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The Sleep Eazys featuring Joe Bonamassa

The Sleep Eazys featuring Joe Bonamassa

Easy to Buy, Hard To Sell

J&R Adventures

One of the things I admire the most about Joe Bonamassa is his continuous ability to reinvent himself. With his latest project, The Sleep Eazys, Bonamassa pays homage to his good friend and one of his biggest influences, the late Danny Gatton. My time hanging out and jamming with Danny as a child shaped my playing and musical pathway more than just about anyone. He taught me that the world of music was stereo not mono like I had previously imagined. There was other music besides blues. Wow! What a revelation! I was 11 years old and I knew I needed to get to work. He was my conduit to Jazz, Rockabilly, real country music (remember when it was about something more than riding with girls in pickup trucks and binge drinking?), Django Reinhardt, and most of all a deeper understanding of what the guitar itself was capable of.

The self-produced, nine-song instrumental cover album had been lurking in the recesses of Bonamassa’s mind for some time, but it was only recently that he felt he was ready to accept the challenge. He also honors many of his favorite musicians as well and some of his choices may come as a surprise. These eclectic selections receive fresh Bonamaster makeovers and hopefully introduce a new generation to some timeless classics. Bonamassa is backed by members of his touring band including Michael Rhodes (bass), Anton Fig (drums), Reese Wynans (keys), Lee Thornburg (trumpet), Paulie Cerra (saxophone), and Jade MacRae/Juanita Tippins (backing vocals) plus multi-instrumentalist, John Jorgenson (guitar/saxophone) and Jimmy Hall (Wet Willie, Jeff Beck) on harmonica.

Opening the record with a jazz-infused, big band take on Gatton’s “Fun House,” the combination of Wynans’ wailing keys, Jorgenson’s ultra smooth sax solo and Bonamassa’s tasty licks are a winning combination. Gatton’s funkier original boasted a blues edge and a distinctive “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” (Dickey Betts/Allman Brothers Band) guitar riff, but Bonamassa doesn’t include that here.

Influenced by the Hank Garland version (as opposed to the better known Miles Davis gem) of “Move” (Denzil Best/Paul Walsh), the song features keys, guitar and drum solos as well as prominent vibraphone.

Link Wray’s surfer rock romper, “Ace of Spades” gets a slicker, more polished update than the stripped-down original with some silky slide from Bonamassa. Wynans proves yet again why he is a keys master. As a side note, Fig was Wray’s drummer in the ’80s.

“Ha So” from country guitarist Jimmy Bryant, a Django Reinhardt disciple, also gets a modern surfer spin as Jorgenson and Bonamassa each take a guitar solo, respectively.

One of the real highlights is “Hawaiian Eye” (Mack David/Jerry Livingston), a cheesy early ’60s TV theme song that Bonamassa spices up into a fast-paced, guitar-driven stunner with great closing horns.

This never happened to the other fellow – “Bond (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service),” John Barry’s sweeping instrumental that opens the 1969 James Bond film gets a modern makeover and as it progresses, it feels like it easily could fit into a Trans-Siberian Orchestra catalog. Jorgenson’s screaming guitar solo is brilliant.

Who doesn’t love a revved-up, rocked out instrumental interpretation of Tony Joe White’s “Polk Salad Annie,” especially when it includes blues harp from Jimmy Hall? Bonamassa reshapes the slower swamp rock original into a fast, fierce romper, peppered with horns, keys and backing notes from MacRae and Tippins.

Bonamassa has a true knack for sequencing. He rounds out the record with a one-two slow burner combo, “Blue Nocturne” (King Curtis) and “It Was A Very Good Year” (Ervin Drake). Both are simply stunning. While this album has an instrumental version of “It Was A Very Good Year” and the original was recorded by The Kingston Trio, it was Frank Sinatra who absolutely owned this song and clearly inspired Bonamassa. The Sinatra version also won two Grammys.

There’s nothing about this record that I don’t love. It’s more than just a bunch of covers. It’s a loving, respectful tribute to influential musicians who helped pave the way and shape the musical genius of Joe Bonamassa. It’s a joy from start to finish and it’s a record to play over and over again.

jbonamassa.com

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Music Reviews

Tony Joe White

Tony Joe White

Bad Mouthin’

Yep Roc

The description ‘Old Soul’ is a compliment to any songwriter. With Tony Joe White, it’s been a description for over 50 years. He’s survived and thrived for all that time. These days he’s generally seated during performances due to a back problem, but his talent is in no way diminished.

With Bad Mouthin’, Tony Joe White offers up a mix of classic covers and originals stripped to their essence. The result is a fine offering of songs – some going back to before he was a swamp-flavored force on the international scene.

The treatments are spare and, at times, almost primitive. The result is his first full-fledged blues release. The songs smoulder. They are delivered in his dusky baritone voice with a laid-back delivery that has become a trademark of his sound.

New or old, these classics from John Lee Hooker (“Boom Boom”), Lightnin’ Hopkins (“Awful Dreams”) and Jimmy Reed (“Big Boss Man”) that fit nicely alongside his newer originals – or even his best-known hits.

I highly recommend this release.

www.yeproc.com

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Music Reviews

Shinyribs

Shinyribs

I Got Your Medicine

Any day now they’re gonna proclaim Kevin Russell “Funkiest Texan of the Decade”, throw up a statue of him in a gaudy suit playing his uke and be done with it. Because from his work as the leader of oft-missed The Gourds and now with Shinyribs, Russell is a BBQ-eating Dali, a swingin’ ambassador of the good foot, and on I Got Your Medicine Shinyribs takes a trip down Louisiana way, and serves up his most winning record of his career.

Anyone familiar with The Gourds knows to expect whacked out observations of life and a certain devil may care insolence, but Russell and producer/guitarist Jimbo Mathus (Squirrel Nut Zippers, South Memphis String Band) have honed Russell’s attack while at the same time broadening his sound with the Tijuana Train Wreck Horns, to the point that you’d swear you just stepped out of a bar on NOLA’s Frenchman Street, and you ain’t near done partying. This is a New Orleans record thru and thru (despite being recorded in Houston), with Shinyribs paying homage to the master of New Orleans’ music, Allen Toussaint with a crackin’ rendition of his “A Certain Girl” and some deep soul with Toussaint McCall’s “Nothing Takes The Place Of You”. The 12 cuts here move and groove so naturally it’s really hard to sit still listening.

From the Tony Joe White-ish “Tub Gut Stomp & Red-Eyed Soul” to the raucous duet with Alice Spencer on “I Don’t Give A Shit”, this is a hoot of a record, with Russell’s sly way with words and his funky charisma smiling at cha. Testify brother Russell and Shinyribs, testify!

www.shinyribs.org

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Music Reviews

Ray Wylie Hubbard

Ray Wylie Hubbard

The Ruffian’s Misfortune

Bordello Records

Ray Wylie Hubbard has been a genuine Texas songwriting legend since his rowdy ditty “Up Against The Wall, Redneck Mother” became a hit for Jerry Jeff Walker in 1973, and since then he’s put out record after record of stellar tune craft, and has become one of the most distinctive and irrepressible artists around. From “Redneck Mother” to his classic “Snake Farm” to the The Grifter’s Hymnal from 2012, Hubbard’s songs- with his world-weary vocal style and snaky guitar parts have a way of embedding themselves in a listeners head, and his newest, The Ruffian’s Misfortune is more of the same.

Starting off with the apocalyptic “All Loose Things” – A songbird is singin’/A song by Kevin Welch/Thunder is rumblin’/like the Devil himself did belch – Hubbard sounds like a revival preacher testifying to a tent full of true believers. Next up is the bluesy “Hey Mama My Time Ain’t Long” sounding a bit like Tony Joe White, and Hubbard fingerpicks his Southern Jumbo next on “Too Young Ripe, Too Young Rotten” which is highlighted by the fiddle of Eleanor Whitmore.

Hubbard’s gear fetish is given full display on “Chick Singer Badass Rockin'”, a garage rock look at the femme fatales- rock and roll is flat-out lawless/And Joan Jett is a goddess – can’t dispute that, right? The album’s ten cuts give a prime example of Hubbard’s twisted talents as a songwriter, singer and with a stellar band, including his son Lucas on guitar, some badass rockin’ himself. Ray Wylie Hubbard has got some serious mojo. I mean serious.

Raywylie.com

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Music Reviews

Will Kimbrough

Will Kimbrough

Sideshow Love

Daphne Records

The incredibly busy Kimbrough — of Willie Sugarcapps and Daddy fame — found time to create his sixth solo album, and it’s a doozy. Some songwriters pen songs, Will Kimbrough captures moods. From the opener, “When Your Loving Comes Around”, a relentless Tony Joe White vibe of a song that rides the drums of Paul Griffith with spare chords from Kimbrough, to the 1920s jazz feel of “Home Economics”, every cut here is a testament to the taste, clever wordplay and stellar instrumental skills that Kimbrough has in spades.

As you might figure for a guy who was born in Mobile, Alabama, this is songwriting, southern style. Will has performed with everyone from Jimmy Buffett to Rodney Crowell, Todd Snider and many more, and has a great easy-going, never hurried manner. “Soulfully” sounds like an early Sunday morning, while the hauntingly confessional “I Want Too Much” is a late-night Saturday evening avowal of those impulses that few give words to. The light-hearted “Dance Like Grownups Dance” features a great slide guitar part while Neil Young-flavored “I Can Count On You” is starkly beautiful, a measured fingerpicked guitar that casts a somber note.

Will Kimbrough has been a force in roots/folk/country scene since his early days in Will and the Bushmen back in the 1990s, and Sideshow Love continues his run of great albums. One of these days he’s gonna be a hit, and this is a fine example of one of those records that compels deeper listening. Discover Will Kimbrough before the rest of the world, and you can say you knew him before somebody takes one of his songs to the top of the charts. Trust me on that.

Will Kimbrough: www.willkimbrough.com

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Music Reviews

Tony Joe White

Tony Joe White

Hoodoo

Yep Roc

Tony Joe White, “The Swamp Fox,” is what people mean when they call someone a legend. From his first album, 1969’s Black and White, which brought forth two classic songs (“Willie and Laura Mae Jones” and the stone groove funk of “Polk Salad Annie”), until this record, Hoodoo, White has stuck to his strengths. His bassy growl of a voice coupled with his spare, funky guitar have been his hallmarks, and when he’s on, there ain’t nobody better — or badder.

Hoodoo continues the magic of 2010’s The Shine with nine cuts of country soul/blues/funk that White is a master of. From “The Gift” to “Alligator, Mississippi” this is indeed swamp music — deep, humid stuff that gets into your skin and won’t let you go. White, backed by bassist Steve Forrest and drummer Bryan Owings, hits a mid-tempo groove that flows so naturally and easy, sorta like a Dixie beer on a hot day. His voice has rarely sounded better, and the record was recorded for the most part live, so the tunes have a fresh, new quality to them that works well.

Tony Joe White is indeed a legend, but one that doesn’t rest on his laurels, still producing his own brand of southern soul as only he can, and doing it for the love of it. The royalties from “Polk Salad Annie” or his ’70s monster hit “Rainy Night in Georgia” have probably set him up for life, so it’s the lure of songwriting and performing that drives him, and glad we are of that. Hoodoo is another winning record from the one, the only Swamp Fox, Tony Joe White. Ain’t nobody badder, nowhere.

Yep RocTony Joe White

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Music Reviews

The Soul of John Black

The Soul of John Black

The Good Girl Blues

Cadabra Records

Damn this is wicked!

The Soul of John Black, which is actually John “JB” Bigham (formerly of Fishbone), sets up shop somewhere between the blues and funk, with a side of soulful vocals ala the Right Reverend Al Green and enough sticky grooves to keep the crate diggers happy on his second release. Bigham’s resume is varied –in addition to the years in Fishbone, he toured with and wrote songs for Miles Davis and has performed with a range of folks from Dr. Dre to Bruce Hornsby.

Somewhere along the way he developed a stone-cold sense of musical mood and timing and a guitar voice that gives this record a pronounced sizzle (Bigham plays all guitars and drums on the record). The entire affair carries a heavy “swamp rock” vibe, a welcome nod to the days of Tony Joe White and the pivotal “Polk Salad Annie.” At times reminiscent of Taj Mahal, The Good Girl Blues is a welcome find, with its passionate vocals and sultry vibe (check out the smokin’ “I Got Work”), and he manages to impart a bit of preaching along the way with “One Hit,” which updates Brewer and Shipley’s “One Toke Over The Line” –riff and all– into the modern age.

For those of you who delight in the blues, groove to old-school soul or are simply tired of the crunk, check out the The Soul of John Black. This disc is badass.

The Soul of John Black: www.thesoulofjohnblack.com