Tia McGraff: Crazy Beautiful

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Submitted by Don Graham

Every time I get to review a Tia McGraff album it’s always the same feeling. ‘this is the best one yet” and Crazy Beautiful is no different. This album IS the best yet from Tia and her musical and life partner Tommy Parnham. There is no doubt that Tia is one of Americana’s gifted singer songwriters and Tommy is a gifted musician and producer. . Crazy Beautiful was recorded in Austin, Texas Nashville, Tennessee, and Southern Ontario in Canada. The album features Grammy Award winning  musicians Cindy Cashdollar, Dave Sanger,  from Asleep At The Wheel ,Tommy Harden who played with Reba, Dave Labruyere from  John Mayer’s band  and also involved were  Juno and Grammy award winning engineers Nick Blagona and Rick DeLellis. Crazy Beautiful was  mixed and master by Nick Blagona and produced by Tommy Parham, with all songs written by  Tia McGraff and Tommy Parham.

Crazy Beautiful is the title of the album as well as a track on the CD but could be referring to the quality of the songs, the clean production, the “ voice like liquid honey” vocals or just the lead singer. All are applicable.

This is the album Tia and Tommy were born to make should be a major breakthrough for them.  The opening track “What a Heart Must Do is pop/.country tune, radio friendly in sound and lyric. Well done.

The Darkness: Last of Our Kind

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Submitted by Lenny Stoute

It was easy to make fun of The Darkness when they debuted in 2003, with Justin Hawkins' over the top semi-operatic vocals drawing all kinds of outlandish comparisons, one fave being 'John Cleese doing Freddy Mercury ' and 'the reincarnation of Spinal Tap.'  The chuckles died down when Permission to Land, went straight up to number two in the UK charts upon its release on 7 July 2003, before going to number one and staying there for four weeks, eventually going on to sell 1.5 million copies in the UK. What followed was the classic rock'n'roll path to fame and then down the other side, with albums two and three not hitting with as much impact, and Justin Hawkins departure for a stint in rehab after which he left the band.

That was then and this is 2015 and even though they recently went through three drummers in a year, Last of Our Kind brims with the swagger, confidence and clever songwriting which marked their early music. The Darkness were never shy about wearing their influences on their sleeves so consequently you get yer AC/DC power riffage, (“Open Fire”, “Mudslide”), Queen-ly anthems (“Mighty Wings”, “Roaring Waters”), some Metallica flavor (“Barbarian”), some woozy Stones-y blues rock (“Wheels Of The Machine”, “Hammer & Tongs”) and Aerosmith would be proud to call the stomping 'Mudslide' their own.

Ron Korb Asia Beauty

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Submitted by Don Graham

Canadian flutist Ron Korb has travelled around the world collecting bamboo and various ethnic indigenous flutes. Reflecting Celtic, Asian, classical, jazz and Latin influences, his music embodies the diverse cultures, traditions and experiences of his travels.

Korb has kept his reputation as the master of Asian flutes in good standing with his latest effort “Asia Beauty”.  This new offering is confirmation on every level, beginning with the packaging, a digi-book CD cover filled  with incredible photography and  stunning music to soothe and seduce the spirit.

The album contains nineteen tracks and three bonus tracks, about  twenty  performers, and an array of different  of instruments flutes, erhu, guqin, guzheng, harp, piano, violin, African kalimba, drums and accordion.

“Asia Beauty” starts with the alluring Hanoi Café, which alerts the listener into knowing that this album will provide an interesting and moving journey.

The following tracks 2 right through to 8 are based on Korb’s own Jade Dragon Flute and The House of Five Beauties tales with The Journey Begins starting things off featuring a duet with Korb on flute and long-time friend and collaborator Donald Quan on piano introducing us to the House of Five Beauties.

Alabama Shakes Sound & Color

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Submitted by Lenny Stoute

They don't get more cranked up than Brittany Howard, a comfortably built former postal worker who brings major muscle to her intense vocalising. When the   lady and her Athens, Alabama band Alabama Shakes turned out debut album Boys & Girls in 2012, the world went 'Whoa' for the front-porch geetar slinging , casual confidence of players at home in a lot of styles and the instant appeal of familiar-sounding songs such as Hold On, a creature of soulful swamp rock, with a craw full of garage gravel and voodoo blues.

Three years later they're still muchly that in the aesthetics but on Sound & Color there's so much, much more to work with. F'r instance, while Howard's been previously compared to such as Etta James and Janis Joplin, Howard's shift here is towards  Curtis Mayfield, Prince, Marvin Gaye and Erykah Badu.

The song , Future People, encapsulates many of the changes defining the current state of Alabama Shakes. It rides on two very different  guitar lines from Howard and Heath Fogg  and when Howard breaks out the vocals, it isn't the usual powerhouse belt but a falsetto croon which takes us through this tale of meeting dearly departed friends and family as spirit guides. Then its chorus time and a chest thumping funky bass line arrives for one more changeup.

Micke Bjorklof: & Blue Strip Ain't Bad Yet

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Submitted by Iain Patience

A rollickin' rowdy bit of quality blues with a rock edge from Scandinavia, a land with a deep, entrenched love of the music, currently producing some artists, bands and music of real interest. Micke Bjorklof & Blues Strip is a five piece outfit with wailing Harp, tasteful guitar licks and powerful, trenchant vocals from Bjorklof himself. All eleven tracks are penned by band members and work well, as might be expected from a band that has remained unchanged for the better part of twenty years and scooped the award for Best Band at this year's annual Blues Awards competition in their native Finland.

From the band's inception in 1991 as an acoustic blues-rock cover band, Bjorklof and co-founder bassist Seppo Nuolikoski have steadily moved increasingly towards the tempting sound and zing of electric guitar-led work and technology. The result is a band with a rolling, boiling electric sound and a tight, controlled cohesion, and with this release, recorded at Wales' legendary Rockfield Studios and produced by John Porter -  a guy with ten Grammy winning albums below his belt who has worked with Buddy Guy, BB King, Santana, Keb Mo and Taj mahal, among others - they have certainly come of age. Pace and variety blend perfectly here to produce an album of solid quality musicianship and interest. Definitely well worth a listen.

Krossborder Kompilation Vol 2: The Best British Blues

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Submitted by Iain Patience

At last, a compilation album that genuinely does what it says on the cover: Best of British, indeed.  It's a surprisingly difficult trick to pull off. Just think of how many truly worthwhile compos are out there. In truth, not many. There's always a tendency for these laudable efforts to fall short, include second-rate padding and generally disappoint. Not here. Thankfully, for a change, a genuinely cracking 16-track release absolutely bursting at the seams with top quality local-brewed taste and flavour.

From the opening blast of Jack J Hutchinson on his Les Paul - with the title track to his excellent recent EP release and one that should be played full-tilt - to the closing effort by the Bare Bones Boogie Band, this album rips and snorts its way along, seldom pausing for breathe, let alone relaxing its grip on the listener.

Robin Robertson Blues Band follows hot on Hutchinson's smoking heels, and just when you're likely to think it can't get much better, along comes Gwyn Ashton with stonking 'On The Borderline'.  And then, again, like London buses, you wait forever for one and a whole garage come along together, we're led into the simply superb Harp-work of the great Paul Lamb, here perfectly supported by the stridently sparkling fretwork of Chad Strenz. Even Andy Twyman's tongue in cheek, post punk blues snigger  'I Eat Pot Noodle With A Plastic Fork', nestles neatly in the mix, while Richard Townend's splendid Mighty Bosscats also earn a place with his usual style, passion and stamp of confident genius.

Hank Woji: The Working Life

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Submitted by Iain Patience

A 13-track album of impassioned acoustic Americana from a Texas-based East Coaster, this marks the third release from a guy with a clear empathy for the troubles and struggles of the working man.

The dedication in the cover with thanks to the late Pete Seeger gives more than a hint of this guys thinking in general. Backed by his big 12-string acoustic guitar picking, The Working Life is a driving, interesting bit of melodic music where every track holds a passionate, albeit often dark, message and yet remains firmly optimistic. This is music with genuine fire in its belly and a message of hope at its core.

'Life comes apart at the seams, when you're living on the edge of the American dream,' Woji says and sings on one self-written track, a demanding appeal for greater equality and wealth distribution in an age of growing alienation and distressing employment opportunities in a seemingly unstoppable and callous global market.
The album closes with the thumping race, pace and power of Bruce Sprinsteen's song, 'The Factory', a track that fits perfectly with the urgent concerned themes contained here.

This is a very fine album of traditional folk-roots music where shades and echoes of sixties liberation campaigns and exploding anger jostle comfortably side by side. Woji is a guy worth catching and The Working Life has considerable merit for lovers of traditional folk-roots-based music.

Iain Patience

David Sinclair Four

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Submitted by Iain Patience

To me, there are some ringing, raging undertones of the best of punk rolling around in this mix from Londoner David Sinclair, here joined by Maxi Priest, Scottish jazzer Lorna Reid, and supported on a couple of tracks by the wonderful Paul Jones on Harp. I have my personal doubts about labeling this a blues album, however, it still works as a good, solid bit of lyrical modern light blues-rock with positively piercing lyrics and gripping, groaning insight. The musicianship is second-to-none while the ten songs included each tell a story, a vision of heaven or Hell, a metropolitan take on life in the slow-lane, tinged with melancholy, perception and sharp, visceral vision.

Sinclair's fretwork is strident and soulful, varied and victorious, with ripping, rippling riffs that might even make dear ole Keef sit up and take notice. His lyrics are rhythmically mesmerizing, evidence of a genuine love of the power of words and rhyme, dripping with powerful poetic nuance and irridescent influences. This is not an album that will necessarily please lovers of hard-nosed traditional electric blues; there are no BB King-esque licks or Hendrix power-plays here. Instead there's a delightful light touch and an album absolutely jam-packed full of catchy music, subtle lyrics and sheer pleasure. Highly recommended. A fabulous fourth offering from Sinclair.

Sam Broverman Leftover Dreams 100 Years of Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen

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Submitted by Sandy Graham

Quote from Sam Broverman’s website: Life is all about the decisions we make. Whether they’re the right ones or the wrong ones, we live with them. Timing, as they say, is everything.

So true. I received this CD a little while ago but the ‘timing’ wasn’t right to give it a listen. Travels to MIDEM, pressing deadlines got in the way until I finally opened it up and put it on the player.

I must explain that I am a huge Sammy Cahn fan so this did originally catch my eye when I saw the title and I wanted to give it the time it deserved as the song titles alone had me from the first read. So let’s begin with the artist:

Billy Price & Otis Clay This Time For Real

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Submitted by Iain Patience

Soul music at its best here. As usual, there's nothing to fault with Otis Clay, a genuine voice of southern soul from backwoods Mississippi who learned his craft in the churches, bars and Juke Joints of his native deep south before moving, like many musicians before him, to the northern blues capital, Chicago. Here he refined his craft and became an important and popular soulster.
Price, his partner on this 12-track recording, hails from Pittsburgh on the East Coast.  A long-time fan of Clay and his music, he developed his own impressive vocal delivery and skill in the 1970s as singer and frontman on the road and in the studio with blues guitarist, Roy Buchanan.

The album itself was recorded in Chicago and produced by the great Duke Robillard who also lends his own band for the excellent backing on this release.

This is music grounded in the Gospel tradition of the South but with a modern, searching soul and secularity at its very heart. Robillard's band gives the whole thing a supremely soulful and gripping edge with bags of glorious feeling, understanding and sheer class.

The result of this quality partnership is a wonderful album of enormous quality and deep soul style.

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