After School Session (1957) by Chuck Berry

Categories: 1957 and Music.

Though it contains Berry’s patented guitar playing, which cemented the electric guitar in rock music for the rest of the century, and it contains a few of his early classics, it’s easy to view Berry’s debut as the least revolutionary of the debut albums from the first wave of rock and roll stars. Because, though there is plenty of rock and roll here, there’s also a lot of blues. In fact, Berry’s debut is far more rooted in the blues than the debuts of his contemporaries and this gives it a feel of being somewhat more conservative, 60 years later. Read More

Live in Cook County Jail (1971) by BB King

Categories: 1971 and Music.

Clearly inspired by the seminal Johnny Cash prison albums, this record finds BB and his band performing for a local county prison (so it’s not quite going to a max security place). I like this better than Live at the Regal, but I don’t know whether that’s because of the atmosphere or because of the performances, which feel rawer to me. The whole thing is much more in line with what I was expecting from a blues live album, though BB is still a little too professional for my tastes. 8/10 Read More

Live at the Regal (1965) by BB King

Categories: 1965 and Music.

This record is often thought of as the pinnacle of BB King live records, as far as I know, the record that influenced an absolute ton of guitar players and cemented his reputation as sort of the ambassador for the blues. It’s a little too polished and urbane for me, frankly. I prefer a rougher-edged version of the blues, especially live. And though I understand the appeal (especially the crossover appeal) of something like this, I’m kind of surprised of how…well, what the opposite of gritty, it is. King is a phenomenal player, and obviously hugely influential, not just on Read More

King of the Blues Guitar (1969) by Alberta King

Categories: 1967, 1969, and Music.

This si a reissue of Born Under a Bad Sign (released only two years before), with the addition of a few more tracks (at least the version I am listening to, which has 17 tracks compared to the 11 listed for the original LP). Born Under a Bad Sign was itself a compilation, this time of singles King had recorded when he moved to Stax. One of the reasons the record is so well regarded is because so many blues albums back then apparently lacked strong material. Born Under a Bad Sign is considered to be the first “modern” blues Read More

The Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton (1966)

Categories: 1966 and Music.

This is probably the definitive British blues album: it sounds like it could have been made by Americans in the US, it features great playing (particularly by Clapton) and I don’t know of any other pre-psychedelic blues album from the UK that is remotely this good. There is just one minor problem: by the time of its release, it was almost out of date, as both Clapton himself and Hendrix would absolutely transform blues-based guitar playing beginning only a few short months after its release. Had Hendrix not come along, maybe this album would be the gold standard for blues-based Read More

Blues Kingpins: Elmore James (2003)

Categories: 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, and Music.

This is a compilation of James’ recordings from the 1950s. It presents a relative variety of styles of blues and some of the music features a horn section. Listening to this, it’s easy to understand why James was dubbed “King of the Slide Guitar.” He shows off some pretty impressive traditional guitar playing as well and you can hear the reverberations of his style through so much rock and blues guitar playing since. The energy is also notable, comparable to the rock and roll and R and B of the time, which is a bit of a surprise. Because I Read More

Friends Seen and Unseen (2004) by The Charlie Hunter Trio

Categories: 2004 and Music.

This band plays pretty traditional jazz for the 21st century – sure, there hints of more radical stuff, including odd syncopation and some relatively out playing by Ellis. But, for the most part, this is pretty mainstream jazz., primarily rooted in the blues. What makes it more interesting is Hunter, who is a phenomenal player who manages to play both bass and rhythm or lead at the same time (on his custom guitar). Ellis’ range of instruments also helps create a wider variety of experiences for us. So this is basically just above average mainstream jazz. It’s good, but it’s Read More

BB King: The life of Riley (2012, Jon Brewer)

Categories: 2012 and Movies.

This is an in-depth but rather fawning documentary about B.B. King, a man who has a decent claim as the greatest living blues musician, or at least among them. It’s more of a celebration than a documentary or proper biography – though there is lots of information about his upbringing, it does feel like a well-rehearsed story – and you’re not going to learn too much about the man’s personal life (beyond a few tidbits). But if you like the blues, or if you like music history, there’s lots here to enjoy; both about his influences and his influence on Read More

The Blues Biography (2005) by Lightnin’ Hopkins

Categories: 1946, 1947, 1948, 2005, and Music.

The music on this compilation is good. Let’s get that out of the way. Lightnin Hopkins was a great performer and he did a lot to standardize lyric and performance conventions in post-war blues. He was a pretty great guitar player for the era, and he did some things that sound unconventional to my ears. So that is all great. Lightnin’ Hopkins is someone we should all check out, if we’re interested in the blues. This is not the compilation is not the recording to introduce any of us to him, however. Far as I can tell, this collects his Read More

The Firstborn is Dead (1985) by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Categories: 1985 and Music.

The Bad Seeds’ blues album, which was a big surprise to me. They take both old blues tunes and a not so old country tune (I think it’s country) and turn it into a demented re-imagining of the Blues that sounds much more like the early Bad Seeds (and even, at times, the Birthday Party) than it does the blues being made by most contemporary American artists at the time and, especially, British artists. As noted elsewhere on RYM, this is about as good as foreign approximations of the Blues get, in the ’80s anyway. If you’ve never heard the Read More

White Lies for Dark Times (2009) by Ben Harper and Relentless7

Categories: 2009 and Music.

I have long struggled with Harper. When I arrived at University at the beginning of this century, I don’t know what I was expecting, but what I found was that there was a remarkable amount of commonality in the “underground” music that was cool. In fact, looking back it seems really odd to me that it was so uniform. (I guess that has a lot to do with going to a school in a very small town.) Harper was one of the people I was supposed to like – everyone else seemed to like him – while I was obsessing Read More

Alice (2002) by Tom Waits

Categories: 2002 and Music.

So expectations were going to be high for something like this; a “lost” album from a theatrical production ten years earlier. No doubt many people came to this expecting the “lost masterpiece” that we almost always associate with the work major artists don’t record / release. Well it’s not that, but the idea that it’s bad, as some recent RYM reviewer’s allege, is equally preposterous. It’s certainly a major change in tone from the incredible Bone Machine, which was released only a few months after the show premiered. But that shows off Waits’ versatility, if anything, and that’s something he Read More

Sweet Tea (2001) by Buddy Guy

Categories: 2001 and Music.

The record is introduced as Guy dealing with his age, a nice solo performance. But the rest of the record is significantly different. Sounds like an attempt to use modern production to make something “authentic.” That’s definitely better than that other trend in the blues – to mix it up with soul and R&B and other genres, which can be really annoying – but I’m not sure how necessary it is. The opening sets you up for one thing and the rest of the record is significantly different. As someone else noted, a couple of the performances go on forever Read More

Emmaar (2014) by Tinariwen

Categories: 2014 and Music.

I have come pretty late to the whole tishoumaren / “Saharan Soul” thing and so there’s a part of me that stupidly worries I’m overrating this; I mean, they’ve been releasing music here for over a decade, this can’t be that novel, right? But I will try to turn my brain off for a few moments: This is fantastic stuff: pretty much just blues – very little soul, despite the popular nickname – mixed with what I assume is traditional Malian music (Tuareg music). I have no idea what they are saying but it doesn’t matter: the whole thing is Read More

Steen’s Hot Start

Categories: Hockey, Sports, and The Campaign to Fire Brian Burke.

I know Steen’s hot start this year is unsustainable and likely going to end very soon – his GPG is currently .93 on the season! But I can’t help regretting that the Leafs let him go and, moreover, that I supported the move at the time. I supported the move at the time because I was a frustrated Leafs fan, sick of where the team was at and desperately hoping the new GM would rebuild (oops). And for some reason I thought the idea of trading the Leafs’ top forward prospect and an oft-injured young D for a guy who Read More

All Hat Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2008) by Bill Frisell

Categories: 2008 and Music.

This is a set that is pretty emblematic with the problems of so many soundtracks as standalone pieces of music. I’m sure it works well in the film – a film i will likely never see in part due to its terrible reputation – but most of the stuff here is feels fragmentary and scene-driven, even though I have never even seen those scenes. Most tracks feel like brief little jams, likely created in response to the feel of a particular scene. And there is nothing wrong with that but there’s nothing great about it either. And so this is Read More

Tinderbox (2008) by Fred Eaglesmith

Categories: 2008 and Music.

This album is almost Waitsian in some of its arrangements. That’s not to say that Eaglesmith sounds like Waits; he doesn’t. His songs are too traditional, his arrangements feature too many backing vocalists (not to mention other traditional tropes) and his voice obviously doesn’t sound much like Waits. But to me this album has definitely been made in the same world in which Waits’ second part of his career took place. I feel like the producer has studied Waits’ oeuvre and taken the appropriate things. Eaglesmith is still pretty much recognizable as Eaglesmith, bu there is a clear stylistic difference Read More

Together Through Life (2009) by Bob Dylan

Categories: 2009 and Music.

Despite the tossed off nature of this record, Dylan seems to still be pursuing the same sort of project he has been pursuing since his “renaissance” began earlier last decade. The music is a little different here – as someone pointed out it sounds a little like Doug Sahm – and the whole thing seems less momentous, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It should just be pleasant but Dylan’s lyrics are, as usual, well above average, and the backing band is great too. Like it more than I think I should. 7/10 Read More

The Chess Box (1988, Chess) by Willie Dixon

Categories: 1988 and Music.

So Dixon is unlike pretty much all the other major figures in post-war blues in that he rarely led groups. He was more of a songwriter and producer (and, of course, bassist). He’s only the frontman on something like 5 or 6 of these songs. But he’s behind all the rest of them in the other ways. And that’s the really crazy and impressive thing about him: he had this huge impact on the blues and rock and roll, but he rarely took up that role that we would expect someone like him should have. There’s an argument to be Read More

Complete Blues: Hoodoo Lady by Memphis Minnie (Snapper 2008)

Categories: 2008 and Music.

Well this is hardly “complete” by any means. I guess perhaps the label means that by owning all their compilations the listener will have a complete picture of the blues. Or it is just a cash grab. I don’t know. Otherwise this is pretty great. Gives a good idea of her progression from a duo act to a full on band. 9/10 Read More

Lie to Me by Jonny Lang (1997 A&M)

Categories: 1997 and Music.

I have no issues with Lang’s playing. He manages to sound like multiple players at different times, which is generally a good thing, since he doesn’t remind me of any one guitarist too much to seem derivative. He is a pretty good blues guitarist, and very good for his then age. His voice is another matter. Yes, it is incredible that a teenage white boy sounds like an old black man but that is the problem. He shouldn’t try to sound like an old black man. The kid needs his own voice. Better yet, kid needs a singer. And a Read More