Well, here we go, starting another year. Thank you so much for the confidence you have shown me by re-electing me to an unbelievable fourteenth term as Cascade Blues Association President. I’ll do my best to keep the organization’s standards to the highest quality possible.
I thought I would start this month’s column with a tradition that I’ve done the past couple years. The Washington Blues Society asked me to create a top ten list of my favorite albums from the year back in 2012 and again in 2013. I also included that list for you in the BluesNotes each year. So here is my list of the albums I truly enjoyed this past year – not necessarily in the exact order mind you.
Topping off my list is an artist that I have had the pleasure of having play in the room I host during the International Blues Challenge three times over the past few years. Jarekus Singleton may have not every made to the final round in Memphis, but he certainly convinced me that he is one heck of a showman. Obviously, he convinced Bruce Iglauer, as well, who saw him play at the IBC and signed him to a recording deal. And the album that came out of that, Refuse To Lose is an undeniable superb release with many memorable tracks, all originals, and receiving three Blues Music Awards nominations. I guess I’m not the only one thrilled by this release.
Next up is another stellar album that could have just as easily been my top selection. By far the best album of his career to date, John Nemeth’s Memphis Grease continues to get non-stop airplay from me with its deep soulful numbers that also earned John a boatload of BMA nominations. And speaking of soul, next would be The Robert Cray Band’s In My Soul. This is Robert Cray at his absolute best, he is currently on a steady roll putting out some of the finest music in his already well-established repertoire. And I have to mention that Dover Weinberg on keys adds a lot to the sound, just listen to the song “Hip Tight Onions” to prove that fact.
Now this next one may surprise you, but let me tell you it had to be the most pleasing discovery of new talent I have heard locally to cross the threshold. That is Salem’s Gabriel Cox and his self-titled release. This is a guy that blows me away every time I hear him, either by listening to this album or on stage. Not traditional blues by any means, but damn good music. Clever songwriting, sharp musicianship throughout the band, and one flat out great soulful singer. Watch this kid, he should be going places.
It should not be any surprise, though, with the following disc. Both Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls are two of my favorite vocalists and each had their own individual recordings on my list last year – Otis actually taking the top spot then . so put them together and what do you get? One sensational soul groove that brings you back again and again. Just the updated readings on classics like “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted” and “Turn Back The Hands Of Time” on Soul Brothers are enough to make this a great disc, but it just doesn’t end there.
We cannot forget the ladies of the blues, and my next three choices all feature career topping performances to date. First, Janiva Magness made the bold move to leave a major label to form her own, and she came out with Original, perhaps her most personal and emotional disc yet. Lisa Mann also lit up the blues world with another terrific CD, but Move On is bringing the long-overdue attention outside of the Northwest she deserves. And speaking of emotional recordings, I love the music of Eden Brent and Jigsaw Heart really found a spot for me this past year with its beautiful and sometimes raucous piano playing and her moving voice.
I head right back to the soulful side of the blues with the inclusion of Dexter Allen’s Bluez Of My Soul. This is Southern soulful blues to its very identity, with a little help from his Mississippi blues brother Bobby Rush joining in on the fun.
Closing this list of ten discs is something that I usually do not bother reviewing or including, and that is a best of collection. But this one proved to be more than just that, with a handful of new tracks included. And what can I say, it’s Too Slim & The Taildraggers and the output that Tim “Too Slim” Langford has created over the years collected on Anthology is the exception to break the rules.
It’s hard to put together a list of who you liked the best. That list can change from week to week, so I would like to mention just a handful that were on the cusp as I wrote this, but could be there the next time I think about it later: Joe Louis Walker – Hornet’s Nest; Linsey Alexander – Come Back Baby; JP Soars – Full Moon Night In Memphis; Dave & Phil Alvin – Common Ground: Play and Sing The Songs of Big Bill Broonzy; Elvin Bishop – Can’t Even Do Wrong Right; Johnny Winter – Step Back; or the Empire Roots Band – Music From The Film Harlem Street Singer. And that’s just a small sampling of so many other great albums from 2014. You cannot go wrong with any of them or so many more.
What do you think? I would love to see your lists. Post your top ten blues albums on the Cascade Blues Association Facebook page. Maybe you’ll turn us all onto something we have yet to hear.