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.

Pour Me a Dream – A review of Beth Hart’s “Better Than Home”

In an age when pulsing electronica and sexually explicit hip hop and pop drive the top of the music charts, it is exhilarating to listen to an artist that continues to write and perform from the soul. On her latest album, Better Than Home, Beth Hart pours out her feelings and thoughts in a musical style that reflects her blues core. The album highlights her artistry on the keyboards as well as her song writing talent without diminishing the quality of a voice for the ages.

This is an album best listened to with a glass of wine on a contemplative evening. (In my case, it would also include a Perdomo 10th Anniversary Champagne robusto cigar!) On my favorite cut, she writes “Pour me a dream and play me a tune…I will get along just as long as I have a song.” It is a lyric that reflects the feelings of most music lovers. But then she cuts you to the core with the reminder that melancholy reverie is “a slip into the rich of the dark…the cheapest of tricks” but she goes ahead anyway and invites us along. It is the essence of the blues and no other current artist even comes close to laying out her heart and soul like Beth.

I had the honor to interview Beth backstage in the fall of 2013. I was doing a piece to be used on radio in Europe for her upcoming tour that year. It was my first (and to date only) radio interview with an artist and she immediately put me at ease. She is personable, self-deprecating, a “down home” girl from California, who after struggling and overcoming her drug demons is comfortable in her own skin. She talked of her love for her husband (who has been her road manager for the last 15 years), her family, and the fans that have stuck with her through thick and thin. I also mentioned that over the years on many of her albums she has “wrestled with God” in her lyrics. She smiled and said simply that she writes about life’s struggles and her feelings as best she can. She also stated that she prefers a simple sound without a lot of the “production values” that modern producers foist onto the final versions of songs before they are released. On the deluxe version of the current CD, there are a couple of songs where one is “produced” and the other version is only Beth and her piano and they are great. (I will get along as long as I have a Song and St. Teresa). Kudos to the producers for allowing Beth’s vision to bear witness to her talent.

On the new album, she continues to address many of the topics we discussed two years ago. The title cut of the album, is a great song where Beth addresses God and angels with an honesty and sincerity that transcends the cold and often harsh theology of modern religion. She pays tribute to her mother “Mama, This One is for You” on one tune and writes another “We’re Still Living in the City” that is surely for her husband. I had mentioned to Beth in our interview that I thought R&B was her strong suit and “Smile on my Face”, “Trouble”, and “The Mood I’m In” just confirm my thought. The power of her voice matched to an R&B beat is simply infectious. Beth reaches out to those struggling with their demons, poverty, and despair with “Tell Them to Hold On”. And her love song, “Tell Her You Belong to Me”, is just simply beautiful. My pick for “breakout single” is a catchy tune called “Mechanical Heart”.

Beth’s new album debuted on the Billboard Hot 200, a feat she last accomplished fifteen years ago. It is a testament to her perseverance and love of music, the loyalty of her fans, and her constant touring in Europe and the United States. I will get to see her again here in Houston on June 13th. Checkout her website at www.bethart.com , buy the album, and make sure to go see her if she gets close! Pour me a dream Beth and just sing your songs….and the world will be a better place for us all.

April 2015  Mascot/Provogue Records (Deluxe Edition)

Review by Ben Vee  benveeblues.com benvee@yahoo.com

Smokin’ Blues Reviews (March 16, 2015)

Vaneese ThomasBlues for my Father – Segue Records 2014

One fine Cuban cigar and a sniffer of brandy –  She has the blues in her blood and the pedigree shows! Daughter of bluesman Rufus Thomas and sibling of R&B and Memphis blues artists Carla and Marvell, Vaneese is just smokin’ hot on a great album nominated and likely to win the 2015 Soul Blues album of the year award. I loved the tune Southern Central Blues!

Michael BloomfieldFrom His Head To His Heart To His Hands – Sony Legacy 2014

A box of Cubans and a long weekend – He deserves a place on the same podium as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Rory Gallagher, and Joe Bonamassa. Bob Dylan once called him the greatest guitar player ever yet most people to this day have no idea who he is. He was a member of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and founded Electric Flag as well as being a session man for Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin to name just two. This 3 CD and one DVD box set will help you understand why blues aficionados love him! A great gift for the bluesman or woman in your life! I love his work on Janis Joplin’s One Good Man…..have a listen!