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Issue 6-14, April 6, 2012

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Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2012 Blues Blast Magazine

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 In This Issue

We have the latest in Blues Society news from around the globe. Terry Mullins has our feature interview with Rick Estrin.

We have six music reviews for you! Rainey Wetnight reviews a new CD from Mac Arnold’s Blues Revival. Jim Kanavy reviews a new release from Lisa Mills.  Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony reviews a new CD from Ron Beer. John Mitchell reviews a new release from James Armstrong.  Gary Weeks reviews a new release from Mare Edstrom & Kenn Fox. Steve Jones reviews a new CD from Suzanne & the Blues Church. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!! 

From The Editor's Desk

Hey Blues Fans,

The 2012 Blues festival season is looking good. Many major fests have announced their lineups for this year. Here is a sample of a few we have attended or worked with in the last few years.

The Chicago Blues Festival is June 8, 9 & 10th. Some of the artists scheduled to perform include The Jimmy Reed Family, Quintus McCormick, Zora Young, Joe Louis Walker, Eddie C. Campbell, Matthew Skoller Band, Big James & The Chicago Playboys, Cash Box Kings, Rev. K M Williams, Milton Hopkins and Jewel Brown and Texas Johnny Brown on Friday June 8, Tommy McCracken, Diunna Greenleaf, Billy Branch, Terry “Big T” Williams, Homemade Jamz Blues Band, Sam Lay Blues Band, a tribute to Hubert Sumlin featuring Bob Margolin, Eddie Shaw, Dave Specter, Bob Corritore, Johnny Iguana, Kenny “Beedy Eye’s” Smith & Bob Stroger, Bob Riedy and Bob Corritore, Nigel Mack Band, Paul Kaye, Mud Morganfield, Kenny ”Beedy Eye’s” Smith, Barrelhouse Chuck, Lil Frank , Bob Stroger & Joe Filisko and Floyd Taylor on Friday June 9th and Demetria Taylor, Mary Lane, Charles Wilson, Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, Eden Brent, Lurrie Bell, Omar Coleman, Eddie Shaw & The Wolf Gang, Pistol Pete, Kilborn Alley Blues Band with special guest Deak Harp, Liz Mandeville & Donna Herula Duo, a tribute to KoKo Taylor, featuring Melvia “Chick” Rodgers, Jackie Scott, Deitra Farr, Nora Jean Brusco and The KoKo Taylor Blues Machine Band and Mavis Staples on Sunday June 10th.

The 7th Annual T-Bone Walker Blues Fest in Linden, TX is June 22 & 23 and features The Peterson Brothers, Emily Elbert, a tribute to Louisiana Red and Honeyboy Edwards featuring Michael Frank and Rocky Lawrence, Michael Burks, Buddy Flett, Matthew Davidson, Lightnin' Malcolm,  Robin & the Bluebirds , Jonathon "Boogie" Long, Kirby Kelley, Texas Johnny Brown and Bill Lynch & the Mid Western Icons with Special Guests.

The Mississippi Valley Blues Festival in Davenport, Iowa is June 29th & 30th, and July1st. Scheduled performers include Mathew Curry and The Fury, Earnest ‘’Guitar’’ Roy, Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, Liz Mandeville and Donna Herula, Kenny Neal and Super Chikan Johnson on June 29th, Terry Quiett, Bryce Janey, Ray Fuller and the Blues Rockers, Doug MacLeod, Preston Shannon, Ernest Dawkins Quartet, Guitar Shorty, Moreland and Arbuckle, Coco Montoya and Kelley Hunt on June 30th and Lady Bianca, Paul Geremia, Johnny Rawls, Trampled Under Foot and the Brooks Family Blues Dynasty featuring Lonnie Brooks, Ronnie Baker Brooks and Wayne Baker Brooks, plus Bobby Rush with “The Double Rush Revue” on Sunday July 1st.

The 2012 Blues, Brews & BBQ Festival in Urbana, IL is June 29th and 30th and features Robert Sampson & Blues Gumbo, Moreland & Arbuckle, Nick Moss plus The Royal Southern Brotherhood featuring: Devon Allman, Mike Zeto, Cyril Neville and Charlie Woothen on June 29th and Diva and the Dude, Candy Foster, Hurricane Ruth, Lightning Malcom featuring Cameron Kimbrough, The Mojocats, John Nemeth, Chicago Rhythm and Blues Kings, Tinsley Ellis, Ronnie Baker Brooks and Michael Burks & The Delta Guitar Slingers on June 30th.

The 15th Annual Briggs Farm Blues Fest in Nescopeck, PA is July 6th and 7th and features Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, Linsey Alexander, Alexis P. Suter Band, Chris Beard, Lonnie Shields, The CKS Band, Clarence Spady,  and Mikey Junior on July 6th and Bernard Allison, Moreland and Arbuckle, The Butterfield Blues Band, Rory Block, Sarah Ayers, Michael Packer and Sam Lay on July 7th.

Ain't Nothin But The Blues Festival in Bloomington, IL is July 20th and 21st and features Sugarcane Collins, Hurricane Ruth, Dave Chaistain Band and Teeny Tucker on July 20th and Alex Jenkins & The Bombers, Rooster Alley, Tallan Latz, Kilborn Alley Blues Band, The Legendary Sam Lay and Ana Popovic on July 21st.

The Pennsylvania Blues Festival in Palmerton, PA is July 27th, 28th and 29th and features a Friday Night Jam –on July 27th featuring Mikey Junior & The Stone Cold Blues Band, Marquise Knox, Michael Burks, Big Sam’s Funky Nation , Joe Louis Walker, Billy Branch & The Sons of Blues With Lurrie Bell, Carlos Johnson & Demetria Taylor , Dawn Tyler Watson & Paul Deslauriers, Wallace Coleman and Steve Guyger And The Excellows on July 28th plus Naomi Shelton & The Gospel Queens, Eugene Hideaway Bridges, Teeny Tucker, Earl Thomas, Brooks Family Blues Dynasty Featuring Lonnie, Ronnie & Wayne Baker –Brooks and Corey Harris on July 29th.

If you are looking to fill in dates on your summer Blues fun calendar, we suggest you check these first class operations out!

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser

 Blues Wanderings

We had a GREAT Blues week last week. There was lots of talent within driving distance starting with Blues rocker Chris Duarte in Rock Island, IL on Thursday night.

We caught a great set to a packed house at Rascals. Look for an in depth interview with Chris in a future issue soon. Then Saturday night we made it to Springfield, IL to hear a set by Cee Cee James and her band.

Cee Cee is working on a new album after a successful kickstarter fundraising project. The new CD will be released soon. To cap off a great live Blues run, we made it back to Springfield for Blue Monday at the Alamo to hear Brad Vickers and The Vestapolitans


With Margey Peters switching off on vocals, bass and fiddle and Bobby Michaels soloing on sax and clarinet, theses guys covered a wide range of style variations for an interesting and entertaining set.

NOTICE: All submissions must be received before 4/15/12 So Hurry!!!!

The 2012 Blues Blast Music Award Nominations

We are accepting submissions from labels and artists until April 15th, 2012. Artist do not necessarily have to submit their releases to be considered but any that do will have their recordings actually screened by the nominators.  (Our Nominators can't nominate something they haven't heard!)

We have 30 nominators so you need to send 30 individual copies to be considered before April 15th, 2012. Any received after that date may not get sent to the nominators.

There is no charge for this. We will cover the cost and effort to get your eligible CD or DVD release into the hands of the nominators if you send them in.  We reserve the right to change this policy in future years. CD's received after April 15th, 2012 may not reach the nominators so hurry and get your submissions in today! For complete details, CLICK HERE

Nominators begin submitting their nominations May 1st and final nominations will be announced after May 31st, 2012. Voting Begins in July.

 Featured Blues Interview - Rick Estrin

The King of Cool shouldn’t sweat, should he?

From the sharply-pressed shark-skin suit - one that would rival a fire engine for attention - to the shiny, matching alligator loafers on his feet – and not forgetting the custom-made Ray Bans and pompadour that serve as frames to a mischievous ear-to-ear grin - there’s no doubt that Rick Estrin is the living, breathing Sultan of Suave.

But despite all the window dressing on the outside, the High Priest of Hipness felt a bit uneasy and unsure of himself on the inside.

And rightfully so.

His longtime friend and foil – Charlie Baty – had just given notice that he was hanging up his guitar and retiring, leaving Estrin, along with the rest of Little Charlie and the Nightcats, with a most uncertain future in front of them.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t think I would retire, but after I realized that he was actually going to retire and pull the plug, I started to get some things in place for myself,” Estrin, long-time singer, harpist and master of ceremonies for Little Charlie and the Nightcats said. “Because for decades, 75-percent of people would see me and go, ‘Hi, Charlie.’ So I needed to somehow start to establish an identity on my own. I needed to get name recognition.”

That was back in 2008 when Baty decided to say goodbye to the day-to-day activities of the group that he and Estrin formed in the Sacramento area in 1976.

The effort to carve a name for himself outside of the comfortable niche he enjoyed with Little Charlie and the Nightcats for more than three decades started with an under-the-radar CD of lowdown blues that were focused on the harmonica, called On The Harp Side, featuring the guitar work of one Chris “Kid” Anderson.

“I didn’t really shop it to a label because I was hoping to get back on Alligator. But prior to Charlie leaving the band, I had booked a tour of South America with the Igor Prado Band. And we e-mailed back-and-forth, we me sending him a list of the songs I was planning on playing. He would go, ‘Wow. That song’s a classic’ and he’d go, ‘I dig that song,’ and they were all my songs. So I started to realize at that point that there were a lot of younger guys – really excellent players all over the world - that already knew my stuff because they had grown up playing along to all those records from the 80s and 90s,” said Estrin. “So, I thought maybe I would be like a low-budget, poor man’s version of Chuck Berry and just fool around and use different bands in different regions and not have to worry about anybody else. It would have been an easy way to keep things going.”

But as fate would have it, the direction that Estrin ended up turning to featured a couple of familiar faces.

“The bass player and drummer (Lorenzo Farrell and J. Hansen, from the Nightcats) really wanted to keep the band going. But I couldn’t really think of anyone that could fill the slot of Little Charlie, because he was so unique, and to me, he’s really an all-time great,” Estrin said. “Then out of the blue, I got a phone call on an unrelated matter from Kid Anderson, who I thought was still playing with Charlie Musselwhite, but he wasn’t. I always knew whenever he (Anderson) would sit in with us that he was the kind of fearless nut on the guitar that would be a perfect fit. He’s a great musician and he’s ready to go for it all the time. I know so many great guitar players, but he’s really the only guy I know who could fit in with us.”

With the newly-recruited Anderson on board, and the name of the band modified to become Rick Estrin and the Nightcats, it was back to business as usual for the unit, complete with a booking agent and tour of blues clubs, to boot.

“Bruce (Iglauer) came out and saw us and said, ‘Let’s go make a record,’ and we’d already been working on some songs, so we went in the studio and knocked out Twisted (Alligator Records),” Estrin said. “And it did pretty well and we’ve been hitting it ever since. There’s a great chemistry in this band. Having been in bands for a long, long time, I’ve never had a situation where the group dynamic was so compatible and with so much synergy. Sometimes it’s really magical.”

Estrin recently did a tour of duty as part of Tommy Castro’s Legendary Rhythm and Blues Revue and he also took to the high seas aboard the Legendary Blues Cruise. More than just jamming or soaking up the sun, Estrin took the opportunity to road-test some of his new material on the big boat.

“We’ve got a new CD coming out on Alligator in a couple of months and I premiered one of the songs off it on the cruise,” he said. “I wrote a song called “I Met Her on the Blues Cruise” and I premiered it at a songwriter’s workshop on the cruise. And it went over well. We also shot some video for YouTube to put out when the album comes out. So I did a lot of things on there – a songwriter’s workshop, a duet with Nick Moss - which was really not pre-planned – and I also got to do a presentation about the 100th anniversary of one of Sonny Boy Williamson’s birth dates, so that was great.”

It goes without saying that most blues harp players have been influenced in some shape or form by the iconic Sonny Boy’s style at some point in their career, but Estrin takes things a step further and has been known to pull off one of the trickier things to do with a harp – play it strictly by moving it back and forth using just the mouth, keeping the hands completely off it. That was one of Sonny Boy’s calling cards and Estrin is quick to credit its originator.

“Yeah, I did that at the Sonny Boy thing (on the cruise), because that’s where I got it from. Although, I actually saw another guy do it, because when I learned it, there was no video of Rice Miller - that anyone knew of - at the time,” he said. “But I had seen still photos of him playing with no hands. But I saw a guy named Harmonica Frank Floyd, who recorded for Sun during the 50s, do it. And he could really do that stuff. But I really got into Sonny Boy’s style early on in my development. And then it was on to Little Walter. I was very parochial in my approach. I wanted to sound like the real shit.”

The sound of the harmonica cast a spell on Estrin from the very first time he heard it and although he really couldn’t play the thing the first time he cupped one in his hands, that didn’t stop him from believing he had found his true calling.

“I was really totally unrealistic - I’ve pretty much been a dreamer my whole life,” he said. “The first time I ever picked up a harp – I went in this room at the house of the guy who gave it to me and I made a bunch of senseless noise on this harmonica for about an hour. And when I came out, I said, ‘Yeah, I think I can figure this thing out.’ And from that point on, I have played that sucker all day and all night long.”

That work ethic is one big reason why Estrin is up for a Blues Music Award in the Instrumentalist – Harmonica category at the upcoming 33rd annual BMAs.

Growing up near the hotbed that was the musical scene in San Francisco back in the 60s, it didn’t take Estrin long to decide what kind of music he preferred. And it also didn’t take him long to figure out just who could actually play that kind of music, and who couldn’t.

“My sister had some Jimmy Reed records and that’s really where I first heard the harp,” he said. “And something - I don’t know what – just really spoke to me. And right from the beginning, I wanted to sound like the real, lowdown blues that I liked. And growing up in San Francisco, of course Paul Butterfield was a huge deal to me. Him and (Michael) Bloomfield really tore up the Fillmore. They could really play the blues, compared to bands like the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service that tried to.”

From there Estrin would go on to hook up with Baty, forging a Hall of Fame career, although at first, the going was pretty rough and tough as the duo set out to make a living and create a name for themselves.

“When Charlie and I first started out, we couldn’t make a living playing blues,” Estrin said. “Part of that was because it was right at the height of the disco era and part of that was because, frankly, the band was lousy. It was just not a good time for this music.”

But instead of throwing in the towel, they rolled up their sleeves and by the time the 70s turned into the 80s, Little Charlie and the Nightcats had worked their way from a regional following on the West Coast into becoming a must-see attraction all across the United States and beyond.

Estrin and the Nightcats’ follow-up to Twisted is due to hit store shelves in the upcoming weeks and according to Estrin, the group is excited for it to see the light of day.

“I’m really happy with it and so is the band. I think we really put more into it and worked harder on it than the last one, or really any others that I can recall,” he said. “I think we really came up with some good songs and I’m anxious to get people’s reaction to it. I don’t want to jinx myself by saying this, but I think we’ve really got some infectious, catchy songs that are pretty memorable on this album. I know I can’t get them out of my head. Although I sure wish I could, ‘cause they’re driving me nuts! But I think that’s a good sign. There’s some really different stuff – for us – on it. Some different kinds of grooves and some things we hope are really radio friendly. We’ll see what happens, but we had a really great time putting this thing together. We can’t wait to get out there and tour behind it.”

As much of a dynamic, larger-than-life character that he is when under the bright lights of the bandstand, Estrin is every bit as flamboyant and successful when it comes to penning the material that he and his mates crank out. It’s evident by listening to the tunes he’s given birth to that Estrin has spent as much time working on his songwriting craft as he has to developing his harmonica style. And that goes way back.

“Probably, subconsciously, the first people I can trace it (his songwriting influences) to would be Lieber and Stoller. I didn’t realize that till much later, but I just always loved songs, especially story songs,” he said. “And then there was a guy by the name of Roger Collins, who wrote a song called “She’s Lookin’ Good” which was a national hit for Wilson Pickett. And he took me under his wing, took me on the road with him, when I was about 18. He would let me play a couple of songs before he would come on stage and he taught me how to emcee. He was just a great entertainer and also a great songwriter. He had been coached in songwriting and in turn, he coached me in songwriting. I got to see how his process worked. And a lot of that fell right in line with what I had read about songwriting. It’s a real blessing to have had the encouragement of people like Roger Collins and later on, Percy Mayfield.”

That encouragement would help fuel him to pen songs like “My Next Ex-Wife,” which won Estrin a W.C. Handy Award for Song of the Year in 1993.

“So much of songwriting, a big percentage, is about editing. It’s about getting it to flow like a conversation, make it sound effortless,” he said. “I’m a fan first and I think I notice a lot of things about songs that most people might not. And I am also kind of naturally peculiar, so I think that also helps me have a certain vantage point to write from. I look at things a bit skewed, although it seems normal to me. And I gotta admit – sometimes I even get a kick out of myself.”

It didn’t take long before Estrin’s writing style caught the ear of other blues artists, further cementing his reputation as a top-flight author and resulting in a number of his songs appearing on other people’s albums.

“Well, it’s a different kind of blast (when another artist covers one of your tunes). It’s probably more of a blast of it does well by us, because there’s multiple benefits to that,” he said. “But for internal gratification, when Little Milton did one of my songs, or Koko Taylor or John Hammond or Robert Cray … you know, that just makes me feel like I must be doing something right. That kind of validation is still really gratifying.”

After playing the blues for over four decades, and after seeing his longtime partner Charlie Baty ease off into the easy chair, Estrin still has no plans at cutting back his busy workload.

“I don’t plan on retiring, I want to go out like Johnny “Guitar” Watson or Pinetop or Robert Lockwood,” said Estrin. “I’m just lucky to have had the kind of life I’ve had and been able to survive a bunch of stupid behavior, you know. I’m managed to avoid the labor pool for all these years … I’m just ridiculously lucky. Other than this, I’m really pretty worthless. And if people are still doing some of my songs after I’m gone, that would be great.”

Photos by Bob Kieser © 2012

Interviewer Terry Mullins is a journalist and former record store owner whose personal taste in music is the sonic equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder. Works by the Bee Gees, Captain Beefheart, Black Sabbath, Earth, Wind & Fire and Willie Nelson share equal space with Muddy Waters, The Staples Singers and R.L. Burnside in his compact disc collection. He's also been known to spend time hanging out on the street corners of Clarksdale, Miss., eating copious amounts of barbecued delicacies while listening to the wonderful sounds of the blues.

For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE

 Featured Blues Review 1 of 6

Mac Arnold’s Blues Revival - Live at the Grey Eagle

Vizztone Label Group and Plantation #1 Productions

10 songs; 54:44 minutes

Styles: Traditional Electric Blues, Classic Chicago Blues Covers

Upon hearing the word “revival,” one might imagine an enormous tent, crowd, and “altar call.” As dozens of people rush forward to profess their faith, whether for the first or hundredth time, one feels a presence so powerful that it’s impossible to ignore! Chicago blues veteran and South Carolina resident Mac Arnold taps into this presence, and his unshakable faith in blues music by presenting his “Blues Revival: Live at the Grey Eagle.” The first five songs are performed by Mac Arnold and Plate Full O’Blues. Accompanying him in the second half of the CD, where the blues rocket really takes off, is the “Muddy Waters Reunion Band” featuring such mavens as “Steady Rollin’” Bob Margolin, “Fabulous” Kim Wilson and the late Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Out of ten renditions at this live concert, several are covers. However, listeners likely won’t mind because Bob Margolin in this album’s liner notes states: “The Chicago Blues set delivers not only some classic songs and playing, but the raw, urgent fire that is as much an essential part of that style as the old riffs. We were entertainers on a bandstand in 2010, not a museum exhibit.” That said, here are three of the best numbers from Mac Arnold’s Blues Revival, original or not:

Track 2: “Back Bone and Gristle”-- Composed by Arnold and his Plate Full O’Blues band, this is his ode to his tenacious father. Mac pulls no punches with his aged but broiling vocals, and neither does Max Hightower on piano! This danceable mid-tempo stomp is just too much fun for a song about a man who “taught us manners and respect” and ripostes Mac’s backtalk with “Speak once--think twice!” instead of a whipping.

Track 5: “Ghetto Blue”--This outstanding autobiographical track is the finest on this CD. Our lead vocalist recounts his life and sugarcoats nothing: “I used to live in Chicago long years ago. I never will forget all the hard time living in the wind and snow….” Eventually meeting such icons as A.C. Reed, Muddy Waters, Tyrone Davis and Buddy Guy, Mac fondly remembers his other (now-departed) comrades: “I thank God for saving me and letting me grow old.” This artist has sung and lived the blues for more than half a century, and “Ghetto Blue” proves and re-lives it.

Track 9: “Big Boss Man”—drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith performs lead vocals on this masterful Jimmy Reed cover. One can picture Big Eyes’ protagonist making big, goofy faces behind his supervisor’s back as he jeers: “Well, you ain’t so big--you just tall, that’s all.” Check out the wicked Margolin guitar and Wilson harmonica solos smack-dab in the middle of this harangue.

The point of any revival is to bring something back to life, but the Blues never died. What Mac Arnold’s Blues Revival truly rekindles is the classic Chicago blues sound, and more importantly, fans’ love for it!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 32 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE

 Featured Blues Review 2 of 6

Lisa Mills - Tempered In Fire

10 Tracks; 49:31

Lisa Mills was born in Mississippi and grew up on gospel and soul music. Her voice sounds like Janis Joplin without the cracking and cackling which is a good thing. Mills’ powerful voice earned her Joplin’s old position of lead singer with Big Brother & the Holding Company for three years of touring and she has also performed with Dr. John, Junior Wells, Albert Lee, and Delbert McClinton. Mills has produced a few albums of her own and Tempered In Fire on her own Mills Bluz label focuses squarely on her vocal talents, offering seductive takes on R&B, Blues, and Jazz.

Tempered In Fire starts off slow and sultry with “Tennessee Tears” which sets the overall tone of this album. It is a relaxed affair, like blues for lounging on a rainy afternoon. The arrangements are stark, the volume is low and Mills sings sometimes softly, sometimes sweetly, and sufficiently spirited to carry you through. Mills moves on to a stripped down, somewhat subdued take on Wet Willie’s “Keep On Smilin’,” with a fine horn accompaniment and a dynamic vocal performance. I never really understood the popularity of this song and it’s “serenity now” –style refrain. Wet Willie always seemed like the reliable but not particularly impressive second-string of the 70’s Southern Rock movement. Yet Mills covers two of their songs here, the other being “Country Side Of Life” which to me is a better choice if one had to be made. “Keep on Smiling” has a positive message which is nice but the hook is definitely lacking and it doesn’t get any better for me here. If you like the original and like singing along, you’ll probably like this take on it too.

“Blue Guitars Of Texas” shimmers like a hazy highway in 100 degree heat. The song sways sideways with economy of motion, suppressed by heat, barely breaking away from the lethargic beat until it gains a little life around the four and a half minute mark. “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” and “Why Do I Still Love You” are as close as this album comes to being upbeat. “Why Do I Still Love You” in comparison to the rest of the album is a rambunctious rocker that breathes some life into an sedate album. “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” has a modified Bo Diddley beat and the guitars actually come alive in the choruses.

“My Happy Song” is anything but, and maybe that’s the point. Maybe singing the blues makes her happy as it does for many people out there. Blues can a soothing music and Tempered In Fire is a perfect soundtrack for a tranquil day. Lisa Mills does break through the tranquility often however, with powerful vocal explosions that might shake you off your hammock and make you wonder what you were thinking. The album closes with one of the albums most energetic vocal performances with “Someone Very Close.” The arrangement is stark and smoldering with passion, ending the album with a standout performance.

I must admit I’m a guitar fanatic and there is not much here for listeners like me. I was hoping to hear more from Andy Fairweather Lowe but he offers little more than competent rhythm work. I realize Mills’ voice is the focus point of the record but I was still surprised at the lack of lead guitar, or even harmonica or piano. Obviously Blues isn’t just about self-indulgent lead instruments, but they do add a lot of flavor and excitement when done well. There are some excellent horn parts on Tempered In Fire, but most of the songs retain their singer-songwriter structure, in the sense they could easily be arranged for one or two instruments - a vocalist and guitar for instance. While this may be a drawback for me, it won’t be that way for everyone. Altogether, Tempered In Fire is good album with dynamic vocals, judicious arrangements, and competent song writing. Lisa Mills in an artist we can expect to build great things upon the sturdy foundation she has created with this release.

Reviewer Jim Kanavy is the greatest guitar player in his house. He has been reviewing albums in his head for 30 years and in print since 2008, and is deeply committed to keeping the blues alive and thriving. For more information visit

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 Featured Blues Review 3 of 6

Ron Beer - The Blues Don’t Say It All

Self Release


Ron Beer’s latest effort, another in a long line of recordings by Canadian blues singers, displays the capable songwriting skills of himself and lyricist Lou Sabatini and some very good backing musicians. The lead guitar chops of Neil Chapman shine throughout. Although the liner notes don’t mention it, the very effective horns were played by producer Paul Schofield. Talk about multi-tasking! This collection of all originals runs the gambit from blues and jump blues to slow ballads.

The title song features Ron’s voice, one that is heavy on the twang. This is the listener’s first taste of the punchy horn section and the flowing lead guitar licks. The band establishes their “blues cred” quickly with this and the following selection. Neil’s guitar really burns on “If We Don’t Talk”, taken at a fast pace, again abetted by that horn section that adds just enough push. “I Understand” is a slow R&B-blues that benefits from the use of female background vocals. The horns get close to big band territory on the jump blues of “Close To The Fire” that also employs the fine piano work of Bill Evans. This song works, it doesn’t come off as just an attempt to get a jump tune on the record. The guys get ragtime-y with clarinet, banjo strumming and some nice stride piano on the sprightly romp that is “Call Me A Doctor”. One of the songs in a singer-songwriter mode that work is “Give Me Shelter” that features some brilliant and sexy sax playing. “Who’s Fooling Who” is successful with much the same approach.

The production values and sound quality are of the first caliber. There are some flaws and possible flaws. A few songs get a little too sappy and overly sentimental. Ron’s twang can get too pronounced and hard to understand at times. I guess that’s his Canadian accent, eh? I suppose it sounds fine to a fellow Canadian. After repeated listening it gets to be less of a bother and integrates into his “sound”. The fine instrumental music and intentions contained here cannot be faulted. Some more imagination could be given to the lyrics. Some of this may be a matter of personal taste. This isn’t a perfect effort, but what is good is good.

Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.

For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE

 Featured Blues Review 4 of 6

James Armstrong – Blues At The Border

Catfood Records

11 tracks – 45.10 minutes

Californian bluesman James Armstrong has been round the blues block before. He issued three CDs on Hightone but the last of those was in 2000 so it is some time since he had a recording contract. A meeting with Bob Trenchard (bass player for The Rays and frequent collaborator with Johnny Rawls) resulted in James acquiring a new label, a bass player and a songwriter: Bob produced and co-wrote three of the tracks at his studio in Texas while the other eight tracks were recorded in New York. James is the only common denominator, completely different ensembles playing on the two sets of recordings. However, the instrumentation is similar (drums, bass, keys, backing vocals) so the album maintains a consistent sound throughout.

The CD opens in funky style with “Everything Good To Ya”, a Sam Taylor song that picks up on what his granddad used to say to him: “Not everything that’s good to ya, ain’t always good for ya.” Bob Trenchard and Sandie Carroll’s “Somebody Got To Pay” is the first of the Texas recordings and the catchy melody floats on an organ riff and a chorus of backing vocalists. The smooth sound continues on “Baby Can You Hear Me?”, another Bob Trenchard song, this time in collaboration with Kay Greenwade. The song is about loneliness and James’ vocal expresses those emotions beautifully.

Title track “Blues At The Border” is James’ own composition and expresses some of the frustrations that travellers feel travelling in the post 9/11 era. “You might take a bus, you might take a train. Even if you walk it will be faster than a plane” James sings and those who travel by plane will recognize the frustration at having to spend as much time going through the procedures as actually flying! From this song alone you can see why James’ songs have been used in the movies on several occasions as he has a nice touch with a lyric. The track also features some fine slide guitar playing.

The next two tracks are James Armstrong originals, both written in collaboration with John Hahn. “Devil’s Candy” again features some nice slide work as James sings of the addictive attractions of the opposite sex. “Nothing Left To Say” has an attractive rhythm and a catchy guitar motif which help to sweeten the lyrics of regret at the failure of the relationship. There then follows a pair of contrasting songs from the pen of Dave Steen. “High Maintenance Woman” is a mid-paced tune with an amusing lyric: “She’s got more anger than a picket line, more troubles than Robert Johnson, more issues than the New York Times. If she wasn’t any work, it wouldn’t be no doggone fun”. A funky guitar break adds to the enjoyment of a well-crafted song. “Good Man, Bad Thing” was covered by Michael Burks on his “I Smell Smoke” album and in keeping with that background the song features one of the heavier guitar riffs (and catchiest numbers) on the CD.

“Young Man With The Blues” is the final James Armstrong song on the album. The longest cut on the album, it’s a stately slow blues and features some excellent guitar. Lyrically we are again in the area of failed relationships but the quality of the playing and singing raise it above the standard slow blues. I particularly enjoyed the change in rhythm, swirling organ and clean guitar lines that separate the vocal verses. From the pen of the late Texan Oscar Perry, “Brand New Man” has something of a jazzy feel and more strong organ/guitar ensemble playing. Final track “Long Black Car” is the third Bob Trenchard production, on one of his own compositions. As on the earlier Trenchard songs, the chorus of backing vocalists definitely adds to the sound and James brings some nice soulful playing to the party as we are told that “You won’t get to heaven in a long black car” – bad news if you already own such a vehicle!

My summary is that this is a very good CD of well played and catchy material. It is good to welcome James back to recording after a long gap and he deserves to do well with this album. Recommended.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK.  He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music and is currently planning a visit to the Tampa Bay Blues Festival.

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 Blues Society News

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Mississippi Valley Blues Society - Davenport, IA

The Mississippi Valley Blues Society is proud to sponsor the first Quad-City appearance of Too Slim and The Taildraggers at The Muddy Waters, 1708 State Street Bettendorf, Iowa for a show on Wednesday, April 18th, beginning at 7:00 pm. Admission to the general public is $10. For MVBS members the admission will be $8.

The 2012 Iowa Blues Challenge Semi-final Rounds will be held April 19, at Zimm's, Des Moines, IA, and April 22, at The Muddy Waters, 1708 State Street, Bettendorf, IA. Five bands will play thirty-minute sets at The Muddy Waters starting at 5:00 p.m. Admission is $7 for ANY blues society member or $10 for non-members. Competitors are The Mississippi Misfits, Slack Man & the Smokin' Red Hots, Judge #3, Serious Business, and Phineas J's. One of the bands from the IBC semi-final round in Des Moines and two of the bands competing in the semi-finals at The Muddy Waters will earn the right to move into the 2012 Iowa Blues Challenge Final Round, to be held in Des Moines on May 26, at the Downtown Marriott.

The Mississippi Valley Blues Festival in Davenport, Iowa is June 29th & 30th, and July1st. Scheduled performers include Mathew Curry and The Fury, Earnest ‘’Guitar’’ Roy, Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, Liz Mandeville and Donna Herula, Kenny Neal and Super Chikan Johnson on June 29th, Terry Quiett, Bryce Janey, Ray Fuller and the Blues Rockers, Doug MacLeod, Preston Shannon, Ernest Dawkins Quartet, Guitar Shorty, Moreland and Arbuckle, Coco Montoya and Kelley Hunt on June 30th. Lady Bianca, Paul Geremia, Johnny Rawls, Trampled Under Foot and the Brooks Family Blues Dynasty featuring Lonnie Brooks, Ronnie Baker Brooks and Wayne Baker Brooks, plus Bobby Rush with “The Double Rush Revue” on Sunday July 1st.

River City Blues Society - Pekin, IL

River City Blues Society presents: Bringing The Blues To You with the following shows - April 11th at 7PM • Sean Chambers,  Friday April 27th at 7PM Johnny Rawls :Location Goodfellas 1414 N. 8th St, Pekin, Illinois $5.00 non-members $3.00 members. For more info visit: or call 309-648-8510

Illinois Central Blues Club - Springfield, IL

The Illinois Central Blues Club presents "Blue Monday" every Monday night for the last 25 years - BLUE MONDAY SHOWS - Held at the Alamo 115 N 5th St, Springfield, IL (217) 523-1455 every Monday 8:00pm $3 cover. Apr 9 – JP Soars & the Red Hots, Apr 16 – Too Slim & the Tail Draggers, Apr 23 – Andrew Jr Boy Jones.

The Friends Of The Blues - Watseka, IL

Friends of the Blues present 2012 shows:
Tues, April 10, Sean Chambers, 7 pm, Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s Club
Tues, April 17, Too Slim & Taildraggers, 7 pm, Kankakee Valley Boat Club
Thur, April 26, Al Stone, 7 pm, Kankakee Valley Boat Club

West Virginia Blues Society - Charleston, W.V.

The West Virginia Blues Society, Inc. and Thornhill Auto Groups present the 5th Annual Charlie West Blues Fest May 18, 19 and 20, 2012 at Haddad Riverfront Park, Charleston, WV including headline performances by Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers and Ruthie Foster. For more information visit

Prairie Crossroads Blues Society – Champaign-Urbana, IL

Prairie Crossroads Blues Society shows: Friday April 6, 1st Friday Blues, Johnny Rawls. For more info:

Rosedale Crossroads Blues Society - Rosedale, MS

Rosedale Crossroads Blues Society presents The Crossroads Blues and Heritage Festival, Saturday, May 12, 2012 at the River Resort at Highway 1 South in historic Rosedale, MS featuring Bill Abel, Cadillac John, Big Joe Shelton, DSU Ol’ Skool Revue and other area artists.

Gates open at 12:00 noon, music starts at 1:00 Admission $5 – adults, $1 – children under 12 Bring your own ice chest – $10 No beer sold – No glass – No pets, please Parking $5

  Featured Blues Review 5 of 6

Mare Edstrom & Kenn Fox – Way Beyond The Blue

Time: 50:27

Though Mare Edstrom and Kenn Fox aren’t re-inventing the wheel on the CD release Way Beyond The Blue, kudos has to be given for the arrangements and the approach they take on tunes written by the likes of Snooky Pryor, Fred McDowell and other masters who specialized in the acoustic genre of its presentation. While Edstrom and Foxx are not a household name to blues aficionados doesn’t mean they can’t offer a perspective that’s unique and refreshing.

Using several background vocalists not only fleshes out the sound but breathes ethereal and a spooky atmosphere to the tracks which makes for an enticing appeal to listeners who wish to loose themselves in the sound.

Mare Edstrom’s vocals aren’t on the same ground as Susan Tedeschi’ but it doesn’t matter. Her deep and throaty singing is the perfect fit for a selection of tunes that would be right at home for a church service.

Not too often do you find the Mississippi Fred McDowell tune “Woke Up This Morning With My Mind on Jesus” as a leading track off a CD. But it’s the perfect choice and certainly serves as a highlight for Kenn Fox’ slashing slide guitar. The tolling of a church bell leads into the old traditional “Do Lord” that starts off as a ghostly number abetted by Fox’ acoustic which morphs into an ending with what seems as backwards slide guitar. Who says you can’t find funeral parlor psychedelia in the blues?

Having Fox handling the production chores and arrangements of the songs is a good choice. The man has a good sense of creating an ambience that makes obscure blues numbers stand out in their own way. Drummer Tim Rush and bassist Dave Finley do their jobs well as a rhythm section whose steadfast support is sturdy enough when needed to give a rocky edge.

Blind Willie McTell wrote “Statesboro Blues” but believe it or not he had a feel for church soul as shown in the cover “I Got To Cross The River of Jordan” with Edstrom’s vocal delivery taking it all home.

But it is on the Blind Willie Johnson track “Rain Don’t Fall On Me” that Edstrom really hits the mournful notes with Fox guitar work proving strong counterpoint.

You can’t just cover only one Fred McDowell song. While the world has been subjected to repeated listenings of “You Gotta Move” doesn’t mean you won’t appreciate this take. With the background vocalists creating a choir effect and the familiar bass drum stomp, the tune personifies that Baptist church vibe we’ve become accustomed too before Fox’ dobro playing steers the song into a rockier territory with drummer Rush emerging to the forefront to jump-start the rhythm for a little pick me up.

There’s no escaping the fact that church music plays a role in instrumental in the overall concept of the songs. But that doesn’t mean the music can’t swing with a groove and it does just that in Reverend Pearly Brown’s “You’re Gonna Need That Pure Religion” with Fox’ slide work bearing the imprints of North Mississippi All-Stars Luther Dickinson. It’s a shuffle but a damn good one upbeat enough to shake the pews and make for a fun time jubilee.

The songs may not sound like they were christened at the crossroads. It seems it was done with the best intentions of not so much of directing a listener on a path to find true religion, but in seeking an alternative rather than making the material too authentic or turning it into over-driven blues rock . It’s a fine line to walk and Mare Edstrom and Kenn Fox do it well without losing their balance.

Reviewer Gary Weeks is a contributing writer. He resides in Marietta, GA.

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 Featured Blues Review 6 of 6

Suzanne & the Blues Church - The Cost of Love


10 tracks

Suzanne Thomas is not the average blues woman; Korean-American by birth, raised in an African-American household, tutored by Jimmy Smith on Hammond organ at 6 years of age, attended music school in Los Angeles, became a guitar player in her 20’s are but a few of the interesting things listed in her bio. She played in the Blind Racoon Showcase at the 2012 IBC’s in February after releasing this CD on January 17th. Thomas had at least a hand in 8 of the 10 tracks here and selected two great cover tracks to highlight her skills. She plays with a heavy, rocking tone and sings with great conviction.

“Damn Right I Got the Blues” and “All Your Love I Miss Lovin’” are the Buddy Guy and Otis Rush covers on the CD. As in the original, Guy’s song has a massive guitar sound, and Jimmy “Z” on harp adds even more to this big cut. Rush’s track is smoothly and effectively done; both do not stray a lot from how they were intended, and Thomas does them justice.

“Musta Been Gone 2 Long” features a scratchy record sounding overlay on top of a retro sound where mentor Ray Bailey (guitar, bass and drums) fills in well, too. The title track shuffles and grooves in a minor key as it follows the opener, “Cheatin’ On Me” which is a medium tempo and minor key song that sets the stage for this great new artist to get you ready for some hot stuff. These two cuts are impressive and tell the listener that what is to come is some serious stuff.

Also joining her on the CD are Jerry Jones-Haskins (drums), Frank W. Garrett (bass), Bruce Edwards (organ and Fender Rhodes), “Rev” Charles Jones (B-3), Tyree (organ), and BR Millon (guitar). This is a very solid set of musicians who are together and play well together. Whether in a down tempo song singing for her lover to Set Her Free” or blasting away in “Mr. Bailey”, Suzanne is adept at her craft. Even the spoken story track “Dusty Six String Box” is intriguing and not over done; Thomas tells us of her brother’s “inheritance” and lays on some licks and a groove as she tells her story in a mythical manner.

Suzanne Thomas is an accomplished and interesting musician who understands and feels her blues. She bares her emotions as she performs, giving authenticity to what she sings about; she gives the listener a great ride as they go from song to song together on this well-done debut CD. I think we will be hearing a lot more from this musician!

Reviewer Steve Jones is secretary of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and work with their Blues In The Schools program.

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