“You better catch up with the blues, cuz’ the blues is on the move
It’s got a real funky beat, and man it’s got a groove”
—Johnny “Clyde” Copeland, “Catch Up With The Blues”
[W]e’re making up for lost time with some blues releases from earlier this year as well as a couple that have just hit recently. The Johnny Copeland album referenced in this column’s title is an excellent example of why it is often rewarding to go back for another listen. Catch Up With The Blues is pure pleasure for guitar lovers as its roster includes Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Lonnie Brooks, Joe “Guitar” Hughes, “Teenie” Hodges, Bobby Kyle, and Copeland. So, starting with some really pure blues releases, here are some treasures to dig into now even before revisiting your collection.
Breezy Rodio has cut his teeth with Linsey Alexander but proves on this, his third release, that he is primed for the frontman role. His latest album, So Close To It, is Chicago blues featuring Rodio’s guitar, soulful voice and original songs. Often, guest artists are an indication of the main artist’s authenticity, and folks like Carl Weathersby, Lurrie Bell and Billy Branch attest to Rodio’s real-deal chops.
Like Breezy Rodio, the Cash Box Kings make the old school Chicago blues sound relevant on Holding Court, their third Blind Pig release. Joe Nosek (harmonica and vocals) and Oscar Wilson front this band that includes noted drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith and guitarist Joel Patterson with a rotating cast of other musicians (principally, Barrelhouse Chuck on piano). “Download Blues” and “Gotta Move Out To The Suburbs” confront current issues with a taste of humor and sarcasm.
Omar Coleman—as his album title, Born and Raised, suggests—grew up on the West Side of Chicago. Now in his early 40s, he has established himself as one of the nation’s best harmonica players and blues vocalists. This is his Delmark debut and here he proves to be a witty songwriter with potential. Like the aforementioned artists, he surrounds himself with renowned Chicago musicians to deliver both old school and contemporary blues.
Guitarist and vocalist Rockin’ Johnny Burgin also earned considerable cred at Delmark both backing many artists and fronting his own band. On Greetings From Greaseland, he records in the Bay Area, having enlisted fellow stellar guitarist and producer Kid Andersen for a set of both originals and covers. Johnny keeps the sound traditional, never venturing into blues rock territory, and his commanding vocals and stinging guitar are supported by core bluesmen like Aki Kumar on harp and June Core on drums.
The Andy T – Nick Nixon Band are back with their third Blind Pig release, Numbers Man. Anson Funderburgh again produces and this time adds the Texas Horns as well as Kim Wilson on one track. Andy T plays a clean guitar, mostly in the style of T-Bone Walker while 74-year-old Nixon is as good a blues singer as any. Both write, and the standout among their many good songs is Andy T’s statement on racism, “This World We Live In.” This band just gets better with each recording.
Charles Wilson, nephew of Little Milton, has been singing blues and R&B for over 50 years, having begun at age seven. While most of his releases in this decade have been primarily soul, Sweet And Sour Blues is straight ahead blues with producer/guitarist/writer Travis Haddix at the helm. With the full support of horns and Haddix’s band, Wilson’s impeccable vocals are riveting.
We should touch on a few other releases that are not of the pure, traditional electric blues sound. British bluesman Ian Siegal lays down an informal acoustic jam on The Picnic Sessions. Teaming with Cody and Luther Dickinson, Alvin Youngblood Hart and Jimbo Mathus at the Dickinsons’ Zebra Ranch, the group mixes Siegal tunes with traditional blues, folk, and gospel fare. As Hart told me recently, “when you get the Dickinson brothers, Jimbo and I together, it’s impossible to not have fun.”
Solo artist and John Fogerty sideman, pianist/vocalist/songwriter Bob Malone has released Mojo Deluxe, and album of mostly originals with covers from Ray Charles and Muddy Waters mixed in. There’s a variety of styles ranging from New Orleans boogie-woogie to ballads and classic rock ‘n’ roll. Malone writes with a distinct humor colors “I’m Not Fine,” “Can’t Get There from Here” and “Toxic Love.” Producer Bob DeMarco adds his slashing slide guitar to make this album a fun-filled, energetic listen.
Having just listened to “Google Blues” by the Ragpicker String Band, I just had to add them as well. Rich Del Grosso, Mary Flower and Martin Grosswendt are three of the best pickers today, having combined for nine Blues Award nominations. All three share vocals and offer absolutely mesmerizing acoustic blues with mandolins, dobros, guitars and fiddles. For me, it brings to mind the Jim Kweskin Jug Band and those great David Bromberg albums of the early ’70s. We’ll stop here to give you a chance to catch up with the blues.