Saturday, June 29, 2013

Beth Hart – Joe Bonamassa - Don’t Explain.

By Phillip Smith

Don’t Explain is what being a music junkie is all about.  This is a collection of ten soulfully retro-fitted songs featuring covers from Ray Charles, Billy Holiday, Etta James and Aretha Franklin to name just a few.  I listen to a lot of music each year, and find many treasures, even so, I have to say this collaboration from Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa surpasses most of those.  I love the way Beth Hart sings with pure emotion while Bonamassa subtly backs her on guitar.    

Sexy and sultry, Hart plays the part of fallen angel on the first couple of tracks, as she covers Ray Charles’ “Sinners Prayers” and Tom Waits’ “Chocolate Jesus”.   Bonamassa brings a bit of spaghetti western guitar to the table on ‘Chocolate Jesus’, creating an ominous environment, contrasting Hart’s softly sung vocals and piano.  I really like this one.

The Holy Grail song on this album is ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, originally by Etta James.  The performance is unmistakably phenomenal.  With a string section in the background, Hart sings with believability and conviction.  Bonamassa takes over the bridge and picks out the melody only the way Bonamassa could.  Another Etta cover, “Something’s Got a Hold on Me”, is also a lot of fun.  Although it’s got a gospel flavor to it, I doubt anyone would ever hear this one played in church.

Fans of  Bonamassa will dig the Bill Wither’s cover of  “For My Friends”.  The riff is hard and fuzzy, and not hippie friendly, like the original.  I have to give this album two thumbs up.  One for Beth Hart, and one for Joe Bonamassa.    

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Irish District Music and Arts Festival, Cedar Rapids, June 22, 2013

Saturday, June 22, folks from around the area descended upon the Irish District neighborhood in Cedar Rapids, to enjoy live music, local food, and celebrate community pride.

The event kicked off on the main stage with The Ron DeWitte All Stars featuring Tom Giblin, Bryce Janey, Dan Johnson and Jon Wilson.  Following them was Tallgrass, a three piece band from Iowa City.  The Family Groove Company closed the night.

The Central Shores stage featured The Significance of Simon, and closed with a spectacular performance from Craig Erickson and Friends.

Proceeds from the event will be used to support the Eastern Iowa Arts Academy Guitar Program.

Ron Dewitte All Stars - Ron Dewitte, Dan Johnson, Bryce Janey

Dan Johnson and Bryce Janey

Ron DeWitte

Austin Morford and Matt Skinner from Tallgrass

Adam Morford from TallGrass


Craig Erickson

Craig Erickson

Contino – Back Porch Dogma

By Phillip Smith

Contino may just be one of the coolest bands sporting an accordion to hit the scene.  Led by Pete Contino, son of legendary accordionist, Dick Contino who gave us ‘Lady of Spain’ and ‘Beer Barrel Polka’, this quintet intertwines Blues, Zydeco, Jazz and Americana music to produce an album full of spirited songs, rich juicy melodies, and solid vocals. 

Even with accordion in hand, their cover of Lim Liban’s ‘I Don’t Want to Know’ is straight up blues.  Al Ek wails away on the harp, providing near perfect accompaniment to Contino’s vocals on this one about letting go of the past.   Speaking of Contino’s vocals, they really stand out on their cover of Willie Love’s ‘V-8 Ford’.  Ek belts out some great harmonica again, and Billie Truitt has a nice little solo on keyboards to boot.

They break out the Cajun seasonings on ‘Zydeco Train’, and ‘Monkey’.   ‘Zydeco Train’ makes me want to throw some crawfish in a big ol’ pot, boil ‘em up, and invite some friends over for a crawfish boil.  While Contino and Truitt take on the heaviest load, you can’t deny that upright bass providing that big steady beat.  What a cool sound.  ‘Monkey’ a song about infatuation, has a more chilled vibe to it.  It’s slower and relaxed and will have you rooting for the man and the object of his desire to make a connection.

Falling into neither the Blues nor Zydeco category, “Three Cool Cats” originally recorded by the Coasters and covered by the Beatles as well in 1962, is hip and beat.  It has a way of creeping into the subconscious mind. 

I’m very impressed with this album.  It held my interest, sounded really good, and is good for replay-ability. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Big James and the Chicago Playboys The Big Payback

By Phillip Smith

The Big Payback,  recorded live at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Club at the Le Meridien Hotel in Paris France, is spirited and electric.  The jazz club experience is definitely captured well on this album.  With Big James pounding out the vocals, and guitarist Mike "Money" Wheeler knocking out a steady stream of awesome guitar licks, the horn section, made up of Big James Montgomery (trombone)  and Charles "Richard" Pryor (trumpet/flugelhorn) provides the icing on the cake.  It just doesn't get much better than this.

Influences of James Brown and George Clinton, two of my favorites, are infused into the title track, 'The Big Payback'', originally by James Brown.  Big James breaks out the funk and for the duration of the song, hosts the spirit of the hardest working man in show biz.    This is one of my favorite tracks.  It's funky, got a nice groove to it, and has these really cool  P-funk style spoken background vocals.   While on the topic of the godfather of funk, we are also treated to a Funkadelic cover, 'I'll Stay'.  This is a really nice cover, the vocals are toned down and smoothed out to set the somber mood of the song, Pryor gives a powerfully cool trumpet solo on this one. 

A couple of interesting covers make the cut.  'Trying to Live My Life Without You' , written by Eugene Williams , but recorded by both Otis Clay and Bob Seger, is a big pleaser.   To my surprise,  at the end, we get a cover of Deep Purple's 'Smoke on the Water' to highlight Wheelers axe welding skills, and to introduce the band.  It's kind of weird to hear 'Smoke on the Water' played with a band such as the Chicago Playboys.  It's a nice change of pace, to hear a different take on this song, which differs immensely from the over-played Deep Purple version as well as the football stadium version.

The next time I am in Chicago, I am definitely going to see if Big James and the Chicago Playboys are playing anywhere.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Tommy Castro presents The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue Live

By Phillip Smith

If one thing can be said about Tommy Castro, it’s that he knows how to put on a show.  So well in fact that he is the honorary captain of the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruises.   This album features some of the highlights from The Revue’s recent live performances.  The Revue consists of Tommy Castro, his band, complete with horn section, and a number of musical guests. 

Magic is in the air as Castro totally reinvents Bob Dylan’s ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’.  Possibly one of the hottest tracks on the whole album, it’s as if Stevie Wonder himself took the song, baptized it in a lake of funk, and handed it back. 

Rick Estrin, who has recently taken over for Little Charlie as front man for the Nightcats, dishes out some smoking’ harp licks on ‘My Next Ex-Wife’.   Estrin, not the only Nightcat in on this one, is joined on this one by his guitarist Chris ‘Kid’ Anderson, who adds some pretty hot licks to the song as well.

If I were to continue name dropping, I might ask what Michael Burks, Joe Louis Walker,  Trampled Under Foot, and Janiva Magness all have in common.  The answer would be that they all contribute smoking hot numbers on this album as well. 

This CD is definitely a jewel for those who dig their compilation albums.  Because Castro’s band is backing each track, the listener gets a really good mix of music, but with a common thread providing a fluid connection.   Of course, this one comes highly recommended.