Jimmie Vaughan may never achieve quite the same level of recognition from the general public as his late, great younger brother Stevie Ray, with Jimmie’s music generally tending to gravitate more towards the laidback, traditional side of the genre, closer to a T-Bone Walker or B.B. King than the world-famous blues-rocking sibling Jimmie helped to inspire. But there’s no denying that Jimmie — a founding and longtime member of The Fabulous Thunderbirds — remains one of the most respected blues guitar players on the scene today, frequently sharing the stage with the likes of Eric Clapton (who, you may recall, joined Vaughan for a few numbers at last summer’s Project Blues fundraiser in Columbus and has invited Vaughan to participate in each of his Crossroads Guitar Festivals, in addition to having had Vaughan open for and play a few songs with him during his recent three-night run at the Royal Albert Hall), with Vaughan’s latest album Baby, Please Come Home (Last Music Co.) being a prime example of just how he came to attain such a lofty position in the blues world.
So while they may not be the most aggressive or flashy, Vaughan’s band here is consistently good and really cooks their way through this 11-track offering of some of Vaughan’s favorite songs, from the cool, swaying croon of numbers like Huey Meaux’s “Just a Game” and T-Bone Walker’s “I’m Still in Love With You” on one side of the spectrum to the uptempo swing of Chuck Willis’ “What’s Your Name?” and groovy, almost-Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble-sounding instrumental “Hold It”, with lots more swinging and shuffling in between.
When we told you about John Mayall‘s Three for the Road album last spring, you might recall our noting that Mayall’s next studio album would be one that, according to Mayall, “strongly feature(s)…guitar players who will be pretty well-known to all lovers of rock and roll”. Mayall, of course, has a long history of working with some great guitar players — Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Harvey Mandel, Walter Trout, and Coco Montoya, among them — and, while none of these musicians makes a return appearance on Mayall’s newest album Nobody Told Me (Forty Below Records), several other well-known rock and blues guitarslingers do join the Godfather of British Blues for a track or two, from Todd Rundgren, “Little Steven” Van Zandt (E Street Band), and Alex Lifeson (Rush) to Joe Bonamassa, Larry McCray, and Mayall’s current guitarist Carolyn Wonderland. The result is one terrific song after another, resembling the studio equivalent of one of Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festivals.
Mayall comes out swinging with a slick, horns-accented version of Magic Sam’s “What Have I Done Wrong”, one of two songs on which he’s joined by Bonamassa, who returns a bit later on a “Delta Hurricane” that just oozes with grooves, with Mayall also throwing in a more distant and lonesomer take on Bonamassa’s “Distant Lonesome Train” than the original, Mayall’s version featuring some gritty slide work from Wonderland.
It’s been more than 75 years since Alan Lomax traveled to the Mississippi Delta to make his field recordings of bluesmen like Son House, Muddy Waters and David “Honeyboy” Edwards, and, while the internet and other technological advances have made it much easier to discover new music from remote corners of the world, it’s kind of neat to hear musicians still at times coming back to the field recording technique, as is the case with this latest release from singer and harmonica player Tony Holiday, who, joined by guitar player Landon Stone, traveled across the U.S. to record numbers on the front porches of such friends as Charlie Musselwhite, John Nemeth, Kid Ramos, Bob Corritore, and Kid Andersen, also inviting musicians like John Primer, James Harman, Mitch Kashmar, and others along to help make Porch Sessions (VizzTone Records) as authentic a downhome blues album as you’ll hear.
Every track here is solid, with perhaps the biggest gems including a pair of Muddy Waters-style songs — the slow blues “They Call Me John Primer” and uptempo shuffle “Tell Me Baby” — featuring John Primer on guitar and vocals and Bob Corritore on harmonica; a grungy, creeping “Woman Named Trouble” with John Nemeth and Jake Friel on harmonica and vocals that could easily be mistaken for a number off one of Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite’s collaborative albums; the soulful, closing “This Time I’m Gone for Good” with vocals from William Kidd; a somewhat jazzy “That’s Alright” that does include Musselwhite on harmonica along with Aki Kumar, who also provides vocals; a gritty, distant-vocaled “Blues Hit Big Town” (Junior Wells) with Nemeth on vocals and harmonica; a country-blues “Goin’ to Court” that includes James Harman on vocals and harmonica and Kid Ramos on guitar; and the slick, West Coast-sounding “Coin Operated Woman” that also allows us to hear Holiday on vocals, joined by Rockin’ Johnny Burgin on guitar.
With this coming Monday being the deadline for those in the U.S. to file their annual federal income taxes, we thought some of you might enjoy another talk-free episode of our BluesPowR Radio Hour to help put you over the finish line (or just sit back and relax to if you’ve already filed). Watermelon Slim does pay homage to the tax man on one track, but that’s as, well, taxing as it gets here, with a pair of songs each from John Fusco & the X-Road Riders, the Delta Wires, and the recent Rolling Stones-curated Confessin’ the Blues compilation, plus other music from Colin Linden & Luther Dickinson, Nick Schnebelen, and Albert Castiglia & Mike Zito.
So don’t put this one off; give it a listen today!
Playlist Little Baby – Howlin’ Wolf (Confessin’ the Blues) I Don’t Care – Delta Wires (Born In Oakland) In The Middle – Delta Wires (Born In Oakland) Don’t Let Go – Colin Linden & Luther Dickinson w/ the Tennessee Valentines (Amour) It Ain’t Me – Nick Schnebelen (Crazy All By Myself) Worried Life Blues – Big Maceo Merriweather (Confessin’ the Blues) A Stone’s Throw – John Fusco & the X-Road Riders (John Fusco & the X-Road Riders) Crossroad Blues – John Fusco & the X-Road Riders (featuring Luther Dickinson & Al Kapone) (John Fusco & the X-Road Riders) Tax Man Blues – Watermelon Slim (Church of the Blues) You Got Me to That Place – Albert Castiglia w/ Mike Zito (Up All Night)
Willie Buck may not have been born in Chicago, but he certainly sounds a lot like Chicago, at least the one made famous by the likes of fellow Mississippi natives such as Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, and Howlin’ Wolf. While there are plenty of Chicago musicians who continue to help to preserve and move the genre in new directions, you can probably count on one or two hands those who still deliver the music true to the sound and style that Muddy and the other giants did, with the likes of Pinetop Perkins and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, for example, having moved on to the big blues gig in the sky in recent years.
Regardless of what other living bluesmen one might choose to include on such a short list (John Primer, Billy Branch, and real-life sons of the blues such as Lurrie Bell and Mud Morganfield being perhaps some of the most obvious selections), octogenarian Willie Buck also deserves a spot, still going strong some 50 years after he first began fronting his own bands on the Windy City scene.
With a smooth, straightahead Chicago blues approach, Buck is one of those guys we could easily listen to all night, every night. But for those of us for whom moving to Chicago probably isn’t much of a reality, it’s a real treat to be able to get to hear Buck on recordings such as this most recent, titled after a Chicago street named in Buck’s honor, Willie Buck Way (Delmark Records).
We’ve liked an awful lot of what we’ve heard from guitarist and singer Joe Louis Walker in recent years, but we’re not sure we’ve heard him sounding any better than on his latest project Journeys to the Heart of the Blues (Alligator Records/Munich Records), an all-acoustic collaboration that pairs the Blues Hall of Famer with UK harmonica player Giles Robson and piano master Bruce Katz, who’s spent many years playing with the likes of Ronnie Earl & his Broadcasters, Gregg Allman, the Allman Brothers Band, and Delbert McClinton.
Having first met and jammed with Robson at the Amstelveen Blues Festival in the Netherlands in late 2016, Walker gladly accepted Robson’s idea of recording together, also bringing his longtime friend Katz into the mix. Together, they expertly plow through 11 classic blues numbers and one instrumental original that sound like they’ve been playing together for decades, barrelling in like a, well, mean, bad train with some strong blowing and sturdy vocals on Papa Lightfoot’s “Mean Old Train” before hitting on an assortment of tracks that ranges from boogie-woogie — such as Washboard Sam’s “You Got to Run Me Down” (Jazz Gillum) and the instrumental “Chicago Breakdown” (Big Maceo Merriweather) — to slow blues selections like Sonny Boy Williamson’s “I’m a Lonely Man” with its wailing harmonica, the plaintive-vocaled “Murderer’s Home” (Blind Willie McTell), and Son Bonds’ “Hard Pill to Swallow”.
Here’s a neat, vintage-sounding track to help ease you into the weekend, a little treasure from a young Kentucky bluesman named Nat Myers, who describes himself as “the son of a revenue man” and a self-taught guitarist and singer who “reinvents and preserves the pre-war styles he was raised on and loves”.
Cut on a Presto lathe recorder to give it that crackling sound, “Honey Bunny Blues” is one of two tracks off Myers’ Field Recordings EP, and was inspired by “that almost too-sweet kind of love (where) you love so much, you can barely look at it straight, ’cause it embarrasses you with how embarrassing it makes you be–you start thinking sweet nothings in public, thinking pet names that you wouldn’t even name your dog, saying things that make those on the outside roll their eyes. If you been there, ‘Honey Bunny’ is about saying ‘damn those eyes’.”
If you like what you hear, check out this video of a January performance from Myers at Brooklyn’s Jalopy Theatre and/or his bandcamp page, where you can hear more of his traditional playing, including another EP called bleus.
And stay tuned for more sure-to-be great stuff from Myers!
If this week’s weather isn’t quite doing it for you, then we can at least help put some Spring in your step with this latest talk-free edition of our BluesPowR Radio Hour, featuring a pair of tracks from both Junior Wells (joined on one by Buddy Guy) and The Liam Ward Band, plus other music from Mark Hummel, Alabama Slim, Sugaray Rayford, Ian Parker, Willie Farmer, and Wille & the Bandits.
Playlist Millionaire – Willie Farmer (The Man From the Hill) Messin’ with the Kid – Junior Wells & Buddy Guy (Box of Blues) Uprising – The Liam Ward Band (Uprising) Filthy Rich – The Liam Ward Band (Uprising) Time To Get Movin’ – Sugaray Rayford (Somebody Save Me) Victim of the Night – Wille & the Bandits (Paths) I Got The Blues – Alabama Slim (Blue Muse) The Creeper Returns – Mark Hummel (Harpbreaker) I Can’t Understand – Ian Parker (Spoonful of Gold – Blues for Willie) One Day (Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone) – Junior Wells (Box of Blues)
Although genre-melding guitarist Robben Ford describes his latest album as “a real departure from tradition in terms of the songwriting” (“tradition” referring to the strong blues and rhythm-and-blues elements that often serve as the basis of Ford’s music), Purple House (earMUSIC) isn’t really all that far off from what we’re accustomed to hearing from Ford. Despite an increased emphasis on the production side this time around, Purple House (named after the studio in Tennessee where much of the album was recorded) in the end still boils down to Ford’s same reliable formula of smooth vocals and fusion of rock, jazz and blues grooves to help make it another album very much worth checking out.
While it’s true that Ford can at times gravitate to the mellower side, and certainly does here on tracks like the slow, dark and simple “Empty Handed” with its jazzy, cavernous sound and breezy, swaying “Wild Honey”, Purple House as a whole is probably one of the most diverse and captivating of albums we’ve heard from Ford. In addition to guest appearances that include “Queen of the Blues” Shemekia Copeland, who joins Ford for a duet on the slow, somewhat gritty “Break in the Chain”, and Bishop Gunn’s Drew Smithers, who contributes additional guitar on “Willing to Wait”, the album also offers a terrific range of songs, from those softer aforementioned ballads to rockers such as the midtempo opener “Tangle With Ya”, funky “Cotton Candy”, and closing, hard-edged “Somebody’s Fool” that Bishop Gunn lead vocalist Travis McCready helps give a Lance Lopez-like sound to match Ford’s tough licks.
Here’s another talk-free edition of our BluesPowR Radio Hour to help close out your February. This one starts and finishes with tracks from the Ally Venable Band, in addition to another pair of songs from Western PA’s Dan Bubien & the Delta Struts. Along the way, you’ll also hear from Bob Margolin, Kirk Fletcher, UK rockers Bad Touch, a jazzy one from Steve Conn, and more. Give it a listen today!
Playlist Back Water Blues – Ally Venable Band (Puppet Show) Flesh and Bone – Steve Conn (Flesh and Bone) Shake That Thing – Dan Bubien & the Delta Struts (Thieves & Yesterdays) Movin On Up – Bad Touch (Shake a Leg) Bright Lights, Big City – Deathhouse Blues (The Beer Battered Boogies) Mercy – Bob Margolin (Bob Margolin) Falling To The Ground – Dan Bubien & the Delta Struts (Thieves & Yesterdays) Gotta Right – Kirk Fletcher (Hold On) Waste It on You – Ally Venable Band (Puppet Show)