Here’s a guy who had a successful singer/songwriter career opening shows for Crowded House, the Beach Boys and the Neville Brothers before he realized what was most important to him: raising a family. Eventually, Dave Ellis started writing music again for a local Seattle repertory theater. Upon being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011, Ellis knew time was short and he had numerous unpublished songs he wanted heard. So he made the self-release of Everything In Between (daveellis.com) his priority, over and above his participation in a Buck Owens tribute band, The Buckaroosters.
The resulting album is a satisfying blend of his influences (Gram Parsons, Allmans) that’s right up there with the music of folks like James Taylor, John Mayer and Marc Cohn. Mixed by Justin Armstrong (Dave Matthews Band), its 13 tracks with harmonica, pedal steel, bass, percussion, electric guitar, keyboards and background vocals augmenting his compositions, voice and acoustic guitar, go down easy and sweet, ripe for repeated listening.
Unfinished Business: Soul, Funk, Ballads & Blues (Ellersoul/City Hall) by Li’l Ronnie & The BlueBeats featuring Claudia Carawan is a 14-track party that lives up to its name. This band had its halcyon days in the 1980s and has been working this, its second album, since 1991. When the sexy Carawan isn’t singing some Ray Charles (“Hard Times”) or Louie Prima (“Jump Jive Then You Wail”), she’s playing some mean alto sax. The originals smoke with a Cotton Club-styled intensity, especially “Cold Hard Cash” and “I Had A Warden For A Woman.”
The party goes on forever with the self-titled self-released debut from Josh Hoyer And The Shadowboxers of Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s an eight-track rockin’ blues and soul jam featuring Hoyer’s piano, organ, pen and vocals backed by trombone, sax, trumpet, bass, percussion, guitar and a bevy of background vocals. Dude knows he living in a “Dirty World,” that everything he loves is probably an “Illusion” so he’s mean enough to tell his girl “Just Call Me (I’ll Be Sure To Let You Down Again).” Man, I’d love to see ‘em live!
Solid Ground (Ruf Records) is Albert Castiglia’s seventh album in 20 years. This 44-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist, discovered by blues legend Junior Wells, was born in New York, raised in Miami, and recorded this 14-track party (yes, another party!) at Fat Rabbit Studios in Glen Ridge, NJ. “Have You No Shame” castigates his slut girlfriend (“I saw you last night under them parking lot lights wrapped in someone else’s arms”), advises to go for it no matter what your goal (“Put Some Stank On It”) and even gets down with some social comment in “Love One Another” (“it seems like hate is on the rise, it’s enough to bring tears to my eyes”). He covers “Sway” by the Stones and the sad blues standard “Going Down Slow,” written by St. Louis Jimmy Oden in 1941 but popularized by Howlin’ Wolf 20 years later.
Freddie Bryant is a multi-faceted guitarist, be it jazz, classical or Brazilian. His Dreamscape: Solo, Duo, Trio (GJKSounds) is a stone gem: the fluidity and range of expression he displays on nylon-string classic guitar, 12-string acoustic or six-string electric, with bassist Scott Colley and Chris Potter (tenor /soprano sax and bass clarinet) make for a heady treat on Thelonious Monk’s “Ask Me Now,” Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” and Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” (solo), improvised “Vignette #1” and “Vignette #2” (duo), the traditional gospel “I’m Going To Tell God All Of My Troubles” (trio) and nine more. “I wanted to do a project that didn’t have drums,” he says, “because there’s something that happens to the clarity of guitar sound when cymbals are ringing and drums are beating. There’s an intimacy that you get when you have a mic right in front of a guitar and nothing else.”