We have gathered up ten songs from ten brand new and soon to be released albums which have caught my ear and are in heavy rotation on the Jukebox at the JUNCTION. The CDs represent artists from places you might expect such as Chicago, Illinois, and from places you might not, like Santiago, Chile. They come from artists with whom you are familiar and from others you may not have heard. From long time seasoned veterans to newcomers and upstarts, what these recordings have in common is excellence. The other common thread here is that many of these albums can be found at Bluebeat Music.
Nico & the Blues Swingers is a five piece Santiago, Chile, based blues band led by Nicolas “Nico” Wernakinck. Their newest release entitled 4th Unsuccessful Album shows the band has at least one thing that is a requirement for a serious blues band and that is a sense of humor. In addition, this band has talent. Nico is the band’s vocalist, one of two guitar players and their principal songwriter. This twelve song offering features all original material. Nico’s fellow Blues Swingers include harmonica player Christian Inostroza who co-wrote two of the album's songs along with Nico. Guitarist Felipe Ruf, bassist Johan Pasten and drummer Rodrigo Calderon round out this fine band. Inastroza also contributed an original number that is one of two instrumental tracks on the CD, entitled Sweet Lips. This tune is our jukebox selection. The quintet is joined by guest Blues Swingers Edgardo Parraguez, who plays piano on five tracks and sax man Dago Ulloa who blows on a couple of tunes.
Big Harp George released his debut CD on September 2nd. Chromaticism is, as you might suspect, a Chromatic harp platform for this jazz influenced player. George has surrounded himself with a San Francisco Bay full of talent including guitarists Little Charlie Baty and Rusty Zinn. Recorded up at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland studios in San Jose, California, this is an exceptional sounding record that is as different as it is fun. The song Cocktail Hour is an instrumental that not only features some fine chromatic playing by George, but some very tasty guitar playing by Little Charlie Baty (what else would you expect) and is one of two numbers on the album that features the vibes as played by Kent Bryson. Nice touch... Big Harp George was the subject of our September Monthly Artist Spotlight feature.
Jim Liban and the Joel Paterson Trio The Milwaukee based singer and harp player has just released his first album in several years entitled, I Say What I Mean. He is joined by guitarist extraordinaire Joel Paterson. The two are supported with the two other members of Paterson’s trio, AKA The Modern Sounds, bassist Beau Sample and drummer Alex Hall. Hall shares the drum duties with Mark Haines. Jim Liban is an incredibly talented harp player and soulful singer. He has been active on the scene since the 1970’s. This immense talent has by and large been relegated to cult status and is revered throughout the blues world by his fellow harp players as a true master of the instrument, but little known outside that relatively small fraternity. It is also very apparent that he is equally as talented as a songwriter. Twelve of this album’s fourteen tracks are written by Liban. The remaining two are collaborations with Paterson. There isn’t a clunker in this fourteen song set and we have been listening to this album with great regularity since its release, but my jukebox selection is an instrumental entitled Cold Stuff. It starts out with an Albert Collins style groove and then moves into jump blues territory with a swinging Texafornia feel to it.
Sugar Ray and the BlueTones' new release on Severn Records entitled Living Tear to Tear has these New England based blues veterans leaning a little more on the Chicago blues lexicon than on some of the band’s more recent releases. Joining singer/harp man Sugar Ray Norcia is guitarist “Monster” Mike Welsh. Anthony Gerachi plays both piano and the Hammond organ on the album, Michael “Mudcat” Ward plays both electric and acoustic bass. Drummer Neil Gouvin rounds out the rhythm section. The Bluetones have been together since 1978 and remain one of the most consistently great blues recording artists of their generation. The song Hungry but Happy contains every ingredient that goes into a great song. The tune is flush with irony and wit, stellar musicianship and a band hitting it on all cylinders. Ward and Gouvin employ a beat that has the elasticity to create an intoxicating mid tempo groove. Gerachi’s piano playing and organ give the tune an uptown, sophisticated feel while Welsh’s impeccable timing on his stinging guitar fills sound tasteful and potentially menacing all at the same time. Norcia keeps his harmonica in his pocket on this tune and as usual blows away the listener on the strength of his prodigious vocal chops alone. Remember young harmonica players, even the great Sugar Ray Norcia doesn’t play harp on every song.
Blues Jamboree: A Scandinavian Blues Revue is a loosely knit coalition of musicians from this talent laden part of the planet. Their new album, Grab a Root an’ Growl is one of two simultaneous live releases from this musical cooperative. Charlie Lange of Bluebeat Music describes the band as being, “tight and loose at the same time with strong acoustic stomps and good time songs.” The band includes Peter Nande, Hugo Rasmussen, Paul Banks, Troels Jensen, Tim Lothar, HP Lange, Mik Schack, Olaf Poulsen, Svante Sjöblom and Big Creek Slim. The band explores some pre-war material including Blind Willie Johnson’s depression era hit Soul of a Man, Mississippi Fred MacDowell’s You Got to Move and the Leroy Carr blues standard How Long, How Long Blues. However, it is the raucous title track that is a personal favorite off this interesting and fun release.
The companion piece to Grab a Root an’ Growl is another live offering from Blues Jamboree: A Scandinavian Blues Revue’s, Ride Train Ride. Here the band explores some blues, gospel and country classics. There is material that was originally recorded by such seemingly disparate sources ranging from Blind Lemon Jefferson all the way to Johnny Cash. If you like old train songs with a fresh updated feel Ride Train Ride may be your ticket to ride. There is a lot of fun material here, but my jukebox selection is the old Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee tune Cornbread Peas and Black Molasses.
The Knickerbocker All-Stars - Open Mic Night at the Knick is a studio album by a large loose knit ensemble of musicians who come from that grand New England tradition of blues players with a deep knowledge and appreciation of jump blues, early rhythm and blues and jazz. Many of these musicians are Roomful of Blues alums including pianist Al Copley, tenor and alto sax man Rich Lataille, bassist Bob Worthington, drummer Fran Christina and others. Guest vocalists include Sugar Ray Norcia and Curtis Salgado who are also former members of that storied Rhode Island based ensemble. At first glance the overly familiar material on “Open Mic...” might put some blues fans off, as it did me. However, if you think of this material in the context of a live set at this venerable Rhode Island nightclub, this album is sure to put a smile on your face. The material ranges from the old Maxwell Davis/B.B.King collaboration on the Modern label, You Upset Me Baby to the Duke Peacock recordings of Bobby Bland via Turn On Your Love Light and Ain’t That Loving You all the way to Sonny Thompson’s vehicle for Freddy King via Cincinnati’s King/Federal label, I’m Tore Down. Our Jukebox selection however features vocalist Sugar Ray Norcia on Roy Milton’s, It’s Later Than You Think.
R.J. Mischo just released another in a long series of terrific CDs entitled, Everything I Need. The Minnesota based singer and harp man seems to be a naturally gifted talent as the blues flows from him with an almost effortless, relaxed style. This album has some wonderful material that features Mischo’s crew from the land of 10,000 lakes including guitarist Jeremy Johnson and keyboard player Bruce McCabe. This is a solid set of harmonica based blues served up in a traditional fashion with what Charlie Lange of Bluebeat Music calls, “excellent understated support.” Mischo is a favorite at Bluebeat Music and a favorite here at the JUNCTION. Our jukebox selection is a tune entitled, Wait On Me which features Mischo’s terrific vocals, some fine chromatic playing and the great guitar playing of Jeremy Johnson. Johnson is an underrated and underappreciated player. It would be great to hear more from this musician.
Nathan James will release two albums simultaneously on October 28th. James, who is an extremely gifted, hard working and creative blues man, has been at this for so long it is sometimes easy to forget that he is only 35 years old. Hear Me Calling is a solo project where James plays guitar and rack harmonica. It is the companion piece to a band album entitled Natural Born That Way. Four of James’ original numbers appear on both releases. On the later record James is joined by his band known as The Rhythm Scratchers. They are drummer Marty Dodson and bassist/harmonica player Troy Sandow. Three of the album’s thirteen tracks include multi-instrumentalist “Big” Jon Atkinson who plays rhythm guitar on this great record which was recorded at James’ Sacred Cat Studios in Oceanside, California. On seven tracks James’ reunites with piano great Carl “Sonny” Leyland. It is one of these numbers, which features all five musicians, which made it as our jukebox selection. It is a new take on the Earl King penned number It Must Have Been Love. Both of these releases are exceptional and feature a true renaissance man and one the brightest lights on the blues scene today. These records receive my highest recommendation.
Pablo Diaz came into this world in 1985. He was born in Mexico City the same year as the massive 8.1 earthquake that ripped the heart out of the country. Diaz didn’t trust the ground, so he took to the skies and became a successful pilot, however he had also started playing the guitar at the age of nine. It is his soaring solos that are shaking up the blues world as young Captain Diaz has released his first album entitled, 1,000 to Go. Diaz has the maturity and has enough taste to go to the right place to make a good blues record...Los Angeles, California. He also found there the right musicians. The album features Diaz’s guitar work and the piano of the record’s co-producer Fred Kaplan. Kaplan brings in his guys, the one and only Richard Innes and terrific bay area bassist Kedar Roy. Vocalist Alfonso “Krusty” Robledo handles the vocal duties on four of the album’s twelve tracks. However, it is the instrumentals that carry the day here. Our Jukebox selection is a Diaz original entitled, Desert Rumba.