Saturday, December 31, 2016

Glenn Hughes - Resonate

2016 – Frontiers Music
By Phillip Smith; Dec. 31, 2016

Glenn Hughes continues to rock the world with one of the most outstanding voices on the planet.  Resonate, his first solo release in eight years is sure to be a contender for Best Rock Album of 2016. Joining Hughes on this fabulous eleven track album of all-originals is guitarist Soren Andersen, drummer Pontus Engborg, and keyboardist Lachy Doley.  

Hughes brilliantly flaunts his rock and roll bass guitar and vocal chops on “Heavy”.  This high-voltage opening track boasts thick monster guitar licks from Andersen and stellar crashing beats from guest drummer Chad Smith of The Red Hot Chili Peppers.  “Let it Shine” sneaks up on the listener and sinks its hooks right in.  Amid Andersen’s revving riffs and Doley’s glorious full-bodied keys, Hughes keeps it melodic and soulful until the furious end.  Mad keyboard wizardry and crashing guitar riffs wash ashore like the foretelling waves of a tsunami on “Steady”.  The gravity waves emitted from “Landmines” funky rhythm tightly pull me into its adrenalin-rich hook. With acoustic guitar in hand, Hughes closes the album with “Long Time Gone”.  This melancholy rock ballad breaks through the wall with full force, featuring lush keys, a funky bassline and Smith ferociously gracing the drums again.

Resonate goes down as one of my top Rock and Roll picks for the year.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Gina Sicilia - Sunset Avenue

2016 – Blue Elan Records
By Phillip Smith; Dec. 26, 2016

Beautiful, captivating vocals are the center of attention in Sunset Avenue, the sixth studio release from Philadelphia singer/songwriter Gina Sicilia.  Nominated in 2008 for a Blues Music Award in the category of Best New Artist Debut, Sicilia proves once again, her voice is certainly one to be reckoned with.  Her approach to singing the blues is a softer and more soulful one. 

I’m hooked on this album right from the get-go with “Abandoned”, a marvelous piece dunked in country-blues.  Sicilia’s bluesy performance on “They Never Pay Me” is quite breathtaking, as she sheds her chains of repression to stand out and be heard.  This outstanding song is wonderfully played.  Another sweet little prize on this album is her joy-filled cover of The Exciters’ 1962 Top 10 single “Tell Him”.  It’s a delightful homage indeed.

Sicilia’s sweet stellar voice, along with her talented and tight cast of musicians make Sunset Avenue the standout five-track EP it is.  

Friday, December 23, 2016

Randy McAllister and the Scrappiest Band in the Motherland - Fistful of Gumption

2016 – Reaction Records
By Phillip Smith; Dec. 23, 2016

Randy McAllister and the Scrappiest Band in the Motherland bring to the table, ten wonderful tracks of Texas blues and simmering soul, wrapped tightly in a Fistful of Gumption.  Singer/songwriter/drummer McAllister, guitarist Rob Dewan, fiddle player Maya Van Nuys, and bassist Matt Higgens make up the core of this top-class band. 

A pulsing fiddle riff and a driving beat pumps the groove through “C’mon Brothers and Sisters”, an energetic number with wonderful retro backing harmonies.  I love the beautifully written and performed, “Time for the Sun to Rise”.  McAllister’s vocals ooze heartfelt emotion on this melancholy Sixties soul throwback. 

Van Nuys levels the field with her fiddle playing on “Ride to Get Right (Tribute to Otis Redding and Earl King)”.  Fit for a Louisiana hoedown, this big rollicking number grabs a lot of attention.  I’m taken to church when I hear “Background Singer”, a funky and spirited ode to the stars of the Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom. 
McAllister breaks out his harp and gets “Leave a Few Wrong Notes” kicked off in a rocking scrumptious way while Dewan keeps those tasty guitar licks rolling.

McAllister and his Scrappiest Band in the Motherland are one tight ensemble, and Fistful of Gumption leaves me wanting nothing but more.     


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Popa Chubby - The Catfish

2016 – Popa Chubby Productions
By Phillip Smith; Dec. 17, 2016

With a music career which has spanned over twenty five years, New York blues artist Ted Horowitz, aka Popa Chubby, continues to keep the sound fresh and the songs innovative on his latest release The Catfish.  Popa Chubby shows he can not only dish it out with raw sheer attitude, but he can also approach a song with grace and elegance as well.  The Catfish contains ten outstanding new songs, as well as two wonderful covers.

Nothing quite compares to the magnificent instrumental “Blues For Charlie”.  There’s a whole lot of heart and soul poured into Popa Chubby’s searing guitar performance.  On the subject of instrumentals, I also fell for “Wes is More”, a smooth jazzy number with a lot of pick-me-up and a sweet accompaniment by the prestigious Dave Keys on piano, and drummer Dave Moore.  In a barrelhouse style, Keys plays a wonderful backup to Chubby on a delightful cover of Robert Johnson’s “C’mon In My Kitchen”.  This is a fine cover indeed.  Taking on the Everly Brothers 1957 hit, “Bye Bye Love” while adopting a reggae beat, Popa Chubby catches me off-guard when breaking into an amazing run of hummingbird-like guitar picking. This is one fantastic track.

Popa Chubby’s daughter Tipitina peppers the ominous and hypnotizing rhythm of another favorite, “Slow Down Sugar” with cool blasts of trumpet as Chubby raps through his own vocal harmonies. I tend to crank the volume up a smidge when I hear “Cry Till It’s a Dull Ache”, a vibrant nod to Seventies blues-rock with a John Kay and Steppenwolf feel.  Chubby has his mojo running on “Dirty Diesel” too.  This rowdy rocker is loaded with smoking guitar licks and rambunctious keys.

Masterfully engineered hooks and grooves sidled up with Popa Chubby’s bold and fearless guitar handling sets the table for an enjoyable and engaging listening experience.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Stevie J. Blues - Back 2 Blues

2016 – Mississippi Delta Records
By Phillip Smith; Dec. 10, 2016

Jackson, Mississippi recording artist Stevie J. Blues is serving up some great tunes on his latest release Back 2 Blues.  Incorporating down-home blues, and hot buttered soul, his music is loaded with outstanding guitar licks, smooth vocals, funky bass-lines, and old-time gospel-inspired beats. 

A friendly swaying groove, peppered with blasts of brass from The Jackson Horns, surrounds Stevie J. as he invites the world to just show a “Lil’ Mo’ Love”.  Holding nothing back, he then full-on embraces the funk in a classic George Clinton “P-Funk” style on “Good Good”, firing off hot guitar licks guided by a catchy rhythm laid down by drummer Nick Merisaul and keyboardist Kendrick Hart.  Produced and co-written by the multi-talented “Saint” Anthony Dalcoe (Curtis Mayfield, James Brown), this track stands out in a big positive way.

Gospel-flavored trance beats, swampy slide guitar and the flowing sounds of Scott Albert Johnson on harp bring a delicious authenticity to “Come See Me”.  One can feel the heartfelt emotion hanging in the air as Stevie J. sings about lost love in “Another Jody Song”.  This killer bluesy heartbreaker was written by Omar Cunningham, who also appears on the backing vocals. 

Stevie J. rips it up on guitar, capturing my attention as he enlightens us with the story of his path to the blues, while being the “Son of a Sanctified Preacher”. This follows with a spirited performance of “Stranger in the City”, a song dedicated to his late mother, and featuring Dwayne Watkins and Dr. MJ Johnson.  Back 2 Blues closes out with a terrific instrumental blues jam called “Blues By the Bay”.  I could listen to this all day.  


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Billy Pierce - Shapes of Soul

2016 –  Got Slide Records
By Phillip Smith; Dec. 3, 2016

The tunes on Billy Pierce’s latest album, Shapes of Soul is chock full of New Orleans-rooted jams topped off with some of the best slide guitar around.  Pierce’s band includes the multi-talented bassist/producer Charlie Wooton, drummer Doug Balote, and keyboardist Keiko Komaki.  Special guests include the magnificent trombonists of Bonerama ( Mark Mullins, Craig Klein, and Greg Hicks), Mike Zito, Jason Ricci, Jeff T. Watkins, and Michael Doucet.   

Pierce sings about struggling with money in “Paycheck to Paycheck”, an electric song with a smooth jazz vibe, featuring a terrific performance by the guys in Bonerama.  Harp player Jason Ricci dishes out a captivating performance on “Me and the Misses”.  Title track “Shapes of Soul” is a wondrous instrumental in which Keiko Komaki ‘s piano performance beautifully compliments Pierce’s slide guitar.  “Delta Queen”, a torch song for the southern man is immersed in a cool groove and slathered with scrumptious slide as well.  The contrasting guitars from Zito and Pierce sound amazing on “Tears of Joy”.  I love the way this song takes a hard right turn into the land of controlled chaos.  This song turns into one tasty jam when Balote ups the tempo and Komaki attacks the B3 with full force.  Massive waves of funk and infectious grooves make “Katrina” a definite standout.
 I get a little hypnotized with each and every listen to this delightful instrumental.

Pierce carefully explores the music acknowledged for its southern roots, and creates beautiful micro-blends of jazz, blues, and country which lay the foundation for Shapes of Soul.    

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Sari Schorr - A Force of Nature

2016 –  Manhaton Records
By Phillip Smith; Nov. 29, 2016

A outstanding voice for the Blues and a bucketful of attitude runs through the grooves on A Force of Nature, the groundbreaking album from Sari SchorrSchorr is indeed a force of nature as she belts out each song with conviction and true grit. 

Schorr captivates me from the beginning on “Ain’t Got No Money” with a downright phenomenal vocal performance. Paired exquisitely with decadent swirly guitar and a riveting rhythm backing, this song hits strong.  The energy carries over to “Aunt Hazel”, a bluesy rocking anthem with a southern rock flavor.  Schorr’s cover of Lead Belly's “Black Betty” nicely exits the gates with a sweetly ominous stride before kicking into high gear, tearing the roof off with a crushing vocal deliverance and stellar guitar licks. “Letting Go” a sultry throwback with a Dusty Springfield-in-Memphis vibe, beautifully highlights the sophisticated and softer side of Schorr’s vocal wheelhouse. This lovely and emotionally charged song is absolutely marvelous.  The fabulous Walter Trout makes an appearance on a cover of one of his own songs, “Work No More”.  Hearing his fiery, yet melodic guitar licks shoot out of his guitar is a pure sensation.   

The album is so incredible; it only took one listen to A Force of Nature to turn me into a Sari fan.  

The Joey Gilmore Band - Respect the Blues

2016 –  Mosher Street Records
By Phillip Smith; Nov. 29, 2016

It feels really good to settle in for a nice listen to the latest release, Respect the Blues, from Florida blues-man Joey GilmoreGilmore and his crew, bassist Robert “Hi-Hat” Carter, drummers Raul Hernandez and Maurice Dukes, keyboardist Sonny Boy Williams, and guitarist Ivan Chopik have an old-school vibe, but keep it fresh in their performance.

“A Little Love (Always Makes it Bettah)” is a vibrant and energizing Cajun-flavored track.  Accented with Gilmore’s groovy playing and the lush sounds emanating from Williams’ keys, this track delivers the goods.  I love that slow bluesy funk which is slathered all over “Breakin’ Up Somebody’s Home”, originally recorded by Ann Peebles.  This is a hell of a song immersed in pent-up angst and orneriness.  Gilmore exquisitely covers “Chain of Fools” with the female half of the duet beautifully taken on by Edlene Hart.  The Joey Gilmore Band also serves up a bountiful bowlful of soul with William Bell’s “Can’t Kill Nothin’” and the Johnny Rawls tune “Soul Survivor”.  The blues burrows in deep when Gilmore wails his heart out on “Brownskin Woman”, a killer song with an attention-grabbing drumbeat and the sweet sounds of Rockin’ Jake on harp.      

Respect the Blues is a definite ‘keeper’.  

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Danielle Nicole live at Campbell Steele Gallery - Nov. 19, 2016

Marion, Iowa
By Phillip Smith; Nov. 20, 2016

Saturday, November 19, singer/bassist Danielle Nicole gave an exquisite performance to a sold out crowd at Campbell Steele Gallery in Marion, Iowa.  Singer/bassist Nicole, previously of the Kansas City band, Trampled Under Foot, is now in command of her own band, consisting of the very talented guitarist Brandon Miller, keyboardist extraordinaire Mike “Shinetop Jr.” Sedovic, and the outstanding Jon Faircloth on drums. This troop of musicians is one of the tightest groups I’ve heard, and hearing them play live is truly an electric experience.

Nicole beautifully performed the tremendous “Give Me Tonight” by Grammy Award winning songwriter and producer Anders Osborne, who also happened to produce Nicole’s 2015 Wolf Den album. Their performance of “Starvin’ For Love” was both joyous and riveting.  Miller tore into some lush slide guitar on their deliciously haunting cover of Son House’s “Death Letter Blues.”    

The first segment of the second set featured Nicole onstage alone, armed with acoustic guitar instead of her bass. She captivated the audience with John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery”, and a poignant delivery of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice”, before taking on Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”.
A moment of remembrance for the great soul singer Sharon Jones (May 4, 1956 – November 18, 2016) was taken, as Nicole shared her memories of opening up for Jones at a music festival overseas.  This ushered in a most fitting tribute as they broke out the funk in Jones’ “Nobody’s Baby”.  Another tribute to a recently fallen musical dignitary was taken later in the evening with a terrific performance of Prince’s “Purple Rain”.  Nicole sang this with intensity and heartfelt emotion as Miller payed a stellar guitar solo.

Although the band played for nearly three hours with just a smidge of a break, it was an evening which no one really wanted to end.  This is what the blues is all about.

* all photos by Phillip Smith

Danielle Nicole

Mike “Shinetop Jr.” Sedovic

Brandon Miller

Danielle Nicole & Jon Faircloth

Brandon Miller

Danielle Nicole

Jon Faircloth 

Danielle Nicole

Danielle Nicole, Jon Faircloth, Mike 'Shinetop Jr.' Sedovic

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Laurence Jones - Take Me High

2016 –  Ruf Records
By Phillip Smith; Nov. 19, 2016

Take Me High, the fourth album from British blues artist Laurence Jones, is downright spectacular.  After being awarded Best European Blues Guitarist in 2015, Jones fines himself nominated again for 2016.  Producer-extraordinaire Mike Vernon (John Mayhall, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac) puts his magic touch on the album, making sure the energy levels remain high on this fabulous recording.  Joining Jones is his band composed of bassist Roger Inniss, drummer Phil Wilson, with Bob Fridzema on keyboards and Paul Jones on harmonica. 

Killer beats and lush keys provide the perfect backdrop for Jones’ razor-sharp riffs on “Live It Up”, a monster song which crushes everything in its path.  From the searing beginning to its exciting climax, “Addicted to Your Love” is drenched with emotion.  “Take Me High”, stewed in an electric bluesy goodness is dutifully served with true grit and nice tasty helping of slide.  It is such a great pleasure to hear Jones let loose on a song, like he does on Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground”.  This piece de resistance is ear-candy for the music aficionado. 

I could listen to Take Me High for hours on end.  It is just that good. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Southern River Band - Live at the Pleasuredome

2016 –  The Southern River Band
By Phillip Smith; Nov. 12, 2016

Nothing quite compares to a big healthy dose of pure unadulterated rock and roll, and that is exactly what one gets when they press the play button on Live at the Pleasuredome, from The Southern River Band.  The music is vibrant and resonating, boasting grandeur vocals from Callum Kramer, ripping guitar performances by Jason Caniglia, frenzied thunderous beats from drummer Carlo Romeo, and awe-inspired basslines from Anton Dindar.  These four guys, from a town called Thornlie (not far from Perth, Western Australia), take their cue from some of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time: The Rolling Stones, Van Halen, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, to name but a few.

Lush guitar riffs and a catchy hook draw me in to “Pandora”, like an ant to honey.  I immensely enjoy the ferocious rock anthem “Let It Ride”, steered by Kramer’s amazingly intense vocal prowess.  Caniglia adds a generous serving of southern fearlessness to this bluesy masterpiece. “Two Times the Fool” feels like a newly discovered Black Crowes song uncovered from a lost box of master-tapes.  Soulful and melodic vocals surf atop an avalanche of intensive jam.  “Little While” is a terrific song too.  Kramer takes a relaxed approach in singing this charming power-ballad while dabbling on just a smidge of textured rasp. 

I haven’t heard an album with this kind of presence in a long time.  The Southern River Band scores huge with Live at the Pleasuredome. This is indeed one epic listen. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Rev. Billy C. Wirtz - Full Circle

2016 –  EllerSoul Records
By Phillip Smith; Nov. 6, 2016

I’ve been a fan of the good Reverend Billy C. Wirtz since around 1990.  My first exposure to his music was either from my Sunday night ritual of tuning in to Dr. Demento’s syndicated radio, or was from listening to WEGR, Memphis’ Rock 103 on my thirty minute morning commute.  Wirtz’s music was getting a lot of airplay on both.  It didn’t take long before I was hooked and purchased Wirtz’s wonderfully wicked album, Backslider’s Tractor Pull, which featured hilariously twisted songs such as “Sleeper Hold on Satan”, “Just Friends”, and “Honky Tonk Hermaphrodite”. 

Recorded live from the First House of Polyester Worship Full Circle is a brand new tasty dish of humorous off-the-wall songs performed by Wirtz on piano, and fried up with a heaping helping of swinging back-up from legendary blues greats, The Nighthawks (Paul Bell – guitar, Johnny Castle – bass, Mark Stutso – drums, and Mark Wenner – harmonica)., Other players featured on the album include guitarist Bob Driver, bassist Steve Riggs, and Lil’ Ronnie Owens on harp.
Wirtz takes a satirical tongue-in-cheek jab at The Grateful Dead and its diehard community with “Mama Was a Deadhead”.  He then takes country music to a whole new planet with the hilarious “Daddy Was a Sensitive Man”, about a channeling, Volvo-driving, drum-circle fanatic who makes his living at the futon shop, and longs for quality time with his family.  While on the subject of family matters, Wirtz hits another homerun with a ditty based on a true story, as told to him by a waitress at a diner he often visited.  Her father had passed away, and her step mother ran off with her favorite girlfriend, “Daddy Passed Away” and mama turned gay. 

On the serious side of the album, Wirtz and The Nighthawks rip it up on a smashing rendition of Charlie Rich’s “Breakup”.  This is rockabilly goodness at its best.  In addition, Brother Billy serves up a couple of cool instrumentals, showcasing his piano prowess on the 1959 Bill Black Combo hit, “Smokie Part 2”, and dishing out a smooth and velvety cover of Floyd Cramer’s, “Your Last Goodbye”.     

Wirtz scores with Full Circle. The combination of Reverend Billy and The Nighthawks makes for such a terrific listen.    It takes me back to the carefree days of being glued to the radio on Sunday nights listening to Dr. Demento.


Saturday, October 29, 2016

Lisa Lystam Family Band - Give You Everything

2016 –  Ramasound Records
By Phillip Smith; Oct. 29, 2016

I have nothing but the best things to say about the latest album from Lisa Lystam Family Band, Give You Everything.  Hailing from Sweden, this terrific blues band is fronted by vocalist Lisa Lystam, who has been called “The New Swedish Sensation” by Jefferson Blues Magazine , the world’s oldest blues magazine still in print.  Along with Lystam, this amazing band consists of guitarists Mattias Gustafsson and Fredrik Karlsson, drummer Patrik Thelin, bassist Johan Sund, and Mikael Fall on harmonica.  Blues singer, Ida Bang also appears as a backing vocalist.  Bang, together with Lystam, are known as The Tornadettes when performing with the acclaimed Danish bluesman Thorbjørn Risager.  Risager also makes a guest appearance on the album singing alongside Lystam in the beautifully melancholy duet “Something is Wrong”.   

It’s hard to beat the riveting blues-funk-infused “Give You Everything”.  Delicious and swampy, it’s a jamboree of outstanding slide guitar, sweet harp, and vocals dripping with attitude.  “Changes” is one hell of a track as well.  Lystam attacks this with a more soulful approach, while the rhythm section keeps the energy high.  This favorite of mine closes out with a heaping dose of bodacious SRV-inspired guitar licks.  Lystam’s vocals on “Worship Me” are rocking and sexy, while the dual guitar gives the song its unique hook.  The swampy slide in “Get Up and Move” is wonderful, and rich.  I could listen to this bluesy treat all day long. 

This fabulous group of musicians is blessed with an amazing amount of talent, excelling in both writing and performance.  I really hope I get a chance to see them play live sometime.    

Friday, October 21, 2016

Devon Allman - Ride Or Die

2016 –  Ruf Records
By Phillip Smith; Oct. 21, 2016

Ride Or Die, the third solo album from Devon Allman is quite strong and very bold.  Recorded in Nashville, this rocking, soulful and rootsy recording confidently hits on all cylinders.  Allman returns to the studio with co-producer/drummer Tom Hambridge, along with guitarist/bassist Tyler Stokes, bassist Steve Duerst, saxophonist Ron Holloway, violinist Bobby Yang, and keyboardist Kevin McKendree

Best played loud, “Say Your Prayers” masterfully ushers in the album, firing off catchy marching riffs and wavy psychedelic licks. Allman adds more heat to the swirling rock anthem “Galaxies”, asking “when galaxies collide, will you ride or die?” Allman performs this one with a beautiful intensity.  Allman sings “Watch What You Say” with the attitude and suaveness of Tom Jones.  His vocals, dripping with soul and conviction, are wonderfully accented with his stellar guitar playing.  I love the bouncy folky rhythm Allman threads through “Live From the Heart”.  It is contagious and a sheer delight.  He then wraps the album up with “A Night Like This”, a big meaty track consisting of jet-streamed riffs, lush keys and bubbly blasts of sax.  I can’t help but think of James Bond when I hear this fabulous piece.  It truly would make for an astounding 007 theme song.

Ride Or Die is a lovely album, and is Allman’s best work yet.     

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Ross Neilsen - Elemental

2016 –  Ross Neilsen
By Phillip Smith; Oct. 15, 2016

Canadian guitarist and singer/songwriter Ross Neilsen has a special way of tapping into his human experience, then catapulting that essence, full of heart and soul, into his music.  His latest album Elemental shows just that, as he infuses his unique blend of country, blues, and rock into eleven wonderfully constructed songs.  Neilsen’s talent has not gone unnoticed.  He has received Best Blues Recording for the Music New Brunswick Awards twice, received two CBS Rising Star awards, and was a semi-finalist in the 2012 International Blues Challenge

Neilsen delightfully taps into the delta blues with “Black Coffee”.  Hearing Neilsen ripping it up on guitar alongside Steve Marriner’s righteous harp performance, transports me right to Memphis’ historic Beale Street.  A haunting country melody accented by Neil Young-like riffs set the mood in “Devil Made You”.  This is one cool as hell track with fantastic steel guitar.  An air of melancholy washes over when I hear “Ash Fault” play through.  The violin accompaniment from Jim Bowskill beautifully sets the tone.  “The Race” has an old-school Motown vibe.  The soulful vocals and peppy bursts of brass put a smile on my face.

Elemental, clinging to no specific genre, is a wonderful amalgam of musical styles seamlessly woven together.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Larkin Poe - Reskinned

2016 –  RH Music
By Phillip Smith; Oct. 8, 2016

Thanks to Elvis Costello, the music of Atlanta-based duo Larkin Poe is now in my awareness.  Rebecca and Megan Lovell have been opening for Costello on his most recent tour, Detour.  The talents of this sister-duo run deep.  Rebecca commands the stage with her no-holds barred presence on both mic and lead guitar, while Megan pours out rich vocal harmonies, all while slaying the lap steel guitar.  Reskinned, their second full length album brings to the table five new tracks and seven re-released songs from the 2014 critically acclaimed Kin.

From the beginning, with the hard-rockin’ “Sucker Puncher”, Larkin Poe is quick to grab me by the collar.  This song is dripping with attitude.  Between the fierce riffs coming from Rebecca and lush slide from Megan, I am totally captivated.  The Lovells seriously kick out the jams with their bad-girl anthem “Trouble in Mind”.  I love the sheer rawness of “P.R.O.B.L.E.M”, with its riveting guitar licks and punk attitude served Jack White style.  Stand-out songs, the deliciously swampy “When God Closes a Door” and the wonderfully melodic and bluesy “Blunt” puts the magnifying glass to religion and dogma. 

Their style of songwriting is unique and oftentimes dark, and their performance is wondrous and exciting. Reskinned is such a terrific album, I can hardly stand to take it out of the CD player.


Sunday, October 2, 2016

Lady A - Loved, Blessed & Blues

2016 –  Self-Released
By Phillip Smith; Oct. 2, 2016

When the mood hits for a nice blend of blues, funk & soul , it doesn’t get much better than taking in the intoxicating vocal sounds of Seattle songstress Anita White, aka Lady A.  Her latest album, Loved, Blessed & Stressed is an absolute splendor.  White is joined by Dexter Allen (guitar, bass, piano and backing vocals) and Joey Robinson (drums, and keyboard).     

One doesn’t have to be in a church house to be taken to church.  Title track, “Love, Blessed & Blues” grabs ahold of me and vibrates right to the soul, dousing me in the blues gospel-style.  Lady A gets the adrenalin flowing in the high-energy “Honey Hush (Tribute to Elnora)”. Play, listen and then repeat on this dance-friendly treat.

Lady A breaks out the funk George Clinton/Brides of Funkenstein style on “Take Me Back to Seattle”.  I love the growly bass-line Allen plops down, and the cool little micro-rhythms Robinson adds on the keys.  There’s a sweet Motown feeling imbedded in “Love Calling”, a smooth R&B slow song with beautiful vocals.

Loved Blessed & Blues puts me in my happy place with every listen, leaving me with a huge smile across my face. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Nancy Wright - Playdate!

2016 –  Vizztone
By Phillip Smith; Sep. 25, 2016

In 2013, San Francisco musician, Nancy Wright pulled down the West Coast Blues Hall of Fame’s Blues Saxophonist of the Year award.  She’s been touring with Tommy Castro for the past couple of years, and has just wrapped up her latest album, Playdate!.  For this project, she has enlisted a slew of top tier blues talent – Tommy Castro, Victor Wainwright, Elvin Bishop, and Joe Louis Walker to name a few.  Her band consists of producer/guitarist Christopher “Kid” Anderson, with Chris Burns on keys, bassist Joe Kyle Jr., drummer J. Hansen, Tom Poole on trumpet, and Faris Jarrah on trombone, and percussionist Martin Windstad.

Guest vocalist Wee Willie Walker gives a standout performance and Wright gets down on sax, as the gang breaks out the sweet funk on the Willie Harper classic, “Why You Wanna Do It”.  I fall hook, line and sinker for this track.  It’s absolutely fabulous.  I also have to crank up the volume when the soulful “Been Waiting That Long” kicks in.  Sung by Frank Bey, who toured with the Otis Redding Review in the sixties, this killer song was written by Wright’s friend and mentor, the late, great Lonnie Mack.  Kyle’s funky bassline grabs ahold and doesn’t let go on “Warranty”, a smooth bluesy track featuring the lovely and silky vocal talents of Terrie Odabi. 

Wright pulls in the carefree and classic Motown sound on original track, “Good Loving Daddy”.  It’s a terrific listen for sure.  Playdate! winds down and closes out with the with the slow and wonderfully bluesy “Soul Blue”, which features the spectacular guitar sounds of Chris Cain.  This album is a definite keeper.   

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Lex Grey and the Urban Pioneers - Heal My Soul

2016 –  Lex Grey Music
By Phillip Smith; Sep. 17, 2016

“Heal My Soul”, the sixth album from the New York ensemble Lex Grey and the Urban Pioneers, has quite a kick to it.   Grey’s delivery is a force to be reckoned with, as she belts out powerful vocal performances in this ten song collection of original blues and straight-up rock and roll tunes.

Brian Dewan joins in with his homemade ‘Dewanatron’ which rolls the red carpet out for the album opener “Factory”.  Grey gets downright sultry on this bluesy track as Walter Tates Jr. dishes out some tasty sax licks.  When I hear “Quiet Place”, I’m taken back to the mid-Eighties when bands like the Pretenders ruled my turn-table. “Ghost” has some of those same qualities as well.  This cool rock and roll dirge hosts a most interesting and ominous tone, thanks to Vic Mix on guitar. 

Bringing the album to a close, is title track, “Heal My Soul”, which begins its journey with a slower pace, and ascends into a wonderful New York groove.  The song culminates by releasing oodles of emotion into a swirling soulful jam.

Mark Harrison - Turpentine

2016 –  Mark Harrison
By Phillip Smith; Sep. 17, 2016

UK musician Mark Harrison is one hell of a story-teller and songwriter.  He delivers his roots-rich music acoustically using National and twelve string guitars. His latest album, Turpentine, is a delightful listen to say the least.  Playing alongside Harrison on this thirteen track album of all original material is Charles Benfield on double bass, Ed Hopwood on drums, percussion and harmonica, and Paul Tkachenko on mandolin, piano, organ, and accordion.

Make the best with what you have, is the message shared in “Black Dog Moan”. The light and carefree melody captures my full attention.  I can totally relate to the frustration Harrison sings about in “Hardware Store”, as he sings ‘”All those things they sell down in that hardware store.  I don’t know what they do and I don’t know what they’re for”.  The fabulous instrumental, “Dog Rib” is a haunting bluesy treat with a tribal beat.  This is acoustic blue at its best.  Tkachenko straps on the accordion and sprinkles some New Orleans-style Cajun seasoning into “Dirty Business”, a song about greed and thievery.      

I absolutely adore the “The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek”. This amazing song tells the story of the deal made in 1830 between the US government and Chief Greenwood LeFlore of the Choctaw Nation, in what is now known as Mississippi.     

One listen to Turpentine, and it is quite apparent why Harrison received two nominations in the British Blues Awards, for Songwriter and Acoustic.  The album is an instant treasure in my books.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Kat Riggins - Blues Revival

2016 –  Bluzpik Media Group
By Phillip Smith; Sep. 10, 2016

I’m really smitten over the new Kat Riggins album, Blues Revival.  This singer/songwriter from Miami has such a lovely voice, perfectly suited for singing the blues. She has a clever sense for songwriting as well.  Penning eight of the ten songs on this album, she injects a stylish and fresh attitude toward the Blues .  This powerhouse singer has a wonderful backing band too.  Also known as Blues Revival, her ensemble is composed of Darrell Raines on guitars and keys, bassist George Caldwell, and drummer Doc Allison.  

“Good Girl Blues” feels so good to listen to, with its velvety smooth delivery.  I love her cover of Sam Cooke’s “Change is Gonna Come” too.  Riggins belts this one out with the passion and conviction which this song deserves.  Raines lays down the law with his guitar on “Blues is My Business”, from Etta James’ 2003 Grammy winning album, Let’s Roll, making for a very striking cover.  Riggins’ vocals run from sultry to sassy, while psychedelic guitar licks and a groovy trance beat take “Devil is a Liar” to another dimension.  This terrific song takes me back to the early years of the late great Isaac Hayes.

Both Riggins and her band bring their “A-game” to each and every song, making Blues Revival such a pleasant listen.    

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Honey Island Swamp Band - Demolition Day

2016 –  Ruf Records
By Phillip Smith; Sep. 3, 2016

Formed about ten years ago in San Francisco by New Orleans musicians displaced from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Honey Island Swamp Band is composed of Aaron Wilkinson (mandolin, guitar, harmonica, vocals), Chris Mulé (guitar, vocals), Sam Price (bass, vocals), Garland Paul (drums, vocals), and Trevor Brooks (keyboards).  Their newest release, Demolition Day is a bountiful big bowl of soulfully seasoned Americana roots-rock, and wonderfully written songs produced by Luther Dickinson(North Mississippi Allstars).   

An exquisitely funky bassline sets the track for an intoxicating jam fueled with spacy guitar in “Head High Water Blues”.  I love the little blasts of brass and boogie-laced piano accompaniment in “Watch and Chain”.  Mulé seems to have channeled the spirit of Harry Nilsson while writing “She Goes Crazy”.  The innocence lingering in the melody is a fun contrast to the chaotic love story welded into the lyrics.  “Katie” is a lovely piece as well.  This folky performance with a zydeco spirit is one my favorites.  The album comes to a close with the magnificent “Devils Den”.  The eclectic sound of Wilkinson’s mandolin and Mulé’s swampy slide guitar set an eerie ominous presence, like a Nick Cave murder ballad.

Demolition Day, one of the more interesting albums to recently dip into my awareness, reveals something new with each listen.  I’m downright captivated by this music and so enjoy being unconsciously ushered from genre to genre. That’s a craft in and of itself.       

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Mutants of the Monster: A Tribute to Black Oak Arkansas

Presented by Joecephus and The George Jonestown Massacre
2016 –  Saustex Records
By Phillip Smith; Aug. 27, 2016

Tribute albums may come and go, but Mutants of the Monster – A Tribute to Black Oak Arkansas is one special album not to be glossed over.   I’ve been anxiously awaiting this fabulous record for quite a while, and am pleased as punch to hear.  I’ve been soaking up its goodness for a week now, and grin like a possum for the duration of every listen.  Six years in the making, Mutants of the Monster started out as a labor of love of BOA by Joey Killingsworth (Jocephus & The George Jonestown Massacre). He recorded “Fever in My Mind” with the GJM and BOA’s Jim “Dandy” Mangrum on vocals. Shortly afterward, Killingsworth enlisted Shooter Jennings to record vocals for “Hot Rod”, another BOA track GJM had recorded.  Then Bob’s your uncle - and six years later we have Mutants of the Monster, a ferocious seventeen track album of Black Oak Arkansas covers, with a slew of terrific guest musicians and vocalists.

When I first heard “Hey Y’all” roll out at the top of the album with Nashville Pussy’s Blaine Cartwright and Ruyter Suys , chills shot up and down my spine, with the realization this is going to be one bodacious and serious salute to one of the best American bands that rolled out in the Seventies. Jimbo Mathus belts out a rollicking “Uncle Lijah” with Robby Turner (Sturgill Simpson) laying down a thick coating of lush steel guitar.  Shooter Jennings rips it up on “Hot Rod” with a downright amazing performance backed by a cool-as-hell performance by GJM’s drummer Daryl Stevens. I can’t help but fall prey to the groove of “Swimming in Quicksand”.  I love the blasts of sax from Nik Turner (Hawkwind) on this favorite which JD Pinkus from Butthole Surfers masters the vocals on.  Bill Davis (Dash Rip Rock) unleashes a racing punk performance on “Short Life Line” for a pure adrenalin rush.  With Jeff Clayton (AntiSeen) on the mic and Paul Leary (Butthole Surfers) wailing on guitar, “Lord Have Mercy On My Soul” sounds so damn good.  This is one of my favorite cuts.  For an unexpected treat, Jello Biafra from my favorite US punk band, The Dead Kennedys brings his unique vocal style to “Jim Dandy” while Ruyter Suys rocks out on guitar and backup vocals.  When Nine Pound Hammer tackles “Rock ‘N’ Roll”, my brain goes into Frank Zappa mode.  This one is very cool indeed.  Another sweet little treat for this outlaw fan is hearing Kyle Turley taking on “The Wild Bunch” with gusto and true grit.  In addition, this track also hosts Mickey Raphael on harmonica, adding to the cowboy imagery made famous by the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone.

Other notable guests include BOA’s own Rickie Lee Reynolds and Jimmy Henderson, Eddie Spaghetti (Supersuckers), Brian Venable (Lucero), Greg Ginn (Black Flag), Whiskydick, CT (Rwake) Michael Denner (Mercyful Fate, King Diamond), and The Kentucky Bridgeburners).  Mutants of the Monster certainly captures the essence of Black Oak Arkansas, a pioneering band who pushed beyond the paradigms of rock and roll itself.  Kudos to Joey Killingsworth and his band, Joecephus and the George Jonestown Massacre for gathering up this wondrous troop of musicians, to shine the spotlight on one of the greatest bands there ever was.    

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Prodo - The Summoning

2016 –  Prodo
By Phillip Smith; Aug. 20, 2016

The Summing is quite a funky follow-up to the Wisconsin jam-masters Prodo’s debut release, Prodotype.  Amidst a seven month tour in China, guitarist/lead vocalist Henry Robinson, along with drummer Dane Pastor and bassist Jeremy Erickson, hit the studios, and have delivered one hell of an album full of twists and turns.  Embracing the chaos and comfort that can be created with music, Prodo playfully explore the craft of fusion.    

A funky world-beat rhythm loaded with spacy jams gets “Wadadadoo” off the ground very nicely.  “The Creep” ominously follows, brilliantly composed to leave the listener in an unsettled state.  A feel-good reggae beat reels me into the poppy atmosphere and psychedelic sounds of “This Life”.  Title track, “The Summoning”, loaded with heavier guitar riffs, a funkier bass line, and playful lyrics reminds me of Phish, a band I have a high regard for.  Robinson’s soothing vocals set a beautiful melodic tone to “A!”, to which his guitar licks effortlessly hover in the air. And as for what kind of tipper the Dali Lama is on the golf course, forget about it, and take a relaxing listen to the lovely “Gunga Galunga” for your total consciousness needs.    

The Summoning can be found at

JL Fulks - On Down the Road- EP

2016 – JL Fulks Enterprizes
By Phillip Smith; Aug. 20, 2016

Some say great things come in small packages.  That is very true for the latest release, On Down the Road, from the twenty-six year old singer/guitarist JL Fulks . This five track EP is one big bowl of outstanding tunes. After giving it a single listen, one should find it very obvious how his band made it to the Semi-finals of the 2016 International Blues Challenge in Memphis.  Originally hailing from Greenville, South Carolina, and living in Memphis for a while, Fulks now finds his home in Southern Florida, fronting his trio composed of Ken Burgner on bass, and Ian Jones on drums.   

The southern rock fueled title track, “On Down the Road” will get the foot stomping for sure.  Speckled with the sounds of summer, this song about conquering restlessness and breaking free to head out on one’s life journey, features some mighty fine and tasty lead guitar provided by special guest Matt Schofield.  A driving beat and the lush sounds of a B3 from Muggie Doo, set the perfect stage for Fulks’ commanding vocals and riveting guitar on “The River”. 

Fulks guitar is dynamic and intoxicating on the colossal “Phrygian Dance”.  This prog-blues instrumental is pumped with killer beats and stellar bass, making it shine immensely.  This fantastic EP is such a treat to hear, and I anxiously await to hear more music from JL Fulks.