John’s Blues Picks is the monthly album review column by Toronto-based blues columnist, John Valenteyn. John Valenteyn is co-founder of the Toronto Blues Society, radio host on CIUT.FM and the Toronto Blues Society’s resident album reviewer. John’s Blues Picks (JBP) are collected monthly in the Toronto Blues Society’s monthly print newsletter, Maple Blues.


John’s Blues Picks July 2017 – Watermelon Slim

Watermelon Slim (William Homans) has been a frequent visitor here, especially as he was signed to Fred Litwin’s Ottawa-based NorthernBlues label. In fact, he was the label’s last remaining artist as the company wound down (all his CDs remain available, however). We clearly had an impact on him as this new disc was recorded in Winnipeg, with local players and produced by poet/singer/songwriter Scott Nolan.

John’s Blues Picks July 2017 – Harris, Hunter & Fenn

Dave HarrisJohn R. Hunter and George Fenn are three veteran Victoriaarea performers, so veteran that they have 50 years of playing experience between them. Harris may be best known as a busker on the streets of Victoria and has recently been performing as a one-man band when not in this group. He has in fact written a book on oneman bands called “Head, Hands & Feet”. John R. Hunter is a drummer/vocalist/ songwriter, most recently working with Bill Johnson (he was here with Bill for the Summit) and Harpdog Brown.

John’s Blues Picks July 2017 – The Bluesland Horn Band

This eight-piece band is based in Calgary, it was active from 1998 to 2004 and then was re-formed in 2013. This is their third CD since. Marty Cochrane is the vocalist, with Gavin Sorochan, drums; Pan Sciore, bass; piano, Guy Plecash; guitars, Terry Medd (who is also the producer and pr imary songwriter); tenor sax, John Reid; trumpet, Doug Zacharias; baritone sax, Paul Evans; the horn arrangements are by Miles Jackson, who also plays piano on some songs. They describe their style as a mix of blues, funk, soul/jazz & roots and have eight new originals and a couple of covers here.

John’s Blues Picks July 2017 – Betty Bonifassi

You may not know Béatrice “Betty” Bonifassi’s name but if you saw Les Triplettes de Belleville, you certainly heard her as she dominates the soundtrack. She was also the vocalist for DJ Champion on “No Heaven”, which made a splash a few years ago and even made it to the JUNO Awards show.

John’s Blues Picks June 2017 – American Epic

This ambitious project, ten years in the making, has suddenly appeared, with shows broadcast on PBS this past month. It is a new exploration of the fledgling recording industry’s series of field trips that documented the amazing breadth of working peoples’ music in the United States in the late 20’s.

John’s Blues Picks June 2017 – CURL

CURL is Helen Davies, Susan Johnson & Dee Cooper. They are based on Vancouver Island and Davies is the lead vocalist and plays guitar, with Johnson on bass and Cooper on keyboards. They are joined on this recording by Andy Okell, drums and Jazz Fouladianpour, guitar.

John’s Blues Picks June 2017 – Gary Cain

Gary Cain is a Kitchener-based guitarist who, as it says in his press release, has done very little else in his life. But it has led to a guitar style recognized by none other than Lee Ritenour, Cain placing as fourth unsigned blues guitarist in his Six String Theory guitar competition last year, judged by Joe Bonamassa, Ry Cooder and Joe Satriani, among others.

John’s Blues Picks June 2017 – Earle & Coffin

Nick Earle & Joe Coffin were finalists in this year’s East Coast Music Awards with their new disc released in February. They are from St. John’s and while their last disc was as an acoustic duo, these young men (still in school) are now rocking out with a full band. And they’re doing that with some fine original songs.

John’s Blues Picks June 2017 – Selwyn Birchwood

Florida-born Selwyn Birchwood won it all at the IBCs in 2013 and was signed by Alligator soon afterwards. His first disc, Don’t Call No Ambulance, was very well received, winning several awards. This new album takes him several stages further, with a songwriting variety and musical inventiveness that’s obvious from the getgo.

John’s Blues Pick May 2017 –

Guy Bélanger’s seventh disc touches on the various projects that this harmonica virtuoso has been involved in over the years. His long time membership in the Bob Walsh Band gets pride of place, the opening “My Dearest Friend” being dedicated to the late singer as indeed is the entire disc.

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The Toronto Blues Society acknowledges the annual support of the Ontario Arts Council, the City of Toronto through the Toronto Arts Council and the Department of Canadian Heritage, and project support from FACTOR< and the Government of Canada through the Department of Canadian Heritage (Canada Music Fund) and of Canada’s Private Broadcasters, The Canada Council for the Arts, the SOCAN Foundation, SOCAN, the Ontario Media Development Corporation, and the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport.