Archive for the ‘Blues’ Tag

Sue Foley- The Ice Queen review   Leave a comment

sue foley

Sue Foley The Ice Queen Stony Plain Records

When one considers contemporary blues guitarists, naturally several come to mind, and being a bit northern-centric, Sue Foley immediately jumps to the fore. That paisley-bejeweled pink Telecaster wouldn’t be nearly as impressive in lesser hands, and over the course of nearly three decades as a touring bandleader, the Ottawa-native has certainly established a niche all her own.

Finger-picking his Foley’s forte, and the title track is an ideal example of her inimitable style; clocking in at six-plus minutes, the playful and self-deprecating number provides the album with a rock-solid foundation. But, as she has with various international sounds over the years, Foley also extends herself acoustically late in the set when she plays “The Dance,” this time utilizing the flamenco style.

As significant as the guitar playing is throughout the album—from Foley, of course, but also her guests including Charlie Sexton, Billy Gibbons, Jimmie Vaughan, to name the three most familiar—what is even more impressive is the depth she goes to give voice to these songs.

She gets low and bluesy a la Lucinda singing the many and diverse qualities of cruel ol’ “81” (“She’s a two-headed snake, and she winds her tail, from the mighty Appalachians to the gates of Hell”) while roaring above a lively ruckus on “Run,” a free-spirited jam featuring thick bass-notes from Austin’s Johnny Bradley and drumming from George Rains from Vaughan’s Tilt a Whirl band. This trio propels a pair of additional numbers—with help from others—Bessie Smith’s “Send Me To the ‘Lectric Chair” and “If I Have Forsaken You.”

Throughout, Foley’s singing is engaged as she brilliantly slips from one style to the next, each authentic within her blues experience. Foley’s haunting acoustic country-blues treatment of her own “Death of A Dream” is quite simply stunning, while  a lively (and apparently near-elusive) “Cannonball Blues” serves as an ideal conclusion to a collection set in tradition.

Featuring a bevy of Texas heat, The Ice Queen allows several of Foley’s musical friends an opportunity to make significant appearances. Charlie Sexton’s initial contributions—on the opening “Come To Me” and its follow-up “81”—are impressive, and set the theme for the album with masters collaborating in expected ways to yield extraordinary results. I’ve never been a particular fan of Vaughan’s, but he and Foley slip into “The Lucky Ones” with companionable ease. Producer Mike Flanigin’s Hammond B3 punctuates several songs, most effectively on the ramblin’ “Gaslight,” while Billy Gibbons gets fair gritty with Foley on “Fool’s Gold,” another number on which Flanigin is prominently featured.

The Ice Queen is Sue Foley’s first album in six years, and a more welcome, forceful, and confident return couldn’t be imagined. I imagine it is everything fans have been waiting for, and more. Now, to finesse an early-April road trip to Red Deer…




Steve Sainas- Simple As This review   Leave a comment


Steve Sainas Simple As This Sainas Songs/

Steve Sainas has been playing the blues throughout British Columbia’s lower mainland for years, with his band Mud Dog releasing three albums of straight-ahead, contemporary acoustic blues/rock.

Wielding an aggressive approach to resophonic and flat-top guitars, Sainas’ first release under his own name is an appealing slice of blues with a noticeable singer-songwriter bent. Emphasizing descriptive songwriting, Sainas provides listeners a guitar-rich journey through original creations.

A self-produced, self-released project, Simple As This is elevated by the cohesion of Sainas’ songs. Optimistic where the blues is frequently pessimistic, Sainas has elected to (largely) emphasize positive aspects of a society increasingly destructive through upbeat, engaging, and lively songs.

“Ruby Jo” benefits from a breezy approach befitting a tale of strength and freedom, with the apocalyptic “Cities On Fire” featuring forceful drumming from Kelly Stodola. “Why Do We Fall” and the title track are softer in their approach, and “Got Your Love” features nimble picking in the Doc Watson style. The searching quality of “So Alone” is buoyed by the throaty “My Darkest Days Are Done,” with “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” sending us off into the good night.

Given that instrumental parts of the album—guitar, bass, and drums—were captured in isolation at three separate studios and—one supposes—melded together, Simple As This is a surprisingly unified recording.

With little fanfare, Steve Sainas has delivered a satisfying and appealing trio album with lyrics receiving prominence not usually encountered in modern blues.

Posted 2018 February 19 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Emily Burgess- Are We In Love? review   Leave a comment


Emily Burgess Are We In Love?

I don’t get too excited about too many things these days. Thank goodness I still get a bit of a jump when I hear fresh, exciting music: the day that stops happening it the day I’ll be ready to pack it all in.

Still, I don’t get worked up by a lot of the music being produced by younger musicians and singers. Give me a new album by Rodney Crowell, The Gibson Brothers, or David and Gillian over something by Shakey Graves, Ten Strings and a Goat Skin, or Molly Tuttle most any day and I’ll be more than content.

It isn’t that folks twenty and thirty years my junior have nothing to contribute—far from it, they keep the roots growing—I am just not into what many of them are doing. And that is fine, I suppose, as long as I recognize that while their music may not necessarily fully connect with me, it does impact others in the same way Guy Clark, Emmylou Harris, Wilma Burgess, and Steve Forbert once—long agoknocked me back on my arse.

Ahh, but there is always an exception. Emily Burgess (I guess Wilma Burgess didn’t come to mind a sentence ago serendipitously) is the latest ‘youngster’ to capture my ears.

Not sure when my recent fascination with soulful female vocalists began, but I know Bobbie Gentry laid a solid foundation over the past twenty years. Discovering her catalogue beyond “Ode to Billie Joe” did more than a little to push me in this direction. I know I fell hard for the singing of Linda Clifford, Gladys Knight, Marlena Shaw, Candi Staton, and Dorothy Moore (and a hundred and fifty-six others) when I encountered them on soundtracks, compilations, and radio, and became enamoured with the thrill of discovering even more when I started digging. Over time, Amy Black came to my attention, and a couple years ago I fell hard for Edmonton’s Ann Vriend’s recent albums. Lately, Erin Costelo and Crystal Shawanda have came onto my radar. Now, Emily Burgess.

Out of Ontario, Emily Burgess is a guitar-wielding firebrand who has played with various outfits, most recently The Weber Brothers. From what I can gather browsing the links, many of her previous appearances feature harder blues stylings. Not so Are We In Love? And these softer, soulful songs are right up my alley, and I would suggest ideally suit Burgess.

Backed by The Weber Brothers Band, Burgess strolls down the soulful side of the street on this debut set of ten songs. With the recording coming in at just over 30 minutes, no time is wasted, no filler dropped in. “Til I Get To Call You My Only” comes with a confident strut to kick-off the album, each and every performance is concise, and the album’s brevity magnifies the intensity of the music.

Burgess and Sam Weber (no individual credits are provided) drop in tasteful guitar fills throughout the set (“I Want To Make You Mine,” for example) and the rhythm section of Marcus Browne (drums) and Ryan Weber (bass) keep the backbeat deep. Ryan “Rico” Browne contributes a bevy of keys. With everyone focused on maintaining a discerning groove, the album maintains cohesion that never blurs into monotony.

Burgess’s softer side comes through on “Ain’t That A Woman?” and the title track, but these songs avoid mushy sentimentality. “Is this a phantom I’m chasing,” she sings on “Are We In Love?” and the answer is most obviously, No. Emily Burgess knows what she is going after, revealing no hesitation. “All I Wanna Do Is Love You” rocks like a Danko Jones’ outtake, and “Stand Up For Your Love” is just a terrific song.

Still, despite all of these highlights, the late set “Arrested” may just be the strongest performance on Are We In Love? Embracing shifting tempos, Burgess sings of falling under a spell, “arrested by the love of a man,” over a percolating and percussive rhythm with a signature hook that is significantly catchy.

Released late last year, Emily Burgess’s Are We In Love? is a captivating album, one that will get your soulful, bottom-end moving.


Posted 2018 February 4 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Crystal Shawanda- Voodoo Woman review   Leave a comment

Crystal_Shawanda_Voodoo_Woman_Album_art (1)

Crystal Shawanda Voodoo Woman New Sun Records/

Since her debut on both the Canadian and American country charts, it has been obvious that Crystal Shawanda could sing.

Recording largely formulistic, and at times bombastic, country-pop, Shawanda found limited success as a mainstream country singer, touring in support of Brad Paisley across Canada, for example, and ‘almost’ hitting the Country Top Twenty a decade ago with the rather ‘over the top’ emotionally-rife “You Can Let Go.” Still, Dawn of a New Day showed promise and—looking back—“My Roots Are Showing” hinted at the direction Shawanda would eventually follow.

Going the route of independence has proven artistically significant for Shawanda, who released a more personal set of music with Just Like You, but the album’s singles didn’t get significant traction at country radio. The album did garner Shawanda a well-deserved Juno Award as Best Aboriginal Album in 2013.

More recently, she has redefined herself as a blues-rock singer, and this seems to be the genre where she is most comfortable. The Whole World’s Got the Blues was a more than impressive collection of blues standards and original material, including the steaming, self-penned title track and “I’m Not Your Baby.” Revealing herself as an honest blues belter, Shawanda also remained true to her roots. Included on the album was the evocative and powerful rocker “Pray Sister Pray” as a call-to-action for the Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women of Canada.

Fish Out of Water continued Shawanda’s foray into southern blues sounds, with both title track and “When You Rise” showcasing her ability to get to the gritty roots of the music while “Laid Back” showed a softer, more satisfied and companionable side.

Voodoo Woman was released late in 2017, but is only now hitting radio. It is a one hell of a blues album, loaded with memorable vocal performances.

Recording a set of covers for the first time, Shawanda revisits the music that inspired her as a child growing up on Manitoulin Island. Influenced by her brother’s listening habits, the blues spoke to Shawanda—as they do to many of us—as unvarnished reflections of troubled lives.

Somewhat playfully, a hybrid of “Wang Dang Doodle” and “Smokestack Lightning” opens the album, but Shawanda hits her mark from the start. “I’ll Always Love You” previously appeared on The Whole World’s Got the Blues, and in this new rendition is as powerful as a heartfelt, blues ballad can be. Janis Joplin’s, via Big Mama Thornton, “Ball and Chain” is given a fiery arrangement, with a much appreciated extended saxophone break.

Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind”—known to many as the melody for Chris Stapleton’s version of “Tennessee Whiskey”—is an undisputed showstopper, but so are most of these familiar numbers. Co-producer (with Shawanda) Dewayne Stobel, one believes, provides the lead guitar licks, and these are consistently impressive across the album, but maybe just a little more so on the rump-twitchin’ “Trouble” and closing “Blue Train/Smokestack Lightning Revisited.”

Personally, Shawanda’s version of “Misty Blue” is stellar. Written as a country song and a hit for both Wilma Burgess and Eddy Arnold (and later, again for Billie Jo Spears), Dorothy Moore’s 1976 version of the song was likely the first soul/R&B song I fell in love with: I’m discriminating in what I will accept when a singer comes back to this beautifully crafted song. Shawanda further demonstrates her vocal range on this number, pulling back the growl and grit to provide the song with the sensitivity and ‘wanting’ required. Truly masterful.

Voodoo Woman reveals Crystal Shawanda as a blues performer of significance. The musicianship is excellent, the production crisp. And, most importantly, Crystal Shawanda can sing. Give her another listen: you will be missing something important if you don’t.

Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters- The Luckiest Man review   Leave a comment

Ronnie Earl

Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters The Luckiest Man Stony Plain Records

Bobby Bland’s (written by Don Robey) “Ain’t That Loving You” kicks off this latest blues missive from Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters, and the sultry take paves the way toward 70 minutes of the finest, freshest, and grooviest electric blues we experienced in 2017.

The spectre of the inevitable hovers over the album when one considers that the album is dedicated to the memory of The Broadcasters’ bass player Jim Mouradian. Vocalist Diane Blue provides a haunting interpretation of “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” one of several notable performances contained on this most generous blues offering. David Limina shows off his B3 touch on “Heartbreak (It’s Hurtin’ Me)” and “Blues for Magic Slim” is a tasteful guitar-based tribute to the Mississippi-Chicago bluesman.

Heading into his 30th year leading The Broadcasters, Ronnie Earl brought back some of the group’s earliest members—now known as Sugar Ray and the Bluetones—to have a “Long Lost Conversation.” Clocking in at more than ten minutes, the ‘give and take’ of these old friends keeps the listener intrigued. Similarly and even more captivating, the even longer “So Many Roads” allows the current crop of Broadcasters to jam a bit on the number most often associated with John Mayall.

Another stellar release from Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters.

John Lee Hooker- King of the Boogie boxset review   Leave a comment


John Lee Hooker King of the Boogie Craft Recordings

There is something ethereal and true about John Lee Hooker that even his contemporaries never quite achieved. Whether getting gritty or fatally romantic, searching for hope among the forlorn or finding joy in the minutiae of the daily struggle, John Lee Hooker brought the real blues, the deep blues, to an expansive listening audience, always sounding as if he were performing to an audience of one—you.

Long ago when I was but a young Fervor Coulee—eighteen and mostly clueless—John Lee Hooker’s Fantasy double compilation Black Snake was the first blues album I discovered. Working at the failing Climax Records in Leduc, Alberta for a few months in the spring and summer of 1983, I started this lifelong journey into roots music discovering most of the Carter-Cash clan—Rosanne, Johnny, Carlene, Rodney, and Nick Lowe—as well as Emmylou Harris, Ricky Skaggs, and The Stray Cats, not to mention George Jones, Deborah Allen, and—eventually—John Lee Hooker: “I’m Prison Bound,” “Good Mornin’ Lil School Girl,” “Come On and See About Me,” and “Tupelo Blues.” It wasn’t long before I found my way to “Boom Boom” and “One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Beer” via cover versions and a lack of supervision—who knew you weren’t allowed to crack any album you wanted for in-store play?

Once I heard “Boogie Chillen’,” I was done: no other blues would ever top it. The archaic playing style and the repetitive notes appealed to something base within me, and then that voice reaching across and over it all—fueled by desperation—Hooker communicated with a suburban white boy through his music as few —Townshend, Springsteen, and the voices of Three Dog Night—had done to that point. No matter the song, John Lee Hooker was immediately identifiable. His growling vocal timbre reached to a time before measure, his deep talking blues making a journey across race, social strata, generations, and history.

This expansive five-disc set appears to be the ultimate encapsulation of John Lee Hooker’s recorded output. Produced in conjunction with a number of labels and Hooker’s family, the box set distills 40-plus years of recordings into a manageable distillation while retaining all the essentials and incorporating a few previously unreleased necessaries.

Starting with his 1948 recording of “Boogie Chillen’,” with the first three discs we are taken for a three-plus hour ride through Hooker’s recording career. Most of these tracks have been readily available on various collections over the years, but what is most appreciated herein is the care with which they have been collated. Recorded months apart, “Goin Down Highway #51” slides straight out of “Huckle Up Baby” like it was planned, with “John L’s House Rent Boogie” and “I’m In The Mood” waiting around the corner. The sound quality is pristine, and the accompanying notes informative.

JL_Hooker 001After this generous rendering of vintage and essential blues—”My First Wife Left Me,” “Tupelo Blues,” “Stuttering Blues,” “Boom Boom,” and the like—with only a handful of unreleased material—highlighted by the suggestive “Meat Shakes on Her Bones” from 1961—the majority of the rarities surface. Disc Four is comprised of various live takes augmented by a set of five recordings from Berlin, 1983 that have not previously been available commercially. Captured at a time when the older bluesmen were in danger of being forgotten with the advance of popular music that had little connection to roots of rock ‘n’ roll—we all remember new wave, the advance of goth, and the earliest days of hair metal—these live takes reveal the vitality Hooker never lost, no matter with whom he played. Extolling the audience to “Hear me out, here,” Hooker moans his way through “It Serves Me Right to Suffer” as a man who has lived an imperfect life while “Boom Boom” and “One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Beer” are delivered with the energy and playful verve of a man who has done the songs a couple thousand times and never lost the joy.

Disc Five features collaborations ranging from 1952 and “Little” Eddie Kirkland (“I Got Eyes For You”), the early 70s with Canned Heat (“Peavine”) and Van Morrison (“Never Get Out of These Blues Alive”) through to his days as an elder statesman and Grammy winner with Bonnie Raitt (“I’m In The Mood,”) B.B. King (“You Shook Me,”) and  Los Lobos (“Dimples.”) Nothing new is revealed on these (mostly) readily available cuts, but presented in this manner they are a reminder of Hooker’s versatility and range of influence.

100 songs, nine previously unreleased, over five discs with what appears to be exceptional packaging (unfortunately, I only have the downloads and scans to judge by) King of the Boogie celebrates the 100th Anniversary of John Lee Hooker’s birth, and marks the kick-off of events—including museum exhibits, radio specials, and a film documentary—celebrating this milestone. With a reasonable price point and a hearty dose of indispensable blues, King of the Boogie is not only a brilliant introduction to the blues master, but a suitable testament to his place in modern roots music history.


Posted 2017 September 30 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Between the Cracks, Summer 2017: what have we missed? reviews   1 comment

A selection of albums that have worked their way my direction these last few months. Americana of a variety of flavours.

RERailroad EarthCaptain Nowhere One recalls RRE as one of the first ‘big tent’ bands to be selectively-shunned by bluegrass festivals. Lost track of them somewhere around The Good Life (2004), but became reacquainted early this summer when this six-track EP was released. Groovy, acoustic-Dead inspired rock’n Americana, Captain Nowhere is a concise encapsulation of the group’s drum-propelled music. “Adding My Voice” is especially relevant given recent political/civil events, while one can easily imagine “The Berkeley Flash” inspiring an extended live jam. [Review based on download.]

MOMatthew O’NeillTrophic Cascade (Underwater Panther Coalition) More natural-sounding and perhaps a little less rambunctious than previous music sampled from this upper New York-state resident, Trophic Cascade is no gentle beach listen. Imagine, if you will bear the indulgence, Bon Iver and Shakey Graves coming together in the forests of the Catskills with Crosby, Stills, Nash, & mostly Young to create a modern southern soul album. Lots of wailing guitars, layered vocals, some horns, and trance-inducing rhythms and melodies that soar and twist. Tapping into topic s associated with his evolving beliefs of Earth and our relationships with its people, O’Neill kept this listener engaged through 50 minutes. [Provided CD version reviewed.]

JMJohn Mellencamp featuring Carlene Carter- Sad Clowns & Hillbillies The Lonesome Jubilee came out 30 years ago, and still battles it out with Scarecrow for top spot among my favourite Mellencamp albums; don’t read too much into that—don’t most of us have greatest appreciation for music we’ve lived with for several decades? Among his 23 (twenty-three!) albums (yeah, I’ve got them all going back to Chestnut Street Incident) there is no shortage of evidence of greatness, with even his more dire albums (1994-1999, maybe) revealing gems of considerable genius. [I long ago forgave his re-writing of Wreckless Eric’s “Broken Doll” as “Rodeo Clown.”] Teaming with touring partner Carlene Carter for several tracks, there is plenty of patented Mellencamp swagger and rhythm—that immediately recognizable groove—within these forty-seven minutes, and a number of songs (“Battle of Angels, “My Soul’s Got Wings,” “Damascus Road,” and a cover of “Early Bird Cafe”—don’t pretend you know the original) that stand with his finest.  Carter shines both as a featured vocalist and in a harmony role with “Indigo Sunset” and “Sugar Hill Mountain” ringing true. [Purchased CD version reviewed.]

bhBen Hunter & Joe Seamons, with Phil Wiggins A Black & Tan Ball An exquisite black & tan is a tough pour, I’ve found. Good thing this trio understands their art. Well-grounded in the various blues traditions, Seattle’s Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons along with touring partner Phil Wiggins don’t need me to tell them they know what they are doing. Pulling together all their influences—broad folk traditions, ragtime and jazz, even hints of country and mountain fiddle music, and always the blues—and both the good and bad of their (and previous) times, Hunter & Seamons hold a mirror to that which surrounds them, bask in that reflection, and give respect to the Black Americana tradition. Life may not get better than “Struttin’ With Some Barbeque,” “Longin’ For My Sugar,” or “How’m I Doing?” but it sure can get worse; the songs selected for this set keep things mostly breezy, and don’t delve on the most significant of matters, although “Bad Man Ballad” (recognizable as a derivation of “Little Sadie”) and “Hard Time Blues” acknowledge hardship. Loose/tight is a phrase I love for music making—allow for the joy and fun, but keep the quality—and A Black & Tan Ball captures it perfectly. [Provided CD reviewed.]

GGR SINGLE POCKET JACKET UPDATED 032112Amy BlackMemphis Featuring members of The Bo-Keys and those intimately familiar with the Stax and Hi Records Memphis traditions, Amy Black returns with an even stronger album than her most stout Muscle Shoals Sessions. Beautifully gritty and gloriously soulful, Black has written some terrific songs (“The Blackest Cloud,” “Without You,” and “Nineteen”) that fit ideally with her voice and approach, and selected tasteful and timely covers, notably Otis Clay’s “If I Could Reach Out (and Help Somebody).” With lots of guitar and B3, killer rhythm section support, plenty of horns, and a song for the ages in “It’s Hard to Love An Angry Man,” it is time to stop mentioning the likes of Dusty Springfield, Bonnie Raitt, and Shelby Lynne in reviews of Black’s albums, and realize she needs to be discussed on the same terms as these soulful singers. [Provided download only reviewed.]

zz andy hall roosevelt Andy Hall & Roosevelt Collier- Let the Steel Play Someone is playing a cruel joke on me. I will tolerate the resonator guitar in (very) select bluegrass situations, and I can appreciate it (in moderation) within a blues-setting, but it will never be an instrument I reflect upon and think, ‘Man—what this song needs is some hub-cap guitar.’ Imagine my surprise (chagrin?) to discover one of my favourite albums of this Summer of 2017 is the debut recording of Hall (The Infamous Stringdusters) and Collier, and it features NOTHING but reso. “Reuben’s Train” and “Power In the Blood” are trad. arr all should recognize, but I dare say we haven’t heard them like this. Coming from the Sacred Steel tradition, Collier approaches these tunes differently than I imagine Hall would on his own, and their collaboration is mind-blowing. Their originals (“The Darkest Hour” and “Rosebud” especially) mix well with the familiar pieces including The Grateful Dead’s seductive “Crazy Fingers.” [Provided CD reviewed.]

the_savage_radley_kudzu_DK_BrownThe Savage Radley- Kudzu Get ready: this one is going to club ya between the eyes and knock you on your arse. Kentucky’s The Savage Radley is an explosive slice of the modern south, not country, rock, or ‘grass, but a sweet distillation of all three, and a potent concoction it is. Shaina Goodman writes the songs and gives them voice while S Knox Montgomery keeps things moving from the drum kit. Also featured are multi-instrumentalist Eddy Dunlap (pedal steel, guitar, and bass), Ryan Cain (bass), and producer Skylar Wilson (piano). Rural tales of hardship and darkness abound, and while one might be reminded of the way Bobbie Gentry, Larry Jon Wilson, and even Rodney Crowell construct songs around ones’ experiences and ancestry, one hears flecks of The Alabama Shakes in the production choices: time-tested testimony, new approaches. “Blood Money” and “Little River Town” provided the narrative threads I appreciate. “Don’t call me honey, Honey,” Goodman sings in “Milk and Honey,” “It don’t mean nothing when you say it.” Harsh, but in keeping with the mood of the collection, where hope and dreams have been corroded with reality. [Provided CD reviewed.]

Some of what I’ve been listening to this summer. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Now, go BUY some music: keep the roots alive. Donald