New single from The Paladins – UPDATED

Paladins LUX02 IMG_9462_large

The Paladins

Should Have Been Dreamin’ b/w Wicked

Lux Records 7”, 2013

Update: Wicked is now available as a digital download –

Nick Curran’s death was without question the worst news I received in 2012. Second on my list was the breakup, right about the time their second album was to be released, of the Stone River Boys, the country soul band fronted by Dave Gonzalez and Mike Barfield. As has been said, one door closes, another opens. Just as the Stone River Boys offered musical consolation after Chris Gaffney’s death in 2008 put a premature end to the sublime Hacienda Brothers, Gonzalez’s previous band, so have recent developments rekindled hope that the mighty Paladins will rise again. In the past few months, an official Facebook page has appeared; a few live dates have been scheduled and played; and a 45 rpm vinyl record presenting two new songs has been issued by Lux Records.

The last great Paladins lineup of Dave Gonzalez (guitars and vocals), Thomas Yearsley (bass), and Brian Fahey (drums) is reunited on this 7”. Briefly, the single is essential listening for R&B aficionados in general, and, although the band’s roots-rocking side is sublimated here in favor of the soul sounds Gonzalez developed in the Hacienda Brothers and SRB projects, for Paladins fans in particular.

“Should Have Been Dreamin’,” the record’s instrumental A side, reaches back to the mid-‘60s for a sweet soul/rock ‘n’ roll combination, with splashes of surf. Organ, guitar, and baritone guitar outline a lovely melody atop a soul-clap snare drum pattern. A leisurely paced number that builds in intensity, it reminds me in a small way of the dreamlike interpretations by Ry Cooder and Duke Levine of “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” (but not Ike & Tina Turner’s stuttering original).

The hip flip side, “Wicked,” is a blues/pop/rock/soul number. There are some very cool rhythmic things going on, with the palm-muted staccato guitar figure sketching a vaguely Latin groove. Quick, stark shifts between minor key verses and romantic, major key interludes that suggest the soulful work of Thee Midnighters produce an uneasy feeling. Haunting organ, bluesy guitar, an ominous lyric, a spoken section heavy with echo, and a key signature that tests the top end of Gonzalez’s natural singing range all add to the song’s dramatic impact.

The Paladins are back. Let’s hope these two excellent songs presage a full-length album. In the meantime, this boss single is a limited edition release, so get it while you can.


I bought this single from the Lux Records Web site.

Blues In My Soul

Blues In My Soul


Blues In My Soul

Delmark, 2013

Lurrie Bell is the blues. Blues by birth, as son of Carey Bell and part of the Harrington family that includes Eddy Clearwater and Atomic-H label owner Houston Harrington; blues by circumstance, through his extensively chronicled personal struggles and tragedies; and blues by avocation, as perhaps the greatest bluesman in the generation after artists like Clearwater, James Cotton, Buddy Guy, Eddie C. Campbell, and Byther Smith (and possibly even the last true bluesman, defined, strictly and correctly, as a cultural identifier, rather than used, loosely and incorrectly, to label any musician who plays blues-based music). After a pair of independently released albums, Bell returns to the Delmark Records fold for Blues In My Soul. The first-rate band includes Melvin Smith (Koko Taylor, Magic Slim) on bass; the excellent, widely recorded Roosevelt Purifoy (keyboards); the great Willie “The Touch” Hayes (drums); and Matthew Skoller (harmonica). Producer Dick Shurman has fulfilled his role adroitly, drawing inspired performances from all, and guiding Bell to a set list that suits the artist to a T.

Many of the songs are naturally enough drawn from the Chicago repertoire. Blues In My Soul offers indisputable testimony to the variety inherent in that tradition. There’s a terrific selection of uptempo numbers. Purifoy, Skoller, and Bell solo over the driving boogie of “I Just Keep Loving Her,” an early Little Walter side, and one not often covered. The J.L. Smith rarity “If It’s Too Late” is an even better find. The band maintains the essential, locomotive feel behind Jimmy Rogers’s “Going Away Baby,” and Big Bill’s “I Feel So Good” receives a sprightly workout with key contributions from Skoller and Hayes.

Easing up a bit on the accelerator, Bell digs deep into a “She’s A Good ’Un” that is every bit as powerful, and more deliberate, than the familiar version by Otis Rush, and gives up a mid-tempo shuffle in honor of Magic Slim, who died the day the band laid down “24 Hour Blues.” Careful listening to the guitar break reveals the jaw-dropping mastery of Bell’s playing–an excellence even more incredible for its subtlety, for there are no flashy, rock star moves here, only perfection in rhythm, touch, note choice, phrasing, and feel.

As always, Lurrie excels on the slow side of the blues, where few living players are as pensive or able to dig as deep beneath the skin of a song, and where his singing nearly always comes from a higher plane of inspiration. Bell turns his attention with laser focus to a gritty reading of Junior Wells’s “’Bout The Break Of Day,” a.k.a. “Early In The Morning”; “My Little Machine,” taken slower than the Jimmy Rogers original; and Otis Spann’s “Blues Never Die.” His most expressive performances come in Eddie Boyd’s “Just The Blues,” taken at a dirge-like pace, which features a lovely piano solo and a time-stopping guitar break; and the title track, a Bell original, with a chilling sound from the band, an intense vocal, and powerful dynamics. With these two numbers, Bell could single-handedly keep alive the endangered sub-genre of minor key slow blues.

The program contains a few outliers. Bell steps out on his “South Side To Riverside,” a chunky funk instrumental with a stuttering rhythm à la “Killing Floor,” a tough organ solo, and JB-esque horn stabs by Chris Neal and Mark Hiebert (saxophones) and Marques Carroll (trumpet, arranger), who also perform on the swinging opener “Hey, Hey Baby,” one of two T-Bone Walker numbers (the blasting “T-Bone Blues Special” is the other) that, Chicago-ized, prove to be right in Bell’s wheelhouse.

Although Bell grew up in the presence of some of the greatest musicians in Chicago, surprisingly little of their influence can be heard in his playing, with the exception of his most important mentor, the iconic Eddie Taylor. Lurrie’s lead guitar style, like that of so many players, is most deeply indebted to two other sources: B.B. and Albert King. Anyone who believes that to be a handicap probably has not listened closely enough to the music of those titans, and certainly has not paid enough attention to the unmatched intensity, imagination, and creativity of his playing. The most serious blues guitarist of our time, Bell is indeed the blues. Blues In My Soul is highly recommended.


CD for review was provided by Delmark Records.

Dale Watson – iF yoU


Dale Watson

iF yoU

vinyl single/digital download

The great Ameripolitan singer/songwriter/guitarist Dale Watson was a superb practitioner of, and an outspoken ambassador for, real country music long before the 1995 release of his first Hightone album. In the years since, his relentless touring and recording schedule (with two full-length CDs, El Rancho Azul and Dalevis: Sun Sessions 2, already out in 2013) have won him fans the world over. In fact, “Old Fart (A Song For Blake),” Watson’s spirited rejoinder (also released this year) to the ill-informed and disrespectful comments about traditional country music and its audience made by Blake Shelton, caught the ear of at least one high-profile listener: David Letterman, who invited Watson to appear on The Late Show in June.

It never pays to sleep on a Dale Watson release. The Austin, Texas-based artist will always tell you exactly what is on his mind, no matter if that is heartbreakingly personal or a sincerely flippant flip-off, and whether he is working in a carefully crafted concept album–he’s built records around, for instance, trucking songs; people and places on the road; love songs for his late fiancée; Johnny Paycheck compositions; and original spirituals, to cite a few–or dropping a quickly written and recorded single, like “Song For Blake” or “Tiger Airways And Their We Don’t Care-Ways.” The prolific Watson is back with yet another project you should hear: The brand new iF yoU, a six-song suite that, at just over 11 minutes playing time, pretty much covers both ends of the emotional spectrum, and everything in between, in prime Watson style.

Watson knows the line between love and hate, as the Persuaders sang, is thin indeed, and he wisely tempers the venom of these breakup songs with humor. The title track, iF yoU, obviously riffs on the play on words highlighted by the irregular capitalization. It’s an uptempo number, with Dale and his female counterpart Sarah Gayle Meech sparring in classic country duet style, beginning their lines with the not-so-veiled insult: “iF yoU were the last person in this world, it wouldn’t work.” Over the fade, they argue over the common complaints of close living: snoring, sharing razors and toilet seat positioning.

A pentatonic-scale guitar figure that quotes the music of old black-and-white “oriental” films opens the roots-rocking “Sayonara Sucka,” in which Watson’s Tokyo baby drops him via a letter. In just over a minute, he is able to pack the song with references to sake, kamikazes, and hara-kiri–clichéd perhaps, but right in tune with the genre (“Fujiyama Mama,” anyone?). I hear at least an oblique nod to Buck Owens’s “Made In Japan.” The next cut, “I’ll See Ya Never,” is squarely in the mode of Elvis’s early RCA sides, with a structure that owes a debt to “Heartbreak Hotel,” backing vocals à la the Jordanaires, and Floyd Cramer-esque piano. Watson’s vocal, sweet and gritty by turns, fits the sound beautifully as he delivers his farewell with finality. “I’m So Done With You,” a rollicking number done purely in the style of Johnny Cash’s “Big River,” could have come from Watson’s first Sun Sessions album. Watson’s vocal bends evoke the great singer, while the bass-string runs on his electric guitar recall Luther Perkins’s indelible parts.

An upbeat country shuffle marked by wiry blues guitar, “Adios” incorporates German, Italian, and Spanish phrases for good-bye in Watson’s hearty vocal. The mini-album closes with another fast rocker, “Don’t Let The Screen Door Hit Ya,” another excellent track that makes equal use of colloquialisms and newly-minted images (“You might smell fresh-brewed coffee/But it’s just you wakin’ up for the first time in your life”) in its kiss-off message. Strong piano and electric guitar and a memorable snare drum figure make this cook.

Good-byes have long served as subject matter central to virtually all forms of popular music, and country music is certainly no stranger to the break-up song. But that particular well is bottomless: just as lovers meet every day, so do hearts continue to be broken. When Dale Watson, one of our most observant and trenchant songwriters, turns his attention to the subject, it rewards us to listen. And, at less than $7 U.S. for the vinyl album (and under $6 for the digital version), iF yoU–a slight, yet superb, set–is a bargain.


I bought this record from Dale Watson’s online store (link above).

Double Crossing Blues

adrianna marie

My liner notes for a wonderful new record, scheduled to be available on 27 July.

Where her previous album with L.A. Jones, Spellcaster, took a wide-angle shot, presenting Adrianna Marie in various blues settings and offering her takes on rockabilly and country standards, Double Crossing Blues zooms in for a tight focus on the uptown R&B and elegant blues styles that reached their zenith in the decade after World War II. The glamorous images this music evokes, at least through the Vaseline-smeared lens of our historical remove, are those of late nights in posh nightclubs; sleek motor cars; strong drinks; and nattily dressed men and women, either in love or playing at it.

The cocktail lounge blues of the Three Blazers described this lush life with a knowing weariness. The vintage records treasured by Adrianna Marie and Her Groovecutters took a different path, tending to favor a livelier sound, performed by larger bands. The Groovecutters interpret it masterfully. Jones, a premier electric guitarist inspired by Albert King, and long the leader of his own Blues Messengers, here plays with period-correct tones and a technique perfectly suited to the earlier style. Larry David Cohen supplies wonderful piano playing and a huge harmonica sound. Superb charts by Lee Thornburg, a veteran of Tower of Power and Etta James’s Roots Band, feature his trumpet and trombone, and the saxophones of Ron Dzuibla.

These days, when every female vocalist seems to be vying for Koko Taylor’s throne, what a delight it is to hear a beautiful, natural voice. Adrianna Marie sings without affectation but with all the expressiveness, sass, and class of stylists like Dinah Washington, Little Esther, and Helen Humes. From the rocking R&B of Esther’s “Cherry Wine” to a lowdown treatment of Humes’s “I Ain’t In The Mood,” she is splendid. In front of the spectacular, big band version of Louis Jordan’s swinging, minor “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” or the reading of Billie Holiday’s jazzy “Sugar,” Adrianna Marie is pure sophistication. In duets with Jones–on Big Maybelle’s “That’s A Pretty Good Love” and on the lovely ballad, originally by Johnny Otis and Little Esther, that gives Double Crossing Blues its title­–she is by turns steamy and reserved. In every setting and mood, Adrianna Marie and the Groovecutters, who provide expert ensemble work and memorable solos, and step out on their own on Freddy King’s “Sad Night Owl,” are picture-perfect.

Tom Hyslop

Here’s Nikki Hill


Nikki Hill

Here’s Nikki Hill

Deep Fryed Records, 2013

Originally from North Carolina and now calling St. Louis home, Nikki Hill is the real thing: a roots rock ‘n’ soul star with the talent of Etta James and the megawatt charisma and sheer detonating power of artists like Rachel Nagy of the Detroit Cobras and the late, great Nick Curran. Her band features a solid rhythm section in Ed Strohsahl (bass) and Joe Meyer (drums), not to mention a well-known guitarist in her husband, Matt Hill, who won in the Best New Artist Debut category in the 2011 Blues Music Award balloting. Nikki Hill dropped a four-song calling card in the form of a self-titled EP last year. Now the singer-songwriter has folded that impressive debut into a full-length album, Here’s Nikki Hill. It is outstanding.

Four songs are drawn from the EP: the fierce, Delta-style boogie of “I’ve Got A Man,” which gives the Jelly Roll Kings a run for their money; the majestic deep soul ballad “Don’t Cry Anymore,” propelled by Matt Hill’s staccato chanks on his guitar and Steve Eisen’s one-man saxophone section, sung at a slow burn (“It’s too late, and I can’t put out the fire” indeed!); and “Strapped To The Beat,” a sassy roots rock number with a boogie-woogie guitar line out of Carl Perkins’s “Matchbox,” again featuring Eisen. The languid, sultry groover “Her Destination” interprets the “nothing can keep me from my lover” theme, even quoting “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” For Here’s Nikki Hill, the cut has been re-recorded to eliminate the saxophone that was prominent in the original version. It now boasts a tougher vocal, dirtier guitar tones, and a snarling solo, with the effect of making the overall atmosphere even nastier and more pheromone-charged.

Here’s Nikki Hill’s new material is thrilling. With its soul-clap drum hits, distinctive bent-note guitar figure, and vicious solo, the phenomenal “Ask Yourself” is reminiscent of Irma Thomas’s 1963 platter, “Hittin’ On Nothin’.” “Right On The Brink” serves dramatic, minor key soul over a churning beat, interspersed with ominous breakdowns that are the aural equivalent of the storms of which Hill sings. “Gotta Find My Baby” sways with a fevered urgency, coming from somewhere in the R&B neighborhood frequented by Don Covay, Ike & Tina Turner, and Eddie Hinton. It is irresistible, from the groove to the speedy amplifier tremolo to Hill’s guileless yet suggestive delivery. Even her “Do-do-doos” are knockouts.

Hill reaches back a few years stylistically for “I Know,” the Barbara George hit out of New Orleans that Freddie King also covered. Her splendid phrasing and some well-placed growls and squeals really bring this to life; Hill’s guitar break, sketching the melody and accentuating it with tremolo picking and pedal steel-like bends, is top notch. Hill completely reimagines the album’s other cover, shifting “Who Were You Thinking Of?” from the Tex-Mex treatment it received in the hands of Doug Sahm and Texas Tornadoes to a ska foundation–only the twanging lead guitars hint at the song’s origins. The audacious move works perfectly. The playlist eases out with a smoky gospel-inflected ballad, “Hymn for Hard Luck,” that left me marveling at the understated power created by just Nikki’s voice and Matt’s electric guitar. Here and across the board, the sound has a delicious vintage vibe, owing to the attentive ears, Grail-like gear, and matchless musical hipness found in the confines of co-producer Felix Reyes’s House of Tone, a Chicago area studio quickly becoming known as one of the world’s premier recording facilities for roots and blues music.

If she keeps making records like this, Nikki Hill cannot miss. She is already wowing audiences on the blues and R&B circuits in the US and Europe, and at the same time knocking ‘em out on the rockabilly scene. I daresay Hill also has the kind of soul and style it takes to conquer the rootsy corner of the (punk) rock universe inhabited by acts like Rev. Horton Heat, Detroit Cobras, and Social Distortion. So get hip if you ain’t, buy Here’s Nikki Hill, tell all your friends about her, and you can say you were in on this explosion at the beginning.


I purchased this CD from