New Blues Review 10-18-23
Smoky Greenwell – Blues For Democracy (Self Produced) – Smoky came to New Orleans in 1989 for an engagement at the now legendary (and defunct) Old Absinthe Bar and decided to stay. In New Orleans, he has played with Snooks Eaglin, Eddie Bo, “Big” Al Carson, Coco Robicheaux, Willie Lockett, Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes, Bryan Lee, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Spencer Bohren, George Porter, Jr., Waylon Thibodeaux, Rockin’ Dopsie, Jr., Chubby Carrier, Tommy Malone, Jimmy Page, Willie Weeks, Trombone Shorty, and many others in the areas of blues, New Orleans jazz, Zydeco, and funk. In addition to fronting his own band, Smoky was the 1990’s replacement for Lee Oskar in the seminal band WAR with Harold Brown, BB Dickerson, and Howard Scott. More recently, Smoky appeared in The Last Waltz Tribute Band with Warren Haynes, Bob Margolin, Michael McDonald, and Don Was. Greenwell has definitely put in his time and has played with some of the greats in music, but this CD is rather flat. Smoky sings, which is not great, and all the songs are politically based. Why in the world would someone think this is a good idea. Well, it’s self produced, which probably explains it as just a fun project. I get that, but not fun for this listener. Most of the music is standard blues tunes with this political garble, spoken in some cases. I think my favorite on this CD is “99%”, listen here. I will probably give this a 7 on Blues Content and a 2 on Music Content.
Al Basile – B’s Time (Sweet Spot) – This year is the 25th Anniversary of Al Basile’s Sweetspot label, and B’s Time is it’s 20th release. B’s Time is a career retrospective, featuring 17 songs from Al’s solo CDs, remastered using the most up-to-date technology by Glenn Halverson at his Sonic Hill Studio in Ooltewah, Tennessee. The songs have never sounded so good, and many are from releases early in Al’s career, before he became much better known following his 8 Blues Awards nominations starting in 2010. Though they originate from a 25 year span, they sound completely contemporary, showing that Al’s work is timeless, and that his output has been remarkably consistent since the beginning. The music really flows on this CD, some are more on the Jazz side, but are still really well done. Some of the songs that really shine are “I Really Miss You”, “Jimmy and Johnny” and “Losing My Cool”. I think my favorite on this CD is “1,843 Million”, listen here. I will probably give this a 7 on Blues Content and a 9 on Music Content.
Garret T. Willie – Same Pain (First Peoples’) – Garret is the real deal, incredible guitarist, vocalist and writer. He has spent is young career studying the greats from Howlin’ Wolf, Albert King and Muddy Waters to Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis to The Rolling Stones, Ten Years After, AC/DC, Stevie Ray Vaughan, George Thorogood and everyone else who’s carried the torch into the present, with a little Johnny Cash and Hank Williams thrown in for some outlaw-country flavor on the side. He knows the music – all of it, top to bottom – knows its history, knows its lineage, knows its hottest licks. He’s been studying every inch of that history and that lineage ever since he started teaching himself Angus Young solos as a 7-year-old from the sticks looking to escape, picking up on the common, primal essence behind all the music he loves and channels today. And that’s why, on Same Pain, Garret T. Willie can not only really rip it up on the guitar, but also with the gut-busting honesty of someone who understands that if you ain’t lived it, you shouldn’t sing it. At least that’s the way it is for him. You can really hear the SRV influences, but Garret can really back it up and put his own spin on his music. This is Garret’s first CD and shows the brilliance of a lifetime of emotion. Garret’s musical journey has been a rollercoaster of emotions, evident in his earlier hits like “Love Hangover” and the heartfelt ballad “What It Means To Me.” Each note is infused with the authenticity of personal experiences, none more so than the title track itself. Inspired by heartache and penned during a poignant moment in Vancouver, the song captures the universal theme of enduring pain, reinventing it with a fresh perspective. I think my favorite on this CD is “Making You Mine Tonight”, listen here. I will probably give this a 9 on Blues Content and a 9 on Music Content.
Ray Bonneville – On The Blind Side (Stonefly Music) – Bonneville has lived the life of the itinerant artist. From his native Quebec, he moved to Boston at age twelve, where he learned English and picked up piano and guitar. Later, he served in Vietnam and earned a pilot’s license in Colorado before living in Alaska, Seattle, and Paris. Six years in New Orleans infused his musical sensibilities with the region’s culture and rhythms. And then, a close call while piloting a seaplane proved pivotal: After two decades working as a studio musician, playing rowdy rooms with blues bands, and living hard, Bonneville’s lifetime of hard-won experience coalesced into an urge to write his own music. Bonneville delivers nine originals with a voice that moves from soothing to troubling…depending on the direction of the song. He co-produced the record with Texas singer-songwriter/producer Will Sexton, who also plays on the album. While remaining accessible to the listener, this new group of songs represents a more introspective phase for Ray. “Lucky Moon”, has a really nice laid back feel and showcases Ray’s decent voice. This CD feels funny calling it Blues, it has almost a folk, Roots, Jimmy Buffet feel. All song very laid back, great lyrics and a great CD to play in the background at home. I think my favorite on this CD is “Streetcar Man”, listen here. I will probably give this a 6 on Blues Content and a 7 on Music Content.
Kingfish – Live In London (Alligator) – Well now, we saved the best for last. Every Blues fan knows the name Kingfish. Monster Blues prodigy from Mississippi that seems to have pulled the souls of all the old Blues Legends together to create this musical genius. Kingfish has all the ingredients for success, soulful authentic voice, blazing guitar skills and a very likable personality with his stage presence. This is a live recording in London at the venue called The Garage. Throughout the concert, Kingfish’s command over his instrument is awe-inspiring. He remains in the moment, at times raining down incendiary solos, other times picking poignant, blues-drenched licks, but always playing deeply from his heart. Along with his versatile, tight-knit band – bassist Paul Rogers, drummer Christopher Black and keyboardist Deshawn Alexander – he brings intensity and honesty to each song, moving the audience from hushed disbelief to spontaneous, extended ovations. It’s impossible to pick out favorites or songs that are better than others, every song is a story of this young man’s Blues Journey. I think my favorite on this CD is “Empty Promises”, a remake of my favorite Michael Burks song, listen here. I will probably give this a 10+ on Blues Content and a 10+ on Music Content.