Gary Clark Jr. and first-time GRAMMY winner William Bell deliver soulful primetime performance of “Born Under a Bad Sign”

Okay, we’ll be honest: we spent a lot more time watching Sunday’s GRAMMY Awards pre-telecast ceremony online (waiting for the blues categories to be announced) than we did the network televised portion of the awards. Which means we missed this terrific primetime performance of Albert King’s blues classic “Born Under a Bad Sign” from guitarist Gary Clark Jr. and the song’s co-writer (along with Booker T. Jones) William Bell (who, during the pre-telecast ceremony, received his first GRAMMY Award in the Best Americana Album category for his latest album This is Where I Live, which also happens to include this track).

Fortunately, you can still see this performance – which Relix magazine called “(m)aybe the broadcast’s brightest spot” and noted as having “the most soul and honesty of any note of music played throughout the four-hour broadcast” – on the GRAMMY site.

Do yourself a favor and check it out!

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Bobby Rush, Fantastic Negrito each land first Grammy award

In case you missed it, the annual Grammy Awards took place last night, with the blues awards again among the 75 or so doled out during a live-streamed ceremony before the bright lights of the network TV cameras came on.

After 60 plus years performing and more than 370 recordings, Bobby Rush received his first Grammy, taking honors in the traditional blues album category for Porcupine Meat.

Inaugural NPR Tiny Desk Concert Contest winner Fantastic Negrito hasn’t been on the scene anywhere near as long, but his full-length debut Last Days of Oakland was all it took for him to bring home the coveted prize in the contemporary blues album category.

Congratulations to Rush, Fantastic Negrito, and all of the other nominees in the blues categories of this year’s awards, who also included Lurrie Bell, Joe Bonamassa, Luther Dickinson, Vasti Jackson, Janiva Magness, Kenny Neal, The Record Company, and Joe Louis Walker!

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The King Brothers get on up with Get Up and Shake It

You can almost tell by listening to them that brothers Sam and Lee King have blues royalty in their blood. While Lee’s guitar licks might at times sound like those from Albert King – coming, as some of them do, from Albert’s own prized Flying V guitar, a gift the famous blues guitarist and singer presented Lee in the early 1990s – it’s actually another King of the blues – the great Freddie King – to whom the brothers happen to be second cousins, a point easily recognized upon hearing such songs as Get Up and Shake It‘s opening “Rock Me Baby”, on which Lee’s soulful vocals are remarkably similar not so much to Freddie’s but to Freddie’s younger brother Benny Turner, who we wrote about here less than a year ago.

Having played together now for some six decades, including stints with both Albert’s and Freddie’s bands, The King Brothers return with only their third studio album – their first in 15 years – on Get Up and Shake It (Club Savoy Records), a solid, impressively funky outing filled with tight, addictive grooves from the brothers and their able, outgoing backing band of Al Threats on bass, Ellis Hall on keyboards, and Michael Fell on harmonica.

Driven by some fine playing on drums from Sam and tough, clean vocals and accomplished guitar work from Lee, the band delivers their own funky takes on other classics that include “Hound Dog”, “Hootchie Cootchie Man”, “Close to You” and “Tore Down”. On “Hootchie Cootchie Man”, the brothers seem to be following Lee’s own advice of “Take your time, baby”, toning the song down in both tempo and swagger with a patient, more R&B-style approach that’s less gruff vocally than most versions you’ll have heard but nicely demonstrates – along with, for example, Lee’s repeated “I feel like this” on the closing “Tore Down” – their ability to stretch out a song, developed through decades of experience performing live.

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Ain’t Gonna Be Easy

With all the political and social divisions we’ve seen lately, who’s ready to escape through another talk-free edition of our BluesPowR Radio Hour? Go ahead and inaugurate yourself to the blues with new music from the likes of Omar Coleman, Robin Trower, Harvey Mandel, and a doubleshot of the Big Head Blues Club, featuring son of the blues Mud Morganfield.

If blues like this doesn’t trump hate, we’re not sure what will!

Playlist
I’m Ready – Omar Coleman (Live!)
Lil’ Black Dress – Adam Karch (Moving Forward)
I Want To Be Loved – Big Head Blues Club (Way Down Inside)
The Same Thing – Big Head Blues Club (Way Down Inside)
I Can’t Get Enough – AG Weinberger (Mighty Business)
Where You Are Going To – Robin Trower (Where You Are Going To)
Cherry Red – The Mighty Mojo Prophets (Record Store)
Ain’t Gonna Be Easy – Deb Ryder (Grit Grease & Tears)
Ode to B.B. – Harvey Mandel (Snake Pit)
Like You or Despise You – Al Basile (Mid Century Modern)
Celebrate – Paul Reddick (Ride the One)

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Blues-rocker Devon Allman rides on with Ride or Die

Rock legend Gregg Allman had some good things to say about his son Devon Allman‘s musical abilities in the Allman Brothers Band co-founder’s biography My Cross to Bear a few years back, perhaps none more to the point than that Devon “can play the f***ing blues”. Of course, many dads whose kids can play half-decent blues might tend to believe that statement could equally apply to their offspring, but we have to figure that Gregg’s rock star status and own experiences with the blues and bluesmen throughout the decades likely give him a bit more credibility than most other proud papas out there.

While we’ve gotten to see some evidence of Gregg’s comments through Devon’s previous work both solo and as an original member of the Royal Southern Brotherhood, the younger Allman’s latest album Ride or Die (Ruf Records) captures him at his most effective yet, musically as well as vocally.

In addition to songs like the soulful, horn-infused rocker “Find Ourselves” and breezy, acoustic “Live from the Heart” that show the more laid-back southern rock influence of his father, Devon also proves capable of delivering an impressive range of other sounds, from swaying ballads like the regret-laden “Vancouver” and the beautiful, strings-laced “Butterfly Girl” that reminds us of a band we heard a lot in college by the name of The Badlees to hard-rocking numbers like the opening “Say Your Prayers” – with its gritty, almost spitting vocals that come right out on “a bad storm’s comin’, better say your prayers/ you can tell right away, there’s trouble in the air”, and subsequent foreshadowing of the lighter, airier sounds and positive messages you’ll hear later in the album with a chorus that starts on “the sunshine’ll be comin’ back/ well, don’t you go and worry ’bout that” – and the tough, groove-filled “Galaxies” from which the album’s title derives, with its crushing guitar and screaming vocals building to a wild cacophony of sound.

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Seeing really is Believing: Sugar Ray & the Bluetones rack up combined 10 nominations in 2017 Blues Music Awards

Nominations for the 2017 Blues Music Awards were announced earlier this week, with New England blues institution Sugar Ray & the Bluetones and its members earning an impressive – and probably unprecedented – two handfuls of nominations, including nods for band, album and traditional album (Seeing is Believing), and song (“Seeing is Believing”) of the year honors in addition to individual nominations for B.B. King Entertainer, traditional male artist, and instrumentalist-harmonica for frontman Sugar Ray Norcia, instrumentalist-bass for Michael “Mudcat” Ward, instrumentalist-guitar for Monster Mike Welch, and Pinetop Perkins Piano Player for Anthony Geraci.

While the Bluetones were the only act to amass collective nominations in the double digits (likely the most of any individual artist or band and its members ever in a single year, although records tend to be a little spotty in this regard since the awards honor both bands and the individuals who compose them; Geraci, for example, could just as easily be nominated this year for his work on his own “solo” project Fifty Shades of Blue as for his contributions to the Bluetones), several acts saw nominations in three or more categories, with Bobby Rush and Toronzo Cannon both receiving four nominations, including album of the year accolades for their Porcupine Meat and The Chicago Way, respectively, while Rush is also nominated for soul male artist, soul album (Porcupine Meat), and historical album for the career retrospective Chicken Heads: A 50-Year History of Bobby Rush, and Cannon is also up for awards for contemporary male artist, contemporary album, and song (“Walk It Off”).

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Rush’n’ the Blues

Slow things down a bit this Christmas season with another talk-free episode of our BluesPowR Radio Hour, featuring music from Lurrie Bell, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Robert Finley, the Bob Lanza Blues Band, a double-shot of Joanna Connor, and more!

Playlist
Born With The Blues – Lurrie Bell (Can’t Shake This Feeling)
Bankrupted Blues – Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne (Jumpin’ & Boppin’)
Sun Shine Through – Jeremiah Johnson Band (Blues Heart Attack)
Things Can’t Be Down Always – John Long (Stand Your Ground)
Rush’n’ the Blues – Bob Lanza Blues Band (Time to Let Go)
I Just Want To Tell You – Robert Finley (Age Don’t Mean a Thing)
Deep Down in Florida – Big Dave McLean (Better the Devil You Know)
By Your Side – Joanna Connor (Six String Stories)
The Sky Is Crying – Joanna Connor (Six String Stories)
Meet Me On The Corner – The Fabulous Thunderbirds (Strong Like That)

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Featuring both solo and collaborative tracks, latest record from blues master Taj Mahal is true Labor of Love

Last week, we gave you an early listen off blues legend Taj Mahal‘s newest album Labor of Love (Acoustic Sounds) in the form of a delightful “Shortnin’ Bread” that paired Mahal with the late one-armed harmonica player Neal Pattman, a song that’s described by Music Maker Relief Foundation founder Tim Duffy in the album’s liner notes as “as good as anything that was on wax in the 20s and 30s”. The rest of the dozen tracks that appear on Labor of Love, out today, are every bit as respectable and genuine, including six of Taj on his own and six more with other Music Maker artists such as John Dee Holeman, Algia Mae Hinton, Cool John Ferguson, Etta Baker, and Cootie Stark.

taj-mahal-labor-of-loveAmong the former are such favorites as the opening “Stagger Lee” on which Mahal’s gruff, sometimes growling, vocals, airy guitar, and effects like guitar plunks to simulate the bullets that shot Billy down help to create one of the sweetest versions of the murder ballad you’ll hear; the quiet, swaying “My Creole Belle” (Mississippi John Hurt) that includes such breezy lyrics as “got a house in the country, big garden out back, Robert Johnson on the victrola, tell me what ya’ think of that”; the delightfully bouncy “Fishin’ Blues”; the beautiful guitar instrumental “Zanzibar”; the soft, slow blues of a “Spike Drivers Blues” (another from Mississippi John Hurt) that flows back and forth between harmonious observations like “Don’t the light from the moon outshine the sun, sometimes?” and an almost spoken tale relating an escape from a railworking gang; and a plodding, scratchy-voiced take on the classic “Walkin’ Blues” that, despite the song’s slowed tempo, often has Mahal fitting in words like an auctioneer.

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First listen: Shortnin’ Bread from Taj Mahal’s Labor of Love

With blues master Taj Mahal‘s new vinyl-only release Labor of Love (Acoustic Sounds) hitting stores next week, we thought you might enjoy a little taste of “Shortnin’ Bread” that pairs some plucky banjo from Mahal with crisp, whooping vocals and some terrific blowing from harmonica player Neal Pattman. Mahal’s 47th album, Labor of Love is a collection of songs actually recorded back in 1998 around a 42-date tour with Music Maker Relief Foundation artists; none of these songs have ever been previously released (although a similar version of this one can also be heard on Music Maker’s 2014 20th anniversary collection), with four of the tracks also never having been recorded by Mahal in any other form.

We’ll have a review of the full album soon, but in the meantime, you’re going to want to spend some time enjoying this classy country blues take on a traditional favorite that’s accurately described by Music Maker founder Tim Duffy in the album’s liner notes as “just amazing” and “as good as anything that was on wax in the 20s and 30s”.

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Guitarist Harvey Mandel slithers back onto scene with Snake Pit

Back in October, we gave you a preview of Chicago blues guitarist Harvey Mandel‘s new album Snake Pit (Tompkins Square) in the form of the tasty title track. Now, we’re happy to report that the rest of the album is just as delightful, featuring eight mostly original instrumental tracks that will both astonish and inspire when listeners hear the greatness of which “The Snake” is still capable, especially considering his age of more than 70 years and returning health coming off a nasty battle with cancer.

tsq-5302-harvey-mandel_snake-pit-300x300While a number of the songs here are of a blues-rocking variety that could easily be compared to the work of such masters as Jeff Beck, Steve Vai, or Joe Satriani, including the galactically funky opening title track with its frenetic keyboards and the free, open-road vibe of the “Space Monkeys” that follows, the set also includes several tracks that are pretty straight up the blues alley, such as the slow, stinging guitar of “Buckaroo” and swinging grooves of the closing tribute to the late King of the Blues in “Ode to B.B.”

In addition to “Space Monkeys” (which originally appeared on Mandel’s 1997 Planetary Warrior album), the guitarist revisits two more of his previously recorded tunes in the somewhat tamer “Baby Batter” and greasy, throbbing “Before Six” – both featuring some nice strings – with the slow, quiet ballad “NightinGail” and a “JackHammer” that combines strong, Whitesnake-like guitar with some jazzy keys helping to round out the project.

Mandel’s playing is layered with just the right amount of distortion and other effects, backed with remarkable improvisation by a band of fellow Chicago-based musicians whom Mandel had never met nor rehearsed prior to stepping into the studio. After hearing “snippets of song ideas…on [Mandel’s] iPhone”, the band was able to record each of the tracks in one or two takes, dubbing in strings and percussion later.

A terrific album coming from anyone, Snake Pit is all the more impressive knowing everything Mandel’s been through in recent years. Perhaps this is what it sounds like when one just lets life flow…

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