Saturday, December 28, 2013

Cyril Neville - Magic Honey




Ruf Records,  2013

By Phillip Smith; December 28, 2013



We all know moss doesn’t grow on a rolling stone, and at Sixty-Five years of age, one will not find one gram of moss on Cyril Neville.  Constantly recording and touring with either his own band, or as part of the super-group, Royal Southern Brotherhood with Devon Allman and Mike Zito, the man keeps on rolling.  That being said, one can plan on settling down for a nice groovy listen when one reaches for the new Cyril Neville album, Magic Honey, and taps the play button.  I love the way Neville adds his funky spin to the Blues to make his own fresh sound.  Band members consist of guitarist Cranston Clements, drummer “Mean” Willie Green, bassist Carl Dufrene, and keyboardist Norman Caesar.  Neville also enlists help from friends, Dr. John, Walter Trout, Mike Zito, Allen Toussaint, and David Z, Neville.  With all of that going on, this album can’t help being anything but fun.

I was drawn in by the catchy melody and Clements swampy licks on the bluesy title track, “Magic Honey”. But by the time I got to “Something’s Got a Hold on Me”, I was totally captivated.  With guest guitarist, David Z on board, this one emanates the sound and energy of Led Zeppelin. Crank up the volume on this one and enjoy.  

It’s cool to hear Dr. John sitting in on and applying his trademark sound to “Swamp Funk”, a song he wrote himself.  I find myself nodding my head and hitching a ride on this tasty groove every time I hear it, as it leans a little more to the side of team ‘funk’, as opposed to the side of team ‘swamp’.  It’s also neat to hear Mike Zito playing on “Money and Oil”, a track co-written by Zito and Neville. Neville addresses the reality of the politics of today, as he rightfully sings ‘when it all comes down, it’s all about money and oil’.         

 
The must-hear song on this album though, is “Working Man”.  If it sounds like the title of a Rush song, that’s because it is.  Instigating a proverbial double take at first, I realized this was an outstandingly cool cover after my neck snapped back to its rightful place.  This one is surely more bouncy and playful than the original, but that’s what makes it memorable.  I really like Neville’s smooth and vibrant vocals coupled with Clements killer guitar performance.

Really good from start to finish, one can’t go wrong picking this album up.    



The Official Video – Cyril Neville covers the RUSH classic – “Working Man”





Thursday, December 26, 2013

Johnny Rawls “ Ace of Spades ” From the Archives #9



by Phillip Smith

With Ace of Spades, Mississippi blues artist Johnny Rawls brings the big city blues club to the listener with a very polished production and smooth as silk vocals.  His style reminds me a lot of Sam and Dave, as it reflects a lot of that Memphis sound from the mid to late Sixties. The recording of  Ace of Spades was split between two different studios, Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, TX, and Soul Tree Studios in Helena, MT.  Rawls uses a separate set of musicians at each location. 

There are three songs recorded at Sonic Ranch that really jump out and grab me.  The first being the title track, “Ace of Spades”.  This is such a fun song, and I really like the way Rawls includes the horn section.  The second, being “Gasoline on the Fire”, a really funky selection from the viewpoint of a fellow whose lady is a bit on the wild side.  Lastly, “My Broken Heart”, which features a powerful horn arrangement with a taste of keyboards to spice up Rawls soulful vocals as he sings about his heart being torn apart. 

Some very wonderful cuts were recorded at Soul Tree as well.  Rawls makes an excellent point, as he  preaches about how self indulgent we have all become trying to live the “American Dream”.  The lyrics are poignantly honest  as he sings ‘as you drive on by in your limousine, he [the homeless man] can’t see into your American dream.’.   It makes one think about priorities.   “Can’t Win For Losing”, another song I think quite a few folks can identify with,  considering the current condition of the economy,  is a slower cut with a slight zydeco flavoring.  When I hear the hook, ‘I can’t win for losing, I lose every time.  Every time I get a nickel, somebody want a dime‘, I say ‘Amen brother!’.

This is a solid CD.  It’s enjoyable from beginning to end, and worth checking out. 

Rating =  5/5
http://www.johnnyrawlsblues.com/


Originally published in the Linn County Blues Society Bluespaper - April 2010

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Janeys - Get Down With the Blues


Grooveyard Records,  2013

By Phillip Smith; December 22, 2013


It has always been a pleasurable treat when Billylee Janey and Bryce Janey join forces to play as The Janeys. With Get Down With the Blues, their third studio release playing together, they continue a family tradition of producing outstanding blues.  Accompanying the talented father/son team is bassist Dan ‘DJ’ Johnson, and drummer Eric Douglas.  Also joining the crew on four tracks with his Hammond organ is Tommy ‘T-Bone’ Giblin.

Get Down With the Blues opens strong and closes even stronger as the Janeys cover Jimi Hendrix’s “Beginnings” on track one, and serving up a very cool rendition of ‘Third Stone From the Sun’ on the last track.  I love the dual electric guitar sound riding atop the percussionary bus driven by Douglas on “Beginnings”. Billylee and Bryce trade licks back and forth as if fighting it out in a psychedelic guitar-centric ‘Thunderdome’. 
I consider “Third Stone From the Sun”, the desert at the end of the meal.  I just want to close my eyes and listen when it comes on.  Johnson and Douglas keep the trance-friendly rhythm going while the Janeys totally let loose on their guitars.  This one is the crème de la crème.

The Janeys offers up quite a soulful rendition of “It’s Not My Cross to Bear” from the Allman Brothers Band’s self-titled album.  I like the way it witfully ends with the closing riff from “Whipping Post”, also from that same Allman Brothers album. Giblin and his Hammond, gives this one authenticity.   Still on the subject of covers, I have to smile when I hear “Mind Bender”, the classic ditty from Stillwater about a mind-bending guitar whose father was a Gibson and mother was a Fender (that’s why they call him Mind Bender).  The Janeys also nail down “The Good Love”, a track from Johnny Winter’s Second Winter album.  Bryce’s deep vocals fit this one very well. 

There’s some really nice originals on the album too.  I really like the slightly unsettling track, “When the Devil Comes Out to Play”.  It has a retro Seventies Blues Rock vibe and just the right amount of fuzz.  “The Rose” is another one that made me perk up and take notice.  Marinated in a big bucket of Southern Rock, I hear a definite Allman Brothers influence running through this one.            

The Janeys scored big with the appropriately titled, Get Down With the Blues. This collection of Blues Rock is a sweet blend of deep covers and interesting originals.            

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Paul Thorn - “ Pimps and Preachers ” From the Archives #8


Phillip Smith

Hailing from Tupelo, Mississippi, the birthplace of Elvis Presley, Paul Thorn proves that lightning does strike twice in the same place every once in a while.  Composing an almost perfect anthem for the common working man, Thorn mixes it up with a variety of styles ranging from country-blues to zydeco boogie on Pimps and Preachers.

Appropriately named, Pimps and Preachers tends to avoid pledging total allegiance to either ‘Team Pimp’ or ‘Team Preacher’.  It finds humanity, as it exists, right in the middle of God and the devil.  I love the last few lyrics in ‘You’re Not the Only One’, the first selection on the album: “Life don’t come with a  guarantee.  You only get so many heartbeats.  It’s such a blessing to be alive.  Whatever happens I’m satisfied.”.   These words are so true, and its nice to be reminded that every day is a blessing.

“Pimps and Preachers”, the title track, is one of the most interesting tracks, as Thorn describes the conflicting lessons he learned from his father the preacher, and his uncle, the polar opposite.   I find there is also a pimp and preacher aspect to the musical portion of the song as well, as it mixes contemporary country with a funky R&B bass line. 

I got tickled listening to ‘I Don’t Like Half the Folks I Love’, a bluesy song that poignantly reminds us that just because someone is loved, they don’t necessarily have to be liked.  This is one of my favorite tracks.   A couple of other favorites are  ‘Better Days Ahead’, which has a certain Bruce Springsteen air to it‘s chorus, and ‘Nona Lisa’, a melody about pining for a gal with which he once had a one night stand.  

Paul Thorn is an expert story teller/song writer.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this album from start to finish, and will enjoy it for years to come.

* Originally published on BluesRevue.com, Oct 2010

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Vince Esquire - “First Offense”


By Phillip Smith


It’s always exciting and somewhat fulfilling when one uncovers a new musical artist to enjoy.  That’s why I am never satisfied listening to the same music over and over again.  I have to keep sampling new songs and music.  As I listen to new music, I categorize them as either top shelf, bottom shelf, or somewhere in-between.  First Offense, a nine track album from Vince Esquire landed on one of the upper shelves in my categorization process.  This album is straight up blues/rock at its finest.  I can definitely see why his guitar of choice is a Stevie Ray Vaughan signature Strat.  Esquire, guitar master/vocalist is joined by bassist Mark Epstein, drummer Vito Liuzzi and organist Jeff Levine on the studio recordings, and joined by bassist Shawn Michael and drummer Josh Greenbaum on an outstanding live bonus track of, B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby”.  

Leading off with Etta Jame’s “Blues is my Business”, we see business is good indeed as Esquire opens the doors to his arsenal of axe-wielding skills, giving us a good taste of what’s to follow.  Slick licks riding atop a Texas Blues groove make “Check Out Her Mama” a nice cover, sans the signature Johnny Winter growly vocals.  Check out the guitar solo on this one. 

I feel like I’m soaking in a relaxing hot tub of nice warm Blues, when Esquire breaks into Buddy Guy’s “Leave My Girl Alone”.  Slow and emotional, this one is Blues to the core.  Also slowly steeped in the Blues, is the heart wrenching rendition of “Tin Pan Alley”.  Almost eleven minutes long, written by Bob Geddins, and also famously covered by the late great Stevie Ray Vaughan, all I can say about this one is ‘Wow!’.  Words can’t explain the intensity on this one.  It just needs to be heard.  

Esquire is no slacker when it comes to song writing either.  “Better This Time” has just a little bit of a country flavor added in, reminiscent of the music of Gregg Allman.  I like the texture Levine’s Hammond organ adds to it. There’s also “Freight Train”, another original about the pursuit of love.  This one takes me right to Beale Street, as it has Memphis blues written all over it.

I am quite impressed with this album, and am definitely glad I gave this one a listen to.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Metallica - Death Magnetic - From the Archives #7




By Phillip Smith


My curiosity of how would Metallica sound with new bassist, Robert Trujillo and producer Rick Rubin had been getting the best of me.  Upon listening though, I concluded this CD was definitely well worth the wait.  Death Magnetic is unmistakably Metallica in their truest form... heavy and more aggressive than ever.

The listener is first greeted with the steady sound of a heartbeat, which seems to fade away as a heavier percussive and electric assault marks its territory.  James Hetfeld is at the top of his game as his vocals for “That Was Just Your Life” join along.  Second up to bat, 'The End of the Line' is just a damn good song.  I grow more and more fond of it the more I hear it.  The guitar licks Kirk Hammett throws down on this song is quite impressive. 

One of my favorites of the collection and the first single, "The Day That Never Comes" is the Jackson Pollock of the album.  With all sorts of layers and emotions spattered about.  It's tranquil. It's heavy.  It rocks.  As does "All Nightmare Long", which showcases Lars percussive ingenuity.

Staying true to the Unforgiven formula, if there is one, 'The Unforgiven III' surely fits within the mold.  Suitable enough for a Sergio Leone spaghetti western, if he were alive today to make a film.  The song was enjoyable, and also provides a few moments to catch ones breath.

Again, Kirk displays his amazing talent on "The Judas Kiss".  Reminiscent of early Metallica, we also acknowledge Hetfelds’ voice remains as powerful as ever.  "My Apocalypse", the second coming of "Battery" from their album Master of Puppets, and also the final track is absolutely Metallica at their finest.  This will be the song I will remember this album for.  I really couldn't even begin to guess how many boxes of Wheaties Lars had before recording this track, but I would say probably a lot.  


* Originally published on FoundryMusic.com, Oct. 2008

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Tony Spinner - Earth Music For Aliens


By Phillip Smith
Dec. 7, 2013

About a week before first listening to Tony Spinner’s ninth solo release, Earth Music for Aliens, I had read about the recordings of 100 songs from around the world, placed on Voyager back in 1977.  It was to be heard and enjoyed by whomever or whatever the Voyager makes its way to.  Rock and Blues were sparsely represented. 
At least they included Chuck Berry’s “Johnny Be Good”, and Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground”.  Both nice tracks, but my selfish thoughts were that they should have added more Rock and Blues music, something more akin to songs found on this new disc from Spinner.  Judging from the title and cover art from the new disc, I think Spinner may have had the same idea.

Returning to the studio with bassist Michel Mulder and drummer Alex Steier, Spinner takes the listener on a journey down several paths.  I like the way “Best Friend” and “Got What I Wanted” can pump the listener up with its energetically charged, funk infused blues and hot guitar licks and then later, chill us out to a relaxing listen to “Free Now”, about letting go and forgiveness.  Spinner’s vocals are very nice and calming on this track.   

There seems to be a bit of Frank Zappa influence on “Let Her Go” because when I hear the intro and the hook, I am instantly reminded of the late great musical genius.  This one gets weirdly fun and playful. 

Spinner serves up some funky treats with “Hot Mess” and “Low Down Dirty Shame”.  A funky rhythm along with Spinner’s teasing guitar licks makes “Hot Mess” a favorite, while “Low Down Dirty Shame” is like a bluesy Funkadelic song with its cool vocal harmonizing, rhythmic groove, and Eddie Hazel-like guitar playing.  
   
A couple of rockabilly treats are worth noting as well. It’s a Living” revisits the sounds of the Fifties rock and roll, and peppers it with a heaping dash of roadhouse blues. And if that’s not enough, check out “Missy Talk”, a guitar centric answer to Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Honey Don’t”.  This one has ‘Sun Records’ written all over it.

“Earth Music for Aliens” is so easy to listen to, I recommend it to all Earthlings, and those not of this world as well.  

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Flobots - Fight With Tools - From the Archives #6


By Phillip Smith

I was captivated upon my first listen of Fight With Tools by Flobots,   Flobots, an alternative  hip hop band hailing from Denver, are similar in style to bands, Cake and 311.  But Flobots,  flaunting a seemingly higher IQ, are a bit more funky and a lot more political.  Jamie Laurie, aka Jonny 5, the founder and constant member of the band, chooses to write and rap about current events and his political views rather than the topics usually covered by hip hop artists. 

Jesse Walker lays down some really kick-ass bass lines to cuts, “Combat” and title track, “Fight With Tools”.   Violist, Mackenzie Roberts along with trumpeter, Joe Ferrone add a unique flair to this album, enriching the musicality of tracks such as “Mayday”, one of my personal favorites of this collection, and the in-your-face, world leader-challenging “Same Thing”.  “Handlebars” standing out as the downloadable favorite on iTunes, showcases Laurie’s skills as a writer/rapper.  Different than the rest, “Never Had It”  kicks off with a sultry beginning, and resonates with a vibe of sixties pop.  But if you really want to take something catchy to the dance floor, take a listen to “The Rhythm Method”.  Flobots all come together on this song like none other on Fight With Tools.  

I found the song “Anne Braden” very lyrically powerful and musically hypnotic.  Flobots take a stab against racism with this track, a tribute to a woman who received honors for her contributions to civil liberties.  

Each track is individually unique, yet one can sense a common thread running through them all.  The album is very well constructed, and I have to say, I am impressed. 


Rating =  4.0 / 5.0


* Originally published on FoundryMusic.com, July 2009

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Bryce Janey - “Burning Flame”


By Phillip Smith

 
Bryce Janey’s newest CD, Burning Flame has been the only disc in my vehicle all week, and I haven’t had the urge to pop in a different disc yet.  That’s just how good this album is.  Chock full of Texas style blues, about motorcycles, guitars, bootleggers, and lost love, with a little swamp thrown in; this eleven track album features the Dan “DJ” Johnson on bass guitar, Eric Douglas on drums, and Tommy T-Bone Giblin on the Hammond organ.      

Janey brings us in with a strong opener, “Chrome Horse”, a blues-ridden rocker, sure to be a favorite of motorcyclists everywhere.  When I hear this one, I think of how great it would be to hear it on the FX television show, Sons of Anarchy.  

If you asked what songs really jump out, I would certainly include, the Jimi Hendrix influenced “Can You Feel It?”  Johnson’s killer bass line drives this one, while Janey lays down some smoking guitar licks.  “Guitar Playing Fool” is one I really feel.  Giblin’s Hammond shines through as Janey sings about making a living playing music.   

There are a couple of covers on the album worth mentioning. The first is “Special Ryder Blues” by Skip James, which Janey has definitively made his own.  I love the bass line on this one, and overall this is one of my favorite cuts on the whole album.  The second cover, “The Stealer”, a Free cover originally recorded in 1970, which has a new more eerie swampy personality.  Another nice selection from the swamp is “The Last Goodbye”, and this is one I am instantly drawn to.  Janey lets loose and the guitar seems to play itself.   I really like this one a lot.
      
Janey has set the bar up another notch, one upping himself again.  Burning Flame is absolutely enjoyable from start to finish.  It is definitely worth exploring. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Craig Erickson - Rare Tracks (Volume Two)


By Phillip Smith


Craig Erickson never ceases to amaze me.  Rare Tracks (Volume Two), the second installment of previously unreleased nuggets from his secret stash, unleashes fourteen new pieces of ear-candy to be happily enjoyed. With the exception of one track, all are originals.  As well as writing, Erickson takes on the responsibility of playing all the instruments, and belting out all the vocals as well.  Erickson gives us a full one hundred percent.  

Leading off with a short spacey track just over a minute long in length, ‘Deep Blue Circles’ seems to be more of an intro for the song following it, ‘Heavy Stuff’, about the necessity of having to escape everyday life once in a while.  This track has a nice little funky rhythm slathered with a thick coating of heavy fuzzy bass.

Few people can cover Jimi Hendrix, make it their own, and make it sound good to boot.  Erickson is one of those few.   Not quite a cover, but rather an adaptation, ‘Purple Haze (The Trip)’ is the only track not completely written by Erickson.  I love the subtle keyboard accompaniment on this, and how it sets a soft jazzy stage from which to launch an amazing crescendo of six-string energy.

The instrumental, ‘Make it Through’ is amazing and beautiful. I love how at ease and full of peace I am when listening to it.  Erickson’s expressiveness shines through brightly.  Erickson gets funky on ‘Midnight Flight (Reprise)’, a very short track clocking in at just over a minute and a half.  The only thing wrong with this track is that it is way too short.

I’ve listened to this album several times over and deem every track a keeper.  Rare Tracks (Volume Two) is a delight indeed

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Black Oak Arkansas “Back Thar N’ Over Yonder”


By Phillip Smith


Being a BOA fan, I’ve been waiting for an album like this for a long time.  Back Thar N’ Over Yonder bestows upon us five new Southern Rock tracks featuring reunited former members of the band, jamming along side by side with the newer members. Returning to record alongside Jim “Dandy” Mangrum, Rickie Lee “Ricochet” Reynolds Johnnie Bolin and George Hughen are Pat “Dirty” Daugherty, and Jimmy “Soybean” Henderson.  And as info-mercial extraordinaire, Ron Popeil, would say, “wait… there’s more”.  There are also nine tracks of previously unreleased material from 1972 through 1974, a re-mastered version of the original version of “Jim Dandy”, and a thirty page booklet of classic band photos, concert posters, and promotional ads included to boot.  One of my favorite photos is from a concert poster showing the ‘Boss’, Bruce Springsteen opening for Black Oak Arkansas at the KSU Student Center Ballroom.   The ticket price was $4.00 in advance, and $4.50 at the door. 

Coming out guns blazing, BOA hits us with “Plugged in and Wired”.  Bolin rolls us into the song with a catchy drum beat before the band breaks out into this heavy rock anthem.  This one gets the adrenalin flowing.  Immediately following is, “Sweet Delta Water”, an ode to the mighty Mississippi. With a much slower tempo, it takes a 180° turn from the preceding song.  I find myself reminiscing about older, simpler and more carefree times every time I hear it.  

I love it when BOA gets a little philosophical and cosmic. “15 Million Light Years Away” taps into that philosophical well as Dandy ponders when, exactly, man will finally pull himself together.  In this crazy world, ‘lunatics run the asylum and animals run the zoo’.  But when we do all get ourselves together, he sings, ‘It may be tomorrow, it could be today, or 15 million light years away.’  I’m putting my money on 15 million light years away.  I also have to say kudos on the Reynolds penned track, “I Ain’t Poor”.  This country/rock boogie has a damn catchy rhythm and lyrics that make me smile.  


The nine previously unreleased tracks are pure gold.  Produced by the legendary Tom Dowd, these were recorded with drummer Tommy Aldridge, guitarist Harvey Jett, and the late great Stanley Knight.  My favorite dusted-off original, “Legal I.D” is cool little country jam, complete with piano.  Preaching the message of checking gals’ ages before making any sort of advances, I can only guess R. Kelly never heard this one. The Tommy Aldridge drum solo on the trippy “Up Up Up”, is simply amazing.  The studio version of “Hot Rod” still smokes.  Duel guitars with Dandy’s raspy vocals which reach thresholds which would leave most people mute, make this a ribald psychedelic treat. 

Hearing BOA cover the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, shot chills up and down my spine. Dandy pours a train car full of soul into his vocals on this one, and the band is tight as a tick. Turn up the volume on this one to fully enjoy. 

This album is a fascinating simultaneous look into both the past and the present of Black Oak Arkansas.  When listening to the album, it does not feel like it is coming from two different sources in two different eras.  The weaving together of the vaulted tracks with the reunion tracks is, to say the least, organic and natural. I truly am surprised the unreleased tracks never made it onto vinyl back in the day.  They are superb and withstand the test of time.  And as far as the reunion material goes, it too puts a big ole grin on my face when I listen to it. 


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Joecephus and the George Jonestown Massacre - Smothered and Covered -- From the Archives #5


By Phillip Smith    (Originally published 2008 for FoundryMusic.com )


Ask, and ye shall receive.  Upon stumbling upon this bands’ Myspace page, my interest was piqued enough to add Smothered and Covered to my Christmas wish list.  Christmas morning arrived and I found myself sitting in front of the tree opening a small package containing that very same CD by Joecephus and the George Jonestown Massacre.  It made my day.  I am definitely a sucker for the non-mainstream.  And also a sucker for a title that also hints at one of the many ways one can get hash browns at one of my favorite chain restaurants, Waffle House: smothered with onions and covered with cheese.  

Joecephus is Joe Killingsworth and is the brains, vocalist, and jack-of-all trades person behind this hellbilly/cowpunk crew.  The songs are way off-center and mostly about drinking.  The album kicks off with two energetic bluesy tracks,  “Jerk You Off My Mind” , about a man in prison who ended up there because he caught his wife messing around with another dude, and “Honky Tonk Night Time Man”.   One in particular I really enjoyed was “Bloody Mary Morning”, which boasted some mighty fine guitar playing.

Some of the other odd-ball, yet enjoyable songs of Smothered and Covered are “Drink Like a Fish”, and “Who’s Gonna Get us High?”.  The strangest, however, being a slowed-down version of AC/DC’s “Hells Bells”, which was recorded as a duet, and made clever use of the violin.   The song that almost got away, is an unlisted track at end of the CD.  This being, a cover of Jerry Reed’s “Amos Moses”, the man whose daddy used him for alligator bait and could eat his weight in groceries.  

I really got a kick out of this CD, and look forward to hearing more music by Joecephus and the George Jonestown Massacre.