Saturday, August 4, 2018

#345 : Bruce Katz Band - Get Your Groove!

2018 – American Showplace Music
Release Date :  July 20, 2018

By Phillip Smith; Aug. 4, 2018

I never tire of listening to the wonderful Bruce Katz performing his magic on the keys.  Whether playing with his own band or alongside greats such as Gregg Allman or Butch Trucks, Katz always brings his A-game. This album is no exception.  Get Your Groove is a treasure trove of keyboard-centric blues and jazz loaded with surprising and tasty jams.  With Chris Vitarello holding down the fort on vocals and guitar, Matt Raymond keeps the bassline going on half the tracks on bass.  Drums are supplied by Ray Hangen, with the highly-esteemed Jaimoe (Allman Brothers Band) joining him on three of them.

Hangen nicely rolls the album in with a quick cool beat to lead in “Hesitation Blues”.  The magnificent sound of B3 and a bluesy bassline is topped with Vitarello’s suave vocals and stellar guitar licks.  This track makes for a splendid opener.  “Freight Train” travels a more jazzy direction.  This cosmic instrumental, guided by the Hangen and Raymond is full of surprises and hands-down terrific. Vitarello shines brightly on guitar.

Katz blends acoustic piano with the swirling sounds of B3 on the beautiful and relaxed-paced instrumental “River Blues”.  Raymond lays down a sweet acoustic bassline which adds a deep layered tone to the song.  Another wonderful instrumental “Zone 3” is plumb buttery and saturated in blues. The performance is tight and smack dab right in the pocket.  I absolutely love it.

Rightfully named, Get Your Groove contains eleven tracks made to get your groove on.  It’s a fun one indeed.



Click below to read the PhillyCheeze review of : Bruce Katz Band - Homecoming  

Take a listen to the album on Apple Music, and if you decide to purchase it, use my special link.  This helps keep the PhillyCheeze site going.  

Click on the link below to purchase this terrific album from the PhillyCheeze Amazon store.   

Sunday, July 29, 2018

#344 : Vanja Sky - Bad Penny

2018 – Ruf Records
Release Date: Aug. 17, 2018

By Phillip Smith; July 28, 2018

Vanja Sky, one of the newest blues artists to join the Ruf Records family, takes no prisoners with her brand new album Bad Penny.  It was just five years ago, this former pastry chef from Croatia picked up a guitar, and in the moment, she knew that being a musician was her destiny.  Within two years, she was in a band touring Croatia, Slovenia, and Germany.

Recorded at Bessie Blue Studios in Statonville, Tennessee, and Studio Erde in Berlin, Germany, Bad Penny features Mike Zito on rhythm guitar, Terry Dry and Dave Smith on bass guitar, Matthew Johnson and Yonrico Scott on drums, and Lewis Stephens on piano/organ.  She also enlists the legendary Jim Gaines (Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana, Steve Miller, Miles Davis) to take on the tasks of engineering in Tennessee, along with Tobias Noethen who engineered the tracks recorded in Germany. 

Vanja rocks out on a killer cover of Rory Gallagher’s “Bad Penny” for the title track.  Her voice is strong and fearless.  Her guitar licks are terrific.  I get totally swept up in Zito’s outrageously infectious riffs.  The blues are smokin’ with lots of great slide on “Low Down and Dirty”, which includes Bernard Allison alongside Vanja and Zito.  It’s downright bodacious.  

Shining brightly as a songwriter as well, Vanja penned ten of the dozen tracks on the record.  Tender and poignant “Inside Pain” seems to float in mid-air in a beautiful performance.  She totally rips it up on “Give Me Back My Soul”, a Texas style blues rocker with a theme most familiar to blues enthusiasts. It’s a favorite indeed.  Like a Lucinda Williams tune, “Crossroads of Life” digs its fingernails in deep and packs a wallop of that great swampy sound of country blues. It’s brilliant.

Searing guitar licks along with Vanja’s amazing vocal stylings make Bad Penny one hot album, enjoyed start to finish with every listen.  Vanja is currently touring with Mike Zito and Bernard Allison on the Ruf Records Blues Caravan.  This is one show I don’t want to miss.      


Click on the link below to purchase this terrific album from the PhillyCheeze Amazon store.     

Saturday, July 21, 2018

#343 : Brother Dege - Farmer's Almanac

2018 – Psyouthern.Records
Release Date: June 1, 2018

By Phillip Smith; July 21, 2018

Farmer’s Almanac, the fourth full-length album from Louisiana native, Brother Dege Legg, is somewhat of a masterpiece.  Its eleven original tracks are slathered with attention-grabbing slide guitar, and razor-sharp lyrics.  Backing Brother Dege is The Bretheren, comprised of Kent Beatty on bass, and drummers Greg Travasos and Doug Belote.   

A surge of excitement traverses through “Country Come to Town”.  Dege’s magnificent finger picking shines while Travasos provides a steady heartbeat-like pulse.  Layers of instrumentation provide an enhanced sense of depth in “The Shakedown”.  The country blues slide and backdrop of dual drums makes this an amazing listen.      

The stories Legg tells with his songs are fantastic.  Outlaw blues ballad “Bastards Blues” is tension-filled and swampy.  Guest drummers Hawley Joe Gary (Spank the Monkey) and Eric Heigle (The Lost Bayou Ramblers) join drummer Doug Belote to help create the ominous atmosphere the song resides in.  Tightly woven prose and a beautiful hypnotic rhythm keep “The Moon & the Scarecrow” gingerly afloat as it softly builds to its climatic peak.    

The album is book-ended by a pair of Pink Floyd-esque instrumentals, “Partial to the Bitters” and “Partial to the Bitters Pt. 2”.   The later, a bit more infused with twang, sounds just as brilliant, nonetheless.  Farmer’s Almanac receives my highest possible recommendation.  It’s that great. 


Take a listen to the album on Apple Music, and if you decide to purchase it, use my special link.  This helps keep the PhillyCheeze site going.  

Click on the link below to purchase this terrific album from the PhillyCheeze Amazon store.     

Sunday, July 15, 2018

#342 : North Liberty Blues & BBQ Festival - July 14, 2018

Centennial Park
North Liberty, Iowa 
All photos by Phillip Smith; July 14, 2018

Good fortune was with all in attendance of the 2018 North Liberty Blues & BBQ festival, as most prepared for somewhat of a rainy day.   The rain staved off, the crowd poured in, and the sun burned bright, reaching temperatures of 85 degrees.  The barbecue was great and the music, which consisted of The Tanya English Band, Avey Grouws Band, Kevin Burt, The Diplomats of Solid Sound, and Fantastic Negrito, was outstanding.  

* All Photos by Phillip Smith

The Tanya English Band

The Avey Grouws Band

Kevin Burt and the Corridor

The Diplomats of Solid Sound

Fantastic Negrito

Friday, July 13, 2018

#341 : Michael Buffalo Smith - Makin’ it Back to Macon

2018 – Dreaming Buffalo Music

By Phillip Smith; July 13, 2018

Makin’ it Back to Macon follows closely on the heels of his recent EP The Austin Sessions, released earlier this Spring.  The “Ambassador of Southern Rock” and founder of Kudzoo Magazine Michael Buffalo Smith reveals he has even more up his sleeve with this first full length album since 2005.  Buffalo holds down the vocals and acoustic guitar with the rest of the band being composed of Greg Yeary (rhythm/lead guitar) Billy Eli (acoustic guitar), Joey Parrish (bass), and Towson Engsburg (drums/percussion).  Paul Hornsby (Charlie Daniels, Marshall Tucker Band) produced the album, which also features Tommy Talton (Cowboy) on guitar, E.G. Kight on backing vocals, and the one and only Billy Bob Thornton narrating the prologue and epilogue.

For the introduction, Buffalo wrote a soulful dedication to the town of Macon, Georgia, making note to mention the music, the food, and the people.  Read by Thornton, this spoken piece is a wonderful tribute to set the table for the music which follows. 

Buffalo brings a sense of optimism to his song of mortality in “Both Feet on the Ground” which features guitarist Daniel Jackson and bassist Joey Parrish, both from the Silver Travis Band.  Topped off with some very cool slide-work from Tommy Talton and featuring Paul Hornsby on the Wurlitzer piano, “My Baby Drives a Mercedes Benz” was  co-written with Smith’s longtime collaborator Greg Yeary.  Smith explains it was part of the set list when he and Yeary performed as Buffalo Hut Coalition in the Eighties.  Talton also appears on the fantastic and melancholy “Tired of Living Blues”.  Adding pops and scratches to be infused into the recording, Smith bestows a vintage sound to this bona fide blues tune.  Smith invokes a style reminiscent of the great John Prine into his music. A perfect example is “On a Still Cold Saturday” inspired by a trippy recurring dream.  Ripples of melancholy washes over when I hear Smith bare his soul on “Woman in the Moon (It Comes in Waves)”, a very personal song he wrote after the passing of the love of his life.    

The record concludes with a beautifully written self-reflective spoken word piece, “Epilogue: Reflections at 60”.  With a gripping delivery, this mini-bio written by Smith is read aloud by Billy Bob Thornton.  It honestly ties everything together.       


Click the following link to read the PhillyCheeze Review of Michael Buffalo Smith's EP, The Austin Sessions :

Take a listen to the album on Apple Music, and if you decide to purchase it, use my special link.  This helps keep the PhillyCheeze site going.  

Click on the link below to purchase this terrific album from the PhillyCheeze Amazon store.     

Saturday, July 7, 2018

#340 : Whitney Shay - A Woman Rules the World

2018 – Little Village Foundation
Release Date: August 1, 2018

By Phillip Smith; July 7, 2018

Recorded at the acclaimed Greaseland Studios in San Jose, California and produced by ChristopherKid” Andersen, A Woman Rules the World, Whitney Shay’s latest album is her first in six years.  This landmark recording surrounds the riveting vocalist with an outstanding group of musicians whose appearance includes Kid Andersen (guitar, bass, sitar, and Wurlitzer) , Jim Pugh (organ, piano) “Sax” Gordon Beadle (saxophones), Kedor Roy (upright and electric bass), and Alex Pettersen (drums).    

The album begins with the sweet sound of horns, and a huge splash of Detroit soul in “Ain’t No Weak Woman”.  Shay’s smooth and sultry vocals sound great on this funky original. This rolls quite nicely into a jaw-dropping performance of Dinah Washington’s “Blues Down Home”.  It’s absolutely fabulous.  “Love’s Creeping Up on You”, another original from Shay is rooted in the Memphis sound.   Andersen seems to channel B.B. King on guitar, while the rest of the crew takes a cruise down McLemore Avenue, for more of a Stax Records vibe.  Pettersen gives a brilliant execution on drums to boot.

Shay soulfully sings title track “A Woman Rules the World” an exquisite selection by the legendary blues master Denise LaSalle, who sadly passed away earlier this year.  Then there’s the rousing rendition of Little Denise’s “Check Me Out”.  Slathered in old school funk, this smash hit written by the great Jimmy McCracklin oozes with groovy goodness.
Paying homage to one of the greatest Rock and Roll legends ever, Shay and company let loose an amazing cover of Little Richard’s “Freedom Blues” off his 1970 album Rill Thing.  They then rip it up on “Get Down With It” from his 1966 album The Wild and Frantic Little Richard to bring this wonderful album to its conclusion.

A Woman Rules the World is full of everything a music lover wants in an album: great songs, a spectacular voice, and an amazingly tight band.  I love every bit of it.   


For more information about Whitney Shay, visit her website :

Saturday, June 30, 2018

#339 : Eric Corne - Happy Songs for the Apocalypse

2018 – Forty Below Records

By Phillip Smith; June 30, 2018

Eric Corne, founder and president of Forty Below Records, has brought fabulous new artists like Sam Morrow and Jaime Wyatt to my attention and recorded established favorites such as John Mayall, Walter Trout, Joe Walsh, Lucinda Williams, Edgar Winter, Joe Bonamassa, John Doe (X) and Glen Campbell.  Happy Songs for the Apocalypse, the latest release from award winning producer/singer/song-writer Eric Corne is rather reflective of the world today, and is an amazing listen.  The dozen original tracks are beautifully written and tightly woven together in the assembly of this album.

I love the way Corne splendidly starts the album off with “Mad World”, his prophetic account of the beginning of the end.  Eamon Ryland lends a dreamy texture to this personal favorite on pedal steel.  Doug Pettibone (Lucinda Williams) provides a delicate Dobro performance on “The Guilded Age” while Corne sings of the wolves of Wall Street. Sasha Smith on dolceola and violinist Freddy Koella (Bob Dylan, KD Lang, Dr. John) inject a bright Celtic sound into Corne’s dispirited observance of current day politics “Short Wave Preachers”.

Corne taps into the spirit of the early Rolling Stones with “Ridin’ with Lady Luck” and “Locomotion”.  “Ridin’ with Lady Luck” features the legendary Walter Trout laying down some fabulous licks on lead guitar and Corne ripping it up on harp.  The excitement builds as Smith lays the piano groundwork on the upbeat “Locomotion”.  Guest David Ralicke (Degue Fever, Beck) orchestrates a rich horn arrangement on this captivating song as Corne revs it up with a side of guitar twang and more harp.

Corne utterly wins me over with Happy Songs for the Apocalypse. It is definitely a delightful and intelligent listen. 


Take a listen to the album on Apple Music, and if you decide to purchase it, use my special link.  This helps keep the PhillyCheeze site going.  

Click on the link below to purchase this terrific album from the PhillyCheeze Amazon store.     

Saturday, June 23, 2018

#338 : Little Boys Blue w/Kid Memphis - Hard Blue Space

2018 – Vizztone
Release Date :  June 1, 2018

By Phillip Smith; June 23, 2018

Forged in Tennessee, Little Boys Blues keeps pumping out solid southern blues music.  Their latest album, Hard Blue Space brings guitarist John Holiday (aka Kid Memphis) into the mix, as he rips it up with singer/harmonica player JD Taylor for ten luscious original songs.  Holiday played the role of Carl Perkins in the 2005 Johnny Cash bio-film Walk the Line.  Taylor actually played gigs with Perkins himself.  The band also consists of drummer Mark Brooks, bassist Dave Mallard, and guitarist Alex Taylor.  Guests include guitarists and slide players Andrew White, Wes Henley, and Brad Webb, with Dave Thomas on keys. 

The first cut “Six Foot Down” tells the story of a broken heart beyond repair.  Taylor’s smoky vocals are reminiscent of John Hiatt’s and hover above gobs of juicy harp, a heart-pounding beat, and a lot of laidback slide.  “Loving Kind” takes a walking blues stroll and is topped with nice bluesy licks from Kid Memphis.  Changing pace and slowing it down a bit, “Blues Bug” is wonderful and right in the pocket.   

I’m immediately caught up in the intoxicating rhythm of “Got a Mind of Your Own”.  Swirling sounds of the B3, and Taylor’s magnificent harp playing perfectly accent this one as Kid Memphis plays guitar with a cool Robert Cray vibe.  The ghosts of North Mississippi must’ve been present on the recording of “If the Blues Start Calling”.  The song’s infectious groove is so downright dirty, it sounds fabulous.      

Hard Blue Space from Little Boys Blue w/ Kid Memphis is a grand slam. This pairing is a delight to hear.  They were definitely made for each other.   



Take a listen to the album on Apple Music, and if you decide to purchase it, use my special link.  This helps keep the PhillyCheeze site going.  

Click on the link below to purchase this terrific album from the PhillyCheeze Amazon store.     

Saturday, June 16, 2018

#337 : Sugar Brown - It’s a Blues World (Calling All Blues)

2018 – Sugar Brown

By Phillip Smith; June 16, 2018

Ken Kawashima, a finalist in the 2017 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up in Ohio, studied in Chicago, got his PhD from New York University, and now lives in Toronto.  There he teaches East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto and plays the blues.  While in the Windy City, where his musical path was shaped, Kawashima was given his nickname Sugar Brown by Chicago bluesman Tail Dragger Jones.

It’s a Blues World (Calling All Blues), Sugar Brown’s third album glows with authenticity.  Each of its thirteen original songs has a sense of stewardship and timelessness.  Joining Sugar Brown on the studio for this album is special guest and blues guitarist Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, a close friend of Brown’s who was instrumental in inspiring him to play blues guitar.  The rest of the band is comprised of Michelle Josef (drums), Russ Boswell (upright bass, electric bass), Nichol Robertson (guitar,banjo), Julian Fauth (piano,Farfisa), Julia Narveson (horns and fiddle), Chuck Bucket (drums), and Bill Howard (tambourine, bass drum). 

Sugar Brown shares a lesson on the topic of economics, as he sings about everyone scrambling for the same “Lousy Dime”.  Robertson’s infectious banjo riff rolls throughout this wonderful song.  Accompanied by an exquisite fiddle accompaniment and a beautifully executed piano backing, it’s absolutely flawless.  With a Tom Waits-like gusto, Brown suavely sings “What I Know”.  The song sweetly rolls in with a horn and harp intro and is threaded with gobs of marvelously twangy guitar.  A North Mississippi blues approach is taken with “Out of the Frying Pan“, an intoxicating tune about having nowhere else to go.  The circulating rhythm lures me quickly in, and holds me captive for the remainder of the song.  It’s terrific.

The retrospective makeover he applies to his music, using vintage technology, encapsulates his work in an era of bygone times, giving it a unique sound.  That’s half the attraction to this album.   The other half is Sugar Brown’s exemplary songwriting.  This album comes highly recommended for Blues enthusiasts.   


Take a listen to the album on Apple Music, and if you decide to purchase it, use my special link.  This helps keep the PhillyCheeze site going.  

Click on the link below to purchase this terrific album from the PhillyCheeze Amazon store.     

Saturday, June 9, 2018

#336 : Ghost Town Blues Band - Backstage Pass

2018 – Ghost Town Blues Band

By Phillip Smith; June 9, 2018

Ghost Town Blues Band’s Backstage Pass is one of the best live albums I’ve heard all year.  With every listen, I fall head over heels for its long soulful jams heavily steeped in American blues and roots.  From the beloved city of Memphis, Tennessee, Ghost Town Blues Band is composed of lead vocalist/guitarist Matt Isbell, guitarist Taylor Orr, Suavo Jones on trombone, Kevin Houston on sax, Tim Stanek on the Hammond B3, piano and keys, bassist Matt Karner, and drummer Preston McEwen.  Produced by McEwen, Backstage Pass consists of nine splendid tracks recorded live at Lafayette’s Music Room in Memphis on July 29, 2017.

The album breaks out with a smashing cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together”.  This sounds fabulous with slide guitar and horns.  I love the way they weave bits of “Norwegian Wood” and Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” into the fabric of the tune.   I will be sadly disappointed if this song does not make it on the next Fried Glass Onion compilation series (a tribute to the music of The Beatles, performed by Memphis bands).  They take on the Allman Brothers’ signature song “Whippin’ Post” with true justice and a truck load of responsibility, bestowing the listener with a beautiful and amazing sixteen minute jam.  Isbell’s guitar performance is stellar.  Their cover of George Porter Jr’s (The Meters) “I Get High” is a bouncy and funky treat loaded with contagious horn riffs and more head-turning guitar.  McEwen is a bodacious drummer, and keeps everything in check. 

“Shine”, drenched in that good ol’ Memphis soul greets the listener like an old friend whose face has not been seen in a long time.  The Stax sound is definitely represented here with the swirling organ and those cool little blasts of horns led by Isbell’s wonderful and gravelly vocals.  From their Dust to Dust album, GTBB revisits “One More Whiskey” a blues-soaked ode to drinking which Isbell tops with a tasty side of harmonica.  This is a fun tune indeed. 
I had the privilege of catching the band in Memphis earlier this spring at the Beale Street Music Festival.  With cigar box guitar in hand, stretching as high as Isbell could raise it, Jones proceeded to extend his trombone to its outer limits, to use the far-most edge as a guitar slide until that cigar box just plumb gave out.  After several attempts at reviving that guitar with no luck, Isbell put his own creation out of misery with a mighty rock-and-roll Pete Townsend style bashing.  They outshined every act I saw that day, and quite frankly, most of the other acts I saw that whole weekend.  They were truly amazing, as is this album.  It’s ridiculously good.


Ghost Town Blues Band live in Memphis, Tennessee at
Memphis in May Beale Street Music Festival 2018
Photo by Phillip Smith

Take a listen to the album on Apple Music, and if you decide to purchase it, use my special link.  This helps keep the PhillyCheeze site going.  

Click on the link below to purchase this terrific album from the PhillyCheeze Amazon store.     

Saturday, June 2, 2018

#335 : Fantastic Negrito - Please Don’t Be Dead

2018 – Cooking Vinyl
Release Date : June 15, 2018

By Phillip Smith; June 2, 2018

Please Don’t Be Dead is one of the most exciting albums to be released this year.  I’ve been a fan of Fantastic Negrito (Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz) since viewing the C-Store Session videos on YouTube in 2015, and I loved The Last Days of Oakland album which was released in 2016.  The title of his latest record, Please Don’t Be Dead, refers to the underlying fear a parent holds for the future of their children in a world filled with school shootings, opioid addictions, and homelessness.  

The album wonderfully ignites with an infectious guitar riff backed with a captivating beat on “Plastic Hamburgers”, an anthem about the need for due change.  Fantastic Negrito has a genuine gift of sparking moments of inward enlightenment in his songs.  With “Bad Guy Necessity”, he sheds light on the age-old craft of misdirection in a Prince/Beatles kind of way, and how it’s used by those in power to create an enemy which only they can eradicate. 

A gut-wrenching response to gun violence and mass shootings is revealed in his “Letter to Fear”.  This beautiful song, delicately steeped in blues and bathed in swirling sounds of organ is elegantly sung.  Funk and gospel are cleverly woven together in “The Suit That Won’t Come Off”, a song about feeling isolated from the world.  Fantastic Negrito paints a dire portrait of that place in our minds where we often flee to in the darkest of times.  Then he sings a song of apology to those he’s offended or wronged while in that place on a “Cold November Street”. 

I dig the hard-hitting hook busting loose on “The Duffler”, and how it smoothly navigates its way through a sweet, galactic groove. The album comes to a close in a huge P-Funk-style presence with “Bullshit Anthem”.  The song is slathered in funk and gushing with attitude.  It is a sheer delight.  On the topic of P-Funk, I recently read that  the Godfather of Funk George Clinton plans to retire in 2019.  Although, it will be most sad to see him depart, I would love to see Fantastic Negrito pilot the mothership when that time comes. He definitely has what it takes.


Take a listen to the album on Apple Music, and if you decide to purchase it, use my special link.  This helps keep the PhillyCheeze site going.  

Click on the link below to purchase this terrific album from the PhillyCheeze Amazon store.