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


Capsule Reviews by Mark E. Waterbury

Backhouse Lily – No Apologies
An instrumental rock trio from Las Vegas, Backhouse Lily make no apologies alright…for being talented and unafraid to explore various musical paths. Though the overall  vibe is rock, here is a myriad of stylistic undercurrents ranging from blues, grunge and new wave to electronica, prog and World. Sometimes these vibes collide in the same song, creating fresh and often intoxicating music. Talent and innovation works wonderfully here.  

Mary Jo Curry – Mary Jo Curry
Guitar Angels Records
Cutting her musical teeth in theatrical productions, Mary Jo Curry unleashes her musical talents with this potent debut. This CD is brimming with bawdy blues tunes that have comforting hooks, wicked solos and just the right touch of orchestrated backdrops. Mixing originals and covers, Mary Jo shows serious vocal chops and a knack of making songs both heartfelt and uplifting. A pleasant, ear-opening first effort.


Mason Summit – Gunpowder Tracks

Mason Summit – Gunpowder Tracks
This young singer-songwriter from L.A. continues to show growth in both his songwriting and recording talent. Mason’s infectious voice seems a blend of Paul McCartney and the mellower side of Dave Grohl, as he adeptly handles the emotional twists and turns of the intriguing stories he weaves. The song styles range from intoxicating alt folk to Americana; from psuedo Brit-pop to jazz subtleties, staying on the mellow side, but still bringing an ambient intensity that is often intoxicating. The musical arrangements often showcase alternating dynamics from bare-bones acoustic to burgeoning, orchestrated flourishes. There is some serious music talent backing Mason. He has already worked with some highly-regarded players and this CD is no exception as it features drummer Shawn Nourse from I See Hawks In L.A., and electric/upright bass master Jeff Turmes from Mavis Staples’ band. It is easy to see how Mason can attract such talented musicians because his music is both likable and captivating. At just nineteen years old, this is already his third CD, and you just get the feeling listening to his progression, he is on the verge of breaking through. -MW
Mason 2016 CD PACKAGE_final_062016.indd


Hard Swimmin’ Fish – True Believer

Hard Swimmin’ Fish – True Believer 
Virginia’s Hard Swimmin’ Fish have become one of the most dependably entertaining and intriguing modern blues acts around. The music is gritty, sweaty, with a live feeling harkening of tube amps, weather-worn guitars and wooden floors that bounce with each beat. Perhaps one of the most ear-opening facet to their music is their uncanny prowess and blending strong roots with modern songwriting quirks, avoiding the all-to-common modern blues trap of coattail riding. From nasty jump to driving funk, brash rocking to mournful ballads, this band pours every ounce of their soul into these songs. The musicianship is both tight talent-wise, also exuding a looseness that makes you feel like you have a bunch of great players hanging out in a smoke-filled club for a jam session. While the lyrics lean a bit towards typical blues subjects, they do catch your attention both with their honesty and the range of vocal emotions conveying them. To boil it down, the CD/lead track title pretty much says a lot about this band’s philosophy. If you are not a true believer after listening to this CD, you had better see if you still have a pulse. – MW


Capsule Reviews by Mark E. Waterbury

Lauren Adams – Somewhere Else
Lauren Adams is one of those hard-working west coast troubadours who may not have massive recognition, but sure creates music with the passion and talent of anyone who does. She is a wonderful storyteller with a knack of conveying various emotions with her vocal inflections. From the heartrending to the humorous, to just down home good tales, Lauren’s weaving of folk, Americana, and other roots stylings is intoxicating. If you have not listened to her yet, you really need to check her out.

Jeff Crosby – Walking Dogs
Veteran Idaho singer-songwriter Jeff Crosby is a talent that should have more attention paid to him. His music is familiar in a comfortable way; Americana, country and rock blended in the vein of Jackson Brown, John Hiatt, and maybe a bit of Tom Petty. He just does it so well and his bluesy voice makes me think of a bit of Chris Stapleton as well. His stories are enthralling and his emotive vocal control and the crisp, hooky but noticeable musical talent surrounding him augments his words. Highly enjoyable music that can really grab you. 

King Llama – Return To Ox
This L.A. instrumental trio produces an amazingly full song and I am not even sure I would call this avant-garde as they push the envelope even on that. The music has the feel of an unbridled jam session, effortlessly flowing and ebbing from rock to jazz, from progressive to power funk. You have to be talented to pull this kind of improvisation off and not sound sloppy or like you are hanging on coattails, and these guys obviously have that. Expect the unexpected here, and prepare yourself to enjoy every little twist and turn. 

JJ Thames – Raw Sugar
Dechamp Records – DCH 30003
Many musicians and songwriters work hard to make sure true R&B never dies and Detroit born JJ Thames takes that particular work effort into the stratosphere. Fueled by the strong roots of her hometown, but not ignoring Chicago, Clarksdale or East Texas either, her sophomore effort is a blistering reminder that no matter who old the genre is, there can still be a freshness to the music if in the right hands. Her mesmerizing soulful croon couples wonderfully with lyrics written from the heart and adept talent at handling anything from mournful blues to rollicking feel good tunes. R&B is alive and kicking butt here!


Boo Ray – Sea Of Lights

Boo Ray – Sea Of Lights
Feralette Media – BR1601
Blazing out of the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, Boo Ray tears up a mid-ground between roots country and Southern rock tornado-fueled pick-up truck. Both genres have been waiting for some folks willing to push the envelope, and those ranks have been swelling as of late. This is Boo Ray’s third effort and no one can deny he knows how to cut loose with the best of them. “Redneck Rock & Roll” launches the CD with the muscular grit of a backwoods honky-tonk on a Saturday night. “Chickens” has a punkish edge reminiscent of Jason & the Scorchers. Boo also can show a softer side on songs like “Sea Of Lights” and “A Melody, Some Guitars & a Rhyme,” but even they have an undeniable potency to them. The bluesy ballad “One More Round” tears at your soul with its heartfelt emotion. The musicianship is excellent throughout the CD with his studio band consisting of top musicians including Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ drummer Steve Ferron and Taylor Swift’s pedal steel player Smith Curry. The real star here is the amazing versatility of Boo’s fervent voice and the incredible life-experience stories he tells with it. Most of his lyrics are tried-and-true tales of life in the country, but his honesty, inventiveness and quirky sense of humor really take them over the top. This CD should really wake up more people to an obviously talented musician and songwriter who deserves a wider spread popularity. – MW