Once again we share with our readers the music which we have been listening to here at the JUNCTION. As is our custom, these tunes come from ten brand new and soon to be released albums from serious blues musicians from all over the world. Thanks once again to Charlie Lange who contributed to this ongoing feature. You can click on the albums that Charlie carries on his Bluebeat Music website to purchase anything that may be of interest to you.
Sean Costello’s In the Magic Shop is a brand new Vizztone Records release which comes from a session cut in 2005. Proceeds from the CD go to help support the Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research. It is a vibrant and well thought out set of originals with a strong bluesy edge. The album also features some great covers including tunes by Bobby Womack, Fenton Robinson and Johnny Fuller. Costello's records always have that certain something that put them ahead of the pack and this set may well be his best release. A personal favorite is Sean’s take on a song that’s older than dirt, You Don’t Know What Love Is. – C.L.
Madison Slim has, after all these years, released the first solo album under his own name, Close But No Cigar. The singer/harmonica player’s brand new self released offering isn’t exactly a solo record as he always finds himself in the company of some of the best blues musicians in the world. He is backed here by guitarist Doug Deming and his band the Jewel Tones which consists of bassist Andrew Gohman and drummer Devin Neel. Also on board for this project are guitarist Billy Flynn, Barrelhouse Chuck on piano and Terry Hanck on sax. Fans of Slim might remember him from his days with The Legendary Blues Band. Slim appeared on four of that band’s albums. He also had a seven year stint traveling the world and playing with the late, great Jimmy Rogers. This album is a solid outing and you can’t go wrong with anything here. I went with the title track, a song written by fellow Wisconsonian Jim Liban, Close but No Cigar.
Billy Boy Arnold is one of the very few bluesmen to trace his musical legacy all the way back to the late 40’s and early 50’s post war Chicago blues scene. At 77 years young, Arnold still has a youthful vitality which has made him one of the most consistent performers whom the blues has had the privilege to bear witness. His October 21, 2014, release on Stony Plain Records entitled, The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold is his debut on this Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, based label and it is a beauty. He is paired with Stony Plains' longtime go-to guy, Duke Robillard. Duke, who produced this album, has his great band backing Arnold and has his own wonderful guitar put to good use in service of some excellent songs. There is a wide variety of material here including tunes from Arnold’s vast reservoir of originals, but for our Jukebox selection I went with an old tune that has been covered to death, Saint James’ Infirmary. I didn’t think I needed to hear another version of this standard; that is until I heard Billy Boy Arnold’s version. He breathes new life into this tune and found some head room in some unexpected places. The entire album is full of surprises and has in the past few days become one of my favorite releases of 2014.
With the October 21st release of Hard Luck Child: A Tribute to Skip James on Stony Plain Records, Rory Block continues to explore the music of the 1960’s era folk/blues revival. This is the fifth album in a series that has the singer/guitarist revisiting the music of the period when recently “rediscovered” pre-war blues artists were brought north to perform for mostly white college and coffee house folkies. The impact these musicians had on the young Rory Block was profound. Her previous Stony Plain releases are dedicated to the music of Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Rev. Gary Davis and most recently her 2013 tribute to Mississippi John Hurt. With Skip James, Block examines the music of perhaps the artist whose music and persona elicited the most fascination. James has been described as aloof, distant and remote. His often plaintive and haunting music was delivered with an otherworldly falsetto and virtuoso guitar styling that had as much to do with the Piedmont school of finger picking than what were the prevailing sounds of his native Mississippi. His death from cancer in 1969 only added to his mystique. For our jukebox selection I chose a tune, I’m So Glad, that has Block capturing the gospel influence in James’ work which is often overlooked by interpreters of his music.
Nathan James’ Hear Me Calling is the solo acoustic companion piece to the simultaneous release of his electric band offering entitled, Natural Born That Way, which we discussed last month here at the Jukebox at the JUNCTION. James' solo career has been constantly refined and invigorated by his musical curiosity and this set of acoustic sides covers a wide range of songs and tempos which he characterizes as "realistic and personal." Inspired by the field work of Chris Strachwitz, Alan Lomax and others, these songs have a relaxed down home feel, yet display musical prowess and insight not found in many older recordings. He continues to develop as an artist with a strong natural voice and a knack for writing clever insightful songs as well as choosing covers that are seldom heard. – C.L.
Guitarist Kirk Fletcher has just released the first live, solo album in his career, Burnin’ Blues, Live. Fletcher came to international prominence way back in 1999 with his debut album, I’m Here, I’m Gone, on JSP Records and has been a ubiquitous presence on the blues scene ever since. He has appeared on albums by Al Blake, Lynwood Slim, Janiva Magness, Charlie Mussellwhite and others. He has been a member of The Hollywood Blue Flames, The Mannish Boys and The Fabulous Thunderbirds as well as putting out two solo albums on Delta Groove Music, 2004’s Shades of Blue and 2010’s My Turn. This live set from The Baked Potato nightclub in Hollywood leans heavily on tunes which appeared on My Turn. He covers a wide variety of material on that release and does the same here. Our jukebox selection is a Fletcher original instrumental Blues for Robben and Larry where the guitarist pays homage to two of his musical idols Ford and Carlton respectively.
B.B. and The Blues Shacks’ most recent release Businessmen coincides with the band’s 25th anniversary celebration as well as their fall U.S. tour. That tour is limited to California where the mutual musical appreciation of the European Blues scene and West Coast Blues traditions continues to benefit artists and fans on both sides of the pond. On Businessmen the Arlt brothers, guitarist Andreas and vocalist/harmonica player Michael, continue to explore the fertile ground where blues and soul collide. This CD feels much like a follow up to their 2012 release Come Along that also had a decidedly soul feel. Our Jukebox selection is an instrumental entitled Buckle Up. Here the band takes a wild ride and for a few minutes leaves their charismatic front man, Michael, on the side of the road while the rest of these fine musicians swing hard. Longtime bassist Henning Hauerken and relative newcomer Jochen Reich on drums lay down a serious groove that offers up a solid rhythmic foundation for some fine solos by organist Dennis Koeckstadt and the guitar of Andreas. After this four minute joy ride the band circles back around to pick up brother Michael to resume the soul dance party.
On November 18th, Rip Cat Records will put out the first posthumously released album by Lynwood Slim. The working title for this project was originally slated to be, Hard To Kill. The last time I spoke to Slim last summer, he joked “I sure hope they don’t have to change the name of the record.” They didn’t...the album however, could just have as easily been called, ‘World Wide Wood Volume 2’ as it takes on a similar approach to that 1999 Pacific Blue Records release. The songs on this 16 track collection are taken from sessions that Slim produced save the final tune where Mark Dufruesne was at the helm entitled, Lynwood Slim. The album was recorded on three continents and features Slim’s vocals, harp playing and his flute. He covers material from a wide variety of sources including material that he co-wrote with some of the players on which these albums originally appeared. The entire record is a lot of fun and maybe someday some of the the bittersweet taste of this record will mellow like the tune Old Honky Tonk Piano Blues. It is on this tune that Slim teams up with his old pal guitarist Kid Ramos and pays tribute to one of his heroes, flautist Herbie Mann.
Blue Lunch has released their second album in 2014 on Rip Cat Records. The Cleveland, Ohio, based eight piece little big band’s offering last winter was a career retrospective that spanned 30 years and their previous six albums. They leaned heavily on some great covers for that CD. Here on Above the Fold it’s mostly originals. This is also a big lunch that is a fifteen track, one hour feast of music which touches on several blues idioms which left this listener satiated. Jump blues, Chicago blues, swing and jazz infused numbers sit right alongside some slow burners. There isn’t much that isn’t on the menu, but for me I ordered up a slow blues lament, Venita written and sung by the band’s guitarist Bob Frank. As an added bonus the CD's liner notes, written by Harlan Ellison, are worth the price of admission all on their own.
This self titled release by Ina Forsman with The Helge Tallqvist Band goes all the way back to June of 2013. Tallvquest is the subject of a feature here this month and agreed to an indepth interview in which we discuss his long career in music and the young talent that is Ina Forsman. On this self released CD, Forsman exudes both maturity and confidence, as well as a detached cool. She delivers powerful renditions of some blues and soul classics. The album, which features a triad of great material played by exceptional musicians and this young talent, is what prompted me to share with our readers the compelling story of these Finnish artists. We have been spinning this CD here at the Jukebox at the JUNCTION since the album made its way into our library a few months back so picking a single tune is tough. I think Forsman’s reading of the Slim Harpo classic Got Love If You Want It is just one of 15 examples of what this young chanteuse can do to a song. I hope to hear much more from Ina Forsman and with the guidance and support of great artists like Helge Tallqvist that seems very likely.