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

 

Brother Johnny – An All-Star Tribute to Johnny Winter

Brother Johnny – An All-Star Tribute to Johnny Winter

Brother Johnny – An All-Star Tribute to Johnny Winter

Brother Johnny
An All-Star Tribute to Johnny Winter

Oh, have I been waiting for this one! And it was well-worth the wait.

When writing this review, I found it hard to separate the music of John Dawson Winter III from my life. Understandably so because Johnny Winter shaped much of my musical interests. It’s no stretch to say I would not be writing this review or even a member of Suncoast Blues Society without the influences of Johnny. So, when I saw the press release for the musicians coming together with Edgar Winter to record a tribute to his brother, I could not wait!

Right from the downbeat of this 17-song recording, Joe Bonamassa explodes with a wonderful rendition of Mean Town Blues. Playing in front of Edgar’s vocals Joe is faithful to Johnny’s original. A song these ears first heard on what I consider to be the best live recording in blues rock history, “Johnny Winter And Live.” On “Still Alive and Well” Kenny Wayne Shepherd plays virtually note for note the song Johnny issued on the 1973 album of the same name, shortly after recovering from his well-documented heroin addiction.

Keb’ Mo’ and Edgar paired well on Lone Star Blues and provide a moment to reflect on what a great slide guitar player Johnny was. A point reinforced when Billy Gibbons and today’s premier slide player Derek Trucks turn the heat up on, I’m Yours, I’m Hers. The original was Johnny at his raucous psychedelic best. Hearing this version my mind recalled blowing out speakers in my bedroom on this song.

I am so happy that Stranger made the recording. This has forever been my favorite slow and poignant song from Johnny. In high school I submitted these lyrics as an example of poetry. The teacher was not amused, as my grade attested to. Proving forever to me that poetry is however one defines it. As one who stays away from recordings featuring Michael McDonald, I must complement his vocals on this version. The pairing of Michael with Joe Walsh and Ringo Star is genius.

Both Johnny B. Goode and Highway 61 Revisited are my least favorite songs on this recording. Phil X performed the former in the style of The Rolling Stones, and the latter with “KWS” truer to Dylan’s original. Understandable as recreating the blistering incendiary version of “Highway” that Johnny recorded on “Captured Live” is beyond the capabilities of mere mortals.

Steve Lukather pitches in for a version of Rock ‘n’ Roll Hoochie Koo that brings the mind back to the days when Johnny and Rick Derringer were, in my opinion, the best blues rock guitar duo in existence. Great backing vocals accompany Edgar’s vocals on this one. Doyle Bramall II  performs When You Got A Good Friend in honor of Johnny’s 1969 self-titled recording. Traditional blues, and it’s something that Johnny returned to later in his career. More on this topic shortly.

The familiar licks to Guess I’ll Go Away explode off the guitar of Doug Rappaport and include marvelous vocals by the Foo Fighter’s late Taylor Hawkins. This version sounded as fresh as when first released on Johnny Winter And (studio version).

Edgar takes center stage singing a version of Drown In My Own Tears done in the style of the Charles’s – Ray and Ezra. Another example of the deep blues that Johnny is normally not associated with, but a song that he faithfully recorded on his self-titled album.

Joe Bonamassa returns with a true rendition of Self-Destructive Blues, a song Johnny artfully recorded on ”Scorchin’ Blues.” This song may have my all-time favorite Johnny guitar lick, and I suspect that Johnny is smiling over this version. Well done, Joe, especially recreating the lick that Johnny included in many of his song. “When I get through boogyin,’ they’ll be no more blues around.” Indeed.

Earlier I mentioned that Johnny paid homage to the blues masters. Winning three Grammy Awards for production work with Muddy Waters cemented his legacy with traditional blues. It was through Johnny that I received introductions to both Muddy and James Cotton. Back to the recording, Got My Mojo Working features Bobby Rush, and is evocative of “Muddy ‘Mississippi’ Waters – Live.” I closed my eyes and felt Muddy and James on this one.

Thank you, Quarto Valley Records, and Edgar Winter, for bringing this recording to life. I won’t be drowning in my own tears, but this recording brought a tear to my eyes, a happy one. Most excellent. Heartily recommended for fans of Johnny. And if you are unfamiliar with Johnny’s work this is a great jump-of point to embark on a marvelous journey of some of the best blues-rock licks every recorded.

  • Scott Morris

 

 

 

Larry McCray Blues Without You (KTBA.com)

Larry McCray Blues Without You (KTBA.com)

Larry McCray Blues Without You (KTBA.com)

(Suncoast Blues Society member Gary Weeks contributed the following review for your enjoyment. If you would like to review a new recording, please contact bluesnews@suncoastblues.org.)

Blues Without You 

The word “comeback” is an old cliche used many times to describe an artist re-entering a profession that sometimes isn’t kind if the individual doesn’t deliver the goods as promised.

 

That is not the case for blues troubadour Larry McCray. With production duties handled by guitar wizards Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith, McCray’s latest offering Blues Without You is full of strong gospel inflected vocals and greasy hot guitar licks that McCray dishes out like a spicy gumbo.

 

With a Bo Diddley like rhythm, opening track “Arkansas” sets the boogie wheels in motion with McCray reeling off rocking Albert King leads. Keeping the party atmosphere going, “Without Love It Doesn’t Matter” augmented by barroom keyboards and a slithery drum groove is a soul meltdown that doesn’t let up in the hallelujah gospel redemption of “The Good Die Young.”

 

In “Down to The Bottom” only McCray can take us to church and feel the presence of the almighty. Choir harmonies set this number aglow and guest player Warren Haynes adds searing slide guitar fleshing this song out into deeper southern soul territory.

 

McCray continues to mine that soul territory in “Breaking News” that pushes Memphis Stax sounds like an old reliable train making its destination to the next stop. There is no overplaying or hot dog tendencies on display as Larry lets the guitar work be in service to the song.

 

Larry continues his Albert King chops in “Roadhouse Blues” which is not the same tune from The Doors’ infamous Morrison Hotel. The chances are the listener will care less as they hear McCray dip into his mojo bag of leads which he has dozens of. McCray just pours it on letting the guitar hero title cast its shadow.

 

McCray isn’t ready to leave the roadhouse. The fire and fury unleash itself in the keyboard boogie “Drinkin Liquor and Chasin Women.” The fretboard keeps burning only now Larry bolsters it even more with Chicago slide guitar queen Joanna Connor adding guitar histrionics that are over much too soon.

 

The title track “Blues Without You” brings the guitar barnyard burning down a bit with strings and horns being the bedrock for Larry’s guitar breaks.

 

Of course, if Joe Bonamassa is producing you, there you no way you can’t have him guest on a track. In the sleight laidback ambiance of “Mr. Easy,” McCray graciously lets Joe take the spotlight with that trademark Paul Kossoff sound that characterizes his DNA.

 

Closing acoustic number “I Play The Blues” exits this smorgasbord of soul, blues, and rock on a quiet note. It’s not to be confused with an epitaph. Just another tunnel McCray is opening to the light that sets him free.

  • Gary Weeks

Suncoast Blues Society member

CD Review: Tinsley Ellis Devil May Care

CD Review: Tinsley Ellis Devil May Care

CD Review: Tinsley Ellis Devil May Care

Tinsley Ellis

Devil May Care

Alligator Records

What does a veteran touring musician do when their entire schedule gets wiped out in the blink of an eye? For Tinsley Ellis, who had spent four decades playing hundreds of shows every year, the respite gave him time to sequester in his basement studio, surrounded by his collection of guitars and associated equipment. And he made productive use of time, writing several hundred songs while digging deep into his record collection, listening to old favorites that quickly sparked a revitalized interest in music, especially the sounds that initially fired up his musical imagination.  

Since his return to Alligator Records in 2018, the guitarist has released two top-notch albums, Winning Hand and Ice Cream In Hell. He somehow managed to whittle through his prolific songwriting output to select the ten songs featured on his new release. Once again, the focus is centered on his outstanding guitar work along with his weathered vocals. The songs address familiar themes like love gone bad, heartache, and regret gained in hindsight, often wrapped up in sounds that take listeners back to the glory days of the southern-rock sound.

The opener, “One Less Reason,” has a twin guitar attack, Ellis doing double duty on slide and standard guitar that readily conjures up comparisons to the Allman Brothers Band. His closing guitar solo is an immediate highlight. “Right Down The Drain” offers more of a good thing, culminating in a lengthy Allman-esque six string interplay featuring slide guitar. “Juju” sounds like a long-lost Allman Brothers classic, with plenty of slide guitar and Kevin McKendree‘s always impressive contributions on piano. The ballad “Just Like Rain” is a touching song on the redemptive power of love, featuring Jim Hoke on saxophone and Andrew Carney on trumpet, one of three songs the duo appears on.

Ellis has always shined on the slow blues numbers, and “Don’t Bury Our Love” adds another gripping performance to that list, taut guitar licks echoing his pleading heart-wrenching vocal. Things definitely haven’t improved on “Slow Train To Hell,” which finds Ellis deep in the throes of despair, tired of waiting for the return of his long-gone lover. His searing performance will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on anyone who hears it. “One Last Ride” is the album’s longest cut, with Ellis in an introspective mood, his guitar providing a steady stream of forthright testimony.

“Beat the Devil” has a compelling arrangement with McKendree fleshing out the sound with thick chords on the organ while the horns supply plenty of sharp accents behind the leader’s rousing vocal. The rhythm section of Steve Mackey on bass and Lynn Williams on drums lay down some funkier grooves on the driving “Step Up,” then Ellis breaks out his wah-wah pedal, injecting “28 Days” with a full tilt, ferocious guitar attack from start to finish.

Over the years, Tinsley Ellis has stuck with the same approach. Give listeners a batch of rousing original songs, delivered with raw, robust vocals, and plenty of dynamic fretwork. He has the chops to keep the winning formula rolling along, a point made abundantly clear throughout this fine new release.

– written by Mark Thompson

(Mark Thompson is a past president of Suncoast Blues Society, and is a frequent contributor to Blues Blast Magazine)

CDs, including autographed copies are available at Alligator Records

 

CD Review -The Sun is Shining Down by John Mayall

CD Review -The Sun is Shining Down by John Mayall

CD Review -The Sun is Shining Down by John Mayall

The Sun is Shining Down

John Mayall 

The final days of the first month of 2022 brought out what could end up being the recording of the year.

John Mayall pulled together an all-star cast of musicians to guest on The Sun is Shining Down. One world class musician after another led to a world class recording that does not disappoint.

Hungry and Ready is an apt title for a song that will leave you in both states for more of what John Mayall brought us on this collection. The first track is an up-tempo song with horns backing Melvin Taylor’s hot licks and will have you tapping along to the beat. A tasty morsel to kick off this outstanding collection. Melvin Taylor may be the best guitarist few know about.

Young guitar slinger Marcus Kings chips on Can’t Take No More. Oh, yes, I can! Backed again by horns the second track pushes the beat and highlights Marcus and his guitar around John’s crafty lyrics.

The funky Bobby Rush song I’m as Good as Gone features Nashville-based guitarist Buddy Miller and his baritone guitar on an instrument built to match John’s vocals.

The tempo slows down as violinist Scarlet Rivera (Bob Dylan’s “Desire”) contributes on Got to Find a Better Way. The violin solo reminded me of Dylan’s 1976 recording. John’s understated vocals fit perfectly with the lovely playing Scarlet contributes. Well done, and most enjoyable.

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell joins on the blues-rocker Chills and Thrills. Stinging guitar licks on this one.

The sixth track was well worth the wait as John has included a collaboration with Hawaiian ukulele star Jake Shimabukuro. One Special Lady is one special song. This song gets better note by note as Jake’s ukulele cooks.

A Quitter Never Wins is the sole song on this recording that does not feature a guest musician. A soulful harmonica backs this slow blues ballad. Wonderful lyrics such as “I know you want to quit me baby, but you know a quitter never wins.” What blues lyrics, but fans of John’s will not be surprised by this prose.

Scarlet Rivera returns for Deep Blue Sea. The song has is a nice keyboard solo with two solos by Scarlet wrapped around it.

Melvin Taylor and his perfect guitar fretting return for Driving Wheel. Backed by horns this song has a big blues band feel to it. I turned the volume  way up on this one. Outstanding!

Closing out the recording is Texas guitarist Carolyn Wonderland on The Sun is Shining Down. This blues number has a measured guitar by Carolyn, a wonderful beat, and memorable lyrics from John.

To paraphrase John from the last track “you really hit the bullseye” with this recording. Well done. John has raised the bar, and raised it high, in the race for best recording of 2022.

  – Scott Morris, Suncoast Blues Society

Carolyn Wonderland “Tempting Fate” CD Review by Franc Robert

Carolyn Wonderland “Tempting Fate” CD Review by Franc Robert

Carolyn Wonderland “Tempting Fate” CD Review by Franc Robert

Carolyn Wonderland “Tempting Fate”

CD Review by Franc Robert

WOW!!! Tempting Fate… is one astonishing record. If you have not heard Carolyn Wonderland before, you owe it to yourself to get this CD, like-now!!! Ms. Wonderland can compare to Bonnie Raitt, but hotter like a cayenne pepper. Arguably stronger vocals, and much spicier playing and songwriting.

Right out of the gate, “Fragile Peace and Certain War” fires off on all cylinders with its raging Mississippi Hill Country blues stomp, hound dog wailing slide guitar and impassioned, politically tinged vocals. Vocals that find a higher gear each verse till the final scream that recalls Tina Turner at the height of her powers-yeah, it is that good!

“Texas Girl and Her Boots” is a wonderfully sassy look at the form and function of her boot collection (every girl has more than one pair!), set over a bare-knuckle Texas shuffle with the added treat of Marcia Ball on piano, loads of fun!

“Broken Hearted Blues” is a classic blues rocker with Carolyn detailing every failing of her (now presumably former) lover-the standout here is her vocals, which go from a near whisper to all out wail on the turn of a dime. “Fortunate Few” is more traditional, with the piano more forward in the mix, and very tasty guitar work.

“Crack In the Wall” is a slow Texas waltz, with Cindy Cashdollar adding a haunting lap steel solo.

“The Laws Must Change” shows Ms. Wonderland interpreting her old boss John Mayall’s song, and in the process making it her own. Her guitar scat’s along to her vocals-sometimes doubling, other times finishing the line, before getting to a lyrical but still cutting solo!

“On My Feet” is more of a traditional jazz number, with smooth crooning, and a surprise whistle and guitar call and response solo-very nice and a cool twist! “It Takes a Lot to Laugh It Takes a Train to Cry” features Jimmie Dale Gilmore as a duet partner (sounding like Willie Nelson).

The album closes out with The Grateful Dead’s “Loser”- an unusual choice, but Wonderland makes it work. With its spaghetti western lyrics filtered through a blues-rock-psychedelic kaleidoscope leading to a dramatic rave up solo section. And its spine-tingling final chorus that leaves you wanting more, like a great album should!

Can you give six stars on a 5-star scale? That is what this record is, and I am sure it is already in the running for Blues Music Awards. Cannot wait for Ms. Wonderland to tour Florida!