By Will Harris
Got the January blues? Well, we certainly have at Midlands Rocks, but there’s no reason to feel glum – this year promises yet more in the way of outstanding blues.
Firstly, though, let’s have a look at a few of the awesome releases that came out towards the end of 2013. The end of October saw Charlie Musselwhite release his second album of the year (his first being the blazing Get Up! with roots-rock singer-songwriter Ben Harper), the live collection Juke Joint Chapel (top harp-blowing comes as standard), and Canadian trio The Perpetrators released their latest set of hard-hitting blues, Stick Em Up. Oh you want to hear some? Here’s the threesome kicking out new track ‘Smokes ‘N Chicken’ live:
November brought a collection of trad blues/jazz, From Adamant to Atchafalaya, by acoustic picker Paul Asbell, John McVey put out some rough ‘n’ ready blues with Meet Me In Houston, and The Jim Cummings Band released the jazz-inflected, smoky-voiced Grind. Some southern-tinged rocking tracks a la ZZ Top came in the form of Bryce Janey’s Burning Flame, Winnipeg-born Son of Dave released Blues at the Grand, a set of hot, sweaty and distinctly original R&B numbers, and Paul Lamb & The Detroit Breakdown reached for their roots when they released the decidedly funky Ready, Fire, Aim (read our review of the album and our interview with the man himself).
Jo Harman put out Dirt On My Tongue, a truly admirable collection of piano ballads, funky blues and pop-tinged Americana, and Joanne Shaw Taylor became the next spotlight in Ruf Records’ Songs From The Road CD/DVD series. Back Pack Jones produced some really movin’ music with Betsy’s Kitchen, the UK’s own Babajack took the blues to new, heady heights with Running Man and the ever-spellbinding raconteur Eric Bibb released Jericho Road. Hear Bibb’s inspired take on contemporary blues in new track ‘Let The Mothers Step Up’ below.
Santa brought plenty more for December. Ottawa jump blues veterans Downchild released the loud ‘n’ lively Can You Hear The Music? and Terry Taylor (of Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings) released Taylor Made, his own album of original blues songs and covers of songs that inspired him. Music legend Les Paul also had a tribute album made up of covers of jazz and blues standards that the hugely influential man loved, putting Lou Pallo of the Les Paul Trio together with such stars as Keith Richards, Steve Miller, Billy Gibbons and Slash. A DVD with a documentary is also available: for a generous preview (including footage of some of the tracks being recorded), watch the video below.
The first month of 2014 is due to be jam-packed with blues releases. To usher in the New Year on 7th January is something that sounds distinctly new: Hard Garden’s debut, Blue Yonder, which breeds deep Muddy-esque blues vocals and gritty guitars with sequencers and digital beats to create a sound that’s got one foot in the past and one firmly in the future. One to watch for sure! On 13th January, guitarist Tinsley Ellis weaves Delta, rock and contemporary together on Midnight Blue, his latest outing that’s more or less covering all bases as far as blues goes – and sounds pretty good for it.
20th January sees the debut of Baltimore soul-blues artist Ursula Ricks, My Street, a funky affair that’s strong on rhythm and big on cool, and the same day Tommy Castro comes back with his new band The Painkillers for his latest effort of rocking blues, The Devil You Know, and even hires in help from greats such as Joe Bonamassa for the occasion. Also on the 20th, New Orleans six-stringer Bryan Lee releases Play One For Me, a superb collection that would fit comfortably in any B.B. King fan’s library, combining some original numbers not to mention covers of Bobby Womack, Howlin’ Wolf and Freddie King. For a taste of some of Lee’s previous work, see this video from 2003:
On 27th January, one-man-band Scott H. Biram will bring out his latest set of country blues, Nothin’ But Blood — listen to him sing one of the ‘gospel’ bonus tracks from the new album, Christian salvation ode ‘When I Die’. That week there’ll also be the posthumous release of the last few tracks recorded by Chicago bluesman Lou Pride, the heartbreakingly-titled Ain’t No More Love In This House, and British act Rosco Levee and the Southern Slide serve up more blues-heavy classic rock with Get It While You Can. Didn’t hear their first album? Here’s one of the standout tracks from it:
January isn’t especially hot on the gig front for the Midlands, but there are some pretty smokin’ shows on the horizon: Americana rockers Nine Below Zero appear at The Robin 2 in Bilston on 14th February; the legendary former Cream man Jack Bruce and His Big Blues Band appear there on 28th March; and the phenomenal Robert Cray is due to appear at Cambridge Corn Exchange on 10th May. The Robin will also play host to some Detroit rock-injected blues with Michael Katon on 29th January, who’ll be playing in Oxford two nights earlier at The Jericho Tavern. To get you in the mood, we’ll leave you with this performance of his deliciously Hendrix-y ‘Red Moon Rising’. ‘Til next time!