Big Mike & the R&B Kings and more

Big Mike & the R&B Kings - This Song's for You
Big Mike dishes out a big helping of Chicago blues with a funky bent here, specializing in buoyant grooves like the anthemic "Last Night," a "let's howl at the moon" barn burner, and slow, smoking songs of regret like "Played a Fool." Big Mike sings and plays bass on all, backed by a super-tight band that includes guitarist Rex Canieso and sax man Bob Sass, each of whom get plenty of time in the spotlight. "Save Some Funk for Sunday" adds a little psychedelia to an earthy and jazzy jam; a similar vibe permeates "Mr. Big Funky," a cut where the band is really boiling. The album's title cut is a slow and mellow love song, but mostly Big Mike & the R&B Kings are pushing listeners toward the dance floor here.

Will Jacobs & Marcos Coll - Takin' Our Time
Jacobs is a singer and guitarist originally from Chicago but now living in Berlin, here teaming up with Spanish harmonica player Marcos Coll, also currently a resident of Berlin. The pair begin the effort by romping through the Z.Z. Hill-associated "It Ain't Safe," a Clarence Carter/George Jackson co-write with amusing lyrics advising against cheating; "It's safer for you to choke a gorilla with a shoestring/Than for you to ever cause me any heartaches or pain" for example. Jacobs is in his twenties but he sings with a voice that is clearly experienced beyond his years, while Coll has a ball on cuts like "Stranded" where he is up front for a good deal of the song, and on the funky instrumental "C.J.s Bounce." Another fun cut is also an instrumental; the fast, harmonica-driven dance track "Blues Cazorla Boogie" also features twangy guitar and just screams "I dare you to sit still for this one!"

Mary Lane - Travelin' Woman
Lane doesn't sing like the 83-year-old that she is but all that cumulative life experience shows up in the music here; not only does Mary know her way around the Chicago blues but she knows too about the subject matter. On "Ain't Gonna Cry No More," a my-man-done-left-me song, she's adamant about not crying over the situation, when in real life you know she's shed buckets of tears. Similarly, "Leave That Wine Alone" offers prudent advice, and no doubt she's felt the emotion expressed in the slow and soulful "Let Me into Your Heart" many times. The listen here is incredibly warm because Lane has an amazing knack for making it all seem so personal.

Mark Hummel - Wayback Machine
This generous 16-track effort features Hummel on vocals and harmonica, Joe Beard on guitar and vocals, Billy Flynn on guitar and the duo the Deep Basement Shakers on piano and percussion. Hummel's voice sometimes sounds a bit like Randy Newman's, albeit with a deeper blues bent, and the album title Wayback Machine refers to the fact that Hummel was going for a 'rural feel' with these songs. He honors the early Chicago blues sound with tracks like "So Much Trouble," the shuffling "Cut That Out" and the self-penned "Road Dog." Especially old-timey are the harmonica-showcasing instrumental "Breathtaking Blues," and vocal cuts "Crazy about You" and "Rag Mama Rag" (not the The Band song.) Fans of traditional blues sounds will very much enjoy Hummel's trip in the Wayback Machine.

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