Just before Christmas, we told you about young blues pianist Ben Levin‘s holiday song “Forgot Mrs. Claus“. Between that single and the recent unveiling of this year’s Blues Music Awards nominees, which included Ben among its Best Emerging Album candidates, we figured it was probably about time we got around to telling you about that latest album from Ben, entitled Before Me (Vizztone Records).
From the boogie woogie flavor of Levin’s opening take on Big Bill Broonzy’s “I Feel So Good”, you can tell that Before Me is going to be one of those albums that transports you to another place, in this case, the back of a dark piano bar where you can relax, have a drink and smoke cigars all night while listening to Levin play, with a strong, confident delivery both musically and vocally, and crisp, commanding vocals that make Levin sound decades older than his 20 years.
With snappy originals that fit right in with other covers such as “Confessin’ the Blues”, ‘Lonesome Whistle Blues” and “I Wanna Hug Ya, Kiss Ya, Squeeze Ya”, the album features an impressive selection of tracks that allow Levin to stretch out and show the range of his talents without ever sounding stale, over-the-top, or that he takes his music too seriously, a rare and admirable feat of maturity and balance for someone his age.
Among the most pleasant of surprises to cross our desk in 2019 was the debut release from a young Georgia bluesman who goes by the name of Eddie 9V. Don’t let his mere 23 years of age fool you: this guy has a sound much deeper than his days on this earth, delivering greasy, soulful blues numbers that combine riffs like those of his idol Freddie King with styles that range from Eric Lindell, JJ Grey and the late Sean Costello to fellow rising artists Kelly Finnigan and Big Jon Atkinson to Junior Parker, Magic Sam, John Nemeth and blues-rockers like the North Mississippi Allstars and MonkeyJunk.
Except for the keyboards, Eddie handled all of the instruments on Left My Soul in Memphis himself, also using vintage recording techniques to capture a raw, unedited 50s and 60s sound that will impress fans of traditional and contemporary blues/soul alike. From the slick, horn-soaked cover of the blues classic “Look Over Yonder Wall” that opens the album and 9V dedicates to Freddie King and shuffling soul-blues grooves of “36th & Main”, to slow numbers like the piano-laced “Bottle and the Blues” and the gritty swaying R&B/soul of “Lo-Fi Love”, to more uptempo and funky tracks such as “Don’t Test Me” and “New Orleans”, everything here is deep grooved and genuine, loaded with stinging guitar and vocals that are surprisingly diverse and mature for his age and that occasionally venture into the falsetto.
Well, this might just be the real story behind “The Year Without a Santa Claus”: it looks like jolly ol’ Saint Nick may have left someone very important off his lists — someone very close to home (and we ain’t talking Rudolph, but be sure to remember your pets too on the holidays!) — in what you might call a major “snow pas”…
We couldn’t resist sharing one more new Christmas tune with you before the holiday, a Ray Charlesish track from young pianist and singer Ben Levin that combines some great crooning and playing from Levin with swinging horns and memorable lyrics like its chorus of “Oh man, don’t have a second to pause/ gave the whole world presents, and forgot Mrs. Claus”, as well as “I gotta’ find somethin’, even if I stole/ I need a gift to keep a happy North Pole” and “She want a diamond ring, not an Elf on the Shelf/ I got nothin’, I’m gonna’ spend Christmas by myself”.
Maybe Santa should have checked those lists a third time!
Here’s hoping your holiday — whatever and whenever it is you celebrate — is smoother and less stressful than Santa’s in this song, and the happiest it can be for you and yours!
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We couldn’t let the year come to a close without sneaking in another talk-free edition of our BluesPowR Radio Hour, this time featuring music from John Mayall with Larry McCray, Lurrie Bell & the Bell Dynasty, The Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling, Victor Wainwright, GA-20, and more, plus a Christmas tune from Jimmie Bratcher!
Wrap up your year (and those holiday gifts) on a bluesy note with this latest episode!
Playlist The Moon is Full – John Mayall (Featuring Larry McCray) (Nobody Told Me) You Know I’m Right – GA-20 (Lonely Soul) Greene Boy – GA-20 (Lonely Soul) Show Me to the Light – The Commonheart (Pressure) Wait on the Lord – Elizabeth King & the Gospel Souls (The D-Vine Spirituals Recordings) Don’t Pass Me By – Victor Wainwright (Don’t Pass Me By: A Tribute to Sean Costello) Heartaches and Pain – Lurrie Bell & The Bell Dynasty (Tribute to Carey Bell) When I Get Drunk – Lurrie Bell & The Bell Dynasty w/ Billy Branch (Tribute to Carey Bell) Sanctified, Holy And Hateful – The Nick Moss Band feat. Dennis Gruenling (Lucky Guy!) Silver Bells – Jimmie Bratcher (Man! It’s Christmas Again)
The Blues Society of Western Pennsylvania (BSWPA) delivers another terrific compilation of tracks from local and native blues artists on this fifth edition of the society’s Blues from the Burgh CD series.
This latest installment kicks off with songs from two strong female singers, starting with Pittsburgh-born and -raised Barbara Blue (who has long held down a steady gig on Memphis’ Beale Street, and whose “Accidental Theft” can also be heard on her own recent album Fish in Dirty H2O), followed by a breaking news announcement from Jill West & Blues Attack that “the blues is back in town” on the swinging, harmonica-laced “XTRA XTRA”. Together, they nicely set the tone for the rest of the album, which features solid performances from a number of other female vocalists, including the funky, sometimes gruff uptempo R&B of Miss Freddye‘s “Lady of the Blues” (with well-known blues players Kid Andersen on guitar and June Core on drums), a soulful, Bonnie Raitt-ish “Mama She Knows” from Lori Russo & the Uppercuts, and the Stevee Wellons Band‘s creeping, dramatic “Bed and a Bottle”.
We admit that we haven’t gotten much into the Christmas spirit so far this season (still seems a bit early for that to us!), but this swaying new blues-rock single from longtime Johnny Winter guitarist, band leader and Grammy Award-winning producer Paul Nelson sure does help, entitled “All I Got for Christmas was the Blues and a Broken Heart”!
With the usual great guitar work from Nelson and memorable lyrics that include such gems as “I’ve got a stocking full of pain, just your picture in a frame, watchin’ me fall apart”,”Well you kissed me off baby and you let me go, now even Santa Claus done let me down/Well I’m gonna tell you: if things don’t get better by New Year’s, I’m gonna ride me a reindeer straight on outta’ town” and “I’m one step forward, and two steps back/ saw Saint Nick slide down the chimney, but he didn’t leave me jack”, the track teams Nelson with Anthony Krizan (Spin Doctors) on vocals for an entertaining and soulful number that’s guaranteed to get even the grinchiest blues fan’s holiday season started on all the right notes.
With December soon upon us, here’s hoping you get all the blues (of the musical variety) you’re wishing for this Christmas!
You may remember us posting recently about the latest album from the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, in which we praised the band for its ability to strike just the right balance of gritty and smooth on its albums. Another great example of the same — this one coming from across the pond — is rising Belfast singer, songwriter and guitarist Dom Martin, whose new album Spain to Italy is not just one of the best debut releases we’ve heard in some time but among the best albums we’ve heard from any artist this year, displaying a maturity and diversity well beyond the bluesman’s experience and 29 years of age.
With songs ranging from quiet tender ballads like the heavenly title track and swaying “Luca” to the cowboy-flavored strains of the dark, creeping opener “Easy Way Out” and “come a cow-cow yicky, come a cow-cow yicky yicky yea”-filled “Out on the Western Plain”(Leadbelly) to a simmering, Jeff Healey-ish “Hell for You” to the jaunty, traditional blues (complete with string noise) instrumental “Dry Bone Rag” (Blind Blake) to such rockers as the fuzzy, hypnotic, almost-techno “Dixie Black Hand” and husky, hard-driving shuffle of an “Antrim Blues” that “won’t go away” anytime soon after you hear it and its rich slide guitar, Spain to Italy is one pleasant surprise after another.
While it may “Seem Like a Million Years” since our last episode of the BluesPowR Radio Hour, we’ve at least been able to stack up some great music to share with you during that time, with this latest talk-free edition of our show featuring tracks from Bobby Rush, Grady Champion, Johnny Shines, Willie Buck, and more. Check it out today!
Playlist Down Home Blues – Grady Champion (Steppin’ In: A Tribute to Z.Z. Hill) Howlin’ Mud – Mud Bay Blues Band (Colebrook Road) Sleepy Joe – Big Joe & the Dynaflows (Rockhouse Party) So Mean to Me – Big Joe & the Dynaflows (Rockhouse Party) Breaking You Down – Left Lane Cruiser (Shake and Bake) I Give So Much to You – Willie Buck (Willie Buck Way) 16 Days – The 40 Acre Mule (Goodnight & Good Luck) Bobby Rush Shuffle – Bobby Rush (Sitting On Top Of The Blues) Seems Like A Million Years – Johnny Shines (The Blues Came Falling Down, Live 1973) The Blues Came Falling Down – Johnny Shines (The Blues Came Falling Down, Live 1973)
We’ve mentioned the name Johnny Burgin here a few times before, with Burgin having appeared as a guest guitarist on recent projects such as Tony Holiday’s Porch Sessions and the Howlin’ Wolf tribute album Howlin’ at Greaseland. While it’s been great to get a taste of Johnny’s playing on those albums, we’ve really been meaning to check out a bit more of his work — and, as someone who started his career backing the likes of such blues legends as Tail Dragger, Pinetop Perkins, Sam Lay, and Billy Boy Arnold both live and in the studio, there’s certainly more than enough to check out — but his new album Johnny Burgin – Live (Delmark Records) makes for a plenty good place to start.
Recorded in January at the Redwood Cafe in Cotati, California, the album offers a delightful listen to the singer and guitarist (who has since dropped the “Rockin'” that used to precede his name) not only fronting his own trio but joined by a handful of talented West Coast guests that range from well-known musicians such as harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite and guitarist Kid Andersen to rising stars like saxophone player Nancy Wright, harmonica player Aki Kumar, and vocalist Rae Gordon.
With that kind of diversity, the highlights here are many, with some of our favorite tracks including the slow blues numbers “Can’t Make It Blues” (with traditional blues-style lyrics that, for example, personify “‘need more’ and ‘got-to-have'” as “tuggin’ on my coat” and “hangin’ around my door”) and the Magic Sam-like “When the Bluesman Comes to Town”, one of three songs that features Musselwhite; the shuffling instrumental “Louisiana Walk” with Wright on sax; and the grooving, powerful “Late Night Date Night” that has Gordon delivering some growling, Sista Monica-ish vocals along with Andersen on piano.
There have been plenty of projects paying tribute to the music of legendary harmonica player and singer Little Walter (Walter Jacobs) over the years, but that didn’t stop modern-day harp master Billy Branch and his band The Sons of Blues from undertaking the task as well on their newest album. With one of the best harmonica players in the business today covering the songs of one of blues’ all-time greats, we wouldn’t expect the result to be anything less than superb, and that’s exactly what we get on Roots and Branches – The Songs of Little Walter (Alligator Records), as the band rolls through such gems as “Juke”, “Hate to See You Go”, “Mellow Down Easy”, “Just Your Fool” and more.
Laced with Branch’s crisp, smooth vocals and brilliant playing, the 14 songs here are much more than straight rehashes of Little Walter’s classics, with the band frequently adding its own energy and touches — including, for example, some prominent work from both pianist Sumito “Ariyo” Ariyoshi and guitarist Giles Corey throughout — to make the tracks just as entertaining and listenable today as in their original forms. From grittier, more uptempo selections like “Hate to See You Go” and “Boom Boom Out Go the Lights” and swinging tracks such as the opening “Nobody But You” and “You’re So Fine” to softer, creeping numbers including “Blue and Lonesome” and “Last Night” and a jazzy, swaying “One More Chance With You”, everything here is quite delightful, with particularly standout tracks including a funky “Just Your Fool/Key to the Highway” medley, a “Blues with a Feeling” that’s as absolutely genuine as they come, a grooving “Mellow Down Easy”, the vibrant, bouncy instrumental “Roller Coaster” and a “My Babe” that alternates between island-breezy and swinging.