Reviews

Toby Walker: Mileage

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Submitted by Iain Patience

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: On The Chicken Sandwich Train Live

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Submitted by Iain Patience

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.

www.markharrisonrootsmusic.com

Jamie Williams & The Roots Collective: 'Live 'N' Kickin'

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Submitted by Iain Patience

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.

www.jwroots.com

Brothers Brown: Dusty Road

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Submitted by Iain Patience

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.

CW Ayon: Enough To Be Proud

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Submitted By Iain Patience

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.

www.cwayon.com

Red Dirt Skinners Behind The Wheel

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Submitted by Iain Patience

The fourth studio album from the Red Dirt Skinners, an English husband and wife duo featuring Rob Skinner on guitar and his partner Sarah on Soprano Sax, is a welcome addition to the bands catalogue. Strong on harmony and driving, rhythmic fretwork from Rob, the whole project is driven forward by Sarah’s searing sax playing and innate sense of musical freedom.

The collection of nine self-written songs serves well to highlight the couple’s ability and a growing confidence evidenced in the maturity of the writing and the music itself. Genres and musical boundaries are pushed aside with a refreshing ease. Switching effortlessly from blues and jazz undertones to Americana and modern-country, the Skinners wheel and deal as they change tempo, pace and styles at almost every turn. This is not a band for die-hard, stuck in the groove, traditionalists.

With a lengthy forthcoming tour of Canada about to kick-off (March 25th) the Skinners are making their second trip to Canada and revel in the adrenalin-fuelled challenge of live performance. The only outfit in the UK to have picked up national awards in both blues and country music categories, the Red Dirt Skinners are a genuinely, sparkling and refreshing antidote to the world of musical blandness. The opening, title track is an excellent, rolling, lyrical number that is virtually guaranteed to keep you tuned in for the remainder of the ride. Highly recommended.

www.reddirtskinners.com

Matt Andersen: Honest Man

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Submitted by Iain Patience

Matt Andersen comes from Canada. He plays blues and soul music with class and confidence. His guitar-work is solid, soulful and tasty. Honest Man is an excellent album with bags of style and pizzaz, featuring ten self-written tracks that showcase the guy's artistry and emotion to full extent. What more is needed?

Andersen's voice is deeply steeped in southern soul and gospel tradition while his lyrics reflect his thoughts on personal relationships, be they good, bad or badder; love, life on the road and political/cultural processes across North America in general. The result is an unusually honest release that sparkles with common-sense, complexity and erudition at almost every turn.

Honest Man is an album that is not only simply very good. It's very good, indeed. A release that should, deservedly on this basis, elevate this guy's profile and provide delight to the rest of us.

Debbie Bond Shoals Sessions Enjoy The Ride

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Submitted by Iain Patience

Often likened to Bonnie Raitt, Alabama blues-lady Debbie Bond’s latest release, ‘Enjoy The Ride’, kicks off strongly with an upbeat, optimistic surge of soul and passion on the title track before shifting a few gears with introspective inner searching reaching out in tracks ‘Start With Love’, the dizzying despair and combative edge of ‘Left Me In The Dark’, and the reflective beauty of ‘Remedy’. Throughout, Bond’s fine fretwork is confident and compelling, carrying the whole mix along with power and purpose. Recorded in Muscle Shoals, with full-on horns and Shoals-sounding quality, ‘Enjoy The Ride’ is easily Bond’s finest effort to date, bursting with sensitivity and a soulful delivery that show heartache and hurt, love and loss will always be winning combinations.

Bond’s previous album, ‘That Thing Called Love’, featured her partner Radiator Rick Asherson on Harp and Keys, and he again figures strongly here. Her love and affection for the late Alabama bluesman Willie King, whom she played with for many years, is also evident with an excellent cover of one of his anthems, ‘I Am The Blues’ included in the mix. Add some quality support guitar flourished from Will McFarlane, (ex-Bonnie Raitt), Spooner Odham on organ, one of the US’s finest sidemen, and you have an album of considerable class, style and quality.

www.debbiebond.com

Benny Turner When She's Gone

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Submitted by Iain Patience

This is an excellent album, packed with real quality musicianship, vocals, material and soulful feeling. Turner is not just another bluesman but the brother of the late, legendary Freddie King. With this guy, we have a true bluesman, brought up in the tradition from a family that was positively steeped in the blues. The fourth release from Texan Turner, the ten tracks here include sure-fired soulful vocals and quality bass from Turner with some  subtle support from Muddy's old guitar support sideman player Bob Margolin.

Dr John even puts in a rare appearance on rhythm guitar on one track. Margolin displays his sheer quality and experience with a wonderful slide-based take on Bill Withers' hit standard Ain't No Sunshine, turning it on its head in places. For the past fifty or so years, Turner has been happy to skip the spotlights, working as bandleader for the former widely acclaimed Blues Queen of New Orleans, Marva Wright, (one track, Pity On This Lovesick Fool, features a duet recorded before she passed), and shoring up countless big-name players including a decade or so on bass, performing and touring with his late, elder brother Freddie King. Soul-blues music at its near best, When She's Gone showcases a master at the top of his game.

Jason Vivone & The Billy Bats The Avenue

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Submitted by Iain Patience

Another contender at this year's International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Jason Vivone & The Billy Bats were there to fly the flag for their home-town of Kansas City. The title is taken from a former Mafiosa retirement street in the burg where Vivone himself pitched up and bought a house back in the 90s.

This eight-track release reflects life and love, despair and hope in equal measures as lived on the Avenue over the years and features a full-blown seven-piece outfit with a soaring sense of humour and an astute eye on the world around them. Most tracks are written by Vivone himself and his slide-guitar work hints at more than a passing nod to the fretwork of former Kansas City resident picker Casey Bill Weldon. Vivone wields his beloved cigar-box guitar with style and clear class here, supported by some neatly pitched electric banjo - an otherwise troubling thought, perhaps - from Ben Hoppes.

The remainder of the band comprises Matt Bustamante in percussion, drums and backing vocals; Paula Crawford on backing vocals, percussion and guitar; Rick MacIvor again backing vocals, and keyboards, piano and organ; Jeremy Clark on bass, and Joanna Berkebile on percussion and vocals. This is a mighty fine album, a tad quirky in places and at turns but an overall charmer worth discovering.

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