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.
The Mike Duke Project ...took a while Little Village Foundation
2019 ...took a while
is an absolutely delightful piece of work in which Mike Duke's sharp pop sensibilities run parallel to (and often intersect with) his soul/r&b roots. The seamless incorporation of four newly-recorded cuts into the fifteen total comprise is indicative of another admirable continuity: this composer/vocalist/keyboardist produced these cuts over a period of some forty-years time, following his estimable work as a linchpin member of Dixie rockers Wet Willie then into the next two decades and beyond, for Huey Lewis and The News as well as contemporary r&b icon Delbert McClinton
. And The Mike Duke Project features some estimable names: Texas vocalist extraordinaire Angela Strehli on "Let Me Be Your Fool Tonight" plus Southern guitar hero Jack Pearson (who co-produced "That's What's So Good About the South")in addition to guitarist Elvin Bishop
who solos on "I Can't Let You Go." At any given time, however, Mike Duke commands attention, as much through his formulation of twists in original songs like "Doin' It All For My Baby" as his tasty keyboard work and honest emotive vocals. Add this album to the list of '2019 Sleepers.'
Bobby Rush Sitting O Top of the Blues
2019 Bobby Rush
has never been averse to incorporating diverse influences in with his blues rootssee his work on Philadelphia Int'l in the Seventiesbut apropos the title of this follow-up to his Grammy Award-winning Porcupine Meat
(Deep Rush, 2016), the accouterments of tracks such as those on the self-referential opener "Hey Hey Bobby Rush" are those of his deepest influences dating back to working with Jimmy Reed: punchy horns, abandoned bottleneck and scalding electric fretboard work. Accordingly, it should come as no surprise the sound of harp (otherwise featured on the instrumental "Sweet Lizzy) seasons "Good Stuff" helping in no small measure to insure the insistent groove belies its lack of substance as a song otherwise. Clavinet contemporizes "Get Out of Here (Dog Named Bo)," proof positive that, while Bobby Rush is proud of his history, he's hardly chained to it: in co-producing this twenty-sixth studio record of his with Vasti Jackson, the pair apply just enough polish, but not so much the earthy air disappears from tunes like "You Got the Goods On You" or that the cute "Pooky Poo" doesn't gain some ballast.
Christone Ingram Kingfish Alligator Records
Notwithstanding the hype on behalf of Christone Ingram, on Kingfish the young Missisippian does proves himself both precocious and prescient if a bit too correct for his own good. The pragmatic recruitment of Tom Hambridge as producer brings in additional pedigree (he's worked with Buddy Guy
and Joe Louis Walker
, among others) as well as some savvy musicians who bond as a band over the course of the record: the aforementioned elder statesman of the blues appears on "Fresh Out," while kindred spirit Keb Mo' who shows up on half the album's dozen tracks. Ingram, meanwhile, is undaunted in their presence, drawing unself-consciously from a fairly deep well of passion for both his fretboard work and his singing: he eschews the eclectic roots approach of another precocious contemporary, Gary Clark, Jr.
, by assuming a purist stance wherein his original compositions mirror his no-frills playing (mostly on electric but also an acoustic during "Been Here Before"). Reinvention takes precedence over innovation on this record, but this young man's sense of humor on display in "Trouble." lends an extra authenticity to his music precisely because that element is an indispensable component of the blues.
Zac Harmon Mississippi Bar BQ
On his label debut, guitarist Zac Harmon expands the conventions of the blues even as he maintains its traditions. "Gypsy Road" conjures an air of danger even as it rocks, while "So Cold" exalts through its uplifting horn arrangement and the frontman's lead guitar. Throughout the eleven tracks, the musicianship of studio pros The Rays is virtually indistinguishable from that of Harmon's road band, whether on the sultry likes of the titlesong or the driving likes of "Desperate Love." Contrasting the horns there with silken tones of background vocals is indicative of the astute production values the likes of which Jim Gaines has honed through his work with Santana
and Stevie Ray Vaughan
: this Grammy Award-winner also mixed this seventh album of this Mississippi native's, helping opens up avenues for growth with the a funky lament of "Make A Dollar Out of Fifteen Cents," even as the easy shuffle of "Sunday Morning After Saturday Night" is a genre piece par excellence. And then there's the stirring, stately close with a cover of Bob Dylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door:" Zac Harmon defies expectations right til the end.
Leeroy Stagger Strange Path True North Records
Leeroy Stagger's nsistent acoustic guitar at the foundation of tracks like "Mother" and "Deeper Well" combines with the heavy echo on his voice to create a distinctly ghostly air during the performances of his original songs here. In keeping with the title of this LP, the Albertan contrasts his roots-rocker persona with prominent synthesizer on the cryptically-titled likes o f"Jesus + Buddha," yet that arrangement is no more creative than the one for "Leonard Cohen Is Dead" wherein jagged electric guitar caroms around. Meanwhile, the graphic design of the triple-fold CD digi-pak confirms Stagger's eccentricity, not to mention his immersion in this, his second album of 2019: an enclosed poster contains all the lyrics as well as detailed credits featuring the names of Los Lobos
s' Steve Berlin, Elvis Costello
Attraction drummer Pete Thomas and Brad Barr (one of the Brothers in The Slip, who co-produced four tracks here). Considering the range of talent at his disposal, it's no small accomplishment that Strange Path maintains a certain uniformity of sound, but no doubt the mixing of Grammy Award-winner Ryan Freeland (Rodney Crowell
, Bonnie Raitt
) help formulate the sonic composite of textures.
Tracks and Personnel ...took a while
Tracks: Little Miss Ponytail; Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do; Doin' It All For My Baby; Let Her Go And Start Over; Let Me Be Your Fool Tonight; That's What's So Good About The South; I'm Not Sad Tonight; Ain't No Easy Way; Honey I Love You; Torn & Scarred; I Can't Let You Go; That's What She Does For Me; When You Had It All; Coming 'Round Again; Nicasio.
Personnel: Mike Duke: vocals , piano, synthesizer, drum machine; Ronnie Brownguitar; Kid Andersen: guitar; Ray Honea: guitar; Rick Kurtzguitar; Larry Berwald: guitar; Gary Vogensenguitar; Wayne Perkins: guitar; Elvin Bishop: guitar solo; Frank Bohan: guitar; Jack Pearson: guitar, percussion; Jim Pugh: Hammond B3; Jimmy Hall: sax, backing vocals; Bruce Gordo: accordion; Lloyd Meadows: harmonica, washboard, background vocal; Paul Hornsby: bass; Jack Hall: bass; Phil Yeager: bass; Ike Harris: bass; Leif Bonderanko: drums; Don Jones: bass; Timm Walker: bass; Steve Ehrmann: bass; Steve Ehrmann: bass; William Allums, Jr.: drums; Kevin Hayes: drums; Bill Connell: drums; Don Finney: tenor sax; Larry Finney: trumpet; Roger Dennison: trombone; Angela Strehli, Lisa Leuschner Andersen, Dallis Craft: background vocals; Lolly Lee, Louise Davis, Alice Bargeron: background vocals. Sitting On Top of the Blues
Track Listing: Hey Hey Bobby Rush; Good Stuff; Get Out of Here; You Got the Goods on You; Sweet Lizzy; Recipe for Love; Bobby Rush Shuffle; Pooky Poo; Slow Motion; Shake Til' You Get Enough; Bowlegged Woman.
Personnel: Bobby Rush: vocals, harmonica; Patrick Hayes: guitar, organ; Vasti Johnson: guitar, bass, drums; Paul Sinegal: guitar; Roddie Romero: guitar; Lee Allen Zeno: bass; Tony Hall: bass; Terrance Higgins: drums; Doug Belote: drums; Raymond Weber: drums; Kieko Komaki: organ; Alonzo Bowen: saxophones; Michael Campo Trumpet; Terrance Taplin: trombone; Joe Krone: piano. Kingfish
Tracks: Outside Of This Town; Fresh Out (Featuring Buddy Guy); It Ain't Right; Been Here Before; If You Love Me; Love Ain't My Favorite Word; Listen (Featuring Keb' Mo'); Before I'm Old; Believe These Blues; Trouble; Hard Times.
Personnel: Christone "Kingfish" Ingram: guitar, acoustic guitar, vocals; Buddy Guy: guitar, vocals Marty Sammon: piano, Hammond B3 Organ ; Keb' Mo': Guitar, acoustic guitar, Resonator guitar; Rob McNelley: Guitar; Billy Branch: Harmonica Tommy MacDonald: bass; Tom Hambridge: Drums, percussion; Chris Black: drums. Mississippi BarBQ
Tracks: Gypsy Road; So Cold; Smoke and Mirrors; Mississippi Barbq; Desperate Love; Baby Pleez; Making a Dollar out of Fifteen Cents; Sunday Morning After Saturday Night; Lord Save Me from L.A.; Since You Been Gone; Knocking on Heaven's Door.
Personnel: Zac Harmon: guitar, vocals; Jtexas Slim: guitar Johnny McGhee: guitar; Dan Ferguson: keyboards; Cory Carmichael: keyboards, vocals; bob corritore: harmonica; Mike Middleton: trumpet; Andy Roman: alto sax; Nick Flood: tenor and baritone sax; Drake Dominigue: trombone and tuba; Chris Gipson: bass; Ralph Forrest: drums; Bob Trenchard: bass; Richy Puga: drums; Munyungo Jackson: percussion; Janelle Thompson, Shakara Weston, SueAnn Carwell: background vocals. Strange Path
Tracks: Mother; Deeper Well; Breaking News; Strange Attractor; Nobody Alive Gets Out Of Here; Jesus And Buddha; These Things; Hey Hey! (For Gord); Leonard Cohen Is Dead; Get Ourselves To Love; The Light.
Personnel: Leeroy Stagger: vocals, guitars; Brad Barr: guitar, vocals; Tyson Maiko: acoustic guitar, bass; Paul Rigby: guitar, Ryland Moranz: guitar, vocals; Michael Ayotte: piano, organ, synthesizer; Pete Thomas: drums; Steve Berlin: baritone saxophone; Belle Plaine, Emily Triggs, Mariel Buckley, Justine Van Der Grift, Ken Stead: vocals.