By Marty Gunther
Bob Stroger & the Headcutters w/ Luciano Leães – That’s My Name
Delmark Records 871
In a city dominated by Buddy Guy and other blues giants, there’s no one more beloved than Bob Stroger, the 91-year-old bassist who’s held down the bottom for Otis Rush, Sunnyland Slim and dozens of others. Best known recently as one of the Bobs of the Blues – his partnership with Bob Margolin and Bob Corritore – he’s at the top of his game as a far-too-infrequent front man here.
Only the fifth album under his own name in his 70-year career – the most recent was Keeping It Together with Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith in 2014 -- Stroger’s backed by The Headcutters in a set recorded in their hometown, Itajai, Brazil. Despite the locale, it delivers true ‘50s Windy City feel. Joe Marhofer shines on harp throughout, as does Luciano Leães on keys.
If you like old-school blues, it doesn’t get better than this. Top tracks include both Stroger originals and covers: “What Goes on in the Dark,” “Just a Bad Boy,” “I’m a Busy Man,” “Keep Your Hands Off Her,” “Stranded in St. Louis,” “Pretty Girls,” “Just A Dream” and “That’s My Name.”
Tim Gartland – Truth
Taste Good Music
Nashville-based harmonica player Tim Gartland teams with several of the busiest sidemen in Music City to deliver this tasty, all-original mix of blues, soul, roots and country. Produced by Grammy winner Kevin McKendree, it comes across with a feel so relaxed, it could have been recorded in your living room.
Gartland’s an Ohio native who was a fixture on the Boston music scene for years; while attending college in Chicago he studied at the feet of former Muddy Waters harp player Jerry Portnoy. He delivers lyrics that are full of wry observations about the world he lives in.
A follow-up to his well-received 2019 album, Satisfied, you’ll enjoy “Don’t Mess with My Heart,” “The Thing About the Truth,” “Cloudy with a Chance of the Blues,” “Outta Sight Outta Mind,” “Love Knocks Once,” “Wish I Could Go Back,” “Mind Your Own Business” and “Save Sammy Some.”
Misty Blues – One Louder
Fronted by operatically trained alto Gina Coleman and working out of the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts, Misty Blues is a seven-piece ensemble that delivers a classy mix of blues, jazz, funk and soul, and they’ve called out the big guns to celebrate their 22nd anniversary with this CD.
Anchored by Seth Fleischmann on guitar and Benny Kohn on keys and featuring a full horn section, they’re joined by guest appearances from Joe Louis Walker and Justin Johnson on six-string, BigLlou Johnson on vocals and half a dozen other talents, too.
Things heat up steadily following the acoustic opener, “A Long Hard Way.” A thoroughly pleasing set, be sure to lend an ear to “Freight Car,” “How the Blues Feels” – a duet with BigLlou, “This Life We Have,” “Hit You Back,” “I’m a Grinder,” “Do My Thing” and “Take a Long Ride.”
Louisiana Red & Bob Corritore – Tell Me ‘Bout It
VizzTone Label Group/Southwest Musical Arts Foundation
Arizona-based club owner/harp player Bob Corritore’s vast vaults of recordings issued some real treasures last year. Corritore dug into his treasure trove once again to serve up another winner with this release, which explores his decades-long relationship with Louisiana Red, one of the most important artists of the modern era.
Captured between 2000 and 2009, this one features them in both acoustic and electric settings for a full set of Red originals with backing from Margolin, late piano giant David Maxwell, Howlin’ Wolf drummer Chico Chism, Chris James and Patrick Rynn and a host of others.
Turn back the clock for a while and tune in to “Mary Dee Shuffle,” “Early Morning Blues,” “Caught Your Man and Gone,” “New Jersey Blues,” “Freight Train to Ride,” “Tell Me ‘Bout It,” “Earline Who’s Been Foolin’ You,” “Bessemer Blues” and “Bernice Blues.”
The Love Light Orchestra – Leave the Light On
Nola Blue Records NB 017
Anchored by golden-voiced BMA winner John Németh, the nine-piece Love Light Orchestra served up a winner with their eponymous debut album a couple of years ago and should hit the jackpot with this one, too, delivering a modern take on the sounds that dominated their hometown of Memphis in the ’50s.
With a lineup that includes Joe Restivo on guitar and Marc Franklin of The Bo-Keys on trumpet, members of the Memphis R&B Allstars and other musicians who worked regularly with Bobby “Blue” Bland, Dr. John, Nick Moss, Robert Cray and others, you won’t hear a better band working today.
Put on your dancin’ shoes and to grab your honey before spinning “Time Is Fading Fast,” “Come on Moon,” “Give Me a Break,” “I Must Confess,” “After All,” “Open Book,” “Leave the Light On” and “Follow the Queen.”
Mike Zito – Blues for the Southside
Gulf Coast Records
Guitar master Mike Zito doesn’t live in St. Louis anymore, but maintains a deep love for the city of his birth, and he delivers a loving tribute to the city with an intense double CD, a star-studded 103-minute workout recorded live at the Old Rock House during a trip back home from Texas last fall.
Zito reprises tunes from previous CDs as well as tributes to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix and Chuck Berry on this one backed by his regular band with augmentation from label mates Tony Campanella and Dave Kalz, plus a special guest appearance from Eric Gales, too.
This one smokes from the opening notes of “Mississippi Nights” to the “Johnny B. Goode” closer and features Mike and Eric dueling it out on “Voodoo Chile,” too. The music is deep-in-the-pocket throughout and could serve as an aural textbook for any guitarist desiring to play blues-rock.
The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer – Live at the King Eddy
A full band that started as a duo in Vancouver, B.C., The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer – harp player Shawn Hall and multi-instrumentalist Matthew Rogers – possess one of the most unique sounds in the blues world, and deliver a fascinating, hypnotic live set here that was captured in Calgary at the King Edward Hotel.
They’ve been festival favorites north of the border for most of their 15 years, delivering pleasingly stunning sets of what they describe as musical “chaos” – a mix of original, contemporary music rooted in Hill Country and more.
If you’re looking for something different, this one’s definitely for you. Lend an ear to “Cry a Little,” “Mama’s in the Backseat,” “Do Whatcha,” “Roll with the Punches,” “Hard on Things,” “Sarah,” “Father’s Son,” “Get Out” and “Treat Me Kind.”
Sam Moss – Blues Approved
With a skill level that approached Mike Bloomfield and other guitar greats, Sam Moss was an understated fixture in the North Carolina music scene from the ‘60s to his death by suicide in 2007. He never released an album under his own name, but will live for eternity through the 13 tracks on this CD, which resurfaced after being discovered by accident after being lost in time.
Infused with the sounds of Stax and Muscle Shoals, the material here was unearthed in Winston-Salem in 2020 by producer Chris Stamey while researching early origins of his New York-based band, The dB’s. The digitally remastered tapes now include Stamey on organ and Crispin Cioe (Rolling Stones, Lucky Peterson) on a few cuts.
If you’re a fan of great fretwork with a sensitive touch, you’ll love “Rooster Blood,” “King of My Hill,” “Trying to Do Better,” “My Man Mike,” “Nightflight Over Berlin,” “PJ,” “Act Naturally,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “Can’t Get Used to Losing You.”
Kurt Crandall – Starts on the Stops
YesterYear Records YYR-0052
A musical nomad who was born in Maine but has called Chicago, Kansas City, Seattle, Atlanta, the District of Columbia and Richmond home, Kurt Crandall shines like a diamond on his latest release, mixing Windy City blues, West Coast swing, jazz and more – showing why experts consider him to be one of the most stylish chromatic harmonica players in the world today.
Influenced heavily by William Clarke, Kurt swings from the hip in this set of eight originals – three of which are instrumentals -- and a pair of covers, delivering behind-the-beat vocals that compliment his tastefully precise harp runs throughout.
If you like your blues classy, jump on this one. The pleasers include “Skedaddle,” “Early Bird Special,” “Razz My Berries,” “Beignets and Coffee,” “Goes Without Saying,” “Bull Headed Woman” and “Sidecramp.”
Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne – Blues from Chicago to Paris
Stony Plain Records SPCD 1443
An ex-pat American from Spokane, Wash., who’s been based out of Canada for decades, Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne is a three-time Living Blues magazine keyboard player of the year. He pays tribute to two of his forebears, Willie Dixon and Memphis Slim, here by putting his own touch on 17 of their compositions.
Now age 77, Wayne was a first-call session player in Los Angeles before relocating to Vancouver, B.C., in the ‘80s. He’s backed here by drummer Joey DeMarco and former B.B. King bassist/vocalist Russell Jackson in a 70-minute set with cocktail-lounge sensibilities and timeless appeal.
Waye delivers a mix of familiar standards and minor numbers that deserve more attention, too. Give a listen to “Rock and Rolling This House,” “The Way She Loves a Man,” “African Hunch,” “Messin’ Around (with the Blues),” “Stewball,” “Pigalle Love,” “I Ain’t Gonna Be No Monkey Man” and “Wish Me Well.”
Scott Ramminger – Live at 3rd & Lindsley Nashville
Arbor Lane Music ALM-2022-024
A triple threat as a sax player, vocalist and songwriter, Scott Ramminger was a fixture in Washington, D.C., until relocating to Music City about five years ago. He grooves throughout this all-original CD -- a pleasing, easy, greasy mix of blues, R&B and soul.
The sixth album in Ramminger’s arsenal, he’s backed on guitar by James Pennebaker (Delbert McClinton) and Joe V. McMahon (k.d. Lang, Lee Ann Womack) on ten live cuts. An 11th, bonus track features Swampers Spooner Oldham, David Hood and Will McFarlane and was captured in the studio in Muscle Shoals, Ala.
The unhurried “Thinking About You,” the funky “Living Too Fast” and “Someone New to Disappoint,” brings things to a slow boil. Other pleasers include “Lemonade Blues,” “Walk a Little Straighter,” “More Than One Favor,” “It’s Hard to Be Me” and the bonus, “Come Valentine’s Day.”
Grant Dermody & Frank Fotusky – Digging in John’s Roots
Masters of acoustic blues, Virginia-based harp player Grant Dermody and guitarist Frank Fotusky were both drawn to the music through the recordings of Piedmont six-string master John Jackson, who rose to prominence in the ‘60s. They pay tribute to him with this intimate, masterful throwback CD.
Only one of Jackson’s originals is represented here, but the set includes several songs penned by early blues legends Blind Blake, Charlie Patton, Skip James, Rev. Gary Davis, Leroy Carr and others that John performed with regularly at house parties and festivals during the folk revival when they caught Dermody and Fortusky’s ear.
A treat for fans of fingerpicked acoustic blues, tune in to “Hey Hey Daddy Blues,” “Peach Tree Blues,” “Good Morning Judge,” “You Better Lie Down,” Jackson’s “Boats Up the River,” “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” “Papa’s on the Housetop” and “Alberta.”
Regina Bonelli – Truth Hurts
True Groove Records
Brooklyn-born powerhouse Regina Bonelli made a huge splash in 2018 when her debut album, Open Up the Door, spent 60 weeks on soul-blues charts, and she’ll definitely catch your attention from the opening notes of this in-your-face follow-up.
A New York Blues Hall of Famer with a beefy alto voice, Bonelli delivers high-energy collection of six originals and three well-chosen covers here with backing from guitarists Tomas Doncker and James Dellatacoma, who teamed up to produce, backed by a roster of top Big Apple sessions players.
Give a listen to “Truth Hurts,” “The Last Tour,” “Cross to Bear,” “Mama Raised a Sweet Thing,” “Mr. Big Man,” “Didn’t I” and “I Got to Go.”
Jon Spear Band – B-Side of My Life
Fronted by vocalist/guitarist Jon Spear and Dara James, the Jon Spear Band add funk and Latin flavors to their usual blues-rock mix as they celebrate ten years of music making out of central Virginia with this disc. Don’t be misled by the album title. This one includes 11 originals and two covers that honor B-sides of 45 chart-toppers without including any of them.
They’re anchored by bassist Andy Burdetsky and drummer John Stubblefield with a guest appearance from keyboard player Skip Haga. B-Side of My Life is further proof of why the band has been both a 2016 Blues Blast Music Award nominee (for their Live Music Is Better CD) and has hit Roots Music Report’s annual contemporary chart for each of the past three years.
The diverse set kicks off with the funky “Big Talk” and kicks up the heat with “Heartbeat Like a Samba.” Other solid listens include “B-Side of My Life,” “Follow the Light,” “Snakes and Spiders,” “Can’t Have Nothing,” “My Old T-Shirts” and “Time for the Blues.”
Guitar Jack Wargo – ‘Til the Money’s Gone
War God Records
A veteran road dog who’s toured with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Billy Preston and Solomon Burke, Guitar Jack Wargo joins forces with a group of top-flight session players and should cash in with this collection of driving blues, blues-rock and horn-fueled R&B.
Based out of Southern California, Wargo’s a no-frills vocalist with silky smooth six-string skills who’s only released four solo albums despite his extensive career as a sideman. He penned all 14 tunes here and receives a helping hand from Deb Ryder and Rochella Brown on backing vocals.
The pleasers run deep. Give a listen to “Holla at Your Boy,” “Tell Me Baby,” “Run Rudy Run,” “Searchin’,” “Deja Blues,” “The Prowler,” “Taylor-Made Suit,” “Let Me Down Easy,” “Blue Sapphire” and “Livin’ in the Blues.”
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.