James Cotton Cotton Mouth Man
James Cotton is not the kind of musician to let a little health problem get in his way. In his case, however, his health issue wasn’t so little. After battling throat cancer throughout the 1990s, Cotton lost the ability to sing. Fortunately for him, he plays the harp just as well as anyone. Having a few friends help him out on his new album Cotton Mouth Man doesn’t hurt either.
Joe Bonamassa shows off his vocal chops on the title track featuring Cotton’s blistering harmonica. “Mississippi Mud” pulls back on the tempo, but Keb Mo’s spirited vocals shine through. Another highlight comes from Ruthie Foster’s powerful take on “Wrapped Around My Heart”. Other guests include Gregg Allman, Warren Haynes, and Delbert McClinton.
After decades on the road and trying times, bluesmen like James Cotton continue to play and record music. Why? A passion for the music. Passion that pushes him to keep the blues alive and well.
Joe Bonamassa An Acoustic Evening At The Vienna Opera House
Joe Bonamassa made a name for himself with his driving style of blues guitar and high energy music. So what happens when you take that away? Bonamassa treated an audience to just that in July 2012 and he’s chronicled that performance on his new 2 CD set An Acoustic Evening At The Vienna Opera House. Gone are the variety of effects he uses and the thick layers of rock laced blues, instead replaced by the strumming of an acoustic guitar and backing string instruments.
New layers emerge that once went unnoticed. The progression of “Dust Bowl” is so much clearer in this setting. He lets his Americana side loose on “Athens to Athens” with a washboard beat and a fiddle player to boot. The second CD leads off with an exploration of some of the best roots blues songs like Charley Patton’s “High Water Everywhere”, Robert Johnson’s “Stones In My Passway”, and Tom Waits’ “Jockey Full Of Burbon”.
The album takes Bonamassa’s fans a place they haven’t been before. Here, the music comes through a little clearer. You can see how his influences have shaped his songwriting and hear what he builds upon. Above all else, you hear how he keeps an audience’s attention and you feel like you are in the room watching his performance.
Beth Hart Bang Bang Boom Boom
Describing an artist’s music is usually best done by comparing their sound to how other artists sound. Sometimes, that is near impossible. Beth Hart does have a little Joss Stone in her and has taken a bit of the blues style from close friend and frequent collaborator Joe Bonamassa, but her music really doesn’t match anyone else. Her latest effort Bang Bang Boom Boom truly runs the gamut of rock, blues, and soul.
She lulls you on the opening track “Baddest Blues” before cranking up the energy to eleven. Her range shines through on “Bang Bang Boom Boom” as her sultry vocals are both smooth yet jarring. She brings the soul and a gospel sound to “Spirit Of God” on a track that will will lift you up. She wraps up with a bonus track as she accompanies Jeff Beck’s scorching guitar on a fantastic cover of “I’d Rather Go Blind”.
Hart has so much raw talent. There’s a reason she keeps resurfacing with other great musicians like Jeff Beck, Bonamassa, and others. As long as she keeps belting out her very unique vocals you should continue to hear her around other rock and blues greats in the future.
The Slide Brothers
Robert Randolph has contributed much to the advancement of the pedal steel guitar over the years. More specifically, he is rooted in Sacred Steel, a style of blues gospel using the pedal steel. He brought together a band of musicians influential to him over the years to record their first ever album and called the group The Slide Brothers. Calvin Cooke, Aubrey Ghent, Chuck Campbell, and Darick Campbell bring a different spin to a variety of blues and rock songs. They start with Gregg Allman’s “Don’t Keep Me Wondering”, with well layered steel guitars bringing the song alive. With “My Sweet Lord”, they take a spiritual song from George Harrison and put their own unique spin on it. Shemieka Copeland lends a hand on Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” to create a roots version of a song that began as the opposite of roots. All in all, they re-imagine a variety of songs you would never think of. Their ability to put a gospel spin on any song is incredible and surely fulfills the original goals Robert Randolph had recording the band. Thankfully he knows the importance of saving such culturally important music like Sacred Steel and will keep it alive with great records like The Slide Brothers.
Buddy Guy Live At Legends
Buddy Guy’s credentials in the blues world are unquestioned. One of the men responsible for the success of the Chicago blues sound, he continues to release quality music and can still put on a show after all these years. One of those shows came in January 2010 in Chicago at his own Legends club. Buddy Guy Live At Legends showcases how talented Guy truly is. He kicks off his set with a lively version of “Best Damn Fool”, where he shreds his guitar like few others can. He slows down the tempo on the more traditional “Mannish Boy” as Guy lets a little bit of his crooner side out. He does justice to other greats as well with a medley of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” and Eric Clapton’s “Sunshine Of Your Love”. What is clear is that the blues flows through Guy. He shows us time and time again why he is the epitome of the classic blues man. Thankfully he doesn’t appear to be anywhere close to slowing down.
Shemekia Copeland 33 1/3
The blues has run through Shemekia Copeland’s veins since the day she was born. Daughter of blues great Johnny Copeland, Shemekia started her career opening for her father to introduce her to music fans. Since then, she has brought a soulful flavor with her outstanding vocal talents and that continues to be the case on her latest release 33 1/3. Leading off with “Lemon Pie”, Copeland goes straight for the jugular with a song that combines the blues, rock, and soul together in a way that catches your attention. She brings in the big guns to help, including Buddy Guy’s incredible guitar work on “Ain’t Gonna Be Your Tattoo”. J.J. Grey also contributes his song “A Woman” before helping Copeland on the vocals for “Mississippi Mud”. Copeland also does justice to Sam Cooke’s classic “Ain’t That Good News” to round out an album that brings a modern spin on classic blues. Overall, her referencing of vinyl with the album title fits so well. Although she is certainly a modern artist, she keeps the spirit of the influential blues of the past alive and well. Copeland will only help blues thrive into the future.
Bettye LaVette Thankful N’ Thoughtful
Bettye Lavette is a survivor through and through. One of many soul and R&B singers in the 60’s and 70’s, LaVette never really found much mainstream success outside of a Top 40 R&B song here and there and a disco hit. After releasing a variety of albums into the 80’s and a run on Broadway, her career seemed destined to never take off. At the turn of the millennium, however, a fan of her’s made a big discovery of previously unreleased material. What followed was a Comeback Blues Album Of The Year award along with inclusion on a number of Best Of 2005 lists with her album I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise. Her latest effort Thankful N’ Thoughtful celebrates her 50 years in the music business. She covers many of the most influential songs released in that time. Her soulful style explodes through her vocals on the lead track “Everything Is Broken”. She tackles the difficult challenge of turning Gnarls Barkley hit “Crazy” into a mellow lounge tune, but she pulls it off beautifully. She makes Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” her own but at the same time keeps the original emotion of the song intact. She’s faced many challenges throughout her career but she keeps fighting through them. Her hard work has paid off and she’s finally getting the recognition she deserves, even if it took a few decades to get there.