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.

J.T. Lauritsen & Friends – Play by the Rules

Lauritsen

J.T. Lauritsen & Friends

Play by the Rules

Hunters Records, 2013

jtlauritsen.com

Over the course of six albums, J.T. Lauritsen has shown an unmistakable feeling for the music of the American South, with strong examples of blues, country, roots rock, and Louisiana music in varying styles to his credit. The singer and accordion, Hammond organ, and harmonica player cut his latest set in two sessions: one at home in Norway, with his working band The Buckshot Hunters; the other at Ardent Studios in Memphis, with a collection of well-known American musicians. Drummer Jon Grimbsy keeps time on every cut. The results are absolutely enjoyable: Play by the Rules is a terrific collection.

The Ardent date (12 May 2012) produced five songs. “Next Time,” a Lauritsen composition that shares a melody with Chris Kenner’s “Sick and Tired,” rides straight out of New Orleans on Victor Wainwright’s rolling piano and Grimsby’s second-line drums. Josh Roberts contributes a tersely phrased and effective guitar solo. The title track, a stately mid-tempo ballad, features prominent piano and accordion, with vocal harmonies by Debbie Jamison and Teresa James. Roberts’s slide guitar curlicues, delivered in a thick tone à la Ry Cooder, are the key sonic element. On the excellent instrumental “Memphis Boogie,” Lauritsen (accordion), Wainwright, and Roberts trade solos at a breakneck pace. A pair of shuffle, paced by Willie J. Campbell (Mannish Boys, Fabulous Thunderbirds, James Harman) on bass and Greg Gumpel (who plays bass on the other Ardent sides) on guitar, rounds out the Memphis sessions. Walter Horton’s “Need My Babe,” with crucial B3 from Paul Wagnberg, pits Lauritsen in a harmonica blow-off with Billy Gibson. Gumpel turns in a lovely train-wreck guitar solo on Bo Carlsson’s stomping shuffle “The Blues Got Me,” which closes the disc.

Seven songs come from a session in Oslo (6 February 2013). A solid version of the swamp pop classic “Mathilda,” originally by Cookie & The Cupcakes, with guitar by Arnfinn Tørrisen, leads into Lauritsen’s “Find My Little Girl,” which rocks along over a “Hi Heel Sneakers” groove and spotlights Anson Funderburgh’s sleek leads. Funderburgh also contributes rhythm guitar to an atmospheric reading of Gillian Welch’s “Valley of Tears,” which is both delicate and murky. Big Joe Maher’s “Ever Since The World Began” sounds particularly sweet, backed with Lauritsen’s accordion and the rollicking groove laid down by Grimsby and bassist/backing vocalist Atle Rakvåg. Rakvåg, the co-producer, submitted a pair of songs he wrote with Knut Eide: the clever “Eye Candy,” a riff-based rocker, and a truly gorgeous ballad, “I’ll Never Get Over You.” The rhythm section plays subtly under Wagnberg’s keyboards (Fender Rhodes and Hammond B3), guitars by Tørrisen and Ian Fredrick Johnnessen, and lush harmony vocals by Reba Russel and Debbie Jamison. This composition, in the Northern soul style, could as easily have come from the UK in the ‘80s as from Philadelphia in the late ‘60s, but fits perfectly in this context and is surely one of this year’s finest new songs.

Lauritsen always sings with passion and deep soulfulness, and–for Anglophones who may care–no trace of a Scandinavian accent. He removes all doubt in the opening track, a cover of William Bell’s Stax classic “Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday,” where he shares lead vocal duties with Sven Zetterberg, unquestionably one of the greatest living singers of deep soul music. (Kerry Clarke and Larry McCray are the impressive background voices.) The fresh arrangement (sans sleigh bells) is pitch-perfect, as is the balance of instruments throughout the album. Whether recorded by The Buckshot Hunters or by a crew weighted with Blues Music Award-winning instrumentalists, every cut is guided by Lauritsen’s authentic vision of American roots music styles. I recommend Play by the Rules without reservations.

TOM HYSLOP

Review copy of this CD was provided by Frank Roszak Radio Promotions.