Mike Greenblatt’s new column ‘Bluesology,’ brings you the best in contemporary Blues, influenced by the masters.
JJ Appleton and Jason Ricci use no drums to make some Beautiful Slop on their self-released follow-up to 2014’s Dirty Memory debut. Bashing it out in producer/bassist Derek Nievergelt’s Brooklyn basement, Appleton (guitar/1932 National Resonator/vocals) and Ricci (harmonica/vocals) write some doozies plus cover Johnny Winter’s 1984 “Don’t Take Advantage Of Me,” The Fairfield Four’s 1992 gospel “Standing In The Safety Zone” and—get this—Rihanna’s 2012 “Stay.” It’s all very informal, funky, soulful and down-home. Ricci played with Winter and Appleton played in David Bowie’s off-Broadway production of Lazarus. And they sing like they crawled out from under a hollow log in the Mississippi mud.
Little Victor, “The Beale Street Blues Bopper,” hasn’t had an album out in eight years. Born in Italy, he speaks four languages, is based in London, paid his dues for years with Louisiana Red [1932-2012], and has been everything from a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer to disc jockey and author. Deluxe Lo-Fi (England’s Rockstar Records) is exactly that, 16 slabs of organic, analog almost-mono blues with great guests like Kim Wilson (Fab T-Birds), Steve Lucky (Spin Doctors), Brent Harding (Social Distortion), Harpdog Brown, Carl Sonny Leyland (James Cotton Band) and many more. He wrote and produced these songs with an ear towards those vintage late ‘50s/early ‘60s scratchy obscure 45s on back to pre-war jump blues, in other words with an air of validity. Highlights include “Graveyard Boogie,” “Chicago Moan Blues” and “Gambler’s Boogie.” It’s a keeper.
I had heard of this guy—Paul Oscher—spoken of only in hushed reverent tones. He’s one Cool Cat (Blues Fidelity Recordings) alright. His voice, guitar, piano, harmonica and tambourine are out in front of 16 musicians (including the luscious Miss Lavelle White who tells the tale of one big-time “Dirty Dealin’ Mama”). You wanna know how real this guy is? Oscher blew harp in the band of one Muddy Waters from 1967 to 1971. He lived in the basement of Muddy’s Chicago house on South Lake Park Avenue, sharing it with pianist Otis Spann. He’s been a friend (and neighbor) of James Cotton (who blew harp in Muddy’s band before he did from 1954 to 1966). Relocating to Austin in 2012 after his divorce, he became a regular presence in that town’s many clubs.
Highlights include all the spoken-word passages plus the New Orleans-inspired “Money-Makin’ Woman,” the Southside Chicago blues of “Hide Out Baby,” the jazz of “On The Edge” and a Muddy-styled cover of Hambone Willie Newbern’s 1929 “Rollin’ & Tumblin’” that stands up to more celebrated versions by Cream, Johnny Winter, Fleetwood Mac, Canned Heat, Bob Dylan and Jeff Beck.
Must be something in the water way down yonder in New Orleans because everything musical that comes out of that town is up amongst the best of the year. That said, let me introduce you to young man Sean Riley. He lives in a rooming house called Creole Cottage uptown and with a few friends in his living room recorded this self-released debut EP. Biting Throughby Old Riley & The Water—with six originals and a steaming cover of Willie Dixon’s 1960 “Howlin’ For My Darling”—sounds like something that crawled out of the Southern Louisiana swamps, strapped on a guitar and started singing.
Gotta send props to Bobby BlackHat upon the release of the Virginian’s self-released, self-produced, mostly self-written (with the exception of Jimmy Reed’s 1959 “You Got Me Runnin’” and Leonard Cohen’s 1984 “Hallelujah”) Put On Your Red Shoes where he leads his stellar band on his humorous and funky originals like “I Smell Another Man On You,” “Overdose Of The Blues,” “When I Cry It’s Ugly” and the 9:43 highlight “Grim Reaper.” Mr. BlackHat is a harmonicat, a singer/songwriter, percussionist, comedian and actor. His bass/guitar/drum/keybs band is augmented by some pedal steel and background vocals. The result is a swinging stew fit to party over. Knock yourselves out.
I Got Lucky (Pharma Lab) by Minneapolis singer-songwriter-producer-arranger-bandleader-multi-instrumentalist Randy Casey (now living in Seattle) is a cornucopia of hard’n’fast blues-rockers like the “Bed Bug Blues” (probably from sleeping in all those seedy hotel rooms while on the road), “Six Feet Of Rain” (probably from those seemingly endless all-night bus rides to get to the next gig) while professing his love for a “Little Weed.” Guitarist/Mandolinist/Percussionist Casey sings up a storm and leads a raging band of drums, tambourine, bass, harmonica, organ, piano and djembe (a West African skin-covered rope-tuned goblet drum played with bare hands). Casey plays a 1969 Gibson Les Paul Custom that Rick Nielsen wanted but whose owner was Casey’s neighbor so Cheap Trick’s loss was his gain.
World Full Of Trouble (EllerSoul Records) by Big Al & The Heavyweights is an all-original rockin’ blues album from Louisiana featuring former Muddy Waters guitarist Bob Margolin, master blues-harpist Jason Ricci and Big Al Lauro on drums (with vocals, steel guitar, piano, bass and accordion). They spice up their blues gumbo with some Cajun color, thus, I can’t stop listening. It’s that good.
Her name is Gaye Adegbalola. She’s a former Virginia State Teacher Of The Year. She’s still teaching, but now her lessons come unvarnished on The Griot(VizzTone/Hot Toddy). She is, indeed, the griot. Griots originated in West Africa. They were story tellers. They spoke the ugly truth. They reported the news. Gaye’s blues-truth is primal. It isn’t pretty. But neither are the causes of what spurred her righteous indignation. Ripped from the headlines, these original songs hit home hard.
She excoriates the state of Michigan in “You’re Flint Water, Baby, Dirty As You Can Be.” She rails against the African tribal tradition of female genital mutilation in “I’ll Sacrifice My Life To Stop That FGM.” She takes on the collusion of NFL owners in “I’ve Been Kaepernicked.” On and on she goes, tackling hypocrisy (“Liearrhea”), poverty (“Dirty Sheets”) and betrayal (a cover of Ma Rainey’s 1924 “Jelly bean Blues”). Yet there’s still room for sex so she covers Bessie Smith’s raunchy 1931 “Need A Little Sugar For My Bowl (Need A Little Hot Dog On My Roll).” Listen up!