Blues supergroup the Phantom Blues Band is Still Cookin’ with hot new album

There aren’t many blues bands today that can compare with the Phantom Blues Band in terms of either talent or longevity. They may be best known for their role backing the legendary Taj Mahal on several projects — earning two Grammy Awards along the way — over the past three decades, but they’ve also dished out a bunch of terrific music of their own during that time, including their latest release Still Cookin’ (VizzTone Records), which again captures the band sounding ridiculously good.

With members whose names will be quite familiar to regular readers of this blog, from either their past work together or supporting artists like Robert Cray, Barbara Blue, Curtis Salgado, Eric Burdon, Danielle Nicole, Joe Louis Walker, the Mannish Boys, Bonnie Raitt and Tommy Castro, just to name a few, the Phantom Blues Band is made up of Tony Braunagel on drums, Mike Finnigan on keyboards, Larry Fulcher on bass, Johnny Lee Schell on guitar, Joe Sublett on saxophone and Les Lovitt on trumpet, with Finnigan, Fulcher and Schell taking turns on vocals, often featuring two or all three on the same song, as is the case, for example, on the opening track, a country-soul take on the Steve Cropper/Wilson Pickett co-penned “Don’t Fight It” that anyone with a pulse will be sure to feel, with Fulcher and Finnigan also sharing the mic for the breezy, island/reggae sounds of a “Shine On” that’s every bit as good and uplifting a song as you’d hear from the likes of such other collective talents as the Royal Southern Brotherhood.

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Tune into the Weekend: no need to wait ’til the Midnight Hour for Handsome Jack’s rocking cover of Wilson Pickett classic

You, like us, may not have known Jack… New York-based rock trio Handsome Jack, that is. But the latest single from the band has certainly helped put them on our radar, and will likely do the same for you.
 
It’s an absolutely smashing version of Wilson Pickett’s mid-1960s hit “In the Midnight Hour” that has much of the soul of the original thanks to its rich horns, lush keyboards, and female backing vocals, but with the added punch of gritty, distorted vocals (think a heavier-hitting CCR, Bob Seger, or the more contemporary The Commonheart), ripping guitar, and pounding drums. 

Though it’s probably impossible to do any better than Pickett did the first time around, you have to commend Handsome Jack for taking on the challenge and delivering a version you can listen to not just once out of curiosity, but that you’ll come back to and enjoy time and time again!

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Forrest McDonald Band puts some of its best Blues in a Bucket on latest release

We liked the Forrest McDonald Band‘s earlier album Turnaround Blues so much that we wondered if we’d ever hear another one quite that good from them. Not that the band’s 2017 follow-up album Stand My Ground was anything to sneeze at: spotlighting the powerful vocal work of Becky Wright, the album was indeed a solid one and very much worth checking out, even if it didn’t attain quite the same level of impressiveness as that previous release.

Now a few years later comes along McDonald — who, you may recall, spent part of his career playing guitar for the likes of Bobby Womack, Bonnie Bramlett, and the famous Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, including having contributed that instantly recognizable guitar work on Bob Seger’s hit “Old Time Rock and Roll” — and his band as strong as (if not perhaps stronger than) ever with their latest recording Blues in a Bucket (World Talent Records).

Wright makes a fine return appearance, guesting on vocals for two tracks, the gritty, slithering “Powerhouse” and the closing “Let the Love in Your Heart”, an upbeat catchy duet that sounds like it could have come straight out of a Disney movie or parade. But most of the vocals this time around are handled by the immensely talented Andrew Black, who we also heard a bit from on Turnaround Blues and whose dynamic range of R&B/soul stylings is in a rare league with such names as the late Michael Ledbetter, Ty Taylor of Vintage Trouble, and Brian Templeton of The Proven Ones.

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Times are Getting Tougher

Here’s another talk-free edition of our BluesPowR Radio Hour to help keep your new year rolling, featuring a trio of classic tracks off Earwig Music’s Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records: The Definitive Collection from Little Mack Simmons, Sunnyland Slim, and Andrew “Blueblood” McMahon, plus a pair of tracks from both Mike Zito and friends (in this case, Chuck Berry’s grandson Charlie Berry III on one and guitarist Joe Bonamassa on the second) off Zito’s tribute album to the late rock n’ roll pioneer Berry and harmonica ace Bob Corritore joined by a few friends of his own (vocalists Oscar Wilson on “Bitter Seed” and Sugaray Rayford on “Trying to Make a Living”, a tune once covered by Koko Taylor but the original of which from Bobby Saxton can also be heard on the Bea & Baby Records collection, with guitarist Junior Watson also accompanying Corritore and Rayford on this latest take).

If that’s not enough for you, we’ve also got music from Danny Bryant, Dom Martin, Jill West & Blues Attack and the aptly named Sensational Barnes Brothers. It’s going to be tough to pass this one up!

Playlist
St. Louis Blues – Mike Zito & Friends feat. Charlie Berry III (Rock ‘N’ Roll – A Tribute To Chuck Berry)
Times Are Getting Tougher – Little Mack Simmons (Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records: The Definitive Collection)
Little Girl – Sunnyland Slim (Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records: The Definitive Collection)
Worried All The Time – Andrew “Blueblood” McMahon (Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records: The Definitive Collection)
Xtra Xtra – Jill West & Blues Attack (Blues from the Burgh 5)
Bitter Seed – Bob Corritore & Friends feat. Oscar Wilson (Do The Hip-Shake Baby!)
Trying To Make A Living – Bob Corritore & Friends feat. Sugaray Rayford & Junior Watson (Do The Hip-Shake Baby!)
Mya – Danny Bryant (Means of Escape)
Antrim Blues – Dom Martin (Spain to Italy)
Nobody’s Fault But My Own – Sensational Barnes Brothers (Nobody’s Fault But My Own)
Wee Wee Hours – Mike Zito & Friends feat. Joe Bonamassa (Rock ‘N’ Roll – A Tribute To Chuck Berry)

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Before you cast your votes for the Blues Music Awards, be sure to check out Best Emerging Artist nominee Ben Levin’s Before Me

Just before Christmas, we told you about young blues pianist Ben Levin‘s holiday song “Forgot Mrs. Claus“. Between that single and the recent unveiling of this year’s Blues Music Awards nominees, which included Ben among its Best Emerging Album candidates, we figured it was probably about time we got around to telling you about that latest album from Ben, entitled Before Me (Vizztone Records).

From the boogie woogie flavor of Levin’s opening take on Big Bill Broonzy’s “I Feel So Good”, you can tell that Before Me is going to be one of those albums that transports you to another place, in this case, the back of a dark piano bar where you can relax, have a drink and smoke cigars all night while listening to Levin play, with a strong, confident delivery both musically and vocally, and crisp, commanding vocals that make Levin sound decades older than his 20 years.

With snappy originals that fit right in with other covers such as “Confessin’ the Blues”, ‘Lonesome Whistle Blues” and “I Wanna Hug Ya, Kiss Ya, Squeeze Ya”, the album features an impressive selection of tracks that allow Levin to stretch out and show the range of his talents without ever sounding stale, over-the-top, or that he takes his music too seriously, a rare and admirable feat of maturity and balance for someone his age.

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Georgia bluesman Eddie 9V hits the ground running on debut album Left My Soul in Memphis

Among the most pleasant of surprises to cross our desk in 2019 was the debut release from a young Georgia bluesman who goes by the name of Eddie 9V. Don’t let his mere 23 years of age fool you: this guy has a sound much deeper than his days on this earth, delivering greasy, soulful blues numbers that combine riffs like those of his idol Freddie King with styles that range from Eric Lindell, JJ Grey and the late Sean Costello to fellow rising artists Kelly Finnigan and Big Jon Atkinson to Junior Parker, Magic Sam, John Nemeth and blues-rockers like the North Mississippi Allstars and MonkeyJunk.

Except for the keyboards, Eddie handled all of the instruments on Left My Soul in Memphis himself, also using vintage recording techniques to capture a raw, unedited 50s and 60s sound that will impress fans of traditional and contemporary blues/soul alike. From the slick, horn-soaked cover of the blues classic “Look Over Yonder Wall” that opens the album and 9V dedicates to Freddie King and shuffling soul-blues grooves of “36th & Main”, to slow numbers like the piano-laced “Bottle and the Blues” and the gritty swaying R&B/soul of “Lo-Fi Love”, to more uptempo and funky tracks such as “Don’t Test Me” and “New Orleans”, everything here is deep grooved and genuine, loaded with stinging guitar and vocals that are surprisingly diverse and mature for his age and that occasionally venture into the falsetto.

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Tune into the Weekend, Christmas edition: Ben Levin reveals the one person Saint Nick forgot (don’t be that Santa!)

Well, this might just be the real story behind “The Year Without a Santa Claus”: it looks like jolly ol’ Saint Nick may have left someone very important off his lists — someone very close to home (and we ain’t talking Rudolph, but be sure to remember your pets too on the holidays!) — in what you might call a major “snow pas”…

We couldn’t resist sharing one more new Christmas tune with you before the holiday, a Ray Charlesish track from young pianist and singer Ben Levin that combines some great crooning and playing from Levin with swinging horns and memorable lyrics like its chorus of “Oh man, don’t have a second to pause/ gave the whole world presents, and forgot Mrs. Claus”, as well as “I gotta’ find somethin’, even if I stole/ I need a gift to keep a happy North Pole” and “She want a diamond ring, not an Elf on the Shelf/ I got nothin’, I’m gonna’ spend Christmas by myself”. 

Maybe Santa should have checked those lists a third time!

Here’s hoping your holiday — whatever and whenever it is you celebrate — is smoother and less stressful than Santa’s in this song, and the happiest it can be for you and yours!

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Heartaches and Pain

We couldn’t let the year come to a close without sneaking in another talk-free edition of our BluesPowR Radio Hour, this time featuring music from John Mayall with Larry McCray, Lurrie Bell & the Bell Dynasty, The Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling, Victor Wainwright, GA-20, and more, plus a Christmas tune from Jimmie Bratcher!

Wrap up your year (and those holiday gifts) on a bluesy note with this latest episode!

Playlist
The Moon is Full – John Mayall (Featuring Larry McCray) (Nobody Told Me)
You Know I’m Right – GA-20 (Lonely Soul)
Greene Boy – GA-20 (Lonely Soul)
Show Me to the Light – The Commonheart (Pressure)
Wait on the Lord – Elizabeth King & the Gospel Souls (The D-Vine Spirituals Recordings)
Don’t Pass Me By – Victor Wainwright (Don’t Pass Me By: A Tribute to Sean Costello)
Heartaches and Pain – Lurrie Bell & The Bell Dynasty (Tribute to Carey Bell)
When I Get Drunk – Lurrie Bell & The Bell Dynasty w/ Billy Branch (Tribute to Carey Bell)
Sanctified, Holy And Hateful – The Nick Moss Band feat. Dennis Gruenling (Lucky Guy!)
Silver Bells – Jimmie Bratcher (Man! It’s Christmas Again)

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“XTRA XTRA, read all about it: the blues is back in town” on fifth installment of Blues from the Burgh compilation

The Blues Society of Western Pennsylvania (BSWPA) delivers another terrific compilation of tracks from local and native blues artists on this fifth edition of the society’s Blues from the Burgh CD series. 

This latest installment kicks off with songs from two strong female singers, starting with Pittsburgh-born and -raised Barbara Blue (who has long held down a steady gig on Memphis’ Beale Street, and whose “Accidental Theft” can also be heard on her own recent album Fish in Dirty H2O), followed by a breaking news announcement from Jill West & Blues Attack that “the blues is back in town” on the swinging, harmonica-laced “XTRA XTRA”. Together, they nicely set the tone for the rest of the album, which features solid performances from a number of other female vocalists, including the funky, sometimes gruff uptempo R&B of Miss Freddye‘s “Lady of the Blues” (with well-known blues players Kid Andersen on guitar and June Core on drums), a soulful, Bonnie Raitt-ish “Mama She Knows” from Lori Russo & the Uppercuts, and the Stevee Wellons Band‘s creeping, dramatic “Bed and a Bottle”.

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Tune into the Weekend: All I Got for Christmas was the Blues and a Broken Heart

We admit that we haven’t gotten much into the Christmas spirit so far this season (still seems a bit early for that to us!), but this swaying new blues-rock single from longtime Johnny Winter guitarist, band leader and Grammy Award-winning producer Paul Nelson sure does help, entitled “All I Got for Christmas was the Blues and a Broken Heart”!

With the usual great guitar work from Nelson and memorable lyrics that include such gems as “I’ve got a stocking full of pain, just your picture in a frame, watchin’ me fall apart”,”Well you kissed me off baby and you let me go, now even Santa Claus done let me down/Well I’m gonna tell you: if things don’t get better by New Year’s, I’m gonna ride me a reindeer straight on outta’ town” and “I’m one step forward, and two steps back/ saw Saint Nick slide down the chimney, but he didn’t leave me jack”, the track teams Nelson with Anthony Krizan (Spin Doctors) on vocals for an entertaining and soulful number that’s guaranteed to get even the grinchiest blues fan’s holiday season started on all the right notes.

With December soon upon us, here’s hoping you get all the blues (of the musical variety) you’re wishing for this Christmas! 

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