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January 2005

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Pick Hit

As is the custom for Blues Bytes, we use the January Pick Hit to feature the reviewers' Top Ten Lists for the past year.

Blues Bytes is now entering its ninth year --- it's been an incredible ride! An important fact to remember is that this site has continued despite the fact that no one involved with Blues Bytes gets paid for what they contribute. It's truly a labor of love for many blues lovers from around the world.

Thanks to all of you for your support!

- Bill Mitchell (Editor/Publisher of Blues Bytes)


Bill Mitchell
(Editor of Blues Bytes)
Here's my list of favorite albums from 2004

Tad RobinsonTad Robinson - Did You Ever Wonder? (Severn).
A disc from tiny Severn Records takes the top slot on my personal list for the second year in a row. Did You Ever Wonder? has spent more time in my CD player than any other album in the past year. I can't begin to count the number of times I've hit the replay button at cut number six to hear Alex Schultz's incredible guitar solo on "Your Love Is Amazing."

The Bo-Keys - The Royal Sessions (Yellow Dog)
What an incredible stroke of genius it was to bring many of Memphis' great session players from the '70s back into the studio to create this excellent collection of mostly instrumental funky, greasy soul music.

Ricky Fanté - Rewind (Virgin)
One listen to this wonderful CD and you'll swear that Otis Redding has been re-incarnated in the form of this young classic soul singer.

The Holmes Brothers - Simple Truths (Alligator)
The 'simple truth' is that this group has been the best thing to happen to the blues world since releasing their first CD on Rounder 15 years ago. Everything they do sounds fresh and innovative. The version of "Concrete Jungle" showcases the trio's ability to take any recognizable song and turn it into their own vehicle.

Alex Schultz - Think About It (Severn)
See the Tad Robinson review above for my note about Alex Schultz's guitar playing. He's one of the best in the business. Think About It is his first solo outing, with help from guest vocalists Robinson, Lynwood Slim and Finis Tasby.

Jody Williams - You Left Me In The Dark (Evidence)
Guitarist Williams' implausible comeback after a 30-year retirement continues with his second excellent CD in the three years since he pulled his old guitar out from under his bed.

Chief Schabuttie Gilliame - Snake Crawls At Night (Random Chance)
This African native isn't even that well-known in his adopted hometown of Phoenix, but this set of his Wolf-style growling vocals and a top-notch backing band make this a CD worth finding.

Paul Oscher - Alone With The Blues (Electro-Fi)
Muddy's former harp player continues to issue high-quality roots blues for small labels.

Pat Boyack - Voices From The Street (Doc Blues)
Texas guitarist gathered many of his blues, soul and gospel friends for a delightfully eclectic album.

Charles Wilson - If Heartaches Were Nickels (Delmark)
Very nice soul/blues disc


Tom Schulte
(Prolific blues and jazz reviewer)

Luis Garay Percussion World - Sacumba (Percumba Records)
World percussion virtuoso, playful spirit. 

Steve Hancoff -The Single Petal Of A Rose (Out of Time Music Co.)
Duke Ellington for Solo Guitar.

Jonas Hellborg/Shawn Lane/Apt. Q-258 - Time is the Enemy (Bardo Records)
Adventurous post-fusion live jazz-rock album

Hank Locklin - Generations in Song (Slewfoot Records)
The legendary country tenor anew.

Nellie McKay - Get Away from Me (Columbia Records)
19-year old jazz-pop genius.

Mudville - The Glory of Man is not in Vogue (Slurry Records) Layers of meaning to unravel.

Otis Taylor - Double V (Telarc)
Potent blues story-songs, blunt blues

Claudia Villela - Dreamtales (Adventure Music)
Fleck on Villela: "pure music"

Tom Waits - Real Gone (ANTI-)
Superlative success, an eerie ode.


Tim Holek
 (Blues Bytes reviewer from Canada)

"I tried to make selections of CDs that I reviewed this past year that represent best new artist, album of the year, contemporary album of the year, traditional album of the year, soul-blues album of the year, and comeback of the year. Here is my top ten in no particular order."

Michael Powers  - Onyx Root (Baryon)
New Jersey’s Michael Powers is a diverse and wise musician whose music is relevant for today. He sings about taking “20 years to be discovered overnight” on his debut solo CD. Onyx Root comes prepared to wallop the stagnated blues industry with the stiff kick that it needs. Most songs combine Delta country blues, psychedelic blues/rock, and contemporary blues. Powers has succeeded where blues and hip-hop marriages have failed.  He has taken traditional blues, and made it contemporary.  Wisely, he does it without fabrication.  Powers has got what is takes to re-vitalize today’s youth with an interest in blues. He may be the Messiah that makes blues mainstream.  

The Holmes BrothersHolmes Brothers - Simple Truths (Alligator)
On Simple Truths, the Holmes Brothers are rootsy and raw. The 13 secular tracks are all about being truthful with oneself and others. The Brothers tackle a host of roots music that will appeal to the 30 and over crowd. More original numbers and more that feature just the Brothers are the only things keeping this CD from winning a truck-ful of awards. As expected, you get: perfectly blended vocal harmonies, diverse song arrangements, Wendell’s gritty guitar and Popsy’s supreme falsetto. The Holmes Brothers get you to see how wonderful life is via their music.

Ronnie Earl - Now My Soul (Stony Plain)
His 20th solo disc begins where last year’s I Feel Like Goin’ On left off. Most of the 12 songs are hearty jams, resulting in a lengthy album. “Feel Like Goin On” is about Earl’s salvation from addiction, diabetes, chronic fatigue, and clinical depression. This album was meant as, “An attempt to touch souls and people’s lives.” The goal was achieved using searing guitar, rejuvenating keys, spirit-renewing tunes, enticing vocals, and entertaining harp. This disc proves why Ronnie Earl is considered one of blues’ finest guitarists.  

Big James Montgomery - Now U Know (Jamot)
Big James Montgomery is separate and completely different from today’s blues re-hash. A gallant and emotional Montgomery emerges on Now U Know. The disc’s key theme is devotion to the blues and your partner. Funky guitar and free-spirited piano carry the rhythm until the brass enters. When it does, it’s blazing and blasting. Montgomery combines R&B, funk, soul, blues, and disco into his horn-drenched music. The disc escapes stagnation. Montgomery and his Playboys are adamant to take the music where it hasn’t been. Montgomery’s funk-blues are from the ghetto, but they aren’t stuck there. This time, he takes the music in new directions, and it is equally appealing to blues, smooth jazz, and adult contemporary audiences.         

Dan Treanor and Frankie Lee - African Wind (NorthernBlues)
Dan Treanor plays hand built African instruments. So, there are many sounds to observe on this album – including a Diddley Bow, Ngoni, and Khalam. Additionally, you’ll hear the Kalimba (thumb piano), the Djembe (hand drum), and cane flute. African instruments do not feature on all tracks. So, some songs contain a feel that is closer to home. Interspersed with the familiarity of American Blues, African Wind contains the right blend of foreign rhythms and sounds. This is one of the most innovative blues releases made in a very long time. Like the label’s president, you too will be “excited about some really new blues.” 

Tad Robinson - Did You Ever Wonder? (Severn)
On Did You Ever Wonder?, Tad Robinson proves to be a great white soul crooner. Robinson’s Severn debut, combines the soul of Al Green with the blues of Robert Cray. In an age where the media focuses on the negative, Tad’s uplifting music and sentimental lyrics are sure to put a smile on your face. Tad’s enthusiastic vocals peak on the title track. Severn should be commended for releasing an album of soul music which went out of mainstream fashion years ago. This classy release is sure to earn this class act a few awards.  

W.C. Clark - Deep In The Heart (Alligator)
In the guitar-slinging saturated blues market, it is a pleasure to encounter vocalist/guitarist Wesley Curley Clark.  This expressive artist is all about the music. Austin’s finest musicians accompany W.C. for 55 joyful minutes. All songs perfectly complement his happy and glad to be alive attitude. Wisdom-filled lyrics instruct you to live a more fulfilling life. I didn’t know they still made authentic soul-blues albums. Austin’s optimistic W.C. is definitely an endangered species and the last of a rare breed.

Mavis Staples - Have A Little Faith (Alligator)
On her first album of new material since 1993, Mavis Staples proves to be, spiritually and musically, convicted.  She still has her instantly recognizable and dynamic voice. All songs are uplifting and contain encouraging messages about being the best you can be, equal rights, helping each other, spirituality in God, believing in your dreams, and keeping the faith. The meaningful lyrics, to these inspirational songs, are a stark reminder of the strife’s and struggles that many still have to endure. Yet, this is healing music -- designed to help our hurting and deeply suffering world. For 51 minutes, she instills faith in the deepest cynic and provides hope for the broken-hearted.

Nora Jean Bruso - Going Back To Mississippi (Severn)
Nora Jean Bruso has a voice as powerful as a freight train’s engine.  Her colossal voice is as hefty as her girth. Chicago blues sensations, Carl Weathersby and Dave Specter, feature on this disc. Throughout, her authoritative vocals growl, bite and pierce.  She abandons aggression for pure vocal power. If Nora continues to seismically shift her audience with CDs like this, she’ll be winning vocalist of the year and record of the year awards before she knows what happened to her. This is one of those definitive blues records. 

Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith & The Juke Joint Rockers - Bluesin’ It (Electro-Fi)
Willie Smith’s Electro-Fi debut captures a venerable and traditional blues sound via a supporting band of Canadian blues all-stars including Al Lerman, Jack de Keyzer, John Mays, and Michael Fonfara. Wisely, Smith’s unexceptional vocals are kept to a minimum. Smith gets top billing, however, the real story here is how well the band gels. Smith passes the blues from one generation to another and this time, it's an international affair. 


Alan Shutro
(long-time Blues Bytes reviewer and soul afficianado from Phoenix)

Ricky Fante1. Ricky Fanté - Rewind (Virgin)
Great debut from this newcomer.

2. Willie Walker & Butanes - Right Where I Belong (One On One (U.K.))
A modern deep soul classic from this Goldwax Records label mate of James Carr and O.V. Wright

3. Candi Staton -The Fame Sides (EMI / Honest Jon's Records (U.K.))
The greatest recordings of her career. A treat throughout. The ultimate version of "Stand By Your Man."

4. Various Artists - Troubled Waters (Grapevine (U.K.))
Unbeatable deep soul from the Deep South (The vaults of Malaco).

5. Bettye Swann - The Capitol Sides (EMI / Honest Jon's Records (U.K.))
One of the overlooked great Southern soul singers.

6. Charles Wilson - If Heartaches Were Nickels (Delmark
The album we all knew he could make. Great production.

7. W.C. Clark - Deep In The Heart (Alligator)
Another great outing from W.C. What a voice!

8. Willie Hightower - The Capitol Sides (EMI / Honest Jon's Records (U.K.))
One of the '60s great Southern soul artists at the Fame Studios. Think Sam Cooke with horns.

9. Shirley Brown - Woman Enough (Malaco)
Each new release is a major event from the "Woman To Woman" gal.

10. George Jackson - In Muscle Shoals (Grapevine (U.K.))
Wonderful solo sides from the man who wrote "Down Home Blues" for Z.Z. Hill

And a great DVD:
Wattstax - The 30th Anniversary Special Edition (Warner Brothers)
The Staple Singers, Carla Thomas, Johnny Taylor, Rufus Thomas, Isaac Hayes, Luther Ingram, Albert King & others.


 Graham Clarke
(Blues Bytes reviewer from Mississippi)

Bobby Rush - Folkfunk (Deep Rush)
This is maybe Rush’s best album yet, with great support from Alvin Youngblood Hart.

Bo-Keys - The Royal Sessions (Yellow Dog)
That great instrumental soul music you loved in the 60’s is back in this Meters-Meet-Booker T. conglomeration.

Michael Powers - Onyx Root (Baryon)
Probably the most original blues disc I heard this year, from an artist who’s been doing it for a long time in relative obscurity.

Ben Harper & the Blind Boys of Alabama - There Will Be A Light (Virgin)
This is just a solid CD of great gospel music and performances.

Jody Williams - You Left Me In The Dark (Evidence)
Williams’ sophomore effort exceeds all expectations.

The Holmes Brothers - Simple Truths (Alligator)
This one features probably the best single song of the year, “We Meet, We Part, We Remember.”

W. C. Clark - Deep In The Heart (Alligator)
Clark just keeps getting better and better; great soul from Texas via Memphis.

Big Joe Duskin - Big Joe Jumps Again (Yellow Dog)
This was a welcome return by one of the last of the old-time blues and boogie pianists

Joe Richardson Express - Non Stop (Jamey Slane)
Joe’s best effort yet. If you haven’t heard this guy yet, you really need to give him a listen.

Jook Bourke - My Mojo’s Too Weak (Self-released) -
The surprise of the year for me. Great songs, great guitar, great performance. Don’t miss this one.

Mojo Watson - Black Beauty (Watashea) -
Watson's latest features his own impressive material and some great guitar.

Barbara Blue - 3rd & Beale (BIG Blue)
Barbara’s latest is a great mixture of blues & good old Memphis R&B.

Lightnin’ Moe - Undercover Lover (Last Buzz)
This Danish band’s newest disc is very impressive. A great band and great frontman make this one worth finding.

Dan Tyack - Unsanctified Gospel Revival (Self-released)
The former Asleep At The Wheel guitarist’s foray into the world of sacred steel music was a highlight of the year for me.


Mark Gallo
(Long-time reviewer from Michigan)

1. Charlie Musselwhite: Sanctuary (Real World).
From a cover of Savoy Brown’s “Train To Nowhere” to an eerie cover of Randy Newman’s “Burn Down The Cornfield” to Sonny Landreth’s dark “Shootin’ For the Moon,” this is decades beyond his debut album of nearly 40 years ago, in more ways than one. Music needs to grow to flourish and it's refreshing to see a veteran at the vanguard of that growth.

2. Tad Robinson: Did You Ever Wonder? (Severn)
Everything on the disc is impressive. Vocalists this good don’t come down the pike too often. “They Say,” a Memphis-style chill getter, is one of the best songs of the year. The Chicagoan conjures up the soulful blues of Al Green and Sam Cooke on the disc and should get a WC Handy this year.

3. Ronnie Earl: Now My Soul (Stony Plain).
One of the great guitarists of our time, Ronnie’s music crosses comfortably between jazz and blues, with the spirituality of Santana. On this disc, however, there’s more blues than there has been in a longtime. The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ Kim Wilson has the lion’s share of vocals and the instrumental numbers send shivers.

4. Otis Taylor: Double V (Telarc).
Colorado-based Taylor is an African American who explores more contemporary and historic social and racial issues than anyone in the business. His albums are always moving, but this one is just extraordinary.

5. Pyeng Threadgill: Sweet Home – The Music of Robert Johnson (Random Chance)
So chillingly impressive is her voice, her approach, her vision, her arrangements that she defines categorization. Ellington said there is only good music and bad music. There are obviously graduations, as well. This is an extraordinary recording. The Debut Disc of the Year in both blues and jazz!

6. Louise Hoffsten: Knackebrod Blues (Memphis International)
Hoffsten is a popular folk and pop singer in Sweden who wrote a book (entitled “Blues”) and recorded an album after being diagnosed with MS and watching her husband walk out on her. The blues recognize no border. On her “Belly Up Blues” you’ll hear her elastic clarity, on Memphis Slim’s “I Guess I’m A Fool” you hear how well she works in the acoustic context and on Frankie Miller’s “The Seduction of Sweet Louise” her adaptability to high powered electricity shines.

7. Rishell and Raines: Goin’ Home (Artemis)
Paul Rishell is a phenomenal guitarist and vocalist. Annie Raines is a superb harmonica player and vocalist who plays a bit of mandolin and piano, too. The combo has been impressive for the past decade; this is just another in a series of superb albums. Originals share space with tunes from Charlie Patton, Lemon Jefferson, Ma Rainey and others. Back porch blues for the connoisseur.

8. Guitar Shorty: Watch Your Back (Alligator)
Guitar Shorty was an early influence on both Buddy Guy and Jimi Hendrix so he knows about volume and high intensity and never fails to amaze. He’s been recording for 40 years and still sounds better than the vast majority of electric blues players out there. As real deals go, he’s right up there with the best.

9. Nick Curran: Player (Blind Pig)
This is the second Blind Pig album for young Nick Curran, who has captured the early '50s jump blues with more authority than just about anyone out there. His cover of Iggy & The Stooge’s “No Fun,” one of the highlights of the disc, proves he’s got a great sense of humor, too.

10. Amos Garrett: Acoustic Album (Stony Plain)
Canadian Garrett played with Paul Butterfield’s Better Days, Maria Muldaur (on the “Midnight At The Oasis” sessions), Anne Murray (“Snowbird”) and a bunch of other folks over the past 40 years. This all acoustic set, his first in 25 years, is chock full of gems, including tunes from Jelly Roll Morton, Leadbelly, and Hoagy Carmichael, though the best are from his own pen.

11. Dr. John: N’Awlinz: Dis Dat or D Udda (Blue Note)
The best Dr. John album in at least 10 years, this is a smile inducer of the first order, with impressive guest stars and strange arrangements aplenty. “Lay My Burden Down” with Mavis Staples and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, “Such A Much” with Willie Nelson and “Hen Layin' Rooster” with B.B. King and Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown. It just don’t get no mo’ doctor.

Duke Robillard12. Duke Robillard: Blue Mood (Stony Plain)
One of the most important guitarist out there, he was the man who formed Roomful of Blues 30 years ago. His music straddles the line between jazz and blues exquisitely. This is his tribute to the great Texas bluesmeister T-Bone Walker. It is, naturally, a masterpiece.

13. Bo Keys: The Royal Sessions (Yellow Dog)
An instrumental album from a group of legendary players (from the Bar Kays, Isaac Hayes and the Blues Brothers) that combines elements of funk, soul, jazz, blues, hip hop and pizzazz. This is the best album of its kind since … well, no one has ever done an album this cool before.

Various Artists: Gary Davis Style (Inside Sounds).
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.

Best Jazz of 2004

1. Stefon Harris & Blackout: Evolution (Blue Note)
2. Geri Allen: The Life Of A Song (Telarc)
3. Patricia Barber: A Fortnight In France (Blue Note)
4. Pyeng Threadgill: Sweet Home – The Music of Robert Johnson (Random Chance)
5. Frode Berg: Dig It! (Nagel Heyer)
6. Louis Smith: Louisville (Steeple Chase)
7. James Carter: Live at Bakers (Warner Bros.)
8. Mike Wofford Trio: Live at Athenaeum Jazz (Capri
9. Satoko Fujii Quartet: Zephyros (Natsat).
10. McCoy Tyner: Illuminations (Telarc)



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