Saturday, July 9, 2016

Wooden Nickel Lottery - Down the Line

2016 – Violet Isle Records
By Phillip Smith; July 9, 2016

There’s something kind of special about Wooden Nickel Lottery’s latest album, Down the Line.  The songs take me back to the late Seventies, when rock music relied on well-written songs, and radio stations still played a mix of genres.  That’s exactly what these Eastern Iowa musicians have to offer, as they skillfully combine splashes of rock, blues, country, funk and soul to create their own special blend of homegrown tunes.  The band is composed of lead vocalist/guitarist Rick Gallo, guitarist/tunesmith Rich Toomsen, bassist Jessica Toomsen, and drummer Delayne Stallman.

Gallo soulfully belts out “Can’t Be Wrong” with a power and smoothness which reminds me of Foreigner’s Lou Gramm.  I dig the funky bassline Jess lays down on “No Second Chances”.  It puts a smile on my face with every listen.  It’s easy to get lost in the bluesy melody on “Yesterday’s Rain”. It’s nice and slow, with an Allman Brothers vibe.  Hearing this one played live with an extended jam would be a treat for sure.  WNL kicks out the jams in hoedown fashion for a downright bodacious and intense instrumental, “Throw It Down”.  They keep the fire burning with the rocker “The Open Road”, staying on course with a driving beat from Stallman as Rich sweetly rips it up on guitar.   

For a cool-as-hell finale, the album closes out with a swampy homage to the working man in the track “Nickels and Dimes”.  Wooden Nickel Lottery scores big with Down the Line.  It is such an enjoyable album, I anxiously await their next.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Steve Hill- Solo Recordings Volume 3

2016 – No Label Records
By Phillip Smith; July 6, 2016

It’s no surprise Canadian musician Steve Hill has pulled down the 2015 JUNO Award for Blues Album of the Year, as well as Maple Blues Awards in 2014 and 2015 for Electric Act of the Year.  This man has it all going on with one of the best one-man band acts I’ve heard.  Hill attacks the blues with true grit as he pulls it all together accomplishing a magnificent feat in every one of his performances.  Solo Recordings Volume 3 follows up his JUNO nominated Solo Recordings Volume 1 and JUNO winning Solo Recordings Volume 2.  With Volume 3, Hill dishes up a dozen magnificent songs which resonate deeper with each and every listen.

“Damned” breaks loose with a wall of electric guitar fury alongside a driving beat.  One song in and already it’s hard to imagine this is one lone man with an arsenal of instruments.  Hill approaches “Still A Fool & A Rollin Stone” with intense focus, dishing out a performance which sounds like it came from someone who has been playing fifty years.  He shines on guitar as well as vocals, making this a no-holds-barred favorite.  In “Troubled Times”, Hill shows off his versatility and reminds us that not everything is pleasant.  The song is beautifully played.  When Hill tackles one of my favorite blues tunes, “Rollin’ & Tumblin / Stop Breaking Down”, I go to my happy place as soon as I hear the slide.  The man can sure play the blues.  That is a fact. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Albert Castiglia - Big Dog

2016 – Ruf Records
By Phillip Smith; June 25, 2016

I’ve always enjoyed hearing Albert Castiglia play the Blues, but there is something about his latest album, Big Dog, that grabs ahold of me and just latches on.  Castiglia surrounds himself with extremely talented musicians: bassist Scot Sutherland, drummer Rob Lee, and Lewis Stephens on keys & piano.  For the icing on the cake, Mike Zito also performs on guitar and produced the album as well. 

Castiglia enters the album guns-a-blazing, holding back nothing, lobbing immense and intense guitar licks as if grenades on a battlefield, in the monster opening track “Let the Big Dog Eat”.  Castiglia advises promising musicians that hard work is the key to success in the song, “Get Your Ass in the Van”.  He lays down lots of sweet killer slide guitar on this original track, while satirically making his point, singing “This ain’t no American Idol.  There ain’t no more deals being made at the cross-roads.”. Castiglia then goes deep on his four-star cover of Luther Allison’s “Drowning at the Bottom”.  I can feel the blues oozing from his pores as he beautifully plays this soulful tear-jerker. This is my absolute favorite.  Stephens’s organ performance adds a cool Allman Brothers vibe on “Let’s Make Love in the Morning”.  This soulful, feel-good song puts a smile on my face with every listen.             

Big Dog is so hot and electric; it is pretty much an instant classic.     

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Eric Gales - Concert Photos : Irish District Music & Arts Festival (Cedar Rapids, IA 6/18/16)

All photos by Phillip Smith

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.