It’s always been exciting to find a “new” artist, and then pass along that find so that others can share the excitement.
That’s what I’m doing here today, although bluesy, soulful Tia Carroll is definitely not a new artist. She’s just been singing her pipes off, hidden away in the San Francisco Bay Area for decades.
And now, thanks to the talented and musically prescient folks at California’s rootsy non-profit record label, Little Village Foundation, you can hear Carroll’s first blues album produced here in the U.S. of A., “You Gotta Have It” (June 1).
“Produced” is probably the wrong word to describe the magic worked by Little Village founder Jim Pugh, with his unerring piano and organ chops, plus his musical sensibilities. Also lending a fretful hand is the multi-talented guitarist and producer, Christoffer “Kid” Andersen.
But the focus should be the powerful and passionate music of Tia Carroll. She’s tender (“I Need Someone”), she’s tough (“Don’t Put Your Hands On Me,” a clever little R&B ditty by Rick Estrin, written for KoKo Taylor), she scorches and torches with the best (“Mama Told Me”), she’s hard-driving (“Ready to Love Again” by Kid and his also multi-talented spouse Lisa Andersen).
The Sons of Soul Revivers layer some soulful gospel flavor into the album, but especially with the Carroll’s take on the Staples Singers’ great “Why Am I Treated So Bad?” And then there’s Carroll’s loving caress of the soul-drenched lyrics of Z.Z. Hill’s “I Need Someone.” The magic just won’t stop.
Not content with classy covers, Carroll has added three of her own powerful tunes: “Leaving Again,” “Even When I’m Not Alone” and and her inspirational “Move On,” with Brazilian bluesman Igor Prado.
It’s clear from this lovingly created album that Ms. Carroll has mastered her soulful craft. And it’s way past time for her music to be shared on a larger stage. Treat yourself to some soul music that’s really soul music. You’ve gotta have it.
Here’s a version of one of the album’s songs, “Even When I’m Not Alone.”
1. Ain’t Nobody Worryin’ 2. Even When I’m Not Alone 3. Our Last Time 4. Don’t Put Your Hands On Me 5. Never Let Me Go 6. Leaving Again 7. Mama Told Me 8. Ready To Love Again 9. I Need Someone 10. Move On 11. Why Am I Treated So Bad
For someone who didn’t record an album until he was 63 in 2016 (Appropriately, “Age Don’t Mean A Thing”), soul and blues man Robert Finley is doing just fine, thank you.
You can tell just how well by lending an ear to his excellent third and most recent album, the autobiographical “Sharecropper’s Son” (Easy Eye Sound May 21), and absorbing his strong, tough vocal sensibilities — plus his spine-tingling falsetto.
This album is the second collaboration between Finley and Dan Auerbach, one-half of the Black Keys (who just released “Delta Kream” — Roadhouse review here) Their first was “Goin’ Platinum!,” released on Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound in 2017.
That prompted Auerbach’s observation: “He’s the greatest living soul singer as far as I’m concerned.”
Auerbach co-wrote and produced “Sharecropper’s Son,” along with Bobby Wood, and Pat McLaughlin, but its power comes from Finley’s passionate delivery.
From the opening bars of the gritty “Souled Out On You” to the closing gospel strains of “All My Hope,” Finley wraps his soul around music that gives you a mini-version of his life. “Country Child” and “Sharecropper’s Son” are especially compelling narratives. I don’t mean to overlook any of the cuts — they are all finely crafted, whip-smart blues and soul spun from a life full of both.
And then there’s the music. Finley’s backers lay down a soulful soundtrack that matches his vocals in their intensity. Auerbach lends his scorching guitar to “Souled Out On You,” with more help from Mississippi Hill Country slidemaster Kenny Brown, well-known for his teaming withR. L. Burnside. The band also includes Russ Pahl, Billy Sanford, and Gene Chrisman, plus horns, plus Nick Movshon of the Dap-Kings, blues artist Eric Deaton, and former Johnny Cash bandmate Dave Roe.
But I’m pretty sure that if Finley did this acapella, it would still be a great album.
And just so you know, Finley’s blues autobiography began with a thrift store guitar when he was 11, an Army tour, where he served as a band guitarist, returned to his native Louisiana busked as a street performer, sang in a gospel group, and worked as a carpenter.
Eventually, he was forced to retire from carpentry after becoming legally blind, and turned back to music. In 2015, Music Maker Relief Foundation, which supports aging blues musicians, discovered Finley busking in Arkansasand helped get him back on the road to music.
In 2019, Finley became a contestant for the fourteenth season of America’s Got Talent. AGT He reached the live shows but was eliminated in the semi-finals.
Here’s one of Finley’s appearances on America’s Got Talent in 2019:
Here’s “Souled Out On You”:
1. Souled Out on You 2. Make Me Feel Alright 3. Country Child 4. Sharecropper’s Son 5. My Story 6. Starting to See 7. I Can Feel Your Pain 8. Better Than I Treat Myself 9. Country Boy 10. All My Hope
If these ten songs somehow leave you unsatisfied, check out his two previous outings, “Age Don’t Mean A Thing” and “Goin’ Platinum!” (I found all three of Finley’s albums streaming on Amazon Music.)
Twice in the past quarter-century, Clarence Spady has had albums that got him nominated for blues and soul awards. The first was “Nature of the Beast” in 1996, and the second was “Just Between Us” in 2008. They were also the only two albums he had ever released.
Spady’s third album,“Surrender” has arrived (Nola Blue Records, May 21), and promises to put him back into awards territory again.
The album, just nine songs long, is still an intense personal journey, not without its own soulful pain, and as in the case of most good music, cathartic and uplifting at the same time.
The opening cut, “If My Life Was A Book,” sets the musical stage for Spady’s thoughtful blues expedition that covers work that reflects the past 20 years or so of personal struggles and music-making.
“Good Conversation” follows, penned by the track’s lead guitarist Adam Schultz; it’s an ode to the benefits of connection through — conversation. A quaint idea in this age of tweets, texts and TikTok. All of that leads into the scorching “When My Blood Runs Cold,” co-written by Judge “Lucky” Peterson, his father, James, and Steve Washington, who worked with both Petersons for many years. “K-Man” is another exercise in reflection, but upbeat in flavor, this time with a song he wrote in memory of his late son, Khalique.
“Surrender” is at once soulful and spiritual, with the title telling the story. An acoustic version of the Z.Z. Hill chestnut “Down Home Blues” (written by the talented George Jackson) is stunning in its down-home blues simplicity.
Three previously unreleased live tracks conclude the album — all recorded at the River St. Jazz Café in Plains, Pa., in 1999, not too far from Spady’s home in Scranton, Pa. “Addiction Game,” the 10-minute-plus Spady original instrumental “Jones Falls Expressway” and “Pick Me Up.”
This is a fine album. Its filled with great Spady vocals, crackling arrangements and excellent musicianship. It’s made even better knowing how much of it is a deeply personal statement, and how it’s fueled by the life and times of Clarence Spady.
Do yourself a favor and absorb it.
Here’s Lucky Peterson with “My Blood Runs Cold”:
“Surrender” Track List 1. If My Life Was A Book 2. Good Conversation 3. When My Blood Runs Cold 4. K-Man 5. Surrender 6. Down Home Blues 7. Addiction Game 8. Jones Falls Expressway 9. Pick Me Up
The Black Keys, a groundbreaking rock band, have returned to their roots with their latest and tenth studio album in their 20-year career, “Delta Kream” (Nonesuch Records, May 14), and their roots are deep in Mississippi Hill Country blues.
Yes, guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney first got together in Akron, Ohio, not Mississippi, but even then these deep blues had seeped up into the Rust Belt. The two were especially taken with the deep richness of the music of R.L. Burnside and David “Junior” Kimbrough, two founding fathers of Hill Country music.
But that was two decades ago, and after years of heavy-duty rock success, the band is returning to the inspiration that drew them together.
They’ve put together an eleven-song set that includes covers of some of Burnside’s and Kimbrough’s best, using guitarist Kenny Brown, a Burnside sideman, and bassist Eric Deaton, from Kimbrough’s band Percussionist Sam Bacco and organ player Ray Jacildo also lend a hand.
The opening track, though, is “Crawling Kingsnake,” a John Lee Hooker song with heavy Kimbrough overtones. Then they summon up Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Louise” before diving into the deep end of the blues pool with a bunch (I apologize for the use of such technical musical terminology) of Burnside and Kimbrough covers.
There’s no question the Keys are good at this. The put the session together in just two days, with no rehearsals. They reached back for some great old blues.
Auerbach says of the album, “We made this record to honor the Mississippi Hill Country blues tradition that influenced us starting out. These songs are still as important to us today as they were the first day Pat and I started playing together and picked up our instruments. It was a very inspiring session with Pat and me along with Kenny Brown and Eric Deaton in a circle, playing these songs. It felt so natural.”
Carney agrees: “The session was planned only days in advance and nothing was rehearsed. We recorded the entire album in about ten hours, over two afternoons, at the end of the ‘Let’s Rock’ tour.”
It does feel natural. And thoroughly enjoyable. The only way to enjoy this music more would be to listen to the originals.
Here’s the video for “Crawling Kingsnake,” directed by Tim Hardiman and filmed at Jimmy Duck Holmes’ Blue Front Café in Bentonia, Mississippi, the oldest active juke joint in the nation.
Here’s Junior Kimbrough with “Crawlin’ Kingsnake”:
Tracklist for Delta Kream:
1. “Crawling Kingsnake” (John Lee Hooker / Bernard Besman) 2. “Louise” (Fred McDowell) 3. “Poor Boy a Long Way From Home” (Robert Lee Burnside) 4. “Stay All Night” (David Kimbrough, Jr.) 5. “Going Down South” (Robert Lee Burnside) 6. “Coal Black Mattie” (Ranie Burnette) 7. “Do the Romp” (David Kimbrough, Jr.) 8. “Sad Days, Lonely Nights” (David Kimbrough, Jr.) 9. “Walk with Me” (David Kimbrough, Jr.) 10. “Mellow Peaches” (Joseph Lee Williams) 11. “Come on and Go with Me” (David Kimbrough, Jr.)
There must be a massive pipeline running from a big old 1950ish Chicago blues refinery somewhere that flows directly into the recording studio of harp-master Bob Corritore. The man never fails to create a fine album, filled with classic Chicago-style blues, played by some of the best remaining practitioners of that art.
“Spider In My Stew” (VizzTone, May 14) is his latest effort, packed with tough blues from a stellar cast of artists who know how to deliver blues that actually sound like the blues.
I may be revealing here that I’m very partial to traditional blues music. Some very fine musicians are working very hard at moving beyond that level, and I enjoy a lot of their music as well. I just like the traditional stuff more. It’s kind of like the old saying about whiskey: “There’s no such thing as bad whiskey; I just like some better than others.” (And I admit, I don’t even know if that’s true, but it sounds kind of impressive.)
But I digress.
Corritore’s latest is filled with great blues from a handful of guests showing off their chops with mostly classic tunes, and a couple of fresh ones. Plus the unusual choice of a Bob Dylan track — “I Shall Be Released” — to wrap things up. There are 38 talented musicians making up the complete roster here.
Whatcha Gonna Do When Your Baby Leaves You (feat. Alabama Mike)
Don’t Mess With the Messer (feat. Diunna Greenleaf)
Spider in My Stew (feat. Lurrie Bell)
Wang Dang Doodle (feat. Shy Perry)
Drop Anchor (feat. Alabama Mike)
Sleeping With the Blues (feat. Johnny Rawls)
Mama Talk to Your Daughter (feat. John Primer)
Why Am I Treated So Bad (feat. Francine Reed)
Soon Forgotten (feat. Willie Buck)
I Can’t Shake This Feeling (feat. Lurrie Bell)
Look Out (feat. Alabama Mike)
I Shall Be Released (feat. Francine Reed)
This album, another in a long series of star-studded Corritore outings, is just one fine blues after another, starting with Wilson’s powerful “Tennessee Woman.” Rayford rolls out a delicious “Big Mama’s Soul Food,” and it’s one of my favorites. Another highlight is the still smooth and soulful Rawls sensuous take on his own composition, “Sleeping With The Blues.” Primer updates the old R&B-flavored J.B. Lenoir song, “Mama, Talk to Your Daughter,” and Buck turns in a tough version of Muddy Waters‘ “Soon Forgotten.”
The blues roll on through 13 sparkling tracks, and the album winds up with Francine Reed lending her potent pipes to Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” and while it didn’t exactly roll directly out of the blues refinery pipeline, it somehow manages to sound just right as a closer.
At the risk of repeating myself, this is a real deal, downhome blues album, another little gem from Bob Corritore. Give it a listen.
By the way, the song “Spider in My Stew” was written by the prodigious and prolific Willie Dixon in 1973, with a popular version recorded by Buster Benton.
Here’s the title track, by Lurrie Bell:
Here’s the list of who is playing what and when and with whom. Impressive.
I suppose you’re wondering why I haven’t posted here for a while (You’re probably not, but it makes me feel good to think so). Well, life intruded for a while, but now I’m back with some blues. As it should be.
And I have a new album by an old favorite to talk about — “Let’s Get Happy Together” from Maria Muldaur, with Tuba Skinny, released May 7 by Stony Plain Records.
I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of Maria, but the funky New Orleans musicians who call themselves Tuba Skinny are probably not yet a household word, although this album should move them right along in that direction.
When I say old favorite, that’s exactly what I mean. I have fond memories of Muldaur’s folksy, bluesy music with the Jim Kweskin Jug Band in the 1960s, and the start of her solo career in 1972, followed in ’73 by the release of her first effort, “Maria Muldaur.” That album contained the sensual little ditty, “Midnight at the Oasis,” that won Grammy nominations for Record of the Year and Song of the Year, and supposedly sparked a mini-population boom among repeat listeners..
And Tuba Skinny could well be a new favorite. Their brand new and sparkling arrangements of vintage music are thoroughly enjoyable re-creations of great old American music.
Of course, Maria has done a lot since her1973 debut. This is her 43rd album, most of which have focused on her love of old blues, jazz and roots music, and especially old-time jazz and blues women.
This combination of Muldaur and Tuba Skinny seems a match made in roots-music heaven (if there’s not yet such a place, it’s just a matter of time). Music from the 1920s and ’30s rolls out here with all the old-time goodness of the originals. It’s not all toe-tapping happiness, though. “Got the South in My Soul,” and “Some Sweet Day,” for example, are more sweet and soulful. But still great songs.
Muldaur, at the age of 77 (1943 was a vintage year), sounds simply great. Her vocals bring just the right amount of sass or sweetness to this fine old music, which sounds just as fresh as it must have 80 or 90 years ago.
Tuba Skinny is equally marvelous. It’s a tasty blend of old blues, jazz and Dixieland, mixed with the spirit of these young musicians and the sheer enthusiasm of their playing. The band consists of Shaye Cohn – cornet; Todd Burdick – tuba; Barnabus Jones – trombone; Jason Lawrence – banjo; Craig Flory – clarinet; Greg Sherman – guitar; Max Bien-Kahn – guitar; and Robin Rapuzzi – washboard.
I’m especially fond of this kind collaboration. Cohn’s cornet and Flory’s clarinet along with Jones’ trombone, and of course, tuba by Burdick, weave in and out of the melodies with magical results. And I do love that clarinet. That’s not to ignore the rest. I just happen to have a thing for the licorice stick — it has a storied history in jazz, and even classical music. But in the right hands, it speaks eloquently of the blues.
All in all, this another fine session from Maria Muldaur, this time with her talented accomplices, Tuba Skinny. Try hard not to miss it.
Here’s a list of the songs on the album, with notes from Maria about the their origins. The titles have links to the original recordings, except for the final song by Victoria Spivey’s sister, Addie “Sweet Pea” Spivey.
1. I Like You Best of All. – originally done by the Goofus Five, a popular band in the ‘20s~The minute I heard it I knew it would be a perfect vehicle for Tuba Skinny!
2. Let’s Get Happy Together – originally written & recorded by Lil Hardin Armstrong, a perky happy song with hip lyrics.
3. Be Your Natural Self – originally sung by a vocalist named Frankie “Half Pint” Jaxon, who sometimes sang and entertained as a man and sometimes as a woman, one of the first openly “gender benders” of the era! I’m sure this song had special significance for him!
4. Delta Bound – originally recorded by Ivy Anderson & the Duke Ellington Orchestra, it’s always been one of my favorites and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to finally record this song with the right band!
5. Swing You Sinners – recorded in 1935 by one of the most delightful discoveriesof my research… an amazingly talented woman namedValaida Snow, a virtuoso American jazz musician and entertainer who became an internationally celebrated talent. She was known as “Little Louis,” “Queen of the Trumpet,” and was referred to by Louis Armstrong as “the second best trumpet player in the world.” How could I have studied this music for so long and never heard of her??….That’s the beauty of our rich musical legacy…. the more you delve into it, the more there is to discover and enjoy!
6. He Ain’t Got Rhythm – I just love Irving Berlin’s droll, clever lyrics! Recorded by many artistsin the 1930s…Billie Holiday’s rendition with Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, Benny Goodman, et al, is the one that informs our version.
7. Got the South in My Soul – originally recorded by New Orleansnatives, The Boswell Sisters …fabulous singers with incredible musicianship who sang and swung with all the best big bands of the day. Connie Boswell, who so soulfully sang lead, is one of my favorite singers.
8. I Go for That – Dorothy Lamour, another New Orleans native, was married to a big bandleader and sang with his band before she became the exotic sultry Hollywood movie star we all remember. I was delighted to discover what a cool singer she was and to find this droll, witty song – “You play the ‘uke, you’re from Dubuque”… hilarious lyrics!
9. Patience & Fortitude – another song originally done by the incomparable Valaida Snow…An uplifting little sermonette with a useful, positive message.
10. Some Sweet Day– asweet, wistful song originally done by Frankie “Half Pint” Jaxon.
11. Big City Blues – an all-too-true tale of loneliness, originally recorded by a wonderful singer I greatly admire, Annette Henshaw, who recorded over 250 sides and was one of the most popular radio stars of the 1930s.
12. Road of Stone – This raw, soulful, plaintive blues was recorded in the 1920s by Sweet Pea Spivey…. sister of famous classic blues queen, Victoria Spivey, who actually “discovered” me and mentored me in my youth. (BR: I can’t find any audio of this song, but here’s another by Addie “Sweet Pea” Spivey)
And now for some videos:
A quickie of a 1966 or ’68 version of “Big Fat Woman Blues” with the Kweskin band:
“Midnight at the Oasis” from 1974:
The title track from “Let’s Get Happy Together” (alas, audio only):