Category: Blues

Throwback: Happy 85th Birthday, Buddy Guy!

JOVM celebrates Buddy Guy’s 85th birthday.

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In 2004, Chicago-based producer David Vandenberg brought the Leeds-based funk act The New Mastersounds to the States as an opener for Greyboy All-Stars for what would be the acclaimed British act’s first Stateside tour. And as the story goes, Vandenberg took The New Mastersounds’ guitarist, bandleader and producer Eddie Roberts out to Rosa’s, a legendary blues club on Chicago’s West Side on Roberts’ first night in town to catch local blues legend Omar Coleman, who had been playing Rosa’s for decades. Interestingly, almost two decades later, Roberts would wind up producing Coleman’s forthcoming album Eddie Roberts Presents Omar Coleman: Strange Times.

Slated for release this summer through Roberts’ own Color Red Music, the album’s title is an ode to The New Mastersounds 2001 debut, Keb Darge Presents: The New Mastersounds — and in many ways Coleman’s album finds Roberts, an acclaimed musician, bandleader and producer taking on the role of curator and influencer, championing and supporting artists he believes should be heard and love, essentially paying Keb Darge’s support forward to a worthy act.

Earlier this year, I wrote about album title track “Strange Times,” a strutting and gritty synthesis of The Payback-era James Brown funk and Chicago blues featuring a looping bluesy guitar line, bursts of shimmering strings and a funky bass line that would Bootsy Collins‘ proud paired with Coleman’s powerhouse, soulful vocals. Lyrically, the song’s origins can be traced to a series of conversations Coleman had with Roberts during the album’s recording sessions about the bizarre, infuriating and tragic state of America during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unsurprisingly, the exchange between the two kept turning back to the fact that we were all living in very strange times. Coleman took that and ran with it, immediately scribbling out incisive and fiery lyrics that accurately describe life in our very moment with the song talking about the abject poverty, desperation and uncertainty that hardworking and decent folks everywhere face. As the old saying the rich get richer while the poor get sicker.

“Chicago,” Strange Times‘ latest single is a fiery song that hews to Chicago’s beloved blues tradition while brashly refusing to be pigeonholed. Much like its predecessor, it’s a bit of synthesis of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf-like blues and James Brown-era soul featuring an enormous horn line, a blazing harmonica solo and a strutting grove paired with Coleman’s soulful wailing. Starting with Coleman proudly announcing that he’s from Chicago’s West Side, the song talks about the things I love about that city: its a town inhabited by tough, hardworking people, who like countless people across the world are struggling to survive to keep their dignity intact, despite the despair, shittiness and inequity and inequality thrown in their path.

For the album, Roberts recruited an accomplished backing band that features himself, Ghost Light’Dan Africano (bass), Matador! Soul Sounds‘ Chris Spies (keys and organ), Dragondeer’s Carl Sorenson (drums), Lettuce‘s Eric “Benny” Bloom (trumpet), Michal Menert‘s Nick Gerlach (sax), Adrienne Short (viola) and Kari Clifton (violin) to help him with a sonic approach that would combine classic blues with funkier blues. And to capture the rawness and immediacy of the material, they recorded it straight to tape on Color Red Studios’ Tascam 388. “I hear Omar’s voice as a cross between Muddy Waters and Charles Bradley,” Roberts says. “I tried to reflect those qualities in music approach and songwriting as well as the way we recorded the album and built the instrumentation of the tracks.

New Video: The Murlocs Release a Surreal Visual for Melancholy “Bittersweet Demons”

With the release of their first four albums, The Murlocs  — King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s Ambrose Kenny-Smith and Cook Craig with Cal Shortal, Matt Mlach and Tim Karmouche — have released four albums of fuzzy and distorted psychedelic blues. which they’ve supported as an opener for the likes of Gary Clark, Jr., Mac DeMarco, Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, Pixies, Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks, Wavves and of course, Kenny-Smith’s and Craig’s primary gig, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard — and as a headlining act, as well.

The Aussie psych blues outfit’s fifth album. the Tim Dunn-produced Bittersweet Demons is slated for a June 25, 2021 release through their longtime label home ATO Records. Recorded at Button Pushers Studio, the 11-song album finds the band lovingly reflecting on the people, who have left a profound imprint on their lives, the saviors, the hell raisers and other assorted mystifying and complex characters. Arguably, the most personal and complex batch of material they’ve written to date, the album reportedly finds the band bouncing around and between sunny pop, blues punk and wide-eyed psychedelia informed by John Lennon‘s Plastic Ono Band and Harry Nilsson‘s Lennon-produced Pussy Cats. 

In the buildup to the album’s release, I’ve managed to write about two of Bittersweet Demons’ singles:

The Tim Karmouche penned “Francesca,” a rousingly upbeat, hook-driven ripper with a subtle New Wave polish written for Kenny-Smith’s mother, who found a new lease on life through newfound love. 
“Eating At You,” a slow-burning and melancholic sing-a-long that subtly recalls “I Got Friends in Low Places,” with the song being an ode to those deeply troubled friends and erstwhile n’er-do-wells of life that you can’t help but love.

Bittersweet Demons’ third and latest single is the mid-tempo, piano-driven, jangling blues and album title track “Bittersweet Demons.” And unlike its immediate predecessor, the song is one of those melancholy, pour some of your booze out for the dead homies jam that becomes sadly all too common when you get older.

“I was messing around with the tune on the piano for a while but never knew where to take it lyrically,” The Murlocs’ Kenny-Smith recalls in press notes. “Over time the bones of the song sat away in the back of my mind waiting for the right time to come back out and be pieced together properly. Whilst we were on tour in America in 2019 one of my sweetest and dearest friends Keegan Walker passed away. His presence was unlike any other I have ever experienced. That kind of person that’s forever filling you up with joyous excitement. Someone that always took the time and effort to be in your life and support you through the thick and thin no matter what. Every time I came home from tour he was always the first to contact me and come by with some croissants and a handful of lavender that he’d pick from my front garden. Keegan was always there for his friends. A few days after the funeral I sat back down to play at the piano and the words started to come out and feel right. I reckon Keegan would’ve loved this song, he loved this kind of soppy stuff cause he’s a softie just like me.”

Directed and edited by Guy Tyzack, the recently released video for “Bittersweet Demons” was shot on grainy Super 8 Film and follows the adventures and memories of a lonely house that misses his human friends — and at one point is looking for a human to inhabit it.

New Video: Robert Finley Releases a Swampy Boogie Blues

Robert Finley is a 67 year-old Winnsboro, LA-born, Bernice, LA-based singer/songwriter, who was one of eight children in a family of sharecroppers. As a child, a young Finley was unable to regular attend school and often worked with his family in the cotton fields. When he was a teenager, he briefly attended a segregated school; but he dropped out in the 10th grade to help the family out financially.

As an adult, Finley has lived a full, complicated and often messy life: he’s an army veteran and a skilled carpenter, who has survived house fires, a bad auto accident and a divorce. Sadly, the Winnsboro-born, Bernice-based singer/songwriter lost his sight in his 60s as a result of glaucoma,.and although he was forced to retire from being a carpenter, Finley realized that he had an opportunity to pursue a lifelong dream — becoming a musician and singer. Finley believes that his sight was improved by the power of prayer — and that his faith has also helped him focus on launching a music career in his 60s. According to Finley “losing my sight, gave me the perspective to see my true identity.”

Finley’s rise has been rapid: As the story goes, Dan Auerbach immediately saw Finley’s potential, quickly proclaiming that the Louisiana-born and-based artist is “the greatest living soul singer.” As Auerbach recalls in press notes, “He walked in like he was straight out of the swamp.” He adds, “He had leather pants, snakeskin boots, a big Country & Western belt buckle, a leather cowboy hat and a three-quarter-length leather duster. The final touch was the folding cane the legally blind Finley wore on his hip, in a holster. Basically, he was dressed for national television.” 

Auerbach went on to produce Finley’s 2017 breakthrough sophomore album Goin’ Platinum, an album released to widespread critical acclaim from the likes of the Associated Press, who praised Finley’s ability to lend “instant credibility to any song” and The Observer, who wrote “Finley’s versatile voice ranges from prime Motown holler to heartbroken falsetto croon.” The Louisiana-born and-based singer/songwriter went on to support the album with international touring across 10 countries — with his live show drawing praise from a number of publications, including The New York Times and several others. Finley was also profiled on PBS NewsHour, which led him to becoming a contestant on the 2019 season of America’s Got Talent, eventually reaching the semi-finals. 

Finley’s third album Sharecropper’s Son was released last week through Easy Eye Sound. The album continues the Louisiana-born and-based singer/songwriter’s successful collaboration with Auerbach and features songwriting and cowrites from Finley, Auerbach, Bobby Wood and Pat McLaughlin. And much like other Easy Eye Sound releases, the album features an All-Star backing band that includes Auerbach (guitar);Kenny Brown (guitar), a member of R.L Burnside‘s backing band; studio legends Russ Pahl (pedal steel) and Louisiana-born, Nashville-based Billy Sanford (guitar); Bobby Wood (keys and as previously mentioned songwriting); Gene Chrisman (drums), who’s a Memphis and Nashville music legend; as well as contributions The Dap Kings‘ Nick Movshon (bass), Eric Deaton (guitar); Dave Roe (bass), who was member of Johnny Cash‘s backing band; Sam Bacco (percussion) and a full horn section. 

Sharecropper’s Son may arguably be the most personal album of Finley’s growing catalog, drawing directly from his life and experience. “I was ready to tell my story, and Dan and his guys knew me so well by then that they knew it almost like I do, so they had my back all the way,” Finley says in press notes. “Working in the cotton fields wasn’t a pleasant place to be, but it was part of my life. I went from the cotton fields to Beverly Hills. We stayed in the neighborhood most of our childhood. It wasn’t really all that safe to be out by yourself. One of the things I love about music is that, when I was a boy growing up in the South, nobody wanted to hear what I had to say or what I thought about anything. But when I started putting it in songs, people listened.”

In the buildup to the album’s release, I wrote about two of the album’s released singles:

“Country Boy,” a swampy and funky bit of country soul featured a tight, strutting groove, bluesy guitar lines, shimmering organ and Finley’s soulful and creaky falsetto paired with autobiographic lyrics, which were improvised on the spot with the tape rolling. “When we play live, I always leave room in the show for lyrics I make up on the spot while the band hits a groove,” Finley explains. “I guess the younger generation calls it free-styling, but for me, it’s just speaking from my mind, straight from my soul.” While lyrically, the song touches upon classic blues fare — heartbreak, loneliness, being broke, being a stranger far away from home and the like, the song is fueled by Finley’s sincerity. He has lived through those experiences, and you can tell that from the vulnerable cracks in his weathered croon.
Album title track “Sharecropper’s Son,” a strutting blues holler featuring James Cotton-like blasts of harmonica, shimmering Rhodes, a chugging groove, a classic blues solo, and Finley’s creaky and soulful crooning and shouts. And much like its predecessor, the song is fueled by both the lived-in experiences of its writer and the novelistic details within the song: you can feel the hot sun on Finley’s and his siblings’ skin, the sore muscles of backbreaking and unending labor in the fields. But throughout the song, its narrator expresses pride in his family doing whatever they could do legally to survive and keep food on the table. 

“Make Me Feel Alright,” Sharecropper’s Son’s latest single is a swampy boogie that’s one part John Lee Hooker barroom blues, one part Mississippi Delta Blues centered around a twangy blues guitar line, a shuffling rhythm and Finley’s expressive crooning. While being the sort of song you want your bartender to play loudly on a Friday or Saturday night, as you try to spit some game to some pretty young thing, the song as Finley explains in press notes “is about not looking for love, but for companionship. Sometimes you want to find someone to have a good time, You meet someone, have a fun night and then go on your separate ways with your own problems at the end of the night but still experience love in the moment.”

Directed by frequent visual collaborator Tim Hardman, the recently released video follows Finley as he tries to get a woman to spend a little time with him. While on his property, the video reveals Finley as a fun old guy looking for a little bit of fun — because life is short after

New Video: JOVM Mainstay Chief Ghoul Releases a Menacing Stoner Blues Anthem

Louisville-based singer/songwriter, guitarist and producer Les Miles is the creative mastermind behind the JOVM mainstay act Chief Ghoul. Sonically Miles’ work meshes old school Kentucky folk with Mississippi Delta Blues and Chicago Blues –in particular the work of the likes Lightnin’ Hopkins, Blind Willie Johnson, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters‘ acoustic blues and John Lee Hooker paired with poetic lyricism rooted in an overall belief in music as therapy.

Miles’ sixth Chief Ghoul album, These Lycanthropic Blues is slated for a June, 2021 release, and the album reportedly finds the Louisville-based JOVM mainstay tracing a sepia finger chronologically through Miles’ musical journey and influences — but while also revealing where he’s heading in the future. Along with that, the forthcoming album is the second album of his expanding output since 1892 that finds Miles producing his own work, after getting tired of the creative restraints of more commercial studios. But while 1892 was deeply connected to its lo-fi and hauntingly stark predecessors, These Lycanthropic Blues reportedly is centered around a much more three-dimensional yet earthy sound — with additions to the sonic palette, like piano, dirty bass, percussion and occasional cavernous sounding drums. Throughout it all, the autonomy of self-producing has allowed miles to make his work as personal, vulnerable and true to his old-soul.

Interestingly, These Lycanthropic Blues’ latest single, album closer “The Blackest of Souls” reveals Miles’ new sonic direction — stoner rock tinged, dive bar blues, centered around grungy and sludgy power chords, thunderous drumming, Miles’ bluesy baritone wail and a rousingly anthemic hook. It may be the most primal, forceful song of his career while remaining as menacing as ever.

Directed, filmed and edited by Aaron Tyler, the recently released video employs the use of shadows in a trippy fashion — first with seductively dancing woman, stripping and tantalizing the viewer; but the video takes turn for the dark, as monsters and mayhem lurking about.

Back in 2004, Chicago-based producer David Vandenberg brought the Leeds-based funk act The New Mastersounds to the States as an opener for Greyboy All-Stars for what would be the acclaimed British act’s first Stateside tour. As the story goes, Vandenberg took The New Mastersounds’ guitarist, bandleader and producer Eddie Roberts out to Rosa’s, a legendary blues club on Chicago’s West Side on Roberts’ first night in town to catch local bluesman Omar Coleman, a local blues legend, who had been playing Rosa’s for decades. 17 years later, Roberts wound up producing Coleman’s forthcoming album Eddie Roberts Presents Omar Coleman: Strange Times.

Slated for release this summer through Roberts’ own Color Red Music, the album’s title is an ode to The New Mastersounds 2001 debut, Keb Darge Presents: The New Mastersounds — and in many ways Coleman’s album finds Roberts, an acclaimed musician, bandleader and producer taking on the role of curator and influencer, championing and supporting artists he believes should be heard and loved.

Eddie Roberts Presents Omar Coleman: Strange Times‘ latest single, album title track is a strutting and gritty synthesis of The Payback-era James Brown funk and Chicago blues within a classic 12 bar blues structure featuring a looping bluesy guitar line reminiscent of B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, an enormous horn line, bursts of shimmering strings and a funky bass line that would make Bootsy Collins‘ proud paired with Coleman’s powerhouse, soulful vocals. Lyrically, the song’s origins can be traced to a series of conversations Coleman had with Roberts during the album’s recording sessions about bizarre, infuriating and tragic state of America during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unsurprisingly, the exchange between the two kept turning back to the fact that we were all living in very strange times. Coleman took that and ran with it, immediately scribbling out incisive and fiery lyrics that accurately describe life in our very moment with the song talking about the abject poverty, desperation and uncertainty that hardworking and decent folks everywhere face. As the old saying the rich get richer while the poor get sicker.

Roberts’ recruited an accomplished backing band that features himself, Ghost Light’s Dan Africano (bass), Matador! Soul SoundsChris Spies (keys and organ), Dragondeer’s Carl Sorenson (drums), Lettuce‘s Eric “Benny” Bloom (trumpet), Michal Menert‘s Nick Gerlach (sax), Adrienne Short (viola) and Kari Clifton (violin) to help him with a sonic approach that would combine classic blues with funkier blues. And to capture the rawness and immediacy of the material, they recorded it straight to tape on Color Red Studios’ Tascam 388. “I hear Omar’s voice as a cross between Muddy Waters and Charles Bradley,” Roberts says. “I tried to reflect those qualities in music approach and songwriting as well as the way we recorded the album and built the instrumentation of the tracks.”

New Video: Joanna Connor’s Soulful Cover of Luther Allison’s “Bad News Is Coming”

Joanna Connor is a Brooklyn-born, Worcester, MA-raised, Chicago, IL-based singer/songwriter and guitarist, who has publicly cited her mom (who I’ve actually met) and her mom’s record collection as being a major influence on her life and music. “She listed to blues, folk and rock as much as she could,” Connor recalls on her website. “So I heard Buddy Guy and Taj Mahal when I was kid, and got into the more obscure artists as I went on. And I saw all the Chicago bands, who came through town.” By the time, she was in her mid-teens, Connor was playing the Worcester and Boston club scene with her own band before relocating to Chicago in 1984.

Upon her arrival to Chicago, Connor was mentored by a number of blues legends, sitting in with James Cotton, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. After a stint in Dion Payton‘s band, Connor went solo with her own band, releasing her full-length debut, 1989’s Believe It, which began a string of critically applauded albums released through Blind Pig Records. Connor’s 2002 effort The Joanna Connor Band found Connor displaying the full extent of her influences as it featured “Different Kind of War” and a funky cover of “Slippin’ Into Darkness.” But just as the buzz and accolades were growing, Connor began a touring hiatus. “There were several factors: 9/11 had just gone down, the economy was changing and clubs were closing. But most of all, my daughter was pretty young at the time. She wound up deciding that she wanted to become a big-time basketball player, so that required dedication on both of our parts,” the Chicago-based singer/songwriter and guitarist explains on her website. That dream has come true: Connor’s daughter was awarded a basketball scholarship at Indiana State University, and Connor has pursued her career with a renewed fervor.

Although Connor wasn’t touring, she discovered that audiences were coming out to see her play renowned Chicago blues club Kingston Mines, where she began playing a weekly, three night residency most weekends, between gigs at larger clubs and festivals. “It’s become kind of an institution: You go to Chicago, you go to Wrigley Field and then you go see Joanna Connor,” the Chicago-based singer/songwriter and guitarist says. “The schedule is kind of brutal, but it’s great—Usually a packed house, with lots of adrenaling pumping. When it gets to be around midnight, the audience starts getting younger. And I love that—My son is 29, and he gets people looking at him and saying, ‘That’s your mom’?” (The schedule is brutal indeed: 3 two hour sets between 7:00pm and 5:00am Fridays and Saturdays — and until 4:00am on Sundays. The nights typically begin with an acoustic blues set, followed by two electric sets, as the crowds get younger.)

The crowds increased even more after a video featuring a live version of “Walkin’ Blues” was posted by a Massachusetts-based fan on YouTube. “It was just a phenomenal thing that happened. I was getting calls from America’s Got Talent and movie people reaching out; I even had a Russian billionaire fly me to Spain to play a birthday party. I think people loved the combination: Here’s a woman who looks like somebody’s mom, and she’s playing like this. What I remember most was that it was 90 degrees that day, so I was wearing the coolest dress I had.”

Connor’s 14th album, the Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith co-produced 4801 South Indiana Avenue was released last month through Joe Bonamassa’s new blues label Keeping The Blues Alive. Deriving its name from the actual address of hallowed, Chicago blues club Theresa’s Lounge, 4801 South Indiana Avenue was recored at 4801 South Indiana Avenue — and the album finds Connor, Bonamassa, Smith and an impressive array of players digging deeply to conjure an authentic, ass kicking and name taking, non-derivative set of that good ol’ fashioned Chicago blues. “We want the listener to open that door, walk in, and feel to their core some of the magic that a place like that brought night after night. It was an honor to bring this to you, the listener,” Connor says in press notes. “This album is a homage to the blues school that I attended in Chicago,” Connor adds. “We attempted to capture the spirit of tradition and inject it with raw energy and passion.”

Earlier this year, I wrote about the boozy and breakneck boogie woogie “I Feel So Good,” which captures a self-assured woman, who kicks ass, takes names and honestly just wants to have a roaring good time — all while featuring Conor’s blistering guitar work and powerhouse vocals. 4801 South Indiana Avenue’s latest single is a lovingly straightforward, no-frills, no filler and no bullshit rendition of Luther Allison’s haunting wailing blues “Bad News Is Coming.” Much like the original, Connor’s version is full of lived-in, late night heartache and regret — and the recognition that life is often full of incredibly difficult and painful decisions that will change the course of your life and of those you’re involved with.

“This is a Luther Allison song, and we chose it because we were all huge fans of his,” Connor explains in press notes. “I toured with him in Europe for almost ten years as his opening act, so it was an honor to record this haunting piece. Joe came up with the bell idea to further capture the mood.”

Appropriately shot in a Chicago blues club, the video is split between footage of Connor wailing and playing those blues like a heartbroken banshee, brooding in the club’s green room about the decisions she has to made — or already have made. And of course, because it’s a late night blues, we see her packing her gear and leaving the club with an uncertain future ahead of her.

Throwback: Black History Month: Gil Scott-Heron

Today is February 28, 2021. It’s the last day of February and of Black History Month. Throughout the past month, I’ve featured Black artists across a wide and eclectic array of greens and styles — with the hopes that this series will serve as a sort of primer on the Black experience and on Black music.

While we’re at it, let’s remember the following:

Black culture is American culture — and Black music is American music.
America’s greatest and beloved contributions to the world are Black music styles — the blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and hip-hop.
Black art matters.
Black lives matter — all of them, all of the time.

Gil Scott-Heron is sort of a spiritual godfather to hip-hop and neo-soul — and I can make a fair argument that Public Enemy, Common, Talib Kweli and Mos Def, a.k.a Yasin Bey are indebted to the legend’s work, which threw together spoken word poetry, jazz, the blues and rock in a difficult to pigeonhole mix. And although he hasn’t been with us in about a decade, his work is still an incisive, unnerving look at race in America and globally.