The First Great Blues CD of 2018
Singer/songwriter/harmonicat Curtis Salgado, and guitarist/composer/producer Alan Hager, both from Oregon, do not need a band. Rough Cut (Alligator Records) has six originals and seven covers including Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and Elmore James’ “You Got To Move.” The joy inherent in this project seeps out on every track, especially their instant classic, “I Want My Dog To Live Longer (The Greatest Wish).” From Sonny Boy Williamson and Son House to Big Bill Broonzy and the old folkloric spiritual “Morning Train,” Salgado’s voice is one for the ages as Hager’s guitar needs no amplification or effects to get his points across. It’s an acoustic, organic, backwoods front-porch kind of party. Salgado was the one who taught John Belushi about the blues. As singer for The Robert Cray Band and Roomful of Blues, he honed his craft well enough to release 10 solo albums. We’re lucky to have him still with us. He has survived liver cancer in 2006, lung cancer in 2008 and 2012, and quadruple bypass heart surgery just last year. Catch him while you can.
The Asbury Park Sound
One listen to Soul Of A Man (No Fret/VizzTone) by the Billy Walton Band and if you don’t yet know what the Asbury Park sound is, you will after these 13 tracks. Ask Bruce, ask Southside — they’ll tell you. It’s a sound punctuated by hot horns, a stinging lead guitar, a soulful vocalist, a rhythm section that cracks it all open, and it’s usually played in a hot sweaty bar where the music itself gets under your skin. I can think of no more intense musical trip other than New Orleans. Now in its eleventh year together, this band has crossed the Atlantic 20 times to bring their Jersey brand to Great Britain. Recorded in Hawaii — although certain tracks just had to be done on the Jersey Shore and in South Philly– they mix it up good with a sprinkle of Classic Rock (John Fogerty’s “Green River”), some jump-blues and a whole lotta soul. Bravo!
The First Great Country CD of 2018
While Nashville seems content to turn out assembly line country that all sounds the same, Canadian trio Cousin Harley gets real on Blue Smoke: The Music Of Merle Travis (Little Pig Records). Travis [1917-1983] came out of Kentucky as a fully-formed singer/songwriter/guitarist whose music has influenced every generation since his 1947 debut. In 1948, Travis worked with Bigsby Guitars to build the first modern solid-body electric guitar. Cousin Harley positively nails “Divorce Me C.O.D.,” “So Round So Firm So Fully Packed,” “16 Tons,” “Too Much Sugar For A Dime,” “Fat Gal,” “Smoke Smoke Smoke That Cigarette” and six other Travis classics while adding their own oomph of swing and rockabilly. Guitarist/singer Paul Pigat has those Travis chops down pat!
Playing The Card I Was Dealt
When I played Harley Card’s The Greatest Invention — self-released with the help of the Toronto Arts Council funded by the city of Toronto — I assumed the Invention was his sterling guitar. After marveling at how the great country of Canada and the great city of Toronto are smart enough to understand how important the arts are, unlike here, I realized that Card was writing about his bicycle. He wrote the title track after reading Ben Irvine’s Einstein and the Art of Mindful Cycling. He wrote and produced all 11 tracks and with the help of saxophonist David French, pianist Matt Newton, bassist Jon Maharaj and drummer Ethan Ardelli has fully realized his potential on this, his third CD. Every track’s a highlight. “Precipice” has French in full Wayne Shorter mode. “The Shadows Of Sea Pines” is an ambitious three-part suite. “Highlights” is an etude in 5/4 swing time. “Enclosure” is like a John Cage composition as each instrument “is introduced one at a time and is twice the length of the previous one. They then exit in reverse order creating a pyramid shape,” according to Card’s liner notes. Card wrote “April Song” from the smoldering ashes of the long-forgotten Sinatra chestnut “I’ll Remember April.” “Grace” has some amazing intuitive interplay — that’s what happens when you’ve been together as a unit for 12 years. Wholeheartedly recommended.
Sly Like A Fox
On The Great Nostalgist (Hot Cup Records), by the Danny Fox Trio, the well-worn piano/bass/drums trio is catapulted into new territory. Pianist Fox, bassist Chris van Voorst van Beest and drummer Max Goldman transcend all expectations. Their multi-genre aesthetic eschews traditional swing and bop for a more nuanced chamber music vibe. Fox wrote all 10 tracks but it’s the arrangements by the trio that capture the ear. Recorded in a 100-year-old Catskill Mountain house, this 10-year-old NYC trio is buoyed by Beest’s bass, a rumbling exotic voice that provides counterpoint, harmony and dramatic bowed effects. “Jewish Cowboy” is bluegrass-inspired while “Cookie Puss Prize” nears Afro-Cuban territory. “Caterpillar Serenade” is cinematic like soundtrack music for a movie that doesn’t exist. “Fat Frog” is my highlight, filled with quirky jumps and a dizzying speed-zip pace. Man, I’d love to see these guys live.
Belgium is in Western Europe. Brussels is a thriving metropolis within this coastal country. It’s where Ghalia Vauthier grew up and started singing on street corners for anyone who passed by and was generous enough to throw a few coins or some paper in her roadside jar. She did pretty good. She saved enough money to buy a one-way plane ticket to Chicago where she soon found out how cruel the streets could be. Memphis was next. Then Nashville. She had some success in Mississippi with her Euro-inflected brand of raw blues. But it was only in Louisiana where she started defining her act into the kind of full-throated soul that could not be ignored.
And she wasn’t.
Johnny Mastro & Mama’s Boys have worked in the French Quarter of New Orleans for more years than they’d probably care to admit. When Mastro heard Ghalia, he fell in love with her grit, balls and voice. He then gave her his band. Let The Demons Out (Ruf Records) by Ghalia & Mama’s Boys is a blockbuster tour de force of nature and nurture. Yeah, when it comes to blues-rock, she’s a total ball-buster and demands to be heard. Mastro is content to be her side man, blowing some cool blues harp and adding his own weathered vocals to the mix.
With Smoke House Brown on lead guitar, she self-produced her own banshee wail of considerable range and power and wrote all 12 songs. The result is a rock’n’rolling blues bomb of R&B proportions that might make your ears bleed. Starting with “4:00 a.m. Fried Chicken” (touring musicians can relate), on into “Press My Trigger” (she is sorta like a smoking gun), “Addiction,” “Hoodoo Evil Man” and ending with the irresistible “Hiccup Boogie,” Ghalia and her Boys have arrived. May they go ever on. He hE