the gamble brothersback to the bottom (archer records)

I've got to stop trying to pigeonhole every CD that comes my way and The Gamble Brothers may well be the band to make me do just that. They're blues, they're soul, they're funk and they're even a little bit of reggae. They were the winners of the Independent Musicians World Series last year, beating off over 1,000 challengers. The opening track on this, their second album, Record Store has instant appeal and it's not hard to see why this was selected as a single. It's a slick, sophisticated and extremely well played killer of a track with Hammond played by Al Gamble to the fore. The title track is soulful and funky whereas the Gary Wright cover (one of only two on the album), Love Is Alive is given the Gamble Brothers treatment, complete with rampant horns. Al Gamble takes on the vocal duties for the band and his soulful voice will be a trademark for the band in the years to come.

Share has a little bit of a ska feel to it and like all of the other songs is well constructed and executed. Tiki Bar is a funky soul track in the vein of Steely Dan at their best as is Come On Sam. The Gamble Brothers are predominately a keyboards and horns band but Will Lowrimore on bass and Chad Gamble on drums and percussion have a significant part to play in the bands sound. The now familiar saxophone of Art Edmaiston leads into One Stone, which, rather strangely, reminds me of The Spin Doctors for some reason - don't ask me why, perhaps it's Al Gamble's vocal inflections. Escape Alley is, like most of the tracks, one that will get into your brain with its Crusaders-like riffs. This is one of two instrumentals and I can see where the Booker T comparisons that they have drawn come from.

Old New One has a fantastic chorus with the brothers harmonising to great effect and Land Of Soul has a jazz base with a groove to slip your backbone to. One of my favourite Randy Newman tracks, Little Criminals, is turned completely on its head and, in my opinion, very well done. The closing song, Caddilactopus is a strange one to finish with. It has a downbeat, avant-garde start (perhaps the most downbeat part of the whole album) and goes into an eight minute Hammond and tenor sax instrumental. This is the only down side to the album and it's a shame that they chose to end with this considering the impact that they made with the opening track. I suppose that it's a little churlish of me to have a go at this final track but it does slightly spoil, what for me was, an excellent album. Having said that, The Gamble Brothers are a highly professional, slick outfit, I'm now a fan and this is just the starting point.


David Blue ( these reviews also available at

the reelsbare bones ( PacificSol)

This opens with the high volume R&B of Jet Black Ruby Red and is as good a start to an album that you could wish for. Lanny Ray gives it his all on vocals and guitar with pounding drums from Dylan Sardo and thumping bass from Pat Anthony. An atmospheric cover of Howlin Wolf's Who's Been Talkin' follows and Me & My Baby shuffles along with more stunning guitar work from Ray. Movin' Up To Malibu is a slow, earthy blues paying much homage to Muddy Waters and the afore-mentioned Howlin' Wolf.

The majority of the album is self-written and Baby Don't Worry is a fine example of the bands craft whereas Soul Blue is a slow electric blues to die for. Fuzz and distortion are the order of the day for I Want You and Ray is on howling form. I'm not surprised to be so taken with him as a guitarist when I see that he has played for Big Joe Turner, T-Bone Walker and Jimmy Reed. This guy has got class. Everybody's Got The Blues is slinky and just glides over you and Early In The Evening will bring you back to earth with its Stray Cats style execution. Robert Johnson's Walkin' Blues is the only other cover on the album and this is the second best (sorry boys) version that I've heard, closely beaten by Scotland's own Radiotones (check them out).

The bass-led Hold On is a standard blues-rock song and maybe would have been better placed in the middle of the album rather than as the penultimate track and the final song is a strange one to finish with after all the high-powered electric blues. Baby, Baby is slow, acoustic and laid-back, not what I've become to believe what The Reels are all about. The guitar solo is excellent as you would expect and I suppose they are just showing their range so I should not be too critical.

This is top class album by a power trio that deserve wider coverage. It shows what is out there if you can just be bothered to go out and look.

David Blue ( these reviews also available at

the maynard brothers band S/T (PacificSol)

One look at this, the Maynard Brothers debut album, and you will see track titles such as Call The Warden and Redneck Express so you might be wondering what you're getting yourself into. Well, these boys are into their blues and rock in a big way. The album opens with the acoustic blues, No Devils, but they're soon into their stride with the blues rockers What To Do and Don't Call It Love. They return to the acoustic sound for Baby, Don't Walk Away, which is a rock ballad of the classic variety.

The aforementioned Call The Warden is pure Chicago blues and is one of the highlights of the album. What can I say about Redneck Express other than it's their Sweet Home Alabama or Born In The USA. Some good old deep-fried Southern boogie with excellent guitar. (You And I) Can Fall In Love is more rock n roll based with some barrelhouse piano in the background. Back to the heavy rock for the strangely titled She Sold My Monkey. This has grunge-laden guitars a la Blue Cheer etc and is probably a concert favourite. Down To The River is the best track on the album and returns to the acoustic blues theme that the album began with. This is an award winning song and it's no surprise. The slow blues is perfect for Jeff Maynard's throat, as the vocals are described on the sleeve notes. By And By chugs along nicely with its blues-rock riffs and I Want To Be Your Man is an out and out rocker. Their adaptability is shown again on Do You Remember When, a pleasant acoustic duo between the brothers with Erv on guitar and Jeff on vocals. This is the only song that Erv does not have a hand in writing. Hung Over Again starts out with some barroom noise before going into a tale of how a hangover feels (I'm sure that I'm not the only one to have done so). It's delicately played just in case you've got a hangover when you're listening to it. The words sound so familiar, 'your head feels like a bass drum in a big brass band', enough said!

The final track, Better Things To Do, is another trip back to the acoustic style that they are so proficient at. The Maynard Brothers Band are not a one trick pony, they can play Southern Boogie, blues and sensitive acoustic numbers and can carry them all.

David Blue ( these reviews also available at

brian kramer + couch lizardsno regrets ( armadillo)

American Kramer and his Swedish cohorts produce their first album for Armadillo and open with the Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee inspired title track. What follows is set of self-written gentle blues to while away the hours. Kramer's National steel guitar is to the forefront throughout the album and no more than on Old Photograph. It's not all about blues though, Long Ago is a country song but again, the gentle sounds prevail.

Harmonica player Mats Qwarfordt shares some of the songwriting and takes over the vocals on his own composition Come Home To Me. This has a sleepy feel and is one for a Sunday morning. Broken Angel is another country song but the blues return on I Must Be Dreaming as the Lizards give us some Louisiana style. The smooth action continues with Every Little Bit Counts before the pace is upped for the first time for You Can Change It All but they still maintain that acoustic ambience. It had to be too good to be true and the pace drops again for Right As Rain. Don't Fall Too Deep has that Terry & McGhee feeling to it again whereas Rocks In My Heart goes electric for the second Qwarfordt written and sung composition. Classic blues!

The album finishes with the beautiful Little Stone House (I love mandolin), a song to contemplate by. There is room in the blues genre for all sorts and Brian Kramer is carving a niche for himself.

David Blue ( these reviews also available at

rocky athas groupmiracle (armadillo music)

Rocky Athas is an inductee of Buddy Magazine's Texas Tornadoes, an honour he shares with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Winter, Billy Gibbons and Stevie's brother Jimmy to name but a few. An auspicious lot you will have to agree. In fact, Rocky achieved this status two years before Stevie Ray and it has been said that he influenced Brian May with his finger tapping style, later taken up by Eddie Van Halen. This is some billing to live up to and this latest album, Miracle, will go a long way to helping him to gain the recognition as those mentioned above.

The subdued opening title track has a kind of Bird Of Paradise vibe going on, especially in the chorus but the signs are there for the blistering fretwork to come and Larry Samfords smokey vocals set the scene for the rest of the album. Athas opens up on You Move Me, a straightforward blues-rock offering before slowing the pace down again for No More. This has a distortion-laden solo that is worth listening to the song for alone. The Long Run is electric blues through and through with Riley Osbornes keyboards adding an extra dimension. The electric blues, Chicago style, continues with Bluesville, with snappy guitar fills and the obligatory driving solo.

That Was Then, This Is Now is a departure from the blues based songs. This is essentially an acoustic rock song that contains a couple of riffs for budding guitarists to cut their teeth on and it contains one of the best solos on the album. The first song that neither Athas or Samford has a songwriting credit on is High Cost Of Loving, covered by Gary Moore during his short lived BBM project with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. Athas' guitar playing here is more than the equal of Moore's. One Heartbeat is another slow track, which, although it doesn't really go anywhere, is not sore on the ears.

One of the highlights of the album is the cover of Tommy Bolin's Slow Driver. It seeps into your subconscious with its innuendo filled lyric - I'd like to drive you all night! Pounding drums and bass from Johnny Bolin and Robert Ware respectively set the song up perfectly. Play this one at full volume. This is quickly followed by excellent blues-rock of Real Bad Feeling and I Wish I Could Be That Strong. The album finishes with a trio of disparate songs, the slightly funky I Love You, the piano based That Magic and another of my favourites Long Time Gone, which is good-time blues with the message of good riddance to someone that's not wanted - not a message that we would want to send to Rocky Athas.

David Blue ( these reviews also available at

sonny boy williamson Down and Out Blues / In Memorium (BGO)

This is Sonny Boy Williamson II aka Rice Miller and these two albums are available on one CD in the UK for the first time.

Down And Out Blues from 1959 was the first of only two albums released during his lifetime and was his breakthrough into the white audience. When you list backing artists such as Fred Below (drums), Willie Dixon (bass), Robert Jr. Lockwood (guitar), Jimmy Rogers (guitar), Otis Spann (piano) and Muddy Waters (guitar) then you know that you have a piece of history in your hands. He was known as the 'King of the Harmonica' and his powerful guttural style is shown to great effect on songs such as Don't Start Me To Talkin', Your Funeral And My Trial and 99. This is not to say that the playing on the other tracks is not up to standard. In fact, it is the contrary and every song on both albums has harp playing from the top drawer. His singing is not too shabby either and, although he's not a blues shouter in the vein of, say, Howlin' Wolf, he is effective enough.

In Memorium, from 1965, was released in the year of his death and was a re-issue of The Real Folk Blues album. It had much the same personnel as Down And Out Blues with the notable exception of Muddy Waters, Matt Murphy being added. This album was not as rough and showed a certain amount of sophistication, probably as a result of his frequent visits to Europe. Too Young To Die was prophetic in its way but it is a great memorial to the man. He didn't do too many slow songs but Trust My Baby, with its wailing harmonica and eerie vocal, is about as slow as anyone could have gone. His harmonica playing had not diminished in the six years between these two albums and Checkin' Up On My Baby and Bring It On Home, where the harmonica is used as an echo to the vocal, are excellent examples. To say that Williamson was a great influence on those who followed would be an understatement and his style carried on with Junior Wells to name but one. These two albums are a testament to one of the true greats of blues music and every home should own at least one Sonny Boy Williamson record.

David Blue ( these reviews also available at

freddie kingLarger Than Life (BGO Records).

There are those who class Freddie King as the real king of the blues and had he lived longer, who knows? I have to say that although I'm familiar with his work I don't actually own any. This re-released 1975 album from just a year before his death at the age of 42 gives a little indication on how he may have progressed into the eighties and beyond.

The power of the man is there to hear from the first strains of It's Better To Have (And Not Need) to the closing bars of Have You Ever Loved A Woman and all points in between. The addition of horns compliments his aggressive guitar style on You Can Run But You Can't Hide and he gives the impression that he's really after you. The classically titled Woke Up This Morning is a shuffling blues on which his vocals are a little tempered and the horns take the lead. It's Your Move has its origins in the delta but moves swiftly into urban blues.

The funk/disco Boogie Bump was probably a mistake and he can be forgiven for this, especially as it is followed by a stunning version of Bob Dylan's Meet Me In The Morning. This laid-back version is one of the highlights of the album. The set finishes with three live tracks, The Things I Used To Do, Ain't That I Don't Love You and Have You Ever Loved A Woman. These are three of his most famous songs and these live versions let you hear the real Freddie King - the consummate live performer. Stick with The Things I Used To Do as you may think that it is losing its way - believe me, it's worth it. If you've heard, and liked, Clapton's version of Have You Ever Loved A Woman then you'll be pleasantly surprised by King's. It is gritty in the extreme and is the perfect end to the album. I, for one, will be searching out more of Freddie King's work.

David Blue ( these reviews also available at

b.b.kingCompletely Well/Live In Cook County Jail
Midnight Believer/Take It Home. (BGO Records).

Released as a double package for the first time in the UK, these are two of King's early 1970s albums. Completely Well opens with the up-tempo So Excited, King's guitar (Lucille) in typically stinging form. The pace slows for No Good but he more than compensates by giving us an exceptionally strong vocal. You're Losin' Me has a staccato start before the horns join in to help form a prelude to another strong blues. What Happened has King bearing his soul over a lost relationship before the pace picks up again on Confessin' The Blues. This is King in full flow and that is a sight to behold. The slightly twee Key To My Kingdom follows and leads us in to a slightly funky Crying Won't Help You Now. There are always stories to B.B. King songs and the tracks on this album are no different. You're Mean is a jam that is just an addendum to the previous track but this does provide some of the most powerful guitar work on offer. The album finishes with, what else, The Thrill Is Gone. So much has been said about this song that I feel that I just can't add anything other than this is as good as any other version that you'll hear. Live In Cook County Jail strangely opens with the introduction of local dignitaries before B.B. launches into an unfamiliar fast version of Every Day I Have The Blues. He is on top form with the guitar introduction to How Blue Can You Get? which is classic B.B. King. Worry Worry Worry continues the excellent guitar work and his voice is in great condition. A medley of 3 O'Clock Blues and Darlin' You Know I Love You follows King's explanation that he has so much material that some songs don't get played as often as they possibly should. He follows this with another of his oldies, Sweet Sixteen, before going on to the obligatory The Thrill Is Gone and finishing with Please Accept My Love. It may be said that it was slightly cruel to sing about having the blues every day, how blue you can get and worry, worry in a prison but this as good an introduction to B.B. King that you can get.

The last two studio albums from B.B.King in the seventies are repackaged here on one CD and represent his short collaboration with The Crusaders. Midnight Believer was the first from the venture and although the opener, When It All Comes Around (I'll Still Be Around), sounds like normal B.B. King fare you know that you're in Crusaders country when the title track begins. This takes King away from his tried and tested blues formula and into a more pop/funk feel. I Just Can't Leave You Alone with its faux New Orleans band sound is one of the few songs from this album to stay on his live set for any length of time. There's an air of sophistication to the set and Hold On (I Feel Our Love Is Changing) is an example of this. It is as far removed as you can get from the blues that we love King for. Never Make A Move Too Soon reverts to the driving force that B.B can generate but his voice, although not overpowered, is not as strong as it is on other albums. The first section of the album finishes with A World Full Of Strangers and Let Me Make You Cry A Little Longer. The former is, like others, horn-laden but is also worth noting for its Native American type beats and chants in the chorus. The latter is a piano based, slow cabaret song that would fit in well at a Las Vegas casino. The second part of the album comprising Take It Home begins with Better Not Look Down and sees B.B. in advice giving mode. This has a sing-along chorus but very little of the real B.B. King (I remember seeing him perform this on The Tube in the early eighties). Same Old Story (Same Old Song) has a blues base albeit a funked up one and the same goes for Happy Birthday Blues. I've Always Been Lonely is probably the only true blues song on either album. Joe Sample's piano work here is excellent. Second Hand Woman is another example of the driving beat that King is an exponent of. The funk continues with Tonight I'm Gonna Make You A Star but the production lets the song down. The Beginning Of The End, A Story Everybody Knows and the title track finish the set with BBs voice finally reaching its normal level of performance on the first and The Crusaders style shining through on the last two. The Crusaders (Wilton Felder, Joe Sample and Nesbert 'Stix' Hooper) pervade these two albums and, although it was an interesting experiment for B.B. King and opened up new doors for him, it was probably a good thing that they had success in their own right at the turn of the decade.

David Blue ( these reviews also available at

the blues bandbe my guest

I've been a fan of The Blues Band since the release of The Official Blues Band Bootleg Album in the seventies and this compilation of their favourite collaborations from re-issues experts BGO only serves to increase my love of their music. The album opens with classic high-speed R&B in the form of The Cat on which the sadly missed Rolling Stones pianist Ian Stewart plays. Big Fine Girl has a big band swing feel to it. Rockin' Dopsie and Chester Zeno guest on the Cajun/zydeco flavoured Hey Hey Little Girl.

The pace drops for Oo Oo-ee, which is a barroom tale before picking up again on the live tracks Don't Lie To Me and Big Boss Man sung by Jo Ann Kelly (also no longer with us) and Phil May respectively. Bad Penny Blues has Ian Stewart playing his heart out along with Charlie Watts on drums and Paul Jones on customary harmonica. The first Dave Kelly song is When I Itches I Scratch which features Katie Webster on Farfisa organ - no slide guitar from Kelly though. The lazy Bad Boy follows with more of Jones' harmonica and the pace returns with the good time Can't Get My Ass In Gear with Mike Sanchez and Plas Johnson.

The Memphis Horns guest on Normal Service and Leaving with great harmonica on the former and subtle keyboards from Pete Filleul on the latter. Renowned boogie-woogie pianist Bob Hall is on the shuffling Longing For You Baby. The Stonebridge-McGuinness-Green composition Fat City doesn't quite work and sounds, in part, like a theme from a seventies detective show. Two classics follow in the shape of Let The Good Times Roll and CC Rider. The familiar Jones vocals give a sense of security here and Jools Holland on Let The Good Times Roll is technically brilliant, as you would expect. Frenetic big band sounds hit you on Swing Out Dave before the funked-up R&B of What You Wanted and Half The Man (Twice The Fool) lead you neatly to the low-key traditional spiritual Resting On Jesus to finish.

The Blues Band are fortunate to be able to call on such an esteemed circle of friends and this album should lead you to search out the original recordings to hear what they can do on their own as well.

David Blue ( this review also available at