Old Sock by Eric Clapton

February 11, 2014

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There are a lot of words that can be used to describe Eric Clapton’s latest release, Old Sock. Words such as comfortable, relaxed, and cruise control can all be used to describe the sound and feel of this album.

Clapton does not over-reach or try to be over-creative. Instead he selects material that he seems to enjoy and fits where he is in life. While his guitar chops are still present; they do not dominate the album but rather are used in support of his vocals, which are the center piece. It all ends up as an album that covers the middle ground well with no real lows or highs. As the title would suggest, the music takes you to a warm and safe place.

The old Led Belly song, “Goodnight Irene,” is probably the best track. His voice moves it away from its blues origins but some slide guitar returns it back again. His cover of Ray Charles” “Born To Lose” has a little fire in it while his mostly acoustic “Still Got The Blues” is a fine tribute to the late Gary Moore. “Further On Down The Road” ends with one of the few classic Clapton guitar solos and is well-worth the wait.

On the other hand, “The Folk Who Live On The Hill” has a blandness to it while “Gotta Get Over” never really gets going. “Every Little Thing” unfortunately comes complete with a children’s choir, which is a bit out of tune.

Old Sock is like a dinner wine; you savor it but it leaves no lasting impression. There is little doubt that Clapton is content with the album and I am OK with it as well. As Ricky Nelson once sang; “You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.”


George Thorogood and the Destroyers (CD Reissue) by George Thorogood and the Destroyers

September 23, 2013

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If you want some in-your-face hard rock/blues, then this reissue of George Thorogood and the Destroyers’ first album is for you. He had recorded a number of songs during 1974 but they were not released until 1979, after he had become commercially successful, so this self-titled album, released in 1977, was his official debut. The 2013 reissue has a new, remastered sound via Rounder Records.

The album consists of eight classic blues covers and two original compositions. Thorogood will never be mistaken for a traditional blues artist. He has a rock and roll heart and brings it to the music. He is also the type of guitar player that you will either like or hate. He is not a great or sophisticated technician but gets by on energy and passion. Think of him and his backing musicians as an excellent bar band that made good. The music may not be the way Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, or Elmore James intended but it is raucous and always fun.

While he has added and subtracted some additional musicians along the way, drummer Jeff Simon and bassist Bill Blough back him on the album, with only a second guitarist in places, and they remain with him today.

He is an artist who gained and has retained much of his popularity by constantly touring. In 1980 he embarked on a 50/50 tour, which meant performing in all 50 states in 50 days.

He is usually at his best when playing up-tempo and at times frenetic rock and blues. Earl Hooker’s “You Got to Lose,” Elmore James’ “Madison Blues,” and especially Bo Diddley’s “Ride on Josephine” all benefit from this approach. That is followed by the John Lee Hooker story song “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” which still receives radio airplay today.

Less successful are his slower tunes, which tend to expose his limitations. Robert Johnson’s “Kind Hearted Woman” sounds forced and the Elmore James tune, “Can’t Stop Lovin’” never attains the energy level of the faster tracks.

His own compositions tend to be replicas of his blues covers. While not original in concept or execution, “Homesick Boy” and “Delaware Slide” present Thorogood for what he is, which is a competent, spirited, and at times forceful rock and blues guitarist.

George Thorogood and The Destroyers did not change the course of American blues or rock and roll but it made them a bit more enjoyable. It is an album for the beer hall or smoky night club.


Blues With A Mood by Big Bill Morganfield

April 22, 2013

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Big Bill Morganfield is a spiritual son of the delta by way of Chicago. His new album, Blues With A Mood, features seven original compositions among the 11 tracks, and finds such blues stalwarts as pianist Augie Myers and guitarist Eddie Taylor Jr. supporting his gruff vocals and guitar playing. “Ooh Wee” and “Look What You Done” both channel the legacies of Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. There is also the amusing “No Butter For My Grits” that is a witty journey through the lighter side of the blues. “Song of The Blues” is an autobiographical tune rooted in the traditional blues. In all, Morganfield has released a satisfying album rooted in the blues


Six Pack Of Cool by Big Papa And The TCB

April 22, 2013

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Big Papa and The TCB can best be described as a jump blues band. Their instrumental heritage is rooted in the big band era, as a saxophone and trumpet carry the sound while a piano fills in around the edges. The lyrics and vocals move the sound over to the blues, as band leader/guitarist/vocalist Chris Thayer is able to write about life while creating music that is mainly up-tempo and catchy. Their new album, A Six Pack Of Cool, is a nice modern day fusion of two distinct American musical styles.


Blues In Other Colors by David Maxwell

December 4, 2012

I have always had a soft spot for pianists, and especially blues pianists, which brings us to David Maxwell. His career as a solo artist, band mate, and session player is now in its fourth decade. He has recorded with and shared the stage with blues legends such as Freddie King, Bonnie Raitt, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Lowell Fulsum, and Junior Wells.

He has just issued a follow-up to his two Blues Music Award winning albums, You Got To Move with Louisiana Red and Conversations In Blue with Otis Spann.

His new release, Blues In Other Colors, is an apt title as he fuses traditional blues with music and rhythms from other countries. The 13 original instrumental tracks find him melding Spanish flamenco music, African beats, and Eastern sounds with his blues approach. He has gathered an eclectic but outstanding group of supporting musicians in support. West African and Indian percussionist Jerry Leake, mohan vina player, (an Indian stringed instrument), Harry Manz, Turkish ney player Fred Stubbs, oud (Eastern stringed instrument) and Moroccan raita player Boujmaa Razgul, guitarist Troy Gonyea, drummer Eric Rosenthal, and bassists Marty Ballou and Paul Kochanski all make up one of the oddest group of backing musicians that have ever supported a blues artist.

The odd grouping of musicians provides the foundation for Maxwell’s blues runs. Individually and collectively they lay down a variety of rhythms that he uses as a jumping off place. His traditional American blues heritage is very clear at times, and other times are melded into the sounds and traditions of other countries music.

“Movin’ On,” “Blue Dream,” and “Big Sky” are typical of the album as the combination of foreign percussion, an American double bass, and
mohan vina, which can best be described as a fusion of a guitar and sitar, integrated into a wonderful mix of sound. When they combine with a pianist of Maxwell’s statue, the result is both unusual and interesting.

The stringed oud and the snake charmer sound of the raita are right out of Arabian nights. They are far removed from American blues yet Maxwell manages to join the two sounds together.

Part of the album’s uniqueness and charm is that Maxwell is an old style pianist in the tradition of T-Bone Walker and Otis Spann, and here he expands his musical horizons outside of his comfort zones. He proves that you can indeed teach an old dog new tricks. If you like the blues and are in the mood for something different, then this is an album for you.

Article first published as Music Review: David Maxwell – Blues In Other Colors on Blogcritics.


I Don’t Care by David Ralston

October 31, 2012

David Ralston is a blues guitarist and vocalist who has traveled the highways and byways of America for over a decade. His eighth studio album, I Don’t Care, was released several months ago and finds him continuing to explore a blues/rock fusion sound. Maybe it was his stint as a substance abuse counselor for the Marine Corps, but his music and lyrics have a toughness to them. He may not be a bad man, but his style is in your face and you can take it or leave it.

He has put together a fine band to support his slide, acoustic, and electric guitar playing. Drummer Mark Texiera, keyboardist Bruce Bears, bassist Jesse Williams, and guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist/producer Thom Hiller lay down a foundation, which allows him to improvise.

His sound is very hard-edged blues, which comes close to straight rock every once in a while. The title introduces the theme of the album and the lyrics explore this not caring attiude. The keyboards provide the filler, which allows him to use them as a jumping off place. As with many good blues guitarists, he is able to make each note distinctive.

I tend to prefer his slow-blues songs such as “How Do I Stop the Pain” and “Today’s Got Me Down.” They are more of a classic blues approach as the guitar and vocals play off of one another. The title song and “GDSOB” find him in full attack mode as he pushes his sound toward a rock format. “Laugh to Keep from Crying” has a jam like feel. He even gets a little funky with “The Johnny Cash Song.”

The lyrics are honest and soul-bearing, which are the key to any blues album. He has a fine voice to present the thoughts and stories and it meshes well with the overall direction of his music.

David Ralston is eight albums into his career and continues to evolve. I Don’t Care is a fine blues album that deserves a listen or two.

Article first published as Music Review: David Ralston – I Don’t Care on Blogcritics.


Live At Montreux: 1975-1993 by Etta James

September 30, 2012

I assume the first time I ever heard Etta James was when some oldies station played her hit “The Wallflower (Dance With Me Henry)” during the late 1960s. By the end of the decade she was sharing time on my turntable with the likes of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin.

Jamesetta Hawkins (1938-2012) was a seminal music figure during the mid-1950s as she was a connector between classic rhythm & blues and rock and roll. While she never really crossed totally over to a rock format, her style and sound helped to clear the way for artists who would follow.

Her recording career began during 1954 and continued to near her death. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease during 2008 but managed to issue her final album, The Dreamer, in 2011.

If there is anything better than Etta James in the studio, it is Etta James on stage. She was a constant presence at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Eagle Rock Entertainment has now gathered 11 of her performances spanning four appearances at the festival, 1975-1993.

She always had a strong blues foundation and “Dust My Broom” (1975) and “Sugar on the Floor” (1989) returns her to those roots. The six performances, recorded July 15, 1993, have a cohesiveness that is somewhat missing from the second half of the release as they tend to fit together well. Songs such as “I Just Wanna Make Love to You,” “Come to Mama,” and “A Lover Is Forever” explores the gritty and passionate R&B side of her career.

The two most interesting tracks are from her 1975 appearance. The nine-minute “Respect Yourself” and the 10-minute “W.O.M.A.N.” find her at the height of her career and demonstrate how she could work a crowd for an extended period of time.

The album purports to present the best of her Montreux performances. Personally I would prefer to have the entire performances rather than just various songs from a number of sets and years. Whether any more of her material exists from these shows is unknown to me at this time, but the recording of older Montreux shows was spotty.

Still, it’s nice to have the debut of these songs as they present a fine introduction to her music. Etta James passed away January 20, 2012, and Live At Montreux: 1975-1993 is a statement that her like may not pass this way again.

Article first published as Music Review: Etta James – Live At Montreux 1975-1993 on Blogcritics.


Keep The Fire Burning by Barbara Carr

August 15, 2012

Every once in a while I receive an album from an artist that had never crossed my path before, which makes me wonder where have they been hiding all of my life. This brings me to Barbara Carr and her latest release, Keep the Fire Burning.

She began her singing career as a part of the gospel group, The Crosby Singers with her sisters. From there it was on to the soul group, The Petites, who opened for such artists as Smokey Robinson and The Miracles and then on to the lead singer position in Oliver Sain’s band. This led to a contract with the legendary Chess Records label, for whom she released several singles. Since the mid-1980s she has been recording on her own and has now returned with her 13th album.

Her voice is smooth and has a wonderful tone and pitch. It is a wonderful instrument with which to sing the blues, which is the foundation of her sound. The instrumental backing runs the gamut from simple to a funky developed rhythm & blues style, with the brass driving much of the music. Johnny Rawls is on board as a producer and he brings his writing skills to six of the 11 tracks.

Carr has surrounded herself with a tight supporting cast of musicians. Percussionist Richy Puga, keyboardist Dan Ferguson, guitarist Johnny McGhee, bassist Bob Trenchard, and a brass section of Andy Roman, Mike Middleton, and Robert Claiborne can be bluesy, funky, raw, and smooth when needed. An array of background singers fill in the gaps.

The opening track, “Hanging On by a Thread,” may be one of the best 10 songs I have heard this year. It is a cross between Memphis soul and Chicago blues, as the brass and vocals play off of each other. The song flows along and makes you want to hit the back button. It is a performance that just stays with you.

The music flows from an uptempo brass sound to a rawer organ-based soul/blues fusion style. Throw in a sultry cover of the title track and a classic duet with Rawls on the slow “Hold On to What You Got” and you have an album of note.

Barbara Carr has been toiling away for decades. If Keep the Fire Burning is any indication, she has learned her craft well. It’s definitely an album worth seeking out.

Article first published as Music Review: Barbara Carr – Keep the Fire Burning on Blogcritics.


Blood Red Blues by Cee Cee James

July 19, 2012

Cee Cee James has been belting out the blues for over 20 years. Her constant touring and two CD releases (plus a live CD) have gained her a solid fan base among blues aficionados. She returns in 2012 with her latest and third studio album, Blood Red Blues, which may help her reach a wider audience.

James has gathered a stellar group of musicians to back her. The foremost is her husband, Rob “Slideboy” Andrews, who co-wrote the songs, and provided the rhythm and lead guitar work. His nickname is apt as he is one of the better practitioners of the slide guitar technique working today. Also on hand are bassist Dan Mohler and drummer Chris Leighton, in addition to keyboardist Susan Julian and guitarist Rocky Athas, who contribute to a number of tracks. Then there is legendary Grammy-winning blues producer and engineer Jim Gaines, who fills those positions on the release.

James’ voice is very similar in tone, inflection, and style to the late Janis Joplin. While she may be more of a traditional blue artist than Joplin, when one listens to the music contained on this album, the comparisons are very apparent. If you appreciate Joplin, you will like this album.

From the opening title track with James’ gritty vocals exploding above the slide guitar runs of Andrews, it is a journey through the blues. The lyrics are painful, inspirational, and powerful as she takes the listener on a journey through her life story. Songs of redemption, life on the road, struggles, sins, and pain are brought to life through her emotional vocals and energy.

She is one of those rare singers who seems to ring every ounce of sweat from her body and soul and communicates that fact to her audience.

Her personal style channels some of the early Delta female blues artists while her sound has modernized that approach. It is classic blues lyrics meeting present day electric blues accompaniment.

Blood Red Blues is a blues adventure work to pursue. If you like the electric blues at its most basic, then Cee Cee James is an artist for you.

Article first published as Music Review: Cee Cee James – Blood Red Blues on Blogcritics.


I’ll Play The Blues For You by Albert King

July 11, 2012

Albert King (1923-92) was one of the “kings” of the blues, along with B.B. and Freddie. His recording career began during 1962 and continued until his death in 1992. His most creative and commercially success period took place during his time signed to Stax Records, 1966-75. The eight studio albums released during his time with the label added up to one of the better catalogues of blues music in history.

The Concord Music Group has just resurrected one of his key albums, I’ll Play the Blues for You, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary. The album’s sound has been enhanced with 24-bit remastering, new liner notes by music historian Bill Dahl, plus four previously unreleased bonus tracks. He was backed by the post-Otis Redding Bar-Kays, The Movement (which supported Isaac Hayes), and the Memphis Horns.

The album was a unique mixture of hardcore blues and the funky grooves that were associated with the Stax label. Through it all, King delivered some of the smoothest vocals of his career.

The title track was a seven minute song that epitomized the release. It was a steady-building blues classic, combining his blues guitar play against the funk of The Movement and the clear blasts of the Memphis Horns. He added an extended monologue that united the two sections of the song. The track remained one of King’s signature songs the rest of his career.

“Angel Of Mercy” was a lesson in the art of slow blues. His pile-driving guitar lines just bludgeon the listener. Ann Peebles hit version of “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” came to the attention of King, who took the song in a different direction as he turned it into a minor-key blues classic. “I’ll Be Doggone” was a huge hit for Marvin Gaye. They probably should have left out the overdubbed crowd response but his forceful version, right out of the Motown songbook, showed why rhythm and blues are words that go hand in hand. “Answer to the Laundromat Blues” was a sequel to his 1966 “Laundromat Blues.” The lyrics are somewhat dated, but the in-your-face guitar work is eternal.

Sometimes bonus tracks add little to a release, but the material included here is just about worth the price of admission by themselves. There is a stripped down version of “Don’t Burn Down the Bridge” minus the horns, plus an alternate performance of “I’ll Play the Blues for You,” with a different horn arrangement and no spoken interlude.

The other two bonus tracks are “I Need a Love,” a frenetic upbeat tune with the horns blasting away and an ominous vocal holding the song together, and the instrumental, “Albert’s Stomp,” which is more funky than bluesy.

I’ll Play the Blues for You presents Albert King at his best. It remains one of the important blues album releases from the early 1970s.

Article first published as Music Review: Albert King – I’ll Play the Blues for You [Remastered & Expanded] on Blogcritics.