Hurricane Ruth’s Good Life (American Showplace Music) started in Illinois as a dancer listening to her drummer father’s Bessie Smith and Dinah Washington records, and hanging out with musicians at the bar her father owned. She wrote or co-wrote eight of 10 on this, her fifth album, where she puts everything that she’s absorbed—blues, swing, country, outlaw and rock’n’roll—into a Memphis soul stew of rare and exciting proportions. Sure, she can belt out a bar-room blues with the best of them but she’s so much more. Backed by her sterling guitar/keyboard/bass/drums band, she rampages ecstatically proving the potential she showed on her blistering 2017 Ain’t Ready For The Grave. Her voice is a battleship primed and aimed and ready to explode. Smart enough to remember the lessons she learned first-hand at the knees of none other than John Lee Hooker and Willie Dixon (both of whom she’s opened for), she brings a wellspring of creative awesomeness to her mix.
So many highlights! “Dirty Blues” is for all those honky-tonk angels who strut their stuff on the dance floor for all to admire. “Black Sheep” rocks like a bitch. (It’s her “Brown Sugar.”) “Who I Am” is a look back at her former partying ways. And she certainly knows all about that “Late Night Red Wine.” When Ruth LeMaster sings, you believe her.
No Border Blues Japan (Delmark Records), by Pennsylvania singer/songwriter/guitarist Johnny Burgin (who specializes in Chicago blues), is a wild free-for-all of rocking blues, soulful vocals and the insistent whoosh of great harmonica. Burgin has toured Japan for 20 years and has now gathered the best of the best blues players from that country, recorded them in Osaka, and, man, these cats wail! It’s not like they’re doing it for awards (there aren’t any). They’re not doing it for gigs (there aren’t any). This is as underground a scene as it gets. Ever since Otis Rush toured there in the ‘70s, there’s been a small blues cult that has produced some mighty fine musicians…and they’re all here: five guitarists, four drummers, three bassists, piano and three blues-harpists on Carey Bell’s “One Day You’re Gonna Get Lucky,” Tampa Red’s “So Crazy About You,” Little Walter’s “I Just Keep Loving Her,” some smokin’ originals and a great ending of “Sweet Home Osaka.”
Seven-time Blues Music Award winner Victor Wainwright & The Train is back with his heavy Memphis Loud (Ruf Records) where he rattles and hums his way through what’s left of America with the furious opener “Mississippi” and the rockin’ title track, amid highlights like “South End Of A North Bound Mule,” “My Dog Riley,” “Creek Don’t Rise” and “Recovery.” It’s a tour-de-force for the Georgian, his best since his 2005 Piano From Savannah debut. Oh, can he tickle the ivories! His piano-playing is a whirling dervish of fantastical proportions. Dude co-produced, sang up a storm, and also played Hammond B-3 ahead of this horn-laden blast of Americana Blues fit to lose your mind over. It’s that good.
Seattle's Grant Dermody feels he’s “on the right path.” An educator himself, he feels he’s still got a lot to learn. That’s a little humble for this established harmonica player/singer/songwriter/producer who can go from acoustic rural blues to electric rave-ups, Chicago-style. On three solo efforts, three band efforts, and 24 hard-blowin’ blues-harp appearances on albums by others (most impressively with the righteous Eric Bibb), he’s scoured the hard-to-scratch places of his perpetual itch. Always searching. Always learning. The live My Dony (Thunder River Records) is soaked in New Orleans gumbo. Recorded in the Louisiana swamps, with Grant’s huffing puffing vocals that capture the essence of bar-busting beer-drinking late-night denizens of the underground, it’s filled with anthems. Every damn song. Using his core band of co-producer and best friend Dirk Powell on guitar, piano and singin’ those harmony lines (with the blissful Rhiannon Giddins of the Carolina Chocolate Drops adding some vocal sugar), plus bass/drums/accordion, it’s a hot bubbling soul stew. His last album, Sun Might Shine On Me, was among the best blues of 2015. This one is even better. Dude’s known for making great albums. His 2010 Lay Down My Burden used 26 musicians in seven studios. You gotta hear it. The key here is the squeezebox, baby. Boy, does it add mounds of pleasure!
With the great Victor Wainwright on keyboards, Memphis-based Tony Holiday offers the kind of Soul Service (VizzTone Label Group) that will have you begging for more. I swear, when I finished this party of a CD, my deadline flew out the window because I just had to hear it all over again. Holiday blows fast, strong and true on his harmonica. The follow-up to his terrific Porch Sessions last year, he seems to have honed his vocals to a sharply diamond-cut sheen of adrenaline. His compositions reek of an old-time aesthetic (especially the ones he wrote with fellow soulster John Nemeth). Recorded at The Zebra Ranch in Independence, Mississippi (the new Muscle Shoals), with Ori Naftali at the helm (remember that name), the guitar/bass/drums/keyboards unit revs up to Daytona speeds while simmering and bubbling on the slow grooves.
The 30 artists on the amazing Lockdown Sessions (Cross Cut/Bear Family) come from Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Finland, France, England and the U.S. European harmonica man Roger C. Wade got the idea, got the best of his fellow German musicians onboard, then took it global, each musician performing their part at home remotely via digital communication channels. The 26 tracks on two CDs encompass boogie-woogie, swing, R’n’B, urban/rural blues and blues-rock, proving the theory that you don’t have to be in the same room to raise the roof. From “Mean Old Quarantine” and “Death Letter Blues” to “Fuck You, Mr. Virus” and “Everything Has Changed,” this is the kind of blues we all still have. Proceeds from the sale of this project go direct to the artists involved.
The story of Mark Telesca is proof of the healing power of music. Diagnosed with lymphoma, pummeled with chemotherapy, confined to his home for the better part of a year, he wrote and self-published a book (Love Music Hate Cancer), and then self-produced and self-released Higher Vibrations: Solo Acoustic Blues where he sings his blues with the force of a Mack Truck on a gravel road, finger-picks some absolutely exquisite and complex guitar and thumps that bass on his own wildly creative songs like “The Electric Chair” and “Something Just Ain’t Right” which will absolutely haunt you. He also instills new life into classic material from the dustbin of time like Al Green’s “I’m A Ram,” Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen,” Blind Willie Johnson’s “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning,” Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Louise” and Leroy Carr’s “How Long Blues.” I could listen to this guy all day.
You’ve got to have special grit to be a native New Yorker, especially a musician, and bluesman-rocker Dave Fields fills the bill, especially on his self-released Force of Will where his blues-rockin’ personality shines clean on through. Steve Morse drummer Van Romaine kicks it like an ornery mule. Rick Derringer bassist Buddy Allen is in perfect sync while adding his own kind of finger-poppin’ virtuosity. Fields plays a jagged lightning-bolt lead guitar and can shred with the best of ‘em. His songs range in artistic temperament from the swampy sex-crazed “Hunger” to his tributes to fellow New Yorkers Delmar Brown (“Delmar”) and “Chloe & Otis,” whose groove is jazzy funk. Instrumental “Jack Ham Her” will get you out of your chair and “Best I Can” shows he’s been listening to his Otis Redding records. This guy’s the Real Deal.