Liz Mandeville tells it from the heart on Heart ‘O’ Chicago

Though not as widely known perhaps as such contemporaries as Shemekia Copeland, Marcia Ball, Deanna Bogart, and Janiva Magness, Wisconsin-born singer and guitarist Liz Mandeville is really starting to make a name for herself among today’s top ladies of the blues. Fresh off her delightfully entertaining excursion to the Mississippi blues mecca of Clarksdale, Mandeville returns to her adopted home for the past three and a half decades with her latest release Heart ‘O’ Chicago (Blue Kitty Music).

Liz_Mandeville_Heart_O_Chicago (220x220)Like Clarksdale, which featured appearances from late Muddy Waters band member Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, fellow Chicago guitarist Nick Moss, and former Howlin’ Wolf horn man Eddie Shaw, Heart ‘O’ Chicago also includes its share of familiar and respected guests, including a return appearance from Shaw, the masterful Billy Branch on harmonica, and a couple of soulful duets with Charlie Love on vocals. All of this only serves to further strengthen what is already an impressive offering from Mandeville and her talented band, featuring Joan Gand on keyboards, Darryl Wright on bass, Jeremiah Thomas on drums, and Minoru Maruyama on guitar, along with a nice little horn section.

Together, they work their way through 11 originals, from the swaying soulfulness of the sometimes Etta James-like “Cloud of Love” on which the band comes floating in – with Shaw on saxophone – to the slinky jazz of “These Blues” and funky, Shemekia Copeland-ish “So Called Best Friend” that’s just as gritty musically as its lyrics, including some rather expressive solos from both Branch and Minoura.

With an entertaining, almost live kind of sound, it’s easy to close your eyes and imagine yourself in the audience as Mandeville and her band belt out these same songs from the stage, making this one of those CDs you could easily find yourself seduced into listening all night long.

In addition to Mandeville’s great smoky deep voice and the swinging nature of much of the set, she’s no slouch in the songwriting department either, presenting lyrics that are easy enough for most blues listeners to relate, from modern twists on common relationship themes such as breaking up (the creeping “Quit Me on a Voice Mail”, again featuring Shaw on sax) and the anticipation of a lover’s return (a breezy “Tic Tok” that has Mandeville really digging in on vocals with lines like “I love them emails, I love that Skype, but I want my baby here with me tonight”, with some added flair from the horns and Gand on B-3 organ), to the somewhat more timeless paradox of “smart women making foolish man choices” (“Smart Women Foolish Choices”), and such subjects as original sin, women’s suffrage, and gender wage disparity in the funky, simmering “Why Would a Woman Sing the Blues”, featuring some stinging guitar from Mandeville.

“Party at the End of Time” is another swinging number featuring Branch on harmonica, followed by a lively “Silver Lining (Shirley’s Blues)” that offers a former smoker’s perspective on the “every cloud has a silver lining” idiom, with the album closing on the catchy grooves of “(Life is Like a) Wave” featuring the rich, James Cotton-like harmonica stylings of Dizzy Bolinski (making, believe it or not, his debut recording appearance) to match Mandeville’s smoky tones both on vocals and guitar.

Whether coming at us from Clarksdale, Chicago, or someplace in between, it’s only a matter of time before such fine CDs as these help put Mandeville on the national blues map. Do yourself a favor and catch her when you can, starting with – if you haven’t already – picking up a copy of Heart ‘O’ Chicago.

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Episode 10 – Fall into the Blues

Start your week off right with the latest edition of our BluesPowR Radio Hour, featuring recent releases from Joe Bonamassa, Sugar Ray & the Bluetones, The Knickerbocker All-Stars, Rory Block, The Nighthawks, Dave Specter and more.

Episode 10 Playlist
I Gave Up Everything for You, ‘cept the Blues – Joe Bonamassa
Tin Pan Alley – Sleepy John Estes
Bluez Party – Dexter Allen
Special Rider Blues – Rory Block
Nothin’ But the Blues – The Nighthawks
Hungry But Happy – Sugar Ray & The Bluetones
Pack It Up – Dudley Taft
Bad Weather Blues – Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers
Same Old Blues – Dave Specter
Fred You Ought To Be Dead! – James Davis
Chapel Hill Boogie – John Dee Holeman
Up in Smoke – The Hurt Project
Shot of Bourbon – Brandon Jones
Ain’t That Lovin’ You – The Knickerbocker All-Stars (with Curtis Salgado)

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Sugar Ray Norcia, Elvin Bishop and John Nemeth lead latest Blues Music Awards nominations

Last week, we told you about this year’s nominees for the annual Grammy Awards, where the type of music on which this blog focuses is often confined to a handful of categories at best, with now just one dedicated blues category (Best Blues Album), and, if we’re lucky, perhaps one or two blues nods each year in the Americana and/or American Roots categories, along with an occasional nomination in a liner notes, engineering, or more mainstream music category such as Gary Clark Jr.’s Rock Song and Traditional R&B Performance nominations last year.

Which is why we’re always delighted when the Blues Foundation announces the nominees for its own music awards a few days later each year, with nominees for the 2015 event (the 36th go-around for the organization) having been put out this morning. Celebrating the blues and the people who make the music through honors in two dozen categories, the Blues Music Awards offers a breadth and depth to the genre with which few other awards events can even begin to compare.

Leading this year’s nominations in the annual program with six a piece are Elvin Bishop, John Nemeth, and Sugar Ray Norcia, with the three squaring off for awards in the Album, Band, and Song (Bishop’s “Can’t Even Do Wrong Right”, Nemeth’s “Bad Luck is My Name”, and Norcia’s “Things Could Be Worse“) categories, while Bishop and Nemeth also go head-to-head for the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year honor, where they face four-time nominee Bobby Rush (Soul Album for Decisions with Blinddog Smokin’, Soul Male Artist, and Song for “Another Murder in New Orleans”), three-time nominee Rick Estrin (Band and Harmonica), and dual-nominee Sugaray Rayford (Traditional Male Artist).

In addition to its Best Album nomination, Bishop’s Can’t Even Do Wrong Right is also nominated for Contemporary Album, with Bishop also joining Gary Clark Jr., three-time nominee Jarekus Singleton (who accompanies Bishop among both Album and Contemporary Blues Album nominees for his Refuse to Lose) and two Joes – two-time nominees Joe Bonamassa (also Guitar) and Joe Louis Walker (another Contemporary Album nominee for Hornet’s Nest) – among the nominations for Contemporary Male Artist.

Norcia’s Living Tear to Tear (with his band the Bluetones) is also nominated for Traditional Album and Norcia himself for Traditional Male Artist and Harmonica, with the band’s Michael “Mudcat” Ward also nominated in the Bass category, while Nemeth received some similar nominations in the Soul categories for Album (Memphis Grease) and Male Artist.

The Mannish BoysWrapped Up and Ready rounds out the nominees for Album of the Year, also earning nods in both the Band and Traditional Album categories.

Keb’ Mo’s Grammy-nominated BluesAmericana and Janiva MagnessOriginal round out the nominations for Contemporary Album, with Magness also up for honors in the Contemporary Female and Song (“Let Me Breathe”) categories.

Other artists receiving multiple nominations include Johnny Winter (Guitar and Rock Album for Step Back), Marcia Ball, Rory Block, Eric Bibb, Eden Brent, Johnny Rawls, Otis Clay, John Mooney, John Hammond, and Vaneese Thomas (daughter of Rufus Thomas).

For a full list of nominees by category and details on voting, which is open to Blues Foundation members only, please visit the Foundation’s website. The awards will be presented in downtown Memphis in early May.

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Keb’ Mo’s BLUESAmericana gets three Grammy nods; Johnny Winter, Ruthie Foster, Gregg Allman & Taj Mahal, and Charlie Musselwhite among other nominees

Keb_Mo_BluesAmericanaWe’re sure that Keb’ Mo’s decision to title his latest album BLUESAmericana had little, if anything, to do with looking to maximize his chances for a nomination in the annual Grammy Awards, where Best Blues Album and Best Americana Album are two of the just half-dozen or so categories that make up the American Roots genre of the awards. But it didn’t seem to exactly hurt either, with the album receiving a trio of nods in the nominations announced yesterday by The Recording Academy, including for Best Americana Album, Best American Roots Performance (for the delightful “The Old Me Better” featuring The California Feet Warmers), and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.

Of course, there’s a whole lot more to these nominations than just an album’s title, and we really can’t think of a better example of Americana than this one from Mo’ (though we do admit to being somewhat biased to the bluesier of the selections), with other nominees in the Americana Album category including John Hiatt, Rosanne Cash, Nickel Creek, and Sturgill Simpson.

Mo’ faces a few of those same artists (Nickel Creek and Cash) in the Best American Roots Performance nominations, along with some additional competition from Billy Childs featuring Alison Krauss & Jerry Douglas (“And When I Die”) and Gregg Allman & Taj Mahal for their “Statesboro Blues” from the All My Friends: Celebrating the Songs and Voice of Gregg Allman CD.

The late, great Johnny Winter is among the nominees for Best Blues Album for his Step Back recording, up against harp ace Charlie Musselwhite (Juke Joint Chapel), Bobby Rush with Blinddog Smokin’ (Decisions), Ruthie Foster (Promise of a Brand New Day), and Dave and Phil Alvin (Common Ground – Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy).

Congratulations to Mo’ and all the rest of this year’s nominees, with winners slated to be announced during the 57th annual awards program taking place February 8th.

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For your listening pleasure: Sugar Ray & the Bluetones’ Things Could Be Worse

Among the things we’ve got on tap for you over the coming weeks is the long-awaited next episode of our BluesPowR Radio Hour, but in the meantime, we thought you might enjoy a just-released track from one of the bands we’ll be featuring on that next program: from Sugar Ray & the Bluetones‘ latest album Living Tear to Tear, here is “Things Could Be Worse”. And indeed they could be, when you’re listening to blues as fine as these!

If you missed our earlier post on Living Tear to Tear, which also included an exclusive interview with longtime Bluetones bassist Michael “Mudcat” Ward, you can read it here.

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Blues rockers Walter Trout, John Mayall together again on Black Friday Record Store Day vinyl exclusive

We don’t usually pay a whole lot of attention to Black Friday deals, but here’s one that we thought might actually be worth standing in line for: a special edition, double A-side 7-inch vinyl record featuring tunes from the legendary John Mayall and his former Bluesbreakers band member Walter Trout.

Mayall_Trout_BFRSD (2)A Black Friday Record Store Day exclusive, the record offers a track off each of the artists’ latest albums. While neither of the songs is exactly what you might consider uplifting in their lyrics – Trout’s hard-driving “Willie” (The Blues Came Callin’) was inspired by “the many times I have been ripped off by many different people in the music business in my past…it is about the experience of trusting somebody to handle your business affairs, and then having them steal from you and exploit their position,” while Mayall’s “World Gone Crazy” (A Special Life) is perhaps one of the smoothest-sounding political statements you’ve ever heard, addressing such weighty topics as religious fighting, irresponsible politicians, and other chaos in the world today – musically, the songs are strong ones, particularly on vinyl. Even with Mayall and Trout having collaborated as recently as Trout’s latest album (on which Mayall played keyboards on two tracks), it’s great to see these two masters paired in such a way, making this a terrific gift for the blues-rock and/or vinyl collector in your life. If, that is, you’re fortunate enough to get your hands on one; with only 1,000 copies having been pressed and shipped to retailers, you may want to make your local record store one of the first stops along your Black Friday adventures.

And while you’re there (and since it’s officially the start of Christmas shopping season), you might as well also pick up a copy of the Bessie Smith exclusive release from Legacy Records. This one features the Empress of the Blues singing “At The Christmas Ball” with a B-side of “Jazzbo Brown From Memphis Town” on a holiday-appropriate red 7-inch 45 RPM vinyl.

Happy shopping to you!

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TBT (Throwback Thanksgiving) Blues Lyrics of the Week: Thank You for Giving Me the Blues

Rockwell_Thanksgiving (250x250)

Thanksgiving Day Blues, Norman Rockwell (1942)

One of the albums we’ve been meaning to tell you about for a while is Mississippi bluesman Grady Champion‘s latest release Bootleg Whiskey (Malaco Records), and one of these days, we promise we’ll still make that happen. But in the meantime, we hope you don’t mind us throwing back to a 2012 post in which we visited a tune from Champion’s Dreamin’ CD that’s particularly pertinent to this week’s U.S. holiday, a little something called “Thank You for Giving Me the Blues“.

And because it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without at least one extra helping, here are a few lyrics from a similar track from Mighty Mo Rodgers, “Thank You Mississippi” from Mo’s new Mud ‘n Blood CD (DixieFrog Records):

“I came to Mississippi,
lookin’ for the truth (yes I did).
And what I found now
was them Mississippi blues (that gets you through).
I wanna’ thank you Mississippi
for giving me the blues (uh-huh),
I wanna’ thank you Mississippi
and I got things to do (like praise my blues).

From pickin’ cotton
to pickin’ blues –
it ain’t no difference,
we all pay dues.
Can’t deny,
blues don’t lie,
and Mississippi blues will
make you high.
I wanna’ thank you, Mississippi,
for giving me the blues.
We’ve all got places to go now
and I’ve got things to do (play my blues, yeah).

Thank you Mississippi, thank you Mississippi,
Thank you Mississippi, thank you Mississippi,
for giving me the blues”

Here’s wishing you and your loved ones a holiday filled with all the things for which you’re grateful.

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Blues Lyrics of the Week: I Want to Get Married

Here’s one we heard covered recently on the latest project from the reunited UK blues-rock outfit The Hoax, a tribute album to the great B.B. King called Recession Blues.

Also recorded by Texas bluesman W.C. Clark on his 1994 album Heart of Gold, this may not exactly be King’s most-covered song through the years but it sure is a good one, complete with its lyrics about rejected advances and failed relationships.

And if you get a chance, be sure to check out this recent edition of British blues harmonica player Paul JonesRhythm & Blues show on BBC Radio 2 highlighting some of the various performances from Bluesfest 2014, featuring a few songs from The Hoax that include a downright killer cover of King’s “How Blue Can You Get”.

“I want to get married,
but no woman will hear my plea.
Yes, I want to get married,
but no woman will hear my plea.
Yes, it does seem somehow
I can’t get one to walk down the aisle with me.

Well, I’ve only been in love
but three times in my life.
Yeah, the first, I couldn’t satisfy,
but I’ve only been in love three times in my life.
Yes, the second one was a juice-head
and the third was another man’s wife.”
– “I Want to Get Married”, Riley B. King and Joe Josea (Joe Bihari)

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Previously unreleased studio album captures magic of late blues guitarist/singer Sean Costello

As you might imagine, there are plenty of blues guitarists we’d love to go back and see live if we had the time machine to do so, including the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Otis Rush, T-Bone Walker, Luther Allison, Johnny Copeland, and Freddie and Albert King, to name just a few. For many of these artists, that would mean having to go back several decades to catch them, but there’s at least one other blues slinger worth adding to this list who’s been gone less than a decade, in the late Atlanta musician Sean Costello.

Costello, you may remember, was a rising star who died of an accidental drug overdose in April 2008 on the eve of his 29th birthday, after which it became public that Sean had battled bipolar disorder. Back in September, we told you about a benefit show that was taking place in Chicago for the fund that was established in Sean’s name to help in research, outreach and treatment efforts for bipolar disorder. You can find the video from that event – featuring a terrific line-up of musicians that included Billy Boy Arnold, Tom Holland & the Shuffle Kings, Long Tall Deb, Johnny Iguana, Richard Rosenblatt, Nico Wayne Toussaint, Dave Herrero, and Felix Reyes, among others – on

Sean-Costello-Magic-Shop (220x220)The benefit also served as a CD release party for an album of previously unreleased material from Costello entitled In The Magic Shop (VizzTone), recorded back in the fall of 2005 at Grammy Award-winning producer Steve Rosenthal’s New York City studio The Magic Shop. The album wouldn’t be mixed until almost nine years later – in the spring of this year – but we think you’ll agree it was well worth the wait, capturing the Philadelphia-born Costello working effortlessly through a mix of soft ballads such as the jazzy “Trust in Me” with its passionate, sometimes breathy, soul-filled vocals to a country-flavored take on Rod Stewart’s “You Wear It Well” featuring Jimi Zhivago on the 12-string National guitar to the John Mellencamp/Americana feel of the gritty, harder-rocking “Feel Like I Ain’t Got a Home”.

Though not strictly a blues album, blues was of course at the center of much of what Costello did, so there are plenty of blues notes and lyrics to be heard. That includes the album’s opening number, a moaning- and groaning-filled cover of the B.B. King classic “It’s My Own Fault” that offers a whole lot of bite well before Costello’s gritty vocals ever even kick in (more than three-quarters of the way through) with the song’s sole verse, buoyed further by some terrific tickling of the ivories from Paul Linden.

That’s followed by the breezy R&B of “Can’t Let Go”, as well as a lightly rocking “Hard Luck Woman” that features Linden on both harmonica and keyboards, while Ray Hangen and Melvin Zachery hold down the rhythm on drums and bass, respectively. A cover of Fenton Robinson’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is” offers some nice deep grooves, before Costello unleashes a catchy, uptempo take on Bobby Womack’s “Check It Out” with Linden on vibraphone, along with a creeping, Beatles-esque “Told Me a Lie” that’s set to an intriguing bassline.

“I Went Wrong” is a softer tune with an R&B/soul feel, while the deep-voiced, funky “Make a Move” is a perfect example within one song of what you’ll hear from Costello more broadly on the project with its mix of troubled and inspiring lyrics such as “we all have troubles on our mind” and “you’ve got love in your heart, and you’ve got music in your soul” and “now’s the time to go ahead and make a move”, in addition to being one of several tracks to include some rich background vocals. The album closes on a slow, soulful “Fool’s Paradise” (Sam Cooke) that finds Linden on both Wurlitzer and Hammond B3, with Costello heard asking “Pretty good, huh?” at the song’s end.

But “pretty good” is a bit of an understatement, as In The Magic Shop is another superb display of Costello’s talents not only as a guitarist but also as a singer and songwriter, blending elements of many of the great blues guitarists named at the start of this post. All profits from the CD benefit the Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research, giving yet another fine reason to, as Sean sings here, “just check it out”.

And we’re pretty sure that, in doing so, Costello could very well end up on your time machine list as well.

Here’s Sean doing “Hard Luck Woman” – one of several songs here that also appeared (albeit in slightly different versions) on his 2008 album We Can Get Together, so you’d better check that one out too while you’re at it – at a New York show in 2006:

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Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater gets Soul Funky on first live album in quarter of a century

We weren’t able to make it to the recent CD release party for Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater‘s new album Soul Funky at Buddy Guy’s Legends, nor have we yet had the chance to check out the video from the show on but we have to imagine the night was much like the album itself: a live, rollicking good time that nicely captures the still-impressive energy and abilities of the 79-year-old guitarist and singer, joined by such friends as fellow Chicago guitar slinger Ronnie Baker Brooks, harmonica player Billy Branch, and keyboardist Johnny Iguana (with Big Head Todd & the Monsters’ Todd Park Mohr also making an appearance at the CD release party).

Eddy-The-Chief-Clearwater-Soul-Funky (220x220)Recorded this past January at Evanston, Illinois’ SPACE, Soul Funky (on Clearwater’s own Cleartone Music label) is the first live album for Clearwater since his 1990 A Real Good Time, which, if it weren’t already taken, would also have been a pretty appropriate title for this remarkably entertaining and diverse set from the cousin of the late Chicago harmonica player Carey Bell. It all kicks off with a funky, pulsing “They Call Me The Chief” – one of the most rocking intros you may ever hear – penned by Ronnie Baker Brooks, who not only produced the West Side Strut album on which the song originally appeared but also joins Clearwater as a special guest on this set, adding some terrific licks throughout. That includes, for example, on a few other West Side Strut tracks that follow in an again-funky “Hypnotized” and the swinging, Chuck Berry-style number “Too Old to Get Married” (also written by Baker Brooks), on which Clearwater proves to still be plenty capable of rocking out, with a punchline to the chorus of “too young to be buried” and other lyrics that include “some people might say that I’m too old, I saw the blues convert to rock & roll” and “I’ve gotta’ get my groove on and party all night”.

“Good Times are Coming” is a nice mid-tempo rocker that finds the band sounding great, including some sweet piano from Johnny Iguana and harmonica from Shoji Naito (who also plays guitar and bass for the band), followed by a 13-minute medley that starts on Clearwater’s creeping “Came Up the Hard Way” featuring some particularly passionate vocals from The Chief, then picks up the pace a bit with Baker Brooks testifying both on guitar and vocals on his own “Root to the Fruit” before returning to “Hard Way”.

From there, the band moves to the slick Chicago shuffle of “Cool Blues Walk”, including some impressive organ playing from Iguana, with a few other superb uptempo tunes still to come in the romping “Find You a Job” (off Clearwater’s 1980 breakthrough The Chief) and the breezy “A Good Leavin’ Alone” that sees “Chicago’s finest” Billy Branch joining on harmonica just as he did for the song’s earlier recording on West Side Strut.

That’s balanced with a slow, country interpretation of B.B. King’s “Please Accept My Love” and groove-filled, Magic Sam-style creeper in “Lonesome Town”, while the largely instrumental title track (the only lyrics of which are a repeating of the song’s title) easily lives up to its name.

Although born in Mississippi, Clearwater has spent most of his life in Chicago (having migrated there at 15 years old), a fact particularly evident on songs like “A Good Leavin’ Alone”, “Find You a Job”, and “Cool Blues Walk”. Clearwater’s vocals remain remarkably strong and diverse for his 79 years, ranging from a deep, throaty delivery on songs such as “Please Accept My Love” and “Lonesome Town” to the Muddy Waters-like, in-your-face bravado of “A Good Leavin’ Alone” and smooth sprightliness of tunes such as “Too Old to Get Married” and “Soul Funky”, reminding us that no list of living Chicago blues masters is complete without Clearwater’s name on it.

Here’s a video of Clearwater and the band, including Ronnie Baker Brooks and Johnny Iguana, doing “Too Old to Get Married” during the SPACE show at which Soul Funky was recorded:

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