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

By Marty Gunther

Red Hot ‘n Blues Reviews for Dec. 2023

Various Artists – Delmark Records 70th Anniversary Blues Anthology

Delmark Records 878

The most important jazz and blues label in the U.S. since 1953, Delmark Records had an unbelievable treasure trove of recordings to choose from as it celebrates its 70th anniversary, but it’s hard to argue that they could have selected better than the ten cuts that grace this stellar CD.

It opens with Junior Wells’ “Snatch It Back and Hold It” from Hoodoo Man Blues, which is considered by experts to be the first modern blues LP that emulates true bar sound, and powers ahead from there. Magic Sam’s “All of Your Love,” Otis Rush’s “All Your Love (I Miss Loving),” Jimmy Dawkins’ “All for Business” and Dinah Washington’s “Blues for a Day” fill out the first half of the set.

And don’t miss T-Bone Walker’s “I Want a Little Girl,” Big Time Sarah’s “Long Tall Daddy,” Little Walter’s “I Just Keep Loving Her,” Memphis Slim’s “Memphis Slim U.S.A.” and Jimmy Johnson’s “Ashes in My Ashtray.” It just doesn’t get better than this!

Marcel Smith – From My Soul

Little Village Foundation LVF 1060

The world needs more vocalists like silky-throated tenor Marcel Smith. He simply dazzles from the opening notes of this CD, which delivers old-school, blues-drenched soul in a manner that would have made him a superstar in the ‘60s or ‘70s. A seductive and alluring mix that includes gospel, too, it’s a winner on all counts.

Produced, mixed and mastered by Kid Andersen at Greaseland Studio in California, this star-laden effort includes contributions from Jim Pugh (organ), Rick Estrin (harp), a full horn section and appearances on rhythm from Dereck “D-Mar” Martin (drums) and Jerry Jemmott (bass) along with a host of others. And Johnny Rawls also guests on two cuts.

Open your ears and give a listen to “I’m Coming Home to You,” “If You Miss Me,” “What Can We Do,” “Freedom Blues,” “To Be True,” “Nothing Left to Burn,” “There Goes My Used to Be,” “Turn Back the Hands of Time,” “My Heart Told a Lie,” “I Don’t Want to Take a Chance” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.”

Ben Harper featuring Charlie Musselwhite – Get Up!

Stax Records/Craft Recordings CR00651

Here’s a treat for vinyl lovers: Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite have enjoyed an enduring partnership despite their seeming musical differences, and they mix blues, roots, gospel and R&B on this disc, which received a Grammy ten years ago. They celebrate the anniversary in style with its re-release on LP.

The two giants first got together while working on a John Lee Hooker album in 1997 and have toured together intermittently ever since. Charlie’s harp lays down a consistent, dazzling rhythm throughout this one as Ben handles guitar, production and all of the vocals.

If you missed this the first time, you’ll enjoy “Don’t Look Twice,” “I’m In I’m Out and I’m Gone,” “We Can’t End This Way,” “You Found Another Lover (I Lost Another Friend),” “I Ride at Dawn,” “Get Up,” “She Got Kick” and “All That Matters Now.”

Joel Astley – Seattle to Greaseland

Blue Heart Records BHR 047

Seattle-based Joel Astley is an 18-time Washington Blues Society Best of the Blues honoree thanks to his work in several ensembles in the Pacific Northwest. The harp player makes a dazzling debut as a headliner with this disc, which – like the title infers – was produced by Kid Andersen at Greaseland.

A mix of jump, swing and more, Astley shines on the reeds with backing from Johnny Burgin and Andersen on guitars and keys, June Core on drums and Randy Bermudes on bass. Astley’s lilting voice is a perfect match for the contemporary original themes that populate the set.

Toe-tappers include “Born Cryin’,” “Candy Shop,” “Just Right,” “Karma Wheel,” “Takin’ It With Me,” “Hot as Hell,” “Work With What You Got,” “Bobby’s Place” and “No Brighter Gold.”

Al Basile – B’s Time

Sweetspot Records SS9948

Cornet player/singer/songwriter Al Basile is one cool cat, and the Rhode Islander celebrates the 25th anniversary of his Sweetspot Records in style with classy, sassy and thought-provoking retrospective – 17 tracks culled from 19 previous CDs, all of which groove deeply and swing from the hip throughout.

A multiple Blues Music Awards nominee, Al’s also a world-class poet and storyteller. And each one of the totally different compositions here are magical in their own right. His backing ensembles – which include Duke Robillard, Monster Mike Welch, Bruce Katz, Sax Gordon, Jerry Portnoy and past and current members of Roomful of Blues -- are pure magic, too.

Dive deep into “You Showed Me Something,” “I Really Miss You,” “Tickle My Mule,” “Drive Me Darling,” “Hooray for Me (and to Hell with You),” “Can I Trust You With a Kiss,” “Losing My Cool,” “Causing Joy,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “You Don’t Know Lonesome” and “1.843 Million.”

Kyla Brox – Live at Köniz Castle

Pigskin Records

Hailing from Lancashire, England, Kyla Brox is a sultry alto who captured the European Blues Challenge in 2019 after winning British honors the year before. She and her four-piece road band simmer and smoke in this 16-song set, which was captured in Switzerland last March.

An intriguing set of blues-rock that’s shred-free throughout and ranges from intense ballads to soulful, well-executed burners, Kyla delivers 14 originals along with a pair of covers. The arrangements are tasty, but minimal enough to give her the space she truly deserves to shine. And COVID probably cost her the exposure she deserves in the U.S. after her previous success.

Give a spin to “When We’re Alone,” “Beautiful Day,” “Bloodshot Sky,” “In the Morning,” “Sensitive Soul,” “Bluesman’s Child,” ”Honestly Blues,” “If You See Him,” “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” “Don’t Let Me Fall,” “Choose Me” and “Hallelujah.”

Mario Rossi Band – Smoke Burst

Self-produced CD

Based out of Sao Bernardo do Campo, Brazil, and a guitarist who’s toured South America with John Primer, Mario Rossi drew acclaim as a heavy metal rocker in his youth, but the blues was definitely in his blood. Since going azure in 2013 at age 27, he’s hit the road with John Primer, toured the U.S. and proven to be a force to be reckoned with in the blues.

There’s still somewhat of a hard edge to Rossi’s playing on this disc, the fourth in his catalog, but the deep-in-the-pocket, original sounds he delivers here demonstrate a love and respect for his forebears. There’s deep feel in every note he plays, and his vocals follow suit. Steve Bell, Carey’s son and Primer’s bandmate, guests on harp.

Choice cuts in this intense set include “Smoke Burst,” “Leavin’ for a Walk,” “It Means Blues,” “There’s No Hope for Willie Brown,” “Jammin’ for Jimi,” “Expensive Instinct” and “Cold Lonely Nights.”

Sue Foley – Live in Austin Vol. 1

Stony Plain Records

Canadian-born guitarist/vocalist Sue Foley has become one of the true treasures in Austin since moving to the Texas capital 30 years ago. And she fires on all cylinders here, showing why she took home the BMA’s Koko Taylor Award for female artist of the year in 2023.

Mixing several of her early hits with other, more recent numbers that have put her at the absolute top of the blues world, this performance was captured in front of an enthusiast audience at the legendary Continental Club and blazes from the jump.

You’ll dig “New Used Car,” “Walkin’ Home,” “Highwayside,” “Queen Bee,” “Hooked on Love,” “Positively 4th Street,” “Me and My Chauffeur Blues,” “Better” and “High Roller.”

Davis Hall & the Green Lanterns – Canboro Canborough

Self-produced CD

Davis Hall & the Green Lanterns deliver on all counts with this sophomore offering, a unique mix of blues, jazz and funk that will grab you instantaneously and have you yearning for more as they fill your ears with some of the most unique sounds you’ll hear this year. This mostly instrumental project is fronted by drummer Jim Casson, a Maple Blues Award winner, formerly of Canada’s famed Downchild Blues Band.

Jim’s a multi-instrumentalist who doubles on vocals, keyboards, xylophone and more. His one-of-a-kind lineup includes Wayne DeAdder on guitar and ukelele, Mike Brandon on slide guitar and N. Jay Burr on tuba and trombone. They’re augmented by Sisters Euclid keyboard wizard Mark Lalama.

Not your grandfather’s blues but a whole lot of fun, tune in to “Carrottown,” “Homer,” “Canboro Canborough,” “The Comfort in the North,” “Lowbanks,” “Silverdale,” “Sugarloaf” and “White Toyota.”

Frenchie Moe – Soul Full Tonight

Self-produced CD

A stellar female guitarist who was mentored as a child by British bluesman Victor Brox and playing professionally at age 15, Frenchie Moe hails from Europe as her name suggests but has been based in New Orleans for more than a decade. And the good-time feel of the Big Easy comes through loud and clear in this swinging set.

Frenchie joins forces with multi-instrumentalist Gulf Coast legend Sunpie Barnes and keyboard player Bruce Elsensohn of the Luther Kent Band here; she delivers all of the tasty fretwork and provides perfectly unaccented vocals in a confident, distinctive soprano.

Get your groove on with “Fight You Like a Man,” “Backup Plan,” “Crawfish Heads,” “Furry Slippers,” “I’m Into Something,” “Gator Bags a Beaver” and “Invisible Man.”

Mathias Lattin – Up Next

VizzTone Label Group VT-ML-01

A no-nonsense singer/guitarist who took first place in the 2023 International Blues Challenge, Houston-based Mathias Lattin is all business in this debut release, a soulful, deep-blue effort that displays talent far more mature than someone who’s only age 20. It’s an emotion-packed effort powered by his stinging, shred-free attack on the strings.

A veteran of the IBC-winning Keeshea Pratt Band, Mathias was mentored by Shawn Allen and Annika Chambers-DesLauriers. Matias wrote and produced this entire 10-tune set, drawing influences from Roy Hawkins, Marvin Gaye, Bobby Womack and Lucky Peterson.

Don’t miss this one. Choice cuts include “Who’s Been Loving on You,” “Lose Some Weight,” “Can’t Stop Feeling,” “You Know This Won’t Do,” “You Don’t Love Me No More,” “2nd Degree” and “After Party.”

Foghat – Sonic Mojo

Foghat Records FHR0022

An enduring force in the world of blues-rock for more than 50 years, Foghat hasn’t been in the studio for seven years, but return at the top of their game with this disc, which features the same intense slide guitar work, infectious melodies and driving boogie beat the band’s been known for since their debut in 1971.

Former Wild Cherry/Molly Hatchet guitarist Bryan Bassett, Pat Travers Band bassist Rodney Quinn and lead vocalist Scott Holt – who toured on guitar with Buddy Guy for a decade – join percussionist/co-founder Rodger Earl in a manner that would make their predecessors proud.

Blues-rock done right, choice cuts include “She’s a Little Bit of Everything,” “I Don’t Appreciate You,” “Mean Woman Blues,” “Driving On,” “Let Me Love You Baby,” “How Many More Years,” “Wish I’d Been There,” “Time Slips By,” “Black Days & Blue Nights” and “She’s Dynamite.”

Tomislav Goluban – Crazy Hill Live

Delta Note Records

A world-class harmonica player, educator, radio deejay and festival promoter from Croatia, Tomislav “Little Pigeon” Goluban is one of the busiest artists in the European blues scene, and he delivers an interesting mix of blues, rock and world sounds in this live set, which was recorded with his regular band in the city of Ludberg last spring.

The music here ranges from tunes with the comfortable old-school feel of Sonny Terry and Slim Harpo --Tomislav’s early inspirations -- to a taste of ‘50s Chicago and a more contemporary feel, delivered mostly in English with a few in his native tongue.

For a good-time feel, tune in to “Extra Boom,” “Disappear for Good,” “Forhills Boogie,” “Train Beat,” “Fun Starts Here,” “Do the Right Thing,” “Mr. B” and “Hayloft Blues.”

Blood Brothers – Live in Canada

Gulf Coast Records

Fresh off winning this year’s Blues Blast Music Award for rock-blues album of the year, the Blood Brothers – Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia – hit another major high note with this release, a live-in-studio set that emulates their searing, high-energy stage shows.

Recorded at Blue Frog Studios in White Rock, B.C., with a lineup that includes Lewis Stephens on keys, Matt Johnson and Ephraim Lowell on drums and Doug Byrkit on bass, this 12-track pleaser features live 10 amped-up versions of tunes from their previous CD along with two Zito-penned covers.

Get your heart racing with “Hey Sweet Mama,” “Tooth and Nail,” “In My Soul,” “A Thousand Heartaches,” “No Good Woman,” “Hill Country Jam,” “You’re Gonna Burn,” “Bag Me, Tag Me, Take Me Away” and “Gone to Texas.”


Big Harp George – Big Harp George Does Christmas

Blues Mountain Records BMR CD06

It doesn’t matter if you’re naughty or nice, you’ll definitely want to put this all-original set from Big Harp George under your Christmas tree. It’s some of the most unconventional, swinging holiday music you’ve ever heard. A master of the chromatic, George swings from the hip from the opening track, “Bad Santa,” puts a samba spin on “Carioca Christmas” and “Coquito Girl,” describes “Reindeer on Strike” and “That Grinch Is Me” and gets a little sentimental, too, through “Where’ll I Be for Christmas,” “Fireside Waltz” and more.

Various Artists – Jingle All the Way

Blues Heart Records BHR053

The roster of Blue Heart and Nola Blue Records has exploded onto the scene in recent years with dozens of great offerings, and this package serves up 14 of their talents at their holiday best. The Texas Horns open the action with “Silver Bells.” Other choice cuts include Benny Turner’s “I Want Some Christmas Cheer,” Grammy nominee Teresa James’ “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” Rick Vito’s “I Was a Bad Boy This Year,” Bobby Gentilo’s “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto,” Laura Tate’s “Merry Christmas Baby,” Vaneese Thomas’ “Peace and Good Will” and more, all of which will leave you feeling rosy and bright!

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.

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