John’s Blues Picks
A double Maple Blues Award winner this year, Andersen’s new release is only his second studio album. There was also a disc with harmonica virtuoso Mike Stevens. The Live at the Phoenix Theatre CD earlier this year pretty much summed up his career to date and is a must-have disc. The next phase, perhaps a more commercial one, is off to a stunning start. Produced by Colin Linden and recorded at Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock, it features both as players, along with Stuart MacLean Vinyl Café tour mates John Sheard & Dennis Pendrith. Geoff Arsenault is also on drums & Garth Hudson dropped by too. There’s a horn section & backup singers where needed but most of all the presence that earned him his Entertainer of the Year award shines through. His new songs lead the way, with “Coal Mining Blues” the subject of that arresting cover. The story of the miner’s plight, old before his time, ably fulfills its role as the title song. Just keyboards and brushed drums back this poignant ballad. “Make You Stay” is a delight, a blues plea with magnificent acoustic guitar and Arsenault’s understated drums. The full band does rock out, though, on the opener “Don’t Wanna Give In”, “Fired Up”, on “Heartbreaker” and on the Stones-ish “Work Hard For Luxury”. This last one deals rather succinctly with the importance of keeping your woman happy. Andersen’s towering presence shines through on this disc, easily dominating the move to a more mainstream sound. His acoustic guitar is also prominent, leaving the superlative band to do what they do best: highlight the star. Matt Andersen’s star has been rising sharply over the past while, this CD should give it a massive boost – it will be a contender for multiple awards. We might hear some of the new songs very soon – Andersen will be at The Southside Shuffle on September 10th. A new CD with Mike Stevens should be ready for the next column and for Mr. Andersen’s show at the Winter Garden Theatre on October 22nd – you should get your tickets now, you won’t regret it. His other tour dates are at his web site, www.stubbyfingers.ca.
Bradleyboy Mac Arthur was the winner of our Talent Search this year. He’s a one-man band, with guitar, rack-mounted harmonica and a box for a drum that he plays with his foot. The other foot sometimes bangs a tambourine. He sings through an old mike with quite a bit of distortion, this made him difficult to hear his shouted lyrics at Nathan Philips Square but that’s not a problem on his CD. For live shows, he’s often paired with catl, previous Talent Search winners. They share a ‘punk’ attitude and a great deal of raw energy. Bradleyboy is a veteran performer with several albums to his credit but has only recently adopted the one-man band format. Sheer energy carries the opening “Backdoor Man”, a rapidly strummed, primitive blues that may be the best song on the disc. Lovers of Hound Dog Taylor will recognize the style. “Old 59” shows he’s listened quite a bit to Tom Waits. Overall, Bradleyboy does rather well with these limited resources, he’s able to generate considerable variety through the disc. “Callin’ Your Name” adds a tenor sax whereas “I Might Be” has a fifties rockabilly feel and “Bird Watcher” adds an organ on a song that channels Johnny Cash. “flesh&bullets” is a relentless groove with lyrics shouted over top, lyrics that pay no attention to bar lines. Just to show he can do other styles, the closer, “What Is True” is a quiet ballad with picked instead of strummed guitar. The 24th Street Wailers have done rather well since their Talent Search victory, let’s hope Bradleyboy can do the same. The web site is www.bradleyboymacarthur.com.
Saskatoon’s B.C. Read is a veteran slide guitarist & singer/songwriter. He is also the founding (past) President of the Saskatoon Blues Society. He’s sent along his fourth disc and it easily maintains his high standards. All the songs save one are written or co-written by Mr. Read and he’s brought along a cast of western stars to help him & his band deliver them – Suzie Vinnick, Big Dave McLean & Jack Semple all lend a hand, or voice, to this carefully crafted package. The band includes a full horn section and back up singers. Read’s whiskey-soaked voice carries all before it, be it Chicago Blues, R&B, Tex Mex or country blues. “Number Two” is the first of the Chicago Blues songs, one about a friend who wants two lovers. It features a stripped down band with Read on slide & Big Dave on harp. A second is the title song, a shuffle called “1000 Miles (From Chicago) (But Still I Have The Blues)” – more harp from Big Dave, some fine horns and a great lyric. You might hear some other folks cover this one very soon. “Rosalita” comes under that Tex Mex banner, with Suzie Vinnick on a co-vocal. The opening “Didn’t Sleep At All”, “The Blue Boy” and “That’s The Deal” are excellent R&B originals. “That’s The Deal” is suggested as a single and it’s a solid funky workout. It’s also a duet, this time with Wilma Groenen. “Jellyroll Baker” is a Piedmont style country blues with a tuba accompaniment, a lovely change of pace. Guitar ace Jack Semple’s feature is a funky blues called “(Why Can’t We Just) Walk Away”. It’s an emotional plea to stop wars, especially our then current one. Big Dave returns for some country blues with the reduced band, “Train Of Life”, it features Kelly Read on BG vocals. The closer is a treat, a live-off-the floor bluesy version of Neil Young’s “Are You Ready For The Country?”, with Suzie Vinnick. Mr. Read’s Neil Young vocal is uncanny. As far as I can recall, B.C. Read has not made it to this half of the country, I hope he does so soon. His web site is www.bcread.com.
Taking an innovative approach, our own Wayne ‘Son’ Roberts has released four new songs at his web site from the new album over the past few months. The whole CD is now ready and it’s going to be officially released on October 13 at the Dominion on Queen. Behind Roberts on vocals & harp, the Friends include John Crosbie on guitars, Sergio Faluotico on drums & percussion and Ed Roth on keys & accordion, from the band that put out You Don’t Know Yet a couple of years ago. Gary Kendall is on bass, Martin Alex Aucoin also on keys and Duncan McBain on drums on other songs. He calls his music NuBlues, drawn from real life, true myths and dark memories. You may not get traditional, 12 bar blues here but you do get a modern album that is very much about the blues. As he explains in his notes, Roberts writes the words and Crosbie supplies the raunch & rock. Together they create a great groove that carries the material. “The Brakeman” was the first song released and it’s a tale of a railroad accident that shows what a good storyteller Roberts is. The twin acoustic slide guitars set up the train rhythm perfectly. The full electric band opens the disc, with a boast that he’s going to have to live to “90 Years Old” to fully tell his story. “Wind Blows In” is a delightful acoustic romp, with Roth’s accordion carrying the load. The group chorus is a good indication of the camaraderie these musicians had during the sessions. Good songs impressively delivered, get yourself over to the Dominion on Queen. Find out more at www.sonroberts.ca.
Shadows of Montreal was officially released at a hugely successful party at the Mod Club on Aug. 13th. It is a dramatic advance from their EP released last year. This is a rocking blues blast from start to finish: excellent songs, powerfully delivered. Lead vocalist Myrrhine Faller is at the top of her game. The band smokes, Anthony Rinaldi’s sax augmented by a three horns. Jordan Safer, whose name also appears on page two as our Office and Event Co-ordinator, plays keyboards & harp and plays them very well. The rest of the band is new: Jeff Sceviour on bass, Kyron Newbury on drums and Matt Mosioner on guitar. The band moved here from Montreal a couple of years ago, but as the title suggests, they haven’t left it completely.
The title song is a power ballad with an evocative chorus that conjures up images of both cities: “Shadows of Montreal follow me through the Queen Street fall”. “Quidi Vidi Village” has my vote for a single release, a gorgeous melody carrying a lyric about a chosen life in the big city. Let’s hope it gets some airplay. A couple of the other songs have some very nice R&B horn intros that harken back to 60’s soul and “Don’t Lose Your Good Thing” is as bluesy as its title suggests but for the most part this is a fine young band giving us some very contemporary sounds. Urban Preacher’s web site is www.urbanpreacher.ca.
Guitarist Neil Hendry was in the earlier version of Urban Preacher but he hasn’t gone far. He joins Faller and Safer in The Distillery, a more overtly blues-oriented trio. They were finalists in this year’s Talent Search as Urban Preacher was in last year’s.
The Distillery on this disc presents almost a chamber blues as opposed to the more in-your-face larger band but their original songs in this context are as good. “Glory” especially is an excellent Hendry composition that in its demo form was called “Glory That Foreshadows The Blues”. They have some fun too, as on “Jackie B. Wackie”. “Leave My Baby Alone” starts out with some fine boogie piano from Jordan, a highlight for sure.
The Distillery has its own site, www.thedistilleryblues.com. They promise there that they often expand to a five-piece and can ‘bring out the sabre tooth when you least expect it’. They also have a impressive line up of gigs.
A new Toronto resident, Mr. Doley comes to our attention through Harry Manx, who discovered the B3 player on his Australian tours and subsequently invited him to play on his Bread & Buddha CD and the tour. Tension! is his calling card, with his Australian band, and it’s a relative rarity these days, a B3 quartet CD, advertised as retro-soul.
It opens with “Booker Table”, a romp in the Booker T & The MGs style and he knows whereof he speaks: Mr. Doley has filled in for Booker T himself, playing with Steve Cropper & Duck Dunn on tours where the organist was not available. He has also toured with electric violinist Nigel Kennedy on a Jimi Hendrix Tribute package, the distilled results amply displayed on “Tension”. He acknowledges the debt to the famous B3 jazz players Jimmy Smith & Brother Jack McDuff throughout but particularly on “Up The McDuff”. The analogue recording is of demonstration quality. We welcome such an accomplished player to our music scene.
The Toronto release of this CD was at the Orbit Room, with its famous B3 – you should go to his web site, www.claytondoley.com for upcoming gigs.