Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Blues Enthused Christmas Stocking 2019 - Part 1

Santa’s checking his list by now I reckon – probably checking it twice.  Been naughty or nice, people?  Okay, I’ll believe you.  And to prove it here’s the Blues Enthused Christmas Stocking, a selection of treats to whet your musical appetite.
The first thing I’d say about 2019 is that it’s been an absolutely stellar year for blues and roots music, judging by the albums I’ve been able to lay my hands on, and some of the gigs I’ve seen.  Seriously, I think it’s the strongest year I’ve witnessed since I started on this caper.  You’ll no doubt have your own highlights, but here are some of mine.
Albert Castiglia gets heavy
My favourite album of 2019 has been Masterpiece, by Albert Castiglia.  I’ll be honest, although I knew the guy’s name this was the first time I’d actually been confronted by any of his work.  And right from the off the album grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and demanded my attention, with its combination of stomping, visceral ruff’n’tuff blues, and more thoughtful songs like the title track, ‘Love Will Win The War’, and this one - the rippling slow blues of‘Heavy’.  As someone perceptively put it, “Masterpiece is raw and primitive, down to earth and defiant, emotional and honest.”  Oh wait – that was me!
Also coming out of the States were a number of albums showcasing different blues styles in bloody marvellous fashion.  Late in the year Toronzo Cannon came up with a belting example of up-to-the-minute, forward looking Chicago Blues, in the form of The Preacher, The Politician And The Pimp – lyrically intelligent and witty, and with great arrangements, guitar and vocals.  Cop an earful of the title track.
The North Mississippi Allstars came up with a wonderful celebration of their Hill Country musical upbringing in the form of Up And Rolling.  But in the last couple of days I’ve also been listening to the recently released album Cypress Grove by Bentonia bluesman Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes, and I can tell you it’s the real deal when it comes to deep Mississippi blues.  I’ll be reviewing Cypress Grove soon, but in the meantime here’s Jimmy performing ‘Catfish Blues’ in his own Blues Front Café juke joint.
The soul-blues album that had the biggest impact on me was Sugaray Rayford’s Somebody Save Me.  Sugaray, a hugely entertaining live performer, collaborated with writer/producer Eric Corne to come up with a Grammy-nominated outing that knows its roots but still sounds modern, as on ‘I’d Kill For You, Honey’.
Going way down south, for me the rootlingest, tootlingest collection of original Texas blues came not from Jimmie Vaughan, much as other people praised his Baby Please Come Home, but from Rosie Flores, with her marvellously engaging Simple Case Of The Blues.  Honestly, if you liked Jimmie’s effort you should give Rosie a listen – and you can start with this performance of ‘Drive Drive Drive’.
Nine Below Zero - the boys are back in town!
Then heading back up north, like waaay up north and out of the US, Canada’s Matt Andersen came up with a stunning example of laid back, semi-acoustic roots music.  Call it soul, call it blues, call it what you will, Halfway Home By Morning is a gorgeous album, just about the best backing vocals you could dream of, courtesy of the McCrary Sisters.  And here he is with his pal Amy Helm, on the delightful with'Something To Lose'.
Meanwhile, back here in Britain, the year started with an adventurous album from Wille And The Bandits, Paths.  Are they blues?  Possibly not.  But with their album Paths they served up modern blues-inflected rock, with an inclination towards world music which sets them apart from the pack.  They’ve just gone through a major line-up change, and here are the new outfit performing ‘Make Love’.
We also had a new album from those R’n’B/soul veterans Nine Below Zero, with Avalanche.  The suitably updated NBZ band are a fun proposition to be sure, but they’re also capable of covering a number of bases to great effect.  Here they are with 'One Of Sour, Two Of Sweet'.
And, lastly for now, this year had a some kinda wonderful excursion into rootsy Americana territory by Geraint Watkins.  Being honest once again, like what I like to be, I’d never heard of the guy before his album Rush Of Blood came my way, and knocked me out with its rootsiness, its musical charm, and its romance.  Here’s our Geraint playing live in London last month, with a rather different take on ‘Johnny B. Goode’.
Merry Christmas folks.  Keep on rockin’, and Blues Enthused will be back with the second part of the festive package before New Year!

You can read Part 2 of the Christmas Stocking here.

No comments:

Post a Comment