The Blues Bus (Archived)

Welcome to The Blues Bus where we ride along with some of the most down-to-earth expressive deliverers of that groove that has helped shape the very fabric of music -- the blues -- with its very real emotions, experiences, and heartfelt gravity and grit. We focus here on the electric blues because of its raw intensity and ability to reach that place deep within all of us. Climb aboard and let's cruise and talk and play and groove!

June 16, 2017

Dellatorre – So What!

Here’s a little somethin’ dirty, gritty, soulful, bluesy, and definitely electric. For the Stevie Ray Vaughan fans, this one’s a perfect fit. If the kind of electric blues that the late Jeff Golub, Joe Bonamassa, and Robert Cray tease or teased the bluesperson in you, this album is yours. Toss in a good dose of some jazzy seasoning and some R&B flavoring, and everybody’s happy. That’s what you get on Dellatorre’s sophomore release So What! Headed up by guitarist Reto Della Torre, this album has something to say…powerfully.

Armed with support from quality musicians who demonstrate strong skills as support personnel (i.e. guitarist Josh Smith, keyboardist Mitchel Forman, and vocalist Nio Renee), this was a can’t-miss project from the word “go.”

Lots of solid playing and smart song selections appear here. There’s more than a sprinkling of diversity to complement the great musicianship. Did you come here for the review of perhaps a bit of laid-back, sedate and mellow blues with a touch of that jazz feel? Well, you’ll get that and a whole lot of fire, as well. Just fair warning. There’s grit where there should be grit; there’s finesse where there should be finesse. It all fits. The tracks have riffs with deep deeps and blistering crescendos. It’s blues like electric blues aficionados get up in the morning to hear. Aimed right at your gut and filled with body, melody and soul-reaching hooks.

The album opens with the gritty and hard-driving up-tempo title track, followed by the gritty, mid-tempo and sassy blues rocker “Can You See Me Now.” These two, featuring the stirring, strong vocals of Nio Renee, set the colorful tone of this album. From there, the album only soars even higher into the musical stratosphere.

In case you’re wondering, there are some laid-back tracks that are equally as alluring (e.g., “Here We Are” and “Soul to Soul”).

For more of that diversity touch, witness the country feel of the mellow blueser “Guide Me to Sleep.” Nicely sedate and melodic. Then, there’s the country-style boogie finale “Gotcha!” (and it may well catch you by surprise, as it did me) that may not be the best song selection for everyone – but does sign the album off in a pretty energized fashion.

This is largely an album of feeling the blues/funk/rock experience. It is an animal of its own totally separate identity, and those artists who know it well play it well. Consider Dellatorre among those artists. A++ effort! — Ronald Jackson


June 13, 2017

The Chaz Lipp Groove Tripp — Good Merlin

Those reading this review and then listening to the subject album, saxman Chaz Lipp’s Good Merlin, will immediately know that this review is an exception to the material usually reviewed on this site. However, this traditional jazz project offers some solid blues material as well as really noteworthy vocals that I felt would be remiss to overlook.

The album is a jazz purist’s pleasure with the smooth, competent vocals, sassy and sophisticated sax, and good choice of covers (the majority of the album contains standards like “God Bless the Child,” “Take the ‘A’ Train,“ “Nature Boy,” “Watermelon Man,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “Fever,” and “Summertime”).

Vocalist Sanjaya Malakar is truly a singer with brilliant pipes and is one to be reckoned with in the world of jazz vocals. His passion is clear and bold on each track he engages. Great range and control. That’s coupled with the complementary sax of Lipp and some slick piano work from Charlie Hiestand. All of this combined to convince me to stand still and intently listen. I’m glad I did as I picked up on some great nuances, as good jazz always provides. From here, you can always follow the “breadcrumbs” and see how smooth jazz was conceptualized.

Referring to the blues, I’ve always regarded tunes like “Georgia,” “Fever,” and “Summertime” as much great blues as jazz, and Malakar really lays into them, all the while with Lipp playing those wonderful support and solo roles with fervor.

While we do not focus on straight-ahead jazz, I’ve said on more than one occasion that this is the very very foundation on which our beloved smooth jazz was built. The likes of Coltrane, Rollins, Ellington, Calloway, and countless others are owed so very much for getting us here, and this project from Lipp reminds us of that. Great effort indeed. Traditionalists: Feel free to treat yourself. Smooth jazzers: Listen for the inspiration that got us to where we are. – Ronald Jackson


May 20, 2017

Drew Davidsen – A Good Life

The new release from smooth jazz guitarist Drew Davidsen takes a very atypical turn from what we’re used to hearing from Davidsen as he veers away from the conventional smooth jazz approach to deliver a rather folksy, almost Bob Dylan-like product with a heavy dose of soft to middle-of-the-road rock and even a pinch of country. The CD’s called A Good Life, and he sings on this one! That’s where the Bob Dylan element comes in, actually. We’ve placed this one on our Blues Bus because of its close proximity to rock and rock’s relationship to blues.

To say this comes unexpected is an understatement, yet there is something refreshing about his new approach, especially when you take into account that not only has he taken this courageous turn, but he’s dedicating the album to his recently departed stepbrother who unfortunately lost his battle with cancer.

Yes, for some, songs like the title track, “Lost Without Your Cause” and “What’s In the Bag” might catch you by surprise, but you still may find yourself listening, if for no more reason than curiosity and perhaps an explanation for the change in course. For others, this might not quite find that mark at all but is worthy of a “hats off” for this gutsy gesture.

An accomplished musician like Davidsen is certainly entitled to play at the fringes or even temporarily jump the jazz ship entirely to get a broader look and perspective of the swelling and diverse musical culture surrounding him. It’s helped him produce a product that – while nowhere close to smooth jazz – gives one a glimpse into the musical canvas and aspirations of the guitarist.

Because Davidsen has provided us with some pretty awesome albums over the years, we feel more than a little obliged to allow him to stretch his musical legs and share his new direction with us on this outing. Try it out. See if it drives something for you. – Ronald Jackson


Apr. 7, 2017

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’ — TajMo

What do you get when you combine blues legends Taj Mahal, Keb’ Mo’, guest appearances by Lizz Wright, Sheila E., James Gang/Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh, and Bonnie Raitt? An incomparable blues collaboration that’s not only cross-generational but as heavy as gravity itself. The collaboration is called TajMo and guaranteed to please blues fans immensely.

The project includes solid guitar work, some cool horn arrangements sprinkled around here and there, and the powerful, emotional vocals that can always be unmistakably felt by those who truly know and love a bluesman’s motivation.

There’s so much more here than the typical 12-bar blues. There’s a contemporary narrative going on here that commands attention and takes the genre to places not often explored. It makes the statement that the blues has moved a bit in its direction, just as the other genres have done. Still, the voice of the blues guitar is as biting as ever, bringing with it its profound and deeply planted roots. This music will always withstand the test of time, despite what naysayers may predict. This is the clay from which so many genres were molded, and its immortality is almost a given.

TajMo is complete with thoughtful originals and clever interpretations (check out the covers of the rock band The Who’s “Squeeze Box” and John Mayer’s “Waiting On the World to Change”). From the opening track “Don’t Leave Me Here” to the Caribbean-influenced “Soul” to the finale “Waiting On the World to Change” and all points in between, the album sets out to embrace many of the moods and styles of the blues, and it does so impressively.

Try on this once-in-a-lifetime collaboration for size and see if it fits. For blues fans, I’m sure it will. – Ronald Jackson


Dec. 27, 2016

Sharon Lewis & Texas Fire – Grown Ass Woman

When I think of good, fiery, forceful blues, I’m always reminded of the earth-movin’ grit of the late great Texans Stevie Ray Vaughan and Janis Joplin. I was recently introduced to the equally powerful work of Chicago blues/soul vocalist Sharon Lewis and her band Texas Fire. Their latest release on the Delmark label, Grown Ass Woman, is full of sassy, smoky, soulful blues of the in-your-face variety. Loaded with telling lyrics, biting, hard-edged guitar, and mind-blowing horns, this is how electric blues was meant to feel.

Just the album’s title alone piqued my interest as I knew I was probably in for some hard-hitting, soul-stirring adventure, an experience in what oomph really feels and sounds like.

Starting out with a firm statement on the swinging lead track “Can’t Do It Like We Do” featuring some cool blues harp action from Sugar Blue, Lewis & Co. get right to work setting the album on fire. The track that follows, “Hell Yeah,” combines that party-hearty soul vibe with phat, solid blues and to-die-for horns reminiscent of the 60s Memphis color and brilliance.

Lewis proves herself to be a leader among those capable of moving your blues spirit all over the place as she lays into the grit of the sassy “Chicago Woman” featuring her collaborator and stellar guitarist Steve Bremer who displays blistering riffs and slide guitar work effortlessly and full of voice.

“Don’t Try to Judge Me” pulls out all of the blues/rock stops as Bremer lights it up in conjunction with Lewis’ push-it-to-the-limit vocals and some hot Hammond organ action from pianist/keyboardist Roosevelt Purifoy.

The self-explanatory title track growls with self-confidence & self-reliance as Lewis delivers the message with heavy conviction.

There’s a lot more of this refreshingly bare-knuckled Chicago-style blues on this stand-up project. If you’re a lover of hearing it told like it is, Sharon Lewis & Texas Fire are playing here for you. Two thumbs up! – Ronald Jackson


Sept. 11, 2016

Lurrie Bell – Can’t Shake This Feeling

And awlurrie-bell-cday we stroll! Bluesman Lurrie Bell is out of the gates again with another soul-stirring blues project called Can’t Shake This Feeling. By the way, some blues newcomers may be asking: Just who is this Lurrie Bell? Let me help.

Born the son of famed blues harmonica player Carey Bell, Lurrie Bell picked up his father’s guitar at age of five and taught himself to play. By seventeen Lurrie Bell was playing on stage with Willie Dixon. In 1977, he was a founding member of The Sons of Blues with Freddie Dixon (son of Willie) and Billy Branch. The band recorded three standout tracks for Alligator Records’ Grammy-nominated Living Chicago Blues series.

In 1978, Bell joined Koko Taylor’s band and stayed for several years, honing his chops and learning the ropes of being a traveling musician. He continued to work with his dad as well, recording the 1984 Rooster Blues album Son Of a Gun and several other titles for UK’s JSP Records. Not only was Bell recognized as an exceptionally talented guitarist and musician, his knowledge of different blues styles, his soulfulness and his musical maturity delivered write-ups in publications such as Rolling Stone and The New York Times.

At last count, Lurrie Bell has now appeared on over 50+ recordings either as leader or featured sideman. Bell’s elegant and intense guitar playing and gritty, passionate vocals have made him a favorite at clubs and festivals around the world and have earned him a reputation as one of the “leading lights” in the future of the blues.

A case in point is his latest offering, a cutting and soulful rendering of some of the finest blues you’ll hear today, complete with chatty guitar and harmonica riffs that tell the whole story here.

Tracks on which to zero in include the lead track “Blues Is Trying To Keep Up With Me,” a cover of T-Bone Walker’s “I Get So Weary,” the moving and emotion-drenched “This Worrisome Feeling In My Heart,” the rousing “Sit Down Baby,” that familiar shake-your-head, wipe-your-brow, have-mercy-on-woeful-me kinda track “Sinner’s Prayer” – the kind of blues tune that has served as the genre’s foundation for ages, and so many others that should capture blues fans easily, including the title track. For bluesers, a real treat indeed. – Ronald Jackson


July 23, 2016

Mike Wheeler Band – Turn Up!!

For the life of me, I can’t understand why that soul-stirrin’, core-shakin’ grittiness, and real groove of one of the truest cornerstMike Wheeler Bandones of music – the blues – doesn’t get all of the recognition it so richly deserves when you listen to the likes of the Mike Wheeler Band. The group’s new release, Turn Up!!, could melt the tar off the roof of any building in which they’re playing. This is that fiery, electric, stinging expression of this age-old genre that’s spawned the likes of Robert Cray, the Allman Brothers Band, the late Stevie Ray Vaughn, and scores of others.

Turn Up!! is full-bodied, driving, and oh-so-expressive. There’s only one way to get yourself across in the blues – you simply have to feel it to your very depths. When you listen here to the intensity of tracks like the lead track “Sweet Girl” and the scorcher “You Won’t Do Right” and get lost in the insane guitar work of Wheeler and his solid support musicians (Brian James on keyboards, bassist Larry Williams, and drummer Cleo Cole, and occasional help from trumpeter Kenny Anderson and saxman Hank Ford), you’ll know you’re in the right place to grasp that feel.

Wheeler’s gritty, can-I-testify vocals also rock and writhe with unleashed passion to fully complement these mean jams.

The rock-influenced mid-tempo “Brand New Cadillac” with its strong distortion and presence is enough to not only move listeners but inspire rock and blues guitarists – experienced and novices alike—to pick up their respective axes and simply take themselves on that Wheeler road.

The band takes on a lighter but no less inspired pace with “Talking to Myself,” and you actually need a tune like this to help you settle down after the “Cadillac” jam.

To sum it up, passion, power, and grit own this album. Let the Mike Wheeler Band take charge, and let your soul do the rest. – Ronald Jackson