Saturday, February 10, 2018

Paul Edelman Solos At Richmond’s Tin Pan


There’s a long tradition of a solo performer; an artist with an instrument and a voice that combines with poetry to cast a spell over an audience. Paul Edelman is an artist who is very much in that vein. While he’s been working as a small band, The Jangling Sparrows, lately, when his drummer came down with the flu that’s creeping its way across the country, he packed his guitar, put his foot in the road and travelled from Asheville to Richmond by himself to play a show for a small but very appreciative audience.  
It was a quiet opening. There was just a chair, amp, monitor and a single microphone on the stage. No pedals, no extraneous chords, nothing that could get between Edelman and his audience. Many in the audience were unfamiliar with his work, but trusted someone telling him how good he was, or maybe just trusted that if he were playing The Tin Pan, it had to be worthwhile to see what he had to offer.
What Edelman has to offer is a wonderful evening of music and more than a few stories. He went through a delightful set of songs for the next two hours and had stories to go with just about each. He’s a very personable performer and hopefully we will progress from cult figure to wider acceptance.
He started the show off with an older song, Highway Doesn’t Know, from his solo album Stranger Things And Truer Words album. It was a lovely song and it set the mood for a quiet evening of musical storytelling. He followed up with another song from the same album, Ballad Of Lizzie Mainford, that dealt with the emotions of a woman leaving home.
After that second song, he mentioned his CDs, but he was clearly not comfortable doing so; he even remarked that he had “never gotten the hang of pimping himself on stage.” Let me just comment that for many performers, appearances don’t pay all the bills, and with the limited payments that online services provide, an artist selling CDs and other merchandise often makes the difference from being a fulltime artist, and a part-timer with a day job.
After that, Edelman played a song he deemed his “personal Dock Of The Bay,” a meditation on where he grew up, Burning A Hole. He followed up with a song that hasn’t been released yet, Rabbit Hole. He would pepper the rest of the night with new songs that have yet to released, and it was a real pleasure to listen to music that was still in early stages.
From there he played a nice classical style intro to Chase It Down, then revisited his childhood memories for the collage song, Daddy Says, and the song Hidden River.
The next song was written about a friend’s wedding, and again it hasn’t been recorded. It hasn’t even been titled yet, although I am calling it Old Friends Catching Up (Sparkle And Flicker), until it gets a name. From the impetus of a wedding, he began to examine the theme of growing older with Eyes Of A Stranger and A Year Is Still A Long Time.
Afterwards he asked if everyone was okay. He could actually play some dance tunes if we wanted them. He was told in no uncertain times that we were enjoying this musical journey and he could proceed as he saw fit. Edelman then took a second to demonstrate two of his favorite chords to play and indeed they went well together. Don’t ask me what they were, I’m not a guitar player and couldn’t explain what he was showing.
It sounded good, though…
He went back to exploring themes dealing with growing older, Somebody Again led to New Wheels and Great American Limbo. He followed up with a ghost story of a number, Old Red Song and a creepy tune, Label’s All Mine, that’s not yet recorded.
Up until this point, Edelman has only played original tunes, but he took a break with Love Please Come Home that was originally performed by The Stanley Brothers. He showed off some fancy picking on this number. He followed that with Trouble Is A Stray before playing another brand new song, not yet titled, that is a love song for his wife. I’m calling it Moonlight until it gets a final name. Gorgeous song, hurry up and record it!
The next song, Anyhow, also hasn’t been recorded, and was followed by an older song written by a friend of his, The Blue Route (Who Leaves The Lonely People Alone). The latter song sounded to me as if someone had put together two of John Prine’s best, Sam Stone and Hello In There. It’s a powerful song, and I hope to track down the original recording soon.
The country sounding, Space In Between The Notes followed, and then another country sounding song, Chopping Onions. Not Chopping Broccoli that Dana Carvey made famous, something entirely different.
At this point, Edelman was well over 90-minutes into the show when he played Blame The Sky and That’s All Night. Since it was a school and work night, he lost a couple of audience members, but he thanked them for coming out and finished up with two more numbers, I Lied Because I Love You and closed with his one political statement, Go To Hell John Wilkes Booth.
Edelman is a wonderful and personable performer. His voice is strong and expressive and his playing is tight and covers several different styles. As much as I enjoyed this evening, I will be interested to see what he does with the rest of the Jangling Sparrows, as I found their album 140 Nickels to be one of the best I’ve heard this year.  

If you are a fan of Roots/Americana music, or just of good songwriting, Paul Edelman is a performer that needs to be on your radar. You can find him on Facebook or https://janglingsparrows.com/. Take the journey, you’ll be glad you did!

(All photos taken at The Tin Pan by Jessica Wood. Used by permission.)

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Time For The Blues ~~ February 10, 2018

We’re back! After bouts with the flu and other upheavals too many to mention here, Henry and I are back at full strength, and hope you are as well. We hope you will join us this Saturday night at 11 eastern for a great show featuring music from a couple of artists who rolled through town recently, some new music, and we remember an old friend that we recently lost.

First up, we’re going to sample a few tracks from Tinsley Ellis’ latest album, Winning Hand, which marks his return to the Alligator label. It’s no secret that we’re both big fans of this hard working, hard driving blues rocker and we’re delighted to see that he’s back on Alligator. I’ve been following Ellis for a number of years now, and caught him several times live in the area. Unfortunately, I had to miss his recent performance at The Capital Ale House due to that nasty flu, but I heard it was one of the best shows of the year so far.

Not only do we have three songs from Winning Hand to share with you, but we’re also going to reach way back to another one of his releases from Alligator, Trouble Time, so you can compare the evolution of his sound.

Speaking of The Capital Ale House, the night after Ellis was there, Popa Chubby blew through town. Two amazing blues guitarists and performers back to back, thank you Capital Ale House for bringing these artists to town. Chubby has just released a new CD, Two Dogs, and he’s out of the road promoting it and pretty much burning down every place he plays.

We’re glad to bring you this new album, as it features some of his strongest work to date.

You know we’re not through yet. Our new selection contains work from two female artists who will be featured on later shows: Ghalia Vauthier, a Belgian who teams up with Johnny Mastro and Mama’s Boys on a fantastic album, Let The Demons Out; and Heather Newman, normally the bass player for the great Nick Schnebelen, on her debut album, Burn Me Alive. Those two albums are available on Ruf and VizzTone respectively.

How impressive are they? I actually paid full price for Ghalia’s album and actually got in touch with Ruf Records’ American office to tell them how great the album was. I can’t say that I had anything to do with it, but the company then upgraded their marketing push so that other producers could share her work.

Another “new” release actually dates back to the 1970’s. The era of CB Radios, disco, and punk, also saw the first release from Johnny Nicholas. Nicholas released one album in 1978, Too Many Bad Habits, on Blind Pig Records. Shortly after that, he joined the group Asleep At The Wheel and his solo record went out of print. I had always heard how good the album was, but had never owned a copy myself. Imagine my surprise when one showed up in my mailbox complete with other recordings that were made at the same time.

After 40 years of languishing in a vault somewhere, we are so happy to share one of the songs from the album with you. Enjoy.

Lastly, Henry and I faced a very difficult Christmas. The entire WCVE family was dealt a terrible blow when we suddenly lost our colleague, George Maida. George has been a fixture of the station for over three decades and been a friend/brother to Henry and me for many years. When I came to work at WCVE some almost 24 years ago, George was one of the first two people I met and he made me feel welcome.

Our offices were always near each other, either next door or across the hall and there were many continuing discussions on a variety of topics including movies, conspiracy thoughts, television, religion, food, cats, and of course, music. George was a great champion of local music, a passion that Henry and I also share, and it was always fun as we tried to scoop each other with new finds.

Up until his passing, George’s program, The Electric Croude preceded ours. The Croude was his true love and he poured himself into every show, mixing musical genres like an alchemist and creating new sonic landscapes every week. You never knew what direction his program would take, it might be Anglo-Celtic, or progressive, or Brazillian folk, or even the Go-Go’s and it would all be accompanied by his ever faithful companion Hermie The Wistful Cricket.

The station has remembered George with a moving memorial service, and the local roots music community has done the same with a concert that featured several of George’s friends, and even a selection of music he wrote and performed. Now, it’s our turn. As Henry likes to remind me, he’s got New Orleans in his blood and “we don’t mourn, we celebrate!” So, we’re going to celebrate with a few good memories and three songs that connect us with our good friend and brother, George Francis Maida.

We’ve got everything all laid out and ready to go, all we need is you and a few hundred of your closest friends. You know how to find us, point your browser to http://ideastations.org/radio or join us on one of the Idea Stations: 89.1 WCVN, Northern Neck; 90.1 WMVE, Chase City; and the flagship, 88.9 WCVE-FM, Richmond, where it’s always Time For The Blues!



 (Photo of George Maida by Marshall Lloyd. Used by permission.)


                                                            

Monday, February 5, 2018

Albert Castiglia Plays The Capital Ale House

It’s always a pleasure to catch Albert Castiglia when he plays live. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him perform on several occasions and when he steps into the spotlight with his hard-rocking style, the audience goes wild. If you’re looking for some quiet rocking chair blues, you’re not going to find it here, but if you like your music with the sharpness of a straight razor, you’ve definitely come to the right place!
Castiglia, along with his regular band, Jimmy Pritchard on bass and Brian Menendez on drums, stopped by The Capital Ale House as he neared the end of his current tour, where he electrified a near capacity audience with a set of high energy blues. Supporting his latest album on Ruf Records, Up All Night, he played several songs from that album, some from previous albums, and just about every request the audience yelled up to him.
Starting out with some songs off the new album, including Woman Don’t Lie and the title track to warm up the audience, many of whom were long time fans, he then told the story of recording the album with producer Mike Zito who wrote a couple of tunes, including one that got Castiglia into trouble with a member of the British press.
First up was Hoodoo On Me, a fun song that’s been getting some solid airplay, followed by the song that a British journalist described as “misogynistic,” Quit Your Bitchin’.
Personally, I don’t buy it. I like the song, it’s funny and by telling the story of the one-person backlash, it endears Castiglia to those few audience members that don’t know he’s a smile-and-a-wink style of performer.
From there he played the song that got the first dancers of the evening out on the floor, Let The Big Dog Eat. Luther Allison’s Drowning At The Bottom followed and the first request of the night, Goin’ Down Slow.
Some performers just invite requests and Castiglia is one of those performers. While he might reject some requests as not really right for the band (ie Freebird, come on, get original) or put the request off to a later portion of the show, he does honor most requests for his music.
From there he segued in to Unhappy House Of Blues and the tender love ballad, Put Some Stank On It. Next up was another request, Celebration, which received a great deal of applause from the audience.
At this point it was obvious that we were enjoying a heaping dose of Spaghetti Blues as Castiglia was throwing everything up on the wall just to see what would stick. My better half referred to it as Screaming Lobster Pot Blues, but somehow I think Spaghetti fits the Italian Castiglia better…
From here he answered a request for some Junior Wells by paying tribute to the man who hired Castiglia as a full-time performer and put him on some of the bigger stages. It’s easy to see that he still has great affection for Wells and told a couple of stories that, at least for a few seconds, brought the man back to life. Castiglia responded with one of Wells’ biggest hits, Messin’ With The Kid.
He followed up with Don’t Let ‘Em Fool Ya and then paid tribute to the recently passed Eddie Shaw with the Magic Sam hit Just A Little Bit. Shaw was the well-respected saxophonist who worked with the likes of Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters as well as Magic Sam. On a personal note, I once had the pleasure of emceeing a show he performed at a Richmond Summer Concert, and truly enjoyed being able to hang out with this remarkable man.
It was time to bring the performance to a close and he finished up with his take on performers searching for fame above substance, Get Your Ass In The Van. The applause was long and loud and afterwards, almost every audience member dropped by to shake hands, thank him for being there, and more than a few needed some of his CDs, and what better place to pick them up?
Prior to Castiglia taking the stage, local blues rockers The Syndicators opened up the audience with nine quick songs in a tight 45-minute set. They mixed in songs from artists like Jonny Lang, Buddy Guy, and Robert Johnson with some serious rock and roll and even some Psychobilly for fun. It was my first time catching The Syndicators live, and I’m looking forward to seeing them do a full set in the near future.
Any chance you get to see either of these power trios, grab it. You will definitely have a great time!



Sunday, January 28, 2018

Gaelic Storm Rolls Through The Tin Pan

Blues fans, this one might not be for you. Even my Americana fans might not be overly enthusiastic, but for those of you who love all forms of music will certainly enjoy my look at the great Celtic Band, Gaelic Storm. I’ve been a fan of Celtic Music most of my life, growing up on a steady diet of bagpipes, penny whistles, bodhráns, accordions, fiddles, and the occasional ceilidh.
Gaelic Storm has been one of the most visible Celtic groups over much of their 20-year journey, perhaps being most famous to the general public for their appearance in the 1997 blockbuster film, Titanic. While they have gone through a number of incarnations with different players, the current line-up features two founding members, Patrick Murphy on vocals, accordion, and harmonica and Steve Twigger on guitar and vocals. The other members of the quintet include Peter Purvis on bagpipes, Uillean pipes, and pennywhistle; Ryan Lacey on drums and percussion; and Katie Grennen on fiddle and vocals.
For their performance at Richmond’s Tin Pan, the overflowing audience showed off a lot of green jumpers and the occasional rugby shirt. Shamrocks and Irish harps adorned more than one shirt, and the venue, which normally doesn’t stock Guiness, brought in a large amount for the show and sold all of it within a half hour of opening.
You could say that everybody was ready for a night of raucous partying with these wild eyed Celts.
Funny story about the show, seems that the band was in Delaware the night before and while driving down 95 towards Richmond, their van shot a piston through their engine, catching it on fire and crippling their travel plans. Murphy told a hilarious story about their travails and how they made it to the venue only a few minutes before show time.
Oh yeah, Murphy had a lot of stories that night, most of which were hysterical even in the face of adversity. We’re a story telling culture and Murphy is one of the best.
Opening up with a great story song, Piña Colada In A Pint Glass, the audience really got into the performance right away. By the time they finished that song, there were already people calling for Johnny Tarr, which caused Murphy to laugh and remind folks that Johnny Tarr was their version of Freebird, and they were tired of playing it…
Of course, he said that with a smile and a sip from a pint. Next up, they went back to their first album for Johnny Jump Up, and another story. If anyone was expecting a quick concert, they were quickly dissuaded. The stories came pretty much after every song as Murphy is a master at entertaining an audience with every weapon in his arsenal.
After that came a bagpipe and fiddle duel between Purvis and Grennen in an instrumental that the band calls Samurai Set, perhaps because of the kicking that Purvis and Grennen unleashed on each other whilst playing. This lead into our first history lesson about Jimmy Kelly and his part in keeping sailors in servitude in a song from their most recent album, Go Climb A Tree. The song, Shanghai Kelly, is very cool, and it was fun to hear it performed live.
Twigger took over the vocals for the next song, Slim Jim, and he proved that he could carry the lead as well, and Murphy took a well-deserved break. Murphy then launched into a great story of meeting Russell Crowe while he was filming LA Confidential, and getting into a fight when the volatile actor refused to put out a cigarette in the bar where Murphy was bartending. This was the lead in to the song The Night I Punched Russell Crowe In The Head.
From there the band segued into another instrumental that they call Floating The Flanbeury. The audience got a new history lesson as a lead in to the song The Green White And Orange And The Red White And Blue, reflecting the joint patriotism between the Irish and the Americans. Beautiful number.
After teasing the audience a couple of time about how they weren’t going to play Johnny Tarr, they exploded into the song and the audience went wild. I love this song, and it’s been on my playlist for several years, longer than most of the material on it. They followed up with another high energy song, Beggerman, complete with three lovely Irish dancers who did some fancy stepping to accompany the number.
After the audience calmed down a bit, thanks to Murphy’s fantastic story of a man bringing escargot home to his shrewish wife, the band played The One, and then moved to another song from the most recent album, Monday Morning Girl which featured Twigger on vocals.
Then, for a piece of comedy, the band gave percussionist Ryan Lacey an opportunity to offer his words of wisdom.
Next up was their version of Whiskey-O Johnny-O before going into one more instrumental. They closed out the set with a rousing version of Rumpus. After the audience cheered, whistled, stomped, applauded, and generally showed their appreciation of the band, they came back for a two-song encore starting with Me And The Moon with harmonies so tight that my wife referred to them as the Gaelic Beach Boys. They closed the show with Tell Me Ma and audience got crazy for several minutes.
I knew that it was going to be a wild night as I drove to the venue and saw many out of state cars. If anyone travels that far for a band, you know that they are primed for a good time. After a hot night of hard driving Celtic Music, I am definitely ready for more, and it doesn’t have to be on Burns Night or St. Patrick’s Day, let’s get together, listen to music, tell some stories, and raise a pint to each other’s health!

(All photos used for this article are by Jeff Scott, the official photographer of Professor Johnny P's Juke Joint. Used by permission. Copies from this show and many others are available at JeffScottShots.com and you shoud check them out ~ he's damn good!)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Downchild ~~ Something I’ve Done

There’s always excitement around my house when the Canadian band Downchild comes out with a new album. Aside from being a great influence on the great group The Blues Brothers, Downchild is one of the few bands that has been turning out hundreds of performances and many quality albums (18 to be exact) for 50 years.
Since their last album, Can You Hear The Music, came out in 2014, it’s been a long time since I was able to feel the tingle that comes with a new release. Their newest release, Something I’ve Done, features eight songs written by the band members themselves. The remaining two songs feature one cover and a song written by a former band member, that they had held off on recording.
This incarnation of Downchild features Walsh on guitar and harp; Chuck Jackson on lead vocals and harp; Pat Carey on tenor and bari sax; Michael Fonfara on piano, organ, and dobro; Gary Kendall on bass; and Mike Fitzpatrick on drums. Guest performers include Peter Jeffrey on trumpet; and backing vocals from Walsh, Carey, Fonfara, and Kendall.  
The album starts off in fourth gear with the swinging, high-energy Albany, Albany, written by Jackson. Oh yeah, that woman has treated him mean, but you know he can’t stay away. Love the horn and organ interplay, and the song is so good, it made the three year wait in between albums a little more tolerable.
Next up is the one cover on the album, David Vests’ Worried About The World. It’s a little more serious song than the previous and Fonfara and Kendall add their vocals. Jackson’s harp is high and piercing and really adds to the number. Like this one a lot and the darkness is kind of nice.
There’s more swinging on Can’t Get Mad At You, and they manage to keep the edge on the vocals. The horns pound their way through the song and Jackson keeps his vocals sharp, you can feel his pain and resignation.
Speaking of Jackson, he wrote the next song, Mississippi Woman, Mississauga Man. He also adds harp and the lyrics are so much fun you can’t help but want to get up and start moving around. This one is definitely going on Time For The Blues as well as my personal driving playlist. Such a great tune!
After that raucous number, Downchild slows things down on Kendall’s Take A Piece Of My Heart. It’s a beautiful, emotional ballad and Jackson pulls out all the stops on his vocals. It’s a lovely slow number and it’s placed perfectly at the mid-point of the album to show that while they definitely swing, they can reach deep and deliver a real torcher of a song.
Kendall also wrote the next song, Mailbox Money. They pick the pace up and there’s some sweet barrelhouse piano and a great turn by the horn section. It’s a rousing number that I’m sure will be played on my show and many others as well. Those of us who go out every day looking for those “checks in the mail” letters, this one really hits home!
The late band member, vocalist John Witmer, wrote She Thinks I Do. Downchild never recorded the song, and for some reason never featured it in any of their live shows. They have included it on this album as a tribute to Witmer, and I like the song very much. The lyrics are clever and Jackson’s delivery is spot on. I’ve scheduled this for an upcoming Time For The Blues, and I’m sure it will be appearing on other blues shows.
They follow up with the title track, Something I’ve Done, and its great piano and harp interchange. This is a full on assault of high energy swing blues that would be at home at any Chicago or West Coast club. I love this song and can’t wait to share it!
After that up tempo number, they slow things down just a bit with the dark Into The Fire. Jackson’s vocals are strong and Fonfara’s keys get quite a workout. He chords the organ and holds notes to create that almost noir feeling. The horns and Jackson’s voice do the rest. Sweet number.
They close the album with an instrumental written by Walsh. Evelyn is a great way to cap off a well constructed album, and it gives the entire band a chance to take one more turn in the spotlight. The melody is simple, but it’s deceptive as it sets the pace and the guys trade off much like a jazz combo.
Something I’ve Done is a fun, quick (under 40 minutes) album that doesn’t have a bad song on it. I could put this on my player and never once hit the skip button. That’s a fairly rare occurrence.

If you have not yet jumped on the bandwagon that is Downchild, there’s always room for one more. After all, Canadians are polite people, they’ll make a space for you. Check them out for yourself at http://www.downchild.com/, and discover their 50-year legacy as well as all of their albums. You won’t be disappointed!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

International Blues Challenge #33

As the 34th Annual International Blues Challenge just wrapped up in Memphis, I would like to extend my congratulations to the 2018 winners: Band 1st Place - Keeshea Pratt Band representing the Houston Blues Society, Band 2nd Place - Fuzzy Jeffries and the Kings of Memphis representing the Memphis Blues Society, and Band 3rd Place - Artur Menezes representing the Santa Clarita Valley Blues Society as well as the Solo/Duo 1st Place - Artur Menezes representing the Santa Clarita Valley Blues Society, and Solo/Duo 2nd Place - Daniel Eriksen representing the Oslo Bluesklubb.
Hey, it is an International challenge, remember?
One thing to remember though, is that everybody who competed at the challenge was a winner by virtue of actually participating. Every band or solo/duo act had to win the opportunity to be there, and every band that strives to keep the blues alive and thriving deserves our applause and respect.
To celebrate this year's Challenge, The Blues Foundation has released a CD of some of the best from last year’s band and solo/duo participants. The album features 14 tracks from a variety of artists that represent the full spectrum of the blues.
The album kicks off with 2017’s winner in the band category Dawn Tyler Watson from the Montreal Blues Society with Shine On. It’s a gospel flavored number with some soaring vocals and beautiful organ chords. It’s a song that could convert the most unrepentant sinner. Or the person who doesn’t normally listen to the blues. Great song and a perfect way to kick off the album.
Johnny Fink & The Intrusion follows with another great song, Let’s Hear Some Blues, which will be appearing soon on an episode of Time For The Blues. It has a great analog sound to it, just some players blowing the harp and laying down a great bass and drum rhythm and getting the audience to join in on the main line. If there is such a thing as Stadium Blues or Arena Blues, this is it! Solid song and a lot of fun.
After that rousing number is Randy McQuay with a stripped down to the bare essentials song, Till I Get To Memphis. His deep resonant voice is beautiful to listen to and he carries the song. I can’t wait to find more from this talented performer to share on the show. 
I was fortunate enough to get a chance to write about Brody Buster’s One Man Band earlier and 2029 is my favorite song that he does. It’s got a punk rock energy but some amazing blues. This guy plays harp as well as anyone, in fact he won the award for best harp player, and it never ceases to amaze me to hear someone playing everything at once. You know this one is showing up on Time For The Blues.
The Nashville Blues Society’s Al Hill beat out Brody Buster to take the solo/duo crown. Here, he is represented by Don’t Dig Today. Hill, who also won for best guitarist in the solo category, turns in a great number complete with honkytonk piano. It’s about as old school as you can get and I really want to hear more.
It’s time to get a little funky with the Sobo Blues Band and their number Catfish Boogie. I like this number a lot and can’t wait to share it with our listeners, and I’ll be looking them up to see what I can get for the collection. They’ve got style, and for those that like a little punch to their blues, this provides all the punch they need!
Ruth Wyand & The Tribe Of One hails from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and in 2018 she represented Tidewater Virginia as their solo/duo performer. She’s another amazing one person band and here she cuts loose on I Don’t Have Proof. Her plaintive guitar opens the song before her sweet vocals and percussion join the song. I may be biased as I’ve had the chance to see Wyand perform a few times, but she’s one of my favorites, and I had already planned on sharing this song even before I received this compilation.
The Souliz Band Featuring Sugar & Spice took second place in the band competition with their blend of soul and blues. They are represented here with Good Lovin (Hot & Fresh from the Oven), and I guaranteed they will make you want to move. Sweet and sassy with a real edge to the vocals. Love their sound.
Up next is Felix Slim with his country flavored blues, I Hate You Cause I Love You. This is definitely old school and by putting it next to The Souliz Band, it just underlines the fact that this album is a collection of a group of diverse artists, and that the blues speak to the soul in different ways.
Wes Lee steps up to the microphone next with Chains That Bind. He’s a good technician and has a lot of swamp in his soul. I mean that in a good way as he touches on some of the best blues around. It must have been a tough task for the judges to winnow down so many great players to find the best blues talent around. So far, there is not one performer on this album that I wouldn’t gladly listen to an entire album (or several) of their work.
The soulful sound of STAX is alive and well in Sam Joyner, and his Onions Ain’t The Only Thing brought to my mind Booker T And The MGs. He’s got the sound down pat and the keyboards add a rich lush layer of sound to the mix. Definitely want to hear more from him. Very sweet song.
The Third Place Band Category winners were Rae Gordon & The Backstreet Drivers, and their song Elbow Grease is a great addition to the album. Gordon has a sweet voice that has an edge as sharp as an obsidian knife. Men, do not mess with this woman! Love the sax interplay, this has got to be a great band to catch live.
We get down to some hard rocking blues with King Bee and their song Dangerous. A fair number of blues performers are taking their blues to the extreme, giving it more of a metal sound. We’ve featured several on the show over the past few months, and no doubt will get around to more in the future. This is a band that would definitely make the list of those I want to play.
The last song on the album, Meet Me In The Country, is performed by Sugar Brown. It’s a sweet sounding number with definite country blues roots. The traditionalists will love this one and anyone who just loves a good voice and good music will enjoy it as well. Sweet as a cold glass of shine in the moonlight.
Fourteen songs, each by a different artist, and all of those artists were the crème of the crop at an International Challenge. The IBC has launched the careers of many performers and I firmly believe that the artists on this album have all the talent and drive necessary to take their careers to the highest levels.
The record was produced by The Blues Foundation, who sponsor the IBC every year, and Frank Roszak, world famous promotion and publicist. If you’re not a member of the Blues Foundation, what are you waiting for? Take a second and point your browser to https://blues.org/ and join. You’ll be supporting the music you love and help to make it available for generations to come.
As far as Roszak is concerned, I have rarely given him the praise he deserves. While Time For The Blues and this humble blog now have connections coming to us from around the world, Roszak was the first one to discover us and he has been immensely helpful in supplying us with great music. So, thank you Frank, for all you’ve done for us, and all of the other producers and reviewers out there.
Thanks to Frank, and so many other publicists, we are able to raise our voice to join the chorus of those who love the Blues!



Monday, January 22, 2018

The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down

Before you raise the question, Shawn Amos is a real Reverend, having been ordained by the Universal Life Church, the same group that bestowed me with my ordination papers. Over the years, he has served music in a variety of ways: a performer, songwriter, an A&R man, and I suspect in many other capacities.
His latest album, The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down, takes him in a couple of different musical directions, from reinterpretations of glam rock and new wave anthems to rhythm and blues, to gospel, and always with his heart firmly rooted in the blues. After he hooks you with some fun funk, he delivers a moving three-song collection that he calls Freedom Suite, and the combination of the three makes for a powerful event.
Amos supplies vocals and harmonica on the songs and he is joined by Chris “Doctor” Roberts, Michael Toles, James Saez on guitar; Leroy Hodges Jr, Hannah Dexter, Alex Al, Larry Taylor on bass; Steve Potts, Mike Smirnoff, Rod Bland, Steve Jordan on drums; Charles Hodges, Peter Adams on keys; Vikram Devasthali on trombone; and Joe Santa-Maria on baritone sax. Additional vocalists are Sharlotte Gibson, Kenya Hathaway, Harold Thomas, Robert “Tex” Wrightsil, Lester Lands, Bill Pitman, Philemon Young,   
The album starts off with the languid down home front porch sounding Moved. The spare music is provided by guitar and harp and the sweet vocals of Amos and backup singers Gibson and Hathaway. The song is full of emotion and the power of a person searching for meaning. It’s a beautiful song and raises the bar on expectations for a great album.
The next song, 2017, is more up tempo and the lyrics are pointed as it looks at what humanity is facing in the present time. Can we be better, the song asks, or is this all we can do? With Amos’ general optimism and hope for the future, there is little doubt that he feels we can find a way out of the darkness and into the light.
Amos follows up with Hold Hands, an R&B flavored morsel that again showcases his belief that we can reach across barriers and make a better world. This is a fun song, and it helps to show that Amos can cover a lot of musical ground with ease.
In a very unusual choice, Amos and company next tackle David Bowie’s The Jean Genie, originally released on his Aladdin Sane album. With its thumping bass and modulated vocals, it really stands out as a different style of song. Even with its glam rock pedigree, Amos still finds ways to infuse the song with some ass kicking funk. Blues purists might not gravitate to the song, but I loved this version, and somehow think Bowie would have as well.
The next three songs comprise a connected trilogy that Amos called Freedom Suite. The first song is the traditional number Uncle Tom’s Prayer, that sets up the full suite. Amos’ harp only blows a few notes before his powerful acapella vocals ring out. Such a beautiful number and with a message that still rings true.
The second song, Amos’ Does My Life Matter, asks a question that just about everyone has pondered at one time or another. The sound moves away from the presentation of the previous song, but keeps the spirit of it moving forward. It’s a song with a lot of punch. This is a great song.
The suite concludes with (We’ve Got To) Come Together, a song that holds out the chance that we can overcome what was before and move forward in a way that unites us as a human race and never diminishes any group. We’re all one, and we need to enhance those connections. And here, we get to do with a funky dance groove.
After that is Ain’t Gonna Name Names, a fun song with more than a little kick to it. It’s got a bit of a big band feel with the horns adding some potent ingredients to the mix. It’s one of those songs that just makes you feel good and you just might want to get up and shake a little bit.
The album closes with one of the all time great New Wave anthems, (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, And Understanding that was written by Nick Lowe and made into an international hit by Elvis Costello. What Amos has done here is not to just cover the song, but remake it into the most soulful and powerful number possible. The first time I listened to his version, I wept at its beauty. I played it for family members who were similarly moved. This one song takes this album onto a higher level and completes its beautiful message.
The Good Reverend has a unique approach to his music. He writes upbeat songs that offer a little hope in troubling times. His approach gives us songs that remind us that salvation is possible, but it comes with a responsibility to work to improve ourselves and hold out our hands to help those who need it. I, for one, find this message uplifting, and it helps me make it through those dark nights when I feel like giving up.

The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down is a beautiful album, and one I feel that I can say without fear of contradiction, one that will end up on my Best of 2018 list at the end of the year. If any of my words has piqued your interest, be sure to check him out at http://www.shawnamos.com/, and go ahead and preorder the album.