Jessica Lee Wilkes. Photo by Joshua Black Wilkins.

Lone Wolf, Jessica Lee Wilkes' debut recording as a solo artist, offers not the slightest hint of doubt. Its five tracks are a 12-minute blast of full-throated, deep-groove 1950s-style rock, with the bassist/singer/songwriter belting in an unvarnished, brassy voice that sounds wholly natural.

Listening to the new EP, it's hard to believe that Wilkes - who will perform at RIBCO on August 11 - questioned herself a lot. She spent the past half-decade playing and singing in J.D. Wilkes & the Dirt Daubers, but - unlike her music-biz-vet husband (the leader of the aforementioned band) - she's relatively new to performing and recording.

Making her introduction to the world in such an abbreviated form, she said in a recent phone interview, was partly a function of money, but it was also an acknowledgment of inexperience. She had plenty of songs for a longer recording, but she didn't want to get in over her head.

"I wanted to see if I could do it at all," she said. "This was sort of like my first little test run ... , a way to get my feet wet and try to see what I'm capable of as an independent artist."

The announcement came 10 days after the final notes of the 2015 Mississippi Valley Blues Festival should have filled LeClaire Park: There would be no 2015 Mississippi Valley Blues Festival.

Citing financial difficulties, on July 15 the Mississippi Valley Blues Society (MVBS) said that it had canceled the festival. This followed a decision in February to move the blues fest from its traditional Independence Day weekend to the Labor Day weekend, and to reduce it from three days to two - changes designed to lessen the chance the event would be flooded out of LeClaire Park, to give the blues society the opportunity to raise more money, and to cut costs. The board was sharply divided on both the date-change and cancellation votes.

There are several cruel ironies here.

The cancellation comes a year after the Blues Foundation honored the festival with a Keeping the Blues Alive award for U.S. festivals, citing the Quad Cities event as "one of the longest-running, most-prestigious blues festivals in the world."

And there was no Fourth of July flooding in LeClaire Park this year, and the weather was rain-free and just about perfect. Had the festival happened at its normal time - as it had for the past 30 years - the MVBS would very likely have shored up its financial position significantly. "It would have been the best weather we've had in 16 years," said MVBS Board Member Ric Burris.

Instead, the organization now faces an existential crisis. Will the MVBS be able to put on a festival next year - as its president and many board members hope to? How will the group rebuild its board and fundraising efforts in the wake of this year's cancellation? And would a Mississippi Valley Blues Society without the blues fest be a shell of its former self - or could it perhaps be a stronger organization more focused on its education programs and smaller concerts?

Photos by Lars Rehnberg (Flickr.com/larsanders) from the Camp Euforia festival, held July 16 through 18 in Lone Tree, Iowa.

Jeff Austin Band

Lewis Knudsen. Photo by Mike Aubrey.

Lewis Knudsen kicks off his album The Way of Most Resistance with a track titled "Death & Cats," featuring the slightly ominous lyric "Death and cats are taking over / You better look over your shoulder."

It's not the most musically arresting track on the record, but in addition to its great title and chorus, it has a gently infectious (and not at all ominous) slink in both verse and chorus. It's a low-key charmer announcing that Knudsen's artistic potential has quickly become confident maturity.

I liked much of what the singer/songwriter/guitarist/pianist and his band were up to on last year's Joy, Pain, Love, Songs - although its mishmash nature made it hard to divine how its disparate threads could or would be woven into a coherent artistic vision.

While Knudsen admitted that his 2014 album was a collection of unrelated songs, he said via e-mail that he conceived The Way of Most Resistance as an "alt-funk/neo-soul" album. That description is a bit of a stretch given the restraint in tempo and dynamic range - and how well Knudsen's voice and his band fit within them.

The sax, keys, and bass on "Fire Inside Me" fit that funk/soul description, but the vibe on Resistance seems more rooted in the carefully orchestrated pop of Badly Drawn Boy. (Remember him?) Knudsen's palette isn't quite so broad, but his arrangements (as on his previous album) make smart use of saxophone, violin, and vocal textures, while his heartfelt singing and the wit in his songwriting complete the package.

Walter Trout last month at Royal Albert Hall

Last year was meant to be a celebration of 25 years as a solo artist for Walter Trout. For much of the year, it looked more like an obituary.

"Provogue Records for the last five years has been planning this big push," explained the guitarist/singer/songwriter in a phone interview promoting his July 21 performance at the Redstone Room. "They financed a biography to be written of me; they financed a documentary to be made about my life; they released all my back catalog on collector's item vinyl. And the whole record label was going to call 2014 the Year of the Trout. And to me, being an artist, my ship had come in."

Trout - a five-time nominee in the Blues Music Awards' Rock Blues Album category and a veteran of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers band - also had a new album, The Blues Came Callin'. "I've got this label and they're way behind me, and as soon as the record started to come out, I was sick and I canceled an entire year of touring."

Fast forward to the present. Another new album, Battle Scars, is nearly finished and is slated for release in October. One line from one track neatly summarizes, with a light touch, the fact that Trout missed his own party: "My ship came in and sailed away again."

You won't, however, hear the man complain - which is clear by his use of the vague and grossly inadequate word "sick."

In late May of 2014, Trout had a liver transplant.

Mondo Drag

Describing the evolving musical philosophy of Mondo Drag, keyboardist/singer John Gamino said the band is learning patience: "Letting parts breathe. Kind of letting the listener ease into something. ... Letting things develop. Not rushing them along too much."

Patience has also been required in other ways for the Oakland-based psychedelic/prog band that got its start in the Quad Cities and will return on July 9 for a show at RIBCO. (Three of the band's five members hail from the QCs: Gamino and guitarists Nolan Girard and Jake Sheley.)

In 2011, the year after Mondo Drag's New Rituals debut was released, the rhythm section left. The follow-up album was recorded and co-produced by Pat Stolley in the Quad Cities in late 2011 and early 2012 with Zack Anderson and Cory Berry (both of Radio Moscow), who then moved to Sweden as members of Blues Pills.

"So we didn't have a band, essentially," Gamino said. "We didn't have a rhythm section. We couldn't promote the album on tour." And the record didn't have a label, either. He added that the group had difficulty finding compatible musicians in the Midwest, so in April 2013 Mondo Drag set out for California.

Sophomore album Mondo Drag was finally released this year (on RidingEasy Records in the States) - three years after it was finished.

Juan Wauters

Juan Wauters has been called "one of the most idiosyncratic and inventive songwriters in New York today" (by the New York Observer), "New York's greatest songwriter" (by Impose magazine), and "one of New York's most compelling singer/songwriters" (by Spin magazine).

That praise would suggest a few things about the native Uruguayan, none of which appears to be true.

The plaudits for his songwriting hint at something aggressively sophisticated and artful, but the songs on his new Who Me? are uniformly easy-going - simple, warm, and seemingly effortlessly charming. Of course, that doesn't mean they don't deserve the great notices; it's just that they're utterly devoid of pretension.

And as much as he's identified as a New Yorker, Wauters has a fondness for the Quad Cities and institutions such as Ross' and Harris Pizza.

Strangled Darlings

If you read the bio of Strangled Darlings on the duo's Web site, you'll get a hint of tension between capitalized Art and something at the other end of the spectrum entirely.

First: "Jess and George met at party in 2009, with their spontaneous duet of the Prince song 'Pussy Control.'"

Then: "The songs work with nontraditional subjects for inspiration. Some song subjects include : the works of great authors (Faulkner, William Blake, Gabriel García Márquez, Donald Barthelme, Anna Akhmatova) as well as witchcraft in the Civil War, the morality of Somali piracy, and the media impact of Neil Armstrong."

Into that mix you can throw in a clear understanding of the crass realities of the decentralized modern music business - the need to get attention, and an acknowledgment that emerging bands have to tour relentlessly to build an audience.

All three of those basic elements are evident on the song "Kill Yourself," from the upcoming album Boom Stomp King. It's a bright, cheery ditty on the one hand, with the title and matching refrain designed to generate maximum curiosity.

In a recent phone interview, singer/songwriter/mandolinist George Veech acknowledged some less-than-pure motives behind the song. "The biggest fear of an artist is to not have an audience, to not be heard. I know damn well that saying 'Kill Yourself' is taboo in a lot of ways, and I'm not advocating [that]," he said. "It helps get attention. I got your attention now, and then let's talk about the actual details."

Yo-Yo MaListening wasn't enough. You had to be there to take it all in.

As one of the world's leading musicians, cellist Yo-Yo Ma is renowned for his compelling tone, masterful technique, and convincing musical storytelling. But on May 14 at the Adler Theatre with the Quad City Symphony, he demonstrated a key element that could only be experienced in the live performance: body language.

The special centennial-season concert was unparalleled for its depth of expression, precision playing, and warm sensitivity, especially in the second-half performance of Antonín Dvo?ák's Concerto in B Minor for Cello & Orchestra with Ma. And when the spotlight shone on the Quad City Sympony in the first half, the orchestra flexed its considerable dynamic and melodic muscles in no-holds-barred performances of Johannes Brahms' Academic Festival Overture and Pyotr Tchaikovsky's tuneful Romeo & Juliet Fantasy Overture, creating stark moments of volcanic intensity and radiant melodic shaping.

John O'Meara performing at a benefit in his honor in 2010. Photo by David J. Genac (QCPhoto.ImageKind.com).

John O'Meara Jr. died on April 22 at age 58, and the memories and thoughts in this article attest to a much-loved man and musician who played in myriad Quad Cities-area bands in many genres.

O'Meara was born in Moline and graduated from Rock Island High School in 1974. He studied music at Black Hawk and Augustana colleges. His sister, Betsy McNeil, said highlights of his musical career included playing with Warren Parrish and Louie Bellson.

He was diagnosed with an oligodendroglioma brain tumor in 1992 and, following treatment, was declared cancer-free in 1996. In 2010, he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.

Although cancer affected his physical ability, he continued to perform.

O'Meara is survived by his father John Sr., sons Levi and John Gabriel, brother Paul, sister Betsy, brother-in-law Dan McNeil, nephew Leo McNeil, and sweetheart Elisabeth Lockheart.

Memorials may be made to family at 1904 46th St., Moline IL 61265, and will be used for his sons and to buy a Fender bass for the River Music Experience's scholarship program.

Memorial events for O'Meara are being planned.

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