By Marty Gunther
Red Hot ‘n Blues Reviews for May 2023
Taj Mahal – Savoy
Stony Plain Records SPCD1470
Taj Mahal has been infusing his music with Caribbean, African and Polynesian elements for more than 60 years, making it hard to conceive he’d be cutting new ground now that he’s in his 80s. But that’s exactly what he does with this treasure of a disc. It’s a surprising, big-band treat that comes out of left field and explores gems popular in showrooms and concert halls in the 1930s and ‘40s.
Taj teams with producer John Simon (The Band, Leonard Cohen) on this one along with about 30 top musicians, all of whom lay down understated charts in support of his smoky vocals. If you’re a fan of Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Louis Jordan and other café society giants, you’ll love this one.
The maestro reminisces about his parents first meeting in the title tune to open. Other treats include “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” “I’m Just a Lucky So-and-So,” “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You,” “Summertime,” “Mood Indigo,” “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear from Me,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (with Maria Muldaur) and more.
Big Harp George – Cut My Spirit Loose
Blue Mountain Records BMR CD05
San Francisco-based Big Harp George Bisharat has proven himself to be one of the best chromatic players in the world during the past decade while making the transition from law professor to fulltime musician. A former BMA rising star nominee, he hits the heights with this star-studded set.
A clever songwriter with a deep social conscience and wry sense of humor, George penned 12 of the 13 tracks. Recorded by Kid Andersen at Greaseland Studios, the lineup includes June Core and Derrick “D-mar” Martin on drums, a full horn section and backing vocals from the Sons of the Soul Revivers gospel trio.
Dial in “It’s Tuesday,” “Give Me the Dark,” “Bustin’ Out,” “My Dog Is Better Than You,” “Jump Abu Lula!,” “Prince of Downward Mobility,” “Ranty Town,” “Behind the Eight Ball,” “Take a Knee,” “Sunrise Stroll” and “Captain Jack.”
Misty Blues – Outside the Lines
Guitar One Records
With a dozen CDs to their credit since forming in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts in 1999, Misty Blues has proven a force to be reckoned with. But they outdo themselves with this disc in a lineup that includes contributions from Eric Gales, Kat Riggins, Justin Johnson, Matt Cusson and Judge Judy bailiff Petri Byrd.
The seven-piece ensemble’s fronted by Gina Coleman, who possesses one of the richest altos in the business. Her core unit – which is augmented by ten other artists -- includes Seth Fleischmann (guitar) and Benny Kohn (keys) along with a three-piece horn section Bill Patriquin (trumpet), Aaron Dean (sax) and Rob Tatten (trombone), all of whom shine as they produce modern blues with jazz overtones.
Give a listen to “Where Your Blues Come From,” “I Don’t Sleep,” “One of These Days,” “Grip Your Soul,” “Days of Voodoo and Laughter,” “Dare to Dream,” “Judgement Day,” “The Hate” and “Been a Long Time Coming.”
Bruce Katz Band – Connections
Dancing Rooster Records
A longtime member of the Gregg Allman Band and iterations of Allman family ensembles, Bruce Katz is one of the true giants of the keyboard in the blues today, something that comes through loud and clear in this disc, which explores his love for the sounds of New Orleans, jam blues, soul-jazz and more.
Katz simply dazzles on Hammond B3 organ and piano throughout in a three-piece setting, accompanied by Aaron Lieberman on guitar and vocals and Liviu Pop on percussion. Shaun Oakley, grandson of Berry, sits in on bass for three cuts on one of the classiest sets you’ll hear this year.
Top tracks include “Right Here Right Now,” “Nighttime Stroll,” “Where’s My Wallet,” “Morning on Basin Street,” “The Dream,” “All About That,” “Gary’s Jam,” “Tides Are Turning” and “What I Feel.”
Alabama Mike – Stuff I’ve Been Through
Little Village Foundation LVF 1053
A Talladega, Ala., native who’s been based in Richmond, Calif., for 25 years, Alabama Mike holds nothing back in this deep set of blues, Southern soul and funk. It’s an intense, all-original, humorous effort that explores raw, uncomfortable truths and delivers lessons in empowerment throughout.
Produced, mixed and mastered by Kid Andersen at his award-winning Greaseland Studios, Mike’s backed by a galaxy of talent, including Rusty Zinn and Anson Funderburgh, Jim Pugh on keys, Jerry Jermott on bass, Derrick “D-Mar” Martin on drums and a host of others.
Classic soul-blues at its best, don’t miss “Stuff I’ve Been Through,” “Fat Shame,” “This Ain’t No Dizneyland,” “Goodbye Tamika,” “King Cock,” “Pine Bluff, Arkansas (Big Fine Woman),” “Damage Control,” “Mississippi” and “God Is With You.”
Bob Corritore & Friends – Women in the Blues Showcase
VizzTone/SWMAF Records VT-SWMAF-23
Arizona-based harp wizard Bob Corritore has been producing great compilations in recent years, but he outdoes himself with this collection, which features entries from Queen of the Blues Koko Taylor and seven other talents, including one from 17-year-old Aliya Primer, the daughter of Chicago blues master John Primer.
Carol Fran, Diunna Greenleaf, Barbara Lynn, Valerie June, Shy Perry and Francine Reed with backing from a host of major talents from across the U.S., including Bob Margolin, Kid Ramos and Johnny Main on guitars, Anthony Geraci and Fred Kaplan on keys and many, many more.
You’ll love “You’re Gonna Be Sorry,” “I Just Need a Friend,” “What Kind of Man Is This,” “Wang Dang Doodle,” “Be for Me,” “Te Ni Nee Ni Nu,” “Don’t Mess with the Messer,” “You Don’t Have to Go,” “Walkin’, Slippin’ and Slidin’” and “Why Am I Treated So Bad.”
Delta Wires – If Somebody Told Me…
Mud Slide Records
Bay Area treasures who’ve been heating up the night internationally for more than 30 years, Delta Wires are an incandescent seven-piece unit that are at the top of their game on their latest CD, a potent mix of tasty originals and covers culled from big-city ballrooms and the Delta, too.
Founded in Oakland by harp player/vocalist Ernie Pinata as part of a college project, the Wires are former IBC finalists and California Blues Hall of Famers. Their crisp, original sound is anchored Tony Huszar on guitar and Richard Sylvester on keys and is powered by a horn section that includes David Bowman (trombone), John Christensen (trumpet) and Caleb Murray (sax).
“Can’t Win for Losin’” blazes to open. Other treats include “If Somebody Told Me…,” “I Tried,” “Bring Me Up,” “I Pity the Fool,” “Hand Outta My Pocket,” “Dimples” and Blues in Hoss’ Flat.”
Ana Popovic – Power
ArtisteXclusive Records AErec009
Serbian-born, U.S.-based guitar goddess Ana Popovic has released potent albums in the past but none more relevant than this disc, 10 originals and a single cover with a unified message about overcoming whatever difficulties life throws at you. It’s something Ana knows firsthand after undergoing treatment for breast cancer at the height of the epidemic.
Chockful of grit, faith and determination, she’s backed by percussionist Chris Coleman (Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan) in a set mastered by gospel superstar Jeremy “TryBishop” Hicks. Recorded in Dallas, New Orleans and Detroit, the album includes world-class backing from regional musicians in each locale.
“Rise Up” – penned by Kenny Wayne Shepherd – opens the action of an album guaranteed for awards recognition. Top tracks include “Power Over Me,” “Doin’ This,” “Queen of the Pack,” “Strong Taste,” “Recipe Is Romance,” “Deep Down,” “Ride It,” “Flicker ‘n Flame” and “Turn Up My Luck.”
GA-20 – Live in Loveland
Colemine/Karma Chief Records
GA-20 set the blues world afire last year with their Hound Dog Taylor tribute album, which updated the traditional sound of ‘70s Chicago blues for a new audience. And they continue their ascendency with this blistering-hot set, which was made the old-fashioned way: played live on vintage instruments and recorded straight to analog tape at an Ohio studio.
Fronted by longtime Charlie Musselwhite guitarist Matthew Stubbs with Pat Flaherty on second guitar and Tim Carman on percussion, they hit the jackpot last year with GA-20 Does Hound Dog Taylor: Try It You’ll Like It, earning a BMA nomination. But they add a dash of punk to the mix on this one.
Choice cuts include “I Cry for You,” “My Baby’s Sweeter,” “Lonely Soul,” “I Let Someone In,” “Dry Run,” “Double Gettin’,” “Just Because,” “Hold It One More Time” and “Be My Lonesome.”
‘The Duchess’ Jureesa McBride – My Time to Shine
A full-throated, polished songstress from Port Gibson, Miss., Jureesa McBride – aka “The Duchess” – announces herself to the world with this rock-solid collection of contemporary soul-blues – a set that makes it a sure bet that she’ll be appearing on bigger stages in the not-too-distant future.
Produced by Paul Gibson, a 2014 Grammy winner for Johnny Winter’s Step Back CD, and featuring his masterful guitar work throughout, Jureesa penned seven of the the ten tracks, which contain skintight arrangements recorded in her current home base, Vicksburg.
Open your ears to “My Time to Shine,” the sexually charged “Tom Thumb,” the uplifting “Don’t Mind the Rain” and “I Choose Me” as well as “I Just Wanna Wake Up,” “Don’t Love Me Now” and the funkified “Good Loving Blues.”
Francesco Piu & the Brotherhood – Live in France
Described as a “force of nature” by Italy’s Guitar Club magazine, Sardinia-based Francesco Piu is a gifted multi-instrumentalist who represented his homeland in the 2010 IBCs. In the years since, he’s established himself as a major presence on main stages across Europe, something he exhibits here in a set captured in front of an enthusiastic audience in Sens, France.
Francesco doubles on slide and lap-steel guitars here and sings in perfectly unaccented English with backing from guitarist Roberto Luti, harp player Davide Speranza and percussionist Silvio Centamore. Their tunes are infused with deep, percussive and energetic grooves throughout.
Give a listen to “Down on My Knees,” “Gotta Serve Somebody,” “Trouble So Hard,” “You Feed My Soul,” “Overdose of Sorrow,” “The Cage of Your Love,” “Black Woman” –- which includes spoken words from the Rev. Martin Luther King, “Mother,” “Hold On” and “Trouble No More.”
Various Artists – Blind Raccoon and Nola Blue Collection Vol. 5
Blue Heart Records BHR 039
Since partnering in the 2010s, Betsie Brown’s artist management organization, Blind Raccoon, and Sallie Bengston’s Blue Heart/Nola Blue label group have been one of the busiest outfits in the industry, releasing dozens of top-notch CDs from award-winning artists and rising stars alike. Many of them are on display on this two-CD, 30-track feast for the ears.
The big names here include vocalist Teresa James, Floyd Dixon, Anthony Geraci, John Németh & the Blue Dreamers, John Ginty, Frank Bey and Benny Turner. But don’t miss contributions from Steve Howell & the Mighty Men, Professor Louie & the Crowmatix, the star-studded Maple Blues Band, Tiffany Pollack, Rochelle & the Sidewinders, Anthony “Big A” Sherrod and Operation Soul.
A smorgasbord of talent from all shades of blues, you’re certain to discover a few new favorites in these grooves.
Danny Liston – Everybody
Blue House Records CD2023A
The former lead vocalist in Mama’s Pride, one of the best – but often overlooked -- Southern rock acts in the ‘70s, Danny Liston still owns some of the sweetest pipes in the business, and he shines like a diamond in this all-original set of contemporary blues.
Produced by Grammy winner Jim Gaines and deeply soulful throughout, the all-star lineup includes Will McFarlane on guitar, Mark Narmore, Rick Steff and three others on keys with a full horn section and a special guest appearance from Bekka Bramlett on vocals.
Uplifting and soothing throughout with themes that explore self-destruction, faith, hope, healing and forgiveness, don’t miss “Everybody,” “Didn’t Find My Blues,” “Old Friends,” “Love Everybody,” “Goodbye Jack Daniels,” “Right as Rain,” “Scandal,” “Made to Rock & Roll” and “A Change Has Come.”
Lex Grey and the Urban Pioneers – How Many Roads?
A polished vocalist who morphed from a cult-rock diva who headlined CBGB and other top Manhattan nightspots to backing burlesque artists before establishing herself as a New York State Blues Hall of Famer, Lex Grey hits nothing but high notes on this classy, contemporary mix of blues and blues-rock.
An ASCAP Award winner as a songwriter with seven previous albums to her credit, Lex penned ten of the 11 tracks here with backing from producer/guitarist Vic “Mix” Deyglio (Guns and Roses, Lena Horne) and an uncredited lineup of musicians who are deep in the pocket throughout.
“In It Together,” a plea for common ground in a divided nation, opens. Other must-listens include “How Many Roads,” “Ain’t From Mississippi,” “Begin Again,” “I Believe in You,” “Aches and Pains,” “Biker Down” and “Angel.”
Joe Bonamassa – Time Clocks
J&J Adventures JRA92072
A guitarist with few peers, Joe Bonamassa stands out as a songwriter on this disc. It’s an always interesting effort that ranges from introspective ballads to balls-to-walls blues-rock, all of which combine in a manner that guarantees even his harshest critic will sit up and take notice of his genuine talent.
Recorded in New York City and Sydney, Australia, at the height of COVID, Joe co-wrote all ten tracks in partnership with James House, Bernie Marsden, Tom Hambridge, producer Kevin Shirley and others. He’s backed by The Bovaland Orchestra and other top talent from around the globe.
Intense emotions blend perfectly with passionate arrangements here. Tune in to “Notches,” “The Heart That Never Waits,” “Time Clocks,” “Questions and Answers,” “Mind’s Eye,” “Curtain Call,” “The Loyal Kind,” “Hanging on a Loser” and “Known Unknowns.”
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.