Down In Louisiana by Bobby Rush

January 7, 2013

Bobby Rush has been playing the blues for over six decades. He began on the same Chicago stages as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Little Walter. Now at the age of 77, as one of the elder statesmen of the American Blues, he will release a new studio album in February of 2013 titled, Down in Louisiana.

Rush is a son of the Louisiana Delta and juke joints of the South that were a breeding ground for many of artists who contributed to the evolution of the blues. His sound has evolved during the past 60 years as there is a dash of funk here, some reggae there, and a little rock and roll every once in awhile; but at its foundation, his music is a form of gritty and at times raw blues.

He has always been a master storyteller. His stories of life, whether they be the theme of finding love which dominates the title track, or the double-entendre lyrics set to the pulsating rhythms of “You Just Like a Dresser,” the lyrics keep him centered in the American blues tradition.

He keeps it pretty basic on his latest release. In addition to his vocals, guitar, and harp, he is supported by keyboardist Paul Brown, drummer Pete Mendillo, bassist Terry Richardson, and guitarist Lou Rodriguez. They are a tight-knit ensemble that are experienced enough to allow Rush to shine while filling in the sound.

If any song defines what his music is all about, it is the six-minute “Don’t You Cry.” It channels the electric blues of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf as he improvises on the guitar and harp.

The years have been kind to his voice as it is still a formidable presence. His music exudes energy and at times humor, which is always a good combination. “Tight Money,” “Boogie in the Dark,” “Bowlegged Woman,” and “Rock This House,” are all a nice ride through the style, sound, and mind of an American bluesman.

Bobby Rush has been on the road and in the studio through good times and bad and at his age, he is who he is. Down in Louisiana is an album that should please any fan of the blues.

Article first published as Music Review: Bobby Rush – Down in Louisiana on Blogcritics.

Live From The Long island Blues Warehouse by The Sean Chambers Band

December 8, 2011

If you want to play the blues, there is no better place to learn the craft than as the legendary Hubert Sumlin’s band leader and guitarist for five years, 1998-2003. Sean Chambers did just that before he struck out on his own for a solo career. He has shared the stage with such artists as Buddy Guy, BB King,Johnny Winter, Greg Allman, Otis Rush, Derek Trucks, Robert Cray, Pat Travers, Robin Trower, and a host of others.

Chambers is a no-nonsense blues guitarist who combines the roots of Chicago, Delta, and Texas blues into one mix. The result is a hard blues sound that comes close to rock upon occasion. He has put together a good backing band to support his vocals and guitar virtuosity. Bassist Jeff Artabasy, drummer Paul Broderick, and blues harpist Gary Keith form a fine backing unit.

His third album, Ten Til Midnight, released during 2009, was his commercial breakthrough release, as it appeared on the Living Blues Chart for three months and received extensive radio airplay.

Part of the blues legacy is the ability to play live and so we come to the Sean Chambers Band’s new release, Live From The Long Island Blues Warehouse. It combines songs from his three studio releases, several blues covers, and one new composition into a sometimes ferocious but always technically sound blues album.

The lead track, “Dixie,” serves as a warm-up. It is a funky type blues instrumental where the band establishes itself as a tight-knit unit. It is followed by “Love Can Find A Way,” which introduces his growling vocal and guitar solos. “Full Moon On Main Street,” a cover song from an early album by The Kinsey Report, is a slower tempo song that is presented in a traditional manner with a harmonica solo. It is one of the highlights of the album.

They are some unexpected delights waiting to be heard. “Strong Temptation” has a 1960s psychedelic feel to it. His cover of the Elmore James classic “Dust My Broom” pays homage to old-school blues. His new composition “Hip Shake Boogie” has an improvisational feel and is the perfect party song.

Chambers has established himself as an adept blues musician both in the studio and on the stage. Live From The Long Island Blues Warehouse allows him to step forward and prove he is one of the better blues guitarists working today.

Evening by Sugar Ray and The Bluetones

October 13, 2011

So what does a young boy do when growing up in the small sleepy town of Stonington, Connecticut? He learns to sing and play the blues, of course.

Sugar Ray Norcia’s father was a voice teacher and his mother was a jazz singer. The apple didn’t fall very far from the tree as he quickly became an accomplished vocalist. He formed his first blues band in high school, Linseed Sam & The Oilers. Interestingly he spent time in Westerly, Rhode Island, where a decade or so before, Duke Robillard had developed his blues chops. He even served a stint as the vocalist in Robillard’s old band, Roomful Of Blues. I grew up in Rhode Island and have been to Westerly, but who knew it could provide the atmosphere to produce two of the better blues artists working today.

He formed his first version of Sugar Ray & The Bluetones in 1979 with guitarist Ronnie Earl. There have been a number of personnel changes through the years, and today the band consists of guitarist Mike Welch, drummer Neil Gouvin, bassist Michael Ward, and pianist Anthony Geraci. Sugar Ray provides his usual excellent vocals and harmonica play.

Their last release, 2007’s My Life, My Friend, My Music presented a full sound and used a horn section. Sugar Ray described it as a jump blues album. Their latest release, Evening, is a much more sparse affair as it includes only the band members.

Sugar Ray continues to write most of his own material as 9 of the 12 tracks are originals. The covers are Jimmy Young’s “I’m Having A Ball,” Otis Rush’s “You Know My Love,” and the title track which had been recorded by T-Bone Walker.

At this point in his career, Sugar Ray is not going to change musical direction or explore new styles. What he does do is cover the old ground well by producing excellent electric and smooth blues. He is one of the superior harmonica players alive today, and his solos are always creative and enhance the songs. The use of a harmonica as a lead instrument always gives the music a unique and different sound. His vocals fit the music well and his phrasing is first-rate. He is wise enough to share the stage with Welch and Geraci as their solos make the music better and certainly more textured and complex.

The music is a modern approach to the electric blues. From the opening “I’m Having A Ball” with its harmonica, piano, and guitar solos, to the slow blues of “Hard To Get Along With You,” to the relaxed “Dear John,” it is a nice ride through Sugar Ray’s upbeat musical approach.

A couple of the songs add some unique twists. “Too Many Rules and Regulations” is part talking blues which is a nice change of pace. Sugar Ray’s introductory use of a Native American flute on “Dancing Bear” was both beautiful and innovative.

Sugar Ray & The Bluetones have produced another exceptional blues album. Evening is a worthwhile way for any blues fan to spend an hour or so.

Article first published as Music Review: Sugar Ray & The Bluetones – Evening on Blogcritics.

Just As I Am by Sandy Carroll

October 8, 2011

The blues are found in many places and are played by a wide range of personalities. That brings us to McNairy County, Tennessee, whose major claim to history has been Sheriff Buford Pusser. Maybe that will change as the career of Sandy Carroll progresses.

Carroll has paid her dues for over a quarter of a century. Anyone who played at a Memphis Showboats (USFL) football game has definitely paid the cost to play the blues.

Her new studio album, Just As I Am, will be released October 13. She continues to write or co-write her material, and has surrounded herself with some of Memphis’ better musicians. Multi-instrumentalist Rick Steff (piano, accordion, and guitar), drummers Steve Potts and Derrick Young, guitarist Evan Leake, and bassists Dave Smith and Bob Trenchard provide the majority of the instrumental support for her vocals and piano playing.

She has produced an album of well-crafted electric blues. She possesses one of those voices that was meant to sing the blues. Sometimes the chords travel close to rock ‘n’ roll but the vocals, lyrical stories, and overall sound are straight blues. Her use of background singers to fill in her sound gives many of the tracks a dynamic appeal.

There are a number of quality tracks. “Blessed Be,” the album’s lead track, is an up-tempo and thankful song which introduces her use of backing vocalists. “Waiting For The Storm” is a slow blues tune that could have come right out of a smoky lounge around midnight. “Messin’With Me” is a guitar-heavy song, and Leake provides a solo that will bring you out of your seat. The title track is a gentle piano piece. I just wish she had been the piano player, and in fact I think she needs to provide her own piano backing more often.

The heart of the album can be found at its center with “Romeo and Juliet” and “Runnin’ Out Of Grace.” The first is a light and breezy ditty that runs counterpoint to much of the album’s material. The second is a song of introspection and running with the devil.

I don’t know if Sandy Carroll will ever have a mainstream breakthrough, but the music contained on Just As I Am deserves a listen. If you are in the mood for some top notch, under the radar blues, then this is an album for you.

Article first published as Music Review: Sandy Carroll – Just As I Am on Blogcritics.

Don’t Smoke by Isaac Allen

June 29, 2011

Looks can sometimes be deceiving. Isaac Allen is a clean-cut young man in his mid-twenties. Promo pictures show him sitting casually at his piano strumming the keys. When he opens in mouth, however, he becomes a gritty singer/songwriter of the blues in the Tom Waits tradition.

Despite his young age, Allen can honestly say he has lived the blues. He spent his early childhood in northern Pennsylvania and Dryden, New York. At the age of six, his doctor father moved the family halfway around the world to Borneo. It was in the city of Balikpapan, Indonesia that he spent his formative years. It was then on to Malaysia and Singapore. After extended bouts with alcohol, Allen has settled in New Haven, Connecticut.

Like many of the classic bluesmen of the past, he has drawn upon his life’s experiences to paint his songs. His compositions travel on the dark side of life, exploring such themes as drugs, women of the night, the Devil, prison, suicide and death. If you are looking for an uplifting experience, this is not an album for you. If you are looking for an album of passionate and well-produced blues, though, then this is an album that needs to grace your music collection.

Don’t Smoke is Allen’s first album and he wrote all of the tracks. While his piano remains the central instrument, he is adept at incorporating brass and particularly a saxophone sound into the mix.

There are a number of highlights to be explored. “The Devil“ is a slow blues tune with a horn section and dobro supporting his piano, as the music goes through a number of tempo changes. I have never been exposed to the sax playing of Kris Jensen but his work on “Get Right” is exceptional as his tone precisely combines with Allen’s voice. The best track is “The Mouse In My Head.” Its music is chaotic with a number of tempo changes, yet there is an underlying melodic nature that is alluring.

Don’t Smoke introduces a fine young musician who not only plays the blues but has also lived them. Hopefully he will continue to draw on his life’s journey for more releases in the future.

Article first published as Music Review: Mr. Isaac Allen – Don’t Smoke on Blogcritics.