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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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

Kenny Parker • Yes Indeed!

Yes Indeed!

Kenny Parker

Yes Indeed!

Blue Angel Recordings, 2013

https://myspace.com/kennyparkerblues

Download Yes Indeed! at iTunes, CDBaby, and Amazon. To buy CDs, contact the artist via Facebook or email (kennykool25 AT hotmail.com), or go to one of his shows.

 

It is hard to believe that almost 20 years have gone by since the release of Raise The Dead. Kenny Parker’s first album featured performances by some of the finest musicians in Detroit and beyond–players like The Butler Twins, Bill Heid, and Darrell Nulisch­–unified by his fiery yet tasteful guitar work, and stands up today as an solid sampling of straight-ahead blues. While the contemporary scene in Detroit (and elsewhere) is vastly different, Parker continues to keep high standards and good company. His new project Yes Indeed!, which features the vocals and harp of Garfield Angove, with Chris Codish and Tim Brockett on keys, Renell Gonzalves on drums, and Bob Connor and Mike Marshall (a returning collaborator) on bass, delivers a range of exciting music.

Parker’s varied originals make up the bulk of the record. Wailing harmonica and a humorous, spoken narrative about a high maintenance woman, delivered through a harp mike by The Reverend Lowdown, are essential components of “Wig Hat,” a lowdown stomp akin to an early Howlin’ Wolf number, with a guitar break as spiky as barbed wire. “I’m Gonna Make You Mine,” a shuffle with 1950s Memphis written all over it, features vivid lyrics and a raw, enthusiastic performance. A Texas feeling, reminiscent of Frankie Lee Sims by way of Mike Morgan & The Crawl, informs a pair of shuffles in the middle of the set: The tough swagger of “Shake That Thing” would have suited Parker’s old employers The Butler Twins well, while on “Spellbound” (co-written with Woodstock Sally Scribner), Parker breaks out his slide. Most slide guitarists playing blues (not rock) draw heavily on Muddy Waters or Elmore James; Parker’s curling, languid lines are original, with a hint of Smokin’ Joe Kubek’s style.

“Look Before You Leap,” a Parker-Angove collaboration, has a melody akin to Kim Wilson’s “Don’t Bite The Hand That Feeds You.” The song bears the merest suggestion of a rocking J.B. Lenoir shuffle and jumps as hard as Little Walter, but rather than aping Lockwood/Tucker or Louis Myers, Parker’s slashing attack is all Guitar Slim. It’s an unexpected and effective juxtaposition. Gonzalves’s invention and swing behind “Leap” are likewise impressive. “Tight Black Sweater” is about as modern as this set gets. Its hard-hitting “Tramp” groove features a slick Leslie sound on the guitar, a fine organ solo, and a spoken vocal right out of the textbooks written by Lowell Fulson and Otis & Carla. Angove’s harp accents lend a down home, “Scratch My Back” edge.

The playlist includes four covers. On Greg Piccolo’s title track, which opens the disc, the band lays down a clipped, upbeat shuffle, warmed by a sunny vocal and the horn section of Larry Lamb (sax) and Andy Wickstrom (trumpet). Paced by Parker’s uncluttered, melodic solo, “Yes Indeed” swings like a Ronnie Earl-era Roomful Of Blues tune should. Angove provides impressive, swooping harp lines and big tone on a muted, somber reading of Little Walter’s “Can’t Hold Out.” Parker turns in a fierce and faithful version of Gatemouth Brown’s classic “Okie Dokie Stomp” and salutes Ike Turner with a cover of the exotic “Cuban Getaway” that is sweet and snarling; the piano break nods, appropriately, to Professor Longhair’s rolling, complex, Carribean-inflected style. A serene take on the familiar show tune “You’ll Never Walk Alone” closes the disc on a quiet note, with a piano picking out the chords note by note the only backing for Parker’s gently soaring slide guitar.

If I were pressed to recommend a single track, it would be “Valentine’s Day,” a spare, funereally paced minor blues that shows how powerful restraint can be in the right hands. Parker’s playing is quiet and purposeful, and absolutely without the ulterior motive of turning it up to 10 and stepping on the gas halfway through the song. His outstanding performance is built on clean lines, rolling trills, ‘60s-era Buddy Guy double-stops, Otis Rush-leaning bends, and, above all, dynamics. Bravo! The devastating lyrics match the tone of the music, Angove’s subdued vocal delivery packs a heavy wallop, and for a sublime 5:49, everything hangs on beautiful and ominous piano accompaniment worthy of Otis Spann. Such combinations make Yes Indeed! a classy and memorable collection of pure blues.

 

TOM HYSLOP

 

The artist kindly provided the CD for this review.

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

Holland_Stuff

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.

Just For Today

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Ronnie Earl and The Broadcasters

Just For Today

Stony Plain Records, 2013

http://www.ronnieearl.com/

http://www.stonyplainrecords.com/Web/artist.asp?id=347

Ronnie Earl, the blues guitarist probably most acclaimed for expressive control of his instrument, marks the 25th year with his Broadcasters with a new live album. Just For Today, recorded at three Massachusetts venues, shows much of the unit’s scope as the combo runs through a set of shuffles, slow blues, jazz, Broadcasters music, and soul ballads.

Soul and tone, two qualities often identified in Earl’s music, are abundantly present in every note played. Consider Earl’s composition “Blues For Celie.” On this slow blues, he takes a languid first few choruses, outlining ideas in chords and single notes with subtle tonal shifts. The number has no head to speak of, but Earl maintains thematic unity as the lines flow, and explores  every variation in intensity, from whisper-quiet musings to a stirring climax.

“The Big Train” simply cooks. Earl’s lead work alternates short, vocal phrases with longer lines that spill across measures, employing hammered-on double-stops and soaring, bent notes. Dave Limina’s Hammond B3 fills out the sound with a great touch and splendid tone, whether he is comping behind Earl or delivering an ovation-worthy chord solo. The tune hangs on a simple riff, and is taken at an unhurried pace, yet the way Lorne Entress (drums) and Jim Mouradian (bass) and play together creates a perfect, unstoppable momentum. It’s hard to tell whether the false ending was planned, or if Ronnie was digging the groove so much that, in the heat of the moment, he felt compelled to lead the combo through another round.

Earl takes a couple of fine choruses on “Vernice’s Boogie,” but this rollicking piano boogie-woogie is Limina’s show. An old Earl favorite, the hard-driving “Robert Nighthawk Stomp,” also features strong 88s, as well as an ear-grabbing, very neatly phrased Earl solo that very briefly quotes “Smokestack Lightnin’.” Limina’s extended introduction to “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” is likewise played on the ivories, though he shifts to the organ once Earl steps in to outline his take on the melody, coaxing from his guitar the sweetest lines imaginable.

The moving reading of John Coltrane’s “Equinox” suggests that it is a favorite of the band: Limina and Earl turn in lovely solos over a subdued, Latin-inspired groove. “Pastorale,” “Miracle,” and “Heart Of Glass,” round out the setlist. These three songs, examples of what I earlier called Broadcasters music, are not formally blues in their chord structure; their melodic content is likewise more sophisticated than traditional blues tends to be. Not exactly jazz, and surely not rock, they are akin to tone poems that give Earl a chance to express himself in different contexts.

“Blues For Hubert Sumlin” is a purely wonderful slow blues with a long, hushed middle section that gives Earl’s bent notes, conversational phrasing, and skittering lines center stage, before bringing things to a boil. In the end, it matters little that the song offers nothing that much recalls Hubert’s highly idiosyncratic playing. Similarly, on “Rush Hour,” a thrilling, mid-tempo box shuffle intended as a tribute to Otis Rush, Earl’s ideas sound more like his own, a few backward rakes across the strings notwithstanding, than they do the great southpaw’s. The band’s powerful swagger on “Jukein’” inspires Earl and Limina to special heights. To these ears, it is the best track here for spirit, rhythmic creativity, and tonal exploration. That intensity carries over into the oft-covered Etta James classic “I’d Rather Go Blind,” here sung creditably by Diane Blue. Earl does a superb, Steve Cropper-esque job of gilding his solid rhythm arpeggios with interesting fills, and his lead break is a model of tone and taste, saying a great deal with very simple materials.

Such communication is the essence of this kind of music, and no one does it better than Ronnie Earl. The current Broadcasters lineup, consisting of veterans who have played together for some time, is confident and comfortable, yet such is their skill and heart that they never sound dispassionate or uninspired. Long instrumental programs are not everyone’s cup of tea, and even Earl’s most ardent fans have sometimes, probably justifiably, felt that they have heard him do it all before. But Just For Today sustains an exceptionally high level of engagement, excitement, and emotion. Ronnie Earl and The Broadcasters have produced an anniversary gift that is little short of amazing.

TOM HYSLOP

Review copy provided by Mark Pucci Media