I know, I know.......it's still a few days before the official beginning of summer, but here in Far East Mississippi, we're already looking at temps in the mid 90's with 60 - 70% humidity and air so thick that you have to pull it apart to walk through it. Usually, all that doesn't start until July, but we're already into it. In the meantime, Friday Blues Fix offers all of our dear readers the opportunity to beat the heat with a few mini-reviews of some cool new releases. As always, expanded reviews of these new discs can been found in current and/or upcoming issues of Blues Bytes, THE online monthly source for your new Blues CD reviews.
Mike Wheeler Band - Turn Up!! (Delmark Records): Wheeler is regarded as one of the mainstays of the current Chicago blues scene, having been on the scene for over thirty years working in the bands of Big James Montgomery, Jimmy Johnson, and Nellie "Tiger" Travis. He started his own band in the early 2000's, and recently released his third album, second for Delmark.
Wheeler grew up listening to a lot of different music styles in addition to blues......rock, soul, R&B, funk, even disco, and he manages to incorporate all of these genres into his brand of blues. He's a powerful guitarist and singer, but is also a fine composer in a variety of styles. He's comfortable tearing through a blues-rock tune as he is a soulful ballad. His band is augmented by the mighty Chicago Horns on several tracks. The state of Chicago blues is mighty fine, based on this excellent release.
The Mike Eldred Trio - Baptist Town (Great Western Recording Company): For their latest release, Eldred and company offer up another superlative mix of blues, roots, and rock. The album title is taken from the name of the small community where Robert Johnson was murdered in 1938, and the album itself is part of a bigger project that will culminate in a full-length documentary about the history and current issues in the South, in hopes of making Baptist Town a National Historic Landmark.
The trio really shines on the roots rockers, but also delve into the blues with assistance from a few guest stars.....Robert Cray adds guitar to the title track, John Mayer appears on one track, and Los Lobos' David Hidalgo plays accordion on one track. There's even a stirring gospel closer with backing from the Emmanuel Church Inspirational Choir and lead vocals from Jarvis Jernigan. To FBF's ears, Baptist Town stands as the best Mike Eldred Trio release to date.
Big Jon Atkinson & Bob Corritore - House Party at Big Jon's (Delta Groove Music): San Diego resident Atkinson, who's not even 30 years old yet, may be one of the best traditional blues artists currently practicing. On this fantastic new release, he teams up with one of the best harmonica players on the planet, Bob Corritore for a solid hour of blues just like they used to do 'em for Chess and Sun Records back in the day.
Atkinson and Corritore recorded this great set of vintage blues at Big Tone Studios in San Diego and it really has the feel of a house party. There are a whopping 16 tracks, split between old-school covers and vintage-sounding tunes from the duo, plus a few from some of their guests (it can't be a house party if you don't have a few guests). They include Dave Riley, Tomcat Courtney, Willie Buck, and Alabama Mike, all of whom take a few turns behind the mic. It's a rowdy, rollicking good time that 's guaranteed to please anybody who digs traditional blues.
Harper - Show Your Love (Blu Harp Records): Australian Peter Harper calls his music "World Blues," and that describes his latest release (with Detroit band Midwest Kind) to a tee. A master harmonica player, Harper incorporates unusual instruments into his music, the didgeridoo and the djembe in particular, and blends R&B and funk with the blues on these eleven tracks.
The lyrical focus on most of the tunes is on love and unity, but Harper also covers greed, anger, frustration, and hatred, items that figure prominently in today's world view for many. Harper maintains that the only way to prevail, however, is to focus on the positive and show love and compassion toward your fellow man......good advice that, hopefully one day, everyone will take and apply.
So, this is not your conventional blues album, but Harper's sturdy vocals and amazing harmonica blowing, plus the use of the Australian instruments on the songs, really make this one worth hearing. Last year, we posted several times about the burgeoning Australian blues scene. Harper is one of those artists who is making a lot of noise these days, and there are plenty more out there.
Alexis P. Suter Band - All For Loving You (American Showplace Music): Alexis Suter is described as a "true vocal phenomenon," which is a bit like saying Moby Dick was a big fish. I'm pretty sure that most listeners have never heard a vocalist like her. Raised up singing gospel as a child, she gravitated toward the blues, which is the genre that her voice was built for. She sings with so much passion and fire and SOUL.
With her powerhouse vocals and equally powerhouse band (plus guest keyboardist John Ginty), Suter knocks this one out of the proverbial park, easily moving between tough blues rocker, sweaty R&B and blues ballads, Latin, and funk. She even ventures toward gospel with an interesting cover of the Beatles' "Let It Be," that will raise goose bumps on your goose bumps. This is a stunning release that should win Suter and her band a lot of new followers.
Blind Lemon Pledge - Pledge Drive (Ofeh Records): In 2014, FBF friend and New York Blues Hall of Famer Michael Packer turned me on to the music of Blind Lemon Pledge (a.k.a. James Byfield), who has to have the greatest stage name ever. Pledge plays the blues, but he also explores other musical styles, such as jazz, folk, old timey pop, and country. His last release (Evangeline) was a completely solo effort.....he played all the instruments but used aliases in the liner notes.....but on this new release, he does use other musicians on a few tracks.
Pledge Drive has a dozen songs that explore the vast American musical palette, just like his previous release, but the songs have more of a blues rock edge this time around. He's a talented songwriter who writes some pretty entertaining songs about modern life, including romances good and bad, office rage, gun control, and even a few historical events such as Katrina and the Civil Rights Movement. He's an excellent guitarist, especially on slide, and singer. Pledge Drive is a very entertaining and diverse look at blues and roots music from an artist who deserves to be heard.
Hopefully, you can stay cool with these great new releases for a few weeks. Friday Blues Fix will be back with more New Blues For You in a couple of weeks.