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A Global Independent and Underground Music E-zine
Issue 153, Wednesday 21st February 2024
“Tomorrow’s Music Today”

Hot Box Boogie

Hip-shaking, toe-tapping, head-nodding. This is the Holy Trinity of New York’s ALIAS SMITH AND JONES.

Following in the footsteps of the great bluesy rock and roll icons, underground legends Renee Flemings and Sal

Carolei unleash their latest take on a classic rootsy rocking cocktail. This is a glorious and swashbuckling

homebrew full of soul, rhythm, groove, and hard-edged funk. Exquisitely captured on 2020’s Hit and Run, a

record that also allows for an exceptional snapshot of Alias Smith and Jones’ timeless and adrenaline-fuelled

sound. Whether it be ferocious boogie rock, a heart-rending ballad, or the good ol’ blues, this New York duo

has it covered and then some. As Hit and Run approaches its four-year anniversary, Renee and Sal take some

time out from their creative schedules to reflect with Aldora Britain Records once again on their musical

journeys to date. We discuss memories of AC/DC live, their original songwriting process, favourite Alias Smith

and Jones originals, and much, much more. That exclusive conversation is published here for the very first time.

Alias Smith and Jones have previously contributed their track ‘Hit and Run’ to our independent, underground

music sampler ‘Do You Remember the Holy Roman Empire?’. 

Aldora Britain Records: Hello Renee and Sal, how are you? I think it is about time that we welcomed Alias Smith and Jones back to the Aldora Britain Records e-zine. I always enjoy our chats! Let’s do it again. I want to kick things off by travelling back in time. Sal, I remember you mentioned your first live music experience was AC/DC. Can you tell me about this and how did this spectacle impact you at such a formative stage?


Sal Carolei: I think I was maybe thirteen or fourteen. Theywere actually the warmup band for UFO. What really  sticks out in my head is Angus Young hopped on Bon Scott’s shoulders and they ran through the audience, but I believe Angus was mooning the audience. I think after that I thought I wanted to make music and perform on stage and just act crazy. It was a very raw experience.


Aldora Britain Records: And now, let’s take a leap forward to

the present day and your impressive output with Alias Smith and Jones. I think I am really drawn in by your expert songwriting and songcraft. It is amazing! How do you approach this part of your creative process? Are you drawn to particular themes or topics? Perhaps coming from a personal, observational, or even fictional perspective?

Renee Flemings: For my part, I like to tell stories in my lyrics and Sal always teases me about being kind of dark.

But I think dark is interesting and that’s what the best songs, plays, or stories are about, the drama in life. Often

Sal creates a musical riff or phrase and then gives it to me to write lyrics to. Other times, I hear a melody in my

head and create the lyrics and story to go with it, record it on my phone or in GarageBand, and send it to the guys

to compose the music. Sometimes a song will come to me as I’m going to sleep or on the subway. I’ve gotten

some strange looks because I have to sing it immediately or else I’ll lose it. So, I whip my phone out and record

wherever I’m at, train, bus, street, or in the middle of the night. Themes and inspiration usually come from the

riffs Sal gives me, or something that is disturbing me personally or politically. Then the musicians we play with

are just badass and they take it to the next level.

Turn over for more sounds from Alias Smith and Jones...

Sal Carolei: Usually, for me, I start by playing around with some looped drumbeats. I pick up the harmonica

next, then I’ll go to the slide guitar.

Aldora Britain Records: I would like to get more specific now. You have so many gems to your name, but I would

like to pick out two personal favourites. Let’s go for ‘Long Time Child’ and ‘Hot Box Boogie’. Two pearls! For each,

what is the story behind the song, and can you remember the moment it came to be? Did anything in particular

inspire them and what do they mean to you as the writer and performer?

Sal Carolei: Regarding ‘Long Time Child’, this was actually the very first guitar riff I gave to Renee for lyrics, and it was really simple. Our long time guitarist and friend Paul Bauman, and Michael Hill, one of the most amazing

guitarists in New York City, took it to another level on the recording.

Renee Flemings: ‘Long Time Child’ is one of those songs where the sound and feeling of the riff inspired the

lyrics. It just felt so sad and full of longing that I saw this story in my head. Actually, the first time we played it

out, Sal played it on guitar and I sang it alone without a band, and then we kept letting it evolve. It is a dark and

twisty song. The recording of this song was really cool, everyone just got into the vibe with it, and we had a blast.

‘Hot Box Boogie’ is a song that came to me as I was waking up one morning. I kept hearing it until finally I grabbed my little recorder that I used to keep bedside and sung it. I took it into the band we had back then and sang it to them and we had so much fun playing it out. During the recording session, I felt like

it would be really fun to add the feeling of actually being in a club, so we improvised some things for the opening.


Aldora Britain Records: I love to delve deeper into an artist’s roots. It is one of my favourite parts of any interview, digging into your favourites and such. Renee, you spoke of your love

for Billie Holiday previously. Can you remember the first time you heard this songstress? How has her music informed your art and creativity? More broadly, who are Alias Smith and

Jones’ big influences and inspirations in 2024?


Renee Flemings: I can’t recall exactly, which is weird because

I believe I was really young, like maybe ten or so. There are so many things about Billie Holiday that affected me,

her phrasing and the way she could tell a story, and the way she could create so much emotion just by the way

she used her voice. There are a lot of things about Billie that I admire... her survival, her take no prisoners

approach to her music. My favourite quote from her is about covering songs by other people, which basically

boils down to doing any song your way instead of mimicking someone else’s style.


Sal Carolei: Trombone Shorty, who is amazing! We both agree that we love Beyonce’s new song ‘Texas Hold ’em’.

It has Rhiannon Giddens, who we both love, she’s an inspiration. Also, loving Jon Batiste, his passion, his writing,

and his style. We also still hold onto the classics and legends.

Renee Flemings: I can never get enough and never failed to be moved by Etta James.

“Sometimes a song will come to me as I’m going to sleep or on the subway.

I’ve gotten some strange looks because I have to sing it immediately or else I’ll lose it.”


Aldora Britain Records: When I listen to your record, I always feel that those tunes would be elevated to a higher

level on a live stage. I hope to be able to attend one of these events someday. Fingers crossed! I notice that your

live calendar for 2024 is filling up nicely. What do you aim to bring to the stage as a band, and what can a fan

expect from their very first Alias Smith and Jones concert?


Sal Carolei: Energy! We put a lot of energy into our shows. We hope to get them up and dancing. Since we just

wrote some new songs, we’ll be bringing those to the shows now.

Renee Flemings: Our motto and what we aim for is ‘a damn good time!’. Meaning, what Sal said about energy,

and I want to add fun, and I sincerely hope that people just get into the music. Dance, laugh, sing with us. That’s

what you can expect, that I want to connect with you if you’re in the audience. That’s what it’s about, right?



Aldora Britain Records: Previously, if we travel back to 2014, you were operating as The Derelicts and released a fantastic EP entitled Devil’s Kiss. I have actually just discovered this record over on Bandcamp, but I am loving it already. It is a superb earlier snapshot of your artistry! How do you reflect on

this set as a whole now, and how would you say you have grown and evolved as artists since its initial release?


Sal Carolei: I’m not sure... one way is that I feel like during our shows, I listen more than I used to.


Renee Flemings: I feel like we challenge ourselves more than we did then. Vocally, with songwriting, I feel we’re more comfortable with songwriting, looking at Hit and Run andDevil’s Kiss. That’s one way I think we’ve grown. I also feel like I am constantly learning new aspects of musicianship, slowly

but surely. Also, I would like to add that all the musicians on both this EP and the Hit and Run CD are phenomenal in every respect.  Paul Bauman, Jerry Dugger, Baron ‘Barry’ Harrison, Jack

Morer, Wil Saint, David Wasserman, Brent McLachlan, Alexander Svronsky, David ‘Doc’ French, and Mike Fox.

We’re playing with some new guys next time, and it is always exciting to discover what they will bring, so we’re

looking forward to that as we get into 2024.


Aldora Britain Records: A broad question to finish. We have been through such a unique time in history over the

last few years. Both politically and within society, and that is before you throw in the pandemic. How have the

last several years impacted on you personally and as an artist? How do you think this time has changed the

music industry, both for the good and the bad? I am curious to hear your insights.


Renee Flemings: I can’t even go into a political discussion because things were insane for four years, and we’ve

not recovered here in the US. Personally, during the last few years, I lost a number of family members and that

has made it difficult, so grief was something that I hadn’t experienced that deeply, but I have now. That’s been a

learning and challenging experience for me. Regarding society, I feel like we’re so disconnected from each other.

Moments when we can connect, it’s a rare jewel. I think that’s why connection during our shows is so important

to me. Tonight, on the subway home, I looked around and saw everyone on their phones, and hey, I do it too, but

the idea of isolation and disconnect was really prescient in that moment. I feel like it’s more often than not the

way things are these days, isolation or only within your ‘pod’, a carryover from the pandemic. This is what our

existence has boiled down to in the last few years. I love it when I see folks coming together as a community, and “I want to connect with you if you’re in the audience. That’s what it’s

 about, right? Connection.” I believe music is a great catalyst for that togetherness and

connection, and through those things, we can rekindle compassion.  The music industry here in New York City, and maybe it’s like that all over, is hard because there are fewer small places to play, or it’s hard because there’s no money at all. We were just talking about this with one of our bandmembers, that we do

this more for love than money, unless you have folks who can open doors. It also seems that for many places, your bookability is about your social media followers, the numbers. If you don’t have enough, then it’s challenging. As an artist, I’m writing more songs and I want to perform every chance I

get, that’s been a development for me.


Sal Carolei: I think the type of music we play isn’t even

represented at the Grammys anymore, but I feel like the blues

has diehard folks that will come out and support you whether it’s popular or not. I think with the economy being

up and down, folks still identify with the blues.


Renee Flemings: We are definitely aiming to get back into the studio to record some new music in 2024. We’ve

been writing and have quite a few new originals that we’re working on with the band. I am also a playwright and

librettist, so I’ve been working on music for a new show. The new music includes a revised version of ‘Devil’s

Kiss’ that’s almost the polar opposite of the one on the EP.


Quickfire Round

AB Records: Favourite artist? Sal: Miles and Chris Whitley. Renee: New artist, Trombone Shorty. Historically,

Billie Holiday.

AB Records: Favourite album? Sal: It’s a toss-up, Hard Again and Exile on Main St. Renee: Kind of Blue or Living

with the Law by Chris Whitley.

AB Records: Last album you listened to from start to finish? Renee: Lady in Satin, Billie Holiday. Sal: The Allman

Brothers Band, At the Fillmore East.

AB Records: First gig as an audience member? Renee: War. Sal: AC/DC.

AB Records: Loudest gig as an audience member? Sal: Aerosmith at Madison Square Garden, 1978. Renee: I

can’t think of one.

AB Records: Style icon? Renee: I think... me! Sal: Seattle grunge meets Johnny Winter.

AB Records: Favourite film? Sal: This year, American Fiction. Historically, Blade Runner. Renee: This year,

American Fiction. Historically, Blade Runner.

AB Records: Favourite TV show? Renee: The Bear. Sal: The Bear, and we both loved this season of Fargo.

AB Records: Favourite up and coming artist? Renee: Southern Avenue. Sal: Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram, and we

both love King Solomon Hicks.

“I feel like the blues has diehard folks that will come out and support you

whether it’s popular or not. I think with the economy being up and down, folks still identify with the blues.”

                Renée Flemings and Sal Carolei live in New York City, working in film, theatre and music: their latest musical incarnation is the funky, soulful blues band, Alias Smith & Jones, who released the powerful Hit & Run in 2020 and is now set to release a second album this year. John Mitchell talks to them both.  Blues In Britain March 2023

Blues In Britain article page 1
Blues In Britain article page 2

Here is a duo who knows how to make sparks and chills with only a roaring harmonica, sometimes borrowing a hint of melancholy, a powerful voice, soul and of undeniable emotional depth and a band of seasoned veterans fluctuating over tunes and according to needs and styles .. This  will tell me that the only is a little undersized and that we have a solid group there constitutes,  will answer you .. Indeed and worth I will add without counting that when you will have it stunned well you will not come back from it, so much that it is a ball. That said, the duo is made up of the harmonicist Sal Carolei, a guy who is over twenty years experience and who has rolled his bump everywhere and with everyone, distributing powerful and melodious trills to envy and the volcanic Renee´Flemings who was born to sing the blues, since she is equipped with a powerful voice that she manipulates with virulence without overflowing into untimely yelling... She knows how to sing! This album is the first of a long series, finally I hope given the pleasure it gives me, for our two duettists, who besides being talented and wonderfully complete, knew how to surround themselves with musicians, grouped under the name of The Button Men, monstrous with power, Jerry Dugger, Michael Hill, Paul Bauman, Jack Morer, Barry Harrison, Doc French, Michael Fox, Marc Lindahl, Will Saint, David Wasserman & Brent McLachlan. Guys just as virtuoso as their innkeepers who must be mentioned given the work they do on the album. On the CD you will find ten tunes of blues, yes! and excellent stuffing of raw groove full of incisive six-string riffs, a blues declines in almost all its forms, a ballad between funk, melancholy or melodious without forgetting boogie, swing and downright roots, a deluge of rhythms and a variety of magical sounds and tones on which the guy Sal and the girl Renne´s express without restraint worn by magical musicians. Raw blues with hints of soul and a duo that should make him!!


Tonton Erik

Blues & Co Autrement Blues June-July 2021 (FR)

"This is a splendid album, with some extraordinary musicians and above all a female singer who leaves you exhausted, ten songs a mixture of blues, rock and a bit of boogie that should not catch you off guard."  BLUE21.COM

Hit & Run: "..funky, raw, sultry blues...powerful, soulful...hypothermic, vocals...cutting guitar riffs, soaring harmonica solos,...A great debut mix of raw blues and soulful sound." BLUESTOWN MUSIC MAGAZINE

POSTED ON MARCH 13, 2021 BY STEVEN OVADIA  Blues Blast Magazine

Alias Smith & Jones – Hit & Run | Album Review

Alias Smith & Jones – Hit & Run

Self-Release – 2020

10 tracks; 42:40

Duets make for complicated musical relationships, because it pits the natural, human tendency of wanting to show off against the gentler impulse to support a colleague—even at one’s own expense. Alias Smith & Jones successfully navigate this challenge on Hit & Run, an album of comfortably familiar blues that keeps soulful harmonica and powerful vocals in harmony, allowing everyone to sparkle.

The aforementioned harmonica comes from Sal Carolei, who’s played with everyone from Eliza Neals to The Travis Miller Band. His harp work is distinctive, but also capable of bending to the will of the song, which means some performances feature a punk rock intensity, while others glide like Carolei’s learned how to transcribe the flow of a river. The vocals belong to Reneé Flemings, whose voice is bluesy but also powerful. If the archetypal blues voice is strong-yet-worn, Flemings voice sounds like it hits the gym every day.

Carolei and Flemings are backed by The Button Men, a rotating cast of bassists, drummers, and guitarists, who also share some of the spotlight, mostly via stellar guitar work. Together, it makes for a fun album with lots of charming details. For instance, on the title track, an original, the band locks into a heavy blues groove, Flemings using her lower register and Carolei playing against the beat, like a surfer paddling into an upcoming wave. Suddenly, a wild slide line comes in to take a solo. But listening closely, you realize the bluesy guitar is actually violin, courtesy of Alexander Sovronsky. It’s a cool surprise, but the song works because of the notes and emotion, and not because of unexpected instrumentation twist.

“Bad, Bad Whiskey,” an Amos Wilburn song, is one of Flemings’ best vocal performances on the album. She dramatically provides the vocal, flirting with a Broadway musical delivery, but never crossing the line. It’s because her voice has an emotional depth that keeps the song tethered to a sadness. “Gone” skips along, more rock than blues, except for Carolei’s harmonica, which meditatively rolls through the album, sounding completely natural, like he’s singing through his instrument. “Going Down the the River,” a Mississippi Fred McDowell track is the Alias Smith & Jones version of a country blues, with a hypnotic acoustic guitar riff anchoring a swirl of harp and guitar, Flemings digging deep for a vocal that’s desperate, but also sturdy, telling the listener nothing will disrupt the integrity of her singing.

The songs and performances are excellent. There’s plenty of ear candy for blues fans. In fact, if there’s one issue with the album, it’s the length. While it’s 10 tracks, there are two versions of “Long Time Child,” an extended one and an edit, meaning you’re really getting nine songs. With a band this tight, you want as much music as possible.

The happy surprise consisted in the mysterious reception of this Alias ​​Smith & Jones opus in my mailbox. I didn't expect it and didn't expect to receive such a classic album in this way… that is to say without me not mentioning the desire to whom it may concern! Still, I have to listen to him, since he's there. And I'm telling you about it… since it's good and even very good! (which doesn't hurt anything!)
A classic album, certainly, but so well done that we can't resist telling you about it. Especially since the title of the opus is either very positively evocative, or encourages you to… run off. Presentation of the musicians, first of all, with Sal Carolei on harmonica and Renée Flemings on vocals. Add to that four different guitarists, two bassists, three drummers, a keyboardist, a violinist and a percussionist, and you have the complete line up who worked to get you this cake which is a superb slap. The Carolei/Flemmings couple composed 5 titles and you can also listen to a title by Mississippi Fred MacDowell, one by Stevie Wonder and one by Milburn and Davis. Renée Flemings is a singer with a powerful voice and such an organ supported by excellent musicians can only produce an album of excellent quality. And that is exactly what it is about here.

Dominique Boulay 
Paris-Move  &  Blues Magazine (Fr)

PARIS-MOVE, May 20th 2021

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