mr tom’s Top 25 of 2016: best blues

Because 10 just isn’t enough: My top 25 blues and near-blues (that is, old-school R&B/soul and roots rock and roll) albums of last year. I won’t rank them except to let you know that my favorite record of 2016 came out of Austin, TX, with a bunch of tremendous songs, fine singing and playing, and a sound 100% all its own:

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Greg Izor & The Box Kickers – The 13 14

The other 24, alphabetically:
Alabama Mike – Upset The Status Quo
Lurrie Bell – Can’t Shake This Feeling
Dylan Bishop – The Exciting Sounds of the Dylan Bishop Band
The Blue Shadows
John Blues Boyd – The Real Deal
Jason Elmore &  Hoodoo Witch – Champagne Velvet
Golden State Lone Star Blues Revue
Dennis Gruenling – Ready or Not
James Hunter Six – Hold On!
Mitch Kashmar – West Coast Toast
Guy King – Truth
Don Leady & His Rockin’ Revue – Poppy Toppy Gone
Nick Moss Band – From the Root to the Fruit
The Paladins – Slippin’ in Ernesto’s
Eli “Paperboy” Reed – My Way Home
Sugar Ray & The Bluetones – Seeing is Believing
Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat – Live at the Kessler
Trickbag –  With Friends Vol 2
Tony Vega Band – Black Magic Box
Wee Willie Walker & The Greaseland All Stars – Live! in Notodden
Nick Waterhouse – Never Twice
Raphael Wressnig & Igor Prado – The Soul Connection
Nancy Wright – Playdate!
Sven Zetterberg – Something for Everybody

I have to add one – I completely forgot about

Bobby Radcliff – Absolute Hell

I could certainly have kept going and included the latest from Kurt Crandall, Big Jon Atkinson & Bob Corritore, William Bell, John Primer, the Bo-Keys, Tinsley Ellis, John Long, Matthew Skoller, Lil’ Ed, Bob Margolin, and any number of other excellent albums, but I had to draw the line somewhere. Some of those CDs would have made the list yesterday, and might again tomorrow. The lesson: There’s a lot of beautiful music out there if you know where to look. I stand by all of these albums – great stuff. Get ’em if you ain’t got ’em, and buy another copy for a friend.

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That Eli “Paperboy” Reed album is really special. Pops Staples meets James Brown, or something like that. It’s on fire.

I’m going to keep separate a pair of absolutely essential, sizzling platters full of rare and previously unreleased music from two blues masters:

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B.B. King – Here’s One You Didn’t Know About

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Rusty Zinn – Last Train to Bluesville

When I wrote “essential,” I meant it.

Hit me with any complaints or “Right On!”s you might have.

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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

 

 

 

Guy King: Solo and Organ Trio Recordings

By Myself I Am Who I Am And It Is What It Is

GUY KING

By Myself

I Am Who I Am And It Is What It Is

IBF Records, 2012

guyking.net

Guy King established his credentials in the six years he spent as bandleader for Chicago legend Willie Kent, during which his tough but nuanced lead guitar playing was a major part of The Gents’ hard-edged blues sound. Following Kent’s death in 2006, King embarked upon a solo career. His debut album Livin’ It, on which a new, tightly arranged style, inflected with smooth, jazz-shaded R&B, began to emerge, was nominated for a Blues Music Award; and the guitarist, a native of Israel, seemed to be everywhere at once, appearing nationally and internationally with his blues band, playing solo shows, and fronting an organ trio around Chicago. Then he seemingly fell off the map. As it turns out, King has been spending most of his time abroad, mainly performing in Israel and Brazil. Given that he is preparing to return to the United States for a series of dates scheduled around the 2014 Chicago Blues Festival, now seems a good time to take stock of the two excellent albums King quietly released at the end of summer 2012.

Willie Kent’s gritty electric blues were one thing; the uptown Livin’ It was quite another. What King does on By Myself is completely unexpected. Powerful interpretations of songs by pre-war blues icon Robert Johnson make up nearly half of the 15-song set. King shows a surprising affinity for the form, with a mastery of Johnson’s technique and chords, a snappy, percussive attack that brings a full and expressive sound to the solo guitar, and vocals that shift from full to falsetto, always sounding natural and often impassioned, as when his voice breaks in “Hellhound On My Trail,” where King evokes hopeless resignation in the face of haunting mystery. At the other end of the emotional register is the relatively plainspoken “Steady Rollin’ Man,” also among the strongest performances here. King’s singing takes on a notable resonance and vibrato, appropriately enough, on “Can’t Be Satisfied,” one of two Muddy Waters numbers, and thumps fleet runs on the bass strings of his guitar behind Lightnin’ Hopkins’s “Katie Mae,” which closes this portion of the program.

Don’t despair if Mississippi and Texas blues are not your thing. Five songs at the end of the CD come from an entirely different direction. Still solo, still built on King’s acoustic guitar and evocative singing, they touch on more contemporary and more cosmopolitan musical styles. “I Am Who I Am And It Is What It Is” is a swinging, soulful, upbeat number with a jazzy flair. Next King reprises the sophisticated ballad “Alone In The City,” from Livin’ It. Stripped of its electric instruments and horns, it sounds more like Percy Mayfield or even Charles Brown at his gloomiest–with Ray Charles somewhere at the root of both versions. King overdubs subtle percussion on the last few songs, all in the bossa nova style, beginning with his reading of the jazz standard “Nature Boy,” continuing through his lively cover of Joao Gilberto’s “Acapulco,” and ending with a smoky “Besame Mucho.” This is music for lovers, indeed.

Recorded with Mike Schlick (drums) and Ben Paterson (organ), the two-CD set I Am Who I Am And It Is What It Is offers a cool cruise through jazz and standards, blues and ballads, soul and R&B, and pop. The program begins with a band version of the title track before moving to Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite.” King then shifts from bop to the birth of soul, with an emotional “Drown In My Own Tears.” Next up is a light “Sweet Lorraine,” a rousing “Mojo,” then back to jazz with Stanley Turrentine’s bluesy “Sugar,” and on to Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone To Love” and a “Going To Chicago” much toned down from any of the often-heard Joe Williams versions. King’s interest in Brazil comes out in Jobim’s uptempo “Agua De Beber.” Bobby Hebb’s pop smash “Sunny” yields to another Ray Charles ballad before King delivers a wondrous “Tear It Down,” capturing not only Wes Montgomery’s signature octaves but his excitement and effortless swing. Paterson is on fire here, too, and Schlick ably covers the drum breaks.

The second disc unfolds along the same lines, covering standards romantic (“You’ve Changed,” “Moonlight In Vermont”) and frivolous (“The Frim Fram Sauce”); jazz (“Green Dolphin Street” and workouts on McGriff’s “Vicky” and Burrell’s “Kenny’s Sound”); lush ballads from Billie Holiday (“God Bless The Child”) and Stevie Wonder (“Lately”); the breezy Brazilian “Brigas Nunca Mais”; blues (a pitiful “All Over Again,” from B.B. King’s catalog) and R&B (from Ray Charles once more, in a splendid “Roll With My Baby”). As is often the case with organ trios, some of the best material comes from unlikely places. King nods to the soul jazz tradition with sweet pop and elegant soul selections (“Isn’t She Lovely” and “Me And Mrs. Jones”), and surprises with the country weeper “Crying Time,” perhaps learned from Buck Owens, or remembered from bluesman Phillip Walker’s Playboy Records LP. In either case, it is devastating. Overall, the division between instrumentals and vocal numbers is about even, the latter showing King’s pleasant, expressive range, and on virtually every track, King and Paterson trade solos that, even when speaking the language of jazz, retain bluesy phrasing and tonalities. The group has a real feeling for the entire range of styles on What It Is, an absolutely lovely album on many levels.

King’s achievement is all the more impressive when one considers that both albums were recorded virtually off-the-cuff. Inspired after an evening’s gig, King cut the solo album in a single session, using an acoustic guitar belonging to the studio. In much the same way, the 30 songs on the organ trio record were laid down, in much less than 24 hours, during the course of an all-nighter, with a brief follow-up later in the afternoon. One might reasonably wonder if there is anything he can’t do, and where he will take us next. King has in fact been writing and recording new material, with an ear sensibly tilted toward producing great music, without much concern for genre restrictions. The touchstone artists whose work inspired the two works considered here–Muddy Waters, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Stevie Wonder, Nat “King” Cole, and Ray Charles in particular–seem likely to play a continuing role in King’s musical development. That is an evolution I don’t want to miss. In taking the varied music he loves and recasting it in new combinations, Guy King is going about his art the right way. Musicians with genuinely big ears are rare, and talent like King’s is rarer still.

TOM HYSLOP

I bought these CDs from the artist’s Web site.

Magic Sam • Live at the Avant Garde 1968

Magic Sam

MAGIC SAM

Live at the Avant Garde

Delmark Records, 2013

The new Magic Sam album is outrageously great. I would say the same about virtually any other Sam Maghett recording–he never made a bad one, and that includes not only his studio work but the four live albums already available (five if one counts the solo house party set Give Me Time), which seem to have been taped almost by chance. Live at the Avant Garde is different in that it was recorded, at a Milwaukee appearance in 1968, to the highest standard of an amateur engineer. Though I had heard at least one of the earlier live shows in private circulation before it received its official (or semi-official) release, the existence of the Avant Garde tape came as a total surprise. Mindful of the adage about gift horses, I don’t question why it has become available after remaining a secret for so long. I am merely grateful, and deeply.

Unlike the other known live recordings of Sam, Avant Garde’s sound is clear and present, and the mix is fine (the set’s engineer and producer Jim Charne details the recording’s technical aspects in his liner notes). Sam’s voice and guitar are out front and crystal-clear, and Bob Richey’s drums are crisp as one could wish. Another reviewer has stated that Mojo Elem’s electric bass is inaudible. Not so. On my copy, it’s plenty loud enough for any blues band, provided that your taste has not been formed by rock soundmen, club DJs, or certain latter-day “blues” CD mixes. I’d also observe that Elem’s no-frills approach makes a better foundation for Sam than Bruce Barlow’s busy playing on Live 1969 • Raw Blues and the Ann Arbor sides.

Sam himself is in top form. His was one of the most intense and identifiable voices in the blues, with a resonant, declamatory style marked by an unusual reliance on tremolo (volume variation) rather than vibrato (pitch variation). In this show he sounds totally at ease, but with no diminution of his power. He is masterful. His guitar work? Hold on, baby! A red Epiphone Riviera into a Fender Twin Reverb (as shown in the cover photo, taken at the gig) yields beautiful tone, and the singular drive and depth that mark every note Sam ever committed to tape are all vividly present. A couple of hesitations and a slip of the fingers here and there are, I think, the only (barely noticeable) imperfections in an otherwise confident, peak form demonstration of Sam’s patented rhythm-to-lead playing. His creativity and energy are boundless; even the songs that appear in multiple versions across the live albums are packed with excitement and fresh ideas.

The playlist, pretty typical of Sam’s live recordings, contains a variety of material intended to entertain. Sam’s ‘50s classics, those sinuous, minor-flavored, tremolo-laden sides that defined the West Side style for all time, are represented by “Bad Luck Blues” (originally “Out Of Bad Luck”), with Lowell Fulson’s “It’s All Your Fault Baby” and Jimmy McCracklin’s “Every Night, Every Day” performed in the same framework as a bonus. The innovative output of his two albums for Delmark is present in “That’s All I Need,” which retains its lilting, Sam Cooke flavor even at an accelerated tempo, and by the driving boogaloo “You Belong To Me.” Over the remainder of the 16 tracks, Sam interprets the work of heroes Bobby Bland (a live-wire “Don’t Want No Woman”), Muddy Waters (“Still A Fool”–harrowing–and “Hoochie Coochie Man”), Jimmy Rogers (“That’s All Right”), and B.B. King (a brilliant “Hully Gully Twist” and a loose “I Need You So Bad”), and contemporaries Freddy King (“San-Ho-Zay”), Junior Wells (a liquid “Come On In This House”), and Otis Rush, whose “All Your Love (I Miss Loving)” is a rare and special treat. Junior Parker’s Memphis stomp “Feelin’ Good” is here, as is the instrumental it inspired, Sam’s incredible, show-stopping boogie “Lookin’ Good.”

Although Sam offers some good-natured patter and gives shout-outs to the taper and the club owners, the well-lubricated camaraderie, self-promotion, and enthusiastic banter heard in the home turf Alex Club shows are subdued by comparison in the coffee house environment. But the musical aspects of the performance are unaffected. I have eagerly, and repeatedly, listened to everything that has come out on Magic Sam, regardless of its audio fidelity, and Sam has never let me down: He always brought it. Sam died too young and not often enough recorded. Improbably, given its late release, Live at the Avant Garde is all cream; nothing about it asks the listener to settle for anything less than the best. And Magic Sam was the best. His unsurpassed charisma and talent continue to thrill, 45 years later. Live at the Avant Garde is a dream come true for fans of electric blues in general and Magic Sam in particular.

TOM HYSLOP

I bought this album from bluebeatmusic.com and received this review copy from the label.

Ron Spencer Band – Soul Reason

Soul Reason

Ron Spencer Band

Soul Reason

Real Gone, 2013

ronspencerband.com/

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/ronspencerband2

 

The Central New York-based guitarist Ron Spencer has been a favorite of mine since I heard his first solo recording more than 15 years ago. While his band has undergone several changes in evolving to its current lineup (Spencer, singer Mark Gibson, bassist Jay Gould, and drummer Ross Moe), his track record of quiet excellence remains unbroken. His latest album, Soul Reason, is an outstanding set of blues and soul.

An excellent singer, Gibson has a hearty, sometimes bemused manner that conveys the low-key humor underlying much of the material. The group’s chief writer, he penned four songs: “Ain’t Got Nothin’,” a series of hard luck vignettes delivered over a rockabilly-inflected beat, with a guitar break straight out of the Carl Perkins stylebook; “Move Back To Missouri,” a rewiring of “Gonna Send You Back To Georgia” that reflects Hound Dog Taylor’s slide guitar boogie version more than the R&B takes by James Carr or Timmy Shaw, and spotlights a wonderful piano solo by guest Mark Nanni; and the beautifully sung swamp pop confection “You Ain’t Gone,” notable also for Spencer’s charmingly primitive, Guitar Slim-style lead guitar and the band’s rhythmic accents at the song’s crescendo. A Chicago shuffle with the sophistication of some of Jimmy Rogers’s ‘50s sides, “If That’s Love” features both fine piano from Nanni and Spencer’s artful guitar work, which combines the styles of Robert Lockwood and Bill Jennings.

Spencer and Gibson share credit for the bulk of the songs, including a pair of sweet soul tunes that are genre-correct but not at all derivative. “Nothin’ Like You” incorporates a stuttering rhythm, a melodic, crisply played guitar break, inspired tenor saxophone by Dan Eaton, and a superb Gibson vocal. The title track builds in intensity, adding organ to guitar over a slyly elastic rhythm before breaking out into sunny choruses.  Their straightforward blues numbers are tough to beat. A tale of a well-intentioned gin-drinking woman who seems to be fighting a losing battle, the infectious “Workin’ On Her Sins” opens the disc, swinging hard in the style of B.B. King’s Blues is King-era prime. Spencer’s lead guitar is right on target. “Puzzlement,” a hearty roadhouse blues, sounds like Jimmie Vaughan tackling Charlie Rich’s “Mohair Sam”–a hip concept, perfectly executed. “Here I Am Again” combines elements from across genres: greasy slide guitar; a lowdown groove reminiscent of Frankie Lee Sims; and traces of the Temptations’ soul classic “Shaky Ground.”

The rhythm section jumps “Lookin’ For A Woman,” a fast swing, just right. Spencer shows off a keen sense of humor, his way with a phrase, and a sophisticated harmonic approach. “Six Of One” is paced by throbbing electric bass, floor toms and maracas, and pushed by overdriven guitars. Credited to the entire band, it is an attention-getting exercise in dynamics, a moody, minor key stomp that works its way through a breakdown section and into a fast boogie. It’s great stuff, and emblematic of the Ron Spencer Band’s deep understanding of roots music. Their inspired playing and writing shows that classic forms, in the right hands, continue to hold both plenty of life and opportunities for originality. Anyone with an interest in real blues music ought deeply to enjoy Soul Reason.

TOM HYSLOP

The review copy of this CD was kindly provided by the artist.

The Chris Ruest Band – Live at Shakespeare’s

flyerShakespeare

Chris Ruest Band

Live at The Shakespeare Pub • Houston, Texas

2013

http://www.chrisruest.com/

If you haven’t been paying attention to his career, this is the short version of what you need to know: Chris Ruest is the real thing. The New Englander has been a resident of Texas for well over a decade. Already a serious student and lover of traditional blues and blues-oriented jazz artists, the singer-guitarist came up through Brian “Hash Brown” Calway’s band (justly regarded as the finishing school of choice for aspiring Dallas blues musicians), and has worked with many of the Lone Star State’s most important talents, including the great Ray Sharpe (“Linda Lu”). Ruest cut his third CD, Live at Shakespeare’s, in March of this year, with JD Ditullio on drums, and the great Ronnie James (Nightcats, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Jimmie Vaughan, Nick Moss) on bass.

This brand new album revisits only a few selections from Ruest’s previous releases, 2005’s Too Many Problems and 2011’s No 2nd Chances (both excellent sets, recorded with all-star bands and loaded with well-written original tunes), but those provide an overview of his stylistic range. “Poor Lil’ Greta,” Chris’s apologetic ode to a deceased pet, spotlights slide guitar and a deep blues groove, both unmistakably cut from Muddy Waters’s slow blues template. “My Baby Loves Me,” with its swaggering shuffle and slashing slide guitar figure, is firmly in the tradition of Elmore James. And “You Suck” lulls us into thinking it is a garden-variety you’re-mistreating-me song, until Ruest sings the laugh-out-loud funny chorus. James and Ditullio lay down a quirky, throwback R&B groove a mile wide, reminiscent of “I’m Shakin’.”

The balance of the playlist expands on these elements with intelligently selected covers that give insight into, and pay tribute to, some of Ruest’s favorite artists. He dials up the reverb for a harrowing take on Magic Sam’s fabulous (and rarely covered) “Out of Bad Luck,” replete with a blistering guitar break, and ratchets up the rumba feel behind an update of Arthur Crudup’s “Mean Ole Frisco,” filtered through B.B. King’s version, with lead guitar that nails King’s ’50s style. There’s a strong take on Muddy’s “Champagne and Reefer,” a hard-shuffling adaptation of Lonesome Sundown’s swamp classic “Don’t Say A Word,” and two of Elmore’s greatest songs: a bristling romp through “Cry For Me” and a greasy reading of the stop-time Latin-influenced “Can’t Stop Loving My Baby.” I know “Bark” best from the Darrell Nulisch-era Anson Funderburgh & The Rockets; the band deftly handles this loping shuffle.

What do Elmore James and The Rockets have in common? Why, Sam Myers, of course. The harmonica great was a bluesman in the truest sense of that now-debased word, and perhaps the strongest influence felt by Ruest, who acted as the legend’s right-hand-man during the last three years of Sam’s life. Ruest pays tribute to his close friend by singing Sam’s “Sad Lonesome Day,” adorning the slow blues with elegant guitar lines à la King and Funderburgh, and his vintage gem “Sleepin’ in the Ground,” which presents Ruest’s guitar playing at its meanest, dirtiest, and most low-down.

The presence of the proto-punk nugget “Strychnine” reflects the influence of another of Ruest’s closest friends. The late, great Nick Curran was a fearless free spirit who was apt to follow a T-Bone Walker chestnut with a selection from the catalog of The Stooges, or to pair a Little Richard song with an AC/DC number. Viewed in that light, the seemingly improbable inclusion of The Sonics’ wild ’60s rocker makes perfect sense. Two excellent instrumentals, one by Albert Collins (“The Freeze”), the other from Ike Turner (“Cuban Getaway”) bracket the set. Ruest politely converts a mid-show request for something by Stevie Ray Vaughan into a teaching opportunity, instead performing yet another iconic instrumental: a stinging version of Freddie King’s “Funnybone.”

Like the rest of the program, these three songs let the band work out on touchstone tunes that still sound fresh, owing to their relative scarcity in the playlists of contemporary bands, and demonstrate Ruest’s control of the essential themes of real blues guitar. His playing, sometimes deliberate, frequently savage, is always intense, carrying the threat of violence that was imminent in the approach of Curran, or Pat Hare. Paired with this outstanding rhythm section, Ruest–one of the toughest players anywhere–is on fire. Live at Shakespeare‘s is his master class in blues history, vividly performed, and should attract a great of overdue attention.

TOM HYSLOP

The artist kindly provided the CD for this review.

Blues In My Soul

Blues In My Soul

LURRIE BELL

Blues In My Soul

Delmark, 2013

http://lurrie.com/

http://www.delmark.com/

Lurrie Bell is the blues. Blues by birth, as son of Carey Bell and part of the Harrington family that includes Eddy Clearwater and Atomic-H label owner Houston Harrington; blues by circumstance, through his extensively chronicled personal struggles and tragedies; and blues by avocation, as perhaps the greatest bluesman in the generation after artists like Clearwater, James Cotton, Buddy Guy, Eddie C. Campbell, and Byther Smith (and possibly even the last true bluesman, defined, strictly and correctly, as a cultural identifier, rather than used, loosely and incorrectly, to label any musician who plays blues-based music). After a pair of independently released albums, Bell returns to the Delmark Records fold for Blues In My Soul. The first-rate band includes Melvin Smith (Koko Taylor, Magic Slim) on bass; the excellent, widely recorded Roosevelt Purifoy (keyboards); the great Willie “The Touch” Hayes (drums); and Matthew Skoller (harmonica). Producer Dick Shurman has fulfilled his role adroitly, drawing inspired performances from all, and guiding Bell to a set list that suits the artist to a T.

Many of the songs are naturally enough drawn from the Chicago repertoire. Blues In My Soul offers indisputable testimony to the variety inherent in that tradition. There’s a terrific selection of uptempo numbers. Purifoy, Skoller, and Bell solo over the driving boogie of “I Just Keep Loving Her,” an early Little Walter side, and one not often covered. The J.L. Smith rarity “If It’s Too Late” is an even better find. The band maintains the essential, locomotive feel behind Jimmy Rogers’s “Going Away Baby,” and Big Bill’s “I Feel So Good” receives a sprightly workout with key contributions from Skoller and Hayes.

Easing up a bit on the accelerator, Bell digs deep into a “She’s A Good ’Un” that is every bit as powerful, and more deliberate, than the familiar version by Otis Rush, and gives up a mid-tempo shuffle in honor of Magic Slim, who died the day the band laid down “24 Hour Blues.” Careful listening to the guitar break reveals the jaw-dropping mastery of Bell’s playing–an excellence even more incredible for its subtlety, for there are no flashy, rock star moves here, only perfection in rhythm, touch, note choice, phrasing, and feel.

As always, Lurrie excels on the slow side of the blues, where few living players are as pensive or able to dig as deep beneath the skin of a song, and where his singing nearly always comes from a higher plane of inspiration. Bell turns his attention with laser focus to a gritty reading of Junior Wells’s “’Bout The Break Of Day,” a.k.a. “Early In The Morning”; “My Little Machine,” taken slower than the Jimmy Rogers original; and Otis Spann’s “Blues Never Die.” His most expressive performances come in Eddie Boyd’s “Just The Blues,” taken at a dirge-like pace, which features a lovely piano solo and a time-stopping guitar break; and the title track, a Bell original, with a chilling sound from the band, an intense vocal, and powerful dynamics. With these two numbers, Bell could single-handedly keep alive the endangered sub-genre of minor key slow blues.

The program contains a few outliers. Bell steps out on his “South Side To Riverside,” a chunky funk instrumental with a stuttering rhythm à la “Killing Floor,” a tough organ solo, and JB-esque horn stabs by Chris Neal and Mark Hiebert (saxophones) and Marques Carroll (trumpet, arranger), who also perform on the swinging opener “Hey, Hey Baby,” one of two T-Bone Walker numbers (the blasting “T-Bone Blues Special” is the other) that, Chicago-ized, prove to be right in Bell’s wheelhouse.

Although Bell grew up in the presence of some of the greatest musicians in Chicago, surprisingly little of their influence can be heard in his playing, with the exception of his most important mentor, the iconic Eddie Taylor. Lurrie’s lead guitar style, like that of so many players, is most deeply indebted to two other sources: B.B. and Albert King. Anyone who believes that to be a handicap probably has not listened closely enough to the music of those titans, and certainly has not paid enough attention to the unmatched intensity, imagination, and creativity of his playing. The most serious blues guitarist of our time, Bell is indeed the blues. Blues In My Soul is highly recommended.

TOM HYSLOP

CD for review was provided by Delmark Records.