Roadhouse Album Review: Mississippi MacDonald digs deep into his soul with “Do Right, Say Right”

Mississippi MacDonald“Do Right, Say Right” (Another Planet Music Ltd.)

Every once in a while, a new album (and an artist that I’m hearing for the first time) comes along and nourishes the hole in my soul that can only be filled with a tasty, satisfying musical meal.

This time it’s a sharply cut gem of an album from England’s three-time British Blues Award nominee Oliver “Mississippi” MacDonald, titled “Do Right, Say Right.” He does both, extremely well. (The “Mississippi” handle came from schoolmates, because he was the only kid they knew who had been to America. It stuck.)

It’s filled with gritty, soulful vocals backed with fiercely melodic guitar runs, juiced in just the right places with kick-ass horns. It’s also filled with eight finely tuned original songs that sound as if they’ve been dredged from a primeval soul swamp, plus one very classic cover.

MacDonald’s backers are a razor-sharp unit, with producer Phil Dearing on keyboards and guitar, Elliot Boughen on bass, Mark Johnson-Brown on drums, and Lucy Dearing adding backup vocals. They all come together to create a sound that’s faithful to its deep soul/blues roots, but also channeled through MacDonald’s musical sense of the life he wants his own music to live.

“It’s modern, it’s not musical archaeology,” MacDonald says. “It celebrates a fantastic tradition. It’s soul-blues, and you’ve got to put your best into it.” In order to touch that tradition, MacDonald has been to Al Green’s church and heard him preach. He’s been to Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios in Memphis, where the great records on the Hi Label were recorded. He’s met B.B. King and Pinetop Perkins, Otis Clay, and Sam Moore. Big Joe Turner told him to listen to Albert King.

Out of all that, and much more, obviously, came MacDonald’s authentic feeling for the music that he delivers here with such skill, power and passion. There’s not a false note on this terrific, heart-felt effort; in fact, it’s just the opposite: every note rings true to the soulful spirit MacDonald is invoking.

The tough-enough opening track, “I Was Wrong,” is one of my favorites, with horns adding the proper soulful subtext to this lover’s lament. As with all of his original tracks here, MacDonald avoids lyrical and musical cliches; he sings and plays with a fierce authenticity.

Some of the other songs that stood out for me include “I Heard It Twice,” “It Can’t Hurt Me,” “Drinker’s Blues,” the low-down, piano-first blues “If You Want A Good Cup Of Coffee,” and the album’s only cover, “Your Wife Is Cheating On Us,” a torchy reading of the Little Milton version of the slyly salacious Denise LaSalle chestnut, “Your Husband Is Cheating On Us.” The rest are all equal evidence of this fine talent.

But my absolute favorite track, driven by its lyrical intensity and soaring guitar, is “Let Me Explore Your Mind,” a masterful six-and-a-half minutes of soulful pleading for meaningful human connection. It’s a beautiful, powerfully crafted piece of music-making.

What more can I say? This is an excellent album. Enjoy it soon and often.


Here’s the very, very fine first track on the album, “I Was Wrong.”

Tracklist:
1 – I Was Wrong
2 – I Heard It Twice
3 – It Can’t Hurt Me
4 – Drinker’s Blues
5 – Let Me Explore Your Mind
6 – That’s It I Quit
7 – If You Want a Good Cup of Coffee
8 – Keep Your Hand out of My Pocket
9 – Your Wife Is Cheating on Us

Roadhouse Album Review: Sue Foley, Pinky star on guitar-rich “Pinky’s Blues”

Sue Foley — “Pinky’s Blues” (Stony Plain Records)

From the opening bars of the title song — a soaring instrumental that burns with pain and pleasure in one passionate extended Pinky guitar solo — Canadian-born but Texas-marinated Sue Foley offers up a new album filled with the tough and tender sides of Texas blues.

Pinky, of course, is Foley’s pink paisley Telecaster sidekick, and it leads the way through a dozen tough guitar-driven blues, some excellent and unique covers; some terrific originals. And they all pay a fine tribute to the Texas blues that Foley has adopted as her own.

Following that tough opener is a cover of Texan Angela Strehli‘s tribute-laden“ Two Bit Texas Town.” That’s followed later by another excellent Strehli cover, the torchy “Say It’s Not So.”

And that’s just one of two excellent soulful covers, with the other one being “Think It Over,” credited to Lillie Mae Donley, but most likely by her husband, Jimmy Donley, the legendary swamp-pop singer-songwriter. It’s a great choice of a fine song with hints of an R&B and doo-wop heritage. And it’s a slow-dancing gem.

There’s a tough original Foley blues, “Hurricane Girl” (she’s “a force of nature”), adding Jimmy Vaughan on rhythm guitar. That’s followed by another inspired cover — “Stop These Teardrops” by Lavelle White.

The scorching “Pinky’s Blues” isn’t the only instrumental. A flashy version of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s “Okie Dokie Stomp” shows off Foley’s flying fingers.

But don’t get the idea that this is just another album of blues covers. The choices are excellent. The arrangements are a credit to Foley and her bandmates, bassist Jon Penner, and drummer Chris “Whipper” Layton, with producer Mike Flanigin adding organ on two tracks. They take these songs and make them their own, with Foley’s unique guitar and vocals turning them into new and personal versions.

Foley says the inspiration for this recorded “live” effort was an earlier, and similarly spontaneous session she did with Flanigan and his B3 on the thoroughly enjoyable album “West Texas Blues,” which I wrote about here.

Here’s how Foley describes the process: “I recorded the entire album in three days. What you’re hearing is live, off the floor, in the moment the music was played totally spontaneously and, mainly, improvised. And, we wanted to make something representative of the Texas blues that we had been schooled on in Austin. So, we picked great songs and I wrote a few of my own to round things out. Everything on it is a labor of love.”

What you’re also hearing is the consummate work of an artist who has been growing in stature for years, and broke big with her 2018 album “Ice Queen,” which reached No. 4 on the Billboard Current Blues chart, and No. 1 on Roots Music Report’s Top 50 Canada album chart. She won ”Best Traditional Female (Koko Taylor Award)” at the 2020 Blues Music Awards in Memphis, was nominated for a Juno Award (Canadian Grammy), and won ”Best Guitar Player” at the Toronto Maple Blues Awards.

And I can almost say I knew her when, since I saw her at the Pittsburgh Blues Festival in 2010, touring with Peter Karp on their unique “He Said, She Said” album, with songs based on their correspondence while touring separately. 

But no matter how you describe, or how it came to be, “Pinky’s Blues” is a sparkling album in the timeless Texas blues tradition, and you deserve to make it a part of your music library.


Here’s an interview with Sue Foley.

This post has been inspired primarily by the music of Sue Foley, with creative assistance from Russell’s Reserve 10-Year Old Bourbon.


The official music video of “Dallas Man,” from “Pinky’s Blues”:

TRACK LIST:

1 Pinky’s Blues
2 Two Bit Texas Town
3 Dallas Man
4 Southern Men
5 Say It’s Not So
6 Hurricane Girl
7 Stop These Teardrops
8 Boogie Real Low
9 Think It Over
10 Okie Dokie Stomp
11 Someday
12 When The Cat’s Gone the Mice Play

Roadhouse Album Review: “Search No More” a fine effort from The DogTown Blues Band

The DogTown Blues Band – “Search No More” (RVL Music, Sept. 15)

First, an apology to Richard Lubovitch, DogTown bandleader, guitarist, and producer of this fine album (and everyone else involved). He sent me this release at the end of August, but I kept delaying this review because — well, I don’t really have an excuse. So here it is.

“Search No More” is the Los Angeles band’s third album, all blues-based, but with a few of their own inventive musical twists and turns thrown in.

They’ve taken some blues chestnuts and roasted them over a somewhat more mellow West Coast fire, and added one Lubovitch original. The result is an interesting and enjoyable blend of blues, jazz, classic R&B with the smoke of a little rock ‘n’ roll.

The band is an equally enjoyable blend of seasoned veterans from diverse backgrounds: There’s Lubovitch on guitar (himself a 30-year vet of the Chicago blues scene), Kaspar Abbo on vocals, Bill Barrett on chromatic harmonica and vocals, Wayne Peet on organ, piano and keyboards, Trevor Ware on upright bass, and Lance Lee on drums. Special guest Marcus Watkins contributes guitar on tracks 5,6 and 10.

The album kicks off nicely with a swinging version of Percy Mayfield’s “Cooking in Style,” with Barrett on harp and vocals. “River’s Invitation,” another lyrical Mayfield effort, gets a smooth vocal turn from Abbo. Both lead the way into into the rest of the songs, a fusion of talent and styles that make for a tasty, well-balanced musical meal.

Vocalist Kaspar Abbo tackles six of the nine vocals on this session, with smooth interpretations of the title track, Jimmie Dotson’s classic “Search No More,” Wille Dixon’s tough “ You Shook Me,” ” River’s Invitation ” the historic rocker “Miss Ann” by Enotris Johnson/Richard Penniman (that’s Little Richard, of course, and Johnson was the husband of the Miss Ann who took him in as a youngster.), Tom Johnston’s (The Doobie Brothers) “Long Train Coming,” and Billy Hill’s classic R&B turn, “Glory of Love.” “All Night” is a chunky, funky Lubovitch instrumental original. Abbo lends vocal sophistication and smoothness to the group, even with a rocker like “Miss Ann.”

I have to digress a minute here to give special attention to DogTown’s outstanding cover of one of my all-time favorite songs by one of my all-time favorite groups. “Glory of Love” was written by Billy Hill in 1936, with a hit version that same year by the Benny Goodman Orchestra with Helen Ward on vocal. Since then it has been covered by pretty much everybody but me. But my favorite is the 1951 super-slow-dancing R&B/doo-wop version by the sensuous pipes of the Five Keys (formerly the Sentimental Four). It got to me a few years later when my hormone-fueled teen genes were turning very blue. There’s also a fine 1957 cover by the Velvetones, and a very bluesy acoustic rendition in ’57 by Big Bill Broonzy. You can skip the 1965 cover by Jimmy Durante, and go right to a very soulful version, with horns, by Otis Redding in 1968. (You can find most of these versions on YouTube.)

This DogTown version of “Glory of Love” finds Abbo’s vocals in fine form, with meticulous piano by Wayne Peet.

DogTown’s motto is: “We like to put a little jazz in our blues, and a little blues in our jazz.” They do all that and more on this excellent album. Try it late at night with a snifter of Evan Williams Single Barrel bourbon. You’ll never slow dance the same way again.

Here’s “Search No More,” by the DogTown Blues Band

Track list and credits:

“COOKING IN STYLE”: Percy Mayfield: Featuring Bill Barret on Vocals and Chromatic Harmonica

“RIVER’S INVITATION”: Percy Mayfield: Featuring Kaspar Abbo on Vocals

“YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT”: Paul Gayten: Featuring Bill Barrett on Vocals & Chromatic Harmonica

“YOU SHOOK ME”: Willie Dixon: Featuring Kaspar Abbo on Vocals & Richard Lubovitch on Guitars

“ALL NIGHT”: Richard Lubovitch: Featuring Richard Lubovitch on Guitar

“SEARCH NO MORE”: Jimmy Dotson: Featuring Kaspar Abbo on Vocals & Marcus Watkins on Lead Guitar

“MISS ANN”: Enotris Johnson/Richard Penniman: Featuring Kaspar Abbo on Vocals

“GLORY OF LOVE”: Billy Hill: Featuring Kaspar Abbo on Vocals & Wayne Peet on Piano

“I WONDER”: Cecil Gant; Featuring Bill Barrett on Vocals & Chromatic Harmonica

‘LONG TRAIN COMING”: Tom Johnston: Featuring Kaspar Abbo on Vocals, Bill Barrett on Chromatic Harmonica, Richard Lubovitch & Marcus Watson on many guitars.

Roadhouse Album Review: Carolyn Wonderland in top form with new album, “Tempting Fate”

Carolyn Wonderland — “Tempting Fate” (Alligator Records, Oct. 8)

Carolyn Wonderland is a little hard to define. She plays a mean, nasty guitar. She rocks. She rolls. She sings blues. She sings country. Basically, she sings and plays any damn way she pleases.

And all of that is what makes her music so good. And so thoroughly enjoyable.

I saw her once, years ago, at the Thunderbird Cafe in Pittsburgh, and I can testify she was indeed all of the above.

“Tempting Fate,” her first album for the respected blues label Alligator Records, is full of all her best qualities — inspired songwriting, interpretive covers, and razor-sharp musical chops. It’s also the occasion of the first female lead guitarist recorded in Alligator’s 50-year history. And this follows her 2018 it’s also the occasion … ecent three-year stint as the first female lead guitarist in John Mayall’s Blues Breakers.

Wonderland (born Carolyn Bradford, which makes “Wonderland” an intriguing upgrade), has soaring guitar skills that match her vocals. She can turn a whisper into a shout without losing sight of the lyrical content, and build a slow, steamy opener to a torrid close. She does bawdy roadhouse and vocal sensitivity with equal skill. This excellent album shows off all of Wonderland’s skills in one stirring set:

“Fragile Peace and Certain War” opens with her stinging slide and a personal message aptly suggested by its title to match, the first of several songs with a social conscience. She follows up with a whimsical “Texas Girl And Her Boots,” an ode to her favorite footwear. They are followed by three more originals, “Broken Hearted Blues” (co-written with Greg Rzab (Bass player with Buddy Guy and the John Mayall), a fiercely torchy blues, “Fortunate Few” starts out with a loosely swinging style in front of a touch of honky-tonk piano that soars in intensity, “Crack In The Wall” is an almost languid ballad that tackles the distinctly unlanguid topic of immigration.

She has chosen her covers, and preproduced them, with great care. “The Laws Must Change” is a John Mayall tune and “Honey Bee,” a rousing Tex-Mex effort, is from Billy Joe Shaver.

I kind of favor the two closers: Bob Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry,” a slick duet with Jimmie Dale Gilmore and liquid lap steel by Cindy Cashdollar (herself a very unique talent). Then the seven-minute “Loser,” by Jerry Garcia, where Carolyn starts quietly and builds toward a guitar-vocal whirlwind of a climax.

The album is produced by Dave Alvin (singer, songwriter, producer, to understate his achievements), with a guest list that includes himself on guitar on three songs, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Cindy Cashdollar on lap steel, Marcia Ball on piano, Shelly King on background vocals, Ian Fleming on accordion, and Red Young on organ and piano. Wonderland’s core road band of Bobby Perkins, bass, and Kevin Lance, drums, help push things along.

This is a excellent album, filled with a variety of complementary musical styles, great vocals from the veteran Wonderland, artful backing musicians and a production that weaves everything into place.

I couldn’t find a video from “Tempting Fate,” but here’s a live video of Carolyn performing “Open Eyes” with John Mayall:

1. Fragile Peace And Certain War (3:59) By Carolyn Wonderland
2. Texas Girl And Her Boots (4:20) By Carolyn Wonderland
3. Broken Hearted Blues (4:52) By Carolyn Wonderland, Greg Rzab
4. Fortunate Few (3:25) By Carolyn Wonderland
5. Crack In The Wall (3:09) By Carolyn Wonderland
6. The Laws Must Change (5:01) By John Mayall
7. Honey Bee (4:26) By Billy Joe Shaver
8. On My Feet Again (2:59) By Carolyn Wonderland
9. It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry (3:47) By Bob Dylan
10. Loser (7:17) By Jerry Garcia

From the Roadhouse: “Memphis ’69” is a legend-studded documentary of the 1969 Memphis Country Blues Festival

A fine blues festival film documentary has been making the rounds since this summer, and if you haven’t seen it, you should.

Rufus Thomas with The Bar-Kays in “Memphis 69.”

It’s called “Memphis ’69: The Memphis Country Blues Festival,” filmed over three days in June, 1969, in the final year of its four-year run to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the city of Memphis.

Gene Rosenthal, head of the independent blues label Adelphi, filmed about 17 hours of performances, but after processing the film, had no budget left for further production, according to Rolling Stone.

Years later, Rosenthal mentioned the footage to Bruce Watson and Matthew Johnson, founders of blues record label Fat Possum, who were then instrumental in getting the forgotten footage turned into this sparkling documentary. It was directed by Joe LaMattina, assembling it from Rosenthal’s old film.

This is an excellent film, featuring legendary country blues artists like Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bukka White, Son Thomas, Sleepy John Estes and more, plus a host of others, some more well-known than others.

The full list of performers:

Rufus Thomas with The Bar-Kays, Bukka White, Nathan Beauregard, Sleepy John Estes & Yank Rachell, Jo Ann Kelly & “Backwards” Sam Firk, Son Thomas, Lum Guffin, Rev. Robert Wilkins & Family, John Fahey, Sid Selvidge with Moloch, John D. Loudermilk, Furry Lewis, Piano Red, Jefferson Street Jug Band with John Fahey and Robert Palmer, Insect Trust, Johnny Winter, The Salem Harmonizers, and Mississippi Fred McDowell.

The footage of those old masters is great to watch, and if anything, you wish for a little more of their performances. There’s a lot of atmospheric footage of the crowd (the camera people show a lot of interest in attractive young women), and some of the film cuts are a little awkward. But those are quibbles when given the chance to see some of these magnificent old bluesmen in their final years. And a young Johhny Winter. And the prolific blues and music writer Robert Palmer playing clarinet in a jug band. And so on….

The film is available on Fat Possum’s YouTube channel, and I’m adding that link here. Enjoy:

Roadhouse Album Review: Elly Wininger’s latest is living proof that “The Blues Never End”

Elly Wininger – “The Blues Never End” (Earwig, Sept. 17)

Elly Wininger is two wonderful things: A throwback to the golden age of folk and blues artists of the 1960s and ’70s, and a contemporary singer/songwriter whose music is just as vital and engaging now as it was a half-century ago.

And it was almost a half-century ago when a very young Elly Wininger performed on opening night of the historic CBGB (for Country, BlueGrass & Blues) club in New York City’s East Village in 1973. The club soon became a punk rock and new wave hotspot, but Elly stuck with the music that had caught her ear when she listened to old blues on her parents’ 78rpm records. (Some of you might actually remember those!) She also stuck with the Village folk and blues scene, and we are still getting the benefit of those years.

She has continued to write, sing, produce, host workshops and make albums — this one is her fifth since the late ’90s. And she is a member of New York Blues Hall Of Fame.

This latest album, filled with some great older material and four originals, turns the melancholy title song into a positive statement about music that still has a lot of life left. Some of it is timeless material from some of the greats. Elly’s four originals do their best in the same tradition, including the title track. She has an effortless, fluid guitar style, with vocals to match.

Here’s the track list from the album, with Elly’s notes about each song (shamelessly copied from the album cover). There’s not a false musical or emotional note to be heard.

➊ LET THAT LIAR ALONE 3:11 (Traditional) More relevant than ever unfortunately! Although A.P. Carter has a version of this song, I was inspired by Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s version.
➋ SKINNY LEGS BLUES 3:39 (Geeshie Wiley) I left out the verse about her slitting the guy’s throat.
➌ RIGHT KIND OF TROUBLE 4:21 (Elly Wininger) I envision Jessica Rabbit singing this…
➍ SPECIAL RIDER BLUES 4:04 (Skip James) The isolation of life in certain areas of the south, like James’ home town Bentonia Mississippi, echoes throughout his songs. This one sounds so West African to me.
➎ ALABAMA BLUES 3:14 (Elly Wininger) Another sadly relevant song. I was really angry when I wrote this.
Still am.
➏ THE BLUES NEVER END 5:14 (Elly Wininger) How many blues songs can you find referenced in this song? I was listening to a lot of Mickey Newberry when I wrote this.
➐ (I WANNA BE LIKE) ROSIE 4:00 (Elly Wininger) This is my paean to Zydeco accordion player and songwriter Rosie Ledet, tipping my hat to some of her songs.
➑ AS THE CROW FLIES 4:05 (Tony Joe White) I stripped this down to what I heard as the rural roots of this song, and added a little gris gris.
➒ BLACK SNAKE MOAN 3:20 (Blind Lemon Jefferson, Huddie Ledbetter) A Dixieland band brought this to life for me!
➓ GOD MOVES ON THE WATER 3:01 (Blind Willie Johnson) Gospel? Blues? Blind Willie Johnson has got to be one of the spookiest and most unique artists ever. No wonder he’s in a space capsule.
⓫ RANGE IN MY KITCHEN 3:03 (Texas Alexander, Lonnie Johnson) Seemed like a woman should be singing this.
⓬ LEAVIN’ BLUES 4:23 (Huddie Ledbetter, Alan Lomax) Slowed it down a bit. Added slide.
⓭ OLD RILEY 4:00 (Huddie Ledbetter) I didn’t understand this song when I heard it as a kid. Now I get
why it’s up tempo. Riley’s running for his life from Rattler, the dog.

In another shameless copy and paste, here are a few of Elly’s thoughts about how this album was created. When it’s possible, I like to let the artist to speak. There’s a reason that they’re making the music, and I’m not.

What I was thinking while putting this album together: Traditions endure and remain vital when artists interpret rather than just copy. This set of 13 songs, including 4 original compositions, brings a contemporary set of aesthetics, rooted in tradition, to a variety of blues and gospel styles. You’ll hear influences of Cajun, ragtime, old timey, jazz and country, affirming the proximity and cross pollination of all these styles, and their commonality in actual practice, both today and historically. We Americans grew up together with an incredible richness and variety of musics. I hope this album encourages an appreciation and enjoyment of that living diversity.

I would only add that Elly Wininger is doing her best to share her enjoyment of that living and historic musical diversity. It’s hard to hear this music and not agree.

Here’s the opening song rom the album:

One of the song credits caught my eye — “Skinny Legs Blues” by Geeshie Wiley. I had never heard of her. She recorded only six songs on three records in 1930. There are no known photos of her, and the audio of those recordings. Her singing is stark and haunting, often with lyrics to match.

Here’s her version of “Skinny Legs Blues.”