Electric City (Dealer’s Choice Records), by Early Times & The High Rollers, has 11 originals featuring Early on guitar/vocals, drummer Anton Fig (Dylan/Madonna/Jagger), keyboardist Brian Mitchell (Levon Helm/BB/Dolly), bassist Conrad Korsch (Rod Stewart/Cyndi Lauper) as produced by Jay Messina (famed recording engineer for Aerosmith, Kiss, Miles Davis and Cheap Trick). Blues legend Bobby Rush sings one and Early duets with Detroit belter Eliza Neals on another. So who is this blues-cat who obviously has friends in high places?
Early’s a singer/songwriter/guitarist from Sacramento who moved to New York City in ’98 where he became one of the leading voices on Sirius Satellite Radio in 2001. He’s performed with Popa Chubby and jazz organ legend Jimmy Smith. His sound is a wild jamboree of blues-drenched soulful Americana rock’n’roll best experienced live. Highlights include “Orphan Train” and “Heartbreak Insurance.” Bravo!
Winter Hill Blues, by Ryan Lee Crosby, is where the Boston singer/songwriter/guitarist brilliantly melds the Bentonia style of Mississippi Delta Blues—that he learned at the knee of the legendary Duck Holmes—with Indian classical music. In the process, Ryan Lee found a lot alike in each diametrically opposed genre. In fact, he’s something of a sound-scientist as he plays Hindustani slide, electric and acoustic 12-string and lap-steel (backed by bass/drums). With a riveting singing style and the compositional chops to pull off such searing sagas “Institution Blues” and “Down So Long” plus add new lyrics to the 19th century “Was It The Devil,” Ryan Lee is the real deal. Recorded in Memphis by Bruce Watson of Fat Possum—the label famous for RL Burnside and Junior Kimbrough—it sounds unique, proudly independent and like a relic from another time.
Rhode Island’s Al Basile is Through With Cool on his new Sweetspot/City Hall release. I guess when you reach your mid-‘70s—as an accomplished singer/songwriter/cornet player/producer/band leader/poet/playwright/educator—you don’t have to worry about your cool quotient. For his 19th album, he’s garnered some A-List players on keyboards, bass, drums, tenor sax, trumpet and guitar. The guitarist is the ubiquitous Kid Andersen who, it seems, everybody wants to work with. His stirring elongated electric solos are some of the highlights on an album filled with highlights. Basile has written for Ruth Brown and was the original trumpeter in Roomful Of Blues. Now his sound seems more sophisticated, veering towards a blues version of Sinatra.
He may look like a Marvel Comics superhero but this Canadian can get down with a decidedly Chicago-by-way-of-Otawa ballsy brand of blues-rock. Debut Through The Rain, by Lyle Odjick & The Northern Steam, has eight of his originals—highlights are “Harpin’ & Howlin’” and “Devil Man’s Dues”—offset by two sterling covers—the 1968 Taj Mahal arrangement of “Leaving Trunk,” written by Sleepy John Estes in 1930, and “Rock This House,” the 1959 Jimmy Rogers hit he wrote with Memphis Slim.
The self-titled, self-released debut by The Dig 3—vocalist/guitarist Andrew Duncanson, harmonicat/educator Ronnie Shellist and drummer/bassist/mandolinist Gerry Hundt—reminds me of my very first blues record, back in ’63 when I was 12: Blues, Rags and Hollers by Koerner, Ray & Glover. In both cases, it’s three supremely talented white guys who learned their lessons well and really lean into the profound magic at the heart of real blues. Hundt gigs as one-man band but with Duncanson and Shellist, his game is upped into the stratosphere to the point where digging these 14 acoustic originals is like listening to classic blues legends of long ago and far away…only with much better sound.