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.
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.
Josh Harty is a mid-West, singer-songwriter with a keen eye, observant lyrics and a fine, driving guitar-style that pulses with feeling and fire. "Holding On" is his fifth or sixth offering, full of sly takes on life, love, the trials and pleasures rare of a journeyman musician's time out on the road, and just about everything in between.
Harty's fretwork is crisp, zingy and always compelling, catching you unawares almost, at times, with hints of traditional country in the mix; Chet seems to hang in the background balance at times, followed by ole Doc Waltson before he twists the tail, snapping free with a trace of Knopfler at his best and a clear grip of the very fundementals of good quality modern country music/Americana.
His lyrics cast a thoughtful eye on all the usual themes with a laconic feel that at times conjures up the spirit of Hank Williams Jnr or Kris Kristofferson mixed with John Prine. Whatever the theme, whatever the thought, he always hits the spot in "Holding On" with deliciously rhythmic drive and melodies that linger in the mind long after the disc has reached its close.
Harty is one of those genuine guys, a jobbing musician who travels almost constantly, chasing a dream, a rainbow, a whiff of challenge or change, always with one ear open for the next passing lyrical train that he might just pull into. "Holding On" is an album well worth discovering if you've yet to catch this guy. For the rest of us, it's simply a very nice release indeed.
"49 Minutes...Of The Best We Have!" marks the 6th release for the Johnny Max Band, a 2X JUNO Award & multiple Maple Blues Award nominee.
Well known as Johnny Max, the host of Sunday Morning Soul, playing the best in brand new Blues and Roots, he holds the seat of a syndicated radio show that prides itself in playing ‘Where Good Music Lives’. (www.sundaymorningsoul.com).
"49 Minutes...Of The Best We Have!" has an offering of 12 great tracks, all taken from the Johnny Max Band's most recent 3 releases, with the lions share, six in total, being chosen from their 2010 "It's A Long Road" album, which was a strong release on its own.
All well-crafted and well-produced it is no wonder Johnny Max has garnered attention in the international markets.
Reminiscent of Mac Rebennack piano, Max has a style all his own on “Daddy’s Little Girl”; with plenty of bottom and vocal growls, great guitar licks and solid backbeat percussions, a solid glimpse of what is left to come on this CD.
“(You’re A) Lesson I’ve Learned” is a great blues swing track, catch the live version at the Beaches Jazz Festival to see The Johnny Max Band give it a go.
We often hear the cliché “the third time’s the charm”. Well, there is some truth in that remark, and it proves to be so with release number three by The Bey Paule Band, NOT GOIN’ AWAY. This musically, rich creation of twelve Soul and Blues songs, includes ten original expressions and two thoughtfully chosen covers. Most of the members of The Bey Paule Band mingled their talents in the art of co-writing. More so than with the very successful, previous releases YOU DON’T KNOW NOTHING, and SOUL FOR YOUR BLUES, the creation of NOT GOIN’ AWAY was a group effort. Frank Bey’s hypnotic vocals, and Anthony Paule’s lofty guitar playing, are energetically supported by, Paul Revelli, drums & percussion; Paul Olguin, bass; Tony Lufrano, keyboards; Nancy Wright, tenor sax; Mike Rinta, trombone; and the one and only new comer Tom Poole, trumpet. The Bay Paule Band’s out-of-this-world horn arrangements are the fierce inspirations of Mike Rinta and Anthony Paule. This is probably a good time to note a small change. The band’s name, it’s shorter, easier to say, and easier to remember. How cool is that? The Frank Bey & Anthony Paule Band, will from this point forward be known as The Bey Paule Band. Black Bottom: Part of what I love about working with Frank is hearing him talk about his very interesting life. It was only a matter of time before the song needed to be written.
Here it is, in all its glory, from childhood to present time as told by the boys.
New Jersey-based Toby Walker started out on the road many moons ago under the moniker Little Toby Walker, a title he’s long outgrown. With this latest release, ‘Mileage’, he again shows just how astonishingly talented he is. Easily one of the finest acoustic guitarists in the blues and roots world, he simply grows stronger with every album.
I’ll confess to being a huge fan of this guy’s wonderful music and have the pleasure of knowing him well. That aside, however, since first discovering him, following a tip-off from a US buddy of mine many, many years ago, I’ve constantly been surprised by the sheer quality of each release and the clear, evident improving fret mastery he displays.
While many pickers seem to reach a plateau and then sit on their butts seldom moving further or exploring musical possibilities, Walker is always exploring, changing, charging ahead; at times he sounds like ole Doc Watson as he cross-picks, fingerpicks and switches effortlessly from Americana, folk with an Irish edge to straight blues. Tracks included here in this seventeen-track disc include his own compositions, ‘See My Grave Is Kept Clean’, Irish reels, Daley’s Reel/Stoney Lonesome and even an exceptional and surprising solo take on Fats Waller’s old classic, ‘Lulu’s Back In Town’ and Muddy’s marvelous ‘She Moves Me.’
Mark Harrison is an English acoustic guitarist with his heart and soul in the Deep South of Mississippi, The Delta and the blues in general. The title of this, his latest release, comes from the vitals many old black musicians and share-cropping migrants carried on the long rail journey North to the anticipated riches of Chicago and other northern cities where developing industry offered a possible income and escape from the grinding poverty of the southern states of the USA in the pre-war years.
Harrison is an all round entertainer, a troubadour who has wit and an evidently astute understanding of his favourite music and its extraordinary history. With twenty-two tracks here, mostly self-penned, he displays a rare talent and enjoyably quirky squint at themes and topics often ignored by his acoustic picking peers.
For me, at least, three tracks positively stand out as gems of the genre, all his own compositions and clear illustrations of his style and ability – ‘Big Mary’s House’; Crematorium Blues’ and the wonderful, funereal ‘Your Second Line.’
Harrison is genuinely remarkable in many ways. He doesn’t just play blues with a traditional touch but instead moves it on, always thoughtful and complex with, at times, hints of musical trickery. He shakes the music by the scruff of the neck and with Chicken Sandwich Train succeeds in delivering an excellent, sparkling album of striking originality. Highly recommended.
Jamie Williams & The Roots Collective is a six-piece English outfit with a firm grasp on modern Americana with underlying blues and rock influences clearly part of its make-up. 'Live 'N' Kickin' is just that: a live recording, recorded at the 2015 Cropredy Fringe Festival (Cropredy is the annual home of the official Fairport Convention folk-roots bash) at the Brasenose Arms, a bar known to love this kind of kickin' music.
All fourteen tracks featured here are written by band-leader, Jamie Williams himself and range across the blues/rock/country/Americana gamut while positively pulsing with good-humour, stylish ouches and sheer joi de vivre. This is a noisy band, not a faint-heart in sight or sound. Almost everything in this melodic mix rocks and rolls, music to get people on their feet, to dance with and to.
Having been together for around five years, the current line-up is settled, sure-footed and satisfying. Williams leads on rhythm-guitar and vocals with strong, explosive at times, support from Lizzie B on acoustic guitar; Dave 'The Hat' Milligan on lead-guitar; Kev 'The Rock' Warner on bass; Nick 'Nix' Garner on harp, and Spencer Blackledge keeping the beat together on drums.
All in all this is a promising live album full to bursting with thumping, fiery tracks and up-tempo modern Americana music. A great discovery.
The Brothers Brown is a hard-rocking, blues four piece led by two Grammy-winning frontmen, both named Paul Brown. Despite the potential for confusion here, the music is loud and clear, begging attention from the first searing note to the last. Make no mistake, this is band that knows how to move and then some.
'Dusty Road' is a debut release from a four-piece band with immediate and evident quality, talent, class and style. There's a shining confidence to the music here and an understanding of just what it takes to make the grade in the hard music business. All tracks are self-penned and the Brothers Brown already have enough material squirreled away for another, follow-up, sophomore release in the future.
With members' roots falling between Nashville and LA for the most part, the range of genres covered here includes straight rock, R&B, through blues, jazz and even hints of Americana. While both Paul Browns have picked up Grammys for their work as producers, guitarists and keyboardists in the past, the rest of the band have also been equally and impressively busy with bassist David Santos working with Billy Joel, Elton John, John Fogerty and others, while drummer Peter Young has toured with Loretta Lynn, The Burrito Brothers and others.
This is an 11-track album drawing strongly and positively on the renowned blues music of the Mississippi hills. CW, or Cooper, Ayon is a part-Cherokee native American from New Mexico who wields a guitar with purpose while beating out a rhythm with his free feet on drum and cymbal – a one-man band of some note and compleity with a wayward and deceptively simple guitar style that more than hints at his musical pedigree and love of the Deep South blues tradition.
The overall feel of this recording is decidedly acoustic while the actual fretwork leans to the light, soulful electric playing style of late – period pickers like Texas wizard Lightnin’ Hopkins, albeit hitting it here as a one-man-band!
The one-man-band format seems to be going through something of a rebirth at the moment, gaining new fans and popularity with a new wave of music lovers.
Ayon is quickly establishing himself as an international master of the style and Enough To Be Proud is a mighty fine addition to that particular musical cannon.
A style that relies heavily of necessity on open guitar tunings, this album is a splendid example of just how good well-worn tradition can be when played with passion and spirit.