During the course of 2019, I was thrilled at the number of new artists that released debut albums. It bodes well for the future of the roadhouse blues in the next decade. My selections for the five best debut roadhouse blues artists of 2019 are (in alphabetical order) Christone “Kingfinsh” Ingram, Tennessee Redemption, The Allman Betts Band, The Weary Times, and Tiffany Pollack & Eric Johanson.
Christone “Kingfish” Ingram – Kingfish ( 2019 Alligator Records)
Christone “Kingfish” Ingram hails from the heart of the delta blues in Clarkesdale Mississippi. This rising blues prodigy is only twenty and has already captured the attention of blues lovers with the release of his debut album KINGFISH. Released on the prestigious blues label, Alligator Records, the album shot to the top of the blues charts this past May and has garnered him attention around the blues world.
He started out playing and singing gospel in church and by the time he was fifteen performed at the White House for Michelle Obama as part the Clarksdale Delta Museum Band. In 2017, he was a guest artist on Eric Gales’ Middle of the Road album. Eventually he caught the attention of the living blues legend Buddy Guy, blues maestro Keb’ Mo’, and Grammy award winning artist and producer Tom Hambridge. With the touch of a master, Tom brings out the best in Christone on the debut album.
KINGFISH is a traditional blues album chocked full of great tunes. Fresh Out features the mastery of Buddy Guy, Hard Times is some fine delta acoustic blues, and Listen is a great duet with Keb’ Mo’. Few debut albums feature such a strong cast of world class supporting artists. It is a tribute to Christone’s talent and a beacon pointing to a very bright future.
Tennessee Redemption – Tennessee Redemption (2019 Endless Blues Records)
Brandon Santini, my 2019 Roadhouse Bluesman of the Year, received the award in part for the release of this self titled album TENNESSEE REDEMPTION. After years of honing their craft on Beale Street in Memphis (sometimes together sometimes apart), Brandon (lead vocals, harmonica) teamed with long time friend Jeff Jensen (lead vocals, guitar) and incorporated Timo Arthur (guitar, bass), Bill Ruffino (bass, vocals), and David Green (drums, vocals) to form this solid and tight band.
The album includes eight original songs plus a cover of the Tom Waits tune, Come On Up to the House and a great rendition of Little Walter’s Watch Yourself. Back To Tennessee is a fabulous jam tune steeped in the southern sound that emanated out of Macon Georgia back in the 1970’s and features some great guitar playing by Jeff and Timo. Glad To Be recounts Brandon and Jeff’s time playing on Beale Street and collecting dreams that have been realized with release of this recording. Given my love for the beaches, people, food, and tequila found in the small towns of our southern neighbor, it should be no surprise that I also enjoyed I’m Going To Mexico. See About Me, Souls In the Water, and the funky We Got A Thing Going On are also highly recommended.
Tennessee Redemption is an ideal example of the roadhouse blues with its roots in the blues but also reflecting the influences of gospel, southern rock, classic R&B, and soul. I look forward to seeing how they develop and mature their sound as the years go by.
The Allman Betts Band – Down to the River (2019 BMG Rights Management LLC)
Few groups in recent years have debuted an album to such popular and critical acclaim as THE ALLMAN BETTS BAND. The core of the band is three sons of the Allman Brothers Band (ABB): Devon Allman, Duane Betts, and Barry Oakley Jr.. Additionally Johnny Stachela provides some stellar slide guitar playing along with one of my favorite Hammond B3 organ players, John Ginty. The band also features percussionist R. Scott Bryan and drummer John Lum. And as if that wasn’t enough, former ABB keyboard player Chuck Leavall (currently with The Rolling Stones) and the Hammond B3 player for the Greg Allman Band, Peter Levin, make guest appearances on the recording.
Down to the River was recorded at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama and features nine songs. My favorite on the album is a tune steeped in the legacy of ABB, Shinin’. All Night is a great showcase for Devon’s vocal talent and Melodies Are Memories is reminiscent of The Band and the Grateful Dead at their best and features Duane on vocals. Long Gone is a terrific ballad and the title cut, Down To The River, is some sweet easy classic R&B. Autumn Breeze is a song I can’t wait to see them jam to in concert. And Good Ol’ Days is a beautiful reminder that we need to embrace and live the “good ol’ days” now.
Since the album was released last summer, the Allman Betts Band has been on an ambitious tour of the United States and Europe. It is my understanding that the crowds have been huge and the audience response phenomenal. They are definitely on my bucket list of groups to see in 2020.
The Weary Times – The Weary Times (2019 Way Down Records)
THE WEARY TIMES, a band out of Boise Idaho, first caught my ear this past summer with Why Are You So Lonely. It’s a sad song that captures the feel of early sixties doo wap enhanced by the gravely voice of Ryan Curtis and the sparse and delightful guitar playing of Mike Simon. The tune, Piece of Mind, also grabbed me with the keyboard playing of Mike Swain and is a throwback to the very best that Eric Burdon & the Animals kicked out back in the day. Nick Archibald on bass and Ben Wieland on drums complete this creative quintet of musicians that proudly claim the blues and early rock’n’roll as the basis for their sound.
Nostalgic blues rock is the best way that I can describe The Weary Times debut album overall. Mixing in reverb and fuzz to give several songs an energetic garage band feel just adds icing to the cake. Ain’t Done Drinking and Anymore rock the blues, Best For You is another Eric Burdon & the Animals style tune, I Don’t Know Why and Hard Times are great sixties psychedelia, and Give And Take is a slow insightful song about aging after a hard lived youth.
I listened to literally hundreds of new albums during 2019 and very few were as unique and imaginative as an overall recording as this one. They have captured the essence of the early and mid 1960’s music sound (which was always based on the blues) and reintroduced it, after a fifty year lapse, with contemporary themes. It is music nostalgia for modern times.
After playing small clubs and venues across the Pacific Northwest the past couple of years, the Weary Times have earned the opportunity with this debut recording to expand their fan base and turn the rest of the roadhouse blues world on to their music. I just hope they are ready for the wild ride!!
Tiffany Pollack & Eric Johanson – Blues In My Blood (2019 NOLA Blue Records)
The best debut album by a duet couple since Joe Bonamassa and Beth Hart back in 2011, Blues In My Blood is a solid recording by New Orleans based Tiffany Pollack and Eric Johanson. Tiffany comes to the blues from her roots in jazz music and Eric is an up and coming bluesman who has caught the attention of non other than Tab Benoit!
They combined their writing talents to pen seven of the 11 songs on the recording. My absolute favorite is the title cut, Blues in My Blood. It starts with a gospel inspired delta feel and then builds in intensity with some great guitar work by Eric and a powerful vocal delivery by Tiffany. Another favorite is Diamonds on the Crown with great harmonies and thoughtful social commentary. Eric has a voice similar to another great blues man from Louisiana, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and his guitar style is stellar on the song. Tiffany takes on the Nina Simone classic Do I Move You? and aces it with a sultry jazzy performance. Eric takes the vocal lead on Get Lost With Me, a blues ballad, and again wowed me with his guitar.
I also enjoyed the roots blues tune Memories to Forget as well as a knockout performance by Tiffany of the Joni Mitchell song, River, which I consider a great Christmas time tune. I played it several times during my DJ sets this past season and the response was tremendous!
Musicians that contributed their talents to the recording include Brentt Arcement (drums), Phil Wang (bass), John Gros (keyboards), producer Jack Miele (bass, bass guitar, and percussions), Sean Carey (backing vocals) and a guest appearance by the great Jumpin’ Johnny Sansone as well as the 504 Horns.
My only disappointment is that I have seen no evidence since the release of the album last spring that they have toured to support the recording. Both have returned to their solo careers. Tiffany & Co are playing jazz venues in New Orleans and Eric is touring with Tab Benoit who produced his 2017 highly acclaimed album, Burn It Down. I hear that Tab is playing drums for Eric during his part of the show; I’d pay to see that!!
My hope is that, as Joe and Beth have done, they will get back together from time to time and lay down some more tracks…..they both have blues in their blood!
Ben Vee is an internet DJ and writer from New Orleans that now lives in Connecticut with his wife Annette. He started spinning records back in the 1970’s and has been writing about the roadhouse blues since 2011. He does two roadhouse blues shows each week on http://www.bluesmusicfan.com and he writes about the blues when the urge strikes on http://www.benveeblues.com.