Barry Levenson – The Visit

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Aug 312015

Barry Levenson has walked, or rather played more than a few miles beside some of the true giants of blues music, from Pee Wee Crayton to Big Mama Thornton, his blues credentials are top notch. Don’t let his pedigree fool you though, Barry has no problem adapting his sound to any style you desire, often on the same album. His latest, The Visit finds him dancing between and intertwining blues and jazz at whim.

Not gifted with a traditional blues voice, Barry tends to stay instrumental on heavy blues tracks, like the album opener, ‘I Wonder Why’ opting instead to let his considerable41bfU1FHbaL talent on a six string speak for him.  Don’t get me wrong, when Barry’s vocals melt into his unique jazz and blues hybrid songs, like ‘Ice Cold Kiss’ you are transported to a happier, if less familiar place.

Barry’s music brings more to the delta, the hint of a small square in Paris, where musicians do their best American lounge/jazz impression for tourists. It isn’t that the sound is inferior, it isn’t, but the influences of Europe, or at least parts of it, mark it as uniquely its own. Barry never falls into it full on, but rather gives you a hint of something you know, like catching the scent of a familiar perfume in a crowd, unmistakable but not exactly the same as it was on that long lost memory.

Barry has put together a solid album, one of the best blues albums this year and most importantly, it isn’t a cookie cutter blues album. The Visit expands in delightful directions as Barry leads you down the path with some of the best guitar playing around. Blues fans need to grab this one but pass on the beer and bourbon when you give it a listen, this album goes best with a fine bottle of wine.


Monophonics – Sound of Sinning

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Aug 062015

The Monophonics do psychedelic soul better than anyone else and their new (OK, not so new but the vinyl was delayed a few month – another story altogether) album – Sound of Sinning – is a powerhouse of fat beats, funky organ and horny horns. I received the digital version of the album 2015-07-31 17.51.52months ago, then saw them live, which caused a kind of musical rebirth, anyway, my point is that even after months of constant play, I love this album and was still chomping at the bits to get my hands on the vinyl.

There isn’t a song that misses on the album and to those who say it sounds like their last album – I can tell you where to shove your opinion, this album is fresh and makes my blood boil. If you are in this group I would be surprised if you didn’t have this one, if you don’t, well, get on it.

Galactic – Into The Deep

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Aug 062015

Galactic is a New Orleans funk-tastic quartet that has been changing personality every record for 20 years. This album brings the voices of Macy Gray, Mavis Staples and more, along for the ride. This album is more mainstream to my ears without being more mainstream. They take something that feels familiar and make it more, better.

Here is what Hal Horowitz at American Songwriter had to say:
Most bands try to create a unique, easily identifiable sound, one that anchors their music even if they push boundaries around it. But for the past decade (out of a 20 year career), New Orleans’ veteran quintet Galactic has fought against that model, not just by peppering their groove, jam oriented approach with different styles, but by employing multiple vocalists (no one in the main group sings) to further muddy the waters of who they are.

2015-07-31 16.44.05While that seems like career suicide to most outfits, the group continues to thrive. Into the Deep, their eighth studio disc, expands an already eclectic palette based in funk but that also includes liberal doses of hip-hop, jazz, soul, blues and even electronica. Galactic is blissfully unconcerned that every track is different enough to almost obscure their own identity as they continue to create music that’s fun, superbly crafted and wildly eclectic.

To that end, they invite singers ranging from the legendary Mavis Staples, to Macy Gray, JJ Grey, obscure Jamaican musician Brushy One String and others to add their unique vocals this time around. Everyone brings their A game. The all original songs, many co-written by the band with their guests, range from ballads (Staples’ gospel/rock “Does it Really Make a Difference” and Gray’s string enhanced title track) to slinky, Booker T./ Stax styled instrumentals (“Long Live the Borgne”) and some husky, furry funk (“Domino” with singer/rapper Ryan Montbleau). The band even includes an interstellar rocker worthy of their spacey name in the very 70s, synth driven “Buck 77.”

The closing instrumental “Today’s Blues” featuring Rich Vogel’s silvery Hammond B3 and a distinctively New Orleans trumpet solo looks back at their earlier rootsy jam band beginnings, bringing Galactic full circle with their past. Give credit to the band’s founders and co-producers bassist Robert Mercurio and saxist Ben Ellman who molded this album and show that Galactic doesn’t need a stable front person, or even a singular approach, to make their dynamic music connect with playful passion and vibrant integrity.

Sweet Spirit – EP

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Aug 062015

Sweet Spirit is an Austin band with a pop/indie sensibility that is Folderpowered by female vocals and a small horn section. Live, the band is enjoyable far beyond the music they create thanks to a raunchy sense of humor and an overload of charisma. for $10, this 10 inch 45 should be in your collection.

Sweet Spirit



The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble

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Jun 282015

There are a lot of great labels doing soul, funk, afrobeat and a million other variations on these horn and drum fueled genres. None hold my attention like the small Ohio label, Colemine Records. Terry Cole and company consistently bring out exciting and often unexpected treasures, sometimes in the form of a single from an established act like the Monophonics or Orgone, other times it is a 12 inch masterpiece, as is the case with The Sure Fire Soul Ensembles self titled first LP.

I have been a fan of The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble for some time as they released occasional singles. I had very high expectations for their first album and they do not disappoint. I immediately fell under their rhythmic spell and happily stayed there through each horn driven, organ backed dance magic.2015-06-27 17.08.41

Each song takes you someplace in your past. There is a familiarity with every track even as it is something brand new. The album showed up the morning of a local festival in Austin so I was able to listen to it between other horn bands like Hard Proof and Golden Dawn Arkestra. I can hope The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble join us here for one of our many music festivals.

I tried to do a little research on these guys and there isn’t more than a couple paragraphs which mention that if you like The Menahan Street Band, you will like these guys. I can’t argue with that but they stand all on their own.

Of interest to collectors, I pre-ordered the deluxe edition packaging. This is the exact same 180 gram album everyone else got but it was packaged in a handmade case, included a California and an Ohio soul button, a sticker and a CD copy of the album. The handmade heavy paper cover was sealed with a very cool, wax seal and numbered, mine being 11 of 50.

The physical album and packaging are a higher quality than many of Colemine competitors are using these days. I give high praise for spending extra for audiophile sleeves and better cardboard. To many of us, that means a lot and speak volumes about Terry and those who work with him.

This album is a must have and grab a few dozen singles from the Colemine store while you at it.