Before DJ Alan Freed’s life and career was ruined by the payola scandal of 1960, he was the #1 radio personality in America and did more to turn his audiences on to Black performers than anyone else. Bear Family’s A Hundred Years of Rock’n’Roll (Freed was born a century ago) is arranged like a radio program complete with commercials of the era. The 39 tracks span ’52 to ’59 with Freed at the helm introducing Otis Blackwell, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jesse Belvin and more.
Soldier Boy (Koko Mojo) is all over the map as everyone from Ella Fitzgerald, Lloyd Price, Jerry Butler and The Shirelles to Hot Lips Page, Guitar Slim, Lightnin’ Slim and Muddy Waters populate its 28 tracks about Americans going off to war, leaving sweethearts and/or returning home. Between the boogie-woogie, jump blues, doo-wop and sweet soul, there’s a definite nostalgic element. The unknowns are the highlights: Teddy Reynolds and the Twisters (“I Thought The War Was Over”), Little Bernie and the Cavaliers (“Lonely Soldier”), Long Gone Miles (“War Time Blues”), Prince Love and his Royal Knights (“Don’t Want No War”) and, especially, Wee Bea Booze, who, sick of her man, asks “Uncle Sam, Come And Get Him.”
Crown (Provogue Records/Mascot Label Group), by Eric Gales, boasts the shredding of co-producer Joe Bonamassa on the supremely funky “I Want My Crown.” Gales has created a blues-rock tour-de-force featuring harrowing autobiographical grit about his personal drug struggles, hard-won sobriety (he’s got five years under his belt) and good old American racism. Between the slide-pump horns, Americana Accordion, blistering lead guitar and soulful vocals, Gales has finally put it all together to create his masterpiece.
In 1974, after six years of making the best blues albums in the country, Taj Mahal made Mo’ Roots, his first non-blues album. For a longtime fan like myself, it took me years to embrace. Now it’s one of my favorite albums of all-time.
In 2022, after 28 years of making some of the best blues albums in America (including one with Taj in 2017 called TajMo), Keb Mo has made his Americana statement, Good To Be (Rounder Records) featuring Darius Rucker, Kristine Chenoweth and Old Crow Medicine Show. Highlight? An absolutely sublime cover of Bill Withers’ 1972 “Lean On Me.” Vince Gill produced three tracks. Mo wrote it in Nashville and his Compton, California home.
Fine, maybe, like Taj, this will grow on me and also become an all-time favorite. But not yet. Although Mo’s voice is like hearing the return of an old friend, did I mention there’s no blues?
Hot Mustard is a South Carolina duo whose all-original Mother Sauce debut (New Mastersounds/Color Red) has no singer to ruin these good grooves. Guitarist/Producer Jack Powell and bassist Nick Carusos have listened to all their Stax records enough to put out this sizzling fry of churning burning feel-good funk. They even had enough sense to combine with Afro-Beat trumpeter Jordan McLean from Antibalas and trombonist Smoota Smith from Brooklyn’s alt-rock TV On The Radio to give a brassy heft to the proceedings. This one is so catchy that it hasn’t left my player in weeks!