Rick Galusha's Pacific St. Blues and Americana

Since inception (1989), Pacific St. Blues & Americana strives to be a discerning voice helping roots fans sift through the mountains of music released every year. We are not for everyone; we want to engage active, critical listeners that hear beyond d'jour. Interviews include: Johnny Winter, Bill Wyman (Rolling Stones), Jerry Wexler, Tommy Shannon & Chris Layton, B.B. King, Dr. John, Robin Trower, Robben Ford, Mato Nanji, Joe Bonamassa, Harry Manx, Sue Foley, Marshall Chess, Billy Lee Riley, Charlie Louvin, Kim Richey, Radney Foster, Eric Johnson, David Clayton Thomas, Al Kooper, Phil Chen (Wired, Blow By Blow), Ian McLagan, Art Neville, Southside Johnny, Miami Steve Van Zant, Nils Lofgren, Bruce Iglauer, Charlie Musselwhite, Studebaker John, Chris Duarte, Smokin' Joe Kubeck, Hamilton Loomis, Peter Karp, Roomful of Blues, James Harman, Hadden Sayers, Malford Milligan, Melvin Taylor, Otis Taylor, Dave Alvin, Coco Montoya, Jimmy Thackery, Marsha Ball, Maria Muldaur, Shelby Lynne, Magic Dick & J. Geils, Lil' Milton, BuddyGuy, Aynsley Lister, Matt Schofield, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Guy Clark, Joe Ely, James Cotton, Robin & Jesse Davey, Hugh Coltman (Hoax), Sean Kelly (Samples), John Entwistle (The Who), Mark Olson (Jayhawks), Walter Wolfman Washington, Anthony Gomes, Bob Malone, Chubby Carrier, Buckwheat Zydeco, Murali Coryell, David Jacob Strain, DeAnna Bogart, Michael Lee Firkins, Guy Davis, Jason Ricci, John Doe, Little Feat, Matt Woods, MikeZito, Peter Buffett, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Corky Siegel, Todd Park Mohr, Watermelon Slim, Magic Slim, Corey Harris,- - - - - - ------------------------Radio archives: http://www.kiwrblues.podomatic.com/. Playlists: http://www.omahablues.com/ Reviews featured in http://www.blueswax.com/. Email: KIWRblues@gmail.com Live online; Sundays 9 a.m. (-6 GMT) http://www.897theriver.com/

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Thee Shams are no flim-flam!

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Artist: Thee Shams
Title: Please Yourself
Label: Fat Possum

This is the perfect "rock" record for a blues fan. If you're like me, as you got older your lack of interest in popular rock music grew with each birthday: there are still plenty of rock records you throw on but most of them were recorded before 1980. Thee Shams present THAT kind of blues fan with the perfect rock record.

Thee Shams, hailing form the Ohio Valley, have successfully captured the 'sound' of Sixties garage rock bands like, ? & the Mysterians (who performed 96 Tears). This album lives in a sonic cross between the Rolling Stones and the New York Dolls; or between Aerosmith and another fabulous Fat Possum label band The Black Keys. It's all that and a whole lot more.
The fact is this album has little to do with the blues other than copping the sound as so many great rock bands have before them. The second track, "If You Gotta Go" was written by Bob Dylan and later covered by Canadian Sue Foley. Like many rock bands (The Kinks, Oasis, BTO, Indigenous, Everly Brothers, The Black Crowes) Thee Shams are a four piece band centered around brothers - in this case Zachery and Andrew Gabbard. There must be something in the genes but this is an excellent record that I cannot quit playing. The fourth track, "Love Me All the Time" is a ballad consisting of a simplistic arrangement that so the words & tune are not cluttered by over production: BRILLIANT!

Well if the music does the talking this album speaks volumes about how cool rock could be if only commercial radio would let it!

John & the Sisters (Kevin Breit)

It'll be TOO DAMN BAD if you miss this

Monday, May 10, 2004

Artist: John & the Sisters featuring Kevin Breit
Title: Domino Vacancy

Kevin Breit achieved "fame" for his songwriting with multi-Grammy winner Norah Jones, Cassandra Wilson, and to a much lesser extent for his work with the incredible Harry Manx (who is playing the Omaha Blues Society's Blues Cruise later this month). While not yet a household name, Breit's music has been heard at least once by every American (able to hear). It's no wonder; he's an incredible talent.

On his latest release, a solo effort disguised as 'John and the Sisters', Breit delivers a blues based album that older music fans will be able to sink their teeth into without having to be dumbed down for mass consumption. Inevitably we've all purchased an album that we adored upon initial listening and quickly never played again. The best albums are the records that unfold upon repeated listening. This album promises to be one that non-traditionalist blues fans are going to be playing repeatedly for decades. Breit bends and perverts musical boundaries to create songs that challenge the listener. The opening track, Too Damn Big, is a song that Aerosmith should have done on their latest album. Much like a Tyler/Perry composition, Too Damn Big, is a super funky blues number that cuts across genres with a Tom Waits sort of bite to it. By the time Breit reaches the track, Good Day, he's transmogrified into a tasty John Mellencamp sort of approach.

If you experiment with one "blues" album this year, this album is a five star gem that has that great 'FM blues based classic rock sound' we grew up on. What's better, the performances are exceptional and the songs are excellent. Yes, upon initial listening it's going to be coming at you from left field but it's quite good and worthy of your consideration.

Rob Stone & the C Notes - album of the year?

Rob Stone & C Notes album is excellent

Friday, April 23, 2004

Artist: Rob Stone and the C Notes
Title: Just My Luck

The Chicago based Earwig label has struggled to sign an act of significance but they've signed a winner with Rob Stone and the C Notes. If you're one of those folks that immediately dismiss "white" blues artists you might as well stop reading now. Okay, now that we've gotten rid of the snobs let's talk about an excellent Modern-Acoustic-Blues album.

This band is comprised of three (white) guys that met as members in the band of former Howlin' Wolf & Paul Butterfield Blues Band drummer Sam Lay. With a background in the blues-rock genre Rob Stone is able to straddle the art of Post-War Chicago blues and a more commercial modern blues sound. So many times these stylings fall flat as imitations. Leaning heavily on Stone's ultra-smooth vocals (Harry Connick Jr.) and his in-sync harp playing the band swings hard against Sam Lay's solid drums. The late Dave Myers guests on this album.

As the blues art form continues to evolve Stone has been able to go one step further along the revivalists path cut by the likes of Sean Costello. Respectfully, I appreciate that this album lacks any whiff of Texas blues.

With only three covers this album's strength is its songwriting. The fifth song, Empty Room, is a marvelous slow burning track that defines how good this band really is. To my mind, considering past W.C. Handy award winning songs, Empty Room should be in the running as song of the year. There are plenty of other exceptional songs including; Too Late Honey, Playing Games, My Side of the Story, and Strange Blues. Track for track this is one of the finest revivalist blues albums I have ever heard and I've heard more than my share. Compared to the hooey-Blues we see and hear adnaseum, Rob Stone and the C Notes have re-sparked my admiration for non-electric blues.

For GREAT on-line Americana radio hit this link...http://www.kcuvradio.com/playa/index.asp?fname=http://azul.streamguys.com/kcuv

Aerosmith - Honkin' on Bobo

Aerosmith's 'Honkin On Bobo'

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Band: Aerosmith
Title: Honkin' on Bobo

About 90 days ago the, 'Year of the Blues' expired without much hoopla. Targeted to reinvigorate the wilting artform, some popsters including John Mellencamp jumped on board with an excellent album of blues orientated songs and covers. Absent an ocean of reissued archival blues recordings and a tepid Scorsee PBS special, to my mind, the industry failed miserably to embrace the 12 month Blues celebration and the listener responded in kind.
In one week two major label releases have come out which could have propelled the Year of the Blues into more than a blip; Eric Clapton's, 'Me & Mr. Johnson' and Aerosmith's Honkin' On Bobo.' Both albums have gotten well above average reviews from major publications including Rolling Stone and Time magazines. As I listen to these releases I celebrate the vibrancy they could muster for the scene by bringing a vast audience back to the well. As the 'pie' grows larger the opportunity for the commercial success of other deserving acts increases.

It's self evident that both Clapton and Aerosmith have redefine avenues for the blues sound; however, both are equally too far removed from the grit & grind of the modern American Blues sound to offer more than a sanitary sound for mass consumption. Yeah, yeah, yeah, Steven Tyler is hot-stuff; an animated guru of words and stage antics but is that sufficient to pull off this latest caper? If you are 'heavily' into modern American blues you may, I said may, be able to dig into Aerosmith's album: 11 trad covers and one original. However it's more likely this disc is going to appeal most to folks that have fallen away from roots music and Aerosmith fans. So much of what separates a good blues album from a great recording is passion and conviction. 'Honkin' on Bobo' is a well recorded passable but unconvincing performance by America's premier rock band that is up to it's usual sthick. Hear it before you buy it and you'll thank me in the morning.

Okay, for those unwilling to read between the lines, it's a solid album by a great band pretending to be a blues band. Aerosmith shines best when they do their own thing: and they do it so well. The value of this album will be the interest 'Smith is able to generate in the blues and thereby help lesser known blues acts. It's entertaining and it's respectable but it's was never meant to be groundbreaking and consquently it's not.

Buddy Guy wins Grammy with Blues Singer (2004)

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Artist: Buddy Guy
Album: Blues Singer

A college English professor once told a class of mine that our assignment was to write a paper at the college student level. To which the class clown replied, "Since we ARE college students so that'd include anything we wrote." I always loved that stupid answer: it seems to apply to so many predicaments.

George "Buddy" Guy won a Grammy this year for his acoustic blues album, "Blues Singer" on the Silvertone recording label (which he shares with Indigenous). Clearly whatever Buddy Guy records is going to fall into the blues category and since the recordings are primarily Buddy on an acoustic guitar, well, it's an acoustic blues album. And since he won the prestigious Grammy Award you can figure it's probably pretty good.

What the award doesn't tell you is that Blues Singer is a collection of cover songs written by great blues artists that probably figured in Guy's historic past. Guy dedicated the album to the late John Lee Hooker. Hook's passing was literally the death of the first generation of famed electric blues players: now the torch has passed to Guy and his generation.

The man once described by Eric Clapton as the greatest guitar player he'd ever seen, and we can assume Clapton's seen all the greats, reinvigorated his career back in the early 90's with the release of hard rocking, guitar driven , blues based album, 'Damn Right I've Got the Blues.' Since then Guy's albums have stood toe-to-toe with all of the bluesenvogue twang-bar kings. Suddenly Guy takes a pause to record an acoustic album as if in acknowledgment of his new found position in the blues world.

'Blues Singer' is a well heeled effort for Guy to show his fretboard skills in a low volume forum. Exceptionally well played and searingly honest, Blues Singer, reminds me of Guy's work with the late Junior Wells.

As the king of Chicago Blues in the 1950's Muddy Waters, with the help of Willie Dixon, culled together a stable of blues artists for the Chess Record label which has yet to be matched, in terms of talent, by any label before or since (although Atlantic certainly gave'em a run for their money in the '70's). One of their earliest talent acquisitions, fresh off the Greyhound and unfed for three days, was George 'Buddy' Guy. In many ways Guy's latest effort is heartfelt "thanks" to those that made his career possible.

That Good old Soul Music still harkens

Saturday, January 31, 2004

Various Soul Reissues

In the early days of the recording music's weekly news source, Billboard Magazine, popular recordings by black Americans were charted as 'race records.' That's modified over the years to include terms like Soul, R-n-B, and now the generic catch all, 'hip hop.'

When I think of soul music, like most white middle class Americans, I think of Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding. When I listen to today's "hip hop" I wonder what happen to those great heartfelt melody lines? Because of its reliance on rhythm today's "rap" music is a much closer cousin to the blues than most would care to admit. Interestingly, like generations before us, parental whites are rejecting the rap culture much like our grandparents probably rejected blues and soul music to our parents and our older siblings. Interesting how the wheel turns.
As noted in earlier writings, the Fuel 2000 record label is, hands down, the most exciting re-issuer of great music from the past including their razor sharp focus on the blues genre.

Artist: Otis Clay
Title: Testify

If one mentions soul music and Otis is the same breath the legendary Otis Redding comes to mind immediately; but wait, there was another. One of the recent nuggets thrust back into the market is a twenty-two track compact disc by soul music's "Other Otis", Otis Clay. Like so many great soul singers of the 50's & 60's (Redding, Franklin, Cooke, Rawls), Clay came to popular music through the church. On this release, 'Testify, Clay binds his Chicago blues roots & gospel to Southern soul and the result is some fantastic archival soul. Heavy on the horns and thick with great heartfelt melodies, this is a Soul Music fan's diamond in the rough. Clay continues to record and tour with recent albums on Rounder and Echo records.

Artist: Candi Staton
Title: Candi Station

Another reissue gem is the Astralwerks over seas licensing of a self titled compilation release by Candi Staton. Born in Alabama and raised in the church Staton was touring as a professional singer while still in school backing up Aretha Franklin, Mahalia Jackson, The Staple Singers and the Soul Stirrers. Eventually Staton would meet and marry noted blues man Clarence 'Strokin' Carter. Working with the FAME record label at the legendary Muscle Shoals studio, Staton recorded some genre defining music. If you're like me and have already assimilated the music of Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and the Stax label and still want more, Candi Staton could very well be the cure for what ails ya.

Some other quality soul reissues & compliations are;
Aretha Franklin, The Queen in Waiting, Four Stars
The Cream of Vintage Soul Volume 1 Three+ Stars (3 discs for $9.99)
The Cream of Northern Soul Volume 1 Three+ Stars (3 discs for $9.99)

PBS Blues, Heather Myles, reissued Who album

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

I was recently invited to write about albums that I thought were, "great."
Here are three examples of albums I really enjoy.

Marty Scorsese's seven part Blues series on Public Broadcasting (reason alone to support PBS) has resulted in a flood of blues compilations CDs. Instead of starring at Homer's massive blues CD selection with glassy eyes and a furrored brow, start your search for the perfect introductory blues album with the 21 track album, 'Martin Scorsese Presents The Best of the Blues.'

Begining with a recording by the legendary King of the Delta Blues, Robert Johnson (Cross Road Blues: later covered by Cream), this album weaves it way chronologically through the history of this great American artform. This album is uniquely intelligent in that it includes pivitol tracks which document the various "schools" of blues or "mark" the four basic "waves" of each period of blues; early recordings, Chicago & electric, the British hand it back to Rock, and the SRV-impact.

From the delta, the album travels north on the Blue Highway to Chicago: Howlin Wolf (Evil) and Muddy Waters (Hoochie Coochie Man). The album includes the foundation of Britian's blues revival with the recording of "All Your Love" by John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers featuring Eric Clapton. The '60's embrace of the blues in a rock context is shown with tracks by Janis Joplin (One Good Man) Jimi Hendrix Experience (Red House), and southern blues with the Allman Brother's, "One Way Out" (live). Along the way you hear music by Ray Charles, Skip James, John Lee Hooker, Etta James, and the mandatory, "The Thrill is Gone" by B. B. King.
Passing from ancient history io the modern era this album kicks off the fourth era of blues with the modern mastery of Stevie Ray Vaughan. The CD makes a critical statement by including tracks by Keb Mo', Los Lobos, Susan Tedeschi, and a duet by Shemekia Copeland with Robert Cray.

All in all this is an excellent blues CD that can easily supplement a fine collection or serve as the foundation to help someone you love and care about (Rap-Victim).

At some point in their lives music fans come to a realization that there are only two kinds of music: good music and bad music. When this epiphany strikes vast catalogues and hidden genres open. In the mid-80's, with the seemingly simultaneous debut releases by Dwight Yoakum, Randy Travis and Steve Earle, I began to discover country music.

Before we get too carried away I feel the need to distance "good" country music from the pig-noise feeding the death knell of today's country radio music. In the remarkable but unheard category of great country artists are Kim Richey and Heather Myles.

While her third (though first nationally distributed) album, Highways & Honky Tonks, was stunning, 'Sweet Talk and Good Lies' by Heather Myles (2000) is destine to become a classic country album: a defining moment in the course of country music's future.

Duets with Merle Haggard and Dwight Yoakum stamp "approved" on Myle's. Her covers of "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Cry Me a River," and "Chapel of Love" allow first time listeners easy access to Myles recordings, but it is her own songs that exemplify how significant this relative unknown will be. As is required of any pertinent female country music singer, Myles is easy on the eyes but this time it's her music that draws you in and keeps you reaching for her music.

Rolling Stone writer Chet Flippo wrote, "Myles has more brass than a hardware store." Myles is a musical force that will continue to attract attention and move the course of country music.

When people flippantly say an album is, "great" I immediately whip out the musical yardstick: "Do you mean it's as good as The Who's, 'Who's Next' ?" Usually not.

When Townshend and band scrapped the multi-disc Lifehouse project in 1971 and culled the recordings down to one disc, the album was named 'Who's Next.' Thirty-one years later the label released a remixed, remastered two CD version of Who's Next Deluxe Edition which includes live cuts as well as other tracks not included on the maiden release but recorded as a part of the Lifehouse project.

Packed with rock anthems (Baba O'Riley / Won't Get Fooled Again) and tasty ballads (Bargain / Behind Blue Eyes); while the Beatles were the first significant group for a generation, and the Rolling Stones remain rock music's greatest live band (still !), Who's Next is the definitive rock album by which all "great" rock albums should be measured.

Townshend uses the rock format to discuss pertinent political, social, and hormonal themes. Unlike so many of it's contemporary albums, after 33 years, 'Who's Next' remains fresh and exciting.

Steve Earle (LIVE) Just An American Boy

Steve Earle's new album is EXCELLENT

Monday, October 27, 2003

Artist: Steve Earle
Album: Just An American Boy

Among musicologists "live" albums are rated separately from studio and greatest hits albums. Probably the most heralded live albums are The Who's, 'Live at Leeds' and then The Allman Brother's, 'Live at the Fillmore.' Steve Earle's latest, 'Just An American Boy: The Audio Documentary' deserves consideration as a landmark live album. While rappers have successfully turned their "art" into a money printing bling-bling caricature of the ghetto, it has been a long time since Rock Music has been this dangerous.

This is a two disc set and there is plenty of rambling on the microphone between songs. Make no mistake, while the music is excellent, what makes this record so interesting is that Earle uses his liberal political bantering to tie together his songs and give his performance a sense of continuity. If you are offended by overt political statements you won't enjoy this record; on-the-other-hand, those banterings are what make this album so inspiring: the listener's political beliefs are challenged in the best Woody Guthrie tradition.

In regard to the music, Earle has hit a stride of excellence. Earle is a powerful thought provoking song writer. Like the folk music of the '60's, Earle has tapped into the long forgotten art of anti-war protest. Earle can write "great" songs with poignant words and execute with brilliance. Originally marketed as a country artist Earle has become the political sage of edgy Americana. This record is dangerous because the words and the related call to action & thought are two things that the vapid FM rock music of today has forgotten. Based on this disc Earle could well be the finest example of mature American rock today.

So you wanna buy some blues? Various albums worth your time

Thursday, September 11, 2003

What would I spend my money on these days?
Good question!
Glad someone asked me that finally.

About this time of the year I begin to kick around a Top Ten list for January. Some of the discs that are bound to be in that list include (in no particular order);

Robben Ford / Keep On Runing -

If you aren't hip to Robben Ford yet, the time has arrived. No list of great guitar players is complete without Robben Ford. Ford's performance at last year's Indigenous Jam was nothing short of spell-binding. Ford teams up with John Wooler to produce a polished yet passionate disc that includes some brilliant covers including; Nick Lowe's 'What So Funny 'Bout Peace Love & Understanding', 'Homework' as covered by the J. Geils Band and Albert Collins earlier, and 'Badge' by Eric Clapton & Cream. This is a VERY GOOD' album replete with horns, great band, and excellent music. What's not to like?

Various Artists / Remembering Patsy -

You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a tribute album these days. What's the deal? There are three reasons you're seeing so many tribute albums (most of which are stink-ola);
a.) Its an effort to bring rock fans back into the music buying mode (and in many cases into the blues genre specifically), b.) There is a need for tested "great" songs, and c.) They're fun and allow artists to record songs that are quick, easy, and fun.

You may THINK you don't know a lot of the music of Patsy Cline but chances are you actually do know quite a few of the songs she sang. Jazz chartreuse Diana Krall covers the Willie Nelson penned tune, Crazy; k.d. Lang simmers on 'Leavin' On Your Mind' and Natalie Cole's cover of I Fall to Pieces' (also covered by Linda Ronstadt) is excellent. Other artists featured on this VERY GOOD disc include multi-Grammy award-winning-it-kid Nora Jones, Patty Griffin, Amy Grant, Michelle Branch, and more.

Los Lonely Boys / Los Lonely Boys -

When Austin's Waterloo Records owner John Kuntz recommends a band; you listen. LLBs have lite the critical world on fire with a buzz hotter than Joe Perry hot sauce! Apparently three Hispanic brothers from the San Marcos area just north of Austin LLB use three part layered harmonies on top of a faux-Mexican/rock guitar sound and pumpin' Texas-blues sound. Its really worth some looking at. Like any debut albums this one is relatively unfocused on a 'specific sound' and, for me, that's what makes debut albums interesting.

Joe Bonamassa / Blues Deluxe -

This kid is quickly rising to the top. Luckily he's NOT on a major label and his fan base will develop at the same speed as his notoriety. You only have to see this guy one time to understand that he's got that something special that differentiates good from great. In many ways Bonamassa is the great continuation of 70's arena blues-rock with bands like Humble Pie and Spinal Tap (just kidding). A healthy mix between Jimi, Stevie, Carlos, and Keith, Bonamassa has a super sharp feel for playing the guitar with a keenly developing ability to do what so many great players can't do... write a bluesy pop song. I am a bonafide fan of this kid: maybe you should be too?

Jonny Lang / Long Time Coming -

This could very well be a 'GREAT album: time will soon tell.

Jam packed with great songs, excellent playing, and dynamic vocals I can't imagine anything coming between this record and imortality. I've seen Lang play numerous times and I can see the appeal. For whatever reason I still don't consider myself to be a "fan" but this album may soon teach this old dog to change his ways!

Lyle Lovett / My Baby Don't Tolerate -

I hate to fall into predictable trends; however, I suspect I'll be buying Lyle Lovett records as long as he's inspired to put them out. Oh sure, I know, he's now being labeled as Yuppie Roots Music. Oh hogwash. Just because someone finds commercial success does not mean they've sold out or watered down their art. After seemingly having suffered from writers block for nearly a decade Lovett finally releases a new album of new songs. While he won a Grammy for the album,' The Road from Ensenada' Lovett's last few albums have been a soundtrack, a greatest hits album, a live album, and a double album of cover songs written by some of the great Texas songwriters. So all I can say is, "IT's ABOUT TIME LOVETT!" And say that with great affection!

Now, as they say on M*A*S*H... that is all

Neil Young ~ Greendale

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Artist: Neil Young
Album: Greendale

I think of rock music as the great American art form of the working class. While Indie rock has been infiltrated with the well-to-do and private schooled, rock remains a wide open arena for a working class or "black" kid to get a break. Usually that means they eventually cop-out and lose touch with the inner fire that brought them to the party. This is known as "selling out."
You can count, on two hands, the number of successful rock bands/artists that haven't sold out at least once in their career: among them I would include Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, and Neil Young. While Young's art has frequently suffered hiccups - he has never sold out and has frequently ran away as success loomed on the horizon. Always unpredictable Young challenges his audience to grow and change with him: Crazy Horse; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; The Shocking Pinks, Trans; alone & acoustic, or with Pearl Jam as a back-up band (Mirror Ball) etc... Consternation follows him everywhere.

Knowing that the art in commercial radio is dead, Young has used his own legacy to help promote his new release, Greendale. When his new album hit retail stores on August 19th, he also reissued some older titles, Remastered and at a smokin' low price point; American Stars Bars, On the Beach, Re-Act-Or, and Hawks & Doves. I would rank American Stars & Bars and On the Beach as both "great" albums. While Hawks & Doves and Re-Act-Or are sub-average.
Greendale is Young's "Tommy" opera as there is an accompanying movie forthcoming. Included on the initial releases of Greendale is a full length concert DVD of Young's solo-live performance of his "opera." What's it sound like? Excellent Neil Young & Crazy Horse material including acoustic tracks, full length jams, and rough hewn edge that Crazy Horse albums are supposed to have.

He may be Canadian but he's damn good! (LOL)

Indigenous leans into the storm

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Artist: Indigenous
Title: Indigenous

(The orange cover Silvertone Records)

Down but never out, Indigenous have finally fired their shot at the big-time by releasing their first major label album.

Gurgling under the radar of rock's mass audience, Indigenous have been leaning on the cliff of success awaiting a nudge to push them from barroom brawlers to a bonafide arena act. By this point in their career the band should be releasing albums that are statements rather than a hodge-podge of tracks: this album totters between brilliant rock melody lines (You Turn My World Around) to poorly executed platforms for guitar solos (What You Do To Me). For me, throw your eggs now, Jimi & Stevie suffered from the A.D.D. focus on writing and an over reliance on stunning guitar abilities. Much like 'Things We Do' the band teases the listener with GREAT songs only to fall back on filler tracks (albums with fewer tracks would solve this problem). Granted I still expect this band to release a definitive rock album. However on this album Indigenous delivers an album that has at least three excellent singles and half-a-dozen very strong tracks.

This is no turd on the lawn.

During a period when acts play-it-safe, Indigenous self produces their debut with the help of (future) brother-in-law(s) Jesse and Robin Davey a/k/a The Davey Brothers. Replete with the modern 'hard rock' sound, Indigenous makes a bold move from the sedate blues-rock genre of aging baby boomers to the younger, tougher rock crowd. Interesting they whip out, ''Shame, Shame, Shame'' by the legendary Jimmy Reed as if to say, 'hey, we're still down with the blues' and as Led Zeppelin was so capable of doing with other's songs, Indigenous converts this old standard to their own lexicon. Lyrically cliche themes haunt Mato's lyrics which center on distance and missed opportunities at love. Missing is a vocal delivery that demands the listener's attention. As ever, the band does not rely on the studio to over-sell their sound and therefore over-deliver live.

Opening the album with a cover from the Davey Brothers previous band, The Hoax, "C'Mon Susie" has benefitted from sporadic commercial radio airplay. Not an over-powering single, the track was able to land the back into the mainstreams vision line. Finally radio seems to be getting hip to laying groundwork for long term success.

It's not till the second track that the teasing begins. Surging with power ''You Turn My World Around'' swings with a lopping beat set off against a second guitar part and driving drums resulting in one of the finest modern-blues songs I've heard. Seeming to lean into the "storm", guitar player Mato Nanji attacks with a zeal rarely seen from the usually stoic leader of the band. Always capable I think the band lacks from external influences more than skill or desire.
Interestingly the band's designer hair cuts and high profile photographs alter the image but maintains its soul and swing. Drummer Wanbdi swings harder and with more confidence then previous recordings. Gone are the gush of notes in favor of tastier albeit fewer licks from central figure & guitar player Mato. Early on the band was heavily influenced by the music that interest their father Greg. As the band grew older, slowly, ever so slowly, other sounds crept into their world. Doyle Bramhall's production of their last effort, Circle, "Austin-ated" the band with easy Texas shuffles. And though the Davey Brothers have introduced the band to modern rock production, Indigenous maintains their core Fender sound. Matter-of-fact, there are numerous tracks on the new album that could have appeared on any number of prior albums.

If you're a fan of the band you are going to connect almost immediately with this new record. Will it draw in younger listeners? Since the rise of rap I can honestly say I have no idea what the kids are gonna dig. This is a consistent effort which is well recorded and executed. As usual they tread away from new ground in favor of well trodden turf; however, it strikes a note with me and I'm digging it.

Kris Lager can cut the mustard

Kris Lager Band

First albums are kinda like photos from your High School prom. At the time it seems like the thing to do but years later you remember the fool you made of yourself. Because of the all might dollar and the corruption between radio and record labels, today's artist's are forced to have hits with their first album. Were that the case 30 years ago, Bruce Springsteen, The Who, REM, Rush, U2, and Metallica would have all washed out like used bath water. Clearly radio is a 'johnny come lately' and the labels have resorted to throwing crap against the wall to see what sticks. Gone are the days when artist were encouraged to grow and develop. Today it is hit or shit - nothing in between. Fortunately, Lincoln wunderkid Kris Lager is cutting his teeth on his own dime.

Over the past five years we've seen a near complete collapse of the blues-rock genre. Gone are the Jonny Lang's & Kenny Wayne Shepherd's. Even Indigenous is using their newest album as a vehicle to move from a blues audience (about 3% of sales) to the rock audience (43% of sales). On his first and self titled release Lager and band go through the motions of being a big name blues act. Why? Being polite, there may be five guys in the world that can play an entertaining 12 bar blues structure and none of them live within 400 miles of Omaha. Say whatever you want but with today's fickle music consumer, the music no longer does the talking. It's all about image & lifestyle and the Kris Lager Band has no image. Damn shame too. His new album has all the signs of being the foundation for a big name career.

Music? Oh, you want to hear about music? Sure you do. The music moves from strong to nearly great. Lager's album lacks any "hits" or "radio friendly tunes" but overall his tracks show very strong song-writing that should mature. Kris needs to lock himself in the kitchen and not come out until he's written a great song: a great song! I like it when a guitar player can step up and wail on - it's what I like - and Lager can play the guitar. Jeremiah Weir's keyboards give the listener a break and adds tasty morsel's of sound. On this album I do not like the recorded drum sound. I'm not engineer but they sound lifeless and flat to me. Bass player Matt 'prettyboy' Evans tucks in and helps drummer Kyle Armes set-up a base for Lager and Weir. On the seventh cut, Black Rose, the band stretches out and shows what it capable of - which is pure magic ala' Allman Brothers 1970. Can Lager 'cut it' as a front man and singer? The next two years will determine whether its to be the bar circuit or the theatre circuit. This 'horse' is a wild card but with some focus & sweat, a good haircut and some image development, Kris Lager could easily zoom out of these high plains and be more than just a footnote in local music history.
We've seen what Indigenous have been able to accomplish with Omaha as a loyal base... lighting could strike twice but it's going to take a die-hard serious commitment to KNOWING how the business turns. This is a very good album. Lager is young enough to have a serious go at having a career playing music. I hope he aspires to be more.

12 albums from 2003 worth your time

So much good music to hear these days...
(written) Monday, March 31, 2003

There is so much good music out there right now. I haven't seen this much good music in a long, long time. Here are some suggestions;

1. Nils Lofgren Band Live.- In addition to being an incredible guitar player, Lofgren has a super smooth voice. The drummer on this album, Timm Biery, is an absolute MONSTER.

2. Who's Next DELUXE EDITION. Probably a top five all time great album remastered with a second disc of live cuts. The standard by which other albums are judged raises the bar again.

3. The Jayhawks - Rainy Day Music - Something good from Minneapolis. While the JH have always been a very solid band their albums have been only slightly better than average. This new effort shows the band stripped down to three players and is brilliant. Former Lincolnite Matthew Sweet guests on this album.

4. The Thorns. - A cross between everything that was good about the band America with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Featuring Matthew Sweet, Pete Droge, and Shawn Mullins. This is your next purchase.

5. Darrell Nulisch - Times Like These - White soul vocals that weaves the sound of "classic Motown/ Stax" vocals and suburban blues. One of my all time favorite recording artists.

6. John Hiatt - Beneath This Gruff Exterior. I only have the single at the moment, My Baby Blue, but it is his most radio-friendly recording to date. Really really nice.

7. Harry Manx (any of three). This may be too bluesy for most but this guy is a genius and I do not use that term lightly. Manx plays an 18 stringed instrument from India much like a guitar but with a haunting sound. Manx plays blues and american pop covers and it is a breathtaking amalgation of sounds. When Manx played the jam last year he silenced 2,500 people who hung on every note: I have NEVER seen a performer with no name recognition place a crowd in such awe.

8. Sonny Landreth - The Road We're On - Louisiana boy delivers adult rock pop sense slide guitar sound with VERY solid songwriting. You might want to hear this first. Exceptional if you like slide players.

9. Jesse Malin - The Fine Art of Self Destruction - Have only heard this twice but its a very good adult rock-n-roll record. Up tempo and fun.

10. Jason Mraz - Waiting for My Rocket to Come - Another excellent record worth checking out. This guy will be huge.

11. The Black Keys - Thickfreakness. The definative music snobs groove. Two white kids from Ohio that lay down the blackest Missisippi blues-groove to come along in a very long time. This is some super cool shit but has the potential to become a flag bearing release for dorks to prove how cool they are. Get it before they do and then look down your nose at them!

12. Lucinda Williams - World Without Tears. Suffers from the Todd Rundgren complex. Couple of GREAT songs, couple of stiffs, and some average to very good filler. This is the record that is going to break her career wide open. Critics that follow the leader by reading others reviews but don't listen to music are going to sing praises for this disc. In the end, I think its going to be over-rated.

Lighting Strikes Susan Tedeschi Twice

Artist: Susan Tedeschi
Title: Wait For Me

In 1989 a six-year sober Bonnie Raitt bedazzled a beleaguered music industry with the multi- platinum, multi-Grammy album, 'Nick of Time.' After more than twenty years, Raitt had finally struck gold. The "sound" of Raitt's wagon-load of Grammy album was not new - her refreshed pop sense with a blues base got her on the radio airplay but it was the ballads that struck a nerve with listeners. For the next decade Raitt would be the world's darling lending her bully pulpit to social & environmental causes.

Upon the death of Stevie Ray Vaughan in August 1990, Raitt would add the weight of being the blues only major cross-over artist on her slim shoulders. Thanks to the momentum of Stevie Ray Vaughan, 'the blues' art-form was vibrant throughout the '90's. As the impact of downloading and burning began to reverberate, major labels sang the blues over financial losses. As result, labels cut artists and ad budgets. Consequently the blues' popularity has been on the down-swing since the new millennium.

Tone Cool's Susan Tedeschi may provide the thumb in the dike to stem the blues' ebbing popularity. For a blues album to sell 50,000 units is a smashing success. Tedeschi's last album, Just Won't Burn, sold more than ½ million albums. With the release of her newest effort (November 19th), Wait For Me, Tedeschi will surely substantially best her last effort. It's a terrific album jam packed with superb vocal performances, strong songs, and excellent arrangements. Included on the album are two previously released tracks. 'In the Garden' appeared on Double Trouble's latest release (along with a cover of Led Zeppelin's, 'Rock -n- Roll.' 'Baby You're Right' appears on Tedeschi's husband Derek Trucks' latest stellar release, Joyful Noise.' A nephew of Allman Brothers bass player 'Butch' Trucks, Derek Trucks played with the Allman Brothers Band for much of last year with Tedeschi's band opening.

Consequently, Tedeschi's sound has matured substantially into a more rock oriented sound. Like Raitt's, Nick of Time, Tedeschi has mixed tasty ballads with upbeat rockers. Tedeschi is backed by a smoking guitar and humping organ (players unknown at this time). Also covered on the album is Dylan's, 'Don't Think Twice.' While blues purists continue to embrace Tedeschi, 'Wait for Me' is sure to be a cross-over hit that rock fans are going to relate. While today's helter-skelter music world leaves it up to anyone's guess, it will be interesting to see if radio 'gets it' and hops on board a sure thing early in the cycle or will it wait?

Derek Trucks - better than most

Artist: Derek Trucks
Title: Joyful Noise
Writer: Rick Galusha

On his sophomoric release, Derek Trucks (nephew of Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks)has released an artistic mosaic that defies categorization and is certain to confound listeners. In the richest Fillmore-esque tradition, Trucks and band have amalgamated a fine tuned cornucopia of rootsy sounds into a sonic masterpiece.

"Oh sure, but what's that mean?" Today's market practically requires artists to dumb down their sound into a well defined niche so that any dope with fifteen bucks can figure it out. In the short term this means quick sales but tends to cost the artist long term career development. Not so with 'Joyful Noise.' Trucks and band lay out an album consisting of instrumentals, an Indian raga, a couple of soul ballads, a "Jazz" track, and a powerful blues song featuring Susan Tedeschi. The result is an eclectic, wonderful, challenging collection of songs that defy 'niche' but nonetheless fit together.

Relying on guest vocalists, Joyful Noise employs some of the day's most underappreciated singers including; Solomon Burke, Ruben Blades, Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and Mrs. Truck othewise known as Susan Tedeschi. And just to put a point on it, Tedeschi's track, 'Baby, You're Right' may be her finest recorded vocal delivery yet. Guitarist Trucks steals from the best including; Carlos Santana,Duane Allman, and John McLaughlin. Guitarists tend to be classified on a spectrum ranging from emotive (Mato Naiji) on one end to technical (Robert Fripp) on the other end. When a player is both expressive and technically adept, well, you have something special. Seeped in the '60's tradition of art before economics, Trucks' newest is a excellent example of a special player, who clearly understands the legacy of what that is "good music." 'Joyful Noise' pushes beyond the restrictive boundaries of today's music industry and somehow produces art in the art-starved genre that is rock music. 'Joyful Noise' is a rare gem that will over-time unfold to listeners and hold up to repeated listenings over the years to come. Psst - next time draft Chris Robinson or that kid from the Screaming Cheetah Wheelies for some vocal tracks)

"The Curse of Stevie Ray Vaughan" Melvin Taylor and the Slack Band

Artist: Melvin Taylor and the Slack Band
Title: Rendevouz with the Blues

England's Hammer Studios shoulda shot a movie called,'The Blue Curse of Stevie Ray Vaughan.' Guaranteed to shorten any promising career, the "curse" is used by the clueless to infer speed and rocking tunes: the 'curse' in invoked by those in the know to infer drool clone-like artistry.

When listening to the current recordings of Chicago's Melvin Taylor and the Slack Band, including his latest, Rendevous with the Blues' on Evidence Records, Taylor no longer needs to fear an invocation of 'the curse.' Taylor has clearly risen above the ebbing rip-tide of Vaughan's legacy and introduced a unique blend of Chicago blues and George Benson's jazz to the lexicon of modern music. Daring to go where no one has gone before, with rich full tone and a texture all his own, Taylor is embarking on career where few have the chops to follow.

According to Rolling Stone Magazine's website, Melvin Taylor is "One of the most exhilarating blues guitarists to emerge in the past decade, Melvin Taylor is more a blues innovator than a purist, mixing jazz chords and rock influences into his tapestry of electric blues. Born in Mississippi in '59, Taylor's family moved to Chicago when he was three. By age 12, the young guitarist had started jamming with his uncle and friends. In the early '80s, Taylor was asked to join the Legendary Blues Band (following the departure of Muddy Waters). In early 1995, Taylor signed with Evidence Records and released his first album in 11 years, simply titled Melvin Taylor and the Slack Band. The record began to turn heads and soon became the best-selling title in Evidence's catalog. Dirty Pool followed in 1997, further increasing his reputation as one of the best blues guitarist on the scene."

Seeing Taylor perform his defying over-the-necks lighting quick melodic runs live leads the listener to question why the artist has not quickly risen to the upper echelon of the club circuit. Being signed to an independent label, rarely playing clubs outside the Chicago area, and a history of substance abuse in the past have plagued his career. Taylor also asserts that racism has put hurdles in his path. With the past fading away, on his latest album, Rendezvous With the Blues, Taylor shows his skills as an truly gifted guitar player and song interpreter. Performing songs by John Lee Hooker, Herbie Mann, Gregg Allman, Sonny Boy Williamson, Prince, and ZZ Top, Taylor makes the songs his own by adding his jazzy touch and rock-hard riffs. Of special note is the guest appearance by Mato Naiji of Indigenous on two tracks including, 'A Tribute to John Lee Hooker.' The cultural clash between Naiji's Austin-bend playing and Taylor's Benson-bend highlights just how far Taylor's sound and playing is from 'the curse.'

Blues Purists Beware! Alice Stuart

Artist: Alice Stuart
Title: 'Can't Find No Heaven'
Rating: Good Label: Burnside

Purists beware!Portland based Burnside Records is rapidly developing a reputation of very credible music releases with a strong representation of Pacific Northwest artists. Among this growing clan of credible releases is a new album by former Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention member Alice Stuart. Stuart's rootsy based approach began in the early '60's as an opening act for folk and blues luminaries such as Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Watson, Phil Ochs, Jack Elliot, Muddy Waters, and Doug Kershaw

During her less than prolific career, Stuart has recorded her rambling blues style with the upper crust of blues-roots labels including Arhoolie, Fantasy, and now Burnside. With the endorsement from the Northwest's greatest music mogul Terry Currier - it appears that Stuarts career is coming back strong after a ten-plus year break. Produced by the well respected guitar man Terry Robb, Stuart's album is a heartfelt mix of revived acoustic blues based songs with a tasty touch of folky feel. Purists are fated to adore this record. Stuart's vocals are torn and frayed with the strand of weakness that endears the listener.

Described by Rolling Stone magazine as, "a major talent... her lyrics are evocative...", "Can't Find No Heaven" includes guest appearances by Evidence Records harp player Paul DeLay.

Heartmurmurs deliver blue plate special

Band: The Heartmumurs
Title: 'Same Old Blues'
Writer: Rick Galusha

The latest release by Lincoln's well known Zoo Bar house band, The Heartmurmurs' is aptly named, 'Same Old Blues.' Recorded live in October 2001, The Heartmurmurs purr through a two disc slate of traditional and pop-blues standards including covers of songs by B. B. King, Bill Withers, Chuck Berry, and Albert Collins. In a world where the next wrinkle on the blues is hailed as ground-breaking, the Heartmurmurs dish up their standard fare of blues that Lincoln's steeped audience have come to expect; not quite purists but any illusions of 'fad dancing' is left to other bands. Each member of the band is a competent musician and not adding any flairs to the blues, but then their meal ticket has been punched because they don't change - what you see is what you get and if you like what you've gotten since 1973 you're going to love this double CD set.

Probably as much a souvenir piece of the Zoo Bar, 'Same Old Blues' is a solid measuring stick for all blues discs. As the blues genres struggles to define itself in this modern world, with rock music being marketed as the blues. The Heartmurmurs march on playing what they know best and giving their audience what they have come to expect. To paraphrase Ray Davies of the Kinks, God Bless stability, "tea and virginity."

Aretha Franklin & Lou Pride: Soul Music

Artist: Lou Pride
Title: Words of Caution
Label: Severn

Artist: Aretha Franklin
Title: Queen in Waiting (The Columbia Years 1960 - 1965)
Label: Columbia

Good music moves your soul; it makes me wanna dance (or at least wiggle a bit). As a 'big music buyer' since 1971 I've often tried to narrow down the music I like best, late '70's punk, mid-60's British Blues rock, mid-50's electric Chicago blues, soul music... gosh, I just can't decide. This I do know, nothing beats a good soul record and both of these are excellent examples of how good soul music can really be.

What is soul music? Good question. Whereas blues is all about the beat, to me soul music is the blues with a more pronounced melody line and 'swing' in the rhythm. On his album, Words of Caution' Lou Pride reprises the finest blend of '60's soul with modern recording techniques and some 'on-fire' players. While the Malaco Record label technically still records modern soul music, their cost-corner-cutting strategy of using programming, synthesizer keyboards, and lack of audio texture from song-to-song cheapens their output into the 'unlistenable' category.

Washington D.C. based Severn Records (Darrell Nulisch, Mike Morgan & the Crawl) have yet again signed a relatively unknown talent and introduced the world to a vibrant artist with potential to continue releasing great records into the future. Using the keyboard accents and swaths of Severn stable artist Benjie Porecki and the seven-eight piece horn section, Words of Caution, is an excellent example of '60's soul music in a modern world. If you love the great old soul star like Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, early Aretha Franklin, etc... you will find this album immediately accessible and wonderful.

This record will be spinning on KIWR's PS Blues radio program well into the future. The eighth track, 'Bringin' Me Back Home' swings with all the force of Memphis soul tornado.

Speaking of Aretha Franklin, you can't deny the true diva. If you happen to catch VH1's Diva programs, it was clear that all knees bowed to the still reigning Queen of Soul. Unfortunately, at least for me, her modern recordings hell bent on chasing modern sounds rather than falling back on Atlantic's Jerry Wexler's 1965 philosophy that lead Aretha onto Billboard's pop charts... put the Queen at the piano and let her sing. Instead she's covering crappy pop tunes with half hearted "Hot Producers" putting out albums that are, at best, forgettable. After mining the ancient archives of Atlantic's catalogue, including the wonderful 4 CD boxset on Rhino, Queen of Soul' I realized you can only listen to 'Chain of Fools' or the Otis Redding penned, 'Respect' so many times. My heart grew fonder while my ears yearned for something new; something exciting. God Bless Sony Music's Legacy Label line. With the July '02 release of the two CD set, 'Queen in Waiting' one gets to hear from pre-hey day recordings by the soon-to-be-crowned Queen of Soul. Primarily blues based, these recordings are tasty morsels that had hidden themselves from my wandering lust for more Franklin soul. 'Evil Gal Blues' and more, this set promises to add a new and exciting dimension to my love for that Detroit musical goddess of the church pew.

Nominee - Keeping the Blues Alive award 2007

I recently found out the radio program, Pacific Street Blues, was nominated for a 'Keeping the Blues Alive' award. KTBA is a national recognition by the industry that "you" are among the best in the country for the category you've been nominated in. Last year Terry O'Halloran won the award for his efforts in promoting live blues. It's cool to be nominated although I wonder if they've heard this "blues" show. On some level the nomination is recognition that perservance pays off; through three radio stations, numerous guest hosts, emceeing hundreds of events and lasting a span of nearly two decades. For more than ten years PS Blues has been aired from 9 - Noon in KIWR 89.7 fm.

Over the years the show has changed quite a bit. When the show began, John Draus and I played archival blues - albums like, "Blood Stains on the Wall." Yeah, gutteral. When the late, and dearly missed, John Lastovica co-hosted he introduced blues based Classic Rock to the mix. After meeting for the first Omaha Blues Society meeting we began to focus on playing bands that we coming to town; something I think we can do a better job at. Joe Putjender was instrumental (pun intended) in getting us to play local artists: something we remain very committed to and very proud of.

Highlights include spending 90 minutes on the phone with Bill Wyman (The Rolling Stones), interviewing Johnny Winter on his bus and interviewing a recently sober Dr. John while B. B. King's band smoked pot, pun intended, thus clouding up the process. I meet Mato Nanji (Indigenous), a gentle soul, early and since then our kids play together whenever we can swing it. It was especially cool when, for nine months, listener's kept the show alive since campaign laws forbid me from being on the air. Getting to know Mark Tilsen, former Indigenous Manager, who assisted in the legal defense of 600 Native Americans at Wounded Knee, made me better than I was.

As best as we can manage Pacific Street Blues is a conduit between listeners and music. Sometimes we do a good job but sometimes I don't. (Syntax error intended) I want PS Blues to be unpredictable and challenge listeners schema of what the blues is. Thanks to Iowa Western Community College, Vicki, Bill and Sophia for letting me share the music. Thanks to Terry for running the dials. Thanks to the Blues Society of Omaha and "Thank-You" to the many listeners of Pacific Street Blues. I don't know if we'll win any national awards but as chessy as it sounds we've been winning for the past 1,032 weeks. Thanks for listening.

Post script: Our friends in Canada won this year's award and we wish them the best. This means no trip for Rick to Memphis in February - LOL

Blue House 'How Big?' is sure to big!

Artist: Blue House
Title: How Big?

Local Music; the term infers inferiority. Unbeknown to most, Eastern Nebraska's live music scene has actually been taking on very positive reputation throughout the country. Including articles in national and international magazines such at Time, Mojo, and Album Network. At one point a manager for a well known national act referred to our fair community as, 'The Austin of the North.' While Austin's reputation as the 'Live Music Capital of the World' may be sullied now - it was quite the compliment when it was offered. I am especially proud of the support role that Homer's has played in development of the areas live music scene. I think there are other major supporting players making it happen including www.SLAMomaha, BJ Hutchtemann, Terry O. & the Omaha Blues Society, Sophia John, KIWR ' The River', Marq, and The READER. In the end it comes down to the musicians themselves - are the songs there or aren't they? If the masses vote with dollars, based upon the sales of local music, the local scene is exploding with success.
Through the '70's and '80's Omaha's preference ran towards working-class-rock. To a large extent that was propelled by Z92's 'goouge' playlist. With the tumbling plethora of radio formats resulting in the wildly successful format of KIWR (in terms of music sold) and to a lesser extent KCTY, Omahan's preferences for music has been maturing and expanding. When some things change; some things stay the same. I particularly enjoy the development within our blues community of two significant acts; John Crews Blues, who's album is forthcoming, and Blue House, who's new album, 'How Big?' is just hitting the stores (04/27/2002). John Crews pre-release single, 'King of Broken Hearts' indicates that their new album will be excellent: after three listenings to the new Blue House album I can say that 'How Big?' is, after 13 years of hosting PS Blues (KIWR/KKCD) the finest locally released blues-genre release I have heard to date.

Generously supported by KEZO's Todd & Tyler (who use the power of their bully pulpit to support local music against the stations lethargic formatting), Blue House has been 'in development' for more than five years and folks, the wait has been worth it!

On their first album Blue House was steeped in standard covers & tired clich├ęs, smothered under the weight of a band that didn't jelling. This new album exhibits a well oiled machine that includes a tastefully skillful guitar player (Joe Buda) who has the sense to get out of the way and let the band rock as a unit. Buda's tasteful "chord slicing" adds a funk driven push to the band's propelling rhythm section (Joe Putjenter- drums & vocals, Eric Reimnitz-bass) Throughout the disc the band allows the sensual beauty of it's horn section to step up and solo and for this alone the band stands above all comers. The seventh track, 'Da De Da (Grease the Cat)' is an Average White Band-like inspired instrumental that allows each brass-man to step forward and 'sass' the melody line (Scott Vicroy - saxophones, Stan Harper-saxophones, Joel Edwards-trumpet). Edwards muted solo fits perfectly.

So what's wrong with this release? The CD jacket's back panel is nearly unreadable and with an audience of 35 and over - forget it - no one could read it if they wanted to. Then there's the novelty song, 'How Big You Gonna Get', though sure to be a favorite tune at the bands live peformance, to quote Danny Devito's character in the film 'Tin Men' "it's [gonna be] an albatros around my neck." My other critic is that there are moments when Buda's lack of a chucky guitar sound gives a, 'Modern AC' sound to the band ala Michael McDonald... which come to think about it is probably a critical faux pax but a commercial lode. Of the twelve tracks on the album, nine are originals and, for the most part, exceptionally well done . Their cover of, 'Polk Salad Annie' rocks-n-fros into a swingin' ditta that allows the horn section to push up against the a panoramic guitar solo. The band also covers the old standard by Stax Records' Rufus Thomas (and later covered by the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith), 'Walkin' the Dog.' The third cover is, 'Tee Ni Nee Ni Nu' which I recognize as an Alex Chilton (Box Tops) tune.

In closing, this is a very good album and considering that it's a local blues band, well, that makes it all the better. With proper marketing and a full commitment by the band, their's is a modern-retro sound that could offer Blue House an opportunity to explore stages outside of our immediate vicinity. I hope they reach for the brass ring that this record indicates is with their reach.

Harry Manx - blues w/a twist of India!

Artist: Harry Manx
Title: Wise & Otherwise

With the death of Stevie Ray Vaughan the blues genre suffered a crisis in confidence. Blues labels knew there was a market that was just developing: a chance to sell more records. With Vaughan's death it appeared this door was closing. Today Bonnie Raitt is hoisting the entire genre on her slender shoulders and pulling the blues into the mainstream. However, in the early 90's, in a genre that honored age and experience, major labels began to sign young guitar players (Shepherd, Lang, Naiji, Welch, etc...) and fans embraced the elixir of youth! Now the sheen is wearing off and blues sales are flagging. In an environment that is rapidly changing Canadian Harry Manx is challenging current trends; he's older, he plays an acoustic guitar, and rather than offering the umpteenth (often lame) version of Robert Johnson's 'Sweet Home Chicago', Manx is using his '60's pop roots to connect with the musically disenfranchised baby boomers

This is my first 'niche' rated record. It is also my first 'trad-blues' review and the first album released in this new millennium reviewed on this site. I wanted to foist something into the discussion that was unknown but none-the-less very, very good. Harry Manx's second release, 'Wise & Otherwise' is an exceptional release with a folky blues based foundation that, by avoiding the standard 12 bar blues format, seems to embrace a near 'pop' music format. I would almost venture to say that Manx is, in the best sense of the word, a hybrid between Portland blues performer Kelly Joe Phelps (in regard to his playing) and a mellower Bob Segar (in regard to the texture of his voice). What adds to the wonder of Manx's music is an India genre influence.

To my knowledge, the 'raga' was first introduced to the blues genre by Mike Bloomfield whilst a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band; however, Manx embraces the influence from India throughout this album and that added 'spice' is nothing short of mesmerizing. In addition to playing the slide guitar, Manx also plays an Indian instrument called 'The Veena' as well as the Banjo & Harmonica. Of the twelve songs on the album, seven are original compositions. In a most original twist Manx melds his own, "The Gist of Madhuvanti" into the B. B. King standard "The Thrill is Gone." Manx also covers classic rock tunes by Jimi Hendrix, "Foxy Lady" and Van Morrison, "Crazy Love."

Endorsing an artist is always a sketchy leap of faith. I have spoken to Manx on the phone a couple of times and swapped some EMAILS. Seems like a pretty approachable fellow and, based upon what I've heard of his music, someone who can embrace a cliche ridden genre, add something to it and make it his own. Harry Manx will be appearing at this year's Indigenous Jam and as an army of one I am very excited about seeing someone that I am confident will capture the attention of the Jam's historically attentive fans.