Blue Bella Records is making 2010 its biggest year ever, releasing four varied and exciting new releases on March 16, 2010. Nick Moss returns with his eighth studio album, Privileged, while The Kilborn Alley Blues Band offers up their third release on the imprint, Better Off Now. Blue Bella Records is also pleased to announce debuts by two new additions to the label: Cash Box Kings with I-94 Blues and Matthew Stubbs with Medford & Main. All CDs will be distributed nationally by Burnside Distribution.
After seven critically-acclaimed traditional blues releases (along with two Blues Blast Music Award wins and 16 Blues Music Award nominations under his band's collective belt), Nick Moss is taking a fresh approach and heading in an exciting new direction on Privileged. As Blogcritic Josh Hathaway writes in the liner notes, "Privileged represents a change in direction but not inspiration. Before Nick met Jimmy Rogers, Jimmy Dawkins and Lurrie Bell, he met their musical offspring in the form of Led Zeppelin, The Allman Brothers, Free, Jimi Hendrix, ZZ Top, Cream and other legends who drew their inspiration from Mississippi's Delta and the immortal treasures that sprang from his beloved nearby Chicago."
Moss has written some of the finest songs of his career, and by stretching beyond the traditional blues idiom, he has expanded his sound without losing his identity. That growth can be heard in the album's first track, "Born Leader" as well as new originals "Privileged At Birth" and "Tear 'Em Down." Those songs, combined with Moss' stunning covers of Cream's classic "Politician" and Stephen Stills' "For What It's Worth," continue the path Moss began with his award-winning song "Mistakes From The Past" (from 2007's Play It 'Til Tomorrow) to form a narrative that looks forward and back to assess current events. Perhaps Moss' greatest achievement on Privileged is creating a musical universe diverse enough to incorporate those topical songs with his more traditional side, represented by his cover of Howlin' Wolf's "Louise," and his original tune, "Georgia Redsnake." And what Moss album would be complete without the instrumental that puts Moss' skills as one of the top guitarists of his generation center stage? The eight-minute album closer, "Bolognious Funk," combines his incendiary lead with one of the hardest grooves he's ever recorded.
The Kilborn Alley Blues Band has graduated from the underground and is providing listeners a graduate course in real Chicago blues on their third Blue Bella CD, Better Off Now. Formed in April 2000 when frontman Andrew Duncanson and bassist Chris Breen were still in high school, Kilborn Alley Blues Band has thrilled listeners, combining youthful energy with veteran understanding of the traditions and nuances of pure Chicago blues. KABB's first two records were nominated for Blues Music Awards, and Better Off Now makes the case that the third time should be the charm. What's more, the band recently won the 2009 Blues Blast "Sean Costello Rising Star Award" during the all-star blues gala ceremony at Buddy Guy's Legends last October.
Rounded out by guitarist Josh Stimmel, harpist Joe Asselin, and drummer Ed O'Hara, Kilborn Alley Blues Band has once again taken a collaborative approach to songwriting, which can be heard in their tightly-woven grooves that eschew self-indulgent solos and unwarranted flash.
These guys take their work seriously but they clearly know how to have a good time, as evidenced by the rowdy Nick Moss-penned "Watch It" and the inventive "You Can Have the Tail," the former a shuffle with Magic Slim-like power and the latter a showcase for Asselin's stinging harp. The randy call-and-response rocker "Woah Yeah Woman" leaves no doubt as to what Andrew is so enthused about with his lady. They change pace with the irresistible instrumental, "Bubbleguts," and then turn in some serious work with "Foolsville" and the tortured blues of "Keep Me Hangin'," featuring some of Duncanson's most intense vocals to date.
In his writings on Better Off Now, noted journalist Bill Dahl points out that, "One distinguishing factor setting Kilborn Alley well apart from the pack is the band's uncommon versatility, which gives them a style of their own. From the outset, their principal influences were a wide-ranging array of heavyweights. 'Muddy, early Chess, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy following that,' says Duncanson. 'Vocals were heavily influenced by R&B, such as Little Milton, Johnnie Taylor, Tyrone Davis, and Buddy Ace.' Following in those hallowed traditions, they dish up back-alley blues, anguished soul ballads, and churning R&B workouts, comfortably playing all of them because unlike so many of their peers, they comprehend the inexorable connections between each genre and make them their own."
In his liner note on I-94 Blues, Matthew Socey (host of "Blues House Party" on WFYI 90.1, Indianapolis) points out that, on their Blue Bella Records debut, Cash Box Kings (Joe Nosek, Chris Boeger, Kenny Smith) have some mighty fine company joining them. Oscar Wilson shares vocal duties with Nosek (who wails on harp throughout). Also appearing are a few of the honorary "Kings" that regularly perform live with the band: drummer/percussionist Mark Haines, Jimmy Sutton on upright bass and backing vocals, Joel Paterson on guitar, Billy Flynn on guitar, mandolin and banjo, plus the one and only Barrelhouse Chuck on the black and whites. That's a Blues House Party if there ever was one.
The band combines mostly original material with a few not-so-obvious covers. The first half of the album features two tunes from Muddy Waters, "Hard Days Blues" and "Country Boy." Muddy's spirit lives on in the stinging slide guitar of Joel Paterson on Nosek's "St. Paul Wintertime Blues" and on Billy Flynn's gritty slide work during the slow stomp "Tried So Hard."
The ensemble also dips back into the blues of the 1930s with "Mellow Chick Swing" and "I-94 Blues;" both feature the standup bass goodness of Jimmy Sutton and "94" features Billy Flynn on banjo, an instrument not often heard in the world of blues music. Flynn also shows his prowess on yet another string instrument with some blistering mandolin playing on the CBK original "Quesadilla Boogie." Wailing harmonica abounds on the Nosek original, "Fallin' Down," which also features Kenny Smith's patented, hard-driving shuffle.
Plugged, unplugged, harmonica driven, piano driven, guitar driven, vocal driven, rhythm driven, these guys do it all. As it says in the CD's liner as well as on the tray card, "The Cash Box Kings are another sign the Chicago blues scene is alive and well. Between the multiple voices and stellar instrumental play, there's some tasty blues gumbo right here. Grab a spoon and enjoy."
Matthew Stubbs is a poet. But this 2009 Blues Audience Magazine Award Winner for "Outstanding Guitarist" and "2009 Boston Music Award Nominee for "Best Blues Act" uses a guitar instead of a pen. So notes Dennis Brennan in his reflections on the new Blue Bella release, Medford & Main. "Matt's thing on this recording is soul and blues-based guitar music. Like all the greats—Booker T. & the MGs, Freddie King and Stuff—the music connects with this listener in a primal way. I want to dance. I want to sing, and I want to make up my own words."
Currently, Matthew Stubbs is performing with the legendary Charlie Musselwhite, as well as with his own outfit, The Matthew Stubbs Band. Before joining Musselwhite on the road, Stubbs did time with R&B sensation John Nemeth, and also spent a year and a half touring North America with blues diva Janiva Magness. Matthew Stubbs can also be found doing select tours/shows with Lynwood Slim, Junior Watson, Sax Gordon, Brian Templeton and many other top acts.
As a bandleader and composer, Stubbs has earned himself a reputation for his ability to write tremendously catchy instrumentals. The songs that he composes are a cocktail of Memphis Soul, Blues, R&B, Surf, Rock n' Roll and Groove, all perfectly mixed together. His real knack is being able to blend all of these styles seamlessly, without overwhelming the listener. Frank-John Hadley of Downbeat Magazine notes, "Stubbs finds the right combination of tone and phrasing to make his tunes sound fresh."
Blues guitarist Rick Holmstrom perhaps sums it up best: "The thing I like best about Matt Stubbs' playing is that he leaves space. There are plenty of young blues guitarists who can play a whole lot of guitar, and Matt can hang with 'em all, but there are very few who understand that it's important to let it breathe. I dig the economy and simplicity of Matt's playing. He's got an old soul." Six-string virtuoso Junior Watson also puts it into these simple terms: "Now here's a guy who understands taste. Check him out!" That's an impressive endorsement coming from one of the tastiest guitarists out there!