This month I thought I would do something different with this column. I was contacted once again this year by Eric Steiner, the President of the Washington Blues Society, and asked if I could give them a top ten list for blues recordings of 2013. Always a difficult decision because there are so many that always stand out. But I did break it down to the ten that I believe I kept coming back to over and over again throughout the year and still play consistently. There are a lot that could’ve or maybe should’ve been included, but then again it is supposed to be my personal choices. So I thought I’d share them with you, too. Please note that not all of these are in any specific order, with the exception of the top two.
For me the one style that stood out more than any other this past year was soul blues. My list was topped off by two soul albums and another made the cut as well, though a fourth had its share of soul, too. My top two picks of the year were Otis Clay’s Truth Is (Putting Love Back Into The Music) and Johnny Rawls’ Remembering O.V. How can you possibly go wrong with Blues Hall of Fame inductee Otis Clay? The man simply has one of the smoothest voices on the planet and the music here is so remindful of what made you fall in love with soul music to begin with. As for Johnny Rawls, this tribute recording to his former employer and mentor O.V. Wright is something I cannot get enough of. It always seems to get picked up whenever I’m grabbing something to play in the car. And oh yeah, Otis Clay is on this one, too. The original track with Johnny and Otis “Blaze of Glory” that closes the disc would also be included in any list I made up of best songs of the year as well.
Local artists in the Northwest put out some fantastic music this past year, but I am sorry to say that only one of them made my list. This was tough, there were so many choices I could have placed on the list both regionally and internationally. I kept asking why it can’t be a top twenty-five, but I knew that would not make any difference either. I’d still be leaving something out. But my choice for Northwest album went to Kevin Selfe’s Long Walk Home. I had a copy of this for nearly nine months before it was actually released by Delta Groove, so it saw a ton of play time with me and it still garners that going close to two years now. Kevin at his best with songwriting and playing, backed by phenomenal musicians. Is there any doubt as to why he received so many Muddy Awards in November?
A couple acoustic recordings placed here, too. Doug MacLeod is always a perennial favorite with whatever he does and there was no exception with There’s A Time. His storytelling is exceptional and it comes across on disc just as well as it does live. And for sounding as if you’re listening to somebody live, Little G Weevil’s Moving brings it home. I had been impressed with his previous band recording and then seeing him take the solo competition at the International Blues Challenge gave him more attention in my mind. When Moving came out, I was completely sold.
Speaking of acts that I became aware of through the IBC, Mr. Sipp blew my mind with his performances in my venue and at the finals this past year. He can sound like BB King or Little Milton and his stage show was highly electrifying. He captured that mood perfectly on his recording It’s My Guitar. Also from past IBC exposure I first met JP Soars and had my introduction to Victor Wainwright. Along with Damon Fowler they make up the backbone of Southern Hospitality, one of the most exciting live acts around. I enjoyed their mix of modern Southern rock and blues on their debut album Easy Livin’ with each taking the forefront on the selections. Though I met him before he competed in the IBC (in fact when he did he was in my venue), Brandon Santini’s This Time Another Year was a pleasing surprise. Brandon has been a long time close friend so I knew he could perform the blues exceptionally, but this one surpassed everything I could’ve imagined and then some. Great harp playing, singing and songwriting with former Portland bluesman Jeff Jensen holding down the guitar.
As I said to open this column, soul music played a big part of my listening this past year and the newest CD on this list would be Dave Keller’s Soul Changes. Recording in Memphis with the cast that helped back people like Al Green, Otis Clay, Ann Peebles and others brought his songs to life. The second half of the album done in Brooklyn had updated takes on some soul classics. This man’s voice is going places as seen by his nomination for a Blues Music Award for soul-blues just announced. The final disc on my top ten is Mighty Mike Schermer’s Be Somebody. He can also bring on soulful vocals, but it is his guitar work and songwriting that really stand out to me. This is really a feel good disc for me and it always makes me smile whenever I play it.
But again, I need to stress that there were so many great recordings over the past year. Being limited to just ten is hard. I thought about listing others that I felt could’ve easily made this list, but I did not want to possibly omit anybody else. I recommend that you give these ten albums a listen if you have not heard them already. And let me know who you thought were your selections if you’d like. I always find what other people enjoy to be interesting as well. Here’s to 2014. I know there will be many greats coming out this year, too.