2016 Blues Music Awards Nominees

37th Blues Music Award Nominees

Acoustic Album
Doug MacLeod – Exactly Like This
Duke Robillard – The Acoustic Blues & Roots of Duke Robillard
Eric Bibb – Blues People
Guy Davis – Kokomo Kidd
The Ragpicker String Band – The Ragpicker String Band

Acoustic Artist
Doug MacLeod
Eric Bibb
Gaye Adegbalola
Guy Davis
Ian Siegal

 
Album
Anthony Geraci & the Boston Blues All-Stars – Fifty Shades of Blue
Buddy Guy – Born to Play Guitar
James Harman – Bonetime
The Cash Box Kings – Holding Court                 
Wee Willie Walker – If Nothing Ever Changes

Band
Andy T – Nick Nixon Band
Rick Estrin & the Nightcats
Sugar Ray & the Bluetones
The Cash Box Kings
Victor Wainwright & the Wild Roots

B.B. King Entertainer
John Németh
Rick Estrin
Shemekia Copeland
Sugaray Rayford
Victor Wainwright

Best New Artist Album
Eddie Cotton – One at a Time
Igor Prado Band – Way Down South
Mighty Mike Schermer – Blues in Good Hands
Mr. Sipp – The Mississippi Blues Child
Slam Allen – Feel These Blues

Contemporary Blues Album
Buddy Guy – Born to Play Guitar
Eugene Hideaway Bridges – Hold on a Little Bit Longer
Shemekia Copeland – Outskirts of Love
Sonny Landreth – Bound by the Blues
Sugaray Rayford – Southside

Contemporary Blues Female Artist
Beth Hart
Karen Lovely
Nikki Hill
Samantha Fish
Shemekia Copeland

Contemporary Blues Male Artist
Brandon Santini
Eugene Hideaway Bridges
Jarekus Singleton
Joe Louis Walker
Sugaray Rayford

Historical Album 
The Henry Gray/Bob Corritore Sessions, Vol. 1, Blues Won’t Let Me Take My Rest on Delta Groove Records
Hawk Squat by J. B. Hutto & His Hawks on Delmark Records
Southside Blues Jam by Junior Wells on Delmark Records
Buzzin’ the Blues by Slim Harpo on Bear Family Records
Dynamite! The Unsung King of the Blues by Tampa Red on Ace Records

Instrumentalist-Bass
Charlie Wooton
Lisa Mann
Michael “Mudcat” Ward
Patrick Rynn
Willie J. Campbell

Instrumentalist-Drums
Cedric Burnside
Jimi Bott
June Core
Tom Hambridge
Tony Braunagel

Instrumentalist-Guitar
Anson Funderburgh
Kid Andersen
Monster Mike Welch
Ronnie Earl
Sonny Landreth

Instrumentalist-Harmonica
Billy Branch
Brandon Santini
James Harman
Jason Ricci
Kim Wilson

Instrumentalist-Horn
Al Basile
Doug James
Kaz Kazanoff
Sax Gordon
Terry Hanck

Koko Taylor Award (Traditional Blues Female)
Diunna Greenleaf
Fiona Boyes
Ruthie Foster
Trudy Lynn
Zora Young

Pinetop Perkins Piano Player
Allen Toussaint
Anthony Geraci
Barrelhouse Chuck
John Ginty
Victor Wainwright

Rock Blues Album of the Year
Joe Bonamassa – Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks
Joe Louis Walker – Everybody Wants a Piece
Royal Southern Brotherhood – Don’t Look Back
Tinsley Ellis – Tough Love
Walter Trout – Battle Scars

Song
“Bad Feet/Bad Hair” written and performed by James Harman
“Fifty Shades of Blue” written by Anthony Geraci and performed by Anthony Geraci & the Boston Blues All-Stars
“Gonna Live Again” written and performed by Walter Trout
“Southside of Town” written by Sugaray Rayford and & Ralph Carter and performed by Sugaray Rayford
“You Got It Good (and That Ain’t Bad)” written and performed by Doug MacLeod

Soul Blues Album
Bey Paule Band – Not Goin’ Away
Billy Price & Otis Clay – This Time for Real
Jackie Payne – I Saw the Blues
Tad Robinson – Day into Night
Wee Willie Walker – If Nothing Ever Changes 

Soul Blues Female Artist
Bettye LaVette
Dorothy Moore
Missy Anderson
Toni Lynn Washington
Vaneese Thomas

Soul Blues Male Artist
Frank Bey
Jackie Payne
Johnny Rawls
Otis Clay
Wee Willie Walker

Traditional Blues Album
Andy T – Nick Nixon Band – Numbers Man
Anthony Geraci & the Boston Blues All-Stars – Fifty Shades of Blue
Cedric Burnside Project – Descendants of Hill Country
James Harman – Bonetime
The Cash Box Kings – Holding Court

Traditional Blues Male Artist
Cedric Burnside
Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin
James Harman
Jimmy Burns
John Primer

The Blues Foundation is Memphis-based, but world-renown as THE organization whose mission is to preserve blues heritage, celebrate blues recording and performance, expand worldwide awareness of the blues, and ensure the future of this uniquely American art form. Founded in 1980, The Blues Foundation has approximately 4000 individual members and 200 affiliated local blues societies representing another 50,000 fans and professionals around the world. Its signature honors and events–the Blues Music Awards, Blues Hall of Fame, International Blues Challenge and Keeping the Blues Alive Awards–make it the international center of blues music. The recent opening of the Blues Hall of Fame Museum, in Memphis, TN, now adds the opportunity for music lovers of all ages to interact with the music and the history. For more information, log onto www.blues.org.

 

Best of 2015

shawnpittman9

2015 was a good year for blues and roots music, and in particular for soul music with a blues feeling. Prompted by David Mac at Blues Junction (bluesjunctionproductions.com) and Art Tipaldi at Blues Music Magazine (bluesmusicmagazine.com), I came up with Top Ten lists for the last year. The lists you’ll see in those showcases vary slightly, as the qualifications were different. Here is a combined and expanded list that shows a more complete picture of the blues-oriented records I enjoyed most over the past year.

 

The year’s best album, in my estimation, was :

Shawn Pittman, Backslidin’ Again

The recording, with the ace rhythm section of Willie J. Campbell and Jimi Bott, is a stone killer set of real blues, with a little blues rock (done right, which virtually no one does), funk, and soul. Pittman, an Oklahoman, has a brilliant writing partner in Lewis Dickson, and includes choice covers from Ike Turner, Frankie Lee Sims, and Johnny “Guitar” Watson; his own guitar and vocals are superb, of course. The recording is available in digital format only, at iTunes and CDBaby. (That’s a sorry state of affairs, in my opinion – I’m old school and prefer hard copy.)

The rest:

Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin, Lost Time
Big Jon Atkinson, Back Down South
Sherwood Fleming, Blues Blues Blues
James Harman, Bonetime
Javier & The Innocent Sons, Born To Ramble
Will Porter, Tick Tock Tick
Igor Prado Band, Way Down South
Tad Robinson, Day Into Night
Andy Santana & The West Coast Playboys, Watch Your Step!
Wee Willie Walker, If Nothing Ever Changes

Lester Butler feat. 13, Live @ Tamines 1997
Anthony Geraci & The Boston Blues All-Stars, Fifty Shades of Blue
Nikki Hill, Heavy Hearts Hard Fists
B.B. King, Here’s One You Didn’t Know About
Barry Levenson, The Visti
Hank Mowery, Excuses Plenty
Jackie Payne, I Saw The Blues
Billy Price & Otis Clay, This Time For Real
Laura Rain & The Caesars, Gold
Mighty Mike Schermer, Blues In Good Hands
Pops Staples, Don’t Lose This
Kai Strauss, I Go By Feel
Joakim Tinderholt & His Band, You Gotta Do More
The 24th Street Wailers, Where Evil Grows

 

 

 

Nick Curran, 2004

3347bf3fe3f84dd12194291c1cb5fe59

In response to the request for more examples of my field recordings of Nick Curran, here are some choice cuts. “All I Can Do Is Cry” comes from Tom’s Garage in Appleton, Wisconsin, March 28, 2004. “Midnight Is A Lonely Hour” and “Get Rich Quick” come from the same venue, on June 27, 2004. “It’s My Life, Baby,” “Player,” “Midnight,” and “Hustler” happened June 29, 2004, at Luther’s Blues in Madison. Enjoy and keep the faith – FOREVER NICK CURRAN!

2015 Blues Music Awards Winners

major2_hvr_02

The awards were handed out in Memphis on Thursday, 7 May. The 36th Blues Music Award winners (in bold) are:

Acoustic Album
Hard Luck Child: A Tribute to Skip James – Rory Block
Jericho Road – Eric Bibb
Jigsaw Heart – Eden Brent
Son & Moon: A Tribute to Son House – John Mooney
Timeless – John Hammond

Acoustic Artist
Doug MacLeod
Eric Bibb
John Hammond
John Mooney
Rory Block

Album
Can’t Even Do Wrong Right – Elvin Bishop
Living Tear To Tear – Sugar Ray & the Bluetones
Memphis Grease – John Németh
Refuse to Lose – Jarekus Singleton
Wrapped Up and Ready – The Mannish Boys

B.B. King Entertainer
Bobby Rush
Elvin Bishop
John Németh
Rick Estrin
Sugaray Rayford

Band
Elvin Bishop Band
John Németh & the Bo-Keys
Rick Estrin & the Nightcats
Sugar Ray & the Bluetones
The Mannish Boys

Best New Artist Album
Chromaticism – Big Harp George
Don’t Call No Ambulance – Selwyn Birchwood
Heavy Water – Fo’ Reel
Making My Mark – Annika Chambers & the Houston All-Stars
One Heart Walkin‘ – Austin Walkin’ Cane

Contemporary Blues Album
Can’t Even Do Wrong Right – Elvin Bishop
Original – Janiva Magness
Refuse to Lose -Jarekus Singleton
Hornet’s Nest – Joe Louis Walker
BluesAmericana – Keb’ Mo’

Contemporary Blues Female Artist
Beth Hart
Bettye LaVette
Janiva Magness
Marcia Ball
Shemekia Copeland

Contemporary Blues Male Artist
Elvin Bishop
Gary Clark Jr.
Jarekus Singleton
Joe Bonamassa
Joe Louis Walker

Historical
From His Head to His Heart to His Hands – Michael Bloomfield (Columbia/Legacy)
Live at the Avant Garde – Magic Sam (Delmark)
Soul & Swagger: The Complete “5” Royales 1951-1967 – The “5” Royales (Rock Beat)
The Modern Music Sessions 1948-1951 – Pee Wee Crayton (Ace)
The Roots of it All-Acoustic Blues – Various Artists (Bear Family)

Instrumentalist-Bass
Bob Stroger
Lisa Mann
Michael “Mudcat” Ward
Patrick Rynn
Willie J. Campbell

Instrumentalist-Drums
Jimi Bott
June Core
Kenny Smith
Tom Hambridge
Tony Braunagel

Instrumentalist-Guitar
Anson Funderburgh
Joe Bonamassa
Johnny Winter
Kid Andersen
Ronnie Earl

Instrumentalist-Harmonica
Charlie Musselwhite
Kim Wilson
Mark Hummel
Rick Estrin
Sugar Ray Norcia

Instrumentalist-Horn
Al Basile
Deanna Bogart
Jimmy Carpenter
Sax Gordon
Terry Hanck

Koko Taylor Award
Alexis P Suter
Diunna Greenleaf
EG Kight
Ruthie Foster
Trudy Lynn

Pinetop Perkins Piano Player
Barrelhouse Chuck
Bruce Katz
David Maxwell
Eden Brent
Marcia Ball

Rock Blues Album
Step Back – Johnny Winter
Goin’ Home – Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band
Time Ain’t Free – Nick Moss Band
heartsoulblood – Royal Southern Brotherhood
The Blues Came Callin’ – Walter Trout

Song
“Another Murder in New Orleans” written by Carl Gustafson & Donald Markowitz, performed by Bobby Rush and Dr. John with Blinddog Smokin’
“Bad Luck Is My Name” written and performed by John Németh
“Can’t Even Do Wrong Right” written and performed by Elvin Bishop
“Let Me Breathe” written by Janiva Magness & Dave Darling, performed by Janiva Magness
“Things Could Be Worse” written by Ray Norcia, performed by Sugar Ray & the Bluetones

Soul Blues Album
Blues for My Father – Vaneese Thomas
Decisions – Bobby Rush with Blinddog Smokin’
In My Soul – The Robert Cray Band
Memphis Grease – John Németh
Soul Brothers – Otis Clay & Johnny Rawls

Soul Blues Female Artist
Candi Staton
Missy Andersen
Sharon Jones
Sista Monica
Vaneese Thomas

Soul Blues Male Artist
Bobby Rush
Curtis Salgado
John Németh
Johnny Rawls
Otis Clay

Traditional Blues Album
Common Ground: Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy – Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin
For Pops (A Tribute to Muddy Waters) – Mud Morganfield & Kim Wilson
Livin’ it Up – Andy T-Nick Nixon Band
Living Tear To Tear – Sugar Ray & the Bluetones
The Hustle is Really On – Mark Hummel
Wrapped Up and Ready – The Mannish Boys

Traditional Blues Male Artist
Billy Boy Arnold
John Primer
Lurrie Bell
Sugar Ray Norcia
Sugaray Rayford

It’s extremely likely I will be sharing some of my thoughts about the results, so check back. In the meantime, I would be interested in yours. Please comment.

http://www.blues.org/2015/05/36th-blues-music-awards-winners/

Best of 2014

David Mac again invited me to join other contributors in submitting a selection of my ten favorite CDs of 2014 to his fabulous site Blues Junction (http://bluesjunctionproductions.com/daves_top_nine_list_of_top_ten_lists). After much agonizing decisionmaking, I delivered this list:

index

John Németh, Memphis Grease (Blue Corn)
Sean Costello, In the Magic Shop (VizzTone)
Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin, Common Ground (YepRoc)
The Mannish Boys, Wrapped Up and Ready (Delta Groove)
Mark Hummel, The Hustle is Really On (Electro-Fi)
Denilson Martins, Big D (Chico Blues)
Nathan James, Natural Born That Way (Sacred Cat)
Bob Corritore, Taboo (YepRoc)
Raoul and the Big Time, Hollywood Boulevard (Big Time)
Sugar Ray & the Bluetones, Living Tear to Tear (Severn)

Making the final cuts really came down, in many cases, to a coin toss. So, for the record, here are the rest of the best of 2014 – I daresay every bit as good as my top 10. And I’m certain I overlooked some titles I ought to have remembered.

Robin Banks, Modern Classic (self)

Big Jon Atkinson, Boogie With You Baby (Bluebeat)

Al Blake, Blues According to Blake (Soul Sanctuary)

Nick Moss Band, Time Ain’t Free (Blue Bella)

Laura Rain and the Caesars, Closer (LRC)

Brian Carpy, Rockin’ Bollocks (Bamboo)

Magic Slim & the Teardrops, Pure Magic (Wolf)

Loot Rock Gang, That’s Why I’ve Got To Sing (Big Muddy)

Madison Slim, Close…But No Cigar

Jim Suhler, Panther Burn (Underworld)

Tony Vega Band, Shakin’ At The Easy! (Lucha Libre)

Kai Strauss, Electric Blues (Continental Record Services)

Jim Liban with the Joel Paterson Trio, I Say What I Mean (Ventrella)

Aki Kumar, Don’t Hold Back (Greaseland)

Rick Estrin & The Nightcats, You Asked For It…Live! (Alligator)

Bobby Murray • I’m Sticking With You

Murray

Bobby Murray

I’m Sticking With You

http://www.reverbnation.com/bobbymurray

 

Consider his association with such legends as Johnnie Taylor, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Otis Rush, Lowell Fulson, John Lee Hooker, Percy Mayfield, Jimmy McCracklin, and Albert King; the three Grammy Awards on his shelf; and his lengthy solo career: Bobby Murray rates among the most accomplished sidemen and bandleaders in the blues. Although he is often thought of as a West Coast musician, having come up in a band alongside Robert Cray, and having enjoyed 22 years working for Etta James, after 18 years Bobby Murray is surely a Detroiter. He holds the Detroit Blues Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2011), and his fourth album as a leader features some of the Motor City’s top talent on a world-class contemporary soul blues recording.

The guitarist’s core band on the recently released I’m Sticking With You included Dave Uricek (bass), Mark Thibodeau (organ), and Renell Gonsalves (drums), with occasional guitar from recording and mixing engineer/co-producer Brian “Roscoe” White. The set list, made up entirely of Murray’s original compositions and co-writes, encompasses slinky minor key grooves in the Robert Cray mold, gospel-drenched ballads, fresh-sounding shuffles, slow blues, and inventive soul blues and funk. Murray’s unique guitar work, which blends a lowdown approach with fluid, modern lines, is at the forefront, along with the contributions of several exceptional singers who assist Thibodeau, Uricek, and Murray with vocals.

Sticking opens with “Finders Keepers,” a chugging soul-blues number from Murray’s days with Frankie Lee. Here its drive is so relentless the take could easily slide into one of Otis Clay’s live albums. Organ and guitar solos are pithy and memorable; “Red” Redding gives a smoky, restrained, yet charged vocal performance. Singer Paul Randolph is superb on the title track, a staccato dance groove with funky accents and lovely backing vocals. Murray plays jagged, tangled solos in a modern, distorted tone. On “Ooowee,” strictly a down home, Jimmy Reed-inflected shuffle, his lead work alternates lazy “traditional” blues lines and chording with burbling, rapid-fire picking, always wedded firmly to the beat.

On “Comin’ Atcha,” White and Murray spar with solos reminiscent of Robben Ford’s style, but exciting. Laying down the minor key groove on this song only is a rhythm section of Ron Pangborn (drums) and Nolan Mendenhall (bass). Thibodeau’s piano opens “Rock My Soul” with a Ray Charles quotation, leading into a deeply soulful, gospel number with a testifying vocal by Barbara Payton, a memorable, two-chord figure, chiming rhythm guitars, and crisp lead guitar with Murray sounding much like Cray. (I’m sure he tires of reading that, but on this cut it is true.) Tom Hogarth sings “Shake It Baby, Shake It,” a light, upbeat, funky tune remotely like “Groove Me,” with soul-stew double-stops and hard-driving interludes.

Redding is back at the microphone on “Baby Needs Some Lovin’ Too,” which could almost be a forgotten classic from the heyday of Chicago soul save for a middle section that bedims the song’s sunny mood (wonderful writing here), and on the slow blues “Bad Case Of The Blues,” a showcase for Murray’s tough, tasteful guitar. “Baby, What Took Your Love Away” is another crisp, mid-tempo, minor key song with dramatic movement. Murray slathers “Movin’ On Down The Line,” a swaggering blues-with-a-touch-of soul, with greasy guitar. The program comes to a close with the churning, dark funk “Building Of Love.” Take a killer bass line, add wah and/or Leslie effects on the guitar, a few catchy and complex changes, and you have a solid slab of classic Detroit soul, updated for our times.

“A modern take on classic styles” aptly describes I’m Sticking With You. Bobby Murray and company have delivered a disc that sounds fresh yet has the ring of familiarity. Its 11 tracks are well-written, expertly sung and played blues, soul, and funk, every one a winner.

TOM HYSLOP

I received this CD courtesy of the Detroit Blues Society (detroitbluessociety.org/), in whose Blues Notes newsletter of August 2014 this review originally appeared.

 

Laura Rain and the Caesars • Closer

LRC CLOSER

Laura Rain and the Caesars

Closer

LRC, 2014

Available from cdbaby.com and amazon.com

laurarain.net

 

Detroit’s Laura Rain and the Caesars seem to have internalized everything good about blues, R&B, funk, and soul, and in the process created something smart and soulful of their own: a retro modern vision of soul and blues music, immediately familiar yet completely fresh. This set expands on last year’s debut Electrified with more great songs, killer arrangements, a broader range of styles, and a deeper blues feeling that permeates every track.

The core group of Caesars remains the same: Ron Pangborn (drums and percussion), Phil Hale (keyboards, including left-hand “bass”), and George Friend (guitar, co-writer, recording and mixing engineer). For Closer, Rain and bandleader Friend had very definite notions about how the completed songs ought to sound, and to that end brought in ringers in some cases to achieve specific goals. The album credits list drummers Terry Thunder, Todd Glass, and Rick Beamon, with Sheila Hale on tambourine; Leon Powell and Jim Simonson (electric bass); Duncan McMillan (organ); and Johnny Evans (saxophones) and John Douglas (trumpet). This Detroit All-Star team has laid down a record that sounds full when it needs to and spare elsewhere. Uptown and lowdown, hungry, vivid, and confident, Closer is just plain badass.

In the album opener, “Seasons,” the Caesars build a funky brick house on a bone-crunching, AC/DC-worthy riff. Rain’s impassioned call-and-response vocal sanctifies the grounds. “Super Duper Love” (not the Sugar Billy song covered by Joss Stone) is a knowing, instant-classic 21st Century soul blues hit that grafts a gritty guitar break and an indelible vocal hook onto a syncopated, bass-and-organ figure that could have come straight from an early-‘80s side by Prince or Rick James. Another unforgettably catchy melody tops “Dirty Man,” an ultra-funky slice of modern-leaning, mid-tempo R&B. Slightly more classical in form, “Meet Me in the Middle” is an irresistible dance number, filled with swirling organ, hard-hitting horn blasts, and a slamming rhythm section. Rain’s phrasing and timbre are ideally matched to the song, and absolutely delicious. Her sass and enthusiasm are reminiscent of another great Detroit singer, a legend whose initials are A.F. An infectious, straight ahead blues, “Squawkin’” updates Little Milton’s immortal “That’s What Love Will Do” with an especially hip bass line, ferocious drumming, and the stinging guitar of Caesar-in-chief Friend. Rain’s on-the-money wails are heart-stoppingly effective.

The Caesars visit the deep South on several numbers. Soulful backing voices and an insistent rhythmic pulse give “He Is” a distinctly gospel-inflected, Muscle Shoals sound that would make Mavis Staples envious. Friend’s terse lead guitar neatly cuts through an atmosphere thick with electric piano and clavinet. “Awful Sin” comes straight from the swamp. A dark, brooding tonality puts the song in a class with Tony Joe White’s “Did Somebody Make A Fool Out Of You,” but Friend’s slinky guitar lines, wobbly with tremolo, and a greasy, ominous groove stamp it with that difficult-to-capture Staple Singers feeling. “All Of Me” could be a lost O.V. Wright or Ann Peebles record. Its bluesy groove, something like “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home,” sets a rock-solid rhythmic hook that frees Rain to do her thing; a sophisticated middle section moves the song to another, transcendent level. Finally, still in the Royal Studio mode, “Closer” has all the hallmarks of a creamy Willie Mitchell production for Al Green. From the drumming (and the drum sounds) up through the deep-grooving electric bass, horns, Hammond organ, and spare, precise guitar, the silky feel sets the mood for Rain’s simply beautiful melody line. Lovers of Memphis soul will recognize this affectionate tribute as a great song.

Rain excels at the slowest tempos, too. With swelling horns in the deep soul tradition, tough guitar, and a stirring vocal that moves with ease from subdued to flamboyant, “Your Love Is Not Broken” evokes the depth and searing intensity of James Brown’s devastating Live at the Apollo ballads. When she hears this song, Bettye LaVette will wish she had it first. The disc ends with “My Heart is Open,” a soul ballad with all the stunning sweep and scope of a Hollywood epic and none of the schmaltz. A Marvin Gaye vibe comes across in the song’s elegant chords as outlined by Phil Hale’s piano and strings, and in its sonics, an impossible combination of intimacy and spaciousness. Much of its success rests on Laura’s amazing performance: a masterpiece of dynamics, pure, unaffected, and deeply emotional.

I tried to describe the wondrous singing of Ms. Rain in my review of Electrified (see http://alturl.com/4t3vo) and will confine myself here to reiterating that very few vocalists are in her class when the discussion gets serious about technique, instrument, emotion, and absolute freedom of expression. Laura Rain is a real soul singer, period. She is recorded better this time out as well, with frankly incredible results. The arrangements are first-rate, and the songs extend the arc of blues and soul music in unexpected ways, while paying respect to their influences. Closer is a varied album of soul and blues that could have been made by Johnny “Guitar” Watson or Johnnie Taylor. Anyone serious about soul and blues music ought to hear this meticulously crafted, heartfelt record.

TOM HYSLOP

Jimmy Alter & Jason Bone • The Bottom Line

Jason Bone & Jimmy Alter

The Bottom Line EP

2014

http://www.jimmyaltermusic.com

 

Jimmy Alter’s soon-to-be-released five song record follows an earlier EP, Rock With Me. The young guitarist from St. Clair Shores, Michigan, and his band mate, guitarist Jason Bone, sing blues-based music with heart and skill. The pair has selected this short set wisely, for although all of the songs are covers, none is unknown (or, with one exception, even obscure), yet none has been frequently re-recorded, thereby introducing an element of surprise while maintaining some familiarity. That’s the way to do it!

The program opens with a bass line and hammering piano, both straight out of Little Richard, kicking off a raucous number that proves to be “Player,” an exciting throwback classic by Nick Curran. The band dispatches that tune in 2:20, just enough time to squeeze in a couple choruses of rock ‘n’ roll guitar inspired by Berry and Richards. Next up is the obscurity–I had to Google the lyrics to positively identify “The Bottom Line,” a noir-ish, mid-tempo song from the late harmonica man Paul de Lay. Bone really gets across the character of the narrator, a lonely outsider. A tersely phrased guitar break yields to Jim David’s subtly dazzling organ solo. Both players understand that what isn’t played is as important as what is.

Alex Lyon (bass) and David Watson (drums) cut a strong groove behind the tough take on “Funky Mama” that centers the set. Those unfamiliar with the original version would be forgiven for scanning their Jimmie Vaughan records trying to identify this instrumental shuffle. Bone holds down the rhythm, playing greasy lines through a Leslie cabinet in tribute to Big John Patton’s organ. First David solos on piano; next Alter, Bone, and Motor City Josh take turns on guitar. None really references Grant Green’s playing on Lou Donaldson’s classic version; instead we hear three snappy solos, each with a lot of personality, ranging from loopy, carnival-esque ideas through snarling, Albert Collins-inflected lines, and ending with a few unison run-throughs of the head arrangement, all in just over three minutes.

Hats off to Alter for reaching into the “5” Royales’ catalog for “Thirty Second Lover.” He hews close to the original for the guitar introduction and fills, but this version is far from a clone: the tempo seems slower and the track here has a distinctly boozy, New Orleans party feeling. Jimmy and the backing vocalists acquit themselves enthusiastically and well, and the guitar break is crisp and impressive. For the final cut, Bone turns to the great American band Los Lobos for their beautiful, haunting “The Neighborhood.” Everything comes together here, from the rhythm section through the electric piano touches and organ solo (take note of David’s crafty Tito Puente/Santana quotation) to Jason Bone’s vocal, in which he sounds amazingly like David Hidalgo, to a guitar solo that is at once flashy and deeply soulful.

A song like this has far more in common with the blues than do any 500 blues rock clichés. Bone and Jimmy Alter ought to be commended for recognizing that kinship, and for being willing to stretch the boundaries in appropriate and fresh directions, while remaining emphatically loyal to blues tradition. They deserve credit too for their nerve. It would be nigh impossible to top Lowman Pauling’s wit and soul, or Curran’s shattering energy, but on this enjoyable EP Alter and Bone hold their own, with mature singing and playing that promise a huge upside.

 

TOM HYSLOP

 

The artist provided an advance copy of the EP. This review was commissioned by the Detroit Blues Society and published in the July 2014 edition of its BluesNotes newsletter. Download a PDF at the DBS Web site, detroitbluessociety.org