Selwyn Birchwood  – “Exorcist” CD Review

Selwyn Birchwood – “Exorcist” CD Review

Selwyn Birchwood – “Exorcist” CD Review

Fourth Alligator Records Album from Innovative Award-Winning
Guitarist, Vocalist and Songwriter

On Friday, June 9, award-winning Florida bluesman Selwyn Birchwood will
release Exorcist, his highly anticipated fourth Alligator Records release. The young guitarist, lap steel player, songwriter and vocalist sets a course for the future of the blues with his visionary, original music. He calls it “Electric Swamp Funkin’ Blues,” an intoxicating mix of deep blues, blistering, psychedelic-tinged rock, booty-shaking funk and sweet Southern soul, played and sung with fire-and-brimstone fervor. Tastemaker Americana music magazine No Depression says, “Selwyn Birchwood reaches back in the blues tradition to launch something out of this world.” Exorcist will be available on purple vinyl LP, CD and at all popular streaming and download sites. The first single, the ripped-from-the-headlines howler FLorida Man, hit radio and streamers in May.

On Exorcist, Birchwood delivers the most far-reaching, musically adventurous album of his career. Recorded in Florida and produced by Grammy Award-winner Tom Hambridge, each of the 13 vividly detailed songs was written and arranged by Birchwood. The soul-baring tracks all hit with lasting rhymes and unexpected rhythms. Each twists its own tale, ranging from the love-gone-wrong Horns Below Her Halo to the love-gone-terrifying Exorcist to the autobiographical Underdog. According to Blues Music Magazine, “Selwyn Birchwood heralds a fresh, exciting new direction in the blues. Toe-tapping, hip-shaking, joyful and inviting…expansive and focused, exploratory and time-honored, but always original.”

Live, Birchwood is a force of nature. His ability to win over an audience—any audience—is proven night after night on the bandstand. With his warm, magnetic personality, Birchwood is as down-to-earth as his music is thought-provoking and electrifying, with Birchwood’s band featuring the pulsating interplay of his blistering guitar with Regi Oliver’s driving baritone sax. When he sits down to play his lap steel, he takes the crowd to a whole other level, with the music exorcising any bad times and troubles.

Now, with Exorcist, Selwyn Birchwood and his band are ready to deliver the new songs live to expanding, enraptured audiences around the world, lifting spirits while banishing demons. Asked what fans can expect when they see him, Birchwood replies, “My goal is to be sure you cannot listen passively. We’re going to make you dance, and we’re going to make you think.” One listen to Exorcist will no doubt convert many new true believers: this is visionary contemporary blues written and performed by an endlessly creative, modern-day blues master.

 

Cash Box Kings CD Review

Cash Box Kings CD Review

Cash Box Kings CD Review

For their third release on Alligator Records, the Cash Box Kings are back with another marvelous release that revels in the electric Chicago blues traditions. Right from the jump, the title track finds lead singer Oscar Wilson making sure the ladies know he is available to cure their ills, punctuating the proceedings with Wolf-like moans. The mournful tones from Joe Nosek’s harmonica create a telling down-home feel.

Guitarist Billy Flynn shows off his stellar slide work on “Trying So Hard,” while Wilson offers a dark laments about his woman troubles. Drummer Kenny Smith reminds us that he is the master of the shuffle on “Pontiac Blues,” with John W. Lauler matching him every step of the way on his upright bass. Since the passing of Barrelhouse Chuck, Lee Kanehira has been handling the keyboards, subtly filling out the arrangements. She gets a chance to shine on the sprightly “I Want What Chaz Has,” while Wilson and guest John Nemeth take turns expressing their admiration for a major player around town

Nosek takes over the vocal on “Hot Little Mess,” deep in the throes of love over a woman with plenty of issues. The soothing tones from Al Falaschi on tenor and baritone saxophone offer a measure of comfort. “She Dropped The Axe On Me” lays out the inevitable results of his ill-fated relationship, leaving him little choice but to pick up his harp and blow his blues away.

Other highlights include “Please Have Mercy,” with Wilson demonstrating his mastery of the slow blues lament, the band coming together once again in the intricate musical dialogue that is the hallmark of finest blues performances. Even better is the hilarious run-through of “I Can’t Stand You,” as guest vocalist Deitra Farr and Wilson air out the details of their on-going Facebook “feud”. Horns brighten the arrangement on “Down On The South Side”. Wilson narrates the typical goings-on to be found in the clubs and taverns in Chicago’s famous blues area on the weekends, while doing his best to focus on his female companion.

The closing tune, ‘Ride Santa Ride, “ proves to be more than a seasonal throw-off, with Flynn firing off his best Berry-esque licks while Kanehira pounds away on her piano. Wilson does his part, turning in one more inspired vocal turn that finishes off another stellar effort from one of the finest blues bands on the planet. Highly recommended!

Mark Thompson

Reprinted by permission from Blues Music Magazine, Issue #37, Spring 2023

Tom Craig – “Good Man Gone Bad” CD Review

Tom Craig – “Good Man Gone Bad” CD Review

Tom Craig – “Good Man Gone Bad” CD Review

Tom Craig
Good Man Gone Bad
By Scott Morris

’Good Man Gone Bad’ is just out and about to make a big splash in the blues world.” Tas Cru

 

Pennsylvania blues man Tom Craig hits the mark with his second recording “Good Man Gone Bad”.

Produced by harmonica ace Mikey Junior and mixed at Fat Rabbit Studios by Dave Gross, this set of tunes follows Tom’s first recording with Soul Patch. “Get Ready for Me “. Comparatively speaking “Good Man” documents Tom’s growth as a musician all while presenting an enjoyable collection of 13 songs that cover most blues styles. But it’s Tom’s writing, and co-writing with Mikey Junior, along with the soulful delivery that rang true for me.

Beginning with the first cut “I’m Working Too Hard” Tom sets a lyrical theme for the recording that hops from one side of a relationship to another. Accompanied by a driving beat Tom professes to be “I’m working too hard for your love”. Many probably have felt similar, but wisely, for the health of their specific relationship kept their own council. Tom’s words might have you saying to yourself “I feel you brother”!

I really enjoy the next track “What A Man’s Gotta Do”. The guitar work accentuates the beat and the harmonica by Mikey Junior lends a nice touch throughout the song, specifically as the song fades out. Performed live this song has people up and dancing.

The title track (You Made A) “Good Man Gone Bad” appears third on the recording and Tom’s soulful voice resonates in this song. This bluesy ballad bespeaks of making “the worst of a good situation”, leading the listener to speculate on the destructive nature of succumbing to temptation. Tom’s vocals are spot on and clearly Tom is at home base with these types of blues ballads.

Harmonica sets the tone on another ballad “It’s All My Fault”, another one of Tom’s fine ballads. The band lends just the right touch with a beat that fits the lyrics. Tom’s guitar solo is perfectly measured.

“Sheepdog”. Well truth be told on first listen I was not quite sure how I felt. But on repeated listens; yes, Tom has crafted a winner! This rocking blues song is a fan favorite during performance, especially memorable was the version performed during Blues Bash at the Ranch with Gabe Stillman lending a hand on slide guitar. This song grew on me. On a recording where my ear preferred the soulful ballads, this is more than an add-in change of pace. “Sheepdog” is a fine song and deserves presence within Tom’s performance set list.

Slowing down, Tom showcases his vocals on “When You Love A Bluesman”.  Perhaps this is when Tom is at his best. His soulful blues vocals and smart lyrics fronting a tight band, and in this song the harmonica rings true. Tom chips in with tasty blues licks on his guitar. The groove captured me right away. Most enjoyable.

“Treat Your Daddy Nice” has a familiar blues beat, and the lyrics make this song work. Once again, this hard-working bluesman asks “baby” to “treat daddy nice” because after all,” I’m the one that makes you feel all right”.

“My Turn to Cry” finishes off the recording with a soulful, saxophone backed ballad. Once again demonstrating that Tom knows how to deliver a song that places “Soul in My Blues”.  Close your eyes and picture slow dances late at night. The symmetry on the recording of the hard-working hero from the first song now practicing patience on the last song is a subtlety that I enjoyed. And the delivery lets the listener speculate on the cause of the tears.

On a personal note, it’s been a pleasure to see Tom perform and grow musically over these past few months. Wintering in Florida Tom put together a tight band that delivered an enjoyable show experience. Secondly, Tom switched roles from front man to sideman while touring with Tas Cru, sometimes on the same day. Tom is putting in the work, to fine success. This is an up-and-coming bluesman to keep an eye on.

Tom has a clear vision of what he wants to achieve as a musician. I intend to “keep my eyes wide open” to see where Tom’s musical journey takes him; I suspect that after a few listens to “Good Man Gone Bad” you will choose to do the same.

“Good Man Gone Bad” is due to be released on April 20, 2021. The recording is presently available for pre-order. For more information visit Tom Craig Band’s website.

Jeremiah Johnson: Hi-Fi Drive By Review

Jeremiah Johnson: Hi-Fi Drive By Review

Jeremiah Johnson: Hi-Fi Drive By Review

Jeremiah Johnson: Hi-Fi Drive By Review
 October 21, 2022  Fidel Beserra 

St. Louis native and natural-born blues rocker Jeremiah Johnson has stood out greatly in recent years on the scene. His brand of feel-good, working man’s blues rock incorporates elements of funk, soul and country in a, if not exactly groundbreaking, still extremely satisfying blend. With a career already solidified by a number of well-received albums and successful stateside and European tours, he is now adding another compelling chapter to his incredible musical journey with the release of Hi-Fi Drive By.

Produced by Paul Niehaus IV and Tom Maloney and featuring several talented backing musicians, the album, as hinted in its title, features a polished mix and production. Each instrument is captured and calibrated with good accuracy and the sound as a whole has just enough breathing space, which results in a clear and expansive sound. In terms of songwriting, the record is structured around rock and blues’ most notorious and identifiable elements, and the influence of Albert and Freddie King, Steve Cropper, and all that classic Stax and Motown sound is quite notorious, with incisive yet tasty fretwork, huge-sounding horns and swaggering vocals being the record’s driving forces.

The dancing, rip-roaring rocker “68 Coupe Deville” opens the album with all guns blazing and is followed by the equally hard-charging “Ball And Chain” and its remarkable chorus. On the other hand, the lush number “Skippin’ School” leans more towards the classic blues/soul structure and impresses for its engaging delivery while the funk rocker “Hot Diggity Dog” boasts an irresistible hook. Similar in structure, “The Squeeze” features perhaps the album’s best horn passages and guitar solos, in addition to a simply thrilling, addicting chorus.

The R&B-infused and Latin-textured “Hot Blooded Love” keeps the bar high with Johnson’s guitar slashing through with absolute finesse, and the catchy JJ Cale-influenced “Sweet Misery” follows suit. Then, the high-energy cut “Quicksand” brings back the rock-oriented approach and combines it with another delicious funk groove. The song also features a delicious, instantly recognizable saxophone riff.

In summary, Hi-Fi Drive By is a roots-oriented album focused on reclaiming and celebrating the core and already long established elements of blues and rock, and while this approach may seem a bit raw and straightforward for some, the magnetism and quality of Johnson’s passionate approach are undeniable.

 

 

CD Review: Jimmy Hall Review – Ready Now

CD Review: Jimmy Hall Review – Ready Now

CD Review: Jimmy Hall Review – Ready Now

Jimmy Hall

Review – Ready Now

Former Wet Willie front man and harmonica player Jimmy Hall has forged a successful but under the radar career since stepping out on his own. That’s about to change. Ready Now just smokes! Jimmy has never been better or on target, and this Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith produced Keeping The Blues Alive recording delivers, big time.

With numerous guest appearances including a quartet of guitar slingers, the recording starts off with an appearance by Josh Smith on “Girl’s Got Sugar.” This song sets the tone for the recording as Jimmy successfully transfers his non-stop stage show energy into this recording.

For me, the most entertaining song on the collection follows. “Jumpin’ For Joy “ may be the signature song on the recording and does not disappoint. The video released in support of this recording (filmed in Nashville as Jimmy walks down a street) is energetic with whimsical moments.

But Jimmy can get down and gritty as demonstrated on “Risin’ Up.’ Beginning with a nice keyboard lead in with a bluesy harmonica Jimmy shows off his soulful voice and delivers a most entertaining song. “Putting one foot in front of the other” Jimmy and co-writer Bonamassa (who lends sweet guitar licks to this recording) built a memorable song. One that quickly became a favorite.

Allman Brothers fans take note – “Dream Release” is a song co-written by Jimmy and his son Ryan Hall is a tribute to Gregg Allman and the friendship Gregg and Jimmy shared.

Former Allman Brothers and present Gov’t Mule guitarist Warren Haynes joins the party on the title track. “Ready Now” is a rock ballad that builds energy throughout, and this could become a mainstay in Jimmy’s shows. This song touches the soul and Warren’s slide playing is spot on, ending with his slide running down the fretboard to produce a sound and tone that is reminiscent of the ending to “Layla.”

Bonamassa and his bandmate, the legendary keyboardist Reese Wynans  collaborate on “Holding on For Dear Love.”  This soulful number shows how masterfully Jimmy can blend his voice into a band.

“Two Jimmy’s (Carpenter and Hall)

“A Long Goodbye” begins with Jimmy’s mournful harp followed by some of the best singing on this recording. Great lyrics set the mood on this ballad. Joe’s guitar brings an edge into the song, and the backend of the song takes on a different feel as Joe unleashes a blast furnace of hot licks.

The bluesy toe-tapper “Will You Still Be Here” is enjoyable and is followed by guitar virtuoso Jared James Nichols guesting on “Without Your Love.” Using a 12-string guitar, this song has a rock feel and left me wanting more from the duo of Jimmy and Jared.

At 48 minutes, this 11-song recording is a masterpiece. Non-stop fun from the downbeat and the depth and breadth of this recording is amazing. Accolades and awards should be forthcoming for Ready Now! It surely will have me “Keep on Smilin’”.

  • Scott Morris, Treasurer, Suncoast Blues Society

Photo by Author. Big Blues Bender, Las Vegas 2021

Links

Jumpin’ For Joy Video

Jimmy Hall Ready Now

No More Worlds to Conquer Robin Trower

No More Worlds to Conquer Robin Trower

No More Worlds to Conquer Robin Trower

No More Worlds to Conquer

Robin Trower 

As he draws nearer to the age of eighty, guitarist Robin Trower just gains more momentum with consistent studio releases. Remaining sidelined from live performances in the last couple of years due to the pandemic, Robin just uses the downtime to go into the Provogue studio to record the endless number of compositions he keeps writing.

The man responsible for the classic rock 1974 opus Bridge Of Sighs has a special place in the hearts of those of us as teen-agers who had blacklight posters wearing headphones letting songs like “Day Of The Eagle” and “Bridge Of Sighs” transport us to that special place that was an adolescent comfort zone.

Other reviewers have coined the phrase “psychedelic blues” in describing Trower’s music. It’s an old cliche but it best describes Trower’s approach to his Hendrix infused pedal/reverb guitar lines that deeply resonate with soul he imbibes

Letting vocalist Richard Watts sing the tunes that fulfill his vision, the Strat tones shimmer and ride the groove immediately from the onset. The medium paced “Ball Of Fire” opens the party and can become a live staple in Trower’s live sets. The title track can do the same thing with Robin coaxing his reverb drenched notes awash in an elixir he can create.

It’s a long way from the seventies in which he reigned strongly in the concert arenas. Since then, Trower has become comfortable in his role as elder statesman of the blues. Never one for speedy deliveries or a thousand note attacks doesn’t hinder him from transmitting emotion that is strong in his single note attacks. It’s the stuff guitar geeks can soak up when they purchase their Fender guitars and Marshall amps. Add a pedal board to the mix and you have the tools of trade.

While his tunes don’t headbang with the fire and fury of his classic rock yesteryear, Robin lays down his psychedelic blues smoke in the hazy “Birdsong.” The tempo picks up with Robin’s lyrical lines in “Losing You” that segues into the same paced “Waiting For The Rain To Fall.”

These tunes follow the same blueprint. Slow approaches undercut by Robin’s ethereal spacy notes that serve the purpose of creating atmosphere. Not disrupting it.

“Cloud Across The Sun” can be a great addition to Trower’s live sets as it gallops with rocking urgency that recalls a younger Robin in his heyday. Then it’s back to the slow crawl of “Fire To Ashes” with Robin’s ghostly guitar riding the bedrock of rhythm fleshed out by soulful keyboards.

“Razors Edge” with its lyrics pointing fingers at the politicians taking the world in a downward trajectory is the package of blues rock histrionics that could have found a home on Trower’s earlier work. Blues awash in psychedelia that only Robin can play.

The Hendrix influence is strong within the love song “I Will Always Be Your Shelter” that can lull couples into a warm embrace with Trower’s airy guitar painting broad strokes across the canvass.

If one wants to think of Robin as blues of the twenty first century, then it’s an honorable designation to live with.

  • Gary Weeks