Zuzu Bollin - Texas Bluesman (Antones): Bollin led his own combo, beginning in the late 40's, recorded two 78's in the early 50's, and this recording in the 1980's. That's it. That's the list. The Dallas native eventually gave up the music business for the dry cleaning business in the mid 60's. He was rediscovered by the Dallas Blues Society in 1987, which led to this album being released by the society in 1989. Texas Bluesman contains remakes of both sides of his first 78, "Why Don't You Eat Where You Slept Last Night" and "Headlight Blues," plus covers of songs by Big Joe Turner, Count Basie, Cleanhead Vinson, and Percy Mayfield. There's also some great T-Bone Walker-styled guitar and outstanding jump blues. Bollin passed away in 1990, not long after the album was initially released. It was eventually re-issued by Antones, where it enjoyed wider distribution. It will definitely make you wonder why this guy had such a hard time getting in the studio.
Bill Sims (Warner Brothers): In the late 90's, NYC bluesman Sims appeared in the PBS documentary, American Love Story, which profiled his multi-ethnic family. This 1999 album was released in conjunction with the series and received a lot of attention back then, but has proved to be Sims' last release so far, so many new blues listeners may have missed out. Sims is an incredibly versatile musician, having played urban and country blues, R&B, jazz, and even doo wop. This is a stellar mix of all those styles. More recently, Sims has teamed up with harmonica player Mark LaVoie as an acoustic country blues duo.
Texas Northside Kings (Dialtone): Austin-based Dialtone Records has assembled a neat little catalog over the past decade or so, focusing on the vast talent of the Austin/Houston area for the most part. For this 2007 release, the label takes six of Austin's up-and-coming guitar slingers (Eva Monsees, Johnny Moeller, Shawn Pittman, Mike Keller, Nick Curran, Seth Walker) and gives each of them two or three tracks of their own, backing them with a tight set of area musicians (Earl Gilliam on keyboards, drummer Willie Sampson, sax man Spot Barnett). This recording is a lot of fun, with some great songs and performances. Several of these guitarists have since made some phenomenal recordings, so this is a good chance to catch them in their early stages. Check out this funky Johnny Moeller instrumental, "Radio Groove."
Bobby Purify - Better To Have It (Proper): James and Bobby Purify were one of the unsung soul duos of the 60's, with hits like "I'm Your Puppet," "Shake a Tail Feather," and "Let Love Come Between Us." This is the 70's "Bobby Purify," whose real name is Ben Moore. Moore had a successful career in Gospel during the 80's, but fell upon hard times after he lost his sight in 1998. In 2005, he launched a comeback with this release, which teamed him up with veteran soul songwriter/singer/producer Dan Penn, who wrote several of the Purify hits of the 60's, including "I'm Your Puppet." Penn, who had been involved in Solomon Burke's comeback release for Fat Possum the year before, brought in a bevy of Muscle Shoals music legends, including keyboardist Spooner Oldham and Carson Whitsett, bassist David Hood, guitarist Jimmy Johnson, and Memphis Horns trumpet player Wayne Jackson, and thirteen new songs that capture the essence of that 60's southern soul sound. Purify has just the right combination of smooth and grit in his voice to pull off this material.
Bo Ramsey - Stranger Blues (CDBY): Iowa's Bo Ramsey was influenced by the sounds of Sun Records and Chess Records. He has built a pretty solid career both as a solo artist and a collaborator (with Greg Brown, Lucinda Williams, Pieta Brown). His own music has a moody, atmospheric quality and it lifts this 2007 set of cover tunes several notches. The opening track, a ghostly reworking of the Elmore James tune, is fantastic, with Ramsey's craggly vocal punctuated by the keyboards whooshing along behind Ramsey's twangy guitar and a piercing harmonica. Ramsey also breathes new life into Little Walter's "Hate To See You Go," Muddy's "Little Geneva," Jessie Mae Hemphill's "Jump Baby Jump," and Sonny Boy Williamson II's "Unseen Eye." The tunes will be familiar to most blues fans, but it's pretty cool to hear Ramsey's restructuring of them.
For a newer disc that you might have missed, check out Denver bluesman Mojo Watson. Watson is the son of 50's R&B singer K.C. "Mojo" Watson, and has been recording his own material for around a decade. Watson's music was best described by a friend of mine as "part Muddy Waters, part Robert Cray, part Jimi Hendrix," which is not a bad combination when you think about it. Watson's previous CDs have included mostly original songs (or songs previously done by his dad), but Geechy Woman also features a few cover tunes, including Elmore James' "Sunnyland," B.B. King's "Sweet Sixteen," the Wolf's "Killing Floor," and Hendrix's "Dolly Dagger." Watson is an amazing guitarist, mixing old school riffs with the occasional journey into Purple Haze territory. This is a set that will please both traditional blues and blues/rock fans, so stop by Mojo's site and check it out.