Landon Spradlin, Jack Mack, Tom Craig, In Layman Terms, Bobby Rush, and the 2016 International Blues Challenge

C. Michael Bailey By

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For two music genres often thought dead or near death, the blues and jazz continue to be two densities attracting talent for interpretation. The blues has been due a resurgence since the death of Stevie Ray Vaughan, and is likely to take off in the wake of the Rolling Stone's Blue and Lonesome (Polydor, 2016). Here is the front end of what is sure to be 21st Century blues deluge.

Landon Spradlin
No More Blue Mondays
Self Produced

Guitarist-vocalist Landon Spradlin is sanctified as evidenced by his degrees from Liberty University and the Blue Ridge Bible College. The music released on No More Blue Mondays was originally released in 1995, recorded with member of Eric Clapton's band. The music is Christian-based and delivered in the most authentic blues terms. Spradlin stomps on the Reverend Dan Smith's "I've Never Been to Seminary" and his own title cut. Spradlin displays his low-key blues chops on "First Fruits" and a smooth blending of the church and street on "He is There." His voice rugged and dedicated, singing with an authenticity and genuine soulful grace. Spradlin cover's Mentor Williams' "Drift Away" doing the iconic piece justice with his intensely devout delivery. This is a nice alternative to otherwise is the vapid patter of contemporary Christian music.

Jack Mack & The Heart Attack Horns
Back to the Shack
SSR Freeroll

You can draw a straight line between 926 E. McLemore Ave, Memphis, TN and 3614 Jackson Highway, Muscle Shoals, AL, linking Stax Records and the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Jack Mack and the Heart Attack Horns walk this straight line, back and forth on Back to the Shack. Less a blues album that one of Southern Soul, the release does illustrate the pungent difference between the Southern, Motown, and Philly flavors of soul music. This little big band is driven by the urgent electric guitar, compositions and arrangements of Andrew Kastner. The sound of this band is an outgrowth of Paul Butterfield's Woodstock Band riding the funk and soul rather than blues vectors from the germinal center of this music. Staying true to alto saxophonist Art Pepper's admonition to never begin a set with a ballad, the band leads off with a crunching cooker, "Standin' Before the King," punctuated by Kastner's pungent guitar playing. "Don't Let Her Go" is vintage Muscle Shoals while "It's Never Too Late" possesses shades to the East Bay's Tower of Power. "Someone to Trust" pays a tribute to the Staples Singers and that Memphis sound, while "Bad Habit" is all Memphis Horns. Vocalist Mark Campbell has all the sand and vinegar in his voice to drive these high-octane songs. The horn section is tight, tight, tight...this reeks of the South: fried chicken...black eyed peas.

Tom Craig and Soul Patch
Get Ready for Me
Self Produced

Like Jack Mack and the Heart Attack Horns, Tom Craig and Soul Patch show up with a full band sporting more T-Bone Walker and B.B. King than Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. This East Coast Band (Delaware) will be headlining at the International Blues Challenge #33 (2017) in Memphis. While informed by the Memphis-Muscle Shoals axis, Soul Patch retains a certain East Coast Swagger that can be heard in force on "How Did I Break The Rules" and "Captain Funk." A Ray Charles vide is forged on "Can't Stop Thinking 'Bout You" that in different hands might descend into the camp of the "Cherry Poppin' Daddies. Fortunately, Craig and company never allow excess in their Horns vs. organ vs. guitar format. Craig has listened to much Billy Gibbons, the bearded one informing Craig's powerful vocals. The sensuous slow blues "Please Forgive Me, Baby" and the rocking "Tornado" together make a diptych fulcrum upon which the rest of the recording balances between slow and fast material. Craig is undeniably the leader here and he steers a ship that is true. This recording is less about imitation and more about homage to a broad range of artists from Albert King to Mel Torme. It is all here.

In Layman Terms
Self Produced

Kids these days. Post Millennial brother and sister Cole and Logan Layman make up the solid core of the cleverly-named band, In Layman Terms. These are precocious teenagers in college and high school demonstrating a grasp of a very difficult music at a very young age. Logan, the girl-child, sings and plays bass. Cole, the boy-child, plays all sorts of guitars and is a monster riff-master. Logan sings soulfully, best heard on the title cut, "I'm Not Ready," and smoking reading of Janis Joplin's "Move Over." Cole is as capable on slide guitar, as standard tuning and plays a mean cigar box to boot. He remains completely true to Hubert Sumlin on Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightning," which Logan properly updates the singing in such a way that the delta roots of the song and its 21-Century antecedents cheerfully co-exist. These guys are green, but that is not a bad thing. In Layman Terms stand to bring something new and vital to this old music.

Bobby Rush
Porcupine Meat
Rounder Records

The modern king of the Chitlin' Curcuit is Pine Bluff, Arkansas' Bobby Rush. A fixture of state fair stages, back swamp throw downs, local music gatherings, and the finest international music festivals, Rush (born Emmett Ellis Jr.) has been a constant in that funk-soul concoction that rose out of the blues in the 1970s and '80s. At 83-years old, Rush sound pretty good. Time has diminished little his sly delivery and his songwriting not at all. The treat here is an even dozen. Rush is joined by some provocative artists from Joe Bonamassa on the slow groove "Me, Myself, and I," Dave Alvin on the smoothly sensual "It's Your Move," and Keb' Mo' on the roadhouse rounder "Nighttime Gardener." The disc closer, "I'm Tired" is presented as mixed by Tangle Eye (NOLA sound engineer Steve Reynolds and producer Scott Billington), extrapolating their charm from their 2004 Alan Lomax's Southern Journey Remixed. What starts as a down home delta vision is given a digital crunch, magnifying the vibe 100-fold.

Various Artists
The International Blues Challenge #32
The Blues Foundation

The Blues Foundation, located, appropriately, in Memphis, TN has for nearly 40 years been a greenhouse for nurturing blues acts, now and old alike. The group's Annual Blues Challenge has morphed into a showcase of new blues talent. The 2016 edition of the Challenge, Number 32 took place in early January and included 257 acts from which category winners were selected. the International Blues Challenge #32 includes nine selections from the many performances on Memphis' fabled Beale Street, ranging from the rollicking rock and roll of Innervision's "Hound Dog" to Sonny Moorman's steel-body delta dirt blues of "You Make All My Blues Come True." In between is the tenor saxophone-driven "Norman's Blues" by The Norman Jackson Band and Hector Anchondo's "Tall Glass of Whiskey," propelled by chunky electric guitar and Bing Futch's lower-key alcohol song, "Drinkin' and Drivn." Collections like this offer a playlist of new talent waiting the be heard and delighted by.


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