New Holiday Albums: The Best of 2019

That special time of year has come around again, filling everyone with holiday cheer. But nothing has the ability to spread Christmas spirit quite like music does. Following are brief reviews of what we believe to be the best holiday albums so far this year, featuring releases from Keb’ Mo’, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, The McCrary Sisters, Elijah Blake, Jonathan Butler, and Mariah Carey. We hope these selections provide the perfect soundtrack for everyone’s holiday season. Continue reading

Classic Blues Artwork from the 1920’s, Vol. 17

 

Title: Classic Blues Artwork from the 1920’s, vol. 17
Artist: Various
Label: Blues Images
Format: CD + Calendar
Release date: November 15, 2019

 

From the first glance at the photograph on the 2020 calendar and booklet of the accompanying CD, our staff at the AAAMC was taken in by Blues Images’ 17th volume of classic blues songs and art. In the photograph, a youthful B.B. King stands at a WDIA station microphone in front of a wall advertisement for 51 Beer. With extensive black radio materials in the AAAMC’s special collections, we couldn’t help but get excited about this connection to our collections and our online exhibit about the Golden Age of Black Radio (including some great content focusing on WDIA). Continue reading

Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records: The Definitive Collection

 

Title: Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records: The Definitive Collection
Artist: Various
Label: Earwig
Formats: 4 CD Box Set
Release date: August 9, 2019

 

Produced by Earwig Music Company’s Michael Robert Frank, Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records: The Definitive Collection is hands down one of the best box sets of the year. The beautifully produced hard cover book includes four CDs inserted into the front and back covers, while the lavishly illustrated inner pages tell the story of the Chicago based independent record company owned by Narvel Eatmon, a colorful character better known on the South Side as “Cadillac Baby.” Frank began this labor of love in 2006 when he purchased the entire catalog and archive of the Bea & Baby label, with the goal of sharing Cadillac Baby’s musical legacy with the rest of the world.  The result is this comprehensive anthology which includes all released and unreleased tracks (with a couple of exceptions), ranging from urban and country blues, gospel, doo-wop, soul, and comedy, to rap. Along the way, Cadillac narrates his own story through six spoken word tracks interspersed throughout the collection. Other “expert witnesses” from Chicago include Jim O’Neal (Living Blues magazine), Bill Dahl, and Robert M. Marovich (Journal of Gospel Music), who all contributed to the informative liner notes. Continue reading

November 2019 Black Music Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during November 2019 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. Continue reading

October 2019 Black Music Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during October 2019 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. Continue reading

Welcome to the October 2019 Issue

Welcome to the October 2019 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

Our featured project this month is the new three disc compilation, Protobilly: Minstrel & Tin Pan Alley DNA of Country Music 1892-2017, produced and/or annotated by Dom Flemons, Dick Spottswood, Henry Sapoznik, and David Giovannoni.

Also highlighted are two classical recordings: Richard Thompson’s The Mask in the Mirror – A Chamber Opera and Jamaican-born composer Eleanor Alberga’s String Quartets Nos. 1-3, performed by Ensemble Arcadiana.

This month’s jazz selections include Ramsey Lewis & the Urban Knights seventh album VII, the Chick Corea Trio’s Trilogy 2, and the Louisiana-based Lilli Lewis Project’s multi-genre album We Belong. Gospel releases include John P. Kee’s I Made It Out and a new compilation, Jewell Gospel Trio: Many Little Angels in the Band, featuring a 1950s gospel girl group that included a teenage Candi Staton.

Other new releases include rising Chicago blues musician Toronzo Cannon’s The Preacher, The Politician or The Pimp, spoken word artist/poet Tenesha The Wordsmith’s Peacocks & Other Savage Beasts, the Brooklyn Funk Essentials’s Stay Good, and Vaneese Thomas’s Down Yonder. Wrapping up this issue is our list of September Black Music Releases of Note.

Protobilly: The Minstrel & Tin Pan Alley DNA of Country Music

Title: Protobilly: The Minstrel & Tin Pan Alley DNA of Country Music
Artist: Various
Label: JSP
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: October 25, 2019

 

 

Those who watched Ken Burns Country Music documentary on PBS and want to dig a little deeper into the roots of the genre should find this new box set quite fascinating. Protobilly: The Minstrel & Tin Pan Alley DNA of Country Music 1892-2017, as the title suggests, “documents old country songs with origins in minstrelsy, vaudeville, Tin Pan Alley, ballads, ancient hymnals, deep-south blues, and other venerable popular music genres.” The anthology was meticulously produced by three highly regarded sound recording historians—the vernacular music specialists and radio producers Dick Spottswood and Henry Sapoznik, who also wrote the liner notes, and David Giovannoni, who contributed many rare cylinders and discs from his own collection. Additionally, Grammy Award winning musician Dom Flemons, aka “The American Songster” and former member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, also contributed to the notes.  Continue reading

Toronzo Cannon – The Preacher, The Politician or The Pimp

 

Title: The Preacher, The Politician or The Pimp
Artist: Toronzo Cannon
Label: Alligator
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: September 20, 2019

 

To the uninitiated, Toronzo Cannon might seem to be a relatively new arrival to the blues scene, but he has been paying his dues for years. A Chicago native who did not begin playing guitar until he was 22, Cannon started out as a sideman for local musicians such as Tommy McCracken and Wayne Baker Brooks, but he has been fronting his own bands since 2003. Cannon’s new release, The Preacher, The Politician or The Pimp, is his second album for Alligator Records and follows on the heels of The Chicago Way, voted the best blues album of 2016 by readers of Living Blues magazine. On his newest outing, Cannon is joined by veteran keyboardist Roosevelt Purifoy, who has performed with Chicago artists such as Buddy Guy and recorded with countless others. Rounding out his rhythm section are Melvin “Pooky Styx” Carlisle on drums and Marvin Little on bass. Continue reading

September 2019 Black Music Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during September 2019 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.  Continue reading

Battle of the Blues: Chicago vs Oakland

 

Title: Battle of the Blues: Chicago vs Oakland
Artist: Various
Label: Delta Roots
Format: CD, Digital
Release Date: August 2, 2019

 

Drummer, songwriter, and producer Twist Turner has worked for nearly six years on his latest project, Battle of the Blues: Chicago vs Oakland. Not only did this certified blues man write 11 original tracks and play the drums for the album, but he also mixed and produced it for his own label, Delta Roots Records. According to Turner, the project was originally inspired by his desire to “produce a recording of the unknown and underappreciated blues men and women of the Bay Area.” Oakland, an often-overlooked focal point of the West Coast blues and jazz scenes, was Turner’s home for six years. After relocating to Chicago, however, Turner expanded the project to also highlight seasoned blues artists from both of his home cities. Continue reading

Zac Harmon – Mississippi BarBQ

 

Title: Mississippi BarBQ
Artist: Zac Harmon
Label: Catfood
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: July 19, 2019

 

A native of Jackson, Mississippi, Zac Harmon knows barbecue like he knows the blues: intimately! No wonder the award-winning blues singer and guitarist has chosen to celebrate grill season in the South on his latest album, Mississippi BarBQ. Like many young folk, Harmon was beckoned by the bright lights of Tinseltown and spent many years in L.A. as a studio musician, songwriter and producer—including a stint at Michael Jackson’s publishing company, ATV Music. After writing songs for R&B artists such as The Whispers, The O’Jays, and Karyn White, Harmon decided to return to his roots and released his first blues album in 2003. What is immediately apparent on his latest effort are the dual strands of his musical influences, or in more colloquial terms, the soul seeps into his blues like barbecue sauce into pork. Continue reading

Mary Lane – Travelin’ Woman

 

Title: Travelin’ Woman
Artist: Mary Lane
Label: Women of the Blues
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: March 8, 2019

 

At 83 years of age, legendary blues singer Mary Lane is proving that she’s still got it. Two decades after the release of her first full-length CD, Lane has made a notable comeback with Travelin’ Woman, appropriately released on Women of the Blues Records. Continue reading

Little Junior Parker Rocks

 

Title: Rocks
Artist: Little Junior Parker
Label: Bear Family
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: April 5, 2019

 

Little Junior Parker (1932-1971) is the most recent artist to be featured on Bear Family’s long-running Rocks! series, which focuses on “the best upbeat recordings of seminal roots music artists.” Though Parker’s life “was tragically truncated by a brain tumor,” the blues harpist “had enough time to leave behind a bountiful blues recording legacy that stretched across two decades.” As explained by Bill Dahl, reissue producer and author of the extensive liner notes, Parker released a string of R&B and blues hits for two of the seminal independent labels of the postwar era: Sam Phillips’ Sun Records in Memphis and Don Robey’s Houston-based Duke imprint.” Both are represented on this compilation. Continue reading

Keb’ Mo’ – Oklahoma

 

Title: Oklahoma
Artist: Keb’ Mo’
Label: Concord
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: June 14, 2019

 

Blues musician Keb’ Mo’ has often incorporated elements of other genres in his music and his new release, Oklahoma, is a stellar example. Featuring artists ranging from Rosanne Cash and Jaci Velasquez to Robert Randolph and Taj Mahal (his collaborator on the 2017 release TajMo), Keb’ renders ten tracks of blues-infused Americana. The artist, who is celebrating twenty-five years in the music business, recently revealed the connections between his current frame of mind and the societal issues that fueled his songwriting: “When you are in a certain part of your life, the concept of an album is woven into the process. All of these songs stemmed from important issues and topics worldwide that really resonated with me during the time we were recording the project.” These topics include depression and waning love—the backbone of the blues—as well as contemporary concerns such as immigration and environmental degradation. Continue reading

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram – Kingfish

 

Title: Kingfish
Artist: Christone “Kingfish” Ingram
Label: Alligator Records
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: May 17, 2019

 

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram has been making waves in the blues community and beyond with his natural musical talent, soulful vocals, and compelling songwriting. The 20-year-old guitarist has the passion of a young performer as well as a commitment to the Delta blues tradition, established just outside his hometown of Clarksdale, Mississippi. Ingram’s debut album, Kingfish, is a collection of tracks that, while inspired by the work of blues legends like Buddy Guy, are unique to the young performer. The album’s songs range from autobiographical (“Been Here Before”) to humorous (“Trouble”) and slow and searing (“Love Ain’t My Favorite Thing”). Continue reading

The Lee Boys – Live on the East Coast

 

Title: Live on the East Coast
Artist: The Lee Boys
Label: M.C. Records
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: April 19, 2019

 

Over the past decade, a number of “sacred steel” bands have left the confines of the church to take center stage on the festival circuit. The Lee Boys of Miami, Florida, have emerged as a crowd favorite, as demonstrated by their new release, Live on the East Coast. Recorded in 2018 at three different venues, the album includes live performances of previously released songs as well as a few gems making their first appearance on record. Continue reading

Leo Bud Welch – The Angels in Heaven Done Signed My Name

 

Title: The Angels in Heaven Done Signed My Name
Artist: Leo Bud Welch
Label: Easy Eye Sound
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: March 8, 2019

 

Mississippi bluesman Leo “Bud” Welch’s musical talents were recognized at a very young age when he first learned to play blues guitar. By the time he was a teenager, Welch could be also be found at the local Baptist church performing gospel music. His dedication to both sacred and secular music remained strong throughout his life. He played at local juke joints, opening for the likes of B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, and John Lee Hooker, and also appeared on the regional television show Black Gospel Express. But the life of a professional musician eluded Welch, who was a lumberjack by trade in the northern Mississippi hill country. That all changed when his debut gospel album, Sabougla Voices, was released in 2014 when Welch was 82, followed a year later by the secular album, I Don’t Prefer No Blues. Welch’s discovery as an octogenarian steeped in traditional blues and gospel music propelled him to a world stage where he came to the attention of Dan Auerbach, who produced this project. Continue reading

Johnny Shines – The Blues Came Falling Down

 

Title: The Blues Came Falling Down
Artist: Johnny Shines
Label: Omnivore Recordings
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: May 3, 2019

 

Blues singer and slide guitarist Johnny Shines had quite the career; his accomplishments include touring with Robert Johnson, recording for Columbia, Vanguard, and Chess Records, as well as playing with blues legends like Little Walter and Willie Dixon. Following his success in the 1930s and ‘40s, however, Shines experienced a series of commercial failures before stepping away from music. A few years later, at a show in Chicago, he was “rediscovered” and began actively touring and recording music again. It was at the peak of Shines rediscovery that The Blues Came Falling Down – Live 1973 was captured. Continue reading