Mr Tom’s Top Blues CDs of 2017

Because 10 just isn’t enough: My top 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 2017 was a tossup between this Hi-Style Records release by Jake La Botz, loaded with a bunch of tremendous songs, fine singing and playing, and a sound 100% all its own (production by Jimmy Sutton):

Jake

Jake La Botz – Sunnyside

and this outstanding, idiosyncratic, stone cold blues CD from Austin, Texas’s almost-under-the-radar all-star band, The Peacemakers, featuring Mike and Corey Keller, Johnny Bradley, Willie Pipkin, and Greg Izor:

peacemakers22

The Peacemakers

And now, 30 or so other albums you’ll want to have if you dig Real American Music, as it’s sometimes called, in alphabetical (not ranked) order, as they’re pretty much all indispensable, and I am enthusiastic about every one of them. (Cover art follows the list.)

Adrianna Marie & Her Roomful of All-Stars – Kingdom of Swing

Andy T Band feat. Alabama Mike – Double Strike

Chris Armour Quartet – Tele-Porter

B.B. and The Blues Shacks – Reservation Blues

Don Bryant – Don’t Give Up On Love

Rockin’ Johnny Burgin – Neoprene Fedora

The Cash Box Kings – Royal Mint

Chris Cain

Chris Corcoran Band – Blues Guitar Grooves

Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm

Daniel De Vita, Netto Rockfeller, JM Carrasco – Third World Guitars

Eastside Kings

Rick Estrin & The Nightcats – Groovin’ in Greaseland

Billy Flynn – Lonesome Highway

Various Artists of Greaseland – Howlin’ at Greaseland

Casey Hensley featuring Laura Chavez – Live

Egidio “Juke” Ingala & The Jacknives – Switcharoo

Greg Izor and Marco Pandolfi – Homemade Wine

Nathan James – What I Believe

Marquise Knox – Black and Blue

Miss Freddye – Lady of the Blues

Konstantin Kolesnichenko – Minor Differences

Martin Lang – Ain’t No Notion

The Love Light Orchestra featuring John Németh – Live from Bar DKDC in Memphis, TN!

Bia Marchese – Love Me Right

The Paladins – New World

John Primer & Bob Corritore – Ain’t Nothing You Can Do

Laura Rain & The Caesars – Walk With Me

Patrick Recob – Perpetual Luau

Chris Ruest & Gene Taylor – It’s Too Late Now

The Red Devils – Return of the Red Devils

San Pedro Slim – In Times Like These

Joakim Tinderholt – Hold On

Jimmie Vaughan Trio featuring Mike Flanigin – Live at C-Boy’s

Wee Willie Walker & The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra – After A While

Monster Mike Welch & Mike Ledbetter – Right Place, Right Time

Peter Ward – Blues On My Shoulders

Kim Wilson – Blues & Boogie Vol 1

Oscar Wilson – One Room Blues

 

Adrianna Marie

Andy T

Chris Armour Quartet - Tele-Porter - cover

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Don Bryant

Rockin Johnny

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CBK

Corcoran

CrayPassport

Eastside

Estrin

Billy

Casey H

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What I Believe

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LLO

Bia

Paladins

Primer

LRC

Recob

Ruest Taylor

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sps

Tinderholt

Howlin'

 

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WWW

Ward

Welch

Wilson Kim

Wilson Oscar

 

 

 

 

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2015 Blues Music Awards Winners

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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/

Top Ten of 2013…Plus

Ordinarily I resist making Best Of lists, except mentally, in part because I don’t view music as a competition, and in part because my choices undergo frequent change. But when David Mac asked me to contribute a Top Ten to his Blues Junction site, I gave it my best shot. My choices and those of a number of other listeners were revealed here:

http://bluesjunctionproductions.com/daves_top_ten_list_of_top_ten_lists

The ten CDs I listed as my favorites of the year:

1)    Magic Sam – Live at the Avant Garde, June 22, 1968 (Delmark)

2)    Holland K. Smith – Cobalt (Ellersoul)

3)    Ari Borger & Igor Prado -Lowdown Boogie (Chico Blues)

4)    Nikki Hill – Here’s Nikki Hill (Deep Fried Records)

5)    John Primer & Bob Corritore – Knockin’ Around These Blues (Delta Groove Productions)

6)    Trickbag – Trickbag with Friends Vol. 1 (Magic)

7)    4 Jacks – Deal With It (Ellersoul)

8)    Lou Pride – Ain’t No Love in This House (Severn)

9)    Barrelhouse Chuck & Kim Wilson – Driftin’ From Town to Town (The Sirens)

10)   Finis Tasby / Kid Andersen – Snap Your Fingers (Bluebeat Music)

In making the list, I initially wrote down the first group of CDs that came to mind. There were more than 10. Forced to make cuts, I reluctantly omitted the next group–but any of them could have been in my top 10. Here, then, are the rest of my favorites of 2013, in no particular order…

Lurrie Bell, Blues in My Soul (Delmark)

Laura Rain & the Caesars, Electrified (LRC)

The James Hunter Six, Minute By Minute (Fantasy)

Candye Kane with Laura Chavez, Coming Out Swingin’ (Vizztone)

Adrianna Marie & Her Groovecutters, Double Crossing Blues

Sugaray Rayford, Dangerous (Delta Groove Productions)

Birdlegg, Birdlegg (Dialtone)

Don Leady, Hillbilly Boogie Surfin’ Blues

Gene Taylor, Roadhouse Memories (Bluelight Records)

Jake LaBotz, Get Right (Charnel House)

Tinsley Ellis, Get It! (Heartfixer)

What a great year for blues, soul, and real rock ‘n’ roll music!

I Changed My Tune #1: Bryan Lee’s Play One For Me

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Like all of us, I have certain ideas about what I might, or might not, enjoy. I’m going to write about several recently released albums that were in my “not” category until I gave them a fair shake. Here, then, is the first of these second looks.

Bryan Lee

Play One For Me

Severn Records, 2013

http://www.braillebluesdaddy.com/

http://www.severnrecords.com/

I’ll be candid. I’ve never been a fan of Bryan Lee’s music. His performance at a festival I attended this summer did nothing to change my opinion: I felt that the sound of his Blues Power Band was much too rock oriented, and that Lee’s guitar playing was pushy, garden-variety blues rock, with nothing special to recommend it even to fans of that genre. It all sounded jive to me. Consequently, when I was asked to listen to Play One For Me, I resisted. The fact that Lee recorded his new CD with the great Severn house band–Robb Stupka (drums), Steve Gomes (bass), Johnny Moeller (guitar), and Kevin Anker (keys)–and guest Kim Wilson (harmonica), not to mention the fact that Chicago soul mastermind Willie Henderson sweetened the tracks with his string and horn arrangements, overcame my reluctance.

I am glad I auditioned the album. Play One For Me makes a clean break with what Lee has shown me previously, and is all the better for it. The effective soul-blues punch that opens the album sets the tone for what follows. The one-two combination starts with a close cover of George Jackson’s lilting hit, “Aretha (Sing One For Me),” and segues easily into a fine reading of Freddie King’s “It’s Too Bad (Things Are Going So Tough),” with lovely piano from Anker and crisp fills and solos by Lee, whose guitar work throughout the set is restrained and tasteful. It can be heard to excellent advantage on a slow, minor key tune from Bobby Womack’s deep catalog “When Love Begins (Friendship Ends),” where it plays starkly against the strings in a quiet storm setting. This and “You Was My Baby (But You Ain’t My Baby No More)” (a Lee original, somewhat like “Cadillac Assembly Line”) work up a real Albert King flavor.

The minor, mid-tempo swinger “Why” features a crafty vocal performance and a jazzily-phrased guitar break. “Let Me Love You Tonight” is a superb, bouncing soul mover in the Chicago style of Tyrone Davis, with intricate guitar figures, an indelible melody, and fine horns and strings straight from the Brunswick school that Henderson developed. Lee’s singing is generally quite good in this soulful setting, although sounds a bit shaky on Dennis Geyer’s slick, contemporary composition, “Straight To Your Heart.” Either “Poison” or “Evil Is Going On” might have been omitted, as the vocal melody lines of the two blues sound much alike; and despite its appealing qualities, like the envelope-filtered lead guitar, the feel of Lee’s funky “68 Years Young” is somehow off. But such minor missteps are rare. While Play One For Me may not present a strictly accurate picture of Bryan Lee’s sound, it is absolutely an enjoyable album of soul blues, and one to which I will surely return.

TOM HYSLOP

Review copy was kindly provided by Mark Pucci Media.

On The Verge

on the verge

The Fabulous Thunderbirds

On The Verge

Severn Records, 2013

http://fabulousthunderbirds.com/

http://severnrecords.com/

As the Fabulous Thunderbirds near their 40th anniversary, the only constant in the band’s lineup is its front man, Kim Wilson. The extraordinary singer and harmonica wizard has his pick of the very best players, from among whom he chooses exceedingly wisely, and clearly exercises absolute control over the unit’s vision and sound, which has remained for the most part very consistent through years of personnel changes. Until now. On their new album, the Fabulous Thunderbirds expand the flirtation with soul music that provided a hit in the 1980s (their cover of Sam & Dave’s “Wrap It Up”) into a full-fledged courtship. The band’s once stripped-down sound is fleshed out with the addition of keyboards, backing vocals, percussion, and a four-piece horn section, and the ten new songs comprising On The Verge, most of them written by Wilson, with help from guest keyboardist Kevin Anker and Severn regulars David Earl and Steve Gomes, explore soul and R&B from a number of angles.

Wilson sings for all he is worth on the opener, “I Want To Believe,” a midtempo number with a determinedly positive message and an insistent, Stax-y push-pull feel reminiscent of the funkiest Otis Redding and Staple Singer grooves. Bassist Randy Bermudes’ terrific “Runnin’ From The Blues” gets a country soul treatment much in the vein of Joe Simon’s immortal “The Chokin’ Kind,” pulled together with twangy, deep-set guitar hooks. “Hold Me” is in the vein of artists like Clarence Carter. The interesting Kevin Anker piano figure that appears in the introduction and during the choruses lacks a dominant tonality, and is a bit unsettling in this traditional Southern soul context.

Several dark threads run through On The Verge. Over a slinky, minor key groove that tops the feel of Bobby Bland’s “I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog” with some special O.V. Wright sauce, “Too Much Water” chronicles the end of a relationship. The album’s closer, “Lonely Highway,” is an excellent slow number with moody horns, again reminiscent of O.V.’s Hi Records sides. And while many blues have dealt with poverty, few have presented the situation as starkly as “Do You Know Who I Am,” a stately soul ballad that calls for understanding and help from the vantage of the economically deprived, unemployed, and homeless.

“Got To Bring It With You” serves up dirty funk that marries wah-wah guitar to a horn chart that stepped straight out of an Al Green or O.V. session. Its simple guitar solo is more thematic than improvisational. “That’s The Way We Roll” is even more lowdown–this is heavy, trailer park funk, baby, with a slow-dragging, syncopated groove. Wilson blows minimalistic, distorted harp, and sings through the harp microphone for extra grease. At the other end of the R&B spectrum, “Lovin’ Time” has a pop-inflected melody that befits the lyric’s fond reminiscences. Smooth electric piano and organ, hand drums, and the airy, interlocking guitars form a distinctive arrangement. Gomes’s “Diamonds Won’t Kiss You Back,” with its intricate guitar and bass parts, catchy, riffing horns, and beautiful, melodic vocal line, is sweet soul directly from the Chicago school.

One observation: Although The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ last two lineups have featured some of most exciting guitar players on the planet, Wilson has seemed oddly reluctant to let them loose on record (this is emphatically not the case in concert). Nick Curran and Kirk Fletcher were largely indistinguishable from each other on Painted On, and while Johnny Moeller and Mike Keller’s guitar parts are crucial to the new CD’s sound (and often quite memorable), virtually no lead guitar can be heard, even though this style of music can certainly lends itself to instrumental breaks–just listen to Stax-era Albert King, anything Little Milton cut after the mid-1960s, or recent albums by, for instance, John Németh. Wilson himself barely cuts loose on his instrument. I’ll extend this line of thinking to include the rhythm section: Jason Moeller, one of the world’s premier shuffle drummers, doesn’t get to drive one home. While I can appreciate the focus on the songwriting and singing, it seems a shame that Wilson passed up the opportunity to record this hot lineup really showing its stuff.

That may well be a churlish attitude, as the album sounds fine the way it has been delivered. While there is the risk that On The Verge will alienate longtime fans who prefer to hear the tough, butt-rockin’ blues on which the T-Birds built their reputation, its tilt to the soulful side of the blues makes for a cohesive and successful album. Its polish, inherent tunefulness, and creamy feel should win the Fabulous Thunderbirds additional fans.

TOM HYSLOP

Review copy provided by Mark Pucci Media.