Friday, February 3, 2017

New Blues For You - Winter, 2017 Edition (Part 2)

This week, we'll look at a few more new blues releases that are sure to please our faithful readers who are hankering for new listening.  Most of these albums came out in the latter part of the year and we didn't get around to reviewing them, but if the new blues albums of 2017 are half as entertaining as 2016's, this should be an interesting year.  As always, expanded reviews of these releases can be found in current and upcoming issues of Blues BytesTHE monthly online magazine of blues CD reviews.

Lady A - Loved, Blessed, & Blues (self-released):  A 20-year vet of the Pacific Northwest blues scene, Lady A has toured with and opened for a pretty impressive list of blues stars.  Two of her previous albums have garnered BMA nominations and this one should do the same.  Though she's based on the opposite side of the country, Lady A is all about southern much so that she traveled to Jackson, MS to record this first-rate set, enlisting Dexter Allen and producer (and guitarist).

Lady A has a smoky, sultry vocal style and it's perfectly suited for this material.  She wrote four of the ten tracks, with Allen adding a pair of his own, and her longtime collaborator John Oliver III penning three.  Lady A focuses mostly on soul-blues, but she also mixes blues and gospel effectively on several tracks.  This disc would be a nice fit in Malaco Records' catalog with its sharp production, songwriting, musicianship, and of course, Lady A's powerhouse vocals.  Soul-blues fans will want to give it a spin for sure.

The Jimmys - Live From Transylvania (Brown Cow Productions):  The city of Sighisoara in the historic Transylvania region of Romania has hosted their own blues festival since 2005.  2015's edition included performances from the Bruce Katz Band, Joe Louis Walker, Candye Kane, and this excellent Wisconsin-based blues band, who captured their set for posterity on this fine release.  The band was inspired by the late Ms. Kane who turned in a powerful performance ahead of their set, despite being in a serious struggle battling the cancer that took her life the next much so that they dedicated this album to her.

The band was recognized as a Top Ten Festival Act in 2015, and that becomes obvious from the energy and enthusiasm on display for each song on this set, which includes several songs from their most recent studio albums, along with covers of songs associated with Albert King, Freddie King, and The Band.  The seven-piece band has a full, rich sound with three horns allowing them to move easily from swing to R&B to blues to rock.  This is a versatile and entertaining set and a good place to start checking out the Jimmys for newcomers.

Starlite Campbell Band - Blueberry Pie (Supertone Records):  It might be hard for listeners to believe, but this is a debut release for this fine British band.  Bassist/vocalist Suzy Starlite and guitarist/vocalist Simon Campbell both have extensive backgrounds in the British blues and folk scenes and decided to put their talents into a collaborative effort.  The duo combines these two genres with bits from other genres......jazz, soul, rock, and R&B.

All eleven tunes were written by the pair and they will bring to mind the blues sounds of those numerous British blues rockers who dominated the music scene in the late 60's/early 70's and who mixed influences in a like manner.  Campbell takes most of the vocals, but Starlite acquits herself pretty well when given the chance.  The stellar rhythm section (Starlite is a monster bassist) certainly do their part as well, and Campbell is a standout guitarist as well.  This is as solid and confident a debut release as I've heard in quite awhile, and I think many listeners will agree.

Jeff Chaz - This Silence Is Killing Me (JCP Records):  This is the second album released by The Bourbon Street Bluesman in 2016, and to these ears, it's the better of the two, though by a thin margin.  Both this release and Sounds Like The Blues To Me are packed wall to wall with Chaz's top notch songwriting, which features clever and unique takes on traditional blues topics, his strong and soulful vocals, and, of course, his outstanding guitar work......this one features some of the best and most inventive that I've heard from him.

A lot of Chaz's songs hit home so hard that they have to be based on personal experience.  Most people deal with the same issues on a regular basis, losing love, looking for love, finding love where you least expect it, etc......We all are obsessed with different things, whether it's a certain girl or guy, or a hobby, or a career.  Chaz touches on all of these topics in ways that will either make you smile or nod your head in agreement......or possibly both.  Combine that with his guitar work.......he's one of the best currently practicing, and you've got a winner.  Heck, I encourage you to check out BOTH of his new releases.  You can thank me later.

Raphael Wressnig & Igor Prado - The Soul Connection (ZYX Music):  For his follow-up to 2014's magnificent Soul Gumbo, on which he collaborated with some of New Orleans' finest musicians, Austrian keyboard wizard Wressnig journeyed to Brazil to work with the fine Brazilian guitarist Prado, his band, who certainly how to give us the funk, a terrific horn section led by Sax Beadle, and three legendary soul vocalist who work through a set of familiar soul and blues classics.

Wee Willie Walker handles most of the vocals, which include several tunes associated with Little Willie John, but singers David Hudson and Leon Beal also get a chance behind the mic as well.  These performances are good, but the real treat is the instrumental prowess and interplay of Wressnig and Prado.  It's almost like they've played together for years........they complement each other so well, and the backing band is superlative.  I could listen to this disc all day, and have already done so a couple of times.

Mike Zito - Make Blues Not War (Ruf Records):  For Zito's latest release, the focus is not so much on the singer/songwriter aspect of Zito's resume' (though it's still firmly in place), but more so on his stellar guitar playing.  This is a blues-rock album of the highest order and Zito hands most of the controls over to a producer who certainly knows his way around a blues-rock album, Grammy winner Tom Hambridge, who also plays drums and co-wrote most of the tunes with Zito and/or his longtime collaborator Richard Fleming.  Guitarist Walter Trout and harmonica ace Jason Ricci also stop by to lend a hand.

As might be expected, there's plenty of ferocious rocking blues on the album and Zito sounds fantastic, both on guitar and vocals.  He also mixes in some delta-styled electric blues, a couple of Texas shuffles, and plenty of tasty slide guitar, along with a couple of cover tunes from Luther Allison and Clarence Garlow.  Best of all is a track which teams Zito with his son, who more than holds his own playing guitar with his dad.  Mike Zito is one of the most compelling performers in the blues world these days, based on his tenure with Royal Southern Brotherhood and his own remarkable solo career.  You will feel the joy and exuberance that went into making this disc when you plug it in.

Sharon Lewis and Texas Fire - Grown Ass Woman (Delmark):  Five years after her well-received debut release (The Real Deal), Texas-born/Chicago-based singer Lewis returns with a set that's so good, we're willing to forgive the long span between releases.  The fiery vocalist is joined by her longtime musical partner, guitarist/songwriter Steve Bramer, a rock-solid backing band, and guests Joanna Connor, Sugar Blue, and Steve Bell.

Lewis is a fine songwriter, as is Bramer, and the focus seems to be on strong, independent women.  Lewis delivers these songs with plenty of swagger and confidence.  There's also a pair of covers from B.B. King and the Allman Brothers, that Lewis shines on, particularly the Allmans cover.  We really enjoyed Lewis' debut recording, but this one is even better and hopefully, it will get her more attention and appreciation as one of the best singers in the Windy City.

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