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

By Marty Gunther

Red Hot ‘n Blues Reviews for June 2023

William Bell – One Day Closer to Home

Wilbe Records Wil2023-2

A force to be reckoned with since charting on Stax with “You Don’t Miss Your Water” in 1961, Memphis native/Grammy winner William Bell remains one of the sweetest voices and best songwriters in the world. And he’s at the absolute top of his game with this set, a smooth-as-silk, joyful mix of tunes dealing with both sides of love and much more.

Co-produced by keyboard player Reginald “Wizard” Jones and recorded in Atlanta, where William’s lived since the early ‘70s, the 11 originals and single cover here are a fresh and welcome serving of old-school soul and blues that’ll have you grooving steadily throughout.

Don’t miss “I Still Go to Parties,” “I Will Remember Tonight,” “In a Moment of Weakness,” “I’ve Got Feet,” “Let’s Make Loving Great Again,” “One Day Closer to Home,” “When I Stop Loving You” and “Georgia Peach.”

Fenton Robinson – Somebody Loan Me a Dime/Lonnie Mack – Strike Like Lightning

Alligator Records

Here’s a treat for vinyl lovers. Both Lonnie Mack and Fenton Robinson (who was recently inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame) were giants in the early days of Alligator Records, and the guitar greats get to live again on LP with the vinyl-only reissue of these two must-have discs, which have been out-of-print for 30 years.

Strike Like Lightning marked Lonnie’s return to the studio in 1985 after several years on the sidelines. Produced by Stevie Ray Vaughan, who trades licks with Mack on half the tracks, choice cuts include “Double Whammy,” “Hound Dog Man,” “Satisfy Susie,” “If You Have to Know” and the title number.

Known as the “mellow blues genius,” Fenton’s Somebody Loan Me a Dime was one of the best albums produced in Chicago during the ‘70s and features several of his choicest cuts, including “The Getaway,” “Checking on My Woman,” “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” “Somebody Loan Me a Dime” and more.

Doug MacLeod – Raw Blues 1

Reference Recordings/Sledgehammer Blues

One of the most beloved storytellers, tunesmiths and acoustic pickers the blues world has ever known, Doug MacLeod has been thrilling audiences since the ‘60s with a style that’s warm, intimate and – frequently -- thought-provoking, too. And he outdoes himself on this intimate, all-original set.

A six-time BMA winner and 24-time nominee, McLeod rose to fame as a bandmate of the legendary George “Harmonica” Smith. A native New Yorker who’s now based in Memphis, his solo performances are not to be missed, and this one sounds as though he’s playing just for you in your living room.

Thirty-one tasty minutes that’ll leave you smiling, don’t miss “I’m Gone,” “What’s Been Heard Maybe Ain’t Been Said,” “Placquemine,” “Children Like You,” “Unmarked Road,” “Hey Bartender” and “Walking with Mr. Smith.”

Skylar Rogers – Among the Insanity

Blue Heart Records BHR 036

Skylar Rogers burst on the soul-blues scene in 2019 with Firebreather, an autobiographical effort based on her youth, growing up in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago. She closes the book on that chapter in her life and continues her ascendency with this excellent, all-original follow-up.

Possessing a wall-rattling alto, Skylar’s far more subdued, but just as powerful in this set, which was produced on the West Coast and co-written by Terry Wilson. She’s backed by an A-list lineup that includes Teresa James, Snuffy Walden, Darrell Leonard and several others.

Poignant and emotional, you’ll enjoy “Love in the Left Lane,” “Among the Insanity,” “One Last Kiss,” “Ride That Lightning,” “When It’s Broken,” “Both Sides of the Tale,” “Femininity,” “The Water” and “Apology Not Accepted.”

Tony Holiday – Motel Mississippi

Forty Below Records

Salt Lake City-born, Memphis-based harp player Tony Holiday has made a name for himself by sharing the stage with major stars on his Porch Sessions CDs in recent years, but he takes center stage on his latest effort -- six originals and two covers that deliver a contemporary Hill Country, Memphis soul and Delta feel.

Like all of his previous work, this disc truly is a collaborative effort, this time with co-producers Dave Gross and AJ Fullerton. The star-studded lineup includes Victor Wainwright on keys, a rhythm section composed of bassist Terrence “Sweet T” Grayson and drummer Lee Williams and other top talent.

Never overpowering but always deep in the groove, you’ll rock steady to “Rob and Steal,” “Get By,” “Trouble,” “She’s So Cold,” “Nobody But You” and “Yazoo River.”

Gail Ceasar – Guitar Woman Blues

Music Maker Foundation LC VOL56

Piedmont-style guitarist Gail Ceasar thought she’d lost everything – including her career – after a fire consumed her home and all her belongings in rural Virginia last year. But she and the blues world alike can rejoice because the non-profit Music Maker Foundation came to her rescue and provided the instruments and equipment she needed to reach a new, national audience through this debut CD.

A lilting soprano who possesses fingerpicking skills so sweet and proficient that they would have made forebears Blind Blake, Blind Boy Fuller and Buddy Moss smile, Gail puts a traditional touch on classics that bridge the Piedmont, country, gospel and mainstream blues on this one.

Give a listen to “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad,” “Guitar Woman Blues,” and interesting takes on “You Don’t Have to Go,” “Blues Stay Away from Me,” “Here My Mother Play,” “Ramblin’ on My Mind,” “I’m Not the One” and “The Refuge of My Soul.”

Nelson Blanchard – same

White Car Records

Nelson Blanchard has been one of the most important folks in Gulf Coast music scene since performing at age ten. But the Grammy-nominated keyboard player, guitarist and honeyed tenor steps out of the shadows and into the spotlight for the first time in a 60-year career with this stunning CD, delivering a mix of everything the region has to offer.

A member of the band Louisiana’s LeRoux since the late ‘90s, Nelson’s a producer, studio owner and songwriter who’s worked with everyone from Kenny Neal to Kenny Rogers and American Idol finalists. His debut here came about by accident after submitting voiceover work to producers Dan Tyler and David Hyde. One listen and you’ll understand why they recognized his talent.

A little country, a little pop, but all blue, check out “The Girl Doesn’t Love You,” “Treat Your Lady Right,” “My Heart’s in Louisiana” – with John Schneider, “Big I-10,” “Free Bird in the Wind,” “Please,” “Far Cry” and “I’m Leaving It Up to You.”

Backtrack Blues Band – A Day by the Bay

Gulf Coast Records

The eight-piece Backtrack Blues Band have been fan favorites on the West Coast of Florida for 40-plus years, and they show why with this rock-steady CD, a set of straight-ahead, traditional blues recorded in front of an energetic crowd at the Tampa Bay Blues Festival last year.

Harp player Sonny Charles and lead guitarist Kid Royal share vocals and both penned eight of the nine tracks. A Day by the Bay features Wayne Sharp on keys, Little Johnny Walter on rhythm and deep-in-the-pocket rhythm from drummer Joe Bencomo and bassist Stick Davis – all of whom are steeped in the Chicago tradition. It’s their debut release on Mike Zito’s Gulf Coast label.

Give a listen to “Best Friend’s Grave,” “Make My Home in Florida,” “Help Me Just This Time,” “Natural Born Lover,” “Rich Man Blues,” “Times Is Hard” and “You’ll Come Back Someday.”

Harry Hmura – Goin’ Home

Appaloosa Records

Native South Side Chicagoan Harry Hmura is a guitarist who’s toured extensively with James Cotton and Sugar Blue in addition to laying down the original soundtrack to the video game, Halo. A blues-rocker of the first order with a style all his own, he delivers a potent mix of emotion-packed lyrics and tasty licks on his latest solo effort. He’s only released a few discs across the past 20 years, but each one’s worth a listen.

Recorded in Chicago and Italy prior to the pandemic, Harry’s in power-trio format here with longtime Sugar Blue bandmate Damiano Della Torre on keys and Pablo Leoni on percussion, and all of the original material is tied together with themes involving relationships and inner turmoil.

Powerful but pyrotechnic-free, give a spin to “Boogie Run,” “Cool Cool World,” “Goin’ Home,” “Give Me Anything,” “I Ain’t Going Away,” “Let’s Get High,” “Do Me Right” and “I Like to Roll.”

Natali Rothrock – The Rock House Sessions (Extended Cut)

Jolani Music Group

A Florida native now based in Nashville, Natali Rothrock possesses a dynamic, melismatic voice, and she proves beyond a doubt that she’s well along her way to becoming a rising star in the world of blues and roots from the attention-grabbing, opening notes of this debut full-length CD.

Produced by hitmaker Kevin McKendree at his Rock House studio, Natali’s music comes from the azure crossroad of blues, soul and country. She and life partner/guitarist Joshua Lamkin penned all nine tracks with backing from Kevin on keys and other top Music City talent.

Grab your dance partner and groove along with “Every Time I Close My Eyes,” “Fool for You,” “Just Before I Go,” “Hold On,” “Midnight,” “Goodbye” and “Hey Little Bird.”

Boo Boo Davis – Boo Boo Boogaloo

Blue Lotus Recordings BL-21

A mainstay in the St. Louis since the mid-‘60s, harmonica player Boo Boo Davis grew up picking cotton in Drew, Miss., and played in a family band growing up. And he fires on all cylinders on his latest release, an unwavering set of traditional post-War blues that’s sprightly, upbeat and infused with contemporary appeal.

Delivered in four-piece format, Boo Boo delivers rich harp runs and possesses a voice to match. He’s backed here by guitarist L.A. Jones, bassist Adrianna Marie and Paul Niehaus IV on keys – all of whom are top-flight recording artists in their own right – and anchored by Chris Millar on drums.

Choice cuts in the all-original set include “Little House by Myself,” “At the Red Door,” “She Made Me Evil,” “Make Everything Alright,” “Hell Round Here,” “Boo Boo Boogaloo,” “I Got the Crying Blues” and “Jungle Bump.”

David Deacon – Four

Slammin Media

Based out of Ontario, Canada, and a vocalist whose well-worn baritone hints of Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen, singer/songwriter David Deacon weaves an interesting, original tapestry of emotion on his latest disc, a clever mix of original blues and roots co-produced by Grammy nominee/jazz pianist Eddie Bullen.

Not your average bluesman, Deacon’s background includes a long stint as an auto racer, and he’s also a Paris-trained artist and poet, too. He returns to the studio for the first time since the ‘90s with this one. Give it a listen and it will have you wondering why it’s taken so long.

If you like ballads laced with lyrical imagery, you’ll enjoy “No Never Mind,” “Arc of Life,” “Rising Up Again,” “California Has No Winter,” “Poetry,” “Simplify,” “Jane,” “Hard Time” and “Waving Free.”

Bob Corritore & Friends – High Rise Blues

VizzTone/SWMAF Records

Harp player Bob Corritore’s archives at The Rhythm Room in Phoenix, Ariz., have produced several high-quality CDs in recent few years, but it’ll be hard to top this collection of never-previously-released treasures, which include contributions from several of the biggest names in blues.

Captured between 1992 and 2002, Bob riffs and runs on the reeds in support of Jimmy Rogers, Magic Slim, Luther Tucker, Koko Taylor, Chico Chism, Eddie Taylor Jr., Manuel Arrington, Sam Lay, John Primer, Pinetop Perkins, Bo Diddley, John Brim, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Eddie Clearwater, Bob Reidy and Lil’ Ed, and all of them shine like the jewels they are.

This one’s so good, you’ll want to put it on repeat. Top tracks include “Last Time,” “Buddy Buddy Friends,” “High Rise Blues,” “Twenty-Nine Ways,” “Honey Where You Going,” “Grinder Man,” “Hard Pill to Swallow,” “She’s Alright,” “Sail a Ship” and “Caught in the Act.”

Mattias Malm – Electric Avenue

Self-produced CD

No website

An acoustic artist steeped in Hill Country blues, Mattias Malm may not have a website but the Swedish guitarist is a former European Blues Challenge winner and is a force to be reckoned with. His latest CD, Electric Avenue, is a full-band follow-up to his well-reviewed 2021 R.L. Burnside tribute, Malm on Burnside.

Sure, this is an album of covers, but Mattias’ attack presents each tune in a new light thanks to clever arrangements that incorporate stylings from other genres while remaining faithful to the traditional Mississippi percussive, single-chord attack.

Available as a download, this is a treat. Lend an ear to “Goin’ Down South,” “Fireman Ring the Bell,” “Someday Baby,” Jimmy Reed’s “You Don’t Have to Go,” Doc Watson’s “Deep River Blues,” “Pallet on the Floor,” “Walking Blues” and John Lee Hooker’s “When My First Wife Left Me.”

John Németh & the Blue Dreamers – Live from the Fallout Shelter

Nola Blue Records NB 021

Golden-throated John Németh recorded this excellent live set in suburban Boston at the end of a spring tour in 2022 to honor the 20th anniversary of his band, the Blue Dreamers. But if things had gone in another direction, it might very well have been his swan song instead of a celebration.

Just a few weeks after this show, docs amputated his lower jaw to remove an aggressive tumor and left him facing reconstructive surgery, a lo-o-ong recovery and the strong possibility that he’d never be able to perform again. Fortunately, he’s now back at the top of his game, but this performance -- which kicks off on a somber note and picks up power throughout -- is a testament to a true professional facing major uncertainty.

Lift a glass to toast this miracle man and celebrate his return as you listen to “Sweep the Shack,” “Work for Love,” “Testify My Love,” “Elbows on the Wheel,” “Chain Breaker,” “I Can See Your Love Light Shine,” “Feelin’ Freaky,” “Get Offa Dat Butt,” “Country Boy” and “Fountain of a Man.”


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 Charlotte, N.C., 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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