Best of the Blues 2019 – Soul Blues Albums of the Year

This year’s Ben Vee Roadhouse Blues best soul blues albums feature artists based in Europe, Indianapolis, Houston, Memphis, and Tyler, Texas. They all share a love for a genre that has bested the years and continues to thrive today! Great voices combined with both funky and sensual beats are the hallmark of soul blues and all five of these artists are doin’ a fine job of carrying on the soul blues tradition. The artists are listed in no particular order….I hope you download and enjoy all five! (Links to Spotify for the albums are shown in blue.)

Big Daddy Wilson – Deep in My Soul (2019 Ruff Records)

Born Wilson Blount in Edelston North Carolina, Big Daddy Wilson has been living in Germany since he left the armed forces 25 years ago. He started his recording career in the 1990’s and has over a dozen album releases to his credit. For DEEP IN MY SOUL, he teamed with renown producer Jim Gaines and recorded the album at the soul and R&B Mecca of Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals Alabama. Jim’s hallmark as a producer is the search for groove and raw energy. He found them years ago with Huey Lewis & the News, and with Big Daddy Wilson, he once again has the real deal.

My favorite cuts are Voodoo with its sultry beat and Crazy World, a slow soul ballad that showcases Big Daddy’s terrific voice and is easily one of my favorite tunes of the year. During February 2020, he will be touring Switzerland and Germany supporting the new release. Checkout his website at http://www.bigdaddywilson.com and if he gets close to you in Europe, go see him and drop us a line letting us know what you thought.

Annika Chambers – Kiss My Sass (2019 Vizztone)

I first met Annika Chambers at in impromptu appearance at a small club in Houston several years ago. Her personality and voice lit up the stage and I had the chance to talk with her afterwards. She didn’t have a record deal at the time but I encouraged her to keep hustling and payin’ her dues. And that she did.

In 2014, her first album, Making My Mark, was released to critical reviews. And her second, Wild and Free, debuted at number seven on the Billboard Blues Charts and eventually earned her the prestigious Blues Music Award as female soul blues singer of year in May of 2019.

Now with the release of her third album, KISS MY SASS, Annika has solidified her place as one of the stars of the genre. The album was produced by Larry Fulcher, Richard Cagle, and Tony Braunagel. My favorite cut on the album is a cover of a Chris Smither tune I FEEL THE SAME that Bonnie Raitt also recorded. It is a duet with Canadian Paul DesLauriers that is just fantastic. I also really enjoyed Two Bit Texas Town and World of Hurt.

Annika will be out touring in Florida in early February 2020. Visit her website at http://www.annikachambers.com and go see her!!

Southern Avenue – Keep On (2019 Concord Records)

For their sophomore release, this energetic group based out of Memphis continues to build on their southern soul roots with KEEP ON. Led by the powerhouse voice of Tierinii Jackson, the group recorded the twelve song album at the Sam Phillips Studios in Memphis with the help of producer Johnny Black. The result is one of the great albums of 2019.

The guitar playing for the group is handled in dazzling style by Ori Naftaly who hails from Israel and has been a favorite of mine since I first heard him several years ago as a solo performer. Drums are played by Tierinii’s sister, Tikyra Jackson, and the keyboard player is Jeremy Powell. Guest bass player for most of the cuts on the album is Gage Markey. There is also a horn section compromised of Art Edmaiston and Marc Franklin. Together, they all meld to produce a distinctive sound that is a delightful mix of southern soul, funk, R&B, and contemporary blues. I encourage you to give a listen to We Got the Music, Whiskey Love, and the sensual Savoir to get a feel for just how good this group is.

Southern Avenue has an ambitious set of concert dates in the United States in February and March 2020 and then embarks on another tour of Europe in the spring.

And I am not the only one taking notice of this group. They were nominated for a 2020 Grammy Music Award and are a nominee for the 2020 Blues Music Awards held in Memphis each May.

Sugaray Rayford – Somebody Save Me (2019 Forty Below Records)

Sugaray Rayford is the epitome of the soul blues man; a big barreled voice full of emotion and, man, can he groove!! The album, Somebody Save Me, has 10 original tunes written by the record producer, Eric Corne. Together, this tandem has produced one the best albums of 2019.

Sugaray was nominated for the BB King Entertainer of the Year award this past year and the first cut on the album, The Revelator, helps explain why. Opening with a driving beat on drums and bass, he sets the vocal groove which is framed by some soulful backing singers and a badass trumpet solo. This is a song I want to see him perform…hopefully someday soon.

I also enjoyed Angels and Devils and Dark Night of the Soul. I absolutely loved Sometimes You Get the Bear (and Sometimes the Bear Gets You) with its down the bayou feel.

Sugaray Rayford is an imposing figure standing 6’5″. He dominates the music and stage with his persona and voice. Over the years, he has made some great records with the Mannish Boys but this is by far his best recording to date. In March 2020, he will do a concert swing along the west coast in California and then Washington. Go check out a soul man at the top of his groove!

Tad Robinson – Real Street (2019 Severn Records)

Tad Robinson got his start back in the 1980’s in the blues clubs of Chicago. That itself is no easy thing given the plethora of talent in the Windy City. He is an eight time Blues Music Award Nominee and REAL STREET has garnered him yet more attention in the past year. With a baritone voice and talent on the harmonica, Tad recorded the album in Memphis, another fitting city for his soul blues style. The producer for the recording is Scott Bomar.

The title cut, Real Street, is one of my favorites on the album. It’s upbeat and rhythmic and plays to the strength of his voice as well as highlighting the talents of the legendary Hi Rhythm Section (Howard Grimes, Charles Hodges and Leroy Hodges) who contributed their talents to the record.

I loved Tad’s imaginative reworking of You Got It, a song originally performed by Roy Orbison and penned by him, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne. It is the perfect platform for Tad’s soul blues voice. It also features the tasteful Hammond B3 organ playing of Charles Hodges.

Long Way Home is another favorite of mine. It’s funky beat is set by drummer Howard Grimes and bass player Leroy Hodges. I also enjoyed Love In the Neighborhood which features some nice guitar licks by Joe Restivo.

Tad will be performing in his adopted home of Indianapolis during February and March of 2020. I hope you get a chance to catch this star of the soul blues!


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.

Ben Vee’s Roadhouse Blues Christmas 3-5 pm EST Dec 20, 2018

Come join us at http://www.bluesmusicfan.com from 3-5 pm EST today as I do the Roadhouse Blues Christmas Style!  Hope you get a chance to tune in…but if not…..have a damn fine Christmas in any case!

Here’s the intended playlist….

ARTIST TITLE
Widow Blue Pow Wow Blues
Mindi Abair And The Boneshakers I Can’t Wait For Christmas
Joe Bonamassa Christmas Boogie (One Little Kiss)
Coco Montoya Bluesman’s Christmas
C.J. Chenier & The Red Hot Louisiana Band Zydeco Christmas
Shemekia Copeland Stay A Little Longer, Santa
Warren Haynes Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday
Joe Louis Walker Christmas Comes but Once a Year
Dave Hole Fattening Up The Turkey
Kara Grainger Man With Soul
Melissa Etheridge Merry Christmas Baby (Album Version)
Joe Bonamassa King Bee Shakedown
The Black Tongued Bells Kingbee Jam
Tinsley Ellis Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’
Eva Cassidy Take Me to the River
Mark Knopfler Just A Boy Away From Home
Freddie King Woman Across The River
Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials Christmas Time
Lynyrd Skynyrd Santa’s Messin’ With The Kid
Margit Bakkens Please Come Home For Christmas
Rachelle Coba High and Dry
Steve Cropper Let’s Make Christmas Merry, Baby
Kara Grainger Working My Way Back Home
Saverio Maccne The Only Thing I’ve Got
Joe Bonamassa Merry Christmas Baby
Lonnie Brooks Christmas On The Bayou
B.B. King Christmas Comes But Once A Year

Ben’s IN THE BIN Blues Reviews – September 14, 2018

Here’s a trio of albums I really enjoyed listening to this summer……

Ally Venable Band – Puppet Show  (Connor Ray Music 2018)

Ally Venabl

A blues rocker who looks like a super model and plays a guitar like a super star, this nineteen year old from Texas does a great job on her second album, Puppet Show.  She gets some contributions from Lance Lopez, Steve Krase, Gary Hoey, and Eric Steckel….all blues stars in their own right and a sure sign of what they think of her talent. Loved the slow blues grinder, Comfort in my Sorrows, and enjoyed Backwater Blues, Survive, and the title cut Puppet Show.

Crystal Shawanda – Voodoo Woman (New Sun Records 2017)

crystal shawanda

Born and raised in Canada and now based in Nashville, this native American has an incredible voice that encompasses the best of Koko Taylor, Etta James, and Janis Joplin.  The song, Bluetrain (Slight Return)/ Smokestack Lightning Revisited, is a powerful original tune that I really love.  And she does a great job on covers of Ball & Chain, Hound Dog, Voodoo Woman, I’d Rather Go Blind, and Wang Dang Doodle.

The Lucky Losers – Blind Spot (Dirty Cat Records 2018)

lucky losers

Though they are San Francisco based and recorded the album in San Jose, California, I could have sworn Cathy Lemons and Phil Berkowitz took a pirogue down some black water bayou in southern Louisiana and recorded their third album, Blind Spot, under the shade of a moss covered oak tree next to the water.  She and Phil seem to bring out the best in each other as they take a joyful romp through what I call the “down the bayou” blues….music that is blues infused with a healthy dose of R&B, soul, and a bit of funk. I loved Alligator Baptism, It’s Never Too Early, Love Is Blind, and Supernatural Blues.  And The River is a fantastic showcase for Cathy’s voice.  This album has my early nod for nomination as one of the five best albums of 2018.  It also features some great guitar work by special guests Laura Chavez and Kid Andersen as well as some bad ass guest sax by Nancy Wright and even some violin by Annie Staninec.