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Red Hot ‘n Blues Reviews

November 2020

John Nemeth CD

By Marty Gunther

John Németh – Stronger Than Strong (Nola Blue Records NB 013)

One of the most beautiful voices anywhere and a skilled harp player, too, John Németh reunites with Bo-Keys front man/producer Scott Bomar for this album, recapturing the magic they created with their 2014 Billboard chart-topper, Memphis Grease, and delivering another old-school soul-blues pleaser.

Németh and his regular band – 19-year-old whiz kid Jon Hay on guitar, bassist Matthew Wilson and drummer Danny Banks – to deliver tunes infused with a retro sound and intimate, small-combo/live feel. The disc opens with two tunes that come across with Hill Country feel. But fear not. It’s chockful of the powerful, blues-drenched R&B that fans love.

Be sure to give a good listen to “Come and Take It,” “Sometimes,” the rocker “Throw Me in the Water,” the Chicago blues “Chain Breaker,” the plaintive ballad “Bars,” “Deprivin’ a Love,” a stellar cover of Jesse Belvin’s 1959 hit “Guess Who,” the easy/greasy “Workin’ for Love,” “She’s My Punisher” and “Sweep the Shack.”

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Shemekia Copeland – Uncivil War (Alligator Records)

Blues queen Shemekia Copeland has become a mature, outspoken critic of problems in the world in recent years. Her 2018 release, America’s Child, won multiple Blues Music Awards as it delivered unvarnished views of the world she lives in, and she holds nothing back on this follow-up, another intense, personal plea for peace and understanding in troubled times.

Like her previous effort, Uncivil War was recorded in Nashville under the supervision of producer Will Kimbrough who also contributes guitar in a lineup that includes heavyweights Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Jason Isbell and ‘60s rocker Duane Eddy, among others.

From the opening chords of the plaintive “Clotilda’s on Fire”-- the description of the burning of a real-life slave ship in Mobile Bay in 1859 -- Shemekia intersperses themes of struggle and hope as she pleads for a better day. Other top cuts include “Walk Until We Ride,” “Uncivil War,” “Money Makes You Ugly,” “Apple Pie and a .45,” “Give God the Blues,” “No Heart at All” and the upbeat “Love Song.”

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Ron Thompson – From the Patio: Live at Poor House Bistro Vol. 1 (Little Village Foundation LVF 1036)

When guitarist Ron Thompson succumbed to complications of diabetes earlier this year, the blues world lost one of its most enduring and understated instrumentalists. That loss becomes clear to the outside world with this disc, which captures him at his passionate, intense and soulful best.

A native of Oakland, Calif., Thompson’s career included work with Little Joe Blue, John Lee Hooker, Etta James, Big Mama Thornton, Percy Mayfield and Lowell Fulson. He released about a dozen albums in his life. This set was recorded in 2014 at the Poor House in San Jose, Calif., where he was in year eight of a 14-year residency, and includes contributions from Jim Pugh, Kid Andersen and West Coast harp giant Gary Smith.

If you’re unfamiliar with Thompson’s work, this one will be a real eye-opener. Be sure to give a good listen to the originals “Mardis Gras Boogie,” “The River Is Rising” and “When You Walk That Walk” as well tasty covers of “Tin Pan Alley,” “I Done Got Over It,” “Sinner’s Prayer” and Bobby Womack’s “That’s How I Feel.”

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Ben Levin – Carryout or Delivery (VizzTone Label Group VT-BL-003)

Still a college student and only age 21, Cincinnati-based Ben Levin has already proven himself to be a world-class talent in the world of traditional, Chicago-style blues piano, and this CD -- the third release in his burgeoning catalog – proves once again that his potential going forward is unlimited.

A 2020 BMA nominee in the best emerging artist category, Levin works frequently with both Bob Corritore and Bob Margolin, and his Queen City band includes his father Aron on guitar and drummer Phillip Paul, the hit-making studio drummer for King Records in the ‘50s and ‘60s. This one was recorded at the height of COVID-19, and features Ben in multiple alignments.

If you’re a fan of traditional blues, you’ll love this set. The highlights include “You Know,” “Paper Cut,” “Carryout or Delivery”(which involves more than food), “Nola Night,” “Have You Lost Your Mind,” “My Back Scratcher,” an updated take of “Hadacol Bounce” and “Time Brings About a Change.”

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J.T. Lauritsen & The Buckshot Hunters – Blue Eyed Soul Vol. 2 (Hunter Records)

The fiords of Norway bubble like the Mississippi Delta with the sounds of the blues, and there’s no better proponent today than Lillestrom native J.T. Lauritsen, who fronts one of the tightest bands in Europe. He and his Buckshot Hunters heat up the cold nights with this one, a follow-up to their 2018 release, which received exceptional reviews around the globe.

A melismatic tenor who might remind you of John Németh on some tunes, Lauritsen is a keyboard, accordion, guitar and harp player who’s been fronting this current band since the mid-‘90s. Like the title suggests, they play bluesy R&B, New Orleans funk and Chicago blues, too.

Mixing originals that fit hand-and-glove with a few covers, some of the top cuts in this highly danceable set include “Blues Never That Feel Bad,” “Don’t Want to Lose You Now,” “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry,” “Friday Night Ride,” “I’ll Carry the Key,” “Southbound” and “Woman in My Life.”

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Kim Wilson – Take Me Back! The Bigtone Sessions (M.C. Records MC-0087)

Harmonica master Kim Wilson returns to M.C. Records and turns back the clock here – recording just like it was done in the past – in mono and live to analog tape. A mix of clever originals and familiar covers, this 16-tune set probably will catch the same attention as Kim’s previous M.C. recordings in the early 2000s – Smokin’ Joint and Lookin’ for Trouble – both of which were Grammy nominees.

Captured at Big Jon Atkinson’s Big Tone Studios, this disc features some of the final recordings of keyboard great Barrelhouse Chuck, who’s in a lineup that features top musicians from Chicago and the West Coast, including guitarists Billy Flynn, Atkinson and Danny Michel, among others.

Turn back the clock 60 years or so and dial in to “You’ve Been Goofing,” the Jimmy Nolen original that opens, as well as the self-penned “Wingin’ It,” “Fine Little Woman,” “Play Me,” “Strollin’,” the Jimmy Rogers classic “Money, Marbles & Chalk,” and the originals “Rumblin’” and “I’m Sorry.”

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Peter Parcek – Mississippi Suitcase (Lightnin Records 003)

Boston-based guitar virtuoso Peter Parcek bounces back from a wrist injury that almost sidelined him permanently with this powerful CD that celebrates the joy of living while baring the full, bluesy depth of the pain and struggle we all endure in troubled times.

A Connecticut native who served as Pinetop Perkins’ musical director, he’s an intense instrumentalist who delivers modern sounds that hint of the Delta and more -- aided by helping hands from Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, Muscle Shoals legend Spooner Oldham and Willie Nelson harp player Mickey Raphael.

A collection of three originals and eight covers, the disc opens with the self-penned heavy rocker “The World Is Upside Down” followed by a 21st Century update of Sleepy John Estes’ “Everybody Oughta Make a Change.” Other standout cuts include Peter Green’s “The Supernatural,” Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Until My Love Come Down,” Frankie Lee Sims’ “She Likes to Boogie Real Low,” Lou Reed’s “Waiting for the Man” and the original, “A Head Full of Ghosts.”

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Daniel Eriksen – Barefoot Among Scarecrows (Self-produced CD)

A countryman of J.T. Lauritsen, guitarist Daniel Eriksen lives a stone’s throw from the Arctic Circle in the far north of Norway, but he’s one of the foremost proponents of Delta blues in the world today. He enlisted a pair of Gulf Coast legends -- Sonny Landreth and John Mooney -- for this nine-tune set, an interesting roux of acoustic and electric stylings.

A 2018 International Blues Challenge semi-finalist who works on both sides of the Atlantic, Daniel’s adept at both fingerpicking and slide guitar, and his rough-hewn vocals in unaccented English sound as if he originated from Mississippi Hill Country, not the fjords where polar bears roam.

Fans of country blues will love this set, which alters between full-band arrangements with horns and organ to stripped-down acoustic pleasers. Among the highlights are the opening title cut, “Dry Hive Blues,” “Baby You’re a Star” featuring Mooney, “Sweet Radiation,” “Fire the Clay” with Landreth, “Spread Too Wide” and “Utopia Noir.”

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Elvin Bishop & Charlie Musselwhite – 100 Years of the Blues (Alligator Records)

Two of the most important figures in the world of blues since the early ‘60s, Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite rarely crossed paths in their early years in Chicago, but join forces here for a full CD that’s literally been 100 years in the making, and the result is a laid-back treasure for the ages.

Recorded at Kid Andersen’s award-winning Greaseland Studios in California, it’s a stripped-down set of nine originals and covers culled from Roosevelt Sykes, Leroy Carr and Sonny Boy Williamson. The two legends share vocals and guitar backed only by longtime Elvin sidekick Bob Welsh on keyboards and six-string and Andersen on upright bass for a few cuts.

Bishop kicks off the action with “Birds of a Feather,” a straightforward description of friends gathering for a good time – like Charlie says: “I ain’t lyin’!” – before the duo revert to their youth with a take on Sykes’ “West Helena Blues” and make a strong political statement in “What the Hell?” Don’t miss “Good Times,” “If I Should Have Bad Luck,” “Southside Slide,” “Blues for Yesterday” and the closing title cut.

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Wayne Nicholson & John Campbelljohn – Elmore’s Blues (Grindstone Records)

Compared favorably with Paul Rodgers and a blues-rock treasure in Canada, vocalist Wayne Nicholson teams with guitarist/songwriter John Campbelljohn for this loving tribute to American slide master Elmore James, breathing life into 12 of the Chicago legend’s tunes and adding two originals for good measure.

U.S. audiences might be familiar with Nicholson through tours with Gregg Allman, James Cotton, J. Geils and others. He and Campbelljohn – an exceptionally gifted Nova Scotia-based slide player -- have about a century of stage time between them, and several of their albums have accrued Maple Blues Awards and other honors along the way.

Primarily a collection of comfortable shuffles backed by a full band, some of the highlights include “I May Be Wrong,” “I Believe,” the original “If I Was Blue,” the Latin-flavored “No Love in My Heart,” “Happy Home,” “Shake Your Moneymaker,” “It Hurts Me Too” and the self-penned “Dancin’ with the Blues.”

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The Barrett Anderson Band – HypnoBoogie (Whitaker Blues Records)


The Boston-based Barrett Anderson Band deliver an interesting, hard-driving mix of blues and roots in this set, which was captured live last February at the aptly named Fallout Shelter in Norwood, Mass., just a few weeks before the world of entertainment stopped spinning.

A polished four-piece unit fronted by Anderson – a former child protégé who was a member of both Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters and the Monster Mike Welch Band -- and Charlie Mallet, who double on guitars and vocals, they draw from a wide range of influences, including J. Geils and first-generation country blues, too.

You’ll be bopping with this one from the hypnotic opening cuts of a powerful reworking of Bo Diddley’s “Mona.” Other pleasers include the original “Good Man,” Magic Sam’s instrumental, “Driving Good,” as well as the self-penned “Not Your Baby,” “Emma Lee,” “Blind Faith,” “Broken Down” and “Gone.”

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Super Chikan & Terry Harmonica Bean – From Hill Country Blues to Mississippi Delta Blues (Wolf Records CD 120.040)

James “Super Chikan” Johnson and Terry “Harmonica” Bean -- two of the most beloved bluesmen in North Mississippi today – share the spotlight on this CD, individually delivering an hour-long, 15-cut set that breathes new life into the music that made the region famous.

Best known for fronting The Fighting Cocks, Clarksdale-based Super Chikan is a former truck driver who’s been recording since the ‘90s. He’s also a renowned luthier whose handmade guitars are highly prized works of art. Bean, meanwhile, is a former factory worker from Pontotoc who doubles on guitar and harp. He’s been a juke joint and festival favorite since emerging in the early 2000s.

Super Chikan opens with a trio of originals -- “Tin Top Shak,” “Down in the Mississippi Delta,” a tribute to both Muddy Waters and Elmore James, and the boogie “Wavy Thoughts” – before yielding to a double shot of Bean: the ballad “Leaving Blues” and rapid-fire “Boogie with Me.” Other pleasers include Chik’s “Sippi Seekan Saw” and “Hug Me, Don’t Bug Me” and Terry’s “Mississippi Walking Blues” and “2018 – Doin’ My Own Thing.”

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Austin Walkin’ Cane – Muso (Lazy Eye Records)

Based out of Cleveland, Ohio, Austin Walkin’ Cane is a slide guitar player with a deeply resonant baritone voice. He penned 11 of the 12 tunes here, a pleasant mix of classic and Delta blues that comes across with a relaxed, timeless feel.

A recording artist since the ‘90s Austin’s traveled the world as a soloist, but he’s backed by a full band for this set, a mix of acoustic and electric material that’s free of over-the-top pyrotechnics. It’s a long-awaited follow-up to his most recent release, which was a 2015 BMA finalist for best new artist debut of the year.

There’s a lot to like here, including the swampy acoustic “Tell Me Why,” which opens, as well as the medium-paced shuffle “Some Bad Habits,” the electrified love song “Delilah,” the image-filled “Last Day of Summer” and the sugar-sweet ballad “Nothing Left of the Night.”

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Kirk Fletcher – My Blues Pathway (Cleopatra Records CLO 1900)

Kirk Fletcher has been setting the world ablaze with his sensational fretwork since emerging from his native California about a decade ago, sharing the stage with Kim Wilson, Charlie Musselwhite and Joe Bonamassa. But this all-blues effort is unquestionably his best work yet.

A major talent in both the blues and blues-rock worlds, Kirk never strays from the root on this one, delivering a tidal wave of stellar single-note guitar runs and singing old-school, too. He’s backed by an all-star West Coast band and is aided by guest appearances from Memphis Charlie on harp and the uber-talented Josh Smith on six-string, too.

Fletcher sets the tone with the driving original “Ain’t No Cure for the Downhearted” to open. Other pleasers include the self-penned “No Place to Go,” “Love Is More Than a Word” and “Heart So Heavy” and covers of A.C. Reed’s “I’d Rather Fight Than Switch,” Chris Cain’s “Place in This World” and Juke Boy Bonner’s “Life Gave Me a Dirty Deal.”

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Sonny Green – Found! One Soul Singer (Little Village Foundation LVF 1037)

Billed as “the greatest soul singer you’ve never heard of,” 80-year-old Louisiana native Sonny Green dazzles here on his first album ever in a career that began with Big Jay McNeely in the early ‘50s with the original recording of one of the biggest blues songs of all time, the classic “There Is Something on Your Mind.”

Green possesses a powerful, gritty voice and style all his own. He’s a former featured singer in the Tyrone Davis Revue, and recorded about a dozen 45s for United Artists and others in the early ‘70s, but he’s been working in obscurity ever since – something that you’ll find hard to believe once you give this a listen.

Borrowing from the repertoires of Bobby “Blue” Bland, Little Milton, Ted Taylor and Willie Nelson as well as originals penned by Rick Estrin and Kid Andersen, Sonny shines throughout. If you’re a fan of classic soul blues, this one will hit you in your sweet spot. Run, don’t walk to acquire it – it’s that good!


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