February 14, 2018
I have a soft spot in my musical heart for slide guitarists. They are individualistic and each have their own unique sound.
One of the current leading proponents of the slide guitar style is Dennis Johnson, who with his backing band, The Mississippi Ramblers, has returned with their latest album Rhythmland.
What makes Johnson unique is while he has an easily identifiable sound, he is able to adapt it to a number of varied styles. Whether it be touches of folk, rock, roots, Americana, or straight blues, he is able to add his slide guitar sound over and through their rhythms. His approach is interesting in that he approaches a song from the basic rhythms and builds his leads from there.
Nine of the ten tracks are original and like any good blues artist they deal with life’s journeys through a story. The only non-original track is a unique interpretation of “Walkin’ Blues,” enhanced by his 12 string dobro. A counterpoint to that track is the laid-back acoustic performance on the jazz laden “My Love Is Here For You.”
Johnson is one of those master musicians who many times floats under the radar to all but a select few blues and slide guitar aficionados. He is also one of those guitarists who creates the illusion of playing the rhythm and lead parts on the same guitar.
Rhythmland is a creative piece of blues presented through the slide guitar sound. It is well worth exploring.
February 14, 2018
It all starts in Texas, at least for the Milligan Vaughan Project. Vocalist Malford Milligan and guitarist Tyrone Vaughan are Texans to their core and their joining together serves up a helping of dynamic rock and blues with their debut album MVP..
Milligan has a soulful voice and when it joins together with Vaughan’s guitar work, the sound emerges as a fusion of rock and blues.
The album was recorded in the studio except for the last two live tracks. “What Passes For Love” and the classic Freddy King song “Palace Of The King” represent the heart of their sound, which has been honed by constant touring.
They travel in a different direction with the ballad “Here I Am,” which is a nice counterpoint to their usual upfront, in your face approach.
MVP is a fine debit album from two music veterans who compliment each other well. Recommended for anypne who likes their modern days blues powerful and Texas style.
January 18, 2018
Jason Ricci is one of the best harmonica players working today, period. Backed by his band, Bad Kind, he has just released his 11th album Approved By Snakes.
It is not an album for the faint hearted. “My True Love Is A Dope Whore,” “Something Just Arrived,” “Demon Lover,” Terrors Of Night Life,” and “Got Cleaned Up” deal with drugs, the seediness, sexuality, and the darker side of life. His gritty voice compliments the explicit lyrics as he communicates his messages.
Still, any Jason Ricci album revolves around his harp. He and guitarist John Lisi are able to play off of each other and their music comes across as more of a jam band approach.
Ricci’s albums are always musically interesting and creative but many times they have an uncomfortable element to them. Recommended but hold on.
December 26, 2017
The Nighthawks are an ultimate bar band who made good. Now five decades into their career, they continue to play their unique and gritty brand of blues, rock, and roots music. The have now issued their latest album All You Gotta Do.
They keep it straightforward and simple on their latest release. They are no guests; just the members of the band. There also keep overdubs to a minimum. Basically what they record in the studio is what you get.
While many of their albums contain almost all original tunes, here except for three songs, they move outward to cover material from a number of very different artists.
The blues have always provided the band’s foundation. Muddy Waters “Baby I Want To Be Loved” is a grade school primer of the blues, Chicago style. They move Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Ninety Nine” close to rock and roll with Mark Wenner’s harmonica filling in the gaps. “Snake Drive” has a driving beat that would fit the smoky club scene late at night.
The three original songs travel different paths. “Another Day” is a folk-like protest piece clothed in a blues framework. “Blues For Brother John” is a hybrid song that focus’ on Wenner’s harmonica. Mark Stutso’s “Voo Doo Doll” is the requisite love song.
Harmonies have always been a part of the Nighthawks appeal. Jesse Winchester’s “Isn’t That So” is a gentle harmonic romp though one of a song masters creations. The Standells “Dirty Water” is an ultimate garage song Thousands of wanna-be bans have covered this song. They change it up a bit but it is a fine salute to a uniquely American style.
All You Gotta Do finds the Nighthawks in fine form. An album of solid blues and rock and roll from a veteran band who have honed their craft for decades.
December 26, 2017
Not quite what I expected. Blue Image, with and without singer/guitarist Mike Pinera, was an under rated rock/blues band 1966-1970, who released three studio albums that are still worth tracking down. The commercial peak of their career was the hit single “Ride Captain Ride.” Pinera were on to become a member of Iron Butterfly, The New Cactus Band, and enjoy a long solo career, which is where these albums problems begin.
Pinera covered a lot of Blues Image and Iron Butterfly material during his solo career. Much of it is solid rock and roll but it appears here under the Blues Image moniker, which is a tad misleading. There are no other members of Blues Image listed in the credits. If you want a primer or over view of his solo career, then this is a good album to explore. If you want to explore Blues Image or Iron Butterfly material, then look elsewhere.
“Ride Captain Ride,” “Love Is The Answer” with guest Jonathan Cain, and “Pay My Dues” with Pat Travers are songs that appeared on the second Blues Image album Open. Here they are modernized versions of the songs. Travers adds a little edge to”Pay My Dues” but moves it toward hard rock and away from its original blues foundation.
His time with Iron Butterfly is represented by “In A Gadda Da Vidda,” which is just too modern and “Butterfly Blue,” which is saved by Pat Travers.
Four tracks are taken from his 1996 solo album In The Garden Of Eden” and 2012’s Isla. “Fantasy Of Love,” and the two title tracks are competent but do not rise above that level.
Timeless: Blues Image Featuring Mike Pinera is a disappointing release that in and of itself, never rises above the ordinary. It also make one yearn for what it could have been.
December 26, 2017
Arthur Alexander, (1940-1993), is one of those artists that you have heard but may not know much about. He is best known as a song writer. His compositions have been recorded by the elite of the music industry including Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bee Gees, Otis Redding, Pearl Jam, Dusty Springfield, and a host of others.
He only released three studio albums during his 30 plus year career but those releases made him a pioneer of the soul-country style of music. His best known recorded song, “You Better Move On” has been recorded and sung by countless country artists.
Omnivore has now resurrected his second self-titled 1972 album. It arrives with a crystal clear sound, new liner notes by Dr. Demento, and six bonus tracks, two of which are being released for the first time.
The album was recorded in Nashville, which helped fuse his soulful approach with country music. Backed by some of Nashville’s elite musicians, he helped found a new music form.
The best know song is “Burning Love” by Dennis Linde, which was written especially for him. His countrified version was quickly covered by Elvis Presley and became the last top ten hit of his career. His own gospel oriented “Thank God He Came” and Dann Penn’s “Rainbow Road” are emotional peak of the album.
The album quickly disappeared due to the changing musical landscape and it not really finding a niche. Four and a-half decades later it fares better as a gentle exploration of an under appreciated style. It is a fitting epitaph to a forgotten artist whose music helped shape his era.
December 12, 2017
Jack Sandham and Wednesday Lyle, better known as Cowbell, may be from London but their style of music is founded in minimalist American rockabilly. They have just issued their third album titled Haunted Heart.
In the past they have performed and recorded as a duo; Sandham (guitar and vocals) and Lyle (drums and vocals). They have now added some keyboards, which fills in some of the gaps a duo can’t help but create. Still, it is Sandham’s crunching and driving guitar runs that connects the music to the American south.
In many ways they are a garage band that has evolved beyond those limitations. While they still keep their approach fairly simple, they do take some chances, which enhances their approach and makes the music more interesting.
“Nothing But Trouble” and “No Wrong” take their sound to the edge of the Delta Blues. “Neon Blue” and “Doom Train” benefit from some swirling psychedelic organ that fuses with Sandham’s guitar sound.
They travel in a different direction when Lyle takes over lead vocal duties. As a woman, she brings a different feel to their music. “Downlow” is a climb into the time machine for a trip back to the late 1960’s and the Woodstock Nation. “New Kind Of Love” stands out because it runs counter to all the other tracks. It channels Patti Page and Peggy Lee as an old style torch song that you used to find in a small smoke-laden bar late at night.
Haunted Heart is a raw and energetic album that will have you tapping your feet along with the beat.