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

By Marty Gunther

Red Hot ‘n Blues Reviews for February 2024


Kostantin Kolensnichenko – Good Things: A Tribute to George Smith

Self-produced CD

A world-class diatonic harp player and graphic artist based out of Dnipro, Ukraine, Kostantin Kolensnichenko is dealing with more real-life blues than anyone in the world today, but he still found time to pay tribute to the legendary George “Harmonica” Smith with this dazzling disc. And despite his isolation at ground zero of the conflict, he still gets a helping hand from major U.S. talents, too.

Fellow reed-blowers Dennis Gruenling of the Nick Moss Band and Big Harp George trade riffs with Kolensnichenko on three of the ten tracks, and gutbucket West Coast singer Alabama Mike chips in vocals on two cuts, all of which feature top-notch backing from Kostantin’s rock-solid, home-grown five-piece band.

Lend an ear to “Hawaiian Eye,” “Rocking,” “Jumpin’ with George,” “Situation Blues,” “Good Things,” “Blues Stay Away,” “Blue Switch” and “Last Chance.” Also available through


Emanuel Casablanca – Strung Out on Thrills

Vinyl Recording Group

A master of minor-key music and the son of a music teacher/choir director mom, New York-based blues-rocker Emanuel Casablanca delivers a sensational follow-up to his debut 2022 release, Blood on My Hands. It’s a beefy, intense, original and thoroughly modern effort that’s unlike any of the other discs you’ll spin this year.

Emanuel’s a filmmaker and guitarist who’s worked with Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer Daxx Nielsen, Bernard Fowler of the Rolling Stones, Doug Wimbush of Living Colour, Albert Castiglia, Eric Gales and more. He’s joined on this one by Joanna Connor, Kelli Baker, Laurence Henderson, Elliot Sharp and along with a backing band that rocks.

Crank up the not-for-tender-ears “Dogshit,” “Strung Out on Thrills,” “Visceral,” “Conniver,” “The Farm,” “King,” “Pistolero” “Lass,” “Morning Wood” and “Pearl.”


Tinsley Ellis – Naked Truth

Alligator Records ALCD 5017

Based out of Atlanta and one of the world’s foremost electric blues-rockers since debuting as a front man in 1988, it’s hard to believe that Tinsley Ellis will be cutting any new ground on the 21st album in his star-studded career, but that’s exactly what he does with this one, going solo acoustic for the first time ever.

It’s a stunning, not-to-be-missed and intimate effort that features Tinsley fingerpicking on his beloved 1969 Martin D-35 and 1937 National Steel guitars. Ellis recorded the effort live in studio and mixes originals with covers culled from the first generation of the blues and more.

A certain eye-opener for even Ellis’ biggest fans, choice cuts include “Devil in the Room,” “Windowpane,” “Death Letter Blues,” “Silver Mountain,” “Don’t Go No Further,” “The Sailor’s Grave on the Prairie,” “Tallahassee Blues,” “Alcovy Breakdown,” “Horseshoes and Hand Grenades” and “Easter Song.”


Bees Deluxe – Hallucinate

Slapping Cat Records SLAPCD023

Composed of several of the most-polished musicians from the Boston music scene, Bees Deluxe isn’t your ordinary blues band. They fuse azure tunes with everything from acid rock, R&B and other stylings into a sound that’s truly their own. And that’s never been more evident than this cohesive set, which is seemingly laid-back in structure, but cooks consistently throughout.

Produced by keyboard player Joe Egan and primarily composed by multi-instrumentalist Conrad Warre, the group features bassists Allen Dorr and James Gildea, keyboard and harp player Carol Band. Warre delivers vocals atop slick percussion provided by Poogie Bell, Paul Giovine and Adam Sandowski.

Take a trip as you give a spin to “Sharkskin Suit,” “When Is Yesterday,” “Another Close Shave,” “Queen Midas,” “How to Play 96 Tears,” “Nitro,” “Men & Women,” “Gary Burton’s Ex-Guitar Player Stole My Highschool Girlfriend and Now I Can’t Stop Dreaming About Her” and “What’s Wrong with Me?”


Mike Guldin and Rollin’ & Tumblin’  – The Franklin Sessions

Blue Heart Records BHR 046

A fixture in eastern Pennsylvania for decades, guitarist Mike Guldin traveled to Tennessee with his skintight band and teamed with an award-winning roster of Nashville musicians for this one. And the end result is a deep-in-the-pocket mix of soulful blues that will have you rocking from the jump.

Produced by Grammy winner Kevin McKendree, who handles keys throughout, along with son Yates, who handles drums and six-string, the lineup includes guitarist James Pennebaker, bassist David Santos, the McCrary Sisters and some Keystone State talent, too, including harp player Mikey Junior and the Philadelphia Funk Authority horns.

Give a listen to “The Franklin Shuffle,” “The Right Thing,” “Sometimes You Gotta Roll the Dice,” “Prisoner of Love,” “Smokin’ Woman,” “Two Hearts,” “Sad and Lonely,” “Gettin’ Over You Is Workin’ Over Me” and a tasty update of Sleepy John Estes’ “Diving Duck Blues.”


Chad Rupp & the Sugar Roots – The Devil Won’t Get You

Lightning in a Bottle Records

Composed of several top players from the Pacific Northwest, Portland, Ore.’s Chad Rupp & the Sugar Roots exploded out of the gate with a debut album, Savage’s Life, last year, and they prove that effort was no fluke with this slick, deep-in-the-pocket mix of original contemporary blues.

Chad possesses a dynamic voice and handles guitar duties, too, with backing from BMA winner drummer Jimi Bott and keyboard players Louis Pain and Brady T. Gross. Special guests include Lloyd Jones on vocals, Peter Dammann on six-string and harp player Johnny Wheels, too.

Choice cuts abound. Don’t miss “Even Money,” “Blues Men in Black,” “Don’t Bite the Hand – Rule #3,” “Leopard for Your Love,” “I’ve Been Thinking,” “Red Heads, Hair Dressers and Chicks Named Tiffany,” “The Devil Won’t Get You” and “Tighten It Up.”


An Díaz and Yokatta Brothers – Alana

Yokatta Blues YR2301

The unusual pairing of a vocalist from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and a three-piece ensemble from the north of France, An Díaz and the Yokatta Brothers have been together since the mid-2010s but release their first all-original CD with this highly entertaining effort. It begins by emulating an early blues sound and moves steadily through the decades to finish with contemporary appeal.

Dedicated to Díaz’s beloved sister who took her own life in 2018, this is an upbeat set that proves music can help you overcome any of life’s tragedies. It’s a propulsive, interesting and hard-to-define mix that will draw you in from the jump.

Looking for something different? You’ll enjoy “Spiral Up,” “Laugh It Off,” “Fall in Lust” and “Can’t Stop Now,” which echo the past, along with “Gone Away,” “Make ‘em Count,” “Trop Forte,” “No Risk” “Y.O.K.A.T.T.A.”


Diego Mongue Band – While You Were Gone

Self-produced CD

A third-year music major at Williams College in western Massachusetts and the son of Gina Coleman, leader of the band Misty Blues, multi-instrumentalist Diego Mongue is already a proven talent who’s hit the top of the charts in blues, blues-rock and jazz fusion. And he keeps the heat on high with this debut release from his latest project.

A force of nature on percussion here, Mongue leads a six-piece ensemble that includes Chantell McCullough on vocals, Joel Nicholas and Liam Giszter on keys, Carmeron Bencivenga on guitar and Chase Bradshaw on bass. They power through a set of attention-grabbing, multi-dimensional pleasers.

Top tracks include “While You Were Gone,” “Give Me Strength,” “Rollin’ and Tumblin,” “Sleepless Night Blues,” “Find My Way Again” and “Blues All Day.”


Joanne Broh Band featuring Garry Meziere – Head Full of Trouble

Double Y Records

Joanne Broh has been thrilling audiences with her own brand of silky-smooth, jazz-and-R&B infused blues for years, and she outdoes herself with this hard-to-top live set, which was three years in the making. Broh displays her sassy-yet-smooth alto while giving her talented band plenty of space in the spotlight through her powerful, but never-overbearing delivery.

Like the Sugar Roots, they’re based out of Portland, Ore. Garry Meziere will catch your ear with several single-note guitar solos. Gus Russell and Pat McDougall – a polished frontman in his own right -- share keyboard duties, and a stellar horn section lend their support to Joanne, too.

Get your groove on with “Shakin’ It,” “Damn Fool Baby,” “Head Full of Trouble,” “Lock and Key,” “I’m in a Mood,” “Down the Line,” “My Heart’s Been Broke” and “Blues on a Holiday.”


The Liam Ward Band – Shine

Green Bullet Records

Based out of Gloucestershire, England, and a former National Harmonica League player of the year, Liam Ward pays tribute to his late dad and gives a big boost to Britain’s Stroke Association, too, with this delightful mix of original, contemporary blues.

A polished yet unconventional player with his own classical influenced style, Liam delivers an inspirational message and a little whimsy, too, covering a spectrum of sounds that range from Chicago to West Coast swing and a whole lot more. He’s accompanied by a tight four-piece band that gives him plenty of room to work out.

Top tracks include “I Got Lucky,” “Stone in My Shoe,” “What’s Your Alibi?,” “Shine,” “What I Need,” “Everything’s Gonna Be Fine,” “Pack Your Sense of Humour,” “Do What You Do” and “Give It All Up for You.”


Big Joe Kennedy – Amalgamation

Self-produced CD

A melismatic vocalist, jazz trained keyboard player and author who cut his teeth in the Midwest alongside guitarist Michael Coleman and others, Big Joe Kennedy spent years in Las Vegas, but delivers a blue-to-the-root sound on this CD, which is infused with the spirit of his current home, New Orleans.

He’s joined here by a smoking quartet of horn players – Zach Lange on trumpet, Stephen Walker on trombone, Marty Peters on sax and Jory Dexter Woodis on clarinet – as he puts a successful Big Easy spin on Chicago blues standards and powerful Gulf Coast covers.

This one will have you grinning from the first note. Give a listen to “Messing with the Kid,” “Working in a Coal Mine,” “Call My Job,” “Brickyard Blues,” “Mahogany Hall Stomp,” “Exactly Like You,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” “The Very Thought of You” and “Dorothy.”


Bert Deivert – Pony Blues

Self-produced CD

Following a similar path as his early influences Yank Rachell and Carl Martin, Bert Deivert masterfully blends first-generation blues classics with a few of his own tunes, too, on his latest CD, showing why he’s one of the foremost mandolin players in the world today.

An ex-pat American, Deivert has been based in Denmark for decades after a career in which he shared the stage with Charlie Musselwhite, Sam Carr, Wanda Jackson and other talents. A mix of solo and stripped-down arrangements, this one was recorded in Denmark, Venezuela and Thailand, and is not to be missed if your tastes favor pre-War sounds.

Hypnotizing from start to finish, you’ll enjoy “Little Sadie,” “I Stand Up,” “Clarksdale Rag,” “The Best Blues Bar in Town,” “Downtown Blues,” “I Am the Light of the World,” “Charlie James,” “Hesitation Blues,” “World Is Gone Wrong” and “Run a Little Slower.”


The Name Droppers – Blue Diamonds

Horizon Music Group

Composed of Grammy winners who previously formed the core of the Johnny Winter Band as well as the backing unit for Charlie Carp (the Emmy-winning documentarian/bluesman) The Name Droppers are a muscular ensemble with deep rock roots, but they’re definitely blue to the core – something they display in every note of this disc, their third effort since Carp’s passing in 2019.

Fronted by vocalist Rafe Klein, the lineup includes Winter’s longtime rhythm section – bassist Scott Spray and hall-of-fame percussionist Bobby “T” Torello – and keyboard player Ron Rifkin. They’re augmented by guitarists Al Ferrante and Jay Willie, Bill Holloman, a longtime bandmate of guitar wizard Danny Gatton, and keyboard player Mark Naftalin a founding member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

Eight tasty originals and two covers, dial in “Blue Diamonds,” “Hollywood,” “Just Come Home,” “Back to Chicago,” “Ukraine We Stand,” “Are You Lonely” and a live take of “Blue Guitar.”


Mark Cameron – Nasty Business

Blue Heart Records BHR 048

A guitarist/tunesmith who’s been active in Minnesota since the ‘80s, Mark Cameron has consistently received international acclaim since switching to the blues in 2009. He joins forces with harp dynamo Rick Miller and Grammy-nominated vocalist Teresa James for this tasty disc, which delivers original samplings from across the blues spectrum.

Mark’s a rich, emotive baritone who pens tunes that are infused with relatable, down-to-earth themes and plenty of humor, too. He’s backed here by his regular five-piece band along with guest appearances from eight prominent members of the fertile Minneapolis music scene.

Gimmick-free and passionate throughout, dial in “Sorry,” “Nasty Business,” “What’s for Supper,” “That’s a Fact,” “Nick’s Place,” “Combination,” “Life Is Good” and “Voodoo.”


Kirk Nelson & Jambalaya West – Savor the Moment

Self-produced CD

Based out of Los Angeles but fusing elements of the Gulf Coast with West Coast blues and their founder’s Midwestern roots, Kirk Nelson & Jambalaya West deliver an unique blend of sounds that hit the top of the charts with their 2022 CD, Lagniappe, and deliver a successful follow up with soulful pleaser.

A six-piece unit that features vocalist Kirk on the 88s, the band’s composed of a veteran group of sidemen and features horns throughout. The ensemble composed ten of the jazzy, bluesy cuts on this one and tossed in a couple of well-reconceived covers.

Give a listen to “Bounce Around,” “Only 12 Bars in a Day,” “Stay in Your Lane,” “Back on Up the River,” “Swingin’ So Low,” “Tamale Man,” “Turn Yourself In,” “Radical” and “I’m Beginning to See the Light.”


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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