Ian Parker dishes Spoonful of Gold on album paying tribute to blues great Willie Dixon

We hadn’t heard much about British blues-rocker Ian Parker before we caught a track from his new album on BBC recently, but that — plus learning that said album was a tribute to Chicago blues musician/writer/producer and “Poet Laureate of the Blues” Willie Dixon — was enough to pique our interest in the project. Parker isn’t, of course, the only blues singer/guitarist to pay tribute to individual blues legends in recent years, with a few earlier examples including Joe Bonamassa’s tributes to first Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and then B.B., Freddie and Albert King through his Muddy Wolf and Three Kings of the Blues concerts, respectively; Big Head Todd and the Monsters joining forces with B.B. King, Hubert Sumlin, Charlie Musselwhite, Ruthie Foster and others as the Big Head Blues Club to honor Robert Johnson and then, more recently, with Billy Branch, Ronnie Baker Brooks and Mud Morganfield to also pay tribute to Willie Dixon; and Walter Trout helping to remember Luther Allison through his Luther’s Blues: A Tribute to Luther Allison recording.

Even though a few of the songs on Parker’s Spoonful of Gold are ones also covered on the earlier tributes from Bonamassa or the Big Head Blues Club (including, for example, “Evil”, “Spoonful”, “My Love Will Never Die”, and “The Seventh Son”), with Parker’s vocals at times even sounding pretty close to those of Big Head’s Todd Park Mohr while at other points evoking Davy Knowles (Back Door Slam), Parker delivers it all in an ambitious, engaging fashion. While the Big Head Blues Club relied in part on its guest performers to help provide some diversity in sound, you really have to give Parker credit for undertaking the effort alone with his band, who very much rise to the occasion and help create an impressive and memorable offering. Even if a few of these interpretations sound somewhat like stuff we’ve heard before, everything here is solid, with Parker & co. delivering perfectly commendable renditions of more familiar Dixon tracks like the opening gritty, rocking “Evil”; a “I Just Want to Make Love to You” that starts on some muted Led Zeppelin-ish licks and is then filled with subdued wah riffs; a creeping, eight-and-a-half minute “My Love Will Never Die” that includes pleading falsetto vocals from Parker; and the closing “Spoonful”.

But the biggest highlights here may in fact be some of the less familiar Dixon numbers Parker tackles, such as the breezy, island-sounding “Mighty Earthquake and Hurricane” with its Spanish-style guitar, handclaps, and harmony vocals, a groovy “I Can’t Understand” (co-written with Los Lobos’ Cesar Rosas and recorded for the band’s 1990 album The Neighborhood) that has about as modern a sound as you can get for a Dixon song along with its yearning vocals, and the swaying, simmering rocker “Weak Brain, Narrow Mind”.
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Hold On tight because Kirk Fletcher’s latest album will blow you away

In introducing the band on his recent recording paying tribute to the Three Kings of the Blues, Joe Bonamassa called fellow guitar-slinger Kirk Fletcher “one of the greatest modern blues guitar players in the world”, and one listen to that album and Bonamassa’s earlier Muddy Wolf tribute provides all the proof you might need that Fletcher has the goods to back that kind of statement up.

Stepping back to the center of the stage for his fourth solo studio album Hold On, Fletcher is even more superb, delivering not only the magnificent playing you would expect but some tough, seriously impressive vocals that put Fletcher in the same league as the likes of Larry McCray and the late Michael Burks.

Joined by Jonny Henderson (Matt Schofield, Ian Siegal) on keyboards and Matt Brown on drums, Fletcher works his way through a set of eight terrific tracks that range from the slow, straight-ahead blues of “Gotta Right” (“to sing the blues”) loaded with stinging licks to the heavy, dragging rocker “Time’s Ticking” to such funky numbers as the soulful, Billy Preston-like, make ya’ feel good “You Need Me” and New Orleans-style instrumental “Dupree” with its cool, second line grooves.
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Pianist Anthony Geraci branches out on Why Did You Have to Go

If you’re looking for something from pianist Anthony Geraci that’s drastically different from what he does with his main gig with Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, then Geraci’s latest album Why Did You Have to Go (Shining Stone Records) isn’t going to be it, at times sounding very much like the music of the band Geraci helped found and of which he’s remained a part now for 40 years. And that’s really no surprise, considering that Geraci has again, just as on his 2016 Fifty Shades of Blue album, enlisted his Bluetones bandmates for much of this project, even bringing in guitarist Ronnie Earl and drummer Neil Gouvin for a reunion of the band’s original members on two tracks.

But a few things do help separate this album from that of a Bluetones recording: all 13 of the tracks here were written by Geraci, and, although prominently featured, his former and current Bluetones bandmates actually make up less than half of the guests on this project, with other appearances including singers Sugaray Rayford, Willie J. Laws and Michelle “Evil Gal” Willson, horn players “Sax” Gordon Beadle and Doug Woolverton, and drummer Marty Richards, as well as singer Brian Templeton, guitarist Kid Ramos, bass player Willie J. Campbell and drummer Jimi Bott, the four of whom Geraci recently teamed with under the name of The Proven Ones (the debut recording from whom may be a better place to look if you do want to hear Geraci doing something a little different, which would probably only be because you want to hear more of his great work, not because you don’t like what you’ve heard from him with the Bluetones!).
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Doyle Bramhall II continues to evolve with Shades

We first heard Doyle Bramhall II when he and his band Smokestack played opening act on Eric Clapton‘s 2001 Reptile tour. A little research revealed that Bramhall also had a bit of a role on the Reptile album, including serving as a guest on three-quarters of the tracks and co-writing “Superman Inside.”

From there, it didn’t take long for us to realize that Bramhall also wrote two of the tracks (“I Wanna Be” and “Marry You”) covered by Clapton and B.B. King on the previous year’s Grammy Award-winning collaboration Riding with the King, in addition to playing on most of that album as well. That project would, in fact, be the start of a long and productive relationship that would find Bramhall joining the legendary guitarist in the studio and/or on tour for much of the next decade and a half, with Bramhall even helping to produce the Clapton and Old Sock albums.

Along the way, Bramhall has also played with or written or produced for artists including the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Sheryl Crow, Roger Waters, Elton John, Gregg Allman, Allen Toussaint, and T-Bone Burnett, while his pre-Clapton years included stints with Jimmie Vaughan’s The Fabulous Thunderbirds and as a co-founder of the Arc Angels with Charlie Sexton and Double Trouble members Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon.
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Deva Mahal, Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton join Bettye LaVette and others at inaugural Highmark Blues & Heritage Festival

Mahal

We weren’t able to catch much of the inaugural edition of the Highmark Blues & Heritage Festival that took place at the August Wilson Center in downtown Pittsburgh this past weekend, but the few acts we did manage to see Saturday afternoon were certainly good ones, with Deva Mahal finishing up the outdoor portion of the day before the Rev. Shawn Amos and Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton helped get things started on the intimate indoor stage.

Here are a few pictures we snapped during those sets, any of whom would be well worth checking out, hopefully not if, but when they return to the ‘burgh to play slightly longer engagements or at least on their recordings. You can read more about the debut album from Mahal, whose father happens to be a pretty famous blues guy by the name of Taj Mahal, here, and about Paxton, who we last caught at the Lancaster Roots & Blues Fest a few years back, here.

Amos

Mahal & Ingram

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although we’ve heard one or two of his albums, this was our first time seeing the Rev. Amos live, and were definitely impressed by his energetic, entertaining set, with blues legend Bobby “Blue” Bland’s son Rodd Bland on drums.

Paxton

Among the acts we were disappointed to miss at the festival this weekend were headliners Bettye LaVette (Saturday) and John Scofield (Sunday) as well as earlier Saturday afternoon acts Billy Price, Teeny Tucker and Christione “Kingfish” Ingram, although we were fortunate to see the latter join Mahal for her set’s closing number, an always soulful take on Carole King’s “Take a Giant Step”. Not too shabby of a line-up for a first-time effort, one that we hope will have a long, rich history here in the Steel City!

Amos

Ingram

Amos w/ Bland

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Blues Been Mighty Good to Me

Things may finally be starting to cool down a bit on the outdoor thermometer but we’ve got another hot one for you here with this edition of our talk-free BluesPowR Radio Hour, featuring double-shots from both Jim Gustin & Truth Jones as well as Delmark Records’ 65th anniversary tribute album, with tracks from Demetria Taylor and Corey Dennison & Gerry Hundt. Plus, you’ll hear music from Bobby Messano, Erin Harpe & the Delta Swingers, Tom Hambridge & Allen Toussaint, Theotis Taylor, and more!

Playlist
Big Hearted Woman – Jim Gustin & Truth Jones (Memphis)
Half Past Ten – Jim Gustin & Truth Jones (Memphis)
Make It Work – Andy Frasco (Songs from the Road)
Lonely Leavin’ Town – Erin Harpe & the Delta Swingers (Big Road)
Never Too Late to Break a Bad Habit – Bobby Messano (Bad Movie)
Beautician Blues – Joe Goldmark (Blue Steel)
High Desert – Marie/Lepanto (Tenkiller)
Broke and Hungry (tribute to Sleepy John Estes) – Corey Dennison & Gerry Hundt (Tribute: Newly recorded blues celebration of Delmark’s 65th Anniversary)
Riverboat (tribute to Big Time Sarah) – Demetria Taylor (Tribute: Newly recorded blues celebration of Delmark’s 65th Anniversary)
Fly Away to Be At Rest – Theotis Taylor (Something Within Me)
Blues Been Mighty Good to Me – Tom Hambridge w/ Allen Toussaint (The NOLA Sessions)

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Reigning Queen of Beale Street Barbara Blue makes big splash with Fish in Dirty H20

It’s been a few years now since we’ve had a chance to talk about smoky-voiced Pittsburgh native Barbara Blue, who has been holding down a five-nights-a-week gig at Silky O’Sullivan’s on Memphis’ Beale Street for the past 21 years, a feat that long ago earned her the title of “The Reigning Queen of Beale Street”.

Having previously recorded albums with both Taj Mahal’s Phantom Blues Band and Willie “Pops” Mitchell’s house band, Blue is still giving us plenty to talk about with her 11th independent release Fish in Dirty H2O (Big Blue Records), which may just be one of Barbara’s finest albums yet.

Everything here is solid, although we probably would have appreciated more of a straight-up blues take on the title track, a cover of a Koko Taylor tune on which Blue is joined by rapper Al Kapone. While we have to give Blue props for taking such a creative approach to the song, and it certainly works, there’s a part of us that really would have loved to hear Blue belting this one out just as Koko did (and as Blue herself does on other tracks like the tough driving rocker “Accidental Theft” that features former Gregg Allman Band guitarist Scott Sharrard and a New Orleansy “Wild Women” with horns, piano and female backing vocals), especially with so much of the project tending toward the swaying side.
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Bad Day

It doesn’t matter what kind of day it’s been so far, it will only get better once you’re listening to this latest edition of our BluesPowR Radio Hour, which, we think you’ll agree, has lots of soul with music from Billy Price, Danielle Nicole, the Corey Dennison Band, The Proven Ones, and Too Slim & the Taildraggers, plus other tracks from Buddy Guy, Little Freddie King, and Johnny Chops & the Razors.

So go ahead, crank it up, and have a good one!

Playlist
Believer – Johnny Chops & the Razors (Johnny Chops & the Razors)
Expert Witness – Billy Price w/ Nancy Wright (Reckoning)
Love Ain’t Fair – Corey Dennison Band (Night After Night)
Lord I Just Can’t Keep from Crying – Danielle Nicole (Cry No More)
Someday You Might Change Your Mind – Danielle Nicole w/ Kelly Finnigan (Cry No More)
Can’t Do Nothing Babe – Little Freddie King (You Make My Night)
Don’t Leave Me This Way – The Proven Ones (Wild Again)
Bad Day – Buddy Guy (The Blues is Alive and Well)
Time Has Come Today – Too Slim & the Taildraggers (High Desert Moon)

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Delmark Records celebrates 65th anniversary with album paying Tribute to label’s past artists

Recently, we told you about the latest album from Lurrie Bell, on which he and brothers Steve, James and Tyson (dubbing themselves The Bell Dynasty) paid tribute to their late, harmonica-blowing father Carey Bell. Now that same record label celebrates its 65th anniversary with a compilation that follows much the same approach: 11 tracks presented by current or recent artists on the Delmark Records label as individual tributes to some of the musicians who recorded for the company during the 1960s and ’70s.

This includes one more track for their father from Lurrie and his brothers (accompanied again by Eddie Taylor Jr. on guitar), who display every bit the fire here on “One Day You’re Gonna Get Lucky” as throughout their own recording, with other real gems coming from the likes of Omar Coleman (a funky take on Junior Wells‘ “Train I Ride” that gets the album off to a great start), Jimmy Johnson and Dave Specter (an “Out of Bad Luck” that honors Magic Sam), Linsey Alexander and Billy Flynn (a soulful, swaying tribute to Jimmy Dawkins in “All for Business”), and Lil’ Ed and Dave Weld (who present a stinging “Speak My Mind” in memory of Ed’s uncle J.B. Hutto).
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Columbus’ Project Blues Review attracts dollars, starpower as Eric Clapton joins headliner Jimmie Vaughan onstage

We’ve talked here before about the Project Blues Review fundraiser that takes place each summer in Columbus, Ohio, which has provided a few of the most memorable shows we’ve had the pleasure of seeing, first, a 2014 Tribute to Muddy Waters that featured John Primer, Bob Stroger, Bob Margolin, Bob Corritore, and David Maxwell, among others, all on one stage, and then, in 2017, an all-night set from guitarist Ronnie Earl and his band.

Vaughan & Clapton (DustyBlues Photography 2018, www.DustyBlues.com)

We weren’t able to make the 2018 edition of the show this past weekend, but those who did were treated to another great night of blues that again included regulars such as Jonn Del Toro Richardson, Bob Margolin, Sean Carney, and the Texas Horns, along with headliner Jimmie Vaughan, who was joined for a few songs by another guitarist you may have heard of who happens to own a home near Columbus: Eric Clapton.

According to the Where’s Eric! Eric Clapton Fan Club Magazine and other accounts, Clapton joined Vaughan, Mike Flanigin (organ), and George Rains (drums) (together billed as the Jimmie Vaughan Trio) for three or four songs at the start of the band’s headlining set (thanks to DustyBlues Photography for the photos!), including Otis Smokey Smothers’ “Come On Rock Little Girl”, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s “Dirty Work At The Crossroads” and Guitar Jr. (Lonnie Brooks)’s “Roll, Roll, Roll”. It must’ve been like Christmas in August for those in attendance, but it looks like those of us who missed it are going to have to wait until October for our Christmas gift from Clapton, who also announced this weekend that his next album, Happy Xmas (Oct. 12), will be of the holiday variety.

Organizers report that this year’s Project Blues Review was also a huge success on the fundraising side. With these kinds of line-ups and surprise appearances, it’s pretty clear that these guys are doing a whole lot more and deeper than “Pretending” and are quickly making Project Blues Review an event serious blues fans just can’t afford to miss!

(DustyBlues Photography 2018 www.DustyBlues.com)

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