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Chicago and New Orleans piano blues get a shot in the arm and Tin Pan Alley gets the hot-rod treatment, while ’60s pop-soul and French Yé-yé make ravishing returns on the The Claudettes‘ second Yellow Dog Records album NO HOTEL.

Chicago piano crusher Johnny Iguana (who has pounded keys for Junior Wells, Buddy Guy and rock cult heroes oh my god) and absolute wacko Michael Caskey (who has drummed with giddy glee for everyone from Chuck Mangione to Balkan fusion band Eastern Blok) make even bigger waves with the bravura instrumentals on NO HOTEL than they did with their 2013 debut Infernal Piano Plot…HATCHED! (“Like Keith Moon chasing a crazed, punked-up Little Richard” —Blues Music Magazine).

Piano licks inspired by Otis Spann, Mose Allison, Ray Charles and Bobby Timmons meet Minutemen’s “jam econo” ethos and Meat Puppets’ trippy echo as the band packs 16 tracks into the sonic whirlwind that is NO HOTEL. And at the eye of the hurricane: a mid-album set of sultry vocal songs sung in English and French by the band’s mesmerizing new member, Yana.

Though just 24, Nigerian-American vocalist Yana recalls Josephine Baker and Eartha Kitt. An alluring singer/dancer on stage, decked out in stunning dresses, jewelry and head wraps, Yana brings her seductive powers to the studio here. She casts a spell with the throwback ’60s pop-soul (punctuated by a grinding blues-rock bridge) of She’s So Imaginary, then puts her own authoritative stamp on hand-picked ’60s French Yé-yé classics.

With NO HOTEL (named after the cruel phrase that appeared on the band’s most deflating venue contract offer yet), the Claudettes use drum sticks, piano hammers, style and swagger to strut from vintage landmarks to someplace new.

Mandolinist Rich DelGrosso, Guitarist Mary Flower and multi-instrumentalist Martin Grosswendt have earned steady streams of praise for their outstanding string skills. Combined, these three have earned nine Blues Music Award nominations and enjoyed rave press reviews and top festival slots all over the world. And they do strum, pick and bow up a storm on their debut album together as the Ragpicker String Band — but it’s their tight trio harmonies that especially dazzle. The acoustic dream team summons the spirits of everyone from the Mississippi Sheiks and Blind Boy Fuller to Jim Kweskin and R. Crumb as their voices and fingers fly through the mists back to the golden prewar age of folk-blues.

Classics by the likes of the Mississippi Sheiks, Sleepy John Estes and Blind Willie Johnson — combined with new originals by Flower and DelGrosso — allow this virtuosically fearsome threesome to leaven their serious instrumental and vocal chops with social satire and mischievous humor. Just as Kweskin and Crumb filtered the songs and sounds of their prewar folk-blues heroes through their own modern sensibilities and considerable personalities, so do the Ragpicker String Band. Jump from a fabulously fretted, sublimely sung trip to the past like Trimmed and Burning to a laughing lament of modern times like Google Blues and you’ll find out what an uncommonly fine stew of traditional and contemporary ingredients they’ve cooked up. They even season it with a delectable dose of jazz via a conspicuously piano-less romp through Thelonious Monk’s standard Blue Monk. Read the rest of this entry »

Mississippi Piano Powerhouse brings her renowned skills and a set of soul-baring new songs to Nashville

Take Eden Brent to a Nashville studio and you’ll still hear the sound of the Mississippi Delta. There’s no way around that. Say you’ve decided to drive from New Orleans to Nashville. Whichever way you go — straight up 55 or heading northeast on 59 — you’re gonna cut across Eden’s home state of Mississippi. And that’s precisely the route Eden’s recording career just took, as her last album — Ain’t Got No Troubles (recorded in New Orleans in 2010) — gives way to her deepest, most personal album yet: Jigsaw Heart, recorded in Nashville but shot through with Eden’s Mississippi roots.

She chose to record this soulful slice of Americana at Ben’s Studio (Ben Folds), formerly the historic RCA Studio A, laying down the tracks live and with minimal isolation. True to life, Eden had to journey through Mississippi to get from New Orleans (the location of her last recording) to Nashville (the site of her new one), stirring up the echoes of her past and reaching out to her stable of longtime friends to create this riveting, reflective new work.

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Asylum Street Spankers Wake Up in the Morning and Find a Butt-Load of Wonderful New Asylum Street Spankers Recordings.  Do Any of You Have Any Idea Where These Came From?

If you know the story of the Asylum Street Spankers, you probably know that the group was founded in 1994 at a booze-filled party at the Dabbs Hotel along the river in Llano, Texas, and for the next seventeen years left a swath of astounded audiences in its wake. Well, it appears that America’s favorite old-time hellraisers have once again musically triumphed over overindulgence and memory loss. Or have they?

Christina Marrs, Nevada Newman, Charlie King and the other Spankers do recall getting together to play their final shows ever in April of 2011. They all remember setting up the three-day “The Last Laugh” finale in their hometown of Austin, Texas at the Cactus Café, Ruta Maya and Spider House Ballroom. But, honestly, that’s the last thing any of them remember.

Look: it’s embarrassing for such an acclaimed band as this to have to admit that they honestly don’t remember where their final album came from. What becomes clear upon listening to these recordings is that none of these songs has ever been recorded by the Asylum Street Spankers before. What’s even clearer is this: the band is in their finest form ever here, living up to their firmly cemented reputation as an acoustic powerhouse. Who else can blend string-band virtuosity, multi-instrumental skills, tight vocal harmonies and counterculture wit like this?

Clearly, these were unforgettable nights for all those who packed the clubs and cheered on their internationally beloved hometown heroes. Hazily, the Spankers figure these must have been some of the most treasured personal moments of their 17-year career. Imagine the satisfaction of taking their fans through one last journey together, from the Tin Pan Alley and vaudeville echoes of their sound, to the country, blues, jazz and swing songs they’ve borrowed and created, all filtered through the punk-rock ethos at their core. “It must have really been something,” Christina muses.

The White Stripes and Black Keys rock the blues with a guitar attack. Like the Bad Plus, The Claudettes brandish a piano instead. But The Claudettes have created their own fanatical fusion of blues and soul-jazz — like Ray Charles on a punk kick. Imagine an amped-up piano hybrid of Otis Spann, Ray Charles and Mose Allison, joined by a jolly madman drummer and conducted in gonzo fashion by Raymond Scott. File under: post-burlesque? Neo-vaudeville? Cosmic cartoon music? You’ve never seen a piano-drums duo like this.

And let’s not forget the strange but true story of how The Claudettes came to be — starting with Claudette herself, an unhinged bar owner who hired the duo as her “house band” but works out deals to showcase them at other venues: traditional nightspots as well as unconventional locations including Blockbuster Video and Staples Center (literally; the center of a local Staples office store). To read more about the band’s bizarre history, see the detailed backgrounder: .

See The Claudettes, Live in the Studio:

By popular demand, we’re pleased to present our first vinyl-format release! Cassie Taylor‘s Out Of My Mind has been earning raves for its indelible and utterly modern sound, brilliantly melding influences ranging from a New Orleans second line to West African psychedelic rock.

Specially mastered for LP, Out Of My Mind is pressed on white vinyl, and like all compact discs purchased from our online store, comes with immediate download of the digital album.

We’re thrilled to release The Soul of John Black‘s A Sunshine State of Mind, a compilation of upbeat tunes that embody the “essence of summer”.  While four of the tracks were launched over last summer and fall as a series of preview singles, we now have the full collection to present in album form (including CDs!)

The inspiration for A Sunshine State of Mind came to JB during the winter in his home town of Los Angeles. “Although the sun shines all the time here, the mood brightens even more once the summer months arrive,” he explained. “I wanted to write songs that would keep that attitude going year-round.” Each of the tracks in the album has a lighthearted feeling, complimenting the upbeat theme of the overall collection.

From “Higher Power”, a soulful anthem with an uplifting message of community and interrelatedness, to the driving groove of “East LA Lady”, Bigham displays the unique stylistic fusion that has won praise from Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, National Public Radio, and others.

Cassie Taylor - Out of My Mind

At age 26, Cassie Taylor is already a veteran musician. She’s spent a decade playing bass and singing on stage and in the studio with her father, modern-day blues innovator Otis Taylor. Now she stakes her own claim as an artist of intelligence, power and soul, drawing on a wide swath of influences – spanning centuries, continents and cultures – to create her own indelible and utterly modern sound.

With influences ranging from a New Orleans second line to West African psychedelic rock, the album’s 12 original songs – all written and arranged by Taylor – are the work of a truly 21st century musical omnivore. From the record’s lead track, “Ol’ Mama Dean (Part 1),” which opens with drums and theremin, to the wistful piano closer “Again,” Taylor proves to be a gifted, independent-minded songwriter with a flair for the unexpected and a voice that will haunt your dreams.

Cassie talks about the making of Out of My Mind:

CT_3799_250We’re thrilled to announce the signing of Cassie Taylor, a masterful stylist of blues, rock, pop, and soul who thrills audiences with her energy and originality.

After spending seven years touring and recording with the fabulous Otis Taylor (yes, there is a family relation), Cassie is now staking a claim as a musician in her own right  a songwriter who filters the blues through the prism of a younger generation.  Using pop vocals and deeply-rooted blues bass lines, Cassie is leading the new wave of blues artists.

Cassie’s new album, Out Of My Mind, is set for release May 7, but you can be one of the first to get it by pre-ordering now!  Pre-orders will be autographed by Cassie and come with an immediate download of the new track “Gone and Dead”.

From rocking electric slide to the most delicate acoustic fingerpicking, Colin Linden is a remarkably versatile virtuoso who never strays far from the deep blues that first inspired him as an 11-year-old kid, when his mom took him to see – and meet – the great Howlin’ Wolf.

Colin’s music is deeply rooted in traditional blues, soul and roots rock. His years on the road playing everywhere with everyone have given him a mastery of roots music vocabulary that make him an in-demand producer and guitarist – gifts that ring out most clearly when Colin is on his own, either solo or with a band.

It’s been said that studio albums are artistic statements; live recordings are self-portraits. Colin Linden’s Still Live is an epic autobiography, a tale of two countries and a multitude of genres, all rendered with total commitment, mastery and an infectious enthusiasm that reminds us all just why we fell in love with this music in the first place.

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