Various Artists – The Blues Foundation International Blues Challenge #33
Number 6 is our series of Best Blues Albums of 2017
shown above ~ Randy Mcquay
The Blues Foundation was formed in Memphis, Tennessee with a stated mission “to preserve blues heritage, celebrate blues recording and performance, expand worldwide awareness of the blues, and ensure the future of this uniquely American art form.” Every year, an event known as The BMAs is hosted that unites Blues performers, major industry representatives, and Blues fans from all corners of the world to honor the best in Blues from the previous year. This compilation of fourteen artists brings together contest winners and strong contenders in a disc that covers the many hues that make up the wide spectrum of blue.
Picking a favorite artist or song from this one is a tough call. One of my favorites at the moment is “I Hate You (Cause I Love You)” by an artist that goes by the moniker Felix Slim. He plays a slide guitar in the authentic Delta Blues tradition and his genuine vocals go hand in hand with his guitar. It has a sparse arrangement, just vocals and acoustic guitar. I tell you, he really gets down when he arrives at the instrumental break. Felix Slim sparkles and shines like a diamond under a 100 watt bulb!
Another engaging artist on the release is Sam Joyner, who represents The Vicksburg Blues Society with a tune entitled “Onions Ain’t The Only Thing (That Will Make You Cry).” The gentleman has a distinctive vocal and his accompanying guitarist sounds to me like Robert Cray and B.B. King could have been some of his biggest influences. Joyner stands out on the keyboards and his bio states that his original music is a unique combination of Chicago Urban Blues, and New Orleans style with a mixture of the old and the new. That is a potent combination for sure! Joyner’s Hammond B-3 organ dances the blues in duet with the guitar, and his lyrics are genius in their weighty simplicity. A prime example being: “What good is a love affair when it ends in goodbye?”
Sugar Brown was born as Ken Chester Kawashima to a Japanese father and Korean mother who both immigrated to the United States in the mid-1960s. Sugar Brown learned his chops originally as a blues harmonica player in Chicago, where he was a member of The La-Z Boys, the band that backed famed West Side singer, Taildragger. Taildragger is responsible for giving Ken the stage name Sugar Brown in 1992, saying to him, “You ain’t black…..and you sure ain’t white….You’re Sugar Brown.” Sugar is now a permanent resident of Toronto, Canada and the track he contributes to the IBC 33rd Challenge CD is entitled “Meet Me In The Country.” The song reminds me of the poignant “Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad,” much akin to the version featured in the classic film “Grapes of Wrath.” The drums sound as if they are echoing from the bottom of a well, and the vocal is as authentic Delta blues as can be. The lyrics that tug at my country heartstrings roughly read: “Well I’m tired of the city, the chatter just drives me mad. When I hear that lonesome country wind, it’s enough to make a good man bad.”
Also, “Catfish Boogie” presented here by The Sobo Blues Band, a group based in the Holy City of Jerusalem, reminds me a lot of John Lee Hooker and Canned Heat (a couple of my all-time favs). They can boogie ‘til the cows come home.
Dawn Tyler Watson testifies with a blues shouter titled “Shine On.” The song prominently features a fine gospel choir, a driving bass beat, and some beautiful cathedral organ. Starting slowly, the song builds in intensity with horns adding spice to Watson’s magnificent vocal treatment.
“Til I Get To Memphis” is the title of the tune contributed by Randy McQuay, an impressive singer/songwriter who specializes in being an interpreter of Modern American Roots Music. McQuay employs a moaning blues wail vocal to get his point across, and his retro-style slide guitar hits the groove splendidly.
The song “Don’t Dig Today” is provided by Al Hill, a Nashville-based singer, piano player, guitarist and writer. He was the winner of First Place awards for Best Solo Act and Best Solo Guitarist at the 2017 Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge. His bluesy piano on “Don’t Dig Today” keeps an easy even keel, while his vocal falls somewhere between vintage Ray Charles and Randy Newman.
I would also highly recommend The Blues Foundation International Blues Challenge #32 which came out in January of 2017. Again picking one or two artists or songs is always a matter of preference and mood; but if cornered I’d have to submit The Paul DesLauriers Band http://www.vivascene.com/paul-deslauriers-band-relentless-album-review/ from Canada with their song “I’m Your Man,” a fine blue/rock boogie. I am also partial to bands that weave horn arrangements into their music, and the Norman Jackson Band with “Norman’s Blues” do so, along with acute guitars as they lay a thick funky blues groove. I’ve been listening to it for a year, and it hasn’t gotten stale. If you are a person who likes the Blues, and likes a variety of artists either one, or both of these great compilation CDs should be on your must-have list.