For those of you who haven’t heard of Zac Harmon, he is an award winning bluesman who comfortably resides in the Robert Cray wing of the contemporary blues. In 2006, he won the Blues Music Foundation award for Best New Artist for his album The Blues According To Zacariah. In the years since six more albums have followed including the new recording Long As I Got My Guitar.
Zac has a voice and a guitar style that can best be described as ‘chillin with the soul blues’. His songs on the new album are in parts upbeat, funky, pensive, spiritual, and socially aware. He even ventures “down the bayou” a bit with the delightful accordion accompanied Crying Shame. Zac was born in Jackson Mississippi to parents who schooled him in music. His mother played piano and his father, the first black pharmacist in Mississippi, played harmonica. His dad tended to the needs of Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Albert King, Ike & Tina Turner, and Little Milton at times and all those combined influences have made Zac Harmon one of the great blues & soul men of the roadhouse blues.
Now based in Texas, Zac worked with the renown music producer, Jim Gaines, who most notably produced Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana, and Journey, to create the soulful music magic on this recording. Backing Zac on most of the tracks are the Rays consisting of Bob Trenchard (bass), Richy Puga (drums), Johnny McGhee (guitars), Dan Ferguson (keyboards and accordion) and backing vocals by SueAnn Carwell and Corey Lacey.
My favorite recording on the album is the title cut, Long As I Got My Guitar. Over the years, I have heard guitar players time and again talk about having survived their days payin’ their blues dues and facing the brutal choice of pawning their guitar for money to pay bills. Zac captures that melancholy experience with some exquisite guitar licks and real world lyrics. I also loved the guitar work on the socially conscious Waiting to Be Free. Another favorite of mine on the recording is People Been Talking which is soul blues at its very finest.
Over the last 18 months all of us have dealt with enforced periods of isolation as a result of the pandemic. It has given most of us a new appreciation of family and friends and, in Zac’s case, he says it gave him the realization that “as long as I have my guitar, all is good with my soul”. All I can add to that is that just listening to Zac sing and play on this new recording had a nice calming effect on my soul best exemplified by his song, Soul Land. Give it and the rest of the songs on this album a listen as you chill to some mighty fine soul blues.
Zac Harmon – Long As I Have My Guitar (2021 Catfood Records)
Ben Vee started out spinning songs on terrestrial radio and at nightclubs back in the 1970’s in his home state of Louisiana. After a career in the construction business, he returned to DJing in 2011. He now hosts two shows each week on http://www.bluesmusicfan.com and writes about the blues at http://www.benveeblues.com from his home in Connecticut. He also has a 24 hour stream devoted to the Roadhouse Blues… WRHB
This year’s Ben Vee Roadhouse Blues best soul blues albums feature artists based in Europe, Indianapolis, Houston, Memphis, and Tyler, Texas. They all share a love for a genre that has bested the years and continues to thrive today! Great voices combined with both funky and sensual beats are the hallmark of soul blues and all five of these artists are doin’ a fine job of carrying on the soul blues tradition. The artists are listed in no particular order….I hope you download and enjoy all five! (Links to Spotify for the albums are shown in blue.)
Born Wilson Blount in Edelston North Carolina, Big Daddy Wilson has been living in Germany since he left the armed forces 25 years ago. He started his recording career in the 1990’s and has over a dozen album releases to his credit. For DEEP IN MY SOUL, he teamed with renown producer Jim Gaines and recorded the album at the soul and R&B Mecca of Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals Alabama. Jim’s hallmark as a producer is the search for groove and raw energy. He found them years ago with Huey Lewis & the News, and with Big Daddy Wilson, he once again has the real deal.
My favorite cuts are Voodoo with its sultry beat and Crazy World, a slow soul ballad that showcases Big Daddy’s terrific voice and is easily one of my favorite tunes of the year. During February 2020, he will be touring Switzerland and Germany supporting the new release. Checkout his website at http://www.bigdaddywilson.com and if he gets close to you in Europe, go see him and drop us a line letting us know what you thought.
I first met Annika Chambers at in impromptu appearance at a small club in Houston several years ago. Her personality and voice lit up the stage and I had the chance to talk with her afterwards. She didn’t have a record deal at the time but I encouraged her to keep hustling and payin’ her dues. And that she did.
In 2014, her first album, Making My Mark, was released to critical reviews. And her second, Wild and Free, debuted at number seven on the Billboard Blues Charts and eventually earned her the prestigious Blues Music Award as female soul blues singer of year in May of 2019.
Now with the release of her third album, KISS MY SASS, Annika has solidified her place as one of the stars of the genre. The album was produced by Larry Fulcher, Richard Cagle, and Tony Braunagel. My favorite cut on the album is a cover of a Chris Smither tune I FEEL THE SAME that Bonnie Raitt also recorded. It is a duet with Canadian Paul DesLauriers that is just fantastic. I also really enjoyed Two Bit Texas Town and World of Hurt.
For their sophomore release, this energetic group based out of Memphis continues to build on their southern soul roots with KEEP ON. Led by the powerhouse voice of Tierinii Jackson, the group recorded the twelve song album at the Sam Phillips Studios in Memphis with the help of producer Johnny Black. The result is one of the great albums of 2019.
The guitar playing for the group is handled in dazzling style by Ori Naftaly who hails from Israel and has been a favorite of mine since I first heard him several years ago as a solo performer. Drums are played by Tierinii’s sister, Tikyra Jackson, and the keyboard player is Jeremy Powell. Guest bass player for most of the cuts on the album is Gage Markey. There is also a horn section compromised of Art Edmaiston and Marc Franklin. Together, they all meld to produce a distinctive sound that is a delightful mix of southern soul, funk, R&B, and contemporary blues. I encourage you to give a listen to We Got the Music,Whiskey Love, and the sensual Savoir to get a feel for just how good this group is.
Southern Avenue has an ambitious set of concert dates in the United States in February and March 2020 and then embarks on another tour of Europe in the spring.
And I am not the only one taking notice of this group. They were nominated for a 2020 Grammy Music Award and are a nominee for the 2020 Blues Music Awards held in Memphis each May.
Sugaray Rayford is the epitome of the soul blues man; a big barreled voice full of emotion and, man, can he groove!! The album, Somebody Save Me, has 10 original tunes written by the record producer, Eric Corne. Together, this tandem has produced one the best albums of 2019.
Sugaray was nominated for the BB King Entertainer of the Year award this past year and the first cut on the album, The Revelator, helps explain why. Opening with a driving beat on drums and bass, he sets the vocal groove which is framed by some soulful backing singers and a badass trumpet solo. This is a song I want to see him perform…hopefully someday soon.
I also enjoyed Angels and Devils and Dark Night of the Soul. I absolutely loved Sometimes You Get the Bear (and Sometimes the Bear Gets You) with its down the bayou feel.
Sugaray Rayford is an imposing figure standing 6’5″. He dominates the music and stage with his persona and voice. Over the years, he has made some great records with the Mannish Boys but this is by far his best recording to date. In March 2020, he will do a concert swing along the west coast in California and then Washington. Go check out a soul man at the top of his groove!
Tad Robinson got his start back in the 1980’s in the blues clubs of Chicago. That itself is no easy thing given the plethora of talent in the Windy City. He is an eight time Blues Music Award Nominee and REAL STREET has garnered him yet more attention in the past year. With a baritone voice and talent on the harmonica, Tad recorded the album in Memphis, another fitting city for his soul blues style. The producer for the recording is Scott Bomar.
The title cut, Real Street, is one of my favorites on the album. It’s upbeat and rhythmic and plays to the strength of his voice as well as highlighting the talents of the legendary Hi Rhythm Section (Howard Grimes, Charles Hodges and Leroy Hodges) who contributed their talents to the record.
I loved Tad’s imaginative reworking of You Got It, a song originally performed by Roy Orbison and penned by him, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne. It is the perfect platform for Tad’s soul blues voice. It also features the tasteful Hammond B3 organ playing of Charles Hodges.
Long Way Home is another favorite of mine. It’s funky beat is set by drummer Howard Grimes and bass player Leroy Hodges. I also enjoyed Love In the Neighborhood which features some nice guitar licks by Joe Restivo.
Tad will be performing in his adopted home of Indianapolis during February and March of 2020. I hope you get a chance to catch this star of the soul blues!
Ben Vee is an internet DJ and writer from New Orleans that now lives in Connecticut with his wife Annette. He started spinning records back in the 1970’s and has been writing about the roadhouse blues since 2011. He does two roadhouse blues shows each week on http://www.bluesmusicfan.com and he writes about the blues when the urge strikes on http://www.benveeblues.com.
It’s summertime in Connecticut. I am sittin’ out in my man cave enjoying the heat, smokin’ a cigar, and listening to some new albums.
Zac Harmon – Mississippi BarBQ (Catfood Records 2019)
A great mix of soul, Chicago blues, and a touch of blues rock, the new Zac Harmon album Mississippi BarBQ was produced by Jim Gaines (Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana). It also features a stellar group of studio musicians known as the Rays: Bob Trenchard (bass), Richy Puga (drums), Johnny McGee (guitars), Dan Ferguson (keyboards), Mike Middleton (trumpet), Andy Roman (alto sax), Nick Flood (tenor and baritone sax), and Drake Dominigue (trombone & tuba).
Zac has been recording since 2003 and with this CD, he steps it up to a new level. The voice is fabulous, his guitar playing is first class, and the song writing conveys images that give witness to his Jackson, Mississippi roots. The songs are all originals except for a great rendition of Dylan’s Knocking on Heaven’s Door. I enjoyed Make a Dollar Out of Fifteen Cents, Gypsy Road, Honey Pleez, Smoke and Mirrors, and So Cold.
A gifted artist, a world renown producer, and some fantastic studio musicians meld together for a first rate recording that also features cuts by his current touring band. Make sure to give the title cut Mississippi BarBQ a listen….with some barbeque, cornbread, mustard greens, black eyed peas and, of course a cold beer at the ready!!
The Texas Horns – Get Here Quick (Severn Records 2019)
Three of the most bad ass horn blowers on the planet got together down in Texas, invited some gifted friends, and created a delightful RnB recording entitled Get Here Quick. Mark ‘Kaz’ Kazanoff (tenor sax), John Mills (baritone sax), and Al Gomez (trumpet) can truly be judged by the company they keep with the likes of Carolyn Wonderland, Curtis Salgado, Guy Forsyth, Gary Nicholson, John Nemeth, Ronnie Earl, and Anson Funderburgh steppin’ into the studio to assist; they got the rhythm and they damn sure got the blues! This is an awesome CD!
A long time favorite of mine, Carolyn belts it out on I’m Doin’ Alright At Least For Tonight. And Curtis lends his soulful voice to Sundown Talkin’. My favorite tune on the album is Guitar Town that is sung by Guy Forsyth with backing vocals by Carolyn and lead guitar work by Anson. Gary Nicholson contributes two of his songs, Soulshine & Fix Your Face, and both recordings are mighty fine. Anson does the lead guitar on Soulshine and another of my favorites, Ronnie Earl, does the honors on Fix Your Face.
There are also several tasty instrumentals on the album that showcase the talent of this horn blowin trio. My favorite is Truckload of Trouble written by John Mills and I also enjoyed the title cut contributed by Kaz Kazanoff.
I have to say when I opened the CD I was thinkin’ “now who are these guys?”. Man…was I pleasantly surprised after listening to the entire recording. Download and give this a listen…hope you are pleased too!
The Duke Robillard Band – Ear Worms(2019 Stony Plain Records)
The new album, Ear Worms, has a fifties and sixties feel to it and is a pleasant listen. Duke Robillard has been playing and recording for over fifty years and is a superlative guitar player. I particularly loved the instrumental You Belong to Me that I first heard sung by Patsy Cline many years ago. It was one of my mother’s favorites and Duke shows it the love and tenderness it deserves.
I also enjoyed Don’t Bother Trying to Steal Her Love with Dave Howard on vocals and the song Yellow Moon which is sung by drummer Mark Teixeira. The rest of the band is Bruce Bears (keyboards & vocals) and Brad Hallen on bass and they are a very tight knit group of artists. The album features a number of guest vocalists including Sunny Crownover, Chris Cote, Mark Cutler, and Klem Klimek. This is definitely a recording to relax with on warm summer evening.
Send along a comment if you would like! Love to hear what your thoughts are on these albums and blues music in general!!