As we close out another decade writers and journalists looking for one more submission, often resort to a "Best of" formula piece. I want in.
So here is my take, a personal hyperbolic trip down my memory lane of blues music over the last decade. These are my favorite releases of the decade, disks which I would spare no expense to release of ever damaged or if they ever "disappear" under mysterious circumstances.
In no particular order, the my Top 13 releases of 2000-2009
Up Close & Personal
Southern Artist - 2004
Ah yes, it was the Handy Awards of 2006. "The Boss" were enjoying our first trip down to Memphis, and found ourselves in awe at the relative ease we were able to mingle with the artists, and at just how impressive Sam Lay dressed. As an unknown (to us) artist Watermelon Slim brought the house down with one of his a cappella Truck Hollers. I mean, not just fans, his own contemporaries were floored too. “The Boss” and I vowed that night, by hook or my crook we were going to see this man play with his full band before we left Memphis. Thankfully the night later Watermelon Slim & The Workers tore the house down at the Rum Boogie and became the face of Fred Litwin’s Northern Blues label. Blues Review has “Watermelon Slim & The Workers”, their first with Northern Blues, in their top 25 of the decade. It is hard to argue against this, I am just saying “Up Close & Personal” still merits more “spins” with me.
Rough Dried - Live at the Triple Door
Henrietta Records - 2008
If seeing a master perform live won’t get you to shell out your hard earned scratch for a ticket, or if witnessing the Merrimack Valley’s own Matthew Stubbs work it out at his day job, then Rough Dried - Live at the Triple Door is worth the price of admission alone. Charlie Musselwhite only sells Rough Dried - Live at the Triple Door after shows. So, GO ALREADY!
Live at Checker’s Tavern
Jason Ricci & New Blood
Blue Sunday- 2005
Admittedly I am no blues purist, neither are Jason Ricci & New Blood. Probably the biggest compliment to Jason Ricci & New Blood is that I was introduced to his music by Watermelon Slim himself. In between sets of a show at the old Sit N Bull, Slim & The Workers hung out with the audience. To a man each of them said Jason Ricci & New Blood had that it quality. So far this is my favorite of all of his releases as it seamlessly blends blues, jam band, and punk vibes all by four road tested musicians. Probably the easiest way to track this disk down is to go see Jason Ricci live, so get out and support live music.
Live @ The Bottleneck
Indy Release - 2004
Part of a premium for contributing to the Bandana Blues (http://www.bandanablues.com/) podcast, again it was a case of being floored by another artist who was as-of-yet unknown to me. Walker combines a unique story telling aspect throughout the solo disk, spectacular work on his acoustic and dobro, and a voice which manages to keep up with his guitar playing ability. With so many boutique and independent labels out there I am surprised this Live at The Bottleneck has not been picked up and re-released.
Jive - 2001
Blues Review picked Sweet Tea as their most influential disk of the decade. In my own not-so-humble opinion, they’re right on the money. In my own experience with Guy’s studio releases, or releases without Junior Wells, the music tends to be clinical. Guy drops the incendiary singing and playing, and the disk loses it’s life or has to slow himself down to match the level of one of the many guests making an appearance on a Buddy Guy release. Sweet Tea is the exception. By taking one of the proprietors of the Chicago-electrified blues sound out of his own element, depositing him in the middle of North Mississippi Hill Country with a group of North Mississippi Hill Country musicians Guy shows himself to be the often imitated and seldom credited legend.
Burnside on Burnside
Fat Possum - 2001
Ultimately Fat Possum did right by RL Burnside, but they did mess around with his music on occasion. Skip the RL Burnside offerings which feature remixes and samples and by several copies of this live gem. Recorded live on the road in Oregon, Burnside on Burnside has the band leader, bawdy story teller, slide guitarist, Grandpa to the Deep Blues where he was at his best. Live, and unfiltered.
One Kind Favor
Geffen Records - 2008
I’l admit it. I could listen to BB King sing his grocery list, and just be enthralled. In a previous Blues Review interview Taj Mahal called BB King ‘The Greatest Bluesman alive”. Taj is correct. One Kind Favor has a “who’s who” for studio musicians (Dr. John, Jim Keltner) with production and some of the song writing credit belonging to T-Bone Burnett. There may be star studio musicians on board, and a star producer, but BB still has the ability to outshine the others around him and inject his own style in every cover song.
One Kind Favor is another release covered in Blues Reviews Top 25 of the decade, and once again they got this one right.
Natch'l Blues - Reissued
OK, so I cheated. This wasn’t originally released from 2000-2009 but, for me, it really isn’t a “Best of Blues” article without some mention of Taj Mahal. Though “Maestro” is a solid release it is a compilation of all of Mahal’s work it lacks continuity for those of us who still listen to entire disks track by track. So, I’ll cheat.
Live at Theresa's-1975
Recorded in 1975 at “Theresa’s Hole”, Junior was in his element. This recording illustrates Junior at his best, somewhat sober, constantly toeing that line between feisty and irascible and genuinely inflecting his playboy spirit in his material and into the audiences. Including the extended bull sessions with the audience only lends to the homey feeling of a whole night recorded on just a couple of condenser mics and left unedited.
Pushin' My Luck
Fat Possum - 2003
On one of my many trips to Dyno Records in Newburyport for some retail music therapy, I mentioned to the clerk I was looking for something new/raw/and dark. Without even missing a beat, or giving me a look usually reserved for the mouth breathers and emo kids who now staff Newbury Comics, the clerk went straight to the racks and pulled this disk out especially for me. With personal money back guarantee (meaning if I didn’t like it he would take money out of his own pocket), Steve the clerk at Dyno Records helped push me towards my current Deep Blues bent.
Alligator Records - 2000
It was long enough ago at the TD Bank Pavilion that we do not remember which corporate entity had bought out the place formerly known as Harborlights. As part of BB King’s blues festival it was King headlining a night with Dr. John, Elvin Bishop and an artist we only knew as Johnny “Clyde” Copeland’s daughter. It it was not for an overwhelming urge to soak up some rays, drink a few beers, and blow off work for the day we never would have gone to Harbor Lights for the opening set at 1PM. Thankfully we did. Since this release Copeland has released several other quality releases on Alligator, and a somewhat pedestrian pop release with Telarc. Wicked is still my favorite of the bunch.
The Delmark Sessions
Delmark Records 2002
In a nod to the local music scene, Lowell’s own Frank Morey also needs to be included in this list. One part americana, one part acoustic blues artist Morey has a growl which invokes Howlin’ Wolf and a look which invokes Rocky I extra. The Delmark Sessions, Morey’s only recording for the legendary Chicago blues-and-jazz label Delmark, finds Morey at this best howlin’ his hipster poetry over a roadhouse backing band. Scott Pittman’s work on a vintage traps kit keeps the entire recording from ever venturing too far into americana, and always keeping the raucous blues feel.
Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials
Alligator Records - 2008
While the the sharp dressed, fez wearing, self professed “King of the Slide” does have the J.B Hutto bloodlines and does borrow from Hound Dog Taylor’s house rocking sound, Lil’ Ed is his own man. Full Tilt is more than just a name of a disk, but the baseline principal behind all of Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials music. Every tempo is pushed, and maximum effort is thrown into every measure creating an infectious and raucous sound.