Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Beth Garner – Snake Farm

Beth Garner – Snake Farm

Self Release


7 tracks / 26:19

There are no hard and fast rules about how the blues should sound, and aside from a few basic structures and patterns, the limits of the genre are only set by an artist’s imagination and attitude. Beth Garner is not short on either of these attributes, and her third album, Snake Farm, is both unique and adventurous. These results are possible because of Garner’s personality and energy, as well as her prowess on lead and slide guitars.

Beth started her musical career in Austin, Texas, and ten years ago she moved to a small town to the east of Nashville. From there Garner made her way into Music City to sing and play her ferocious lead guitar at the bars on Lower Broadway, and this record is evidence of the progress she has made over the years. Snake Farm was recorded “mostly live” at Slack Key Studios in Woodbine, Tennessee (south of the Gulch), and the results are vibrant and fresh.

Beth Garner and Randy Kohns were producers for this project and joining Garner in the studio were Steve Forrest on bass, Wes Little behind the drum kit, Rory Hoffman on saxophone, keyboards, and rhythm guitar, as well as backing vocalists Angela Primm and Gale Mayes. This is a short album, coming in at a bit over 26 minutes, but Beth wrote six of the seven tracks and they all tell interesting stories. For example, the opener, “Alright by Me (Mr. Fisher),” is the tale of a woman who pines for Mr. Fisher, and the lively vocals are set to a laid back (yet funky) rhythm and blues score. Edgy guitar leads, honking baritone sax, and pretty harmonies complement Beth’s unique style.

The listener never has the opportunity to get bored with Snake Farm, as each song is completely different than the others. “Backroads Freddie” is a swamp rocker with Austin-style guitar leads, slightly distorted vocals, and muffled harmonica. Garner swaps solos with Hoffman’s keys and one thing is for sure when this is all done – Freddie is a player! There is a bit of gospel doom too, as Garner uses “Drop Down” to warn about heavy stuff that is coming down (book of Revelation style). There is less instrumentation here, as the guitar carries the simple melody with accompaniment from Hoffman’s sax and the abundant vocal harmonies from Primm and Mayes.

The mood picks up with “Used to Be,” a hot shuffle with bouncing bass, heavy slide guitar and tight harp accents. The message here is that maybe it is better to not settle for an old flame that didn't work out the first time. In a similar dysfunctional relationship theme, “Ramblin Man” is about falling for a musician that just won't be sticking around. This is a gnarly piece of funk that feels like a bass and drum jam that has a song breaking out on top of it.

Then there is the title track, “Snake Farm,” which altogether different. This song is very entertaining, and Garner does a stand-up job of delivering the lyrics in a deadpan (almost spoken-word) manner. This is swamp rock, with cool reverb-soaked guitar providing the jangly leads, and Ray Wylie Hubbard’s lyrics are priceless. I found myself wondering if this is based on the Animal World & Snake Farm Zoo in New Braunfels, TX. If so, this was a nasty place 40 years ago, and this song perfectly captures the vibe.

The seventh song is the closer, “Wish I Was,” where Beth yearns for how things were in the good old days. With its hammering beat and electric piano, it brings to mind the Read Hot Chili Peppers’ version of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” As with the rest of the album, the sound is clear with a good mix, and the live recording vibe is genuine. I imagine they have been performing these songs live for a while, which is great preparation for the studio.

Snake Farm is a short but very satisfying album, and Beth Garner has shown that she is quite a songwriter. The lyrics are funny and clever, and her musical arrangements are not built around the chords that everybody else relies on. Her website only shows one upcoming gig (Plano, Texas in June), but hopefully more dates will be added soon, as Beth’s music is a real treat and it would be cool to see her show!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Southern Avenue – Southern Avenue

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the May 11, 2017 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Southern Avenue – Southern Avenue

Stax Records



10 tracks / 38:47

Southern Avenue is a street that cuts across Memphis, and it also happens to be then name of a band that does a marvelous job of representing all of the musical sounds of this diverse city. Their eponymous debut album takes a solid guitar-blues base and then captures pieces of many genres, including gospel, rhythm and blues, soul, rock, jazz, and even a touch of country. This is American music at its finest, and to top it off the band is signed to the newly revived Stax record label!

The band’s guitarist, Ori Naftaly, came to the United States from Israel to compete in the 2013 International Blues Competition. He decided to stay, and after touring on his own for a while he joined up with a powerful vocalist from Memphis, Tierinii Jackson, and things just clicked. Southern Avenue was born, and Tikyra Jackon (Tiernii’s sister) pitched in on drums and backing vocals, with Daniel McKee on bass and Jeremy Powell on keyboards. Within a year, the band was touring and playing festivals, was chosen to represent Memphis at the IBC, and got signed to the aforementioned Stax record deal.

Southern Avenue is a fresh and original release, with nine new songs that were written by Ori and Tiernii, and one cool cover. The disc was cut at Inside Sounds in Memphis and Zebra Ranch in Coldwater Mississippi, and Kevin Houston took care of production, recording and mixing. You may be familiar with Houston from his work with the North Mississippi Allstars, Lucero, and Patty Griffin.

The set kicks off with a hard-hitter, “Don't Give Up,” with a cool acoustic intro that quickly evolves into a blazing country rocker with a little help from the slide guitar of Luther Dickinson (also a member of the Allstars). But the real shining star here is Tierinii, who has parlayed her previous experience of singing in church and cover bands into a true leading lady role. Her voice is nothing but soulful; it is powerful and clear, and her range is certainly enviable.

Next up on the songlist is “What Did I Do,” an upbeat soul tune that features organ from Powell, sweet vocal harmonies from the Jackson sisters, and tight horns from Houston and Suavo Jones (the Bo-Keys). This is followed by the jazzy R&B of ““It’s Gonne Be Alright” and the lone cover tune on Southern Avenue: “Slipped Tripped and Fell In Love.” The latter is a neat tune that was written by George Jackson and recorded by Clarence Carter in 1971. It has since been re-done a few times, including an interesting 1982 take by Foghat. In this case it is a fun and funky piece that is built around Ori’s guitar and Tikyra’s snare drum. The horns of Art Edmaiston and Marc Franklin join in to make this an epic track that is one of the standouts on the disc.

Tierinii lays down a single ballad for this project, and it gives the listener a chance to really hear what this woman can do, showing that there is a lot going on here. On “Love Me Right” there is a lot of texture to her voice, and she demonstrates the ability to go from smooth to jagged in a heartbeat. The overall effect is very emotional and heartfelt. This is a cool contrast to the in-your-face outrage of “Rumble,” which includes the soon to be classic lines: “You can see the crazy on my face / You can smell it running through my veins.” This is obviously not a woman to mess with!

This is a relatively short album, and before 40 minutes are up it is over, ending with “Peace Will Come.” This song has gospel lyrics over a country rock beat, and it features a few more Jacksons on guest vocals: Ava, Laurie, and Bradley. This the last opportunity for Naftaly to lay down a guitar solo, and as always it is tasteful and smooth without creeping into the realm of self-indulgence. This song builds consistently to the end, and as it finishes up it is apparent that this was the perfect choice for closing out the set.

Southern Avenue is a hit, and after just one listen it is obvious why this band was the hometown choice for the International Blues Challenge. The band is worthy of the Stax Records label, and this is one of the best debut albums of the year. It deserves a listen, and be sure to take a peek at their website as they have a heavy touring schedule through the end of summer, including shows all over the states and a few festivals in the Netherlands. If this album is any indication of what their live show is like, it would be a great idea to make the time to seek them out!

Radial Engineering Presenter Compact Mixer Review


I saw the Radial Engineering Presenter at the Winter NAMM show earlier this year and thought it was a pretty neat solution for people who conduct training classes or hold a lot of meetings. This product is a small mixer that provides mic, 3.5mm and USB inputs, as well as a couple of speaker outs.

According to Radial: “The USB input on the Presenter allows for direct connection to a laptop for high quality audio playback, perfect for presentations that include digital audio files, or for DJ applications. This connection also provides power for the Presenter, eliminating the need to carry around a separate power adaptor. For connection to mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets, a 3.5mm stereo input jack is included on the front of the unit, and can be adjusted using the program level control. The XLR microphone input is paired with low and high EQ controls to tailor the frequency response, along with a low cut filter that rolls off excessive low end.

Both the microphone and the playback signals are mixed to stereo XLR balanced outputs, which can be connected directly to a PA system or a pair of powered speakers. A mono switch is provided if only one speaker is needed, and a ground lift ensures that the output signal is clean and free of buzz or hum from ground loops.”

Well, they are not lying. The Presenter is small and packed with features in its 14-gauge steel box. Pretty much everything you need to do can be accomplished with the single XLR , USB type-B and 3.5 mm TRS inputs, and there are a pair of XLR outs. There is even a port where you can install a laptop lock so it is harder for this mixer to disappear.

To use it, both the microphone and the playback signals are mixed to stereo XLR balanced outputs, which can be connected directly to a PA system or a pair of powered speakers. A mono switch is provided if only one speaker is needed, and a ground lift ensures that the output signal is clean and free of buzz or hum from ground loops. The presenter can be powered with a power supply (not included), or by a laptop over USB. One downside is that only laptop or a 3.5mm input at any one time, which seems like a pretty major disadvantage when giving a presentation. On the plus side, the Presenter can be used as a USB recording interface, so lectures can be recorded for later use.

Radial Engineering is a quality company that makes good stuff, and their products are priced accordingly, meaning that the Presenter comes in at $299 (street price). This is a lot of cash for a small mixing board, and if you look around there are a lot of mixers under $100 that have all of these features (including the USB) and more. This one would be a hard sale for me…


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Harpdog Brown – Travelin' with the Blues

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the May 4, 2017 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Harpdog Brown – Travelin' with the Blues

Dog House Records


14 tracks / 46:31

It is always cool to get a new blues CD out of Canada, as they are often very entertaining. It seems like there is a lot of support for all genres of the music scene north of the border, and this community helps artists get a good foothold in the business. The new album from Harpdog Brown, Travelin' with the Blues, is no exception and this harmonica-driven disc is chock full of solid tunes and sweet guest artists.

With seven albums under his belt, Harpdog Brown has been plying his trade since 1982, and after taking a decade off to help raise his son he is right back in the thick of things. He is a well-regarded singer and harp man, and over the past few years he has released two albums and won consecutive Maple Blues Awards for harmonica player of the year. This man is certainly still in his prime, as you will hear on this disc!

Travelin' with the Blues has pretty much everything going for it. Little Victor produced this album, and it was cut by the go-to guys in the blues business: Jon Atkinson at Bigtone Records and Kid Anderson at Greaseland Studios. If you ever wish to make your own blues album, head up to the San Francisco Bay area and hit up one of these fellows and you will not regret your decision. Brown provides the vocals and most of the harmonica for this project, and joining him in the studio are Jordie Edmonds on guitar and Pat Darcus on bass. There are special guests galore, and blues fans will probably be able to recognize most (if not all) of the names.

Many of the 14 tracks on Travelin' with the Blues are solid originals that were written by Brown, his bandmates, Little Victor, the guest artists, and Harpdog’s longtime collaborator, Wayne Berezan. Regardless of who wrote the songs, they all fit together well and there is a glorious 1950s feel to the proceedings thanks to Atkinson’s magical analog studio equipment. This is apparent on the opener, “Better Days,” a cool bit of Chicago electric blues that Wayne wrote. It features Harpdog’s hearty vocals and plenty of dirty guitar from Kid Anderson, not to mention a hauntingly distorted harmonica break. Berezan also penned the ballad “Sacrifice,” which allows Big Jon Atkinson to show off a bit of his guitar and drums as Carl Sonny Leyland sets the mood on the piano. Both of these tunes highlight how solid Brown is with the vocals, as he has a tremendous sense of timing and drama, as well as flawless enunciation.

The originals also include a few standup tunes that Brown wrote. These include “For Better or Worse,” a 1950s rocker with Kid Andersen and Little Victor on guitar, “What’s Your Real Name” (the story of how Harpdog got his name), and “Home Is Where the Harp Is,” a re-do of a song from earlier in his career. These last two include some fancy guitar work from reggae master Rusty Zinn, another nugget of California gold.

There are also a couple of noteworthy instrumentals worked into the set. Brown and Little Victor wrote “Moose on the Loose,” with a melody that hearkens back to the Champs’ “Tequila,” and an unexpected harmonica duet of Harpdog and the legendary Charlie Musselwhite. Then there is the closing boogie, “Hayward Blues,” a pick-up track that was recorded at the end of a session. This one has a healthy vamp from Jordie Edmonds (who wrote it) and Jimmy Morello, and a fun honking harmonica part from Harpdog. Though this one is only 95 seconds long, it is a wickedly fun way to close out the set.

The covers include a handful of neat tunes. The band’s redux of Otis Span’s 1954 Chess Records single "It Must Have Been the Devil" is amazing, and California jazz master Carl Sonny Leyland does a fine job of occupying Spann’s place behind the piano. There is also Willie Dixon’s “Bring it on Home” which was originally cut by Sonny Boy Williamson II in 1963 and then covered on Led Zeppelin II. This version includes Jimmy Morello on the skins, and it is great to see that he is recording again! And finally, going a little further back in time, there is Jesse Thomas’ “Another Fool Like Me” and Muddy Waters’ “Hard Days Blues.” The latter is the standout of the cover tunes, and Brown’s quirky vocals are well accented by his harp as Little Victor lays down smooth guitar fills on this classic tune.

As if 46 minutes of quality music is not enough, if you buy the hard copy of the CD you will also get 16 pages of liner notes with brief bios for the guest artists as well as producer’s notes for each of the tracks. This wealth of information is a welcome addition, and a neat throwback to the days where listening to music was a primary activity, not something that was done as an accompaniment to other everyday chores.

Harpdog Brown has a winner with Travelin' with the Blues, and any fan of the harmonica or classic blues would be happy to have a copy of this disc in their library. Looking over Brown’s website, there is a passel of Canadian shows scheduled for this spring and summer, so if you are going to be north of the border, you might want to check out his schedule. He is a master of the harp, and certainly worth seeing in person!

2018 Blues Blast Magazine Music Award Winners!


The 2018 Blues Blast Magazine Music Award winners were announced at the show on September 29, 2018. Here is the press release:

At one of the biggest Blues events of the season on Saturday night fans and artists celebrated the 11th Annual Blues Blast Music Awards at Tebala Event Center in Rockford, Illinois.

The winners in the fan voting were announced at the show and are listed below. Congratulations to all the nominees and winners!

The 2018 Blues Blast Music Award Winners

Contemporary Blues Album

- Danielle Nicole - Cry No More

Traditional Blues Album

- Kim Wilson - Blues And Boogie Vol 1

Soul Blues Album

- Bettye LaVette - Things Have Changed

Rock Blues Album

- Walter Trout - We're All In This Together

Acoustic Blues Album

- Sonny Landreth - Recorded Live In Lafayette

Live Blues Recording

- Muddy Waters - Live At Rockpalast

Historical Or Vintage Recording

- Muddy Waters - Live At Rockpalast

New Artist Debut Album

- Heather Newman - Burn Me Alive

Blues Band

- Rick Estrin & The Nightcats

Male Blues Artist

- Walter Trout

Female Blues Artist

- Beth Hart

Sean Costello Rising Star Award

- Heather Newman


Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Reverend KM Williams – The Real Deal Blues | Album Review

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the April 20, 2017 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Reverend KM Williams – The Real Deal Blues

Cleopatra Blues Records



15 tracks / 52:10

Reverend KM Williams was brought up in East Texas, where (legend has it) as a toddler he first played the guitar while sitting on the lap of Elmore James. From there, Williams built his skills over the years by playing in churches where he got a righteous background in gospel and rhythm and blues. The Reverend is a serious guitarist and vocalist, but he also has a mean touch with the Diddley bow, a single string instrument that produces an amazing slide guitar tone in the correct hands. After listening to his new album, The Real Deal Blues, there is no doubt that Reverend KM Williams has the correct hands!

These days, listeners can find Williams playing his unique brand of raw blues on the stages of the Deep Ellum clubs in Dallas, Texas, alongside his friends such as drummer Washboard Jackson and the BMA-winning harp man, Deacon Jeff Stone. You can get a feel for this scene and the Texas blues tradition in the album’s companion short film, which is also titled The Real Deal Blues. The Reverend took his stage energy and vibe into Atom H Studios in Austin Texas, where producer Jurgen Engler brought this project to life. The resulting 15 tracks are all distinctive and innovative, while still remaining 100% blues – the album’s title is no joke.

Whatever you are expecting, once the set starts the sound of this disc will set you back on your heels a bit. It is all raw edges with a distant sound, jangly guitars, a wailing Diddley bow, and vocals that beg to you listen just a little harder. This is modern electrified music, but with the way it is recorded the gap between traditional and modern is bridged, and the way the listener interprets it might just depend on what mood he or she is in that day.

The Real Deal Blues is all about feel and mood, not showing off with flashy solos or crazed vocals, and this is apparent from the first track, “Baby Please Come Home.” Williams’ easygoing baritone vocals are set back in the mix, and the subject matter is undeniably the blues. Musically, there is a strong backbeat and the instruments are processed and electrified, but the overall vibe is vintage due to the classic repetitive blues structure of the lyrics and the overall murkiness of the tone. From there the Reverend explores swamp rock with “The Runaway Blues” which has a melting pot of guitar layers and a nice touch of Diddley Bow.

These first two songs are pretty intense, and Williams understands that this level of drama cannot be maintained for the whole album and still have people listening at the end. So there are a few conventional tunes sprinkled around the CD. “Ring in My Pocket” has a more laid back beat, and it is a sweet story of a man who has no cash in his wallet and plenty of holes in his shoes, but he is on the road home to his lady with a ring for her finger. Another more mainstream song is “Shoulda Left this Town,” which is a little slower and is built on a 12 bar blues foundation.

There are a few shorter-length themed songs, which also help to lighten the load at times when things start to get a bit heavy. “Highway 666” has a 1950s Johnny Cash rockabilly feel with a driving tempo and groovy sound effects that accompany the story of a man who has bad ambitions. Another cool tune is “Haunted House” with its roadhouse beat and a truckload of killer guitar tone.

If this album makes you wonder what a Diddley bow sounds like without electronics and processing, you will be happy that the closer is a bonus acoustic version of “Bad Boy Blues,” which appeared earlier on the album. In this case, the drama is still there, but it is a different mojo as the driving feel of the electric mix has been stripped away. Williams can make that single string sound like a dozen, and the man’s talent shines brightly when all of the studio magic is turned off.

Reverend KM Williams remains true to his roots and to the genre with The Real Deal Blues, and this album is an edgy 52-minute set of hardcore Texas blues. It is not easy listening, and it would be best to not distract yourself while it is playing as you could miss a lot. If you like what you hear and want to see him in person, head over to his website to check out his schedule; if you are in Dallas, Mississippi, or Spain, you are in luck as he has plenty of shows coming up!