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.
One of the biggest tragedies to hit the blues world over the last few decades — right up with the helicopter crash that killed Stevie Ray Vaughan, in our opinion — was the passing of another extremely talented young guitarist and singer named Sean Costello, who died of an accidental overdose the night before his 29th birthday back in 2008. From his work backing Susan Tedeschi on her smash Just Won’t Burn to his own terrific solo recordings, one gets the sense Costello was just beginning to reveal his abilities to the world, an observation that’s been further confirmed through several posthumous albums released over the past decade.
We don’t know if there’s more of Sean’s music somewhere that still hasn’t been released, and there may never be anyone who can perform Sean’s songs with quite the same power and emotion as Sean himself, but quite a few of the artists on the Costello tribute album Don’t Pass Me By (Landslide Records) do come awfully close, with the album — which focuses on Costello’s original material and benefits The Sean Costello Memorial Fund for the research of bi-polar disease — doing a superb job of capturing Costello’s spirit and grit both vocally and on guitar, from Albert Castiglia‘s country-rocking take on “Same Old Game” (which makes for quite an appropriate opener being that the collection is itself, as Costello wrote in its lyrics, “a brand new angle” on Sean’s music, although Castiglia and the other artists here help make the album much more than just “the same old game”) to the creeping, achingly beautiful closer “Feel Like I Ain’t Got a Home” from Oliver Wood (The Wood Brothers) and Amy Helm.
In between come covers — all previously unreleased — of a baker’s dozen of Costello’s other tracks from such recognized musicians and singers as the North Mississippi Allstars, Bob Margolin, and Debbie Davies, as well as several artists whose names may not be as familiar to many, including the soulful grooves of a “She Changed My Mind” from a band called The Electromatics, a quiet, jazzy “All I Can Do” from Seth Walker, and the midtempo rocker “No Half Steppin'” from Sonia Leigh, whose sandpapery vocals and delivery might just be the closest thing you’ll find to a female equivalent of Costello.
We here at The BluesPowR Blog certainly don’t mind either some good ballads or all-out rockers from time to time, but the tendency of some blues-rockers to stick with much the same tempo and sound across most of or an entire album, whether putting listeners into a lull by neglecting the “rock” part of their label or failing to lighten things up from the more rocking side of the spectrum, can be somewhat of a turn-off to even the biggest of their fans. Fortunately, that isn’t something about which we usually need to worry with the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, and particularly not on the band’s latest album The Traveler (Concord Records), which again finds Shepherd & co. delivering (maybe better than anyone else these days) just the right balance of gritty and smooth, without ever getting lost too far in one direction or the other.
Filled with plenty of slick solos, these ten largely ready-for-radio tracks are sure to get your adrenaline flowing from the start, bursting out on the horns-laced, rocking grooves of “Woman Like You” and a hard-shuffling “Long Time Running”, with Chris “Whipper” Layton‘s (Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble) drumwork perhaps more pronounced on these tunes than elsewhere on this and other of the band’s albums, before easing off the pedal just a bit for the stomp-and-clap, Shepherd-sung “I Want You”.
Chicago label Bea & Baby Records and its subsidiaries may never have achieved the same recognition as others like Chess, Alligator, Delmark and Vee-Jay, but listening to the new four-CD set Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records: The Definitive Collection from Chicago’s Earwig Music Company, you certainly get the sense they should have, with recordings from such blues greats as James Cotton, Sunnyland Slim, Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon, Earl Hooker, Eddie Boyd and Hound Dog Taylor, as well as more than two dozen other artists, several of whom, like the label itself, should be much better known than they are.
Included in that latter group would be singer and harmonica player Little Mack Simmons, whose shuffling “Times Are Getting Tougher”, grooving “Don’t Come Back” and slow, passionate blues “You Mistreated Me” (as St. Louis Mac), the last co-written by Bea & Baby Records chief Narvel “Cadillac Baby” Eatmon and a “Sil” — presumably the famous Chicago bluesman Syl — Johnson, are among the album’s finest cuts, in addition to playing harmonica on childhood pal James Cotton‘s tough, slow-burning “One More Mile” and swinging “There Must Be a Panic On” (with Cotton returning the favor on Simmons’ jaunty “I’m Your Fool”) and delivering respectable covers of blues classics such as “Mother-in-Law Blues”, “Help Me”, “The Sky is Crying”, “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “Tore Down” and “Trouble No More”, several of which were previously unreleased on the Bea & Baby label and find Simmons backed by musicians with much more familiar names to blues fans, including Hubert Sumlin, Eddie Taylor, Homesick James, Sunnyland Slim, and Carey Bell.
Longtime Howlin’ Wolf bassist Andrew “Blueblood” McMahon also makes quite an impression, backed by Simmons and some of these same players on songs like the creeping “Lost in the Jungle” and shuffling “Special Agent” and “Worried All the Time”, with notable tracks from other sidemen taking a turn in the spotlight including a T-Bone Walker-ish “Sharpest Man in Town” and “Nit Wit” (later covered by Canned Heat and others) from L.C. McKinley, who nearly a decade earlier played guitar on Eddie Boyd’s “Five Long Years”, and gruff, dragging “38 Woman Blues” from drummer Willie Williams, who backs many other artists throughout the compilation but is supported here by Bobby King and Eddie Taylor on guitar, Carey Bell on harmonica, and Sunnyland Slim on piano, among others.
We’ve had the pleasure of attending and reporting back on three of Eric Clapton‘s four previous Crossroads Guitar Festivals: the inaugural festival in Dallas in 2004, its 2010 run in Chicago, and the most recent festival in 2013 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. So to say we were disappointed not to be able to make it back to Dallas for this coming weekend’s offering of the festival is a bit of an understatement. Fortunately, some good news has surfaced in recent weeks around this year’s festival: for those not able to snag tickets to or otherwise attend the concert — which will again include two different nights of performers, with Clapton set to perform both nights — the festival has been made available for TV and online live viewing worldwide via pay-per-view, including through nugs.tv.
While the first news of the pay-per-view offering came a few weeks back, some cordcutters like us were still left looking for a way to access the concerts as a result of our streaming services not providing any pay-per-view options. But since then, nugs.tv has announced they will also be streaming the concerts live for a modest cost of $39.99 per night (starting at 8 p.m. ET on Friday, Sept. 20 and 7 p.m. ET Saturday, Sept. 21), making it possible for music fans all over the world to experience every minute of the latest installment of this fantastic festival from the comfort of their own couches, via PC or Mac, Apple and Android devices, SmartTV, the nugs.net AppleTV app, and the Qello Concerts app (which has collaborated with nugs.tv on a live streaming partnership for nearly three years now).
We don’t have as much of a chance to get out and see (or review albums from) local bands as we’d like, but here’s a Pittsburgh act that’s likely on the verge of a major breakout from the “local” scene, between a dynamite new album having been released last week and an upcoming tour of North America starting in September. If you haven’t yet heard or seen Pittsburgh-based The Commonheart, we advise you wait no longer to check them out, regardless of whether you live anywhere near the Steel City. And their new album Pressure (Jullian Records) is a great place to start as you’re waiting for them to come to a town near you.
Somewhat akin to Pittsburgh’s own version of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, The Commonheart fluctuates in size between eight and ten members, including horns and female backing vocals, all built around the powerful soul-rocking vocals of frontman Clinton Clegg, whose raspy voice evokes comparisons to such greats as Bob Seger and Joe Cocker.
Add to that plenty of tight, solid grooves, positive lyrics, and the full-band sound, and you end up with an uplifting, soulful offering that shows tremendous strides since even the band’s impressive 2016 debut album Grown.