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Marty Gunther’s Red, Hot ’n Blues Music Reviews - October 2020

Marty runs down 15 sizzling new releases for October.

Sugar Ray and the Bluetones featuring Little Charlie

Too Far from the Bar

(Severn Records CD 0077)

One of the best bands in the world for the past 35 years, Sugar Ray and the Bluetones team up with two of the most stylish guitarists ever – Little Charlie Baty and Duke Robillard – to deliver a disc of some of the tastiest blues you’ll hear this or any year.

The 15 cuts here feature some of the final recordings of Baty – the late West Coast legend who left us suddenly last Spring – along with the lush, polished vocals and harp of Sugar Ray Norcia. The lineup that includes perennial BMA nominee Anthony Geraci on keys as well as reigning bassist of the year Michael “Mudcat” Ward. Robillard produced the set and trades licks with Little Charlie on four numbers.

Silky smooth throughout, it’s difficult to pinpoint highlights, but be sure to check out “Don’t Give No More Than You Can Take,” “Too Little Too Late,” “What I Put You Through,” “I Got a Right to Sing the Blues,” “The Night I Got Pulled Over” and “Reel Burner.” This group’s earned dozens of honors through the years, and there’ll be more on the horizon with this one!

Libby Rae Watson & Burt Deivert – She Shimmy

(Hard Danger Records)

Mississippi native Libby Rae Watson and ex-pat American Burt Deivert have been delivering the real-deal acoustic blues for a combined 80-plus years, but team for the first time on this sensational set that blends modern originals seamlessly with familiar classics.

Watson is a former student of Sam Chatmon, a ‘20s superstar who teamed with brother, Bo Carter, in the Mississippi Sheiks. This one’s produced in association with the Swedish Arts Council, where Deivert is based. They get assists from a quartet of harp players, including Charlie Musselwhite, as well as guitarist Eric Bibb and others, delivering an understated treasure.

Standout cuts include the original “She Shimmy,” which describes a lady partying on a Saturday night in Clarksdale, Miss., the Carter standard “I Want You to Know,” the sexually charged Chatmon number, “Ashtray Taxi,” and originals “I Won’t Cry,” “Cuckoo Crowed” and “Big Joe,” which describes Watson meeting guitarist Big Joe Williams on a Magnolia State plantation.

The Lucky Losers – Godless Land

(VizzTone Label Group)

Bay Area vocalists Cathy Lemons and Phil Berkowitz have been firing on all cylinders since teaming with producer Kid Andersen in 2018 for Blind Spot, which received multiple nominations in the Independent Music Awards before capturing top prize for soul-blues artists of the year in 2019. As good as that CD was, this one – their debut release on Boston’s VizzTone label – is even better.

A rarity in the blues because they consistently sing in duets, the Lucky Losers are backed by an all-star lineup as they rip and run through a sprightly set of originals and covers that bridge the full, jazzy spectrum of roots. The roster includes Berkowitz on harp with contributions from Ben Rice, Ian Lamson, Danny Caron, Derrick “D-Mar” Martin and others.

This thoroughly enjoyable set speaks about the struggles we all face in modern times. Among the winning cuts are “Half a Nothing,” “Mad Love Is Good Love,” “Be You,” “Catch a Tiger by the Tail,” “My Good Eye,” “What Makes You Act Like That,” “The Good Fight” and “The Ragged Heart.”

Al Basile – Last Hand

(Sweetspot Records 9927)

One of the most sophisticated bluesman on the scene today, Rhode Island-based cornet player, vocalist and poet Al Basile’s latest disc is a spectacular, all-original project built atop a unifying theme. It’s a jazzy/bluesy story from the man’s prospective of a May-December romance that – in his opinion – ends far too soon.

A founding member of Roomful of Blues, Basile’s a stellar tunesmith and vocalist whose works have been covered by Ruth Brown, Johnny Rawls, and others. He’s backed here by Duke Robillard’s regular band: keyboard player Bruce Bears, bassist Brad Hallen and percussionist Mark Teixeira.

Like Me & the Originator, Al’s 2018 release that weaved poetry and a musical storyline, Last Hand comes up aces on all counts. It’s the total package for anyone who loves blues served with a heaping helping of class.

Various Artists – Tom Walbank Presents Hootmatic Blues

(Self-produced CD)

A British émigré based in Arizona, harmonica player Tom Walbank began this project innocently enough: by wanting to connect with two other harp players to produce a song in the styles of country blues legend Sonny Terry and Elder Roma Wilson, a Detroit-based street-corner musician who recorded trios with his sons. The effort was so successful that this extensive digital CD was the result.

The lineup started with Joe Filisko — America’s foremost proponent of country blues — on board along with his British counterpart, Gareth Tucker. The roster also includes world-class talents Bob Corritore, Paul Oscher, Phil Wiggins, Aki Kumar, Andrew Alli and others. A skilled harp player himself, Walbank appears on about half of the 22 cuts, 21 of which are instrumentals and dazzling solos.

The highlights here are too numerous to mention. But if you’re a fan of traditional country harmonica, this one will definitely please you. Even better, it’s an inexpensive download that delivers big bang for your buck.

CD Woodbury – World’s Gone Crazy

(Self-produced CD)

CD Woodbury bounces back from a career interrupted by health issues to deliver a welcome follow-up to his debut album, which had him at the cusp of stardom a few years ago. A two-time International Blues Challenge semi-finalist, he alternates slide and single-note electric guitar throughout, varying his stylings from Hill Country to soul blues, funk and more.

Based in Seattle, where he flew under the radar as a sideman for decades with Mark DuFresne, Randy Oxford and others, Woodbury’s previous release, Monday Night!, peaked at the No. 8 spot in international independent blues radio charts. A contemporary artist, he has a straight-ahead delivery and possesses a strong singing voice mixing originals and well-chosen covers.

“Follow the River Home” opens the action with a Hill Country feel before the horns kick in for “Walk Around Music,” a soul-blues pleaser. Other highlights include “Emerald City Blues,” “Memphis Heat,” “South of South Hill” and “Can’t Eat That Stuff No More.”

Wily Bo Walker & Danny Flam – Ain’t No Man a Good Man

(Canyon Records)

Scottish multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Wily Bo Walker teams once again with Danny Flam, the Grammy-winning leader of the New York Brass, for a long-awaited follow-up to their powerful 2015 release, Moon Over Indigo, and this one’s a winner, too.

Backed by both Flam’s ensemble as well as Walker’s acoustic and electric bands, this collection of contemporary blues is flushed out with the help of Chicago Gospel Choir members The Brown Sisters and The Cenovia Cummins String Quartet. It’s a good thing that Wily’s a powerful singer because the wall of sound this group creates rolls over you like a tsunami from the jump.

A tight mix of blues, blues-rock and more, some of the best cuts here include the opening title cut, “Fool for You,” “Did I Forget,” “Velvet Windows (Treme Trippin’),” “Ain’t Hungry No More,” “Time to Forget About You” and “Build My Gallows…(Ain’t No Return).”

Paul Gillings – Invisible Prison

(Self-produced CD)

Based out of Suffolk on the east coast of England and a junior World Harmonica Champion in 1993, Paul Gillings steps out of the shadows as a top session musician to play everything but percussion here as he delivers a flashy, all-original set of modern blues.

A dynamic singer whose attack on the reeds is somewhat reminiscent of Sugar Blue, albeit with far fewer pyrotechnics, Gillings has been featured on Jools Holland’s UK TV show as well as the Mickey Mouse Club and Good Morning America in the U.S. He’s all blues here, comfortable in several other formats, too, including gypsy folk as a current member of the group Zingaro Blue.

A pair of boogies – “Start Over Again” and “I Ain’t Never Played an English Song with an English Guy” – open the action. Some of the other pleasers include the instrumental, “KWS,” “Help You” – which is based on Blue’s harp riff on the Stones’ “Miss You” – the melodic “I’m Never Gonna Change” and “Waiting Blues.”

Shawn Pittman – Make It Right

(Continental Blue Heaven CD 2036)

Now based in Broken Arrow, Okla., after a couple of decades in Texas, Shawn Pittman is a stylish guitarist and vocalist who mixes Delta, contemporary blues and more in this outstanding set, which was recorded in Denmark last year in the midst of a European tour.

The 13th release in a career that’s included touring with Susan Tedeschi and work with many of the brightest lights in Austin and Dallas, Pittman’s in a power-blues format here, backed by a top-notch Danish rhythm section as he slices and dices his way through an inventive set that comes across with a dirty sound only achieved by using vintage equipment.

If you love deep-in-the-pocket guitar runs, you’ll adore this one. Some of the bright spots include the Jimmy Reed-inspired “Done Tole You So,” Eddie Taylor’s “There Will Be a Day,” the slow blues “How Long,” which hints of Otis Rush and Magic Sam, and the self-penned neo-soul pleaser, “I’m Done.”

Mark May – Deep Dark Demon

(Gulf Coast Records)

Texas-based blues-rocker Mark May delivers a tasteful, mixed bag of azure treasures in a follow-up to Blues Heaven, which peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard album charts. The guitar slinger’s in top form, mixing up fiery grunge, soulful ballads, blues shuffles and Latin-tinged pleasers that will surprise you at each turn.

The former vocalist/guitarist for both Dicky Betts and Great Southern, Mark penned all 11 cuts, and demonstrates why he’s one of the favorite performers on the Lone Star State bar circuit. The lineup includes Shawn Allen (Keeshea Pratt Band) and a guest appearance from label owner Mike Zito, who contributes lead guitar for one cut.

“Harvey’s Dirty Side” provides a balls-to-the-wall attack to open before the shuffle “BBQ and Blues” lays down a steady groove. You’ll also enjoy “Rolling Me Down,” “My Last Ride,” “For Your Love,” “Something Good” and “Invisible Man.”

Crooked Eye Tommy – Hot Coffee and Pain

(Blue Heart Records BHR/003)

Fronted by brothers Tommy and Paddy Marsh, Crooked Eye Tommy is a rock-solid band from Southern California that features twin guitar leads in a style similar to the Allman Brothers or Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan without straying far from the blues root. They’ve been honored with six trophies in the Ventura County (Calif.) Music Awards, and swing from the hip here.

This five-piece unit has made it to the International Blues Challenge semi-finals on two occasions, and Tommy and Paddy were finalists in the solo/duo category earlier. Their sophomore release includes six blues and roots-rock originals and three covers, and features a guest appearance by vocalist/keyboard player Teresa James.

The band lays down a heavy groove from the opening notes of Son House’s “Death House Letter” and power forward throughout. Must listens include “Sitting in the Driveway,” “Hot Coffee & Pain,” “Baby Where You Been?” (featuring James), “The Time It Takes to Live” and a take on Sonny Landreth’s “Congo Square.”

JD Taylor –The Coldwater Sessions

(VizzTone Label Group VT-JDT-01)

Harp player/vocalist JD Taylor has served as the front man for Little Boys Blue -- one of the most beloved bands in Memphis — for the past 25 years, but steps into the spotlight here to deliver a soulful, star-studded set that should launch his name into the top stratosphere of the industry.

JD’s delivery might remind some listeners of Junior Wells on some cuts, but he’s no copycat. He’s a soulful, melismatic singer and songwriter whose material is contemporary but comes across with old-school appeal. Bluff City legend the Rev. Charles Hodges chips in on organ, and members of Southern Avenue contribute riffs, too.

All of the cuts here are worth multiple listens. Some of the standouts include “Got Me Where You Want Me,” “Nothing Left to Say,” “At First Glance,” “If It Ain’t Good,” “Honey Honey Baby,” “Anastasia” and “The Coldwater Swing.” This CD’s going on my short list for potential end-of-the-year honors.

JW-Jones –Sonic Departures

(Solid Blues Records)

Few people were riding as a high as JW-Jones was in January. The Canadian had just won the Albert King Award as best guitarist at the IBCs, his group — Horojo Trio — had captured top honors in the band category and he was looking forward to a year of touring. But the world stopped spinning, and this sensational CD is the result.

Jones is backed here by his regular power blues trio that’s augmented by keyboard player Jesse Whiteley and a 13-piece horn section as they deliver a mix of jump and some of the best big-band blues sounds you’ll hear this year.

Be sure to tune in to “Blue Jean Jacket,” “Ain’t Gonna Beg,” a great new arrangement of “Drowning on Dry Land,” the funktastic “Snatch It Back,” “It’s Obdacious” and “When It All Comes Down.” This one will definitely chase away the COVID-19 blues.

New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Riders –Vol. 1

(Stony Plain Records SPCD 1416)

There are plenty of supergroups these days, but none more super than this one. Composed of Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, ex-Squirrel Nut Zippers front man Jimbo Mathus, late Hill Country legend Jim Dickinson and sons Luther and Cody, they deliver a warm and fuzzy set of traditional blues.

This one’s a formerly hidden treasure conceived in a tour bus while Musselwhite was on the road with Mavis Staples backed by the Dickinsons’ North Mississippi Allstars. It’s being released for the first time after being recorded in 2007 during a multi-day jam at Dickinsons’ Zebra Ranch in Coldwater, Miss. — an event that proved to be so much fun, it gave birth to an annual blues festival.

Charlie kicks off the action with “Blues, Why You Worry Me?” before Alvin covers Charley Patton’s “Pony Blues.” Other pleasers include “Come on Down to My House” featuring Jim, “Strange Land,” “Shake It and Break It” featuring Jimbo, a Delta take on Jimi Hendrix’s “Stone Free” and “Stop and Listen Blues.” If this album strikes your fancy, look for the sequel — Vol.2 — sometime next spring.

Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters –Rise Up

(Stony Plain Records SPCD 1418)

Ronnie Earl and his Broadcasters deliver a classy, deeply spiritual masterpiece with their latest recording, a 15-cut, 79-minute serving of music – the majority of which was recorded in what he terms “living room sessions” at home augmented with a bonus cut captured live at Daryl’s House Club in Pawling, N.Y., late last year.

The idea for this project began prior to COVID-19 as the four-time BMA guitarist of the year was recovering from surgery to alleviate a serious case of sciatica. A mix of the tasty instrumentals he’s known for as well as vocals delivered by Diane Blue, this warm, intimate, profoundly moving set is introspective one moment and toe-tapping the next.

The highlights abound here beginning with a quiet, solo acoustic instrumental take on the spiritual, “I Shall Not Be Moved,” followed by the electric, full-band “Higher Love” featuring Diane, before yielding for the bittersweet instrumental “Blues for George Floyd.” Other tasty numbers include a tribute to the late Lucky Peterson, covers from Eddie Taylor, Magic Sam, Bob Dylan, Jimmy Smith, Fenton Robinson and much, much more. Highly recommended.


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