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 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)

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

Remembering Little Walter

Remembering LIttle Walter

Billy Boy Arnold, Charlie Musselwhite, Mark Hummel, Sugar Ray Norcia, James Harman

Remembering Little Walter

Blind Pig Records, 2013

http://www.blindpigrecords.com/

Latter-day harp men talk about Big Walter’s tone, emulate the conversational styles of both Sonny Boys, admire the power and playfulness of Cotton, and dig Junior Wells’s attitude. Some may work on Jimmy Reed’s high-end approach, or give lip service to Snooky Pryor or Louis Myers. But Marion Walter Jacobs was The Man, the player whose stylistic innovations revolutionized the way the instrument was played, and whose technique, taste, and tones continue to baffle and inspire musicians more than 60 years after his debut, and nearly 45 after his untimely death. Little Walter’s influence is so pervasive, therefore, that a certain amount of sarcasm seems almost a requirement when confronting a blues harp CD named Remembering Little Walter. What are the odds? At some level, after all, nearly every record prominently featuring harmonica blues could bear that title.

Built entirely from Walter’s catalog, many of the songs on this album have been recorded countless times already (and chances are that, if you are like I am, you do not care if you never again hear “My Babe,” though you undoubtedly still thrill to “Can’t Hold Out Much Longer”). What, then, distinguishes this release? Enough that it is nominated for two Blues Music Awards, in the Album and Traditional Blues Album categories. After years of organizing his Blues Harmonica Blowout tours, producer Mark Hummel has some practice at assembling successful packages, practice that carried over to this show, recorded at Anthology in San Diego. Start with the band. The superb rhythm section is made up of June Core (drums) and RW Grigsby (bass). The guitarists are well experienced at working with harmonica players: Nathan James (with James Harman and Ben Hernandez) and the legendary Little Charlie Baty (with Rick Estrin, in the Nightcats). The unit interprets the sounds originally laid down on Checker by the Aces and Robert Lockwood & Luther Tucker with swing, subtlety, and deep understanding.

The singers/harmonica players under whose names Remembering Little Walter was issued are an enviable all-star assemblage: Hummel, Harman, Charlie Musselwhite, Billy Boy Arnold, and Sugar Ray Norcia. Together they represent something like 50% of any reasonable person’s list of pre-eminent living harmonica instrumentalists, and the environment, as one might expect, makes for committed and spirited performances. Sugar Ray’s intense “Mean Old World” is dynamite, as is Musselwhite’s take on the uptempo “One Of These Mornings,” a relative rarity, which also features a daredevil guitar break. Tone and dynamics are at an impossibly high level throughout–Hummel and the band dial in a perfect late-night mood on “Blue Light,” and the way Harman drives “Crazy Mixed Up World” hard before breaking it down to a whisper at the end is masterly. Billy Boy’s “Can’t Hold Out Much Longer” is splendid on every level.

Although that recap covers only about half of the program, be assured that the rest of the songs (each performer sings two) are excellent as well. The closing number, “My Babe,” features all five marquee players (not to mention Baty, who started on harmonica before becoming universally recognized as a genius guitarist) blowing inspired solos on their horns. Chances are that you have already made the decision to buy Remembering Little Walter. You will not regret it.

TOM HYSLOP

I received the review copy of this CD from the label.