Cover photo by Michael Mandarino © 2015 Blues Blast Magazine
In This Issue
Henry L. Carrigan, Jr. has our feature interview with Gerry Hundt. We have 11 music reviews for you including reviews of music from King Edward, The Ragpicker String Band, Eddie Cotton, Crooked Eye Tommy, Andy Cohen, Hank Mowery, Guy Tortora, Mike Brookfield, Clarence ‘The Bluesman’ Turner, Lara & The Bluz Dawgz and Diane Blue.
We have the latest in Blues society news. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
Featured Blues Music Review – 1 of 11
King Edward – 50 Years of Blues
Hit The Road Records
CD: 11 Songs; 50:47 Minutes
Styles: Traditional Electric Blues, Blues Covers
A musical retrospective is akin to an artist presenting a Lifetime Achievement Award to himself or herself. It’s not meant to be boastful – rather, reflective and introspective. Living for fifty years is a notable feat, but performing for fifty years is a whole different ballgame. “King” Edward Memphis Antoine was born in Rayne, Louisiana, in 1937 to a Cajun-speaking family. According to the “About” section of his promotional website via Hit the Road Entertainment, “Yes, you can ask him to speak French, and he will love doing so!” He taught himself to play the guitar, but his famous cousin Clifton Chenier taught him how to play Zydeco. Edward later moved to Portland, Oregon, and the Windy City, where he played with almost everybody who’s anybody in the blues – among them Magic Slim, Magic Sam, Junior Wells, Earl Hooker, Junior Wells, Tyrone Davis, and Buddy Guy. When life brought him to Jackson, Mississippi, where he still lives today, he became a legend all over the state. King Edward played at the Subway Lounge, Queen of Hearts, and Ace Records clubs every week for years. That’s why Robert Mugge featured him in his documentary Last of the Mississippi Jukes. With such a rich history, one can truly say King Edward lived the blues, and didn’t just play them.
50 Years of Blues contains several King Edward originals, which he either wrote or co-wrote. Popular covers are also featured, such as Bo Diddley’s “You Don’t Love Me”, Guitar Slim’s “The Things I Used to Do”, Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Mr. Charlie”, and “Today I Started Loving You Again” by Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens. Musically, his guitar sings and tells stories just as much as he does. His vocals are dry and nonchalant, not quite slipping into talk-singing. No one could accuse him of being “emo”, as the adolescent term goes for moody people.
Guitarist and vocalist King Edward credits Oteil Burbridge, Marco Giovino, and Doug Lancio in the CD liner notes as his accompanists. However, the liner notes don’t reveal who plays what. He also gives thanks to Peggy R. Brown and Nolan Struck, who co-wrote many of the songs on this album. The following original tunes are tops:
Track 03: “King of the Castle” – This sizzling instrumental was recently played on the Friends of the Blues radio show, nationally syndicated through the African American Public Radio Consortium. With a bouncy beat irresistible on any dance floor, it shows just how well King Edward plays guitar.
Track 09: “My Nerve’s Gone Bad” – Written by Nolan Struck, the guitar refrain here quivers like a mind on the edge of a breakdown. “Nerve’s gone bad again. Look how I talk when I walk the street. Got a real pretty woman; I haven’t been myself since I lost my peace.”
Track 11: “You’ve Been Cheatin’” – The final track features crisp instrumentation, blues “comfort food.” “Please don’t come knocking on my door, ‘cause I’m not in love with you anymore,” sings Edward matter-of-factly.
Edward is “King” of 50 Years of Blues!
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 36 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.
Featured Blues Interview – Gerry Hundt
Gerry Hundt is just trying to keep his balance these days.
“As musicians we’re asked to walk this line between being a professional and being an artist,” he says.
Although it’s not always as easy as it looks, Hundt strolls along this line quite handily, especially since he’s become his own one-man band over the past five years, balancing several instruments at once to produce not only entertaining live performances but also some rousing blues music that recalls the best of John Hammond, Mississippi John Hurt, and the blues of the hill country of Mississippi. Hundt points out that being a one-man band requires a couple of different kinds of balancing acts: “one, the physicality involved in engaging four limbs and the head, and, two, the mental steadiness required to be aware, in the groove, and to create simultaneously.”
Hundt’s decision to become a one-man band grew out his deep desire to keep playing and creating music even in a community where he didn’t have any connections. “When I moved to Chesterton, Indiana, from Rockford, Illinois, a few years ago,” he says, “I didn’t know anybody locally, but I still wanted to play.”
The one-man band wasn’t really a new idea, for Hundt had seen several of his friends perform in this manner. Hundt recalls that his good friend and former musical partner, John Alex Mason, played as a one-man band for a while, and Hundt often traveled from Rockford to the Silver Moon Club in Darien, Wisconsin, to listen the guitarist Glenn Davis, who accompanied himself on a bass drum; also, he says, “one of the first blues shows I saw live was John Hammond at the Times Theatre in Rockford, and he played his resonator and harmonica, and he stomped his foot so hard, I saw how he created his own one-man sound. It made quite an impression on me.”
So, Hundt got a little gig at a local restaurant where he’d play guitar and harmonica and bring along a bass drum and a high hat. “When I first started,” Hundt recalls, “my greatest challenges were technological; I had a bass drum and a high hat, and then I added a snare drum on its side that I’d hit with my other foot pedal. It took a really long to set up for my gig.” Hundt then got a Farmer FootDrum kit that he can carry in a wheeled travel kit, and he could set up in about fifteen minutes.
“Before I got the Farmer, I was doing more electric guitar,” Hundt says, “but the Farmer allows me to play brushes on the snare, and the sound encouraged me to play the acoustic guitar more; there’s certain material that really lends itself to acoustic.”
Hundt’s latest album, Gerry Hundt’s Legendary One-Man Band (SteadyGroove, 2015) grew out of his performing solo in local farmers’ markets and clubs. The fifteen songs on the album—featuring nine Hundt originals—capture Hundt’s shouting blues vocals, his energetic, fluid fret work, and his funky harp playing. Hundt started this project in January 2015 and completed it in June 2015; “I recorded it live in my home studio,” Hundt tells Blues Blast.
“I sat down each night and tried to get one or two songs to tape. I wrote one or two songs during the process of recording, and I composed some instrumentals spontaneously in the studio.”
The album leaps off to a rollicking start with “Market Morning Reel,” a down-home country blues that shows off Hundt’s facile finger picking. “Stompin’ & Shoutin’” jumps off with Hundt’s chooglin’ harp work that weaves under and around his electric guitar work and his blues growl. He’s making all this music himself, establishing a groove that he keeps up on other tracks on the album, especially “Broadway Boogie,” which lives up to the promise of its title, letting your backbone slip and getting up off your chair to dance, and his cover of Jimmy Rogers’ “Goin’ Away Baby,” which starts out with a mournful mouthful of harp, then escalates to a chuggin’ harp rhythm that imitates the rocking and rolling of going down the road feeling good and bad.
With its lilting finger-picked guitar, underscored by Hundt’s ability to provide his own bass line on his guitar behind the melody, “Sunset’—with many of its phrases coming from “Silent Night”—would be just at home on a jazz album, and on “Coffee Creek,” Hundt creates a multi-layered cascade of beauty on his banjo. Hundt’s jaunty kazoo playing sparks the opening of the traditional “Salty Dog,” and on this one song, Hundt demonstrates quite readily the ways that blues and bluegrass intersect in old-time music. On “Take It Outside,” Hundt uses his kazoo to create the frenetic pace of ragtime, blues boogie that captures the anxious, jumpy, sauciness of what happens outside the doors of the bar. “Broke Down” is a traditional blues at its very best, and Hundt closes the album with an instrumental medley of two traditional gospel songs; he slows down “I Shall not Be Moved” almost to a march in a finger picking style on his resonator guitar that captures its forlorn determination, and then he picks up the pace on “I’ll Fly Away” to capture its joyful spirit, ending on a riff that resembles the sound of flight.
One of the most entertaining features of Hundt’s new album is the cover art, which was drawn by Colby Aitchison. The back cover illustrations capture each song’s subject in one drawing; so, a jaunty-looking dog in sailor’s hat depicts the tune, “Salty Dog”; “Kitchen Dance” is represented by two lovers dancing next to their stove, while in the background two mice also waltz across the floor. On the album’s front cover, Hundt, the one-man band, sits smack in the center of these depictions from the back cover. Spry and lively, the cover art of the album signals the promise of the brisk, bracing, and lively songwriting and music within the sleeves.
It’s no wonder that Gerry Hundt succeeds so well at balancing the demands of his one-man band and entertaining us with good music. His versatility on a variety of instruments has always been his hallmark. He started out playing harmonica and was always fooling around on guitar but started playing guitar seriously when he was in college. He also played bass when it was needed. “I really got heavy into blues in college; I was a blues dj at the college station, and some friends and I formed a blues band; we were doing Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Robert Cray, and Bonnie Raitt.”
One of those college friends that Hundt played with was John Alex Mason, with whom Hundt went on to record one album – Mason & Hundt (2002). Hundt contributed his instrumental virtuosity on another album of Mason playing mostly as a one-man band, Jook Joint Thunderclap (2011). “John Alex was likeably studious,” recalls Hundt, who himself majored in classics at Middlebury College in Vermont, “and he always had a gleam in his eye and a kind of a wild streak.” Mason was into pre-war blues like Robert Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt; “the only disagreement we had in college,” recalls Hundt, “was about the original key of a Mississippi John Hurt song.” “I won’t tell you who won the argument,” laughs Hundt. Mason moved onto Vail, Colorado, after college, and eventually he invited Hundt out there to join him to play harmonica in some traditional Piedmont blues. Hundt’s striving for balance comes from Mason; “he really loved music,” says Hundt, “but he was all about living a balanced life and the importance of finding interests outside of music.”
In 2004, Hundt joined Nick Moss’ band The Flip Tops; “he brought me in as a fifth piece to play bass,” but Hundt soon became a utility player for the band, playing mandolin, banjo, guitar, and harmonica. Moss introduced Hundt to a lot of Chicago blues. He traveled with Nick Moss and The Flip Tops from until 2009, and he learned several valuable lessons. “Anyone who’s been through the Nick Moss school of life knows he’s a taskmaster; I learned two things traveling with his band: touring musicians live in gas stations, and, more important, these guys play every night like it’s gonna be their last night on earth; they bring a sheer fire and energy to their performances; I still try to do that even today in my shows.”
As a songwriter, Hundt learned from Mason always to write what you know and to tell a story. “I’m always hoarding ideas in a little notebook I have,” says Hundt, “and the inspiration for my songs grows out of the emotions that I recall that are associated with these ideas and vignettes I’ve written down.” With blues songs, he points out, there are a couple of different approaches to writing. “The more traditional blues songs don’t have a chorus or a lyrical hook, so the process of writing those is a bit more open-ended, and you get to express what you feel.” However, he says, “songs with a chorus or a hook or a distinctive melody are less open because you want all the lyrical contents to relate to it.” No matter the type of song, in the end great songs, he points out, tell stories and have a universal appeal so that anybody can sing them.
Hundt also sits behind the boards on his own albums and those of others like the Corey Dennis Band. Being a producer, according to Hundt, forces you to look at the big picture a lot. “A song you think sounds good going into a session might not look so great once you get into the studio,” he says.
When Hundt started out playing the blues, a club owner pointed out to him that he might have made a mistake simply by choosing to play this music in the first place. Back then, he was more inclined to divide music into different styles of blues like Chicago blues, Delta blues, and such. “The older and more experienced I’ve gotten,” he tells Blues Blast, “the less I compartmentalize music.” Hundt points out that for many working musicians might think of blues as another musical form or genre, but that anybody that’s heard good blues knows it’s more than that. “It makes people dance,” he says, “and the blues gives people what they didn’t know they wanted.”
Being a one-man band and walking the line between being a professional, an artist, and an entertainer has pushed Hundt to be more open-minded.
“I’m more open to different forms and textures now,” he says, “and I’m more confident in my playing, writing, singing, and performing.” Hundt says. “I’m always trying to improve my musicianship and playing the best that I can,” he says, “and I’m looking forward to the next phase,” which for Hundt will include producing new projects for others, performing pretty regularly, and making new albums.
We’re the beneficiaries of Hundt’s commitment to juggling these parts of his life and staying in the groove, for his new album, his tight playing, his storytelling in his songs, his blues growl, and his knack for production provide us with tunes to which we can dance, sing, groove, mourn, and celebrate. Although Hundt admits that “the less he thinks about it, the better it goes” when he tells people how he gets through his one-man act, it’s pretty clear that Hundt’s thoughtful attention to making soulful music that speaks to us insures he’ll continue to succeed in walking the line between being an artist whose music touches people and a professional who brings audiences the sound and meaning they didn’t know they were looking to find.
“The one-man band is a really good summation of who I am right now,” says Hundt. “My life is a balancing act; I work a day gig for 40 hours a week, have a wife and three children, and still play regular gigs and record.”
Visit Gerry’s website at http://steadygroove.com/
Journalist Henry L. Carrigan, Jr. writes about music and music books for No Depression, American Songwriter, Country Standard Time, and Wide Open Country.
Featured Blues Music Review – 2 of 11
The Ragpicker String Band
Yellow Dog Records
Combining the talents of three long-time purveyors of acoustic blues, the Ragpicker String Band delivers a treasure-trove of originals and covers that hark back to a by-gone era, yet sound totally modern in their expert hands. Rich DelGrosso plays a variety of mandolins and the dobro while another familiar name, Mary Flower, showcases her award-winning finger-picking on guitar and lap slide. The third member, Martin Grosswendt, may be a new name for blues fans but he is a multi-instrumentalist who has become an expert on pre-war blues styles, a teacher of considerable renown, and a musician with wide-ranging interests. All three are accomplished singers, giving the band plenty of flexibility in the vocal arena.
DelGrosso’s mandolin opens “Honey Babe,” then the trio harmonizes beautifully before each member adds a subtle solo segment. Flower takes the lead on Lil Johnson’s “Minor Blues,” a forlorn description of lost love punctuated by Grosswendt on fiddle. Producer Mark “Kaz” Kazanoff joins the two guitarists on backing vocals for “Google Blues,” a hilarious tale of the perils of trying to start a relationship in the modern age. DelGrosso’s understated vocal enhances the song’s humorous aspects before Grosswendt lays down a sinuous bottleneck slide solo. Next up is fascinating rendition of the Thelonious Monk jazz classic, “Blue Monk”. The instrumentalists take a laid-back approach to their improvising on the melody on one of the disc’s many high points. “Motel Towel” is metaphor for the inevitable results of involvement with a woman with a “love ‘em & leave ‘em” mentality. Once again the dark tones of DelGrosso’s voice are exactly what the song needs.
Grosswendt takes the lead on two Sleepy John Estes tunes. His rich voice sounds mighty fine on “Clean Up At Home” and he switches to the mandolin with DelGrosso playing the mandola, a stringed instrument that is tuned lower than the mandolin. They keep the same line-up on the classic “Milk Cow Blues,” both instruments dancing around Flower’s intricate guitar lines. “Black Mattie” comes to life through DelGrosso’s deep voice and bright mandola notes over Grosswendt’s sweet slide playing. Fiddle, guitar and mandolin in addition to more outstanding harmonizing recreate the legacy of the Mississippi Shieks on “Lonely One In This Town”. Flower’s artistry is on full display on the traditional, “Trimmed And Burning,” her vocal ringing out over the lone guitar with her partners supplying the backing vocals.
The sprightly pace of Flower’s original “Baby Where You Been” is a treat as is DelGrosso’s dobro playing while Grosswendt handles the mandolin. “By Your Side” is DelGrosso’s loving declaration over exquisite interplay between mandola, lap steel, and guitar. His mandolin propels the arrangement of his other original, “Street Doctor Blues,” highlighted one more time by Flower on lap steel. Her contemplative instrumental, “Bruno’s Dream,” gives the group one last opportunity for musical merry-making.
Nominated for a Blues Music Award for Acoustic Album of the year, the Ragpicker String Band is a joyous celebration of the acoustic blues tradition. DelGrosso, Flower, and Grosswendt are the perfect antidote for screaming vocals and overbearing instrumental solos. Their relaxed approach can’t hide the layers of complexity that enliven each track on this outstanding recording. Definitely one that you don’t want to miss!
Reviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying life without snow. He is a member of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and the past president of the Crossroads Blues Society of Northern Illinois. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!.
Featured Blues Music Review – 3 of 11
Eddie Cotton – One at a Time
Eddie Cotton, Jr., hails from Vicksburg, Mississippi. With a musical background from Jackson State University, working with Jackson-area bluesman King Edward Antoine, and serving as minister of music in his father’s church, Eddie Cotton was the 2015 winner of the IBC band competition, the second winner in a row nominated by the Vicksburg Blues Society. As you will recall, Mr Sipp was the 2014 winner. Cotton blends blues and soul into a spicy mélange of sweet music.
Cotton’s band includes JJ Thames on backing vocals, Myron Bennett on bass, Samuel Scott Jr. on drums James “Hotdoog” Lewis on organ and keys, and the Jackson Horns (Kimble Funchess on trumpet, Jessie Primer III on sax and Mike Weidick on trombone).Funchess and Harrison Calloway did the horn arrangements.
Starting off we get the title track, a funky cut of Cotton’ s blues and soul as Eddie bemoans the fact that he can only take care of one woman at a time. His guitar, the horns and organ are arranged well. His work on vocals and guitar on this song and throughout are spectacular. His guitar solo here on this is huge. “Be Careful” Has Eddie trading vocals with some licks on the harp by Carlos Russell. Nicely done slow blues! “Better Deal” is more up tempo and funky number with Eddie going falsetto at times to sing about liking a woman different from all the others. He’s gotten the, “Better deal.” In “The Catch I Wanted” we have another song concerned with the woman he has in his life. This is pretty much straight up funk a great groove. “Dead End Street” is a slow, soulful tune about life and relationships reenergized in the backseat of a car on dead end street. A big guitar intro starts “Fair Weather Lover” off as Cotton testifies with his six strings to us before doing so with words. Sloooooow blues that are deep and full of grit. “Filling Me With Pleasure” is a cool R&B number with a well-distorted guitar and a funky backbeat and nice organ work.
In “Hard Race to Win” Cotton returns to soulful, slow tempo-ed blues Eddie tells of his fathers’ advice. The preacher told him life is a hard race to win and how he’s come to grips with life as he keeps learning. There is a beautiful, stinging guitar solo here as Cotton winds his way through the cut. “Je Ne Sais Quoi,” or “I Don’t Know Why,” is next, a song about a women he can’t quite explain More soulful, slow, funky blues. Cotton picks out a great beat on his guitar and the organ bridges between the chorus and verses as he unsuccessfully tries to figure his woman’s appeal. Next up is “Mississippi,” a tribute to his home state. It’s a nice, bouncy, mid-tempo blues with a funky side. Cotton spells out the state’s name and the band responds in a swinging kind of a call and response. Eddie’s guitar stings like a hornet in the solo here. “My Money” is straight up blues with Grady Champion filling the harp duties as he and Cotton spar back and forth. Cotton’s guitar is impressive while Champions sound and approach on harp is good but somewhat repetitive. The organ and horns intro “Ego at Your Door,” a soul-filled R&B number “Race to the Dollar” talks to us about the struggles to make ends meet. Shirking family life to earn and spend it all before their needs are met is one of the darker songs here and Cotton punctuates the mood well with his guitar work. He closes out the album with “War is Over,” an outstanding very slow piece that opens with a great guitar intro and then gets into a mournful and sweet call to his woman, “Let’s make love the war is over” and to wipe the slate clean and start all over.” The guitar is impeccable here as Cotton works over the slow backbeat and gives an impassioned performance.
I really liked Cotton’s last album, but this one is really spectacular. Soul, funk, blues and R&B all stirred together into a wonderful mix of tasteful and tasty original songs. Fans of the blues and souls will find this album right up their sleeves. Most highly recommended!!!
EDITOR’S NOTE: This album is nominated for a 2015 Blues Music Award.
Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire reer in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.
Featured Blues Music Review – 4 of 11
Crooked Eye Tommy – Butterflies & Snakes
11 tracks / 52:37
Crooked Eye Tommy is a cool band out of Santa Barbara, California that delivers plenty of good-time rocking blues. This is not just a funny band name or somebody trying to be politically incorrect, as singer/guitarist/songwriter Tommy Marsh was indeed born with a couple of crooked eyes. This band hit the stage in 2013 and quickly earned a trip to the 2014 International Blues Challenge in Memphis where they made it to the semi-final round. After they got back to the Sunshine State they went to work on their debut album, Butterflies & Snakes.
The band includes Tommy and an experienced group of other locals, including his brother Paddy Marsh on guitars and vocals, Glade Rasmussen on bass, Tony Cicero behind the drum kit, and the legendary Jimmy Calire on keys. The Marsh brothers skipped the format that most bands use for their debut albums and did not include any cover tunes, instead putting together eleven of their own original songs for this project.
The first of the tunes on Butterflies & Snakes is the loosely autobiographical “Crooked Eye Tommy” which features resonator and heavily distorted electric guitars and it is evident that brothers can play some mean 6-strings. There is also a heavy beat provided by the Rasmussen and Cicero and the end product is a dark swamp rock/blues that turns out to be a great hook for the rest of the album. Next up is the cool Latin beat, processed guitars, and walking bass line of “Come On In,” which has clever lyrics that compare a broken heart to an empty house. Calire brought his organ and sax to this track to add the remaining pieces that end up making this song just a little spooky.
Tommy Marsh takes over the lead vocals on “I Stole the Blues” which is a shout out to the artists that have inspired them over the years. His voice is a warm growl and there is a slick interplay between the guitar and sax on this one while Calire nails down a killer solo. The list of the artists they have stolen from include the usual suspects, including Muddy Waters, Albert King, T-Bone Walker, and one surprise: Jerry Garcia! Fortunately these guys have decided that they no longer need to steal the blues and have decided it is “time to give it back.”
Central Valley denizen Bill Bilhou sat in on the B3 for a few tracks, too. “Tide Pool” is a solid rock ballad with Tommy comparing the fate of love to that of a tide pool: will it be rescued by the sea, will a beachcomber pick it up, or will it dry up and blow away? Besides providing the background mood on this tune, Bilhou got a bit of a solo in too. He made more of a contribution on “Love Divine” which is a neat blend of funk, rock, jazz, and blues. Becca Fuchs and Dan Grimm provide some fine backing vocals on this one too, which is a nice counterpoint to the guitar pyrotechnics that are found throughout.
Tommy is not afraid to flirt with politics, as you will hear on a few tracks. “Somebody’s Got to Pay” is full of frustration about how the government does not seem to care about anything but money. The band uses a 12-bar blues base with plenty of help from Calire on sax and organ to make this point. “Mad and Disgusted” has a similar theme, but this time they are more upset about the general decline of quality in life thanks to the meddling of the government in many facets of everyday life. It is nice to know that some folks think that blues can be about more than just getting your heart broken.
The band covers a lot of ground on this CD, and they finish their set with “Southern Heart” which brings out another influence of theirs that was not a prevalent on the rest of the disc. They lyrics reference Lynyrd Skynyrd, but this country rock song has a bit of Bob Seger and some California country as popularized by the Eagles, thanks to the slide guitar work of Jesse Siebenberg (Supertramp). This is a strong tune, and could cross over to country radio with no problems.
Crooked Eye Tommy has done good work with Butterflies & Snakes, and their modern take on the blues is fresh and original. Their songwriting and musicianship are solid, and they will definitely have staying power in the Central Coast and Southern California blues scene. Strong evidence of this is their invite back to the 2016 International Blues Challenge to represent the Ventura County Blues Society in the “Best Self-Produced CD” category, so keep a crooked eye (or two) out for these guys!
Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at rexbass.blogspot.com.
Featured Blues Music Review – 5 of 11
Andy Cohen – Road Be Kind
16 songs – 55 minutes
Andy Cohen is one of those national treasures whom it is all too easy to take for granted and thus to overlook. Growing up in a home with a piano and a lot of Dixieland Jazz records, he was one of many who discovered the blues through the Folk revival of the 1960s. He has spent his adult years playing, studying, teaching, writing about and promoting early 20th century American music, from the acoustic blues of Mississippi, the Piedmont and Memphis, through to gospel and ragtime. He is a virtuoso acoustic guitar player with an encyclopedic knowledge and love of American music and he is blessed with a voice that sounds as old as dirt.
Road Be Kind is an all-acoustic solo album primarily focusing on contemporary folk music, with some blues and related traditional material as well. There is the classic instrumental, “Windy and Warm”, Sonny Terry’s “Spread The News Around” and even a raucous version of Walter Weems Doyle’s early 30s “Mysterious Mose”. Cohen combines his own “The Jig McCoy” with the traditional “Blarney Pilgrim”, as well contributing “Fort Sumner Dance”, which he wrote with his friend, Steve Cormier, and “Five and Ten Cent Blues”, a song that he wrote in the mid-1960s and one that beautifully sets the tone for Cohen’s entire life. There is even “Talkin’ Hard Luck,” a hilarious combination of ancient bad luck jokes, puns and witticisms, half-spoken over a ragtime backing.
But it is the “contemporary” songs that are the heartbeat of Road Be Kind. The witty and amusing lyrics of Dillon Bustin’s “More Wood” are matched by Cohen’s playful guitar backing. Scott Alarik’s title track allows Cohen to dig deeply into the melancholia behind the ostensibly hopeful lyrics. The album even ends with a version of the Beatles’ “Blackbird”, but the genius of each track on Road Be Kind is in reminding the listener how every “modern” song is really only a heartbeat away from the early classics, originally written and played well over 100 years ago.
Cohen is adept at playing a variety of finger styles, in particular when using his thumb to play alternating bass notes a la Rev Gary Davis. It’s an oft over-looked technique both for adding depth to a single acoustic guitar accompaniment but also in creating a drive and a groove to push a song forwards.
As an added bonus, Cohen’s album notes for each song are wry, intelligent and educational, and offer an illuminating look into how and why he chose these songs for this album.
Road Be Kind is a fine album of acoustic folk-roots-blues. If your tastes extend to the likes Chris Smither or Peter Mulvey, you will find a lot to enjoy here.
Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.
Featured Blues Music Review – 6 of 11
Hank Mowery – Excuses Plenty
Blue Bella Records 2015
10 tracks; 35 minutes
In 2013 Hank Mowery released his first CD Account To Me, a warm tribute to his late friend Gary Primich. The CD was very well received and won the award for the best produced independent release at the 2014 IBC’s. Now Hank has released a second CD and this one features four of his own compositions, three co-writes (with Gary Primich, Keith Litteral, Nick Evans Mowery) plus three covers. Hank handles lead vocals and harp with his own band, The Hawktones, on half the tracks: Troy Amaro, guitar, Chris Corey, keys, Patrick Recob, bass, John Large, drums. On three tracks the rhythm section is Pete Curry on drums and Larry Taylor on bass and on two cuts Doug Deming & The Jewel Tones support Hank: Doug Deming, guitar, Dennis Gruenling, harp, Andrew Gohman, bass, Danny Banks, drums. Other guests are Mike Morgan, guitar on two tracks, Jimmie Stagger, guitar on one, Claude Nine, bass on one and guitar on another, Theo Ndawillie II, drums on one track and Matt Mason who adds backing vocals to two. The CD was recorded in Hank’s hometown of Grand Rapids, MI.
The album opens in rocking style with “Anna Lee”, Hank’s tale of a wild child (“sailor’s mouth, bedroom eyes”) the Hawktones on great form with rocking piano, guitar and the bass lines doubled up with Patrick and Claude playing together. Hank has a good voice, here with a little echo on it, and plays swinging harp. We switch into more of a soul vibe with “I Don’t Want To Know”, a gentle ballad by David John with ‘twangy’ guitar mixing with some soulful chords, Claude and Troy working together. The title track “Excuses Plenty” brings a swampy feel courtesy of Troy’s guitar that sounds like John Fogerty in CCR days and Hank’s lyrics reveal some real concerns about his relationship: “Your excuses plenty, your reasons few for the life you’re living, the wrong you do. Confession can’t even up your score; I worry about my soul, baby; you worry about yours”. Hank sang with Mike Morgan & The Crawl some years ago and here Mike guests on two tracks: first we get some Texas blues with a Mexican vibe, especially in the guitar, on “Walk With Me” on which Hank’s excellent harp solo is a model of concision; “One And Only” has more swing, a short track with some more solid guitar from Mike, reminding us that we have not heard a release from him for some considerable time. It is also the first of three consecutive tracks with the Larry Taylor/Pete Curry rhythm section and is followed by “Little Bit Of Rhythm” and “Cry For Me”. Hank does not play any harp on these two cuts though on the former he sings through the harp mike over some insistent picking from Troy and strong B3 from Corey; the latter is more upbeat, almost a touch of early era Beatles here and that slightly ‘old-fashioned’ feel is added to by the strange sounds of Corey’s clavioline (no, I had never heard of it either!).
On the next two tracks Doug Deming’s band takes over, recorded during a weekend off during a tour. The lovely ballad “Would You Still Love Me On A Rainy Day” has Dennis Gruenling on harp, demonstrating his ability to sound almost like a horn section at times, a well-judged solo from Doug and a superb vocal from Hank; mention should also be made of Danny’s delicate brush work on this late-night piece. Hank and Dennis share harp duties on a storming version of William Clarke’s “Telephone Is Ringing”, the Jewel Tones really kicking the tune along as both harpists take exciting solos and Doug again excels in his solo contribution. The final cut is a short solo rendition (1.43) of Skip James’ “I’m So Glad” by Jimmie Stagger on guitar – a nice finish though somewhat out of kilter with the rest of the album.
This is a very enjoyable album with some fine singing and playing from Hank, well supported by both his own Hawktones and the other guest musicians. The concise nature of the songs means that there are no drawn-out solos and that avoids any dull moments. However, the total running time is short by modern standards. It would have been great to hear a couple more of Hank’s songs to put the icing on the cake. Nevertheless, this is an album that is easy to recommend.
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.
Featured Blues Music Review – 7 of 11
Guy Tortora – Bluesman In A Boneyard
9 songs time-47:48
This London based former resident of Pasadena, California has a firm grip on American Roots music. With the help of his European band and various guests he traverses genres ranging from blues, roots music, New Orleans R&B, folk and Cajun among others. The seven original songs are well crafted with attention to lyrical content and musical nuance. Guy is well versed on acoustic, electric and slide guitars along with mandolin. He is also possesses a voice that can be gruff or smooth as each song requires and occasionally both traits appear in one song.
The exquisite piano of Janos Bajtala sets up a Tango as drummer Pete Hedley introduces shuffling drums to kick off “The Damage Was Done”. Guy’s slide guitar and Giles Hedley on harmonica contribute to the musical mélange. The lyric comments on the universal travails of love. Blind Willie Johnson’s “What Is The Soul Of A Man” is given a jazzy treatment with Graham Pike adding haunting trumpet over Janos’ piano playing.
“Boneyard” with its’ descriptive lyrics and dramatic vocal delivery essentially serves as the title track. The narrator seeks out the resting place of a bluesman. Guy can really set up a scene with his lyrics as to where they have a cinematic quality. Sleepy John Estes’ “Going To Brownsville” finds Guy on mandolin and foot stomp with Ben Tyzak on slide guitar and harmonica. It’s taken at a slow pace highlighted by Guy’s voice over slow instrumental interplay that is nothing short of mesmerizing and well separated in the aural mix.
The tale of the spread of the South’s demon insect is told in “Ballad Of The Boll Weavil” and it morphs into a fantasy as the boll weavil is given a sinister human persona. A dramatic vocal along with equally dramatic slide guitar add to the atmospherics. The stop and start quality of “Live Fast” gives way to some mournful violin courtesy of Gemma Sharples. The sprightly pace of “One Way Ticket” contributes to the best Bob Dylan song that Mr. Zimmerman never wrote, as Guy captures Dylan’s vocal cadence circa the “Blonde On Blonde” era.
Un-credited horns pop up on “From The Heart” along with second-line drumming from Pete Hedley and some blistering electric guitar soloing from Guy. The Cajun-flavored “Les Bon Temps” features Phil Underwood on accordion and some tasty slide guitar from Guy as he describes a slice of Louisiana’s life style.
Guy Tortora and cohorts have succeeded to create an authentic sounding program of American roots music. The lyrics are fresh and original atop well performed and arranged musicality. This CD is without a doubt worthy of anyone’s record collection.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
Featured Blues Music Review – 8 of 11
Mike Brookfield – Love Breaks the Fall
10 tracks / 40:35
Formerly of Liverpool, Mike Brookfield is a Dublin-based musician and guitar teacher with a pedigree, as he has earned a jazz musician of the year award, as well as being able to include plenty of West End musical theater experience and session work on his CV. Of course, as he is a British-based blues rocker, there are going to be the inevitable comparisons to Clapton, Knopfler, Gilmour, and Gallagher, and he can actually hold his own against these guys on the fretboard. Mike is a fine guitarist and nobody would dispute this fact if they ever heard him play, and fortunately he is mature enough that he does not have to constantly prove himself.
With this level of talent Brookfield can afford to hold back and let the songs do the work, which makes his new album, Love Breaks the Fall, a winner. Besides pla