Check out the spring edition of our BluesPowR Radio Hour, featuring new music from the likes of Tommy Castro and the Painkillers, Billy Branch & the Sons of Blues, The Robert Cray Band, Downchild, Damon Fowler, Eden Brent, Matt Schofield, Charlie Musselwhite, Joe Louis Walker, and more, plus a few classic tracks from Magic Sam and Johnny Winter with the Muddy Waters Band.
We know it's been a while since our last show, but we think you'll agree: this one was well worth the wait!
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One of the most accomplished blues guitarists over the past three decades, five-time Grammy winner and Blues Hall of Famer Robert Cray sometimes gets a bit of a bad rap. While no one can argue his technical abilities on guitar or Cray's role - similar to that of fellow slinger Stevie Ray Vaughan - in helping to bring the blues to a larger and more mainstream audience, more than a few blues fans and critics we've encountered through the years have commented on Cray's music having the tendency to be too smooth too much of the time to maintain their interest.
Anyone seeking a "Smoking Gun" to help counter such arguments won't find much in the way of one with Cray's latest release - his seventeenth studio album - In My Soul (Provogue Records), where a majority of the 11 mostly classic-sounding R&B/soul numbers gravitate toward the low-key. That said, every single one of these tracks is a good one - as per usual with Cray - with a few rather nice surprises to help in lifting the sentimental mood along the way.
The opening "You Move Me" is exactly the type of midtempo, simmering groove-filled number for which Cray has become synonomous, complete with stinging guitar licks and the impassioned delivery of lyrics such as "I'm not confessin' to nothin', that you don't already know/ let me tell you somethin': don't you ever, ever let me go" and "I've lost my mind, got no regrets/ because I know for sure, that I don't need a cure, you can surely bet / 'cause you move me". From there, Cray and his reconstituted band - which still includes longtime member Richard Cousins on bass, while Les Falconer and Dover Weinberg take over for Tony Braunagel and Jim Pugh on drums and keyboards, respectively - kick things into high gear with an upbeat, swinging cover of Otis Redding's "Nobody's Fault But Mine" that has Falconer trading some at-times Stevie Wonder-ish vocals with Cray as part of a horn-laced presentation the likes of what you'd get from the Tedeschi Trucks Band. As solid as the rest of the album is, this track captures the band at their very best, with the same kind of energy and enthusiasm that Cray exhibited during his performance of Jimmy McCracklin's "Just Got to Know" at last spring's Crossroads Guitar Festival.
Recognizing that there's really nowhere to go but down from there, the band takes things down considerably with the quiet, swaying "Fine Yesterday" that has Cray soulfully working through such lyrics as "Rained so hard, I just had to scream/ I never knew a storm so rough, never knew a person so mean/ maybe by mornin', this might all blow through, and I'll pick up the pieces of my life, and forget about you", followed by a creeping but powerful presentation of the Isaac Hayes/David Porter classic "Your Good Thing is About to End" (Mable Johns, Lou Rawls) with producer Steve Jordan also contributing on drums.
The tempo picks up again on "I Guess I'll Never Know", a funky, Stax-sounding number co-written by Falconer with Curtis Salgado-like vocals and plenty of horns, and then a few songs later on the groovy nod-to-Booker T instrumental "Hip Tight Onions", one of two songs - along with the sensitive "Hold On" - co-written by Cousins. Also worth mentioning among the album's remaining tracks - all ballads - is a take on Bobby Blue Bland's "Deep in My Soul" featuring some brooding horns.
With 15 Grammy nominations already during the band's 40-year history, chances are good that Cray will soon be earning another for In My Soul. It may register a bit closer to the "Mellow Down Easy" section on the blues mood scale than some prefer, but that doesn't make In My Soul any less impressive, with Cray's guitar-playing and vocals both just as fine as ever.
It's been a while since we've featured a Blues Lyrics of the Week but we think you'll agree that this is a good one considering the date on the calendar. From the self-dubbed "UK's most experienced emerging R&B blues band" The Welsh T Band, here's some "April Fool Blues" for you off the band's new album Where the Road Leads, released last week.
"I went to meet my baby the other night,
I gotta' kinda' feelin' somethin' ain't right.
I went to the place where she said she'd be -
'twas with another man, she made a fool out of me!
I got those April fool blues
I got those April fool blues
I got those April fool blues
man, she made a fool outta' me
Well my baby rang to say 'let's try again',
she swore she'd stay away from those other men.
I said 'Okay babe, we'll give a whirl' -
she broke my heart with another girl!
I got those April fool blues
I got those April fool blues
I got those April fool blues
man, she made a fool outta' me
- April Fool Blues, The Welsh T Band
In what began as a single concert event in Seattle and has since evolved into a sort of traveling mini-version of Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival - both in terms of frequency and starpower, the Experience Hendrix tour rolled through Pittsburgh for the second time in three and a half years last Thursday night, setting the Benedum Center stage ablaze through an awesome display of rotating musicians - almost entirely guitarists - all paying tribute to one man, the incomparable Jimi Hendrix.
With Hendrix just this month being honored by the U.S. Postal Service in the form of his own postage stamp and also serving as the subject of a much-anticipated upcoming motion picture (All is By My Side), it doesn't appear likely that anyone will forget about Hendrix soon, something that the Experience Hendrix tour will also help ensure.
While a good number of the performers Thursday night were the same who visited Pittsburgh as part of the 2010 tour - Hendrix's Band of Gypsys and Experience Hendrix bandmate Billy Cox (right), Aerosmith's Brad Whitford, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, drummer Chris "Whipper" Layton (Double Trouble and Kenny Wayne Shepherd band), Jonny Lang, Los Lobos' David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas, and Eric Johnson among them - there were also quite a few new faces this time around, including Buddy Guy, Doyle Bramhall II, Eric Gales, Dweezil Zappa, and Zakk Wylde, with the Black Crowes' Rich Robinson, Bootsy Collins, and Ana Popovic among the artists joining the tour on other dates.
View more photos from the Experience Hendrix show in our BluesPowR Gallery
Billy Cox kicked off the evening - accompanied by the very Hendrix-looking guitarist Dani Robinson - with a funky "Stone Free" before bringing out Dweezil Zappa for the first time on "Freedom". Dressed in black and gold attire and declaring himself a big Steelers fan, Eric Gales was the next to take the stage, providing vocals and guitar for "Foxey Lady" alongside fellow guitarists Mato Nanji (Indigenous) and a slinkily bodysuited Malina Moye.
Eric Johnson followed, starting on "Power to Love", then joined by Nanji and Kenny Wayne Shepherd band vocalist Noah Hunt for a rocking "Easy Rider". Gales returned to accompany Johnson for a slow, John Mayer-ish take on "May This Be Love (Waterfall)" before being replaced by Zakk Wylde not on guitar but keyboards for "Are You Experienced".
His last night with the tour, Wylde then switched to guitar to help close out the 70-minute set with a deafening "I Don't Live Today" and "Purple Haze".
After a brief intermission, Doyle Bramhall II (left) opened the second set in a much more subdued manner, starting with a solo acoustic version of "Hear My Train a Comin'". Joined by the band and Nanji, Bramhall then moved to "Angel", noting it as one he used to do with his band the Arc Angels (which also included Layton on drums as well as fellow Double Trouble member Tommy Shannon on bass and guitarist/singer Charlie Sexton), followed by "Gypsy Boy" and "In From the Storm", assisted along the way by Hunt on vocals. Next, Los Lobos' David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas presented a few numbers, including a terrific "Little Wing" sung by Rosas, before Wylde returned to the stage accompanied by Brad Whitford and Jonny Lang (right) on vocals and guitar for "All Along the Watchtower". Upon Wylde's exit, the band moved on to an electric "Fire" and a rocking "Spanish Castle Magic".
Kenny Wayne Shepherd was the next up, joined by Hunt on vocals and Nanji on guitar, hitting first on Electric Ladyland's "Gypsy Eyes", followed by "Come On" and a lengthy but captivating "Voodoo Child" with some awesome solos from Shepherd. Cox, Nanji, and Buddy Guy took over from there, with Guy first doing some (as Hendrix used to describe it to him) "Muddy Waters stuff the Jimi Hendrix way" before Hidalgo and Rosas returned for a Rosas-sung "Hey Joe" and they capped off the night - and a nearly two-hour second set - with Cox taking the lead on "Red House".
There were of course plenty of great jams and solos throughout the program. Each of these performers is quite talented in his or her own right, but together - and with such a rich catalog of songs to choose from - they help make for a show that every music fan should be sure to experience.
With more and more musicians of all genres turning to crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and indiegogo to assist in bringing their work to fruition, it's kind of neat to see some of the different types of projects that have been proposed in recent years, some of which couldn't even have been imagined as recently as just five or ten years back. One example is the current Kickstarter campaign from accordionist and zydeco master Buckwheat Zydeco, a six-part YouTube-based video series called Buckwheat's World that would feature new live performances from Zydeco's band as well as follow the Louisiana legend (whose real name is Stanley Dural, Jr.) through his life on the bayou.
If you've heard his music or seen Buckwheat play, you'll probably understand what we mean when we say that we can't imagine a more entertaining individual to be featured through such a series. With only ten days left to donate to his Kickstarter campaign, let's all do our part in helping to make this show a reality!
Here's a recent video of Zydeco playing Bob Dylan's “On a Night Like This” with Jimmy Fallon and The Roots to kick off the final episode of Fallon's Late Night show:
And here's one of the band doing the title track from its Lay Your Burden Down album (which also, by the way, offers a superb take on Memphis Minnie's "When the Levee Breaks" that you'll want to seek out if you haven't heard it):
Already Moss' tenth album, Time Ain't Free is everything you've come to expect from Moss - including the usual deep grooves, rugged vocals, and top-notch guitar work - plus a good deal more, featuring Michael Ledbetter on vocals and second guitar for the first time. A descendant of the great folk-bluesman Huddie Ledbetter - better known as Lead Belly, Ledbetter is to Moss what Noah Hunt is to Kenny Wayne Shepherd, helping to lift an immensely talented guitar-driven band to a whole 'nother level of greatness through Ledbetter's smooth, soulful vocals and R&B sounds.
And that's precisely how the album evolves: the first two tracks are classic Moss-style numbers, opening on the ambling country-tinged blues of "She Wants It" with its gritty guitar and some fine female backing vocals that we're fortunate to hear several more times throughout the record, before picking up the pace with the hushed vocals of the smoky, shuffling "Was I Ever Heard". From there, Moss turns the mic over to Ledbetter, who proceeds to light things up for a few with his smooth, Robert Cray-style vocals on songs that include a greasy "Light It Up" and the flowing R&B grooves of "Fare Thee Well".
You'll be hard-pressed to find contemporary songs elsewhere near as soulful as the latter, or for that matter, such later Ledbetter-sung tracks as the deeply impassioned, Muscle Shoals sound of "I Want the World to Know" and his Steve Winwood-like take on The Faces' "Bad 'n Ruin" that has the band firing on all cylinders before slowing to a crawl in concert with Ledbetter's repeated refrain of "so tired" at the song's conclusion - eventually yielding entirely to Bryan Rogers' solitary keyboards.
But it's not just the Ledbetter vocal tracks that ooze with feeling: "EZ Bree Zee" is exactly what its title claims, combining Moss' quiet vocals with some sentimental keyboards, smooth background vocals, and such soothing lyrics as "Just a carefree blowing breeze, never fails to bring me peace/ When the heavy weighs on my mind, wanna' make me leave it all behind", as Moss' guitar plays right into the soulfulness.
On the heavier side, the title track is a biting rocker complete with cowbell and cross-channel guitar action, followed by a chugging, trancelike "Been Gone So Long", both featuring Moss back on vocals. That's also the case for the pointed, driving jam "No Reason" and a brisk rocking cover of Son House's "Death Letter Blues" that nearly passes for a different song altogether, while the funky R&B/dance number "Tell You Somethin' 'Bout Yourself" and island-flavored ballad "Walkin' on a Ledge" are two more featuring Ledbetter on mic before the album closes on the groovy instrumental "(Big Mike's) Sweet Potato Pie", another great reminder of all that this band is capable, even without the terrific vocals.
If you missed the opportunities to get in on this project last fall (and earn some pretty neat backer premiums in the process), then you're surely going to want, make that need, to be checking out Time Ain't Free in its finished product. And you better believe that it's worth every penny.
Here's the band with a ripping version of "Death Letter Blues" from Seattle's Highway 99 Blues Club last spring:
The Muddy Waters-style "I'm Gonna Walk Outside" that comes a bit later is another fine slow blues track, with some particularly good work on keyboards from Reese Wynans, but, ever the showman, Walker offers a whole lot more in between, moving from one distinct sound to another, from the fun, in-your-face, destined-to-become crowd favorite "Stick a Fork in Me" (we can just imagine Walker closing his live sets with this one) much in the style of Hellfire's "Too Drunk to Drive Drunk", to a doo-woping take on the Jerry Lee Lewis classic "Don't Let Go" (Jesse Stone) that finds Walker slipping into deep-voiced Elvis mode, to the raucous party jam "Soul City", through which Walker takes us on a world tour of the soul-filled cities he's played (sorry, fellow Pittsburghers, but this is one list we didn't make, with Walker bypassing the Steel City on his way from "Cleveland, Ohio, to New York City, and Philadelphia, PA").
Also included are the Robert Johnson-like riffs and feel-good shuffle of "Love Enough", a breezy, bubblegum pop version of the Rolling Stones' open road number "Ride On, Baby" - the sweet sounds of which help to soften such biting lyrics as "you may look pretty, but I can't say the same for your mind" and "By the time you're 30, gonna' look 65" - and a rocking "Ramblin' Soul" featuring more terrific keyboards from Wynans alongside some killer guitar. Closing out the album with the pyschedelic 70s/80s-sounding rocker "Not in Kansas Anymore" and quiet, gospelish "Keep the Faith" - this time with Wynans on Hammond organ, Walker ensures Hornet's Nest is one that will keep critics and fans alike buzzing for a long time to come.
When we talked with Lancaster Roots and Blues organizer Rich Ruoff a few weeks back by email, he noted that he doesn't do things halfway. This past weekend, we got to see just what he meant when we and a few thousand other blues and roots fans descended on downtown Lancaster for the inaugural offering of the festival, which included an impressive two nights of live music featuring more than 50 musical acts across nine stages in five different venues.
As promised in its name, blues was a big part of the weekend: even bigger than on what we can report, in fact, with a number of quality acts running in overlapping time slots, forcing us, for example, to pass up performances from the likes of Steve Guyger & the Excellos, Big Joe and the Dynaflows, Clarence Spady, and Dr. Harmonica and Rockett 88 - and that was all just during the 10 o'clock hour Saturday night, while we were either waiting for or in the midst of taking in a set from the Johnny Winter Band with special guest James Cotton. We don't regret for a moment our decision to stick with the headliners, but if ever there was a case to be made for human cloning, this surely was it.
Fortunately for us, each of the acts we did get to see throughout the weekend were solid ones, starting with a superb opening set from the Heritage Blues Quintet. After a 45-minute delay as a result of traffic into Lancaster, the band - made up of Chaney Sims on vocals and handclaps/tambourine, father Bill Sims Jr. on vocals, guitars, and handclaps, Junior Mack on guitars and vocals, Parisian Vincent Bucher on harmonica, and Barry Harrison on drums - took the Steinman Hall stage with the work song of "Go Down Hannah", one of several numbers performed this night from its Grammy-nominated debut And Still I Rise, along with the slow, Mississippi blues of a Mack-sung "Clarkesdale Moan" and the much more uptempoed "Get Right Church", "C-Line Woman", and "Catfish Blues", with the female and male Sims on vocals, respectively, for the last two. Unfortunately, the late start meant that was all of the quintet's performance we got to hear, as by then it was already time to make our way to the Convention Center for an hour-plus set from smooth-voiced Louisiana bluesman and guitarist Chris Thomas King that included such gems as the funky "Da Thrill is Gone (From Here)", the slow, gritty "Baptized in Dirty Water", and a more traditional "John Law Burned Down the Liquor Store", in addition to a short solo portion without his band.
From there, we headed just downstairs to the Convention Center's smaller stage to catch a few songs from guitarist and singer Tom Principato, which reminded us that we really should spend a bit more time exploring his catalog, before we ventured off to a club called the Federal Taphouse for Sugar Ray & the Bluetones, featuring Monster Mike Welch on guitar. As great as they sound on recordings, this band is even more entertaining live, as they demonstrated on this night through a pair of terrific 45-minute sets. Kicking things off on the swinging "I'm Having a Ball" (Johnny Young), the band rolled through a nice mix of other great classics and originals, including Junior Wells' "Hoodoo Man", a more country-flavored "Blues Stop Knockin'" (Lazy Lester), and "What Have I Done Wrong" before Welch stepped up to the mic to sing and play Muddy Waters' "Sail On", with Anthony Geraci banging away on the keyboards.
After closing out the set on "Someday Someway" and a short intermission, the band returned for an equally energetic second set, starting on "You Give Me Nothing but the Blues", followed by a fiery "Step Back" and the creeping blues of "Sad Sad City". Along the way, they also hit on Otis Rush's "You Know My Love", the Robert Lockwood Jr. classic "Gonna Ball Tonight", and Little Walter's "Mean Old World" that allowed Norcia to show his chops on harmonica one last time before calling it a night.
The festival resumed Saturday evening with a smoking performance from Samantha Fish at the city's Chameleon Club, where the blues-rocker blew through a bunch of songs from her latest album Black Wind Howlin', including the fiery opener "Miles to Go", groove-filled "Foolin' Me" that saw Fish bring out her cigar box guitar for the first time, and in-your-face "Go To Hell" to the breezy country sounds of "Kick Around", a rocking "Sucker Born" (also on cigar box guitar), and the crawling title track. Switching to an oil can guitar for "Gone for Good", Fish then proceeded to offer a few solo numbers in Charley Patton's "Jim Lee Blues" along with a sensitive take on the Rolling Stones' "Dead Flowers" before the band returned to help her close out the show with such gems as a slowed-down, powerful version of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You" and the Black Sabbath rocker "War Pigs".
Much of the remainder of our evening was spent at the Convention Center, where we first caught a rare reunion appearance from 80s/90s rockers Tommy Conwell & the Young Rumblers, who we're pleased to report can still put on one hell of an entertaining show, and then the evening's headliner in blues guitar legend Johnny Winter and his band, joined on this stop by harmonica great James Cotton.
Somewhat a cross between fellow Philly pop-rock outfit The Hooters and their blues-rocking neighbors to the east George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Conwell and the Rumblers tore through an energetic 80-minute set that began on the shuffling "Tonight's the Night" and hit upon such songs as "Everything They Say is True", "I'm Seventeen", "Gonna Breakdown", "Walkin' on the Water", a "Workout" that saw Conwell venture out into the audience, and their biggest hit "I'm Not Your Man", with the band returning for a two-song encore of the Chambers Brothers' "Time Has Come Today" and the ballad "If We Never Meet Again". (You can see the full setlist - as reported by none other than The BluesPowR Blog - at the Tommy Conwell-focused blog Audio Rumble).
That of course set the stage rather nicely for the Johnny Winter Band, which kicked things off in a rocking manner with "Johnny B. Goode" followed by "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" before James Cotton joined for a few numbers, including a "Got My Mojo Workin'" that was terrific once the stage crew got Cotton's microphone working. On the eve of both Winter's 70th birthday (from here, they headed to New York for a star-studded birthday celebration at B.B. King's Blues Club Sunday night, complete with a Texas-shaped cake) and this week's release of the four-disc box set True to the Blues: the Johnny Winter Story (which we'll explore in more detail in the coming weeks), the band worked their way through a stellar set of blues and rock standards, including Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor", "Bony Moronie", the Rolling Stones' "Jumping Jack Flash", a "Don't Take Advantage of Me" that morphed into "Gimme Shelter", and another Stones classic in "It's All Over Now", with plenty of fine contributions from guitarist Paul Nelson (as well as bassist Scott Spray and drummer Tommy Curiale) along the way. Winter switched to his signature Firebird guitar and welcomed Cotton back to the stage for the last two songs of the nearly 90-minute set, Elmore James' "Dust My Broom" and Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited".
We closed out the festival at a new club called Tellus Three Sixty, where we listened to a few Delta soul-filled tunes from the "Arkansas Tornado" Lonnie Shields, backed by a seven-piece band of two guitars, drums, keyboards and three horn players. After a couple of swinging instrumentals from the band, the guitarist and singer kicked off his set with the funky title track off his Keeper of the Blues album, followed by songs like the feisty "Everyman Needs a Good Woman" and the slow blues of "Man is Under Pressure".
As busy as the festival was for us, it's pretty astonishing to think that what we saw accounted for less than one-fifth of the weekend's schedule, which also included acts like Edgar Winter, Loudon Wainwright, Lake Street Dive, the Tim Warfield Organ Band, Bill Wharton the Sauce Boss, James Day & the Fish Fry, Sweet Leda, the Martini Brothers, and Beth Sorrentino, to name just a few. Whether future years will offer quite as extensive a range of performers is ultimately up to Ruoff and his fellow organizers to determine, but we'd have to think that the number of acts is one area where Ruoff can easily afford to go halfway, especially if he's able to continue bringing in the kind of musical talent and crowds that he did last weekend.