As much as we like telling you about new music from the Duwayne Burnsides, Leonard “Lowdown” Browns, and other acts who have been playing the blues now for decades, there’s perhaps nothing more gratifying than being able to introduce you to some of the rising stars of the genre (including the likes of Gary Clark Jr., Fantastic Negrito, Ben Levin, Eddie 9V and others during the past almost decade and a half of this blog’s existence) who are helping to ensure that the future of the blues is in good hands.
We first encountered D.K. Harrell during the star-studded celebration of the expansion of the B.B. King Museum in June 2021, where Harrell shared the stage with such talents as Gary Clark Jr., Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, King’s longtime drummer Tony “TC” Coleman, Kenny Neal, Vasti Jackson, Mr. Sipp, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Selwyn Birchwood and many others. While everyone of course did a terrific job playing B.B.’s music, Harrell was one of the few performing that day (along perhaps with Coleman, who, remind you, spent three decades backing B.B.) you’d swear might actually have been channeling the King.
Playing as part of the band Soul Nite the following spring, Harrell won third place at the 2022 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. And now comes the 25-year-old Harrell with his latest feat in the form of his impressive debut album The Right Man (Little Village Foundation).
Though his name may not yet be as recognized as the Burnside surname in our last review, the exceptionally strong debut album from Leonard “Lowdown” Brown is sure to help the longtime Houston bluesman win a bunch of new fans around the world. With its smooth vocals and soulful grooves, the easy-flowing Blues is Calling Me (Music Maker Foundation) is one of the most impressive soul-blues albums we’ve heard in quite some time, and should be a serious contender for both next year’s soul and debut blues album awards.
A grooving “Juke Joint” gets things moving nicely before Brown glides through another nine solid tracks, reminding at different times along the way of such greats as Bobby Rush, Sam Cooke, Cyril Neville, Syl Johnson and Johnny Rawls. The breezy, Hurricane Katrina-inspired “Find a Bridge” and slower, swaying “French Quarter Woman” that follows are fine examples of Brown’s more R&B side, while the strolling, deeply soulful “Can’t Buy Time” and gritty, somewhat “I Pity the Fool”-ish “Blues Make Me Feel Good” take the listener more into blues territory.
Duwayne Burnside‘s latest album Acoustic Burnside (Dolceola Records) — his first in 17 years — may not have won the award in the Acoustic Blues Album category for which it was nominated during last month’s Blues Music Awards (an honor that went instead to another “Mississippi Son” in the form of an album by that name from harmonica great Charlie Musselwhite), but it’s one you’re going to need to add to your collection if you haven’t already. Sure, we’ve heard some of these same songs covered — quite well, in fact — over the years by the likes of such stars as The Black Keys and Buddy Guy, but not since the original masters like Duwayne’s father R.L. Burnside and their longtime Hill Country neighbor Junior Kimbrough have these songs sounded as genuine and satisfying as you’ll hear here.
Referring to the project as a “rebirth for me,” Duwayne returns to his roots with acoustic versions of songs he learned mostly from his father, including several of the elder Burnside’s (“Going Down South,” “See My Jumper Hanging on the Line,” “Alice Mae”) along with some from Kimbrough (“Stay All Night,” “Meet Me in the City,” “Lord Have Mercy on Me”), Robert Johnson (“Dust My Broom”), and other classics (“Poor Black Mattie,” “44 Pistol”), with Burnside elaborating: “…playing stripped down like this, you can hear this music come right out of my heart because that’s where my daddy put it.”
We didn’t get the chance to swing by Phoenix’s The Rhythm Room — the acclaimed blues club owned by harmonica ace Bob Corritore — during our most recent business trip to the city, but did make sure we took some time to listen to Corritore’s latest album offering during our travels, a collection of tracks he’s recorded through the years with various female artists, from greats such as Koko Taylor, Barbara Lynn and Carol Fran to the debut recording from blues guitarist and singer John Primer’s daughter Aliya Primer.
Corritore’s playing on the Women in Blues Showcase (VizzTone) is, as always, excellent, whether on the call-and-response approach of songs like the chugging, Barbara Lynn-vocaled “You’re Gonna Be Sorry” with which the collection jumps off, or patient solos such as heard on the barebones, quiet country duet “Crawdad Hole” with Valerie June on vocals and guitar, matching the powerful vocals of Koko Taylor on “What Kind of Man is This” (featuring Bob Margolin on guitar, Bob Stroger on bass, and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums) or backing Diunna Greenleaf on the delicate “Be For Me” (again with Margolin on guitar).
We know it’s been a minute since we’ve posted anything but, don’t worry, we ain’t done yet!
Here’s something to hold you over until our next album review: another slow blues burner about which we were reminded when we saw some video of it from last weekend’s Tampa Bay Blues Festival. This song’s pretty terrific in its studio form (you can find it on the It’s My Guitar album from Castro Coleman, a.k.a. Mr. Sipp, who also goes by nickname of “The Mississippi Blues Child”), but only gets better when you catch an extended version (in this case, about four times so!) of it live, often including a stroll by Sipp out into the audience.
We weren’t able to find a video of the full song from this year’s Tampa Bay show, but have a feeling this one from the 2018 edition of the, sadly, now-defunct Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival in Annapolis, MD, will do just fine for you. Enjoy!
Posted inTune into the Weekend|TaggedMr. Sipp|Comments Off on Tune into the Weekend: “The Mississippi Blues Child” Mr. Sipp takes it into the crowd on this slow blues lament
One of the last album reviews we posted in early 2020 before Covid forced us into a long unexpected hiatus was the Phantom Blues Band‘s Still Cookin’. Being that we’re still slowly getting back into the swing of things ourselves after the pandemic, we were delighted to hear that the Phantom Blues Band was dishing out another new album this summer, especially after the unfortunate passing of the band’s organist and vocalist Mike Finnigan in August of 2021.
Keeping with their recent culinary theme, this latest album is titled Blues for Breakfast (Little Village), and is dedicated to the late Finnigan, with proceeds from the album also going to the scholarship program at the Mike Finnigan School of Music in Salina, Kansas.
Finnigan fans will be pleased to hear the master singing and playing once more on the swinging original “Ok, I Admit It,” as prime an example as any of Finnigan’s greatness at his trade, with Finnigan’s talented son Kelly also contributing an organ solo on the soulful “I Know You Don’t Love Me No More” (Ike Turner) alongside Curtis Salgado on vocals.
While no one will ever truly replace Finnigan in either our ears or mind, veteran keyboard player Jim Pugh (Robert Cray, Etta James) fills in better than anyone else ever could on the remainder of the album, sounding very much like he’s been playing with the band for years.
We weren’t able to take in quite as much of the recent two-night Highmark Blues & Heritage Festival at Pittsburgh’s Highmark Stadium as we had hoped, but the bit we did catch was certainly impressive, thanks to the likes of Fantastic Negrito, Shemekia Copeland, Ruthie Foster, and Walter “Wolfman” Washington and their bands.
Speaking of UK blues-rockers (as we were in this semi-recent post regarding Catfish‘s acoustic EP Bound for Better Days), this next release is from a band that’s been around for quite a few decades now, having opened for the likes of The Who, Eric Clapton, The Kinks, Sting, and others during what you might call the band’s heyday. Fortunately, Nine Below Zero is still going strong following the pandemic, but their latest album is actually a previously unreleased one from quite early in the band’s history, culled from the tapes of their first studio recording back in March of 1979. It was so early in their history, in fact, that the band hadn’t even yet adopted its longtime name (taken of course from a Sonny Boy Williamson song title), going at the time instead by the name of Stan’s Blues Band, even though there wasn’t anyone named Stan in the band nor did they seem to know a Stan to have been inspired by at the time.
Founding member and guitarist Dennis Greaves discovered the 1/4 inch tape of the recording during an inventory of his loft earlier this year, and then passed it to UK producer/engineer and drummer Wayne Proctor to master. And, boy, are we glad he did! The result is a crisp, delightful listen to a band on the verge of hitting it big, with the quartet both changing its name to Nine Below Zero and signing with A&M Records within the six months after this session.
One of the many bands that helped get us through the long pandemic with their livestream performances was UK blues-rockers Catfish. While an earlier album and DVD, Exile – Live in Lockdown, allowed fans to hear and see the band in their full blues-rocking glory, capturing the four-piece band in the same room together for the first time in five months during an onstage concert appearance, many of Catfish’s other performances during the lockdown required a much more stripped-down approach.
That served as the inspiration for this latest release, the five-track EP Bound for Better Days, which finds the band offering acoustic takes on four of its own songs along with a beautifully intense cover of Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” that proves that singer and guitarist Matt Long is just as talented on the tender songs as on the rockers for which the band is so well-known.
The EP starts with a 9+ minute, western-tinged “Broken Man” that stretches from such quiet touches as the soft staccato piano notes from Matt’s father Paul Long after the first chorus and Kev Hickman’s percussion slaps a bit later to Matt’s powerful, building vocals and guitar heard throughout the song.