Saturday, May 7, 2016

Supersonic Blues Machine: They Mean Business!

Texas guitar slinger Lance Lopez has assembled a who's who of blues and rock guitar players to flank him on West of Flushing, South of Frisco, the debut album by the aptly named Supersonic Blues Machine. Living legends Warren Haynes, Billy Gibbons, Robben Ford and Walter Trout join young guns Chris Duarte and Eric Gales to aid Lopez in crafting a briliantly pure and edgy blues album that is possibly the ultimate excercise in professionalism. Each of the rock and roll legends (and legends in training) stop by to lend a personal touch to their individual tracks that only they are capable of doing.

From the opening chords and lap steel strains of Miracle Man through the final notes of Watchagonnado, Supersonic Blues Machine's debut effort is rock solid - each track and each guest just different enough to keep things interesting, but equally cohesive.  Lopez and his crew start the party with the romping Miralce Man, and the up tempo driver, I Ain't Falling Again, properly laying the groundwork before inviting in the parade of all-stars and turning things up a notch (or two). 

Billy Gibbons is the first of the legends to step in, joining Lopez and Co. for Running Whiskey, a short ZZ Top-esque rocker that fits both Gibbons and the "house band" perfectly, complete with a signature solo from the veteran rocker to put the official stamp of The Reverend on it.  Haynes is up next, lending his signature vocals and guitar work to Remedy, a tasteful, beautifully penned tune about the power of music. Not to be outdone, Lopez steps up and matches Haynes lick for lick to close the track out.

If it's at all possible to warm up an album with the likes of Billy Gibbons and Warren Haynes, Lopez and his band have done so, blowing the roof off the joint, thundering through Bone Bucket Blues, a growling freight train blues number featuring dueling slide guitar and harmonica from Jimmy Zavala and a punishing back line from drummer Kenny Aronoff and bassist Fabrizio Grossi.

A slew of guests round out the album, including Lopez's fellow next-generation blues torchbearers Eric Gales and Chris Duatre and another pair of bonafide blues legends in Walter Trout and Robben Ford. All four turn in standout performances, ranging from Gales and Lopez teaming up for blues riff clinic on Nightmares and Dreams to the sweet, soulful pairing with Robben Ford on Let's Call It a Night

When it's all said and done, it's simple: If Lance Lopez's Live in NYC was his opening statement to the blues community, the Supersonic Blues Machine is proof that Lance means business.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Everybody Wants a Piece is The Blues at It's Purest

In an age when so much of the music is shallow, over-produced bubblegum pop, it's a rarity to find a pure blues album that doesn't have the name Buddy Guy or Eric Clapton on it. For Everybody Wants a Piece, Joe Louis Walker straps on a six-string, turns up, and blows out a blues album the way a blues album is supposed to be: Full of emotion, thick riffs, deep grooves and searing guitar licks.

Walker and his band come out swinging, laying down a pair of thundering guitar riffs on the album's title track, Everybody Wants a Piece and Do I Love Her, highlighted by some brilliant fretwork from Walker on the former, and punctuated by a series of equally impressive harmonica fills on the latter. Two tracks later, Walker digs deep, spinning a tale of saving a love affair that's falling apart that was made for a blues album on Black and Blue. Walker's heartfelt lyrics are matched by the wah, reverb and tear soaked guitar solo that brings the track's final minute to a close.

But Walker and Co. are just catching a groove and the guitar licks keep coming hot and heavy on Witchcraft and One Sunny Day, before slowing things down a bit and gathering around a church organ for Gospel Blues, then laying down a rendition of the old spiritual Wade in the Water that belongs at a tent revival.

A trio of vintage inspired tracks close things out, with Walker channeling his inner Otis Redding, Muddy Waters and Elmore James on Man of Many Words, Young Girls Blues and 35 Years Old, reminding us that even in the 21st Century, the godfathers of blues and soul are still as important and relevant as ever.

For this blues fan, Everybody Wants a Piece is a breath of fresh air. Joe Louis Walker's musicianship and dedication to his craft and his music is etched in this album from the first note to the last. It restores the faith that the blues are alive, well, and thriving and will continue to be as long as bluesmen like Walker keep picking up the guitar. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Lance Lopez: Foundation of the Next Generation of Bluesmen

It's a tall task to come on stage at the legendary BB King's Blues Club during Johnny Winter's birthday party and play the blues. Not only was Lance Lopez up to the task, he delivered a incendiary seven song set, full of heavy riff driven original blues rock songs that are chock full of energy.

Right out of the gate, Lopez hits the gas, with a hard driving 12-bar blues, Come Back Home, complete with a blistering solo which is only a small taste of things to come. The riffs are non-stop, with the meaty riffery of Hard Time and Get Out and Walk. Next, the gears shift and the band dusts off (and supercharges) the only cover song of the set, Robert Johnson's Traveling Riverside Blues. Lopez and his trio pound out the classic in their signature fashion, giving it a powerful treatment that I can only imagine would have even Johnson himself grinning.

The highlight of the set though, is undoubtedly Lowdown Ways, where Lopez eases off the overdrive and shows off his chops.  Over 11 minutes, Lopez delivers soulful vocals and a lethal combination of tasteful and blinding guitar licks that will leave you spellbound.  It would be unfair, however, to lay all the praise for the excellence of Live In NYC at Lance Lopez's feet. A blues trio is nothing without a solid rhythm section, and drummer Chris Reddan and bassist Mike Nunno provide a rock solid foundation from the word go, driving the riffs along, and giving Lopez a musical canvas on which to shine.

Short and powerful, Lance Lopez's Live In NYC is certainly a statement: With guitar slingers like him on the loose, the future of the blues is in good hands.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Make Room for the New Big Dog: Albert Castiglia

Should you have any question that the blues are alive and well in the 21st Century, light up Albert Castiglia's new album, Big Dog. They will be answered - Emphatically. For Big Dog, Castiglia teamed up with former Royal Southern Brotherhood guitarist Mike Zito and a rock solid rhythm section of Rob Lee, Scot Sutherland and Lewis Stephens to lay down 11 searing tracks that will make blues fans stand up and take notice.

Castiglia & Co. waste no time making a statement, with a brilliant opening trio: Big Dog is the bait, gritty and energetic, complete with firey guitar work from Castiglia and Zito. Don't Let 'Em Fool Ya, drawing on a big, fat riff and the roots of the blues - lyin' and cheatin' - sets the hook. And Get Your Ass in The Van, with the band channeling the old-school slide shuffle made famous by their forefather, Elmore James, reels you in for good.

Nearly every song has a highlight worth pulling your ears further along. From the soaring leads and vocals of Drowning at The Bottom (reminiscent of Buddy Guy), to the soft, sweet sentiments of Let's Make Love In the Morning. The brilliant harmonica work of Johnny Sansone wraps it all up nicely with Where Did I Go Wrong and Where The Devil Makes His Deal, leaving you with only one question: Can we have more?

The bottom line - Get your ass in Albert Castiglia's van, pull up a chair at the table and let the Big Dog eat.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

In an Age Where Everything's Badass, Paul Nelson's New Album Truly Is

Paul Nelson may not be a household name, but you've heard him. If you saw Johnny Winter on stage in the last decade and change, or if you've got a copy of of Winter's Grammy-winning album, Step Back, you've heard Nelson's brilliant guitar work and mastery of the control room.  At the helm of his new solo project, a band bearing his name, The Paul Nelson Band, Nelson brings all of his skills to bear on the band's debut album, Badass Generation.

Nelson has recruited a rock-solid group of musicians to help him usher in a new, 'Badass', generation of classic rock.  Flanked by The Voice's Morten Fredheim, Christopher Anderson and Chris Reddan, Nelson and his new band draw on all their influences, (equal parts Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin and 80's arena rock) to put together a rock solid album full of different yet cohesive songs.

But, songwriting and composition is only half the battle. An album full of perfect songs in the 'wrong' sequence will still fall flat. That's where Nelson's excellence as a producer shines through. He and his band have not only put together a dozen songs with no filler and hardly a weakness. From the album's rocking opener Down Home Boogie, through the Southern Rock infused Swamp Thing to the edgier Fooled by Love and Take It Back, Badass Generation is blended perfectly; so well in fact, that you won't even notice when it starts over - the true sign of a great album.

If Badass Generation is indeed the beginning of the new generation of classic rock, rock and roll will truly never die.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Umphrey's McGee's Class of 2014: Another Star Studded Cast of Inductees

Umphrey's McGee's annual Hall of Fame Series has officially entered its 5th year - this year inducting the class of 2014. The fan-voted set of tracks making up the previous year's perfect concert has been a staple of the series since it's inception in 2009. The series is an innovative and unique way to release compilations to hook the beginning listener, and stir up debate on the choices for the more discerning fans, as all good Hall of Fame results should do.

A live "Greatest Hits" set could easily be a tricky proposition. Most of the greatest live albums in rock history have been recorded over several nights, the bands often choosing a venue in which they feel comfortable, stretching out over a series of nights and picking the highlights. The Umphrey's Hall of Fame series is different - like previous years, its 22 tracks weren't chosen by the band, they were voted on by Umphrey's legions of fans.  Culled from an entire calendar year of performances, The Class of 2014 spans 16 different nights, blended so seamlessly that if you were to close your eyes and ignore the setlist notes, it would be all but guaranteed you'd never know; speaking to the consistency and high quality of performance Umphrey's brings to the stage night in and night out.

It is also proof that Umphrey's McGee is by no means your every day jam band.  The whole band is locked in from beginning to end, displaying brilliant musicianship in a non-stop freight train of different styles and speeds.  The nearly relentless dual guitar mastery of Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger drives almost the entire set, ranging from the light and jammy - August and Front Porch - to the genre-bending, much edgier and nearly jam-metal of Bridgeless and Wizard Burial Ground.  Quite simply, if you're searching for a entry point to Umphrey's McGee, or even just looking to add more "Umph" to your music collection, The Class of 2014 is the right choice.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Brussels Affair: Vintage Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones dipped into their live archive in the summer of 2011 and unearthed and officially released the famous and long-bootlegged Brussels performance from October 1973 known as the Brussels Affair. It's release unlocked the Stones Archive, and gave live music junkies like myself a vintage and outstanding performance, fitting of the "Greatest Rock & Roll Band in the World".

While you'd be hard-pressed to find a music fan who isn't at least somewhat familiar with the Rolling Stones studio work (Who hasn't heard Satisfaction?), Brussels Affair gives the listener the opportunity to see the band in an unrestricted environment; one in which they are free to stretch out and jam when the mood strikes.  The combination of compact true-to-the-album classics and extended, blues laden jams brings something to the table for everyone.  That combination has cemented Brussels Affair at the top of my collection since its release.   

The hour and 20 minute performance in front of a enthusiastic Belgian crowd finds the Stones in fine form and is jam packed with highlights, virtually from beginning to end. While each member of the band has their turn in the spotlight, for my money, the star of the show is without a doubt Mick Taylor, who despite his outstanding contributions to the Stones during his tenure, would leave the band in just a year's time after the Brussels performance.

After powering through a few bonafide Stones classics, Brown Sugar, Gimme Shelter and Tumblin' Dice, Mick and Co. roll out the Bootleggers first real highlight: Dancin' With Mr. D.  Only performed a few times during this tour, Dancin' With Mr. D features an infectious groove, and some simply stunning guitar work from Mick Taylor. After two years of listening to this set, Mr. D is still the magnet that draws me back in every so often.  Despite the presence of several of their more commercially successful songs being performed that night, Mr. D is the true gem of the set. 

Not to be outdone, the Stones cruise right into another new track from Goat's Head Soup, which would become a classic, Heartbreaker, which again features great energy, including some interesting lead interplay between the Micks, and a funky little breakdown section, before ripping right back into the chorus, hinting at how versatile and nimble the band is. 

Cranking back the intensity, Angie is another shining example of how multi-dimensional the Stones are, giving each member of the band their place to shine, and with the pace of the show to this point, giving drummer Charlie Watts time to take a little break! Charlie's break carries on into the Stones classic, Can't Always Get What You Want, where they spend 11 minutes exploring, highlighted by more soaring lead work by Mick Taylor, complimented by a stunning horn solo.

The break's over, but the jamming is just beginning. The final Bootlegger's highlight from this show, a romping and high energy 12 minute Midnight Rambler.  It's as if the first half of the show led up to a breaking point at Angie and now the almost frantic energy and urgency is back, punctuated this time by Mick Jagger's harmonica playing.  

But predictable is one thing Brussels Affair is not, and Midnight Rambler is a perfect microcosm of just that: slowing down to nearly a complete stop about halfway through for some riffing and vocal/guitar interplay, including Mick and Keith trading some tasteful lead lines, before Mick brings them slowly back onto focus to finish things out.

Bootleggers Bottom Line: Brussels Affair is a must-have for any Stones fan, and is also a great entry into the Rolling Stones over all, both as a live act and as a band over all.  It has been and will continue to be a staple on the show from now on.