Welcome to the Digital Blues’ CD reviews page. Except where otherwise stated, all reviews are the work of music enthusiast and drummer ‘Stix’ Sanderson to whom big thanks for his hard work. We welcome your comments which you can post at the bottom of the page although we reserve the right to edit them as we see fit!
JOHNNY MASTRO & MAMA’S BOYS – LUKE’S DREAM
Release date 3rd July 2012 on Rip Cat Records
Johnny Mastro And Mama’s Boys is a band that is sure to provoke discussion and split opinions. Whilst traditionalists will say this music isn’t “The Blues”, others will argue that it’s innovative, an attempt to bring the Blues into the 21st century.
Formed in the early-90’s as the second house band at local legend Mama Laura Gross’ “Babe’s and Ricky’s Inn” in Los Angeles, the band have been a regular fixture on the Southern California scene ever since, picking up the LA Music Award’s ‘Best Blues Band’ award on the way.
“Luke’s Dream” isn’t your run of the mill Blues album, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a fine album. Yes you may need to give it a few listens, but your patience will be rewarded. Featuring just 2 covers (Champion Jack’s Dupree’s “Junker Blues” and Little Walter’s “Roller Coaster”), this album is a mix of acoustic and electric blues tracks that showcase Mastro’s harmonica talents and song-writing skills. Even these 2 covers have been given the Mastro treatment!
“Luke’s Stomp” opens the album, and features Smokehouse Brown on acoustic guitar. Smokehouse also had a hand in some of the song-writing on the album. With Mike Hightower on bass and Jim Goodall on drums, the album also features guest appearances by Peter Atanasoff, Scott Abeyta and Kirk Fletcher on guitar, and Lisa Cee and Max Bangwell on percussion and drums.
Tracks such as “Thunder Roll”, “Junker Blues”, “Hurt” and “Tonight We Ride” show a heavier side to Mastro’s writing, whilst others such as “Knee High”, “Mr JJ’s Man” and “Francine” are more rock ‘n roll. The final track, and also the longest on the album, “Temperature” is an epic! Another heavier track which is really out there in places, I couldn’t help but think of Hendrix when listening to the guitars.
According to the press release, this album will appeal to fans of “straight blues, blues rock, alternative blues, raw r&b, roots rock and even indie rock”, so if your musical tastes fall into any of these categories grab yourself a copy of “Luke’s Dream”. Unless you’re already familiar with Johnny Mastro And Mama’s Boys, this album will certainly challenge your perception of what constitutes a “Blues” album!
JOANNE SHAW TAYLOR – ALMOST ALWAYS NEVER
Release date 17th September 2012
Rating: 4.5 / 5
There is very good reason to be excited about the future of British Blues, with the likes of Oli Brown, Ben Poole, Laurence Jones, Danny Bryant and Joanne Shaw Taylor (to name but a few) carrying the torch for the music we love, whilst at the same time putting their own stamp on it.
Originally from the Black Country but now based in the US, JST first got into the Blues as a teenager, listening to the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert Collins and Jimi Hendrix.
At 16 she was discovered by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics who invited her to join his group on tour inEurope.
Her debut album “White Sugar” was released in 2009, followed a year later by “Diamonds In The Dirt”. Her 3rd album “Almost Always Never” is a corker!
The album opens up with ‘Soul Station’, a bit of a rocker with a wild solo closing the track! 3 great chilled out tracks follow before the acoustic “Army Of One” which I would say is a more traditional Blues song. The solo also demonstrates that JST can shred
just as well on acoustic as she can on an electric axe!
“Jealousy” is an amazing slow track, and in fact is one of my favourites off the album. The song simply oozes pain and heartache, and features some great Hammond work and a guitar solo that builds to a great crescendo.
The next 4 tracks are a mix of a couple of more chilled numbers and a couple of epic rock numbers, “Tied & Bound” and “Standing To Fall”. Both also favourites of mine.
“Maybe Tomorrow” is another upbeat number that features a long instrumental section at the end, with the final track “Lose Myself To Loving You” chilling the listener out again, with the piano solo giving the song a bit of a jazzy feel.
The album is produced by Mike McCarthy and features David Garza on keyboards, Billy White on bass and guitar, and J.J. Johnson on drums.
There is not a bad track on the album, with each song displaying a maturity in the writing and guitar playing – every solo fitting perfectly with the mood of the song.
Following her fine performance alongside Annie Lennox at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert in June, Joanne Shaw Taylor’s fan base should rise, and with the release of “Almost Always Never” her reputation as one of the best British female vocalists on the UK Blues scene must surely continue.
PAUL REDDICK – WISHBONE
Release date 24th April 2012
Rating: 3 / 5
Dog-walker by day, this award-winning Canadian singer, songwriter and harmonica player was heavily influenced by the likes of Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf from an early age, and picked up the instrument at 12.
In 1990 he formed a Toronto based blues band, The Sidemen. The band released 3 albums containing all original songs, and whilst the line-up changed on a number of occasions, the band spent 10 years touringCanada and theUS.
Nominated at the W.C. Handy and Juno Awards, Paul Reddick and The Sidemen released ‘Rattlebag’ in 2001. In 2002 the band won 3 Maple Blues Awards including Album of the Year, and Songwriter of the Year for Reddick.
Whilst ‘Rattlebag’ was described as “hard blues for modern times” the next album ‘Villanelle’ was a more calmer and reflective album.
Canadian label NorthernBlues released ‘Revue’ in 2007, which was a greatest hits type collection of 18 tracks including some rarities and previously unreleased material.
Reddick’s music has also been used on various TV shows and films, including a Coca Cola US commercial called “Fountain Pour” in 2006 that aired for 2 years – he still doesn’t know how it came about though!
Reddick’s 4th album for the NorthernBlues, ‘SugarBird’ was released in 2008 with producer and guitarist Colin Linden co-writing the songs with Reddick.
Reddick’s latest offering ‘Wishbone’ is probably a bit more rocky than his last 2 albums, and some of the riffs and tracks reminded me of The Rolling Stones and some early ZZ Top bluesy material!
The album features guitarists Kyle Ferguson, Peter Belec and (also producer) Colin Cripps, together with Anna Ruddick on bass and Kevin Warren and Derek Downham on drums. ‘Devil’s Load’ also features guest vocals from Tom Wilson.
‘Photograph’ is a good track to start the album with, and the strong rock beat continues with ‘The Other Man’ which also features a good harmonica solo. Reddick doesn’t tend to impose his harmonica skills too much on the album with flashy solos, which is a shame. However ‘Take Me Ruby’ probably demonstrates his talents quite well!
The press info stated that “Reddick…… insists his new CD, Wishbone, is a soundtrack for dancing and sex.” So I was wondering what to expect! What I got an album with some real stand out tracks (‘Whiskey Is The Life Of A Man’, ‘Luna Moth and Butterfly’ and ‘I Ain’t Sentimental’), let down in my opinion by 2 tracks ‘The Ballad of Wishbone’ and ‘A Thousand Years’; in an album featuring some strong, up-beat songs, I don’t think these tracks fit, with the latter really not suiting Reddick’s vocal style.
It took me quite a few listens to get into this album, and unfortunately I still skip over these 2 tracks.
Would I recommend this album? On the whole yes, but you may just need to persevere with it to really appreciate some of the songs.
CEE CEE James – BLOOD RED BLUES
Release date 17th July 2012 on FWG
Rating: 4 / 5
Based in St. Louis, Cee Cee James’ first album, ‘Spiritually Wet’ was actually a pop/funk CD, and it wasn’t until late 2008 that her first Blues album ‘Low Down Where The Snakes Crawl’ was released, with 11 original tracks featuring stories of loss and heartache. Following a re-release in February 2010, the album gained worldwide press.
May 2010 saw the release of Cee Cee’s first live album, ‘Seriously Raw – Live At Sunbanks’ which was recorded at the Sunbanks Blues Festival. It received rave reviews
and demonstrated the extent of her vocal powers as she gives every last ounce
of energy to each song.
‘Blood Red Blues’ is Cee Cee James’ fourth album
release, and features 12 original tracks, co-written with Rob ‘Slideboy’ Andrews, her husband and slide/rhythm player.
This is a Blues album with ‘Attitude’! And what an amazing voice; I can see why the Washington Blues Society dubbed Cee Cee James the ‘Vocal Volcano’!
Taking 2 years to write and 2 months to record, the
album features songs about life, struggles and love. Produced by the legendary Grammy Winning Jim Gaines the album starts up with the title track about keeping her life clean, followed by “Let’s All Get Loose”, which is all about doing exactly that!
“I Got A Right To Sing the Blues” tells some of the painful stories of Cee Cee’s life and “Wounds” elaborates on that pain, and is the slowest track on the album.
My favourite tracks are “Walk On”, a story about dealing with sadness in our society, and the final track “I’m Takin’ Mine”, where she sings about her long journey paying her dues and the diamonds in her soul. Both are good rockers, with the latter having a definite Rolling Stones vibe to it.
Don’t for one minute though think that this album is all doom and gloom. Yes the songs
feature stories about life’s struggles but the album is played at a good pace.
This album was a grower for me, as I must admit that it took a few listens to really appreciate how good it really is.
So, turn the volume up, sit back and marvel in this woman’s vocal talents and the quality of the song writing!
ALBERT CASTIGLIA – LIVING THE DREAM
Release date 12th June 2012
Blues Leaf Records
Rating: 4 / 5
Albert Castiglia (pronounced “Ka-steel-ya”) was born in New York and raised in Miami. He first began playing the guitar at the age of 12 and by 1990 was playing in a local band called The Miami Blues Authority. Voted “Best Blues Guitarist” by New Times magazine, his big break came in ’96 when he was spotted by the legendary blues singer/harmonica player Junior Wells, who invited Castiglia to join his band as a guitarist and singer.
The experience Castiglia gained with Junior was invaluable, and saw him performing in clubs and festivals across the US, as well as touring Canada and Europe. Following Well’s untimely death in early 1998, Castiglia toured with Atlanta blues singer Sandra Hall.
2002 saw him release his first solo album, ‘Burn’, followed by 2006′s ‘A Stone’s Throw’ (his first release under the Blues Leaf Records label), ‘These Are The Days’ in 2008 and ‘Keepin’ On’ in 2010. Castiglia also released a live CD titled ‘The Bittersweet Sessions’ in 2005 with Graham Wood Drout.
‘Living The Dream’ is his best album to date and features 12 tracks that demonstrate Castiglia’s guitar skills to the full. There’s 5 original tracks, and some excellent
covers such as the Freddie King number “Freddie’s Boogie” (1 of 2
instrumentals, the other being ‘Fat Cat’) and Mose Allison’s “Parchman Farm”.
The album features tracks of many styles, from the funky feel of the opening track, to the Latin groove of ‘The Man’, 3 acoustic tracks and the rock ‘n roll beat of ‘Fat Cat’.
Backed by his superb band of Bob Amsel on drums and A.J. Kelly on bass (who both co-wrote ‘Fat Cat’ with Castiglia), with special guest appearances by John Ginty (keyboards), Sandy Mack (harmonica), Juke Joint Johnny Rizzo (superb acoustic slide guitar) and Emedin Rivera (percussion), this really is a solid album that will have you coming back for more!
Personal favourites are the Sandy Jones Junior cover ‘Walk The Backstreets’, a 9 minute epic, and ‘Parchman Farm’, which finishes the album off with a bang!
With the release of ‘Living The Dream’, I’m sure Albert Castiglia will be doing just that!
JOE BONAMASSA – DRIVING TOWARDS THE DAYLIGHT
Release date 21st May 2012
Rating: 5 / 5
JB’s 13th studio album in 12 years, ‘Driving Towards The Daylight’ is him getting back to his roots and doing a Blues record. The album was recorded at The Village Recorders, LA and The Palms Studio, Las Vegas and was produced by Kevin “Caveman” Shirley; their 7th album collaboration in 6 years.
In his sleeve notes, JB states that “This is my return to my roots and an exploration at the same time. Kevin and I tried to mess with the structure normally associated with blues music just to see what the end result would be.”
The end result is nothing short of amazing!
There’s no easing the listener in gently with this album, with the 1st track, the Bonamassa-penned ‘Dislocated Boy’ surely destined to become a regular track in future live shows.
Robert Johnson’s ‘Stones In My Passway’ is next, and is probably one of his lesser-known tracks.
The title track, another original co-written with Daniel Kortchmar, is about closure and the relationship with an ex-girlfriend. Bonamassa included this in his set on his recent UK tour, and having attended the Birmingham gig, it definitely fits into the set really well.
‘Whos’ Been Talkin’?’ is a Howlin’ Wolf track, and features the great man himself talking to Aynsley Dunbar (drummer) on the intro. The riff could just as easily be Led Zep’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’, but of course Howlin’ Wolf did it first!!
The 5th track is Willie Dixon’sChicago shuffle ‘I Got All You Need’, and JB has tried to give it a British, Bluesbreakers feel.
If, having listened to ‘A Place In My Heart’, you thought it had a Gary Moore feel to it, that’s because it has! Whitesnake’s Bernie Marsden wrote this track, as a kind of tribute, and then when Joe got hold of it, he’s tried to play the song in the style of Gary Moore. It definitely worked!
Bill Wither’s ‘Lonely Town Lonely Street’ is next up, and stays pretty true to the original, with the addition of a big solo of course!!
‘Heavenly Soul’ is the final Bonamassa original on the album, and is his attempt at a John Mellencamp ‘Paper In Fire’ type song.
Track 9 is ‘New Coat Of Paint’, a Tom Waits song with a big solo!
Next up, ‘Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go’, was originally written by Buddy Miller as more of a gospel tune, but this version is pure rock!
Closing the album out is ‘Too Much Ain’t Enough Love’ which was written by, and features on vocals, the superb Australian rock singer Jimmy Barnes. It’s a great song to finish the album.
A long list of musicians was assembled for the recording of this album, including Brad Whitford of Aerosmith and his son Harrison (both guitar), Blondie Chaplin (guitar), Anton Fig (drums and percussion), Arlan Schierbaum (keyboards), Michael Rhodes (bass), Carmine Rojas (bass), Jeff Bova And the Bovaland Brass (horns) and Pat Thrall (guitar).
Joe and his Management’s ethos of releasing an album every year could have the potential to dilute the quality of the tracks, but this is far from the case. Particularly over the past few years with the release of ‘The Ballad Of John Henry’, ‘Black Rock’, ‘Dust Bowl’ and now ‘DTTD’, the quality of the material coming out just keeps on getting better and better.
Surely this album can’t be bettered with his next release. Then again, with this man’s talent, I wouldn’t bet on it!!
OLI BROWN – HERE I AM
Release date 23rd April 2012
Rating: 4.5 / 5
“Ain’t tryin’ to be no Jimi or Stevie, I wanna be my goddamn self” sings Oli on the title track, and if this album is anything to go by, then this 22 year old from Norwich is going to have a very long and successful career.
Oli Brown’s rise to stardom has been nothing short of meteoric. Citing the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and the King’s (Freddie, Albert and B.B.), 2002 saw him pick up a guitar for the first time. In 2005 at the age of 15 he was invited to America as a guest of Blinddog Smokin’, an American Blues band and as if that wasn’t enough, that trip also saw him on the same stage as Buddy Guy and Taj Mahal.
In 2008 Thomas Ruf (of German Blues label Ruf records) flew to the UKto see Oli perform, and signed him to the record label there and then! His debut album ‘Open Road’ was released that same year and received rave reviews across theUKandEurope.
‘Heads I Win Tails You Lose’ was released in 2010 to yet more acclaim and meant the following year was spent touring the UK, Europe, New Zealand, Canada and America.
So the pressure’s on for Oli’s latest release, ‘Here I Am’, and he doesn’t disappoint! The album doesn’t really sit in any particular Blues genre, as it features songs of many different styles. However, from the rocking ‘Remedy’ to the slow ‘I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know’, the musicianship, vocals and production are all top drawer, and the song writing shows a real maturity.
The album has mostly an up-beat feel, with songs like the title track and others such as ‘You Can Only Blame Yourself’, ‘Start It Again’ and the already-mentioned ‘Remedy’ really setting the pace, and features 10 original tracks and 2 covers; ‘I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know’ (Donny Hathaway) and ‘Like A Feather’ (Nikka Costa). Oli is backed by the superb Wayne Proctor (drums) and Scott Barnes (bass and backing vocals), the latter joining as a replacement for Ron Sayer, who having co-written many of the tracks, left the band before recording started.
The final track ‘Solid Ground’ also features a certain Mr Paul Jones on harmonica!
This is the type of CD that you can immerse yourself in, and my only criticism is that the album isn’t long enough, but that’s because I didn’t want it to end!
The future’s bright, the future’s Brown!
WALTER TROUT – BLUES FOR THE MODERNDAZE
Released 23rd April 2012
Provogue Records Label
Rating (out of 5): 4
Ok confession time – this is the first Walter Trout album in my music collection. I bought this album after seeing Joe Bonamassa tweet that he’d “just heard it and it is killer,” and boy am I glad I did!
Trout started off in the 60’s playing with the likes of Percy Mayfield, John Lee Hooker and Joe Tex, before establishing himself in the 70’s as first the guitarist for Canned Heat and then John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. In 1989 he decided to go it alone and form the Walter Trout Band which quickly built a following in Europe, and since then the band has produced a number of albums under different guises, and has toured extensively throughout North America, Europe and India.
Citing Blind Willie Johnson as his inspiration, Trout’s latest release ‘Blues For The Modern Daze’ features 15 original tracks and sees him in fine form throughout, with solid riffs, roaring and soulful solos, and being backed by a band also in fine fettle.
The album opens with ‘Saw My Mama Cryin’’ which features a heavy ZZ Top-esque riff and leaves the listener in no doubt as to what they’re in for: a seriously fine Blues Rock album!
The album’s pace rises and falls throughout the album. The second, much slower track, ‘Lonely’, was written on a napkin in a Starbucks and is the story about how modern society seems to only communicate by phone or social media.
‘The Sky Is Fallin’ Down’ has got to become a regular at Trout’s live shows, and I defy anyone to say that they at least weren’t tapping their feet to this one.
Some strange backing vocals signal the start to ‘You Can’t Go Home Again’, and ‘Recovery’ features a solo with a great twin guitar sound that reminded me of Wishbone Ash.
The extended solo on ‘Lifestyle Of The Rich And Famous’ is full of emotion, and for me is a particular highlight of the album.
‘Money Rules The World’ is a proper rock track but is preceded by ‘Puppet Master’, 45 seconds of spoken word which I really can’t see the point of!
The last 3 tracks sum up the album for me; 3 different styles of Blues, but each played with intensity and emotion. From the extravagant (but superb) solo in ‘Brother’s Keeper’, the way the title track builds from a slow burner and turns into a real belter, to the final track ‘Pray For Rain’, where the Blind Willie Johnson inspiration is probably most evident.
Standout tracks for me are ‘The Sky Is Fallin’ Down’, ‘Lifestyle Of The Rich And Famous’, and ‘Blues For the Modern Daze’, but I’d go so far as to say the there are no weak tracks here (I’m not counting ‘Puppet Master’, as it’s not a song!).
Any negative points? Only minor ones. The ‘chanting’ type vocals on ‘You Can’t go Home Again’ don’t seem to fit into the song, whilst the album alternates between fast upbeat tracks and slow Bluesy numbers too frequently for my liking; I’d prefer 2 or 3 tracks of the same style to be grouped together. And ‘Puppet Master’! But as I’ve said these are only minor criticisms.
Bonamassa’s description is spot on, it is a superb album that mixes rocking Blues numbers with soulful, emotional tracks.
If you’re new to the work of Walter Trout, buy this album and then, like me, you’ll soon start tapping in to his back catalogue. If you’re already a fan, buy it, you won’t be disappointed!!