Saturday, December 26, 2015

Mike Zito & the Wheel - Keep Coming Back


2015 – Ruf Records
By Phillip Smith; Dec 26, 2015

 

Mike Zito is quickly becoming one of my favorite songwriters.  His lyrics have a way of connecting with the working class, and the music to which they are delivered is a splendid dose of rock, blues, and Americana. The Wheel consists of a stellar group of musicians: bassist Scot Sutherland, pianist Lewis Stephens, saxophonist Jimmy Carpenter, and drummer Rob LeeKeep Coming Back contains ten magnificently written and performed originals along with a ripping cover of Bob Seger’s “Out of Denver” and a funky take on CCR’s “Bootleg”.   

Stephens and Carpenter dole out tasty barrelhouse piano and rocking sax on title track “Keep Coming Back” as Zito kicks out the jams on guitar.  This one is one big ball of bluesy fun. 
I love easing into the day, listening to “Early in the Morning” on my way to work.  Zito’s raspy vocals remind me a lot of Rod Stewart's.

A true master at telling stories through this music, Zito delivers the goods with “Girl From Liberty”, which takes a closer look at the grim underbelly of dysfunctional family life.  This song sits atop my list of favorites.  Zito then digs deep inside his soul to share the destruction and aftermath resulting from his battles with addiction, in the heart wrenching “I Was Drunk”.  There’s an anxious energy surrounding “Cross the Border”, a chaotic tale of reckless abandon.  It surely leaves me hanging on the edge of my seat as the story unfolds.    

Whether he’s performing his own songs, or one of the covers, Zito keeps it real and keeps it interesting.  That’s what I love about his music.    

     


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Johnny I. - All Star Blues Revival


2015 – JIB Music
By Phillip Smith; Dec 19, 2015

 

Johnny I. is Connecticut-based singer/songwriter/guitarist John Ingrassia, and this guitar-slinging bluesman has enlisted a few very well-known and very well-respected friends in the music industry to join him in the recording of All Star Blues Revival, a terrific three track EP that packs a lot of punch.  

Mixed by non-other than the legendary producer, Jim Gaines, the laid back and cool “Late Night”, ventures into the realm of psychedelic blues with Johnny I’s groovy guitar licks and the lush B3 sounds of the great Bruce Katz.  But wait, there’s more: Jaimoe (Allman Brothers) delivers the beats and Tommy Shannon (SRV Double Trouble) the bass, making for a killer performance.  “Avery’s Tune” features Blind Melon’s Glen Graham on drums with Brad Smith mixing. Ingrassia plays his heart out and Graham wails on the drums. This tune truly jams. A fun and funky rhythm drives “Life is Better (2nd Time Around).  On this one, Ingrassia enlists Billy Cox (Jimi Hendrix Experience), drummer Chris Layton (SRV Double Trouble) and Reese Wynans(SRV Double Trouble) for this true all-star jam, also mixed by Gaines.   

All Star Blues Revival is a huge winner in my book.  Three songs are just not enough though. I want more.      





Jay Jesse Johnson - Set the Blues on Fire


2015 – Grooveyard Records
By Phillip Smith; Dec 19, 2015


Set the Blues on Fire, Jay Jesse Johnson’s latest album does indeed set the Blues on fire.  This album is fully-loaded with a dozen outstanding original blues songs delivered by one of the most bodacious guitar players around.  Johnson surrounds himself with great talent as well.  Joining him is bassist Reed Bogart, drummer Jeff “Smokey” Donaldson, and keyboardist Lee Evans, making one tight as hell band.     

Johnson jump-starts the ride with full force, delivering a magnificent no-holds-barred performance on “Hell or High Water”.  I get charged when the title track “Set the Blues on Fire” kicks in.  This one is red hot and flawless. “Ace in the Hole” is an intriguing boat load of fun.  Donaldson’s killer beats and Bogart’s deliciously funky bassline set a perfect environment for Johnson to let loose and jam.  Another head-turning favorite, “Don’t Mess with My Baby” is a badass song doused in Texas blues and infused with funk.  I love the rollicking and gritty “Wheelhouse Boogie”.  It’s “roadhouse blues” at its best.


Jay Jesse Johnson has surely got it going on.  Set the Blues on Fire is the real deal and I highly recommend.  



Saturday, December 12, 2015

Josh Smith - Over Your Head


2015 – Joshfrost Music BMI
By Phillip Smith; Dec 12, 2015

 

Josh Smith’s 2012 release, Don’t Give Up On Me was terrific.  His latest album, Over Your Head is even better.  The lineup of his band remains the same, with Smith dishing out copious amounts of electrified blues on guitar, alongside bassist Calvin Turner and drummer Lemar Carter.

“How Long”, a killer track about slowly being pushed over the edge, gets the show going very nicely.  Carter tears it up on drums, while Smith delivers thick bluesy hooks and a phenomenal session of shred.  There’s even more exquisite guitar on the bad-ass and catchy “Smoke and Mirrors”. The song begs to be played loud.  Another track best played loudly is “First Hand Look (at Down and Out)”.  Guitarist Chicco Gussoni lays down some delicious licks that are pure candy for my ears. 

Smith doesn’t skimp when it comes to special guests.  Joe Bonamassa sits in on the killer title track, “Over Your Head” for an outstanding performance.  Smith’s gravelly and soulful vocals sound so good on this one.  Kirk Fletcher from the Mannish Boys gets his groove on in the funky instrumental with an old school Bar-Kays vibe, “… And What”.  This one is just plain fun.  “You’ll Find Love”, features the legendary Charlie Musselwhite on harp. This is blues at its best. 


Smith inserts power and perfection into each and every song, making Over Your Head such a delightful listen from beginning to end.  Needless to say, this album is definitely going down as one of my favorites of the year.   




Saturday, December 5, 2015

Jennifer Westwood and the Handsome Devils - Greetings From This Town


2015 – Jennifer Westwood and the Handsome Devils
By Phillip Smith; Dec 5, 2015

 

I have nothing but good things to say about Detroit band, Jennifer Westwood and the Handsome Devils.  Their debut album Greetings From This Town is an intoxicating Memphis-meets-Nashville blend of rock, blues, and country.  Lead vocalist Jennifer Westwood is joined by guitarist Dylan Dunbar, bassist Jeremy Mackinder, pianist/organist Jarrod Champion, and drummer Matt Stahl.

Westwood’s sultry yet powerful vocals instantly draw me in on “Bad Luck Charm” a rockin’ track sweetened by Dunbar with luscious guitar licks.  I’m quite drawn to “Living on the Fringe”, a relatable country song about just getting through the day.  Westwood has such a pretty voice; it reminds me a lot of Linda Ronstadt, especially on this track.  “Nobody’s Business” is one cool as hell post-break-up song.  Champion lays down some ominous chords on the organ while Dunbar serves up a funky dose of cowboy surf guitar.  

Westwood and the Handsome Devils put their own spin on R.L. Burnside’s “Skinny Woman” with “Redneck Man”.  Westwood and Dunbar nail this duet to the tree as they belt the song out with conviction and true grit.  Dunbar dishes out a magnificent guitar performance on this one too.   Other stand-out covers include Eddie Rabbit’s “Driving My Life Away” and the Stones bluesy classic from their Exile on Main Street album “Ventilator Blues”.

There’s something magical about Greetings From This Town.  It is an absolutely wonderful listen and music for the rustic soul.

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Badluck Charm 
Live @ Ann Arbor Summerfest 2015
Video by Jeremy Klann