Rant ‘N’ Roll: Somi, Sena and Rob

Rant ‘N’ Roll: Somi, Sena and Rob

—by , September 24, 2014

Rob Stone blows. His Gotta Keep Rollin’ (VizzTone) cuts to the bone when it comes to danceable blues. His harmonica is infused with the kind of chops one can only learn from touring ‘round the world, recording four albums and playing with the kind of blues heavyweights where you better damn well be good.

Here’s a guy who came out of Boston to play in Colorado biker bands before making his way to Chicago where he received his education before moving to Los Angeles. You could consider his tenure with drummer Sam Lay’s band as his apprenticeship since Lay played with Paul Butterfield and Little Walter. (Stone also blew for rockabilly legend Sleepy La Beef.)

He’s been on his own for a while now singing and fronting a hot juiced-up guitar/bass/drums ensemble. Here, he adds Blues Hall of Fame saxman Eddie Shaw as well as former Howlin’ Wolf pianist Henry Gray. The result is a slammin’ salami of beefy proportions that improves upon his 2010 Back Around Here party. These 12 tracks positively sizzle like bacon fat. Half original, with scintillating covers of Jazz Gillum, Billy “The Kid” Emerson, Blind Willie McTell and Cornelius Green, this thing pops. The popcorn is ready, y’all, come and get it.

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Live My Life (Blind Pig) by Minnesota vocalist supreme Sena Ehrhardt should push this former nurse into the bigtime since she was already hailed by the Blues Foundation for her 2011 Leave The Light On and her 2013 All In. Guess she wanted to fly solo ‘cause here, for the first time, her daddy ain’t her lead guitarist anymore. That duty goes to her new songwriting partner Cole Allen who heads up her hot new band on these soulful new originals and carefully picked covers.

John Lennon’s performance on the 1958 Larry Williams jump-blues “Slow Down” may be one of the greatest 1960s rock ‘n’ roll vocals…but wait until you hear what Sena does with it! Smooth, sexy, inviting, she nails it. She also nails, in her own distinctive and seductive way, Albert Collins’ “If Trouble Was Money” and Leon Russell’s “Help Me Through The Day.” Onstage, she’s a dynamo, and has fielded invitations from BB King, ZZ Top, Johnny Winter and Gregg Allman to open their shows. Sena is tough yet tender and it’s that exact disparity that makes her the artist she is. Sena…remember that name.

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Somi: remember that name too. The Lagos Music Salon (Okeh) weaves the jazz, soul and folk strains into a tapestry representing this amazing vocalist’s experiences moving back to Africa after establishing a base in New York City. For 18 months, this brave and independent woman collaborated with local Nigerian musicians to create The Lago Music Salon, a socially-aware manifesto that could serve as a generational touchstone. These songs are more like anthems, dwelling on the inequities faced by poor people of color. For instance, Fela Kuti may have inspired “Lady Revisited,” one of the CD’s highlights, but between Somi and guest Angelique Kidjo, the tune bristles with indignation and percussion. Ditto for “When Rivers Cry” with rapper Common, a reflection on the continent’s pollution. Her activism might have been spurred by the fact that as mentored by the legendary trumpeter Hugh Masekela, Somi was smart enough to receive a medical anthropology research fellowship in Kenya. You might say it opened her eyes.

But it’s Lagos that won her heart. Those 18 months changed her life and the songs that came out of it ring true and profound. Sure, there were hardly any clubs in which to perform and make her music progress…so she took her acoustic ideas to art galleries in an effort to broaden her scope. Another hot trumpeter, Ambrose Akinmusire, provides mournful melancholy to her “Brown Round Things,” a song she wrote after observing Lagos prostitutes. Nina Simone provided the inspiration for another heady track, the 6:36 “Four African Women,” each with their own hardship—genocide, skin bleaching, circumcision and prostitution.

Somi ain’t kidding around. This is beautiful jazzy worldbeat soul of the finest order.

    reader responses
  1. I’m so excited to see Somi in Chicago on Saturday!!!

    Lucas on 9/26/2014 at 10:41 PM 


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