One of the last album reviews we posted in early 2020 before Covid forced us into a long unexpected hiatus was the Phantom Blues Band‘s Still Cookin’. Being that we’re still slowly getting back into the swing of things ourselves after the pandemic, we were delighted to hear that the Phantom Blues Band was dishing out another new album this summer, especially after the unfortunate passing of the band’s organist and vocalist Mike Finnigan in August of 2021.
Keeping with their recent culinary theme, this latest album is titled Blues for Breakfast (Little Village), and is dedicated to the late Finnigan, with proceeds from the album also going to the scholarship program at the Mike Finnigan School of Music in Salina, Kansas.
Finnigan fans will be pleased to hear the master singing and playing once more on the swinging original “Ok, I Admit It,” as prime an example as any of Finnigan’s greatness at his trade, with Finnigan’s talented son Kelly also contributing an organ solo on the soulful “I Know You Don’t Love Me No More” (Ike Turner) alongside Curtis Salgado on vocals.
While no one will ever truly replace Finnigan in either our ears or mind, veteran keyboard player Jim Pugh (Robert Cray, Etta James) fills in better than anyone else ever could on the remainder of the album, sounding very much like he’s been playing with the band for years.
We weren’t able to take in quite as much of the recent two-night Highmark Blues & Heritage Festival at Pittsburgh’s Highmark Stadium as we had hoped, but the bit we did catch was certainly impressive, thanks to the likes of Fantastic Negrito, Shemekia Copeland, Ruthie Foster, and Walter “Wolfman” Washington and their bands.
Speaking of UK blues-rockers (as we were in this semi-recent post regarding Catfish‘s acoustic EP Bound for Better Days), this next release is from a band that’s been around for quite a few decades now, having opened for the likes of The Who, Eric Clapton, The Kinks, Sting, and others during what you might call the band’s heyday. Fortunately, Nine Below Zero is still going strong following the pandemic, but their latest album is actually a previously unreleased one from quite early in the band’s history, culled from the tapes of their first studio recording back in March of 1979. It was so early in their history, in fact, that the band hadn’t even yet adopted its longtime name (taken of course from a Sonny Boy Williamson song title), going at the time instead by the name of Stan’s Blues Band, even though there wasn’t anyone named Stan in the band nor did they seem to know a Stan to have been inspired by at the time.
Founding member and guitarist Dennis Greaves discovered the 1/4 inch tape of the recording during an inventory of his loft earlier this year, and then passed it to UK producer/engineer and drummer Wayne Proctor to master. And, boy, are we glad he did! The result is a crisp, delightful listen to a band on the verge of hitting it big, with the quartet both changing its name to Nine Below Zero and signing with A&M Records within the six months after this session.
One of the many bands that helped get us through the long pandemic with their livestream performances was UK blues-rockers Catfish. While an earlier album and DVD, Exile – Live in Lockdown, allowed fans to hear and see the band in their full blues-rocking glory, capturing the four-piece band in the same room together for the first time in five months during an onstage concert appearance, many of Catfish’s other performances during the lockdown required a much more stripped-down approach.
That served as the inspiration for this latest release, the five-track EP Bound for Better Days, which finds the band offering acoustic takes on four of its own songs along with a beautifully intense cover of Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” that proves that singer and guitarist Matt Long is just as talented on the tender songs as on the rockers for which the band is so well-known.
The EP starts with a 9+ minute, western-tinged “Broken Man” that stretches from such quiet touches as the soft staccato piano notes from Matt’s father Paul Long after the first chorus and Kev Hickman’s percussion slaps a bit later to Matt’s powerful, building vocals and guitar heard throughout the song.
We’ve just posted a few (okay, a whole bunch of!) pics from the Maple House Festival that took place in Pittsburgh a few weeks back to our BluesPowR gallery, featuring dedicated albums for Eric Gales and the Ghost Hounds, as well as a combined album capturing the (literally) smoking set from the Black Pumas and a late morning funkfest from Big Sam’s Funky Nation.
Guitarist and singer Murali Coryell, the son of late jazz fusion guitarist Larry Coryell, delivers a subdued but powerful message on his latest single, “Ukraine War Cries”. Along with Coryell’s usual emotive playing and soulful vocals, the slow blues grooves of this track are accompanied by some pointed lyrics about the situation in the Ukraine, including “What’s life worth? One dollar a gallon for gasoline?/ while the bombs rain down and the women and children scream” and “I looked up the difference between Russia and Ukraine/ They have their own history, language and their name/ If someone told me, I didn’t have a right to exist, I would do everything in my power to willfully resist” along with its chorus of “Something wrong is going on, a surreal dream/ But it’s happening, and I can’t turn my back or avert my eyes/ I can see it, I can hear it. Ukraine War Cries.”
If that doesn’t get you thinking about what more you can do to help with relief and aid efforts to the Ukraine, we’re not sure what will. And it sure does sound good in the process.
We don’t know what Pittsburgh-based blues-rockers the Ghost Hounds might have had planned for the rest of their set at this past weekend’s inaugural Maple House Festival at Hartwood Acres Park, but we’re pretty sure it would’ve been good, judging from what we were able to hear from them before the set was cut short by approaching severe weather. Unfortunately, by the time the winds settled, the skies somewhat cleared, and the gates re-opened for the return of the crowd, it was already time to move on to the night’s next act in the R&B/soul-funk sounds of the Black Pumas, who, we think most would agree, put on a pretty spectacular show themselves, including closing with their smooth soulful hit “Colors”.
But we have to say, we certainly liked what we heard from the Ghost Hounds before the break in the action, with a nice mix of songs from past albums (including the rocking “Bad News” and their cover of Cliff Richards’ “Devil Woman” off Roses are Black and the catchy, soulful, part-responsibility-owning cooker “Half My Fault” off A Little Calamity), their latest album, the recently released blues-focused You Broke Me (the driving “Baby We’re Through”), and even an upcoming album, which, from this preview, sounds like the band will be very much carrying forward the momentum they’ve started to build on other recent projects.
This was our first time catching the Ghost Hounds live, and we’re pleased to report that the band delivered everything we looked forward to seeing, with lead vocalist Tre’ Nation playing the soulful, dynamic frontman but other band members and backing singers also getting plenty of chances to shine throughout the set, including some great solos from guitarists Johnny Baab and Thomas Tull as well as a few shout-outs to hometown keyboardist Joe Munroe, all making for a highly energetic and entertaining set that guaranteed we — and lots of others in attendance from the look and sound of it — will be coming back for more.
Stay tuned for more Ghost Hounds coverage in the coming weeks as we bring you an interview with band guitarist Johnny Baab
A few weeks back, we told you about the second single from Pittsburgh-based blues-rock sextet the Ghost Hounds‘ upcoming blues album You Broke Me (Maple House Records): an electrifying cover of the Howling Wolf classic “Smokestack Lightning“. So, while we knew the first two tracks off the album were definitely killer, with the chugging opening “Baby We’re Through” having been released earlier this year, we had to wonder if it was possible for the rest of the album to be anywhere as solid, and are pleased to report that is indeed the case: from the early-Stones-like slow blues of the title track that follows those two singles to the swinging take on Ry Cooder’s “Willie Brown Blues” (from the Crossroads movie soundtrack) and all the way through to the album’s closing number, the second of two (both excellent) versions of the original “Through Being Blue Over You”, this one a swaying acoustic take that nicely highlights singer Tre’ Nation’s soulful vocals, and, the former, a slightly more robust electric version.
Filling out the album are a strong, John Lee Hooker-ish acoustic rendition of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Lonesome Graveyard” that adds some prominent piano, a creeping “Still You” and an early rock n’ roll sounding “On Your Trail”. The tracks routinely allow each of the instruments to stretch out, providing ample opportunity to hear some bouncy keys, stinging guitar, and driving drums throughout the album, with fellow western PA musician Charlie Barath also contributing harmonica on a handful of songs.
We’ve been meaning to write something about the Pittsburgh-based blues-rockers Ghost Hounds for some time now, and for once procrastination may actually have worked in our favor: not only do we get to tell you about the band, with whom some of you may already be familiar as an opening act for Bob Seger or the Rolling Stones in recent years, but we get to do so in the context of their new blues-focused album, You Broke Me (Maple House Records), announced today.
Although you’ll have to wait until May 13th to hear the whole album, here’s the band’s gritty, well, smoking take on the Howlin’ Wolf classic “Smokestack Lightning,” which starts with some searing guitar before giving way to Tre’ Nation’s soulful vocals, some muddy harmonica and bouncy keys.
With “Smokestack Lightning” following the blazing first single from the album – “Baby We’re Through” – earlier this year, it’s sounding like You Broke Me could very much be a winner, something we’ll be sure to report back on in the coming weeks if the rest of the album sounds anywhere as good as these first two tracks!