Posted in Music

The Kentucky Headhunters – Meet Me in Bluesland

The Kentucky Headhunters and Johnnie Johnson became friends in the ’90s, and in 2003, the band asked Johnson to come to Kentucky to play piano for their album, Soul. He was happy to do that, but when they got in the studio, according to the Meet Me in Bluesland booklet, the vibe was so strong that the tape just kept rolling. They ended up with some spontaneous, loose, unplanned and completely awesome renditions of songs that were mostly written by the group, sometimes with Johnson assisting, although they sound so authentic that you may be fooled into thinking they are old standards.

Courtesy of Alligator Records

The tapes were never intended to be an album, and so no plans were made to release them right away. Then Johnson died in 2005, and the tapes remained shelved until 2015. Thank goodness they have finally been released, because the album is a sheer delight from start to finish, with Johnson’s amazing piano playing pushing the Headhunters to their absolute best.

Johnson was Chuck Berry’s piano player for years – from the very beginning of Berry’s career. Thus, it is appropriate that the album includes the riveting version of “Little Queenie,” on which Johnson and the band just rock hard.

The other songs here are all so much fun and all allow us to hear Johnson playing superbly and obviously having a good time, as do The Kentucky Headhunters, who were performing superb roots music before the term was in general use. “Stumblin’” is so much fun with its highly singable lyrics: “[S]tumblin’, cause you know we can’t dance.” It is followed by the searing tribute to Howlin’ Wolf, “Walkin’ with the Wolf,” pure thundering blues.

“She’s Got to Have It” features gravelly vocals and is a real rock and roll rave-up. “Party in Heaven” follows in the tradition of songs like “Rock and Roll Heaven” (Climax), and ends its rollicking performance with a short a cappella rendering of the beginning of “When We All Get to Heaven” (Eliza Hewitt) in perfect harmony.

“Meet Me in Bluesland” gives everyone a chance to shine, and “King Rooster” sounds like it could have been done by Lightnin’ Hopkins or Muddy Waters. “Shufflin’ Back to Memphis” is another sing-along favorite that is pure joy for the listener, and “Fast Train,” the only instrumental, is simply a gift to Johnson’s fans and the fans that this album will create for him. “Sometime” and “Superman Blues” round out this rip-roaring delight of an album.

The Kentucky Headhunters have long been favorites of mine, but with Johnnie Johnson, they reached a whole new level and we are privileged to share it.

Originally published at Blogcritics.org

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Review: Neil Young – The Monsanto Years

Neil Young has never shied away from using his music to promote social justice and causes he believes in. In The Monsanto Years, he, of course, is protesting Monsanto’s various actions against sustainable farming and harm to the environment. He also advocates for sustainable farming, ocean conservation, endangered species, renewable energy and corporate accountability in general.

Courtesy Warner Brothers Records

What saves this album from being way, way too preachy is the fact that Young still sounds like Young – his voice still has the same high-pitched but strong delivery. The new band, Promise of the Real (which features Willie Nelson’s sons Micah and Lukas), still delivers straight rock and roll with lots of feedback and extended jams so that all the fans of Neil Young and Crazy Horse will recognize that it is just as solid a band. Of course, it’s not smooth and it does have some rough edges, but that is part of Young’s trademark style and is what his fans expect. Nobody wants smooth from Young or any band who plays with him..

 

Notes like the whistling on “A Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop” add a bit of needed lightness to what is a very serious, if righteous message. Other standout songs include the acoustic “Wolf Moon” and “Workin’ Man.” “A New Day for Freedom,” while a bit hard on the ears at first, lends a hopeful, happy note to the tunes.

A nice bonus in the package is a DVD with some footage of Young and the band playing together. There is not a lot on the DVD that you don’t get on the CD but it is fun to see them perform. This is probably something that any collector will want to add to their collection.

Frankly, this is never going to be one of this reviewer’s favorite Neil Young albums because my personal preference is for the earlier, more personal and more folk-oriented stuff, particularly Harvest Moon. Many people, including me, will not appreciate being preached at for an entire album. The message is important, and it is good that Young is speaking up, but perhaps it would have been more effective if he had leavened it with at least a song or two that was less political.

Still, Young is always worth giving a listen or two, and you should definitely hear it yourself, listen to what the man has to say, and make up your own mind about the album.

Originally published at Blogcirtics.org

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Music Review: Mick Kolassa – “Ghosts of the RIverside Hotel”

Mick Kolassa has a voice that was made for the blues. On Ghosts of the Riverside Hotel, it is easy to imagine those spirits of the Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale laughing and singing along, nodding in approval and appreciation as they listen, just as you will.

The album was produced by Jeff Jensen, and Jensen and his band (Bill Ruffino on bass and Robinson Bridgeforth on drums) provide the backing for Kolassa, along with Chris Stephenson on Hammond B3. A plethora of guests add to this magic mix too, with Victor Wainwright, Brandon Santini, Watermelon Slim, and Annika Chambers among them.

Courtesy Mick Kolassa

Prepare to be blown away from the very first song. This is Hank Williams’ “Ramblin’ Man,” a song that has been recorded many times but never like this. Jensen’s tremolo guitar gives it a rock edge, while Kolassa infuses it with blues. This tune demands repeated listening.

Kolassa then channels Muddy Waters for “Grapes and Greens,” a tribute to Waters’ “Champagne and Reefer.” Brothers Eric Hughes on harmonica and Walter Hughes on slide guitar add just the right vintage sound. Then comes “One Meatball,” and Kolassa perfectly captures both the humor and the pathos of this tune about a man who can’t even afford bread with his one meatball. Reba Russell adds a flawless backing vocal, and the amazing Wainwright adds layers of feeling with his piano.

Kolassa’s own “I Always Meant to Love You” announces how cool it is going to be with Kirk Smother’s first introductory notes from the saxophone. This is west coast swing, and you believe this guy was just too busy jiving to get around to loving that woman until it’s a little too late. It’s followed by “Trouble,” a sly little number about just the sort of woman who might cause a musician to have trouble with a steady relationship.

Smother’s sax once again sets the mood for “Nothin’ Left to Lose (Robin’s Blues),” sucking the listener into the melancholy mood of Kolassa’s song that was inspired by the suicide of Robin Williams. What a beautiful, sad, important song this is.

“If I Ain’t Fishin’” is a laid-back, fun song that Kolassa told this reporter is about a mutual friend of ours, a promoter named Frank (whose name is actually mentioned in the song). Frank thinks promotion is very important. Kolassa explains what he thinks in this gem of a song.

Next is “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” and this is not the rollicking version Three Dog Night gave us. This one is darker and edgier, probably closer to Randy Newman’s version of the song, and that ultimately makes it even more fun.

The next three songs are all Kolassa originals. “Whiskey Woman” is about another sort of classic blues woman and benefits from great backing vocals from Chambers, Tracey K. Masteler, and Logan Layman, who also plays bass on the track. His brother Cole provides the tasty guitar.

And then there’s “Walkin’ (Dead) Blues,” the first blues song I recall to consider the plight of the undead. Listen to it once for the lyrics and again for the amazing musical interplay between Santini and Jensen.

The final song brings it all together in an homage to Clarksdale and The Riverside Hotel, “Delta Town.” Kolassa and crew are joined by Watermelon Slim, a talented

nd colorful musician who lives in Clarksdale and whose slide guitar and harmonica are riveting here.

For full disclosure, I recently met Mick Kolassa, and he gave me this CD to review. But no matter how I got it, I would have felt the same. This is a flawless recording, and if I could I would give it a lot more than five stars.

First publisbed in Blogcritics Magazine