Chicago’s venerable Alligator
Records is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and to kick off the
festivities the blues label is shining the spotlight on Selwyn Birchwood, a “new generation
blues artist.” Building upon his widely acclaimed 2017 album, Pick Your
Poison, Birchwood’s new release, Living in a Burning House, is his
third project for the label. Across the 13 original tracks of the album, the
Florida native demonstrates his phenomenal technique on both six-string and lap
steel guitar, as well as his exceptional talent as a singer-songwriter and storyteller.
Title: Uncivil War Artist: Shemekia Copeland Label: Alligator Format: CD, Digital Release date: October 23, 2020
Reigning blues queen Shemekia Copeland delves
deep into the divided heart and tarnished soul of America on her latest
release, Uncivil War. The follow-up
to her 2018 album, America’s
Child, Copeland again teams up with Nashville guitarist/producer
Will Kimbrough, who casts her signature vocal style into a spellbinding Americana
brew. Assisting with this effort is an all-star cast featuring singer-guitarist
Jason Isbell, rising young Delta blues guitarist Christone
“Kingfish” Ingram, lap steel guitarist Jerry Douglas, bluegrass mandolinist
Sam Bush, legendary Stax guitarist Steve Cropper (Booker T. & the M.G.’s), roots
guitarists Duane “King of Twang” Eddy and Webb Wilder, plus The Orphan Brigade
on background vocals.
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 →
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 →
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 →
Fresh off of an appearance at a private party for the Democratic National Committee held at Philadelphia’s World Cafe Live, Chicago blues guitarist Toronzo Cannon has been busy representing his hometown. Since his last album, John the Conquer Root, he’s jumped over to Chicago’s other famed blues label, Alligator Records, which released his latest project. Fittingly titled The Chicago Way, the album features 11 self-penned songs that reflect Cannon’s life in the Windy City, using “timeless stories of common experiences in uncommon ways.”
The opening track, “The Pain Around Me,” is full of the pathos of growing up in a dystopian urban environment near the Robert Taylor Homes on the South Side of Chicago. Following a blistering guitar intro, Cannon sings: “Six kids on a corner up to no damn good, that’s six broken homes struggling in my neighborhood. You’ve got liquor stores everywhere on my side of town, I don’t want my kids to go outside ‘cause the thugs are hangin’ around.” Apologizing for painting such a grim portrait of inner city life, he sings in the chorus, “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to sing this song about the pain around me, but this is what I see, what I see.”
In the more traditional songs “Bad Contract” and “Walk It Off,” Cannon sings the blues about getting the short end of the stick when relationships go sour, with the latter song featuring some especially fine guitar solos. The following track, “Fine Seasoned Women,” opens with a swinging jazz intro before settling into a steady groove powered by Brother John Kattke on the Hammond B3 and a fine, tight horn section—superbly arranged by Kattke—that features Doug Corcoran on trumpet, Steve Eisen on tenor sax, and Robert Collazo on bari sax. This is definitely one of the best tracks on the album, especially when Cannon punches in the guitar solos, fitting perfectly into the groove. Also adding to the mix are Larry Williams on bass and Melvin “Pookie Stix” Carlisle on drums.
Another highlight on the album is “Chickens Comin’ Home to Roost,” featuring some of Cannon’s best guitar work and concluding with an extended blues-rock solo that goes out blazing in an inferno of psychedelic guitar riffs. The heat continues with “Strength to Survive,” with Cannon digging deep into his soul on the vocals, then following up with the melancholy slow burner, “When Will You Tell Him About Me?” On the emotional closing track, “I Am,” about the multiple temptations and the choices one makes, Cannon is joined by singer Melon “Honeydew” Lewis and they bring down the house with a gospel fueled blues-rock masterpiece.
The Chicago Way offers contemporary, complex songs that are above and beyond standard blues fare, convincingly delivered by Toronzo Cannon with soulful vocals and searing blues-rock guitar virtuosity. This might well be the best blues album of 2016, and serves as proof that Cannon is poised to take over the crown as Chicago’s leading blues guitarist.