By Marty Gunther
Tito Jackson – Under Your Spell
Gulf Coast Records/Hillside Global GCRX9033
Tito Jackson made his name with the Jackson 5, but he’s always been a bluesman at heart – something that’s crystal clear in this star-studded CD, only his second solo release in a career that began in the ‘60s and his first ever in the blues.
Delivered with the same high-quality production values his family is known for, he lays down a heaping helping of Chicago, Memphis and Mississippi soul-blues here with assists from Kenny Neal, Grady Champion, Joe Bonamassa, George Benson, Eddie Levert, Bobby Rush, Stevie Wonder, Steven Powell, the B.B. King Blues Band and B.B.’s vocalist daughter Claudette, too.
Exceptional, deep in the beat and unhurried throughout, be sure to tune in to “Wheels Keep Turning,” “Love One Another,” “Under Your Spell,” “Dyin Over Here,” “You’re Gonna Push Me too Far,” a jazzy reinterpretation of B.B.’s “Rock Me Baby,” “I Got Caught (Loving in a Dream)” and “All in the Family,” the first-ever blues tune from Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff that was penned especially for this project.
Donna Herula – Bang at the Door
Windy City-born vocalist/acoustic slide guitarist Donna Herula traveled to North Carolina to record this CD produced by 2019 IBC winner Jon Shain; it’s a delightful collection of 11 originals and three covers that mix Chicago, Delta and Piedmont stylings, all of which come across with a relaxed, spontaneous feel.
The third CD in her catalog, Herula teams with longtime partner/guitaristTony Nardiello and Shain to create a set that includes horns, a guest appearance from beloved Chicago violinist Anne Harris, keys from Daryl Davis and Doug Hammer and more.
No matter the subject, all of the tunes here are delivered from a woman’s point of view. Give a listen to “Bang at the Door,” “Pass the Biscuits” – a tribute to her late friend and mentor, King Biscuit Time host Sonny Payne -- the jazzy “Not Lookin’ Back,” “I Got No Way Home,” “Black Ice” and “Got What I Deserve.”
Wee Willie Walker & the Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra – Not in My Lifetime
Blue Dot Records
A star in Memphis in the ‘60s, who later performed under the radar in Minnesota for decades before finally achieving his rightful place atop of the blues world, Wee Willie Walker died unexpectedly three days after finishing this CD; he left behind a treasure that bears witness to his greatness.
The sweet tenor’s backed by guitarist Anthony Paule and his 11-piece ensemble and is a follow-up to After a While, a CD that earned BMA nominations for album and soul album and Willie a nod for vocalist of the year – his fifth individual honor in a row. More should follow with this one.
A collection of nine originals, two covers and a redo of a tune he cut for Goldwax in the ‘60s, you’ll enjoy “Don’t Let Me Get in Your Way,” “Real Good Lie,” “What Is It We’re Not Talking About,” “Make Your Own Good News,” “Suffering with the Blues” and “’Til You’ve Walked in My Shoes.”
Mick Kolassa – Wasted Youth
Endless Blues Records
Veteran bluesman Mick Kolassa teams with producer/guitarist Jeff Jensen to kick 2020 to the curb with this star-studded CD, drawing inspiration for the 11 originals here from the suffering he endured in the year of COVID-19, including the loss of his beloved wife and several close friends.
Guest appearances include Brandon Santini, members of the bands he shares with Jensen, Victor Wainwright, Albert Castiglia, David Julia, Tullie Brae and other standout musicians. And the net proceeds are targeted for the HART Fund and Generation Blues, two charities run by the Blues Foundation, for whom Mick’s a former board member.
A deep, pleasing set of dark themes delivered atop bright, upbeat modern blues, tune in to “Throwing These Blues Away,” “Wasted Youth,” “It Hurts to Let You Go,” “I’m Missing You,” “Feeling Sorry for Myself,” “My Mind Doesn’t Wander,” “Pieces of the Past” and “Edge of a Razor.”
Johnny Rawls – Best of Johnny Rawls Vol. 1
Catfood Records CFR-030
In a career that began more than 50 years ago, Johnny Rawls has proven to be one of the most consistent performers in the blues. This collection cherry picks many of the top tracks from the nine CDs he’s released for Texas-based Catfood Records, and is a must-have for any lover of blues and Southern soul.
All of the tracks feature The Rays, Catfood’s stellar session band, and most were produced by Grammy winner Jim Gaines. Johnny and/or label owner Bob Trenchard penned all of the originals in a lineup that includes three covers from O.V. Wright -- for whom Rawls served as bandleader for his final years.
“Red Cadillac” pulls out of the driveway with an unrelenting groove. Other standouts include “Born to the Blues,” “Memphis Still Got Soul,” “Tiger in a Cage,” “American Dream,” “Can I Get It,” “Soul Survivor,” “Whatever Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” “Waiting for the Train” and “I Won’t Give Up.”
Kelly’s Lot – Where and When
Based out of Southern California, Kelly’s Lot have been delivering everything from blues-drenched Americana to Southern rock for 27 years; Where and When follows last year’s all-electric Can’t Take My Soul with a stripped-down mix of acoustic originals and timeless covers.
Primarily a partnership between vocalist/guitarist Kelly Zirbes and guitarist Perry Robertson, the group works in multiple alignments here in a four-piece setting that was recorded the old-fashioned way: live to analog tape.
In addition to well-crafted updates on songs from Howlin’ Wolf, Ma Rainey, Robert Johnson and Lovie Austin, the intimate originals “Stronger,” “Heaven,” “Lost,” “Where and When,” “That Fool” and “Black Eye Blues” deliver hope in a world full of troubles.
Dwayne Dopsie – Set Me Free
Louisiana Red Hot Records
One of the most energetic performers on the Gulf Coast and a two-time Grammy nominee, Dwayne Dopsie follows in the footsteps of his dad, zydeco legend Rockin’ Dopsie, to deliver music hot enough to cook crawfish without the benefit of a fire – something that’s apparent from the opening bars of this CD.
Based out of Lafayette, La., and backed by his touring unit, the skintight Zydeco Hellraisers, Dwayne is a powerfully built man who attacks the accordion like no one else and laces his music with a heaping helping of blues.
Put on your dancing shoes and work up a sweat to “Take It Higher,” “Louisiana Girl,” “My Sweet Chaitanya,” “DD’s Zydeco Two-Step,” “Lafayette Boogie,” “Shake Shake Shake,” “I Give It to You,” “Talk to Me” and “Have Those Days Again.”
Little G Weevil – Live Acoustic Session
Now based back in his native Budapest, Hungary, Little G Weevil left a major footprint during his long stay in the U.S., taking top honors in the solo/duo category at the 2013 IBCs and earning a 2014 BMA nomination for acoustic artist of the year. His exceptional finger-picking techniques and a warm, emotive voice power this intimate 83-minute opus.
An analog production recorded in Europe, this is his ninth CD and a quick follow-up to Play On, an all-electric effort that featured Brit standout Ian Siegal and was released last winter. Little G penned 13 of the 17 tracks, adding covers from R.L. Burnside and John Lee Hooker.
A highly percussive solo effort, some of the standout cuts include “Keep Going,” “Real Men Don’t Dance,” “Place a Dollar in My Hand,” “Dad’s Story,” “Apple Picker,” “Going Back to Memphis,” “Back Porch” and “She Used to Call Me Sugar.”
Lea McIntosh – Blood Cash
Shark Park Records
Already a successful entrepreneur chef and graphic designer, California-based Lea McIntosh fulfills a childhood dream with her debut CD. Co-written with guitarist Travis Cruse, it an interesting mix of contemporary blues originals that’s certain to put her in the spotlight in the music world, too.
A confident alto who sings with a swagger, Lea’s backed by longtime Bay Area harp superstar Andy Just, Santana bassist Myron Dove and former Commitments keyboard player Eamonn Flynn in a set mixed by John Porter, a 2016 Grammy winner for his work with New Orleans keyboard wizard Jon Cleary.
McIntosh bares her soul throughout with songs that mine her troubled, tumultuous childhood but reveal her inner strength, too. Top tracks include “Blood Cash,” “Tennessee Hurricane,” “Purple Suede Boots,” “Soul Stripper” and “The Fire Is Coming.”
Devin B. Thompson – Tales of the Soul
The product of a musical family from Joliet, Ill., Devin B. Thompson has graduated church choirs and playing trumpet in an older brother’s band to following in the footsteps of Otis Clay, Tyrone Davis and Syl Johnson as Chicago-style soul-blues vocalist.
Only his second album – he debuted with Club Zero in 2013 -- Thompson shines in this collection of silky-smooth ballads and dance tunes with backing from Severn Records’ house band, a unit that includes guitarist Johnny Moeller and drummer Robb Stupka. Robben Ford also sits in on two tracks.
Slow dance to “Love to See You Smile,” “I’m Gonna Cry a River” and “Something You Can Do Today,” which open, before things heat up with “Back Together.” Other pleasers include “I Ain’t No Good,” “Can’t Get Over You,” “Deeper,” “Time After Time” and “Tell Me.”
Malcolm Wells & the Two-Timers – Hollerin’ Out Loud
Based out of Des Moines, Iowa, harmonica player Malcolm Wells and his Two-Timers make their debut here, but definitely aren’t newcomers to the game. All four members of this unit are dyed-in-the-wool blues artists with major track records – something that’s apparent from the opening bars of this all-original set.
Wells previously fronted The Soul Searchers out of Little Rock, Ark., for 18 years. He’s backed by guitarist Matt Woods and bassist Patrick Recob (Gary Primich, Lee McBee) -- both major awards nominees for their solo work – and percussionist Dwight Dario, a road dog who toured with Big George Jackson, Janiva Magness, R.J. Mischo and more.
“Call My Name” opens the action with a lump-de-lump feel, but the classic blues rhythms alternate throughout. You’ll enjoy “Walk It Slow,” “Muffin Top,” “State Fair Tattoo,” “Gentleman’s Bet,” “Squawkin’,” “Six Feet Apart,” “Divorce Decree” and “Number 9.”
Chris Corcoran – Inferno
Shack Records SHKR023
A back-to-back finalist in the UK Blues Awards for instrumentalist of the year, guitarist Chris Corcoran lays down a smoking set of instrumentals here, showing once again why he’s recognized as one of the top musicians in any format in Europe.
Chris is a 25-year veteran of the British music scene. He’s built a huge following through his videos, online lessons and articles penned for Guitarist and Guitar Techniques magazines. He delivers crisp, precise single-note runs throughout backed by a rhythm section and B3 organist.
“Made to Move” fires out of the gate with a heaping helping of class that continues throughout. Other pleasers include “Lost Souls,” “Dark Tones,” “Future Time,” “Just Cool It,” “Cut and Thrust,” “Tough Luck” and “Burnt Out.” If you’re a guitar geek, you’ll love this one!
Patty Tuite – Consider This
Thread City Productions
Based out of Storrs, Conn., where she’s been making a name for herself as a versatile singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist since the ‘90s, Patty Tuite teams with Grammy-winning producer Paul Nelson (Johnny Winter) for this collection of multi-layered, original contemporary blues.
Laced with jazz overtones, this one swings from the jump, propelled by steady rhythms, stellar guitar work from Nelson and lush arrangements, including the use of flute, horns, backup singers and more.
If your tastes run toward the jazzier side of blues, give a good listen to “Consider This,” “Wanna Go to Memphis,” “Go Where It Takes You,” “Feel the Heat,” “Power of Nature,” “Please Don’t Feel Lonely,” “True Love” and “Since You’ve Been Around.”
Mark Cameron – Back from the Edge
Cop Records LPM 1680
A charismatic front man and guitarist who’s been a fixture on the Minnesota music scene since the ‘80s, Mark Cameron charted internationally in 2019 with On a Roll and follows it up, with this all-original collection of high-energy funk, foot-stomping country blues and a taste of Chicago, too.
Cameron’s tight core unit includes wife Sheri who doubles on sax and flute, harmonica powerhouse Rick Miller and guest appearances from soul singer Tania Hughes, Hammond B3 player Tommy Barbarella (New Power Generation) and a full horn section.
Among the choice cuts are the tongue-in-cheek opener “It’s Alright,” the horn-driven “This Is the Blues,” “2nd Job,” “Back from the Edge,” the humorous “One Size Fits All,” the gritty “Dollar for Liquor” and “Lost and Found.”
Nic Clark – Love Your Life: Songs for the Whole Family
Little Village Foundation LVF 1042
One of the youngest musicians ever endorsed by Hohner Harmonicas, Colorado-born multi-instrumentalist Nic Clark delivers a funky, bluesy treat suitable for people of all ages with his debut CD, which was produced by Kid Andersen at Greaseland Studios, where he’s toiled for the past two years.
Doubling on guitar and now in his mid-20s, Nic’s been performing in bars since age 12 with influences that include everyone from Stevie Wonder and Sonny Boy Williamson to the Staples, Billy Branch and Rick Estrin & the Nightcats. He penned nine of the 11 cuts, but they’re far, far more than kid stuff!
You’ll enjoy “Got My Family and My Friends” – which includes guest appearances from Aki Kumar, Kid and more, “Dance Party,” the hypnotic “Dinosaurs (Where Did You Go),” “I’m Your Friend,” “The Hungry Dog,” “Things to Learn” and “I Love Music.”
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