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RUTHIE FOSTER – Joy Comes Back

Album: Joy Comes Back

Artist: Ruthie Foster

Label: Blue Corn Music

Release Date: March 24, 2017

www.bluecornmusic.com

Ruthie 3-24

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Ruthie Foster is on a roll. Her 2009 breakthrough, The Truth According to Ruthie Foster and its 2012 follow-up, Let It Burn, garnered Grammy nods for best album of the year in the blues category. Promise of a Brand New Day, the album that came after, rode that momentum and became her most successful album yet.

It would seem then that Foster has good reason to name her new album Joy Comes Back, because, if anything, it finds her expanding her palette while resulting in her most diverse offering yet. From tender, tearful ballads — “What Are You Listening To?,” “Forgiven,” “Open Sky,” and “Good Sailor” — to a stirring take on Stevie Wonder’s Motown classic “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever,” Foster’s soulful vocals raise the bar and ensure an instant embrace. Likewise, Foster’s full of surprises; who would have imagined that a take on — of all things — Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” would work so well?

Foster shares the credit for this accomplishment with an all star cast that includes guitarist Derek Trucks, bassist Willie Weeks and fiddler Warren Hood, but it’s her own ambitious intent that sets the standard. Little wonder than that the song “Working Woman” serves as an apt mantra. Joy Comes Back indeed!  Then again, it never really went away.

DOWNLOAD: “War Pigs,” “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever,” “Forgiven”

CLOSET MIX – 01 EP 12”

Album: 01 EP 12”

Artist: Closet Mix

Label: Anyway / Tone Scholar

Release Date: February 03, 2017

www.anyway-records.com / www.old3c.com/tone-scholar-recordings

Closet Mix

The Upshot: Woozy, dreamy psychedelic pop guaranteed to put you in a dream state and keep you there.

BY FRED MILLS

The incestuous Columbus, Ohio, music scene rarely disappoints, and Closet Mix is no exception. Made up of veterans from the likes of Log, Great Plains, Househearts, Vena Cava, Peck of Snide, the Pringleberries and other outfits, the foursome crafts a sunny, tingly sound awash in dreamy melodies and powered by loping rhythms. It’ll leave you happily humming throughout the day.

This 12” EP comprises five songs, and while the level of songcraft on display here precludes easily selecting the proverbial pick-to-click, the interstellar surf-rock instrumental “Hugh Are You?” is an unexpected delight, cueing up as it does between the elegant pop chime of “It’s Better My Way” and the woozy balladry of “Won’t Be Lonely After All.” Throughout the record, subtle interweaving of Chris Nini’s keys and Keith Novicki’s guitar lends a textural richness ,while bassist Paul Nini’s upper register vocals skate atop the sonic bed with a delicate grace. (Drummer Dan Della Flora rounds out the lineup.)

It all comes to a head in closing track “Vague Uncertainties,” a shoegazey, psychedelic gem that fairly explodes in a series of colorful sonic starbursts; it’s one of those songs that could be extended indefinitely in concert as the band and audience reach out in tandem, higher and higher.

The name Closet Mix is, of course, derived from a Velvet Underground catch phrase—you can research it on your own—while the band Closet Mix has the entire EP posted at their Bandcamp page as a pay-what-you-can digital download. A small handful of the vinyl version are still available as well, although as it’s a super-limited edition, just 200 copies pressed, one should be prepared to jump on it pronto. Tell ‘em we sent ya.

DOWNLOAD: “Vague Uncertainties, “It’s Better My Way”

PONTIAK – Dialectic of Ignorance

Album: Dialectic of Ignorance

Artist: Pontiak

Label: Thrill Jockey

Release Date: March 24, 2017

http://thrilljockey.com

Pontiak

The Upshot: A fierce, no-holds-barred psychedelic assault that will leave you wasted yet enriched when the smoke finally dissipates.

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

Pontiak’s latest record is a crack to the jaw with a pair of brass knuckles. Blistering in its delivery, opening track “Easy Does It” smokes everything in its path. With muscular drumming and simmering psychedelic guitar cut with atmospheric vocals, the band produces a two-barreled, full frontal assault that was a one two punch to my cranium.

“Ignorance Makes Me High” quickly ensues, with its heavy double tracked rumbling guitar. Forging elements of Chicago band Tar and dope smoker bands Sleep and Electric Wizard, the song shudders and grunts its way towards the light. Rarely do I review an album where the top three cuts are so distinct yet so devastating when taken as a unit. “Tomorrow is Forgetting” is Pink Floyd meets Loop, with its narcotic singing and repetitive melodic line. These blokes can sure play the hell out of their instruments, which makes the album all-the-more powerful.

The album flows at a consistently high level. The guitar solo on “Dirtbags” smokes hard, and makes it easy for me to imagine that these guys probably put on a killer live show. The bio on the band mentions that the members live on farms in Virginia. I’m apt to believe they highlight that point because it’s isolation that allows a band like this to make music first and foremost for themselves and their friends, like an early Kyuss did. “Herb is My Neighbor” is an homage to the sweet leaf that swirls and permeates every track. “We’ve Fucked This Up” is a psychedelic odyssey of epic proportions. Swirls upon swirls of distorted guitar curl and eddy over a militaristic beat. The song has three distinct phases, the final one being a victorious march towards the blinding light off in the distance.

On Dialectic of Ignorance Pontiak have scorched the earth with their fierce, no-holds-barred psychedelic assault that will leave you wasted yet enriched when the smoke finally dissipates.

DOWNLOAD: “Easy Does it” “Ignorance Makes Me High” “Tomorrow is Forgetting” “We’ve Fucked This Up”

 

HICCUP — IMAGINARY ENEMIES

Album: Imaginary Enemies

Artist: Hiccup

Label: Father/Daughter

Release Date: March 24, 2017

http://www.fatherdaughterrecords.com

Hiccup

The Upshot: Girls rule, yes they do—and in the strongest estrogen-powered punk style.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Hiccup, out of Brooklyn, plays abrasive punk with fizzy grace and tight harmonies. The band is two-thirds women – Hallie Bulleit does most of the singing and plays bass, while PIyal Basu drums and Alex Chute sings and plays guitar. All that estrogen makes comparisons to distaff pop-punkers like the Muffs and the Fastbacks inevitable, especially on hard-charging cuts like “Lady MacBeth and Miss Havisham,” with its rip-cut guitar riffs and sugary-sweet “well, well, oh-well, well” chorus (Corin Tucker-worthy vibrating “ohs” here).

Of course, guys do these things too, and links to bands like the Ramones and Mr. T Experience are equally valid — but not the whole story. “Teasin’” balances blustery banging with gleeful hooks, a roar of feedback sheathing euphoric shouts and croons, Basu’s drum beat rocketing off the skins, both arms extended. Later, on “Tides” the racket subsides and Hiccup sounds more like effervescent, upper registered Palomar than anyone else.   A couple of Chute-led cuts (early single “Dad Jokes” and “Enemies of Friends”) take the tension down a notch and land the band squarely in indie-rock territory (think Pants Yell). Still Hiccup works the best when it sounds like the Powerpuff Girls might swoop in momentarily. Girls rule, yes they do.

DOWNLOAD: “Teasin’” “Tides”

Photos Gallery: Music From Big Pink and Beyond 3/25/17, Glendale CA

Dates: March 25, 2017

Location: Alex Theatre, Glendale, Calif.

band-benefit

Live at the Alex Theatre this past weekend, it was a songwriters’ songwriters love fest of epic proportions (what about those Continental Drifters!). According to the organizers: “Benefit-concert producers the Wild Honey Foundation present The Band’s first two records Music From Big Pink and The Band, plus bonus songs, performed by a star-studded house band and guest singers. The event will benefit the Autism Think Tank.”

PHOTOS BY SUSAN MOLL

Garth Hudson of The Band

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Carlene Carter

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David Baerwald

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Gary Eaton

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Jackson Browne

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Jerry Riopelle

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Julianna Raye

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Keith Allison

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Louise Goffin

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Luther Russell

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Morty Coyle

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Carlo Nuccio & Peter Holsapple

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Plainsong

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Sarah Kramer

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Steve Wynn

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Susan Cowsill

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Van Dyke Parks

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Victoria Williams

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Cindy Lee Berryhill

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Peter Case

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Rob Laufer

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Robert Lloyd

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Steve Barton

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Syd Straw

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Tara Austin

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Terry Reid

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Rain (Beatles Tribute) 2/21/17, Seattle

Dates: February 21, 2017

Location: Benaroya Hall, Seattle, WA

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Performing live at Benaroya Hall, the veteran trib outfit covered all the expected bases while giving the Fab Four’s timeless music a unique feel.

BY GILLIAN G. GAAR / PHOTOS BY PETER DERVIN

You can expect a lot of Sgt. Pepper hoopla this year, as 1967 marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. At the time of its release, it was hailed as the greatest album ever made — a claim that’s been constantly picked over ever since, but that’s another story. As a prime artifact that epitomizes the heralded Summer of Love ™, the Sergeant still reigns supreme.

Sgt. Pepper was Paul McCartney’s idea of how the Beatles could reinvent themselves, and make an album without the pressure of being “The Beatles.” Which makes it a bit ironic to have it as the centerpiece of a Beatles tribute show. Rain is the premiere Beatles tribute band (they don’t call them “impersonators” any more) in the U.S., going all the way back to 1975 when they were based in Laguna Beach, California, and called themselves “Reign.” They weren’t a full on tribute band at the time, but did perform a lot of Beatles covers, which landed them a gig providing the Beatle music for the first feature film about the Fab Four, Birth of the Beatles (released in 1979, and for my money still a better film than Backbeat or Nowhere Boy).

Today, Rain is more of a brand than a band; there are various touring line-ups of the group. The band has grown and changed over the years, and I hadn’t seen most of the members of the line-up that played Seattle on February 21: Jimmy Irizarry (John), Paul Curatolo (Paul), and Aaron Chiazza (Ringo). I had seen Alastar McNeil (George) in Fourever Fab, a Beatles tribute act in Hawaii (a Beatle tribute artist can always land a gig somewhere), and I’ve seen Curatolo’s father, Joey, who’s also a member of Rain, playing Paul (like father, like son!). Also on hand was Chris Smallwood, playing keyboards discreetly at the rear of the stage.

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Rain’s shows follow a pretty standard format. Open with the group in their Fab Four Mop Top suits performing on The Ed Sullivan Show. A couple of A Hard Day’s Night songs, and then we’re into the Shea Stadium concert and “Yesterday.” Then to the Sgt. Pepper era followed by The Beatles (aka “The “White Album”) and Abbey Road period. But with this show featuring Sgt. Pepper as the centerpiece — Rain performs the album in its entirety — some adjustments had to be made. And this is what made the show especially interesting, for band rejigged the set list to include some songs that Beatles tribute bands don’t normally play.

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

The mood was set as you entered the venue; Benaroya Hall, home to the Seattle Symphony, so the acoustics were great. Rain has the best production values of any Beatles tribute band, with an attention to detail evident even before the show begins. There’s a black-and-white backdrop featuring pictures of 1960s signifiers (a peace sign, a lava lamp) and images related to the Beatles’ history (a Cavern Club sign, an Abbey Road street sign). The pre-show music is drawn from the early years of the decade (e.g. “Stand By Me”). There are numerous screens built into the set, with clips showing Rain re-enacting Beatles press conferences, and used to good effect at the show’s start, when a clip showing an Ed Sullivan impersonator introduces the band.

The first sequence emulates the Ed Sullivan shows, right down to “applause” signs flashing at the side of the stage after each song. You get the expected hits: “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Though right handed, Curatolo taught himself to play bass left handed — so important to that visual image of the Fabs (he did swap to a right handed guitar when playing “Yesterday”). By the middle Beatles period, the band had started to loosen up, delivering hard rocking versions of “Ticket to Ride” and “Day Tripper.” The screens flashed images tied in with each song (such as trains when the band sings “A Hard Day’s Night,” reflecting the train trip the Beatles make in the movie of the same name), along with vintage commercials shown during the breaks for costume changes (the one showing Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble taking a cigarette break drew the biggest laugh).

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Then came a melding of the Rubber SoulRevolver and “White Album” period, which brought the first surprises. I’ve never before heard a Beatles tribute band perform “The Word,” and they rarely tackle “Eleanor Rigby,” due to its having no rock instrumentation. Rain did both songs, along with other less expected material like “Drive My Car,” “In My Life,” and, skipping ahead, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” It was refreshing to hear a Beatles tribute band vary the “just play the hits” formula. The Beatles were a band with a fantastic catalogue — why not explore more of it?

McNeil’s star turn in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (a song which invariably brings down the house) brought act one to a dramatic close. The drum head on Chiazza’s bass drum was then changed to one emulating the drum on the cover of Sgt. Pepper, and we were ready for act two, with the band naturally attired in the colorful costumes also featured on the album’s cover. (Below photo by Richard Lovrich; courtesy Rain)

RAIN - A Tribute to the Beatles is a LIVE multi-media spectacular that takes you through the life and times of the world's most celebrated band. Featuring high-definition screens and imagery - this stunning concert event delivers a note-for-note theatrical event that is the next best thing to The Beatles.

Again, it was exciting to hear a Beatles tribute band play songs you never generally hear: “Getting Better,” “She’s Leaving Home,” “Good Morning, Good Morning” (complete with animal noises) Also, it was great to hear the entire album, not just the highlights you usually get in a tribute show. The album stands as the Beatles’ most imaginative work, as well as being one of their most musically versatile, and Rain clearly relished the opportunity to dig into the album start to finish. Though it’s a shame they didn’t take advantage of the Sgt. Pepper suits to perform “Hello Goodbye,” a song whose video also featured those iconic outfits.

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Then it was back to basics with the late era stuff, including a singalong to “Give Peace a Chance,” “Get Back” and “Revolution,” and an encore singalong of “Hey Jude.” The band was first rate throughout. Curatolo seemed to have the most fun, mugging and pointing at the audience just like the real McCartney, while Irizarry looked increasingly like Lennon as the show progressed. McNeil was suitably laid back as “the Quiet One,” and poor old Chiazza only got one song to sing. Never mind. As a group effort, Rain delivers. And with a crop of new songs in the setlist, even those who’ve seen Rain before will want to check out the new show.

Rain tours the U.S. through April 23, 2017.

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

***

Setlist

Act One: “She Loves You,” “Please Please Me,” “From Me to You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “If I Fell,” “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You,” “Yesterday,” “Ticket to Ride,” “The Night Before,” “I Feel Fine,” “Day Tripper,” “Twist and Shout,” “Got to Get You Into My Life,” “The Word,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Drive My Care,” “In My Life,” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

Act Two: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “With a Little Help From My Friends,” “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” “Getting Better,” “Fixing a Hole,” “She’s Leaving Home,” “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” “Within You Without You,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Lovely Rita,” “Good Morning, Good Morning,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise),” “A Day in the Life,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Give Peace a Chance,” “Get Back,” “Revolution,” “The End.”

Encore: “Hey Jude.”

***

Author contact: gaarski@hotmail.com, Twitter: @GillianGaar

Photographer contact: http://peterdervin.com (Copyright Peter Dervin)

BANJOVI – Laredo

Album: Laredo

Artist: Banjovi

Label: self-released

Release Date: April 01, 2017

https://www.facebook.com/hadji.banjovi

Banjovi CD

The Upshot: Outlaw country with a desert twist, suitable for Sturgill Simpson fans and more.

BY FRED MILLS

From Oracle, Arizona (near Tucson), banjovi—lower case, please—is one Hadji Banjovi, who plays acoustic guitar and banjo, and sings, on this elegant, quintessentially Southwestern opus. Presumably, he also writes the dozen songs here, although the credits indicate the material was written by one Tom Hodgson, so it’s up to you, the listener, to discern the difference between the man and the nom du rawk—if there is any.

Me, I just know this sound when I hear it, having spent a decade in the Lower Sonoran Desert awhile back. I also recognize a slew of Tucson names among the credits, like studio rats Gabriel Sullivan and Jim Blackwood, and pedal steel maestro Neil Harry (all from the extended Giant Sand family). That’s a Tucson TMOQ for sure. And Laredo has a sun-baked immediacy impossible to ignore.

From the lonesome cowboy vibe and guitar-according interplay on the title track and the deep, dusty twang of “Disappearing Ink,” to the windswept, pedal steel-powered country of “Baggage Handler” and the shimmery mandolin lines arcing through “Paradise Just Lost a Fool,” it’s a gorgeous, evocative album. It’s worth additional note that Banjovi has at least one foot in Sturgill Simpson territory—indeed his vocal inflections are similar to Simpson and George Jones—and it’s not a stretch to imagine this record being embraced by the same audience. Check “Oklahoma’s Worry Now,” about a troublesome gal who left and never came back, for a perfect example.

Ultimately, Laredo comes across as the real deal, outlaw country with a desert twist, and well-worth the effort in seeking it out. Look for the record at his Bandcamp page—it’s listed as officially released on April 1, but you can snag the digital version now. There’s also Hodgson’s other project, The Infinite Mercies, whose Texas State Bird was released a little less than a year ago and can also be found at Bandcamp. It’s very similar in tone and texture, if a bit more straight-up country, and features a number of the same musicians. Listened to back-to-back, the two records make a compelling case for yet another unique iteration of the “Tucson sound.”

Incidentally, if you try to search for “banjovi” you’ll come across a slew of bands that employ the monicker; rest assured that this banjovi is not likely to break into a chorus of “Living On a Prayer” anytime soon.

DOWNLOAD: “Oklahoma’s Worry Now,” “Baggage Handler,” “Bluebird Eggs for Breakfast”

 

JOANNA CONNOR – Six String Stories

Album: Six String Stories

Artist: Joanna Connor

Label: M.C. Records

Release Date: August 26, 2016

http://mc-records.com

Connor

The Upshot: Few blues guitarists have distinguished their careers by sitting still, creatively. This restless spirit first launched her trajectory by breaking all the boundaries of sexism in what had been – traditionally – a man’s world. First mastering her instrument, she further developed her vocal powers to further go where the boys couldn’t go.

BY ERIC THOM

It depends where you hail from of course, but to fans of Chicago blues, Joanna Connor has long been a touchstone for searing, hard-edged electric blues. Granted, she’s been MIA for a few years but, through an odd quirk of fate (and the internet), she’s back to claim her rightful piece of the pie. When a fan’s live recording at the North Atlantic Blues Festival in 2014 went viral on YouTube, she was suddenly ‘discovered’ by the masses – yet Connor is perhaps the antithesis of being an Overnight Success. The ever-fiery, singer-songwriter/guitarist first made her mark with her debut release in ’89 – a true labour of love. Five years prior, the Brooklyn-born blues spark had made the pilgrimage from Worcester, Mass. to Chicago, determined to sit in with her heroes and cultivate her own distinctive definition of the blues. Regardless of how this Second Coming happened, her latest release will come as no surprise to existing fans of her other nine releases. Yet, Six String Stories has, by itself, all the feral power required to enlist and baptize fresh legions into the electric-blues fold. Launching with the molten ”It’s A Woman’s Way”, Connor and her band rip a page out of Helen Reddy’s feminist songbook with impassioned vocals and her ever-blazing Les Paul. Sounding slightly spontaneous as if recorded live, you’ll find a few off-key vocals, yet there’s no denying the fleet-fingered ferocity of her attack.

Tenacious slide work continues with “By Your Side” – a comparatively half-speed grind allowing her band – Marion Lance Lewis (drums, bass, synthesizer, vocals and romance), Jeff Lewis (keyboards), Omar Coleman (harp) and the horns of Charlie Kimble, Gary Solomon and Charles Pryor – to catch their wind as Connor explodes all over her fretboard. In an ode to old-school marriage, “We Stayed Together” is somewhat autobiographical and one of the disc’s best songs – a slowed-down ‘duet’ with partner Marion Lance Lewis, accompanied by minimal B3, bass and drums. A slight about-face with Jill Scott’s “Golden” demonstrates Connor’s creative range, transforming the handclapped silvery funk of the original into slick, uptempo jazz as she George Benson’s her way into a soulful place. Despite a minor rap outtake, it’s Jeff Lewis piano work and the soothing backup vocals of Steve & Hope Lewis that lend a little sunshine, offsetting the heavier side of Connor’s personality. Left turn again, with Coleman’s harp, Lewis’ tasteful percussion as Connor works her fretboard in a more adventurous direction to give the delightfully instrumental “Swamp Swim” its winding river feel. “Love Coming On Strong” is another powerful composition as all elements of the band come together to build another highlight track – acoustic guitar, Lewis’ plucky bass, background vocal and synth sting set the stage for Connor’s strongest vocal and the lethal tone she squeezes from her fingers. African percussion sets up the upbeat revival feel of “Heaven”, introducing the Lewis Family Singers and full horn section, as Connor dances through the piece, keeping her acoustic guitar largely at bay while featuring Charles Pryor’s trumpet as Marion Lewis plays it like a testifying preacher.

Of course, the much-ballyhooed subject of the link-gone-viral, “Halsted Street”, allows Connor the podium and the chance to refine it with a slightly Spanish edge. Of course, Elmore James’ “The Sky Is Crying” is where Connor first cut her teeth, this live performance paying homage to the much-covered song – but slowed down to a crawl, delivering some of Connor’s best singing and – without the need for speed – most expressive guitar-playing. On the back of Marlin Lewis’ heavy bass-lines, Connor approaches ‘Young Woman’s Blues” with the bite of a jazz player, using a slightly more melodic, effects-laden approach and a slight bend to her vocals, accompanied by an unnamed rhythm guitarist. Not unlike something you’d expect from Larry Carlton or Lee Ritenour, Connor underlines her absolute versatility across much of Six String Stories reminding us, at the ripe age of 55, she’s got plenty of stories yet to come.

Check out Connor on the web as well:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWter1w4vWE  (“going viral” 2014)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkHzX_Bl23A&list=PLihhLeRu4qBAipANnUmeruKvZFioXlq4l&index=1  (“By Your Side”, live)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_pHmxVuxxg&index=2&list=PLihhLeRu4qBAipANnUmeruKvZFioXlq4l  (“Love Coming On Strong”, live)

 

SCOTT H. BIRAM – The Bad Testament

Album: The Bad Testament

Artist: Scott H. Biram

Label: Bloodshot

Release Date: February 24, 2017

www.bloodshotrecords.com

Biram

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

By now it ought to be apparent that Scott H. Biram is one irascible individual. Ornery and unruly to a fault, his albums betray the fact that he fancies himself the heir apparent to any number of edgy outlaws — Waylon Jennings, David Allan Coe, Bobby Bare and Merle Haggard included — even as he goes several steps beyond in affirming his tenacity. “I’m the mother fucking train wrecker,” he declares four songs in on the aptly titled The Bad Testament, and from first song to last — with various sound bites tossed in between — it’s obvious he’s all he claims to be. Even when he settles for an acoustic guitar on songs such as “Righteous Ways,” “Feel So Wrong” and “Swift Driftin” (“It takes a real piece of shit to be a real piece of shit”), his sass and spunk remain intact. There’s little room for compromise in Biram’s MO, but chalk that up to his crude charm, if that’s how one prefers to characterize it. The acapella gospel of “True Religion” aside, this is a gritty set of songs, performed by an obviously unhinged individual who takes pride in his warped weirdness. Indeed, when he offers a self-deprecating description of himself on the perfectly titled “Crippled and Crazy,” any further explanation hardly seems unnecessary.

DOWNLOAD: “Swift Driftin’, “Crippled and Crazy,” “Trainwrecker”

SAMANTHA FISH – Chills & Fever

Album: Chills & Fever

Artist: Samantha Fish

Label: Ruf

Release Date: March 17, 2017

www.rufrcords.de

Fish CD

The Upshot: Stunning set of early rock and soul covers that places blues guitar prodigy Fish in Daptone-goes-to-Detroit (and maybe New Orleans, too) territory.

BY FRED MILLS

When rock artists are looking to get their mojos workin’, they head to Memphis or Mississippi for a blues infusion. So what does a blues artist do when it’s time to rock ‘n’ roll? If you’re Samantha Fish, of Girls With Guitars (Fish, Cassie Taylor, Dani Wilde) fame and, increasingly, solo acclaim, you don’t even linger considering New York, L.A., or Seattle—it’s time to book a flight to the Motor City, baby. That’s where the young guitar wizardess hooked up with members of the Detroit Cobras and producer Bobby Harlow, who, prior to being a go-to studio guy for numerous garage outfits, fronted Detroit punk provocateurs The Go. Throw in a New Orleans-based horn section, and you’ve got Chills & Fever, a blisteringly fine set of rocking soul that both showcases Fish’s estimable fretboard skills and demonstrates her intuitive gifts in selecting classic, maximum-impact material to perform.

Indeed, it’s an intriguing setlist, kicking off with “He Did It,” which sharp-eyed readers with long memories will recall both the Ronettes’ original version and the Detroit Cobras’ 2001 remake—the latter looming large for Fish’s romping j’accuse here. Another iconic female’s song closes out the album, Lulu’s ’64 hit “I’ll Come Running Over,” in Fish’s able hands (and pipes) transformed into a pure garage-rock anthem. In between you get a spine-tingling take on Skip James (“Crow Jane,” featuring some seriously bad-ass cigar box guitar work from Fish), not to mention Nina Simone (“Either Way I Lose,” wherein Fish consciously adds some Simone-like vocal inflections to give an already moody, mournful tune a downright haunted, desolate vibe).

And when she turns her attention to straight-up soul, she’s clearly in her element: Her shudder/shimmy/shake appropriation of R&B perennial “Chills & Fever”—which some may recall from Tom Jones’ over-the-top performance—is authentic enough to give Amy Winehouse nu-soul devotees pause; tackling Barbara Lewis’ eternal “Hello Stranger” puts her squarely in Daptone Records territory (additionally suggesting that Gabe Roth and his Dap-Kings have a potential protégé in Fish); and “It’s Your Voodoo Working,” originally a regional hit in the early ‘60s for Louisiana R&B singer Charles Sheffield, is simply jaw-dropping, as Fish, against a throbbing beat punctuated by jabbing horns, figuratively drops to her knees and howls in pain while unleashing primal peals of guitar.

I used the terms “nu-soul” and “appropriation” a few seconds ago, and that was intentional. White artists sometimes get accused of trespassing upon another race or ethnicity’s territory, but while a half-century ago this might’ve occurred tainted with patriarchal, even malicious, intent, in 2017, it’s time to get over it. There will always be opportunists who jump at the chance to hitch their boxcars to a profitable musical locomotive. But when someone like Fish comes along who so transparently exudes nothing but love, admiration, and respect for artists and songs that have had a profound impact on her, you need to take it at face value. Most of the people who originally wrote these 14 songs (12 if you get the vinyl) have passed on by now, but one can only hope that, at some point, Fish has the opportunity to bring those who are still with us onstage and show the world how it was done and how it’s gonna continue to be done.

DOWNLOAD: “Chills & Fever,” “Crow Jane,” “It’s Your Voodoo Working”