Chocolate Cake by ZOOM with Shawn Kellerman Is Life-Affirming Party Blues

ALBUM REVIEW

Title: Chocolate Cake
Artist:  ZOOM with Shawn Kellerman
Label: Mouhaha Music
Released: 2021
Reviewer: Christine Bode
Stars:  4.5

In 2019, when the world was a different place, I attended a Kingston Blues Society show at the RCHA Club in which Shawn Kellerman played with Jerome Godboo and his band. I had seen Godboo a few times and had heard of Kellerman but never really paid attention to his superb guitar playing. That evening, he really got my attention. Like it says on his website, “Sitting up close at a live performance is truly an awesome, jaw-dropping experience.” That night, my jaw hit the floor. Kellerman’s guitar playing is transcendental in that you can almost see his spirit rise above his body when he’s playing the blues. Man, he is phenomenal!

Blown away by his skill, I chatted with Shawn at the break and after the show, and as I work as a social media manager/marketer for musicians, we stayed in touch. I had already heard Kellerman’s guitar playing on Miss Angel’s album, Down In Mississippi, as I’d done some work for her, but that album is Classic Blues in the Mississippi/Delta style and very different from Zoom’s new album, Chocolate Cake, featuring Shawn Kellerman.

Kitchener-based Kellerman played and toured with the late great Lucky Peterson (he passed in May 2020) for many years and I’d seen Peterson’s set at the RBC Ottawa Blues Festival in July 1997. He is also a gifted producer who started his label, Mouhaha Music, producing and mixing Bobby Rush’s Memphis Blues Award-winning acoustic album Raw, and most recently, his longtime friend, Zoom’s latest album, Chocolate Cake, contributing guitar and bass, with some talented musicians from the Waterloo region playing on it—Jimmy Boudreau on drums, Ray Podhornik on trumpet, Dave Wiffen on tenor sax and Matt Weidinger on keys.

Zoom’s boisterous, bawdy, blues/funk vocal performances on Chocolate Cake, knocked me out. I hadn’t heard of her before, but I’ll never forget her now. Based in Detroit, Zoom’s style is Chicago Blues, which to my ears means blues you can dance to. She’s played with legends, including Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, and Bill Branch and the Sons of the Blues, around North America and Europe. Chocolate Cake is her comeback album after a twenty-year hiatus from music to raise her family.

After almost two years of the soul-shattering, livelihood-destroying pandemic blues, the raucous, danceable life-affirming party blues of Chocolate Cake, is just what the doctor ordered. Zoom’s dynamic vocals, Kellerman’s high-energy guitar, and the amusing, sexy, and saucy lyrics in many of the songs on the album are the perfect antidote to the tiresome, Groundhog Day-life perpetuated by the global pandemic. I laughed aloud at some of the lyrics more than once, with absolute delight! “Amazing Nepenthe (Weed)” might be my favourite new song. Sing it with me, “All I need is a little bit of weed.”

Zoom’s voice is sensational—she was truly born to sing the blues—and I love her passion and the raunchy humour in the lyrics. Standout tracks on the album include “Big Boss Woman” which should be an anthem for all female entrepreneurs. “I’m a big boss woman, I’m a big boss woman / oh, I’m big and I’m bad, I’m the best you ever had, I’m a big boss woman / I am a force of nature, pay me what I’m worth!”

As a single woman who has worked in the music industry for thirteen years, I’ve been living hand to mouth for most of that time. However, I’m a firm believer that music is one of the things that keeps us going during hard times. Its importance should not be understated and musicians should be supported.

“Born To Sing The Blues” is true of Zoom and this declaration is as genuine as it gets. “Still Got the Rhythm,” a testament to the wonder of Viagra, will make you chuckle while you’re shaking your hips to it in your living room. “He came home early in the morning, he was ready to jump / he took a funny little pill, he was ready to bump / I told him, take it, easy baby, you so big and strong / he said, don’t worry about it Mama, I don’t last that long.”

The title track, “Chocolate Cake,” is a funky, infectious horn-trimmed gem that reminds me, rhythmically, of Jack Mack and the Heart Attack. “Just like Ricky Bobby, we shake n bake / ah, come and get a piece of this chocolate cake / You like it when I give it to you, tell the truth / I satisfy your craving in your sweet tooth.”

Kellerman’s guitar solo in “My Baby Don’t Love Me” is a stellar accompaniment to Zoom’s weary, scratchy wail which is perfect for this classic, “damn, I’ve got the blues” composition.

The penultimate track, “Love Bone,” is another favourite because of Kellerman’s sensational wah-wah guitar and Zoom’s delivery of the naughty lyrics. “I’m like a bitch in heat, I want a doggy treat / I want your love bone / Don’t want to see your smile, we do it doggy style / I want your love bone / I’m going to twitch and twerk, Big Daddy, go to work / I want your love bone.” There aren’t too many singers who can get away with belting out lyrics like that while sounding like they’re keeping a straight face.

However, on the final, most consequential track, Zoom gets serious with the explicit “Tired of the Hate,” a lament about racism and an important reminder of why Black Lives Matter. “Sonny, day to day I’m going out for a run / I turn around, people chasing me with a gun / All I really want is vittles and iced tea / I got my hoodie on and, damn, they killing me / I’m tired of explaining, I’m tired of complaining / people always think the worst, my colour ain’t my curse.” Every Black woman and man I’ve ever known was born, made of love. This world wouldn’t be as rich, diverse, or meaningful without their contributions to every industry on the planet, and perhaps, Black contributions to music have been amongst the most remarkable.  


Chocolate Cake is a terrific feel-good party album that affirms that sex, weed, and the blues are still viable reasons for not giving up on life when it’s damn hard. But seriously, it’s also proof of why we should and do continue to care about diversity, equality, and every individual’s unique voice, regardless of their colour.

Listen to it on a Friday night or anytime you need to get your groove on.  And know that you would be remiss in not buying a copy for yourself and your friends who could use a pick-me-up this holiday season. It’s the perfect stocking stuffer for blues fans everywhere.

http://shawnkellerman.com/

https://zoombluesmusic.com/

2010: The Year of BC’s Jazz & Blues Queen, Maureen Washington!

CD Reviews
Title: Here We Go Again
Artist: Daniel Cook and Maureen Washington
Label: Independent
Released: 2010
Stars: 4.0

Maureen Washington is a very busy woman. In 2010, she produced two new albums, worked full time as a jazz and blues singer, took 8 music classes, worked part-time as a bookkeeper and continued to raise her five children! Throughout it all she maintains a stellar smile, a sense of humour and carries herself with grace and style. She has also recently been nominated for Female Vocalist of the Year in the Vancouver Island Music Awards and is #1 on the ReverbNation Jazz Charts for Canada.

Here We Go Again is a slickly produced, “funkified urban jazz” album filled with classy, mature material presented by Victoria, BC’s accomplished guitarist Daniel Cook and the velvety smooth, clear and impassioned alto vocals of Maureen Washington. Six of the eight featured songs are written by Cook and Washington with the exception of “The Right Stuff” (Cook & Kosowick) and “Love This Life” (Cook) and all of them are about the complexities of the romantic relationship – the struggles, fears, hopes and heartbreaks that make up that rollercoaster ride known as love.

Cook and Washington’s partnership is practiced, professional and extremely comfortable which is evident not only from their collaborations on the CD but also in the cover artwork (the friends are bound together by what appears to be a white cable) which illustrates their sense of playfulness and humour. It is obvious that this pair have a great time making music together! From the opening chords of “Twisted” through to the positively uplifting gospel jazz closing number, “Love This Life”, Here We Go Again is an absolute joy to the ears!

Backed by superb musicians including Ross MacDonald (bass), Damian Graham (drums), Bryn Badel (trumpet), Jerry Cook (saxophone), Brad Hawkins (percussion), Nick La Riviere (trombone) and Chris Van Sickle (keyboards), each track is a testament to the fact that Maureen Washington not only has the right stuff and all that you need, but she’s definitely learned some lessons from her misery and bliss as well.

Perfect for a dinner party or a night of sensual dance, standouts include: “Here We Go Again” – an island calypso number with fabulous horns; “Shooting Star” which brings a reggae beat and prominent bass line to light; “Forget Me Not” – a waltz that summons memories of the finest offerings from Billie Holiday or Roberta Flack; and my favourite, “Let’s Make It Happen” which sizzles with a sexy, blues/funk reverberation (and excellent guitar solo by Cook) that will have you shaking your booty from one end of the dance floor to the other! I LOVE this album!

Title: Blues In The Night…and stories my Mama told me
Artist: Maureen Washington
Label: Independent
Released: 2010
Stars: 3.0

Maureen took a completely different direction with Blues In The Night…and stories my Mama told me, a collection in which she pays tribute to 10 superlative blues and jazz classics and records them with stripped down production that includes only her seamless vocals and Karel Roessingh’s expert keys.

On this CD, Maureen pays homage to her mother by singing some of her all-time favourite “breaka my heart songs” including “At Last”, “You Don’t Know Me”, “Georgia On My Mind” and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” Although she hits every note perfectly, most of her performances have a restrained feel to them and I was left wishing she would have let go and allowed herself to get a bit more wild and passionate.

My favourite tracks include “Peel Me A Grape”, “Blues In The Night” (which includes an excellent piano solo by Roessingh) and “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square.” While not unpleasant by any means, most of the other songs are comprised of such a mellow tempo and quiet atmosphere that I could fall asleep listening to them. The CD ends with a sassier, growling version of “Stormy Monday” that wakes you up and does Maureen proud.

The only regrettable thing about Maureen Washington is that she lives on Vancouver Island and performs primarily in British Columbia so the rest of us in Canada are missing out on the opportunity to experience her talent and charm live and in person. However, I will keep looking forward to the day that the opportunity arises!

Maureen Washington & Karrel Roessingh perform “Blues In The Night”

A Q&A With Blues Chanteuse, Layla Zoe

Photos of Layla Zoe by Mark Gommer
Three weeks ago, I had the exceptionally good fortune to see Canada’s Darling of the Blues, Layla Zoe, perform in concert in Kingston, ON. I was so blown away by the amazing set of pipes and super cool stage presence possessed by this young woman that I wanted to learn all that I could about her and tell everyone about her fantastic music!

Lovely Layla graciously agreed to do a Q&A with me for Press +1 (which I am re-posting) and here’s how that conversation unfolded:

Layla, the night I saw you perform, you said that you were born to sing. I know that you’ve been singing since you were four years old, but how old were you when you realized that you had to pursue music as a career?

I guess I always had a natural drive and desire to be on stage from a very young age. I used to enjoy writing short skits and performing them for friends and family, as well as lip synching to songs I liked and dressing up in costume. I was always a very creative kid I guess. I sang in school musicals in high school, then performed in my dad’s band for a very short time at age fourteen, as well as playing around with friends who played instruments and doing a little busking on Granville Street (Vancouver). Then after moving back to Vancouver Island at age 18 I joined a cover band and played up and down Vancouver Island in local bars for 3½ years. All of these experiences helped me to grow as a singer/performer and contributed to my passion for music. But it was really when I attended the Hornby Island Blues Workshop in 2003 and met some of the best Blues artists in Canada who were teaching at the workshop, that I decided it was really time to break away from the cover band and start getting serious about my “career” in the Blues…

I can tell you now, that several of the teachers at the workshop that first year (Ellen McIlwaine, Suzie Vinnick, David Gogo, Doug Cox, etc.) said things to me which directly contributed to my decision to get serious about MY music. It always means a lot to me when my fans come up and say nice things at the shows, but I guess I have to admit that sometimes it means even more when my peers take the time to say supportive things. And many of the instructors at the workshop made a point of telling me how much they liked my voice, to keep on singing, and that I had the chance to have a career in music, if that is what I wanted. At the time, I was still quite young, and I greatly respected some of the musicians who were saying these things to me, so I guess it was the extra push/boost I needed to make some big changes/choices I had already been contemplating. I ended up leaving my cover band not long after that and began writing songs for my first album. I started going by my name and no longer a band name, and began working on my guitar and harmonica playing. The rest is history…because I have released an album every year as Layla Zoe since then, and have never looked back….

Are you a classically trained vocalist?

I have no classical training, although I did take one year of Jazz Vocal at Malaspina College in Nanaimo, BC, the same school and program where Diana Krall studied. But to be honest, life sort of got in the way of my being able to completely absorb and get the most from that year at school. I feel that I learnt more from the 3½ years I spent in my early cover band, than I did from the year at school studying Jazz Vocal. I guess for me, it was necessary that I get out there and actually see what it was like to be on stage every night in a different town, and to load the gear in and out, and sing until 3am, etc., etc…In my opinion that kind of experience cannot be taught in a classroom environment.

Do you rehearse before your live performances?

Layla with Wayne "Shakey" Dagenais

Depending on the show, of course there are rehearsals for the shows, so that everyone is comfortable with the material. But if you are asking if I warm-up before every show, then the answer is no. I probably should…But I tend to just choose the easier songs for the first set, which helps me to “warm-up” on stage. I leave the “heavier” songs for a little later in the show, so my voice is ready.

What are some of the techniques and remedies that you use to keep your voice in great shape?

Well, I smoke and drink, so not sure that I am very good to my voice sometimes, haha! But I sing every day which helps keep the juices flowing. And I use lemon, hot water, and honey, which is a very helpful remedy for when things get cruddy in the old wind pipe, haha! As a redhead, I also talk a lot, haha!! So that keeps my voice pretty warmed up.

Do you utilize a kind of ‘method acting’ to help summon strong emotions while singing or do they just come to you naturally?

I am completely unconscious of anything I am doing on stage when it comes to “pulling out the emotions”…I do not think about it, or try, it simply comes naturally. I feel that something takes over my body and I begin to “channel” the past, present and future pains I have experienced and am experiencing. It is all very difficult to describe. It’s just that the music takes me away, and sometimes it is almost hard to “come back” to earth after the shows. It takes me some time to get grounded after I perform. I give all of myself. I give my listeners my heart, on a platter…

You sure do, Layla! When you were growing up, did you listen to a steady diet of Blues music or were there also other genres in your collection?

Layla singing for the Kingston Blues Society on Feb. 12, 2011

I listened to a lot of Blues growing up because my father loved the Blues. I must thank him for introducing me to many of the musicians I still listen to and enjoy today. It was normal around my house to hear Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Billie Holiday, etc., during dinner time. But the Blues is not the only music I enjoyed at home as a child, or later on as a teenager and young adult. I have always been into MANY kinds of music. Everything from classical, to jazz, to death metal! I just love music…And at a young age I bought my first record player and spent more time with it, then with my friends. I have always been drawn most of all to the music from the 60’s/70’s period. I guess I was drawn to the lyrical content of bands from those decades and also the psychedelic/experimental nature of the music.

Who are some of your favourite artists right now?

Long list, but I will name a few here:

Frank Zappa, Muddy Waters, Roy Buchanan, Peter Green, Derek Trucks, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Eva Cassidy, Billie Holiday, Etta James, Susan Tedeschi, Kaki King, Tanya Tagaq, Paul Reddick, Harry Manx, Janis Joplin, Ry Cooder, Howlin’ Wolf, Henrik Freischlader, The Raconteurs, etc., etc…

Do you have a favourite song that you’ve written? If so, can you tell us what it’s called and a little bit about the story behind it?

Hmmm, tough question. I feel good about several of my songs because they often express and showcase how I am feeling at the time and that is always changing from year to year. But I guess some of my faves are “Someday” and “Disappearing Delta” (off the album Shades of Blue), “Black Eyes Blacker”, “I Am Free” and “Soft as a Feather” (off the album Hoochie Coochie Woman) and the whole album “The Firegirl” which was a labour of love and has some of my best songwriting on it. However, I really feel that my newest album which I just made in Germany in December, 2010, has some of the best writing I have ever done. It will be released in the fall of 2011 in Europe and then Canada, and I think it is my best album yet…

You’ve met some of the biggest names in the Blues. Do you have any interesting or funny stories that you can share about any of your contemporaries?

Well, I have some stories, but probably some of them should not be told, haha! But for example, meeting Jeff Healey was a wonderful experience. He said some very kind things to me and performing with him was a highlight of my career. As well as saying some wonderful things about my voice, Jeff also said that he hoped I would have the chance to meet and work with BB King someday before he was gone. It was sad when I thought back to this comment after Jeff died, because he left us before BB in the end…But I do hope to meet and work with BB someday and Jeff’s belief in me really put things in perspective for me back then.

How did you end up meeting Jeff Healey and playing with him?

I was connected to Jeff through a mutual friend/musician named Danny Marks. I was working with Danny in Toronto performing at a few shows and then we both performed at Jeff Healey’s bar with Jeff. It was a great night and one I won’t soon forget. I then ended up performing again with Jeff, but this time without Danny there, and that was not long before Jeff passed away.

You said that you spend your pocket money on records. What are the last three records that you bought?

Well, the last treats I bought myself were:

The Allman Brothers “Dreams” box set on vinyl, which is rare and hard to find, as well as being a little pricey, but is totally worth every penny since it has tracks off all of their albums including the early stuff. I also bought Humble Pie’s album “Rockin’ at the Fillmore”, Ry Cooder’s album “Boomer’s Story” and Traffic’s album “On the Road” which is a really great record!

What’s your favourite red wine?

I tend to buy what I can afford, haha! But I really like Yellow Dune Bin 39, Barker’s Reserve, from Australia. It is affordable and very good.

What do you like to do when you’re not performing (aside from listening to records, etc.)?

I enjoy spending time with friends and family when I can, reading, writing, watching good films, travelling and of course, getting tattooed!

Are you working on a new album at present?

I am always writing for the next album and then the next album. But I just made my “dream” album in Germany in December of 2010, so now I am just patiently waiting for its release in Germany in late 2011. But yes, I am always writing, no matter what the situation.

Do you play a lot of Blues festivals? I really hope that you can play the Limestone City Blues Festival in Kingston this August!

I love performing at festivals and have some great ones booked already in Canada and Europe this year. I would be happy to return to Kingston for some shows, so hopefully that happens. Sure was a great crowd there for me last time, and lots of support which feels great.

What are your touring plans for this year?

You can find most of my tour dates at www.myspace.com/laylazoe and I look forward to festivals in Belgium, Switzerland, Quebec, Halifax and Germany this year.

Thank you so much Layla for taking the time to talk to me and to share yourself and your love of the Blues with Press +1’s (and my blog’s) audience. I wish you much continued success with your music career and look forward to seeing you perform again soon!

The Kingston Blues Society Presents Female Blues Darling Layla Zoe!

The Kingston Blues Society, of which I am a member, presents (although she likely won’t be naked!):

LAYLA ZOE and her ALL STAR BAND

Originally from Vancouver – one of the most amazing voices – described as “The Reincarnate of Janis Joplin”

Check her out at www.layla.ca or on You Tube – she will amaze you!

Saturday February 12, 2011
Confederation Place Hotel
Doors Open 7:00 PM – Show Starts 8:00 PM
Advance Tickets for the show only – $20 KBS members $25 non members

Advance Dinner Package $50 (includes show and dinner) KBS members $55 non members

Call now to reserve your tickets 613-384-8168

Show tickets and separate show/dinner packages are now available for LAYLA ZOE – one of the best young female blues artists in the country, she has been compared to Janis Joplin and was recently up for the part in a Janis Joplin bio pic coming out in 2013 (She was the last person cut – among the actresses considered for the role of Janis Joplin were Renée Zellweger, Britney Spears, Nikka Costa, Scarlett Johansson and Lindsay Lohan).

Layla will be backed by an all star band including Drew Austin on drums and James Rasmussen on bass (both from David Rotundo’s band ).

Layla Zoe has a phenomenal voice and a stage presence that will captivate you – she has quickly become the “darling of Canadian blues” and she has appeared with nearly every great blues musician in this country.
In Europe she is in huge demand and has taken that continent by storm. Everyone who has seen her raves about her performances and she has five independently released CDs (she has released one every year).

Opening for Layla will be Belleville, ON band, TORE DOWN. The executive of the KBS saw them perform recently at the Loyal Blues Society Road to Memphis Competition and were so impressed that they asked them to open the show.

Don’t miss this perfect Valentine’s date night opportunity!