Saturday, January 2, 2016

Best Blues of 2015

A few words towards the blog post I would like to write--

Dear readers, I have woefully neglected this blog in 2015, and I have no excuses. I got out of the habit of writing it is all. There was a lot of great music made in 2015, and I loved a lot of it--so let me take a stab at sharing my favorites of 20-15.

12.  Billy Hector -- Old School Thang  (reviewed May 26)

11.  Jeff Jensen -- Morose Elephant  (Swingsuit Records) This cd illustrated for me all the potential of the great city of Memphis. When a good songwriter and a good batch of songs come together with the great talent of that city,  powerfully good music can be the result. The seven original songs and four covers are all excellent. Jensen is on vocals and guitar--abetting him are Victor Wainwright on piano and vocals, Ann Harris on violin, long-time bassist Bill Ruffulo, Reba Russell on backing vocals, Kirk Smothers and Mark Franklin on horns, Eric Hughes and Gary Allegretto on harmonica and Christ Stephenson on additional keyboards, along with James Cunningham on drums. A top-notch effort all around. My favorite song is "What's The Matter With The Mill," a duet featuring Jensen and Wainwright over a rollicking piano.

10.  Jim Singleton -- Eight O'Clock In The Afternoon (reviewed May 25)

9.  Steve Earle & The Dukes -- Terraplane  (New West) I have loved the music of Steve Earle since 1986's Guitar Town. Early on, it was obvious to me that the man would eventually make a blues album--and when he did, it was going to be stunner. Well, this is that album. On his website is a review that puts it all well: " Terraplane is his Texas blues album, an homage to the likes of Lightnin' Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb, Robert Johnson and Stevie Ray Vaughn, Freddy King and ZZ Top." My favorite song is "King of The Blues," on which Earle comes closer than he ever has to sounding like the son of Ray Wylie Hubbard. 

8.  Samantha Fish -- Wild Heart (Ruf) When I moved from Atlanta to Colombia Missouri in 2012 I had to give up a lot of things. My old stomping grounds included Blind Willie's, where I could see incredible blues talent up close and personal on a regular basis. And then when I moved to metro Kansas City in 2014, I knew Samantha Fish was one of the highlights of this fine city. Blues Music Award for 2016 Nomination for the Best Contemporary Female. I have watched her from the beginning of her career, and with Chris Alexander on bass and Go Go Ray on drums, Samantha has her best band ever. As a result, Wild Heart is a BIG step forward. There is no telling how high and how far Samantha Fish can go. My favorite song is "Go Home," a heartfelt acoustic story-song.

7.  Rusty Wright Band -- Wonder Man  (Sadson) The Rusty Wright Band have made a string of strong albums, but Wonder Man is the best thing they've done so far. Rusty Wright writes all the songs. The band consists of Rusty Wright on guitar and vocals, Laurie LaCross-Wright on guitar and vocals, Dennis Bellinger on bass and vocals, Robert John Manzitti on organ, piano, synth, and vocals, and Marc Friedman on drums. They get additional cudos for being road warriors--they are best live and they're on the road almost all the time somewhere. My favorite song here is "Corvette Sunday," which features a beautiful Allman-esque twin guitar break that will make your heart soar.

6.  Dave Spector -- Message In Blue  (reviewed May 25)

5.  Eddie Cotton --  One At A Time (DeChamp) Eddie Cotton won the 2015 International Blues Challenge in 2015, which illustrates the level of talent the man possesses. A lot of that talent can be heard on One At A Time. Like Samantha Fish, this is his second terrific release in a row after 2014's Here I Come. Cotton wrote all the songs, and he is again backed by Myron Bennett on bass and Samuel Scott Jr on drums and percussion Guests include Grady Champion and Carlos Russell on harmonica, James "Hotdog" Lewis on organ, The Jackson Horns, and JJ Thames on backing vocals. My favorite song is "Dead End Street," a soulful tour de force that reminds me of the great ZZ Hill. In my opinion, Eddie is one of the top talents anywhere in the blues right now.

4.  Sonny Landreth -- Bound By The Blues (Mascot Music Productions) Sonny Landreth has developed over the past 15+ years into the most amazing slide guitar player around. Assisted this time out by drummer Brian Brignac and bassist David Ranson, Bound By The Blues is a stripped-down, back-to-the-blues set that lets Landreth's talents shine. I've never been a fan of his voice, but this time that is not as much an impediment as it was on earlier albums. Whenever people want to brag about how great Joe Bonamassa is, I just point them to Sonny Landreth. Favorite song is "Key To The Highway."

3.  Gary Clark Jr -- The Story Of Sonny Boy Slim  (Warner Brothers) It feels like Gary Clark Jr has made a whole stack of super good music in 2014 and 2015--the Live set was prime, and to follow that up with this album really boggles my mind. Add in that he played Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festival, and The White House, and it looks even more monumental. Take some time off, already! Judging all that music together, Clark has taken giant steps towards fulfilling the potential that was laid on him several years ago. His work incorporates elements of gospel, and rock, and jazz--and because of that he annoys the blues purists--but Gary is a terrific musician and quickly growing into a national treasure. And he is only 31 years old. Favorite song is "Church" or maybe "The Healing."  

2.  Buddy Guy -- Born To Play Guitar (Silvertone) Buddy Guy released my number 1 cd of 2013 with "Rhythm & Blues" and this set is superior to that one. The man is a six-time Grammy winner. He has made God knows how many albums, and he has a career of over 50 years, and he seems to still be getting better. God bless you, Buddy. Thanks for all the great music. He probably doesn't need my review to sell his music--but he deserves to be listed here.
 
1.  Shemekia Copeland -- Outskirts Of Love (Alligator) Speaking only a few words about Shemekia Copeland's music will take a great deal of restraint on my part. She has a Grammy nomination for Best Blues Album for this one. I agree. My favorite cd of the year since the day I first heard it.             

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Clarence "The Blues Man" Turner -- "The Caster Blaster"

Clarence "The Blues Man" Turner's second cd, "The Caster Blaster" (2015) is a strong follow up to his debut "Pay Day." (2012) Turner is a true triple threat--singer, songwriter, guitarist, bass player, drummer--and this disc is a big step up from "Pay Day." This time  around, the Washington, D.C. area artist and winner of numerous awards presents what will be his deserved breakthrough release. Eight songs are Turner originals and there are three covers There are three covers, Chuck Willis' "CC Rider," Ray Charles' "Black Jack," and Willie Dixon's "I'm Ready." The band with Turner are  Sean Graves (drums), Charles Pearson (keyboards), David Satterwhite (bass), Gene Meros (saxophones) and Gary Hendrickson (trumpet).

Turner has earned the title "The Blues Man" and he shows himself an excellent ear as a songwriter throughout. He is also a fine singer, and a very good guitarist too. He can play the fast blues as well as anyone, and he when he slows things down, as on "Black Jack," he makes every moment shine. Pearson has several fine moments on keyboards, most impressively on "Nadine." Graves and Satterwhite keep everything effortlessly moving in the pocket. And I think any artist who makes an entire cd with a horn section must have plenty for them to do--and this cd is no exception. Meros and Hendrickson add great color, depth and intensity to "Sabrena," "Fender Bender," "Happily Married Man."

Everything here is well done and the result is a fine cd. Equally good as music for a party or for quiet introspection, this is one I highly recommend. The fact that Clarence is a real good guy--that's just an added special bonus.  

You can buy this one at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/clarencethebluesmanturne2      




Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Crooked Eye Tommy -- "Butterflies And Snakes"

    





Crooked Eye Tommy releases their debut effort,
Butterflies And Snakes, eleven memorable songs written by Crooked Eye Tommy front-person and band namesake Tommy Marsh and Tommy's brother, guitarist-vocalist, Paddy Marsh.

These brothers are the creative force that is Crooked Eye Tommy. Paddy Marsh sings and writes three of the eleven tunes on the record including “Come On In”, “I Stole The Blues”,  and “Tide Pool.” Tommy Marsh sings on the other eight songs. The other members of the band are Glade Rasmussen, on bass; Tony Cicero, on drums; and Jimmy Calire, on saxophone/piano/Hammond B3.

This band came out of the Santa Barbara Blues Society in 2013 and the album is a rocking blues powerhouse. These guys do Southern style blues with chops and taste, and, as you can guess from the name of the album, several of the songs deal with the relationships between the sexes. The title track drew me in right off the bat with an excellent balanced ensemble sound featuring strong vocals and stinging guitar work. I like a blues band that wants to sound like a blues band, not a group of guys just waiting to get the next screamin' solo. These guys get it done--it sounds like they all turned down the volume just a little and they all play together beautifully.

Another favorite to me was the rocking number, "Time Will Tell," which is "the source of the album's name," states Marsh. "The second verse talks about the duality of women:

Women are made of butterflies, butterflies and snakes
Trying to please a woman can give a good man the shakes

"Somebody's Got To Pay" is a sexy Blues shuffle where Marsh laments in song, "the way the world is today, somebody's got to pay." He explains: "I wrote this song while dealing with a tax issue...I was very frustrated with the whole government and how no matter who is in office, it's always about who has the money."

Another really good song, IMO, is "I Stole The Blues," which features Paddy Marsh singing over a solid rhythm section and really good guitar by brother Tommy. This one has all the elements of a good blues radio friendly number--in fact, I have played it several times on my Mo' Blues Show and it always gets a good reaction. There is a hot sax solo by Jimmy Calire on this one.

Crooked Eye Tommy has made a really fine debut album. Santa Barbara and Ventura County California have a lot to be proud of here. Scorching performances and original music firmly rooted in traditional blues, which feels at once both familiar but somehow new.

You can buy this cd at http://crookedeyetommy.com/

Friday, September 11, 2015

Brad Wilson -- "Blues Thunder"




"Blues Thunder" is the latest from Brad Wilson. It follows 2014's "Hands On The Wheel" and it is fine blues and blues-rock. Brad Wilson is on guitar and sings. He also wrote all 12 songs. Brian Beal is on bass. Amrik Sandhu is on drums. Kirk Nelson is on keyboards. Tumbleweed Mooney is on harmonica. 

Things open with Is It Any Wonder, which sounds radio-ready. Wilson, who takes lead vocal and guitar, sings smoothly in quiet pop form but with tasty guitar riffs throughout.  The next song, Change It Up, is an uptempo song with a kind of Santana feel. The next song, Blue Shadows, is a 50s style ballad featuring clean piano work by Nelson. I could imagine this one sung by Sinatra. Quite tasty! The next two songs, Step By Step and the title track, are a return to blues-rock. Tumbleweed Mooney shines on harp on Step By Step. On the title track Wilson burns up the fretboard. Some readers will love this one, some will think it overwrought, but the guitar work is top-notch. The next song, Let's Go Barefootin' It, starts out as a blues with a Bo Diddley rhythm, but soon gets around to cooking. Mooney's harp work here is excellent. The next song, My Faith Has Been Broken, is another shift in style, this time towards classic rock. The guitar on this one reminds me of the great Terry Kath of Chicago. Next up, Cool Runnin', is a radio-ready understated song featuring Wilson's vocals. The guitar work here is hot from beginning to end. The next song, Home, is another stylistic move featuring acoustic guitar. The opening reminds me of Led Zeppelin's Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, but it morphs into something like an unreleased Bruce Springsteen song. The next song, Black Coffee At Sunrise, is probably my favorite. This one is a 50s style jump blues with very sweet jazzy guitar. The next song, Sugar Sweet, features jazzy guitar but weak lyrics. Last up, Never Again, is a solid rock song. Wilson really wails on this one. A nice conclusion.

Brad Wilson's new cd is a strong follow up to his 2014 release. He shows a number of styles in both his songwriting and guitar. I enjoyed this one.

You can buy this one at http://bradwilsonlive.com/main.html

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Billy Hector -- "Old School Thang"

Billy Hector's "Old School Thang" is his 11th release for the Ghetto Surf label, and this one is good stuff! Hector is one of New Jersey's guitar treasures, and after 35 years he sounds better than ever. This time out Hector is on guitar and vocals, backed by a core band of veterans Tim Tindall on bass and Sim Cain on drums, along with a number of other musical guests.

Here's the way they describe it on his website:

“She’s Gone” is a story of heartbreak, sugar coated by a sumptuous layering of fierce blues guitar and horns on a bedrock Latin groove. “Goin’ Down” is Billy Hector’s tribute to Freddie King’s interpretation of the Don Nix iconic tune with horns and piano.“Old School Thang” , a funkified fan favorite, showcases the expertise and high level of musicianship the Billy Hector power trio delivers every night it performs.  “Fake I.D” is a sly and humorous ode to taking life as it comes and letting the chips fall where they may. This track also features Billy’s signature killer slide guitar work with a sparkling assist from Mickey Melchiondo on guitar. “Vitamin Big Daddy” is a healthy dose of bawdy horn driven blues that meets or exceeds the recommended daily intake of musical nutrients.  Just what the doctor ordered. “Come On Home” is an infectious slide driven groove accented with the harp stylings of Ken Sorensen."Evil, Slick ‘n Sly”, is a slow grinder with a sexy groove that conjures up the pitfalls of amorous relationships.“Hammer” grabs you in with it’s funky foot tapping intro. If your love needs fixing,  Hector’s Albert Collins-esque guitar work gets the job done. “Rita” is a rowdy old time barroom blues in the tradition of St. James Infirmary that tells the tragic tale of a fading barfly.  “Short and Sweet Blues” is just that. Two and three quarter’s minutes of slow blues bliss. “People of the World” is a funk-drenched plea for peace on earth featuring a soulful sax solo by Stax recording artist Mel Taylor.

You can read all that and you may be be convinced, but if you listen to "Vitamin Big Daddy" once I know you'll find a place for this cd in your collection. Billy Hector has been a top-notch guitarist for a long time, and this is a very fine album. Turn it up!

You can buy this cd at http://www.billyhector.com/

Monday, May 25, 2015

Dave Specter -- "Message In Blue"

Dave Specter's 10th album, "Message In Blue" is a soulful and compelling collection of the Chicago blues he has played for the past 15+ years, and a solid serving of soul blues, and some great moments of R&B. It was released on May 20, 2014 on Delmark Records.

Specter is in wonderful form. His guitar work is clean and assured. And the veteran band--Harlan Terson (bass) and Marty Binder (drums) back him flawlessly. Guests on this set include the great Otis Clay (vocals) and Brother John Kattke (keyboards and vocals) and Bob Corritore (harmonica). Theresa Davis and Diane Madison add backup vocals on one song.

Things kick off with "New West Side Stroll," an updated version of Specter's 1995 instrumental track. The next two songs feature Otis Clay's soul vocal style on covers--he brings glorious life to Harold Burrage's "Got To Find A Way," featuring horns and that great Otis Clay magic. Then Clay adds sweet soul to "This Time I'm Gone For Good," a slow minor key blues recorded here as a tribute to Bobby Blue Bland. Then comes the title track, a very tasty instrumental in which Specter channels some melodic Jimi Hendrix. The next song is the name-dropping "Chicago Style," which features Kattke on piano and vocals, a full horn section and a very strong guitar break. From there, things return to Otis Clay and a great cover of Wilson Pickett's "I Found A Love," which is one of the highlights of the cd--everything about this track is superb--worth the price of the cd all by itself. Then a Specter original, "Funkified Outta Space," which he channels The Meters sound in all their New Orleans glory. Next up is a cover of the Don Nix-penned "Same Old Blues." I didn't really think  I needed another version of this one, but with vocals and piano by Kattke and killer guitar work by Specter--this one is better than Eric Clapton's version.

There are still five tracks to go, but I think you all get the idea--this is a great cd. You can buy this at http://www.delmark.com/

   
    


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Johnny I. Band -- Johnny I. All Star Blues Revival EP



I've been enjoying this EP for long enough--I should share this gem with you as well. This little EP has three songs which were written by the team of John A. Ingrassia and his father John E. Ingrassia.
Johnny A. plays guitar on all the songs. Johnny E. sings on two songs and plays bass on one. They play just fine, but the real treat is the rest of the musicians. An impressive group--on "Avery's Tune" Johnny A. and Johnny E. are joined by Glen Graham (from Blind Melon) on drums, and Doug Ferrara on Hammond B3 organ. It is mixed by Brad Smith (also from Blind Melon). This instrumental starts things off with a bang! The guitar on this track is strong--it clearly illustrates that Johnny I. has a fine melodic style, and he can also rip it up when that is needed. It starts out sounding a little bit like Blind Melon, but about halfway through the song Graham's drums break in and right after that things get moving in the right direction.

The next song is "Life Is Better ( 2nd Time Around) "  and here Johnny I. (guitar) and Johnny E. (vocals) are joined by Billy Cox on bass (yes, that Billy Cox--he played with Jimi Hendrix) and Chris Layton on drums and Reese Wynans on the Hammond B3 organ (both from Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble). Johnny E.'s vocals are quite good--he reminds me a little of Doyle Bramhall, but without Bramhall's Texas accent. The rhythm section pushes the pocket and Johnny I. on guitar doesn't try to imitate SRV--he just plays great from beginning to end. Wynans on organ here is very good--he fills everything out with style. A fine song. Mixed By Jim Gaines.

The third song is "Late Nite," and it is probably my favorite of them all. Here Johnny I. (guitar) and Johnny E. (vocals) are joined by Bruce Katz on Hammond B3 organ, Tommy Shannon on bass (Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble), and Jaimoe on drums (The Allman Brothers). This song features strong work by Bruce Katz at the opening before Johnny I. does some great (but brief) stringbending fretwork before the vocals and the rhythm section take it away. The vocals are good. This song is also mixed by Jim Gaines.  

I really like this EP, and I think all three songs are strong solid work in a rock/blues style. Johnny I. says in an email that he is in rehearsals with Jaimoe and writing to add more songs.