By Marty Gunther
Red Hot ‘n Blues Reviews for July 2023
Lil’ Jimmy Reed & Ben Levin – Back to Baton Rouge
Nola Blue Records NB 023
A pairing of one of the last of the original Louisiana bluesmen with one of the fastest young artists in the world today, Back to Baton Rouge, finds this unlikely duo -- that fits together like hand-and-glove -- as they meet at the crossroads and do it old-school on this CD.
Guitarist/harp player/vocalist Lil’ Jimmy Reed is more than 60 years keyboard player Ben Levin’s senior at age 84. Born Leon Atkins, Jimmy became a star and acquired his stage name after filling in for the real Jimmy Reed in his youth. Cincinnati-based, 23-year-old, Levin -- who produced this in a full-band setting with top hometown talent – is a 2023 BMA nominee who works nationally with other giants, including Bob Margolin, Bob Corritore and Bob Stroger.
Unhurried and deep blue throughout, you’ll love “Back to Baton Rouge,” “Down in Virginia,” “They Call Me Lil’ Jimmy,” “Cincinnati’s the Place to Be,” “Engine Light,” “I’m the Man Down There,” “A String to Your Heart” and “Mailbox Blues.”
Selwyn Birchwood – Exorcist
Alligator Records ALCD 5012
Since exploding onto the scene by winning the IBCs in 2013, Floridian Birchwood has proven himself to be a visionary contemporary artist with traditional appeal, and he outdoes himself with his latest effort, a toe-tapping, 13-song set laced with electrifying fretwork and unique, original, sometimes thought-provoking lyrics, too.
Produced by Grammy winner Tom Hambridge and featuring longtime sidekick Regi Oliver on baritone sax, Selwyn delivers what he defines as “electric Swamp funking blues.” It’s a fire-and-brimstone concoction that infuses dashes of psychedelic rock, blues, soul and more to the mix.
Don’t miss “Done Cryin’,” “Florida Man,” “Horns Below Her Halo,” “Underdog,” “Helpless Romantic,” “Exorcist,” “Plenty More to Be Grateful For,” “Swim at Your Own Risk,” “My Own Worst Enemy” and “Showtune.”
Lady Adrena – Recipe for the Blues
Sweet Success Records
A Jackson, Miss., native who grew up in gospel and has thrilled audiences on the Southern soul circuit since the late 2000s, Lady Adrena – aka Adrienne Palmer – makes a welcome shift to straight-ahead blues with this debut blues CD, which grabs you from the opening notes and leaves you yearning for more.
Her intense alto and stage presence caught the attention of Mr. Sipp and Dexter Allen when Lady Adrena won the Vicksburg (Miss.) Blues Challenge a few years ago. This stellar effort follows the successful release of two singles the duo produced individually for her during the pandemic.
Give a spin to “Blues Chose Me,” “Borrow My Pans,” “Traveling Woman,” “No Ring No Thing,” “Good Girl Gone Bad” and “Recipe for the Blues.” You won’t be disappointed!
Michael Jerome Browne – Gettin’ Together
Borealis Records BCD278
Born in Indiana and raised in Montreal, acoustic guitar/banjo master Michael Jerome Browne shows why he’s a 35-time nominee in Canada’s prestigious Maple Blues Awards with his latest disc, a fingerpicker’s delight that includes pre- and post-War standards along with new tunes, too.
This all-star effort features contributions from Harrison Kennedy and Colin Linden from the Great White North, Piedmont and lap-steel guitarist Mary Flower and former Lovin’ Spoonful front man John Sebastian, along with Eric Bibb and French harp giant J.J. Milteau adding their talents, too.
You’ll dig Mississippi John Hurt’s “Monday Blues” and “Coffee Blues,” Booka White’s “Shake ‘em on Down,” Rube Lacy’s “Ham Hound Crave,” the original “Reverend Strut,” Flower’s “Wise Crack” and other numbers from the catalogs of Black Boy Shine, J.B. Hutto and Brownie McGhee.
Duke Robillard – Six Strings of Steel
M.C. Records MC-0092
One of the top musicologists of his generation and a master guitarist, Duke Robillard takes young players to school with this disc, putting his own special touch on classics culled from across the blues, jazz and rock spectrum and displaying his own songwriting prowess on others, too. The covers range from Fats Domino and Ike Turner to Bob Dylan and Link Wray.
Duke’s longtime quartet – Bruce Bears (keys), Mark Teixeira (drums) and Marty Ballou (bass) – build the foundation in a set that includes Doug James on saxes. Robillard and Chris Cote – a fixture in the Boston blues scene -- split vocals, and Asleep at the Wheel fiddler Katie Shore makes a special guest appearance.
Fluid fretwork and fresh arrangements abound in “Git With It,” “Shame, Shame, Shame,” “Lima Beans,” Duke’s own “In Perfect Harmony,” “Watching the River Flow,” “Billy in the Lion’s Den,” “Take Your Fine Frame Home,” the newly minted “Groovin’ in the Swamp,” “Lovin’ You” and “Rumble.”
Joe Krown – Tribute
Sledgehammer Blues 2-AQM-1069
Joe Krown is a barrelhouse keyboard player who spent decades on the bandstand in New Orleans with Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and Walter “Wolfman” Washington and who now works frequently with harp virtuoso Jason Ricci. Krown delivers a big tip of the hat to his influences on his new one, a dazzling, two-fisted workout that brims with Bourbon Street appeal.
Mixing tunes from Allen Toussaint, James Booker, Dr. John, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Jay McNeely with three of his own, Joe’s joined by Big Easy heavyweights Leo Nocentelli, Doug Belote and other top talents. Vocalist Noah Hunt of the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band and Ivan Neville and Ricci join in on the action. Wolfman Washington – who left us last December – contributed, too.
Choice cuts include “All of It,” “Such a Night,” “Ode to Mr. Davis,” “Tribute to Fess,” “Dorothy,” “Feel So Bad,” “Something on Your Mind,” “Southern Nights” and “Gumbo Boogie.”
Daniele Tenca – Just a Dream
A contemporary bluesman with a deep social conscience and emotion-packed voice, Milan-based guitarist Daniele Tenca holds nothing back on his first album in seven years. It features steady rhythms and deep grooves as it delivers powerful statements about discrimination, social injustice and more.
The fourth album in Daniele’s catalog, this one was co-produced in Italy by Guy Davis, who contributes vocals and six-string to the mix along with Antonio Cupertino. The action includes nine originals and well-reimagined covers from H.E.R. and Gary Clark, Jr.
Modern blues at its best, lend an ear to “Scars in Sight,” “Just a Dream,” “I Can’t Breathe,” “What If He Was Your Son?,” “No More Time Left,” “Smiling Man,” “Pretty Mama,” “Cellphone Ringtone Blues,” “Dreamkiller” and “My Land.”
Tracy Nelson – Life Don’t Miss Nobody
San Francisco-based force of nature Tracy Nelson has been a key component in the blues and roots scene since founding Mother Earth in the mid-‘60s, and she’s at the absolute top of her game with this long-awaited, star-studded effort -- her first solo release in more than a decade.
As she states in the liner notes, Tracy’s fulfilled several items on her bucket list here. That includes reuniting with Willie Nelson, Charlie Musselwhite, Marcia Ball and Irma Thomas in a lineup that also includes the great Mickey Raphael on harp, former BMA horn player of the year Terry Hanck, Reba Russell, Jontavious Willis and more.
A treasure from the jump, don’t miss “Strange Things Happening Every Day,” “Life Don’t Miss Nobody,” “Your Funeral and My Trial,” “Yonder Come the Blues,” “I Did My Part,” “Honky Tonkin’,” “It Don’t Make Sense,” “Compared to What,” “Where Do You Go (When You Can’t Go Home)” and “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.”
Stan Mosley – No Soul No Blues
Dialtone Records DT0032
A native Chicagoan with a voice reminiscent of a young Little Milton, Stan Mosley worked himself up the ranks as valet, driver and protégé for Cicero Blake before launching a solo career that’s included several Malaco releases. He shines like a diamond on this disc -- his debut on Austin-based Dialtone -- with backing from top Lone Star State talent.
If you loved the distinctive sounds of Tyrone Davis, Artie “Blues Boy” White and others who served as the foundation of the Windy City soul-blues sound, you’ll absolutely love this one. And making it even more special are appearances by guitarist Johnny Moeller, Kaz Kazanoff and the Texas Horns and Crystal Thomas on vocals, too.
The grooves run deep through “Back to Collect,” “Blues Man,” “Losing Hand,” “Stomp,” “Right Next Door,” “I Smell a Rat,” “Change of Heart,” “A Woman Has Got to Be Loved” and “Undisputed Love.”
Nic Clark – Everybody’s Buddy
Little Village Foundation LVF 1054
A honeyed tenor who honed his talents as an aide to Kid Andersen at Greaseland Studios in California, Nic Clark’s a Colorado-based, Mexican-American guitar and harp virtuoso. Clark has witnessed more hardship than any kid his age deserves – including a recent car wreck that’s put him out of action for a while. But he puts his troubles behind him with this warm, intimate, highly relatable original set.
Nick delivers tunes that put a unique Gen Z spin on everything from trouble in the classroom, a lifelong weight problem, caffeine addiction, living in poverty and more while displaying maturity far beyond his years. North Carolina guitar phenom Charlie Hunter produced and lends his talents throughout.
Positive affirmations abound amid the heartbreak in “Laughing at the Rain,” “It’ll Be Alright,” “Try to Understand,” “Good Advice,” “She’s a Fighter,” “Don’t Count Yourself Out,” “Anxiety Blues,” “Flying Blind,” “Everybody’s Buddy” and “Breathe Slow.”
Gaye Adegbalola – Satisfied: An Anthology
VizzTone Label Group VT-HTM-2620
Gaye Adegbalola and her sisters in Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women delivered music with a bite during their 26-year run at Alligator Records, but Gaye’s also been as clever and sharp as a knife as a soloist with nine of her own albums, too. And she celebrates that aspect of her life with this 20-tune retrospective.
A lifelong voice in the wilderness about everything from social issues to romance, politics and more, and Gaye holds nothing back in this set, which includes 15 originals, wry observations and homespun advice, all of which comes across in a manner that’ll have you chuckling, gasping and nodding in agreement, too.
You’ll dig “Big Ovaries,” “Look at the Forehead, Maury,” “Tippin’ on the Down Low,” “Prove It on Me Blues,” “Hetero Twinges,” “3 Hour Shoes,” “Tea Cake Kind of Love,” “The Dog Was Here First,” “Nothing’s Changed,” “Ain’t Technology Grand,” “Keep the Faith” and “Let Go Let God.”
Pat McDougall – In the Key of Sorry
The former band director/keyboard player for B.B. King drummer Tony Coleman and the award-winning Rae Gordon Band, Pat McDougall hits all the right notes on his debut CD, which was co-produced by drummer extraordinaire Jimi Bott and features several other top names in the talent-rich Portland, Ore., music scene.
A mix of everything from uptempo blues to soulful ballads, the roster includes two-time BMA bass player of the year Lisa Mann, vocalist Kara Granger, guitarists Ben Rice, Lloyd Jones, Kevin Selfe and others along with a special guest appearance by Kid Andersen on six-string, too.
The heat’s on high for the stop-time “In the Key of Sorry” to open. Other treats include “(I Think I Need) Another Lover,” “Don’t Ask a Boy (to Do a Man’s Job),” “Hot Soup and Ice Cream,” “Love Won’t Let Me Down,” “Actions Speak Louder Than Words,” “Well-Acquainted with the Blues” and “I’m That Guy.”
Scottie Miller – Carnival Cocoon
Word jazz has been somewhat of a lost art since the retirement of Ken Nordine, the beloved radio personality who put his voice atop a musical score and invented it in Chicago in the 1950s. But four years after Nordine’s passing, it gets welcome new life with this disc from a most unexpected source: Scottie Miller, who’s best known as the keyboard player for Ruthie Foster.
Released as a companion piece to a book of poetry issued under the same name, it’s the perfect marriage of Minnesota-based Scottie’s image-infused free verse and improvisational compositions on the 88s in settings ranging from café society blues and jazz to blues-rock, all of which combine to deliver a treat for your ears and mind, too.
All of the 23 tracks shine as Miller delivers clever observations about various ports of call in his travels along with scattershot insights about life – both good and bad. Ruthie lends her voice for one of the cuts, which are always quirky, never boring – and a must-listen if you’re looking for something different.
The Özdemirs – Introducing the Özdemirs
Continental Europe CD 96
A family ensemble led by Erkan Özdemir, The Özdemirs simply cook with this debut CD, delivering deep-in-the-pocket tunes that will get you out of your chair and heading straight to the dance floor. Erkan served as the bassist in Texas harmonica heavyweight Memo Gonzalez’s long-running, German-based band The Bluescasters.
Fronted by son Kenan on guitar and vocals and including son Levant on percussion in a full-band alignment, this is an international effort that includes a horn section fronted by Bostonian “Sax” Gordon Beadle, liner notes from Duke Robillard and a guest appearance by Texas vocalist Trudy Lynn, too.
Don’t miss this one. Pleasers include “Teach Me,” “Tired of My Tears,” “That’s How It Is,” “Burnt Toast & Black Coffee,” “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down,” “Midnight Blues,” “Heap See” and “Tell Me What’s on Your Mind.”
Arlen Roth & Jerry Jermott – Super Soul Session!
Blue Heart Records BHR 049
Sometimes big gifts come in small packages, and that’s the case with this CD, which teams guitarist Arlen “Master of the Telecaster” Roth and bassist Jerry “The Groovemaster” Jermott – two of the most important session players ever in the history of American music. It’s a tribute album of sorts as they honor several of the artists they supported and breathe new life into songs that became classics.
Perennial BMA nominee Bruce Katz leads the backing ensemble on organ throughout in a lineup that also includes the Uptown Horns and guest appearances from Joe Louis Walker, African soul giant Mukamuri and other heavyweights.
Top tracks include “I’m Just a Mortal Man,” “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone,” “Dancing in the Street,” “Chain of Fools,” “Shake,” “Drift Away,” “Down Home Girl,” “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues” and “Memphis Soul Stew.”
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 Ohio, 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.