Good Days A Comin/
Right Side Up Records

Ivas John CD coverWhen you start to listen to Ivas John’s Good Days A Comin’, it’s like a warm summer day sitting on your back porch with a pitcher of fresh-made lemonade and slabs of meat slowly grilling on the barbecue. You’re transported to a day meant for lazing in the sun with good friends, as Ivas provides feel good music on his guitar played just for you. That’s exactly how it feels.

Ivas John grew up in Chicago and fell in love with the blues as he was exposed to some of the city’s best. Over time he put together his own band, building a reputation with his high-powered electric blues throughout Illinois and SE Missouri. He released four albums under that style, and has also worked in band led by regional heroes Rip Lee Pryor and Martin Albritton (formerly with Big Twist & The Mellow Fellows). But his latest release, Good Days A Comin’, is a departure from that electric band direction, and delves deep into acoustic folk, bluegrass and country blues arrangements. It is rich in Americana roots music. Sharp and clean, with extraordinary story-telling, mostly original compositions of his own, a few co-written with his father and a cover here and there from people like Merle Travis, Tom Paxton.

Aside from John’s adept solo guitar picking and soothing vocals that highlight the album throughout, he also employs side musicians in a totally acoustic format, using fiddle, mandolin, upright bass, drums and dobro.

The album opens with the sprightly pace of “Goin’ Back to Arkansas” which encompasses a nice jug band old-timey feel. “Things Ain’t Been The Same” is a mournful tune about lost love and heartbreak. Tom Paxton’s “Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound” takes a personal reflection of just where life may be taking him as he travels down the road and the people he meets. John retells Merle Travis’ “Dark As a Dungeon,” filled with emotion befitting the tale of coal miners seeking better working conditions. There’s a nice ragtime flair to “Payday Boogie.” And the album closes with John’s spectacularly beautiful solo instrumental of “Sunday Morning Blues.”

If you like the blend of the early works of Ry Cooder and JJ Cale, the joyfulness of Keb’ Mo’ or the impact behind Doug MacLeod’s story songs, then Ivas John will fall right into your idea of guitar playing songwriters. He may have cut his teeth with the electrified sound of the city’s blues, but John has found a true niche with his acoustic delivery. Rootsy and full of heart.

Total Time: 42:19

Goin’ Back To Arkansas / Here I Am / Roll Mississippi / Dark As A Dungeon / Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound / Greenville Trestle High / All Along / Things Ain’t Been The Same / Keep Your Train Movin’ / Payday Boogie / Wrong Road Again / Sunday Morning Blues

Wicked Cool
Double Y Records

Joanne Broh Band CD coverThe Joanne Broh Band’s latest album, Wicked Cool, has already reaped some mighty fine accolades. Recently receiving the Rainy Day Blues Society’s 2016 Rooster Award for best blues album, the disc is filled with the bluesy arrangements and vocals you’ve come to expect from one of the most beloved artists from the Eugene area.

Joanne’s voice fills many layers befitting the material. Most of the albums’ compositions are original numbers created by Broh, bassist Jim Badalich, and guitarist Jerry Zybach. There are a couple tracks from Zybach that stretch back to 2002 (“Two Way Street”) and 2003 (“Sad Ol’ Heart”). The band is rounded out with drummer Dan E. Miller and keyboardist Gus Russell.

There are also some hefty guests lending a hand to the selections as well, with harmonica players Mitch Kashmar and Hank Shreve, trumpeters  Dana Heitman (The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies) and Dave Bender (The Flying Instruments of Karma, Emerald City Jazz Kings), and  saxophonists Sean Flannery (formerly with The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies) and Linda Kanter. Portland’s Joe McCarthy’s produced the horn arrangements for the track “(Swing ‘Er) Like Josephine Baker.”

Plenty of emotions spin through Wicked Cool. From the funky beats of “Bad Boy,” the tender heartfelt vocals on “Sad Ol’ Heart,” the biting guitar interludes on “Getting’ Old” and “Let’s Work It Out,” the loneliness within love lost in “Smokin’ Again,” to the closing “Reap What You Sow” with its R&B piano paced flavor. Overall, the album is a well-crafted sampling by a strong group of musicians with a truly remarkable lead vocalist that takes you on a musical journey that is not only cool, it’s Wicked Cool!

Time: 38:37

Wicked Cool / Getting’ Old Blues / (Shake “Er) Like Josephine Baker / Smokin’ Again / Two way Street / Let’s Work On It / Sad Ol’ Heart / Bad Boy / Reap What You Sow

Juke Joint Rambler
Self Produced

Johnny Tanner CD coverIf you’re looking for pure down-in-the-alley, traditional blues played by masterful musicians in the right vein, look no further than Johnny Tanner’s debut recording Juke Joint Rambler. This is a spot-on, straight-to-the-core collection recorded over two sessions in California, and what’s most amazing about this is that these studio sessions took place back in 1997 in Pasadena and 2001 in Berkeley. Both feature stellar artists who are in themselves household names in any blues lover’s world: Junior Watson, Rusty Zinn, Billy Flynn, Fred Kaplan, Richard Innes, Larry Taylor, Randy Bermudes, and Jeff Turmes. Harmonica ace Johnny Tanner is no stranger himself, as a major force on the Phoenix blues scene, and in Seattle before that, he has put in more than forty years plying his trade. How in the world did these recordings sit on the shelf for more than fourteen years?

Song selections include a few of the standard fare when it comes to classic harmonica-fueled blues. There’re your Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf numbers, but Tanner really comes through with his original material. The pace bounces between West Coast jump and Chicago classic. The highlight of which must be his instrumental “Blue Vapor,” a slow, haunting tune perfect for a close-up-to-your-partner dance that can also send chills down your spine it is so spell-binding. “Run Around Woman” is about that partner that no matter how much you try to please or give to her, she is always  telling you that you’re doing her wrong and she’s out all night making you want her back home. The original “Searchin’ The World Over” offers a distinct Jimmy Reed feel with its high harmonic tone. And how can you possibly look past the harmonica-piano duet of Tanner and Kaplan on Sonny Boy’s “Stop Breaking Down”?

This is a fine collection that runs the gamut of post-war blues to perfection. Nothing that will come across as new (after all these recordings have been on the shelf for fifteen plus years and are mostly covers), but it is highly enjoyable and will satisfy the most stringent of classical blues lovers and may make some new fans along the way, too.

Total Time: 44:40

I Got To Go / Lovey Dovey / Searchin’ The World Over / Bring Her Back To Me / I Done Got Over It / It Ain’t Right / Blue Vapor / Checking On My Baby / I Didn’t Know / Stop breaking Down / Run Around Woman / Nobody But You / Lighthouse For My Soul / Out Arizona Way

Golden State Lone Star Revue
Electro-Fi Records

Golden State Lone Star Revue CD coverAs a little history lesson, during the war years there was a migration of many African Americans looking for better income and life-styles from the South to places like Chicago and Detroit in the Midwest, but there were many other who looked west as well towards California, with its industries, such as ship building, for employment. Among those making the change of residence included many of the great musicians of our time. Moving from Texas to California were the likes of T-Bone Walker, Lowell Fulson, Charles Brown, Sonny Rhodes, and Jimmy McCracklin. From these musicians and the others who followed developed a unique sound emerging from cities like Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco — a sound that did not fall too far from the original, Texas-based blues family tree.

With that said, it is not surprising how well the blend of Californian and Texan musicians can still sound so right nowadays. To prove that, one listen to the Golden State Lone Star Revue will be more than convincing. Harmonica ace Mark Hummel fronts this grouping, blowing his always sensational harmonica and providing vocals. But when you throw in two of the most monstrous guitar cats ever in Little Charlie Baty and Anson Funderburgh things really get brought to a boil that makes you crave this swinging groove of blues. And don’t forget the blend of rhythm section RW Grigsby and Wes Starr that drives the whole of the sum. This is an all-star band if ever there was one.

Hummel provides some of his classic songwriting on a handful of tunes that speaks traditional-styled blues to a tee. They make you start finger-popping and head nodding from the get-go with tracks like “Prove It To You” or “Lucky Kewpie Doll,” or the smooth slow blues in “Cool To Be Your Fool” that makes you kick back and listen that might bring thoughts of Charles Brown, especially with the piano work of guest Jim Pugh. Bassist Grigsby also brings his tune “Detroit Blues” to the mix. Along with the originals, there are plenty of covers of great Texan musicians such as Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s “Midnight Hour,” Lee Allen’s “Walking With Mr Lee,” Lowell Fulson on “Check Yourself,” and Jimmy McCracklin’s “Georgia Slop.” Funderburgh offers a nice BB King-styled tribute to the late BB King on the traditional number “Pepper Mama” with strong vocals from Hummel.

This sensational offering of blues done right was crafted at Kid Anderson’s Greaseland Studios. For anybody who loves their blues presented straight-forward and with class the Golden State Lone Star Blues Revue is exactly what you’re looking for.

Total Time: 57:00

Midnight Hour / Here’s My Picture / Prove It To You / Cool To Be Your Fool / Check Yourself / Stop This World / Take A Chance / Lucky Kewpie Doll / Pepper Mama / Walking With Mr Lee / Detroit Blues / Georgia Slop / Dim Lights / End Of The World

Live: The River City Sessions
Self Produced

barry levenson The VisitJeff Jensen may arguably be the most energetic guitarist in the blues world today. The man is in constant motion as he plays, and he lets the music take over and reflect his onstage intensity. It is something that carries over to his audience, bringing him legions of fans everywhere. So it is no wonder that a live recording was something that would be on the horizon. With Live: The River City Sessions, Jensen’s passion and stage presence comes through in this vivid performance. If you’ve witnessed a Jeff Jensen show, it immediately bring visions of that non-stop, high-powered, fasten your seat belts ride that only he can take you on.

Like any performer, Jensen feeds off his audience. So when he decided that it was time to make a live recording, he put the invitation out to his most stalwart and devoted fans to join him in the making of the disc. And he could’ve chosen to do so in any of a number of venues in his home of Memphis. But instead he selected the ingenious path of bringing his audience into one of the world’s finest recording studios, Ardent, where the sound could be captured to perfection.

To truly appreciate Jensen’s drive in his music, you also need to have accompaniment by partners who also bring out that same thirst and fury. That is brought forth successfully with drummer Robinson Bridgeforth and Jensen’s longtime bassist Bill Ruffino.

The tracks contain a handful of selections from his previous acclaimed release Morose Elephant including “Ash and Bone,” “Make It Through,” “Empty Bottles,” and the fiery instrumental “Elephant Blue.” A couple from the Road Worn and Ragged disc, “Brunette Woman” and the always popular cover of Tom Waits’ “Heart Attack and Vine,” plus Jensen digs deep to his first recording with a pair of numbers, “Can’t Believe We’re Through” and “Find Myself All Alone” that displays the in-depth guitar prowess and attack that Jensen is noted for. The album is a fast-paced and entertaining performance climaxed by a cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” utilizing the Jimi Hendrix take more so than the songwriter’s.

Live: The River City Sessions is the perfect way to relive a Jeff Jensen show again and again. Whenever you feel the desire to get up, jump and dance to a good time roadhouse blues disc, this is one you’re going to reach for.

Total Time: 66:46

Introduction / T-Bone Shuffle / Make It Through / Empty Bottles / JJ Boogie / Find Myself All Alone / Brunette Woman / Elephant Blue / Heart Attack And Vine / Can’t Believe We’re Through / Band Introduction / Ash And Bone / All Along The Watchtower

Blues & Ballads – A Folksinger’s Songbook: Volumes I & II
New West Records ‎

Traditionally, the art of folk music is passed down from generation to generation sometimes in written form but usually orally. Throughout his life, Luther Dickinson has collected his thoughts in various drawings and notes that later reemerge as songs. As with any true art, these ideas are constantly evolving, and thus comes the title for this newly released double disc set of 21 tracks titled Blues & Ballads (A Folksinger’s Songbook), Vols. I &II. It is this ever-changing art that Dickinson presents. Many of the numbers collected here have been released previously in other incarnations, whether with his blues-rock outfit The North Mississippi All-Stars with his brother Cody or on solo projects and other groupings he has been involved with. Some of the recognizable pieces include fresh, clever, and smart new takes on “Hurry Up Sunshine,” “Bang Bang Lulu,” and “Shake (Yo Mama).”

Dickinson performs mostly acoustically on the numbers, but many tracks offer electric instrumentation alongside his playing on guitar, mandolin, and piano. There are numerous contributors to the album, including his combining The Cooperators with Amy LaVere on vocals and bass, and Sharde Thomas, the granddaughter of legendary Mississippi musician Otha Turner, on fife, drums, and vocals. Lillie Mae Rische provides fiddle and vocals, Charlie Hodges on keys, Paul Taylor on the tub bass, Jimmy Crosthwait on washboard and backing vocals from Sharisse and Shontelle Norman. His band mates from the South Memphis String Band AlvinYoungblood Hart and Jimbo Mathus also make appearances, as does JJ Grey and Jason Isbell on “Up Over Yonder.” Perhaps the most notable guest on the release is Mavis Staples who teams up with Dickinson on his tribute to the passing of his father on “Ain’t No Grave” which first appeared on the North Mississippi All Stars album Keys To The Kingdom. It is a beautiful and emotional rendition matching his bare slide guitar next to Staples’ voice.

Recorded in a handful of studios, including Memphis’ famed Sun and Royal Studios, the sound is extraordinary. Copies of his handwritten lyrics are included in the CD packaging, whereas printed copies of his notebooks are offered in the vinyl release.

Dickinson continues to explore the natural sounds and roots of his musical heritage raising the bar with his efforts. He is not beyond rediscovering himself time and time again. This is a collection of pieces of his career work that he keeps reinterpreting and bringing more and more into his ideal vision of his music proving that Luther Dickinson is a musician with a lot more to say. Even if it is something we’ve heard before, although in a completely different direction. Blues & Ballads (A Folksinger’s Songbook), Vols. I & II is a very awe-inspiring release that showcases the brilliance behind Dickinson.

Total Time: 1:14:25

Hurry Up Sunrise / Up Over Yonder / Bang Bang Lulu / Moonshine / Jackson / Mean Ol’ Wind Died Down / How I Wish My Train Would Come / Ain’t No Grave / Let It Roll / My Leavin’ / Horseshoe (Reprise) / Highwater (Soldier) / And It Hurts / Storm / Mojo, Mojo / Ol’ Cannonball / Devilment / Blow Out / Mayor Langford Birmingham Blues / Shake (Yo Mama) / Horseshoe

The Visit
Rip Cat Records

If you’re seeking the type of album that can straddle the fence between both blues and jazz, say, in the mold of fellow guitarists Ronnie Earl or Duke Robillard, then Barry Levenson’s latest release, The Visit, is going to be right up your alley. Levenson delivers precise phrasing and in-depth tone that strikes true, and he comments that it is a homage to the players who inspired him, bringing forth his own masterful creations in the styling of his heroes. And when those heroes he mentions in the liner notes include Lightnin’ Hopkins, Albert King, Otis Rush, Grant Green, T-Bone Walker, Mickey Baker, Kenny Burrell, and Magic Sam, you know that with one listen to this album he has done his homework and spent a great deal of woodshedding to reach this high quality of product.

barry levenson The VisitLevenson is not necessarily a vocalist himself, and thus the majority of the offerings on this disc are instrumental. But he has worked as the go-to guitar player alongside a number of musicians over time, such as Johnny Dyer, Pee Wee Crayton, Lowell Fulson, Percy Mayfield, William Clarke, and Canned Heat — stalwart company indeed. They surely know something that the rest of us should be aware of, too: that Barry Levenson is a hell of monster guitarist! There are a few tracks that he brings his voice to the mix and they work well enhancing the songs. Having grown up in Pittsburgh, Levenson was already familiar with vocalist Billy Price, whose last release was a recording of duets with the late Otis Clay. Tapping the singer for a couple numbers, Price lays out prime covers of Albert King’s “You’re Gonna Need Me” and Oscar Perry & Don Robey’s “This Time I’m Gone For Good.”

The instrumental numbers on this disc are extraordinary. Special note to his tribute to his hometown with the tune “Steel City” featuring great accompaniment on the organ from Mike Thompson. Guitar is highlighted throughout with piercing excellence shining on tracks like “The Visit,” “I Wonder Why,” “Shadows At Midnight,” and “Last Train To Nowhere.”

For guitar lovers, both jazzy or bluesy, The Visit is definitely an album worth visiting. Great late night fodder, or any time else for that matter, to enhance your senses.

Total Time: 62:02

I Wonder Why / Ice Cold Kiss / The Visit / Steel City / Magic Groove / This Time I’m Gone For Good / It’s Mighty Crazy / Last Train To Nowhere / Talkin’ To Myself / Shadows At Midnight / Flip Side / You’re Gonna Need Me

Recorded Live At The Slippery Noodle Inn
Muskett Music Media

The Dave Muskett Acoustic Blues Band cdThe Dave Muskett Acoustic Blues Band is based in Indianapolis, so it should be no surprise that it recorded it’s debut live album at that city’s renowned Slippery Noodle Inn. It is not the usual path for an acoustic artist who is best known as a solo performer to take on a band setting with his style of music, yet he does so here and it works to perfection. Strike down the thought you may perceive of a blues band, this is the bare minimum with stand-up bass, a small drum kit of snare and kick most often played using brushes, Dave’s finger-style guitar and dobro, and a harmonica. The group rolls through traditional sounding yet all original material, whether Piedmont or Delta inspired, along with a little ragtime and a touch of jazziness.

I met Dave Muskett during his appearances at the International Blues Challenge where he made it into the finals this past January. He’s one of those people that you like right from the get-go, friendly, and forth-coming, but when you hear him play that same quality of honesty and goodness shines through as well. This is music that makes you sit back and listen to closely with a smile on your face.

And as you listen to Recorded Live At The Slippery Noodle Inn you’re more than likely going to be smiling widely, too. Filled with memorable numbers that bring visions of exactly what is being sung clearly to mind. When Dave sings about the woman that draws his attention just by walking into the room you see and understand what he’s saying with “that kind of walk has a certain kind of talk to me.” And you know how happy he is with his partner when he explains that despite whatever she may put him through she can’t ever give him the blues. I love the ragtime feeling of “Ain’t My Good Girl Now,” the dobro work on “Rain Song” and “Sweet Mary Jane,” and the double-entendre silliness behind “Pet That Thing” with its audience sing-along and pretty much everything else on this disc. It’s a very enjoyable live performance with a band that works together with the kind of cohesiveness that usually the stuff of dreams. And I cannot get enough of it. I can already tell it’ll be one of my favorite discs for the year.

Total Time: 48:02

Introduction / That Kind Of Walk / Ain’t My Good Girl Now / She Can’t Give Me The Blues / Handyman Blues / Ain’t Got It All / Rain Song / Sweet Mary Jane / Got The Need / Semi-Naked Shoe-Shine / Take A Look At This / Pet That Thing / You Gotta Know

Descendants Of Hill Country
Self Produced

cedricburnside cdThe name of the album says it all, Descendants Of Hill Country. Perhaps nobody playing today has the legacy and the depth of knowledge when it comes to the Hill Country music of Northern Mississippi better than the musicians in the Cedric Burnside Project. After all, both Cedric and his uncle Garry are products of the RL Burnside family, and Trenton Ayers’s father was Joe Ayers, the bass player for Junior Kimbrough’s band. These guys grew up listening to the region’s music directly from its masters and playing in the aforementioned artists’ bands while still in their teens. Though they may often have a modern approach to the pounding pulse and drive within their own compositions, it is always honest in presentation and true to the original form. As stated in the opening track, they were “Born With It.”

All three of the musicians can shift easily between guitar, bass, and drums, with both Cedric and Garry sharing vocal duties. Most of the songs are originals written by the three, but they also offer covers of RL’s “Going Away Baby” and “Skinny Woman.” The stories told throughout the songs are all common — hard times that bring them down on their luck with women, gambling, and money woes. But there is also a nice tribute to the soldiers serving overseas who are going through strife and pain that we never see at home because of their sacrifices afar for freedom. And Cedric offers a couple ballads about how true his love really is with “Just You Wait And See” and the closer “Love Her ’Til I Die.”

For the past couple of decades, the Hill Country music has really defined the blues of its region. It has always been around, but the popularity that took off with the Fat Possum releases of RL Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, Cedell Davis, T-Model Ford, among others that introduced many listeners to the Hill Country Blues. The Cedric Burnside Project continues that legacy and has been bringing it even more to the forefront as Descendants Of Hill Country recently received a Grammy nomination and is up for multiple Blues Music Awards this year, too. This is a traditional blues that defies generations and The Cedric Burnside Project has clearly put forth a masterful recording with this one.

Total Time: 43:14

Born With It / Hard Times / Front Porch / Don’t Shoot The Dice / Going Away Baby / Airport / You Just Wait And See / Tell Me What I’m Gonna Do / This Is For The Soldiers / Skinny Woman / That Changes Everything / Down In The Delta / Love Her ’Til I Die

When She’s Gone
Nola Blue, Inc.

Benny Turner CD coverThis is an exceptional album that leaves me shaking my head. Why isn’t Benny Turner more renown? After all, he is the brother of the late blues legend Freddie King. He worked with Chicago bluesman Mighty Joe Young and was also the band leader for New Orleans’ Blues Queen Marva Wright. But that is not why I question his status. When you consider that six of the ten tracks on his fourth album, When She’s Gone, were originally released back in 1997 on his album Blue And Not So Blue, which received extreme acclaim regionally, but went pretty much unnoticed around the rest of the world, it just plain leaves me stumped. This man possesses some mighty soulful vocal cords and has a delivery to a song that just oozes bluesy and soulful perfection. The remaining four tracks are covers that hit just as sure as the older material.

One must take note that the majority of the numbers on this disc do not even include guitar. Yes, Turner is a guitarist himself, but he foregoes the instrument on most selections here, preferring his own work on bass as a lead instead. But when a guitar is included, notably on two songs, he has chosen former Muddy Waters’ guitarist Bob Margolin to fill the spot. And fill it he does. Beautifully and bluesy! You might also note that filling a rhythm guitar role on the tune “Because Of You” is one Dr. John. Yes, that Dr. John who originally began his career as a guitar player before taking up the piano.

Some of the other familiar names found helping Turner out are his former employer Marva Wright as the two trade their voices on “Pity On This Lovesick Fool.” This track alone would’ve been worth the price of the disc, but there is so much more sounding just as awesome. There’s also folks like Davell Crawford, Herman Ernest III, Samuel Berfect and Jellybean Alexander on hand. And don’t miss out on the closing number “Black Night” where Turner teams up with another blues legend, Charles Brown for a six-and-a-minute reading of the classic done just right!

There are a few well-known covers included on When She’s Gone, but who cares? These songs, like Lowell Fulson’s “Reconsider Baby,” Jimmy Rogers’ “That’s Alright,” even something like Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” that you just can’t imagine being done any better than the original, all come across with just the right flavor and soul that’ll make you say out loud, “Ahhh yes!!!”

I guess it goes without saying, I really like this album a lot. Recommended? Big time yes!! Check it out!

Total Time: 49:36

I Can’t Leave / Pity On This Lovesick Fool / Because Of You / Ain’t No Sunshine / So Deep / If I Can’t Have You / Have You Ever Been So Lonesome / Reconsider Baby / That’s Alright / Black Night