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

By Marty Gunther

Red Hot ’n Blues Reviews for May


Rick Estrin & the Nightcats – The Hits Keep Coming

Alligator Records

It’s always too long between Rick Estrin & the Nightcats’ albums. Give this stunner a listen and the driving rhythms, sensational guitar, harp and keyboard runs will grab you from the jump. And the lyrics, which will have you chuckling one moment, will often leave you thinking, too.

Estrin is one of the most clever tunesmiths and inventive reed-benders of our generation. And his all-star bandmates – Kid Andersen, Lorenzo Farrell and Derrick “D’mar” Martin – are all at the top of their game here. Add Jerry Jemmott, the Sons of the Soul Revivers, Quique Gomez, Charlie Musselwhite and more to the mix and this one can’t be beat.

A certain future award winner, give a listen to “Somewhere Else,” “The Hits Keep Coming,” “The Circus Is Still in Town (The Monkey Song),” “I Finally Hit Bottom,” “911,” “I Ain’t Worried About Nothin’,” “Sack O’ Kools,” “Time for Me to Go” and “Whatever Happened to Dobie Strange?”


Altered Five Blues Band – Testifyin’

Blind Pig Records


Eight years after its apparent demise, Blind Pig Records – one of the most revered independent labels in America – springs back to life with a new home base in Milwaukee, Wis., thanks to its purchase by guitarist Jeff Schroedl. And there’s no better way to celebrate the relaunch than with this stellar five-song EP, which features Jeff’s band, Altered Five, a powerfully soulful ensemble that’s the city’s gift to the world.

Jeff Taylor’s warm, smoky voice powers this set of deep-in-the-pocket, original and booty-shaking blues. Keyboard player Steve Huebler and the rhythms of bassist Mark Solveson and drummer Alan Arbor keep the heat on high throughout. Harp wizard Jason Ricci and a horn section sit in add spark to the mix.

Produced by Grammy winner Tom Hambridge, this one will leave you yearning for more. Dial in “Don’t Tell Me I Can’t,” “Whiskey Got Me Married,” “Brand New Bone,” “I’ve Got the Scars to Prove It” and “You Can’t Win (If It Ain’t Within).”


Canned Heat – Finyl Vinyl

Ruf Records RUF 1309

Let’s hope that, as the title and opening track infer, this isn’t Canned Heat’s final go-round because the current quartet cook with the same juice that founders Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, Bob “The Bear” Hite and others imparted when they founded the group in Los Angeles almost 60 years ago.

Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra, the group’s drummer since its inception, still lays the familiar bass lines in a lineup that now includes multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Vivino and harp player Dale Spalding who share vocals with Rick Reed on bass. Guitar god Joe Bonamassa adds his talents, too.

Rock steady and driving throughout, give a listen to “One Last Boogie,” “Blind Owl,” “Goin’ to Heaven,” “East/West Boogie,” “A Hot Ole Time,” “You’re the One,” “When You’re 69,” “Independence Day” and “There Goes That Train.”


The Wicked Lo-Down – Out of Line

Gulf Coast Records

A quintet composed of several major talents from the Boston music scene, The Wicked Lo-Down hit the ground running in 2020 with their debut CD, We Hot, and add another log to the fire with this follow-up, a roots-rock extravaganza that includes guest appearances from Monster Mike Welch and Mike Zito.

Led by guitarist Paul Size and harp player/vocalist Nick David, the group includes Jeffrey Berg (guitar), Brad Hallen (bass) and Nick Toscano (drums). They simply smoke through a set that includes nine originals and two covers, one of which is a surprisingly bluesified version of Britney Spears’ “Toxic.”

Must-listens include “Kill Me or Keep Me,” “Marchin’ On,” “Out of Line,” “The Wildest One (Lester’s Boogie),” “Action Woman,” “If I,” “Dime Store Darling,” “You Don’t Know,” “Vanna Be” and “Just Can’t Make It.”


Will Kimbrough – For the Life of Me

Daphne Records


A key figure in the Nashville scene for decades as a tunesmith and session player, as well as the man who produced Shemekia Copeland’s three most recent chart-topping albums, Will Kimbrough delivers a subtle, folksy punch in this all-original set. His songs here examine past mistakes and express love and devotion to the ones we love and those we’ve lost, too.

Will was a longtime collaborator with Jimmy Buffett, and he handles guitars, mandolin, keys and vocals here with backing from bassist Chris Donahue and percussionist Bryan Owings. It’s a hard-to-define set, but one that’s rich in emotion.

You’ll enjoy “Walking in the Valley of the Shadow,” “Southern Wind,” “The Other Side,” “I Don’t Want to Start a War,” a completely different take on “Clotilda’s on Fire,” which Kimbrough penned for Shemekia’s Uncivil War CD, “For the Life of Me,” “Margie’s Sky,” “Everyday” and “When This Is All Over.”


Nick Gravenites with Pete Sears – Rogue Blues

M.C. Records MC-0093

A native Chicagoan who co-founded both the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Electric Flag in the ‘60s, Nick Gravenites possesses one of the most distinctive voices ever in the blues. At age 85, he might not be as spry as he used to be, but he’s at the top of his game on this intimate set, which mirrors the sound of the late-night roadhouses of his youth.

Produced by multi-instrumentalist Pete Sears (Jefferson Starship, Rod Stewart), this one features contributions from Charlie Musselwhite and Lester Chambers on harp, Jimmy Vivino on guitar and mandolin, Barry Sless (Bob Weir) on pedal steel and Wally Ingram (Timbuk 3) on the skins; Gravenites penned six of the songs.

Mostly original and fresh, but truly a welcome blast-from-the-past, tune in to a great cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s  “Poor Boy,” along with “Blues Singers,” “Left Hand Soul,” “Blackberry Jam,” “Blues Back Off of Me,” “Brown Paper Bag” and “What Time Is It.”


Anthony Geraci – Tears in My Eyes

Blue Heart Records BHR 060

Anthony Geraci is a perennial BMA nominee on keyboards, and he’s certain to receive honors for this disc, too, teaming with his band, the Boston Blues All-Stars, and trying something new. He dazzles on the 88s here, paying tribute to his musical forebears. But it’s no cover album. It’s an all-original effort that delivers a traditional feel throughout.

Recorded while on tour in the Czech Republic while and then back home, the star-studded roster includes guitarist Barrett Anderson on guitar, drummers Marty Richards and Kurt Kalker and bassist Paul Loranger. Violinist  Anne Harris makes a special guest appearance along with Sugar Ray Norcia, Anthony’s longtime partner in Sugar Ray & the Bluetones.

Classy from the jump, tune in to “Broken Mirror, Broken Mirror,” “Owl’s Nest,” “Tears in My Eyes,” “Blues for Willie J.,” “Oh No,” “Ooeee,” “Memphis Mist,” “Now What” and “Lonely Country Road Blues.”


Sue Foley – One Woman Guitar

Stony Plain Records SPCD 1486

Delivering a sound that couldn’t be more different than her previous CD, Pinky’s Blues, a fiery release that took home BMA trophies in 2022 for Best Traditional Blues Album and Female Artist of the Year, honey-toned Sue Foley goes solo and shows off her finger-picking skills on this one. It’s a one-woman effort that shouldn’t be missed.

The Canadian-born, Texas-based songstress sets aside her familiar pink Telecaster in favor of a hand-built flamenco Blanca, six-nylon- stringed acoustic. The resulting sound is both intimate and sweet. The material pays tribute to her female influences, including Elizabeth Cotten, Memphis Minnie, Maybelle Carter and many more.

Don’t miss “Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie,” “In My Girlish Days,” “Mal Hombre,” “Romance in A Minor,” “My Journey to the Sky,” “Nothing in Rambling,” “Maybelle’s Guitar,” “Freight Train,” “Last Kind Words Blues” and “La Malaguena.”


Liz Brasher – Baby Damn

Blue Élan Records

Possessing a haunting, honeyed voice and a style that merges blues, gospel and more in a hard-to-define package, Liz Brasher’s sultry delivery will capture your attention from the first notes of this interesting CD, her sophomore release and debut on the Blue Élan label after a career that took root in Charlotte, N.C., developed in Memphis and is now based in Los Angeles.

The rhythm is high in this set, which was produced by Joe Chiccarelli, a studio master who’s worked with everyone from Frank Zappa to the White Stripes and Alanis Morissette, and includes contributions from an all-star roster of Southern California sessions players.

Never hurried but always interesting, tune in to “Room to Ride,” “Be in California,” “Baby Damn,” “Better Bones,” “When I Stand,” “Empty Space,” “Slow Dance” and “Lucky.”


The Chess Project – New Moves

CZYZ Records

No website

The son of Chess Records founder Leonard, Marshall Chess has been pushing the envelope of the blues since working with Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters in the ‘60s. And at age 82, he’s launched a new label under the family’s original name and takes his early work to a new, exciting level with this stunner.

A trio composed of vocalist Bernard Fowler (Rolling Stones), guitarist Skip McDonald (Grandmaster Flash) and world-class drummer/co-producer Keith LeBlanc, the trio’s supported by Eric Gales, MonoNeon, Mohini Dey and other talents as they rework the traditional Chess sound for a new generation of fans.

Available via Spotify and other vendors, you’ll enjoy pulsating, hypnotic new sounds throughout “Boom Boom Out Go the Lights,” “Moanin’ at Midnight,” “Nine Below Zero,” “Tell Me,” “Booted,” “Mother Earth,” Goin’ Down Slow,” “High Temperature,” “Smokestack Lightning,” “Help Me” and other reconceived standards.


Ndidi O – Simple Songs for Complicated Times

Black Hen Music BHCD0099


Hailing originally from Burns Lake, B.C., Ndidi O cuts a rich, azure swarth as she blends blues, soul, trip-hop and more into a cohesive package on this rhythmic, hypnotic work of art, showing why she’s received multiple Juno Awards nominations and Western Canada Music Association female-vocalist-of-the-year honors.

Recorded mostly live and off the floor by producer Steve Dawson at Henhouse Studio in Nashville, Ndidi possesses a voice that possesses the rawness of Etta James and the delicate soul of Dionne Warwick. And Dawson, an award winning guitarist in his own right, backs her throughout along with a terrific rhythm section and more.

You’ll dig “Get Gone,” “Ode to Death,” “Light On,” “Don’t Come Back,” “In May,” “Change This Life,” “Too Late,” “Working Girl” and “Worth.”


John Primer & Bob Corritore – Crawlin’ Kingsnake

VizzTone/Southwest Music Arts Foundation SWMAF 27

Friends for decades and musical partners since 2013, Blues Hall of Fame guitarist John Primer and harp player Bob Corritore are masters of the Windy City sound. And they deliver the best of what Chicago’s known for throughout this fresh-out-of-the-studio disc.

As usual, the duo are joined by a cream-of-the-crop backing unit that includes bassist Bob Stroger, guitarist Jimi “Primetime” Smith, Anthony Geraci on keys and drummer Wes Starr as they breathe new life into a collection of obscured-by-time golden oldies and toss in an original, too.

Top cuts on this treat for the ears include “Take a Message,” “Down in the Bottom,” “Hiding Place,” “Chains and Things,” “Stuff You Gotta Watch,” “You’re the One,” “This Little Voice,” “Gravel Road” and “Feel Like Going Home.”


Katie Henry – Get Goin’

Ruf Records RUF 1306

A triple threat as a vocalist/guitarist/keyboard player, New Jersey native Katie Henry has blossomed into a major blues-rock talent since debuting in 2018 with On My Way and capturing Blues Blast Magazine’s Sean Costello Rising Star Award. She’s toured with Bernard Allison in recent years and shows she learned her lessons exceptionally well in the tracks of this set.

Delivering powerful emotions and plenty of vulnerability, too, Katie shines with backing from Bernard’s regular road band: bassist George Moye, drummer/guitarist Matt Kimathi, keyboard player Eric Cannavaro, percussionist Richard Pappik and guitarist Michael Murauer.

You’ll enjoy “Love Like Kerosene,” “Jump,” “A Doll’s Heart,” “Clear Vision,” “The Lion’s Den,” “Get Goin’ Get Gone,” “Bayou Boogie,” “Trying” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”


JP Soars – Brick by Brick

Little Village Foundation

Since transitioning from heavy metal and capturing the IBCs in 2009, Florida-based guitarist JP Soars has established himself as a major force in the blues, and that’s never been more evident than in this star-laden release, which finds him infusing a helping of his other love, gypsy jazz, and more.

Joining in the festivities on are Rockin’ Jake Jacobs on harp, sax player Terry Hanck, fiddler Anne Harris and the husband-wife duo Paul DesLauriers and Annika Chambers, who add backing vocals. But the real star here is JP, a multiple threat on six-string, dobro, banjo and bass in addition to vocals.

Choice cuts include “Brick by Brick,” “Jezebel,” “Keep Good Company,” I Can’t Keep Her Off My Mind,” “In the Moment,” “That’s What Love Will Make You Do,” “The Good Lord Will Provide,” “Honey and Hash,” “Merlin Stomp,” “Things Ain’t Workin’ Out” and “Down by the Water.”


Chris BadNews Barnes – BadNews Travels Fast

Gulf Coast Records

You’d better look quick or Chris BadNews Barnes is gonna reinvent himself. He’s a former Second City comedian/Saturday Night Live writer also wrote the original teases for MTV, and he exploded onto the music scene with a hokum blues album in 2017. Never afraid to try something new, he ventures into full-on blues rock here.

Now based in Nashville, Chris teams for the second time with Grammy winning producer Tom Hambridge. They co-wrote all 11 tracks, which deliver a little whimsy, wry observations and more, with  helping hands from Jimmy Hall on harp, Walter Trout on guitar and with Sugaray Rayford on vocals, too.

Barnes’ debut release for Mike Zito’s label, tune in to “BadNews Travels Fast,” “True Blues,” “A Bluesman Can’t Cry,” “The Juice Ain’t Worth the Squeeze,” “His Majesty the Baby,” “Ambushed by the Blues,” “Do the Houdini” and “Mushrooms Make Me a Fun Guy.”



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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1 Comment

This sounds like a must-listen album for any fan of blues, roots, and Americana music. connections game

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