Roadhouse Album Review: Barbara Blue is a soulful presence on “From the Shoals”

Barbara Blue — “From the Shoals” — Big Blue Records (Jan. 27 release)

Barbara Blue opens her latest album in typical Barbara Blue fashion — with powerful vocals wrapped up in the tightly crafted music of her backers. She’s not known as the reigning queen of Beale Street for no reason.

Although she’s been reigning on Memphis for about 25 years at Silky O’Sullivan’s on Beale, where, Sullivan says, “Barbara Blue can make a glass eye cry.” 

Blue spent ten years before that working Pittsburgh clubs on a regular basis, where I’m pleased to say I enjoyed these powerful pipes myself. And before that, she kickstarted her professional career in Phoenix as a solo artist.

For this album, her thirteenth, she adds a little programming twist by focusing the first two tracks on where she’s recording — the legendary NuttHouse Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals.

“The Shoals” is the funky opener, a tribute to the “powerful magic” of the soulful music that’s been flowing from the Shoals for decades. “Nutthouse Blues” follows, a soulful tribute to the recording studio where Jimmy Nutt now holds the controls. Will McFarlane contributes wicked guitar riffs, and Clayton Ivey pumps tough organ into the mix. And we can’t ignore Bernard “Pretty” Purdie on drums.

Both cuts, of course, feature Blue’s fabulous tsunami of a Voice, rolling over the music. And the Voice never lets up. “Tell Mama” is next, written by Clarence Carter and made famous by Etta James. Blue breathes new life into the classic song.

Then comes the torchy ballad “Steal Away” (the Jimmy Hughes version), as Blue turns on the soul. “Severed” is another soul-drenched plea for “more healing;” then “Curse of Beauty,” a stirring piece with anthem-like chorus. (I should point out here that “Tell Mama” and “Steal Away” are the only two covers in this set — the rest are Blue originals, with her Croatian songwriting partner Davor “Hutch” Hačić (whom she met at 2019’s IBC in Memphis).

“Lost Young Love” is about just that — lost young love. “Slide Man” is a throwback to some classic slide, and some equally classic salacious double-entendre blues. “Too Far” is another gentle ballad, stirred deeply by with a sensuous vocal. “Nothing Lasts Forever” picks up the pace, and adds a little funk to the message “get it while you can.” “I Never Stopped Loving You” is another powerfully warm ballad with its roots in her hometown of Pittsburgh.

The album closes with two haunting tracks: “Song of the River,” a lyrical ode to a “mystical music river of song,” and “Trail of Tears,” a rhythmic track with a tearful Native American theme.

All these styles and this vocal passion represent Barbara Blue at her best. Her dynamic voice and command of a lyric make her a musical presence to be seen and heard. If you’ve never experienced her, check out this fine album. Even if you have, check it out anyway. Barbara Blue is what a masterful singer sounds like.

Just in case you’re not aware, here are just a few of her achievements:

In 2015 Barbara Blue was honored with a Brass note on The Beale Street Walk of Fame. She received the 2011 Emissary of Memphis Music Award. Both the Hard Rock Cafe Memphis, TN (2014) and Pittsburgh, PA (2010) honored her with a Memorabilia Case. She received a 2007 BMA Nomination for Best Contemporary Female Blues Artist. She was nominated for 2019 Independent Blues Music Award “Traditional Female Artist of the Year” and best Traditional CD (2018’s “Fish In Dirty H2O”), and was a 2019 BMA Nominee for  “Female Soul Blues Artist Of The Year”.

Here’s a video of Barbara live singing” Low Down Dirty Dog”:

Track List
1 The Shoals 3:20
2 Nutthouse Blues 7:10
3 Tell Mama 3:22
4 Steal Away 4:04
5 Severed 5:13
6 Curse of Beauty 4:43
7 Lost Young Love 4:40
8 Slide Man 3:15
9 Too Far 7:41
10 Nothing Last Forever 3:09
11 Never Stopped Loving You 5:12
12 Song Of The River 6:42
13 Trail Of Tears 6:25

Roadhouse Album Review: Mississippi MacDonald offers a passionate “Heavy State Loving Blues”

Mississippi MacDonald — “Heavy State Loving Blues” — APM Records (Jan. 27 release)

When I first heard Mississippi MacDonald’s last album. “Do Right, Say Right” (my review here), I was very impressed with this Londoner’s grasp of American blues, his gritty vocals, and his sharp guitar work.

He’d been doing it for a while though (He’s a three-time UK Blues Awards nominee and three-time US Independent Blues Awards nominee), it’s just that “Do Right” was my first listen. My loss, of course. He’s an exciting blues talent.

His latest album, “Heavy State Loving Blues,” continues and amplifies his musical journey with ten more songs carved from the blues roots that MacDonald seems to tap with amazing skill and emotional intensity.

MacDonald’s blues ring with authenticity — quite an achievement considering it’s mostly original music. He’s a powerful, soulful vocalist, and his guitar work is stunningly simple — he lets the music breathe in between the notes.

This album, like the previous, was produced by Phil Dearing, adding Lucy Dearing on backing vocals for a richer sound.

He kicks off this session with “Howlin’ Wolf,” a funky, high-energy shoutout to pretenders in the music world, kind of a bluesy take on “something is happening / and you don’t know what it is / do you, Mister Jones?” heavily fueled by some crackling horns,

The title track is torchy and soulful, with MacDonald’s guitar lines inspiring the vocals, and Dearing’s backup adding emotional punch. “Blind Leading the Blind” is a gritty duet with Vaneese Thomas and her gorgeous Memphis musical attitude.

“Heading South” is more soulful pleading with MacDonald’s stinging guitar in a powerful call-and-response conversation. “(I Ain’t Gonna) Lie No More” follows, a softer but still soul-filled moment. The first cover is O.V. Wright’s “I’ve Been Searching,” with Mac following his horns into another soul-drenched side.

It’s here, for me, with “I’ll Understand,” that MacDonald starts to push the album deeper into the intensity of the blues. His voice aches for the hope of lost love returning, and a guitar solo midway echoes that beautiful pain with primal urgency. A haunting vocal background surrounds it all. Love this song.

Another cover, from Zack Logan, “Trouble Doing the Right Thing,” has a slight country tilt, and lopes along in the blues. “The Devil Wants Repayment” takes us down to the crossroads for what could be a visit from a midnight rider looking for payback.

The fiery closer is “Blues for Albert,” an instrumental with Mac’s spoken interlude explaining how his love of Albert Collins‘ blues first shaped his music. It’s a stinging, heartfelt, six-minute ode to the Master of the Telecaster and shows that MacDonald has absorbed his lessons well. (More about Albert Collins below.)

This is another fine album from the very talented Mississippi MacDonald, who continues to demonstrate his passion for the music and his ability to create authentic blues born from that passion. His songwriting rings true, his vocals are tough and tender, and his elegant guitar work says that he’s learned one of the basics of the blue notes — less indeed can be more.

Here’s a Roadhouse digression with one of my own Albert Collins stories:

Collins appeared fairly often at Mancini’s Lounge in McKees Rocks, a Pittsburgh-area club that featured the blues in the late 1970s and early ’80s while I was still a Pittsburgher. We joked that he sometimes seemed to be the house band (although Muddy Waters put in four appearances in ’80 and ’81!).

Albert would piece together a guitar cord (long before wireless) and roam through the club and out onto the sidewalk. His band, the Icebreakers, featured the soaring sax of A.C. Reed. Albert’s guitar work was always passionate, innovative and exciting to watch.

Here’s a grainy picture I took at one of those shows, and later got autographed. It says “Peace & Love” From Albert Collins. Indeed.

Here’s a video of “(I Ain’t Gonna) Lie No More”:

Track list:

  1. Howlin’ Wolf (04:10)
  2. Heavy State Loving Blues (04:19)
  3. Blind Leading the Blind (04:08)
  4. Heading South (03:07)
  5. (I Ain’t Gonna) Lie No More (04:10)
  6. I’ve Been Searching (03:32)
  7. I’ll Understand (05:17)
  8. Trouble Doing the Right Thing (03:35)
  9. The Devil Wants Repayment (02:55)
  10. Blues for Albert (05:58)

And just for fun, here’s Albert Collins from the time that I remember him, including saxman A.C. Reed in his band:

Roadhouse Album Review: Teresa James & the Rhythm Tramps offer a magical Beatles tour on “With A Little Help From Her Friends”

Teresa James & the Rhythm Tramps — “With A Little Help From Her Friends” — Blue Heart Records (Jan. 20 release)

Did you ever wonder what the Beatles would sound like if they were born and raised in Houston (Texas, of course)? And had a honey-voiced, soulful female lead singer?

Neither did I.

However, this latest album from Teresa James and the Rhythm Tramps should finally answer that unasked question.

James, along with husband, producer and bassist, Terry Wilson, has put together a sweet and sassy album of 10 Beatles songs covered with her uniquely flavored vocals and the Tramps’ usual crisp backing.

Joining the band for this effort are keyboardist Kevin McKendree and drummer Richard Millsap, with backing vocals by Lucy Wilson and Nicki Bluhm, and special guest Yates McKendree, son of Kevin.

It’s an impressive lineup for an impressive outing tackling the works of the Fab Four. The results are just as impressive.

Everything kicks off on one of my favorite tracks, “Ticket to Ride,” with James’ vocals punching out a soulful rocking vibe, closing the final few bars by soaring over McKendree’s rollicking piano. Then comes “Taxman,” an unlikely but gorgeous pairing of James’ honeyed tones with a cloud of psychedelic herbal essence floating in the air. You can almost see the light show.

“Don’t Let Me Down” is next, as James turns it into a soul-drenched anthem rich with her pleading vocals. “Happy Just to Dance with You” adds a touch of funkiness to deliver it from pure Beatlemania into a guitar-laced bit of soul.

“Oh Darlin'” (another favorite cut) turns into a searing duet with Yates McKendree’s sharp guitar fueling a lusty vocal burn as James’ voice simply scorches the air. “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” originally an acoustic track, stirs in a taste of Motown, putting James in front of soulful backup vocals.

The band turns playful with the joyful “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey,” again adding tough, rhythmic backing. “You Won’t See Me” gives James a smooth vocal turn. “No Reply” adds a little Latin twist, again adding backup vocals for an extra dimension. A brightly swinging “Think For Yourself” wraps it up with the Tramps giving George Harrison’s tune a shuffling, thoughtful musical reappraisal.

“This was so much fun and such a labor of love,” says James. “I have been a Beatles fan since I was a little girl and having known all these songs inside and out for so many years, it was a real challenge to try and capture a bluesier, more Southern vibe but still retain the original spirit of the songs. And because we were doing it basically just for fun, I felt like I could stretch out just a little bit more and be a little looser with it.”

And it all works. This is a thoroughly enjoyable album, whether you’re a Beatles fan or a Teresa James fan. Or both. And I’m a big fan of the sassy, sultry voice of Teresa James. James and the Tramps plus friends don’t just cover these songs; they reimagine them in their own style and shape them into a delightful album that makes the music fresh — it’s just like a magical mystery tour.

Here’s the “Taxman”:


Ticket to Ride
Don’t Let Me Down
Happy Just to Dance With You
Oh Darlin’
You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
You Won’t See Me
No Reply
Think for Yourself

Roadhouse News: The 2023 Blues Music Award nominees announced

The nominations have been announced for the 2023 Blues Music Awards. Ceremonies to announce the winners will be held May 11 Memphis, presented by The Blues Foundation.

Topping the list of BMA nominees is John Németh, with five nominations, Song of the Year, Traditional Blues Album, Band of the Year, Instrumentalist – Harmonica, and Instrumentalist – Vocals, which he won in 2022.
44th Blues Music Award Nominees

B.B. King Entertainer of the Year
Sugaray Rayford
Tommy Castro
Eric Gales
Bobby Rush
Mr. Sipp (Castro Coleman)

Band of the Year
Anthony Geraci & The Boton Blues Allstars
John Németh and the Blue Dreamers
Rick Estrin and the Nightcats
Southern Avenue
Tedeschi Trucks Band

Song of the Year
Altered Five Blues Band “Great Minds Drink Alike” (Jeff Schroedl)
Buddy Guy “The Blues Don’t Lie” (Tom Hambridge)
Eric Gales “I Want My Crown” (Eric Gales, Joe Bonamassa)
John Németh “The Last Time” (John Németh)
Shemekia Copeland “Too Far to Be Gone” (John Hahn/Will Kimbrough)

Best Emerging Artist Album
Blue Moon Marquee / Scream, Holler & Howl
DaShawn Hickman / Drums, Roots & Steel
Dylan Triplett / Who Is He?
Jose Ramirez / Major League Blues
Yates McKendree / Buchanan Lane

Acoustic Blues Album
Charlie Musselwhite / Mississippi Son
Corey Harris / The Insurrection Blues
Duwayne Burnside / Acoustic Burnside
Harrison Kennedy / Thanks for Tomorrow
Rory Block / Ain’t Nobody Worried

Blues Rock Album
Albert Castiglia / I Got Love
Bernard Allison / Highs & Lows
Colin James / Open Road
Eric Gales / Crown
Tinsley Ellis / Devil May Care

Contemporary Blues Album
Buddy Guy / The Blues Don’t Lie
Diunna Greenleaf / I Ain’t Playin’
Janiva Magness / Hard to Kill
Larry McCray / Blues Without You
Shemekia Copeland / Done Come too Far

Soul Blues Album
Kat Riggins / Progeny
Kirk Fletcher / Heartache by the Pound
Sugaray Rayford / In Too Deep
The Love Light Orchestra / Leave the Light On
Trudy Lynn / Golden Girl

Traditional Blues Album
Kenny Neal / Straight From the Heart
Bob Corritore / Bob Borritore & Friends: You Shocked Me
Duke Robillard / They Called it Rhythm & Blues
John Németh / May Be the Last Time
John Primer / Hard Times

Acoustic Blues Artist
Doug MacLeod
Guy Davis
Harrison Kennedy
Rhiannon Giddens
Rory Block

Blues Rock Artist
Walter Trout
Albert Castiglia
Tommy Castro
Joanne Shaw Taylor
Tinsley Ellis

Contemporary Blues Female Artist
Ruthie Foster
Beth Hart
Janiva Magness
Teresa James
Vanessa Collier

Contemporary Blues Male Artist
Selwyn Birchwood
Chris Cain
Christone “Kingfish” Ingram
Ronnie Baker Brooks
Mr. Sipp (Castro Coleman)

Soul Blues Female Artist
Annika Chambers
Trudy Lynn
Thornetta Davis
Kat Riggins
Vaneese Thomas

Soul Blues Male Artist
John Németh
Johnny Rawls
Curtis Salgado
Don Bryant
Billy Price

Traditional Blues Female Artist (Koko Taylor Award)
Dietra Farr
Diunna Greenleaf
Rhiannon Giddens
Rory Block
Sue Foley

Traditional Blues Male Artist
Billy Branch
Duke Robillard
John Primer
Johnny Burgin
Sugar Ray Norcia

Instrumentalist – Bass
Bob Stronger
Danielle Nicole
Larry Fulcher
Michael “Mudcat” Ward
Willie J. Campbell

Instrumentalist – Drums
Chris Layton
Cody Dickinson
Derric D’Mar Martin
Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith
Tony Braunagel

Instrumentalist – Guitar
Chris Cain
Christoffer “Kid” Andersen
Joanna Connor
Kirk Fletcher
Laura Chavez

Instrumentalist – Harmonica
Billy Branch
Bob Corritore
Jason Ricci
John Németh
Dennis Gruenling

Instrumentalist – Horn
Deanna Bogart
Gregg Piccolo
Jimmy Carpenter
Mark Kaz Kazanoff
Sax Gordon Beadle

Instrumentalist – Piano (Pinetop Perkins Piano Player Award)
Anthony Geraci
Ben Levin
Dave Keyes
Jim Pugh
Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne

Instrumentalist – Vocals
Curtis Salgado
Danielle Nicole
Diunna Greenleaf
John Németh
Shemekia Copeland

Vote here for the 44th Blues Music Awards. You must be a member of The Blues Foundation to vote.
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