Saturday, August 22, 2015

John Mayall - Find a Way to Care

2015 –Forty Below Records
By Phillip Smith; Aug. 22, 2015

It makes me happy to see John Mayall return to the studio and record another sensational blues album.  Find a Way to Care is masterfully written and exquisitely performed.  Returning to the studio with Mayall is guitarist Rocky Athas, bassist Greg Rzab, and drummer Jay Davenport, who were all present on his previous studio album A Special Life.  

Mayall breathes a new funky and soulful life into Percy Mayfield’s “The River’s Invitation”.  With Mayall manning the keyboard, and a terrific horn section at his side, this song takes on a sort of “Bar-Kays Soul Finger” vibe.  I dig this one a lot.  Riding this same wave of feel-good music, is the vibrant Lightning Hopkins cover, “I Feel So Bad”, which makes me feel so good when I give it a listen. 

There’s no shortage of traditional blues here either.  Mayall serves up nothing but the best of it as he splendidly tackles Junior Parker’s “Mother in Law Blues”,  Muddy Water’s “Long Distance Call”, and Charles Brown’s “Drifting Blues”.   

I’m quickly drawn in to the music on “War We Wage” a heady guitar blues track by acclaimed UK guitarist Matt Schofield.  It’s hard to beat the combination of Mayall’s keys alongside Athas on guitar.  They just sound so good together.  Mayall brings the album to a close, busting out some fabulous barrel house piano blues on “Crazy Lady”.

Mayall is known as the “Godfather of British Blues” for a good reason and his legacy continues with Find a Way to Care.      

For more info on John Mayall, visit his website

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Rocky Athas The Essential Rocky Athas Volume 1

2015 – Cherryburst Records
By Phillip Smith; Aug. 15, 2015

My first exposure to the lush and bluesy sounds of Rocky Athas came about because of my deep appreciation for the band, Black Oak Arkansas, who Athas played with for a short while.  His work with the legendary John Mayall drew me in even further.  Regardless of whom he is playing with, it is always a joy to hear him play.  The Essential Rocky Athas Volume 1 focuses on Athas’ solo works, which he describes as “a labor of love years in the making”.  For the guitar aficionados, Athas notes fifteen different guitars used on the ten tracks in this fabulous collection.   It makes me happy to know he plans to release two more volumes later this year.  

Athas delivers energized Texas blues at its finest in “Long Time Gone” and “Think About It”.  The later features special guest John Mayall.  Captivating grooves seasoned with delicious guitar licks bring these tracks to the forefront.   The soulfully performed “Last of the Blues” is about as perfect a blues song as one can get, with its poignant lyrics and beautiful melody.    It’s so fun to hear him let it all hang out on “Tearin’ Me Up”, another terrific track. 

The album closes out with an exquisite cover of Cream’s “White Room”, bringing the John Mayall connection full circle, as Athas pays homage to the earliest of Mayall’s collaborators, Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce.  This track is truly the pièce de résistance. 

I can’t wait to hear volumes 2 and 3.

For more info on Rocky Athas, visit his website

Friday, August 7, 2015

Elmo Karjalainen - The Free Guitar Album

2015 –KC Sound, Finland
By Phillip Smith; Aug. 7, 2015

Finnish guitarist Elmo Karjalainen’s latest venture and his second solo album is an extraordinary showcase of guitar mastery.   The Free Guitar Album features eight original compositions. Download the digital version of the album for free off Karjalainen’s own website, or purchase a hard copy CD, and get three additional tracks, featuring alternate guitar solos. 

It’s awe-inspiring to hear Karjalainen tear through the opening track, simply named “Instrumental”, with tremendous force.  I love the display of versatility as this track segues into “Don’t Quit Yer Day Job”, an intriguing melody with a funky rhythm not afraid to show its metal underbelly.

Karjalainen shows his softer side on “She Sleeps on the Moon”, an amazingly beautiful composition providing a lush and trippy listen.  Another track taking ownership of his softer side is the peaceful and floaty “Relax”, a wonderful piece for meditation.   

Karjalainen is a phenomenal guitarist, and The Free Guitar Album is a sweet deal.  Visit his website, and give it a listen.  

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Photos : Tinsley Ellis & The Janeys

Cedar River Blues Festival
McGrath Amphitheater
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
  Aug 1, 2015

All Photos by Phillip Smith

BillyLee Janey

Bryce Janey

Dan Johnson

Tom "T-Bone" Giblin

Bryce Janey

Dan Johnson, Bryce Janey, Eric Douglas 

Bryce Janey

BillyLee Janey, Tom "T-Bone" Giblin

Bryce Janey

Bryce Janey, BillyLee Janey

Bryce Janey, BillyLee Janey

Dan Johnson, Bryce Janey, BillyLee Janey

BillyLee Janey, Bryce Janey

Eric Douglas

Dan Johnson, BillyLee Janey

BillyLee Janey
BillyLee Janey, Tom "T-Bone" Giblin
BillyLee Janey
McGrath Amphitheater

Tinsley Ellis

Jonathon Holland

Tinsley Ellis

Tinsley Ellis

Erik Kaszynski

Tinsley Ellis

Tinsley Ellis

Jonathon Holland

Tinsley Ellis

Tinsley Ellis

Tinsley Ellis

Tinsley Ellis

Erik Kaszynski

Tinsley Ellis

Tinsley Ellis and Jonathon Holland

Jonathon Holland, Tinsley Ellis

Jonathon Holland, Tinsley Ellis

Tinsley Ellis

Tinsley Ellis

Tinsley Ellis

Tinsley Ellis

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Slackjaw - It’s Always Something

2015 –Slackjaw
By Phillip Smith; Aug. 1, 2015

It’s Always Something, the second album from New Jersey blues rockers Slackjaw, rapidly grabbed my attention with its tight musicianship and devil-may-care lyrics.  This trio consists of singer/guitarist John Thompson, drummer/harmonicist Randy Marinelli, and bassist/backing vocalist Carl Capodice.   

Album opener “Carried By Six” is smothered in Texas blues and sounds great.  Not only is Thompson one hell of a guitar slinger, but Capodice and Marinelli hold the fort down quite nicely to boot.  When it comes to relationships, if it’s not one thing, it’s another.  That’s the message in the rocking title track, “It’s Always Something”.  Thompson seriously tears it up, and throws down the gauntlet when it comes to blasting out intense guitar licks. A funky bluesy rhythm with a Spin Doctors flair gives the light-hearted love song, “New Addiction” a feel-good groovy sound.  This one surely puts me in my happy place. Tempo shifts, and more outstanding hard-driving riffs, make the melodic “Whiskey Lane” one of my favorites.    

Slackjaw closes out with the carousing song, “Bottle of Whiskey”.  This partying track is the perfect closer, and gets stuck inside my head quite often now.  All in all, It’s Always Something is a rambunctiously good listen.

Click on the link below to purchase this terrific album from the PhillyCheeze Amazon Store.  As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Sean Taylor - The Only Good Addiction is Love

2015 –Sean Taylor Songs
By Phillip Smith; July 25, 2015

The Only Good Addiction is Love, Sean Taylor’s seventh album, steers the focus away from the hustle and bustle of city living, as was the focus on his previous album, Chase the Night.  As Taylor explains, he is now exploring the challenging world of aesthetics, bringing out the truth in beauty and vice versa. Before the first song of this eleven track album is finished, I’m quickly reminded of just how truly remarkable this songwriter is. 

The title track takes its name from an inspiring quote from former Uruguayan President Jose ‘Pepe’ Mujica, who selflessly declined the use of the presidential palace and its staff, and chose instead to live on his modest farm, all while donating ninety percent of his salary to charity.  This captivating song with a little Leonard Cohen reference, not only opens the album, but pours a foundation fashioned from complimentary dualities.  The dark swampy blues of “Bad Light” is kicked off with the electric surge of slide guitar from Andre Moran, and masterfully accented by the deep eerie sounds of Brian Standefer on cello. I am also heavily drawn to “Lorca”, a Spanish flavored instrumental which Taylor plays beautifully on guitar. 

Double bass virtuoso Danny Thompson returns to work with Taylor on the two tracks, “Rothko”, and “Moma”.  The former, is homage to Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko who also inspired the album’s cover art.  Taylor’s guitar paired with Thompson’s double bass creates a hypnotic rhythm for the poetic lyrics to ride along. 

If you ever wondered how W.B. Yeat’s “The White Birds” would sound if set to music, wonder no more.  This vibrant poem is sweetly complimented with Taylor’s music.   “Desolation Angels” captures the essence of Kerouac’s book bearing the same name, with Clapton-esque guitar licks and free-wheeling prose. This is music for the soul. 

The Only Good Addiction is Love is definitely in my list of favorite albums this year.  It doesn’t get much better than this.     

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Robin Barrett & Coyote Kings - Howl / JPBlues - Live at Darwins

Coyote Kings   
2015 –Robin Barrett
By Phillip Smith; July 18, 2015

I always look forward to hearing from Robin Barrett and the Coyote Kings from Walla Walla, Washington.  Howl, the fourth installment from this Pacific Northwest band, contains a cache of smokin’ electrified blues.  Kicking off with title track, “Howl”. Barrett throws down the gauntlet, blasting crafty riffs of swampy goodness.  This one digs in deep, and I like it.  “Waiting to be Free”, is on top of my list of favorites as well. This one slows it down a notch, and Barrett’s guitar wails so beautifully.  Another track that puts a smile on my face is the Chuck Berry influenced “Jackhammer Slow Jammer”. It really gets the blood pumping. The most interesting and coolest track though, is “Party”, wherein Barrett blends funk with swamp blues. At times it reminds me of ZZ Top. Other tracks that surely deserve a mention are the eerie “Dark Dark Night”, and “Crazy in the Head”, a track that takes me back to the Eighties, listening to Timbuk 3’s “Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”. 

JP Blues   
Live at Darwin’s
2015 –Midnight Circus Records
By Phillip Smith; July 18, 2015

One listen to his latest album, Live at Darwin’s is all it takes to understand why John “JP Blues” Pagano is rapidly rising up in the ranks of blues guitarists.  This sizzling guitar virtuoso is joined by bassist Tony Hossri and drummer Shiloh Bloodworth to make one killer blues trio.  I love the gritty and swampy “Old Man Joe”.  This quick paced track reminds me so much of my favorite Southern Rock band, Black Oak Arkansas, down to the Jim Dandy-styled vocals. I had to stop and think a while the first time I heard JP’s rendition of Jay Z’s “99 Problems”.  It was so interesting and quite the unexpected treat to hear this rap song played so bluesy. JP pours his soul out in “Another Time, Another Place”.  From a calming and beautiful beginning, the song builds traction, gaining speed until an explosive battleground of pure guitar expressionism is reached.  But wait, there’s more.  The finale “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” dishes out nearly ten minutes of unadulterated blues and ferocious jams.  JP’s guitar playing on this track is simply amazing.  It doesn’t matter who moved your cheese, this is where it’s at.     

Sunday, July 12, 2015

BillyLee Janey - Got Them Iowa Blues

2015 –Damn Good Tunes
By Phillip Smith; July 12, 2015

In 1975, BillyLee Janey recorded the critically-acclaimed psych-blues album Truth and Janey’s No Rest For the Wicked. Give his latest album, Got Them Iowa Blues a listen and one will find out very fast, Janey is still pushing the envelope of sound, producing some of the best electric guitar blues around.  Joining Janey in the making of this album is his son, Bryce Janey on bass guitar, and drummer Eric Douglas.

From the get-go on “Damn Good” Janey breaks out his satchel full of swagger, and delivers some of the most wickedly interesting guitar licks I’ve heard.  Listening to “Superstar” sends chills down my spine.  I don’t know how he does it, but his guitar speaks a different language than most.  It’s simply amazing to hear all these cools sounds immersed in a big bowlful of blues.  I love the driving funky beat from guest drummer, John Wilson on “Mean Ole Twister”.  Janey channels the chaos and furious force of an F5 tornado into this tune, and drops a subtle Wizard of Oz reference which makes me smile.  

Those who have ever lived in Iowa will surely understand where Janey is coming from as he sings about frigid winters, hail storms, and Midwest tornados in the slow-simmered “Iowa Blues”.  The man knows how to play the blues, that’s for sure.  I could listen this all day.  

For more info about BillyLee Janey, vist his website:

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Victor Wainwright and the WildRoots - Boom Town

2015 –Blind Pig Records
By Phillip Smith; July 4, 2015

Boom Town, the latest release from Victor Wainwright and the Wildroots, is chockfull of boogie-laced blues and tasty jams.  Wainwright, who rightfully claimed the Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year for 2013 and 2014, leads this fantastic eight person band called, the Wildroots through thirteen spirited New Orleans flavored selections. Hearing him rip into the piano while laying down a truck load of boogie woogie on “Two Lane Blacktop Revisited” will leave no doubt why he pulled down that award twice already.  

It’s amazing to hear the different directions to which Wainwright can take his voice.  From a comforting tone, in the spiritually moving “When the Day is Done”, to being bad-ass and sinister, in “Reapers on the Prowl”, where he goes all “Wolfman Jack” in his conversation with the Grim Reaper.  Guitarist JP Soars, fellow Southern Hospitality collaborator with Wainwright is a guest performer on “The Devils Bite”, a Cab Calloway influenced tune.  This dark and rootsy track brings to mind Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads album.

The slow and easy “WildRoot Farm” makes for a cool little duet featuring Patricia Ann Dees.  This one will have you on the front porch sipping iced tea on a hot summer day, taking in the aromas of a freshly prepared southern style dinner. Stephen Kampa rolls out a sweet harmonica accompaniment which totally sets that laid-back mood.     

BoomTown culminates into an amazing instrumental jam at the end with “WildRoot Rumble”.  This is my favorite track on the album, and I play it loud.  Stephen Dees and Nick Black bring it on with rambling guitars, Kampa kills it on harmonica, Billy Dean keeps the furious beat going on drums, and Wainwright pounds the hell out of the piano. This is what it’s all about!     

For more information about Victor Wainwright visit his website at