Jazz, Blues & Alternate Views – Part 5

Leo Lyons/Hundred Seventy Split

“Movin’ On”

Interview: Leo Lyons Legendary Bassist

Flatiron Recordings

Leo Lyons is a living legend. The bassist/producer/songwriter first gained fame in the ‘60s with the British band Ten Years After. Arguably, the pinnacle of his notoriety was performing alongside lead guitarist Alvin Lee at the Woodstock festival. Hits followed Ten Years After for years on what became classic rock radio. But that particular band did not solely define the bassist’s career. Lyons has been active in all aspects of the music world for several decades.

As a sideman/session musician he’s worked with Savoy Brown, Leslie West and various British pop and jazz acts. And as a staff songwriter he’s been active with Hayes Street Music publishers in Nashville. Along with his own projects, Lyons has always had a keen ear for production and has helmed releases by several other artists such as Richard and Linda Thompson, John Martin, Chris Farlowe, Frankie Miller, Procol Harum , et al.

His latest release with Hundred Seventy Split includes long-time collaborator and singer-songwriter/guitarist Joe Gooch, along with drummer Damon Sawyer. This is a slice of, perhaps, some of the finest original blues-rock to hit the music scene in quite some time. It’s comprised of songs that smack of tradition, but have a modern sensibility and a point of view. Baby boomers will, undoubtedly, be impressed with a heady mix forged in a British rock and blues amalgam, and the millennial up and comers should receive an eye and ear-opening education.

“Walking in the Devil’s Shoes” is sort of an update on the Robert Johnson dealing- with- the- devil at the crossroads story. It’s a tale that’s familiar, yet remains fresh via Gooch’s emotive vocals and the band’s in-the –pocket ebb and flow. “It’s So Easy to Slide” blends good advice and a cautionary message, with an up tempo good time swing feel. It’s a classic sentiment firmly rooted in jazz and pub music. For sure, bluesy rock is this band’s game, but their collective skill set extends beyond any musical paint-by-numbers approach. “Heart of a Hurricane” is a prime example of this, melding cinematic lyricism and a vivid modern country landscape into the mix. It depicts a love story that cuts right to the heart of the human condition. And if you’re looking for subtle guitar riffs that get deep in your soul, look no further than the mid tempo ballad “Black River.” Like its namesake, the words and melody just flow effortlessly like a river as Gooch’s incisive and subtle leads permeate your senses. “Mad, Bad and Dangerous” picks up the pace and bowls you over, with a perennial boogie beat, not unlike some classic Ten Years After. The rhythm section swings and cooks, as Gooch rips on a torrent of rich sustain drenched solos.

The Road Back Home

And then we come to “The Road Back Home.” This is a slice of some great Southern-type rock, with a heavy country and acoustic blues flavor. It’s a very well crafted song that is as much cut from the blues lexicon as it is a modern radio hit. “Meet Me at the Bottom” kind of typifies this project in that it defines the essence of the blues. Lyons and Sawyer create an awesome pocket allowing Gooch to, vocally and acoustically, lay down some of the finest traditional sounds you’re ever gonna hear. And in keeping with that vintage feel you’ve got back-to-back stunners, with the seismic “Sounded Like a Train” and the gospel-flavored “Beneath the Muddy Water.” It’s a stellar mix of epic storytelling and a musical one-two punch. The album concludes with a real smoker in “Time to Kill.” The finale is lyrically snappy and is a true tour de force, featuring some of Gooch’s most free-sounding and effortless fret work.

While Lyon’s name is the draw here there is no mistaking this as a real collective effort. It’s a great release that will, hopefully, be awarded its due on blues radio and all media platforms.


Brittany Guerin

“Hello, I’m Britti”

SXSW 2024 Schedule

Easy Eye Sound

Brittany Guerin hails from Baton Rouge, Louisiana and represents a new breed of roots singer. File this album under the category of “neo-country/soul” for Britti’s debut is cut from a similar cloth as Jackie DeShannon, early Diana Ross, Mavis Staples, Sade, Dolly Parton and the like. And it’s helmed by GRAMMY-award winning producer Dan Auerbach. As half of the original Black Keys, Auerbach almost single-handedly brought back a retro blues vibe to modern music. And he brings that vintage quality to every artist or project he is involved with.

Britti boldly states “singing is my passion and my purpose” and she makes that point abundantly clear on a track like “So Tired.” It’s soulful, with a vintage flavor and some jazzy guitars and keyboards to propel that vibe. “Still Gone” follows and has somewhat of an auto-biographical feel. Britti’s words and phrasing align nicely with the multi-layered production. Sade meets Malaco Records on the dramatic “Nothing Compares to You.” There is a haunting personality to this song that matches funky, with radio-ready prowess. There is kind of a late ‘70s/early ‘80s Dolly Parton vibe that the singer captures on the original “Back Where We Belong.” It’s a torch song that’ll rope you in with a catchy chorus. Bouncing around this satisfying set, “Silly Boy” plumbs a Chi-Lites’ “Oh Girl” groove. With a female empowered Bobbie Gentry approach she defiantly sets her man straight that she is “no pawn in your game.”

There Ain’t Nothing

Auerbach seems to reference a strong Willie Mitchell production nod, with the classic Al Green-like “There Ain’t Nothing.” It’s a slick mix of horn-inflected soul and sass. “Save Me” is special for its Motown rhythms and evocative girl group sensibility. Britti bookends the album with a strong but gentle and retro Nashville styled piece. “Once Upon a Time” is a great story song, with Grand Old Opry grandeur, smooth harmonies and a meticulous arrangement.

“Hello, I’m Britti” is a most auspicious debut and, if it connects with media and the public as it should, there is no stopping this girl!

Tom Rush

“Gardens Old, Flowers New”

Folk singer Tom Rush brings his songs to the area

Appleseed Recordings

Legend is a term that gets bandied about very loosely quite often in celebrity circles. There are a number of accomplished artists out there, for sure, but “legend” certainly exalts one to rarefied status. However, when it comes to singer-songwriter Tom Rush that moniker applies and has been well earned. Just ask Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Garth Brooks, Jackson Browne or many other musical luminaries that cite him as an influence. Rush was one of the early progenitors of the folk/rock/blues movement in the 1960s and his conversational vocal style always enraptured one via vivid and colorful stories of the human spirit.

Now in his early 80s, Rush is sounding better than ever, with his first album of all-original material in five years. And kudos to producer/multi-instrumentalist Matt Nakoa for convincing Rush to record again, supplying the legendary troubadour with some of the finest musicians in the biz to complement his eclectic and rustic approach.

This is a rather relaxed, yet robust, set of tunes, with more than a wink and a nod to maritime pursuits and imagery. “Sailing” is just that sort of seafaring type song. It eases you into the album as the elder statesman of Americana sets the stage for a musical getaway. “Glory Road” picks up the energy, with a bluegrass feel and up tempo spirit. Its positive message and catchy chorus offer an optimistic vision and hope. “Gimme Some of It” is based on a traditional blues tune called “Custard Pie.” Rush cleverly changed the lyrics to reflect things on a personal and socio-political level. Nakoa’s jazzy ragtime piano and group harmonies are a nice touch. “Nothin’ But a Man” is the kind of song that Rush cut his teeth on. It’s a signature tune in the style of a standard like his own “No Regrets.” In it, he is a humble man that professes love to his woman and offers nothing more than what he humanly has to give—no more and no less. It’s a straight forward blues-based tune, with a infectious and catchy hook.

If You Will Love Me

“If You Will Love Me” is almost a prayer in its spiritual beauty. This serene tome to his beloved is an emotionally unvarnished pledge of love and faith to one’s partner. Another sea-oriented theme arises in “Toy Boat Song.” Dave Eggar’s superb cello accompaniment and group harmonies give this a lush baroque quality. “One More Time Around the Sun” is kind of a fun romp and reminds one of a good sing-a-long tune. Jimmy Buffet and Rush always had mutual admiration for each other and “It All Comes Down to Love” has that signature “Parrot head” vibe. Cool organ and guitars riff through this palm tree garnished anthem. “The Harbor” is another example of Rush’s unique story telling ability, while a song like “To See My Baby Smile” shows a reflective, almost hypnotic side to his compositional vernacular. “I Quit” serves as a fitting finale, with a sharp and cutting wit attached to smarmy lines like “I’m gone, I’m outta here. I can’t find a love, can’t feel the thrill. If there’s hell to pay just send me the bill. “It’s a fun, short and sweet little ditty, with a New Orleans kick.

This is one of Tom Rush’s best works in years and a must for true blues and folk fans alike.

Roberto Magris

“Love is Passing Thru”


J Mood Records

Roberto Magris is an Italian jazz pianist with a number of fine releases under his belt. He is a composer and great interpreter of song that works in a variety of mediums. This particular album is one of his latest and focuses on various aspects of love. And via solo, duo, trio and quartet performances he takes the listener on a journey through original compositions and select standards.

This recording is from 2005 and captures his Italian quartet after they returned from a tour of the Far East. Hence, there are some tracks that have that fresh Asian ( specifically, Balinese) influence woven into the fabric of the music. The band at this time consisted of Magris, of course, on piano along, with Ettore Martin on tenor sax, Danilo Gallo on bass and Enzo Carpentieri on drums and percussion.

If you listen to the vast catalog of Magris, which in the case of J Mood Records, this is his 20th release, he often goes for a strong conceptual framework that defines his individual recordings. Opening this collection with his tribute to one of his piano heroes Herbie Nichols, Magris’ cleverly titled (say it with an accent) “Hair,Bea,Knee,Calls” , indeed, blends a western European and American jazz post-bop sensibility, with gongs and that aforementioned Eastern musical influence. The, essentially, solo debut leads into another Magris original called “Two-sided Love.” This is an ensemble piece that truly shows the advanced artistry of Magris’ work. Overall, it reflects the title and is a composition in two movements. The first half is kind of angular and somewhat spatial and experimental. The second half is more romantic and melodic. Sandwiched together, it makes for an interesting take on different ends of the emotional spectrum. Some appropriately elegant and lovingly melodic takes on Billy Strayhorn’s “Love Has Passed Me By Again” as well as Raye/DePaul’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is” are back- to- back examples of how love conquers all. This is music to close your eyes and wrap your emotions in. The brief bass and percussion conversation of “Mi Sono Innamorato Di Te” is a smooth respite and shows the creative arc of this band.

Lush Life

Another famous Italian tune “Estate” follows and spotlights a light romantic theme, with a lilting waltz feel. Marian McPartland’s “In the Days of Our Love” focuses on Magris’ solo piano acumen by framing a beautiful melody, with a tasteful use of alternate chords and deftly executed harmonies. This blends nicely into Duke Ellington’s “Love Came,” which begins with solo piano and merges with Martin’s tenor sax for a soul-stirring interpretation. Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” is fun and truly shows the leader’s flair for taking a standard melody and artfully decorating it with daring intervallic runs, octave leaps and graceful filigree. The next three pieces are classics by Strayhorn, with the track “Orson” offering multiple solo piano inventions and two alternate takes of “Lush Life,” which beautifully capture an Errol Garner/Oscar Peterson countenance. Gerry Mulligan’s post-bop masterpiece “Ontet” gets a relaxed treatment here, with a West Coast cool approach in the rhythms and phrasing. The trio of Magris, Gallo and Carpentieri is endearing, playful and free.

While this is a release that features leader Roberto Magris, it is an interesting snapshot of a moment in time for this world class band. Don’t let this fall off your jazz radar. Highly recommended!

Eric Harabadian
Eric Harabadian
Eric Harabadian has been a freelance journalist for over 30 years. He’s written for several publications, including Media News Group, Progression, Music Connection, Detroit Metro Times, Big City Rhythm & Blues, Downbeat, and many others. He is also a singer-songwriter/guitarist, public relations consultant, and documentary filmmaker.

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