April 2016

Michelle Willis: See Us Through

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Submitted by Lee Fraser

This past Sunday night, Michelle Willis held back-to-back early and late CD release shows to introduce her first ever solo album, “See Us Through”. The fact that it’s her debut is pretty surprising, given the fact that Michelle has toured Europe, Canada and the US, and that every show she plays in her hometown of Toronto is filled to capacity with her adoring fans.

But debut album it is and it has been worth the wait. The Michelle Willis style of music is a little jazz, a little funk and a whole lot of amazing vocals. “See Us Through” is the kind of album that envelopes you in warmth and beauty. The lyrics lift you up, even if you are nowhere close to being down, and provide a solid footing of optimism and encouragement. The arrangements are very rich; most tracks have jazz-like percussion and rhythm. The guitar work of Thom Gill and the moody violin of Hugh Marsh are evidence of two incredibly talented musicians who know just what flair to add to a strong foundation. Michelle’s piano is playful while being sophisticated.

Alex Fisher Keepin’ It Real

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Submitted by Don Graham
CD Photo Credit: Meghan Herrington
Photo: Pat Blythe A Girl With a Camera

Real music, real passion, real songs, the real deal. Alex Fisher can say yes to all of the above. “I know I’m just starting my career and still have a long way to go and still have to prove myself but I’m trying real hard to build on a solid foundation. And I’m building from the ground up making sure there is honesty to my music, both in my songwriting and my delivery of the songs. I think one of the hardest things for a young artist to do is find his or her own identity, to not try and sound like anybody else and just be themselves.”

Otis Blackwell Great Balls of Fire!

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Submitted by Bill King

When you piece together the history of contemporary North American music, you discover composer/pianist Otis Blackwell is the rightful owner of the title, King of Rock 'n 'Roll. Throughout years, Blackwell's hit songs have been recorded by Elvis Presley - 'All Shook Up, Don't Be Cruel, Paralyzed, Return To Sender, Please Don't Drag That String (Around), One Broken Heart For Sale', Jerry Lee Lewis 'Great Balls Of Fire, Breathless, Let's Talk About Us', Little Willie John and Peggy Lee 'Fever', Dee Clark 'Just Keep It Up' and Jimmy Jones, Del Shannon and James Taylor, 'Handyman'.

I caught up with the mystery man in Nashville in 1987. Blackwell was walking about placing promotional flyers on tables. I just happen to witness and out of curiosity take the last one. After reading, I approached the humble man and asked if one day I could interview him. Bill King: You've been in the studio working on some new projects. What type of sounds are you recording? Otis Blackwell: Actually, I've been finishing up three albums. I'd been in Nashville recording and a fellow in Baltimore is helping me start a little record label. How is it up there?

B.K: Warm and rainy.

O.B: It's been raining like crazy here.

B.K: It can be a problem year after year in southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee. After the drought of '88, this must come as a surprise.

O.B: It's definitely a wet one.

Roy Roberts Greensboro Bluesman

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Submitted by Iain Patience

When Greensboro, North Carolina soul-bluesman Roy Roberts was just a kid he tried piano lessons for a while but just couldn't suffer the indignity of it all: 'I'd be sitting playing and it felt sort of '……a girls thing' to me, If you know what I mean. I'd be able to hear my buddies outside in the yard playing and hollering, having a great time. So I gave that up,' he explains.
A few years later, however, the young, budding musician discovered guitar, taught himself how to play and was out on the road gigging, a jobbing musician with a hunger to learn and develop as fast as he could. 'I think I was about 18 years old when I went out on the road,' he recalls, 'playing with Stevie Wonder, then known as Little Stevie Wonder.' And Roberts was still a young guy when he first met up with a guy who was to become his professional music mentor, taking him under his wing and teaching him the musical ropes - the late Solomon Burke.

'I joined Solomon's band and he sure took good care of me. I was always, and remain, the kind of guy who plays what is wanted of me. I don't do none of that "…..I only play what I want to play stuff," like lots of the guys around these days. If they're paying, they get to call the shots,' he says, with an evident disdain for the shameless self-promotion of many younger sidemen and band-members these days.

Eric Bibb & North Country Far with Danny Thompson: The Happiest Man In The World

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Submitted by Iain Patience

Eric Bibb may have good reason to be the Happiest Man in the World, with top quality music seemingly pouring from the guy on a regular basis. This is his second release inside twelve months, following hot on the heels of the highly acclaimed Lead Belly's Gold which featured French harp-man Jean Jacques Milteau and was released on the same label (Stony Plain in USA).

This time round, Bibb is joined by one of the finest double-bass players on the planet with England's Danny Thompson thumping along rhythmically throughout. Thompson has played with almost everyone of note in the modern roots/folk music world from his days with Pentangle, through Richard Thompson (no relation) and Scotland's late John Martyn.

The result, is pretty much as might be expected. An album of simply wonderful blues-tinged acoustic music featuring Bibb's distinctive and mellow vocals alongside his fine fretwork on both guitar and banjo. All fourteen tracks are penned by Bibb himself here, and as usual with the man he sticks to tradition at its core while always moving the music forward with thoughtful lyrics and plangent melodies that linger.

An absolute gem and a must-have album for lovers of Bibb and his refreshing style of acoustic roots/blues music.