Sunday, June 19, 2016

Voice of Cedar Lake live at Irish District Music and Arts Festival 6/18/16

Cedar Rapids, Iowa
By Phillip Smith; June 19, 2016

Blue skies and warm weather set the perfect stage for a day of music and relaxation at the seventh annual Irish District Music and Arts Festival, which took place on June 18th.  The Voice of Cedar Lake, composed of guitarist Craig Erickson, vocalist Alicia Strong, bassist John Hall, keyboardist Tom T-Bone” Giblin, and drummer Jon Wilson took the stage first, opening up for the great Eric Gales

Erickson kicked things off with one of my favorite songs from his Sky Train Galaxy album, “Mojo in Memphis”.  Soon afterwards the band broke out the funk and tore into a groovy performance of Rufus and Chaka Kahn’s “Tell Me Something Good”.  Strong’s vocals were powerful and perfect.  Strong belted out more sweet and soulful vocals as the band doled out a rousing cover of Buddy Mile’s “Them Changes”.  I loved the bluesy spin they put on the Bob Marley classic “No Woman No Cry”, as well as the clever mash-up with the Five Stairsteps’ 1970 top-ten hit “O-o-h Child”.  Delbert McClinton’s “Standing on Shaky Ground” was a real treat, highlighted by an outstanding performance by Hall on his seven string bass, and Giblin on organ.  Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” immediately followed, keeping the groove afloat and the audience on cloud nine. 

Watching these musicians in action makes me proud to live in a community which not only has a wealth of great talent, but through appreciation of live music, is able to retain these talented artists we get so much enjoyment from.         

All Photos by Phillip Smith

Craig Erickson

Craig Erickson / John Hall

John Hall

Craig Erickson

John Hall / Tom 'T-Bone' Giblin

Alicia Strong

Alicia Strong

Jon Wilson

Voice of Cedar Lake

Alicia Strong

Craig Erickson

Craig Erickson / Alicia Strong

John Hall

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Dylan Wickens & The Grand Naturals - Hi Lo-Fi

2015 – Dylan Wickens & The Grand Naturals
By Phillip Smith; June 18, 2016

Hi Lo-Fi, the wonderfully bluesy sophomore release from Dylan Wickens and The Grand Naturals is a delightful listen. This rockin’ trio from Ontario consists of guitarist Wickens, drummer Al Webster(Jeff Healey, Colin James), and bassist Dennis Pinhorn(Downchild).  

There’s a cool little SRV vibe going on “Love & Lust”.  It’s fun, funky and infectious.  “Run Sister” gets down and dirty, with intense grooves fueled by fuzzy guitar riffs, and heaping dose of hot harp from Tortoise Blue.  I love the retro blues sound of “Calamity Jane”.  The organ accompaniment from Blue adds a nice touch too.  By the time “Fall Apart” comes around, I’m jamming out in full force.  This psychedelic treat is a powerhouse.  Another favorite, “Rock Bottom” is slathered in heavy electric blues with a strong Hendrix influence. It is almost trance-inducing. Wickens also delivers a big mess of bodacious slide in the cover of “In My Time of Dying”.  It is grand.

This is an album I could listen to all day long.  Hi Lo-Fi is a sure-fire winner.   

for more info about Dylan Wickens & the Grand Naturals, visit their website...

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Bill Durst - Good Good Lovin

2015 – Durstwerks
By Phillip Smith; June 11, 2016

Good Good Lovin, the latest from Canadian bluesman Bill Durst (Thundermug), is one hell of a treat.  With bassist Joe DeAngelis and drummer Corey Thompson at his side, Durst is serving up some of the tastiest Texas-style guitar blues and boogie I’ve heard.  The album features nine original kick-ass tracks co-written by Durst and DeAngelis, of which most sport a strong ZZ Top vibe.

The music hits the ground running with title track “Good Good Lovin”.  Durst dishes out fuzzy riffs and groovy licks as this infectious song races along, hammering the listener’s adrenal glands into submission.  “Got Love” keeps the energy levels high with call-backs to early Led Zeppelin.  Durst’s gravelly vocals sound so cool as he’s ripping it up on guitar in the outstanding power shuffle “King Snake Prowl”.  His slide guitar on “Heaven Heaven” sounds mighty sweet too. 

I could listen to Durst play guitar all day long and not tire. Good Good Lovin is an instant favorite which needs no time to warm up to.  Fans of ZZ Top should strongly consider picking a copy of this album up.

For more info on Bill Durst, visit his website

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Peter Kelly - Don’t Let Me Be Alone

2015 – Peter Kelly Music
By Phillip Smith; June 4, 2016

Rich poppy melodies and dark poignant lyrics are the focus of Peter Kelly’s album Don’t Let Me Be Alone.  The ten original songs from this New York singer/songwriter are smart and all beautifully performed by Kelly himself.  “Live The Dream” sweetly ushers the listener in with lush vocals and swirling rhythms. Following is the quirky anthem for codependents ”Don’t Let Me Be Alone”, in which Kelly keeps things flowing with contagious hooks. Irony is king in “Suicidal”. This upbeat ditty about cloaking suicidal thoughts with fake smiles is infectious and clever. It is one of my favorites.   Kelly blends rap and pop, topped off with melodic vocals, for “Tailwind (It’s a Beautiful Day)”, a song I love to start the day with.

Don’t Let Me Be Alone is a terrific listen from beginning to end, and comes highly recommended.    

Reverend Freakchild - Illogical Optimism

2016 – Treated and Released Records
By Phillip Smith; June 4, 2016

For those looking for a new spiritual leader, I’d like to recommend the good Reverend Freakchild.  His latest album, Illogical Optimism is three discs of musical fun.  The first disc is Odds, Ends and Other Amazingness.  It features fifteen blues and boogie-laced tracks that make me grin from ear to ear.  The second disc, Everything is New, contains a dozen stand-out remixes of Freakchild’s own “Everything is New”.  Lastly, the third disc is called Kairos, and contains acoustic gospel blues songs from a former Florida preacher who goes by the name of Ramblin’ Jennings

The Rev interestingly gives John Lennon’s “Imagine” the Lou Reed treatment.  This is one cool track indeed.  The good times roll as he takes on the Meters’ bayou-boogie classic ”Hey Pocky A-Way”.  I love Freakchild’s rendition of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s look at mortality, “See That My Grave is Kept Clean”.  This one stellar blues song. Freakchild brings the first disc to a close with a splash of weirdness and creativity in the gonzo inspired “Plastic Jesus Working On a Building”, which uses the traditional songs “Plastic Jesus” and “Working On a Building” as bookends to contain a myriad of random sounds and song-bits.   

On disc number two, in which all the tracks are variants of the same song, Freakchild is careful to give each track a unique and distinct sound.   Drummer Chris Parker lays down a trippy beat for Freakchild to break the funk out ala George Clinton style in my favorite track, “Once Upon a Time Called Right Now”.  I also really like the hillbilly version “Alla Gotta Na’” too.  Co-producer Sal Paradise lends his breath and harmonica as the Rev breaks out the banjo.  For the multi-linguist, Freakchild also includes both French and German versions.   

The third and final disc features eight tracks from a different reverend.  Armed with just a guitar and harmonica, Ramblin’ Jennings shares the gospel by playing the blues, and he does it with a lot of heart, soul, and authenticity.  Stand-out songs include”Safe in the Storm”, “I Saw A Wheel”, and “Silver Sandals”.

Give the Reverend Freakchild a listen. You will not be disappointed.  

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