By Mike Greenblatt
When singer-songwriter-saxophonist Nancy Wright gets ahold of Allen Toussaint’s 1975 “What Do You Want The Girl To Do,” she becomes the girl. When she revitalizes the 1957 “I Don’t Want No Man” hit by the Bobby Blue Bland Blues Band, it’s a fierce call of independence. And when she orders some piece of trailer park trash to “Keep Your Hands Off Of Him” (the 1955 hit by Big Jay McShann), you best believe her. Between her stinging originals, and her encyclopedic knowledge of just what cool songs to resurrect, dust off and transcend, Wright, captured here in-concert at San Francisco’s most hallowed hall, The Saloon, knocks ‘em dead, raising the roof in total blues hysteria. Of course, it helps to have a skin-tight band so with her guitar/bass/drums/keyboards Rhythm and Roots Band pumping away behind her stellar vocals and her own King Curtis/Junior Walker-styled sax, you don’t have to leave your house to be so blown away.
The Lemonade (Fishhead Records) of Bobby Messano (featuring Bob Malone) is delicious. Messano is a hotshot guitar ace from New Jersey who has recorded and toured with Steve Winwood, Clarence Clemons and Peter Criss. He has nine solo albums, the latest of which has him teaming with producer/keyboardist Bob Malone for a 10-track party (all original except for the beautiful ending of “Find The Cost Of Freedom” by Stephen Stills). From his “Junk Jam” and “It’s Just The Money That’s Missing” to “I’m Tired Of Writing The Blues” (the three highlights), Messano belts out these songs while going ferocious on electric lead guitar. He writes the kind of songs that linger between your ears long after the music stops.
Little Walter [1930-1968] packed a lot of living in his mere 37 years yet his harmonica still stands tall. As testament to that fact, Roots And Branches: The Songs Of Little Walter (Alligator Records) takes the songs most closely identified with him as interpreted by Billy Branch & The Sons Of The Blues in a jam-packed blistering bar-band stomper. (The closing track, “Remembering Little Walter,” is by his daughter Marion Diaz.) Branch is the rightful heir to the throne. He learned from the greats: James Cotton, Junior Wells, Carey Bell and Big Walter Horton. Willie Dixon picked him to be part of The Chicago Blues All-Stars. His harp has graced albums by Johnny Winter, Koko Taylor and Lou Rawls. Here, he rampages through “Nobody But You,” “Mellow Down Easy,” “My Babe,” “Blues With A Feeling” and 10 more juke-joint jumpers that you probably know from their more-famous cover versions by a host of blues-drenched rock stars.
One could make an argument that Cliff Stevens does Eric Clapton better than Eric Clapton these days (the Montreal-based singer/songwriter/guitarist has taken his Clapton show throughout Canada and Europe). There’s no covers at all, though, on his self-released self-produced fourth album. Nobody But You is just hard-edged blues-rock where he sings up a storm and attacks his six-string like a man possessed fronting his skin-tight guitar/bass/drums/keyboards band. For the last 35 years, he’s been performing at festivals to thousands at a pop, toured Europe seven times, and traversed Mexico and Morocco to put his Music Masters Degree to good use (then there was that one gig in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in front of 14 drunks). C’mon Cliff, come to the States!
Singer/Songwriter/Saxophonist Terry Hanck, 75, says I Still Get Excited (VizzTone) and no wonder! He’s got a whipsaw rockin’ band and the kind of sound that straddles the New Orleans, Chicago and Memphis brands of blues. Plus, he’s got Norwegian prodigy Kid Anderson, 39, producing and playing guitar, bass, keyboards and percussion. He’s also got blues-harpist extraordinaire Rick Estrin, 69, spewing out the spit and one of the greatest of the ‘60s white female blues singers, Tracy Nelson, 74, on “Spring.” His originals rock but it’s his well-chosen covers that rule the roost: Louis Jordan’s 1947 “Early In The Morning,” Howlin’ Wolf’s 1960 “Howling For My Darling,” Lightnin’ Hopkins’ 1961 “Feel So Bad” and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson’s 1962 “Hold It Right There.” Wholeheartedly Recommended.
That bad bitch is back and she Won’t Stay Down on her self-produced self-released third EP where she coughs up with plenty of phlegm her five originals and demands to be heard. A longtime Nashville blues-buster who usually holds court at the Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar, Lauren Anderson is ready for her close-up. Forget the fact that she worked her tail off for a Masters Degree in Music Therapy from the University of Kansas. Forget her Chicago roots or her promising 2014 debut EP Do & Hope, the 2015 Truly Me full-length or the 2017 The Game EP. Her time is now. Nothing matters except the fact that this exceptionally talented singer-songwriter Won’t Stay Down.
“Cake” flips the 12-bar blues on its ass with funky brass. “I want my rock’n’roll career/I want my Hollywood premiere,” she shout-sings like someone who’s paid enough dues and knows it’s finally time to collect. “You can push and pull me but I won’t stay down,” she snarls on the title track. And it’s fulltime 100% boogie on the closing “Wild & Free.” Is she as much of a hellcat as she sounds here? Those in St. Louis will find out August 25 when she brings her band to BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups. On August 24, she’ll be in Davenport Iowa at The Alternating Currents Festival. August 23 she’ll be in Omaha Nebraska at The B Bar. August 22 she’ll be on Tulsa time at Soul City. She’s bound to rock your socks off.
My Chops Are Rolling (EllerSoul Records), by Jason Ricci & The Bad Kind, is a party. Ricci, the singer/songwriter/harmonica player extraordinaire who graced Johnny Winter’s 2015 Grammy Award-winning Step Back album and who also blew the house down when he played that same year at the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony for Paul Butterfield, is a ballsy character not above adding a New Orleans Saints fight song like “Fuck The Falcons” right before an instrumental Led Zeppelin cover of “Going To California.” The Bad Kind blow it up on almost every track here but the highlight has to be a scintillating cover of Barbara Lynn’s 1968 “If You Should Lose Me (You’ll Lose A Good Thing).”