Saturday, January 5, 2019

Best Blues Releases Of 2018 ("The Best 18 of 18")

Last year was a great year for blues music--there was a lot of new music, and a lot of the new music was really good. The following releases are a joy to hear, and a celebration to share with you.

18.  Keith Stone with Red Gravy -- "Blues With A Taste Of New Orleans" (Indy)  Follow up to the very good 2016 release "The Prodigal Returns." The review in Making A Scene by Richard Ludmerer put it well: "Keith Stone with Red Gravy is a tasty mixture of blues and New Orleans R n’ B. They are one of the best new bands to come out of The Crescent City."

17.  The Little Red Rooster Blues Band -- "Lock Up The Liquor" (Indy)  This band has been playing in and around Philadelphia for 30 years. The core band is Kevin McCann, guitar and vocals; Dave Holtzman, harmonica and vocals (two tracks); Jeff Michael, bass; and drummer Bob Holden. Here they are joined by guests Anthony Geraci on piano and Steve Guyger on harp.

16.  Sean Chambers -- "Welcome To My Blues" (Bear Family Records)  This is Chambers' 7th album, and his best record so far. Follow up to 2017's "Trouble And Whiskey," which made my "Best Of" list and contained his wonderful cover of "Bullfrog Blues." Strong blues rock with attitude.

15.  Colin James -- "Miles To Go" (True North Records)  Strong follow up to 2016's "Blue Highway," this release continues James' effort to lift up great artists and songs which went before. The band includes James, guitar and vocals; Jesse O’Brien, piano and Wurlitzer; Simon Kendall, B-3; Steve Pelletier, bass; Geoff Hicks, drums and percussion; Steve Marriner, harmonica; and the horn section of Steve Hilliam, tenor sax; Jerry Cook, baritone sax; and Rod Murray, trombone. Background vocalists include The Sojourners and Colleen Rennison.  Number 34 on The Roots Music Report year-end list.

14.  Geoff Achison -- "Sovereign Town" (Jupiter 2 Records) Australian guitarist and singer/songwriter, Achison's 15th release is a sparkling set. The band is Achison, guitar and vocals; Andrew Fry, upright bass; Dave Clark, drums; and Liam Kealy, organ. If you love guitar played with passion and huge chops Achison is one of the very best. Don't take my word for it--The Times of London called him, One of the most gifted musicians to arrive on the scene ... his playing verges on the miraculous."

13.  Danielle Nicole -- "Cry No More" (Concord Records)  Danielle Nicole is a great singer, and this is a stand-out set. Production is by Tony Braunagel, who also plays drums; Johnny Lee Schell, guitar; Brandon Miller, guitar; and Danielle Nicole, bass. Guests include Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Luther Dickinson, Walter Trout, Sonny Landreth and more. The title track in a song of the year candidate. Number 8 on The Roots Music Report.

12.  Victor Wainwright & The Train -- "Victor Wainwright & The Train" (Ruf Records)  Twelve original songs by the multi-award winning pianist. New band, new record label and all the great songwriting and energy Victor Wainwright is known for. His best release yet. Roots Music Report rates this one # 2. They may be right--I may have this one too low.

11.  Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling -- "The High Cost Of Low Living" (Alligator) This is one strong album. I've been a fan of Nick Moss for the last 10 plus years, and he keeps doing what he has always done--playing Chicago blues guitar and singing. Dennis Gruenling is a harmonica monster. One of the best bands around anywhere to see live.

10.  Marcia Ball -- "Shine Bright" (Alligator)  This is the best record Marcia Ball has made in her 50 year career.  Here she is political, and at the same time this is a great party record. Her piano is suffused with energy and joy and passion. Produced by Steve Berlin, of Los Lobos, who also plays sax on several tracks. Roots Music Report # 4.      

9.  Dana Fuchs -- "Love Lives On" (Get A Long Records) This has been one of my favorites to play on the radio show. Great singing, great songwriting, great playing. Fuchs explains: “It’s a new beginning for me in every way, as I have started my own label and left New York to go to the root of the music that inspired me to follow my passion,” she explains. “The Southern soul of Stax/Volt, Hi Records and Sun Studios. From Otis Redding to Al Green to Johnny Cash. All huge influences.”
 
8.  Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite -- "No Mercy In This Land" (Anti Records)  I probably don't have to say too much about this one--just look at who is playing on it. Two blues masters. Follow up to 2013's "Get Up!" This record is like that one but even better.

7.  Breezy Rodio -- "Sometimes The Blues Got Me" (Delmark Records)  Breezy Rodio is an Italian guitar player who plays Chicago blues. Here he brings us 17 tracks--11 originals, six covers from B B King and Albert King, among others--in a full band setting, including a 4 piece horn section. At times this sounds like Eric Clapton on guitar and Dr John on piano, with great horns! (I intend that as a high compliment.) Billy Branch guests on harmonica. "The Power Of The Blues" is a song of the year candidate.

6.  Tas Cru -- "Memphis Song" (Subcat Records)  Tas' third album, after 2014's "You Take The Money" and 2016's "Simmered And Stewed." This one is a doozy. A dozen original songs by Cru. Well-written, well played. The band includes Cru, guitar and vocals; Dick Earl Ericksen, harmonica; Bob Purdy, bass; Andy Rudy, piano; Guy Nirelli and Billy Barry, Hammond organ; Ron K, Sonny Rock, and Andy Hearn, all on drums. Guests include Victor Wainwright, Pat Harrington and Mary Ann Casale.

5.  Bernard Allison -- "Let It Go" (Ruf Records) Bernard Allison is a great blues artist, and a great singer/guitarist. Every thing he does is terrific--the first time I heard the first song here "Cruisin For A Bluesin" I was hooked. And there is no drop off after that. This release is so good that it--or any of the other top 5 in my list--could arguably be the best of the year. Jim Gaines produced, and the band is Bernard, vocals, guitars and B-3; John T. McGhee, rhythm guitar; George Moye, bass; and Mario Dawson, drums, percussion and backing vocal. There are eight original songs by Allison, and he covers two songs by his father Luther Allison.

4.  Buddy Guy -- "The Blues Is Alive And Well" (RCA)  Buddy Guy is a contender for Greatest Guitar Player That Ever Lived. He has been making music for over 60 years, and this one is among the top 4 or 5. Go buy it if you haven't. Go see him live if you can.

3.  Shemekia Copeland -- American Child (Alligator)  This is Shemekia's ninth album, and it is not really blues. It's more than that. Here she digs in--great voice, great songs, great musicians--and makes a great MUSIC album. Blues, Americana, Country--it's all here. Will Kimbrough produces and plays guitar. Steve Cropper, John Prine, Emmylou Harris and Rhiannon Giddens all guest.

2.  Anthony Geraci -- "Why Did You Have To Go" (Blue Duchess/Shining Stone Records) Geraci is a monster piano and organist. He makes great blues music--he has 6 Blues Music Award nominations, along with one Grammy nomination. This album is a large-scale collaborative affair, with a list of players that is super-impressive: Sugar Ray Norcia and Michelle “Evil Gal” Wilson, vocals; Monster Mike Welch, guitar; Michael “Mudcat” Ward, bass; and Neil Gouvin and Marty Richards, drums. Also featured are guests Sugaray Rayford, Brian Templeton, Dennis Brennan, and Willie J. Laws, vocals; Ronnie Earl, Kid Ramos, and Troy Gonyea, guitar; Willie J. Campbell, bass; Jimi Bott, drums; and the horn section of Sax Gordon and Doug Woolverton. The album is produced by Geraci, and Geraci also wrote all the songs.    

1.  Joe Louis Walker/Bruce Katz/Giles Robson -- "Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues" ( Munich Records)  The first day I heard this cd, I knew it was going to be in the top 2 or 3, no matter what else came out during the rest of the year.  It is simply wonderful, with three talented and inventive artists playing every song with joy and style and taste. Joe Louis Walker, vocals and guitar; Bruce Katz, piano; Giles Robson, harmonica. Each one of them is tops at their craft, and they make this great acoustic blues music TOGETHER. The twelve songs are divided between 6 originals and 6 covers, by Sonny Boy Williamson, Jazz Gillum, Blind Willie McTell, Smiley Lewis, Papa Lightfoot and Big Maceo. If this had come out any of the past 2 or 3 years it would still be my top choice.

So there you have it. One thing yet to write--my # 1 Blues Song of the year 2018 is: "Memphis Song" by Tas Cru.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Victoria Ginty and Ladyhawke -- Unfinished Business





Victoria Ginty and her Ladyhawke band have made a strong album which comes out of years of experience. As a signed recording artist with BMG before the contraction of the recording industry, Victoria had a number #1 record on worldwide charts for thirteen weeks and was nominated for "Singer Songwriter of the Year" and "Video of the Year" by the Academy of Independent Recording Artists. But then she stepped back from the music business for family reasons, and this album is a new start.

"Unfinished Business" was recorded at GCR Audio Studios in Buffalo New York. It features eleven tracks, eight of them originals. The originals are all written by Ginty and her writing partner Mike Ivey, with the exceptions of "Hard To Move On," written by Ginty/Mike Ivey/Grace Lougen; and "Water," written by Ginty and Mike Ward. The covers include Earl Bud Lee's "Lying (In Each Other's Arms)," Terrance Trent D'Arby's "Sign Your Name," and Jimmy McCracklin's "Every Night And Every Day." The covers are each changed significantly from their original form.

The band includes Tim Costello on guitar, Wayne Cornelius on sax, along with Chuck Weirich on trumpet, and Nick Lauro on drums.

This is a big band blues record with lots to recommend it. Ginty's vocals are strong and expressive. The band makes every song fly, and who doesn't love a blues band with horns? I play songs from this album on my radio show, The Mo' Blues Show, at www.caldoniascrossroad.com/ and Ginty and Ladyhawke sound great.

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

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Best Blues cds of 2017

My Best Blues of 2017 Listing

2017 was a wonderful year for blues, and I think these cds were the best. Looking at the list, a few highlights stand out. This could easily be called The Samantha Fish year. Her two cds were both chock-full of great music, and I don't even want to get into the arguments about whether the music is blues or not. The Kim Wilson cd is a tremendous release. The Taj Mahal-Keb Mo collaboration was WAY better than I expected. Before this year I never heard of Anthony Rosano & The Conqueroos, and now I wonder how I got along without them. It was also a year of surprises--I was glad to get another Omar & the Howlers cd--I've been a fan since 1978 and I thought that part of my life was over. The Cash Box Kings made their best cd ever. Hurricane Ruth has been on this list since last April.  I loved the Sean Chambers cd from the first time I listened to it. I have never done one of these lists without having an Albert Castiglia cd on it, and Up All Night is the best thing he has ever made. This is the tenth year of my little blog, and while I could always write more often, I think the quality of the music I have lifted up here has been pretty damn good.

A big thanks to the artists, the promotions people, and the Caldonia's Crossroad Radio listeners.

Texas Blues--in no particular order:

Kim Wilson -- Blues & Boogie Vol 1 

Ruthie Foster -- Joy Comes Back 

Anthony Rosano & The Conqueroos -- self titled

Milligan Vaughan -- MVP 

Andy T Band with Alabama Mike -- Double Strike

Omar & The Howlers -- Zoltar's Walk 

Rocky Athas -- Shakin' The Dust

Benny Turner -- My Brother's Blues

Jeffrey Halford & The Healers -- Lo Fi Dreams (see review 6/19/17)

Non Texas Blues--in no particular order:

Samantha Fish -- Chills & Fever AND Belle Of The West

Taj Mahal & Keb Mo -- Tajmo

Sean Chambers -- Trouble And Whiskey (see review 6/27/17)

The Cash Box Kings -- The Royal Mint

Hurricane Ruth -- Ain't Ready For The Grave (see review 6/26/17)

Ronnie Baker Brooks -- Times Have Changed

Albert Castiglia -- Up All Night

Karen Lovely -- Fish Outta Water

The Altered Five Blues Band -- Charmed & Dangerous

Peter Parcek -- Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven

Paradise Kings -- Controlled Burn (see review 8/22/17)

And doiwn here at the end of the list, my choice for song of the year: There were several contenders:
The Cash Box Kings' "House Party," Ruthie Foster's "Joy Comes Back," Sean Chambers' "Bullfrog Blues," Kim Wilson's "Bonus Boogie," Samantha Fish (& Lightnin' Malcolm) "Poor Black Maddie." But my song of the year is Hurricane Ruth's "Far From The Cradle."    


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

R. D. Olson -- "Keep Walking Woman"



R.D. Olson and his band have made a very good album, Keep Walking Woman. Olson is originally from Minnesota and currently resides in Prescott, AZ. He won the 2014 Arizona Blues Challenge and the 2015 Northern Arizona Blues Challenge, advancing to the famed IBCs in Memphis each year. He was inducted into the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame in 2015 and is currently the Vice President of the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame. The players include R. D. on harp and vocals, Darryl Porras on guitar, Jamie Waldron on stand up bass, Robert Sellani on drums, and Eric Williams on piano. The playing is crisp and fresh, blues with an eye towards both the future and the past, with a touch of jazzy flavor here and there, and the singing and the songwriting are spot on. R. D.'s vocals and harp remind me in several places of Charlie Musselwhite, which in my own mind is high praise. I enjoy every song on this disc. But I have been playing "Baby Boomer Blues" on my Mo' Blues Show--it is a driving number which exhibits the talents of everybody in the band. Another personal favorite is "I Miss New Orleans," a slower song on which Porras and Williams shine, and where Olson's harmonica is shades of Kim Wilson or Big Walter Horton.
    

Nothing I can write will "explain" this music better than  this quote by Joseph Timmons in a review for IndiePulse Music:

"Keep Walking Woman by R.D. Olson whisks you away to a place known only by real blues troubadours, the dark and smokey whiskey joints and beer halls, back alleys of the French quarter the Texas oil fields, the lonely plantations and the high line boudoirs.  With Harmonica and Slide Guitar, channeling influences like Muddy Waters, Thorpe, Leadbelly and those that invented a music that bears the soul for all to see." 

Re-read that a couple of times and you will get the idea. Go buy this cd, and listen to it a couple of times, and it will soon become a favorite. Wonderful work.

Buy this release at http://soundcloud.com/r-d-olson 
 


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Paradise Kings -- "Controlled Burn"


Controlled Burn is a really good release by a band from Southern California. These folks have been playing in and around Santa Barbara for many years. Members are Henry Garrett and Jan Ingram on vocals, Jeff Gring on guitar, Michael Robertson on bass, Chris Ulep on keyboards and George Lambert on drums.



There are eight tracks on Controlled Burn, all but one written by George Lambert. The other song, "Three Strikes," is written by Gordon Jennings. The first seven songs on the release were recorded at Santa Barbara's Orange Whip Studios, and the band brings the goods--lots of energy and fire. I have been playing the opening track "69 Chevy"on my shows at www.caldoniascrossroad.com/ It is a rousing rockabilly number. And the rest of the album just continues to build on that smoking beginning. And then track eight, the aforementioned "Three Strikes," is a track recorded live one night at the Soho Music Club in Santa Barbara. Consider that just a little taste of how good these guys must be in a live setting.


The only drawback on this release is the length of it--less than 40 minutes total. Only eight songs. But it's all killer, no filler. All of the songs feature great vocals, killer guitar and keys and a rock solid rhythm section. They deliver style, humor and some really good songs. My favorites are "Butter Me Up" (with lead vocals by Jan Ingram) and "Poor Me, Poor Me, Pour Me Another Drink" with Henry Garrett's vocals and Jeff Gring's TWO guitar solos pushing this one nearly into J Geils Band territory. I really like this release. Be sure to give it a listen--you'll enjoy it, I guar-an-tee! (in the immortal words of the late but great Justin Wilson.) 


You can buy this cd at the band's website or at
www.cdbaby.com/   



Thursday, July 6, 2017

Collins Drive -- "Collins Drive"



This self-titled release is from a band based in Atlanta, a trio of my friends. Their music is really good folk-rock, with touches of blues, and I think they make good music. 

The band is made up of Don De Leaumont, guitar and harmonica, lead vocals; Allison Shockley, bass and background vocals; and Michael Satterlee, drums. Production of this release is by Tim Delaney and Collins Drive. 

Since 2013, Collins Drive has two releases: the acoustic EP The Sound of Broken Hearts and the Smell of Home Cookin’ (2016) and this, their debut LP (2017). Collins Drive has earned a steadily growing fan base due to their live performances at such renowned Atlanta venues as Red Light CafĂ©, Moonshadow Tavern, and Smith’s Olde Bar. From Don de Leaumont’s heartfelt and soulful singing and performances of songs such as “Sailor’s Progress”, “I Drive”, and “Ghost Town”, a Collins Drive live performance is something that every lover of good live music can appreciate.

There are nine songs in this release. Don is the principal songwriter. "Cemetery Angel" starts things off with a ripping good story of a woman waiting at a bus stop next to the cemetery. "Drunk On Sunday" contains the wonderful lyric "I'm drunk again on Sunday, all alone and hanging 'round." The next song "Rest Stop For The Weary" is a De Leaumont original from 2009--I call it "the Waffle House song." The full band treatment makes this a much stronger song, with wonderful harmonica. "Prison Story," like all good prison songs, has a touch of Merle Haggard in it, but that is a good thing. Good guitar, and Allison's harmony vocals here add a welcome depth. The next song, "The Devil Is You," may be lyrically the weakest song here, but it still has plenty of charm--strong vocals, good electric guitar and an early Steve Earle outtake feel to it. The next song, "Lying In Our Bed," shows that the band has absorbed the lessons of good folk rock music-making. Lyrics are strong, good guitar and a rock solid rhythm section move this one right along. Reminds me of a Three Dog Night outtake. "I Drive" is another De Leaumont original from his old solo folk-singer days, but like "Rest Stop For The Weary" it comes across better in the band context. "Sailor's Progress" is a wonderful closer--more strong harmonica and Michael's deeply sympathetic drumming and great harmony vocals from Allison. My favorite song on the cd. The last song here is "Ghost Town," a nostalgic look back with strong guitar from Don and another killer harmony vocal from Allison. 

Musically,  Collins Drive is not a complicated band--they just want to bring their favorite kinds of music into one place and create a sound and songs that everyone can connect with. Collins Drive’s songs tell stories and paint pictures of Southern living. There’s nothing complex and there’s no deep, hidden meanings to these songs. They are just little slices of life put into songs that are easy to connect with. 

Good music. And I'm glad to point you, blog-readers, in the direction of good music. You can buy this cd at http://collinsdrive.com/ 

Another bit of good news about Collins Drive--the band, not the cd: Collins Drive has been invited to be a part of Kevn Kinney’s Rocket Shop and Travel Show From the Neighborhood by Kevn Kinney himself. A wonderful honor!!   

    


   

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Sean Chambers -- "Trouble & Whiskey"

Sean Chambers is a guitar player/singer/songwriter. I have enjoyed his work back to 2009's "Ten Til Midnight." I saw  growth between that promising beginning and his next release, 2011's "Live From The Long Island Roadhouse." It appeared on BB King’s Bluesville XM/Sirius Blues Charts as a “Pick to Click” for 6 weeks in a row, as well as 15 weeks on the RMR Weekly Blues Roots Chart and 11 weeks on the House of Blues Radio Chart. The album was voted “Best Live Blues Album of 2011” by Canada’s Blues Underground Network and ranked as one of the Top 3 Live CD’s in Germany by the magazine Wasser Prawda.  In addition it was nominated for a Jimi Award for “Best Live Blues Album of 2011.” Guitar Player Magazine did a full page feature story on Sean in February, 2012, and the same month Vintage Guitar Magazine ran a two page feature story.

There was another leap forward with his next release, 2013's "The Rock House Sessions." on Blue Heat Records. The album received great reviews and was also nominated for a Blues Blast Music Award in 2014 for “Best Blues Rock Album of the year”.  The album was recorded at Rock House Studios owned by acclaimed keyboardist Kevin McKendree (Delbert McClinton Band) –  hence the album name.

In all those albums, Chambers was digging in a familiar vein--there was a clear connection between his start as guitarist and band leader for Hubert Sumlin in 1998-2003 and the solo albums. Well, with this release Chambers has raised his game yet another leap forward--more fire, more passion, more consistency, just lots of more better stuff! The core band on the album is Sean on lead vocals and lead guitar, Michael Hensley on Hammond B3 & keyboards, Todd Cook on bass and Kris Schnebelen  on drums. Special guests include Jimmy Bennett on guitar on track #8, John Ginty on Hammond B3 on track #4, and Andrei Koribaniks on percussion on tracks #1 and #7. Trouble & Whiskey features 7 new original Sean Chambers compositions, and 3 well chosen covers including “Bullfrog Blues” by Rory Gallagher, ‘Cut Off My Right Arm” by Johnny Copeland and “Be Careful With A Fool” by Riley B. King/Joe Bihari. My favorite songs here are the title track and "Bottle Keeps Staring At Me." The title track recalls the style and fire of Johnny Winter--and "Bottle" is, in my opinion, perhaps the best blues rock song of the year so far. And I must confess a soft spot for anybody who covers "Bullfrog Blues" well. Sean's version is, dare I say it, touching on Rory Gallagher territory. Top Ten album of the year candidate.

"Guitarist Chambers achieves the distinctly American blues/soul/country/rock sound that the Stones used to aspire to long ago." - Jerry Shriver, USA TODAY

You can buy this cd at http://www.seanchambers.com/ or at i-tunes.com/