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.

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