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Summer 2021


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Blues Deluxe is a regular column comprised of pithy takes on recent blues and roots-music releases of note. It spotlights titles in those genres that might otherwise go unnoticed under the cultural radar.

Mike Younger
Burning The Bigtop Down
Self Produced

The backstory of an album is oftentimes more interesting that the record itself, but that's definitely not the case with Burning The Bigtop Down. Mike Younger was in the studio collaborating with the late legends Levon Helm and Jim Dickinson back in 2001 when his label went defunct, but he refused to become so dismayed he gave up on the tapes, so, finding them in 2017, he went about assembling musicians to complete nine tracks of earnest, authentic r&b-inflected rock. As "Together" first suggests, Younger's sand-papery voice reminds of the Eagles' Don Henley, but this LP has more to offer than either superficial comparisons or merely a litany of guests; sit-ins do abound though, from both Dickinson offspring to Memphis stalwarts Spooner Oldham on keyboards and David Hood on bass. And the aforementioned drummer from The Band is at a kit through all these Younger originals including the genuinely soulful "Laying Low." In line with its circuitous route to release, Burning The Bigtop Down is worth searching out: it's more than simply a musical curio.

Mike Zito
Gulf Coast Records

Considering Mike Zito's Resurrection was produced by David Z (who's filled that role for this artist more than once in the past), a new solo album from the Missourian might seem merely de rigueur even in the wake of quarantine. But in keeping with its implicitly melodramatic title, the music in these eleven tracks carries a palpable force of renewal: pristine and punchy sound consistently informs these performances of seven originals, including "Don't Bring Me Down," as well as the covers like J.J. Cale's "I'll Make Love To You" and Willie Dixon's "Evil." In addition, this potent combination of material not only reflects this artist's roots accurately (and mirrors the intricate cover art), but also precludes slavish devotion to the sources: Eric Clapton's "Presence of the Lord," for instance, is almost unrecognizable as it begins. And while Mike Zito may not truly innovate with tunes like "In My Blood," he comes close with this titlesong; in so doing, this guitarist/songwriter/bandleader's reinforces so fierce a loyalty to influences his artistic integrity remains beyond reproach.

Lauren Anderson
Love on the Rocks
Self Produced

Beginning Love on the Rocks with a soulful, abandoned wail, Lauren Anderson ratchets up the gutsy intensity from there on in during this roughly thirty minutes of modern blues. In fact, the comparatively abbreviated duration of her second full-length album—recorded, engineered, mixed and mastered by Taylor Lonardo— becomes almost a merciful gesture by the times its over: it's one level of intensity after another with these nine tracks, the smoldering likes of the title song giving way to the fiery impact of "Back to Chicago." But the woman proves she has a light touch too during the otherwise emphatic "The Way I Want:" her classical music training affords Anderson the discipline necessary to simultaneously focus and apply attention to detail there and on cuts such as "Stand Still" and "I'm Done." This LP may not be a tour de force, but the strings adorning "Holdin' Me Down" suggest just such a definitive work isn't too far off: Anderson transcends the dead ends of genre even as she remains loyal to her roots.

Eamon McCormack
Bem Records

In keeping with the album graphics, Irish songwriter/guitarist Eamonn McCormack is certainly ambitious in his attempt to marry narrative and instrumental acrobatics, on this his seventh album. Opening with "The Great Famine" is as indicative of his reach as his grasp as he recounts the slice of history in an initially ghostly mode before imbuing intense electricity to the rideout. For "Gypsy Women," McCormack trades in myths, but one in which the roots are the blues, even as the man traverses the fretboard with abandon (but without apology) for the outright hard rock. Comparison of McCormack to other homeland heroes including Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher are appropriate, more the former than the latter, as unfortunately Eammon exhibits a tendency to melodrama that bogs down "Help Me Understand." The playing of the front man and his accompanists can also become bogged down in the predicable changes of "Cowboy Blues." Still, the atmosphere they conjure up is fortunately more often akin to the haunting air of the legendary Free, as on "In A Dream."

Sean Chambers
That's What I'm Talkin' About
Quarto Valley

Florida-born Sean Chambers began his career in the blues genre back in 1998 when he toured with Hubert Sumlin, the long-time lead player for Howlin' Wolf as guitarist and band leader, so it makes sense he's hardly a slouch on the fretboard himself. That said, his somewhat overwrought style of singing and playing too often suggests he's straining for effect, as on the instrumental "Chunky" as well as "Rockin' Daddy." Fortunately, both of the two skilled keyboardists present—one-time Gregg Allman sideman Bruce Katz and current Allman-Betts Band member John Ginty—help to add color and provide distraction from over-obvious (familiar) song choices including Chester Burnett's "Forty Four" as well as a number closely associated with him "Sittin On Top of the World." Tribute To... may not live up to the ridiculous hype surrounding it, but is nonetheless a worthy display of Chambers' talents such as they are, as a logical extension of his seven previous albums, but most especially in the context of such an earnest homage to a musician deserving the tribute.

Tracks and Personnel

Burning The Bigtop Down

Tracks: Together; Soulsearching; Laying Low; Lord of the Fleas; Ragtime Angel; Killing Time; Baby What Can I Say?; Devil's On The Rise; Desdemona.

Personnel: Mike Younger: vocals, guitars; Luther Dickinson: electric guitar; Bob BrittL: guitar; Jesse Thompson: guitar; Micah Hulscher: piano, organ; Larry Hanson: piano, organ; Spooner Oldham: keyboards, organ; Jim Dickinson: piano; Cody Dickinson: washboard; .Randy Leago: saxophones; Roy Agee: trombone; Steve Herman: trumpet; Neil Konouchi: tuba; Dave Colella: percussion; David Hood: bass; Levon Helm: drums; Regina McCrary: background vocals;Lisa Oliver-Gray: background vocals; Jeanne Peterson: background vocals.

Love On The Rocks

Tracks: Keep On; Love on the Rocks; Back to Chicago; The Way I Want; Holdin' Me Down; Just F***ing Begun; I'm Done; Stand Still; Your Turn.

Personnel: Lauren Anderson: vocals, guitar; Mike Zito: guitar; Jim Greene: guitar; Kiran Gupta: keyboards; Jon & Liz Estes: strings; Hutch: bass; Matt Doctor: drums.


Tracks: I'll Make Love To You ; Don't Bring Me Down; Dreaming Of You; In My Blood; Presecne Of The Lord; When It Rains; You Don't Have Me; Damned If I Do; Running Man; Evil; Resurrection.

Personnel: Mike Zito: vocals, guitars; Zach Zito: acoustic guitars; Lewis Stephens: piano, organ, Wurlitzer; Eric Demmer: saxophone; Fernando Castillo: trumpet; Doug Byrkit: bass; Matthew Johnson: drums, percussion; Lisa Leuschner Anderson: backing vocals;.


Tracks: The Great Famine; Gypsy Women; Help Me Understand; Tie One On; Cowboy Blues; In A Dream; Every Note That I play; With No Way Out; Cold Cold Heart; South Dakota Bound; Make My Move.

Personnel: Eammon McCormack: vocals, harmonica, guitars; Arne Wiegand: piano, organ; Edgar Karg: bass; Max Jung-Pope: drums, percussion.

That's What I'm Talkin' About

Tracks: Chunky; Do The Do; Goin' Down Slow; Hidden Charms; Forty-Four; Taildragger; Hubert's Song; Sittin' On Top of the World; Howlin' For My Darling; Louise.

Personnel: Sean Chambers: guitar, vocals; Bruce Katz: Hammond B3 organ, piano; John Ginty: Hammond B3 organ, piano; Antar Goodwin: bass; Andrei Koribanics: drums



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