"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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Simply put – this is the best soul/blues record of 2008.
--- Tim Holek
Clarke (reviewer from Mississippi)