By Marty Gunther
Duke Robillard & Friends – Blues Bash!
(Stony Plain Records SPCD 1423)
Guitar virtuoso Duke Robillard and cohorts deliver steady grooves and over-the-top class in this impeccable album, a mix of new tunes and timeless classics freshened with a modern touch. It completely free of lyrical and instrumental hooks, but will have you dancing like they did in the ‘50s.
Recorded at Lakewest Studio in Rhode Island just prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, Duke’s backed by his skintight regular unit augmented by two horn sections, one of which is a reunion of first-generation members of Roomful of Blues. Robillard shares vocals with New England favorites Michelle “Evil Gal” Willson and Chris Cote, and Bay Area harp master Mark Hummel sits in, too.
From the opening cuts of “Do You Mean It,” Blues Bash! rocks. Dial in the originals “No Time,” “Give Me All the Love You Got!” and the extended instrumental “Just Chillin’” as well as a few obscure, but deserving covers and material culled from the songbooks of Dave Bartholomew, Al King and Roy Milton.
Dennis Jones – Soft Hard & Loud
(Blue Rock Records)
Los Angeles-based guitarist Dennis Jones has been touring the world since winning the International Blues Challenge in 2004. Despite playing in a power-trio format, he consistently delivers contemporary blues, blues-rock, funk and more in a far broader spectrum that most bands that size – something that’s done so seemingly effortlessly here that it’s easy to overlook his talent.
A former drummer influenced by guitar greats Jimmy Page, Billy F. Gibbons and Jimi Hendrix, Jones is a fret master who uses intense driving rhythms, rather than flash and slash, to drive his message home while backed by a muscular rhythm section – bassist/keyboard player Cornelius Mims and percussionist Raymond Johnson.
An all-original set infused with echoes from the past, give a good listen to the funky “Revolves Around You,” the sleek “I Love the Blues,” the driving “Front Door Man,” the reggae flavored “I Hate Hate,” the blazing “Gonna Be Alright,” the love song “I’m Not” and “Burn the Plantation Down.”
Henry Gray & Bob Corritore – Henry Gray & Bob Corritore Sessions Vol. 2: Cold Chills
(VizzTone/SWMAF Records SWMAF17)
Here’s a treasure for lovers of old-school Chicago blues: a pairing of Henry Gray, one of the most important piano players ever, and Bob Corritore, the Windy City-trained harp player who’s owned The Rhythm Room in Phoenix, Ariz., for decades. It’s a loving tribute, too, because Henry left us last February at age 95.
A two-fisted talent with a strong voice, Gray grew up in Kenner, La., but helped create the Chicago sound as an early member of Howlin’ Wolf’s band. He also helped establish the Gulf Coast blues, too, working with Slim Harpo, Whispering Smith and others. Corritore, meanwhile, is an Arizona Blues Hall of Famer who’s enjoyed a stellar recording career, primarily preferring to leave the limelight to others.
They’re backed by about two dozen world-class talents from the Windy City and West Coast – including Robert Lockwood Jr., Bob Margolin, Johnny Burgin, Kirk Fletcher, Tail Dragger, Bob Stroger and Chico Chism – and breathe new life into 15 standards with class and gusto.
Dianne Davidson – Perigon: Full Circle
(Perigon Music HWCD006)
A Tennessee native who’s been a recording artist since the early ‘70s, Dianne Davidson is a stylish, rich alto who delivers a set of tunes packed with emotion on this one. She’s backed by collection of top Nashville sessions players as well as Ruthie Foster and the Maasai Tribal Choir.
Comfortable in folk, blues, rock and reggae, Dianne received a diverse musical education that took her from Beale Street to Greenwich Village and the West Coast. A popular backing vocalist, she worked with Linda Ronstadt, Barry Manilow and B.B. King, among others.
Davidson penned ten of the 12 cuts, all of which are lushly produced, deeply introspective and blues-infused with occasional pop overtones. Among the top takes are “Just Out of Reach,” “Subtle Touch” – a duet with Foster, the cover tune “Over Africa” – backed by the Maasais, “True Believer,” “The Island,” “Precious Boys” and “Missing You Tonight.”
Kevin Burt – Stone Crazy
(Gulf Coast Records GCRX 9027)
After toiling in the shadows in Iowa for better than 25 years, Kevin Burt exploded onto the blues scene in 2018, winning three awards – including top honors – at the IBCs, dazzling judges with his skill on guitar and harp as well as a vocal range that rivals Aaron Neville or Bill Withers. One listen to this and you’ll instantly understand why.
Kevin penned ten of the 11 cuts, which were recorded in full-band setting by Mike Zito at Marz Studios in Nederland, Texas. They’re a soulful collection of modern blues with a traditional feel that are chockful of personal insights about love and relationships that ring true no matter your background.
Do yourself a favor and give this toe-tapper a spin. The highlights come fast and furious, including “I Ain’t Got No Problem with It,” “Purdy Little Thing,” “Stone Crazy,” “You Get What You See,” “Something Special About You,” “Should Have Never Left Me Alone” and the Withers cover, “Better Off Dead.”
Miss Emily – Live at the Isabel
A honey-toned powerhouse who imbues everything she sings with emotion, Miss Emily is the reigning Maple Blues Award winner as female vocalist of the year. On this live recording, she blows the doors off of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in her adopted hometown of Kingston, Ontario.
It’s a 58-minute set of blues, soul, jazz and gospel that was compiled from multiple performances across a three-year period with backing from her regular touring band and guest appearances from Gord Sinclair and Rob Baker of The Tragically Hip as well as other top talent.
This disc shines like a diamond with no dead spots. The highlights include “Sometimes It’s Better to Lose,” “Who Is He,” a jazzy take on “The Letter,” “Blue Is Still Blue,” “The Sell-Out,” “Beautiful You” and “Hold Back the River.” Highly recommended.
Johnny Rawls – Where Have All the Soul Men Gone
(Third Street Cigar Records)
Soul-blues giant Johnny Rawls has always had a deep love and respect for his elders – as evidenced by his most recent previous release, the bittersweet pleaser I Miss Otis Clay. And – thank goodness – as a current standard bearer for the music, the torch burns brightly in Johnny’s arms and voice today.
A two time Blues Music Award winner for soul-blues album of the year, Rawls primarily recorded this one in Denmark aided by some of the top studio players in Europe just prior to the coronavirus outbreak with additional work performed at Bigfoot Studios in Waterville, Ohio, this past June.
An all-original set that’s as comfortable as a well-worn pair of slippers, the action opens with “Where Have All the Soulmen Gone,” a tribute to Johnny’s forebears and friends. Other must-listens include the love songs “Bottom to the Top” and “Can’t Leave It Alone” as well as “Keep on Doing My Thing,” the ironic “Money,” “Time” and the gospel pleaser, “Calling on Jesus.”
Shonn Hinton Band – Reloaded
(Quick Fingerz Music)
Best known as the longtime guitarist for Mary J. Blige, John Legend, Jill Scott and Patti LaBelle, Milwaukee-based Shonn Hinton and his five-piece band, Shotgun, deliver a contemporary mix of blues, rock, soul and funk here that’ll keep you moving and grooving throughout.
All four of Hinton’s bandmates grew up in the church and have deep gospel roots. After releasing their debut album, Long Live Shotgun, five years ago, they were working different projects until COVID-19 brought them together again. For blues lovers, it’s a blessing because this follow-up is as slick as ice and hot as hell.
Guaranteed to appeal to fans across the broad spectrum of both blues and contemporary soul, you’ll enjoy “I Don’t Play,” “Still in Love with You,” “Inferno Love,” “I Need You,” “Above All,” “Reloaded,” “Turn It Up,” “We Will Survive,” “Your Way Back Home” and “Death of Me.” A surprising treasure!
Dave Keller – You Get What You Give
(Tastee Tone TT-3045)
Possessing one of the best soul-blues voices in the business and a deep social conscience, too, Vermont-based Dave Keller spent most of the shutdown by teaming in duet with 13 other vocalists to produce this album, all of the money from which is targeted for non-profits supporting racial justice.
A multiple BMA nominee, Keller penned all but two of the songs here and donated them to the cause – as did all of the mix of superstar and deserving, but unknown talent who contributed to this project. The roster includes Annika Chambers-DesLauriers, Trudy Lynn, Johnny Rawls, Annie Mack, Canadian songbird Dawn Tyler Watson, Joe Louis Walker and several others.
Some of the highlights include “One More Tear,” “God Is Love/Love Is Everything,” “Land of the Lonely,” “Scratchin’ at Your Door,” “You Get What You Give,” “Your Kind of Fool,” “The Kiss I Want” and a stellar cover of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”
Jack de Keyzer – Tribute
(Blue Star Records)
Born in Britain, but the top blues guitarist in Canada for decades, Jack de Keyser delivers a tip of the hat to the progenitors of blues-rock with this release. But don’t be fooled. He’s no copycat. He penned all 13 of the soulful cuts, which feature fiery and perfectly modulated fretwork throughout.
This is the 12th album for de Keyser, a two-time Juno Award winner – Canada’s equivalent to the Grammys – and a winner of the International Songwriting Competition. In addition, he enjoys a side career as a session musician who’s worked with Etta James, John Hammond, Bo Diddley and others.
With elements of reggae, funk, Latin and Memphis R&B, this is much more than a blues-rock album. Some of the must-listens here include “Are You Ready,” “Let’s Do It,” “That’s How We Make Love,” “Coming Up,” “Supernatural,” “Shake What Your Mama Gave You” and “Forever.”
AJ Crawdaddy – Steppin’ Out
(The Cave Records)
West Coast guitar slinger Angelo J. Rossi, aka AJ Crawdaddy, was a member of the chart-topping rock band, Pablo Cruise, and worked with Graham Nash before walking away from the stage in the ‘80s. This is his third release since re-emerging in 2015, and one listen will have you wondering why he ever walked away. It’s a razor-sharp collection of modern blues.
Produced by Kid Andersen at Greaseland Studios, AJ handles vocals on four of the 11 cuts, leaving the others to keyboard player Baxter Robertson, harp player Jimmy Dewrance as well as Marcel Smith (Mighty Clouds of Joy) and John Blues Boyd. The musical lineup includes Kid, harp great Quique Gomez and more Bay Area talent, too.
You’ll enjoy “Big Hurt” featuring Smith, “Steppin’ Out,” a tasty take on “My Back Scratcher,” “Don’t Think About It,” “Need Another Favor,” “Ten Long Years,” “Mean Man” and “Rain of Tears.” There’s an awful lot to like here!
Peter Veteska & Blues Train – Grass Ain’t Greener on the Other Side
Peter Veteska has been heating up the night in the New York tri-state area for the past decade as Peter V and Blues Train, but he rebrands himself and fronts a new lineup as he moves closer to the blues root here. His previous efforts leaned toward big-city R&B and jazz, too.
The fourth release for the New York Blues Hall of Famer, he’s joined here by keyboard player Jeff Levine (Joe Cocker, Clarence Clemons), harp player Mikey Junior and two regional favorites, guitarist Roger Girke and vocalist Jen Barnes for a set that ranges from Chicago to contemporary blues, blues-rock and a little jam band music, too.
The Windy City comes through loud and clear on the opener, “Am I Wrong Pretty Baby.” Other pleasers include a stellar duet with Barnes on “Baby, You’ve Got What It Takes,” the stinging “Running Like a Dog,” the rocker “Thinking and Drinking,” “Heartbreaker,” and Willie Cobbs’ “You Don’t Love Me.”
Lloyd Jones – Tennessee Run
(VizzTone Label Group VT-LL-010)
One of the most soulful guitarists ever to come out of the Pacific Northwest, Lloyd Jones teams with Nashville talent for this tour de force, an all-original set that delivers a pleasant, intense mix of swamp-infused blues and New Orleans funk.
This one was recorded by Grammy nominee/keyboard player Kevin McKendree at The Road House in Franklin, Tenn., with a horn section that includes Jim Hoke (tenor sax), Quentin Ware (trumpet) and Roy Agee (trombone) as well as several of Music City’s most prominent session players. Delbert McClinton and Teresa James also make guest appearances.
The feel of the Big Easy flows throughout. Top cuts include the blue-eyed soul number “You Got Me Good,” “I Wish I Could Remember Loving You” featuring James, the funky “Where’s My Phone,” the swinging “Turn Me Loose,” “That’s All I Want,” “Chicken Bones,” “Every Time We Meet” and “Dilly Dally.
Erin Harpe – Meet Me in the Middle
(VizzTone Label Group/Juicy Juju Records)
The 2019 blues artist of the year in New England and five-time BMA nominee, Erin Harpe is a sensational fingerpicking guitarist with a sweet voice who delivers a breezy, interesting set of country blues and roots – four originals and refreshingly updated first-generation blues covers – here backed solely by bassist husband Jim Countryman.
Based in Boston, where she also fronts the four-piece Delta Swingers and has a background that includes neo-Afro pop, Erin’s an in-demand educator who switches between acoustic slide, six- and 12-string guitars, kazoo and foot percussion while Jim holds down the bottom on bass ukulele and adds backing vocals.
You’ll be rocking along with “All Night Long,” “Hard Luck Woman,” “Meet Me in the Middle,” a great take on “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” “Pick Poor Robin Clean,” “What’s the Matter with the Well” and “One Fine Day.”
Bobby Parker – Soul of the Blues
(Rhythm and Blues Records RANDB060)
Based out of Washington, D.C., for most of his career, guitarist and songwriter Bobby Parker was one of the most charismatic vocalists of his generation and a major influence to Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana. But Parker left us at age 76 in 2013 having missed out on the attention he genuinely deserved.
This 150-minute, two-CD set is his first-ever compilation, focusing on his early work with Otis Williams & the Charms, Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams and Bo Diddley and his solo career through the ‘60s, when he recorded his best-known song, “Watch Your Step,” a tune that charted on both sides of the Atlantic.
Give this a listen and you’ll be wondering why Parker only produced two CDs in his lifetime despite laying down riffs that the Beatles used to open “I Feel Fine” and Led Zeppelin borrowed for “Moby Dick.” The highlights here are six previously unreleased songs from a radio broadcast that will have you yearning for more.