Steve Howell
My Mind Gets to Ramblin'
Out of the Past Records TP003

David Egan
You Don't Know Your Mind
Out of the Past Records/Rhonda Sue Records TP004

The-gray and white in the facial hair of Steve Howell and David Egan, as pictured on their respective CD sleeves, shows that these are two seasoned veterans who've been honing their chops for a long time and have devoted years to mastering their musical art.

That seasoned excellence makes both these CDs, Howell's My Mind Gets to Ramblin' and Egan's You Don't Know Your Mind, stand out as masterpieces of two very different approaches to the blues. Howell is an acoustic guitarist and vocalist whose forte is the classic country blues of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, while piano player/songwriter/singer Egan's music is steeped in the savory jambalaya of the variegated blues, R&B and rock 'n' roll of New Orleans.

"While richly steeped in the traditions of their respective musical approaches, neither player is simply derivative or a mere copycat."

But both CDs have a contemporary bent: Howell's re-creation of the classic blues is brought up to date with the addition of drums, electric bass and second electric guitar on two tracks, while Egan gives forth with 11 original songs that lovingly partake from the rich gumbo of jazz, R&B, blues and zydeco of his native Louisiana.

Yet, while richly steeped in the traditions of their respective musical approaches, neither player is simply derivative or a mere copycat. Both CDs are rich not just in artistry, but in originality as well.

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The 13 tracks on Howell's My Mind Gets to Ramblin' offer 10 songs of the prewar country blues, with the addition of the instrumental "Windy & Warm" from Nashville songwriter John D. Loudermilk; the venerable spiritual "Joshua F'it The Battle of Jericho;" and Muddy Water's 1948 classic, "I Can't Be Satisfied," an early city blues hit that Waters performed on solo electric guitar. The other 10 tracks are a rich potpourri of the traditional acoustic country blues by masters such as Robert Johnson, Memphis Minnie, Bo Carter, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Mance Lipscomb and the Rev. Robert Wilkins, along with the obscure Willie Brown of Sadie Beck's Plantation in Arkansas and Kid Bailey, who recorded two songs and then disappeared.

Howell has given us a tasty assortment of the classic country blues here, a blues repertoire that demonstrates the variety and richness that inheres in the old-time blues.

The variegated, versatile drumming of Darren or David Osborn, plus the electric bass playing of Joe Osborn, provide a contemporary backdrop to 12 of the 13 cuts on My Mind Gets to Ramblin', with Joe Osborn's strong bass lines frequently serving as a second guitar. This contemporary feel is further enhanced by the electric slide guitar of Buddy Flett on Robert Johnson's "Steady Rollin' Man," and the electric guitar of Jim Caskey on Mance Lipscomb's "Ain't You Sorry?"

"Howell's guitar picking is crystalline perfection, and his understated vocals are emphatic and expressive."

Denise Spohn adds second vocal emphasis to Mississippi Fred McDowell's "Louise," while Memphis Minnie's "Ain't Nothin' In Ramblin' has a blues-rock feel. "Prodigal Son," Rev. Robert Wilkin's retelling of the story from the Gospel of Luke, adds a second spiritual to the CD, joining "Joshua F'it The Battle of Jericho." There is unattributed organ on "Windy & Warm," and Howell plays solo guitar on the extensively-recorded traditional lament of murder and burying, "All My Friends Are Gone."

Howell's guitar picking is crystalline perfection, and his understated vocals are emphatic and expressive. More than just idiomatically correct, My Mind Gets to Ramblin' is a soulful and softly dynamic re-creation of the acoustic country blues for a modern audience.

The extensive notes accompanying the CD give concise yet thorough depictions of the songs, their original artists, and recording histories; and, as a plus for all those listeners who are musicians, also list the instruments played and the mics used in recording.

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Louisiana native David Egan penned memorable songs for Percy Sledge, Johnny Adams, Joe Cocker and other artists and also served as a piano-playing sideman with many New Orleans bands. You Don't Know Your Mind features him on lead vocals, piano and organ, backed by guitars, bass, drums, background vocal chorus, horns and harmonica, on 11 of his original compositions that are solidly based in the 1950s and early 1960s musical tradition of the Big Easy.

"Egan is seasoned songwriter whose truly original song lyrics possess the maturity and reflection of the blues and are multiply thematic as well."

Nine of the songs are solidly within the piano-driven signature sound of New Orleans blues, R&B and rock 'n' roll, with three of them especially evocative of two New Orleans R&B/rock piano masters - "Proud Dog" recalling Huey "Piano" Smith, and "You're Lyin' Again" and "Smile" recalling Fats Domino. The slow and moody "Bourbon In My Cup" reminds one of Charles Brown.

"If It Is What It Is (It's Love)" is a jazz vocal duet with Jennifer Nicely that brings to mind a mellow Louis Prima and Keely Smith, while "Small Fry" is an up-tempo lullaby with an edge written for his son. The autobiographical "Money's Farm" has a rhumba beat, while the exuberant "Sing It" is zydeco.

Egan provides a rich, varied repertoire of sounds based on the traditional music of New Orleans, just as Howell does with the country blues.

Egan is seasoned songwriter whose truly original song lyrics possess the maturity and reflection of the blues and are multiply thematic as well. The title track, "You Don't Know Your Mind" (written with Buddy Fletts), "You're Lyin' Again," "Love Honor And Obey," and "Best Of Love Turned Blue" are about bad love, "If It Is What It Is (It's Love)" about good love, and "Sing It," "Proud Dog," and "Smile" offer philosophies of life. "Money's Farm" tells a story of youthful transgression.

Chris Belleau's trombone is a notable presence on several tracks, and his trombone interacts nicely with Dennis Taylor's baritone sax on "Sing It." You Don't Know Your Mind is a strongly original CD steeped in the variegated tradition that is the Big Easy's music. Further, it's a welcome change of pace to find a well-done CD that's piano driven instead of guitar driven.

Both My Mind Gets to Ramblin' and You Don't Know Your Mind can be ordered online at Order@bcddistribution.com.

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A Tragic Night 50 Years Ago - Feb. 3, 1958

That was the night when three young stars of rock 'n' roll met their deaths when the airplane they were traveling in crashed shortly after take-off from Clear Lake, Iowa, in the wee hours of the morning. Buddy Holly, 22, who became a rock 'n' roll singer after he'd heard Elvis in concert in his native Lubbock, Texas, had a number of hits since 1957 with his band, the Crickets, notably "That'll Be The Day" and "Peggy Sue."

Ritchie Valens, only 17, was the first Mexican American to break into the rock 'n' roll charts, and was riding high with his hit, "Donna," and its flip side, the Spanish-language "La Bamba."

The Big Bopper, 28, was a former DJ whose novelty single "Chantilly Lace" was ranked No. 6 on the pop charts when he died. All three were starring in the Winter Dance Party Tour that was covering 24 cities in three weeks, and were on their way to their next gig in Minnesota. It was a tragedy that rocked the rock 'n' roll world at that time and is still remembered, and commemorated, to this day.

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Hot happenings on the Indianapolis blues scene

An outstanding new Chicago-style blues band, the Magic Lantern, has just formed in Indianapolis and played its first gig last Friday, Jan. 30, at the Gas Light Inn, a smallish neighborhood bar on Indianapolis's South Side, at 2280 S. Meridian. Magic Lantern is composed of Vince Mullin, electric guitar and vocals; with Allen Stratyner, harp and vocals; Mike Strauss, electric bass; and Greg Cole, drums. Both Mullin and Stratyner played in the bands of the legendary Yank Rachell, and are top-rate musicians.

"Blues in neighborhood bars is making new headway in Indianapolis."

Strauss plays both electric and acoustic stand-up bass with several other local bands, and drummer Cole is a veteran of many local groups. Mullin was in especially good form that night, demonstrating great, soulful virtuosity on guitar, while Stratyner, one of the best blues harpists in the area, provided solid amplified harp licks and did a solo-harp-and-vocal rendition of Rice Miller's "Bye Bye Bird." An enthusiastic crowd cheered on the band and got up regularly to dance to the excellent music, where Mullin brought down the house with his long rendition of Freddie King's "Hideaway."

Blues in neighborhood bars is making new headway in Indianapolis. Clubs such as the Gas Light and the Vollrath, 118 E. Palmer, both on the South Side, are booking bands, and strong open mics are taking place on Indianapolis's East Side at the Shi-Kay, 1514 N. Emerson, and Weebles, at 3725 N. Shadeland.

The Shi-Kay jam is hosted by vocalist Bill Medlock and features several members of the Wolfpack Revival, a solid band, and has featured several of Indianapolis's top players at its biweekly jams, including local guitarist luminaries "Fast Johnny" Scharbrough (whose CD, Mojo Rock, was reviewed in the September 7, 2008 "Blues and More"), Terry Glass, Steve Brown (whose group, the Stone Martin Band, was the subject of the April 20, 2008 "Blues and More"), and vocalist Jerome Mills. The Shi-Kay jam is every other Thursday, with one just past on Feb. 5 and the next on Feb. 19.

The Weebles's open mic is every Sunday night and is hosted by Jay Stein, another master harpman in Indianapolis, and keyboardist Charlie Cheesman, who played in Paul Butterfield's band. Stein played regularly with the late Leroy "Lefty" Bates, an Indianapolis bluesman who played and recorded bass and guitar with Jimmy Reed when he lived in Chicago and played in Yank Rachell's band.

Although Indianapolis has a number of highly accomplished musicians, its music scene is quite unknown nationally and usually overlooked. Part of the problem is that there is not a lot of active interest in either live music or original artists in Indianapolis, so almost all working musicians here have to hold day jobs and are not free to tour.

Another problem locally is that Indianapolis's general parochialism and lack of creative imagination holds back local artists who record CDs from effectively marketing them. Most local recording artists seem content with just trying to market their CDs at the shows they play and don't really try for airplay or larger distribution.

"Although Indianapolis has a number of highly accomplished musicians, its music scene is quite unknown nationally and usually overlooked."

It also has to be noted that those Indianapolis musicians who have gotten national recording contracts have been roundly disappointing. Country band The Wright Brothers, rockers Henry Lee Summer and Duke Tumatoe, and the rock group The Why Store all got national recording contracts and released albums that were disappointing and went nowhere.

There's also Indiana's hidebound musical culture to consider. The 1964 one-hit wonder "California Sun" by The Rivieras from South Bend still gets touted by Indiana DJs, while one of the greatest R&B band of all time, with many national hits under its belt, Jr. Walker and the All-Stars, also from South Bend, is ignored.

And though both Yank Rachell and the equally legendary Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell, who wrote and recorded many blues classics in the 1920s and 1930s, including "How Long Blues," all lived in Indianapolis, they are all but forgotten. Such are the doldrums that prevent Indianapolis's top players from getting the recognition they deserve.

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Yours truly gets a chance to blow his own horn!

I don't write music or play a musical instrument, but I do write song lyrics - and I'm proud to note that my good friends, the Indianapolis Chicago-style blues band Highway Nine, has taken one of my songs, "Goin' Back To New Orleans," adapted the lyrics to fit the music the band composed for it, and both recorded it on CD and regularly play it in their sets. They also gave me joint composing credit. A solid band that does much original and classic blues material not usually done by other local bands, Highway Nine is presently composing and recording much original music.

I will also be doing blues CD reviews and covering live shows for the online monthly Blues Blast magazine, published by the Illinois Blues Society. Subscription to Blues Blast is free, and all one has to do to receive it is sign up through info@illinoisblues.com.

The reviews I've done for "Blues and More" are also getting notice, which is more than just notice for me personally - it's also good publicity for The Bloomington Alternative. My reviews have earned kudos from two national artists I reviewed, folk-blues guitarist Davis Coen (whose CD was reviewed in the July 27, 2008 "Blues and More"), and by Memphis-based band FreeWorld (whose CD was also reviewed there Oct. 19, 2008), and other "Blues and More" reviews are posted or linked (or soon will be) to the websites of Kelly Richey (...), Bob Corritore (...), Mike Milligan and Steam Shovel (...) and Yank Rachell (...).

The ol' "Blues Fin Tuna" is steppin' out!

George Fish can be reached at georgefish666@yahoo.com.