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downbeat
DownBeat – by Frank-John Hadley
Review of Matthew Skoller’s Blues Immigrant album

★★★

A fixture in Chicago since the late 1980’s, Matthew Skoller makes the 11 tracks on his fifth album spring forward with verve and craft that’s embedded in tradition. Unlike the music, his songwriting often bucks the system by tackling unexpected subjects: greed, green cards, consumerism, the state of blues today.

He’s a better harmonica player than he is a vocalist, though his inherent Brooklynese wit enlivens nine tracks, including predictable plaints about flawed relationships. There’s modest pleasure to be had in two instrumentals.

View review at: www.downbeat.com


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Roots Music Report – by Duane Verh
Review of Matthew Skoller’s Blues Immigrant album

★★★★

True to the tradition with his harmonica work, NYC-bred, Chicago-based Matthew Skoller also keeps his blues very much in the present tense and personal with lyric sets such as his “Big Box Store Blues” and “Only In The Blues”. He keeps things interesting as well with change-ups such as the steamy, seductive groove of “The Devil Ain’t Got No Music” and his historically engaging, autobiographical title track.


classicalite
Classicalite – by Mike Greenblatt
Review of Matthew Skoller’s Blues Immigrant album

Matthew Skoller plays for the ‘Blues Immgrant’ in all of us.

Singer/songwriter/harmonica man/producer Matthew Skoller left his native New York in 1987 for the blues-drenched history of Chicago and he’s been there ever since, soaking it all up, and spewing it back out in his own inimitable style. He considers himself a Blues Immigrant (Tongue’N Groove Records) and on this, his fifth CD, in which he wrote 9 of 11, he states his case.

Continue Reading: www.classicalite.com


cascade
Cascade Blues Association – by Fabrizio Poggi
Review of Matthew Skoller’s Blues Immigrant album

Chicago-based harmonica ace Matthew Skoller is back with his fifth release. It’s fitting for a musician who has been laying down some of the sharpest harp music in The Windy City for nearly three decades, working alongside the city’s greats like Junior Wells, Lurrie Bell, John Primer, Koko Taylor, The Kinsey Report, that he has brought many of his best friends with him to create a masterful recording, Blues Immigrant, including guitarists Carlos Johnson and Eddie Taylor Jr. and keyboard professor Johnny Iguana.

Skoller is not afraid to address social issues in his music, something that has never been far from most blues music since the genre first took roots well over one hundred years ago. He sadly talks about the disappearance of the mom and pop businesses that made this country great in the number “Big Box Store Blues.” And he tackles how corporate greed is over-powering consumerism and life in general with “Story Of Greed.” The title track, “Blues Immigrant,” offers an autobiographical account of Skoller’s life beginning with his grandparents arrival in the country in 1922. But sometimes he thinks that regardless of just how much history has gone by and the troubles he’s seen, he still feels that he needs a green card to reside — has he paid enough dues, or does he need a green card to play the blues?

Continue Reading: www.cascadebluesassociation.org


makingascene
Making A Scene – by Richard Ludmerer
Review of Matthew Skoller’s Blues Immigrant album

Harmonica player and vocalist Matthew Skoller was born and raised in New York City. He relocated to Chicago in 1987 and began apprenticing with Jimmy Rogers, Big Daddy Kinsey, Big Time Sarah, and Dietra Farr. Skoller’s first recording was 1996’s “Bone to Pick With You”. He followed up with 1999’s “Shoulder to The Wind”; 2003’s “TapRoot” and 2005’s “These Kind of Blues”.

In 2011 Skoller played harmonica on the Grammy nominated “Chicago Blues A Living History” and co-produced and played on it’s sequel “The (R)evolution Continues” winning the Traditional Album of The Year at the 2012 Blues Music Awards. He also played on the Grammy nominated “Still I Rise” by the Heritage Blues Orchestra.

From The Living History Band are Skoller, harp and vocals; Johnny Iguana, keyboards; and Felton Crews, bass. Guitarist Carlos Johnson also guests on two tracks. Completing the band are Giles Corey and Eddie Taylor, Jr. guitars; and Marc Wilson, drums.

Skoller has written or co-written eight songs, six of them with co-producer Vincent Bucher.

Continue Reading: www.makingascene.com


courier
The Courier-Gazette/The Camden Herald – by Tom Von Malder
Review of Matthew Skoller’s Blues Immigrant album

Skoller is one of Chicago’s most respected harp blowers and Blues bandleaders. Originally from New York, he relocated to the Windy City in 1987. Since the move he has been a sideman in several bands including Jimmy Rodgers Blues Band, Big Daddy Kinsey and the Kinsey Report, Big Time Sarah and the BTS Express, Deitra Farr Blues Band and others.

Ten of the 11 tracks on this CD, Skoller’s fifth, were co-written by Skoller and Vincent Butcher, with both men co-producing the album. The musicians are Skoller (harmonica, vocals), Johnny Iguana (keyboards), Felton Crews (Bass; has played with Miles Davis, Otis Rush, Junior Wells and others), Giles Corey (guitar), Eddie Taylor Jr. (guitar; son of guitar legend Eddie Taylor), Marc Wilson (drums; played with Marcia Ball, Nappy Brown) and backing vocalists Mike Avery and Stevie Robinson. Guests include lead guitarist Carlos Johnson and Brian Ritchie (The Violent Femmes) on shakuhachi flute.

Skoller laments the closing of small Mom and Pop stores in “Big Box Store Blues,” a tribute to and a rewriting of John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson’s chestnut, “Welfare Store Blues.” Standout track, “The Devil Ain’t Got No Music,” about the relationship between the blues and gospel music, was originally written for Lurrie Bell’s album of the same name, which Skoller produced, and the song was nominated for Song of the Year by the Blues Foundation in 2012. The title track is the story of immigrants who have not quite reached the American dream, but it contains some humor in lines like, “I need a green card to play the Blues.” “Only in the Blues” tells how a whole family works to support the musician. Songs of love lost are “Tear Collector” (quite nice) and “747.” Ritchie’s flute is featured on the uptempo “Story of Greed,” another highlight, as is the bouncy, rocking “My Get It Done Woman,” with prominent drums and a backing chorus. There are two instrumentals, including “Organ Mouth,” with its gurgling organ, and the closing cover of Papa Lightfoot’s “Blue Lights.” Grade: B+

View review at: knox.villagesoup.com


bluesbytes
Blues Bytes – by Bill Mitchell
Review of Matthew Skoller’s Blues Immigrant album

The latest disc from Chicago blues harp player Matthew Skoller, Blues Immigrant (Tongue ‘N Groove Records), can best be described as “old school” Chicago blues. Joining Skoller on this disc are a whole bunch of fine accompanying musicians, notably Johnny Iguana (keyboards), Giles Corey (guitar), Eddie Taylor Jr. (guitar), Felton Crews (bass), and Marc Wilson (drums).

Skoller adapts an old Sonny Boy Williamson #1 tune, “Welfare Store Blues,” moving into the 21st Century with a revised composition, “Big Box Store Blues.” He opens it with a classic harmonica riff before going into the vocals — “…she wanted me to go down to the big box store for a tank of gas and a bouquet of flowers, I told her no, baby, I sure don’t wanna go….” Skoller later explains his reasoning for not liking these big box stores, including having to show a membership card at the door — ” … Now they come to Chicago, Illinois, shut down every mom and pop store in town, you can have your tires changed whilst you get your coffee ground ….,” while also talking about how he knew the first names of the small business owners he preferred to support. A really creative update on an old Chicago blues theme.

Continue Reading: www.bluenight.com


elmore
ELMORE mag – by Jim Hynes
Review of Matthew Skoller’s Blues Immigrant album

One of Chicago’s most in-demand harmonica players is back with his fifth solo release. If you’re not familiar with Matthew Skoller, absorb these credentials. As a producer, he has produced two award-winning albums by Lurrie Bell and figures prominently in Bell’s recent release, Can’t Shake This Feeling. His tune “The Devil Ain’t Got No Music” from Bell’s gospel album of the same name received a BMA nomination as “Song of the Year.” He does a version of it here too. Skoller has also played harmonica on three Grammy nominated albums in the last 5 years: Chicago Blues: A Living History, Still I Rise, by Heritage Blues Orchestra, and Muddy Waters 100. So, respected both by critics and fellow musicians in Chicago, the relocated New Yorker is back with his knack for rather offbeat blues material, revealing a cool mix of both humor and a keen grasp of topical social issues.

Continue Reading: www.elmoremagazine.com


sun-herald
Biloxi Sun-Herald – by Ricky Flake
Review of Matthew Skoller’s Blues Immigrant album

★★★★

This Sept. 23 release comes from singer/songwriter/harmonicat Matthew Skoller, and is his fifth solo release backed by a crew of blues superstars, including keyboardist Johnny Iguana, bassist Felton Crews, drummer Marc Wilson and guitarists Giles Corey and Eddie Taylor Jr.

The crew above makes sure this is well-played Chicago blues; but my favorites are the novelty-like “Big Box Store Blues,” the family-centric title song, the harmonica-powered “747” shuffle, the jumping “My Get It Done Woman” and the nifty instrumental “Organ Mouth.”

Blues backers will really enjoy this recording.


axs-logo
AXS – by Kevin Wierzbicki
Review of Matthew Skoller’s Blues Immigrant album

Set to a classic Chicago blues strut, Blues Immigrant opens with the amusing “Big Box Store Blues” where Skoller sings about a man who refuses to go to a Costco or the like, no matter how much his woman insists to the otherwise. On “The Devil Ain’t Got No Music” Skoller sets a beat that, ironically, you can just imagine Old Scratch wiggling his red, pointy-tailed butt to; certainly fans will find the cut suitable for a snuggly, slower moment on the dance floor. Skoller is a harmonica player and some of his best riffs here light up “Only in the Blues,” “747” and of course “Organ Mouth,” an instrumental that also spotlights keys man Johnny Iguana.

View review at: www.axs.com


smoky
Smoky Mountain Blues Society – by Blue Barry
Review of Matthew Skoller’s Blues Immigrant album

Every once in a while we get a really good blues CD from a really good Chicago blues man, and it’s a good thing! Matthew Skoller’s new “Blues Immigrant,” is just such a CD. Due out very soon, it’s a very quality CD from a true veteran Chicago blues man! Matthew Skoller has put together some of the best musicians around to make this a very special CD. A vocalist, singer/songwriter, and absolute ace harmonica player, Matthew unloads on this one! With eleven cuts, nine of them co-written by Matthew and Vincent Butcher. Vincent and Matthew also produced the CD. Matthew Skoller has played on three Grammy nominated CD’s in the past five years, and is a household name in Chicago blues circles. His singing and songwriting are wonderful, his harmonica is simply fabulous, and the people he has playing with him are phenomenal! Johnny Iguana on keyboards, Felton Crews on bass, Marc Wilson on drums, Giles Corey and Carlos Johnson on guitar, Brian Ritchie on shakuhachi ( one track), and Mike Avery and Stevie Robinson on backup vocals. “Blues Immigrant,” is just that. A story of the blues from many perspectives. Matthew sings of the hardships of life in modern society, and the pitfalls one must dodge. Real harmonica is heard on here! There are two outrageous harp instrumentals you will love. Every cut is strong, and it’s just so well produced that you can hear every instrument easily. Hard times and a little humor add to the festivities. www.matthewskoller.com is the place to go to check him out. There’s also a cool insert in the CD with the words of each song, and some very entertaining pictures. This is real blues by a real bluesman. No back-up, no filler, all blues, and it’s good.


soulbagcover
Soul Bag – by Nicolas Teurnier
Matthew Skoller Interview

En expert éclairé, il nous guidait le trimestre dernier dans les replis du Chicago blues. Cette fois, c’est la parution d’un bijou de nouvel album – onze ans après le précédent – qui nous pousse à redonner la parole au chanteurharmoniciste- songwriter. Pour évoquer une relation au blues particulière, celle d’un homme et d’un artiste qui nourrit un héritage qu’il connaît et respecte profondément. Histoire d’un voyage au long cours.

Continue Reading: PDF


soulbagcover
Soul Bag – by Nicolas Teurnier
Review of Matthew Skoller’s Blues Immigrant album

Limpide, réfléchie, drôle, émouvante… Inspirée. L’écriture de Matthew Skoller sait puiser sa force dans les contraintes structurelles du blues là où tant d’autres n’en tirent que des formules toutes faites. Alors on se réjouit de voir le Chicagoan mettre fin à plus d’une décennie sans album personnel. Avec la manière. Lui et son complice Vincent Bucher, coproducteur et arrangeur en chef, ont réuni un combo serré, investi et attentif : les claviers de Johnny Iguana, la basse-batterie de Felton Crews-Marc Wilson, les guitares de Giles Corey et Eddie Taylor, Jr., les choeurs soulful de Mike Avery et Stevie Robinson. De quoi dérouler du shuffle grand teint et dire son attachement aux petits commerces du coin (Big box store, subtile prolongement du Welfare store blues de SB Williamson) ou mettre en perspective sa relation à la note bleue (Blues immigrant, récit autobiographique d’une grande justesse). La portée du blues de Matthew passe aussi par son chant assuré, champion du placement décontracté, et à travers la haute précision de son harmonica non amplifié qui sculpte contrechants et solos avec un art consommé de l’à propos. Que la rumba s’invite pour se piquer des particularités du “blues business” (Only in the blues), que Carlos Johnson (présent sur deux titres) décoche des tirés perçants (Tear collector, nouvelle perle de tension-détente rampante), qu’un orgue juteux habille le groove d’un The devil ain’t got no music (écrit pour Lurrie Bell) revisité, tout s’articule avec une grande cohérence. À l’image de ce Story of greed, brillant tant par l’originalité de sa construction que par la manière dont il dresse le portrait d’une planète acculée par les abus de pouvoir. Si, en laissant la place à quelques reprises et instrumentaux, la deuxième moitié du disque s’avère plus classique, jamais elle ne délaisse l’intensité et rappelle au passage combien Matthew et sa bande savent célébrer des recettes d’antan en en vivifiant les multiples saveurs. Du blues de grand chef.

View Review: PDF


bman
Bman’s Blues Report – by Bman
Review of Matthew Skoller’s Blues Immigrant album

I just received the newest release (September 23, 2016), Blues Immigrant, from Matthew Skoller and it’s a solid heaping cup of Chicago blues. Opening with Big Box Store Blues, Matthew Skoller takes the lead on vocal and harp backed by Johnny Iguana on keys, Giles Corey on guitars, Eddie Taylor Jr. on guitar, Felton Crews on bass,and Marc Wilson on drums. A smooth shuffle track, Skoller sets a solid line on vocal and has nice tone on harp. With of a rhumba beat, On The Devil Ain’t Got No Music, Crews sets a real nice bass line and Skoller gives the harp a nice workout. Title track, Blues Immigrant, has a definite hook for radio play and Iguana’s keyboard work along with the standard blues guitar rhythm keeps the instrumentation low key but nicely highlights Skoller’s vocals with warm backing by Mike Avery and Stevie Robinson. Another Latin influenced track, Only In The Blues, is really smooth with stylized guitar work and blended vocals ultimately highlighting the slick harp work of Skoller. Very nice. Deep boogie, Tear Collector has a great bass anchor and some really lush guitar soloing. One of my favorite tracks on the release. Story of Greed has a driving bass line coaxing Skoller’s vocals and harp work. Nicely crafted and with tasty guitar work, a real cool track. 747 is a slick Chicago track with tasty harp and sharp guitar riffs. Skoller’s vocals are solid and sure but his harp work does take off on this one as does the guitar soloing of Carlos Johnson. Excellent! Organ Mouth is a hot instrumental featuring Skoller and Iguana taking hot solos over the solid bass work of Crews. Smokin’! My Get It Done Woman is a driving boogie with a solid bottom and crisp harp riffs. With it’s La Grange like drive, this track is a sure thing. Shuffle track, Get Down To The Nitty Gritty, keeps your toe tapping and with clear piano work from Iguana, slick guitar soloing from Taylor and cool harp, this track gets it. Wrapping the release is pure blues instrumental, Blue Lights, with a strong blues base. This track has just the right pace to give Skoller a perfect cushion to do some of his most soulful harp work on the release. Excellent.

View review at www.bmansbluesreport.com


bluesmagazine
Blues Magazine NL
Review of Matthew Skoller’s Blues Immigrant album

Now one of Chicago’s most respected harp blowers and blues bandleaders, Skoller is originally from New York City — having relocated to Chicago in 1987. Since that time he’s “apprenticed” with some of the greatest Blues performers of their respective generations (as a sideman in bands including Jimmy Rodgers Blues Band, Big Daddy Kinsey and the Kinsey Report, Big Time Sarah and the BTS Express, Deitra Farr Blues Band among many others). Though embraced by his adopted home — and the Chicago Blues community — Skoller never stopped exploring the dynamics of the cultural exchange he’s been so deeply involved in. The notion of cultural appropriation continues to fascinate him (“Blues Immigrant”) and the songs on the new album explore both this issue as well as other issues facing the world today. The title track explores Skoller’s personal history and what led him to that “tree with roots” we call the Blues. “Big Box Store Blues” is a tribute to and a rewriting of John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson’s chestnut “Welfare Store Blues” in which Skoller laments the loss of Mom and Pop stores in the neighborhood and the exploitation of retail workers. “The Devil Ain’t Got No Music” – a song Matthew wrote for Blues great Lurrie Bell on the album of the same title which Skoller produced – explores the relationship between Blues and Gospel music. (The song was nominated for “Song of the Year” by The Blues Foundation in 2012.) Almost all these songs have a sly thread of humor running through them providing levity to the weighty subject matter: “…I need a green card to play the Blues.” “Only In the Blues” addresses the Blues music industry with wry humor and irony and “Story of Greed” is about the dangerous position that corporate greed has put the world in. There are also songs that explore the dangerous terrain of lost and found love that the Blues is so famous for. On “Tear Collector” Skoller’s unique sense of poetics focuses on this subject. Skoller’s muscular harp tones are featured on two instrumentals, “Organ Mouth” and the Papa Lightfoot gem “Blue Lights”.

Continue Reading: www.bluesmagazine.nl


chicago_blues_guide_small_logo
Chicago Blues Guide / Total Scene – by Eric Schelkopf
Interview with Matthew Skoller, Blues harp master Skoller’s new CD tells the tale of a Blues Immigrant and more modern blues stories

There are many musicians who carry the Chicago blues torch as proudly as harmonica player/songwriter/singer Matthew Skoller.

Skoller collaborated with his brother Larry on the Grammy nominated historical project “Chicago Blues: A Living History” and co-produced and played on Volume Two, “The (R)evolution Continues,” which won “Traditional Album of the Year” at the Blues Awards in 2012.

Continue Reading: www.chicagobluesguide.com


donandsheryl
Nashville Blues Society – by Sheryl and Don Crow
Review of Matthew Skoller’s Blues Immigrant album

Harp-blaster, singer, composer, and producer extraordinaire Matthew Skoller was born in New York, but he relocated to his “adopted” hometown of Chicago in 1987. Over that nearly-30-year period, he has played with all the Windy City legends and blown harp on three Grammy-nominated sets over the last five years. And, he’s found the time to record four CD’s of his own. His fifth is slated for release on September 23, 2016, and it is entitled “Blues Immigrant.” It is a fine platter of Chicago-styled blues, produced by Matthew and Vincent Bucher, and they collaborated on the writing of the nine originals on the set.

Continue Reading: https://donandsherylsbluesblog.wordpress.com


keyschords
Keys & Chords – by Lambert Smits
Review of Matthew Skoller’s Blues Immigrant album

Born in New York City, moved harmonica player and singer / songwriter Matthew Skoller to blue city of Chicago in 1987. As a sideman Matthew acted in bands of, inter alia, Jimmy Rodgers, Big Daddy Kinsey, Deitra Farr and Big Time Sarah. At last he carries among others also “Immigrant Blues,” his fifth solo album. If musicians do Skoller call on Johnny Iguana (keyboards), Giles Corey, Eddie Taylor Jr. and Carlos Johnson (guitars), Felton Crews (bass), Marc Wilson (drums), Brian Ritchie (shakuhachi) and Mike Avery and Stevie Robinson for backing vocals. That Skoller is a decent mug anything, it proves from the first notes of “Big Box Store Blues” a reworked version of Sonny Boy ‘John Lee Williamson’s “Welfare Store Blues’. For the album of Lurrie Bell, with the same name, which Skoller was also a producer, he wrote “The Devil Is not Got No Music”, which we get Matthews version here, which sounds a bit more funky, but certainly should not be inferior to those from Bell. During the nearly six-minute title track, shuffle step Matthew tells is not always a path of roses current immigration process. Great song! And the way Skoller exposes the abuses in the blues industry “Only In The Blues”, testifies courage and guts and deserves respect. ‘Tear Collector’ is a classic blues ballad and “Story Of Greed” Matthew shows us that he has an ear for contemporary blues sound. A contemporary sound that definitely part may be written on the account of Brian Ritchie, because of his handsome performance in the shakuhachifluit. In the instrumental ‘Organ Mouth’ may both Matthew Johnny Iguana, respectively harmonica and keys express their talents, and Skoller may repeat that again in valve Papa Lightfoot’s ‘Blue Lights’.

Along with all this beauty, covert Skoller also not without merit the Joe Louis Walker known ‘747’.

Matthew Skoller is not only a spirited blues performer, but also an artist that says something. “Immigrant Blues’ therefore undeniably belongs to the charts of blues releases of 2016!

View review at: www.keysandchords.com


bell-reviews
Chicago Blues Guide – by Mark Baier
Review of Matthew’s performance on Lurrie Bell’s Blues In My Soul album

With the help of Chicago harp master Matthew Skoller, Bell and company explore the aforementioned “Feel So Good”, Jimmy Rogers’ “Going Away Baby” and “My Little Machine” along with Little Walter’s “I Just Keep Loving Her”. Skoller’s playing is the essence of golden-era harp; he never noodles purposelessly on his instrument, instead playing tight melodic lines in support of the song. Skoller carefully budgets his harp flourishes and the effect is very pleasing, he is on the short list of guys who play it right.


Blues Review
Blues Review – June/July 2006 – by Amy Long
The Matthew Skoller Band: His Kind of Blues
10-to-Watch

Over the past 25 years, Matthew Skoller has developed a brand of blues that boogies, rocks, and jives in the urban Chicago tradition. Skoller’s warm, raspy vocals and succinct harmonica work radiate confidence and maturity without flashy exhibitionism. Today he enjoys a hard-won reputation as one of the foremost harp players in the huge talent pool of the Chicago blues scene…

full article: PDF | Web Page


Mojo Magazine
Mojo Magazine, UK – January 2006
The Matthew Skoller Band, These Kind of Blues!
Named one of the Top 10 Blues Albums of 2005

Performing Songwriter
Performing Songwriter – November 2005
The Matthew Skoller Band, These Kind of Blues! Album Review

Matthew Skoller’s style of Chicago blues is a thinking music lover’s dream. It’s upbeat and solidly rocking, but it’s also much more. Those who seek a foot-tapping soundtrack for beer drinking won’t be disappointed, but neither will those who long for songs with meaning. Skoller combines Hammond organ and wailing harmonica with smart lyrics like “It seems more honest to be mugged on the street than to be be jacked-up by Enron.”

Highlights include “Ghosts in Your Closet,” in which Skoller warns us that “shuttin’ the door just locks ’em in.” The song gives well-deserved time to guitar and harmonica solos.

“Handful of People” features some of the best protest lyrics to cross my desk in a while: “There’s a handful of people telling the whole world how to live/They’ve got a fist full of gimme, and a heart full of never give.” If politics isn’t your thing, just take another swig of beer and focus on the ripping harmonica solos.


Big City Blues
Big City Blues – October-November 2005 – by Sterling Plumpp
The Matthew Skoller Band, These Kind of Blues! Album Review
★★★★★ (of five)

“The Matthew Skoller Band is an outstanding group that expresses blues in the urban or Chicago blues idiom. These Kind of Blues offer Matthew Skoller as a brilliant and significant songwriter, arranger, harpist, vocalist and bandleader. He presents contemporary blues with silhoutettes of Junior Parker, James Cotton and Jimmy Reed. These Kind of Blues is living and breathing the pathos of tradition and history.”


Downbeat Magazine
Downbeat Magazine – August 2005
The Matthew Skoller Band, These Kind of Blues! Album Review

Skoller goes after something beyond the same old thing, singing self-written lyrics that reflect his concern over dehumanizing technology on “Wired World” and arrogant autocrats on “Handful of People,” the latter also done up hip-hop style. Guitarist Lurrie Bell makes his presence known, most decisively on the powerful gospel-meets blues statement “Let the World Come to You.”


Mojo The Music Magazine
Mojo The Music Magazine (U.K.) – June 2005 – by Tony Russell
Album of the Month!
The Matthew Skoller Band, These Kind of Blues! Album Review

Session harmonica-player Skoller makes a strong claim for a centre-stage spotlight

The Chicago chapter of the United Blues Musicians has a bunch of heavyweights in its younger ranks like Nick Moss and Dave Specter, and coming up fast to join them is Matthew Skoller. His throaty singing and his harmonica playing are true-blue in the idiom, but this is no conventional travelogue from the Chicago of 40 years ago: his songs are either set firmly in the present, like Wired World, or choose traditional motifs only to transform them, as in Down At Your Buryin’. The most arresting cut is Handful Of People, first done as an airy guitar-led tune Magic Sam would have enjoyed, then remixed with a more rhythmic undertow and a rap track.


Blues Revue
Blues Revue – June/July 2005 – by Chip O’Brien
The Matthew Skoller Band, These Kind of Blues! Album Review

With These Kind of Blues!, harpist and vocalist Matthew Skoller offers up tasty and authentic Chicago blues. His songs possess a touch of class and a welcome social conscience too often absent from a genre that often relies on references to a long-gone past. That’s not to say Skoller isn’t heavily influenced by that past; his warm, raspy vocal calls to mind the late Ray Charles, and his authoritative harmonica playing is rooted deeply in the inflections of Junior Wells and James Cotton. “Handful of People” is a classic minor-key Chicago blues and a clear and biting criticism of U.S. foreign policy: “There’s a handful of people/Tellin’ the whole world how to live.” But there’s no heavy-handedness here, no moralistic posturing. And Skoller’s harp simply wails. Joining him are Lurrie Bell and Larry Skoller on guitar, Sidney James Wingfield on keyboards, Willie “Vamp” Samuels on bass, and Kenny Smith on drums. The guitarists work well together, never stepping on toes, and Wingfield’s organ and piano give just the right push. Songs that could come off trite or pedestrian in the hands of other artists are fun and soulful here, a fact exemplified by a shuffle called “Wired World,” where the scratch and whistle of a dial-up computer modem is soon joined by Skoller’s commanding harmonica playing. With references to Enron’s illegal dealings and the intrusions of modern technology – not to mention a superior control of the blues – Skoller and company deliver Chicago-style tunes worth repeated listenings.


blueswax
BluesWax – May 2005 – James Walker, contributing editor

“Matthew Skoller is one of today’s top harmonica players clearly influenced by artists such as Sonny Boy Williamson. He’s a good singer who can be a gritty vocalist. He is an even better songwriter, taking Blues traditions into modern times with contemporary themes beyond the sexuality and heartbreak of too many Blues songs. And, everyone can enjoy the lyrics because they are thankfully transcribed in the liner notes booklet.”


TwojBlues
Two J Blues – Poland – by Piotr Gwizdala
The Matthew Skoller Band, These Kind of Blues! Album Review

English Translation:

Matthew Skoller is known and appreciated for his harmonica playing, in which he combines the esthetics of Jr. Wells, Sonny Boy Williamson and Walter Horton. His own style is filled with energy, lyricism, melodics and technique.

This is his fourth release, and it shows his own, very personal and vision of urban blues of the 21st century. He’s a very good composer. His lyrics go far beyond man/woman relationships, delivering maturity and wisdom, containing passion and indispensable expression coming from the author’s heart.

Skoller is accompanied by excellent Chicago musicians. The rhythm section is: Vamp Samuels (bass) and Kenny Smith (dr), with Sidney Wingfield on keyboards. Guitars are played by Skoller’s brother Larry, and one of the greatest masters of this instrument in the city of Chicago – Lurrie Bell. Bell’s solos ornament “Let The World Come Come To You” and Cotton’s “Down At Your Buryin’.”

Skoller’s own playing in “Ghost In Your Closet” is very hot-tempered. And his solo in “Handful Of People” sent a shiver down my spine! A very interesting CD for all Chicago blues lovers. This music is fresh and modern, but its creator knows history and tradition. Superb!


Concerto
Concerto – Germany
The Matthew Skoller Band, These Kind of Blues! Album Review

Matthew Skoller and his band were one of the highlights at the Lucerne Blues Festival in 2004. His new CD proves why. The group from Chicago has deep roots in the electric blues of the Windy City, but also allows “modern” elements to shine through. Skoller impresses with his raw, black voice and with Junior Wells Harp influences. The excellent guitar work comes from brother Larry Skoller and also from Lurrie Bell. Skoller is perfectly comfortable at any tempo, which is demonstrated in the Slow Blues tune “Handful of People”. “Let the World Come to You” shows gospel influences, “Stolen Thunder” rocks, while Sidney James Wingfield’s barrelhouse-piano almost makes “Julia” come off as a country track. Skoller shows his extreme independence also in his texts. Politically alert, verses like “it seems more honest/ to be mugged out on the street/ than to be jacked-up by Enron” don’t belong to the typical blues fare. Along these lines “Handful of People” is also played in a Hip-Hop-Blues-Version: ” a handful of people/tellin’ the whole world how to live”. Matthew Skoller on the other hand is showing the world, what today’s Chicago-Blues should sound like.


play blues guitar
Play Blues Guitar – April 2005 – David (Guitar Senior) Cudaback

“Are white collar crime, the ravages of outsourcing and the war in Iraq the stuff of good blues songs? … Skoller, who has a poet’s love of the language that’s occasionally reminiscent of Dylan, marshals just the right mixture of irony, dark humor and a sense of the absurd to pull it off. “Get Paid,” the opening track, is a refreshingly unromantic look at the economic facts of life (maybe the best since Pink Floyd’s “Money”) that reminds us that even “Ghandi and Mama Theresa . . . gotta get paid.” “Handful of People” hints at the dark forces loose in the world (“They got a fist full of gimme/And a heart full of never give”), while “Wired World” is a wonderful send-up of the Internet-and-cell-phone culture.

Skoller is very well served by his lead guitarist, Chicago recluse Lurrie Bell, who spends most of the album hunkered down in the lower register. The son of famed harp man Carey Bell, he contributes unconditional support to the leader while soloing with his usual concise approach.


soulbag
Soulbag – March 2005
The Matthew Skoller Band, These Kind of Blues! Album Review
****1/2 (of 5)

Friend Matthew Skoller continues his always brilliant and interesting journey. He won’t mind my saying right off that he owes this to one of the most accomplished Chicago blues bands: his brother Larry and Lurrie Bell on guitar, Sid Wingfield on keyboard, and finally the impeccable combined rhythm of Vamp Samuels (bass) and Kenny Smith (drums). A dream group, or, as they say on the other side of the Atlantic, a dream team.

The ensemble produces a cd that is fresh, varied, and very rich. One senses a conceptual and reflective approach, served by excellent modern and intelligent texts which are a change from current productions. They juggle themes: listen to how they handle fear of self (Ghosts in your closet); disillusion (Handful of people); derision (Wired world); exacerbated jealousy (Down at your buryin’). And these are only a few examples. Everyone can enjoy the texts because the lyrics are transcribed in the booklet.

Another great strength of this cd are the inventions that explore new territory without betraying the essence of the original music (precisely what Bernard Allison is incapable of doing, see above). Here, the cd surges between taut, disquieting and evolving blues (Handful of people, Down at your buryin’), a slightly churchy title highlighted by beautiful back ground vocals (Let the world come to you), a washed away beach superbly evoked with vocal (off) effects (Stolen Thunder), a jumping homage to Larry’s little daughter (Julia), and even a reprise of Jimmy Reed which is perfectly in the spirit (Where can you be). As to the remixed version in a hip-hop vein of Handful of people, it throws you off at first, but you get into it in the process of listening: a kind of exercise impossible on stage, but that can be tied together in the studio, this one transforms into an elegant success.

With every listening, the cd reveals new surprises. In a word, these guys know how to do it all! Without going into too much detail, for we begin to know them well, we will say of the leader that his vocal assurance becomes better and better wed to his supple and expressive harmonica playing. Lurrie Bell remains very wise, articulating a few solos in his particular style, a bit halting, (Let the world come to you, Where can you be). Rhythm and keyboard adapt to each other marvelously, allowing the soloists to assume many different directions. There remains Larry Skoller who must be considered as an exceptional guitarist: take only his chorus in Down at your buryin’; it could wrench sobs from a piece of wood. An exemplary cd, and…….exploratory!


Blues Matters
Blues Matters (U.K.) – March 2005

“This release has a huge impact on its first play it fairly drips with all the best in Chicago Blues — grooves, beat, strong lyrics, musicianship and urban grind.”


city pages
City Pages, Minneapolis – by Rick Mason, A-List Picks
The Matthew Skoller Band, These Kind of Blues! Album Review

“Chicago’s hardworking Matthew Skoller isn’t a household name even in blues circles. But he’s a fire-breathing harmonica ace clearly influenced by the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson, a solid vocalist with a touch of gritty lyricism, and a good songwriter with a knack for revitalizing blues clichés with astutely contemporary twists. A former Kinsey Report member and vet of innumerable Chi-town sessions, Skoller also has assembled a formidable band featuring incendiary guitarist Lurrie Bell and former Mellow Fellows keyboards wiz Sid Wingfield. While perfectly capable of churning into high gear, the band is particularly adept at slow-burning blues. And there are a couple of nuggets on its spanking new CD, These Kind of Blues! (Tongue ‘N Groove): James Cotton’s vicious ‘Down at Your Buryin’ Ground’ and the Skoller original ‘Handful of People’, which builds to a blizzard of searing harmonica work and blistering testifying.”


BLUES RADIO PERSONALITIES PRAISE THESE KIND OF BLUES!

“Matthew Skoller is one of the top harmonica players in the blues today. He’s a good singer whose voice comes straight from the heart. On These Kind of Blues! he’s assembled a cast of some of the best and most creative players in Chicago today and has produced a beautiful sounding CD. What really makes it rise to the top, though, is the songwriting. Matthew Skoller has found his voice writing about contemporary issues with real feeling in a classic blues structure.”
— Tom Marker, BluesBreakers, WXRT, Chicago

“Matthew is a favorite in this area due to his legendary performances in Milwaukee before his move to Chicago. It’s been a pleasure watching him grow over the years. His performance at this year’s Lucerne Switzerland (Blues Festival) included a commentary on the war in Iraq; he got the biggest audience response of the night! I had an advance copy of this and have featured it on THE BLUE SIDE. Expect heaviest rotation and continued feature long into the future.”
— Mary Flynn, The Blue Side, Wisconsin Public Radio

“Heavy air play on this one… Matthew sounding good on the harp and Lurrie Bell is a great axe man!”
— Leroy Alvarez, WNMC, Traverse City, MI

“I love the new cd and it is #4 on my Playlist For February!” — Robert Lynn KSPQ, West Plains, MO

“The more I listen to the Matthew Skoller Band, the better it gets. An uncommonly perceptive songwriter, and I’ve always loved Lurrie Bell on the guitar.” — Eric Alan, Music Director, Jefferson Public Radio, KSMF, Ashland, OR