Smoky Greenwell CD South Louisiana Blues

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South Louisiana Blues

Smoky Greenwell

Greenwell Records 2016

Review by David Bowling

 

There’s nothing like a Smoky Greenwell album on a cold Maine night. His brand of southern blues and hot harp work is a cure for any winter evening.

Greenwell’s harp virtuosity is always a blues delight and it dominates his latest album South Louisiana Blues. Backed by a host of New Orleans musicians, he blasts through four original and eight blues tunes.

“Boogie Twist” is a fun-filled romp fueled by his harp play. “Lonesome Lonely Blues” is a laid back poignant piece. “Pick It Up” has a wonderful melody with a hook that will keep bringing you back. The album opening “Animal Angels” is a fusion of rock and blues.

South Louisiana Blues is another solid another album from the mind, hand, and mouth of Smoky Greenwell. It is well-worth a listen of two.

Rating: ***1/2

 

 

The Best Of The Dualtone Years (CD) By Guy Clark

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The Best Of The Dualtone Years

Guy Clark

Dualtone 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Guy Clark died almost a year ago. His passing took away one of American Music’s greatest troubadours. Best known as a songwriter whose compositions were covered by the cream of country and folk artists; he nevertheless released nearly 20 albums of his own. He had a wonderful capacity to turn thoughts and pictures into words and music and his last studio release, My Picture Of You won a Grammy Award in Best Folk Album Category.

The last label of his long career was Dualtone. His new release, The Best Of The Dualtone Years, draws from his studio albums for the label, plus some live tracks, and adds three unreleased demos, which are combined into an essential Americana two-disc release.

His composition s run the gamut from love songs, “My Favorite Picture Of You,” to romance, “Cornmeal Waltz,” to the expression of his wry sense of humor, “Hemingway’s Whiskey.”

The live tracks get to the heart of who he was as a musician and singer. While I would have preferred to have the five live tracks together rather than interspersed throughout the album, they present some of his most famous compositions in a very personal way. “L.A. Freeway” and “Dublin Blues” helped to define what Americana music is all about and “Homegrown Tomatoes” and “The Cape”  are examples of how he viewed the world around him.

The unreleased demos, “Just To Watch Maria Dance,” “The Last Hobo,” and “Time” are stripped down to basics and present a good example of his writing process.

Guy Clark left behind a catalogue of wonderful glimpses of the world around him. The Best Of The Dualtone Years is a fine introduction to his music and is not only a good release in its own right but will hopefully inspire people to delve deeper into his music.

 

Rating: ****

Blue Room (CD) By Jon Zeeman

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Blue Room

Jon Zeeman

Membrane Records 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Jon Zeeman is a guitarist who has a sound, that once you hear it, is instantly recognizable. He has just released his latest album titled Blue Room. It includes seven original tunes and thee cover songs.

He is basically a blues guitarist who fuses some rock elements into his approach. This is clearest on his interpretation of the Jimi Hendrix song “Still Rainin’ Still Dreamin’ on which he moves effortlessly though a number of styles.

While he has a backing band, the sound moves from sparse to full. This is especially the case when he plays his guitar off the keyboards. Also of note is the late Butch Trucks, whose drumming appears on two tracks, “All I Want Is You” and “Next To You.”

He is an excellent songwriter and is able to create melodic blues. “Talking ‘Bout My Baby,” “If I Could Make You Love Me,” and “Hold On” are good examples of his style. There is also a gritty cover of the Robert Johnson blues classic “Love In Vain,” which is just right for a small smoky bar late at night.

Joe Zeeman has produced a solid album of blues. It is worth a listen or two.

Rating: ***

 

The Legacy Of Harry Belafonte: When Colors Come Together (CD) By Harry Belafonte

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The Legacy Of Harry Belafonte: When Colors Come Together

Harry Belafonte

RCA/Legacy

Review by David Bowling

 

Harry Belafonte is celebrating his 90th birthday this year and in celebration RCA/Legacy is releasing a compilation of some of his most well-known songs titled The Legacy Of Harry Belafonte: When Colors Come Together.

Today Harry Belafonte is more known for his political stances and social awareness than his music but during the mid-1950’s through the 1960’s he was one of the most famous non-rock performers in the world. Born in Harlem, he fused Caribbean rhythms with traditional folk music. His two live albums, recorded at Carnegie Hall, sold millions of copies and made him one of the first black singers to achieve mass mainstream appeal.

Belafonte has a laid back and easy flowing style. His signature song, “Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” and such traditional songs such as “Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair),” “All My Trials,” “On Top Of Old Smokey,” and a live version of “Pastures Of Plenty” just flow easily by the senses.

His version of “Mary’s Boy Child” never grows old, as does his sincere and passionate cover of “Abraham, Martin & John” recorded shortly after Martin Luther King’s death.

The only new song is a re-recording and re-imagining of “When Islands Come Together (Our Island In The Sun)” sung by a children’s choir. It serves as the first and introductory track to the album and its music. Originally co-written by Belafonte, it was the title song for the 1957 film Island In The Sun, in which he starred.

While his music is tied to the past, many of the album’s songs remain relevant today despite their age. His music will only appeal to a certain segment of the population but for those who appreciate his style and music, The Legacy Of harry Belafonte: When Colors Come Together will be a treat.

 

Rating: ****

10,000 Feet Below (CD) By Eliza Neals

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10,000 Feet Below

Eliza Neals

CD Baby 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Eliza Neals is a gritty, down to earth blues singer, keyboardist, and songwriter who strides the line between traditional and modern day blues.

Her vocals have a primitive quality that reach back to the delta, while her music, especially with guitarist Howard Glazier, have a connection to the present.

Songs such as “Cleotus,” “Downhill On A Rocket,” “Call Me Moonshine,” “You Ain’t My Dog No More,” and the only cover song, “Hard Killing Floor,” explode from the speakers and grab your attention.

10,000 Feet Below is a primordial ride through the mind and music of Eliza Neals. It is a ride worth taking.

Rating: ***

 

Front Porch Sessions (CD) By Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band

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Front Porch Sessions

Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band

Family Owned Records 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

It’s time to gather the true believers of the blues, because Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band is coming to town with their latest album release Front Porch Sessions.

Peyton has always been an evangelist for the blues. He is a traditionalist who combines the blues with a roots Americana feel. His new album is a stripped back affair. It is also his most personal release and on a number of the tracks he is solo.

What he always has going for him is his unique finger picking style on the guitar. It is the heart and soul of his approach and helps him stay in touch with the roots and rhythms of the blues.

The two instrumentals, “Flying Squirrels” and “It’s All Night Long” are living guitar history lessons. “One More Thing” delves into what life is all about out in the country. He even has a little fun with “Shakey Shirley.

Peyton is an intense and emotional performer who always takes his blues seriously. If you can buy in to his brand of stark and in some cases countrified blues, then there is a place for you in his congregation.

Rating: ***

 

Fantasizing About Being Black CD By Otis Taylor

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Fantasizing About Being Black

Otis Taylor

TBF 2016

Review by David Bowling

It is always with a sense of anticipation that I wait for each new release by Otis Taylor. It is not just that he is one of the best bluesmen working today, but that each album has a theme and individual presence all its own. 2013’s My World Is Gone incorporated Native American rhythm’s into a blues framework as he explored the plight of America’s original people. 2015’s Hey Joe Opus/Red Meat found him fusing a west coast psychedelic sound with his well-honed blues. Now he has changed direction again.

Fantasizing About Being Black is an 11 chapter history lesson of the Afro-American experience. The message is start and direct, while the music ranges from primitive to sophisticated. He particularly uses violinist Anne Harris to soften the harshness of his approach. Through it all he remains true to a blues framework and format.

Each song message set the stage for the one to follow until they meld into a cohesive whole. “Banjo Bam Bam” is a primitive story of slavery. “D To E Blues” is an ode to a father-son relationship; Chicago blues style. “Jump Out Of Line” is a look back at the Civil Rights Movement. “Jump To Mexico” explores the difficulties of interracial relationships. “Roll On Down The Hill” is an inspirational call to resist.

Fantasizing About Being Black may not be an easy listen but it is heartfelt and passionate. It is also an important contribution to Afro-American history from a musical perspective and that fact makes all the difference.

Rating: B

In Session (CD) By Robbie Krieger

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In Session

Robbie Krieger

Purple Pyramid 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Robbie Krieger’s place in rock and roll history is secure. He was the guitarist for the legendary Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame band The Doors. He also co-wrote many of their most famous songs including “Light My Fire,” “Love Her Madly,” “Love Me Two Times,” and “Touch Me.”

He is known as one of the best guitarists of his generation. He maintained an off again-on again relationship with fellow Doors bandmate Ray Manzarek until the latters death. His solo career has traveled in a number of directions including rock, jazz-fusion, and experimental. He has now released the eighth studio album of his career titled In Session.

Krieger has just produced the most commercial album of his career. In Session is also a simple album.  It is a group of catchy songs on which he is joined by a number of guest artists including Jackson Browne, Nik Turner, Billy Sherwood, Tommy Shaw, Rod Argent, and even William Shatner, which was not as bad as it sounds.

“Where We Belong” with Tony Kaye, “Brain Damage” with Geoff Downes, and in one of the last performances of his life “All You Need Is Love” with John Wetton provide edgy partnerships for Krieger’s rock and roll approach. Jackson Browne with “Across The Universe” and Tommy Shaw of Styx with “Don’t Leave Me Know” provide a lighter side to his music.

The only two misses are an out of place performance of “The Little Drummer Boy” and a terribly recorded live version of “Back Door Man.”

Krieger’s previous solo efforts have always been serious affairs. In Session is just plain fun and enjoyable and that makes all the difference.

Rating: ***1/2

 

I Was Made To Love Her By Stevie Wonder

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I Was Made To Love Her

Stevie Wonder

Tamla 1967

Review by David Bowling

 

 

I Was Made To Love Her was released during the developmental part of Stevie Wonder’s career, as he progressed from a Motown label-controlled teenager to one of the superstars of American music. It was similar to his other albums at the time (1967) as he continued to hone his writing skills by composing four of the tracks and then filling the rest of the album with cover songs.

His albums would increasingly become more polished and his own compositions would quickly develop a sophistication that would eventually make the cover songs unnecessary. More amazing was the fact he was still a teenager.

The best track is the title song, which also became a hit single, reaching number two on the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles Chart and number one on their Rhythm & Blues Chart. It was a joyful and up-tempo blast of Motown soul, and while the album contained a number of strong performances, this was head and shoulders above everything else. If I had to pick the best songs from his teen years, “I Was Made To Love Her” would make the top five.

The three other original compositions are the most complex and sophisticated material on the album. “Everybody Needs Somebody (I Need You)” is both smooth and melodic. “I Cry” and “Every Time I See You, I Go Wild” show the beginnings of his experimentation with chord changes and odd melodic structures. These songs may now be afterthoughts in his his vast catalogue of superior work, but for a budding teenage prodigy they were brilliant.

Some of the covers work better than others. “I Pity The Fool” is an old Bobby Bland blues hit. Wonder’s vocal stays within that framework but he adds a blues guitar as the songs foundation. It proved to be a musical direction that he did not visit often enough as his career progressed. The best cover was the Otis Redding classic “Respect.” He takes the song in a rock direction and adds one of the better harmonica performances of his career.

One the other hand James Brown’s “Please Please Please” and the Temptations big hit, “My Girl,” are average at best and will always be associated with their originators. He also gave a bland performance on yet another Ray Charles song, “A Fool For You,”

I Was Made To Love Her”was a well-produced and for the most part, well-performed album from his formative years that is now often overlooked. If you are in the mood for some good music from the pre-superstar Stevie Wonder, this is a good album to explore.

Rating: ***

Ape Shifter (CD) By Ape Shifter

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Ape Shifter

Ape Shifter

Brainstorm Records

Review by David Bowling

 

Jeff Aug is not a name you might recognize. He is a Washington D.C. born guitarist who has lived the last 20 years in southern Germany. He has floated in and out of a number of bands, and as a solo artist has toured with such artists as Soft Machine, Johnny A, and Albert Lee. Also of interest is he holds the Guinness Book Of World Record for the most concerts performed on different continents within a 24 hour period.

His new band, Ape Shifter, is a basic progressive rock band with Aug as the guitarist with bassist Florian Walter, and drummer Kurty Munch. Their self-titled debut album is all instrumental, carried and fronted by Aug’s excursions with his guitar.

This is the edgiest music Aug has produced. He has issued three rock and one punk album with his former bands, plus eight acoustic albums. Now he has cranked up the sound and intensity and immersed himself in the world of progressive rock.

“Dead Tuna Boogie,” “Ratchet Attack,” “Desert Rock,” and “Brain-O-Mat” are solid and contain enough room for Aug to improvise over the tight rhythm section. A good listen for any fan of the sound and style.

Rating: ***