In the mood for some European rockabilly? May I introduce you to Slapback Johnny, men of wealth and taste. They’ve been around for many a year (six) and stole many a maiden’s soul and faith. Their Hit Me Up debut on Rhythm Bomb Records is a rocket in your pocket and the fuse is lit. No covers. Just 13 high-velocity original rockabilly blasts fit for the times with classic-rock guitar solos, speed-zip punk attitude/rhythms and metal volume. They must like to break stuff. Might this be the best damn rock record of 2018? It’s certainly in the conversation, as it simply does not let up. If you play it really loud, you will, indeed, frighten your neighbors. Guitar. Bass. Drums.
The Roots & Branches (213 Music) of singer/songwriter/author Darryl Holter go deep, so deep, in fact, he needed two bands to flesh out his vision. The first is a rustic acoustic “Roots” band which features a Woody Guthrie paean of sorts, “Highway 66” and a cover of The Carter Family’s 1936 “No Depression In Heaven” (as well as his original answer song “New Depression.”) The electric “Branches” band covers two by Tom Petty and ends with the hidden original “20/20 Vision” which tries to fathom why people would vote for the current White House monster. Motivated by politics, filled with guest vocalists, these Roots & Branches spread ever outward.
The various artists on Koko Mojo’s excellent series of early-rock/soul compilations continue on Cockroach Run And Other Funny Games by 28 artists you never heard of but will absolutely love. The laughs come a mile-a-minute on such rare and rockin’ sides as “Possum Belly Overalls,” “Jack, You’re Dead,” “Rent’s Too High,” ”You Look Bad,” “Topless” and “Yo Yo” by such regional wonders as Popcorn Wiley, Jolly Jax Trio, Joe McCoy & His Real McCoys, Bo Dudley, Tabby Thomas, Cousin Joe, Wailing Bethea & The Captains, The Table Toppers, Choker Campbell and, my favorite, Rolls Royce & The Wheels.
One of the better blues albums of recent vintage has to be You Stole My Heart (DAS Entertainment), by Dennis Herrera, a rollicking, satisfying all-original 11-track barn-burner from this debonair California singer/songwriter/guitarist/producer. He’s got Major League help from 10 seasoned pros providing sax, harmonica, piano, organ, bass, drums and percussion, all highlighting Herrera’s soulful vocals and stinging guitar. Highly Recommended.
He came out of St. Louis fully-formed, a local hero who’d blow ‘em away night after night in that town’s rowdy clubs. After a Houston sojourn, he returned to Missouri and put out a stunning series of albums which included the Devon Allman-produced Grindin 2014 and the 2016 Blues Heart Attack. Neither album, though, can stand up to the Mike Zito-produced Straitjacket (Ruf Records). Jeremiah Johnson is the real deal, a honky-tonk hero for the blues just like ol’ Waylon was for outlaw-country. It took 20 years for Jeremiah to make this, his masterpiece. It rocks. It rolls. It swings. It bops. It ends with a heartfelt cover of “Rock’n’Roll Music To The World,” Ten Years After’s 1972 anthem. Highly Recommended.
Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne is Inspired By The Blues (Stony Plain Records). For his fourth such party, he has harmonicat Billy Branch and guitarist Duke Robillard along for the ride to add oomph to his already smokin’ band (which includes longtime BB King bassist Russell Jackson). He wrote it all (except a live version of “Georgia On My Mind” from a concert in Mexico that was just so good he had to include it). He produced it too. And what a voice! Soothing, rocking, salivating, spitting, reaching and soulfully palpitating, this “Boss,” already in the Boogie Woogie Hall Of Fame, tickles the ivories with aplomb while vocalizing so righteous, you just have to believe every word. Plus, he pays a particular tribute to Fats Domino [1928-2017] on highlight “Mr. Blueberry Hill.” The horns pump, the bass pops, the guitars sting and you can hear the sweat and blood of the 30 years he’s spent criss-crossing the globe.
Take a little trip down to New Orleans with Greg Diaz & The Art Of Imagination Jazz Orchestra as they Begin The Ogora. “Brother John/Second Line Strut/Iko Iko” is the highlight of their five-track debut that features this 17-piece big-band on material all arranged, produced, released and mostly written by Floridian Diaz, who plays sax, flute and clarinet. Starting with Kevin Eubanks’ 1985 “The Navigator” and ending with the epic 10:59 title track, Diaz takes his listener through blues, post-bop and Gulf Coast Soul in a highly-invigorating and totally satisfying set that should pave the way for more. Bravo!
Long Live Them Blues (Connor Ray Music) by Dry Johnson has it all. Dry Johnson—bassist Terry Dry and drummer Matthew Robert Johnson—has been the rhythm section for Houston honky-tonk hero Mike Zito for years. (If you like Delbert McClinton, you’ll love Mike Zito). The pair has been itching to make their own record with some of the folks they’ve worked with, thus, Zito duets with red hot mama Annika Chambers on the sizzling opener “Daddy’s Got A Cadillac.” The highlights come early and often. The guests read like a Houston who’s who: this town, more than most, is steeped to the gills in Texas Blues. The Mighty Orq (slide guitar) and Steve Krase (blues harp) are on hand to help kick off Trudy Lynn’s vocals on the title track. Orq sings “Too Many Hipsters.” Johnny Guitar Watson’s 1983 “Hit The Highway” features John “Del Toro” Richardson. My faves have to be “Drunk Girl With A Tambourine” and “Trashy Women & Cheap Guitars.” Wholeheartedly Recommended. This one’s a party.
Someday Baby(Ghetto Surf Music) by singer/songwriter/guitarist/arranger/co-producer/band leader Billy Hector, features his blistering slide work on songs heavily inspired by the blues of the Mississippi Delta (despite him being from New Jersey) as well as loud electric Blues-Rock. He plays a vintage Fender Strat, and after decades of gigs, has morphed into that which he obviously started out emulating. In other words, he’s the real deal, geography be damned. “Butt Naked And Funk,” “Bareback,” “Whiskey” and “Creeper” are the highlights of a 13-track party but coming up fast the more I listen to this thing are two classics—“Alabama Bound” from 1909 and Blind Willie Johnson’s 1930 “On Your Bond”—that have been making me smile from the first listen on.