Blues Bytes

Pick Hit

January 2007

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In this our tenth year of Blues Bytes, we use the January Pick Hit to feature the reviewers' Top Ten Lists for the past year.

Yes, it's true! Blues Bytes has just passed its tenth anniversary! The past year was significant in that the site received the Keeping The Blues Alive award from the Blues Foundation in the Blues In The Internet category. It all comes about because of the incredible team effort of many reviewers from around the world contributing their time and expertise for no compensation. Blues Bytes is truly a labor of love for many.

Thanks to all of you for your support!

- Bill Mitchell (Editor/Publisher of Blues Bytes)


Bill Mitchell (editor of Blues Bytes)

Willie WalkerWillie Walker
(Haute Records)
Unquestionably the best CD I heard all year! Nothing came close to this disc. At times, especially on "Real Love," he sounds frightening like Al Green. I'd accuse Walker of being derivative if he wasn't so damn good at it. Incredible stuff ... just absolutely incredible!

Paris James
Death Letter
Phoenix guitarist / singer James deserves a larger audience. This excellent independent CD of acoustic, traditional blues is as good as anything in its genre. The title cut gives new meaning to the phrase "deep blues." Exquisite!

Fiona Boyes
Lucky 13
(Yellow Dog)
This one took me completely by surprise. I had heard of Ms. Boyes before this CD arrived, but the quality of this CD by the native Australian just plain blew me away.

Cephas & Wiggins
Shoulder to Shoulder
This duo continues get better with age. Their Piedmont-influenced blues style is timeless. Their music should be cherished.

Bob Margolin
In North Carolina (Steady Rollin' Records)
This is technically a 2007 release, but we'll qualify it because advance copies were available in December. Margolin lovingly created a disc of music that he plays in his home for family and friends. His version of "Tears of Rage" is alone worth the cost of the CD.

Joe Louis Walker
Playin' Dirty
Few blues artists have shown the kind of consistency that Walker has exhibited with the 15 or so albums he's released in the last 20 years. His latest is no exception.

William Clarke
The Early Years, Volume 1 & 2
Clarke's widow Jeannette found some old tapes in their house and, with help from friends and family, released them in a pair of CDs available only from the family. The music here is every bit as good as his Alligator albums, which of course were absolutely superb.

Mitch Kashmar
Wake Up & Worry (Delta Groove)
If you were a big fan of the aforementioned Clarke, then be sure to check out this harmonica cat from Southern California.

John Long
Lost & Found (Delta Groove)
One of the more significant "discoveries" of 2006 occurred when Delta Groove honcho Randy Chortkoff took the traditional bluesman Long into the studio for the first time ever.

Earl Gaines
The Lost Soul Tapes (Aim)
20 examples of great '70s soul originally released on the Sound-Seventy label. Nothing here sounds dated, but rather like it's fresh out of the studio


Tim Holek (reviewer from Canada)

For me the year was dominated by releases from veteran artists as well as some historical releases. However, I was also impressed with a fairly new guitarist, an obscure artist based in Detroit, Michigan, and Canada’s best roots band. Here are my choices in no particular order.

Junior WellsJunior Wells
Live At Theresa’s 1975
Live At Theresa’s
shows the friendly and neighborly atmosphere of a 1970s Chicago ghetto blues club being held at the helm by its commander. The dignified CD is a testimony to a time when blues was a neighborhood institution played by people who had grown up together. Live At Theresa’s is gritty and slick at the same time. It presents traditional electric Chicago blues at its finest. If released in 1975, Live At Theresa’s might have been the first live album to accurately capture the live Chicago blues band sound in a club. Though it doesn’t contain Wells’ best vocals and the audio isn’t up to today’s standard, Live At Theresa’s is everything a blues CD is supposed to be. It’s all about an experience that cannot be replicated.

Bobby Rush
Raw To The Bone
There are two sides to Bobby Rush. One comes with booty shaking chorus girls, risqué material, and flamboyant costume changes. The other, as portrayed here, involves old-fashioned grooves from the hills and jukes. The 52-minute CD features bare bones blues performed in the traditional 12-bar format. Rush plays guitar, chromatic and diatonic harp, and clomps his feet to keep the beat. Throughout, Kellerman maturely plays the role of dependable sideman. Purists will be pleased with this permeating product although it may be a bit hard to find. It’s available off the stage or by contacting Shawn Kellerman by email via

Cephas & Wiggins
Shoulder To Shoulder
John Cephas & Phil Wiggins are skilled in performing Piedmont Blues. These thoroughly enjoyable 51-minutes are all about the songs, not the solos. Cephas’ guitar work is gentle while Wiggins adds heavy harmonica. On Shoulder To Shoulder, Cephas & Wiggins perform a style of endangered blues in a stress-relieving and contenting fashion. Although acoustic blues can be mistakenly declared dull and boring, Cephas & Wiggins brighten this fading American art form.

Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials
Rattleshake (

Chicago’s wicked slide guitar master Lil’ Ed Williams is one artist who puzzles his audience. Under the guise of a careless fool, there is a complex man musically, spiritually, and personally. The subject matter of the songs – overcoming defeat, resisting temptation, having respect, loyalty, and responsibility – reveal Ed’s strongest values. In an age where musical styles have been blurred and misnamed, this 51-year-old remains an authentic American bluesman. Yes, his songs do become repetitious, and each album tends to blend into the next. However, don’t be fooled into thinking this is a raucous, wild party without purpose. On Rattleshake, Lil’ Ed is in touch with his inner self and it is expressed via jovial melodies and tough blues.

Mannish Boys
Live & In Demand
(Delta Groove)
The Mannish Boys feature the cream of West Coast blues. The format of this live CD is an old-style 'blues revue.' Spearheading the blues super group is the potent singer, Finis Tasby
. Things get hot and sticky real fast. Throughout, Kid Ramos’s guitar is razor sharp and impeccably timed. Finis does not bellow the lyrics out with lungs full of air. That’s not his style. His satisfying vocals are tough yet mellow.

Lil’ Dave Thompson
Got To Get Over You (
Lil’ Dave Thompson only plays guitar solos for a purpose. On this refreshing recording, support is provided by an all star cast of Canadian blues musicians. The music is pure blues, but soul/blues is also featured. Dave uses his guitar as an extension of his voice while the sidemen play as if they were raised in Mississippi. Thompson plays the most untainted blues guitar you’ll hear in contemporary blues. His affectionate but gruff voice and remarkable guitar consistently connect to express emotion and pain. Lil’ Dave Thompson defines blues for today by infusing blues of yesterday.

Magic Slim & The Teardrops/Joe Carter With Sunnyland Slim
That Ain’t Right (Delmark)
That Ain’t Right
, the seventh in the Ralph Bass series, is one of those rare moments that define real blues. On his featured tracks, Magic Slim’s guitar contains the gruffness and harshness of Hound Dog Taylor’s slide. Slim’s potent sound is raw and unpolished. His guitar isn’t angry or aggressive, it is abrasive. Throughout six tracks, Joe Carter’s raging slide sounds like Elmore James. Carter’s tough vocals sound like the great soul singers of the ’60s. His Chicago blues all star band also included Sunnyland Slim (piano). It is a blissful pleasure when real deal blues is played and heard. Since many on the album have passed, That Ain’t Right incites you to seek, find, and cherish Chicago’s surviving blues legends.

Bluesman’s Prayer
The honest sounding songs on their fifth release draw you to conclude the band is in love with the blues and its lifestyle. Glamourpuss is welcoming and inviting without showing off or being overbearing. Overall, you’ll enjoy riveting songwriting, articulate guitar, simmering keys, and admirable production.

Otis Rush
Live …And In Concert From San Francisco
(Blues Express)
Live Otis Rush CDs flooded the market this year. Out of the three, this is my favorite since it accurately captures a modern performance from 1999. The set list isn’t very different from his other live recordings, but this is desert island material for sure.

Harmonica Shah
Listen At Me Good
This is one of the best traditional blues CDs to come out in a long time. Shah gets top billing but stalwart Canadian blues guitarist Jack de Keyzer steals the show.


Graham Clarke (reviewer from Mississippi)

"My Top Dozen or so CDs (okay, Fifteen) for 2006, listed in alphabetical order. I heard a lot of great CDs this year, but these were the most frequent occupants in my CD player."

Fiona BoyesFiona Boyes
Lucky 13
(Yellow Dog)
Superlative effort from the Australian blues lady that should get her the attention she deserves.

Big George Brock
Round Two
A great CD of down home blues, just like they used to make them. I could listen to CDs like this one all day long.

Mel Brown
Blues: A Beautiful Thing
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this release. Brown’s albums are always the epitome of style and taste and this one is no exception.

William Lee Ellis
God’s Tattoos
(Yellow Dog)
I figured Ellis would have his hands full trying to top Conqueroo, but I was wrong. If you haven’t heard him yet, check this one out for starters.

The Fremonts
Mighty Crazy
(Hungry Monkey)
These guys really hit me where I live. A wonderful tribute to the glory days of Excello and Chess Records.

The excellent pair of releases on Broke & Hungry Records (Jimmy “Duck” Holmes’ Back To Bentonia and Odell Harris’ Searching For Odell Harris) have been a pleasant reminder that there’s still loads of talented musicians out there that most of us haven’t even heard of that’s just waiting to be discovered.

John Long
Lost and Found
(Delta Groove)
An acoustic recording of astonishing depth…sounds like a long lost Paramount recording, but with crystal-clear sound. How did this guy slip through the cracks for three decades?

Janiva Magness
Do I Move You?
Yes, you do. This is her best release yet.

Charlie Musselwhite
Delta Hardware
(Real World)
A nice return to basics for Musselwhite, who never disappoints.

Michael Powers
Prodigal Son
Wow! Everything falls into place for Powers’ sophomore effort. He’s here to stay, folks.

Bo Ramsey
Stranger Blues
(Bo Ramsey)
Ramsey does an album of some of his favorite blues tunes and ends up with a moody masterpiece.

Watermelon Slim
Watermelon Slim & the Workers
“Hard Times” should be the Song of the Year at the Blues Music Awards this spring.

Walter Trout
Full Circle
Sometimes these releases with tons of guest stars can go horribly awry, but this one is a great example of how sweet it is when everything goes right. These guest stars all speak the same musical language as their host. Trout’s the main man here and the glue that holds it all in place.

Junior Wells
Live At Theresa’s 1975
See review this month…makes you wish Mr. Wells was still here doing his magic instead of in Blues Heaven.

Honorable Mention: Pilgrimage: From Mississippi To Memphis (Ruf), Eddie Turner – The Turner Diaries (NorthernBlues), Robert Randolph & the Family Band – Colorblind (Warner Brothers), Daddy Mack Blues Band – Slow Ride and Bluestones (Inside Sounds).


Alan Shutro (soul aficionado from Phoenix)


Willie Walker and the Butanes
(Haute Records)
Another great release from this superb singer and band tops my list for 2006.

Candi StatonCandi Staton
His Hands
(Honest Johns (U.K.))
A most welcome new secular release from one of soul's great singers. Welcome back, Candi.

Roy Young
Memphis (Tommy Boy)
A unique release from this previously unknown singer. Check out his great website.

Spencer Wiggins
The Goldwax Years
(Kent (U.K.))
This year's greatest reissue, Wiggins and Goldwax at the their best on these tracks. On par with the best of James Carr.

Betty Padgett
Never Coming Home
(Meia Records)
A new indie release by this veteran Florida singer. Hopefully a major label next.

Frankie Lee
Standing At The Crossroads
(Blues Express)
Back with superb songwriter Dennis Walker from earlier in his career produces Frankie's best in years.

Jackie Payne-Steve Edmonson
Master Of The Game
(Delta Groove)
Each new release by this duo gets better and better.

Gwen McCrae
Live in Paris At New Morning
(Hi & Fly Records)
This incredible live recording shows Gwen has not lost a bit. Listen to the adoring audience. Her other new release on Henry Stone's label has new recordings of her earlier T.K. hits and deserves a mention in this year's best, too.

Howard Tate
(Shout Records)
Much better than his last few studio releases. All his great songs and distinctive falsetto.

Trudy Lynn
I'm Still Here
(Sawdust Alley)
Trudy's best in years. Title song is a classic. The Calvin Owens Band cooks.

D.C. Bellamy
Give Some Body To Somebody
(Stackhouse Records)
Superb first solo outing by this veteran. Great songs, excellent musicians and produced by none other than Jim O'Neal.

Barbara Carr
Down Low Brother
(Ecko Records)
Barbara's back home at Ecko and she turns out her best in years. Great title song highlights the set.

Happy 2007 to all and let's hope that this year brings us as many great releases as 2006.

Mark E. Gallo (reviewer from Michigan)

Barbara Blue
Love Money Can’t Buy (Big Blue Records)
Blue is a fantastic vocalist from Memphis who reminds a bit of Etta James. Backed by Taj Mahal’s Phantom Blues Band and a killer horn section, her version of Brenda Burns’ “Broken Hearts Row” is the Song of the Year for these ears. Other highlights include a killer take on Eddie Floyd’s rockin’ “On A Saturday Night,” the rowdy original “Low Down Dirty Dawg,” an appropriately primal rendition of Jessie Mae Hemphill’s “Standin’ In My Doorway Cryin',” and the jaw-dropping sinister blues of “Bag O’ Bones.” Chock full of blues that move the soul and shake the booty in equal measure.

Paris JamesParis James
Death Letter (DreamVox)
On “”Folk Tales,” accompanied by his superb slide guitar, James sings, “The sky was black/there was a silver moon.” There is more treachery, villainy and chill-generation going on in just that lyric than some solo blues artists can muster in a whole career. James doesn’t merely sing a song; he crawls in and wraps himself up in the lyric, in the presentation and in the essence. His vocals are haunting, rich and as expressive as emotive and stamp themselves into the secret canals of the ears.

Cephas and Wiggins
Shoulder to Shoulder (Alligator).
The Kings of Piedmont blues return with another masterpiece. John Cephas has a voice that has improved with time and Phil Wiggins’ harp work is equally emotive. The opening “Ain’t Seen My Baby” is a delight and “Broke and Hungry” nearly its equal. The sound is augmented by Ann Rabson and Daryl Davis here and there on piano and by bassist Andrew Volfe. Wiggins, especially, seems to revel in the piano accompaniment, particularly on the up-tempo “Suzie Q.”

Charlie Musselwhite
Delta Hardware (Real World/EMI)
As he did on Sanctuary, Memphis Charlie pushes the envelope. The opening “Church Is Out” has a rock edge, courtesy of guitarist Chris ‘Kid’ Anderson, and the chilling “Black Water,” a song inspired by Hurricane Katrina, is deep blues as “far as I can see.” “Clarksdale Boogie” is razor sharp and bare-bones, and “Gone Too Long” (“here you come again”) is one of the best things he’s ever recorded. The harp is crisp and those familiar vocals are as warm and inviting as ever.

John Mooney
Big Ol’ Fiya (LML Records)
This is slinky and fun and reminds of John Hiatt at his best. The opening “2 Get 2 Heaven” is fired by Mooney’s vocals and guitars. The title cut is a breezy sexy dancing number that benefits from the coolest guitar work this side of David Lindley, and “Dig My Way” reminds at times of classic Ry Cooder. And that’s just the first three tunes. This is just soooooo much fun!

Moreland, Arbuckle & Floyd
Floyd’s Market
This may not be a masterpiece, but its damn close. Steeped in the Fat Possum, Fred McDowell style of loud primal and bone chilling juke blues, this is a trio with the ability to bring young ears to the music. They sure tickle this old blues fan's ears, as well. Did I say tickle? These guys rub ‘em raw.

Janiva Magness
Do I Move You? (NorthernBlues)
There are good singers, and there are exceptional vocalists. Magness falls firmly into the latter camp. She has a head-turning style, whether it’s on upbeat churners like “I Want You To Have Everything” or heart-wrenching ballads like “You Were Never Mine.”

Cleveland Fats
The Way Things Go (Honeybee)
Straight ahead no-frills blues is almost a rarity these days. Cleveland Fats is as steeped in the tradition as it gets without sounding like a clone of anyone. This may represent Robert Lockwood Jr’.s last appearance on record, but get this for the authenticity. “It Ain’t Right” and “Blues Time” are simply spectacular.

William Lee Ellis
God's Tattoos (Yellow Dog)
The opener, “Snakes In My Garden,” sports Ellis’ superb slide work, expressive vocals, and an infectious a rat-a-tat drum. “When Leadbelly Walked the Earth Like Christ” gets my vote for cool song title of the year, “and the version of John Hurt’s “Here I Am Lord, Send Me” is sweet. Hard core blues fans may find some of the less traditional stuff offsetting. I find the package delightful.

Jeremy Spencer
Precious Little (Blind Pig)
The former Fleetwood Mac guitarist sounds at least as good as with the Mac. Recorded in Norway with Norwegian players, this is a treat top to bottom. Two Elmore James covers in a sea of solid originals. “Many Sparrows” is one of the standout instrumental tracks of the year.

Watermelon Slim & The Workers
Watermelon Slim & The Workers (NorthernBlues)
Even truck drivers get the blues. Playing harp, dobro and slide guitar, as well as singing a program of mostly original gems. “Hard Times” (“I’m too frustrated to see my psychiatrist”), the slide-driven highway-rockin’ “Frisco Line,” and the sparse “Folding Money Blues” are the standouts. Rowdy is the operative word.

James Harman
Strictly Live (Pacific)
The standout reissue of the year recorded at my favorite La Jolla club, the Belly Up Tavern, in 1985. For my money, the best live recording of all time. Hollywood Fats, Kid Ramos, Stephen Hodges and Willie Campbell laid it down hard on great tunes like “By Yourself Dance,” “Poor Boy,” “You’re Gone” and “Goatman Holler.”

Sugarcane Collins
Way Down the River (self released)
This Australian blues man has the out-of-the-blue surprise disc of the year. Superb harp work, knock out vocals and a handful of great tunes. Reminds a bit of Otis Taylor.

For those of you willing to look beyond the strictest confines of the blues, two recommendations:
Gospel Music. This compilation on Hyena includes classics from the Swan Silvertones, the Soul Stirrers (with a young Sam Cooke on lead vocals), the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, the Staple Singers, Reverend James Cleveland, Mahalia Jackson, and other lesser known but no less impressive gospel artists.
Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint’s The River In Reverse (Verve Forecast) teams one of the most important residents in New Orleans with one of the great vocalists of the era. The result is one of the joys of the year.

Bruce Coen (reviewer from Louisiana)

In no particular order ---

Tab Benoit
Brother To The Blues (Telarc)
A very prolific guitar slinger from south Louisiana whose releases are consistently a terrific blend of blues and the sound of the swamps.

JJ Cale and Eric ClaptonJ.J. Cale and Eric Clapton
The Road To Escondido (Reprise/WEA)
Two masters of smooth blues/folk finally get together after almost 30 years of far-off admiration. The wait is well worth it. One of the best releases of the past year.

Lou Pride
Keep On Believing (Severn Records)
A super mix of blues and souls from one who has devoted most of his adult life to performing, with few recordings, treat us to some fine sounds.

Buddy Guy
Can’t Quit The Blues (Zomba)
A three CD retrospective that shows why Guy has won a place in Blues history as an innovator and all around great player.

Bob Dylan
Modern Times (Columbia)
Yes, I know, not a true blues recording but Dylan does do a mean version of "Rollin’ and Tumblin’" and the feel of the blues surfaces throughout.

Eric Lindell
Change in the Weather (Alligator)
New sounds from an “old soul’ (to quote a fellow 'blues byter') that truly redefine the blues.

Chris Thomas King
Rise (21st Century Blues)
Just try to place King and his modern blues in any category. Can’t do it. A great collection of tunes that had to spring from his feelings of loss and frustration considering New Orleans has been his adopted home for years.

Guy Davis
Skunkmello (Red House Records)
Great acoustic blues.

Irma Thomas
After the Rain (Rounder)
Nothing like the healing effects of a good song to please the listener and the artist. Thomas excels here with a fine disc.

Jeremy Spencer
Precious Little (Bluestown Records)
After a lengthy sabbatical from the music scene (Spencer was one of the early Fleetwood Mac founders and guitarists who played the blues), Jeremy Spencer delights the ears with a wonderful collection.

May '07 bring the sweetest bunch of blues your way.

Yours in the Blues,

Bruce Coen

Kyle Deibler (President of the Phoenix Blues Society)

Floyd DixonFloyd Dixon
Time Brings About a Change – A Floyd Dixon Celebration
- HighJohn Records
A wonderful tribute to an amazing blues pianist. Those of us who attended the recording/filming of this event will cherish our final memories of Floyd.

Janiva Magness
Do I Move You?
A tour de force by the reigning Blues Music Awards Contemporary Female Artist of the Year. The BMA’s should bless Janiva again in May.

Trudy Lynn
I’m Still Here (Sawdust Alley)
Backed by the Calvin Owens Orchestra, Trudy has delivered a timeless record that just doesn’t get produced anymore.

Jeremy Spencer
Precious Little
(Blind Pig)
Incredible musicianship that features the subtleties of Spencer’s slide guitar backed by a brilliant group of Norwegian musicians. Truly a special record.

Dan Treanor & African Wind

Brilliant contemporary/traditional album. Afrosippi blues in all its variations from field holler to tribal chant to chain gang singing. One of the great listens of '07.

Eric Lindell
Change in the Weather
Contemporary record by an “old soul” who appreciates the beauty of life. Jazz fest legend whose album represents Alligator records first venture outside the mainstream blues spectrum.

Cephas & Wiggins
Shoulder to Shoulder
Masters of the Piedmont style return with a record that displays the wonderful songwriting of John Cephas and the harp stylings of Phil Wiggins.

John Long
Lost & Found
(Delta Groove) 
An American artist from a lost generation. Very few artists bridge generations like John Long does.

Fiona Boyes
Lucky 13
(Yellow Dog)
A gem. Fiona’s best record to date and a great introduction to this Aussie from down under. Moving to the states in February. Don’t miss her if you get the chance.

Omar & the Howlers
Just an enjoyable record from an Austin based trio in the finest Texas tradition. Solid writing and great musicianship.


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