By Marty Gunther
New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers -- Vol. 2
Stony Plain Records SPCD 1417
Stony Plain Records serve up a second helping of laid-back traditional blues here – a supergroup effort that includes contributions from Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, ex-Squirrel Nut Zippers front man Jimbo Mathus, late Hill Country legend Jim Dickinson and his 2021 Grammy nominee sons, Luther and Cody.
This material has been sitting in a vault since 2007, when Musselwhite was on the road with Mavis Staples and the Dickinsons’ North Mississippi Allstars. It was recorded during a break in touring during a multi-day jam at Zebra Ranch in Coldwater, Miss. The event proved to be so much fun that it gave birth to an annual blues festival.
Charlie opens the action with the aptly named “Blues for Yesterday,” and the hits follow hot and heavy, including Alvin’s take on “She’s About a Mover,” Jim’s “Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atom Bomb on Me” and “Messin’ with the Kid,” Jimbo’s “Green Eggs and Ham,” Luther’s “Blue Guitar” and more.
Early Times – The Corner
VizzTone Label Group
Originally from Sacramento, Calif., where he’s the most honored local artist ever, guitarist/vocalist Early Times is an enigmatic character who’s toured the world with E.C. Scott, been an early Sirius Satellite Radio deejay and owned multiple labels, but has now reinvented himself as New York City street poet and blues-rock artist.
A follow-up to his 2017 release, Hit & Run, this one is an all-blues set in primarily a full-band format that delivers consistently hip lyrics and clever observations delivered atop stinging work on the strings and deep-in-the-pocket rhythm throughout aided by a guest appearance from Popa Chubby.
There’s a lot to like with this one, including “Come On, Let’s Ride,” “On the Corner,” “She’s About to Lose Her Mind” – featuring Chubby, “He’s Got a Jones,” the jazzy “Say, Man,” the acoustic “Someone Help Mary” and “Return of the Queen.”
Sunday Wilde – Peace in Trouble
Based out of a small town in northern Ontario, pianist Sunday Wilde has enjoyed a long career of penning tunes that bridge blues, jazz and roots, and she outdoes herself on this CD, an unusual production that features Harpdog Brown on harmonica, bass, clarinet and trombone, but unaided by guitar and drums.
Possessing a distinctive, slightly nasal voice, Sunday composed ten of the 11 tracks, that were recorded in the comfort of her own home. The subject matter includes material that deals with love, peace, worry and more – all delivered from a woman’s point of view.
If you’re looking for something different, this one definitely fills the bill. Sit back and tune in to “Trouble,” “I Never Get to Win,” “Too Damn Cute,” “One Day I Will,” the ballad “Home to Momma,” “He Does It,” “Sister I Understand” and “Peace for Everyone.”
Chris Cain – Raisin’ Cain
Alligator Records ALCD 5003
A major force to be reckoned with since the ‘80s, San Francisco area native Chris Cain finally gets the exposure he’s deserved for decades with this album, his first release on a major label since the ‘90s despite being one of the most universally loved and most talented guitarists of his generation.
Cain teamed with Kid Andersen and a crew of Bay Area heavyweights at Greaseland Studio to produce this collection of 12 originals that are jam-packed with wry observations about life in troubled times. His booming baritone voice, tasty, soaring fretwork are at the absolute top of his game.
Look for this one among awards nominations down the road. You’ll love “Hush Money,” “You Won’t Have a Problem When I’m Gone,” “Can’t Find a Good Reason,” “Born to Play,” “I Don’t Know Exactly What’s Wrong With My Baby,” “Out of My Head,” “As Long as You Get What You Want” and “Space Force.”
The Hungry Williams – Brand New Thing
Fronted by the powerful, honey-voiced Kellie Gonzalez, led by drummer John Carr and featuring several of the top talents from Milwaukee, Wis., The Hungry Williams swing from the hip old-school in this set of horn-powered tunes derived from the intersection of blues, R&B, swing, doo-wop and jump.
Anchored by guitarist Joe Vent and keyboard player Jack Stewart, they deliver a percussive, 15-tune set of familiar, but rearranged covers primarily from New Orleans and intersperse them with well-crafted originals that fit comfortably and will put a smile on your mug to boot.
Forget your troubles for a while, and give this one a spin. You’ll enjoy “Brand New Day,” “Everybody Loves Me (Why Don’t You),” a clever version of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Stick a Pin in the Voodoo Doll,” “Whip It on Me,” “When I Meet My Boy” and “Get Your Hat.”
Misty Blues – None More Blue
Based out of Williamstown, Mass., where they’ve been delivering what they term “groovable,” original blues for the past 20-plus years, 2019 International Blues Challenge finalist Misty Blues hold nothing back on their tenth CD, which offers a mix of music than includes full-on gospel to jazz, soul and more.
They’re fronted by the powerful Gina Coleman, a rich contralto who shifted from musical theater at the insistence of Gwyneth Paltrow and Mandy Patinkin. They recognized her blues talent after seeing her perform in A Raisin in the Sun. One listen to this and you’ll understand why.
Some of the standout tracks include “My One and Only,” “I Can’t Wait,” the politically charged “These Two Veins,” the slow blues “Change My Luck,” “Down in Lenox Town,” “Ready to Play,” “Step Right Up” and “Nothing to Lose.”
Various Artists – WildRoots Sessions Vol. 1
Keyboard ace Victor Wainwright has been chief engineer for the band The Train since 2015, but left behind a lasting legacy with his former unit, The WildRoots, whose final album, Boom Town, earned the Blues Music Award for band of the year. This disc celebrates high points in their decade-long run.
A funky, 16-track effort, it features ten vocalists and 32 artists, including Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame drummer Michael Shrieve (Santana), guitarist Bryan Bassett (Foghat), keyboard player Lucky Peterson. Fourteen of the cuts are WildRoots originals.
Give a good listen to “Something in the Water 2020,” “Our Last Goodbye,” “Easy Chair,” “Memphis Queen,” “Cradled in the Bosom of Jerusalem,” “King Snake Crawl Revisited,” the two-part “Move Along,” “Misty Morning in New Orleans,” “Where Am I” and “I’m Yours.”
Veronica Lewis – You Ain’t Unlucky
Blue Heart Records BHR 008
The reigning blues artist of the year in the Boston Music Awards, New Hampshire native Veronica Lewis is still in her teens, but already a well-traveled talent who blows the back off it vocally while accompanying herself on piano in powerful, two-fisted barrelhouse and rockabilly styles.
A four-time Granite State Blues Challenge winner who’s already played major festivals, Las Vegas and the West Coast, she makes her recording debut with a set of six in-your-face originals and two covers, plus backing that includes horns on two cuts.
The self-penned title track “You Ain’t Unlucky” offers up a reminder to remain grateful for the good things in life. Other pleasers include “Clarksdale Sun,” “Put Your Wig on Mama,” a tasty take on Katie Webster’s “Whoo Wee Sweet Daddy,” the instrumental “Ode to Jerry Lee” and “The Memphis Train.”
Randy McAllister – Paperbag Salvation
Texas-born, North Dakota-based harp player/percussionist Randy McAllister pens some of the most poignant tunes in blues and roots, and delivers a sackful of them here backed by the Scrappiest Band in the Motherland, a unit that includes 2018 Blues Blast rising star honoree vocalist Heather Newman and 2020 BMA nominee Brandon Hudspeth on guitar.
An Air Force veteran who picked up his harmonica skills from Earring George Mayweather, McAllister formerly served as front man for Mike Morgan & the Crawl and has worked frequently with Andrew “Jr. Boy” Jones, too. He possesses a strong, soulful voice, too.
“You’re Like Mashed Potatoes” serves up the first of several wry observations in this set. You’ll also enjoy “Most Irritating Person in the World,” “I’m Doing All the Heavy Lifting,” “Personal Piñata,” “Waiting Bones” and “Best Patch of Grass.”
Twice As Good – Double Down
A Native American father-son duo who’ve been touring nationally since 2003, Twice As Good have seen more than their share of troubles since releasing their most recent album seven years ago – surviving raging wildfires that charred Northern California on an annual basis and coronavirus, too. But Rich Steward and son Paul are true blues survivors who set the nights ablaze with their own brand of tunes.
Members of the Pomo tribe, they’re former IBC semi-finalists who’ve taken home top honors in the Annual Indian Summer Music Awards for previous releases, blending the blues of B.B. King, the soul of Al Green and rhythms of the reservation into a highly danceable style of music that’s all their own.
This one’s a refreshing break from the doom and gloom of many other current offerings. Top cuts include reinventions of Freddie King’s “Hide Away” and B.B. King’s “I Like to Live the Love” and a handful of originals, including: “Let’s Fall in Love,” Walkin’,” “Don’t Give Up on Love,” and “I’m Placing My Bet.”
Various Artists – Blind Raccoon Nola Blue Collection Vol. 3
Blue Heart Records
One of the busiest partnerships in the blues since teaming a few years ago, publicist Betsie Brown of Blind Raccoon and Sallie Bengston of Blue Heart work with several of the biggest names and rising stars in the industry – many of whom are present in this sensational, 32-tune collection.
Available as a digital download or CD package, it includes the work of award winners John Nemeth, Cash McCall, Frank Bey, Lisa Mann, Benny Turner and Teresa James as well as Laura Tate, Malaya Blue, Mark Cameron, the Reverend Shawn Amos, Skylar Rogers and a couple of dozen more folks worth your ear.
There are too many stand-out cuts to highlight here. Strong suggestion: Pick this one up via the digital download because all of the proceeds will be donated to the Blues Foundation’s HART Fund and benefit artists and family members suffering from financial hardships because of health issues.
Damon Fowler – Alafia Moon
Landslide Records LDCD-1048)
Music from the Florida Gulf Coast– a mix of swamp, roots and Americana – sounds different than anything else in the blues spectrum, and there’s no one who performs it better than Tampa-based guitarist/songwriter Damon Fowler. The feel of the swamp bubbles throughout this CD.
A member of the supergroup Southern Hospitality, Damon has toured with both the Dicky Betts Band and late Allman’s drummer Butch Trucks’ Freight Train. He’s a gifted soloist in his own right with a pleasant, laid-back vocal delivery consistent with his Sunshine State roots.
Fowler dazzles on slide and finger-picked guitar here. He penned ten of the 11 cuts, which are chockful of downhome wisdom. Standout tracks include “Leave It Alone,” “I’ve Been Low,” “Alafia Moon,” “Make the Best of Your Time,” “Some Things Change,” “Taxman,” “Wanda” and “Kicked His Ass Out,” which recalls an unforgettable gig in a Wild West bar.
Egidio “Juke” Ingala & the Jacknifes – Switcheroo
Rhythm Bomb Records RBR-5866
Based out of Milan, Italy, harp player Egidio “Juke” Ingala joins forces with keyboard wizard Carl Sonny Leyland and guitarist Little Victor Mac, aka the Beale Street Blues Bopper, to deliver this powerful set that combines the classic sounds of Chicago and West Coast jump.
Heavily influenced by Big Walter Horton and Little Walter Jacobs, Ingala possesses mega-tone and a razor-sharp attack on the reeds, and he’s no stranger to the U.S., having spent years working and touring with guitar master Alex Schultz. His regular Italian band, the Jacknifes, provide exceptional, tight backing throughout.
The force is strong in this one. Be sure to check out “Can’t Get You Off My Mind,” Eddy Clearwater’s “I Don’t Know Baby,” Bobo Jenkins’ “Seasick and Waterbound,” as well as “Treat Me So Bad,” “Cornbread and Caviar” featuring Victor, “Little Ann,” “Miss Daisy” and “Sleeping Beauty.”
AJ Fullerton – The Forgiver and the Runaway
VizzTone Label Group VT-AJF001
A 16-time winner of the Colorado Blues Society’s Members Choice Awards, bottleneck and slide guitarist AJ Fullerton delivers a soulful set of contemporary blues and Americana for his third CD, which was recorded in Toronto under the direction of former MonkeyJunk front man Steve Marriner.
Fullerton possesses a rich, melismatic tenor and a behind-the-beat delivery. This laid-back set features ten originals and two covers with assistance from several musicians in the Ontario blues community, including harp players Jake Friel and Paul Reddick.
Give a good listen to “Remind Me Who I Am Again,” “Could’ve Been Mine,” “Say You’ll Stay,” “The Forgiver and the Runaway,” “I Cried,” “Wish You’d Tell Me,” “Cherry Red,” “Never Was,” “Homesick” and “Hooks in the Water.”
Erwin Helfer and the Chicago Boogie Ensemble – Celebrate the Journey
The Sirens Records SR-5028
A beloved fixture in the Windy City blues and jazz community for the better part of seven decades, Erwin Helfer observed his 85th birthday in January, but kicked off the celebration in style in March 2020 with this magical CD – an all-instrumental jam session that includes four of his closest friends and longtime collaborators.
The roster includes John Brumbach and Skinny Williams on tenor saxes, Lou Marini on bass and Davide Ilardi on drums – a lineup that were playing together every Tuesday night in a club on Chicago’s North Side for two years prior to COVID-19. This highly polished, but relaxed recording features material from their regular set list.
Classic jazz and blues at its best with a strong dose of New Orleans, too, some of the top cuts include the Sonny Rollins’ classic, “Doxy,” a delightful retelling of “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” and “St. James Infirmary” and the originals “Pooch Piddle,” “Big Joe” and “Day Dreaming.”