By now, maybe most of you have paid off those pesky Christmas bills and have a few extra bills in your pocket to spend on those new blues releases that your families failed to put under the tree for you. Here at Friday Blues Fix, we feel your pain. Sometimes, those subtle hints you leave around the house don't always get picked up on by your loved ones, but that's perfectly fine......they mean well and you usually still end up with some pretty nifty gifts in the long run.
This week at FBF, our crack staff has assembled a nice set of recent and upcoming blues album releases that may fit the bill for you after-Christmas shoppers. Who knows......maybe you got a couple of Amazon or iTunes gift cards that are burning a hole in your pocket. We are here for you, so sit back and check out these new releases. You can check out expanded reviews of these disc in current or future issues of Blues Bytes, THE monthly online magazine of blues CD reviews.
Colin James - Blue Highways (True North Records): Canadian guitarist/singer/songwriter James is renowned for his mad guitar skills, and deserves to be even better known than he is. His latest release is a set of his own favorite blues songs, each of which inspired him in one way or the other. He recorded this set less than a week after his previous tour with his working band and it took two days. Obviously, this was a labor of love for all involved.
James covers tunes familiar tunes from Freddie King, Tommy Johnson, Amos Milburn, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Junior Wells, but he interprets them in fresh and inventive new ways. He also tackles a few lesser-known tunes from Fleetwood Mac (Peter Green-era), Memphis Slim, Blind Willie McTell, Jimmy Reed, and Howlin' Wolf, plus a dandy take on William Bell's "Don't Miss Your Water." There's a lot of love in this set and James does a fine job with these classics.....good enough that you'll be checking out his catalog as well as the artists he covers.
Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch - Champagne Velvet (Underworld Records): I really dug this Texas trio's previous release, Tell You What, but this one is even better. There's more of a soul and blues focus on their third release, where their previous two focused more on the rock side of the blues. There's still plenty of rocking edge to their sound, but they really mix it up this time around.
The fourteen original songs go from rousing jump blues to Texas-styled shuffles to countrified soul to West Coast R&B to funk to Mississippi Delta acoustic to jazz. If that sounds like too many directions, don't worry about it. It all works fine. There's never a dull moment on this disc. Elmore is a masterful guitarist and a strong and versatile vocalist on these tunes. The band really steps out on these tunes......they still rock, but there's a lot more to enjoy than on previous releases. This album will be satisfying to longtime fans and newcomers alike.
Eric Clapton - I Still Do (Surfdog Records): Okay, this one's been available for quite a while, but it showed up in my Christmas stocking this year, and that's perfectly fine with me. Clapton has long been a favorite of mine, but his last few releases slipped past me for one reason or another. When the story came out a few months ago about his recent struggles with a nerve disorder that sometimes affects his playing, I was glad to get a copy of this one. In recent years, Clapton has eschewed the major label routine and has been recording for the independent label Surfdog Records, where he's pretty much been able to record just what he wants when he wants.
Enlisting the Hall of Fame producer Glyn Johns (producer of his 70's smash, Slowhand), Clapton gives us a few blues covers from Skip James, Leroy Carr, and Robert Johnson, a couple of J.J. Cale songs, a Dylan song, and a couple of pop standards, along with a pair of memorable originals that measure up very well. Despite the story about his difficulties playing, he shows no ill effects on these tunes, ably assisted by longtime comrades Andy Fairweather Low, Simon Climie, Henry Spinneti, Chris Stainton, and L'Angelo Mysterioso, who plays guitar and duets with Clapton on one tune. That name was a pseudonym for George Harrison many years ago, when he appeared on the Cream tune, "Badge," but Clapton remains mum on who this Mysterioso might be. Clapton's latest is a good one, not a world beater by any means, but a good, steady, dependable album that you'll play over and over again.
Mississippi Heat - Cab Driving Man (Delmark Records): 25 years in now, Mississippi Heat remains one of the mainstays of the Chicago Blues scene. Despite multiple changes in the line-up over the years, they are not only a Windy City favorite, but also reach across the country and abroad as well. Band leader/harmonica ace Pierre Lacocque (longtime FBF readers recall our Ten Questions with him) continues to be a force on the harp, with Inetta Visor (vocals) and Michael Dotson (guitar/vocals) also featured prominently.
The disc is also loaded with guest stars/former alum like guitarist Giles Corey, drummer Kenny Smith, keyboardist Sumito Ariyo, and guitarist Dave Specter. Visor takes the lion's share of the vocals, moving easily from bluesy R&B to jazz, funk, Latin, and traditional blues. Dotson takes the mic for three tunes, his own compositions, and his gruff and gritty style is a perfect complement to Visor's smooth, urban style. If you want to hear blues played at its best, you can't go wrong with Mississippi Heat, who's been doing it well for a quarter century now.
Rev. Billy C. Wirtz (featuring The Nighthawks) - Full Circle (EllerSoul Records): I had only heard a few random tracks of Wirtz's repertoire prior to receiving this disc for review. For the uninitiated, Wirtz is evenly split between serious blues man and manic rock n' roller in the Jerry Lee Lewis tradition. He's quite the songwriter, too. A couple of his crowd favorites are "Mama Was A Deadhead" and "Mennonite Surf Party."
Those two tracks appear on Wirtz's new disc, which is split between live acoustic tracks and a few studio tracks. He's joined by several special guests.....The Nighthawks, guitarist Bobby Driver, and harmonica player Li'l Ronnie Owens. Wirtz introduces a few new tracks, most of which are pretty memorable, and he plays it straight on a few cover tunes from Bill Black, Charlie Rich, Floyd Cramer, among others. This is a really entertaining set.....a great introduction for new listeners and a welcome return to the record racks for his fans.
Deb Ryder - Grit Grease & Tears (BEJEB Music): If there's any justice in this mean old world, this disc will put Ms. Ryder front and center in the blues world. Both of her previous releases were standouts and this one puts those two in its rear view mirror. Ryder is a powerful singer.....this much we know from her previous efforts, but this set puts her near the top as far as blues vocalists go. She tears through these songs with a vengeance.
Joined by an all-star cast of musicians, including drummer Tony Braunagel, guitarists Johnny Lee Schell and Kirk Fletcher, keyboardist Mike Finnigan, and guests Albert Lee, Sugaray Rayford, and Bob Corritore, Ryder does a wonderful job on these tunes, which spans southern rockers, gospel, soul, and traditional and urban blues. This is just a superlative effort from start to finish and hopefully Ryder will see some much-deserved success from it.
Donald Ray Johnson - Bluesin' Around (self-released): Johnson has been around music all his life, working as a drummer for years behind dozens of blues and R&B stars. If you were a part of the disco era, you might remember one of Johnson's former bands, A Taste of Honey, who had several hits in the late 70's, including the monster hit, "Boogie Oogie Oogie." Johnson relocated to Canada a few years back and began focusing on a career as a blues vocalist, where he's enjoyed some success, at least enough to release a Best Of collection a couple of years ago.
Recently, Johnson released his latest album, which consists of mostly blues and R&B cover tunes from the likes of B.B. King, Willie Dixon, Phillip Walker, Lucky Peterson, Nat Dove, and Joe Louis Walker's title track, which Johnson pretty much transforms into an autobiographical track. He also covers one A Taste of Honey tune from their debut, which works well in this setting. He's backed by the Gas Blues Band, a two-lead-guitar unit that do an excellent job in support of Johnson's strong vocals. Anyone who likes urban blues and old school R&B will be glad to have this set in their collection.
The Joey Gilmore Band - Respect The Blues (Mosher St. Records): Florida-based guitarist Gilmore has been active for a half century, playing with many blues legends (Little Milton, Etta James, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Little Johnny Taylor). He's also enjoyed a long solo career, recording the occasional album. This is only his eighth release, and features his version of eleven songs originally performed by his musical mentors and influences.
The set list consists of mostly familiar blues and R&B tunes from a wide variety of artists......New Orleans legend Johnny Adams, Little Milton, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Albert King, William Bell, Sunnyland Slim, Ray Charles, Don Covay, and Johnny Rawls. Gilmore's guitar work and vocal style will bring to mind Little Milton at times, and he welcomes singers Edilene Hart and Domino Johnson on a few tracks. His band is really solid on these tunes, too. Joey Gilmore has been a well-kept secret for many years, but with any luck, this release should expand his audience well beyond the Sunshine State.
The Kentucky Headhunters - On Safari (Plowboy/Practice House Records): Heading into their 28th year, dating back to their monster debut 1989 release, The Kentucky Headhunters are still a force to be reckoned with. Though they first garnered attention on the Country charts, they have gradually made it over to the Roots and Blues columns over the years, including having released a couple of albums with the late piano master Johnnie Johnson on Alligator Records.
Their latest release is a bittersweet one because just prior to their beginning recording, brothers Richard and Fred Young lost their 93-year-old father. Since most of the band members are related and basically grew up together, the loss hit hard and the band poured everything they had into these songs. This is one of their strongest sets of tunes in a while and they also cover Alice Cooper and Charlie Daniels. How's that for diversity?!! Though you may have lost track of these guys over the years, they are still making some mighty music and anyone who digs blues, rock, or country will find something to love here.
Led Zeppelin - The Complete BBC Sessions (Atlantic Records): I was a late arrival to Led Zeppelin. I was a little young when they were in their heyday in the early/mid 70's, and by the time I started listening to music seriously, their recordings were a bit more sporadic, though I did enjoy what I was able to hear. I never really took them that seriously until a couple of years ago, when I picked up a used copy of Mothership, a double-disc collection of some of their finest tunes, and was amazed at how many of their songs I knew and also at how much the blues played a role in their musical vision. I turned my daughters on to this music while I was listening, so they gave me this three-disc set for Christmas.
A few years ago, Atlantic released a two-disc set of the band's recordings for the BBC from the late 60's/early 70's......back in those days, the BBC recorded many of the era's greatest rock bands live in a studio or theatre setting. There have been numerous sessions released over the years, including sessions from Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and the Yardbirds to just name a few. The song lists, from sessions recorded between 1969 and 1971, includes a large number of blues standards from associated with Muddy Waters, Sleepy John Estes, Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson, Otis Rush, and a healthy dose of the band's own original tunes. The third disc on this release includes songs that were accidentally erased, but were preserved on bootleg copies. If you're familiar with the band, you'll want these recordings since there are only a few live Led Zeppelin albums available, but it's good listening for newcomers to the band, too, and will encourage them to pick up more of their work, and probably a few of the artists' work that the band covers as well.
More new blues coming up in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned.