Topic: Blues Critic's Top 30 Contemporary Blues Albums Of 2008
To be eligible albums must have been released in North America between 12/2007 to 12/2008. OR albums released in 2007 that peaked in 2008.
1. Walter Trout "The Outsider" (Megaforce) LISTEN
Some critics were lukewarm towards Trout's last disc ("Full Circle") due to it's superfluous guests artists. "The Outsider", however, is about the Trout. Thirteen originals, buttloads of guitar and lotsa throaty wailing. But not merely testosterone-drenched guitar/screaming rants but raw soulful rock. Sure he's known for electric guitar bluster, but his dusty acoustic arrangements here are superb. Folks may overlook or simply forget what a rich singing voice he possesses.
2. Sharrie Williams "I'm Here To Stay" LISTEN
"I got fire in my veins and I'm ready to rock n' roll" sings Williams on the stomping opener "Fire". She continues "I was born to sing the Gospel/got the Blues down deep in my soul". It's one of 15 (!) new cuts Williams co-write with band members Marco Franco (bass) Lars Kutschike (guitar) and others. Her label is dubbing her "the Princess of Rockin' Gospel Blues" and that fairly sums up her style. A churchy voice, lots of organ and aggressive blues guitar grace a good portion of the performances.
3. Eugene Morgan "Enough is Enough" (Bonedog) LISTEN
...twelve originals either penned by Morgan or guitarist Mike Sweeney (sans one contribution by Nat Hall). The Boneyard Record label regulars like Sweeney, Robert Peckman, Jim Britton, Don Donohoe and James Hilton are amongst the pickers and players responsible for this terrific contemporary Blues outing. Recommended!
4. Walter "Wolfman" Washington "Doin' The Funky Thing" (Zoho) LISTEN
The "Wolfman" has always been Funky (in a N'Awlins way) but this time out Lee Dorsey-styled Funk is his starting template. The two-part title cut is one of those slippery, loose and greasy numbers with horn blasts and slappin' bass only James Brown could do equally well. Backed by the great Roadmasters (bassist Jack Cruz, Jimmy Carpenter on sax, Antonio Gambell on trumpet and drummer Kevin O'Day) Washington gets his JB on throughout. Brown would've captured that long sought-after comeback had he cut an organic funk n' jazz record like this.
5. Kenny Neal "Let Life Flow" (Blind Pig) LISTEN
Kenny Neal is back on 5th record label after a long (undisclosed) illness sidelined him for nearly two years...Whatever Kenny went trough it hasn't affected his gritty, Soulful voice and his energetic guitar whacks...Having yet to create a poor CD, "Let Life Flow" is full of what he does best- Baton Rouge Swamp Blues ("Louisiana Stew"), forceful guitar Blues ("Blues, Leave me Alone") and a touch of Soul. As regards the latter Neal's version of "You've Got To Hurt Before You Heal" might be the best I've heard (and soul titan Bobby 'Blue' Bland has covered this tune).
6. Tom Principato Band "Raising The Roof!" (Powerhouse) LISTEN
D.C. favorite Principato, winner of nearly two dozen "Wammies" (the Washington Area Music Association's version of the W.C. Handy Awards?), is back with his 17th (counting live sets) album since he went solo in 1984...Principato and pals aren't down with the same 'ole cover tunes and the tongue-in-cheek closer "They Called For 'Stormy Monday' (But 'Mustang Sally' Is Just As Bad)" proves it. It's a live recording mocking the typical bar band covers like "Free Bird", "Brown-Eyed Girl", "Stormy Monday", etc...The crowd reacts approvingly and so do I.
7. Eden Brent "Mississippi Number One" (Yellow Dog) LISTEN
There's plenty of top notch women Blues guitarists so a frontwoman singer/pianist is a road less traveled (not that this should matter). "Mississippi Number One" is an eclectic goulash of Mississippi styles with a heavy emphasis of Jazz...The title track honors the famous highway Mississippi 1, a mostly two lane road that cuts through Greenville. Brent romances it like it was "Highway 61",
8. B.B. King "One Kind Favor" (Geffen) LISTEN
9. The Mannish Boys "Lowdon' Feelin'" (Delta Groove Prod.) LISTEN
17 tracks of near Blues perfection from the Delta Groove all-stars The Mannish Boys. Each new release seems to get better from this revolving aggregation. "Lowdown Feelin'" may be a shoe-in for "Blues CD Of 2008". In fact I'm running out of superlatives in describing Mannish Boys albums. The pages of my thesaurus are stained yellow from my fingers.
10. Albert Castiglia "These Are The Days" (Blues Leaf) LISTEN
Album number three keeps Castiglia in comfortable electric Blues shoes on a set of originals and covers. "Bad Year Blues" is a prime example of a modern Contemporary Blues song. A raspy/nasally vocal, tight 12-bar rhythm and humorous lyrics. "My New Year's Resolution didn't last too long/Tried to quit smoking but too many things went wrong/It's been a really bad year/Only 12 more months to go".
11. Dave Specter "Live In Chicago" (Delmark) LISTEN
Okay, this is Dave Specter's album but to be honest prior to receiving this he was unknown to me. There's just so many terrific Blues fiddlers one can forget a couple. This is his eighth LP for Delmark and his second live outing (the other being "Live In Europe"). He cuts up mightily on the instrumentals "Boss Funk/Riverside Ride" and "Texas Top" and invites up fellow Chicagoan Jimmy Johnson for the standard "Feel So Bad" and Jimmy Rogers' "Out On The Road". These first 7 tracks were recorded at Buddy Guy's Legends in August 21 2007 while the last three selections are extracted from a date at the famous Rosa's Blues Lounge the night before
12. Phanton Blues Band "Footprints" (Delta Groove Prod.) LISTEN
In fact, everything sounds great on this big brassy Rhythm & Blues, Soul & Funk & etc..record. In fact, I'm setting aside my reservations about covers projects because the 3 punch combo that opens the set (Howard Tate's "Look At Granny Run", Freddie King's "See See Baby", and one time Hi Records staff writer Earl Randle's "Leave Home Girl") all sizzle. Plus there are a few originals thrown in for good measure.
13. Jackie Payne Steve Edmonson Band "Overnight Sensation" (Delta Groove Prod.) LISTEN
Mighty-fine followup to their first Delta Groove Music release, Jackie Payne and Steve Edmonson have recorded an especially great-sounding set of nine originals and four covers. First praise must go to the ethereal horns of Carl Green (sax) and Lech Wierzynski who absolutely dazzle on Memphis-motivated numbers like "Can I Hit It Again", "Midnight Friend" and "Take A Chance On Me". Fans of horns in Blues music simply must pick up this album. Payne's singing is superb as always ("I Feel Like Going Home", "She's Looking Good/I've Never Found Me A Girl (Medley)") and the arrangements are air tight.
14. Janiva Magness "What Love Will Do" (Alligator)
15. Charles "Big Daddy" Stallings "Blues Evolution" (Tajeria)
16. Watermelon Slim & The Workers "No Paid Holidays" (Northern Blues) LISTEN
Slim and his coworkers strike while the iron is hot with his third album in three years for Northern Blues..."Blues For Howard" & "Archetypical Blues No. 2" kick off this 14-song disc with some of that ragged Blues/Rock Slim his known for...Slim jumps immediately into serious mode on "The Bloody Burmese Blues", a muscular midtempo Blues with chanka-lankin guitar and a fat bassline. When Slim carves out his solo I knew I'd found my all time favorite Watermelon & The Workers track.
17. Curtis Salgado "Clean Getaway" (Shanachie)
18. Willie "Big Eyes" Smith "Born In Arkansas" LISTEN
Just like you'd expect and want Smith serves up a rock solid album's worth of mean Chicago Blues. Featuring ace sessionmen like Bob Stroger, Barrelhouse Chuck and Billy Flynn runs through some of Smith's familiar originals like the great "Money Talk" & "Sittin' Here Drinkin'", a couple updates ("I'm The Creeper", "Can't Rest For Worry") and new additions to his canon ("Overcoat Mama", When I Left", title track)...The sound is lean and the rhythm perfectly executed.
19. Paul Mark & The Van Dorens "Blood & Treasure" (Radiation)
20. Irma Thomas "Simply Grand" (Rounder)
21. Cedric Burnside & Lightnin' Malcom "2 Man Wrecking Crew" (Delta Groove Prod.)
22. Various Artists "M For Mississippi" (Broke & Hungry)
23. Buddy Guy "Skin Deep" (Silvertone) LISTEN
24. Travis "Moonchild" Haddix "Daylight At Midnight" (Erawig) LISTEN
You gotta love it when one of your favorite artists puts out an album every single year and one of my faves, Travis Haddix, does just that. "Daylight" is his 17th full length and he's yet to disappoint. Ten original raw blues cuts in vintage B.B. King style. Ever the clever lyricist, Haddix writes to the beat of his own tune.
25. Chick Willis "The Don Of The Blues" (CDS) LISTEN
The cover depicts a "Godfather"-like scene of a man beseeching the seated Blues Don by first kissing his ring. This tongue-in-cheek image serves to remind us that Chick was one of the first to score big with a double-entendre filled hit called "Stoop Down Baby" and the many that followed owe proper respect to the Blues Don...includes the hit "Obama"
26. Liz Mandeville "Red Top" (Earwig) LISTEN
For her fourth long-player Chicago guitarist and rehead (they call her "Red Top") Mandeville continues to show a knack for clever, often cheeky lyrics with her brand of windy city blues...Plus you gotta dig to dig a woman who tells you (on "Scratch The Kitty"): "You got to scratch my kitty if you want my kitty to purr". Now keep in mind she's singing about the tabby sleeping in her lap. What were you thinking my good man?
27. Clarence Spady "Just Between Us" (Severn)
28. Doug MacLeod "The Utrecht Sessions" (Black & Tan) LISTEN
By 1996 his skills had reach a new plateau with his second Audioquest LP "You Can't Take My Blues" and he's been steady rollin' at that peak since. On most of the 12 tracks recorded in Utrecht (one of MacLeod's "favorite cities) of the Netherlands it's just MacLeod his guitar and left foot. Slight accompaniment is found on some of the tracks such as on the locomotive "Horse With No Rider" where Arthur Bent is credited with "percussion". There's also a little double bass here and there by Jasper Mertier. But this is all about MacLeod's increasingly fine singing.
29. Johnny Rawls "Red Cadillac" (Catfood) LISTEN
30. Deering & Down "Break This Record" (Diamond D) LISTEN
Lahna Deering has a whiskey-weathered voice not unlike a Stevie Nicks crossed with Maria Muldaur. It's the kind of instrument that can take a simple song to unusual heights as all charismatic singers do. But, hey, the songs are mighty fine too on "Break This Record". From Garage Rock tumblers like "Watcha Thinkin' Of" to the lean midtempo Triple A of "Can't Wait" to emotional Alternative Folk/Rock (ala Mazzy Starr) like the astounding "Velvet On Stone". On the latter Deering's tender, yearning vocal literally gave me chills. This is a star maker track if you ask me