A bunch of new blues (and near-blues) albums you should probably hear

When I started the Blues Roadhouse blog about a month ago, I figured that one of the topics I would write about would be new blues music, in the form of new album releases. Or streaming. Or the Vulcan mind meld. However you find your music.

And then, I thought, I would add my own ramblings on whatever crossed my mind, or caught my fancy, and hope that somebody besides me would like to read along.

What I didn’t expect was to be quickly overwhelmed with new music. This virus thing seems to have been a petri dish for new albums, and I’m not complaining. That’s a good thing. For fans. But the artists won’t have enough gigs to promote and sell their music.

I’ve already written about a few fine new releases (See below. Far below. Please), and there are more on the way. But I’d like to catch up a little with some releases overlooked in the excitement as the Roadhouse opened for business. Time and a generally slothful attitude prevent me from going back much further, so my apologies to anyone overlooked.

So here are a few mini-reviews of some recommended music, based on what I’ve found by wandering around the interwebs. But it’s probably not complete, because sometimes the tubes get clogged, or there’s a dead cat on the line.

Maybe this is a good time to remind you that there’s a comment section at the bottom (or the side, depending on your device) of this page, and that your comments are very welcome. Have a new album you like? Or artist? Or show? Let us know.

But I digress, once again.

Here are a few albums released in the past couple of months that I have enjoyed, and recommend for your listening pleasure.

Sugar Ray and the Bluetones — “Too Far From the Bar” (Severn)

A very lively blues session featuring the swinging harp of Sugar Ray Norcia and scorching guitar from Charlie Baty (including some interplay with producer Duke Robillard). There are some creative originals and some great covers. My favorite among the covers has got to be “Don’t Give No More Than You Can Take,” a swinging jump blues track first done by one of my all-time favorite R&B/doo-wop groups, The “5” Royales.

Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters — “Rise Up” (Stony Plain)

It’s hard to write about Ronnie Earl’s music — his composing skills , his guitar artistry, the oneness of the Broadcasters — without running out of superlatives early on. Elegant and eloquent quickly come to mind. Soulful, smart and sensual also work. But after a few sentences, it sounds like no player could be this good. But he is. On “Rise Up,” his 27th album, Earl continues a long string of music that brings new meaning to the John Lee Hooker album title, “Blues is a Healer.” There are live cuts here, and some vocal tracks (Diane Blue is vivaciously torchy), but nothing interferes with the life force that is the timeless music of Ronnie Earl. “Blues for Lucky Peterson” is simply primal blues guitar at its most passionate. There’s not a note wasted on the entire album.

New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers — Vol. 1 (Stony Plain)

This is an unique little gem of an album that’s been gathering dust since it was recorded as a sort of jam session in 2008 by Luther Dickinson, Cody Dickinson, Jimbo Mathus, Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart and Jim Dickinson at the Zebra Ranch Recording Studio in Coldwater, Mississippi. They gave themselves that name, and this is Volume 1 from that session with Volume 2 planned for the spring of 2021. Musselwhite kicks it all off with a smooth, bluesy “Blues Why You Worry Me,” a reminder that you don’t need much more than a a man and a harp to make fine music. The whole thing sounds relaxed and spontaneous, but intensely fine blues music from a truly mixed bag of musicians.

Bettye LaVette — “Blackbirds” (Verve)

Bettye LaVette’s sensuously soulful music is among that most marvelous of musical creations that flows into a life force all its own. Here she speaks through songs inspired by icons such as Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Dinah Washington. The title, though, is the seemingly unlikely choice of Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird,” which LaVette turns into a stunning and personal piece of musical art. Don’t ignore this one. This is music — of any kind — at its best, where the artist inhabits her work and bares her soul for us.

Vanessa Collier — “Heart On the Line” (Phoenix Fire Records”

Extremely versatile singer/songwriter/sax player Vanessa Collier doesn’t really seem like she’s been alive long enough to have collected all the well-deserved praise and awards she’s received. This latest album shows off her versatility with style, substance and exquisite musical chops. She flows through blues, funk, soul and delicate ballads, always sounding at home in her choice. She and her sax seemed to be everywhere, pleasing everyone on the February, 2019, Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise that I enjoyed. If you haven’t, check her out. If you have, you should love this album.

Johnny Iguana — “Johnny Iguana’s Chicago Spectacular” (Delmark)

Johnny Iguana plays all kinds of piano music. For example, check his work as part of his “garage cabaret” band, the Claudettes. But this is a stone cold blues album, with a lot of extremely capable help from friends like John Primer, Lil’ Ed and Billy Boy Arnold (and a bunch more). There’s some original music that sounds like it’s been dragged kicking and shouting from dusty blues vaults, and a great batch of covers from everyone from Roosevelt Sykes to Big Bill Broonzy. Much too often, the term “rollicking” is overused to describe heavy-duty piano-driven music. Not so here. This rollicking is tough and tenaciously blues that just happens to keep your body and soul rocking.

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