Screamin’ John & TD Lind LITTLE BIG MAN Down In The Alley Records
Dazzling Adaptation Of Classic Down-Home Blues For the 21st Century.
So many things have conspired this week to try and stop me finishing writing this review; but I’m adamant that I will get it done and posted by close of play! Even from the opening rinky-dinky piano chords that lead into opening track the breezy Rollin’ Joanna I knew that this album was going to be right up my street; and when TD Lind’s slightly grizzled vocal cuts in I knew that this was indeed; the Real Deal. A polite mixture of self-penned originals and Classic Blues Oldies has conspired to hijack every CD Player I have this week; and I haven’t minded a minute. I hardly recognised BB King’s The Letter; primarily because this powerhouse duo have stripped it back to the bone and feature Joel Pinkerton’s ‘most Blues wailin’ harmonica’ as lead instrument instead of the geetar …… and the combination works a treat. This is followed by Jimmy Reed’s Shame, Shame, Shame and short of howling Hallelujah! I can’t think of a better way of expressing my admiration for this startling 3 minutes of Blues Heaven. I will come back to a couple of the cover songs later, as the duo’s own work is rather good too ……. with the title track Little Big Man the type of R&B you would associate with John Lee Hooker; but these cats have a sound very much of their own, and not a bit like the big man. I always chuckle when unbelievers think that The Blues is depressing music; Hell’s Bell’s it’s anything but as Screamin’ John and TD prove on the rambunctious Gonna Drag You and Seth Walker and Jarod Dickenson’s Way Past Midnight …… this is Shotgun Shack dance music at its finest. They can do dark and dangerous too; Reaper’s Knockin’ is a great example; and a tune I now want played at my funeral …….. just to scare the Grandkids! I’m lucky in as much as I do hear Blues albums like this more than the average bear; but that doesn’t stop me being not just impressed but thunderstruck when I unearth songs like Cold Stone and Emptiness. On an album that will be stacked in the Classic or probably Chicago Blues rack; Screamin’ John and TD Lind turn the genre upside down on this very, very contemporary song; and one that deserves a much wider audience than what I can give it via these pages; hence it is the Official RMHQ Favourite Track here by a country mile. There’s another song here that deserves an ‘honourable mention’; Huddy Ledbitter’s Goodnight Irene. A staple of most Blues bars and clubs I frequented as a young man; and probably you too; and more recently a song local troubadour and friend of mine Paul Handyside once recorded for my old radio show; gets a whole new lease of life here. Honestly there’s no way anyone under 50 hearing this beauteous song for the first time would ever guess it was over 100 years old. This duo; producer Glyn Johns and their friends have created a brand new album, that can comfortably sit shoulder to shoulder with Classics of the genre in my collection (and yours).
Brad Vickers and His Vestapolitans TWICE AS NICE Man Hat Tone
Swampy R&B Flavoured Jumpin’ Jive and Sizzling Country Blues Too.
While the album cover won’t ever win any awards, it caught my eye on a busy day and when I slid it in the office CD player crossed my fingers hoping the music would live up to the Hot Rod billing. Well, if I had a car like either pictured, I’m damn sure I would have this disc welded into the hi-fi! The opening track finds Brad slowing down Big Maceo’s Worried Life Blues down to a stumble and a stroll; whereas the version I know by Chuck Berry is more of a strut; but twinkle in the eye is certainly still there. Things hot up next on Mississippi Swamp, which is a jumpin’ and Jivin’ Blues that really plays on Vickers’ vocal styling and Dave Gross’s choppy guitar; and you will find your heart racing in time with VD King’s slap bass. While obviously tipping his hat in admiration of loads of R&B and Southern Country acts over the years; I can’t think of anyone in particular who has a groove like these cats. On Coast to Coast there’s another hint of Chuck Berry in the guitar intro but the horn section, piano and Brad’s distinctive voice make it the type of song where you have one arm out the car window, the other on the steering wheel and your ‘best gal’ is snuggled up for a drive somewhere ….. anywhere. While Brad Vickers takes top billing; bass player, associate Producer and ‘band booker’ Margey Peters gets her moment in the spotlight too; and when she does my knees go all wobbly! She goes all risque on the title track, Twice as Nice but rips your heart out with her smoky voice on Love Can Win and she winds down the Honky Tonk on the slinky album closer Brooklyn Evening. Plus she wrote another humdingers that Vickers gets to wrap his larynx around; Everything I Need being one of those R&B stompers that features some stiletto style guitar picking in the middle and close. While I recognise a couple of other songwriter’s names; I don’t think I’ve heard Jimmy Reed’s Come Together before; but if I have it certainly didn’t sound anything like this dark lament. It’s a similar feeling with Tampa Red’s Look a There, Look a There; which gets a hip and shiny Jumpin’ Jive makeover here that will make even a man with a wooden leg want to dance. For a fun and even sassy album I’m going left of centre for my Favourite Track; as Red Dust arrives with no introduction and made me sit and stare at the speakers the first time I heard it. Why? You may ask. Well, this song is beautifully constructed ode to Native Americans that combines a traditional drum beat with some stinging Bottleneck guitar as Brad Vickers wrings the last drop of pathos out of this dark tale, then squeezes again. 10/10 Perhaps if I have one criticism, this particular song could and should have ended the cycle; but being where it certainly had a profound effect on this chap. Yet again I’ve unearthed a big ole unit of a R&B Band that will undoubtedly never visit my part of the Universe; yet they sound like the best night I’ll never have.
The Very Mature Sound of a Woman At One With Her Talent
Is it really three years since Beth Hart released FIRE ON THE FLOOR? Where does the time go? I only discovered her via the DON’T EXPLAIN album with Joe Bonamassa (which spawned a Twitter spat with the guitarist !) then fell in love with her via her next solo album the fabulous BANG BANG BOOM BOOM and a most memorable concert that year at a sparsely attended Sage Hall I in Gateshead; where the singer put on a ‘show’ worthy of any of the greats in Vegas, in front of a couple hundred people. A lot has happened since then; most notably she now sells out the same venue months in advance of an appearance. So; what to expect from her 12th studio album? Personally I was actually expecting a lot; but wasn’t prepared for the massive leap in direction and maturity in not just her songwriting, but the way that Beth actually performs her songs here. There’s a clue with the Soulful Bad Woman Blues which opens the album like a fizzing fuse on a Looney Tunes bomb ………. you know there’s going to be an explosion …. and when it comes, it’s more glitter and confetti than TNT. Maybe I should have listened to a couple of earlier albums before putting pen to paper; but the biggest surprise (and thrill) here is that nearly every track features Beth playing piano; something she excels at, but is often overlooked because of her dynamic singing style; even on the tender ballads. I love it when established artistes throw away the safety net and walk a musical tightrope; which Beth does several times; most notably the deeply personal War In My Mind and uber-cool Without Words In The Way and also Rub Me For Luck, which all sound as if Beth had been listening to a lot of Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin before going into the studio ……. as each song is incredibly sensitive yet powerful in equal measures, which is quite a feet to pull off. Regular fans shouldn’t be too alarmed, as Beth can still ‘Rock your socks’ off better than most, with the ‘Randy Newman meets Motley Crue’ ballad Try a Little Harder, funky Sugar Shack and the more intricate Spanish Lullabies all having the ability to make you think you’ve known them forever while being astounded at way they sound quite unlike anything Ms Hart has delivered before. Without checking the track list I was pleasantly surprised to find another song about and dedicated to a member of Beth’s family; this time it’s the gorgeous Sister Dear. Fair play to the songwriter; it’s a great song that will resonate with just about all of her fans and if you have such a talent; ‘write about what you know.’ Sitting here in a dark living room, listening on headphones I’m staggered by the overall quality on offer here; not just in the way producer Don Cavallo has somehow managed to create a claustrophobic feel that perfectly matches Beth’s vulnerability in her very mature lyrics; but the way the band can sound like an orchestra on one song and be as quiet as church mice on others. This is very much an album that will unravel like a mystery novel the more you play it; but today a couple of songs tie for the position of Favourite Song. The mean and moody; almost Blues-Noir Woman Down is one and the other, Without Words in The Way is the type of deeply intimate ballad that I never actually thought Beth Hart was capable of writing ……. but she has and it’s mesmerising. Saying this Beth Hart’s ‘Best Album’ is futile; as each has its own merits; but what WAR IN MY MIND is, is the sound of a woman finally coming to terms with her undoubted talent and letting her heart over rule her head, making the final product as good an album as you will hear this or any year. The other thing with this album is that there is absolutely no need to compare Beth Hart with any other singer who has preceded her …….. she has now become the bench mark for all others to look up to.
If you are left under any illusions about the direction Danny Bryant is taking on his 11th studio album after digesting the album’s stark mono artwork and less than subtle title, the first opening guitar salvo of opening track Tired of Trying will confirm that this is going to be a long, dark and even mysterious journey into his dark Blues heart. His trademark growling guitar really sets the scene for a torrid tale of a relationship on a downward spiral; or is it about a job or even career that is less than fulfilling (that’s how it felt for me btw)? As always on Danny Bryant records there’s a whole lot going on to please and surprise fans both old and new; this chap certainly ain’t no ‘one trick pony’ like so many of his contemporaries. Track #2 Too Far Gone is an intricately nuanced ballad with Bryant’s Big Band taking us on a trip to the sleazy side of downtown Chicago on a cold, cold night; and also shows what a technical craftsman DB is with the electrical guitar too. Mercifully there are lighter moments too; although don’t expect anything of a happy-clappy, sunshiney nature; Danny Bryant is a Master Bluesman, so songs like the raunchy Nine Lives or the delightful instrumental Mya and most noticeably the Johnny Winter influenced and uber-cool slide drenched Hurting Times aren’t exactly going to get featured on Mellow Magic radio anytime soon….. as they are only technically ‘lighter’ than the rest. Fans will be thrilled at the ‘back to the future’ direction of several tracks here, as they sound like he’s not changed one iota since that debut album all those years ago; but listen carefully to the lyrics and clever melodies in Nine Lives, Warning Signs and especially the title track Means of Escape and you will find an artist that has matured into a Master-Craftsman of his Art. With that in mind, the two songs I’m selecting as my Favourite Tracks are so very different from everything else here that they sound like they may have been intended for a very different project altogether; but when put into context show not just what a great guitarist Danny Bryant is; but what a stunning musician and songwriter. Where The River End is a re-recording of an old song, written for and to a friend who ”lost his young daughter’ …….. and the word ‘pathos’ hardly does it justice at all. The other is a rather beautiful and tender acoustic Blues hidden in the middle of the record; and when it arrives Bryant’s raw words of love and sorrow at the death of his own father will break your very own heart; and just like me, will have you reminiscing about your own loved ones who are no longer with us. Copious tears are guaranteed. Perhaps after all these years Danny Bryant needs a Best Of retrospective for his ever expanding army of fans; but until then MEANS OF ESCAPE is a marvelous introduction to this man’s many talents.
Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters Beyond The Blue Door Stony Plain Records
Really and Truly Keeping The Blues Alive For a New Generation
While guitarist extraordinaire Ronnie Earl has been treading the boards for several decades now, winning as many accolades as he and his band win Awards; he and they were a brand new discovery for RMHQ back in 2016 with their Luckiest Man album. So, it was with great delight we received their latest release a few weeks ago; and I’m pleased to say they tread a very similar path with their trademark blend of Yer Blues with the Coolest Jazz you may ever hear. While the band obviously revolve around Earl and his guitar; opening track Brand New Me finds the wonderful Diane Blue and piano player Dave Limina front and centre, with Earl and the shimmering horn section doing their ‘thing’ in the shadows. Earl steps forward on the next song though, making his guitar gently weep as Kim Wilson’s harmonica screams and squeals alongside on Howlin’ Wolf’s Baby How Long; and the result is quite outstanding. Oh man; what would I give to see and hear The Broadcasters play this album from start to finish in downtown club or bar; especially Earl’s own A Soul That’s Been Abused and also Peace of Mind, where Diane sounds uncannily like Etta James the way she purrs her lyrics and Earl and band pour their collective hearts and Souls into making these two songs shimmer and shine. As expected there are numerous cover songs here; and Ronnie Earl throws curve balls left, right and centre. Little Walter’s Blues With a Feeling; featuring (starring?) Kim Wilson on harmonica and vocals is as stunning as it’s actually expected in this company; and their rendition of Timmy Thomas’s Why Can’t We Live Together shouldn’t really be a surprise, should it? But reinventing His Bobness’s It Takes a Lot To Laugh into a down and raw Country Blues is mildly mind blowing ……. and well worth seeking out. There’s so very much to like here, with Drowning in a Sea of Love taking us deep into the cold, cold heart of the Blues, whereas T-Bone Stomp reaffirms the power great music can have on a lost and lonely Soul (mine btw) as does the spectacular Bringing Light to a Dark Time. Choosing a Favourite Track is never going t be easy on an album of earthly delights such as this; and currently I’m torn between the captivating instrumental Blues For Charlottesville and the stomping The Sweetest Man which finds Diane Blue in startling form as the bandleader takes us on a guitar trip that links BB King, Freddie King and even Chet Atkins but is always unmistakably Ronnie Earl; so I guess I’m going for the latter …… but I may change my mind tomorrow. Over the years I’ve seen many great Blues and Jazz guitarists in vunes of varying sizes; but very, very few can create such a consistent and awe-inspiring Groove as Ronnie Earl; who also has the good grace to let others take the spotlight while he strums his guitar in the background.
This video series adds to the Rainey Day Fund’s mission to amplify marginalized voices within the roots music community.
HUDSON VALLEY, New York — In partnership with Beehive Productions, the nonprofitRainey Day Fund today launched the Rainey Day Recordings, a series of live videos showcasing artists the Fund believes should be heard. The first installment features Amythyst Kiah, to be followed up in coming months with performances by Natalia Zukerman, Giri & Uma Peters, and others. In the current conversations regarding the rampant gender disparities at play in country music, rarely do other marginalized voices earn even a mention. However, if the system is to be disrupted or dismantled, change must be inter-sectional rather than incremental, including artists of color, artists with disabilities, artists within the LGBTQ+ community, and others who add to the rich fabric of roots music. For, to paraphrase Pete Seeger, we’re stronger when we rise together. That’s where the Rainey Day Fund comes in. Named after Ma Rainey — the queer, Black “Mother of the Blues” — the Rainey Day Fund provides assistance to performers through its two main components: a micro-grant fund and a suite of professional services — each available to minority artists at key moments in their careers. The Rainey Day Fund does not have an open application process. Instead, it relies on a number of advisors in the music industry to recommend artists for consideration. The organization does, however, have an open donation policy. The current goal is to raise $25,000 to finance the yearlong video series and an additional $25,000 for the micro-grant program. If you would like to donate either financial resources or professional services to support a Rainey Day musician, or for more information about the fund, please contact Kelly McCartney, email@example.com The Rainey Day Fund is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit project of TKDubs Productions Ltd. https://www.raineydayfund.org/https://www.beehivepro.com/
Some days I just don’t know what I want to listen to, so I stick my I-Phone onto ‘random’ and let the fates decide ……. and after nearly ten minutes of pressing ‘next’ I stumbled on this album ……… Oooh ……Ooooh and thrice OOOH! Now a full day later I am totally smitten with New Yorker Billie Williams and her gritty, emotional and Soulful take on The Blues. In today’s crowded market it’s no longer good enough for a female singer to rely on her ‘pretty face’ and can ‘sing a bit’ to make a lasting mark; she has to be the whole package, singer, songwriter AND performer …… and right from the smouldering ‘break up’ song Damn which opens Ms William’s second release, it’s evident that she ticks every box there is …. and some more. Just like the best that there’s ever been, she doesn’t just sing the words, she inhabits the characters in her songs. Prime examples are the rolling barroom ballad Drink From My Cup and the piano led Cold November, which has a big theatrical feel to it as Billie drags us on an emotional roller-coaster for four long minutes. There’s a lot going on in these songs; and not just in the stories and lyrics……. Billie Williams has surrounded herself with some truly excellent musicians and backing singers; which when combined turn the darkly funklicious title track HELL TO PAY and Lost In The Wilderness into songs that transcend the Blues and even Soul as they much more than just that. I am obviously not the targeted demographic for Ten Million Sisters; but can really appreciate and admire the sentiment that this new Feminist Anthem portrays ……. and alongside Take These Dreams, which precedes it,t has more than a hint of something I’d expect to hear in ‘Woman the Musical,’ where such a thing to turn up on Broadway. While any of the songs I’ve already mentioned could be your Favourite Track; two in particular have had me coming back to listen ever more intently to Billie William’s detailed and articulate songwriting. You is one Helluva song, with a very danceable melody that masks an important message; while My Everything is a gorgeous Love Song that would have helped mend my regularly broken heart as a teenager had it been a 45 on Atlantic or Stax; which makes it shade the race for Favourite Song status. Unlike many Bluesy albums I get to hear, this isn’t always an ‘easy listen’; as Billie Williams draws on some very brave subjects to write about; but that’s exactly what we need these days …… ‘brave and courageous’ songwriters, especially female ones; and Billie Williams fills that void very well indeed.
Lonesome Chris Todd Dark Horses E.P. Market Square Music
Impassioned and Heartfelt Northern Irish Delta Blues.
Historically I like to get my reviews up and running a week or two before the release date, but because of work/life commitments I sometimes have to take a second look at my spreadsheet to see if I’ve missed anything of interest …….. and thankfully I did that last week and found this exciting gem. Apparently Chris Todd fronts a Northern Irish (Electric) Blues Band called the Hardchargers, but has decided to go back to his Blues Roots for this release ……… and without giving anything away …… I’m mighty glad he has! The self-penned title track Dark Horses starts the EP, and the way he plays his acoustic guitar and phrases his words, the first name that sprung to mind was Jose Feliciano; wow …… can he make his guitar weep, wail and howl along with his very own words and story of the same ilk. This song and the crystal clear production are probably worth the entrance fee alone; but there’s even better to come. Normally it’s difficult for any artist to capture your attention with only four songs; especially when only two are your own and the two are covers, but the enigmatic ‘Lonesome Chris’ does this with ease; especially with the two stunning covers – Lightnin’ Hopkin’s Lonesome Dog Blues is not just scintillating and stark, it’s also accessible for anyone who wants to know what all the fuss is about when Grown men like me go all misty eyed when discussing Delta Blues; and it’s the same with his re-evaluation of Bukka White’s Shake ‘Em Down, a staple of many a Blues Set in the 1960’s and more recently rediscovered by some young friends in Newcastle. But Todd adds shine, pathos and heart in a way I don’t think I’ve heard before on any other version. The actual stand-out song here is again from Todd’s own pen and experiences. Written during a short period of homelessness in 2017 while living in England, Irishman Todd manages to capture that ‘extra something’ that only ‘The Blues’ can give in Red Lion Yard. Is it because it’s so touching? Heartfelt? Raw? Passionate? that I’ve played this song five times in succession this morning? I don’t know, but it’s an absolute stunner. There is so much to like and admire in these four songs; and not just the songs themselves but Todd’s warm and rich singing voice and not least his outstanding guitar playing which are captured in all of their glory by Cormac O’Kane’s sympathetic production.
Griff Hamlin and The Single Barrel Blues Band I’ll Drink to That Self-Release
Luxurious Big Band Rhythm & Blues For the Connoisseur and Beginner Alike.
Probably more famous for his Guitar instructional videos and YouTube channel, Griff Hamlin has put something of an All-Star band together to release this ‘debut album’ by his latest inception, The Single Barrel Blues Band; and a finer name for what you will hear I can’t imagine. With the emphasis on the Rhythm half of Rhythm and Blues opening track Almost Level With The Ground will not just have your toes a’tappin and your hips swivelling, but your memory bank telling you “that is you, that is!” In the Classic Blues tradition this song is about ‘drinking your worries away on a Saturday night’ and it’s quality through and through. To some degree there are no surprises here; but who wants surprises from Rhythm and Blues? Certainly not me …….. I just want to be entertained; and that’s just what these cats do; with Down and Out shimmering and shaking while Nothing Better simply sizzles like bacon and eggs on Sunday morning; and it’s just as tasty! While I don’t know Hamlin’s back catalogue; he and The Single Barrel Blues Band reinvigorate a couple of his own older songs; and crikey Moses are they red hot!! Louisiana Holiday and Got To End have a Big Band feel to them, with Tim Aker’s horn section giving it a mystical 50’s Nightclub feeling, while Hamlin’s singing voice slides deep into crooning territory on the latter, while he seriously makes his guitar weep with joy. There are two songs on the album that I’ve wrestled with as to which is my Favourite Song; one is again from the back catalogue; Where Would I Begin is a rare beauty of a love song and just perfect for late in the evening; and I can imagine someone like Tony Bennett or even Harry Connick Jr keeping the exact same arrangement and making it into a huge worldwide hit, it’s so good. The other is the album closer Bourbon and a Pistol which is pretty much a case of ‘keeping the best until last’ with Hamlin and Band regaling us with a really special ‘cheating tale’ in the style of ……….. well, themselves really! While I said earlier that there are ‘no real surprises’ here; that’s the big surprise; Griff Hamlin and The Single Barrel Blues Band treat the Classic Rhythm and Blues genre with huge respect; but make the songs extra spicy and very contemporary too; which is quite an achievement.
Samantha Fish Bulletproof (Single) Rounder Records
RMHQ favourite Samantha Fish releases her new single ‘Bulletproof’ today. The single is taken from her upcoming album Kill Or Be Kind – released on Friday 20th September on Rounder Records and distributed in the UK by Proper Music – which is now available for pre-order worldwide here – https://found.ee/SFBulletproof . When pre-ordering the album, you receive ‘Bulletproof’ as a free MP3 download.