The desire to find the ‘next big thing’ in music a tendency found in every genre – even a genre as deeply rooted in tradition as the blues. But the latest batch of new blues albums suggests that many of the blues ‘next big things’ have been around for decades.
JOHN MAYALL – TALK ABOUT THAT
A list of blues and pop masters who have passed through John Mayall’s band John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers reads like a hall of fame of blues/rock stars. A few of those names include Eric Clapton, Mick Fleetwood, Mick Taylor and Jack Bruce. And yet John Mayall’s latest album – Talk About That – doesn’t sound like the stroll down memory lane you’d expect from a man with so much blues history in his past.
True, the eleven-track collection is as deeply rooted in blues history as anything you’re likely to hear. But Mayall’s voice doesn’t ache for a revival of the past. It’s all about looking forward – to new love, new music and, in the case of the album’s best song Gimme Some of that Gumbo, a steaming hot bowl of New Orleans tastiness.
ELVIN BISHOP – ELVIN BISHOP’S BIG FUN TRIO
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Elvin Bishop has a knack for blending country and the blues in a way that truly stands out. And his latest effort, Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio is a familiar-sounding romp through territory Bishop knows well after over half a century of playing the blues. Ably backed-up by Bob Welsh and well-travelled journeyman Willy Jordan, Bishop reminds us how much fun the blues can be while also taking a few dips into darker waters.
Those darker waters consist mostly of the wounded ballad Can’t Take No More and the odd moment of despair on otherwise upbeat tracks. Simply put, there’s a reason Bishop’s band is called the Big Fun Trio.
Bishop’s raspy shout won’t dazzle the American Idol crowd, but here it’s just fine, barking out the blues like nobody else.
OTIS TAYLOR – FANTASIZING ABOUT BEING BLACK
Describing Otis Taylor’s latest album as a treatise on the African-American experience is both accurate and unfair. Why unfair? Because this oddly titled masterpiece isn’t the dry history lesson that such a label would suggest. Instead it is visceral, raw, beautiful and often deflating. History class has never been such an emotional experience. Although everything works wonderfully here, the stand out tracks include the deeply spiritual Hands on Your Stomach and the rollicking Jump out of Line.
On, ‘Fantasizing,’ Otis Taylor summons bebop, bluegrass, psychedelica and African tribal rhythms in a way that feel both refreshingly new and warmly familiar.
Closing in on his 70th birthday, Taylor has delivered tasty blues before, but this is a remarkable achievement even by his sky-high standards.
HAYES MCMULLEN – EVERYDAY SEEM LIKE MURDER HERE
Hayes McMullan lived and died as a man of mystery in the world of the blues. A gifted bluesman whose life exemplified everything sad and lovely about the genre, Hayes has recently become rediscovered by blues scholars.
His stunning musical legacy offers a window not only into the life of the bluesman behind it, but to the roots of the genre itself. Hayes, after all, was born in 1902 and as we listen to such striking cuts as Look-a-here Woman Blues and Goin’ Where the Chilly Winds Don’t Blow we are listening to the very invention of a bold new music.
Also included here are snippets of a conversational interview captured on audio cassette. These brief interludes – sometimes funny, sometimes tragic – keep us grounded in the wild, wondrous life of McMullen. In other words, they teach us all about the blues.
THORBJORN RISENGER – CHANGE MY GAME
Unlike the other albums featured here, Thorbjorn Risenger’s Change My Game is not the work of a longtime bluesman. Nor is his home a region widely recognized as a hotbed of traditional blues. But this Danish singer/songwriter has done his homework. And his searing voice is deeply seeped in blues tradition enough to make us forget he wasn’t born the son of a Mississippi sharecropper.
The song Holler N Moan packs the most punch. Raw and unrelenting, this tune channels the best from the genre Risenger so obviously loves. The same can be said of the album’s stunning closer, City of Love. Both tracks make the most of Risenger’s aptly dubbed backing band The Black Tornado. However unlikely its origin, Change My Game is electric blues at its most electrifying.