Blues Bytes

Pick Hit

January 2009

an associate


In this our 12th year of Blues Bytes, we use the January Pick Hit to feature the reviewers' Top Ten Lists for the past year.

It's been another great year for Blues Bytes, as we continue to attract visitors from around the world.

We couldn't do Blues Bytes without our team of dedicated reviewers, who year after year submit the wonderful reviews found on the pages of this site for one primary reason --- they love the blues! If you read a review that you like, send us an email and we'll forward your compliments on to that reviewer.

Thanks to all of you for your support!

- Bill Mitchell (Editor/Publisher of Blues Bytes)


Bill Mitchell (editor of Blues Bytes)

Tomcat Courtney
Downsville Blues
(Blue Witch Records)
Great raw Texas blues by this San Diego legend.

Various Artists
M for Mississippi
(Cathead, Broke & Hungry, Mudpuppy)
This DVD is a primer on how a low-budget documentary should be done. Fascinating interviews, wonderful music, and trips to places in the Mississippi Delta that most of us will never see. Priceless!

Marcia Ball
Peace, Love & BBQ (Alligator)
Yet another great, rollicking CD of Ball's original New Orleans and Gulf Coast sounds.

Kenny Neal
Let Life Flow
(Blind Pig)
Neal, who has had a number of personal tragedies since his last studio album seven years ago, pours his heart and soul into this one.

Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials
Full Tilt
Still houserockin' after all these years! Ed just gets better and better.

Clarence Spady
Just Between Us
It's funky, jazzy and soulful ... a very good disc from this under recorded Pennsylvania guitarist.

Amos Garrett
Get Way Back (Stony Plain)
Longtime guitarist does an album of Percy Mayfield songs, giving them his own unique sound.

The Nighthawks
American Landscape
Comfort food for your rockin' blues soul from a band that's been doing it for nearly 40 years.

Henry Butler
PiaNOLA Live (Basin Street)
First live album by a man who puts on a great live show. Of course, the result is a great live album --- lots of great New Orleans piano blues.

Homemade Jamz Blues Band
Pay Me No Mind (NorthernBlues)
Mississippi family band breathes new life into the blues. Don't let their youth fool you --- these kids can play. More than just a novelty act.


Terry Clear (reviewer from Spain)

Miss BluesBad Prospects
Homemade Jamz Blues BandPay Me No Mind
Watermelon Slim - No Paid Holidays
Boo Boo Davis - Name Of The Game
John-Alex Mason - Town & Country
Nappy Brown - Long Time Coming
Lurrie Bell - Let's Talk About Love
Honeyboy Edwards - Roamin’ and Ramblin’
Tomcat Courtney - Downsville Blues
Tommy McCoy - Triple Trouble


Tim Holek (reviewer from Canada)

"For me, 2008 was a great year because many of my favorite blues artists had new releases. Here is my top ten of 2008 in no particular order."

Eddy Clearwater
West Side Strut
Alligator ALCD 4921

Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater’s Alligator debut was one of the most anticipated blues CDs of 2008. Ronnie Baker Brooks was hand-picked by Clearwater to produce the record. This has resulted in different, newer, and younger ideas being added to Clearwater’s established sound. It could be a challenge to re-create these songs live as they were not recorded with Clearwater’s band – they were recorded with Baker Brooks’ band. Yet, this is an exceptional album. West Side Strut is the perfect mix of young and old, traditional and contemporary, today and tomorrow.

Buddy Guy
Skin Deep
Silvertone 88697-31629-2

If the Buddy Guy you first knew or liked was the Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues Buddy Guy, then this is the CD you’ve been waiting for. With regards to the songs and guests, Skin Deep is every bit as good as Damn Right… . However, it features more of Guy’s wildly speedy guitar playing, and this time the message of the songs is deeper. The success of the album must be given to Tom Hambridge – known for his work with Delbert McClinton, Johnny Winter, and Susan Tedeschi – who produced the CD, contributed all but two songs, and performed drums. Along with the occasional pop song that could have been omitted, there is plenty of rock and blues on this CD. Broad-minded music enthusiasts will love this release which expands the borders of the blues.

Kenny Neal
Let Life Flow
Blind Pig BPCD 5122

After being away from the recording and touring scene due to a battle with hepatitis C, Kenny Neal has returned. He is renewed and refreshed, and he sounds as good as ever. On Let Life Flow, he has a grateful attitude and outlook, which are both obvious and sincere. This CD contains some songs that are characteristic of Kenny Neal. For example, "Louisiana Stew" celebrates everything that is Louisiana. There is no doubt Neal has matured from recently experiencing life’s hardships. He has been recently quoted as saying, “I understand life.” One listen to this album affirms that statement a hundred times.

Michael Burks
Iron Man
Alligator ALCD 4923

Michael Burks is the liberator of the next generation blues guitarists. You likely know about Burks’ fiery guitar skills, but what about his singing skills? They lie somewhere between crooning and lamenting as substantiated on tracks like "Icepick Through My Heart." Nothing is contrived on Iron Man. It all sounds and seems entirely natural. Much of that credit goes to recording live in the studio with Burks’ high-powered touring band as opposed to using studio stars as in the past. Compared to his last two Alligator CDs, the most noticeable difference is the fact that Burks’ influences, e.g., Albert King, are no longer on display. This CD clearly portrays Burks as one of the best contemporary blues players whose every ounce is made of iron ore.

Mississippi Heat
Hattiesburg Blues
Delmark DE 795

On their eighth CD, Mississippi Heat pushes the blues out of its perceived rut via funky keyboards, pleasant harp, and riveting rhythms that transport you to the Caribbean. Pierre Lacocque’s cleverly played harp is front and centre in the mix, but the guitars also get a piece of the limelight. Throughout, Inetta Visor calmly delivers lyrics that are contrastingly filled with attitude. With a sound that is more Caribbean than Mississippian, this is one of the most unique Chicago blues bands to be recorded.

Willie "Big Eyes" Smith
Born In Arkansas
Big Eye BER394

With the reins of Chicago’s most authentic old school drumming handed down to his son Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, who is as outstanding as his father is on the skins, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith confidently concentrates on harmonica, his first instrument. Smith is not a sonic harp wailer but rather he plays it softly and melodically. His ordinary vocals are genuine though they are not exceptional. It’s the songs and musicianship that stand out on this scintillating traditional blues album. Even though the 13 songs are all fairly similar, it’s a pleasure to hear this dying brand of blues properly performed. This is old-style electric Chicago blues performed with fireball keyboards, burst-full harp, and precisely delivered guitar. Regardless of what today’s media would like you to believe what blues music is, this CD is the real deal.

Lil' Ed & The Blues Imperials
Full Tilt
Alligator ALCD 4926

Too many people only see and hear a novelty act when it comes to Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials. However, the five foot one inch entertainer possesses more talent than a court jester. Combining honest vocals with searing slide guitar, Williams is the J. B. Hutto of our generation. Yes, some things are old, some things are borrowed, and some things are new. The majority of songs follow a similar blueprint, and too many end with Williams shouting out, “1-2-3-4.” That being the case, this CD still contains the same winning formula as on his previous Alligator recordings. So let Lil’ Ed rock your world into a Full Tilt.

Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne
Can’t Stop Now
Electro-Fi E-fi 3407

Award-winning keyboardist/singer/songwriter Kenny Wayne is a triple threat. Though nicknamed the Blues Boss, Wayne’s piano style is more deeply rooted in ’50s rock ‘n’ roll than blues. Can’t Stop Now was recorded at five different studios in five different cities with more than 20 different musicians and to Wayne’s credit, it isn’t disjointed. Wayne’s music shadows the past as much as it transcends the future. Throughout, the party-style music has a life-is-good and let’s-celebrate-it feeling. The happy disposition produced by the Blues Boss’ piano playing can make the sun shine on the cloudiest day. The stomping keyboards and smooth almost silky vocals on this excellent mix of blues-based New Orleans R&B are glorious. On Can’t Stop Now, Kenny Wayne easily fills the immense void in boogie woogie piano since Johnnie Johnson departed in 2005.

Taj Mahal
Heads Up HUCD3164

Taj Mahal is one of the most influential American blues and roots artists of the past half-century. Maestro, Mahal’s first U.S. recording in five years, marks the 40th anniversary of his rich and diverse recording career. Guests on the record include Ben Harper, Jack Johnson, Angelique Kidjo, Los Lobos, Ziggy Marley and others. You never know what to expect from Taj Mahal but with Maestro he returns to the blues in fine form.

Curtis Salgado
Clean Getaway
Shanachie 9038

Simply put – this is the best soul/blues record of 2008.

--- Tim Holek


Graham Clarke (reviewer from Mississippi)

Favorite Discs of 2008 (in no particular order):

M for Mississippi (joint venture – Cathead, Broke & Hungry, Mudpuppy)
This is a wonderful collection of blues capturing the current Mississippi Delta blues scene. The DVD is even better than the soundtrack.

B. B. King
One Kind Favor (Geffen)
King’s best in a long time…….the blues, the whole blues, and nothing but the blues. Ol’ B.’s still got plenty in the tank.

Magic Slim
Midnight Blues (Blind Pig)
Elvin Bishop
The Blues Rolls On (Delta Groove)
The dreaded “guest star” discs….You know the usual type where the guest stars threaten to overwhelm the main artists? However, in both of these cases, it works very well. Slim’s guest stars work within the Teardrop concept and leave the fireworks to the man himself, while Bishop’s disc has the feel of old buddies getting together to play their favorite songs. I may have to re-evaluate my feelings on “guest star” discs.

Moreland & Arbuckle
1861 (NorthernBlues)
I wrote in February that this disc would earn a spot on your stereo’s regular rotation for a long time. It still gets played regularly on mine. It’s as good a mix of the Delta and Hill Country blues as I’ve heard in a long time.

The Mississippi Marvel
The World Must Never Know (Broke & Hungry)
It never ceases to amaze me how Jeff Konkel is able to find these obscure, but impressive musicians in Mississippi that have slipped through the cracks for years and years. Thank goodness he does!!!

Michael Burks
Iron Man (Alligator)
Burks keeps getting better and better. His guitar work is always top of the line and he’s developed a distinctive vocal style to go along with it now. This is his best disc yet.

T-Model Ford
Jack Daniel Time (Mudpuppy)
“Wake up everybody! Don’t nobody go to sleep!” Mr. Ford’s latest is one of his strongest yet, and even features him on acoustic guitar. It’s probably his most personal release yet.

Eden Brent
Mississippi Number One (Yellow Dog)
Ms. Brent offers up a diverse set of blues, boogie, soul, and jazz on one of the surprise releases of the year.

David Egan
You Don’t Know Your Mind (Out of the Past/Rhonda Sue)
Outstanding blue-eyed soul combined with great songs and mixed with Crescent City rhythms.

Samuel James
Songs Famed For Sorrow And Joy (NorthernBlues)
This one came out of nowhere…..a great, well-rounded set of acoustic, old time blues brought up to modern times. Can’t wait to hear his next one.


Alan Shutro (soul aficionado from Phoenix)


This years best included some great new domestic releases along with a handful of essential imports you just should not be without.

1. Clarence Dobbins - The Uprising (CDS Records)
Soul blues by a great singer with real musicians and great productions.

2. Sheba Potts-Wright - I'm A Bluesman's Daughter (Ecko Records)
The best release to date by this southern soul diva.

3. Mitty Collier - Shades of Mitty Collier (Kent (U.K.))
All her great Chess singles from the '60s. Her "I Had A Talk With My Man" is one of the greatest soul singles released on Chess.

4. Ella Washington - He Called Me Baby (Soulscape (U.K.))
28 killer tracks she recorded for John R's Sound Stage 7 Records.

5. The Soul Children - Still Standing (Right Now Records)
New recordings by this famous Stax group with J. Blackfoot still singing lead.

6. Willie Walker - Hoochin' With Larry (Semaj Music)
Willie's is one of soul's great voices. Sure miss the Butanes backing him, though still worthy of my top ten.

7. Will Easley - Sweet Sexy Soul (CDS Records)
What a great first release. If you have it playing, people will say; "Wow, who is that? "

8. Doris Allen - A Shell of A Woman (Soulscape (U.K.))
The legendary Playground (Records) sessions. Late 60's and unreleased tracks by this southern soul favorite.

9, Curtis Salgado - Clean Getaway (Shanachie)
Curtis is back with one of his strongest albums to date.

10. Roscoe Robinson - Why Must It End (Soulscape (U.K.))
Gospel tinged vocals recorded for Sound Stage 7. A legendary singer.


Mark E. Gallo (reviewer from Michigan)

1. Moreland & Arbuckle: 1861 (Northern Blues)
Juke blues from the heartland, this is mesmerizing from the git and never lets up. Their version of “Send You Back to Georgia” is the most ferocious recording of the year! If this is the future of the blues, it’s in very good and capable hands.

2. Mitch Kashmar: Live at Labatt (Delta Groove)
The maestro harmonica cat is in possession of one of the truly impressive voices in the business. His adventurousness is apparent with his gorgeous take on the Horace Silver classic “Song for My Father,” and the rest of the straight ahead and swinging tunes satisfy completely.

3. Dave Herrero: Austin to Chicago (Track Force Productions)
New to these ears, guitarist/vocalist Herrero leaves a big impression. Texas meets Chicago with fat guitar, impressive vocals and first-class writing. A couple of tunes caught my ear and didn’t want to let go.

4. Mike Morgan & The Crawl: Stronger Every Day (Severn)
Morgan is a journeyman who always impresses. Some past efforts, with Lee McBee, are more overall impressive, perhaps, but this is worth the price of admission just for “Sweet Angel,” a blues waltz that struck me as the Song of the Year.

5. Steve Guyger: Radio Blues (Severn)
Philly-based Guyger is a monster harper/vocalist who has been around for a few decades with a whole less exposure than he deserves. A major cat with major chops, this is a big city blues blow out heavy on the originals (especially “Blues Won’t Let Me” and “Lookie Here”) with a few well chosen covers. Whew!

6. Dave Walker: Walking Under Water (Iron Horse)
“Little Suzie & Mr. Tight” is one of the coolest tunes of the year. Walker’s voice is as slinky as his guitar.

7. Various Artists: Rich Man’s War-New Blues & Roots Songs of Peace and Protest (Ruf)
From Guitar Shorty’s “We the People” to Candye Kane’s transcendent “Jesus and Mohammed” to Charlie Woods’ Gil Scott Heron-inspired “You Don’t Really Want to Know” to tunes from Norman and Nancy Blake, Pat Boyack, Bob Brozman, Doug MacLeod and many more, this is an unabashed and vital anti-war collection.

8. Janica Magness: What Love Will Do (Alligator)
Magness is a superb singer. That she scrambled out of the highly competitive LA scene to emerge on top is almost as amazing as that gospel/blues voice.

9. Lil Ed & Blues Imperials: Full Tilt (Alligator)
“Hold That Train” is the standout tune in a collection of standout tunes.

10. Hans Theesink & Terry Evans: Visions (Blues Groove)
This Austrian import teams Evans, one of the great voices in American roots and blues, with stellar guitarist Theesink on a joy of a session. “Come to the River” sends shivers.

Just missed the Top 10
Philipp Fankhauser: Love Man Riding (Crosscut)
Troy Gonyea:The Rain Follows the Plow (self released)
Michael Burks: Iron Man (Alligator)
Chris James and Patrick Rynn: Stop and Think About It (Earwig)
Watermelon Slim: No Paid Holidays (NorthernBlues)
Paul Rishell & Annie Raines: A Night in Woodstock (Mojo Rodeo)


Kyle Deibler (President of the Phoenix Blues Society and regular Blues Bytes reviewer)

1. Buddy GuySkin Deep
Buddy’s back and this record will be a strong contender for Record of the Year at the Blues Music Awards.

2. Eden BrentMississippi Number One
I’ve been a fan of Boogaloo’s since the first time I’ve heard her play and this record spent more time in my CD player than any other. Nominated for four Blues Music Awards and rightfully so.

3. The Mannish BoysLowdown Feelin’
Their finest record to date and another strong contender for multiple BMA awards.

4. Janiva MagnessWhat Love Will Do
Her first Alligator release and a bit of a departure style wise as Janiva digs deeper into her soul and R&B roots. Another great record from Janiva.

5. Kenny NealLet Life Flow
A triumphant return for one of my favorite artists. Welcome back Kenny!!

6. Walter TroutThe Outsider
Walter told me in February that this was his finest recording to date and I can’t argue with him at all on that point. A deserving nomination for Blues Rock Album of the Year.

7. Marcia BallPeace, Love & BBQ
Classic Marcia. It doesn’t get much better than this.

8. The Legendary Rhythm & Blues RevueCommand Performance
Just a great party record by Tommy Castro, Deanna Bogart, Ronnie Baker Brooks & Magic Dick. Seeing this group live is a treat not to be missed.

9. Sean CostelloWe Can Get Together
Sadly, we lost Sean at much too young an age. This record more than hints at the genius that was yet to come. Time to break it out for another listen.

10. M for Mississippi – A joint project between Cathead’s Roger Stolle and Broke & Hungry Records' Jeff Konkel. This DVD/CD project takes us deep into the Delta to observe some of the musicians keeping the Blues alive where it all began, in Mississippi.


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