Best of the Blues 2019 – Five Most Creative Songs of the Year

The year 2019 was an exciting and invigorating one for blues lovers with the largest number of new albums released that I can recall since at least 2012. Amongst all the songs that I heard and spun for the year (and that was thousands!), these five struck me as the most creative in terms of the sound or lyrics or voice or a combination of all three!! (Links to the songs on Spotify or Youtube are shown in blue.)

HeavyDrunk – If I Loved You Hard Enough (Holywater 2019 on 4142 Music)

With lyrics that are Shakespearean in terms of the pathos and images created for your mind to wrestle with, If I Loved You Hard Enough is about a dysfunctional love that has spanned the lovers lives since they were kids. The opening lyrics portray a shocking scene at a Piggly Wiggly parking lot and it just gets better from there!

The song was written by Rob Robinson, the leader and front man for the Leipers’ Fork Tennessee soul blues band and is just one of many great tunes on the album Holywater. Rob also owns and operates a roadhouse style eatery south of town called Puckett’s…..mhmm…fine food and great roadhouse blues..I gotz to get there soon!

Amnesia Blues BandFast Johnny Cool (Hailstone 2019 on CDBaby)

Amnesia Blues Band hails from Gippsland, Australia. Paul “Buck” Buchanan is the lead vocalist and primary songwriter and they have penned an incredible song, Fast Johnny Cool, on their latest album Hailstone. An infectious bass driven beat and a great voice frame a song about a battle of guitar players at a low down roadhouse.

I got to chat with them a couple of months ago and they warned me not to visit them “down under” with a great voice or guitar. Listen to the song…you will know what they mean!

Jason Ricci & the Bad KindBreak in the Rain (My Chops Are Rolling 2019 on EllerSoul Records)

A transplant from Maine to my hometown of New Orleans, Jason Ricci is one of the great harmonica players of the blues genre. Break in the Rain has an insistent beat with fabulous guitar licks, some awesome harmonica riffs, and lyrics about a day jumpin’ in puddles and layin’ in the tall grass… naked! Hell yeah!

The song was written by band member and guitarist John Lisi. The Bad Kind band also includes Jason’s wife, Kaitlin Dibble, on backing vocals on the song. I hope to see them perform tunes from My Chops Are Rolling the next time I am back down in the Big Easy!

Ghost Town Blues BandDirty (Shine 2019)

One of traits of some blues lovers is a kind of conservatism about what is and is not the blues. There are any number of blues purists out there that I respect but don’t agree with. As B.B. King stated once in an interview that I saw, it was only natural for the blues to evolve as more and more people were exposed to it and began to play and interpret it from their own individual perspectives. First it was the delta acoustic blues. Then it was electrified when it moved into urban areas like Chicago. Eventually it was rocked up by the British blues bands of the last sixties. And now we have the wide variety of contemporary blues that I love and spin regularly. I use the term “roadhouse blues” to describe this fascinating mix of modern blues with rock, soul, rhythm and blues, gospel, swing, roots music, and, yes…even a bit of rap influence!

On their latest album, Shine, Ghost Town Blues Band out of Memphis includes an original and creative song entitled Dirty. It’s a southern blues rockin’ tune about dealin’ with the life that fate sometimes deals and includes the tasteful use of rap. It is just such a natural fit for the song and blues in general. Kudos to the band for having the creativity (and bravery to face the blues purists) with such a fine recording! And people certainly love the album. It rose to number one on the Billboard Blues Charts soon after it’s release this past October.

Left Lane Cruiser Smooth Commander (2019 Shake & Bake on Alive Records)

Left Lane Cruiser hails from Indiana and is a duo consisting of singer/guitarist Joe Evans IV and Pete Dio on drums/percussions. One of the songs on the new album SHAKE & BAKE is entitled Smooth Commander and it is about a sojourn across the world and his father’s love for the blues. The use of a resonator guitar is awesome and Joe’s voice is distinctive. And as he sings in the song, the blues will bring everybody around…..that it will surely do!!!

And kudos to the renown illustrator William Stout for providing such a creative album cover!


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 Late July Roadhouse Blues Bin

The summer is blowin’ by and here are some of the albums that I am listening to (song links to Spotify or Youtube are in blue):

The Kokomo Kings – Fighting Fire with Gasoline (2019)

The Kokomo Kings new album Fighting Fire with Gasoline heralds the return of the era when rock & roll and the blues were essentially the same genre. Upbeat and fun, I really enjoyed EVERY tune on this recording done by a mix of band members from Sweden and Denmark. I don’t know if it is somethin’ in the water, but there are a number of great new bands coming out of Copenhagen and Stockholm and the Kokomo Kings are one of the best. The band features Martin Abrahamsson (vocals and guitar), Magnus Lanshammar (bass and guitar), Ronni Boysen (guitar), and Daniel Winer√∂ (drums).

The album is packed with great rockin’ boogie blues tunes that will get your hips and feet movin’ including A Big Pile of Fish, Fighting Fire With Gasoline, Fooled by the City Lights, I Thought I was a Patient Man, If I was an Alien, Tornadohead, and The Fish Won’t Bite. Really loved Heatwave which has a Fabulous Thunderbirds feel to it. And my personal favorite is Tied to the Tracks that has some nice guitar riffs and a Mississippi Hill Country sound.

The influence of Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry pervades the album and I know both are in blues heaven smilin’ down on this fantastic recording. Now…if only I can persuade them to send me a t-shirt with the album cover on it…my summer will be complete!!!

Jason Ricci & the Bad Kind – My Chops Are Rolling (Ellersoul Records 2019)

Since releasing his first recording in 1995, Jason Ricci has earned a reputation as one of the best harmonica players in the music business with two awards (2010 & 2018) from the prestigious Blues Music Foundation for his talent on the instrument. On his second release for Ellersoul Records, My Chops Are Rolling, Jason Ricci & the Bad Kind again lay down some badass roadhouse blues.

I was captivated by the tune The Way That I Hurt Myself that has echoes of Led Zeppelin in the performance. The song highlights Jason’s voice as well as some badass harpin’ and also shines the musical spotlight on the incredible guitar playing of John Lisi.

Additionally, Jason does a stellar instrumental cover of Led Zepp’s Going to California on the album. I also enjoyed Break In the Rain and a song he recorded with his wife, Kaitlin Dibble, entitled If You Should Lose Me. It is a great cover of a song originally performed by Barbara Lynn back in the late 1960’s.

Jason & I share a love for the New Orleans Saints and he put his admiration into words and music on Who Dat Nation! All you Saints fan should give it a listen! And Atlanta Falcon fans might want to avoid the explicit version he also includes ūüėõ

Blue Moon Marquee – Bare Knuckles & Brawn (Factor Canada 2019)

Harkening back to the era of the blues cabaret, Blue Moon Marquee modernizes the sound on their new CD, Bare Knuckles & Brawn. A.W. Cardinal makes it work with gritty vocals and guitar playing and Jasmine Collette lays down some badass upright bass riffs as well as vocals. They are the core of a band that features guest appearances by Darcy Phillips (keyboards), Jerry Cook (Tenor & Bari Sax, Clarinet), Jimmy “Hollywood” Badger (Drums), Jack Garton (trumpet), and Paul Pigat (guitar).

Overall, this is well produced album with a laid back ambiance and a jazzy feel that still maintains an adherence to the blues. I really enjoyed 52nd Street Strut, As I Lay Dying, and the sultry feel of Big Black Mamba. Big Smoke is a great blues tune and Fever Flickering Flame conjures up scenes of a packed dance floor at a 1920 speakeasy. The haunting use of the trumpet and sparse piano licks perfectly frame Jasmine’s voice on Hard Times Hit Parade. And I loved the western swing guitar playing of Paul on The Red Devil Himself.

This is the perfect album to share with friends, a fine cigar, and a dirty martini. Let me know when ya do!!!

Travellin’ Blue Kings – Wired Up (Donor Productions 2019)

A European band that helps defines what I term as the roadhouse blues, the Travellin’ Blue Kings kick out some solid tunes on their new album Wired Up. This four piece band consists of Stephan Hermsen (vocals, harp, guitar), Jimmy Hontel√© (guitar), Winne Penninckx (bass), and Marc Gijbels (drums).


This is another album where I loved EVERY cut. Particular favorites are Get It Done, Ninety Minutes, Into the Night, Straight Eight, and The Way It Used to Be. The instrumental title cut Wired Up is also a badass tune featuring some awesome guitar playing.

They are also the first band that I have seen that identify themselves as being from Benelux, an economic union of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. The Travellin’ Blue Kings are doing their part to promote Benelux with one of the best roadhouse blues albums of 2019!


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On The MARK….The Nighthawks new recording is fantastic Roadhouse Blues

Nighthawks

I’ve been a fan of the Washington DC based Nighthawks for a long time and they simply have out done themselves on their new CD, All You Gotta Do. ¬†I count a gospel blues nomination, a harp instrumental nomination, and a Blues Song of the Year among the tracks on this 12 track masterpiece!! ¬†Mark Wenner has fronted and guided the band for 43 years and it shows in the both the selection and performance of some badass roadhouse blues tunes. On their previous albums they have performed primarily original songs but on this one they expand their horizons to give several great classic blues tunes the Nighthawk touch including songs by Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, and RL Burnside.

The highlight of the album has to be a slow beautiful soul blues ballad Three Times Your Fool. ¬†Mark Stutso, who wrote the song, puts his heart and soul into the performance and it should earn the band a sure fired nomination for song of the year. ¬†And if there is a nomination for “Just Plain Bad Ass Rockin Blues” it has to be their reworking of RL Burnside’s Snake Drive. This trance blues tune has a infectious beat with great harmonica and guitar work. ¬†They also kick out a jammin version of Sonny Boy Williamson’s¬†Ninety Nine Dollars and a great version of Muddy Waters Baby I Want to Be Loved.

The Nighthawks also add some down the bayou spice to the recording with Voodoo Doll and Isn’t That So and take a side trip back to the sounds of the ¬†fifties and sixties with a great reworked version of the original Standell’s song Dirty Water and Brenda Lee’s That’s All You Gotta Do.

And if that is not enough, Blues For Brother John, is a simple but great blues harmonica instrumental that deserves a nod for Mark Wenner in the harmonica category. ¬†And to top it off Mark Stutso does a heart warming version of Levon Helm’s When I Go Away that is gospel blues at its finest.

The current lineup for the Nighthawks is Mark Wenner (vocals and harmonica), Mark Stutso (vocals and drums), Johnny Castle (vocals and bass) and Paul Bell (guitars). ¬†The chemistry of the group is undeniable and the fact they are havin a damn good time comes through clearly on the recordings. Here’s to hoping they stay together for a long long time!

Ellersoul Records 2017

PS…if you feel like listenin’ to some roadhouse blues after reading this review….check out my 24 hour stream at http://www.s1.nexuscast.com:8043 .