Nine new Blues gems kick off 2020 in grand style

The blues is alive and well in 2020 as these nine releases can attest. From "The Godfather Of Swamp Pop" and a one-man band to blues from Australia, Chicago, New Orleans and Mississippi plus an underground dance craze from Belgium called Popcorn, you've got plenty to pick from.
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“Cypress Grove” is a century-old song, dusted off and shined up by Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, 72, as the title song of his new Dan Auerbach-produced gem of an album, put out by Dan on his Easy Eye Sound Records label. The Black Keys front-man also used his own Nashville studio and invited some key components to flesh out this rural bluesman’s raw sound. Duck’s been operating the Bentonia, Mississippi juke joint that his sharecropper parents started in 1948 for seven nights a week ever since 1972. “I didn’t know who Dan was,” admits Duck. He does now. Dan got the master percussionist—Sam Bacco—from the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. He got a real died-in-the-wool delta bluesman (Mississippi Eric Deaton). He got newly minted electric Guitar Hero Marcus King. He helped pick material like “Hard Times,” the 1931 doom’n’gloomer from the haunted Skip James, and Robert Petway’s 1941 “Catfish Blues,” a song both Muddy and Jimi covered. (Both James and Petway lived a stone’s throw from Duck’s Delta juke joint.) It all amounts to another notch in the belt worn by Auerbach, who is proving himself an arbiter of taste and class.

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Cats from New Orleans, Louisiana are just plum better than cats from other states. Deal with it. It’s gotta be in the water or air. Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist Jeff Chaz, known as The Bourbon Street Bluesman, is a Crescent City regular. No Paint (JCP Records) is his first album in three years. It features his guitar/bass/drums trio powering its way through nine originals and a surprising left-field cover of the Tyrone Davis 1970 #1 Soul/#3 Pop hit “Turn Back The Hands Of Time.” With an electric lead guitar style influenced by Albert King, and voice packed solid with dirt, chunks of highway and mud, Chaz dishes out humor (like when he tells his girlfriend “You Gotta Show Me” before telling her to hit the road in “We Ain’t Shackin’ No More”) in an all-encompassing variety-show aesthetic that includes funk, soul and roots-rock in songs like “Lowdown Dirty Blues,” “Life Is Like Coffee” and “Blues Buffet.”

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Biscuit Miller & The Mix are cookin’ up some hot bubbly Chicken Grease (American Showplace Music). These nasty boys start with “Here Kitty Kitty” propelled by the drums and “stethoscope” of Doctor Love. Check out “Two Legged Dog” and “Take A Ride.” They’re not above doin’ some old-fashioned stalking and “Creeping” when it comes to women (“Watching You”) and they end with “Get Ready.” The man they call Biscuit plays bass and sings lead. Southside Smith and Bobby B provide the twin guitars on this funky Chicago jump and jive.

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Damn! I Spilled The Blues (VizzTone Records/Booga Music), by Brody Buster’s One-Man Band, is the first release on Louisiana bluesman/producer Kenny Neal’s Booga label, as distributed by blues giant VizzTone, in which the Kansas City one-man band bluesman sings, plays electric lead and rhythm guitar, harmonica and drums on highlights “Old Dog Blues,” “Bad News” and eight other originals. Highly Recommended!

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The age of the red hot mama may be dead but don’t tell Cheyenne James that. This child prodigy from Houston was belting out Aretha when she was 10. Now she’s 25 and there ain’t a roadhouse in southeast Texas that hasn’t hosted her. Her self-released Burn It Up may have come out in 2018 but it still deserves to be savored. One listen to what she does with Little Millton’s “Grits Ain’t Groceries,” Willie Dixon’s “You Know You Love Me Baby” and Van Morrison’s “Steal My Heart Away” will win you over. And Ray Charles would have to smile at what she does with Ashford & Simpson’s “Let Go Get Stoned.” Her originals sting, her voice is sultry, her presence regal. Plus, she’s got it all behind her: two hot guitars, keybs, harp, a poppin’ bass and horns. Get Down!

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Matty T. Wall’s Transpacific Blues Volume #1 (Hipsterdumpster Records/Select-O-Hits) has the bluesman from Down Under continuing, since his 2016 Blue Skies debut, to raise the bar of Australian Blues. His 2018 Sidewinder knew no geographical boundaries for the singer/songwriter/guitarist. The first volume of these collaborative Blues has him cherry-picking the cream of the crop from numerous continents. John Lee Hooker’s 1961 “Boom Boom” with fellow Aussie Dave Hold, gets the party started before Tommy Tucker’s 1963 “Hi Heel Sneakers” features Memphis shredder Eric “Raw Dawg” Gales” and T-Bone Walker’s 1947 “Stormy Monday,” Freddy King’s 1961 “I’m Tore Down” and Robert Johnson’s 1936 “Crossroads” prove to be the highlights. Wall’s power trio rocks but it’s the guests like California hot-licks master guitarists Kid Ramos and Kirk Fletcher plus the inestimable Jersey Boy Walter Trout—who steals the show on Robert Cray’s 1985 “She’s Into Something”—that adds the pizazz.

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Mississippi singer/songwriter/guitarist Kern Pratt closes his fiery Greenville, MS…What About You? (Endless Blues Records) with a funky version of Bobby Rush’s “Chicken Heads.” The 16 musicians here make a profound noise, whether on two hard-hitting songs about addiction—Mick Kolassa’s “Baby’s Got Another Lover” and Larry Van Loon’s “Rita”—or on his own “Torn Between Love And Hate” and “Something’s Gone Wrong,” both auto-biographical chapters of his own life. This is some hard-hitting modern Delta blues gone electric.

 Warren Storm (courtesy Karen Leipziger)

Warren Storm (courtesy Karen Leipziger)

Yvette Landry produces and sings on Taking The World, By Storm (APO Records), the companion CD to her new biography of the same name about “The Godfather of Swamp Pop,” Warren Storm. Recorded straight to tape like in the 1950s, with the 82-year old Louisiana dance hall legend sounding strong on vocals while backed by piano, guitar, drums, bass, two saxophones, pedal steel, fiddle, slide guitar (by Sonny Landreth) and guest vocals by Marc Broussard, it even features a duet with John Fogerty on the opening “Long As I Can See The Light.” Good-time covers include classics by Fats Domino (“Let The Four Winds Blow”), Merle Haggard (“My House Of Memories”), Bobby Charles (“Tennessee Blues”) and Earl King (“Lonely Nights”) but every song reeks with authenticity, smarts and the kind of old-time feeling that will reach out and grab you. Storm—real name: Warren Schexnider—can sing anything but it all comes out blues.

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Popcorn! It's more than just a James Brown dance. It's whole genre! Slower than '50s jump-blues, it started in late-'60s Belgium when a DJ started playing 45 r.p.m. singles at 33 r.p.m. These 22 pre-1963 tracks, with their slow-to-medium minor-key tempo, fit the bill. According to the liner notes, "the purity of Belgium popcorn is its very impurity. R'n'B, Broadway numbers, tangos, Phil Spector-esque girl groups, lounge instrumentals, they're all part of a rare, and still largely undiscovered scene. It won't stay that way for long." Popcorn Blues Party Volume #2 (Koko Mojo Records) contains 22 songs by such American greats as Albert King, Bobby Blue Bland, Bo Diddley, Louisiana Red, Blind Johnny Davis, Nappy Brown, Otis Rush, Peppermint Harris, Little Water and Ike Turner (whose "She Made My Blood Run Cold" is the highlight).

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