By Marty Gunther
GA-20 – Does Hound Dog Taylor: Try It…You Might Like It!
GA-20 was formed by longtime Charlie Musselwhite sidekick Matthew Stubbs and fellow guitarist Pat Flaherty in 2019 in an effort to celebrate their mutual love of ‘50s and ‘60s blues. Joined by Tim Carman on drums, GA-20 use vintage equipment (the band’s name comes from a mighty guitar amp) and the trio rocks from the jump as they pay tribute to Hound Dog Taylor. Known for his raucous slide guitar and extra pinky finger, the iconic Chicago guitarist was the first-ever artist on the Alligator label, which is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year.
Like Taylor’s HouseRockers – second guitarist Brewer Phillips and percussionist Ted Harvey –GA-20 dip into Hound Dog’s catalog to produce tunes that are raw with throwback feel, but have modern appeal that will get you boogieing like they did it in the old days.
Step back in time and groove to “She’s Gone,” “Let’s Get Funky” and classics that include “Sitting at Home Alone,” “Phillips Goes Wild,” “It’ Alright,” “Give Me Back My Wig,” “It Hurts Me Too,” “Sadie” and “Hawaiian Boogie.”
Tiffany Pollack & Co. – Bayou Liberty
Nola Blue Records NB 015
Honey-voiced powerhouse Tiffany Pollack hit the heavens with her previous release, Blues in My Blood, capturing blues-rock album and female vocalist of the year honors in the Global Music Awards. She teams with label mate/producer John Németh on this rock-solid follow-up.
Based in New Orleans (and a former mortician), Tiffany delivers blues, jazz, funk and roots in a set that alternates between sugar-sweet and dark as the night with backing that includes percussionist Russell Batiste (Allen Toussaint) and other top Big Easy musicians.
An all-original album, the high points include “Spit on Your Grave,” “Crawfish and Beer,” “Mountain,” “My Soul My Choice,” “Sassy Bitch,” “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” “Baby Boys” and “Do It Yourself.”
Al Basile – B’s Testimony
Sweetspot Records 9941
Classy Rhode Island-based cornet player Al Basile cranks things up a notch on his latest album, filling out his usual roster of first-call New England musicians with Kid Andersen on guitar and Mississippian Shy Perry on guest vocals, delivering another effort that’s sure to make Top Ten lists at year’s end.
An eight-time BMA nominee whose tunes have been covered by everyone from Ruth Brown to the Blind Boys of Alabama, Basile’s also a prize-winning poet whose words appear regularly in leading journals. He penned the 13 tracks on this one, and all of them shine.
You’ll enjoy “Lucky Man,” “Don’t Kid Yourself, Baby,” “I Got a Right to Be Lonesome,” “Up Close and Personal Best,” “When the Girl Says Yes,” “I Oughta Be Your Monkey,” “Through Thick and Thin,” “Would I Do That to You?” and “He Said, She Said.”
Steve Lukather & Edgar Winter – Live at North Sea Jazz Festival
String Commander/MIG Music
Matching playing styles that infuse blues, rock and jazz, Toto founder Steve Lukather and blues-rock giant Edgar Winter fit like hand and glove in this 66-minute set, which was captured in the Netherlands in 2000 during their Odd Couple Tour.
Available as a CD/DVD boxed set and featuring extended jams with backing from bassist Phil Soussan (Billy Idol, Johnny Halliday) and percussionist Gary Ferguson (Gary Moore, Eddie Money), the disc opens with a torrid jazz-fusion number, but blues runs deep throughout.
If you’re a Lukather fan, you’ll love the versions of his tunes “Smell Yourself” and Song for Jeff.” And Edgar fans will enjoy reworkings of “Texas,” “Fly Away” and “Frankenstein.” Other standouts include a take on Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House,” “Tobacco Road” and a medley of “Johnny B. Goode,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Long Tall Sally.”
Johnny Tucker featuring Kid Ramos & the Allstars – 75 and Alive
HighJohn/Blue Heart Records
Johnny Tucker delivered a stripped-down masterpiece on his most recent previous release in 2018, but brings out the big guns here as he celebrates his 75th trip around the sun with this collection of jump, soul and gutbucket blues.
A young-at-heart Californian who worked with guitarist Phillip Walker for decades, his rough-hewn voice shines like a diamond with gold-standard backing for six-string wizard Kid Ramos, Carl Sonny Leyland on keys, Ron Dziubla on horns and Bob Corritore on harmonica.
The percussive “All Night Long, All Night Wrong” cooks to open. Other pleasers include “There’s a Time for Love,” “Can’t You See,” “Treat Me Good,” the Albert Collins tribute “Snowplow,” Earl Hooker’s “Hookline,” “Dance Like I Should,” “Have a Good Time Tonight” and “Gotta Do It One Time.”
Gabe Stillman – Just Say the Word
VizzTone Label Group VT-GS-01
Based out of Williamsport, Pa., and the winner of the Gibson Guitar Award at the 2019 IBCs, Gabe Stillman traveled to Texas to team with producer Anson Funderburgh for this release, which demonstrates that he’s as talented as a songwriter as he is on the six-string.
A graduate of Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music, his previous album, Flying High, featured backing from the Nighthawks. This set – which includes 13 originals and a pair of covers -- includes contributions from Anson, Sue Foley, the Texas Horns and veteran harp player Greg Izor.
The varied set opens with “Give Me Some Time,” a slide-guitar workout. Give a good listen to the searing “Let It Go,” “No Peace for a Soldier,” “Heartbreak Makes a Sound,” “No Matter What You Wear,” “Out of Time,” “Don’t Go Cold,” “I’ll Take Care of You” and “See BT Blues.”
Polly O’Keary and the Rhythm Method – 50
Mixing swing, funk and rock with Latin rhythms and Texas shuffles, Washington State-based vocalist/bassist Polly O’Keary and her Rhythm Method – guitarist Dave Miller and drummer Tommy Cook – all celebrate their 50th birthdays with this slick set of modern blues.
A former IBC winner for best self-produced CD, their 11 originals here look back wryly on past foibles and offer hope for better times ahead. Polly’s rich alto shines throughout – as does Dave’s soaring work on the strings. Lady A, whose legal battle with country group Lady Antebellum made headlines last year, makes a guest appearance.
You’ll enjoy “Brand New Day,” “Too Much Like I Care,” “Smilin’,” the cautionary “You Better Think,” “People on the Corner,” “I’m Not Guilty,” “Love ‘n’ Waiting” and “American Highways.”
Tas Cru – Broke Down Busted Up
A former educator from Upstate New York, guitarist Tas Cru is a musical chameleon who delivers all shades of blue on his latest effort, a self-described “quasi-acoustic album” that offers up a unique, refined and hard-to-describe mix of originals that will have you thinking as you groove.
A set that features diverse instrumentation, including Anne Harris’ fiddle and Mary Ann Casale’s mandolin. Mary Ann also co-wrote three of the tunes and lends her voice to the set -- which also includes electric and upright bass and grand piano -- as Tas reinforces the concept that, despite the tribulation of recent times, we’ve managed to hold onto what’s dearest to our hearts.
Definitely not your grandparents’ blues, tune into the blues-rocker “Where Do We Go,” the funky “Broke Down Busted Up” and “River of Insanity,” the gospel-tinged “Be My Strength” and “Write Me My Own,” the jazzy “You’re the Real Deal” and the shuffle “So Damn Hard to Like.”
Adam Schultz – Social Distancing
Blue Heart Records BHR 013
A protégé of veteran bluesman Clarence Spady, guitarist Adam Schultz is already a polished veteran of the New York City music scene at age 19, and he sets the strings ablaze with a light, confident touch on this well-executed, jazz-infused debut album, playing in a manner reminiscent of Duke Robillard.
Spady, Michael Angelo and Ekat Pereyra alternate vocals backed by a veteran roster that includes former Dizzy Gillespie/Temptations sax player Tom Hamilton and others. Despite leaving the singing to others, Schultz dazzles on the strings in a set that mixes five originals and six familiar covers.
Adam effortlessly handles Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “A Real Mother for Ya” to open before turning Louis Jordan’s “Early in the Mornin’” into a slick, bluesy rhumba. Other tasty tracks include the originals “Good Conversation,” “Harlem Tonight,” “Have Some Faith,” “Cure for the Blues” and “Toxic Medicine.”
Chris Daniels, Hazel Miller, Dana Marsh & Friends – What We Did
Moon Voyage Records
Three beloved Colorado musicians, guitarist Chris Daniels, vocalist Hazel Miller and keyboard player Dana Marsh answered the call when COVID-19 struck and teamed to deliver online performances in an effort to raise funds for Inner City Health, which provides care for underserved Denver residents. This CD celebrates their effort and keeps their fundraising campaign going forward.
They’re assisted by contributions from Big Head Todd Park Mohr, bassists Victor Wooten and Kenny Passarelli, among others. It’s a bluesy, jazzy mix of well-crafted covers and a couple of originals.
If you like your tunes classy and would like to lend a hand, this one’s right up your alley. Give an ear to the originals “I’m Still Lookin’” and “Better Days” as well as tasty reworkings of “Takin’ It to the Streets,” “Born Under a Bad Sign,” “What a Wonderful World,” “Down Home Blues” and “You’ve Got a Friend.”
Jeff Chaz – I Just Caught the Blues
A New Orleans-based musician and ordained minister, slide guitarist Jeff Chaz is a gifted storyteller with a unique spin on blues rock and gospel – something that’s apparent from the opening notes of this emotion-packed set based on the highs and lows of living in the modern world.
Influenced by Little Milton and Albert King, Jeff’s got a haunting vocal style that’s all his own. The first-ever winner of the Beale Street Blues Award in Memphis, he’s been based in the Big Easy since the ‘90s. He penned 15 of the 16 tunes here, doubling on six-string and bass in various arrangements
If eclectic, modern blues is your thing, you’ll enjoy “I’ll Be Sad with You Baby,” “No Reason to Stay,” “Enroll Me in Your School,” “There’s 2 of You,” “21 Instrumental,” “The Color Fine,” “Walmart Engagement Ring,” “Can’t Say No to You” and “2 Steps from the Hood.”
Avey Grouws Band – Tell Tale Heart
Navy House Records NHCD2021
After successful trips to the IBCs, the Avey Grouws Band delivered a debut CD loaded with promise last year, reaching the Top 10 on Billboard’s blues album chart. They continue their ascendency with this collection of originals that mix blues, rock, funk and more and deal with current events.
A five-piece unit based out of the Quad Cities in Illinois and Iowa, they’re fronted by melismatic vocalist Jeni Grouws and Chris Avey, former lead guitarist for Arizona Blues Hall of Famer Big Pete Pearson. The duo combined to pen all ten tunes in a set produced in Nashville by Casey Wasner, a Grammy winner for his work with Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal.
The blues-rocker, “Love Raining Down,” heats things up to open. You’ll also enjoy the sweet “There for Me,” the seven-minute instrumental, “Mariana,” the funky “We’re Gonna Roll,” the acoustic ballad, “Daylight,” “Heart’s Playing Tricks” and “Eye to Eye.”
Joel DaSilva – Against the Grain
The son of traveling musicians from Brazil, guitarist Joel DaSilva hails from Chicago but has been a fixture on the South Florida music scene since his teens, where he cut his teeth with local favorites Junior Drinkwater & the Thirstquenchers and the Hep Cat Boo Daddies.
Playing in trio format, DaSilva is an energetic performer who delivers everything from straight-ahead blues to blues-rock and a little Latin, too. He penned six of the eight cuts here, one of which was co-written by harmonica ace Brandon Santini.
“Jack’s Groove” powers out of the gate, and the sound shifts steadily throughout, beginning with the cautionary “Don’t Come Around Here.” Other pleasers include “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” “Come Undone,” “Let It Roll” and “Lover’s Rhumba.”
Seth Lee Jones – Flathead
A third-generation guitarist, slide master and luthier, Seth Lee Jones has enjoyed a lengthy residency at The Colony, a go-to venue in Tulsa, Okla. He captured this set straight to tape without overdubs and edits, breathing new life on nine favorite covers and putting a spin on them that makes them all his own.
A former Californian who graduated at the top of his class from Hollywood’s Musicians Institute, Seth went on to post-graduate studies in jazz and classical music, too, but is deep in the pocket here, fronting a hard-driving three-piece band.
If you like your six-string free of pyrotechnics, you’ll love this one. Give a listen to “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” “Driving Wheel,” “It Was Rainin’,” “Moving Me (Way Too Fast),” “Desiree,” “Tulsa Time” and “Mary Ann.”
Various Artists – Tony Holiday’s Porch Sessions Vol. 2
Blue Heart Records BHR 017
Memphis-based harp player Tony Holiday struck gold in 2019 with the first iteration of this set -- intimate, spontaneous field recordings captured, as the title suggests, on front porches across the U.S. and released without overdubs or special effects.
That one proved to be a must-have for blues lovers, and this one’s just as solid with a lineup that includes Bobby Rush, Mark Hummel teaming with Dennis Gruenling, Victor Wainwright, Lurrie Bell, Watermelon Slim, James Harman, Willie Buck, Johnny Burgin, Ben Rice and more. The 16 tracks deliver a surprise around every corner.
Standout cuts include Wainwright’s “She’s Tuff,” Rush’s “Recipe for Love” and “Get Outta Here,” Harman’s “Going to Court 2,” Southern Avenue’s “Peace Will Come,” Burgin’s “Bad Bad Girl,” Rae Gordon’s “Find Me When the Sun Goes Down” and “Cake Walk,” featuring Hummel and Gruenling.