Professor Bebop’s Best of Blues & Soul of 2017 (in alphabetical order)

Professor Bebop’s Best of Blues & Soul of 2017 (in alphabetical order)

Gregg AllmanSouthern Blood (Rounder): This is Gregg Allman’s final and farewell release. He clearly intended to make a last statement when his final diagnosis revealed that even after undergoing a liver transplant, cancer returned to the new liver and other areas of his body. He declined radiation so he could continue his life’s work by creating a farewell disc. Everything about this release was purposeful: recording at Fame Studios where he and his brother Duane made their first recordings as “Hour Glass” and Duane gained tremendous recognition backing up so many soul singers, including Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. Several songs were personal favorites or had special significance for Allman himself. The opening song, “My Only True Friend”, was collaboratively written by Allman and Scott Sharrard, guitarist and member of Allman’s band. Other members of the Allman Band on the disc are Steve Potts (drums), Ronald Johnson (bass), Peter Levin (keys, piano, vibes), Mark Quinones (percussion), Jay Collins and Art Edmaiston (saxes, flute), and Marc Franklin (trumpet, flugelhorn). Guest musicians are Greg Leisz (pedal steel, mandolin), Val McCallum (guitar), Jackson Browne (vocal), and Buddy Miller, Stephanie Brown and The McCrary Sisters (backing vocals). This disc is a fitting and completely amazing labor of love and bidding farewell. It is an essential point in rock history. A certified “Professor Bebop ‘Wax Devoid of Cracks”!  Click here and scroll way down to listen to samples of the songs on this disc. 

Sweet Pea Atkinson – Get What You Deserve (Blue Note): Sweet Pea Atkinson was a member of soul group Was (Was Not), originally founded by Don Was, during the 70’s. Atkinson released his first solo album in 1982, also produced by Was. Still in great voice, Atkinson got a boost from Don Was and Keb’ Mo’ who produced this release. The songs come from a wide variety of sources, including Don Was, Jeff Barry and Bert Russell, James Brown, Bobby Womack, Motown’s William Stevenson and Ivy Joe Hunter, and George Jackson, among others, and are largely remakes of songs from of the best soul and blue soul from the 90’s. Musicians of note on this disc include Randy Jacobs (guitar), Don Was and Reggie McBride (bass), Joe Sublett and Mindi Abair (sax), and Keb’ Mo’ (guitar). The music is tight and Atkinson is quite all right! This disc is a certified Professor Bebop “Wax Devoid Of Cracks”! Killer all the way! Click here to listen to the closing song on this disc.   

Eric Bibb – Migration Blues (Stony Plain): Eric Bibb may well have created his finest disc ever. The subject is migration, whether by choice or not. It covers the dangers and hopes as well as the hopes and fears. Most of the songs are originals, either written by Bibb or cooperatively with Michael Jerome Browne (guitar, vocals, banjos, mandolin, triangle) and/or JJ Milteau (harmonica). Other performers include Olle Linder (drums, percussion, bass) with Big Daddy Wilson and Ulrika Bibb (vocals on one song each). Bibb sings pays guitar, six string banjo, and contrabass guitar). Three covers are Dylan’s “Masters Of War”, Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” and the traditional “Mornin’ Train”. Highly recommended for fans of folk, blues, and collections of highly thoughtful and wonderfully rendered performances. Click here for an introduction to this disc by Eric Bibb.

Eli Cook – High-Dollar Gospel (Self-produced): Nelson County resident Eli Cook offers his seventh disc and it is both intriguing and captivating. Eight of the eleven songs are originals and the remainder are covers of Muddy Waters’ “Can’t Lose What You Ain’t Never Had”, Roosevelt Sykes’ “44 Blues” and Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”. Stylistically, Cook covers a lot of ground though the predominant set is a forceful and acoustic style that suits his raspy voice quite well. He also adds occasional electric highlights to transport songs like “Mixing My Medicine” into twisted, updated Mississippi Hill Country blues. Cook sings, plays guitar, mandolin, banjo, lap-steel, electric bass and percussion. He is supported by Peter Spaar (bass), Nathan Brown (drums) and Zach Samel (percussion, drum loops). Cook’s original compositions capture the sound and feel of older folk blues and they mix terrifically with his fiery electric blues. A “Certified Professor Bebop ‘Wax Devoid Of Cracks’”! Click here and scroll down to listen to the songs on this disc.

Thornetta Davis – Honest Woman (Self-produced): This actually seems to be Thornetta Davis’ fourth release. It’s rather hard to imagine considering her talent and her first release was in 1996 (“Sunday Morning Music”). The gospel connection shows up in both her style and all but one of her original songs here. She has integrated her gospel and blue soul roots quite well. Davis has a strong, clear voice.  Her lyrics and singing show maturity, never over-doing the delivery or the message. She’s a strong declarative singer, but not a shouter. Davis’ backup includes Brett Lucas (guitar), James Simonson (bass), Phillip J Hales (keys), Todd Glass or Phillip J Hale (drums) with guests Kim Wilson (harmonica), Larry McCray (guitar), Chris Codish (keys) and occasional horns by James O’Donnell, John Douglas or Edward Gooch (trumpet); John Paxton (trombone), Dave McMurray (sax) and variety of backup singers. A certified Professor Bebop “Wax Devoid of Cracks”! Click here to listen to samples from all of the songs on this disc. 

Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters – The Luckiest Man (Stony Plain): “I’m the luckiest man you know – and I don’t even know who you know.” (Jim Mouradian) Bassist Jim Mouradian played with Ronnie Earl from 2003 – 2016 and passed away this year. He wasn’t able to contribute to this release, but Earl dedicated it to his musical partner. Fittingly, Earl’s playing is as beautiful and spiritual as any he has ever done. This is as truly beautiful and engaging a disc as Earl has recorded in a good while and it’s purity and sweetness are as good as it gets. Earl’s Broadcasters are Dave Limina (piano, B3), Diane Blue (vocals), Forrest Padgett (drums) and Paul Kochanski (bass), with guests Nicholas Tabarias and Peter Ward (guitar), Mark Early (bari sax), Mario Perrett (tenor sax), and Michael “Mudcat” Ward (bass). The line-up on “Lost Long Conversation” includes Sugar Ray Norcia (vocal, harmonica), Anthony Geraci (piano), Mike Welch (guitar), Neil Gouvin (drums), Michael “Mudcat” Ward (bass). This is a certified Professor Bebop “Wax Devoid of Cracks!” Click here for a brief teaser, but take my word, this is one of his best!!!

Rick Estrin & The Nightcats – Groovin’ In Greaseland (Alligator): Rick Estrin (harmonica, lead vocals) is a national treasure! His harp will “flat domino”your lame act and his lyrics are guaranteed to put a smile on your face! 30 years of prime blues! He wrote ten of the songs here and co-wrote one more. Songs like “Dissed Again” and “I Ain’t All That” are instant classics. The Nightcats lineup includes guitar slinger Kid Andersen, Lorenzo Farrell (organ, piano, Wurlitzer) and Alex Pettersen (drums) with guests Jerry Jermott, Joe Kyle Jr, Bobby Yamilov and Kid Andersen sharing bass duties, Nancy Wright (tenor sax), Terry Hanck and John Halbleib (horns), and Jim Pugh (electric piano). Go get it RIGHT NOW! A certified “Professor Bebop Wax Devoid of Cracks”! Click here to listen to samples of the songs on this disc.

Hard Swimmin’ Fish – One Step Forward (Self-produced): Hard Swimmin’ Fish resides between Virginia and Maryland or traveling between the two and they play a brand of blues that will put a dip in your hip and a glide in your stride! The band includes Demian Lewis (guitar, vocals), Waverly Milor (harmonica, vocals), Jason Walker (drums, percussion) and Randall Ball (bass), with Carl Disque adding sax on “Sorry Baby”. The group is funky, earthy, sassy and a rollicking stack of fun! This is the third of four discs and if they don’t inspire you to do some stepping or toe-tapping, then “Jack, You’re Dead”! All but one song are originals. The band will be back in Cville on September 29 (Durty Nelly’s). And the disc? It is a “Certified Professor Bebop ‘Wax Devoid Of Cracks’”! Click here and scroll down to “One Step Forward” to listen to the songs on this disc.

Samantha Fish – Belle Of The West (Ruf): Singer/songwriter/guitarist Samantha Fish offers her second release of the year and her writing and performances are even stronger than on her preceding release. Eight of the eleven songs are her original compositions and her singing is even more self-assured than ever. She has a terrific backing group including Luther Dickinson (guitar/mandolin), Lightnin’ Malcolm (guitar, harmonica, vocals), Jimbo Mathus (Fender Rhodes, harmonica, vocals), Amy LaVere (bass, vocals), Little Mae (violin, vocals), Tikyra Jackson 9drums, vocals), Sharde Thomas (fife, drums, vocals) and Trina Raimey (drums). This release is firmly rooted in the north Mississippi Hills, but the main flavor comes from Fish. It’s down-home, gritty, blues and folk. Everybody’s right on the dime all of the time! A certified Professor Bebop “Wax Devoid Of Cracks”! Click here to listen to samples of the songs on this disc.

The Sherman Holmes Project – The Richmond Sessions (MC Recordings, Virginia Foundation for The Humanities): The Holmes Brothers were a signature performing gospel/blues/folk group that featured brothers Wendell and Sherman and Popsy Dixon and they were a true Virginia treasure for several decades. Both Wendell and Popsy have passed on now and though Sherman continued on his own supporting the 11-year old Whitney Nelson for a time, it was not until VFH’s Jon Lohman persuaded him to sing lead in a live performance that eventually led to this recording. They gathered numerous musicians to perform on this set, including Holmes (vocals, bass, keyboards), Rob Ickes (dobro), Jared Pool (mandolin, Telecaster guitar), Sammy Shelor (banjo), Jacob Eller (upright bass), David Van Deventer (fiddle), Brandon Davis (guitar), DJ Harrison (B-3, drums), Calvin “Kool Aid” Curry (bass), Stuart Hamlin (piano), Randall Cord and Clarence Walters (drums), Almeta Ingram-Miller, Cheryl Marcia Maroney and Ann Cunningham of the Ingramettes (vocals), special guest Joan Osborne (vocal on “Dark End Of The Street”) and Jon Lohman (harmonica). Like the musical variety favored by the Holmes Brothers, this performance includes such as traditional songs “Rock Of Ages” and “I Want Jesus”, Motown’s Holland-Dozier-Holland’s “Don’t Do It”, soul blues “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” and “Dark End Of The Street”, Jim Lauderdale’s “Lonesome Pines”, John Fogerty’s “Green River”, Carter Stanley’s “White Dove” and Ben Harper’s “Homeless Child”. This release is a treasure and also a certified ‘Professor Bebop Wax Devoid Of Cracks”! Click here for a terrific introduction to this disc.

Durand Jones & The Indications – Durand Jones & The Indications (Colemine): “Bayou-born soul sensation, Durand Jones got his start in the church, after being forced to sing in the choir of his rural hometown Hillaryville, Louisiana because his grandmother thought he sang too much at home. When his music career took him to Bloomington, Indiana, he was selected to join the legendary Indiana University Soul Revue, and it was through his involvement there that he met the writer/producer duo Aaron Frazer and Blake Rhein. The three began writing original soul music, recording themselves straight to tape….” (Bio, Colemine Records) The trio wrote five of the songs on this disc together, Frazier and Rhein composed one, Rhein wrote another, and Frazier co-wrote the remaining song. Musicians include Frazier (drums, vocals), Rhein (guitar), Kyle Houpt (bass)and Justin Hubler (organ, electric piano) and added horns by Alexander Young and Alex Geddes (tenor sax), Christian Allmendinger (trumpet), Steven Banks (bari sax) and Anastasia Talley (backing vocals). The music is based on old soul and funk though the vocal and sound are, at times, reminiscent of Charles Bradley without the intense wailing. The group is also reminiscent at times of St. Paul & The Broken Bones. In other words, this is a new group bringing the old style of soul back for another round. Check it out! A certified Professor Bebop “Wax Devoid Of Cracks”! Click here to check this disc out!

Doug MacLeod – Break The Chain (Reference Recordings): This new disc from blues singer songwriter Doug MacLeod is very possibly his best ever. His voice has more edge on it, but it fits, particularly given the topical and philosophical themes he addresses. The title song and “Who’s Driving This Bus?” are direct and powerful as they address social and political issues still prevalent in our country. MacLeod also shares stories such as “What The Blues Means To Me” and has some fun with “Goin’ Down To The Roadhouse” and even elbows blues ROCK players with “Mr. Bloozeman”. MacLeod is accompanied by Jimi Bott (drums), Denny Croy (bass), Oliver Brown (percussion) and Doug’s son Jesse who co-wrote the title song and sings and plays guitar. This is a certified Professor Bebop “Wax Devoid of Cracks”! Click here to listen to the title song.

Janiva Magness – Blue Again (Blue Elan): Janiva Magness is back with a barn-storming performance that equals or surpasses any disc she has released in her career! There’s a little more country soul and certainly a deeper shade of blue than she has offered in a while. It’s shorter than most discs, but the quality is killer throughout. No need to hit the next button and you’ll be tempted to hit the back button more than once. Her main band includes Zach Zunis and Garrett Deloian (guitars), Gary “Scruff” Davenport (bass), Matt Teeu (drums) and Arlan Schierbaum (Hammond organ) with guest appearances by David “Kid” Ramos (guitar), Sugaray Rayford (vocals) and T.J. Norton (harmonica) on one song each. The song selection is just so strong and features compositions like “I Love You More Than I Can Say” (Al Kooper), “If I Can’t Have You” (Harvey Fuqua and Etta James) and “Tired Of Walking” (Eddie Hinton). Magness’ voice has some road wear, but just enough to put the edge in the right place. A “Certified” Professor Bebop “Wax Devoid of Cracks”!  Click here and scroll down to listen to samples of the songs on this disc.

Lauren Mitchell – Desire (Self-produced): This is the third release from soul blues singer Lauren Mitchell, who obviously feels at home with the span of soul, blues and funk and has the voice and sensibility to cover them all. At the same time, she stays within herself. There’s no mimicry. In her words, “I’m almost 6 feet tall, and I’m sexy, and I’m not afraid to talk about it….” What about back-up? How about Tony Braunagel (drums, production), Reggie McBride (bass), Jim Pugh (keys), Johnny Lee Schell, Josh Sklair and Jose Ramirez (alternating on guitar), Joe Sublette (sax), Darrell Leonard (trumpet), and Lenny Castro and Mellodye Perry (backing vocals). This is a fantastic soul performance! A certified Professor Bebop “Wax Devoid Of Cracks”! Click here and scroll to and click on “Soul Music”, “Desire” and/or “Today”, each of which is on this disc.

Big Bill Morganfield – Bloodstains On The Wall (Black Shuck): Big Bill Morganfield has stretched himself out on this release. The style coverage includes some great jumps, as well as an old style Chicago sound that would make his papa proud. Morganfield wrote four of the dozen songs here and outside of a couple of Willie Dixon originals, the remainder of the non-originals are outside of the overly familiar ranks and add additional variety. The disc is generally upbeat and even fun. The main backing band includes John Clifton (harp, guitar, backing vocal), Bill Clifton (guitar), Grant Clifton (bass) and Brian Bischel (drums) with special guest Bartek Szopinski (piano, organ). Super special guests sit in here and there and include Colin Linden, Eddie Taylor Jr, Chuck Cotton and Bob Margolin (guitars); Augie Meyers (piano), Jim Horn (sax), Tom “Mookie” Brill (bass), and Doc Malone and Steve Guyger (harp). This is fine disc. Fans of Chicago blues MUST check this out!  Click here to listen to one of Morganfield’s original songs on this disc.

John Primer & Bob Corritone – Ain’t Nothing You Can Do! (Delta Groove): Blues legend John Primer (guitar, vocals) is a tremendous shaper of the Chicago blues sound from the mid-1970s to the present – first joining Willie Dixon’s Chicago Blues Allstars, then serving as lead guitarist in Muddy Waters band 1979 – 1983. When Muddy passed in 1989, Primer joined Magic Slim’s Teardrops for 14 years. Since that time, he has led his own bands. This is his second collaboration with harp player Bob Corritone, a true master of Chicago and other classic harmonica styles. The pair cover a wide range of classic styles with songs written by Sonny Boy Williamson II, Magic Slim, Howlin’ Wolf, and three original compositions. Fans of Magic Slim will certainly feel at home here, as will fans of classic Chicago blues harp. Back-up musicians include Henry Gray and Barrelhouse Chuck (piano), Big Jon Atkinson and Chris James (second guitar), Troy Sandow and Patrick Ryan (bass) and Brian Fahey (drums). This is classic Chicago Blues. A certified Professor Bebop “Wax Devoid of Cracks”! Click here for an introduction to this disc.

Southern Avenue – Southern Avenue (Stax): Named after the street that runs from the easternmost part of the Memphis city limits all the way to Soulsville, the original home of Stax Records, Southern Avenue is a killer multifaceted soul blues and rock band that is being described as the epitome of Memphis music. First of all, lead singer Tierinii Jackson is a stunning, vocal stylist whether singing gospel, soul, rock or ballads. Secondly, the band has a range of styles and unity of performance that will appeal to fans of older soul music, as well fans of current day soul blues and gospel. In addition to singer Tierinii Jackson, the band includes Daniel McKee (bass), Tikyra Jackson (drums, percussion, backing vocals), Jeremy Powell (keys) and flaming guitarist Ori Naftaly. Nine of the ten songs on the disc are band originals and the one cover is the best performance of George Jackson’s “Slipped, Tripped And Fell In Love” that I have ever heard. A certified Professor Bebop “Wax Devoid Of Cracks”! Click here, then click on the triple white lines and click listen to hear samples of the songs on this disc.

Otis Taylor – Fantasizing About Being Black (Trance Blues): Otis Taylor (vocals, guitar, acoustic and electric banjo) is back with a new trance disc that is as powerful as it is unique. As usual his songs are trance-based and tell stories that our country frequently prefers to ignore – chapters of the continuing race war. Taylor typically sings his songs from the perspective of the intended victims. Accompanying Taylor are Jerry Douglas (koa wood lap guitar), Larry Thompson (drums), Todd Edmunds (bass), Ron Miles (cornet), Anne Harris (violin), and Brandon Niederauer (guitar). As always, Taylor’s songs are stunning. Click here to listen to samples of the songs on this disc.   

Kim Wilson – Blues And Boogie, Volume 1 (Severn): Kim Wilson is at the peak of his powers on this disc – great vocals, terrific harp, four great new original songs! Otherwise, he covers songs from Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Maceo, Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Elmore James and others with total command. His supporting musicians are guitarists Big Jon Atkinson, Bob Welsh, Nathan James, Billy Flynn, and Danny Michel in various combinations or on their own; Troy Sandow, Big Jon Atkinson, Kadar Roy, Larry Taylor and Nathan James sharing bass duties; Malachi Johnson, Richard Innes, or Marty Dodson (drums); Barrelhouse Chuck (piano); and Jonny Viau (horns). This is a certifiedProfessor Bebop “Wax Devoid Of Cracks”! The blues at its best! Click here and scroll down to listen to a sample track. 

Kopastically,

Professor Bebop

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