Sue Foley’s New Album Celebrates Texas Blues

Canadian blues veteran pays homage to artists who prompted her move to the lone star state more than 30 years ago

If you frequently read my blog or know my music taste otherwise, this post probably won’t come as a big surprise. My latest Best of What’s New installment included Dallas Man, an excellent tune by Canadian blues veteran Sue Foley from her new album Pinky’s Blues. When the music is so great, there’s no way I wouldn’t check out the album. Well, that’s what I did, and I very much like what I heard.

Released on October 22, Pinky’s Blues is the 11th studio album by Foley who relocated to Austin, Texas in her early ’20s, drawn to the lone star state by the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Freddie King. Now, after all these years, Foley decided to pay homage to some of the blues artists who were born in Texas or ended up there.

According to a news post on the website of Foley’s record label Stone Plain Records, Pinky’s Blues was recorded last year during COVID lockdown at Fire Station Studios in San Marcos, Texas. In addition to Foley (guitar, vocals), the album features Jon Penner (bass), Chris “Whipper” Layton (drums) and Mike Flanigin (organ) who also served as producer.

Seven of the 10 tracks are renditions of songs by artists like Lavelle White, Frankie Lee Sims, Lillie Mae Donley and Angela Strehli. While there’s no Stevie Ray Vaughan or Freddie King here, it’s still a compelling set of tunes Foley picked to cover. And there are three great original songs, including the aforementioned Dallas Man.

“What you’re hearing is live, off the floor, in the moment the music was played totally spontaneously and, mainly, improvised,” Foley explained. “And, we wanted to make something representative of the Texas blues that we had been schooled on in Austin. So, we picked great songs and I wrote a few of my own to round things out. Everything on it is a labor of love.”

Well, I’d say the time has come to sample some of the goodies! Let’s start with the title track, which also happens to be the opener. Pinky’s Blues, an instrumental written by Foley, refers to her pink paisley Fender Telecaster (called Pinkie) she’s played for decades. Check out that neat sound!

Since I recently covered Dallas Man, I’m skipping it here and go to Southern Men. Originally called Southern Women, the song was written by Leonard Allen and recorded by blues and R&B artist Tommy Brown in 1954.

Here’s Hurricane Girl, the third tune written by Foley. I just love how that song is shuffling along and could totally picture Stevie Ray Vaughan play it. This is so good!

Next up: Stop These Teardrops, a tune written by Lavelle White that appeared on her debut album Miss Lavelle from 1994. What a great rendition! If you’re curious, the compelling original is here.

The final track I’d like to call out is Boogie Real Low, another great cover. The song was written by electric blues guitarist Frankie Lee Sims and titled She Likes to Boogie Really Low. Sims recorded it in 1958.

Further reflecting on her music journey, Foley said, “The fact that I have ended up back in Austin just seems right. My home is Canada and I definitely identify as a Canadian. But I had a yearning for this music and I can’t even put my finger on why or how. It got in my soul when I was a teenager. I guess I was open and I got imprinted by the sound and the force of blues music. I saw my first blues show at 15 and I swear I’ve never been the same.”

To support the release of her new album, Foley has embarked on a large tour of the U.S. and Canada. “After being home for so long, all I really want to do is turn up and play my guitar for as many folks as I can,” Foley said. “I can’t wait to get out on the road.” Her tour schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Stony Plain Records website; Sue Foley website; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to another look at newly released music. This week’s installment is a pretty international and multi-cultural affair. My selections include Syrian-American and Norwegian singer-songwriters, a Canadian blues guitarist and a new hard rock band from Sweden. Unless noted otherwise, all tracks are on albums that came out yesterday (October 22). Let’s get to it!

Bedouine/The Solitude

My first pick for this week is by Bedouine (née Azniv Korkejian), a Los Angeles-based Syrian-American musician. Korkejian whose family is Armenian was born in Aleppo, Syria and later moved with her family to Saudi Arabia where they lived until she was ten. After winning in a green card lottery, Korkejian and her family moved to the U.S. In 2017, Bedouine released her eponymous debut album. The Solitude, written by her, is the opener of Bedouine’s third and new album Waysides. I really dig her soothing voice.

Okay Kaya/If I Can Help Somebody

Okay Kaya (née Kaya Wilkins) is a Norwegian-American singer-songwriter and actress from New Jersey. According to her profile on Apple Music, Raised in Nesoddtangen, a village outside of Oslo, Wilkins grew up with a brother who played in black metal bands and a mother who whose record collection became the foundation of her musical education. Early on, she was more captivated by studying dance than making music, but that changed in her late teens, when she moved to New York to work as a model. Her first songs — which she wrote on a guitar she got when she was 13 — were musical diary entries that allowed her to explore her deepest thoughts with darkly witty lyrics and delicate acoustic melodies. Wilkins began releasing her music as Okay Kaya in 2015, when the label Hot Charity issued the singles “Damn, Gravity” and “Clenched Teeth.” Her debut album Both was released in June 2018. If I Can Help Somebody is a tune from The Incompatible Okay Kaya, her just released third album.

Sue Foley/Dallas Man

After two mellow tunes it’s time to step on the gas a bit with new music by Canadian blues guitarist and singer Sue Foley. Foley who was born in Ottawa learned to play guitar as a 13-year-old. After graduating from high school, she moved to Vancouver where she founded the Sue Foley Band. By 1989 when she was 21 years old, Foley was living in Austin, Texas. Three years later, her debut album Young Girl Blues appeared. Fast forward 19 years to Pinky’s Blues, Foley’s 16th and new album, which is named after her signature pink paisley Fender Telecaster. Here’s Dallas Man, a tune written by Foley. According to this review in Rock and Blues Muse, the song is an homage to blues guitarists who came from the Dallas area, such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, T-Bone Walker and Freddie King. Love that groove!

Fans of the Dark/The Running Man

Let’s wrap up things with some melodic hard rock by Swedish band Fans of the Dark. According to this piece in Maximum Volume Music, the group was formed in the summer of 2020 by Freddie Allen (drums) and Alex Falk (lead vocals), who had known each each from high school in Stockholm. The band’s line-up also includes Oscar Bromvall (guitar) and Robert Majd (bass). In early August, Fans of the Dark released their debut single Escape from Hell, the first tune from their upcoming self-titled debut album that is scheduled for November 5. Here’s The Running Man, another song that appeared upfront on October 7. It was penned by Allen, the group’s main songwriter. Most of contemporary hard rock I’ve heard isn’t my cup of tea, but this tune is catchy and grabbed me. Also, check out this great and for a hard rock band unusual lead vocalist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Rock and Muse Blues; Maximum Volume Music; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Popa Chubby/It’s a Mighty Hard Road

Shout-out to my brother-in-law who brought Popa Chubby to my attention earlier today. Before then, I had never heard of the 60-year-old electric blues-focused guitarist and songwriter from the Bronx, New York, who was born Theodore Joseph “Ted” Horowitz.

Chubby has been playing music for more than 30 years. On his website he describes his style as “the Stooges meets Buddy Guy, Motörhead meets Muddy Waters, and Jimi Hendrix meets Robert Johnson.” These are many names to throw around, but based on YouTube clips I have seen it’s not just empty words.

The above tune is the title track of Chubby’s most recent album that came out in March this year in celebration of his 30th anniversary as a blues artist. It’s one of 13 original tracks on the record that also includes covers of Freddie King’s I’d Rather be Blind and Prince’s Kiss.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to further explore Chubby and write more about him. Until then I’ll leave you with this cool rendition of Jim Hendrix’s Hey Joe captured in 2011 on the German music TV program Rockpalast.

Sources: Wikipedia; Popa Chubby website; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Toronzo Cannon/The Chicago Way

Fourth album was the bus-driving Chicago blues man’s recording breakthrough

This is starting to feel a bit like Groundhog Day. Lately, I find myself spotting a listening recommendation from my music streaming service, and before too long blogging about it. But I just can’t help it, when music grabs me, I get excited!😀

Should I have heard of Toronzo Cannon before? Probably yes, based on the recognition this contemporary Chicago blues guitarist singer/songwriter has received. But just because I’m a music fan who likes to write about his passion doesn’t mean I’m a know-it-all expert – in fact, I’m far from that; and if anything, this only becomes more clear the deeper I get into music blogging. And that’s quite okay with me, since I like exploring stuff I don’t know.

According to the bio on his website, when Cannon isn’t touring, he’s driving a Chicago Transit Authority bus during the day and playing the blues at night, “using every vacation day and day off and working four ten-hour shifts a week.” I know it sounds a bit cliche, but where other than in America do you hear about such stories?

I suppose if Cannon continues to work as a bus driver, this means one of two things or possibly both: Driving the bus helps him write his lyrics. Notes Cannon’s bio: His songwriting is inspired by his deep, homegrown Chicago roots, his years observing the public while working as a city bus driver on the West Side, and his own battles and triumphs. And/or Cannon still depends on his additional income as a bus driver, since he isn’t making enough money with his music. If it’s the latter, maybe Cannon isn’t that well known after all beyond Chicago blues circles, which would make me feel a bit better that I had not heard of him before. Regardless, he sure as heck plays a groovy blues guitar and has a great soulful voice.

Toronzo Cannon

Cannon is a native Chicagoan. He was born there on February 14, 1968 and grew up on the South Side of the city. He bought his first guitar as a 22-year-old and apparently was a quick study. Interestingly, he focused on reggae in the beginning, but soon found the blues was his real calling.  “It was dormant in me,” he says in his bio. “But when I started playing the blues, I found my voice and the blues came pouring out.” The bio also reveals he was influenced by the likes of Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Hound Dog Taylor, B.B. King, Albert King, Freddie King, Al Green, Jimi Hendrix, J.B. Hutto, Lil’ Ed and others – surely a list of fine artists!

The Chicago Way, which appeared in 2016, is Cannon’s breakthrough album and the fourth album in his recording career that started in 2007. It’s his first release on Alligator and was co-produced by Cannon and the independent Chicago blues label’s president Bruce Iglauer. Cannon first had gained broader attention when he performed as one of the headliners at the Chicago Blues Festival in June 2015.

BTW, at the time The Chicago Way appeared, Cannon was 48 years old, in other words not exactly a young kid. Once again, this proves that age doesn’t have to be a hurdle when you got great talent like Cannon, though being younger in the brutal music business probably isn’t a disadvantage either! The record earned Cannon a nomination for a Blues Music Award in 2017 by the Blues Foundation as Album of the Year. While Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ ended up winning that award for their outstanding collaboration record TajMo, which I previously reviewed here, being nominated with these guys in the first place says a lot about Cannon. Time to get to some music!

The album opens with a great funky tune called The Pain Around Me. Like all of the other 10 tracks, the tune was written by Cannon. Except for one track, I couldn’t find any clips on YouTube of the studio recordings, so I’m relying on live footage. But in my opinion, that’s not a disadvantage – if there’s one music genre that’s made to be experienced live, it’s the blues!

Another great song is Walk It Off. It’s got some of that cool Muddy Waters Hoochie Coochie Man and Mannish Boy vibe. I also dig the classic blues lyrics. Here’s an excerpt: She didn’t mean it, that’s what she said/He was an old friend and she lost her head/I know my woman is nice and kind/but now we don’t know if the baby is his or mine/I got to walk it off/I got to walk it off/The feeling’s so strong I might do something wrong/So I’m gonna just walk it off. I just love the story-telling!

Fine Seasoned Woman has a cool driving jazzy groove. I also dig the Hammond-like organ sound.

Midlife Crisis is another great tune featuring some classic blues lyrics: Woke up this morning feeling kind of strange/Some of you men might feel the same/Looked in the mirror the other day/My chest hair was turning gray/My old friends are far too old/Don’t wanna hang with them no more/Went to the doctor say, “what’s wrong with me?”/He looked in my eyes, “There’s one thing I see”/You having a midlife crisis/You having a midlife crisis, Lord/Don’t know what to do because you ain’t 22/You having a midlife crisis.

The last song I’d like to call out is When Will You Tell Him About Me? I think Cannon’s soulful voice comes out particularly nice out on this slow blues. Here’s a clip of the studio version for a change.

So what did some of the music reviews have to say about the album? Usually, I don’t care much about the critics, but if they agree with me, hey, I don’t mind!

“Deep, contemporary Chicago blues…razor-sharp guitar and compelling, forceful singing” – The Chicago Tribune

“One of Chicago’s new greats”  — The Chicago Sun-Times

“Progressive as he is rootsy…Slow, simmering riffs and smoldering licks” – Chicago Reader

“Among the cream of the next generation of Chicago blues musicians” — Blues & Rhythm

Yep, I can support all of the above!

Looking at Cannon’s remaining 2018 schedule, his next gigs are in Poland and the Czech Republic in mid-October, followed by U.S. shows in San Diego (Oct 28), Cleveland (Nov 9) and Auburn Hills, Mich. (Nov 10 & 11). If any of these places would be closer to Central New Jersey, I’d seriously consider seeing him. But I suppose there’s always hope for 2019!

Sources: Wikipedia, Toronzo Cannon website, YouTube