Blues Access Summer 2001
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New Releases

All CDs reviewed by the BLUES ACCESS editorial staff. Discs that have been given full reviews in this or previous issues of BLUES ACCESS are quoted with the reviewers initials in brackets.    Note: Be sure to send us two (2) copies of all new releases.


Mose Allison
The Mose Chronicles — Live in London, Volume 1

Blue Note 29747

Mose Allison has been recording and performing for just over a half century, and this treasured blues/jazz original strides confidently into the new century with an engaging live set. Over an hour of pure Allison here, with the 72-year-old pianist still at the apex of his instrumental prowess. A Mose set is a visit to his rather extensive repertoire, including the pleasure of his standard, "Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy," the wry humor of "Middle Class White Boy" and the blue cynicism of "Ever Since the World Ended." The Mississippi-born Allison co-owns Willie Dixon’s "Seventh Son," covered here along with "I Love the Life I Live" and the Buddy Johnson classic, "Since I Fell for You." Mose’s brilliance on piano and vocals continues to astound.

Tali Madden

Barrelhouse Chuck
25 Years of Blues Piano

Chuck Goering is an unsung veteran of sorts. While his name doesn’t inspire the reverence reserved for Pinetop Perkins, he had the rare opportunity to study under Chicago’s blues piano legends. The journeyman cuts loose on this release and has a number of A-list stars sitting in. With a style that’s both flexible and disciplined, he handles the ivories with ease. Willie Kent makes an appearance on his own tune, "Mama Told Me," and transports the listener to a South Side juke joint. Other covers include Hound Dog Taylor’s "Walkin’ the Ceiling" and Earl Hooker’s "Wah Wah Blues." Chuck takes great care in preserving the integrity of each tune and does so thanks to guest shots from Kent, Sam Lay and Carl Weathersby.

Mike Emery

Chris Beard
Born to Play the Blues

JSP CD 2148

Chris Beard offers a set of straight-ahead electric blues with a buzz-saw Chicago-style delivery, epitomized by the boisterous "Party Tonight." Citing Buddy Guy, B.B. King and his Memphis-raised musician father Joe Beard as major influences, Beard brings a slash-and-burn, string-bending fire to his guitar solos. His Memphis background informs the keyboards and horn choruses in these arrangements, but the focus is definitely on urban electric blues guitar and traditional, good-time blues songs.

B.J. Huchtemann

Blinddog Smokin’
Miss Blues Sittin’ in With Blinddog Smokin’

Crying Tone 70041

Wyoming may not be known for its blues bands, but Blinddog Smokin’ could change all that with its current release. Miss Blues (Dorothy Ellis) barks, growls and bites with her gritty vocals, covering Memphis Minnie’s "Black Rat" with great fervor and then launching into a number of songs that capture the complexities of suffering and living life. The band provides a solid backdrop throughout with guitar work by Jason Coomes and Chris Lund, some hot harp work by Carl Gustafson and precision percussion by Chuck Cullens. This disc should generate some new fans.

John Koetzner

James Bolden
The Legend, Volume 3

Global International GL 11245

James Bolden is part of a long, long line of Texans for whom music is second nature. The blues just seems to flow naturally in this stripped-down recording — the tunes take on an off-handed, unassuming air that’s downright charming. Bolden’s guitar work is clean and lean in the style of T-Bone Walker, and his music has that same easy, relaxed feel that typifies the Texas blues. If a good late-night, smoky-club vibe is what you like, then look no further.

Jon Martinez

Big Bill Broonzy
Absolutely the Best of Big Bill Broonzy

Fuel 2000 302 061 090 2

Big Bill Broonzy is the best, but this CD — comprising mostly folk-blues cuts — can’t possibly contain "absolutely" the best of Big Bill, perhaps the swingingest blues player who ever lived. The set includes chestnuts like "Down by the Riverside," "This Train," "Midnight Special" and the wonderful "Sixteen Tons," the classic song penned by Merle Travis and made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford, but turned here by Broonzy into a ferocious toe-tapper. Seven of Big Bill’s originals are on hand as well, among them the protest song "Black, Brown and White" and "I Gets the Blues When It Rains," a showcase for Broonzy’s sizzling blues guitar.

Jeff Waggoner

Roy Buchanan
Deluxe Edition

Alligator ALCD 5608

This sort of album makes perfect sense for devotees of guitar journeymen, those unsung vagabonds whose unheralded work leaves you gasping and wondering why they rarely put out their own records. Crack guitar men from James Burton to Lonnie Mack to Roy Buchanan have all gone this route, winning small, loyal legions of fanatics who can instantly recognize their trademark riffs. Buchanan puts on quite a show on this collection of Alligator cuts recorded in the ’80s before the guitarist’s suicide in a Maryland jail snuffed out his vast talent, There are soft spots, but the best tracks are accompaniments to deep soul shouters like Johnny Sayles and Otis Clay and tough instrumental workouts like the out-of-control version of the Peter Gunn theme.

Steve Braun

Solomon Burke
The Commitment

Gospel Truth GTROC7994251SB

Like many of his fellow soul survivors, Solomon Burke now sings God’s praises. (Not that the one-time "Wonder Boy Preacher" ever really stopped his sermonizing.) This disc is a song cycle about conjugal love, from the first kiss to marriage to the hard work necessary to keep it together. Bishop Burke reminds us that love is serious business, and his preaching comes to a head on "The Instruction": Never argue about money, the woman is always right, strive to be "equally yoked," and if you don’t know how to love her, get a book or tape. There’s even a bona-fide wedding ceremony included! Burke is still in fine voice, but this religious self-help disc, while well-intentioned, is no fun for heathens looking for a good time.

Jon Martinez

Sam Butera & the Wildest
Still Cookin’

Poor Boy SQCD 9109

Louis Prima’s legendary sax man has been at it for 40 years, and while it’s great to have this venerable, gregarious talent around, this meal is one odd gumbo. Prima-style standards ("Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey" and "Alexander’s Ragtime Band"), pop standards ("When a Man Loves a Woman," "Autumn Leaves" and even "Hava Nagila"), comic call and response ("You Shouldn’t Have Gone to the Airport"), ’70s jazz-funk workouts ("Feel Like Makin’ Love") and, to top it all off, a straight-faced rendition of "Up Against the Wall, Red Neck Mother." I guess you can take the man out of Vegas, but you can’t take Vegas out of the man.

Jon Martinez

James Carr
24 Karat Soul

Soul Tracks SLT-1008-CD

Called by some the "World’s Greatest Soul Singer," James Carr began his recording career in 1963 on Quinton Claunch’s Goldwax label and had his share of success from the mid-’60s to the mid-’70s. Carr, who struggled to finish this recording in spite of continuing ill health (he died last year), proves he can still sing a song with feeling on old hits like "Dark End of the Street" and "Pouring Water on a Drowning Man."

— Brian Kiernan

Roy Carrier & the Night Rockers
Whiskey Drinkin’ Man

Right on Rhythms ROR 009

When rendered correctly, few things can sound better than a tight zydeco groove. Roy Carrier knows how to keep that groove going and does so throughout this album, which is part concert recording and part studio effort. From the infectious title track to the down-and-dirty blues of "Gotta Right to Love That Woman," Carrier explores his roots to full effect, and the big man knows how to put together some fresh material, too. Whether you’re a zydeco fan or not, take note of Carrier’s energy and abilities, both of which are in top form and evident throughout this release.

Mike Emery

Cephas & Wiggins
From Richmond to Atlanta

Bullseye BBB 11661-9633-2

Since joining forces in the late ’70s, John Cephas and Phil Wiggins have embodied the resiliency that is at the heart of the blues. For nearly 25 years they’ve been constant purveyors of traditional Piedmont blues, and by proudly carrying this torch they’ve enabled further generations of fans to enjoy the melodic dance and laid-back storytelling of country-folk blues.

This 12-song disc is a compilation of tracks from 1984–1992 off the duo’s three releases on Flying Fish Records. Their reverent declaration of Rev. Gary Davis’ "I Saw the Light," the shuffling bounce in "No Lovin’ Baby Now" and the work-song harmonies on the slower "Roberta" all have a characteristically uplifting tone and feature brightly finger-picked guitar.

But it’s their tour-de-force on the Delta moaner, "Cherryball," that’s the standout on the album. Wiggins’ harmonica lays the chordal bed for Cephas’ snapping guitar riffs, and the Skip James lyric provides a biting edge not heard on the other tunes.

From Richmond to Atlanta further supports Cephas and Wiggins’ hard-earned reputation for serving up solid, heart-felt blues in all of their many offerings.

Jon Marko

Grady Champion
2 Days Short of a Week

Shanachie SHA 9029

Singer and harmonica player Grady Champion’s third CD is a mix of good-time blues and socially-conscious tunes produced by Dennis Walker with a backing band that includes the excellent guitar of Alan Mirikitani and roots-rocker James Intveld on bass. The focus here is on Champion’s strong vocals and songwriting — he tackles some difficult issues like youth violence ("Children of the Corn") and urban police injustice ("Policeman Blues"). Champion’s ballad singing does justice to R. Kelly’s hit song, "When a Woman’s Fed Up," but he’s at his most compelling when he plays up the sinewy, grittier side of his range. Check out his knowing vocals on "Wine and Women" and "Stop Chasing Me."

B.J. Huchtemann

Little Sammy Davis & Midnight Slim
Ten Years and Forty Days

Yawnin’ Fritz

While it’s nice to see older blues players given a new lease on musical life, it’s disappointing when they’re saddled with lousy production. With Ten Years and Forty Days, the new offering by Little Sammy Davis and Midnight Slim, lousy production means over-production. Slim and his accomplices provide generic, uninspired backing for Davis’ singing and harp playing, and the best songs here ("Fat Rat," "She’s Not Another Woman") are Davis all by himself, simply singing and blowin’ his harp.

Andrew Grafe

Double Trouble
Been a Long Time

Tone-Cool 34047 1100 2

Stevie Ray Vaughan’s long-time rhythm section steps out from the shadows, composing or co-writing most of the songs here. They enlist a virtual Who’s Who of today’s blues guitar heroes to flesh out the tunes: Doyle Bramhall IV, Eric Johnson, Susan Tedeschi, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Charlie Sexton and Jimmy Vaughan all lend their talents to this off-handed tribute to Stevie Ray. The results are a mixed bag — the songs are straight-ahead lyrically and musically, and the all-star cast seems to be playing it safe and perhaps a little too respectful. Highlights include the sultry Lou Ann Barton/Jimmy Vaughan duet, "In the Middle of the Night," and the Dr. John/Willie Nelson closer, "Baby There’s No One Like You." But why include a by-the-numbers cover of Led Zeppelin’s "Rock & Roll," wasting Tedeschi’s contribution?

Jon Martinez

Brad Paul Frank
Walking to the Moon

Louisiana Red Hot LRHR 1136

First solo effort from the youngest member of the Frank family, one of the leading contemporary zydeco outfits operating today. Brad steps out from behind the drums, grabs an accordion and sings lead, cutting loose on this date recorded at the Frank family’s in-house studio. The effort combines just the right combo of old-school licks with some modern urban funk and soul flavor for a loose-as-a-goose, infectious zydeco romp. Dance party, anyone?

Jon Martinez

Lowell Fulson
I’ve Got the Blues ( … and Then Some!): The Jewel Recordings 1969–’71

Westside WESD 234

This two-CD set comprises everything singer/guitarist/songwriter Lowell Fulson recorded for Jewel Records during his two stints with the company. The tunes are presented in rough chronological order and include a few previously unreleased cuts. Fulson recreates some of his best-known songs ("I’ve Got the Blues," "Crying Won’t Help" and "Man on the Run") and offers some strange new material (the Beatles’ "Why Don’t We Do It in the Road").

Brian Kiernan

John Hermann
Smiling Assassin

Fat Possum 80348-2

The debut release from former Widespread Panic keyboardist John Hermann falls somewhere in between Pop Rock and Adult Alternative FM radio music. Not suitable for a blues audience, in spite of the Fat Possum imprint.

Brian Kiernan

Jools Holland & his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra
The Swing Album

Valley Entertainment VE15141

Singer/pianist/arranger Jools Holland’s Rhythm & Blues Orchestra sports a 12-piece horn section plus guitar, organ, bass and drums that plays rock’n’roll with a healthy dose of swing. The 13 cuts range from originals to well-suited classic numbers like "Well All Right," "Wang Dang Doodle" and Lightnin’ Hopkins’ "Don’t Need No Job." The CD boogies with energy, Holland’s piano and vocals are right in the pocket, and the horn arrangements are as good as they get.

Brian Kiernan

Lightnin’ Hopkins, Brownie McGhee, Sonny Terry & Big Joe Williams
Lightnin’ Hopkins & the Blues Summit

Fuel 2000 302 061 101 2

A Blues Summit indeed. Made in Southern California in 1960, this recording reveals four undeniably all-star bluesmen having a ball playing together, calling each other by name and playing serious, hard-core Lightnin’ Hopkins songs as well as traditionals like "Blues for Gamblers" and "I’ve Been Buked and I’ve Been Scorned." There’s a looseness to their playing, but they still managed to stay tight enough to keep from stepping on each other’s musical toes. For lovers of the deep blues, this is a deep well.

Jeff Waggoner

Erick Hovey
Prairie Dance Music

Junior’s Motel JMR 0028-2

Erick Hovey’s second CD delivers some easy-going blues and rock from the farm fields of Badger, Iowa. Hovey and his band move comfortably from jump-blues rhythms into traditional blues tunes and more eclectic sounds, including a funk-inflected "Down the River of Love" that’s plenty radio-friendly. New Orleans rhythms add an irresistible musical counterpoint to the automobile blues of "Bondo Bondo." Hovey’s original songs and guitar work are solidly and skillfully combined with keyboards by Doug Hines and Larry Robertson and harmonica flourishes by Mike Glass.

B.J. Huchtemann

James Hunter
Kick It Around

Ruf RUF1039

James Hunter has succeeded in creating an authentic ’50s/’60s soul sound with just a slight modern interpretation, mostly due to his oh-so-smooth Sam Cooke-quality vocals and the outstanding musicianship of his five-piece band: Hunter on guitar and vocals, Damian Hand on tenor saxophone, Nick Lunt on baritone sax, Dave Lagnado on acoustic bass and Preston Prince on drums. Hunter wrote nine of the 12 tunes, but the arrangements and recording are so perfect you could swear they’re all ’50s vintage. It’s not about the players, it’s about the songs, and every one stands on its own in terms of both performance and production quality. Best vocals I’ve heard in a while.

Brian Kiernan

Bessie Jones
Put Your Hand on Your Hip

Rounder Heritage 1166-11587-2

This 30th anniversary collection from Rounder — one of 30 commemorative albums in their Heritage series — focuses on the gospel, folk and traditional children’s play songs of the Georgia Sea Islands as remembered and sung by Bessie Jones, taken from her 1973 recording So Glad I’m Here and 1979’s Step It Down — both made when the singer was in her 70s! Some of these songs were taught to her by her grandfather, who was born a free black man in Africa, was captured and brought to America as a slave, freed in the Civil War, and died in 1941 after teaching Bessie all the songs he knew. The package includes all the original liner notes and photos plus a modern introduction.

— Brian Kiernan

Johnny Jones & Charles Walker
In the House

Crosscut† CCD 11066

Guitarist Johnny Jones and vocalist Charles Walker display an impressive pedigree on their new collaboration, In the House. These two have worked for Chess, Fire/Fury, Decca, Motown, Bobby "Blue" Bland and countless other artists and labels. This live recording from the Lucerne Blues Festival in Switzerland revives their longtime friendship and frequent musical partnership with a nice mix of originals and covers ("Gypsy Woman," "Storming and Raining Blues") from their respective careers. A must for soul-blues fans.

Andrew Grafe

John Kay
Heretics & Privateers

Cannonball 29119

John Kay reminds us that social and political commentary is not dead with a release that harkens back to some of his best work with Steppenwolf in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Songs like the title cut and "Ain’t That a Shame," "I Will Not Be Denied" and "Endless Commercial" capture the idealism that fired the imagination of a whole generation. The scathing lyrics, pyrotechnic guitar work and Kay’s signature gritty growls, with backing by a crew of veteran musicians, make this a high-octane affair. Kay’s slower acoustic blues ("Don’t Waste My Time") evoke the Mississippi Delta, and he finds redemption in simple acts of kindness and charity and in strong women who have helped shape men into becoming something better. This solid outing reminds us that the blues is often about being tormented by something that haunts us — a homeless man, a woman we loved, or losing a job.

John Koetzner

Sleepy LaBeef
Rockabilly Blues

Bullseye BBB 11661-9631-2

Sleepy LaBeef is a legendary rockabilly man known for winning over audiences in the baddest roadhouses and juke joints in America. On disc, however, LaBeef’s spirit and winning personality often seem to waft away like cigarette smoke. The best of LaBeef’s countless albums are his zesty live recordings, and his studio sessions don’t always rise to the heights of his live shows. There are times on this Bullseye collection — on blues classics like Lightnin’ Slim’s "Rooster Blues" and Muddy Waters’ "Sugar Sweet" — when he is on target, but there are too many throwaways here.

Steve Braun

Wale Liniger
Better Day

The Swiss musician and scholar better known to most of us as Walter Liniger moved to the States to get closer to the real nature of the Blues. He found two musical and sociological mentors in James "Son" Thomas and Etta Baker (she appears on two of these tracks). They proceeded to teach him the blues tradition and how it intertwines with and defines the spirit of the participants. In struggling with the contradiction of being a European on the outside looking in, for whom the blues was not his first language, he manages to create a stark and moving program of mostly originals steeped in the solo acoustic folk-blues idiom. Liniger is accomplished on both guitar and harmonica, and while a slight accent is evident, he definitely succeeds in claiming the blues as his own.

Jon Martinez

Terri Lynn
In Tears

Sometimes a home-brew, shot-in-the-dark record is better than much or most of what comes out commercially; but sometimes it should stay at home among friends. Terri Lynn’s In Tears unfortunately falls into the latter category. Stylistically, this disc attempts to find the middle ground between blues and Billie Holiday-esque bluesy jazz ballads, but neither Lynn’s voice nor her band’s accompaniment possesses the weight required to successfully convey the sadness and loss in songs like "Now I Lay Me Down to Weep" and "Blue Tears." The lone "live" song, "With You," is the strongest on the album.

Andrew Grafe

Jerry McCain
Absolutely the Best: The Complete Jewel Singles, 1965–1972

Fuel 2000 302 061 098 2

If you think you’d like your Little Walter seasoned with a strong dose of rock’n’roll and a little doo-wop, then Jerry McCain is the man for you. But don’t look for "Absolutely the Best" of McCain on this CD — his most famous song, "She’s Tuff," a hit for the Fabulous Thunderbirds, isn’t here, and even the liner notes point out that his Jewel recordings "are by no means the only good ones that Jerry’s made in a nearly 50-year career." If you can get past the false advertising on the label, you’ll find a rewarding sampling of McCain’s work from the late ’60s and early ’70s on this CD.

Jeff Waggoner

Toussaint McCall
Nothing Takes the Place of You: The Ronn Recordings

Fuel 2000 302 061 100 2

This welcome CD will serve as a fine introduction to the great but sadly forgotten ’60s multi-instrumentalist and soul singer from Louisiana who was once so well-respected that he played the Apollo Theater with Otis Redding. "Nothing Takes the Place of You" was McCall’s only hit, but this reissue is chock-full of 25 songs that range from the sublime "That’s Life" to the schmaltzy "King For a Day." Fortunately, McCall’s heart-felt baritone overcomes any shortcomings in the material, finally making the forgotten Toussaint unforgettable.

— Jeff Waggoner

Microwave Dave
Wouldn’t Lay My Guitar Down

Ducktape Music Series

Backed by some great session players — David Hood on bass, Roger Hawkins on drums for a few tracks, and guitarist Kelvin Holley — Microwave Dave plays with enough energy to nuke a couple of frozen dinners with each chord he blazes through. Leading off with a blazing guitar attack on "Sugar Bee," he continues to burn on the title track, Eddy Clearwater’s "I Wouldn’t Lay My Guitar Down," then lets things cool off a little with Bobby Bland’s "Soon As the Weather Breaks." He displays his great sense of humor on "King of the Blues," singing "Give that crown to someone else who deserves it."

— John Koetzner

Stacy Mitchhart
What I Feel

Dr. Sam 004

Stacy Mitchhart has good, steady, really solid backing for creating blues music that employs elements of R&B, funk and straight-ahead electric blues. The horn work is impeccable, the rhythm section soars and the back-up singers help give this date a very polished and professional feel. Mitchhart’s guitar work is often inspired, and when he shifts to acoustic for songs like "Down Home Blues" and the Front Porch Mix of "100 in the Shade," he demonstrates that he can play the blues with soul. Other stand-outs are "I Might Be Your Husband (But I’m My Other Woman’s Man)" and "Caught Up in the Middle." The Blues-U-Can-Use band gets to flex on the instrumental "Keep Blues’n."

John Koetzner

Rural Electric

Okra-Tone 4962

Rural Electric is most assuredly a purely Southern concoction. Like the fabled river which is different every time you step in it, John Mohead’s music is not a style but rather an accumulation of Mississippi styles that ebb and flow from song to song. He has enough on the ball as a songwriter and arranger to give each track its own feel and musical nuance, and he’s drawing on a sensibility that is clearly as rural as it is electric. Mohead’s music is wholly ruled by groove, and he combines a very real narrative gift — as we hear on "Muddy Water," "Without a Net" and "Good Morning Amsterdam" — with the ability to plant a melodic hook in your head ("Down the Road") and a shrewd grasp of what he owns musically simply because of who he is, e.g., "Country Blue," "Robert Johnson’s Whiskey" and "Train Leavin’ Lula." If you’re looking for a unifying theory here, it may well be that the 10 songs that comprise this CD unwind at the unhurried pace of a weekend drive down Highway 61 from Memphis to Clarksdale. There’s nothing here to spike your blood pressure, but on the other hand, Mohead’s music has a sensual quality that just feels good.

Philip Van Vleck

Johnny Moeller
Johnny’s Blues Aggregation

Dallas Blues Society DBS 8905

Johnny Moeller is a Texas guitarist who plays with tremendous forcefulness but never seems to grandstand. Very rootsy music is what he’s about on a set of confident first takes (sans overdubs) recorded in Austin. Highlights include Moeller’s Earl Hooker-ish instrumental, "Slingin’ Hash," with some stinging, nasty guitar accompanied by slapback bass, and "Let’s Get High," an obscure rocker by Morris Pejoe that’s persuasive enough to incline you to do just that. The chestnuts "Stagger Lee" and "Worried Life Blues" are both well sung by pianist Matt Farell; Shawn Pittman sings and plays piano on Johnny "Guitar" Watson’s "Thinking;" and Homer Henderson’s on deck for the rockabilly workout "Oh Baby Oh" and a Roy Head slow-dance number, "Your Turn to Cry." Lately Moeller has backed up Lazy Lester, Sue Foley, Beaumont soulster Richard Earl and other luminaries, so this CD’s a good chance to hear how he sounds in the spotlight.

— Tim Schuller

Arthur Neilson
a piece of wood, some strings, and a pick


NYC native Arthur (Rockin’ A) Neilson, currently the guitarist for Shemekia Copeland, has long been a respected name among the city’s blues fans and musicians — probably because he has the three things every player wants to have and every fan wants to hear: perfect tone, technique and taste. The 13 songs on this solo CD, available as a French import from, include three covers and 10 originals that represent just about every offshoot of big-city blues and rock, from rockers ("One Way Street," "Leave Me Alone") that give Arthur a chance to display his slide guitar virtuosity, to classic soul ("Feel Like Going Home"), funk and even surf music. "During the Storm" is a dark, moody guitar/piano instrumental which, happily, is finally on CD since it has been a staple of his live shows for several years. You may have to wait a while to get this CD (until a domestic release happens) and the import may cost a few dollars more, but it’s worth the wait and every penny.

— Lee Shafer

Cyril Neville
New Orleans Cookin’

Tipitina’s/Endangered Species

Paying homage to the heroes of New Orleans music, this charismatic Neville Brother tackles several Big Easy standards from Professor Longhair to Fats Domino to Curley Moore and hits the mark more times than not. He’s most effective on the Domino covers, but the show-stealer is Moore’s "Soul Train," which features solid grooves and tight singing from Neville. The record works best when it exemplifies the soul of the city without the cheap references to gumbo and Bourbon Street.

Mike Emery

The Nighthawks

Ruf RUF1064

This re-issue of the 1991 CD represents one of the Nighthawks’ better lineups, including Danny Morris on guitar, Mike Cowan on keys, Jan Zukowski on bass, Pete Ragusa on drums and Mark Wenner on harp, with a little help from Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin on guitar, Mitch Collins on organ and the backup vocals of Juanita Deshagior and Ratso. While the playing and personnel are fine, the material on this particular release offers nothing that really grabs ya the way you’d expect from this venerable band.

Brian Kiernan

Lucky Peterson
Double Dealin’

Blue Thumb 314 549 475-2

Lucky Peterson has been shredding for many years now, but he hasn’t lost his zeal for making that guitar scream. Double Dealin’ showcases Peterson’s knack for making his voice and guitar speak as one, complementing each other perfectly. Check the snarling, angry licks that erupt from the title cut, or the soulful balladry and lyrical guitar work on "Don’t Try to Explain." Lucky can wail when he wants to (and not just on guitar — he’s a top-drawer Hammond B-3 player, too) and has the restraint for contemplative moments as well. And the band follows suit, providing firm ground for Peterson to soar over. Solid contemporary blues from this reliable veteran.

Jon Martinez

Greg Piccolo

Emit Doog Music

As the title suggests, Greg Piccolo’s new album, Homage, is a collection of personal favorites culled from the former Roomful of Blues sax player’s extensive knowledge of American music and, particularly, its great tenor saxophone players. Whether rendering faithful and inspired interpretations of the work of jazz luminaries like Illinois Jacquet and Lester Young, or the more obscure stylings of "Lockjaw" Davis and Lucky Millinder, Piccolo and his combo (drums, bass, keys and some acoustic guitar) hold forth with a strong jazzy set that will compel you to seek out the original recordings.

Andrew Grafe

Rev. Rabia with Virgil Thrasher
Never Too Late

Were this record musically inept, the names alone would be worth the price of admission. Fortunately, there’s no ineptitude here, only some great acoustic blues and songwriting from this collaboration between Rev. Rabia Wozniakowska and Virgil Thrasher. Rev. Rabia is from the Bay Area, and her singing and acoustic guitar are joined on some of the selections by Virgil Thrasher, Robert Lowery’s harmonica-player-in-residence, for a spate of covers ("Spoonful," "Help Me," "Cry Like a Baby") intermingled with some fantastic originals.

Andrew Grafe

Kenny "Blue" Ray featuring Jackie Payne
Soulful Blues

Tone King 1066

Kenny "Blue" Ray has utilized his experience with numerous blues legends over the past 30 years to develop into the kind of solo artist who inspires because his great guitar playing sounds effortless. Whether it’s the slow burn on "Blue Monday" or the punched-up turn on Albert Collins’ "Hot ’N’ Cold," Kenny Ray lets his guitar do the talking. He’s teamed up with vocalist Jackie Payne for all but one cut on this release, scaling back the guitar attack a bit to allow Payne’s vocals to simmer on their soulful cover of Jimi Hendrix’s "Voodoo Chile," punctuating Payne’s singing on Howlin’ Wolf’s "Who’s Been Talking," and letting it sing to us on Leo Gooden’s "C.O.D." This set makes a great disc for a road trip.

John Koetzner

The Rockin’ Johnny Band
More Real Folk Blues


Former Delmark recording artist Rockin’ Johnny Burgin serves up some good old West Side Chicago blues, but any resemblance to the Chess LP series of the same title ends with the album’s name. What you get instead is some sinewy lead work from Johnny in both traditional and contemporary stylings, recorded live in front of an appreciative home crowd. The band trots out veteran Howlin’ Wolf sax man Eddie Shaw for some rootsy instrumentals, then moves into a well-paced set of slow burners and crowd-pleasing foot-stompers. Overall, this sounds like it was a good night out on the town.

Jon Martinez

Little Mack Simmons
The Best of Little Mack Simmons: The Electro-Fi Years

Electro-Fi 3368

Try not to like this album. It’s got it all: a great harp player and singer in the late Malcolm "Little Mack" Simmons and a solid, swinging eight-piece backup group that includes tenor, organ and steel guitar all pumping out tart Chicago jump blues. This Twist, Arkansas, native sounds in turn like his first hero, Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller), in "Hooked on Your Love," like a rough-hewn Nashville crooner in "Snap Your Fingers" and like a hard-driving jump-blues harpist in "Leaving in the Morning." The Best of Little Mack Simmons shows us how truly satisfying a great blues album can be.

Jeff Waggoner

Phil Upchurch
Love Is Strange

Go Jazz GOJ 6014 2

Purists beware: Love Is Strange is less about blues than about smooth, fluid, uptown jazz. Guitarist Phil Upchurch calls on musical friends Chaka Khan, Mavis Staples and the Peterson brothers to add funk and gospel to the proceedings, too. Ben Sidran’s production showcases Upchurch’s versatile and often elegant guitar work on a set of uplifting tunes, beginning with the healing sentiments richly expressed by Ms. Staples in "Winds of Change." Family gospel singers the Steeles bring a funky beneficence to "I’ll Just Keep Holding On," and Chaka Khan blazes through a reworking of the Steve Cropper/Eddie Floyd classic, "Knock on Wood."

B.J. Huchtemann

Various Artists
1950 — The R&B Hits

Indigo IGODCD 105Z

This two-CD set includes 48 cuts from many of the brightest stars of the Golden Age of Rhythm & Blues and some lesser-knowns as well: From the smooth vocals of Ivory Joe Hunter to the jump blues of Louis Jordan, the roster includes Wynonie Harris, John Lee Hooker, Roy Hawkins, Roy Milton, Tiny Bradshaw, Lowell Fulson, Floyd Dixon, Fats Domino and Piano Red among many others. Notable cuts include a duet between Nellie Lutcher and Nat "King" Cole on "For You My Love," Charles Brown’s "My Baby’s Gone" and Mel Walker & the Johnny Otis Orchestra doing "Rockin’ Blues."

— Brian Kiernan

Various Artists
Devil’s Blues

Fuel 2000 302 061 102 2

The endless pressure to pump out more and more blues product has flooded record bins with no end of baffling compilations. This collection, like so many stuffed into bins these days, has more than its share of sublime moments, but the problem is that there’s nothing to bind this stuff together — no common label, genre or era. It’s all just churnable product, whether you’re listening to gems like Magic Sam’s "21 Days in Jail" and Little Johnny Taylor’s soul-blues romp, "Open House at My House," or lesser efforts like Joe Turner’s late-period "Night Time" and an elderly Peppermint Harris doing a version of Amos Milburn’s "Bad Bad Whiskey." Even the picture of the Devil has been done better on Hell’s Angels jackets.

Steve Braun

Various Artists
The Ebb Record Story, Volume 2:
Blues’n’Rhythm & Rock’n’Roll 1957–1959

Specialty SPCD-7073-2

The battle to sign and record R&B and rock’n’roll talent that could appeal to both white and black audiences at the end of the ’50s resulted in a wide variety of entrepreneurs taking a stab at building a stable of successful performers. While most labels split up the market along racial lines, Ebb Records took a unique position and had both white and black artists, recording everything from rockabilly to traditional T-Bone Walker-type blues. This second volume of 29 Ebb releases includes some great performances from Tony Harris, Professor Longhair, Ted Taylor, Smokey Hogg, Floyd Dixon, Ray Agee, Kip Tyler, Jerry Hawkins and others — a fair representation of the label and an excellent source of material for modern bands looking for a retro update.

Brian Kiernan

Various Artists
Keep It Rollin: Blues Piano Collection

Rounder Heritage 116-11601-2

Fans of blues piano will no doubt delight in this compilation, although chances are they might own most of this stuff already. The opener, Willie Tee’s "In the Beginning," is a proper introduction with its rolling, mesmerizing boogie woogie, and James Booker picks up the pace a few tracks later with a spicy version of "Hound Dog" featuring his driving, high-pitched vocals. Eddie Bo, Charles Brown, Art Neville, Davell Crawford, Tuts Washington, Champion Jack Dupree and others are heard before Booker closes out the show with a passionate "Amen," his hands effortlessly churning out the familiar gospel number as that inimitable voice bids the listener farewell. Don’t be surprised if you have the urge to play the whole thing over again right away.

Mike Emery

Various Artists
Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Rounder Heritage 1166-11600-2

There’s no reason to stop partying when this CD’s in your collection. Included in this remarkable compilation. are cuts from the Re-Birth Brass Band, the Wild Magnolias, Buckwheat Zydeco, Beau Jocque and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. For fans of funky horns and New Orleans R&B, this is a perfect addition to your music library; for neophytes it’s both a history lesson and a raw introduction to some of Louisiana’s finest music. Choice cuts include the New Orleans Nightcrawlers’ "Funky Liza," a pulsating excursion into primal funk sans guitar washes and bass lines, and boogie-woogie queen Marcia Ball’s jovial "Hey Big Shot." Mardi Gras or not, let the good times roll forever with this essential Rounder Heritage collection.

Mike Emery

Various Artists
Rockin’ This Joint Tonight


Every so often you stumble onto a blues album so weird and mysterious that you know fanatics will be slitting their wrists 30 years from now to find a long out-of-print copy. This JSP collection of muffled, poorly-recorded Los Angeles blues from the early ’60s is a revelation. First, you’ve got the Little Richard ravings and strangled blues moans of Kid Thomas, possessor of the Matterhorn of conks, a coiffure that could shear metal. Then there is the surprising yet cohesive combination of R&B piano legend Floyd Dixon and the late Johnny "Guitar" Watson holding forth on some killer blues. There are a few stompers by obscure Mississippian Ace Holder and a load of West Coast shuffles by the great Jimmy McCracklin. Where did these 23 cuts come from? Who knows? Who cares? Just sit back and dig that cave-like echo. This is blues as it was meant to sound.

— Steve Braun

Freddie Waters
One Step Closer to the Blues

Black Magic CD 9043

This is a posthumous release from one of the great "voices from the shadows" — a terrific singer who just missed catching that big break and was instead doomed to toil in relative obscurity as a regional star of the ’50s Nashville R&B circuit. He released 45s for such labels as Ref-O-Ree, Stax, October and Kari, capturing the attention of Curtis Mayfield and Al Jarreau (who covered Waters’ "We’re in This Love Together"), but he never really made a name for his own work. Here Waters’ gossamer voice reminds one of Al Green crossed with Jimmy Scott as it glides effortlessly over smooth R&B grooves. Ironically, it took a Dutch label to bring this disc to light, but that’s par for Freddie’s life. Worth checking out.

Jon Martinez

Stan Webb

Indigo IGOOCD 538

Long-time disciple of the blues and UK ’60s legend Stan Webb, whose band Chicken Shack was notable for training British musicians like Chris Wood of Traffic and Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac, returns to the fray after an eight-year hiatus to deliver an assured effort recorded in both England and Nashville. Webb’s eloquent, succinct lead work lends a stately voice to the proceedings, and his gruff vocals add a deep, personable charm. Webb’s time off has given him the confidence to sit back and let the music speak for itself, and an off-the-wall rendition of the Beatles’ "She Loves You" shows he’s still willing to take chances. Good work from this journeyman survivor.

Jon Martinez

Johnny Winter
Deluxe Edition

Alligator ALCD 5609

Forget subtlety: Johnny Winter is always at his deep-fried best when he’s over the top, straining his leather larynx and tearing at his guitar strings. Both tendencies are given ample reign on this collection of music from the albino bluesman’s Alligator years. There’s plenty of slide guitar, and from the brain-zapped gallop of "Mojo Boogie" onward, this set gives us only prime, undistilled, rebel-yelling blues.

Steve Braun


©2001 Blues Access, Boulder, Colorado, USA