I keep getting more and more behind in writing about new CDs that I get, and many of them filled with fine music and worthy of mention, even if they're not all the purest of the pure blues. And -- if you're a fan of tough, sturdy, real-deal old-school blues, there seem to be fewer and fewer of those.
But that's something we all know. And I also know that there are many blues fans out there whose blues tastes run the spectrum from down-home blues through blues-rock and beyond to material rooted in the blues, but shaped by many other influences, and often winds up being called roots music, or Americana.
But I digress.
Here are some mini-reviews of as many recent CDs as I can write about before I need a fresh bottle of Christmas ale (BeerNotes heartily recommends a cagetop of the bluenote-smooth Belgian, Delirium Noel). You'll find a video after each item, except for Boy Wells, who seems to have only one short studio outtake).
Boy Wells, "Blue Skies Calling" (Marcel Marsupial) -- Boy Wells is really Mark Schultz, who grew up playing in the southern Maryland area in the Southern rock genre, but now works out of central Texas. Like many of the albums I get, he's not exactly a household name, but he's been around for a while, and is an accomplished player with fine slide and acoustic chops.
Wells shows off a lot of stylistic variation here, moving fluidly through country, blues, jazz and some hard rocking music -- all original. There are excellent backing players with some horns, harp, keyboards, banjo, violin and mandolin. I especially like the rousing "World Weary and Blue," the Cajun-flavored title track, and the stinging slide-slinging, down-home "Devil's Backbone Blues." If he comes this way, check him out.
James Armstrong, "Blues at the Border" (Catfood Records) -- James Armstrong is veteran blues player of Los Angeles origins with a funky style backed by his stinging guitar work and easy style with a lyric (many of them his own). Over the years he's accumulated a long list of credits and appeared with another long list of blues players.
The title track uses a gritty slide to take a sly look at how getting from one country to another can give you the blues. "Devil's Candy" is a tough lament about the lure of a dangerous woman. The band here swings easily, as with a lot of West Coast and Texas-based blues, and Armstrong shows that his first CD in 11 years could bring him some well-deserved national attention.
Sean Costello, Sean Costello At His Best - Live" (Landslide Records) -- Sean Costello, a crackling blues guitarist with soulful pipes, died much too young at the age of 28 in 2008. This CD is a collection of live performances, which are often the best measure of the passion and excitement that a fiery blues player and singer can generate.
Nothing disappoints here. Some of the sound is admittedly taken from audience tapes, but that only enhances the gritty flavor that comes through as Costello is featured playing songs by blues masters from T-Bone Walker to Lowell Fulson to Magic Sam to Little Richard. He rocks, he swings, he sears the air with tough, exciting guitar. The album stands as a righteous ode to Costello's massive but unfulfilled talents.
Toronzo Cannon, "Leaving Mood" (Delmark Records) -- Toronzo Cannon is almost a rarity these days -- and honest-to-gosh young Chicago player steeped in the blues and willing to play them. He fronts his tough band here -- Cannonball Express -- with able assistance from guitar star Carl Weathersby and harpman Matthew Skoller. And I should mention his keyboard player, Roosevelt Purifoy, who, in addition to his key talents, has a name I love to write.
The CD starts out with a pair of tough, bluesy originals with Cannon firing on guitar -- "She Loved Me" and "Chico's Song" -- then moves into a series of slightly, but only slightly, softer and more liquid tracks. But it's all funky blues, soulful singing - what more can you ask?
Debbie Bond, "Hearts Are Wild" (Blues Root Productions) -- Debbie Bond is a California native, but settled in Alabama in 1979, where she shared her band with legendary bluesman Johnny Shines from 1981 untio his death in 1992. She's a fine guitarist and has taken to writing her own songs to match her vocals, which range from smooth and sensual to souful and gritty.
"Dead Zone Blues" and the title track are laced with tough horn and piano, with the latter being a torchy and soulful outing. Two of the best cuts are covers -- "You're the Kind of Trouble" and "Baby I Love You," a nice take on the Aretha Franklin classic.
There's also a new track titled "I Like It Like That," which sent me back into the nether regions of my memory for the 1961 song of the same name that was a hit by Chris Kenner -- I'm sure you remember. No matter, Bond is a sharp talent who makes fine music with some sultry blues roots.
Savoy Brown, "Voodoo Moon" (Ruf Records) -- Savoy Brown (originally the Savoy Brown Blues Band formed in 1965) was one of the British blues-rock bands of the late '60s, fronted by guitarist Kim Simmonds. The rest of the original members are gone, but Simmonds still fronts the current group. And "I've seen him enough in recent years to know that he still has some fans around.
On "Voodoo Moon," Simmonds has said he wanted a more lyrical approach to his blues-rock, so he has written a set of tunes that give a bit more blues spirit to his rock-edged music. And they're not quite as high on energy as more traditional blues-rock, which I kind of like (BlueNotes is not a big fan of guitars played like machine guns, except for special effects).