It still doesn't feel like fall in far east Mississippi with temperature hovering in the low 90's a few days this week, but hopefully that will soon be changing. There's a reason why most of the natives keep a pair of t-shirts and shorts and flip flops handy during the winter months. Still, we know that the cooler temps are on the way, and with those cooler temps come a whole bunch of cool new releases. We've already discussed a few new ones here and here in the past few weeks, but now it's time to check out a few more. As always, expanded reviews of these releases by your humble correspondent are available in current or upcoming editions of Blues Bytes, THE monthly online magazine of blues CD reviews.
Lurrie Bell - Can't Shake This Feeling (Delmark Records): This time around, the legendary guitarist rips through thirteen tunes. Nine of the songs are covers of classic tunes from the likes of Eddie Boyd, T-Bone Walker, Otis Rush, Little Milton, Lowell Fulson, Buster Benton Willie Dixon, and his dad, the late Carey Bell. He shows over and over again on these songs why he was the deserving winner of this year's BMA for Best Guitarist.
Bell also continues to develop as an excellent songwriter, penning the catchy title track and three others, including a moving collaboration with FBF friend Dick Shurman, who also produced this fine album. As good a guitarist as Bell is, his vocals are often overshadowed, but he does a masterful job on these songs with his powerful, honest and emotional delivery. This is another excellent release from one of the Windy City's finest artists and labels, neither of which ever disappoint blues fans.
The Fabulous Thunderbirds - Strong Like That (Severn Records): The T-Birds are in their fifth decade of existence. Over that time span, they have been one of the finest Texas roadhouse blues bands, blowing away appreciative audiences with their heady mix of Texas, New Orleans, and Gulf Coast blues and R&B. In recent years, the band has expanded their sound to include southern soul on their last two impressive albums, including their newest effort.
Kim Wilson, the lone remaining founding member, is the heart and soul of the group and he turns in some fantastic vocals on this ten-song set. Seven of the ten songs are covers that range from Motown (an ominous reading of the Temptations' "(I Know) I'm Losing You") to songs associated with old schoolers like O.V. Wright, Johnnie Taylor, Eddie Floyd, Paul Kelly, and Sandra Rhodes. Wilson also contributes a couple of originals and bass player/producer Steve Gomes wrote the title track. As much as I loved the original T-Birds and their sound, I've really enjoyed these last two releases. Wilson is a natural with these soul tracks and he still leaves room for that magnificent harmonica.
Dan Bubien - Grinding These Gears: Bubien's 2013 debut, Empty Roads, was a standout, even if it was difficult for some to categorize. Though it's blues to the core, there are also elements of other genres present.....rock, soul, and even country from time to time. He's a talented singer and guitarist, and he paints vivid pictures with his songwriting as well, often collaborating with Roman Marocco.
Some songs like "Palest Rider" have a moody, country-like vibe, while the title track ventures into pop/rock territory. "Dark Hearted Woman" is a slow burner that combines rock, soul, and blues effectively, and "Second Hand Man" adds horns and funk to the mix. There's plenty here to satisfy not only blues fans, but also fans of roots music. Be sure to track this one down.
Owen Campbell - Breathing Bullets (ROC Records): Australian native Campbell is a singer/songwriter/guitarist who was once a finalist on the Australian TV program, Australia's Got Talent. Since the early 2000's, he's traveled and busked in countries all over the world. This is his third release, recorded in Memphis and produced by Devon Allman, with whom Campbell will be touring this fall.
Campbell wrote all of the songs, which present lifelike characters and situations that all listeners can relate to. Several of the songs have a traveler's theme or involve a restless spirit, while a couple sing the praises of settling down. His strong, weathered vocals mix blues and soul and he's a nimble guitarist, especially on slide guitar. It's easy to see why he's so highly regarded Down Under. This disc should get his some attention in a lot of other places.
Bruce Katz Band (featuring Chris Vitarello): Out From The Center (American Showplace Music): Master keyboardist Katz has been an in-demand sideman for years, playing on dozens of recordings and touring with Ronnie Earl, Duke Robillard, Barrence Whitfield and the Savages, John Hammond, and Gregg Allman. He's also managed to find time to lead his own band, releasing seven albums msince the early 90's. His latest release features guitarist Vitarello in a prominent role with his strong fretwork and his fine voice out front on four cuts.
The remaining seven tracks are all instrumental and feature Katz on piano and/or Hammond B3. These songs mix the blues with jazz, funk, rock, and New Orleans R&B. His keyboard work is spot on, whether as the lead instrument or in accompaniment of Vitarello. Katz refers to his music as traveling "the wide world of blues" and it's really neat to see how easily he blends the other genres into the blues, showing where these other styles originated and updating the sounds of the blues at the same time. This is a fun release that rewards with each listen.
Gonzalo Begara - Zalo's Blues: This has been one of my favorite listens over the past few weeks. Argentinian guitarist Begara is world-renowned as one of the masters of Gypsy jazz guitar, headlining festivals around the world as the leader of his own Gonzalo Begara Quartet, but the blues was his first calling and has always been. This is his first blues release and shows that Charlie Baty knew of what he spoke when he called Begara "one of the most talented guitarist in this universe."
The even dozen tracks showcase Begara's guitar in a number of settings.....shuffles, swing, rock, country, and the blues. The disc is split between several tasty instrumentals which cover a lot of ground, mixing blues with jazz, rock, country, and even surf music. It's easy to see that Begara digs the guitar work of Gatemouth Brown and SRV, a couple of blues guitarists who absorbed other sources besides the blues. He's also a very versatile singer, as apparent on several of these tunes, one of which is an awesome cover of Jimmy Reed's "You Don't Have To Go." I was really impressed with Begara's talents on guitar and vocals and I hope he has another blues disc in him in the future.
More new blues to come in a few weeks.