By Marty Gunther
Mike Morgan and the Crawl – The Lights Went Out in Dallas
M.C. Records 0091
One of the most beloved touring bands in the U.S. in the ‘90s, Mike Morgan and the Crawl are back on the road after a 15-year break, and they return to the spotlight with this powerful set, a heaping helping of soul-drenched Texas.
Darrell Nulisch, Gary Primich and Lee McBee are long gone from the lineup, but the current roster is just as strong, anchored by Drew Allain on bass and Kevin Schermerhorn on drums with guest appearances from B3 great Mike Flanigan, axe masters Anson Funderburgh and Shawn Pittman, a pair of accordion players and horns, too.
The Jerry “Boogie” McCain classic, “Ding Dong Daddy,” gets things off to a rockin’ start. Other must listens include “Please Accept My Love,” “Funkafaction,” “The Lights Went Out in Dallas,” “Workin’ for the Man,” “Out in the Jungle,” “Lazy Lester” and “Our Last Goodbye.”
Jeff Dale & the South Woodlawners – Blood Red Moon
Pro Sho Bidness PSB 1551
Guitarist Jeff Dale hit the heights last year with a never-heard-before live set with West Coast legend Lowell Fulson, and he turns up the heat with this disc, reuniting with members of his long-running Chicago band, the South Woodlawners, for a clever, humorous, mix of blues loaded with R&B overtones and West African beats.
Recorded in Southern California, this set was mixed by Jeff Glixman, who produced all of Kansas’ hits, and features a cutting-edge lineup that includes three members of the roots-rock band Hunter & the Dirty Jacks, the principal cellist from the Los Angeles Opera and horns, too.
The straight-ahead shuffle “You Made Your Own Bed” opens the action. Other pleasers include the cautionary “Cicero,” “At the Wolf’s Door,” “Blood Red Moon,” “Autumn Blues,” “She Wouldn’t Leave Chicago,” “That Ain’t Love,” “Trouble Know Where I Live” and “Things’ll Get Worse.”
The Hungry Williams – Let’s Go!
Rochelle Records RR2022
Fronted by vocalist Kelli Gonzalez and led by drummer John Carr, The Hungry Williams quintet are based out of Milwaukee, Wis., but deliver a taste of the Big Easy on their latest CD, breathing new life into five numbers from 1950s Bourbon Street, all of which fit perfectly with five tunes of their own design.
With Jack Stewart on keys and Joe Vent on guitar and vocals, several members of this group have worked together since the ‘90s. They add more fire through a guest appearance from California Honeydrops trumpet player Lech Wierzynski, too.
Put on your dancing shoes. You’re gonna need ‘em for “Mardi Gras Day,” “Movin’ On,” “You’d Better Find Yourself Another Fool,” “Boss Man,” “Big Mouth Betty,” “Oooh-Wow” and “669 (Across the Street from the Beast).”
Hungry Williams Band will appear at FitzGerald's in Berwyn on Nov. 12, 2022
Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues – More Different Voices
Dawnserly Records 4302
Corky Siegel has carved out a unique niche since the late ‘60s as a founding member of the Siegel-Schwall Band and an innovator who’s fused blues with classical music and more. His 2017 release, Different Voices, elevated the Chicago sound to heights never heard before. And he keeps the trajectory going with this remarkable effort in partnership with Toronzo Cannon, Tracy Nelson and artists from India, Spain, Taiwan, Ukraine and more.
Some of the most stylish music you’ll hear this or any year, More Different Voices features: jazz/blues diva Lynne Jordan, sax superstar Ernie Watts, a string quartet and a host of others who combine to produce a set that’s highly interesting but not as high-brow as you might think; ultimately azure sounds run deep.
Give a listen to “No One’s Got Them Like I Do,” an off-the-wall take on Toronzo’s “Insurance,” “There Goes My Man,” “Little Blossoms Falling Down,” “Joyful Jambalaya,” “Oasis,” “Hine Ma Tov Blues” and “Penguins in the Opera House.”
Sweet Undertow – Skeletone Machine
Mother West Records
Fronted by native Chicagoan and former punk-rock globetrotter Eddie Undertow, San Francisco-based Sweet Undertow channels lust, anger, loneliness and more on their latest CD, mixing rock-steady, driving beats with blues-infused Americana to produce one of the most unique albums you’ll hear this year. After Eddie wandered across the seamier underbelly of Europe and Southeast Asia, he settled in the Bay Area and started Sweet Undertow.
A full-band alignment that incorporates harmonica, pedal steel, organ and violin this group delivers a surprise at every turn, blending strong, electric riffs that play with acoustic accents that’ll keep you intrigued throughout.
Definitely not your grandfather’s blues but definitely worth a listen, turn in to “Kingdom Come with Me,” “Rain Catch Flame,” “Skeletone Machine,” “Soft Soft Sea,” “Ride Out in the Night,” “Love You More,” “Stained Glass Eyes (Bye Bye Baby)” and “Still Looking for You.”
Big Creek Slim & Rodrigo Mantovani – Stone In My Heart
Straight Shooter Records
Bass player Rodrigo Mantovani is best known in the U.S. through his high-energy work in the Nick Moss Band, but he teams with guitarist/vocalist Big Creek Slim for this all-original set of bare-bones, Delta-style acoustic blues, which comes across with the feel of the ‘20s or ‘30s despite being brand new.
This truly is an international meeting of the minds. Before emigrating from his native Brazil, Rodrigo was one of the most celebrated instrumentalists in South America. Slim – aka Marc Rune – is one of the top traditional bluesmen in Europe and calls Denmark home.
The mighty Mississippi runs deep through “Don’t You Whip Me with That Thing,” “Just Can’t Be Free,” “Honey Badger,” “I Found a New Way of Lovin’,” “Chucky Chucky,” “Milk Man Blues,” “Mixed Up All the Time,” “I Get Rowdy,” “Just One More Dirty Job” and “Stone in My Heart.”
The Reverend Shawn Amos – Hollywood Blues: Songs and Stories from the Family Tree (1997-2022)
One of the most unique performers in the world today, The Reverend Shawn Amos mixes blues, Americana and more into music that’s both insightful and deep, and he cuts new ground on his latest CD, which celebrates the joys and pain of growing up in the ‘70s as the only son of cookie magnate Wally “Famous” Amos and nightclub singer Shirlee Ellis, who struggled with mental illness most of her life.
Released in concert with his semi-autobiographical novel, Cookies & Cream, this 18-track opus includes material captured in multiple settings across Amos’ 25-year career. It includes appearances from the Blind Boys of Alabama, country artists Julie Miller and Mark Olson as well as alt-rocker Matthew Sweet.
There are plenty of bright spots here despite the subject matter, and Shawn’s a master at weaving his story in a way that’s always warm, intimate and never overbearing. Like the afore-mentioned Siegel disc, it’ll be one of the most interesting albums you’ll hear this year.
The Texas Horns – Everybody Let’s Roll
Blue Heart Records BHR031
Here’s a treat! The Texas Horns have served for decades as house musicians at dozens of festivals and appeared as sidemen on Grammy-nominated albums. But this album, which celebrates their 25th anniversary, is only the third CD they’ve released in their storied career.
Composed of vocalist Mark “Kaz” Kazanoff on sax and harmonica, John Mills on sax and Al Gomez on trumpet, they’re joined by Carolyn Wonderland, Jimmie Vaughan, Marcia Ball, Anson Funderburgh, Mike Zito and a host of others as they deliver a 54-minute, 13-tune set that includes ten originals.
A delight for anyone who loves blues and R&B, dial in “Everybody Let’s Roll,” “Why It Always Gotta Be This Way,” “I Ain’t Mad with You,” “Die with My Blues On,” “Too Far Gone,” “Prisoner in Paradise,” “The Big Lie” and “Ready for Blues Tonight.”
Rory Block – Ain’t Nobody Worried
Stony Plain Records SPCD1468
Schooled by Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis, Son House and other giants in the 1960s, acoustic guitarist Rory Block has always paid it forward for all the blessings she’s received, and she outdoes herself here, delivering a set that breathes new life into chart-toppers made famous by several of her favorite female vocalists.
The third entry in her Power Women of the Blues series, Rory -- a seven-time BMA winner – dips into the catalogs of Mavis Staples, Gladys Knight, Mary Wells, Tracy Chapman, Koko Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Etta James, Carole King, Elizabeth Cotten and Martha and the Vandellas along with one of her own originals that contributed to her acclaim.
“I’ll Take You There” soars to open, giving way to “Midnight Train to Georgia,” “My Guy” and “Fast Car.” Other pleasers include “Cried Like a Baby,” “I’d Rather Go Blind,” “Lovin’ Whiskey,” “Dancin’ in the Streets” and “You’ve Got a Friend” – all of which feature joy in every groove.
Orphan Jon and the Abandoned – Over the Pain
Vintage LaNell Records
A hard-rocking, cutting-edge blues-rock band from Bakersfield, Calif., Orphan Jon and the Abandoned have built a major following since forming in the desert in 2015; because of the heat they produce on stage, the temperature’s set for boil on their latest release.
Fronted by the powerful tenor voice of Jon English -- who draws his band name from his abusive, unstructured childhood, the core trio gets a helping hand from producer/guitarist Alastair Greene (Sugaray Rayford, Alan Parsons Project), drummer Michael Leasure (Walter Trout) and keyboard player Mike Malone (Mark Ford Band).
Ten emotion-packed originals and two covers, give a listen to “Tight Dress,” “Over the Pain,” “Got No Name,” “Broken Angel,” “Livin’ My Life,” “Somewhere Salvation,” “Everyone Knows,” “Memories of Me and You” and “There’s No Need.”
John Lee Hooker – The Healer
Here’s a welcome blast from the past! Still at the top of his game at age 73, John Lee Hooker dominated the BMAs in the ‘80s, winning seven artist-of-the-year trophies as well as contemporary album and a Grammy nomination for this disc, too. Long out-of-print, however, fans can enjoy it once again thanks to the good folks at Craft Recordings who’ve remastered and rereleased it in CD and LP formats.
Produced by Roy Rogers with an assist from Grammy-winner Jim Gaines, who engineered, this star-studded effort features contributions from Bonnie Raitt, George Thorogood, Charlie Musselwhite, the full bands of Robert Cray and Carlos Santana and Los Lobos, too.
A mix of old school and Latin grooves -- and as fresh as the day it was first minted – you get to groove again to “The Healer,” “I’m in the Mood,” “Baby Lee,” “Cuttin’ Out,” “Think Twice Before You Go,” “Sally Mae,” “Rockin’ Chair,” “My Dream” and “No Substitute.”
Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal – Green Light
Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal are based out Lincoln, Neb., but have been spreading peace, love and understanding around the world for the past decade, and they outdo themselves on their latest CD, a deeply nuanced romp that serves up solace for anyone experiencing difficulties living in modern times.
A native Cornhusker who spent years in New Orleans, Hoyer is a passionate performer who doubles on vocals and keys. Mentored by Magic Slim and Little Jimmy Valentine of The Heart Murmurs, he swings in lockstep with a six-piece unit that includes Benjamin Kushner on guitar and a full horn section.
“Evolution” kicks off a not-to-be-missed set. Lift your spirits and dance along to “Loneliness,” “Harmony,” “Mirrors,” “Mr. One Up,” “Green Light,” “Beautiful People,” “Crazy Love” and “Shou Shou Do.”
Spencer Mackenzie – Preach to My Soul
Gypsy Soul Records
A proven commodity at age 22, Canadian bluesman Spencer Mackenzie is already a Maple Blues Award winner who’s received top honors in international songwriting competitions. His rich vocals and crisp attack on guitar should garner even more attention with this commanding mix of original blues-infused soul and blues-rock.
This is the third studio album from Spencer, a recent honors graduate of Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ont. It was produced, engineered and mixed by Ross Hayes-Citrullo with backing from several top artists from the Toronto blues scene, including guitarist Steve Strongman who guests on one track.
The choice cuts include “Baptized by Cold Water,” “Preach to My Soul,” “Don’t Wanna Be Your Dog,” “Test Drive,” “Can’t Do Right,” “Paranoia Blues,” “Two Doves” and “Battle from Within.”
Early Times & the High Rollers – Electric City
Dealer’s Choice Records
SiriusXM deejay Early Times delivered a contemporary blues tour de force with The Corner in 2021 and follows up with this explosive, all-original CD, which delivers tough rhythms, gritty, clever lyrics and duets with Blues Hall of Famer Bobby Rush and Detroit blues-rock powerhouse Eliza Neals.
A native Californian based in New York, Early toured on guitar for years with E.C. Scott before entering broadcasting. Produced by Jay Messina (Miles Davis, KISS), his backing band features artists who’ve worked with Levon Helm, David Letterman, Cyndi Lauper, Rod Stewart and other stalwarts.
Buckle up and dial in “Aloha, Leilani,” “Good Soul Music” featuring Bobby, “Orphan Train,” “Heartbreak Insurance,” “Tippin’ Through the Tulips” “Bonnie & Clyde” featuring Eliza, “Dark Chocolate” and the jazzy, stop-time instrumental, “Succubus.”
Jimmy Carpenter – The Louisiana Record
Gulf Coast Records
A fixture in Las Vegas as the musical director of the Big Blues Bender Fest, as well as a two-time BMA sax player of the year, Jimmy Carpenter delivers a big tip of the hat to the Big Easy on his latest disc. Culling tunes from the catalogs of Allen Toussaint, Fats Domino and others, the ace sax man delivers a set sure to have you groovin’ from the jump.
Jimmy’s a North Carolina native who got his start in the beloved regional favorite, The Alka-Phonics, in the ‘90s before diving head-first into the music of the Gulf Coast and living in the Big Easy for more than a decade in the 2000s. His fourth solo effort, The Louisiana Record, was produced by Mike Zito, who also handles six-string on the disc.
Feast your ears and move your feet to “I Hear You Knockin’,” “I Got Loaded,” “Barefootin’,” “All These Things,” “Cry to Me,” “Those Lonely Lonely Nights,” “Pouring Water on a Drowning Man,” “Bringing It on Home to Me” and “Rockin’ at Cosimo’s.”
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.