NEW YORK: Bill Sims, Jr. & Michael Packer CD Reviews!!! - by J. Blake

Posted on 7/07/2009 by J. Blake

CD submissions are starting to roll in and it is very exciting to be given the opportunity to listen to such a wide variety of blues talent. This week I’m going to focus on two CDs from artists that dwell in my neck of the woods.

Bill Sims, Jr. (New York City) & Mark LaVoie (Bristol, Vermont) are two blues veterans that have collectively played with the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Freddy King and Sonny Terry. They have been making music together for the past 15 years, and evidence of their long lasting collaboration can be heard on Delta Groove Music’s release of AMERICAN BLUES ROOTS DUO. Sims on guitar and LaVoie on harmonica (both sharing vocal duties) bring the listener “way down the alley” with a mellow, soothing and authentic acoustic blues sound that is bound to make any “roots music” fan happy. Among the CD’s 13 tracks, listeners will find covers of such notable blues standards as Telephone Blues (a.k.a. Long Distance Call), Hesitation Blues, Big Leg Woman and Goin’ Down to Louisiana.

With the entire CD containing nothing but two men, an acoustic guitar, a harmonica and a relaxed feel/tempo, the casual blues fan as well as some electric blues enthusiasts may find the music and sound of this album slightly redundant over the entirety of its 13 tracks, but I have no doubt that acoustic blues and folk fanatics will revel in the soulful vocals and undeniable musicianship that Sims and LaVoie bring to their tasteful studio effort. On a technical level, the sound quality of AMERICAN BLUES ROOTS DUO is refreshingly professional. The recording is crisp, with a certain depth that most CDs from fairly unknown blues artists unfortunately lack.

For deep blues lovers and (especially) acoustic folk/blues fans, I strongly recommend AMERICAN BLUES ROOTS DUO by Bill Sims, Jr. & Mark LaVoie.

New York native Michael Packer played his first gig at Greenwich Village’s legendary rock club, The Bitter End, at the age of 15 in 1969. In 1972 his group Papa Nebo was personally signed by Ahmet Ertegun to Atlantic Records where they released a self-titled LP. The group eventually splintered off into various bands including the short-lived Free Beer, which met its demise in the late 70’s. Packer carried on, playing with various acts as well as a solo artist for another decade before troubles with alcohol and the law drove him into early retirement. The turn of the century found Packer a free and sober man. He is once again playing music and over the past six years (or so) he has worked his way to the top New City’s small but talent filled blues scene.

The title of his latest CD, RIKERS ISLAND BLUES, would have one believe that it was recorded live at the infamous New York prison (where Packer served a year for attempted robbery). On the contrary, with the exception of the Jimmy Buffet-esque first track (which is a studio recording titled Took My Gun – Prelude to the Blues) the album appears to be recorded live at a NYC jazz club called Sweet Rhythm. Unfortunately the lack of sufficient liner notes, makes it is impossible to know the dates of these recordings and if all the live tracks were actually recorded at the same venue.

As for the music itself, on the CD’s 7 live tracks, Packer (guitar and vocals) is accompanied by the likes of James Cotton piano player David Maxwell, Max Weinberg & The Tonight Show Band guitarist Jimmy Vivino and Lou Marini of Blues Brothers and Saturday Night Live Band fame…among others. Not surprisingly the band is very tight as Packer leads them through spirited renditions of classic blues covers that include The Thrill is Gone, I’m Tore Down, Born Under a Bad Sign, Sweet Home Chicago and a reworking of the Nick Gravenites penned blues standard Born in Chicago, cleverly re-titled Born in New York City.

Packer is unfortunately saddled with the “white” bluesman’s burden, the lack of a strong and authoritative blues singing voice, but he clearly does not let it slow him down. He does his best with what God has given him and on occasion even manages to channel the energy of blues kinsmen like Paul Butterfield and Van Morrison. The CD’s sound quality is slightly above satisfactory. It is clearly recorded live on a limited budget, and though it certainly does not sound bad, it does not quite reach the professional sound quality that most of today’s avid music buyers are probably accustom to. I don’t necessarily consider this a huge minus. For listeners (like myself) who are no stranger to the quality of “non-commercial” recordings, like the average live soundboard bootleg for example, RIKERS ISLAND BLUES is certainly more than listenable. I only mention it because it is important for potential consumers to know what they’re getting into when buying this CD. This is not a big budget live Clapton 2CD set, but it is a modestly budgeted, yet very “listenable” live single CD, with a running time of just over 42 minutes.

I believe that most blues fans will probably find this CD very enjoyable. The band is great. The song selection is very good and the performances captured on this recording are fun and full of energy.

Also, please check out some NYC Blues with J. Blake & The Earthquake at: or as well as on Facebook.

Copyright © 2009 - J. Blake. All Rights Reserved

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

Wed: National Correspondent - Monica Yasher
Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
Geraldo offers inteviews and reviews. You may have seen him at an Ana Popovic concert or conversed with him on her websites, as he offers administrative support with her music.

Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
Nelson offers a Friday column of blues photography and pictorial support for the interviews covered by the team.

Jim Stick in Colorado
Jim will be focusing on the Blues Festivals in the beautiful state of Colorado, and the artists that live and visit there.

Maureen Elizabeth, our resident art correspondent, will be focusing on blues art as she explores the creation of CD covers, or speaking with artists who also have a love of creating pictorial art in addition to their music! She may also feature some of her good friends in the Pittsburgh area. In her love of art, you may find Maureen's photography accompanying writer's articles on our pages. Maureen is also our marketing director.

Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

We head to the big state of Texas! Abby Owen, our Texas correspondent.

Another big area to cover, the West Coast with Casey Reagan, Casey will feature many artists and events on this ocean's shores.

Lastly, we have our roving blues entertainment writer,
Chef Jimi.

And of course, we will surprise you sometimes!

Internet Marketingdata recovery