Koko Mojo Records in Ireland has honored legendary Chicago bluesman Willie Dixon in its latest “Songwriter Series” with Hard Notch Boogie Beat. In 1951, Dixon [1915-1992] was a producer, talent scout, session bassist and staff songwriter for Chess but after being swindled out of his royalties by the white owners (par for the course), he walked out in 1957 to sign with Cobra where he continued his genius. This 28-track must-hear has his pre-Chess Big Three Trio recordings, and some of his finest Chess and Cobra work. You’ll hear Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Betty Everett, Bo Diddley, Magic Sam, Buddy Guy, Etta James with Harvey Fuqua (prior to his pioneering doo-wop history with The Moonglows), and even a duet with Memphis Slim.
Highs & Lows (Ruf Records), by Bernard Allison, as produced by Jim Gaines, is a real meeting of the musical minds. The former is the son of the legendary bluesman Luther Allison [1939-1997] while the latter is the famed producer of George Thorogood, Journey, Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins, Eric Gales and dozens of others for decades. Allison cut his teeth in Koko Taylor’s band after being given guitar lessons by Johnny Winter. Two of 11 are by his dad, one by Gaines, eight by Allison. Guests include his godfather Bobby Rush and Canadian blues-rock star Colin James. If you only buy one blues album this year, you couldn’t go wrong getting this one.
How could I not check out an album called Booze, Blues and Southern Grooves (Survival South Records) by Reddog and Friends, especially when the friends include bassist David Hood from that classic Muscle Shoals house band and drummer Bill Stewart of Gregg Allman’s band. Reddog himself is a fiery singer/songwriter/guitarist/producer who pounds his blues home with rock’n’roll flair. A longtime Atlanta fixture throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, he’s since relocated to Florida, influenced still by guitarist Duane Allman and vocalist Eddie Hinton.
It took a cast of 15 to bring In Too Deep (Forty Below Records), by Sugaray Rayford, to fruition. A worthy follow-up to his 2020 Grammy-nominated Somebody Save Me, this time The Sugar Man done sweetened the pot with keyboards, sax, flute, trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone, violin, cello, guitar, bass, drums, percussion and background vocals to accentuate his vision of insightful, provocative soul-blues that just might actually make you think as well as groove.
Utah eccentric J-Rad Cooley is having a Yard Sale (VizzTone Label Group) selling his ragtime, Texas Blues, novelties and Americana in one scintillating package. He’s got famed Memphis producer Tony Holiday at the helm in Zach Kasik’s Tennessee studio on eight originals and a soothing cover fit to swoon over—“Baby Won’t You Please Come Home”—originally recorded by Bessie Smith in 1923.
Singer/Songwriter/Producer/Lead Guitarist Popa Chubby is an Emotional Gangster (Dixiefrog Records). “Willie Dixon has always been my idol,” he says. So he covers ”Hoochie Cootchie Man” like a man possessed. (The only other cover is the Elmore James classic “Dust My Broom.”) His 10 originals bite hard in true “Chubbfatha” fashion. He even does his protest song “Why You Wanna Make War” in both English and French. All his records are great but there’s nothing like seeing him in person!