Joe Bonamassa is living his dream Live at Radio City Music Hall

By now, you’ve probably figured out from this blog that nearly everything that blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa puts out is good stuff, and his latest CD/DVD set Live at Radio City Music Hall (J&R Adventures) is certainly no exception. Recorded in January during a sold-out, two-night run, the set captures Bonamassa’s first time playing the famed Radio City Music Hall, fulfilling one of the New York native’s lifelong dreams.

JB-RadioCityComing at the conclusion of a lengthy tour made up of shows that were half-acoustic, half-electric, the CD includes tracks from across several of Bonamassa’s recent albums, including blues classics like “Hidden Charms” and “I Can’t Be Satisfied” from his Muddy Wolf project, many of the songs from his latest studio album Different Shades of Blue, and both a few slightly older (“Dust Bowl”, “Happier Times”) and brand new numbers, backed by two different bands, with the one that accompanied him on his An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House recording (Gerry O’Connor on fiddle, Mats Wester on nyckelharpa and mandola, Reese Wynans on keyboards, and Lenny Castro on percussion) joining him here for the acoustic portion of the show and his regular touring band of bassist Carmine Rojas, keyboardist Wynans, and drummer Tal Bergman playing on the electric tracks, along with Lee Thornburg, Nick Lane, Paulie Cerra on horns.

Kicking off with a swinging, horn-filled cover of Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied”, Bonamassa keeps things moving at a high level with the first of two newly recorded songs, a groovy, spitting “One Less Cross to Bear” containing such lyrical zingers as “I feel for Jesus, and what He went through/ thank God He didn’t have someone like you” and “got a brand new car/ you got the dog too/ I can’t believe there’s ever a day that I loved you/ it ain’t fair, I got one less cross to bear”, followed by the racing “Living on the Moon” and in-your-face “I Gave Up Everything for You, ‘Cept the Blues” off Different Shades of Blue.

Bonamassa_live_electric1 (280x222)Joe slows it down with the crawling, percussion-laced “Dust Bowl”, then returns to his latest album with a slightly more uptempo visit to “Trouble Town”, before arriving at the second new song of the program in the tender, Celtic-tinged (thanks to Wester’s nyckelharpa) “Still Water”. A nice take on the similarly quiet title track from Bonamassa’s Different Shades of Blue album still works, but by the time the band hits “Happier Times” (off The Ballad of John Henry) that comes next, some listeners may begin to feel that the set has slipped into something of a lull, which is either a rare misstep from Bonamassa and his longtime producer Kevin “Caveman” Shirley or a bit of genius, considering the reward that follows, with the band bursting from there into a driving “Never Give All Your Heart”. (This also happens to be one of our favorite parts of the accompanying DVD, as the shot widens from a sole spotlighted Wester playing the nyckelharpa to a fully-lit stage revealing Bonamassa’s entire electric band with the first licks of guitar.)

Keeping things uptempo, the band first hits on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Hidden Charms” and then the funky “Love Ain’t a Love Song” before closing the night with a jazzy take on the soft, powerful, Ray Charles-inspired “So, What Would I Do?”.

As we’ve come to expect from such projects from Bonamassa, there are plenty of solos not only from Joe but also from many of the other members of the band(s), and the mixing from Shirley is some of the best you’ll hear, allowing Joe’s guitar and vocals and the keyboards, percussion, and horns all to be heard at the right levels at precisely the right times.

Bonamassa_Live_acoustic (300x169)The DVD of course includes all of this plus an additional two numbers in the slow, smoking “Double Trouble” and the edgy “Black Lung Heartache”, the latter of which happens to fall – along with the introductions of Joe’s acoustic band – between “Different Shades of Blue” and “Happier Times”, thus eliminating that lull some listeners might find on the CD. The video is sharp and clear, filmed from an interesting variety of angles, and presented here with some neat split-screen effects showing from two to four angles at once, often of the same player.

With two new songs and seven other unreleased live tracks (most from Bonamassa’s latest studio album), Live at Radio City Music Hall makes for a nice addition to the collections of both the most casual and most loyal Bonamassa fans.

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Thorbjorn Risager delivers again with Songs from the Road

Risager_SFTR1 (250x172)A little while back, we told you about the Ruf Records debut of Danish bluesman Thorbjorn Risager and his band The Black Tornado, a doozy of an album called Too Many Roads. If you didn’t get a chance to read that earlier review, we encourage you to take a few minutes to go ahead and do so now (we’ll still be here when you get back)… Then imagine most of the songs off that great album receiving a live treatment, adding in a bunch of fine blues classics and other originals along the way, and what you have is another terrific recording for both Risager’s outfit and Ruf’s often-impressive Songs from the Road series, which has previously spotlighted such other artists as Luther Allison, Royal Southern Brotherhood, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Oli Brown, Jeff Healey, Canned Heat, Coco Montoya, Mike Zito, Dana Fuchs, Savoy Brown, and the Spin Doctors.

Thorbjorn_Risager_SFTR (250x248)In addition to superb live versions of songs like “If You Wanna Leave”, “Paradise”, “Drowning”, “High Rolling”, “Through the Tears”, and of course the title track off Too Many Roads – all made even better (if you can believe it) by more pronounced and dynamic instrumentation and backing vocals than allowed by the studio recordings – Songs from the Road also offers blazing takes on the classics “Baby Please Don’t Go” and an 11-minute, audience participation-filled “Let the Good Times Roll”. Those tracks alone make this set well worth its cost, but the band also throws in a handful of songs from their earlier projects, among them, the hard-driving “Rock ‘N’ Roll Ride”, which you can’t help but to like with its chorus of (if we’re understanding Risager’s Copenhagen accent right) “I wanna’ rock, I wanna’ roll, I wanna’ ride/ I wanna’ swing these rhythm & blues into the night”; a creeping “On My Way”; the rocking “All I Want”; and the groovy, horn-laced closer “Opener”, as well as a slow, tender duet with backing singer Lisa Lystam in the stripped-down “I Won’t Let You Down”, while the accompanying DVD adds even a few more in the boogeying “Straight and Narrow Line”, the powerful, swinging “I’m Tired”, and a funky “Get Up, Get Higher”.

As with the earlier videos in this series, there’s nothing too fancy or elaborate about the camera work, but it does help capture the band’s show in an intimate, no-frills but professional manner, giving folks like us in the States a much-appreciated opportunity to see the band in action long before we’ll probably ever have the chance to catch them live. In the meantime, this is one we’ll be watching and listening to quite a bit.

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Mojo Risin’: Lewis Hamilton

Today, we’re pleased to help bring a little more mojo into your life with the launch of Mojo Risin’, an occasional series that will focus on recognizing and helping to spread the word about some of the rising stars and lesser known names of the genre that come across our radar. Some of those acts may be quite well known in their own regions but not all that familiar to others around the world, such as is apparently the case with our inaugural featured artist, 22-year-old blues-rocker Lewis Hamilton, who has already been nominated for multiple British Blues Awards since forming his band in 2010 and has just released his fourth album, Shipwrecked.

Lewis_Hamilton_Shipwrecked (280x265)Here’s one of the bluesiest tracks from that album, a cover of the classic “John the Revelator” that features some stinging guitar from Hamilton, although we have to confess to also really digging a few of the other tunes here, including the breezy, rootsy Trigger Hippy-ish closer “Water’s Edge” that’s guaranteed to lure you in with its harmonious vocals and uplifting acoustic guitar strains that together give this song just as refreshing a sound as its lyrics, and the catchy, Oli Brown-like “Sticks and Stones”. The latter is just one of several simmering rockers you’ll hear on the album, along with, for example, the opening “Old Faces” and easy-on-the-ears ballad “Head for the Hills”, with other tracks ranging from the quiet, acoustic “Blame” and slow drifting blues of “Stormy Seas” to the harmonica- and effects-laced grooves of “Iceberg Blues” and alt-rocker “Long Way Home”.

Filled with Hamilton’s smooth vocals and captivating grooves, this is a strong, balanced outing that’s plenty energetic but never too heavy or otherwise over-the-top, allowing Hamilton to show a maturity beyond his years. Fans of acts such as Davy Knowles/Back Door Slam, King King, John Mayer, Bad Company, and Oli Brown especially will want to check this one out, although we’d have to think that Shipwrecked is one that just about anybody wouldn’t mind being stranded on a desert island with.

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Blues Blues Lovin’

We haven’t done quite as good a job of keeping up with our BluesPowR Radio Hour as we would have liked in recent months, but the upside is that we’ve got a slew of great music to send your way! Hopefully we can start making up for our hiatus by offering a little something extra this time around, as we present this talk-free, nearly two-hour edition of our show, featuring music from both a son and a daughter of the blues in Bernard Allison and Shemekia Copeland, respectively; a double-shot tribute to the recently departed Grove City, PA native Smokin’ Joe Kubek; and a track from rising contemporary blues star Fantastic Negrito. And all that’s just in the show’s first 30 minutes!

You’ll also hear new and recent music from the likes of Ronnie Earl, Sugaray Rayford, Samantha Fish, Ironing Board Sam, Ian Siegal, and The Nighthawks, as well as classic tracks from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Lead Belly, plus a whole lot more.

Until next time (which we hope won’t be quite so long in coming), enjoy!

Brandon Santini – No Matter What I Do (Live & Extended!)
Bernard Allison Group – Move from the Hood (In the Mix)
Shemekia Copeland (w/ Alvin Youngblood Hart) – Cardboard Box (Outskirts Of Love)
Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King – Lone Star Tap Dance (Fat Man’s Shine Parlor)
Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King – Done Got Caught Blues (Fat Man’s Shine Parlor)
Clarence “The Blues Man” Turner – C.C. Rider (The Caster Blaster)
Fantastic Negrito – It’s a Long Long Road (Deluxe EP)
Samantha Fish – Jim Lee Blues, Pt. 1 (Wild Heart)
Sugaray Rayford – Texas Bluesman (Southside)
Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters – Right Place Wrong Time (Father’s Day)
Texas Horns (w/ W.C. Clark) – Cold Blooded Lover (Blues Gotta Holda Me)
Angela Lewis Brown – Blues Blues Lovin’ (Set Me Free)
TBelly – Respectable Man (Dead Men Don’t Pray)
Lead Belly – DeKalb Blues (Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection)
Billy Price & Otis Clay – All Because of Your Love (This Time for Real)
Lara & the Bluz Dawgz – Uh Huh (Howlin’)
Markus James – Woke Me (Head For The Hills)
The Nighthawks – Matchbox (Back Porch Party)
Corte’ – That’s What Love Will Make You Do (Seasoned Soul)
James Day & The Fish Fry – Time & Money (Southland)
Joe Stanley – Ode to Billy Joe (Legend)
D’Mar & Gill – Dancin’ Girl (Take It Like That)
John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – So Many Roads (Live in 1967)
Deb Ryder – Can’t Go Back Again (Let It Rain)
Ironing Board Sam – I’m Gone (Super Spirit)
Cheryl Lescom & the Tucson Choir Boys – Dime Store Lover (1953)
Urban Hill – Saturday Night (The Real Deal)
Ian Siegal – How Come You’re Still Here (The Picnic Sessions)

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Walter Trout prize pack winners

Congratulations to Anne Foster of Clear Lake, Iowa, and John McClain of Fort Worth, Texas, who each pick up a Walter Trout prize pack featuring a copy of both Walter’s biography Rescued from Reality: the Life and Times of Walter Trout and Walter’s new CD Battle Scars (read our recent review here)!

Anne told us her favorite song from Trout is “Blues for My Baby”, while John’s is “The Reason I’m Gone”. Check them out today if you’re not familiar with them – or just to get your Walter fix.

Thanks to all who entered our contest as well as to our friends at the Mascot Label Group for supplying the great prizes. Anne and John, your packs are on the way! Everyone else, you can preview and get Walter’s new album here – this is one you definitely don’t want to miss.

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Walter Trout shows off Battle Scars on first recording since successful transplant

If calling his return to the road the “I’m Back” tour wasn’t enough of a statement of his improving health after more than a year-and-a-half of a break from performing, blues/rock guitarist Walter Trout is back in a big way with Battle Scars, his first album since his life-saving liver transplant in the spring of 2014 (while his previous album, The Blues Came Callin’, was released just a few weeks after his transplant, the project was actually recorded in 2013, just before Walter became too weak to even play. You can read more about Trout’s sickness, recovery, and thoughts on the future of the blues, among other topics, in our Q&A with him that appeared earlier this year, which also happens to be one of the most-read and -shared posts in the history of our blog).

walter_trout_battle_scars (280x253)Like The Blues Came Callin’, many of the dozen original songs on Battle Scars (Provogue/Mascot Label Group) – his 42nd album overall – relate to the sickness that brought Walter to within 10 days of death, as evidenced by such songs as “Almost Gone”, “Omaha” (where Trout spent weeks awaiting a new liver and witnessed firsthand the grief of the families of other patients who weren’t as fortunate), and “Gonna Live Again”. But the big difference here is that any of the frailty or tiredness heard on Walter’s previous album as a result of his circumstances at the time are long behind him, with Walter playing and singing with a renewed energy and vigor that match how he claims to feel nowadays: “like I’m 17 again”.

One of the best examples of that comes on the album’s opening “Almost Gone”, with Trout’s fiery guitar; gritty, powerful harmonica; and strong vocals combining for a sound that, to borrow from the song’s lyrics, “reminds me of the way (Trout) used to be”. But that, it turns out, is really just the tip of the iceberg, followed by other blues/rock-solid numbers like the shuffling, harmonica- and groove-laced “Tomorrow Seems So Far Away”; the ZZ Top-style rock of “Playin’ Hideaway”; the uplifting (at least musically and vocally) “My Ship Came In” featuring some particularly stinging guitar (along with a bit more harmonica) from Trout; the breezy, open-road anthem “Fly Away”; and the hard, slow blues of “Cold, Cold Ground”.

While those account for the best of the bunch, the other songs here are also nothing to sneeze at, including simmering rockers like “Omaha” and “Move On”; the tender, swaying ballad “Please Take Me Home” that sounds like it could just as easily have been a hit from an ’80s rock group, complete with impassioned solos; and the, well, haunting creeper “Haunted By the Night”, along with the heartfelt acoustic number that closes the album in “Gonna Live Again”.

Trout’s playing is again impressive, and vocally, he sounds as healthy as we can ever remember, backed here by a terrific band of Sammy Avila on Hammond B3, Michael Leasure on drums and percussion, and Johnny Griparic on bass, with Skip Edwards making occasional appearances on piano/organ (“Please Take Me Home”, “Haunted By the Night”) and producer Eric Corne assisting on background vocals (“Playin’ Hideaway”, “Fly Away”, “Move On”) and shaker (“Please Take Me Home”). Not only is Trout back, but some – including Walter himself – might also say he’s better than ever.

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Just two more days to enter our Walter Trout book/album giveaway contest

We’ve already received entries from all across the United States for our Walter Trout biography/album contest, from the East to the West to throughout the Gulf coasts and lots of other places in between. But the nice thing about contests like this is that the winners will be chosen completely at random, which means that it doesn’t matter when you enter, just so long as you do it sometime before the deadline of midnight on Friday, Oct. 30!

All you need to do to be eligible is send us (either through our Contact Us form or by direct email to your name along with both a valid mailing (sorry, this one’s open to U.S. residents only) and email address AND the title of your favorite Trout song. Two winners will each receive a Walter Trout prize pack featuring a copy of both Walter’s recent biography Rescued from Reality: the Life and Times of Walter Trout and his brand new album Battle Scars, which is one any Trout or blues-rock fan will want to have.

Be sure to submit your entry today (or yes, tomorrow for the real procrastinators among you) before it’s too late!

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Announcing our Walter Trout book/album giveaway!

Trout giveaway pack (274x280)With blues-rocker Walter Trout‘s new album Battle Scars hitting the stores tomorrow, we’re teaming with the Mascot Label Group to give away not one, but two, Walter Trout prize packs featuring a copy of both Walter’s recent biography Rescued from Reality: the Life and Times of Walter Trout and the brand new album (BluesPowR Blog review coming soon!).

All you need to do to enter is send us (either through our Contact Us form or by direct email to your name along with both a valid mailing (sorry, this one’s open to U.S. residents only) and email address AND the title of your favorite Trout song by the contest’s deadline of Friday, Oct. 30 at midnight Eastern. We’ll pick two random winners to receive the book/CD prize pack and notify the winners by email before announcing their names (and favorite Trout song) here on the blog the following week.

And, in the meantime, be sure to check out Walter’s Battle Scars on iTunes!

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Having a blast with Clarence “The Blues Man” Turner on The Caster Blaster

Clarence_Turner_The_Caster_BlasterWe have to admit we weren’t at all familiar with Clarence “The Blues Man” Turner when we popped this latest CD of his into the player, so we may have been a bit skeptical upon hearing the album’s opening lines of “Seems like everywhere I go, everybody knows my name”, even when followed by the much bluesier and down-to-earth sentiment of “ain’t a thing wrong with bein’ famous/ but I could use a ‘lil fortune to go with my fame”. But one listen through The Caster Blaster (Uniqek Sound Records) and you’ll soon realize that the D.C.-based blues singer and multi-instrumentalist has every bit the talent to back such bold statements, moving from the funky grooves of songs like the opening “Fame & Fortune” and Albert King-like “Happily Married Man” filled with lively keys from Charles Pearson, to the swinging, Chuck Berry-styled rocker “Nadine” and soft, sentimental “Hey Lady”, to the greasy “Mojo Hand” with its steamy horns.

Along the way, you’ll also hear two terrific instrumentals in “Sabrena”, a simmering jazz number driven by grungy, Gary Clark Jr.-ish guitar riffs, and the shuffling “Fender Bender?”, as well as impressive covers of a few classics, including an uptempo, New Orleans-flavored treatment of “C.C. Rider” in the vein of Louis Jordan’s “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens”, a horn-laden, slightly accelerated take on Willie Dixon’s “I’m Ready”, and a “Tin Pan Alley”-like version of Ray Charles’ “Black Jack” that features some stinging guitar from Turner and finds him attacking with an energy comparable to that of younger players like Jarekus Singleton, Omar Coleman, or one of the genre’s other rising stars, but with all the bite of a seasoned blues player.

The Caster Blaster may or may not lead to the fortune Turner’s hoping for, but there’s a good chance it will result in a bit more fame for the bluesman if word gets out just how good this album is!

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It Ain’t Right to miss this one from Jimmy Burns

A few weeks ago, we told you about Chicago bluesman Omar Coleman’s debut recording on Delmark Records, Born & Raised. Jimmy Burns’ latest CD marks the singer/guitarist’s fifth project on that same label – with one additional on Velrone Records – since he started recording albums back in 1996, some three decades after cutting his first singles, but hearing It Ain’t Right, it’s easy to see where guys like Coleman have found some of their inspiration.

jimmy_burns_it_aint_right (260x260)The younger brother of the late Detroit bluesman Eddie Burns (who played with John Lee Hooker as well as on his own), Jimmy is part Albert King, part Otis Clay or Johnny Rawls, bringing an impressive and entertaining mix of blues and soul originals and covers, from the funky, shuffling opener “Big Money Problem” and uptempo grooves of “Long as You’re Mine”, to the B.B. King-like guitar of a gritty “Hard Hearted Woman” and the slow, bluesy “I Know You Hear Me Calling”, to the swaying soul of “Will I Ever Find Somebody?”, old-time horn- and backing vocals-accompanied “Crazy Crazy Crazy”, and boogie-woogie “Rock Awhile”.

Along with that you’ll find some terrific – and often unique – takes on songs like “Stand By Me”, “Messin’ With the Kid”, the traditional gospel classic “Wade in the Water”, and of course, “It Ain’t Right”, with Burns backed by a crack group of musicians that include Greg McDaniel on bass and Sumito “Ariyo” Ariyoshi (Billy Branch & the Sons of Blues) on piano, along with Roosevelt Purifoy on organ for a handful of songs.

Indeed, the only thing that ain’t right here is that Burns isn’t already a whole lot more widely known and respected outside of Chicago, but hopefully that will change once a few more people hear this latest offering from the Delta-born musician.

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