Saturday , February 24 2024
Blues, blues, and more blues.

Music Reviews: Big Papa And The TCB, The Hitman Blues Band, Big Bill Morganfield, Robert “Top” Thomas, and Kelly Richey

There are any number of artists and bands who produce a lot of good music that just floats under the radar. That is especially true of musicians who play the blues. They crisscross the country playing in small clubs eking out enough money to make a living. Once in a while they enter the studio and record an album of good music. The following are some of the better blues albums that have recently spent a little time in my stereo system.

Big Papa and The TCB can best be described as a jump blues band. Their instrumental heritage is rooted in the big band era, as a saxophone and trumpet carry the sound while a piano fills in around the edges. The lyrics and vocals move the sound over to the blues, as band leader/guitarist/vocalist Chris Thayer is able to write about life while creating music that is mainly up-tempo and catchy. Their new album, A Six Pack Of Cool, is a nice modern day fusion of two distinct American musical styles.

Blues Enough by The Hitman Blues Band travels in a different direction as group leader Russell “Hitman” Alexander is a first rate musician whose guitar drives the sound while the sax, trumpet, and trombone provide support over a traditional rhythm section. They play modern electric blues that is straight-forward and hammers at the senses. “Sam the Bluzman” is a tribute to the late Sam “The Bluzman” Taylor. There is the clever lyrics of “Backhand Drive,” while “Fishing Where the Fish Are” would be at home in a smoky bar late at night. It is a veteran outfit that had honed their sound through constant touring and now has released their fifth album.

Big Bill Morganfield is a spiritual son of the delta by way of Chicago. His new album, Blues With A Mood, features seven original compositions among the 11 tracks, and finds such blues stalwarts as pianist Augie Myers and guitarist Eddie Taylor Jr. supporting his gruff vocals and guitar playing. “Ooh Wee” and “Look What You Done” both channel the legacies of Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. There is also the amusing “No Butter For My Grits” that is a witty journey through the lighter side of the blues. “Song of The Blues” is an autobiographical tune rooted in the traditional blues. In all, Morganfield has released a satisfying album rooted in the blues.

Robert “Top” Thomas learned his chops as a founding member of Smokehouse with whom he recorded four albums during the 1990s. Now on his own, he has released his debut album, The Town Crier. He may not be from the Louisiana Delta but his Florida swamp sound connects him securely to a blues format. He fronts a basic electric blues unit consisting of bassist/guitarist/songwriter Stephen Dees, drummer Billy Dean, and harp player Stephen Kampa who ably support his lead guitar and vocals. The songs are all concise and structured as the music goes from boogie to up-tempo to slow blues. It all adds up to a musician who walks or plays in the footsteps of Lightnin’ Slim, Lazy Lester, and Jimmy Reed.

Kelly Richey has one foot planted in the electric blues and the other in hard-edged rock and roll. Her approach to the blues is more in a Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan vein than the traditional blues of the Delta and Chicago. Now over three decades, and according to her press release 3700 live performances into her career, she has released her 12th studio album, Sweet Spirit. She usually plays within a basic power trio but here she adds keyboards to several of the tracks, which expands her sound. She has a gravelly voice that fits her lyrics well but as with any of her albums, it is her guitar work that shines. It always has a raw energy and this album is a prime example of her talent.

There you have it. Just about any aficionado of the blues should find something interesting among these five releases.

About David Bowling

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