It’s time once again to catch up on some recent album releases with a few mini-reviews. This doesn’t mean that they are mini-important, mini-albums, mini-artists, or that sometimes I have mini-thoughts (well… ). It’s just that I like to maximize my priorities and obfuscate the realities, thereby diminishing my returns.
But enough philosophy. let’s get to work. Here are a few albums that deserve your ears.
“County Supper” by Robert Connely Farr
This is a very unusual, very intense, very good album.
Robert Connely Farr is a modern-day practitioner of the Bentonia, Miss., school of blues, which is unique among blues styles. Skip James gets most of the credit for this droning, hypnotic music, but Henry Stuckey and Jack Owens were primary, with Stuckey claiming that he taught James the tunings and the other-worldly sounds that Farr has absorbed from his Bolton, Miss., roots, and his tutoring at the primeval knee of Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, who still runs the Blue Front juke in Bentonia.
Farr, now a Vancouver, Canada, resident, has created a powerful album of 16 covers and originals in the Bentonian style. His guitar style is the deepest of deep blues, rhythmic and trance-like, and his dark vocals plumb those same mysterious depths. It’s all very raw and primitive sounding, sort of what you’d expect to hear at the crossroads at midnight. Here is the best of the deepest, darkest blues.
The song “Cyprus Grove” opens the album and sets the pace for what’s to come. Give it a listen:
“Living in the City” by Big Harp George
The first is a fine effort by Big Harp George (George Bisharat), a SanFrancisco-area singer, songwriter, and harp player known for his lyrically clever, jazz-inflected bluesy style, wrapped around his chromatic harmonica.
Bisharat weaves his way through 13 originals, with lyrical themes ranging from whimsical app-making to mysterious medical bills, and music that twists and turns from funky to jazzy to horn-kicked blues. Some have a little Latin seasoning. He’s not the only bluesman to pursue the chromatic, but he adds arrangements with his seven-piece outfit that have a big-band flair. He also earned nominations for Best New Artist Album from The Blues Foundation and Blues Blast Magazine for his 2014 debut album, “Chromaticism.” and for the 21st century. As if that isn’t enough of a life, Bisharat was a criminal defense attorney, and award-winning professor of law at UC Hastings College of the Law.
Give him a hearing. And start with “Build Myself an App”
“4801 South Indiana Avenue” by Joanna Connor
Joanna Connor is a blues powerhouse, the queen of blues-rock guitar, with tough vocals and tougher guitar work that she’s been spreading around Chicago for almost 30 years.
She’s joined on this new release by Joe Bonamassa, who co-produced, plays second guitar, and uses some of his own band in the production. Connor tackles a set of old blues covers here, with plenty of authority, gritty vocals, and razor-sharp guitar licks. The title is, of course, the one-time address of the legendary Chicago blues joint, Theresa’s Lounge. This is a great set for fans who like their blues with a punch.
“For the Love of a Man”
“What is Real” by Trevor B. Power
Trevor B. Power is what tends to be called these days, a roots musician. That means a couple of things — that he’s comfortable and authentic in blues, country, folk, rock, and also that he’s very good at what he does.
His eclectic music ranges from the plaintive folksiness of “I’m Still In,” to the grinding bluesy “Easier Way.” All in a whiskey-flavored voice that alternately cuts and croons. This fully original session focuses his sharp-eyed songwriting skills on the year 2020, which he views with clear 20-20 musical vision in all its messy repercussions. Even though he’s been performing for several decades, based in his native New Jersey, this is just his second album. There should be more.
Here’s the song “Pandemic (2020)” from the album, with overtones of another Jersey guy: