Saturday, February 27, 2016

Ina Forsman - Ina Forsman

2016 – Ruf Records
By Phillip Smith; Feb 27, 2016

I absolutely love the retro R&B sounds on Ina Forsman’s debut self-titled album. This Finnish sensation brings a luscious and soulful presence to every song she sings.  Forsman’s influences begin when she was just seven years old and received her first Christina Aguilera album from her aunt.  Much like Aguilera, Forsman is not afraid to use the power in her voice. Her style reminds me of my all-time favorites, Amy Winehouse, Diana Ross, and Lana Del Rey.  

I can’t help but sway back and forth as Forsman sings the blues so sweetly in “Talk To Me”.  The harmonica accompaniment from Helge Tallqvist is downright terrific.  Constructed within a slightly ominous arena, “Devil May Dance Tonight” is one damn cool song too.  It’s a little bit twangy, and yet very suave.  The piano and brass-laced “Bubbly Kisses”, is tackled with a breathtaking sultry intensity. This track is magnificent.  Forsman concludes the album with a sweet and sexy cover of Nina Simone’s “I Want a Little Sugar in my Bowl”, in which pianist Nick Connolly and Mark Kazanoff on saxophone, create a perfectly mellow and intimate atmosphere. This one is very nice indeed.

This dazzling album gets my highest accolades. It’s a superb listen from start to finish. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Blues Had a Baby - Louisville’s Tribute to Muddy Waters

2015 – Down in the Alley Records
By Phillip Smith; Feb 26, 2016

Modern blues compilation albums don’t get much better than The Blues Had a Baby.  This outstanding tribute to Muddy Waters is the brainchild of co-producers Mike Suttles and “Screamin” John Hawkins.  In Suttle’s own words, “The Muddy Water project is my attempt to keep the blues alive by introducing it to a wider group of music lovers”.  After enlisting a dozen of the finest musicians in Louisville, Kentucky, each was asked to record a song.

From Daniel “Buttermilk” Jackson’s blood-curling screams, to Bryce Gills’ smokin’ hot guitar and Brandon Roush’s outstanding harp playing, the Tunesmiths ripping cover of “Mannish Boy” is a fantastic listen.  With authenticity, Tyrone Cotton dishes out a splendid rendition of “Can’t Be Satisfied” on slide.  Laurie Jane and the 45’s create a swampy Credence Clearwater Revival atmosphere to “You Need Love”.  Laurie Jane Jessup’s vocals are sweet and sexy, while Cort Duggins tears it up on slide guitar. This is a favorite indeed.  Latin-Folk band Appalatin beautifully takes “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” to a whole new level.  Lead guitarist and vocalist Yani Vozos gives a captivating performance to say the least, and I definitely want to explore this band’s music further.  The Ass Haulers bring a briefcase full of lightning to their barn-burning cover of “Trouble No More”.  Steven Clark enters full beast mode vocally as Screamin’ John Hawkins masterfully shreds guitar and Rick Cain kills on harmonica.  This is the Blues baby, and I love it!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Rocky Athas - The Essential Rocky Athas Volume II

2015 – Cherryburst Records
By Phillip Smith; Feb 20, 2016

Rocky Athas delivers another ten terrific tracks in the second installment of his Essential series.  Volume II was well worth the wait indeed.  Heavy-laden with killer Texas-style blues riffs, “You Move Me” kicks this album off with a jamming, soulful groove.  Immediately following, Athas then crushes it on “Bluesville”, a beautifully performed heartbreaker.  Hope is the foundation of “Miracle”, a silky smooth R&B love song, delicately played with tasty hot guitar licks.  The funky bass line and trance-friendly beat in “On the Move” create the perfect atmosphere for Athas to let loose on his ’74 Stratocaster.  I could listen to this instrumental all day long.  And for a song that really makes an impression, “Survival” gets right to the core, as Athas paints a hellish picture of war, in Warren Zevon-esque bravado.  The monster cover of Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen” , however, is the cherry on top of the album.  I love this track right down to the glorious cow-bell intro.  This song is played loud and often.  The Essential Rocky Athas Volume II is a delectable album tailor-made for the blues enthusiast.     

For more information about Rocky Athas, visit his website,

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Mr. Rick - Sings About God + Booze

2015 – SOCAN
By Phillip Smith; Feb 13, 2016

Mr. Rick (aka Rick Zolkower) cleverly walks the line between sin and salvation in his latest release, Mr. Rick Sings About God + Booze.  This album presents a wonderful and nostalgic slice of Americana in thirteen delightful tracks.  Following in the footsteps of many of the earlier Grand Ole Opry performers, Mr. Rick can dole out a traditional gospel song as convincingly as he can sing out a hell-bent on self-destruction ditty.  His style of playing guitar is a pleasure to hear as well.

Each song can pretty much be categorized as either a ‘God’ song, or a ‘Booze’ song, and it’s so much fun to listen to them as they intertwine.  The transition from “It’s the Bottle Talking”, an ode to over-indulgence, effortlessly segues into a swinging cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s 1930 gospel song, “You’ll Need Somebody on Your Bond” about making ones way into heaven.  I can’t help but sing along to “I’ll Fly Away”, supposedly the most recorded gospel song of all time and Sister Rosetta Tharp’s bluesy classic “Two Little Fishes”. 

For an upbeat take on Eric Von Shmidt’s “Champagne Don’t Hurt Me”, Mr. Rick is joined by Drew Jurecka on fiddle, making this one such a big pleasure to hear.  Another favorite, Jerrey Irby’s “Drivin’ Nails in My Coffin”, has an uncanny knack for diggin’ right into my brain, only to become hopelessly stuck in my head. For the record, this is one I don’t mind bouncing around my skull.  

Who knew music about God and booze would be such a fantastic pairing?  Like sweet and salty, it just works, and it works splendidly.  Give this album a listen, and let Mr. Rick take you out on Saturday night and bring you to church the next day.   

Berdon Kirksaether & the Twang Bar Kings - The Voodoo Sessions

2015 – Roller Records
By Phillip Smith; Feb 13, 2016

The Voodoo Sessions - Live at Down Under from Norwegians Berdon Kirksaether & the Twang Bar Kings is a heady and psychedelic explosion of high-energy, guitar-centric blues-rock.  The four tracks on this EP shell out nearly twenty minutes of musical genius.  The music is indeed magnificent.  This furious foursome is composed of three founding members of CIA (guitarist/vocalist Berdon Kirksaether, drummer Roy Hanssen, and bassist Stein Tumert), along with guitarist/vocalist Erik Gabrielsen.   

“Mama Roll Over” is quick to sweep me off my feet with Kirksaether’s greasy blues riffs and powerful vocals. I love the cool unsettling beat Hanssen sets the mood with on “Some Kind of Voodoo”.  This ominous track conjures up images of a midnight stroll through backwoods Louisiana swampland.  The opening licks of “Mad House” are my cue to crank the volume up a notch.  The band plays this Robin Trower cover wonderfully and unbridled. Hanssen and Tumert keep “When the Moon is on the Rise” on track with a cool bass and drum rhythm while Kirksaether breaks out the gonzo with calculated guitar licks. His voice, laying somewhere in the zone between Bono and Jim Morrison, sounds great on this song.        

After listening to this EP a multitude of times, I am so ready to hear a full-length studio album.  In the meantime, I still have these four songs.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Sean Pinchin - Monkey Brain

2016 – FACTOR
By Phillip Smith; Feb 6, 2016

In 2014, Sean Pinchin’s release Rustbucket got him nominated for New Artist of the Year at the Maple Blues AwardsMonkey Brain, his latest album, recorded and co-written by Juno Award-winning producer Rob Szabo, is sure to grab him another nomination.  Joined by bassist Mark McIntyre, and drummer/percussionist Adam Warner, Pinchin delivers eight delicious tracks of uniquely blended rock and blues via catchy hooks and interesting riffs.

Pinchin breaks out some really groovy slide guitar celebrating the inner-primate lurking within, on title track anthem “Monkey Brain”.  “I Can’t Stand It” has an uncanny way of really digging into the subconscious.  The infectious grooves running through this one is reminiscent of Billy Squier’s early music.  Things get bluesy and nicely swampy in “Charity Case”.  Pinchin then takes a slight turn toward country-blues as he masterfully performs “Monster”, a rustic and rootsy delight. The album closes out strongly with “Get Burned”, a melodic track with a vibrant pulse.     

Monkey Brain is a fun listen from start to finish, making it a sure-fire hit.   

Sonny Knight and the Lakers live @ Campbell Steele Gallery 2/5/16

By Phillip Smith; Feb 6, 2016

It doesn’t get much better than witnessing a live performance of Sonny Knight and the Lakers.  This seven piece ensemble, from Minneapolis, doled out four astonishing sets of hot rhythm and blues at the Campbell Steele Gallery in Marion, Iowa.  The Lakers warmed up the audience with an instrumental set before Sonny took the stage and broke out the funk with “Caveman”.  There was so much energy flowing through the musicians, it was electric, to say the least.  Eric Foss, the drummer and co-founder of the band was on fire, giving a stellar performance on “Boogaloo”.  I couldn’t help but think of the late great Otis Redding when Sonny soulfully sang “When You’re Gone”.  This was a beautiful performance indeed.  I loved their cover of the Beatles’ “Day Tripper”. It was so full of life.  Other stand-out songs included “Juicy Lucy”, “Sugarman”, and “Sock A Poo Poo”, each of which put a big smile on my face as well.  I am totally on-board with Sonny Knight and the Lakers, and anxiously await the next time they swing by this neck of the woods.

* All Photos by Phillip Smith