Harmonica player Mark Hummel delivers knockout instrumental album in Harpbreaker

We don’t write about a whole lot of all-instrumental albums here, but harmonica player Mark Hummel‘s latest release Harpbreaker (Electro-Fi Records) is one that’s really too good to let pass without mention. A mix of newly recorded, live, previously issued and a good number of unreleased tracks chosen by Hummel, the album includes a baker’s dozen of tunes ranging from such classics as “See See Rider”, “Cristo Redentor” and “The Creeper Returns” to originals like the swinging opener “Harpoventilatin'” from a 2005 show at Yoshi’s in Oakland, California; a spunky, washboard and percussion-accented “Billy’s Boogaloo” recorded just this year; and the jazzy, swaying “Ready, Steady, Stroll!” from 2009’s RetroActive sessions.

Because the tracks come from a number of different sessions that took place during the past decade and a half, Harpbreaker features a rotating cast of supporting musicians on guitar, keyboards, drums and horns in addition to, and sometimes in place of, Hummel’s regular band members R.W. Grigsby on bass and Wes Starr on drums. On guitar, those guests include such well-known players as Anson Funderburgh, Little Charlie Baty, Kid Andersen, Billy Flynn and Rusty Zinn, with keyboardists Bob Welsh and Mel Brown and drummer Marty Dodson among the other contributing musicians. That variety of players, along with some superb song selection, help make the tracks all different enough not only to keep things interesting but make Harpbreaker one of the best instrumental albums we’ve heard in some time, and, indeed, one of the best albums of 2018.

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Tune in: We’re “About to Start” the weekend with some bluesy soul from English band Cavey

We weren’t sure from where English alt/rock band Cavey got their name; we were secretly hoping it might have had something to do with the cartoon character Captain Caveman, who some might remember being called Cavey for short (and his son, Cavey Jr.) But turns out the band’s singer and guitarist is named Luke Cave, with “Cavey” just having been a longtime nickname.

And so, while we’re a little disappointed that we don’t have that cartoon reference to work with, Cavey’s new single “About to Start” is one that’s sure to draw some animated responses (including perhaps a few “unga bunga”s), building as the soulful ballad does from flowing to soaring with the help of some searing guitar, jazzy piano and horns, anguished vocals from Cave, and lyrics about the unfortunate toll life as a musician can have on a relationship, such as, for example, “All along the avenue, you can hear, that bass guitar boom/ from a dark and crowded room, where I stand and sing the blues/ If you think I’m breaking your heart, I’m just about to start.”

Give this one a listen today!

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The Rolling Stones still Confessin’ the Blues with band-selected 2-CD compilation of classics

When it comes to the Rolling Stones, you needn’t look far for evidence of the band’s love and support for the blues throughout the decades, from taking their name from a Muddy Waters song, to some of their earliest recordings of blues covers such as Waters’ “I Just Want to Make Love to You”, Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do”, Howlin’ Wolf’s “Little Red Rooster” and Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee”, to devoting their most recent, GRAMMY Award-winning studio album Blue & Lonesome entirely to interpretations of other blues classics such as “Commit a Crime”, “Hate to See You Go” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby”. In between, of course, came such memorable events as their insistence that Howlin’ Wolf also be able to perform when the band was invited to appear on the popular American TV show Shindig!; visiting and recording at Chicago’s Chess Records, the label that brought us music from Waters, Wolf, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry, Etta James, and a host of other greats; and joining Waters, Buddy Guy, and Junior Wells onstage at Guy’s Checkerboard Lounge during a night off from the band’s 1981 tour of the U.S.

With Confessin’ the Blues (BMG), the Stones provide blues fans with another terrific gift, this one in the form of a 2-CD, 2-LP or 5 10-inch vinyl compilation featuring original versions of some of the genre’s greatest artists and tracks as selected by the Stones. While the Stones have probably performed or recorded most of these songs themselves at some point throughout their five and a half decades together, this compilation presents its 42 tracks as originally recorded by the likes of Waters, Wolf, Berry, Guy, Little Walter, Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Jimmy Reed, Elmore James and more.

Of these masters, Waters, Wolf, and Little Walter are best represented with four tracks each, including such gems as Waters’ “Rollin Stone” and “Mannish Boy”, Wolf’s “Little Red Rooster” and “Just Like I Treat You” and Walter’s “Just Your Fool” and “Blue and Lonesome”. Bo Diddley accounts for another three songs (“You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover” and “Mona” as well as the lesser-known “Craw Dad”), with Chuck Berry, Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Eddie Taylor and Jimmy Reed each also represented through a pair of tracks, including such numbers as “Dust My Broom”, “Love in Vain Blues”, “Ride ‘Em on Down”, “Bad Boy”, “Blues Before Sunrise”, “Little Queenie” and “Bright Lights, Big City”.
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Tune into the Weekend: Taj Mahal nails Spike Driver Blues on upcoming Music Maker Relief Foundation anniversary compilation

We’ve talked here before about the Music Maker Relief Foundation (MMRF) and its good works in helping Southern musicians in need. 2019 is shaping up to be a particularly exciting year for the organization, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary with several new projects, including a graphic novel; a book and museum exhibit of tintype photography by MMRF president Tim Duffy; and a companion compilation CD all scheduled for release during the first half of the year.

Here’s a little preview from the CD, a cover by longtime MMRF supporter Taj Mahal of a Mississippi John Hurt tune called “Spike Driver Blues” that can also be heard on Mahal’s 2016 Labor of Love album:


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Jawbone gives lots to jaw about with self-titled debut

Sticking with the UK flavor of our last review (Ian Parker’s album paying tribute to blues great Willie Dixon), today we’re discussing the eponymous debut album from a new four-man band called Jawbone (who take their name from a song by The Band). Formed by guitarist Marcus Bonfanti and keyboardist Paddy Milner, both of whom have had some nice success on their own, Jawbone also includes bassist Rex Horan and drummer/percussionist Evan Jenkins.

Bonfanti and Milner share primary vocals, with Milner’s smooth, often jazzy delivery nicely balancing Bonfanti’s gruff voice to create the aural equivalent of the chocolate and peanut butter combination of a Reese’s peanut butter cup.

You get a good taste of that vocal exchange on the strong, opening “Leave No Traces”, on which the pair move from trading verses to harmonizing on the chorus to an intensifying call-and-response exchange that has Milner declaring “heaven doesn’t want me” as Bonfanti finishes the statement with “the devil doesn’t know who I am”, accompanied along the way by some punchy horns and a slick guitar solo from Bonfanti.
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My Heart Belongs to the Blues

It’s voting day today, and that probably makes it a pretty good one to “elect” to listen to some blues, at least for voters in some races (as if anyone here needs an excuse!) Here’s the latest edition of our BluesPowR Radio Hour to help get you started, featuring music from one-time Pittsburgh, PA, voter, now Reigning Queen of Beale Street, Barbara Blue; John Mayall; Albert Castiglia; Doyle Bramhall II; Blind Lemon Pledge and more, proving once again that, no matter your political leanings, the blues is a party we can all rally around!

Playlist
Hoodoo On Me – Albert Castiglia (Up All Night)
The Sum of Something – John Mayall (Three For the Road)
My Heart Belongs to the Blues – Barbara Blue (Fish in Dirty H2O)
Dr Jesus – Barbara Blue (Fish in Dirty H2O)
All Mine – Dan McKinnon (The Cleaner)
Buley’s Farm – Blind Lemon Pledge (Evangeline)
One More Glass of Wine – Eight O’Five Jive (Swing Set)
Live Forever – Doyle Bramhall II w/ the Greyhounds (Shades)
Devil in Me – Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat (Live at the Kessler)
Just Lucky I Guess – Delta Moon (Cabbagetown)

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Ian Parker dishes Spoonful of Gold on album paying tribute to blues great Willie Dixon

We hadn’t heard much about British blues-rocker Ian Parker before we caught a track from his new album on BBC recently, but that — plus learning that said album was a tribute to Chicago blues musician/writer/producer and “Poet Laureate of the Blues” Willie Dixon — was enough to pique our interest in the project. Parker isn’t, of course, the only blues singer/guitarist to pay tribute to individual blues legends in recent years, with a few earlier examples including Joe Bonamassa’s tributes to first Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and then B.B., Freddie and Albert King through his Muddy Wolf and Three Kings of the Blues concerts, respectively; Big Head Todd and the Monsters joining forces with B.B. King, Hubert Sumlin, Charlie Musselwhite, Ruthie Foster and others as the Big Head Blues Club to honor Robert Johnson and then, more recently, with Billy Branch, Ronnie Baker Brooks and Mud Morganfield to also pay tribute to Willie Dixon; and Walter Trout helping to remember Luther Allison through his Luther’s Blues: A Tribute to Luther Allison recording.

Even though a few of the songs on Parker’s Spoonful of Gold are ones also covered on the earlier tributes from Bonamassa or the Big Head Blues Club (including, for example, “Evil”, “Spoonful”, “My Love Will Never Die”, and “The Seventh Son”), with Parker’s vocals at times even sounding pretty close to those of Big Head’s Todd Park Mohr while at other points evoking Davy Knowles (Back Door Slam), Parker delivers it all in an ambitious, engaging fashion. While the Big Head Blues Club relied in part on its guest performers to help provide some diversity in sound, you really have to give Parker credit for undertaking the effort alone with his band, who very much rise to the occasion and help create an impressive and memorable offering. Even if a few of these interpretations sound somewhat like stuff we’ve heard before, everything here is solid, with Parker & co. delivering perfectly commendable renditions of more familiar Dixon tracks like the opening gritty, rocking “Evil”; a “I Just Want to Make Love to You” that starts on some muted Led Zeppelin-ish licks and is then filled with subdued wah riffs; a creeping, eight-and-a-half minute “My Love Will Never Die” that includes pleading falsetto vocals from Parker; and the closing “Spoonful”.

But the biggest highlights here may in fact be some of the less familiar Dixon numbers Parker tackles, such as the breezy, island-sounding “Mighty Earthquake and Hurricane” with its Spanish-style guitar, handclaps, and harmony vocals, a groovy “I Can’t Understand” (co-written with Los Lobos’ Cesar Rosas and recorded for the band’s 1990 album The Neighborhood) that has about as modern a sound as you can get for a Dixon song along with its yearning vocals, and the swaying, simmering rocker “Weak Brain, Narrow Mind”.
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Hold On tight because Kirk Fletcher’s latest album will blow you away

In introducing the band on his recent recording paying tribute to the Three Kings of the Blues, Joe Bonamassa called fellow guitar-slinger Kirk Fletcher “one of the greatest modern blues guitar players in the world”, and one listen to that album and Bonamassa’s earlier Muddy Wolf tribute provides all the proof you might need that Fletcher has the goods to back that kind of statement up.

Stepping back to the center of the stage for his fourth solo studio album Hold On, Fletcher is even more superb, delivering not only the magnificent playing you would expect but some tough, seriously impressive vocals that put Fletcher in the same league as the likes of Larry McCray and the late Michael Burks.

Joined by Jonny Henderson (Matt Schofield, Ian Siegal) on keyboards and Matt Brown on drums, Fletcher works his way through a set of eight terrific tracks that range from the slow, straight-ahead blues of “Gotta Right” (“to sing the blues”) loaded with stinging licks to the heavy, dragging rocker “Time’s Ticking” to such funky numbers as the soulful, Billy Preston-like, make ya’ feel good “You Need Me” and New Orleans-style instrumental “Dupree” with its cool, second line grooves.
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Pianist Anthony Geraci branches out on Why Did You Have to Go

If you’re looking for something from pianist Anthony Geraci that’s drastically different from what he does with his main gig with Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, then Geraci’s latest album Why Did You Have to Go (Shining Stone Records) isn’t going to be it, at times sounding very much like the music of the band Geraci helped found and of which he’s remained a part now for 40 years. And that’s really no surprise, considering that Geraci has again, just as on his 2016 Fifty Shades of Blue album, enlisted his Bluetones bandmates for much of this project, even bringing in guitarist Ronnie Earl and drummer Neil Gouvin for a reunion of the band’s original members on two tracks.

But a few things do help separate this album from that of a Bluetones recording: all 13 of the tracks here were written by Geraci, and, although prominently featured, his former and current Bluetones bandmates actually make up less than half of the guests on this project, with other appearances including singers Sugaray Rayford, Willie J. Laws and Michelle “Evil Gal” Willson, horn players “Sax” Gordon Beadle and Doug Woolverton, and drummer Marty Richards, as well as singer Brian Templeton, guitarist Kid Ramos, bass player Willie J. Campbell and drummer Jimi Bott, the four of whom Geraci recently teamed with under the name of The Proven Ones (the debut recording from whom may be a better place to look if you do want to hear Geraci doing something a little different, which would probably only be because you want to hear more of his great work, not because you don’t like what you’ve heard from him with the Bluetones!).
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Doyle Bramhall II continues to evolve with Shades

We first heard Doyle Bramhall II when he and his band Smokestack played opening act on Eric Clapton‘s 2001 Reptile tour. A little research revealed that Bramhall also had a bit of a role on the Reptile album, including serving as a guest on three-quarters of the tracks and co-writing “Superman Inside.”

From there, it didn’t take long for us to realize that Bramhall also wrote two of the tracks (“I Wanna Be” and “Marry You”) covered by Clapton and B.B. King on the previous year’s Grammy Award-winning collaboration Riding with the King, in addition to playing on most of that album as well. That project would, in fact, be the start of a long and productive relationship that would find Bramhall joining the legendary guitarist in the studio and/or on tour for much of the next decade and a half, with Bramhall even helping to produce the Clapton and Old Sock albums.

Along the way, Bramhall has also played with or written or produced for artists including the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Sheryl Crow, Roger Waters, Elton John, Gregg Allman, Allen Toussaint, and T-Bone Burnett, while his pre-Clapton years included stints with Jimmie Vaughan’s The Fabulous Thunderbirds and as a co-founder of the Arc Angels with Charlie Sexton and Double Trouble members Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon.
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