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

By Marty Gunther

Bernard Allison – Highs & Lows

Ruf Records RUF 1294

Bernard Allison is at his all-time best on this CD, celebrating the joys and sorrows of life as he reunites with longtime producer Jim Gaines who’s supervised his recordings since the mid-‘90s and is the man responsible for supervision several of Bernard’s dad Luther’s biggest hits.

Now 56, Bernard’s joined his father’s band at age 18 and has carried forward the family tradition of being one of the most powerful, emotive performers the world has ever known. A collection of nine originals and two covers, this album should go down as the most focused album in his career.

An extended guitar run opens as Bernard celebrates being back in the studio again with “So Excited” before the funky title song, “Highs & Lows,” foreshadows what’s ahead. The hits come hot and heavy, including “My Way or the Highway,” “The Hustler,” “My Kind of Girl,” “Satisfy Her Needs” and “Last Night.” And don’t miss tasty reworkings of Luther’s “Gave It All” and “Now You Got.”

BigLlou Johnson – Bigman

GoldenVoice Audio Recordings

One of the most recognizable voices in the blues as an emcee and the voice of SiriusXM’s B.B. King’s Bluesville, BigLlou Johnson captured new artist of the year honors at the 2013 BMAs with his debut album, but waited almost a decade before this follow-up. It was definitely worth the wait.

Showing far more range than his dulcet basso profundo that graces the stage, commercials and TV and movies, too, Chicago native Llou delivers all ten tracks, which range from Chicago blues and jump to Barry White-like love ballads. The star-studded lineup includes Joe Louis Walker, Victor Wainwright, Mark Earley and Doug Woolverton, plus a big team of Chicago talent including: Anne Harris, Will Crosby, Felton Crews, Ricky Nelson, Kalyan Pathak, Russ Green and far too many other names to list.

“Lightnin’ Strike” will grab you from the first notes, and lend your ear to “Bigman,” “Let’s Misbehave,” “Shucky Ducky,” “Sunshine on You Face,” “Stuff to Do,” “Never Get Over Me,” “I Got the Fever” and “Beezthatwaysometimes.”

Mississippi MacDonald – Do Right, Say Right

Another Planet Music Ltd.

Possessing one of the sweetest voices in Britain with six-string skills to match, London-based Mississippi MacDonald has been a consistent chart-topper in his homeland, and should make waves on this side of the Atlantic, too, with this deep-in-the-pocket serving of stylish soul-blues.

This is the third solo release for MacDonald, who’s been performing since age 11 and is so involved in the American blues scene that he was a prime mover in securing a headstone for O.V. Wright’s unmarked grave. He’s a frequent visitor to Memphis, where he studied at the feet of the masters, and has recorded three CDs in partnership with U.S. harp player Steve Bailey.

Opening with eight originals before a rock-solid cover of Denise LaSalle’s “Your Wife Is Cheating on Us,” be sure to tune in to “I Was Wrong,” “I Heard It Twice,” “Drinker’s Blues,” “That’s It I Quit,” “If You Want a Good Cup of Coffee” and “Keep Your Hands Out of My Pocket.”

Chickenbone Slim – Serve It to Me Hot

VizzTone Label Group VT-CBS-01

A fixture on the San Diego blues scene for the past 30 years, Chickenbone Slim – aka Larry Teves – traveled to Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios in the Bay Area to record his latest CD, an all-original mix of greasy blues, West Coast swing and rockabilly loaded with interesting stories and danceable grooves.

Slim’s tight four-piece ensemble – which includes the sensational Laura Chavez on second guitar and ex-Fabulous Thunderbird Marty Dotson on drums – cooks from the jump. He also gets a helping hand from Kid on keys and six-string, and Aki Kumar sits in on harp, too.

A 13-tune, 51-minute set, highlights include “Serve It to Me Hot,” “Queen of the Wires,” “Ought to Be Loved,” “Squares Everywhere,” “Crying Tonight,” “Hey Shakolo,” “I Will Stand for You,” “City Girl” and “Hook Me Up.”

The Sugar Roots – Savage’s Life

Lightning in a Bottle Records

Formed in Portland, Ore., by multi-instrumentalist front man Chad Rupp and featuring several of the top regional talents, the five-piece Sugar Roots swing from the hip and explode out of the gate with this debut CD, a stylish mix of contemporary, soul-infused blues.

The roster includes frequent Lisa Mann bandmate Jason “JT” Thomas on guitar, percussionist Chandler Bowerman and bassist Timmer Blakely, who works regularly with Lloyd Jones. The roster includes a horn section with backing vocals from Karen Lovely, Rae Gordon, Melanie Owen and Mann herself.

Give a listen to the smoking originals “Going Nowhere Fast,” “Havin’ a Party,” “Savage’s Life,” “Rain Checkin’,” “It’s a Sin,” “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” “Divine Fire,” “Next to You” and “1 and 5 Boogie.”

Katie Henry – On My Way

Ruf Records RUF 1293

New Jersey-based Katie Henry’s career has been on a steady upward trajectory after earning Blues Blast and International Bluegrass Music Association nominations for debut album of the year honors four years ago. She’s proven to be an international talent, too, since joining the Ruf Records lineup and touring and recording as part of its most recent Blues Caravan Revue.

A multi-instrumentalist with a honeyed voice, Katie co-wrote all of the material on this mature, polished follow-up, in partnership with bassist/slide guitarist Greg Wieczorek. The set was recorded live in Brooklyn and produced by three-time BMA nominee Ben Rice, who also sits in on six-string along with British harp player Giles Robson.

Rooted in blues but encompassing elements of rock, R&B and country, too, tune in to “On My Way,” “Empty Cup,” “Without a Fight,” “Setting Sun,” “Got Me Good,” “Too Long,” “Running Round” and “Catch Me If You Can.”

Reddog and Friends – Booze, Blues and Southern Grooves

Survival South Records PEC 2137-2

A fixture in Underground Atlanta in the ‘70s and ‘80s but based out of Pensacola, Fla., for decades, Reddog – aka JK Higgins – teams with some of the biggest talent from the Muscle Shoals music scene for this tasty, sweet and relaxed collection of blues, rock and blue-eyed soul.

Once described by Guitar World magazine as one of its “50 Bluesmen That Matter,” Reddog’s a talented vocalist who’s backed by keyboard player Clayton Ivey and bassist David Hood – founding fathers of the Muscle Shoals sound and hitmakers since the ‘60s – in a set that features other top talent from the region.

If you’re a fan of deep grooves and songs with straightforward messages, you’ll adore “Love, You’ve Got to Spread the Word,” “The Blues Will Get You Everytime,” “She’s a Georgia Peach,” “Simple Song,” “Why Oh Why Are You Calling Me,” “Don’t Muscle That Shuffle” and “Honest Man.”

Pierce Dipner – Goin’ Back

Self-produced CD

Already an established bluesman at age 17, Pittsburgh-based multi-instrumentalist Pierce Dipner makes his full-length CD debut with this album, demonstrating the mature skills that have made him a three-time representative of the Blues Society of Western PA at the IBCs.

A guitarist with old-school sensibilities who can double on cello, bass and percussion, Dipner’s backed by a full band here. His mid-range voice compliments his precise, tasteful phrasing on the six-string perfectly. He penned seven of the ten tunes in this set, a follow-up to a previously released EP.

Pierce is the real deal. Give a listen to “Fools Gold,” “Empty Bed Blues,” “Nobody but Myself to Blame,” “Goin’ Back,” “We’re Not Leaving,” “Won’t U Come Home” and “Memphis in the Rain” and I’m sure you’ll agree.

Hanna PK – Blues All Over My Shoes

Booga Music/VizzTone Label Group VT-BOOGA-04

Born and raised in South Korea but based out of Rochester, N.Y., keyboard player Hanna PK has two previous CDs to her credit, but hits the big time here, teaming with producer/harp player Kenny Neal in a full-band setting to deliver ten contemporary originals and a single cover – all with a uniquely traditional feel.

Neal discovered her talent after viewing a video of a tune she recorded in the U-Haul storage locker that served as her studio. Playing primarily in barrelhouse and stride stylings and possessing strong alto voice, she’s a former IBC semi-finalist who performs frequently in a duo setting with bluesman Joe Beard when not fronting her own band.

You’ll enjoy “Mirror Mirror,” “Bad Woman,” “Insomnia Blues,” “Love Keeps Walking,” “No One Will Ever Know,” “Ain’t Gonna Be Looking Back No More,” “Bad Habit” and “Two and Four.”

Rene Trossman – Live in Prague

Hold It! Records

An ex-pat Chicagoan who’s based in the Czech Republic, guitarist Rene Trossman shines like a diamond on this 13-tune, mostly original collection of contemporary blues that will have you dancing from the jump.

A veteran sideman who formerly worked in support of Dietra Farr, Sharon Lewis, Byther Smith, Chick Willis and others, Trossman has been a fixture on the Central European blues scene since emigrating in the mid-‘90s. He’s a skilled, no-frills musician with a pleasant, well-worn voice, and his backing five-piece unit shines throughout.

Lay your troubles aside for 70 minutes and tune in to “Ain’t Gonna Hurt Me No More,” “You Sure Left in a Hurry,” “I Don’t Need No Technology,” “I’m on a Roll,” “Who Do You Think You Are,” “My Endless Blue Mood,” “Down at Rosa’s” and a stellar take on Albert King’s “As the Years Go Passing By.”

Various Artists – Blind Raccoon Nola Blue Collection Vol. 4

Blue Heart Records

Here’s a chance to hear some bands you might not be aware of and to do a good deed, too. Blue Heart Records delivers 34 tunes on its latest collection, and all of the proceeds raised from digital sales will benefit MusiCares, the Recording Academy charity that delivers preventative, emergency and recovery funds for artists in need.

This two-CD set includes contributions from several big names, including Grammy nominee Teresa James, 12-time BMA-nominee Trudy Lynn, guitarist Clarence Spady, artists from Canada, the United Kingdom and 13 U.S. states, including John Nemeth and the Love Light Orchestra and several rising talents, too.

There’s also one big treat in this package: A recording of “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” delivered by 96-year-old showbiz legend Dick Van Dyke, too. It’s classy, sweet and true blue, too!

Peter Veteska & Blues Train – So Far So Good

Blue Heart Records BHR 021

One of the most exciting bands to emerge out of the New York metropolitan area in the past decade, Peter Veteska and Blues Train strip down to a three-piece, but call on a baker’s dozen of guest stars to keep the heat on high for their sixth album in the past seven years.

Fronted by Veteska on guitar and vocals and anchored by Coo Moe Jhee (bass) and Alex D’Agnesse (drums), they deliver incendiary big-city blues aided by Jeff Levine on keys, Mikey Junior and Gary Neuwirth on harp, guest singers, a full horn section and more.

A collection of eight originals and four tasty covers, don’t miss “Done with Bad Luck,” “I’ve Got the Blues This Morning,” “My One and Only Muse,” “Lovin’ Oven,” “Low Down Dirty Blues,” “So Far So Good” and “Can’t We All Get Along.”

Whitey Somers – The Call of the Blues

Motorhome Records

The nephew of a classical composer and based out of Qualicom Beach, B.C., Whitey Somers usually works solo, but the 40-year blues veteran takes the spotlight here in full-band alignment backed by several of the top session players in the Canadian Northwest.

Whitey’s a tunesmith who’s placed high in his nation’s songwriting competition. His compositions here vary from unhurried, topical ballads to blues-rock and toe-tapping shuffles – all of which are contemporary and delivered in a pleasant tenor.

Some of the top tracks include “The Call of the Blues,” “Can’t Control It,” “Chicken Feet,” “Wot You Got,” “Ain’t Nothin’ But the Morning Blues” and “Rise Above.”

Scott Ellison – There’s Something About the Night

Liberation Hall Records

A veteran road dog based out of Tulsa, Okla., Scott Ellison joins forces with members of the Albert Lee and Eric Clapton bands as well as his own unit to deliver this hourlong CD – a driving and swing-from-the-hip set of Texas- and Chicago-based blues and blues-rock.

This is the 13th album in Ellison’s solo career since bursting on the scene in the late ‘70s behind Conway Twitty’s daughter, Jessica James. Formerly a first-call session player in Los Angeles, he toured with Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown for a couple of years before launching his own band. He penned ten of the tunes in partnership with Michael Price and covers Price’s best-known tune, too – the Bobby “Blue” Bland classic, “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City.”

There’s a lot to like here, including “Half a Bottle Down,” “There’s Something About the Night,” “Bury Your Bone at Home,” “Salina,” “Meat and Potatoes,” “Good Year for the Blues,” “I’m Ready Baby,” “Revolutionary Man” and “Where Do You Go When You Leave.”

Raphael Wressnig & Igor Prado – Groove & Good Times

Pepper Cake Records PEC 2137-2

Two of the funkiest musicians on the planet, Austrian B-3 master Raphael Wressnig and Brazilian guitarist Igor Prado delivered one of the funkiest albums of the year in 2016 with The Soul Connection and follow it up with this masterful work that will have you grooving throughout.

Both men have made a major impact in the U.S. music scene during the past 25 years. Wressnig is a five-time Downbeat magazine nominee for organist of the year, and Prado, a former member of the Mannish Boys, is the first-ever South American to be nominated for a BMA thanks to his 2015 release, Way Down South.

A greasy set that updates the sounds of Jimmy Smith, Groove Holmes and other keyboard wizards, it bridges soul and blues. Give a listen to “Kissing My Love,” “I Know Who You Been Socking It To,” “Blues & Pants,” “You Bring Love,” “Ain’t No Love (in the Heart of the City),” “Shrimp Daddy” and “Soul Shakedown Party.”




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