Station House Records
If his busy tour schedule is any indication, Italy’s Dany Franchi looks to be carving out a nice little niche for himself on the international scene. On Problem Child – recorded last year in Austin under the guidance of veteran guitar slinger Anson Funderburgh and Don Ritter of Category 5 Amps – the young singer/guitarist shows off the full range of his potential. An A-list studio band including bassist Nate Rowe, drummer Wes Starr, keyboard player Jim Pugh and the always reliable Texas Horns provides ideal backing for Franchi’s concise, tasty fretwork and sweet, soulful singing voice. The Genoa native sounds equally at home on straight-up Texas shuffles and in Memphis-flavored R&B, does some Claptonesque riffing on “Wanna Know” and hits the Freddy King lick-fest “Sen-Sa-Shun” out of the park. What sets him apart from many contemporary players – besides his ability to sing! – is the restraint in his playing. Franchi never lays it on too thick and thus sounds right at home amidst this gathering of seasoned pros. – VA
SONG PICK: “Back To The River”
SHAKEDOWN TIM & THE RHYTHM REVUE
Rhythm Bomb Records
This 2018 release on Germany’s Rhythm Bomb Records is another fine example of transatlantic cross-pollination. It pairs Tim Ielegems – a skilled old-school guitarist and bandleader from Belgium who names Pee Wee Crayton and Junior Watson as key influences – with Alabama-born harp veteran “Icepick” James Harman. Ielegems invited Harman to produce the record after a stint in his band. Once Harman had signed on to the project, they called in piano stalwart Gene Taylor (Blasters, Fabulous Thunderbirds) to play on six of the album’s even dozen cuts. So what you’ve got here is a pair of seasoned American pros joining forces with a much younger group of Belgian players. The result is a high-spirited mix of mostly up-tempo Westcoast-flavored blues and rock’n’roll. The instrumental “Icepick’s Shakedown Th’owdown,” featuring solos by Harman, Ielegems and baritone sax player Bart Stone, embodies the album’s freewheeling energy. The band excels on the swaying rhythm of “Junior’s Mambo” while “Rollin’ On” is highlighted by Ielegems’ tight, angular guitar figures, some glorious sax from Stone and the heavy hitting of drummer Dennis de Gier. The moody, late-night blues of “No More Fightin'” and a faithful interpretation of Crayton’s signature tune “Blues After Hours” round out a strong disc showing that Shakedown Tim and his buddies can hang with the best of them. – VA
SONG PICK: “Junior’s Mambo”
Time to catch up on some reviews. Our first CD Roundup covers recent releases by Delta Moon, Ian Parker, Seasick Steve and Jackie Venson.
–UNDER THE RADAR RECOMMENDATION –
Has singer/songwriter/guitarist Jackie Venson been flying under the radar, or am I simply late to the party? The Austin native has been releasing material on both EP and LP since 2013 and is coming off a triumphant appearance at the Austin City Limits Festival this fall. Transcends is an EP of five one-word titles (“Flying,” “Fast,” “Mysterious,” “Fight” and “Transcends”) released in 2017. It’s an attention-grabber for sure. It opens with the blues-funk-pop hybrid “Flying,” where snappy rhythms underscore Venson’s luminous voice. “Fast” leans more toward indie-rock, like something Spin Doctors might have done in their heyday. Venson chooses softer tones on “Mysterious” and spreads some serious good vibes on “Fight” (“To change the world you first must change yourself”) and the title track (“Love transcends death, destruction, exploitation…”). Ultimately, the EP is a celebration of peace, love and good intentions; after it’s over, you’re certain Jackie Venson is someone you’d like to spend a few hours with. She has continued releasing singles in 2018 and is definitely worth checking out. – VA
SONG PICK: “Fast”
Can U Cook?
Rough around the edges. That’s how Steven Gene Wold aka Seasick Steve refers to himself on the tune “Last Rodeo.” And that’s how his innumerable his fans like him. The Oakland-born musician, now in his late sixties or late seventies depending on the source, has achieved gold and platinum status in the United Kingdom despite being largely overlooked in the United States. He boasts of a past that includes long stints of manual labor, hoboing and flat-out living on the streets. Those experiences continue to inform his music, often played on a battered guitar he calls the Three-String Trance Wonder. He’s been doing pretty much the same shtick since his breakthrough as a solo artist with 2006’s Doghouse Music, offering a gritty, lowdown, sometimes tongue-in-cheek outlaw blues with occasional forays into Americana and classic rock. So with every new Seasick Steve album, you kind of know what to expect. The crazy thing is – it works! On Can U Cook?, his tenth album overall, even more so than usual. Wold has come up with an exceptionally strong batch of songs this time, from the swampy, CCR-esque “Down de Road” to the Howlin’ Wolf-inspired “Shady Tree” to the wistful “Last Rodeo,” on which he decries the slickness of modern culture. As always, his playing is effective without being flashy and is propelled by the infectious and intricate grooves of drummer Dan Magnusson. A must for fans. – VA
SONG PICK: The darker-than-dark “Chewin’ on da Blues.”
Spoonful Of Gold – Blues For Willie
Ian Parker stumbled upon the inspiration for Spoonful Of Gold – Blues For Willie three summers ago at a Parisian bookshop. The Willie Dixon biography I Am The Blues led him to look beyond “Hoochie Coochie Man” and “Little Red Rooster” and dive deeper into the canon of the blues’ most prolific and celebrated songwriter. Parker, a native of Birmingham, England, has often been rather singer-songwriterly himself, known as much for his incisive lyrics and sensitive vocal delivery as for blasting out riffs on his Stratocaster. Spoonful Of Gold allows him to reassert himself as a bluesman. The potent opening salvo on “Evil” announces an album with plenty of punch, drenched in blues, that nevertheless refuses to imitate. Rather than adhere slavishly to the original “Back Door Man” or “I Just Want To Make Love To You” – songs every blues fan has heard dozens of times – Parker and band apply their unique gifts to create contemporary versions that stand on their own. He also includes lesser-known Dixon gems like “Mighty Earthquake and Hurricane” and “Weak Brain, Narrow Mind” that will inevitably lead listeners to seek out the originals. A worthy tribute. – VA
SONG PICK: “My Love Will Never Die”
Babylon is Falling
Babylon Is Falling finds Atlanta-based stalwarts Delta Moon serving up a solid-as-always selection of straightforward, no-frills electric blues. It’s already the ninth studio album by the four-piece, who debuted in 2002, with Georgia transplants Tom Gray and Mark Johnson driving the sound on lap steel and bottleneck slide guitar, respectively. The interplay between Gray and Johnson continues to be the band’s trademark and shines out strong on “Skinny Woman,” with bassist Franher Joseph and drummer Vic Stafford pumping out a Burnside-esque, North Mississippi groove. “Little Pink Pistol” is equally groovy, whereas “Somebody In My Home” offers classic Chicago Blues dipped in Southern Gothic. Delta Moon knows how to keep a song compact and to the point; those looking for guitar histrionics are advised to look elsewhere. In fact, there is no whipped cream and sprinkles on Babylon Is Falling. You won’t find this album anywhere near the dessert tray. Rather it’s a satisfying helping of meat-and-potatoes blues. – VA
SONG PICK: “Skinny Woman”
. . . is now called CD ROUNDUP.
Because my desk looks like this:
First installment coming soon.
The Jellyman’s Daughter – “Cry, Cry Darling”
Words: Vincent Abbate
Looking back in pop music history, you’ll find certain voices that were made for one another. Think about it: What would “Cathy’s Clown” have sounded like if it had only been Phil and not Phil and Don Everly on vocals? Would “The Sound of Silence” have been as powerful if Paul Simon or Art Garfunkel had sung it alone?
Like the aforementioned musical giants, songbird Emily Kelly has a voice that is lovely in its own right. Fellow Scot Graham Coe can more than carry a tune. Put them together and magic happens. In fact, Coe and Kelly possess an extremely rare ability to make their two voices move as one. That dynamic, more than anything else, is what makes Edinburgh-based acoustic duo The Jellyman’s Daughter such a captivating listen.
The Walter Davis Project
A few days ago I was preparing to interview Christian Rannenberg, one of the world’s finest blues piano players, for the Talkin’ Blues show in Cologne. Chris lives in Berlin and I hadn’t seen him for a number of years. So I did some digging to find out what he’d been up to. My most pleasant discovery was The Walter Davis Project.
Chris had told me about his intention to do a Walter Davis tribute album as far back as 2006. He’s been an admirer of Davis – the Mississippi-born pianist who recorded roughly 150 sides for the Victor and Bluebird labels in the 30s, 40s and 50s – ever since first sitting down to play the blues on a piano keyboard. As the initiator and driving force behind the project, he wound up investing a good deal of his own money on sessions with Billy Boy Arnold, Charlie Musselwhite and several others. But the recordings lay around gathering dust until Rannenberg and harmonica player Bob Corritore crossed paths at a memorial celebration for mutual friend Louisiana Red in 2012.