Saturday, December 27, 2014

Toulouse Engelhardt - Mind Gardens

2014 – Lost Grove Arts  
By Phillip Smith; Dec 27, 2014

I absolutely love it when I hear an album for the first time, and the music totally captivates me.  That’s what happened upon my first listen of Toulouse Engelhardt’s fabulously composed instrumental album, Mind Gardens.  This thirteen track masterpiece is a trove of acoustic guitar forged treasures.

Engelhardt lulls the listener in with “Nierika”.  Softly played, this song brings forth a general mood of peace and tranquility.  Following right behind, is “Theme to the First Annual Bluebelly Lizard Roundup”.  This flawless performance opens up with amazing, fast licks, and came to be one of my favorite tracks.  Another favored selection is Engelhardt’s twelve string performance of Francis Poulanc’s “Sarabande”.  This song hits me with an instant familiarity and puts a big smile on my face.    

As Henry David Thoreau wrote about Walden Pond, Engelhardt expresses his affinity for nature through a piece called “Huckleberry Meadows Forever”. Inspired by Huckleberry Meadows in the Sierra Nevada, this song, beautifully played on a twelve string guitar, emits a wave of calmness.   

One of the biggest treats on Mind Gardens is a mind blowing cover of “the Wedge”, originally recorded by the King of Surf, Dick Dale.  This is a perfect song for Engelhardt to showcase his incredible guitar playing skills.  Showing his guitar no mercy, Engelhardt keeps true to the original spirit of the song, brandishing a fast and furious performance.

To hear an expert guitarist, such as Engelhardt, play is pure joy.  Mind Gardens is not just an album, it’s an aural experience.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Friday, December 19, 2014

GravelRoad - El Scuerpo

2014 – Knick Knack Records
By Phillip Smith; Dec 19, 2014

El Scuerpo, the latest release from Seattle-based musicians, GravelRoad is slathered in down-home country blues, amplified, and delivered by Thor, the god of thunder.  Guitarists Stefan Zillioux and Jon Kirby are joined by drummer Martin Reinsel and bassist Joe Johnson to deliver this eight-track album so full of electricity, it’s addicting.   

Zillioux’s gravelly vocals are made for singing the blues.  It really stands out on “Wolf On Down the Way”. This track has a retro old-school vibe.  Then there is “40 Miles”, one of my favorite songs on the album.  I love the echoing sounds from the dual guitar as they harmonize.  It’s such a cool experience to hear.  

It is amazing what the band does with Junior Kimbrough’s “Lord Have Mercy”. Guest singer Lisa Kekaula nails this one down with the smoky sounds of her voice as the guys pour in the psychedelia.  If Pink Floyd had recorded this in their earlier years, this is what I imagine it would sound like. “Asteroid”, is another cool fuzzy ball of psychedelic fun. It’s the musical equivalent of an army of Spartans marching off to battle.

As if specially written to be after-dinner music for the infamous Donner Party, “Flesh and Bone” take a “tongue in cheek” comedic jab at cannibalism in a hoe-down style.  Ironically, this after-dinner mint also happens to be the most infectious selections on the album. It’s still stuck in my head.

I’m definitely going to keep this album close by for a while.        

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Dave Fields - All In

2014 – FMI Records
By Phillip Smith; Dec 13, 2014

All In, the latest release from New York City bluesman Dave Fields, is a great guitar-centric album to settle in with, for a good listen.  The songs are fresh, and Field’s guitar playing is magnificent.  He not only plays all instruments on most of the eleven tracks, he produced the album as well.

Fields ushers the listener into the album like a lion, with a ferocious guitar intro and no-nonsense blues in “Changes In My Life”.  More of the same bluesy goodness can be found on “Wake Up Jasper”.  Fields tackles Robert Johnson’s “Crossroad” in a more gritty nature than usual, and breathes new life into this timeless tale of regret and damnation.  One can feel the raw energy surging through the guitar as he plays.  Fields then takes Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog”, flips it one hundred eighty degrees, and turns it into a fun danceable number with an infusion of funk. 

Two other favorites include, “Voodoo Eyes”, and “Dragonfly”.  Infectious grooves and soulful guitar licks accompanied by Vladamir Barsky on organ give “Voodoo Eyes” a retro late-sixties vibe.  I love the way “Dragonfly”, an elegantly melodic song, slowly builds to a fantastic eruption of sound.  This track which features Kenny Soule on drums and Tony Tino on bass, seemingly draws a lot of inspiration from the band, Yes.

One can surely tell, Dave Fields went “All In” on the creation of this album.  It’s definitely worth checking out.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Henry Carpaneto - Voodoo Boogie

2014 – Orange Home Records
By Phillip Smith; Dec 6, 2014

Voodoo Boogie, the latest release from Italian pianist Henry Carpaneto is a spectacular twelve track collection of New Orleans style piano blues. Bryan Lee, who was part of a US tour with Carpaneto recently, collaborates as singer, guitarist, and co-producer on this venture, which also includes guitarist Otis Grand on three tracks as well.  Another notable musician on the album is Tony Coleman, who has been B.B. King’s drummer for several years.

From the grand opening notes played by Lee on “Drinking & Thinking”, I knew I was in store for some serious listening.  Carpaneto’s barrelhouse piano playing sounds soulful and timeless alongside Lee’s bluesy vocals and sweet guitar licks.  I love the authenticity of “Welfare Woman”.  Carpaneto’s playing is amazing, as is Lee’s, making this track a sure favorite.

The tracks Grand sits in on, (“Calidonia”, “Dog & Down Blues”, and “Rock Me Baby”), are all magnificent as well.  The saxophone accompaniment provided by Paolo Maffi gives “Calidonia” a cool retro vibe.  Maffi brings it again on the fabulous, “Dog & Down Blues”,while Carpaneto and Grand exquisitely play it nice and slow.

Masterfully produced and exquisitely performed, Voodoo Boogie is a definite must for serious fans of the blues.  


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Tommy Talton - Until After Then

2014 – Hittin’ the Note
By Phillip Smith; Nov 22, 2014

I just can’t seem to get enough of singer/songwriter Tommy Talton’s (Cowboy, ex-We the People) latest album, Until After Then.  Not straying too far from his wheelhouse, based on country/southern rock, Talton masterfully walks the listener through this elegantly constructed album using a medley of different themes and musical styles.   

Talton is all revved up and ready to change the world for the better, in title track, “Until After Then”.  Snazzy guitar licks, and catchy hooks reminiscent of Todd Rundgren’s “We Gotta Get You a Woman” bring this track to the forefront. “Real Sugar” is a fun one too. It cleverly lambasts the food industry with its quirky lyrics, knocking the habitual inclusion of synthetic ingredients and additives like high fructose corn syrup and polysorbate 60 into our food.  This track is served with a nice big slice of funk with accompaniment from Kelvin Holly on wah-wah guitar, Brad Guin on sax, and Ken Watters on trumpet.  Still on track with changing the world, “Mr. Love” slows it down a notch to provide a poppy commentary about gun control in a Paul McCartney-esque style.    

I have a soft spot for “My O My”, a cool and fragile little love song about living life “two as one”. Talton beautifully plays this one on acoustic guitar. The track that really puts the smile on my face though, is the bonus track, “Surfin’ the Levee”.  This is a homage to seventies rock, like that heard from bands such as the Allman Brothers and Deep PurpleKenny Head attacks the organ much the same way as Edgar Winter, giving an outstanding performance, as Talton throws out tasty groovy licks from his guitar.   

I immensely enjoy the lyrical and stylistic twists and turns that present themselves while listening to this album.  Until After Then is a delight to hear.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Prodo - Prodotype

2014 – Independent
By Phillip Smith; Nov 15, 2014

Prodotype, the debut album from Prodo, a trio from Stevens Point, WI, is nine tracks of funky and infectious grooves.   Prodo consists of guitarist/lead vocalist Henry Robinson, bassist Jeremy Erickson, and drummer Dane Paster

A fun little nod to Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, is “The Bokonon”, which by the way, nicely kicks the album off.  Erickson and Paster keep the groove on this one, while Robinson dishes out a Santana-inspired bridge. While getting lost in the contagious rhythm guiding “The Student”, I can’t help but smile at the clever philosophical ‘tip of the hat’ to the film, The Big Lewbowski. “J2”, a tight little progressive-rock instrumental, is a definite standout performance and it reminds me just a bit of classic Yes.  This is a track the band really shines on.     

One thing for sure about Prodo: they know how to construct masterful jams.  Robertson sings of many past lives in “The Secret”, a ska-flavored track which pulls me in with unique jams and well-crafted lyrics.  I’m also quite drawn to the Caribbean-friendly groove at the base of “Chingus”, about a traveling loner.  This is a track I can identify with. 

My favorite track, however, is “Fat Pessimist”.  It crawled deep inside my head on upon my first listen, and now it beckons to be listened to every day.  The lyrics, “I got too much pop!” are not only stuck in my head, but by now are permanently secured.  Good job.

Prodotype, in its entirety, is such a fun album; I can’t help but be in a good mood after listening.  I certainly look forward to hearing more from Prodo.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Mike Zito and the Wheel - Songs From the Road

2014 – Ruf Records
By Phillip Smith; Nov 8, 2014

Mike Zito and the Wheel played a live gig at the Dosey Doe in The Woodlands, TX to a sold-out crowd on January 10, 2014, and fortunately recorded this exciting event for our enjoyment.  Songs From the Road captures the essence of Zito, with an extraordinary set list of past favorites, some older and some newer, boasting five tracks off his most recent studio album, Gone to Texas.

The funky “Don’t Break a Leg” opens the set.  Rob Lee stands out as the fantastic drummer he is, and Jimmy Carter tears it up on sax.  Of course, it probably goes without saying; Zito’s guitar playing is amazing. I love the bands performance on “Hell on Me”. This one has an ominously groovy rhythm which is very pleasing to the ears.  Again, Zito, simply put, cooks when it comes to playing guitar.  Other tracks from Gone to Texas include “Rainbow Bridge”, “Subtraction Blues” and title track, “Gone to Texas”.

I’m so glad “Greyhound” made the cut for this album.  It’s classic rock in the same style as Jackson Brown and Bruce Springsteen. The band sounds big, with Jimmy Carpenter belting out blasts from his sax, and Lewis Stephens pounding the keys.  I’m also glad Zito’s cover of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” made the cut.  Although, the song sounds totally different than the original, this cool little song still maintains an Eighties vibe to it, in a “St Elmo’s Fire” kind of way.  It’s definitely a treat to hear.

Mike Zito and the Wheel score big with Songs From the Road.  He really is an amazing artist, and it shows on this album.        

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Bruce Katz Band - Homecoming

2014 – American Showplace Music
By Phillip Smith; Nov 1, 2014

Just give the Bruce Katz Band’s Homecoming a listen and you will find out rather quickly why he has been nominated three times for the "Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year” Blues Music Award.  Legendary keyboardist Katz, is backed by guitarist/vocalist Chris Vitarello and drummer Ralph Rosen.  Special guests on this album include John Hammond, Jimmy Bennett, Marty Ballou, Peter Bennett and Randy Ciarlante. Homecoming is symbolic of Katz’s return to work on his own music, after several years of backing the likes of Gregg Allman and Delbert McClinton.  The music selected for this thirteen track album, is steeped heavily in Blues and Jazz, then delivered via feel-good jams.

Katz brings a new life to Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Santa Fe Blues” as a piano performance piece with a slightly quicker tempo than the original.  With Blues Hall of Famer John Hammond at the helm on vocals, this song has an amazingly authentic bluesy sound.  From the acclaimed Alexis P Suter Band, guitarist Jimmy Bennett and bassist Peter Bennett drop by to jam on Elmore James’ “Wild About You Baby”.  J. Bennett not only rips it up on guitar, but takes the vocal lead on this great cover as well.  

Joining Katz and gang again, J. Bennett sings and plays guitar on one of his own originals “It’s a Bad Time”.  It’s so fun to listen him and Katz playfully dance their instrumentation around in this Coltrane-influenced jam. I love the abundance of jazzy instrumentals Katz scatters about the album, such as “No Brainer”, “The Czar”, and my favorite “Amelia”, which has a vibe that reminds me of Page McConnell from Phish

It’s so cool how an album such as Homecoming can exude such positive energy and maintain that output from start to finish.  Honestly, I could listen to this album all day long and not get tired of it at all.     

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Alexis P. Suter Band - Love the Way You Roll

2014 – American Showplace Music
By Phillip Smith; Oct 25, 2014

There is something magnificent about listening to The Alexis P. Suter Band’s new album, Love the Way You Roll.  It’s raw, swampy, bluesy and utterly fantastic.  Suter takes full command of her microphone, exquisitely belting out each song as her band, made up of guitarist Jimmy Bennett, drummer Ray Grappone, bassist Peter Bennett, and backing vocalist Vicki Bell, dishes out amazingly tight performances.  Also appearing on the album, is John Ginty with his Hammond B3 in tow.

“Nuthin’ In the World” ushers the listener into this funky energized album heavily steeped in the blues, with catchy hooks and outstanding musicianship. Suter and company shine on “Big Mama” as well.  I love it when J. Bennett breaks out the slide.  It sounds so good alongside Suter’s uniquely styled contralto vocals.  

Title track, “Love the Way You Roll”, is mesmerizing, as it seems to dip into the well of trance blues.  J. Bennett lets each strum of the guitar hang heavy in the air, adding to the psychedelic effect created by the hypnotic framework built by Grappone and P. Bennett.  It’s so cool how this song transforms into the oh-so-familiar “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”.  J. Bennett throws down another great performance on “Gonna’ Love You”. 

One of the most beautiful tracks on the album is “Anything”.  Soulful and slow, this one is so full of emotion it pulls on my heartstrings, much like Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”.  J.Bennett seems to extract tears right out of his guitar, as Sutter immerses herself fully into her performance.   

I can’t help but smile, when I hear the cover of Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips”.  It’s such a happy and fun track to listen to.  Love the Way You Roll, nothing short of a masterpiece, is certain to end up as one of my favorite releases for the year.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

JW-Jones - Belmont Boulevard

2014 – Blind Pig Records
By Phillip Smith; Oct 18, 2014

After listening to this fascinating recording, which artfully blends country music and rockabilly with the blues, it’s no surprise to discover Canadian bluesman JW-Jones recorded his eighth and most recent album, Belmont Boulevard, in Nashville, Tennessee.  Enlisting Grammy winner, Tom Hambridge to co-write and produce seems to have paid off very well. 

Jones gets the adrenaline pumping while covering Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step”.  Putting his own cool spin on the song, he cleverly throws a lot of ‘twang’ into it, giving it a retro country sound.  The intro immediately made me think of Jerry Reed’s “Amos Moses”.  Another expertly performed cover tackled by Jones is Buddy Guy’s “What’s Inside of You”.  Some of his most serious and finest guitar playing is exhibited on this track.  This song is pure blues.  Jones’ guitar sounds so sweet as it co-mingles with the keyboards handled by Reese Wymans.

“Don’t Be Ashamed”, interestingly blends blues with surf rock.  Haunting guitar riffs, pulsating organ attacks, and a spectacular guitar solo, make this a favorite.  “Magic West Side Boogie” is phenomenal.  With guitar playing reminiscent of Jim Heath of Reverend Horton Heat, Jones delivers the goods, as does Jamie Holmes who plays the hell out of the drums.

Jones sets a swampy psychedelic mood with “Cocaine Boy”, which he understandably saves for last.  This gonzo treat is delivered via tinny and echoey vocals sung atop a slow-basted bass line.  Guitar licks enter the song, like screams in a haunted house, making this track quite a wild listen. 

This album has a way of captivating the listener, and not letting go. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

An Evening with Kris Kristofferson: The Pilgrim: Ch 77 Union Chapel, London

2014 – Virgin Records
By Phillip Smith; Oct 4, 2014

Live albums are often times “hit or miss”, for me, for varying reasons such as bad sound, or coaxed audience participation.  This new double album from the legendary Kris Kristofferson, recorded live in London at Union Chapel, September 26, 2013 , steers clear of those self-imposed landmines, and emerges as one of my all-time favorite live albums.  In an intimate setting, Kristofferson plays his songs, stripped down to the most basic of levels, alone on a stage with just his guitar and harmonica.

With almost forty-five years’ worth of material to choose his set-list from, Kristofferson performs a nice blend of both new and old, drawing a lot deeper from his earlier years, playing fourteen songs off his first and second albums from 1970-1971, Kristofferson, and Silver Tongued Devil.  Classic songs, such as “Me and Bobby McGee”, “Help Me Make it Through the Night”, and “Loving Her Was Easier” quickly put a smile on my face.  For a nice little tie-in, while introducing “Casey’s Last Ride”, Kristofferson mentions he wrote it in London about a half a century ago.  From his newer albums, we are treated to title tracks, “Feeling Mortal” (2013), and “Closer to the Bone” (2009) ,

We’re also treated to several selections from his 2003 politically-centric live album, Broken Freedom Song , with songs such as “Broken Freedom Song”, “The Circle”, and “Sky King”.  Another song from that album, which lands in this performance, is one of my favorites, “Here Comes that Rainbow”, a lovely song about paying it forward.

The album just wouldn’t be complete without playing longtime favorite, “Jesus Was a Capricorn”, which Kristofferson masterfully segues in from “You Show Me Yours”.  I’ve never been to London, but when I listen to this album, I feel as though I am transported to the front row of Union Chapel, among the audience, taking everything in. And that is what I absolutely love about An Evening with Kris Kristofferson: The Pilgrim; Ch 77.

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