A Man and His Blues
What can a man do
When the blues keep following him around
What can a poor man do
When the blues keep following him around
—Buddy Guy, “A Man and His Blues”
[G]uy’s song depicts a man moving up north and feeling homesick, unable to rid himself of the blues. These seven (good number for the blues, isn’t it?) artists, while fully committed to the blues, are finding new ways to shape their legacies. These guys are clearly in charge, spurred on by some stellar sidemen that enable them to run a full gamut of emotions, from pain to joy. They are men expressing their blues proudly and confidently. They have defiantly answered the question, “What can a poor man do?”
Up until just a few years ago, Leo “Bud” Welch was living in a disheveled shack in Mississippi’s Hill County without plumbing or electricity. At age 82, Welch is releasing his second record, I Don’t Prefer No Blues, the follow-up to his debut, last year’s gospel disc, Sabougla Voices. In this brief period, the local musician has now played throughout the U.S. and Europe, saying, “I’m doing things I never thought I’d do. I never thought I’d get to play outside of Mississippi or travel to other countries… I’m also keeping all my bills paid up to date, which I couldn’t do before.” This album is a throw-back to those great Hill Country albums of R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, as Welch duels with gritty get down attitude alongside label-mate Jimbo Mathus in a guitar garage-blues rave-up full of fuzz, distortion and visceral rawness that will take your breath away. Long live this octogenarian treasure!
Slam Allen steps forth as a solo artist, having logged nine great years as the lead vocalist, guitarist and band leader for James Cotton. Equally adept at soul and blues, Allen’s Feel These Blues places him squarely in the role of carrying on the blues tradition. On “Blues is Back” he displays the guitar styles of masters like Albert Collins and B. B. King. “Can’t Break Away from That Girl” is vintage Memphis soul. Accompanied by the amazing keyboardist, John Ginty, and his own rhythm section, Allen gives us a fresh new voice. He will be actively touring behind this album, which features 11 originals and an extended version of Prince’s “Purple Rain.”
Winnipeg, Canada’s blues legend Big Dave McLean visits Nashville to record with master multi-instrumentalist and producer, Steve Dawson, for Faded But Not Gone. Dawson made the trip more than worthwhile by bringing aboard Colin Linden, Colin James, the McCrary Sisters and some great session players for a mix of McLean originals and covers. The authoritatively raspy-voiced McLean channels mostly country blues as the healing force to deal with recent losses of his mother and brother. The McCrary Sisters-backed “Shades of Grace” is a touching tribute to his mother, while “The Fallen” is for his brother who passed away a week before the song was recorded.
Renowned Texas singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard has been in a blues groove in recent years. On The Ruffian’s Misfortune, he distills his blues swagger into one succinct—clocking in at less than 34 minutes– statement. Hubbard wields his slide between the guitar leads of Gabe Rhodes and his son, Lucas Hubbard. Inspired by his teenage memories of Lightning Hopkins and his wife’s encouragement (“I saw some show once where Pinetop Perkins was playing at 90 years old, and Judy said, ‘You’ve got another 20 years in you!’”), Hubbard fuses blues grooves with witty lyrics, paying tribute to Charlie Musselwhite (“Mr. Musselwhite’s Blues”), Sister Rosetta Tharpe (“Barefoot in Heaven”) and Jessie Mae Hemphill (“Jessie Mae”) along the way. Hubbard describes his music as down n’ dirty roots n’ roll. Get some of it if you haven’t already, and also be sure to check out “Bad on Fords” and “Down by the River.”
Acclaimed guitarist Arlen Roth would rather share the spotlight. He convenes Slide Guitar Summit, a platform for greats such as Johnny Winter, Sonny Landreth, David Lindley, Cindy Cashdollar, Jimmy Vivino and others. With friend and noted producer, Tom Hambridge, at the helm and often on drums, they pay tribute to slide greats like Lowell George, Elmore James and Duane Allman. Each guest arrived with their own ideas, and among some of the more interesting are Cindy Cashdollar’s renderings of “Stranger on the Shore” and “Steel Guitar Rag” along with Jimmy Vivino’s take on the traditional “Poor Boy Blues” and unique interpretation of Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die.” “Rocket 88” with Johnny Winter is one of Winter’s last recordings, making it even more special.
Fresh off their Top Ten finish in the 2014 International Blues Challenge, long-time Gulf Coast treasure Brad Absher and his touring band, Swamp Royale, offer a very tasty gumbo of blues, soul and gospel on Lucky Dog. Producer Richard Cagle and noted bassist Larry Fulcher showcase Absher’s economical, impactful guitar lines and soulful vocals across originals and covers that capture the strains of Memphis and Muscle Shoals. From William Bell’s “Miss Your Water” to his own “Better Man” and “Memphis on the Way,” this album just oozes authenticity. It’s time for this twenty year veteran to break out beyond his native Gulf Coast.
Dion DiMucci, one of the key founders of rock n’ roll, has become a straight bluesman in recent years. Through excellent albums like Bronx in Blue, Son of Skip James and Tank Full of Blues, Dion has laid it down while forming his own Bronx blues style. Go back now some 44 years to hear a solo Dion mix in a few blues covers with his rock and doo-wop for the recently released album, Dion Recorded Live at the Bitter End August 1971. Along with such radio classics as “Abraham, Martin and John” and a bluesy “The Wanderer,” we hear “Too Much Monkey Business,” “You Better Watch Yourself,” “Don’t Start Me Talking” and his own blues inflected “Willigo”. So, here we are. It all begins and ends with the blues. The relentless passion for the blues, as the song says, keeps following these seven bluesmen around.