By Mike Greenblatt
She came out of the Louisiana church to set stages on fire with her brand of fem-blues spotlighting her fiery streak of independence yet roots-reverence for her forebears. The lady knows whereof she came from. And she does that tradition proud on Revelation (Endless Blues) as produced by guitarist/blues hero Jeff Jensen. All original, Tullie Brae’s voice, piano, Hammond B-3 and slide guitar coalesce into a mighty statement of modern blues that will leave a scar on your psyche. She gets topical on opener “Price Of The Blues” about domestic violence and the ultimate retribution for such heinous behavior. “Seven Bridges” is all about redemption. “Mississippi Rain” is about that hole in your soul when the lust peters out but the love remains unrequited. They say that unrequited love is the most profound love of all. It’s been the impetus for great art throughout the ages and Brae’s addition to this canon is heartfelt and palpable. With 16 musicians artfully sewn into this tapestry of emotion, a mosaic of different perspectives, Revelation is her masterpiece.
Canadian Singer/Songwriter/Pianist Debra Power is here to say That’s How I Roll on her stunning new follow-up to her promising 2016 Even Redheads Get The Blues. She wrote all 12, sings ‘em with the style and flair of an old-time barrelhouse blues’n’boogie veteran and, of course, tickles those ivories like Jerry Lee Lewis crossed with Memphis Slim. Opener “All Night Playing The Blues” is an obvious highlight but when she beseeches her lover for forgiveness on “Please Forgive Me Blues,” her voice is tinged with just the right amount of regret. Backed by a high-powered cast of 18, this one’s highly recommended.
Terry Robb’s self-produced, self-released and all-original Confessin’ My Dues has this skillful, nimble acoustic guitar finger-picking maestro beautifully bending strings over the course of 13 acoustic gems. Although he has stand-up bass, drums and some electric rhythm guitar and back-up vocals on certain tracks, the crux of the matter is his indelible Imprint on the traditions of solo Ragtime, Delta Blues, Jazz, Folk and even Appalachian back-porch mountain music. He’s a wizard on Resonator Guitar and on this, his 15th album, his mastery shines forth so blindingly, you might have to wear sunglasses.
Get ready for another Southern Bred Mississippi R&B Rockers collection from Koko Mojo. The 28 rare and rockin’ slabs of dynamite feature legends next to one-hit wonders, all who passed through the doors of Trumpet Records in Jackson (a label that lasted but five years and was incredibly influential). Suffice it to say there are no clinkers. Luther Huff [1910-1973], from nearby Fannin, served his country in WWII, made but two sides, then moved to Detroit to live out his life in total obscurity. Bobo Thomas stole a guitar and when the theft was discovered, the label erased his name on the tune and put “Elmo James,” a rip-off from his legendary labelmate Elmore James. Due to being exceedingly nervous in the studio, Bobo never came back. Boogie McCain, Sherman Johnson and Tiny Kennedy might be dust in the wind now but their three tracks are so righteously cool, it’s a mystery why they were never heard from again. Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Boy Crudup, Big Joe Williams may be the legends but the tracks by Willie Love are the highlights.
It's always a time to celebrate whenever a new Alligator Records CD comes out by The Cash Box Kings. Every single one of their previous albums have been up amongst the best of the year. Hail To The Kings is no exception. These guys are royalty. Chicago’s Oscar Wilson writes ‘em and sings ‘em. Wisconsin’s Joe Nosek does the same and adds harmonica. Their sound strays into what they call “bluesabilly,” a twangy soul take on the Memphis sound. With the most-awesome Beedy-Eyes Smith on drums, the regal Queen Lee Kenehira on piano and, most impressive of all, the fiery lightning-bolt electric guitar of Billy Flynn, they lead their quintet plus six guests (including Shemekia Copeland) through 13 original blasts with highlights like “Ain’t No Fun (When The Rabbit Got The Gun),” “Smoked Jowl Blues,” “Poison In My Whiskey,” “Joe, You Ain’t From Chicago” and “Sugar Daddy.”
Kim Simmonds formed Savoy Brown in 1965 London. Forty albums and 54 years later, he’s still going strong with the release of City Night (Quarto Valley Records). They’ve been a power trio for the last 10 years with Kim’s production, compositions, lead guitar and vocals, backed by bassist Pat DeSalvo and drummer Garnet Grimm. The sound is bombastic, soulful and drenched with influences from Chicago, Memphis, Texas and England. Tight, brisk, heavy, they pound the blues into submission. “Walking On Hot Stones” is the opener before “Don’t Hang Me Out To Dry” is more of a command than a plea. Ditto for “Payback Time.” Kim’s writing has a punk edge to it and—according to those around him lately—so does his personality. At 71, he can say what he feels and does so on songs like “Selfish World” and the closing “Ain’t Gonna Worry.” They still tour. They still rock. Prodigiously.
Eliza Neals can be either Sweet Or Mean on her new E-H Records record. And I like it both ways. Man, she can belt. She has Popa Chubby churning out those electric lead guitar solos, singing back-up, producing and arranging. He’s always been a dynamo and never moreso than here. Neals wrote this EP and also has Hammond B-3 man Dave Keyes plus a horn section and a sizzling drum’n’bass rhythm section to back up her compositions and her fem phlegm. It’d be too easy to say she’s a cross between Janis and Etta but, man, did I say she can belt? Between “Bitten By The Blues,” “Livin With Yo Mama,” “Pawn Shop Blues” and three other blues-busters, there’s more action on this EP than on a dozen run-of-the-mill efforts by the lesser-inclined.