Saturday, August 28, 2021

#514 : Avey Grouws Band - Tell Tale Heart


2021 – Navy House Records

By Phillip Smith; Aug. 28, 2021


Iowa-based blues-rockers Avey Grouws Band has yet another delectable album to sink one’s teeth into.  Tell Tale Heart is their latest record, and follows up quite nicely to their acclaimed 2020 release The Devil May Care which broke into the top 10 on the Billboard Blues Album Chart.  

 While the record was being composed during the pandemic, they also broke new ground by hosting 102 semi-weekly live mini-concert streams via their “Quarantini Party” and “Bloody Marys and Blues” events.  Their dedication to provide entertainment to their fanbase is quite apparent.  This is a band I’ve had the pleasure of seeing twice this summer already.  In June, I saw them open for Walter Trout at the Adler Theater in Davenport, Iowa.  Then in July, I caught them at the Prairie Dog Blues Festival in Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin.  In both instances, I immediately noticed their magical connection to their audience.  Avey Grouws Band is comprised of Chris Avey ( lead guitar/vocals), Jeni Grouws (lead vocals/rhythm guitar), Randy Leasman (bass guitar), Bryan West (drums), and Nick Vasquez (keyboards).

The driving rhythm, and killer riff of “Love Raining Down” jets the album skyward in a glorious blaze of blues-rock.  Avey’s fearless approach to laying it all out with his guitar demands the listener’s full attention.  Grouws’ powerful, velvety vocals captivate me as political polarization runs rampant and lines are drawn in the sand in “Bad Bad Year”.  Fueled by heavy doses of Billy Gibbons-inspired guitar and a badass beat, this makes for another great cut.  Title-track “Tell Tale Heart” takes a beautiful yet melancholy turn as Grouws delivers a vocal performance full of heart and soul.  The heaviness and inner-turmoil woven into the lyrics are amplified by a wall of sound from the band.  It sounds great.  Immediately following is a wonderful Pink-Floyd-esque instrumental called “Mariana”.  Avey pulls out all the stops as he just lets his guitar speak.  West, Leasman, and Vasquez create the perfect space for this intoxicating piece of music to take place.  I heard this one performed live when AGB opened for Walter Trout, and it was an amazing experience to say the least.  “Daylight” is refreshing and delightful.  Its playful melody and softly-sung lyrics warms the soul.  I love the funky pulse running behind “Heart’s Playing Tricks”.  As the swirling sound of keys from Vasquez fill the air, Avey tosses a groovy and infectious riff on top.  This is most definitely another favorite.

Loaded with ten all-original songs, Tell Tale Heart is an absolute gem of an album from start to finish.  This is a record I highly recommend.          


For more information about the artist, visit this website :


Available on Bandcamp :

Sunday, August 22, 2021

#513 : Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival - 2021


Clarksdale, Mississippi

August 12-15, 2021

By Phillip Smith; August 21, 2021


After my first trip down to Clarksdale, Mississippi for the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival in 2019, I knew I would want to go again.  Last year the festival was cancelled due to Covid-19, but this year it returned, with one slight difference.  The daytime acts on Saturday performed outdoors on an acoustic stage under the VIP tent, as opposed to being scattered around the downtown area in assorted bars, restaurants, and galleries.  Ground Zero Blues Club also held a steady continuance of live music throughout the weekend as well.

The journey from Iowa to Clarksdale included a one-night stop in Memphis for a night out on Beale Street.  The group I was travelling with held steady at King Jerry Lawler’s Hall of Fame Bar & Grille on Beale, for an evening of live music from The Beale Street All-Stars.  Those guys put on a dazzling show and provided an enjoyable evening of entertainment.    

On the way to Clarksdale Thursday morning, we made a stop at the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas to catch the live broadcast of the legendary King Biscuit Time radio show.  King Biscuit Time is the longest running blues radio program in the world, logging over 18,490 episodes since its inception in 1941, and can still be heard each weekday from 12:15pm – 12:45pm on KFFA out of Helena, or by streaming through the Delta Cultural Center’s Facebook page.  Originally hosted by “Sunshine” Sonny Payne until 2018, the show is now hosted by my friend Thomas Jacques.  It was great to catch up with Thomas as he gave us a tour and filled us in on the history of the show.

After checking in at the Shack Up Inn, we all headed to the Delta Blues Museum, where the festival is held, to enjoy an evening of blues accompanied by a delicious, down-home dinner of grits, greens, and barbeque.  It was great to finally hear Lucious Spiller, Sean “Bad” Apple, and Terry “Big” T Williams live in person.  There’s something special about the way Lucious sings “A Change is Gonna Come”.  He digs deep as he sings it with raw emotion.  With accompaniment from a harp player called Freight Train, Sean Apple’s cover of Skip Jame’s “Hard Times” was really nice.  Lady Trucker made a guest appearance during Sean’s set to sit in on “Sitting on Top of the World”.  Her voice has a lot of power in it and is quite impressive.  Following the Grits & Greens dinner, we headed over to Ground Zero Blues Club, and caught Heather Crosse, “Rockin” Johnny Burgin, and Jaxx Nassar hosting the weekly blues jam.  That was a big ball of fun to be present for that.  The camaraderie among the musicians exudes a sense of family.

Before the festivities began on Friday, we ventured out to visit a few blues sites.  We stopped by Tutwiler first to see where W.C. Handy heard his first slide guitar performance, then visited Sonny Boy Williamson II’s gravesite.  We had lunch at The Cozy Corner in Indianola, a place which sits a couple of blocks away from the new B.B. King Museum.  Their ribs really hit the spot, and the fried okra was cooked perfectly.  This was definitely a one-of-a-kind place to stop.  Just around the corner from the Cozy Corner, sits Club Ebony, a nightclub which has earned its own Mississippi Blues Trail marker for showcasing such artists as Ray Charles, B.B. King, Bobby Bland, Albert King, Little Milton, Count Basie, and many others.  We pushed off from there and visited Dockery Farms, and a possible locations of the famed crossroads nearby, which legend tells us Robert Johnson made his deal with Ol’ Scratch.   

The first band to play on Friday was the Delta Museum Student Band.  It is through this program that many blues artists in the area, such as Christone “Kingfish” Ingram got their start.  Heavy Suga and the Sweet Tones with Heather Crosse and Johnny Burgin took the stage next.  They sound absolutely fabulous together.  I was so happy to hear a couple of my favorites from Heather’s Groovin’ at the Crosse Roads album: “My Man Called Me” and “Why Does a Woman Play a Bass Guitar”.  Lightnin’ Malcolm was an absolute force to be reckoned with.  His guitar performance was sizzling.  James Super Chikan” Johnson followed with his flashy home-made guitars.  I couldn't help but smile when he hit the stage .  His band comprised of his daughter Jamiesa Turner on drums, Heather Falduto on bass, and Lala Craig are impeccable.

Early Saturday afternoon, I made it my number one priority to go listen to the legendary Jimmy “Duck” Holmes.  This recent Grammy nominee and owner of the oldest still-active juke joint in Mississippi The Blue Front Cafe, is the current king of the Bentonia Blues.  It was truly an amazing experience to hear him play “Catfish Blues” and “Roll Me”.  The rest of the afternoon was spent back at Ground Zero for more blues from Steve Kolbus, Lucious Spiller, Jaxx Nassar, Big Train and the Loco Motives, Heavy Suga and the Sweet Tones, and Johnny Burgin.  

With a setlist which included Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black”, “Sweet Home Chicago”, Susan Tedeschi’s “Hurts So Bad”, and Cindy Lauper’s “Time After Time”, and “Whipping Post” it was a great pleasure to hear Jaxx Nassar.  She is a multi-instrumentalist who has an amazing voice, and killer chops on the guitar.  She even brought out her cigar box guitar made by my friend Kevin Patrick, and gave us a solid dose of “Catfish Blues”.  I can’t wait to hear her first album, whenever it may come out.  I’ll definitely be among the first to buy a copy.

Jim “Big Train” Madsen, another friend of mine from the group I was with, took the stage with his band Big Train and the Loco Motives.  With Madsen on guitar and lead vocals, the rest of the band was comprised of Bill “Top Dog” Cummins on harp, Mason “Thumper” Cullen on bass, and Mike “Pine Box” Lander on percussion.  They delivered an outstanding set of delta blues, covering greats such as “Got My Mojo Working”, “Built for Comfort”, “Bang Bang Bang Bang”, “Before You Accuse Me”, and “Hoochie Coochie Man”.  They also performed a new original blues tune written by Madsen called “I Ain’t Skinny No More”.  That one definitely needs to be released as a single sometime soon.  

Heather Crosse and Johnny Burgin had sounded so good together the previous two times I caught them, I had to hang around and hear them once more.  It was cool to hear Burgin break out his cover L.V. Bank’s “Teddy Bear”.

Several acts were delayed due to rain Saturday evening, but once it cleared, I was front-and-center for Jimbo Mathus with special guest Charlie Musselwhite.  That was the main event as far as I was concerned, and no way was I going to miss this show.  It was still sprinkling a little bit, but I managed to get the camera out for a few shots.   Jimbo started out with “Shake Your Money Maker”, and a most fitting “Ain’t Gonna Rain No More”.  He played Canned Heat’s “On the Road Again”, and Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together”.  Musselwhite took the stage and stayed until the end.  Together they performed several songs including “Louisiana Blues”, and “Ode to Billy Joe”.

I had a such a fun time, trying to cram as much live music into my vacation as I possibly could.  Sunday morning, we checked out of the Shack Up Inn and began the eleven-hour trek back to Iowa along Highway 61.  Now, it’s just a treasured memory.


*All photos by Phillip Smith except the one credited otherwise

The Beale Street All Stars at King Jerry Lawler's

Thomas Jacques hosting King Biscuit Time 

Thomas Jacques

Delta Cultural Center at Helena,Arkansas

Legend Shack at The Shack Up Inn

at The Shack Up Inn

Lucious Spiller

Sean "Bad" Apple

Terry "Big T" Williams


Jaxx Nassar & Heather Crosse

Jaxx Nassar & Johnny Burgin

Jaxx Nassar & Jim "Big Train" Madsen

Johnny Burgin

Heather Crosse & Johnny Burgin

Tutwiler, Mississippi

Kevin, Terri, Jim, Bill, Joyce, Galen, Pam, Kyle, & Aaron

The Cozy Corner Cafe in Indianola, Mississippi

Club Ebony in Indianola, Mississippi


Crossroads * photo by Terri Munch  (Thanks Terri!)

Crossroads : Jim, Terri, Joyce, Bill, Kyle, & Pam 

Dockery Farms


Heather Crosse & Johnny Burgin

Heather Crosse

Lee Andrew "Juice" Williams 

Lightnin' Malcolm

James "Super Chikan" Johnson

Lala Craig

James "Super Chikan" Johnson

Heather Falduto

Jimmy "Duck" Holmes

Steve Kolbus and Jaxx Nassar

Lucious Spiller

Jaxx Nassar

Big Train & the Loco Motives

Jimbo Mathus

Charlie Musselwhite

Charlie Musselwhite & Jimbo Mathus

Charlie Musselwhite & Jimbo Mathus

Websites of places mentioned:


King Jerry Lawler’s Hall of Fame Bar & Grille –

Delta Cultural Center -

Shack Up Inn –

Ground Zero Blues Club –

Delta Blues Museum –

Hooker Grocery --




Websites of artists mentioned:


Johnny Burgin -

Steve “Lightnin’” Malcolm -

Big Train & the Loco Motives –

Jimbo Mathus -

Charlie Musselwhite -

















For more information about the festival, visit this website -

Saturday, August 7, 2021

#512 : Polly O’Keary and the Rhythm Method - 50

2021 – Polly O’Keary and the Rhythm Method

By Phillip Smith; Aug. 7, 2021


50, the sixth album from Polly O’Keary and the Rhythm Method swiftly swept me off my feet with its unique blend of funk, soul, rock, and blues.  With O’Keary on lead vocals and bass guitar, the Rhythm Method is comprised of guitarist Dave Miller and drummer Tommy Cook.  Being unable to play last year due to Covid-19, the band spent their time writing and recording this splendid eleven-track record of all originals.  The title 50, derives its name from the fact that all three members of this power trio turn 50 this year.   

They roll the album out atop a wave of funky goodness on “Brand New Day” with guest vocalist Lady A (the real one, not the country band) joining in.  The real Lady A and O’Keary sound great together, as Miller powers though an extraordinary guitar solo.  The song is an absolute homerun.  Cook infuses “Can’t Catch Me” with a marching-line beat, as Miller’s searing guitar licks pour freely and cast an ominous air about this ballad about facing down drug addiction.  O’Keary sounds fabulous as she sings “Strange Way of Showing Love”.  Her voice control is amazing.  Miller continues to push the envelope on guitar as O’Keary and Cook keep the rhythm section boiling.  “American Highways” ushers the album out in a Billy Squire no-holds-barred fashion, boasting an accelerated pulse and a kick-ass riff.  

50 is a record that packs a punch in just about every song.   It’s absolutely worth checking out. 



 For more information about the artist, visit this website : POLLY O'KEARY AND THE RHYTHM METHOD - Polly O'Keary and The Rhythm Method! (



Or click on the link below to purchase this terrific album from the PhillyCheeze Amazon Store.  As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.


Monday, August 2, 2021

#511 : Prairie Dog Blues Festival - 2021

Prairie Dog Blues Festival - 2021

Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin

July 31, 2021


By Phillip Smith; Aug.2, 2021


Saturday, July 31, 2021, I landed in Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin, just off the mighty Mississippi River, for the second day of the Prairie Dog Blues Festival, and had an enormously good time.  Soaking in the blues, while soaking up the sun is absolutely one of the best things life has to offer.  On the main stage, I caught Lurrie Bell with Jason Ricci, Amanda Fish, Tony Holiday, The Altered Five Blues Band, and made several visits to the beer tent to hear Avey Grouws Band. 

Lurrie Bell, son of famed bluesman Carey Bell was originally scheduled to appear with his brother Steve, and perform as the Bell Brothers.  Sadly, Steve could not make, but on the bright side, they couldn’t have picked a better replacement than Jason Ricci.  Lurrie and Jason were totally in sync, and this show was as real as the blues could get.  They sounded great together as they smoked though songs like “You Gotta Help Me” and “Sweet Home Chicago”.    

Amanda Fish took the main stage next, playing a mix of originals and covers.  Just as a drone was hovering over the stage and crowd, she went right to “Helicopters in the Sky”.  Other originals included “Friends” and “2020” from her Free Album.  She belted out a great cover of “Me and Bobby McGee” and steered off the blues highway with “Fortunate Son / Free Bird / Born this Way”, ending her set with her take on the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop”.

Tony Holiday came to play.  I’ve reviewed two of his albums, and he’s one of my favorites.  With Gordon Greenwood on guitar, they delivered wonderful covers of Otis Rush’s “Right Place, Wrong Time” and Sean Costello’s “Hard Luck Woman”.  I was pleased as hell to hear “Payin’ Rent on a Broken Home”, “Good Advice” and “The Hustle”, all off his Soul Service album released in 2020.  Those songs are absolute gems.  Holiday brought his set to its finish with another cut off that same record, “It’s Gonna Take Some Time”.  Tony’s soulful vocals and harmonica sounds so good paired with Greenwood on guitar.  I really hope I get a chance to hear these guys play again.        

I didn’t get to hang around for the entire set of the Altered Five Blues Band, but the portion of their show I did hear was phenomenal.  It was an absolute treat to see Jason Ricci on stage once more.  He was on fire playing harp.  The songs I did catch from them were “Great Minds Think Alike” and “Too Mad to Make Up”.  And they had the audience in the palms of their hands.  The performance was absolutely electric.

As tradition goes at the Prairie Dog Blues Festival, there is always a band in the Beer Tent to provide a series of smaller sets which take place between the sets on the main stage.  This year the Beer Tent stage was blessed to have Iowa’s own Avey Grouws Band.  They are quickly becoming one of my favorite bands.  With Chris Avey on lead guitar, Jeni Grouws on vocals and rhythm guitar, Bryan West on drums, Randy Leasman on bass guitar, and Nick Vasquez on keys, they literally rocked the tent.  Their enthusiasm and rapport with the audience is second to none.  A big smile was planted on my face as soon as I heard the opening sequence of “Two Days Off (and a Little Bit of Liquor)”.  When they broke into ZZ Top’s “La Grange”, everyone felt the love for Dusty Hill, who had just recently passed away.  It was a very welcome tribute, and they sounded so damn good too.

Until next time, thanks to all the volunteers who put this wonderful festival together each year.   It’s really one of the best.


 * all photos by Phillip Smith

Lurrie Bell and Jason Ricci

Amanda Fish

Tony Holiday

Altered Five Blues Band

Avey Grouws Band