Autumn 2019 Blues releases, reviewed

Several fine blues albums have made their way to me these last couple months, and today is the day I finally share my thoughts about them. Apologies to the PR folks, labels, and musicians for the delay.

First up:

Paul Gabriel Man of Many Blues Smoke Ring Records

There are no shortage of blues guitar albums attempting to grab our attention. Paul Gabriel’s Man of Many Blues is one that stands out from the rest.

Produced by Duke Robillard, who also contributes acoustic archtop and electric guitars, Man of Many Blues provides an extravaganza of blues sounds that will appeal to those who appreciate the rockin’ side of the music.

On this hour-plus set, blues vet Gabriel is joined by several recognizable names including members of Robillard’s band Bruce Bears (keys) and Mark Texeria (drums), Scott Spray on bass, and a lively horn section. Notable tracks include the easy-going lead track, “I Feel Good,” as well as the more jazzy “Cold, Cold, Cold” and “Blues for Georgia,” an ode to Georgia Louis, a gospel and blues vocalist held in high esteem by Gabriel.

“Just A Bitterness” gets low and almost funky, a plaintive number that I can see showing up on future mix tapes, with “Dear John Letter” just laying out the pain and riffs. “Face Full of Frown” and “Maybe We Can Talk A While” provide additional light relief, while “No Finance No Romance,” featuring soulful guest vocalist Howard Eldridge, gets to the nitty gritty of a relationship in trouble.

Good stuff from Paul Gabriel, a strong vocalist who hauls water on this independent release. To get a better sense of Gabriel’s music, visit YouTube for a couple live sets, including this one.


Al Basile B’s Hot House Sweetspot Records

Another nicely-packaged, Duke Robillard production, B’s Hot House is also an enjoyable collection of original blues. Cornet player Al Basile has a style of vocal phrasing all his own, near-spoken with a slight lilt toward melody, Basile played with Roomful of Blues a lifetime ago, and has appeared on various Robillard projects during the ensuing years.

Unlike many blues songwriters, Basile tends to be quite wordy, providing his songs with than a standard two verses and a refrain. Basile’s comfort with verbosity—and his ability to craft expansive first-person narratives and blues depictions—provides his songs with depth not always found in modern blues.

Basile looks to the past for some of his inspiration. “Can’t Keep Me From Dreaming,” “Try One,” and “Looking for a Cookie” are culled from the sounds of the Fifties and Sixties, plaintive songs that found favour with youth in the early days of rock ‘n’ roll. “Give Me That Look” has a similar foundation, rich in horns and keys.

“What Dogs Wanna Do” may or may not be about pets, but “Razor Wire” isn’t about the physical fences we build around ourselves as much as it is about the emotional damage we do to those who matter to us most. “Talking In A Room” has a slight country feel, with “Five Roads” heading toward southern blues territory.

Again featuring Robillard (guitars) and Bruce Bears (keys) and Mark Texeria (drums), Doug James (tenor saxophone) and Jeff ‘Doc’ Chanonhouse (trumpet) round out the album’s formidable horn section.

Let’s hope this generous hour-long album gets the attention it deserves. Basile is a tremendous singer, and his songs along with Robillard’s production make B’s Hot House an album of significant interest.

One more:

Lloyd Spiegel Cut and Run

I love discovering new favourites, folks I’ve never previous heard but to whose music I am immediately attracted. Add Australian Lloyd Spiegel to the list.

With the exception of a few songs, three I believe, Cut and Run features Spiegel (guitars) performing with drummer Tim Burnham. Performing entirely original songs, Spiegel cuts to the core with a set of unadorned music that rely on the strength of the songs. Reminding me a bit of the way Gordie Johnson and Kelly Hoppe approached the blues, Spiegel condenses his aches and hopes into a ten-song set that comes in just over 34-minutes.

No extended jams then, Spiegel maintains focus within his songs. “Run” is a Chris Knight and/or Stephen McCarthy-type song that immediately pulls in the listener. “Rattle Your Cage” is catchy and no little bit darkly foreboding; “Old Wounds” has a similar feeling, but with an entirely different sound and approach.

“Track Her Down” is the only song featuring a full band, and here Spiegel demonstrates another side of his blues-rock style.

“The Hustle” drifts into Danko Jones territory (not a bad thing, that) with additional guitar from Marty Spiegel, while “One More Heartache” may be the most memorable song, a tale exploring my favourite theme of missed connection and opportunity. Having received considerable recognition from the Australian blues industry—including Artist, Album, and Song of the Year on multiple occasions—North America has had several chances to catch onto Spiegel, including when he toured Canada earlier this fall. He visits again during the spring of 2020. Based on Cut and Run, I would make note of his name and seek him out. Good album.

A final review for today, and finally a Canadian:

Big Dave McLean Pocket Full of Nothin’ Black Hen Music

His Acoustic Blues- Got ‘Em From the Bottom set is a Fervor Coulee favourite, and when teamed with Steve Dawson, it seems everyone get raised to the next level. No wonder then that Big Dave McLean’s latest, Pocket Full of Nothin’ quickly become a frequently played album in my house.

Writing nine of the songs, this set brings more McLean to the proceedings than usual and while we will never tire of his interpretations of blues classics, it is pleasing to hear McLean and his compatriots attack a set so rich in new material.

“Backwards Fool” is a charming ditty about a fella who can’t get out of his own way, with “Manitoba Mud” containing a bit of Corb Lund’s sly writing approach. McLean provides a bit of a history lesson within “Songs of the Blues,” and it serves as a fine introduction to the music McLean shares over the next fifty minutes. “Baby” and “When I Was Young” are especially enjoyable.

McLean (various guitars and harmonica) is joined by Dawson (even more guitars and vocals) as well as names we are beginning to associated with Black Hen projects including Gary Craig (drums and percussion), Jeremy Holmes (bass), as well as Chris Gestrin (keys) and a horn section including Malcolm Aiken (trumpet), Jerry Cook (baritone saxophone), and Dominic Conway (tenor sax).

For a bit of familiarity McLean visits the Allmans (“Midnight Rider”) and Willie Dixon/J. B. Lenoir (“Voodoo Music”) as well as an especially strong Muddy Waters (“Just To Be With You”) interpretation. As always, McLean instills songs that inspired him with his distinctive personality.

Another fine album from Black Hen, and anther strong set from prairie bluesman Big Dave McLean. My kind of blues.

That’s my blues round-up for this month. Hope you found something of interest.

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