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.