Year in Review
by Michelle Wilson
As the year winds down and I spy the pile of quality music that I did NOT get a chance to review, I am (sorta) making up for it with these short synopses of some worthy releases. So many great records dropped and although I did not get to write full pieces, they warrant honorable mention at the very least. Stocking stuffer fodder, for sure!
Ronnie Baker Brooks
Times Have Changed
Provogue/Mascot Label Group
Chicago blues with a healthy splash of R&B are at their finest on this eleven-song release recorded in 2013, five of which are originals penned by Brooks. Produced by Steve Jordan and featuring a myriad of guests including Steve Cropper, “Big Head” Todd Mohr, Angie Stone, Al Kapone, Felix Cavaliere, Lee Roy Parnell, the late Bobby “Blue” Bland, and Brooks’ blues-legend father, Lonnie Brooks, who died earlier this year, the blues don’t get any tighter than this. But the R&B side shines as well. The Curtis Mayfield cover “Give Me Your Love” oozes sensuality with Stone sharing vocals, while the Robert Cray/Eric Clapton-penned “Old Love” gets a fresh take with Bland on lead vocals. Co-written with Brooks, Keb’ Mo’ and Kevin So, “Wham Bam Thank You Sam” is vintage Keb’ – one listen and it screams Keb’ Mo’. The poignant ballad, “When I Was We,” tears at the heartstrings and features lovely strings accompaniment. Brooks has really put forth a winner with this one, his first record in ten years.
Lee Roy Parnell
Singer/songwriter/guitarist, Lee Roy Parnell, wears many different hats. As one of the premier slide players in the music biz (and also one of the most underrated) his sound ranges from full-on Delta blues to Texas swing to soul to country to gospel to adult contemporary. This record, his long-awaited follow-up to the stellar Back to the Well (2006), once again offers a more vulnerable, reflective side of Parnell on most of the ten tracks co-written with Greg Barnhill, and the result is nothing short of brilliant. Long-time collaborators including Kevin McKendree (keys), Steve Mackey (bass) and Lynn Williams (drums), among others, and vocalist phenom/good friend Etta Britt (backing vocals) all lend their extraordinary talent to this beautiful collective. Standout pieces include “Hours In Between,” the blues-drenched title track, “Midnight Believer,” “Want Whatcha’ Have,” “Sunny Days” (backed by The Fairfield Four), the groovy “Tied Up And Tangled” and the moving closer, “Some Time Ago.” After an eleven-year hiatus, Parnell has returned with a winning album.
Black Country Communion
Mascot Label Group
The latest release from the supergroup, produced by Kevin Shirley, kicks major ass and rock fans worldwide can rejoice in the mighty sound of Black Country Communion. The four-member band, with its Led Zeppelin/Deep Purple/Black Sabbath-inspired flavors includes former Deep Purple/Black Sabbath member Glenn Hughes on bass/vocals, Joe Bonamassa on guitar /vocals, Jason Bonham on drums/vocals and Derek Sherinian on keys. Opener “Collide” is Sabbath-influenced as opposed to “Sway” and “Love Remains,” which are pure Zep. “The Cove” touts an uber bluesy tint with a rock edge and “Wanderlust” nicely features each musician. The crowning jewel, though, is the epic “The Last Song For My Resting Place,” with its progressive sound and Celtic vibe supported by Bonamassa’s unrivaled guitar and Gerry O’Connor’s fiddle. The five-year break of this behemoth mega-group was well worth the wait.
Georgia-based Royal Johnson has gone through several lineup changes, even since the release of this record, but the killer guitar duo/writing combo of Andy Johnson and Chance Royal has remained the one constant. Tightly produced by industry icon, Paul Hornsby who also played piano, Wurlitzer and Hammond B3, the album additionally includes bassist Kevin Vines and drummer Joanie Ferguson (who have since left the group but both did co-write some of the songs). Six of the eight cuts are originals, with an outstanding Willie Dixon cover, “Howlin’ For My Darlin'” and a wicked version of Jackie Avery’s “Voodoo In You.” The harmonica sounds of Bennie Mobley add an authentic touch to the blues groove and a lengthy list of backup singers including the fabulous E.G. Kight round out the sound. The Sly and The Family Stone-esque “Swim” and “Hot Pants Sally” feature fabulous yet understated horns while “Liquored Up,” with a decidedly “Statesboro Blues” flair and Mobley’s harp accents, will get you moving. The biggest surprise was the instrumental “Snipe Shoals,” which at moments smacks of Metallica’s “One.” Another real standout track is “Aisling,” a true ear worm. With the guidance of Hornsby’s vast experience, this gem of a record is about as solid as it gets and a credible follow-up to the band’s late 2015 debut release, Belly Full.
Eyes Of The Sun
Purple Pyramid Records/Cleopatra Records
When you have the likes of Greg Martin (Kentucky Headhunters), Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) and Paul Nelson (Johnny Winter) on your team, you must be damn good. That’s exactly the case with Otis, a four-piece band who recently signed with Cleopatra Records, and deservedly so. Singer/guitarists Boone Froggett and Steve Jewell along with bassist/vocalist John Seeley and drummer/vocalist Andrew Gilpin round out the lineup of one of the hottest up-and-coming blues/rock bands on today’s music scene. And they have the chops to back it up. In 2014, the boys paid homage to the late, great John Brim with a mind-blowing tribute record, Tough Times, and it was only a matter of time before they would land on a label. Gleaning their sound from Muddy Waters, The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Wet Willie and a swirl of Southern rockers, the boys from Central Kentucky have created their own hard, tight blues-soaked rock sound. Co-produced by the band and David Barrick, and executive produced by Paul Nelson (who also plays guitar on the ZZ Top-ish “Lovin’ Man”), ten of the eleven cuts are Otis originals. The phenomenal Eddie Stone offers Hammond B3 accents on “Shake You,” “Turn To Stone” and “Chasing The Sun,” while the instrumental “Relief In C” with Danny Williams’ mandolin accompaniment hearkens back to the Lennon/McCartney gem, “Norwegian Wood.” Froggett’s gravelly vocals are the ideal complement to the band’s Southern rock leanings. Their one cover on the record, Cowboy Joe Babcock’s “I Washed My Hands In Muddy Waters” (Washed My Hands), famously recorded by Stonewall Jackson, Johnny Rivers, Charlie Rich and Elvis Presley, is reinterpreted by the band to become totally their own with a hard blues/rock edge. Keep an eye on this band because they are the real deal.