Sunday, August 4, 2019

#402 : Prairie Dog Blues Festival - 2019

Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin
July 26-27, 2019

By Phillip Smith; August 3, 2019

I had an absolutely amazing time during the two days I spent at the Prairie Dog Blues Festival this year.  Besides the spectacular music, there was an amazing comradery between the blues fans.  Upon first arrival on Friday evening, I staked out some prime territory within the beer tent to see one my favorite acts Ghost Town Blues Band.  They tore it up on four separate sets that evening, playing all the songs I wanted to hear.  Their covers of “Come Together”, “Whipping Post”, and “Statesboro Blues” were superb as always.  It was great to catch up with those guys again.  Between the GTBB sets, I made sure to shimmy over to the main stage to see more outstanding performances from Tas Cru, Reverend Payton’s Big Damn Band, Toronzo Cannon, and Nikki Hill. 

Tas Cru and Mary Ann Casale teamed up to dazzle me with delight on “Heal My Soul”.  Casale cowrote this one with Tas for his acclaimed Memphis Song album.  It was cool to hear “Dirty Swerve” from Reverend Peyton.  That one definitely put the fans in dance mode.  Toronzo Cannon brought some of the best blues Chicago has to offer, and Nikki Hill commanded full attention for her powerful for her set of rockin’ soul.  She even busted out a little AC/DC with a nod to Bon Scott on “If You Want Blood / I’m a Rocker”.  

On the second day of the festival, I headed directly to the main stage to hear Craig Erickson and the Roadhouse Rockers.  The man is a powerhouse when it comes to playing guitar, and it is always a pleasure to see his band play.  ZZ Top tribute band Eliminator from Chicago lit up the crowd with nearly ninety minutes of dazzling showmanship and spot-on covers.  They were so fun to watch and hear.  I was so glad to have finally caught Eliza Neals in concert.  She has been on my radar ever since reviewing her 10,000 Feet Below album.  This is another act which I highly recommend.  Neals definitely puts the ‘rock’ in blues-rock, with her amazing vocals.  Popping over to the beer tent to hear The Kris Lager Band was a lot of fun as well.  The tent was filled to capacity, as they played their unique style of funky blues.  The evening was capped off with a searing performance from Anthony Gomes.  The first time I saw Gomes, he was opening for the king of blues himself, B.B. King.  This my third time seeing him, and he keeps upping his game every time.

Prairie Dog Blues Festival, which is held annually on the historic St. Feriole Island in Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin, is very organized and cuts no corners when it comes to booking talent.  I will definitely make a point of returning.  


* All Photos by Phillip Smith

Ghost Town Blues Band

Tas Cru

Rev Peyton's Big Damn Band

Toronzo Cannon

Nikki Hill

Craig Erickson and the Roadhouse Rockers


Eliza Neals

Kris Lager Band

Anthony Gomes

Saturday, July 20, 2019

#401 : Eliza Neals - Sweet or Mean

2019 – E-H Records LLC

By Phillip Smith; July 20, 2019

It has been over two years since I fell head-over-heels for Eliza Neals’ 10,000 Feet Below album.  But, after hearing her latest EP Sweet or Mean, I find the wait has been worth it.  This time around, Neals teamed up with New York bluesman Ted Horowitz aka Popa Chubby.   Horowitz not only plays guitar on this release, but also takes on the role of producer/arranger.  Comprising the remainder of the band is Dave Keyes on B3/piano/Wurlitzer, Chris Gambaro-Vega on bass, and John Medeiros Jr. on drums.  

This six-track release opens and closes with two smokin’ variations of “Pawn Shop Blues”, a ripping original tune, written by Neals.  Her fearless delivery stands tall as Popa Chubby lays down a searing slab of blues on electric guitar.  Saxophonist Ian Hendrickson and trumpeter Michael Leonhart appear on one version, while “Pawn Shop Blues (roadhouse)” features barrelhouse piano from Keyes.  Vega and Medeiros create a captivating groove on “Blackish Gray”, which swiftly pulls me into its orbit.  Songs like this encourage me to put Neals at the top of my list of favorites.  There is certainly a positive chemistry between her and Ted when it comes to playing the blues.  Eliza sings her autobiographical power-anthem “Bitten by the Blues” with a soulful, rock-star delivery.  The hook is very infectious and sounds great with Popa Chubby’s tantalizing guitar licks.  I love the delta-flavored acoustic “Knock Knock Knocking” too.  It’s raw and fabulous.

Sweet or Mean is a terrific six-track EP.  It’s definitely worth checking out, if you dig the blues.      


For more information about the artist, visit the website..   

PhillyCheeze Rock & Blues Review for Eliza Neals - 10,000 Feet Below

Friday, July 12, 2019

#400 : Ruf Records - 25 Years Anniversary

2019 - Ruf Records  
by Phillip Smith; July 12, 2019

To commemorate the 400th PhillyCheeze’s Rock & Blues Review, I want to shine some light on the special 25 Years Anniversary disc from Ruf Records.  This is one hell of a collection.  This edition contains both a 14 track CD, and a 12 video, 62-minute DVD .  The CD features a ton of music from Ruf’s most recent releases, while the DVD delightfully spans their entire era, going back to the Luther Allison days.  

After seeing Ruf’s Blues Caravan last year in 2018, I was happy to see the disc containing songs by Ally Venerable, Mike Zito, and Bernard Allison who all shared the stage at the 2nd annual Czech Village Blues festival, here in Cedar Rapids, Iowa last August.  Ally rips it up on guitar and belts out the title track to her latest album, “Texas Honey”.  Zito’s song is also the title track for his latest, “First Class Life”.  I love the slide guitar on this one.  The swampy, funky goodness of Bernard’s “Backdoor Man” is so enjoyable.  Vanja Sky, who played on the European legs of the caravan, gives us the smokin’ blues in “Hard Working Woman”.   

Ruf also includes the sultry “Chills and Fever” from the wonderful Samantha Fish, and  Ina Forsman’s exquisitely danceable ’ “Get Mine”.  For the classic blues-head, there is “Low Down“ from The B.B. King Blues Band, and hardcore soul music fans will surely dig “Deep in my Soul” from Big Daddy Wilson.  Also nice to hear, is my favorite Savoy Brown song from the past few years, “Why Did You Hoodoo Me”.  It definitely cuts to the bone.    

The DVD begins with a spectacular performance of Denmark’s Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado fabulously performing “If You Wanna Leave”.  It’s so cool to see Mike Zito, Devon Allman and Cyril Neville jam together on “Moonlight Over the Mississippi”.  Oli Brown’s driving blues-rock anthem “Here I Am” is captivating.  From the 2019 Blues Caravan, there’s a terrific video of Katarina Pejak, Ina Forsman and Ally Venable covering the classic Stevie Ray Vaughan song “If the House is Rocking”, and they sound great.  For a wonderful song to close with, Luther Allison soulfully sings “Living in The House of Blues”.

Ruf Records 25 Years Anniversary should be in the collection of every blues fan.  It is a powerhouse of a retrospective.      

Associated PhillyCheeze Reviews include:

Thursday, July 4, 2019

#399 : Tony Holiday - Porch Sessions

2019 – Vizztone
By Phillip Smith; July 4, 2019

It’s the Fourth of July, and today I’ll be spinning Porch Sessions from Memphis blues-man Tony Holiday.  I love the concept for this record.  In the spirit of classic blues field recordings, Holiday visited and jammed with a ton of big names in the business, right on their front porch.  With Holiday on harmonica, he is joined by guitarist Landon Stone, and bassist Kid Anderson on all tracks.  Guests include Charlie Musselwhite, James Harman, John Nemeth, John Primer, Bob Corritore, Aki Kumar, Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, Kid Ramos, Mitch Kashmar, Jake Friel, Ronnie Shellist, and more.

The raw stand-out blues guitar of two-time Grammy nominated John Primer joined with both Holiday and Bob Corritore on harp, makes for an amazing listen on “They Call Me John Primer”.   It’s always a treat to hear Musselwhite.  He lets loose on “That’s Alright” as Kumar takes on the vocals to this six-and-a-half-minute blues jam.  And for an extra blast of cool, Burgin appears on guitar.  I dig the cover of Little Sonny’s “Woman Named Trouble” with Nemeth on harp and vocals, Matthew Wilson on guitar and Danny Banks on drums.  It has such a funky groove.  Harman and Ramos sound so great together as they break out a briefcase full of blues on “Goin’ to Court”.  “Hip To It” is a delightful harp blues instrumental.  It’s a rare treat to hear three harp players at once as Holiday, Shellist, and Kashmar interestingly play off each other’s performance.  

Hearing the musical collaborations recorded on this album, is like staring blues right in the eye.  With the Porch Sessions, Holiday reiterates exactly what the Blues is all about. 


For more information about the artist, visit this website..  

Saturday, June 29, 2019

#398 : Big Jack Reynolds - That's a Good Way to Get to Heaven

2019 – Third Street Cigar Records
By Phillip Smith; June 29, 2019

Third Street Cigar Records has recently released a terrific twenty-track CD compiling the best of Ohio bluesman Marshall “Big Jack” Reynolds.  This deluxe package also includes a feature-length documentary on DVD containing eighty minutes of rare footage, and interviews which has gone unseen since the late Eighties.  Although this was my first exposure to Big Jack Reynolds, I found the documentary to be very engrossing.   

Reynolds’ earlier recordings were made during the Sixties in Detroit on the Fortune and MAH labels.  After moving on to Toledo around 1970, Reynolds set up his home-base and continued performing for another twenty years, recording his last songs in 1990, three years before he passed away.  According to Third Street president John Henry, “Big Jack wasn’t nationally famous, but he was our guy and now we get to bring him to the world…  Every local player wanted to perform with Jack.  He was a ‘real-deal’ bluesman from somewhere down south, though it was never clear where”.  With Reynolds on vocals and harmonica, the majority of the cuts on this fascinating compilation feature Larry Gold on guitar, Johnny “Hifi” Newmark on bass, Slim Tim Gahagan on drums, and Chad Smith on piano.

The album opens with a sweet previously unreleased cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do”.  Reynolds also lays down a very nice cover of Slim Harpo’s “Scratch My Back” as well.  I love Gold’s ripping guitar performance on “You Better Leave That Woman Alone”.  Coupled with a cracker-jack rhythm section and Reynold’s slightly raspy vocals, this original sounds great.  “Mean Old People” is about as real as it gets.  Here we get to hear Big Jack alone with his guitar.  It is unadulterated raw blues at its purist.   

The infectious and inescapable surf beat on his 1962 single “Made It Up in Your Mind” is a wonderful backdrop for Big Jack and his harp.  It’s dripping with cool.  My favorite, an original called “Hot Potato” has a stellar groove.  Big Jack breaks out his guitar on this jamming instrumental which concludes with him exclaiming “That’s a good way to get to heaven!”.  This gravitative track is such a great listen. 

This is one great retrospective collection which I will enjoy for a long time.   

For more information about the artist, visit this website..

Sunday, June 23, 2019

#397 : Cheyenne James - Burn It Up

2018 – Cheyenne James

By Phillip Smith; June 21, 2019

Burn It Up, the debut album from Texas blues singer Cheyenne James is one powerful and soulful ride.  James, an accomplished stage actress, dancer, and fire-eater pours her whole self into each of the ten outstanding performances.  Her band consists of guitarists Dave Carter and Mark May, bassist Rock Romano, harmonicist Steve Krase, keyboardist Randy Wall, drummer Jim Brady, saxophonist Eric Demmer, and Lamar Boulet on trumpet and flugelhorn.

I love her remarkable cover of Little Milton’s “Grits Ain’t Groceries”.  Cheyenne’s stellar vocal delivery has a nice Stax-like backing with the horns and keys.  With a taste of old-school Nashville, James fearlessly belts out “Gypsy Mama” while Krase tears it up on harmonica.  When she sings Van Morrison’s “Steal My Heart Away”, I just have to stop everything and listen.  It’s such a beautiful song, and so beautifully executed.  Sung with an abundance of heart and emotion is the sublime original “What Does It Mean”.  Cheyenne’s performance on this gem is reminiscent of the late, great Amy Winehouse, and Boulet’s trumpet performance is mesmerizing.  The album comes to a smile-inducing close with a smooth rendering of Willie Dixon’s “You Know You Love Me Baby”.

Burn It Up is a definite ‘keeper’.  I immensely enjoyed listening to this album, and very much look forward to hearing more from Cheyenne James.           

For more information about the artist, or to purchase her CD, visit her website..


Saturday, June 15, 2019

#396 : Vince Agwada - Light of Day

2019 – Rocketnoodle Music
Release date : July 15, 2019

By Phillip Smith; June 15, 2019

It has been eight long years since the release of Vince Agwada’s last album, Basic Blue.  Fans of his should know it’s been very much worth the wait.  His latest record, Light of Day, is self-produced and loaded with sixteen astonishing original songs rooted in the Blues, but spanning genres from Jazz, Rock, Funk, and World Music. 

Slathered from end to end in delicious slide, “Two Tons of Fun” showcases Agwada’s guitar mastery with a big bowlful of searing blues.  A fearless bassline and a mind-boggling guitar shredding session takes “Blues 99” to the king-of-the-hill position.  Agwada’s performance is exquisite.  I love the transformation “I Wanna Fly” goes through as it transcends from its front-porch blues beginnings to a funky, soulful song with keys from Tim Gant, and amazing percussion from Kwame Steve Cobb.  The slide-heavy, Allman-esque “Mustafa’s Lament” is great too.  With backing from the Game Changer Horns, complete with a sax solo from Edwin Daugherty, this instrumental is a funky treat.  “Southbound 69” keeps me tuned in with a stellar groove and more amazing guitar-play.  Capturing my full attention, the multi-textured “Spirit” leads off with a Scottish bagpipe.  With a strong steady beat, hot guitar licks, buttery smooth vocals, and jazz-laden piano accompaniment, this beautifully written and executed dirge winds down its glorious path.

Vince Agwada has certainly created a masterpiece.  Light of Day is a must for blues and guitar aficionados.                        


For more information about the artist, visit this website..

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

#395 : Big Daddy Wilson - Deep in My Soul

2019 – Ruf Records

By Phillip Smith; June 11, 2019

Deep in My Soul, the latest album from the Big Daddy Wilson, is a magnificent platter of soulful blues.  This North Carolina born bluesman who now calls Northern Germany his home, trekked back to the U.S. to begin working with Grammy-winning producer Jim Gaines.  Recording began at GainesBessie Blue Studio in Stantonville, Tennessee, and wrapped up at the legendary FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.  With Laura Chavez onboard playing guitar, Wilson’s killer rhythm section is comprised of Memphians Dave Smith on bass, and Steve Potts on drums.

With a soulful Memphis Stax vibe, the album begins with “I Know”.  Chavez immerses herself into Steve Cropper-mode and the rest of the band follows suit.  With additional accompaniment from Brad Guin and Ken Waters, aka The Alabama Horns, the stage is perfectly set for Wilson’s deep, engaging vocals.  “Tripping On You” is another terrific track saturated in the funky, soulful sound of Stax.  It is purely delightful.  The inescapable hook of “Ain’t Got No Money” keeps me on the line while I gush over the slide guitar.  I absolutely love the funky riffs, soul-wrenching vocals, and an infectious groove on title track “Deep in My Soul”.  Ominous and seductive, “Voodoo” is one cool-as-hell blues-soaked track.  It’s as if it were pulled right out of a Mississippi swamp.

This album from Big Daddy Wilson scores high on all levels, and I highly recommend it.        


For more information about the artist, visit this website: