BLUES BLAST MAGAZINE Issue 14-38 September 17, 2020
Review: Marty Gunther
Neil Barnes – Bald Guy with a Lot on His Mind
Bar-B-Q Sound Recordings BBQSR 2020
10 songs – 45 minutes
San Francisco-based harp player Neil Barnes pulls out all the stops for his latest CD, enlisting the services of studio wizards Kid Anderson and Big Jon Atkinson and assembling an all-star lineup to deliver a set of the tastiest West Coast blues you’ll hear this year.
A product of the ‘60s influenced by Paul Butterfield and Lee Oskar, he was so enamored of the playing of Charlie Musselwhite that he caught as many of his shows as he could and then actually took a private lesson from him after getting up the courage to ask for one. His primary teacher, however, was the exceptionally gifted Gary Smith, the godfather of the South Bay Area blues scene.
He’s has been a recording artist since fronting the band Bar-B-Que Barnes and the Rib-Tones in the early ‘80s, a group that gigged with San Francisco stalwarts Johnny Waters and Sonny Lane and recorded 45s with keyboard player Little Willie Littlefield, the first man ever to record “Kansas City,” as well as guitarists Ron Thompson and Junior Watson and bassist Bill Stuve, the longtime member of Rod Piazza’s band. A self-titled EP followed a few years later before Barnes began working in an acoustic duo.
A deserving, but under-recorded artist who shies away from the microphone, Neil’s released two CDs in the past decade, This Was Then Now in 2012 and the well-received Hyde and Seek in 2014, an album that featured contributions from soul/gospel superstar Earl Thomas and Lady Bianca, a veteran of Sly & the Family Stone and Van Morrison, on vocals.
Barnes has devoted most of his time behind the scenes producing works for other artists — most recently a digital gospel release for Lady Bianca, but this one was recorded at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios, Big Jon Atkinson’s at Bigtone Studios and Hyde Park Studios. Both Thomas and Lady B. return on vocals along with the sultry Lauren Halliwell and former Candye Kane guitarist Kyle Jester.
The lineup’s chockful of talent, including Johnny Cat Soubrand (Terry Hanck Band), Andersen, Atkinson and Thompson in some of his final recordings on guitar, Sid Morris, Lady B. and Paul Smith on keyboards, June Core, Winfred Williams and Robi Bean on drums, Mike Phillips, Oshmin O. Oden and Vance Elhers on bass.
Propelled by a funky bass line from Phillips, the sweet, original instrumental “Going to Greaseland (aka Cruisin’ Down Crystal Ridge)” swings from the jump to open with Morris leading the action on keys and Barnes providing harp accents before Soubrand and Andersen trade licks as they join the action. Halliwell rich alto debuts for the first time on a stellar, blues-drenched, unhurried cover of Dinah Washington’s “I Don’t Hurt Anymore.”
Lady B. and Thomas take charge on the mic — sharing vocals with Bianca on keys — for the gospel-tinged “Rough Side of the Mountain” – the first of two consecutive previously tunes that went unreleased after the Hide and Seeksessions. She’s aided by Thompson’s low-end runs on six-string. He adds an interesting, minor-key lead in “Sugar Mamma,” next. It’s a stripped-down blues in which Neil’s harp skills shine accompanied only by drums.
Halliwell’s back in charge for a full-bore blues redo of The Band’s “Ophelia” before an instrumental take on Chuck Berry’s “Deep Feeling.” Once the B-side to “School Day,” Barnes is front and center on this one, delivering powerful single-note runs. His original, “Placerville Gold,” which follows with Jester at the mic, draws its inspiration from Neil’s wife, who once owned a coffee shop in town in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
“Wait, Wait, Wait” – a tune first recorded by Tracy Nelson when she was a member of Mother Earth in the ‘60s – follows before a take on Ray Charles’ “Funny but I Still Love You” with Halliwell more than holding her own on both. The disc concludes with Jester delivering the original, “Along Came the Blues,” a down-to-earth reminder that no matter how good things are going right now, they could change in a heartbeat.
Like Hide and Seek six years ago, Bald Guy with a Lot on His Mind is a pleaser on all counts and a welcome addition to any blues lover’s collection.
Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.
BLUES JUNCTION "RECOMMENDED LISTENING" David Mac September 16, 2020
Welcome to the September edition of our Recommended Listening feature. Here we offer up for your consideration eight new and soon to be released CDs. Thanks to our regular contributors Charlie Lange and Jeff Scott Fleenor for giving me a hand with some of these new releases.
NEIL BARNES: A BALD GUY WITH A LOT ON HIS MIND
The man who used to perform under the alliterative sobriquet of B-B-Q Barnes and led a band called the Rib-Tones is still cooking. The latest release by veteran bay area harmonica player and songwriter Neil Barnes is a collection of songs recorded at three separate locations over the past few years. Traditional blues grooves are featured on this fine release. Highlights include the instrumentals, two of which were recorded at Jon Atkinson’s Big Tone Studios when those facilities were based in the east bay. Six of the album's ten tracks were produced by Kid Andersen and recorded at his Greaseland Studios in San Jose. Andersen also mixed and mastered the two numbers recorded by Atkinson. His indelible prints are all over Bald Guy with a Lot on his Mind. Other album highlights include the two tracks recorded at the Hyde Street Studios in San Francisco. These feature the guitar of Ron Thompson. The recently departed blues man sings on one of these tunes, a Thompson original entitled Sugar Mama. Bald Guy… has a great supporting cast. However, the star turns out to be the tasteful, understated harmonica stylings of Barnes. His playing is restrained and therefore effective. He never gets in the way of the song or the vocalists who deliver their missives with the clarity one would expect from some well written originals and carefully curated covers. Bald Guy with a Lot on his Mind is Barnes’ finest album in several years. - D.M.
KCXU LP 97.2 Radio - San Jose, CA Interview with Manu Martinez Sept. 17, 2020
Featured interview on the backgorund of the "Bald Guy With A Lot On His Mind" CD.
"Bald Guy With A Lot On His Mind" CD featured on the Leslie Fleury "Blues Odyssey Playlists and Hot Listening" 7 Sept. 2020, on KSER 90.7 Radio located in Everett, Washington.
The "Bald Guy With A Lot On His Mind" was featured on the Joel Astely Art + Music Facebook show on 6 Sept. 2020
August 1, 2020
Featured in the Premier Edition (August 2020) of Rock And Blues International digital music magazine. Article by Kevin Wildman. www.rockandbluesinternational.com
“Hyde and Seek HS2014 Little-know San Francisco Bay Area harmonica blower Neil Barnes has long had a talent for producing recordings on which he surrounds himself with some of the region's finest musicians. Billed as Bar-B-q Barnes, he cut a series of sessions between 1980 and 1982 with such players as guitarists Ron Thompson, Junior Watson, Luther Tucker, Mississippi Johnny Waters and Sonny Lane, pianists Little Willie Littlefield, Sid Morris and Mark Naftalin, bassist Bill Stuve and drummer Francis Clay- of which the Barnes composition Blues For Breakfast, featuring Thompson's vocals and Littlefields piano, is especially memorable. Barnes issued 15 tracks from that period in 2007 on a CD titled This Was Then, Now. Barnes recorded a new CD earlier this year at San Francisco's Hyde Street Studio titled Hyde and Seek. Thompson is back on hand to lend some slashing slide guitar to ensemble arrangements, as well as deliver an impassioned vocal rendition of the 1953 Faye Adams hit Shake A Hand. San Diego's Earl Thomas handles the majority of the lead vocals on the nine-song set, singing in powerful, low tenor tones with precise enunciation. Oakland singer Lady Bianca duets with Thomas on an effusive, gospel-styled reading of Bridge Over Troubled Water and on a rousing remake of the 1983 gospel classic Rough Side Of The Mountain by F.C. Barnes and Sister Janice Brown. She also plays piano and contributes backup vocals in harmony with Tia Carroll. Barnes himself weaves clear-toned, melodically rich mouth harp in a manner that brings to mind Lee Oscar of War. Organist Reverend Paul Smith, bassist Oshmin Oden (Bianca's son) and drummer Winfred Williams complete the personnel. There's only one 12-bar blues in the set, Don't Let The Devil Ride, which is actually a gospel blues that was penned by reverend Oris Mays and popularized by Brother Joe may. Among other selections on this outstanding, highly electric disc are Allen Toussaint's When Can I Come Home and Tears, Tears and More Tears, Joe Droukas' Heart Like A Locomotive (previously recorded by Paul Butterfield) and Cage The Elephant's Ain't No Rest For The Wicked. ” - Lee Hildebrand
“THIS BLUES HAS SOUL by Dan Forte (c) 2015; reprinted by permission of the author; from Vintage Guitar Magazine. Blues harpist Neil Barnes is one of the greater San Francisco area's best-kept secrets. His 2007 CD, This Was Then, Now, is a compilation of a 45 and EP he released in the '80's, along with some previously unreleased live material. For having such a small recorded output, he sure knows how to get results in the studio. As producer, his concept here was to focus on the soul/gospel side of the blues, with a dash of New Orleans spice. On guitar is Ron Thompson, another Bay Area fixture and one of the best blues guitarists anywhere, straight or slide. Vocals are handled by Earl Thomas and Lady Bianca, with the latter's piano teaming with Rev. Paul Smith's B-3 for that perfect church vibe. The solid but supple rhythm section section of bassist Oshmin Oden and drummer Winfred Williams complete the ensemble, with everyone singing and playing live in the room at San Fran's famed Hyde Street Studios, used by acts as diverse as James Brown, the Grateful Dead, Herbie Hancock, and Green Day. Closing with Allen Toussaint's "Tears, Tears, And More Tears" (besting Lee Dorsey's original hit), it's hard imagine achieving results like this any other way. ” - Dan Forte
“ NEIL BARNES Hyde And Seek (Neil Barnes Music) Veteran blues harpist and producer Neil Barnes released Hyde And Seek on CD in 2015. The 9 track CD is an all star blues-rock album featuring the cream of the crop of San Francisco Bay Area blues greats including singer Earl Thomas, Lady Bianca (piano, vocals) Rev. Paul Smith (organ), Ron Thompson (guitars) and much more, all backing up Barnes on his wailing harmonica. For the most part, Hyde And Seek is mostly a hard hitting blues rock set but a heartfelt cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (subtitled here as “A Song For Jill”) adds another dimension to the album. There’s just one original here, written by singer Earl Thomas, with the CD mostly featuring tracks penned by Oris Mays, Allen Toussaint and the above mentioned Earl Thomas. Speaking about Hyde And Seek, Barnes explains, “I wanted to move forward with a gospel blues release because these particular songs resonate with me. I can only begin to tell you how excited we are to share Hyde & Seek with the world. This is a unique collaboration of world class musicians.” Music fans take note: Hyde And Seek is one of the coolest blues-rock albums of the decade. www.NeilBarnesMusic.com ” - Robert Setven Silverstein
“Hyde And Seek – featuring Earl Thomas, Lady Bianca. Ron Thompson & Neil Barnes Self-produced CD 9 songs – 42 minutes www.neilbarnesmusic.com San Francisco-based producer Neil Barnes came up with the idea for this concept album, which features gospel-tinged blues as it fuses together some of the best musical talent the Bay Area has to offer. A skilled, but under-recorded harmonica player, Barnes fell in love with all of the tunes contained here and assembled the talent to put them out for the world to hear. A student of Charlie Musselwhite, he fronted the band Bar-B-Q Barnes and the Rib Tones in the ‘80s before an acoustic duo career, but he’s remained primarily in the background. He’s acquired some pretty powerful friends along the way, however. He recruited three-time Grammy nominated vocalist/keyboardist Lady Bianca, former John Lee Hooker bandleader Ron Thompson, a guitarist with seven stellar CDs of his own, and West Coast soul blues superstar Earl Thomas to join him in the famed Hyde Street Studio — where James Brown, Green Day, Herbie Hancock and the Grateful Dead all laid down tracks — to bring this work to fruition. They’re aided by the Rev. Paul Smith — who’s worked with Ike and Tina Turner, Bill Withers and Natalie Cole — on organ and a top-notch rhythm section: Oshmin Oden on bass and Winfred Williams on drums. Tia Carroll, another Bay Area treasure, provides backing vocals on two songs while Barnes adds harp throughout. Available through CDBaby and iTunes, the disc opens with Bianca and Thomas sharing vocals for the powerful “Don’t Let The Devil Ride.” Penned by the Rev. Oris Mays, it may be familiar to some blues fans, having been previously covered by Lurrie Bell. The steady shuffle provides a good clue as to what will follow: A heaping helping of solid blues with a positive message. Thomas takes command for the slow tempo “Heart Like A Locomotive,” a Joe Droukas original, which delivers a message of faith brimming with positive images of love in a relationship affected by separation. Next up, Thomas and Bianca team to deliver “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked,” an uptempo number first delivered by the rock band Cage The Elephant, before the band put their own spin on the Simon and Garfunkel ‘60s chart-topper, “A Song For Jill (Bridge Over Troubled Water).” The harmonica-and-keyboard lead-in take it straight to church with Bianca leading the choir. The first of two Allen Toussaint tunes on the CD, “When Can I Come Home,” Allen Toussaint follows with Thomas taking command. He yields vocals to guitarist Thompson for the familiar “Shake A Hand,” giving a churchy feel to what was a hit for Faye Adams in 1953. The ensemble dips into the catalog of Malaco/Atlanta International Records gospel superstar, the Rev. F.C. Barnes for “Rough Side Of The Mountain” before the Thomas original, “Just One Word.” Another Toussaint standard, the syncopated, uptempo “Tears, Tears And More Tears,” concludes the set. This is a great CD on many levels. The musicianship and messages shine. And if you’re not a religious or spiritual person, have no fear: Despite the gospel flavor, the religious message always bubbles beneath the surface in a way certain not to offend. Play it loud and enjoy! For a free track off this great album, check out our May Blues Overdose feature on soundcloud at https://soundcloud.com/bluesblast Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. His first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.” - Marty Gunther
“ Original e-mail review from Ron Haney to John_InHouston PR: More frequently than not these days new blues releases tend to fall into a homogenous mix of over-produced, over distorted and even over-played attempts to showcase the artist’s “blues-ness”. I am, and have always been, of the opinion that if someone is a true blues they don’t need to try so hard to convince listeners of their authenticity. This can muddy the music and come off as just what it is...an attempt to convince someone of something that just isn’t there naturally. Neil Barnes, on his latest CD release, Hyde and Seek, has gathered a group of musicians and vocalists that are so true to the genre they couldn’t hide it if they wanted to. From the first track, Don’t Let the Devil Ride, to the last, Tears, Tears and More Tears, the listener is taken on a blues pilgrimage that exemplifies what the genre is all about while at the same time embracing the essence of other powerful genres like gospel, rock and even R&B. It’s so refreshing to hear a group of players and artists just simply do their material without trying to convince us of anything. When the true authenticity and God-given gifts are present and allowed to speak forth no convincing is necessary. The music, message and delivery stands for itself. This project sets the standard for all other blues artists (of any particular sub-persuasion) to mark time and essence. Sit down, put it in your player and set aside time to absorb what is coming out of your speakers. You will be transported on a journey far to rare in today’s music. Not a total blues fan? No problem, there is something here for lovers of many styles of music. But, most of all, let the music and the message of each song drive. Once you return, you will certainly know you have been some place special. Ron Haney- Take One Creative www.take1creative.com P.S. By the way, John...you are precisely correct...this project is cross-over material if there ever has been one. Personally, I like the mixture of soulfulness, rockin', honest approach to the entire album. The gospel influences, in my opinion, will do much to drive the cd into a number of other niches, as well. Thanks for turning me on to this group of artists. It's great to know they are out there keeping it real and keeping it going. I feel like I just found a one hundred dollar bill in an old suit! Ron” - Ron Haney
— E-mail Review to John_InHouston PR