Revelator (Sony Masterworks): By now you've heard tons and tons of rave reviews about this release. Well, I'm not going to venture too far away from the consensus. I had strayed a bit from the blues/rock genre several years ago, mainly because a lot (not all) of the bands sounded too much alike and a lot of them really didn't have that much to say. Sure, the music was good and the performances were always great, but like Chinese food, it didn't stick to your ribs very long. I had heard about Derek Trucks from some friends of mine who were Allman Brothers fanatics, and had actually heard him perform on Junior Wells' epic slide guitarists album from the late 90's, but I never bought in until I heard Already Free. With Susan Tedeschi, I think it was all the hype surrounding her debut....EVERYBODY loved her. I deliberately avoided her (yeah, I'm sort of goofy that way) until one of my friends send me a couple of her songs via email, one of which was "It Hurt So Bad." Wow! Then I got to see Trucks and Tedeschi together on the second Crossroads Guitar Festival DVD, playing Clapton's "Anyday." Let's just say I was curious when I heard they were going to form a band together.
I have to say that Revelator was not what I expected. It's even better than I imagined. To be honest, I don't really know what I was expecting, but this one surprised me and overwhelmed me at the same time. The songs are excellent, and they blend everything from blues, soul, funk, rock, and gospel together. Supposedly, they wrote over 30 songs for this album, and if the unreleased songs are this good, we need to hear them, and soon. "Midnight In Harlem" should be a hit in a perfect world, with Tedeschi's soulful croon and Trucks' wonderful slide guitar, but then you could say that for several of these tunes, including the upbeat opening track, "Come See About Me," the funky "Bound For Glory," and "Simple Things." The band, combining members of Trucks' and Tedeschi's groups, plus a terrific horn section, is perfect. Yeah, I guess you could say I liked this one a lot. Both leaders are really in the zone for this one, and it feels like the maximum time and effort was put into making this a great album. It sets the bar pretty high for future blues/rock and roots recordings...both for them and for others.
Dreamin' (GSM Music Group): Last year, Grady Champion and his band won the IBC. Those who have seen him live wonder why it didn't happen sooner. The Canton, MS native has impressed blues audiences since the late 90's with his singing, harp blowing, and showmanship, and returned a couple of years ago after a brief absence with an excellent live disc recorded with Eddie Cotton Jr. on guitar. Dreamin' is his fifth release and his best yet, with Champion getting a hand from fellow Mississippian Zac Harmon, who produced the disc, played guitar and drums, co-wrote several songs, and also contributed vocals (on "Walk With Me, Baby," the swampy sequel to "Baby, Scratch My Back").
Though the new disc is slicker than his previous releases, with more of a contemporary feel in the mix, the blues is still front and center and Champion gives a stellar performance, with blues numbers like "My Rooster Is King," "Same Train," "Guilty As Charged," and the gospel-flavored "Thank You For Giving Me The Blues." The smooth ballad "Weight of the World" has already made some noise on a couple of the Blues charts, and deservedly so. Champion doesn't neglect the soul side of the blues either, with the up-tempo title track that should start a party every time it's played, "Laugh, Smile, Cry" sounds like a long-lost Ray Charles tune from the Atlantic Records days, and "Cross That Bridge" was co-written by another Canton resident, A. D. Prestage, who wrote "Shade Tree Mechanic" for Z. Z. Hill way back when. If there is any justice in the world, Dreamin' should be the disc that puts Grady Champion over the top.
Zombie Nation (Desert Highway Records): I've been listening to Elam McKnight for nearly ten years. He moves effortlessly from the Mississippi Hill Country sound to blues/rock to acoustic Delta blues and has made solid improvements with each of his previous releases (check out Supa Good). Bob Bogdal's previous release was a dramatic expansion of the Hill Country sound (Underneath the Kudzu). The pair has teamed up for an impressive new release of all original tunes that mix acoustic and electric blues with rock and soul.
McKnight's guitar work is impressive, plugged or unplugged, and Bogdal shines on harmonica. This duo appears to be a match made in blues heaven, so hopefully they will team up again, but don't let this one pass you by. Check out the dazzling opening track from the new release, "Pojo's Place."
Memphis Still Got Soul (Catfood Records): I first heard Johnny Rawls as part of the soul/blues duo Rawls & Luckett on their superlative release for Rooster Blues in the early 90's, Can't Sleep At Night, one of the best soul/blues releases of the entire decade. Rawls & Luckett soon went their separate ways, but Rawls has continued as a successful solo artist, recording several discs in the late 90's for JSP, and eventually branching out to other labels. His previous release, Ace of Spades, won the 2010 Blues Music Award for Soul/Blues Album of the Year. Memphis Still Got Soul is a worthy follow-up.
Rawls has that uncanny knack of making old school soul sound like something brand new. He mixes blues numbers ("Burning Bridges," "My Guitar," "Blues Woman") with vintage soul ("Give What You Need," "Stop The Rain," "Love Stuff"), and even pays tribute to his mentor, O. V. Wright with a cover of "Blind, Crippled, and Crazy." Rawls doesn't sound so much like Wright, but his phrasing and vocal asides are reminiscent of the late soul man. This is as good a set of soul/blues as you will hear this year.
An Old Rock on a Roll (Stony Plain): Now here's something we don't get to hear nearly enough of these days....a new blues piano album. Wayne got his start in the 60's, playing with Billy Preston, Delaney & Bonnie, and the Doobie Brothers. Over time, he has developed a reputation as a solid blues and boogie woogie piano man, influenced by Bill Doggett, Fats Domino, Amos Milburn, and Johnnie Johnson. An Old Rock on a Roll is his first release in several years and his debut for Stony Plain. Lending a hand is Stony Plain stalwart Duke Robillard, who produced the disc and plays some splendid guitar.
Most of the tunes are up-tempo, including the rousing opener, "Searching For My Baby," "Fantasy Meets Reality," "Rocking Boogie Party," and "Way Overdue." "Heaven Send Me an Angel" is a easy mid-tempo track, and there are several straight blues tracks as well ("Don't Pretend" and "Bring Back the Love"). On the uplifting instrumental that closes the disc, "Give Thanks," Wayne plays organ with one hand and piano with the other. If blues piano is your bag, you need to add this disc to your collection, pronto.