Most of the albums
listed to the left are available at amazon.com --- enter
here to search through their vast catalog
As is the custom for Blues
Bytes, we use the January Pick Hit to feature the reviewers' Top Ten Lists for the past year.
It's hard to believe that
Blues Bytes is entering its eighth year. It all started as a personal
creative outlet after my blues show was bounced off the airwaves, but now
features about a dozen volunteer reviewers from around the world and
thousands of loyal readers.
What's great is that no one
gets paid to do Blues Bytes, yet like clockwork we churn out a new issue
every month. The occasional advertisement goes to keep the domain up and
running. Otherwise, it's an all-volunteer effort, which is why it's still
fun and not like work.
Thanks to all of you for
- Bill Mitchell
(Editor/Publisher of Blues Bytes)
Here's my list of favorite albums from 2003
- Times Like These (Severn).
I've listened to this very soulful
disk more than any other in the last year. Great music from a small,
Kim Wilson - Lookin' For Trouble
More great stuff from one of the deepest blues cats of our time. His
take on Smiley Lewis on this CD comes close to the original.
Jeffrey P. Ross - My Pleasure
Steve H. turned me on to this one, and I'm glad he did. Perhaps the
sleeper album of the year.
Bettye Lavette - A Woman Like Me
Where has she been hiding all these years??? Great soul music brought into
the 21st century.
Michael Burks - I Smell Smoke
I was ready to ignore this one thinking it would be too rocked out for my
tastes. Was I ever wrong! It's full of warmth and emotion.
Charles Walker - Number By Heart
(Zane Records - UK)
Our soul expert, Alan Shutro, passed this one along to me. It's great
stuff, reminiscent of the early Bobby Bland recordings.
Delgado Brothers - A Brother's Dream
These guys just keep flying under the radar, but consistently make great
music with all kinds of varied influences.
Joe Louis Walker - She's My Moneymaker
Is there any contemporary blues artist who is as consistently solid as JLW?
With over a dozen CDs to his credit, he's never released anything that's
less than superb.
Lavelle White - Into The Mystic
Welcome back, Miss Lavelle. It's been way too long since your last
Van Morrison - What's Wrong With This
Picture? (Blue Note)
Can an Irishman get the blues? In this case, the answer is yes.
Marcia Ball - So Many Rivers
Another artist who records too infrequently. Everything she touches turns
Jamie Wood - Ain't No Doubt About It
Another unknown, small label disc that's just plain fun from start to
Tab Benoit - The Sea Saint
I just got a copy of this CD, released earlier this year, but it's
definitely Top Ten material. Swampy blues at its best!
(Blues Bytes reviewer from
Being the Year of the Blues in 2003 as handed down by some blues-loving
government members there was no shortage of great releases this past year,
but the ten best in my humble opinion in no particular order are:
Sonny Landreth - The Road We¹re On
Great blues/rock slide playing from one of today¹s best.
John Hammond - Ready For Love
Hammond has been producing nothing less than stellar releases for decades
and continues the tradition here with his broad musical stroke of the blues.
Robert Randolph and the Family - Unclassified
Not entirely blues but blues-based because of the remarkable sounds Randolph
gets out of a simple pedal steel; my top favorite CD of the year.
Tab Benoit - Sea Saint Sessions
This South Louisiana guitar slinger decided to record in the most famous New
Orleans studio there is with very credible results.
Mama¹s Boys - Chicken and Waffles
Great boogie blues and harmonica-fueled sounds from one of the top Los
Angeles-based blues bands around.
Sunny Fournier - My Kind Of Blues
Canadian blues as only Fournier can create. Good stuff.
Jimmy Thackery - Guitar
CD title says it all with blistering blues fretwork by the blues world¹s
most current prolific players.
Marcia Ball - So Many Rivers
Austin-based Ball plays boogie style piano blues immersed in everything from
New Orleans fingering to ballads.
Buddy Guy - Blues Singer
The iconic Guy just sits down with his old pal, the acoustic, and plays the
hell out this collection with some of his master playing friends like Eric
Rory Block - Last Fair Deal
Super acoustic blues player who¹s been releasing this side of the blues for
many decades infuses shots of gospel and every kind of smoldering blues you
can think of. Had the distinct pleasure of seeing her play live in 2003 and
will always cherish that evening.
Martin Scorsese presents the Blues
As a true blues fanatic I personally have most of the songs featured in the
series. But for the new fan this one collection will provide you with the
cream of the blues crop and a musical history worth having.
(Blues Bytes reviewer from California)
Happy New Year! Seems like the Year of the
Blues flew by entirely
but we saw some great new music as well as some fantastic reissues being
released. As usual... I cheated and my list is longer than ten. I
found it impossible
to limit it to ten releases as I feel all the recordings listed below
deserved to be here. For a change, the number one slot stands alone this
year and very deservedly so.
Picking the top ten is always one of my favorite parts of contributing
this 'one of a kind' site, not only because I get to tell everybody what
was the best of the year but because I get to write a little something
than an opinion for a change. What I love about writing for this site
what all the other guys contribute every month and seeing what they
listening to and discovering some great albums I might not have along
the way. So
if I may get a little
corny here for a moment, I'd like to extend a few thanks to Bill,
Alan, Benoit, Tony, Mark, Tim, Terry, Arthur, Tom and Bruce for their
every month. It’s a pleasure to read you guys. To the man who makes it
here every month for all of us, Bill Mitchell, thanks boss for letting
me be a
part of the best damned blues site on the web. The biggest thank you
goes to everyone who reads this site every month and the artists we
about for keeping the greatest music on the planet alive.
1. Kirk Fletcher - Shades Of Blue
It just doesn’t get any better than this.
2. Jeffrey P. Ross - My Pleasure
But this one is close.
3. Jimmy Thackery & The Drivers - True Stories
Jimmy and company top themselves with each subsequent release.
4. James Harman - Lonesome Moon Trance
About as blue as you can get.
5. Tab Benoit - Sea Saint Sessions
Another milestone, to say the very least, from a very exciting artist.
6. Janiva Magness - Use What You Got
One of the most powerful
performances I’ve heard this year.
7. Betty Lavette - A Woman Like Me
The sleeper of the year. Thanks for
this one, Alan.
8. Joe Louis Walker - She's My Money Maker
Extremely hot stuff.
9. Nathan James - This Road Is Mine
Some very fine acoustic blues.
10. Kim Wilson - Lookin’ For Trouble
Does this guy ever miss?
11. Van Morrison - What’s Wrong With This Picture?
Not a thing.
12. Maria Muldaur - A Woman Alone With The Blues - Remembering Peggy
A career performance from one of the prettiest voices in the
13. Darrell Nulisch -Times Like These
Always a pleasure to listen to
14. Savoy Brown - Strange Dreams
One of the biggest surprises of the
(long-time Blues Bytes
reviewer and soul afficianado from Phoenix)
1. Bettye Lavette - A Woman Like Me (Blues Express)
Beat out Charles Walker by a hair. Pure emotion and a CD I will return to
2. Charles Walker - Number By Heart - Zane Records (U.K.)
The best new deep soul album in years. Great music lives forever.
3. James Carr - You Got My Mind Messed Up - Kent Records
The godfather of deep soul and this year's best reissue.
4. Bobby Bland - Blues At Midnight - Malaco Records
His best Malaco release since Members Only.
5. Toni Green - Southern Soul Music - Good Time Records
Great voice, great songs. She's among the best of the Southern soul divas.
6. Various Artists - Vanthology - Evidence Records
Little Milton, Bettye Lavette, Syl Johnson, Otis Clay and others doing the
music of Van Morrison. Every track is great.
7. Al Green - I Can't Stop - Blue Note Records
Put it on and you won't want it to end. Willie Mitchell adds his magic.
8. Johnnie Taylor - There's No Good In Goodbye - Malaco
Outtakes and unused tracks makes this posthumous compilation one of Taylor's
most listenable releases.
9. Various Artists - Atlanta Soul - The Peachtree Records Story -
Grapevine Records (U.K.)
Great reissue of deep soul released on William Bell's own label. Has rare
tracks by Mitty Collier. Need I say more.
10. Barbara Carr - The Best Of - Ecko Records
If you don't have any of her other Ecko releases, this is the one to get.
Excellent southern soul.
(Blues Bytes reviewer from Mississippi)
My Top CDs of 2003 (in no particular
Robert Randolph & the Family Band - Unclassified (Warner Brothers)
one has been in my CD player since September. A joyous romp of gospel,
blues, pop, rock, and funk that everyone should experience.
James Blood Ulmer - No Escape from the Blues
Ulmer and Vernon Reid summon the spirit of Jimi Hendrix at the
legend's Ladyland Studios. This is the Blues of the 21st Century.
Deacon John Moore - Deacon John's Jump Blues
A loving tribute to the R&B legends of the Crescent
City. Don't miss the companion DVD.
William Lee Ellis - Conqueroo (Yellow Dog)
Ellis, also music critic for the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, turns in a
masterpiece, an amazing look at American music styles with some of the best
guitar you'll hear this year.
Chris Smither - Train Home (Hightone)
Another acoustic wonder. Smither's wry lyrics and wondrous guitar work make
this one a must-have.
Michael Burks - I Smell Smoke (Alligator)
strong effort by a rising star on the blues scene with much-improved singing
and all the guitar you can handle.
Calvin Owens - The House is Burnin' (Sawdust
Owens' Blues Orchestra is as hot as ever, but the guest vocals by
the incredible Trudy Lynn and Houston legends Gloria Edwards and Leonard
"Low Down" Brown lift this one to the next level. A great CD from start to
Delbert McClinton - Live (New West)
probably as close to a complete look at Delbert's career in music as there
will ever be. He sounds great, the band sounds great, and he covers every
period of his recording history.
Bobby Rush - Live at Ground Zero (Deep Rush)
You have to see or hear Bobby Rush's live show to truly understand why he's
the King of the Chitlin' Circuit. This CD/DVD set fits the bill, capping off
a great year for Rush.
Corey Harris - Mississippi to Mali (Rounder)
Harris takes us from the land where the Blues began to the land where the
building blocks were formed and shows that the gap in between is really very
Jeff Chaz - Cookin' in Old Grease (JCP)
Bourbon Street Blues Man rips through an explosive set of originals.
Joe Richardson - Stripped Down (Viewpoint)
This is a spine-tingling set of original acoustic blues from an artist who
deserves to be heard.
(Long-time reviewer from Michigan)
Gallo’s 2003 Baker’s Dozen
Marcia Ball: So Many Rivers (Alligator).
The standout disc in a career full of standout discs, this will
probably take home a handful of Handys.
Rory Block: Last Fair Deal (Telarc).
Following 20 years of superior recordings for Rounder, the
virtuosic guitarist and vocalist has released her masterpiece on a
Fiona Boyes: Sweet Jelly Roll
The winner of the 2003 Blues Challenge, in the acoustic division,
this Aussie is poised to be a huge internationally acclaimed
Alberta Adams: I’m On the Move (Eastlawn).
Ms. Adams has been singing professionally for more than 60 years,
though she’s only released four full albums, of which this gem
Harry Manx/Kevin Breit: Jubilee (Northernmusic).
Manx is a genius. Though his Wise and Otherwise is
superior, this has some very impressive moments.
Heroes of the Blues – Best of Rev Gary Davis
This is part of a series of six similar packages from the label,
and may well be the best hits package ever released on the
Various Artists: Gary Davis Style
This Memphis label understands the good reverend’s appeal, and
this extraordinary collection is as impressive for the well known
as for the lesser (sometimes un-) known players.
Guy Davis: Chocolate to the Bone
Born about 60 years late, Mr. Davis is one of the finest classic
acoustic bluesmen on the planet, and this is his best yet.
Otis Taylor: Truth Is Not Fiction
Like a modern-day Ritchie Havens, Taylor doesn’t let us forget our
history and endeavors to keeps us honest in our dealings with each
Nick Curran: Doctor Velvet (Blind
This young jumpin’ jiver is deep into the roots-a-billy and jump
blues sounds of the 50s and rocks with more enthusiasm than anyone
Michael Burks: I Smell Smoke
Burks follows in the tradition of Luther Allison and, to a lesser
extent, Buddy Guy with ferocious guitar work and powerful vocals
turned up to 10.
Junior Watson: If I Had A Genie
(Heart & Soul).
One of the most influential guitarists on the West Coast blues
scene, alongside the late Hollywood Fats, he combines elements of
Lazy Lester with T-Bone Walker.
Maria Muldaur: A Woman Alone With the
Blues (Telarc). Maria has been just amazing over the past few
years and this tribute to Peggy Lee is as sultry and sassy as it
(Blues Bytes reviewer from
Various Artists - Last Of The
Mississippi Jukes (Sanctuary Records Group)
Finally there is a live blues disc with blues played the way it is
supposed to be. None of the 14 tracks on this 70-minute disc are
polished. Nothing was refined in a high-tech studio. This CD contains
authentic, Southern American blues as can only be found in the jukes
you were warned to avoid. This disc will do more for Mississippi
tourism than mockingbirds and magnolias and it will reconfirm your
love of the blues. It is an unsurpassed collection of juicy tunes,
fervent singers and well-honed musicians. Get it!
Various Artists - American Blues (Putumayo World Music)
These previously released tracks were made between 1972 and 2002 with
the vast majority coming from the ‘90s. Many of the songs were taken
from Grammy Award winning albums. Liner notes author, Jacob Edgar,
details a brilliant history of the blues where new fans will learn
"blues is the heart and soul of American music" and blues is
"dominated more by the emotions it was trying to express then by the
rigors of specific structure." The performers on this compilation,
e.g., Keb Mo’, Ruth Brown, Otis Rush, Solomon Burke, were selected
because they have remained true to the roots of the blues and continue
to keep them alive. Blues samplers flooded the market during the Year
Of The Blues. If you want a true indication of what real blues is all
about, enter here!
Tab Benoit - The Sea Saint Sessions (Telarc Records)
On his latest CD, Tab achieves the nearly impossible. He meets or
exceeds the music from his previous disc. Tab once again proves he is
a contemporary roots/blues/rock force by evolving the blues to a new
animal. Benoit is a less-is-more guitar player who focuses on quality.
His non-traditional rhythms entice, entrance and encapsulate. Tab’s
lyrics aren’t that important or memorable; it's his melodies that
stand out. Like early electrified blues, Tab’s style is both urban and
rural giving the music new ideas, sounds and ways. His trademark
scratchy guitar chords and gravel crushed vocal cords feature on all
tunes. These tracks may not vary enough for listeners who prefer a
fuller sound than can be achieved by a three-piece. This CD excels in
bayou vocals, punchy songwriting, spontaneous authenticity and its
crossover appeal to the larger rock audience.
Glamour Puss - Wire & Wood (NorthernBlues Music)
Glamour Puss is a five-piece group who play a contemporary, eclectic
mix of roots music. They combine their unrestrained talents to create
happy, upbeat, groovin’ music that celebrates life. On this innovative
disc, Glamour Puss thinks outside the blues box and covers a lot of
musical ground. Along the way, you’ll encounter plenty of jumpy and
punchy rhythms that will have you hopping out of your chair and
creating an instant dance party. You’ll especially enjoy the riveting
songwriting, articulate guitar, simmering keys, Staxville horns and
admirable production. If you are searching for the definitive 12 bar
blues band, these guys aren’t that. Glamour Puss borrows from all
American roots music and creates a party that offers something for
everyone. The band’s sound is unique in the current, music sea of
fabrication. Your only concern will be why you didn’t get hip to them
Ellis Hooks - Up Your Mind (Evidence Music)
When an artist comes along that completely blows you away like Ellis
Hooks, how can you be objective?! Like Robert Randolph, Hooks’ sound
is fresh yet rooted in the blues. He will appeal to new and veteran
roots music fans alike. The 47 minutes on Up Your Mind feature
13 densely textured tracks which were all written by Hooks.
Throughout, just like a great ‘60s soul album, there is a real focus
on Hooks’ powerful chops which are a cross between James Brown, Lenny
Kravitz and Steve Marriott. This CD is a bit too polished and
over-produced. It may be a bit too fashionable but it's just what the
blues needs to keep it from becoming stagnant.
Snooky Pryor - Mojo Ramble (Electro-Fi Records)
Looking for real blues? I mean low down, dirty blues? Live recordings
don’t always capture the essence of a performance. This is not the
case on Snooky Pryor’s first- ever live recording. The 65 minute
Delta-rooted disc was recorded November 4, 2001. Backed by Mel Brown
(guitar) and his Homewreckers, together they stomp through eight
tracks that range from slow to mid-paced. Half of them were selected
from previous E-Fi releases and two are covers. All are authentic,
old-style, sweaty blues with Mel’s smooth tone complimenting Snooky’s
Chromonic harmonica. Pryor’s heavily weathered voice sounds its best
from his recent recordings. This authentic recording is a pleasure to
find amongst a sea of false blues releases that should be classified
as rock and roll. Although the songs are too similar and some may be
too slow-paced for today’s impatient world, this is post-War (uh, Iraq
War, that is), electric Chicago blues at its finest. The musicianship
is stellar and the production is raw. You won’t hear finer or more
authentic blues in a Mississippi juke.
Matt Minglewood - Live At Last (Norton Records)
Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Matt Minglewood is a
living Canadian music legend. He combines Southern rock, country,
Celtic and blues into each and every performance. With 10 previous
albums out (dating back to 1976), he has just released his first live
CD. Recorded in September 2002, the 74-minute set includes a few guest
artists. Most prominent is virtuoso guitarist Jeff Healey who appears
on all 13 tracks. Only five are covers and there are two songs never
recorded by Matt before. The signature Minglewood sound and
storytelling abounds on this disc. For a prime example of those catchy
fervent rhythms, aggressive piano fills, zestful vocals, choruses with
east coast jigs and changing melodies, listen to "Whiz Kids." Most
tunes come with a rolling down the highway attitude where caution is
thrown to the wind. If you enjoy a high energy double-barreled attack
that rocks your blues, you’ll love this CD. The ashes left in your CD
tray will confirm just how much this CD smokes!
Otis Grand - In Grand Style - The Otis Grand Collection
(Sanctuary Records Group)
This disc was actually released in 2002 but it didn’t come my way
until 2003. Otis Grand is a phenom in Britain but hasn’t gained much
success in North America. This is one of those baffling incidents you
just can’t explain. One listen to this two-disc set and you will be
demanding he takes up residency on this side of the Atlantic. Grand’s
big-band blues sound vibrantly incorporates swing, rock, and R&B. His
wondrous guitar playing has obvious references to his influences:
Buddy Guy, Albert King, B.B. King, T-Bone Walker and Stevie Ray
Robert Randolph & The Family Band - Unclassified (Warner
Although this is more of a rock album as compared to his 2002 debut,
it still leaves you feeling high and happy with a silly giddiness. If
you haven’t heard his music before you won’t be prepared for the
mesmerizing experience. Two things hit you when you listen to this
disc. Firstly, you get so caught up in the music, it’s all you can
muster. Secondly, you know you are experiencing something new and
great which is bound for glory. After years of big corporations
determining what we hear and what we don’t hear, real music has
Ronnie Earl - I Feel Like Goin’ On (Stony Plain Records)
Earl’s Stony Plain debut demonstrates why he is one of the most
acclaimed blues guitarists. Ronnie feels this is his best studio
recording and you will definitely agree. This disc is brilliant,