Saturday, October 26, 2013

Shawn Holt and the Teardrops - Daddy Told Me


2003 - Blind Pig Records
By Phillip Smith; Oct. 26, 2013

Shawn Holt, son of Morris ‘Magic Slim’ Holt, who passed away earlier this year, is now taking over the reins as front man for the Teardrops.  His debut release, Daddy Told Me,  a mix of originals and covers and is an extraordinary tribute to his father.  This album is pure blues and in my opinion should be a contender for a coveted Handy Award.  The Teardrops (guitarist Levi William, bassist Chris Biedron, and drummer Brian ‘B.J.’ Jones), deliver the goods, which I like to think of in this case, as a briefcase full of blues. 

It was a pleasant surprise to find that Holt enlisted legendary bluesman John Primer (who played with his father for thirteen years) to handle lead vocals and guitar on a fantastic cover of Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me”.  Primer also sticks around to play guitar on the funky “Buddy Buddy Friend”, an original from Shawn about so-called friends who hang around when times are good and you’re sharing the wealth, but disappear once the bankroll dries up. I think we can all relate to that. 

The title track, “Daddy Told Me” is gritty and chalk-full of attitude.  I love the rapport between Holt and William, both on guitar, as it is a huge part of what makes this song sound so cool.  I really enjoyed the guitar on “Please Don’t Dog Me” also, as it accentuates the slow blues beat laying behind it.     

It was very surprising to me at how little time it took for this album to enthrall me. Every song is a winner, and the album itself, I highly recommend.  Magic Slim would have been very proud.


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

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Valerie June - Pushin’ Against a Stone

2013 - Concord Records
By Phillip Smith ; Oct. 19, 2013

I had never heard of Valerie June prior to her performance on The Late Show with David Letterman.  She performed “Workin’ Woman Blues”, her first cut off her new album Pushin’ Against a Stone.  She took the stage with her acoustic guitar strapped around her shoulder and started singing about how she had been working her whole life, and now is ready for a sugar daddy.  For those few minutes, as far as everything else was concerned, time had been frozen. I was so infatuated with her voice, and how it was a unique blend of soul and country.  The song was intoxicating.  It swept me off my feet so fast, I had to hit the internet, find her website, and order her album.  To make matters even sweeter, I found it was available on vinyl.
June is not just a pretty voice with a guitar.  She is quite talented in the writing department as well.  She wrote or co-wrote all the songs on the album, with one exception, “Trials Troubles and Tribulations”, a bluegrass gospel song by Estil C. Ball.  This stripped down acoustic song focuses on her lovely vocals, leaving the drums behind. 

Booker T. Jones (Booker T. and the MG’s) makes an appearance to play organ on “Somebody To Love” and “On My Way”.  The former, a real folky tune about needing somebody to loves features Luca Kezdy on violin. The latter, another selection in the country/folk category, also features Kezdy on violin.  The rhythm reminds me a little bit of “Friend of the Devil” by the Grateful Dead.  

The album has a very cool ‘retro’ sound, as it swirls the sounds of Music City with that of Motown.  Title track “Pushin’ Against a Stone”, with its harmonized backing vocals brings to mind the music from Mary Wells.  And for a bonus, we get to hear the psychedelic guitar styling of guest guitarist, Jimbo Mathus, who also appears on four other tracks.  It’s no surprise then, he plays on my favorite tracks on the album, “Wanna Be On Your Mind”  This is another song that is so captivating, it almost puts me in a trance. 

Valarie June is such a talented new artist who has a refreshing new take on music, and I have no doubt we will see a lot more from her.  This album easily falls into my top five favorite releases of the year.    

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

John Prine w/ Peter Case Paramount Theater Cedar Rapids, IA September 14, 2013

Paramount Theater

Cedar Rapids, IA
September 14, 2013

By Phillip Smith

It is such a great pleasure to once again hear live music in the beautifully restored Paramount Theater in Cedar Rapids.  John Prine, with opener Peter Case played to a capacity crowd last night, bringing a little piece of the Ryman to town.
Singer/songwriter Peter Case, opening his acoustic set with “Put Down that Gun”, quickly captured the the audience.   I loved “Crooked Mile”, with its funky countrified rhythm and Case’s guitar picking.  The song to remember from this set, however, was the soft and heartfelt love song, “Two Angels”.  Before beginning this one, Case mentioned it had been picked up and used in an episode of HBO’s True Blood.  He went on to say it was used on a scene where two shape-shifters were having sex on a pool table.  He then humorously added that was just what he was thinking about when he wrote the song.   Case certainly delivered and one couldn’t ask for a better person to open up for John Prine. 
With guitarist Jason Wilber on one side and stand-up bassist Dave Jacques on the other, Prine was in rare form, and played through most of the songs from his first and self-titled album.  Opening with a rowdy crowd-pleaser, “Spanish Pipedream”, Prine set the mood for the rest of the evening.   Before I knew it, he was tearing through “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore”, another favorite.  
I loved how everything quieted down throughout the “Humidity Built the Snowman” from Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings. This song seems to make me feel really self-aware, just thinking about the lyrics “Humidity built the snowman.  Sunshine brought it down.”  
Breaking up the heaviness from the previous songs, Prine broke out a fun little song co-written  with Peter Case,  called “Space Monkey”, about the exploits of  a primate shot into space during the Cold War when the USSR and the USA were racing to get a man on the moon first.   The monkey was forgotten about but finally made it back to earth, only to meet up with a couple of friends at a karaoke bar and talk about old times.  
It was a treat to hear “Dear Abby”, and  the heart wrenching “Sam Stone”.  The biggest treat for me though, was when Jason Wilber picked up a mandolin, and began playing the intro to the classic, “Angel from Montgomery”.   This is what it’s all about.  
To bring things to a close, Prine brought Case out on stage , and together they performed a ripping rendition of “Paradise”.   It was a great night for music.    

Friday, October 11, 2013

Big B "More to Hate" -- From the Archives #4

By Phillip Smith

One rarely thinks of Vegas when the topic of rap music arises.  That may be changing really soon.  Big B,  the Las Vegas rapper has released a very solid album called More to Hate.  Each song seemed to have its own individual imprint, displaying a diversity of styles.  The title track “More to Hate” emits that old school nineties rap essence, and eases the listener in comfortably.  “White Trash Life”, the single, could easily be confused as a Mighty Mighty Bosstones song, with its ska beat, and gravelly vocals.  Being a Bosstones fan myself, I enjoyed this track immensely.  Danny Diablo offers up assistance with the track, “Put’em Up”, a southern fried selection which reminded me a bit of Kid Rock.  “Put’em up, get ‘em up, stick ’em up,  what? Your hands motherfucker! Your hands motherfucker!”, the hook, is still moshing around the diameter of my brain. 

Big B really connects with the common person though songs “Counting Pennies”, “Pass the Jager”, and “Real as they Come”.   “Pass the Jager”, featuring Dirtball, another ska influenced song, makes an excellent party anthem.    

The catchiest of the tracks on More to Hate, may just be “Looky Looky”, layering the hook over a beat that sounded like something the B-52’s could have cooked up.   I also favored the track “On the Road”,  which mixes one part drinking song, with stories from the road, with a friendly nod to ICP and the Juggalos. 

With the help of  the Kottonmouth Kings, Big B has transformed Men Without Hats’ one hit wonder into something sure to put a grin on Cheech and Chong’s faces.  In “We Can Smoke”, Big B sings, “We can smoke if we want to…”   to the tune of “The Safety Dance”.   Tech N9ne is featured on the following track, “Million Miles”, a love ballad about being away from home. 

Don’t let the name fool you, More to Hate will give you more to like. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

John Lee Hooker Jr. “ Live in Istanbul Turkey” -- From the Archives #3

2010 - Cc Ent / Copycats
By Phillip Smith ; Oct. 30, 2010

Many times live CDs take the low road as studio recordings take the high road, in regards to quality and sound.  Recorded live at the Efes Pilsen Blues Festival, in Istanbul, Live in Istanbul Turkey, by John Lee Hooker Jr. definitely takes the high road and  proves a live CD can be as much rewarding, if not more, than its studio recorded counterpart.

Backed by a large entourage of musicians, which include a fantastic horn section, John Lee Hooker, Jr. offers up eleven original songs, and a couple of covers.  Those being, “Boom Boom“ and “Maudie”,  originally recorded by his father, the late John Lee Hooker.  Along side Hooker, on guitar, is Jeff Horan.  He plays with a certain precision sure to make Hooker Sr. proud. 

“Suspicious”, references mobile phones, McDonalds, and smoking crack as it deals with the paranoia associated with a cheating significant other.  It is cleverly written and a pleasure to listen to.   It’s hard to be paranoid without being easily irritated as well.  Hooker seems to be eaten up with bitterness, as he denounces the economy, bank foreclosures, and false friends, in another favorite original, “Fed Up”.

Hooker turns his frown upside down next, as he breaks out the funk on “Funky Funk”.  If this one sounds a bit familiar, it’s because he incorporates the chorus and other pieces from Rufus Thomas’s “Walking The Dog”.  It’s a fun song.  Paying homage to his father‘s classic, “Boogie Chillen”, Hooker Jr. serves up a tasty dish with  “Doin’ The Boogie”.  It lasts almost eleven minutes in length, and  showcases a solo performance by each musician on stage before turning into a tremendous jam session. 

It’s easy to mentally place oneself  on location, in Istanbul, at this concert, while listening to this disc.  The music is so enjoyable one could not help but want to have been there.  The enthusiasm on stage is electrical.  This is the magic that gives Live in Istanbul Turkey its appeal.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Bastard Fairies “Memento Mori” -- From the Archives #2

By Phillip Smith

Memento Mori is a Latin phrase which translates as ‘Remember you are mortal’.  This CD by the Bastard Fairies helps us do just that.   Lead singer Yellow Thunder Woman, with her  lovely and delicate voice begins the first track, “The Greatest Love Song“ with these words:  ‘All I need is a catheter and lobotomy..’.  Beautiful, yet disturbing, this is not the usual opening of love songs, and I have to give kudos to anyone who can work that line into one.

Guitarist Robin Davey has managed to create a variety of musical backgrounds for Memento Mori.  “A Venomous Tale” has hints of a reggae beat, while “Whatever” sounds like an old western cantina song, with it’s instrumentation of piano, and banjo.        

The second track, a very clever and sweet song, “Apple Pie“, just asks us all to get along.  An almost perfect segue takes us to another melancholy song, “Habitual Inmate“. 
Memento Mori reinforces its namesake with,  “We’re all going to Hell”.  If you’ve ever done anything that would send your soul to hell, it’s probably listed in this song.  I am well aware of a beer frame in bowling, but never have I ever heard of a beer break in the middle of a song as this song has.

A couple of the weaker selections include “Moribund”  and “Everyone has a Secret”.  .  One of the most annoying things about Memento Mori was the overuse of the ‘I’m singing from the bottom of a well, and using a megaphone’ effect.  On some tracks that might work well, but it is really overkill when done on every song. 

The title track, “Memento Mori”, reminding us to eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may be dead, is my second favorite song of this collection.  It’s very melodic, and Yellow Thunder Woman lets us hear her voice the way it should be, unfiltered.  

All in all, The Bastard Fairies have produced a nice collection of songs, well written, yet still a little rough around the edges. 

* originally published for in 2007

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Goon Moon “Licker’s Last Leg” -- From the Archives #1

By Phillip Smith

Jeordi White (aka Twiggy Ramirez of Marilyn Manson)  and Chris Goss (Masters of Reality) have collaborated once again to produce their first full length CD together as Goon Moon.  Licker’s Last Leg uses a variety of musical styles to walk the listener through the album.  Apple Pie, the first cut, almost scared me away from the CD with what I can only equate as the musical equivalence of running fingernails down a chalk board.  Eventually the annoyance stopped and the song unfolded, nicely I might add.  Although there is a lot of Goth rock influences in Apple Pie,  the rest of the CD seems to be a mix of classic rock peppered with a dab of industrial.   Tip Toe could easily have been mistaken for a Devo song, with its mechanical beat and quirky lyrics.    My Machine is another nice track,  it‘s a little faster than some of the other songs, and uses several tempos and synthesized vocals at times,  emitting an Eighties Techno/Metal flavor.  My favorite track though is An Autumn That Came Too Soon.  It has a simple beat but it is very hypnotizing, with its tranquil repetitiveness and smooth-as-silk vocals.  Individually these are all nice songs, but they don’t all necessarily all gel together as well as I would have expected.  What I considered the strangest and most experimental track, The Golden Ball, stretches to almost 10 minutes in length, and is composed of eight mini songs.  The last and least track, Built in a Bottle, could have been left off entirely and I would not have minded.  It was too slow and whispery to follow the eleven songs it followed. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Otis Taylor - “My World is Gone”

by Phillip Smith

After a Jimi Hendrix tribute concert, Taylor and friend, Mato Nanji, were backstage discussing the history of the Native American.  Within that discussion, Mato, member of the Nakota Nation, uttered the statement, “My World is Gone”.  At that point they both realized what they needed to write about: the trials and tribulations of the Native American as it tries to retain the remaining bits of its culture.  That is what this album is all about.  Running the usual gambit of topics, My World is Gone touches on drinking, racism, lost love, and murder.  Just over half of the tracks, feature special guest, Mato Nanji, front man for the band Indigenous and member of 3 Skulls and the Truth, on lead guitar.  Mato is quickly becoming one my favorite guitarists to listen to.    

Otis has an interesting way of taking the blues and serving it up in his own very unique style, oftentimes transporting the listener into a trance-like state, with steady background beats and rhythms.  From the first and title track, “My World is Gone”, one of the collaborations with Mato, I am totally on-board with the musical journey which awaits.  In this one, Anne Harris adds a nice little folky presence with an ever-so-soft fiddle accompaniment.  In “Lost My Horse”, Tayor and Mato sing about alcoholism and the dire consequences that were the direct result.  In this song, a man whose father was a runaway slave and whose mother was a Navajo woman, loses his horse, his most important possession, due to drinking.  Soon after, he realizes it is only a matter of time before he loses his mind.  The history lesson continues in “Sand Creek Massacre Mourning”, recounting the despicable atrocities of the 1864 attack by Colonel John Chivington along with 700 of his troops on a village of friendly Cheyenne and Arapaho encamped in southeastern Colorado Territory. The song has a certain military cadence to it; the kind one would hear preceding an execution.  Taylor’s banjo picking combined with and Ron Miles cornet playing, gives this a little The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly touch.  

I love the infectiousness of “Huckleberry Blues”, as Taylor keeps a constant rhythm on banjo behind some really nice jazzy cornet playing by Ron Miles. Taylors strong and soulful vocals remind a bit of Isaac Hayes.  Other favorites include “Gangster and Iztatoz Chauffeur”, and “Green Apples”.  Both heavily doused in the washtub of trance blues,    have such an instant likeability.

I liked this album from the first listen, and the pleasure I get from it increases with each subsequent listen.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Photos from NewBo Arts Fest, Cedar Rapids, IA - Sep 1 , 2013

Photos by Phillip Smith 







Saturday, August 31, 2013

Reviews and Articles for Blues Revue Magazine 2011- 2013 .

by Phillip Smith

Paul Thorn - What The Hell is Goin' On?

Craig Erickson - Galactic Roadhouse

Josh Smith - Don't Give Up On Me

Betty Fox Band - Too Far Gone

Kenny Wayne Shepherd Concert 1/26/13 Review

Kenny Wayne Shepherd photos from Concert 1/26/13 Riverside, IA

David Hidalgo / Mato Nanji / Luther Dickinson – 3 Skulls and the Truth

The Mokats - Crossover Blues

Hamilton Loomis - Live at the Hub, DVD

Simon McBride - Crossing the Line

Bob Dylan - Tempest

Colin Linden - Still Live

Killing Floor - Rock 'n' Roll Gone Mad

Chris Watson Band - Pleasure and Pain

Darren Jay & the Delta Souls - Drink My Wine

Johnny Rawls - Soul Survivor

Debbie Bond - Hearts Are Wild

Eddie C Campbell - Spider Eating Preacher

Riverside Casino Blues Weekend Review

Riverside Casino Blues Weekend Photos:

Stacy Jones Band = No Need To Spell it Out

Mighty Sam McClain & Knut Reiersrud - One Drop is Plenty

Tony Spinner - Down Home Mojo

Roy Trevino - self titled

Bryce Janey - Game of Life

Mike Zito - Greyhound

Mississippi Fever - Self Titled

Jay Gordon's Blues Venom - No Cure

Coyote Kings - Move

Marco De Sade Band - Take No Prisoners

BillyLee Janey - No Saints Ringin' the Bells

David Bromberg - Use Me,

Levee Town - Pages of Paperwork ,

Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band - Peyton on Patton,

Levon Helm - Ramble at the Ryman ,

Trampled Under Foot - Wrong Side of the Blues,

Dr. Duke Tumatoe - I Just Want To Be Rich

Bryce Janey - Blues in My Soul

Colin Gilmore - Goodnight Lane

John Lee Hooker Jr., - Live in Istanbul Turkey

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Delta Saints - Death Letter Jubilee

By Phillip Smith

Furiously fabulous and dankly dark, The Delta Saints deliver possibly the most powerful rocking Blues album of the year with Death Letter Jubilee.  Led by vocalist Ben Ringel and guitarist Dylan Fitch, The Saints hit every song full on, pouring their heart and soul into every note, coating a nougaty center of Blues with a premium blend of rock topped with a heaping helping of harmonica. 

I never really thought about what Led Zeppelin would sound like if they had been from the South, but once I heard “Sing to Me”, I am pretty sure I now know.  Ringel and Fitch transform themselves into alternate versions of Plant and Page as we heard in “The Battle of Evermore”, from the album, Led Zeppelin IV.  This track is absolutely outstanding.

Ringel, like Steven Tyler, has a voice that is raspy and powerful.  It sounds really good alongside Greg Hommert’s harmonica in “Chicago”.  I love this track.  It’s so full of soul and spirit.  Speaking of spirit, one doesn’t have to be religious to be overcome with it when one listens to title track, “Death Letter Jubilee”.  This one has all the toe-tapping, hand-clapping fun of a bible-belt tent revival, minus all of the judgment.  Bring your own spiders and snakes.   

With spurts of controlled frenzy, delivered with an increasingly fast tempo, they rip through “Devils Creek”, as if adrenalin is flowing freely through their veins.  Bassist David Supica keeps a nice groovy bass-line going in this forewarning ditty.   

This thirteen track album definitely deserves a listen.  It’s fantastic.  

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Coyote Kings w/Mush - Nasty Habits & Dirty Little Secrets

By Phillip Smith

From the Pacific Northwest, in Walla Walla, Washington, Robin Barrett and company deliver another bounty of Blues with Nasty Habits and Dirty Little Secrets, the Coyote Kings follow-up album to Move.  Writer and lead guitarist, Barrett, is joined by vocalist Michelle 'Mush' Morgan, bassist Kit Kulhmann, drummer Emilo Cabrales and keyboardist Doug Scarborough to create another saucy album of earthy electric Blues composed of eleven new original tracks.

With Mush on mic., the crew breaks out with a fun jam on title-track, “Nasty Habits & Dirty Little Secrets”.  Barrett throws down a catchy funk-infused riff that has a way of burrowing itself in one’s head like a Ceti eel from Star Trek II Wrath of Khan.  I could almost hear the band having fun recording it.       

“Baby’s Gone”, a stand-out favorite is a melancholy lament about lost love and contemplations of suicide while holding on to a desire to live. This heartbreaking song features fantastic guitar licks, and vocals from Mush so sad and lovely, it left me a little on the heavy side with emotion.

Another slow tempo contender for best song is “Afternoon Sun”.  Barrett handles the lead vocals on this one and handles it quite well.  I enjoy the mellow space it creates very much.  The combining elements of piano, vocal harmonies and lyrics remind me a lot of Phish, one of my favorite bands.  This one plain and simple, puts a smile on my face.     

A perfect song to chill out to, ‘Walking in the Fog’, is one of the best new instrumentals I have heard this year.  Hands-down fantastic, Barrett plays it soft and slow, in the way one would actually walk in a fog.  I would love to hear an entire album of instrumentals of him playing guitar like he does on this one.      

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Cash Box Kings - Black Toppin’

By Phillip Smith

Black Toppin’ by Chicago bluesters, The Cash Box Kings will have listeners waxing nostalgic in no time.  Their sixth release continues the tradition of infusing their music with the spirit and sound of the Forties and Fifties.   Producer/front man, Joe Nosek on harmonica, alternates lead vocals with Oscar Wilson while Joel Paterson conquers the lead guitar and Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith masters the drums. 

Title track, ‘Black Toppin’’ a catchy little ditty about forbidden love and sneaking around is a pleasurable treat.  Written and sung by Wilson, this one sounds steeped in old school Blues.  Also dunked in the old school Blues tank, is their spot-on cover of Willie Dixon’s ‘Too Late’, (originally recorded by Little Walter), and the traditional, ‘Walking Blues’.  Both of these sung by Wilson as well.  He has a great voice for the Blues, and it delivers authenticity to the songs.

Barrelhouse Chuck, 2013 nominee for the Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year Award, makes an appearance on four tracks.  Of those, the spotlight really shines on him in  ‘Money, Marbles, and Chalk’ and one quickly finds out why he was nominated.    Bundling Barrelhouse Chuck on organ, with Nosek on harp, gives ‘My Tinai’ a cool retry Sixties Doors sound.           

When the band gets going on songs like Lou Reed’s ‘Run Run Run’, one can feel the energy pulsating through the speakers.  I might have to go out on a limb and say I like this version better.  The band is so tight and the Paterson squeezes every note out of his guitar with precision.  This is my favorite track on the album.    

For those fans of the classic Blues, this one comes highly recommended.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Southern Hospitality - Easy Livin’

By Phillip Smith

Grab some iced tea and meet me on the front porch, ‘cause we’re gonna relax and listen to Southern Hospitality’s new CD, Easy Livin’.  With its origins stemming from an impromptu jam session following a blues festival in Florida back in 2011, Southern Hospitality is comprised of guitarist JP Soars, lap steel guitar master, Damon Fowler, and keyboardist Victor Wainwright.  Easy Livin’ is undeniably a Southern blues concoction, which is comforting and somewhat intoxicating.  The guys all contribute their song writing skills to the making of the album. Both, the opener, “Southern Livin’”, and the closer, ”’Sky is What I Breathe” is credited to all three.  “Southern Livin’” is such a cool song, and like Southern living goes, it takes its time and is in no hurry to get anywhere.    And I absolutely love “Sky is What I Breathe”.  It’s such a beautiful song about remembering our connection with nature and our responsibility to keep it sacred. 

If one is going to dedicate an album to southern hospitality, you have to have at least one song about drinking. “Kind Lies & Whiskey” is that song.  Written by Fowler, this country boogie draws a bright spotlight of attention to his keyboard skills.  While we have the menu out, you have to order up the ‘Fried Neck Bones and Home Fries”.  The guitar on this Latin instrumental written by Willie BoBo is so very reminiscent of Carlos Santana.   Can I order an album of instrumentals from Soars and Fowler for desert?

The album as a whole is quite good and at times outstanding.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Bluesmore Music Festival - Cedar Rapids, IA Aug.3, 2013

By Phillip Smith
Aug 3, 2013

* all photos by Phillip Smith

Craig Erickson, Ron DeWitte, and BillyLee Janey

This year was yet another great year for music at annual Bluesmore Blues festival in Cedar Rapids.  Opening up the main stage was the LCBS All-Stars, featuring Craig Erickson, Ron DeWitte, BillyLee Janey, Bryce Janey, Dan Johnson, Dennis 'Daddy-O' McMurrin, Skeeter Lewis, Tom 'T-Bone' Giblin, and Danny Ketelson and Eric Douglas.  Seeing this much local talent on the stage at one time was a definite treat.  Following the LCBS All-Stars was the Scott Holt Band, which was followed by the headlining act of Lucky Peterson featuring Tamara Peterson.   These are just a handful of photos I was able to snap while taking a break or two from selling shirts at the merchandise tent. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Craig Chaquico “ Fire Red Moon ”

By Phillip Smith

Craig Chaquico, whose name is now more synonymous with jazz guitar and new age music, has decided to veer off his current path and venture down the blues highway for a while on his latest album, Fire Red Moon.  The album is very guitar-centric, and pleasing to listen to.  Mixing elements of his earlier rocking days with Jefferson Starship, with his new age styling, he’s producing some interesting music. The band is composed of lead singer Rolf Hartley, drummer Wade Olson, bass player Jim Reitzel and keyboardist Bill Slais.

Kenny Wayne Shephard fans may recognize the voice on the opening track, ‘Lie to Me’, featuring special guest singer Noah Hunt.  His voice, deep and smooth, fits the song very well.  ‘Bad Woman’, another of the seven original songs, is outstanding.  Rolf Hartley’s vocals show a huge range on this one, and if a dude can channel Janis Joplin, he just may have done that for this song.  Also enjoyed is title track ‘Fire Red Moon’, a blues instrumental to ‘zone out’ to and appreciate.

‘Born Under a Bad Sign’, a total re-imagineering of the original, seems more like a ‘Muzak’ or ‘Weather channel’ version than a blues song.  It’s all instrumental, and sounds almost as if it was created specifically to be used for background music.  That’s not the case on every song though, thank goodness.  Chaquico raises the roof on Muddy Waters’ ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’. It rocks as it should.    

The album closes out with a bang, covering Robert Johnson’s ‘Crossroads’. Opening with a little taste of slide guitar on top of some rattlesnake and wind sound effects,  it breaks out and runs like Willie Brown ‘til the end.  This one is definitely my favorite cut.  Chaquico throws his new age approaches to the side and plays this one specifically for the blues fans. Hartley shines on vocals as well.  I hope Chaquico follows the blues path for a little while longer.  It seems to fit him well.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Magic Slim & the Teardrops “ Bad Boy ”

By Phillip Smith

Morris Holt, aka Magic Slim, who passed away last February at seventy six years old, still had it going on.  His voice was still going strong, and he sounded great.  Bad Boy, his newest release with the Teardrops (guitarist Jon McDonald, bassist Andre Howard, and drummer BJ Jones) is completely saturated in the blues.  I’d expect nothing less.  Bad Boy consists of a few covers, some older originals, and some newer originals.

Slim brings everything to the table on Roy Brown’s ‘Hard Luck Blues’.  From the emotional beginning when he sings, ‘well rocks is my pillow, and the cold ground is my bed.’, to the sorrowful ending where he’s sings “I’m gonna find my mother’s grave, fall on the tombstone and die”.  Slims playing is outstanding and his Gibson sounds great, as he carefully places each note played.

I love the Eddie Taylor cover, and title track, ‘Bad Boy’.  This one is the ultimate homage to us boys your parents warned you about.  The original version was really slow, while Magic Slims version is faster and a little more upbeat.  Hands down, I like Magic Slims version better.  I also like their cover of Denise LaSalle’s ‘Someone Else is Steppin’ In’.  This song is just so rich and hearty.  Although I admit, if I had to make a choice between the original or Slims version, I’d have to throw my vote to Denise LaSalle.  Her version is a bit sassier.  Also covered is Albert King’s ‘Matchbox Blues’.  To compare Magic’s with Albert’s would be comparing apples to oranges, but the song itself is extraordinary and Magic Slims version is very nice.      

Original tracks to make note of are ‘Older Women’, a song, Ben Franklin would probably enjoy, and ‘Country Joyride’, with a little smidgeon of rockabilly influence.  There really aren’t any “throw away” songs.  Bad Boy is solid blues from start to finish.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Peter Karp\Sue Foley - Beyond the Crossroads

By Phillip Smith

Maybe it’s just me, but the newest release, Beyond the Crossroads by Peter Karp and Sue Foley gets more interesting with each subsequent listen.  A common thread runs through each song, tying them all together in a neat little musical present for the listener.  This thread is the personal relationship between the artists themselves.  A follow up to their prior album, He Said, She Said, based on their back-and-forth emails and long distance calls, these songs delve a bit further into their hearts and souls, revealing a refreshing positivity.

The harmonies on this album are very nice.  Sue Foley has a sultry and slightly raspy voice that can really belt out some lyrics when she needs to.  To hear what I am talking about, check out the song “Analyze’n Blues”.  What really puts the icing on the cake for this track is Karp throwing down with his National Steel ResoRocket slide. This one ranks high on the ‘cool meter’.  I love this song.  

Karp and Foley playfully dance around several different genres while keeping the album as a whole really bluesy.  Take the song, “At the Same Time”, for example.  As Karp and Foley alternate vocals with Karp on slide, a fantastic horn section provided by the Swingadelic Horns spice up this slow-tempo Louisiana creole flavored duet.  It’s Beale Street meeting Bourbon Street.  For those who appreciate bluegrass, and have a very short attention span, check out the very fast paced instrumental, ‘Plank Spank’.  Although it clocks in at just less than two minutes in length, Karp and Foley play their hearts out and have now earned a spot on my list of performers I want to catch live in concert. 

Rating 8 out of 10

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Beth Hart – Joe Bonamassa - Don’t Explain.

By Phillip Smith

Don’t Explain is what being a music junkie is all about.  This is a collection of ten soulfully retro-fitted songs featuring covers from Ray Charles, Billy Holiday, Etta James and Aretha Franklin to name just a few.  I listen to a lot of music each year, and find many treasures, even so, I have to say this collaboration from Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa surpasses most of those.  I love the way Beth Hart sings with pure emotion while Bonamassa subtly backs her on guitar.    

Sexy and sultry, Hart plays the part of fallen angel on the first couple of tracks, as she covers Ray Charles’ “Sinners Prayers” and Tom Waits’ “Chocolate Jesus”.   Bonamassa brings a bit of spaghetti western guitar to the table on ‘Chocolate Jesus’, creating an ominous environment, contrasting Hart’s softly sung vocals and piano.  I really like this one.

The Holy Grail song on this album is ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, originally by Etta James.  The performance is unmistakably phenomenal.  With a string section in the background, Hart sings with believability and conviction.  Bonamassa takes over the bridge and picks out the melody only the way Bonamassa could.  Another Etta cover, “Something’s Got a Hold on Me”, is also a lot of fun.  Although it’s got a gospel flavor to it, I doubt anyone would ever hear this one played in church.

Fans of  Bonamassa will dig the Bill Wither’s cover of  “For My Friends”.  The riff is hard and fuzzy, and not hippie friendly, like the original.  I have to give this album two thumbs up.  One for Beth Hart, and one for Joe Bonamassa.    

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Irish District Music and Arts Festival, Cedar Rapids, June 22, 2013

Saturday, June 22, folks from around the area descended upon the Irish District neighborhood in Cedar Rapids, to enjoy live music, local food, and celebrate community pride.

The event kicked off on the main stage with The Ron DeWitte All Stars featuring Tom Giblin, Bryce Janey, Dan Johnson and Jon Wilson.  Following them was Tallgrass, a three piece band from Iowa City.  The Family Groove Company closed the night.

The Central Shores stage featured The Significance of Simon, and closed with a spectacular performance from Craig Erickson and Friends.

Proceeds from the event will be used to support the Eastern Iowa Arts Academy Guitar Program.

Ron Dewitte All Stars - Ron Dewitte, Dan Johnson, Bryce Janey

Dan Johnson and Bryce Janey

Ron DeWitte

Austin Morford and Matt Skinner from Tallgrass

Adam Morford from TallGrass


Craig Erickson

Craig Erickson