2014 Blues Music Awards Winners

major2_hvr_02Congratulations to the winners, announced in Memphis on 2014-05-08. As usual, I am out of step with the voters, with my favorite candidates often drastically at variance with the popular choices (where the winners in a few cases were my absolute last choices). I am laughing to keep from crying as I reveal my batting average: .087. I voted for precisely two winners in the 23 categories decided by public ballot. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts, if any. Are you satisfied or outraged by the results?

In the unlikely event this blog is your sole source of news regarding the BMAs, I present again the complete list of 35th Blues Music Award nominees, now with winners in bold type:

Acoustic Album
There’s a Time – Doug MacLeod
Juba Dance – Guy Davis featuring Fabrizio Poggi
Soulscape – Harrison Kennedy
Avalon – Rory Block
Unleashed – The Hound Kings

Acoustic Artist
Doug MacLeod
Guy Davis
Harrison Kennedy
Little G Weevil
Rory Block

Album
Get Up! – Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite
Remembering Little Walter – Billy Boy Arnold, Charlie Musselwhite, Mark Hummel, Sugar Ray Norcia & James Harman
Rhythm & Blues – Buddy Guy
Cotton Mouth Man – James Cotton
Blues in My Soul – Lurrie Bell

B.B. King Entertainer
Bobby Rush
Buddy Guy
John Németh
Kim Wilson
Rick Estrin

Band
Lil Ed & the Blues Imperials
Rick Estrin & the Night Cats
Tedeschi Trucks Band
The Mannish Boys
Trampled Under Foot

Best New Artist Debut
Double Crossing Blues – Adrianna Marie and Her Groovecutters
Rooster – Clay Swafford
Proof of Love – Gracie Curran & the High Falutin’ Band
What’s the Chance… – Paul Gabriel
Daddy Told Me – Shawn Holt & the Teardrops
Pushin’ Against a Stone – Valerie June

Contemporary Blues Album
Get Up! – Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite
This Time Another Year – Brandon Santini
Rhythm & Blues – Buddy Guy
Magic Honey – Cyril Neville
Badlands – Trampled Under Foot

Contemporary Blues Female Artist
Ana Popovic
Beth Hart
Bettye LaVette
Candye Kane
Susan Tedeschi

Contemporary Blues Male Artist
Buddy Guy
Gary Clark Jr.
Johnny Sansone
Kim Wilson
Otis Taylor

DVD
High John Records – Time Brings About a Change (Floyd Dixon)
J&R Adventures – An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House (Joe Bonamassa)
Shake-It-Sugar Records – Live (Murali Coryell)
Ruf Records – Songs from the Road (Royal Southern Brotherhood)
Blue Star Connection – Live at Knuckleheads (The Healers)

Historical
The Sun Blues Box (Various Artists) – Bear Family
The Original Honeydripper (Roosevelt Sykes) – Blind Pig Records
The Jewel/Paula Blues Story (Various Artists) – Fuel Records
Death Might Be Your Santa Claus (Various Artists) – Legacy Recordings
The Complete King/Federal Singles (Freddie King) – Real Gone Music

Instrumentalist-Bass
Bill Stuve
Bob Stroger
Danielle Schnebelen
Larry Taylor
Patrick Rynn

Instrumentalist-Drums
Cedric Burnside
Jimi Bott
Kenny Smith
Tom Hambridge
Tony Braunagel

Instrumentalist-Guitar
Anson Funderburgh
Gary Clark Jr.
Kid Andersen
Lurrie Bell
Ronnie Earl

Instrumentalist-Harmonica
Brandon Santini
Charlie Musselwhite
James Cotton
Kim Wilson
Rick Estrin

Instrumentalist-Horn
Big James Montgomery
Eddie Shaw
Jimmy Carpenter
Sax Gordon
Terry Hanck

Koko Taylor Award (Traditional Blues Female)
Diunna Greenleaf
Lavelle White
Teeny Tucker
Trudy Lynn
Zora Young

Rock Blues Album
Gone to Texas – Mike Zito & the Wheel
Made Up Mind – Tedeschi Trucks Band
Can’t Get Enough – The Rides
John the Conquer Root – Toronzo Cannon
Luther’s Blues – Walter Trout

Pinetop Perkins Piano Player
Barrelhouse Chuck
Dave Keyes
Marcia Ball
Mike Finnigan
Victor Wainwright

Song
“Blues in My Soul” – Lurrie Bell
“He Was There” – James Cotton, Tom Hambridge & Richard Fleming
“That’s When the Blues Begins” – James Goode
“The Entitled Few” – Doug MacLeod
“The Night the Pie Factory Burned Down” – Johnny Sansone

Soul Blues Album
Down In Louisiana – Bobby Rush
Soul Changes – Dave Keller
Soul for Your Blues – Frank Bey & Anthony Paule Band
Remembering O. V. – Johnny Rawls
Truth Is (Putting Love Back Into the Music) – Otis Clay

Soul Blues Female Artist
Barbara Carr
Denise LaSalle
Dorothy Moore
Irma Thomas
Sista Monica

Soul Blues Male Artist
Bobby Rush
Frank Bey
John Németh
Johnny Rawls
Otis Clay

Traditional Blues Album
Driftin’ from Town to Town – Barrelhouse Chuck & Kim Wilson’s Blues All-Stars
Remembering Little Walter – Billy Boy Arnold, Charlie Musselwhite, Mark Hummel, Sugar Ray Norcia, James Harman
Cotton Mouth Man – James Cotton
Blues in My Soul – Lurrie Bell
Black Toppin’ – The Cash Box Kings

Traditional Blues Male Artist
Anson Funderburgh
Billy Boy Arnold
James Cotton
John Primer
Lurrie Bell

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Tinsley Ellis • Midnight Blue

Tinsley Ellis Midnight Blue Front Cover Square

TINSLEY ELLIS

Midnight Blue

Heartfixer Music, 2014

http://tinsleyellis.com/

In 2013, Tinsley Ellis released Get It, an all-instrumental album, somewhat unexpectedly composed of straightforward blues and rootsy rock songs. Now he returns with something more in line with what we have come to expect from him over 15 or so records and about 30 years in the trenches. Midnight Blue makes an emphatic statement confirming Ellis’s position not only as one of our great guitarists, but as a superior writer and singer of straight-ahead postwar electric blues and rock. Perhaps at the sacrifice of some accuracy, I’m going to cover what Ellis and company are up to under the umbrellas of three broadly defined styles.

Long acclaimed as one of the most intense and creative artists in blues rock, Ellis is assured enough to open Midnight Blue with a relatively slow number, “If The River Keeps Rising,” which starts with just his rhythmic but delicate acoustic guitar and plaintive vocal. When the band comes in after the first verse, the sound explodes into a bluesy slam, à la Zeppelin’s treatment of “When The Levee Breaks,” replete with Lynn Williams’s Bonham-worthy drumming and several thickly overdriven electric guitars woven into the mix. Between its melodic sense and guitar work that, in its phrasing and high gain tonality, recall strongly Eric Clapton’s late-‘80s Journeyman period, “Harder To Find” is an affecting and atmospheric midtempo rock ballad, with an absolutely lovely middle section and chorus. Touches like a slow-wash sound that might come from a Leslie cabinet are emblematic of the attention to sonic detail on this record.  “The Only Thing” is a solid blues shuffle with stops, very much in the vein of “I Ain’t Superstitious,” that splits the difference between Howlin’ Wolf and the Jeff Beck Group. Ellis’s toppy lead guitar sound pushes it perhaps in the direction of the latter, while “Mouth Turn Dry,” a Wolf-like stomp, sports wiry guitar breaks that recall both Hubert Sumlin (naturally) and Otis Rush. Its powerful lyric touches on romantic doubt, self-centered fear, and the dangers of drink. “That’s My Story” is a heavy rocker on the slower side, set to the pulse of a steady eighth-note bass pedal, with a superb guitar ride-out that focuses more on rhythm and feel than flash. While its edgy groove doesn’t really sound like anything I would expect from Tinsley–something like AC/DC, but with a swampy CCR vibe–it is excellent.

At times, Ellis has dabbled in R&B and even soul. He returns to those styles here with “It’s Not Funny,” which features a second line beat, direct from New Orleans. The mid-song breakdown is just part of hip overall rhythm arrangement, rounded out by Ellis’s tough, Lowell George-inflected slide guitar and the song’s “Iko Iko” family feel. Its title reflects perhaps the most obvious and clever turn of phrase that should have been written into a song years ago, but wasn’t. Great call, Mr. Ellis–that is how to do it! “Surrender” is a pulsing, slow- to midtempo track with a decidedly soulful edge; call it Boz Scaggs meeting Dire Straits at their dreamiest, or something The Wallflowers might once have cut. Perfect R&B-based fills and a melodic lead guitar that escalates in intensity accompany Ellis’s quiet, honest, vocal–a performance that fits the song beautifully. The ascending chord pattern behind the likewise beautifully sung “Peace And Love” comes from somewhere in the ‘60s soul universe. Its funky, Muscle Shoals feel, accentuated by Kevin McKendree’s organ and electric piano, is cast into interesting contrast by Ted Pecchio’s very Beatles-esque bass line.

About this time last year, Ellis described himself to me, I thought apologetically, as “the rock guy” in the Blues At The Crossroads 2 package, a tour that featured The Fabulous Thunderbirds in support of guests James Cotton, Jody Williams, Bob Margolin, and Ellis. The conversation took place just moments after he had delivered a set of stellar pure blues, beautiful and savage by turn. Here, he does it on “Kiss Of Death,” a spare slow blues taken at a funereal pace, much in the mode of “Double Trouble”–I mean the timeless Otis Rush song, not SRV, folks–and does it just right. The stark, late-night ballad “See No Harm” borrows its elegant, emotional changes from Ray Charles at his most gospel-drenched, back in the Atlantic days, and rivals Brother Ray for feel and passion. Believe me, I would never type that if I didn’t mean it. This is killer stuff. McKendree’s piano is sublime, and Ellis’s fills and solo are tough and to the point without breaking the mood in the slightest; his guitar tone is woody and appropriately old school. Bravo! Never mind his history with the Heartfixers; let no one suggest that Ellis in 2014 cannot sing and play blues with the best.

I am afraid that, over the years, I forgot just how good Tinsley Ellis could be, or at least began to take him for granted. His recent work has made my lapse impossible to sustain. Anyone who likes blues-based music should find much to appreciate on the excellent Midnight Blue.

TOM HYSLOP

Review copy of the CD was provided by the publicity firm Blind Raccoon.

Tom Holland & The Shuffle Kings • No Fluff, Just The Stuff

Holland_Stuff

Tom Holland & The Shuffle Kings

No Fluff, Just The Stuff

E Natchel Records, 2013

http://www.tomhollandshufflekings.com/

From the beginning of his 15+-year career, Tom Holland was among the most sought-after sidemen in Chicago, first joining John Primer’s band, then Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater’s. His experiences backing everyone from Robert Lockwood Jr. and Jody Williams to Son Seals and Jimmy Johnson rounded out an enviable apprenticeship program. Holland led his own band practically from the start, and while more than a decade has elapsed since the first Tom Holland & The Shuffle Kings CD was released, the southpaw guitarist has hardly been taking it easy. He played extensively behind Carey Bell and Hubert Sumlin, and has toured with James Cotton for almost 10 years now. Five years ago, he recorded an album of guitar-piano duets with Marty Sammon, and he has appeared on records by artists including Cotton, Mud Morganfield, and Alabama Mike.

Now he is back with a new long player of his own. Convening at Felix Reyes’s friendly House of Tone, a studio noted for producing warmly authentic sounds, the Shuffle Kings–Holland, Mike Scharf (bass), Tino Cortes (drums), and Big D (harmonica)–really delivered on these 10 original songs. The rhythm section has a solid feeling for the blues, and, in true Chicago fashion, the harp takes a central place in the mix, but Big D never overplays. Holland sings unaffectedly, and his guitar work is in the camp of understated perfection still practiced by contemporary players like Lurrie Bell and (more directly) Primer, whose slide and single-string styles Holland has absorbed thoroughly.

The opening track, “Waiting On The Other Shoe To Drop,” incorporates some unusual changes that lend it the flavor of the Darrell Nulisch-era Broadcasters, when Ronnie Earl led the toughest blues band on the planet. But in general, the material offers a survey of real deal Chicago blues. Some titles are direct from the vintage stylebook: “Shuffle King Boogie,” a brisk jump number in the tradition of Jimmy Rogers’s “Rock This House,” features guests Sammon and Primer. In the Muddy Waters-style slow blues, “Hurry Up & Wait,” Holland again echoes Rogers (with touches of Lockwood) and evokes Muddy’s slide, filtered through Primer; Big D lays down deep swoops and squalls. Perhaps evidence of the Cotton connection, the record’s title track is a raw, harmonica-heavy boogie along the lines of “Evans Shuffle” or “Juke,” with hints of Elmore James’s “Bobby’s Rock” in Holland’s low-register riffing.

Other songs edge stylistically closer to the present day. “Look Here Baby” is a rumba blues with more than average bounce to the ounce, due largely to Cortes’s enthusiastic drumming. Sammon turns in another terrific solo, and Holland constructs a remarkable rhythm figure of hip lines, cool chords, and perfect single-note bass parts. (His solo is dynamite, too.) The loose-jointed shuffle “More Things Change” comes straight out of the John Primer mold and, in fact, spotlights the master himself, executing many of his signature guitar moves. “Hey Pardner!” is an up-tempo instrumental, based on “Shake For Me,” that shows Holland learned more than a few tricks while backing up Hubert Sumlin. As he plays off of Big D, Holland steers his soloing in the latter half of the song into something more original.

“Long Road To Tomorrow”–churning, minor funk with a more contemporary Chicago feel–wouldn’t sound out of place on any record by Vance Kelly, Primer, or Willie Kent. In “Easiest Thing I’ll Ever Do,” a mid-tempo soul original, Holland plays an easygoing, melodic vocal line against a galloping rhythm. D’s harmonica capably fills the spaces that horns or keyboards might ordinarily take up. Exploring the opposite side of that lyric, Holland gives us “Hardest Part Of Loving You,” a devastating, slow minor blues. Marty Sammon’s piano is brilliantly Spann-like, and D lays it down heavy. Holland sings with real urgency, and, on guitar, alternates tremolo-picked passages with deliberate slow phrases of frightening intensity. With Otis Rush out of commission, it seems that far too few people play (or know how to play) this kind of thing right. Thank goodness Holland paid attention when he was hanging out with the late, great Magic Slim.

In tipping his ever-present cowboy hat to his influences, Tom Holland has cut an excellent album. No Fluff, Just The Stuff makes a strong case that Chicago blues (and I don’t mean the modern rock-and-funk hybrid that too often passes) remain vital and valid.

TOM HYSLOP

I bought this CD from the artist.