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Marty Gunther’s Red, Hot ’n Blues Music Reviews - September 2023

By Marty Gunther

Red Hot ‘n Blues Reviews for September 2023

Joanna Connor – Best of Me

Gulf Coast Records

A veteran of the Chicago blues scene since arriving in the city via Greyhound bus at age 17, guitarist Joanna Connor hasn’t toured much in the past 20 years while raising two young children (now grown). And now she’s back on the road and at the top of her game with this stellar follow-up to the Joe Bonamassa-produced 4801 Indiana Avenue two years ago.

Her debut release on Mike Zito’s Gulf Coast imprint, this star-studded effort features appearances from both Joe and Mike along with two other guitar gods, Josh Smith and Gary Hoey, along with harp colossus Jason Ricci and the uber-talented sax player Eric Demmer, too, with backing from Joanna’s regular unit, the Wrecking Crew.

A smoking-hot mix of blues-drenched soul, rock, funk and country, choice cuts include “House Rules,” “Pain and Pleasure,” “Best of Me,” “Highway Child,” “Two of a Kind,” “All I Want Is You,” “Greatest of These” and “Shine On.”

John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers – Live in ’67 Vol. 3

Forty Below Records

One of the most influential bands of the ‘60s, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers laid the groundwork for future generations through their powerful live performances, and they live again in this third – and final – never-before-released, installment of shows captured when they were at the absolute top of their game.

Lovingly restored and remastered by Grammy winner Eric Corne from rough, lo-fi tapes, this version of the Bluesbreakers includes Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood just prior to launching Fleetwood Mac, and the eight tracks here are all tightly arranged, deep-in-the-groove, true-blues treasures.

A must-have for any fan with a love for early blues-rock, turn back the clock for a while and give a listen to “Brand New Start,” “Tears in My Eyes,” “Stand Back,” “Greeny,” “Talk to Your Daughter,” “Your Funeral and My Trial,” “The Stumble” and “Double Trouble.”

Coco Montoya – Writing on the Wall

Alligator Records ALCD 5014

Every time Coco Montoya goes into the studio, musical magic is sure to follow. And that’s never been truer than this blistering, emotion-packed set, which includes backing throughout by his skintight road band -- a first in his long recording career at Alligator – along with contributions from Ronnie Baker Brooks, too.

A major presence on six-string who flies somewhat under the radar despite his talent, Coco spent years as Albert Collins’ drummer and picked up his guitar skills during downtime on the road. He fuses the best of West Coast, Texas and Chicago blues and injects Latin rhythms into a sound that’s all his own.

Fifty-nine beefy minutes, you’ll love “I Was Wrong,” “Save It for the Next Fool,” “You Got Me (Where You Want Me),” “Be Good to Yourself,” “Writing on the Wall,” “What Did I Say,” “A Chip and a Chair,” “Baby, You’re a Drag” and “Natural Born Love Machine.”

Deuce ’n a Quarter – Keep Moving On

225 Entertainment

Based out of Columbus, Ohio, Deuce ‘n a Quarter soared to the finals at this year’s IBCs, where their front man, Brian Peters, captured best harp player honors and they caught the attention of Kenny Neal, too. This highly polished, bittersweet set of both traditional and emotion-packed contemporary blues was recorded in Baton Rouge at Kenny’s invitation, and it definitely deserves your ear.

Dedicated to the memory of Peters’ daughter Amber Evans, who left us in 2019, it delivers a mix of sorrow, hope and inspiration – all of which is anchored by Keith Colbert on guitar and Tim Dvorkin on keys. Neal penned two of the 11 original tracks in the set and sits in on guitar on six songs, too.

Give a listen to “Swinging at the Blues,” “I’m Not Alone,” “Keep Moving On,” “Doing Wrong,” “All She Wrote,” “Sun Kissed Wheat,” “Blues Mobile,” “Moment with You,” “Blues Leave Me Alone” and “Why.”

Lee Oskar – She Said Mahalo

Dreams We Share

Denmark’s gift to America and the beloved harp player in War/The Lowrider Band, Lee Oskar was dead serious last year with Never Forget, a masterwork that honored the memory of everyone suffering from genocide and other atrocities, but he lightens the mood dramatically with this follow-up. It’s an easy, breezy, all-instrumental effort that’ll brighten your mood no matter what your troubles may be.

Lee penned the entire set and created all of the artwork adorning the trifold packaging, too. Sax player Takahiro Miyazaki, trombonist Randy Oxford and War co-founder/drummer Harold Brown make guest appearances with backing from the unit Oskar regularly fronts when not touring with his supergroup.

A sweet treat, high points include “Caribbean Love Song,” “Children of the World,” “Be Happy” – a unique turn on “The Cisco Kid,” “She Said Mahalo,” “Most Favored Nation,” “Sweet Lullaby” and “One-World Fist.”

Reverend Freakchild – Songs of Beauty for Ashes of Realization

Treated and Released Records TNR-017

A unique artist with multiple divinity degrees, Reverend Freakchild claims “music is my religion” and usually performs solo, but he delivers a full-band effort with his latest CD. You’ll want to worship at the altar of this set, which revisits and reinvigorates nine originals culled from his previous releases.

Like his music, this is a genuinely eclectic, bluesy effort that includes appearances from the Reverend Shawn Amos, rapper G. Love, vocalist Hazel Miller, guitarist Mark Karan of Bob Weir’s RatDog, guitarist Chris Bergson, Bob Dylan/Joe Cocker drummer Chris Parker, Mudbone multi-instrumentalist Hugh Pool and other diverse talents.

Full of rich grooves and deep imagery throughout, you’ll enjoy “All I Got Is Now, “Dial It in,” “Hippy Bluesman Blues,” “Amsterdam Blues,” “Tears of Fire,” “Don’t Miss Nothing ‘Til It’s Gone” and “Keep on Truckin’.” Pleasantly different!

Anthony Rosano and the Conqueroos – Cheat the Devil

Whiskey Bayou Records WHIS1009

Anthony Rosano’s previous CD dethroned the Rolling Stones from the No. 1 spot on the iTunes blues chart, and the Norfolk, Va.-based blues-rocker keeps the heat on high with this follow-up. Produced by Tab Benoit, several of the songs here were penned just prior to the band hitting the road as part of the Humble Pie legacy tour.

A familiar face who’s worked with Bob Seger, Gov’t Mule and Samantha Fish, Anthony’s a fiery guitarist who bridges the gap between Jimi Hendrix and Metallica. His power trio is anchored by Kyle McCormick on drums and Jake Fultz on bass.

Buckle up for this one! Rosano powers through a mostly original set. High points include “Sweet Little Devil,” “My Baby Gets Around,” “What Kind of Fool,” “Sin City,” “Rosalita,” “Shook,” “Scattered Bones” and an interesting reworking of the Slim Harpo standard, “King Bee.”

Guy Bélanger – Voyages & Other Stories

Disques Bros.

A star in Canada since the mid-‘70s, Quebec City-based Guy Bélanger didn’t make his recording debut until 2008, but has proven to be one of the most stylish harmonica players on the planet. Always emotive and sweet while performing pyrotechnic-free, his chops have never been better than on this disc, the seventh in his catalog.

Guy’s aided by guest stars vocalists Sylvie Desgroseilliers and Nanette Workman, who handle lead duties on one tune each, with backing from top regional talent. He mixes blues, soul, funk and roots in his originals and cleverly reworks covers from Jimmy Hall, Nina Simone and Bonnie Raitt, too.

Stylish and generally unhurried throughout, give a listen to “Bayou’s Ride,” “Do I Move You,” “Duck Soup,” “How Do You Do It,” “No One Else,” “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” “The Sun Will Rise” and “Au Bout du Chemin.”

Guitar Jack Wargo – The New Normal

Wargod Records

A prolific, introspective songwriter who cut his teeth as a bandmate of Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Billy Preston, Guitar Jack Wargo has been on the road for more years than he probably cares to admit. Nevertheless, he still knows how to lay down a steady groove, something he displays with panache on this set of contemporary shuffles, all of which are based on living in a troubled world.

Guitar Jack’s fretwork comes with a bite, as do his lyrics in this 11-tune set, all of which are delivered in lush, full-band arrangements that were recorded with vintage gear. His world-class rhythm section includes Tony Braunagel on drums and Jerry Jemmott on bass.

Tasty and stylish throughout, don’t miss “Outside Looking In,” “Go Cross Town,” “The New Normal,” “Philco Radio,” “Let It Ride,” “You and Me,” “More Than You Know,” “Same Old Story” and “Stay Strong.”

Mitch Woods – Friends Along the Way

Club 88 Records 8823

One of the most energetic keyboard players on the circuit today, Mitch Woods has built a huge following thanks to his frequent partnerships with many of the top names in blues and roots; they come out in force on this 21-track, two-CD set, all of which were captured in intimate duo settings.

A deluxe, expanded edition of an earlier disc that vanished soon after it was released when the label shifted into a film company, the lineup includes not-to-be-missed partnerships with Taj Mahal, Elvin Bishop, Ruthie Foster, Joe Louis Walker, Maria Muldaur, Kenny Neal, Charlie Musselwhite, John Hammond, Cyril Neville, James Cotton, John Lee Hooker, Marcia Ball and Van Morrison, too.

Mitch is a two-fisted treasure on the 88s, and there are too many high points on this one to detail in three short paragraphs. Pick it up. You won’t be disappointed!

Shakura S’Aida – Hold on to Love

Self-produced CD

Born in Brooklyn, raised in Switzerland and based out of Toronto, vocalist Shakura S’Aida is an international star of the first order, but one listen to this and you’ll be wondering why she hasn’t been in the recording studio for a full decade. Not only is it a welcome return, but it outdistances all of the other releases in her award-winning career.

Possessing a warm, rich and powerful set of pipes, Shakura co-produced this one with Keb’ Mo’, Donna Gratis (Prince) and Roger Costa (Jeff Healey). The all-star lineup includes contributions from blues-rock giant Eric Gales, ex-War blues harp star Lee Oskar and several other top talents from the U.S. and Canada.

Deep and moving throughout, you’ll enjoy “Hold on to Love,” “Takin’ It to the Streets,” “Clap Yo Hands and Moan,” “Glad for Today,” “(Taste Like) Honey,” “Doodun,” “Too Late,” “Complicated,” “Ain’t Got Nothin’ on Me,” “Don’t Wait for Me” and “Heart of Gold.”

Willie J. Campbell – Be Cool

Blue Heart Records BHR 050

One of the best bassists of his generation, Willie J. Campbell left us wa-a-ay too soon last December, losing his battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease, but not before recording this tribute CD. Be Cool features contributions from several of his bandmates and peers who loved him to the moon and back and wanted to do something to keep his legacy alive for future generations.

Willie held down the bottom on dozens of hits recorded by The Fabulous Thunderbirds, The Mannish Boys, The Proven Ones, James Harman and others, and contributors include Sugaray Rayford, Anson Funderburgh, Kim Wilson, Joe Louis Walker, Mike Morgan, Janiva Magness, Jason Ricci and several others.

Shed a tear, raise a glass and keep Campbell’s spirit burning bright by listening to “You Better Let Go,” “No More,” “This Time,” “Can’t Stay Away,” “Docksidin’,” “Forever Shall Be,” “Standby,” “Devil on My Shoulder,” “She’s a Twister,” “One Man Chain Gang,” “You Can’t Stop Her,” “Use as Needed” and “Albatross.”

8 Ball Aitken – Ice Cream Man 2

Self-produced CD

Slide-guitar firebrand 8 Ball Aitken’s a new dad and is back Down Under after spending nine years in Nashville. Before he left the States, the Aussie blues-rocker cut this fiery parting gift in Music City by teaming with Grammy-winning drummer Tom Hambridge and a deep roster of top artists in the U.S. and Australia.

A powerful singer who pens all of his own material, 8 Ball hit the No. 1 spot on the Australian Blues & Roots Chart with his first serving of Ice Cream, and this dish – which includes contributions from George Thorogood sax player Buddy Leach, Sydney soul singer Taya Chani and a host of others – has already followed suit.

Aitken roars out of the starting block with “Ice Cream Man’s Back.” Other choice offerings include “Wading Through Muddy Water,” “Just for You,” “Only Guiding Light,” “The Friends We Make,” “Dead Man’s World,” “Missing You,” “Rise Up Singing” and four more tasty originals.

Joyann Parker – Roots

Hopeless Romantic Records

A melismatic, wall-rattling vocalist who heats up even the coldest night, Wisconsin native Joyann Parker has returned home after a long residency in neighboring Minnesota, and she celebrates her move with this intimate CD. It’s a powder keg of emotion that infuses a heaping helping of blues across the roots spectrum.

It’s also another homecoming of sorts. She reunites with Kevin Bowe (Bruce Springsteen, Etta James) who produced her 2021 release, Out of the Dark, which hit the No. 11 spot on Billboard’s blues album chart. The core backing band features longtime partner Mark Lemoine on guitar and Tim Wick on keys.

Don’t miss “Roots,” “Faintly Optimistic,” “Closing Someone Else’s Blinds,” “What’s Good for You,” “Juxtaposition,” “Old Flame,” “Ain’t Got Time to Cry,” “Forsaken,” “Miss Evangeline,” “Stay Home Mama” and “Sconnie Girl.”

Mr. Sipp – The Soul Side of Mr. Sipp

Malaco Records

In the midst of an award-winning, 25-year career in gospel, Castro Coleman – aka Mr. Sipp – took the blues world by storm in 2014 when he won the International Blues Challenge, and he remains a powerhouse in both fields. But Sipp’s had one more mountain to climb, and he’s done so in style with this disc, displaying his talents as a Southern soul/soul-blues artist, too.

Ranging from the opening cut, which delivers a subtle tip of the hat to the late Mel Waiters by offering to take listeners to the Hole in the Wall to the silky-smooth last measures of the closer, it’s a winner on all counts that’ll have you grooving on the dance floor and rubbing bellies throughout.

Don’t miss “Grown and Sexy,” “Let Me Love You,” “If You Gone Cheat,” “Get Right Man,” “Should I…,” “Real Man,” “She’s Got Me Swimming,” “I’ll Take Her,” “Trail Ride” and “Played Yourself.”


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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