Saturday, December 28, 2013

Cyril Neville - Magic Honey

Magic Honey



Ruf Records,  2013

By Phillip Smith; December 28, 2013



We all know moss doesn’t grow on a rolling stone, and at Sixty-Five years of age, one will not find one gram of moss on Cyril Neville.  Constantly recording and touring with either his own band, or as part of the super-group, Royal Southern Brotherhood with Devon Allman and Mike Zito, the man keeps on rolling.  That being said, one can plan on settling down for a nice groovy listen when one reaches for the new Cyril Neville album, Magic Honey, and taps the play button.  I love the way Neville adds his funky spin to the Blues to make his own fresh sound.  Band members consist of guitarist Cranston Clements, drummer “Mean” Willie Green, bassist Carl Dufrene, and keyboardist Norman Caesar.  Neville also enlists help from friends, Dr. John, Walter Trout, Mike Zito, Allen Toussaint, and David Z, Neville.  With all of that going on, this album can’t help being anything but fun.

I was drawn in by the catchy melody and Clements swampy licks on the bluesy title track, “Magic Honey”. But by the time I got to “Something’s Got a Hold on Me”, I was totally captivated.  With guest guitarist, David Z on board, this one emanates the sound and energy of Led Zeppelin. Crank up the volume on this one and enjoy.  

It’s cool to hear Dr. John sitting in on and applying his trademark sound to “Swamp Funk”, a song he wrote himself.  I find myself nodding my head and hitching a ride on this tasty groove every time I hear it, as it leans a little more to the side of team ‘funk’, as opposed to the side of team ‘swamp’.  It’s also neat to hear Mike Zito playing on “Money and Oil”, a track co-written by Zito and Neville. Neville addresses the reality of the politics of today, as he rightfully sings ‘when it all comes down, it’s all about money and oil’.         

 
The must-hear song on this album though, is “Working Man”.  If it sounds like the title of a Rush song, that’s because it is.  Instigating a proverbial double take at first, I realized this was an outstandingly cool cover after my neck snapped back to its rightful place.  This one is surely more bouncy and playful than the original, but that’s what makes it memorable.  I really like Neville’s smooth and vibrant vocals coupled with Clements killer guitar performance.

Really good from start to finish, one can’t go wrong picking this album up.    



The Official Video – Cyril Neville covers the RUSH classic – “Working Man”







Thursday, December 26, 2013

Johnny Rawls “ Ace of Spades ” From the Archives #9

Johnny Rawls | Ace Of Spades


by Phillip Smith

With Ace of Spades, Mississippi blues artist Johnny Rawls brings the big city blues club to the listener with a very polished production and smooth as silk vocals.  His style reminds me a lot of Sam and Dave, as it reflects a lot of that Memphis sound from the mid to late Sixties. The recording of  Ace of Spades was split between two different studios, Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, TX, and Soul Tree Studios in Helena, MT.  Rawls uses a separate set of musicians at each location. 

There are three songs recorded at Sonic Ranch that really jump out and grab me.  The first being the title track, “Ace of Spades”.  This is such a fun song, and I really like the way Rawls includes the horn section.  The second, being “Gasoline on the Fire”, a really funky selection from the viewpoint of a fellow whose lady is a bit on the wild side.  Lastly, “My Broken Heart”, which features a powerful horn arrangement with a taste of keyboards to spice up Rawls soulful vocals as he sings about his heart being torn apart. 

Some very wonderful cuts were recorded at Soul Tree as well.  Rawls makes an excellent point, as he  preaches about how self indulgent we have all become trying to live the “American Dream”.  The lyrics are poignantly honest  as he sings ‘as you drive on by in your limousine, he [the homeless man] can’t see into your American dream.’.   It makes one think about priorities.   “Can’t Win For Losing”, another song I think quite a few folks can identify with,  considering the current condition of the economy,  is a slower cut with a slight zydeco flavoring.  When I hear the hook, ‘I can’t win for losing, I lose every time.  Every time I get a nickel, somebody want a dime‘, I say ‘Amen brother!’.

This is a solid CD.  It’s enjoyable from beginning to end, and worth checking out. 

Rating =  5/5
http://www.johnnyrawlsblues.com/


Originally published in the Linn County Blues Society Bluespaper - April 2010



Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Janeys - Get Down With the Blues



 Get Down With the Blues



Grooveyard Records,  2013

By Phillip Smith; December 22, 2013


It has always been a pleasurable treat when Billylee Janey and Bryce Janey join forces to play as The Janeys. With Get Down With the Blues, their third studio release playing together, they continue a family tradition of producing outstanding blues.  Accompanying the talented father/son team is bassist Dan ‘DJ’ Johnson, and drummer Eric Douglas.  Also joining the crew on four tracks with his Hammond organ is Tommy ‘T-Bone’ Giblin.

Get Down With the Blues opens strong and closes even stronger as the Janeys cover Jimi Hendrix’s “Beginnings” on track one, and serving up a very cool rendition of ‘Third Stone From the Sun’ on the last track.  I love the dual electric guitar sound riding atop the percussionary bus driven by Douglas on “Beginnings”. Billylee and Bryce trade licks back and forth as if fighting it out in a psychedelic guitar-centric ‘Thunderdome’. 
I consider “Third Stone From the Sun”, the desert at the end of the meal.  I just want to close my eyes and listen when it comes on.  Johnson and Douglas keep the trance-friendly rhythm going while the Janeys totally let loose on their guitars.  This one is the crème de la crème.

The Janeys offers up quite a soulful rendition of “It’s Not My Cross to Bear” from the Allman Brothers Band’s self-titled album.  I like the way it witfully ends with the closing riff from “Whipping Post”, also from that same Allman Brothers album. Giblin and his Hammond, gives this one authenticity.   Still on the subject of covers, I have to smile when I hear “Mind Bender”, the classic ditty from Stillwater about a mind-bending guitar whose father was a Gibson and mother was a Fender (that’s why they call him Mind Bender).  The Janeys also nail down “The Good Love”, a track from Johnny Winter’s Second Winter album.  Bryce’s deep vocals fit this one very well. 

There’s some really nice originals on the album too.  I really like the slightly unsettling track, “When the Devil Comes Out to Play”.  It has a retro Seventies Blues Rock vibe and just the right amount of fuzz.  “The Rose” is another one that made me perk up and take notice.  Marinated in a big bucket of Southern Rock, I hear a definite Allman Brothers influence running through this one.            

The Janeys scored big with the appropriately titled, Get Down With the Blues. This collection of Blues Rock is a sweet blend of deep covers and interesting originals.            


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Paul Thorn - “ Pimps and Preachers ” From the Archives #8

Pimps & Preachers




Phillip Smith

Hailing from Tupelo, Mississippi, the birthplace of Elvis Presley, Paul Thorn proves that lightning does strike twice in the same place every once in a while.  Composing an almost perfect anthem for the common working man, Thorn mixes it up with a variety of styles ranging from country-blues to zydeco boogie on Pimps and Preachers.

Appropriately named, Pimps and Preachers tends to avoid pledging total allegiance to either ‘Team Pimp’ or ‘Team Preacher’.  It finds humanity, as it exists, right in the middle of God and the devil.  I love the last few lyrics in ‘You’re Not the Only One’, the first selection on the album: “Life don’t come with a  guarantee.  You only get so many heartbeats.  It’s such a blessing to be alive.  Whatever happens I’m satisfied.”.   These words are so true, and its nice to be reminded that every day is a blessing.

“Pimps and Preachers”, the title track, is one of the most interesting tracks, as Thorn describes the conflicting lessons he learned from his father the preacher, and his uncle, the polar opposite.   I find there is also a pimp and preacher aspect to the musical portion of the song as well, as it mixes contemporary country with a funky R&B bass line. 

I got tickled listening to ‘I Don’t Like Half the Folks I Love’, a bluesy song that poignantly reminds us that just because someone is loved, they don’t necessarily have to be liked.  This is one of my favorite tracks.   A couple of other favorites are  ‘Better Days Ahead’, which has a certain Bruce Springsteen air to it‘s chorus, and ‘Nona Lisa’, a melody about pining for a gal with which he once had a one night stand.  

Paul Thorn is an expert story teller/song writer.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this album from start to finish, and will enjoy it for years to come.
 





* Originally published on BluesRevue.com, Oct 2010

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Vince Esquire - “First Offense”



By Phillip Smith


It’s always exciting and somewhat fulfilling when one uncovers a new musical artist to enjoy.  That’s why I am never satisfied listening to the same music over and over again.  I have to keep sampling new songs and music.  As I listen to new music, I categorize them as either top shelf, bottom shelf, or somewhere in-between.  First Offense, a nine track album from Vince Esquire landed on one of the upper shelves in my categorization process.  This album is straight up blues/rock at its finest.  I can definitely see why his guitar of choice is a Stevie Ray Vaughan signature Strat.  Esquire, guitar master/vocalist is joined by bassist Mark Epstein, drummer Vito Liuzzi and organist Jeff Levine on the studio recordings, and joined by bassist Shawn Michael and drummer Josh Greenbaum on an outstanding live bonus track of, B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby”.  

Leading off with Etta Jame’s “Blues is my Business”, we see business is good indeed as Esquire opens the doors to his arsenal of axe-wielding skills, giving us a good taste of what’s to follow.  Slick licks riding atop a Texas Blues groove make “Check Out Her Mama” a nice cover, sans the signature Johnny Winter growly vocals.  Check out the guitar solo on this one. 

I feel like I’m soaking in a relaxing hot tub of nice warm Blues, when Esquire breaks into Buddy Guy’s “Leave My Girl Alone”.  Slow and emotional, this one is Blues to the core.  Also slowly steeped in the Blues, is the heart wrenching rendition of “Tin Pan Alley”.  Almost eleven minutes long, written by Bob Geddins, and also famously covered by the late great Stevie Ray Vaughan, all I can say about this one is ‘Wow!’.  Words can’t explain the intensity on this one.  It just needs to be heard.  

Esquire is no slacker when it comes to song writing either.  “Better This Time” has just a little bit of a country flavor added in, reminiscent of the music of Gregg Allman.  I like the texture Levine’s Hammond organ adds to it. There’s also “Freight Train”, another original about the pursuit of love.  This one takes me right to Beale Street, as it has Memphis blues written all over it.

I am quite impressed with this album, and am definitely glad I gave this one a listen to.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Metallica - Death Magnetic - From the Archives #7





By Phillip Smith


My curiosity of how would Metallica sound with new bassist, Robert Trujillo and producer Rick Rubin had been getting the best of me.  Upon listening though, I concluded this CD was definitely well worth the wait.  Death Magnetic is unmistakably Metallica in their truest form... heavy and more aggressive than ever.

The listener is first greeted with the steady sound of a heartbeat, which seems to fade away as a heavier percussive and electric assault marks its territory.  James Hetfeld is at the top of his game as his vocals for “That Was Just Your Life” join along.  Second up to bat, 'The End of the Line' is just a damn good song.  I grow more and more fond of it the more I hear it.  The guitar licks Kirk Hammett throws down on this song is quite impressive. 

One of my favorites of the collection and the first single, "The Day That Never Comes" is the Jackson Pollock of the album.  With all sorts of layers and emotions spattered about.  It's tranquil. It's heavy.  It rocks.  As does "All Nightmare Long", which showcases Lars percussive ingenuity.

Staying true to the Unforgiven formula, if there is one, 'The Unforgiven III' surely fits within the mold.  Suitable enough for a Sergio Leone spaghetti western, if he were alive today to make a film.  The song was enjoyable, and also provides a few moments to catch ones breath.

Again, Kirk displays his amazing talent on "The Judas Kiss".  Reminiscent of early Metallica, we also acknowledge Hetfelds’ voice remains as powerful as ever.  "My Apocalypse", the second coming of "Battery" from their album Master of Puppets, and also the final track is absolutely Metallica at their finest.  This will be the song I will remember this album for.  I really couldn't even begin to guess how many boxes of Wheaties Lars had before recording this track, but I would say probably a lot.  


* Originally published on FoundryMusic.com, Oct. 2008