New Blues Review 12/19/23

Aretta Woodruff – A Tribute to Denise Lasalle (Music Maker) 

Raised in the dirt-road town of Wellington, Alabama, Aretta Woodruff found her voice in the Hopewell Baptist church choir at five years old and has not stopped singing since. A force to be reckoned with, she brings her indefatigable spirit and powerhouse vocals to every performance. Aretta’s talent and commitment to her art have propelled her into fame within the Birmingham Blues and R&B music scene.Aretta holds her Baptist upbringing close to her heart. She belongs to a lineage of Black vocalists whose strong spiritual connection to music began in the church communities that raised them; “Musicians like Aretha and Whitney and Denise LaSalle, we all share a testimony of where we come from and how we got to where we are today,” she explains. Aretta describes her musical expression as a blend of these legends’ styles, some old-school R&B and Blues, and a little bit of everything. Her versatility across these genres sets her apart—she brings as much creative fervor to her rendition of “Tennessee Whiskey” as she does to the jazz standard, “Summertime.” When asked where she draws her inspiration from, Aretta doesn’t hesitate, “I credit God and I give him all praises.” Aretta’s latest recording is taking on the songs of Denise Lasalle, quite an undertaking. Aretta hand picked the songs that she wanted to cover, the lesser known songs and give what she does best, sing. Her band was composed of Norman Garner on guitar, Eric Rhoads on guitar and bass, Dan Hector on keyboards, Tony Grady on bass, Ardie Dean on percussion, Dan Bowyer on trombone, Ken Waters on trumpet, Steve Motz on baritone sax with backing vocals by Tracy Jackson, Yasmine LeBrun, Summer Baruda, Natrickle Louissaint, and Neeve Weinberger. This is an amazing album that flows in between Blues, R&B and Jazz, even within the same song. “Blues Reputation” has a great R&B or early Rock feel to it, her voice is perfect for this genre. Many of her songs start out as a Gospely type feel and you tell that Aretta comes from singing in the Church. Many great covers here of Lasalle but I think my favorite on this CD “Holding Hands with the Blues”, listen here. I will probably give this a 10 on Blues Content and a 10 on Music Content.

Paul Reed Smith Eightlock – Lions Roaring in Quicksand (Steel Records)  Paul Reed Smith Eightlock is a band of high-level musicians who are friends and have “locked” together recording and performing a new kind of groove with its roots in Baltimore funk, DC go-go and New Orleans swing. The excitement around this “3 drummer groove” is infectious. The band’s first CD will be released in December of 2023. The line-up is three drummers, a bass player, female singer and three guitar players. Mia Samone- “Must hear” new Baltimore voice, Gary Grainger- Bass, John Scofield/George Duke/Bill Evans, Greg Grainger- Drummer, Whitney Houston/Acoustic Alchemy/Kim Waters, Dennis Chambers- Modern Drummer Hall of Fame; Santana/Parliament-Funkadelic, Ju Ju House- Drummer, Chuck Brown/EU, Michael Ault- Renowned Washington D.C. guitarist, Bill Nelson- Baltimore guitarist and singer, Paul Reed Smith- World renowned guitar maker/guitar player. I was ready not to like this album, but man it is fireworks from the first song ” Sarah”. Mia Samone has an incredible voice, band is super tight and quite magical at moments. “I’m Ready” is a great driving groove from the start, nice distorted lead guitar. Their remake of “War” is absolutely brilliant and very true to the original but just funkier!! There is nothing bad on this album, every song is a new adventure. I think my favorite on this CD “Man In The Moon”, listen here. I will probably give this a 7 on Blues Content and a 10 on Music Content.

Michael Mulvaney – Everyone is Blue (Self Produced)  I completed a review of Michael’s last CD, “The Legend of Rhythm Man Luther” and I was not that thrilled with the CD. Just thought it was all over the place really. Now this CD is a little more centered on Blues/Roots Music and really makes more sense. Everyone Is Blue is the first fully original album by Michael Mulvaney, featuring Paul Brier, John Dearth, Art Wheeler, Tim Reynolds, and Richard Stickley, released in the early 1990’s. Generally the CD has good playing ability on the home sound system. Some of my favorites on this album is “Cigarettes and Coffee” and “Send Me” which has a great groove. But I think my favorite on this CD “Everyone Is Blue ”, listen here. I will probably give this a 7 on Blues Content and a 9 on Music Content.

HeavyDrunk – You Don’t Know Me (Self Produced)  The nine-piece group’s unusual name originated with a quip from no less than blues icon Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, relayed later to HeavyDrunk front man, Rob Robinson by a friend and musician who played in Brown’s band at one time. “Man, he’s a no-playin’ so-and-so… and a heavy drunk!” the music legend sneered, when urged to invite the unnamed subject of those derisive words – another well-known blues artist – on stage to play with him. While Robinson remains protective of the identity of the musician whose reputation inspired the band name, there’s no denying that the ace players who contribute to the HeavyDrunk sound create their own intoxicating blend of musical flavors including Mississippi Delta blues, rousing gospel, sultry soul and muscular rock ‘n’ roll. At the helm of this nine-piece band is Robinson, a Louisiana-born, Mississippi-raised singer-songwriter and restaurateur with feet firmly planted in the dual worlds of classic – and decidedly Southern – music and food. The owner, since 2008, of multi-award- winning and historic Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee, 45 minutes south of Nashville, Robinson leads a band that smokes onstage, while offstage he spends much of his time feeding the smoker at Puckett’s in order to serve up some of the restaurant distinctive, slow-cooked barbecue and other famed dishes. I really like this album, it has it all, great voice, great rhythms and wonderful lyrics. This CD is very well produced to be Self-Produced. The CD starts off with Bo Diddley beat of the story of “Sippi Dupree”. Title song, “You Don’t Know Me” is a take of a gospel tune with great lyrics and really shows Robinson’s voice and his musical flexibility. I think my favorite on this CD “Raised By the River ”, listen here. I will probably give this a 9 on Blues Content and a 10 on Music Content.

Mark Burnell – Gospel Piano (Self Produced) 

Mark Burnell is a Chicago-based jazz pianist, vocal coach, and minister of music for Gorham United Methodist Church. Mark received two Black Methodist Church Renewal Laity awards (2019 and 2023) and Gorham named him “Man of the Year” (2006). Mark’s overseas tours have taken him to Bern, Zurich, Paris, Geneva, Lausanne, Freiburg, St. Croix, Panama, and Amsterdam, where he played for Boom Chicago. In 2009 and 2010, he was an instructor at the International Cabaret Conference at Yale. Mark also taught jazz at Northwestern and Roosevelt Universities, and trained vocalists for 10 years at Carnegie Mellon University, where he received his MFA and BFA, and also directed the CMU Jazz Choir. Recordings include “Two for the Road” (2022) with airplay on 100 jazz stations, “Christmas Piano”(2006), Aquacadence”(2006), “Little Things We Do Together” (2000), “Blues in the Night”(2004), and “Summer Days and Dreamy Nights”(2014). Mark’s latest CD “Gospel Piano” covers Hymns and Gospel tunes. Tunes like “This Little Light Of Mine”, “Hush, Hush, Somebody is Calling My Name” and “I Want Jesus to Walk With Me”. Not my cup of tea, but I am sure someone likes just piano music. I really don’t have a favorite, it was be dishonest of me to say I do. I am going back and listen to Heavy Drunk again to get my sanity back again!! I will probably give this a -2 on Blues Content and a 6 on Music Content.

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