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The Blues Forum

Fall 1999 Reviews

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Bernard Allison:  Keepin' The Blues Alive
Cannonball Records

Sonic Quality = 4
Mojo Factor = 4

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           The son of Luther Allison, Bernard Allison has certainly come into his own with this album. No grabbing onto dad's fame here, Bernard has been in training for his whole life to be a blues player. Stints with Koko Taylor's Blues Machine and Willie Dixon's band have brought a maturity to both Bernard's vocal and guitar skills. Highlights of the CD include some great harp playing by Matthew Skoller on "Baby Chile" and "Rocket 88", some righteous Hammond B-3 sounds from the hands of Ron Levy, and a solid rhythm section with Ray Allison on drums and Greg Rzab on bass (both currently serve as the foundation of Buddy Guy's band). Although Bernard isn't a "blazing" guitarist, he has a classic style, plays some mean licks, and really stands out on the slidework that he does on the album. His vocals add punch and feeling to a great compilation of blues songs, most composed by Bernard. This CD is recommended for those who like electric blues.

Reviewer:  Brian Scherzer


Johnnie Bassett & The Blues Insurgents:  Party My Blues Away
Cannonball Records

Sonic Quality = 4+
Mojo Factor = 4+

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          Johnnie Bassett & The Blues Insurgents are no one-man band. This is a tight ensemble with loads of talent at every instrument. Party My Blues Away is not a CD that highlights a flashy guitarslinger. Rather, it is an album that shows the various musicians off, yet keeps a groove that is consistent throughout the record. Johnnie Bassett sings, plays guitar, and even blows a mean harp.....all in a very traditional style. The horn section is great and is present on most of the album. The sax really sets the mood on the tune "Kissin' Me Goodbye". Chris Codish's Hammond B-3 fits in perfectly without being distracting, and guest pianist Bill Heid puts some ivory magic into the tune "Wonderin' Blues". The synergy of The Blues Insurgents, along with the fine engineering job, kept me glued to this CD throughout my review session without ever feeling like I needed to skip a cut or fast-forward through a song. A real listening pleasure and recommended for those who love blues with horns and minus a blazing guitarist.

Reviewer:  Brian Scherzer


Tommy Castro:  Right As Rain
Blind Pig Records

Sonic Quality = 4
Mojo Factor =
5

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        Tommy Castro's third release on Blind Pig Records is an absolute winner from beginning to end. His style falls somewhere in the "Blues meets Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels" genre of blues-rock. Castro is probably best known for his guitar playing, but this album features much more than that. The vocals are a knock out, with Castro's voice proving itself to be an instrument unto itself. Of course, the guitar playing continues to shine also. The band is as tight as a band can be (and they're that way live!). There are plenty of albums out with good guitar and vocals. What sets this gem apart is the quality of the songs.....lots of emotion and fun with a real swing to it. This CD is very highly recommended and should please fans of electric blues!

Reviewer:  Brian Scherzer


Jimmy Hall:  Rendezvous With The Blues
Capricorn Records

Sonic Quality = 4
Mojo Factor =
5+

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          Some of you may remember Jimmy Hall from his days as the frontman for Wet Willie. His appearance on this CD is a totally different happening.....and a happening it is! I'll start the review off by stating that this is my favorite blues album, even though it was released three years ago. Jimmy's voice has matured and his vocal pace on these songs is simply spectacular. Not only does he sing, but Jimmy plays a super blues harp and even pulls out the sax for some added dimension to his performance. As great as Jimmy is, many of you will find that the real story on this CD is Jack Pearson playing guitar. Jack is a Nashville bluesman who, most recently, played a stint as the Allman Brothers replacement for guitarist Warren Haynes. Jack's playing on the album just absolutely smokes! His tone is incredible, his licks just bursting with feeling, and the impact of his playing lends a real tempo to the music. His solo in "A Change Is Gonna Come" is one of the most tasteful I've heard in a long time.....it literally brought a lump to my throat and gave me a chill. This album has some great songs on it, starting with tunes like "That's The Truth" and "Twenty-Nine Ways", that will pull you up out of your seat. The slide guitar work on some of these numbers is a "how to" experience. I couldn't recommend this CD more highly!


Jimmy "T99" Nelson:  Rockin' And Shoutin' The Blues
Bullseye Records

Sonic Quality = 5
Mojo Factor (But not strictly blues) =
5

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          Make no mistake about it....this album is about Johnny "T99" Nelson and his incredible voice. With an eight piece band backing him up, Nelson's singing brings up images of Bourbon Street and good times. That may sound strange to say about a blues album, but this CD is not strict blues. There is an element of the old big bands, a solid horn section, some great piano, and I even think I detected a bit of Randy Newman influence on "I'll Miss Show Business". It would be fair to categorize Nelson as a crooner in every sense of the word. This is a "feel good" album from beginning to end and it makes you want to snuggle up next to a loved one by a flickering fireplace, especially listening to "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying". The total package is one of a bygone era, ballrooms, jump music, and Saturday night dances looking into the eyes of a loved one. This CD is certainly not a classic blues album in the true sense of that term......but it is a great CD that contains enough blues to qualify for this review. Johnny Nelson is an undiscovered treasure. Most highly recommended for listeners who want something different!

Reviewer:  Brian Scherzer



ZZ Top:  XXX
RCA Records

Sonic Quality = 3
Mojo Factor =
2

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          ZZ Top's newest CD, XXX, is much like their last CD....lots of distorted guitar, fairly slow pace, and little originality. This is a band I have loved since they formed, but it seems like the flame has died. Billy Gibbons appears to have given up the concept of tone, choosing instead to see how gritty he can make his guitar sound. The biting riffs that highlighted some great ZZ Top albums in the past are, for the most part, missing in action on this CD. Is it really bad? If you loved the old stuff, this album won't rock your boat. However, if you love guitar with oodles of fuzz and are into the mystique of the bearded ones, XXX might just be the ticket. Not recommended unless you're a faithful fan of this band.

Reviewer:  Brian Scherzer