Go, Just Do It! (Stony Plain Records), by Boogie Woogie Hall Of Famer/keyboardist/arranger/producer Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne, rocks like a bitch. He wrote 10 new tunes—the best of which are “Sorry Ain’t Good Enough,” “Motor Mouth Woman” and the closing anthem “Let The Rock Roll”—as well as covering two by Percy Mayfield (“You’re In For A Big Surprise” and “I Don’t Want To Be The President”) and one by JJ Cale (“They Call Me The Breeze,” also famously interpreted by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Johnny Cash and Eric Clapton). He’s got a rampaging band behind his piano, organ and vocals. Former BB King bassist and Blues Hall of Famer Russell Jackson pops that thing right alongside drummer Joey “The Pocket” DiMarco to create one propulsive rhythmic attack while Yuji Ihara spews out the electric lead guitar solos like a madman. Plus, one cannot underestimate the ferocious harmonica contribution of Sherman “Tank” Doucette. Add horns, guest vocals and a guest rapper and you’ve got a party.
Muddy Waters wrote “Gypsy Woman” in 1947. Is it sacrilegious to say that its newest version as the title track of The Gypsy Woman Told Me (VizzTone Records), by John Primer & Bob Corritore, is even better than the original? Doubling down on that premise, will I become a pariah as a bluesologist to venture the thought that their update on “Keep A-Driving,” the 1958 b-side by Chuck “King Of The Stroll” Willis is, again, better than the original? Ditto for their versions of JJ Cale (“I Got The Same Old Blues”), Rice Miller (“My Imagination”) and Jimmy Reed (“Let’s Get Together”). There’s just something about Primer’s voice that cuts through the hype to achieve a real Chicago church-of-the-blues spirituality. And when put with Corritore’s blistering harmonica, they’re like an electric/urban version of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. With a host of great players like Primetime Smith, Billy Flynn, Bob Welsh, Kid Andersen, Ben Levin and others, blues fans owe it to themselves to revel in the real. This is as good as it gets.
I’ll never forget seeing singer/songwriter/guitarist/pianist/producer Peter Karp and Sue Foley at Godfrey Daniels in Bethlehem PA. The room was as small as someone’s living room and those two blew my mind with their chemistry, vocals and sure-shot dose of passionate soul, blues and Americana. I thought they’d be another Delaney & Bonnie. That said, the new Peter Karp album, Magnificent Heart (Rose Cottage Records) is aptly titled. Karp’s heart is as big as the Grand Canyon and it shines clean on through his compositions: all 13 of them. His voice is like hearing the return of an old friend. His guitar chops still ring with clarity. There’s a reason former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor once said of Karp, “guys like [him] embody Americana Blues, and us English guys are inspired by it.”
His songs are populated, as he says, by characters “doomed or redeemed.” Plus, he’s literary. He wrote “Sitting On The Edge Of The World” after reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a 2006 father-son novel eerily prescient to America in 2020 (post-apocalyptic humor is in demand these days). He read it in Germany while he was staying in Hamburg’s red-light district where “the perfume of the street walkers and the ghosts of the young Beatles” permeated his senses. He wrote “Face The Wind” while living in Turkey. He made “Scared” into a song from a poem by his late wife.
Add Kim Wilson of The Fabulous Thunderbirds on blues-harp and 11 other unerring musicians and you’ve got a contender for Album Of The Year.
When the Backtrack Blues Band wraps his muscles around Jimmy Reed’s “Natural Born Lover” on their terrific Your Baby Has Left (VizzTone Records), all hell breaks loose. The other eight barnburners are by singer/harmonicat Sonny Charles and singer/lead guitarist Kid Royal. This is some quintet! They play it fast and tight and are backed by two horns, two back-up singers and that liquid wash of Hammond B-3. There’s really not a whole hell of a lot of blues bands that sound like this: combining aspects of Chicago blues, Texas Blues with a Southern Rock base for a song like “Dixie Grill” with its slide-pump horns and barrelhouse honky-tonk boogie-woogie pianistics. Drummer Joe Bencomo is as in-the-pocket as one can get while Little Johnny Walter’s propulsive rhythmic funky guitar gives the mix its thick middle. And they ain’t kidding when they end it with “Times Is Hard.” Wholeheartedly Recommended.
Tryin’ To Get To You (EllerSoul Records), the 30th album by The Nighthawks, continues the amazing run of front-man Mark Wenner, whose blues-harp has detonated this Washington DC band from its 1972 inception on. They’ve had seven lead guitarists through the years (including Warren Haynes) with Dan Hovay stinging and bending the strings for the last three years. Drummer/Composer Mark Stutso is in his second decade. Bassist Paul Pisciotta auditioned in 1974 but had to wait until 2018 to hold down the bottom. Alongside scintillating covers of T-Bone Walker, James Brown, Los Lobos, Hank Ballard, The Manhattans, Rockabilly Roy Hall, Chairmen Of The Board and Elvis Presley, they’ve also written a new batch of roots-rockin’ bluesy burners—closing with the organic, earthy and acoustic original “The Cheap Stuff”—that will only buttress their already sterling reputation.
Oregonian Tom Gilberts goes the power trio route on Old School (Polymerase Records) with 12 all-original bursts of his electric lead guitar, the drums of powerhouse timekeeper Brian Foxworth and booming bassist Dave Captain. Gilberts shreds as if the Irish ghosts of Rory Gallagher and Gary Moore invaded his American soul. He writes about what he knows: “Ass, Gas Or Grass” is a highlight as are “My Paper Bag” and “The Fuzz.” These three act as a well-oiled machine to keep up the intensity throughout.
The tape was rolling on the north side of Chicago when vocalist/guitarist/songwriter/entertainer/bandleader bluesman Linsey Alexander, 77, rocked out for two nights Live At Rosa’s (Delmark Records) with a second guitarist, bassist, drummer and keyboardist pummeling the enthusiastic crowds with classics from BB King, Freddie King, Junior Wells and six originals. Oh, to have been there either night to witness this stunning display of virtuosity and personality in a city that’s synonymous with the blues itself on a label that specializes in historic live performances. Born in Mississippi, raised in Memphis, having played with Buddy Guy, he hit Chicago running in ’63 and hasn’t looked back. Guess it’s time to discover more Linsey Alexander, namely Two Cats (2017), Come Back Baby (2014) and Been There Done That (2012).