Established female blues vocalists such as Bonnie Bramlett and Marcia Ball, along with newcomers such as Ghalia Volt and Kathy & the Kilowatts, supercharge this high-energy blues playlist.
GHALIA VOLT ~ from the album MISSISSIPPI BLEND
On Mississippi Blend, her 2017 Ruf Records release, Ghalia Volt called on some special guest stars to assist her and bassist / co-producer Dean Zucchero in the making of a special Louisiana flavored treat.
The gifted pair, along with ace musicians Lightnin’ Malcolm, Cedric Burnside, Watermelon Slim, Smokehouse Brown, and Cody Dickinson were assembled with veteran engineers Kevin Houston and Kevin Nix at Zebra Ranch Recording Studio in Coldwater, Mississippi. Zebra Ranch is owned by Cody and his brother Luther Dickinson, members of the North Mississippi Allstars and the sons of the late, legendary Jim Dickinson. The result of this project was a fine blend of Mississippi Hill Country sounds with some rock edges.
“My lyrics come from stories I’ve experienced and the emotional reactions to them. In the old days, they said blues is not only about lamentation, but encouragement. That’s the way I see it, too. Another subject I find myself writing about is freedom – mine, yours, ours. Of course, there’s the subject of men. Can be about love, can be about sex, can be none of the above.” ~ Ghalia Volt
The song “Release Me,” was written by Ghalia, and it features some nice Dobro work from the Belgium-born lass. It parades right along to the firm marching rhythm by Zucchero and Burnside. Her vocal is a treat of sassy seduction, relying on the feel, rather than the lyrics which are a tad difficult to decipher in the mix. Regardless, I tell you, this tune will drill into your brain like a boll weevil feasting on a ball of cotton.
Release Me – personnel
Vocals, Guitars, Dobro – Ghalia Volt
Blues Harp – Watermelon Slim
Bass – Dean Zucchero
Drums – Cedric Burnside
JANIVA MAGNESS ~ from the album HARD TO KILL
DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME
Janiva Magness is an artist who possesses a powerfully intense voice that grabs a hold and then never again releases you. Over the course of her recording career she has garnered a great deal of critical acclaim, including numerous awards, in addition to substantial public support which spreads with each new endeavor she undertakes.
For her current release, Hard To Kill, Janiva Magness left the security of Alligator Records, to launch her own record company; Fathead Records. With this first release on the new label, she continues to maintain her position as one of the crème de la crème of female blues artists.
“I feel like it’s a retrospective not just of my musical life, but of my life. At this point, with what I’ve been through in my life, top to bottom, you know what: the gloves are off, and the rules are…. there really aren’t any rules.” ~ Janiva Magness
Multi-instrumentalist Dave Darling, Janiva’s longtime associate, once again occupies the producer’s chair. Her band is top of the heap, through and through. All are seasoned performers with past ties to Magness. Ace guitarist Zach Zunis, bassist Gary Davenport, drummer Matt Tecu, and keyboardist Jim Alfredson, along with Darling on guitar, provide skilled musicianship on each song to make this outstanding album one of the most memorable in Magness’ esteemed catalog.
A favorite of mine was the first single, “Don’t You Forget About Me.” The composition was co-written by Janiva and Annie Mack. It is one of two fine songs the two talented ladies collaborated on presented on Hard To Kill.
ALLY VENABLE ~ from the album REAL GONE
BROKEN AND BLUE
Twenty-something Texan blues/rock singer, songwriter, and guitarist Ally Venable has been building momentum as she steadily is progressing along on her recording career. On her new Ruf Records album, Real Gone, her fifth release, the artist displays the added confidence that comes with maturity.
“I think both my singing and my guitar playing have matured now. This time I really focused on the songwriting. I wanted to share what’s true for me, and what I’ve been through since the release of ‘Heart Of Fire’ in 2021 to connect with the audience.” ~ Ally Venable
“I have a lot of fond memories from the sessions on Real Gone. Working with Tom and the atmosphere he creates as a producer is incredible. This recording was my best studio experience to date.” ~ Ally Venable
The “Tom” that Ally Venable is referring to is the renowned multi-award winning Producer Tom Hambridge. Ally made the trek to Nashville to receive a little of the “magical mojo dust” that Hambridge consistently brings to studio sessions.
“I try to write about what goes on in my life, or try to write about something I know others can relate to. We all go through things, and it’s okay to have feelings about something going on in your life.” ~ Ally Venable
I really love the slower, and very melodic, “Broken and Blue,” a co-written composition from Venable and Tom Hambridge. The song about a romantic break-up finds Venable providing a starkly beautiful and expressive performance. Guitarist Joe Bonamassa makes a guest appearance on the song and grants the song a few sizzling lead riffs on the instrumental bridge that lift the song to soaring heights.
SARI SCHORR ~ from the album A FORCE OF NATURE
A Force of Nature is the title of the enthralling debut release of Sari Schorr on Manhaton Records. Although this qualifies as her solo recording debut, Sari is no newcomer to the blues scene having toured with Popa Chubby and Joe Louis Walker in addition to being a recent inductee of the New York Blues Hall Of Fame. A Force of Nature includes three well-conceived tribute cover interpretations and nine original compositions by Schorr, a fine songwriter who composes great melodies and often crafty lyrics.
“Sari Schorr is a powerfully commanding vocalist, who in the manner of some of her contemporaries (Beth Hart, Joss Stone, and Janiva Magness), is skillful at interpretations of other artists songs, while writing strong songs of her own. She, of course, has a unique voice all her own, but like those other female vocalists mentioned above, Sari shows a boundless capacity when it comes to conveying heart-felt emotion. She is skilled in the utilization of controlled phrasing, dynamics and presentation with vocals splashed with a touch of bluesy sandpaper grit.
“The album closer is the fleeting ballad “Ordinary Life.” This one finds Schorr dropping her characteristic grit-laced tone to reveal perhaps her prettiest singing to be found on A Force of Nature. The reflective intelligent lyrics are a reminder to all to enjoy our lives to the fullest and treasure each and every moment. The arrangement is stark, adorned with only a measured and quite lovely piano accompanying Sari. The lyrics read like a beautiful poem with each stanza having the refrain “Oh Lord, I’m grateful for this ordinary life.”
“Schorr is a singer who boldly bares her heart and soul to deliver this award-deserving performance of sultry and soulful blues music. It’s a musical tour-de-force with gratifying variety that holds your attention like a vice.” ~ RP / Vivascene
RONNIE EARL (with Diane Blue) ~ from the album FATHER’S DAY
I’LL TAKE CARE OF YOU
“In 2015 Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters released perhaps his finest and most consistently powerful recording with Father’s Day, on Stony Plain Records (Canada’s Roots, Rock, Country, Folk & Blues Label). The former lead guitarist for Roomful Of Blues pays tribute to both his late father, as well as some of his music industry father figures (Otis Rush, Magic Sam, B.B. King, etc.).
“Each and every song is an illuminating display of Earl’s guitar soulfulness and dexterity. My favorite song, although hard to choose only one, is the nine minute treatment given to “I’ll Take Care Of You,” the Bobby Bland hit ballad from 1960 that has been covered by scores of artists. Diane Blue sings with the same smoky sensuality that Beth Hart revealed on Don’t Explain, her first collaboration with Joe Bonamassa. The song reaches and maintains a heated fervor on the final five minutes with Dave Limina’s Hammond B-3 organ engaging in a musical conversation with Ronnie Earl’s expressive guitar.”
SHAUN MURPHY ~ from the album FLAME STILL BURNS
SWEET LITTLE ANGEL
“Shaun’s one of my favorite singers.” ~ Bonnie Raitt
“Each song holds a special meaning, something in each song that resonates in my life and memories.” ~ Shaun Murphy, referencing Flame Still Burns.
Shaun Murphy garnered a lot of well earned attention on this 2020 release. She sings with a power and a passion that recalls the legends Etta James and Koko Taylor.
She assembled a crackerjack group of musicians to support her. The Shaun Murphy Band is comprised of a team of music professionals who have been playing for more decades than they care to count.
The band: Shaun Murphy – vocals, Tommy Stillwell – guitar, Kenne Cramer – guitar, Tom DelRossi – drums, John Marcus – bass guitar, Eric Robert – organ, Kevin McKendree – piano
One of my favorites from the album, a cover of B.B. King’s “Sweet Little Angel.” The song is a medium- slow blues, and the guitarists are truly inspired to be playing a song from one of their idols, as they shine bright as stars in the desert sky. The snare drum is snapping time as the organ swells beautifully and the piano tinkles. Shaun’s vocal is a pure blues delight, with each word clearly enunciated for dramatic effect, even assuming, at times, a slight southern drawl. It’s a total team effort, and one that would make Riley King quite proud.
ELIZA NEALS ~ from the album BADDER TO THE BONE
QUEEN OF THE NILE
“Eliza Neals is a powerfully passionate Blues-rock vocalist that continually keeps refining her songwriter skills. Each new release garners her more critical acclaim, and wins over new fans. She’s most assuredly the real deal.
“I wanted to go more into the Blues-rock realm and just kinda do really slow blues like “Queen of the Nile,” and also do some hard rockers like “King Kong.” Just show each aspect of the songwriting that I love. But, do it in a way with the blues intention and make it raw.” ~ Eliza Neals
Neal’s husky vocal is invitingly seductive on her slow blues treasure “Queen of the Nile.” Her lyrics abound with imagery because, as the song states, this Detroit woman is “badder to the bone.” And yes, just as she suggests this hoodoo witch “Queen of the Nile will make you lose your mind” as she uses her black cat bone charms to cast her witchy spell.
“Her outstanding vocal is supported admirably by all the musicians. Lance Lopez, a fiery guitar player born in New Orleans and now calling Texas home, guests and provides some exceptional licks. Another outstanding guest is Hammond organist Peter Keys. Keys started on piano at age four, studied at Berklee, and has played with big names in the SF bay area as well as P-Funk and Lynyrd Skynyrd. I love slow blues done right, and this one is oh so right. Turn it up!” ~ RP / Vivascene
SARI SCHORR ~ from the album A FORCE OF NATURE
AIN’T GOT NO MONEY
“I set out to write achingly honest songs about the beauty and the tragedy of the human experience. I hope my music can be a galvanizing force to inspire, repair and unite people.” ~ Sari Beth Schorr
“A Force of Nature is a superb powerhouse performance that takes listeners for a passionate ride thanks to Sari Schorr’s undeniable vocal presence. Schorr is a singer who boldly bares her heart and soul to deliver this award-deserving performance of sultry and soulful blues music. It’s a musical tour-de-force with gratifying variety that holds your attention like a vice.
“Schorr opens the recording with “Ain’t Got No Money,” a song that demonstrates her striking ability to belt out a mighty-fine blues shouter sort of song soaked with vocal sass. The song is also a showcase for Innes Sibun on lead to expertly pay inspiring respect for one of his primary blues guitar influences; B.B. King. Sibun enjoys a potent presence on a majority of these songs and his blues guitar expertise establishes a great grouping with Sari’s high-flying vocals.” ~ RP / Vivascene
KATHY & THE KILOWATTS ~ from the album FULLY CHARGED
Kathy Murray is a singer songwriter with few peers. The Austin, Texas based Murray has helped keep a spotlight on the Texas capital’s music scene for quite a spell. Kathy sings with a blazing passion, like her life depends on it, with a distinctive style of her own.
Kathy fronts the Kilowatts, and her right hand man in this group is guitarist Bill “Monster” Jones, who also happens to be her husband. The newest release, 2O22’s Fully Charged, is full of tunes displaying memorable shades of the blues spectrum. One of these tunes, “Changing Lanes,” is a good-timey song with an easy rocking rhythm that serves as an invitation for couples to get to the dance floor to kick up their heels.
SAMANTHA FISH ~ from the album FASTER
ALL ICE NO WHISKEY
“I’m always inspired by the things I grew up on, like the Stones. I listened to a lot of George Harrison and Tom Petty over the pandemic. I’m huge into north Mississippi music, so with my guitar playing I’m always trying to channel something in the vein of Junior Kimbrough. I like repeating motifs.” ~ Samantha Fish
On Faster I wanted to make something that was poppy, that was rock-n-roll, but that still maintains this blues thing that I come to the table with. It’s really guitar driven, lyrically driven, and vocally driven. I think it’s the best recording of my voice so far, which I am excited about. I am just proud of the songs. I feel like they are the best songs I’ve written to date.” ~ Samantha Fish
On her Faster album, Samantha Fish offered up a sweet slice of power-pop on her song “All Ice No Whiskey,” finely spiced with a defiant attitude.
“‘All Ice No Whiskey’ is a way of telling someone they don’t have any of that substance I’m looking for — sort of like, ‘Come back when you’ve got something interesting for me.'” ~ Samantha Fish
BONNIE BRAMLETT ~ from the album LADY’S CHOICE
TWO STEPS FROM THE BLUES
(w/ Gregg Allman)
“I always wanted to be a singer. I don’t remember wanting to be anything other than that.” ~ Bonnie Bramlett
Bonnie Bramlett is an extremely soulful vocalist that proudly shares her deep love for rhythm and blues every time she performs. Her second solo recording for Capricorn Records, was Ladies Choice in 1976, produced by Johnny Sandlin.
The song “Two Steps from the Blues” was written by Don Robey and Texas Johnny Brown, and was first recorded and released by Bobby “Blue” Bland in 1961.
Two Steps From The Blues – personnel
Vocals – Bonnie Bramlett
Vocals – Gregg Allman
Guitar – Tommy Talton
Keyboards – Barry Beckett
Bass – David Hood
Drums – Roger Hawkins
Saxophone – Harvey Thompson, Ronald Eades
Trombone – Charles Rose
Trumpet – Harrison Calloway
MARCIA BALL ~ from the album ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS
THE PARTY’S STILL GOING ON
“Forty years of Roadside Attractions and this life of roaming ‘round has never worn thin. I love it when the wheels start rolling, when the band starts playing, when the crowds start dancing and when I see the lights of home at the end of the road.” ~ Marcia Ball
The closing track on this Alligator Records 2011 release was “The Party’s Still Going On.” The composition was a co-write by Gary Nicholson, Marcia Ball, and Tom Hambridge. Gary Nicholson was also the release’s producer.
Marcia Ball’s barrelhouse boogie-woogie piano paints the town red and the fun is contagious for all as the horn section and the entire ensemble happily party hardy. Ball provides a rollicking dynamo vocal spiced with her Cajun-Texan twang that keeps the party going ’til the cows come home.
The Party’s Still Going On – personnel
Piano, Vocals – Marcia Ball
Guitar – Mike Schermer
Bass – Don Bennett
Drums – Damien Llanes
Backing Vocals – Wendy Moten
Horns – Mingo Fishtrap Horns
Baritone Saxophone – Greg Wilson
Tenor Saxophone – Dan Bechdolt
Saxophone – Thad Scott
Trumpet – Steve Butts
GHALIA VOLT ~ from the album ONE WOMAN BAND
JUST ONE MORE TIME
“The Brussels, Belgian born Blues and R&B singer, songwriter, multi-musician, and Ruf Records recording artist Ghalia Volt possesess a uniqueness that is very appreciable.
“Back in 2017, Ghalia’s meeting with New Orleans local blues legends Mama’s Boys resulted in a smash-hit debut album, ‘Let The Demons Out.’
“Then, two years later, she really hit her stride when she journeyed to the fabled hill country of Coldwater, Mississippi, for her second album sessions with greats like Cody Dickinson, Cedric Burnside, Lightnin’ Malcolm and Watermelon Slim that resulted in her charting release, Mississippi Blend.
“Her newest Ruf release, One Woman Band, features guest cameos on bass guitar from New Orleans ace Dean Zucchero on two songs, and a pair of guest guitar solos from none other than “Monster” Mike Welch. Ghalia co-produced the record along with Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell at Memphis’ famed Royal Studio.
“The studio has an almost mystical quality. Lawrence Mitchell’s legendary producer father, Willie Mitchell, ascribed to a theory regarding the acoustics, “Something about the floor. As you go down the slope, the music gets bigger, it separates.”
“The closing song on the release features a retro rockabilly feel fueled by the guitar play of ‘Monster’ Mike Welch. But it is the vocal of Ghalia that makes the song so very appealing. Her lyrics beg for her former lover to make her feel the same feelings that she experienced before. His leaving has left a vacuum in her heart that has her grieving both night and day. Her foxily sung pleas of “just one more timeeeee” would melt the frozen heart of the abominable snowman.” ~ RP / Vivascene