By Marty Gunther
Gerald McClendon – Can’t Nobody Stop Me Now
(Delta Roots Records DR-1003)
No one working in the studio today has a better handle on urban soul-blues than label owner/percussionist Twist Turner at Delta Roots Records. If you have any doubt, just give this one a listen. With veteran vocalist Gerald McClendon at the mic, this one updates sounds that rose to prominence in the ‘60s and ‘70s and carries them forward for a new generation.
A native Chicagoan, McClendon possesses a honeyed, emotion-infused voice and is worthy of far more attention than he’s received in a career that’s included only a handful of releases. He’s definitely a star on the ascendant with this disc – a follow-up to Delta Roots’ stellar Battle of the Blues: Chicago vs. Oakland compilation and Grabbing the Blues by the Horns -- his partnership with horn player Vince Salerno – both of which hit the market in the past year.
All of the material on this CD was penned by Turner, who’s on drums throughout with Herb Walker (Tyrone Davis, Sugar Blue), Mark Wydra (Eddy Clearwater, Z.Z. Hill) and Joe Burba on guitars with all-star support throughout. This one’s so good, it’s impossible to pick out “best” cuts. It’s going on my short list for the next awards season.
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Anthony Geraci with Dennis Brennan – Daydreams in Blue
(Shining Stone Records SSCD006)
A perennial nominee for Blues Music Awards, keyboard player Anthony Geraci teams with Boston-based vocalist/harp player Dennis Brennan for this sophisticated collection of intimate jazz-tinged blues.
A founding member of Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, The Proven Ones and the Boston Blues All-Stars, the duo get assists from guitarists Monster Mike Welch, Peter Ward, Troy Gonyea and Walter Trout, bassist Michael “Mudcat” Ward and others in a flawless production recorded at Lakewest Studio in West Greenwich, R.I.
Among the many high points here are the originals “Love Changes Everything,” “Tomorrow May Never Come,” “Tutti Fruitti Booty,” “Hard to Say I Love You,” “Living in the Shadow of the Blues” and the poignant “Ode to Todd, Ella and Mike Ledbetter.”
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Johnny Burgin – No Border Blues
(Delmark Records DE-863)
A stylish guitarist/vocalist who’s been delivering old-school sounds in Chicago in the early ‘90s, Johnny Burgin traveled across the Pacific and gathered several of the foremost blues artists in Japan for this CD, which proves once again that, although the music was born in the American South, it’s an international language spoken clearly by folks in all corners of the world.
Recorded primarily in Osaka with foreign talent and one cut recorded in the Windy City with his own regular band, the roster includes keyboard player Lee Kanehira, who’s made a name for herself with the Cash Box Kings, as well as harp players Kotez, Kaz Nogio and Iper Onishi, guitarists Minoru Maruyama, Nacomi Tanaka and Yoshi Mizuno and more world-class talent.
Burgin handles vocals on five of the 11 cuts in a set that’s primarily delivered in English, but has Japanese high points, too. Tune into this one for “One Day You’re Gonna Get Lucky,” “Sunnyland,” “Pumpkin’s Boogie,” “I Just Keep Loving Her (Mada Sukinanda),” “Old School Player” and “Samurai Harp Attack.” You’ll be glad you did!
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Goldman Thibodeaux & the Lawtell Playboys – La Danse à St. Ann’s
(Nouveau Electric Records)
Now 87 years old and one of the most enduring figures in the history of Louisiana music, Goldman Thibodeaux returns to the studio for the first time in 13 years for this live set of traditional Creole and Cajun tunes and improvisations that are sure to keep you up and moving throughout.
Thibodeaux has been a member of the Lawtell Playboys since 1966, an ensemble founded 20 years earlier by brothers Bébé and Eraste Carriere. Goldman’s on accordion and vocals and leading a six-piece band throughout. They were performing before a festive audience at a family reunion in Mallett, La., when this was recorded last fall.
If you’re looking for something different, put on your dancing shoes for “Two Step de St. Ann’s,” “Allons Sur Plancher,” “Je T’aime Autant,” “Jolie Caton,” “Watch That Dog,” “Blues de Goldman” “Pauvre Hobo” and “Jongle Moi.”
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Fillmore Slim – Son of the Seven Sisters
San Francisco-based Fillmore Slim is a legend on many levels. A world-class character and once one of the most recognized pimps in the U.S., he’s also a guitarist and songwriter of the first order who’s been thrilling audiences for the better part of seven decades. Now in his mid-80s, Slim leaves other artists slack-jawed when he appears on stage, and this album shows why.
Produced by Kid Andersen at Greaseland Studios and featuring a lineup that includes harp player Rick Estrin, who’s been working with Slim since he was 15, Son of the Seven Sisters finds Fillmore at his absolute best, delivering grooves that deliver a big taste of why he’s known as the Mack Daddy of the blues.
This one’s full of self-deprecating tidbits and a whole lot of good-natured fun along the way. Be sure to give a good listen to “Son of the Seven Sisters,” the autobiographical “I’m a Playboy,” “Jody Must Be in My Business” and “I’m a Badd Brotha Foya” as well as a tribute to old friend Johnny “Guitar” Watson and a tip of the fedora to all girls named “Mary Sue.”
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Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne – Go, Just Do It!
(Stony Plain Records SPCD1413)
Boogie Woogie Hall of Fame keyboard player/vocalist Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne hits the high notes with this energetic collection of good-time blues – a silky smooth mix of contemporary music full of jazzy, R&B overtones with a taste of rap thrown in for good measure.
An ex-pat American who’s been one of the brightest stars on the Canadian blues scene since migrating North of the Border decades ago, Kenny shares the mic with 2020 BMA soul-blues nominee and Maple Blues winner Dawn Tyler Watson, jazz Grammy winner Diane Schuur, Julie Masi of Parachute Club and rapper Cory “SeQuaL” Spruell to deliver ten originals and fresh arrangements of three covers.
Some of the key cuts on this one are “Just Do It,” “You Did a Number on Me,” a tasty re-do of Percy Mayfield’s “You’re in for a Big Surprise,” “I Don’t Want to Be the President,” “Bumpin’ Down the Highway,” “T&P Train 400” and “Let the Rock Roll.”
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Misty Blues – Weed ‘Em & Reap
Fronted by deep-throated contralto Gina Coleman, Misty Blues is a six-piece horn band founded in the 1990s and based out of the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts. Finalists in the 2019 International Blues Challenge, they deliver a full set of originals here, mixing blues, soul, funk, jazz and gospel into a blend that’s tasty and contemporary, too.
Coleman doubles on cigar box guitar, bass and percussion, and she penned nine of the 11 cuts here with bassist/trumpet player Bill Patriquin and keyboard player Benny Kohn contributing the others. Her voice glides and glistens throughout atop some of the most complex charts you’ll hear in the blues today.
Some of the standout cuts include “No More to Give,” “Blues Coaster,” “Don’t Send Me Home,” “Phunk ‘n Grewv,” “Keep Rising Up” and “Treat Me Like I Want.” If your tastes run to stylish, urban blues, though, this one’s definitely right for you!
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Adam Karch – Everything Can Change
(Disques Bros BROS11902)
A stylish, mellow fingerpicking acoustic guitarist, Adam Karch is a native of Montreal, but delivers a hybrid brand of soothing, Americana-steeped blues reminiscent of tunesmith Kelly Joe Phelps and six-string master Chet Atkins as he drives his sound forward atop an innovative, percussive technique that makes him unique.
This is the fifth CD for Karch, who’s been fronting bands in his Canadian homeland since age 14. A collection of six originals and five well-crafted covers, his delivery is easy-breezy and his originals are modern but still imbued with an ageless feel.
Among the tasty cuts here are “It’s Your Song,” “Everything Can Change,” “Porch Groove (Sunday Morning)” and its companion, “Porch Groove (Saturday Night),” “Bitter Harvest” and “Preachin’ Blues (Up Jumped the Devil).”
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Kat Pearson – My Roots
Based in England, but a Southern California transplant, Kat Pearson is a pleasant alto who weaves her family’s rich heritage as freed slaves, Oklahoma sharecroppers and current membership in culturally diverse society into this all-original collection of contemporary, autobiographical blues.
Pearson discovered her love for performance when sitting in with a band on a family trip to Britain at age 18 while celebrating her high school graduation. She takes a break from her longtime group, Kat & Co. to team with her longtime guitarist Francisco Accurso and the Marco Marzola Jazz Trio here.
Silky smooth, but haunting throughout, some of the top cuts include “Cane Creek,” “Labour’s Train,” “The Truth,” “Until I Get What I Need” and “When the Blues Is Over.”
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Steve Howell, Dan Sumner & Jason Weinheimer – Long Ago
(Out Of The Past Music OOTP 014)
Here’s a great album to play for someone you adore while sitting fireside or swinging on the veranda! Texas troubadour Steve Howell has been delivering acoustic blues, rock and folk since the ‘70s, but dips into his not-so-secret love for the American songbook on this one.
A talented picker himself, Howell teams with jazz guitarist Dan Sumner and bassist Jason Weinheimer to cover several of his personal favorite tunes, which are culled from multiple mediums and all of which are delivered laid-back and with a strong, bluesy root.
Easy listening at its best, the disc opens with “Singin’ the Blues,” a 1920 hit for vocalist Aileen Stanley, and flows steadily throughout. You’ll love takes on Ella Fitzgerald’s “Angel Eyes,” Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love” and Duke Ellington’s “Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear from Me” as well as bluesy versions of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Dindi,” Sammy Cahn’s “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” and Johnny Mercer’s “I Thought About You.”
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Jimmy Carpenter – Soul Doctor
(Gulf Coast Records)
One of the most beloved sax players in the business, Las Vegas-based Jimmy Carpenter toured internationally with Tinsley Ellis, Jimmy Thackery, Walter Wolfman Washington and others before becoming a fixture in Mike Zito’s band about eight years ago. As a front man, he’s an exciting performer who blends blues, R&B and rock into a package that swings from the jump.
This is Carpenter’s fourth solo CD in a career that began in the ‘80s with the North Carolina-based Alka-Phonics. Jimmy’s joined here by fellow horn players Mark Earley and Doug Woolverton in a large-band setting that includes 10 other musicians – including Zito and Nick Schnebelen – to deliver several originals and three covers.
You’ll love the funky “Soul Doctor,” which opens, “Wild Streak,” “Need Your Love So Bad,” a modern take on the classic “One Mint Julip,” “LoFi Roulette” and “Yeah Man,” a redo of a Muscle Shoals classic penned by Eddie Hinton, one of the best and most tragic vocalists of all time.
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Brad Vickers and His Vestapolitans – Twice as Nice
(Mad Hat Tone Records MHT2000)
New York native Brad Vickers loves old-time music, as the name of his group – which is taken from a guitar tuning popular in the 1920s -- implies. And all of the 11 tunes here – four covers and seven originals – feature his seven-piece band and come across with the feel a bygone era.
Vickers knows the music well. Before launching the Vestapolitans in the mid-2000s, he enjoyed a lengthy career as a sideman with several of the biggest names in blues and roots, including Odetta, Chuck Berry and Rosco Gordon, among others. He and bassist Margey Peters share vocals in a set that mixes traditional blues, ragtime and more.
Give a good listen to “Worried Life Blues,” the Big Maceo classic that was a regular part of Berry’s set, “Mississippi Swamp,” the driving “Coast to Coast,” the vocal duet “Red Dust,” Memphis Jug Band founder Will Shade’s “Look a There Look a There” and “Brooklyn Evenings.”
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Matteo Sansonetto Blues Revue – I’m Still Around
(Wind Chill Records WC1005)
Based out of northeastern Italy, vocalist/guitarist Matteo Sansonetto celebrates his return to action after a debilitating automobile accident with this set of modern blues, which was recorded with a star-studded lineup from Chicago -- where he spends time, too -- including string masters Jimmy Johnson and Dave Specter.
A dedicated student of the Windy City sound, Sansonetto appeared on the cusp of stardom with the release of My Life Began to Change in 2015, but broke both hands in the wreck. He’s back at top form in this mix of soulful covers and originals.
Among the standout cuts here are a silky smooth take on Johnnie Taylor’s “Last Two Dollars,” the title cut “I’m Still Around,” “Tell Me That You Want Me Too,” an unhurried love ballad, “Still Called the Blues” – with Johnson on vocals -- and the originals “Everything’s Allright (with My Baby)” and “Don’t Call Me in the Morning.”
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Tony O – Blues O’ Blues
(Top of the Blues Records)
A native New Yorker, Tony O Melio is one of the finest guitarists in the Chicago tradition, something that was evident to mentors Howlin’ Wolf and Hubert Sumlin in the ‘70s when they started calling him by his adopted stage name. A former member of Legendary Blues Band and a Grammy nominee for his work with Pinetop Perkins, he’s a gifted harp player, too, and hits on all the high notes here.
Tony’s backed here by The Uptown Horns, the brass section who’ve toured with everyone from the Rolling Stones and Ray Charles to Albert Collins, as well as several other top Manhattan music veterans as he delivers three originals and standards penned by B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers and Brook Benton.
A treasure for anyone who loves old-school Windy City blues, the three originals – “Blues O’ Blues,” “Keep on Movin’” and “Just Drive” – stand out in a set that also includes “My Love Strikes Like Lightning,” “It’s Just a Matter of Time,” “Lie to Me” and “You Upset Me Baby.”
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Irma Thomas – After the Rain
(Rounder Records/Craft Recordings)
Here’s a new throwback for anyone who loves vinyl: Irma Thomas – the undisputed Soul Queen of New Orleans – recorded this Grammy-winning album a few months after Hurricane Katrina decimated the Big Easy and destroyed her home. Fifteen years later, Craft Recordings has released this acclaimed recording as a high-quality 33 1/3 LP.
The tunes in these grooves delivered up a message of hope that still rings true 14 years after the original release. Irma still reigns supreme, opening with Arthur Alexander’s poignant Muscle Shoals burner “In the Middle of It All.”
The pleasers come hot and heavy throughout, but all hold up extremely well despite the passage of time. Tune in to “I Count the Tears,” the traditional “Make Me a Pallet on the Floor,” “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” the gospel-flavored “Another Man Done Gone,” a stripped-down take on “Soul of a Man” and “Shelter in the Rain.”