Nick Moss Band pays up — in blues — on The High Cost of Low Living

We’d be lying if we said we haven’t enjoyed the last few albums from Chicago’s Nick Moss Band, with Lead Belly descendant Michael Ledbetter helping to bring some additional soulfulness to the band’s sound. But it was Moss’ earlier, more blues-focused recordings that initially caught our ear and that we’ve always tended to prefer, even as Moss and the band have — quite successfully — forayed into jam band, blues-rock and soul territory on more recent offerings.

With Ledbetter having moved on to collaborate with guitarist Monster Mike Welch, Moss has made a few moves of his own, signing with Chicago’s Alligator Records label and adding blues harmonica player and vocalist Dennis Gruenling as a featured guest with the band, including on their Alligator debut The High Cost of Low Living, which we’re happy to report is a triumphant return to the more traditional Chicago and jump blues and old school rock stylings heard on Moss’ earliest recordings, with Moss pointing out in the album’s press materials that the deep blues “really is the music I love the most”.
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Blues in My Heart

With Mother Nature having dealt us what seems like a double dose of winter, we figured we’d do a little more double-dealing of our own on this latest episode of our BluesPowR Radio Hour, featuring a pair of tracks each from Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite, Victor Wainwright and The Train, and Duke Robillard and His Dames of Rhythm, as well as other music from Walter Trout and Joe Louis Walker, Deva Mahal, and more. So “spring” right to it and give us a listen!

Playlist
Trust You to Dig My Grave – Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite (No Mercy in This Land)
Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone – Duke Robillard w/ Kelley Hunt (Duke Robillard & His Dames of Rhythm)
Crash and Burn – Walter Trout w/ Joe Louis Walker (We’re All in This Together)
Dull Your Shine – Victor Wainwright (Victor Wainwright and The Train)
Beauty Box – Jarkka Rissanen & Sons of the Desert (Hybrid Soul)
Superman (Interlude) – Deva Mahal (Run Deep)
Sign Of The Times – Godboogie (Play Music & Dance)
Blues in My Heart – Duke Robillard w/ Catherine Russell (Duke Robillard & His Dames of Rhythm)
Righteous – Victor Wainwright (Victor Wainwright and The Train)
Movin’ On – Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite (No Mercy in This Land)

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John Mayall delivers one for the money on live Three for the Road

We’ve been fortunate to hear quite a bit from John Mayall in the past four to five years, between several new studio albums (A Special Life, Find a Way to Care and Talk About That) and two volumes that captured Mayall fronting a brief, late -1960s line-up of his Bluesbreakers that featured Peter Green on guitar, Mick Fleetwood on drums, and John McVie on bass just before the three of them ventured off to form Fleetwood Mac. On Three for the Road (Forty Below Records), we’re treated to a much more timely live recording of Mayall’s work, following the veteran bluesman’s decision to trim his band to a trio with “The Godfather of British Blues” joined by longtime bandmates Jay Davenport on drums and Greg Rzab on bass.

Recorded live in Dresden and Stuttgart, Germany, in March of 2017, many of the nine tracks on Three for the Road are ones that fans of Mayall’s more recent albums are likely to recognize, including A Special Life‘s “Big Town Playboy” (Eddie Taylor), Find a Way to Care‘s “I Feel So Bad” (Lightnin’ Hopkins), and Talk About That‘s swaying “Don’t Deny Me” as well as “Streamline” and “Ridin’ on the L&N” off the 1967 live compilations, although they won’t have heard them quite like this, focusing, as these do with the elimination of the guitar, a bit more on Mayall’s own work on both keyboards and harmonica.

Mayall spoke to that change in line-up in the album’s press materials: “Naturally, my playing is featured quite a lot more than usual in this format…I found that the interplay and dynamics [of the trio format] have created a more personal upfront sound in my live performances.”
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Blues GRAMMY Award-winning duo Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite return with No Mercy in This Land

We weren’t the only ones who really liked Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite‘s 2013 collaboration Get Up!, judging by the GRAMMY Award it received for best blues album. Now the duo is back with another real kicker in No Mercy in This Land (ANTI- Records), a delightful mix of rootsy and rocking material that strongly positions Harper and Musselwhite for a repeat performance at the prestigious music awards.

With its haunting vocals and tough, gritty guitar riffs, the edgy, lightly rocking opener “When I Go” establishes right up front that the pair hasn’t lost any of the fire they displayed on their debut release, a point reiterated through later uptempo tracks such as “The Bottle Wins Again” and “Movin’ On”, the latter also serving as a great example of Harper’s brilliant songwriting, with lyrics that include “You practice law without a license, psychology too/ but your PhD is in givin’ me the blues” and “you get away with murder, you got a way with words/ speakin’ in a language that nobody’s ever heard” as the song indeed gets you moving with its greasy harmonica and a tearing guitar solo.

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Tune into the Weekend: Deva Mahal, daughter of legendary Taj Mahal, shows blues Run Deep on debut album

Last week, we told you about new albums from two real-life sons of the blues, Mud Morganfield and Bernard Allison, also promising to visit upon one from an offspring of Grammy Award-winning musician Taj Mahal soon.

We’ve had the chance to hear Deva Mahal a few times live: first, as part of a duo (Fredericks Brown) that opened for her father a few years back, and then, more recently, as one of the background vocalists for Taj and Keb’ Mo’ during a TajMo show. Although both appearances gave a nice taste of Deva’s talents, it turns out they were really just the tip of the iceberg, judging from Deva’s debut album Run Deep (Motéma Music).

While not strictly a blues album, blending R&B, pop, soul, rock, gospel, and more, there’s plenty on Run Deep‘s dozen tracks that will appeal to blues and an array of other music fans, from the powerful R&B pop of the fiery opening “Can’t Call It Love” (which you can check out below) and a “Snakes” that the New York Times says has “a hand-clapping, piano-pounding, call-and-response buildup with a melody that harks back to field hollers”, to the groovy title track with its fighting lyrics such as “nobody can stop me, yea/ cuz’ I gather my armor and I’m ready for battle/ I’ve got my weapons drawn, taking the road less traveled” and rapping from Deva’s sister Coco Peila, to the raw, work song-like “Superman (Interlude)” with its hand-clapping and percussion that we really wish there were a few minutes more of.
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Doubling Down on the Blues

Sometimes, one track from an album just isn’t enough, which is why we’ve loaded up this episode of our BluesPowR Radio Hour with doubleshots from the likes of Oscar Wilson, the Tyler Morris Band, and a recent tribute collection to Elmore James (featuring songs from Keb’ Mo’ and Mollie Marriott). And to help balance it out, we’ve thrown in a trio of tunes from the latest International Blues Challenge compilation from Frank Roszak Productions and The Blues Foundation, as well as some rocking numbers from the Eric Hughes Band and Mike Ross, so, to quote the lead-off number from the Eric Hughes Band: “If you don’t like the blues, you better get off the track”!

Playlist
Freight Train of Pain – Eric Hughes Band (Meet Me in Memphis)
Don’t Dig Today – Al Hill (International Blues Challenge #33)
Good Lovin (Hot & Fresh From the Oven) – The Souliz Band feat. Sugar & Spice (International Blues Challenge #33)
Choppin’ – Tyler Morris Band (Next in Line)
Willie the Wimp – Tyler Morris Band w/ Joe Louis Walker (Next in Line)
Your Letter – Oscar Wilson (One Room Blues)
Reconsider Baby – Oscar Wilson (One Room Blues)
The Big Picture – Mike Ross (Jenny’s Place)
Look on Yonder Wall – Keb’ Mo’ (Strange Angels: In Flight with Elmore James)
My Bleeding Heart – Mollie Marriott (Strange Angels: In Flight with Elmore James)
Chains That Bind – Wes Lee (International Blues Challenge #33)

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Second-generation bluesmen Mud Morganfield, Bernard Allison help keep genre groovin’ with stellar new releases

There are few artists we look as forward to hearing new music from as those literal sons and daughters of the blues who have devoted their lives to helping to carry on the music — and thus the legacies — of their fathers. And 2018 begins with a healthy dose of that, including, for example, some dynamite new releases from Larry “Mud” Morganfield, son of McKinley Morganfield, a.k.a. Muddy Waters; Bernard Allison, son of Luther Allison; and Deva Mahal, daughter of folk-blues “Maestro” Taj Mahal. Today, we dive into the first two of those recordings, with the promise to take a look at (and listen to) the latter in a separate post soon.

Mud Morganfield, They Call Me Mud (Severn Records)

The eldest Morganfield son’s third release on Severn Records following his award-winning Son of the Seventh Son and collaboration with harmonica player Kim Wilson on For Pops: A Tribute to Muddy Waters, They Call Me Mud does a superb job of showcasing Morganfield’s vocal and songwriting talents (having written all but two — both covers of his father’s songs — of the album’s tracks); through songs ranging from straight-up blues to jazz, soul, and R&B, Mud proves he’s one of those guys who could sound good singing a telephone book.

But the album is worth listening to as much for the fine band Mud has assembled as for Mud himself, with co-producer and former Muddy Waters Band member Rick Kreher joining on guitar along with Billy Flynn, Studebaker John on harmonica, Sumito Ariyo Ariyoshi on piano, EG McDaniel on bass, Melvin “Pookie Stix” Carlisle on drums, and guests who include harmonica player Billy Branch, guitarist Mike Wheeler, and violinist Anne Harris.

Together, they create some soulful, often groovy, blues that range from such soft, swaying numbers as the horns-laced, Mighty Sam McClain-like “Cheatin’ is Cheatin'” with its delicate piano and tender, almost falsetto, vocals, to the booming voice of a simmering “Oh Yeah” and thick Chicago sound of “Rough Around the Edge”, its piano, harmonica, and guitar solos combining with some nice horns to make for a remarkably cheery telling of a story about dealing with a wife’s boyfriend who “want to hit me in my head”.
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Mojo Risin’: Mike Ross explodes onto blues/roots scene with help of Dark Powder

We haven’t had the chance to check out UK roots musician Mike Ross‘ solo debut album Spindrift, but we certainly like what we hear on the follow-up to it in Jenny’s Place (Taller Records), out tomorrow.

While the slow blistering blues and anguished vocals of the below “Dark Powder” is one we know you’ll appreciate — starting with a simmering, “Tin Pan Alley”-ish sound before picking up the tempo to a cool “The Thrill is Gone”-like groove and beyond by song’s end — the album offers a nice variety of rock, Americana, country, and alternative sounds, with shades of ZZ Top, Elvis Costello, Pink Floyd, and others throughout its tracks.

Other gems include the airy, uptempo Southern rocker “The Big Picture” and the raw, driving John Lee Hooker-meets-ZZ Top-sounding shuffle “Harpo”, with softer, more swaying numbers like the title track and closing “Loveslide” helping to balance things nicely to make Jenny’s Place one that you’ll enjoy the whole way through.

Here’s “Dark Powder”, which Ross describes as “a brooding 12/8 minor blues that invokes lyrically some of the pain, anguish and confusion that I have experienced in my journey of recovery through drug and alcohol dependency”:

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I Can’t Stop the Blues

“Everything’s gonna’ be alright this mornin’…” when you’re starting it with the latest edition of our BluesPowR Radio Hour, featuring music from Jimi Hendrix, Savoy Brown, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and more, including a pair from the Original Blues Brothers Band (joined by Joe Louis Walker on one)!

Playlist
Mannish Boy – Jimi Hendrix (Both Sides of the Sky)
Foolish Mind – Boogie Patrol (Man on Fire)
I Can’t Stop the Blues – Savoy Brown (Witchy Feelin’)
I Pity the Fool – Tedeschi Trucks Band (Live from the Fox Oakland)
Sunrise Blues – Marcelo Gagliotti (Change Your Life)
Draw the Line – Matthew Curry (Shine On)
Don’t Go No Further – Original Blues Brothers Band w/ Joe Louis Walker (The Last Shade of Blue Before Black)
21st Century Baby – Original Blues Brothers Band (The Last Shade of Blue Before Black)
Brand New Thing – Steve Krase (Should’ve Seen It Coming)

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Keb’ Mo’, Bettye LaVette, Warren Haynes and others pay tribute to King of the Slide Guitar on Strange Angels: In Flight with Elmore James

Recently, we told you about a 100th birthday set celebrating blues singer and guitarist John Lee Hooker. While that extensive collection consisted of Hooker’s own recordings from throughout his career, this centennial tribute to blues slide guitarist extraordinaire Elmore James offers a baker’s dozen of James’ songs interpreted by contemporary musicians including Tom Jones, Bettye LaVette, Warren Haynes and Billy Gibbons, Rodney Crowell, and Keb’ Mo’, among others.

Recorded in various cities throughout the U.S., from L.A. to Nashville to New York City and Boston, Strange Angels: In Flight with Elmore James (Sylvan Songs Records) features a mostly house band (dubbed Elmore’s Latest Broomdusters) joined by a rotating line-up of guest vocalists and musicians. Although not all of the interpretations here are presented in a straight blues fashion, with Rodney Crowell and Jamey Johnson, for example, adding a country-fried flavor (through both their vocals and acoustic guitars) to songs like “Shake Your Money Maker” and “It Hurts Me Too”, respectively, and other tracks having a jazzy, Americana, soul or pop style, the end result is a diverse, intriguing set that blues fans will easily appreciate and welcome to their collections.

James’ signature slidework is of course much celebrated here, often emanating from the guitar of the Broomdusters’ designated slide man Doug Lancio, but also by others such as fellow Broomduster Larry Taylor, who contributes both slide and upright bass on Tom Jones‘ punchy “Done Somebody Wrong”; Joe McMahan; Duke Levine; longtime Saturday Night Live bandleader G.E. Smith, who appears on Bettye LaVette‘s soulful, scratchy-throated “Person to Person”; Warren Haynes, who not only backs Johnson on “It Hurts Me Too” (where you’ll also hear some terrific piano and B3 organ from Billy Earheart) but sings and is joined on slide by ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons for a gritty “Mean Mistreatin’ Mama” that also features Cowboy Eddie Long on pedal steel and Mickey Raphael on harmonica; and Keb’ Mo’, who provides vocals and National guitar on a jaunty “Look on Yonder Wall”, accompanied by McMahan on electric guitar, Lancio on mandolin, and Sonny Barbato on accordion. A jazzy, brooding “Dark and Dreary” with breathy vocals from Addi McDaniel is, in fact, the only track here absent of slide, relying (quite successfully) instead on the violin of Darol Anger along with accordion from Barbato, acoustic guitar from Levine and Thomas Juliano, and bass clarinet from Bob D’Ambrosio for a nice change of pace.

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