Best of 2015

shawnpittman9

2015 was a good year for blues and roots music, and in particular for soul music with a blues feeling. Prompted by David Mac at Blues Junction (bluesjunctionproductions.com) and Art Tipaldi at Blues Music Magazine (bluesmusicmagazine.com), I came up with Top Ten lists for the last year. The lists you’ll see in those showcases vary slightly, as the qualifications were different. Here is a combined and expanded list that shows a more complete picture of the blues-oriented records I enjoyed most over the past year.

 

The year’s best album, in my estimation, was :

Shawn Pittman, Backslidin’ Again

The recording, with the ace rhythm section of Willie J. Campbell and Jimi Bott, is a stone killer set of real blues, with a little blues rock (done right, which virtually no one does), funk, and soul. Pittman, an Oklahoman, has a brilliant writing partner in Lewis Dickson, and includes choice covers from Ike Turner, Frankie Lee Sims, and Johnny “Guitar” Watson; his own guitar and vocals are superb, of course. The recording is available in digital format only, at iTunes and CDBaby. (That’s a sorry state of affairs, in my opinion – I’m old school and prefer hard copy.)

The rest:

Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin, Lost Time
Big Jon Atkinson, Back Down South
Sherwood Fleming, Blues Blues Blues
James Harman, Bonetime
Javier & The Innocent Sons, Born To Ramble
Will Porter, Tick Tock Tick
Igor Prado Band, Way Down South
Tad Robinson, Day Into Night
Andy Santana & The West Coast Playboys, Watch Your Step!
Wee Willie Walker, If Nothing Ever Changes

Lester Butler feat. 13, Live @ Tamines 1997
Anthony Geraci & The Boston Blues All-Stars, Fifty Shades of Blue
Nikki Hill, Heavy Hearts Hard Fists
B.B. King, Here’s One You Didn’t Know About
Barry Levenson, The Visti
Hank Mowery, Excuses Plenty
Jackie Payne, I Saw The Blues
Billy Price & Otis Clay, This Time For Real
Laura Rain & The Caesars, Gold
Mighty Mike Schermer, Blues In Good Hands
Pops Staples, Don’t Lose This
Kai Strauss, I Go By Feel
Joakim Tinderholt & His Band, You Gotta Do More
The 24th Street Wailers, Where Evil Grows

 

 

 

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!

Nikki Hill with Deke Dickerson and the Bo-Keys • Soul Meets Country

2013 Deke Dickerson Nikki Hillsoulmeetscountry

Nikki Hill & Deke Dickerson

Soul Meets Country

Major Label CD/7-inch + download/download, 2013

nikkihillmusic.com

www.dekedickerson.com

www.thebokeys.com

This four track EP is slight when measured in playing time, but from the perspective of the hardcore roots music aficionado, it is a summit meeting that rivals Destroy All Monsters in earth-shaking significance. Deke Dickerson is one of the most enthusiastic and accomplished proponents of American music: as a performer, producer, promoter, fan, collector, scholar, author, and more, he does it all. Nikki Hill is, hands down, the most exciting new artist in the true rock-and-soul variety of R&B; her calling card Here’s Nikki Hill (2013) and relentless touring have devastated audiences all over the planet. And Scott Bomar’s Bo-Keys, heavy with legendary alumni of the Stax and Hi bands, are dedicated keepers of Memphis’s deep soul tradition who happen to make vital new music. Combine the three ingredients, shake, and dig the results on Soul Meets Country. First roll back the carpet, ‘cause you know it’s going to be a party.

Two Hill-Dickerson duets open the program. First is the Otis Redding-Carla Thomas chestnut “Lovey Dovey.” Dickerson obviously doesn’t sing with Redding’s intensity (who does?), but his sweet, unguarded delivery carries ample emotional force, and matches up nicely with the raw edge of Hill’s voice. Their banter has a lilting quality that works well against the push-pull of the rhythm section, which takes the song at a leisurely tempo. The feel is relaxed and greasy, due in large part to Howard Grimes’s emphasis on the backbeat versus the four-to-the-bar snare hits of the frenetic original.

Next comes “Feelin’s,” made famous by Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, here given a new coat of paint. Stripped of the original’s prominent steel guitar and played a few clicks of the metronome faster, the tune is driven by a surging horn chart, syncopated interplay between Grimes’s snare and Bomar’s bass, and the tambourine of Jack Ashford–a sound familiar from countless classic Motown productions. Dickerson twangs his way through a brief, lovely guitar solo, and his relaxed vocal harmonization with Hill is perfect.

Rounding out Soul Meets Country is a pair of individual numbers. “Struttin’” percolates to life with a steady bass pulse and stop-time choruses. Hill is at her sassiest here. It’s as tough as anything ever waxed, and the sound, with Bomar’s Wurlitzer piano and some very Steve Cropper-esque guitar parts by Dickerson figuring prominently in the arrangement, is reminiscent of Wilson Pickett’s classic Memphis and Muscle Shoals recordings. Dickerson revisits his “Lady Killin’ Papa” as the country funk workout “Lady Killa.” Motown ace Dennis Coffey’s wah-wah guitar is the essential sonic ingredient here, along with Archie Turner’s organ and the killer rhythm section-horn interplay that is all over the disc.

In a rare instance of truth in labeling, Soul Meets Country offers just that: four songs, Dixie-fried to delicious perfection. Fans of the Bo-Keys, Deke Dickerson, or Nikki Hill will absolutely love this one, and anyone with even a passing interest in American roots music ought to hear it. Highest recommendation.

TOM HYSLOP

I bought this CD from http://www.dekedickerson.com/shopping/merch3.php

and it is now available from the world’s greatest retailer of our kind of music: http://www.bluebeatmusic.com/

Here’s Nikki Hill

nikki

Nikki Hill

Here’s Nikki Hill

Deep Fryed Records, 2013

www.nikkihillmusic.com

Originally from North Carolina and now calling St. Louis home, Nikki Hill is the real thing: a roots rock ‘n’ soul star with the talent of Etta James and the megawatt charisma and sheer detonating power of artists like Rachel Nagy of the Detroit Cobras and the late, great Nick Curran. Her band features a solid rhythm section in Ed Strohsahl (bass) and Joe Meyer (drums), not to mention a well-known guitarist in her husband, Matt Hill, who won in the Best New Artist Debut category in the 2011 Blues Music Award balloting. Nikki Hill dropped a four-song calling card in the form of a self-titled EP last year. Now the singer-songwriter has folded that impressive debut into a full-length album, Here’s Nikki Hill. It is outstanding.

Four songs are drawn from the EP: the fierce, Delta-style boogie of “I’ve Got A Man,” which gives the Jelly Roll Kings a run for their money; the majestic deep soul ballad “Don’t Cry Anymore,” propelled by Matt Hill’s staccato chanks on his guitar and Steve Eisen’s one-man saxophone section, sung at a slow burn (“It’s too late, and I can’t put out the fire” indeed!); and “Strapped To The Beat,” a sassy roots rock number with a boogie-woogie guitar line out of Carl Perkins’s “Matchbox,” again featuring Eisen. The languid, sultry groover “Her Destination” interprets the “nothing can keep me from my lover” theme, even quoting “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” For Here’s Nikki Hill, the cut has been re-recorded to eliminate the saxophone that was prominent in the original version. It now boasts a tougher vocal, dirtier guitar tones, and a snarling solo, with the effect of making the overall atmosphere even nastier and more pheromone-charged.

Here’s Nikki Hill’s new material is thrilling. With its soul-clap drum hits, distinctive bent-note guitar figure, and vicious solo, the phenomenal “Ask Yourself” is reminiscent of Irma Thomas’s 1963 platter, “Hittin’ On Nothin’.” “Right On The Brink” serves dramatic, minor key soul over a churning beat, interspersed with ominous breakdowns that are the aural equivalent of the storms of which Hill sings. “Gotta Find My Baby” sways with a fevered urgency, coming from somewhere in the R&B neighborhood frequented by Don Covay, Ike & Tina Turner, and Eddie Hinton. It is irresistible, from the groove to the speedy amplifier tremolo to Hill’s guileless yet suggestive delivery. Even her “Do-do-doos” are knockouts.

Hill reaches back a few years stylistically for “I Know,” the Barbara George hit out of New Orleans that Freddie King also covered. Her splendid phrasing and some well-placed growls and squeals really bring this to life; Hill’s guitar break, sketching the melody and accentuating it with tremolo picking and pedal steel-like bends, is top notch. Hill completely reimagines the album’s other cover, shifting “Who Were You Thinking Of?” from the Tex-Mex treatment it received in the hands of Doug Sahm and Texas Tornadoes to a ska foundation–only the twanging lead guitars hint at the song’s origins. The audacious move works perfectly. The playlist eases out with a smoky gospel-inflected ballad, “Hymn for Hard Luck,” that left me marveling at the understated power created by just Nikki’s voice and Matt’s electric guitar. Here and across the board, the sound has a delicious vintage vibe, owing to the attentive ears, Grail-like gear, and matchless musical hipness found in the confines of co-producer Felix Reyes’s House of Tone, a Chicago area studio quickly becoming known as one of the world’s premier recording facilities for roots and blues music.

If she keeps making records like this, Nikki Hill cannot miss. She is already wowing audiences on the blues and R&B circuits in the US and Europe, and at the same time knocking ‘em out on the rockabilly scene. I daresay Hill also has the kind of soul and style it takes to conquer the rootsy corner of the (punk) rock universe inhabited by acts like Rev. Horton Heat, Detroit Cobras, and Social Distortion. So get hip if you ain’t, buy Here’s Nikki Hill, tell all your friends about her, and you can say you were in on this explosion at the beginning.

TOM HYSLOP

I purchased this CD from http://www.nikkihillmusic.com