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Marty Gunther’s Red, Hot ’n Blues Music Reviews - April 2024

By Marty Gunther

Red Hot ‘n Blues Reviews for April 2024


Stefan Hillesheim – When I’m Gone

Self-produced CD

A product of Koblen, Germany, who’s been based out of Chicago for the past two years, guitarist Stefan Hillesheim simply explodes onto the blues scene with this debut CD. It’s so packed with stellar licks, original ideas and powerful vocals – a potent combination that should launch him into the stratosphere soon.

Hillesheim previously spent time in Southern California, where he worked in gospel, Motown, funk and Latin bands, but here he’s got a straight-ahead, deep-in-the-pocket style proficient in the Chicago sound. An ace slide guitarist, whose main influence is Elmore James, Stefan includes four well-reworked Elmore covers. He’s backed by bassist Darryl Wright and drummer Dionte Skinner, both Windy City veterans. And keyboard giant Sumito “Ariyo” Ariyoshi guests, too.

Thirteen rock-solid tracks, you’ll dig “Done Somebody Wrong,” “When I’m Gone,” “My Poor Heart,” “The Love I Had for You,” “Better Man,” “Always Get to Here from You,” “To Be Loved by You,” “On Down the Highway,” “Sick of Your Love.”


The Coal Men – Everett

Vaskaleedez Records

One of the top trios in Nashville with five previous CDs to their credit, The Coal Men haven’t released a full-length album in eight years, but they return in style with this stunning and satisfying mix of blues and roots – a spirited combination that will have you yearning for more.

Led by guitarist/vocalist Dave Coleman and featuring Dave Ray and Paul Slivka on drums and bass, they’re joined by pianist Jan Gunderman (Sheryl Crow), who tickles the keys on a 1950s Everett upright piano that formerly resided in Nashville’s Downtown Presbyterian Church.

A healthy mix that incorporates elements of country and rock, too, give a listen to “Black Cat,” “Radio Bell,” “Rather Be Right,” “Love This Town,” “Come Back Joe,” “Johnny Sins,” “Silver Tails,” “Accidental Memory” and “Hammer Like Bill.”


Various Artists – Blind Raccoon and Nola Blue Collection Vol. 6

Blue Heart Records

One of the busiest and most successful partnerships in blues in recent years, Betsie Brown’s Blind Raccoon marketing organization and Sallie Bengston’s Blue Heart label have consistently filled the charts with stellar releases with a roster that includes veterans, rising stars and regional acts, too. And this 15-track compilation of recent efforts is a must-listen for any blues fan.

The sounds here crisscross the blues spectrum. And the roster includes 15-time BMA nominee keyboard player Anthony Geraci, Grammy nominee Teresa James, the Texas Horns, Big Harp George and the ageless Benny Turner, Freddie King’s bass playing brother.

Other don’t-miss contributions come from Mississippi MacDonald, Kip London, Douglas Avery, Dave Keyes, Trevor B. Power, Terry Wilson-Slesser, Steve Howell & the Mighty Men, Kenny Parker, Blind Lemon Pledge and Reverend Freakchild, all of whom deserve your ear.


Saverino Maccne – Southern Light

Velvet Utopia Records

A former conservatory student who was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Saverino Maccne has been playing professionally since age 14, playing his own powerfully intense, original brand of blues. A world traveler since age 20, he’s now b

ased out of the Lapland region of Norway, and he delivers music with a bite on this interesting CD.

Primarily a guitarist but also doubling on keys, trumpet and bass, Saverino recorded this set in Norway, Argentina and the Netherlands. He delivers his lyrics in unaccented English with backing from an international ensemble that adds Latin spice to their blues-rock attack.

For something truly different, tune in to “No One Does That Magic Like You,” “Ain’t Got Nothing But My Sorrow,” “Mysterious Love,” “She Was a Wonder,” “Endless Nights Blues,” “Soul Breaker (Don’t Keep Lying to Your Heart)” and “Black Clouds.”


Jeff Rogers – Dream Job

Diesel Management Productions

Ottawa-based keyboard player Jeff Rogers is so busy as an in-demand session player/sideman that he doesn’t produce albums very often, but when he does he does so in style. This CD – his first solo effort in more than a decade – was recorded in Muscle Shoals, Ala., and delivers all of the high-quality blues-tinged soul that established the Swampers’ community as a music mecca.

A 2020 IBC winner as a member of HOROJO Trio, Jeff’s rich tenor is chockful of emotion. Grammy winner Colin Linden and Juno Award winner Kellylee Evans make guest appearances in a lineup that includes guitarist Kelvin Holly (Bobby Blue Bland), keyboard player Clayton Ivey (Staple Singers), drummer Justin Holder (Keb’ Mo’) and bassist Shonna Tucker (Booker T. Jones).

Songs that will strike a positive chord include “Her Kind of Trouble,” “Lock & Key,” “Dream Job,” “Mind of Your Own,” “Saving This Bottle of Wine,” “Dead of Night,” “So Worth the Wait” and “Deep Cold Water.”


One Dime Band – Side Hustle

Toneblanket Records

Co-founders John Brauchier and Paul Gallucci chose an appropriate name for this four-piece unit, which melds blues, R&B and soul into an interesting package. Partners in an acoustic duo that’s been piling up awards since they were in high school, they finally make their recording debut with this ensemble after working together out of Boston for years.

Native New Yorkers, Brauchier – who doubles on guitar and banjo – and Gallucci – a vocalist and harp player who doubles on six-string – were semi-finals of this year’s IBCs in the solo/duo category. They’re joined here by keyboard player Alizon Lissance, bassist Paul Kochanski, drummer Romeo Dubois and several guests, including fiddle player Ilana Katz Katz.

Thirteen tracks of original and different blues, give a listen to “Side Hustle,” “Blackfoot Sun,” “Mockingbird Way,” “Ain’t No Faker,” “Brooklyn Town,” “Soul to Keep,” “Babylon Clouds,” “Cemetery Waltz,” “Rib Grease” and “Gator in My Pond.”


Seth James – Lessons

Qualified Records

A master performer in his own right, Texas-based Seth James takes a deep dive into the music of Delbert McClinton, another Lone Star State legend, on this tasty CD. It’s a warm, pleasant, but hard-to-define mix of blues, funk and roots that’ll keep a smile on your face throughout.

Produced by Kevin McKendree, who also contributes keys and guitar, this one features an all-star Nashville lineup propelled by Delbert’s regular rhythm section – bassist Steve Mackey and drummer Lynn Williams – along with guitarist Jeff McNelley and a full horn section, too.

Don’t miss “Honky Tonkin’ (I Guess I Done Me Some),” “Real Good Itch,” “Who’s Foolin’ Who,” “Morgan City Fool,” “Victim of Life’s Circumstances,” “Lesson in the Pain of Love,” “B Movie Boxcar Blues” and “Take It Easy.”


Mama & the Ruckus with Melissa McKinney – same

Self-produced CD

Based out of Asheville, N.C., and fronted by powerhouse vocalist Melissa McKinney, Mama & the Ruckus fire on all cylinders with this debut effort, an all-original, contemporary blues-and-roots effort designed to provide hope, healing, inspiration and a heaping helping of love through their music.

Wall-rattling and possessing excellent range, Melissa reached the finals in this year’s IBCs in the solo/duo category. She fronts a five-piece unit that includes guitarists Patrick French and Owen Myers, harp player Rob French and keyboard player Matt Board. They get helping hands from horn players and DaShawn Hickman on pedal steel, too.

A band on the rise, give a listen to “Wrong Road,” “Thank God,” “I Don’t Want To,” “Cross the Border,” “Shine On” and “Broke Down.”


Paul Black – Beautiful Sin

Self-produced CD

An award-winning tunesmith who hadn’t issued an album in more than a decade, Paul Black was on the verge of releasing this disc in 2021 when COVID brought the world to a halt. But one listen to the rousing, percussive rhythms, smoky vocals and stellar fretwork on this effort will show that it was worth the wait.

Paul was raised in country and gospel, but was a rocker before witnessing Stevie Ray Vaughan which baptized him in the blues. He took first place in a VH1 Save the Music Foundation songwriting event and took top honors in a Canadian TV talent competition, too. He’s been reviewed positively in Rolling Stone, and definitely deserves your ear.

Give a listen to “Howl and Moan,” “Beautiful Sin,” “Living Like You’re Never Gonna Die,” “Let It Rain,” “Never Go Home,” “How Long,” “Losing Your Love” and “Go On Home.”


The Mike Clark Band – 0 to 60

Self-produced CD

Based out of Calgary, Alberta, but best known to American audiences through his work with Tommy Castro & the Painkillers, sax player/vocalist/longtime club owner Mike Clark is one of the best musicians in the Canadian prairie provinces. He simply cooks from the jump here, delivering a silky smooth, all-original set of contemporary blues.

Mike possesses a warm tenor, delivers fluid, gritty lines on the horn and surrounds himself with other top talents, including regular Painkillers keyboard player Mike Emerson, guitarists Steve Pineo and Brett Spaulding besides a full horn section and backup singers, too.

Choice cuts include “Turn Away,” “Never Gonna Not,” “Wagel Butt Rock,” “Who Are You,” “Blue Day,” “Heather’s Shiny Dress” and “0 to 60.”



John Clifton – Too Much to Pay

Flower Records FCD 077

Honey-voiced tenor/harp player John Clifton has been performing out of Central California since the late ‘80s, and he spares no expense for this CD, which was recorded in Warsaw, Poland, with backing from The Boogie Boys, the band who regularly back him on European tours. It’s a winner on all counts that shifts effortlessly between Chicago and West Coast stylings throughout.

It's a welcome return to the stage for Clifton, who suffered major heart problems prior to the pandemic and who’s only been working as a soloist for seven years. The fourth album in his catalog, it’s an all-original, hard-rocking effort that’ll keep you boogieing throughout.

Put on your dancing shoes for “Too Much to Pay,” “It Wouldn’t Stop Raining,” “Long Gone Mama,” “Every Waking Hour,” “Broke Down Fool,” “One Fine Chick,” “Swear to God I Do” and “Bad Trip.”


Sean Riley & the Water – Stone Cold Hands

Pugnacious Records

A fixture along the Gulf Coast, singer/songwriter Sean Riley has made a name for himself performing a brand of music that infuses the sound of original regional folk stylings with the rhythms of New Orleans. And he strikes gold here with a rotating roster of Big Easy and bayou giants to help him along the way.

Sean’s a guitarist/dobro player with a light, rhythmic touch. He’s backed by zydeco giant Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes on accordion and harmonica, fiddler Waylon Thibodeaux, keyboard player Phil Breen, drummer Mike Barras and bassist Dean Zucchero. And vocalist Tiffany Pollack adds her pipes to the mix, too.

A different shade of blue, you’ll enjoy “Dance Me One More Time,” “Go Easy on Me,” “Stone Cold Hands,” “Truck Route Blues,” “A Losing Hand,” “Rosie’s Rag,” “Jump the Line” and “Shine a Little Stronger.”


Sam Morrow – On the Ride Here

Copaco Records COPA001

A bluesy roots rocker who’s toured with the North Mississippi Allstars and played the Grand Ole Opry, too, Sam Morrow is a hard-to-define singer-songwriter who delivers music with a swagger and heavy groove. And he’s at the absolute top of his game on this powerful CD.

Produced by Grammy nominee Eric Corne, the Houston native teams with several of the top session players on the West Coast, including guitarists Eli Wulfmeier and Eamon Ryland, bassists Ted Russell Kamp and Adam Arcos, keyboard player Sasha Smith and drummers Matt Tecu and Butch Norton in a set that will grab you from the jump.

Give a listen to “By Your Side,” “Medicine Man,” “Searching for Paradise,” “More,” “Thunderbird Motel,” “On My Way,” “High Class Woman,” “Hired Gun” and “St. Peter.”


Mavis Staples – Have a Little Faith

Alligator Records

Here’s a treat for vinyl lovers. An icon whose career spans gospel, soul and the Civil Rights movement, Mavis Staples gained new commercial appeal with the release of this album in 2004. Alligator Records is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a limited-edition, two-LP set this month as its contribution to Record Store Day.

Recorded in the Windy City and bridging the secular and spiritual worlds, the album marked the starting point of Mavis’ solo career after working in the family band for decades. The material here includes the very first song the Staples Singers learned from dad Pops along with other emotion-drenched classics that have withstood the passage of time.

Choice cuts include “Step into the Light,” “Pops Recipe,” “Have a Little Faith,” “God Is Not Sleeping,” “Ain’t No Better Than You,” “I Wanna Thank You,” “I Still Believe in You,” “There’s a Devil on the Loose,” “In Times Like These” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”


Shawn Kellerman – Kell’s Kitchen

Songsurfer Records

Mentored in Kitchener, Ont., by Mississippi-born bluesman Mel Brown and a man who spent eight years on the road as Lucky Peterson’s guitarist, Shawn Kellerman is a superstar North of the Border. And he shines with this disc, which follows the formula that made Brown famous, incorporating everything from gospel-inspired, bluesy rhythms and funk.

Shawn calls out the big guns and keeps the heat on high for this totally fresh, contemporary set. His tight three-piece unit’s augmented by appearances from Bobby Rush, Jason Ricci, Andrew “Blaze” Thomas, Lucky and several others, too.

Give a listen to “SBK,” “Drivin’,” “We Are Blues Men,” “Together,” “Hard Man to Please,” “Bad Mamma Jamma,” “Mac & Cheese,” “You’re Gonna Learn from This One,” “Jig Jiggity,” “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon,” “In a World of Blues” and “Living Off the Love You Give.”


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 Mason, OH, 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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