Friday, December 29, 2017

FBF's Top Twenty Blues Albums for 2017

This was a somewhat chaotic year for the folks here at FBF, but despite a six-month sabbatical from blogging, we still managed to listen to a lot of new releases this year......over 150.  Due to the quality of nearly every new release, it's very difficult to actually trim our list down to 20 each year, and this year was no exception.  

To find out what FBF's Top 10 Blues Albums of 2017 are, we invite you to check out the upcoming January issue of Blues Bytes in a few weeks, when all of the site's reviewers (including yours truly) submit their Top 10 for the year.  

So without further ado, Here are Friday Blues Fix's Top 20 for Blues Albums for 2017 (in no particular order):

Gregg AllmanSouthern Blood (Rounder):  How many musicians get the opportunity to make their own closing statement on their career?..…..very few, for sure.  Allman made the most of his chance and has set the bar pretty high for future efforts.  This is a beautiful set of mostly cover tunes that Allman makes his own.  It will make you cry and smile, sometimes simultaneously, but it’s a perfect summation of his life.

Wee Willie Walker & The Anthony Paule Soul OrchestraAfter A While (Blue Dot):  One of the nicer comeback stories in recent years, Walker finds the perfect complement to his timeless voice in Paule’s band.  A masterful mix of original songs and well-chosen cover tunes that soul music fans will love over and over again.

The Milligan Vaughan ProjectMVP (Mark One Records)):  Two of Austin’s finest musicians, singer Malford Milligan (of Storyville fame) and guitarist Tyrone Vaughan (of Royal Southern Brotherhood), team up for a collaboration that should have happened years ago.  Milligan’s force-of-nature vocals are a perfect match for Vaughan’s formidable guitar skills.  Here’s hoping that this is the start of a long and fruitful relationship.

John NémethFeelin’ Freaky (Memphis Grease Records):  Németh’s  still in a Memphis state of mind with his latest, but he updates the groove a bit with flashes of pop, rock, funk, and soul as well.  It doesn’t hurt one bit that he’s also one of the best singers and songwriters currently practicing on the blues circuit either.  This one will be on a lot of Top Ten lists for the year……definitely mine as well.

Altered Five Blues BandCharmed & Dangerous (Blind Pig Records):  One of the finest up-and-coming blues bands on the scene, Jeff Taylor’s robust vocals and Jeff Schroedl’s guitar work and songs (with the superb rhythm section providing rock solid backing) guarantee this group will be making waves for years to come.  This is their best effort yet.

Big Bill MorganfieldBloodstains On The Wall (Black Shuck Records):  Morganfield’s most forward-looking release to date finds the singer/guitarist exploring traditional Chicago blues, but also casting an eye toward the future of the genre by successfully mixing some modern influences with the traditional.  I've enjoyed all of Morganfield's releases, but this my favorite so far.  His Papa would be proud.

Mr. SippKnock A Hole In It (Malaco):  The talented Mississippi Blues Child raises the bar significantly on his third release, which should find a home in the collections of not just soul/blues fans, but also contemporary blues, urban blues, blues-rock, and lots of other hyphenated blues fans.  Any disc that has flashes of Tyrone Davis, Howlin’ Wolf, and Jimi Hendrix should satisfy a lot of folks and this one does.  File under “Brave New Blues.”

Lazy EyePocket The Black (self-released):  This Australian trio really grabbed me with their brand of blues, which they describe as “Booker T. sharing a scotch with B.B. King at the crossroads at midnight.”  It’s a fantastic mix of urban blues, after hours jazz, and smooth silky soul.  This trio makes beautiful music together.

Robert CrayRobert Cray & Hi Rhythm (Jay-Vee Records):  Cray’s previous ventures into Memphis soul territory have always provided satisfactory results, but this time around, he teams with producer/drummer Steve Jordan, the surviving Hodges brothers, and the Royal Horns and Strings at Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios.  The collaboration seems to have put a definite hop in Young Bob’s step and he rips through a fine set of mostly vintage covers with flair and passion.

Monster Mike Welch and Mike LedbetterRight Place, Right Time (Delta Groove Music):   Veteran guitarist Welch and singer Ledbetter participated in the Otis Rush tribute at the 2016 Chicago Blues Fest, which led to this appropriately-titled album.  Guitarist Laura Chavez guests on four tracks, which is never a bad thing and the usual gang of Delta Groove contributors stop by for this entertaining set from Welch and Ledbetter, who deserve wider recognition in the first place.

Chris AntonikMonarch (self-released):  Speaking of deserving wider recognition........Canadian singer/guitarist Antonik overcame a couple of years of adversity and upheaval to produce his finest album yet.  Antonik shares what he’s experienced, what he’s learned from it, and what he hopes to gain from it moving forward.   He’s at his best as a composer and performer and proves that he’s one of the rising stars on the blues scene today with Monarch.

John Primer and Bob CorritoreAin’t Nothing You Can Do! (Delta Groove):  I’ll tell you, any time Bob Corritore teams up with another blues artists, the results are magical.  Few artists are as deeply immersed in the great traditional Chicago blues as the harmonica player and this second teaming with Primer is no exception to the rule.  Joined by the late Barrelhouse Chuck, Henry Gray, and others, the duo works through a set of familiar Windy City classics, even taking time to pay tribute to Primer’s former boss, Magic Slim.

Benny TurnerMy Brother’s Blues (Nola Blues Records):  Turner pays tribute to his late brother Freddie King with this wonderful set of tunes associated with the great guitarist.  Turner has enjoyed a career resurgence lately and this outstanding release (featuring appearances from Otis Clay, Marva Wright, Carolyn Wonderland, and others), along with his new autobiography (Survivor:  The Benny Turner Story) cap off a successful 2017.

Various ArtistsHowlin’ At Greaseland (West Tone Records):  The best Howlin’ Wolf tribute album ever.......this fabulous set brings together a number of artists influenced by the great performer (Alabama Mike, John Blues Boyd, Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, Rick Estrin, and Kid Andersen, whose Greaseland Studios served as Ground Zero for the project) as well as a couple who actually played with him (Henry Gray, Tail Dragger).  This is an excellent set of well-performed classics that was worth waiting for.

James ArmstrongBlues Been Good To Me (Catfood Records):  After a decade-long hiatus from the studio, Armstrong has settled in nicely with Catfood Records, releasing three of his best albums over the past few years.  His latest features some of his best songwriting and his unique interpretation of a couple of classics from other genres.  

Corey Dennison BandNight After Night (Delmark Records):  I left Dennison’s debut off my Top 20 last year, a grave error I do not intend to repeat this year.  Fact is, his sophomore effort is even better than his debut to these ears.  Dennison’s band combines the best aspects of Chicago blues and Memphis soul as well as any band I’ve heard in a long time, and he’s one of the best singers in either genre, plus a few others to boot.  Blues fans need this disc……you can thank me later.

Johnny RawlsWaiting For The Train (Catfood Records):  The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.  Water is wet.  Ice is cold.  Johnny Rawls’ latest release is outstanding.  Some things never change.  Nobody does the blues with soul like Johnny Rawls does.  He’s been doing so long and so well that it’s just not in his DNA to do anything else.  May he continue to do so for many years down the road, but this set will be hard to top, even by Johnny Rawls.  Can’t wait until he does, though.

Kim WilsonBlues & Boogie, Vol. 1 (Severn Records):  The T-Birds front man plays some of his favorite tunes in this superlative set.  Backed by a powerhouse cast of blues all-stars, Wilson’s vocal chops are on full display as well as his harmonica playing.  Best thing about this disc is that it’s only Volume 1, which means blues fans have more to look forward to.

King James & The Special MenAct Like You Know (self-released):  Okay, if you have a remote interest in New Orleans R&B, then GO OUT AND GET THIS DISC!  These guys come about as close to capturing the rollicking good-time feel of the Crescent City beat as any band I’ve heard in a long time.  Words can’t fully describe the allure of this great music, but the last song on this disc sum it up as well as anything that can be said.

The Andy T Band featuring Alabama MikeDouble Strike (American Showplace Music):  Having lost his former singer, Nick Nixon, to health issues, guitarist Andy Talamantez recruited the charismatic vocalist Alabama Mike to fill Nixon’s shoes and the results were as great as might be expected. Even better, Nixon was able to perform on several tracks of his own……a great coming-out party for Alabama Mike and a great send-off for Nick Nixon.

Friday, December 8, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Eighteen

This week's selection brings Volume One of FBF's Blues Fix Mix CD to a conclusion.  I hope you've enjoyed listening as much as I enjoyed compiling this several years ago.  At this point, I've completed four volumes of the Blues Fix Mix CD series, which I usually put together for friends who are just becoming acquainted with the blues.  While it can by no means be seen (or heard) as a definitive set of blues, it is definitely a set of blues that I've enjoyed listening to over my thirty years of being a blues fan.  We'll be looking at Volume Two in the near future.

For my final selection of Volume One, I opted to conclude with an of my favorites.  If I had a theme song, this song would be on the short list.  It's the perfect song for driving down a hot, dusty Mississippi highway (and actually was featured a lot during the M for Mississippi documentary).  It's just a fun song overall and is an excellent example of modern Mississippi Delta blues from T-Model Ford and Terry "Harmonica" Bean........."Red's Houseparty."

"Red's Houseparty" was part of Ford's Jack Daniel Time release from 2008.  The album was a live session recorded at Red's Lounge in Clarksdale, MS, which happened to be Ford's favorite juke joint.  It was a mix of band tracks, which featured Ford with Bean on harmonica (of course) and drummers Lee Williams and Sam Carr, and several acoustic solo tracks by Ford (a rarity).  There's nothing at all fancy on this set, just the blues played well by a man who came to recording late in life, but made the most of it while he was here.

Your Complete Blues Fix Mix CD (Volume One)......

Track 1:  "Cold Women With Warm Hearts," Magic Slim & the Teardrops
Track 2:  "Son of Juke," Billy Branch
Track 3:  "Feel Like Blowing My Horn," Robert Lockwood, Jr.
Track 4:  "Big Boy Now," Big Jack Johnson
Track 5:  "Blues Man," B.B. King
Track 6"  "Four Cars Running," Larry Garner
Track 7:  "Cadillac Blues," Johnnie Bassett & the Blues Insurgents
Track 8:  "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues," Skip James
Track 9:  "Double Trouble" (Live), Otis Rush
Track 10:  "She Caught The Katy And Left Me A Mule To Ride," Taj Mahal
Track 11:  "Give Me Back My Wig," Luther Allison
Track 12:  "Garbage Man," Bernard Allison
Track 13:  "Walking By Myself," Jimmy Rogers
Track 14:  "Fast Train," Bobby Parker
Track 15:  "Beefsteak Blues," James "Son" Thomas
Track 16:  "Honky Tonk Blues," Roy Gaines
Track 17:  "Caldonia," Pinetop Perkins
Track 18:  "Red's Houseparty," T-Model Ford (with Terry "Harmonica" Bean)

Volume Two coming soon, but Friday Blues Fix will be back in a couple of weeks with our Top Twenty Albums for 2017.  

Friday, December 1, 2017

A Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume One, Track Seventeen

We're just about to wrap up our Blues Fix Mix CD.......this week's and next week's will conclude Volume One.  We've tried to provide a pretty wide base of blues styles for listeners, but we haven't had much blues piano to speak of, so far......I did put more in my later volumes, but for Volume One, we only have one track and Track Seventeen is it.

Although I've never posted much about blues piano, I have several favorites artists and several favorite tunes.  The one I decided to put on here is not from my favorite blues piano player, but it is one of my favorite blues performances.  It is such an exuberant performance that it just had to be included.  It's from the first volume of the Antone's Tenth Anniversary Anthology (the same album that featured Otis Rush's "Double Trouble," Track Nine) and it's from Pinetop Perkins and friends playing the old favorite, "Caldonia."

Perkins started out as a guitarist, but was involved in a fight with a chorus girl, who injured his left arm with a knife.  He moved to piano and in his early years backed Robert Nighthawk and Sonny Boy Williamson on their respective radio shows, and later backed a young Earl Hooker.  He appeared on hundreds of recordings and replaced Otis Spann in Muddy Waters' band in the late 60's, serving with Waters for ten years.

As busy as he was over most of his career, he didn't record his own album until the late 80's.  He was fairly prolific from that point, however, and remained active until he passed away in March of 2011 at age 97  There's a nice DVD that covers his career called Born In The Honey that is worth finding (there's also a live CD included in the package).

For this rousing cover of "Caldonia," Perkins is joined by guitarists Luther Tucker and Jimmie Vaughan and harmonica master James Cotton.  It's such an easy, freewheeling performance that you can't help but smile while you listen.  Enjoy!