Well, for most of our readers, fall will soon turn into winter.....it's in the middle of doing just that here in Far East Mississippi, with temps in the low 40's during the daytime, which might not mean so much to our readers to the north, but down here, if it gets in the low 30's and starts raining, we run out of bread, milk, and eggs in all the stores and driving gets absolutely chaotic if there's a trace of ice or an inch of snow on the roadways. We just don't have to deal with it that much, so when we do, it's always interesting.
Anyway, as promised a few weeks ago, FBF is back with another set of upcoming releases that have hit or will soon hit the stores this fall. This has been a great year for new releases and here are eight more new releases that would be excellent stocking stuffers for the blues fans in your families. As always, expanded reviews of these new CDs can be found in current or upcoming issues of Blues Bytes, THE monthly online magazine of blues CD reviews.
Elam McKnight - Radio (Big Black Hand Records): A few months ago, I previewed this release, singing its praises based on the various sneak previews I'd heard. McKnight has assembled a great band....45-year juke joint vet Dudley Harris on vocals, guitar, and bass and veteran rock n' roll drummer Eddie Phillips on drums.....and these guys really rock the house. He merges all of his musical influences on these tracks, rock, soul, pop, country, and gospel with his brand of Delta and Hill Country blues.
This is McKnight's best batch of songs yet, and he sings and plays these songs like his life depends on it. Harris chips in on a few of these songs and is supposed to be getting his own release on Big Black Hand soon......should be a good one. Elam McKnight is taking the blues in new, exciting, and sometimes unexpected directions. I've been a fan since I heard his first CD (Braid My Hair) many moons ago and I can safely say that Radio is his best release yet. I'm excited to see the direction he takes with his next release. It won't be boring.....that's for sure.
Cee Cee James - Stripped Down & Surrendered (FWG Records): To me, no performer.....repeat, NO ONE.....puts as much of themselves into their craft as Cee Cee James does. Longtime readers of FBF will be familiar with Ms. James via her two Ten Questions segments from a couple of years ago here and here, so they will know what I'm talking about. Her blues are so personal and so intense that you have to believe that she leaves a piece of her soul in everything she writes or sings. I've been listening to music a long time.....a LOT of music....and she never ceases to amaze me with the intensity she brings to her performances.
James' new release is, as the title indicates, a bit more low key.....at least instrumentally. James' still brings her white-hot intensity to these songs. They cover a lot of ground....despair, desperation, hope, salvation, and redemption. She really bares her soul on some of these tracks, reliving past despairs and struggles with personal demons, but through it all, she perseveres and gains a bit of salvation. The struggles she's endured actually serve to increase and expand her own personal character and make her appreciate the good that's there now, probably more so than she would have otherwise. This is, like all of Cee Cee's releases, a rewarding listen. Also, I can't say enough about her husband/musical partner, Rob "Slideboy" Andrews' amazing guitar work throughout. Check this one out if you want to hear the real, unvarnished, unadulterated blues.
Tom "The Suit" Forst - On Fire (Factory Underground Records): Back in 2008, Thomas Forst was a Regional VP for a major communication company, but he gave all of that up to pursue a music career. He's performed hundreds of shows (his "The Suit" nickname comes from his habit of wearing a suit on stage) and has released a pair of albums, one as part of The Jason Gisser Band and the other as the NYC blues trio Suit Ty Thirrsty.
His solo debut shows guitar chops to die for, plus strong vocals and a clever touch as a songwriter. He touches on familiar blues themes, but throws in a twist or two. He also offers three cover tunes from Joe Walsh, Howlin' Wolf, and Marvin Gaye. How's that for versatility??!! At 65 , Forst plays and sings with an energy and exuberance of a man half his age. Look for good things ahead for this talented guitarist.
Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters - Maxwell Street (Stony Plain Records): Earl's new disc is not named for the famous street in Chicago, but for the late pianist (and former Broadcaster) Dave Maxwell, who died last year at age 71. On the back cover of this release, Earl describes it as an "album of traditional, healing and soulful blues rooted in gratitude." If you're familiar with any of Earl's recent recordings, you have a good idea of what's ahead.
With ten songs, six originals and four covers, Earl delivers on that promise. Half of the tracks are instrumental and Earl tiptoes easily between the blues and jazz as always. His guitar work is so lyrical and at times breathtaking. There's a fine tribute to the legendary T-Bone Walker, and a couple of tributes to Maxwell, one from Earl and one from keyboardist Dave Limina. Singer Diane Blue contributes vocals on five tracks, one original written by Earl and four diverse covers of tunes ranging from Otis Rush to Albert King to Gladys Knight to Eddy Arnold. Earl's backing on these tracks is just perfect. Maxwell Street is a keeper if you're a fan of blues or jazz guitar played well.
Little Mike - How Long? (ELROB Reccords): Little Mike Markowitz took a 15-year hiatus awhile back to help raise his family, but has returned to the music scene with a vengeance the past few years, recording two albums with his band, the Tornadoes, a live release, and a collaboration with Chicago singer Zora Young. Now, he's releasing a solo album, though several guest artists are Tornado alumni.
There's nothing fancy here......just old school blues like they used to do them in the 50's and early 60's. Little Mike doubles up on harmonica and keyboards and really gets plenty of room to strut his stuff on several instrumental tracks. The set list is divided between a few fine Markowitz originals and a few dandy covers that will be familiar to most blues fans. Blues fans who dig the sounds of vintage Chicago blues will dig this excellent set of classic blues that's been updated for modern ears.
Liz Mandeville - The Stars Motel (Blue Kitty Music): This disc, three years in the making, features singer/guitarist Mandeville with four great guitarists. Three of the four were passing through Chicago for gigs and stayed overnight in Mandeville's home studio. In return, each co-wrote and recorded three songs with Mandeville for a future album. The three visiting guitarists were Oklahoma's Scott Ellison, Italian fret wizard Dario Lombardo, and Miami-based Rachelle Coba. To complete the album, Mandeville recruited her former guitarist Minoru Maruyama to contribute a pair of songs.
The resulting eleven songs cover a lot of ground, ranging from Windy City-styled shuffles, New Orleans-flavored R&B, soulful ballads, and after-hours urban blues. Mandeville ably handles vocals and plays guitar, bass, washboard on selected tracks. Each of the guitarists contribute first-rate material and provide some excellent guitar work. Mandeville is one of the most consistent artists on the current Chicago blues scene, with a great body of work. The Stars Motel is no exception and ranks with her best releases. Please keep Liz in your thoughts and prayers, as she recovers from injuries suffered in a recent head-on collision while driving home from a gig around Thanksgiving.
The Temprees - From The Heart (Point 3 Records): The Temprees' history dates back to the mid-60's, where they started as The Lovemen.....lead singer "Jabbo" Phillips, "Scotty" Scott, "Del" Calvin, and Larry Dodson, who soon departed to front The Bar Kays. The remaining trio signed with Stax Records as The Temprees and enjoyed some success in the early 70's with a cover of "Dedicated to the One I Love" and "Love Maze." Though the hits stopped soon after, The Temprees continued to perform until Phillips passed away in 2001.
The group recently reunited with a new singer, Walter "Bo" Washington, and released this fine set of old school soul and R&B. It's pretty obvious right off the bat that the gang has lost little to nothing off their fastball since their heyday, and have joined up with producer/composer Angelo Earl to recreate that classic sound. They mix it up well between slower numbers and upbeat numbers which add funk and hip-hop influences. For anyone who loves these classic sounds, From The Heart will be musical nirvana.
Vaneese Thomas - The Long Journey Home (Segue Records): Speaking of Memphis, here's Vaneese Thomas. Her musical credentials are impeccable. Her father is Memphis music legend Rufus Thomas, and her siblings Carla and Marvell are a big part of Memphis soul history as well. Vaneese herself enjoyed some success on the R&B charts in the late 80's, but has built her reputation for the most part as a session vocalist for scores of rock and R&B stars. She's also worked in film and
television and as a producer, arranger, and songwriter.
A few years ago, she decided to focus on the blues and released a fine tribute disc to her father back in 2013 which featured a duet with her father and her sister. This new release focuses on her hometown and its rich musical culture. Several of the songs recall the glory days of Stax and Hi Records, along with the city's varied blues styles, which go from rock to countrified to soul. While Thomas' original songs are very good, she turns in a magnificent performance on an amazing cover of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain." This is a really powerful set of music that pushes the music of Memphis into new and interesting directions.'