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.

Albert Cummings…The Badass Master Craftsman of the Rockin Blues

If you are working man or woman in Germany, Japan. Great Britain, the United States, Canada, or anywhere else in the world, Albert Cummings is a kindred spirit.   He is a master carpenter and home builder as well as being, according to the late great B.B. King, one of the world’s best blues guitarist. I got so see him this past Friday (February 17, 2017) at Stage One in Fairfield, Connecticut.  It is a small cozy venue without a bad seat in the house and it was a perfect setting for his style and music.

Albert comes across as an everyday person.  Dressed in an untucked maroon long sleeve shirt and jeans and wearing a grey baseball cat, Albert is your average working guy…..until he strikes a chord on his guitar and begins to belt out tunes with his distinctive voice.  He started playing the electric blues guitar while he was in college…drawn to it by the music of Stevie Ray Vaughan. And in 2003, he put out his first solo album, From the Heart, with no less than SRV’s group, Double Trouble, as his studio band and producers.  In 2006, he recorded, Workin’ Man Blues, on the album Working Man.  It is a remake of song written by Merle Haggard that fit’s Albert persona and will forever be the way that I think of him.

 

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On stage, Albert smiles and grins a lot.  It is obvious that he loves playing the blues.  And once he got started, it was rapid fire rockin blues for two hours.  Backed by a tight bass guitarist and drummer, he covered songs for his latest release, Someone Like You, on Blind Pig Records (a powerhouse blues label… http://www.blindpigrecords.com/ ) as well as favorites like Cry Me A River, Hoochie Coochie, and The Blues Make Me Feel So Good from his previous albums.

Afterwards he mingled with the crowd and I got him to sign my Albert Cummings baseball cap. He was as friendly in person as on stage. We chatted about the blues and he wished me the best as a blues dj and blogger and his thank you for me playing his tunes on my stream was just so damn genuine.

Over the next two months, Albert will be playing venues all over the northeastern United States, the mid west, and the South.  Check out his tour dates at http://albertcummings.com/tour-dates/ and if he comes your way, go spend an evening listening to the rockin blues of the Workin’ Man Albert Cummings.

Full Steam Through the Night with Thorbjorn Risager & The Black Tornado

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The first great blues rock album of 2017, Change My Game, is by Copenhagen based Thorbjorn Risager and the Black Tornado. A true mesh of blues, rock, and soul, the album resonates with a contemporary sound.  Thorbjorn was a distinctive voice meant for steamy nights at the club or home. Musically, the album makes tasteful use of horns, keyboards, and backup vocals to compliment the outstanding guitar and percussion work.

I have noted previously over the last year that a number of music artists have revived the true rhythm and blues and soul sound of the sixties and seventies on their releases. These genres are important categories of the blues and deserve the attention and respect they are getting from contemporary artists.  Beth Hart, Melissa Etheridge, along with perennials Curtis Salgado and Janiva Magness come to mind and Thorbjorn fits nicely into this group of stellar performers.  The title cut is vintage funk…upbeat and snappy. Long Gone is a slow lyrical masterpiece filled with late night images of sorrow and pain. And I Used To Love You is a beautiful song with some awesome blues guitar riffs and a nice beat.

thorbjorn-1On a number of cuts on the album, Thorbjorn continues to expand on the blues for contemporary audiences.  Train is just badass contemporary upbeat rockin’ blues…ridin full steam through the night. Holler and Moan builds on the delta roots of the electric blues and makes tasteful use of blues chant and horns as well as the banjo to highlight the growling vocals of Thorbjorn…a very cool tune.  Maybe It’s Alright is a perfect synergy of the blues, soul, and rock that should drive people to the dance floor at juke joints worldwide.

Without a doubt, Thorbjorn Risager and the Black Tornado, are world class talents.  This is the tenth record release for the group and with the power and drive of blues giants Ruf Records behind them, they should get a lot of airplay on blues stations and streams (like mine) across the globe.  They will be touring in Denmark, Germany, and Sweden to support the new album over the next several months. As the airplay builds for the record, I expect the tour to expand through the rest of Europe during the summer.  I know it is very expensive for an eight member European band to travel and play in the United States, but I do hope they will make one foray to the northeastern United States and Canada. I know enough about the current blues and blues rock music scene to say with full confidence that audiences in New York City, Hartford, Boston, Montreal, and Toronto will love their music!! I just hope I get to see them soon…..or can find a cheap flight to Copenhagen!

Ana Popovic’s Stiletto Blues

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My lovely wife Annette and I got to see one of the world’s greatest blues and rock guitarists on Friday night……Ana Popovic!  Nestled in the intimate 225 seat confines of the Fairfield Stage One Theatre, we enjoyed a two hour performance of songs from her last several albums as well as tunes by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix!

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Method to the Madness yields hit for Tommy Castro

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Tommy’s latest album Method to My Madness deserves serious consideration for blues album of the year. A Californian with the soul of a deep southern R&B bluesman, he has paid his dues over the course of 14 albums and thousands of live performances. Along with his band, the Painkillers, he has produced 12 songs that span the expanse of the blues from soul to great blues rockers.

The title cut is a soul infused slice of Tommy’s upbeat style. With the tune On Common Ground, Tommy observes that “we have to band together or all fall down”; a healthy bit of advice for our fractious society. Shine A Light and All about the Cash feature some bad ass guitar licks and Bad Luck is an awesome blues shuffle. On Ride, Tommy channels a bit of Jack Kerouac and Jim Morrison to create a distinctive song.  And Tommy shines in my favorite blues genre, the grinding blues, with Lose Lose.; his voice suits the deep sensual blues.

Twelve songs….twelve great tunes. Check out his tour schedule. If he gets close, make sure to go share in the madness.

If you have an mp3 player….check out “Ride“…..

 

 

 

In From the Cold with Tinsley Ellis

tinsley_ellis_tough_love_square_400x400Tinsley’s latest album Tough Love has been nominated by the prestigious Blues Foundation for 2016 Rock Blues album of the Year and has already won the same award from Blues Blast Magazine. It is a deserving honor for the Atlanta based blues rocker.  Over the course of eleven albums and almost 20 years, Tinsley has wowed listeners and audiences with an intense brand of blues rock. For his latest album, he turns down the dial just a tad and has produced a classic.

When I first bought and listened to the album in February of 2015, I was blown away by one song in particular, In From the Cold.  It is the last of the ten songs on the recording and he definitely saved the best for last. It is a perfect blending of his voice and guitar playing style featuring heart felt lyrics and soaring guitar licks.  It is far and away my pick for Blues Song of the year and will become a blues rock classic.

 

 

Smokin’ Cigars and Ponderin’ Blues (Feb 23, 2015)

Sittin’ in my easy chair, smokin’ a cigar, and ponderin’ blues reviews:

  • Rory BlockHard Luck Child – Stony Plain Recording 2014
    • No Cigar – While acoustically brilliant, the album, which covers Skip James, didn’t do much for me.
  • Eric BibJericho Road – Stony Plain Recording 2013
    • One Fine Cigar – Death Row Blues is a great tune on a solid album.
  • Edin BrentJigsaw Heart – Yellow Dog Records 2014
    • One Fine Cigar and a Sniffer of Brandy – She is “Bonnie Raitt on a piano”. Nuff said!
  • John MooneySon and Moon – Fatback Records 2014
    • One Fine Cigar – Covering Son House tunes, John does some fine acoustic pickin’ playing the delta blues.
  • Elvin BishopCan’t Even Do Wrong Right – Alligator Records 2014
    • One Cigar – The title cut is vintage “Red Dog” blues and nominated for song of the year by the Blues Foundation.
  • John NemethMemphis Grease – Blue Corn Music 2014
    • One Fine Cigar – Bad Luck is My Name has been nominated for song of the year. Contains several nice soul blues and harp tunes.
  • Jarekus SingletonRefuse to Lose – Alligator Records 2014
    • One Fine Cuban Cigar with some friends – It’s the Chicago blues Baby! Great album by an up and coming young artist! High Minded was my favorite.
  • The Mannish BoysWrapped Up and Ready – Delta Groove Music 2014
    • One Fine Cuban Cigar with some friends – Layin’ down the Chicago blues with vigor and finesse. Loved Blues for Michael Bloomfield, a great jammin’ grinding blues tune!