Sunday, July 29, 2018

#344 : Vanja Sky - Bad Penny

2018 – Ruf Records
Release Date: Aug. 17, 2018

By Phillip Smith; July 28, 2018

Vanja Sky, one of the newest blues artists to join the Ruf Records family, takes no prisoners with her brand new album Bad Penny.  It was just five years ago, this former pastry chef from Croatia picked up a guitar, and in the moment, she knew that being a musician was her destiny.  Within two years, she was in a band touring Croatia, Slovenia, and Germany.

Recorded at Bessie Blue Studios in Statonville, Tennessee, and Studio Erde in Berlin, Germany, Bad Penny features Mike Zito on rhythm guitar, Terry Dry and Dave Smith on bass guitar, Matthew Johnson and Yonrico Scott on drums, and Lewis Stephens on piano/organ.  She also enlists the legendary Jim Gaines (Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana, Steve Miller, Miles Davis) to take on the tasks of engineering in Tennessee, along with Tobias Noethen who engineered the tracks recorded in Germany. 

Vanja rocks out on a killer cover of Rory Gallagher’s “Bad Penny” for the title track.  Her voice is strong and fearless.  Her guitar licks are terrific.  I get totally swept up in Zito’s outrageously infectious riffs.  The blues are smokin’ with lots of great slide on “Low Down and Dirty”, which includes Bernard Allison alongside Vanja and Zito.  It’s downright bodacious.  

Shining brightly as a songwriter as well, Vanja penned ten of the dozen tracks on the record.  Tender and poignant “Inside Pain” seems to float in mid-air in a beautiful performance.  She totally rips it up on “Give Me Back My Soul”, a Texas style blues rocker with a theme most familiar to blues enthusiasts. It’s a favorite indeed.  Like a Lucinda Williams tune, “Crossroads of Life” digs its fingernails in deep and packs a wallop of that great swampy sound of country blues. It’s brilliant.

Searing guitar licks along with Vanja’s amazing vocal stylings make Bad Penny one hot album, enjoyed start to finish with every listen.  Vanja is currently touring with Mike Zito and Bernard Allison on the Ruf Records Blues Caravan.  This is one show I don’t want to miss.      


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

Saturday, July 21, 2018

#343 : Brother Dege - Farmer's Almanac

2018 – Psyouthern.Records
Release Date: June 1, 2018

By Phillip Smith; July 21, 2018

Farmer’s Almanac, the fourth full-length album from Louisiana native, Brother Dege Legg, is somewhat of a masterpiece.  Its eleven original tracks are slathered with attention-grabbing slide guitar, and razor-sharp lyrics.  Backing Brother Dege is The Bretheren, comprised of Kent Beatty on bass, and drummers Greg Travasos and Doug Belote.   

A surge of excitement traverses through “Country Come to Town”.  Dege’s magnificent finger picking shines while Travasos provides a steady heartbeat-like pulse.  Layers of instrumentation provide an enhanced sense of depth in “The Shakedown”.  The country blues slide and backdrop of dual drums makes this an amazing listen.      

The stories Legg tells with his songs are fantastic.  Outlaw blues ballad “Bastards Blues” is tension-filled and swampy.  Guest drummers Hawley Joe Gary (Spank the Monkey) and Eric Heigle (The Lost Bayou Ramblers) join drummer Doug Belote to help create the ominous atmosphere the song resides in.  Tightly woven prose and a beautiful hypnotic rhythm keep “The Moon & the Scarecrow” gingerly afloat as it softly builds to its climatic peak.    

The album is book-ended by a pair of Pink Floyd-esque instrumentals, “Partial to the Bitters” and “Partial to the Bitters Pt. 2”.   The later, a bit more infused with twang, sounds just as brilliant, nonetheless.  Farmer’s Almanac receives my highest possible recommendation.  It’s that great. 


Take a listen to the album on Apple Music, and if you decide to purchase it, use my special link.  This helps keep the PhillyCheeze site going.  

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

Sunday, July 15, 2018

#342 : North Liberty Blues & BBQ Festival - July 14, 2018

Centennial Park
North Liberty, Iowa 
All photos by Phillip Smith; July 14, 2018

Good fortune was with all in attendance of the 2018 North Liberty Blues & BBQ festival, as most prepared for somewhat of a rainy day.   The rain staved off, the crowd poured in, and the sun burned bright, reaching temperatures of 85 degrees.  The barbecue was great and the music, which consisted of The Tanya English Band, Avey Grouws Band, Kevin Burt, The Diplomats of Solid Sound, and Fantastic Negrito, was outstanding.  

* All Photos by Phillip Smith

The Tanya English Band

The Avey Grouws Band

Kevin Burt and the Corridor

The Diplomats of Solid Sound

Fantastic Negrito

Friday, July 13, 2018

#341 : Michael Buffalo Smith - Makin’ it Back to Macon

2018 – Dreaming Buffalo Music

By Phillip Smith; July 13, 2018

Makin’ it Back to Macon follows closely on the heels of his recent EP The Austin Sessions, released earlier this Spring.  The “Ambassador of Southern Rock” and founder of Kudzoo Magazine Michael Buffalo Smith reveals he has even more up his sleeve with this first full length album since 2005.  Buffalo holds down the vocals and acoustic guitar with the rest of the band being composed of Greg Yeary (rhythm/lead guitar) Billy Eli (acoustic guitar), Joey Parrish (bass), and Towson Engsburg (drums/percussion).  Paul Hornsby (Charlie Daniels, Marshall Tucker Band) produced the album, which also features Tommy Talton (Cowboy) on guitar, E.G. Kight on backing vocals, and the one and only Billy Bob Thornton narrating the prologue and epilogue.

For the introduction, Buffalo wrote a soulful dedication to the town of Macon, Georgia, making note to mention the music, the food, and the people.  Read by Thornton, this spoken piece is a wonderful tribute to set the table for the music which follows. 

Buffalo brings a sense of optimism to his song of mortality in “Both Feet on the Ground” which features guitarist Daniel Jackson and bassist Joey Parrish, both from the Silver Travis Band.  Topped off with some very cool slide-work from Tommy Talton and featuring Paul Hornsby on the Wurlitzer piano, “My Baby Drives a Mercedes Benz” was  co-written with Smith’s longtime collaborator Greg Yeary.  Smith explains it was part of the set list when he and Yeary performed as Buffalo Hut Coalition in the Eighties.  Talton also appears on the fantastic and melancholy “Tired of Living Blues”.  Adding pops and scratches to be infused into the recording, Smith bestows a vintage sound to this bona fide blues tune.  Smith invokes a style reminiscent of the great John Prine into his music. A perfect example is “On a Still Cold Saturday” inspired by a trippy recurring dream.  Ripples of melancholy washes over when I hear Smith bare his soul on “Woman in the Moon (It Comes in Waves)”, a very personal song he wrote after the passing of the love of his life.    

The record concludes with a beautifully written self-reflective spoken word piece, “Epilogue: Reflections at 60”.  With a gripping delivery, this mini-bio written by Smith is read aloud by Billy Bob Thornton.  It honestly ties everything together.       


Click the following link to read the PhillyCheeze Review of Michael Buffalo Smith's EP, The Austin Sessions :

Take a listen to the album on Apple Music, and if you decide to purchase it, use my special link.  This helps keep the PhillyCheeze site going.  

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

Saturday, July 7, 2018

#340 : Whitney Shay - A Woman Rules the World

2018 – Little Village Foundation
Release Date: August 1, 2018

By Phillip Smith; July 7, 2018

Recorded at the acclaimed Greaseland Studios in San Jose, California and produced by ChristopherKid” Andersen, A Woman Rules the World, Whitney Shay’s latest album is her first in six years.  This landmark recording surrounds the riveting vocalist with an outstanding group of musicians whose appearance includes Kid Andersen (guitar, bass, sitar, and Wurlitzer) , Jim Pugh (organ, piano) “Sax” Gordon Beadle (saxophones), Kedor Roy (upright and electric bass), and Alex Pettersen (drums).    

The album begins with the sweet sound of horns, and a huge splash of Detroit soul in “Ain’t No Weak Woman”.  Shay’s smooth and sultry vocals sound great on this funky original. This rolls quite nicely into a jaw-dropping performance of Dinah Washington’s “Blues Down Home”.  It’s absolutely fabulous.  “Love’s Creeping Up on You”, another original from Shay is rooted in the Memphis sound.   Andersen seems to channel B.B. King on guitar, while the rest of the crew takes a cruise down McLemore Avenue, for more of a Stax Records vibe.  Pettersen gives a brilliant execution on drums to boot.

Shay soulfully sings title track “A Woman Rules the World” an exquisite selection by the legendary blues master Denise LaSalle, who sadly passed away earlier this year.  Then there’s the rousing rendition of Little Denise’s “Check Me Out”.  Slathered in old school funk, this smash hit written by the great Jimmy McCracklin oozes with groovy goodness.
Paying homage to one of the greatest Rock and Roll legends ever, Shay and company let loose an amazing cover of Little Richard’s “Freedom Blues” off his 1970 album Rill Thing.  They then rip it up on “Get Down With It” from his 1966 album The Wild and Frantic Little Richard to bring this wonderful album to its conclusion.

A Woman Rules the World is full of everything a music lover wants in an album: great songs, a spectacular voice, and an amazingly tight band.  I love every bit of it.   


For more information about Whitney Shay, visit her website :