The past few years I have been asked by the Washington Blues Society to provide a list of the top ten recordings that I was most impressed with over the past year. And as I have done the past couple years I have shared that list with you here in my monthly column. So with that said, I will keep up the tradition.
First, I want to stress that my choices can be different from day to day. What I really like one day can switch around easily to other selections. My tastes are very eclectic. I am not a member of the so-called “blues police” who only believes that certain types of music qualify as blues. The selections I offer are also by no means in any particular order — see my first comment in this paragraph if you need any further explanation as to why there is no order. There are also a number of artists, both local and national, that could have appeared on this list given any other day. This holds especially true for people like Rae Gordon, Roseland Hunters, and various other local people missing here.
I do like the discs that are included and all find exceptional time in my car where I always have something spinning that I want to hear over and over and over. So, here we go.
My first choice just may very well be my favorite disc of the year and could easily be number one every time out. Doug MacLeod’s Exactly Like This. There is no better storyteller in the blues today. You usually see him perform solo and he carries everything across perfectly, but on this album he is joined again by Jimi Bott and Denny Croy. Every release from Doug is over the top great, and this one may very well be the best yet. And it will go “exactly like this ….”
Anyone who really knows me can attest that I love Southern soul styled blues. And nobody in my mind does it better than Otis Clay. That’s probably why he has appeared on my list the past two years and is back again this time. Teaming with Billy Price, This Time For Real tugs at those heartstrings one more time and as I said in my review this is soul done right.
Another person who did it right was Wee Willie Walker with his debut disc for the Little Village Foundation, If Nothing Ever Changes. I can’t get enough of his vocals. Amazing, and as seen at the Waterfront Blues Festival this last July, teamed with Curtis Salgado on The Beatles’ “Help,” it sends a good tingling feeling throughout your entire body. And the song is included here.
Traditional blues on the national level was best identified by the Andy T – Nick Nixon Band. Three albums over the past three years and each of them is better than the previous one. What makes it even more sensational is that the quality does not diminish with them on stage and I have seen them many times over the past few years. Maybe the best, but obviously one of the best, traditional blues acts out there today.
Kevin Selfe’s latest Buy My Soul Back also delivers tremendous traditional values and his song writing grows stronger every time out. So glad to have him living in Portland and this recording may break him out big time nationally if he hasn’t already made that happen with his last disc. There is never a down moment when it comes to Kevin’s creativity.
Karen Lovely is another local artist who should be once again rising to the top with potential Blues Music Award nominations. Working with Tony Braunagel and collaborating with people like Alan Mirikitani, Dave Fleschner, and Curtis Salgado brought the whole package to the words behind the music and Karen is just the right person to deliver them. It was hard to ever think that she would rise above what was accomplished with Still The Rain, but I have to say that Ten Miles Of Bad Road has done just that. It was two years in the making and worth every minute.
Many people may not be familiar with Voo Davis, but this musician has a knack for very eclectic blues that can cover a wide spectrum of approaches and all of them are handled superbly. Midnight Mist can take you on a journey from the Delta to Chicago to the West Coast while throwing in some nice punches you’d expect from a jam band, all while maintaining something true and traditional. This may be one of the most surprising albums of the year and has seen substantial playtime in my car again and again.
Getting back towards traditional, no local musician offered more in my perception than James Clem. Not just with one album, but two that could both easily be included on this list. One featuring ukelele and the other traditional guitar. I love them both, but to be able to include other artists I selected Road’s Gettin’ Muddy for now. Very relaxing blues and perfect for driving, listening under the eaves on a rainy day, or anytime else for that matter.
But if you’re in the mood to party and you enjoy a bit of funk behind those tunes, Memphis-based Ghost Town Blues Band has the goods in Hard Road To Hoe. The slide guitar and cigar-box work by leader Matt Isbell is punctuated by horns, keys, and a grooving beat that has been described on their website as taking you from funky to funk-nasty. We need to see these guys make a visit to the Northwest for sure!
Closing out my top ten is an album that brought to me everything that I wanted to see from Ben Rice. Watching him progeress over the years to be one of the best musicians in our region has certainly been a pleasure and his talent seems to endlessly grow every year, too. This recording, Live @ The Purple Fox Loft, with his trio brings out his depth as a songwriter, musician and displays the ease he now has onstage talking to an audience and keeping their attention throughout with precise and extraordinary performances. I can hardly wait to see how much higher he will succeed as he’s well on his way already.
Coming up with lists like this is never easy, but I honestly have to say that each of these selections meant a lot to me over the last year. As I said, though, these are definitely by no means the only recordings that I could have chosen. And everybody may not be familiar with all of the artists. They’re all worth exploring though and I am always open to hearing other choices sent to me by you. I enjoy so many different musicians, blues and otherwise. The blues is by no means a dying genre, listening to any of these artists or others prove that every single day. Enjoy it all!