Shane Alexander – Bliss

Shane Alexander – Bliss
Buddhaland Music – BLM022416
Prolific singer/songwriter Shane Alexander always finds ways to do things subtly differently on each new CD. Here with his sixth release, Shane, for the first time, is also the producer and it is obvious from the first luscious strains of the bare-bones acoustic lead track “Evergreen” that producing is another facet he is quite talented at. As usual, here you have songs ranging from snappier pop-alt rock like “Something Real Never Dies,” to haunting folk ditties such as “Nobody Home” and emotively powerful ballads like “Hold Me Helpless.” Shane is someone who pursues perfection in all aspects of his musical creations. From his stunningly clear vocals to his thoughtful words to the musical landscapes he weaves around them, his music flows, caresses and snares you, not merely with the aforementioned prowess, but with the incredible life he breathes into his songs. And the production? Nothing less than amazing. This CD is very aptly titled because if you enjoy great music in its purest form, this collection will leave you in a blissful state.  – MW
SA_Bliss Cover Art

Jim Crean – Insatiable

Jim Crean – Insatiable
Rocker Records – RKR-1143
There is no denying that Jim Crean knows how to rock. A lot of his friends know this about him. That is why they are joining him on his latest potent release “Insatiable.” We are talking about friends like Mike Tramp, Frank DiMino, Tony Franklin, Phil Lewis, the late-great Jimmy Bain, the Appice brothers Carmine and Vinny, and many other well-known rockers. When you can rock like Jim and possess his songwriting talents, you can draw those kind of folks into your recording sessions. What Jim creates here is powerful magic – music that blends the perfect amount of seething intensities and melodic sensibilities. Take a song such as “Touch” for example: the grittiness of the powerful guitar snarl is nicely balanced by harmonic vocals and the right waft of hookiness. “Follow Your Heart” rips your head off with a relentless attack, but still snares your soul with fervent vocal passages. The quasi-ballad “Miss Me” has a kiss of prog rock leanings that has a comforting and epic feel to it. Jim also creates some excellent cover versions from bands his cohorts on the recording were members of including exciting takes on the L.A. Guns nugget “Over The Edge” and Dio’s “Caught In The Middle” featuring one of the last studio appearances of bassist Jimmy Bain. Jim’s talents are firing on all cylinders from his sonic but melodic vocal pyrotechnics to his prolific songwriting capabilities. This is pure hard rock at its finest, proving once again that Jim Crean is more than up to the task of rocking at the same high level of some of the best in the business. – MW

Steve Grimm – Bad Boys Bad Girls

Steve Grimm – Bad Boys Bad Girls
One of Milwaukee’s most famous bad boys is still cranking out the tunes decades since he first co-founded the “band Milwaukee made famous.” When Steve Grimm kicks off his latest effort with “You And Me Against The World,” it is plainly obvious he has not lost any of his passion to rock, with a delectable mix of edginess and harmonic hooks. “Saints And Sinners” has a snarling intensity while “American Legs” cuts loose a nasty boogie quality with both songs harkening back to the early days of Bad Boy. Steve is quite adept at showing an occasional mellower facet to his songwriting, particularly noticeable in the rootsy “Broken” and the subtly potent power ballad “End Of The Story.” The tunes prove Steve’s songwriting strength has not diminished in the slightest, and his lyrics feature thought-provoking and absorbing stories coming from his heart and experiences. His talents are also nicely augmented by several well-respected Milwaukee area musicians including part-time fellow Bad Boy bassist Craig Evans and “bad girl” Char Fiore. People tend to wonder whenever Steve releases a new album, “is Bad Boy going to do anything new?” I will not make assumptions, but instead will say that if you want to hear some great tunes from one of the architects of those Beer City legends that still have a lot of life, punch, and grit to to them, check out “Bad Boys Bad Girls.” Steve and his cohorts will more than satisfy your cravings. – MW

Capsule Reviews by Mark Waterbury

AG Weinberger – Mighty Business
Bigfoot Records – BFCD0072015
Blues can come from a lot of geographical places, but would many think of Romania as one of those locales? AG Weinberger not only thinks that, he lives it, and definitely plays the living hell out of it. Recorded live in Bucharest, this is rocking blues at its wicked-licked best, augmented further by AG’s throaty vocals. A blend of American blues favorites and very well-written originals, AG proves that blues…like music itself knows no boundaries. He puts a blazing six-string stamp on that statement.
Aria Cortes – Chrysalis
World Conquest Records – WCD137013
New York-based Aria Cortes creates an intriguing blend of pop, Americana and folk styles on her sophomore effort. This dynamic-voiced young lady channels a diva style into more barebones atmospheres, although she likes to stretch the envelope of her musical backdrops from the cabaret feel of “Shut My Mouth” to the snappy folk vibe of “All Of The Above.” Some unique but also subtly comforting music here.
Crooked Eye Tommy – Butterflies and Snakes
Piano Road Records
Pretty stunning that this is the debut CD for brothers Tommy and Paddy Marsh. The NorCal siblings have been around music for a long time though, and you can tell with the incredible maturity and musical prowess on the CD. Melding power blues with touches of folk, funk and Americana styles you have some very well crafted songs overflowing with life and at times can knock you out with their emotive intensity. All I can say is don’t wait so long to do another one, guys!
Joel Zoss – Lila
Catalan Records
Veteran songwriter Joel Zoss releases another tasty collection of delectable music taking various paths on a virtual roadmap of blues styles. You can find him in the back streets of Chicago, the front porches of Mississippi, the parks of San Francisco, and even places like Laredo and Montego Bay. No matter where his journeys take you, you will immensely enjoy the trip as Joel’s wonderful voice, musical talents and words ranging from the painful to the humorous will enthrall you the entire way.
Lasers Lasers Birmingham – Royal Blue
This EP from the band created by singer-songwriter Alex Owen is another example that country music is breaking from the commercial mode and getting back to its roots. The title track has a Texas-swing bluesiness to it, followed by the honky-tonk toe-tapper “Hard Man To Please.” “Anyway You Slice It” is a heartfelt but darkly humorous ballad. Thoughtful lyrics and a stellar blend of classic influences and modern edginess will make you hunger for far more than the wonderful four tracks here.

Sammy Eubanks – Sugar Me

Sammy Eubanks – Sugar Me
Underworld Indie Records – UND0026
Tearing out Spokane, Washington, Sammy Eubanks cranks out his fifth CD of blues, country and rock hybrids. From the Nashville friendly “It’s All Blues To Me,” to the funky western groove of the title track and the thunderously gut-busting take on “I Just Want To Make Love To You,” Sammy unleashes an obviously deep pool of talent and influences. He does not disappoint fans of more traditional blues stylings either, particularly on songs like “No Excuse For The Blues” and “It’s My Lie Baby.” Sammy has a voice with one of those pleasant-to-the-ear timbres, but can still convey the emotions of the interesting stories he weaves in remarkable fashion. Here is someone with the knack of taking such diverse styles and making it into his own signature vibe. The music feels like it comes from someone who has paid his dues, and, hopefully, this CD will break him to a larger audience as the music is good enough to deserve that. – MW


Tinsley Ellis – Red Clay Soul

Tinsley Ellis – Red Clay Soul
Heatfixer Music – HFM1013
One of Georgia’s favorite music sons Tinsley Ellis always seems to give us something a bit different, without compromising the fact of him being one of the best blues rockers around. The Atlanta native does not disappoint in either facet with his latest effort. As the title indicates, there seems to be a bit more touch of R&B and soul in this latest effort, even though the disc launches with a tried and true smoking blues jam “All I Think About.” Songs like “Callin’” and “Hungry Women Blues” have a deeply street-smart feel to them. There is a touch of influential flavorings from fellow Georgia musicians The Allman Brothers, particularly in the rollicking boogie of “Givin’ You Up.”  Tinsley also adds a subtle Santana-like Latin influence to “Estero Noche.” Despite the bit of a different feel here compared to some of his more rocking CDs, he still does not let up on the emotion one iota or shy away from reminding us what the blues is all about. When he sears the final song “The Bottle, The Book or the Gun” into your soul,  your satisfaction level should be high as Tinsley is a master at enticing you to not merely listen to his music, but to truly feel and experience it.  – MW


The Jelly Jam – Prophet Profit

The Jelly Jam – Prophet Profit
Music Theories Records – MTR74802
Another of the multitude of projects featuring prominent musicians from various bands, The Jelly Jam stands out because their songwriting has created strong songs within the constraints of normal length tunes. It would be too easy to fall into the usual trap of just playing insane riffs, etc. for the sake of insane riffs, etc., and that many suspected when your project consists of King’s X guitarist Ty Tabor, Dream Theater bassist John Myung and Dixie Dregs/Winger drummer Rod Morgenstein. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of phenomenal musicianship here, but they reign in anything that may be considered too flashy to create music that can really get it hooks into you. The music allows you to get deep into the words, intriguingly crafted, and sung with the right dose of emotive fervor by Tabor. The ballad paced but explosive “Water,” gritty thunder of “Mr. Man” and American-kissed hookiness of “Ghost Town” shows different facets of the song crafting that went into this CD. While the King’s X influence is fairly apparent especially in the ebb and flow of intensity dynamics, these three prodigious talents all meld together wonderfully to create thought-provoking songs that will also please any rockers who are fans of the bands they came from. While no one really wants to see their other bands go away, The Jelly Jam is easily good enough to make you hope this is not just a one time project either.  – MW


Walter Trout – Alive In Amsterdam

Walter Trout – Alive In Amsterdam 
Provogue – PRD-7492-3
Perhaps the toughest aspect of Walter Trout’s brush with death and long road to recovery was being able to get back to unleashing his musical passions from stages across the globe. Walter has always been a consummate road warrior, playing numerous dates every year in stages ranging from tiny clubs to massive festivals. “Alive In Amsterdam,” recorded on his first tour after his recovery in one of his favorite stomping grounds sounds like he has not lost any of his energy or passion as he absolutely lights the stage on fire. His long set…enough to fill two discs is laden with songs from his first post-recovery recording “Battle Scars,” as well as favorites from deep into his catalogue. While he really tears loose from the start with rockers like “Help Me” and “I’m Back,” you really get drawn fully in with the searing ballad “Say Goodbye To The Blues” where Walter tributes the late B.B.King. The “King” gets a further tribute with a wild version of “Rick Me Baby” featuring Walter dueling with his son Jon, an obviously talented protege. Walter’s back-up band of bassist Johnny Griparic, keyboardist Sammy Avila, and drummer Michael Leasure are as red hot as ever, with extra flavor added to a couple songs by former Sleeze Beez/The Moon vocalist Andrew Elt. When the final strains of “The Love That We Once New” fade into the Amsterdam night, it seems to fall a bit short to merely say that Walter Trout is back. It’s like he never left, was never near death, and was not lying in the hospital too weak to move sometimes. He did go, however, through those experiences, channeled it into his music, reminding us all again of what the blues are all about. Walter Trout has lived and breathed it more then many people have, and when he picks up his guitar, steps to the mic, and tells us all about it, look out!  – MW


Walter Trout – Battle Scars

Walter Trout – Battle Scars 
Provogue – PRD-7477-2  
Walter Trout’s fans and the blues world, in general, knows what Walter went through over the past couple years. Walter was nearly at death’s door, in dire need of a new liver. An outpouring of fan support and several successful surgeries and hospital stays later, you had to know that this very passionate musician and songwriter had to be chomping at the bit to get back into the doing what he loved the most. Kicking his first post-recovery CD “Battle Scars” off with “Almost Gone” may have a story itself just in the title, but the way Walter shreds his guitar and belts out his signature throaty croon, you know he is nowhere near gone now. The emotions of the tenacious battle he fought come smoking out of the speakers when you crank up the down and gritty tunes like “Omaha” and “Playin’ Hideaway.” You can nearly feel his pain when he unleashes the soul-snaring “Haunted By The Night,” and the powerfully touching “Please Take Me Home.” Walter takes you on the full emotive roller-coaster, from near hopelessness to the relief of redemption in the bare-bones, acoustic-kissed, intoxicating “Gonna Live Again.” Listening to the sons on “Battle Scars,” you get the feeling there were times when Walter may have been lying in a hospital bed wondering how much time he had left, but was still brewing musical magic somewhere deep inside. Perhaps that helped him to survive until he was able to receive his transplant. Whatever happened in those dark days, Walter is back with a new lease on life, and has returned to giving the whole of his musical self to his fans’ massive relief and…when they listen to his new music, to their total enjoyment as well. – MW


Erik Norlander – Surreal

Erik Norlander – Surreal
Think Tank Media – TTMD-1058
Keyboard maestro Erik Norlander has been unleashing his prodigious talents for quite a few years now. Beyond his projects including Rocket Scientists and Galactic Collective, as well as recording with “prog diva” wife Lana Lane and other acts, he does also circle around and simply stamp his own name on projects. Pure Erik Norlander…pure brilliance! His latest creation “Surreal” weaves down various avenues of progressive rock with some interesting paths, drawing in the listener and never letting up on the musical intrigue from start to finish. Erik does tend to launch his CDs with overtures, and here we have “The Party’s Overture” which meshes touches of hookiness with the right doses of instrumental prowess. “The Galaxy Collectors” is a sci-fi opus that gallops along with a boogie-type rhythmic vibe. “Suitcase and Umbrella” tilts in a mellower direction with alternating lush piano and synth passages, and a slightly bluesy tilt at times, especially when guitarist Alastair Greene (Alan Parsons Project) cuts loose. Lana lends her soaring vocal expertise to the title track, the only non-instrumental song; a mid-tempo groover that starts with a subtle intensity before blooming to a fierce finish. While Erik’s keyboard wizardry is the focal point, he also never shies away from allowing his musical cohorts display their chops. Along with Greene’s stellar guitar work, you have the wicked bass licks of Mark Matthews, the frenetic but stoic drumming of Nick LePar, and flavorful percussion additions from Greg Ellis. Returning collaborators Jeff Kollman, Mark McCrite, and Don Schiff lend their skills as well. Erik actually does not seem to be re-inventing the wheel here. In fact, it seems like sometimes he is more back to basics and keeping things on the simple side. But everyone knows that in the world of progressive rock, simple still means stunning musicianship, crisp but life-like production, and intriguing songwriting. Erik Norlander more then delivers on all those facets…he always has. It is very apparent he has a very deep well of innovative ideas to fuse with his love of music that shows no signs whatsoever of running dry. – MW

Erik Norlander-Surreal 600x600