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.