5 great CDs include Texas Blues, Alt-Blues, Rockabilly, Hokum and NOLAmericana

     Texas blues is its own sub-genre apart from Chicago blues or Mississippi Delta blues. Stalwart practitioners of such include Gatemouth Brown, Johnny Winter, Albert Collins, Lightnin’ Hopkins, ZZ Top, T-Bone Walker, Blind Lemon Jefferson and The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Fab T-Bird Jimmie Vaughan’s son, Tyrone Vaughan, is a hot-shot guitarist out of Austin whose first guitar was given to him by his uncle, Stevie Ray Vaughan. He’s now joined forces with singer Malford Milligan in the Milligan-Vaughan Project or MVP (Mark One Records).
Their originals swing with the kind of dynamic instrumental interplay inherent in this strain of the blues. Milligan is one of those big-voiced singers who emphatically and consistently gets his points across in a no-holds-barred style of all-out abandon. They do Buddy Guy’s “Leave My Girl Alone,” Les McCann’s jazzed-up “Compared To What,” Freddy King’s “Palace Of The King” and the Reverend James Cleveland’s holy-soaked “Two Wings.” Seemingly, there ain’t nothin’ this duo can’t do. It’s a hot debut complete with a rampaging band of bass, drums, keyboards, second guitar and back-up vocals for window dressing but it’s their show…and they make the most of it.

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Is the self-released, self-produced Love You To Life by Lara Hope and the Ark Tones the most fun CD of the year? Just might be! This wild’n’wooly quartet from the Hudson Valley in upper New York state can lay claim to furthering that hiccupping rockabilly style as fronted by the hot’n’fast Hope who transcends those roots to include bop, rock, soul, country and gospel. I hear she’s dynamite live so folks in Harrisburg Pennsylvania better get ready for their show there on November 25. In the meantime, everybody can latch on to this Love… because when they do Jack White’s earthy “Hotel Yorba” and Sister Wynona Carr’s heaven-raising “’Til The Well Runs Dry” (with a smirk), alongside such exceptional originals as “Dr. Bartender,” “Working Man’s Tools” or my favorite, “Fast, Cheap, Or Well Done,” you will no doubt have a new favorite band.

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The only question is why has it taken multi-talented Michael Dinallo 30 years to finally come out with a debut? And couldn’t he have added a few more tunes? Crooked Road Songs is, in a word, spectacular. It’s soulful, bluesy to the hilt, filled with folksy reverence for his forebears and contains some spectacular vocals courtesy of soul shouter Barrence Whitfield and Boston bar-band hero Tim Gearan. Dinallo has arranged, produced, written and added some pretty damn nifty electric guitar and mandolin on six sterling tracks, three with full band, three acoustically intimate. Muddy Waters did Big Bill Broonzy’s “Lonesome Road Blues” in 1959. Is it sacrilegious to say I like Dinallo’s version better? Ditto for Lead Belly’s “In The Pines.” Dinallo’s originals reek of late-night honky-tonk floozies and bare-bones front-porch Appalachia. The man knows how to put a record together. He’s done so producing Eddie Floyd on Stax and the Charlie Rich tribute album last year, both projects brimming with ideas, alacrity and total joyousness. Rock on, dude. I’m a fan.

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“Hokum” is a very specialized brand of blues with the accent on fun. Racy fun. Double entendres abound, dirty meanings hidden in plain sight. Lil Johnson, for instance, recorded her “Meat Balls” in 1937 and it had nothing to do with dinner. Butterbeans and Susie go back even further with their “I Want A Hot Dog For My Roll.” Disparaged by critics but loved by the public, hokum blues music has survived the test of time. Enter Chris “Bad News” Barnes with an all-star assemblage of talent on songs like “Let Me Play With Your Poodle” (and you just know he ain’t talkin’ ‘bout a damn dog), “It’s Tight Like That,” “You Can’t Get Enough Of That Stuff,” “Somebody Been Using That Thing,” “Let Me Pat That Thing,” “Caught Him Doing It” and eight more hilarious, soulful examples of Hokum Blues (VizzTone Label Group). The Father Of The Blues himself, WC Handy [1873-1958], knew “you gotta hook ‘em with the hokum” before they’d listen seriously. Barnes is a comedian singer, a former television writer who knows how to deliver. Plus, with a cast that includes musicians from the Conan O’Brien Show, The Fab Faux, the Saturday Night Live Band, Bette Midler and Jimmy Rogers, you just know the music is El Supremo.

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NOLAmericana is the term New Orleans singer-songwriter Lynn Drury uses to describe her earthy roots music. Rise Of The Fall (CSB Roxy Music) is her self-produced national debut after eight local efforts. Inspired vocally by Lucinda Williams, the Gulf Coast native tapped Iguanas bassist Rene Coman to help her in the studio while she played acoustic guitar, tambourine and clarinet besides warbling her originals in a decidedly unique, soulful, alt.rock kinda way. The songs are complex slices of life made sumptuous and elegantly listenable with use of slide, 12-string, bass, electric guitar, drums, sax, cello, violin and Hammond B-3.
“So what good is the rain? It don’t wash away the pain,” she laments at one point. Compositionally inspired by John Prine (who isn’t?), her characters face existential crises at every turn like the guy who can’t remember his “Anniversary” or the gal who ponders her fate every night around “11:11.” The alt-rock inspiration comes from The Smiths (maybe because she worked with their producer John Porter on her 2014 Come To My House.) Her alternative credentials were originally cemented when she worked with Jimbo Mathus of Squirrel Nut Zippers as producer for her 2006 All You Need.
After graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi, she relocated to Tennessee during Hurricane Katrina before moving abroad for a few years and returning to the States in 2009, settling in New Orleans, Louisiana, thus the NOLAmericana tag. Her 2011 Sugar On The Floor had the legendary Ivan Neville on board. He knew how cool she is. Now we all do.

 

About Mike Greenblatt

A longtime music journalist, Mike Greenblatt is a contributing editor with Goldmine magazine.

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