By Mike Greenblatt
The column ‘Bluesology’ brings you the best in contemporary Blues, influenced by the masters.
Blind Boy Fuller [1907-1941] might’ve popularized the phrase “keep on truckin’” in the 1930s but singer/songwriter/guitarist Seth Rosenbloom is here to say Keep On Turning (HOLMZ Music) on his full-length debut. As the opening track, the title song sets the tone for this extremely promising young man who no doubt harbors the blues within his soul. He comes “Crawling Back” admitting “I Can’t Help It” and that right there constitutes a real “Heartbreaker.” By track #7, he’s “Broke and Lonely.” As produced by Josh Smith (a solid California bluesman in his own right), this mighty nine-track blues-rock burner comes complete with six originals and three discreetly picked covers from BB King [1925-2015], Elmore James [1918-1963], and Freddie King [1934-1976].
Watermelon Slim got his name from when he used to be a farmer. He’s also been a soldier, petty criminal, anti-war activist, funeral officiator, forklift driver, journalist, sawmiller and truck driver of industrial waste. Now he plays slide guitar, blows a mean blues-harp, co-produces, sings, writes and is on his 13th album since ’73. Church Of The Blues (Northern Blues Records) has mighty friends helping him out. Muddy Waters guitarist Bob Margolin (’73 to ’80) plus righteous bluesmen John Nemeth and Joe Louis Walker add their considerable talents to this 14-track half original/half covers gem. And what covers! Muddy wrote “Gypsy Woman” in 1948. Howlin' Wolf wrote “Smokestack Lightning” in 1956. Mississippi Fred McDowell wrote “Highway 61” in 1959. Allen Toussaint wrote “Get Out My Life Woman” for Lee Dorsey in 1965. The highlights of his originals have to be “St. Peter’s Ledger” (where he muses if he’s going to heaven or hell), bonus track “Charlottesville (Blues For My Nation)” where he bemoans the events of that town in August of 2017 and “Too Much Alcohol” where he admits to his incessant consumption. Catch him on tour March 1 in Tupelo Mississippi and March 2 in Oklahoma Cit . But don’t buy him a drink.
Chicago bluesman Ric Harris is Open For Business on his self-released, self-produced debut where—along with cats from the bands of Coco Montoya, Roomful Of Blues and Otis Rush—he plays guitar, slide guitar and sings his 14 originals with a barking-dog almost-punk sincerity that works just fine on material like “Viagra Falls,” “There’s Only So Much A Man Can Do” and “All Of Our Debt Is Due,” highlights all. Come East, young man! I’d love to see him do this live.
Michael Jerome Browne sings, produces, plays 6- and 12-string guitar, harmonica and fretless gourd banjo on the very special and very different That’s Where It’s At! (Borealis Records). Browne is alone except for drums on five of 14 tracks. Guest vocalist Eric Bibb sings lead on Blind Willie Johnson’s 1930 “Everybody Ought To Treat A Stranger Right.” Taking soul hits and making them work as rural acoustic Mississippi Delta blues ain’t a small feat: you’ve never heard Al Green’s 1973 “Here I Am (Come And Take Me)” done quite like this! Ditto for Randy Newman’s 1974 “Louisiana” or Sam Cooke’s 1962 “Somebody Have Mercy.” His originals reek of musty back porch Appalachian family jams. His proficiency on strings is exemplary. His take on ‘60s blues by Lowell Fulson and The Bobby Blue Bland Blues Band (not to mention ‘80s soul by Stevie Wonder) are right on time. I would welcome a second volume of the exact same thing. This one’s a keeper.
Check out the pairing of longtime Japanese sax band Bloodest Saxophone with Texas Queens 5 on their self-titled Vizztone debut. It’s a match made in blues heaven because when these five soul singers strut their considerable stuff on ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s jump-blues and rhythm, all hell breaks loose. It ain’t nothin’ but a house party and don’t bother knockin’ ‘cause everybody’s rockin’. Big Maybelle’s “I’ve Got A Feeling” first raised eyebrows in 1954. Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want To Make Love To You” might’ve been revved up by the Rolling Stones on their 1964 debut but here it’s done like the 1954 Muddy Waters original. From Johnny Adams’s 1962 “Losing Battle” and Rufus Thomas’s 1965 “Walking The Dog” to the funky swinging “Pork Chop Chick” original by Koda “Young Corn” Shintaro and Louis Jordan’s 1950 “Run Joe” (to which they add calypso flavorings), these tracks rock with an unbridled creative ferocity. “Able” Mabel John’s 1967 classic, “Don’t Hit Me No More” (written by Ink Williams) may be politically incorrect but it’s a definite highlight…as is their closing “Cockroach Run” instrumental. Highly Recommended.
There’s really no other way to say it but Kevin Burt is a bad-ass. His Heartland & Souldebut (Little Village Foundation) has him growling the blues, crooning the blues and writing the blues (with the one exception of totally re-inventing McCartney’s “Elenore Rigby). His guitar and harmonica are one thing but it’s his voice that carries the day. Sounding like the long-lost son of Bill Withers, Burt punctuates his 11 originals (highlight: the best kiss-off song of the year in “I Don’t Want To See You No More”) with verve, charm, surprise, energy, humor and the kind of stunning vocal chops usually reserved for superstars. Yeah, he’s that good of a singer. And what a boatload of instrumental talent he has backing him up! Jon Otis (the son of the legendary Johnny Otis) plays percolating percussion. Drummer D’Mar Martin is a monster. Jerry Jemmott played bass on BB King’s mega-hit “The Thrill Is Gone” and Aretha’s “Think.” Put that all together and you’ve got one big-time party on a disc.