Jimmy Alter & Jason Bone • The Bottom Line

Jason Bone & Jimmy Alter

The Bottom Line EP

2014

http://www.jimmyaltermusic.com

 

Jimmy Alter’s soon-to-be-released five song record follows an earlier EP, Rock With Me. The young guitarist from St. Clair Shores, Michigan, and his band mate, guitarist Jason Bone, sing blues-based music with heart and skill. The pair has selected this short set wisely, for although all of the songs are covers, none is unknown (or, with one exception, even obscure), yet none has been frequently re-recorded, thereby introducing an element of surprise while maintaining some familiarity. That’s the way to do it!

The program opens with a bass line and hammering piano, both straight out of Little Richard, kicking off a raucous number that proves to be “Player,” an exciting throwback classic by Nick Curran. The band dispatches that tune in 2:20, just enough time to squeeze in a couple choruses of rock ‘n’ roll guitar inspired by Berry and Richards. Next up is the obscurity–I had to Google the lyrics to positively identify “The Bottom Line,” a noir-ish, mid-tempo song from the late harmonica man Paul de Lay. Bone really gets across the character of the narrator, a lonely outsider. A tersely phrased guitar break yields to Jim David’s subtly dazzling organ solo. Both players understand that what isn’t played is as important as what is.

Alex Lyon (bass) and David Watson (drums) cut a strong groove behind the tough take on “Funky Mama” that centers the set. Those unfamiliar with the original version would be forgiven for scanning their Jimmie Vaughan records trying to identify this instrumental shuffle. Bone holds down the rhythm, playing greasy lines through a Leslie cabinet in tribute to Big John Patton’s organ. First David solos on piano; next Alter, Bone, and Motor City Josh take turns on guitar. None really references Grant Green’s playing on Lou Donaldson’s classic version; instead we hear three snappy solos, each with a lot of personality, ranging from loopy, carnival-esque ideas through snarling, Albert Collins-inflected lines, and ending with a few unison run-throughs of the head arrangement, all in just over three minutes.

Hats off to Alter for reaching into the “5” Royales’ catalog for “Thirty Second Lover.” He hews close to the original for the guitar introduction and fills, but this version is far from a clone: the tempo seems slower and the track here has a distinctly boozy, New Orleans party feeling. Jimmy and the backing vocalists acquit themselves enthusiastically and well, and the guitar break is crisp and impressive. For the final cut, Bone turns to the great American band Los Lobos for their beautiful, haunting “The Neighborhood.” Everything comes together here, from the rhythm section through the electric piano touches and organ solo (take note of David’s crafty Tito Puente/Santana quotation) to Jason Bone’s vocal, in which he sounds amazingly like David Hidalgo, to a guitar solo that is at once flashy and deeply soulful.

A song like this has far more in common with the blues than do any 500 blues rock clichés. Bone and Jimmy Alter ought to be commended for recognizing that kinship, and for being willing to stretch the boundaries in appropriate and fresh directions, while remaining emphatically loyal to blues tradition. They deserve credit too for their nerve. It would be nigh impossible to top Lowman Pauling’s wit and soul, or Curran’s shattering energy, but on this enjoyable EP Alter and Bone hold their own, with mature singing and playing that promise a huge upside.

 

TOM HYSLOP

 

The artist provided an advance copy of the EP. This review was commissioned by the Detroit Blues Society and published in the July 2014 edition of its BluesNotes newsletter. Download a PDF at the DBS Web site, detroitbluessociety.org

 

 

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Guy King: Solo and Organ Trio Recordings

By Myself I Am Who I Am And It Is What It Is

GUY KING

By Myself

I Am Who I Am And It Is What It Is

IBF Records, 2012

guyking.net

Guy King established his credentials in the six years he spent as bandleader for Chicago legend Willie Kent, during which his tough but nuanced lead guitar playing was a major part of The Gents’ hard-edged blues sound. Following Kent’s death in 2006, King embarked upon a solo career. His debut album Livin’ It, on which a new, tightly arranged style, inflected with smooth, jazz-shaded R&B, began to emerge, was nominated for a Blues Music Award; and the guitarist, a native of Israel, seemed to be everywhere at once, appearing nationally and internationally with his blues band, playing solo shows, and fronting an organ trio around Chicago. Then he seemingly fell off the map. As it turns out, King has been spending most of his time abroad, mainly performing in Israel and Brazil. Given that he is preparing to return to the United States for a series of dates scheduled around the 2014 Chicago Blues Festival, now seems a good time to take stock of the two excellent albums King quietly released at the end of summer 2012.

Willie Kent’s gritty electric blues were one thing; the uptown Livin’ It was quite another. What King does on By Myself is completely unexpected. Powerful interpretations of songs by pre-war blues icon Robert Johnson make up nearly half of the 15-song set. King shows a surprising affinity for the form, with a mastery of Johnson’s technique and chords, a snappy, percussive attack that brings a full and expressive sound to the solo guitar, and vocals that shift from full to falsetto, always sounding natural and often impassioned, as when his voice breaks in “Hellhound On My Trail,” where King evokes hopeless resignation in the face of haunting mystery. At the other end of the emotional register is the relatively plainspoken “Steady Rollin’ Man,” also among the strongest performances here. King’s singing takes on a notable resonance and vibrato, appropriately enough, on “Can’t Be Satisfied,” one of two Muddy Waters numbers, and thumps fleet runs on the bass strings of his guitar behind Lightnin’ Hopkins’s “Katie Mae,” which closes this portion of the program.

Don’t despair if Mississippi and Texas blues are not your thing. Five songs at the end of the CD come from an entirely different direction. Still solo, still built on King’s acoustic guitar and evocative singing, they touch on more contemporary and more cosmopolitan musical styles. “I Am Who I Am And It Is What It Is” is a swinging, soulful, upbeat number with a jazzy flair. Next King reprises the sophisticated ballad “Alone In The City,” from Livin’ It. Stripped of its electric instruments and horns, it sounds more like Percy Mayfield or even Charles Brown at his gloomiest–with Ray Charles somewhere at the root of both versions. King overdubs subtle percussion on the last few songs, all in the bossa nova style, beginning with his reading of the jazz standard “Nature Boy,” continuing through his lively cover of Joao Gilberto’s “Acapulco,” and ending with a smoky “Besame Mucho.” This is music for lovers, indeed.

Recorded with Mike Schlick (drums) and Ben Paterson (organ), the two-CD set I Am Who I Am And It Is What It Is offers a cool cruise through jazz and standards, blues and ballads, soul and R&B, and pop. The program begins with a band version of the title track before moving to Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite.” King then shifts from bop to the birth of soul, with an emotional “Drown In My Own Tears.” Next up is a light “Sweet Lorraine,” a rousing “Mojo,” then back to jazz with Stanley Turrentine’s bluesy “Sugar,” and on to Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone To Love” and a “Going To Chicago” much toned down from any of the often-heard Joe Williams versions. King’s interest in Brazil comes out in Jobim’s uptempo “Agua De Beber.” Bobby Hebb’s pop smash “Sunny” yields to another Ray Charles ballad before King delivers a wondrous “Tear It Down,” capturing not only Wes Montgomery’s signature octaves but his excitement and effortless swing. Paterson is on fire here, too, and Schlick ably covers the drum breaks.

The second disc unfolds along the same lines, covering standards romantic (“You’ve Changed,” “Moonlight In Vermont”) and frivolous (“The Frim Fram Sauce”); jazz (“Green Dolphin Street” and workouts on McGriff’s “Vicky” and Burrell’s “Kenny’s Sound”); lush ballads from Billie Holiday (“God Bless The Child”) and Stevie Wonder (“Lately”); the breezy Brazilian “Brigas Nunca Mais”; blues (a pitiful “All Over Again,” from B.B. King’s catalog) and R&B (from Ray Charles once more, in a splendid “Roll With My Baby”). As is often the case with organ trios, some of the best material comes from unlikely places. King nods to the soul jazz tradition with sweet pop and elegant soul selections (“Isn’t She Lovely” and “Me And Mrs. Jones”), and surprises with the country weeper “Crying Time,” perhaps learned from Buck Owens, or remembered from bluesman Phillip Walker’s Playboy Records LP. In either case, it is devastating. Overall, the division between instrumentals and vocal numbers is about even, the latter showing King’s pleasant, expressive range, and on virtually every track, King and Paterson trade solos that, even when speaking the language of jazz, retain bluesy phrasing and tonalities. The group has a real feeling for the entire range of styles on What It Is, an absolutely lovely album on many levels.

King’s achievement is all the more impressive when one considers that both albums were recorded virtually off-the-cuff. Inspired after an evening’s gig, King cut the solo album in a single session, using an acoustic guitar belonging to the studio. In much the same way, the 30 songs on the organ trio record were laid down, in much less than 24 hours, during the course of an all-nighter, with a brief follow-up later in the afternoon. One might reasonably wonder if there is anything he can’t do, and where he will take us next. King has in fact been writing and recording new material, with an ear sensibly tilted toward producing great music, without much concern for genre restrictions. The touchstone artists whose work inspired the two works considered here–Muddy Waters, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Stevie Wonder, Nat “King” Cole, and Ray Charles in particular–seem likely to play a continuing role in King’s musical development. That is an evolution I don’t want to miss. In taking the varied music he loves and recasting it in new combinations, Guy King is going about his art the right way. Musicians with genuinely big ears are rare, and talent like King’s is rarer still.

TOM HYSLOP

I bought these CDs from the artist’s Web site.

Tinsley Ellis • Midnight Blue

Tinsley Ellis Midnight Blue Front Cover Square

TINSLEY ELLIS

Midnight Blue

Heartfixer Music, 2014

http://tinsleyellis.com/

In 2013, Tinsley Ellis released Get It, an all-instrumental album, somewhat unexpectedly composed of straightforward blues and rootsy rock songs. Now he returns with something more in line with what we have come to expect from him over 15 or so records and about 30 years in the trenches. Midnight Blue makes an emphatic statement confirming Ellis’s position not only as one of our great guitarists, but as a superior writer and singer of straight-ahead postwar electric blues and rock. Perhaps at the sacrifice of some accuracy, I’m going to cover what Ellis and company are up to under the umbrellas of three broadly defined styles.

Long acclaimed as one of the most intense and creative artists in blues rock, Ellis is assured enough to open Midnight Blue with a relatively slow number, “If The River Keeps Rising,” which starts with just his rhythmic but delicate acoustic guitar and plaintive vocal. When the band comes in after the first verse, the sound explodes into a bluesy slam, à la Zeppelin’s treatment of “When The Levee Breaks,” replete with Lynn Williams’s Bonham-worthy drumming and several thickly overdriven electric guitars woven into the mix. Between its melodic sense and guitar work that, in its phrasing and high gain tonality, recall strongly Eric Clapton’s late-‘80s Journeyman period, “Harder To Find” is an affecting and atmospheric midtempo rock ballad, with an absolutely lovely middle section and chorus. Touches like a slow-wash sound that might come from a Leslie cabinet are emblematic of the attention to sonic detail on this record.  “The Only Thing” is a solid blues shuffle with stops, very much in the vein of “I Ain’t Superstitious,” that splits the difference between Howlin’ Wolf and the Jeff Beck Group. Ellis’s toppy lead guitar sound pushes it perhaps in the direction of the latter, while “Mouth Turn Dry,” a Wolf-like stomp, sports wiry guitar breaks that recall both Hubert Sumlin (naturally) and Otis Rush. Its powerful lyric touches on romantic doubt, self-centered fear, and the dangers of drink. “That’s My Story” is a heavy rocker on the slower side, set to the pulse of a steady eighth-note bass pedal, with a superb guitar ride-out that focuses more on rhythm and feel than flash. While its edgy groove doesn’t really sound like anything I would expect from Tinsley–something like AC/DC, but with a swampy CCR vibe–it is excellent.

At times, Ellis has dabbled in R&B and even soul. He returns to those styles here with “It’s Not Funny,” which features a second line beat, direct from New Orleans. The mid-song breakdown is just part of hip overall rhythm arrangement, rounded out by Ellis’s tough, Lowell George-inflected slide guitar and the song’s “Iko Iko” family feel. Its title reflects perhaps the most obvious and clever turn of phrase that should have been written into a song years ago, but wasn’t. Great call, Mr. Ellis–that is how to do it! “Surrender” is a pulsing, slow- to midtempo track with a decidedly soulful edge; call it Boz Scaggs meeting Dire Straits at their dreamiest, or something The Wallflowers might once have cut. Perfect R&B-based fills and a melodic lead guitar that escalates in intensity accompany Ellis’s quiet, honest, vocal–a performance that fits the song beautifully. The ascending chord pattern behind the likewise beautifully sung “Peace And Love” comes from somewhere in the ‘60s soul universe. Its funky, Muscle Shoals feel, accentuated by Kevin McKendree’s organ and electric piano, is cast into interesting contrast by Ted Pecchio’s very Beatles-esque bass line.

About this time last year, Ellis described himself to me, I thought apologetically, as “the rock guy” in the Blues At The Crossroads 2 package, a tour that featured The Fabulous Thunderbirds in support of guests James Cotton, Jody Williams, Bob Margolin, and Ellis. The conversation took place just moments after he had delivered a set of stellar pure blues, beautiful and savage by turn. Here, he does it on “Kiss Of Death,” a spare slow blues taken at a funereal pace, much in the mode of “Double Trouble”–I mean the timeless Otis Rush song, not SRV, folks–and does it just right. The stark, late-night ballad “See No Harm” borrows its elegant, emotional changes from Ray Charles at his most gospel-drenched, back in the Atlantic days, and rivals Brother Ray for feel and passion. Believe me, I would never type that if I didn’t mean it. This is killer stuff. McKendree’s piano is sublime, and Ellis’s fills and solo are tough and to the point without breaking the mood in the slightest; his guitar tone is woody and appropriately old school. Bravo! Never mind his history with the Heartfixers; let no one suggest that Ellis in 2014 cannot sing and play blues with the best.

I am afraid that, over the years, I forgot just how good Tinsley Ellis could be, or at least began to take him for granted. His recent work has made my lapse impossible to sustain. Anyone who likes blues-based music should find much to appreciate on the excellent Midnight Blue.

TOM HYSLOP

Review copy of the CD was provided by the publicity firm Blind Raccoon.

Hank Mowery • Account To Me

account to me

Hank Mowery

Account To Me

Old Pal, 2013

http://www.hankmowery.com/

The Michigan-based harmonica player and singer Hank Mowery is no newcomer, having fronted his own band The Hawktones and toured with Mike Morgan & The Crawl during the 1990s. But it was not until last year that he would record his first solo project. While Account To Me is intended in large part as a tribute to the greatly missed Gary Primich, by featuring five of his songs, including two previously unrecorded, it will also function for many as an introduction to Mowery’s estimable skills as a performer and bandleader.

The Primich songs alone offer a broad and varied stylistic palette. Perhaps the most straightforward of these, musically, is “My Home,” a hard, Texas shuffle driven by John Large’s relaxed yet insistent drumming. The liltingly melodic “Tricky Game” is clever without being precious, weaving references to Einstein and calculus into a romantic lyric. The groove and Chris Corey’s steel-drum-inspired piano suggest a lost Professor Longhair number. The uptempo cut “Put The Hammer Down,” with its creative and strong unamplified harmonica solo, is built up from the wild guitar figure Troy Amaro plays, one that could have been lifted from the Junior Watson playbook. Mowery’s smooth vocal and Amaro’s solo in “Pray For A Cloudy Day” have enough sophistication to move this Primich number into the urbane, jazzy territory of an artist like Lynwood Slim. Finally, the title song is a sweetly hushed, R&B ballad  that could have come from Chuck Willis or even Buddy Holly. Bassist Patrick Recob contributes acoustic guitar, Mowery blows plaintive harmonica, and Amaro softens his tremolo-washed electric guitar lines further with whammy-bar shimmer.

The balance of the set widens the scope considerably. Rev. Robert Wilkins’s “That Ain’t No Way To Get Along,” familiar through his own recording and the Rolling Stones’ adaptation “Prodigal Son,” goes back to the prewar years. In keeping with its country blues origins, it is performed in a duo setting, with Mowery accompanying the National resonator guitar of singer Jimmie Stagger. Interplay between Mowery’s harmonica and Corey’s wonderfully cheesy, Space Age-toned B3 highlights the rocking R&B/Latin-flavored instrumental “Banana Oil,” originally by Memphis Slim. Mowery contributes the deep and lowdown “If I Knew What I Know,” a slow blues drawn directly from the Muddy Waters well, and sparked by fine ensemble playing and fat amplified harp. “Spend A Little Time,” a Mowery/Recob collaboration, opens with a drum fill quoting “Keep A Knockin’” (and “Rock And Roll”) before veering off into another direction, developing into a Gulf Coast rocker worthy of The Fabulous Thunderbirds or Primich, arranged to lean heavily on the hard-working rhythm section, acoustic piano, and a funky, fuzz-toned Wurlitzer that fills the guitar’s spot in the mix. Recob sings his own composition “Target,” a haunting blues lope in a minor key that evokes a dream jam session between Little Walter and Grant Green.

The musicians and producer-engineer Tommy Schichtel clearly paid close attention to making and capturing incredible sounds: tones this good don’t happen by accident. Mowery and crew play expressively and with subtlety, never pressing. That unforced feel extends to the arrangements; the songs seem to go where artistry and imagination, rather than any particular stylistic preconception, have led them. Finally, Tad Robinson’s perceptive liner notes articulate the record’s origins and achievement with intelligence and grace. Account To Me, a beautiful and remarkable work, is bound to make a lasting impression.
TOM HYSLOP

I received the review copy of this CD from Mark Pucci Media.

Top Ten of 2013…Plus

Ordinarily I resist making Best Of lists, except mentally, in part because I don’t view music as a competition, and in part because my choices undergo frequent change. But when David Mac asked me to contribute a Top Ten to his Blues Junction site, I gave it my best shot. My choices and those of a number of other listeners were revealed here:

http://bluesjunctionproductions.com/daves_top_ten_list_of_top_ten_lists

The ten CDs I listed as my favorites of the year:

1)    Magic Sam – Live at the Avant Garde, June 22, 1968 (Delmark)

2)    Holland K. Smith – Cobalt (Ellersoul)

3)    Ari Borger & Igor Prado -Lowdown Boogie (Chico Blues)

4)    Nikki Hill – Here’s Nikki Hill (Deep Fried Records)

5)    John Primer & Bob Corritore – Knockin’ Around These Blues (Delta Groove Productions)

6)    Trickbag – Trickbag with Friends Vol. 1 (Magic)

7)    4 Jacks – Deal With It (Ellersoul)

8)    Lou Pride – Ain’t No Love in This House (Severn)

9)    Barrelhouse Chuck & Kim Wilson – Driftin’ From Town to Town (The Sirens)

10)   Finis Tasby / Kid Andersen – Snap Your Fingers (Bluebeat Music)

In making the list, I initially wrote down the first group of CDs that came to mind. There were more than 10. Forced to make cuts, I reluctantly omitted the next group–but any of them could have been in my top 10. Here, then, are the rest of my favorites of 2013, in no particular order…

Lurrie Bell, Blues in My Soul (Delmark)

Laura Rain & the Caesars, Electrified (LRC)

The James Hunter Six, Minute By Minute (Fantasy)

Candye Kane with Laura Chavez, Coming Out Swingin’ (Vizztone)

Adrianna Marie & Her Groovecutters, Double Crossing Blues

Sugaray Rayford, Dangerous (Delta Groove Productions)

Birdlegg, Birdlegg (Dialtone)

Don Leady, Hillbilly Boogie Surfin’ Blues

Gene Taylor, Roadhouse Memories (Bluelight Records)

Jake LaBotz, Get Right (Charnel House)

Tinsley Ellis, Get It! (Heartfixer)

What a great year for blues, soul, and real rock ‘n’ roll music!

Macy Blackman & The Mighty Fines • I Didn’t Want To Do It

Macy Blackman

Macy Blackman & The Mighty Fines

I Didn’t Want To Do It

MamaRu Records, 2013

http://www.macyblackman.com/

The pianist Macy Blackman, a longtime music educator and piano expert, has been an active performer since the 1960s, specializing in jazz and rhythm and blues, and in particular the R&B music of New Orleans. He has just released his third album with his band The Mighty Fines. The 14 tracks on I Didn’t Want To Do It supply everything necessary for a rollicking good time except the partygoers.

The rock-solid Mighty Fines are Jack Dorsey or Adam Goodhue (drums), Bing Nathan (bass), Ken Jacobs (baritone saxophone–delicious!), and Nancy Wright (tenor saxophone, vocals), supporting Blackman (piano), whose singing is excellent and interesting. In contrast to the Mighty Fines’ lively and infectious music, Blackman’s vocal style is pretty far from excitable–not deliberate, exactly; languid perhaps comes closer. Although I have no sense that Blackman is trying to imitate the great Professor Longhair, and any similarity lies more in feeling and attitude than in sonic resemblance, his resonant timbre and playful, yet somehow grave quality do recall Fess. That is no small asset for anyone singing Crescent City music.

The playlist includes standards and obscurities alike, reflecting Blackman’s long history and close involvement with this repertoire. The latter category includes the woozy rocker “Help Yourself,” credited to Allen Toussaint, and “The Good Book,” a brooding, gospel-inflected number in a minor key. Blackman sings the standard “What Do I Tell My Heart” beautifully, his 12/8 piano figure reflecting Fats Domino’s version; the saxophone charts are sublime. Blackman’s friend Dr. John penned the lovely ballad “Just The Same” and, with Doc Pomus, the sly, bouncing “Never Fool Nobody But Me.” More familiar are “Who Shot The La-La,” a classy take on Irma Thomas’s “Somebody Told You” with a solid Wright vocal, the title track–a romp from The Spiders’ catalog with a chorus and a descending hook that you’ll recognize at once if you have ever heard it–and Chris Kenner’s immortal “I Like It Like That,” one of those songs that seems to encapsulate everything about New Orleans music: rippling piano, soul-clap snare hits, honking saxophones, Afro-Caribbean flavor, stop-time rhythms, an instantly memorable melody and lyric.

Blackman draws from other sources as well. The deep soul ballad “Dreams To Remember” is presented in an arrangement not far from Otis Redding’s original, with Blackman, playing the only guitar part on the album, filling Steve Cropper’s role. Blackman’s piano rhythms are quietly spectacular on a jaunty “Something’s Got A Hold On Me.” Wright sings lead on that Etta James classic and on Ike and Tina Turner’s “A Fool In Love,” which is enhanced by a tough sax solo and such delightful touches as the bold fill by Dorsey at 2:31. The Brook Benton-Dinah Washington duet “Rockin’ Good Way,” shorn of strings and its politely rocking, straight-eighth-note rhythm, is recast as a syncopated, shuffling New Orleans strut, and Jackie Wilson’s immortal “Higher And Higher” closes the program on a high note, sounding very much like a one-pass (and maybe one microphone) take that builds on Blackman’s block-chorded introduction, with rowdy hand claps, uninhibited drumming, and wild saxophones creating an irresistible, pure party atmosphere.

That sense of fun is at the heart of what most of us think of when it comes to the R&B of New Orleans, and Macy Blackman & The Mighty Fines convey it perfectly. I Didn’t Want To Do It goes further, showing rarer aspects of New Orleans’s music: Saturday night and Sunday morning, romance and heartbreak, high seriousness and low clowning, all skillfully played and sung.

TOM HYSLOP

I received the review copy of this CD from Blackman’s publicist, PR by DR.

Nikki Hill with Deke Dickerson and the Bo-Keys • Soul Meets Country

2013 Deke Dickerson Nikki Hillsoulmeetscountry

Nikki Hill & Deke Dickerson

Soul Meets Country

Major Label CD/7-inch + download/download, 2013

nikkihillmusic.com

www.dekedickerson.com

www.thebokeys.com

This four track EP is slight when measured in playing time, but from the perspective of the hardcore roots music aficionado, it is a summit meeting that rivals Destroy All Monsters in earth-shaking significance. Deke Dickerson is one of the most enthusiastic and accomplished proponents of American music: as a performer, producer, promoter, fan, collector, scholar, author, and more, he does it all. Nikki Hill is, hands down, the most exciting new artist in the true rock-and-soul variety of R&B; her calling card Here’s Nikki Hill (2013) and relentless touring have devastated audiences all over the planet. And Scott Bomar’s Bo-Keys, heavy with legendary alumni of the Stax and Hi bands, are dedicated keepers of Memphis’s deep soul tradition who happen to make vital new music. Combine the three ingredients, shake, and dig the results on Soul Meets Country. First roll back the carpet, ‘cause you know it’s going to be a party.

Two Hill-Dickerson duets open the program. First is the Otis Redding-Carla Thomas chestnut “Lovey Dovey.” Dickerson obviously doesn’t sing with Redding’s intensity (who does?), but his sweet, unguarded delivery carries ample emotional force, and matches up nicely with the raw edge of Hill’s voice. Their banter has a lilting quality that works well against the push-pull of the rhythm section, which takes the song at a leisurely tempo. The feel is relaxed and greasy, due in large part to Howard Grimes’s emphasis on the backbeat versus the four-to-the-bar snare hits of the frenetic original.

Next comes “Feelin’s,” made famous by Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, here given a new coat of paint. Stripped of the original’s prominent steel guitar and played a few clicks of the metronome faster, the tune is driven by a surging horn chart, syncopated interplay between Grimes’s snare and Bomar’s bass, and the tambourine of Jack Ashford–a sound familiar from countless classic Motown productions. Dickerson twangs his way through a brief, lovely guitar solo, and his relaxed vocal harmonization with Hill is perfect.

Rounding out Soul Meets Country is a pair of individual numbers. “Struttin’” percolates to life with a steady bass pulse and stop-time choruses. Hill is at her sassiest here. It’s as tough as anything ever waxed, and the sound, with Bomar’s Wurlitzer piano and some very Steve Cropper-esque guitar parts by Dickerson figuring prominently in the arrangement, is reminiscent of Wilson Pickett’s classic Memphis and Muscle Shoals recordings. Dickerson revisits his “Lady Killin’ Papa” as the country funk workout “Lady Killa.” Motown ace Dennis Coffey’s wah-wah guitar is the essential sonic ingredient here, along with Archie Turner’s organ and the killer rhythm section-horn interplay that is all over the disc.

In a rare instance of truth in labeling, Soul Meets Country offers just that: four songs, Dixie-fried to delicious perfection. Fans of the Bo-Keys, Deke Dickerson, or Nikki Hill will absolutely love this one, and anyone with even a passing interest in American roots music ought to hear it. Highest recommendation.

TOM HYSLOP

I bought this CD from http://www.dekedickerson.com/shopping/merch3.php

and it is now available from the world’s greatest retailer of our kind of music: http://www.bluebeatmusic.com/

Here’s Nikki Hill

nikki

Nikki Hill

Here’s Nikki Hill

Deep Fryed Records, 2013

www.nikkihillmusic.com

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.

TOM HYSLOP

I purchased this CD from http://www.nikkihillmusic.com

Deal With It

4Jacks

4 Jacks

Deal With It

EllerSoul Records, 2013

http://ellersoul.com/

As an institution, the supergroup has an uneven history, particularly in terms of artistic success. When 4 Jacks formed, therefore, the band at once faced a challenge of sorts. The Washington, D.C.-based Big Joe Maher is here, singing and drumming as he does in his own band, the Dynaflows. Texan Anson Funderburgh, who led The Rockets for many years, is widely considered to be one of the most tasteful guitar stylists and tone kings working in blues. The Nashville keyboard ace Kevin McKendree, who has worked with both Maher’s Dynaflows and Funderburgh’s Rockets, is perhaps best known as a member of Delbert McClinton’s band and has also recorded and toured with Brian Setzer; among his many credits are projects with Lee Roy Parnell, Tinsley Ellis, Robert Ward, Tad Robinson, Seth Walker, and Watermelon Slim. Steve Mackey, another session veteran and McClinton band member, holds down the electric bass chair.

Obviously the 4 Jacks bring with them a history of high standards. Deal With It more than lives up to expectations. The jumping little number “Have Ourselves A Time” swings hard, with Maher smoothly delivering a good-time invitation and Funderburgh combining cunningly bent notes and clipped phrases. “She Ain’t Worth A Dime,” a rowdy shuffle very much in the style of J.B. Lenoir’s “Mama Talk To Your Daughter,” features a rippling piano solo and an enthusiastic vocal. The wry “Bobcat Woman” describes a certain type of disagreeable lover who will be familiar to any regular blues listener. Featuring McKendree on organ, this Texas shuffle will be a tonic for Rockets fans waiting for Funderburgh to uncoil his patented, stinging leads. Maher’s fast “Thunder And Lightning,” working off of the framework of “Feel So Bad,” is another showcase for Funderburgh’s staccato lines.

The stark, Latin-tinged “Love’s Like That,” a minor key piece, hinges on Mackey’s bass guitar figure and Maher’s tom-tom rolls. McKendree’s chords and single-note rolls are impeccably timed; Funderburgh squeezes out perfect notes and phrases almost stingily; and the vocal is subdued, almost downcast. It is superb. The assuredly paced slow blues “Your Turn To Cry” is arranged with both piano and organ; chord substitutions give it a more sophisticated feel than Otis Rush’s familiar version. Another slow number, “Bad News Baby,” features beautiful interplay among the band members and a sublime guitar break.

The Jacks play it superbad and funky on the Percy Mayfield composition “I Don’t Want To Be President,” with wiry guitar and a friendly, very funny vocal performance. Maher’s spoken introduction and vocal on “Ansonmypants” are as playful and spirited as The Big Bopper’s on “Chantilly Lace.” Here McKendree solos on piano and dials in a roller-rink organ sound, while Funderburgh shifts into T-Bone Walker mode. Three instrumentals round out the program. “Texas Twister” combines blues and R&B in the fashion of Freddy King’s classic instrumentals, and is every bit as catchy; your mind’s eye may well see go-go dancers. The title track has more than a hint of King in its hook, but takes on a definite Stax flavor once McKendree solos, with the drawbars set to give the organ that unmistakable, slightly hollow tone so characteristic of Booker T. At the end of the playlist, “Painkiller” evokes The Meters’ funk with clever syncopation and a “Cissy Strut”-like design. Pieces like these present a case study in how four truly hip parts can interlock seamlessly, when great individual players are also great ensemble players. More importantly, they are downright fun to listen to. 4 Jacks sound like they are having an uncommonly good time making music–their feel is always right on target. An exciting survey of blues and R&B styles, Deal With It never comes close to striking a false note. Highly recommended.

TOM HYSLOP

Review copy provided by Frank Roszak Radio Promotions.

Days Like This

Valori

Linda Valori

Days Like This

LeArt World Music, 2013

www.lindavaloriofficial.com/

http://www.leartproduction.com/en

The Italian singer Linda Valori has a big, dramatic voice. She can generate a brassy roar, or dial down to an introspective level. For her new project, Valori traveled to Chicago to work with producer and guitarist Larry Skoller. In addition to a basic guitar-bass-drums rhythm section, the instrumental lineup features keys, percussion, harmonica, and a horn section of trumpet, tenor saxophone, and baritone sax. The resulting album, Days Like This, is an interesting, occasionally innovative set, heavy on classic R&B given a contemporary shine, with some straightforward blues along the way.

Where Van Morrison’s original of the title cut was leisurely soul, Valori’s supercharged version is upbeat, with an electrifying horn chart and an irresistible combination of drum pattern, keyboards, and vibes straight out of a Motown bag. Ike Turner fans will appreciate the love shown the late bandleader, whose catalog is twice called on, for the shuffling “The Way You Love Me” and the exotic “I Idolize You,” in which an edgy solo by guest guitarist Mike Wheeler cuts through the track’s urban shimmer, which, reminiscent as it is of some of the B.B. King-Crusaders collaborations, sounds slightly dated.

A solid trio of songs closes the long-player. A version of Janis Joplin’s “Move Over” sacrifices some grit but gains in percolating funkiness, due largely to Billy Dickens’s electric bass. Punchy horns and some stinging lead guitar from Wheeler make for a splendid recording of Bobby Bland’s “I Smell Trouble” on which Valori is appropriately tough. “If I Can’t Have You” is arranged to retain the raunchy flavor of the immortal original, with its talkative saxophones recreated by Doug Corcoran and Marqueal Jordan. Valori gamely does her best with Etta James’s part, and though she can’t match the original for raw sensuality, acquits herself well. Mike Avery is impressively smooth in the duet’s Harvey Fuqua role.

The prime tracks come in the middle of the program, with a take on Ray Charles’s “Your Love Is So Doggone Good” that evokes the sultry feel Etta James brought to her reading of “You Can Leave Your Hat On.” Also superb is Valori’s cover of Deitra Farr’s exultant, upbeat “It’s My Time.” She deftly handles the acrobatic melody and quick changes, and the band is right on time with the soul blues arrangement, highlighted by Corcoran’s memorable trumpet solo.

The sole misstep is a fine, creative reggae arrangement of The Pretenders’ “Don’t Get Me Wrong” that simply doesn’t fit into the setlist’s flow. Overcoming one potential hurdle, Valori sings largely without accent throughout the album, though a detectable (not distracting) trace creeps in at the slowest tempos, as in the Bobby Charles ballad “The Jealous Kind.” Consider Days Like This and its updated gloss on traditional R&B an enjoyable calling card, introducing Linda Valori to U.S. listeners as a capable singer of technique, passion, and taste.

TOM HYSLOP

Review copy provided by Frank Roszak Radio Promotions.