Joe Goldmark

Blue Steel


After seven solo albums of pedal-steel instrumentals (all of which include decidedly non-country covers), Joe Goldmark switched gears two albums ago by incorporating vocal numbers.

His new tack began with 2007’s “Seducing the ’60s” (Goldmark’s second all-covers album — the first being 1997’s “Steelin’ the Beatles”), of which half the tracks variously feature guest vocals by two male singers and one female singer. “The Wham of That Steel Man!” was his 2012 follow-up, a two-CD multigenre exercise comprising an instrumental disc and a vocal disc made up entirely of tunes sung by a female singer.

Now comes “Blue Steel,” another outstanding 50/50 instrumental-and-vocal set enlisting a male and a female singer, with one or the other contributing to the non-instrumental numbers.

This time there’s an R&B/blues/soul theme, a unique approach for a pedal-steel album but not without precedence if the criterion were to be “any type of slide guitar”: Jeff Plankenhorn, who plays a custom-built electric dobro, released an all-soul album entitled “SoulSlide” in 2016.

“Blue Steel” opens with a lively original instrumental, “Night Flight.” Recalling such rockin’ steelers as “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow and Red Rhodes, it’s highlighted by guitarist Gary Potterton’s (Tom Fogerty, Kate Wolf) succinct Duane Eddy-esque solo toward the end.

The first of the vocal numbers is “All Night Worker,” a Rufus Thomas hit in 1964, here sourced from the 1966 version by Tex-Mex band Los Stardusters. Former Hoodoo Rhythm Devils singer Glenn Walters provides the voice. The Stardusters arrangement boasts a “She’s About a Mover” groove, which might not be a coincidence: Los Stardusters were on the Texas-based Tear Drop label, founded by Sir Douglas Quintet producer Huey P. Meaux.

San Francisco singer Dallis Craft handles the female half of the album’s vocal equation, beginning with a stunning rendition of “A Love So Beautiful,” the Roy Orbison-Jeff Lynne co-write from Orbison’s 1989 comeback album, “Mystery Girl.”

And so the album’s pattern is established, with the balance alternating between instrumental and vocal selections. The rest of the vocal tunes are also covers, a refreshingly eclectic collection of songs by Jimmy McCracklin (“The Wobble”), Graham Parker (“Howlin’ Wind”), Lefty Frizzell (“Look What Thoughts Will Do”), B.B. King (“Beautician Blues”) and Dallas Frazier (“True Love Travels on a Gravel Road”).

The balance of the instrumentals are mostly Goldmark originals, with two exceptions: Bob Marley’s “Natty Dread” (sourced from eight-string jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter’s 1997 instrumental reimagining of Marley’s 1974 album of the same name) and “I Want to Be With You Forever” (written especially for “Blue Steel” by Bay Area guitarist and Goldmark colleague Jim Campilongo, who also plays guitars on the track).

1. Night Flight
2. All Night Worker (feat. Glenn Walters)
3. A Love So Beautiful (feat. Dallis Craft)
4. Ginger Ale
5. The Wobble (feat. Glenn Walters)
6. Warm Rain
7. Howlin’ Wind (feat. Dallis Craft)
8. Natty Dread
9. Look What Thoughts Will Do (feat. Dallis Craft)
10. Tacky Tango
11. Beautician Blues (feat. Glenn Walters)
12. I Want To Be With You Forever (Jim Campilongo — guitars)
13. True Love Travels On A Gravel Road (feat. Dallis Craft)

Total time: 41:34

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Ana Popovic


Eclecto Groove

For her sixth studio album (counting her 1998 debut as a member of Hush), Yugoslavian singer-songwriter-guitarist Popovic left her Amsterdam base for three months to descend on the Crescent City and craft her finest release.

With help from Grammy-winning producer John Porter, some of New Orleans’ best musicians and a vocal coach, Popovic takes her formidable blues-rock skills in more of a traditional blues direction while maintaining her jazz and soul propensities.

The core backup band consists of Jon Cleary on keyboards, Calvin Turner on bass and Doug Belote on drums. Louisiana great Sonny Landreth challenges her to a slide duel on “Slideshow,” the sole instrumental. Jason Ricci, a recent New Orleans transplant who’s among the vanguard of blues harp players, wails on “Count Me In.” Keys maestro David Torkanowsky, of jazz improv group Astral Project, replaces Cleary on two cover songs: the Nat Adderley standard “Work Song” and Koko Taylor’s “Voodoo Woman,” which holds what might be the record’s best slide solo.

“Unconditional” opens with an acoustic-slide gospel number, “Fearless Blues.” The title cut is a blues shuffle, containing yet another killer electric-slide solo. “Reset Rewind” again approaches gospel territory, throwing in a one-two keyboard punch of electric piano and organ. “Business as Usual” is blues all the way.

Other highlights are “Your Love Ain’t Real,” entering the realm of funk/R&B; and “Summer Rain,” which is pure R&B.

The set closes with two more covers: Mercy Dee Walton’s “One Room Country Shack” and Sugar Pie DeSanto’s big Chess hit, “Soulful Dress,” written by Maurice McAlister and Terry Vail.

1. Fearless Blues
2. Count Me In
3. Unconditional
4. Reset Rewind
5. Slideshow
6. Business As Usual
7. Your Love Ain’t Real
8. Work Song
9. Summer Rain
10. Voodoo Woman
11. One Room Country Shack
12. Soulful Dress

Total time: 50:53

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Matthew Stubbs

Medford & Main

Blue Bella

stubbsFor those who like Willie Mitchell, the Mar-Keys, Booker T. & the MG’s, the Bar-Kays and that 1990 self-titled album by the Memphis Boys, Stubbs comes highly recommended.

He, too, has that instrumental Memphis soul-blues thing going. While there’s no organ (or any other keyboards), there are tenor sax, baritone sax and trumpet on most cuts, complementing his vintage guitars played through vintage amps.

And he loves to mix it up a lot. On “Pistol Whip,” he veers into spy/surf territory. “Sleepy Eyes” is a soporific, southside Chicago blues vamp. “Double N” flat out rocks, with plenty of reverb and vibrato. The sultry “Tube Top Temptation” is like a slo-mo “She’s About a Mover.” For a gently tropical number akin to something from Ry Cooder’s California trilogy, try “Mangos.” Stubbs even dishes out some down and dirty funk on “Yikes Ike.”

The disc’s best pair of songs, hands down, are “Rug Burn” and “Fazzo Beans.” The former revels in a West Coast, fast-lane groove and features a Doc Severinsen-like solo (albeit about an octave lower). The latter is a speed-blues number that borrows — in spirit — the rhythm track to ZZ Top’s “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” the melody of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Rude Mood” and the horns from the second half of the Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.”gnm_end_bug

1. Medford & Main
2. Pistol Whip
3. Uncle Sonny
4. Sleepy Eyes
5. Double N
6. Tube Top Temptation
7. Yikes Ike
8. Mangos
9. Rug Burn
10. Waffles
11. Fazzo Beans

Total time: 35:29

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Various Artists

Keep Your Soul:
A Tribute to Doug Sahm


sahmIt’ll be 10 years ago in November that Sahm, 58, went to sleep at a New Mexico motel and never woke up. Since then, there have been enough releases to keep fans happy while preserving his legacy: “The Return of Wayne Douglas” (his final sessions, 2000); “The Songs of Sahm” (the Bottle Rockets’ covers disc, 2002); two limited-edition reissues — “The Genuine Texas Groover” (“Doug Sahm & Band” and “Texas Tornado” with more than an album’s worth of outtakes, 2003) and “The Complete Mercury Masters” (the Sir Douglas Quintet’s six original Mercury/Smash albums plus bonus material, 2005); and “Live From Austin, Texas” (a 1981 “Austin City Limits” performance, 2006). 

Now comes this long-awaited and well-executed tribute by friends, family and kindred spirits: “Shawn Sahm and I tried to do a tribute album right after Doug Sahm died in 1999, but it was just too soon,” writer-publicist Bill Bentley told Good New Music. “Ten years later we found a partner in Vanguard Records through David Katznelson and it all fell together.”

“I wanted to do a tribute to Pop … to help draw attention to the coming 10th anniversary of his passing,” Shawn said, “so I called Bill and David. David brought in Vanguard, the four of us busted our asses and here it is.”

Bentley and Katznelson are former Warner Bros. execs, and the majority of contributors were lined up by Bentley, whose Texas roots helped ensure the album’s requisite preponderance of Lone Star artists. “We asked each contributor for a song suggestion, and almost all got to do the one they wanted,” Bentley said. “A few needed suggestions, and in one case two people wanted to do the same song, so the artist who asked first got their first choice. Fair is fair!”

When Levon Helm’s schedule forced him to back out of his commitment to do “She’s About a Mover,” Ry Cooder came to the rescue with Little Willie G. (of Thee Midniters and later Malo fame). Cooder’s production and famous electric bottleneck turn the song into a raucous affair along the lines of his own legendary covers of Johnny Cash’s “Get Rhythm,” Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” and Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up.”

Other highlights are Alejandro Escovedo’s “Too Little Too Late,” undoubtedly the most reworked song with its multitracked violins creating an almost saxophone sound that joins Mick Ronson-like guitar for the chorus’ descending scale; Jimmie Vaughan’s take on “Why, Why, Why,” his unpretentious but soulful guitar a perfect match for the tune’s ’50s-style R&B leanings; and Charlie Sexton & the Mystic Knights of the Sea’s thrashfest remake of “You’re Doin’ It Too Hard.”

Shawn’s version of “Mendocino” is the other big hit bookending the set. He plays all the instruments himself (despite yelling out “Play it, Augie!” just before the organ solo), taking the essence of the original and kicking it up a notch. “It has a special meaning/vibe,” Shawn said. “All my pop’s songs do to me; they are scrapbooks of my childhood in a personal-type way. But on that tune, I just really wanted to visit that simple SDQ formula that starts with a simple, killer tune, and has those great rolling bass lines, and the Vox pumping, big vocal! Magic!”

Like Sir Doug’s output, “Keep Your Soul” is eclectic as hell, and reflects his affinity for pedal steel, fiddle and accordion. Here’s who sings what and the original sources (all are from SDQ releases unless otherwise indicated):

1. Little Willie G. – She’s About a Mover (1965 single; also on first album “Best of Sir Douglas Quintet” 1966)
2. Los Lobos – It Didn’t Even Bring Me Down (“Mendocino” 1969)
3. Alejandro Escovedo – Too Little Too Late (“Day Dreaming at Midnight” 1994)
4. Greg Dulli – You Was For Real (solo album “The Return of Wayne Douglas” 2000)
5. Dave Alvin – Dynamite Woman (1969 single; also on “Rough Edges” 1973)
6. Flaco Jimenez with the West Side Horns (feat. Augie Meyers on Vox organ and Nunie Rubio on vocal) – Ta Bueno Compadre (It’s OK Friend) (Texas Tornados “4 Aces” 1996)
7. Delbert McClinton – Texas Me (“Mendocino” 1969)
8. Terry Allen – I’m Not That Kat Anymore (1975 nonalbum B-side)
9. Jimmie Vaughan – Why, Why, Why (Doug Sahm and the Markays, 1960 single)
10. Charlie Sexton & the Mystic Knights of the Sea – You’re Doin’ It Too Hard (“Rough Edges” 1973)
11. The Gourds – Nuevo Laredo (“Together After Five” 1970)
12. Freda & the Firedogs – Be Real (“1 + 1 + 1 = 4” 1970)
13. Joe ‘King’ Carrasco & Texas Tornados (feat. Augie Meyers on Vox organ) – Adios Mexico (“Quintessence” 1983)
14. Shawn Sahm – Mendocino (1968 single; also on “Mendocino” 1969)gnm_end_bug

Total time: 46:46

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The Nighthawks

American Landscape


nighthawksA white-boy-blues album as delicately balanced as “American Landscape” would be hard to find. Ten well-chosen covers and two originals, running the gamut from R&B to rock to jazz to soul to country, are tied together so neatly that one wishes it were Friday night at the local no-cover-charge watering hole in perpetuity.

One of America’s longest-living bar bands (approaching 37 years), the Nighthawks lost founding guitarist Jimmy Thackery to a solo career in 1986 and went through a series of axmen before landing Telecaster master Paul Bell along with bassist Johnny Castle in 2005. Lone original member Mark Wenner (harmonica, vocals) and 35-year member Pete Ragusa (drums) round out the group. “Landscape” is this particular quartet’s first studio effort.

From the get go, Bell supports the theory that there’s something about Washington, D.C., guitarists. “Big Boy,” a deeply grooving song by L.A.’s criminally unknown blues-rockers the Imperial Crowns, features some of the best electric and electric-slide tone since David Champagne’s work with Boston’s short-lived Treat Her Right.

Other highlights include “Down in the Hole” (aka “Way Down in the Hole,” by Tom Waits from his 1986 musical play “Franks Wild Years”); Ike Turner’s 1958 Sun single “Matchbox” (aka “Gonna Forget About You,” sung by Ragusa); and Sam and Dave’s “Don’t Turn Your Heater Down” and Dan Penn’s “Standing in the Way” (both also sung by Ragusa).

The two Dylan covers are inventive; Castle’s original contributions (“Where Do You Go” and “Jana Lee”) dovetail nicely with the rest of the set; and the acoustic instrumental “Fishin’ Hole” (theme from “The Andy Griffith Show”) makes for a swingin’ sendoff.gnm_end_bug

1. Big Boy
2. Down In the Hole
3. She Belongs To Me
4. Matchbox
5. Where Do You Go
6. Try It Baby
7. Jana Lea
8. Made Up My Mind
9. Don’t Turn Your Heater Down
10. Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine
11. Standing In the Way
12. Fishin’ Hole Theme

Total time: 44:06

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