Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Boxmasters live at The Surf Ballroom 4/24/15

Clear Lake, Iowa
By Phillip Smith; April 25, 2015

There’s just not that many places left that capture the history and sanctity of Rock and Roll as much as the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.  That’s why watching the Boxmasters, play live in this chapel of rock, made for an absolutely perfect night for soaking up the wonderful music and the fantastic stories that go with them, as sung and told by front man Billy Bob “Bud” Thornton.  The Boxmasters are: Thornton, co-founder/guitarist J.D. Andrew, guitarist Brad Davis, and keyboardist extraordinaire Teddy 'Zig Zag' Andreadis.

The band, all sporting Liverpool Beatles suits, took the stage, kicking the evening off with a rocking performance of “Emily” off Thornton’s 2003 Solo album, The Edge of the World.  I love that classic western sound Davis squeezes out of his guitar on “Providence”.  Davis grabs my full attention again in “Beautiful”.  He’s such a fantastic guitarist.

Thornton, in a really down-to-earth and heartfelt moment, discussed how much of an honor it was to be playing at the Surf.  His honesty and sincerity was felt by everyone.  The band then tore through nine consecutive songs off their latest release, Somewhere Down the Road.  It was so cool to hear the new tracks “Sometimes There’s a Reason”, “This Game is Over”, and “Kathy Don’t Share”.  Immediately following a brief spoken-word introduction from Thornton explaining how religion is a good thing, unless it gets in the hands of the wrong people, Andreadis starts “Piece of the Sky” on his Hammond in a performance fit for Sunday morning church.

After asking the audience about their thoughts on political correctness and profanity, Thornton indeed got their blessing to play an explicit song or two.  It was so fun to hear the rarely played tongue-in-cheek song, “I’ll Give You a Ring” (when you give me back my balls), from their self-titled album.

A request from the audience for a song from the late great Warren Zevon prompted Thornton to reminisce about his good friend.  He explained they had met each other at the mail box, while living in the same apartment building.  They ironically got to talking about a common trait they both suffer from, obsessive compulsive disorder.  The Boxmasters then broke into a Zevon-esque written song, “I Shot Him Down”.  “Island Avenue”, a song off the album, The Edge of the World, and written by Thornton’s brother Jimmy was a jam-filled treat.  After an intense and funky keyboard solo from Andreadis on the Hammond, the band played tight as hell.  This was rock and roll at its finest.  “Hope and Glory”, the last song of the set was dedicated to everyone who was in the military or had lost someone in war.  From Thornton’s vocals to Davis’s killer guitar, the band in general just gels so nicely.               

For an encore, the Boxmasters returned to stage in a slightly different configuration, featuring Andreadis this time, on harmonica, and Thornton sporting a tambourine. With a beat similar to the Ramone’s “Blitzkrieg Bop”, they kick in “Love is Real Tonight”, followed by a rendition of “That Mountain” which was so good, it sent chills up my spine. In a cutting heads fashion Andreadis and Davis went toe to toe, harp vs. guitar. It was such an amazing performance to end this stellar show with.   

For almost two solid hours, I hung on every note played and every word sung. This show will certainly go down in my history book as one of my favorite concerts.


Japanese Girl
She Looks Like Betty Page
Middle of the Night
Sometimes There’s a Reason
You’ll Be Lonely Tonight
This Game is Over
Dead Inside
A Piece of the Sky
Kathy Won’t Share
What Did You Do Today
Away Away
Desperation Parade
I’ll Give You a Ring
I Shot Him down
Island Ave.
Hope for Glory

Love is Real Tonight
That Mountain

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Boxmasters - Somewhere Down the Road

2015 – 101 Ranch Records
By Phillip Smith; April 18, 2015

The fourth studio album, Somewhere Down the Road from the Boxmasters (Bud Thornton, J.D. Andrew, Teddy Andreadis, & Brad Davis), presents twenty-two brand new songs marinated in the styles of early rock and classic western music.  Brandishing a musicianship second to none, and songs written with blunt honesty and conviction, Somewhere Down the Road is a stand-out album.

Breakup song, “This Game is Over Now”, puts a big ol’ smile on my face as the Roy Orbison influences shine through the vocals and instrumentation. Another track that puts a grin on my face is “Kathy Won’t Share”, a catchy song with an REM vibe, about a self-indulgent stay-at-home husband with a desire to bring another woman into the bedroom.

Like the fatherly advice one would expect to get from someone who’s received the short end of the stick for the biggest part of their life, “Always Lie” hits heavily.  Thornton’s deep vocals are perfectly suited for this dark melody.  The darkness seem to linger a little longer on “Away Away”, as it is projected onto anonymous travelers making their way to an unknown destination with hollow eyes and what seems to be their whole life strapped down to the bed of an old beat up pickup truck.  Perfectly suited to land on a Quentin Tarantino motion picture soundtrack, “Don’t Follow Me Down”, a love song with elements of mystery and danger, delivers deliciously haunting and twangy surf guitar. The “cool factor” rides high on this one.  The heartfelt “Getting Past the Lullaby”, is a beautiful ode to mothers that will make one almost tear up.

Like the songs of John Hiatt or John Prine, the selections on Somewhere Down the Road tell stories bound to resonate with the listener.  Delivering their tunes with gusto and grit, The Boxmasters aren’t afraid to dig deep, and go down the road less traveled in order to makes sure the listener gets something worth listening to.  That’s what makes this album such a treasure. 

For more info on The Boxmasters visit their website

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Muggs - Straight Up Boogaloo

2015 – The Muggs
By Phillip Smith; April 11, 2015

Straight Up Boogaloo, the fourth studio album from Detroit rockers The Muggs, hit me like a 100 mph fastball launched by Alex Rodriguez.  Using a blues-fueled album-rock approach to music, the Muggs ( guitarist Danny Methric , bass player Tony DeNardo, and drummer Todd Glass) deliver their music with raw unbridled performances, oftentimes resembling that of Plant and Page.

There’s definitely a Led Zeppelin vibe hanging in the air on opener “Applecart Blues”. Vocals reminiscent of Robert Plant, and heavy driving guitar riffs, lure me right in.  Glass kills it on drums, keeping a powerful thundering beat going.  This one is on top of my list of favorites.  The guys keep the Zeppelin thing going on “Roger Over and Out A”, and “Roger Over and Out B”, an opus dedicated to the legendary sci-fi/horror film producer/director, Roger Corman.  Corman’s film titles and subject matter are cleverly woven into the lyrics, making these songs a treasure trove of Easter eggs.

Other songs seem to have more of a Black Sabbath/Ozzy feel.  “Spit and Gristle” falls into this category.  From the hypnotizing and infectious opening riff to the melodic vocals which just seem to linger in thin air, this track is a head-slammin’ balls-to-the-wall original. And then obviously falling into this category, is the equally impressive cover of Black Sabbath’s “Tomorrow’s Dream”, off the 1972 Vol. 4 album.  

The Muggs also take on early Fleetwood Mac, with the Peter Green penned “Rattlesnake Shake”.  Grittier and swampier than the original, this one is almost twelve minutes in length, and full of bluesy goodness.  Methric’s guitar playing makes this one a very interesting listen.  They score big again while tackling the Beatles’ “Yer Blues”.  It’s such a great song, and they nail it to the post.

Straight Up Boogaloo, impressive from start to end, is my favorite rock album of 2015 so far. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Slam Allen - Feel These Blues

2015 – American Showplace Music
By Phillip Smith; April 4, 2015

Step inside, Slam Allen’s latest album, Feel These Blues, and allow yourself to soak up all the soulful house-rockin’ goodness you can.  Don’t worry about being greedy, there’s plenty for everyone.  Listening to the blues being performed at the level Allen plays is such a joy.  Having worked his way up through the ranks by being lead guitarist and lead singer for James Cotton for nine years, Allen’s years of experience is felt in every song.  With a band composed of bassist Jeff Anderson, drummer Dan Fadel, and organist/pianist extraordinaire John Ginty, Allen delivers eleven delightful original tracks, and a surprising cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain”.

Allen jump-starts things with title track “Feel These Blues”, a high-energy boogie with fantastic, bluesy guitar licks.  It’s a perfect song to set the album in motion with.  Keeping the blues bus a rolling is “All Because of You”.  This stand-out track, topped with Ginty’s B3 is slathered with Allen’s soulful guitar and vocals.  There’s an undeniable Memphis Stax influence on “Can’t Break Away From That Girl”.  Allen seeming channels Otis Redding, while throwing in little Steve Cropper-ish licks on guitar.  I love the funky, feel-good groove built around Anderson’s bassline.  All this, along with a little church added via Ginty on organ, makes the track a bona fide favorite.  For a feel-good song which exudes positive energy, nothing beats “That’s Where You Are”.  From the opening bassline to the closing organ outro, this luscious track puts a smile on my face every time.   

Slam Allen keeps the writing real and the performances fresh. Feel the Blues is “Top-Shelf” blues at its best.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Gregg Allman live at Riverside Casino 3/28/15

Riverside, Iowa
By Phillip Smith; Mar 29, 2015

Walking on stage to a standing ovation from a sold out crowd is something only a few people get to experience.  Gregg Allman is one of them.   Allman, along with the rest of his nine man ensemble took the stage at Riverside Casino in Riverside, Iowa.  With Allman on the B3 and Scott Sharrard on guitar, front and center, the band tore into a ripping rendition of “Stateboro Blues”.  The audience was happy, and so was I.  Without missing a beat, they then slid right into a sweet sounding “I’m No Angel” followed up with the mellow grooves of “Come and Go Blues”.  Dipping into his Playin’ Up a Storm album for a two-fer, Allman performs a refreshingly “Brightest Smile in Town”.  The intro was beautifully played, and Allman’s vocals were soulful.  The sax solo was a standout as well. I absolutely loved hearing the crowd pleasing Muddy Waters classic, “Trouble No More”. Initiated with a fantastic drum intro, this one was played tight as hell. This is where it sets in, just how cohesive this band is.  It’s so enjoyable to hear Sharrard tear it up on guitar. For “Melissa”, Allman switched over from the B3, to acoustic guitar. This song hit the spot, and drew people to their feet. 

The second set was quite strong too.  Allman picks up his electric guitar for an exquisite “Ain’t Wasting Time No More”. It sounded so good.  Returning to acoustic guitar, Allman and the band got a little help from the crowd singing “Midnight Rider”.  This song culminates with a really interesting trumpet performance from Marc Franklin and a standing ovation.  The fast and furious “Love Like Kerosene” was phenomenally played. Ron Johnson was dishing out some awe-inspiring groove on the bass while we got yet another smoking performance from Sharrard.  After the first few notes of “Whippin’ Post” were played, it was apparent the audience would not be able to sit still.  Greg remained on electric, while Peter Leven took over the B3.  Groovy beats from Steve Potts and Marc Quinones and blasts from the brass make this an interestingly funky treat.  This was one everyone had undoubtedly been waiting for, as it drew a huge standing ovation.  With that closing out the last set, the band returned once more with Allman back at the B3 for a riveting extended version of “Southbound”.  Needless to say, the show was outstanding.


Statesboro Blues
I’m No Angel
Come and Go Blues
Brightest Smile In Town
Trouble No More
The Same Thing

-Instrumental Break-

Cradle of Civilization
Hot Lanta
Ain’t Wasting Time No More
Midnight Rider
Love Like Kerosene
Whipping Post



Saturday, March 28, 2015

The New Basement Tapes - Lost on the River

2014 – Harvest Records
By Phillip Smith; Mar 28, 2015

There’s something very special about the latest supergroup, New Basement Tapes.  This collective of musicians, consisting of Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Jim James (My Morning Jacket), & Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons) have joined forces to record fifteen tracks based on uncovered song lyrics which were written by Bob Dylan in 1967 during the original Basement Tape sessions. Dylan credited with co-writer of each song on the album, does not appear on any of the performances.

The somewhat spacy “Down on the Bottom” kicks things off.  This track is co-written by Jim James, who also by the way takes on the electric guitar and organ.  I really like the fuzzy My Morning Jacket guitar licks James dishes out during the bridge.  This is the kind of song that captivates me upon first listen.  James is also at the helm of “Nothing To It”, a poppy song about letting the flip of a coin decide the fate of a thief.  Under the covers, this is ominous and sinister enough to be on Harvey Dent’s playlist.  

I can’t steer away from “Kansas City”, with writing credits given to both Mumford and Goldsmith.  Mumford nails the lead vocals on this ode to torn hearts and letting go.  Johnny Depp even makes an appearance to play guitar on this one.  Goldsmith revisits Kansas City on “Liberty Street”.  This story of hard times is solemnly sung and beautifully played on piano.  Goldsmith delivers again on the rootsy “Card Shark”, a cute little ditty featuring Costello on ukulele.  This song has that feel-good pleasantness to it that lures the listener to sing along. I like this one a lot.

It’s so good to hear Elvis Costello tear it up both vocally and electrically on guitar in “Six Months in Kansas City (Liberty Street)”.  He brings to the table the same enthusiasm and exuberance he had in his early years.

Title track, “Lost on the River #20” beautifully concludes the album, with lovely vocals from Rhiannon flowing alongside stellar acoustic guitar performances from Mumford and Goldsmith.  It’s hard to believe these Dylan songs haven’t been put to tape and released before.  They’re so good.  Lost on the River is nothing short of a masterpiece.    

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cécile Doo-Kingué - Anybody Listening, Pt 1 : Monologues

2015 – CDK Musik
By Phillip Smith; Mar 21, 2015

Soulful vocals paired with infectious rhythms and thought-provoking lyrics, are the heart of Cécile Doo-Kingué’s latest album, Anybody Listening Pt. 1: Monologues, the first installment in a trilogy of albums. Anybody Listening features nine blues-soaked, cleverly written songs performed on acoustic guitar in a solo setting. 

Doo-Kingué makes a huge powerfully submissive splash with album opener, “Make Me”. I love her sultry vocals on this fusion of funk and blues.  She keeps the mood light in “Little Bit” as well, in this ditty about what it takes to get in the happy place. I can’t help but smile when I hear this one.

As a voice for a new generation of activists, Doo-Kingué picks up where the Seventies left off, when it comes to writing songs promoting civil rights.  “Bloodstained Vodka” is her response to the arrest of feminist punk rockers, Pussy Riot for charges of hooliganism, and Putin’s anti-gay stance.  Stand-out track, “Six Letters” takes a seriously heavy look at racism and the atrocities which go hand in hand with it.  Doo-Kingué plays this one in a traditional blues style, complete with slide.        

Title track, “Anybody Listening” a mellow ode to loneliness closes the album with a sad and slow yet funky rhythm. Although Anybody Listening Pt. 1: Monologues seems to goes by fast, it has a lot of replay-ability.  This poignant album leaves me wanting to hear more, and excited to hear the next two albums in the series.       

For more info on Cécile Doo-Kingué, visit her website

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Michael ONeill - I Like It Like That

2013 – Sleeping Trout Music
By Phillip Smith; Mar 14, 2015

Michael ONeill has a special talent, when it comes to songwriting. One listen to I Like it Like That, is good proof he can just as easily write for the mainstream country fan, as well as for the indie roots music enthusiast.  One thing is for sure, the songs in I Like it Like That are steeped heavily in Americana.

The first two tracks, “Raise a Glass”, and “When You Come Around”, remind me a lot of the self-reflective songs of Roy Orbison during his career revival in the Eighties. They’re both quite nice. ONeill croons with heartfelt emotion on “Feel Her Heart Break”, a somber song about a bad relationship. The steel guitar on this track is a very nice touch.

ONeill captures the spirit of John Prine in “Running Out of Time”.  This ode seems to say, life is way too short to spend all of our time here on Earth trying to figure out who we are.  “On Time” strikes a chord, paying homage to the Grateful Dead.  Complete with Jerry Garcia influenced guitar and vocals, this ditty is carefree and enlightening.

“ Real Deal” is a perfect pop country song. Catchy energized hooks and rockin’ bluesy riffs make this a boot-scooting favorite.  The alternate version of this song featuring a side of fiddle performed by Tim Crouch, is even better.

For more info on Michael ONeill, visit his website

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Dave Paris - Jury of My Peers

2015 – Mr. & Mrs. Paris Music
By Phillip Smith; Mar 7, 2015

The latest album, Jury of My Peers, from Iowan Dave Paris is a smorgasbord of thirteen original and amazing guitar-centric instrumentals.  Paris keeps it fresh with varying styles and tempos, burning his own stamp of ownership into each track with blazing melodic guitar riffs.  

As if busting through a wall like the Kool-Aid Man, “Romans Road” takes a no-holds-barred approach to greeting the listener with a an unexpected blast of hard-driving metal-laced rhythm.  Besides the furious guitar licks prominent on “Bought by Blood”, I love the swampy harmonica intro from Cyprian Alexzander.  Stand-out anthem, “Night Before Last”, is beautifully powerful.  Paris introduces a small string section composed of violinists Natalie Brown, Mike Hall, and Curt Harman, which adds tremendously to this song’s unique appeal.      

As far as the heaviest tracks go, I’m drawn to both “Last 2nd” and “Author of Fate”.  A funky bassline from Barbe Paris and intriguing beats from drummer Brent Harknett help make “Last 2nd” a great rock instrumental.  Paris performs this with an undeniable mastery.  “Author of Fate” kicks off in a classic Metallica form, with lots of fury. Paris carefully injects a smidge of progressive rock into this one before returning to the song’s metal roots.      

Dave breaks out the slide, and slips in a really unexpected treat in “Wood, Wire, Wind”.  Steeped heavily in North Mississippi country blues, this one hits the spot.  Alexzander returns with harmonica in tow for this track.  Based on this track alone, I’d love to hear what Paris would do with an entire album devoted to the Blues.

It’s so enjoyable to hear a guitar master such as Paris, do what he does best.  Fresh and seriously focused, Jury of My Peers has edged its way onto my list of favorite instrumental rock albums.  

For more info on Dave Paris visit his website

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar - Send the Nightingale

2015 – Samantha Martin Music
By Phillip Smith; Feb 28, 2015

The new album from Toronto-based recording artists Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar is sure to draw a lot of attention and adoration.  Boasting a clever mix of blues, roots, country and gospel music, Send the Nightingale is absolutely compelling.  With vocals that fall into the same wheelhouse as Janis Joplin, Martin takes command of each song.  Guitarist Mikey McCallum, along with backing vocalists Sherie Marshall and Stacie Tabb, form Delta Sugar.    

Martin’s influences are also nicely rooted in Sixties soul music as well.  Kicking off with a light rhythm reminiscent of Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man”, is “Addicted”, a proclaiming song of love, and a soulful joyous treat.  The mood suddenly drops on “When You Walk Away”, a heart wrenching song about splitting up.  McCallum on guitar, brings to mind Steve Cropper’s playing on ”(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay”.    

Martin performs “One More Day” with the energy and unbridled exuberance of a gospel band in a southern tent revival.  Complete with obligatory stomps and clap, it’s cloaked in a rootsy and rustic vibe.  To this song, I say “Amen brothers and sisters!”  The song that sticks with me the most though is “Don’t Shoot”.  I absolutely love it.  Martin, like Lucinda Williams, just has an uncanny knack for writing great story-telling songs that rock with a country/western flair.

Excellent songwriting, powerful vocals, fantastic harmonies, and expert musicianship, make Send the Nightingale the wonderful album it is.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Kubek & King - Fat Man's Shine Parlor

2015 – Blind Pig Records
By Phillip Smith; Feb 21, 2015

Dynamic Blues duo Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King have teamed up again, to record and produce an album of the best down-home blues one can hear.  The title itself, Fat Man’s Shine Parlor, conjures up visions of seasoned bluesmen congregating in the neighborhood barbershop on a Saturday afternoon, exchanging stories of days gone by.

“Got My Heart Broken” is an excellent track to start off with its high energy and driving rhythm.  Eerie growls resembling the snores of a sleeping dragon emit from Kubek’s guitar and make this one even more fascinating.  Keeping that initial energy flowing, they dive into another favorite, “Cornbread”, a heavy blues ode to country cooking and soul food.  I love the groove on “Diamond Eyes”.  Heavily steeped in Seventies blues/rock, my mind wanders to artists like Robin Trower and Pat Travers when immersed in this song.      

As soon as I hear the beginning Zeppelin’esque riff from “Brown Bomba Mojo”, I get excited.  This is phenomenally played and hits on all cylinders. It really doesn’t get much better than this.  Kubek and King certainly deliver the goods once again, proving tasty guitar blues is their specialty.     

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The B-52’s live at Riverside Casino 2/14/15

Riverside, Iowa
By Phillip Smith; Feb 15, 2015

One of my all-time favorite bands, The B-52’s descended upon the Riverside Casino in Riverside, Iowa last night and gave a stellar Valentine’s Day performance in front of a packed house. It was a special night, as the evening marked the 38th anniversary of their first concert performing together.  Original founding members Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, and Cindy Wilson were joined onstage by guitarist Greg Suran, bassist Tracy Wormworth, drummer/percussionist Sterling Campbell, and guitarist/keyboardist Paul Gordon.    

The band kicked things off with “Pump”, off their most recent studio album, Funplex.  This one got the crowd excited and the energy flowing.  The only other track from this album, was “Love in the Year 3000”, introduced by Kate who acknowledged Riverside, Iowa as being the future birthplace of Captain Kirk while pondering the details of how his parents hooked up.    

Deeper cuts played, included the songs, “Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland” from Bouncing Off the Satellites and “Is That You Mo-dean?” from Good Stuff. Cindy gave a touching introduction to “Girl…” reminding us it was off the last album her brother Rickie played on before he passed in 1985.  This one was Cindy’s song to sing.

For a short while, Kate and Cindy held down the fort with “Roam” and “Legal Tender”, which quickly filled the aisles with dancers and revelers.  As soon as those songs finished, Fred mysteriously returned to stage donning a red ‘Kate-like’ wig.  Stating it was party time, the band tore into “Party Out of Bounds”. Afterwards, Fred exclaimed “It’s fun being a red-head!”     

The set is ended with crowd-favorite “Love Shack”, which brings the entire audience to their feet.  As the B-52’s return for their encore, the familiar spacy beeps from “Planet Claire” fill the air.  It’s still amazing to hear Kate’s enchanting siren-like vocals on this one. I remember thinking; this must have been what the siren songs which called out to Odysseus sounded like.  It was so captivating.  To wrap things up, the audience was treated to an extended dance version of “Rock Lobster”, a true classic off their first album. With red lobster-color lights shining upon the stage, Kate danced her heart out, and never seemed to break a sweat. 

This was hands down, a fantastic show, and a fun concert.

* all photos by Phillip Smith

Cindy Wilson, Fred Schneider

Cindy Wilson, Fred Schneider & Kate Pierson

Cindy Wilson

Kate Pierson

Greg Suran

Fred and Kate

Cindy, Fred & Kate

Kate Pierson

Fred Schneider

Cindy , Kate, & Fred

Cindy Wilson

Cindy, Fred, & Kate

Fred Schneider

Cindy Wilson

Fred & Tracy Wormworth

Fred Schneider

Kate Pierson


Private Idaho
Dance This Mess Around
Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland
Legal Tender
Party Out of Bounds
Love in the Year 3000
Is That You Mo-dean?
Love Shack


Planet Claire
Rock Lobster