Songs Of Illness and Death

  Before The Devil Steals Your Soul (Coffeegrinds Music) by Blue Largo is a delicious slab of retro (their fourth). Vocalist Alicia Aragon and guitarist/composer Eric Lieberman formed the duo at the turn of the century after he had played in The King Biscuit Blues Band. Their covers are sublime and their originals bite on songs of terminal illness (“The Long Goodbye”), weary road warrior musicians (“If I Can Make It To Augusta”) and murder (“Monrovia”). Three great songs from the ‘60s are transformed into totally irresistible slinky, bluesy, jazzy, soulful pop: Nat Adderley’s 1960 “Work Song,” Nina Simone’s 1965 “Feeling Good” and Jimmy Ruffin’s 1966 “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted.” Their Original Vintage R&B Nonet provides the kick. Wholeheartedly Recommended.

Credit -Kayla Rocca

A Good New Rock Band! Amazing!

  Will wonders never cease? I thought that — apart from Queen-centric Struts — there weren’t any good new rock bands anymore. As a staunch curmudgeon, and as my aptitude for new rock has atrophied, buried beneath my newfound (since ’89) adventurism for other genres, a crusty bitterness has set in. Thus, I find myself falling back into the grooves of the tried ’n’ true rock ’n ’roll I’ve loved for decades. Enter The Trews. I love these guys!! This Canadian band is on its sixth studio album. They all write. The 13 songs on Civilianaires (Cadence Recordings) snap, crackle and pop with static electricity, inventive ideas, strong interplay, satisfying vocals, great production and an overall in-your-face post-punk, post-grunge, post-glam modernity. You could do worse.

Courtesy of Holly Cooper

Super Hero Jazz

  Look! Up in the sky! It’s a drone! It’s that British trump blimp! No…it’s Superman, Mighty Mouse, Spider Man, Batman, Hulk, X-Men, Underdog and Super Chicken, all gussied up theme-song-style, with way-out jazz arrangements and jazz-hero superstars like Chick Corea, Wynton Marsalis, Steve Gadd, Randy Brecker, Eddie Daniels, George Benson, Joe Lovano and Arturo Sandoval. Leave it to longtime Barbra Streisand Music Director Randy Waldman to amass these names. It only took him five years. With voiceovers by actors John Travolta, Jeff Goldblum and James Brolin, Superheroes (BFM Jazz) has a 13-piece horn section running amok. THIS is excellent entertainment.

This One Almost Made Me Cry

  Maybe because I’m married to a music teacher, but American Dreamers: Voices Of Hope Music Of Freedom (BFM Jazz) by the John Daversa Big Band Featuring DACA Artists almost made me cry. DACA is short for President Obama’s kind-hearted 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Early Arrivals. It was meant to ensure that kids, through no fault of their own, whose parents brought them to America illegally, yet who grew up here with American values, were protected. Last year, some 800,000+ of them suddenly faced deportation, despite 90 percent of them being in school, having a job, and contributing positively to what makes America great, or, at least, what used to make America great.

  Their spoken-word intros before they perform are heartbreaking. They introduce themselves, their age, their instrument and their circumstances. Sophisticated musicians all, you can hear them on Cole Porter’s 1934 “Don’t Fence Me In,” Woody Guthrie’s 1948 “Deportee,” Led Zeppelin’s 1970 “Immigrant Song,” James Brown’s 1985 “Living In America” plus “America The Beautiful,” “America” (from West Side Story) and “Stars And Stripes Forever.”

  It’s a powerful statement of human understanding and empathy.

Courtesy of Ralph Braband

Hank Williams Meets Iggy Pop?

  Coming Home: A Celebration of Roots Rhythms and Country-Fried Grooves (Rhythm Bomb Records) by The Rob Ryan Roadshow has an American leading this European band on its fifth album in a decade, an incendiary 14-track bombshell of epidemic proportions. It’ll get under your skin and you’ll get infected with the feeling of raw roots bluesy Americana-Rock with biting originals and well-chosen covers like Ann Coles’ 1956 “Got My Mojo Working,” the 17th Century Irish folksong “Whiskey In The Jar” and the 1963 5 Du-Tones hit “Shake Your Tail Feather.” This quartet — augmented by conga, harmonica and slide — rocks.

Credit – Cyndi Hornsby

I Gave Up The Eagles Game For Her

  She might have started as a trad-country siren but with the release of the absolutely unforgettable Strange Conversation, Mandy Barnett has taken flight as an alternative darling. Who else would cover Sonny & Cher and Tom Waits back-to-back? At the Sellersville Theater in Pennsylvania, she came out resplendent and gorgeous with that voice to die for. Thick honey molasses. Yeah, she sang Willie’s “Crazy” better than Patsy but the song that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up was Gene Pitney’s haunting 1961 “Town Without Pity.” Backed by but two guitarists, her two Sunday afternoon sets made one wonder why she isn’t the biggest female singer in the country. Backstage, we talked about Connie Francis. The time is right for Mandy Barnett to take “Who’s Sorry Now” to the top of the charts.

Courtesy of Phyliss Sossi

Better Than The Eagles

  Jim Messina, 70, has had a long, illustrious career since he helped pioneer surf-rock at 17 in Jimmy & The Jesters, be it as Buffalo Springfield producer/bassist, or pioneering country-rock in Poco, or selling a gazillion records with Kenny Loggins. Messina’s music has not only stood the test of time but sounds better today than ever. At the Sellersville Theater, his crack band divided up his many hits into two blistering sets — one acoustic and one electric — complete with CSN-styled harmony and jam-band joyousness that sent us into a tizzy (to the point of some strange woman actually pulling me up out of my seat to dance in the aisle). Hell, the like-minded Eagles ain’t got nothin’ on this legend!

Courtesy of Frank Roszak

Taylor Made For The Blues

  149 Delta Avenue by Mississippi Mick Kolassa and the Taylor Made Blues Band (Endless Blues Records) has this old-schooler (who also happens to be on the Board of Directors for The Blues Foundation) shaking off the cobwebs to get his band chops honed to a razor-sharp edge. I’ve thrilled to his solo albums in the past but this time, he rocks, both on his own songs and some terrific covers. Ray Charles first took “I Don’t Need No Doctor” by Ashford and Simpson to the charts in 1966 before Humble Pie added hard-rock heft to it five years later. Here, it swings. Stuff Smith’s 1936 marijuana song, “The Viper,” never sounded better. Kolassa’s originals — especially “U.S. 12 to Highway #49” about the rigors of life on the road and “Whiskey In The Morning” — are not only highly entertaining, fun, and rocking, they’re humorous and danceable. Wholeheartedly Recommended.