The end of the 2014 is closing in and it’s been a great year for Blues fans. There was a ton of new albums this year. Some great debuts, terrific live albums, and a slew of interesting reissues. We at Blues Biscuits started this venture mid year and we’ve reviewed and covered a lot of great music since then. As most magazines do, we have compiled our list of favorite Blues CDs of 2014.
Our list is in no particular order, although I must say that for me, the album I keep playing over and over again this year is Dave & Phil Alvin’s Common Ground. It’s probably my favorite album this year in any genre. You can’t miss with these guys and their crack band covering Big Bill Broonzy. Phil & Dave singing and playing together is just as exhilarating as it was 35 years ago at the dawn of The Blasters’ career. If you didn’t get it yet, go get it right now or shoot an email to Santa and have him drop it in your stocking. If you already have it, you know what I’m talking about. Get a copy for all your roots and blues loving friends. You can find our review of the album here.
Thus, in no particular order, our 14 favorite Blues CDs of 2014:
Phil and Dave found Common Ground. Neither one wants to wear a pink bunny suit.
Whether it’s Jimmy Thackery playing music or Santa digging in his sack, the possibilities are Wide Open.
Time Is Coming for you to fill some stockings with this incredible album from Mato Nanji and Indigenous.
I’d gladly trade the 364 gifts from the 12 days of Christmas for one copy of Lucky 13.
When The Blues Came Callin’ Walter Trout sang loud for all to hear.
If you can’t decide on a last minute gift, TTB will help you with their Made Up Mind.
Gary Clark Jr. Live – This one will roast your chestnuts real good.
Santa kicks off his yearly ride with an Irish Tour. With all the raw energy in this deluxe box set, Santa will be done a little early this year.
While Santa is away, The Allman Brothers Band will Play. All Night.
Santa lets loose a Holler! every time he rides through the threshold of Hell!
What It Is is a F&#cking great album from a guy who looks a little bit like Burl Ives.
Don’t Call No Ambulance, just put the suit on and get in the sleigh.
You’ll find this in your stocking if you’ve been good, because Santa will Love The Way You Roll.
That’s it Biscuiteers, 14 CDs from 2014 we keep going back to more than the others.
There’s still a sleigh full of great music to explore from 2014. What were your favorites? Share with us on Facebook and Twitter @BluesBiscuits.
Happy Holidays everyone. It’s a Festivus for the rest of us!!!
The Blues Foundation has announced the nominations for its annual Blues Music Awards, which will be presented at the Cook Convention Center in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, on Thursday, May 7, 2015. The annual Blues Music Awards ceremony is the premier event for blues professionals, musicians, and fans from all over the world.
Tickets for the award ceremony are on sale at The Blues Store at www.blues.org. Blues Foundation members have the privilege of deciding which nominees will actually take home the Blues Music Award in May and will be receiving their ballots shortly. Are you a member? Join at blues.org.
The 36th Blues Music Award nominees are:
Acoustic Album Hard Luck Child: A Tribute to Skip James – Rory Block Jericho Road – Eric Bibb Jigsaw Heart – Eden Brent Son & Moon: A Tribute to Son House – John Mooney Timeless – John Hammond
Acoustic Artist Doug MacLeod Eric Bibb John Hammond John Mooney Rory Block
Album Can’t Even Do Wrong Right – Elvin Bishop Living Tear To Tear – Sugar Ray & the Bluetones Memphis Grease – John Németh Refuse to Lose – Jarekus Singleton Wrapped Up and Ready – The Mannish Boys
B.B. King Entertainer Bobby Rush Elvin Bishop John Németh Rick Estrin Sugaray Rayford
Band Elvin Bishop Band John Németh & the Bo-Keys Rick Estrin & the Nightcats Sugar Ray & the Bluetones The Mannish Boys
Best New Artist Album Chromaticism – Big Harp George Don’t Call No Ambulance – Selwyn Birchwood Heavy Water – Fo’ Reel Making My Mark – Annika Chambers & the Houston All-Stars One Heart Walkin‘ – Austin Walkin’ Cane
Contemporary Blues Album Can’t Even Do Wrong Right – Elvin Bishop Original – Janiva Magness Refuse to Lose -Jarekus Singleton Hornet’s Nest – Joe Louis Walker BluesAmericana – Keb’ Mo’
Contemporary Blues Female Artist Beth Hart Bettye LaVette Janiva Magness Marcia Ball Shemekia Copeland
Contemporary Blues Male Artist Elvin Bishop Gary Clark Jr. Jarekus Singleton Joe Bonamassa Joe Louis Walker
Historical From His Head to His Heart to His Hands – Michael Bloomfield (Columbia/Legacy) Live at the Avant Garde – Magic Sam (Delmark) Soul & Swagger: The Complete “5” Royales 1951-1967 – The “5” Royales (Rock Beat) The Modern Music Sessions 1948-1951 – Pee Wee Crayton (Ace) The Roots of it All-Acoustic Blues – Various Artists (Bear Family)
Instrumentalist-Bass Bob Stroger Lisa Mann Michael “Mudcat” Ward Patrick Rynn Willie J. Campbell
Instrumentalist-Drums Jimi Bott June Core Kenny Smith Tom Hambridge Tony Braunagel
Instrumentalist-Guitar Anson Funderburgh Joe Bonamassa Johnny Winter Kid Andersen Ronnie Earl
Instrumentalist-Harmonica Charlie Musselwhite Kim Wilson Mark Hummel Rick Estrin Sugar Ray Norcia
Instrumentalist-Horn Al Basile Deanna Bogart Jimmy Carpenter Sax Gordon Terry Hanck
Koko Taylor Award Alexis P Suter Diunna Greenleaf EG Kight Ruthie Foster Trudy Lynn
Pinetop Perkins Piano Player Barrelhouse Chuck Bruce Katz David Maxwell Eden Brent Marcia Ball
Rock Blues Album Step Back – Johnny Winter Goin’ Home – Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band Time Ain’t Free – Nick Moss Band heartsoulblood – Royal Southern Brotherhood The Blues Came Callin’ – Walter Trout
Song “Another Murder in New Orleans” written by Carl Gustafson & Donald Markowitz, performed by Bobby Rush and Dr. John with Blinddog Smokin’ “Bad Luck Is My Name” written and performed by John Németh “Can’t Even Do Wrong Right” written and performed by Elvin Bishop “Let Me Breathe” written by|Janiva Magness & Dave Darling, performed by Janiva Magness “Things Could Be Worse” written by Ray Norcia, performed by Sugar Ray & the Bluetones
Soul Blues Album Blues for My Father – Vaneese Thomas Decisions – Bobby Rush with Blinddog Smokin’ In My Soul – The Robert Cray Band Memphis Grease – John Németh Soul Brothers – Otis Clay & Johnny Rawls
Soul Blues Female Artist Candi Staton Missy Andersen Sharon Jones Sista Monica Vaneese Thomas
Soul Blues Male Artist Bobby Rush Curtis Salgado John Németh Johnny Rawls Otis Clay
Traditional Blues Album Common Ground: Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy – Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin For Pops (A Tribute to Muddy Waters) – Mud Morganfield & Kim Wilson Livin’ it Up – Andy T-Nick Nixon Band Living Tear To Tear – Sugar Ray & the Bluetones The Hustle is Really On – Mark Hummel Wrapped Up and Ready – The Mannish Boys
Traditional Blues Male Artist Billy Boy Arnold John Primer Lurrie Bell Sugar Ray Norcia Sugaray Rayford
Well friends, I managed to get back on track with the five reviews for this week even though I missed Hump Day. Somehow the Fast Five turned in to a guitar love-fest. We’ve got Devon Allman, Joe Bonamassa, Gary Moore, and Gary Clark Jr. We also have Mississippi Heat whose new disc has plenty of terrific guitar playing too.
This edition also marks the first time most of the reviews feature albums released during the same week. How do you like that? Fresh biscuits indeed! As always, I hope you find something new and interesting for your ears…
Devon Allman has been a busy man for the last few years. He wound down Honeytribe with Space Age Blues, recorded two studio albums and a live set with Royal Southern Brotherhood, and released Turquoise, the first disc under his own name. In October Devon will release his second solo album Ragged & Dirty. Devon chose to record the new album in Chicago and brought in Blues Producer Extraordinaire Tom Hambridge work on the disc. Hambridge pulls triple duty adding drummer and songwriter to his credits on the album. The core band on the project is rounded out by Felton Crews on bass, Giles Cory on guitar and Marty Sammon on keyboards. Together they put together a moody, surging disc that rivals anything out there today.
Ragged & Dirty is a bit of a misnomer though. I was a little disappointed at first. To me a ragged and dirty Chicago blues album is Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers. That’s ragged and dirty and oh so glorious. Devon Allman’s Ragged & Dirty is syrupy sweet by comparison. But the songs are so damned good! While Turquoise was a solid effort, it was more of a singer/songwriter album. Ragged & Dirty is a fully realized blues rock record and plays to all of Devon Allman’s strengths. Gritty stomper “Half The Truth” opens the disc with a forceful punch. Your appetite for R&B gets a feast on a tremendous cover of “The Spinners’ I’ll Be Around” and Otis Taylor’s “Ten Million Slaves” seems Taylor-made for Allman’s powerful voice, which seems even more emotive with female background accompaniment.
The centerpiece of Ragged & Dirty is a sprawling nine and a half minute instrumental called “Midnight Lake Michigan.” It burns with intensity hot enough to light Lake Shore Drive from dusk ‘til dawn. Devon also tips his hat to Windy City blues heritage with the title track, Luther Allison’s “Ragged & Dirty.” Allman’s own songs fit perfectly into the mix especially the funky “Blackjack Heartattack” which Devon delivers with a menacing vocal and snarling guitar licks. It segues into his smoldering blues called “Back To You.” His guitar chops have been honed by years of touring and dueling with Mike Zito in Royal Southern Brotherhood and it shows. He’s in great voice on Ragged & Dirty also, and delivers “Back To You” with a heavy weariness lesser singers could never conjure.
After about 45 minutes of intense blues rock, Devon closes the disc with an acoustic based balled reminiscent of “Left My Heart In Memphis” and “Turn Off The World.” It’s a great way to come down from what sounds like a high energy club set at Kingston Mines. Devon Allman has had the talent but recently he has honed his abilities and sensibilities and has come up with the best music of his already long career. I guess I’ll have to forgive him for it not being as ragged and dirty as I expected. I love it anyway.
Joe Bonamassa kicked off his solo career in 2000 with A New Day Yesterday. The title of his first album, in hindsight, reveals not just a tribute to Jethro Tull, but a mission statement for a career that continuously looks backward while firmly staking territory in the future. The music is not the only old-school influence on Joe Bonamassa. The old work ethic of making records frequently has rubbed off on him and he has compiled a lengthy discography in the last 14 years. In the liner notes Joe mentions that it’s been two years since his last solo studio album and that much has happened. He says he’s closed the first book of his career and Different Shades Of Blue is the first chapter in the new book. Maybe he’ll be taking it slower. He hints at enjoying the fruits of his intense labors and avoiding the blur.
Different Shades Of Blue opens with a short instrumental tribute to Jimi Hendrix’ with “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun).” Joe lists the gear used on the album but leaves you to figure which vintage Strat he used for this short but sweet tip ‘o the hat. “Oh Beautiful!” follows, with a heavy riff that would have made a perfect Black Country Communion track. As it is, Joe and the band tear into with gusto and leave you wondering Black what? The recent single, “I Gave Up Everything For You, ‘Cept The Blues” is a blues rock interpretation of the classic Elmore James shuffle. From the title it seems like it might not sing well, but Joe has become quite a vocalist and put the emphasis in exactly the right spots and they seem so obvious, you’ll be singing along in no time. The title track opens with a melancholy, descending acoustic riff with mournful electric wailing over it. The chorus has harmony vocals that elevate the spirit of the song with a brave defiance that sees you through the “Different Shades Of Blue.” The song is capped by a full on Bonamassa solo full of strings bent to Hell and rapid fire notes raining down like Armageddon.
You don’t get a lot of surprises with Different Shades Of Blue but that’s not a bad thing. The songs are well developed, keep you interested, and sound crisp. There are meaty riffs and blinding solos. Joe Bonamassa has never denied his love of 70’s Blues Rock and he carries the torch with pride. Why not? He plays the bejesus out of it and sings it more and more like Paul Rodgers as the years go by. Joe is not a one trick pony however, and this album showcases all his loves from Chicago Blues to electric folk tunes and smoky jazz piano balladry. Bonamassa has his share of detractors and I think a lot of them just don’t want to like his music. I think they see him as generic, but they just aren’t going deep enough. Joe Bonamassa is a lasting talent who has conducted himself with professionalism missing from many people his age, he has an enthusiasm for music that is tangible and the will to share Different Shades Of Blues with the masses.
Gary Clark Jr. seemed to come out of nowhere around 2011 with his EP on Warner Brothers but as is often the case, no one arrives fully formed. The 30 year old Clark got his start, like many Texas blues players, with some help from Austin legend Clifford Antone. He’s had some independent releases and made his major label debut on Warner Brothers late in 2010 with The Bright Lights EP. His Blak And Blu album really put him on the map and he’s been riding a wave of big name recognition ever since. His live shows with his powerhouse band are not to be missed but in case you haven’t made it, or just want to relive it, there’s the new album Gary Clark Jr. Live.
The set opens with a dense, murky take on “Catfish Blues.” This fish is swimming in filthy pond of Robin Trower residue from 1973. It’s terrific. Clark even sounds a little bit like James Dewar, Trower’s vocalist from long ago. There’s all sorts of garage blues on this Live set though, from the stomp of “Next Door Neighbor Blues,” Memphis late nite “3 O’Clock Blues,” and a pair of Albert Collins jams including “If Trouble Was Money” and “If You Love Me Like You Say.” Little Johnny Taylor probably never expected his tune to be bookended by “Third Stone From The Sun” but it works pretty well. Let’s call it a glorious juxtaposition!
We’re covering some intense guitar playing this week and Gary Clark Jr. Live may be the most intense. Second guitarist King Zapata and Gary Clark Jr. send each other soaring higher with shocking regularity. The guitar tones are angry, and aggressive, and sweet, and soothing. There’s a density of sound that two guitars, bass, and drums rarely achieve without sacrificing clarity. Yet, they do it and they do it well. “Third Stone From The Sun” has the sound of a bulldozer gleefully destroying your house and “Bright Lights” is the dance they do around the fire they just started with its remains. It’s malevolently magnificent music making.
Gary Clark Jr. Live transcends blues, roots, soul, and rock. Gary Clark Jr. says it’s all soul music. He certainly seems to pour his soul into making it and the band, featuring Zapata, bassist Johnny Bradley, and drummer Johnny Radelat, are right there with him, giving their all for the higher power of music. Together they leave it all on the stage. With the energy level captured on this live disc, I don’t know how they do it night after night but I’m glad they do.
Led by harmonica master Pierre Lacocque and fronted by vocalist Inetta Visor, Mississippi Heat has become one of the most consistently excellent bands in recent memory. Based in Chicago, they have their finger on the pulse of Big City Blues. They deftly handle all styles of Blues and do so with integrity, honesty, and a convincing authority. Warning Shot, on Delmark, is the band’s latest release. It’s out now on CD and will soon be available on vinyl.
Pierre Lacocque blows a mean harp and his flourishes are all over the disc. He’s also the principal songwriter for the band and he has conjured several excellent tunes for the new disc. Warning Shot kicks into high gear immediately with an Elmore James style boogie called “Sweet Poison.” I like the lyrical touches in ‘Sweet Poison” and duality of enjoying the thing that’s dangerous to you. It’s not an entirely new way to phrase it, but it flows in the song and it’s a sentiment everyone can relate to. In many ways, the song encapsulates what’s great about Mississippi Heat. They play familiar music with new twists and remain approachable to listeners. “Come To Mama” has Latin percussion and a Cuban beat, conjuring images of the band leading a dancing audience up and down Rush Street. “Swingy Dingy” is a rockin’ Chicago shuffle, “Too Sad To Wipe My Tears” is a dose of low down back porch blues, and the title track “Warning Shot” is an uptown swing number complete with big background vocals, a horn section, and some hot guitar playing from Carl Weathersby.
Michael Dotson, formerly of Magic Slim & The Teardrops, provides plenty of stellar guitar licks and keeps the band grounded in Chicago Blues territory. He takes lead vocal on a few tracks including the Mississippi Hill Country via Chicago heart-pounder “Yeah Now Baby.” He also rips it up in festive style on the Latin-style “Happy Birthday” which also features percussionist Ruben Alvarez. Vocalist Inetta Visor is a consummate singer and puts her stamp on every song, as if she wrote them herself, which is a testament to her talent and vision as part of Mississippi Heat.
Mississippi Heat have a dedicated following in the Blues community and Warning Shot is might be the one that breaks them open to a wider audience. They captured the raucous spirit of a live show and showcased their ability to meld their influences into a cohesive sound of their own. The mix of instruments and shared lead vocals keep everything from sounding the same and holds your interest over the course of 64 minutes. Warning Shot is an impressive album with something for just about any blues fan.
When the world lost Gary Moore on February 6, 2011 it lost a major musical force. Gary was one of the much maligned Rock & Roll ex-patriots the Blues purists love to hate, but Gary was accepted by two Kings of the Blues and the Master of the Telecaster, all of whom were guests on his records, and stages around the world. Gary truly appreciated the music and those who made it before he did. He was always respectful of the art form and played it with his usual individuality. Freedom of expression has always been a hallmark of blues and roots music and Gary managed to forge a blues sound of his own. His blues were never more dynamic than in the live setting and the proof is in the new album Live At Bush Hall 2007.
This show, recorded on May 17, 2007 at London’s picturesque 400-person capacity Bush Hall, was originally broadcast by Planet Rock radio. Gary had just released Close As You Get This and to promote it, he worked with Planet Rock to give away tickets for this intimate show. This CD release marks the first time the complete show has been available since its original broadcast. The concert features a handful of tunes from Close As You Get such as “Eyesight To The Blind” and “If The Devil Made Whiskey,” which he rarely played live afterward. For all his storied guitar histrionics Moore was able to bring it down and deliver beautifully delicate songs like “I Had A Dream” and “Still Got The Blues.” “I Had A Dream” is a master class in playing for the song and keeping the melody in mind while soloing.
Gary Moore also tips his hat to his blues mentors with a contrarily energetic version of Albert Collins’ “Too Tired,” a snarling “Walking By Myself,” and a nine minute romp through Little Milton’s “Blues Is Alright.” For the Thin Lizzy faithful, Moore plays a blistering “Don’t Believe A Word.” Gary Moore was a musician like Johnny Winter, in the sense that he could come out and play anything and hold the audience captive. It wasn’t about hits. It was about great songs, exciting playing, and engaging the crowd. The music world lost a unique and talented player when Gary Moore died. Luckily, through his albums and archival live releases like Live At Bush Hall 2007, we can continue to appreciate the genius of his craft.
It’s another Tuesday and time for the New Releases rundown. There were only a few last week and I was incredibly busy so I skipped it. I included last week’s releases with this post so hopefully if you missed something, you’ll see it here.
Lots of new releases this week, from legends like Marcia Ball and Duke Robillard, to younger artists like Gary Clark Jr., Joe Bonamassa, Joanne Shaw Taylor and more. Happy hunting, we hope you find something new to enjoy.