Artists from around world rise to challenge on International Blues Challenge #33

Blues promotion and preservation member organization The Blues Foundation puts on a couple of big programs in Memphis each year: in May, a Blues Music Awards (BMA) gala celebrates the best of the blues from the past year, including performances from many nominees and other top names in the genre, and, each January, an International Blues Challenge (IBC) competition draws rising blues acts from around the world, all hoping to earn the title of that year’s best solo/duo or band winner and the recognition that comes with it, including opportunities such as professional recording contracts and festival appearances.

While the foundation has been putting out CDs and DVDs featuring performance highlights from each of the BMA ceremonies since 2011 or so, and a few earlier CDs also celebrated W.C. Handy Award (as the BMAs used to be known) winners and nominees, last year’s International Blues Challenge #32 was really the first recording allowing listeners to hear some of what we’ve been missing at the annual IBC, with the album leaving us both mighty satisfied as well as hopeful that we might be treated to similar installments spotlighting future IBC participants.

So we were of course pleased to learn about the release of International Blues Challenge #33, a collection featuring finalists from the 2017 competition that, like the inaugural edition, does an excellent job of showing that the blues is still very much alive and well and in many diverse forms.

Though the names of the acts on the IBC collections may not be as well-known as those you’ll hear on the BMA sets, the music itself is surprisingly solid: if you didn’t happen to know to what you were listening, there are times during IBC33 at which you could easily wonder if you’re hearing a disc of rare blues classics from much more experienced, established artists — or perhaps even some BMA nominees (although one of the criteria for eligibility in the challenge is that artists can’t have been nominated for a BMA).

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Kim Wilson delivers old-school Blues and Boogie on latest solo release

Harmonica player and singer Kim Wilson has done a lot of fabulous stuff through the years, not only as a founding member of the long-running Thunderbirds band whose name includes that same adjective and for which he continues to serve as frontman, but also on his own and in collaboration with other bluesmen and women, including having shared the stage or studio with Eddie Taylor, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Sonny Rhodes, Charlie Musselwhite, and countless others through the years, as well as a superb recent collaboration with Mud Morganfield on the Muddy Waters tribute For Pops.

Backed by an alternating line-up that includes Big Jon Atkinson, Billy Flynn, Bob Welsh, and Nathan James on guitar and bass, the late Barrelhouse Chuck on piano, and others, Wilson’s latest album Blues and Boogie, Vol. 1 (Severn Records) finds the harp ace blowing through a nice mix of, just as advertised, blues and boogie originals and covers, including from the likes of Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Elmore James, Magic Sam, Jimmy Reed, and more.

From the seducing sway of songs like “You Upset My Mind” (Jimmy Reed), “Same Old Blues” (Magic Sam) and “Sho Nuff I Do” (Elmore James), to swinging instrumentals like “Edgier”, “Teenage Beat” (Little Walter) and the opening “Bonus Boogie”, and breezy numbers like “From the Bottom” (Sonny Boy Williamson II) and the Sugar Ray & the Bluetones-style, horns-accented “No Love in My Heart” (Elmore James), everything here is, well, fabulous. But the tracks that stand out perhaps the most are a tough, lively “Ninety Nine” (Sonny Boy Williamson II) and two creeping numbers in a Thunderbirds-sounding “Blue and Lonesome” (Little Walter) with its gruff harmonica and a “Worried Life Blues” (Big Maceo Merriweather) featuring some cavernous vocals from Wilson and terrific playing from Barrelhouse Chuck.

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Christmas and New Year’s Blues

Finish off the year with another fine edition of our BluesPowR Radio Hour… This time around, we’ve got music from Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters, Black Stone Cherry, Don Bryant, and more, including some sounds of the season from Billy Flynn, Micki Free, and Chris “Bad News” Barnes that will help put you on the road to a rocking Christmas and bluesy new year!

Playlist
Five Minutes Till Christmas – Micki Free (Tattoo Burn-Redux)
In Memory of T-Bone – Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters (Maxwell Street)
Palace Of The King – Black Stone Cherry (Black to Blues)
You’re Just About To Lose Your Clown – Brad Stivers (Took You Long Enough)
It Hurts Me Too – Chris “Bad News” Barnes (Hokum Blues)
Christmas and New Year’s Blues – Chris “Bad News” Barnes (Hokum Blues)
Driving You – Milligan Vaughan Project (MVP)
One Ain’t Enough – Don Bryant (Don’t Give Up on Love)
BroJoe – Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters (Maxwell Street)
Done Loving You – Chase Walker Band (Not Quite Legal)
Christmas Blues – Billy Flynn (Lonesome Highway)

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Mojo Risin’: Gambling on the future of the blues with Seth Rosenbloom

Here’s some more sneaking slow blues for you, this time from a young guitarist and singer out of the Northeast U.S. named Seth Rosenbloom, who shows his chops both musically and vocally on this delightful cover of B.B. King’s “Gambler’s Blues”.

If you like what you hear here (and we’re betting you will), check out the rest of Rosenbloom’s self-titled debut EP, which also includes fiery covers of Elmore James’ “Wild About You Baby” and Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “I Don’t Believe” as well as two smoking originals of a similar vein in the slow-dragging “The Way Things Used to Be” and a Stevie Ray Vaughan-like “Nailed to the Wall”, all featuring Rosenbloom’s gravelly, forceful vocals and stinging guitarwork — reminding us of a slightly younger and rawer version of Matt Schofield — chock-full of diverse, impressive riffs.

We expect you’ll be hearing a lot more from (and about) this guy in coming years!

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Tune into the Weekend: Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater’s Lowdown Lonesome Feeling

Here’s a great video we came across from one of the surviving masters of the Chicago blues, Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, who, at 82, is still knocking around both on stage and in the studio, with Clearwater currently in the process of recording a new album to follow his 2014 Soul Funky.

If this song doesn’t say blues, we don’t know what does!

And for an added treat, here’s Clearwater playing with a true son of the blues in Mud Morganfield (son of Muddy Waters), with the pair joined also by Jimmy Johnson. Hail to The Chief!

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John Lee Hooker again proves undisputed King of the Boogie on 5-disc centennial retrospective

This spring, we told you about a 16-song collection purporting to contain the finest recordings of guitarist and singer John Lee Hooker, a bold claim considering the multitude of recordings the native Mississippi bluesman made during his lifetime. As solid and terrific a set as Whiskey & Wimmen: John Lee Hooker’s Finest is for those seeking a quick dose of Hooker’s infectious grooves, it would turn out to be, to borrow from the lyrics of one of Hooker’s songs, really just a “little wheel ’til your big wheel come”, with Craft Recordings/Concord Bicycle Music recently rolling out an expansive 5-disc box collection providing a whole lot more for Hooker fans to get lost in.

Fans of that earlier compilation will be glad to learn that all but one of the songs (“Whiskey & Women”) included there can also be heard in some form on the 100-track John Lee Hooker: King of the Boogie, a few, in fact, in multiple versions, with songs like “Boogie Chillen'”, “Boom Boom”, “Dimples”, and “I’m in the Mood” presented in both studio/solo and live or collaborative (and in a couple of cases, all three) versions on this larger set.

The collection, for example, begins and ends with different versions of Hooker’s earliest hit “Boogie Chillen'”, the first, a crackling recording of just Hooker and his guitar from the September 1948 solo session that launched Hooker’s career and that helps establish the boogie from the set’s very start. Contrast that to the later (as in five decades later) more rocking version, which captures a much older Hooker joined by Eric Clapton, Rick Kirch, and Johnny Lee Schell all on guitar and incorporates some lively keyboards, one of only a few songs on which Hooker begins to show his age vocally. In between, there’s also a live acoustic solo version of the song from 1962, a rather low-key performance with a soft-spoken intro that, along with the other songs included here from that same San Francisco blues club (Sugar Hill) show — the much more traditional, Sonny and Brownie-like than boogeying “Bottle Up and Go” and creeping “Crawlin’ King Snake” (also representing the second version of the song) — helps remind the listener just how smooth Hooker’s voice and playing could be.

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Live Every Day

Make way for some blues today with the latest episode of our BluesPowR Radio Hour, featuring music from Michael Ledbetter & Monster Mike Welch, the Sherman Holmes Project, Ilana Katz Katz, Steve Strongman, a doubleshot from Tommy Castro & the Painkillers and friends, and three from the Howlin’ Wolf tribute Howlin’ at Greaseland, with vocals from Henry Gray, Tail Dragger, and Terry Hanck, plus more!

Playlist
Howlin’ for My Darling – Terry Hanck (Howlin’ at Greaseland)
Cookin’ In Your Kitchen – Altered Five Blues Band (Charmed & Dangerous)
Homeless Child – Sherman Holmes Project (The Richmond Sessions)
The Excuse – Ilana Katz Katz (Subway Stories)
Worried Life Blues – Henry Gray & Aki Kumar (Howlin’ at Greaseland)
I Can’t Stop Baby – Michael Ledbetter & Monster Mike Welch (Right Place, Right Time)
Money In the Bank – Steve Strongman (No Time Like Now)
Don’t Trust No Woman – Tail Dragger (Howlin’ at Greaseland)
Them Changes – Tommy Castro & The Painkillers w/ David Hidalgo (Stompin’ Ground)
Live Every Day – Tommy Castro & The Painkillers w/ Charlie Musselwhite (Stompin’ Ground)

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Tune into the Weekend: Don Bryant & The Bo-Keys

Don’t let the name of the program fool you: this recent performance from singer/songwriter Don Bryant on PBS’ Bluegrass Underground just oozes with bluesy soul, with Bryant backed by The Bo-Keys for a number of songs off his new comeback album Don’t Give Up on Love (Fat Possum Records) — including Bryant’s take on the soul classic “A Nickel and a Nail” plus Bryant originals like “Something About You”, “I Got to Know” (previously recorded by The “5” Royales), and “How Do I Get There?” — as well as another well-known song Bryant co-wrote some years back with wife Ann Peebles called “I Can’t Stand the Rain”.

If you like what you hear here, you’ll want to be sure to check out the rest of Bryant’s new album, with tracks like the smooth, swaying “First You Cry” and punchy “Can’t Hide the Hurt” and “One Ain’t Enough” being the first we’d recommend!

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Former Howlin’ Wolf players Tail Dragger, Henry Gray join star-studded tribute to the Wolf on Howlin’ at Greaseland

For longtime bluesmen Henry Gray and Tail Dragger, the late, great Chester Burnett — a.k.a. Howlin’ Wolf — didn’t just serve as an inspiration. For them, he was a band leader and mentor, and the inclusion of these now senior statesmen of the blues is just one of the things that helps to make Howlin’ at Greaseland (West Tone Records) such a special tribute to this true giant of the genre, along with contributions from names like harmonica player Rick Estrin, multi-instrumentalist (and project recorder) Kid Andersen, horn man Terry Hanck, and keyboardist Jim Pugh (Robert Cray Band), among others.

While the album probably didn’t need additional star power beyond the strong vocals delivered by Alabama Mike, John Blues Boyd, Lee Donald, Aki Kumar, and Hanck, combined with the sharp playing of the rotating backing band that Andersen assembled at his San Jose, California, Greaseland Studios for the recording, the presence of Gray and Tail Dragger on almost a handful of tracks does help to add a nice extra bit of authenticity and raise an already commendable project to an even higher level.

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Under the Influence (of the blues!)

Let the blues take over with this intoxicating edition of our BluesPowR Radio Hour, featuring music from Gregg Allman, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Guy Davis & Fabrizio Poggi, Bette Smith, Hurricane Ruth, a doubleshot from Colin James, and more!

Playlist
Under The Influence – The Mojo Stars (Under the Influence)
Louise, Louise – Guy Davis & Fabrizio Poggi (Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train)
Durty Hustlin’ – Bette Smith (Jetlagger)
Boogie Funk – Colin James (Blue Highways)
Riding In The Moonlight/Mr Luck – Colin James (Blue Highways)
Blood Moon – Too Slim and the Taildraggers (Blood Moon)
Down For Love – Kenny Wayne Shepherd (Lay It On Down)
Cheating Blues – Hurricane Ruth (Ain’t Ready for the Grave)
I Woulda Been Wrong – Al Basile (Quiet Money)
Tattoo Burn – Micki Free (Tattoo Burn-Redux)
I Love The Life I Live – Gregg Allman (Southern Blood)

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