By Marty Gunther
Red Hot ‘n Blues Reviews for March 2023
Joe Louis Walker – Weight of the World
Forty Below Records FBR 030
San Francisco native Joe Louis Walker has released plenty of outstanding albums in his 50-year career, but he outdoes himself on his latest effort, a deeply personal, all-original effort that bears his soul and touches on problems that all of us endure while living in a post-COVID world.
Produced by BMA nominee/tunesmith Eric Corne at The Building in Marlboro, N.Y., not far from Joe’s adopted home in the Hudson River Valley, Walker alternates between electric, slide and nylon-string guitars and harp as he delivers one of the most emotionally charged sets you’ll hear this year.
An album with no flaws, some of the high points include “The Weight of the World,” “Is It a Matter of Time?,” “Hello, It’s the Blues,” “Waking Up the Dead,” “Don’t Walk Out That Door,” “Count Your Chickens,” “Bed of Roses” and “You Got Me Whipped.” A must listen!
The Cash Box Kings – Oscar’s Motel
Founded in Madison, Wis., in 2001 by harp player Joe Nosek, The Cash Box Kings boast one of the best lineups in the blues today and produce a sound that would have fit comfortably in the golden age of Chicago blues in the ‘50s and ‘60s. They simply sizzle from the start of this deep-in-the-pocket set, which includes nine originals and two well-crafted covers.
Oscar “Mr. 43rd Street” Wilson’s vocals and Nosek’s runs on the reeds cut like a knife throughout with backing from guitar ace Billy Flynn, percussionist Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith and keyboard player Lee Kanehira. Guest stars include Deitra Farr and John Németh on mic, Shoji Naito (Eddy Clearwater) and Jon McDonald (Magic Slim & the Teardrops) on six-string, The C-Note Horns and a host of others.
The hits come fast and furious. Don’t miss “Oscar’s Motel,” “Down at the South Side,” “I Can’t Stand You” featuring Deitra, “Hot Little Mess,” “Nobody Called It the Blues,” “Trying So Hard,” “She Dropped the Axe on Me,” “I Want What Chaz Has” featuring Németh and “Ride Santa Ride.”
Savoy Brown – Blues All Around
Quarto Valley Records QVR 0165
When Savoy Brown released their critically acclaimed Ain’t Done Yet CD last year, they offered up a ray of hope for beloved front man Kim Simmons, who’d recently been diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, he left us after a valiant battle last December, but not before putting the finishing touches on this album, a loving, farewell to fans who’ve been supporting Simmons since he founded the band in London in 1965.
Medical issues forced Kim to switch to slide guitar, so Savoy’s familiar sound is somewhat different. But the notes he delivers on six-string, organ and harp are rich and powerful aided by top-notch backing from bassist Pat DeSalvo and percussionist Garnet Grimm throughout.
An unhurried, deeply passionate set, you’ll enjoy “Falling Through,” “Black Heart,” “Gypsy Healer,” “Blues All Around,” “Texas Love,” “Winning Hand,” “Can’t Go Back to My Hometown,” “California Days Gone By,” “My Baby” and “Falling Through the Cracks.”
Teresa James – With a Little Help from Her Friends
Blue Heart Records BHR 041
Possessing one of the sweetest voices in the blues, Texas-born, L.A.-based Teresa James is a 2023 BMA nominee for contemporary female vocalist of the year, and she shows why on this interesting disc, which – as its title implies -- puts a thoroughly azure spin on ten hits culled from the Beatles’ catalog.
The all-star lineup includes Nashville stalwarts Kevin and Yates McKendree and is anchored by percussionist Richard Millsap of Band of Heathens and bassist/hubby Terry Wilson, a longtime fixture in the Eric Burdon Band. Recorded in California and Tennessee, Kevin and Terry co-produced.
As familiar as the Fab Four’s catalog may be, all of the songs here sound brand new. Dial in “Ticket to Ride,” “Tax Man,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “Oh Darlin’,” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide,” “You Won’t See Me” and “Think for Yourself.”
Andy J. Forest – I Don’t Wanna Work: Modern Vintage Blues
Appaloosa Records AP 252-2
A Washington State native now based in New Orleans, after years in Italy as both a musician and actor, Andy J. Forest is a prolific harp player. After a seven-year break, Andy returns to the studio with this disc, which delivers a catchy collection of contemporary tunes with traditional feel. It’s the 21st album in his 40-year career span.
Recorded with musicians on both sides of the Atlantic, Andy’s joined by Gulf Coast keyboard players Jon Gros, Tom Worrell and Italian guitarists/longtime touring companions Roberto Luti and Heggy Vezzano, for eight originals with propulsive grooves and a single cover.
Give a listen to “Determination,” “I Don’t Wanna Work,” “Startin’ All Over,” “Frady’s One Stop Store,” “High Times Low Life,” “Voodoo Lips” and “Piety Street Strut.”
Alastair Greene – Alive in the New World
Whiskey Bayou Records WSK008
An artist who’s balanced a 25-year solo career with membership in both the Alan Parsons Project and the Sugaray Rayford Band, Californian Alastair Greene’s a fiery guitarist who earned a 2021 Blues Blast Music Awards nomination for his live album, The New World Blues, and he’s set himself up for more honors with this blazing set disc.
Now based out of Austin, Greene keeps busy recording music that regularly hits the Billboard Top 10 charts. Alastair recorded this one in power-trio format during a six-night residency at the City Winery in Chicago with new label mates, Tab Benoit and Corey Duplechin holding down drums and bass.
A treat for fans of blues-rock, give a spin to “Back at the Poor House,” “Lies and Fear,” “When You Don’t Know What to Do,” “Wontcha Tell Me,” “Find Your Way Back Home,” “Living Today,” “Bayou Mile” and “The New World Blues.”
Tas Cru – Riffin’ the Blue
A musical chameleon who serves up something different with each subsequent CD, Upstate New Yorker Tas Cru turns his focus to songs with strong guitar hooks on his latest album. Tas previously paid musical tribute to New Orleans and Memphis and also has delivered both acoustic and children’s records in recent years, too.
Both superstar keyboard player Bruce Katz and guitar god Mike Zito are in the star-laden lineup, which was recorded and engineered by Ron Keck at Subcat Studios in Syracuse. Never boring, always interesting, the 11 original tracks range from rock-steady shuffles to blues-rock, country blues and funk.
Zito’s featured on “Riffin’ the Blue” to open before Tas takes the lead for the rest of the set. The pleasers include “Brown Liquor Woman,” “Stand Up!,” “Throw It All Away,” “Heal My Misery,” “House of the Blues,” “Miss This Man” and “Memphis Gone.”
Jimi ‘Primetime’ Smith & Bob Corritore – World in a Jug
VizzTone/Southwest Music Arts Foundation VT-SWMAF-24
A pair of native Chicagoans who’ve been working together in Arizona for the past seven years, guitarist Jimi “Primetime” Smith – the son of Jimmy Reed’s female drummer Johnnie Mae Dunston -- and harp player Bob Corritore hit all the right notes and deliver plenty of Windy City appeal in this collection that intersperses six originals with five covers.
A booming baritone, Jimi handles all the vocals on this one. He and Bob are backed by an all-star lineup that includes bassist Bob Stroger, keyboard players Henry Gray and Fred Kaplan and other top talent from both the East and West Coasts.
Johnnie Mae’s “I Got the World in a Jug” kicks things off. You’ll also enjoy “Love Her with a Feeling,” “You for Me,” “Blinded,” “In a Spin,” “Soul Food,” “Walkin’,” “We Got to Stick Together,” “Southbound” and “Fire and Ice.”
Franck L. Goldwasser – Who Needs This Mess!!??
One of the best guitarists in the world, Franck L. Goldwasser has been splitting his time between the West Coast and his native France for more than 40 years. On his new release, Franck joins forces with Charlie Musselwhite, Sugaray Rayford and several other top talents for this beefy collection of 15 deep-in-the-pocket originals loaded with classical sensibilities.
The all-star roster includes Kirk Fletcher, Jim Pugh, Alastair Greene, Tony Coleman, bassist/co-producer Ralph Carter – who co-wrote some of tracks -- and more. Like the title suggests, this 58-minute production is loaded with wry observations and pithy complaints about life in modern times. A Paris-trained artist, Goldwasser’s handiwork graces the accompanying 20-page booklet.
You’ll dig “Don’t Give Up on Me Baby,” “I Don’t Want Your Love (I Just Want Your Lovin’),” “What Am I to Do,” “I Had a Dream,” “Paris Woman,” “Who Needs This Mess!!??,” “If I Could Holler,” “Dumb and Dangerous,” “Sweet Cream,” “Raggmazazz” and “Bleedin’ Heart.”
Billy Truitt – Abstract Truth
An Idaho native who toured with Jay Ely of The Kingsmen before a career in honkytonk, country and rockabilly, Las Vegas-based multi-instrumentalist Billy Truitt will have you grooving and dancing with unique set, which incorporates zydeco, Western swing and rockabilly, yet remains true blue.
Only the second solo album in his 50-year career, Truitt’s a triple threat on keys, accordion and guitar. He’s backed by his regular Sin City unit, the Vegas Strip Kings, which includes BMA horn player of the year Jimmy Carpenter, an ensemble that struck gold with their Jackpot CD three years ago.
Highly entertaining throughout, Billy penned eight of the ten tracks. Give a listen to “Who’s Been Trying,” “No Lights Blues,” “Truth Come Home,” “Salvation or Hell” and “Famous Potatoes,” “Life Like Art,” “Preacher Stole My Angel” and “Ragtime Eastern Cowboy ’22.’”
Damon Fowler & Friends – Live at the Palladium
A master guitarist and stellar tunesmith, North Floridian Damon Fowler received rave reviews for Alpha Moon, an album that was in the final running for blues-rock album of the year in the 2021 BMAs. And he keeps the momentum going with this disc, which was captured in front of an enthusiastic audience at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg, Fla.
An ex-member of both the Dickey Betts Band and Butch Trucks’ Freight Train, Fowler also partners with Victor Wainwright and JP Soars in Southern Hospitality. Fowler and his tight three-piece unit are joined by harp giant Jason Ricci, guitarist Eddie Wright and keyboard player Dan Signor for a hard-driving set of swampy blues with jam-band and reggae overtones.
Choice cuts include “It Came Out of Nowhere,” “The Guitar,” “Some Things Change,” “Don’t Feel Like Going There Today,” “Tax Man,” “Fruit Stand Lady,” “Old Fools, Barstools and Me” and “Sugar Shack”
Tomislav Goluban – 20 Years on the Road
Blue Heart Records BHR 035
One of the hardest working contemporary harmonica players in Europe, Croatian Tomislav “Little Pigeon” Goluban celebrates his second decade as a touring professional by joining forces with eight vocalists from the U.S. and Britain for this powerful CD, which grooves from the jump.
A music educator, festival promoter, excellent singer and deejay, too, Goluban’s backed by three bands from his homeland while sharing the mic with Teresa James, Skylar Rogers, Malaya Blue, Kelly Zerbes, Mark Cameron, Crooked Eye Tommy, Ryan Donahue and Gregg Martinez. Together, they deliver 13 originals and a single cover.
Climb on board for “Express Ride” and tune in to “Blow Junkie Boogie,” “Searchin’ for My Baby,” “Electric Lights,” “No Means No,” “Disappear for Good,” “Speedin’ Train,” “Gambler’s Blues,” “Everyday’s Fear” and a take on Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee’s “I Love You Baby.”
John Lee Hooker – Burnin’: 60th Anniversary Edition
Craft Recordings CR00545
From the 1940s through his death in 2001, there were few people in the blues more important than John Lee Hooker and there were few more important LPs than his 1962 release, Burnin’, which helped lay the foundation for the modern sounds we enjoy today. Fans too young to remember will understand the how and why with just one listen to this lovingly reissued CD.
The king of the boogie, John Lee joined forces with Motown’s legendary house band, The Funk Brothers, for this one, including guitarist Larry Veeder, keyboard player Joe Hunter and bassist James Jamerson. Previously issued by Chicago’s Vee-Jay label, it includes the original recording of “Boom Boom,” one of Hooker’s biggest hits ever.
Other choice cuts – all of which appear here in both mono and stereo format along with a previously unreleased alternate take -- include “Lost a Good Girl,” “A New Leaf,” “Blues Before Sunrise,” “Let’s Make It,” “I Got a Letter,” “Drug Store Woman,” “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” and “Thelma.”
Mike Zito & Albert Castiglia – Blood Brothers
Gulf Coast Records
Longtime friends who’ve jammed together frequently, Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia fit like hand in glove and make their formal debut as the Blood Brothers with this rollicking effort. It’s a musical partnership that’s far more potent than the award-winning talent they display in their solo acts.
Recorded at Dockside Studio in Maurice, La., and co-produced by Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith -- both of whom add their own guitar skills to the mix, the backing unit is chockful of top-notch talent. Five originals blend perfectly with soulful tunes culled from the catalogs of Tinsley Ellis, Fred James, John Hiatt, Graham Wood Drout and JJ Cale.
You’ll enjoy “Hey Sweet Mama,” “In My Soul,” “Fool Never Learns,” the ballad “A Thousand Heartaches” featuring Bonamassa, “You’re Gonna Burn,” “Bag Me, Tag Me, Take Me Away,” “No Good Woman,” “Hill Country Jam” featuring Smith and “One Step Ahead of the Blues.”
GeminiiDragon – Equinox
Delivering what she describes as “blues on steroids,” Thibodeaux, Miss.-based vocalist GeminiiDragon – aka Jessica Harper – delivers a mix of blues, rock and Southern soul and makes her recording debut with this CD. It’s an eclectic effort that will have even the most hardcore blues fan taking notice because of its unique sound.
Displaying church-honed range, GeminiiDragon’s heroes include the usual blues gods of the Magnolia State along with ‘60s and ‘70s blues-rockers Led Zeppelin, Cream and the Arc Angels, too. She previously released a series of attention-grabbing singles, and co-wrote all of the material here with producer/label owner Christian Simeon.
For something completely different, dial in “Sister Switchblade,” “Time,” “Ballad of Willie Mae & George,” “You Got It Good,” “Rusty Gun,” “Hands of Time,” “Good Thang” and “Bad Rumors.”
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.