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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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)

Al Blake • Blues According To Blake: …a road less traveled

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Al Blake

Blues According To Blake: …a road less traveled

Soul Sanctuary, 2013/2014

 

Al Blake is a figure of particular importance in both the preservation of a strong traditional element and the continuing development of what has come to be called West Coast blues. Anyone who has listened to blues music with anything more than a casual dedication over the past 40+ years is familiar with Blake’s work, if not his name. The California-based artist achieved some fame and an undying legacy of excellence during the ‘70s and ‘80s as the voice, harmonica player, and primary songwriter of the Hollywood Fats Band. More recent years have found him releasing superb albums both as a solo artist and at the helm of the Hollywood Blue Flames, in collaboration with the surviving members of the Fats Band, whose namesake, guitarist Michael “Hollywood Fats” Mann, died in 1986. His latest recording is clearly a labor of love. Blues According To Blake: …a road less traveled is a spare and beautiful expression of blues from close to the heart.

Blake delivers pre- and post-war styles with a master’s hand on this all-acoustic affair. He performs four songs alone, on harmonica or guitar. On the chugging midtempo harp instrumental “Old Time Boogie,” Blake delivers a perfect mix of chords and single note lines, accompanied only by his tapping foot. He takes “Easy” perhaps a little faster than the classic Sun single by Walter Horton and Jimmy DeBerry, and without guitar. While Walter’s hornlike tone remains inimitable, Blake recreates his fluttering vibrato and breathing-through-the-harp effects to a T. Bravo! The guitar tracks include a dark-toned adaptation of “Big Fat Mama” to which Blake adds a pulsating, single bass note beneath intricate runs like those in Tommy Johnson’s original, and the splendid new line “[she] don’t need no diet plan.” He also covers Slim Harpo’s “King Bee” in a swaggering, country blues rendition. It was an inspired moment that produced this interpretation, which filters the swamp blues classic through the sensibility of Lightnin’ Hopkins at his most doomy. Blake’s National steel-bodied resonator (I think) sounds like nothing so much as a trashcan with strings–and it is lovely.

The balance of the program features the contributions of several other musicians. Richard Innes’s drumming subtly drives “Hummingbird,” a shuffle as hard-hitting and crisply defined as Eddie Taylor’s “Bad Boy,” though instead of coming through a dirty-toned amplifier, it is played by Blake on that National resonator. “All the flowers are crazy about me,” indeed! The great blues and jazz pianist Fred Kaplan, another Fats Band alumnus, duets with Blake’s guitar on “Papa’s Boogie,” a sprightly shuffle with stop-time choruses in which lascivious currents bubble under Blake’s good-natured vocal. In “Music Man,” a low-key, Delta-style blues about an itinerant musician and ladies’ man, he again rolls the 88s behind Blake’s percussive, snapped guitar. Blake seems really to be feeling this hypnotic, dreamy vocal performance. Blake and Kaplan, with Innes again and the addition of bassist Larry Taylor, make a complete Fats Band reunion on a quietly sexy “Rock Me.”

Blake reserves his deepest expressiveness and bluest emotions for a pair of songs on which he is joined by guitarist Nathan James. “Precious Time” is a philosophical meditation on death and temporality with a focus both general (“Time waits for no one, not millionaires, not kings”) and specific (“Goodbye, old friend, you know time brings about a change”). Tremolo-picked, mandolin-like flourishes add a distinctive touch to rhythmic echoes of Tommy Johnson in James’s accompaniment. In “City Of Angels,” Blake weaves his plaintive harmonica through a delicate figure played on the treble strings of James’s guitar as indelible images of waves and wind draw tight his rueful lyric of sin and heartbreak in Los Angeles. This is artistry at a high level.

Although it holds true to the conventions of the genre, a road less traveled in no way sounds like the work of an archivist. Rather, in its lack of affectation and unflinching honesty, this record sounds as if, just like John Lee Hooker’s boogie-woogie, it was in Al Blake and had to come out. Its lack of pretension or artifice makes Blues According To Blake the perfect restorative for listeners offended by the phoniness and wearied by the bombast common to practically every style of music today (with much of what is marketed as “blues” sadly no exception). Depending on your listening habits, this record may at first sound a bit subtle to you. If it does, play it again and listen closely. Mr. Blake’s blues will move you.

TOM HYSLOP

 

The artist kindly provided this CD for review. It is available for purchase at http://www.bluebeatmusic.com