Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Best releases of 2016 (Better late than never!)

I've been writing this blog since 2007, and in all that time I have never had so much trouble writing a post. Normally the annual "Best Of" post starts nearly writing itself in October-November, and I touch it up a bit in December and there you are. I might polish it a couple more times, but the hardest part is done long before I post it. But two things--first, this year I took a class from early September until January 11, and there just hasn't been the free time I am accustomed to. That's not just an excuse, but it's the truth. And this year I have been doing 8 hours live DJ-ing per week at http://www.caldoniascrossroad.com/ (Unabashed plug: Two hours of blues music on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 2:00-4:00pm eastern time, Mondays 8:00am-noon, also eastern time.)

Anyway, here's my top fifteen for the year...

15.) Trudy Lynn -- I'll Sing The Blues For You (Connor Ray Music) The veteran Houston native has brought forth an excellent album. From the first notes of "Alright Baby" to the last notes of "Down On Bended Knee" Lynn displays a great R&B sensibility and class and style.

14.) Frank Bang & The Cook County Kings -- The Blues Don't Care (Cleopatra Blues) I loved this one. The first blues release by Frank Bang after spending 25 years with Buddy Guy--with strong songs, strong playing and singing. He said "I have been waiting to make this record my whole life."

13.) Sari Schorr & The Engine Room -- A Force Of Nature (Manhaton Records) This came out in September, and it has all the feel of a debut--it seemed to me that they were going for broke with every note. When I first heard it I was exhausted before the end of the first song. There's a lot of energy here--vocal power, great guitar work, interesting songs. They have a world of promise ahead of them.

12.) Diana Rein -- Long Road (Self) This release took Diana eighteen months to create--she wrote everything, plays all the guitars, bass and sings all the vocals. The result was worth every bit of that effort. She channels a bit of Stevie Ray. The title track was the most played song on my Texas Blues Show in 2016.

11.) The Fabulous Thunderbirds -- Strong Like That (Severn Records) See review 1-4-17.

10.) Lex Grey & The Urban Pioneers -- Heal My Soul (Self)  See review 11-19-16.

9.) Lurrie Bell -- Can't Shake This Feeling (Delmark) See review 1-1-17.

8.) The Lucky Losers -- In Any Town (Self) Cathy Lemons and Phil Berkowitz and Kid Andersen and a top-notch rhythm section equalled a terrific release. Great songs, great singing, and great music.

7.) The Joey Gilmore Band -- Respect The Blues (Park Lane Productions Inc) This band of veterans made another very strong album. The best thing about this cd are the covers, especially "Night Time Is The Right Time" with lead vocals by the seriously talented Edlene Hart. In my mind Joey's vocals on this cd push this one just barely ahead of Biscuit Miller's Wishbone at the top of the Band category.

6.) Tweed Funk -- Come Together (Tweed Tone Records) One terrific high-powered horn driven ensemble from Milwaukee. This is their best release so far, although everything they have made since 2010 has been worthwhile. This was the feel bad/feel good story of the year with vocalist Joseph "Smokey" Holman's cancer scare--but with things looking up for the band in this new year, I toast Tweed Funk's strength and resilience.  

5.) Toronzo Cannon -- The Chicago Way (Alligator) For one of the few times, I agree with the rest of the blues world. This is a terrific release. That first vocal "Woooooo" in the song "Walk It Off" makes it Bruce's Song Of The Year.

4.) Guy King -- Truth (Delmark) Wonderful jazz-influenced blues. Guitar and vocals to enjoy in any mood or occasion. Would have almost made this list for the opening track along, the Ray Charles song "The Same Thing That Makes You Laugh (Can Make You Cry)." In my mind, this release stood out as the antidote this year to losing B B King.

3.) Dave Keller -- Rick Back Atcha (Self) This one has been in my cd player an awful lot last year, mostly just for the joy of Dave Keller's voice. Tied with Guy King for best vocals of 2016. Special shout out to the Mo' Sax Horns--I love horns on a blues album.

2.) Albert Castiglia -- Big Dog (Ruf) This one came out at # 3 in the annual Roots Music Report, behind only Tedeschi Trucks Band's "Let Me Get By" and Janiva Magness' "Love Wins Again." I liked Albert's cd better than both of those. This cd is the best work Albert has done so far. Cudos to Mike Zito for helping Albert achieve just that little bit extra. My pick for best blues-rock cd of the year.

1.) Deb Ryder -- Grit Grease & Tears (Bejab Music) Deb Ryder's wonderful vocals and a cast of terrific guest artists make this a stellar release. "Prisoner Of War" is my favorite song here, but they're all simply excellent. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Fabulous Thunderbirds -- Strong Like That

The Fabulous Thunderbirds have been around for over 30 years now, which in musical terms is a very long time; and, in my humble opinion, they have never sounded better than now.

For this new cd, the focus seems to be a mix of blues and old-time soul music--Motown and Stax--and this combination works really well.  The band is just wonderful, tight where they need to be tight, smooth where they need to be smooth, and loose enough to dance to. The key is, of course, Kim Wilson, who shows again on this outing why he must be counted among the very best singers, harp players and band leaders anywhere. The band is Kim Wilson (vocals and harmonica) Johnny Moeller (guitars) Kevin Anker (keyboards) Steve Gomes (bass) and Robb Stupka (drums). Special guests include Aason Funderburgh (lead guitar on "Don't Burn Me") Roosevelt Collier (steel guitar on "I Know (I'm Losing You)") Wes Watkins (drums on "I Know (I'm Losing You)") and Sara Mia (background vocals on "I Know (I'm Losing You)" and Christal Rheams and Caleb Green (background vocals on "Don't Burn Me," "Somebody's Getting It," "Where's Your Love Been" and "I've Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)".

Every song here is worth your time, your money, and more importantly, the investment of your ears.
You can buy this cd at all your usual cd outlets.  

01 – (I Know) I’m Losing You (Feat. Roosevelt Collier & Wes Watkins)
02 – Don’t Burn Me (Feat. Anson Funderburgh)
03 – You’re Gonna Miss Me
04 – Drowning On Dry Land
05 – Smooth
06 – Somebody’s Getting It
07 – Meet Me On The Corner
08 – Where’s Your Love Been
09 – I’ve Never Found A Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)
10 – Strong Like That

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Lurrie Bell -- "Can't Shake This Feeling"

Lurrie Bell is one of the greats of Chicago Blues. The son of the great Carey Bell, he began playing guitar at the age of five. Now, many years later, this new release is a shining gem.  This Delmark Records cd features Lurrie on vocals and guitar and his regular band: Willie Hayes on drums and Melvin Smith on bass, writing partner Matthew Skoller on harmonica, and the great Roosevelt Purifoy on piano, organ and Rhodes.
Six of the thirteen songs are originals, along with "Drifting" by Eddie Boyd, "I Get So Weary" by T Bone Walker, "One Eyed Woman" by Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis, "Sit Down Baby" by Willie Dixon, "Hold me Tight" by Little Milton-Oliver Sain Jr, "Sinners Prayer" by Lowell Fulson-Lloyd C Glenn, "Born With The Blues" by Buster Benton, "Do You Hear" by Carey Bell, and "Hidden Charms" by Willie Dixon. I print out the names of these covers to illustrate one point--Lurrie pretty much covers the waterfront--they are all great songs brought forward and played with reverence and respect.The originals fit in well with the covers--Lurrie is a veteran bluesman now. His singing and guitar work are both personal and warm, and his songwriting is an extra special bonus.

This is a really good cd, pure Chicago blues by some of the best musicians out there. Belongs in any 2016 Top Ten list. Any time you are shopping for blues music--if you see the name Lurrie Bell on something, go ahead and buy it. You will never be disappointed.

You can buy this cd at www.delmark.com/