Brent Bennett
It Must Be the Blues
Brent Bennett Music

Fast Johnny
Mojo Rock
Fast Johnny

Jethro Easyfields
Bookends from the Soul
Jethro Easyfields

The summer crop of new CDs brought solid new offerings from three strong singer/songwriter/guitarists in the Central Indiana region. All are steeped in the blues, although, as they show on these new CDs, they are each comfortable and convincing in other genres as well. Below are three thumbnail sketches of the new summer CDs from Brent Bennett, Fast Johnny and Jethro Easyfields.

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Brent Bennett hails from Franklin, a small town about 35 miles south of Indianapolis, with the beautifully restored ArtCraft Theatre and an excellent music scene. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Bennett is better known for his magnificent playing and songwriting in country-rock, which has gotten him regular airplay in Europe and Australia. But he knows and feels the blues as well, and It Must Be the Blues shows it amply.

"Every song is infused with his own personal, soulful interpretation, and Bennett’s approach works on every one."

Bennett sings and plays the blues here with only the minimal accompaniment of Floyd Tucker on bass and Carl LoSasso on drums, but that’s all that’s necessary. The two-man rhythm section is an effective presence throughout, while Bennett is solid on guitar and vocals, doing an excellent seven-song blues repertoire of classic songs from artist/songwriters Ray Charles, Delbert McClinton, Otis Rush, Sam Cooke, B.B. King, Willie Dixon and Fenton Robinson.

Since some of the songs Bennett records on the CD are well-known classics, such as Otis Rush’s “So Many Roads, So Many Trains” and B.B. King’s “You Upset Me Baby,” Bennett knows he can’t get away with just sounding like the original recording. He’s got to make them his own, and he does.

Every song is infused with his own personal, soulful interpretation, and Bennett’s approach works on every one, all the way from the ominous rumination of Ray Charles’s “Blackjack” to the early 1960s R&B of Sam Cooke’s gospel-like “Somebody Have Mercy.” He nicely rocks up B.B. King’s “You Upset Me Baby” and the Willie Dixon-penned “My Babe” that was a classic recording for Little Walter in the early 1950s. He approaches Otis Rush’s “So Many Roads, So Many Trains” in a new way, and demonstrates his mastery of the guitar on his 10-and-a-half-minute rendition of Fenton Robinson’s “Somebody Loan Me A Dime,” where his guitar shines on three solo breaks -- the introduction, the ending and the usual break in the middle.

Bennett consistently shows he is a master of the extended guitar solo, making every note count, but using them only as needed, with no excess playing or gratuitous pyrotechnics to irritate and bore the listener.

Two songs here are not blues, but both add a nice counter-touch to the CD: Bennett’s own “It Must Be The Blues,” which is an acoustic country ballad, and a lyrical instrumental, “Ashkoan Farewell,” which ends It Must Be the Blues on a soft, relaxed note.

It Must Be the Blues is the blues indeed! The CD can be ordered directly from Bennett’s own Web site.

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Fast Johnny’s Mojo Rock is a 20-recording compendium from the musical life of “Fast Johnny” Scharbrough over the past several years. One of Indianapolis’s most distinguished blues guitarists, he self-produced Mojo Rock from studio and live recordings that go back to circa 2003, while also including material from the present. He also wrote or co-wrote all the music.

"The 20 cuts on Mojo Rock are all engaging, and the one-hour total playtime never bores."

Currently leader of the Circle City Blues Band, “Fast Johnny” has been a member of other leading Indianapolis blues and rock bands as well -- such as the Michigan Street Blues Band and the Shifters -- and has played with most of the Circle City’s leading blues and rock musicians, a vast number of whom are featured, and acknowledged, on this CD.

Mojo Rock is a musically solid anthology of material that includes nine vocals and 11 instrumentals, along with five live cuts. Much of the material is blues, blues-rock and jump blues, but “Davo Jamo,” co-written and performed with guitarist “Awesome” Dave Shadiow, is reminiscent of surf music, while “Mojo Rock” combines surf guitar with psychedelia. “Flea Market Man” is a folk-rock “Fast Johnny” vocal that also features Barry Simpson on banjo, with Johnny also doing four other original vocals. And talk about a period piece -- that’s Johnny’s lament about “Two Bucks Gas”!

Another featured vocalist on Mojo Rockis Billy Gee Miller, who’s presently part of the Circle City Blues Band, and a 40-year veteran of blues and soul music. He’s featured on the blues ballad “Blues Is For Lovers,” does the straight soul number “Just Be Yourself” (lyrics written by Jenny Myers), the funky “Magic Box” and the semi-rap “World Peace.”

The 20 cuts on Mojo Rock are all engaging, and the one-hour total playtime never bores. The musical lineup includes several of Indiana’s most accomplished musicians on guitars, keyboards, bass, drums and harp, as well as James Hester on sax, with Jorie Johnson on accompanying vocal on “Blues Is For Lovers.”

And I know that two of the live cuts were recorded in two of Indianapolis’s top venues for original music, Locals Only and the now-legendary Chubby’s Club Lasalle, which Indy’s doyen of original music, Chubby Wadsworth, ran for years and nurtured any number of top area musicians.

Unfortunately, there are no notes other than the usual acknowledgement listings, and the recording quality is sometimes ragged and uneven, with improperly-edited endings and under-micing the chief problems, which gives Mojo Rock more of an “earnest amateur,” rather than a fully professional, cast. Still, Mojo Rock is a worthwhile and enjoyable listen, and can be ordered directly from “Fast Johnny” by e-mailing him at .

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In common with “Fast Johnny” Scharbrough, Jethro Easyfields is also a noted (and notable) singer/songwriter/guitarist in Indianapolis who plays regularly, hosting the open mic at Locals Only, Indianapolis’s top venue for all-genres original music. His forte is folk-rock, which he plays accompanying himself on a plugged-in acoustic guitar with a harmonica in a rack around his neck.

His CD Bookends from the Soul displays his playing style well, which is reminiscent of the late 1960s-early 1970s Bob Dylan in its mildly-rocked folk and country-folk stylings. Accompanying him are Dave Dubrava on drums and Scott Kern on bass and single-string-picking guitar.

"Easyfields is eloquent and forceful in his vocals throughout, with appropriate emotional resonance that can go from lyrical to philosophical to darkly moody."

Eleven of the 12 tracks are recorded live, most of them from Easyfields open mic at Locals Only, with two tracks also from Club Kaboom and Spencers Stadium Tavern, both in Indianapolis as well. The last track, “Until Next Time,” a song of parting and farewell, was recorded in New Orleans with percussion and fiddle accompaniment.

Six of the songs on Bookends from the Soul were written by him as sole composer, and co-wrote the other six. They are also Dylanesque in their brittle, surrealistic lyrics with a philosophical edge, poetic portraits in which Easyfields infuses his wry observations and commentaries on life.

His commentaries also spill over, in early Dylan fashion, into poetic screeds of social and political protest, as in “Beyond Suspicion,” on today’s “homeland security” paranoia, and in “Shame On The Levee,” his protest over government indifference to New Orleans during Katrina. “Caught Myself In A Coffin” is a blues rumination about death and illness, and “Dead Horse Blues” is another blues rumination on death, a slide-guitar mood piece about the death of a horse struck by lightning, and Easyfields’s sense that the steam rising from the horse’s corpse is the animal’s soul leaving the body. “The Cuckoo” is Easyfield’s take on this traditional folk song.

Easyfields is eloquent and forceful in his vocals throughout, with appropriate emotional resonance that can go from lyrical to philosophical to darkly moody. Listening to Bookends from the Soul is like walking through a familiar neighborhood at an unfamiliar time, such as right before dawn or in the last light of dusk, where the shadows and play of dim light render the familiar eerily unfamiliar, that surrealistic sense of being awake while simultaneously participating in a dream.

One striking thing about Bookends from the Soul is how well it is recorded, with the sound quality extremely clear and crisp. It can be ordered directly from Easyfields by e-mailing him at .

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Blues, rock and rockabilly benefit concert to fight cancer in Newcastle on Sept. 13

Newcastle’s Bundy Auditorium will be the site of a benefit to fight cancer Saturday, Sept. 13. The benefit is sponsored by the Forest Ridge Fortune Fund, founded by cancer survivor Shelly Fortune. This is the fifth year for the benefit concerts, which are presented to bring public attention to this frequently deadly disease during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Performers include Billy Gee Miller with the Circle City Blues Band, “International Piano Pumpin' Sensation” Terry Lee and the Rockaboogie Band, Elvis/Rick Nelson tribute artist Duane Fortune and Art Adams, original rockabilly recording artist from 1958. All these artists have generously donated their time and talent.

George Fish can be reached at .