Heart On The Line By Vanessa Collier

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Heart On The Line

Vanessa Collier

Phenix Fire Records 2020

Review by David Bowling

 

Vanessa Collier is a very competent songwriter and singer, but as a saxophonist, she is one of the best working today. Her music is rooted in the blues, but also incorporates some jazz and pop. Her newest release is titled Heart On The Line.

Collier has won The Blues Music Award for Horn Player Of The Year two years in a row. She has a light touch and  does not overwhelm her instrument but rather relies on smooth, melodic runs.

While her songs have a variety of styles; her approach has a sameness. She usually starts out singing and then switches to the saxophone to drive the song home. This approach serves her well on her original compositions such as “What Makes You Beautiful,” “Bloodhound,” “Weep And Moon,” and “Freshly Squozen.”

This is Collier’s third release and she has settled into a comfortable groove that combines passion and smoothness into a nice blues mix. Listening to Heart On The Line is a good way to spend some time.

Rating: ***1/2

 

Bringing The Blues By Gravel & Grace

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Bringing The Blues

Gravel & Grace

Ava Grace Records 2020

Review by David Bowling

 

Gravel & Grace produces an excellent brand of smooth modern day blues with a little rhythm & blues thrown in for good measure. It is the make-up of the band that is unique.

Ava Grace is a singer/keyboardist, who has been playing live since the age of 14. Vocalist Big Earl Mathew is a 20 year veteran of the blues music scene, as is the supporting five man band. It is an odd combination but the now 18 year old Grace fits the band well as she possesses one of those voices that is crystal clear and can both soar and purr as needed. Her keyboards help create the bands sound. On the other hand, Matthews has a gritty vocal style that has fit the blues for two decades.

Their self-titled debut album was released May 15. It consists of nine originals and one cover. Ava Grace and Earl Matthews tend to trade lead vocals. While their voices are very different, they provide a good mixture of styles that does not grow stale.

Two Grace songs combine her voice with sax interludes. “Scares Me” and the slow blues number “Not About A Boy” highlight her vocal ability and are solid blues. She gives a very soulful rendition of Rihanna’s “Love On The Brain.”

Earl Matthews songs are very different in style and content. His voice is the gravel of the band, plus they tend to be more personal.

Gravel & Grace is an interesting mix of different elements that all comes together in an excellent modern day blues album.

Rating: ***

 

 

Rough And Rowdy Ways By Bob Dylan

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Rough And Rowdy Ways

Bob Dylan

Columbia 2020

Review by David Bowling

 

Every time Bob Dylan starts to slip from my musical consciousness, he returns with an album of music that reminds me why he has been one of the most influential and important musicians of the last half-century. He has just released his 39th studio album; 58 years since his first. It is also his first album of all new original material in eight years.

Rough And Rowdy Ways takes its place as one of the stronger albums of his career. Filled with the kind of imagery that only Dylan can create, and in some places only he can easily understand, he examines the world around him. There are also elements that are the product of his age. He is now one year shy of 80 years old, which have created thoughts and words that reflect upon his mortality.

The epic of the release is the 16 minute and 54 second opus “Murder Most Foul.” It is a historical examination of the death of JFK within the context of American history and music. It is a song with many layers that will bring rewards with each listen.

The years are piling up for Mr. Dylan and “Crossing The Rubicon” and “Key West (Philosophical Pirate)” are his reflections on the process of aging and what comes next.

Dylan has always been connected to the present and “Black Rider” looks at the virus laden world of today, while “False Prophets” approaches the present from a different perspective.

Except for a peppy tribute to Jimmy Reed; the music is slow 12-bar blues. The backing is very simple this time around with guitars and a basic rhythm section, which keeps the emphasis on the words and messages.

Rough And Rowdy Ways is an unexpected achievement from the 79 year old Dylan. It is his statement that he remains one of music’s best and thought provoking artists.

 

Rating: ****1/2

 

Daydreams In Blue By Anthony Geraci

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Daydreams In Blue

Anthony Geraci

Shining Stones Records

Review by David Bowling

 

Anthony Geraci is an interesting musician. He is primarily a pianist and songwriter. As such, he needs to surround himself with other musicians and vocalists to bring his songs to life.

He learned his craft as an a member of Sugar Ray and the Blue-Tones and Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters. Now as a noted blues piano player, he has issued a series of well-received and commercially successful albums on his own. His latest release, Daydreams In Blue, was released July 10.

He relies on two of the better blues guitarists working today. Monster Mike Welch and Walter Trout are on hand for a number of tracks. Singer/harmonica player Dennis Brennon is the vocalist this time around. Add in some brass and a competent rhythm section, highlighted by an acoustic bass, and you have the makings of an outstanding modern-day blues album.

Ten of the 12 tracks are originals and Geraci has a talent for blending his piano into mix and does not overwhelm his bandmates. “No One Hears My Prayers,” “Living In The Shadow Of The Blues,” “Dead Man’s Shoes,” and “Tutti Frutti Booty” all demonstrate his keyboard and compositional talent with different tempos and styles.

Daydreams In Blue is a nice exploration of the blues from a different perspective and is well worth a listen.

Rating: ***

The Ballad Of Albert Johnson By The Smoke Wagon Blues Band

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The Ballad Of Albert Johnson

The Smoke Wagon Blues Band

Indie Pool 2020

Review by David Bowling

 

If ever a band sounds like their name, this is it. The Smoke Wagon Blues Band combines gritty vocals, incisive lyrics, and glittering instrumentation into a tasty mix of modern-day electric blues. The seven-man Canadian band has just released their newest album, The Ballad Of Albert Johnson.

The Smoke Wagon Blues Band is primarily an electric blues group that extends in a number of directions. The title track, “Ballad Of Albert Johnson,” is very close to country rock, while “Memphis Soul” is a funky piece of southern stew with some pulsating brass. The only non-original song, the old Fats Domino tune “The Fat Man,” is given a swinging rendition.

It is the slower songs that find the band rooted deep in the blues. The piano based “Mescaline,” the simple “Ain’t Gonna Be Your Fool,” and possibly the album’s best song, “Matapedia River Blues” all help the band define itself and its music. Running counterpoint to these songs is the upbeat jump blues type number “Can’t Take The Blues.”

The album-closing track, “Steaming Comrades Harp Boogie” was recorded live and features the harp work of vocalist Corey Lueck with an almost Bo-Diddley rhythm.

This is a band that is deep into their career and have learned their lessons well. The Ballad Of Albert Johnson is one of the better blues albums of the year and is a fine introduction to one of the better under the radar bands working today. 

Rating: ****

The Stories We Are Told By Heathcote Hill

The Stories We Are Told

Heathcote Hill

311 Music Label 2020

Review by David Bowling

 

Heathcote Hill has just released their new album, The Stories We Are Told. The band, fronted by songwriter/guitarist Tom Nelson and vocalist Megan Porcaro Herspring produces a smooth sound that fuses pop vocals and roots lyrics into a tasty mix.

The album contains songs about people and life; many of which are rooted in their  past experiences or people they have known, such as Nelson’s Aunt Mary Ellen, who became a Nun and teacher in a Catholic school. She is chronicled in “Elegy For Mary Ellen.”

The lead single, “All I Remember Is You,” is very representative of what is best about their approach. The music is catchy pop and the lyrics just slip by. Herspring’s vocal is effortless and is what sets the band apart from many of their contemporaries.

The Stories We Are Told is a modern day album of relevant pop music. It is an intelligent way to wile away some time during the pandemic.

Rating: ***1/2

One Of Those Days By Louisiana’s LeRoux

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One Of Those Days

Louisiana’s LeRoux

Gulf Coast Records

Review by David Bowling

 

When this CD crossed my desk, I immediately went to my record collection and there was the debut album by Leroux, where it has probably sat for four decades. They may have added Louisiana to their name and changed some of the members; but they continue to play a fusion of New Orleans blues and rock and roll.

One Of Those Days is their 8th studio release. Led by founding member and lead vocalist Jeff McCarty, along with long-time members and guitarists,  Jim Odom and Tony Haselden; the eight man group has issued a tasty mix of cover and original compositions.

Their laid back style fits their New Orleans roots. Whether ballads or up-tempo blues, songs such as “Nothing Left To Lose,” “The Song Goes On,” “Sauce Piquante,” and a re-imagining of their most famous song “New Orleans Ladies; they have a passion and a precision that keeps their music honest and interesting.

Louisiana’s Leroux has returned from a ten year hiatus with a fine comeback album. One Of These days continues their tradition of fine music – New Orleans style.

Rating: ***

Whitney Houston By Whitney Houston: 35th Anniversary Edition (Vinyl Box Set)

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Whitney Houston: 35th Anniversary Edition (Vinyl Box Set)

Whitney Houston

Arista 2020

Review by David Bowling

 

Whitney Houston died at the age of 48 in 2012. She was one of the most successful pop artists of all time, selling in excess of two-hundred million albums.

Her first album was one of the most successful debuts in music history selling 20 million copies, topping the Billboard Magazine Charts for 14 weeks, and spawning three number one singles.

In celebration of the 35 anniversary of that first self-titled album, Whitney Houston; it has been re-issued in its original vinyl format as a two disc box set. The first disc is a remastering of the original album. The second disc is a reissue of the Japan issue Whitney Dancin’ Special, which is a collection of six extended dance tracks. Also included is a hard cover booklet. In addition everything has been issued on 180 gram peaches and marbles vinyl.

The music was remastered from the original tapes. When the records are played on a superior system, the sound is clear and brings out the various textures and depth of the music.

Hits “Saving All My Love For You,” “Greatest Love Of All,” and “How Will I Know” are still well-know pop creations and were perfect vehicles for one of the best voices of her generation as she just soars. They remain memorable over three decades after their initial release.

There were three duets that hold up well. The best is “Hold Me” with Teddy Pendergrass. His soulful voice is a nice counterpoint to Houston’s. Other songs such as “You Give Good Love,” “Thinking Of You,” and “All At Once” may not rise to the level of her big hits but they are still very good.

The Whitney Dancin’ Special disc is more dated. “How Will I Know,” “You Give Good Love,” “Someone,” and “Thinking About You” are extended with repetitive instrumentals that were perfect for the disco dance floor of the mid 1980’s.

Whitney Houston: 35th Anniversary Edition is not for the casual fan or someone looking for an introduction to her music. Rather it is aimed at her fan base and in that regard it succeeds admirably.

Rating: ****

 

Go, Just Do It By Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne

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Go, Just Do It

Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne

Stony Plain 2020

Review by David Bowling

 

Blues can be filled with angst; they can tell stories of love, loss, death, and pain. Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne’ travels in a different direction as his blues entertain and even make you smile.

Now in his mid-70’s, Wayne remains on of the leading practitioners of the Boogie Woogie style of piano playing. While his style may spill over into jazz at times; he is at heart a master of contemporary blues. His new album, Go. Just Do It, rolls through 10 new original tunes and 3 covers, including Percy Mayfield and J.J. Cale songs.

Wayne’s music is simple at it’s core. He provides basic melodies and vocals. He then builds his sound around it. The title song adds brass and then complementary vocals by Dawn “Tyler” Watson. This is Wayne at his best as the more elements he adds; the more impact his music presents.

Kenny Wayne is a veteran who capitalizes on his strengths. Songs such as “Motor Mouth Woman,” “You Did A Number On Me,” and “Let The Rock Roll” are all examples of his just having a good time playing his music. He even bends Mayfield’s “I Don’t Want To Be The President” and “You’re In For A Big Surprise” to his style.

Wayne has established a nice niche for himself. He does not re-invent himself with Go, Just Do It, but continues to do what he does well.

Rating: B

Rebel Moon Blues By Sass Jordan

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Rebel Moon Blues

Sass Jordan

Stony Plain 2020

Review by David Bowling

 

Sass Jordan is now over 30 years into her career. Well known in Canada as one of the hosts of Canadian Idol; she has also been nominated for multiple Canadian Juno Awards for Best Vocalist. While known primarily as a gritty rock vocalist, she has made a career turn by issuing an album of straight ahead blues.

Rebel Moon Blues is primarily an album of covers with only one self-penned song. She draws from the likes of classic blues artists Willie Dixon and Elmore James and modern day rock/bluesmen Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher.

I always find it interesting to hear a woman’s interpretation of male-produced blues songs. She has a voice made for the blues as her starring role as Janis Joplin in the off Broadway play would suggest. She grinds her way through a stripped-down versions of “My Babe” and “One Way Out.”

She is on familiar ground with the more modern days “Still Got The Blues” and Leon Russell’s “Palace Of The King.” In addition to her voice, the slide guitar of Chris Caddell lends an authenticity to the music.

“The Key” is the only original composition and it is one that has a full sound complete with a brass section. Bordering on rock, it has a high energy throughout.

It is always interesting to see an artist make a stylistic turn so late into a career. She may not re-invent the blues but she does re-invent herself. It all adds up to an album of good and in many places, transformative music.

 

Rating: ***1/2