Summer is drawing to a close (though you'd never know it by the temperatures around here), so here's the third part of Friday Blues Fix's look at just a few of the summer's best releases. Unfortunately, your humble correspondent only had time to look at a few releases this week, but you can find out about many more great new albums that deserve to be heard at Blues Bytes, THE monthly online magazine of blues CD reviews.
Buddy Guy - Born To Play Guitar (Silvertone/RCA Records): By now you should have a good idea what you're getting, and Guy's latest will not disappoint his fans in the least. Teaming up with his longtime collaborator, producer/drummer Tom Hambridge, the 79-year-old guitar slinger offers up 14 tracks of sizzling blues guitar that give proof to the album title. As with previous Guy albums, guest stars abound. This time around, the guest list includes ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, The Fabulous Thunderbirds' Kim Wilson, British soul singer Joss Stone, Doyle Bramhall II, and the legendary Van Morrison.
Personally, I liked this disc a bit more than his last couple of releases. The songs were really strong on this set, and while I'm not usually a fan of blues albums loaded with guest stars (see a few of John Lee Hooker's later recordings and Jimmy Roger's final release), all of the collaborations worked really well and Guy remains front and center, as it should be. Guy and Hambridge make a pretty good team. Hambridge wrote most of the tunes here, a few co-written with Guy, but Guy sings these tunes like he lived them. Personally, I hope I have this much fire and passion when I'm 79. If you're a blues fan, you probably have this already. If not, what are you waiting for???
The Word - Soul Food (Vanguard Records): Fourteen years have passed since The Word's amazing self-titled debut. Each of its members (pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph, keyboardist John Medeski, guitarist Luther Dickinson, drummer Cody Dickinson, and bassist Chris Chew have continued to have big success with their regular groups (Randolph with The Family Band, Medeski with Medeski, Martin, and Wood, and the Dickinsons and Chew with the North Mississippi Allstars), which explains the gap between recordings. Despite that gap, the group's second recording feels like they've never been apart due to their remarkable musical rapport.
Like its predecessor, Soul Food is based in gospel, but with the blues, jazz, R&B, soul, funk, and rock mixed in. When Randolph appeared on the group's first recording, he had only appeared outside of the church a couple of times and only had one recording to his credit. For those of us who have listened to him over the past fourteen years, it's remarkable how much ground he's covered, but if your only experience with him was in relation to the band's first recording, his development is downright astonishing. The same can be said of each band member here. While the early emphasis with the group was more in the jam band vernacular, these songs are shorter and actually more cohesive, which is really saying something. This time around, there are a few vocals, as well, with appearances from Ruthie Foster and Amy Helm on a track apiece, plus a few from the group itself. True, fourteen years is a long time between recordings, but when they're this good, they're worth the wait. I would really like to see these guys perform live somewhere, and after hearing this disc, I'm pretty sure you will, too.
Jimmy Burns - It Ain't Right (Delmark Records): Burns makes a triumphant return to the label that heralded his return to the blues after a few years' absence in the mid 90's. This new release finds Burns backed by his longtime regular band, a potent horn section, and two Windy City keyboard masters, Roosevelt "Mad Hatter" Purifoy on organ and piano man Ariyo of Billy Branch's band. FBF favorite Dick Shurman produced the disc and it features a whopping fifteen tracks of blues and soul.
Most of the set consists of cover tunes, some of which are familiar and some that are seldom heard, written by or associated with a diverse set of artists such as Percy Mayfield, Jimmy Reed, Goree Carter, Bobby Stone, Ben E. King, Little Walter (the title track), and Burns' late brother, Eddie (FBF profiled the brothers several years ago.....check it out here.). Probably the coolest cover is Burns' funky remake of the Junior Wells' classic, "Messin' With The Kid." As always, Burns mixes blues, soul, and gospel quite capably and his songs always combine urban blues with a touch of the down-home sounds of his native Mississippi. Burns is one of the finest singers in Chicago these days and he certainly outdoes himself on these tunes, making this his best release and one that blues fans should want to have in their collection.
Royal Southern Brotherhood - Don't Look Back - The Muscle Shoals Sessions (Ruf Records): There have been a few changes in RSB since their last release. Guitarists Devon Allman and Mike Zito are no longer with the group, having dropped out to focus on their own thriving solo careers. In their place are two equally impressive young guitarists, Nashville-based Bart Walker and Tyrone Vaughan (son of Jimmie). Still firmly in-place are singer/percussionist Cyril Neville, bassist Charlie Wooton, and drummer Yonrico Scott.
For their third album, RSB journeyed to FAME Studios, home of many classic 60's soul hits from Otis, Aretha, and the Wicked Pickett, with producer Tom Hambridge to record these 14 great original tunes. The addition of Walker is not only felt in the guitar department, but also via his powerful vocals. He and Vaughan play off each other really well, and Vaughan even steps behind the mic for a tune of his own. Of course, Cyril Neville is Cyril Neville, and he brings plenty of funk and soul to the mix. The tunes mix southern soul with swampy blues and New Orleans rhythms, as previous RSB discs have done, but this incarnation brings the funk more to the forefront and that's definitely a good thing.
Martin Grosswendt, Mary Flower, Rich DelGrosso - The Ragpicker String Band (Yellow Dog Records): Three of the the finest guitarists in roots music have joined forces for this awesome collaboration. DelGrosso (mandolin), Flower (guitar), and Grosswendt (guitar/fiddle/mandolin) have nine Blues Music Award nominations between them and it's easy to see why when listening to this release. The trio mixes fourteen original songs and covers from legends such as Sleepy John Estes, Lil Johnson, the Mississippi Sheiks, and Thelonius Monk(!).
Flower and DelGrosso each contribute original tunes and they fit well with the standards. Each of the three take turns behind the mic, both solo and in harmony vocals. There are also several outstanding instrumentals that really showcase the trio's talents. The Monk tune is really cool. I really hope that these three continue to get together for future projects in addition to pursuing their own solo careers. If you're a fan of acoustic blues and roots music, you really need to check out this disc. You can thank me later.
Samantha Fish - Wild Heart (Ruf Records): This is my favorite of the lovely Ms. Fish's three releases. The KC-based singer/guitarist collaborated with famed songwriter Jim McCormick and Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, who produced the album and guests on guitar throughout. Fellow Allstars Lightnin' Malcolm and Sharde' Thomas also join in the fun.
Fish plays plenty of the powerful blues rock that she's noted for, and these are some of her best efforts to date, but she also adds several Americana tunes, and a couple of soulful ballads, co-written with McCormick. A couple of the tunes, covering Charley Patton and Junior Kimbrough, were recorded at Dickinson's Zebra Ranch Studios in Hernando, MS with Malcolm, Thomas, and Dickinson. All of Fish's releases (her solo albums, plus the Girls With Guitars releases from 2011 with Dani Wilde and Cassie Taylor) are worth hearing, but this one tops them all.
The Peterson Brothers - The Peterson Brothers (Blue Point Records): This is a great story and bodes well for the future of the blues. Guitarist/singer Glenn Peterson, Jr. and his brother Alex (bass) had been impressing Texas blues fans for a few years before producer Michael Freeman saw the brothers perform at a CD release party for the Freeman-produced Pinetop Perkins/Willie "Big Eyes" Smith 2010 release Joined at the Hip. At the time, the brothers were 14 and 11 and their performance left most of those in attendance in awe. Freeman signed the brothers to his Blue Point label and took the time to help them develop as musicians, performers, songwriters, and recording artists. The patience and hard work paid off, because this is one of the best debut releases I've heard in a long time.
Most of the songs are covers from Albert King, Albert Collins, Bernard Allison, Tampa Red, and Earl King. The brothers also wrote a couple of the tunes themselves and show themselves to be adept playing a variety of blues styles, even venturing into jazz territory. Several of the cover tunes are recreated with interesting new arrangements that revitalize them. 19-year-old Glenn Jr. is already a talented guitarist, with crisp, concise, and creative solos, and a confident vocalist with a smooth style. 16-year-old Alex is a rock-solid rhythm man on bass, and even breaks out the violin on the closing cover of "Amazing Grace." The future of the blues is good hands with these talented young blues men, so get on board early and check out this great disc.
That wraps up our look at a few of the summer's outstanding releases. Be sure to visit Blues Bytes and check out full reviews of these discs and other great new ones.