Roadhouse Album Review: “Stripped Down in Memphis” is classic blues from Big Jack Johnson

Big Jack Johnson — “Stripped Down In Memphis” — M.C. Records

If you’re a blues fan, every once in a while, some older music comes along that reminds you of just how good traditional blues can be.

This thoroughly enjoyable album, released in May (11 years after Johnson’s death), does just that.

Johnson was a big-voiced singer who played guitar and mandolin, wrote some of his own songs, and was generally an impressive force in the traditional blues world that seems to be rapidly fading.

The tracks on this album are taken from outtakes on two earlier releases — 1998’s “Lickin’ Gravy,” with harp-player Wild Child Butler, and “The Memphis Barbecue Sessions,” recorded in 2000 with Kim Wilson on harp and released in 2002. It won a W.C. Handy Award (now the Blues Music Awards) for Acoustic Album of the Year.

Mark Carpentieri president of M.C. Records and producer of the album says:

“I was so happy to discover these recordings. You get to see all of Big Jack in these recordings, his amazing playing, his humor, and can get as deep down as any bluesman. Wild Child Butler was truly underrated during his time and these recordings prove that. As for Kim Wilson, he was able to create the tone and dynamics without the use of amplification and that’s why he’s regarded as a master of the instrument.”

This is one of those albums that offers echoes of blues past, but it isn’t just dry history — it’s a testament to some traditional blues by a few players who have helped define the music. And it’s pretty much all acoustic, adding to its flavor.

The album kicks off with a fine cover of the Jimmy Reed chestnut, “Baby What You Want Me To Do,” as Wilson’s harp floats around Johnson’s guitar to introduce his deep, rich vocals. The interplay of music and vocals here is a treat, and foreshadows the excellence of the remaining eight tracks.

“Run Blues Run” introduces Butler’s subtly insistent harp on a Johnson original, again leaving the focus on his sturdy vocals. Wilson then shines on a lucid instrumental, “The Hucklebuck,” followed by “Aching All Over,” with a little intro chat between Johnson and Butler before a gentle harp and guitar opening leading into another tough vocal cut that gives Butler a few verses. Another instrumental gives Wilson a workout on the closer, “The Hully Gully Twist.” The album alternates between the sides with Wilson and Butler (check the track list below), each with its own flavor, but all musically compelling.

There are more, of course, all opening a similar vein of smoothly flowing acoustic blues. If you enjoy this traditional approach to the blues, you’ll love this gem of an album that sounds incredibly fresh and honest.

And if you’re any kind of blues fan, you owe it to yourself to sample this classic music.

Big Jack Johnson recorded live at the Curry Ranch in Venice, Fla., in summer of 1999:

01 – Baby What You Want Me To Do (feat. Kim Wilson)
02 – Run Blues Run (feat. Wild Child Butler)
03 – The Hucklebuck (feat. Kim Wilson)
04 – Aching All Over (feat. Wild Child Butler)
05 – Part Time Love (feat. Kim Wilson)
06 – Alcohol (feat. Kim Wilson)
07 – See Me Coming (feat. Wild Child Butler)
08 – Going To Norway (feat. Wild Child Butler)
09 – The Hully Gully Twist (feat. Kim Wilson)

Roadhouse Album Review: “The Strongman Blues Remedy” is a musical cure for your ills

Steve Strongman — “The Strongman Blues Remedy, Volume 1” — Stony Plain Records

Mostly, the blues have moved north from their origins in the American South.

Now (and for some time), they occasionally move south from north of the border and our Canadian blues players.

One quite recent and quite excellent example is this eighth album from veteran Canadian award-winning guitarist, singer, songwriter, and now producer, Steve Strongman.

Strongman is well-known in Canada, having won, among other awards, a Juno, the Mel Brown Blues Award, the International Blues Challenge’s Best Guitarist award, and four Maple Blues Awards.

In this set of 10 songs that he has either written or co-written, Strongman shares his own sturdy vocal style with four other Canadian singers, who skillfully join to make thoroughly enjoyable bluesy, soulful and Americana music together. His guitar work is just as tasty — and he skillfully adds bass and harp work, too. Added to his backers here are longtime musical pals Jesse O’Brien on keys and Dave King on drums.

The album kicks off with Strongman on “Hard Luck,” a rocking ode to the kind of luck that’s his “best friend,” and maybe better than no luck at all. That’s followed with guest Steve Marriner handling the vocals on “Swansong,” driven hard by King on drums.

Next up is the sultry voice of Dawn Tyler Watson on the soulful “Fine Young Man,” and title is the only description you need to pick up on the obvious message, sparked with a sensuous guitar solo.

The next two tracks feature the well-polished voice of veteran soul-blues singer Harrison Kennedy. “I Don’t Miss You” is a rhythmic plea of lost love; “I Like to Ride” is bluesy shuffle driven with a tough note of auto-erotic sentiment, fueled by backup singers and some high-octane piano. Kennedy’s and Watson’s vocal turns alone are worth vocals are worth the price of admission.

Strongman works in some scorching guitar on “White Lightnin’,” complementing a fierce vocal turn. Crystal Shawanda follows with a heady blues rocker, “Tell Me I’m Wrong,” with just a hint of country in the air.

“Gettin’ Stoned” is worth a mention for its jazzy old-timey feel, both in melody and lyrics. They made a very clever video to highlight this whimsical theme, which you’ll find below. And yes, it’s all perfectly legal in Canada (the second nation after Uruguay to legalize the stuff — and I don’t know if there’s a similar Uruguayan anthem).

Strongman wraps it up with two more cuts, the bluesy “True to Me” and chugs to a strong finish with “Love Comin’ Down.”

Steve Strongman and a few of his musical friends have put together a fine album. If you haven’t heard these outstanding Canadian musicians before, you need to give them a listen. If you have, you’ll already know what a good time you’ll have.

Harrison Kennedy on “I Like to Ride”:

The “Gettin’ Stoned” video:

Track Listing:

2 – SWANSONG feat. Steve Marriner
3 – FINE YOUNG MAN feat. Dawn Tyler Watson
4 – I DON’T MISS YOU feat. Harrison Kennedy
5 – I LIKE TO RIDE feat. Harrison Kennedy
7 – TELL ME I’M WRONG feat. Crystal Shawanda

Roadhouse Album Review: Hear Miss Bix “Bring It” on this excellent outing

Miss Bix — “Bring It” — Blue Heart Records

Well. This is embarrassing.

Here’s an album from a few months ago that I failed to write about. I’m not sure just how I overlooked this little gem of a session, but I did, and now I’ll try to make it right.

Singer/songwriter Miss Bix, or Leslie Letven Bixler, has crafted 13 wonderfully bluesy, jazzy, intimately engaging songs that grace this album. She gets some help from a talented group of musicians and fellow singers to make this a thoroughly enjoyable outing — her second devoted to the blues, in its infinitely varied human forms. Her first effort was the 2017 Delta-influenced, “We Don’t Own The Blues.”

Just so you know, Bixler is not a novice. She has been writing, performing and recording for decades; her earliest efforts focused on smooth jazz, under the name Leslie Letven — the influences of which you can hear throughout this effort.

This set kicks of nicely with a gently chugging shuffle, “Ain’t No Such Thing,” and then shifts into a bluesy “You’ve Got the Nerve,” both enhanced by sinuous guitar.

They are followed by my very favorite track, the splendidly lyrical “Cocktail Hour,” a soft, jazzy exercise in the unbearable lightness of being musically enchanting. If I may be permitted a musical digression, the song and its luminous vocal touch evoked fond memories of Blossom Dearie (c’mon, someone of you must remember her!) with a touch of Ricky Lee Jones and a hint of that great little Michel Franks song, “Popsicle Toes.” I can’t easily explain all that, but it’s my blog and my digression, so. . . .

That is all very nicely followed with the countrified “Trail of Tears,” with some tasty slide work to accentuate the vocals.

Next is the winsome, lovelorn “The Girl You Adore,” which I would pair with “Cocktail Hour” as another late-night tonic for the blues, especially when fueled by the appropriate late-night beverage (I suggest bourbon, but if a cup of tea is your cup of tea. . . .)

A few other favorite highlights include the honky-tonk flavored “Daddy Why,” with co-author Tiffany Pollack sharing the vocals; “Cheer Up Sallie Mae,” with a lyrical acoustic guitar intro moving into a full band backing with a sharp electric solo midway; “You Better Believe It,” with a deep blues feeling; and the haunting closer, “Movin’ On,” a solo acoustic anthem. There’s a lot more to hear, and it’s all excellently done.

This is a very fine album from Miss Bix, filled with honest songwriting, gorgeous vocals and crisp musical backup, all of which deserves your undivided attention.

Here’s a video of “Cocktail Hour”

Track List:

It’s time to vote in this year’s Blues Blast Music Awards poll

Blues Blast Magazine is ready for you to vote for the best in blues.

The magazine is offering its 15th year of awards in various blues categories, with final selection done by popular vote. The nominees are selected using a group of blues music industry professionals, including music critics, journalists, festival promoters, music venue managers, producers and musicians.

You have until Aug. 19 to vote on the mag’s website. Voting is free and open to anyone, but you can only vote once. If you’re not a subscriber, you are automatically signed up to receive the free online mag when you vote. They’ll want your email address to do all this, but hey, if you’re on the web, doesn’t everybody already know what it is?

Here are the nominees:

Contemporary Blues Album
Christone “Kingfish” Ingram – 662
Anthony Geraci – Blues Called My Name
Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters – Mercy Me
Tommy Castro – A Bluesman Came To Town
Altered Five Blues Band – Holler If You Hear Me
Carolyn Wonderland – Tempting Fate
Dave Weld & The Imperial Flames – Nightwalk

Traditional Blues Album
Diunna Greenleaf – I Ain’t Playin’
Duke Robillard – They Called it Rhythm and Blues
Kenny Neal – Straight From The Heart
Sue Foley – Pinky’s Blues
Louisiana Red & Bob Corritore – Tell Me ‘Bout It
Bob Stroger & The Headcutters – That’s My Name

Soul Blues Album
Sugaray Rayford – In Too Deep
The Love Light Orchestra – Leave The Light On
Wee Willie Walker & Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra – Not In My Lifetime
Trudy Lynn – Golden Girl
Zac Harmon – Long As I Got My Guitar
Robbin Kapsalis and Vintage#18 – Soul Shaker

Rock Blues Album
Tinsley Ellis – Devil May Care
Beth Hart – A Tribute To Led Zeppelin
Eric Gales – Crown
Levee Town – Trying to Keep my Head Above Water
Big Al & the Heavyweights – Love One Another
Chickenbone Slim – Serve It To Me Hot

Acoustic Blues Album
Eric Bibb – Dear America
Corey Harris – The Insurrection Blues
Hector Anchondo – Let Loose Those Chains
Catfish Keith – Land of the Sky
Big Creek Slim & Rodrigo Mantovani- Stone In My Heart
Tas Cru – Broke Down Busted Up

Live Blues Recording
Rodd Bland and the Members Only Band – Live on Beale Street
Hurricane Ruth – Hurricane Ruth Live at 3rd and Lindsley
The BC Combo – The Garage Sessions
Ann Peebles and The Hi Rhythm Section – Live In Memphis
Peer Gynt – Live In Hell
The James Harman Band – Sparks Flying Live In 1992

Historical Or Vintage Recording
Mark Hummel Presents East Bay Blues Vaults 1976-1988
Paul Oscher – Rough Stuff
Lowell Fulson with Jeff Dale & The Blue Wave Band – Lowell Fulson Live!
Big Jack Johnson – Stripped Down in Memphis
Bob Corritore & Friends – Down Home Blues Revue
Dave Specter – Six String Soul

New Artist Debut Album
Hogtown Allstars – Hog Wild
Memphissippi Sounds – Welcome To The Land
Malcolm Wells and the Two Timers – Hollerin’ Out Loud
Horojo Trio – Set The Record
John Winkler – Juke’s Blues
Buckmiller Schwager Band – To Memphis and Back

Blues Band
The Love Light Orchestra
Tommy Castro & The Painkillers
Altered Five Blues Band
Wee Willie Walker & Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra
Kilborn Alley Blues Band

Male Blues Artist
Sugaray Rayford
John Németh
Eric Gales
Tommy Castro
Christone “Kingfish” Ingram
Tinsley Ellis

Female Blues Artist
Diunna Greenleeaf
Sue Foley
Carolyn Wonderland
Vaneese Thomas
Beth Hart
Trudy Lynn

Sean Costello Rising Star Award
Gabe Stillman
Ben Levin
Jose Ramirez
Memphissippi Sounds
Robbin Kapsalis and Vintage#18
Kat Riggins

Producer Of The Year
Tom Hambridge
Kid Andersen
Tony Braunagel
Mike Zito
Jim Gaines
Eric Corne

Electric Guitarist Of The Year
Eric Gales
Ronnie Earl
Duke Robillard
Christone “Kingfish” Ingram
Chris Cain
Albert Castiglia

Acoustic Guitarist Of The Year
Doug MacLeod
Eric Bibb
Guy Davis
Hector Anchondo
Catfish Keith
Corey Harris

Slide Guitarist Of The Year
Sonny Landreth
Derek Trucks
Gabe Stillman
Dave Weld
Michael van Merwyk
Catfish Keith

Bass Guitarist Of The Year
Bob Stroger
Rodrigo Mantovani
Danielle Nicole
Willie J. Campbell
Scot Sutherland
Jerry Jemmott

Keyboard Player Of The Year
Anthony Geraci
Kenny “Blues Boss Wayne
Ben Levin
Jim Pugh
Victor Wainwright
Kevin McKendree

Percussionist Of The Year
Derrick D’Mar Martin
Tom Hambridge
Tony Braunagel
Kenny Smith
Alan Arber
June Core
Cedric Burnside

Harmonica Player Of The Year
Bob Corritore
Jason Ricci
Dennis Gruenling
Kim Wilson
Billy Branch
Pierre Lacocque

Horn Player Of The Year
Jimmy Carpenter
Vanessa Collier
Marc Franklin
Vince Salerno
Doug Woolverton
Terry Hanck

Vocalist Of The Year
John Németh
Sugaray Rayford
Diunna Greenleaf
Beth Hart
Vanesse Thomas

Roadhouse Public Service: The Living Blues awards for 2021

Here are the results of the 29th annual Living Blues awards for 2021.

Living Blues is one of the premier blues publications, and has been since its U.S. inception in1970, when it was the first American blues magazine.

In its May 2022 issue, the magazine announced its nominees for its 2021 Living Blues Readers’ Poll Awards. Here are the results:

Critics’ Poll

Blues Artist of the Year (Male)         

  • Christone “Kingfish” Ingram

Blues Artist of the Year (Female)

  • Shemekia Copeland

Most Outstanding Blues Singer

  • Sugaray Rayford

Most Outstanding Musician (Guitar)

  • Christone “Kingfish” Ingram 

Most Outstanding Musician (Harmonica) 

  • Charlie Musselwhite

Most Outstanding Musician (Keyboard) 

  • Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne 

Most Outstanding Musician (Bass) 

  • Bob Stroger

Most Outstanding Musician (Drums) 

  • Rodd Bland

Most Outstanding Musician (Horns) 

  • James “Boogaloo” Bolden

Most Outstanding Musician (Other) 

  • Cedric Watson (Accordion)

Best Live Performer

  • Bobby Rush

Comeback Artist of the Year

  • Johnny Tucker

Artist Deserving More Attention

  • Crystal Thomas

Best Blues Albums of 2021

Album of the Year

  • Christone “Kingfish” Ingram – 662 (Alligator)

New Recordings / Contemporary Blues

  • Crystal Thomas – Now Dig This! (Dialtone)

New Recordings / Traditional & Acoustic

  • Eric Bibb – Dear America (Provogue)

New Recordings / Southern Soul

  • Wee Willie Walker & The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra – Not in My Lifetime (Blue Dot)             

New Recordings / Best Debut

  • Buffalo Nichols – Buffalo Nichols (Fat Possum)

Historical / Pre-war

  • Various Artists – The Matchbox Bluesmaster Series (Matchbox Records)

Historical / Postwar

  • Various Artists – Down Home Blues: Miami, Atlanta & The South Eastern States (Wienerworld)

Blues Book of the Year

  • I Ain’t Studdin’ Ya: My American Blues Story
  • By Bobby Rush with Herb Powell
  • Hachette Books

Producer of the Year: New Recording

  • Tom Hambridge: Christone “Kingfish” Ingram – 662 (Alligator)

Producer of the Year: Historical Recording

  • Tom Vickers: Chicago / The Blues / Today! – (Vanguard)

Readers’ Poll

Blues Artist of the Year (Male)

  • Christone “Kingfish” Ingram

Blues Artist of the Year (Female)

  • Mavis Staples

Most Outstanding Musician (Guitar)

  • Buddy Guy

Most Outstanding Musician (Harmonica)

  • Charlie Musselwhite

Most Outstanding Musician (Keyboard)

  • Marcia Ball

Best Live Performer

  • Buddy Guy

Most Outstanding Blues Singer

  • Mavis Staples

Best Blues Album of 2021 (New Release)

  • Christone “Kingfish” Ingram – 662 (Alligator)

Best Blues Album of 2021 (Historical Recording)

  • Jimmie Vaughan – The Jimmie Vaughan Story (The Last Music Company)

Best Blues Book of 2021

  • King of the Blues: The Rise and Reign of B.B. King
  • By Daniel de Visé
  • Atlantic Monthly Press

Roadhouse Album Review: Sass Jordan delivers with raw and primal “Bitches Blues”

Sass Jordan — “Bitches Blues” — Stony Plain Records

Sass Jordan is a Birminghan, England-born singer/songwriter transplanted to Montreal at an early age, with a penchant for soulful, rootsy music heavy with her trademark gritty vocals.

She’s been recording since 1986, and her first single, “Tell Somebody,” from her 1988 debut album of the same name won the Juno Award for Most Promising Female Vocalist in 1989. An indication of her style and substance can be found in her lead role of Janis Joplin in the off-Broadway hit “Love, Janis” in 2001.

“Bitches Blues” is Jordan’s tenth album, a follow to her first pure blues outing, “Rebel Moon Blues,’ in 2020. It also continues the raw vocal earthiness that marked “Rebel.”

The latest album features three originals and five classic covers, ranging from the hard-driving opener, “Still Alive and Well” (Rick Derringer), to the powerful rocking optimism of her original closer, “Change Is Coming.” That’s a mere 27 minutes, but it’s packed with great music highlighted by Jordan’s raspy-tough vocals, surrounded by a terrifically tight backing band, the Champagne Hookers.

Between those two songs is a fine collection: An adventurous reworking of the blues chestnut “Chevrolet” with tough half-whispered vocals and piercing harp work; the original “Even,” a re-imagined version of the song from her 2008 album, “You Get What You Give,” this time with just some stunningly fine barroom piano backing; “Still The World Goes Round,” another original, with a hint of country, highlighted by some enthusiastic group singing; a spare and hypnotic cover of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s classic “You Gotta Move”; the guitar-driven, barroom ambience of Little Feat’s “Sailin’ Shoes,”  and a thoroughly rousing version of Little Milton’s “Ain’t No Big Deal On You.”

The backing band here deserves special mention for its vivid support, whether it’s stinging guitar, passionate harp, or sparkling keyboards. The music perfectly complements Jordan’s ferocious style and the smart song selection. The band is: Guitarists Chris Caddell and Jimmy Reid, drummer Cass Pereira, keyboardist Jesse O’Brien and Steve Marriner on bass and harmonica.

Sass Jordan’s “Bitches Blues” is definitely music worth hearing. Her vocals are sharp and tough, the band a razor-sharp unit, all well-suited to her chosen material.

“Still Alive and Well” from the album

Track Listing:
1. Still Alive and Well 3:37
2. Chevrolet 2:29
3. Even 3:55
4. Still The World Goes Round 4:01
5. You Gotta Move 2:32
6. Sailin Shoes 3:52
7. Ain’t No Big Deal On You 3:30
8. Change Is Coming 3:16