Old Blood

Joe McMurrian CD coverJoe McMurrian seems like a buried treasure here in Portland that we’ve kept to ourselves. One of the most inventive, innovative, creative and fresh sounding artists on the scene today, he should be a household name for anybody who enjoys listening to acoustic blues and roots music. There are very few people who have explored the sounds as deeply as he has. His music is modern, yet extremely influenced by the masters of the blues like Robert Pete Williams, Skip James, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bukka White and Son House among many others. He channels those musicians in his own original compositions, yet this music does not mimic, it is highly pursuing new ground and laying the foundation for blues artists of the future.

Old Blood is Joe McMurrian’s first solo studio outing since his award winning Get Inside This House CD, that was recognized by The Blues Foundation as the Best Self-Produced CD in 2011. Studio recording did I say? Well, not exactly. Joe took to the out-of-the-way confines of an old pine cabin on Snow Mountain in Oregon and spent four days baring his soul and music by himself using vintage recording equipment, mics and instruments to collect a raw and natural feel to his songs. The wooden floor of the cabin helped enhance the sound on the tracks, most of which were completed in first takes.

With just his voice, guitars (both slide and finger-picked) and banjo, there is a lot of intimacy behind these selections. Every one is an in-depth story that requires close listening to grab the gist of Joe’s writing. But this music is so beautifully recorded and intensely crafted that it’s hard to do anything but let it capture your ears. And it goes in a variety of directions, often leaving you with the impression that the man has no boundaries. The only track on the disc that has been previously recorded is “Scrap Iron Pete” that was released in a live take on the Cascade Blues Association’s Puddletown Blues, Volume One. But that take was done with Joe’s band Woodbrain, and this solo outing adds so much more emotion and bares so much more with his banjo work.

What can be said about Joe McMurrian? His songwriting and performances stand on their own merit. He just does not release music that you’re going to hear from anybody else, and if you do, it is not going to match the quality and originality you’re going to find here. He has picked up right in step where he left off with Get Inside This House. Old Blood is more than just a great album, it is an acoustic masterpiece.

Old Blood is available as a download at http://joemcmurrian.bandcamp.com/album/old-blood.

Total Time: 55:08

My Mind Was Fire / Scrap Iron Pete / Big Wad O’ Dough / Cold Fall / Blue Meadow / Off to Sea / Old Blood / Black Pony / Mexican Soldier / Mercy for Tomorrow / Angel City / How to Breath / Snow
Mountain Blues / Lost in the Country

Keep the date Saturday, February 14th open. Yes, that is Valentine’s Day and traditionally the Cascade Blues Association has held an event over this weekend for more than ten years now. That has not changed, though the name has. No longer the Sweetheart’s Dance, we have renamed the event the Red, White and Blues Dance. Too many people felt that they were not welcome to attend the event in the past if they did not have a sweetheart, and we never wanted that to be the case. So now, it’s a friendlier and welcome name for all.

This year, the Red, White & Blues Dance will be held at The Trails End Saloon in Oregon City. Please watch our website and Facebook pages to learn more about who will be performing at this event and showtime More information will also be available in the February BluesNotes. The Trails End Saloon is located at 1320 Main Street. Admission for this event will remain as always, $10.00 person / $15.00 couples.

ramblings201306BNGreg Johnson / CBA President

Well, here we go, starting another year. Thank you so much for the confidence you have shown me by re-electing me to an unbelievable fourteenth term as Cascade Blues Association President. I’ll do my best to keep the organization’s standards to the highest quality possible.

I thought I would start this month’s column with a tradition that I’ve done the past couple years. The Washington Blues Society asked me to create a top ten list of my favorite albums from the year back in 2012 and again in 2013.  I also included that list for you in the BluesNotes each year. So here is my list of the albums I truly enjoyed this past year – not necessarily in the exact order mind you.

Topping off my list is an artist that I have had the pleasure of having play in the room I host during the International Blues Challenge three times over the past few years. Jarekus Singleton may have not every made to the final round in Memphis, but he certainly convinced me that he is one heck of a showman. Obviously, he convinced Bruce Iglauer, as well, who saw him play at the IBC and signed him to a recording deal. And the album that came out of that, Refuse To Lose is an undeniable superb release with many memorable tracks, all originals, and receiving three Blues Music Awards nominations. I guess I’m not the only one thrilled by this release.

Next up is another stellar album that could have just as easily been my top selection. By far the best album of his career to date, John Nemeth’s Memphis Grease continues to get non-stop airplay from me with its deep soulful numbers that also earned John a boatload of BMA nominations. And speaking of soul, next would be The Robert Cray Band’s In My Soul. This is Robert Cray at his absolute best, he is currently on a steady roll putting out some of the finest music in his already well-established repertoire. And I have to mention that Dover Weinberg on keys adds a lot to the sound, just listen to the song “Hip Tight Onions” to prove that fact.

Now this next one may surprise you, but let me tell you it had to be the most pleasing discovery of new talent I have heard locally to cross the threshold. That is Salem’s Gabriel Cox and his self-titled release. This is a guy that blows me away every time I hear him, either by listening to this album or on stage. Not traditional blues by any means, but damn good music. Clever songwriting, sharp musicianship throughout the band, and one flat out great soulful singer. Watch this kid, he should be going places.

It should not be any surprise, though, with the following disc. Both Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls are two of my favorite vocalists and each had their own individual recordings on my list last year – Otis actually taking the top spot then . so put them together and what do you get? One sensational soul groove that brings you back again and again. Just the updated readings on classics like “What Becomes Of  The Broken Hearted” and “Turn Back The Hands Of Time” on Soul Brothers are enough to make this a great disc, but it just doesn’t end there.

We cannot forget the ladies of the blues, and my next three choices all feature career topping performances to date. First, Janiva Magness made the bold move to leave a major label to form her own, and she came out with Original, perhaps her most personal and emotional disc yet. Lisa Mann also lit up the blues world with another terrific CD, but Move On is bringing the long-overdue attention outside of the Northwest she deserves. And speaking of emotional recordings, I love the music of Eden Brent and Jigsaw Heart really found a spot for me this past year with its beautiful and sometimes raucous piano playing and her moving voice.

I head right back to the soulful side of the blues with the inclusion of Dexter Allen’s  Bluez Of My Soul. This is Southern soulful blues to its very identity, with a little help from his Mississippi blues brother Bobby Rush joining in on the fun.

Closing this list of ten discs is something that I usually do not bother reviewing or including, and that is a best of collection. But this one proved to be more than just that, with a handful of new tracks included. And what can I say, it’s Too Slim & The Taildraggers and the output that Tim “Too Slim” Langford has created over the years collected on Anthology is the exception to break the rules.

It’s hard to put together a list of who you liked the best. That list can change from week to week, so I would like to mention just a handful that were on the cusp as I wrote this, but could be there the next time I think about it later: Joe Louis Walker – Hornet’s Nest; Linsey Alexander – Come Back Baby; JP Soars – Full Moon Night In Memphis; Dave & Phil Alvin – Common Ground: Play and Sing The Songs of Big Bill Broonzy; Elvin Bishop – Can’t Even Do Wrong Right; Johnny Winter – Step Back; or the Empire Roots Band – Music From The Film Harlem Street Singer. And that’s just a small sampling of so many other great albums from 2014. You cannot go wrong with any of them or so many more.

What do you think? I would love to see your lists. Post your top ten blues albums on the Cascade Blues Association Facebook page. Maybe you’ll turn us all onto something we have yet to hear.

By Laurie Morrisey

“Gabriel Cox is a true songwriter at heart, blending elements of blues, rock, pop, funk and soul…His performance at the Waterfront Blues Festival last year was rewarded with a nomination for CBA best ‘New Act’. His self-titled CD was also nominated for best ‘NW Recording’ of 2014. Expect great things from this rising talent, you’re gonna love him!” according to Cascade Blues Association President Greg Johnson.Gabriel Cox - photo by Greg Johnson (to use with meeting article)

Gabriel was raised in Salem and has spent a lot of time performing up and down the Willamette Valley. Many of you enjoyed his sound at the December CBA holiday party. You may have seen him performing with other bands the past 10 years, but over the last year he has gone on to do his own thing, “It’s really exciting for me!” he said.

2014 was a busy year for Gabriel. Aside from playing the Waterfront Blues Festival, he also played a variety of festivals and competitions. At the Battle of the Bands at the Keizer Iris Festival last spring he took second place and won took the People’s Choice award. He also competed in the Journey to Memphis competition at The Lehrer in June. Other festivals included the Salem Art Fair & Festival, Bite & Brew of Salem, and The Bite of Oregon.

When asked about his musical ambitions, he said, “I’ve always wanted to play music professionally, but never really thought I had it in me. I was a pretty shy kid growing up. Music let’s me open up though.” After serving for five years in the Air Force, he returned to Salem and started his “day job” working for the State of Oregon for about five years, but says he would definitely rather play music full time.

Gabriel describes his music as a heartfelt blues rock vibe, “Kinda like a distant nephew of The Black Crowes.” Pyrate Llama Recording Studio describes his music as “like John Mayer meets Jack White.”

Mostly he plays guitar and sings, but plays other instruments as well. He is self-taught, with no formal training. “But I come from a musical family where a lot of my relatives are also musicians, so their influences sort of pushed me toward music.”

“My musical influences mainly come from the people I’ve played with. The local music scene in the Portland area is very inspiring to be a part of.” He said he has loved blues from an early age and there are many blues artists that he has found influential over the years.

He says he plays with many talented musicians in the Portland area. “I’m always looking to play with other musicians—I can’t wait to see who I meet next. If anyone is interested please contact me. I try to mix up the musicians I play with so that each show has a new vibe. However, since the beginning, it’s been my dad, Mark Cox on drums; Sheldon Roy on bass guitar; Nathan Olsen on keys; and John Pulvers on guitar.”

Gabriel released his self-titled debut album in April of 2014. “My wife really pushed me to get it done for a long time because she knew how talented I was. The album turned out absolutely wonderful, and I’m so happy to share it with everyone. If you haven’t heard it yet you can order it off my website, www.gabrielcoxmusic.com, or find it on iTunes.” He is hoping to release more music in the future, so be on the lookout for that.

Gabriel is one of those performers who you’ll be glad to say, “I knew him when he was starting out on his own.” If you haven’t seen him in action, get out there and check it out. For more info and a list of upcoming shows, check out his website, www.gabrielcoxmusic.com.

G Love - press photoTwenty years after the release of their self-titled debut and eight years since their last live performance together, the original lineup of G. Love & Special Sauce return with their first album in nearly a decade titled Sugar. Built on the trio’s signature hip-hop blues sound, the album finds vocalist/guitarist/harmonica player G. Love (aka Garrett Dutton), upright bassist James “Jimi Jazz” Prescott, and drummer Jeffrey “The Houseman” Clemens breathing new life into their groove-heavy, Chicago-blues-infused brand of stripped-down rock & roll. “The goal for the album was to make it really raw and immediate, with live takes and live vocals and everybody playing so that it all comes together in that intangible way,” says G. Love. “That’s what our music is all about.”

Love & Special Sauce will be bringing their new music for a sure-to-be exciting night at the Crystal Ballroom, 1335 W Burnside, on Thursday, January 29th for an 8:00 pm, with opening act Mike Costa. This is an all ages event and general admission tickets may be purchased at etix.com for $22.50, plus service charges.

A New Day
Blue South Records

E.G. Kight, The Georgia Songbird, has returned from a scary life-threatening double illness of both meningitis and encephalitis that kept her from her work for many months. Going through such an ordeal gives time for many thoughts and Kight, inspired by this time to herself, has penned a collection of songs that she has released on a new recording titled appropriately enough, A New Day. Of the EG Kight CD coverten tracks presented on the disc, Kight was credited as the writer on each, with half co-written by Tom Horner, and assistance from her close friend Lisa Biales on one (“Graveyard Dead Blues”) and the late Ann Rabson of Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women fame on another (“Bad Times”).

A New Day falls in line with past Kight releases, meaning that it is highly exceptional material that focuses on her incredible vocals. The musicians behind her are all sensational, including such notable artists as guitarist Tommy Talton, drummer Bill Stewart and a trio of keyboardists laying down sharp licks, Paul Hornsby, Mike Harrell and Randall Bramblett. Michigan-based bluesman Greg Nagy joins Kight to blend his soulful voice with hers on “Bad Times.” Now that is a vocal pairing to be reckoned with, as each brings out the best in one another. Wow!

Kight reflects on her recent illness with the song “Holdin’ On.” “Now life is so much sweeter, I’m glad I’m here to tell you that, I’m a true believer, Where I have been I don’t want to go back.” Strong and emotional words and delivery. Pure E.G. Kight. And this album is filled with outstanding pieces, such as the gospel-inspired “Don’t Give Up” with hand claps and backing vocals that take us directly to church; the painful realization of watching your love walk away and knowing you “Can’t Catch The Wind”; on “Graveyard Dead Blues” she informs her partner that she can make a loving home, but do her wrong and she has “a stick broom in her kitchen and a big ol’ frying pan” and she’ll be ready to use them; and a new anthem for modern women, “Low Mileage Woman,” just slightly used, but you’ll love what you’ll be getting. There is also a couple terrific bluesy guitar pieces that are on completely different sides of the coin, with “Comin’ Down With The Blues” being a slow burning number and the closing “Time To Move On” taking on a more country blues approach.

Yes. E.G. Kight is definitely back. And A New Day places her right back where she belongs bringing us the blues as only she can. This is a terrific recording, ranking right along her best. I can hear her now, “Hey y’all, did ya miss me? Well wait’ll you get a load of what I have here.” And I’m telling you, this is something you need to hear. The Georgia Songbird flies again.

Total Time: 40:24

Holdin’ On / Graveyard Dead Blues / Comin’ Down With The Blues / Don’t Give Up / Can’t Catch The Wind / Let’s Get Down / Bad Times / Misunderstood / Low Mileage Woman / Time To Move On

Big Head Todd & The Monsters - press photoFor the past 25 years, Big Head Todd & The Monsters have built a strong reputation and following with their blues-flavored rock performances and releases. Their latest album, Black Beehive, continues to explore their rootsy blend of blues, folk and rock that has developed their distinguishable unique sound. The new album features noted blues greats saxophonist Eddie Shaw and guitarist Ronnie Baker Brooks (who has often toured with Big Head Todd), as the songs speak of modern social issues and also pay tributes to the passing of artists Amy Winehouse and Hubert Sumlin.

Big Head Todd & The Monsters are embarking on a multi-city winter tour celebrating the release of Black Beehive and they will be making a stop in Portland on Friday, January 16th at the Crystal Ballroom. Showtime is 8:00 with tickets available through etix.com for $32.50 advance (does not include service charge), $35.00 day of show for general admission. This is a 21 & over only show. The Crystal Ballroom is located at 1332 W Burnside.

Special VIP Monster Ticket Packages are also available exclusively at the band’s website, bigheadtodd.com. For $82.50, it will include 1 ticket to the show, pre-show meet & greet with the band, an exclusive 2015 VIP laminate with lanyard, an exclusive limited edition, hand-numbered print signed by the band, and a photo op (have your camera ready, the venue only allows point & shoot cameras with no flash, professional cameras not welcome without first obtaining permission from the band ahead of time). See the Crystal Ballroom website for full details.

The Journey To Memphis is the Cascade Blues Association’s regional competition to select the acts that will represent our organization and region in the next year’s International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN that will be held in early 2016. Up to 250 acts from around the world converge on Beale Street to perform before the music industry looking for new talent, with the chance to win recognition and prizes that include major festival performances and more. But the only way an act may participate is to win a regional competition held by one of The Blues Foundation’s affiliated societies like the Cascade Blues Association.

The Journey To Memphis will be held in two rounds. The opening round will take place over two nights at The Lehrer on Friday, June 5th and Saturday, June 6th. Acts are scored by a trio of judges selected for their backgrounds and knowledge of the blues. The two highest scoring acts each night advance to the finals held at the Waterfront Blues Festival on July 4th.

Applications to participate in the competition will be accepted now until Wednesday, April 1st at the Cascade Blues Association membership meeting. No late applications will be accepted. All eligible acts that meet our criteria as described below will be able to compete. We will adjust the time schedule to ensure all are included. Each act will perform either Friday or Saturday and are scheduled as drawn at random, so we request that you do not schedule other gigs until you know which night you are scheduled.

Here’s what you need to do to enter:

  • Entry fee is $25.00 (This is an increase from last year and is the first time we have raised the fee in more than ten years. This is to stay consistent with what other societies have been charging – though still less than many – and all fees collected go to the prize money to the competition’s winners to help cover travel expenses.)
  • Each act must have at least one person in the band who is a member of the Cascade Blues Association.
  • Only acts located within the region of Oregon, Washington or Idaho are allowed to enter the Journey To Memphis.
  • Any act that has been nominated for or received a Blues Music Awards from The Blues Foundation are ineligible to compete.
  • Any act that has competed in the International Blues Challenge two consecutive years, regardless whether with the same society or as a solo/duo or band act, must sit out a year before being allowed to compete again.
  • Along with your $25.00 application fee, send an up-to-date band bio including names of all members, a 300 dpi photo of the band, full song samples of the band’s music (this may be used on a radio broadcast to promote the event), and we need to be made aware of any band member who may be under 21 years of age at the time of the competition so the venue is aware ahead of time for Oregon Liquor Commission laws.
  • We require that any act that moves forward in the competition must use the same band members that they won the rounds with. In other words, if you won with a certain bass player or drummer at the Waterfront Blues Festival, that bassist and drummer must be in your band to compete in Memphis. Exceptions will made in rare circumstances when not under control of the act, such as health issues.
  • We do not prevent acts competing with the Cascade Blues Association from doing so with other societies. All that we ask is that if you win another group’s competition before ours is held, or if you win ours before theirs, then you remove yourself from further competitions to allow other acts the chance to win the right to go to Memphis.

Various Artists
The Blues Foundation

Blues Music Awards DVD CD coverOn May 8, 2014, The Blues Foundation held the 35th annual Blues Music Awards in the Cook Convention Center in Memphis, TN. Always the premier night in the blues world, this seven-plus hour awards ceremony and concert brought together a grand selection of many of the best artists working today in performance and celebration. Many of the sets featuring musicians who rarely, if ever, play with one another on stage at any other time.

For the past several years, The Blues Foundation has been filming and recording the Blues Music Awards and releasing some of the banner performances on a DVD, and the past couple of year have also included a companion CD of the songs uninterrupted as the video is meant to be shared on Public Television. Additional material is also included as bonuses not programmed as part of the show aimed at television, but just as exciting. The production team does a masterful job every year and the finalized project was handled at Memphis’ famed Ardent Studios.

This year’s collection includes appearances by people like James Cotton, Ronnie Earl, Elvin Bishop, Rory Block, Beth Hart, Charlie Musselwhite, Anson Funderburgh, Brandon Santini, Cedric Burnside, Doug MacLeod, Mike Zito, Little G Weevil, Lurrie Bell, Trudy Lynn, Kim Wilson, Teeny Tucker and many, many more. For those who cannot make the Blues Music Awards, or for those who are curious about what goes on at these gala events, this is the perfect place to catch what you may be missing. For those who have attended, you know that these are must-have for your collection of memories.

The 35th Blues Music Awards DVD/CD is available exclusively at The Blues Foundation website, www.blues.org/

Total Time: 1:50:25 (DVD); 1:09:43 (CD)

Shoes / I Just Wanted To Be Your Man / The Entitled Few / One Of These Mornings / Daddy Told Me / Blues In My Soul / He Was There / The Big Train / Baddest Blues / I Just Can’t Go On / Gone To Texas / Do The Romp / Deal With It

Bonus Tracks on DVD: Memphis Boogie / Declare / Help Me With The Blues / Recession Blues / Ain’t Going Down The Dirty Road / Hula Hoop / Down In Memphis

David Jacobs-Strain - photo by Tara Laidlaw-David Jacobs-Strain is a fierce slide guitar player, and a song poet from Eugene, Oregon.  He’s known for both his virtuosity and spirit of emotional abandon; his live show moves from humorous, subversive blues, to delicate balladry, and then swings back to swampy rock and roll.  It’s a range that ties Jacobs-Strain to his own generation and to guitar-slinger troubadours like Robert Johnson and Jackson Browne.  “I try to make art that you can dance to, but I love that darker place, where in my mind, Skip James, Nick Drake, and maybe Elliot Smith blur together.”

Those of us in the Northwest have watched David Jacobs-Strain grow from a teen-aged blues guitar prodigy to the sensational musician he is today, touring across the country and from Australia to Switzerland. He has performed at many of the most prestigious festivals and venues including The Kennedy Center, MerleFest, Telluride Blues Festival, Philadelphia Folk Festival and has worked as an instructor at both Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch and Centrum Port Townsend.

David Jacobs-Strain will be returning back to his home state in January where he will be performing at the Alberta Rose Theatre, on Friday, January 9th, for a 8:00 pm show. Tickets are $15.00 advance and $17.00 day of show and may be purchased at www.albertarosetheatre.com. Minors are welcome when accompanied by a parent or guardian. To make this an even more special event, David will be recording this performance for an up-coming live album and will be joined by local artists Bob Beach and Anne Weiss. Opening the night will be New York-based folk and blues solo artist Ara Lee.