If you’re seeking out some good modern Chicago blues, you still need look no further than two of Chicago’s oldest and most distinguished record labels. With all of the changes in the world, it’s great to see that the same labels that started with albums from blues names like Speckled Red, Big Joe Williams, and Hound Dog Taylor are still going strong today with solid releases from such legends-in-the-making as Linsey Alexander and The Cash Box Kings.
Here’s a two-part look at the latest albums from each of those artists, either (or both) of which will suffice nicely for handing to the next person who suggests that Chicago blues may be dead…
Linsey Alexander – Two Cats (Delmark Records)
Though guitarist/singer Linsey Alexander‘s name may not be one you recognize, his sounds are ones you surely will, combining the southern soul to Midwest stylings of the likes of Otis Clay, Johnny Rawls, and O.V. Wright with the straight-up Chicago blues of Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, and Tail Dragger. You get to hear rather distinct examples of each on the first two tracks of Alexander’s latest album Two Cats — his third release for Delmark Records — in the swaying, horns-laced and smooth-vocaled opener “I’m Not Your Problem” and smoky “Where Did You Take Your Clothes Off Last Night” that follows, featuring a dragging, “Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues”-ish bass line and some gritty harmonica from Paul Hanover.
Things get a little funky from there, with songs like the horn-soaked soul grooves of “That Ain’t Right”, a “User” that comes a bit later, and the bawdy title track, one of the best examples of Alexander’s witty songwriting, along with, for example, the creeping, quiet blues of a “Facebook Woman” on which Alexander (whose nickname is “Hoochie Man”) sings of losing his lady to social media, with its references to chatting, poking, going back to MySpace, and getting LinkedIn; the groovy “I’m in Love with a Woman” (“but my woman had a woman too”); and an entertaining look at our current comb-over-in-chief in “Comb Over Blues” that hits on such topics as tax returns, the Russian hacks, alternative facts, Twitter, and the Mexican border in addition to featuring some terrific playing from keyboardist Roosevelt “Mad Hatter” Purifoy.
The album includes a pleasantly surprising amount of stinging guitar, including on songs such as the groovy Chicago shuffler “Reefer and Blow” and the slow-burning soul blues of the procrastinating “Starting Monday” and a “How Could You Do Me Like You Done Me” (“you told me that you love me, but you told me a lie/ I caught you runnin’ ’round with a one-legged guy”) that again brings Hanover in on harp.
While all the songs here are billed as originals, “Why I Sing the Blues” does bear some resemblance to the B.B. King classic of the same name, albeit with a whole different set of lyrics and the addition of harmonica, with Alexander’s version having something of a B.B.-meets-Buddy Guy-and-Junior Wells Chicago shuffle kind of sound.
Alexander offers some more soulful, Mighty Sam McClain-like vocals on the slow, tender R&B of “‘Til I Kissed You” and its closing reprise “Kiss Revisited” – the latter featuring the rapping of J. Parker – while the horns-accented, groove-filled “Thinking About Me” takes the soul a bit more uptempo.
A superb, solid offering from Alexander and his band, Two Cats is sure to have critics and blues fans alike purring, especially when it comes time for determining nominees for next year’s Blues Music Awards!
Here’s Alexander with one of those slow blues numbers he does so well, “How Could You Do Me Like You Done Me”: