Title: Black Maria
Artist: Willie J. Laws Jr.
Label: Dist. CD Baby
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: August 10, 2018
Self-described as “The Prophet of Funky Texas Blues,” guitarist Willie J. Laws offers an eclectic fusion of the blues with sounds native to the Gulf Coast region, including Zydeco, R&B, a twang of country, a little Tex-Mex Tejano/Conjunto, and a dollop of funk. Honed over 25 years of performing with his own band, as well as the Tejano band Los Texmaniacs, Laws’ playing style is American roots music at its best. On his latest album, Black Maria, Laws (on rhythm/lead guitar and vocals) is joined by his longtime band members—Bruce Mattson (keyboards/organ), Osi Brathwaite (drums), and Malcolm Stuckey (bass)—who helped pen the ten original tracks on this recording.Continue reading →
Veteran blues musician Kenny Wayne might have been raised as a preacher’s kid, but when he found himself “turning from the Lord’s work to the Devil’s music,” the “Blues Boss” was born. Well-known for his flamboyant zoot suits, boogie-woogie piano playing, and affinity for the classic jump blues of Amos Milburn and Louis Jordan, Wayne strives to keep all of these styles alive. As the septuagenarian states, “That’s classic stuff. And I’m at that classic age, so it all works out.” On his 10th release, Inspired by the Blues, Wayne and his band are joined by several special guests, including legendary Chicago harmonica player Billy Branch, guitarist Duke Robillard, and B.B. King’s long-time bassist Russell Jackson.Continue reading →
Artist: Henry Townsend
Label: Omnivore Recordings
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: December 14, 2018
Hailed as one of the last of the original St. Louis pre-war blues musicians, the late Henry “Mule” Townsend was equally skilled on piano and guitar. His distinctive string snapping style drew heavily upon his Mississippi Delta roots as well as the ragtime and jump blues of his adopted city of St. Louis. Townsend, who began his recording career in 1929 for Columbia Records, holds the distinction of the only blues artist to have recorded during every decade from the 1920s to the 2000s. He accompanied many of the great blues musicians over the years, including Roosevelt Sykes, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Robert Nighthawk. In 1980, the Nighthawk Records label out of St. Louis wanted to honor Townsend with an album worthy of his “unique genius,” and “thus secure for him the recognition that an artist of his stature and historical importance deserves.” The result was the “improvised” solo album, Mule, which highlights Townsend’s vocal and keyboard skills. Assisting musicians include another country blues legend, Yank Rachell, on mandolin and guitar, as well as guitarist Norman Merritt and Henry’s son, Vernell Townsend, who adds vocals on several songs.Continue reading →
Voices of Mississippi: Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris is an important addition to the documentation of Southern folklife, culture, and history. The box set includes a CD of blues field recordings, another CD of gospel field recordings, a disc of interviews and oral histories, a DVD with seven short documentary films (1972-1980), and a 120-page hardcover book edited by Ferris that includes transcriptions and annotations for all of the film and album recordings. A recently released companion DVD, The Early Films of William Ferris, 1968-1975, features rare footage of B.B. King and James “Son” Thomas. Both were produced by Dust-to-Digital in collaboration with the University of North Carolina, which holds the William R. Ferris Collection. Continue reading →
The 16th annual Blues Images calendar and CD reproduces classic, rare, and recently rediscovered artwork and recordings of pre and post-war blues songs from blues masters such as Charley Patton, Memphis Minnie, Leola B. Wilson, William Harris, Papa George Lightfoot, and others. While a copy of Papa George Lightfoot’s debut disc on Sultan Records (“Winding Ball Mama” / “Snake Hipping Daddy”) has been rumored to exist for decades, it recently surfaced and came to the attention of John Tefteller and his Blues Images team. The disc has been remastered and is included on this compilation along with other rare tracks such as William Harris’ “I’m a Roamin’ Gambler” / “I Was Born in the Country—Raised In The Town.”Continue reading →
Cedric Burnside is keeping the northern Mississippi hill country blues alive, a tradition he was literally born into and raised up to perform. Young Cedric frequently played alongside his grandfather, the great blues guitarist R.L. Burnside, and his father, drummer Calvin Jackson, as well as other family members, often combining three generations of talent in one band. Cedric’s uncle, bass player Garry Burnside, also contributed to the Cedric Burnside Project, the group featured on his Grammy nominated 2015 release, Descendants of Hill Country. Though he’s only 40-years-old, Cedric no doubt feels like an old soul and culture bearer, hence the title of his latest album, Benton County Relic. His music, however, is anything but archaic. Continue reading →
Title: The Difference Between Me & You
Artist: Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: September 7, 2018
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears—a blues group formed in Austin, Texas in 2007—has released their newest album, The Difference Between Me & You. Recorded in their hometown with Grammy Award winning producer Stuart Sikes, the album was created with a “hands on style of production with open creative interaction between the entire band,” according to Lewis. The experimental style of the group is rooted in Lewis’s youthful discovery of his love for the blues, which he learned to play on guitar while working at a pawn shop. From these unlikely origins, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears have created an introspective blues record that asks tough questions of its listeners.Continue reading →
For this month’s gospel music selections were looking in our own backyard with releases from two Indianapolis-based artists—Judah Band’s sophomore album Gone Fishin’ and Tyscot Records’ own Bishop Leonard Scott’s praise and worship album Jesus Love Legacy. R&B/soul releases include Unstoppable by Candi Staton and Free Me from Burundian soul singer J.P. Bimeni & The Black Belts.
Albums with a Caribbean tie include legendary reggae group Black Uhuru’s new release As the World Turns, the collaboration of reggae musician Winston McAnuff and French accordionist Fixi on Big Brothers, French-Guadeloupian trio Delgres’ debut album Mo Jodi, Snarky Puppy spin-off group Bokanté with the Metropole Orkest on What Heat(featuring Guadeloupian vocalist Malika Tirolien), plus Bokanté member and lap/pedal steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier’s ‘dirty funk’ solo debut Exit 16.
Title: Mo Jodi
Format: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: August 31, 2018
Delgres, the Paris-based blues trio, links the history of the French Caribbean to the musical style of New Orleans in their debut album, Mo Jodi. Meaning “Die Today” in Creole, the album’s name is inspired by the sacrifice of Louis Delgrés, the band’s namesake, who died fighting against the reinstatement of slavery in Guadeloupe. Founder and leader of Delgres, Pascal Danaë, traces his roots back to Guadeloupe where his great-great-grandmother was a slave. Mo Jodi was born of the group’s love of jazz and blues and Danaë’s connection to both his ancestral homeland and New Orleans, where many Guadeloupians sought refuge during the early 1800s.Continue reading →
October is always a good month to remember Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (1929-2000), best known for over-the-top, voodoo-inspired performances of his underground hit, “I Put a Spell on You.” That song and more can be found on the two-disc compilation, Are YOU one of Jay’s Kids? – The Complete Bizarre Sessions, 1990-1994. Continue reading →
Since her Outskirts of Love release, “Queen of the Blues” Shemekia Copeland has been striving for a deeper representation of Americana blues. With her newest offering, she has done just that. Combining elements of rock, soul and country, America’s Child is Copeland’s most diverse and compelling work yet. Continue reading →
Midnight Train is a live recording of blues and “piano boogie woogie” musician Errol Dixon’s performance at Vienna’s popular jazz club, Jazzland, in 1973. The album features a few of Dixon’s originals such as “Pretty Baby,” “Foot Stompin’ Boogie,” “I’ve Got the Blues,” and perhaps his most popular tune, “Midnight Train.” Dixon also plays a number of standards: Aaron Walker’s “Stormy Monday,” Leiber and Stoller’s “Kansas City,” B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby,” Floyd Dixon’s “Hey Bartender,” and Ma Rainey’s “See, See Rider.”Continue reading →
City Soul, harmonica player and vocalist Russ Green’s debut album, pays tribute to the Windy City and the many musicians who have shaped its signature sound. Born and raised on the west side of Chicago, Green didn’t realize his musical aspirations until adulthood. After purchasing a harmonica in an attempt to recreate the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, Green was mentored by two of Chicago’s legendary harmonica players, Sugar Blue and Billy Branch, and his blues career took off from there.
City Soul is composed of 10 tracks co-produced by Green and Sam Clayton that feature musicians from around Chicago. The bluesy opening track, “First Thing Smokin’” is inspired by the sounds of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. Other tracks, like “Lint In My Pocket,” are more funk-inspired, while Green’s duo with guitarist Vince Agwada is reminiscent of modern blues rock. “The Edge,” a nod to Green’s fascination with Jimi Hendrix, includes a swirling psychedelic harmonica intro that precedes a funky rock track.
Although City Soul is his debut album, Russ Green is already an accomplished blues musician, having been featured on the renowned Chicago Blues Harmonica Project and having performed at numerous blues festivals across the country. This is just the beginning of the Chicago native’s journey as a blues harmonica player.
Although it has been just over 40 years since his death, legendary jazz pianist Erroll Garner’s music vibrantly lives on thanks to the record labels who have championed his work. First, Sony Legacy released The Complete Concert By The Sea in 2015 as well asReady Take Onethe following year, both of which received major award consideration. Now the people behind Mack Avenue Records have continued efforts to keep Garner’s memory alive with their new release,
Nightconcert. The title is drawn from Garner’s midnight concert in November 1964 at The Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, captured live with an audience of 2000 highly enthusiastic and enraptured people of all ages. This concert recording displays Garner at the height of his career, with eight unique arrangements of classic standards as well as a newly discovered original!
Erroll Garner, was born June 25th, 1923 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He may be best remembered for his composition, “Misty,” which has become a treasured classic for jazz lovers and standard repertoire for every jazz musician to this very day. Beginning his study of the piano at age three, Garner took lessons from a family friend but he was primarily self-taught and remained an “ear-player” his entire life, never learning to read music. By age 11 his career was well on its way as he played piano on Allegheny riverboats and at 14 he began playing with well-known saxophonist Leroy Brown. Garner went on to enjoy a successful career working with other greats like bassist Slam Stewart and bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker on the “Cool Blues” sessions. He also made regular appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Nightconcert is an instant classic piano trio album as Garner displays his incomparable style and virtuosity. Opening with the Rogers and Hart classic “Where or When,” Garner chooses to begin this and many other songs with elaborate piano introductions, often with the intent of throwing off the audience so they don’t know what song is coming. He seems to have a tendency to play a hemiola in these intros by maintaining a triple meter in the left hand while playing in a duple meter in the right. He makes this especially prevalent later in the album with the song “Night and Day” as he carries this idea from the introduction throughout the rest of the tune. This is indicative of Garner’s overall style—his right hand typically lays back behind the beat as his left hand drives steadily along—often used as a powerful function to begin and end his slick phrases. As the concert continues, Garner jumps between his up-tempo tunes and lush ballads such as “My Funny Valentine” and “Over The Rainbow,” where he enraptures listeners with his thick and unique chord voicing.
Garner’s playing is unlike any others and simply hearing his live performance on Nightconcert is a truly unique experience—from his iconic groans that can be heard on every record, to his astounding skill and mastery over the piano. Great thanks must be extended to those at Mack Avenue Records for releasing yet another historical recording that keeps Garner’s body of work alive for a new generation.
Seminal jazz releases this month include Kamasi Washington’s two-disc Heaven and Earthand Dr. Michael White’s Tricentennial Rag honoring New Orlean’s 300th birthday. Yet another tribute album is Lurrie Bell & the Bell Dynasty’s Tribute to Carey Bell, featuring the four accomplished sons of the legendary Chicago blues harpist.
Also featured is gospel singer Javen’s latest album, Grace; the collaboration connecting Sengalese kora master Diali Cissokho and North Carolina band Kaira Ba on Routes; Lamont Dozier’s Reimagination of tracks previously written for other artists; and the Little Freddie King compilation Fried Rice & Chicken featuring his best tracks from the Orlean’s label. Wrapping up this issue is our list of June 2018 Releases of Note in all genres.
Immediately upon hearing his mesmerizing riffs, this blues novice could tell I was in the presence of a legend. The Blues is Alive and Well, the latest release from multiple Grammy and award winner Buddy Guy, demonstrates that this icon is throwing us what could arguably be his most skilled offering yet. In recognition of his many contributions to the genre, The Americana Music Association is awarding Guy a Lifetime Achievement Award on September 12th in Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, complimenting his 2015 Grammy Lifetime Achievement award and his more than 50 years as a blues innovator, musician and mentor. To say that Buddy Guy has a long history with the blues does not do him justice—according to numerous musicians, Buddy Guy IS the blues, period.
Guy opens the 15-track album with “A Few Good Years,” a haunting, rambling slide number showcasing his trademark growl and lyrically addressing the desire to do what he does best for just a little while longer: “A few good years/is all I need right now.” “Guilty as Charged” testifies exactly as you would expect—an uptempo confessional sermonizing not only the singer’s introspectiveness but also Guy’s legendary steel-driving artistry. “Whiskey for Sale” is a call-and-response between the vocals and Guy’s guitar as they negotiate their trade, and the invigorating work song rhythm on “Ooh Daddy” remains with you long past the last chord drop.
Collaborators weigh in on Guy’s blues mission, as well, including several British musicians profoundly influenced by the genre. Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards contribute to the ‘killing floor’ offering “You Did the Crime” and the warm and fuzzy “Cognac,” respectively, as does another rock guitarist, Jeff Beck. Being that the Rolling Stones began as a band called “The Blues Boys” and they’ve paid homage to Guy in the past, the participation of Jagger and Richards comes as no surprise. “Blue No More” introduces guitarist James Bay, a worthy up-and-coming blues man in his own right.
Taking down the tempo a notch Louisiana blues style, “When My Day Comes” mesmerizes with its plodding tempo and dark undertones about what is yet to materialize. “Bad Day,” a dark but electric musing, warns of how even the best person can reach their wit’s end sometimes. But in the end, Guy’s line, “You can call me old-fashioned/but I still know how to have my fun” on the track “Old Fashioned” sums up this album—and indeed, his entire career.
Guy sounds every bit as vital and youthful on this album as he did on his early collaborations with the late Junior Wells, and it’s inspiring to hear a veteran artist laying down the blues with such continual precision time and again. Both timeless and cutting edge, The Blues is Alive and Well proves that when it comes to Buddy Guy and the blues, 81 is certainly the new 21—no bones about it.
Delta blues guitarist Little Freddie King has been a fixture on the New Orleans scene for decades, performing regularly at the NOLA Jazz and Heritage Festival as well as clubs in “the lowest bowels of the mighty Ninth Ward.” Though not as well-known as the other guitar slinging Freddie King from Texas, “Little Freddie” is still the real deal—a Mississippi-born bluesman who learned to play guitar on his daddy’s knee, claims Lightnin’ Hopkins as a cousin, and once toured Europe with Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker.
In 1971, Harmonica Williams and Little Freddie King released Rock N Roll Blues on the obscure Ahura Mazda label. As one might guess, this limited pressing didn’t provide King with much exposure beyond his adopted hometown, and it’s difficult to find a copy these days. Over two decades later, the local Orleans Records label released two of King’s first solo projects, Swamp Boogie in 1997 and Sing Sang Sung in 2000.
Fried Rice & Chicken is a compilation featuring the best tracks from King’s two contrasting albums for Orleans. The first half, recorded in the studio from 1994-1995, features backing by Earl “Pass the Hatchet” Stanley and Robert Wilson on electric bass, Jason Sipher on upright bass, Kerry Brown and Bradley Wisham on drums, with Crazy Rick Allen on Wurlitzer electric piano and organ. While not exactly polished, the tracks are at least a half step up from King’s raw club performances. Notable tracks include the opening song “Cleos Back,” which some might recognize from the Tom Hanks movie Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and “Mean Little Woman” featured in the HBO series Treme. Yes, Little Freddie has been getting some good exposure since these songs were initially released.
The second half of the album was recorded live at the Dream Palace, a club on Frenchman Street in the Faubourg Marigny section of New Orleans. You might say this is the real Little Freddie King, offering up the raw gut bucket blues of Southern juke joints. On these tracks King is accompanied by his regular band at the time: Wacko Wade Wright on drums, Anthony Anderson on electric bass, and Bobby Lewis DiTullio on harmonica. Highlights include the title track “Sing Sang Sung,” a great instrumental showcasing King and DiTullio, and “Bad Chicken” featuring “squawking” guitar licks.
Though there are a number of different Freddie King compilations, Fried Rice & Chicken encapsulates the best of his Orleans Records output.
Blues powerhouses Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite return with a new musical collaboration, No Mercy In This Land. Their first album, 2012’s Get Up!, spurred, at least in my mind at the time, comparisons to other blues and jazz artists such as John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters. I now realize that while some comparisons are productive, sometimes artists come together to produce the most amazingly creative offerings. Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite are the perfect example of just that.
“When I Go,” the opening track, sets the mood for what to expect on this new album. The song begins with humming! You know what I mean—1930s/1940s, take-me-to-the-river-and-baptize me-in-blues humming. Then, the mesmerizing strumming of a guitar takes over. “I’ll take you when I go,” replies Harper. Talk about musical blues call and response.
After that moving scene, picture a jukebox in some honky-tonk bar, with patrons who perhaps had one too many, lip synching to the next track, “The Bottle Wins Again.” On “Trust You to Dig My Grave” I can practically hear Muddy Waters weighing in on the action from the Beyond—Harper and Musselwhite really do justice on this one. “Bad Habits” is an up tempo, clap-along jam. Musselwhite and Harper are never quite specific what kind of bad habits they are referring to. You listen. You be the judge of that one.
No Mercy In This Land is excellent work from Harper, and once again, he has found a great compadre in Musselwhite. For this album, and this iconic blues duo, there literally is no comparison.
Robust talent runs generationally, especially when you’re the offspring of blues icon Taj Mahal and dancer/artist Inshirah Mahal, as proven with Deva Mahal’s debut album, Run Deep. Forging her own sound as part blues, part indie-rock and all soul, Mahal gives her listeners one of the edgiest, most emotionally drawn voices in the industry today.
The first track, “Can’t Call it Love,” opens with a riveting guitar riff and empowering lyrics: I’m feeling new like an old-school instrumental / I’m getting in the mood / And feeling sentimental, which can be taken as both commentary on one’s new found infatuation and Mahal’s coming into her own. The entire album features innovative instrumentality and Mahal’s varied vocalization styles. For example, the closing track, “Take a Giant Step,” showcases her sultry pop sound as she reinterprets this standard by Carole King and Gerry Goffin (a song her father has also recorded).
The focal track of the album, both vocally and visually, is the offering “Snakes.” Mahal’s vocals jump right off the album from the first moment she begins singing, but the visualizations of the video are pure genius—black and white coloring, shadow dancing and the animation of a swamp monster, said to have been inspired by her favorite childhood “girl power” book, Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp by Mercer Mayer.
Mahal has definitely come out from under her parent’s shadow with this artistic debut. From the first note to the last few strains, this artist’s soulful and funky melodies will have you running deep into the magical world of Deva Mahal, breathlessly awaiting her next move.
Black cowboys may not be the first thing that comes to mind when the Wild West is mentioned, but they were prevalent and left an undeniable impact on the development of the American West. Following the end of the Civil War in the late 1860s, thousands of newly-freed African Americans moved westward to start new lives. Some chose the grueling and often dangerous path of becoming a cowboy, an occupation in which work ethic mattered more than skin color. These pioneers worked long, hard days alongside Mexican vaqueros, Native Americans, and white cowboys and often turned to song for comfort on the trails.
The newly released Black Cowboys featuring co-founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dom Flemons (aka “The American Songster”), places these often forgotten pioneers of the Old West in the spotlight. Produced by Flemons and Dan Sheehy for Smithsonian Folkways as part of its African American Legacy series, the album pays tribute to the music, poetry, and complex history of these cowboys. The accompanying 40 page booklet includes essays by Flemons (on the cowboy’s music) and Jim Griffith (on the history of Black cowboys), as well as detailed notes on each track complemented by many archival photographs.
In addition to Flemons, who performs on all tracks (vocals, 6-string guitar, resonator guitar, 4-string banjo, cow “rhythm” bones), backing musicians include Alvin “Youngblood” Hart (12-string guitar), Jimbo Mathus (mandolin, kazoo, harmonica), Stu Cole (upright bass), Brian Farrow (fiddle, upright bass, vocals), Dante Pope (cow “rhythm” bones, vocals, snare drum), and Dan Sheehy (guitarrón). Together, these musicians create a rich instrumental background for the lyrics.
Many of the songs on Black Cowboys are traditional tunes arranged and performed by Flemons, such as “John Henry y los vaqueros,” which highlights instruments with roots in African American minstrel shows like the fiddle and cow “rhythm” bones. Another track arranged by Flemons, “Black Woman,” is a field holler collected in the 1930s that has themes of ranching and leaving behind loved ones. Although it isn’t a traditional cowboy song, the song honors the thousands of African American women who helped develop the West.
From Southwestern cowboy poems like Gail Gardner’s 1917 “Tyin’ Knots in the Devil’s Tail” to Jack Thorp’s traditional cowboy tune “Little Joe the Wrangler,” the album also includes songs written by actual cowboys in the early 20th century, offering a rare look into the post-Civil War cowboy’s life.
Other tracks were newly composed by Flemons to pay homage to notable historical figures. For example, “Steel Pony Blues” is about Deadwood Dick, sometimes called “the greatest Black cowboy in the Old West,” who later became a Pullman porter, while “One Dollar Bill” is a tribute to legendary rodeo rider Bill Pickett who invented the sport of bulldogging. “He’s a Lone Ranger” recalls the life of Bass Reeves, the first African American U.S. Marshall.
In the words of professor and author Mike Searles (quoted in the liner notes), “many people see the West as the birthplace of America . . . if they understand that African Americans were cowboys, even Native Americans were cowboys, Mexicans were cowboys, it really opens the door for us to think about America as a multiethnic, multiracial place.” Black Cowboys creates a sonic portrait of a more diverse American West, expanding our knowledge through its varied collection of songs and poems by and about African American cowboys.
The Reverend Shawn Amos is back at it again, preaching his brand of blues on his latest, The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down. His sophomore album, The Reverend Shawn Amos Loves You, showed us that the Rev had our best interests at heart, and this trend of his continues on his latest offering. Son of Wally Amos, the first African American talent agent for William Morris in addition to being the creator of Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies, Reverend Shawn Amos has been an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church, an A&R Executive at Rhino Entertainment and vice president of A&R at Shout! Factory. He discovered blues while attending NYU film school, spending his summers tracing down the southern places in Peter Guralnick’s Feel Like Going Home trilogy from which Amos drew his initial blues inspiration.
The nine-song set includes five original songs, two inspired covers, and a three track “Freedom Suite” that rolls out like a Sunday Passion play. Amos was obviously inspired by the tremendous turmoil and social unrest around the world today in his songwriting, yet digging deeper into the lyrics reveals clues of admitted recent hardships in his home life. The result is an album that strikes a delicate balance between capturing personal challenges while capitalizing on the zeitgeist of this critical time in history.
The album opens with the early morning confessional “Moved,” followed by the first of his new freedom songs, “2017.” This classic soul groove in the style of Curtis Mayfield and the Staple Singers was recorded at Royal Studios in Memphis. Amos is joined by Al Green’s backing band, the HI Rhythm Section, along with a string arrangement from Chris Anderson and vocals from the Masqueraders. The cornerstone lyric is a simple mandate: “hate and fear ain’t no vaccine, we’ve got to think about what our children’s eyes have seen in the year 2017.” The next song, “Hold Hands” is an Amos-led congregational plea for peace that features Hammond B3 from Peter Adams.
The Freedom Suite officially begins with track 5, which is an a cappella reading of Uncle Tom’s prayer. This pays homage to the Freedom Singers founder Cordell Hull Reagon, who first recorded the powerful civil rights song in the early 1960s. Amos then offers another side of his pulpit in “Does My Life Matter,” an expansion on Booker T. Washington’s words and intent. The fiery funk of “(We’ve Got To) Come Together” functions as an energetic admonishment, and the closing track, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” serves as a final alter call for the album and its audience.
The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down, as an album of timely songs, not only furthers Amos’ mission statement, but also stands as a landmark artistic achievement for his career as a bluesman of purpose.
AJ Ghent, hailing from Fort Pierce, Florida, has music literally running through his veins. His great uncle, Willie Eason, is the creator of the “sacred steel” tradition—a style of pedal-steel guitar playing that’s unique to certain African American Pentecostal churches—and his grandfather, Henry Nelson, is the founder of the “sacred steel” rhythmic guitar style. With role models like these, it’s no wonder Ghent wore out his father’s sacred steel CDs by the age of twelve. After high school, he and his wife, singer MarLa, packed up and moved to Atlanta, Georgia where soon after Ghent began a mentorship under the legendary Colonel Bruce Hampton, one of the original founders of Atlanta’s Hampton Grease Band. Gaining experience with Hampton’s band set the stage for Ghent’s subsequent career moves, including being “true to himself” as Hampton advised.
Ghent’s newest release, The Neo Blues Project, is a study in just that. The entire album is something different altogether—a musical fusion of blues, steel guitar, and rock that takes art and skill to master. But that’s something that Ghent has spent his whole life perfecting, along with his custom built 8-string lap steel hybrids. The offering weighs in at just six tracks, but don’t let its size fool you. This album packs a solid punch right where it’s necessary to keep the music in your head long after the last chord fades.
On his rock anthem “Power,” Ghent offers a track to fuel a revolution: “I’m gonna wait it out, ‘til my change comes / and I’m gonna pray, it won’t be long / ‘cause I’ve been tempted and I’ve been tried / and I’m a soldier ‘til I die / so you can bring it on, all your pain / you know why? ‘cause it’s a revolution comin’”
Combining his own style with elements of rock guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and Lenny Kravitz, Ghent part-wails and part-steels his way through each song. “Long List Friend,” co-written with his wife, is a blues ballad all of us can relate to in our search for “The One.”
But if you are celebrating the letting go of a former love, check out the final track, “Gonna Rock.” Its meaning and intent are completely celebratory, to say the least. “Wash Ya Hair” is a fun, catchy tune that really brings all of Ghent’s diverse talents of vocalization and guitar-playing to the forefront: “Shake ‘em off, wash your hair, let it shine, Everywhere.”
Ghent’s compact project completes its mission. The Neo Blues Project entertains the senses, introduces us to the full range of Ghent’s talents, and gives us a foot-tapping, air-slamming trip into the world of blues rock in legendary style. If this is Ghent being true to himself, I personally can’t wait for anything this talented artist has to offer us.
They Call Me Mud, the newest release from Mud Morganfield, is one of those albums on which a musician seems to truly come into his own. While the legacy of his father, Muddy Waters, shouldn’t—and very possibly can’t—be extracted from Morganfield’s blues MO, this album showcases his own unique style. Morganfield, after all, came of age in the ‘70s and ‘80s, when music had already evolved from his father’s era of jazz and blues into a world where R&B, soul and Motown ruled. Combine his bass experience with Chicago bands of those eras to his already existing blues foundation and you have Morganfield’s own style at work.
The signature song, “They Call Me Mud,” is one of those songs that really allow the musicians to show what they love to do best, and in Morganfield’s case, that is his vocalized growl which commands immediate attention throughout. “Who’s Fooling Who?” features Studebacker John on harp and Mike Wheeler on guitar going toe-to-toe. Morganfield also pays tribute to his father on the slide guitar blues “Howlin’ Wolf” and the shuffle “Can’t Get No Grindin’,” where all artists take a solo turn at the wheel. Morganfield and his daughter Lashunda provide a moving duet on “Who Loves You,” a song where Morganfield’s R&B inspiration grooves right in. The final selection, “Mud’s Groove,” is a jazzy instrumental enhanced by Bill Branch’s talents on harp, and is a perfect finale.
“I think it’s some of the best work I’ve ever done yet” proclaims Morganfield. “I feel that with the variety of material I have on here, people will get a chance to hear the other sides of my music.” The collection completely lives up to Morganfield’s claim. Regardless of whether you are an R&B, jazz, soul or blues fan, They Call Me Mud has something special and unforgettable for everyone.