"Lucky 13" Reviews


BLUES REVUE – Hal Horowitz 12/1/2006

After touring America for the past five years, winning the
Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge in the solo/duo category, and recording a live album in Atlanta, Lucky 13 is Australian singer/guitarist Fiona Boyes' debut U.S. release. It was worth the wait.

Recorded in Austin, Texas, and produced by horn player Mark "Kaz" Kazanoff, Boyes penned all but three tracks on this eclectic, sparkling set. Marcia Ball and Bob Margolin provide assistance, but the album doesn't really need their support; though horns, piano, fiddle, and accordion inject flavor into these tracks, the spotlight remains on Boyes' sexy vocals and snaky guitar work, which stays on low boil but infuses each song with backwoods blues.

Boyes' deep, soulful voice is similar to Ball's and every bit as powerful. She boogies with the best on "High Cotton", her voice shifting effortlessly from guttural to flowing. The pace slows to midtempo for the Cajun-flavored Crescent City groove of "Homesick Blues", and the album winds its way through swinging jump blues ("Big Bigger Biggest"), acoustic grooves ("Rambling Man Blues"), R&B-infused zydeco (a peppy "Hold Me"), and second-line funk ("You Gonna Miss Me") as if Boyes and her band were born and raised in the States.

Kazanoff's production leaves plenty of space for Boyes to spread out, even as he swamps up the sound on the opening "Chicken Wants Corn" and the tuba-enhanced ragtime funk of "Celebrate the Curves." The sizzle of Boyes' snappy picking and Joel Guzman's accordion brings an edgy tartness to the commercial-sounding R&B tune "Stranger in Your Eyes," which could be a standout single. Boyes mixes ease and professionalism with the soul of someone who comes by the blues naturally, making Lucky 13 one of the year's standout albums.
ALL MUSIC GUIDE – Jeff Tamarkin 8/7/2006

Nearly all of Fiona Boyes' previous reviews have acknowledged that she is an exceptional female blues guitarist, but it's time to lay the gender qualifier to rest: Fiona Boyes is an exceptional blues guitarist, period, as well as an exceptional vocalist and songwriter.

Having released several albums in her native Australia, both with her '90s band, the Mojos, and under her own name -- most recently a double-live set recorded in Atlanta -- Boyes finally tried her luck in the market that has inspired her music. Lucky 13 is her first American release, and it's one wicked slab of blues. Most of Boyes' previous recordings have showcased her acoustic guitar work, but from the first "Smokestack Lightning"-like notes of Lucky 13's opener, "Chicken Wants Corn," Boyes lets it be known that this time she's cranking up the volume. Her electric guitar playing throughout displays both enormous skill and a true empathy with the American roots music she's adapted as her own. With a particular allegiance to the Chicago and New Orleans styles, and nods to Texas, Memphis, and Mississippi, Boyes' picking can be alternately nasty/dirty or smooth/sweet, but regardless of the subgenre, she's consistently economical, tasteful, and imaginative, bringing to each tune crisp, melodic lines and a sense of history; there's no question that Boyes has spent many an hour studying the nuances of the form. That isn't to suggest that this is an exercise in retro, though: Boyes perfectly bridges modernity with classicism. Ten of the album's 13 tracks were composed by the artist, who keeps her sound rooted in the present while aesthetically transporting herself to Chicago's South Side of the mid-20th century to hang with Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, and then stepping further back to pay a visit to Memphis Minnie down in Louisiana.

For the occasion of her U.S. debut, Boyes took advantage of the local talent, augmenting her core group the Fortune Tellers with Bob Margolin, one of Waters' former guitarists; the Texan pianist Marcia Ball; saxman Mark "Kaz" Kazanoff; and others. But while her guests lend to the effort their considerable experience on the American blues scene, the spotlight is never off of Boyes, who impresses on each track with her virtuosic guitaristry and versatile vocalizing. She likes to keep the listener guessing, too: "Rockabilly on the Radio," a screaming, twanging '50s-style rocker, the tender ballad "Stranger in Your Eyes," and the jump blues "Big Bigger Biggest" may all at first seem anomalies, but they fit neatly into the plan. And although the album's focus is her electric playing, Boyes doesn't neglect her acoustic fingerpicking on Lucky 13. "Pigmeat Lover," one of a handful of tracks spotlighting longtime Asleep at the Wheel pianist Floyd Domino, recalls Maria Muldaur's early solo albums, while the cover of Lillian McMurry's "Red Hot Kisses," a duet with Margolin, is country-blues at its finest. Fiona Boyes may be from Down Under, but with albums this good she'll be on top of all of the blues polls before long.

HOUSE OF BLUES – Elwood Blues 10/1/2006

Fiona Boyes is the first Australian and first woman to win the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge. She's been blowing 'em away for years down under and now she's got her American debut on Yellow Dog Records. I want you to give this a listen - this is great stuff. Rockabilly, swing, acoustic blues, Chicago-style blues - the lady does it all, plays a wicked guitar, knows how to growl a lyric. The CD is called Lucky 13...

RELIX – Jeff Tamarkin 11/1/2006

Fiona Boyes has recorded several albums in her native Australia and won just about every “Best Blues Guitarist” award that country has to offer. But she’s especially stoked about Lucky 13 (Yellow Dog), her first U.S. release. With assistance from such American talents as Kaz Kazanoff(harp, sax, producer), Bob Margolin (guitar) and Marcia Ball (piano), Boyes has turned in one of the most sizzling blues albums — by anyone — in years.
Her vocals and songwriting are impressive, and on both acoustic and electric guitars, Boyes is consistently dynamic and inventive
. Now, perhaps, the critics will stop pigeonholing her as a great female blues artist and simply recognize Boyes as a great blues artist, period. Says Boyes, “It’s frustrating for any artist to be marginalized as a mere novelty. With blues there are more interesting issues, like how do I stay true to the traditions of the genre while finding my own unique voice within it?”

 
MIDWEST RECORDS - Chris Spector 7/28/2006

So, let’s say you’re glad Bonnie Raitt dropped her bad habits, for her sake – you like her, you like her music, but you really miss the highway to hell sound she was full of before her comeback. This girl from Oz is just what you are looking for, she sounds like Raitt’s evil twin, and that’s really a good thing. With a first class bunch of Austin blues players on board and some first class guests like Marcia Ball and Bob Margolin dropping by, dis is da blooz! Infectious, insane fun that sounds like it came out of Woodstock in the early 70's without record company pressure for a single, Boyes is simply a riot well deserving of all the accolades she’s been racking up. This is a gem just waiting for you to pick up

BLUES BYTES – Kyle Deibler 8/14/2006

I first met Fiona Boyes in 2003 at the outdoor stage next to King’s Palace in Memphis. She was playing the day after that year’s W.C. Handy awards and I was curious to hear whether all of the IBC buzz I’d heard about her was true. What I found was an articulate artist who was true to her music, and I enjoyed her playing so much that I purchased two CDs from her that day. And while I’ve not heard her previous album, Live In Atlanta, it was a pleasure to hear from Michael Powers of Yellow Dog Records and receive her latest CD, Lucky 13, in the mail for review.

Lucky 13 is a very strong record that most likely will bring Fiona’s name to the tongues of many a listener. Ably produced in Austin, Texas by Kaz Kazanoff and featuring guest stars Bob Margolin, Marcia Ball and the Texas Horns, Lucky 13 demands your attention and commands your respect as a listener. This is a brilliant US debut album from an Australian artist we’ll be hearing about for a long time to come.

An old soul who best relates to Memphis Minnie, Fiona kicks off her record with a self-penned original song, “Chicken Wants Corn.” An odd love song at best, “I want you baby like a chicken wants corn!” Fiona’s finger picking is wonderfully complimented by the Texas Horns and lets you know early on that this lady is a force to be reckoned with. Fiona and Marcia share the spotlight on “Celebrate the Curves,” an ode to the full figured woman. “I’m built like a woman’s meant to be built with a belly, butt and boobs!” Fiona is proud of her curves and isn’t shy in letting you know that…"I put the swing in my swerve….excuse me while I celebrate my curves!”

Margolin brings his slide guitar to the forefront on Fiona’s “Good Lord Made You So.” Her man is like the wind, sometimes he’s here, other times he’s gone away. “I ain’t had no rest, no peace…you know that ain’t a lie..no rest, no peace…that man of mine keeps sliding on by.” Her man can’t help it, it’s just the way the good Lord made him be. A strong guitar intro by Fiona leads us into “Stranger in Your Eyes.” This time her man is just not what she thinks he is, “I see a stranger where I once saw a friend.” Disappointed by the man he is, Fiona confronts him with the truth and since he’s been doing her wrong, it’s time for him to move on. A wonderful sax solo by Kaz highlights an outstanding tune by Fiona, with nice accordion accompaniment from Joel Guzman. “I see a weak man where a hero used to stand.” This one just can’t have a happy ending.

New Orleans-style piano by Marcia leads the intro into “You Gonna Miss Me.” It’s time for Fiona to move on from another bad relationship and she’s proud to admonish her man with “You may never find a gal as fine as me again!” I have no doubt that’s the case and he’s a fool for ever treating her badly and watching her leave. “High Cotton” has a religious revivalist feel to it, “One of these days I hope and pray things are going to go my way….I’ll be standing in high cotton one fine day!”

The humor of Fiona returns in “Pigmeat Lover.” “You got a pigmeat lover…you didn’t treat her right….cause if the cookin’s good you know the gal will want to cook all night!” A blues song in the classic acoustic tradition of the ’20s, “Pigmeat Lover” is but one example of many that bring Fiona back to her blues roots from the early pre-war era of Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie. “Hold Me” is an upbeat love song to her man. “Hold me baby, squeeze me daddy..please never break my heart…cause you’re the one I want beside me when the day is done!”

Margolin’s slide work returns in “Red Hot Kisses”. “Ever since I kissed you I’ve tried to forget….your red hot kisses….you have red hot kisses but a cold, cold heart.” Both Fiona and Bob seem to regret the hot moment of passion that confounds them both. “I thought you were an angel that I saw in my dreams…Now I’m having nightmares and I’m almost bout to scream.” This train wreck is going to do nothing but end badly for both of them.

A swing beat lends itself to “Big, Bigger, Biggest”. “Big, bigger, biggest…how did you ever fit in them britches?” Her man wheels and deals with the best of them and is just too big for his own good. Moving on to “Rambling Man Blues” we find that Fiona’s love is on the move again. “My man went to rambling…he won’t say what’s on his mind…no matter if I treat him nice and kind…he’s going out in the woods to find what he can find.”

The pace picks up considerably in “Rockabilly on the Radio.” Fiona and Marcia trade leads on this fast paced swing tune. “Come on out tonight, the headlights shining bright….we’ll stop and find a little place to walk….you’ll be playing rockabilly on the radio!”

The CD closes with the ballad, “Homesick Blues.” “I’ll go most anyplace but my heart wants to go back home.” “I got my hat in Kansas City…and my shirt on up the road…hey, but my shoes come from my hometown…hey now, watch them walk me home!”

Lucky 13 is one of the top two female contemporary blues albums I’ve listened to all year and puts Fiona into some elite company when the powers that be decide on the nominees for next year’s Blues Music Awards. This is an impressive album by a female artist who not only plays a mean guitar but shows musical sensibilities way beyond her age. Fiona’s true to her roots, respectful of those blues legends she admires and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that she’ll be a force to reckon with for a long time to come.
SING OUT – Gary Von Tersch 10/1/2006

Everything sounds like it gelled providentially on Australian blues singer, lyricist and guitarist Fiona Boyes' debut American project for Memphis, Tennessee's Yellow Dog Records. The fair-haired Boyes has had eight albums released Down Under since 1970 and is a regular on the island's club and festival circuit. Here she is joined by an Austin, Texas "A-list" band as well as guests Marcia Ball (who pounds the ivories on both a feverish "Rockabilly On The Radio" and You Gonna Miss Me" while joining Boyes vocally on the lusty "Celebrate The Curves"),ex-Muddy Waters guitarist Bob Margolin and producer Kaz Kazanoff and his always potent Texas Horns.

Margolin especially impresses on a wrenching cover of Sonny Boy Williamson's deep Delta classic "Red Hot Kisses" (where he also shares a sly vocal with Boyes) along with the pneumatic "Good Lord Made You So," where he trades early Chicago blues slide guitar licks with Boyes, while Kazanoff and his Horns add a 1940s Louis Jordan sheen to a rollicking "Big, Bigger, Biggest." The pre-war acoustic blues has always had a special appeal for Boyes and she's at her best on a trio of originals that lean that way. Both the harmonica-embellished "Rambling Man Blues" and a hard driving "Homesick Blues" (with Floyd Domino on piano and Danny Levin's fiddling) along with the spirited "Pigmeat Lover" also showcase Boyes' accomplished guitar playing and a raw, emotionally direct vocal approach a la Memphis Minnie or Bessie Smith. Her aching, lost-love ballad "Stranger In Your Eyes" is also superb. Boyes' facility to move in and out of a variety of blues styles with ease rivals that of a Rory Block or Bonnie Raitt. Hopefully, she'll get the attention her music deserves.

SACRAMENTO BEE – Jim Carnes 8/6/2006

Fiona Boyes may have been born and reared in Australia, but her heart is in America's Mississippi Delta. She plays guitar and growls country blues like few others, no matter where they come from. Boyes began her musical education via the late blues artists Robert Johnson and Memphis Minnie. She's the first woman to win the acoustic division of the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge for emerging blues talent (in 2003) and even had the great Pinetop Perkins pronounce her "the best gal guitar player I heard in more than 35 years." Perkins said, "I ain't never heard a woman finger-pick a guitar like that since Memphis Minnie." On "Lucky 13," Boyes finger-picks and slides and swings through 13 tunes (10 of which she wrote) that cover the gamut of American blues, from Delta to Chicago style, acoustic to electric. She is backed by a full band and special guests "Steady Rollin' " Bob Margolin (Muddy Waters band), Marcia Ball and Mark "Kaz" Kazanoff & the Texas Horns. Among the best cuts: "Chicken Wants Corn," "Stranger in Your Eyes," "Pigmeat Lover" and "High Cotton" -- all of which she wrote.
CADENCE – Jay Collins 11/1/2006

If one is to consider perhaps even one positive byproduct of our continued globalization, it is that musical barriers have been minimized and that “legitimate” musical performances are not solely determined by situs. As for Blues, one may easily look beyond the U.S. for talent, a fact that is proven when one considers Australian guitarist FIONA BOYES. It is not enough that Boyes is an Aussie, but gasp, also an axe-wielding female. Naysayers may turn up their noses, but that would be to their detriment, as Boyes convinces on her debut American recording, LUCKY 13 (Yellow Dog 1353). This isn’t Boyes’ first recording as a leader, having released several records in Australia, though this record demonstrates that she is in league with any current American artist. The performances demonstrate that she’s a damn good guitarist, but also, her gritty, gravelly vocal style is a compelling extra treat. With her core band, The Fortune Tellers, and some help from Austin, Texas’ talent pool (Boyes, g, vcl; Marcia Ball, p, vcl; Bob Margolin, g, vcl; Floyd Domino, p; Mark “Kaz” Kazanoff, harp, ts; Danny Levin, vln, mandolin; Chris Maresh, b; Derek O’Brien, g; Riley Osbourne, org; Mark Rubin, tba; Barry “Frosty” Smith, perc, d; Stan Smith, cl; Randy Zimmerman, tbn; Larry Fulcher, b; Al Gomez, tpt; Joel Guzman, acc; John H.R. Mills, bari s. February 2006, Austin, TX), Boyes tackles electric blues rock (“Chicken Wants Corn”), New Orleans-tinged tonk (“Celebrate The Curves”), good time exploits (“You Gonna Miss Me”), some two-step (“High Cotton”), some pop Jazz (“Big Bigger Biggest”) and acoustic realms (Good Lord Made You So” and the humorous “Pigmeat Lover”). Worth noting is that her lyrics often add a bit of fun, such as on “Chicken Wants Corn” (“I want you baby like a chicken wants corn!”) and “Celebrate The Curves” (“I’m built like a woman’s meant to be built with a bellybutton and boobs” (!)). Boyes isn’t all muscle and verve, though, as she ably proves that her Blues can also be smooth and tender (“Stranger In Your Eyes”). In an age where the Blues community is waiting for another Stevie Ray or even some other savior, Boyes is one to watch. Not only does Boyes have the musical goods, but also, the record is a hell of a lot of fun.
BLUES WAX – Dave Good 9/6/2006

In 1987, Fiona Boyes had an epiphany. Soon after, she left her day job and borrowed a guitar. The crowning result, almost 20 years later, is this: Boyes made history as the first Australian and the first woman to win the solo/duo division of The Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge in Memphis. That was in 2003, by any standard a good year for Boyes. After having won virtually every Blues honor imaginable in Australia, Jazz Review listed her CD Gimme Some Sweet Jelly Roll as one of that year's three best Blues albums. In retrospect, quitting her day job turned out to be a brilliant career move. This year saw the release of Fiona's American debut, Lucky 13 on Yellow Dog Records. It features guest support from Marcia Ball, Bob Margolin, the Texas Horns, and Boyes' own band, the Fortune Tellers. Far too eclectic to be called a pure collection of the Blues, Boyes and producer Mark "Kaz" Kazanoff included 10 of her originals and three covers that cross over into jump, Rockabilly, 1950s Rock 'n' Roll, and Chicago and Texas Blues.

"Chicken Wants Corn" is a guitar strut that immediately sets the tone for the remainder of the CD - "sassy" is a word that comes to mind. Memphis Minnie channels Mae West and sings through a set of pipes that Johnny Winter would admire. Boyes' voice sounds grizzled, like something that was left out on the grill a minute too long. She says she earned that voice in the time-honored tradition: cigarettes and alcohol. "But I got all that out of my system," she says. "I'm a good girl now."

Next, "Celebrate the Curves" introduces a theme that will dominate almost half of the songs on Lucky 13. Horns almost rule this baker's dozen, from the jazzy New Orleans feel of "Curves" to the jump Blues of "Big Bigger Biggest." The remainder of the songs are rhythm- and guitar-based. But Fiona's charismatic fretwork balances all. There is an uncommon forcefulness in her personality on songs like "Good Lord Made You So" and "Red Hot Kisses" that fills in the blanks left by the absence of tubas and saxophones. "It's taken years," says the self-taught guitarist, "before I could attempt that sort of muscular Blues."

And Fiona can stand up against Kazanoff's full-blooded, horn-band production. On "Pigmeat Lover" she yodels and takes an almost Piedmont-style solo. If not an entirely central theme, then her guitar still works out plenty and with much brass and shine on the Carl Perkins-flavored "High Cotton" and "Rockabilly On The Radio" and then again on "Rambling Man Blues." There is plenty of six-string spunk and attitude to go around.

What keeps Lucky 13 from becoming too cute and sinking into the realm of the something-for-everybody record is this: call it the gravitas of Boyes' voice. It is a strong presence, informed by life, her convictions, and by her Blues influences. What is missing from Lucky 13 is a sense of deeper introspection. At times, I want the smile in Fiona's voice to fade away and for that voice to return with less buoyancy, less attitude. I want to hear her words do what her guitar can do, namely, to get down to business and deliver me from the evils of this current world in terms that aren't so damned good-natured.

Then again, Tommy Johnson, one of Boyes' influences, could sing about dark times and never shed that smile in his voice either.