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

By Marty Gunther




Red Hot ’n Blues Reviews for March 2024

 

Bernard Allison – Luther’s Blues

Ruf Records RUF 1303

Guitarist Luther Allison was one of the most intense bluesmen of all time, and son Bernard provides proof that the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree with this beefy effort. He reinvents 18 of his dad’s tunes and two that they co-wrote for a 21st century audience, and it’s a masterful, mature effort that’s truly his own.


A Chicago native and two-time BMA nominee, Bernard has released about 20 CDs in his career, but it’ll be hard to top this one, which is certain to earn awards recognition in the year ahead. His fretwork soars throughout, and his new arrangements are spiced up with the addition of horns.


Take a deep dive into “Hang On,” “Reaching Out,” “Too Many Women,” “Serious,” “Bad Love,” “Now You Got It,” “Midnight Creeper,” “Back Down South,” “I Gave It All,” “Let’s Try It Again,” “Change Your Way of Living,” “You’re Gonna Need Me,” “Compromising for Your Needs,” “Move From the Hood” and “Castle.”

 

John Ellison – Some Kind of Wonderful

PopMi Music

Born in West Virginia and based in Canada for decades, vocalist John Ellison penned the monster hit, “Some Kind of Wonderful,” as a member of the Soul Brothers Six in the ‘60s. Six decades later, the 82-year-old wonder shows here that he hasn’t dropped a beat in this all-original set, which will get you up and dancing from the jump.


Ellison’s a rich tenor with a confident, emotive delivery. As a tunesmith, he’s scored hits both for himself and a wide range of talents, including Grand Funk Railroad, Huey Lewis and the News and others. Produced by Roger Heijster, the tunes on this one come with a contemporary-but-old-school feel, mixing R&B, gospel and reggae infused with a true-blue feel.


Put on your dancing shoes for a redo of “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Let’s Get This Party Started,” “If I Had Just One Wish,” “It’s Your Lips,” “Love Line,” “Let Me Be the One,” “Where Do I Go from Here,” “West Virginia State of Mind,” “He Watches Over Me” and “I Simply Love You.”

 

Bex Marshall – Fortuna

DixieFrog Records

One of the most distinctive artists in the European blues scene, slide guitarist/vocalist Bex Marshall hasn’t been in the studio in a decade, but she returns in style with this mix of R&B-infused blues rock. It’s chockful of infectious rhythms and interesting storylines.


Recorded in London, Bex’s smoky, road-worn voice soars as it separates her from the crowd. She’s joined by a powerhouse lineup that includes Toby Baker (Eric Clapton) on keys, B.J. Cole (Elton John) on dobro, Richie Stevens (Tina Turner) on drums, and UK gospel giant Queen Shola Adagoroye, too.


Salty and sweet, you’ll enjoy “Preaching to the Choir,” “Dirty Water,” “I Can’t Look You in the Eye,” “5 A.M.,” “Table for One,” “Fortuna,” “Lay Down N Die,” “Scrapyard Dog” and “When It’s Gone.”

 

Leo Lyons Hundred Seventy Split – Movin’ On

Flatiron Recordings

A founding member of the British band Ten Years After, bassist Leo Lyons has produced everything from cartoon soundtracks to award-winning albums for others. But the 81-year-old bassist returns to the stage with a swagger here, delivering music with the same sting of his youth.


It’s a welcome return to the studio for Lyons, who’s joined by former Ten Years After bandmate Joe Gooch on guitar and vocals and Damon Sawyer driving a steady beat on drums in an old-school, power-trio format.


From the opener, “Walking in the Devil’s Shoes,” which pays tribute to Robert Johnson, to the closer, “Time to Kill,” this is blues-rock the way it used to be. Top tracks include “Easy to Slide,” “Heart of a Hurricane,” “Black River,” “The Road Back Home,” “Meet Me at the Bottom,” “Sounded Like a Train” and “Beneath That Muddy Water.”


 

Various Artists – Breaking News: Ten Years of Blues – Nola Blue Records 2014-2024

Nola Blue Records

Initiated by Pennsylvania-based Sallie Bengston as a labor of love a decade ago, Nola Blue Records celebrates its tenth anniversary with this soulful, upbeat 10-tune compilation. Breaking News is dedicated to dearly departed treasures Cash McCall, Frank Bey and James George and delivers an all-star-infused sampling of its greatest hits.


The ageless Benny Turner contributes three of the offerings here, one in partnership with McCall. They’re joined by a lineup that includes Bey, Trudy Lynn, John Németh -- both solo and with his Love Light Orchestra, Clarence Spady and Lil’ Jimmy Reed, who teams with rising piano wizard Ben Levin, too.


Not-to-be-missed cuts include “Breakin’ News,” “All My Dues Are Paid,” “One Who’s Got a Lot,” “If Only We Could,” “Golden Girl Blues,” “After All,” “The Last Time,” “They Call Me Lil’ Jimmy” and “Who Sang It First.”

 

Brothers Brown – Nowhere Left to Go

Woodward Avenue Records

Based out of Nashville Brothers Brown is a band fronted by Grammy nominee Brother Paul Brown of The Waterboys fame and unrelated, Grammy-winning namesake Paul Brown, a producer responsible for hits by George Benson, Al Jarreau and a host of others. The Brothers Brown fire on all cylinders on this welcome follow-up to their Dusty Road CD, which blended blues and jam and established them as major players in the roots scene.


Featuring Paul on guitars and vocals and Brother Paul on keys, the band also includes heavyweights David Santos (Billy Joel, Elton John) and Peter Young (Loretta Lynn, The Flying Burrito Brothers) on bass, drums and more. And the legendary Bobby Rush sits in on the title track, too.


A slick, multi-dimensional treat with an occasional country-but-bluesy edge, ease on in to “Wrong Side of Town,” “Junior’s Back,” “Running Blues,” “Nowhere Left to Go,” “High Up on the Mountain,” “Chitlin’ Pickin’,” “Whatcha Gonna Do,” “Snakehole Run,” “Black and Blue” and “Fifteen Minutes.”

 

Paul Reed Smith Eightlock – Lions Roaring in Quicksand

Steele Records SR003

Fronted by Vintage Guitar Magazine hall-of-famer/luthier Paul Reed Smith and featuring musicians who’ve worked with Santana, Davy Knowles, Roberta Flack, George Duke, the Chambers Brothers and more, Paul Reed Smith Eightlock simply cook on this 14-tune CD, which delivers a powerful statement about the healing power of forgiveness and love in a world in upheaval.


The eight-piece unit are based out of the Washington, D.C., area and deliver a mix of contemporary sounds propelled throughout by a trio of percussionists – Gregory Grainger, Dennis Chambers and JuJu House. Also featured is Mia Samone, a star in the regional gospel scene.


Top tracks include “Sarah,” “Never Give Up on Livin’,” a slick version of Al Green’s “Love and Happiness,” “Man in the Moon,” “Breathe,” Barrett Strong’s “War,” “Drivin’ at Night,” “Look at the Moon,” “Ay, Doctor,” “Echoes” and “He’s the One.”

 

Cedar County Cobras – Homesick Blues

Self-produced CD

A duo who’ve been playing festivals and barrooms across the Midwest for a decade, the Cedar County Cobras are an acoustic outfit out of Iowa City, Iowa, who’ve been playing foot-stomping blues for about a decade, and they make their full-length album debut here. It’s a rollicking, contemporary effort with traditional, old-time appeal.


A gifted tunesmith who’s been legally blind since childhood, Tom Spielbauer handles guitar and drums with April Dirks on upright bass and mandolin. They do double duty on vocals on a set that includes six tasty originals that flow seamlessly with covers from Gus Cannon, Muddy Waters, Jessie Mae Hemphill and Son House.


Choice cuts include “Utah,” “Country Records,” “Long Time Gone,” “Gimmie Lightnin’,” “Trouble No More,” “Walkin’ Blues,” “Voodoo Doll” and “Homesick Blues.”

 

GeminiiDRAGON – 3

Lightning in a Bottle Records

Based out of the bayous of Louisiana, GeminiiDRAGON is an artist with an eclectic style all her own. A wall-rattling vocalist, she blends furious blues-rock with her love for sounds of the late ‘60s and ‘70s and elements of Memphis soul, too, into a stew definitely not for the faint of heart.


GeminiiDRAGON’s third collaboration with guitarist, producer and partner Christian Simeon, this all-original effort features heavy rhythms provided by bassist Dougie V and drummer Eric Sasser with guest appearances from a pair of labelmates: harp player Chad Rupp, guitarist TJ Wong.


Buckle up for this one. It’s blues-rock on overdrive. Top cuts include “I Wanna Know,” “Desert Heart,” “Wasted Time,” “You Ain’t Up to No Good,” “Cherokee,” “Caught Up in Your Love” and “Ballad of Willie Mae & George.”

 

The Hitman Blues Band – Hey, Can You Guys Play…

Nerus Records NR4496

Fronted by Russell “Hitman” Alexander, The Hitman Blues Band delivers on all counts with their latest CD. It’s chockful of covers, but the material’s thoroughly reinvented and steeped with the New York City grit and jazzy, funk-based blues that have made them a fan favorite across the Northeast.


The veteran ten-piece horn band dazzles and smokes on every cut behind Alexander; he’s an in-your-face vocalist and guitarist who spent 25 years touring the country as a sideman before releasing seven stellar albums with this group in the past two-and-a-half decades that have followed.


Looking for something to help you forget winter’s chill? Dive into “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” “John the Revelator,” “Good Morning Judge,” “Who Put the Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy’s Ovaltine” and “Boom Boom” all delivered in a way you’ve never heard them before.

 

Mike Zito – Life Is Hard

Gulf Coast Records

No one in the blues world has faced more tragedy in recent years that Mike Zito, who lost his wife Laura to cancer after a courageous, years-long battle. The blues-rock giant bares his soul on this spirited, emotion-packed and fiery CD, getting a helping hand from Joe Bonamassa, Josh Smith and Reese Wynans, too.


A collection that will strike a positive chord with anyone who’s experienced a similar loss, Zito reworks the music of Little Milton, Fred James, Stevie Wonder, Tinsley Ellis, Walter Trout, Tab Benoit and others here and throws in two of his own tunes, too, as he takes listeners from the depths of despair to the celebration of the life of his dearly departed.


Choice cuts abound in this one. Give a listen to “Lonely Man,” “Life Is Hard,” “Have a Talk With God,” “No One to Talk to (But the Blues),” “Dying to Do Wrong,” “Darkness,” “Without Loving You,” “Nobody Knows Me Like You Do” and “Forever My Love.”

 

Jennifer Porter – Yes, I Do

Cougar Moon Music

A silky-smooth vocalist and keyboard player who would have been a comfortable fit in a café society nightclub in New Orleans in the ‘50s or ‘60s, Jennifer Porter swings from the hip on delightful, blues-infused follow-up to Sun Come and Sunshine, which took the Americana/roots world by storm three years ago.


Jennifer possesses a warm, silky-smooth delivery, and composed six of the eight cuts here. She’s surrounded by top talent, including beloved Texas guitarist/Grammy winner Cindy Cashdollar and zydeco master C.J. Chenier.


A sweet treat sure to brighten your mood, dial in “Before We Call It a Day,” “Yes, I Do,” the red-hot “All I Needed Was You,” “Don’t Worry No More,” “Lusty Dust (Shining Through)” and “Good Ol’ Wagon.”

 

David Ronaldo & the Dice – Burning (A)live

Fandango Music Belgium

Belgium-based guitarist David Ronaldo is one of the busiest recording artists in Europe with three stellar studio albums in the past four years, but he changes things up a bit with this in-your-face live set, a 16-song effort that mixes fiery blues and Southern rock and keeps you captivated throughout.


Possessing a husky, mid-range voice and delivering lyrics in unaccented English, Ronaldo fronts a skintight five-piece unit, sharing guitar duties with Charly Verbinnen. Percussionist Marco Apls provides interesting rhythm, switching off between drums to congas and djembe on multiple tracks.


Rock away that holiday fat to “Palmyra,” “Wasted My Life,” “Price on My Head,” “Tunes for a Dime,” “What Have You Really Done,” “Gipsy Woman,” “World’s End Blues,” “Substance Boogie,” “Hunted Man (Part 1 and 2),” “Burn Up My Love” and “Down By the River.”

 

Chris Yakopcic – Live at the Hidden Gem

Self-produced CD

A dazzling acoustic fingerpicker/vocalist who reached the finals of the 2015 International Blues Challenge, Chris Yakopcic delivers high-energy stylings culled from the early masters, and he shines like a diamond in this set, which was recorded before an enthusiastic audience at the Hidden Gem in his hometown, Dayton, Ohio.


Chris possesses a pleasant mid-range voice and works solo here. He wrote six originals in this 12-tune set, which includes well-crafted covers composed by Blind Blake, Robert Johnson, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits.


Give a listen to “I Gotta Get Goodbye Somehow,” “Chump Man Blues,” “When It All Goes Wrong at Once,” “The Hangover,” “Kind-Hearted Woman,” “Sounds of the Highway,” “Sweet Time Blues,” “My Last Three Strings” and “Preachin’ Blues.”

 

Rick Vito – Cadillac Man

Blue Heart Records BHR 062

It’s been five long years since former Fleetwood Mac fret master Rick Vito stepped into the studio. But for lovers of deeply-azure blues guitar, it was definitely worth the wait because this well-modulated extravaganza consistently serves up hot, shred-free licks that are a treat for the ears.


Driving steadily from the jump, Vito dazzles on guitars and bass in a set that includes 11 originals, a single cover and a revolving, but barebones lineup that includes the masterful Kevin McKendree on keys, Jim Hoke on sax and Steve Marriner on harp.


Choice cuts include “Love Crazy Baby,” “It’s Two A.M.,” “Cadillac Man,” “Little Sheba,” “Gone Like a Cool Breeze,” “Crying at Midnight,” “Just Another Day,” “River’s Calling,” “You Can’t Stop a Guitar (From Playing the Blues)” and “Sliding into Blue.”

 


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 Ohio, 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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