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.

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/

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

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!

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

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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.

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.