Capsule Reviews by Mark E. Waterbury

Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch – Champaign Velvet
Underworld Indie Records – UND0028
Dallas blues master Jason Elmore blazes out of the speakers with this intense third release. With a great sense for classic blues feeling, but a Stray-Cats like rockabilly raucousness and subtle tilts in other stylistic directions, even the mellower songs have a serious punch to them. Sometimes retro can be overdone, but Jason does it right. You can feel that he has a passion for his roots, and, when he gets into the studio, is more than capable to unleash them in an ear-opening fashion. Great musicianship, interesting lyrics, and strong songwriting abound here.
AJ Hobbs – Too Much Is Never Enough
Booker Records – Booker001
There continues to be a renaissance of country artists who have strong roots in the outlaw scene of the 60’s and 70’s. AJ Hobbs is one of those artists, and, with his first full-length CD, he reminds us in kick-the-dust-off-your-boots fashion of what non-corporate country sounds like. With just the right touches of bluesiness, swing, and rocking groove, AJ channels his inner David Allan Coe and puts a sometimes wickedly humorous and, at other times, gripping slant on tried and true country subjects. Retro is fresh in country parlance and AJ Hobbs is a fresh as a beer in a cold glass from a newly tapped keg in a honky tonk on paycheck night.
Bruce Katz Band featuring Chris Vitarello – Out From The Center
American Showplace Music
Bruce Katz continues to shine brightly as one of the best blues keyboardists out there. Adding in deft doses jazz, R&B, rock and traditional and modern stylings, Bruce cuts loose with some seriously enjoyable music. Ranging from uptempo danceable tracks to mellow vibes with many stops in between, there is something here for everyone especially keyboard connoisseurs. Guitar fans will love this with the wonderful fingerwork of Chris Vitarello who lends his gutsy vocal chops to several tracks.
Davy Knowles – Three Miles from Avalon
Wyan Inc. – WYAN002
Born in The Isle Of Man, but now residing in Chi-Town, Davy Knowles knows a thing or two about the Blues. He seems to be more of a rocker with a blues soul at times and that works very well here because you can hear influences as diverse as AC/DC, Uriah Heep, and Pink Floyd sneaking around the edges as he tears lose with his emotive voice and intriguing stories. Excellent guitar and keyboard work combined with a powerful rhythm machine keep this one in the groove throughout the eight tracks.
Liz Mandeville – The Stars Motel
Blue Kitty Music
In the second song on her latest CD, veteran blues diva Liz Mandeville croons “The Blues Is My Boss” in her indomitable dusky, emotive warble. She proves that statement to be reciprocal as she is the boss of some seriously potent music here. Bringing in a great stable of players, she proves once again that classic blues can still be very enjoyable and fresh if you do it very well and do it with unbridled passion. You can hear all of the above in her voice, her words, her songwriting and her playing, and she never lets up with unleashing her passion.
Sex With Strangers – Discourse
Northern Light Records – NLSW001
Vancouver BC’s Sex With Strangers continues to impress with their latest release. Completely unafraid at flaunting deep influences from the 80’s pop/new wave scene, they turn those influences on their ears with a modern jolt. Slick songwriting and provocative lyrics are masterfully blended with just the right doses of hooks and edginess. This is a talented, passionate band who prove again that even retro bands can still be cutting edge if they create music that is both catchy and intriguing.


Star Dust

Star Dust
Melodic Revolution Records
If you are ready for a delectable and varied early Christmas music feast, then you really need to dig into this wonderful compilation. There is a succulent blend of original and classic songs with a range of musical styles as well. The opening tracks – the folksy “Raise a Glass for Christmas” by Andy John Bradford and powerful yet ambient “A Million People” by Backhand – set the table with fervent emotion. Hannah and Magnus provide an acapella masterpiece with their duet on “Silent Night.” For you folks who take your Christmas music with a shot of rock and roll, you will get your air-guitar celebrating on with Jim Crean’s take on “Blue Christmas” and the Hispanic tinged “Natal” by Colin Tench with the Christmas Chili Allstars. There are some fragrant progressive flavors here particularly on “Oltre le montagne al di la dei mari” (translates to “Mountains”) by Marco Ragni, and “Winter” by Transport Aerian. Just as Melodic Revolution Records itself has an eclectic roster, it is well-represented by the unique music and instrumental/vocal prowess on this CD. The tunes showcase how musical holiday messages can be conveyed in many forms that will touch the heart, make you laugh, cry or smile, and really appreciate the passion that went into these creations.  – MW
NOTE: MRR is also  encouraging everyone to give to those in need this holiday season. In the spirit of giving, MRR will send a free download link for this CD to anyone who sends them a picture of their involvement with Christmas charities or any other ways that you contribute to, donate, volunteer or help those less fortunate or in need during this holiday season. You can send your picture of your charitable holiday actions to


  1 Attached Images

Capsule Reviews by Mark E. Waterbury

JL Fulks – On Down The Road EP
This five-song second effort proves that South Carolina singer/songwriter/guitarist JL Fulks is sounding like a force to be reckoned with. Having a firm grasp of his blues roots, but knowing how to infuse them with rock, country and other stylings, makes for some killer songs. His voice has a nice emotive edge to it and his guitar capabilities are stellar. His back-up band also nails it and if anyone doubts that, check out the wild instrumental that concludes the CD. Look out for this guy!

Cris Jacobs – Dust to Gold
The second CD by former frontman of The Bridge Cris Jacobs shows he has really honed his talent and is positively enjoying himself as an Americana troubadour. Comfortable whether letting loose with country-fueled rockers or crooning bare-bones folk, Cris is stellar at creating intriguing stories weaved into a mosaic of musical landscapes. His influential roots run deep and his musical soul is exposed for all to hear. You just know he is putting everything into every track on this ear-opening sophomore effort. 


The Jimmys – Live From Transylvania at Sighisoara Blues Festival

The Jimmys – Live From Transylvania at Sighisoara Blues Festival
Brown Cow Productions – BCP004
One of Wisconsin’s favorite blues sons Jimmy Voegeli takes his band way across the pond to the land of spooky castles and caped fiends. No fear here whatsoever as The Jimmys’ music will turn any would-be vampire into a dancing blues-lover. Hitting their stride with the jazzier side of blues featuring a robust horn section, magic on the piano, furious guitar riffs and snappy rhythms, this is one of the liveliest live albums I have heard in while. It is easy to picture Jimmy and his cohorts letting loose as you listen, playing an enjoyable mix of their original favorites and some well-chosen covers. Just take a listen to songs like “Love Will Find A Way,” “Cold Woman” and “Lose That Woman,” and I defy you not to start dancing or, at the very least, furiously tap your feet. And, yes, there are some heartfelt ballads to be heard as well – particularly “Lonesome Whistle Blues” where Jimmy really unleashes his vocal soul, graced by his work on the Hammond and amazing trombone riffs by Darren Sterud. The Jimmys hit all the right notes from the somber to happy ends of the blues spectrum. And if you have not seen them perform before, then this CD is a very good substitute. – MW


Steven Graves – Captain Soul

Steven Graves – Captain Soul
The veteran and versatile California songwriter has created another enjoyable CD brimming with thoughtfully-crafted, hooky songs that feels like a road-trip of American music styles. The snappy “Light Turns To Day” kicks things off with a comforting groove and west-Texas blues infused musical passages. Songs like “Man From A Different Planet” and “Somewhere Somehow” are charged with a Southern rock fuel while you can actually catch the aromas of Bourbon Street during the mournful blues ballad “Walk With Me.” Various flavorings of country, Heartland rock, and even some sly World touches add to the flavorful stew that never fails to tantalize your musical tastebuds. Steven’s band members and the musical guests all are very adept at not doing anything too flashy, but subtly flaunting their musical chops in just the right doses to augment Steven’s vocal work. Steven has one of those voices that can sooth you one minute and drive the point home with fervor the next and he is unafraid to tackle subjects dear to his heart in the words he weaves. This is a Captain who is definitely in command of his musical soul and the results are simply wonderful.  – MW


Eric Johnson – ej

Eric Johnson – ej
Provogue Records
After years of stunning the world with with his multi-genre tinged guitar rock records, Eric shows a quieter side with his first acoustic release simply titled, “ej.” I hesitate to use the word “stunning” here because Eric’s talents are very well-respected and it should not stun anyone that, even in an acoustic environment, his musical abilities are still incredible. Just listen to the delectable picking and melodic vocal work of “Wonder” if you need a microcosm of the CD. But don’t miss any of the songs just for the sake of one example because Eric delves deep into his songwriting, playing, and singing talents to produce a CD that is beautifully intriguing. Eric’s fingers also can twinkle the keys wonderfully as piano-graced tracks like “Water Under the Bridge” and “Wrapped In A Cloud” can attest to. Like most Eric Johnson CDs, there are instrumental tracks ranging from the raucous country fried “The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise” to traditional Spanish mastery of “Serinidad.” Eric also does a couple fervent tributes to Simon & Garfunkel with the peppy acoustic guitar take on “Mrs. Robinson” and a haunting piano kissed vocal version of “Scarborough Fair.” Beyond the covers, Eric’s writing is amazing as always with the usual aromatic stew of styles in a stripped down and highly enjoyable format. Even if you are partial to his rocking material, his capabilities and creating bare-bones music at a high range of potency is…I have to say it…truly stunning! – MW


Rik Emmett & Resolution 9 – Res 9

Rik Emmett & Resolution 9 – Res 9
Provogue Records
Guitarist/vocalist Rik Emmett has been involved in various solo projects since his departure from Canadian power trio Triumph. If anyone questions Rik has lost his rocker’s edge because he has been involved in more acoustic-oriented recordings and tours for several years, strap in and crank “Res 9” on and you will receive your answer. “Stand Still” flat out roars from your speakers to launch the CD with the force of a dozen Saturn-Vs. “Human Race” is reminiscent of the hooky but potent rocking hits that made Triumph so popular and also features a guest appearance by a guitarist from another “somewhat” famous Canadian trio Alex Lifeson. “I Sing” is an emotive and sonic power ballad featuring the soaring pipes of Dream Theater vocalist James LaBrie. Even the mellower songs here have a subtle intensity, and often not-so-subtly crank it up as in the haunting blues-tinged “The Ghost Of Shadow Town.” Lifeson joins again for the prog-fueled opus “End Of The Line” before the CD ends with Triumph bandmate Gil Moore joining in for the bare-bones sweet groove of “Grand Parade.” There is a great mixture of hard-driving rock tunes and mellow vibes throughout the well-written CD and Rik’s musical cohorts in Resolution 9 have serious chops. Vocally, Rik is in excellent form with his range and versatility shining throughout, perhaps most noticeable when comparing the searing lead track with the more croon-like ending track. So yes, Rik is still rocking and doing a few other things that may not be flat-out rock, but are still very ear-opening music. Even if Triumph doesn’t manage to do a full-fledged reunion at some point, you know you will still get reliably excellent music from one of the architects of that great trio. – MW


Nathaniel Land – My Destination’s You

NYC’s singer-songwriter Nathaniel Land has produced another wonderful music gift – a further honing of his already excellent songcrafting capabilities. Nathaniel has always had a mesmerizing voice, feeling like the edgy croon of David Gray is blended with a touch of Gregg Allman bluesiness. You can really feel his thought-provoking words as he always has an emotive intensity whether on the barebones folk of “Emily” or the indie rock power ballad of “Lonely Life.” The songs also have often inspirational vibes, particularly noticeable on “California Blue” and “Take Your Chances,” the latter being a mellow acoustic track that remains uplifting and powerful. The title track ends the EP with overflowing emotions and a wonderfully subtly intricate musical backdrop. There are so many singer/songwriters out there these days that you really need something special to break away from the stereotypical sounds. Nathaniel Land has more than proven he has something special. It boils down to his passion fueling his words and music, and how he then creates songs where the listener can experience his feelings and tales. He continues to intrigue and shows that he deserves widespread acclaim. – MW