You may have seen that the 2017 International Blues Challenge (IBC) took place in Memphis recently, with the Dawn Tyler Watson Band (Montreal Blues Society) and Al Hill (Nashville Blues Society) taking top honors in the band and solo categories, respectively, both of whom who you can check out in the videos at the end of this post. For those not familiar with it, the IBC draws its hundreds of competitors through contests hosted by The Blues Foundation’s regional affiliates around the world, including, for example, the Pittsburgh area’s Blues Society of Western Pennsylvania, who this year sent Charlie Barath, the Jimmy Adler Band, and Pierce Dipner as its representatives in the solo/duo, band, and youth categories.
For a bigger taste of what you’re missing at this annual blues blowout, there’s a great new collection of songs from the 32nd edition of the competition that took place in 2016. Compiled by The Blues Foundation and 2014 Keeping the Blues Alive award-winning publicist Frank Roszak, International Blues Challenge #32 features nine mostly original tracks from among the 16 finalists (out of more than 250 acts) in last year’s challenge, ranging from such rockers as the shuffling, guitar-driven opener “I’m Your Man” from the Paul Deslauriers Band (Montreal Blues Society) and the Chuck Berry-ish riffs of the “Hound Dog” (not the one you know from Elvis or Big Mama Thornton, but a spunky original with a chorus of “The day you left the door, my hound dog cried all night” and other lyrics that include “He howl, he bark, he moan, he wail/ he don’t eat his food, he don’t wag his tail/ he fuss, he fume, he weep, he sigh/I e’en saw a tear fall from his eye”) that immediately follows from blind duo InnerVision (Columbus Blues Alliance) to the creeping, acoustic “You Make All My Blues Come True” featuring the gritty vocals and biting slide guitar of the Cincy Blues Society’s Sonny Moorman and slow, haunting “Black Sheep Moan” that closes the album from solo/duo winners Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons (Washington Blues Society), with its Chris Thomas King/Alvin Youngblood Hart-like pleading vocals and wailing harp.
In between, there’s also a funky, James Brown-style “Norman’s Blues” from the Lake of the Ozarks Blues Society’s Norman Jackson Band, the sobering slow blues shuffle of best solo guitarist award winner Bing Futch (Orange Blossom Blues Society) on “Drinkn’ and Drivn'”, and the breezy acoustic guitar and harmonica country blues of Trey Johnson and Jason Willmon‘s (Arkansas River Blues Society) “When the Money Runs Out”, plus numbers from the Blues Society of Omaha’s Hector Anchondo Band (the intense, slow-burning “Tall Glass of Whiskey” with its surf-rock licks) and the Indy Crossroads Blues Society’s Dave Muskett (a shuffling, stinging guitar-filled “Can’t Move On”).
While the music here may not always be the most original, with sounds that are sure to remind you of established blues names like Ian Siegal, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jonny Lang, Eric Bibb, and Guy Davis in addition to those already noted above, International Blues Challenge #32 offers a nice snapshot of some of the immense talent coming up through the blues and provides some terrific exposure for the artists that will extend far beyond the audience fortunate enough to have caught them during their actual IBC performances.
It’s certainly a collection worth owning, and accomplishes what any good collection should, leaving you wanting to seek out more of the work from many of these individual artists. With any luck, we’ll also be hearing a similar offering featuring the finalists from this year’s competition.
But, in the meantime, here are those videos we promised of the 2017 winners.
First, here’s Dawn Tyler Watson with “Can’t Nobody”:
And here’s Al Hill, who also won best guitarist (solo) at this year’s competition (even though he’s playing piano here), with “Nothing I Could Do About You”: