I have no idea how many Independence Day/4th of July playlists are floating around the web today. I thought long and hard about composing one but decided against it for two reasons. Reason #1 is that every other music writer in the world is already doing it and reason #2 is that I really want to do this week’s Blues Power Rankings 6-Pack, the weekly look at songs from albums heating up the chart at blues radio. It’s the 4th of July! You’re probably at a barbecue and nothing goes better with barbecue than the blues, so here it is. These six songs are from albums currently on the BPR charts.
1) Bettye LaVette – “Isn’t It A Pity:” My appreciation for George Harrison’s solo career has really grown over the past few years and this is a great song from his catalog, one that I love even more after hearing what LaVette is able to do with it. Harrison often wrote from the outward-looking perspective of a spiritual wanderer. She takes these rumination on the damage done by selfishness and heartbreak and makes it something larger, something tragic. It’s hard to imagine taking Harrison’s songs and making them feel even grander, but the yearning in her vocal makes the sadness and sorrow larger and deeper.
2) Rob Stone – “Give Me Time:” This is a sweet version of a lesser-known Magic Sam tune that Rob and the guys absolutely nail. Legendary drummer Sam Lay forms a deep, deep pocket with rhythm mates bassist Patrick Rynn and pianist David Maxwell, creating a rich groove. Chris James’ guitar tone pairs itself perfectly to the song’s rhythm and style. It’s R&B channeled through Chicago and it’s going to make you dance.
3) Otis Taylor - “Rain So Hard:” Not long ago, The Wall Street Journal wrote something of a eulogy for the blues, decrying its conservatism and reliance on tradition. It was another of those silly “all blues sounds the same” articles that sadly said more about the writer than the music. Take this song from Otis Taylor, for instance. This is undeniably and identifiably the blues but how many blues staples do you know that deploy theremin, cornet, and cello? This is primitive, rustic music with an off-kilter spirit about it. It’s traditional, but Taylor doesn’t play it safe.
4) Nick Moss – “Georgia Redsnake:” One of my favorite records of the year continues to hang in the Top 10 of the charts several months after its release because there are 11 great songs worthy of repeated lessons. Moss saturates most of Privileged with some rock influence but on “Georgia Redsnake,” Moss unplugs and plays some juicy slide and Gerry Hundt busts out his mandolin and the two really go to work. It’s the black sheep song on the record, being the most traditional and only acoustic song but it feels right and sounds great.
5) Magic Slim & The Teardrops – “I Can’t Hold Out:” ZZ Top asked “How much blues can you use before you use it all?” on “What’s Up With That?” Magic Slim is in his 70s and he doesn’t sound like his tank is anywhere near empty. “I Can’t Hold Out” is a traditional Chicago blues, rhythm fired.
6) Mississippi Heat feat. John Primer – “Steadfast, Loyal, and True:” There are two important things to know about a Mississippi Heat record: Pierre Lacocque can really play that harp and he’s got impeccable taste when it comes to picking collaborators for his ensemble. John Primer has been hot of late, recording a BMA-nominated solo album All Original, cutting tracks for the BMA-nominated Chicago Blues – A Living History, and playing with Pinetop Perkins and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on their new album that is topping the BPR charts. In addition to all that, Primer cut this winning track with Lacocque.