Thursday, January 2, 2014

Bruce's Top Twelve of 2013

Time for the annual "Best of" list, and I need to say at the start that this has been a great year for blues releases. The quality of the music that came to me this year is higher than 2012, higher than I expected. There were still several who were more rock than blues, but for the most part there are a number of really good artists out there working hard writing and performing really good music. The following cds are my favorites from an excellent year. And before I get to the list, I need to say thank you to all the musicians, PR people, the venues that support the music, and blues fans out there. This music we all love is meant to be heard live. Go hear some blues as often as you can. Spend a few dollars at the venue. Cheer yourself hoarse. Get to know some players. It's all good for your soul!

12.  David Egan -- David Egan. (Indy) See my review October 29, 2013. Egan's best release in an over twenty year career. He wrote all the songs, and his singing and piano playing are better than ever.

11.  Steve Howell & The Mighty Men -- Yes I Believe I Will (Out Of The Past Records) Like the David Egan cd, this is a masterpiece by a very fine musician and musicologist. Steve Howell is one of the very best acoustic guitarists of our time. The liner notes on Howell's cds are terrific in their own right. 

10.  Solomon King -- Train (Indy) See my review October 29, 2013.

9.  Nicole Hart/Annie Piper -- Split Second (Blues Leaf Records) I have followed Nicole Hart since
2006. I love her voice, and I didn't exactly know what to expect with this release. But from the first song "Can't Let You Go" this cd just hooked me. Everything I love about Nicole Hart is here, and Annie Piper plays bass and sings great. Great songs, and the band is one of those all-star groupings: Ron Rauso and Juke Joint Jonny on guitar, Sandy Mack on harmonica, John Ginty on keyboards, Annie Piper on bass and Sim Cain on drums. "Dream Baby," a terrific cover from Roy Orbison's heyday, is just icing on the cake. Sweet!!

8.  See note below.

7.  The Planetary Blues Band -- Once Upon A Time In The South Loop" (Indy) This group from Indiana has spent a lot of time in Chicago and on the road. They have an attractive abundance of energy and talent and plenty of chops. This cd showcases a band on the way up. Check out their cover of Blind Lemon Jefferson's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean."

6.  The Mojo Roots -- "What Kind Of Fool" (Indy) These guys are not a hometown choice. They were 2013 IBC semi-finalists.  The Mojo Roots have created a fresh spin on a soulful blues sound. See my review March 18, 2013.

5.  Andy T - Nick Nixon Band -- "Drink Drank Drunk" (Delta Groove) This pairing of Nick Nixon's great Memphis-based vocals and Andy Talamantez' Texas-based guitar sounds from the first note like they have worked together for decades. They haven't--but their blend is fabulous. And the rest of the band is stellar, too--Anson Funderburgh, John Garza, Christian Dozzler, Danny Cochran, Ron Jones.
If you read liner notes, those guys have together and separately played with damn near everybody over the years. I seriously hope they get to make a follow-up cd in 2014.

4.  Cyril Neville -- Magic Honey (Ruf) This release feels to me like the 2012 release of Joe Louis Walker's "Hellfire." It is so obvious that Cyril Neville's cd belongs on this list. From my first listen this was near the top of the heap--and all year long everybody gave it their best shot, but almost nobody could knock it off that perch. The only two who did were: 

2.  Trampled Under Foot -- "Badlands" (Indy) This cd debuted at # 1 on the Billboard blues charts. Danielle, Kris and Nick Schnebelen have made their strongest cd so far. Produced by Tony Braunagel, with guest appearances by Mike Finnigan and engineer/guitarist Johnny Lee Schell.      

1.  Buddy Guy -- "Rhythm & Blues" ( RCA) See my review July 31, 2013. Top of my list all year.

Note: One cd which would have made this list--and did, in early drafts--but eventually had to be dropped was The Ruff Kutt Blues Band -- "That's When The Blues Begins" (Vizztone). This would have been # 8 in this list. The quality is there without a doubt, but then I looked closer and the cd was released in 2012.

After much thought and hearing hundreds of songs, Bruce's Song Of The Year is by The F & G Band, on the cd "Pass It On" (Indy) "Untie That Knot." See my review July 22, 2013.    

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Matt Baxter and Jake Sampson -- "Haunted"

Matt Baxter & Jake Sampson are both excellent musicians with long track records of playing with other artists. Baxter has played with Price Buster and Longhorn Slim and Procol Harum's Gary Brooker and Donnie Osmond. Sampson has played with  Barry Levenson and many others. They are now based in San Francisco.

On this release, Sampson plays bass and sings, Baxter plays guitar, slide guitar and dobro. Guests include Tony Coleman on drums on one track, Dave Pellicciaro on Hammond B-3 organ on one track, and Simon Russell on piano on one track. The ten tracks, all written by the artists, are contemporary acoustic delta style blues. If you like the old Robert Johnson songs, or Son House, or the first Hot Tuna album, you will like this--these guys have re-created the good stuff, without using a hundred year old recording techniques or really old microphones. Instead of making it sound old, they make it sound great.

Sampson sounds like a younger John Lee Hooker or Taj Mahal. His bass playing is rich and deep, augmented by great playing Coleman and Pelliciaro on "Don't It Make You Feel Good" and by Simon Russell's piano on "Take Me Back Home." Baxter is a great guitar player throughout, and he never overplays. This release shows both musicians to great advantage, without any artifice or ego. Everything is direct and simple, but to truly unwrap the talent of what has been created here, you might have to turn it up a little--and listen a little harder than usual.

My favorite tracks here are the title track, with great guitar and vocal, and "Highway 54," which drew me in at first listen. "Jaime Lynn" stands out with a country feel, and "Dusty Mule" may be the best song--with everything absolutely perfect.

You can buy this cd at cdbaby.com or at Amazon. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Solomon King -- "Train"

I just wrote a review of David Egan's latest cd, took a break for lunch, and here I am again, writing a review of Solomon King's "Train."

Solomon King is both a man and a band--the man sings and plays guitar in the band--and he does both with an extra measure of grit and soul. This is King's third release, after "Buy The Medicine" (2011) and "Under The Sun" (2009). On "Train" King writes all the songs. The band includes Johann Frank on additional guitars, Steven "Styxxx" Marshall on drums, Princeton Arnold on bass, Buddy Pierson on Hammond B-3, Nate Laguzza on additional drums and percussion, Jimmy Powers and Glenn Doll on harmonica, and a bunch of people contributing background vocals: Maxayn Lewis, Connie Jackson, Gaby Teran and Jorge Costa.  

They make a very attractive blues music together. For months I have been talking it up, playing this cd for people everywhere. Once they hear it everybody loves "Baby Does Me Good" and "Coffee Song." I have played them on my blues show at http://www.goldradio.net/ "Country Song" might be my favorite song on the cd. There's a great (but brief) guitar solo on "My Baby's Love." If I ever could learn to play the guitar--which would only happen by either a miracle or by osmosis--one of the very first things I would want to play is "Slo Blues"--which has a very tasty guitar solo. Special cudos to the rhythm section--Marshall & Arnold lie down interesting and captivating work on every song here. And those background vocalists? They are used to good effect--making an inviting pocket to surround the lead vocals and guitars.  King's vocals mark him in the top rank of blues artists--he sings great.

Solomon King's new release "Train" is the sign of an artist on his way up. This is his best music so far--with great singing, strong songwriting, and a selfless maturity--and yet I sense even bigger things ahead. This cd reminds me of early Dire Straits or The Band circa "Music From Big Pink," great music following an artistic vision all in service of each individual song. One of the best albums so far of 2013.  

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

David Egan -- "David Egan"

David Egan is a piano playing, blues singing man from Shreveport Louisiana, and this cd is his best in a career that spans 30+ years.

This is David Egan's third release, following 2003's "Twenty Years of Trouble" (Louisiana Red Hot Records) and 2008's "You Don't Know Your Mind" (Out Of The Past Records).

Egan wrote all 12 songs. The band is Egan on piano, electric piano, organ, and vocals backed by Joe McMahan on guitar, Ron Eoff on bass, Mike Sipos on drums, assisted by guest artists Dickey Landry (bari sax), Bruce MacDonald (guitar), Lil' Buck Senegal (guitar), Buddy Flett (guitar), Mike Dillon (congas, percussion), and Roddie Romero  and Caleb Elliott on backing vocals.  

Egan cruises smoothly through these songs, telling his stories with a wonderful warm touch on the keys and a relaxed voice that is a salve for your soul. It is wonderful music-making throughout--everybody on this cd plays beautifully. Just to hear Lil' Buck Senegal and Buddy Flett laying down some guitar wizardry, along with Dickey Landry's sax on "Call Your Children Home"--my favorite track here, and by itself, worth the price of admission. And there are six or seven other songs here that are every bit as good. If you find yourself ailing in the spirit, this cd can seriously help minister to you. Strong contender for my list of top 10 of the year.

Buy it. You won't regret it. You can buy it at http://www.davidegan.net

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Janet Ryan -- "Mama Soul"

Two things before I get started--first, I apologize to you, dear readers, for not posting any reviews for the entire month of August. I am now so far behind that I can never die. I fear I may never catch up, but let's get busy and see what happens. Second, and this really needs to be said, I am tremendously grateful to the promotions people. The fact that I have about 30 cds waiting to get reviewed is a great testimony to those of you who continue to believe in me.

Ok, enough about me. Let's talk about Janet Ryan's latest release "Mama Soul." On this cd she sings the blues just right, like the great soulful blues singers she learned from as a teenager in Chicago. Over the years on the road Janet and her band, Straight Up, played all over the East Coast--and now, as of August 2012, she has landed in Texas. This cd is from CSP Records, and is mostly produced by Jimmy Rogers & Paul Osborn. THe cd was mostly recorded in Garland Texas. Here her band includes Ray Chaput on guitar, Dennis LeBeau on bass, Joe Elliott on keyboards, and Billy Klock on drums. Several tracks feature members of the Dallas-based band Crosscut: Jerry Sartain on guitar, Terry Vieregge on bass, Chuck Mabrey on keyboards, and LaVell Jones on drums. (Crosscut has a new cd out too, but I haven't heard it yet.) Several songs feature horns, which are used to good effect. Five of the songs are written by Ryan and the rest by members of the band with one exception--a fabulous cover of Sippie Wallace's "Woman Be Wise," which features terrific piano by Joe Elliott.

But the best thing about this fine disc is Ryan's singing, which is awesome throughout. Her voice can belt the blues when that is needed, and she has a soulful croon when she needs it. I especially like "Mr Misery," on which Ryan's vocals tell a powerful story over great organ work by Chuck Mabrey and a really strong guitar (one of the best solos I've heard this year) by Jerry Sartain. Other great songs include "What Was I Thinking," with great horn work, and "He Burned That Bridge," with sweet piano by Mabrey and fine trumpet by Steve Howard.

Mama Soul is an apt title for this release. Janet Ryan belongs near the top of female blues singers out there. You can buy this cd at csprecords.com 

            

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Buddy Guy -- "Rhythm & Blues"

I am not going to write a long detailed review of this--you can read about it in too many other places. It is Buddy Guy, one of the top 4 or 5 guitar players of the past 50 years. He's a six-time Grammy winner, a 28 time Blues Music Awards winner, and he got Kennedy Center Honors. He is in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. He was the first to receive the Great Performer of Illinois Award. (Ponder that for a second--Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Magic Sam....all the greats that played in Chicago over the years, and the first award goes to  Buddy Guy. Good job Illinois.) He got a Billboard Music Awards' Century Award for distinguished artistic achievement. He just turned 77 years old, so there won't be too many more cds coming. And on this set he is still at the top of his game, with a great set of musical guests helping him out. Buddy truly knocks this one out of the park.

Think of it this way--if somebody 26 years old came out with these cds, this release would be the talk of the blues world. Buddy will be feted for this, and he deserves every accolade. He has made over 50 other albums, and this one is easily in the Top Ten of his long career.

Buy this as soon as you can. You'll never regret it. Listen to it often. Available wherever you can buy cds.   

Monday, July 22, 2013

The F & G Band -- "Pass It On"



This second release by The F & G Band is a big success! Following on the heels of their 2011 cd "Grease Up Yo' Strutt" (which was in my Top Ten list for that year) this disc features a new lead singer--Sandra Taylor, the daughter of Sam 'Bluzman' Taylor. Edlene Hart moved to Atlanta in an amicable separation from the band, but Sandra Taylor stepped in. With her father's blessing from The Beyond, Sandra seems born to sing the blues--and she sings great on every song here. The songwriting team of Suzanne Foschino and Sly Geralds--the F & G in the band's name--still remain, this time with a batch of new original songs. And so does that funky, slinky, supremely musical band--Sly Geralds on bass and vocals, Tom Foschino on drums, Chuck Russell on guitar. Guest artists include Tim Mitchell plays organ (7 songs) and rhythm guitar (two); Anne Harris from the Otis Taylor Band, plays fiddle on "I'll Find My Way Home; "jazz guitarist Dave Parker lays down a delicious guitar part on "Love...And Other Unfortunate Things;" and Gregory Harrison adds the second vocal on "Let Yo' Feet Stink." My favorite song? "Untie That Knot," which starts out with BB King style slow guitar break, and Sandra's vocal sounds like a younger Koko Taylor. 

The F & G Band is most truly a band, in the most musical sense of the word. They can play any kind of blues, and on this release they pretty much do--fast blues, slow numbers, blues about relationship, about life, about circumstances, both modern and traditional, some laced with gospel, some laced with rock, some laced with a touch of country. Every member contributes to the music this band makes--Sandra sings Sly and Suzanne's great songs with heart and soul, Tom is a great drummer to dance to, and Chuck's guitar work is a blessing. The music on this cd will heal whatever ails you.

"Pass it On" touches on all edges of the blues genre, pushing the envelope just enough to keep things exciting, at the same times as remaining traditional yet fresh.  There is no doubt that this is a blues album to it's core, and you will definitely feel the roots entrenched solidly in blues...but you will hear the newness shining through as well, with each song being a new experience in itself. It is an interesting journey through this American based music, from traditional roots and swampy slide guitar blues and swinging shuffles, through the funky sound of Stax, touching on gospel and even flirting a bit with country.  Reflective and personal, this  is The F & G Band at the peak of their musical influences, including the songwriters, Suzanne Foschino and Sly Geralds. Each song is a story in itself, an individual experience, some a message and some a lesson...some just a tribute.

This is a really good cd--you can buy it at www.fandgmusic.com