Capsule Reviews by Mark E. Waterbury

Jenny Van West – Happiness To Burn
Heralding from Portland, Maine, Jenny Van West is unafraid to try a bit of everything. This creates some fantastic music on her sophomore effort, ranging from folk to rock to country with various sideroads in between. Her intoxicating but also intense vocal work feels like Joan Baez hung out with the great ladies of country, while the lyrics take some provoking turns on tried and true themes. There is an undeniable uplifting groove even in the mellower tunes with more somber subjects with some excellent musicianship throughout. Overall, it feels sort of like a retro marriage of Music Row and Haight Asbury, and what a wonderful marriage it is.


Meg Williams – Maybe Someday
Singer/songwriter Meg Williams shows a lot of depth on this six song EP. With a touch of Bonnie Raitt here and a bit of Melissa Etheridge there, her battling musical souls of rock, country and blues weave together for some very enjoyable music. Her guitar work is quite ear-opening while her voice toes a nice midline of gritty yet harmonic with some great phrasing calisthenics, framing the well thought out lyrics. Definitely someone to watch out for.


Gaetano Letizia & the Underworld Blues Band – Beatles Blues Blast

Gaetano Letizia & the Underworld Blues Band – Beatles Blues Blast
The Beatles are one of those bands that if you do a tribute album to their music, you better hit the ball out of the park, lest you commit musical blasphemy. Cleveland’s Gaetano Letizia not only hits it out of the park, it is a grand slam into the parking lot. The veteran blues guitar slinger and his power trio manage to pay respectful homage to the Beatles while also flashing their prodigious musical chops in an entertaining fashion. A blues tribute to the Beatles is by no means a stretch because, as any fan knowsm the Fab Four loved and were often influenced by American blues. Most of the songs carry the essence of the originals, laced with Gaetano’s stunning guitar work, and the stoic but intricate rhythms of bassist Lenny Gray and drummer Mike D’Elia. Some, however, kick a bit a different groove into gear, particularly the songs that have had well known covers done before; “Come Together,” With A Little Help From My Friends,” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” The latter is a particularly gutsy and intriguing version that stands out against the famous versions by Jeff Healey and Prince. The trio is unafraid to do things a bit differently such as in a Cream-ish instrumental take on “Do It In The Road,” a smoky roadhouse tilt to “A Day In The Life.”  and a snappy shuffle ditty-fueled “Tax Man.” Beatles fans won’t be disappointed and neither will blues lovers because this is a great and unique tribute that is both fun and respectful. – MW


Jo-EL Sonnier – The Legacy

Jo-EL Sonnier – The Legacy
Takau Records
To say that music is universal is not cliche. If you have any doubts about that statement, give a listen to “The Legacy” by Jo-EL Sonnier. All the lyrics on this Grammy winning CD are in French, but you do not need to be fluent or parlay any Francois to understand where the legendary “King of Cajun music” is coming from. Sonnier’s talents are immense, as anyone who knows Cajun music can attest to, as will the numerous country and pop performers whose songs have included his mastery of the accordion. You can feel the emotions he puts into each song, whether you speak the language or not.  “Les Blues D’Ennui” translated to “Boredom Blues” will alleviate that affliction if you are experiencing it with its snappy rhythm. “Si J’ai Pas Toi”, (“If I Don’t Have You”) has a subtle pop rock groove with pained vocal works that harken the lamenting of a lost love. “Mama’s Two Step” – the only English titled,  song feels fun and fresh. Sometimes Cajun music can get repetitive and sound to similar to other artists, but Sonnier has a knack for tossing in varied and tasty songwriting morsels in just the right spots and striving to do things just a bit differently while keeping the ethnic vibe intact. So, yes, his music is universal – his language is roots, talent, and passion. If you can’t speak that particular language yourself, you can certainly enjoy this particular interpretation. – MW


Review Capsules by Mark Waterbury

Michael Packer – “I Am The Blues” My Story Vol. 3
IMG Records
A bright light in the blues chandelier burned out in May when Michael Packer lost his tenacious fight with cancer. He left behind an incredible musical legacy, punctuated by this excellent final collection. Introducing each track with a verbal story of what inspired the track, Michael’s perspectives translate wonderfully into songs with influential ranges from bare bones blues to hip-hop, country to jazz. This final gift is a wonderful reminder of how talented Michael is and how much his activism-fueled blues will be missed.
Gerry Spehar – I Hold Gravity
Before going into a non-music profession, Gerry Spehar opened for the likes of Merle Haggard, Townes Van Zandt, and Boz Scaggs. Now, once again, turning his passion to music, it is obvious that Gerry has drawn influences from those legends while still pouring his own heart and soul into his writing. Twisting in a subtle portion of blues along with a road-map of Americana vibes, this is a delectable, ear-opening journey of music that is rootsy, gritty, powerful yet soothing. With the rebirth of more roots-oriented country, Gerry has picked the perfect time to make a comeback – and his love for music obviously never left him.


Mike Younger – Little Folks Like You And Me

Mike Younger – Little Folks Like You And Me
With his fourth album, Mike Younger proves why he is highly respected as a singer-songwriter and performer. Mike never holds back on unleashing his talents and passions, weaving his heady blend of roots folk, country, blues, and Americana into songs that touch your soul and grip you with their subtle intensity. From the haunting croon of “Poisoned Rivers” to the potent honky tonk kick of “Never Was A Dancer,” Mike’s versatile, emotive voice tells life-brimming stories that are both enjoyable and thought-provoking. He can snarl at you with the gutsy rock edge of “Walk In The Mud” or coerce a lump in your throat with “How To Tell A Friend Goodby.” As Nashville finally heads back to its roots, you would have to think that would bode well for Mike Younger, a not yet hugely famous hard-working songsmith who really deserves to have wider spread attention to his wonderful music. – MW


Sara Petite – Road Less Traveled

Many male purveyors of country music are getting back to their roots lately, and if the latest release by San Diego’s Sara Petite is any indication, the women in country music have something to say about their roots, too. The fun and sassy title track gets the party started and it doesn’t end throughout the twelve tracks. Sara is like an encyclopedia of classic country styles, as she flows effortlessly from the haunting west Texas groove of “Blackbird” and the hooky pop edged “It Was Just A Kiss” to the emotive ballad “Getting Over You.” “Monkey On My Back” starts off with a traditional swing style before kicking into a high-octane honky-tonk foot-stomper. Sara has no problems letting the talented players on this CD showcase their capabilities, particularly in the over-nine-minute jam fueled “Sweet Pea Patch” – yes, you heard that right, a NINE MINUTE country song, but it really kicks throughout! Not lost at all is Sara’s knack for great storytelling that is both homey and thought-provoking. Check out tunes like “Patchwork Quilt” and “Good 2 B Me” if you want to really experience her talents in this regard. Sara is a Plains tornado of fresh air in the country scene and  lovers of any era of country really need to check her out.  – MW


Capsule Reviews by Mark E. Waterbury

Debbie Bond – Enjoy The Ride: Shoal Sessions
Blues Root Productions – BRP1601
Debbie Bond’s deep Alabama roots shines through in her robust, soulful vocal work. Like Ann Wilson on a Bonnie Raitt trip, Debbie belts it out with the best, but also shows deft vocal and emotive control and an excellent range. The music co-written by partner Rick Asherson is non-pretentious feel good blues, rock and soul, the perfect compliment to Debbie’s vocal prowess. If you love ladies who sing the blues, don’t miss out on this one! 

Callenberg – Lost In The Mail
Bend Records – BENDCD002
Swedish alt rockers Callenberg producing music that is refreshing, intriguing and in many ways intoxicating. Pulsing ambient soundscapes with folksy subtleties and the right wafts of rock sensibility create songs that are both catchy and edgy. Emotively mesmerizing vocals and provocative stories are afloat on a sea of wondrous musical eccentricities. This group continues to show further maturity in their songwriting capabilities. 

Mark Cameron – Playing Rough
COP Records
From the wilds of southern Minnesota, Mark Cameron plays both rough and smooth. That is always the proper recipe for great blues; rough edges but a smooth delivery, and Mark’s vocals run their own balance of smoothness and emotive timbre. Comforting grooves and stoic rhythms are punctuated by searing guitar and harp licks. With both deep roots and edgy modern sensibilities, Mark channels his feelings through some very enjoyable tunes. 

Mary Ann Casale – Restless Heart
Subcat Music Records
Long Island born Mary Ann Casale has one of those husky, folksy voices that is infectious and works well with whatever music is augmenting it. You have a tasty feast here ranging from coffee-house folk to burlesque blues, from Americana rock to country boogie. Whatever the styles, Mary Ann’s vocals will snare you with their honest emotion and the intriguing stories conveyed. 

Trey Forbes – Restless Freedom
The music by this indie singer-songwriter is a bit on the raw side, but he makes no apologies for doing things a bit different, and that in itself makes this an intriguing CD. Wide ranging influences from West Coast punk to country folk, there is often an haunting ambience to the songs, giving them a nice edge and enticing you to hear more. Lyrically dark but also provocative, this music is interesting in all the right ways. 

Walter Forbes – Bull-Bat Time/Just For Fun
Veteran Georgia based song-smith and actor Walter Forbes seemingly has fueled a lifetime of musical and life influences into this highly enjoyable duo of CDs. Twisting and turning down the back roads of folk, country, Americana and Appalachian, this is story telling music at it’s purest and finest. From humorous to heartbreaking, life experiences to introspective views, this is music where you can hang on every word but also savor the musical and vocal talents that swirl around them like a cool Southern breeze. 

Mike Jacoby – NorthEastSouthWest
Born on one coast and now living on the other, Mike Jacoby draws influences more from the heartland and the south. Organic and folksy at times, and in your face rocking at others, this is a delectable blend of various tendrils of Americana. From the rocking “Nevermind Me” to the rollicking country blues of “Explaining To Do” and the sweet folk ballad “Lie In Bed,” Mike is quite talented in creating comfortingly intriguing music. 

Peter Karp – The Arson’s Match
KarpFoley Music
There are live albums and then there are live albums, and this one you can almost feel the sweat coming off Peter Karp and his cohorts as he unleashes his fiery blues/Americana rock gospel on the audience. Joined by legendary Stones guitarist Mick Taylor, Peter, Mick and the boys sizzle through a ten song set with crisp but lively production that transports you to the front row. You may end up sweating after listening to this, too. Also, 100% of the sales of this CD go to ovarian cancer research. 

R.B. Stone – Some Call It Freedom (Some Call It The Blues)
Middle Mountain Music
Actually you can call music from this stoic Ohio born blues master a lot of things. You can call it rock, you can call it country, you can call it roots and, yes, you can call it blues. You can also call it smoking as it is that type of blues that will just about literally cause smoke to waft from your CD players. Even the mellower songs have a potency to them, with snarling guitars, thick rhythms and R.B.’s robust vocals. I call it a killer CD! 

Von Zimmer – Freddie’s Extra Teeth
Tasty Treat Records
South Dakota does not sound like a state where you would expect edgy, punk influenced music to come from. Von Zimmer is changing that in a loud and distorted but clear voice. There is a depth of punk influences, from the early NY glammers to the L.A. hard core scene, with the added subtleties of folk, pop and Americana. It’s raw, it’s noisy, it spits in your face lyrically, but wasn’t that what punk was about? Von gets it and unleashes it with serious fervor. 


Jason Vivone & the Billy Bats – The Avenue

Jason Vivone & the Billy Bats   – The Avenue
KC bluesman Jason Vivone is a storyteller extraordinaire, telling tales that can make you laugh or cry, sing along or sit and think. Perhaps is is too simplistic though to call him a “bluesman” as he definitely pushes the blues envelope not just beyond the traditional boundaries, but beyond many traditional offshoots as well. His music backdrops are eclectic – he is unafraid to break away from any blues purist ideology and twist the music into his own signature version of it. The tongue-in-cheek Bo Diddley beat strewn opener “The Vivone Song (Pronounced Viv O Nee) gives you a good first glimpse of the journey you are about to embark on. Songs like the rollicking “Kansas City Blues”  and ballad “Calendar” come closer to true blues styles, but even they have some internal eccentricities. The title track is a haunting, deeply moss-covered dirge with an eerie potency. “Train Musta Jumped The Track” is a wild ride with a catchy, mid tempo groove. This music would be cutting edge no matter what genre it is in, and it is particularly so considering how finicky many fans of the blues can be. You can definitely find the blues here – you just have to take a twisted path to get there.Trust me, you will enjoy the journey. – MW


The Skylarks

The Skylarks 
L.A.’s The Skylarks produce thought-provoking but also feel good music that seems like it draws more influence from the Heartland. Blending Americana with a rock vibe in a comforting midground between Mellencamp and the Bodeans and just the right essence of glam-pop edginess, they have a knack for creating music that has a subtly rollicking intensity without having to be loud or brash. Take snappy rockers such as “Our Own Enemy” or “Almost Feel the Breeze” as good examples, where you can tap your toes to the infectious grooves but still immerse yourself in the wonderful vocal harmonies and intriguing stories. Songs like “Sheer Bliss For Me” and “Just One Of The Crew” have a sly atmospheric touch meshing delectably with the hookieness of the music vibe. The ambient country tinged “No One Else But Me” shows a slightly mellower but emotively intense side to the band. The players are all talented and know their places – that is, no one goes off on ego-stroking passages. Instead. they showcase their talents on how well everything comes together. This is their fourth release and if they have not received more recognition before, they deserve it as this CD shows a band comfortable with its sound, mature in its capabilities, and brimming with passion to create great tunes. – MW


Mick Rhodes and the Hard Eight – Paradise City

Mick Rhodes and the Hard Eight – Paradise City
Hot Tramp Records – HTR006
Mick Rhodes cut his teeth in the L.A. punk scene, and you can feel subtle pieces of those influences in the music here. He likes straight up rock, too, and with further journeys into country and folk, he has obviously a wide taste in music. He is a master at weaving those various influences together into highly enjoyable tunes. “Married Girls” launches the CD with a sort of Elvis Costello hanging out in the Heartland feel. Songs like “Since You” and “Keep It Simple” are smoking rockers, the former straight ahead and Springsteen-esque, the latter being a more hooky punk-edged romp. “Don’t Remind Me” feels like it wafted out of a smoky west Texas honky-tonk, while “Whisky Girl” is power blues at its best. Along with his songwriting eccentricities, Mick writes catchy and often subtly humorous lyrics, spinning interesting tales. Backed by some excellent musicianship, this sophomore CD should wake up more people to this creator of music that is both fun and intriguing. – MW