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, December 2, 2010

Christmas Gifts Blues CDs

Looking at the Blues in 2010.
Writer: Rick Galusha

There was a time when Christmas was a religious break; a time of hope and aspiration. But those days seem far away as today December 25th seems little more than a Hallmark pause of retail exuberance. Meanwhile the blues melds into a homogenized exercise that bets on the next ‘horse’ in the endless race of commercial popularity. It would be dishonest to pretend that I hadn’t spent the last twenty years at the ‘racetrack’ and, except for this brief moment of clarity, won’t soon be back with, “a handle in my hand.”

A by-product of the music industry continued meltdown in that this “creative destruction” presents opportunities. Overall, 2010 has been a good year for music. As ‘twas last year, inexpensive technology lowers costs and the market is flooded with homemade projects; thereby, confusing the consumers with choices. This mountain of selection has created an opportunity for voices that try to help discern honorable hobby from recommendation. This subsequent ramble is hardly the tradition “best of list” as few are able to fully imbibe the breadth of blues releases today.

• That said, my favorite independent release this year was, ‘Still the Rain’ by Karen Lovely. This is a luscious taste that simmers on low as Lovely’s vocals emotes modern vocal blues that breed authenticity over mimicry and clichés.

• Perhaps the wider industries ‘pick to win’ this year was former Fabulous Thunderbird guitarist Jimmie Vaughan’s release, ‘Plays Blues Ballads and Favorites.’ Vaughan’s understated guitar styling’s are ever-vogue and often tasty. His safe choice of songs indicates a lack of risk as the heir-apparent is positioned to define cool in today’s blues scene. It’s clear that Vaughan is neither hungry nor compelled to earn accolades. This record could have been better but is none-the-less, quite good. That said, the former dominance of the Austin sound has ebbed.

• The blues continues to be a guitar players market. This year’s ‘ax-man cometh’ disc is ‘Spread the Love’ by the ever tasty love supreme of Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters. An instrumental record, Earl’s venture are endlessly textured and under-stated in a genre that leans toward two-by-four wielding mercenaries. If this guy ever put out a bad album, I haven’t heard it yet.

• Speaking of “great” guitar albums, ‘3 Hours Past Midnight’ (complied 1986) by Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson is the definitive blues guitar album. A musical chameleon that served tutelage under fellow Houston players Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland, Watson’s catalogue is spotty ranging from the touted ‘Gangster of Love’ to the vapid, ‘’I Cried for You.’ Dying in Japan in ’96, Watson’s legacy is, for me, unexplored and beckoning with the subtly of a coastal foghorn.
There are three releases by ‘major artists’ that should appeal to the majority of blues fans;

• Eric Clapton’s self titled release, Clapton, came out late in the year. While some will kvetch that the former Patrick Clapham is not a blues artist, such standards are irrelevant. This is a solid record by the genre’s most impactful artist.

• Carlos Santana’s, ‘Guitar Heaven – The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time’ is clearly targeted to baby boomer rock music fans that know this artist, and know the songs and are thus predisposed to hearing Santana cover songs they already know. Is it art? No. Is it commercially viable? Yes. This is a low risk, low cost gift that is artistically harmless but little more than a calculated cash grab. So don’t gift this to your serious music listener but a casual listener will likely be appreciative.

• ‘The Union’ by Elton John and Leon Russell is another speculative venture designed to salvage two careers. Media spin poses this as John’s rescue of Russell’s career. “Ellie” stands to gain artistic credibility from the presence of Russell as well as guest spots from Neil Young, Booker T. Jones, Brian Wilson, Robert Randolph and producer T Bone Burnett. This is a nice album that unfolds slowly. While not appropriate for a blues purist, most blues fans should be curious.

• Speaking of Classic Rock artists, the entire John Lennon catalogue has been re-released. As everyone’s ‘big brother,’ peace activist John Lennon’s death thirty years ago still pangs. Public Broadcasting’s documentary, LennoNYC’ attempted to re-define Yoko Ono’s role as Lennon artistic peer. Perhaps side-kick would have been a more believable as ‘Double Fantasy’ showcases the wide gap between their respective talents.

Vocally there are two other albums that stood out for me…

• The industry has donned John Nemeth’s ‘Name the Day’ as a front runner. Any critical perspective on this disc is roundly rapped but suffice it to say that while artful, Nemeth is the beneficiary of marketing as much as music…but then which successful artist is not? A rather predictable bent on the blues, this album is warmly received.

• Former Mavericks front man Raul Malo is this generations Roy Orbison. Long considered among the finest recorded vocalists, Orbison’s Texas roots align well with Malo’s Hispanic background to create an album, ‘Sinners & Saints.’ Malo swoon his way through a variety of styles but it all comes back to a beautiful voice and rich arrangements. No, this is not something for everyone but true music fans should find Malo’s cross-genre pollination interesting, new and unexpected.

• The ‘up & comer’ for t2010 is Ruf Record’s release, ‘Diamonds in the Dirt’ by England’s Joanne Shaw Taylor. Young enough to have impact, Shaw Taylor explores enough to make the release interesting. Her strength is minor ballads which lend themselves to airplay; however, she wisely pushes into other sounds and this exploration piques my interest. Occasionally she mistakes ‘shouting’ for emotive singing which I enjoy less. The mentoring of Dave Stewart (Eurthymics) – lead to connection with uber-producer Jim Gaines (Allman Brothers, Bonamassa) – which lead to endorsement by Joe Bonamassa – all feeds into a short cut to success…so perhaps it is who you know. The proof will be in the pudding and the pudding is still coagulating.

• For those that venture outside of the blues, Richard Thompson (Fairport Convention) has released an album that is an ocean of intrigue, ‘Dream Attic.’ Thompson’s guitar playing is unpredictable and second to none. His understatement and use of off-keys is ever interesting. Thompson is a niche artist Stateside but worth the exploration as he exemplifies among a minor handful that did not ‘sell out’ when the opportunity came knocking.

• Finally, Otis Taylor remains the genre’s most pressing artist. More than any other, to my mind, Taylor uses his music to credibly push the blues into crevices and passageways that are simultaneously intriguing and captivating. A crusty bastard, Taylor’s music uses hypnotic layering of blues textures to help a seemingly near stagnant artform expand beyond established confines (IMO). His new album, ‘Clovis People, Volume 3’ is an audible adventure that requires rapt attention from listeners and yet, somehow, Taylor is able to keep the focus on the industry. Taylor seems uncompromising, thankfully.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Album Review: Chris James & Patrick Rynn, 'Gonna Boogie Anyway'

Artist: Chris James, Patrick Rynn
Title: Gonna Boogie Anyway

When guitarist Chris James and bass player Patrick Rynn collaborated as the ‘C – Notes’ behind vocalist and harmonica player Rob Stone, it was my “pure blues” album of the year. With the release of their new album, ‘Gonna Boogie Anyway’ James and Rynn are back with a gritty honest electric Chicago blues sound. Out on the Chicago based Earwig Records this album includes a stellar line-up of accomplices including; David Maxwell (piano), Sam Lay (drums), and Henry Gray (piano). Blues harmonica player and noted radio host Bob Corritore guests on the tracks, ‘H.M. Stomp’ (instrumental) and the Bo Diddley cover, ‘Little Girl.’

An interesting aspect to this album is a study in how drums and drumming styles affect the sound of a band. As a guitar and bass (vocal) duo, James and Rynn often have to rely on guest drummers. In addition to Sam Lay, other drummers on the disc include; Willie Hayes and Eddie Kobeck. There are three ‘drumless’ tracks on the album; which adds to a listeners learning experience; ‘You Can’t Trust Nobody,’ ‘Headed Out West,’ and ‘Black Spider Blues.’ Admittedly, either the music “moves You” or it doesn’t; however, as we listen, we also learn.

This is a straight forward electric pure blues record; no flashy bells and whistles.

Purists will love this album for its honesty, historical root and direct approach. “Modern blues” listeners may initially find this album too traditional although repeated listening will push open the door to a greater appreciation that often, ‘simpler is better.’ As a radio host, I found, ‘Dearest Darling,’ a second Bo Diddley cover to be my focus track. All listeners should focus in on the pure sounding instruments as they juxtapose to James’ vocals. In addition to the great albums from days gone by, this is a very good foundation album of modern purist blues that fans can build a library upon.

Album Review: Piano Red, 'The Lost Atlanta Tapes'

Artist: Piano Red
Title: The Lost Atlanta Tapes

Long before Wilko Johnson (John Wilkinson) commandeered the name for his noted English pub rock band, Piano Red was playing barrel house blues and using the moniker ‘Dr. Feelgood.’ Piano Red successfully cut sides for RCA Victor including hits such as ‘Red’s Boogie,’ ‘Just Right Bounce’ and ‘Laying the Boogie.’ His songs have been covered by some of rock n’ rolls greats including; Little Richard, re-titled as ‘She Knows How to Rock’; Carl Perkins, ‘The Wrong Yo-Yo’; and the Beatles, ‘Mister Moonlight.’ While Piano Red (a/k/a Willie Perryman) has earned his place in music history – he is not a household name for most listeners. Perryman died of cancer in 1985.

This album, ‘The Lost Atlanta Tapes’ were recorded in 1984, shortly before Red’s death. With 18 songs in all, this album is a gentile rollick through a collection of standards and originals including; ‘That’s My Desire,’ ‘C.C. Rider,’ ‘Baby Please Don’t Go,’ and ‘Corinna, Corinna.’ This is not a raucous affair as the 73 year old meanders and talks through a set of music to an appreciative audience. The ‘Lost Atlanta Tapes’ is a highly niched release which will evade most blues listeners. Yes, Piano Red deserves our respect for his contribution to the lexicon of modern blues and rock music; however, other than for its historical perspective, this is an album best left to true aficionados and serious collectors. It is not a bad record per se’ – it is simply a peripheral recording few modern blues listeners will fully enjoy.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Album Review: Jim Byrnes Everywhere West

Artist: Jim Byrnes
Title: Everywhere West

The music industry has had its share of actors poising as musicians including; Eddie Murphy, Don Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Bruce ‘Bruno’ Willis and Jeff Daniels. Now we can add St. Louis born Jim Byrnes to that distinguished list. Of course this list goes both ways; musicians that have tried acting include; Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, “Ice Cube” and “Queen Latifah.”
Brynes’ latest album, ‘Everywhere West’ is a credible outing of blues based roots music that wanders among numerous influences and sound including a bluegrass textured, ‘Bootleggers Blues’ and the horn driven blues, ‘Black Nights.’ Like many progenitors, Byrnes travels the lore of being among the few white guy in the bar watching some of the blues genres greatest including Howlin’ Wolf performing ‘Red Rooster.’ Of the twelve tracks on the album Byrnes wrote three but included covers of Lowell Folsom, ‘Black Night,’ Robert Johnson ‘From Four Until Late’ (Also covered by Cream), Louis Jordan ‘You Can’t Get That Stuff No More’ and Jimmy Reed, ‘Take Out Some Insurance on Me.’

This album has a nice suburban blues sound and textures. It is well performed and arranged. While Byrnes’ is not a “star” per se in the acting field, his accomplishments as an actor and now a musician are inarguable. This is not an album that is going to rewrite the course of the blues genre; however, it is well above the hobbyist level and has entertainment value. While all the songs are ready for radio, programmers might focus on Byrnes’ cover of ‘He Was a Friend of Mine,’ a traditional song, which was also recorded by Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and The Byrds.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Album Review: Leon Russell, Elton John / The Union

Artist: Elton John and Leon Russell
Title: The Union

While it would be a stretch to say this is a rock n’ roll album, it would be an even greater stretch to say this is a blues album. However, undoubtedly Oklahoma’s Leon Russell’s career is based upon many a blues flavor and if, as he purports it, Russell is John’s biggest icon, perhaps there is sufficient room for Elton John to rest awhile under the big tent of blues music. That being said, this is an album which could fit nicely in some roots music radio playlists… so perhaps Blueswax readers will already familiar with this album.

In the late ‘80’s and into the 1990’s rock hierarchies of performers were coupling up to energize flagging careers. As radio melted down into the gloppy, highly niched audio conundrum that we hear today, artists that had sold millions of albums were being dropped by labels no longer interested in artist development. These labels needed sales and anything on the cusp soon found itself sans label in an industry that was being nullified by advancing technology. So artists like Santana recorded with Rob Thomas and gandered the massive album, ‘Supernatural.’ Usually these all star outings were big on glimmer and low on critical content. They were crap. Around the change of the millennium Elton John teamed up with a very soused Billy Joel and together they toured the world keeping alive a flame that seemed to be rapidly diminishing. Times seemed dire. Today “Ellie” has used his slightly tarnished career to team up with an idol from his youth, Leon Russell, whose career had seen better days. Together they have compiled an album that is fated to earn hills of accolades while invigorating each individual career.

If the quality of art is compounded by its complication, as noted thinker and PBS commentator Mortimer Adler suggests it is, then this really could have been a beautiful outing. While the roles between saved and savior blur, together Leon Russell and Elton John’s album, produced by today’s soup d’jour uber-producer T-Bone Burnett is okay. The album’s 14 songs are four songs too many and would have made two very nice ‘solo w/guest records.’ However, for reasons that defy overt simplicity, this is near arduous length of oblique yet interesting collection of over-produced songs. Said simply, it’s good but it is not great. Will these songs ripen? Only time will tell.

The opening track, “If It Wasn’t for Bad” is a classic piece of Elton John arranging that harkens to his noted ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ period. This song feature Stax star Booker T. Jones and was written by Russell. ‘Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes’ features Taupin’s somewhat vapid temporal lyrics disguised as meaningful. I mean, really, a song using $800 shoes as a metaphor; yawn. On ‘Hey Ahab’ John gives his go at being guttural, giving the listener his best blues growl. It is not until the album’s fourth track, the Civil War expedition, ‘Gone to Shiloh’ that the music nears honesty in its roots and feel. Neil Young lends his vocals and sings the second verse of this ballad. The vocals of Russell and Young mix well. When John’s vocals sing the 3rd verse the listener is set in a wonderful audio landscape. Each man’s vocal adding a depth and contrast that works quite well. ‘Monkey Suit’ is an up tempo ‘Rod Stewart’ boogie that provides a level of energy to the album while giving it an obligatory sing-along.

This is a nice Sunday morning album by mature songwriters that are beyond looking for success while relying a bit too hard on sentimental clichés. For some listeners this is going to be a touchstone of pure brilliance; an audio landscape that ties together nostalgia with the contemporary. Like many musical outings the listener has to agree to believe. Roots radio might consider ‘A Dream Come True’ for airplay. Once again though, what starts out as promising eventually gives way to over-layered production that all but smites the song amid background vocals, cowbells and tap-dancing percussion and a regretful tempo shift. Ugh. It is an album you want to enjoy, badly, but Sir Elton is like an enabling spouse that sickens the music by forcing his presence into each and every crevice. Perhaps Sir George Martin could de-Spector this album someday.

You can take the boy out of Vegas but…

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Album Review: Mitch Woods, Gumbo Blues

Artist: Mitch Woods
Title: Gumbo Blues

On his tribute album to “Smiley Lewis and the pioneers of New Orleans Rhythm & Blues” piano player Mitch Woods employs the formidable talents of a terrific band to highlight a wonderful niche of American music. When we look at the many greats that emerged from the New Orleans market, the line of R n’ B piano players is long including; Professor Longhair, James Booker, Art Neville, Dr. John, Fats Domino and Allen Toussaint. It is an area of music that seems to define pure delight by immediately getting fingers and toes tapping. Much like Chuck Berry’s form of blues, the New Orleans R&B piano sound is easily digested and continues to lend its vibrancy to many contemporary players including; Bob Malone, Jon Cleary and Mitch Woods. When it comes down to technical definitions, this sound is firmly rooted in the blues BUT defies the form by being inherently danceable and overwhelmingly joyous.

The latest outing by Mitch Woods is clearly focused on this genre. Titled ‘Gumbo Blues’ Woods and band wheel through some of the genres finest covers including; ‘Lil’ Liza Jane’, ‘Blue Monday,’ ‘I Hear You Knockin’ and ‘Shame, Shame, Shame: ’ a veritable songbook of the legendary Dave Bartholomew. This is a terrific album albeit it all covers.

Throughout his career Woods has looked backwards for inspiration. His interpretations and arrangements are delightful but solidly retrospective. Like all of us, Woods and his band needs to eat – so his efforts to pull the artform forward may have earned less overt reward than this caliber of talent deserves. With a deep catalogue of albums out, Woods, like Taj Mahal, has defined himself as a credible progenitor and musicological preservationist of the first caliber. Unfortunately it is a choice that presents a set of challenges including lower levels of recognition and commercial reward. Radio programmers can virtually “drop the needle” on any track and elevate energy levels with sounds and textures that harkens to the very dawn of rock n’ roll while remaining true to the blues. If there is a god of music, than surely Mitch Woods will receive radio support if for no other reason than the music does the talking and it speaks well.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Album Review: Kirsten Thien, Delicious

Artist: Kirsten Thien
Title: Delicious

By mandate it seems that every white woman in the blues genre is compared to Bonnie Raitt. While the yardstick is immense, the expectation has become a cliché. On her third album, Delicious, Kirsten Thien, another redheaded blues woman, proffers an exceptional album that has immense commercial potential. The production, playing and vocal lines are more suburban than urban but the textures and performances make for a world class blues album. Of the albums eleven tracks, eight are co-written by singer and guitarist Thien. Covers include; Willie Dixon’s ‘I Ain’t Superstitious,’ Ida Cox’s, ‘Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues,’ and ‘Taxi Love’ by Charlie Feldman and Jon Tiven. While ‘Taxi Love’ is the weak link in an otherwise excellent record, the songs ‘Ain’t That the Truth’ and ‘A Woman Knows’ are brilliant ballads that programmers may want to investigate for broadcast. For a more up tempo romp ‘Treat ‘Im Like a Man’ is a powerful ‘morning after’ response to the genres abundance of cheating songs. ‘Get Outta the Funk, Get into the Groove’ is a song that broadens the records reach. The record’s opening track, a horn driven, groove laden ‘’Love That’s Made to Shame’ is tasty and intelligent as the production and arrangements give the singer room to move amid: legendary Chess Records player Hubert Sumlin provides a guitar solo along with Andy Snitzer on Tenor Sax and the albums producer Erik Boyd on backing vocals.

This is a very solid, immediately enjoyable album that a wide base of blues fans should readily embrace. Those looking backwards may not connect as readily with this contemporary offering which showcases Thien building a sound upon the genres offerings from the era of Little Feat up until the present. This album is at least six songs deep for radio airplay. If one is able to judge a book by its cover, or in this case a Compact Disc, this is a well thought out, emotionally pure effort that shows the blues in, potentially, its most viable resurgence. Thien is an artist worth watching, closely.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Album Review: Robert Cray, Cookin' in Mobile

Artist: Robert Cray
Title: Cookin’ in Mobile

In many ways Robert Cray walks the thin dividing line between blues in the credible sense and blues in the popular sense. While he has found commercial success over the years, I have often struggled to appreciate his artistic methodology many times. The allure of his near Sam Cooke voice pulled me in but the redundant lyrical themes wore me out. So it is with mix emotions that I open each release.

In a blues world where the guitar seems to rule, Robert Cray is a tasty but adequate player. His distinction lies not in the fretwork wizardry that so many rely on but, rather, in the way he melds his voice and guitar playing. The rough edges are smoothed out and the precision is precise. His is a mixture of classic soul vocal lines and pop-blues instrumentation. We all recognize the sound but often, for me, the songwriting is the weak link.

On his latest release, a live album entitled, ‘Cookin’ in Mobile’ Robert Cray has, finally, released the complete album. The band is in the “pocket” and perfectly grooves to Cray’s crooning. The song selection is near perfect: as a record store clerk in the very early 1980’s I bought a 12” vinyl release of ‘’Phone Booth’ which, in many ways, sealed by adoration for the electric blues. Whether it is his cover of ‘Sitting on Top of the World’ or the up tempo, ‘That’s What Keeps Me Rockin’ Cray and band are in fine form on this Vanguard release.

Radio hosts might look at either of the songs mentioned as well as the opening track, “Our Last Time” or “Right Next Door” (a/k/a Strong Persuader). On some level an affection for Robert Cray’s music is perhaps a mandate as a contemporary blues fan… but on the other hand I wish he would, ‘buy a new book’ and sing about something other than, “the back door slam.” But then he didn’t ask… and his success is surely his own hard earn achievement.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Political Editorial: Taxing Internet Sales

This Op-Ed piece was printed initially in the Omaha World Herald, 2009

I say it is time to collect internet sales taxes.

This call to arms may be anathema to a fiscal conservative but let’s inject some facts into the discussion.

State and local government budgets are, in some part, based upon the collection of sales tax revenues. Basic epistemology of fiscally conservative thought is that fewer taxes equate to smaller government and that is usually perceived as a good thing. However maintaining functional government budgets is inarguable.

As we look at the evolution of technology and its impact on the retail industry, we are seeing a growing shift to online sales of everyday goods. For the most part this shift towards online sales does not capture sales taxes – negatively impacting State and local government budgets. The shift is also creating an unlevel playing field that favors online retailers against local ‘brick’ retailers since a tax free purchase may equate to as much as a 12% discount in some markets [ 7% here in Omaha].

Put another way, the immediate effect of a discount on tax-free online purchases sends wealth out of the Omaha market and, as a community; we lose the benefit of the economic multiplier effect created by that money circulating throughout our state and community. In the long term we may also risk losing retail jobs and, as we all know, the retail industry is a significant employer.

It is a fact that small business is the engine that drives the American economy. The Maryland based Tischler & Associates, Inc. (now d/b/a Tischler Bise) reported that “Big Box retailers generate a net annual deficit of $468 per 1,000 square feet (to taxpayers)…Fast food restaurants have a net annual cost of $5,168 per 1,000 sq. ft…In contrast, specialty retail has a positive impact on public revenue of $326 per 1,000 sq. ft.” (Tischler & Associates) When you weigh in the actual employment impact as well as the economic multiplier effect, government should be strongly incentivized to support the local retail economy.

According to the Wall Street Journal, several states, including North Carolina, Hawaii, California, Connecticut, New York, Maryland, Minnesota and Tennessee, have decided to level the playing field through recent legislation. Online behemoth Amazon has threatened to “clip local affiliates” rather than pay their currently defined legal share of sales taxes. (Fowler, 2009). The University of Tennessee estimates that “uncollected Internet Sales taxes will cost state and local governments more than $11,000,000,000 a year by 2012.”

In its early guise, government nurtured the viability of online companies by allowing this issue to go unnoticed. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the First Quarter of 2009 online sales were $31,717,000,000. (Quarterly Retail E-Commerce Sales, 1st Quarter 2009, 2009) By any standards the online retail industry has been sufficiently incubated and it is time to level the playing field as well as increase State and local revenues through the appropriate application of existing and needed sales tax collection laws.

Studies indicate that 8% - 12% of retail sales have moved online; the impact on government budgets is apparent. Because of the disparity of various state and local taxation levels, the process of collecting and submitting levies of online sales would be a significant burden to retailers. A suggested method could be to have a uniform nationwide taxation level for online sales thus simplifying the collection and submission process for retailers. Another “level playing field” consideration could be to reduce in-store sales tax levels as a result of collecting sales taxes on all retail sales once again.

Finally, this is not an advocation for a new tax. Nor can a reasonable person misconstrue this to be a call to increase taxes. If we are going to tax retail sales, and history shows we are, isn’t it about time that Nebraska, and Omaha, join in the processes to balance the playing field? At the very least this is an existing loophole that needs to be debated.

Richard ‘Rick’ Galusha


Fowler, G. A. (2009, June 19). Amazon Threatens Cuts Over State Taxes. Wall Street Journal , p. B3.

Quarterly Retail E-Commerce Sales, 1st Quarter 2009. (2009, May 15). Retrieved June 24 , 2009, from U.S. Census Bureau News: http://www.census.gov/mrts/www/data/html/09Q1.html

Tischler & Associates. (n.d.). Retrieved September 18 , 2003, from http://www.smartgrowth.org/news/bystate.asp?state-ID

Political Editorial: Whiteclay

Published Sunday August 29, 2010
Omaha World Herald newspaper

Midlands Voices: Act urgently on Whiteclay
By Rick Galusha

The writer is an assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at Bellevue University. He is assistant director for the university’s Center for American Visions and Values.

Nebraskans are shocked to learn that a portion of the second-poorest area in the entire Western Hemisphere lies within our state, in the area that includes the Pine Ridge Reservation. Consider the following figures from the 2002-03 edition of Regional Differences in Indian Health, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

>> The age-adjusted alcoholism death rates in the Reservation area are nearly 17 times higher than the national population mean (108.7 per 100,000 people versus 6.7 nationally).

>> The age-adjusted tuberculosis death rates in the Reservation area are eight times higher than the national population mean (2.4 per 100,000 versus 0.3 nationally).

>> The age-adjusted diabetes mellitus death rates in the Reservation area are more than five times higher than the national population mean (68.7 per 100,000 versus 13.3 nationally).

>> The age-adjusted suicide rates in the Reservation area are nearly three times higher than the national population mean (29.7 per 100,000 versus 11.2 nationally).

Because a majority of the Pine Ridge Reservation lands are located within the borders of South Dakota, some suggest that this is a state sovereignty issue. However, the effects spill into our state, including the numerous medical and legal concerns that define Whiteclay, Neb., (population 14).

Whiteclay’s four package stores sell the equivalent of more than 3 million cans of beer annually. Adult alcoholism rates on Pine Ridge have been estimated to exceed 65 percent.

In an era when bitterness can define the political landscape, our Legislature passed a modest bill this year. In July, the Douglas County Republican Party passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a committee to seek viable solutions for the extreme poverty on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Independently, later that month, the Nebraska Democratic Party passed an identical resolution. This solution-seeking-committee would consist of the governors of Nebraska and South Dakota as well as the president of the Lakota Sioux Nation.

While the choice of sobriety is an individual decision, there are several things Nebraskans can do to provide hope:

>> Demand enforcement of existing Nebraska laws in Whiteclay, Neb.

>> Empower our elected officials to begin seeking long-term solutions to this extreme poverty, including calling upon the government of South Dakota to participate.

>> Create awareness by sharing this commentary with family members, friends, co-workers and congregants.

>> Take specific action by sending letters and e-mails and placing telephone calls to elected officials.

>> Use social networking to enhance awareness.

>> Contact the Whiteclay awareness committee (WhiteclayAwareness@gmail.com) to schedule a speaker and-or show the film “The Battle for Whiteclay.” (Include schools, civic or business organizations, churches, synagogues, mosques or living rooms.)

This nonpartisan issue is gaining momentum. Readers of the New Testament will recognize the passage, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me.” It would be a moral failure for Nebraskans to allow this misery to continue.

To quote Edmund Burke, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rick Derringer Album Review

Artist: Rick Derringer
Title: The Three Kings of the Blues
Writer: Rick Galusha

It was hard to grow up in the ‘70’s and not know about Rick ‘Rock n’ Roll Hoochie Koo’ Derringer. Whether it was his band, ‘The McCoy’s’ 1965 #1 hit, ‘Hang on Sloopy’ (The Official Rock Song for the State of Ohio) or his self titled band’s FM flash, ‘Let Me In,’ Rick Derringer was a household name among avid music fans. Perhaps best known for his able support of Edgar and Johnny Winter, Derringer’s star diminished by the mid-1980s.

Down but never out Rick Derringer is back with a compilation on Shrapnel Records which pay homage to the three kings of the blues… B. B., Albert and Freddie. With tracks taken from previous Derringer solo efforts, this album is Derringer at his best. Like brass knuckles on a peroxide blonde Derringer takes ten blues standards, revs up his chainsaw guitar and double-times past any semblance of musical nuisance… and yet fun pervades this guilty pleasure. With songs like, ‘Key to the Highway,’ ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’ and ‘Let the Good Times Roll’ Derringer delivers these tracks right between your eyes.

Purists will roll over and groan but contemporary blues fans (IE: Rock n’ Rollers) are going to eat this album with a fork and spoon. Programmers will want to use this CD like grease on a spitball when they reach up, caress the bill of their cap, and jumpstart listeners with a familiar sounding cover track. It ain’t art but then art never was a parameter for mass appeal. Look to Derringer’s version of Freddie King’s, ‘You’ve Got to Love Her With a Feeling’ as the gateway to the easily accessible sonnets of this record.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Album Review: Indigenous, 'The Acoustic Sessions'

Band: Indigenous
Title: The Acoustic Sessions
Writer: Rick Galusha

In 1995 a band of Native American siblings from the Northern Ponca Tribe Reservation in Wagner, South Dakota released a self-produced album, ‘Awake.’ Now in their 16th year the band has released fourteen full length albums including their newest, ‘The Acoustic Sessions.’ Nanji’s father, Greg Zephier, a friend of actor Marlon Brando, was an activist in the American Indian Movement and named his son for the noted civil rights figure Standing Bear (d:1908).

What started as a tight knit band of family members eventually succumbed to the travails of rivalry, broken relationships, and illicit substance use. When the Davey Brothers, of the successful British band ‘The Hoax,’ informally hovered near the band, the once blues based guitar rock sound of the band moved towards a more contemporary, bottom-heavy, hard rock sound. This new sound and image moved the band towards a larger and younger potential audience but pushed away the loyal base of “Indiginuts.” Their career stalled and internal issues resulted in Wandbi (sister/drummer), Pte (brother/bass) and Horse (cousin/percussion) leaving the band. As a solo act under the name Indigenous, Mato Nanji struggled to re-find his voice and old audience.

With the release of their 13th album, ‘Broken Lands’ Nanji finally looked inward to write about the social trauma’s of 170 years of the reservation system inflicted upon many Native Americans. On the track, “Place I Know” Nanji sang of barefoot children left to raise themselves by alcoholic parents. (Alcohol related deaths on South Dakota’s reservation’s average 1640% higher than median America.) While the song’s structure was not overt blues, the band that had been deserted by many of its fans released one of 2008’s lyrically most powerful blues albums. ‘Broken Lands’ signaled a come back for Indigenous.

Filtered throughout the band’s history has been a collection of excellent songs. Admittedly skeptical of “an unplugged album,” that was comprised of greatest hits, ‘The Acoustic Sessions’ is the second excellent album for an artist that refused to die. In their original form many of the songs featured on this album, while highly melodic and well played, lacked sufficient texture within the album format to compel one to listen to the whole album. Gone for the past several albums have been the depth providing textures that conga player Horse provided the band’s early incarnations. In this acoustic setting Nanji is able to demonstrate his guitar prowess while serving the song and, in many instances, these songs are fully complimentary to the full band versions.

The album opens with the pacing ‘Now That You’re Gone’ where Mato’s vocal energy rises over a layered percussive setting against a guitar solo that recalls some of cleanest fretwork of his career. Now in its fourth released version, ‘Things We Do’ is the song that defines the band musically, lyrically and spiritually. “When I close my eyes, a dream comes to me” Nanji sings as the song builds thanks to the percussion and organ of producer Jamie Candiloro (REM, Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams, Eagles). The albums fourth track, ‘Rest of My Days’ is the album’s focus track where Candiloro’s production eerily recalls Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Want You’ period. The use of subtle ‘toned percussive instruments’ (I don’t know what they are) heightens the song with stunning effect. On ‘Leaving’ Lisa Germano provides a wonderful violin backing that moves to the foreground with a defining solo; wonderfully unexpected.

The album ends with a cover of the Traveling Wilbury’s track ‘You Got It’ penned by Jeff Lynn (ELO) and Roy Orbison (Sun Records). Radio programs that rely on Classic Rock artist may find this track to be comfortable for listeners. However, this album has “legs” so programmers will want to move beyond the obvious and low hanging fruit of a covered hit record.

This album is a powerful statement of revitalization for Indigenous. There is a history that threads throughout popular music of bands releasing three excellent albums consecutively; perhaps there will be another strong album in the future. Fans of contemporary blues-rock players such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Santana and Jimi Hendrix will enjoy this album.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Album Review: Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, 'Pills and Ammo'

Artist: Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes
Title: Pills and Ammo (A Little Chaos is Good for the Soul)
Writer: Rick Galusha

If the blues is nothing more than a musical structure, a predictable amalgamation of chords and progressions, than read no further. However if the blues is a feeling, a fleeting emotion that helps defines our time on mortal coil then the latest release by Southside Johnny (Lyon) and the Asbury Jukes, ‘Pills and Ammo’ is a refreshing, powerful, hard-driving collection of songs by an unsung icon of American music.

“You take something sweet and you make it rough. You make a blood sport out of making love. No matter how low I go, I never go down enough.” ‘Lead Me On’

As an album of twelve songs, ‘Pills and Ammo’ is first and foremost a very good record. Between the grooves are passages and segue ways that use overt blues textures with horn driven R n’ B to deliver the goods. While most are familiar with New Jersey’s other” boss,” in many ways it was the Brooouce-mania that not only brought John Lyon’s band to national attention but unintentionally overshadowed an otherwise wonderful band. As the leader John Lyon chose the nickname “Southside” in homage to Chicago’s famed blues scene. “Jukes” attributed to Little Walter’s famed instrumental harmonica song. A review of the pre-Jukes sonic landscape includes other horn bands including the wonderful Stax and Hi Recordings, Chess’ Little Milton and eventually Chicago; Blood, Sweat and Tears; Chase, Electric Flag or Butterfield Blues Band’s later era recordings. Arguably Southside Johnny has taken the blues, added a bit of Jersey sand & salt (grit), and created a largely undefined but brilliant genre.

This is an album that uses the horns to propel the songs against strong vocal melody lines and intelligent lyrics. The song, ‘Strange, Strange Feeling,’ begins with a ‘Harlem Shuffle’ groove and includes the exceptional lyric line,

“My woman left me long time ago, Still sends me Christmas Card, complete with plastic snow. There’s never any return address, She’s just being kind I guess. How much further down do I have to go?”

While the only constant in this band seems to be John Lyon himself, Bobby Bandiera ably replaces Miami Steve Van Zant and Billy Rush adding subtle yet emotive guitar lines. On ‘Umbrella Drink’ Lyon is joined by fellow Springsteen friend Gary ‘U.S.’ Bonds on a New Orleans horn driven romp that is pure lively joy that devolves to include the Neville Brothers, ‘Hey Pocky Way.’ Throughout the album Lyon, a noted avid music fan hide similar musical passages including a reference to his own ’77 release, “This Times Its for Real” in the smokin’ track, ‘One More Night to Rock.’ He also lifts the blues standard ‘Walking Blues’ in this albums track, ‘Woke Up This Morning.’ Bonds and Lyon also incorporate Allen Toussiant's *(Huey Smith), 'Come on everybody take a trip with me. Down the Mississippi, down to New Orleans' on 'Umbrella In My Drink."

If the album’s opening track, ‘Harder than It Looks’ refers to Lyon’s often struggling thirty-five professional career, then the album’s three closing tracks puts a stake in the ground for this powerful and revitalized performer; ‘Keep on Moving,’ ‘You Can’t Bury Me,’ and the powerful nostalgic ‘Thank You.’

This is not an album for blues purist but the vast majority of blues fans will eat up this album with a fork and spoon. The melody lines are rich, the arrangements are excellent and the band plays for the songs. If you have albums that are your ‘Saturday night special’ or a ‘Sunday morning wake-up call,’ this is your ‘jump in the car and drive’ record that pounds on your door. Blues deejays could ‘drop the needle’ on just about any track but if you show lean traditional try the third track, ‘Woke Up This Morning.’ If you are looking for texture in your show, ‘Harder than It Looks’ or ‘Cross the Line’ are propelling. The closing ballad, ‘Thank You’ shares a common ‘look back in fondness’ an over 40 audience will easily relate to.

Besides anyone that can include, “I think Mkultra is messing with my mind” deserves accolades.

[“Mkultra was the code name for a covert, illegal CIA human research program, run by the Office of Scientific Intelligence” which began in the 1950’s, “continuing at least through the late 1960s, and it used U.S. and Canadian citizens as its test subjects.” (LSD was used in this program.)]

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Article: What is the Blues?

What is the Blues?

Writers: Rick Galusha, Chris D. Thomas

Recently, noted music critic and Wall Street Journal writer Jim Fusilli rightfully lamented that most blues fans are willing to accept only a limited range of styles. He also pointed out that because of this self-imposed limitation, the genre suffers; creative bands willing to explore the edges of the blues are discouraged by the lack of audience and airplay. Fusilli’s article begs the question, “What is the blues?”

There’s no one answer to that question, and suggesting there is would be part of the problem. But here are a few thoughts on this issue.

Writing about music is based upon opinion. What a reviewer thinks is simply his or her opinion. There are, of course, educated opinions based upon a wide variety of listening and reading. For example, one can state a fact such as, ‘Stevie Ray Vaughan tragically died while his mass popularity was still growing.’ It is an opinion that “Texas Flood” was his best recording. I think it is fair to state that Jim Fusilli has a well-educated opinion, listens and writes about a diverse selection of music, and has darn good taste. Remember that Led Zeppelin was originally panned in Rolling Stone magazine and that this gaffe defined the relationship between the band and rock critics for nearly a decade. In other words, even “educated” reviewers get it wrong.

Most recognize traditional blues as being three chords (1, 4, and 5), 12 bars (or measures) and base the vocals on a ‘call-call-response’ where the second line is a repeat of the first line. Traditional blues can be simple to play, doe not require a great deal of musical training, and can be simplistic lyrically. As the form becomes more complicated, it moves away from the “traditional blues” sound. When Muddy Waters electrified his sound, added sidemen known as ‘Headhunters’ and created the instrumentation line-up that would become the sound of rock n’ roll (drums, bass, 2 guitars and vocals) he helped create the so-called, ‘Chicago Blues’ sound. So progression of the art form is tolerated, or should be.

Rock music’s influence is culturally pervasive in Western culture. What a musician listens to is going to influence his sound regardless of the genre he plays. Easy examples of this include Who guitarist Pete Townshend’s use of the banjo (a preferred instrument of pre-WWII English entertainers) and Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger’s flamenco styling. Since the commercial explosion of rock music, American culture has been inundated by rock music. (I am skeptical when an artist claims to have always preferred the blues: the comment defies the impact of radio, advertising, media and pop culture.) Interestingly, traditional blues music, with its emphasis on rhythm and simple lyrics and its basis in black culture shares similarities to rap music. When Muddy Waters sings, “I’m a man,” listeners nod their heads in approval. But the overt appeal to violence and similar braggadocio in rap implies for some listeners a very real and unappealing threat. (Interestingly, violence employed in movies, television or literature is acceptable entertainment but references to violence in rap is often construed as a threat.)

The Modern Blues market consists of blues acts as well as non-blues bands that appeal to the roots & blues audience. Most readers of this column would readily identify Eric Clapton as a bluesman. His roots with the John Mayall Band and a significant portion of his solo recordings reinforce Clapton’s blues credibility. However, Clapton’s Tulsa Period, which feature pop-ready ballads such as “Beautiful Tonight” or his ‘Reptile’ project fall outside of, blues confines. Dave Alvin has strong “roots and blues” pedagogy but his music, wonderful as it is, is not blues by most listeners’ standards. None-the-less, his crossover within the blues market is well- established. A dilemma presents itself when judges or reviewers cast their net on acts that are clearly not playing the blues, yet appeal to a blues audience.

The blues was a Black-American artform. While it began as an African-American artform, the blues has moved into a larger market; white folks now make up the majority of the audience. With this migration comes a debate about whether non-black musicians are capable of playing the blues. It can be argued that early progenitors played the blues loosely and that this relaxed approach, focused on rhythm, allowed the player to extended measures, skip chords, employ irregular rhythms or play whatever his or her muse suggested. What some could refer to as authenticity could also be referred to as sloppiness. (It is this “sloppiness” that differentiates the Rolling Stones sound from other mainstream FM radio acts). Trained musicians will tightly follow measures, key and chord changes. Since the culture of Traditional Blues was about uneducated day-laborers teaching each other, swapping techniques and nurturing younger players, the blues roots are in untrained musicianship. So when a trained musician begs into the genre it can be perceived that what he plays’s, “ain’t the blues.” If consumers vote with their dollars there is an audience for both. Like the rest of the country, Black-Americans have developed diversified listening interests and therefore the European-American influence on the blues is growing.

Finally, some music is intended to be art, while some is highly disposable. Not every album will be artistically significant. Few would argue that Bach withstood the test of time, whereas the list of forgotten acts is extensive. Occasionally, “Tastemakers” attempt to convert temporal pop acts to credible artists such as the recent, ‘Songwriters Hall of Fame’ honor for Taylor Swift. A cynical aspect of this is when a child lays claim to the coattails of a famous parent.

Listening takes patience. Personally I often find that when an album opens too quickly, and the enjoyment is immediate and intense, I soon tire of listening to the record a/k/a “it has no legs.” Whereas, upon initial listens, if a record hints of substance it will, like an onion, peel and reveal its art upon repeated listening. It is often the not too subtle argument of snobs that the lack of patience and educated listening skills retards a genre’s wider audience of the ability to recognize its finer offerings.

Essentially there are five categories for blues CDs;

1.) Art. Albums that are finely crafted and intended to make an artistic statement. These albums tend to open slowly and require repeated listening. They also have a long “shelf life” and bear repeated listening over decades. Often these albums move months or even years ahead of the mass audience listening curve and are often not recognized upon release. These albums are by artists that, generally, have considered their image and include quality CD packaging. (9-10 rating)

2.) Good Records. Sometimes an album is just good. It is an above-average performance that some folks will enjoy and some will not. The album is neither groundbreaking nor bad. It is a statement of the artist at the time it was recorded and its shelf life will depend upon the trends of the genre as well as the artist’s touring and commercial relevance. (6-8 rating)

3.) “Pipeline fillers” These are lesser-quality albums by artists that have established or are establishing careers, but for whatever reason their current release is subpar. Many times these are barroom acts with little opportunity to rise above the occasional “big stage” festival showing. These acts gravitate between labels with regularity and often use covers or live tracks to fill up the album. Often these albums contain one or - perhaps two dynamite tracks. (4-5 rating)

4.) Souvenirs. These are sold off the stage and have little if any shelf life. These artists are flogging it out on the road hoping for a break that catapults them to a better quality life. While their names are known by concert- goers, the passion of the moment quickly subsides. These artists have been known to use gimmicks such as topical songs, blues renditions of popular rock songs or claims of unconfirmable historical significance. (3- 5 rating)

5.) Friends and Family. These are hobbyist projects that are fun for the makers as well as their friends and family members. These albums suffer from poor quality album artwork, weak songwriting, poorly developed covers and no distribution. These albums often over-employ clichés and lack artistic originality. These albums also often feature photos of the band on the cover. (0 – 2 rating)

What is the allure of the blues? Every culture has its own mores and standards. A common depiction of the modern blues scene is of overweight white males in bowling shirts wearing fedoras and sunglasses and sporting a “soul patch” under their lower lip. As Be Bop Deluxe’s Bill Nelson sang, “We revolt into style.” It is interesting that a highly dogmatic musical culture has a generally acceptable uniform.

In his personal exploration, “Lost in Music?, Subjective personal introspection and popular music consumption” (Shankar, 2000) British researcher Avi Shankar report on why we listen to or participate in the music we do;

a.) “Music is symbolic communication…it can easily recall a whole time and place, distant feelings and emotions, and memories of where we were and with whom…Music can also be a theme, a rallying cry, a protest around which we gather to speak out against social injustice.” (Lewis, 1992)

b.) “[...P]opular music still chronicles the feelings and life experiences of large sections of young people, providing a medium which an affective grounded aesthetic can be developed to enable personal and private feelings to be expressed and shared.” (Willis, 1990)

c.) “…music helps us to make sense of our everyday lives and experiences.” (Shankar, 2000)

d.) “…music is also important in letting other people know who we are, or would like to be, what group we belong to, or would like to belong to.” (Lewis, 1992)

There are a myriad of “styles” within the blues genre but none are as prevalent as the, ‘Twang bar kings’ and the ‘purists.’

Twang Bar Kings. These are your axe pyrotechnicans that often use songs as a platform for extended jams. The songwriting tends to be weak and often the vocals are secondary to the jam. There are credible players within this “rock blues” category, including; SRV, Robben Ford, Aynsley Lister and relative newcomer Matt Schofield. A criticism of this genre is that certain players are heavy handed, for instance; Walter Trout or Chris Duarte. What is clear is that in a live music setting the audience will react to the “sound” of the Twang Bar King. So the emotion of the moment solicits a positive reaction from the audience, but rarely translates onto recordings.

Purists: This is a genre in which players replicate songs and styles of recordings from the early roots of the blues. Often a solo act, purists play a stripped down, raw or pure blues sound. In some ways these contemporary purists keep the blues alive by going all the way back to the sound’s recorded roots – offering live audiences an opportunity to hear and feel an approximation of what early blues probably sounded like. The downside of this genre is that while imitation may be the highest form of flattery, it can quickly become over-wrought. Another challenge for contemporary purist recordings is that their CD’s compete with the original recordings. Artists that I think do well within this genre include; Corey Harris, Chris Thomas King, Keb Mo, John Hammond and Eric Bibb; these artists tend to build upon the existing catalogue and contribute to the artform by taking it forward.

Album Covers: The album jacket is the invitation to listen. According to Roger Blackwell, the music on a CD will at best rate a seven on a ten scale. It is often the image and ancillary messages of an act that will differentiate a ‘good’ band from a ‘great’ band. (Roger Blackwell, 2004). In an environment where music has to compete with Play Stations, children, jobs and 24-hour news cycles, the audience wants more than just good music. They want to be a part of something larger than themselves, something that is entertaining, coincides with their dreams or aspirations, and provides an emotional resonance. According to Blackwell, the artwork of a CD is 33% of the perceived value. A photograph of average looking people is short-selling the effort. Bands need to define an image and then make certain that EVERY ASPECT of their presence reinforces this image including; websites, posters, stage presence and interviews. It is amateurish and confuses the audience when an act emits messages that conflict… so Blackwell may be suggesting that if you want a “real career” take the time to develop a message, massage it and then be prepared to update your image before it stagnates.

Album Length: Back when vinyl was king, critics could count on two hands the number of “great” double albums (two discs). “Great” single disc albums average up to 40 minutes in length. Even talented songwriters seem incapable of writing more than 40 minutes of good music in a 12-month period. So although a CD can hold nearly 80 minutes of music, “you” (or anyone else) are incapable of writing that much good music. Talk to your fans… no one “hears” anything past the 8th or 9th track. So drop the filler and leave your audience wanting more. Prolific artists can (and should) use online only releases to keep the “consumer pipeline” full in between CD releases. Use tasty covers, acoustic versions and unreleased or sub-par tracks to keep your fans coming back to your website. Nurture your base by giving them MORE than they expect… so that when that next T-shirt design or CD release is ready, you have a well- established relationship with your audience; thereby making your marketing efforts less burdensome. If you are serious, take time to review the websites of other artists; do you marketing homework.

Kids don’t want to listen to their parents “Blues.” There are also blues bands that want nothing to do with the blues market. Acts like The Black Keys have clearly chosen to pursue the modern indie rock market, and who can blame them? One of the base tenants of rock n’ roll is that your parents are specifically not invited. This does not lessen the contribution of acts building an audience outside of the blues but it does explain some of the distance you may have noticed in their outreach. I find it amusing when young critics bash the “blues scene” and then praise blues acts that are marketed specifically towards them; failing to recognize their own gullibility to label marketing efforts.

All contemporary Blues fans got there by listening to rock music… with The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers or Led Zeppelin being the biggest influences. The best selling blues acts are; B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton. Robert Johnson is more significant than Charley Patton although they both vie for the title, “King of the Delta Blues.” It doesn’t matter if it was actually Tommy Johnson who sold his soul at the crossroads; perception trumps reality and Robert Johnson’s lore is as cemented in American history as Paul Revere’s ride.

What is the role of the blues deejay? Entertainment is the basis for any radio host. I appreciate a degree of discernment. With more than 30,000 recording albums coming out annually, deejays need to listen to a wide breadth of music. An objective radio host has the opportunity to help their audience sift through the mountain of releases to identify ‘good’ titles. It is easy to allow label hype to take the lead. Deejays should be cognizant of the local scene helping to promote upcoming shows as well as, gulp, playing lesser acts that their audience appreciates. I also use my program to abet local acts build awareness by playing their CDs and hosting interviews.

What is the role of the blues writer? There are three (general) types of album or concert writers;

-Advocates. These are established fans who want you to enjoy what they like. There is nothing wrong with this; however, these are the least discerning since their bias is apparent. They seem to like everything.

-Critics: These are writers who cast a critical eye on everything. While often appearing to be unhappy with anything, these writers discuss and contemplate art and, for me, help define trends with an eye on history and how something may, or may not, fit in. While good music is defined by what “you” enjoy, critics hold the art form to its highest standard and are quick to condemn ‘disposable music.’ Unfortunately “trendy” or “faddish” music is often highly disposable. (Take a look your CD collection for titles you “loved” but no longer listen to.)

-Reporters: These writers seemingly focus on upcoming events and simply discuss them – providing facts and information. Readers are often left wondering what the reviewer’s opinion is. In a world awash with music; most bad, some good and very little ‘great,’ the role of the reviewer can be less than helpful since the reader is left to gamble with their entertainment dollars.

It is important to remember that since blues music is guttural, writers are simply using their knowledge and experience to form an opinion. Since a written opinion should be rational rather than emotional – the reader is well within their rights to disagree. I recommend that you find a writer whose opinion generally coincides with your own and use them to wade through the heap of music beckoning for your ears.

Lewis, G. (1992). Who Do You Love? The dimensions of musical taste. In Popular Music and Communication, 2nd Edition. Newbury Park, California: Sage Publications.

Roger Blackwell, T. S. (2004). Brands that Rock - what business leaders can learn from the world of rock and roll. Hoboken: John WIley & Sons, Inc. .

Shankar, A. (2000). Lost in Music? Subjective personal introspection and popular music consumption. Retrieved July 14, 2010, from Proquest Database: http://proquest.umi.com/pdqlink?vinst=PROD&fmt=3&startpage=-1&ver=1&vname=PQ
Willis, P. (1990). Common Culture. Milton Keynes (England): Open University Press.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Album Review: Rob Stone, Back Around Here

Artist: Rob Stone
Title: Back Around Here
Writer: Rick Galusha

When Rob Stone’s previous album, ‘Just My Luck’ came out it was my album of the year. No, it was probably not “the best” blues album that year but it was so fresh, so unrecognized and so accessible that I was swooned. When I saw that the drought was to be broken, that Stone was releasing, ‘Back Around Again’ my expectations soared.

Stone’s former band mates Chris James (guitar) and Patrick Rynn (bass) a/k/a ‘The C Notes’ join in the recording with appearances by some of Chicago’s finest including; Aaron Moore (piano), Sam Lay (drums) and Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith (drums). Like Stone, Boston native David Maxwell (piano) also plays on the record.
Stone’s sound is pure 1950’s Chicago with flicks of other blues city sounds such as the New Orleans beat on the focus track, “Chicago All Night.” It is on “Chicago All Night” that the album begins to gel as the Stone’s lyrics take the listener through a late night until dawn tour of the Windy City’s noted blues venues, eateries and asundry hang-outs. On the fifth track, “I Need a Money Tree” Stone tiptoes around clichés themes without stepping off the balance beam. Perhaps this is the base draw to Stone’s recordings; that he harkens that lovely blues vibe that most associate with Chicago without being overly reliant on covers or rehashing tired clichés. Albeit an up tempo album, Stone has a vague Harry Connick vocal quality that is boosted that he is cognizant of what he can, and therefore cannot, sing. There is none of the faux-shouter blues growly mish-mash here – just a guy having a great time.

The album falls short, for me, because there are too many tracks. The albums textures are consistent and perhaps I just need a tad more variance in sound: admittedly Stone let’s us know he has no interest in taking the artform beyond the establish 50’s sound. Since his first album provided a fine rendition of the post-war Chicago blues sound, a lack of maturation or perhaps development is apparent.
Radio hosts might look at, ‘Can’t Turn Back the Clock’ for an entry way into the record: David Maxwell rollicks across the keyboards and the song’s form is a pure, easily recognized but tasty blues treat.

Not a “great” album but fun and above average.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Album Review: Bob Malone, 'Ain't What You Know'

Writer: Bob Malone
Title: Ain’t What You Know
Writer: Rick Galusha

When your friends and co-workers are among the finest studio musicians from one of the world’s most competitive music centers, you have an advantage if played properly. Born in Maine, reared in New Jersey, a graduate of Berklee School of Music and apprenticed in New Orleans; the sixth album by Los Angles based studio keyboardist Bob Malone, “Ain’t What You Know” is a finely honed, exceptionally well crafted album. Much like the ultimate genre hopper Eric Clapton, Malone is able to move effortlessly between overt blues based tracks to the John Hiatt-like, ‘Small Girl’ or the pop radio, ‘Butterfly.’

Malone’s choices for the albums only two covers; The Band’s ‘Up on Cripple Creek’ and The Faces’ “Stay With Me,” indicate the artist’s larger vision for the album; blues based textures relying on solid songwriting and smooth studio production with an eye on commercial appeal to a mature audience with a Classic Rock background. Producer Bob DeMarco effectively uses depth and space, including a smokin’ horn section and female back-up vocals, to actively engage the listener’s ears while paying homage to the song.

While only reminiscent of a traditional blues sound, Malone appeals to the roots and blues audience with heartfelt ballads, nuisanced arrangements and a never ending tour schedule. If one were to take the blues credibility of Dr. John, the songwriting of Jimmy Webb and the arrangement skills of early period Elton John, we see Malone in vesture that suits him perfectly. More traditional blues fans may find this particular outing to lack sufficient rough edges; however, blues and roots radio programmers that seek to introduce lesser known artists will be able to widen their audience. Over its ten tracks this album is a well rounded and well above average.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Album Review: Son of '76 & the Watchmen 'Shangri-La'

Artist: Son of ’76 & the Watchmen
Title: Letters from Shangri-La
Writer: Rick Galusha
Rating: 7

“Letters from Shangri-La” is the latest release from the Nebraska based roots rock band, ‘Son of ’76 & the Watchmen.’ Debut albums often tend to be a “kitchen sink” affair where the band throws in years of songwriting creating an album of mixed styles, multiple themes and influences. That this is the third album from the band only adds to their genre defying mystic. Unfocused albums require more interactive listening and since an uncommitted fan is, at best, a passive listener, this album does not unfold itself easily to the ear.

Led by Josh Hoyer’s rootsy barenecked vocals, the album includes songs with a hint of New Orleans (Katrina Revisited), a harkening of Ireland (Annie’s Heart), Roy Orbinson (The Moon) and an Americana base that transcends defined categories; think of Tom Waits fronting the Outlaws singing Dave Alvin material from the ‘Blackjack David’ period. Because of the length, 15 songs, the album can easily lose the listener as it jumps from style to style. This is an album that will challenge the listener’s commitment to wait, listen and find the beauty that lies within.

Hoyer uses the album to sing about two of the region’s darkest themes.

On his 1982 release, ‘Nebraska’ Bruce Springsteen sang of a mass murder spree in 1958 that spread across Nebraska and into Wyoming. Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, Charlie Starkweather and accomplice Caril Ann Fugate spread fear across the state as they murdered her family and others. While Springsteen sang from Starkweather’s perspective, Hoyer sings from the perspective of the fictional son of Starkweather. It is a harkening to the dust bowl song theme of criminals and hero’s. On '
Outside Looking In' Hoyer sings of Nebraska’s shame today: Whiteclay is an unincorporated village of 14 residents with four package stores that peddle 3 to 4 million cans of beer per year to the dry Native American Pine Ridge Indian Reservation's 38,000 residents. Much like the track 'Place I Know,’ from Indigenous, Hoyer sings of the alienation and hopelessness of living amid a Reservation community where alcoholism rates exceed 60% of the adult population.

Devoid of overt catchy pop-tracks, “Shangri-La” leans heavily on the piano tracks of Nicholas Semrad to hold the band’s sound together by moving smoothly behind the lead instruments adding depth and texture.

At its core this is a very good but complex album that does not easily unfold. Anyone willing to invest the effort to experience the immense depth of this record will become acquainted with a true artistic expression that sets aside any pretext towards commercialism. A glance at today’s sonic landscape puts ‘The Watchmen’ in a vein of developing along a line of contemporary music that haunts dingy taverns and make-shift venues aspiring towards an appearance on Austin City Limits. For the true music connoisseur this record will become a precious gem but recognized as such by only a few. The songs are well composed and the musicians bring the songs to life. After numerous listenings the album rises above well above 'regional release quality' to become a solid foundation for national aspiration. Time and again we see maturing artist focus their sound to capture a wider audience. While this tact can build an audience, it is often done at the expense of art.

Being a recovered independent retailer I appreciate the bands, ‘Big Box Store’ track bemoaning the homogenization of America’s small towns and retail landscape. More accomplished radio hosts might focus in on ‘She’s the Kind of Woman’ or the beautiful uptempo ‘Avalee,’ where Hoyer sings to instill hope in a daughter and that she has “got to believe” something better awaits in her future. Should ‘Son of ’76 & the Watchmen ‘ cast aside the comforts of home and hit the road something better may await their future: this is an act with promise and worthy of keeping an eye on.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Album Review: John Nemeth, Name the Day!

Artist: John Nemeth
Title: Name the Day!
Writer: Rick Galusha
Rating: 6

Like a breath of fresh air, the ‘soul resurgence’ movement has gurgled up and onto the radar of most blues music fans. Recently Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings helped bring the movement to a wider spectrum of fans via’ a nice spread in the USA Today newspaper. Along with James Hunter, Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed, Darrell Nulisch, Lou Pride and Tad Robinson; John Nemeth has been an up and coming act within a genre popularize by the likes of Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and Aretha Franklin.

Since his signing with Blind Pig Records back in 2006, John Nemeth has sat atop a powerful publicity machine creating awareness and fan adulation across the blues spectrum. Nemeth has been nominated numerous times for a Blues Foundation Award.
On his latest album, ‘Name the Day!,’ Nemeth’s music leans hard into a traditional blues sound with a heavy R n’ B feel. His harmonica playing is featured throughout this groove laden album. Of the albums eleven tracks, ten are written by Nemeth. The album also includes a cover of Otis Blackwell, “Home in Your Heart.” Blackwell is perhaps best known for having written songs made famous by Elvis Presley, “All Shook Up” and “Don’t Be Cruel.”

While the album is good, the associated hype is elevating expectations beyond delivery. This is an above average national recording by a hardworking and respectable artist but within the genre Nemeth’s songwriting and arrangements simply do not deliver as well as others. Perhaps the great allure to Nemeth’s career is his willingness to “sell” the entertainment and a diehard road dog attitude by playing every venue on the map with equal zest and vigor. In a genre amid re-growth Nemeth’s aggressive ‘take it to the listener’ work ethic is clearly paying off…and so it should. It is my speculation that his best album is in front of him. In the meantime ‘go with the flow’ and see this artist live and in a venue near you.

Album Review: Cyril Neville, Brand New Blues

Artist: Cyril Neville
Title: Brand New Blues
Writer: Rick Galusha

Whether the Neville Brothers or the Marsalis’ are the first family of the New Orleans music community, both have a ready history of making fine music. And whether as solo artists, members of the Meters or recording together as, ‘The Neville Brothers,’ the Neville’s have , since 1954, made some highly listenable recordings including; ‘Fiyo on the Bayou,’ ‘Yellow Moon,’ and ‘Brothers Keeper.’
In the linear notes of his first solo album in eight years, Cyril Neville notes that Tab Benoit told him, “go blues” in 2005. While Cyril Neville’s album, ‘Brand New Blues’ may be his “blues record,” for me it is a more focused outing for the New Orleans native.

Often albums by the Neville Brothers include messages of social criticism. While the blues is usually personal, the outcry from New Orleans musicians over the 2005 flooding of New Orleans has been pervasive. On this record Neville delves elbow deep into the issue. In the linear notes writer John Sinclair tells readers that the flooding of New Orleans, “wasn’t really due to natural causes but was actually caused by the refusal of Congress to appropriate sufficient funding.” The actual finding, done in part by Louisiana State University, is, “Investigators criticized Congress for years of irregular funding and state and local authorities for failing to maintain the levees properly.” Sinclair goes on to say the flood was, “merely a trigger for institutional racism and civic ugliness.” You may agree or disagree where the blame lies; or the extent of who holds how much blame, however as a source for anguish and therefore material, the flood of New Orleans is a contemporary catastrophe and is now a part of America’s ‘disaster songs lexicon.’

So let’s talk about the music. This is not a “great” album in that it will not be widely embraced by the blues listener base. Instead it is a very strong record by a known American artist that aficionados of New Orleans and/or niche areas of blues and roots music will greatly enjoy. What Cyril shows us is a refraction of how the textures of blues music can be amalgamated into other genres and sounds. The sense and feel of this album is immediately familiar and, after hearing this recording, fans of the Neville Brothers will better recognize how Cyril contributes to the overall sound of his, ‘family groove.’

Like nearly any recording based in the poly-rhythms of New Orleans, it’s hard to keep your toes from tapping and your feet from dancing. ‘Cream Them Beans,’ is the equivalent of a Crescent City 12 bar jam as Neville talks over the track while the band rollicks.

Traditional blues radio programmers will want to focus on the album’s closing track, a cover of Bob Marley’s, ‘Slave Driver’ (where Marley’s album title, ‘catch a fire’ is coined.) This is a slow, highly textured track with a languid, slow burn. (Interestingly, Severn’s latest R n’ B singer Charles Wilson covers Marley’s ‘Is this Love’ on his latest release, “Troubled Child.”) Neville adds to Marley’s composition as he sings, “When I first saw what happen to New Orleans, my blood ran cold. My people’s freedom bought and sold,” in what develops into a quarter by quarter review of the current state of the 3rd Coast’s finest city…in its current form.

This is a good album; a credible showcase but it needs the listener’s full focus and an understanding that Neville is going to use his music as a vehicle for political advocating and, at times, I just want to hear music.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Album Review: Karen Lovely, Still the Rain

Artist: Karen Lovely
Title: Still the Rain

Perhaps it was her showcase in Memphis at the International Blues Competition last January…or maybe it the cool night breeze blowing in the car window that created the proper listening setting…but whatever it was Karen Lovely’s second album, ‘Still the Rain’ totally captured my ear. In a seemingly endless cycle of average blues CDs, Lovely’s new album is the brightest spot on the horizon and a good bet to make many’a Top Blues Album list this year.

Like many recording vocalists Lovely does not necessarily have the “perfect” voice however she is self-aware enough to choose selections that compliment her strengths and she pursues them with vigor. Lovely edges away from the well trodden “shouter” and the overused octave gospel slides: instead she mixes a speaking-singing style that is empowered by strong supporting instrumentation. And credit must be given to a band that underplays so tastefully to use space and serve the song. On the track ‘Other Plans’ Lovely presents the listener with a ‘simmering’ blues replete with a soft, lilting sax line played by Michael Vannice.

The unrushed tempo of the songs, the mile wide textures and intelligent, sensitive lyrics come together to present a near perfect independent blues release that belies the maturity of an artist releasing her second album. ‘Full Time Job’ is a solid blues song with a lush piano arrangement that for whatever reason reminds me of those (priceless) early Charlie Rich Sun Recordings. ‘Glad Your Gone’ opens with a B. B. King-like guitar intro that is at once comfortable yet fresh and new.

Lovely is fortunate to front the ‘Dawwg House Rhythm Section consisting of; Lee Spath, Drums; Richard Cousins, bass; Jim Pugh, Piano & B3 and Alan Mirikitani, guitar. The songs of Producer Dennis Walker and co-writer, co-producer Alan Mirikitani give Lovely the vehicles that separate this album from others.

‘Still the Rain’ is a magnificent album that burns ever so slowly embodying a perfect balance of showcase, songwriting, and professional musicianship. Imagine a subtle Diane Schuur fronting a mid-period Ray Charles in a very intimate, very dark night club setting. Radio programmers will find that the up tempo ‘Cold Man Cold’ is a nice entry to an album.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Album Review: The Poorboys

You can hear this music at; www.kiwrblues.podomatic.com

In every community there are bands of musicians that are too young to die and too committed to quit. Whether by passion or talent, over the decades the actors become proficient and move through musical genres to see which one fits best. In time these bands begin to write their own songs, transcend genre and create that blended sound that is uniquely their own. Given time to percolate, these faceless agents can create amazing albums: a monument to life spent in music. Trouble is, shifting through literal mountains of bad CDs, these records rare. Late in 2009 radio host Ally Lee recorded and began to spin a prime example of an exceptional regional release by ‘The Poorboys.’

A traditional five piece band who’s sound revolves around the Segar-like vocals and songwriting of Bob Davidson, the rich accenting keyboards of Nigel Stawart and the momentum setting drums of George Waters. Over the years this is a band that has learned the importance of using space (or not playing). Bass player Paul Mander and guitarist Graeme Kelly have an incredibly tasty presence; often by playing minimally. If taste can be measured, The Poorboys excel in good taste; knowing when to play as well as when to serve the song by not playing. It is a wisdom culled over years of playing.

There are two radio ready tracks on their self titled album. On the upbeat track, “She Moves Like Water,” Davidson sings of a free willed woman that, “moves like water, running around anything that keeps her from flowing her own way.” Using a full blown American accent, Davidson’s central character moves from human to a metaphor for time and aging as “she washes over me” and “rolls to the sea.” The songwriter’s use of water throughout the song ties together, on one level, the love of a woman and on another level a passion for an aging life.

The second radio track is “East of Paradise.” The song rolls out slowly behind a somber piano opening juxtaposed against paced drums. The band’s use of background cellos is a McCartney-like touch that creates depth behind the vocals yet cast a shadow on the intensely sorrowful lyric lines of broken love. At eight minutes, the extended piano break is set against the cellos emotive theme giving the listener a sense of panoramic movement. As a guitar takes over, it propels the song, building an energy that pushes to emotional climax. A delicate sense of songwriter that employs music to express emotions that words simply could not. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

This album of perfect length (nine tracks) is as close to being “great” as one could ever expect from the ocean of undiscovered, self-produced albums. In the end ‘The Poorboys’ are a regional band from Northeast England that will perform to adoring friends and family. The band will strike a memorable history that too few will imbibe but such loss is the making for Shakespearian Tales.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Album Review: Discpiles of Sound

Band: The Disciples of Sound

When the band Indigenous split up, Mato Nanji (guitar, vocals) kept the name and continues to tour under that moniker. While it took awhile longer, younger brother, Pte (paa-tay) or ‘Little Buffalo Man’ followed his muse and formed a much heavier sounding band, ‘Disciples of Sound’ (DOS). The band consists of Pte (listed as Buffalo on the liner notes), Ed Miles and Nate Boff. A three track EP of the Austin based band recently surfaced along with a developing presence on the social networking site, Facebook.

According to the legendary British deejay Ally Lee, “If you like Storyville you will adore this band.”

The early permutations of DOS image and sound can be heard and seen on the Indigenous ep ‘Long Way Home.’ This seven song EP was produced by family friend Jesse Davey (The Hoax, Davey Brothers). While the DOS ‘sound’ is removed from blues, it is blues based and akin to a chain-saw plodding Chris Duarte presence. The ep opens with an electric version of ‘Devils in My Head’ which features Pte and Mato’s sister Wanbdi on drums along with Jesse Davey on organ and guitars. The disc also features the tracks ‘All Red’ and an acoustic version of ‘Devils in My Head.’

This is a band that the majority of “blues” fans may warm to slowly. Employing a heavy bottom sound with howling vocals and that noted atonal Austin “thud,” the band is a clear departure from Pte’s previous national band. Receiving continual airplay on the British ‘Lionheart Radio,’ DOS clearly resonates with an industrial leaning audience that moves easily from Stevie Ray Vaughan to Metallica and, perhaps, it is the sonic flexibility that will prove to be DOS’ calling card to building a larger audience.