Roadhuse album review: Tony Holiday’s excellent “Porch Sessions”

Tony Holiday — Porch Sessions Volume 2 (Blue Heart Records, Sept. 17)

It’s a pretty simple idea, really — get a bunch of good musicians together in informal settings — even front porches — record them, and turn that spontaneous music into a naturally fine album of blues.

So after the first splendid “Porch Sessions” appeared in 2019 and was nominated for a
Blues Blast Music Award in the Live Album category, Volume 2 was a easy choice.

“I’ve just been traveling around the country the last five years or so, recording bluesmen and women on their porches. It didn’t end with the first volume. It just had more life in it,” says harpman Holiday.

That “life” of 16 more songs recorded live means even more of this enthusiastic effort for our listening pleasure.

The guest artists on this recording are listed on the album cover, pictured here for your edification, and at no extra cost.

They run through a set of some old blues chestnuts and some lesser-known but still rewarding material, and they sound like they’re having a great time doing it.

Piano-pounding wizard Victor Wainwright opens the show with a tasty tribute to the classic rocking blues, “She’s Tuff,” written and first recorded in 1960 by Jerry McCain, but given new life about 20 years later by the Fabulous Thunderbirds as their signature song. It’s more than “tough enough.”

Some highlights: Willie Buck does a deep blue turn on “Honey Bee,” Bobby Rush reaches way back for the succulent “Recipe for Love” with Vasti Jackson’s understated guitar the perfect side dish. Watermelon Slim lends his unique chops to the classic “Smokestack Lightnin’.” In one of his last performances, James Hartman aces “Going to Court” with strong help from Kid Ramos and London Stone. Mark Hummel and Lurrie Bell bring some down-home flavor to “Everyday I Have the Blues,” and Rae Gordon sounds tough enough herself on the crackling “Find Me When The Sun Goes Down” with Holiday on harp.

Those are just a few of my preferences, but there’s not a false note here. Everyone is captured in a relaxed and natural setting, and they make great music to match. To make it an even better experience, add the first “Porch Sessions” into the mix and spend an evening with some of the best blues music and musicians.

And for some added enhancement, a libation of your choice. Mine was Jim Beam Black. Neat. I find bourbon and blues to always help with the hole in the soul.

Track Listing:
01 She’s Tuff Featuring Victor Wainwright
02 Honey Bee Featuring Willie Buck
03 Change Is Inevitable Featuring AJ Fullerton
04 Recipe For Love Featuring Bobby Rush
05 Smokestack Lightnin’ Featuring Watermelon Slim
06 Going To Court 2 Featuring James Harman
07 Go Featuring Jon Lawton
08 Every Day I Have The Blues Featuring Lurrie Bell
09 Brazilian Brothel Featuring Richard ‘Rip Lee’ Pryor
10 Bad Bad Girl Featuring Johnny Burgin
11 Find Me When The Sun Goes Down Featuring Rae Gordon
12 That’s How I Learned Featuring Ben Rice
13 Cake Walk Featuring Mark Hummel & Dennis Gruenling
14 Family Tree Featuring JD Taylor
15 Peace Will Come Featuring Southern Avenue
16 Get Outta Here (Dog Named Bo) Featuring Bobby Rush

Roadhouse album review: Altered Five Blues Band puts grit and soul into tough “Holler If You Hear Me”

Altered Five Blues Band – “Holler If You Hear Me” (Blind Pig Records, Sept. 3)

“Holler If You Hear Me” is the sixth and latest album from this gritty Milwaukee band, whose bluesy, soulful sound is wrapped around the big, rich pipes of its vocalist, Jeff Taylor.

Then there’s the band itself, with a driving, old-school feel. Then there’s the songwriting — 13 finely crafted odes to life and love, each one with guitarist Jeff Schroedl’s name on it as writer or co-writer. Finally, there’s the classy, classic Tom Hambridge blues production.

It all kicks off with the title song, a romping invitation to the blues party that follows — “come join the party, let’s ramble and roll….” Jason Ricci adds wicked harp here and on four other cuts.

Next, Taylor switches gears into the slow-burning, churning funk of “Guilty of a Good Time,” with a lyric that hits me where I live — “”hand-rolled cigars, rhythm and blues….” It’s the first of a glorious handful of torchy blues that show the power of Taylor’s voice, driven by Schroedl’s fierce guitar and the tightness of the band: bassist Mark Solveson, drummer Alan Arber, and Raymond Tevich on keyboards.

“If You Go Away (She Might Come Back)” is another good-rockin’ blues, again with Ricci weaving in and out (and probably jumping up and down — yes, I’ve seen him!).

My flat-out favorite cut is the passionate “Holding On With One Hand,” with Schroedl’s stinging guitar intro and solo, plus Ricci’s harp, making this an achingly strong showpiece for Taylor. “Leave Before I Let You Down” is another piece of soulful magic, deftly lyrical and powerfully sung. “All Suit, No Soul” is a funky little putdown whose title says it all. Another favorite is the chunky “Clear Conscience, Bad Memory,” about how easy it is to slip through those bad memories.

Ricci returns to help kick in the closer, “Big Shout Out,” a rousing tribute to those who “built the blues.”

There’s lots more great stuff here. These guys know how to write, play and sing. They do it with great enthusiasm and tremendous talent. It’s hard to overstate the strength that a tough vocalist like Jeff Taylor brings to the blues — and when you add the rest of this excellent band, the result is … well, it’s what you’ll hear when you give this a listen.

Here’s a video of the scorching “Guilty of a Good Time’:

Track list

1. Holler If You Hear Me (3:33)
2. Guilty of a Good Time (3:26)
3. If You Go Away (She Might Come Back) (3:32)
4. Holding on with One Hand (3:56)
5. Full Moon, Half Crazy (3:22)
6. Where’s My Money? (3:14)
7. All Suit, No Soul (2:57)
8. I Got All I Need (5:38)
9. Clear Conscience, Bad Memory (5:29)
10. In the Name of No Good (3:30)
11. Leave Before I Let You Down (4:21)
12. Fifteen Minutes of Blame (4:09)
13. Big Shout Out (3:12)

Roadhouse album review: “Etta James – The Montreux Years” a live showpiece for her incomparable music

In my last post, I wrote about a new album series from BMG Records and the Montreux Jazz Festival, and I described the upcoming release (Sept. 17) of “Muddy Waters – Live at Montreux.” It’s an excellent look at the live music of one of the greatest blues performers.

But there are two of these magnificent sets already out there to gratify your ears and satisfy your soul, from Montreux performances by Etta James and Nina Simone. Today I’ll take a look at the James concerts.

Etta James – “Etta James: The Montreux Years” (BMG Records, June 2021)

“As you know, I am a blues singer,” Etta James told a Montreux Jazz Festival audience at the beginning of one of her songs, vibrantly captured on this journey through her festival years, covering six concert performances from 1975-1993. The ’75 festival was her first European performance, and is included in its entirety on one of the two-disc set.

She was indeed a powerful singer of blues, but James was also one of the most exciting and enduring musical voices in the second half of the 20th century. She could, and did, sing R&B, blues, soul, pop, funk, or any combination that the occasion demanded. And she did it with ease. The music always seemed to just flow out of her.

James came to music early in a tumultuous life. She was born Jamesetta Hawkins to her 14-year-old mother, Dorothy, and believed that pool player Rudolf “Minnesota Fats” Wanderone, was her father.

She released her first record in 1955, when she was 17. It was “The Wallflower,” with the title changed from “Roll With Me, Henry,” apparently to protect innocent young teenage minds, or possibly, people named Henry. It was one of several “answer songs” to  Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’ raucously salacious 1954 hit, “Work with Me Annie.” Etta even got credit as a co-writer, with Johnny Otis, who helped to discover her, and Ballard.

By the way, these songs, plus the Midnighters’ songbook and Otis’s, were all great, enthusiastic music, honking and jiving its way into the early days of rock ‘n’ roll.

But Etta was on her way. Just five years later, her first album, “At Last,” debuted, along with a hint of the wide range of musical styles she would go on to master. There was also the title song, which would become her signature song, plus some blues, jazz and pop.

Sadly, her musical career was marred by drug and legal issues in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, but her music grew into an essential part of the American songbook.

The tracks on this Montreux album reflect that status with strong performances from 1975 to 1993. There are tough blues, painfully soulful moments, and striking pop ballads — all done live, with no chance to overdub, or fix any mistakes in the studio.

It’s all simply outstanding music, and should help Etta James find her place among the great women of American music.

Here’s the track list on the CD from multiple years:

Breakin’ Up Somebody’s Home (1990), I Got the Will (1989), A Lover Is Forever (1993), Damn Your Eyes (1989), Tell Mama (1977), Running and Hiding Blues (1990), Something’s Got a Hold On Me (1989), Beware (1993), Come to Mama (1990), Medley: At Last / Trust in Me / Sunday Kind of Love (1989), I Sing the Blues for You (1993), Baby What You Want Me to Do (1978 Encore)

Here’s the track list from the CD covering the 1975 show:

Respect Yourself, Drown in My Own Tears, W-O-M-A-N, Dust My Broom, I’d Rather Go Blind, All the Way Down, Baby What Do You Want Me to Do, Rock Me Baby, Stormy Monday

Here’s a video of Etta James at the 1975 Montreux festival, singing “I’d Rather Go Blind.” Great stuff!