Sunday, July 14, 2024

#694 : North Liberty Blues & BBQ Festival 2024 (


North Liberty Blues & BBQ Festival 2024

Centennial Park
North Liberty, Iowa
July 13, 2024

By Phillip Smith; July 13, 2024

Original source :


Barbeque and blues are about as perfect of a food and music pairing as I can think of. I can’t think of a more popular culinary-audio combination, unless one is in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where the delta tamales rule the roost. Yesterday, North Liberty, Iowa hosted their annual North Liberty Blues & BBQ Festival for the sixteenth time, and the event remains one of my favorite blues festivals. Admission is always free, and the barbeque trucks are abundant. The weather held up quite nicely, and the occasional breeze was a blessing for those of us baking in the ninety-degree heat.

I arrived just in time to catch Charlotte Blu originally from Rock Island, Illinois. Her angelic voice and impressive performance on acoustic guitar pulled me right in to a fabulous set. She played through a mix of terrific originals including her song “Strange” and striking covers which included B.B. King’s “Thrill is Gone”,  Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”, Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey’, and Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One More Reason”. She even performed the Amy Winehouse song “Love is a Losing Game”, which she sang for her audition of season 20 of The Voice in 2019.

Iowa-based Cedar County Cobras took the stage after Charlotte Blu. With Tom Spielbauer on guitar and April Dirks on upright bass, they are one of my favorite blues duos. I love their unique take on Delta blues and Mississippi Hill Country blues. Their covers of songs like R.L. Burnside’s “Old Black Mattie and “Going Down South”, Robert Johnson’s “Walking Blues”, and “Going Down South”, and Acey Payton’s “I Love You” keep my full attention. They played several of my favorite originals, “Voodoo Doll”, “Utah”, and “Gimme Lightnin’” before closing with a spirit-lifting cover of Pops Staples’ “Get Right Church”.

Iowa City’s Dave Zollo and the Body Electric took the stage next, for a high-energy groove-filled show of roots, blues, and soul originals such as “Strawberry Wine” and “Ain’t No God but God”.  I enjoyed this show immensely.

Finally, I caught Blake Shaw’s Big(ish) Band, an Iowa City-based ten-piece jazz ensemble featuring a seven-piece horn section with Shaw on bass/lead vocals, and Dan Padley on lead guitar. They kicked off their riveting show with the blues standard favorite “Every Day I Got the Blues”. They played the jazz-fueled mash up “All Houses of the Rising Blues” and “Willow Weep For Me” off Shaw’s 2019 album It Happened, and covered The Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love”, bringing their sensational set to a close with Stevie Wonder’s “You Can Feel it All Over”. 

With the heat taking its toll, and the fact that I wasn’t familiar with either of the final two acts Jeremie Albino, and The White Buffalo, I called it a day.  



  ·        All Photos by Phillip Smith

Charlotte Blu

Cedar County Cobras

Dave Zollo & The Body Electric

Blake Shaw Big(ish) Band

* All photos by Phillip Smith

For more information about Charlotte Blu, visit her site

For more information about Cedar County Cobras, visit their site

For more information about Dave Zollo, visit his site

Friday, July 12, 2024

#693 : Tas Cru - All Natural Cage-Free and Fan-Fed (


2024 – Subcat Music Studios
Release Date : Sep. 27, 2024
By Phillip Smith; July 12, 2024

Original source :

New York bluesman Tas Cru drew me in with his studio albums, but it was his live shows at the Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis, Tennessee and the Prairie Dog Blues Festival in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin that poured the icing on the cake for me. Tas’ latest album All Natural Cage-Free and Fan-Fed is a live album which wonderfully captures that energy of his fan-selected top-ten songs. Produced by Tas, and recorded live at Subcat Music Studios in October of 2023, the album features Tas on vocals/guitar, Mia Casale on vocals, Tom Terry on bass/vocals, Phil Diiordio on drums/vocals, and Scott Ebner on piano/organ.

Ebner rips it up on organ, as Tas fearlessly bursts the saloon door open with “’Dat Maybe”. This high-octane number is the perfect one to ignite the set. Lined up next is the funky “Stand Up” and the infectious “Brown Liquor Woman”. These two are favorite songs of mine from Tas’ previous album Riffin’ The Blue.  While on the topic of brown liquor, “Have a Drink” coincidentally lands next in line with Casale’s lovely voice fronting the vocals. I love “Grizzle n’ Bone” and can’t help but sing along when it plays. “Heal My Soul” from Memphis Song brings the record to its conclusion with a heavy pulse, dazzling piano, riveting guitar, and the fierce pairing of Tas’ and Mia’s voices.

Sometimes I just need a Tas Cru fix, and this All Natural Cage-Free and Fan-Fed live album will be the perfect go-to Tas album… until the next one comes along.


·       Note: If you catch Tas live this summer, you’ll want to pick this CD up then and there, as the official release date is not until Sep. 27.   


For more information about Tas Cru, visit the website at   


Catch up on previous PhillyCheeze reviews featuring Tas Cru through this link




Saturday, July 6, 2024

#692 : Dyer Davis - Live at Cedar Ridge : July 5, 2024 (


Dyer Davis
Live @ Cedar Ridge Distillery
Swisher, Iowa
July 5, 2024

By Phillip Smith; July 6, 2024


Original source :


I’ve been a fan of Dyer Davis since reviewing his Dog Bites Back album last year. His unique brand of blues-rock is high-energy sidled up with a masterfully-written original songs. Needless to say, I was excited to see him play nearby at Cedar Ridge Distillery in Swisher, Iowa.  The band played two exhilarating sets with the first a nice mix of originals and covers. With Davis front and center on vocals and lead guitar, he was joined by Warren Beck on keys, Will Weiner on bass guitar, and David Weatherspoon on drums.

 It was great to hear Davis play his “Long Way To Go” which he originally recorded with Victor Wainwright. That such a soulful song. His over of Crosby, Still, Nash, & Young’s “Ohio” was spectacular. It hit bone-deep with every note. Followed up by the Black Crowes’ “She Talks to Angels”. It was absolutely mesmerizing. He played a couple of really nice tracks pegged for an upcoming live EP :  “Have Mercy’, a beautifully touching ballad and “Pass it Over” which featured soulful keys and ripping slide guitar. It was wonderful hearing his “Water into Wine”. I love that song a lot. They wrapped up their performance with a string of outstanding covers beginning with Rod Stewart’s “Stay With Me”. They then proceeded through Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed”, Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks”, and then closed with the Beatles “With a Little Help From My Friends”. It was truly an incredible night of music.      



* All Photos by Phillip Smith

* All Photos by Phillip Smith


For more information about Dyer Davis, visit the website at


Catch up on previous PhillyCheeze reviews featuring Dyer Davis through this link

#691 : Tom Craig - Get to Work (


2024 – 8th Train Records
Release Date : July 20, 2024
By Phillip Smith; July 6, 2024

Original source :


I’ve been drawn to the music of Tom Craig since reviewing his first album Get Ready For Me. His follow up album Good Man Gone Bad continued to grab my attention with its deep focus on blues. Craig’s third and most recent record Get to Work feels like the third installment of his first trilogy. Craig brings his troubadour-like smooth vocals, masterfully written songs, and big soulful instrumentation to the studio for a grand listening experience. Produced by Mikey Junior, Get to Work features Craig on vocals and guitar, Greg Gumpel on lead guitar, Matt Daniels on rhythm guitar, Steven Kirsty on saxophone, Bill Heid on piano/organ, Matt Raymon on electric/upright bass, Michael Bram on drums, Dave Gross on percussion/fiddle, and Mikey Junior on featured vocals/harmonica. Bringing the whole package together, another favorite singer, guest Kat Riggins appears on three tracks.    

In a burst of horns and funky rhythm, Craig rolls out a carpet of Sixties soul with his break-up song “As Sure as I Can Raise My Hand”. His buttery vocals question the things that happen when he’s gone in “Making Coffee”. Backed with a Latin beat, surf guitar, and hot sax, this track lands as an absolute favorite. Title-track “Get to Work” hits me with a wave of nostalgia as it swiftly strikes me as a follow-up to that deeply-adored Blind Faith song “Can’t Find My Way Home”. It’s a beautiful song. “Geneva Avenue” brings Craig and Riggins together for a gorgeous and melancholy duet. It’s aways a treat to hear her sing. She has a very lovely voice. Gumpel’s performance is awe-inspiring as every note he plays on guitar seems to sob as it’s played. Mikey Junior steps in on vocals for a funky blues/hip-hop infusion track called “I Showed My Hand Too Soon”. Its infectious groove pulls me in for a fun ride indeed. The high-octane soul of “Deal Breaker” is a riveting dose of sound therapy as the song barrels through like a locomotive driven by Casey Jones. If Elvis were still alive and playing Vegas, he’d have to cover this one. It’s absolutely fantastic. “Mother to the World” brings the record to a close with a John Lennon-esque touch as Craig sings of peace and love.

Tom Craig is a one-of-a-kind all-original artist who continues to impress me with each and every release. Get to Work is as solid as an album can get. I highly recommend this one.       




For more information about Tom Craig, visit the website at  


Catch up on previous PhillyCheeze reviews featuring Tom Craig through this link


Catch up on previous PhillyCheeze reviews featuring Kat Riggins through this link


Saturday, June 29, 2024

#690 : Sam Joyner - Come What May (I'll Always Love You) (


2024 – Sam Joyner

Release Date : May 25, 2024

By Phillip Smith; June 29, 2024

Original source :


Come What May (I’ll Always Love You), the latest album from New Orleans-based Sam Joyner elevates my mood with each listen. A 2017 International Blues Challenge Finalist originally from Gary, Indiana with parents hailing from Tunica, Mississippi (birthplace of James Cotton) and Turkey Scratch, Arkansas (birthplace of Robert Lockwood Jr, and home to Levon Helm), Joyner’s music is a confluence of Chicago Blues, Southern Soul, and Funk. His whisky-soaked vocals and finesse on the keys pair perfectly together for a twelve-track listening experience to feed one’s soul. Backing Joyner are Lil Ray Neal, Jellybean Alexander, The Saint Anthony, Guitar Slim Jr., Kevin Haynes, Mayuni Shara, Marc Stone, Seizo Shibayama, Brian Wingard, and Joe Eagle.

The album opens with the big, smokin’ blues of “It’s That Mojo That Makes Me Stay” as Joyner sings about love, mojo bags and cheating women. An infectious funky rhythm takes the listener to “Teddy’s Juke Joint”, a club just north of Baton Rouge where Joyner frequently performs. It’s a fun track and puts the listener smack dab in the middle of a good time. Joyner beautifully covers David Allen Coe’s “Tennessee Whiskey”. This horn-laced, slow-dance R&B version of the 1981 Billboard US Hot Country Songs is absolutely incredible. His take on Robert Cray’s “Too Many Cooks” features a searing guitar intro and amazing keyboard runs. I love how Joyner can take a song like this and put his own unique thumbprint on it. One of my favorite Muddy Waters songs is “Hoochie Coochie Man”, and Joyner’s barrel-house cover sweeps me off my feet.

Sam Joyner’s Come What May (I’ll Always Love You) is a blues record which is a splendid listen from start to finish, and I’ll be listening to this one a lot.    


For more information about Sam Joyner, visit the website at  


Saturday, June 22, 2024

#689 : Sierra Green & The Giants - Here We Are (

Release Date : June 21, 2024

By Phillip Smith; June 22, 2024


Original source :


I’m absolutely loving this new album Here We Are from New Orleans-based Sierra Green & The Giants. Green’s vocals are heavily-steeped in the MoTown sound. Her band, The Giants are as tight as a band can be. For a bonus, J.D. Simo is somehow involved too.

The record rolls out on a funky groove with “Can You Get to That?”.  I love her buttery cover of Bob Seger’s “Come to Poppa” rewired as “Come to Mama”. Her voice sits among the Soul-singing greats. Being from New Orleans, it’s quite fitting to take on a Meters song. “Break in the Road” is that, and cooks. The way the horns tear loose on “Dreams” is a head-turner. There’s another couple of terrific back-to-back covers with “This is a Man’s World” and “He Called Me Baby”. 

I highly recommend giving this album a listen. Sierra Green & The Giants are certainly a band to keep a watch on,


For more information about Sierra Green & The Giants, visit the website at



Apologies to those who enjoy seeing who the musicians are song-writers are on the albums I review. That information was not available to me at the time of the writing of this review.  Regardless, give this album a listen.  It’s fantastic!   

Saturday, June 15, 2024

#688 : The B. Christopher Band - 106 Miles to Chicago (


2024 – Guitar One Records

Release Date : June 20, 2024

 By Phillip Smith; June 15, 2024


Original source :


After capturing my full attention almost two years ago with his album Snapshots From the Second Floor, B. Christopher has returned to win me over again with his latest album 106 Miles to Chicago. Jake and Elwood aficionados should get the reference immediately, as this is a tribute album to one of my all-time favorite tribute bands The Blues Brothers. With every listen to this album, I can feel the joy pulsating through the music of these seven outstanding tracks. B. Christopher’s guitar mastery is joined by Eddie Testa on lead vocals, Anton Fig on drums, Nick Douglas on bass and backing vocals, Bruce Katz on keys Andy Snizter on tenor and baritone sax, Ryan Keberle on trombone, Tony Kadleck on trumpet, original Blues Brothers member Tom “Bones” Malone on baritone sax on ‘Gimme Some Lovin’”, Sharlotte Gibson on backing vocals, and Studebaker John on harmonica.

Floyd Dixon’s “Hey Bartender” makes a fantastic introduction to the album. Testa’s vocals are perfectly fitted and B. Christopher’s guitar solo absolutely cooks. Electricity and excitement fill the air when the band breaks out “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love”. With the great Bruce Katz on keys, and guest appearance by Bones Malone, this is an absolute favorite. Hearing the horns kick in with that oh-so-familiar bassline on “Peter Gunn” puts a giant smile on my face. I dig the interesting licks B. Christopher lays down on this.  The band knocks that Spencer Davis Group 1966 hit “Gimme Some Lovin’” out of the park as well.

B. Christopher Band’s 106 Miles to Chicago pays an honorable tribute to the world-renowned blues duo The Blues Brothers. It’s definitely a record I’d recommend. It’s a fun listen.



For more information about B. Christopher Band, visit the website at :


Follow the link below for more PhillyCheeze reviews featuring B. Christopher:

Saturday, June 8, 2024

#687 : Jennifer Westwood & the Handsome Devils - Mad Man's World (

2024 – Maverick Ranch

Release Date : June 17, 2024

By Phillip Smith; June 8, 2024


Original source :

Almost nine years have passed since Jennifer Westwood and the Handsome Devils released Greetings From This Town. I listened to that record heavily for a very long time. Mad Man’s World, their latest album is a fantastic ten-track recording. It was very much worth the wait. I absolutely love Westwood’s voice. It sounds magnificent as she pours it over an amalgam of Detroit Soul, Muscle Shoals, and American Roots music. With Westwood fronting the band on vocals, the Handsome Devils are comprised of Westwood’s husband Dylan Dunbar on guitar, bassist Chuck Bartels, drummers Ron Pangburn and David Below, percussionist Brandon Husken, keyboardist Lucky Haskins, horn players Joshua James and Jimmy Smith, and backing vocalists Susan Marshall and Reba Russell.

Mad Man’s World opens up in a vibrant Latin western-scape “Viva Terlingua”. This homage to Jerry Jeff Walker has all the brilliance of an Ennio Morricone spaghetti western score. Title-track “Mad Man’s World” follows up in a bluesy Dap-Kings fashion topped with horns and swirling keys, as Westwood calls out the systematic misogyny which has plagued the world since the beginning of time.  My ears perk up even more when Dunbar serves up a Clapton-esque guitar solo. He then pulls me tightly in to “Bulletproof” with his lingering, blues-soaked licks. From a delicate and vulnerable beginning, the song emerges as an anthem to overcoming one’s obstacles. I was gob-smacked when I heard their cover of The Parliaments’ 1967 hit “(I Wanna) Testify”. Written by George Clinton, this track is kept funky and fueled with Sixties soul. The infectious melody of “Bad Luck Charm” beckons me in to a melancholy masterpiece about bad luck and heartache. “How am I Supposed to Live This Way” brings the album to its close with a driving rhythm and cornucopia of sound. It truly is a grand finale.  

Jennifer Westwood and the Handsome Devils’ Mad Man’s World is undeniably great from beginning to end. It’s one of my favorite albums I have heard this year.       



For more information about Jennifer Westwood, visit the website at


Follow the link below for more PhillyCheeze reviews featuring Jennifer Westwood:


Saturday, May 25, 2024

#686 : Eliza Neals - Colorcrimes (


2024 – E.H. Records

By Phillip Smith; May 25, 2024

Original source :


Detroit blues-rocker Eliza Neals is an artist who has secured a spot among my favorites. She pours an abundant amount of talent and creativity into her performances and songwriting, cultivating lasting, memorable songs. Her latest album Colorcrimes has swept me off my feet with its nine all-original tracks. With Neals on lead vocals and piano, Michael Puwal returns as lead guitarist for the brunt of the album.

The record leads off with a delicious serving of swampy slide guitar on “Heal This Land”. The song hearkens back to southern spirituals and delivers a much-needed message for the world today. I absolutely love that Neals turned what started out as a sour note at a show in Michigan into the riveting hit of a song “Banned in Jackson”. Mark “Muggy Do” Leach (Buddy Miles) guests on B3 giving the song a gorgeous full sound. I can feel the emotion pouring out of Neals as she belts out the title-track “Colorcrimes”, a beautiful song of unity. The wailing guitar performance from Puwal brilliantly joins Neals as a second vocal. It’s an amazing listen. Guitarist Brian Lord (Mitch Ryder) joins in on the infectious fun of “Love Dr. Love”. This cooking track takes a small break for a New Orleans-style, horn-fueled second-line to honor the late, great Barrett Strong Jr. (Feb. 5, 1941 – Jan. 28, 2023) who cowrote this and two other songs on this album with Neals. “Sugar Daddy” is a blast to hear as it takes a dive into the world of Motown and Phil Spector’s early girl-group years.  Topped off with the sounds of sax from Tyrone Smith and a psychedelic-laced dose of guitar from King Solomon Hicks, this track is a sure-fire winner. I’m very happy to see “Candy Store”, the 2023 single which lit up blues radio last year, land on this release. It’s a fun-as-hell listen filled with confectionery double entendres.

From my first listen to Colorcrimes, I knew it would be an album I will have on heavy-rotation for a long while. It’s one of those records that demands to be heard.             



For more information about Eliza Neals, visit her website at


Follow the link below for more PhillyCheeze reviews featuring Eliza Neals:


Eliza Neals’ Colorcrimes is also available on Bandcamp

Saturday, May 18, 2024

#685 : Kevin Burt & Big Medicine - Thank You Brother Bill : A Tribute To Bill Withers (


2023 – Gulf Coast Records

By Phillip Smith; May 18, 2024

Original source :


I’ve been listening to Kevin Burt perform his magic behind the microphone for almost thirty-two years now. He is one of the most gifted singers I know. His well of talent runs quite deep and that talent brought him awards in three categories at the 2018 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee. He walked away that year with First Place Solo/Duo , First Place Solo/Duo Guitarist, and the Lee Oskar Award for Best Harmonica Player.

His fourth album Thank You Brother Bill (A Tribute to Bill Withers) breathes new life into a dozen Bill Withers songs. It couples Burt with a stellar backing ensemble called Big Medicine comprised of Scot Southerland on bass, Ken Valdez on lead/rhythm guitar/backing vocals, and Eric Douglas on drums.  

From the opening notes of “Who is He (and What is He To You)?” I’m all-in. I love how Burt's voice suavely fills the air radiating off the funky groove constructed from Big Medicine. The funk gets stronger on “Kissing My Love”. Topped with a smokin’ splash of harp, this track absolutely cooks as Valdez tosses in his searing guitar licks. The tempo drops and the bluesy soulful goodness of “World Keeps Going Round and Round” hits with an amazing heaviness as the tension tightens like a tourniquet. Then “Just the Two of Us” rolls in like a ray of sunshine with Burt opening up the song on harmonica. I can’t help but feel good when I hear this song. It’s such a delight. I absolutely love his cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine”. The emotion Burt packs into his delivery on this track cuts to the bone. It’s additionally fortified by Douglas slapping out a ferocious beat on congas. “Lean on Me” brings back a flood of memories of hanging out with one of my best friends growing up. The song is a gift of time-travel, as I recall those care-free days.  Bringing the album to its close, is the title-track “Thank You Brother Bill”, written by Burt to show his gratitude and “Big Love” for music of Bill Withers. It really makes for the perfect closer for this album.

Thank You Brother Bill is one of the most perfect tribute albums I’ve heard by a single artist. Kevin Burt does an outstanding job of taking on these treasured songs and I highly recommend this recording.




For more information about Kevin Burt, visit his website at


Follow the link below for more PhillyCheeze reviews featuring Kevin Burt:



Thursday, May 16, 2024

#684 : Big Head Todd & the Monsters - Her Way Out (


2024 – Big Records

Release Date : May 31, 2024

By Phillip Smith; May 18, 2024

Original source :

Her Way Out, the first album from Big Head Todd in seven years, is very much worth the wait. This ten-track record is loaded with extraordinary rockers slathered in rootsy, bluesy grooves. Todd Mohr returns to the studio for this recording with Rob Squires on bass, Brian Nevin on drums, and Jeremy Lawton on keys,lap/pedal steel, and backing vocals.

Big Head Todd leads off with the three singles previously released from this album, fortifying the listening experience for a very strong start. First out the gate is title-track “Her Way Out”. Riding a driving rhythm laced with pedal steel and piano, it sure has a way of reminding me of Tom Petty, and I like it a lot. “Thunderbird” follows up next in a big southern rocking way, but with a riff reminiscent of classic AC/DC. According to Mohr, the film American Graffiti was the inspiration for this song which waxes nostalgic for the glory days of fast cars, Wolfman Jack and James Dean. The third single in this opening trifecta is “Crush” which walks the listener through a shattering break-through with a laid-back groove and Mohr’s guitar-driven finesse. I love the way the pulsing intro to “Don’t Kill Me Tonight” seems to push the listener into a runaway train in which the conductor sings the story of Annie Oakley, Frank Butler, and Buffalo Bill. Decorated with spaghetti-western twang and punk-friendly riffs, the song really snatched my attention. “Rainbow Girl” brings the record to its close with a rocking, pixie-dust coated, working-class, love-ballad riding a poppy beat, cosmic sounds, and topped with a little feedback. It’s a fun track indeed.

Big Head Todd restores album-oriented rock with this record. It effortlessly flows from beginning to end. Her Way Out certainly lands among my favorites of the year so far.      


For more information about Big Head Todd and this album, visit the website :