Friday, February 26, 2016

The Blues Had a Baby - Louisville’s Tribute to Muddy Waters

2015 – Down in the Alley Records
By Phillip Smith; Feb 26, 2016

Modern blues compilation albums don’t get much better than The Blues Had a Baby.  This outstanding tribute to Muddy Waters is the brainchild of co-producers Mike Suttles and “Screamin” John Hawkins.  In Suttle’s own words, “The Muddy Water project is my attempt to keep the blues alive by introducing it to a wider group of music lovers”.  After enlisting a dozen of the finest musicians in Louisville, Kentucky, each was asked to record a song.

From Daniel “Buttermilk” Jackson’s blood-curling screams, to Bryce Gills’ smokin’ hot guitar and Brandon Roush’s outstanding harp playing, the Tunesmiths ripping cover of “Mannish Boy” is a fantastic listen.  With authenticity, Tyrone Cotton dishes out a splendid rendition of “Can’t Be Satisfied” on slide.  Laurie Jane and the 45’s create a swampy Credence Clearwater Revival atmosphere to “You Need Love”.  Laurie Jane Jessup’s vocals are sweet and sexy, while Cort Duggins tears it up on slide guitar. This is a favorite indeed.  Latin-Folk band Appalatin beautifully takes “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” to a whole new level.  Lead guitarist and vocalist Yani Vozos gives a captivating performance to say the least, and I definitely want to explore this band’s music further.  The Ass Haulers bring a briefcase full of lightning to their barn-burning cover of “Trouble No More”.  Steven Clark enters full beast mode vocally as Screamin’ John Hawkins masterfully shreds guitar and Rick Cain kills on harmonica.  This is the Blues baby, and I love it!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Rocky Athas - The Essential Rocky Athas Volume II

2015 – Cherryburst Records
By Phillip Smith; Feb 20, 2016

Rocky Athas delivers another ten terrific tracks in the second installment of his Essential series.  Volume II was well worth the wait indeed.  Heavy-laden with killer Texas-style blues riffs, “You Move Me” kicks this album off with a jamming, soulful groove.  Immediately following, Athas then crushes it on “Bluesville”, a beautifully performed heartbreaker.  Hope is the foundation of “Miracle”, a silky smooth R&B love song, delicately played with tasty hot guitar licks.  The funky bass line and trance-friendly beat in “On the Move” create the perfect atmosphere for Athas to let loose on his ’74 Stratocaster.  I could listen to this instrumental all day long.  And for a song that really makes an impression, “Survival” gets right to the core, as Athas paints a hellish picture of war, in Warren Zevon-esque bravado.  The monster cover of Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen” , however, is the cherry on top of the album.  I love this track right down to the glorious cow-bell intro.  This song is played loud and often.  The Essential Rocky Athas Volume II is a delectable album tailor-made for the blues enthusiast.     

For more information about Rocky Athas, visit his website,

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Mr. Rick - Sings About God + Booze

2015 – SOCAN
By Phillip Smith; Feb 13, 2016

Mr. Rick (aka Rick Zolkower) cleverly walks the line between sin and salvation in his latest release, Mr. Rick Sings About God + Booze.  This album presents a wonderful and nostalgic slice of Americana in thirteen delightful tracks.  Following in the footsteps of many of the earlier Grand Ole Opry performers, Mr. Rick can dole out a traditional gospel song as convincingly as he can sing out a hell-bent on self-destruction ditty.  His style of playing guitar is a pleasure to hear as well.

Each song can pretty much be categorized as either a ‘God’ song, or a ‘Booze’ song, and it’s so much fun to listen to them as they intertwine.  The transition from “It’s the Bottle Talking”, an ode to over-indulgence, effortlessly segues into a swinging cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s 1930 gospel song, “You’ll Need Somebody on Your Bond” about making ones way into heaven.  I can’t help but sing along to “I’ll Fly Away”, supposedly the most recorded gospel song of all time and Sister Rosetta Tharp’s bluesy classic “Two Little Fishes”. 

For an upbeat take on Eric Von Shmidt’s “Champagne Don’t Hurt Me”, Mr. Rick is joined by Drew Jurecka on fiddle, making this one such a big pleasure to hear.  Another favorite, Jerrey Irby’s “Drivin’ Nails in My Coffin”, has an uncanny knack for diggin’ right into my brain, only to become hopelessly stuck in my head. For the record, this is one I don’t mind bouncing around my skull.  

Who knew music about God and booze would be such a fantastic pairing?  Like sweet and salty, it just works, and it works splendidly.  Give this album a listen, and let Mr. Rick take you out on Saturday night and bring you to church the next day.   

Berdon Kirksaether & the Twang Bar Kings - The Voodoo Sessions

2015 – Roller Records
By Phillip Smith; Feb 13, 2016

The Voodoo Sessions - Live at Down Under from Norwegians Berdon Kirksaether & the Twang Bar Kings is a heady and psychedelic explosion of high-energy, guitar-centric blues-rock.  The four tracks on this EP shell out nearly twenty minutes of musical genius.  The music is indeed magnificent.  This furious foursome is composed of three founding members of CIA (guitarist/vocalist Berdon Kirksaether, drummer Roy Hanssen, and bassist Stein Tumert), along with guitarist/vocalist Erik Gabrielsen.   

“Mama Roll Over” is quick to sweep me off my feet with Kirksaether’s greasy blues riffs and powerful vocals. I love the cool unsettling beat Hanssen sets the mood with on “Some Kind of Voodoo”.  This ominous track conjures up images of a midnight stroll through backwoods Louisiana swampland.  The opening licks of “Mad House” are my cue to crank the volume up a notch.  The band plays this Robin Trower cover wonderfully and unbridled. Hanssen and Tumert keep “When the Moon is on the Rise” on track with a cool bass and drum rhythm while Kirksaether breaks out the gonzo with calculated guitar licks. His voice, laying somewhere in the zone between Bono and Jim Morrison, sounds great on this song.        

After listening to this EP a multitude of times, I am so ready to hear a full-length studio album.  In the meantime, I still have these four songs.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Sean Pinchin - Monkey Brain

2016 – FACTOR
By Phillip Smith; Feb 6, 2016

In 2014, Sean Pinchin’s release Rustbucket got him nominated for New Artist of the Year at the Maple Blues AwardsMonkey Brain, his latest album, recorded and co-written by Juno Award-winning producer Rob Szabo, is sure to grab him another nomination.  Joined by bassist Mark McIntyre, and drummer/percussionist Adam Warner, Pinchin delivers eight delicious tracks of uniquely blended rock and blues via catchy hooks and interesting riffs.

Pinchin breaks out some really groovy slide guitar celebrating the inner-primate lurking within, on title track anthem “Monkey Brain”.  “I Can’t Stand It” has an uncanny way of really digging into the subconscious.  The infectious grooves running through this one is reminiscent of Billy Squier’s early music.  Things get bluesy and nicely swampy in “Charity Case”.  Pinchin then takes a slight turn toward country-blues as he masterfully performs “Monster”, a rustic and rootsy delight. The album closes out strongly with “Get Burned”, a melodic track with a vibrant pulse.     

Monkey Brain is a fun listen from start to finish, making it a sure-fire hit.   

Sonny Knight and the Lakers live @ Campbell Steele Gallery 2/5/16

By Phillip Smith; Feb 6, 2016

It doesn’t get much better than witnessing a live performance of Sonny Knight and the Lakers.  This seven piece ensemble, from Minneapolis, doled out four astonishing sets of hot rhythm and blues at the Campbell Steele Gallery in Marion, Iowa.  The Lakers warmed up the audience with an instrumental set before Sonny took the stage and broke out the funk with “Caveman”.  There was so much energy flowing through the musicians, it was electric, to say the least.  Eric Foss, the drummer and co-founder of the band was on fire, giving a stellar performance on “Boogaloo”.  I couldn’t help but think of the late great Otis Redding when Sonny soulfully sang “When You’re Gone”.  This was a beautiful performance indeed.  I loved their cover of the Beatles’ “Day Tripper”. It was so full of life.  Other stand-out songs included “Juicy Lucy”, “Sugarman”, and “Sock A Poo Poo”, each of which put a big smile on my face as well.  I am totally on-board with Sonny Knight and the Lakers, and anxiously await the next time they swing by this neck of the woods.

* All Photos by Phillip Smith

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Balkun Brothers - Balkun Brothers

2015 – Dixiefrog Records
By Phillip Smith; Jan 30, 2016

The new self-titled album from the multi-award winning Balkun Brothers is simply put, electric, incredible and rocking.  Hailing from Hartford, Connecticut, The Balkun Brothers consists of guitarist/vocalist Steve Balkun, and his younger brother, drummer/vocalist Nick Balkun.  Balkun Brothers contains a dozen ripping white-hot blues-rock songs produced by one of my favorite blues guitarists, the amazing Popa Chubby.   

From the get-go, the Balkun Brothers hit the ground running full speed with “Been Drivin’”, serving hard-nosed blues with a heart-racing delivery. This song gets the adrenalin flowing like the Mississippi.  They keep that energy going in “I Know What Ya’ Did”, and “She Got it All”, both full of catchy riffs and swampy slide guitar.  I get totally swept away in “Control Yourself”, and love the Zeppelin-esque vibe present in “Cold Heart”.  The only cover song on the album, Johnny Winter’s “Mean Town Blues” is a sheer delight.  Steve keeps it rolling on guitar as Nick keeps it tumbling with a cool hypnotic beat.  The album closes with the sweetly performed, acoustic selection “Rainy Day Front Porch Blues”.  Background audio of passing cars on a wet street add a nice touch of authenticity.          
This fantastic album from the Balkun Brothers is brilliantly penned and has everything going for it.  It is destined to be one of this year’s favorites.  

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Crooked Eye Tommy - Butterflies & Snakes

2015 – Plano Road Publishing

By Phillip Smith; Jan 23, 2016

Crooked Eye Tommy, a newer blues band making the scene in Southern California has been turning heads since representing the Santa Barbara Blues Society at the 2014 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee and making it to the semifinals.  The band consists of guitarist/vocalist Tommy Marsh, his brother, guitarist/vocalist Paddy Marsh, bass player Glade Rasmussen, drummer Tony Cicero, and multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Calire.  Their debut album, Butterflies & Snakes is a hot mix of roadhouse blues featuring eleven original tracks.

“Time Will Tell” is soulful blues with stellar guitar riffs and tasty B-3 accompaniment from Calire.  This leads into another favorite, “Tide Pool”, an outstanding track I could listen to all day.  It’s mellow and floaty essence feels so good to the ears.  The funk is let loose on “Love Divine”, as they tear it up on guitar and vox.  This one sounds really good.  Love ballad “Over and Over” is beautifully performed.  Calire breaks out the heat on saxophone and when background singer Becca Fuchs steps to the mic, it gets even hotter.           

Crooked Eye Tommy delivers a solid album of blues with a dabble of this and that thrown in for good measure.  In addition to the really interesting music on Butterflies & Snakes, the cover art by Mike Lemos stands out as a definitely favorite as well.     

Southpaw Steel ‘n’ Twang - Stat(u)e of Mind

2015 – Bafe’s Factory
By Phillip Smith; Jan 23, 2016

Stat(u)e of Mind , Southpaw Steel ‘n’ Twang’s fourteen track follow-up to their Hales Pleasure Railway album, sports even more innovative instrumentals than its predecessor.  I love the way their music takes a step off the beaten path to dissipate the boundary between Bluegrass and Jazz.  This innovative trio from Helsinki, Finland consists of guitarist Ville “Lefty” Leppänen (Micke Bjorklof & Blue Strip), drummer Tero Mikkonen, and bassist JP Mönkkönen.  In September 2015, the band recorded Stat(u)e of Mind at Firebrand Recording Studio in St. Louis, Missouri, after accepting an invitation to perform at the 2015 International Steel Guitar Convention.

Mikkonen beautifully performs the opening song, “Gateway”, on ukulele.  Clocking in at just a smidge over a minute in length, this Hawaiian flavored appetizer makes for a lovely intro for the rest of the album.  Leppänen breaks out some fantastic swampy guitar licks on “Aloha Garage”.  This is one of my absolute favorites.  “Route 68” has a cool jazzy character.  Mikkonen and Mönkkönen keep the rhythm hip as Leppänen lets loose with an outstanding avant-garde performance.  Leppänen sets a melancholy mood for the lovely “Almost Too Beautiful” before taking me by surprise with “Duel”.  Without words, this instrumental is still able to tell a story.  The listener is marched in to this Latin infused masterpiece with a flurry of spaghetti-western/surf guitar.  The song takes an unexpected and marvelous turn the moment the horns pop.  This is such a killer track.  I like to think of the closing song, “Sergio” as a fantastic tribute and homage to legendary film director Sergio Leone and the man who scored the lion’s share of his films, composer Ennio Morricone.  The Morricone influence certainly shows.

It's really fresh to hear a band like Southpaw Steel ‘n’ Twang share their unique brand of music and captivating compositions.  Stat(u)e of Mind is abundantly full of character and a delightful listen.   

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Karen Lovely - Ten Miles of Bad Road

2015 – Kokako
By Phillip Smith; Jan 16, 2016

Ten Miles of Bad Road , the fourth album from Portlander Karen Lovely, boasts thirteen magnificently performed original songsHer extraordinary vocals are beautiful and lush as she delivers the blues in her own unique style.  For this recording, Lovely is backed by a five-star list of LA studio musicians, of which include guitarists Johnny Lee Schell and Alan Mirikitani, pianist/organist Jim Pugh, bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson, and drummer Tony Braunagel.

I absolutely love “Company Graveyard” with its ominous bassline and anti-establishment lyrics.  Lovely’s commanding vocals ring out with power and clarity, which make me immediately think of the Pretender’s Chrissie Hynde.  “Better Place” is another big favorite.  Schell plays this one nice and swampy.  “I Want to Love You” is such a beautiful love song.  Lovely’s angelic vocals softly flow as Pugh eloquently backs her up on piano.  I really like the rootsy vibe to Lovely’s performance on “Low Road”.  Mirikitani, guitar in hand, serves up a bit of Texas-style blues on this song while Pugh stirs a little funk into the mix with his B3.     

One listen to Ten Miles of Bad Road, is all it takes to conclude that Karen Lovely is way ahead of the curve when it comes to vocal artistry and songwriting.  This album is definitely one that should be heard.       


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Chris O’Leary - Gonna Die Tryin’

2015 – American Showplace Music
By Phillip Smith; Jan 16, 2016

Gonna Die Tryin’, the fourth album from singer/song-writer/blues harpist extraordinaire, Chris O’Leary digs its claws in deep and pulls the listener right in.  O’Leary delivers eleven tracks of original smokin’ hot blues with the help of his band, guitarist Chris Vitarello, tenor saxophonist Andy Stahl, baritone saxophonist Chris Difrancesco, bassist Matt Raymond, and drummer Jay Devlin.

One of the things I admire about O’Leary is the fact that he seems to puts as much thought into his lyrics as he does his music.  When his music takes that slight turn to the dark side, and he just lets loose on that voice of his, I’m immediately reminded of music fave, Tom Waits.  I love Vitarello’s tangy blues riffs and Bruce Katz’s barrelhouse piano on the lead track, “Can’t Help Yourself”.  O’Leary’s badass gravelly vocals and stellar harp playing lead the way on title track “Gonna Die Tryin’”, a killer track with a hell of a lot of soul.  Vitarello’s suave and tasty guitar licks are greeted by Katz’s groovy keyboard finesse on this one.  I dig the horns and funky rhythm on “Hook Line and Sinker”.  This tune seemingly pays homage to that sweet Memphis soul music which came out of Stax Records in the Sixties. The track is very nice indeed.     

I’m pretty much knocked out by this album.  It’s surely one of my favorite releases this year.   

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Heather Crosse - Groovin’ at the Crosse Roads

Heather Crosse   

Groovin’ at the Crosse Roads

2015 – Ruf Records

By Phillip Smith; Jan 9, 2016 

There’s always been some damn good music pouring out of the Mississippi Delta, and the spigot is far from being turned off.  Caught in that wave of music is Heather Crosse‘s magnificently bodacious rocking blues band, Heavy Suga’ & the Sweetones.  Formed in Hot Springs, Arkansas in 2007, Crosse moved the band to Clarksdale, Mississippi in 2008.  Groovin’ at the Crosse Roads is eleven tracks of boogie-laced blues produced by non-other than multi-Grammy Award winner Jim Gaines.  With Crosse taking on lead vox and bass in the band, she is joined by guitarist Dan Smith, drummer Lee Williams, and Mark Yacovone on piano/keys.    

Crosse hooks me quick with her sultry performance of “My Man Called Me”.  Smith’s guitar licks and Yacovone’s piano prowess solidifies this intoxicating mix of swing and electric blues. I love their funky cover of Clarence “Blowfly” Reid’s 1974 sexy B-side “Rockin’ Chair”.  Slathered in a laid-back Seventies vibe, this wonderful throwback conjures up visions of big collars and flare jeans.  Crosse adds just the right amount of rasp as she takes on Big Mama Thornton’s powerful classic “You Don’t Move Me No More”.  Not only does Crosse nail the vocals, but Yacovone’s piano performance shines brightly, reminding me a bit of the “Killer”, Jerry Lee Lewis.  This one is fun indeed.              

Simply put, Groovin’ at the Crosse Roads is a delightful 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.

Ebony Jo-Ann - Please Save Your Love For Me

2015 – Blackgold Production Co.
By Phillip Smith; Jan 9, 2016

As I listen to the debut album, Please Save Your Love For Me, from Ebony Jo-Ann, I wonder why this phenomenal singer is just now coming into my awareness.  Whatever the reason, I’m so glad this album journeyed my way.  Produced by Danny Kean, who Ebony Jo-Ann first crossed paths with at Ashford & Simpson’s Sugar Bar in New York City, the album delicately delivers some of the most soulful blues I’ve heard.

Ashford & Simpson penned song “Just Rain” begins the music journey with nightclub blues at its best.  The sassy vocal stylings of Ms. Jo-Ann and bluesy guitar licks from Mark Bowers sound so sweet against the stellar horn section.  The Percy Mayfield classic “Send Someone to Love”, is a beautiful piece.  Kean pours a ton of soul into his piano performance as he also joins Ms. Jo-Ann on vocals, making this timeless classic a hip and cool duet.  Another favorite, “Burning World”, preaches enlightenment and empowerment to save our burning world.  Ms. Jo-Ann’s vocals are smooth and powerful as Bowers delivers a smoking guitar performance.   

Ebony Jo-Ann has definitely got it going on with this ten track album, which also boasts splendid covers of blues classics Bumble Bee Slim/Eddie Miller’s “Muddy Water” and Memphis Sheiks’ “Sitting on Top of the World”.  This is about as good as it gets.

For more information on Ebony Jo-Ann, visit her website at:

Saturday, January 2, 2016

John McKinley - Window on the World

2015 – John McKinley
By Phillip Smith; Jan 2, 2016


There is some quite amazing music coming from New Mexico guitarist John McKinley on his debut release, Window on the World.  This twelve track album consists of all original songs laced with Texas blues, Prog-Rock, Jazz, and Latin music.  Joining McKinley is his son, bassist Darius McKinley, and drummer Ben Rollo.   

“Dirty Nails” rocks the Blues with down and dirty, smoking hot guitar licks. This instrumental, clocking in at less than two and a half minutes packs a hell of a lot of punch.  I’d love to hear an extended version of it.  McKinley kills it on the psychedelic power-punch “Stratitude”.  This is an absolute mind-melting instrumental with a bass-line reminiscent of the one on Frank Zappa’s “Muffin Man”.    I absolutely love the spirit-lifting Latin sounds of “Cuando Yo Me Voy (I’m Outta Here)”.  Rollo’s intoxicating beats and Darius’ funky rhythm on this stellar track immediately puts me in a dancing mood.  McKinley, again shows how deep his talents run on beautifully played “Ontarion Song” which transcends from New Age to swampy blues in an unexpected blink of an eye.  This one is perfectly played.

The music on Window on the World is exceptional and most interesting, and I am definitely going to keep my eyes and ears open for new offerings from John McKinley's band. 


For more information on the John McKinley band, visit his website at

Friday, January 1, 2016

Brass Transit Authority - NYE 2015 @ The Longbranch, Cedar Rapids, IA

All Photos by Phillip Smith - 2005

Brass Transit Authority played to a full house at the Longbranch in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on New Years Eve, making it one of the hottest spots in town to spend the evening.  Known for their spot on covers from bands such as Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears, and Van Morrison, BTA brought their "A-Game" and rocked the house.   

Robert Wallace

Robert Wallace & Matthew Driscoll

Robert Wallace & Matthew Driscoll

Denny Redmond

Matthew Driscoll & Dennis Pedde

Pat Smith

Pat Smith

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Mike Zito & the Wheel - Keep Coming Back

2015 – Ruf Records
By Phillip Smith; Dec 26, 2015


Mike Zito is quickly becoming one of my favorite songwriters.  His lyrics have a way of connecting with the working class, and the music to which they are delivered is a splendid dose of rock, blues, and Americana. The Wheel consists of a stellar group of musicians: bassist Scot Sutherland, pianist Lewis Stephens, saxophonist Jimmy Carpenter, and drummer Rob LeeKeep Coming Back contains ten magnificently written and performed originals along with a ripping cover of Bob Seger’s “Out of Denver” and a funky take on CCR’s “Bootleg”.   

Stephens and Carpenter dole out tasty barrelhouse piano and rocking sax on title track “Keep Coming Back” as Zito kicks out the jams on guitar.  This one is one big ball of bluesy fun. 
I love easing into the day, listening to “Early in the Morning” on my way to work.  Zito’s raspy vocals remind me a lot of Rod Stewart's.

A true master at telling stories through this music, Zito delivers the goods with “Girl From Liberty”, which takes a closer look at the grim underbelly of dysfunctional family life.  This song sits atop my list of favorites.  Zito then digs deep inside his soul to share the destruction and aftermath resulting from his battles with addiction, in the heart wrenching “I Was Drunk”.  There’s an anxious energy surrounding “Cross the Border”, a chaotic tale of reckless abandon.  It surely leaves me hanging on the edge of my seat as the story unfolds.    

Whether he’s performing his own songs, or one of the covers, Zito keeps it real and keeps it interesting.  That’s what I love about his music.    


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Johnny I. - All Star Blues Revival

2015 – JIB Music
By Phillip Smith; Dec 19, 2015


Johnny I. is Connecticut-based singer/songwriter/guitarist John Ingrassia, and this guitar-slinging bluesman has enlisted a few very well-known and very well-respected friends in the music industry to join him in the recording of All Star Blues Revival, a terrific three track EP that packs a lot of punch.  

Mixed by non-other than the legendary producer, Jim Gaines, the laid back and cool “Late Night”, ventures into the realm of psychedelic blues with Johnny I’s groovy guitar licks and the lush B3 sounds of the great Bruce Katz.  But wait, there’s more: Jaimoe (Allman Brothers) delivers the beats and Tommy Shannon (SRV Double Trouble) the bass, making for a killer performance.  “Avery’s Tune” features Blind Melon’s Glen Graham on drums with Brad Smith mixing. Ingrassia plays his heart out and Graham wails on the drums. This tune truly jams. A fun and funky rhythm drives “Life is Better (2nd Time Around).  On this one, Ingrassia enlists Billy Cox (Jimi Hendrix Experience), drummer Chris Layton (SRV Double Trouble) and Reese Wynans(SRV Double Trouble) for this true all-star jam, also mixed by Gaines.   

All Star Blues Revival is a huge winner in my book.  Three songs are just not enough though. I want more.      

Jay Jesse Johnson - Set the Blues on Fire

2015 – Grooveyard Records
By Phillip Smith; Dec 19, 2015

Set the Blues on Fire, Jay Jesse Johnson’s latest album does indeed set the Blues on fire.  This album is fully-loaded with a dozen outstanding original blues songs delivered by one of the most bodacious guitar players around.  Johnson surrounds himself with great talent as well.  Joining him is bassist Reed Bogart, drummer Jeff “Smokey” Donaldson, and keyboardist Lee Evans, making one tight as hell band.     

Johnson jump-starts the ride with full force, delivering a magnificent no-holds-barred performance on “Hell or High Water”.  I get charged when the title track “Set the Blues on Fire” kicks in.  This one is red hot and flawless. “Ace in the Hole” is an intriguing boat load of fun.  Donaldson’s killer beats and Bogart’s deliciously funky bassline set a perfect environment for Johnson to let loose and jam.  Another head-turning favorite, “Don’t Mess with My Baby” is a badass song doused in Texas blues and infused with funk.  I love the rollicking and gritty “Wheelhouse Boogie”.  It’s “roadhouse blues” at its best.

Jay Jesse Johnson has surely got it going on.  Set the Blues on Fire is the real deal and I highly recommend.  

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Josh Smith - Over Your Head

2015 – Joshfrost Music BMI
By Phillip Smith; Dec 12, 2015


Josh Smith’s 2012 release, Don’t Give Up On Me was terrific.  His latest album, Over Your Head is even better.  The lineup of his band remains the same, with Smith dishing out copious amounts of electrified blues on guitar, alongside bassist Calvin Turner and drummer Lemar Carter.

“How Long”, a killer track about slowly being pushed over the edge, gets the show going very nicely.  Carter tears it up on drums, while Smith delivers thick bluesy hooks and a phenomenal session of shred.  There’s even more exquisite guitar on the bad-ass and catchy “Smoke and Mirrors”. The song begs to be played loud.  Another track best played loudly is “First Hand Look (at Down and Out)”.  Guitarist Chicco Gussoni lays down some delicious licks that are pure candy for my ears. 

Smith doesn’t skimp when it comes to special guests.  Joe Bonamassa sits in on the killer title track, “Over Your Head” for an outstanding performance.  Smith’s gravelly and soulful vocals sound so good on this one.  Kirk Fletcher from the Mannish Boys gets his groove on in the funky instrumental with an old school Bar-Kays vibe, “… And What”.  This one is just plain fun.  “You’ll Find Love”, features the legendary Charlie Musselwhite on harp. This is blues at its best. 

Smith inserts power and perfection into each and every song, making Over Your Head such a delightful listen from beginning to end.  Needless to say, this album is definitely going down as one of my favorites of the year.   

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Jennifer Westwood and the Handsome Devils - Greetings From This Town

2015 – Jennifer Westwood and the Handsome Devils
By Phillip Smith; Dec 5, 2015


I have nothing but good things to say about Detroit band, Jennifer Westwood and the Handsome Devils.  Their debut album Greetings From This Town is an intoxicating Memphis-meets-Nashville blend of rock, blues, and country.  Lead vocalist Jennifer Westwood is joined by guitarist Dylan Dunbar, bassist Jeremy Mackinder, pianist/organist Jarrod Champion, and drummer Matt Stahl.

Westwood’s sultry yet powerful vocals instantly draw me in on “Bad Luck Charm” a rockin’ track sweetened by Dunbar with luscious guitar licks.  I’m quite drawn to “Living on the Fringe”, a relatable country song about just getting through the day.  Westwood has such a pretty voice; it reminds me a lot of Linda Ronstadt, especially on this track.  “Nobody’s Business” is one cool as hell post-break-up song.  Champion lays down some ominous chords on the organ while Dunbar serves up a funky dose of cowboy surf guitar.  

Westwood and the Handsome Devils put their own spin on R.L. Burnside’s “Skinny Woman” with “Redneck Man”.  Westwood and Dunbar nail this duet to the tree as they belt the song out with conviction and true grit.  Dunbar dishes out a magnificent guitar performance on this one too.   Other stand-out covers include Eddie Rabbit’s “Driving My Life Away” and the Stones bluesy classic from their Exile on Main Street album “Ventilator Blues”.

There’s something magical about Greetings From This Town.  It is an absolutely wonderful listen and music for the rustic soul.