2023 Wrap-Up Part 1: Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, Jason Ricci and the Bad Kind, More
A ton of great blues releases crossed our desk in 2023; here are some of the best that we have not told you about yet.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band - Dirt on My Diamonds Volume 1
Here's another fine album from Shepherd and company: featured vocalist Noah Hunt, drummer Chris Layton, bass man Kevin McCormick and keys player Joe Krown along with two back-up singers, two horn players and three additional keyboard players. Combined with Kenny's vocals and, as always, outstanding guitar work, the band gets a very full sound as they romp through the swinging title cut, the lusty appreciation of a lover that is "Sweet & Low" with not only a little psychedelic guitar but also a nod to hip-hop, the funky "Best of Times" where some of the vocal phrasing sounds inspired by Sly Stone and the bright and poppy "You Can't Love Me." KWS co-wrote all the songs here except for one cover, a take on Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting," chosen no doubt because it gives Shepherd an opportunity to really rock out on guitar.
Jason Ricci and the Bad Kind - Behind the Veil
The album may be called Behind the Veil
but Ricci and company really pull back the curtain to show their chops big time here. Ricci is a harmonica player and singer and the effort begins with "Casco Bay," a jazzy cut that sounds eerie in a Danny Elfman kind of way (Ricci wrote the cut.) The song is not typical of the diverse album; band singer Kaitlin Dibble sings the buoyant "5-10-25," a lover's plea for five, ten or fifteen hours of attention, Ricci honks up a storm on instrumental "Baked Potato" and Dibble takes the mic again for the slinky "Wrong Kind of Easy"/"Nobody But You." Ricci sounds like a cross between Dr. John and Willy DeVille on an impressive take on Bobby Rush's "Ain't She Fine" and the 12-song set also includes an interpretation of the mournful folk chestnut "St. James Infirmary" where Ricci's harp work drips with sadness.
The Groove Krewe featuring Jonathon Boogie Long - Blues from the Bayou EP
The use of the word "bayou" in the album title is your clue that Long and the Groove Krewe are from Louisiana. Long is the Krewe's lead guitarist and vocalist and he holds court here with the "hit the dance floor!" groove of "Ain't No If About It" and "Dangerous Curves," which describes not only a lover's shape but also her unpredictability. All songs here were written or co-written by Krewe guitarist Rex Pearce and he has a knack for punchy, three-minute tunes like the catchy "Empty Pocket Blues" and the horn-enhanced "Eclipsed by Love." This brief five song outing makes the listener crave more and kindles a desire to see the band live, which is no doubt a real treat.
Sue Foley - Live in Austin (Vol. 1)
Recorded at Austin's famed Continental Club in May of 2023, this first live effort from Foley features a 10-song set that's split fairly evenly between self-penned cuts and covers with featured originals including set opener "New Used Car" from her 2006 album of the same name, the fast shuffle "Walkin' Home" and "Better" where she shows some serious love for John Lee Hooker's guitar style. Covers include a take on the Willie Dixon/Howlin' Wolf co-write "Howlin' for My Darlin'", an interpretation of the Bob Dylan classic "Positively 4th Street" and perhaps most surprisingly, Cheap Trick's "High Roller" which turns out to be an excellent choice as the song is particularly well-suited to being blues-ified.
Lance Lopez - Trouble is Good
Lopez is a Texas-based guitar slinger and vocalist whose stated influences include BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Billy Gibbons and Johnny Winter and who has an incredible resume including a stint in Buddy Miles band, founding member of Supersonic Blues Machine and shows opening for the likes of Joe Bonamassa, Def Leppard and ZZ Top. So make no mistake, the gravel-voiced singer is the real deal, rocking out here with 10 self-penned songs including the driving, guitar heavy "Easy to Leave," a cut that lots of folks with relationship problems will relate to while everyone else will delight in singing along anyway. Lopez romps on slide guitar on the ZZ Top-recalling arrangement of "Jam with Me," tunes into an understated Southern rock groove on "Uncivil War" and wraps up the album with the majestic and mysterious "Voyager: Sunrise, Voyager, I am Ra" where his heavy blues rock shows exotic influences in the same way that much of Led Zeppelin's music did.
Texas Scratch - Texas Scratch
Three guitarists who are natives of Texas, Jim Suhler, Bud Whittington and Vince Converse, team up for this blues rocking album which begins (of course!) with "Texas Trio," an ode to famed Texas trios like ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. Augmented by the rhythm section of drummer Jeff Simon and bass man Nathaniel Peterson, Texas Scratch collectively has quite a resume. Suhler and Simon are both members of George Thorogood and the Destroyers (Suhler a founding member), Whittington toured and recorded with John Mayall for 15-years, Converse and his power trio Sunset Heights toured with the likes of Peter Green, Johnny Winter and Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Peterson was a member of the legendary Savoy Brown. That's a lot of experience and it shows here on the swinging "I'd Rather be Lucky Than Good," the John Lee Hooker boogie of "Trip Hammer," the Muddy Waters-ish "Evil (Do Right By You)," and, as you'd expect, the occasional guitar rave up found on cuts like "What the Devil Loves." Great vocals, superlative guitar work and well-written songs as big as Texas abound.
11 Guys Quartet - 11 x 11
This quartet, Paul Lenart on guitar and vocals, Bill "Coach" Mather on bass, Chuck Purro on drums and Richard "Rosy" Rosenblatt on harmonica, have been playing together for more than 50-years so they probably can communicate in the studio without saying a word. It certainly sounds that way here on this offering of 11 original tunes. The set opens with the instrumental "Lightning Road;" driven by Rosenblatt's harmonica playing, the cut is a delightful romp down the blues highway where fun lurks around every curve. Instrumentals are the order of the day here with "Blues Beyond Midnight" taking cues from the chestnut "House of the Rising Sun," the rhythmic "Texicali Mojo" plays out as a funky and folksy dance tune and the juke joint burner "Stompin' Blues" is pretty much self-explanatory. Lenart sings though on "Drivin' a Fast Car," an appropriately speedy rockabilly-infused blues, and also through a filter that makes him sound kind of scary on "He Ain't Got You." Tight throughout the album, here's another band that begs to be experienced live.
Mathias Lattin - Up Next
For much of this album singer and guitar slinger Lattin tunes in to one of the favorite subjects of blues music --- relationship problems. Not yet 21-years-old, Lattin knows plenty about electric guitar and seems to know more about woman troubles than he should; with a tone that reflects a love of BB King Lattin begins the album with "Who's Been Loving on You," a cut where the man he portrays is ready to put a thumping on his girl's back door man. "Lose Some Weight" is about a troublesome female too and when Lattin sings about needing to lose some weight he's not talking about laying off the cheesecake; he's talking about booting his woman out of his life. Things are better though on the strutting "Can't Stop Feeling," a horn-enhanced R&B groove where he professes love for his squeeze. "You Know This Won't Do," with Kyle Turner featured with a sassy saxophone solo, moves to an upbeat bounce but the song title says it all; he's once again dealing with a rival for his woman's attention. Lattin, a Houston native, is obviously a fan of fellow Texan Stevie Ray Vaughan and that influence can be heard on "Party" while "2nd Degree" is a heavy blues rocker with incendiary guitar work that's atypical of the rest of the album in style and that's about murder. Yes this young player is one to watch, but man he's here right now and he's up next.
Al Basile - B's Time
If you purchase this release on CD you'll probably get a laugh out of the cover graphics that depict a land rife with dinosaurs, which is singer and cornet player Basile poking a little fun at himself. B's Time
is a compilation of tunes from the last 25-years of his career and a celebration of his own Sweetspot Records which has released all of his material over that span. Just about all of the 19 albums he's released since 1998 are represented here in the 17-song selection, all of which Al says are his favorites. They're fan favorites too, with the slinky "You Showed Me Something" from 2009, "Lie Down in Darkness" with the Blind Boys of Alabama" and the amusingly-titled "Tickle My Mule" with guest guitarist "Monster" Mike Welch among them. Other highlights include "B.D," a jazzy instrumental with elegant cornet work from Basile and cool piano parts from guest Paul Odeh, the reggae-tinged "Causing Joy," and the joyous cocktail lounge groove of "While We're Dancing," an appreciation for holding a partner tight during a slow dance. Guitarist Duke Robillard plays on almost every cut on this fine collection.