Friday, January 15, 2021

Friday Blues Fix's Top 20 For 2020

Well, 2020 wasn't much to cheer about....a year best seen in your rear view mirror.  However, there were some very good blues recordings that helped blues fans get through it.  It was a very hectic year for your humble correspondent and his family, but I was able to listen to a lot of great music in what spare time I had.  I also missed a few, too, I'm sure, but below are the best 20 blues albums that I heard this year.  Stay tuned for the next online issue of Blues Bytes to see which of these 20 made up my Top Ten for the year.  
Friday Blues Fix's Top 2020 for 2020 (in no particular order)

Johnny Rawls -
Where Have All The Soul Men Gone?  (Third Street Cigar Records):  Mr. Rawls does it again with a fantastic album of blues and soul.  His songs always sound like old favorites with a nice modern feel.  Fortunately, there's still a few soul men still with us (see below), and thank goodness Johnny Rawls is one of them!

Liz Mandeville - Playing With Fire (Blue Kitty Music):  One of the nicest stories in the blues this year.  Ms. Mandeville was in a terrible accident back in 2016 and was told she'd never perform again, but she beat the odds and came back with a vengeance.....some nine months after the accident.  She's at her best on this set, both as a performer and a songwriter with a very distinctive style.

Kat Riggins - Cry Out (Gulf Coast Records):  Ms. Riggins is a talent who deserves to be heard by a wider audience and this album should be the one to make that happen, if there's any justice in the world.  A powerful vocalist, Riggins is also a talented songwriter who reaches down deep for inspiration.

Sam Joyner - When U Need A Friend (Sam Joyner Music):  I wasn't familiar with Joyner, even though he reached the finals at the I.B.C. two consecutive years.  After listening to this fine album, it all made sense to me.  His brand of blues is a combination of Chicago blues, New Orleans R&B, and the smoothest soul blues this side of Malaco Records.  Great set.

Sonny Landreth - Blacktop Run (Provogue Records):  You can't go wrong with this slide guitarist extraordinaire, especially when he focuses on the blues as firmly as he does on this excellent release, which blends the blues with various Louisiana styles, Americana, jazz, and R&B.  Landreth first blew me away backing John Hiatt over thirty years ago and then with his 1995 release, South of I-10.  He still blows me away a quarter century later.

Sonny Green
- Found!  One Soul Singer (Little Village Foundation):   I am not sure how this could be Green's first album....the California-based singer has recorded a handful of sought-after 45's over the years, but this is a revelation.  Green brings a little bit of Bobby "Blue" Bland, a little bit of Little Milton, and a dash of 70's-era Hi Records to the table and it's a mighty fine concoction.  A must-listen for blues and soul fans.

Nora Jean Wallace
- BluesWoman (Severn Records):  I first heard Ms. Wallace backing Jimmy Dawkins on a couple of his mid 80's albums and she recorded a couple of solid albums in the early 2000's before taking time off to care for her sick mother.  She's back on the scene now with Severn  Records, supported by their fine house band on this excellent set and shows she's as formidable a vocalist now as she was pre-hiatus.  Hopefully, we won't have to wait 16 years for her next album. 

New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers
- Volume 1 (Stony Plain Records):  This fantastic, loose-limbed jam session, with the North Mississippi Allstars, Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimbo Mathus, and the late Jim Dickinson sat on the shelf for a dozen years, believe it or not.  Even better, there's a Volume 2 on the way this spring that's reportedly even better.  Can't wait!!

Jose Ramirez - Here I Come:  A native of Costa Rica, guitarist Ramirez placed second in the 2020 I.B.C.  This release finds him teaming up with Anson Funderburgh, Jim Pugh, and friends in Austin.  He shows amazing diversity, playing the blues, soul, and even a taste of New Orleans.  His guitar work is amazing from track to track, and he's a great singer and songwriter, too.  Don't miss this one!   

Don Bryant
- You Make Me Feel (Fat Possum Records):  Responsible for some of the best songs recorded on Hi Records, Bryant focused on gospel music and his wife Ann Peebles' career for a number of years before returning to the secular music world a few years ago.  Bryant still sounds fabulous and still knows how to write a tune.  Fans of Hi and Stax need this in their collection.

Dan Penn
- Living On Mercy (The Last Music Company):  It's been over a quarter century since Penn released a studio recording (notwithstanding a series of "demos" self-released and hard to find), but that's perfectly fine if he does as fine a job as he does on this release.  A great mix of some older Penn songs with some really good new songs, and the man sounds just as soulful as ever.  

Andrew Alli - Hard Workin' Man (EllerSoul Records):  Alli was a bit of a late bloomer, taking up the harmonica at age 20, but did he ever catch on fast!!  This is his debut recording and he sounds like he's been doing this his whole life.  This is a great set of traditional Chicago-styled blues and he pays tribute to some of the Windy City's harp masters, all of whom would be duly impressed with this young talent.

Lisa Mills
- The Triangle (Melody Place Music):  Mills traveled to Muscle Shoals, Memphis, and Jackson, MS (home of Malaco Records), recording her versions of songs native to the regions, backed by artists also native to the region.  The result is some mighty fine music by one of the best voices in blues and roots music today.  She deserves to be heard and this is a great place to start listening.

Gerald McClendon - Can't Nobody Stop Me Now (Delta Roots Records):  I first heard McClendon on last year's Battle of the Blues - Chicago vs. Oakland set......only one tune, but this release more than makes up for that with this fine set of soul-blues.  A fantastic and versatile vocalist, McClendon does an excellent job on this set of original blues, soul, and R&B tunes.

The Robert Cray Band
- That's What I Heard (Nozzle Records):  Cray continues his collaboration with Steve Jordan and they continue to explore the Memphis side of the blues and soul.  A delightful mix of solid Cray originals with well-chosen covers of rarely-heard tunes.  Blues fans owe a lot to Cray for his mid-80's contributions that helped lead to the resurgence of the music and he continues to consistently produce some wonderful recordings.

Johnny Iguana
- Johnny Iguana's Chicago Spectacular!  (Delmark Records):  If you've happened to hear any of piano man Iguana's recordings with the Claudettes (and you really should), you kind of know what to expect.  With assistance from some of Chicago's finest (John Primer, Lil' Ed Williams, Billy Boy Arnold, and Bob Margolin to name a few), Iguana breathes new life into some of the city's classic blues tunes and contributes some fantastic instrumentals of his own.

Kern Pratt
- Greenville, MS....What About You? (Endless Blues Records):  This one came out in late December of 2019, so it was too late to get it in for my Top 20 last year.  I told him after I reviewed it that I would have put it on that list if I'd had a chance to listen.  I'm putting it on this one.  His love for the music came through in every note he played and sang.  I have probably played this as much as any new recording I played this year.  He will be much missed on the Mississippi blues scene and the national blues scene.  

John Blues Boyd
- What My Eyes Have Seen.... (Gulf Coast Records):  Another late bloomer, Boyd worked as a roofer for over 40 years, retiring to take care of his ailing wife.  He began singing and writing songs in his spare time and soon began performing.  On this compelling album, Boyd tells his story...including his exodus from his native Mississippi in the early 60's, his career, his journey to California, and his love for his wife and the blues.  His magnificent voice is worth the price of the album, but there's so much more to savor.  

Bobby Rush
- Rawer Than Raw (Deep Rush Records):  I never cease to be amazed at Bobby Rush.  Now 87 years old and approaching 70 years in the business, he's as energetic and creative as he's ever been, just tearing into this incredible set of acoustic blues that includes classic takes on material from Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson (Version II), Skip James and Howlin' Wolf, mixing in a few of his own tunes for good measure.  As I said in my review last month, I can't see anyone not enjoying this recording.

John Nemeth
- Stronger Than Strong (Nola Blue Records):  I really like how Nemeth doesn't stay in one spot musically from album to album.  This set goes in a new direction for the singer, mixing swamp, country, and Hill Country blues.  There's still plenty of soul and R&B in the stew, but I really like the direction he takes with this release.  It's ragged, but righteous.

 So, what are your favorites of 2020?  Feel free to share them in the Comments below.....

Friday, January 1, 2021

Happy New Year To All

Well, as far as years go, 2020 was pretty much a stinker.  It was one of the toughest we've ever experienced around here and there have been some tough ones in recent years.  This year, my spouse has battled serious health issues which started around this time in the last year.  She's endured a lot this year, but she is bouncing back and doing well, so at least we are ending 2020 in better shape than we ended 2019 and hopefully, things will continue to improve.  For those who were aware of things, we appreciate all the good thoughts and prayers sent her way.  She is my rock and my reason to be and not only that, she enjoys the blues and has encouraged me to enjoy them as much as I possibly can over the years.  

I apologize for the lack of posts over the past few weeks.  I don't get a lot of traffic on the site anymore, but I really appreciate what I do get and I know those who visit love the blues as much as I do.  I hope to have more time and to do much better in 2021.  The picture shows what I will be doing tomorrow to celebrate New Year's Day.  I'm still in an old blues mood and I have really enjoyed listening to these discs since the summer....believe it or not, I had not listened to much Big Bill Broonzy over the years, but based on what I've just been listening to, I will be finding more as soon as I can.  

Meanwhile, my daughter and son-in-law gave me one of their record players.....the first one I've had since I was a kid.  They also gave me a few used albums to listen to for Christmas, but I also gave myself a Christmas present.....a 45 recording from Robert Nighthawk recorded by George Mitchell just three months before he passed away in 1967.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but he sounds just as good on these three tracks (Side A is "Canned Heat, Side B is "Nighthawk Boogie" and "Down By The Woodshed") as he did on all of his other recordings.  His slide guitar play just gives me goose bumps on my goose bumps.

On a sad note, the blues world lost a good one on Christmas Eve, when Mississippi blues man Kern Pratt passed away.  He had been in ICU for a couple of weeks battling pancreatitis when he contracted COVID.  We reviewed his most recent release, the excellent Greenville, MS.....What About You? a few months ago, and he released a great single with Will Wesley, "A New Kind Of Blues," that addressed all of the madness and chaos that we all had to deal with last's a bit ironic now since that's what took him away from us.  I had recently contacted Pratt and we had discussed doing a Ten Questions in the coming months, but he got sick a few weeks later.  He will be much missed on the Mississippi blues scene for sure.

Anyway, that's all for now.  Hopefully, we will have a Top Twenty List for 2020 in a few weeks and maybe pay tribute to those we lost over the past year, plus more correspondence in-between.  Have a Happy 2021!!