acoustic number “Blues for Jimmy T.” on which Mayall provides the harp, and the latter on the scorching closing title track, which, unlike most of the other numbers, was captured live with the musicians in the same studio (and on the first take) — as does Trout’s longtime friend (who Walter says “sorta’ discovered me when I moved to L.A. in the ’70s”), blues keyboard great Deacon Jones (Freddie King, John Lee Hooker), who passed away in July, for several songs.

Now five decades into his career, Trout’s made a lot of friends through the years, allowing him to call upon such other seasoned veterans as Sonny Landreth, Edgar Winter, Charlie Musselwhite, Warren Haynes, Joe Louis Walker, and Randy Bachman, in addition to familiar names like Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Mike Zito, Robben Ford, Eric Gales, and harmonica player John Nemeth. The end result is a fine album that’s all-killer and no-filler, with Trout and his guests backed by Trout’s band of Johnny Griparic on bass, Mike Leasure on drums, and Sammy Avila on keyboards.
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Gregg Allman bids fond farewell to friends, fans with posthumous release Southern Blood

Southern rocker Gregg Allman‘s final album Southern Blood (Rounder Records) may not be the bluesiest he’s done (which would have been a difficult undertaking following his 2011 solo studio offering Low Country Blues), but will certainly be remembered as his most personal and evocative, featuring 10 carefully chosen tracks that reflected the Rock Hall of Famer’s mindset during the waning months of his life, from the opening, autobiograhical “My Only True Friend” that Allman co-wrote with his band’s guitarist and musical director Scott Sharrard about life on the road — with such chilling lyrics as “I hope you’re haunted by the music of my soul when I’m gone” and “Still on and on I roam, it feels like home is just around the bend/ I’ve got so much left to give, but I’m running out of time, my friend” — to the soulful country folk sound of Bob Dylan’s “Going Going Gone” (“I’m closing the book on pages and text, and I don’t really care what happens next/ I’m goin’, yes I’m goin’, I’m gone”) — one of several songs to feature Greg Leisz on pedal steel, Buddy Miller on harmony vocals, and The McCrary Sisters on powerful backing vocals — to the tender closing cover of Jackson Browne’s “Song for Adam” on which Browne himself joins Allman on vocals, with Leisz contributing on both pedal steel and mandolin.

Album producer Don Was writes in the liner notes: “The choice of songs for this record said everything that needed to be said…it’s the musical last testament of one of the greatest artists of our time. Everything you need to know about Gregg and how he felt at the end of his life is contained in the lyrics to these 10 songs and in the raw and expressive approach he brings to these last performances.”

As touching as much of the album can be, including that bittersweet terrific opening track, it’s probably “Song for Adam” that strikes the most poignant chord, about which Was observed: “Gregg always loved this song because it reminded him of his brother Duane. When he gets to the line ‘still it seems that he stopped singing in the middle of his song’, you can hear him choke up and falter. We decided to stop for the day, and Gregg never got the chance to actually sing those next two lines.”

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