As the 34th Annual International Blues Challenge just wrapped up in Memphis, I would like to extend my congratulations to the 2018 winners: Band 1st Place - Keeshea Pratt Band representing the Houston Blues Society, Band 2nd Place - Fuzzy Jeffries and the Kings of Memphis representing the Memphis Blues Society, and Band 3rd Place - Artur Menezes representing the Santa Clarita Valley Blues Society as well as the Solo/Duo 1st Place - Artur Menezes representing the Santa Clarita Valley Blues Society, and Solo/Duo 2nd Place - Daniel Eriksen representing the Oslo Bluesklubb.
Hey, it is an International challenge, remember?
One thing to remember though, is that everybody who competed at the challenge was a winner by virtue of actually participating. Every band or solo/duo act had to win the opportunity to be there, and every band that strives to keep the blues alive and thriving deserves our applause and respect.
To celebrate this year's Challenge, The Blues Foundation has released a CD of some of the best from last year’s band and solo/duo participants. The album features 14 tracks from a variety of artists that represent the full spectrum of the blues.
The album kicks off with 2017’s winner in the band category Dawn Tyler Watson from the Montreal Blues Society with Shine On. It’s a gospel flavored number with some soaring vocals and beautiful organ chords. It’s a song that could convert the most unrepentant sinner. Or the person who doesn’t normally listen to the blues. Great song and a perfect way to kick off the album.
Johnny Fink & The Intrusion follows with another great song, Let’s Hear Some Blues, which will be appearing soon on an episode of Time For The Blues. It has a great analog sound to it, just some players blowing the harp and laying down a great bass and drum rhythm and getting the audience to join in on the main line. If there is such a thing as Stadium Blues or Arena Blues, this is it! Solid song and a lot of fun.
After that rousing number is Randy McQuay with a stripped down to the bare essentials song, Till I Get To Memphis. His deep resonant voice is beautiful to listen to and he carries the song. I can’t wait to find more from this talented performer to share on the show.
I was fortunate enough to get a chance to write about Brody Buster’s One Man Band earlier and 2029 is my favorite song that he does. It’s got a punk rock energy but some amazing blues. This guy plays harp as well as anyone, in fact he won the award for best harp player, and it never ceases to amaze me to hear someone playing everything at once. You know this one is showing up on Time For The Blues.
The Nashville Blues Society’s Al Hill beat out Brody Buster to take the solo/duo crown. Here, he is represented by Don’t Dig Today. Hill, who also won for best guitarist in the solo category, turns in a great number complete with honkytonk piano. It’s about as old school as you can get and I really want to hear more.
It’s time to get a little funky with the Sobo Blues Band and their number Catfish Boogie. I like this number a lot and can’t wait to share it with our listeners, and I’ll be looking them up to see what I can get for the collection. They’ve got style, and for those that like a little punch to their blues, this provides all the punch they need!
Ruth Wyand & The Tribe Of One hails from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and in 2018 she represented Tidewater Virginia as their solo/duo performer. She’s another amazing one person band and here she cuts loose on I Don’t Have Proof. Her plaintive guitar opens the song before her sweet vocals and percussion join the song. I may be biased as I’ve had the chance to see Wyand perform a few times, but she’s one of my favorites, and I had already planned on sharing this song even before I received this compilation.
The Souliz Band Featuring Sugar & Spice took second place in the band competition with their blend of soul and blues. They are represented here with Good Lovin (Hot & Fresh from the Oven), and I guaranteed they will make you want to move. Sweet and sassy with a real edge to the vocals. Love their sound.
Up next is Felix Slim with his country flavored blues, I Hate You Cause I Love You. This is definitely old school and by putting it next to The Souliz Band, it just underlines the fact that this album is a collection of a group of diverse artists, and that the blues speak to the soul in different ways.
Wes Lee steps up to the microphone next with Chains That Bind. He’s a good technician and has a lot of swamp in his soul. I mean that in a good way as he touches on some of the best blues around. It must have been a tough task for the judges to winnow down so many great players to find the best blues talent around. So far, there is not one performer on this album that I wouldn’t gladly listen to an entire album (or several) of their work.
The soulful sound of STAX is alive and well in Sam Joyner, and his Onions Ain’t The Only Thing brought to my mind Booker T And The MGs. He’s got the sound down pat and the keyboards add a rich lush layer of sound to the mix. Definitely want to hear more from him. Very sweet song.
The Third Place Band Category winners were Rae Gordon & The Backstreet Drivers, and their song Elbow Grease is a great addition to the album. Gordon has a sweet voice that has an edge as sharp as an obsidian knife. Men, do not mess with this woman! Love the sax interplay, this has got to be a great band to catch live.
We get down to some hard rocking blues with King Bee and their song Dangerous. A fair number of blues performers are taking their blues to the extreme, giving it more of a metal sound. We’ve featured several on the show over the past few months, and no doubt will get around to more in the future. This is a band that would definitely make the list of those I want to play.
The last song on the album, Meet Me In The Country, is performed by Sugar Brown. It’s a sweet sounding number with definite country blues roots. The traditionalists will love this one and anyone who just loves a good voice and good music will enjoy it as well. Sweet as a cold glass of shine in the moonlight.
Fourteen songs, each by a different artist, and all of those artists were the crème of the crop at an International Challenge. The IBC has launched the careers of many performers and I firmly believe that the artists on this album have all the talent and drive necessary to take their careers to the highest levels.
The record was produced by The Blues Foundation, who sponsor the IBC every year, and Frank Roszak, world famous promotion and publicist. If you’re not a member of the Blues Foundation, what are you waiting for? Take a second and point your browser to https://blues.org/ and join. You’ll be supporting the music you love and help to make it available for generations to come.
As far as Roszak is concerned, I have rarely given him the praise he deserves. While Time For The Blues and this humble blog now have connections coming to us from around the world, Roszak was the first one to discover us and he has been immensely helpful in supplying us with great music. So, thank you Frank, for all you’ve done for us, and all of the other producers and reviewers out there.
Thanks to Frank, and so many other publicists, we are able to raise our voice to join the chorus of those who love the Blues!