Dec 28

Top 20 Blues Albums for 2014

top20finalWow, we here at BluesMusicFan Radio think this year has been an excellent year for the genre, with a lot of tough choices in trying to whittle down to a Top 20. The list isn’t scientific – we are FANS. Some choices were emotional, some required certain criteria (for instance, albums consisting of original songs versus another version of Killing Floor, etc.). But… here it is… and our honorable mentions, too. We hope you enjoy them and we hope that this list compels you to listen to or buy an album off this list that you haven’t yet heard.

BLUESMUSICFAN.COM’S TOP 20 OF 2014
  1. MEMPHIS GREASE – John Németh
  2. TOO MANY ROADS – Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado
  3. ORIGINAL – Janiva Magness
  4. CAN’T EVEN DO WRONG RIGHT – Elvin Bishop
  5. GOIN’ HOME – Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band
  6. CRYIN’ MERCY – Altered Five Blues Band
  7. REFUSE TO LOSE – Jarekus Singleton
  8. HEARTSOULBLOOD – Royal Southern Brotherhood
  9. GOOD NEWS – Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters
  10. MIDNIGHT BLUE – Tinsley Ellis
  11. RAGGED & DIRTY – Devon Allman
  12. THE ROYAL SESSIONS – Paul Rodgers
  13. DIFFERENT SHADES OF BLUE – Joe Bonamassa
  14. HEAVY WATER – Fo’ Reel
  15. DECISIONS – Bobby Rush with Blinddog Smokin’
  16. HOMECOMING – Bruce Katz Band
  17. SHINE – Bernie Marsden
  18. EXTRA JIMMIES – Jimmy Thackery
  19. LIVE MY LIFE – Sena Erhardt
  20. THE TATTOOED LADY & THE ALLIGATOR MAN – Marcia Ball

Some comments on the Top 20 from our DJs:

JOHN NÉMETH – MEMPHIS GREASE
Jordan: Took one listen to this new release from one of my favorite artists, and just said, “Wow… this one is going to win it all.”  There hasn’t been a lot of PR and buzz about it, which makes the fact that its our #1 all that more satisfying – its been about the music, not the other stuff. Some of his best work, ever.

THORBJØRN RISAGER AND THE BLACK TORNADO – TOO MANY ROADS
Jordan: This album by far – overwhelmingly – has been a fan favorite and the songs on it probably the most requested this year. Well done and congratulations on a great album!

JANIVA MAGNESS – ORIGINAL
Jordan: Soulful, moving… a woman’s album. Also highly popular on the request lists. The songs are amazing, and I believe “Let Me Breathe” should take home top honors at the Blues Music Awards. Original song content was a high priority in my picks.

Siani: Original and she so is!!  Great mix of tempos and styles, and that fabulous voice.

ELVIN BISHOP – CAN’T EVEN DO WRONG RIGHT
Aliya: What is there to say?  Bishop is a one of a kind and a veteran of blues rock, revered by many blues lovers. Bishop thrives onstage because he musically makes love to his crowd. On the other hand, some of his recorded efforts have disappointed.  This jewel, however, does not!  It is classic  Bishop throughout–spirited, inspired, and, of course humorous. “Blues With a Feeling” just makes me wanna steal watermelons. I have always believed that the Bishop/Mickey Thomas combo was one of the best around, and Thomas Thrills us again on “Give Your Woman What She Wants.” Charlie Musselwhite adds to the fun on “No More Doggin.”  What?  Zydeco too?  Golly folks, this is a real fun album!

KENNY WAYNE SHEPHERD BAND – GOIN’ HOME
Jordan: Indeed, back to his blues roots… and well done, KWS… we are huge fans.

ALTERED FIVE BLUES BAND – CRYIN’ MERCY
Jordan: A pleasant surprise at how highly “Cryin Mercy” placed amongst us here at Blues Music Fan Radio… I started spinning them from their sophomore album and haven’t stopped. Fun, soulful, contemporary blues with a dash of funk. You won’t forget the great voice of  lead singer Jeff “JT” Taylor.

Siani:  Love this, one for anyone’s top 10.

JAREKUS SINGLETON – REFUSE TO LOSE
Aliya: This young’in makes a huge splash with this Alligator Records recording, his first to be nationally and internationally  distributed.  It drips with pure soul-influenced talent, from his guitar licks to his strong blues vocals, to his amazing song crafting. “Purposely,” the second tune on the album, is finely wrought, beautifully phrased and  performed.  I can’t stop playing it. “Crime Scene” and “Hell” both show off his jazz influence, as well as his poetic strength.  And ohh those licks! This album is his sophomore effort, as he self-released an earlier album that was not nationally distributed.  How can someone be this good right out of the box?

ROYAL SOUTHERN BROTHERHOOD – HEARTSOULBLOOD
Aliya: In the serious blues world, royalty has to live  up to its reputation.  I have seen RSB live and listened to the first CD  countless times.  This second blues rock effort hits the note this band  was destined to hit. It is masterful in that it shows off the talents of each member yet serves up serious gumbo, as Cyrille Neville would put it. This album tastes like the guys have been slow cooking their stuff for a while. “World Blues,” penned by Zito, shows of the vocal harmonies made possible by the combined talents of this band.  Allman’s voice thrills on Groove On, penned by him and bassist Charlie Wooton, as does Neville’s rhythmic influence. This is a serious effort by world class musicians.

RONNIE EARL & THE BROADCASTERS – GOOD NEWS
Jordan:  The album is impeccable.  Heart gripping, not one wrong note on the guitar solos, Ronnie just weaves blues magic all around Diane Blue’s vocals on “Change Is Gonna Come”. Listen to it, you won’t be able to shake it out of your soul for a week.

TINSLEY ELLIS – MIDNIGHT BLUE
Jordan:  I personally think this is his most consistent album ever. If I had it in vinyl I’d wear out the grooves.

SENA ERHARDT – LIVE MY LIFE
Siani:  I love this woman’s voice, she has appeared over and over in my playlists, her previous albums caught me immediately and this latest one with its mix of blues/rock, slower langourous vocals is no different. Loving her duet with Cole Allen, he has it on his album with the opposite vocal parts.

We’d love to hear from our listeners, the blues fans that count! Send those comments in, and Happy New Year!

 

 

Oct 18

The Della Grants – Time For Change

How refreshing to find a blues band that brings original BLUES material to the genre, instead of an album full of retreads heard a million times over in all pretty much the same way. The Della Grants serves up blues-rock just right in their independent release of Time for Change. With their blues roots solidly evident on every track of this debut album, The Della Grants bring a contemporary (crossover blues) sound to the blues world that it is uniquely their own.

Three of the members of the Della Grants (Max Manning [lead guitar, lead vocals], Andy Boulton [bass] and Tom Walker [drums]) spent fourteen years together in the cover band The Mokats. Breaking off in early 2013, they reformed with old friend and blues aficionado Tom Best [vocals, guitar, harmonica] to form a new foursome as The Della Grants.

dgs webpic2

The Della Grants: Tom Walker (drums), Tom Best (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Max Manning (lead vocals, guitar, pedal steel), Andy Boulton (bass).

While listening to Time for Change, you may come across some tunes that are familiar if you’ve heard The Mokats EP Crossover Blues. All of the tracks from that album have found their way to the new one, but they have been retooled and re-recorded. According to Manning, the DGs  “wanted a much more honest sound for the album, quite a ‘live’ sound.” He continues, “We thought the old tracks were over produced and wanted to change so many parts — the songs had evolved a lot since they were originally recorded. Stuff like the chorus in ‘Truth Don’t Cost A Penny,’  the middle part in ‘Greed To Feed,’ end of ‘Weaker Man,’ all of ‘Awkward Feeling,’ and we obviously got to work with Mark Stanway on ‘Keeping Me Away From You.’ ”

When comparing the tracks, one immediately notices the new Della Grants take on them.  The band succeded in reaching the goal of capturing their “live” sound. The Della Grants sound is sharper, edgier… and you can hear the areas that Manning points out for improvement. (Note to MM: Thanks for keeping that incredible riff in “Greed to Feed”.)

“Sometimes you should ask yourself what are you going to do today that are gonna turn things around, now.
So you know… no, its not just a one of those days, now.
It’s gonna be a beautiful day.”
(from “Too Fast”, The Della Grants)

BluesMusicFan Radio has had all the tracks from the CD in rotation, and many of the DJs have put them in their playlists. As far as the new DG tracks are concerned, the entire album has been enthusiastically received with particularly positive feedback given to ‘Too Fast’, ‘Lay My Head’  and also on the Keb’ Mo’ cover of ‘Am I Wrong’.

If you like to get in on the ground floor with bands, this band is one to follow. This is a solid album of blues rock originals and given the proper breaks in this industry, The Della Grants is a band that can mold a future path for the blues. In the interest of putting things out there in the world in hopes that they happen, I think Ruf Records should take notice and Mike Zito should produce their next CD. Hey we are just putting the ideas out there!

This band needs to travel, but in the meantime, you lucky Brits can catch The Della Grants (www.thedellagrants.com) at blues festivals and blues clubs in and around Leicester, UK.

The Della Grants

Jul 04

Women of the Harp

Why so few women of the harp?

by Liam Ward, LearnTheHarmonica.com

Aside from the indomitable Jason Ricci getting to up to his old antics (http://tinyurl.com/m2l4ru8), it’s hard to catch anything other than an aging man playing the blues harp. Perhaps even more than guitar, the world of harmonica has remained a staunchly male environment for a very long time. Why do so few women take it up?

It’s a real shame that it’s such a restricted group and that the women who do play – when discussed at all – are usually compared only with other female players (e.g. “she is one of the best female players I have heard” etc.) Now, you might say that the history and calibre of men on the instrument means it’s unfair to compare apples with pears, but I have a sneaking suspicion that women out there doing their thing on harmonica wouldn’t like to be sidelined in this way. (The only woman I know in my area who brings a harp to jams certainly wouldn’t. If others disagree, please let me know because I’m not trying to speak for you!)

So why so few? At risk of dragging everyone down into a feminist pit of despair, I suspect part of the problem is culture-wide. Just as with any other instrument (or any other arena for that matter) women are much less likely to get noticed if they don’t look the way that some media exec wants them to look, and that isn’t nearly as big a problem for men.

Women of the harp

When it comes to harmonica, men get all the attention. Not today! This is a tribute to the ladies. Let’s look at some of the big players in the other corner…

Historically, Big Mama Thornton is the most well-known woman of blues harmonica. (You have probably seen the famous photo of her with that brilliant grin of hers.) Thornton worked first as a dancer in Georgia before taking to blues and playing extremely confident harmonica to accompany her strong vocals. She became a star in the ‘50s, recording with the likes of James Cotton, Muddy Waters and Otis Spann.

Big Mama Thornton was rare in her time, and sadly female harp players are still hard to find. There are some gems out there, though, if you know where to look. Let me give you a few names.

Unsurprisingly, the US has a sizable offering in the blues arena. Annie Raines (http://www.paulandannie.com) is an extremely accomplished country blues player, who along with Paul Rishell has won a Blues Music Award. Over the course of a distinguished career she has become an important authority on the instrument.

Another American who keeps getting mentioned is ‘the New York Blues Queen’ Roxy Perry (http://www.roxyperry.com). She’s big and strong and her playing really packs a punch.

Outside the US, Christelle Berthon has become known through her famed YouTube performances. She has an extremely emotive style of playing and has shown her prowess over a number of years (check out an interview and some clips here: http://tinyurl.com/p65pfhl).

Sandra Vazquez (http://tinyurl.com/nja8uss) is a new and refreshing name to me. She is a member of Argentinian band Mulheres Gaitistas, has studied with Lee Oscar and is billed as Argentina’s best harmonica player.

Kat Baloun (http://tinyurl.com/op4f3zp) is a Berlin-based harmonica player who grew up in a musical family in Ohio. Look her up to see her big attitude on stage and hear some inspired harp.

If you want to find out more about female harmonica players, there’s a great – and brilliantly titled – resource on the web (http://www.hermonicas.com) featuring information and videos from players of all genres and all over the world.

About The Author

Liam Ward is a UK-based harmonica player and teacher, and founder of Learntheharmonica.com. He is a former National Harmonica League Player of the Year and a regular contributor to Harmonica World magazine and Blues in Britain. Liam currently plays with hokum blues outfit The Rumblestrutters as well as appearing as a guest with many other artists.