Friday, December 28, 2018

FBF's Top 20 Blues Albums for 2018

Your humble correspondent reviewed (or is in the process of reviewing) about 200 albums this past year.  I'm a few months behind for sure.....some of these reviews won't be done until the first couple of months into 2019.....but I hate to not review a disc that someone takes the time to send me.  As it is, I try to average about four a week...sometimes I'm able to get a couple more, but it's pretty hard to do with things to do at work and at home.  This year was a pretty good year for the blues.  There were a lot of new faces for me this year and that has to be a good thing for the music.

I'm listing my Top 20 here at FBF, but in a few weeks, Blues Bytes will list all of their reviewers' Top Ten, so you will have to visit there to see who my Top Ten were for the year.  It was pretty difficult to narrow it down to 20 this year......when I ran down my list and picked my favorites, I had 33, so it took a few days to lower that number, but I'm satisfied with the results.  I hope some of your favorites are here as well.

Friday Blues Fix's Top 20 Albums for 2018

(in alphabetical order)

Lurrie Bell & the Bell Dynasty - Tribute To Carey Bell  (Delmark Records):  An excellent set that showcases all four of the Bells with guests Charlie Musselwhite and Billy Branch.  Though Lurrie Bell is the best known of the brothers, harmonica player Steve, singer/drummer James, and bassist Tyson bring plenty to the table as well.....a great set of Chicago blues that their pop would be proud of.

Big Apple Blues - Manhattan Alley (Stone Tone Records):  This was a really cool all-instrumental set that combined the blues with soul, rock, and funk with a great retro feel.  Anybody who digs Booker T or Jimmy Smith will find a lot to enjoy here with Jim Alfredson's keyboards and Zach Zunis' guitar work.  One standout track after another.

Barbara Blue - Fish in Dirty H2O  (BIG Blue Records):  I've been listening to the Reigning Queen of Beale Street for a long time and this one is easily her best with a superlative mix of blues and R&B with an all-star cast of supporting musicians.  If you're new to Barbara Blue, it's time to get on board.

Ray Bonneville - At King Electric (Stonefly Records):  A great singer/songwriter who has totally slipped past me prior to this fantastic effort, recorded in Austin but with a definite New Orleans vibe.  That won't be happening again.

Kirk Fletcher - Hold On  (Kirk Fletcher Records):  It's been fascinating to watch this brilliant young guitarist develop not only with his chosen instrument, but also as a singer and songwriter.  He says this is truly his first "solo" record.  It's certainly his best one.

Damon Fowler - The Whiskey Bayou Session (Whisky Bayou Records):  Recorded at Tab Benoit's studio in Houma, shortly after his boss, Butch Trucks' tragic death, this set came out nowhere for me....a wonderful, down-to-earth set of blues, southern rock, and soul that's a lot of fun.

Ghost Town Blues Band - Backstage Pass (Ghost Town Blues Band):  This is one of the best live albums I've heard, at least one of the best I've heard in a long, long time.  Matt Isbell and the band are at their absolute best on this awesome set, which is a must-have for their current fans and a great introduction for new fans.  Get this now!!

Buddy Guy - The Blues Is Alive And Well (Silvertone/RCA Records):  The 82-year-old Guy teams once again with Tom Hambridge for a great set of rocking blues, along with Jeff Beck, Keith Richards, and James Bay.  Guy's a bit introspective on some of these tracks, looking hard at old age and mortality, but he still straps it on for several searing numbers that show the fire is still in the belly.  This is one of his better latter-day efforts to these ears.

Dave Keller - Every Soul's A Star (Catfood Records):  I have to admit that I was thrilled to hear that Keller had signed with Catfood Records because I knew that he would be a perfect fit for their catalog of soul-blues artists, and he certainly didn't disappoint with this release.  It has a great Memphis feel with the band and Keller's infinitely soulful pipes, along with some great original songs.  Please, please check this guy out.  You can thank me later.

Tim Lothar - More Stories:  I was initially amazed at how quickly drummer Lothar picked up the guitar, but I'm equally blown away by his songwriting and singing.  He has a thoroughly modern lyrical approach though the ground he's covering is fairly familiar to blues fans.  This is an artist who deserves a bigger audience.

Trudy Lynn - Blues Keep Knockin' (Connor Ray Music):  Ms. Trudy got a late start recording, but man, has she made up for it.  She appears to have found a home with Connor Ray Music and an excellent band led by harmonica ace Steve Krase, and she just blows the doors off on this album.

John Mayall - Three For The Road (Forty Below Records):  The 83-year-old Mayall sounds like he was just getting started on this live set recorded in early 2017 in Germany with longtime bandmates Greg Rzab (bass) and Jay Davenport (drums).  The trio began working together fulltime after longtime guitar Rocky Athas departed for a solo career.  Mayall sounds great and plays keyboards and harmonica throughout, still going strong after 50+years.

Beth McKee - dreamwood acres (Swampgirl Music):  This release is a culmination of sorts for McKee, taking everything that made her earlier work so compelling and putting it all together.  One of the finest songwriters currently practicing, she captures the music of the American South......the blues, soul, gospel, country, pop, and rock.

Billy Price - Reckoning (Vizztone Label Group):  The veteran soul man headed to Greaseland Studios for a stellar set of covers and originals.  As always, he gives us some unique interpretations of a few soul classics as well as interesting takes on tunes from other genres, and some fine original tunes as well.

Brigitte Purdy - Still I Rise (Dirtshack Records):  Wow!  This one blew me away late in the year.  This young lady can sing it all - blues, rock, soul, jazz, R&B, and even classical - seemingly without breaking a sweat.  She covers a lot of ground in a short time on this release and it sounds great.  I can't wait to hear more!

Hadden Sayers - Dopamine Machine (  It's been a while since we've heard much from Sayers, but he definitely made up for lost time, releasing this powerhouse set of blues-rock and soul in a searing electric version and an equally powerful acoustic format (Acoustic Dopamine).  I give the electric version a slight edge, but you'll do just fine with both sets.

Boz Scaggs - Out of The Blues (Concord Records):  I've really enjoyed Scaggs' recent trio of albums that pay tribute to his musical roots.  This third set focuses on the blues with a great mix of classics from Bobby Bland, Jimmy Reed, Jimmy McCracklin, and Neil Young(!), along with several original tunes that blend seamlessly with the classics.

Scott Sharrard - Saving Grace (We Save Music):  Formerly the guitarist/musical director for the Gregg Allman Band, Sharrard has put together a fabulous recording that sits firmly in the Allman Brothers' wheelhouse.......blues, rock, soul, jazz coming together into a tasty gumbo.  Sharrard's got the guitar and vocal skills to make it happen and he does.

Too Slim & The Taildraggers - High Desert Heat (Underworld Records/Vizztone Label Group):  For over 30 years, Slim has been giving blues fans hard-rocking blues with nary a let-up.  This one ranks with their best efforts, with memorable songwriting and a perfect mix of blues and rock.

Walter "Wolfman" Washington - My Future Is My Past (Anti/Epitath):  I have to say that this is unlike any of the Wolfman's previous soul/blues/funk releases that keep toes tapping and booties shaking.  This is pristine after-hours blues and while Washington has always been highly regarded as a guitarist, his vocals are his secret weapon and he's done marvelous work previously on the ballads of those earlier albums.....there's an awesome version of one of my all-time favorite songs from one of my favorite songwriters, "Even Now," by the late David Egan, that finds Washington singing a duet with the great Irma Thomas.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Eighteen

Well, we've come to the end of Volume Two of our Blues Fix Mix CD series.  It took a bit, with a few delays and interruptions thrown in, but we've reached the conclusion at last.  I recently put together Volume Six for a friend of mine, so there's still a chance we will revisit these in the future, but not for awhile.

After this post, we will be posting a year-end Top 20 Favorite Albums of 2018 in a few weeks, but the blog will be going on a bit of a hiatus after that.  We still have our FBF Facebook page and I will be sharing a few items there......album reviews and such.......but sometimes it gets pretty hard to put together a post that's worth stopping for in the time allowed.  I will post from time to time here and promise to let you know via Facebook when that happens, so by all means, please stop by our FBF FB page and join up.

This week's track comes from an artist that I discovered about 15 years ago named Dave Riley.  Riley was born in Hattiesburg, MS, but moved with his family to Chicago as a teen.  His dad was a preacher and, like many blues men, Riley started out in gospel as part of a family band.  His family moved from the West Side to the North Side near Maxwell Street, where young Dave heard live blues for the first time.  He sang and played guitar as a teen, mostly gospel and Motown.  After high school, he was drafted for duty in Vietnam.  While stationed in Seattle, he got to hear another musical influence........Jimi Hendrix.

After he was discharged, Riley played in a gospel group, occasionally playing soul and the blues, but quit the music business to help raise his son, working  as a prison guard at Joliet State Penitentiary.  He worked for 25 years in the prison system, developing an addiction to drugs and alcohol, two habits he kicked in the late 80's.  When his son was grown, he began playing the blues again, but suffered a broken neck in a car crash in the late 90's, which ended his career at the prison and greatly limited his ability to play guitar.  Through hard work and perseverance, Riley regained his guitar-playing ability.  He's released a few CDs, my favorite being his Fedora release, Whiskey, Money and Women from 2001.  He's also released three excellent albums with harmonica master Bob Corritore, the last one being Hush Your Fuss! in 2013.  He also performed with the late John Weston and Sam Carr in the Delta Jukes, a slight variation of the famous Jelly Roll Kings.  They released a very good album called Working for the Blues in 2002.

However, the song that closes Volume Two comes from an earlier release on the late, much-missed Cannonball Records, Blues Across America:  The Helena Scene, one of a series of albums that highlighted blues artists from different cities.  Similar to earlier anthology sets that featured three or four artists per album each contributing three or four songs, this album featured Riley, along with Weston, and Carr with Frank Frost (these were Frost's last recordings).  It's a pretty solid set, as you can imagine if you're familiar with any of these artists, but Riley really shines on his four songs, my favorite being "Automobile," a hard charging blues rocker that will close our Volume Two with style and pizzazz.  Enjoy and thanks for stopping by!!

Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two (to date)......
1.  Mannish Boy - Muddy Waters
2.  Big Legs - Zuzu Bollin
3.  If It Wasn't For Bad Luck - Lee "Shot" Williams
4.  Taylor Rock - Sonny Landreth
5.  How'd You Learn To Shake It Like That - Snooky Pryor
6.  The Score - The Robert Cray Band
7.  Ninety-Nine - Bobby Rush
8.  Your Love Is Like A Cancer - Son Seals
9.  Rats & Roaches In My Kitchen - Larry Garner
10.  Baby Scratch My Back - Slim Harpo
11.  If You Let A Man Kick You Once - Corey Harris & Henry Butler
12.  Bring Your Fine Self Home - Albert Collins & Johnny Copeland
13.  Down In The Delta - James "Super Chikan" Johnson
14.  Pocketful of Money - Frank Frost
15.  Swanee River Boogie - Ike Turner & The Kings of Rhythm
16.  The Highway Is Like A Woman - Jimmy Johnson
17.  Gristle - Clarence Hollimon
18.  Automobile - Dave Riley

Friday, November 16, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Seventeen

Clarence Hollimon
Only two more tracks to go before we wrap up Volume Two of the Blues Fix Mix CD series and the excitement is almost palpable.  This week features one of the finest guitarist to ever emerge from the Houston music scene - Clarence "Gristle" Hollimon.  Given the long list of stars to come from the Houston area over the years - Lightnin' Hopkins, Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Cal Green, Joe "Guitar" Hughes, etc......that's a pretty strong statement, but Hollimon's body of work will certainly attest to the fact that if he's not in a class by himself, it certainly wouldn't take long to call the roll.

Hollimon worked as a session guitarist for Duke/Peacock Records as a high school student, and he played with a prestigious list of artists including Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, Big Mama Thornton, Charles Brown, O.V. Wright, Joe Hinton, Dionne Warwick, Buddy Ace, the original Jazz Crusaders and many other stars from the 1950's through the 1990's.  I first heard him on several recordings for Black Top Records during the late 1980's, beginning with Grady Gaines' first release, Full Gain, which also featured another great Texas guitarist, Grady's brother Roy Gaines.  That album is still one of my favorites and still gets regular play around the house, mainly because of the fantastic guitar work from Hollimon and Gaines.

Carol Fran and Clarence Hollimon
While working with Black Top, Hollimon had the opportunity to record two albums with his wife, singer Carol Fran.  The pair had worked together for years before they married in 1983.  Fran had been performing since the mid 50's, and had a regional hit, "Emmitt Lee," for Excello Records in 1957, along with other fine recordings for multiple labels over the following decades before taking a step away from the business, disillusioned with the musical and career opportunities that slipped past.  She reunited with Hollimon in the early 80's (they had dated briefly 25 years earlier.  Their two Black Top albums were top notch, and Hollimon's "Gristle" was recorded for their first album together, Soul Sensation, and really shows off his dexterity.  It's one of my favorite instrumentals.

Hollimon was known as "Gristle" for many years, but no one ever really knew how he came about that nickname.  Some figured it was because of his thin, wiry build, but no one knows for sure.  He was also known as one of the nicest and most humble musicians in the Houston area.  Singers loved to work for him because he never overplayed or showboated.  He played just what needed to be played and man, did he play it well.  Sadly, Hollimon died in 2000, just after he and Fran finished recording It's About Time for JSP Records.  He was only 62 years old.  Fran, now 85, has continued to work and record a couple of albums, even recovering from a stroke several years ago to return to performing.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Sixteen

In a couple of weeks, Chicago blues guitarist Jimmy Johnson will turn 89 years old.  Johnson is the brother of soul-blues legend Syl Johnson and the late Mack Thompson, who was Magic Sam's bass player (Thompson is the family's given last name).  Johnson is still going strong, having most recently recorded a Magic Sam track for Delmark's Tribute album several months ago.  He still sounds as good as he did when I first heard his Bar Room Preacher album released by Alligator in the 80's.  He originally played soul and R&B, backing Otis Clay and Denise LaSalle, among others, and also leading his own group.  He gravitated to the blues in the mid 70's, backing Otis Rush on Rush's live disc recorded in Japan for Delmark and appearing on Alligator's Living Chicago Blues series in 1978.  Eventually, he recorded a pair of albums for the label (North/South and Johnson Whacks), beginning at the age of 50.  He's enjoyed a nice bit of success over the years and has released some quality recordings including a fine
one with his brother, Syl (Two Johnsons Are Better Than One).

Johnson's brand of blues combine blues, soul, and R&B in equal measure.....his soulful vocals are very distinctive, and his guitar work is equally distinctive and instantly recognizable to most blues fans.  His 1994 release for Verve Records was called I'm A Jockey and featured Billy Branch and Lucky Peterson, who also released albums for Verve during that same time period.  I'm A  Jockey is a fine mix of originals and cover tunes that Johnson does in his own unique style.  My favorite track is Johnson's slow burning take on Percy Mayfield's "The Highway Is Like A Woman," which is Track Sixteen on Volume Two of our Blues Fix Mix CD.

This song has special significance to me, as far as Friday Blues Fix goes.  Years ago, when I started Friday Blues Fix as a group email to some of my friends and co-workers, this was the very first song that I sent to them.  I have worked on many of the Mississippi highways in my area for over 30 years, so that was part of the reason I used it.  Also, I love Percy Mayfield's songs and this is one of my favorites.....I love the comparison of a highway and a woman ("soft shoulders and dangerous curves") and I really like Johnson's guitar work on this track.  The entire album is worth a listen, as is all of Johnson's catalog, so if you have a chance, check it out......and if you have a chance to see him live, check him out.