Flat Hat Productions

Rafael Tranquilino CD coverWhen you think of smokin’ hot blues guitar playing, Mexico City is probably not the first place you’re going to think of when listing where such musicians originate from. In fact, when I was speaking to Rafael Tranquilino in Memphis in January, it did not sound as if there was much blues being played there at all. But somehow, Tranquilino became enchanted with the music, and now residing in the Seattle area, his love for the powerful, rockin’ blues has helped him develop into one of the hottest young string bluesers on the West Coast. And he often mixes in his native Spanish language into his songs that helps make his style quite unique. His latest release Espera is a well-crafted example of everything that makes Tranquilino an artist to watch.

This is blues that often comes across with a bite and an edge to it. Stinging guitar work that has influences coming straight out of the Stevie Ray Vaughan songbook, but never actually imitating the master, as is apparent in his number “Stevie.” That piece captures the mood of Vaughan, but there is also kind of a little surf riff that arises in it as well. And by no means is that Texas blues approach the only angle that he plays from, there is a wide mix of range throughout the disc from heavy-hitting to very moody. Tranquilino’s slide playing is showcased in the opening track “Back Down, Engine Town” and on “Take You For A Ride” the mood is powerful with sizzling fret magic as you realize the ride you’re going on is going to be white knuckled. And that is a common feeling throughout Espera, with perhaps the finest moments displayed on the handful of instrumentals found scattered throughout the album.

Aside from Tranquilino on guitar, the band is made up of three sensational ladies, Lissa Ramaglia on bass, Eva Dizon on drums and Leah Tussing providing vocals on three tracks and songwriting credits on two. Tussing’s voice is quite hypnotic on “Do You Want Me?” as she implores the man of her desire to “catch me if you can” while telling herself that she “just has to breathe.” Tranquilino once again throws down mesmerizing and fiery playing in a somewhat Jimmy Page-esque manner on the song.

The sudden ending of the final track “Espera/Waiting” leaves you anticipating more. Its driving energy builds you up into a frenzy and that abrupt closure is a tease to get you into listening to the album all over again. It certainly hooked me into doing so.

Total Time: 66:16

Back Down, Engine Town / Salvo Mi Alma / Shuffle / Do You Want Me? / Stevie / Delta Soul / Lucia / Ya No Blues / Driving Blues / Crazy Jam / Take You For A Ride / No Vuelvas / Espera – Waiting

The Devil You Know
Alligator Records

Tommy Castro CD coverThe Devil You Know is a new direction for Tommy Castro. Well, maybe not so new. It’s really a return to his roots. Back to performing with a bare-boned band, pouring out sharp-edged guitar driven blues as he had started out in those smoky clubs in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the beer flowed freely at the bar and local die-hard fans came out to spend their pay checks and to dance the night away with a get-down, greasy blues band like Tommy’s.

About a year ago, Castro made the decision to take on this direction. After more than two decades, touring the world’s most renowned venues, the largest festivals, cruise ships and twelve Blues Music Award nomination garnering six wins including two times as the BB King Entertainer of the Year. It may have seemed like a step-back in time for him as he had worked with saxophonist Keith Crossan since the early 90s. Crossan went on to form his own band and Castro, along with original Tommy Castro Band bassist Randy McDonald, keyboardist James Pace and drummer David Tucker formed The Painkillers.

The Devil You Know is the first album from Tommy Castro and The Painkillers. The feel is pure rocking blues with nine original tunes and four covers. The disc is chock full of special guests and terrific numbers start to finish. “When I Cross The Mississippi” is a barn burning affair featuring Castro accompanied by guitarist Mark Karan and Tab Benoit trading licks and vocals as Mike Finnegan’s clever organ playing spurs them on. It seems strange that Samantha Fish is brought in for the recording and does not play any guitar herself, just providing appealing vocals. But boy howdy does she sing on this number! Joe Bonamassa is also on hand in a string wrangling tandem with Castro on Savoy Brown’s Chris Youlden’s song “I’m Tired.” Marcia Ball also makes an appearance laying down authentic Louisiana inspired piano on “Mojo Hannah.” The band does a splendid version of JB Lenoir’s “The Whale Have Swallowed Me” and perhaps the highlight of the album is a picture perfect take on Wet Willie’s classic “Keep On Smilin’.” Mike Duke’s piano holds the tune to the forefront while Tommy provides some soulful singing within his gravelly voice here and the duo guitar with Mark Karan brings out the Southern rock feeling. Then there is the vocal backing of The Holmes Brothers and Magic Dick blowing harmonica gold on “Two Steps Forward.” “The Devil You Know” is a reference to those you think you know best. They may do you wrong from time to time, but in the long run perhaps you’re better off knowing what to expect from them rather than taking a chance on something new that just might bite your tail harder in the long run.

After sitting on top of the blues world for so long with an established band and sound, has Tommy Castro made a mistake in the back step to this basic outfit? If The Devil You Know is any indication he is probably going to be all right. The energetic drive that has always been behind Castro is alive and well. And The Painkillers should be a force to be reckoned with on stage. Yeah, they’re going to be just fine and they’ll be accepted by their long-time fans as well.

Total Time: 52:09

The Devil You Know / Second Mind / I’m Tired / Center Of Attention / The Whale Have Swallowed Me / When I Cross The Mississippi / Mojo Hannah / Two Steps Forward / She Wanted To Give It To Me / Keep On Smilin’ / Medicine Woman / That’s All I Got / Greedy

I’m Still Here
Pete Karnes V8 Productions

Pete Karnes CD coverI’m Still Here is like taking a walk down memory lane, back to the 1970s and 80s when the Pete Karnes Blooz Band was one Portland’s most favored blues acts and one of the hardest working bands on the West Coast. There was no denying the band’s vision and sound of straight ahead, down and dirty traditional blues that helped spawn the city’s scene. Not only was he a top act himself, he also found a way to bring some of the best blues acts to Portland including friends like Charlie Musselwhite, JB Hutto, Robert Lockwood Jr and Big Walter Horton. Karnes released two outstanding albums during that period A shot and A Back (1975) and Dark of the Woods (1978). He also was a featured harmonica player on John Lee Hooker’s disc The Cream and his band toured opening for people like Canned Heat, BB King and the Electric Flag.

But his life took a wrong turn with his wife being diagnosed with cancer and he found himself moving to Florida for her last years and music took a back seat in his life. Working as a cross country trucker, Karnes was involved in a serious accident in Minnesota in 2004 that found him considered dead for nine minutes, then in a coma for the next five weeks and a five month stint hospitalized. Rehab was long and hard.

A couple years later Karnes found the desire to start performing again and began sitting in with acts in Florida, eventually putting together his own band again. Now, twenty-six years following his last recording, Pete Karnes has released a new disc titled I’m Still Here, a very prophetic title to say the least. It is not a return to the traditional blues for him as that never left. And that sensational harmonica work that he delivered back in the day still sounds so authentic and appealing today as much as it did then. Backed by a rock-steady band featuring guitarists Steve Shirley and Phil Koultas it is a throw-back to that blues beat derived from the streets of Chicago and the smoke-filled bars of Texas.

Of the ten selections offered on the disc, nine are Karnes originals. It opens with a churning harp piece titled “I Love My Baby” that is a driving number that shouts out you have better come to this recording to hear the blues because that’s what you’re getting here, nothing less. “Boogie Time” is a John Lee Hooker infused number that sounds like it could have come straight out of the Canned Heat discography. On “South of the Border” Karnes takes on a Latin feel that might remind you of Big Walter Horton’s take of “La Cucaracha” with its crunchy chromatic harmonica approach and some very tasty acoustic guitar from Rick Randlett. “Lil’ Jazzy” offers some trademark Karnes’ harmonica playing with that unique echoing quality that has always been hypnotic and gratifying. “Rayma’s Song” is a sad, slow-paced piece that laments on the loss of his wife to cancer and though he misses her tremendously there is still a deep love that she’ll always be a part within him every day. The lone cover number on the recording is Tampa Red’s “Play With Your Poodle,” that has a nice rocking feel behind it led by Steve Shirley’s lead guitar work.

It is certainly great to see new material from Pete Karnes; been way too long since we’ve been treated to that outstanding harmonica work and hopefully this is only the beginning of more to come. An exceptional release that finds Karnes definitely telling us all, “Hey, I’m Still Here!!”

Total Time: 52:22

I Love My Baby / Play With Your Poodle / Rayma’s Song / That Ain’t Right / South Of The Border / Looking For A Woman / Boogie Time / My Family / Lil’ Jazzy / Bicycle Man

Michissippi Mick
Swingsuit Records

Mick Kolassa CD coverMichissippi Mick is like a personal love letter to the music of Memphis. Mick Kolassa has taken favorites from songs of the past, adding his own touch to them alongside several standout original tracks, making this album one of the best feel good recordings so far this year. And he has brought along a stellar cast of many of the region’s most beloved musicians to help him out. Recorded at Ardent Studios with the keen ear of Jeff Jensen and Adam Hill behind the mix, Kolassa has taken aim at various stylings of the blues and hit them square on the head with every track.

Opening with the old jug band standard “Beale Street Blues” updated as “New Beale Street Blues” Kolassa offers a picture postcard of Beale naming off a number of the clubs while his steady acoustic playing is matched by Eric Hughes’ harmonica. That is followed by the original “Blues Are All Around You,” offering searing guitar work by Jeff Jensen who shines throughout the disc with some of the finest string work he has ever laid to disc. The Box Tops’ rock classic “The Letter” is set to a slower blues pace with exceptional over the top organ playing by Chris Stephenson. Other numbers include a terrific take of Johnny Mercer’s “Blues In The Night” with more organ work joined by Brandon Santini on harmonica and trumpeter Dedrick Davis who has played with the likes of Barbara Blue, The Gales Brothers and Charlie Wood. The slow blues “Baby’s Got Another Lover” again finds Jensen playing guitar at the top of his game. The cover of “Reefer Man” has Victor Wainwright laying out some honky tonk piano and Kolassa closes the disc with a country yodel on Jimmie Rodgers’ “Mississippi River Blues.” There is no low point to the entire album, every song works perfectly and flows into the next as if they were always meant to be. And Kolassa’s vocals fit them all to a tee.

The line-up of great musicians also includes local luminaries as Reba Russell, Redd Velvet, Don McMinn, Bill Ruffino, James Cunningham, Danny Banks, Preston McEwan and even buddy Ted Todd from Spokane’s Inland Empire Blues Society and radio show Blowtorch Blues joins in for some background vocals.

Besides being a terrific collection of music, Michissippi Mick is also a great way to help out with The Blues Foundation’s Hart Fund to provide aid for musicians and their families with health care needs and burial expenses, and also the Generation Blues program offering scholarships to young artists under the age of  twenty-one. 100 % of all sales will go to The Blues Foundation for both of these programs.

Michissippi Mick is a superb album that displays the love for the blues and the musical talents of Mick Kolassa. It’s hard not to enjoy this one, fun from beginning to end. Highly recommended.

Total Time: 48:39

New Beale Street Blues / Blues Are All Around You / The Letter / Reefer Man / Blues In The Night / Burned That Bridge / Land Of The Crossroads / Baby’s Got Another Lover / Blowtorch Love / WPD / Time Ain’t On My Side / Mississippi River Blues

Hornet’s Nest
Alligator Records

Joe Louis Walker CD coverFor me, Joe Louis Walker has been one of my all-time favorite blues musicians and I heavily anticipate every new release that he puts out. Over the years that has amassed to about twenty-five recordings and each of them always seems to put Walker into new dimensions within the music he addresses, always filled with extraordinary guitar and features those immediately identifiable vocals.

Hornet’s Nest is his second disc on Alligator Records, following up on the heels of the highly praised Hellfire. Once again he went to Nashville to create these new tracks, utilizing the talents of one of today’s best producers and songwriters Tom Hambridge who has worked his magic on so many top artists including Buddy Guy, Susan Tedeschi and James Cotton. A crack band behind him, Hambridge on drums, Reese Wynans on keyboards, Tommy MacDonald on bass and Rob McNelley on second guitar, lay down the foundation for one of Walker’s finest outings of his career.

Nine of the twelve offerings are original. Hambridge and Walker team up for crafty lyrical wordsmithing that are catchy, honest and true to Walker’s form of excellent material. These include tracks such as the title number “Hornet’s Nest” warning anybody who plans on catching the attention of his baby that they’re stepping into trouble and will definitely get stung by him; the hard rockin’ piece “Ramblin’ Soul,” “Not In Kansas Anymore,” “Stick A Fork In Me Baby” where he professes that his love for you is through as he states to “bring out the hot sauce and the A1, I’m handing you my notice, you ain’t getting this no more”; and the undying appeal for his lover in “Love Enough” as he will be true enough to “last until I lay down my soul.”

There are also some terrific covers included on “Hornet’s Nest,” as he takes on The Rolling Stones’ “Ride On, Baby” and “Don’t Let Go” which has been recorded in several different manners by people like Isaac Hayes, Roy Hamilton and Carl Perkins. Walker takes the number more in line with Perkins’ rockabilly fashion.

Guitar work always prevails on everything that Walker does. His trademark slide is prevalent on “I’m Gonna Walk Outside.” There is nice interplay between the guitar and Reese Wynans keys on “Soul City,” where Wynans comes across in a Sly Stone type of sound. And the slow blues of “As The Sun Goes Down” strikes at the heart with its emotional cry as he sings “when the sun goes down I ain’t nothing but alone.”

Walker started his career working in gospel with the Spiritual Corinthians and every now and then he will bring back that sound in his work. The closing piece on Hornet’s Nest is a beautiful original titled “Keep The Faith.” The vocals are touching, that may bring to mind artists like Bobby Womack or Donny Hathaway, with Wynans providing exceptional piano. It is the perfect ending to a sensational overall album.

Hornet’s Nest is a true testament to the diversity and ever fresh talents of Joe Louis Walker that seems to have no bounds. One of his finest albums of his career and exemplifies why he has been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Extraordinary start to finish, Joe Louis Walker continues to amaze and inspire.

Total Time: 51:10

Hornet’s Nest / All I Wanted To Do / As The Sun Goes Down / Stick A Fork In Me / Don’t Let Go / Love Enough / Ramblin’ Soul / Ride On, Baby / Soul City / I’m Gonna Walk Outside / Not In Kansas Anymore / Keep The Faith

Various Artists
The Blues Foundation

34th Blues Music Awards CD coverFor me, I always look forward to the release every year of the Blues Music Awards DVD, made even nicer the past couple years as it also includes a CD that allows you to take the music with you in your car. Since I have been working the stage for the past few years, the DVD allows me to see some of the show I might’ve missed as I am being kept busy backstage. It also gives a sense of pride knowing that I had a part in making this great event..

The Blues Music Awards are considered the elite honors for artists in the blues genre. Since most award shows tend to overlook the blues, it is recognition from those people who love the music itself and support the artists as they tour and release new recordings. The DVD portion of these releases are meant to be seen by the public and are offered for presentation on Public Broadcasting Television. It includes highlights of performances and acceptance speeches. There are a handful of performances on the DVD that are extras and the CD offers most of the same tunes uninterrupted by speeches and in their entirety.

The artists who perform each year at the Blues Music Awards are all nominees and winners. Selections on the DVD/CD this year include the night’s biggest winner with three awards including the BB King Entertainer of the Year Curtis Salgado performing his nominated song “She Didn’t Cut Me Loose.” Janiva Magness also sings her winning song “I Won’t Cry.” Other vocal highlights are John Nemeth on “Said Too Much” backed by The Bo-Keys and a sensational take by Dorothy Moore on her timeless classic “Misty Blue.” Other acts included are Rick Estrin & The Nightcats, Heritage Blues Orchestra, Victor Wainwright, The Mannish Boys with Sugaray Rayford (and for Portland fans, Kevin Selfe, Franck Goldwasser and Jimi Bott), Joe Louis Walker, Mud Morganfield, Eric Bibb, Diunna Greenleaf with Bob Margolin, Royal Southern Brotherhood, Shakura S’Aida, Harrison Kennedy, Paul Rishell & Annie Raines, Nick Moss, and Milton Hopkins & Jewel Brown.

The crowning event of the year in the blues world. If you cannot make it to the Blues Music Awards, this is a great way to be a part of the show whenever the feeling comes upon you. Check it out and you just may find yourself making reservations to attend next time.

Total Time CD: 1:15:52

Get Right Church / Calling All Fools / Said Too Much / Misty Blue / Please Forgive Me / Goin’ Down Slow / I Won’t Cry / Tragedy / Have You Heard About Jerry / She Didn’t Cut Me Loose / I Won’t Do That / Moonlight Over The Mississippi / It’ll Turn Around / Geechee Woman

(DVD offers four additional tracks)

Various Artists
Self Produced

NW Roots Uprising CD coverNW Roots Uprising is the brain child of Lucy Hammond. She has gathered many of the Northwest best blues and roots acts and given them an opportunity to record and collaborate with one another. This five-song EP is the first of a series of tracks recorded and co-produced by Kevin Nettleingham at his own award-winning studio, Nettleingham Audio. The artists involved may come from a number of genres, but all recognize the base of the blues that had its influence on what they play. This is nicely displayed on NW Roots Uprising Volume 1. Five artists, all with their own presentation and sound, but the songs all fit alongside with one another and flow nicely.

The disc opens with Ben Rice, the young guitar slinger and songwriter who has been carving a niche for himself in the Portland metro area for the past decade. “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” has Rice displaying his prime vocals alongside sensational guitar work that builds more frenetic as the song rolls on.

Lucy Hammond takes it right down to the deep Delta with “Muddy Waters.” There’s a bit of gospel inflection in her presentation. The acoustic guitar playing behind her is sharp and spot on for the feel of the South.

The beat picks up with The Martindales. This is rock in an Americana, fun guitar driven attitude that will remind you of The Blasters at their very best. “Bad Boy” with its rhyming patterns and highly danceable guitar riffs that’ll catch you singing along.

Tevis Hodge Jr takes us in a step back in time as he works out his steel-bodied guitar for a 1920s/30s feeling blues on “Jellybean Rootwork. This will be reminiscent of Son House or Robert Johnson.

And Rich Layton & The Troublemakers deliver their Gulf Coast grooves blending sharp guitar lines, banjo, harmonica and shuffling drums for a tribute to the film “The Big Lebowksi” on their original number “The Dude Abides.”

This is a great opening salvo from Lucy Hammond’s concept. Every song is a prime example of the artists’ talents. Can hardly wait to hear what will be coming next on Volume 2.

Total Time: 19:45

I Fall In Love Too Easily / Muddy Waters / Bad Boy / Jellybean Rootwork / The Dude Abides

Melody Ballroom, 615 SE Alder St., Portland
Wednesday, April 2nd – 7:00 pm
Members always Free – Non-members $3.00
Opening Set – Kivett Bednar
Second Set – Drop Dead Red

The year keeps rolling along and the blues is red hot in the city so far this year. Unbelievable number of touring acts and the local musicians just seem to get better every night out. For a little stop in the Pacific Northwest, kind of out of the way for a lot bands on the road, this town has the blues big time. But you all knew this already, that’s why you’re Cascade Blues Association members and the monthly meetings can always be trusted to bring fantastic performances from some of our area’s best. It’s a great time to check out newer acts you may not be familiar with and to catch up on some you may have not seen for a while.

Opening the April meeting will be a fairly new musician to the Portland area, though he has been in town for more than a year.. Originally from Austin, Kivett Bednar knows a thing or two about musical creativity. Being a graduate of the Berklee School of Music in Boston, a forerunner in producing some of the most inventive artists in modern music, Bednar truly puts his education to good use. Recently he released a new album titled Land of the Living where he has blended metal music with the blues. It has a definite crunch to its sound with a lot of dark heavy chording. He will be performing the songs from Land of the Living during his set mixed with some classic blues you’ll recognize. Joining him for the set will be drummer Lynn Nicholson. This is a straightforward duo that if you’re fans of the music of Cedric Burnside Project or Hillstomp you’ll appreciate. Very original, taking the blues in Portland to a new and exciting direction.

Drop Dead Red last played a CBA meeting a couple years ago, but they now have a new vocalist in Theresa Lowe, who has fronted bands such as Inner City Blues Band and Undercover in the past, as well as performing often with the Northwest Women in Rhythm & Blues. The musicians making up the band are all well versed veterans of the blues scene, including “Grandma Funk” Joanne Mead laying down her sensational bass work, “The Deacon” Tim Doyle who has been fingering those grooves on the keys for years with acts like Robbie Laws, Lori Bouck and Sonny Hess, drummer Wilton Merritt with a heavy background in gospel with renowned artists like The Mighty Clouds of Joy, Shirley Caesar and James Cleveland, saxophonist Bob Anderson who worked as a jazz musician and left music behind for 25 years before resurfacing with numerous Northwest blues bands, and guitarist Jon Tennis who claims he has fronted more nobodies in town outlasting most of the local dives and weddings he has performed at.

The word “quality” exemplifies Drop Dead Red, from their talent and well-orchestrated arrangements to their top of the line equipment. They play a wide variety of music and have been well received by audiences wherever they’ve played. This will be a fun-filled set, with an evening of listening and dancing pleasure.

Between sets we will hold our popular free ticket drawing for a chance to win CDs, concert tickets and more, so make certain to pick up your ticket at the door. We will also have another multi-CD drawing for a $1.00 per chance to take home a special package of discs put together just for this meeting.

Start your blues month out properly and come down to The Melody Ballroom for great music and to catch up with old friends. Bring your buddies, too. Convince them that they should also be members of the Cascade Blues Association, joining our friendly family of blues enthusiasts.

March 30 eventAdvance Ticket Purchase Required. Please purchase here:

Readings by comedian/actress/author Annabelle Gurwitch from her soon to be released Book “I SEE YOU MADE AN EFFORT Compliments, Indignities, and Survival Stories from the Edge of 50”. Music by Teatro Zinzanni’s Duffy Bishop and Seattle’s Blues Funk Diva LadyA at the Wurlitzer Manor in Gig Harbor.

This is your opportunity for a FABULOUS afternoon of Laughter! Music! Eats! Drinks! while supporting what is known as The “Special Olympics™ of Music.”

$75 per person which includes a signed copy of Annabelle’s book, light refreshments and beverages as well as some mighty Wurlitzer Tunes!

Limited Seating – This is Annabelle’s only Northwest visit on her book tour.

Details / Tickets:

For more Information about the Gig Harbor please call 253-858-4444.

benefit for tom royerTom Royer has provided the city with a steady back beat for quite some time, playing with many of the local blues community’s elite artists, especially behind his wife Lily Wilde. For a while now Tom has been living with pulmonary fibrosis and is in serious need of a lung transplant. So with the help of his wealth of friends, there will be a benefit show taking place at Duff’s Garage on Sunday, March 16th, to help raise what we can to assist with Tom’s receiving a new lung.

The show will start at 5:00 pm, with a $10.00 suggested donation, but please feel generous and give what you can afford.

Performers who are scheduled to appear at this event are: Lily Wilde, The DK Stewart Sextet with The Soul Survivor Horns, The Windshield Vipers featuring Jon Koonce, Danny Schauffler and Rich Gooch, Rockabilly Hall of Famer Levi Dexter backed by The High Flyers, Lloyd Jones Struggle, Steve Bradley, John Bunzow, Albert Reda and Mark Spangler. Comedian DC Malone will serve as emcee for the event.

Please come out and support Tom Royer with this event. Duff’s Garage is located at 1635 SE 7th Ave., Portland.