By Marty Gunther
Eddie Turner – Change in Me
Born in Cuba, raised in Chicago and a founding member of the Otis Taylor Band, guitarist Eddie Turner has always been one of the most intriguing performers in the blues world, delivering a unique mix of all-azure, rock-edged music. He shines like a diamond in this set, which was co-produced by friend Kenny Passarelli, the bassist/keyboard player for Joe Walsh, Ringo Starr and more.
Blending influences that include Miles Davis, Bobby “Blue” Bland and classic rock, Eddie has a relaxed vocal delivery that frequently draws favorable comparisons to Jimi Hendrix – and for good reason. Like the guitar god, Turner’s definitely his own man, though, while remaining powerful and soothing.
Delivering a melting pot of sounds and stream-of-consciousness lyrics, you’ll enjoy “Change in Me,” “Dignify Me,” covers of Hendrix’s “My Friend” and Lou Reed’s “I’m Waiting for My Man,” “This Is Your Night,” “Standing on the Frontline,” “Another Sign of Weakness,” “Let My Soul Run Free” and one of the most unique takes on Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” you’ll ever hear.
Maria Muldaur with Tuba Skinny – Let’s Get Happy Together
Stony Plain Records SPCD1429
Since her youth as a keystone in the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, six-time Grammy winner Maria Muldaur has always lived with respect and love for music of the past – something that comes through loud and clear on this collection of songs from the American songbook and sounds of New Orleans.
Maria teams with Tuba Skinny, an eight-piece ensemble composed of former Big Easy street musicians, and the sounds they produce truly give listeners a glimpse of what it was like to live in the bygone era as they cover material culled from the ‘20s and ‘30s at the crossroads of jazz and blues.
Turn back your clock for a while and dial in to “I Like You Best of All,” “Let’s Get Happy Together,” “Swing You Sinners,” “He Ain’t Got Rhythm,” “I Go for That,” “Some Sweet Day,” “Big City Blues" and more. You won’t regret it.
Dexter Allen – Keep Movin’ On
Endless Blues Records
The son of musical pastors from Crystal Springs, Miss., and the former lead guitarist for Bobby Rush, Dexter Allen blends blues, soul and funk on this album, which has soared to the top of the charts, delivering material loaded with passionate vocals and a positive outlook at life.
Since emerging as a front man in 2008 with his debut CD, Bluezin’ My Way, he’s earned acclaim as the Jackson (Miss.) Music Awards entertainer of the year, a role in the James Brown biopic, Get on Up, and devoted himself to passing down his passion for future generations. But despite the acclaim, he’s worthy of far more praise.
This album’s right up your alley if you like your blues silky smooth and upbeat with a Southern soul feel. Some of the top cuts include “Keep Moving On,” “Love Talk,” “Pack Up My Bags,” “F.A.B.U.L.I.S.T. Woman,” “Can’t Live Without You,” “I Like the Way” and “My Cup of Tea.”
Rogue Johnsen Project – 20/20
If you’re a fan of keyboard players Charles Brown and Jimmy Smith and the cool jazz-and soul-infused blues sounds that they produced in the ‘60s, you’ll absolutely love this debut release from the Rogue Johnsen Project. It serves up 53 minutes of the grooviest instrumentals you’ll hear this year.
Based out of Virginia but with strong West Coast and Texas roots, the five-piece unit is fronted by Johnsen, who was Brown’s protégé student. His resume includes extensive work with W.C. Clark, Miss Lavelle White, Norton Buffalo and Bo Diddley, among others.
Chill out for a while and listen to “Wally Collins Shuffle,” “Tired of Winning,” “Just Before Sleep,” “Stax Tracking,” “Downtime,” “Goin’ Rogue,” “Just A Minor Blues,” “New Blue Soul” and “Monkey Tumble Too.”
Jimmie Bratcher – I’m Hungry
Ain’t Skeert Tunes
Based out of Kansas City, where he’s both a singer-songwriter and ordained minister, guitarist Jimmie Bratcher serves up a pleasant plate of “soul food” on his 12th album, a smorgasbord that includes barrelhouse blues, funk and intimate ballads that are spiritual but secular and uplifting throughout.
A product of the ‘60s known as “The Electric Rev,” Bratcher possesses his own style on the six-string. He’s backed here by guest appearances from four top-notch keyboard players, including the recently departed Larry Van Loon, a longtime fixture in the Andy T-Nick Nixon Band, and hometown musicians.
Take a seat at the table and dig in to “I Love Her Name,” “Mama Won’t Fry No Chicken,” “Baby, I Like What You’re Cooking,” “Bacon Is on My Mind,” a tasty cover of Little Milton’s “Grits Ain’t Groceries,” “Bologna Sandwich Man” and “Happy.”
8 Ball Aitken – Ice Cream Man
Slide guitarist 8 Ball Aitken has been one of the busiest bluesmen on the planet during the COVID-19 shutdown, splitting time between Nashville and his native Australia while planning to release three CDs in the coming months. If this one’s any example, they’ll all be winners for lovers of driving, high-test music with swamp and rock overtones.
Aitken plays guitar, bass and harp here with backing from his brother Dillion James on keys, Grammy winner Tom Hambridge on drums, Buddy Leach of George Thorogood & the Destroyers on sax and Sidney-based soul singer Taya Chani on backing vocals.
A set of multi-layered originals, you’ll enjoy “Ice Cream Man,” “What Goes Up,” “Peace Love and Understanding,” “Love Me or Leave Me,” “Mother Nature’s Mad,” “Solitaire” and “Weight of the World.”
Popa Chubby – Tinfoil Hat
Blues-rock powerhouse Popa Chubby has never been shy about speaking his mind, and releases his frustration about being off the road for a year with this tremendous CD, a soul-baring effort that mixes love, despair, pain, sorrow that’s spiced with an uncanny view of the world in which we all live.
Chubby – aka Ted Horowitz – penned all 11 tunes here as well as providing all of the instrumentation, capturing everything at home near the Hudson River north of Manhattan. Dedicated to all those who’ve lost their lives to COVID-19, it offers a ray of hope for better times ahead.
The opener, “Tin Foil Hat,” finds Chubby describing himself as a “certified lunatic” after watching too many news broadcasts on Fox TV. Other must listens are “Baby Put on Your Mask,” “No Justice No Peace,” “Can I Call You My Friends?,” “Another Day in Hell,” “Cognitive Dissonance” and “1968 Again.”
Crystal Thomas – Now Dig This
Dialtone Records DT 1002
A veteran vocalist who possesses perfect, unhurried timing and who used to tour regularly with R&B great Johnnie Taylor, Louisiana-born alto and trombonist Crystal Thomas will have you moving and grooving throughout this set of jazz- and gospel-flavored soul blues.
Thomas is backed by the late Lucky Peterson on keys with assists from legendary bassist Chuck Rainey and several prominent members of the Austin music scene here, and she gives them plenty of space to show their chops in what’s truly a group effort.
The Toussaint McCall classic, “I’m a Fool for You Baby,” opens. Other high points include “Take Yo’ Praise,” “Ghost of Myself,” “Blues Funk,” “One Good Man,” “Can’t You See What You’re Doing to Me,” “The Blues Ain’t Nothing but Some Pain” and a sweet duet with Lucky on a cover of “Let’s Go Get Stoned.”
Tomislav Goluban – Express Connection
Blue Heart Records BHR 006
Croatian harmonica master Tomislav Goluban traveled to Ardent Studios in Memphis for this stellar follow-up to his well-received Memphis Light CD. Co-produced by blues-rock powerhouse Jeff Jensen, he’s backed by Jeff’s regular rhythm section and features assistance from California-based vocalist Kelly Zerbes, too.
Going by the nickname “Little Pigeon,” Goluban is a blues educator in his homeland, where he hosts a national radio show. He penned nine of the ten tracks here, delivering a wide a range of stylings -- from contemporary electric to country acoustic blues – with a light, lilting attack on the reeds.
Truly an international effort, you’ll enjoy “Express Connection,” “Used to Be Someone,” “Pale Blue Eyes,” “Shoestring Blues” – sung by Zerbes, the instrumental “Extra Boom,” “Bite Me Like a Snake,” “No Future in Your Past” and “Beast Walk.”
Will Porter – Tick Tock Tick
Gramofono Sound 1002
Initially released to a very limited U.S. audience in 2016, this album still made several critics’ best-of-the-year lists. But California-based vocalist Will Porter finally gets to enjoy the fruits of his labor in his homeland after previous success in Europe, Japan and Australia. And, man, it was worth the wait!
Produced by Stax and Malaco hit-maker Wardell Quezergue, it mixes blues, roots and pop with a lineup that includes Dr. John, Bettye LaVette, guitarist Leo Nocentelli of The Meters, the Louisiana Philharmonic Strings and a host of other talents.
Porter’s warm mid-range vocals ring like a bell throughout. You’ll enjoy “Tick Tock Tick,” “Why Do We Get Blue,” “When the Battle Is Over,” “Make You Feel My Love” – a duet with LaVette, “I Can Do Bad By Myself,” “Don’t Go to Strangers,” “Treadin’ Water” and “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.”
Various Artists – Blues Society of Central PA: Backyard Blues
Blue Heart Records
While most of the blues world has been dormant during the coronavirus shutdown, the Blues Society of Central PA have been busy beavers. The group’s jam coordinator Gary “Rocky” Rothrock brought nine of the top regional bands into the studio when shows came to a halt, and this 19-cut release is the result.
A mix of all blues stylings, the featured artists include Blues on the Loose, Buzzard Luck, Rose Hudson with Barrelhouse, Rocky & the House Band, Nate Myers Trio, The Mighty Klucks, Bob Wineland, Ben Brandt Trio and Roger Hammer on 16 of the tracks with national acts Crooked Eye Tommy, Clarence Spady and Miss Bix (featuring Keeshea Pratt) also contributing originals through Zoom events.
Most of the names might not be familiar, but you’ll love their music -- an interesting mix of music here, beginning with Blues on the Loose’s “A Bad Influence.” Other high points include “Keyhole,” “Since We’ve Been Apart,” “C Jam,” “What Have You Done for Me Lately,” “Hot Coffee & Pain,” “Red Walls” and “Surrender.”
Muddy Gurdy – Homecoming
Chantilly Negra MCH 262023
One of the most interesting bands on the planet, Muddy Gurdy is a trio based out of Central France. They’ve built a huge international following by coalescing the traditional music of their homeland with Afro-Caribbean rhythms and Mississippi Hill Country blues. There’s nothing else in the world like the end result: highly percussive music buried deep in the blues root.
The trio are led by vocalist/guitarist/tunesmith Tia Gouttebel with Gilles Chabenat on hurdy gurdy and Marc Clomeau on percussion, and although they lack the U.S. star power present on their most recent previous release, this one will keep you trance dancing in true Hill Country style throughout.
You’ll enjoy their multi-layered takes on Jessie Mae Hemphill’s “Lord Help the Poor and Needy,” an interesting redo of Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang” and several originals, including “MC’s Boogie,” “Land’s Song,” “Afro Briolage” and “Black Madonna.”
Alabama Slim – The Parlor
Cornelius Chapel Records/Music Maker Relief Foundation CCR54
Vocalist Alabama Slim (aka Vance native Milton Frazier) was supposed to make his world performance debut at the ill-fated New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival last year, but the 82-year-old should get plenty of attention with the release of this disc, which includes cousin Little Freddie King on guitar, Jimbo Mathus on keys and the Drive-By Truckers’ Matt Patton on bass.
Co-produced by Music Maker Relief Foundation founder Tim Duffy, his wife Denise and drummer Ardie Dean (Beverly “Guitar” Watson/Jerry “Boogie” McCain), this one’s stripped-down, bare-bones, old-school blues delivered atop a steady boogie beat.
The pleasers here include “Hot Foot,” “Freddie’s Voodoo Boogie” – which features King on the mic, “Rob Me Without a Gun,” “Rock with Me Momma,” the politically charged “Forty Jive,” and “Midnight Rider” and “Down in the Bottom,” both of which are originals with titles borrowed from the masters.
Harvey Brindell – Pennies on the Dollar
Nebraska native Harvey Brindell has been making music in the Pacific Northwest for the past 30 years, but steps into the spotlight here and hits all the high notes on his debut album -- a rock-solid, all-original ten-tune set that mixes traditional and contemporary blues.
Recorded at Portland’s Roseleaf Studio under the direction of 20-time BMA drummer-of-the-year nominee Jimi Bott, Brindell put together a killer lineup for his coming-out party, including Mitch Kashmir and others on harp, JW Jones and Johnny Burgin on second guitars and a host of others.
Midwestern themes run throughout, including “The Old Zoo Bar” – a tribute to the venerable club in Lincoln, “Blues for Omaha” and “Omaha Bones.” Don’t miss “Pennies on the Dollar,” “Mississippi Medicaid,” “That’s the Blues” and “Queen of High Waters,” which recounts an Iowa flood, to close.
Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band – Dance Songs for Hard Times
Family Crown Records/Thirty Tigers
Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band present a large presence despite being primarily a country blues trio, and they’re larger than life on their latest release, a collection of originals written by candlelight at the depths of despair after a windstorm knocked out the electricity in Southern Indiana during the epidemic.
The material here is an in-your-face set of intense, highly rhythmic tunes that confront troubles head-on and put a positive spin on life despite being penned in the midst of the most difficult time imaginable. The Rev. dazzles throughout, alternating slide and fingerpicked guitar.
You’ll find hope for better days ahead in the grooves of “Ways and Means,” “Dirty Hustlin’,” “I’ll Pick You Up,” “Too Cool to Dance,” “’Til We Die,” “Nothin’ Comes Easy but You and Me” and “Come Down Angels.”