Pittsburgh band The Commonheart overcomes Pressure of sophomore album with terrific new release

We don’t have as much of a chance to get out and see (or review albums from) local bands as we’d like, but here’s a Pittsburgh act that’s likely on the verge of a major breakout from the “local” scene, between a dynamite new album having been released last week and an upcoming tour of North America starting in September. If you haven’t yet heard or seen Pittsburgh-based The Commonheart, we advise you wait no longer to check them out, regardless of whether you live anywhere near the Steel City. And their new album Pressure (Jullian Records) is a great place to start as you’re waiting for them to come to a town near you.

Somewhat akin to Pittsburgh’s own version of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, The Commonheart fluctuates in size between eight and ten members, including horns and female backing vocals, all built around the powerful soul-rocking vocals of frontman Clinton Clegg, whose raspy voice evokes comparisons to such greats as Bob Seger and Joe Cocker. 

Add to that plenty of tight, solid grooves, positive lyrics, and the full-band sound, and you end up with an uplifting, soulful offering that shows tremendous strides since even the band’s impressive 2016 debut album Grown.

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Riding without the King, B.B. King Blues Band still captures The Soul of the King on new album, tour

It’s been four years now since “The King of the Blues” B.B. King moved on to the big blues gig in the sky and what some might consider the better world of which he frequently sang, but the band that backed him has continued to play on, bringing their music to stages around the world and, now, to the headphones and speakers of fans everywhere with an album entitled The Soul of the King (Ruf Records).

A mix of King covers and band originals, the album finds the band — with its collective experience of more than 100 years playing not only with King but with the likes of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, James Brown, Pops and Mavis Staples, Buddy Guy, Carey Bell, Bobby Rush, Charlie Musselwhite, Otis Clay, and Isaac Hayes, among others — joined by guests ranging from blues veterans such as Taj Mahal, Kenny Neal, and Joe Louis Walker to established acts like Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Diunna Greenleaf, and Jonn Del Toro Richardson, and rising stars like Michael Lee of The Voice fame.

While several of the tracks will of course be familiar to fans of King and the blues more generally, including King hits such as “Sweet Little Angel”, “There Must Be a Better World Somewhere”, “Paying the Cost to Be the Boss”, and “The Thrill is Gone”, the album also allows members of the band to step forward and shine in a way that may just never have been possible sharing the stage with B.B., not because B.B. would intentionally deprive his band members of that attention (frequently giving them opportunities to solo, in addition to opening each show with a few warm-up songs before King made his appearance) but simply because of B.B.’s commanding presence, which helped earn the bluesman so many Blues Music/W.C. Handy Awards for Entertainer of the Year from The Blues Foundation that they named the category after him (now the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year Award)!

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Tune into the Weekend: Get your mojo working with this alternate version of Mother Mojo from Satan and Adam

If you haven’t yet watched the Satan & Adam documentary on Netflix or elsewhere, we highly recommend you make a point to do so when you have the chance. This isn’t, as its name might imply to the uninitiated, a film concerning the Garden of Eden, but it does chronicle the creation and subsequent history of the unlikely partnering and friendship of an aging, black one-man-blues-band (Sterling “Mr. Satan” Magee) and a younger white harmonica player (Adam Gussow) on the streets of Harlem beginning in the 1980s.

Despite all the good words and attention that the blues duo received through the years, including their “Freedom for My People” having been featured as one of only two non-U2 tracks (along with Jimi Hendrix’s “The Star Spangled Banner”) on the Irish band’s Rattle and Hum soundtrack, we somehow managed to largely miss this multi-decade phenomenon known as Satan and Adam. We’re sure we weren’t the only ones who failed to give Satan and Adam their due at the time, which is why it’s nice that we’ve all been given the opportunity to catch up on their story (and music) through this documentary.

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Break in the Chain

We might have taken a short break from our music podcast in June, but we’re back now with another smoking talk-free edition (our 50th episode!) for you, featuring music from Robben Ford and Shemekia Copeland, Selwyn Birchwood, Albert Castiglia, the Duke Robillard Band, AG Weinberger and more. 

Hope you enjoy it!



Playlist
The River – The Lucky Losers (Blind Spot)
Corporate Drone – Selwyn Birchwood (Pick Your Poison)
Heavy Heart – Selwyn Birchwood (Pick Your Poison)
Sweet Little Number – AG Weinberger (Reborn)
In Your Bed – The Achievers (Live at the SVA)
I Tried to Tell Ya – Albert Castiglia (Masterpiece)
Working So Hard for My Baby’s Love – Carlo Ditta (Hungry for Love)
Sweet Nothin’s – Duke Robillard Band w/ Sunny Crownover (Ear Worms)
Yes We Can – Duke Robillard Band w/ Bruce Bears (Ear Worms)
Break in The Chain – Robben Ford (feat. Shemekia Copeland) (Purple House

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Grady Champion delivers some seriously Down Home Blues on Tribute to ZZ Hill

Although bluesman Grady Champion‘s soulful 2014 album debut on the Jackson, Mississippi Malaco Records label, Bootleg Whiskey, was a magnificent one, his latest recording finds Champion bringing things even closer to home for the longtime soul, blues and gospel label, which through the decades has featured such names as Bobby “Blue” Bland, Johnnie Taylor, Tyrone Davis, Dorothy Moore, and Little Milton on its roster of artists, with Champion paying homage to another of Malaco’s most successful musicians on Steppin’ In: A Tribute to ZZ Hill.

Here, Champion covers Hill’s biggest hits, from the gritty soul grooves of the opening “Down Home Blues” (George Jackson) and “Someone Else is Steppin’ In” (Denise LaSalle) to swaying numbers involving affairs of the heart like “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing” (Little Johnny Taylor) with its stinging guitar from Eddie Cotton and Jackson’s soft, slow “Cheating in the Next Room”, many of the dozen tracks accented by female backing vocals and horns (when Champion himself isn’t blowing away on harmonica, such as on the particularly gravelly-vocaled “Shade Tree Mechanic”, slow-grooved “Open House at My House” and truly grinding “Bump and Grind”).

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Three-disc compilation from late guitarist and singer Rory Gallagher offers nothing but Blues (and that’s good by us!)

If you like the music of blues-rockers such as Joe Bonamassa, Johnny Winter, George Thorogood, Walter Trout, Peter Green, and/or Jeff Healey, and aren’t familiar with the late Irish multi-instrumentalist and singer Rory Gallagher, we can think of no better introduction to his work than this fantastic new 3-CD compilation of blues numbers from throughout his two-dozen-year solo career entitled, simply and accurately, Blues (UMC). And if you’re already a Gallagher fan, the good news is that this one will also be worth adding to your collection, with a whopping 90% of the 36 tracks here being previously unreleased material from various album sessions, radio shows and sessions, and TV concerts.

The set flows seamlessly between solo and band numbers, with the first of the 3 discs devoted to electric blues selections from Gallagher, the second to acoustic blues, and the final to live numbers. While most of what’s here has Gallagher front and center either on his own or leading a three-piece or larger band, Blues also captures Gallagher as a guest player on recordings with such greats as Muddy Waters (a swinging, horns-drenched “I’m Ready” from Muddy’s 1971 London Sessions album), Albert King (an unreleased cover of B.B. King’s “You Upset Me” from Albert’s 1975 Live album, on which both Albert and Rory solo), Jack Bruce (an unreleased 1991 version of “Born Under a Bad Sign” from the German Rockpalast TV show),the Chris Barber Band (a 1989 concert taping of the grooving instrumental “Comin’ Home Baby”), and skiffle king Lonnie Donegan (“Drop Down Baby” from Donegan’s Puttin’ on the Style album).

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Steal Your Joy

This latest edition of our BluesPowR Radio Hour is loaded with helpful advice, mostly of the what-not-to-do variety, from “don’t let the devil ride” to “don’t you dare judge me” to “don’t you let people steal your joy”, with music from the likes of Rick Vito, Mindi Abair & The Boneshakers, Scott Sharrard & Taj Mahal, The Lee Boys, Tony Holiday, Bob Corritore and friends such as Sugaray Rayford and Oscar Wilson, and more! 

So, all that’s really left for us to say is “don’t miss it”!


Playlist
World on Fire – Rick Vito (Soulshaker)
Tell Me Mama – Bob Corritore & Friends w/ Oscar Wilson (Don’t Let the Devil Ride!)
Don’t Judge Me – Tim Gartland (Satisfied)
Don’t Let the Devil Ride – The Lee Boys (Live on the East Coast)
Play to Win – Mindi Abair & The Boneshakers (The EastWest Sessions)
Not That Kind of Girl – Mindi Abair & The Boneshakers (The EastWest Sessions)
Everything a Good Man Needs – Scott Sharrard w/ Taj Mahal (Saving Grace)
Sad For No Reason – Imperial Jade (On the Rise)
Coin Operated Woman – Tony Holiday (Porch Sessions)
Steal Your Joy – Bob Corritore & Friends w/ Sugaray Rayford (Don’t Let the Devil Ride!)

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Jimmie Vaughan offers one really worth bringing home with Baby, Please Come Home

Jimmie Vaughan may never achieve quite the same level of recognition from the general public as his late, great younger brother Stevie Ray, with Jimmie’s music generally tending to gravitate more towards the laidback, traditional side of the genre, closer to a T-Bone Walker or B.B. King than the world-famous blues-rocking sibling Jimmie helped to inspire. But there’s no denying that Jimmie — a founding and longtime member of The Fabulous Thunderbirds — remains one of the most respected blues guitar players on the scene today, frequently sharing the stage with the likes of Eric Clapton (who, you may recall, joined Vaughan for a few numbers at last summer’s Project Blues fundraiser in Columbus and has invited Vaughan to participate in each of his Crossroads Guitar Festivals, in addition to having had Vaughan open for and play a few songs with him during his recent three-night run at the Royal Albert Hall), with Vaughan’s latest album Baby, Please Come Home (Last Music Co.) being a prime example of just how he came to attain  such a lofty position in the blues world.

So while they may not be the most aggressive or flashy, Vaughan’s band here is consistently good and really cooks their way through this 11-track offering of some of Vaughan’s favorite songs, from the cool, swaying croon of numbers like Huey Meaux’s “Just a Game” and T-Bone Walker’s “I’m Still in Love With You” on one side of the spectrum to the uptempo swing of Chuck Willis’ “What’s Your Name?” and groovy, almost-Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble-sounding instrumental “Hold It”, with lots more swinging and shuffling in between.

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Nobody Told Me that John Mayall would still be making such great albums at 85

When we told you about John Mayall‘s Three for the Road album last spring, you might recall our noting that Mayall’s next studio album would be one that, according to Mayall, “strongly feature(s)…guitar players who will be pretty well-known to all lovers of rock and roll”. Mayall, of course, has a long history of working with some great guitar players — Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Harvey Mandel, Walter Trout, and Coco Montoya, among them — and, while none of these musicians makes a return appearance on Mayall’s newest album Nobody Told Me (Forty Below Records), several other well-known rock and blues guitarslingers do join the Godfather of British Blues for a track or two, from Todd Rundgren, “Little Steven” Van Zandt (E Street Band), and Alex Lifeson (Rush) to Joe Bonamassa, Larry McCray, and Mayall’s current guitarist Carolyn Wonderland. The result is one terrific song after another,  resembling the studio equivalent of one of Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festivals.

Mayall comes out swinging with a slick, horns-accented version of Magic Sam’s “What Have I Done Wrong”, one of two songs on which he’s joined by Bonamassa, who returns  a bit later on a “Delta Hurricane” that just oozes with grooves, with Mayall also throwing in a more distant and lonesomer take on Bonamassa’s “Distant Lonesome Train” than the original, Mayall’s version featuring some gritty slide work from Wonderland.

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Tony Holiday calls upon some talented friends with Porch Sessions

It’s been more than 75 years since Alan Lomax traveled to the Mississippi Delta to make his field recordings of bluesmen like Son House, Muddy Waters and David “Honeyboy” Edwards, and, while the internet and other technological advances have made it much easier to discover new music from remote corners of the world, it’s kind of neat to hear musicians still at times coming back to the field recording technique, as is the case with this latest release from singer and harmonica player Tony Holiday, who, joined by guitar player Landon Stone, traveled across the U.S. to record numbers on the front porches of such friends as Charlie Musselwhite, John Nemeth, Kid Ramos, Bob Corritore, and Kid Andersen, also inviting musicians like John Primer, James Harman, Mitch Kashmar, and others along to help make Porch Sessions (VizzTone Records) as authentic a downhome blues album as you’ll hear.

Every track here is solid, with perhaps the biggest gems including a pair of Muddy Waters-style songs — the slow blues “They Call Me John Primer” and uptempo shuffle “Tell Me Baby” — featuring John Primer on guitar and vocals and Bob Corritore on harmonica; a grungy, creeping “Woman Named Trouble” with John Nemeth and Jake Friel on harmonica and vocals that could easily be mistaken for a number off one of Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite’s collaborative albums; the soulful, closing “This Time I’m Gone for Good” with vocals from William Kidd; a somewhat jazzy “That’s Alright” that does include Musselwhite on harmonica along with Aki Kumar, who also provides vocals; a gritty, distant-vocaled “Blues Hit Big Town” (Junior Wells) with Nemeth on vocals and harmonica; a country-blues “Goin’ to Court” that includes James Harman on vocals and harmonica and Kid Ramos on guitar; and the slick, West Coast-sounding “Coin Operated Woman” that also allows us to hear Holiday on vocals, joined by Rockin’ Johnny Burgin on guitar.

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