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

By Marty Gunther

Red Hot ‘n Blues Reviews for January 2024


Chris O’Leary – The Hard Line

Alligator Records ALCD 5016

The former lead singer/harp player of Levon Helm’s Barn Burners, Chris O’Leary has enjoyed a stellar career as a frontman since his bandleader’s passing, but achieves an entirely new level of success with this sensational contemporary blues release, his first album in five years and his debut as a member of the Alligator stable.

O’Leary simply blazes at the mic and on the reeds here as he delivers 12 original slow-burners and fiery shuffles packed with emotion and intense memories culled from previous careers as a U.S. Marine and federal police officer. Chris Vitarello and Greg Gumpel shine on guitars, and blues guitar hero Monster Mike Welch makes a guest appearance, too.

Must listens include “No Rest,” “Lost My Mind,” “Ain’t That a Crime,” “Could’ve Been My Fault,” “I Cry at Night,” “Lay These Burdens Down,” “Need for Speed,” “You Break It, You Bought It,” “Who Robs a Musician” and “Loves for Sale.”


Danielle Nicole – The Love You Bleed

Forty Below Records

A 2019 Grammy nominee and seven-time BMA Award winner, Danielle Nicole heats up the night as she teams with producer Tony Braunagel for her latest effort, taking a trek through romance, heartbreak and personal loss and showing all of the determination she needs to overcome the roadblocks thrown in her path.

Danielle’s voice has never been better as she lays down an all-original mix of driving blues and R&B while handling bass, too. She’s backed by hubby Brandon Miller on guitars, mandolin and more along with Go-Go Ray on drums and Damon Parker on keys in a set mixed by John Porter (B.B. King, Buddy Guy).

Don’t miss “Love on My Brain,” “Make Love,” “Right by Your Side,” “How Did We Get to Goodbye,” “Fireproof,” “Say You’ll Stay,” “Walk on By,” “Who He Thinks You Are” and “Young Love on the Hill.”


Kevin Burt & Big Medicine – Thank You Brother Bill: A Tribute to Bill Withers

Gulf Coast Records

Vocalist Kevin Burt finally is getting the international acclaim he’s deserved for decades while thrilling audiences in the Midwest, and he should achieve even more success with this outstanding CD, which breathes new life into the catalog of soul-blues master Bill Withers, one of his biggest influences.

Possessing warm, rich pipes that do his predecessor proud, Kevin’s backed by guitarist Ken Valdez, bassist Scot Sutherland and drummer Eric Douglas. They’re a skintight unit that powerfully cooks throughout while giving Burt the space to shine.

You’ll be bopping along from the opening notes of “Who Is He (and What Is He to You?).” And don’t miss “Kissing My Love,” “World Keeps Going Round and Round,” “Just the Two of Us,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me,” “Grandma’s Hands,” “The Same Love That Made Me Laugh,” “Hope She’ll Be Happier” and “Thank You Brother Bill.”


Bob Corritore & Friends – Phoenix Blues Rumble

VizzTone Label Group/SWMAF Records SWMAF 22

One of the busiest bluesmen in the world, Arizona-based harp player/producer Bob Corritore closed out 2023 with the release of this compilation – the fourth of the year – while taking a break from his normal format by featuring nine vocalists from his adopted home state. And like the previous efforts, the former Chicagoan soars on harp in the background throughout and it’s a winner on all counts.

The Phoenix area might not be on your radar as a blues mecca, but you’ll be putting it on your list after listening to this set, which includes former Howlin’ Wolf drummer Chico Chism, King Karl, Sugaray Rayford, Dave Riley, Big Pete Pearson, George Bowman, Tommy Dukes, Dino Spells and Chief Schabuttie Gilliame backed by some of the biggest names in the business.

Treat yourself to “Big Fat Woman 489 Lbs.,” “Come to Me Baby,” “Walking in the Park,” “Jennie Bea,” “I Was a Fool,” “Real Bad Day,” “Leopard Speckled Baby,” “Laughing Blues,” “The Glide” and “I’m Evil.”


Slinky & P’tit Loup – Live

Self-produced CD

Based out of the Cologne region of Germany, mandolinist Slinky Williams and guitarist/percussionist P’tit Loup have been performing together and sharing the mic since the early ‘70s, consistently hitting the top of European charts with their easy-breezy, funky mix of acoustic blues. And this sweet disc is no exception.

Backed by “Monster” Joe Leduc on upright bass, they deliver tunes from across the azure spectrum – everything from Duke Ellington to New Orleans, Chicago and more, tossing in a few of their own songs, too. It’s a delightful musical stew that’s truly their own.

A light and bright set that will leave you with a smile, give a spin to “Cha Dooky Do,” “Like You Used To,” “Hold on to Your Luck,” “Tell Me,” “What Goes Around Comes Around,” “Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear,” “Danser Le Swing,” “Early in the Morning” and “Just a Little Bit.”


Cassius King and the Downtown Rulers – Last Call for the Blues

Big Ear Audio

Cassius King has chosen to spend the past 25 years toiling for others in the control room to support his family rather than to pursue his own music career. But one listen to this traditional blues disc will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that stardom truly was awaiting him if he’d only taken the chance.

Based out of Southern California, he’s an expressive, powerful vocalist who shines on keys here with equally impressive backing by the magnificent Chalo Ortiz on guitar, Chris White on bass and J.R. Lozano on drums.

It isn’t often that you’ll find an EP in this column, but this one, composed of four originals and one cover, is definitely worth the space. Give Cassius a listen as he debuts with “Do It All Again,” “If You Love Me,” “Feel Good Music,” “Better Man Blues” and “Last Call for the Blues.”


Bob Margolin – Thanks

VizzTone Label Group VT-SRR-007

Bob Margolin was wielding a Gibson archtop guitar when he joined the Muddy Waters Band 50 years ago, and he celebrates that anniversary by bringing out the axe for all of the tracks on this CD; it’s an intimate effort on which he contributes all of the sounds, except the barking of his border collie Levon on one tune.

Truly a one-man show, Bob also handled recording, mixing and mastering duties in a set that includes six tunes he either played or recorded with Muddy and four of his own originals. All tunes were reworked in order for him to play both on the instrument solo and to play acoustic.

An outstanding labor of love, give a listen to “Going Down to Main Street,” “The Shape I’m In,” “Mean Old Chicago,” “Lonely Man Blues,” “Baby Can’t Be Found,” “For You My Love,” “No Consolation” and “Just Before Dawn.”


The Blasters – Mandatory: The Best of the Blasters

Liberation Hall

Since their inception in 1979, the Blasters -- led by vocalist Phil Alvin and his younger brother Dave, who’s served as the primary songwriter -- have proved to be major players in American roots. Fusing an eclectic mix of blues, rock, jazz and more, this beefy, 21-track set features many of their hits and a few surprises, too.

Most of the songs here come from their heyday -- the early to mid-‘80s -- but also include cuts from the Walter Hill cult film, Streets of Fire, and more, most of which are fast-paced efforts propelled by their longtime rhythm section, bassist John Bazz and drummer Bill Bateman.

Crank this one up and give a listen to “American Music,” “Flat Top Joint,” “I’m Shakin’,” “So Long Baby Goodbye,” “Hollywood Bed,” “One Bad Stud,” “Jubilee Train,” “Trouble Bound,” “Dark Night,” “Common Man” and “Kathleen.”


Emma Wilson – Memphis Calling

Self-produced CD


One of the leading luminaries in the British soul-blues scene, Emma Wilson possesses a sweet, but powerful set of pipes and unique contemporary sound. She fulfills a life-long dream with this sensational CD, which was captured on the original Stax recording console at Sam Phillips Studio in Memphis and produced by Emmy winner/Grammy nominee Scott Bomar.

The star-studded lineup is just as impressive with contributions from Archie “Hubbie” Turner, Charles and Leroy Hodges on keys and bass, Joe Restivo of the Bo-Keys on guitar, Steve Potts of the Booker T. and the MGs on drums and a horn section led by Marc Franklin.

You’ll be hooked from the opening notes of “A Small Word.” And don’t miss “Water,” “Watching You Leave,” “I Still Love You,” “I’ll See You in the Morning,” “Drug” and “Since I Fell in Love with You.”


Peter Veteska & Blues Train – Full Tilt

Blue Heart Records BHR 056

Since forming in New Jersey in 2013, Peter Veteska & Blues Train have been a force to be reckoned with in the world of contemporary blues, and that’s never been more true with this sensational, in-your-face release, which includes eight originals and four well-reimagined covers.

Fronted by Veteska, a double threat on six-string and vocals, this disc features contributions from several of the top talents in the New York metropolitan area, including keyboard player Jeff Levine, Philadelphia-based harp player Mikey Jr. and the dynamic Jen Barnes.

Top spins include “Go Find Another Man,” “I Wasn’t Wrong,” “Sad and Blue,” “Pack of Lies,” “2:00 in the Morning,” “One After 909,” “Take Back What You Own,” “Slow Down You Crazy Fool,” “Man About Town” and “Merry Christmas Baby.”


B’ee – What’s It Gonna…B’ee

Mad Ears Productions MEPCD022

A honey-voiced vocalist from Dusseldorf, Germany, B’ee – aka Birgit Neukranz – teams with British blues-rock guitarist Mick Simpson and producer Andy Littlewood and makes her recording debut with this 12-song set. It’s a cool mix of blues, soul, Southern rock and more that gives a hint of bigger things ahead.

B’ee exploded on to the European music scene fronting the band Sound of Silence in 2020, and she’s been receiving extensive airplay across Europe since her May release of singles from this all-original, not-to-be-missed effort.

Looking for something – and someone – new? You’ll enjoy “Under Your Spell,” “Crying Shame,” “What’s It Gonna Be,” “Blue for You,” “Somewhere in Between,” “Blues with a Vengeance,” “Anywhere but Here,” “Man on the Move” and “Can’t Let You Go.”


André Bisson – Latchford

Self-produced CD

A 2022 International Songwriting Competition winner, Ontario-based André Bisson outdoes himself on the tenth release of his career. The vocalist pulls out all the stops as he serves up a deeply soulful message of peace, love and understanding.

André handles vocals, guitar and harmonica on this one. He’s joined by several major players in the Canadian blues scene, including Jesse O’Brien on keys and a propulsive horn section composed of Pat Carey (sax), Shawn Moody (trumpet/flugelhorn), Loretta Hale (trumpet) and Rob Somerville (trombone).

Brighten your mood with “Latchford,” “The Reformed Deceiver,” “Echo Mountain,” “Shake,” “Dusty Albums,” “Smile Time,” “Longest Way Around,” “Tail Wags the Dog” and “The Bring Down.”


Lilli Lewis – All Is Forgiven

Righteous Babe Records

An Atlanta native who uses her voice to deliver watch she calls “sacred songs to profane places,” New Orleans-based Lilli Lewis teams with guitarist/producer Mark Bingham for this sometimes deep-in-the-beat, always deeply emotional, mix of blues, soul and more into a roux certain raise your spirits and make you feel better about yourself, too.

An operatically trained pianist and gifted songwriter who’s already a multiple award-winner in the Americana field, Lilli’s backed by Kirk Joseph of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and a host of Big Easy heavyweights for her first effort on Ani DeFranco’s Righteous Babe imprint.

Open your ears and open your heart as you give a listen to “Sin Eater,” “Happy Enough,” “All Is Forgiven,” “If You Really Mattered,” “Possible,” “Drink This Water Child” and “Firefly.”


11 Guys Quartet – 11 x 11

VizzTone Label Group VT-11412

Friends and bandmates from the Boston music scene since the ‘70s, the oddly named 11 Guys Quartet delivered a pleasing all-instrumental album, Small Blues and Grooves, in 2020 after a 35-year break from the studio. And they return in style – and add a couple of vocals, too – with this rock-solid collection of traditional but contemporary tunes.

They’re fronted by guitarist/vocalist Paul Lenart, who toured with Big Mama Thornton and T-Bone Walker and was a longtime member of Beantown’s beloved James Montgomery Band, and harp player Richard Rosenblatt, the industry veteran who founded both the Tone-Cool and VizzTone labels.

You’ll be keeping beat to “Lightning Road,” “Black Cat Bone,” “Blues Beyond Midnight,” “Drivin’ a Fast Car,” “Texicali Mojo,” “He Ain’t Got You,” “Jokers Blues” and “The Rona Stomp.”


Randy Lee Riviere – Blues Sky

Wilderness Records

A self-described “country boy” singer-songwriter who delivers a hard-to-define mix of musical stylings, Randy Lee Riviere teams with Grammy-winning producer Kevin McKendree and ventures into new territory on his latest disc, delivering a groove-heavy masterwork that’s still hard to define but blue through and through.

Randy Lee handles vocals and six-string in a four-piece setting that’s enhanced by the singing of the McCrary Sisters – Ann, Regina and Freda – the Nashville-based soul and gospel treasures. McKendree contributes guitar and keys in addition to his production duties in this all-original set.

Give a listen to “American Redoubt,” “You’re So Kind,” “Do or Don’t,” “Spit Shine,” “One More Time,” “What You Know About Pain?,” “Rocky’s Road,” “Joseline” and “Cold Cold River.”


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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