The Blasters

Fun on Saturday Night

Rip Cat

A new Blasters album is nothing to sneeze at.

The roots rockers’ first four studio albums were released from 1980 to 1985, before singer Phil Alvin and lead guitarist Dave Alvin no longer saw eye to eye and Dave told his brother goodbye.

The group’s next 10 years saw a revolving door of lead guitarists, including Hollywood Fats, Billy Zoom, Smokey Hormel and James Intveld. In 2002 the band still had not produced another studio album, but the original Blasters lineup reunited for shows that year and the next that spawned two live albums before Dave Alvin left again.

The elusive studio album No. 5 finally materialized in late 2004 in Europe and summer 2005 in America. “4-11-44” featured lead guitarist Keith Wyatt (1996 to present) and drummer Jerry Angel (who joined in 1994).

“Fun on Saturday Night” narrows the waiting period between albums from 20 years to eight, and finds original drummer Bill Bateman back in the fold, having rejoined in 2008.

A more even effort than its predecessor, which nonetheless was an excellent release, “Fun” runs the usual gamut from blues to soul to rock to country and contains two new originals: a Phil Alvin song and a group composition.

The Alvin song, “Breath of My Love,” is an engaging and clever story-song about a man whose lover is “probably bipolar” — at least according to her psychologist — and tries to kill him in a fit of jealousy. Rendered doo-wop style, the tale’s ironic, cliffhanger ending is sure to please.

The group composition, “Penny,” features an astounding Howlin’ Wolf-type guitar lick, over which Alvin doesn’t so much sing as intermittently mutters assorted reasons why Penny shouldn’t (when he really means should) do those things she does.

Highlights among the covers comprising the rest of the disc include:

• The ripsnorting “Well Oh Well,” a 1950 R&B hit for Tiny Bradshaw.

• “Jackson,” popularized in 1967 but written in 1963 by Jerry Leiber and Billy “Edd” Wheeler, in which guest Exene Cervenka plays June Carter Cash to Alvin’s Johnny Cash (or Nancy Sinatra to Lee Hazlewood, depending on your taste).

• Sonny Boy Williamson II’s 1954 flip side, “No More Nights By Myself,” one of several songs John Bazz plays upright bass on.

• “The Yodelin’ Mountaineer,” a 1946 B-side by J.E. Mainer’s Mountaineers. Alvin’s yodeling is spot on, but the modern rhythm parts and solos place it in a new context.

Wrapping it all up is a Spanish-language version of the Blasters classic “Marie Marie,” retitled “Maria Maria,” with Kid Ramos guesting on bajo sexto.

Kudos to Alvin and Bazz for keeping the group going all this time. Despite only two new studio albums in 28 years, they’re still playing that “American music” like nobody’s business.

Tracks
1. Well Oh Well
2. Jackson
3. Breath Of My Love
4. Fun On Saturday Night
5. No More Nights By Myself
6. Love Me With A Feeling
7. I Don’t Want Cha
8. Please Please Please
9. Rock My Blues Away
10. Penny
11. The Yodelin’ Mountaineer
12. Maria Maria

Total time: 35:40

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James Luther Dickinson

I’m Just Dead, I’m Not Gone

Memphis International

Jim Dickinson shuffled off to that great gig in the sky almost three years ago, but he’s back again on disc in this 2006 concert with musical support from the North Mississippi Allstars and Jimmy Davis.

While sons Luther and Cody have played on three of their dad’s five studio albums, this marks the first release to feature the brothers’ band backing the legendary Memphis session pianist/producer.

Luther’s slide guitar, Cody’s drums and Chris Chew’s bass prove a perfect complement to Dickinson Sr.’s barrelhouse piano and gravelly vocals. Throw in Davis on second guitar, and this easily becomes Jim Dickinson’s finest album since 1972’s “Dixie Fried.”

Culled from the setlist that June night at the New Daisy Theatre in Memphis, these tracks represents some of Dickinson’s best work from his voluminous discography, including session work for Ry Cooder (“Ax Sweet Mama,” “Down in Mississippi”) and output as a member of Mudboy and the Neutrons (“Money Talks,” “Codine”) and as a solo artist (“Kassie Jones,” aka “K.C. Jones” and “Casey Jones”). All the songs are covers, spanning songwriters such as Sir Mack Rice, Sleepy John Estes, Furry Lewis, Buffy Sainte-Marie, B.B. King, Terry Fell and J.B. Lenoir.

Tracks
1. Money Talks
2. Ax Sweet Mama
3. Codine
4. Red Neck, Blue Collar
5. Kassie Jones
6. Rooster Blues
7. Never Make Your Move Too Soon
8. Truck Drivin’ Man
9. Down In Mississippi

Total time: 42:43

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Ana Popovic

Unconditional

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.

Tracks
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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The New Mastersounds

Breaks From the Border

Tallest Man

British retro-soul group The New Mastersounds have been around since they rose like a Phoenix in 1999 from the ashes of the original Mastersounds (not to be confused with America’s late ’50s/early ’60s easy-listening bop combo of the same name).

For the past five years, the Leeds-based instrumental funksters have been making a name for themselves in the United States, making the trek regularly to play the jam-band circuit. After their most recent trip, they sidetracked to Texas to record “Breaks,” their seventh studio album and first to feature group vocals (on eight of the 11 songs).

The change to the quartet’s sound — traditionally an amalgam of Meters, Jimmy McGriff, the J.B.s, Grant Green and Booker T. & the MGs — recalls classic funk songs such as Average White Band’s “Cut the Cake” or Tower of Power’s “What Is Hip?” But the group retains its trademark emphasis on guitar and organ, with plenty of long sections between vocal passages where all can stretch out.

No doubt Sonic Ranch, the five-studio residential recording complex in the middle of pecan orchards near El Paso, and its vintage equipment and instruments (Fender Rhodes included), contributed to the enthusiastic takes heard here.

For purists who prefer instrumentals, there’s “Run the Gauntlet,” a boogaloo number whose title gives a good indication of its tempo; the more moderate but full of snap, crackle and pop “Freckles” (after the British R&B singer also known as Rhianna Kenny, who did all the disc’s vocal arrangements); and “Josus” (another nickname, for the band’s keyboardist), containing some Donald Fagen-like piano and a “Josie”-like beat.

Tracks
1. Take What You Need
2. Run The Gauntlet
3. On The Border
4. Free Man
5. Freckles
6. Passport
7. Walk In These Shoes
8. Josus
9. Can You Get It?
10. Turn It Up
11. Up In The Air

Total time: 48:33

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Devon Allman’s Honeytribe

Space Age Blues

Provogue

devonThe press release advertises “guitar licks that explode into whistling comet trails,” but such effects are hard if not impossible to find. This sophomore release is simply a solid blues-rock album showing impressive songwriting growth from 2006’s “Torch.”

The only space-age theme lies in the lyrics of the title track, a slow blues number heavy on the wah-wah, alternating between shades of Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s cover of Bob Geddins’ “Tin Pan Alley.”

The “tribe” has been trimmed down to Allman (guitar, vocals), George Potsos (bass) and newcomer Gabriel Strange (drums). “Could Get Dangerous” benefits from the stylized harmonica of Huey “Workin’ for a Livin’ ” Lewis (who luckily was down the hall at Ardent Studios with the News — tracking “Soulsville,” their first studio album since 2001’s “Plan B”). Also helping to fill in the gaps are Ron Holloway (Dizzy Gillespie) on sax and/or Rick Stef, Memphis keyboard whiz. Adding even more class is violinist Bobby Yang (Kevin Costner’s Modern West), who overdubs himself ad infinitum until he becomes a string section on “Warm in Wintertime.”

Other highlights include the soulful “Salvation”; a funky cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke”; and two instrumentals: “Blue Est Le Vide,” on which Allman plays solo-acoustic, and “Insh’allah,” a showcase of fuzzed-out Middle Eastern electric riffage that would do Quicksilver Messenger Service’s John Cipollina proud.gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Could Get Dangerous
2. Space Age Blues
3. Salvation
4. Sir Duke
5. Endless Diamond
6. Bleu Est Le Vide
7. Warm In Wintertime
8. New Pet Monkey
9. I’m Ready
10. Take Me To The Bridge
11. Insh’Allah

Total time: 45:32

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