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Marty Gunther’s Red, Hot ’n Blues Music Reviews - April 2023

By Marty Gunther

John Primer – Live at Rosa’s Lounge: Teardrops for Magic Slim

Blue House Productions PHP JP2023

When Magic Slim -- aka Morris Holt -- left us a decade ago, his passing robbed the blues world of one of its most visceral performers ever. But his music lives again through this loving tribute, which was initiated by guitarist John Primer, reunites five members of the Teardrops, Slim’s backing band, and keeps his lump-de-lump Windy City sound alive for a new generation.

Both Primer and Jon McDonald, who’s on second six-string throughout, spent 13 years in Slim’s employ while drummers Earl Howell and Lenny Media and bassist Danny O’Connor added another eight to the mix. Sadly, two other longtime bandmates, Brian “B.J.” Jones and Andre Howard, left us in the past couple of years. But Shawn Holt, who’s carrying on his dad’s legacy, sits in on guitar and vocals on two tracks.

Raw, traditional Chicago blues at its best, dial in “Mama Talk to Your Daughter,” “Luv Somebody,” “Every Night, Every Day,” “Ain’t Doing Too Bad,” “Trouble of My Own,” “Let Me Love You Baby,” “Look Over Yonder Wall,” “Before You Accuse Me” and “The Blues Is Alright.”

Billy Price – 50+ Years of Soul

Get Hip Recordings

A honey-voiced tenor who spent years as the front man for late guitar god Roy Buchanan, Pittsburgh-based Billy Price has been one of the best vocalists on the soul-blues scene for decades, and he shows why with this stellar, three-CD retrospective, which will keep you grooving throughout.

Billy hit the absolute top of the blues world a few years ago when he and Otis Clay teamed on the award-winning This Time for Real. While other artists might have bigger names, few can match the consistent quality Price has exhibited since debuting as a headliner in the mid-‘80s.

The 41 songs on this one include material produced by Duke Robillard and Kid Andersen as well as guest appearances from Otis Clay, Mark Wenner and the Nighthawks and other top talents. Don’t know Billy Price? One listen to this one and you’ll be shaking your head in amazement about why it’s taken so long!

Lincoln Goines – The Art of the Bass Choir

Origin Records 82857

Here’s something different: California-born, New York-based Lincoln Goines is one of the best bassists of his generation with a career rooted in the jazz world and recordings with Dizzy Gillespie, Idris Muhammad, Paquito D’Rivera, Carly Simon and other giants. But he delivers azure notes aplenty in this thoroughly enjoyable, classy and primarily instrumental set.

A longtime professor at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music, Goines delivers 16 clever arrangements, trading riffs and cutting heads with ten other bass masters, including Victor Wooten, Mike Pope, Tom Kennedy and Ksenia Vasileva.

If you like your music deep in the beat, don’t miss “All Blues,” “Spank a Lee,” “Spin the Floor,” “Three Views of a Secret,” “Good Morning, Midnight,” “Hang Up Your Hang Ups,” “Oleo,” “Liberty City” and “Vassar Llean.”

Eric Bibb – Ridin’

Stony Plain/Repute Records SPCD1472

Eric Bibb served up a masterful plea for peace, love and understanding with Dear America two years ago, and he delivers another masterpiece with this eloquent disc – 13 originals and two traditionals that focus on systemic racism and the need to purge it from our world.

Bibb called out the big guns for this one. The roster includes guest appearances from Taj Mahal, Jontavious Willis, Harrison Kennedy, Habib Koité, Russell Malone, Amar Sundy and other top talent from the U.S. and Europe, where Bibb’s been based for years. It’s uplifting and entertaining throughout.

“Family,” a tip of the hat to Sly & the Family Stone, opens. Give a listen to “Ridin’,” “Blues Funky Like Dat,” “The Ballad of John Howard Griffin,” “Tulsa Town,” “Hold the Line,” “Call Me By My Name,” “Sinner Bells,” “Free” and “People You Love.”

Dyer Davis – Dog Bites Back

WildRoots Records CD2023A

A Florida-based guitarist/vocalist who fuses blues, rock and soul, 23-year-old Dyer Davis takes no prisoners on his debut CD, an album produced by award-winner Stephen Dees (Victor Wainwright) and Billy Chapin (Don Henley, Sister Hazel). Dog Bites Back is certain to propel him to the forefront of the blues-rock world.

Playing in a power-trio format throughout, Dyer gets a helping hand from both of his producers on guitars, keys and more. And Roomful of Blues horn players Mark Earley and Doug Woolverton, Wainwright and his former drummer, Billy Dean, make appearances, too.

Hard-driving and firmly rooted in the blues, you’ll dig “Let Me Love You,” “Walk Away My Blues,” “Water into Wine,” “Lifting Up My Soul,” “Long Way to Go,” “Wind Is Gonna Change,” “Dog Bites Back,” “Angels Get the Blues,” “Don’t Tell My Mother” and “AKA.”

Matt Andersen – The Big Bottle of Joy

Sonic Records SR 201954

A two-time winner of the European Blues Challenge and the first Canadian champion at the IBCs, Matt Andersen has made a name for himself as a solo acoustic artist, but he successfully shifts gears in a full-band setting and cranks up the heat with this disc. It’s a winner on all counts.

This disc is a celebration of life and living in all its forms and delivers a mix of uptempo romps and intimate ballads that are sure to brighten your mood regardless of your situation. Matt penned the entire set, teaming with a baker’s dozen of other top tunesmiths.

Drop the needle on “Let It Slide,” “So Low, Solo,” “Golden,” “How Far Will You Go,” “What’s on My Mind,” “Keep Holding On,” “Rollin’ Down the Road,” “Only an Island,” “Hands of Time” and “Shoes.”

Dean Zucchero – Electric Church for the Spiritually Misguided

Pugnacious Records

Greenwich Village-born bassist Dean Zucchero has been a key member of the New Orleans music scene since 2013, when he returned to the U.S. after nine years in Europe with fellow New Yorkers The Healers and Italy’s Sugarpie & the Candymen. He calls delivers an all-original, always interesting musical roux on this one.

The star-studded cast features nine vocalists, including Johnny Rawls, Ghalia Volt, Johnny Sansone, Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes and Johnny Burgin with backing from harmonica giant Jason Ricci, keyboard wizard Joe Krown, Papa Mali, Tiffany Pollack and more than a dozen more top local talents, too.

Top tracks include “Big Boss Boy,” “Independence Day,” “Last Minute Packer,” “Empty Postbox,” “Stack It,” “DBA,” “American Dream” and “Fascist Love.”

The Gayle Harrod Band – Temptation

Self-produced CD

After making her debut at age 42 with the soul-blues band Triple Shot in 2011, vocalist Gayle Harrod has established herself as a force to be reckoned with across the Mid-Atlantic region, and she finally puts her powerful alto on display for the world to hear with this brand-new set.

Based out of Baltimore and a blues belter of the first order, Gayle’s band includes guitarist Stan Turk and drummer Chuck Ferrell, and featured guests include guitarists Sol Roots, Bobby Thompson and Jonathan Sloane, keyboard player Brian Simms and The Voices of Faith, the First Baptist Church of Baltimore choir.

Fresh and forceful, lend an ear to “Sweet Memphis Man,” “Come on People,” “Baby We’re Through,” “Temptation,” “Bring Me Along,” “Waiting in the Shadows,” “Break,” “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” “God Laughed” and “Beautiful Friend.”

Mississippi MacDonald – Heavy State Loving Blues

APM Records

A three-time London-based British Blues Awards nominee, Mississippi MacDonald hit the heights last year with Do Right, Say Right, a soul-blues masterpiece that climbed to the No. 7 spot on the Living Blues radio chart, and he keeps the heat on with this Chicago- and Memphis-inspired follow-up.

MacDonald is a double threat, laying down deep azure runs on guitar and possessing a set of pipes that compare favorably with many of the best blue-eyed soul artists who’ve preceded him. His band, which features Phil Dearing on keys and six-string, is skintight and passionate throughout.

You’re sure to enjoy “Howlin’ Wolf,” “Heavy State Loving Blues,” “Blind Leading the Blind” – featuring Vaneese Thomas, “(I Ain’t Gonna) Lie No More,” “I’ll Understand,” “Trouble Doing the Right Thing” and “The Blues for Albert,” which honors The Iceman, Albert Collins.

Ally Venable – Real Gone

Ruf Records

At age 23, Texas-born guitarist Ally Venable has made a name for herself with half a dozen hard-edged CDs in the past decade, but she ventures into new territory here, teaming with Grammy winning producer Tom Hambridge and delivering far more contemporary blues than in any of her earlier works.

Both Buddy Guy and Joe Bonamassa make guest appearances in this set, which was recorded in Nashville with top Music City backing. If you’re already a fan, however fret not because Ally’s window-rattling, church-trained voice and powerful fretwork are present in all 12 original cuts.

The uptempo rocker “Real Gone” sets the tone. But things settle down quickly with “Going Home.” Other pleasers include “Texas Louisiana” featuring Buddy, “Blues Is My Best Friend,” “Any Fool Should Know,” “Gone So Long,” “Don’t Lose Me,” “Hold My Ground” and “Two Wrongs.”

Jeff Pitchell – Playin’ with My Friends

Deguello Records DG2174

An International Songwriting Competition winner whose tunes have been covered by Savoy Brown and other top acts and an artist who was recognized as the best guitarist in Connecticut when still a teen, Jeff Pitchell has only released a few CDs in the past 40 years. But when he does, it’s always a treat.

He delivers nine of his own tunes and four covers in this set, handling vocals with a pleasant, mid-range voice. Reese Wynans, the late J. Geils and Charles Neville, Duane Betts, Rick Derringer, Christine Ohlman, Tyrone Vaughan and several key members of the New England music scene lend helping hands, too.

Contemporary blues that swings from the hip, give a listen to “Eye for an Eye,” “Prisoner of Love,” “Your Magic Eyes,” “Out in the Cold,” “All Night Long,” “Unsung Hero of the Blues,” “Blinded by Desire,” “Fat Cigars,” “I Like the Rut” and a top-notch cover of Atlanta Rhythm Section’s “So Into You.”

Nick Schnebelen – What Key Is Trouble In

VizzTone Label Group

Kansas City-based guitarist Nick Schnebelen is one of the classiest performers and best tunesmiths in the blues-rock, and he shines like a diamond here. Producer Chris Hardwick (Watermelon Slim) directed the action, which includes drop-ins from Eric Burdon keyboard player Red Young and George Thorogood sax player Buddy Leach, among others.

Nick took home the Albert King Award as the best guitarist at the 2008 IBCs when his family band, Trampled Under Foot, took home top honors, too. He’s in power-trio format here, backed by his longtime rhythm section, drummer Adam Hagerman and bassist Cliff Moore.

A mix of hard-driving rockers and powerful shuffles, you’ll enjoy “Ten Years After, Fifty Years Later,” “What Key Is Trouble In?,” “Hard Driving Woman,” “Pain Aside,” “Poor Side of Town,” “Johnny Cheat,” “Big Mean Dog,” “Throw Poor Me Out” and “Don’t Worry About Me.”

André Bisson – The Ballad of Lucy Stone

Self-produced CD

One of the most sweetest, soulful voices on the Canadian blues scene, André Bisson captured the top prize in an international songwriting competition in January. And he simply dazzles on this all-original set, all of which delivers positively themed messages about dealing with life’s obstacles head-on.

The ninth CD in his catalog, Bisson is based out of Ontario but possesses a huge following on both sides of the Atlantic. He’s backed here by keyboard player Jesse O’Brien in a not-to-be-missed full-band setting that includes a horn section, backing singers and strings, too.

The title cut, “The Ballad of Lucy Stone,” sets the mood, and you’ll dig “Missin’ You,” “Release Me,” “Dancing with Ghosts,” “Speak Low,” “Sounds of Redemption,” “The Greatest Mistake” and “Down the Line.”

Jewel Brown – Thanks for Good Ole’ Music and Memories

Nic Allen Music Federation

A bonafied hitmaker in the ‘50s who served as vocalist in Louis Armstrong’s All-Star Band in the ‘60s, Jewel Brown has only made a few visits to the studio since turning her sights on the business world in the ‘70s, but she returns to the spotlight with this sprightly, sassy collection of jazz-infused blues.

Now 85, she appeared on three previous CDs -- Show Time with Dizzy Gillespie and Arnett Cobb in 1988, Milton Hopkins & Jewel Brown in 2012 and as a guest on Bloodest Saxophone’s Roller Coaster Boogie in 2014, but this is her first as headliner. She penned seven of the ten tracks.

Choice cuts in this timeless set include “Jerry,” “Pain and Glory,” “Why Did You Do That,” “Nitches and Glitches,” “Flatitude,” “I Love Sunshine, Even More Rainy Nights,” “On the Road” and “How Did It Go.”

Johnny Wheels & the Swamp Donkeys – Keep on Pushin’

Lightning in a Bottle Records

A three-time winner in the Cascade Music Association’s Muddy Awards, Portland, Ore.-based Johnny Wheels & the Swamp Donkeys show why they reached the finals at the 2020 IBCs with this clever, original mix of blue-eyed soul, blues-rock and more.

They’re fronted by Johnny Kennecott, a master on the mic and harp, who picked up his nickname after becoming paralyzed from the neck down following an accident at age 12. The album was produced by Jimi Bott and features vocals from LaRhonda Steele (Curtis Salgado) on one cut.

Thoroughly enjoyable throughout, give a listen to “On the Run,” “George Fisk,” “As Long as You’re There,” “Light Me Up (Hold Me In),” “The Fall,” “Finding Your Way Back Home,” “Mrs. Karman” and “Time to Bail (Keep on Pushin’).”

About the Author: The blues came calling for Marty Gunther in the 1960s, when he witnessed Muddy Waters, Mississippi John Hurt, B.B. King and Howlin' Wolf perform at the Newport festivals in his native Rhode Island. A longtime Chicagoan who's now based out of Charlotte, N.C., he's a professional journalist and harp player who studied under Sugar Blue before co-founding the Nucklebusters, a band that's filled clubs in south Florida since the '80s.




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