Friday, February 10, 2012

A Few Items of Interest

This week marks TWO YEARS since Friday Blues Fix was launched. To everyone who stops by on a weekly (at least) basis to see what's going on, a great big thank you for your continued support. I have really been amazed at how many folks from all over the world stop by every week. I will do my best to continue to make this a worthwhile stop for blues fans.

Last week marked the 28th annual Internation Blues Challenge (IBC), a huge talent competition where blues acts from around the world converge on the city of Memphis. Past IBC's have seen performances from current artists like Grady Champion, Eden Brent, Barbara Blue, Micheal Burks, Albert Castiglia, Fiona Boyes, Larry Garner, Delta Moon, Zac Harmon, the Homemade Jamz Band, Jason Ricci, Super Chikan, Watermelon Slim, Teeny Tucker, Susan Tedeschi, the late Sean Costello, Joe Moss, the late Robin Rogers, and Tommy Castro. Pretty impressive list, eh?

This year's lineup included 200 different acts playing all over Beale Street and other neighboring clubs. Each act was sponsored by a blues foundation, from points all over the world. The winner of the Band Competition was The WIRED! Band, sponsored by the Washington Blues Society, and the winner of the Solo/Duo Competition was Ray Bonneville (sponsored by the Ozark Blues Society of Northwest Arkansas). Congratulations to both acts and all the others who competed.

The WIRED! Band - Winner of 2012 IBC Band Competition

Ray Bonneville - Winner of 2012 IBC Solo/Duo Competition

The Gipson Guitarist Award went to Bart Walker of The Bart Walker Band, who placed second in the Band Competition.  The Lee Oskar Top Harmonica Player was Randy McQuay.  The Best Self-Produced Blues CD was Dave Keller's excellent ......Where I'm Coming From...

There's a nice change of pace in the latest issue of Living Blues magazine.....a focus on blues piano players.  There are some wonderful articles about keyboard wizards like Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne, Papadon Washington, and the great Jimmy McCracklin.  Naturally, there are plenty of great pictures as well, including several by FBF favorite, Bill Steber.  There are also reviews of new releases from Ruthie Foster, Joe Louis Walker, Sharon Lewis, and many, many more.  There are lots of fine blues magazines out there, but you can't go wrong with Living Blues, which should be available at newstands and bookstores everywhere.

FBF will be talking about some other new releases in the coming weeks, but wanted to mention a new release that is definitely worth a listen from a California duo called Sista Jean and C.B.  Sista Jean has worked as a session vocalist with Cher, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, and Bobby Caldwell, and she can also be heard on several of Joe Henry's recent blues productions with Solomon Burke, Allen Toussaint, and Hugh Laurie).  She also recorded R&B in the  90's as Pepper MaShay.  C.B. is guitarist Carlyle Barriteau, a native of Aruba, who plays with Caldwell, and is currently making a name for himself on the smooth jazz scene.

Their first release as a duo is called Back to the Root and is a warm, relaxed, intimate set of blues that also mixes R&B, soul, jazz, and gospel.  They wrote all the tunes, which are uniformly excellent.  Sista Jean's vocals are strong, yet understated, which suits this material perfectly and Barriteau's guitar work is fantastic in support (they are backed on several tracks by Troy Dexter, on dobro or Fender Rhodes, and David Vidal, on harmonica or pedal steel).  This is a great set for late night listening or for just relaxing on the front porch.  Here's hoping that we hear more from this team.

I mentioned one of my favorite older releases a few weeks ago, Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials' Roughhousin'. Frontman Ed Williams is an awesome slide guitarist whose uncle, J. B. Hutto, was a master slide guitarist in his own right who recorded for Delmark and Rounder's subsidiary Varrick in the 60's, 70's, and 80's.  Williams and his band were selected by Alligator Records' head man Bruce Iglauer to be a part of the label's anthology, The New Bluebloods, and during their time recording their selection for the album (with Williams still wearing his uniform from his day job at a car wash), they caught on fire.  Iglauer had time to burn in the studio, so the band more or less started playing their typical live set while he caught it all on tape.  In the process, they ended up recording around thirty second takes and no overdubs.

The results are about as live and raw a studio album as you may ever hear.  It's interesting to note that during the recording session, Ed did his usual stage antics...backbending, duck-walking, tiptoeing, and sliding across the floor....and maybe that gave the set even more authenticity.  Williams had some great original songs, like the outstanding slow blues, "Everything I Do Brings Me Closer To The Blues," "Pride and Joy," and the autobiographical "Car Wash Blues."  The group covered Percy Mayfield's "You Don't Exist Any More," Arthur Crudup's "Mean Old Frisco," and the classic "Walkin' The Dog," which allowed each band member a moment to shine on their own.  The CD reissue also includes their track from the Bluebloods set, "Young Thing."

Williams & the Blues Imperials have recorded several more discs for Alligator over the past twenty-plus years, and though they're all good in their own way, none of them come close to capturing the passion of their debut release.  If you haven't experienced this amazing group, Roughhousin' is a great place to start.  I wouldn't mind hearing the other twenty songs that were recorded during that session sometime in the future.

From Jeff Konkel's Facebook page on Thursday.......

It is with deep sadness that I report the passing of The Mississippi Marvel, an outstanding blues artist and a true gentleman. He was 81 years old. I was fortunate to work with him over the past several years. In 2008, Broke & Hungry Records released his debut CD, The World Must Never Know. Later that year he appeared in our film M For Mississippi. His dual (and conflicting) roles as a bluesman and a church deacon led us to use a pseudonym when discussing him in public. Out of respect for his family and his church, we will continue to honor this request. Farewell to a great artist and a gentle soul.

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