I hope everyone had a great Christmas last weekend. Things were very good here in Far East Mississippi, but unfortunately the weather has followed typical Mississippi winter standards by having several days with temperatures peaking in the mid/upper 40's followed by days approaching 80 degrees. Though this has happened frequently this winter, your humble correspondent finally fell prey to the requisite sinus infection in a major way on Christmas Day, so this post may be shorter than my usual Top 20 posts, so I hope you'll understand. I'm trying to work on it a little bit at a time during the week.
2016 saw some excellent releases on the blues side of the record aisle. I reviewed roughly about 180 albums this year and it was really difficult to pare it down to just a Top 20. In a few short weeks, Blues Bytes will be featuring each of their reviewers' Top 10 albums for the year, so you can follow up from here to see my Top 10.
So, without further delay, here are FBF's Top 20 Blues releases for 2016......listed in alphabetical order:
Lurrie Bell - Can't Shake This Feeling (Delmark Records): This is another marvelous release from this Chicago guitarist who has overcome numerous obstacles to reach near-legendary status. Bell covers several Chicago classics and adds a few of his own compositions
The Bo-Keys - Heartaches By The Number (Omnivore Recordings): For their third release, this Memphis ensemble adds a full-time vocalist (Percy Wiggins) and dives into the music of their neighbor to the east in Nashville, covering a host of country music standards, plus a few that could have been. This should prove once and for all that the line between country, soul, and the blues is razor-thin.
Toronzo Cannon - The Chicago Way (Alligator Records): Cannon's Alligator debut release lets the rest of the world know what a lot of his fans have known for a while......he's one of the most electrifying songwriters and performers to come around in a long time. He makes the most of this opportunity, turning in one of the finest blues albums to hit the airwaves in a while.
Luther Dickinson - Blues & Ballads (A Folksinger's Songbook, Volumes 1 & 2) (New West Records): A musical autobiography of sorts, Dickinson collects 21 traditional folk or blues-based songs he's written himself or learned from friends and family members. There are guest stars and highlights galore. No music lover should be without this disc.
The Fabulous Thunderbirds - Strong Like That (Severn Records): The T-Birds continue their journey through the soul side of the blues. Kim Wilson sounds great on this set of mostly soul covers and he gets great support from T-Birds guitarist Johnny Moeller, guest Anson Funderburgh, and the fabulous Severn house band. Hopefully, Wilson and the band will continue this musical direction for a few more albums.
The Fremonts - Alligator (Truax Records): One of my favorite groups comes through with another great set of old school swamp blues and R&B and Mississippi Delta blues. Recorded live in the studio and mixed in mono, this set really captures the vintage sounds of the old Excello recordings.
Cee Cee James - Stripped Down & Surrendered (FWG Records): While Cee Cee James may be "stripped down" on this effort, she has by no means "surrendered." Nobody pours as much of their soul into their music. She has lived or is living these lyrics to the hilt. No one does it quite like her and she has the perfect musical partner in guitarist/husband Rob "Slideboy" Andrews, whose fretwork is equally inspired.
Dennis Jones - Both Sides Of The Track (Blue Rock Records): I'm not sure why Dennis Jones isn't a bigger deal. He's released five excellent powerhouse blues rock albums since 2003. He's a great guitarist and singer, and he's a very good songwriter, too. This release should be the one that puts in on the "must hear" list.....it's loaded with what blues fans hunger for.
Dave Keller - Right Back Atcha (Tastee Tone Records): For his latest release, Keller returned to his home state of Vermont and recorded with his working band. He wrote or co-wrote all but one of the tunes and they find him in a much better place in his personal life. He's regarded as one of the best voices in the blues and soul fields these days, but he's a formidable guitarist as well. If you're not on board with Dave Keller yet, this is a great place to get started. You'll find out more about Mr. Keller in a few weeks.
Guy King - Truth (Delmark Records): I've been following Guy King a long time, dating back to when I heard his distinctive guitar work on a Willie Kent CD. I was thrilled to read where he had signed with Delmark, who released this wonderful set earlier this year. King acknowledges his influences by covering tunes by Ray Charles and Percy Mayfield and B.B. and Albert King. He also collaborates with musical biographer David Ritz on several tasty originals. This is a diverse, well-rounded set that will get a lot of replays on your media player of choice. Check out our Ten Questions with Guy right here when you get a chance.
The King Brothers - Get Up And Shake It (Club Savoy Entertainment Group): Last week, FBF posted about the King Brothers' latest and their other releases. Their new one is a great set that refuses to leave my stereo. Mostly covers, but the Kings add their own unique touch to these familiar classics. Lee and Sam King have got themselves a winner with this disc. If you didn't check it out after last week's post, we're giving you another opportunity to do so. You can thank me later.
Brian Langlinais - Right Hand Road (Patoutville Records): This excellent release is the result of Langlinais and his fellow musicians being stranded in the singer/guitarist's native Lafayette, LA. It went from a group of guys laying down a few cover tunes in the studio to developing into a full-fledged album of rocking roadhouse blues tunes. There's plenty of deep south, Gulf Coast-influenced blues and R&B on this set. Check out our Ten Questions With Brian from a couple of months ago, and check out this disc at your first opportunity.
John Long - Stand Your Ground (Delta Groove Music): An impressive effort from the man Muddy Waters called "the best young country blues artist playing today" back in the 70's. Muddy knew of what he spoke, but most people may not be familiar with Long because he doesn't make it into the studio that much. When he does, however, it's certainly worth hearing. Long covers tunes from pre-war artists like Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, and his musical mentor Homesick James Williamson, but his original tunes sound just like they were penned during the same era. This is a masterwork from an American musical treasure.
Trudy Lynn - I'll Sing The Blues For You (Connor Ray Music): An internet friend of mine from Houston turned me onto Ms. Trudy Lynn (among other great Houston-based blues artists) back in the late 90's. I'm sure glad that he did. She's one of the finest blues singers around. She's enjoyed a productive stint with Connor Ray Music and this release is one of her best. She tackles a great set of blues classics and she's backed by an excellent band. Ms. Trudy never disappoints and this set is no exception.
Elam McKnight - Radio (Big Black Hand Music): I've been listening to Elam McKnight for a long time now, and it's been really cool watching him develop his sound. He's explored Hill Country blues, Delta blues, deep southern soul, rock, pop, country, and gospel over his previous releases, but with this one, he brings everything together in a big way. All of his releases are daring and different approaches to the blues and there's always a "WOW" moment mixed in. This one will put a hop in your step for sure.
Reggie Wayne Morris - Don't Bring Me Daylight (Blue Jay Sound): Fifteen years have passed since Morris' last album released and the Baltimore-based guitarist shows that he hasn't lost a step during that time......he's worked hard on the festival circuit in the interim. This release has a mix of slick urban blues in a B.B. King vein and smooth southern soul. Morris has the voice and the guitar skills to easily handle both. The whole CD has a great old school feel to it and should satisfy both blues and soul fans.
Johnny Rawls - Tiger In A Cage (Catfood Records): This is as good as modern soul/blues gets. Rawls has always had the ability to recreate the best parts of classic Hi/Stax-era soul while keeping things in the modern perspective as well. His music appeals to both longtime soul/blues fans and newcomers. Great new songs that pay tribute to the 70's era soul men like Bobby Womack and Marvin Gaye combined with covers of classic tunes by Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, and the Rolling Stones.
The Rolling Stones - Blue & Lonesome (Interscope Records): I rambled on about the upcoming release of this album a few weeks ago, pointing out that the Stones have long acknowledged their debt to the blues. They started out playing the blues and this album brings them full circle. It's actually their first all-blues album, and it developed out of the blue (sorry) when they were trying out a new studio and cranked up a version of Little Walter's "Blue & Lonesome." What was sort of neat to me is how the Stones are now as old or older than their musical influences all those years ago. They've been playing this music as long or longer than many of their influences did. They do a masterful job on this set of Chicago blues chestnuts and, with any luck, they will open the door to even more fans checking out the original sources.
Robert Lee "Lil' Poochie" Watson & Hezekiah Early - Natchez Burnin' (Broke & Hungry Records): Watson and Early are veterans of the Natchez, MS blues scene and the Mississippi and Louisiana festival circuits. They play acoustic and electric Delta blues, New Orleans-styled R&B, rock n' roll, and soul. Though this is their first recording together, they've collaborated for years and it shows on this set. Anyone who likes traditional Mississippi blues will want this in their collection.
Tweed Funk - Come Together (Tweed Tone Records): Tweed Funk just gets better and better. This set will make vintage soul fans happy and probably make new and old listeners alike wonder why this music went out of style in the first place. Tweed Funk makes it sound like it never went away with their awesome horn section, nasty and funky rhythm section and the impeccable vocals of "Smokey" Holman. I had a blast listening to this one, and you will, too.