Issue 16-43 October 27, 2022 – Blues Blast Magazine

Cover photo © 2022 Bob Kieser


 In This Issue 

Anita Schlank has our feature interview with Kevin Burt. We have four Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Yates McKendree, Dig 3, Silent Partners and John McDonald & Mark Maxwell. Scroll down and check it out!


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 Featured Interview – Kevin Burt 

imageYou might assume that the man who once held two full-time and three part-time jobs at the same time, used to play college football, acted in university plays (and an off-Broadway play), composed a musical soundtrack, landed a role in a short silent film, and won three different awards in the same year at the International Blues Challenge is an exceptionally skilled multi-tasker, and you would be correct.  Iowa born Kevin Burt won the Best Solo/Duo Act Award, the Best Solo/Duo Guitarist Award, and the Lee Oskar Award for Best Harmonica Player playing as a one-man band at the 34th Annual International Blues Challenge in 2018.  And, if there had been an award for most beautiful singing voice, he would likely have captured that honor as well.  Not being one to rest on his laurels, Burt has been making good use of his multiple talents since that victory, and Blues Blast Magazine was lucky enough to catch up with him recently to hear about his many ongoing projects.

Burt was recognized by the Governor of Iowa as one of the Midwest’s top blues heritage educators and is a registered artist and artist educator with the State of Iowa Arts Council.  He frequently uses his talents as both a musician and an educator to introduce children to the blues through the Blues in the Schools program.

“The Iowa folk life commission was asked by the Smithsonian to put together live performances to be shown on the National Mall in Washington DC, and they asked me to put together a program about the history of the blues in the State of Iowa.  I had to do my research and do interviews, but I put together a program which was vetted and approved by the Smithsonian, and I was a living exhibit on the National Mall for Iowa’s Sesquicentennial.  Then I thought this would be cool to present in schools, so I started working with the local blues societies and their Blues in the Schools programs.  I started in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, and it has grown and expanded to include the Mississippi Valley Blues Society, the Plattsburg (New York) Blues and Jazz Society, and blues societies in Illinois and Seattle.”

Burt also conducted week-long residencies, working with students to learn to play blues harmonica.  He’s worked with a variety of grade levels, with the youngest being children in the third grade.

“It helps kids with ear training and improvisation, which are two components that are difficult for teachers to explain to kids.  Teachers are taught to teach from paper, but music is not just what is written on paper.  It is also being able to find that release.  Nobody is supposed to feel like they are working music.  There is a reason we say, ‘I play music’ and not ‘I work music’.”

imageBurt has also authored and published a book on how he taught himself to play harmonica which will help extend his reach to a broader audience of students.   The book, which is put together as a classroom method, is entitled Just Play It, and received an endorsement by Hohner.  Burt has also been reaching out to youth through his shows.  Many blues fans have noted that it seems difficult at times to get younger audiences to appreciate the blues, but Burt seems to be making progress toward that goal.

“One of the things I’ve been working on is creating opportunities to do collaborative shows with local hip-hop and rap artists, like Benny the Jet, who has some national online presence and is connected with internationally touring acts.  Working with someone that has a much younger demographic is a cool and frightening beast for me as an artist because it is a brand-new exposure for many of these folks.  They just know they are coming to a hip hop show, then they get exposed to this other sound.  For me, I get to use it as an educational moment and remind them that hip-hop doesn’t exist without the blues.  It’s just another evolutionary step of the blues.

“You know the black music experience is the only one where when you change the music composition, you change the name, and we have a new genre.  If you rap half a song in a country song, it’s still a country song, but if you do that in a blues song, it’s now a rap song.  If you change the beat a little bit and make the bass more the lead instrument it now becomes funk.  We don’t just call it blues.  And the Southern Rock Category has never included anybody black.  Every blues band that played up-tempo blues and is guitar driven and from the south could have been placed in that category, but it is surprisingly color-coded.  But I am expanding my personal fan base with this younger audience.  I hear from them all the time that they never really listened to the blues before, but they love what I’m doing.  And then they see not only me, but they also see people who influenced me, because I don’t just make the music, I am a fan as well.”

Burt has needed to learn more about technology to stay connected with his newly expanding fan base who rely primarily on social media.  Luckily, however, he has two daughters who can offer advice in that area.

“I have to understand how to be present on social media to maintain that connection with the younger audience.  Instagram, Tik Tok, Reels, they are all necessary tools in order to access a different generation, and it’s not going to deter any of my longstanding fans.  They are still going to see my schedule and find out where I’m playing and show up.  My younger daughter, Phoebe, is in college currently and is trying to create opportunities for me to perform at her university.  My oldest daughter, Delaney, is 23 and is going to serve as my social media expert.  She’s going to be the person to help me gain an understanding on how to use and modify social media because it’s just becoming more and more a necessary piece.”

While Burt continues to play as a one-man band, he is also collaborating with musician Ken Valdez, to put together a full band.

“My intent is to put myself in a position to get myself off the side stages.  People have a tendency to not want a solo act on the mainstage because not all solo acts have a command of a big stage, and we all pay for the sins of the past.  I’ve got festivals turning their heads, but they are waiting for me to have a band in the picture, so I’m teaming up with Ken Valdez.  He’s a powerhouse on guitar and a hell of a songwriter, and we’re trying to put together a nice rhythm section to go with us.”

imageAlthough he has been performing as a one-man band for nearly twenty years, Burt was actually a front man in a band before he was a solo artist.  He was asked how those two experiences differ from each other.

“The biggest thing is with a full band you need to have rehearsal time to create transitions.  My transition when I’m solo is usually telling stories.  When I have a band, we can make musical transitions, and that is different for me.  It’s powerful too, when it’s done right.  Working with Ken (Valdez) helps with that because he is incredibly knowledgeable about how instruments play with each other, so having the opportunity to work with him on that level is awesome.  It’s an education for me for sure.”

Like nearly every artist, the pandemic created some huge challenges for Burt’s career, which was just starting to skyrocket after his award sweep at the International Blues Challenge.

“Everything for my career was on a huge uptick and then the entire world shut down and I was told that what I do is not an essential function.  And you can’t socially distance at a concert, so I was the complete opposite of what needed to happen.  To know that can happen is more than humbling, but it also puts me in a position where now I know, from this point forward, every opportunity I get to hit a stage might be the last time I get to hit the stage—I’m not guaranteed a next time.  Something can come along and take it away.

“Thankfully the good folks at Gulf Coast Records, Mike Zito and Guy Hale, did what they could do to keep all their artists afloat.  I was able to record an album which debuted at number three on the billboard charts, and I was nominated for a blues music award.  But I know I don’t have control over the industry or the awards.  What I do have control over is the performance.  Every time I perform it is the last time, unless I’m blessed with the next opportunity, and so if you put me out there, I’m giving you everything I got.  That is what COVID taught me.”

While Burt is an excellent songwriter, he may be best known for his extremely creative interpretations of well-known cover songs, such as his incredibly moving, bluesified version of Eleanor Rigby, which he played during the finals at the International Blues Challenge.

“For me, with cover songs, the reason I choose to do them is that they have already been done right, so I play a game.  Do you remember the old telephone game where you whisper something, and it goes through several people and when it comes back to you it’s totally different?  Well, when I sit down to learn a song, I listen to it enough that I learn the basic shape of the song and the lyrics of the song and then I won’t listen to it again.  I play it like I think I remember it, and it naturally forms its own shape that is a little bit different than the original.  When I’m performing it, it becomes my story.  I have to think about how it relates to my reality, my emotions, in order to connect that story to my life.  The cover songs I do are surprisingly personal.  There is a story deeper than the story I’m comfortable telling on stage sometimes.”

imageBurt is on track to have a new album released this coming May which he will record with a full band.  He noted that the new album will be a bit more cover driven.  He will also be touring with the same band that backs him on the album.  And, while he is excited about that upcoming release, he noted that he has another goal he hopes to achieve soon.

“Both my daughters sing and one of the things I would love most is to incorporate them into my world.  My wife, Nicole, also has a beautiful voice and I’m trying to convince her to sing in public, but her anxiety level keeps her from stepping out on the stage.  But ultimately, I would love the opportunity to do one or two songs with them.  One of the things I try to do on my stage is to get people to see visions, parts of my soul and my world.  My family is a big part of that, so trying to incorporate that into some of the shows is a big deal for me.  My wife and I are getting ready to celebrate our 28th year of marriage and while it hasn’t always been butterflies and rainbows, at the end of the days we wake up most of the time and see each other and smile, and that’s a blessing.  And I have two daughters who don’t think I’m a complete nerd and if I say ‘I love you’ they will say ‘I love you’ back no matter with whom they are standing, and that is a blessing too.  My family is my whole world.”

You can keep up with this sensational artist’s many projects, see details about his tour, and purchase his albums at https://kevinburtmusic.bigcartel.com.  And you can find out more about Kevin Burt’s instructional book, Just Play It, at www.westmusic.com

Writer Anita Schlank lives in Virginia, and is on the Board of Directors for the River City Blues Society. She has been a fan of the blues since the 1980s. She and Tab Benoit co-authored the book “Blues Therapy,” with all proceeds from sales going to the HART Fund.


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 4 

imageYates McKendree – Buchanan Lane

Qualified Records

www.qualifiedrecords.com/yates

13 songs – 45 minutes

Once in a very rare while, a debut album simply knocks you off your feet from the opening bars. That’s the case with this stunner from Yates McKendree, a multi-instrumentalist with a silky-smooth voice who’s an old soul in a very young body at age 21 – and already a Grammy winner to boot!

The son of keyboard player/guitarist Kevin McKendree, Delbert McClinton’s former bandleader and one of the foremost musicians, producers and studio owners in the world, Yates has been performing since age ten at the top venues in Music City – The Bluebird Café, Ryman Auditorium and 3rd & Lindsley included, holding his own on six-string, keys and at the mic while sharing the stage with giants.

Although this is his first solo effort, he’s already recorded with Teresa James & the Rhythm Tramps, John Hiatt, Andy Poxon, Black Stone Cherry, Seth James and Delbert at his dad’s Rock House Studio, laying down guitar licks and serving as an engineer on McClinton’s trophy-winning 2019 CD, Tall Dark & Handsome. His talents in the control room have also contributed to discs by Tinsley Ellis, Shane Dwight and others.

Recorded at Rock House in suburban Franklin, Yates is backed by a who’s who of music royalty here but there’s no question that he’s the star. Dad Kevin’s at the controls and contributes piano and organ with Big Joe Maher and Kenneth Blevins on drums, Steve Mackey on upright bass, Greg Garner on electric bass and a horn section composed of Jim Hoke (sax), Andrew Carney (trumpet) and Roland Barber (trombone). Andrew White sits in on rhythm guitar on one cut, The McCrary Sisters provide backing vocals on another and Yates also adds bass and percussion to the mix.

He swings from the hip with the original, “Out Crowd” to open. A classy, instrumental rhumba based on the Ramsey Lewis classic, “In Crowd,” the jazz piano master – who died earlier this year — would have beamed if he’d been able to hear Yates’ light, two-fisted attack on the 88s, which will have you yearning for more. The feel continues as McKendree switches to guitar for most of the remaining set, beginning with a cover of B.B. King’s “Ruby Lee.” His single-note attack stings atop driving Latin rhythm, and his warm pipes are ever so slightly behind the beat to make the song swing even more.

Yates teamed with Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer Gary Nicholson to pen the next two tunes. An unhurried, Chicago-style blues, “Wise” proclaims that the singer may be youthful but he’s hip to his lady’s lies and deceitful ways while “No Justice,” a slow blues with similar appeal, finds him looking back, flat broke and busted but constantly thinking of the love he lost and yearning for what once had been. His mid-tune solo blazes with emotion.

The eight tunes than follow are all culled from yesteryear, and it’s obvious that McKendree has a great ear for dusty oldies and the ability to instill new life in them while still maintaining their essence. First up is “Brand New Neighborhood,” a swinging rocker first laid down by Fletcher Smith and his orchestra in 1953. It features call-and-response between Yates on six-string and Kevin on keys before giving way for fresh takes on Earl King’s “Always a First Time” and T-Bone Walker’s “Papa Ain’t Salty” before breathing new life into “No Reason,” an obscure ‘50s hit penned by Carmen Davis.

Can Yates cover Dr. John? You betcha! His delivery of “Qualified” – aided by his pop on piano – updates the Night Tripper for the 21st century. And he does the same for tunes from the Gulf Coast with a take on Guitar Slim’s “It Hurts to Love Someone” before laying down his axe and taking over on 88s for a refresher of Jimmy Binkley’s 1955 café society classic, “Wine, Wine, Wine,” too. Tampa Red’s “Please Mr. Doctor” follows before the original instrumental, “Voodoo,” brings the disc to a pleasant close.

Named after the street where he grew up, this album is Buchanan Lane’s gift to the world. If Yates McKendree doesn’t win awards for this one, I demand a recount!

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.


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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 4 

imageThe Dig 3 – The Dig 3

Self-Release – 2022

www.facebook.com/thedig3trio/

14 tracks; 53 minutes

The Dig 3 started out as a way to get together and play some music during the pandemic lockdown, three good friends enjoying each others’ company, but, inevitably, given the quality of the musicians involved, it all developed into this project. The musicians in question are guitarist Andrew Duncanson of the Kilborn Alley Blues Band, multi-instrumentalist Gerry Hundt who played with Nick Moss and Corey Dennison (and also does a one-man blues show) and Ronnie Shellist, a fine harmonica player and teacher. Andrew wrote all the lyrics (with help on one track) and the music is credited to all three guys. Gerry’s self-confessed ‘rowdy’ one-man band provides foot drums, percussion and various other instruments, bass, guitar, mandolin and harp; Andrew is on guitar and his excellent vocals stand out, while Ronnie weaves his harmonica patterns round everything. The overall effect is an uplifting set of blues with a few soul and country influences, a thoroughly entertaining set of rough and ready traditional blues, a long way from the blues-rock that so dominates much of what comes out as ‘blues’ these days.

Recorded in a single day (with no overdubs), 23 February 2021, in Tolono, IL, the music barrels along with all three men equally sharing the spotlight. “You’re The One” has a chugging rhythm that recalls Muddy as Gerry plays some basic harp with the rhythm while Ronnie takes the lead, Andrew paying tribute to the love of his life, a solid opener. Rumbling guitar and a choppy rhythm underpin a song about alcohol, “Every Drop”, before “Christmas Coming”, an upbeat tune with great vocals as Andrew shows us the more soulful side of his style, an early highlight. We return to Chicago on “Double Cross”, Ronnie wailing superbly, before a country blues feel arrives in the shape of “One Left, One Right”, the directions that Andrew needs to “be in my baby’s arms”. “Don’t Slip” is another ‘rowdy’ tune with Ronnie playing some deep-toned harp over Andrew’s urgent guitar work as he expresses concern for someone who has clearly overindulged and is “holding up that wall”.

“Rock That Boat” is a catchy tune with a co-writing credit for Chicago drummer Andrew ‘Blaze’ Thomas, Andrew’s guitar featured and Gerry giving his cymbal a good workout. We then head back to the country for the amusing “Chicken Kiss”, complete with train sounds from Ronnie and an overwhelming desire from the listener to shout “Yee-Haw”! “Southern Fantasy” has an appropriately uptempo rhythm as Andrew tells tales of Tennessee, Arkansas and New Orleans, rhythm and lead guitar behind Ronnie’s impressive harp leads, another winner. “Reposado Rock” is a thumping instrumental in Chicago style, great harp again, and “Run & Hide” completes the recording session with a fun romp with lively percussion effects and driving harp, Andrew in thrall to a woman who is attractive…but dangerous; “Run and hide, or stay and play; what’s bad for tomorrow might be good for today”!

However, The Dig 3 is not finished yet, as a further session on October 5 in Chicago yielded three more cuts. The album credits do not say so, but Ronnie appears to be absent from these tracks, however, the addition of bassist Rodrigo Mantovani (Nick Moss Band) is certainly evident on the fast-paced “Love Me Some Of You”, the additional bottom end freeing more solo space for Andrew, who then gives us some Elmore James slide on “Tell Me The Place”. The final track is a stripped-back country blues with Gerry on mandolin (and foot drums, of course) in which Andrew tells us all about life “In My Kitchen”; it sounds a great place too, with all manner of fine food and the likes of Bobby Bland on the stereo!

A good album that is easy to recommend to true lovers of the blues.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.


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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 4 

imageSilent Partners – Changing Times

Little Village Foundation LVF 1051

www.littlevillagefoundation.com

10 songs – 46 minutes

All fans know who the star is when a band takes the stage and the backing band truly are Silent Partners – as this group is named. But give one listen to this album and that should no longer be the case for this trio who’ve been toiling quietly and successfully in the shadows for the better part of a combined 50 years.

It’s truly an all-star aggregation that includes percussionist Tony Coleman, bassist Russell Jackson and guitarist Jonathan Ellison, who’ve spent decades individually in support of B.B. King, Albert King, Bobby Blue Bland, Johnnie Taylor, Otis Clay, Denise LaSalle, Matt “Guitar” Murphy and dozens of other giants.

They join forces for the first time to deliver a searing, skin-tight, straightforward set of contemporary blues sure to have you begging for more. Propelled by one of the best rhythm sections ever to set foot on a blues stage, the infectious beats run deep, and the all-business lead lines are delivered with a no-nonsense attack sure to having you grooving from the first bars.

Produced by Grammy-winner Jim Pugh, who contributes piano and organ, and featuring nine originals and a single cover, Changing Times was recorded, mixed and mastered by Kid Andersen at Greaseland Studios in California. All three of the Silent Partners contribute vocals with additional backing from Andersen on guitar, Vicki Randle on congas, Don Dally on violin and Lisa Lueschner Andersen on backing vocals.

“Ain’t No Right Way to Do Wrong” cooks from the jump. It’s an unhurried ballad with a strong hook that builds slowly in intensity throughout. Delivered from the point-of-view of a child who was raised by his grandmother, the younger describes himself as being born happy and free, believing that the love and respect he paid everyone was returned in the same way. But the realization that everyone isn’t your friend — which is driven home by accompanying strong guitar chords – soon sets in and serves up the counterpoint: “Ain’t no right way to do wrong, and sure ain’t no wrong way to do right.”

The funk kicks in and the pace gradually quickens for “Post Traumatic Blues Syndrome,” a driving shuffle that updates the previous message as it touches on many of the legitimate fears people of color experience in a world shaded by racism and abuse. The message is driven home by Ellison’s strong fretwork throughout. But the feel shifts dramatically with the bittersweet “Road to Love,” a soaring, two-step ballad in which the singer promises his mistakes of the past will never happen again.

A take on The Crusaders’ “Never Make Your Move too Soon” is up next and takes listeners in an entirely different direction than the original thanks to Coleman, who uses it as a foundation to tell the detailed story of how B.B. recruited both he and Russell for his band after an unplanned birthday jam in Chicago. The uptempo pleaser, “Dancin’ Shoes,” features blazing guitar and rapid-fire bass runs before “Love Affair with the Blues” slows down and smolders.

The rhythm drives the action with intermittent solo six-string runs on “Proving Ground,” which states that you can’t rest on past performances because each night’s a new trial by fire. It gives way to “Teasing Woman,” which describes a lady who lures the singer in then shows herself to be a “teasin’, lyin’ so-and-so” who disappears along with his “last dime.” B.B.’s influence surfaces strongly in the stop-time affirmation, “Good to Myself,” before “Beale Street Shuffle” honors the epicenter of the blues to bring the disc to a close.

Soulful blues from folks who really know what they’re doing – and strongly recommended.

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.


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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 4 

imageJohn McDonald & Mark Maxwell – Touched By The Blues

Self Released

www.johnmcdonaldbluesamericana.com

12 songs

John McDonald has been making music for nearly 50 years.

Originally from Massachusetts, he moved in 1970 to Bloomington, IN, for school, and opened for Muddy Waters at the Bloomington Blues Festival in 1974. He then want to Davis, CA for graduate school and later moved to  Athens, GA in 2000 for what he calls a “day job;” he was the  Head of the Genetics Department at the University of Georgia. He always played music, but in 2017 he got serious again in performing and started recording in 2019. His website shows a few EPs and this looks like his first album.

Joining McDonald is Mark Maxwell. He’s run studios and produced music since 1984 in Georgia. He has got a number of albums to his name and is a great musician in his own right. He plays electric and bass guitars here to McDonald’s acoustic guitar and lead vocals. Janis Maxwell handles the backing vocals. Mindy Towe plays sax, Mason Towe handles the drums, Russ Bell is on Hammond organ while Glyn Denham is on harp and Jason Fuller is on piano. Mark Maxwell plays anything else that is heard.

“Help the Poor” gets things rolling, an old BB King song (incorrectly credited to Robben Ford). It gets a good covering here. “House of the Rising Sun” is next, and John and the band give it their all. “Next up is “Come Back Baby,” an old Walter Davis cut done by many famed bands. Here McDonald stays mostly true to the original and we also get a nice little sax solo. “Route 66” follows, Nat King Cole’s original song written by Bobby Troup (who served as a Marine in WWII). This version slows the tempo a bit as McDonald and company slowly swing to this classic.

“Key to the Highway” is classic Big Bill Broonzy and here McDonald gives it a bit of a country feel with his vocals. A low keyed guitar solo is also featured here as the band strolls through this classic. T Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday” is up next and gets a slow tempoed cover here with some call and response, and some organ that takes us to church. Another thoughtful guitar solo is offered up here. “See That My Grave is Kept Clean” is a Blind Lemon Jefferson tune and McDonald sings as Maxwell blows some harp. We get another good guitar solo here, too. “I’m A King Bee” gets a straight up cover that is pretty true to Slim Harpo. Guitar and harp are featured here as guitar and sax both solo.

The hit “The Thrill Is Gone” gets a thoughtful cover here. Blind Willie McTell’s “Broke Down Engine” also gets covered well; the band gives us some harp and guitar solos here. It’s back to BB King with “Bad Case of Love.” The organ again takes us to church and the harp and guitar again get featured. “Samson in New Orleans” concludes the set, a song penned by Leonard Cohen (Hallelujah” fame). McDonald’s version is perhaps more bluesy and country with a solemn delivery, nice fiddle work, and harmonies.

The album features a fairly subdued set of performances as McDonald and the band approach each song thoughtfully. They approach each tune in a measured and metered manner. It’s an interesting album of tunes that the band obviously enjoys singing and playing. It’s a classic set of covers and might be worth your time if you are looking for something thoughtful in approach.

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.


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