Saturday, May 28, 2016

Sam Morrow - There Is No Map

2016 – Forty Below Records
By Phillip Smith; May 28, 2016

Sam Morrow’s debut album Ephemeral was one of my favorites of 2014, therefore, I was most curious to hear the new songs on his latest release There Is No Map.  As expected, the new album revealed to be another masterpiece.  With poetic beauty and brutal honesty, Morrow explores the not-so-glamorous gonzo journeys his modern-day outlaw life has taken.

The soulful boogie-laced tale of destitution and addiction in “Barely Holding On” is a sure-fire hit.  Like a freight train, the songs keep fearlessly rolling.  I get goose bumps when I hear “The Deaf Conductor”, written by the album’s producer Eric Corne.  Accompanied by the lush and beautifully textured sounds of a B3, this one has an instant familiarity to it.  I feel as if I’ve heard this song a hundred times before.  Then there’s the swirling, melancholy, country-flavored dirge “Green”, in which Morrow, like a burdened Buddha sings “The same old bullshit don’t make the grass green.”  This one is flawlessly and soulfully performed.  The eerie and ominous vibe woven into the wonderfully dark “Devil’s in the Details” are quick to grab my attention as well. The song is short, but sweet.

With two strong albums like these under Morrow’s belt, I already await the next.

For more info about Sam Morrow, check out his website...

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Charlie Faye & The Fayettes

2016 –  
By Phillip Smith; May 21, 2016

It’s about time someone took the bull by the horns to brush the dust off the classic girl group sound so embraced and adored in the Sixties.  Bringing that luscious sound to life again is Austin singer/songwriter Charlie Faye, who masterfully captures that carefree sound with eleven brand new original tracks.  Her backup singers, the Fayettes, BettySoo and Akina Adderley both have established and well-respected solo careers outside this charming trio.

Charlie Faye and the Fayettes start their debut album off with “Green Light”, a soulful and poppy feel-good treat about blossoming relationships. “Sweet Little Messages” walks the path between Motown and Memphis, dishing out beautiful harmonies peppered with Steve Cropper-like guitar licks.  There’s also a huge Stax sound on “Eastside” a lively dance-inducing track which draws attention to neighborhood gentrification.  This groovy track is definitely my favorite.

I love the combined sound of spaghetti-western surf guitar topped with the trippy psychedelic synth present on “Loving Names”.  It’s so hard to believe this is all brand new music.  When Faye sings “Coming Round the Bend” with her swirling and sugary sweet vocals, it sounds so good.  The song makes me feel nostalgic for the Phil Spector-produced Ronettes.    

It’s refreshing to hear a brand new take on a sound that’s been out of the spotlight for nearly forty years.  I would definitely like to see music of this style make a comeback.  It has been put away for far too long.  

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Blue Öyster Cult & April Wine - Live @ Riverside Casino, May 14, 2016

May 14, 2016 – Riverside, Iowa
By Phillip Smith; May 15, 2016

It was a great night for rock and roll as iconic rock legends Blue Oyster Cult and April Wine descended upon Riverside, Iowa to play a sold-out house at Riverside Casino.  Canadian rockers April Wine took the stage first, rolling the show out with “Anything You Want” off their 1982 Power Play album. The band is guitarist/vocalist Myles Goodwyn (the only remaining original member left), guitarist Brian Greenway (who has been with the band since 1977), bassist Richard Lanthier, and drummer Roy “Nip” Nichol.  After tearing through a very tight “Sign of the Gypsy Queen” and crowd favorite “Just Between You and Me”, they laid down the law with “21st Century Schizoid Man”.  It was heavy and delicious. Lanthier’s monster bass sounded so good alongside Myles Goodwyn’s mind-melting guitar.  Lanthier later delivered a killer bass solo on “Crash and Burn”.  Excitement filled the air as the opening riffs of “I Like to Rock” spill out.  Playing hard and heavy, the band was totally in sync and sounded very nice indeed.  Nichol peeled off a tremendous drum solo, part of which was barehanded.  It was quite impressive.  Winding things down, the guys played “Before the Dawn” and ended the show with “Roller”.  I loved the sound of the dual guitar on this one.  It was terrific. 

Blue Öyster Cult hit the ground running with a fabulous convergence of guitars on “The Red and the Black”.  Their two original members, front man/lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Eric Bloom, and guitarist Buck Dharma are joined by guitarist Richie Castellano, drummer Jules Radino, and bassist Kassim Sulton.  BOC delivered deeper cuts such as the medieval themed “Golden Age of Leather”, and the poppy “True Confessions” prior to cutting their way through a ripping and fantastically tight “Burning For You”.  From their self-titled 1972 album, we heard the hypnotically heady “Then Came the Last Days of May”.  The performance was mesmerizing and Dharma’s guitar was smoking.  Of course, no BOC concert would be complete without the rock and roll anthem “Godzilla”. Dharma played this iconic song with precision while Bloom’s vocals fell right into the pocket.  This was such a treat to hear. Without missing a beat, the set ended with a beautifully played “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, conjuring up memories of days gone by.  Just when the show was thought to be over, BOC returned for an encore, blessing the audience with one more song, “Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll”.  Sulton’s colossal bassline was played with true grit as this magnificent song and the evening ended with a barrage of guitar goodness.



by Phillp Smith

April Wine
May 14, 2016 : Riverside Iowa

Brian Greenway

Richard Lanthier

Myles Goodwyn

Brian Greenway

Myles Goodwyn

Brian Greenway

Myles Goodwyn
Myles Goodwyn, Richard Lanthier

Blue Oyster Cult
May 14, 2016 : Riverside Iowa

Eric Bloom

Eric Bloom & Buck Dharma

Eric Bloom

Richie Castellano

Kasim Sulton & Buck Dharma

Richie Castellano and Eric Bloom

Eric Bloom

Buck Dharma

Richie Castellano, Eric Bloom, Buck Dharma, and Kasim Sulton 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Lizanne Knott - Excellent Day

2016 – Proper Music  
By Phillip Smith; May 14, 2016

From the first listen of Lizanne Knott’s fourth and latest album, Excellent Day, I’ve been a little obsessed.  Knott’s lovely vocals beautifully accent her poignant and darkly-tinted lyrics with grace and precision.  Her music cleverly navigates the listener through a labyrinth built on rock and roll, folk and blues.     

Ross Bellenoit’s haunting guitar licks and Erik Johnson’s determined driving beat create the alluring yet unsettling and ominous mood which is the constant throughout “I Come For the Kill”.  This song of unbridled passion sets the tone for the rest of the album.  “Lay My Burdon Down” is one hundred percent blues through and through.  I love the presence of Steve Martin on banjo and Tom Hampton on lap steel guitar.  That, combined with a little call and response vocals, exquisitely solidifies this as a favorite.  

Things get sultry and spicy as Knotts sweetly sings the Bourbon Street-flavored tune “Not This Time”.  Trumpeter Stan Slotter steals a little bit of the spotlight on this track, which captures a fabulous performance by the band, made up of guitarist Kevin Hanson, upright bassist Ken Pendergast, pianist John Conohan , banjo player Glenn Barratt, Hampton on dobro and mandolin, and Johnson on drums.  The cover of the Gershwin penned “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from the folk opera Porgy and Bess, is a sheer delight.  Knott tackles “The Boss”, Bruce Springsteen as well, steering “Stolen Car” in more of a western and folky direction, making sure to keep the solemn texture of the original.     

Title track “Excellent Day” is a charming jam-friendly tribute to Knott’s longtime friend, guitarist Jef Lee Johnson, who passed away in 2013.  Pendergast’s funky bassline and Bellenoit’s tasty guitar licks are front and center of this boogie-laced number penned by Johnson.    

Sign me up for the fan club, as this is truly a fantastic album.  

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Ivor S.K. - Delta Pines

2016 – Ivor Simpson-Kennedy
By Phillip Smith; May 7, 2016

Delta Pines, the first release from Australian bluesman Ivor Simpson-Kennedy aka Ivor S.K. is a tantalizing taste of down-home acoustic guitar blues.  This album features five fresh and original tracks that absolutely shine. 

Engrossing lyrics and Ivor’s subtle guitar prowess on “Help Poor Me” pull me right into the album, and then the melodious and melancholy “Missus Green” carries me away.  Ivor’s raspy vocals are perfectly fitted for “I Like the Way”, a song that sounds at home in the Mississippi Delta.  Hearing the call-outs to Willie Dixon, Helena, King Biscuit, and Clarksdale on title track “Delta Pines” puts a big warm smile on my face. When it comes time to zone out and tune in, the go-to song is “Pelican”. This lush instrumental is absolutely beautiful.       

Although Delta Pines is a fairly short album, don’t let the size fool you.  It is indeed a very sweet one.   

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Tweed Funk - Come Together

2016 – Tweed Tone Records
By Phillip Smith; May 3, 2016

Give me some great tunes with a lot of soul and a fistful of funk, and I’ll be perched up in my cat-bird seat.  Spring will be ending soon, and I’ll be spending more time out on the deck jamming to a super-sized playlist built around the summer season.  Tweed Funk’s latest album, Come Together is surely on my list.  It has everything I like, including a smooth horn section and a retro-Sixties Memphis soul vibe.  This Milwaukee six-piece band is composed of lead singer Joseph “Smokey” Holman, guitarist JD Optekar, Eric Madunic on keys and bass, drummer Dave Schoepke, saxophonist Andrew Spadafora, and trumpeter Doug Woolverton.    

“Light Up the Night” is an excellent high-energy number to kick the album off with.  It really gets the blood pumping, with its ear-catching bassline, and infectious groove.  By the time the fun and funky instrumental “Who is This” rolls through, I’m looking all around for my dancing shoes.  The same goes with the sensational “Love Ain’t Easy”.  This one tears the roof off in style and puts an enormous smile on my face with its bodacious bassline, and dazzling horns.  

I just let the music soak in when I hear “Muse” and “Sweet Music” back to back.  Both are bathed in a delicious old-skool Stax soul sound, reminiscent of the Mar-KeysOptekar pours it on Steve Cropper-style, and of course, I can’t help but think of the Memphis Horns when Woolverton and Spadafora do their thing.  Holman’s silky and tender vocals bring great depth to the somber and beautifully written “Bullet”. It almost brings tears to my eyes.

Come Together has everything going for it.  Tweed Funk scores huge on this fantastic album.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Tasha Taylor - Honey For the Biscuit

2016 – Ruf Records
By Phillip Smith; Apr 24, 2016

Tasha Taylor, daughter of Stax legend, Johnnie Taylor has found her sweet spot for making music.  Her latest and third album, Honey For the Biscuit, is a wondrous cache of rhythm and blues with a whole lot of soul.  The core band she has put together is quite the ensemble.  It includes bassist Nathan Watts (Stevie Wonder), guitarists John Notto and Jon Taylor, pianist/keyboardist Don Wyatt, percussionist Mujungo Jackson, and Gerry Brown, Ronald Bruner and Stanley Randolph on drums.  In addition, Taylor utilizes a full brass section. 

The retro Motown vibe and lush sound of the horns in “Wedding Bells” quickly grab my attention.  Taylor’s voice gets sultry while Wyatt and Watts keep the rhythm in a borderline trans-inducing state, keeping me hypnotized for the duration of the song.  Taylor draws me in deeper with “Places I Miss”, a song about yearning to break free from a harmful relationship. 

A song that puts a smile on my face is the light and bluesy “Family Tree”, with special guest Keb Mo appearing, guitar and microphone in hand.  This eloquent ditty gets stuck in my head every time I hear it.  Keb is not the only special guest who appears on this album.  Robert Randolph sits in on the spirited “Little Miss Suzie” livening things up with his unique style on lap steel guitar.  In “Leave That Dog Alone”, Taylor tackles the Blues with full force, enlisting the fiery Samantha Fish, who gives a ripping performance on guitar.  Then, Taylor also shakes it on down with Tommy Castro, who lends vocals to the funky “Same Old Thing”.

According to Taylor, Honey For the Biscuit was three years in the making, and I believe it.  The writing and composition of each of the thirteen tracks are reflective of a whole lot of heart and soul. Taylor shines as songwriter and singer both.   

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Shaun Hague : Journeyman A Tribute to Eric Clapton - Live @ Campbell Steele Gallery : 4/22/16

Live @ Campbell Steele Gallery
April 22, 2016 – Marion, Iowa
By Phillip Smith; April 23, 2016

Friday, April 22, Chicago guitarist/vocalist Shaun Hague brought his captivating show, Journeyman - A Tribute to Eric Clapton, to Campbell Steele Gallery in Marion, Iowa.  Joining Hague onstage for this delightful retrospective is keyboardist Robert Monroe, bassist Brian Burke and drummer Andy Taylor.  In this sold-out show, Journeyman treated the audience to three sets of hits and deep cuts, making sure to cover every era of Clapton’s career.

Beginning with the Sixties, Journeyman hit the ground running with a killer cover of “White Room” which almost immediately gave me goosebumps. This was followed up with a riveting “Badge”.  Burke's sweet bassline cemented the intoxicating groove on “Sunshine of Your Love”, in which Hague and Monroe alternated vocals.  The band was in total synchronicity for this one.  Taylor’s drum solo was spectacular and was a definitely ‘Hell Yeah’ moment.  Hague doles out more smokin’ guitar grooves on Robert Johnson’s iconic classic “Crossroads” to end the first set.

Set two, featured songs from the Eighties and Nineties, where Journeyman hit on deep cuts, “Holy Mother”, and honky-tonk friendly “Alberta”.  After a jamming performance of “Pretending”, they brought onstage with them, guest guitarist Billy Satterfield. Watching Hague and Satterfield go toe-to-toe on Muddy Water’s “Hoochi Coochi Man” was phenomenal.  The dual guitar sounded terrific.  Monroe downright tore it up on keys, reminding me of a mad scientist at work.  His talent definitely runs deep.    

The third and final set covered the classic Clapton songs of the Seventies.  Taylor grabs another captivating drum solo on “Let it Rain”.  I love this song.  I haven’t heard it in a while, but it transports me instantly to the days of my youth.  Satterfield is invited onstage again to join the band for “Cocaine”, where they tendered another absolutely grand performance.  Electric and spacy, their rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” was an example of rock and roll at its best.  No Clapton tribute would be complete without “Layla”. This beautifully played song was the cherry on top, and ended the last set of the evening, bringing the walk down memory lane to a close.  It was a terrific night for music.    

All Photos by Phillip Smith

Shaun Hague

Robert Monroe

Shaun Hague

Brian Burke

Andy Taylor

Andy Taylor

Shaun Hague &  Brian Burke

Brian Burke

Brian Burke

Shaun Hague, Brian Burke, and Billy Satterfield

Shaun Hague & Billy Satterfield

Billy Satterfield

Robert Monroe

Robert Monroe

Shaun Hague

Shaun Hague

Shaun Hague & Billy Satterfield

Shaun Hague, Brian Burke, and Billy Satterfield

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Trysette - Feel So Pretty

2015 – Little Hartley Music
By Phillip Smith; Apr 13, 2016

Feel So Pretty, the fifth studio album by Australian singer/songwriter/pianist Trysette is quite a lovely album indeed.  It is melodically rich and beautifully performed.  A seasoned and most talented group of musicians was enlisted for this studio recording in Los Angeles.  Guitarist Randy Ray Mitchell (Donna Summer, Warren Zevon, Billy Bob Thornton), organist Bob Malone (John Fogerty), and drummer Mike Baird (Eddie Money, Rick Springfield, Joe Cocker, Journey) gel together so good as the backing band, as they mix elements of pop and country and rock creating a laid-back and feel-good sound.

Trysette sings about an unhealthy infatuation in “Under My Skin”, a song that is smooth as glass with catchy hooks.  This song appears again at the end of the album in a more intimate and stripped down presentation, with Trysette at the piano, Marty Rifkin on pedal steel and backing vocalist Karen Nash.   I really like title track “Feel So Pretty”. It has this really cool Julianna Hatfield vibe and is such a delight to hear. Of the dozen tracks on Feel So Pretty, all are original with the exception of one song; Snow Patrol’s 2006 hit single “Chasing Cars”. The string accompaniment from Sophie Delerue and Candy Girard are the perfect touch to this mesmerizing cover which showcases Trysette’s beautiful vocals.

Feel So Pretty is music for the soul on a rainy day.  Heartfelt from beginning to end, this enchanting album is a true gem.  

for more info on Trysette, visit her website @

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Mac Arnold and Plate Full O’ Blues - Give It Away

2015 – PFOB Music/Plantation #1 Productions
By Phillip Smith; Apr 9, 2016

This new album, Give It Away, from the legendary recording artist Mac Arnold is one big tasty bowl of traditional blues.  Alongside Arnold, is Plate Full O’ Blues, which consists of guitarist/vocalist Austin Brashier, Max Hightower (harmonica, keyboard, bass), and drummer Scotty Hawkins.  This band is the real deal, bringing solid performances to a baker’s dozen of terrific tunes, of which the lion’s share are original.

Arnold breaks out the gas can guitar on a few tracks, and it sounds doggone good.  The first of those, “Don’t Burn My Cornbread” brings a smile to my face each time I hear it.  According to the liner notes, the lyrics to this love song were sparked by an actual dinner time incident.  Things get even more interesting down at Max’s “Uncle Dewitt’s Café”, a popular little juke joint in the country where they would dance all night to a nickel jukebox.  Brashier plays this one very nicely. 

Hightower, harmonica in hand, gets “Damned If I Do” started with a nice dose of blues harp.  This one is slow-cooked Texas style, with hot guitar licks and sweet vocals.   I love the inspirational “Give It Away”.  This title track is so full of soul; one can’t help but resonate with its spirit.  Another song I find fantastic and heartfelt, is “How I Need You”.  Beautifully performed, I wish it was a little longer than two minutes in length.

Mac Arnold and Plate Full O’ Blues also give up a solid and soulful performance on Brook Benton’s “I’ll Take Care of You”, as well as a rollicking rendition of Jerry Reed’s swampy hit single “Amos Moses”.  This album is a treat for the ears and is definitely recommended for the serious blues fan.        

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Angel Forrest - Angel’s 11

2016 – Ad Litteram
By Phillip Smith; April 2, 2016

The latest album, Angel’s 11 by Quebec songstress Angel Forrest is quite a terrific record.  It features eleven original blues-laden tracks, each spotlighting a different guitarist to back Forrest’s powerful vocals. 

There’s something intriguing about the topic of dodging the law, when it comes to music and song.  That’s the hook in “Hangman”, featuring Johnny Flash on guitar.  This ripping track satisfies my craving for both blues-rock and outlaw country.  “Tumbleweed”, with Dimitri Lebel-Alexandre is another really cool song with that western vibe.  Forrest beautifully sings this heartfelt melody about longing for a lost love.    

“Spoil Me Up” is a sexy and soulful treat with a delightful horn arrangement.  Steve Strongman plays this one with precision. The lady sings the blues so good in “Let Me Go”, featuring Kim Greenwood on guitar.  Greenwood is a monster on the guitar, and when he lets loose, it sounds fantastic.  Forrest and guitarist Corey Diabo give an electric performance on the manic “Wildflower”.  While Forrest belts out a powerful delivery to “Touch Of My Hand”, axe-man Shane Murphy injects a heavy dose of psyche-blues for some really trippy results.

The other guest guitarists are Rob MacDonald, Ricky Paquette, Paul DesLauriers, Steve Hill, and Adam KarchAngel’s 11 is such a fantastic album, musically and lyrically, it definitely lands as one of my favorites of the year. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

R.B. Stone - Some Call it Freedom

2016 – Middle Mountain Music
By Phillip Smith; Mar 26, 2016

Veteran musician R.B. Stone brings a big ol’ plate of delicious downhome blues to the world via his new album and seventeenth project, Some Call it Freedom.  This eleven track album of all-originals is seriously great.  Stone takes on guitar, vocals and harmonica, while supported by Larry Van Loon on B3, B2 and piano, bassists Randy Coleman, Josh Fairman, and drummer Terrance Houston.    

I love the swampy slide guitar Stone plays throughout “Hill Country Stomp”, the first song out of the gate.  Howard kills it on drums, as he amps up this ramblin’ stomper.  Stone lays down more rippin’ guitar licks on title track “Some Call it Freedom”.  Stone’s fearless fuzzy licks are smoothly blended together with Loon’s brilliant piano boogie for “35 Miles to Mobile”, a definite stand-out track.  

Things get a little ominous and dark with “Another Thief”.  With Howard’s pseudo tribal Native American beat behind Stone’s wailing, both on guitar and vocally, this badass song rocks pretty damn hard.  “Nickajack”, although only two minutes long, keeps the energy flowing with plenty of swampy hill-country blues and fine picking.

My ears perk up even more when “Standin’ on Top of the World” kick in with harp playing that rivals that of John Popper.  This is a feel-good song for sure, and puts me in my happy spot when I hear it.

This album comes highly recommended to everyone who appreciates The Blues.

Janiva Magness - Love Wins Again

2016 – Blue Élan Records
By Phillip Smith; Mar 26, 2016

Janiva Magness’s latest album, Love Wins Again is a sheer delightful listen.  Delivering eleven outstanding tracks of soulful blues in her trademark grand fashion; Magness has just set the bar a little higher, ensuring this LP will be an instant favorite.

Title track “Love Wins Again” is so smooth and buttery it puts a big ole’ smile on my face each and every time I hear it.  The funk breaks out on “Real Slow” sporting contagious guitar riffs and a groovy bassline.  Sultry vocals on top of an infectious bluesy melody set the mood for “Moth to a Flame”.  Dim all the lights and grab your partner for a slow dance to Magness’ angelic voice on the dreamy “When You Hold Me”.  This one is really nice.       

There’s no shutting the party down when the turntable is spinning “Your House is Burnin’”.  This jamming masterpiece, about turning things around for the better, is loaded with hot guitar licks and a killer sax accompaniment. I love Magness’ interpretation of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s classic, “Long as I Can See the Light”.  It’s really magnificent. Now, if only we can arrange for this song to be recorded as a duet with her and John Fogerty

This stellar album is definitely one of my favorites this year. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Janiva Magness - Live @ Riverside Casino 3/19/16

March 19, 2016 – Riverside, Iowa
By Phillip Smith; Mar 20, 2016

Saturday, March 19, as part of their annual Tribute to Blues Weekend, Riverside Casino hosted the fabulous Janiva Magness for an evening of soulful blues.  Magness, who has won seven Blues Music Awards, and grabbed twenty-five blues award nominations, pulled down the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year Award in 2009.  Newest member of the band, guitarist Garret Deloian is a fresh addition, and sounds fantastic alongside the seasoned ensemble of drummer Matt Tecu , bassist Gary Davenport, and guitarist extraordinaire Zach Zunis.

Magness started the evening off with the very soulful “I Won’t Cry” and “Walkin’ in the Sun”.  Zunis peeled off a fantastic guitar solo on the beautifully sung “Say You Will”.  Janiva has such a special talent that allows her to connect to her audience. This was very much prevalent in the heartfelt selection “Doorway”, about love in the form of forgiveness. 

The audience was blessed to be treated to a heaping serving of songs off her brand new album, Love Wins Again.  When pre-ordering this new album, fans can get an extra three songs available nowhere else, via download.  These three tracks were spectacular. The ominous and mojo-infused “Sin Perfume” gave Deloian a beautiful podium to get his mojo on.  “I Don’t Hurt Anymore”, with its retro Nashville vibe, was downright amazing, and “I Can’t Let You Go”, not only had a fantastic guitar solo from Zunis, but the accompaniment from Davenport and Laug in the rhythm section was absolutely stellar.  I loved the cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Long as I Can See the Light”.  Deloian killed it on guitar and Magness’ vocals were exquisite.

It was a fine night of music indeed.

All Photos by Phillip Smith