Gonzalo Bergara

Zalo’s Blues

self-released

bergaraAfter six Gypsy jazz albums, Gonzalo Bergara returns to his blues-rock roots with all the zeal one would expect from someone who caught the late, great Dan Hicks’ attention.

When Bergara served as guitarist on Hicks’ 2004 release, “Selected Shorts,” the Argentinian was relatively unknown to the American public. The following year he began extensive touring as rhythm guitarist in John Jorgenson’s Gypsy jazz quintet, a gig that would last through 2008. After that he began recording a string of releases under his own name or as the Gonzalo Bergara Quartet.

Bergara told Good New Music via email how he met Hicks:

“A friend of my roommate was at the time using his studio for a project with Dan Hicks. The producer was Tim Hauser from Manhattan Transfer. This friend had heard through my roommate that I also could play not only blues but Gypsy jazz as well, and everybody at that time was not happy with the guitar player they had in the studio.

“So one day the studio owner dialed my number and had me play (Gus Kahn’s 1924 classic) ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’ through the phone. Sounds crazy, but that’s how it went. I guess (Hicks) liked it OK, because the next day I was in the studio redoing all of the guitar parts. … He was a very special man; I loved working with him.”

Although his roots are in blues, unbelievably this is Bergara’s first blues recording.

“My first gigs as a musician were at the age of 16,” he told GNM in explaining his blues beginnings. “I first joined a group when I was 12, and after four years and lots of practice, we started sounding pretty good. We were invited to national television, and played  shows weekly in Buenos Aires and Argentina.

“I have always loved the format of a trio,” he said, “the freedom and space it gives me. Mariano (D’Andrea) and my brother Maximiliano (who both play on ‘Zalo’s Blues’) joined me when I was 16, and we did lots of things together, but I also played with other trios in town when I needed to.”

“Zalo’s Blues” is roughly half vocal numbers, half instrumental. The vocal tunes — Bergara’s first on record — are as good as any upper-echelon blues-rocker’s, and his singing voice carries not even a trace of an accent.

The instrumental cuts range in influence from Charlie Christian to T-Bone Walker to Stevie Ray Vaughan to the Hellecasters, and draw attention to the fact that this platter is nothing if not a tone fest.

Perhaps he was waiting until he felt his singing/songwriting skills were fully developed before “going electric,” but if Bergara’s first crack at it is this good, the listener’s imagination runs wild thinking about what lies ahead.gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Drawback
2. Drinking
3. Singing My Song
4. You Don’t Have To Go (Jimmy Reed)
5. Dirty Socks
6. Gonna Go
7. No More
8. Woosh
9. Been Runnin’
10. Levi
11. Ines
12. Won`t Stay With You

Total time: 37:30

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The Carnivaleros

carnivaleros5Dreams Are Strange

RootaVega

The Tucson, Ariz.-based Carnivaleros have always possessed a knack for unusually interesting arrangements, often combining instruments not normally heard together.

On “Dreams Are Strange,” the band makes a swampy Appalachian acoustical foray into Americana, with an expansion of its sound due to the presence of Heather “Lil’ Mama” Hardy’s violin on most tracks.

Tying it together is the decidedly non-Tex Mex/non-polka accordion of singer-songwriter Mackender, who favors basic North American folk and, occasionally, Middle Eastern and klezmer idioms.

Six of the album’s tracks are instrumental, including “Chestnut Oak” (featuring banjo); “Tumacacori” (vibes and lap steel); and “High Speed Yard Sale” (tuba).

Highlights among the album’s eight vocal numbers are the country-and-Cajun “Hesitation Bridge”; the incredibly witty title track; the jump zydeco “Gonna Jump in a Hole”; the upbeat “Who’s to Say” (which would have been a perfect vehicle for the late Dan Hicks, with its Hot Licks-type chorus); and the hard-luck tale “Wore Out My Welcome.”gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Hesitation Bridge
2. Dreams Are Strange
3. The Chestnut Oak
4. Gonna Jump in a Hole
5. Mamie Eisenhower
6. Tumacacori
7. Who’s to Say
8. Moving On
9. The Red Maple
10. Wore Out My Welcome
11. Donna’s Song
12. Psychic Mary
13. Time Traveling
14. High Speed Yard Sale

Total time: 48:49

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Jeff Plankenhorn

SoulSlide

Lounge Side

plankenhornSinger, songwriter and guitarist Jeff Plankenhorn, aka Plank, plays “The Plank” — a self-designed, resonator-shaped,  full-bodied electric guitar played lap-steel style while standing up.

“The Plank” allows Plank to realize his dream of mixing sacred-steel influences such as the Campbell Brothers and Robert Randolph with the Dobro stylings of Jerry Douglas and Josh Graves.

“SoulSlide” is his fourth album and third studio effort. Plank has played for Ray Wylie Hubbard, Willis Alan Ramsey, Slaid Cleaves and Joe Ely, among others. Before moving to Austin at Hubbard’s urging, he spent a year in Nashville learning to play Dobro, a skill put to great use here playing The Plank — which, not being a resonator, makes this latest release a bonanza of wonderfully wicked slide workouts.

Helping out are Brannen Temple on drums and Yoggie Musgrove on bass (the former rhythm section of late Texas guitar legend Stephen Bruton’s old trio), and guitar/keyboard player Dave Scher (not to be confused with Farmer Dave Scher of Beachwood Sparks). Making special appearances are singers Malford Milligan and Ruthie Foster, and former Fastball singer and guitarist Miles Zuniga (who co-wrote several of the songs with Plank, and contributes guitar and background vocals).

Showstoppers include Sam and Dave’s “You Got Me Hummin’ “; “Like Flowers,” a Plankenhorn original inspired by a line from the Charles Bukowski poem “People as Flowers”; the piano-guitar instrumental “Kansas City Nocturne”; “Vagabond Moonlight,” co-written by Plankenhorn, Zuniga and Brett Dennen; a never-released Ramsay cut, “Mockingbird Blues”; and Percy Sledge’s “Walking in the Sun.”gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Lose My Mind
2. You Got Me Hummin’ (feat. Malford Milligan)
3. Trouble Find Me
4. Like Flowers (feat. Ruthie Foster)
5. Dirty Floor
6. Kansas City Nocturne
7. Born to Win
8. Vagabond Moonlight (feat. The Resentments)
9. Mockingbird Blues
10. Headstrong
11. Live Today (feat. The Resentments)
12. Walking in the Sun

Total time: 43:48

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Jeff Healey

Heal My Soul

Provogue

healeyThis month marks the eighth anniversary of Jeff Healey’s death from cancer but also sees his first new blues-rock studio album in more than 15 years — released on what would have been his 50th birthday (March 25).

Healey’s widow, Christie, and longtime friend Roger Costa have spent more than a year lovingly creating a “lost album” from the four-year span of sessions that yielded the guitarist’s final blues-rock studio record to be released in his lifetime, 2000’s “Get Me Some.”

Surprisingly, “Heal My Soul” is at least as good as “Get Me Some” — which came out just before the Jeff Healey Band called it quits and the artist began his foray into 1920s/30s jazz.

Between “Get Me Some” and his death, Healy released three albums of jazz standards (two studio, one live). Posthumously there was a half-live, half-studio blues-rock album comprising cover tunes; a live blues-rock album of more cover tunes; his final jazz/swing studio disc; and two multidisc live blues-rock albums collectively comprising six concerts.

So after a decade and a half, “Heal My Soul” — a set of originals and covers — is most welcome.

Good New Music reached co-estate administrator Costa by email to ask how much of the record was newly recorded and overdubbed:

“Mostly just drums (were added),” Costa said. “Many of the songs had unfinished drum tracks, placeholder recordings, and even electronic drums in a couple of cases. It was quite common for whoever was around at the time to lay down a quick drum track for the song to be built on – sometimes even Jeff!

“We recorded new drums for nine out of the 12 tracks with an exceptional musician and dear friend, Dean Glover.  Joe Rockman, Jeff’s old bass player and bassist on most of these songs, came down several times to hang out during this (process), and the mixing stage. Beyond that, the bulk of what little was added was for color — the odd bit of percussion, some electric piano and B3 on one track, etc.  All of Jeff’s performances are intact.”

Two of the remaining three songs feature original trio drummer Tom Stephen, and a third was stripped down to just Healey’s guitar, with the above-mentioned keyboards overdubbed.

The Albert Collins tune “Put the Shoe on the Other Foot” is the only number that can be found, albeit in a different version, on any other Healey album — it was part of the 2013 German-concert compilation, “As the Years Go Passing By.” This new studio version has Healey on vocals rather than 2000 tour guitarist Philip Sayce.

Of the 12 songs on “Heal My Soul,” four are originals, two are are under “copyright control” (composer unknown) and six are covers. But other than the Collins song and Richard Thompson’s “I Misunderstood,” the covers are euphorically obscure.

Case in point: “Baby Blue” by Tim Beattie, a New York songwriter turned Nashville songwriter whose résumé includes stints as lead singer and harmonica/lap steel player for the Four Horsemen and as a member of Chris Whitley & The Bastard Club. It’s a beautiful acoustic/electric ballad that eventually appeared on Beattie’s out-of-print “Tim Beattie and Big Dog.” Here Healy overdubs a half-dozen vocal tracks to astounding effect.

“Moodswing” and “Love in Her Eyes” are by The Phantoms, a popular blues-rock outfit from the mid-’80s to mid-’90s on the club scene in Toronto, Healey’s home town. The two songs are a little harder-edged than typical Healey fare but, overall, in keeping with the album’s progressive tone. They come from The Phantoms’ unreleased fourth and final album.

“Perhaps I’ll release that lost Phantoms album one day,” lead singer and harmonicat Jerome Godboo told GNM by email. “I have several unreleased CDs. I seem to delight in making them (but am) a little weak in the distribution department.”

Every song — original or cover — on “Heal My Soul” is a beaut. But the album’s centerpiece is the midtempo hard-rock ballad “Kiss the Ground You Walk On,” written in the early ’90s by power-pop meister Parthenon Huxley (P.Hux) and heavy metal guitarist Marc Ferrari (Keel, Cold Sweat, Medicine Wheel).

Good New Music tracked down the two via email for the never-released song’s backstory: “Marc and I were paired up when I was a staff writer at MCA Music Publishing,” Huxley revealed. “We were always very proud of that song. We felt it was a hit and deserved a good home.”

“(We were) just two guys getting together to see where things may go,” Ferrari offered. He added that “other artists demoed that song, including Curtis Stigers — who almost cut it for ‘The Bodyguard’ soundtrack — and the singer of Simply Red (Mick Hucknall).”gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Daze Of The Night
2. Moodswing
3. Baby Blue
4. I Misunderstood
5. Please
6. Love In Her Eyes
7. Temptation
8. Kiss The Ground You Walk On
9. All The Saints
10. Put The Shoe On The Other Foot
11. Under A Stone
12. It’s The Last Time

Total time: 51:58

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Supersonic Blues Machine

West of Flushing, South of Frisco

Provogue

supersonicOn the heels of Van Wilks’ outstanding new album comes another ass-kicking release of blues-rock.

“West of Flushing, South of Frisco” is the debut by Supersonic Blues Machine, an all-star trio made up of producer, mixer and bass player Fabrizio Grossi; drummer Kenny Aronoff; and guitarist/singer Lance Lopez — who, like Wilks, is based in Texas.

And like Wilks’ album “21st Century Blues,” SBM’s has a contribution from Billy Gibbons, in the form of “Running Whiskey.” But the ZZ Top guitarist/singer is just the tip of the guest-artist iceberg: Also on board are friends Warren Haynes, Chris Duarte, Eric Gales, Walter Trout and Robben Ford.

Except for the Gibbons-sung “Running Whiskey,” Lopez handles lead vocals, with help on one song each from Haynes and Trout. Grossi wrote or co-wrote all of the songs, save for a Bobby Blue Bland cover (“Ain’t No Love”) and a number by Joey Sykes, an L.A.-based guitarist who sometimes co-writes songs in Nashville (“Let’s Call It a Day”). Aronoff just basically pounds the hell out of the skins.

Augmenting the core trio on various cuts are Jimmy Zavala (harmonica), Serge Simic (acoustic guitar), Garrett Holbrook (lap steel), Sam Lusting (keyboards), Paolo Verdone (guitar), Sykes (guitar) and Phil Parlapiano (organ).

Lopez’s gruff voice serves the music well, sounding a bit like Captain Beefheart on opener “Miracle Man” and “Bone Bucket Blues.” Instrumentally, “I Ain’t Fallin’ ” sounds like a mashup of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” and Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want to Take You Higher.”

Haynes lends a ton o’ soul to “Remedy,” and the album goes out in fine, funky style on “Watchagonnado.”gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Miracle Man
2. I Ain’t Falling Again
3. Running Whiskey (feat. Billy Gibbons)
4. Remedy (feat. Warren Haynes)
5. Bone Bucket Blues
6. Let It Be
7. That’s My Way (feat. Chris Duarte)
8. Ain’t No Love (In The Heart Of The City)
9. Nightmares And Dreams (feat. Eric Gales)
10. Can’t Take It No More (feat. Walter Trout)
11. Whiskey Time (Running Whiskey’s extended ending)
12. Let’s Call It A Day (feat. Robben Ford)
13. Watchagonnado

Total time: 55:48

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