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More Blues album reviews: Carolyn Wonderland, Ricci/Krown, BadNews Barnes and Dave Specter

Welcome to Wonderland on Alligator Records, Chris Barnes writes his own Hokum, Mike Zito puts Jason Ricci and Joe Krown together and the Result is Magic, Dave Spector celebrates 30 Years on Delmark Records!


Carolyn Wonderland

     Houston singer/songwriter/guitarist Carolyn Wonderland has friends in high places. Bob Dylan loves her. Asleep At The Wheel’s Ray Benson and Michael Nesmith of The Monkees produced her. Townes Van Zandt swapped songs with her. Doug Sahm convinced her to move to Austin. Willie Nelson jammed with her. John Mayall took her on the road as his lead guitarist for 50 shows in 60 days in 19 countries. She plays astonishing electric lead guitar, trumpet, accordion, lap steel, piano and mandolin. She’s been described as a cross between fellow Texans Stevie Ray Vaughan and Janis Joplin.
     Her Alligator Records debut is a smash. Dave Alvin of The Blasters produced Tempting Fate and plays guitar. He calls her vocals “spine-tingling.” Her guitar moans, flies, shrieks and cries. She duets with Jimmie Dale Gilmore on some Dylan. New Orleans queen Marcia Ball plays piano. Ever since her 2001 Alcohol & Salvation debut, she’s raised her game to the pristine point of stardom. Now the rest of the world just has to catch on. This should help.

Dave Spector

     Six String Soul: 30 Years on Delmark has singer/songwriter/guitarist/producer Dave Specter celebrating his three decades of Chicago blues on one label with this 28-track 2-disc career retrospective…and it’s a gem. Remastered with an ear for detail, it sounds great. Dude’s been at it since ’85, has played all over the world, served his apprenticeship with Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Pinetop Perkins and Otis Rush. He’s played for presidents, governors and mayors. Lovingly compiled from his 12 albums and a few of his 50+ sideman gigs, his eclecticism stands out, be it soul, jazz, rock or funk but it’s all so deliciously blues-drenched. (Watch him strut his stuff with the legendary Jorma Kaukonen below.) 

Ricci Krown

     St. Louis Blues-Rock Guitar Hero Mike Zito’s Gulf Coast Records has put out City Country City, the duo debut of Ricci/Krown. Drenched in New Orleans joyousness, Jason Ricci blows harp and sings up a storm while Joe Krown, on loan from Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s band, is a keyboard whiz. The feel is early ‘60s retro. Krown played piano in the band of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown until his 2005 passing, then went on the road with Mavis Staples and Allen Toussaint. With credits like that, you just know this will be hot hot hot. And you’d be right. Besides their soulful bluesy originals, they dip into the songbooks of jazzmen Joe Sample and Grant Green while shining on some blues by Charles Brown and Taj Mahal. They even close with the best damn version of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode To Billy Joe” I’ve ever heard.



Chris bad News Barnes

     Chris “Bad News” Barnes is at it again! Every album this dude puts out hits the right notes. BadNews Rising (VizzTone Label Group) continues his bawdy tradition of keeping the hokum flame alive. Hokum started in minstrel shows around 1830 and settled into the blues where it became wildly popular, originally sold under-the-counter in brown paper bags, with songs like 1928’s “It’s Tight Like that” by Tampa Red (ironically written by Thomas A. Dorsey, the father of gospel music). Check out the 2017 Hokum Blues album by Barnes for a rollicking good time. Now, he’s composing them himself. This former Seinfeld writer still has the wit and the chops for such autobiographical fare as “I Slow-Danced With Joni Mitchell,” “Chicks Dig Me,” “I Like Cleavage” and “Texas Weiner.”