Friday, February 6, 2015

New Blues For You - Winter, 2015 Edition (Part 1)

By now, you should be winding down from the holidays and maybe itching to sit back and hear some new blues releases.  Well fear not, faithful readers, because Friday Blues Fix offers up a few new and upcoming releases for you to check out this week, with more to come in the next few weeks.  As always, expanded reviews of these new discs can be seen in current and future issues of Blues Bytes, THE monthly online magazine for reviews of new blues CDs.

Your humble correspondent has been overloaded the past few weeks, so we only have time to list a few this week.  However, check back in a couple of weeks for a look at even more new releases to help you shake those winter doldrums.

Donald Ray Johnson - These Blues:  The Best of Donald Ray Johnson (Mar Vista Records):  You may not be familiar with Donald Ray Johnson, or even know that he could put together a "Greatest Hits" collection, but Johnson has been around music for many years, backing artists like Joe Houston, Phillip Walker, Lowell Fulson, Sonny Rhodes, and Big Mama Thornton in California in the 70's, and playing drums for the R&B/Disco band A Taste of Honey ("Boogie Oogie Oogie") in the late 70's, helping them win the 1979 Grammy for Best New Artist.  Since the late 80's, Johnson has been living in Canada, where he became a respected member of the Canadian blues community.  He has recorded a half dozen albums during that time and this set collects his best moments.  Johnson's repertoire is mostly old school urban-styled blues, with a few soul/blues tracks mixed in.  He wrote most of the songs on this collection and they are very good.  He also does a varied set of covers, including a spot-on reading of Al Green's "Ain't No Fun To Me," the Johnnie Taylor hit, "Last Two Dollars" (penned by George Jackson), and a dynamite acoustic reading of "Always On My Mind" (yes, that one!).  There are no musician credits listed on the CD, but it's pretty easy to catch Sonny Rhodes' steel guitar on a couple of tracks.  This is a very good set of blues from an artist who should be definitely be better known on the blues circuit.

Colorado Blues Society - Jam for Blues in the Schools:  Good music for a good cause, the CBS has sponsored a Blues in the Schools program in area schools for years.  The program objective has been to help educate students about the history of the music and other blues-related music.  This disc is part of a fund-raising program and was assembled by Colorado harmonica player Dan Treanor, who put together some of the state's finest blues musicians.  100% of the proceeds go toward the funding of the Blues in the Schools program and it is well worth your time and money to pick this set up.  The disc is a mix of originals and some familiar cover tunes that should appeal to blues veterans or newcomers, and it's very well done.  The artists are obviously used to working together and there's a strong rapport between them, complemented by some great vocals from Erica Brown, guitarist Randall Dubis, and guitarist David Booker.  Definitely worth a listen and not just because it's for a good cause......there's some mighty fine music here.  It's available for $10 (plus shipping) at any Colorado Blues Society-sponsored events, or by contacting CBS at (303) 694-2000, or at their website.  Check out this short feature about the Blues in the Schools program.

Magnus Berg - Cut Me Loose (Screen Door Records):  Guitarist Berg, just 18 years old, leads his own band in his native Norway.  He met singer/songwriter Kirsten Thien at a Florida gig a couple of years ago and they began a songwriting correspondence across the Atlantic and he played lead guitar for her during her USA/European tour.  Now the youngster has released his debut on Thien's record label and it's a powerhouse set with some impressive songwriting from Berg to go along with his considerable guitar skills and strong vocals.  He displays a lot of versatility with his own tracks, mixing blues/rock with jump blues, Texas shuffles, urban blues, and even a touch of country.  This is as solid a debut recording as I've heard in a while and I think you'll be hearing much more from Berg for many years to come.

Eric Bibb - Blues People (Stony Plain Records):  It's always a wonderful musical experience to hear a new album from Bibb.  His blues are so gentle and elegant, the music is a delight and the message is usually thought-provoking.  His latest is no exception, focusing on the historical journey of African-Americans (the original "blues people").  Actually, the album title has a double meaning, as Bibb is joined on this release by several current "blues people," including Popa Chubby, Guy Davis, J.J. Milteau, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Taj Mahal, Ruthie Foster, Harrison Kennedy, Leyla McCalla, and producer Glen Scott.  There's always a spiritual undercurrent to Bibb's music and usually an upbeat nature.  The centerpiece of this release is "Rosewood," a narrative of the small town in Florida that was the site of a horrible racially-driven massacre in the 1920's.  Despite its subject matter, the song still manages to project a message of optimism for the future.  Every blues fan should have at least one Eric Bibb disc in their collection, and this is not a bad choice.

Check back next week to find out about even more new and upcoming releases.

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