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Issue 7-46, November 21, 2013

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Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2013 Blues Blast Magazine

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 In This Issue

Terry Mullins has our feature interview with one of Chicago's great vocalists, Shirley Johnson.

We have six Blues music reviews for you. Steve Jones reviews a new album from Walter Trout. Rainey Wetnight reviews a new release from Mark “Bird” Stafford. John Mitchell reviews a new album from Randy Scott. Marty Gunther reviews a new CD from J.T. Lauritsen & Friends. Rex Bartholomew reviews a new release from Benny Jenkins Bloodline. Greg "Bluesdog" Szalony  reviews a new release from Mick Clarke. We have the latest in Blues Society news from around the globe. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!

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 Featured Blues Interview - Shirley Johnson  

She intended to stay for just a few days.

However, those ‘few days’ have now turned into 28 years.

Twenty-eight wonderful years of singing the blues in one of the world’s most vibrant cities.

Blessed with an incredibly-rich and vibrant voice from birth, blues singer Shirley Johnson has without a doubt made the most of those 28 years since relocating from Norfolk, Virginia to Chicago back in 1985.

“As a child back in Virginia, I was singing pop, R&B and gospel, but I would always put this kind of swerve in it and people would say, ‘You’re not a pop singer, you’re a blues singer.’ And I had a friend that was living here in Chicago and he said if you want to sing the blues, you’ve got to go to Chicago. So that’s what I did. I went to Chicago,” said Johnson.

The little fact that she had never been to Chicago before – and just knew one person there – didn’t sway Johnson one little bit from boarding a plane bound to the Windy City, some 900 miles from her home. As if that wasn’t enough, Johnson only had $40 tucked into her pocket, too. That more than qualifies her trip as one big leap of faith.

“Well, this guy (in Chicago) was going to record me, so I was planning on going up there for a few days and then going back home,” she said. “But when I got up here, he didn’t have any money (to record her). So it (the trip) wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.”

Most folks would probably have cussed the would-be record promoter, kicked the curb and then tried to get on board the next flight out of O’Hare.

But not Johnson; she had other pressing matters on her mind.

So, with the sole intention of singing the blues on her mind, she stuck it out. And she’s still there today.

“It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. But I hung in there until I got it together,” she said. “But I really wanted to sing the blues – I really, really did. And once I got to Chicago and started hearing the guys and girls singing the blues up here, I said, ‘Yes! This is it.’ I really hadn’t planned on staying, but once I heard the music that was being made and played around this city, I thought, ‘I’m staying.’”

Taking into account all the facts up to that point in time, that was a pretty bold and decisive plan of action on her part. Especially when you consider that Johnson’s decision to stay and call the Mecca of the Blues her new home had one major flaw.

“Well, when I got here, I didn’t know but one blues song – just one,” she laughed. “And when I heard them singing the blues up here, I discovered that I had a problem with my (vocal) timing. I had to get hip to the turnarounds they use in the blues … that was hard for me. But I worked at it and then I got it.”

Got it, she did.

“Well, when I first got up here, I thought I was ready; I really did,” she said. “But I heard these guys up here singing and I knew I had to get to school … in a hurry … and really learn how to sing the blues in the manner they’re supposed to be.”

Once Johnson’s confidence level started climbing, it didn’t stop and soon she was working with Artie ‘Blues Boy’ White, Eddie Lusk and Little Johnny Christian in Chicago.

And though her original promise of a recording session never came to fruition, Johnson was finally able to get into the studio and cut Looking for Love (Appaloosa) in 1996. From there, she cut a pair of strong albums for the iconic Delmark label – Killer Diller (featuring a remarkable delivery of Jimi Hendrix’ “Little Wing”) in 2002 and Blues Attack in 2009. Blues Attack garnered a nomination for Best Traditional Blues Recording at the 2009 Blues Blast Music Awards, while Johnson was also in the running for Best Female Artist that same year.

Fans have waited patiently for a follow-up to Blues Attack and it appears thankfully that wait might soon be coming to an end.

“I’m working on a new album for Delmark. We probably won’t go into the studio until around the first of the year, but we have started working on it,” she said. “It may be a little – not a whole lot – different than some of my albums in the past because I’m doing it with my band and they’re not all the way bluesy. So the album will be between R&B and the blues.”

And that’s really where Johnson has left her mark on the Chicago blues scene – between R&B and the blues.

The undisputed hallmark of Johnson’s vocal delivery is the ease in which she blends the blues with a hint of R&B and a whole lot of gospel. Even when she’s in her quietest moments, it’s next to impossible to not feel the depth and the power of Johnson’s voice simmering below the surface, just waiting to explode. And when she does open up and just belt it out, it’s nothing short of bombastic. Johnson has very few peers when it comes to moving the dial on the seismic meter.

“Etta James, she was always my favorite singer - her and then Denise Lasalle – those were my two favorites,” she said. “And on the male side, it was Bobby Blue Bland. I always loved him … he could really sing.”

Like so many great blues singers, Johnson’s first taste of singing came through church when she was a young child. And like so many great blues singers, Johnson’s family was not particularly happy when she made the choice to start singing the blues.

“They (her parents) would always say, ‘You need to get out of them blues clubs and come on back to church.’ But they really didn’t hold it (singing the blues) against me,” she said. “They called me the Prodigal child because all of my people – on my father’s and my mother’s side – sang, but they all sang gospel. So I was always the Prodigal child.”

A large part of the charm in Johnson’s voice is the way that the deep-rooted spirit of the gospel music that she grew up on still finds its way to the surface, whether she always wants it to, or not. That’s not the only ties to the church that permeates her music, either. On 1997’s Red Hot Mamas (Blue Chicago) compilation, Johnson’s roots run close to the surface, as midway through a soul-drenched version of Joe Tex’s “Hold What You’ve Got,” she takes the time to offer up a mini-sermon on how a lady should treat her good man based on what’s inside, instead of solely just on looks.

“No, I really can’t hold it (gospel influence) back … it just comes out. I’m been singing gospel since I was 6 years old,” she said. “And I still love gospel music. It’s been a big part of me for a long time and it always will be a big part of me … I’ve sang gospel all my life.”

That devotion to gospel also played a major role in helping Johnson get established on solid ground after her big move from the east coast to Chicago.

“When I first got to Chicago in ’85, I formed a group called the Gospel Supremes and we worked at a downtown restaurant every Sunday morning for 10 years, singing from 10:30 to 2:30,” Johnson said. “I really like the feeling of gospel music and I like to sing with a feel. If I can’t feel it, I don’t want to sing it.”

The ability to sing with such feeling, passion and conviction helped Johnson secure a long-standing gig at Blue Chicago on north Clark Street in the Windy City.

“I started working at Blue Chicago in 1991 and I’ve been there about 21 years … I always have a job there and for that, I’m blessed,” she said. “I’ve always got a gig there and the owner there has allowed me to travel overseas in those 21 years – which I’ve been to 21 countries – and when I get back, I’ve always had a space at Blue Chicago.”

Johnson, who was born in Franklin, Virginia, learned early on that if you plan on having any kind of a career singing the blues in Chicago, you not only have to have the requisite talent inside yourself, but you also have to surround yourself with the best musicians you can find, as well. Then, you have to treat those musicians with the proper amount of respect.

“My band is important to me and I try to be fair with them. If I don’t make but a very little bit (playing a gig), I’ll still split it with them,” she said. “That makes them loyal to me and I understand that I’m only as good as those musicians make me. And if I’m not good to them, they’re not going to be good to me. It’s as simple as that.”

Johnson’s band features Walter Scott on lead guitar; T-Man on drums; Bluejay on rhythm guitar; Woods on bass; and John Walls on keyboards.

When she started finding her own voice by singing soul/R&B in the late ‘70s, it didn’t take those around her long to realize just what a special talent Johnson had. That led to spots opening for artists like Z.Z. Hill and Aretha Franklin when they came through the Norfolk area. Then, in the early ‘80s, Johnson cut a couple of singles for a pair of regional record labels around her hometown. Those singles were heard by the man in Chicago who envisioned recording Johnson and starting his own label. Even though things didn’t work out quite as planned, blues fans should nevertheless count their lucky stars that Shirley Johnson refused to budge from the path of singing the blues in such a deep, rich and wonderful tone.

“I love to sing the blues. And like I say, if I can’t sing with some feeling, I’m mad. When I’m standing up on stage and singing with feeling, I know the crowd can feel that, too,” she said. “And I plan on being in Chicago and singing the blues for a long, long time.”

For more info on Shirley Johnson visit her website at

Photos by Bob Kieser © 2013 Blues Blast Magazine.

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

Walter Trout & His Band - Luther’s Blues

Provogue Recored

13 tracks

Luther Allison produced 20 albums during his much too short lifetime. In 1986 at the Montreaux Jazz festival in Switzerland he and Walter Trout first met and the influence by Luther on Walter from that time until Luther’s death in 1997 was huge. Trout had never done a tribute album and at first was able to reduce potential songs for this project down to about 40. After much deliberation, the list shrank to the eleven we have here, with one spoken track and one original track added to close out the tribute.

The album starts off with the driving “I’m Back” which really is a vibrant and rousing selection and Trout’s performance holds nothing back. One of my all time favorites is “Cherry Red Wine.” This is a visceral and emotion filled song and Walter really groans and growls this out as he blasts out riff after riff in spectacular fashion. “Chicago” Is another cut that will fascinate the listener and hopefully drive them to listen to Luther’s music.

“Just As I Am” is a beautiful and moving cut with Walter “testifying” to us as the organ plays behind him. “Freedom” is perhaps the cut that everyone will remember most as it talks about the drive for freedom across the globe. Trout is passionate in his delivery here and it is a memorable performance. While these big and popular cuts deservedly must be commented on, there is a lot more here. “Bad Love” offers up one of the biggest and baddest guitar solos of the year and perhaps even the decade. “Low Down and Dirty” rocks out with the best of them. Trout finishes up with “When Luther Played the Blues” and it’s a dandy. The guitar work is impeccable, the song is biographical yet cool and it is just a great cut and way to close out the album. There is much to enjoy here!

Trout is not trying to outdo Luther nor is he giving us Luther done in a new way. He serves this up as a tribute to a man whose life was cut short and whose work deserves notice and appreciation. He has done a fantastic job here in giving us more than a taste for Allison’s works. Luther’s fans will get the love and admiration expressed here as Trout delivers song after song in loving tribute. Those less familiar with Luther will get exposed to Allison’s exceptional song book and will want to delve more into his works. This is an outstanding album by an artist who can play the blues and rock with the best of them. Highly recommended!!

Reviewer Steve Jones is president 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 since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and work with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.

For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE

 Featured Blues Review 2 of 6

Mark “Bird” Stafford - Live at the Delta

Living Stereo/MAPL

CD: 11 songs; 52:15 Minutes

Styles: Chicago Blues Covers, Harmonica Blues, Ensemble Blues

Mark “Bird” Stafford brings you greetings from north of the border! He may be from Canada, but his skill in U.S. blues - especially the harmonica - is especially solid. His latest release, “Live at the Delta,” proves it via eleven covers of songs by genre masters. As for “Bird” himself, he’s a key fixture on the Canadian blues scene, and has been since he got his start with Hock Walsh (Downchild Blues Band) in the mid ‘80’s at the Pine Tree jams. He‘s one of the most hardworking musicians on that scene today. “Live at the Delta” refers not to the famous area of Mississippi, but to the Delta Chelsea Hotel, at which this album was recorded. Accompanying him on July 19th, 2012 were Aaron Griggs and Fabio Parovel on guitar, drummer Tyler Burgess, and Dennis Pinhorn on upright bass. Even though none of the three tracks below is original, Stafford’s take on them is doubtlessly energetic:

Track 02: “Born Blind” - Sonny Boy Williamson composed this ballad of a diva who “brings eyesight to the blind” once the lights are low. In “Bird’s” hands, his harmonica soars, making his live audience and listeners at home sit up and pay attention. It’s also a classic example of Chicago blues, with a shuffling style that’s sometimes called “lump-de-lump.” Although it possesses a medium tempo, “Born Blind” is great for dancing as well.

Track 05: “Sloppy Drunk Blues” - Why does Jimmy Rogers want to become completely inebriated? He and Stafford share this rationale: “You start talking, but I’m drinking. You’re not talking about anything at all.” Jaunty guitar and howling harp characterize this number, which is a rebuttal of the ‘please drink responsibly’ messages in today’s advertisements for alcohol.

Track 07: “I Don’t Know” - When Mark sings Sonny Boy Williamson’s famous catchphrase mentioned in the title, he sounds like an irritated student who’s had it up to here with his teacher’s endless queries. Here, he can’t figure out where his lover is or “why she disappoint me so.” Bad news surely lies ahead, but for now, Bird is getting no answers - only a single annoying question. Aaron Griggs’ mid-song guitar solo is as hot as sriracha sauce!

In the liner notes to this CD, Stafford comments: “As I read through the credits, I realize that it is heavy on the ‘Greats of the Blues,’ and I am totally OK with that. After all, this is what I do, and this album is a slice of that.” With this said, “Live at the Delta” is worth a listen for his harp skills and foundational blues musicianship.

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 33 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 3 of 6

Randy Scott – Out Of The Blue

Favored Nations

13 tracks; 52 minutes

Randy Scott’s story is an interesting one. After several years trying to make a living playing music a disillusioned Randy sold all his guitars and took a straight job in computing. Nine years later a casual visit to a music store found Randy playing a guitar and he was encouraged to enter the King Of The Blues competition. Out of 4000 contestants nationwide he won the event and was rewarded with endorsements from Gibson, Ernie Ball, etc. Now we can hear what the fuss was about with his debut album.

Released on a label that also hosts Larry Coryell, Neal Schon, Steve Lukather, Steve Vai and Vernon Reid, Randy is in good company in terms of guitar players. Recorded in California, the players include keyboard player Jeff Babko, Todd Connelly on bass and Matt Lesser on drums; the former Robben Ford rhythm section of Travis Carlton and Gary Novak appear on three tracks. Albert Lee guests on two tracks. All the material was written by Randy and ranges broadly across the blues and rock areas with a few detours into jazz.

Opening track “Ramblin’ Man Blues” starts with acoustic guitar before taking on something of an Allmans feel. I immediately liked Randy’s playing on this track though his vocals sound a bit strained. “Whiskey From The Bottle” is more of a blues shuffle with more nice guitar playing and some excellent piano in support. “Nothin’ But A Thang” is the first track with Carlton/Novak and has some of that Robben Ford, jazz-inflected feel, particularly in Randy’s solo and underpinning rhythm work which sets up the solo well. I was less keen on “Can’t Quit You”, a slower tune on which Randy’s voice really struggles.

“Never Enough” has a real rock guitar intro before it develops into an interesting mix of rhythm paces. “Mean Hearted Woman” returns to bluesier terrain with a fairly straightforward shuffle on a traditional ‘my woman done left me’ theme, the instrumental side enhanced by Albert Lee’s presence, taking two solos on the track in his countrified style which bookend Randy’s more rocky solo. “Don’t Call It Love” is a mid-paced rocker and “Kisses Like Cherries”, a sentimental ballad in which a trip back to his old hometown raises memories of early love; a lovely solo with just a hint of country twang graces the middle section. “Fire” returns to that slightly jazzy feel with the electric piano playing a key rhythm role and Randy’s solo having a real LA rock feel. “Hell To Pay” is terrific, fast-paced with rocking piano and perfect if you like the sort of country rock that Albert Lee excels at. Albert takes the first solo, Randy the second, and it is interesting to compare and contrast, but both do a good job.

The last five cuts on the album include three instrumentals, the first of which is “Talkin’ My Baby Down”, a proper blues strut with some super Texas style playing. The title track “Out Of The Blue” starts out like Deep Purple and then moves into the sort of rock guitar with hints of jazz not heard since the 80’s. “Tommy’s Tune” closes the album in mellow mood, a solo acoustic piece which manages to quote from several other tunes during less than three minutes. These three instrumentals do a great job in highlighting Randy’s excellent and varied guitar skills.

This CD demonstrates that Randy Scott has all the attributes of a strong technical guitarist across a number of styles and can write some good songs. His voice is probably his Achilles heel but, as Meat Loaf once said “Two out of three ain’t bad”. Worth checking out if your tastes range across the blues-rock divide.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He had a blast at this year’s Blues Blast Awards and is already planning his next trip stateside.

For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE

 Featured Blues Review 4 of 6

J.T. Lauritsen & Friends – Play By The Rules

Hunter Records

12 songs – 48 minutes

Powerhouse vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Jan Tore (J.T.) Lauritsen was born and raised in Lillestrom, Norway, and definitively proves once again that blues are an international affair with this soulful, spirited toe-tapper.

Along with incendiary guitarist Kid Andersen, currently working with Rick Estrin and the Nightcats, Lauristen’s at the forefront of the blues wave emanating from his homeland, which only discovered the artform about 50 years ago and which plays host to the northern-most music event on the planet, the annual Dark Season Blues Festival on Svalbard, an island group a couple of hundreds north of the mainland halfway to the North Pole inside the Arctic Circle.

A master of the Hammond B-3 organ, accordion and harmonica, J.T. combines blues, soul, zydeco and a taste of rock seamlessly into his own style. Now in his mid-40s, he’s fell in love with the stylings of B.B. King, Ray Charles and Charles Brown as a child, and has been playing professionally since his teens. He assembled “Play By The Rules” on both sides of the Atlantic, putting down five tracks in Memphis with an all-star cast of musicians and recording the other seven back home with his regular, rock-solid band, the Buckshot Hunters. His vocals are warm and rich as he attacks a collection of six originals and six covers that will have you heading to the dance floor from the first few bars.

Joining Lauritsen at Memphis famed Ardent Recording Studios were fellow keyboard master Victor Wainwright, guitarists Anson Funderburgh and Josh Roberts, bassists Willie J. Campbell and Greg Gumpel, and reed-bender Billy Gibson, while Reba Russel, Teresa James and Debbie Jamison provide backing vocals. Lauristen’s regular drummer, Jon Grimsby appears on all cuts, and the Buckshot Hunters (Ian Fredrick Johannessen, guitar; Atle Rakvag, bass; Arnfinn Torrisen, guitar; and Paul Wagnberg, keyboards) contribute to the festivities with vocal backing from Larry McCray, Tina Lie and Kerry Clarke and an assist from guitarist Freddy Pate.

The Buckshot Hunters kick off the disc with a successful retelling of William Bell’s 1967 deep-soul Stax hit, “Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday,” with the singer perfectly behind the beat with his vocals, propelling the song forward. Wainwright drives the music forward with a gumbo-flavored piano solo to fire up the rollicking “Next Time,” J.T.’s cautionary tale about telling his woman what to do. It features a mid-song guitar break from Roberts. Lauritsen picks up the squeezebox for “Play By The Rules,” a slow blues about a relationship that failed because of the vocalist’s repeated cheating, then trades licks with Gibson on the ensemble send-up of “Need My Babe,” the harmonica classic first set down by Big Walter Horton.

The instrumental “Memphis Boogie” features Wainwright, who wrote the tune, on keyboards and Lauritsen on accordion before the Rakvag-penned “I’ll Never Get Over You.” The singer gets to stretch out over a chorus as he reflects on the best relationship of his life with Wagnberg adding a tasty keyboard fill. A retelling of the uptempo “Ever Since The World Began,” written by Joe Maher of Big Joe And The Dynaflows, precedes “Mathilda,” the Swamp classic penned by George Khoury and Huey Thierry and recorded by Thierry’s group, the legendary Cookie And The Cupcakes. J.T. fronts his regular ensemble for the straight-ahead, Texas-style shuffle, “Find My Little Girl,” aided by Funderburgh on guitar. He also takes the lead on the next tune, “Valley Of Tears,” a country tinged cover of a tune created by alt-country singer Gillian Welch. Two originals – “Eye Candy” and “The Blues Got Me” – close the set.

J.T. Lauritsen has a tremendous set of pipes, a sensational feel for the music and delivers his message totally devoid of infections of his homeland. Highly recommended. Available through Amazon and CDBaby.

Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. His first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.

For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE

 Featured Blues Review 5 of 6

Benny Jenkins Bloodline – Can’t Take the Blues

99 Man Records

12 tracks / 42:56

By definition, the blues can be a stone cold bummer, but west coast swing, jump blues and rockabilly always put a smile on my face. Fortunately, a combination of these styles is the brand of blues that Benny Jenkins Bloodline is selling on their new CD, Can’t Take the Blues. This is the stuff they made rock and roll from, you know!

Benny Jenkins grew up on the south side of Chicago, where his brother introduced him to the blues at the tender age of ten. With his trusty harmonica he joined his siblings Alex and Don in the Jenkins Brothers band at the age of 18, and they toured around the US and Canada during the 1970s and 1980s. Benny worked on a few side projects along the way, including the Delta Kings and The Sinners. He has relocated around the United States, from St. Louis to Nashville, and finally back to Illinois.

Benny plays the guitar and harp, as well as providing the vocals for this project. He is joined by Todd Gallagher on the double bass, his brother Don Jenkins on drums, and his son Dylan Jenkins on rhythm guitar. This makes the collaboration a family affair, and right from the get-go it is apparent that there is good chemistry in this group.

This album is a home-brewed effort, including 12 original tracks written and produced by Benny, with not a cover tune to be found. They kick things off with “Step Back,” a short tune that is radio-friendly and danceable. Benny’s voice is pleasantly gritty, and the driving guitar lines are punctuated by a tasteful solo midway through that shows that he has all the guitar chops that he needs. “Blues Party” has a similar good times vibe, and either one of these songs would be a great soundtrack for your next party.

The title track comes up second, and after a drum intro we get to hear what Jenkins can do with the harmonica. He has tone to die for and works the harp perfectly into this classic tale of a man that lives for the blues. Plenty of comical pictures are painted in this 12-bar blues song, and he also shows off his sense of humor in “Reefer Smokin’ Mama” and “6 Ft. Underground.”

Todd Gallagher throws out a nifty intro to “Hey Mama,” which is not an easy task on the double bass. This song has a sweet vibe with its wailing harmonica and jazzy bass line, and it is all held together by Don Jenkins’ brushes on the drum kit. This is a lovely ode to his mother (who passed on when Benny was 8), and I am sure she is proud of what her sons have done.

Though many musical influences are heard on this disc, Benny does not let the listener forget that he is from the Windy City. “Jumpin’ on Maxwell” celebrates the birthplace of Chicago blues (with very few words) and “Bring Back the Blues to my Radio” bemoans the lack of decent entertainment of the airwaves. This tune calls out some of his favorite artists, all of whom made it through town at one time or another, including the three Kings (BB, Albert and Freddy), Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, and Elmore James. You will not find a better list of blues influences, though he might have better luck find these guys on the air if he subscribes to satellite radio.

The album finishes up with “Mush Mouth,” a minute long freestyle harmonica outro. What a cool way to bring things to an end!

This album is well-recorded and mixed, and flows smoothly from one song to the next. Benny Jenkins Bloodline’s Can’t Take the Blues is a solid effort and they deliver the goods on every track. From the energy they show on this CD, I can only imagine that their live show would be a hoot to see. Check it out for yourself and see what you think!

Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at

For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE

 Featured Blues Review 6 of 6

Mick Clarke - Ramdango



The latest CD from British blues-rocker Mick Clarke finds him playing all instruments himself, featuring his rough hewn guitar skills and vocals. His drumming skills are adequate without the extra flourishes of a regular drummer. His bass playing tends to be more flexible. Being the "lion's share" of the proceedings focus on boogie and blues-rock, his guitar excursions are the main event here. His gruff vocals are the right fit for the genre. His guitar slinging is from the "rough and tumble" school of playing. His production of this CD is crisp with all instruments coming through clear.

The "quick-fire" shuffling, no frills, bare bones boogie instrumental "Baked Potatoes" kicks things into gear, an indication of what the listener is in store for. The slow, grungy slide and rough edges of "Helping Hand" evoke the ghost of Hound Dog Taylor. With throw-away lyrics, it's basically a vehicle for a slide workout. "Mojo Go" features a nicely distorted guitar riff. His "weathered" vocal delivery works well here, as he almost sings in unison with his guitar. A heavy-handed drum assault holds up the guitar onslaught of "Who's Educating Who?". Quite a noise this one.

Another song where the lyrics aren't necessary is "Curry Night". It would of worked just fine as a distorted guitar boogie. The title track has a memorable hook...Surf-boogie grunge guitar would be an apt name to describe the sound he gets on it. "The Snarl" is a catchy, hard-nosed foot stomper. Mick is capable of a nice easy-going shuffle like the one he includes here, "Talk". This noise-fest closes out with a slow, pensive acoustic guitar instrumental in "What If".

What the listener has just witnessed at the conclusion of this CD for the most part is a hard-edged, rough guitar assault on the senses. The vocals and lyrics add very little to the sound here. Mick's vocals are gruff and work well in this context, but the lyrics are throwaways. This is the kind of stuff you want to listen to loudly at the conclusion of a trying day on the planet. At times his music comes across as a less well-disciplined Alvin Lee And Ten Years After. It has that type of boogie energy. The guitar playing can be creative and it surely gets your attention. If high-energy blues-rock and boogie is your thing, give this CD a spin.

Reviewer Greg "Bluesdog" Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.

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The DC Blues Society - Washington, DC

The DC Blues Society rings in the New Year on December 31, 2013 from 7pm-12:30am with the region’s Soul-Blues legends, The Hardway Connection (at American Legion, 11225 Fern Street, Wheaton MD 20902.) Tickets are $35 in advance (at or $40 at the door. The party includes dinner, champagne toast and exceptionally reasonable cash bar. The Hardway Connection evokes “old school” R&B – sometimes smooth, sometimes funky but always danceable! The powerhouse band has been together more than 15 years, gigging throughout the Southeast, and gathering a large following along the way. Known for their excellent vocals and tight rhythms, The Hardway Connection play the “oldies but goodies” with dynamism, power and fun. They have opened for major acts, including Johnny Taylor and Chuck Brown. The band placed first in the 11th Annual National Blues Talent Competition sponsored by The Blues Foundation. Said Eric Brace of the Washington Post, The Hardway Connection is a “superb soul/blues/R&B band. They sing and play and deliver the goods like few bands I've ever seen.” More info at

River City Blues Society - Peoria, IL

River City Blues Society presents live Blues featuring James Armstrong on Friday November 29th at Goodfellas, 1414 N. 8th St. Pekin, Illinois. Show starts at 7:30 pm. Admission is $6.00 for general public and only $4.00 for RCBS 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 27 years - BLUE MONDAY SHOWS - Held at the Alamo 115 N 5th St, Springfield, IL (217) 523-1455 every Monday 8:00pm $3 cover. Nov. 25 – Tom Holland & the Shuffle Kings, Dec. 2 – Motor City Josh, Dec. 9 – Scott Ellison, Dec. 16 – Hurricane Ruth, Dec. 23 –Brooke Thomas & the Blues Suns, Dec. 30 – James Armstrong More info available at

Crossroads Blues Society - Rockford, IL

The Crossroads Blues Society presents Trampled Under Foot Friday November 22nd at the Adriatic on Jefferson and Church Streets in Rockford, 8 PM. $15 advanced, $20 at the door.

Also on Friday December 13th we present afternoon BITS with Bobby Messano followed by our mini-Winter Blues Fest featuring Bobby Messano and Sena Erhardt at the Adriatic on Jefferson and Church Streets in Rockford, 8 PM. $15 advanced, $20 at the door.

For more information about these presentations please contact: Steve Jones - Crossroads Blues Society 779-537-4006 To find out about the event, go to

Friends Of The Blues - Watseka, IL

Now in their seventh season, The Friends of the Blues present 7 pm early shows: Tues, Dec 10, the return of the Ori Naftaly Band from Israel! - Moose Lodge in Bradley IL sponsored by Mr. Vacuum, Bradley IL More information visit us at or email  

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