Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bert Deivert -- "Kid Man Blues"

Bert Deivert is a blues mandolin player. If you have never heard of him, or his great music, "Kid Man Blues" is your invitation. Deivert is an international musician, born in Boston, now living in Sweden and recording this cd in the USA, Sweden and Thailand. He plays on this, his tenth cd, with great fire and passion and taste. Deivert shares these songs with some great guests, including Bill Abel from Mississippi, Memphis Gold from Washington, DC, the great Delta drummer Sam Carr, (RIP Sam) Tom Paley, from the New Lost City Ramblers, the great pianist Willie Saloman, Janne Zander, the great slide guitarist Brian Kramer, Mats Qwarfordt, Sven Zetterberg, guitarist Dulyasit "Pong" Srabua from Bangkok, and many other great Thai and Swedish musicians.

But enough about all that--how does it sound? In a word, delightful. If you are a fan of the early Grateful Dead, or those Old & In The Way-era David Grisman/Jerry Garcia collaborations, or those great old acoustic country blues of Mississippi John Hurt then you will love this cd. Deivert has created a big-hearted embrace of the joys and glory of real music played and sung, worthy to be compared to the music of John Hartford, Woody Guthrie, Rev Gary Davis. Timeless music. Deivert's singing is just wonderful, and his work on the mandolin is terrific. You could just as easily call this country music, or blues, or americana--labels don't matter. There's a great version of "Keep On Truckin'," and an equally great take of the traditional "Diddie Wah Diddie," a fine cover of R L Burnside's Goin' Down South," and deeply soulful readings of "Cypress Grove" and Walter Davis's "Come Back Baby" that brought tears to my eyes it made me miss Dave Van Ronk so much. Earlier today I played several songs from this disc for a friend. He listened, and then he looked at me and said "That's good stuff." Jim, you're right--this is good stuff.

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

Thursday, January 26, 2012

James Armstrong -- "Blues at the Border"

James Armstrong has been called 'The Ambassador of the Blues.' He has been playing guitar and singing the blues since he was eight years old, and by the time he was 17 he was touring across the country. "Blues at the Border" is his first release in 11 years, and his first release on Catfood Records after three cds on Hightone Records. This cd was recorded in two sessions, one set in New York with Armstrong's vocals and guitar backed by Michael Ross on guitar, George Papageorge on organ, Malcolm Gold on bass, and Warren Grant on drums, with Madonna Hamel on background vocals and Bennet Paster on piano and clavinet, Rich Zukor on tambourine and Sam 'Bluzman' Taylor's voice is sampled on one track. The other set was recorded in Texas, with Armstrong's vocals and guitar backed by top session musicians Dan Ferguson on keyboard, Richy Puga on drums, and Bob Trenchard on bass. Jessica Ivey and Jillian Ivey bring the backing vocals. Armstrong wrote 4 songs, Bob Trenchard wrote three.

The sound is urban, smooth blues--Armstrong sounds similar to Buddy Guy when he sings, and his guitar sound is similar to Robert Cray--but all this is hinting towards what you can expect. Armstrong is really good. He has his own style, a warm solid 'in the pocket' sense of how to put a song across honed by years on the road. Reminds me of Johnny Rawls, and I mean that in a good way. My favorite songs here are "Young Man With The Blues," in which Armstrong reflects back on all those miles and tells a familiar story, and the title song, in which Armstrong reflects on how difficult it is, post 9-11, to get from place to place. "Reflects" may be a key word here. This is a good cd in part because the writing is top-notch. A lot of thought has taken place before these these great musicians committed these songs to posterity.

You can buy this cd at http://www.cdbaby.com James Armstrong's website is at http://www.jarmblues.com

Added Friday January 27--I just found out that James Armstrong is scheduled to play here tonight! He will be at Blind Willie's. I'm going to go!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reverend Raven & the Chain Smokin' Altar Boys -- Shake Your Boogie

The first time I heard this disc it blew me away--an almost perfect slice of party blues, similar in feel to those great cds by The Bel Airs or Omar & the Howlers. These guys can all play great, and they've been playing together forever. Well, since 1966, anyway. "Shake Your Boogie" is their fourth release dating back to 1998--I recommend all of them. This time out they do exactly what they've done on all those previous discs, and what they do every night on the upper mid-western blues circuit--they play that good time blues music, lifting spirits and kickin' ass. The band is Reverend Raven on guitar and vocals, P T Pedersen on bass, Bobby Lee Sellers Jr on drums and vocals, Danny Moore on piano/organ, and sometimes the great Big Al Groth on sax. Madison Slim provides harp and vocals on four tracks, where an alternative rhythm section of Andre Maritato on bass and Spencer Panosh on drums sit in and the sax is absent. Piano and organ are provided by either Mickey Larson or Danny Moore on most tracks. Reverend Raven wrote three of the songs, and PT Pedersen wrote one song, the sole instrumental here. Gerry Hundt, former member of Nick Moss’ Fliptops is the author of two tracks. The covers this time out come from Hound Dog Taylor, Slim Harpo, Little Milton, St Louis Jimmy Oden, Robert Nighthawk and Sonny Boy Williamson. The album was recorded live on stage in Milwaukee, but from the absence of any crowd noise I assume that it was ‘live’ without an audience. Too bad. It would have been a lot of fun to watch these songs come to life in the hands of this great band.

It's hard to pick favorites. The opener, "Looking For Love," sets the table. By the time we're on the 4th track, the traditional "Just Count The Days that I'm Gone," I'm hooked, looking forward to "She's Murder," "Bricks In My Pillow" and "Like Wolf" and all the rest. I especially like "I Can Do You Right," which features a big slice of Big Al Groth on sax, driving through a great song with taste and tone. Big Al is the reason why I think all blues shouters really MUST have a great sax player in the band. Another standout song is "PTs Home Cooking," an instrumental with a lot of great cool bass and piano work.

I love the whole cd--the variety and the drive, the upbeat groove. Buy this one for the infectious joy they offer--the Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin' Altar Boys are hot and tight and fun. This release came out in 2010. You can buy this cd at http://www.reverendraven.com/

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Bruce's Top Ten from 2011

Every year I post a Top Ten, normally in December. This year it's a few days late. Anyway, a lot of great music was released in 2011, and I want to thank the artists and the labels and everybody who helped make it such a good year to enjoy the blues. The following ten cds are the best of what I heard last year--these are the ones I enjoyed listening to the most. They were all released in 2011. Anyway, here goes, in no particular order!

Gregg Allman -- "Low Country Blues" (Rounder)
This should be in my top ten if all it did was get us a new batch of songs sung by Gregg Allman. But it did a lot more than that. The songs and the singing are all uniformly excellent, and it is an opportunity to hear/discover that Gregg is much more than the keyboard player and singer in the Allman Brothers. The man is a great singer, and here he is singing great songs, and the production by T Bone Burnett just burnishes the disc. This was ranked # 1 on the Roots Radio Airplay Chart for 2011. Music-making of the highest order.

Tom Hambridge -- "Boom!" (Superstar Records)
See my review on September 16.

Sean Costello -- "At His Best - Live" (Landslide)
Another reminder of the promise lost when Sean passed away in April 2008. This is a follow-up to the 2009 "Sean's Blues: A Memorial Retrospective." Both are really good discs, but I'd still rather have Sean with us and playing live. I love all of Sean's discs, and in my opinion he did the best Bob Dylan covers since Jimi.

The F & G Band (featuring Edlene Hart) -- "Grease Up Yo' Strutt" (indy)
See my review July 11.

D'Mar & Gill -- "Real Good Friend" (Airtight Productions)
See my review September 19.

The Cash Box Kings -- "Holler and Stomp" (Blind Pig)
See my review December 24.

Moreland and Arbuckle -- "Just A Dream" (Telarc)
See my review December 26.

The Duke Robillard Band -- "Low Down and Tore Up" (Stony Plain)
See my review November 14.

Davina & The Vagabonds -- "Black Cloud" (Roustabout Records)
See my review June 20.

Hadden Sayers -- "Hard Dollar" (Blue Corn Music)
See my review May 31.

It is difficult to pick my top ten releases, but it is even more difficult to pick one song of the year. Bruce's Blues Grammy. I listened this year to nearly 400 songs, and there were some songs that just stuck with me, songs with the whole package--great playing, great singing, and great songwriting. Songs such as Grady Champion's "Same Train," E. G. Kight's "Somewhere Down Deep," Lisa Mills' "Tennessee Tears," Joel DaSilva's "Every Night" and Tom Hambridge's "Never Gonna Change."

But after a lot of deliberation my favorite song of 2011 is "I Can't Wait" on Diunna Greenleaf's cd "Trying To Hold On."