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I started a quest to find terrific blues music and incredible musicianship when I was just a little kid. I also have a tremendous appreciation of fine musical instruments and equipment. One of my greatest joys all of my life was sharing my finds with my friends. I'm now publishing my journey. I hope that you come along!

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Showing posts with label Ellis James. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ellis James. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Scott Holstein - Cold Coal Town - release review - Ellis James, Guest Writer

Rarely do I find an album which deserves more praise than Cold Coal Town. Boone County, West Virginia native, Scott Holstein should be proud to hang his name on one of the best CDs that I heard during 2013. This is a collection of extremely crafted Bluegrass Country songs. Vocals are distinctive and pleasing sung with the elocution/diction of Randy Travis meets the low tones of Waylon Jennings, George Jones and Merle Haggard. Make no mistake- this is Bluegrass, not Blues. The Spell, is a finger picker’s delight and sets the pace for this release. The ringing of banjo, courtesy of Scott Vestal and mandolin fills by Aaron Ramsey compliment the song over foundation of the other instruments. Fiddle touches from the fingers of Tim Crouch sweeten the mix. Great stuff. Walls of Stone, written by Randy Kohrs is a personal favorite. Again the mandolin and artful Dobro work by Kohrs work well with the banjo solo from Scott Vestal. The biting and forlorn lyrics of a prisoner of walls and memories in a troubled mind. Blues have many flavors. This stew is certainly steeped in the mindset of the blues. Title cut, Cold Coal Town, showcases the trifecta of violin from Crouch, excellent banjo again from Vestal and mandolin from Ramsey cement this one as a keeper! Again the deep vocals and upright bass underpin great song writing. Excellent playing, production and song craft is evidenced throughout this CD. Black Water is a chilling tale recalling the Buffalo Creek flood disaster (February 26, 1972, Logan County, West Virginia) that killed and injured many due to a dam failure. This song begs the listener to join in with the harmony of this mostly a acapella song. Crisp and precise, the vocals tell of the coal company reassurance that the dam, which failed, was satisfactory. Chilling as black water. Leaving Charleston is a pleasant instrumental romp which compliments, contrasts and balances the previous cut with a cheerful cut. Indicative of craftsmanship in song order which pulls this set together as a balanced unit rather than separate items. Kudos to Slack Key Studio and Engineer, Mike Latterell with mastering from Randy Leroy at Airshow for not losing it all in the mix. Boone County Blues, Vocal harmonies, guitar picking from Holstein and Clay Hess drive this train down this track. The West Texan twin fiddle sound Texas top off this tune to make it right. A tribute to West Virginia, ‘Montani Semper Liberi’ , ("Mountaineers are Always Free") is the state nickname is the Mountain State. This song stitched together a mental picture like a comfortable old quilt. Harkening back to a mental picture of Civil War soldiers experiences. The war fighters thoughts beg the listener to reflect on contemporary battles and tip their hat to West Virginia. Don Bigsby helps with the vocals on Roll Coal Roll, a reflection of the source and final destination of the coal. Clinch Mountain Hills is as banjo/fiddle/mandolin delight with reference to and influence from Carter Stanley/Stanley singers. You might get a chill if you listen to the Hills. The Holstein Waltz a lovely Country waltz simple and wonderful while lending the spotlight the talents of several band members in a tasteful around the table fashion. Ain’t No Higher Ground brings back one last uplifting serving of Holstein’s distinctive vocals. Over all I found difficulty in dissecting the songs in this grouping as each is wonderful and unique yet held together with extreme craftsmanship from start to finish. From song writing to performance and production this is terrific offering. I might fail as a critic as I could find nothing which could improve upon what exists in these recordings. Unfortunate that this set was released in 2010 as I’d love to nominate Cold Coal Town as the best Bluegrass album of the year- any year. Strong encouragement is extended for any listener of the Blues to give this one a listen for the sake of expansion of your horizons, honor to our musical roots and for sheer auditory delight.  

If you support live Blues acts, up and coming Blues talents and want to learn more about Blues news and Fathers of the Blues, ”LIKE” ---Bman’s Blues Report--- Facebook Page! I’m looking for great talent and trying to grow the audience for your favorite band!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Coventus, The Eye Of The Heart - Norine Braun - New Release Review - Ellis James, guest writer

I just received the newest release,Coventus, The Eye Of The Heart, from Norine Braun. The opening track, Lightning Strikes Twice displays an nterplay between smooth guitar, keyboard and wonderfully comforting and well trained voice elicit memories and best relaxing elements of “It’s a Beautiful Day”, Brian Auger with restrained hints of Santana and touches of techno-digital drumming courtesy of Adam Popowitz result in a what I’d call background for the perfect love affair. On How Would We Know, a reggae beat mixed with an almost Smooth Jazz guitar foundation provide foundation for Braun’s voice and fun lyrics. Playful change-up in the pace makes this tune more fun than cruising in a convertible on an ideal first day of Spring. Dizzy is a pleasant up-tempo tune. What strikes me is that Ms. Braun’s voice is a comforting treat to the ear. This listener was naturally relaxed yet not bored while listening to this set of songs. Just as the listener can pigeon-hole the genre of this collection into a “Smooth Jazz” ready for airplay box, Nadine B throws us off balance with a Blondie/‘Rapture’-esque playful rap at the break and snaps us back into active listening mode. Well structured- nicely executed but happily left me off-balance if not… Dizzy. On No More Reprise Harmonica by Huggybear Leonard and Elliot Polsky percussion, basic electric guitar hooks bring out the Bluesy Rock in this set. Sexy and intentional vocals remind us why we came, make us want to stick around as the lyrics tell us that we are being kicked to the curb and need new place to live. Killer guitar feature at the break punctuates the drive and sassy of this soulful cut. This one makes me want to hit the repeat and listen to it again in total conflict with the song’s title. Boy is musings concerning the unique relationship between Mothers and Sons over a soaring electric guitar and vocals. Nice enough lyrics yet I’d love to hear another verse or a destination to the intended thoughts. A present that’s missing the bow. Today shows nice drum rhythm and acoustic guitar kicking off the layering of great harp playing, lead electric (guitar) fills and flute. The vocals in “Boy” and “Today” evoke punctuations of restrained early Grace Slick in pitch, tone, attitude and delivery. “Today” is more of a declarative statement of the singer’s intentions and direction in life. Listened to during several sittings this set of songs give a feel of a subtle Nuevo-Psychedelic San Francisco genre. Braun and company may be on to something! 99% is back to the grungy Blues vibe shooting and hits the wider target with a moody tale fit for a future Quentin Tarantino drama. This is the bow that I was looking for. This cut is as lyrically tight as the others in this set yet more successfully paints a mental image while matching the mood of the instrumental performances. Processed vocals, with the Shirley Massey “Garbage” feel, is pushed along with tasty keyboards by Alice Fraser, dirty Bass, fine drumming and Huggybear’s wonderfully nasty harmonica. This one is a keeper! Take the Sleek Train shows nicely crafted songwriting and musicianship carrying the train on this trip. Fire Flames kindles the playful dancing and fleeting spirituality of David LaFlamme. No bad pun intended the style and pace of this piece again brings out the lighter hippy vibe. Nicely done. Braun’s vocal range more comfortably fits and enhances the score. The Perfect Love Affair, a happy tune is uplifting showcase for deserving interplay between drum kit, jazzy electric guitar and Braun’s lovely voice. Again, the keyboard fills are tasteful and well placed. A musical braid between drum, keys, voice and guitar provide reason for this song’s title. Did I mention the nice drumming? I Found You brings harmonious female duet with acoustic strumming and processed electric accent reassuring and loving lyrics. Short and sweet yet meant for always. On Conventus a playful introduction leads to an unexpected change-up which leads into a pop tune fitting for a Euro-dance club. This song is a stylistic departure from the rest of the set list but is fun and enjoyable.

 If you support live Blues acts, up and coming Blues talents and want to learn more about Blues news and Fathers of the Blues, Like ---Bman’s Blues Report--- Facebook Page! I’m looking for great talent and trying to grow the audience for your favorites band! ”LIKE”


Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Comeback Kid - Marina Rocks - New Release Review - Ellis James Guest Writer

The cuts on Marina Rocks' latest release ‘The Comeback Kid’ are a wonderful mix of passionate, emphatically energetic vocals and skillful musicianship. Marina’s vocals remind me of the throatiness of Kim Carnes/Melissa Etheridge and the brass-in-pocket of a Lucinda Williams. This CD is one that continues to improve as it marches through the cuts. It would be easy for the first time listener to initially pigeon-hole this as a Country release-but would be mistaken to do so. Some reviewers in the music industry bemoan the demise of ‘real Country.’ This may be a release which is helping to redefine and save it. Fans of the Blues are encouraged to put their ears on and accept a rare treat. Do not expect a cliché’ rehash of Chicago, Texas or West Coast Blues. This is an opportunity to hear a refreshing difference. The first single ‘Stuck in the Mud’ is now playing in 13 Countries; Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, England, Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland and Sweden. ‘Stuck in The Mud’ was a finalist at the 2013 Kerrville New Folk Songwriter’s competition. The title track, ‘Comeback Kid’ was also a finalist. Lyrics especially in the title namesake ‘Comeback Kid’ evoke a declaration of personal and patriotic positioning. Some of the passion of the songs, especially in the stand out hit single, ‘Stuck in the Mud’ and the reflective ‘Mother’s Daughter’ would please feminists but also will challenge the men in the crowd to identify with the strength and victory of having overcome obstacles in all of our lives and moving past what may have detoured, derailed or slowed us down in our histories. The CD is a mix of mostly originals and a couple of covers that demonstrate proficient picking, playing and vocals both in structure and execution. The production is top notch including some tricks in the mix such as compression on the acoustic guitar(s) and judiciously restrained vocal reverb effects. All said, the songs are well done- with passion and tons of energy. My personal favorite is the contrastingly stripped-down and raw ‘The Roses’. Slower than the showy first few songs, this one showcases impressive finger-work and skill on the nylon stringed frets. This is where I can clearly hear the ‘Americana’ genre kick in. My hope is that Ms. Rocks continues to explore this path as I see it as a hidden gem amongst the collection. Continuing with the straightforward, a very pleasing cover of the Dylan classic, “All Along the Watchtower” is played in refreshing arrangement and curiously entitled “All Alone in the Watch Tower” in the press materials. Regardless of the label, this provides a killer spotlight for excellent nylon string performance with hints of Flamenco and aggressive Spanish/Mexican work of the likes of Rodrigo Y Gabriela. An excellent cut. ‘The Last Goodbye’ is melodic and pleasing quieter piece perhaps emoting thoughts of the loss of a loved one to either relationship or demise. The set kicks back into higher spirits with strong encouragement to ‘Believe in Love.’ Country flavored with mandolin and pedal steel this song begs national airplay and jukebox revenue! The musical question flies as ‘Where Are Your Wings’ again demonstrates a clear case of professional musicianship and the confident vocals of a road veteran. A spirited rock ‘John Wayne’ kicks the dust off of any doubt that this gal can play the Blues. This is one barroom brawler of a song with lyrics that are easy to overlook due to the driven and wonderful electric guitar work. Gary Moore, Gary Howe, Bonamassa-esque kick-ass run of a song that is sure to wake you up. ‘Heroes and Villains’ and ‘Price of Love’ end the release with additional one-two punch. Kudos to Marina Rocks and crew for a surprisingly wonderful release which is one that I personally would be pleased to listen to again and again. Marina Rock’s ‘The Comeback Kid’ is slated for a cross-over smash between Blues, Country Blues, Country or Americana. Whatever you call it- I call it good music.

  If you support live Blues acts, up and coming Blues talents and want to learn more about Blues news and Fathers of the Blues, ”LIKE” ---Bman’s Blues Report--- Facebook Page! I’m looking for great talent and trying to grow the audience for your favorite band!


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Delta Breeze - Les Dudek - New release review - Ellis James guest writer

The latest release from Les Dudek, Delta Breeze, starts off in total Chaos, a funky tune with Jeff Beck-like riffs and vague references to the artists’ perception of our current world. This tune is a tight instrumental of great fret dancing and percussion backing that ends with a bang. Title cut Delta Breeze brings out more of Dudek’s more familiar style and vocals. Lyrics add a positive element to this song adding the intended ‘breeziness’ to the more aggressive guitar attack beneath the words. Fast paced and well received. Les allows himself space to stretch out a bit in extended solo work which is very welcomed to my ears. High on the Water introduces more of his Southern Rock, Allman Brothers style sounding like a happy cocktail of key, tempo and Country picking reminiscent of Dickey Betts and the steely slide of David Lindley with a shot of vocals borrowed from early Jackson Browne. The good time party pacing makes for a fun tune with full rests thrown in which effectively refocuses the listener back into the score. The results are cool and pleasant to the taste. Dudek was successful in painting a smile on my face and making me think of boating across a lake or hitting the road. Speaking of hitting the road, Wide Open In The Wind is an obvious ode to the Harley’s that we own, love or wish we owned. A definite biker tune is underscored with a driving bass line with catchy guitar hook repeating onto itself throughout the song. Again, Dudek brings out the Southern Rock slide guitar over top of the basic driving beat. Time Will Tell brings out the questions of morality and ethics. Effective use of backup vocals brings a nice change to the song which help to differentiate it from the prior songs. Thankfully, Dudek makes use of slightly different style of playing. The playing, especially in the change-up reminded me of the better moments of Rick Derringers’ Knighted By the Blues, (2009). This cut breaks away from the Betts picking and sails a bit more smoothly. One White Lie returns to the Allman Brothers harmonics but switches from it before becomes a crutch. Vocals lack here more than in other spots but the incredible musicianship more than make up for the gnit-picking from this reviewer. I’d be extremely lucky and thrilled to do half as well. A hint of New Orleans funky back beat of Take My Money brings a fun aspect to what could have been an otherwise throw-away song. The straight ahead Texas-blues attack makes Trouble With The Law a personal favorite. Be sure to catch your breath prior to this one. Fast-paced, I barely had time to decide if Dudek should be arrested for killing the Johnny Winter style, trespassing on Stevie Ray Vaughan territory or making use of a ZZ Top vehicle. Excellent harmonica playing locks up this as the stand out song of this collection. Les exclaims that ‘he is always in trouble with the law’. Playing like he does in this song is sure to bail him out in any one’s opinion. Very enjoyable! Take gives a Dixie Dregs, Steve Morse riff with a Eddie Van Halen tip of the hat to make a more pop mixture that sounds like a Program Director's pick for air play. Rounding out the collection is These Are The Good Old Days which I guessed to be Carly Simon cover but only shares the phrase and basic concept of reminding ourselves to enjoy life as it happens. Lyrics are the primary emphasis in this song. Wisdom of experience and expression of love and good intentions are distinctively expressed. “Leaving my love and memories with this song” indeed. Dudek  started this release with concerns of economic collapse and ‘Chaos’ and ended with a song of encouragement and reminders of what really brings value and richness to our lives. This effort is very much worth your while. Another great effort from a personal favorite. Good job, Les!
If you support live Blues acts, up and coming Blues talents and want to learn more about Blues news and Fathers of the Blues, ”LIKE” ---Bman’s Blues Report--- Facebook Page! I’m looking for great talent and trying to grow the audience for your favorite band!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

05/17/2013 Rhythm Room: Nick Moss Band with Bob Corritore, Lou Ann Barton and Jimmie Vaughan - Ellis James, guest contributer

An extra full house was the scene recently at the Rhythm Room, Phoenix, AZ USA when blues legends and veteran road pros Nick Moss and Jimmie Vaughan delivered killer sets of tasty Blues. Chicago based Nick Moss and Michael Ledbetter (guitar and vocals), were joined by Bob Corritore (harmonica and vocals) and drummer Patrick Seals for a full hour of house rocking ‘Chicago style’ tunes. Just two weeks into a seven week Western USA tour this group was jumping. According to road tour manager, Javik Smith (son of Willie “Big-Eyes” Smith) the core band will work the West for five additional weeks, take a short rest and then head out to the Eastern leg of the USA as the summer progresses. Moss showed his decades of experience through the fret board runs, fills, comps and seamless blending with guest harmonica player Bob Corritore and members of his regular band. Great support came from Michael Ledbetter on rhythm guitar and vocals who has been with Moss for the past two years. Classically trained in Opera, Ledbetter calls Elgin, Illinois home. Once again, opportunity comes to those who prepare themselves. Sounding like a page out of Mike Bloomfield’s biography, Nick Moss initially discovered Ledbetter through a recommendation from one of his friends. Gradual collaboration between the men evolved over time. A one-off gig turned into occasional fill-ins which in turn eventually lead to a regular spot on the Moss stage. Kudos to Illinois resident and experienced pro drummer Patrick Seals who set the beats and drove the tempo. Seals’ background includes Jazz Studies and Instrumental Performance at Columbia College, Chicago.
This year, Nick Moss received his 16th nomination from the Blues Music Association for "Best Blues Rock Album" for Here I Am, which debuted at number 2 on the Relix/Jambands Radio Chart, and at number 6 on the Living Blues Radio Chart! This latest CD is Nick’s ninth release on his own Blue Bella Records label.
The place was primed and pumping by the time that Jimmie Vaughn and his Tilt-a-Whirl band took the stage. Scorching through a 21 song set, of songs mostly from his 2010 release, Plays, Blues, Ballads and Favorites, Vaughan and his band barely stopped to take a breath. The crowd began with respectful reserve leaving breathing room on the dance floor and was on their feet and shoulder to shoulder by the end of the last song. Everyone knows about Vaughan but we should be reminded of what a great group of players make up the Tilt-A-Whirl team. Horn section really stood out as a huge asset. Professional to a tee was the drummer, bassist and rhythm guitarists who performed flawlessly and barely took a bow for their efforts. Good music, like photography, looks easy and natural when done well. These folks blended like prize-winning Barbeque. Founding member of Double Trouble, Lou Ann Barton joined the group for a flurry of songs including Shake A Hand, Scratch, signature duet Wheel of Fortune and Middle of the Night. Jimmie stayed on stage for 6 String Down while the band took a quick break. Motorhead Baby, Middle of the Night (with Barton), White Boots and D/FW closed out the performance. It was striking at how nice, personable and frankly politely approachable Vaughan was as he took time to patiently sign autographs and meet/greet following the 180 minute performance. Strong encouragement to watch for and attend performances by both Moss and/or Vaughan. I for one got more than my dollars’ worth at this show. Thanks again to Bob Corritore, Phoenix Blues Society and the Rhythm Room for an excellent time.

If you support live Blues acts, up and coming Blues talents and want to learn more about Blues news and Fathers of the Blues, ”LIKE” ---Bman’s Blues Report--- Facebook Page! I’m looking for great talent and trying to grow the audience for your favorite band!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Have Axe- Will Groove - Mark Robinson - New Release Review - Ellis James Guest contributer

Congratulations to Nashville-based guitarist/songwriter, Mark Robinson for a truly entertaining, engaging and very well produced release. “Have Axe – Will Groove” provides a collection of songs which will please any listener. I was continually surprised as toward the variety of styles and hidden gems within this set. Entertaining, engaging are words that could easily summarize this CD. You will have to look elsewhere if you are expecting a boring one-trick pony.
Drive Real Fast kicks off the album with a lively, raw and rowdy boogie road song stylistically hinting of Watermelon Slim. Robinson mentions that the song came to him quickly and intends to capture “the distinctively American longing for freedom and escape.” The lyrics paint a rebellious scene of chucking it all, tossing the cellphone (and I imagine the responsibilities and hassles associated with it) out the window of the car window and hitting the highway. Mark notes that this is the attitudinal blueprint for the album.
Baby’s Gone to Memphis continues the rat-rod pleasing vibe while showcasing diving tremolo dives and fret runs sounding like they are jumping off of a big arch-top hollow body supported by a solid bass line foundation (Daniel Seymour). A nice retro piece.
Angel of Mercy is a change of tempo which includes great lyrics, guitar riffs and structure worthy of an undiscovered Otis Redding tune. The title is shared with other song writers/performers such as Albert King ("Blues At Sunset"-1993, Stax Records), Al Stewart (Famous Last Words), Dire Straits (Communiqué) but is distinctively and rightfully its own. This is a well done and soulful personal favorite.
Robinson includes a Texas Swing/Jump style romp featuring Ben Graves on saxophone
Broke Down changes the mood with great fast moving and biting electric slide played in the Johnny Winter style.  The killer harmonica playing of TJ Klay helps to compliment and complete the mood. This cut had me hooked and bouncing the beat and then left me smiling and (dare I say) broke down by the side of the road by its tight and sudden conclusion.
Robinson is not to be mistaken for a Johnny-come-lately. This player has an extensive background and apprenticeship in the clubs of Chicago, Nashville playing with top name players and technical/production professionals. Pull My Coat may be as much of a veiled reference to a blues man’s journey and struggle to be hip and find out what’s going on as it is to woman.
Lifetime Prescription harkens to a Gary Moore style haunting and deeply reflective slow blues tale supported by tasteful application of backup singers (Vickie Carrico/Jonell Mosseur) with space provided for a wonderful bridge solo. The strut and bump of the New Orleans funk resonates throughout the fun tune Rhythm Doctor, co-written with Dave Duncan, (in one hour) gives the listener another pleasant wake up poke. The ghosts of Joe Tex and James Brown are indicated amongst terrific guitar playing, Michael Webb on Hammond organ and harmonica talents of Rogue Ray LaMontagne.
The Doc Pomus written Lonely Avenue is covered and is one cut where Robinson’s guitar work is allowed to stretch out a little more than elsewhere in this collection. Mark mentions that he may not be the most technically perfect player but plays from the heart. He proves himself soulful and worthy of heart, soul and ability both in vocal and playing here. Good job, indeed!
Top shelf and professional from performance, packaging to solid A&R, thanks to Sue Havlish. Mark Robinson Voted 'Best Roots/Americana Guitar Player' in The Alternate Root's 2nd Annual Readers' Choice Awards! I look forward to more from Mark Robinson. This is a recommended buy. 

If you support live Blues acts, up and coming Blues talents and want to learn more about Blues news and Fathers of the Blues, ”LIKE” ---Bman’s Blues Report--- Facebook Page! I’m looking for great talent and trying to grow the audience for your favorite band!