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!

Posted on by Mike | Comments Off

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”

Posted in Albums | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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


Posted in Shows | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Heritage Music BluesFest 2014 recap

If you follow us on Twitter or Facebook, you know that we spent much of the past weekend at the annual Heritage Music BluesFest in Wheeling, WV, now in its 14th year, the line-up for which included Tab Benoit, Robert Randolph, Ana Popovic, the Spin Doctors, Billy Branch & Lurrie Bell, Damon Fowler, Indigenous, and more. Here are a few reflections and photos on the weekend, with more pics to be posted soon in our BluesPowR Gallery!

Most impressive new act: Third-place International Blues Challenge (IBC) finishers Billy the Kid & the Regulators got the festival off to a fine start Friday evening with a nice mix of tunes from both their current and upcoming (being recorded in September and produced by friend Damon Fowler) CDs as well as covers that included the Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle”, the Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m a Man” that brought Billy out into the audience, and an encore number of the Ides of March’s driving “Vehicle”.

Tim Williams

Tim Williams

And we loved what we heard from IBC solo winner Tim Williams, who helped ease the crowd into Saturday’s performances with tunes from the Rev. Gary Davis (“Poor Boy”), Clyde McPhatter (“A Lover’s Question”), Blind Willie Johnson (“Nobody’s Fault but Mine” and “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground”), Robert Johnson (“Malted Milk”), Blind Boy Fuller and Sonny Terry (“Custard Pie”), and the Mississippi Sheiks (“Sitting on Top of the World”), in addition to a few songs of his own, capping it off with “Wee Midnight Hour Blues” for an encore.

Jarekus Singleton

Jarekus Singleton

But no one was more dazzling than blues newcomer Jarekus Singleton, whose hard-hitting debut album with Alligator Records Refuse to Lose is currently burning up the blues music charts much the way the Mississippi native himself did the BluesFest stage Saturday, from even his warm-up song of “Big Legged Woman”. Singleton started his set on the shuffling “Come Wit Me”, taking it “to the juke joint” with a funky “Gonna Let Go”, before sliding into the slow bluesy soul of “Crime Scene”, which is exactly what Singleton and his band – including Sam Brady on B3 – were creating, killing it like they were. From there, they moved to the driving “Keep Pushin” and groovy “Singing the Blues” (from his 2011 independent release Heartfelt), closing out the set on the rocking title track from his new album with its confident lyrics of “y’all ain’t caught on to it yet, or maybe this time you won’t forget, I win at whatever I choose, ‘cuz I refuse to lose”, and then returning with an equally powerful encore in “Suspicion”.

Favorite set overall: You can always count on Saturday night headliner Tab Benoit and Sunday night performer Ana Popovic to deliver solid shows, and it was hard not to like the energy of Friday night closer Robert Randolph & the Family Band, who seemed in particularly fine form on what happened to be Robert’s birthday, including inviting Indigenous’ Mato Nanji back to the stage on “Voodoo Child”.

Damon Fowler

Damon Fowler

This was the first time we had a chance to catch Florida guitarist and singer Damon Fowler live, and we have to say he didn’t disappoint, kicking off his set with the double-entendred “Fruit Stand Lady” before diving into his latest album Sounds of Home with the breezy “Spark”, the slow, Blues Blast Music Award Song of the Year-nominated “Old Fools, Bar Stools, and Me”, the groove-filled title track, and a biting “Grit My Teeth”. Fowler also paid tribute to the late Johnny Winter with “Broke Down Engine” (Blind Willie McTell) and played a trio of songs from his earlier Sugar Shack album: “I Hope It’s Gonna Rain” and Merle Haggard’s “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down”, then switching to lap steel for the set-closing title track, returning on lap steel again for the encore number of “Shake Your Moneymaker”.

Lurrie Bell & Billy Branch

Lurrie Bell & Billy Branch

But the biggest treat of the weekend for us was getting to see two Chicago blues legends – guitarist Lurrie Bell and harmonica player Billy Branch – together on the same stage like the old friends they are, having begun working together in the 1970s when they – along with bassist Freddie Dixon – formed the Sons of the Blues (which since has become Branch’s backing band, with Bell having left the group in the early 1980s). Taking turns on vocals and solos, the pair rolled through a wonderful selection of blues classics, from slow, creeping numbers like “As the Years Go Passing By”, “Last Night (I Lost the Best Friend I Ever Had)”, and “She’s Nineteen Years Old” to such movers and shakers as “Don’t Start Me to Talkin’”, “My Babe”, and “Got My Mojo Working”, also hitting on tunes like “Nobody Wants to Lose” and “Wine Headed Woman” along the way, topped with an encore of Junior Wells’ “Messin’ with the Kid”.

Among the weekend’s other highlights:

Matt "Guitar" Murphy

Matt “Guitar” Murphy

Another legendary blues guitarist, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, paired with the Florida-based Nouveaux Honkies for an entertaining evening program that included classics like “Rock Me Baby”, “Sweet Home Chicago”, “Baby What You Want Me to Do”, and Murphy’s famous instrumental “Matt’s Guitar Boogie”, as well as some interesting observations from Murphy on fellow blues players such as Willie Dixon (“I liked Willie but he thought he was too smart”), one of several famous blues musicians – along with Memphis Slim, Muddy Waters, Otis Spann and others – with whom Murphy traveled to Europe in the early 1960s for the American Folk Blues Festival

Blues-rockers Indigenous made their first appearance at the Heritage Music BluesFest, including a nice take on Jimi Hendrix’s “Hear My Train A Comin’”

Gracie Curran & the High Falutin’ Band delivered an energetic set Saturday that featured a nice mix of originals and covers ranging from fellow Bostonian Susan Tedeschi’s “I Fell in Love” to “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and “Got My Mojo Working”, with Curran eventually making her way into the crowd to dance with members of the audience

Houston, Texas, by way of Columbus, Ohio, guitarist and singer Hadden Sayers filled in for harmonica man John Nemeth (who wasn’t able to make it this weekend as he and his wife awaited the arrival of a baby), including Sayers’ hit recorded with Ruthie Foster, “Back to the Blues”, and an always-soulful version of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me”

Ana Popovic

Ana Popovic

Ana Popovic opened her Sunday night set with the hot title track off her latest album Can You Stand the Heat, then continued to burn things up with tunes that included the Rolling Stones’ “Rain Fell Down”, Albert King’s “Can’t You See What You’re Doing to Me”, Jimi Hendrix’s “Can You See Me”, and an instrumental tribute to her guitar heroes Stevie Ray Vaughan and Ronnie Earl in “Navajo Moon”, as well as an encore of “How’d You Learn to Shake It Like That”

90s alternative rockers the Spin Doctors – who started off as a blues band and have since returned to their roots on their new album If the River Was Whiskey – closed out the weekend with an assortment of songs that featured such well-known hits as “What Time Is It”, “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong”, and “Pocket Full of Kryptonite” as well as tunes from the new album that included “Scotch and Water Blues”, the title track, “Traction Blues”, and “Some Other Man Instead”

Tab Benoit

Tab Benoit

Robert Randolph

Robert Randolph

Posted in Shows | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Ladies sing the blues: hot new releases from Janiva Magness, Kelley Hunt

Among the new releases that have showed up in our mailbox recently have been the latest recordings from two pretty terrific female vocalists, the much-acclaimed Janiva Magness and a somewhat lesser-known – but arguably no less talented – Kelley Hunt. Both CDs provide a nice blend of roots, soul, rock, R&B, and Americana, with Hunt also turning in some delightful gospel-soaked performances.

Janiva-COVER (220x196)Moving on after a successful three-album stint (What Love Will Do, The Devil is An Angel Too, and Stronger for It) with Alligator Records, Janiva Magness‘ latest offering Original comes on her own newly established Fathead Records label, which allowed Magness and producer Dave Darling the freedom “to go wherever we wanted musically to tell its stories”. That stretches from such slow, tender tracks as “Mountain”, “The Hard Way”, and the closing “Standing” to the breezy sounds of songs like “Twice as Strong” with its empowering chorus of “twice as strong as you need to be, and you’re twice as many now that it’s you and me” and the upbeat R&B grooves of “Who Am I”, featuring a driving backbeat, soulful background vocals, and its passionate refrain of “I’m just the one who loved ‘ya”, to the stomping “I Need a Man” – all built around Magness’ smooth, rich vocals, as Darling and Magness’ longtime guitarist Zach Zunis both contribute on guitar, including some John Mayer-ish licks on songs like the swaying “When You Were My King” and the aforementioned “Mountain” and “The Hard Way”.

Pittsburgh Blues Festival, July 2011

Pittsburgh Blues Festival, July 2011

There is perhaps no finer display of Magness’ abilities than the series of tracks that comes four songs into the album, beginning on the energetic “I Need a Man” before moving to the soulful tenderness of “Everything is Alright” and then on to the funky strut of “With Love”, a duet between Magness and guest Dan Navarro, who also provides background vocals on both the album’s closing and opening tracks, “Standing” and the airy “Let Me Breathe”, respectively. The “Badass” that comes a bit later in the program is much what you’d expect from its title: an edgy, driving affair that features some gritty guitar as well as vocals that fluctuate between gruff and sweet as Magness delivers such lyrics as “you think you’re badass/ you think I’m waiting around, but I’m not” and “because I’m having too much fun, livin’ my own life ’til the sun comes up”.

Magness’ 11th album, Original marks the first time the singer has co-written the majority of the songs on an album, working with Darling and others to pen all but four of the tracks here. Whether or not you agree that Original is Magness’ best album yet, as a number of critics have proclaimed it, there’s no arguing that it’s another damn impressive one. The best advice we can give you here is to quote something Magness herself says at the start of “I Need a Man”: “Got to get it.”

Like Magness, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Kelley Hunt has no problem demonstrating the range of her talents on her latest release The Beautiful Bones (88 Records). Hunt’s sixth album, The Beautiful Bones features a dozen original tracks showcasing the Kansas City native’s abilities vocally and musically (on both keyboards and guitar), as well as in the areas of songwriting and arranging.

Kelley_Hunt_Beautiful_Bones (220x198)If you like the sounds of Magness, Bonnie Raitt, Susan Tedeschi, Rory Bock, and Deanna Bogart, then chances are good that you’ll also like what you hear from Hunt, starting with the swinging opener “This Time” with its lively piano (Hunt), organ (Mark Johnson), and horns. From there, the band – which also includes former Bob Dylan guitarist John Jackson – moves to the upbeat gospel number “Golden Hour” featuring some more New Orleans-style piano from Hunt as well as background vocals from the famous McCrary Sisters. That’s followed by the soft “Let It Rain”, one of several nice slower songs to appear throughout the program, along with, for example, the swaying title track – for which Hunt switches to acoustic guitar – and a Tedeschi Trucks Band-like “I Want You There” that includes some rich backing vocals (also supplied by Hunt) and a particularly fine solo on saxophone from Mitch Reilly.

Also included here are a rocking country number in “When Love is at the Wheel”, the boogie-woogeying “I’ve Got a Good Feeling”, and a gritty “Gates of Eden” that again finds Hunt on guitar in addition to offering some distorted vocals, while it’s hard to argue with either the delicate grooves or message of the lyrics of the soothing “Simplify”. The album closes, appropriately enough, on the sweet, piano-laced Memphis soul of “The Sweet Goodbye”.

Hunt’s vocals vary from smoky to tender depending on the mood of the song, often accompanied by some spiritual or otherwise uplifting lyrics. As its title suggests, this masterpiece from Hunt is a beautiful one to have.

Posted in Albums | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

Summertime Blues edition

“Monday again, I can’t face another day…”: Janiva Magness captures the start of the workweek perfectly with this opening line from the song “I Need a Man” off her new album Original, but hopefully we can help you through the day (and week) a bit with this Summertime Blues edition of our BluesPowR Radio Hour.

Featuring new music from the likes of Royal Southern Brotherhood, Walter Trout, John Mayall, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Deanna Bogart, Keb’ Mo’, and Ronnie Earl, to name just a few, this is another episode well worth checking out.

And here, for those of you wondering, are a few more of the words from Magness’ “I Need a Man”, another of the tracks you’ll hear on this edition of our program.

“Monday again, I can’t face another day -
people all up in my face,
Lord, help me through this day.
I swear I’m so tired, of rattin’ with the race -
look real close, there ain’t no doubt,
you’ll see it on my face.

And I don’t care if it’s right or if it’s wrong,
give me one good reason I’m alone.
Please don’t say I hafta’ wait,
can’t you see it’s gettin’ late?
Don’t tell me that you’re doin’ all you can.
I need a man (I need a man)
I need a man (I need a man)
I need a man (I need a man)
I just need a man (just a good man)”
- Janiva Magness, Dave Darling & Gary Mark Davenport

World Blues – Royal Southern Brotherhood
I Got Loaded – Tweed Funk
I Need a Man – Janiva Magness
Mr. Tate’s Advice – Bob Corritore
Now I Know – Forrest McDonald Band
Big Town Playboy – John Mayall
You’re Gonna Make Me Cry – Joe Louis Walker
I Lost My Way – Matt Andersen
Fine By Me Good Bayou – Deanna Bogart
See No Harm – Tinsley Ellis
Everything’s Gonna Be Alright – Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band
Something For Nothing – The Mannish Boys
That’s Alright – Keb’ Mo’
Golden Hour – Kelley Hunt
The Blues Came Calling – Walter Trout
No Baggage – Rhythm Aces
Runnin’ In Peace – Ilana Katz Katz
Let’s Say It’s for Good – Andy T-Nick Nixon Band
Puddin’ Pie – Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters

Posted in BluesPowR Radio Hour, Lyrics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

International Blues Music Day is coming!

IBMD_2014 (220x220)Last summer, we told you about the inaugural International Blues Music Day (IBMD) established by New York musician and blues society leader Johnny Childs and friends to help promote and celebrate the genre around the world. With the first Saturday in August – designated as IBMD annually – just around the corner, we hope you’ve made some plans to incorporate some blues into your weekend, whether it’s attending one of the official events listed on the IBMD website or a blues show/festival in your area – or throwing a blues bash of your own with a few friends!

Here at The BluesPowR Blog, we like to think that we’re celebrating the blues each and every day, but it sure is nice to have one day each year on which folks worldwide can join together in supporting the cause. So if you like the blues, get out and show it this Saturday; like Christmas, International Blues Music Day comes but just once a year!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Comments Off

Celebration of Pittsburgh blues artists continues on Blues from the Burgh 4

blues_from_burgh_4 (240x238)We don’t get the chance to write about local blues acts as much as we’d like these days, so we’re always glad when the Blues Society of Western Pennsylvania (BSWPA) gives us a good reason to do so with another compilation of songs from various Pittsburgh area blues artists. Now on the fourth installment of its Blues from the Burgh series, BSWPA has again managed to put together a nice assortment of tracks – arguably the finest to-date – from some of the region’s best blues players, including mainstays such as Jill West and Blues Attack, Mahajibee, and Jimmy Adler, as well as a number of up-and-coming and emerging acts.

The set kicks off with the slow blues grooves of Mahajibee‘s “Find My Way Home” and Billy the Kid and the Regulators‘ gritty “She Got a Hold on Me” before Vince Agwada kicks in the door with an Eric Gales-style “Blindsided” that serves as one of the collection’s highlights. The same can also be said of the breezy “Exile Blues” (Dan Bubien) that follows, with its catchy harmonica, keyboards, and guitar combining with lyrics such as “when you leave, it won’t be long, ’til my heart dies alone in this room”.

A bit later comes the rich Chicago style blues of The Rhythm Aces‘ soulful “No Baggage”, featuring and written by the Pittsburgh blues institution that is Bubs McKeg, while guitarist Gregg Krupa handles the lead vocals on Jill West & Blues Attack‘s country-flavored “Whiskey”, with West on background vocals.

The Blues Orphans offer a shuffling, horn-accompanied ode to a city landmark in “Rivers Casino” (a “big shiny building, that’s where all the money goes”), as Melinda provides one of the album’s most driving tracks (along with the aforementioned “Blindsided”) with the gritty “Trouble” from her new album Witness.

Jimmy Adler‘s “Wild Imagination” is a swinging blues number in his typical style, followed by the delta country blues of Rich Harper‘s “Watch Out for That Girl” and the Bob Margolin-like vocals of a creeping “Redemption” from the Blues Devils, with songs from the Bottom Shelf Blues Band (the simmering “Born to Blues”), Stevie Pete (the rockabilly “Don’t Do That”, a one-man show with Pete providing guitar, lap steel, accordion, bass and drums in addition to vocals), Ruby Red & the Dirty Devils (the slinking, Spanish guitared “Gypsy Blues”), and Leigh-Anne Yost (the slow country shuffle of “This Whiskey”) completing the setlist.

Regardless of whether or not you call the Steel City home, Blues from the Burgh 4 is a solid set worth tracking down, almost like a blues festival made up of all local acts. We don’t yet see the CD for sale on the BSWPA’s website, but we’re betting there will be plenty of copies available at the society’s tent for this weekend’s Pittsburgh Blues Festival, where several of the artists – Mahajibee, Jill West, and Billy the Kid, among them – are also scheduled to perform, in between such national acts as Dr. John, JJ Grey and Mofro, Bernard Allison, Trampled Under Foot, Albert Cummings, and the Spin Doctors.

Posted in Albums | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

True to the Blues until the very end, guitarist Johnny Winter dead at age 70


Lancaster Roots & Blues Fest, Feb. 2014

A spokesperson for Johnny Winter has confirmed the death of the Texas guitar legend yesterday in Zurich, Switzerland. Earlier this year, Columbia/Legacy Records released the box set True to the Blues: the Johnny Winter Story in conjunction with the guitarist’s 70th birthday, with Winter’s next album Step Back due for release early this fall. A follow-up to Winter’s 2011 release Roots, Step Back will feature collaborations with such friends and admirers as Eric Clapton, Ben Harper, Dr. John and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, among others.


Lancaster Roots & Blues Fest, Feb. 2014

Despite being frail in health for much his life, Winter was a giant in the rock and blues-rock arenas, having enjoyed such hits as “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo”, “Still Alive and Well”, “Highway 61 Revisited”, “Don’t Take Advantage of Me”, and “It’s My Own Fault”, in addition to producing several Grammy Award-winning albums for Muddy Waters.

Rest in peace, Johnny.

IMG_0734 (2) (267x300)

2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival


Posted in Deaths | Tagged | Comments Off

Old time rock & roller Forrest McDonald back with some Turnaround Blues

It’s hard to believe that the guy who played lead guitar on Bob Seger’s late-’70s hit “Old Time Rock & Roll” wouldn’t have become a household name at some point, but unless the name of Forrest McDonald is one that’s ever crossed the lips of someone in your home, that appears to be exactly what happened with this Texas-born singer, songwriter, and guitarist. And if his band’s latest CD Turnaround Blues (World Talent Records) is any indication, it seems we’ve been missing some other pretty good action from McDonald over the years as a result.

Take, for example, the catchy title track that kicks off this new album – much in the vein of Seger or Eric Clapton’s version of “Goin’ Down Slow” off One More Car, One More Rider – with some rocking guitar from McDonald to match its tough vocals, accompanied by some fiery harp from Jon Liebman, terrific organ from Tony Carey, and nice female backing vocals. Written and first performed by McDonald in the early ’70s, this one still sounds great four decades later backed by McDonald’s talented band, which also includes Liebman and Andrew Black sharing on vocals, Lee Gammon on bass, and John McKnight on drums.

forrest_mcdonald_turnaround_bluesFrom there, the band moves to a funky take on the blues classic “Checking Up on My Baby” (Junior Wells, Sonny Boy Williamson), again capturing some impressive harmonica work from Liebman, before plowing through a refreshing mix of slow, soulful ballads like “Only Love”, “I’m a Fool”, and “River of Tears”, swinging numbers like “Rock & Roll By Bye Bye” (Jimmy Mullins) and “Funny Thing Baby”, the country-flavored “Stay or Walk Away” with guest Darell Cobb on vocals and guitar, and the rocking grooves of “Cross My Heart” (Sonny Boy Williamson) and the two-part instrumental that closes the album in “Two for the Money”. Close your eyes and you’ll swear that you’re listening to a young Clapton sing and play the blues on “Now I Know”, with the band also evoking comparisons throughout the record to such other greats as Doyle Bramhall, T-Bone Walker, Delbert McClinton, the Black Crowes, Gregg Allman, Johnny Winter, Mike Mattison, and Jimmie Vaughan.

McDonald’s 12th on the label, the album also includes a modern, slow blues version of the classic “V8 Ford” (James Cotton, Willie Love) and a Freddy King-inspired “Woman Across the Ocean”, another written by McDonald some forty years back. The vocal work of Black and Liebman help to give the songs all that much richer of a texture, while McDonald and the rest of the band provide plenty of nice tight grooves.

Now already 50 years into his music career, which has included stints on guitar with not only the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section but Bobby Womack, Bonnie Bramlett, and others, it’s nice to see that McDonald is still continuing to attract new fans – including this reviewer, as we offer our kudos not just to McDonald but also to his very fine band.

Posted in Albums | Tagged | Comments Off

Wrapped Up and Ready for your listening pleasure, The Mannish Boys’ latest CD is another winner

Mannish_Boys_Wrapped_UpThe blues supergroup known as The Mannish Boys has done some pretty terrific stuff over the years, so to say that their newest CD Wrapped Up and Ready (Delta Groove Music) may just be their best yet is no small accomplishment for this California-based contingent.

Having first stepped in to assist with vocals on the band’s last release Double Dynamite, Sugaray Rayford assumes the lion’s share of the vocals on this one, with veteran vocalist Finis Tasby confined to a long-term care facility following a 2012 stroke (here‘s how you can help). While Tasby’s voice is of course missed and would only help to make this already superb recording that much stronger, the ailing singer can rest (and, hopefully, recuperate) easy knowing that his role in the band is being handled so capably.

Keeping with a rich Mannish Boys tradition, Rayford has plenty of help, trading off on vocals with other members of the band (guitarist Franck Goldwasser on “Struggle in My Hometown” and “Don’t Say You’re Sorry”, and harmonica player and producer Randy Chortkoff on “Can’t Make a Livin’”) as well as guests such as Candye Kane (Ike Turner’s “I Idolize You”) and Steve Freund (“The Blues Has Made Me Whole”), in addition to being supported by guest musicians that include guitarists Kid Ramos and Monster Mike Welch, harmonica aces Kim Wilson and Bob Corritore, pianist Fred Kaplan, and horn man Ron Dziubla, among others.

Combine that with the already considerable talent of the core band – which also includes Kirk Fletcher on guitar, Willie Campbell on bass, and Jimi Bott on drums and percussion – and the end result is an immensely entertaining and diverse collection of songs, from the Chicago swagger of the opening “I Ain’t Sayin’” penned by and featuring Mike Welch as well as some strong vocals from Rayford in delivering such lyrics as “I ain’t sayin’, I’m just sayin’, you can use a man like me”, all the way through to the album’s tight 8-minute closing instrumental, “Blues for Michael Bloomfield”, with a whole lot more good stuff in between.

Like, for example, the swinging, T-Bone Walker-styled “Everything’s Alright” (Roy Brown), with Ramos on guitar and Dziubla on sax in addition to being one of two tracks to feature Campbell on upright bass (and you can really dance to it). From there, the band moves to a groovy “Struggle in My Hometown” that showcases Goldwasser on both vocals and lead guitar along with some rather neat, jazzy transitions before they arrive at the upbeat title track featuring Wilson on harmonica and background vocals as Kaplan tickles the ivories.

Truth is, this album is just one great song after another, moving, for example, from the slow blues of “It Was Fun” with Freund on lead guitar and some more great piano from Kaplan, to the early rock & roll territory of a Chortkoff-penned “I Can Always Dream”, and then on to Kane on vocals for the creeping “I Idolize You”, where she’s accompanied by her own guitarist Laura Chavez, Chortkoff on harp, and some nice female background vocals.

Wilson returns on harmonica, Welch on guitar, and Dziubla on saxophone for the soulful “Something for Nothing”, while Chortkoff contributes both harp and some gritty vocals on the country shuffler “Can’t Make a Livin’”, joined by Welch on tremolo guitar and newcomer Trenda Fox on vocals.

A Welch-penned “I Have Love” features Corritore on harmonica and Welch on lead guitar, with Ramos making his second appearance on guitar on the swaying “She Belongs to Me” (Magic Sam) before Goldwasser’s spitting, Duke Robillard-like vocals and slide guitar help close out the collection with “Don’t Say You’re Sorry”, followed only by the aforementioned “Blues for Michael Bloomfield”.

Even having said all that, we still can’t say enough good things about this album – from Rayford’s intense vocals on songs like “You Better Watch Yourself” to the tightness of the band throughout – but we hope by now you’re starting to get the picture: this is one you really need to hear to appreciate.

It may not come all tied in a bow, but this latest project from The Mannish Boys is wrapped up and ready for critics and fans alike. Easily one of the strongest releases of the year, don’t be surprised to see it nominated for a few awards down the road.

Posted in Albums | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off