December 2010 Archives

Review: Eden Brent - Ain't Got No Troubles

'Ain't Got No Troubles' is a complete triumph...
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I've been looking forward to Eden Brent's follow up to Mississippi Number One since I first heard details about it from Brent at the Blues Music Awards in May.  Sometimes the electric charge of anticipation leads to crushing disappointment but when I got my advance of Ain't Got No Troubles I commenced to unbridled gushing about the album. Brent teamed with producer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Colin Linden and recorded the album in New Orleans, and it's that spirit of the Crescent City that helps differentiate this record from its Delta-soaked predecessor.  Some artists, inspired by exotic or evocative locations, lose themselves in those moments and

Review: Eric Clapton - Clapton

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Clapton will be a shock to the system to some longtime fans because the man whose guitar prowess once inspired a nation to spray paint "Clapton is God" is nowhere to be found on this record.  Lead guitar and guitar solos are used sparingly and not all played by Clapton.  This album accentuates mood and texture.  He's choosing good songs, arranging them well, not burdening them with mandatory redundant reminders that he is a legendary instrumentalist, and not compressing or polishing them to death.  He's also singing better than ever.  The songs and sounds have room to breathe and

Review: Chris James & Patrick Rynn - Gonna Boogie Anyway

Vintage, natural, authentic Chicago blues...
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I'm continually amazed when I hear contemporary blues musicians play traditional blues music that doesn't sound like contrived, cliche-ridden imitation. It's not easy, which probably explains why so many of those who might have been inclined to try abandon it for the greener, easier pastures of the blues' offspring, rock and roll. In high school foreign language classes, I began from the mindset of an English speaker trying to translate thought into another language: "How would you say ________ in Spanish?" or "What's the word for ________ in Japanese?" I never got to a point where thoughts formed in those

Review: Karen Lovely - Still The Rain

Karen Lovely is one of the most powerful voices to hit the blues scene in years...
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I first learned of Karen Lovely after she placed second at the International Blues Challenge last year.  I first heard her sing in an impromptu jam at Rum Boogie Café in Memphis and took notice when I saw she had a new record coming out this year, wondering if she, like so many before her, would use the IBC as a springboard forward.  After several listens to Still The Rain, one word kept coming to mind: natural.  She has a powerhouse, passionate voice and complete control of it.  When we think of musical excess in rock or the blues, we

Review: Moreland & Arbuckle - Flood

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Dustin Arbuckle and Aaron Moreland have been working together on the blues scene for quite some time, self-releasing a series of albums before making the jump to Telarc for their 2010 release Flood. It has been a fixture on the Billboard Blues chart since its release and continues to get significant airplay at blues radio. There is a fine line between fashioning a collection of songs that coalesce into a whole and fatiguing listeners with an unrelenting style or sound. Flood is more the former but is at times guilty of the latter, having two primary sounds from which their

Review: Pinetop Perkins & Willie "Big Eyes" Smith - Joined At The Hip

These two have lived long enough and paid their dues to sing the blues...
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Pinetop Perkins and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith have been playing together on and off for more than four decades. Both played with Muddy Waters during his '70s resurgence and both continued on without the icon as part of the Legendary Blues Band. They've been on record and onstage more times than they can count since but Joined At The Hip represents something of a first for the two and that's saying something considering the careers and ages of both men. Age may be nothing but a number but the numbers in this case are noteworthy. Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, is

Review: Duke Robillard - Passport To The Blues

Duke Robillard is playing the blues again and he sounds better than ever...
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Imagine getting golfing advice from Tiger Woods (not dating advice).  Imagine going to your local batting cage and seeing Tony Gwynn there, offering free tips on hitting.  What would you give to get quarterback coaching for your kid from Joe Montana?  Suppose opera has always seemed impenetrable to you yet you find yourself wishing you could understand and appreciate it only to have Placido Domingo offer to spend time schooling you on the finer points.  Duke Robillard's Passport To The Blues is an invitation to take a guided tour and see the world of blues through one of the greats. 

Review: Matthew Stubbs - Medford & Main

It's too early to say it's the best record I'll hear this year but I have a gut feeling when the dust settles on 2010 this is going to be my favorite.
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You may not know this but there is a lot of pressure when it comes to writing about a favorite album or artist.  When a song or record inspires you and gets inside your head and heart you feel an obligation to do it justice.  There's even a twinge of pressure not to gush like a fanboy- something you wind up ignoring because this music that demanded a verdict and has been rendered worthy of the highest praise. I felt an additional pressure when I first fell in love with Medford & Main:  the album was still months away from

Review: Peter Karp & Sue Foley - He Said She Said

A compelling backstory gives birth to one of the year's best albums...
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I wasn't the first person to know about Peter Karp and Sue Foley's He Said She Said project but I was privy to the possibility before many when he mentioned it during our interview about its predecessor, his stunning solo album Shadows And Cracks. That was at the end of 2007. After a two-year gestation period, He Said She Said was released in March of this year and Karp and Foley have been out on the road promoting it. To discuss the album without mentioning the story behind it would be lunacy but it's  too easy to get distracted by

Review: Jim Byrnes - Everywhere West

'Everywhere West' sounds big enough to swallow a listener whole yet it's still small enough for a small room and a table for one.
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I have a love of history but there are massive gaps in my knowledge of it.  I know very little of Canada's history beyond Norsemen and Vikings – probably – John Cabot, French fur trappers, and then one day it's a country made up of provinces.  I have no doubt world culture and music have been influenced by famous, talented Canadians and I'm ignorant and unaware of them.  I don't know what musics are native to my neighbors to the north.  I bring this up because while jazz and blues are widely recognized as American musical idioms — overwhelmingly African

Review: Robert Cray - Cookin' in Mobile

Cray doesn't burn down the house but he sizzles plenty...
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It's hard to imagine being a perpetually broke member of the middle class and still having more money than sense but that's the only conclusion I can draw when I do something like what I did this week.  Dave Ramsey would probably spontaneously combust if he saw what I spend a month on music and I'm fine with that because I have a few choice words for him, too.  He'll die richer and we'll both be dead.  Maybe he's having fun.  I hope so.  I know I am.  That said, even I have trouble justifying this latest stunt of mine.

Review: Samuel James - For Rosa, Maeve, and Noreen

A rare album that can be sparse and layered, rewarding listeners with each repeated listen.
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Among the landmark musical phenomena for folks of my generation was MTV's Unplugged. It seemed as though, overnight, acoustic music was cool. It was seen as a strength and indication of talent to drop studio trickery and bombastic theatrics. Millions of people were looking for songs that had more than a hook, but a kind of substance that could only be discerned in a rustic, spare arrangement. That lasted for about five minutes. Before Unplugged died altogether, it was bastardized by bands that cheated. My mom played an Epiphone acoustic guitar when I was a kid. I know what an

Review: Smokin' Joe Kubek & Bnois King - Have Blues, Will Travel

Walking the line between rockin' the blues and blues-rock, Texas style...
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It's unusual to see a blues duo pair up when they both play the same instrument.  King and Kubek not only both play guitar but both play lead guitar and do it well enough to stand on their own.  The willingness of both to surrender a bit of the spotlight to make music together is inspiring on its face but becomes all the more because of the music that results from such unselfishness.  King handles all lead vocals and Kubek takes a majority of the solos but both get a chance to display their guitar abilities and the mixing and

Review: Magic Slim & The Teardrops - Raising The Bar

'Raising The Bar' may not quite live up to its name but if there were a bar separating Slim's better and lesser material, this would certainly qualify for the "better" pile.
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Magic Slim has been playing the blues for more than 50 years and been recording since 1977 with his band The Teardrops.  The lineup has changed but the sound and purpose have not.  With his 2010 release Raising The Bar, Slim declares not his intention to do it different but only to do it better.  It's hard to imagine a 72-year old man and 50-year veteran still having a lot of upside, especially when you're talking about someone who has done it so well for so long but it's nice to know he still feels the fire to challenge himself

Review: Charlie Musselwhite - The Well

Musselwhite digs deep on his first album in four years...
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We've heard many a song or album described as the most personal thing an artist has ever done, whether by a critic or the artist themselves.  I don't know if The Well is the most personal record of Blues Hall of Famer Charlie Musselwhite's career but I can't imagine how much deeper he can dig than he has on The Well, his first album in four years. A trio of tracks on this album takes us deep inside the heart of Charlie Musselwhite through some of the most painful, defining moments of his life.  "Dig The Pain" and "The Well"

Review: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Mojo

The Heartbreakers are the Bluesbreakers for one album...
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In the wonderful Peter Bogdonavich film Runnin’ Down A Dream, Heartbreaker lead guitarist Mike Campbell revealed the secret formula at the heart of so much of the band’s phenomenal success over their more than 30-year career: “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” Well, the times, they are a-changing. It’s a brave new world for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and it must please Petty to no end he and his mates have decided to broaden their horizons not by looking forward but  looking back. There’s also something beautifully perverse in following up a four-hour documentary of your band with

Review: Joe Satriani - Black Swans And Wormhole Wizards

A great guitar melodist offers another great record...
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What makes Satriani's longevity more unlikely is that he has relied on his ability to translate new musical ideas with classic Satriani sounds and approach.  There have been dabblings with other sounds and styles – Engines Of Creation being a guitar/techno collage – but he has largely stayed true to his own course succeeding on the strength of his unique gift for wordless storytelling.  He has a way with melody and songcraft, writing guitar-based jams that have the equivalent of a verse-chrous-verse pop composition.  Classic Satriani songs have melodic constructions flexible enough to allow for technically complex guitar solo variations but

Otis Taylor Finds Elasticity In The Blues On 'Clovis People, Vol. 3'

Stretching the blues...
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Otis Taylor shatters your illusions of what the blues is and what it can be. Clovis People, Vol. 3 confounds and stretches the concept of modern blues by taking on subjects other songwriters wouldn't touch and using instruments and arrangements others wouldn't think of.  Many modern blues artists are influenced by the same handful of artists – Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, B.B., Albert, and Freddie King, T-Bone Walker, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Otis Rush Buddy Guy – and their music bears all those obvious hallmarks. Those are great names and it makes sense they'd inspire future generations to take to the

Review: Joe Bonamassa - Black Rock

A sturdy effort from a blues-rock stylist...
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Comedian Ron White has a fun routine about "truth in advertising" that comes to mind when I think about Joe Bonamassa's latest effort, Black Rock. The album takes its name from the studio in Greece where Bonamassa and producer Kevin Shirley holed up to record but there is a lot more than geography at play in that name. Accidentally on purpose, the title gives listeners a clue about what kind of journey they're about to embark on. While blues will always be at the heart of what Bonamassa does as a singer and guitarist, Black Rock finds him injecting those

Review: Albert Castiglia - Keepin On

Sometimes too much of a good thing...
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Albert Castiglia has taken a streamlined approach on his fifth studio album Keepin On, recording much of it live with minimal overdubs and a mix of covers and originals.  The formula has caught on with blues fans who helped the album hit #1 at blues radio.  The mix of five originals with covers of songs by John Lee Hooker, Mack Rice, T-Bone Walker, Robert Nighthawk, Peter Green, and Bob Dylan and the direct approach to capturing the songs works well, most of the time. Keepin On is easier to absorb in pieces than as a whole because there is a

Review: Ronnie Earl - Spread The Love

Ronnie Earl speaks to the soul without saying a word...
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Many a man has put his guitar down and picked up a Bible, convinced that playing the blues was a one-way ticket to Beelzebub's eternal beach party.  The blues has long been shrouded in the mystery and voodoo and alleged associations with the devil.  Exhaustive research and numerous books debunk the myth Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil to become the world's greatest bluesman- something you wouldn't think would actually require such devoted scholarship and yet the fable lives on. In the neverending battle between good and evil, the warring forces have continually co-opted each other's weapons and

Review: Kilborn Alley Blues Band - Better Off Now

KABB takes a massive leap forward with their best album yet...
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Shorthand has its uses but sometimes we lose things in translation.  Take a name like Kilborn Alley Blues Band.  It's a bit of a mouthful.  I often clip the name to Kilborn Alley or KABB when writing about them or discussing them with friends and strangers.  There's nothing wrong with that but it occurred to me the most important word of their name might well be that final "b:" band. Kilborn Alley Blues Band puts a premium on ensemble playing, a tradition that has been obscured in the blues in no small part because of what rock and roll did

Review: Bettye LaVette - Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook

Bettye LaVette gives us a glimpse of what British Invastion-era rock and roll might sound like if it were to return to its roots...
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Rock and roll history can’t be told without discussing the British Invasion, when British teenagers morphed the imported American blues and R&B records they listened to into one of the most influential sounds ever produced.  The records and artists that sprang forth from that movement continue to shape the constructs of popular music decades later. The story is well chronicled  and seems simple on the surface but as with most things in life gets complicated when you look beneath.  To some, it’s simply one chapter in the ongoing tale of the evolution of music that has been happening around the

Review: Janiva Magness - The Devil Is An Angel, Too

A new label and a new lease on life...
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Janiva Magness has emerged as perhaps the biggest contemporary female performer on the blues circuit over the past four years. The Devil Is An Angel, Too is her follow-up to the critically acclaimed, award-winning 2008 release What Love Will Do. The first 30 seconds of the title track are revelatory. They validate my criticisms of Do I Move You? and provide some degree of confidence that Devil will be a different story, and for the most part it is. Magness' voice has changed very little from previous outings but the music, production, and arrangement on the title track have and

Review: Anders Osborne - American Patchwork

A rewarding singer/songwriter record with a great Americana musical tapestry...
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You've probably heard others express and explain the idea that "the work" is its own reward.  I've experienced that in small doses in my own freelance career.  I've learned things about myself and the music I love by writing about it and what I took from that means more than any meager — very meager — monetary compensation I may have made in the exchange. I've found a new way to be rewarded by the work I'm doing. I started a feature that examines radio play for blues stations from around the world as compiled by the folks at Roots

Review: Robert Randolph - We Walk This Road

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Hot, young guitarists spring have sprung forth every few years for more decades than I can be bothered to count. Each generation spawns a new crop and while many are momentarily interesting, “guitar god” is a cannibalistic business and very few have much shelf life. There are exceptions and Robert Randolph has taken a bold step forward, daring to join the few and the proud. Randolph is a unique talent as anyone who has listened to the work of his first three albums with his Family Band or his collaboration with John Medeski and the Dickinson boys of North Mississippi

Review: Rob Stone - Back Around Here

That these men from different backgrounds and eras not only found each other but choose to play together is proof the language of music and the power of generosity is as potent as ever.
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When a sideman steps out on his own he either hogs the spotlight or values having talented friends and shares it.  Rob Stone has been a sideman and played with some of the great names in blues history.  He also works with the high-octane duo Chris James and Patrick Rynn.  Those two now return the favor on Back Around Here.  Also enlisted for this record are pianist David Maxwell, and legendary drummers Sam Lay and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith.  Stone didn't assemble this multi-generational cast of talent just to put their names on the front of the record; he uses

Review: Joe Louis Walker - Blues Conspiracy

'Blues Conspiracy' is a live album that crackles with energy and the beautiful contradiction at the heart of the blues: that music so often centered around heartbreak and hard times can make you feel so damn good.
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Earlier this year my wife and I celebrated our tenth anniversary.  We talked about ways to celebrate and friends asked if we had any special plans and it was an inevitability someone would suggest we take a cruise.  The two of us would nod and smile politely, knowing neither was really up for that sort of thing.  For starters, we don't like baking in the heat of tropical climates.  We live in Alabama and if there are places in this world that get hotter – and I'm told there are – we don't want to find them.  We're not beach

Review: Tom Petty - Highway Companion

Not a career best but certainly among the year's best...
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How much was I looking forward to Highway Companion?  Enough to make a midnight run to Wal-Mart to have it at the precise moment of its release.  That, boys and girls, is what we call obsession, devotion, and the lack of anything resembling a life.  Not only did I buy it that night, I stayed up to listen to it from beginning to end.  I will tell you something else - I would do it again.  Some of you have lives.  I have 1,000 CDs and a wishlist filled with 1,000 more.  The title and first single "Saving Grace" gave me the wrong

Review: Robert Randolph - Colorblind

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I learned long ago not to write a review after listening to an album only once. I have penned plenty of reviews panning an album I later came to love. There are also plenty of reviews bearing my moniker where I professed my undying love for a record only to see it later lose some of its luster. I have been curious about Robert Randolph for some time and was eager to take this assignment to listen to his new record. Upon first listen, I was regretting that decision. It was not that I did not likeColorblind, I just did

Review: Otis Rush - Troubles Troubles

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Being an Otis Rush fan teaches and requires patience.  BB King's fans are lucky. Their hero is alive, in good enough health to continue touring, and much of his best work is still easily available in the recorded format of your choice.  Buddy Guy's fans are lucky. Their man is still touring and recording.  Guy had a bad run of luck in the '70s and '80s but his fortunes have improved dramatically since.  Rush's story is different.  His health is beginning to fail (he suffered a stroke in 2004) and his recorded legacy is a bit of a mess. Even when he

Review: Willie "Big Eyes" Smith - Way Back

A man returning to his roots and revisiting his home...
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The Wife to Whom I'm Married was recently asked by her Kenyan co-worker, Derek, what kind of music I liked and who some of my favorite artists are. Among the styles listed was the blues. Her co-worker was not sure he knew what this was. Her answer:  my husband likes to listen to old, Black men sing about their troubles. Derek found this hilarious. Thanks, dear.  TWTWIM was just having a little fun with that description but there are a lot of people who think of the blues as nothing more than old, Black men singing songs about how their woman done

Review: R.E.M. - Live At The Olympia

R.E.M. loves you.
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What do you say about the album that has everything?  I'm rarely at a loss for words, but I've spent the past week trying to conjure a method to heap an appropriate amount of praise on Live At The Olympia.  I'm still not quite sure where to begin, but a collection this brilliant demands more than silent admiration.  Attention must be paid. I have many contrived rules and preferences for music and in particular live albums.  I bring this up because Live At The Olympia breaks most of them and yet I'm ready to rate it among the best live

Review: R.E.M. - Live

A flawed-yet-solid first ever live album from R.E.M.
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I believe I speak for the majority – and I'm damn sure I speak for all right-thinking music lovers – when I say we desire complete, single-show performances that have been minimally edited and processed.  Am I talking about live albums or chicken? It's a simple concept, really, and the music industry continues not to get it and wonder why they can't sell records! You want to put the bootleggers out of business? Steal their business model and do it better than they do! You guys are the music business.  You should be better at selling records than anybody.  How

Review: Rilo Kiley - Under The Blacklight

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Review: Duke Robillard - Stomp! The Blues Tonight

An uneven outing from one of the blues' brightest stars...
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One of the rewards of this great undertaking of mine – examining so many songs, albums, and artists nominated for 2010 Blues Music Awards – is that it has given me just the excuse I needed to investigate the work of names I recognize whose work I did not. Duke Robillard has been around forever. I was familiar with him by name long before I had even a passing interest in the blues, as a fan of guitar-oriented music. When I began my journey through the blues, his name would come up but I never pulled the trigger and purchased
The Biggest Bang doesn't seem nearly as boastful when you consider it comes from the self-proclaimed "Greatest Band On Earth," once you've been pummeled by seven hours of footage spread across four DVDs.  Size matters to The Rolling Stones and they again outdo their overblown antics.  Ever masters of overstatement, their unapologetic penchant for excess makes them the butt of jokes, but also sustains them.  The tiny slings and arrows of their critics can't sink this preposterously large mothership of rock.  The shows get bigger and ticket prices skyrocket, yet they continue to break attendance and earnings records. The biggest

Review: Rolling Stones - Shine A Light (Soundtrack)

They'll be the Stones until they say they're not...
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It had to happen.  It's more reliable than any other regularly occurring phenomenon we have.  If the Stones tour, there will be a live album to document it.  Sure, they released the Biggest Bang DVD box set through (Satan)Best Buy last year, but that was DVD only.  Thanks to Martin Scorsese's film Shine a Light, we finally have a CD companion to their most recent tour.  The film is in IMAX theaters now and we have to assume it will be made available on DVD in the near future; we can hope it will also come to us on Blu-ray

Review: The Rounders - Wish I Had You

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Nearly every contemporary music genre has some root in the blues; some genres more than others but the relationship is almost always there.  Rock and roll probably owes the largest debt to the blues as evidenced by the hundreds, maybe even thousands, of bands who have merged those two sounds.  There are two common camps in the blues-rock world.  There's Southern rock as popularized by The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker, etc.  There is also what I call the Stones rock approach to combining the blues and rock: The Black Crowes are a good reference point for this

Review: Hubert Sumlin - About Them Shoes

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Hubert Sumlin's most famous - and some might argue most significant contribution to the world of music and the blues is his guitar work for Howlin' Wolf in the '60s and '70s.  Wolf was one of the most successful, important, and influential bluesmen of what is considered the Chicago Blues sound.  The man's own voice, a sound that cannot be well described in any words I know, is the most memorable ingredient in Wolf's best songs with Sumlin's lead work coming in a close second.  Anyone spending much time listening to those great sides, most of which were cut for

Review: Otis Rush - Live At Wise Fools Pub

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I am a big believer in the idea of putting your money where your mouth is.  I wrote a few months back about giving up my free copy of Guster's Ganging Up On the Sun, an album I declared to be the best of 2006, and went out and bought a copy of my own.  This entire series of reviews of albums and artists nominated for the 2007 Blues Music Awards can be traced back to one album:  Otis Rush - All Your Love I Miss Loving, Live at The Wise Fools Pub, Chicago (that album title is almost long enough for a
There are some familiar motifs and rhythms that any longtime blues listener can spot from a mile away.  Fats Domino might not be the first artist to make use of the bass line to "Blueberry Hill," but variations upon the theme have anchored countless blues cuts over the decades and the Willie Dixon-penned, Muddy Waters classic "Hoochie Coochie Man" has been ripped off and re-written more than that.  These are but two examples that have formed the basis of thousands of songs, extending back to an era when liberally borrowing from friend and competitor was not a fast track to

Review: Leigh Nash - Blue On Blue

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I was always a casual fan of Sixpence None the Richer.  I liked them well enough to be curious about a Leigh Nash solo record, but not enough to rush out and buy it the moment it arrived on store shelves.  I was strolling through a music store with a few bucks to burn, it was on sale, and I decided to roll the dice. I listened to it once and thought it was nice.  I was neither transformed nor turned off by Blue on Blue.   It was pleasant, but did not make much of an impression, so it went in
"Good evening. This is off our first record. Most people don't own it." And with that acerbic mumble, Nirvana began their performance on MTV's Unplugged, an event that would become a cultural watershed moment. The first record Kurt Cobain was referring to was called Bleach, released on Seattle-based SubPop records. Cobain was right. Most people didn't own it when it was first released and they couldn't be faulted. Nirvana was a local band making inroads through the underground. Locals, like I was at the time, knew of them. College kids and those plugged in to what was going on above, below, and

Review: Oasis - Dig Out Your Soul

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No one makes hypocrisy more fun than Oasis.  Let's take a look at the scorecard just for the recently released Dig Out Your Soul.  Noel Gallagher slammed Radiohead for their release/distribution method, but I'll be damned if Oasis hasn't copied nearly every page out of the Radiohead playbook. They weren't giving the album away for free, but you could stream it on their MySpace page.  They also released a super deluxe box set edition complete with album, bonus disc, and vinyl.  Oasis have even taken it a step further and thrown in a DVD, and that's what makes this fun.
Tour documentaries often leave me cold.  A tour documentary has to balance the needs of a filmmaker while serving the music, the artist, and the audience.  There are several questions that have to be considered to pull off such a delicate balancing act.  Is there a story? Does it need to be told? Can the director tell it? Will the band allow it?  Those are just the basic questions.  Even if they're all answered in the affirmative, there are still dozens of places to fuck it all up. Don't Believe The Truth was a sensational record, completing the Oasis comeback
I try to pretend like I am not an elitist prick where music is concerned. Don’t believe it. I am. And I have enjoyed the hell out of being in on one of music’s best-kept secrets: Joe Pernice. He has recorded under at least 231 monikers during his career. He has made incredible records under each of them. I have listened to all of them while the rest of the poor masses have been served teeming piles of Destiny’s Child and the godawful Rob Thomas. The sun shines on a dog’s ass somedays. And make no mistake… it is sunshine

Review: Glen Phillips - Winter Pays For Summer

Great songwriting mixed with sweet candy...
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It is inevitable. When bands break up and members go their separate ways comparisons will be made. This happened to John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr after the breakup of The Beatles. Mick Jagger saw his stature diminish and Keith Richards saw his increase after they each released solo albums. There are some fans that think none of these musical icons made music as interesting on their own as they did with their arguably more famous bands. It was tempting to read things into the breakup of Toad the Wet Sprocket. Lead singer Glen Phillips embarked on

Review: Glen Phillips - Secrets Of The New Explorers

Glen Phillips throws out his own rulebook...
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I've got a very serious cynical streak that runs through me and that mindset has turned words like "diversity" into code for some of the sillier sides of political correctness. In the past few days I've realized that's not entirely good because diversity can be a powerful tool for perspective, something society, our culture, and I desperately need. If you get your news exclusively or primarily from some sources, you get the false sense that musicians lead charmed lives that revolve around big houses, fast cars, faster women, and good drugs. If you turn to other sources, you'll be led

Review: Janiva Magness - Do I Move You?

No, not really...
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The name of Janiva Magness' Album of the Year nominee is Do I Move You?  The answer?  Not really.  Janiva Magness has a terrific voice that burns with passion.  It's a voice that rarely falters; unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the material and the arrangements.  In some instances, the material is just flat bad and no amount of vocal prowess or emotional force can save it.  In other instances, the material is solid but the arrangement pulls the song back.  It's a shame.  The album opens with “I'm Just a Prisoner (Of Your Good Love).”  The title of

Review: Paul McCartney - Memory Almost Full

A satisfying listen...
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Memory Almost Full, the title of Paul McCartney's new album, is a good summation for the music presented on the record.  This is an album of compact, ornate sketches detailed with a full palette of standard and unusual instruments.  Most of the songs on MAF settle on a single pattern or idea and explore it quickly; only two of the 13 tracks extend beyond the four-minute mark.  Where his previous album, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard had a grander, more sweeping feel to it, MAF has a comparatively simpler and sunnier feel. The most interesting thing about the album's

Review: Paul McCarntey - Chaos And Creation In The Backyard

McCartney makes a game changer...
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I may be giving Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich too much credit but the presence of only one annoying, cheeky song on a McCartney solo record is nothing short of amazing. The word here is lean. There are no futile attempts at grand statement ("Freedom"). He resists the temptation to show us all how hard he is with silly bravado or posturing. Even the silly love songs are mostly absent. The album opens with "Fine Line" which also happens to be the song from his Grammy performance that cost me 10 dollars. I called the song pedestrian based on that performance.

Review: Pat Metheny - Orchestrion

It's been a very long time since I've been surprised and thrilled by a piece of music...
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Because I can. Sometimes the only reason to do something is to prove that we can. I'm not a scientist or a philosopher, but I believe it is hardwired into our humanity to push every limit just as far as it will go and then to push it some more. These voyages have taken us to all manner of unexpected places, bringing miraculous good to the masses and pushing us to the brink of our own destruction. Sometimes these voyages took us no further than the distance between where the voyage began and where it ended, the journey being more

Review: Nick Moss & The Flip Tops - Live At Chan's Vol. 2

A rare sequel that equals and exceeds the original...
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There have been a lot of film and literary sequels and most of them suck. Sometimes it's because the idea or premise of the original was so completely terrible that a second or third serving can't help but suck out loud. Some sadist in Hollywood green lighted not one but two Duece Bigelow films. I wanted to make a joke about the Halloween franchise but I couldn't comprehend the litany of sequels, prequels, and re-makes to even attempt one. Sometimes that's because there can be too much of a good thing. The Godfather was great. The Godfather II was great

Review: Nick Moss & The Flip Tops - Live At Chan's

Powerhouse live set from one of Chicago's best...
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Before introducing Nick Moss & The Flip Tops, the crowd at Chan's is asked if they are ready for some Chicago blues. It takes only a few bars of the improvised "Eggroll Stroll" to transport this Rhode Island club halfway across country and back in time 50 years. A recording and performance like this are reminders the blues is not meant to be played in 70,000 seat stadiums or corporate arenas, but in smoke-filled clubs (while they still exist) where the band leader can still make eye contact with the front row of tables. The lineup this night features

Review: Nick Moss & The Flip Tops - Play It 'Til Tomorrow

"Play this motherfucker 'til tomorrow..."
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Digesting double albums can be daunting, and most would be better off as singles, but Nick Moss makes the task easier by not making a double album so much as packaging two single albums together in the form of Play It 'Til Tomorrow. Taken one at a time, both discs are a pleasure to listen to. The first features the familiar electric Chicago blues he has explored on his previous albums while the second is acoustic, showing a side of his playing rarely before heard.  The electric disc is the stronger of the two. The material is better and

Review: Mudcrutch - Mudcrutch

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It makes perfect sense that now would be the time Tom Petty would get the idea to reunite Mudcrutch. The path to this point is easy enough to trace, beginning with his 2006 solo album Highway Companion, a record filled with songs about the passing of time. Characters drift from place to place taking stock of their lives, in some cases looking forward but mostly looking back. After releasing the record, he and his Heartbreakers embarked on a 30th anniversary tour. Around this same time, the work of Petty's other band was put back in print for the first time

Review: Mudhoney - Superfuzz Big Muff (20th Anniversary Edition)

Expanding a minimalist classic...
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Wow, is this bringing back... memories? No, it's something more than that. It's bigger than a handful of memories. This is a fuckin' time capsule inside a time machine. I can feel my hair getting bigger. I can feel the concrete floors beneath heavy boots. I can smell the sweaty flannel and it's just as scratchy as I remember. I can taste the flat, cheap beer in sweating plastic cups. My family moved to Washington state in 1988 and we moved to Alabama in '91. I lived in the Seattle area when what would become known as "grunge" belonged only

Review: Irma Thomas - After The Rain

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There are a lot of people who associate U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind with 9/11.  The anthems, the themes, and some of the lyrics seem to speak perfectly to the aftermath of that terrible day in our nation's history.  That connection is further cemented by the way they rose to the occasion.  No American band on the scene was capable of the galvanizing performance U2 gave at the Super Bowl that followed a few months later.  When America needed a band and a soundtrack for a moment of grief and healing, it borrowed U2. In that same way,
The Traveling Wilburys is such a preposterously huge idea that it would have to be real because no one would ever really imagine it.  Think about it just for a second: a Beatle, Dylan, Orbison, and Petty? That's four guys in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for work they did on their own, and I've not yet mentioned the very talented Jeff Lynne.  What's next?  A band featuring Hendrix, Clapton, Peart, and McCartney? That quartet would never assemble, even if Hendrix weren't dead- although that certainly diminishes the plausibility of it all.  Somehow, The Traveling Wilburys did and

Review: Tuatara - East Of The Sun

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I was skeptical when I learned Tuatara's new record was going to feature vocals.  I was more than skeptical, I was unhappy.  I had a rigid sense of what a Tuatara record should be.  I knew without having to check the credits in the liner notes that Peter Buck played anything except for electric guitar and Barrett Martin played 15 instruments with unpronounceable names and exotic sounds in addition to some work behind the standard rock drum kit.  That is the Tuatara formula, and it gave birth to four fabulous, unique records. I had no doubt this new music could

Review: Tuatara - The Here & The Gone

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There's something special about an album that takes a listener on a journey to a place they've never been before. Every album can be a journey if the listener is open to it, but not every album really takes us somewhere. There's something special about going along for the ride when we realize the music is going to carry us to a place we've never been. Pop music can be great and there's a place for it, but it just can't compare to the lifting that comes from feeling your mind transported by the music. Tuatara's music not only transports

Review: The Twisters - After The Storm

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The Twisters have a tragic connection with Metallica.  A semi-truck struck the vehicles transporting the band to Prince George, critically injuring drummer Matt Pease and killing bass player James Taylor.  Taylor is survived by his wife and one-year old daughter.  No one would have blamed the band for calling it quits, and they considered it.  In the end, they decided to forge ahead and After the Storm is the fruit of that perseverance.   The album opens with "I'm Your Man," a hip re-write of Diana Ross & The Supremes' "The Way You Do The Thing You Do." The first

Review: Various Artists - Chicago Blues - A Living History

Chicago takes on Chicago...
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If I have this right, the premise of Chicago Blues – A Living History was to round up a slew of Chicago blues veterans and have them record their own versions of Chicago blues classics.  That’s so crazy it just might work, right? While the idea lacks daring, it's not without risk. Used CD stores and cutout bins are littered with tribute albums featuring major talents recording major works and all too often the results prove underwhelming. It’s like all the alleged supergroups in rock history; somewhere the math gets in the way and the whole ends up being less
I often wonder why I didn't start my journey to the heart of the blues sooner than I did.  The more I listen to the idiom's greatest champions and practitioners, the more I despair at how many days of my life were wasted without these sounds, songs, and artists in my vocabulary. Most of the time, these lamentations are silly expressions of my incurable case of fanboy-itis but there are times it seems a valid question for consideration and I've even come up with a few possible explanations.  One that makes the most sense to me is that I just

Review: Soundtrack - I'm Not There

Dylan gets covered on his way to the movies...
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I guess I've bought enough compilations, covers albums, soundtracks, and tribute albums to realize the roster of talents is usually more interesting and inspired than the results. I admit I was curious when I saw the list of artists covering Dylan songs for the soundtrack of the "biopic" I'm Not There and that's usually enough to get me to buy. When it's not, a cameo or contribution by Mark Lanegan almost certainly is yet somehow I resisted the urge until now. I've been a slow learner, but having been burned enough times made me reluctant to investigate this compilation/soundtrack. Everyone

Review: Joe Louis Walker - Between A Rock & The Blues

One of the best blues records of 2010...
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The most obvious reason to offer up any kind of award is to recognize outstanding achievement. A byproduct of that recognition is pointing listeners in the direction of great music they might otherwise miss. Joe Louis Walker is no newcomer to the blues circuit yet I had never heard of him until I saw he was nominated for five Blues Music Awards including Album of the Year and Contemporary Blues Album of The Year for his Between A Rock And The Blues CD, which also features a song nominated for Song of The Year. That Song of The Year nominee

Review: Watermelon Slim & The Workers - The Wheel Man

Watermelon Slim has made a fabulous record that demands serious consideration in any discussion about the best blues records of this year.
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I knew I had one of the winning releases of 2007 within the first five minutes of hearing this album.  The title track and the beginning of "I've Got News" spill such an abundance of blues chops and enthusiasm it seems inconceivable Slim & The Workers could run out of either before the album's end.  Chops and feeling are arguably the two most important ingredients in great blues, and enthusiasm and passion burst from this record. That enthusiasm is contagious.  I started writing previews of the record and e-mailing my contact and other blues-loving friends, telling them how great The Wheel

Review: Watermelon Slim & The Workers - Watermelon Slim & The Workers

He's worn many hats throughout his life and those stories are now songs...
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Watermelon Slim (aka Bill Homans) has one of the best biographies of any artist of any era, and you get a taste of that life story on his self-titled release for NorthernBlues. The album opens with “Hard Times” and if that isn't a quintessential blues title, I don't know what is.  The blues has come a long way when you hear lines like “I'm too frustrated to see my psychiatrist.”  Slim's lyrics may reflect a degree of modernity, but his marvelous slide work would make the early masters proud. Speaking of traditional, the acoustic slide work on “Folding Dollar

Review: Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Johnny Winters - Breakin' It Up, Breakin' It Down

It's not Waters at his best yet it reinforces just what a towering figure he is in the history of the blues and popular music.
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Breakin' it Up, Breakin' it Down was approximately one foot and a few days away from being lost forever. Seriously...  how does that stuff happen? Several soot-covered boxes of recording tape – many labeled with Muddy Waters' name – were nearly thrown away after being more or less abandoned by the now-defunct Blue Sky label.  Fortunately, not only were these boxes saved but the music contained therein is finding its way into the hands of blues lovers the world over. The first gold mined from those boxes came in the form of the deluxe edition of Muddy “Mississippi” Waters Live. 

Review: Wilco - Sky Blue Sky

Wilco makes 'That '70s Record!'
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In the final installment of Stephen King's serial novel The Green Mile, King remarks that he's not likely to write that way again because it gave his critics six opportunities to kick his ass.  Wilco might feel the same way about Sky Blue Sky.  In a move that seems to ignore the paranoia of the whole file sharing/internet piracy age, the entire album was streamed on the band's web site weeks prior to its release.  Since radio all but refuses to play anything interesting, this gave people a chance to preview the album.  It also gave fans, bloggers, and critics

Review: Works Progress Administration - WPA

A new kind of supergroup...
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Works Progress Administration is a supergroup of another sort.  When we think most supergroups, we think of power names from power bands.  With WPA, we get a group of veteran sidemen (and woman) of diverse musical backgrounds who came together in an organic way with a simple purpose: to make music.  It sounds obvious and naive, but that's what this collective is.  Former Toad The Wet Sprocket lead singer Glen Phillips, Luke Bulla, and Sean Watkins of the presently on hiatus Nickel Creek form the core of the band.  They are joined on record and often on tour by Watkins'
One of the things I love about the blues is the tradition of the music. Some genres place a premium on innovation and progression and that's great, but one of the unintended consequences of that emphasis is that a lot of great, veteran artists get pushed out of the way. Pop music is probably more guilty of this than any other genre. There's such an intense drive on the part of the industry and listeners to find that next big thing that some great artists are discarded and forgotten about, often long before they've run out of ideas or things

Review: Louisiana Red & Little Victor - Back To The Blue Bayou

The 77-year old Louisiana Red is only getting better...
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Louisiana Red (born Iverson Minter) had a busy year.  The 77-year old bluesman recorded two albums, both in contention for some serious hardware at the 2010 Blues Music Awards. He teamed with Little Victor and a host of other top musicians for Back To The Black Bayou, an album nominated for Album Of The Year.   Little Victor rounded up some crack musicians and booked time in a studio designed to take everything we've learned about capturing sound in recent years and ignoring most of it for this project.  The facility they used in Norway includes the '60s Auditronics mixing
Who are the “Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen?”  Who would have the audacity to gloss themselves with that title, considering how many great bluesmen trace their roots back to the Mississippi Delta? Pinetop Perkins, Robert Lockwood Jr., Honeyboy Edwards, and Henry James Townsend may or may not have had anything to do with choosing that title but they sure as hell spent a lifetime earning it.  Historical album? That might be the understatement of the millennium! Pinetop Perkins is a national treasure, most famous for the years he spent on the road touring with Muddy Waters.  The first
Former Screaming Trees frontman-turned solo artist Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell formerly of Belle & Sebastian have united for an album and have released Ramblin' Man EP as a preview of what's to come. The title track, "Ramblin' Man" is the first song on the EP. It is a cover of a Hank Williams song. Isobel Campbell said it is "quite nasty" and that it could work well in a Quentin Tarantino movie. She is right. The reference to a Tarantino film is one I made when I reviewed Lanegan's solo album of covers, the brilliant 1999 release I'll Take Care of

Review: BB King - One Kind Favor

The last King of The Blues has made one of the finest records of his distinguished reign...
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Innovation can be overrated. Change for change's sake is just that, neither inherently good nor bad. You have to read the fine print. Don't ever bet things can't get worse, that there's nowhere further to fall. That's a sucker's bet, one that many have lost. There's a lot to be said for knowing who you are, what you do, and where you live. I've always preferred the traditional to the modern when it comes to the blues. I know there are some who argue for the genre to flourish it must grow. Doesn't it get stale if you never venture

Review: Peter Karp - Shadows & Cracks

Peter Karp is one of America's best songwriters...
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Some music makes you feel good.  Some makes you feel bad, which in turn makes you feel good or at least provides company to your misery.  It can make you feel cool, sexy, bad, or hardcore, but it seldom makes you feel smarter.  Peter Karp's Shadows and Cracks is one of those rare records. The album is rare on numerous levels.  It's distributed by Blind Pig – an independent blues label – but this is no hard-boiled blues record.  Karp doesn't possess incendiary guitar chops like Buddy Guy or Stevie Ray Vaughan and his voice doesn't pierce skin or bone,

Review: Norah Jones - Not Too Late

TheVoice stretches out on her third outing...
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Pop music is dismissed today because it is more commodity than art.  Today's pop music is like facial tissue: we don't think about the brand, call it all Kleenex, and throw it away.  Of course the music is disposable! It's only there to provide a beat for the strip show.  I wonder which is more difficult: staying in tune while wearing clothes or staying in tune while simultaneously taking them off.  It must be the latter, as many elaborate stage performances use canned vocals.  In a world where Fergie can pass for a pop star rather than an unfortunate-looking stripper,

Review: John Lee Hooker - Hooker (Box Set)

An impressive retrospective of one a blues icon...
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John Lee Hooker's life is in many ways the quintessential bluesman's life.  He migrated north from Clarksdale, Mississippi with dreams of making a career playing the blues.  He outlived most of the record labels he recorded for and recorded under more aliases than Prince. Five years after his death, a Herculean effort has been undertaken to make sense of his unruly and expansive discography in the form of a 4-CD box set, Hooker.  The idea that four discs could contain every vital side the man cut in his 50-year career is absurd.  What Hooker tries to do is bring together as many

Review: Richard Hawley - Lady's Bridge

The problem with the record business isn't the records, it's the business...
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I was in college when Tony Bennett played MTV's Unplugged series and remember someone (the insufferable Kurt Loder, perhaps) remarking that Bennett was enjoying a renaissance because college kids were discovering how fuckin' cool Tony Bennett was. I remember seeing highlights of the Unplugged show and thinking it was pretty cool; there was something about Bennett's croon and swing but I still thought Loder (or whoever it was… I honestly can't remember) was full of shit. What was really going on was guys my age found another weapon in the arsenal to get women in bed. Old was the new

Review: David Gilmour - Live in Gdansk

Former Pink Floyd great gives a powerful performance of old and new songs...
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It has long amused me that so much acrimony, money, and energy was devoted to resolving the rights to the name Pink Floyd, only for David Gilmour, Richard Wright, and Nick Mason to do so very little with it once they "won" it. Since settling their dispute with Roger Waters, the Floyd made exactly two studio records under the Pink Floyd name (and released two live albums from the respective tours). With the release of On An Island in 2006 – some 22 years since his last solo album About Face – Gilmour may have unwittingly proved Waters' point. There

Review: Garbage - Bleed Like Me

They may never equal the brilliance of their debut but they never completely disappoint...
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There have only been a handful of great debut albums (Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? comes to mind).  It is not the natural order of things for an artist to create a masterpiece on the first attempt and it rarely happens.  The '90s saw a pair of landmark debut albums.  Oasis’Definitely Maybe and Garbage’s self-titled album are two of the best records of the decade and two of the better debuts (think how much more successful commercially and musically Garbage could have been had “#1 Crush” been included). What is a band to do when they get it right the first time? Bleed Like

Review: Garbage - Absolute Garbage

One of the breakout bands of the '90s looks back...
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"Greatest Hits" albums are generally pretty easy to review because there are only two questions that count: "what's here" and "what's missing?"  A greatest hits compilation succeeds or fails on that ratio alone.  So, how does Absolute Garbage score? This is the band's first hits package, which is worth a couple points because there are some artists out there with more compilations than actual albums.  It's (mostly) chronologically ordered, depending on how technical you want to get.  The new song, "Tell Me Where it Hurts" is placed in the 17th slot while a remix of "It's All Over But The

Review: John Fogerty - Revival

One of the leading spokesmen of the Vietnam generation struggles to keep his aim true in the era of Bush and Iraq...
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If you think you can't go home again just listen to Revival, the first album of new John Fogerty material since returning to the label that made and nearly broke him.  The sounds, songs, and themes of Revival are classic John Fogerty, which is (mostly) good news. "Don't You Wish It Was True" opens the album with him dreaming of looking into heaven and seeing light, beauty, and harmony.  It is another rewrite of John Lennon's "Imagine" but a tuneful one.  The music shuffles and swings, evoking pictures of porch swings in front of grand, Southern houses and kids playing
I don't know how many reviews I've written in which I've ripped a band for repeating themselves but I've done it more than once.  Artists are supposed to grow and develop, right? They're supposed to spread their wings and progress, expand, and refine. I know this to be true. I've insisted upon it. I've praised bands who do it well and exalted them above all others. One Cell in the Sea, AFF's 2007 debut, isn't perfect from a critical standpoint but it struck a perfect chord with me. I bonded with that record. I didn't know it at the time

Review: Ronnie Earl - Living In The Light

Ronnie Earl is a special artist and Living In The Light is another compelling chapter in a career filled with them.
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Ronnie Earl's guitar prowess and mastery of the blues idiom are not up for debate.  They are worthy of note and celebration, but there's not a whole lot of reason to devote endless paragraphs stating the obvious.  His skill is reason enough to plunk down the money for Living In The Light, but there is so much more to this record than some great scales and solos. Living shines its brilliant light on the many dark places life has taken its creator.  The 12 songs on this album reveal a man who has been broken and put back together.  These songs of

Review: The Eagles - Long Road Out Of Eden

28 years between albums and this is what they came up with...
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I have a nebulous list of Undeniable Musical Truths running around in my head.  One of these days I'm going to have to sit down and write them all out.  I mention this list of truths because The Eagles have decided to take on one of them on their first new album in 28 years. Which truism have the Eagles dared to do battle against?  Most double albums would have been better off as a single album.  So, are The Eagles exceptions to the rule or victims of it?  Let's take a closer look. The best thing about this record

Review: Dan Wilson - Free Life

One of the best records no one has ever heard...
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Welcome to this week's Big Tent Revival.  I'm here to evangelize your ass, preaching the word and performing miracles on behalf of another record you're not listening to.  Actually, I'm repeating myself.  I've been banging away about this album and fat lot of good it seems to be doing.  Some people would stop banging their head against the wall, if only to avoid the dirty looks.  Add "wall banging" to the long list of things I'll stop doing the moment I start caring what other people think.  Besides, this isn't about me.  This is about you and a record you

Review: Shawn Colvin - Live

A solo acoustic retrospective of Colvin's career...
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It's a bit of a misnomer to call this album Live.   I'm not suggesting listeners sue anyone for truth in advertising.  This is, in fact, a live album and if Shawn Colvin wants to follow in the footsteps of 100,000 other artists and name her live album Live, she's perfectly free to do that but it feels like there is something missing in the title that doesn't quite prepare listeners for the journey they're about to take.  Live is at once something more and something less than a live album. Colvin performs songs from across her career and even mixes

Review: Coldplay - Viva La Vida

Coldplay bring Eno onboard and channel their inner U2 resulting in a magnificent record...
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I've joked with friends and co-workers that Viva La Vida is either the first U2 record we're going to hear this year or the best U2 record we're going to hear this year.  Many critics thought Coldplay had Radiohead ambitions when they first hit the scene, but it's been increasingly clear over the past several years that Chris Martin has Bono envy.  Coldplay took another step towards emulating their heroes by hiring the legendary Brian Eno – U2 co-conspirator being only one of his many brilliant accomplishments — to produce their new album.   I groaned when I first learned of

Review: Joe Satriani - Professor Satchafunkilus And The Musterion Of Rock

Satch runs low on fuel after a string of strong releases...
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One of the amazing untold stories in music these past 20 years is how an artist like Joe Satriani has maintained an audience for this long.  Think about this for a moment.  This is a guitarist/composer whose indie label got bought out by a major and he has been with that label since his first album, Not Of This Earth, in 1986.  This is a guy who, fairly or unfairly, got lumped in with the hair metal crowd of the '80s and has managed to not only continue to work but has continued to work at a major label. This

Review: Joe Satriani - Super Colossal

The enigmatic Satriani continues to amaze...
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Joe Satriani is misunderstood.  That is an amazing thing for an artist like Joe Satriani.  How can artist be around for two decades and still be misunderstood? How can an instrumental artist be misunderstood? It is tough (some would say impossible) to read incorrect meaning into words that don't exist, although Frank Zappa recorded an instrumental album that received a "Parental Advisory" sticker so you do the math.  What makes Satriani a misunderstood artist is many music critics dismiss him as either a "guitar god" or "heavy metal."  That is fucking lazy.  It is also not true.  Well, it is

Review: Joe Satriani - Surfing With The Alien (20th Annviersary Edition)

This is the definitive version of a classic album...
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Joe Satriani's groundbreaking Surfing With the Alien turns 20 and is being re-released in an expanded format to mark the occasion. What's groundbreaking about Surfing With the Alien? Think of it in Christopher Columbus terms.  Columbus didn't discover America, if by discover you mean actually arriving here first.  He did, however, get here and the arrival started a chain of events that had a significant historical impact.  Satriani didn't discover a genre nor did he change the course of human history.  He did expand the language of rock music's most important instrument – the electric guitar – and took it

Review: Mark Knopfler - Get Lucky

A master craftsman produces his best effort yet...
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We have a surprise contender entering the Album of the Year competition for 2009. Welcome again to the Big Boy Table™, Mark Knopfler. I don't know why it should be a surprise – least of all to me – but "surprise" is just one of many superlatives to heap upon Get Lucky. What makes it such a surprise? It's not like he drastically altered his sound, continuing to mine familiar sonic ground with folk, Celtic, blues, country, and Americana elements quilted together to form the recognizable tapestry of a Mark Knopfler record. What makes this stand out is the way

Review: Gerry Hundt - Since Way Back

Chicago blues, mandolin style!
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"Mandolin blues? Now I've heard it all!" That was my initial reaction when I heard about Gerry Hundt's debut solo album for Blue Bella Records, Since Way Back.  The thing is, I hadn't heard it all.  I had never the blues played on the mandolin.  Hundt will be the first to tell you he's not the first guy to try it, but it was new to me and I was impossibly intrigued by the very idea of it all.  I don't know the history of mandolin blues, but I'd heard just enough Chicago blues to know it wasn't the most

Review: Johnny Young - The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions

A great re-issue of a blues treasure...
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I never in a million years would have thought a mandolin could or would be part of a Chicago blues record until Gerry Hundt released Since Way Back. That record was a real eye-opener for me. First, it was a fuckin' fantastic record in its own rite. I still listen to it and no one I've loaned it to has said anything but great things about it. In addition to being a great record, I learned a little bit about the tradition of mandolin in blues. It's not the most commonly used instrument but it's not unheard of, either. Nick

Review: Johnny Cash - American V - A Hundred Highways

A final act of defiance from an immortal...
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There is not much point in trying to conjure up words not already written about Johnny Cash.  To say Johnny Cash is unique is true but is inadequate because the word "unique," like so much of our language, has been robbed of its power by overuse and incorrect usage (I will save the language rant for another day).  Unique.  Icon.  Mystique.  Legend.  If you were to describe Johnny Cash you might begin with those four words but you would not be the first to do so.  All the good words to describe the man and his recorded legacy have been used. And what

Review: Dave Carter - Commitment And Change

A beautiful record that helped me tear down the wall...
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I understand less than a teaspoon of the total jazz output, and that has succeeded in keeping me well beyond an arm's length of even trying. I don't know why I treat jazz and classical differently, like they're not still music but I do. There's something about jazz and my perception of its culture that keeps me from trying to get my ears around it, and consequently I've lost out on some great music. One of the great advantages of doing this thing I do is that sometimes music I wouldn't go looking for finds me. Such is the case

Review: Eddie C. Campbell - Tear This World Up

An idiosyncratic man makes a vintage West Side blues record...
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Eddie C. Campbell waited a long time to begin his solo career. The 70-year old native of Mississippi started playing guitar when he was young and spent years banging around Chicago playing with the A-list talent like Howlin' Wolf, Magic Sam, Koko Taylor and a host of others. He didn't record his first solo album until 1977, not long after Taylor brought him to the attention of Willie Dixon. When I wrote about Tinsley Ellis I talked about the nebulous point where blues become rock. It's something Eddie C. Campbell has thought about as well. On the back of

Review: Jimmy Burns - Live At B.L.U.E.S.

Good things came to a man who waited...
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The genesis of his career is like countless others; stop me if you've heard this one before.  Burns began playing guitar in church, and moved from Mississippi to Chicago.  He knocked around the Chicago scene throughout the '50s and '60s finding limited success.  He recorded sporadically for small, independent labels and touring regionally.  With his music career stagnating and a family to support, Burns' story deviates from the well-worn path of so many of the legends who came before and after when he chose family over music.  He realized he was going to have a difficult time supporting a family

Review: Eden Brent - Mississippi Number One

A triumph from beginning to end...
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One doesn't need to unwrap Mississippi Number One, Eden Brent's first record for Yellow Dog Records, to know this is an album filled with vintage sounds. Talk of opening a jewel case makes me feel vintage, too.  The cover art for M#1 reminds us there was a time when CDs were the young whippersnappers and vinyl was the established veteran medium of music buyers.  That the album artwork arrangement would feature a photo that looks yellowed with age suggests something about intent.  The opening sounds of opener "Mississippi Flatland Blues" provide evidence there has been no bait-and-switch.  The photo may

Review: The Black Keys - Attack & Release

The Black Keys can no longer be denied with their transformation on this album...
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I love when bands take chances. It's good for a band to abandon the comfortable ruts of the normal working environment and see what else might be out there. I don't always love the results of the experiments (U2's Pop comes quickly to mind) but I applaud anyone for taking a chance. If you don't occasionally fall flat on your face, you haven't stretched at all. The problem with experimentation is that artists we love want to/have to do it on our dime. They want to try something new and they want us to pay for it. That's fine and

Review: The Black Crowes - Warpaint

The Black Crowes are a vintage band for modern times...
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You've really got to hand it to The Black Crowes.  It takes balls to add a slide player like Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars) to the lineup when you've been chided your entire career for being a Rolling Stones/Faces cover band.  The Robinson brothers have never been afraid to shoot the bird at their critics – or each other, for that matter – and Warpaint is their latest middle finger to the world.  These guys never run out of hands, do they?  The album opens with the fantastic "Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution," a song with the kind of catchy

Review: The Bittersweets - Goodnight San Francisco

A smart, rewarding record...
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I know it makes me sound like an old codger when I bitch about what makes waves at radio these days and what the kids are listening to.  I swore I'd never become one of those people but I have and I'm learning to embrace it.  I spent this past weekend helping my nieces download songs from iTunes for their new iPod shuffles and experienced repeated and continued souldeath as they told me which songs they wanted to buy. Songs that tell stories and transport listeners are becoming a rarity on radio as the hip hop sound becomes more and

Review: Barrett Martin - Zenga

This journey is the width of a circle...
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The Painted Desert is one of the most important records for me of this decade, as it opened my ears to sounds and textures in music that had previously eluded me.  The Painted Desert made the impenetrable world of jazz seem like something I could reach and experience for myself.  Desert was followed by the equally wonderful Earthspeaker.  As with all the great artists whose music inspires and entertains me, I found myself growing more and more impatient to hear more.  I hope my neighbors weren't watching as I ran/speedwalked/skipped from the mailbox to my apartment the day Zenga arrived. 

Review: Barrett Martin - Earthspeaker

A continuation of the exotic journey Martin began on his solo debut...
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I tell people I don't like surprises but I'm not sure that's entirely true.  Journeys and destinations are inextricably linked.  It’s been my experience I appreciate journeys that lead to pleasurable or rewarding destinations.  Voyages to pain, misery, or disappointment?  Yeah, I'd just as soon pass on all that.  Do I like surprises?  It depends on what you have in mind. I was shocked by Barrett Martin's solo debut The Painted Desert and more shocked that surprise turned out to be the kind I liked.  I don't buy many jazz or World music CDs on purpose.  Those are musical galaxies

Review: Barrett Martin - The Painted Desert

A beautiful tapestry of stories and sounds...
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Barrett Martin has been fortunate in his friends throughout his musical career.  The Olympia, Washington native has played behind two of the most distinguished voices of the 90s alternative generation.  His work with Mark Lanegan and Screaming Trees came during the band’s commercial peak.  Internal squabbles, personal differences, and other stresses brought Trees to a halt.  He drummed (as well as contributing other instruments) on the Mad Season album with Layne Staley and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready (as well as Lanegan and Baker Saunders).  McCready had hoped to make Mad Season on ongoing project.  Sadly that was not to be. 

Review: Big High - Big High

Barrett Martin returns to rock...
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It would be hard to find a more extreme shift from the rainy Emerald City in the Pacific Northwest to the desert southwest but that's where Barrett Martin found himself when he traded Seattle for New Mexico shortly after the turn of the century when Screaming Trees bid each other and their fans farewell. The same can be said for the musical journey on which Martin embarked upon leaving the city. He traveled to the far corners of the world in pursuit of academic and spiritual learnings and turned the attention of his music from the heavy rock sounds and

Review: Barrelhouse Buck McFarland - Alton Blues

Delmark Records saved the music...
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I love learning history.  I particularly love it when history and music collide.  I get all Indiana Jones and reach for my debit card as I go racing through the Amazon jungle in search of lost treasure.  I'm pretty hardcore that way.  Indy deals with snakes in a motherfucking temple.  I deal with more choices than my Visa will allow and impatience as I wait for my treasure to arrive. My study of the blues has been every bit a history lesson, and I have been rewarded with real some good booty.  Each discovery opened a new web of possible roads to

Review: Barenaked Ladies - Barenaked Ladies Are Me

"You can come back but you can't come back all the way..."
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It is tempting to say our Barenaked Ladies are growing up before our very ears, but is it true?  Maybe.  The clown princes of pranks and shticks always had a serious side to them.  Since 1992's Gordon, fans and critics have had to wrestle with the question of whether BNL are jokesters with a serious side or serious musicians with a good sense of humor.  They have probably been both throughout their career.  With Everything to Everyone and now Barenaked Ladies are Me it is becoming increasingly apparent they would like to be thought of as the latter, not the former. Few bands

Review: Babyshambles - Shotter's Nation

Did any of us believe Pete Doherty would stay out of jail and stay alive long enough to make this record?
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How long has it been since we've been able to have a musical discussion about Pete Doherty in the present tense? I'm shocked and pleased by this development.  I guess I'm one of those largely tabloid-averse folks who finds Pete's music more interesting than his drug habits.  I chose the word "interesting" because listening to Pete can be glorious and brilliant. It can also be a chore because that indulgent streak that runs through the man can also manifest itself in his music. Shotter's Nation reminds me a lot of Goldilox, The Three Bears and the table of porridge

Review: Arctic Monkeys - Favourite Worst Nightmare

Loud, fast, and fun...
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I don't know why I'm admitting this — I hate admitting things like this — but I started listening to Arctic Monkeys because of the hype.  I have a soft spot for British music and when I learned this band was setting records and taking the British music scene by storm I had to know what the fuss was all about. Whatever You Say I Am, That's What I'm Not didn't get released in the US until some months after it had been a certified smash in the UK, but I was there the day it hit our shores.  I

Review: AC/DC - Black Ice

They've still got blood if you want it...
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Let's go ahead and get this out of the way at the top: yes, it all sounds the same. Are you happy? Now that we've dispensed with that nonsense, let's talk about Black Ice, the first new album from AC/DC in 8 years. It's unspeakably funny to read critics trash an AC/DC record – without a hint of irony – for being more of the same. They've been writing the same review of every AC/DC record for a quarter century and the band is the problem? Of course Black Ice sounds like an AC/DC record. It's supposed to! Do you

Review: Buddy Guy - Skin Deep

Some old dogs don't need new tricks...
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Buddy Guy has been around so long we seem to need constant reminders of not only how great he was but how great he still is. He delivered his comeback album Damn Right I've Got The Blues in 1991 and it was powerful enough to overcome more than a decade in relative obscurity.  He joined the Rolling Stones on a ferocious cover of Muddy Waters' "Champagne & Reefer" last year and took them back to school! Listen to the soundtrack of Martin Scorsese's Shine a Light or watch the film and you'll witness the timeless force of nature that is

Review: Buddy Guy - Bring 'Em In

Buddy Guy is still getting it done...
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Every album Buddy Guy has released for Silvertone records (beginning with Damn Right I've Got the Blues) has had some sort of angle, shtick, or concept.  Guy has managed to record some memorable music despite these contrivances but this approach begs the question: What might Guy's albums sound like if people quit trying to reinvent him and if he quit allowing them to do it? What is the concept behind this album?  You might call it Supernatural II.  Hell, they even invited Carlos Santana but that is the lone similarity between Bring 'Em In and Santana's Grammy-winning blockbuster.  Clive Davis and Santana

Review: Alex Reidinger - The Pleasures of Hope

Warm Celtic sounds to brighten your day...
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I can't confess to spending most of my days preparing for the holidays listening to random Christmas carols and the like. Let's face it, I'm not much of a traditionalist, although I do love Christmas carols and will listen on Christmas Day. However, I try very hard to put myself in a more homey frame of mind as I sit down to wrap my gifts and craft the one or two cards I may send (MAY being the operative word anymore). This refusal to give in to traditional fare means I either go the rock 'n' roll, country, or blues

Review: Nick Moss - Privileged

Nick Moss enters his artistic prime with the dynamic, forceful Privileged.
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Nick Moss decided it was time for a little change with his eighth album Privileged.  The traditional Chicago blues sound of his previous efforts can still be heard but it is the jumping off point instead of the destination.  Muddy Waters famously named rock and roll the offspring of the blues in one of his songs and Moss has now traveled that same road. This isn't a pure rock and roll record but Moss and his bandmates have cranked the volume just a little louder and rock their blues just a little harder, drawing inspiration from great bands of

Review: Junior Wells & The Aces - Live in Boston 1966

Junior Wells commanding the stage, backed by some of the best rhythm men in Chicago blues history...
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I love pondering the competing, contradictory, complementary, and random elements found when the musical atom splits and all its elements are laid before you.  To borrow from Jagger and Richards, "It's the singer, not the song."  Or is it?  That's where the role of the performer and performance come into play.  Music, drama, and comedy were at one time by necessity live action activities.  That changed with the ability to capture sound and video but "live" hasn't disappeared and continues to be part of the equation, particularly in music.  How important is "performer" in the anatomy of an artist? It's

Review: Junior Wells - Live at Theresa's

Chicago blues legend captured at one of his favorite haunts...
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I am naïve enough to believe there was a time when music labels did not refer to albums as product or units; that there was a time when the music part of the music business triumphed over the business end of it. I certainly don't see many signs of it these days. Maybe my romantic notion never existed, but releases like Live at Theresa's 1975 fill me with hope. How many more treasures like this are sitting in a vault somewhere, waiting to be excavated? When the Mt. Rushmore of The Blues is carved one day, Junior Wells' mug won't

Review: Steve Miller Band - Bingo!

Pure blues it isn't, but it sure is fun...
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It will come as a surprise to casual fans that Steve Miller has a blues side.  His hit singles remain staples of classic rock radio and they still sound fantastic.  I love "Fly Like An Eagle," "Rockin' Me," and "The Joker."  I crack up singing along with "Take The Money And Run."  These are staples of FM radio but they don't bear any significant blues influence.  I groaned and winced when I learned Bingo!, the first studio album from SMB in more than a decade, was going to be a blues covers collection.  Sure, a young Steve Miller jammed with

Review: Buddy Guy - Living Proof

Still going strong at 74-years young...
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Buddy Guy is a blues immortal and a musical treasure loved the world over.  He's been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Blues Hall of Fame, and earlier this year received a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Blues Foundation at the 2010 Blues Music Awards.  Guy learned and helped shape many of the blues traditions that make the idiom the pillar of Western music that it is.  He learned them, shaped them, defied them, and sometimes follows them such as the tradition of bluesmen to continue on even when they could safely rest on their laurels.

Charlie Musselwhite & Buddy Guy Lead 32nd Blues Music Award Nominees

Hall of Famers Musselwhite and Guy earn five nominations apiece in the biggest night for the blues...
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The Blues Foundation purchased has selected its first permanent home in downtown Memphis earlier this week, just in time to announce the nominees for the 32nd Blues Music Awards. Artists and albums are nominated in 26 categories.  This year's nominees include 12 first-time nominees and they will be competing with a pair of legends as Blues Hall of Famers Buddy Guy and Charlie Musselwhite tied for the most nominations with five apiece.  BMA-winner Janiva Magness received four nods and Derek Trucks, Eden Brent, Joe Louis Walker, James Cotton, Nick Moss, Paul Oscher and The Mannish Boys pulled three nominations apiece. 

Review: Joanne Shaw Taylor - Diamonds In The Dirt

British blueswoman inches forward on her sophomore release...
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British-born Joanne Shaw Taylor combined intense guitar chops and a voice aged beyond her youth to impress critics and win fans on both sides of the Atlantic on her 2009 debut White Sugar and she now returns with the sophomore effort Diamonds In The Dirt. Sophomore records are notoriously difficult for artists extending all the way back to the beginning of recorded music.  We've all heard the cliché about a lifetime to write the first record and 18 months to write its successor.  Some artists have tripped up overthinking things and trying to evolve too much too soon while others