is a regular column comprised of pithy takes on recent blues and roots-music releases of note. It spotlights titles in those genres that might otherwise go unnoticed under the cultural radar. Introductory text goes here.
Shemekia Copeland America's Child Alligator Records
Notwithstanding its topical undercurrent, Shemekia Copland's American's Child
packs a wallop because of its fundamental musical virtues: the quality of the material, the unity of the core accompanists (a/k/a a band) and the undeniable depth of passion in the performance the artist setting the tone for it all. Such inspiration is not always a given, so great kudos go to Copeland for eliciting such elevated artistry from producer Will Kimbroughwho also leads the charge of this ultra-tight musicianshipexecutive producer John Hahnwho participated in this collaborative songwritingas well as engineers Sean Sullivan and Jim Demain for recording and mixing (the former) and mastering (the latter). 'Team effort' resides in the cliché category until a project likes this comes along, extracting the truth from the truism by its very execution: no surprise the understated acoustics of "Smoked Ham and Peaches" appears mid-album to set in such great relief full arrangements like that of "The One I Love" (where, to be fair, some over-emoting arises in the singing)
The Living History Band plus Various Guest Artists Chicago Plays the Stones
Raisin' Music Records
Prefacing the Confessin' the Blues
(Universal, 2018) collection curated by the The Rolling Stones
, this anthology has the iconic band's tacit imprimatur: in a couple astute designations, Mick Jagger sings and plays ominous harp on the twelve-bar "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)," while his Glimmer Twin Keith Richards
plays guitar on "Beast of Burden" in such a way he elicits the roots of the genre. Each selection suggests how this cross-section of material becomes transformed: the deliciously bittersweet "Angie" appears here as a barroom romp as does "Sympathy for the Devil." Meanwhile, "Play With Fire" morphs into a redoubtable shuffle, this vintage number finding its corollary in latter-day Jagger-Richards originals such as "I Go Wild" and "Out of Control;" the range of song choices hints at how the Living History Band take this fusion seriously (in the healthiest possible way), via the honest approach that permeates this whole record.
Jonathon Long Eponymous
Wild Heart Records
Produced with authenticity by blues maven Samantha Fish, who deigned to make Jonathon Long's eponymous album the inaugural release on her own label, the music here more often largely radiates a no-nonsense and no-frills atmosphere than the sometimes derivative ("Natural Girl") or overly-clever ("Pour Another Drink"). In keeping with the artist's drop of his "Boogie" nickname, there's also a contemplative bent in songs like "Bury Me" and "Shine Your Love" right in line with the compact arrangements and musicianship, both of which evince rock, folk and country roots in addition to blues. Whetting the appetite for more extended guitar forays, Long's soloing is as cliche-free as his singing is free of affectation, a virtue also apparent in the lyrics to his original songs. Likewise, there's no sense of strain when Michael Harvey's fiddle and the producer's voice appears on "The River" or acoustic guitars appear at the end of the bracing conclusion "Pray For Me; on the contrary, it all seems to come naturally to Jonathon Long.
Elvin Bishop's Big Fun Trio Something Smells Funky 'Round Here Alligator Records
Much of Elvin Bishop
's solo career post-Paul Butterfield
has arguably been informal to a fault, but he seems to have found a good-natured niche with this three-piece ensemble, formed late in 2015. That said, the casual attitude within the name 'Big Fun Trio' doesn't really suit the topicality of this title song as much as it does "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher" and the better part of this second recording with the lineup. But then a joy permeates Elvin Bishop's finely-honed guitar work as deeply as his singing on "Right Now Is The Hour," reaffirming a persona that's never really undermined his chops or those of the musicians with whom he collaborates. And it's not just on his original instrumental, "Bob's Boogie," that pianist/guitarist Bob Welsh plus Willy Jordan at the cajon (a hand-played Peruvian drumbox) sound like more than just three players in tandem with their leader: the off-the-cuff air of this record is deceptive.
Billy Gibbons The Big Bad Blues Concord Records
The follow-up to his acclaimed 2015 Afro-Cuban-flavored solo album Perfectamundo
(Concord Records, 2015) this second-ever solo effort from the ZZ Top guitarist, isn't all that far removed from the more elemental aspects of "That Little Ol' Band From Texas." On tracks like the boogie-derived "Missin' Yo' Kissin,'" however, the harmonica of James Harman and, to a slightly lesser extent, the keyboards of Mike Flanigin can take precedence over Billy F.'s (mainly) Gibson guitar(s). There's something tongue-in-cheek in whatever Gibbons does at this point, but the humor here is that understated kind that marks true blues and it does nothing to undermine the earthy and earnest overall approach of this record: in "Second Line," for instance, the indirect reference to New Orleans rhythm is further evidence of the authenticity in that track. And guitar hero-worshipers can certainly rejoice with cuts like "Standing Around Crying."
Tracks and Personnel America's Child
Tracks: Ain't Got Time For Hate; Americans; Would You Take My Blood?; Great Rain; Smoked Ham and Peaches; The Wrong Idea; Promised Myself; In the Blood of the Blues; Such a Pretty Flame; One I Love; I'm Not Like Everybody Else; Go To Sleepy Little Baby,
Personnel: Shemekia Copeland: vocals; Will Kimbrough: lead guitar, organ National guitar; Steve Cropper: lead guitar; Al Perkins: pedal steel guitar: Rhiannon Giddens: African banjo; Kenny Sears: fiddle; J.D. Wilkes: harmonica: Lex Price: bass: Pete Abbott: drums: Lisa Oliver Gray, Mary Gauthier, Emmylou Harris, Will Kimbrough, Gretchen Peters, John Prine, Katie Pruitt, Kristi Stassinopoulou, Tommy Womack: background vocals. Chicago Plays the Stones
Tracks: Let It Bleed; Play With Fire; Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker); (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction; Sympathy For The Devil; Angie; Gimme Shelter; Beast Of Burden; Miss You; I Go Wild; Out Of Control; Dead Flowers.
Personnel: Bob Margolin: guitar; Johnny Iguana: piano; Leanne Faines: vocals; John Primer: vocals; Billy Boy Arnold: vocals; Buddy Guy: vocals, guitar; Mick Jagger: vocals, harmonica; Ronnie Baker Brooks: vocals, lead guitar; Billy Branch: vocals, harmonica; Jimmy Burns: vocals; Keith Richards: guitar; Michael Avery: vocals; Omar Coleman: vocals, harmonica; Carlos Johnson: vocals; Vincent Bucher: harmonica; Felton Crews: bass; Kenny "Beedy-Eyes" Smith: drums. Jonathon Long
Tracks: Bury Me; Shine Your Love; that's When I Knew; The Light; Living The blues; Natural girl; The river; Pour Another Drink; This Road; Where Love Went Wrong; Pray For Me.
Personnel: Jonathon Long: electric & acoustic guitars, vocals; Samantha Fish: guitar, vocals; Michael Harvey: fiddle: ; Chris Roberts: bass ; Jullian Civello: drums. Something Smells Funky "Round Here
Tracks: Something Smells Funky 'Round Here; (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher; Right Now Is The Hour; Another Mule; That's the Way Willy Likes It; bob's Boogie; I can't Stand the Rain; Stomp; Lookin' Good; My Soul.
Personnel: Elvin Bishop: vocals; guitar; Willie Jordan: cajon; Bob Welsh: guitar, piano; Andre Theirry: accordion The Big Bad Blues
Tracks: Missin' Yo' Kissin'; My Baby She Rocks; Second Line; Standing Around Crying; Let The Left Hand Know; Bright It to Jerome; that's What She Said; Mo' Slower blues; Hollywood 151; Rollin' and Tumblin'; Crackin' Up.
Personnel: Billy Gibbons: vocals, guitar; Mike Flanigin: keyboards; Austin Hanks; guitar; James Harman: harmonica;Joe Hardy: bass; Matt Sorum: drums; Greg Morrow: drums.