By Marty Gunther
John Primer & Bob Corritore – The Gypsy Woman Told Me
(VizzTone Label Group VT-SWMAF-14)
John Primer and Bob Corritore fit together like hand and glove when it comes to old-school Chicago blues, building on the foundation laid down by their forebears and imbuing it with nuances that update it for 21st Century audiences while remaining faithful to its origin.
Friends since the mid-‘70s, when John was playing guitar in the house band at Theresa’s Lounge behind Junior Wells and Bob was just beginning to stretch his wings as a harp player, this is their third album together in addition to pairing for a portion of last year’s Do the Hip-Shake Baby, a multi-artist showcase issued under the name Bob Corritore & Friends.
Recorded at Greaseland Studios in California and Tempest Recording in Arizona, this disc mixes electric and laid-back acoustic arrangements, and the highlights come hot and heavy throughout. But sure to tune into the Primer originals “Little Bitty Woman” and “Walked So Long” as well as several recrafted covers that are much, much more than copies of the originals.
# # #
Leroy Ellington’s Sacred Hearts – Live and Kickin’ It!
(Infiniti Group Records IGR200101)
Based out of Cincinnati, where he’s been a fan favorite for decades, horn player/vocalist Leroy Ellington fronts an eight-piece band with backup singers to deliver a powerful set of blues-drenched R&B on this disc, a strong follow-up to his well-received 2019 studio release, Sanctified.
Captured across two nights at The Madison Theatre in Covington, Ky., the band explodes out of the box in a set that includes seven Ellington originals and four interesting covers, and everything you’ll hear here is advertised as coming “as is” just a few minor hiccups included. Take my word though: You’ll have a hard time finding them.
For big-band blues with a big-city feel, be sure to turn in to “Heaven Don’t Want Me,” “My Father’s Son,” a take on John Mayer’s “Gravity,” “Somethin’ Funky Goin’ On,” “The Forecast Calls for Pain” and “Baptized in a Bedpan.” You won’t be disappointed!
# # #
John Blues Boyd – What My Eyes Have Seen…
(Gulf Coast Records)
Possessing when Gulf Coast owner Guy Hale calls “the voice of God,” John Blues Boyd is a rare, under-recorded talent who started life as a Mississippi sharecropper and became a roofer in San Francisco before turning to the blues for solace after the death of his wife of 49 years a few years ago. He quickly established himself in 2017 with the release of The Real Deal, a disc produced by Little Village Foundation, the non-profit created to expose under-recorded, under-appreciated talents to the world.
Like his earlier CD, this one was recorded by Kid Andersen at Greaseland. It’s a lengthy, deeply personal, all-original set of traditional blues that provides an autobiographical snapshot of Boyd’s life, which includes being run out of the Magnolia State because of political activism and other themes that include love won and lost and labor on hot rooftops and under the searing sun.
An all-electric set backed by the usual cast of Greaseland all-stars, Boyd’s rich baritone will envelop you throughout. Among the stand-out tunes here are “In My Blood,” “What My Eyes Have Seen,” “A Beautiful Woman (for Dona Mae),” “49 Years,” “Why Did You Take That Shot” and “Got to Leave My Mark.”
# # #
Evelyn Rubio – Crossing Borders
Houston-based Evelyn Rubio’s musical road is most interesting. She was a child TV star in her native Mexico, traveled the world in musical theater companies and returned home to become a rocker before moving to America after falling in love with the blues. Most recently, she’s served as the vocalist and sax player in former B.B. King bandleader Calvin Owens’ 18-piece orchestra.
Evelyn plays blues, rock, jazz and country here in a package produced by bassist Larry Fulcher and backed by his partners in Legendary Blues Band/Taj Mahal Band and former Etta James guitarist John Sklair, Austin superstar David Grissom and others. The first dozen cuts are delivered in perfect English, the final three in her native Spanish.
A melismatic alto who delivers searing horn flourishes, Rubio’s headed for stardom. Be sure to tune in to “One More Last Time,” “Just Like a Drug,” “He Did Me Wrong But He Did Me Right,” “When You Say You’re Sorry,” “Border Town” and “What a Way to Go.”
# # #
Bessie Jones – Get in Union
(Alan Lomax Archives/Association for Cultural Equality)
Here’s a treat for anyone with a love for pre-War blues! Bessie Jones was a powerhouse vocalist who was living on the St. Simons Island in Georgia when famed ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax first recorded her. One of the most popular performers on the folk circuit in the ‘60s and ‘70s, she and Lomax worked closely for decades to present and promote black folk music across the U.S.
All of the material here was captured when Bessie was a member of the Georgia Sea Island Singers between 1959 and 1966, and tapes were so well digitally remastered that you can almost feel Jones’ breath as she delivers a collection of blues, gospel and folk in various solo and small-group settings.
Available as a download from Bandcamp.com, this collection breathes new life into sounds of a bygone era. The hits here are too numerous to mention, but include classic tunes from the American songbook as well as dozens of little surprises. Strongly recommended.
# # #
Sonny Landreth – Blacktop Run
(Provogue/Mascot Label Group)
Veteran Louisiana slide guitar master Sonny Landreth fires on all cylinders in this follow-up to his Grammy-nominated Recorded Live in Lafayette, reuniting with producer RS Field and delivering a collection of music that ranges from searing electric instrumentals to tender acoustic ballads.
A gifted storyteller who loves to experiment with new sounds, Landreth’s aided here by keyboard player/tunesmith Steve Conn. Sonny opens the CD on resonator with the title cut, “Blacktop Road,” a fingerpicked treasure that hints of Eastern mysticism before the funk kicks in from the opening bars of “Lover Dance With Me” before flowing like the Mississippi throughout.
Other pleasers include the Hill Country-flavored “Mule,” “Beyond Borders,” a Conn tune originally intended for Carlos Santana, “The Wilds of Wonder,” “Many Worlds” and “Something Grand.” Don’t be surprised if this one’s up for another Grammy come next awards season.
# # #
Dom Flemons -- Prospect Hill: The American Songster Omnibus
Multi-instrumentalist Dom Flemons, known as “The American Songster,” has been a busy man since splitting from the Carolina Chocolate Drops in 2014. A consistent award nominee in both blues and folk music, he’s a dynamic acoustic artist who’s at his best throughout this two-CD, 44-cut set.
Released in conjunction with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History as part of its Legacy Recordings series, this one includes the bulk of two of previous releases, which are supplemented by 12 brand new instrumental cuts to round out the work. He’s joined here by a revolving lineup that includes Grammy-winning musician/actor Guy Davis and others.
If you’re a fan of old-time blues and folk, this one’s for you. Some of the prime cuts include “’Til the Seas Run Dry,” “But They Got It Fixed Right On,” “Have I Stayed Away Too Long,” “Big Head Joe’s March” “Grotto Beat” and “Hot Chicken.” Fair warning: Several of the entries double as vocal and instrumental takes, but they’re so rich in textural differences that you probably won’t even notice.
# # #
Charlie Bedford – Good to Go
(Blue Heart Records BHR002)
A native of Melbourne, Australia, guitarist/vocalist Charlie Bedford has been making a name for himself in Memphis since 2017 with three appearances at the International Blues Challenge Youth Showcase. At age 19, he’s an old man in a young body. This CD was charting in the top five in Aussie charts and climbing when this mini-review was being written.
The next generation of the blues, Bedford started playing in clubs at age 12, and was in three top bands before launching his solo career. His debut CD -- 9,500 Miles from Memphis – charted well, too, featuring original tunes that belie his tender years.
That’s apparent from the opener of this one, “Money Junkie,” which describes a lady addicted to cash. Other must listens include the whimsical love song “Honey,” “Enemy,” the soulful “Just a Little Longer,” the psychedelic “Telephone” and “Steady Driver Man,” which comes with a Bo Diddley beat.
# # #
Grant Dermody – My Dony
(Thunder River Recordings)
Harmonica master Grant Dermody possesses a playing style that has a timeless, laid-back feel, something that’s apparent from the first notes of this CD, his second teaming with Grammy-winning multi-instrumentalist/producer Dirk Powell. Originally conceived as an acoustic effort, it’s an eclectic production steeped with a Chicago feel.
A Seattle native who primarily specializes in Delta and Piedmont blues, Dermody serves up a winner here with guest appearances by former Chocolate Drop Rhiannon Giddens, Birds of Chicago vocalist Allison Russell, Amythyst Kiah and Creole accordion master Corey Ledet.
The grooves deepen beginning with the title cut, which opens. Other pleasers include “One Step at a Time,” “It Hurts to Be in Love,” “Too Late to Change Your Mind,” “Corner Strut,” “Come on Sunshine” and “Hometown Blues.” A treasure for folks who like their harp unadorned with overblow and electronic alterations.
# # #
Jose Ramirez – Here I Come
Despite being a native of Costa Rica, 32-year-old Jose Ramirez is well on his way to becoming a major star in the U.S., and this exceptional debut album – which was produced by Anson Funderburgh and features Grammy-winning keyboard player Jim Pugh, the Texas Horns and a skintight veteran rhythm section in the lineup – is certain to propel him into the stratosphere.
Based out of the Tampa Bay area in Florida, he took second place in this year’s International Blues Challenge as a representative of the D.C. Blues Society. With influences that include Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Ray Charles and others, he’s a vocalist and guitarist of the first order who mixes contemporary blues and soul throughout this set.
The opener, “Here I Come,” announces his arrival and pays tribute to his personal blues heroes before reinventing T-Bone Walker’s “I Miss You Baby.” There’s a lot to like on this one, including “Gasoline and Matches,” which features Funderburgh, “One Woman Man,” “Goodbye Letter” and “Waiting for Your Call.” This one smokes!
# # #
Hudspeth & Taylor – Folie a Deux
Here’s a treat! The great majority of acoustic bluesmen do little more than deliver time capsules from the past, but not Brandon Hudspeth and Jaisson Taylor. Brandon’s highly percussive guitar stylings match perfectly with Jaisson’s expressive baritone vocals and percussion throughout.
The duo teamed up in 2015 after spending the previous 15 years working separately in Kansas City, where they’re based. Even today, Brandon tours with Levee Town and Dustin Arbuckle, while Jaisson fronts his own quartet. Together, they mix Chicago and Piedmont stylings here with ragtime and a little jazz, too. Their sound is hypnotic. Hence the album title Folie a Deux, a French term for a group hallucination or shared psychosis.
The high points run hot and heavy through this set. Be sure to check out “Big Fat Hairy Lie,” the original rag “Candy Man,” “Silly Billy,” which comes complete with jazz references, the cautionary “Low Down Dealer Man” and the toe-tapping “When You Comin’ Home.”
# # #
Backtrack Blues Band – Your Baby Has Left
(VizzTone Label Group VT-BTB07)
One of the longest running bands in Florida, the Backtrack Blues Band teams with producer Tom Hambridge for this one, and produce a winning combination that blends traditional Chicago blues with Texas, swamp and Sunshine State funk, too.
The five-piece unit is led by vocalist/harp player Sonny Charles and guitarist Kid Royal and a roster that includes former Amazing Rhythm Aces bassist Stick Davis. Recorded in St. Petersburg and Alabama, the disc features contributions from perennial Blues Music Award keyboard nominee Bruce Katz as well as the Muscle Shoals Horns: Vinnie Ciesielski (trumpet) and Brad Guin (sax).
This of eight originals and one cover here are deep-in-the-pocket throughout. Give a good listen to “Best Friend’s Grave (Joy, Joy, Joy),” a pleasant, loping blues with gospel overtones that’s much more upbeat than the title, as well as the stop-time “Your Baby Has Left,” the percussive shuffle “Killin’ Time,” the boogie “She Might Get Mad” and the slow blues ballad “Times Is Hard.”
# # #
Billy Price – Dog Eat Dog
(Gulf Coast Records)
Here’s one you might have missed. Billy Price has been a mainstay on the soul-blues circuit since serving as vocalist for guitar god Roy Buchanan in the ‘70s. A frequent Blues Music Award nominee, he and Otis Clay took top honors in 2016 for This Time For Real, and Billy missed out on two more trophies this past May – including album of the year.
A fixture in Pittsburgh for decades, Price is now based out of Baltimore, but recorded this one at Greaseland aided by a lineup that includes the legendary Jerry Jermott (B.B. King and Aretha Franklin) on bass and former Rick Estrin & the Nightcats percussionist Alex Pettersen as well as a host of other talents.
Billy’s got one of the sweetest tenor voices in the business, and there’s absolutely nothing on this album that you won’t love. Some of my favorites include “Working on Your Chain Gang,” “Lose My Number,” “Dog Eat Dog,” “Toxicity,” “Same Old Heartaches” and “You Gotta Leave.”
# # #
Duffy Bishop – I’m Gonna Do What I Want!
(‘Lil Spinner Records)
Sultry, smoky-voiced blues belter Duffy Bishop is a living legend in the Pacific Northwest, where she’s been inducted in the halls of fame for the Washington Blues Society, the Cascade Blues Association and the state music hall in Oregon, too. She shows why on this pleasing CD, which delivers modern tunes with classical appeal.
A professional entertainer since age 16, Duffy’s been releasing albums since the early ‘80s, has toured the Far East as a member of Big Brother and the Holding Company. In her spare time, she’s also an award-winning costume designer. She and her guitarist husband, Chris Carlson, are veteran road dogs who penned four of the nine tunes in this set.
Be sure to give a good listen to “I’m Gonna Do What I Want” – which includes not eating lima beans, “69 Years Old – a tribute to a young-at-heart lover, “Must Be My Fault,” tasty covers of “You Don’t Own Me” and “My Road Is Not Wide” and “Whistle Callin’.”
# # #
Peter Karp – Magnificent Heart
(Rose Cottage Records)
Master songwriter Peter Karp penned all 13 tunes on this one, and they shine like diamonds as they blend gritty visions of the street with sweet love songs and more – all of which provide deep insight into the world swirling around us.
A New Jersey native who began his career in the underground music scene in New York City, Karp subsequently enjoyed a lengthy partnership with Canadian songbird Sue Foley and has worked and recorded with former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor. This one features guest appearances by harp players Kim Wilson and Jason Ricci as well as John Ginty on keys.
If you’re a fan of inventive tunesmiths, you’ll love this CD. Among highlights are “Sitting on the Edge of the World,” the haunting song of lost love, “The Letter,” “She Breaks Her Own Heart,” “Scared,” a ballad based on words by Peter’s late wife, poet Mary Lou Bonney Karp, and the whimsical “Chainsaw.”