Remembering Little Walter CD coverVarious Artists
Blind Pig Records

Without question, Little Walter stands heads above just about every blues harmonica player in history when it comes to innovativeness and technical creativity. He took the instrument to new heights charting several hit songs and influencing generations of players for years to come, even still 45 years after his passing.

Little Walter is often the focus of many tributes, therefore, it only seems natural that Mark Hummel would decide to offer such in his popular Harmonica blowout series early in 2012. Those shows caught so much enthusiasm that they decided to record the event on a special night in December at a dinner theater in San Diego with five of the highest respected harmonica artists in attendance: Charlie Musselwhite, Billy Boy Arnold, Sugar Ray Norcia, James Harman and of course Hummel himself.

Each of the musicians selected their own personal favorite Little Walter numbers for the show and the recording, Remembering Little Walter, offers a pair from each. All are stunning recreations of Walter’s genius and many of his best known tunes are included, such as “You’re So Fine,” “Crazy Mixed Up World,” and “Blue Light.” All of the harpers also take their own solo during the finale of “My Babe,” Walter’s most recognized song.

Hummel who produced the show, also made certain to include some of the absolute best musicians to play alongside the harp masters. Guitar players Little Charlie Baty and Nathan James trade mighty fine licks, while bassist R.W. Grigsby and June Core on drums lay out the ideal rhythms to fuel Little Walter’s music. Baty even gets into the harmonica scene of the show himself, throwing down his own solo during “My Babe.”

Remembering Little Walter is definitely a treat for all fans of Little Walter’s material and blues fans in general, not only those who enjoy harmonica blues. These Harmonica Blowouts are always tasty and fun, and that carries over exceptionally well here. First rate start to finish and a treat to hear. This one is recommended with high applause.

Total Time: 55:58

I Got To Go / Just A Feeling / You’re So Fine / It’s Too Late Brother / Mean Old World / One Of These Mornings / Blue Light / Crazy Mixed Up World / Up The Line / Can’t Hold Out Much Longer / My Babe

Eric Hughes Band CD coverDrink Up!
I-55 Productions

Chances are if you’ve ever spent any time on Beale Street looking for the blues, you’ve come across the Eric Hughes Band. Long time mainstays on Beale, you can usually find them in one of several venues throughout the week. His popularity amongst the performers has earned him perennial nominations as the Beale Street Entertainer of the Year. A master on guitar, harmonica and vocals, he is also a crafty wordsmith when it comes to songwriting.

Drink Up! is the fourth release from the Eric Hughes Band. It features a strong line-up of musicians alongside Eric: Leo Goff on bass, Walter Hughes on guitar and mandolin, Doug McMinn throwing down drums, percussion and congas, Chris Stephenson on keys, and Memphis legend Robert Nighthawk Tooms also on keys. The production staff is also of high note, with Brad Webb as engineer, co-producer and mixer, and Dawn Hopkins, perhaps the finest editor and mixing professional in the entire MidSouth if not the entire country.

What is truly enjoyable about Eric Hughes’ music is his ability to come at you from a multitude of directions. He opens up with the title track, “Drink Up!” done in a jumping rockabilly feel. Later on he takes a little funk flavor with tracks like “Frostina” and “Repo Man.” “That’s My Baby’s Mama,” with its pop song quality carries a memorable catch-phrase behind a Stax-like guitar groove that if you do not watch out, you’ll be singing in your head endlessly. The cover of “Going To Brownsville” opens with a very traditional Delta feel, played on a steel-bodied acoustic guitar, with the pace picking up midway through as the band joins in. And “The Ballad Of Weevil Point Willie” is a nice display of Hughes’ songwriting ability to pass on a story; this time with a little down-home setting enhanced by the mandolin work of Walter Hughes.

Eric Hughes runs fully in front of his band each and every time out. His harp work on “Blues Magician” captures the essence of his bluesy lyrics precisely, doubly enriched by tight guitar licks. And what songwriting: “I’m a blues man, I’m only happy when I’m down.” On “Frostina” he uses great imagery to describe the coldness of this woman: “combs her hair with an icicle,” “sleeps in a Fridgadaire” and “just too chilly to hold.” Now that’s cold! And visual. He tells us about the life of a bluesman , staying out all night, cigarettes and booze, now you’ve “Tested Positive For The Blues.” His doctor tells him he needs to get a little sunlight, but the only cure that there really is is to find a little loving. This song is Eric Hughes at his unique best!

Drink Up! is a terrific recording, falling quite rightfully in the Memphis mode. It is a blues album, but it has been crisscrossed by other forms of music, too. Much like Beale Street and the city itself. Eric Hughes has struck gold in his songwriting this time out and the musicianship of the band and himself are definitely reaching new heights as well. If you’re unfamiliar with Eric Hughes or the modern Memphis blues sound, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this one.

Total Time: 42:48

Drink Up! / that’s My Baby’s Mama / Blues Magician / Frostina / Tested Positive For The Blues / Mama Don’t Allow / Repo Man / Raining On Beale / Going To Brownsville / The Ballad Of Weevil Point Willie / My Baby Got A Black Cat

Dudley Taft CD coverDeep Deep Blue
Self Produced

Former Seattle-based guitarist, now living on the East coast, Dudley Taft has securely placed himself into the upper class of the blues rock pantheon. A previous grunge rock artist who started with the band Sweetwater, he has waded into the bluesy depths of the Mississippi River for its musical culture. I just never realized that it flowed into Puget Sound.

Deep Deep Blue is Taft’s sophomore release and it is definitely for fans who enjoy the likes of ZZ Top or Joe Bonamassa. Taft catches us with nasty guitar hooks and exceptional songwriting. He covers a broad range of musical journeys that even includes performing the works of Bob Dylan and Lou Reed; making their music his own fiery property when said and done. His take on “Palace Of The King” makes you wonder if Leon Russell and Don Nix originally meant the tune to be for him foreseeing the future some forty years in advance. It is every bit as exciting as Albert King’s version, and that is saying a lot.

His original numbers, eight of the eleven tracks on the disc, find noteworthy lyrics and musical interpretation, highlighting his stellar guitar with formidable backing by John Kessler on bass, Eric Robert on keys and a trio of first-class drummers, Scott Vogel, Jason Patterson and the sensational Chris Leighton.

Taft has extended the blues rock boundaries, giving it his own sense of punch and delivery that can be hard-hitting and crafty. Dylan’s “Meet Me In The Morning” catches your ear right off and setting the pace for the electric forces emanating throughout the disc. But then he can hit with a mellower number like “Wishing Well” that reminds me of some of Tim “Too Slim” Langford’s material, meshing both acoustic and electric guitars. This in my opinion is by far the best number of the album..

You may find bits that sound like the best of classical rock here, but it is all drenched heavily with a blues base. If you like blues with a bit of a bite and edge, Dudley Taft is somebody to place close heed, too. Sharp and solid licks like those on Deep Deep Blue will sink deep and grab you by the shoulders, shaking you to give them a listen. Do so! Dudley Taft has that rock edge that’ll hold on to you long after this one finishes playing. He has found his true niche. Going back to the music that originally inspired him and it is where he belongs.

Total Time: 48:52

Meet Me In The Morning / The Waiting / God Forbid / Sally Can’t Dance / Deep Deep Blue / Feeling Good Now / Wishing Well / Satisfy You / Bandit Queen / Palace Of the King / Shanks Akimbo

Coyote Kings CD cover

Coyote Kings CD coverNasty Habits & Dirty Little Secrets
Twin Lion Records

When it comes to rockin’ blues bands in Eastern Washington, The Coyote Kings are definitely within the cream of the elite. This hard-hitting trio led by Robin Barrett on sizzling guitars and Chris “Rocket” Johnson pounding the skins and Kit Kuhlmann’s pulsating bass lines add deliberation to the music scene in Walla Walla and all points beyond. When you slip in the addition of the amazing vocals of Michelle “Mush” Morgan you’ve got a recipe to turn a lot of heads taking note of this strong, tight band. Mush joined the band in 2010 and was prominently featured on their last CD, Move. This time out on the latest release Nasty Habits & Dirty Little Secrets, she captures the full soul and intensity of Robin Barrett’s lyrics, taking the band to unforeseen acclaim.

All the tracks on Nasty Habits are penned by Barrett. They are well crafted, telling stories of life’s lessons in the pains of romance and warnings thereof as well. Barrett is at his best writing the slow, grinding blues where his guitar work fills in the emotion with the singer’s voice, whether his own or Mush’s, partnering with the instrumentation driving the impact home.

Take a song like “Best You Couldn’t Do.” Mush is telling you that you’d better listen up to what she has to say about how things are between you and her. She is cold and blunt. A kiss is not foreplay. And though you did the best that you could do, it’s just not enough on your part. The lyrics are emphasized by Barrett’s stinging guitar lines.

That is followed by Barrett taking on the vocals for “Hard To Be A Man.” It is another number of love gone wrong. It’s tough to be a man with somebody like you who spends so much time lying, cheating and all those other things you do.

And yet the theme continues with another strong track featuring Mush with “Baby’s Gone.” The interplay between vocals and guitar shines once again, with Barrett’s string-work on the slow blues jarring at your heart with the emotive pain that is being expressed.

With “That Hot Daddy” the band picks up the pace. It is a fun and nasty little number where Mush is telling us to pay heed to some of those men you ladies may encounter, cause some of those hot daddys are really sharks, swimming around like a mako in the dark. Love the imagery that Barrett has created here.

“Afternoon Sun” offers a relaxed, easy going number deep with one’s feelings for their partner, where I can’t think of anything I’d rather do, than take a little rest with you. And the instrumental “Walking In The Fog” is sensational, with Barrett channeling the spirit of the late Gary Moore’s guitar style to perfection. The disc closes out with “Am I Gettin’ Wise,” where Barrett takes a little look at himself in the mirror and despite still feeling like he possesses some of his younger wild ways, he has found recovering from too much partying takes a bit more to recuperate from and temptations are becoming easier to avoid with age.

Nasty Habits & Dirty Little Secrets is a very nicely produced recording with over the top sound. The band is clearly finding their niche and it’s in a place that is quite enjoyable and welcome in the ever strong blues world of the Pacific Northwest. Watch out Walla Walla, with the Coyote Kings & Mush putting out such a masterfully crafted album like this one, your little backyard secret will most likely get out and spread like wild fire on radio stations and stages far beyond the Northwest. This album has all the goods to cause just that.

Total Time: 51:47

Nasty Habit / Best You Couldn’t Do / Hard To Be A Man / Baby Wake Up / Baby’s Gone / My Rider / That Hot Daddy / Afternoon Sun / Scary Proposition / Walkin’ In The Fog / Am I Getting’ Wise

Song Isle Publishing

 Since first moving up to the Portland area from Louisiana just a few short years ago, Steve Kerin has captured the listening audience here with his stunning work on the piano and has earned himself two Muddy Awards as keyboardist. Well versed in the styles of New Orleans masters like James Booker, Dr John and Professor Longhair, Steve is quite the accomplished crafter of his own material as well. Having showcased his talents with several bands in Portland, including Atomic Gumbo, Berthaline, Franco & The Stingers and Kolvane as well as others, Steve returned to his native Lafayette, Louisiana to put together his new CD, Joy.

The album features almost entirely Louisiana-based musicians, such as Jerry LeJeune on drums, Pat Breaux on accordion and Michael Juan Nunez on guitar, providing that truly authentic flavor of the Bayou and Crescent City. Portland guitarist Bob Shoemaker also makes an appearance throwing down some fine slide guitar. And Steve himself did the work of a one-man army of studio sidemen having played not only piano, but also guitar, bass, organ, triangle, accordion, ukulele and various strings and percussion.

Like the music of Louisiana, Joy takes on a variety of different sounds. They come across very chameleon-like with their interpretation with Steve rolling through several approaches that can cross-over to genres like Cajun, country, folk, rock, funk and blues. All done in spectacular fashion, the twelve selections are all Steve Kerin originals.

There is much to like here. I love the sassiness in “Everything Is Temporary,” uh-huh, yeah right! The deep down bluesy sound on the piano on “Bonnie And Clyde.” How much that “Greg’s Song” sounds like it could’ve been pulled right off from a Robbie Robertson recording. The beauty of “Joy” and “Blueberry Way.” The funkiness on “Cards.” The interplay of piano and slide guitar on “Yesterday,” that comes across to me as very John Lennon-like in its lyrics and approach. And closing with the acoustics of ukulele, fiddle, accordion and percussion on “Waikiki Yacht Club” weaving into the dialing of a radio focusing into the Lafayette station and segueing into an incredibly played piano solo that leaves a nice gentle flavor in your mind that makes you want to turn around and play the whole disc all over again.

Steve Kerin has a definite winning release with Joy. An amalgamation of fun sounds that befits the title.

Total Time: 50:47

One To The Bottle / Bonnie And Clyde / Joy / Everything Is Temporary / Yesterday / Going To Louisiana / Greg’s Song / Walking Down The Road / Cards / Blueberry Way / I Aint’s Complaining / Waikiki Yacht Club

New Iberians CD cover Pingaddamidy

New Iberians CD cover PingaddamidyPingaddamidy!
Argess Records

Portland’s favorite purveyors of good-time Cajun and zydeco are back at it again with a brand new release, Pingaddamidy!, that proves that a band does not have to hail from Louisiana to do this music right. The New Iberians have been showcasing their local blend of blues and zydeco for a number of years and are always the life of any dance party.

Pingaddamidy! was recorded at Falcon Studios under the ever keen direction of Terry Robb and Dennis Carter. These guys know how to capture the true essence and talent of the performers they work with, and with The New Iberians it’d be hard to miss with such stellar players on hand. Evan Shlaes is front and center on every track with his cool hand accordion and vocals, enhanced by Claes Almroth’s harmonica and Paul Bassette’s rubboard providing a truly authentic sound.

These are songs that are meant to be danced to and if you can make it through the opening track “Are You Ready?” without feeling the urge to move around, you might want to check your pulse. It’s just natural to want to get up and shake it with The New Iberians. The feeling holds throughout the nine selections on the disc, all originals written by Evan Shlaes, with themes about barbecue, holding Sundays close to his heart as the day his baby and he get to spend together, and gathering for a second line with mention of some of Louisiana’s most favored musicians leading the way.

For those with a passion for all things Louisiana-based, zydeco or just plain fun, Pingaddamidy! will keep you happy with much repeated plays for sure. Oh yeah, if you’re trying to figure out how to pronounce the title, it is Creole slang for “Pink God Almighty.”

Total time: 35:53

Are You Ready? / The Barbecue Song / Mercy / Soul Creole / Port Soleil / Pingaddamidy! / Sweet Sunday / Place In The Sun / Second Line

The Light Still Burns
Wilson River Records

This new CD by Lauren Sheehan is the companion piece to a book written by John Thomas titled, “Kalamazoo Gals: A Story of Extraordinary & Gibson’s ‘Banner’ Guitars of World War II.” Gibson Guitars have stated in the past that during the War production of their instruments had ceased. But in reality some 9000 guitars were made under the Banner label during those years, which is in fact manufactured by Gibson. The real story behind these creations, though, was that with many American men sent overseas to fight, the production was handled mostly by a group of women in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and many with no previous experience in building guitars.

Portland-based roots musician Lauren Sheehan was invited to come back to New Haven, Connecticut and to record an album using these classic guitars. She found herself surrounded by the instruments and the dozen tracks found on The Light Still Burns were all recorded with a different guitar on each number.

The song selections include many traditional Americana songs such as “Old Folk At Home,” “America The Beautiful” and “When Johnny comes Marching Home.” Songs that were probably well-known by the makers and players of these instruments. There are also a handful of period pieces that were originally recorded during this time frame, such as “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate” and “In The Sweet Bye And Bye/Keep On The Sunny Side.” Many of her interpretations of the songs were influenced by artists who Lauren has had connections with over the years like John Jackson and Cephas & Wiggins. “C Medley” is a collection of songs by Etta Baker and Lauren does a remarkable job at recreating the famed guitarist’s work. The disc also includes a newer track written by Gillian Welch called “Hard Times.”

Overall, the sound quality of these guitars is amazing. Lauren’s playing is impeccable and her voice suits the numbers especially well. The Light Still Burns is a nice reflection of music from our country’s past that still can bear meaning. The story of the Kalamazoo Gals is also exceptional and this album will keep the sound and legend of their work alive.

Total Time: 37:28

I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate / Precious Lord / Old Folks At Home / Bearcat Blues / C Medley / In The Sweet Bye And Bye – Keep On The Sunny Side / Soldier’s Joy / When Johnny Comes Marching Home – Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya / America The Beautiful / Home On The Range / Hard Times / My Baby’s So Sweet

Jim Mesi Band CD coverI’m Ready
Self Produced

 The Jim Mesi Band is back with their first new recording after several years and it is definitely a winner on all counts. I’m Ready is packed full of song selections, many that the band has showcased for a number of years, with rocking numbers next to soul and blues, all featuring superb instrumentation from the band.

Jim Mesi is a legend on the West Coast for his guitar tone and phrasing. His solos are highly imaginative and interesting every time out. Even if a song may be a tried and true standard that you’ve heard a hundred times before, Mesi can lay down a guitar pattern that will make you turn your head and note that it is something new that works perfectly. And he does just that multiple times on I’m Ready.

The band works like a well-timed engine. There are no misses or pings to be found. A true ensemble that feeds off one another musically to a tee. Ed Neumann’s keyboards are a great foil to Mesi’s guitar, blending naturally, while the rhythm section is solid with bassist Scott White and drummer Johnny Moore laying down the tempo masterfully. White and Neumann alternate throughout the disc on vocals and horn fills are provided by saxophonists Al Zion and Pete Moss.

The song offerings are terrific, with highlight covers including The Neville Brothers’ classic “Yellow Moon,” Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” John Hiatt’s “Feels Like Rain” and “Can I Change My Mind” best known by Tyrone Davis. There are also a handful of originals including a Mesi-written instrumental titled “Palm Trees” that offers nice mellow guitar work. Ed Neumann penned three of the songs with “Lonnie’s Song” and “My Monkey’s Move” both filled with humorous lyrics.

The most note-worthy track on the disc was actually recorded by Ed Neumann several years ago, without being released until now. Titled “Blues For Me,” the song is highlighted by the harmonica playing of the late Paul deLay, joining Mesi, his former guitarist from Brown Sugar and the original Paul deLay Band, for the first time on disc for many years. It is certainly a number that can bring back many memories.

I’m Ready is a welcome release by the Jim Mesi Band. It has been way too long between discs and it’s good to hear that sensational guitar playing once again, backed by a stellar band. Portland’s guitar hero is back and in a big way!

Total Time: 60:48

I’m Ready / Yellow Moon / Hootchie Coo / Change Gonna Come / Change My Mind / Unchain My Heart / Feels Like Rain / Lonnie’s Song / Fannie Mae / Blues For Me / My Monkey’s Move / C.O.D. / Palm Trees / Still Wanna Be Your Man / Changes

Better For You
Self Produced

There is no shortage of great blues artists in Canada these days, but this new CD by guitarist Chris Antonik just may be one of the finest releases coming from The Great White North in many a year. Recorded in Toronto, Better For You is the sophomore release from Antonik, whose first disc garnered him a best new artist nomination at Canada’s Maple Blues Award. And as terrific as that debut album was, this one takes it even a step higher.

Antonik not only proves himself as a superb guitarist, he also makes his mark strongly as a songwriter. He wrote or co-wrote ten of the eleven songs, the lone exception a stellar take of Big Walter Horton’s “Have A Good Time.” The guitar runs throughout are ingenious and exciting, rich in tone and never overplayed. He also takes on more vocals with this release and comes across with true feeling behind his words. Some of the lyrics are based on personal experiences, while he claims others are just stories he has put together. But they run the gauntlet of love lost, being on the road and the desire to be back home with family.

The cast that Antonik has put together for Better For You is like a who’s who of fellow blues countrymen and women. MonkeyJunk’s Steve Marriner, guitarist Suzie Vinnick, The Fat Cat’s Josh Williams, pianist Julian Fauth and vocalist Shakura S’aida. Also on hand is The Tedeschi-Trucks Band’s Mike Mattison. They all help to make Antonik’s album a living and breathing masterpiece.

Two discs behind him in his short career so far and both are prime examples that Chris Antonik is a blues star rising. Make note of this artist and take a listen to Better For You; he is pretty convincing of his talent.

Total Time: 48:53

Long Way To Go / Turn To Shine / Come From A Good Place / Broken Man / Have A Good Time / Shake Me Down / Better For You / Nothing I Can Do / Tell Me What You Need / So Tired / I’ll Help You Through

Out Of My Mind
Yellow Dog Records

In the opening two-part “Ol’ Mama Dean,” Cassie Taylor tells the story of an abused woman who finally takes measures into her own hands and kills her partner. It is the extreme and she knows she will have to pay for her crime, but alas she now has freedom for her pain. It is an example of the detailed story-telling that Taylor has developed in her young life. But though she may be only 26 years old, she has already seen and worked the musical circuit for more than a decade, first accompanying her father, Otis Taylor, in his band as a vocalist and bassist, and several years on her own and touring with fellow young female artists Dani Wilde and Samantha Fish.

Cassie Taylor is a strong person and a strong songwriter. Her songs may often take on personal themes, but also like her father, she is not afraid to speak her mind or let her political stance show through. On her debut Yellow Dog Records release, Out Of My Mind, her lyrics are terrific and captivating. She also provides work on the piano, Hammond organ and theremin as well as her bass playing and singing.

Most of the songs feature just her in a trio format with drummer Larry Thompson and guitar whiz Steve Mignano, who has worked with people like Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, Jean-Luc Ponty and his own fusion band Tribal Tech. It is Mignano’s interactions with Taylor on the disc that really make each of the songs speak out loud. Trumpet player John Gray also adds the right amount of flavoring on tracks like “New Orleans” and “Forgiveness.”

Taylor does not offer blues in your traditional 12-bar manner; instead bringing forth her own take on modern methods to the genre. She states that it is more a sign of the times and the music influences that she has been exposed to. Who knows whether Muddy Waters or Memphis Minnie would have had a different sound today if they had been exposed to the diversity of electronic music, punk rock or West African psychedelic rock. This is her version of the “blues as a continuum connecting the past and the present.”

There is plenty to enjoy on Out Of My Mind. She gives her boyfriend the very open hint to “put a ring on my finger” in “No Ring Blues.” The life-long commitments that lovers make in “Lay My Head On Your Pillow.” Her sensational vocals alongside acoustic guitar and trumpet on “Forgiveness.” And closing the disc with “Alone,” featuring Taylor on piano along with guitar interplay from Mignano. The song is beautifully done and the perfect track to close out a well put together album.

Cassie Taylor continues to grow as an artist and is destined to take the forefront; as if she has not already done just that already in her brief career working with younger musicians and holding a spot on The Blues Foundation’s board of directors. A mover and shaker in the newest of the blues’ generations, expect to see Cassie Taylor remain in the spotlight for many years to come.

Total Time: 49:51

Ol’ Mama Dean (Part 1) / Ol’ Mama Dean (Part 2) / Spare Some Love / Out Of My Mind (Intro) / Out Of My Mind / Lay My Head On Your Pillow / New Orleans / No Ring Blues / No No / Forgiveness / Gone And Dead / That’s My Man / Again