Welcome to the redesigned site for The BluesPowR Blog, featuring a new look but the same great blues news and reviews we’ve been delivering for the past five years! We’re still working to migrate much of the content from the old site, with the hope of having our full archive of posts available in the coming weeks.

We hope you enjoy our new site, the header photo for which we snapped ourselves a few years back at the Heritage Music BluesFest in Wheeling, West Virginia, during a performance from the Brooks Family Dynasty featuring the father-and-sons trio of Lonnie, Wayne Baker, and Ronnie Baker Brooks; that’s Wayne’s guitar on the left, being played by both Wayne as well as father Lonnie in the center, while brother Ronnie plugs away on both his own and his father’s guitars. We’re sure we could say something artistic here about the scene representing the blues being handed down from one generation to the next or something of the sort, but the truth is, we just thought it made for a pretty cool shot.

Thanks as always for joining us as we keep on, livin’ on BluesPowR!

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Gary Clark Jr. back and blu on new Live double CD/vinyl

Gary Clark Jr. Live (250x250)Anyone who thought that Gary Clark Jr.‘s smash debut on Warner Brothers Records, Blak and Blu, might not have been, well, bluesy enough probably isn’t likely to have the same view of the rising guitarist’s new live album, out today, compiled from Clark’s performances in clubs, theaters, arenas, and festivals throughout the world during the past year and a half. Not only does the double-disc set kick off with a biting, slow stumbling cover of the Robert Petway classic “Catfish Blues” (which you may recall Clark also having performed at the Red, White & Blues celebration that took place at the White House in early 2012) followed by Clark’s own driving “Next Door Neighbor Blues”, but it also features a number of other great blues tunes delivered in the key of Gary, including some superb slow blues takes on Lowell Fulson’s “Three O’Clock Blues”, Albert Collins’ “If Trouble was Money”, and the closing “When the Sun Goes Down” (Leroy Carr), as well as a ten-and-a-half minute Jimi Hendrix/Albert Collins medley of “Third Stone from the Sun/If You Love Me Like You Say” that stretches from funky to downright smoking.

Crossroads 2013

Crossroads 2013

The set of course includes many other songs off Blak and Blu, from the story of a brush with the local law in the rocking “Travis County” and a grungy “Bright Lights” that had to come close to blowing the roof off of whatever venue it was recorded to the quiet, falsetto vocals of “Please Come Home” (for which Clark earlier this year earned a Grammy Award for best traditional R&B performance) and a flowing “Things are Changin'” that incorporates a bit more of an R&B groove than usual in addition to serving as a particularly fine example of the smoothness and range of Clark’s voice, also evidenced on songs like the aforementioned “When the Sun Goes Down” – featuring Clark on both guitar and harmonica – and a slightly faster-and-grittier-than-studio version of “Ain’t Messin’ ‘Round”.

Crossroads 2013

Crossroads 2013

Indeed, no one can ever accuse Clark of playing his songs just the same live as does on his recordings. Here, that also includes such touches as the addition of a few Mississippi Delta-style licks before the band tears into the fuzz-filled hypnotic rhythm of “Numb”, some nice pedal effects on the shuffling “Don’t Owe You a Thang”, and an especially intense guitar solo during the steely, creeping “When My Train Pulls In”. As you might expect, the solos – including quite a few from second guitarist King Zapata – are aplenty, often fiery, but always unique, and it’s terrific to hear the crowd’s reactions to Gary’s songs and how he and his band respond to that energy, with many of the tracks clocking in over six minutes and plenty of “whoo!”s from Clark throughout the set.

As truly remarkable as Blak and Blu was, it isn’t until you add in both the bluesier and live sides of Clark that you get a complete picture of the talents of this up-and-coming artist, making Gary Clark Jr. – Live hands down the best we’ve heard from him yet.

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Blues-rock artist Joe Bonamassa unveils another masterpiece in Different Shades of Blue

As a father, I’m frequently reminding my children to take the time to cherish the moment they’re in rather than always looking ahead to what might be coming next. I’ve had to take that same advice myself recently when it comes to blues-rocker Joe Bonamassa, who in late August played to his largest audience ever during a Red Rocks tribute to blues greats Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf – dubbed by Bonamassa as the Muddy Wolf concert – taped for spring 2015 release on CD and DVD.

Bonamassa_Different-shades-of-blue (300x300)As a fan of both the traditional Chicago blues of Waters and Wolf as well as Bonamassa’s modern blues-rock (and having seen several videos from the event, including this recap from Bonamassa’s crew themselves), we think it’s fair to say that this historic recording is easily one of the most intriguing projects coming down the pike, the anticipation of which hasn’t exactly made it easy to focus on the impending release of Bonamassa’s newest album, Different Shades of Blue, out next week on his J&R Adventures label. Fortunately, Bonamassa has provided plenty to help hold us over – through next spring and far beyond – in Different Shades of Blue, an album that deserves to be savored in its own right.

The first Bonamassa album to feature only original material, Different Shades of Blue was again produced by Kevin Shirley, the same man who has occupied the producer’s chair on the vast majority of Bonamassa’s last 15 solo and joint (Beth Hart, Black Country Communion) projects, with Shirley identifying this most recent album as his favorite Bonamassa record to date. He also notes that this is one best enjoyed as a complete work of art: “It’s an album that deserves to be listened to in its entirety. Luckily Joe’s fan base really seems to appreciate a body of work and not just songs.”

Pittsburgh, 2011

Pittsburgh, 2011

We can certainly see where he’s coming from: from the haunting a cappella vocals and what Bonamassa himself in a recent interview with a BBC radio show called the “heavy, unapologetic blues-rock” riffs of the opening “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)”/”Oh Beautiful!” to the slow, Ray Charles-inspired blues of “So, What Would I Do” that closes the album, this is one solid and immensely entertaining project from Bonamassa, backed by a talented band of Reese Wynans (Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble) on organ and piano, Carmine Rojas and Michael Rhodes on bass, Anton Fig on drums and percussion, Lenny Castro on percussion, Ron Dziubla on saxophone, Lee Thornburg on trumpet and trombone, the Bovaland Orchestra on strings, and Doug Henthorn and Melanie Williams on background vocals (a good number of whom will also be featured on that upcoming Muddy Wolf release, having accompanied Joe at his recent show at Red Rocks).

You’ll find those horns and background vocals in full swing on songs such as the funky, driving “Love Ain’t a Love Song” and blues-soaked “Trouble Town”, as well as a showstopping, doo-wop-laced “I Gave Up Everything for You, ‘cept the Blues” with its tough-as-nails vocals and urgent Elmore James style riffs, with horns also nicely complementing the hushed vocals and shuffling grooves of “Living on the Moon” and the slinking “Heartache Follows Wherever I Go”, the latter featuring some superb wah pedal effects from Bonamassa.

The title track is a soft rock number employing a bit of a country chorus, while the bleeding blues power-ballad “Never Give All Your Heart” may be the closest you’ll ever hear Bonamassa sounding to blues-rock contemporary Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s band, with the dark grooves of a percussion-filled “Get Back My Tomorrow” helping to round out the album’s 11 tracks.

In the end, we have to agree with Shirley: this could very likely be Bonamassa’s best record so far. At least, that is, until next time.

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Three cheers (on 20 years) for the Music Makers!

Few organizations have assisted as many blues men and women in need over the past two decades as the Music Maker Relief Foundation (MMRF), a North Carolina-based non-profit record label focused on supporting struggling traditional southern musicians by providing everything from instruments to performing and recording opportunities to day-to-day essentials like medications and heating oil, often serving individuals whose names most of us unfortunately have never heard.

Take, for example, bluesman Adolphus Bell, who MMRF helped build a career and find housing after discovering him living out of his van for 15 years. Or Willa Mae Buckner, for whom the group made posible her lifelong dream of performing at Carnegie Hall. Or Major Handy, who the MMRF helped re-establish a musical career in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina.

And then there are folks like George Herbert Moore and Dr. Burt, who MMRF assisted in beginning to perform or record in their 70s. For some, it has meant the opportunity to play with such legends of the blues as longtime MMRF supporter Taj Mahal, while for others like Cootie Stark and Essie Mae Brooks, it has allowed them to tour Europe for the first time. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention how the organization has also helped to reinvigorate the careers of such artists as Etta Baker, Jerry “Boogie” McCain, and former James Brown and Percy Sledge band guitarist Robert Lee Coleman.

we_are_the_music_makers (300x279)Having originally dedicated themselves to locating undiscovered blues artists living in and around Winston-Salem, North Carolina, MMRF founder Tim Duffy and his wife Denise have scoured the south seeking out some of the blues genre’s least-known and most needy musicians, having – albeit somewhat quietly – now assisted more than 300 individuals from across the Carolinas and Georgia, as well as from Alabama, Virginia, Texas, and elsewhere. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of their non-profit endeavor, the Duffys have released not only a wonderful book of photographs they have collected through the years featuring many the artists with whom they have worked, but also a quite nice companion two-CD set documenting those musicians, both titled We are the Music Makers!: Preserving the Soul of America’s Music.

Through pictures and short vignettes, the book tells the story of each of the artists, from those noted above to other MMRF recipients including Othar Turner, Ironing Board Sam, Beverly “Guitar” Watkins, Little Freddie King, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Precious Bryant, Captain Luke, Cool John Ferguson, and of course, Guitar Gabriel, the musician who inspired the creation of the MMRF in the early 90s. As splendid as it is to be able to read about and see those artists in print, it’s the 44 tracks on the CDs that really help bring these artists to life, from Captain Luke’s solo excursion on Jew’s harp on the instrumental “Freight Train Boogie” that opens the set to the low-country blues strains of John Lee Ziegler‘s “Going Away” and such other diverse instrumentals as the marching, Hill Country-style guitar and drums of James Davis‘ “Fred, You Ought to Be Dead” and Benton Flippen‘s lively, fiddle and banjo-driven “Benton’s Dream” to variations on such classics as “Amazing Grace” (Cora Fluker), “Route 66″ (Eddie Tigner), “Shortnin’ Bread” (Neal Pattman), and “Home on the Range” (W.C. Minger IV), as well as a monologue describing the blues from none other than Guitar Gabriel.

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New CD, star-studded Chicago benefit to honor memory of late bluesman Sean Costello

It’s been just over six years now since the blues world lost singer, guitarist, and rising star Sean Costello. In that time, we’ve seen several new CDs of Costello material – including a good number of previously unreleased tracks on 2009’s Sean’s Blues: A Memorial Retrospective and 2011’s At His Best – Live, both from Landslide Records – with another collection of as yet unheard tracks currently seeking funding; here’s how you can help.

Costello_tribute_poster (226x350)As much as we’d like to be able to remember Costello solely for his musical talents, it’s difficult to separate his work as an artist from the tragedy of Sean’s death on the eve of his 29th birthday, soon after which it was revealed that Costello had been battling bipolar disorder. Sean’s friends and family quickly rallied to establish The Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research, an organization dedicated to keeping Costello’s personal and musical spirit alive and translating the human side of his suffering into action that will help in research education, outreach and treatment efforts for bipolar disorder. For many, Sean’s death has helped to put a face on the condition of bipolar disorder, and Costello’s friends and family in turn have helped to ensure that the bluesman isn’t soon forgotten, not only through the release of those new albums and the establishment of the fund but also through events in remembrance of Costello such as the one taking place at the famed Rosa’s Lounge in Chicago this coming weekend.

Featuring Tom Holland & the Shuffle Kings with special guests that include Billy Boy Arnold, Jody Williams, Long Tall Deb & Colin John, Kate Moss, Richard Rosenblatt, and others, this Saturday night show will both celebrate Sean’s life and help support the fund that bears his name. If you’re anywhere near Chicago or looking for an excuse to make a last-minute visit to the Windy City, this is sure to be a great night of performances for a very worthy cause.

For those unable to make it to Chicago, you can catch a free stream of the event online at Gigity.TV.

In the meantime, here’s a nice video on Sean’s life and career that also includes more information on the Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research:

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35 years on, Sugar Ray and the Bluetones still playing the blues, Living Tear to Tear; plus an exclusive interview with Bluetones bassist Mudcat Ward

We’ve all heard the adage “The more things change, the more they stay the same”, and perhaps no blues band today more resembles that comment than the storied Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, who have certainly seen their share of change in the now three and a half decades since their formation. Among those changes of course have been numerous shufflings in personnel, with the Bluetones’ founding guitarist – a fellow by the name of Ronnie Earl – leaving the band relatively early in its history to replace Duke Robillard in another New England-based outfit, Roomful of Blues, and original drummer Neil Gouvin making a similarly hasty exit, going on to record with the likes of Luther Allison, Otis Grand, Debbie Davies, and former bandmate Earl. And even bandleader, vocalist and harmonica player Sugar Ray Norcia spent some time with another band during the 1990s when he served as lead singer for Roomful of Blues (with former bandmate Earl having already set off on his own by Norcia’s arrival).

Sugar_Ray_Bluetones_Living_Tear_to_Tear (240x240)So it’s pretty amazing really that four of the five musicians who play on the Bluetones’ new album Living Tear to Tear (Severn Records) also happen to be four of the band’s original members – finding Norcia on vocals and harmonica, Michael “Mudcat” Ward on bass, Anthony Geraci on keyboards, and Gouvin back on drums, all of whom celebrate their 60th birthdays in 2014 – with Earl’s spot on guitar having been filled by a series of other faces through the years until the band brought on its current guitarist in 2001, a brilliant young player in Monster Mike Welch.

As you might expect from a band that’s played together for so long (even the “new” member Welch has been with them now for more than a decade), the Bluetones are about as tight a band musically as you could ask for, both live (as we had the chance to observe when we caught them this winter during the Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival, where we shot these pics) as well as in the studio, as Living Tear to Tear once again proves. Whether you attribute it to their many years of experience playing together, the professionalism of its individual members, or both, the band is also one of the best we’ve seen or heard at being able to grab a listener’s attention and maintain it, tearing from one great song to the next with ease.

Sugar Ray Norcia & Monster Mike Welch

Sugar Ray Norcia & Monster Mike Welch

Take, for example, this latest CD: it all kicks off with the raucous roadhouse swing of “Rat Trap”, followed by the swaying, soulful Mike Welch-penned “Here We Go”, and then on to the gritty midtempo cooker “Things Could Be Worse”, which really helps put things into perspective with its chorus of “you should quit your complainin’, and be thankful first/ because for every bad, I know there’s a worse”.

From there, they move to the shuffling, steady groove of the album’s title track, while perhaps no tune better says the blues than the tough sounds, vocals and lyrics of the slow, simmering “Misery”, which, clocking in at just over eight minutes, ensures that listeners get their money’s worth in every way.

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Muddy Waters Tribute caps off stellar night of blues focused on fighting cancer

It’s not every day that you get to see two former guitarists with Muddy Waters‘ band perform together on the same stage, backed by an all-star band of some of the top names in the blues music world. And while a event/catering center in Columbus, Ohio, may not seem the most likely of settings for such a historic gathering – indeed, this was a show you could just as easily imagine taking place in one of New York’s or perhaps Chicago’s marquee theaters – you really have to commend the organizers of the annual Project Blues Review for assembling such a superb line-up of blues acts, not just in terms of the fantastic, one-night-only Muddy Waters Tribute but with an entire evening of solid performances.

Now in its fourth year, the Project Blues Review is also a fundraiser for the Columbus Cancer Clinic, a division of the LifeCare Alliance that provides education, screenings, examinations and various other services for cancer patients throughout Central Ohio. In addition to the proceeds from ticket and merchandise sales, the evening also included an auction of custom-made and signed memorabilia such as guitars, harmonicas, posters, and t-shirts that helped to bring in several thousands of dollars more to benefit the cause of diagnosing and fighting cancer.

Sean Carney, Bob Corritore

The music began mid-afternoon with a rich acoustic “back porch” set from Columbus native and 2007 International Blues Challenge (IBC) winner Sean Carney and harmonica player Bob Corritore, playing on – literally – an indoor back porch constructed by a local builder for just this occasion and hitting on such blues classics as “That’s All Right”, “Ramblin’ on My Mind”, “C.C. Rider”, “Kindhearted Woman”, “Take a Little Walk with Me”, “Key to the Highway”, and Robert Lockwood’s “Western Horizon” as well as Tom Waits’ “Chocolate Jesus”.

Deuce 'n a Quarter

Local band Deuce ‘n a Quarter kept things rolling with a tough, often soulful, swinging set that included originals like “Bust That Boogie” and covers such as “Wasn’t My Time to Go” (James Cotton/Keb’ Mo’) before wrapping up with a most fitting encore of “Healing Power of the Blues”.

View more photos from the Project Blues Review 2014 in our BluesPowR Gallery

Sean Carney, Jonn Del Toro Richardson

Carney returned to the stage for another shared set, this time with Texas guitarist and fellow IBC winner (2005) Jonn Del Toro Richardson, with the pair taking turns on vocals and solos through a number of songs off their 2013 album Drivin’ Me Wild, including a Carney-sung “Come on With It” and Richardson on vocals for “Peace of Mind” and “Shake That Thang”. But the real highlight of the set came at its close with the duo’s electrifying cover of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Looking Back” during which Richardson and Carney both played on Carney’s guitar simultaneously and then swapped guitars, with Richardson at one point also leaning down to play Carney’s guitar as Carney lay on the stage on his back.

Jonn Del Toro Richardson, Karen Lovely

Jonn Del Toro Richardson, Karen Lovely

Richardson retook the stage a short time later – joined now by fellow Project Blues Review musical host, Chicago guitarist Tom Holland (James Cotton Band, Tom Holland & the Shuffle Kings) – as they together welcomed Portland, Oregon vocalist Karen Lovely. Kicking off with a cover of California bluesman BB Chung King’s driving “Company Graveyard”, Lovely led the band through a forceful set featuring songs like Howlin’ Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talking” and a funky take on O.V. Wright’s “Don’t Let My Baby Ride”, also introducing a new original train song inspired by Johnny Winter in “Heard the Whistle Blow” before inviting Bob Corritore to accompany on the slow, stinging “Glad You’re Gone” and then also adding Muddy Waters band guitarist Bob Margolin to the mix for “Death Letter Blues”.

Bob Stroger, Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith

Bob Stroger, Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith

Margolin stayed on to serve as host for the headlining Muddy Waters Tribute, first introducing pianist David Maxwell and drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, who combined for a lively instrumental to open the set. They were soon joined by Corritore and famed Chicago blues bassist Bob Stroger, with Margolin belting out “Screamin’ and Cryin'” – Muddy’s favorite song of the ones he himself wrote, according to Margolin – followed by a confident “I’m Ready”.

Cancer survivor Stroger was the next to take a turn on vocals, starting with the shuffling “Talk to Me Mama” and then “Come on Home” from his new CD with Smith, Keepin’ It Together (read our review of the CD here).

Next it was on to Smith for a song, which he dedicated to his father, Muddy Waters band drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, in the creeping “What Cha Say” – also from Keepin’ It Together, calling Holland to the stage midway through the number.

John Primer, Tom Holland, Bob Corritore

John Primer, Tom Holland, Bob Corritore

As great as the set already was, things only got better with the addition of guitarist and Muddy Waters band alumnus John Primer to the group, with Primer taking vocals on songs such as the classic “Mean Old World”, his original “Going Back to Mississippi” and Waters numbers like the crawling “Take the Bitter with the Sweet” and mid-tempo “Close to You”, closing the set with a magnificent “Got My Mojo Working” on which Stroger also joined on vocals, incorporating a little “Keep Your Hands Off Her”. The band returned for a one-song encore, an inspirational tune about sticking together so that no one gets ahead of you, with Primer (a thyroid cancer survivor) even inviting his young daughter to sing a few lines.

Bob Margolin, John Primer

Bob Margolin, John Primer

The only thing that might have made this tribute (more photos of which you can find in our BluesPowR Gallery) any better would have been the inclusion of Waters’ son Mud Morganfield on vocals to add a bit more of a Muddy flavor to the program, but we’re certainly not complaining – this was one hot show!

Having already brought in the likes of James Cotton, Keb’ Mo’, Anson Funderburgh, Dave Specter, Rich DelGrosso, Diunna Greenleaf, Ray Fuller and the Blues Rockers, Omar Coleman, and Christian Dozzler for previous programs, with Richardson and Holland serving as musical hosts each year, the annual Project Blues Review may well have been one of the best kept secrets on the live blues scene. But with shows like this one, we imagine it’s just a matter of time before Project Blues helps put Columbus on more blues fans’ summer travel maps!

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A first look at Project Blues Review 2014

Bob Corritore, Bob Margolin, John Primer

Bob Corritore, Bob Margolin, John Primer

The late, great Muddy Waters once sang about a dream he had on his mind and when he woke up the next morning, not a thing could he find. Saturday night’s Project Blues Review was so good, we thought we may have been dreaming – then we found the photos on our camera to prove that we weren’t!

From the opening “back porch blues” set from Columbus native Sean Carney and harmonica ace Bob Corritore to an electrifying set from Carney and Houston guitarist Jonn Del Toro Richardson to the evening’s – and, dare we say, year’s? – main event in the Muddy Waters Tribute featuring former Waters band members John Primer and Bob Margolin on guitar along with guests that included Bob Stroger on bass, Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith on drums, David Maxwell on keyboards, Tom Holland on guitar, and Corritore on harmonica, things were all good in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday night!

Muddy Waters Tribute

Muddy Waters Tribute

We’ve got a whole lot more to show and tell you about the program in the coming days, but in the meantime, here’s a quick peek at some of what we took in.

Karen Lovely & Bob Margolin

Karen Lovely & Bob Margolin

Bob Stroger & Bob Margolin

Bob Stroger & Bob Margolin

Sean Carney & John Del Toro Richardson

Sean Carney & John Del Toro Richardson

Sean Carney & Bob Corritore

Sean Carney & Bob Corritore

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One night only Muddy Waters Tribute to assemble Waters band members John Primer and Bob Margolin, other top names in the blues

pb-showbanner-14Yesterday, we told you about the latest releases from second generation bluesmen Mud Morganfield and Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith – in Mud’s case, a tribute to his father McKinley Morganfield, a.k.a. Muddy Waters, on which he paired with esteemed harp player Kim Wilson, and for Beedy Eyes, a collaboration with longtime Chicago blues bassist Bob Stroger called Keepin’ It Together. This weekend, we’ll be attending a program that incorporates a little from both of these projects when Stroger and Beedy Eyes join with former Muddy Waters Band members John Primer and Bob Margolin along with other musicians such as harmonica player Bob Corritore, pianist David Maxwell (who is often compared to Waters pianist Otis Spann), and Chicago guitarist Tom Holland (band leader for the James Cotton Band as well as for his own Tom Holland & the Shuffle Kings) for a first of its kind Muddy Waters Tribute in Columbus, Ohio.

Sponsored by Columbus’ Project Blues, an organization that focuses on raising awareness and funding for people with cancer through the blues, the program will also feature performances from Columbus’ own 2007 International Blues Challenge (IBC) winner Sean Carney, Texas guitarist and 2005 IBC winner (both individually as best guitarist of the competition and as a member of Diunna Greenleaf‘s Blue Mercy band) Jonn Del Toro Richardson (who, along with Holland, will serve as co-host for the program), and acclaimed vocalist Karen Lovely before the Muddy Waters Tribute takes the stage at approximately 9 p.m. The doors open at 3 p.m. for a full day of the blues, with Carney opening the show at 4 p.m., followed by fellow local act Deuce and a Quarter.

Whether you live in the Columbus area or are looking for a good excuse for a road trip this weekend, this Project Blues Review is one you’re not going to want to miss! (But if you do, rest assured that we’ll have a full recap of the event for you next week.)

To order tickets or for more information on the event, visit the Project Blues website.

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Sons of the blues Mud Morganfield, Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith team with players from fathers’ pasts on latest releases

We’ve talked here plenty of times before about the numerous second generation bluesmen and women doing their parts to help keep their fathers’ music alive. So we were of course delighted to learn of separate new projects involving two true sons of the blues: Mud Morganfield, son of McKinley Morganfield, a.k.a. Muddy Waters, and Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, son of longtime Waters drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. And to make things even better, both Mud and Kenny have teamed with accomplished blues players with ties to their fathers for their latest releases, Kenny recording with legendary blues bassist and Big Eyes (not to mention Eddie King and Otis Rush) backer Bob Stroger, and Mud pairing with harmonica ace and Fabulous Thunderbirds frontman Kim Wilson, who Muddy once reportedly praised as “the greatest harmonica player to come along since Little Walter” while Wilson cites the elder Morganfield as his biggest mentor.

Mud_Wilson_For_PopsWith strong, confident vocals that could easily be mistaken for his father’s, it wouldn’t have taken a soothsayer to see that it was just a matter of time before Mud Morganfield put out an album paying tribute to his Pops. And while we’re personally still holding out hope that Mud and his brother-in-law Big Bill Morganfield will someday collaborate on an album as they’ve done live on several occasions, we have to say that Severn Records chief David Earl’s decision to add Wilson as a featured musician on the tribute project is easily one of the, well, best-sounding ideas we’ve heard in a long time.

Featuring Morganfield and Wilson’s take on some of Waters’ most famous tunes – including “Still a Fool”, “I Love the Life I Live, I Live the Life I Love”, “Blow Wind Blow”, “Nineteen Years Old”, “Trouble No More”, “I Want to Be Loved”, “Just to Be with You”, “She Moves Me”, and “I Just Want Make Love to You”, For Pops: A Tribute to Muddy Waters (Severn Records) also finds the pair performing some of the blues legend’s lesser-known material, including a swinging “I Don’t Know Why” and the chugging “My Dog Can’t Bark”, with a superb band of Billy Flynn and Rusty Zinn on guitar, Barrelhouse Chuck on piano, Steve Gomes on bass, and Robb Stupka on drums helping to deliver some seriously deep, Muddy Waters Band-style grooves.

Three songs in, these guys have already established that they’re just as good with the slow, creeping numbers like “Just to Be with You” as they are on such up-tempo shufflers as the opening “Gone to Main Street” and “I Don’t Know Why”. By the time they arrive at songs like “She’s Got It” and “Blow Wind Blow”, the band is clearly in top form, operating in a zone few others can rival.

Recorded live in the studio in just four days – with the musicians all in one room and Mud in another, the release coincides with the 100th anniversary of Muddy’s birth – and honestly, we can’t think of a better, more meaningful tribute to him than this.

Key tracks: “Trouble No More”; “Just to Be with You”; “She’s Got It”; “Blow Wind Blow”; “Still a Fool”; “I Love the Life I Live, I Live the Life I Love”

While drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith‘s latest project may not at first appear to be as direct a tribute to his father as Mud’s, there’s no denying that Kenny and bassist Bob Stroger have very much captured the spirit and sound of Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on their collaboration Keepin’ It Together. In addition to including one of Willie’s songs (the funky, Booker T-ish “Old Woman Sweetheart”) in its original form (with Big Eyes himself on vocals) as well as another inspired by a dream of him, the project also appears on a label named in Willie’s honor (Big Eye Records) and features some of the same personnel who backed Willie on his own albums in guitarists Frank Krakowski and Billy Flynn and pianist Barrelhouse Chuck (with the latter two also having lent their talents on the Morganfield and Wilson album discussed above).

Stroger_Smith_Keepin_It_Together (220x198)Having both contributed to the Grammy Award-winning Joined at the Hip (Willie’s 2010 collaboration with fellow Muddy Waters band member and pianist Pinetop Perkins), Keepin’ It Together marks something of a triumphant return for the duo of Stroger and Smith, who, despite the decades of difference in age (Stroger is 74 while Smith is just shy of 40), are able to deliver a diverse, solid and fun collection of songs, from slow, creeping tunes like “What Cha Say” and a “Key to the Highway”-ish “My First Love” – both laced with some fine harmonica – to upbeat numbers like the swinging “He Took Her” (with Stroger apparently the “he” in this instance) and a shuffling “Clever Mama”.

The pair takes turn on lead vocals throughout the project, with Stroger – who’s lived in Chicago since 1955 – getting things started to the tough Chicago sounds of “Born in Missouri” (on which Stroger sings “I was born in Missouri, but Chicago is my home”) before Kenny picks up the pace a bit with a gritty, fast-chugging “Losin My Mind”. Stroger again takes vocals for a groovy “Come on Home” featuring some nice saxophone from Sam Burkhardt, staying on mic for the peppy, piano-driven “That’s My Name” (“you can call me what you want to, but my real name is the blues”), followed by the swaying “Sweet So Sweet” that comes just a bit later, passing the mic to Smith for the funky, shuffling “Love and Affection” and the soulful closer “In My House”, a song inspired by a dream Kenny had of his father that the album’s liner notes touchingly describe as “Willie’s creation, given to Kenny as a gift”.

One other treasure you’ll find here is the track “Old Woman Sweetheart”, which includes part of the song from Willie’s 2008 Born in Arkansas album – with Willie on vocals – in addition to adding in a verse with both Bob and Kenny.

Muddy Waters Band harmonica player Jerry Portnoy trades off on harp duty with Joe Filisko, with Kevin Iles also contributing on guitar and Brian Leach assisting on bass; together, along with the aforementioned Flynn, Krakowski and Barrelhouse Chuck, they help provide a rich, full sound on top of Stroger’s and Smith’s impressive talents as the core rhythm section.

It’s been nearly three years now since the passing of the elder Smith, one of the most missed voices and players in the genre today; fortunately for us, Kenny – who had already been carrying on his father’s tradition of the blues as a longtime background player on drums – is helping to fill that void by stepping confidently out into the spotlight, sharing it here with one of the true legends of the blues guitar world in Stroger.

Key tracks: “Losin My Mind”, “Come On Home”, “That’s My Name”, “Love and Affection”, “Old Woman Sweetheart”

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Heritage Music BluesFest 2014 in photos

Ana Popovic

Jarekus Singleton

Jarekus Singleton

We’ve posted more than 250 photos from last weekend’s Heritage Music BluesFest to our BluesPowR Gallery, including new folders spotlighting Ana Popovic, Lurrie Bell & Billy Branch, Jarekus Singleton, Matt “Guitar” Murphy and the Nouveaux Honkies, and Damon Fowler, as well as two more albums featuring most of the other main stage acts, from festival openers Billy the Kid & the Regulators to Sunday night headliners the Spin Doctors, also capturing performances from Tab Benoit, Robert Randolph, Indigenous, Gracie Curran & the High Falutin ‘ Band, Tim Williams, Hadden Sayers, Seth Walker, and David Jacobs-Strain and Bob Beach.

Click here to view the Heritage Music BluesFest 2014 photos

And, in case you missed it, here’s what we wrote earlier on this year’s festival.

Lurrie Bell

Billy Branch


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