Friday, December 28, 2018

The Blues Enthused Christmas Stocking 2018 - Part 2

So was Santa good to you all then?  Finished all the turkey and ready for a bit more reflection on 2018 with Blues Enthused?
One of the highlights of the second half of the year was a first visit to the Carlisle Blues Rock Festival back in September, for two out of its three days.   A brilliantly organised affair, it was blessed with a cracking bill, the Saturday night topped off by a set from Thorbjorn Risager & The Black Tornado that was a hit from the minute their guitars starting cranking out the riff to ‘If You Wanna Leave’.
Thorbjorn Risager rocks the flat cap look
Carlisle also offered a first chance for me to see the Chris Bevington Organisation, who offered up one of the most straight ahead, good-time albums of the year, with the rocked up blues outing Cut And Run.  A 9-piece outfit featuring horns, keys, backing singers, and the kitchen sink, they pulled together great songs, quality musicianship and a great sound, in an album that crackled with enthusiasm from start to finish on tracks like 'It Ain't Easy'
Worth noting for their willingness to do something a bit different in the album stakes were Big Boy Bloater, with Pills, and Jawbone, with their self-titled debut album.  The Bloat fella’s album may not be solid gold – there are a couple of misfires, for my money – but with his rough-edged rock’n’roll, rougher-edged voice, funny lyrics and penchant for B-Movie tales, as well a neat line in Nick Lowe-ish country fare, he’s still a breath of fresh air - see what you make of 'Friday Night's Alright For Drinking'.  And Jawbone are similarly refreshing, as they take a late Sixties Big Pink vibe and transplant it to 21stCentury Britain, with a heap of strong songs, contrasting lead vocals from Marcus Bonfanti and Paddy Milner, and a readiness to let Milner’s piano set the tone as much as Bonfanti’s guitar.  They also have a nice way with a lyric, as '2 Billion Heartbeats' demonstrates.
Right now there are a host of great female roots music artists out there in both Britain and America, and one of the standout albums of the year came at the hands of one of them – Kansas City’s Danielle Nicole, who released her second solo album Cry No More back in March - and picked up a Grammy Award nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album at the tail end of the year.  No sign of her coming to Europe for live dates in the near future though – unlike Shemekia Copeland, Ana Popovic and Samantha Fish, who are all going to be within hailing distance for me in the same week in May!  Never mind, here's Ms Nicole casting a 'Hot Spell'.
A new find for me on the female singer front this year was Tierinii Jackson, of Memphis-based soul-blues outfit Southern Avenue, who delivered a crackling performance at the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival in the summer.  If Vintage Trouble are your kind of band, then you may well enjoy Southern Avenue, although they also stir a spoonful of gospel into the mix.  Here they are getting funky on ‘Rock Steady’, with Tierinii Jackson in typical Little Miss Dynamite form.
Danielle Nicole has a quiet evening in
On the book front, this year I’ve been working my way through Stuart Cosgrove’s ‘Soul Trilogy’, comprising Detroit 67Memphis 68, and Harlem 69.  The books cover a lot of ground, such as the development of Motown and Stax, and key events in black culture like the Detroit riots, the assassination of Martin Luther King, and the emergence of the Black Panthers.  But much of the pleasure is to be found in the characters Cosgrove turns up, many of whom are unfamiliar.
In the latest book it’s interesting to come across someone like Betty Mabry, who was married to Miles Davis for a time, was a friend of Jimi Hendrix, and by the sound of it was an all-round cross-cultural phenomenon.  A catwalk model, club owner, songwriter and singer, Cosgrove paints her as a forceful, networking catalyst in the emergence of jazz-rock and fusion.
Or there’s King Curtis, a workaholic sax player, band leader, arranger, musical director and talent scout, who I must confess I’d never heard of before, but whose mid-Sixties band The Kingpins at one time or another included famed drummer Bernard Purdie, and the still developing Hendrix.  Here they are cooking up a 'Memphis Soul Stew'.  It says something about Curtis’s status that for a while the Kingpins were apparently Aretha Franklin’s preferred backing band.
And with the death of Aretha earlier this year, that seems like a good point at which to close the lid on 2018.  So here is the Queen of Soul, doubtless an inspiration for some of those singers listed above, showing how it’s done on ‘I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You’.

You can find Part 1 of the Blues Enthused Christmas Stocking here.

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