Saturday, June 6, 2015

Bodeans - I Can’t Stop

2015 – Free & Alive Records
By Phillip Smith; June 6, 2015

They say you can’t keep a good man down.  The same goes for Kurt NeumannNeumann’s most recent album under the Bodeans moniker is a pure delight. Neumann is the only one left from the original lineup, but he keeps chugging along as a prolific writer and musician.  I Can’t Stop contains a dozen original tracks which just gets better with each listen.

Neumann leads the album off “Slave”.  Thick swampy blues-soaked slide guitar licks which ride atop a cool tribal beat makes this one sound so good.  “Oh Mama”, “Roll With the Punches”, and “Yesterday” capture that slightly poppy rocking Bodeans sound oh so elegantly.  Songs like these are what made me a Bodeans fan in the first place. Emotions run deep in the beautiful and melancholy break-up song “Beg or Borrow”. Accompaniment from the Junkyard Horns is an added bonus.  “Something We Found” rolls out like a pop-infused folk rock Mumford and Sons tune.  This catchy-as-hell song is quick to put a grin on my face.

I Can’t Stop is rapidly becoming not only one of my favorite Bodeans albums, but one of my favorite albums this year.   

Saturday, May 30, 2015

John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers - Live in 1967

2015 – Forty Below Records
By Phillip Smith; May 30, 2015

For a short three-month stint in 1967, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers consisted of future Fleetwood Mac members, Peter Green, John McVie, and Mick Fleetwood.  Because a devoted fan from Holland was ballsy enough to sneak a one track reel-to-reel recorder into five different clubs in London to record a handful of shows, we are blessed to hear the magic which took place when these four musicians took the stage.  Keeping in mind, this was recorded in mono, from a hidden tape recorder; the results are consistent with most bootleg recordings from that era.  Live in 1967 gives us thirteen sweet blues-smothered tracks to chew on. 

The Bluesbreakers break out a little briefcase of blues featuring Freddie King songs : “Have You Ever Loved a Woman”, “The Stumble”, “Someday After Awhile”, and “San Ho Zay”.  Peter Green kills it on guitar covering these.  It’s just downright cool to hear him rip into “The Stumble”.  This is blues guitar at its finest.  The opening riff on “San Ho Zay” is so lush; I wish it could have been recorded off a board.

I love their performance of T Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday”.  This one puts me in my bluesy space immediately. Mayall on vocals and organ guides this one from start to finish with a delicious guitar performance from Green.  This is what music is all about, right here.    

John Mayall and Fleetwood Mac fans are sure to enjoy this historical bluesy treat.

Also check out my review of John Mayall's  2014 album, A Special Life  => 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Cash Box Kings - Holding Court

2015 – Blind Pig Records
By Phillip Smith; May 16, 2015

Chicago blues masters The Cash Box Kings return again to serve up a nice and healthy dose of classic-sounding blues on their new album, Holding Court.  Stomping through the decades, they seem very at home playing in the musical styles prevalent during the Thirties through the Fifties.  Joe Nosek, and Oscar Wilson continue to front the band, and it absolutely pleases me to see Barrelhouse Chuck back on piano/organ, as well drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith sitting in on three tracks.  

Nosek holds down the harmonica, and Joel Paterson delivers great twangy licks on lead guitar while kicking things off with the Willie Dixon cover, “I Ain’t Gonna Be No Monkey Man”.  They also nail down a sweet cover of John Lee Hooker’s “Hobo Blues”.  Paterson plays it nice and slow.   

The Cash Box Kings certainly have a knack for bringing current issues to light in their lyrics.  “Download Blues”, written by Nosek, documents the monetary hardships musicians face these days because of illegal downloading on the back of a common devil-may-care attitude about sharing copyrighted material. Whereas “Gotta Move Out to the Suburbs” is a commentary about folks living in the inner city, being pushed out of their homes, to make way for expensive high-rises and skateboard parks. Both are favorites.  

It’s so nice to hear the Blues presented in the unadulterated manner The Cash Box Kings meticulously perform it.  Holding Court is true gem.  

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Saun & Starr - Look Closer

2015 – Daptone Records
By Phillip Smith; May 9, 2015

If you’ve listened to the music of Sharon Jones, you most likely have heard Saun & Starr.  Last year, I was fortunate enough to catch Jones in concert, and remember being bowled over by the exquisite harmonies of backing vocalists, Saundra Williams and Starr Duncan- Lowe , aka Saun & Starr.   They made quite the impression then, and they make a tremendous impression now with their stellar performances on their debut album, Look Closer. To top it all off, the Dap-Kings perform on this new record, drizzling their familiar funky soul on every song, in the Daptone style, and I love it. 

Title track, “Look Closer (Can’t You See the Signs?) ushers the listener in with an up-beat dance-friendly rhythm guided by a buttery bassline served up by Bosco Mann. When I hear the bouncy beats and soulful vocals on “Hot Shot”, I’m immediately taken back to the early music of the Jackson 5.  I just love the way this song was written and performed.  Whereas “Another Love Like Mine”, with is restless funk and echo-laced guitar effects, seems to draw in a little more inspiration from the late great Isaac Hayes.    

Every time I hear the infectious grooves of “Big Wheel”, I can’t help but get a big ol’ smile on my face.  Like Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff”, this track takes a soulful approach to calling out tricksters and scoundrels in wolves clothing.  Another fun little track, “Dear Mr. Teddy”, happens to take awkward situations to a new level. This is the kind of song that sounds best on a rainy day.  Saun & Starr close the album out with a light-hearted ditty about communication breakdown, “Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah”. I like the cool little jabs Victor Axelrod lays down on the organ and the Steve Cropper-flavored guitar riffs from Binky Griptite.  This is such a smooth song.

Look Closer is a sheer delight.  It’s the best soul album I've heard this year.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Billy Hector - Old School Thang

2015 – William Hector / Ghetto Surf Music
By Phillip Smith; May 2, 2015

The latest album, Old School Thang from Billy Hector is slathered in blues and quite the listen.  Hector dishes out his songs in a variety of formats, ranging from traditional and swampy, to trans-blues.    

“She’s Gone”, a great track to open with, grabs me with the smooth Santana-influenced guitar licks.  It sounds so good, especially with the accompaniment by David Nunez on organ, and the horn section made up of Tommy Labella and Steve Jankowski.  Hector breaks out the big guns and totally nails down a cover of Don Nix’s “Goin’ Down” in a tribute to Freddie King.  The musicianship is nothing less than phenomenal.  This is what the blues is all about.  I love the funky rhythm on title track, “Old School Thang”.  If Prince decided to cross over to the blues, I think this is very close to what it would sound like.  I have to mention the awe-inspiring drums provided by Sim Cain, which made me think of the late great Chuck Ruff who played drums on the iconic song, Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein”.  

“Rita”, a despairing and tragic tune which seems to fall in the same wheelhouse as the music of Tom Waits, has a nifty way of getting stuck in my head.  For the finale, Hector closes out “People of the World”, a tasty treat full of groovy jams coated with organ and horns.  Funky repetitive grooves reminiscent of the trans-blues music of Otis Taylor, keep this one going for eight minutes.   

Every song on Old School Thang is a winner.  This album comes highly recommended.

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