And before you know it, the year 2016 finally makes its way out of here. It was definitely a year of surprises; some good, others not so much. It was a year when we lost many voices that had been a big part of our lives, and perhaps many more as yet unknown were born. For me, it was a year of discovering new music as a number of great artists came to my attention for the first time, and many old friends stopped by for another visit.
So, once again, here is our tribute to some of the best releases of 2016. (Notice I said “some,” as we by no means received all of the releases from the year. We’re working on it!) As with all art, these merely reflect my taste and you might have had a completely different reaction or feel that I left out some titles. Guilty as charged – and feel free to leave a comment extolling the virtues of your selections. Who knows, maybe I’ll go out and pick up the album to play on an episode of Time For The Blues.
One note of explanation since there are so many titles listed below. You might think I’m hedging my bet, but the simple truth is there were so many great albums released this year, and there were great examples in a variety of blues categories. So, check out the titles listed in those categories you enjoy and maybe you’ll find something new to add to your collection.
Now, without further ado, I present to you The Professor’s Honor Roll of 2016!
There was big news from big names in 2016 and the following, in alphabetical order of the artist, are some of my favorites. Be sure to check out:
Memphis Rock And Soul by Melissa Etheridge. Etheridge is noted for her hard-rocking style, so it only seems fitting that she release an album of Stax covers. The 12 songs on the album include songs from the likes of Otis Redding, Booker T. Jones, B.B. King, William Bell and others. Put this album into your CD player, and you are immediately transported to a different place and time – and you just might not want to come back!
Pierced Arrow by The Rides. The Rides is a supergroup comprised of Stephen Stills Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Barry Goldberg. At times, they may still sound a little like three superstars, but for the most part they have really jelled as a group and this album explores several different takes on the blues. Due to such pressures on their time and schedules, it’s hard to say how many more albums the trio will make together (this is only their second release), but catch this one and enjoy the moment.
Blue & Lonesome by The Rolling Stones. I will gladly confess to this being one of the most anticipated albums for 2016. The Rolling Stones started out as a blues band for gosh sakes and while they have turned out a few bluesy songs over the last couple of decades, they had never even teased doing a full blues album until now. Recorded in a white heat over just a couple of days, these 12 tracks are tight and the album is a lot of fun.
When She’s Gone by Benny Turner. Turner may not have the same stature as some of the other artists in this category, but that’s primarily because for much of his career he’s been content to be a sideman to other artists. This album is a strong contender in the soul/blues field and having had the opportunity to get to know Turner this year, I can assure you that he belongs. Catch him live somewhere down the road and I am confident you will feel that he’s a major entertainer.
Blues takes on many different forms, from psychedelic all the way to one person with a guitar, there’s something for every different style. But one thing is for certain, old school sounds never go out of style. In 2016, there was plenty to satisfy the lover of old school blues.
House Party At Big Jon’s by Big Jon Atkinson and Bob Corritore. Atkinson’s guitar and Corritore’s harp are augmented by a few other instruments but the feel is decidedly that of a couple of friends sharing the music they love. It’s stripped down to the essentials and comes straight from the heart.
Truth by Guy King. King is a lot of fun with his big band inspired jazzy swinging blues. This is a man who is steeped in the musicality of New Orleans, Memphis, and now in Chicago where he has become a fixture at a number of upscale clubs. This is not the stripped down old school, but the kind of old school that wants to grab you by the lapels and kick you out onto the dance floor!
Taylor Made Blues by Mick Kolassa. It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Kolassa’s and this album is just another reason why. Stripping down each song to its essence, he still manages to find the heart and soul of the place where he lives and the life that he leads. The lines between blues and country sometimes blur, but never the intention of the music nor its result.
Why I Choose To Sing The Blues by Derrick Procell. This is a relatively recent release that just arrived but it is a real gem and one that I will be playing frequently. Procell is an old soul in a young (ish) body and his music evokes Howlin’ Wolf, Son House, B.B. King, and transports his listener to a different place and time. Definitely worth picking up and listening to repeatedly.
So Low by Tim Williams. One man, a guitar (or several, but only one at a time), a voice and no overdubs is the hallmark of this fine album by Williams. The 2014 IBC Solo/Duo winner is in good form and his selection of songs is impeccable. One of the first albums I reviewed in 2016, it remains one of my favorites.
So many blues greats in a variety of styles released significant albums in 2016 that need to be on this list. It was indeed a good year to be a fan, and if some of these are not currently in your collection, be sure to check them out.
Can’t Shake This Feeling by Lurrie Bell. A member of the famous Bell Family, Lurrie pulls out all the stops for this fun and compelling release. He delivers some of the tastiest chops of the year.
Live At The Greek Theatre by Joe Bonamassa. Nobody quite straddles the line between blues and rock the way Joe Bonamassa does. In this amazing two-disc set, he pays homage to the Three Kings (Albert, Freddie, and B.B.) of the blues in this blistering collection.
The Chicago Way by Toronzo Cannon. For sheer over-the-top energy and fun, it’s hard to beat Cannon. This guy does it all mixing a variety of styles into one amazing album. I had a lot of fun playing this one and he’s made me a big fan.
Big Dog by Albert Castiglia. One of the great hardworking bluesmen out there and this just might be his best album to date. Solid playing, good lyrics; this one is the total package. We featured several cuts off of this album on Time For The Blues.
Sounds Like The Blues To Me by Jeff Chaz. Chaz is an amazing performer with a soulful voice and a lifetime of experience from which to draw. For a guy who has bounced all over the country, he sounds like pure New Orleans. He released two albums in 2016, a rare feat, and both are extremely good. We featured a lot from this album, listen for more of the second!
I’m Gonna Tell You Somethin’: Live At The G Spot by David “Honeyboy” Edwards. Documenting the last time venerated bluesman Edwards was recorded (and filmed), this concert album and accompanying DVD is a genuine treasure.
The Big Sound Of Lil’ Ed And The Blues Imperials by Lil’ Ed And The Blues Imperials. Lil’ Ed and his merry band of musicians have long been favorites of mine. They have a way of bringing over the top music and an incredible live performance together. Here, they are back in the studio but sound as if they are electrifying a huge crowd.
My Road by Bob Margolin. The best music is created personally but received universally and that’s what this album does. Margolin, one of the great ambassadors of the blues, is in top form both musically and lyrically. You can often find Margolin out on the road somewhere, either with his own band or backing one of his many friends, and you should always try to catch him wherever you can.
Cab Driving Man by Mississippi Heat. A late, but welcome entry by this fun swinging band. Mississippi Heat is in rare form with this high energy, over the top album. With so many great cuts to choose from, we’ll have a lot to feature on Time For The Blues.
Bloodline by Kenny Neal. Oh my Great Blues God, what an amazing album. Neal is in great form and his guitar playing is top notch. I was actually a little late in getting this CD, but it knocked me out and I am planning on using it quite a bit in the future.
The Beautiful Lowdown by Curtis Salgado. Salgado is one of the greatest performers of our time. His high-energy approach is a perfect match for his vocal style and harp playing. Whenever you get a chance to catch Salgado live, you will receive every ounce of his soul in performance. This album captures him in the studio creating some of his best work.
I admit that it is sexist of me to segregate some of the best albums released by women this year, and for an alleged feminist that’s a pretty damning thing to say. In my defense, I’m still trying to give an emphasis to these performers and want to ensure that their voices are heard. So, sue me, my heart’s in the right place…
Professin’ The Blues by Fiona Boyes. I hereby dub Fiona Boyes, The Queen of Old School. She has a great sound and manages to pour more blues into her stripped-down approach than just about anybody else. Her guitar work is top notch, and her vocals are dead on. If you like that sound, you will love her. We sure do…
Love Wins Again by Janiva Magness. Magness is one of those great performers that always puts out quality work. On this release, she has poured her heart and soul into the work on a much deeper personal level, and the result is amazing. She’s long been someone to watch, and after this CD with its new approach to life, she’s easily a favorite.
Hard Times, Bad Decisions by Lisa Mann. Mann has been chalking up awards left and right and been in high demand all over this country (and now Europe!) and we’ve been watching her since her very first album. She’s grown so much musically and lyrically – and she was already damn good when she started! She could very well be the next big thing!
It Won’t Stop Raining by Shaun Murphy. Murphy’s voice is soulful and stirring and her songs are impeccable. She’s been turning out terrific work for years, often in someone’s shadow, but lately has been taking the spotlight with the same great results. If you haven’t picked up any of her more recent work, do yourself a favor and get one or two albums and see what you’ve been missing.
Grit Grease & Tears by Deb Ryder. I was a big fan of Ryder’s last album (Let It Rain) and was blown away by this one. Great songwriting, terrific voice, this is one of those CDs that has done extremely well critically and with fans, hitting the top spot on the Blues & Roots Music Chart. This one belongs in every music lover’s collection.
The Long Journey Home by Vaneese Thomas. Pure greatness. Thomas takes us on one of the best musical journeys of the year on this album. Deep and emotional, with so much heart and soul, this is one of the most unforgettable albums of the year.
One of the great joys I have as a writer and a part of Time For The Blues, is discovering new talent. Or at least talent that is new to me. One of the ways that happens is when one of the terrific publicists who support the show send me albums from new performers. Another is when the artist themselves send us material and a head’s up.
In case you were wondering, I do read everything and listen to every CD or download that we receive. I’m not saying it happens immediately, but it does happen sooner than later. So, if you want take the plunge and submit something, feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com.
That’s a long way around to introduce to you some of the great artists that were introduced to us this year.
Mary Jo Curry by Mary Jo Curry. Wow. Just Wow. This Midwest lady has got some serious blues chops. I love her voice and hope that this CD gets her enough national attention to start touring the major clubs and festivals.
Sugar Me by Sammy Eubanks. Eubanks has some serious fun on this album and he shows some versatility as well. We featured several cuts off this one and I, for one, am eagerly awaiting his follow up.
Don’t Bring Me Daylight by Reggie Wayne Morris. This one caught me by surprise as it came in unannounced. I liked it the first time I listened, but due to large amounts of CDs arriving, it got lost in the shuffle. When I pulled it out later and listened again I discovered it was even better than I originally thought. Look for more cuts on Time For The Blues.
Blues In Good Hands by Mighty Mike Schermer. I first became aware of Schermer when I saw him playing guitar alongside Marcia Ball. Damn, he was good. When I found out he had a CD out, I tracked the sucker down and damn, he is good! This one may have been out in 2015, I’m not sure, but I only got it in 2016, so I’m including it here. Keep your ears tuned for more from this guy.
A Force Of Nature by Shari Schorr. If there were ever truth in the titles of CDs, Schorr would be at the top of the list. She is a true force of nature. Produced by the legendary Mike Vernon, this is an album that will make you sit up and listen. There’s no need to wait for the future, she has all the tools and potential to become a huge star now.
Just as so many newcomers make their debut, I enjoy hearing those performers who have taken time away from the industry return and share their experiences with us. For some, the reasons may include burnout, while for others the reasons may be more personal and pressing. Whatever the reason, I’m just glad to have them back making great music.
No Money Down by David Burgin. Burgin was the “go-to” guy for harp players back in the ‘70’s. He played on dozens of albums that are probably in your record collection, and even with a successful combo with his friend Roy Rogers going, he put it all behind and walked away from the business. He’s returned with a swinging blues filled album. For me, he’s still the “go-to: guy!
Six String Stories by Joanna Connor. I’ve missed Connor’s music for years and recently found out she stopped working in order to raise her daughter. That’s real life and the most important job any person can do. She’s returned with an awesome record and it feels like she’s never been away. Welcome back Joanna!
This is the segment that Henry loves the most. He enjoys his blues with a hard driving edge and we tend to feature a lot of that on Time For The Blues. Of course, it’s hard to go wrong when you’ve got that sound that drives ‘em wild and gets people out of their seats to move, scream, and shout.
Champagne Velvet by Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch. Even though these guys have been around a while, this is the first time I’ve heard them, and I am hooked on their sound. They have a great time playing and this record comes off with a ton on energy! Look for more of their stuff on Time For The Blues as I pick up their previous releases.
Long Black Train by Ray Fuller And The Bluesrockers. A smoking album from start to finish! I really liked this album a lot and have been featuring a cut from it on several shows trying to make the experience last. If you like music with an edge, check this one out as well as their previous releases.
Live: The River City Sessions by Jeff Jensen. Jensen is one of the unsung heroes of the blues. He’s a terrific sideman, but when he gets his chance to stand in the spotlight, watch out because he will tear the house down. This album catches him doing just that.
Blood From A Stone by Eric Krasno. For a long time Henry didn’t know he had received a copy of this album and for some reason someone had written “JAZZ” across the envelope of my copy. So it went largely ignored until a chance play by Henry (once he found it) turned us onto a great album. Hard driving, but with jazzy influences, this is a great addition to your collection and you better believe we won’t wait so long on the next one.
Good albums have heart. Great albums have soul. I love the sound of a skillful soul singer who manages to bring out the best in a song. I don’t really hear as much as I used to, maybe for some it’s passé, but when I hear that groove, I’m entranced. Here are a couple of great blues artists who have infused more than a little soul into their recordings.
One Of A Kind by Grady Champion. Champion is not just a traditional soul singer, he’s a mover and shaker; a guy who is just as comfortable with a hard driving boogie, but it’s his sound that puts him into this category (for me anyway). I think he’s got all the tools to get a ton of airplay and be a true breakout artist.
Tiger In A Cage by Johnny Rawls. Rawls has that smooth voice, that presence that lets you know you are listening to one of the greats. His lyrics are sharp and poignant and his delivery is among the very best. This is one of those albums that just gets better with every play.
Whenever any of my political junky friends ask me if Virginia is a “Red” state or a “Blue” state, I always reply, “Neither. Virginia is a BLUES state.” Then they usually shake their heads and stare at me as if I have a canned ham on my head. I don’t have many political junky friends left, but what the hell, I’ve got some great blues music to share. And if you think I am segregating again, okay, I’ll take that hit. But I really want to emphasize some of the best my state has to offer.
Tangled by In Layman Terms. Brother and sister team of Cole and Logan Layman have been knocking audiences out for years. When I first met them, Cole was too young to drive and Logan was shorter than her bass guitar, but when they played, oh what a beautiful sound they made. After a couple of EPs to test the waters, this is their first full album and it truly rocks.
Live At The Southern by The Jon Spear Band. The group who lives by the motto, “Live Music Is Better,” puts it to the test with their first live album. You know what, they’re right. The band is in top form and the tracks are impeccably recorded. I’ve had the pleasure of watching them for a few years now and they just keep getting better.
Roo’d Awakening by Anthony Rosano And The Conqueroos. One of the hardest driving bands in the state, this live recording was done in Richmond as they opened for Tab Benoit. It was in front of this enthusiastic crowd that they whipped through several great songs and set the stage for Benoit. Catch them while you can because I predict greatness for them.
Straight Talk by Urban Hill. A new to me band that features Paul Urban and Lathan Hill. Rocking, soulful, this group covers the territory with this, their second album. The group has really found a niche and Hill’s vocals and his and Urban’s songwriting skills are remarkable. Truly looking forward to hearing more from this group.
Every year there are usually several different compilations and collaborations. Tribute albums are often the vehicle for getting together a group of diverse artists to explore past (or present) performers and writers. Here are a few of the very best 2016 had to offer.
Alligator Records 45th Anniversary. What an amazing collection of past and present Alligator Artists on this collection that the label revamps every five years or so. Since so many major players have been a part of the label, you know they have tons of material from which to choose. You can’t go wrong with this two disc 37-track offering.
The Musical Mojo Of Dr. John. What a concert! So many great players together to pay homage to the one and only Dr. John! Released as a two-CD package you just can’t go wrong with so many players. Where else are you going to hear Bruce Sprinsteen, Irma Thomas, Tab Benoit, Mavis Staples, and John Fogerty on one collection? The music is magic and the company divine.
Blues For Big Walter. This collection of top harp players on EllerSoul is one of those discs that just keeps getting better with every listen. Since the label is run by a great harpist (Li’l Ronnie Owens) it’s no surprise that he was able to attract such other great harp players like Bob Corritore, Mark Wenner, Kim Wilson, Mark Hummel, and others.
I wasn’t sure where this last album would fit. It’s well known how much I enjoy both jazz and blues, but obviously focus most of my attention on the latter. When EllerSoul Records sent me the album Skronky Tonk by Little Charlie And Organ Grinder Swing, I was a little flummoxed. I love Charlie Baty and think he is a great guitar player – and in our one conversation we discussed a mutual love of jazz and various influences on the blues. The album itself is not blues per se, but I feel if we limit ourselves to just one genre, we miss out on so much. So, check this one out and enjoy some great gypsy jazz as played by some of the best workers in the business.
Well, that’s it. Another year in the books and with it came some great music for us all to enjoy. If you find yourself intrigued by any of the titles listed, I encourage you to check them out at their various websites and to sample some of their music. Thanks again to all of the people who make this possible, the artists themselves for creating the music, the publicists who work tirelessly to get the music out to people like me to play and talk about, and the audience who listens, enjoys, and often buys the music that fuels the artists. We all play our part and if one leg is removed, it all comes crashing down.
Here's to 2017 and the music it will bring. Keep coming by here to see what I’m talking about, and keep listening to Time For The Blues! (As well as other great blues shows around the world!)