Joined by Mitch Kashmar (harp), Bill Flores (accordion, fiddle), and Steve White (horns, keys), Ventura, California's "Blue Stew" add other influences to their blues on their latest album, "Headed South" (Silk City 2024). While "That's What Lovers Will Do" and "The Laundromat" are straightforward, swinging shuffles and "I'm A Slave To You" is a slow blues with a hipster attitude, "Three Days To Louisiana" is reminiscent of Little Feat, and "La Fayette Cajun Fest and Fais Do Do" is pure Cajun (even if it is sung in English). Refreshingly, Michael Miller and John Boutell are obviously more concerned with their roles as primary singers and songwriters than with impressing listeners with guitar chops. Case in point: Miller's evocative road trip song "Blues For The Bearcat" is easily among the best recordings of the last year.
Tom Hyslop (April 2006)
(Main St. 2000-03). Vocals from guitarists Michael Miller and John Boutrell are compelling. The music is eclectic, touching on the Allmans and John Hiatt, maybe a hint of Little Feat, a Tom Waits homage ("Steppin' on Cracks") and gypsy jazz (She makes me feel that way"). Clean, midtempo minor material like "Bringing Home the Blues" and "Missing You" works great; you can find hints of zydeco, New Orleans and acoustic blues here too, all wrapped up in wit and thoughtfulness.
Stumbling Bocks and Stepping Stones
Gently rolling blues, California style. This stew goes down easy.
California-based Blue Stew serves up 12 tasty tracks on Destination: The Blues (Main St. Records). The band has been playing a mix of blues styles since 1994, and on this, their second CD, they show their versatility by doing mostly original material. Michael Miller-who handles lead guitar, slide and most of the vocal chores-wrote eight of the songs, while fellow guitarist John Boutell penned three. The material ranges from the Elmore James-inspired Chicago blues of "Don't You Want a Man Like Me" to the jazzy "Keep Moving Along," with great Hammond B-3 organ from Jim Calire and tasty tenor sax work by Steve White. In addition, there are cuts with boogie piano, ballads and acoustic guitar, as well as the CD's only cover, a slow, almost ominous version of Leiber and Stoller's "Love Potion Number Nine." These guys have honed their chops at Southern California clubs and as openers for groups including Duke Robillard, Little Feat, The Blasters, Roomful of Blues and others. It sure shows in this fun mixture of blues, roots and jazz.
Mark K. Miller (March 2000)
What's cookin' in the Blues kitchen lately? It's Blue Stew. Just add some gutsy slide guitar, a chunky rhythm filled Hammond organ and vocalist Michael Miller's scrappy vocal style and you have a complete blues meal. A blues stew boiling over with the heart and soul that epitomizes the blues sound. This is a real solid effort. I became fond of their catchy sound very quickly. There is a certain strength and fullness to this group's sound. Sure it's the blues, and nothing out of the ordinary is heard on this album. There is a certain consistency that is hard to define, it's there though. It's difficult to explain in words just how good this CD is, you have to hear it and come to know the experience to understand it. Each song comes from a place of power from within the artist, you can feel it. The music moves and flows like a river of emotions. It's the blues, and it's superbly done by this finely tuned churning blues machine that calls themselves Blue Stew. The group is John Boutell (vocals, guitars), Kirk Maxson (bass), Michael Miller (vocals, guitars, harmonica) and Matt Rolston (drums). I have to mention additional musician Jim Claire, who plays a mean Hammond and piano. Order up some tasty Blue Stew, it will fill you up with one helping. It certainly is a fine recipe. They stay right on track and the destination is reached.
February 28, 2000
After Six years together, the four guys in Blue Stew definetly have the blues thing figured out.
Destination: The Blues
Main Street Records
Blue Stew is a Southern California quartet with a straight ahead good-rockin? blues sound. This solid album presents an in-depth look at the players and some fine guest soloists on 11 well-crafted originals that mix calypso, jump and rock. There's also a cool, spooky version of the Leiber/Stoller classic "Love Potion Number Nine."
Wry lyrics pepper the disc. "Human Race," a boogie blues penned by guitarist Michael Miller, is the lament of a guy who cant quite fit in but who'd "join the human race if it would move a little slower." Singer John Boutell's "Rio Grande" is a swank invitation to cut and run for the border, where "I hear they got a rockin? band/Triple-A, you understand." It's nice to see such real thought go into songwriting; the lyrics here are much better than the standard "ooh baby" stuff that permeates blues.
Miller's gruff, hoarse vocals on "Keep Moving Along" are not unlike those of Tom Waits. Guest sax man Steve White lays out a greasy, soulful tenor solo on the tune, masterfully tailing Miller's voice. Extra bonus: Drummer Matt Rolston plays rhythm tracks on a Coors box.
Sometimes the sound is lacking - on "She Doesn?t Come Around Here Anymore," Miller's slippery slide guitar solos are right on the money, but there's a cheeseball keyboard sound in the background, like electric piano meets Karaoke Man, and it's distracting. Still, Miller's vocals are tough and convincing, and the song rides high despite the goofy embellishments.
The disc's best cut is "My Destination Is the Blues," Miller's ode to life in Los Angeles. Its tremendously poetic lyrics "There's a man at a motel, cheating on his wife/There's a gang related drive-by that just took a life/There's a kid in South Central selling crack on the street/There's the law on their tail, putting on the heat" - help make Destination: The Blues a hard-hitting commentary on modern life. "Cuts to the Bone" proves an excellent way to end the album, with bassist Kirk Maxson?s upright pushing the uptempo boogie cut as Miller's lead guitar dances out a slew of far-out riffs.
The guest players offer some nice work; witness Bobby Joe Holman?s cheeky harp solos on "To Satisfy You" and Jim Calire's adept Hammond B-3 organ work on several cuts, especially Boutell's swing-blues "She's Fine." White's rich, brassy tone and jazzy scales add a lot to these tunes. Destination: The Blues is a well-produced release with a lot of heart.
Ed Ivey (March 1999)
It's hard not to like Blue Stew's affable bouillabaisse of styles, with equal parts slide guitar, Hammond B-3, deep, snarling vocals and a finely honed sense of humor that befits a quartet that can actually remember "Love Potion #9.
Destination: The Blues
This is the group's second album of laid-back, totally comfortable, yet rocking blues. The guitar players John Boutell and Michael Miller write most of the songs, and they are masters of their craft.
January 1, 1999
Start with a Mississippi delta base, add a little Muddy Waters followed by a dab of funky Lowell George and Ry Cooder, then spinkle with a pinch of melancholy. Simmer until the crowd can't sit still. That's the recipe for Blue Stew...
Elena Jarvis (March 1999)
Destination: The Blues
Laid back, totally comfortable but rockin' blues by this tight local quartet. The guitar players, John Boutell and Michael Miller, write most of the songs, and they excel. Booze, Ms. Wrong and the other timeless blues topics get special treatment. Solid all around. GRADE: A-
Bill Locey (October 22, 1998)
Blue Stew: Perhaps the longest-running blues gig in these parts, Blue Stew has been packing them into Hi Cees at Ventura Harbor every Saturday and Sunday afternoon for about four years. "Long Gone," one of the greatest-ever local CDs, features plenty of upbeat dance-inducing tunes like "High Roller." Blue Stew is adept at Texas, Chicago, Delta, West Coast, jump blues as well as inducing beer sales at the venue.
Bill Locey (November 27, 1997)
"Long Gone" is get-down, meat-and-potatoes rockin' blues by some veteran local players who entertain every weekend at Hi Cees in the Ventura Harbor. Most of the songs are originals, and "High Roller" is the serious foot tapper on this one. Blue Stew is another band that was around for a long time before they ever made a CD, despite making many fans.
Bill Locey (November 1996)
This local quartet does the kick-ass blues thing on their dozen song debut disc, most of which are originals. Powerful speaker-threatening blues here, not that boring old crap. "High Roller," a John Boutell tune fairly rages, and there?s no bad cuts. Produced by Patrick Landreville, this one is a keeper, just ask the hordes of dancers that show up to their weekend gigs at Hi-Cees in Ventura.
November 14, 1996