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CD REVIEW -- Kathi McDonald & Rich Kirch


Nothin’ But Trouble

TearDrop 1010

Kathi & Rich CD art

By Eric Steiner

Nothin’ But Trouble reunites Kathi McDonald and Rich Kirch on Wheeling, Illinois-based Tear Drop Records, for a passionate reading of some of the most popular tunes from the Chicago blues songbook.  TearDrop is an innovative, boutique Chicago-area blues label that has kept the music of Joe Kelly (Shadows of Knight), the late Hip Linkchain (a sadly underappreciated bluesman), and J. B. Ritchie & Power Blues very much alive. 


Joining Kathi and Rich on Nothin’ But Trouble are arguably three of the most talented working Chicago bluesmen working today: “Right Hand Frank” Bandy on bass and Marty Binder on drums, and “Brother John” Kattke on keyboards – each of these sidemen are no strangers to big stages like the Chicago Blues Festival or to Grammy and Blues Music Award-recognized recordings. They make up a “Chicago blues dream team band” that back Kathi and Rich, who are now working together for the first time in nearly a decade when they last reunited in Kirch’s adoptive home in the San Francisco Bay Area. 


Before leaving Chicagoland for the Bay Area in the 1980s, Rich was part of the Jimmy Rogers Blues Band (along with “Right Hand” Frank) and the Jimmy Dawkins Blues Band.  He worked for John Lee Hooker for 13 years in the Coast to Coast Blues Band after relocating to San Francisco, and since then, has worked on television commercials, and released a respected independent CD, Augusta Boulevard Blues, that included Hooker, Big Walter Horton, Sam Lay, and Charlie Musselwhite.


Nothin’ But Trouble features nine songs that have deep roots in post-war Chicago and Mississippi blues, and the disc launches with an uptempo, take-no-prisoners attack on “Rollin’ & Tumblin,” followed by a simmering “Talk to Me Baby.”  For me, any blues woman’s interpretation of “Wang Dang Doodle” is a tall order, as I always compare any new interpretation of that classic Willie Dixon song to Koko Taylor’s ChicagoFest performance on the classic Alligator-WXRT partnership CD, Blues Deluxe.  Kathi nails it on Nothin’ But Trouble, and adds her own unique vocal spice to one of the Queen of the Blues’ signature songs.


Nothin’ But Trouble is distributed nationally by City Hall Records; it will be welcomed by fans of Kathi McDonald and her powerful take on ‘70s rock-tinged blues.  As I listened to Kathi reach the high points of such Chicago blues standards as “Big Leg Woman” and “Shake Your Money Maker,” I thought of other shouter-style vocalists that remind me of Axl Rose.  Axl may have propelled Guns ‘n Roses to the top of the charts with that unique vocal attack, but Kathi McDonald was there first in a five-decade career spanning over 150 albums (and dozens of them certified gold).  She also was an Ikette, a member of Big Brother and the Holding Company, and sang with Joe Cocker and his Mad Dogs & Englishmen, and Leon Russell’s Shelter People.  Kathi’s impressive studio credits include work with the Rolling Stones, Nils Lofgren, and Dave Mason.


If you like expressive blues women that sing way out front, backed by an expert Chicago blues band grounded in the standards of the genre, I recommend Nothin’ But Trouble as it shows that two blues pioneers – Kathi and Rich – still have got that special spark reignited by some Chicago blues classics.


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Eric Steiner is president of the Washington Blues Society in Seattle, Washington, and a member of the Board of Directors of The Blues Foundation in Memphis, Tennessee. 


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