This time of year I always post the best of the best cds from the previous year. 2014 was a tumultuous year in the blues, a year marked with highs and lows--new bands and new releases. How did we get along before Gary Clark Jr's "Live!" and John Nemeth's "Memphis Grease"? We also saw a bunch of important artists dying in the blues community. This year we lost three of my favorites in Johnny Winter, Finis Tasby and Joe Cocker. And I even changed my DJ gig to a new internet radio station--http://www.caldoniascrossroad.com/ Come by and check it out.
Don't worry about the numbers. Almost any of these cds could have been listed as # 20 or #1. But in my opinion these were the best blues releases of 2014:
20. (tie) Otis Clay & Johnny Rawls -- Soul Brothers" Catfood Records
This is a great soul blues record from two veteran singers with a talented sympathetic band and a full horn section. I love the way they cover Dave Mason's "Only You Know And I Know," but the other nine songs keep that high level of heart and skill.
20. (tie) No Refund Band -- "Current State Of Blue" Self Release
This is the second release from this Texas band, and CSOB is a big step up. Ricky Jackson & Mike Crownover wrote 8 of the 12 songs here--the originals are really good, and the covers include Eric Clapton's "Bell Bottom Blues," Leslie West's "Mississippi Queen," Gary Moore's "Still Got The Blues" and Jim Brady's "I Gotta Play." Any band brave enough to cover those 4 has major cojones, and this is a great band. Favorite track is "St Louis Bound."
19. Too Slim And The Taildraggers -- "Anthology" Underworld Indie Records
This is a band that has been out there making great music for almost thirty years. Stop and think on that for a second. The songs on this set are from the past 15 years. The quality of these 34 songs is staggering. Cudos to Tim "Too Slim" Langford for writing almost all these songs and playing guitar and singing like a banshee sometimes and an angel other times. Fabulous. Favorite track is "Cowboy Boot."
18. Low Society -- "You Can't keep A Good Woman Down" Icehouse Records
A happy surprise. This is a Memphis primer of how to do the blues right. Gut bucket blues vocals, blistering slide guitar, a solid rhythm section. Vocalist Mandy Lemons is going to be a big star. I'll bet Low Society is a terrific band to see live. Favorite track is "Crammed & Jammed."
17. George Taylor -- "Rain Or Shine" Self Release
Let me say up front I don't know if this is blues or country music. Doesn't matter--one listen and it belongs on this list. The most beautiful music I heard in 2014 no matter what you call it. As Texas as Buddy Holly, as honest as Hank Williams. Favorite track is "Harvest Moon."
16. Dave Fields -- "All In" Self Release
The number one blues-rock cd of the year. Eleven songs--only three covers--and Dave gives the deepest grittiest performances of his career on both guitar and vocals. A live cover of Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog," has been extensively re-imagined to expose its blues roots. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in the studio--those walls were COOKIN'. Favorite track is "Black Dog."
15. Little Mike And The Tornadoes -- "All The Right Moves" Self Release
See my review June 2.
14. Tweed Funk -- "First Name Lucky" Self Release
See my review June 27.
13. Damon Fowler -- "Sounds Of Home" Blind Pig Records
See my review Dec 16.
12. Selwyn Birchwood -- "Don't Call No Ambulance" Alligator Records
This is such a fresh-sounding and energetic release--I hear it in all the reasons I got excited about the blues way back in the day. Selwyn comes out of Florida, and he was born in 1985. (I have socks older than that!) In 2013 he won the IBC and since then he has exploded on the blues scene. He plays a real good guitar and lap steel, and his voice is gritty and good. He was signed to Alligator Records last July. Favorite track is "Overworked And Underpaid," with great harp work by RJ Harmon. Joe Louis Walker guests on “The River Turned Red.” Looking forward to his next steps.
11. Walter Trout -- "The Blues Came Callin'" Mascot Music
This one makes a place on this list for two reasons--the playing on the cd is terrific, and the human interest story of Walter's liver transplant. The surgery was on May 26, and the cd was released on June 10. You can read about the liver transplant in detail at his website www.waltertrout.com. Read the story, but also go immediately and buy this cd. Walter has been a great blues musician for 25 years, and I hope he can share his gifts with us for 25 more. Great guitar playing, great singing on this one. John Mayall guests on Hammond B-3 and harp.
10. Robert Cray -- "In My Soul" Mascot Music
This is the first Robert Cray Band release since back in the 80s that grabbed my ear. Robert has been making great blues music for 4 decades now. The opener "You Move Me" and "Nobody's Fault But Mine" just blast my head wide open, and I can't stop listening until the cd is over. The band includes Cray (vocals/guitar), Richard Cousins (bass), Les Falconer (drums), and Dover Weinberg (piano/keyboards). An American treasure.
9. Old Grey Mule -- Have Mercy" Cotton Patch Disco Music
This is not your father's old school blues--this is a modern blues tornado duo. CR Humphrey (vocals/guitar) and JJ Wilburn (drums/vocals) mix a lot of Mississippi Hill Country blues with some zydeco. They make electric blues dance music. In previous years this spot on the countdown might have been filled by Moreland & Arbuckle or JJ Grey & Mofro. Like them, Old Grey Mule make great music. Favorite track is "Have Mercy."
8. Dick LeMasters -- "One Bird Two Stones" Self Release
Texan Dick has released a real home run--he says One Bird Two Stones "includes what I consider to be my best 11 original songs." Depending on the setting, he works as a solo artist, as part of an acoustic duo with Douglas Greer, and with the band Longneck Road. The guitar work, the songwriting and the singing here are all top notch. This record is a favorite of all the DJs at www.caldoniascrossroad.com/ Favorite track is "Three Fifty Seven."
7. Albert Castiglia -- "Solid Ground" Ruf Records
The best release from Albert so far in his career. Every time I put together one of these lists he's on it, and every year the cd is better than the one prior to it. Dave Gross produced, mixed and recorded, in addition to guesting on guitar and bass and mandolin. Other guests include Jeremy Baum on keyboards, Lou Bevere on guitar, and Debbie Davies on guitar and vocals. Throughout, the stars are Albert's guitar and his voice. An underrated songwriter. Favorite track is "Little Havana Blues (Arroz Con Mango)."
6. Gary Clark Jr -- "Live!" Warner Brothers
One of the anticipated releases of 2014 was this killer set. The Texan came through in a big way with "Live!" This is a seriously hot 2 cd set, and his guitar work burns and cooks every step of the way. Gary will have a long and glorious career and he might never touch these high moments again. Favorite track is "When My Train Comes In."
5. Ruthie Foster -- "Promise Of A Brand New Day" Blue Corn Music
I have been a fan of Ruthie Foster's gospel-influenced blues americana ever since 2006's "The Truth According To Ruthie Foster." Like Albert Castiglia, she gets better with every release. Evidently I am not alone in my admiration. Ruthie has been Best Female Vocalist in 2007, 2008 and 2013 from the Austin Music
Awards, a 2012 and 2009 Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues
Album, the 2010 Living Blues Music Award Critic’s Poll for Female Blues
Artist of the Year and recent Blues Music Award wins for Best
Contemporary and Best Traditional Blues Female Artist of the Year. Favorite track is "Let Me Know" featuring Doyle Bramhall II on guitar.
4. Alexis P Suter Band -- "Love The Way You Roll" American Showplace Music
This cd has been at the top of Blues Charts since it came out in August, and it led to the discovery of a major new vocal talent. Alexis has a one in a generation voice, and the APS Band can seriously play any kind of blues right alongside her. As BB King said, "It's a rare thing to share the stage with great talent like that young lady."
3. Keb' Mo' -- "Bluesamericana" Kind of Blue Music
Bluesamericana is my favorite cd in Keb' Mo' career. These songs came out of some troubled times in Kevin Moore's life, and the resulting cd seems to have brought forth both more sharpness in his playing and songwriting and more inner peace to share with his audience. Favorite track is "The Old Me Better."
2. John Nemeth -- "Memphis Grease" Blue Corn Music
This set is recorded in Memphis with the Bo Kays. Great band, great horns, and John brings great soulful singing and harp. Favorite track is the cover of Roy Orbison's "Crying." Sure it's over the top. But when John almost hits those high notes and the horns come in it gives me chills. Every time.
1. Johnny Winter -- "Step Back" Megaforce Records
The Texas guitar great left us in July, but this cd shows he left us with all his skills intact. Johnny's singing and playing are strong on every track. Favorite track is "Can't Hold Out (Talk To Me Baby)" with Ben Harper. Absolutely deserving of the top spot.
Before I stop writing, let me name my song of the year. It is "All Night Long" by Pork Chop Willie from the cd "Love Is The Devil" (2014, Self Release).
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Nine of the songs here are Damon originals, sometimes with the help of writing partner Ed Wright and Tab; and there are two covers: Johnny Winter's "TV Mama" and Elvis Costello's "Alison." The album closes with the traditional "I Shall Not Be Moved."
Damon's voice is country-ish, clear with an agreeable roughness on some songs, and his writing shows plenty of pop-music smarts. But my favorite part of this set is Damon's guitar--he gives the entire fretboard a good workout with an endless supply of razor sharp hooks.
Favorites? The centerpiece of the cd is "Old Fools, Bar Stools, and Me," which sounds like it should have been written by John Hiatt or Willie Nelson. One of the best songs of the year, for sure."Thought I Had It All" is an excellent song, as is the title track. "Trouble" has a tasteful solo around lyrics about being addicted to a lover. "Spark" is an energetic rock song--back in the good old days of real radio, every song here would be on a playlist somewhere. This is a Top Ten cd of the year candidate.
You can buy this cd at http://www.blindpigrecords.com
Monday, December 15, 2014
But those of you whose love for the blues may have developed rather recently--like maybe beginning in 1995--may need some more encouragement. This is a cd of really great old school songs and music. Like twenty years older than The Black Keys. Older than the Blues Brothers movie.
But not old like a museum exhibit. This music is not stodgy or creaky or stiff. This music roars out of the gate and burns from beginning to end. Part of that is Kim Wilson's doing--his Little Walter styled harp work here very nearly raises the dead--and part of it is that Mud Morganfield is one of the better singers out there, especially when singing Muddy's songs. And a huge part of it is the band that brings these songs to full, uproarious life: Rusty Zinn and Billy Flynn on guitar, Barrelhouse Chuck on piano, Steve Gomes on bass and Robb Stupka on drums. The album was produced by David Earl and Steve Gomes and recorded in four days at Severn Sound Studios in Annapolis, Maryland.
Everybody plays together with the same sense of balance and taste that you hear in those great Muddy Waters bands from back in the 50s. Every note of every song is blues perfection. Nothing extraneous, nothing out of place, no showing off. Love it.
You can get this cd at http://www.severnrecords.com/
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
And this new cd is as good as anything he has released over the twenty-plus years he has been making Texas music.
The band this time out includes Carlton Powell and Buddy Momed on bass, Beau Chadwell, Kevin Schermerhorn and Jimmy Morgan on drums, Tim Alexander on piano, organ and accordian, and Shawn Phares on organ, Jim Elmore on guitar, Kim Wilson on harmonica, and Carolyn Wonderland and Ray Benson on vocals, along with Suhler on guitar and vocals. There are thirteen original songs and one cover, "Remember Mama" from To Kill A Mockingbird.
My favorite song here is the wonderful gospel "Amen Corner," which segues into "All God's Children Get The Blues Sometimes." Great organ work by Tim Alexander and great acoustic slide guitar by Mr Suhler. Carolyn Wonderland and Ray Benson add some great vocals.
Jim Suhler is a great singer, songwriter and guitarist. Give "Panther Burn" a listen, and you'll be hooked. You can buy this cd at http://www.jimsuhler.com
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Finis started out in Dallas Texas in 1962 with a band called The Thunderbirds, playing bass and singing behind ZZ Hill. In 1973 Finis left Dallas and moved to Los Angeles, where he played and recorded with the Finis Tasby band and had some success until his chance came--his debut release was "People Don't Care" (1995, Shanachie Records). Following that, Finis released "Jump Children!" (1998, Evidence) and "What My Blues Are All About" (2005, Electro Fi). Since about 2004 Finis has been one of the vocalists for The Mannish Boys, many of whom played on that great Kirk Fletcher cd "Shades Of Blue."
This is what it says about Finis on the BlueBeat Music.com site about this new cd "Snap! Your Fingers." (BlueBeatMusic):
Finis Tasby has been a fixture on the Southern California blues scene for over 4 decades. Originally from Dallas Texas, Finis first made his mark on the Bihari Brothers BIG TOWN label in the 70's and has continued recording for labels as diverse as ACE- EVIDENCE- ELECTRO-FI & DELTA GROOVE. As the lead singer of the MANNISH BOYS, Finis has added his authentic soulful singing to their many fine releases over the past few years.....This set is reminiscent of early 70's radio blues with hit's originally recorded by the likes of BB KING- ZZ HILL & BOBBY BLAND. Kid Andersen's production is clear and crisp with just the right touch of sweetness for Finis' gritty style........
The band on this new cd include Finis on vocals, Kid Andersen on guitar, Kedar Roy on bass, June Core on drums. There are also a passel of guests, like Elvin Bishop on guitar, Lisa Leu Andersen (who adds a great vocal on "Ghetto Woman,") Lorenzo Farrell on organ, Bob Welsh on piano, organ and guitar, Sid Morris on organ, Scott T Miller on rhythm guitar, Butch Cousins on drums, Derrick Martin on percussion and a crack horn section of Jack Sanford on tenor/bari sax, Terry Hanck on tenor sax, and Ed Early on trombone.
I probably need to say that after this cd was recorded, in December 2013, Finis Tasby suffered a massive stroke. Since then he has been paralyzed on his left side, and he is residing at a long term care facility in California. Buying this new cd not only gets you some great blues music by one of the best vocalists around and a band of all-stars, but it provides Finis with an income when he could really use a hand. I hope everybody who reads this review will buy at least one cd. I paid for my review copy myself.
You can buy this cd at http://http://www.bluebeatmusic.com/
Saturday, July 5, 2014
Bernie Pearl is one of my favorite guitar players. When Bernie plays and/or sings, he is not a retro player--he uses everything he has learned along the way to the service of the songs. Bernie has been releasing his own cds at least as far back as 2002, and his newest cd, "Take Your Time," (Bee Bump Music, 2013) is a complete blues' lover's delight. "Take Your Time" is nominated by the Blues Blast Music Awards for "Best Acoustic Album." Featuring Bernie on guitars and vocals along with long-time bassist Mike Berry, this disc also features the extraordinary Barbara Morrison on vocals and Albert Trepagnier Jr on percussion and Bobby "Hurricane" Spencer on tenor sax.
Everything is clear from the first song, "Worried Life Blues." Great finger picking by Bernie, his warm and relaxed vocal this time in a duet with Barbara. Albert adds just the right amount of percussion and Mike's bass is clean. There's no star turn, no rushing, no note out of place--what you hear are professional musicians presenting a great song. You feel like you're right there in the room with them.
And that's the way it rolls for all of the 14 songs. Excellent, just excellent. After you hear it all once I'm sure you'll listen to it again. This cd is dedicated to the memory of Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson.
You can buy this cd, and all of Bernie's cds, at http://www.cdbaby.com/
Monday, June 30, 2014
Lisa plays bass and sings. The Pretty Good Band is Jeff Knudson on guitars, Michael Ballash on drums and Brian Harris on keyboards.
From the website: Lisa is a proud inductee into the Cascade Blues Association’s Hall of Fame after winning the Muddy Waters Award for Bass Player of the Year three times in a row. In Nov of 2012, Lisa took home the Muddy for Bass yet again, and to top that off, she took home Female Vocalist of the Year and her “Really Good Band” won Contemporary Blues Act of the Year. In 2011, she and her Really Good Band represented the CBA at the International Blues Challenge, where they made it to the semi-finals. Her latest CD, Satisfied, was the CBA’s choice for the Best Self-Produced CD competition through the Blues Foundation. Lisa also won the Portland Music Award for Outstanding Achievement in Blues in 2012.
Quite a resume, huh? Lisa wrote nine of the 12 songs here, and the covers are "The Blues Is My Medicine" written by Sonny Hess and Paulette Davis, "Ain't That Lovin' You, Baby" written by Jimmy Reed, and "The Blues Is Alright" written by Milton Campbell.
And there are some stellar musicians here as guests--a big chunk of them from the Portland blues scene--Sonny Hess plays guitar and sings backing vocals on one song, Mitch Kashmar plays harmonica on two tracks and backing vocals on one, Larhonda Steele & Arietta Ward bring backing vocals to two tracks, Dave Melvan plays drums on three tracks, Alex Shakeri plays piano on two tracks and organ on one, Rae Gordon does backing vocals on one track, and Richard Arnold brings backing vocals to two tracks. The synopsis is there are some great players and singers on this cd, and pretty good songs too.
And the result is that Lisa Mann is back with a vengeance. After a seriously rough patch which included the death of her mother and losing her voice for six months, this really is a triumphant return for all involved.
you can buy this cd at http://www.lisamannmusic.com