Bluesology: Autumn brings worthwhile releases from veteran blues artists

Bobby Rush, Coco Montoya and Narvel “Cadillac Baby” Eatmon are just a few of the names that have recently released worthwhile blues music.
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By Mike Greenblatt

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What a wealth of material on the rare four-disc, 101-track boxed set from Chicago’s Earwig Music Company. The Definitive Collection: Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records documents what was laid down from ’59 to ’89 on an independent label run by a true auteur, the oh-so-colorful Narvel “Cadillac Baby” Eatmon (a real hustler). It comes complete with some spoken words-of-wisdom from Eatmon himself scattered amongst the tracks from a lot of unknowns (who contribute some real gems) as well as Hound Dog Taylor (his first session!), Eddie Boyd, Earl Hooker, James Cotton, Sunnyland Slim, Homesick James, Sleepy John Estes and Hammy Nixon. There’s also comedy, pop, funk, soul, rap, doo-wop, jazz and gospel. The packaging is superb. The printed words and photographs are illuminating and fascinating, especially about Eatmon personally who also ran a nightclub with a ramp so he could drive his Cadillac right onto the stage.

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Blues Hall of Famer Bobby Rush, 85, is enjoying a late-career renaissance ever since his Chicken Heads boxed set and Grammy-winning Porcupine Meat album. That’s why he’s now Sitting On Top Of The Blues (Deep Rush/Thirty Tigers). The “King of the Chitlin Circuit” has more than paid his dues. In the ‘50s, he barnstormed Arkansas with Elmore James [1918-1963], giving Texas guitarist Freddy King [1934-1976] one of his first jobs. In the ‘60s, he struck it big on Chess Records in Chicago with a funky little number called “Sock Boogaloo,” which was more R’n’B than blues. This led him more into old-school funk and the kind of soul-man shouting that audiences just ate up. In the ‘70s, he even recorded Rush Hour (one of his greatest albums) for Gamble & Huff’s legendary Philadelphia International label. In the ‘80s, he sold a million records on a song called “Sue” which radio ignored because it was just too damn nasty. In the ‘90s, his 200 shows-a-year were events, complete with heavy hefty mamas strutting their considerable stuff all over the stage. In the ‘00s, I finally got to see him live and he blew me away. That’s when his music started creeping into major motion pictures and television. (Martin Scorsese is a fan.) His new music is still lascivious what with songs like “Sweet Lizzy,” “Recipe For Love,” “Pooky Poo,” “Slow Motion,” “Shake ‘Til You Get Enough” and, especially, “Bow Legged Woman.” It’s funky fun. May he go on forever.

 ALCD 4994

ALCD 4994

Coco Montoya is Coming In Hot (Alligator) on his 10th album wherein the 67-year old Californian plays a stunning guitar and sings up a storm. Deep into his third decade, he’s soaked up lessons learned by being the drummer for Albert Collins for five years and lead guitarist for John Mayall for a decade. Solo for 26 years, this new one burns with intensity. Produced by Taj Mahal and Bonnie Raitt producer Tony Braunagel, it’s filled with cool shuffles, emotional balladry, rock and roll and, of course, a sterling, transcendent cover of a Collins classic (“Lights Are On But Nobody’s Home”). The band is filled with A-List cats who have collectively played in the bands of Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Buffett, John Fogerty, Etta James and Taj Mahal (producer Braunagel is on drums). Highlights include “I Wouldn’t Wanna Be You” and “Witness Protection” but all 11 tracks drip with finesse, soul and the kind of all-out attack that’s deliciously satisfying.

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J.P. Soars soars when he Lets Go Of The Reins on his new Whiskey Bayou Records record as produced by one of Louisiana’s current blues heroes, Tab Benoit (who adds his own drums, pedal steel and acoustic guitar). It’s a whirlwind of a recording featuring seven originals and four covers (including “If You Wanna Get To Heaven” by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils and “Minor Blues” by Django Reinhardt). His own songs rock with a blues ferocity unequaled amongst his peers. Don’t forget this is the guy from Arkansas who won the 2009 International Blues Challenge in Memphis and the Blues Foundation’s Albert King Award as “Best Guitarist.” Here his exemplary chops accentuate the proceedings with drama, flair and syncopated surprises as he positively burns on electric, acoustic, dobro and dulcimer. Add Tillis Verdin’s Hammond B-3 to the mix and you’ve got one stone-cold party. Soars was in the Allman-esque Southern Hospitality with another all-star, Damon Fowler, and he continues to tour up and down North America to this day. If you’re into guys like Billy F. Gibbons, Eric Gales and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, you owe it to yourself to check out J.P. Soars.

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Is there a better guitarist on the blues scene today than Ronnie Earl? A four-time Blues Music Award winner as “Guitar Player Of The Year,” his recent Memphis performance at the Blues Music Awards covering Junior Wells’ “In The Wee Hours” brought down the house. It’s a habit he’s acquired through incessant touring with his band Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters. Their new Stony Plain Records CD, Beyond The Blue Door, features A-List guests like guitarist David Bromberg, Fab T-Bird singer/harmonica man Kim Wilson and rampaging saxophonist Greg Piccolo. The Broadcasters have that liquid Hammond B-3 organ sweep plus piano/bass/drums. Earl, besides being a Berklee professor, runs a Connecticut blues camp and ferrets out nuggets of pure gold to cover like on the latest album (even better than their previous The Luckiest Man) where he digs deep for such scorched soul as the Little Walter 1953 hit “Blues With A Feeling,” Howling Wolf’s 1954 “Baby How Long,” the 1956 Ray Charles hit “Drown In My Own Tears,” Dylan’s 1965 “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” and even the 1971 Joe Simon R’n’B hit “Drowning In A Sea Of Love.” The two original highlights have to be his “T-Bone Stomp,” a tribute to T-Bone Walker [1910-1975] and the topical “Blues For Charlottesville.”

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Bounce (Bros Records/VizzTone Label Group), by Montreal’s Paul DesLauriers Band, is the follow-up to their 2016 Relentless. This power trio pummels the blues into submission with 12 new originals and a scintillating cover of Duster Bennett’s “Jumpin’ At Shadows” that Fleetwood Mac covered in the ‘60s before all that estrogen ruined a perfectly good blues band. Highlights include “Happy Wasting Time With You,” “Let Me Go Down In Flames” and “Driving Me Insane.” Led by Deslauriers on guitar and vocals, his ample sidekicks include kickin’ drummer Sam Harrison and electric bassist Alec McElcheran. Highly Recommended.