My BMA ballot was a source of fun and sweet frustration as I found myself consistently torn between some great artists and albums nominated in these categories. It's a feeling I imagine I'll experience most years but I can say some years have/would have been more difficult for me than others. The 2010 BMAs, representing works recorded in 2009, is one of the most competitive I've seen since my first year voting in 2007.
I said all that to say the Contemporary Blues categories were among the easier ones for me this year (compared to, for example, the Acoustic categories). The reason they were so easy isn't because they weren't competitive but because in two of the three categories there was one nominee that leapt at me. Let's quickly recap the nominees in these categories and then I'll break down my ballot:
Contemporary Blues Album
Candye Kane - Superhero
Joe Louis Walker - Between a Rock and the Blues
Rick Estrin and the Nightcats - Twisted
Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters - Living in the Light
Tommy Castro - Hard Believer
Contemporary Blues Male Artist
Joe Louis Walker
Contemporary Blues Female Artist
Only one female was nominated in both the individual and album categories so let's fly through the female category first. Janiva Magness is poised to dominate this category for awhile. The BMAs love her. My first exposure to her didn't win me over and I haven't really come back but fellow BC blues writer John Taylor is working on me and I'm going to have to revisit this issue as it's clear she is not going away. At the time of the voting, I wasn't in the Janiva camp so I went elsewhere. The BMAs also love Candye Kane, and she's the only female artist whose album is in the Contemporary Album categories. Candye is similar to Janiva for me in that I haven't completely bought in but the reasons are different. After carefully considering all five nominees I went with my favorite voice of the bunch, Shemekia Copeland.
Now onto the men and the album…
I reviewed Ronnie Earl's Living In The Light. Ronnie is a special individual and a supremely gifted guitarist. There are many great guitar players living and working the blues and other genres today. Earl is one of a handful of the elites and you get a healthy dose of that ability on Living. As an album, Living is weighed down by some lyrical missteps and uneven work by some guest vocalists. Tommy Castro is one of those great guitar players and I like Hard Believer more than I liked his previous effort, Painkiller. I considered both of those albums but the album that stuck with me the most of the five nominees was Joe Louis Walker's Between A Rock And The Blues.
Between isn't a genre-expanding effort but is a fresh look of what the blues can be and do. The songwriting is consistent and sometimes excellent. The album is well-crafted and produced as Walker gets some terrific support from the musicians who contributed to the record. At the center of it all is the powerful, soulful, magnetic voice and guitar of Joe Louis Walker himself. Between changes paces and attacks and Walker executes these differences with seeming ease. This is a bold, confident album with the power to compel listeners to move with the grooves as well as stirring souls. That seemed more than reason enough to vote for the album and its creator.