Saturday, April 28, 2018

#331 : The Eric Hughes Band - Meet Me in Memphis

2017 – Eric Hughes Music

By Phillip Smith; April 28, 2018

If you’ve listened to live music on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee within the past seventeen years, there’s a good chance you’ve heard Eric Hughes on stage performing his unique and captivating blend of blues.  He took up residency on the historic Official Home of the Blues in 2001, and plays there on a regular basis still today.  Meet Me in Memphis, marks his fifth album to date, and is an homage to the city in which he was born and raised.  The Eric Hughes Band consists of Eric Hughes on vocals, guitars, harmonica, and percussion, Walter Hughes on guitars, mandolin, lap-steel, Leo Goff on bass guitar, Brian Aylor on drums, Chris Stephenson on keyboards, Art Edmaiston on saxophone, Marc Franklin on trumpet, along with Susan Marshall and Reba Russell on backing vocals.

The nine track album rolls out the gate, ready for business, with “Freight Train of Pain”.  This southern rocker comes loaded with scads of blues-soaked harp and ripping guitar riffs.  Hearing title track “Meet Me in Memphis” ushers me right to the heart of the Bluff City with a longing for some fine music, tasty barbeque, and a tall glass of sweet tea.  With a robust horn accompaniment, chords, and Steve Cropper-like guitar licks, I love how the song gently taps into the soulful sounds of Stax Records.

Hughes has a gift for incorporating the lost art of story-telling into his songs. A captivating tale of outlaw nature is spun in his western ballad “The Day They Hanged the Kid”.  Franklin, on trumpet, suavely tops the song with a little Spanish seasoning.  With poetic truth, and a shovelful of satire, the troubles of the hipster nation finally get the spotlight in Hughes’ humorously penned “Midtown Blues”.  Once pulled in by Aylor’s caffeinated beat and Goff’s funky bassline on “Here Comes the Boogie Man”, there’s no escape from   Eric’s magnificent harmonica performance and Walter’s wonderfully ominous guitar licks.  

In joyous celebration of one of America’s favorite pastimes, the album closes with “Believe I’m Going Fishing”.  I simply adore this song.  It’s catchy as hell.  In fact, the whole record is that catchy.  Meet Me in Memphis is a terrific album, and a splendid delight.        


Eric Hughes also appears on Mick Kolassa’s Double Standards album, which I reviewed earlier this year.  That recording comes highly recommended as well.  Here’s the link to that review.

Click on the link below to purchase this terrific album from the PhillyCheeze Amazon store.     

Saturday, April 21, 2018

#330 : Kris Lager Band - Love Songs & Life Lines

2018 – Kris Lager

By Phillip Smith; April 21, 2018

The Kris Lager Band has hit an “out of the stadium” home-run with their latest album Love Songs & Life Lines. Taking a more rootsy approach than usual, Lager embraces the core musical genres classified as Americana as he opens up and shares an honest yet soulful insight into life itself.  The band is comprised of Kris Lager on lead vocals and guitar, John Fairchild AKA Scooby Sha Bobo on drums, Aaron Underwood on bass guitar, Mike Lefever saxophone, and Jeremiah Weir on the B3 organ.  Recorded by Pony Creek Studios in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Love Songs & Life Lines was mixed by legendary producer Jim Gaines (Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana, Steve Miller, Van Morrison).  Needless to say, it sounds great.

The album sweetly opens up with the magnificent instrumental “Aurora Borealis”.   Lager notes this is both a love song and a life line, as the song’s title is derived from Aurora, Nebraska, his father’s birthplace.  Immediately following, “The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants” grabs me with a contagious hook and a Traveling Wilbury vibe.  It then relinquishes me to the beautifully written and performed “Sweet Magnolia”, a track which brings back fond memories of growing up in the South.  I love the slide guitar on this track.  A smooth funky rhythm constructed by Underwood and Scooby sets the stage for “San Francisco Bound”, a freewheelin’, feel-good ode to Lager’s 2009 journey of California via the Pacific Coast Highway.  This one makes me grin from ear to ear.  Delightful waves of Dylan wash over with every listen to “Where the Green Grass Grows Tall”.  Lager’s voice sounds so good amid Weir’s spirited electric piano accompaniment and Scooby’s shuffling beat.   
Love Songs & Life Lines is both charming and brilliant.  Give it a listen, it will not disappoint.


Love Songs and Life Lines can be purchased from Kris Lager on his website:

In June of 2014, I caught up with the Kris Lager Band with camera in hand, for the annual Irish District Music and Arts Festival in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Those photos can be viewed using the following link:

Saturday, April 14, 2018

#329 : Long Tall Deb and Colin John - Dragonfly

2017 – Vizztone Records

By Phillip Smith; April 14, 2018

Dragonfly, the second disc from Long Tall Deb and Colin John is a superb album to sink ones teeth into.  This eleven track album explores a variety of worldly genres while anchored in American roots, blues and soul.  Deb Landolt aka Long Tall Deb fills each song with her enchanting vocals, building a connection to the listener every time, while Colin John wondrously plays guitar.  The main core of musicians on the album consists of drummer Jimmy Castoe, bassist Melvin Powe, and Nate Hofman on organ.  Produced by Michael Landolt (Coldplay, O.A.R.) the album also features several noteworthy guests such as Mick Kolassa, Jeff Jensen, Michael Hill, Jo El, James Cunningham, Bill Ruffino, Cliff Starbuck and Chris Stephenson.       

There’s a sense of attitude and fearlessness on the head-banging blues-rocker “On the Way Down”.  From John’s searing guitar riffs to Deb’s powerful vocals the song rides the wave of Castoe’s thunder and sticks the landing quite nicely. John breaks out the sitar to add a taste of India to the spaghetti western ballad of no regret called “Remember Why (It’s Good He’s Gone)”.  The brutal honesty of the lyrics in “Pull The Pin” cuts through like a broken beer bottle.  It’s an amazing song of self-reflection and metamorphosis.

With the exception of an intoxicating cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Lungs” off his 1969 self-titled album, all songs on Dragonfly are original compositions.  “Lungs” is a little extra special in that it features a different configuration of musicians than the rest of the album.  For this poignant and beautifully played cut, Long Tall Deb and Colin John enlist drummer James Cunningham, guitarist Jeff Jensen, bassist Bill Ruffino, and organist Chris Stephenson. 

The word, “Dragonfly” as mentioned in the liner notes, is a symbol of transformation and change, and is the definitive theme to the record itself.  The album’s title track, full of adrenalin-pumping surf guitar is cloaked in the shadows of an ominous and forbidding atmosphere.  This twangy masterpiece is most interesting and has a strong presence, much akin to the songs Quentin Tarantino hand-picks for his films. It’s a brilliant song indeed. 

The flowing continuity of Dragonfly smoothly weaves its eleven songs into one very enjoyable listen.   


Click on the link below to purchase this terrific album from the PhillyCheeze Amazon store.   

Saturday, April 7, 2018

#328 : Reverend Freakchild -Dial It In

2018 – Treated and Released Records

By Phillip Smith; April 7, 2018

Dial It In, the third album from the good Reverend Freakchild is absolutely fabulous.  Most often with a National steel guitar in hand, his brand of blues and blues-rock is incredibly unique, outstanding, and at times a bit psychedelic.  For this album, Freakchild enlists drummer Chris Parker (Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker, Paul Butterfield) and guitarist Hugh Pool who also recorded and mixed the album.

The record softly cracks open with a mostly instrumental, backwoods, swampy blues track “Opus Earth”.  Accented with backwards guitar, a hypnotic beat, and spiritual chants, this amazing track lets the listener know they are in for a unique listening experience.  Freakchild delectably covers Depeche Mode with a nice and greasy blues-soaked arrangement of “Personal Jesus (on the Mainline)”. With Pool blowing harp, and Freakchild providing the suave velvety vocals and twang, this version totally demolishes the original.  Guitarist Mark Karan and bassist Robin Sylvester, both from Ratdog guest on “Hippie Bluesman Blues”. They instill a delightful deadhead vibe into this country-blues original.

The soulful rhythm in “Dial It In” coupled with Freakchild’s fast-paced prose draws me in with a firm grasp.  Spirited backing vocals from the lovely Hazel Miller join with Garrett Dutton’s (G Love and Special Sauce) for a rejoicing funky good time.  With Jay Collins boldly belting it out on saxophone, Freakchild fearlessly takes on Dylan’s “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” in a marvelous no-holds barred performance. A wonderful tribute to Blind Willie Johnson is exhibited in a “Soul of Man”, before the good Rev takes us home with the cosmic closer “Opus Space” for a grand finale.  And to this, I say “Amen Brother, Amen!”.            


Click below to read the PhillyCheeze review of  : Reverend Freakchild - Illogical Optimism



Click on the link below to purchase this terrific album from the PhillyCheeze Amazon store.