OUT OF THE BLUES Boz Scaggs (Concord) *****+
I went to Scaggs’ website and counted, this appears to be his 19th album overall. It’s the final piece of a trilogy that started with 2013’s Memphis and continued with 2015’s excellent A Fool To Care. I take the title to mean that his music comes from the blues, and that’s where this supple, heartfelt mix of originals and covers takes us back to.
Well past his hit-making years of Silk Degress with songs like Lido Shuffle, Boz has the artistic freedom to make the music that means the most to him, and artistically Out of The Blues is a bulls eye. His singing is relaxed and confident (not as forced as it was back in the day) and the music is, at times, a jazzy sort of blues that really pulls you in. Taking on songs like Jimmy Reed’s Down In Virginia and Neil Young’s On The Beach, Scaggs makes the tunes his own, giving the whole album a distinct ‘Scagginess’.
The title Out Of The Blues caught my eye, and my fondness for 2015’s A Fool To Care made this album an automatic purchase. I’ve been listening to it all day, and I think I’ll go again before the day is done. This is extremely nice work.
KEY CUTS: On The Beach, I’ve Just Got To Know, Radiator 110
LOCK UP THE LIQUOR The Little Red Rooster Blues Band (independent) ****
With a cheeky album title like that, you’d expect these guys to be a bunch of fun- and you’re not wrong. Little Red Rooster plays Chicago and West Coast blues with style and authenticity. If you’re a blues fan, you’ll find lots to like in these 15 songs.
There’s something elemental, an almost primitive appeal with harp-driven blues, and that’s the kind of music we have on this album. LRR is a group with plenty of skill on their instruments but they aren’t trying to re-invent the wheel, playing instead with a traditional approach that appeals to deep blues appreciators. Combine that with quite the lyrical sense of humor (try the title track or Thrift Shop Rubbers) and you’ve got quite an entertaining set.
Some great slow blues on this disc too, tear jerkers like Ready For Goodbye, but the up-tempo numbers are engaging too; like the instrumental Cotton Mouth, a tribute to the late, great James Cotton that he would have gotten off on. Lock Up The Liquor is a blues disc that’s ready to show you a good time- and who can’t use more of that? The Little Red Rooster Blues Band are the kind of guys that’ll keep the beer flowing and the party going all night long.
KEY CUTS: Cotton Mouth, Thrift Shop Rubbers, title track
HORNS & HARPS Lee Palmer (independent) *****
It’s always a great day when I get a new Lee Palmer disc. Horns & Harps is a combo of jazz and blues with pop song craft and some pretty funky playing by an amazing band, and it’s by far the best thing he’s done. I would know- I have them all.
“I’ve had the privilege of doing five studio albums over the last six years” Lee says in the liner notes. “Each time at a different studio, with new players and old, but always with exceptional musicians. Calling the studio band ‘The One Take Players’ is a testament to how prepared and talented these musicians have been.” The disc was recorded in two days at Jukasa Studios in Caledonia, Ontario. Day one featured Turner King on sax and day two had Roly Platt on harmonica- hence the album title Horns & Harps.
Palmer has a warm, friendly, storytellin’ singing voice and, judging from the lyrics, he has lived quite a life since the last record, H&H being one of transition and change. Songs like Waitin’ On The Train and Life Rolls On certainly suggest that he’s been through some things, and a sweet cover of You Don’t Know Me suggests some emotional turmoil. There isn’t a single cut on here that I don’t really enjoy, and that’s rare.
KEY CUTS: Shake Em Blues, Old Picture Old Frame, Rockin’ Strawberry Jam
KEITH STONE WITH RED GRAVY Keith Stone with Red Gravy (independent) *****
Where have these guys been?!? This is Keith Stone’s second album- they started as a front man with a band, but now they’re a band with a front man. Keith Stone and Red Gravy are all the proof needed that the blues from New Orleans is the most unique and funkiest there’s ever been. It’s a killer record that you can’t hear until September 10th.
Keith (guitar, vocals) and Red Gravy deliver a set of tasteful, original blues run through the ‘New Orleans Cookbook’ of funk and R&B to create an exotic and spicy musical dish. Remember, this is the city that gave us Earl King, Guitar Slim, Professor Longhair and Dr. John, so there was already a path into the blues to show the way. The players also include Kennan Shaw (bass), Eddie Christmas (drums), Jimmy Carpenter (sax) and Brent Johnson (slide). Individually their playing is sublime but put them together and you’re staring down the barrel of a spiritual experience.
Produced and arranged by Tom Worrell, this is one of the best sounding albums I’ve ever heard. Listening to Keith Stone With Red Gravy is a warm, intimate, unforgettable experience. Over the years I’ve listened to literally thousands of albums to review and in terms of sound, tone and feel, this one really stands out- that ought to tell you something.
KEY CUTS: Crazy In Love With You, Ain’t That The Blues, Hard To Have The Blues
ANGRY CYCLIST The Proclaimers (Cooking Vinyl/ Sony) ****+
Here is the 11th album from these Scottish twin brothers. Angry Cyclist is exactly the album you hoped it would be; full of honest, earnest pop songs with thoughtful lyrics and gently inspiring melodies- surely an anomaly in the current pop scene.
To me The Proclaimers are 500 Miles and I’m On My Way, but I’ve been missing out and know that some back research is in order. David Tennant (my favorite Dr. Who) says they’re his “favorite band of all time. They write big hearted, un-cynical passionate songs”, and I feel that here. Buoyant pop melodies supporting politically and socially aware lyrics that make you think about being a better person or making the world a better place without being preachy- pretty cool… and those Scottish accents are awesome.
Charlie and Craig are at their anthemic and romantic best on Angry Cyclist, particularly on the one about their hometown, Streets of Edinburgh- destined to be a classic, and a permanent part of their set list. Songs like You Make Me Happy and Sometimes It’s The Fools will have you feeling fine too.
So many albums you just can’t hear them all, but I’m sure glad the record company waved The Proclaimers’ Angry Cyclist under my nose. It’s a fine disc that reminds me what of I’ve been missing.
KEY CUTS: Streets of Edinburgh, Angry Cyclist, Sometimes It’s The Fools
SUGAT KO Carolyn Fe (independent) ****
The blues, by way of The Phillipines, is what Carolyn Fe is all about. Sugat Ko (translated from the Phillipines’ dialect ‘Talog’, meaning “my wound”) presents masterful twists on traditional blues rhythms and lyrics to create something original.
“It took over half a century to accept that I was born from a heritage of women warriors, trailblazers, suffragettes, civic leaders and rain makers way before women’s liberation, feminism and women’s rights were instinctively felt” Carolyn says. “I’ve gone through many new beginnings, accumulating scar upon scar. But now my wounds, my iyong mga sugat ko, have healed.”
Modern and relative to current concerns but classic with hints of the traditional at the same time, this is definitely not your grandma’s blues. Sugat Ko is a collection of songs about pain, anger, triumph and desire, and as such this is a disc that virtually everyone can relate to. It has the spirit of the blues, but it is attracting the attention of music lovers with an appetite for something different and occasionally exotic.
Carolyn Fe is a free spirited visionary. That comes across quite clearly on Sugat Ko- she expresses herself through s broad range of styles within the blues paradigm. Some of the production choices could’ve been stronger, but overall the songs are deep, thoughtful and satisfying.
KEY CUTS: One Minute To Midnight, All That Matters, Jerusalem’s Thorns