Saturday, September 27, 2014

Devon Allman - Ragged & Dirty

2014 – Ruf Records
By Phillip Smith; Sep 27, 2014

They say you got to strike the iron when it’s hot.  I’m thinking that must be a part of Devon Allman’s philosophy.  Amid a super busy schedule of recording and touring, both on his own, and with Royal Southern Brotherhood, Allman was able to find time to record this bluesy southern-rock masterpiece called, Ragged & Dirty.  Bringing Grammy winner Tom Hambridge onboard to help write and produce, as well as drum, was a choice that seems to have paid off very well.

Kicking things off in a big way, Allman energetically delivers Texas style blues with “Half the Truth”.  I not only listen to this song, but I physically feel it  Soaking up the vibrations from Allman’s tasty guitar riffs riding atop a wall of sound from Marty Sammon on B-3 organ, instantly puts me in a great mood.  The hounds are released on “Blackjack HeartAttack”, another electrically-charged track.  Simply put, this is just a great song, with infectious hooks, and bodacious guitar licks.

Allman shows off his funky side in “Can’t Lose ‘em All”. This one seems to be perfectly fitted for lengthy jam sessions, and reminds me a little of the music of The Allman Brothers.  While on the subject of funky, it’d just be wrong to not mention “I’ll Be Around”, a smooth cover of the Spinners 1973 classic. Allman unveils his chops as a soul singer on this track showing he can go pretty much any direction he wishes, musically. 

“Midnight Lake Michigan”, clocking in at about nine and a half minutes, is an amazing instrumental.  This one is best played loud, without any outside disturbances, so as to catch every lovely and strategically played note.  Immediately following is, “10 Million Slaves”, a song reminding us about the atrocities of the transatlantic slave trade, written and previously recorded by trace-blues king Otis Taylor.  Allman’s guitar sings beautifully as he stays true to the original spirit of the song.

Allman, taps into his southern rock roots with “Traveling” and “Times Have Changed”.  Vocals lowered and raspy, he reminds me tremendously of one my favorites, Jim “Dandy” Mangrum, of Black Oak Arkansas on these two tracks.

There’s something in every song that deserves to be heard.  Besides the well-crafted songwriting, and flawless performances, Ragged & Dirty has heart, soul, and a boatload of personality.  It’s sure to be a fan-favorite. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Southpaw Steel ‘n’ Twang - Hale’s Pleasure Railway

2014 – Bafe’s Factory
By Phillip Smith; Sep 21, 2014

Hales’s Pleasure Railway, from the Finnish trio, Southpaw Steel ‘n’ Twang, is an interesting roots music album with a heavy jam band appeal.  Ville “Lefty” Leppänen, guitarist for Micke Bjorklof & BlueStrip, breaks out his lap and pedal steel guitars to join forces with drummer Tero Mikkonen, bassist JP Mönkkönen , and special guest organist/backing vocalist Jukka Haikonen for a stripped down, in-studio recording of eleven original “twangfully” terrific songs, most of which happen to be instrumentals.

Swampy cowboy-western “Open Field” is thick with steel guitar.  Taking a curious twist midway, Leppänen mysteriously captures the essence of the Grateful Dead with a very-Jerry Garcia inspired journey on lead guitar.  Afterward, the listener is dropped off into a funky little danceable track called “Bayou” which has a fun and infectiously swampy Louisiana-flavored groove.  Perfectly fitted to be on anyone’s tiki party playlist is “Secret Sunset”.  This Hawaiian themed track puts a smile on my face every time it’s heard. 

Leppänen creates an aura of hipness in the ultra-cool, “Bad Alley”, with haunting guitar riffs, like those of Jim Heath of Reverend Horton Heat. I absolutely love this style of playing.  Slowing things down a bit is “Red”, steeped in a tasty brew of jazz, and sweetened with the resin of Pink Floyd’s very early years. “Dark C”, a monster of a song, rocks out like Primus with a heavy bass line, industrial beats, and funky grooves. 

I really like the way Southpaw Steel ‘n’ Twang, surrounded in the spirit of early country & western music, brings with it, the delightful art of the jam.  That, along with a few contemporary influences, makes Hale’s Pleasure Railway a vibrant enjoyable listen from start to finish. 


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

David Bromberg - Use Me : From the Archives #15

2011 Appleseed Records

By Phillip Smith;  July 16, 2011 originally for

David Bromberg, the legendary singer/songwriter/instrumentalist brings it again, this time with a little help from his friends.  With each track sporting a special guest, the idea for Use Me initiated from an invitation from John Hiatt to mess around in his Nashville studio.  From that point on, Bromberg called up a variety of musically talented friends, and asked them each to assist in one way or another in recording a song with him.  The results of this chain of events culminate into a wondrous potpourri of music. 

Bromberg kick-starts the sequence of songs with “Tongue”, a fun bluesy treat featuring Levon Helm on drums, and a tight rhythm section.   A second  track featuring Helm,  “Bring it With You When You Come” is a little more rusty and country-fried, reminding me a bit of Helm’s earlier recordings with The Band.

Keb’ Mo’ lends his talent as producer/guitarist on slow-paced  “Diggin’ in the Deep Blue Sea”, a timely response to the BP Oil Spill of 2010.   Well written and thought out, this one brings attention to the dangers of off-shore drilling, as Bromberg sings “Now the fish can’t swim.  You know the birds can’t fly.  We keep right on pumping ’cause demand is high.”.

“Blue is Falling”, recorded with Tim O’Brien on mandolin and backing vocals is a favorite.  Stuart Duncan on fiddle, accentuates the song as Bromberg seems to channel  Roy Orbison during the chorus.  Another country ditty, “Lookout Mountain Girl”, has Bromberg enlisting the talent of Vince Gill (electric guitar, mandolin, backing vocals).  A track quite danceable and suitable for a Saturday night hoedown in Tennessee.

A pair of other favorites are “Old Neighborhood” and “Use Me”.  “Old Neighborhood”, a track recorded with, and produced by Widespread Panic, is a playful and funky track, with lots of hot guitar licks and soulful keyboards.  Title track, “Use Me”, the grand finale of  the album was produced by Phil and Joe Nicolo, aka The Butcher Bros.  Jim Miades contributes the bass line which adds the somewhat hypnotic groove which makes this one so enjoyable. 

The list of contributors is as impressive as the album itself.  The remaining artists include Dr. John, Los Lobos, Linda Ronstadt, and of course John Hiatt.  Use Me is a nice album to listen to on a rainy Sunday afternoon, or any other time for that matter.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Chris Duarte Group - Concert Photos : Parlor City Pub (Cedar Rapids, IA 9/14/14)

John McKnight, Chris Duarte, Dustin Sargent
Chris Duarte
Dustin Sargent
John McKnight
Dustin Sargent, Chris Duarte
Dustin Sargent

Chris Duarte

Chris Duarte

Dustin Sargent

Chris Duarte, Dustin Sargent

Chris Duarte

Chris Duarte, Dustin Sargent

Dustin Sargent
Chris Duarte

All Photos by Phillip Smith 2014 (c)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sena Ehrhardt - Live My Life

2014 – Blind Pig Records
By Phillip Smith; Sep. 13, 2014

Live My Life, the third studio release from Minnesota native, Sena Ehrhardt, is a true gem of an album.  Ehrhardt is backed by a tight new group of musicians fronted by guitarist/songwriter Cole Allen.  To top things off, the legendary David Z returned to his old Minnesotan stomping grounds, being called in to produce and mix.    

Ehrhardt reminds us how great the range is on her voice, as she lets loose on “Stakes Have Gone Up”, an energetic opener, blending contemporary country with blues.  Special guest, Smokin’ Joe Kubek breaks out the slide guitar on “Things You Shouldn’t Need to Know”.  I really like this track.  It reminds me of the early Jefferson Airplane years, with its sexy and sultry vocals riding atop lush bluesy guitar riffs and a splash of psychedelia.  Cole rocks out with intensity, as he throws down the gauntlet with heavy licks and head-banging riffs, ripping it up on “Did You Ever Love Me At All”. This one is blues rock at its best.    

Digging deep, Ehrhardt blows the dust off the old Leon Russell penned classic, “Help Me Through the Day”, recorded by Freddy King.  Modified slightly to switch the point of reference from male to female, this track is performed with perfection.  With Jimi “Primetime” Smith joining in on rhythm guitar and Bruce McCabe on piano, this sounds so good, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Being the amazing singer she is, Ehrhardt has once more outdone herself.  Based on this album, I’d be very surprised if she wasn’t nominated for Contemporary Blues Female Artist for the 2015 Blues Music Awards.