For the uninitiated, Rogers is a slide guitarist, vocalist and songwriter from San Francisco. He's perhaps best known for his work as a member of John Lee Hooker's band in the 1980s, and also served as Hooker's producer for a well-received series of releases from the early part of this decade. On his own, Rogers has always cut a wide swath through blues convention, with a healthy dose of swamp-inflected funk and a little acoustic chicanery thrown in for good measure.

Although more basic in texture than past efforts, Pleasure and Pain succeeds because of the strength of Rogers's songwriting. The dusky, laid-back first track, "Down Here in the Big Empty," promptly alerts the listener that this isn't merely another showy-guitarist-plays-the-blues outing. On "You Can't Stop Now," a rocking duet with pop/metal showboat Sammy Hagar, Rogers exhibits admirable restraint, grounding the song in a swanky Faces-like groove. Perhaps the biggest leap, though, is "My Rose in the Snow," a duet with Shana Morrison, Van's daughter. Its cinematic quality, sweeping Southwestern feel and gorgeous soloing that carry the listener straight to its desert setting. Pleasure and Pain is a far more than anyone could've expected from Rogers, which makes this late-inning triumph twice as sweet. (***)

-- Jim Caligiuri

Shemekia Copeland
Turn the Heat Up

Etta James and Koko Taylor comparisons notwithstanding, it would be reasonable enough to call Shemekia Copeland's Turn the Heat Up the most interesting debut album by a female blues singer since Jayne Cortez surfaced a few years ago. A big-throated belter in the tradition of Taylor and Big Mama Thornton, the 19-year-old daughter of the late great blues guitarist Johnny Copeland churns up quite an emotional froth. Her bold flame of a voice scorches "Turn the Heat Up," "Cold Feet," "Has Anybody Seen My Man?" (highly suggestive of Koko's signature tune "Wang Dang Doodle") and other tunes, most of them penned by co-producer John Hahn and his collaborators.

But the reality is, the New York City-based singer never sounds as though she's living inside the experience of Hahn's lyrics. And what's more, she has to make do with ham-fisted, cliche-ridden performances from local sidemen, including guitarist Jimmy Vivino (Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Al Kooper's Rekooperators) and a pianist who deserves a special W.C. Handy award for "wackiest overplaying."

Copeland's talent is shown to much better advantage on her own slow blues composition "Ghetto Child," in which she's palpably involved with the words and guitarist Mike Welch provides her with thoughtfully played lines that are the antithesis of the in-your-face guitar grandstanding prevalent elsewhere. Copeland also cuts to the heart of the Don Covay classic "Have Mercy" without getting upended by the band. Let's hope Copeland works off some of that adolescent energy, concentrating more on singing than hollering, and pray she hooks up with producers and musicians who will be able to heat things up without making us, more often than not, run for cover. (** 1/2)

-- Frank-John Hadley

Monte Montgomery
1st and Repair
Heart Music

There's something about the hilly territory around Austin that seems to sprout young guitar aces like wildflowers. There was the granddaddy of them all, once known as Little Stevie Ray Vaughan, followed by the likes of Ian Moore, Widgeon Holland and Guitar Jake Andrews. Now add Monte Montgomery to the list. He grew up in the Hill Country, living in Luckenbach with his music-making mom, singer/songwriter Maggie Montgomery. Even as a teenager, young Monte seemed a triple-threat talent, backing up his six-string chops with an impressive voice and songwriting ability.

Montgomery is also smart enough to turn at least one nifty trick to distinguish himself from the pack: On 1st and Repair, he's managed to make a straight-up guitar outing based mostly around acoustic riffing. That no-frills approach gives the whole affair a distinctive vibe that's rather captivating, given the generic formulas that frequently plague it.

Which is not to say that 1st and Repair is a bad album. Rather, it's a document of an artist still searching for his sweet spot as a singer and a composer. At times, 1st and Repair sounds like an unplugged Doobie Brothers release.

All too frequently, Montgomery strives unsuccessfully for the sort of slick, blue-eyed soul that's worked just fine for, say, Paul Carrack. The result is frequently over-mannered vocal inflection, and songs with hackneyed themes such as "Love to the People." 1st and Repair is not so much a work in progress as it is a work by an artist in progress, which gives the disc a certain something that's hard to deny: potential. (***)

-- Rob Patterson

Monte Montgomery opens for Marcia Ball at Party on the Plaza Thursday, August 27, and headlines a show at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge later that evening.

Press Ratings
***** Historic
**** Great
*** Worthy
** So-so
* Lame

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