By Marty Gunther
Mr. Sipp – Sippnotized
Malaco Music Group
Whether he’s singing spirituals or belting out tunes as The Mississippi Blues Child, Mr. Sipp holds nothing back. And that’s never been truer than on his latest release for Malaco Records – a hard-hitting mix of old-school dance tunes and poignant, pertinent observations about life in a turbulent world.
Born Castro Coleman, Sipp spent 20 years in gospel before reinventing himself as a blues artist after winning the IBCs in 2014. He now splits his time between his blues group and The True Believers, the gospel quartet he founded in 2000. While this disc is deep, funky and soulful, Sipp has plenty of space to do some secular preaching – something fans wouldn’t have any other way.
From the opening strains of “Let’s Have a Good Time,” things heat up from the jump. The pleasers include the hopeful “Gonna Be Alright,” the danceable “Sippnotized,” “Can You Feel Me Now” and “The Mississippi Step”; also the thought-provoking “Free,” “Fallen Love Ones” and – my favorite – “F 2020.”
Tommy Z – Plug In & Play
South Blossom Records
Incendiary guitarist Tommy Z fires on all cylinders in this set, a hard-driving, hour-long collection of originals recorded by Grammy winner Tom Hambridge that mixes blues, blues rock and jazz while leaving plenty of space for the headliner to put his crystal-clear voice and immense six-string skills on display.
Captured in Nashville and at Tommy’s home base -- Buffalo, N.Y. -- this CD definitely isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a tenacious, in-your-face mix of emotion-packed numbers that bare frustrations about problematic relationships and more.
The fiery instrumental, “Pumpin’ (Let’s Have Some Fun),” will grab your attention to open. Other choice cuts include the autobiographical “Tommy Guns,” the medium-tempo, stop-time shuffle “My Alarm Clock,” “X-Ray Girl,” “Scowler,” “Ain’t Gonna Wait” and the jazzy instrumental closer, “Sticky Lips.”
Rob Stone featuring Elena Kato & Hiroshi Eguchi – Trio in Tokyo
Blue Heart Records
After serving as vocalist/harp player for the Electric Flag Reunion Band, Rob Stone traveled halfway around the globe to record this pleasing collection of small-combo blues, teaming with keyboard player Elena Kato and bassist Hiroshi Eguchi, two Japanese musicians who’ve enjoyed long stays in the U.S. before establishing themselves in their homeland.
A relaxed, pleasant tenor now based in Los Angeles, Stone was formerly a fixture in Sam Lay’s band in Chicago. This is only his second CD as a front man, a follow-up to 2014’s after Gotta Keep Rollin’. One listen to this and you’ll be asking why it took so long.
A classy, relaxed acoustic set that breathes new life into sounds of the ‘30s and ‘40s, you’ll enjoy “No Money,” “Got to Get You off My Mind,” “Poison Ivy,” “There Is Something on Your Mind,” “Jack You’re Dead,” “What Am I Living For,” “Blow Fish Blow” and “Goodnight Irene.”
Deb Ryder – Memphis Moonlight
VizzTone Label Group VT-DR05
Chicago-born, California-based Deb Ryder teams with Grammy-winning producer Tony Braunagel and world-class musicians from around the globe for her fifth album, an intense mix of contemporary and classic blues guaranteed to keep you rocking throughout.
A powerful alto, Deb’s joined here by several members of Phantom Blues Band, the IBC-winning Delgado Brothers and Los Lobos as well as Alastair Greene and Dutch harp player Big Pete van der Pluijm, a former member of both The Red Devils and The Mannish Boys.
An in-your-face, all-original effort, lend an ear to “I’m Coming Home,” “Hold On,” “Blues Is All I Got,” the ballad “Love Is Gone,” “Memphis Moonlight,” “Just Be Careful,” “Devil’s Credit Line,” “Standing on the Edge,” “Second Chances” and “Most of All.”
Various Artists – Alligator Records 50 Years of Genuine Houserockin’ Music
From the opening notes of Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers’ seminal “Give Me Back My Wig” to the closing strains of Toronzo Cannon’s “The Chicago Way,” Alligator Records delivers three CDs and 58 tracks that prove beyond a doubt why they’re the 500-lb. gorilla in the world of modern blues.
Founded by Bruce Iglauer in 1971, the label’s played host to a galaxy of stars – almost all of whom appear here, including Koko Taylor, Son Seals, Albert Collins, Johnny Winter, Professor Longhair, Luther Allison, Lonnie Brooks and Michael Burks.
Current label mates Shemekia Copeland, Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials, Billy Branch & Sons of the Blues, Rick Estrin & the Nightcats, the Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling, Tommy Castro & the Painkillers, Marcia Ball, Curtis Salgado, Charlie Musselwhite, Elvin Bishop, Cash Box Kings, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and Chris Cain are present. And not to be overlooked are appearances by Big Walter Horton, Carey Bell, James Cotton, William Clarke, Robert Cray and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, too. This one’s too good to pass up!
Alastair Greene – The New World Blues
Gulf Coast Records
A former member of the Alan Parsons Project who now teams with soul-blues giant Sugaray Rayford, guitarist Alastair Greene strides confidently on the border of blues and rock for his debut on the Gulf Coast label with backing from label boss Mike Zito on drums and Corey Duplechin on bass in a power-trio format.
If you favor blues rock, this one’s right up your alley. It’s is a multi-dimensional set that’s recorded primarily live without overdubs and reflects Greene’s rock god influences – Peter Green and Gary Moore with a healthy mix of the Cajun flavors from the area where it was recorded.
Alastair breathes fire to open “Living Today.” And be sure to tune in to “Bayou Mile,” “When You Don’t Know What to Do,” the instrumental “Back at the Poor House,” “Wontcha Tell Me,” “Alone and Confused” and “The New World Blues.”
Clint Morgan – Troublemaker
Lost Cause Records
A boogie-woogie piano player who’s an instructor at Pinetop Perkins Foundation workshops, Washington State-based Clint Morgan is a terrific storyteller, too, as evidenced by this quirky album, which was produced by Grammy winner Kevin McKendree.
The roster includes Watermelon Slim, John Del Toro Richardson, Bob Margolin, the McCrary Sisters, Bob Corritore and other heavyweights, but the true stars here are Morgan’s words, which mix intimate, downhome observations about life that will also appeal to fans of country music.
A mix of blues, gospel and Americana, you’ll enjoy the tongue-in-cheek “Hangman Woman,” “Ain’t That the Blues,” “I’ll Love You If I Want To,” “It’s Rough Out Here,” “Hurricane Harvey,” “The Cover of the Living Blues” and “Troublemaker.”
The Atomic 44’s – Volume One
Bird Dog Records
A collaboration between Eric Von Herzen -- longtime harp player for The Atomic Road Kings, Social Distortion and Walter Trout – and Johnny Main – vocalist/guitarist for The 44’s, this group’s debut CD is certain to propel them into the stratosphere.
The talent runs deep here with Kid Ramos on second guitar, Bill Stuve (Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers) on bass and Deb Ryder providing backing vocals. It’s raw, edgy and rooted in contemporary blues, but isn’t afraid to stretch the musical boundaries into new spaces, too.
Fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the ride with “The Boogeyman,” “Barbwire and Fences,” “Fade to Black,” “Candy Man,” “Ol’ Mexico,” “Saints and Sinners” and “My 49.”
Pat Fulgoni – Dark Side of the Blues
A vocalist/producer/songwriter whose work has appeared in TV’s Weeds, John from Cincinnati and film scores, UK-based Pat Fulgoni has been called the “Jack Bruce of the e-generation.” Already a proven commodity in other fields, he was delving deeply into blues last year and for major festivals across Europe when coronavirus brought everything to a halt.
Lucky for music fans, however, he was able to lay down this stellar live performance in Prague as the shutdown approached. A collection of impeccably reworked blues and rock covers, it was previously unavailable outside the Czech Republic. Now a digital download in worldwide distribution, it’s charting high on European charts.
Possibly the best live set recorded in 2020, you’ll enjoy this collection of thoroughly and pleasingly reworked covers, including “Help Me,” “Hard Times,” “Who Is He and What Is He to You,” “Think Twice Before You Go,” “Rock Me Baby,” “How Many More Times,” “Still in Love with You” and “Crossroads.”
Guy Davis – Be Ready When I Call You
Guy Davis earned a Grammy nomination with Fabrizio Poggi for their tribute to Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee a few years ago, but gets stone-cold serious on his follow-up, mixing light and airy melodies with profound observations about life in a turbulent world full of troubles, prejudice and sorrow, which combine to create one of the most powerful statements in modern blues.
Davis penned 12 of the 13 tracks here – a first in his 27-year career. Accompanying himself on guitar, banjo and harmonica in multiple formats, his pleasant mid-range voice is somewhat road-worn here, driving his lyrics home poignantly as a result.
A tour-de-force effort, things get serious after a lighthearted opener, “Badonkadonk Train,” about sex addiction. There’s a powder keg of emotion in “Got Your Letter in My Pocket,” “God’s Gonna Make Things Over” – about the 1921 Tulsa massacre, “Be Ready When I Call You,” “Palestine Oh Palestine,” “I Thought I Heard the Devil Call My Name” and “Welcome to My World.”
Charlie Barath – Just Me and My Friend(s)
One of America’s foremost traditional harmonica players and educators, Pennsylvania-based Charlie Barath displays his talents in multiple formats in this 70-minute set, a delightful, blues-rich collection of 16 originals and one cover that incorporates Western swing, country and a little honky-tonk, too.
As the title infers, Barath teams with 20 other musicians here, including guitarists Jimmy Adler, Reverend Robert and a heaping helping of Keystone State talent, all of whom combine to produce material that’s light and pleasant throughout.
You’ll enjoy “The Forgotten Man,” “Mississippi Bound,” “Losin’ My Mind Over You,” “Just Me and My Friend,” “No Smoking,” “Much Better Now,” “Have Ourselves a Ball,” “Highball and a Covered Dish,” “She Drives Me to Drink” and a cover of Bill Moore’s ragtime pleaser, “One Way Gal,” to close.
Chris Gill – Between Midnight and Louise
Endless Blues Records
Based out of Jackson, Miss., Chris Gill is best known for his work with The Groove Shakers, but fulfills a lifelong dream with the release of this album, a stripped-down, overdub-free collection of tunes recorded with the basics…a guitar, two mics and a whole lot of love.
A talented fingerpicker with a relaxed tenor voice, Gill’s a former IBC finalist who’s played many of the top festivals across America, and the original material he presents here is loaded with intimacy and reverence for family, his music and life in general.
Kick back for a while and tune in to “Thank You for Another Day” – an instrumental tribute to his grandfather, “Song for Honeyboy,” “You Never Know (That’s What Love Will Do),” “Rolling Man,” “Souvenir of the Blues,” “Walking Through Eden” and “Between Midnight and Louise,” based on a road sign on the outskirts of Yazoo City.
Mike Zito – Resurrection
Gulf Coast Records GCRX9031
Guitarist Mike Zito captured a BMA trophy for Rock ‘n’ Roll: A Tribute to Chuck Berry, but he isn’t resting on his laurels. He’s already hit the road promoting this release, a hard-driving, intimate peek at his inner feelings about love, sex, death and more.
Produced by Grammy winner David Z (Prince, Etta James, Buddy Guy and John Mayall), it’s an instant attention-grabber. Accompanied by his mainstay touring band, Mike also gets an assist from a horn section as well as Lisa Leuschner Andersen, who provides backing vocals.
The action opens with the emotion-packed J.J. Cale cover, “I’ll Make Love to You” – about renewing a romance that appeared reaching its end. Among the other standouts include the originals “Dreaming of You,” “In My Blood,” “When It Rains,” “Damned If I Do,” “Running Man” and “Resurrection.”
“Big” Al’s Blues Howlers with Jim Liban – Get It While It’s Hot
Rock n’ Swing Records
Based out of Milwaukee, where they’re local treasures, upcoming guitarist/harp player Big Al Dorn and veteran harp player Jim Liban shine like diamonds this disc, which is chockful of original tunes that deliver the classic feel of ‘50s Chicago blues and jump.
A true superstar on the reeds, Liban’s career includes recordings with Webb Wilder, Lonnie Brooks and the Blues Disciples in addition to fronting his own band, and Johnny Winter and Legendary Blues Band have recorded his tunes. This is the second release for Dorn, a young man who’s a star ascendant.
The instrumental “Jack Hammer” lopes out of the gate to open. Other tasty tracks include “Straighten Up My Act,” “I’m a Sinner,” “Without Her,” the rocker “The Cadillac Kid,” “Let You Go,” “Talk Is Cheap,” “Boogie Jump” and “Get It While It’s Hot.”
Etta James – The Montreux Years
BMG/Montreux Jazz Festival
One of the most beloved artists of her generation, vocalist Etta James lives again at her absolute best on this 21-song, 155-minute retrospective that traces her performances at Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival between 1977 – her first-ever show in Europe – through 1993.
Extended versions of intimate ballads, explosive, dynamic blues, jazz and soul, this collection includes many of the songs that made her a fan favorite. Give this a listen and you’ll agree that Billboard magazine should place her higher than 35th place on its list of the greatest R&B singers of all time.
The action opens with “Breakin’ Up Somebody’s Home” and runs hot and deep through the closer, “Stormy Monday.” You’ll be singing along to all of her classics, including “Tell Mama,” “Beware,” “Damn Your Eyes,” “Respect Yourself,” “W-O-M-A-N,” “I’d Rather Go Blind” and a medley that includes “At Last,” “Trust in Me” and “Sunday Kind of Love.”