After playing in the bands of Junior Wells, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy and James Cotton, Johnny Iguana, the Philadelphia-born blues pianist, musically-raised in The Windy City, finally has his solo debut out: Johnny Iguana’s Chicago Spectacular (Delmark Records) is just that. With great classic songs by the likes of Roosevelt “The Honeydripper” Sykes [1906-1983], Willie Dixon [1915-1992], Sonny Boy Williamson [1914-1948], Otis Spann [1924-1970], Elmore James [1918-1963] and Big Bill Broonzy [1903-1958], he sets the bar on high what with his plethora of amazingly assembled talents. Suffice it to say he’s got the best of the best surrounding him on material by those aforementioned legends, his own compositions and a left-field pick by Gil Scott Heron [1949-2011] celebrating “Lady Day And John Coltrane.” Cat can play. His artistry knows no boundaries. His creativity is through the roof. With vocals by Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer and Li’l Ed, this thing’s a party. And it never has to end.
Israeli bluesman Andy Watts has been responsible for bringing some of the greatest living practitioners of the blues to Tel Aviv to record and perform with his hard-charging nonet. (Johnny Winter loved his time there.) Supergroove (Booga Music/VizzTone Label Group) continues the soulful fun with 10 super-duper-charged tracks wherein Joe Louis Walker sings up a storm as does Eliza Neals. With gems by Freddie King [1934-1976] and Peter Green [1946-2020] juxtaposed with originals, the action throughout is fast’n’furious while the slow blues build-ups are dramatic and satisfying.
Ronnie Earl, 67, has done it again. With 27 albums in 45 years, this Boston legend never fails to satisfy. Rise Up (Stony Plain Records), by Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters, is a righteously angry and emotional plea for civility in a country gone mad. The follow-up to his exemplary Beyond The Blue Door, it pulls no punches. Keyboardist Dave Limina, vocalist Diane Blue, bassist Paul Kochanski and drummer Forrest Padgett kick out the jams as Earl stings his Stratocaster like a man possessed. His originals here are haunting, his covers sublime: Fenton Robinson’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” Eddie Taylor’s “Big Time Playboy,” Lil Green’s “In The Dark,” Magic Sam’s “All Your Love,” Bob Dylan’s “Lord Protect My Child” all equal or surpass their original versions. Ahmet Ertegun’s “Mess Around” may not but that’s only because no one can ever equal Ray Charles.
Nora Jean Wallace—Blues Woman (Severn Records)—will blow you away. It’s the straight down’n’dirty Chicago style of blues with some soul/gospel flourishes and a scintillating guest shot by Fab T-Bird Kim Wilson on one out of 10. Sixteen years after the profound Going Back To Mississippi, after stepping aside for an elongated time to care for her mom, this classy lady has righteously returned with eight originals by her and her crack band amidst two sterling covers: George Jackson’s “Evidence” and Syl Johnson’s “I Can’t Stop.”
Kurt Allen rocks the blues like nobody’s business. He wrote all 10 on his self-released self-produced Whiskey, Women & Trouble wherein he sums up his decade in this business of dreams by singing his ass off in front of his dynamite sextet…complete with trumpet and trombone. Despite being from Missouri, these last two pieces of the instrumental puzzle permit him to delve into New Orleans-styled rumba a la Professor Longhair (“Cry Mercy”). But the dude’s also about Led Zeppelin (“How Long”) as well as greasy soul food (“Funkalicious”). Highlight has to be when he puts together the mythic Marie Laveau with an ex-lover to produce a swamp-rock funk classic like “Voodoo Queen.”