The Lucas Haneman Express, from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, rocks on its second CD. Tearing Up The Rails has 12 originals plus covers of Steppenwolf’s 1968 “Magic Carpet Ride” and the 1984 Bryan Adams hit “Run To You,” which they actually improve upon, thus taking it out of its long-held schlock ghetto (it helps that Steve Marriner of Monkeyjunk is on harmonica). But it’s the blues where Lucas Haneman shines the brightest. “Blind Man’s Blues,” recorded in Memphis at the legendary Sun Records, is autobiographical as Haneman in, indeed, sightless. “Scrabble,” “Love Shine” and “The Verdict” are the highlights. Highly recommended.

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Stevie J is the son of a Mississippi preacher man. His Back 2 Blues (Mississippi Delta Records/PK Music) shows off the multi-talented singer/songwriter/producer/guitarist on 11 soulful tracks (he wrote eight) with a kickin’ big-band of drums (4), bass (2), organ, background vocalists (4), piano, sax (4), trombone, trumpet, strings, pedal steel, (his) guitar and harmonica. Known as Stevie J Blues, he played guitar in Bobby Rush’s band before going solo in 2008. Two albums later, he’s Back 2 Blues, no gospel, but soul-stained to the max. This blues has the accent on rhythm. I may be partial to “Cradle Robber” but you can pick your own highlight.

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Ergo Sum (Epops Music) means “therefore I am” in Latin. This 8-track blister by singer/songwriter/guitarist Mike Sponza with Ian Siegal featuring Dana Gillespie is a hellfire of blues, jazz, soul and gospel. The two guests can sing up a storm. Sponza, the blues man from Italy, has already internationalized the blues in 2008 when he rounded up 25 players from Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Hungary, Ireland, England and the U.S. for Kakanic Blues 2.0. Now, he has taken script written over 2,000 years ago by such poets as Catullus, Horatius, Martialis and Juvenalis to use as the blues. “I’ve discovered there’s a trait d’union between those ancient poems and the lyrics of Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and Bob Dylan,” he says. Recorded at London’s Abbey Road Studios with sax, trumpet, keyboards, bass, drums and four singers, tracks like “Carpe Diem” and “Modus In Rebus” are, amazingly, the blues.

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I’ve been to stranger places but the Stranger Places of Canadian band Unseen Strangers pushes the limits of stringed jam-band wildness to new heights. It’s the final frontier for bluegrass—call it “new-grass”—where banjo (Matt Elwood), mandolin (Mike Mezzatesta) and guitar (Adam Shier) explore strange new worlds to seek out new life in a tired genre to boldly go where no man has gone before. Solvent since 2008, producer Andrew Collins has used his experience with the Creaking Tree String Quartet and the Foggy Mountain Hogtown Boys to create a world of dazzling interplay and “high lonesome” vocals. Funded by Canada’s Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings (FACTOR), an entity that the U.S. would be well to emulate (FACTOR has already invested almost $153 million on homegrown talent), Stranger Places is a delicious snack on any progressive music fan’s diet.

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Takin’ & Givin’ by Levee Town is the Kansas City trio’s sixth album in 14 years. It swings, it shuffles, it jumps and it stays true to the blues. They’re the house band at The Knucklehead Saloon, a Midwestern stop for any adventurer. Legends like Lazy Lester, Louisiana Red, Muddy’s son Big Bill Morganfield and Watermelon Slim have used them as their back-up band and folks at many a festival have thrilled to their stop-on-a-dime dramatics, soulful vocals and rockin’ jumps. Highlights include every single damn track, all 14 of ‘em. Singer/songwriter Brandon Hudspeth, singer/songwriter/bassist/harmonicat/slide guitarist Jacque Garoutte and drummer Adam Hagerman are joined by piano and Hammond B-3 organ for this high recommended blues party.

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Not too many musical miles from Levee Town comes the Jon Stickley Trio’s Triangular wherein their own particular take on new-grass is a stone gas. It’s a dazzling, swirling instrumental cornucopia guaran-damn-teed to knock your socks off. The five tracks on this EP stun with some flat-picking dexterity, gypsy jazz and pizzicato fiddle plucking (no vocals) and a cover of jazz-grass pioneer Tony Rice’s “Manzanita” (Rice is the Monk of ‘grass as many of his tunes are, uh, really hard to play). Still, Jon Stickley is up to the task, as is fiddler Lyndsay Pruett and drummer Patrick Armitage. “Echolocation” mimics the sounds of whales, but it’s the opening “Blackburn Brothers” that sets the scene in glorious jam-band ferocity.

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Finally, No More Blue Mondays by Landon Spradlin, recorded and originally released in 1995 England with bassist Dave Markee and drummer Henry Spinetti (both from Eric Clapton’s band), has been re-released. This nine-track blues bonanza features Spradlin’s Americana guitar playing, be it in the styles of Louisiana, Memphis and/or Texas, and his ragged-but-right vocal phlegm. His compositions ring true with gospel fervor (especially “My Friend Jesus,” “My God,” “He Is There,” “I Got Jesus’ Name” and opener “Seminary”). His cover of the 1973 Dobie Gray hit “Drift Away” is pure soul. Spradlin himself is rather mysterious. A street musician, he’s scaled heights unimaginable for most. He runs his own ministry now in his native Virginia.

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