A friend introduced me to the music and legend of the late New Orleans pianist James Booker. The "Bayou Maharajah," as he was called, lived a flamboyant life. While he never found true commercial success, he built gained popularity in Europe and even played a couple of shows with the Jerry Garcia Band (before being replaced by Dead pianist Keith Godchaux). Here's a full solo concert performance captured at famed New Orleans venue the Maple Leaf back in 1983. As if the music wasn't enough, the early 1980's cable tv introduction is good for a chuckle.
If you can't make it to New Orleans, the next best thing is for New Orleans to come to you. Twangville was in the house when NOLA's own Glen David Andrews transformed a Boston club into a sweaty Frenchman St.-style dance party. Andrews and crew even took to the streets, much to the surprise of a few late night motorists. Here's an fiery Andrews hometown performance, captured at Voodoo Fest last year.
Ronnie Earl is a preacher, and the gospel that he preaches is "the healing power of blues." A multiple Blues Music Award winner for best blues guitarist, Earl once again took home the honor this Spring at the 2014 Awards. He is a virtuoso who plays a brand of music that is largely his own invention that lies somewhere between blues and jazz. Normally, Earl and the Broadcasters' strength is expressive instrumental music. But Good News, being released this month (made available recently at the Western Maryland Blues Festival), makes a slight deviation in that almost half the songs include soulful vocals by Diane Blue, including "Runnin' in Peace," which you can stream below, Earl's memorial for the Boston Marathon bombing last year. The lyrics were written by Ilana Katz Katz, who was near the finish line on April 15, 2013. Born Ronald Horvath in Queens, New York, Earl has made his home in the Boston area since finishing college at BU in the 1970s. In 1979, he replaced Duke Robillard as lead guitar in the jump blues band Roomful of Blues. He took his stage name to honor Earl Hooker, an important influence. He stayed with Roomful of Blues for most of a decade before forming the Broadcasters, named after the original name of the earliest telecasters guitar (though Earl generally plays a strat). Over the years, Earl created a rich body of great music. Check out 1996′s Grateful Heart: Blues and Ballads to hear the Broadcasters’ jazzier side, or 1994′s Still River, The Colour of Love from 1997, Now My Soul from 2004, Hope Radio from 2007 to hear the jazz-blues blend mix more typical of Earl and the Broadcasters. If you want to get an idea of Earl’s mastery in a single track, check out “Beautiful Child” from Hope Radio. For a bit of twang, check out “Harvard Square Stomp” from 1994′s Language of the Soul. Earl has also collaborated on a couple excellent projects, including Eye to Eye in 1996, on which he worked with blues legends Pinetop Perkins (piano), Willie “Big Eyes” Smith (drums), and Calvin Jones (bass); and The Duke Meets the Earl in 2005, the ultimate collaboration between the two great Roomful of Blues guitarist alumni – Earl and Duke Robillard. Earl and the Broadcasters' excellent 2013 release, Just for Today, included just one song with vocals. Good News will be good news indeed for blues enthusiasts who enjoy soulful vocals, with vocalist Blue joining the Broadcasters (Dave Limina on keyboards, Jim Mouradian on bass and Lorne Entress on drums) on several tracks, a worthy counterpoint to Earl's soaring guitar and Limina's rocking keyboards. Always a student of blues and soul history, the album title is an homage to Sam Cooke's Ain't That Good News, which was released 50 years ago. Cooke's "Change Is Gonna Come," which became a rallying cry for the civil rights movement after Cooke's murder in 1964, is among the highlights of the album. But the entire collection is a solid contribution to the Broadcasters' already rich body of work. Also joining the Broadcasters on several tracks are guitarists Nicholas Tabarias and Zach Zunis.
Audio Steam: Ronnie Earl, "Runnin' in Peace" [audio: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/7770435/10%20Runnin'%20in%20Peace.mp3]
Over the past 20 years, Keb' Mo' has been among a small group of African American next generation musicians widely considered to be the future of blues music. Along with contemporaries like Corey Harris, Eric Bibb, Guy Davis, Otis Taylor and Alvin Youngblood Hart, Keb' Mo' has carried the torch of blues music passed on by great Post-War artists such as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson. Each of them has experimented and modernized the music while moving it forward as an art form. Born Kevin Moore in Los Angeles, it is said he got his unique stage name from his original drummer, Quentin Dennard, and embraced it as a "street talk" shortening of his full name. An accomplished musician at a young age, Moore was a side man to Papa John Creach (of Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship and Hot Tuna) in the 1970s. He played in various R&B bands in the 1980s until he landed a job as a bluesman in a stage play called Rabbit Foot in 1990 and later appeared as Robert Johnson in another play, Can't You Hear The Wind Howl? But Moore didn't really receive wide acclaim until he was in his forties. In 1994, Keb' Mo's self-titled first album, which included two Robert Johnson covers and 11 of his own songs, was released. That first album was a masterpiece that echoed with the rustic roots of Delta blues. Since then he has branched out and incorporated various soul, rock and pop music strains into his work. He won Grammy awards in contemporary blues in 1996 for his second album, Just Like You, and again in 1998 for Slow Down. In addition to his recorded work, Moore has also appeared in a number of films, including his role as Possum in John Sayles' blues-themed Honeydripper in 2007 (which also featured Gary Clark Jr., who is now hailed as the new future of blues). One of the best renditions of "Sweet Home Chicago" you may ever see is the Keb' Mo'-Corey Harris duet that can be viewed as a special feature to the DVD of Feel Like Going Home, the Martin Scorsese-directed first installment in The Blues film series that aired on PBS in 2003. Keb' Mo's work is always well done, and he is an engaging entertainer, but he has sometimes strayed far from the roots music for which he was so well recognized. His 2011 release The Reflection, for instance, is a soul album that might best be described as jazzy pop music. Moore's voice pulled it off, but it was a huge stylistic stretch from what many fans might have expected. BLUESAmericana represents a return to the varied formula that made Keb' Mo's early albums so welcoming. He is a master of pure Delta acoustic blues, but he can also pick up the pace some with relaxed, soul-inflected pieces. The album features a large collection of musicians and background singers, including a full horn section on several songs. The opening, "The Worst Is Yet to Come," mixes some juicy banjo picking into an uptempo jaunt. Other great selections include the lively "Do It Right," the sentimental "For Better or Worse," the dark Jimmy Rogers cover "That's All Right," and the playful "The Old Me Better." Those looking for the quieter, more reflective acoustic side of Keb' Mo' will enjoy "More For Your Money."
The Holmes Brothers have spread their special brand of joy for years. Brothers Sherman and Wendell, along with drummer Popsy Dixon, have established a special kind of soul-blues that is part gospel, part soul. Although the Holmes Brothers had performed together throughout the 1980s, it wasn't until the 1990s that they started getting widespread recognition for their magical sound. The Holmes Brothers' music is most often described as a variation of "soul-blues," a form of blues that was pioneered by African-American musicians in the post-war South. Many of the music form’s early champions, such as the late Bobby “Blue” Bland and Z.Z. Hill, have passed on, making soul-blues a somewhat endangered art form. Though soul-blues influences can be heard in the work of many artists, only a few artists such as the Holmes Brothers fully embrace the style. The Holmes Brothers since 1990 have released a stream of excellent recordings. A sense of elation frequently pervades their albums, which are a joy to listen to. Early album highlights included 1990's In The Spirit and 1993's Soul Street. Noteworthy recent releases include the superb Simple Truths in 2004 and 2010's Feed My Soul. They are at their best when the gospel influence creeps into their music, such as on "Fair Weather Friend" on Feed My Soul. Brotherhood is true to form for the Holmes Brothers. It is yet another example of great artists at the top of their game. What always comes through is their joy in singing, and a sense that they want to convey that joy to their listeners. Once again, the gospel influence is there. "I Gave Up All I Had" is entrancing, as is the closer, "Amazing Grace." But there's also some funky soul with tunes like "Likety Split" and smooth soul on "Soldier of Love," along with good ole rock 'n' roll on "My Word is My Bond" and straight-up blues like "Drivin' in the Drivin' Rain." The Holmes Brothers have been popular at blues, folk and gospel festivals for so many years they have become almost legendary. Their live shows are a celebration, and their recordings are consistently entertaining. Brotherhood is one more example of a musical phenomenon at its best.