I’ve professed many times on here my love for The Blues and when it comes with a bid splosh of Rhythm too……. my heart just goes bippitty bop; and that’s how I’ve felt each time I’ve played this fabulous second album from New Yorker Will Vincitore! I have no idea why her 2016 debut album BETTER DAYS never got reviewed here; but it’s still on the office shelf and gets dusted off every couple of months; but ……. and here’s a ‘spoiler alert’ ….. her follow up is even better; in a grown up and ‘been around the block’ kinda way. Opening track Just Ain’t The Same bubbles, boils and simmers as Willa pours her heart out on a sizzling break-up song about an affair with a very controlling man……. yowza…… what a way to start an album! Not for the first time this year I’ve got an album that straddles the Blues and Soul divide with style and panache; Willa gets low down and sad on the late night Bluesy ballads Choices, It Is What It Is and the delightful These Days, which even features some sweet George Benson style guitar too. But, no one trick pony, Willa Vincitore can get her Funky Soul on when she wants too with the feisty I Love You Baby and Bite Me with both showing a woman who’s not to be messed with; but the type who draws you to her like a moth to a flame! There’s one cover here; Annie Lennox’s Money Can’t Buy It, which I don’t recognise but that doesn’t matter as it fits in seamlessly and could easily have come from Ms. Vincitore’s pen anyway. Choosing a Favourite Track isn’t as easy as I’d hoped; as the first few times I played the album the Power-Ballad Need a Little Help stood out; as it reminded me of Aretha circa Who’s Zoomin’ Who? with it’s punchy (and danceable) melody and super-cool liquid guitar from Karl Allweier but now I’m being drawn back to the rinky-dinky Everything Hurts on which Willa lists all the ailments that she’s going through now ‘she is middle-aged and caught the flu’ but, bizarrely she makes it all sound quite sexy! HA HA HA HA. But there’s also the touching These Days, with it’s neo-political thread weaving through a cool vibe; and shows Willa really has a great way with words and a melody; so I’m going for These Days with it’s wailing saxophone solos, as it’s a song that could and should be an anthem for people everywhere. So, in conclusion Willa Vincitore is a fantastic songwriter who uses melody’s like a switchblade and has a soulful voice that can go way, way down low and also hit notes that only dogs can hear…… what are you waiting for; go buy it!
Putting the Rhythm and Blues Into the Still Beating Heart of Soul.
While this is Gina Sicilia’s eighth album in 10 years, she only came to my attention in 2016 with her Tug of War album; which I reviewed favourably .
A lot has happened in the interim; and I’m not able to do a compare and contrast even if I wanted to; as I can’t fine the review or original disc!
So; I will do what I do best and treat this as a singular release all of its very own; and ignore the accompanying Press Release too.
Opening track I Don’t Want To Be In Love is a dark and sultry late night ballad that goes places we’ve all been at one time or another; and remain under the surface until songs like this come along, and we end up resting our chins on folded arms letting out winsome sighs as the music flits around the room.
Things don’t exactly pep up a bit on the next song; Damaging Me; although the melody is eminently danceable in the same way Stax used to do better than everyone else back ‘in the day’.
That last sentence sums up Gina Sicilia’s approach better than anything; while she is billed as a Blues Singer this album is pure S.O.U.L from start to finish and flits flawlessly between Philly, Detroit and Memphis with consummate ease.
Ten of the eleven tracks here; along with another ten were written back to back in December 2017 and there’s a thread that weaves from one to another; without this being any nod to the ‘concept album’ formula I despise so much.
Gina sings about LOVE in all it’s guises with those first two songs alongside the Gospel tinged I Do Bad Things and the low down and playful Sugar all being perfect for that last dance of the evening; or even later when the listener is all alone in a darkened bedroom.
On the other hand LOVE is also extolled in all its virtuosity on the glorious Light Me Up and the sassy reinterpretation of the Bad Company Rock classic, Ready For Love; which managed to make me do a soft shoe shuffle one afternoon as I made a cup of coffee!
Be under no illusions Gina Sicilia’s Blues Roots are here too with Man In The Sky being a real Juke Joint pot boiler and the razor sharp duet with Janiva Magness, Brighter Day sizzling on every note and word.
Then there is one song which captured my attention the first time I heard it, which happened to be the day after Aretha died; and still stands proud tonight…….Angels Watching. It’s no homage in the slightest the Queen of Soul; but sometimes a random song can convey your thoughts and feelings in a way you personally can never pull together; and that’s what this song now means to me.
It’s such a good song in it’s own rite that perhaps; I wish it won’t be associated with Aretha; but hey…..that’s not altogether a bad thing, is it?
There’s a lot here to like; not just the fluent way Ms Sicilia uses words and phrases to convey her feelings; but her velvety voice and the way the band behind it compliment it like pollen to a bee; make this a wonderful album and one we highly recommend.
An Exciting and Pretty Damn Unique Soulful Blues Hybrid.
My love of The Blues has been unstinting ever since I first ‘borrowed’ my elder brothers Rory Gallagher and Johnny Winter albums back in the early 1970’s; and my love remains pretty much undiminished now in 2018 as I somehow still manage to discover new artistes with their own unique way of making this historic genre fresh and indeed exciting!
Ladies and gentlemen; I present for your delectation…….Mr. Billy Hector from New Jersey.
Was it was the sparkling slide guitar on opening track Wizard of Babylon that hooked me in, or the way Hector’s distinctive voice and almost sexy guitar playing oozes seamlessly between BB King, Robert Cray and Gary Moore territory with grace and skill; but instantly hook me in he did; and when the title track Someday Baby came wailing from the speakers immediately afterwards I knew I was listening to something very, very special indeed.
Somehow Billy manages to combine Blues Rock with Super-Soul, Funk and even a touch of Jazz Rock in his superb playing on Jolene and the astonishing Road to Happiness as well as many others here too.
But, these days great guitarists are ‘two a penny’ so…….. what makes this album by Billy Hector stand out in a very crowded market is, first and foremost the quality of his songwriting.
In my eyes he can also write a love song that transcends genres like very few others can manage, with Moonlight in Her Eyes sounding like it would have blown our minds if Jimi Hendrix had recorded it; and Creeper delves into territory that very few apart from Sly Stone or perhaps Prince would dare enter; but Hector does with great composure and class!
It’s all too easy to hear why Hector has been winning Awards for decades now and was even both Hubert Sumlin’s and Joe Louis Walker’s ‘touring guitarist,’ when he gets into a groove on Hit The Road and the sweet and sassy instrumental Bareback; which I don’t think is about horse riding! But I return to Hector’s singing and his actual songs; which are all never less than excellent.
Two songs in particular stand out like bright red poppies in a field of beautiful golden wheat; and that’s the timeless Jolene (no….not that one) which has a little bit of everything in it; but sounds like no other Blues n Soul hybrid I can think of and the song that actually takes the accolade of Favourite Track by a whisker……. Butt Naked and Funk; which is exactly as cool and sexy as you’d hope for from a title like that.
There’s a lot going on here with Billy Hector merely fronting an amazing Big Band that I’ve hardly even alluded to but boy, oh boy are they red hot; evoking memories of the night I saw BB King at Newcastle City Hall when the great man allowed just about everyone to have a moment in the spotlight; but never enough to over shadow his own unique talents…..which is exactly what Billy Hector does on SOMEDAY BABY.
WOW! This is different……but different GOOD!
Who would have thought that a young half Peruvian/Egyptian woman could sing Soul and Blues like this?
Well; that’s the power of music….it transcends borders and languages……see for yourself.
There’s an album coming soon too……so ‘watch this space kids!’
Madisen Ward & The Mama Bear
THE RADIO WINNERS
A Magnificent and Daring Leap Forward Into the Soul Stratosphere.
A couple of years ago Madisen Ward & Mama Bear were the ‘flavour of the month’ in the music press; not just because they were very good but predominantly because their USP was that they were/are Mother and son, which by any stretch of the imagination is odd in Rock & Roll.
That album Skeleton Crew was a hit around the world and the Dynamic Duo have toured on the back of it non-stop ever since; only stopping earlier this year to record these six tracks.
Obviously a lot has happened in that last three years, as their new ‘sound’ is lot ‘bigger’ and even ‘orchestrated’ which all comes to the fore on opening track Childhood Goodbye which quickly finds Madisen joined by what sounds like a choir on harmonies as a string section swoops in and out like a Summer Breeze.
It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting; but it’s been a very pleasant surprise as the song builds and builds to a pulsating intensity at the end, as does the EP itself.
A lot has happened in the last three years and that comes across in the depth of all six songs here, which are exquisitely written and performed; but the addition of this big production takes them into a whole new arena; with Walk In The Park being very ‘radio friendly’ indeed and the first song on the second side of the vinyl release the ghostly Mother Mary brings the duo’s Gospel and Blues background to the fore and really showcases Master Ward’s magnificently expressive voice extremely well.
Hell and Back Alive, sounds almost like slow Philly Funk-Rock track set to an orchestral backing at times; with Madisen sounding uncannily like Teddy Pendergrass as he pleads for redemption and/or forgiveness from some unnamed woman or higher force.
The final song Family Treason wraps things up nicely with a subtle hip-hop beat behind the choral harmonies and that big old orchestra with Madisen getting low, low, low like many famous Soul-bearers before him; and he matches them note for note.
Which then brings me to my ‘Favourite Song, the heartbreaking Everybody’s Got Problems which is absolutely stunning from the actual words in the story to the pinch perfect production, which has reminded me of Michael Kiwanuka’s groundbreaking album last year, which mixed Soul with Gospel and a heavy dash of Power-Jazz in the choruses.
This has been a 360 degree surprise for me as their debut album, while not exactly ‘raw’ was certainly from a duo; whereas here on these six songs it’s all about Madisen Ward and his magnificent voice with The Mama Bear apart from adding harmonies on Hell and Back and Family Treason, virtually nowhere to be seen or heard.
LOVE IS AN ARMY
Fathead Records/Blue Elan
Music That Transcends Both the Blues and Even Soul
Although this is Janiva Magness’ 14th album I only discovered her 4 years ago and have been slowly working my way through her back catalogue ever since; so was pretty damn excited to receive two copies of her latest release……one from her American PR and the other the European one.
As usual I have to start by explaining that the Blues comes in a million shades and Janiva Magness plys her trade in the cooler more Soulful end of the spectrum.
The opening track Back To Blue is a perfect example of why Janiva was a Grammy nominee in 2016, her distinctive velvety voice soars on an absolute heartbreaker that is perfect for people of a certain age who remember the halcyon days of Dusty Springfield and Aretha in their glory years.
Things get a little more spikier on the next track Hammer; with a punchy drumbeat fighting with Charlie Musselwhite on a sparkling harmonica as Janiva ‘shakes her thang’ as the band get in a groove well worthy of the famous Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.
As is the way when you have a reputation like Ms Magness a couple of guest stars make appearances on a couple of tracks; with the legendary Rusty Young supplying some sublime pedal-steel during On And On which is a bit of a departure for the Blues Diva; but not too far left of centre that it doesn’t fit in.
Delbert McClinton makes an appearance on the lonely love song What I Could Do; taking this duet into ‘timeless territory’ and just perfect for late night radio somewhere in Lonelyville.
RMHQ favourite Cedric Burnside brings his urban Roots specialities to Home; which has a choir of Angels backing the pair on a song so atmospheric you can virtually smell the flowers on the hills as Janiva gives the powerful lyrics everything she has in her armoury.
When I played this album in the car I found myself reaching for the dial to turn the volume up a couple of notches on Tell Me, What’s That Say About You and the Gospel drenched Some Kind of Love which finds the singer alone at a piano; not because they are ‘Rockers’ but because they all deserved to give me a sensory overload; that being simple background music wasn’t fair on Dave Darling’s sparkling production.
Where to go for a favourite song? Love To a Gunfight has to be a contender with its clever lyrics and story coupled with some sublime guitar from Dave Darling, but I’m going for the classy title track Love Is An Army. As everyone knows I’m a sucker for a love song; and this one oozes lurve like an oil slick; with the words and music and most importantly the way Janiva and Bryan Stephens weave their voices around each other the song transcends both the Blues and even Soul in the way only Roberta Flack and Peabo Bryson managed many years ago.
A couple of months ago I got into a heavy debate about Artistes ‘recording the same album over and over again’ versus ‘Artistes constantly changing direction and challenging themselves.’ I fall into the latter camp and find myself being proud of Janiva Magness for having the courage to make an album that is distinctively a Janiva Magness album (what else could it be with ‘that voice’?) but creating individual songs that may be out of her core fans comfort zone; although I certainly think all of their preconceptions should disappear the second time they play this album.
Here’s my forecast……..Grammy Nominee in 2016……Grammy WINNER in 2018!
A Thrill a Minute Blues and Soul Roller Coaster Ride.
I knew absolutely nothing about Kat Riggins before opening the envelope containing her latest and second full lengthCD; but……and this is a huge compliment; the sleeve alone would have made me pick it up in a record shop and ask the chap behind the counter if I could hear a track or two.
Then after hearing the first couple of bars from the hypnotic opening track Try, Try Again I would happily have parted with 10 English pounds.
It’s a Soul song, it’s Blues too, it might even have a smidgen of Gospel in there too but this song contains so, so much more too.
Troubles Away; follows and slows things down with a real back porch Country Blues; with ‘vinyl hiss and scratches’ for added authenticity……and my, oh my what a powerful and expressive voice this young lady has. The type that sends shivers down your spine and used to have blokes queuing at the stage door with bouquets of flowers and marriage proposals.
Like all of the best Blues and Soul singers Ms Riggins manages to surprise at every turn; and rocking our world in a way you could never expect with Kitty Won’t Scratch, a feisty duet with guitarist Albert Castiglia they make the speakers shake and Fistful o’ Water she makes Janis Joplin sound like a teenage choir girl!
But it’s her slow and sensual songs that have won my heart ……..Cheat Or Lose could and should be a ‘by the numbers’ song; but this one with Darrell Raines sultry keyboards sounds like something I would expect to hear on Blue Note; and on Don’t Throw Me Away Kat turns the tables by being the one who done her man wrong; and begs……really begs for forgiveness.
To me; this album is primarily S.O.U.L with a side order of the Blues; with the emphasis being very much on the stories in the self-penned songs and Kat Riggins’ distinctive and emotional voice; with everything coming together in the finest way on the funky Tightrope and even more especially so the title track A Girl in a Boys Club; which comes very closely to being a feminist anthem; but is mostly a hell of a good fist bumping song for the end of the evening.
There’s even a ‘secret track’ tucked away in here too; with Kat letting her voice do the talking on a rather beautiful short and sweet acapella ‘interlude’ called Living Testimony, that could have been recorded in a Baptist Church and if it wasn’t should have been.
Then of course I am now obliged to select a Favourite Song; which has been genuinely difficult; but I’m going for Johnnie Walker; a thrilling and exciting Blues Rocker, but this one comes from the darkest pits of Kat’s heart; and the band glide in and out with some awesome licks and a ‘most Blues wailin’ mouth harp’!
I can only imagine how powerful and thrilling it must sound when played live.
Not for the first time this year; and I hope not the last, it’s unearthing albums like this one, her second and being able to hail artistes like Kat Riggins from Miami, Florida to the world at large that make all of the hours I put in worthwhile.
A New Star For the Languid and Soulful End of the Blues World.
As usual I’d played this album two or three times before glancing at the accompanying Press Release and I’m mighty glad I did; because Brazilian guitarist and singer-songwriter Artur sounds quite dull when you read he is a ‘lead educator in The Blues’ and ‘co-founded a Blues Society’ but the music he creates is anything but dull!
There’s more than a sweet hint of BB King to the rolling opening track Now’s The Time which has a gripping story embraced by a swinging big band and some truly electrifying guitar solos from Menezes.
The Brazilian switches pace and style on the title track Keep Pushing which follows next; with some courageously jangly guitar breaks over a smoking Soulful backbeat that had me shuffling along in the living room the first two times it came on.
Obviously I love a good guitarist; it’s what I grew up listening to and Artur Menezes is up there with the very best at the moment; but KEEP PUSHING is chock full of exceptional songs if you get past his exceptional way with the magic box and listen to his words.
Should Have Never Left is a mighty cool ‘what if’ story that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Atlantic Records in the 1980’s and Give My Money Back also follows a Dark Soul path that only ever leads to t.r.o.u.b.l.e. and yet again I hear the ghost of BB King in not just the guitar licks; but the song itself.
The more I play this record the more I get from it and the more I’m impressed by each and every song, which nod to the past greats but generally takes those influences and fleshes them out in a new and very contemporary fashion……..Love ‘n’ Roll could have gone in a few different directions; but Menezes teases you with a heady mix of Blue Note guitar and organ but makes his song swing like a Tom cat on heat. Then there is Any Day, Anytime which started off like a homage to Robert Cray and George Benson but ends up being 100% Artur Menezes as the lady he’s singing to and about will surely testify!
There’s no longer any need for Singers like Artur Menezes to find a single for radio play; leaving them the freedom to let the songs take on the life nature intended and join together to make a cohesive long playing record; which this most definitely is; but there is one song in particular that stands out and easily became the RMHQ ‘Favourite Song’ and that is the beautiful Can’t Get You Out of My Mind; which funnily enough is a lot less dependant on the Brazilians’ incredible guitar skills than anything else and allows his velvety to voice to seduce all of us in the way singers like Brook Benton or Jeffrey Osborne have effortlessly managed for decades.
Late night lovers have a new theme tune!
Sooner or later someone will call their album 50 Shades of Blues, as I seem to say most weeks that The Blues does come in many many, different hues; each with their own merits but managing to divide fans like few other genres can.
Me? I’ve slowly grown away from the loud and raucous Blues Rock world and now find myself preferring to sit back and wallow in the more languid and soulful end of the Blues world; and it appears this Brazilian Guitarist and singer-songwriter is about to become something of a ‘go to’ guy at RMHQ when I need such a fix.
A Grown Up Funky Alt. Jazz Hybrid to Sit Back and Savour.
You know us here at RMHQ, we have very eclectic musical tastes that defy most people’s imaginations, so when a CD arrived with a note attached describing the Duo/Band as ‘A funky Blues Groove from a Power-Folk duo with World Music, Hip-Hip, Blues and Rock influences’ how could we not give it a listen?
What’s the worst that could happen?
Opening track Chosen One certainly digs deep into every one of those influences; with more than a smattering of Funk and Blues too behind Jonah Tolchin’s sizzling guitar and Kevin Clifford’s spectacular tub-thumping as the band play on as if their lives depended on it. It’s not clear if it;s Jonah or Kevin singing; but here and on Bless Your Children which immediately follows there’s a distinct whiff of cool Blue Eyed Soul in that larynx.
Lost for words, all I can come up with for Taste So Sweet and Addiction is that they are the epitome of Cool; think some kind of weird hybrid between Lowell George, Jimmy Smith, Charlie Watts and a guitar duel between T Bone Walker and Jeff Beck!
Dharmasoul are both from New Jersey; but I can’t help but think this album was, or at least could have been recorded in New Orleans, Memphis or Muscle Shoals as there is a wonderful warm groove throughout that I normally associate with those fine musical cities; especially Open Your Heart and the gloriously meandering Love Again, which made me want to grab Mrs Magpie and slowly shuffle around the living room. (Thankfully I didn’t)
For a duo they certainly kick up a storm with the title track Lightning Kid, building up a dark and brooding sensory state that often threatens to boil over; but being the consummate professionals they are they tease the listener several times before a volcanic ending.
Favourite Track? Phew, that hasn’t been easy, mostly because every time I play the album something new grabs my attention and I want to choose that one for you; but tonight I’m plumping for Love Again because ….no no no……it’s got to be Armoured Hearts, one of two songs that subtly deal with Socio-Politics in such a clever and articulate manner you’d think someone like Randy Newman or James Taylor had a hand in the writing; but the didn’t.
I’ve not just thoroughly enjoyed this Grown Up album in the vein of Steely Dan or Barenaked Ladies; but been really impressed by it too, as just like discovering a New World wine there’s been a huge amount of fun thinking, “Aha…that bit….. comes from…..and ooh that guitar sounds like, or this bass lick is a probably from…..” but just like that glass of wine; you really should just sit back and flavour all of the constituent parts in all of their delicious glory.
This Is What Rhythm and Blues Should Really Sound Like.
When I was growing up there was a definite line between Blues and Soul but in recent years that line has become ever more blurred; and with divine albums like this one it’s a very good thing in deed that is the case.
I’m not sure that I’d pick up the album in a record shop if I’d only seen the cover; but if opening track Make It Good was on their stereo or more so the radio I would hunt Heaven and Earth to find where such slinky and sensual goods came from.
Then when it is followed by the red hot groove of Have a Good Time Y’all you know you are in the presence of a glorious talent indeed.
The kids today don’t know what; but the Keeshea Pratt Band certainly do with tracks like Easily Replaced and Monkey See, Monkey Do virtually breaking your heart as they filter from the speakers in a way only a woman who has lived a life can deliver; and deliver the goods Keeshea Pratt does in aces.
Keeshea and her 8 piece band take us on a helter-skelter ride with dance tunes like Out of My Mind rubbing shoulders with the Country Blues of Home to Mississippi while dropping in musical time bombs like Shake Off These Blues with ease and, it has to be said Class with a capital C.
Just like life itself this album isn’t just about Good Times, as the title track Believe is as sad as either the Blues or Soul gets; but with a thread of hope all the way through each of the 5 wonderful minutes it is with us; and that’s just what I want to hear late at night.
Where to go for a Favourite Song? A slice of sensuous delight like In The Mood? The sizzling live version of So Bad Blues which closes the disc? Nope; I’m going for Can’t Stop Now, a beautiful heart string tugger that has shades not only of Etta, Aretha and Sharron but even the Allman Brothers Whipping Post in it too, but showcases a voice that is the one and only Miss Keeshea Pratt.
Discovering the delights of singers like Keeshea Pratt is one of the main reasons I do this malarkey; plying her trade around the Southern States but primarily Mississippi it would be a huge mistake for a woman and band with their undoubted talents to go unheralded around the world……and today is the day we are shouting the name Keeshea PRATT BAND from the rooftops……you heard it here first; don’t miss out……BUY THIS RECORD.