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Blues Picks for the Millenium


Ellen’s favorite blues discs of the past year...

for yourself or your blues loving friends...

Can’t afford the front row seats for the next B.B. King or Keb Mo’ concert? How about a cd or two? The following list was developed based on these simple standards: I liked the disc and the artist; I think most or all of the cuts are solid (too often, only a few of the cuts on a cd are worth more than one listen); and, the disc was released in 2000 or the very end of 1999.

ACOUSTIC (OR LOW KEY ELECTRIC) CHOICES

Corey Harris and Henry Butler – vu-du menz (Alligator 4872)
My hands down acoustic favorite of 2000. This disc brings together the amazing piano work and mature voice of Henry Butler with the new generation acoustic guitar and suggestive singing of Corey Harris. Butler is a recognized blues piano genius, Harris is a leader in the new wave of African American acoustic blues players.

Guy DavisButt Naked Free (Red House 142)
This is Guy’s third or fourth disc, and definitely one of his best. Guy is a strong vocalist and guitarist...also one of those leading, (relatively) young, new African American artists.

Alvin Youngblood HartStart With the Soul (Hannibal 1449)
This is Alvin’s most recent release and, like most of his recent discs, combines blues with something else...perhaps just Alvin’s own musical genre. For an exceptional, straight-ahead, all blues disc, check out his 1996 release on Okeh, Big Mama’s Door. Another of the new generation—and truly a topnotch musician.

Eric BibbHome to Me (EarthBeat! R2 79793)
I really just discovered Eric this year, and was honored to introduce him at the Champlain Valley Folk Festival in Burlington last August. This is his most recent disc but if you like this one, you’re gonna like all of his releases on this label. You can email the company for more information. EarthBeat! is a subsidiary of the wonderful Music For Little People organization. And, Eric, like Corey, Guy, Alvin and Keb Mo’, is right up there as a leader of the new generation. (Email EarthBeat! at musicforlittlepeople@mflp.com)

Paul GeremiaThe Devil’s Music (Red House 127)
Paul has been recording blues and folk-blues for decades. What is so extraordinary about him—like Roy Book Binder—is the consistent excellence in everything he does. This newest release is a superb collection of blues standards plus a few new blues written by Geremia.

Geoff MuldaurPassword (Hightone 8125)
It’s so good to have Geoff back as a recording artist and performer. I first came across Geoff’s music when he was in the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, with his ex-wife Maria, back in the ‘60s. Most recently, I heard him as a guest on A Prairie Home Companion. He is an extraordinary musician—a musician’s musician—and this disc brings together a combination of blues and folk cuts.

OdettaBlues Everywhere I Go (M.C. Records MC0038)
Okay, it’s true, this one came out in late ’99, but it was my favorite from last year and it has just gotten better and better the more I listened to it over the past year. As you may recall, this was Odetta’s first new disc in 14 years. She’s joined by a knockout ensemble led by Dr. John. If you don’t buy any other blues disc this season, get this one.

MOSTLY ELECTRIC PLUS SOME PARTY MUSIC

B.B. King & Eric ClaptonRiding With the King (Reprise 9 47612-2)
Yes, the guys are both masters of the blues, but put them together and they are more than one plus one. This is just solid, solid blues. One of the best releases bringing together artists of different generations. You can’t go wrong with this.

Taj MahalThe Best of the Private Years (Private Music 01005-82189-2)
For about a decade, Taj has been recording for the Private label. This is just what its title says it is: a best-of album. Some great cuts. If you’re looking for a one-disc way to introduce your new friends to recent Taj, this is the one to buy.

The Duke Robillard BandExplorer (Shanachie 9025)
There is simply no one who plays tighter, better blues guitar. Duke’s latest release continues his long tradition of great blues plus a few experiments. I also highly recommend his 1999 release on Shanachie, New Blues For Modern Man.

Sue FoleyLove Comin’ Down (Shanachie 8036)
Sue Foley is one of the greatest living Canadian blues musicians. Yup, Canadian. Granted, she came by her chops at least partial during her years playing with the Antone’s gang in Texas. She is one hot guitarist, and she has a fine, quirky voice.

John MooneyGone to Hell (Blind Pig 5063)
I am so happy about this disc. I’ve been a fan of Mooney’s for at least two decades, but until this release, I thought his work had been a bit unpredictable in recent years. With this, Mooney is back in top form with some smoldering slide guitar and steamy singing.

Tinsley EllisKingpin (Capricorn 314 546 215-2)
This one’s for the sharp, hot, full-tilt electric blues guitar fan on your list. Tinsley continues to hone his chops.

Kid RamosWest Coast House Party (Evidence 26110-2)
This is the blue party to die for: Kid Ramos joined by the likes of Little Charlie, Gatemouth Brown, Duke Robillard, Kim Wilson, Junior Watson, Fred Kaplan, and the list goes on and on. Great fun AND great musicians.

Rusty ZinnThe Chill (Alligator 4876)
Rusty is friends with the guys on the Kid Ramos disc—in fact, Rusty is one of the guest artists on that disc. This is a fine collection of blues, and party tunes. Nothing superfluous.  Just some great tunes.

MISCELLANEOUS: COLLECTIONS, REISSUES, AND JUST QUIRKY

Various ArtistsBlue Haze: Songs of Jimi Hendrix (Ruf 1053)
This collection of covers of Hendrix tunes works because everyone on it is good, really good. They may not sound like Hendrix, but they get the heart of Hendrix. The disc includes 16 cuts, ranging from Eric Bibb’s acoustic cover of the ballad Angel to Walter Trout & the Free Radicals tearing up on Hey Joe to Taj Mahal’s somewhere in-between treatment of All Along the Watchtower. My favorite: Michelle Shocked doing House Burning Down.

Various ArtistsMojo Mamas (Blue Chicago 5005)
A sampler of eight of the meanest blues mamas of the current Chicago scene. They’re all authentic, they’re all convincing, and they all come by the blues fair and square.

Memphis Slim The Folkways Years 1959-1973 (Smithsonian Folkways 40128)
I’ve included this reissue by way of leading you to all of the Smithsonian Folkways reissues. The label has re-released many classic blues and folk artists on cd during the past few years, and each is produced thoughtfully with wonderful information booklets. The Memphis Slim collection is no exception. For a complete catalogue of the label’s releases, email them at folkways@aol.com, or visit their website at www.si.edu./folkways.

My last three recommendations definitely fall within the “quirky” category:

Tom WaitsMule Variations (Anti-Epitaph 86547-2)
This is a carry over from 1999 that I just had to include. This album is truly amazing. If you’re a fan of Waits already, you’re gonna get your socks knocked off by this one. If you’re only marginally familiar with his work, this album is a great place to begin...then go back and listen to his earliest albums from the ‘70s.

Willie NelsonMilk Cow Blues (Island 314 542 517-2)
Listen, I love Willie Nelson. And, I firmly believe all great singers have a blues sensibility (listen to Caruso doing one of those weepy Puccini or Verdi arias if you don’t believe me). Anyway, this disc confirms my belief in Willie. He has some great blues friends joining him, too: Dr. John, Francine Reed, Jonny Lang, B.B.King, Susan Tedescho, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. All your friends will like this. Trust me.

Van Morrison & Linda Gail LewisYou Win Again (Exile/Pointblank 724385025822)
So, you know who Van Morrison is, but have you ever heard of Linda Gail Lewis? I sure hadn’t until this disc came across my desk a month ago. She is none other than the enormously talented sister of Jerry Lee Lewis. She gets those 88s smokin’ just as hot as her brother does. Wait’ll you hear Van and Gail sing together! A party album, with a few torchy songs thrown in for good measure. Another sure thing crowd pleaser.
 

Need more suggestions?  Check out Jackie's list.