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Boz Scaggs – MEMPHIS

boz429 Records

4-Stars (out of 4)

For those searching for the sound of soft velvet served over crushed ice.

In a sea of blue-eyed soul singers, Boz Scaggs remains unsatisfied. A critic’s darling, his best records have always been those that sell the least. Unjustly pigeonholes for his high-riding SILK DEGREES, which rose above and beyond the disco era of its time, securing Scaggs a decent living, he’s always remained true to the music. If Boz could sing your tax bill, you’d gladly pay it in advance. His smooth silken tone – aside from his skills as an instrumentalist – and still the night like no other I know – whiskey-smooth. In a career which has covered a lot of ground, he always (wisely) comes back to the r&b that broils in his blood like few Caucasians in musical history. In the case of the 12-track MEMPHIS, he zeroes in on the soul and blues of the south, surrounding himself with top-notch musicians and recording in Memphis’ legendary Royal Studio (home to Al Green and other Hi artist recordings). Produced by drummer Steve Jordan, keyboards are covered off by Charles Hodges, Lester Snell, Memphic vet Spooner Oldham and Jim Fox, while Willie Weeks plays bass. Ray Parker Jr. and Boz cover off guitars with drive-bys from Eddie Willis, Rick Vito and Keb’ Mo’ while the Royal Horns and Royal Strings add their patented refinement. Tackling such covers as Willy DeVille’s Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl, Moon Martin’s Cadillac Walk and Al Green’s So Good To Be Here, Scaggs proves what most already know-his impeccable taste in material and his gift for re-arrangement and re-interpretation. Is there more natural turf for Scaggs to inhabit that Tony Joe White’s Rainy Night In Georgia? His treatment of Steely Dan’s Pearl Of The Quarter is one of the disc’s true highlights – both for the sheer bravery in subjecting it to a Memphis template as well as for the success of its reinvention. Scaggs injects some blues with Dry Spell as Keb’ Mo’s scorching slide Dobro, reinforced by Charlie Musselwhite’s harp, underlines how well-matched Scagg’s vocals are to the genre. Jimmy Reed’s You Got Me Cryin’ slows things down, allowing Scaggs time to stretch out on guitar, intertwined with Vito. His own Sunny Gone closes this chapter, reminding us of how uncommonly gifted a singer ‘Bosley’ remains, no embellishment required. Grace and style incarnate. Eric Thom

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Hannah Aldridge – Razor Wire

Hannah Aldridge is a free spirit, if not a dangerous one. Exhibiting the dark poetic underbelly of someone twice her age, this 26 year-old, Nashville-based  singersongwriter grew up in the shadow of her Muscle Shoals-famed pappy, Walt Aldridge (hit-maker, engineer, recordproducer).

Following up 2011’s WANDERER EP, she’s bitten into the essence of what she does best, backed by a powerful band with the muscle to unleash a singer with something different to say. But it’s the way she says it that makes its mark. Wasting no time, You Ain’t Worth The Fight kicks off the album with attitude, distinguished by sinewy slide guitar, crisp drums and rich swirls of B3 as Aldridge rears her head and spits out disdain for an ex-lover like a wounded viper. She continues with Old Ghost – a sturdy, upbeat original that sets an eerie backdrop of mystery across a country backbeat and solid, all-band workout with legs of its own. A slow, swampy Strand of Pearls combines multiple time changes, the use of a bowed saw and cutting lead guitar to create a country-edged tune Vincent Price could be proud of. Yet, it’s  the title track that takes no prisoners – also reprised in an acoustic format with a charm of its own.

Razor Wire reveals a softer, more tender Aldridge as Andrew Higley’s piano, Andrew Sovine’s acoustic guitar and Dylan LeBlanc’s background vocals spawn a  love song baring sharp teeth. While the piano-based Parchman momentarily recalls Amoreena, Sovine’s searing guitar solo keeps things from becoming overly melodramatic. Aldridge’s bad girl persona explodes all over Howlin’ Bones as her band crests the wave before her – a key album highlight. The rocking Try (from former Drive-By Trucker, Jason Isbell) amps up the guitar and drums – an environment she appears to shine in, feeding energy from Sadler Vaden’s searing lead guitar and Derry DeBorja’s rich bed of B3.

Yet it’s when things get toned down a notch – as in her own Black and White, inspired by her young son, where Aldridge sizzles. This sturdy, autobiographical original comes with her most powerful vocal – it’s her Wild Horses and, cementing it together with her band, they lift it well off the page. Likewise, the steamy, sexual Lie Like You Love Me bristles with country badness and an aura of addiction. The light, solo acoustic guitar touch of Lonesome reads like a post-sex cigarette – a genuinely ‘pretty’ ballad that makes the most of Aldridge’s gentler side. With as many good ideas as she’s had looks, Aldridge proves a force to be reckoned with – as a songwriter and as a singer – on this bulletproof debut. Drawing from a rich gene pool, which will carry her over the long haul, Aldridge’s only next move is up.

* Published in the July/August 2014 Edition of Maverick Magazine

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Amy Black – This Is Home

Reuben Records

Alt-country hurting takes on epic proportions

There’s an underlying element of pain and weariness audible in Amy Black’s voice on her second release, This Is Home. Hers is a  voice which might take some time to warm up to – with its slightly nasal tone and fearlessly forlorn qualities – but any investment will pay back huge dividends. Black tackles everyday matters of the heart, the importance of home and the oftcrushing responsibilities of life we all face – expressing impressive levels of emotion through the warmth and strength of her voice. This may not go down as the Party Album of the Year, but it will register deeply in your psyche, underlining the value of life on earth and the price we pay for the privilege.

Black is Boston-based but her southern roots come to the fore on this sophomore effort (she was born in Missouri and lived in  Alabama as a child) as elements of folk and country blend with rock and gospel to forge a sound and a feel inextricably bound to her
lyrics and delivery. In fact, her simpatico session band (Will Kimbrough, Oliver Wood, Todd Lombardo – guitars; Josh Grange – pedal/lap steel, organ; Ian Fitchuk – drums, piano, B3; Lex Price – bass) seem as extensions of the singer herself, joined at her hip and integral to each original composition. You begin to wonder if one can exist without the other.

Despite the feel-good music accompanying Nobody Knows You, the album gets off to a mournful start given Black’s foreboding tone – this atop gushing B3, animated guitar and playful bass. Continued through the use of pedal steel and weeping guitar lines, Black sounds anything but happy at the prospect of being home in I’m Home while that old, haunting hurt continues as the band drones on through the bluesy Old Hurt. Out of the blue, a ray of sunshine cracks through the din with the extreme love of place exhibited in Alabama – a heartfelt love song if ever there was one, Kimbrough’s backing vocals adding to the impact.

Her frustrations at not being able to help her ailing mother benefit from the child-like perspective in the powerful, countrified Make Me An Angel while the crumbling relationship of These Walls Are Falling Down may well be beyond hope, despite the buoyant sounds of lush piano, tight guitar and heart-swelling B3. The funky wash of B3 and banjo can’t fix the  self-sacrifice depicted in Layin’ It Down yet Black and Co. lay down a fat, friendly groove that comes close. Her heart ripped apart by the loss of her beloved father’s mental health, Hello digs deep into the gut-wrenching sadness of Alzheimer’s. Stronger proves a rare rocker with Black its able front-woman, chronicling the pain of separation – again, from the perspective of a child’s, its chorus of Why’d you have to do it? cutting to the bone. Contrast this with the lively Cat’s In the Kitchen, erupting like a kitchen party, full of fun and optimism. Another highlight – “We Had A Life” – chronicles the interminable heartbreak of a split, Black’s hardship worn on her sleeve like a way of life. Two telling covers grace this collection – John Prine’s Speed at the Sound of Loneliness and touring buddy Rodney Crowell’s Still Learning How To Fly. Black’s thoughtful reading of Loneliness doesn’t add much to the original yet its lyric is somehow more convincing from the perspective of a woman. Her spirited take on Crowell’s Fly proves another highlight, augmented by pedal steel, B3 and a bank of electric and acoustic guitars. All covers should fit so perfectly. A hidden track, Gospel Ship, recalls her southern church beginnings, this banjo and guitar-led singalong serving as an energetic, bluegrass coda to the  spiritual cleansing which has preceded it.

All-in-all, Amy Black wears pain so  convincingly as to believe her life has been one trial after another. As a result, her strongest suit is the more inflammable material, her vocals perfectly suited to  delivering on the melancholic – those dark and dreary, world-weary rites of passage which seem inescapable. At the same time, Black is far from defeated – more grist for the mill – exhibiting an undeniable strength and complete conviction, suggesting she’ll always come out on top. A stunning effort.

* Featured in Maverick Magazine, July/August 2014 Edition.

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International Guitar Night beckons across Canada

Published November 15, 2011 – Roots Music Canada Author: Eric Thom

Adrian Legg, Lulo Reinhardt, Marco Pereira and Brian Gore

We know you’re out there…..guitar freaks of all natures. It’s the instrument you dream of playing or already play. It’s also the showpiece instrument of many a band and one that, depending on the calibre of the player, gets the lion’s share of the attention. Not that you play music for attention – but if you did, you’d strive to be a great guitarist.

Think of the greats from across all musical genres. They become deities – during their lifetime, or otherwise. You don’t see a lot of Top 100 Oboe Players lists, do you? Chet Atkins. Duane Allman, Jeff Beck, James Burton, Clapton-Cooder-Cropper. Danny Gatton. Dick Dale. Roy Buchanan or Peter Green. Bert Jansch or John Fahey. John Jorgenson. Tommy Emmanuel. Andrés Segovia. Django Reinhart. Joe Pass. The list can go on forever, as you know. Country. Rock. Blues. Classical. Jazz. Fusion. Folk. Bluegrass. Doesn’t matter.

Seeing any good guitarist play live is a jaw-dropping, thoroughly intimidating and highly enthralling experience. And now yo have multiple chances to experience some of the best guitar work you’ve ever seen and heard on the two dates above. And you thought International Guitar Night was something else? Like a memorial service for starving artists, perhaps? Or a series of classes and seminars moving from town to town?

The concept is not a new one. Who can’t recall those heady days when some of us were treated to the chance to see Paco de Lucia, John McLaughlin and Al DiMeola perform live at the then-named O’Keefe Centre? Mind-numbing. Ear-opening. Years prior, however, some of the larger jazz labels organized this sort of thing – “summits”, touring complementary musicians on an instrument-specific basis.

But these International Guitar Nights were born in 1995 and organized by Brian Gore of San Francisco. His goal was to blend acoustic players, joining him in a public forum to play their latest music as well as to – on a spontaneous basis – share styles and ideas with each other – to the marvel of each audience. This is the 11th year of this ”mobile guitar festival” and the likes of Peppino d’Agostino, Clive Carroll, Andrew York, D’Gary, Miguel De La Bastide, Pierre Bensusan, Guinga have been a part of this event – as have many more world-classguitarists over the years.

Gore is the one constant – a renowned guitarist in his own right, artist in residence at the Boulder Chautauqua, sponsored by Acoustic Guitar magazine and a well-respected steel string fingerstyle player who adds a strong element of percussion to his playing.

Joining Gore is Lulo Reinhardt, a descendant of Django from Germany who mixes his family’s trademark Gypsy Jazz with new forays into Latin music. Expect everything from flamenco to Latin-tinged jazz. Adrian Legg is the only performer this reviewer has seen live – in an intimate show at the old Top o’ the Senator. It was a phenomenal experience as his fingers are ablaze, attempting to keep up with his wildly explorative musical mind.

Originally pigeonholed in an uncomfortable ‘New Age’ category back in ’90 with his first release, the London-born Legg has gone on to dazzle the most accomplished players with his trailblazing skills, earning the reputation of “Best Fingerstyle Guitarist” from Guitar Player magazine multiple times. You won’t catch him with an oboe (although he actually does play one) but, if you’re lucky, you’ll experience his hilarious banter along the way.

Renowned Brazilian guitarist Marco Pereira is the 4th guitar wizard of the evening. He spent many years in France, earning a classical guitar Masters degree from the Université Musicale Internationale of Paris, together with a Master’s degree in Musicology from the University of Paris-Sorbonne. He brings his Brazilian edge to the party as well as the jazz and Latin-American music he has learned along the way.

Theirs is a classical music of sorts with overtones of world music, as you’d expect from these four artists and their various home bases. Elements of blues, jazz, folk override their more formal musical educations and the results are best heard on their new disc – International Guitar Night VI – a live extravaganza exploding as the chemistry of these four masters kick our their respective jams. And what you’ll hear here is exactly what you can expect live as this tour crosses the country before taking on the U.S. in January.

Do yourself a favour – take advantage of this rare opportunity to witness sheer acoustic guitar virtuosity as it was meant to be enjoyed. Chances are you’ll be forever moved by the scale of this truly International experience.

More information at


November 3 Port Theatre, Nanaimo BC

November 4 Massey Theatre, New Westminster BC

November 5 Maurice Young Millenium Place, Whistler BC

November 6 University Centre, University of Victoria, Victoria BC

November 10 Theatre Hector-Charland, L’Assomption QC

November 11 Diffusions Coulisse, Beloeil QC

November 12 Theatre Lionel Groulx, Ste. Therese QC

November 13 Centre Culturel de L’Universite de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke QC

November 16 Centre des Arts Juliette-Lassonde, Saint-Hyacinth QC

November 18 Shenkman Theatre, Ottawa ON

November 19 Theatre Outremont, Montreal QC

November 20 Markham Performing Arts Center, Markham ON

November 22 Oakville Centre, Oakville ON

November 23 Brock Univeristy, St. Catharines ON

November 25 Burt Church Theatre, Airdrie AB

November 26/27 Empress Theatre, Ft. Mcleod AB

November 29 Banff Centre for the Arts, Banff AB

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David Essig’s latest: Rolling Fork to Gallows Point

Published November 2, 2011 – Roots Music Canada Author: Eric Thom
Embarrassing to say but, with over 10 recordings under his belt since the ‘70s, Canadian songwriter David Essig is a singer-songwriter-producer I should know much better than I do – especially after hearing Rolling Fork to Gallows Point.

It’s a name I’d lump together with David Bradstreet, Doug McArthur, Ian Tamblyn — official folkies who are as much about the lifestyle as they were about the music. Since going back to retrieve their earlier music, I was wrong to discount their contributions in any way. And from the first playback of these twelve songs on Essig’s latest CD, Rolling Fork to Gallows Point, I‘ll never ignore him again.

Beginning with a group spiritual in the form of “Waitin’ On You”, sung a capella by Essig with players Chris Whiteley, longtime bassist Tobin Frank and drummer Alan Cameron, it’s a suitably gentle beginning to an album which is anything but. A recreation of a long gone ’85 release, Whose Muddy Shoes, this is a labour of love some 26 years after the fact – and it sounds it. Truth be known, Essig is a well-decorated roots musician, if not legend in his own right. He just needs to get out more. The 11 remaining tracks make up a beautiful, rough and tumble blues record — passionately played and lovingly recorded — for the most part, off the floor.

“If I Had Possessions” is a blues revival-esque showcase for harp and slide while “Candyman” is pure folk with a warm, Steve Goodman, sit-around-the-house feel, cueing the David Essig I remember. However, “Cypress Grove” is something altogether different — a slow, slippery ride with great electric guitars and a dark blues attitude. “Casey Jones” ups the folk/storyteller ante and is beautifully played while “If You Got A Good Friend” is another great harp and guitar workout benefiting from another exceptional lead guitar solo and Essig’s dead-perfect vocals.

“Give Me Back My Wig” is a somewhat frantic rock’n’roll jam that gets a tad screamy but makes up for it with its fun delivery. Likewise, the raucous, rough-edged blues of “Whose Muddy Shoes” is unapologetically heartfelt. “Come On In My Kitchen” gets the same treatment, slowed down and extra-greasy, Whiteley’s harp going to town and taking the rest with him. “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning” is also awash in slippery splendor — this session was purely a thrill for both Whitely and Essig. All these songs are in the public domain — which sadly ignores Essig’s songwriting prowess — with the exception of one of the disc’s key highlights: “Jackie’s Blues”. An intimate meeting of piano and electric guitar with an old-time sound, it’s pure bliss and a loving, lovely tribute for a dear friend.

This is a great record to own and I hope there’s more to come.

David Essig shares stories and songs in this video from episode five of the Woodshed Sessions.

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Leon Russell rolls on – Roots Music Canada

Published August 25, 2011 – Roots Music Canada Author: Eric Thom

My first exposure to Leon Russell was hearing his 1970 self-titled debut, when he was but 28.

Everything was just right – from the quality of his songwriting (beginning, as it did, with “A Song For You”) to his slurred Tulsa drawl and up-front, rollicking piano-playing. Country, blues and rock – it was all here, trumpeted by a one-of-a-kind character who not only looked like a rock star, but seemed to enjoy the whole package.

Add to this his cumulative value as musical icon – the busiest studio musician ever, producing and playing on such an incredible list of Who’s Who musicians that the list of who he didn’t work with would be shorter than the list of those he did. Years passed – his Asylum Choir work with Marc Benno, his Shelter People days, Carney – with its a propos, semi-autobiographical cover art, Hank Wilson. His Mad Dogs & Englishmen work with Joe Cocker, his days in the Wrecking Crew, his prominent role in George Harrison‘s Concert for Bangladesh, a regular at Willie Nelson’s 4th of July picnics – all kept his profile high and his reputation mighty.

Yet, this man of incredible influence, phenomenal talent and impeccable taste gradually faded into the past, although he kept recording, touring continually. It seemed wrong but such is life. Sir Elton John took it upon himself to bring back this hard-working musical dynamo with plans to record an album with him, at a time when Leon’s body was breaking down – the sessions were interrupted for Leon’s apparent need for brain surgery to repair a fluid issue, together with complications from a heart condition and pneumonia. But like Hank Wilson, Leon’s back – with a complete recovery, fresh dates in larger clubs thanks to an updated profile and – for me – a chance to see a favourite icon run through some of my favourite songs as only he can do.

Opening the night at the Sound Academy was Paul James and his band. Not having seen him play in years, it was a thrill to see the man ‘who still looks more like Bob Dylan than Dylan ever did’ play a powerful set to a loving hometown crowd.

Coming on with fire in his eyes, James ran through a spirited collection of songs including a riveting version of “Milk Cow Blues” (guitar and harp), a tribute to his late friend Bo Diddley (which got a resounding crowd response) and a bang-up version of the Everly’s “Cathy’s Clown” as his wife Sue joined him.

Keeping them coming, James added an impressive version of Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”, Mink DeVille’s “Broken-hearted Lovers” and another crowd favourite – a spirited round of Chuck Berry’s “Nadine” – underlining James’ tireless ability to inject his sizeable spark into a crowd….and an older one at that.

It was Leon’s turn to dazzle – and dazzle he did, looking like God Almighty, his snow white hair flowing into his identically-coloured, full beard, topped off with a white cowboy hat and patented aviator shades. If you hadn’t seen him approach his stack of keyboards with the help of a cane, you’d never know he’d been to hell and back. And from the opening strains of “Delta Lady”, bolstered by a stable of young’uns, his voice sounded exactly as it should.He even talked with the audience – an unexpected treat, regardless of how canned the dialogue may have been.

This was no post-op Senior making a dash for a final payday while he could still go through the motions – Leon was truly back and in good form. And the classics kept on coming as his long-time bassist, Jackie Wessel, appeared to steer the band through its paces. Almost too polished at times,

Leon Russell is bigger-than-life. His songwriting, alone, should keep him in the public eye, let alone his accomplishments and relationships throughout the music industry over the years.

Yet he was quietly disappearing under the radar in his later years. Continually performing despite flagging health and advancing years, he had transformed himself into a shadow of his former self. When Elton John let slip on the Elvis Costello Show that he might be recording with Russell on a project helmed by T-Bone Burnett, his heart was in the right place.

The release, The Union, brought Russell’s importance as a founder of the Tulsa sound and a world-class songwriter and performer, back into the limelight. Brain surgery to repair a serious fluid leak delayed the sessions until Russell emerged victorious at the other end. He could just as easily have died, as complications from heart failure and pneumonia offered a bleak prognosis. Yet here he was – dishing out his well-worn treasures, the survivor of a storied career.

The immediate magic upon hearing the energetic opener, “Delta Lady”, hit a nerve recalling his gruff, gravel-throated, drawl-caked charm as he drifted from revival-esque gospel to blues, rock’n’roll and back again.

Introducing elements of country via guitarist Beau Charron’s doubling up on steel guitar, Russell also applied funky rhythms (thanks to the crisp, seamless support of drummer Brandon Holder) to a version of “Wild Horses”, adding tinges of jazz to Ray Charles’ “Georgia On My Mind”, which featured a stand-out guitar solo from main guitarist Chris Simmons.

Reminding us of his next stop joining the Dylan tour, he treated his adoring crowd to “Watching The River Flow”, a song he claims he wrote for Bob on his birthday. Paying tribute to his relationship with Ivory Joe Hunter, he covered “Inner City Mama”, revealing the blues strengths in both Charron and Simmons. A somewhat chunky update to “Hummingbird” was eclipsed by a lively version of “Tightrope”, allowing Russell license to showcase his ever-romping piano work.

A few songs were delivered in Autopilot fashion as Russell dipped back into medleys of his favourite music – “Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone/Paint It Black/Kansas City and, for his non-encore (saving him some needless legwork), “Great Balls Of Fire/Good Golly Miss Molly/Roll Over Beethoven”.

Far more show than expected, and a tasteful reminder of Leon Russell’s rightful place in the legacy of modern music, the audience couldn’t have asked for more – except maybe more of his beloved originals. The fact that he’s back – and seems well – was the best news of all.


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