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!

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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.

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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.

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2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival


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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.

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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.

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Concert recap: Robert Cray Band, John Hiatt & the Combo at Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead

It’s not often that a stage gets a visit from two such respected names in music as Robert Cray and John Hiatt in one night, much less on the same bill, but that’s exactly what went down Thursday at the Carnegie Library Music Hall in Homestead, and we at The BluesPowR Blog were fortunate enough to be among those on hand to see it.

????????To say that there was greatness in the room on this night would be an understatement. With some eight-and-a-half decades of playing between them (Hiatt with a slight edge at 44 years, while Cray has dubbed his 2014 schedule a “groovin’ 4 decades” tour in celebration of the four decades since he and longtime bassist Richard Cousins formed the band in 1974), this was one of those shows you knew going into that there just wouldn’t be enough time to hear everything you wanted; in Cray’s case, that included such hits as the “Smoking Gun” and “Back Door Slam” that helped to make him famous, while for Hiatt, we were left needing to seek out mp3 versions of tracks like the “Child of the Wild Blue Yonder” that we used to spin on the air of our college radio station and the Buddy Guy-covered “Feels Like Rain” on the drive home in order to hear them this night.

That said, what we did get from these two guitarists was pretty damn phenomenal, with Cray’s band kicking off promptly at the scheduled 7:30 start time with his early hit “Phone Booth” to begin a set as tasty as, well, the juicy “Chicken in the Kitchen” about which Cray would crow a bit later in the night. But first came such other songs as “Poor Johnny”, the soulful, passionate vocals of “Right Next Door (Because of Me)”, and a few tracks from the band’s new album In My Soul in “Your Good Thing is About to End”, a “You Move Me” that moved the audience to its feet with its accelerated tempo ending, and the slow and quiet “I Was Fine Yesterday”, with Cray swapping guitars between nearly every song.

We’ve seen Cray a number of times now in recent years, but can’t recall him ever being as personable or in the zone as he was on this night, joking with the audience and other members of his band while introducing songs, asking the audience “You good?” several times throughout the program, and frequently injecting different guitar parts from what you hear on his recordings to keep things interesting, including, for example, some just barely audible notes on “Your Good Thing is About to End”.

Also included were a “(Won’t Be) Coming Home” featuring ????????drummer Les Falconer on vocals, with Dover Weinberg’s organ also serving almost as another set of backing vocals, along with a gritty solo from Cray, who kept the same guitar for the greasy “Don’t You Even Care” that followed, before the band tore into “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” from the new album, with Falconer and Cray sharing lead vocals and Weinberg’s keys nicely substituting for the strong horns you hear on the recorded version of the song.

After slowing things down again with “I Can’t Fail”, the band moved into the slick grooves of “Chicken in the Kitchen” – with another couple of nice solos from Cray – and a folkish “What Would You Say” “brought to you by the blues hippies” that could easily rival any Crosby, Stills and Nash performance, then closing out the nearly 90-minute set with a Clapton-like “The Forecast (Calls for Pain)”.

Hiatt and his band (many of whom appear to be a bit younger than the four decades that Hiatt has been performing) began their rootsy set with an upbeat “My Business”, which served as a nice bridge between such Hiatt classics as “Tennessee Plates”, “Crossing Muddy Waters”, “Cry Love”, “Falling Up”, and the rocking “Master of Disaster”, and a collection of tracks from his new CD Terms of My Surrender (out next week) before getting to a tune popularized by Bonnie Raitt in “Thing Called Love”.

????????From there, Hiatt and co. took a bit more of a countryish road to arrive at “Memphis in the Meantime”, closing the set with the groove-filled “Slow Turning”. Returning to the stage for an encore, Hiatt observed that he’s probably having “more fun this year than any other year” of his career before ending the night on the oft-recorded “Have a Little Faith in Me” and a rocking “Riding with the King” that saw Hiatt and guitarist Doug Lancio trading some impressive licks.

Regardless of which of their hits they may or may not have gotten to play, there’s no question that Cray and Hiatt proved that they’ve both still got it when it comes to delivering one hell of a show.

To view more photos from the show, please visit our BluesPowR Gallery

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Joanne Shaw Taylor show in photos

????????Photos from the recent Joanne Shaw Taylor show at Moondog’s are now available for viewing in our BluesPowR Gallery, where you’ll also find albums capturing performances from the likes of Johnny Winter and James Cotton, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Sugar Ray & the Bluetones, the Experience Hendrix tour, Tab Benoit, Joe Louis Walker, Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival, Curtis Salgado, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joe Bonamassa, Lurrie Bell, Hubert Sumlin and Bob Margolin, and the True Blues tour (Alvin Youngblood Hart, Corey Harris, and Guy Davis), to name just a few. Check it out!

And in case you missed it, here’s what we posted earlier this week regarding Taylor’s appearance at Moondog’s.

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Joanne Shaw Taylor brings songs from the road to Pittsburgh

We’ve been looking forward to guitarist and singer Joanne Shaw Taylor making an appearance here in the ‘burgh now for some time, so we were pretty happy to be able to catch her at Moondog’s just before we set off on a family beach vacation, even if that did mean having to wait until after our trip to post something on the show.

????????Just as on her recent Songs from the Road live CD/DVD set, Taylor delivered another dazzling set of songs spanning all three of her studio releases so far, ranging from such rocking numbers as the “Jump That Train” and “Tied & Bound” that opened the two sets, respectively, to the smoky vocals of a delicate “Beautifully Broken” and the Stevie Ray Vaughan-like licks of the instrumental “White Sugar”. In between also came a lengthy “Watch ‘Em Burn”, a slow “Diamonds in the Dirt” with drummer Layla Hall and bassist Paul Lamb contributing some solid background vocals, a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression”, the cool, quiet grooves of “Time Has Come”, a peppy “Kiss the Ground Goodbye”, and the soft, breezy “Just Another Word”.

But perhaps the highlight of the evening was the band’s killer take on the Freddie King classic “Going Down” – one of the best versions of the song we’ve heard – that capped off the 90-minute opening set, combining Detroit grunge with some delicate, U2-ish tones, with Hall using one of her long dreadlocks in place of a stick at one point during her drum solo and Taylor also stepping into the audience for a time.

????????The band returned for a short second set that included a rocking “Let It Burn” and shuffling “Going Home” after kicking off on the aforementioned “Tied & Bound” and “White Sugar”, then closing the night with a shuffling Chicago-style instrumental encore that we’re thinking/hoping could have been a preview to her upcoming Jim Gaines-produced studio CD, The Dirty Truth, coming in September.

As good as Taylor sounds on her recordings, her voice and playing are even more impressive in person, with Hall and Lamb providing just the right amount of rhythm support. And with that next CD due out this fall, there will likely be even more to look forward to in Taylor’s next visit to the ‘burgh. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we’ll be lucky enough to catch her again soon, and you should probably shoot to do the same, wherever you may be.

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2014 brings Good News for Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters

A little over a year ago, we just couldn’t say enough positive things about Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters‘ new CD, an almost entirely instrumental masterpiece called Just for Today. The good news for blues fans is that the band’s latest album – titled, appropriately enough, Good News (in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Sam Cooke LP Ain’t That Good News) – is also quite impressive, again featuring a fair number of instrumentals as well as some charming vocals from Diane Blue on the remaining tracks, including such gems as Cooke’s “Change is Gonna Come”, Junior Wells’ “In the Wee Hours”, and the original “Runnin’ in Peace”.

Earl’s eighth album for Stony Plain Records, Good News captures the reigning Blues Music Award guitarist of the year and his band – the same line-up with whom he’s played for more than a decade now, with The Broadcasters name itself dating back some 25 years – working through ten magnificent, mostly original tracks, kicking off with a rollicking, country-tinged instrumental “I Met Her on That Train” that features special guests Zach Zunis (Janiva Magness Band) and Nicholas Tabarias also on guitar, in addition to a strong showing from Dave Limina on B3.

The ronnie_earl_good_news (220x201)band’s take on the Cooke classic “Change is Gonna Come” is about as soulful – both vocally and on guitar – as you can get, followed by a jazzy “Time to Remember” and the rich, nearly 11-minute slow blues of “In the Wee Hours”, much of it instrumental, allowing Zunis, Limina, and Earl (whose nickname is “The Stratocaster Master”) each room for impassioned solos while drummer Lorne Entress and bassist Jim Mouradian hold down the rhythm. From there, the band moves to the bouncy instrumental title track, driven by some gospelish B3 from Limina, before Blue provides some Dee Dee Bridgewater-like vocals on “Six String Blessing”.

Co-written by the late, great blues guitarist Hubert Sumlin, the instrumental “Blues for Henry” starts off reserved, then builds to a powerful crescendo of organ and guitar, while “Puddin’ Pie” is every bit the equal to something you might have heard from B.B. King’s band in its heyday. The album finishes on the poignant “Runnin’ in Peace” about the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the lyrics of which were written by Boston musician and author Ilana Katz Katz, who was near the race’s finish line when the first bomb exploded.

If there’s any bad news to be told, it’s that the album includes only ten tracks, although a closer listen reveals there’s really no reason to feel shortchanged: all but three of the songs here play longer than five minutes – two of them (“In the Wee Hours” and “Six String Blessing”) in fact double that – with an average track time of six-and-a-half minutes. Earl’s playing is of course first-rate, as also holds true for the rest of the band, including Blue’s vocals, for an end result that’s bound to bring lots of good news for both Earl and his fans alike.

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Royal Southern Brotherhood gives heartsoulblood on sophomore studio release

RSB_heartsoulbloodJust a month after picking up its first Blues Music Award for the DVD portion of its live Songs from the Road set, Royal Southern Brotherhood is back with its second studio release from Ruf Records, a little something called heartsoulblood that sees the band continuing to gel nicely.

Made up of Cyril Neville (percussion and vocals), Mike Zito (guitar and vocals), and Devon Allman (guitar and vocals), along with a rhythm section of Yonrico Scott (drums) and Charlie Wooton (bass), the band picks up pretty much right where it left off on its eponymous debut, providing plenty more infectious grooves, superb guitar riffs, and tight harmony vocals, from the opening “World Blues” that has Zito, Neville, and Allman taking turns on lead vocals amidst some strong blues-rock grooves and a chorus of “these world blues, keep running through my veins” to the swaying, island-tinged closer “Love and Peace”.

In between of course is another delightful and diverse set of tracks, with the Brotherhood demonstrating an even tighter group sound than on its debut, working its way through songs that include the breezy “Rock and Roll”, where Neville delivers such lyrics as “rock and roll is the child of rhythm and blues, make you shake from your head baby down to your shoes” and “girl, shake what your mama gave ya’”; the funky, percussion-filled “Here It Is”; the tough, creeping “Callous”; and a gritty, in-your-face “Ritual” that pairs some distorted vocals from Zito with dark-magic lyrics.

That’s balanced by such softer numbers as the smooth-flowing “Groove On” (the “my heart, my soul, and my blood” refrain of which serves as the source for the album’s title) with its Steely Dan-like intro and reflective “Shoulda Known”, both featuring soulful vocals from Allman; Neville’s R&B/reggae-styled “She’s My Lady”; and the slow, folk-sounding “Takes a Village”, this time with Zito handling vocals.

Recorded at the Dockside Studio in Louisiana and produced by Jim Gaines, heartsoulblood is another fine offering from one of blues-rock’s fastest-rising – and certainly most talented – acts.

Related posts:
Royal Southern Brotherhood keeps rockin’ with live two-disc set
Quick takes: Tedeschi Trucks Band, Royal Southern Brotherhood offer great examples of blues power in numbers

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