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Marty Gunther’s Red, Hot ’n Blues Music Reviews - December 2022

By Marty Gunther




Ben Levin – Take Your Time

VizzTone Label Group VT-BL005

A 2022 BMA nominee for keyboard player of the year at just 23 years old, Cincinnati-based Ben Levin is already a proven talent on the national blues stage, and he calls out the big guns for this disc, which carries the world of traditional blues piano forward for the future generation.


Ben joins forces with Chicago stalwarts Lil’ Ed Williams, Bob Stroger and Johnny Burgin, Gulf Coast legend Lil’ Jimmy Reed, former IBC Gibson Guitar Award winner Noah Wotherspoon and several other talents from the Queen City for a rollicking set that includes five originals and seven covers. As shocking as it might seem, it’s the fifth release in his growing catalog.


If the 88s are your thing, you’ll love “Take Your Time,” “Jazz Man Blues,” “Why Do Things Happen to Me,” “I’ve Been Drinking Muddy Water,” “Out of Your Own Way,” “Longer Hours, Shorter Pay,” “Lump of Coal,” “Love You Baby” and “Mr. Stroger’s Strut.”


The Mighty Soul Drivers – I’ll Carry You Home

Hog Heaven Records 007

The Mighty Soul Drivers, a veteran seven-piece horn band, have been heating up cold nights in southern New England and putting their own stamp on unhurried, Memphis-style blues for the past decade, and the heat’s on high for this rock-solid follow-up to their 2021 debut release, Qualified!


Fronted by vocalist Bob Orsi, a New England Music Hall of Famer who formerly partnered with G.E. Smith and Christine Ohlman in the Scratch Band, the roster includes Larry Willey and guests Paul Gabriel and Michael St. George on guitar, Steve Donovan on keys, John Smayda on sax and Neil Tint on trumpet.


Deep in the pocket and silky smooth throughout, groove along with the Temptations’ “I Can’t Get Next to You,” which opens, along with the originals “I’ll Carry You Home,” “Party by the Tower,” “A Little Bit of That,” “Cold Cold Night,” “Parking Lot Blues,” “Piece of My Pride” and “Dressed to Kill.”


Yates McKendree – Buchanan Lane

Qualified Records

Once in a very rare while, a debut album simply knocks you off your feet. That’s the case with this highly entertaining effort from Nashville-based Yates McKendree, an old-soul-in-a-young-body multi-instrumentalist with a golden voice who’s only 21 but is already a Grammy winner for his work as a guitarist and engineer.


The son of producer/guitarist/keyboard player Kevin McKendree, Yates has been performing since age 11 and shines on guitars and keys throughout. He’s previously recorded with Teresa James, John Hiatt and Seth James in addition to playing a key role on Delbert McClinton’s award-winning Tall Dark & Handsome CD.


He swings from the hip on keys with the original, “Out Crowd” to open before switching to six-string for most of the remaining set. A surefire bet to win awards next season, don’t miss “Ruby Lee,” “Wise,” “Brand New Neighborhood,” “Papa Ain’t Salty,” “Qualified,” “It Hurts to Love Someone” and “Voodoo.”


Eric Demmer – So Fine

Gulf Coast Records STR20-D

One of the busiest horn players in the Lone Star State, Eric Demmer tours regularly with Mike Zito and records with both the B.B. King Blues Band and Tito Jackson when not fronting his own band. He simply smokes on this high-energy mix, which delivers some of the funkiest sounds you’ll hear this year.


Co-produced with Zito -- who makes a guest appearance – the all-star lineup includes guitar slingers Jonn Del Toro Richardson, The Funky Rick Marcel and Mark May, the Grooveline Horns, a killer rhythm section and guest vocals from Melanie Covington and Eric’s daughter, Melanie, too.


The fiery “Don’t Talk to Me” opens. Other pleasers include “She’s So Fine,” “What Was I Thinking,” “I’m Alright,” “Start It All Again,” “Get Out of Town,” “Just Can’t Wait,” “Any Day Get Away” and “Have You Ever Loved a Woman.”


Jeremiah Johnson – Hi-Fi Drive By

Ruf Records RUF 1299

St. Louis-based blues-rocker Jeremiah Johnson has been consistently charting albums in the Top Ten of national charts for the past decade. A sweet tenor and master tunesmith with a clean, stinging attack on guitar, he’s booked passage for even more success with this CD, which just might be his best effort yet.


Delivering all class, plenty of sass, seemingly effortless, big-band grooves and a heaping helping of soul, Jeremiah joins forces with producers Paul Niehaus IV and Tom Maloney, and perennial award-winning keyboard player Victor Wainwright and harp player Brandon Santini contribute their talents, too.


Johnson fires on all cylinders with “’68 Coupe DeVille,” “Ball and Chain” and “Young and Blind.” Other choice cuts include “Hot Diggity Dog,” “The Squeeze,” “Hot Blooded Love,” “Quicksand” and “The Band.”


Miss Emily – Defined by Love

Self-produced CD

Based out of Kingston, Ont., and a 2022 JUNO Award blues album of the year nominee for her Live at the Isabel CD, Miss Emily hits nothing but high notes and delivers solace and strength for anyone suffering from heartbreak with this sensational, self-produced studio follow-up.


Possessing one of the sweetest voices ever, Miss Emily previously captured female vocalist, rising star and video-of-the-year honors in the 2020 Maple Blues Awards. She delivers 11 azure originals laced with soul and a dash of jazz along with a single cover.


An album that’s all meat and no potatoes, tune in to “Defined By Love,” “Silver Lining,” “Glory,” “Respect Your Mother,” “One Song Left,” “Just,” “Friends, Lovers, Foes,” “Three Words,” “End of the World” and “The Keeper.”


Mick Kolassa – They Call Me Uncle Mick!

Endless Blues Records MK08 2022

Memphis-based Mick Kolassa returns to his acoustic “free-range blues” after pouring on the heat with the electrified I’m Just Getting Started last summer and gets helping hands from Bobby Rush, Watermelon Slim and Doug MacLeod for this set, which mixes six clever originals with five covers culled from other fields.


Co-produced by blues-rock guitarist Jeff Jensen, and featuring a Bluff City lineup that includes pianist Rick Steff and harp player Eric Hughes, and all of the net proceeds of this CD will be donated to the HART Fund and Generation Blues, two charities operated by the Blues Foundation, where Mick’s a former board member.


A treat for the ears throughout, give a spin to “My Pencil Won’t Write No More,” “Wasted Youth,” an interesting take on John Prine’s “Daddy’s Little Pumpkin,” “Used to Be,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” “My Woman She’s So Mean,” “Why?,” “Bless His Heart” and “The Cheese Song.”


John Fusco – Borderlands

Rocket 88 Records R88R-JF-001

The filmmaker who gave you Crossroads, Young Guns and Hidalgo, Connecticut native John Fusco paints vivid images as a musician, too. And he delivers a saddlebag full of what he terms the “Wild West soul of America” here. It’s a gritty mix of blues and roots infused with gospel overtones that describes the inner battle of folks trapped between past mistakes and an uncertain future.


A keyboard player with distinctive, well-worn pipes, Fusco teams here with producer/arranger George Walker Petit, who infused the mix with everything from coyote howls, mariachi horns and more. The lineup includes Matt Backer on slide guitar, Russ Lawton (Trey Anastasio Band) on percussion and Acadian fiddler/mandolinist Patrick Ross.


A highly interesting set with a linear theme, give a listen to “Coyote Man,” “Dance of the Seven Veils,” “Bad Luck Rides Shotgun,” “Cowboy Picture,” “Cyanide Whiskey,” “Knighted by the Queen,” “Run, Rez Dog, Run” and “Ain’t No Grave.”


Various Artists – Howlin’ Wolf & His Wolf Gang

Wolf Records CD 120.203

Not only was Howlin’ Wolf one of the true superstars of the blues but he was also a bandleader with a keen eye for talent – as this band-new compilation shows. Recorded live in Chicago and Austria between 1975 and 1996, it features Wolf in one of his final performances along with sets from guitarist Hubert Sumlin, sax player Eddie Shaw and keyboard player Detroit Jr., too.


While the Wolf sides catch him in weak and rapidly failing health, the other cuts are not-to-be-missed glimpses at sidemen on their own paths to stardom. They’re backed by a who’s who of talent that includes John Primer, Johnny B. Moore, Vance Kelly, Billy Branch, Willie Kent and more.


An 80-minute pleaser, give a listen to Shaw’s “Highway 61 Bound,” “Fannie Mae Jones” and “Got to Go Now,” Detroit’s “Call My Job,” “Race Track” and “You’ve Been Laid” and Sumlin’s “You Can’t Change Me,” “No Place to Go” and “I’ve Been Gone.”


Bywater Call – Remain

Gypsy Soul Records GSR016CD

Fronted by Meghan Parnell and guitarist Dave Barnes, Bywater Call, a seven-piece horn band based in Toronto, hit the top of the charts in Canada with their self-titled debut album in 2020 and fire on all cylinders with this intense follow-up.


Delivering a mix of blues-infused soul, Southern rock and roots, they’ll be representing the Grand River Blues Society at the 2023 IBCs after having appeared at major festivals on both sides of the Atlantic this year. They penned all 11 tracks on this emotion-packed set.


A powerhouse voice for the ages, Parnell shines throughout. If you’re a fan of blues with a rock edge, you’ll love “Falls Away,” “Lover Down Slow,” “Remain,” “Left Behind,” “Ties That Bind,” Go Alone,” “Locked” and “Bring It Back.”


Ivor S K – Mississippi Bound

Self-produced CD

Born in Australia, but based in New Orleans, where he enjoyed a three-year residency at the venerable Chickie Wah Wah nightclub on Bourbon Street, Ivor Simpson Kennedy has released two highly acclaimed Delta blues CDs but ventures into other aspects of the music on this one, showing off his skill as a picker and electric slide guitar player, too.


Ivor possesses an interesting, slightly worn voice with a delivery as light and refreshing as his attack on the strings. He penned all 15 cuts and handles all of the instrumentation here, mixing good humor, Big Easy grease, ska and more into an interesting roux.


A 52-minute treat, dig in to “Mississippi Bound,” “I Don’t Roll,” “Get Up,” “Talkin’ Shit Again,” “Kiss on My Blues,” “Sex Drugs & Cigarettes,” “Taste Your Lips,” “Down the Road,” “Slow Down,” “No Friend of Mine” and “Dead Pig.”


Maurice Tani – All In!

Little Village Foundation LVF 1052

A San Francisco native who started out as the guitarist for former Flamin’ Groovies front man Roy Loney, Maurice Tani is a fixture on the alt country scene, where he’s known for songs with linear storylines and well-developed characters. But he steps into a different world with this disc, teaming with superstar talent from the Little Village stable to deliver a sensational collection of blues and soulful roots.


Once glance on the roster – which includes Kid Andersen, Chris Cain and DeShawn Hickman on guitars, Jim Pugh on keys and a rhythm section that includes bassist Jerry Jermott and drummers June Core and Derrick “D’Mar” Martin – and you know you’re in for a treat. And Tani’s pleasant mid-range vocals grab you and won’t let you go.


Beginning with “Another Part of Me,” every tune here deserves a listen. Dial in “Soap & Water,” “Monsters in the Dark,” “Halo Above Her,” “The Truth,” “The Loan,” “I Forgot to Be Your Lover” and “How Deep Is the Water in Your Well.”


The Boneshakers – One Foot in the Groove

Take It to the Bridge Records

Formed in the early ‘90s by two members of Was (Not Was) during a hiatus from touring, The Boneshakers have changed singers on multiple occasions but have been delivering deep grooves for themselves and others ever since. And they hold nothing back on their latest CD, joining forces with vocalist Jenny Langer of Moonshine Society to deliver a smoking set of funkified blues and rock.


Founder Randy Jacobs continues to shine on guitar in a lineup that currently includes folks who’ve played with Keb’ Mo’, Bonnie Raitt, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Coco Montoya. Coco makes a guest appearance on six-string along with Bernard Fowler, who tours with the Rolling Stones.


You’ll dig the originals “Mr. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” “Big Leg Man” and “Powerful Notions” as well as clever reinventions of “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” “Ain’t Got the Fever No More,” “One Foot in the Groove,” “Ice Cream & Cigarettes” and “More, More, More.”


Alex Lopez – Nasty Crime

Maremil Music

A Cleveland native who’s been based in Florida for more than a decade, Alex Lopez made his debut as a blues-rocker in 2013 but cuts new ground on his latest CD, a powerful, passionate, all-original effort that blends blues, soul, a smidgen of jazz and a little swing, too.


Once a promising keyboard player, he switched to guitar after becoming enamored of Jimi Hendrix and Jimi’s predecessors in the English invasion. Formerly the front man in Reminisicion – rockers with a huge following in the Tampa Bay region, Alex’s most recent all blues-rock effort, Rising Up, debuted in the Top 10 on Billboard charts when it debuted in 2021.


Lopez blazes out of the gate with “World on Fire” before serving up ten other change-of-pace pleasers, including “Just Wait,” “See the Light,” “The First Time,” “Nasty Crime,” “Holy Woman,” “No Way,” “Hooked” and “That’s Alright.”


Serabee – Hummingbird Tea

Rabadash Records

The daughter of a Pentecostal minister from Kiln, Miss., who grew up singing gospel, Serabee possesses a rich, dynamic voice and provides a surprise at every turn on this dazzler, which walks the razor’s edge between blue-eyed soul and country and is sure to be among the most emotive albums you’ll hear this year.


Born Sarah Buras and an accomplished keyboard player and songwriter, her “Crazy Chick” charted high around the globe for Welsh songbird Charlotte Church, hitting No. 1 in the U.K., and all 14 of the numbers she penned here are all attention-grabbers worthy of airplay, too.


Some of the choice cuts include “Bayou Baby,” “Drunk Woman’s Words,” “Find Another Boyfriend,” “I Need Saving Too,” “Anything Like the Boy,” “Hush Little Baby,” “Love to Love a Woman,” “Fair Weathered Man,” “Has Anybody Told You” and “Moonchild.”

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