Bobby Rush – Sitting on Top of the Blues

 

Title: Sitting on Top of the Blues
Artist: Bobby Rush
Label: Deep Rush/dist. Thirty Tigers
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: August 16, 2019

 

An octogenarian and elder statesman of the blues, Bobby Rush shows no signs of slowing down. The self-professed “king of the chitlin’ circuit” is currently riding high from his cameo in the acclaimed film, Dolemite Is My Name, where he performed his original song “I Ain’t Studdin’ Ya,” as well as the release of his latest studio album, Sitting on Top of the Blues.  The album’s title aptly describes Rush’s position as a “bluesman who’s sitting on the top of my game, proud of what I do and proud of who I am.” The eleven tracks, all penned by Rush, also speak to his talents as a master storyteller as he regales us with songs about “how I came up and who did I love.” Continue reading

Altered Five Blues Band – Ten Thousand Watts

 

Title: Ten Thousand Watts
Artist: Altered Five Blues Band
Label: Blind Pig
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: September 6, 2019

 

Milwaukee’s Altered Five Blues Band, led by vocalist Ted Taylor, has been garnering legions of fans since the quintet formed in 2002. On their fifth studio album, Ten Thousand Watts, they generate their own brand of high voltage blues rock across twelve original tracks. The A5’s cohesiveness is immediately evident, a testimony to the band’s seventeen years as a unit and appearances at blues festivals worldwide. In addition to Taylor, band members include guitarist Jeff Schroedl, bassist Mark Solveson, keyboardist Raymond Tevich, and drummer Alan Arber, who joined in 2017. Continue reading

Billy Branch & The Sons of Blues – Roots and Branches: The Songs of Little Walter

 

Title: Roots and Branches: The Songs of Little Walter
Artist: Billy Branch & The Sons of Blues
Label: Alligator
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: July 5, 2019

 

One of the greatest blues harmonica players alive today, the three-time Blues Music Award winner Billy Branch carries on the Chicago blues harp tradition he learned first-hand from legends such as Junior Wells, James Cotton and Willie Dixon. Following up on his 2014 release, Blues Shock, Branch’s latest project reimagines 15 songs written or made famous by another Chicago harp legend, the late great Little Walter Jacobs. Branch is joined by his longtime band, The Sons of Blues, featuring pianist Sumito “Ariyo” Ariyoshi, guitarist Giles Corey, bassist Marvin Little, and drummer Andrew “Blaze” Thomas. Their goal for this project was to go beyond a mere tribute recording, fusing their own contemporary mix of funk, rhythm and blues, and soul into each and every track. Continue reading

Jimmy “Duck” Holmes – Cypress Grove

 

Title: Cypress Grove
Artist: Jimmy “Duck” Holmes
Label: Easy Eye Sound
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: October 18, 2019

 

Mississippi bluesman Jimmy “Duck” Holmes literally grew up in a southern juke joint. His mother and father established the historic Blue Front Café in 1948 in the town of Betonia—ground zero for the minor-tuned, acoustic country blues style made famous by Jack Owens and his predecessor, Skip James. Now a prominent stop on the Mississippi Blues Trail, the Blue Front Café has been run for the past 47 years by Holmes, who can still be heard nearly every weekend singing and playing his acoustic or hollowbody electric guitar. As possibly the last living musician who was weaned on the Bentonia blues style, Holmes aims to keep the tradition alive on his latest album, Cypress Grove. Produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, the project captures classics performed in forward looking renditions that stay true to their roots while bringing a spontaneity into the mix. Backing Holmes is an all-star cast of musicians including Auerbach and Marcus King on guitars, Eric Deaton on bass, and Sam Bacco on drums and percussion. Continue reading

Vince Agwada – Light of Day

 

Title: Light of Day
Artist: Vince Agwada
Label: Rocketnoodle Music/dist. CD Baby
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: July 15, 2019

 

Blues singer/guitarist Vince Agwada got his start in music playing in bars like the historic Checkerboard Lounge on the South Side of Chicago, backing artists such as Buddy Guy, Magic Slim, Otis Rush and John Primer. After spending over two decades on the road, touring with the likes of Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, and Son Seals, he decided to take some time off for his own projects. Agwada’s self-produced debut album, “Eyes of the City,” was released in 2008, followed by Basic Blue in 2011. Now, after an eight year hiatus, Agwada has returned with a new album, Light of Day, featuring 16 original songs spanning the genres of jazz, rock, funk and blues. Continue reading

Jessie Mae Hemphill – Run Get My Shotgun

 

Title: Run Get My Shotgun
Artist: Jessie Mae Hemphill
Label: Big Legal Mess
Format: CD, Vinyl, Digital
Release Date: December 6, 2019

 

Jessie Mae Hemphill (1923-2006) comes from a long line of legendary Mississippi blues musicians. Her great grandfather Dock Hemphill was a renowned fiddle player from Choctaw County and her grandfather Sid Hemphill was a fiddle player and bandleader who recorded for Alan Lomax and George Mitchell. Jessie Mae was a talented singer, songwriter, guitarist, and drummer whose first recordings were made with blues researcher George Mitchell and ethnomusicologist David Evans in the 1960s and ‘70s. This new release by Big Legal Mess, Run Get My Shotgun, is a collection of field recordings by the late musician from New Year’s Eve 1989, a few years prior to her retirement. Continue reading

Various Artists – 50 Years of Como MS Blues

 

Title: 50 Years of Como Ms Blues (Greatest Blues Songs, Vol. 1)
Artist: Various
Label: Wolf
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: September 25, 2019

 

The hill country around Como, Mississippi produced several significant country blues artists. Less than an hour south of Memphis, the relatively isolated region also gave birth to a unique blues style that was distinct from the more popular Delta blues tradition. This new compilation from Wolf Records includes both well-known and lesser-known artists from Como, including Fred McDowell, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Eli Green, Ranie Burnette and Othar Turner—all born between 1901-1923. R.L. Boyce, the last living bluesman in Como and Othar Turner’s nephew, represents the younger generation. Continue reading

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