BLOGARRHEA: Blues Bonanza Wrap-Up of the Newest and the Bluesiest

By Mike Greenblatt | Oct 23, 2015 06:10 PM EDT
Tommy Castro leads his Painkillers on 'Method To My Madness' (Alligator) (Photo : Steve Sherman)

The bounty of new blues CDs is making me crazy. If you feel this music...if you support it live by going to a bar to hear it being played...if you dance to it...if you romance to it...even if you just stand against the wall with a Singapore Sling in your hand and nod your head appreciatively, the artists mentioned this week in Blogarrhea will titillate, tantalize and hit your sweet spot every time.

If you've never seen Tommy Castro & the Painkillers at work on a stage, you owe yourself that thrill. Long one of America's best-kept blues secrets, his blues will make you feel so good that you'll wave your arms around in the air like you just don't care. Method To My Madness, on Chicago's legendary Alligator Records, is a distillation of his live set. For his 15th album (the follow-up to last year's The Devil You Know), these 10 originals/two covers swing, bop, rock, groove, plead and get down with the kind of soulful yelp he's been puttin' out for probably what he considers too many years to remember. He'll be out on the road supporting this effort so make it your business to see him do his.

"Hokum" is a blues tradition that started around 1830 in Minstrel Shows. The art of the double-entendre always brought down the house and once records were commercially available, hokum was sold under the counter in brown paper bags. The double meanings were usually hilarious with an obvious literal translation and a deeper, usually sexual, second meaning. "I Want A Hot Dog For My Roll" by Butterbeans & Susie rocked the 1920s as much as Lil Johnson's "Meat Balls" rocked the 1930s. This led "Father of the Blues" WC Handy [1873-1958] to say "hook 'em with the hokum." It worked every time.

Enter Bad News Barnes & The Brethren of Blues Band. Their brand of 90 Proof Truth hokum, on Flaming Saddles Records, is a modern update and, as such, totally hilarious. Hey, you get some solid blues as performed by some stellar musicians from folks who have played in the bands of such established stars as Joan Osborne, Cyndi Lauper, Brecker Brothers and Sting, but you also get some Major League political and social satire. You won't know whether to laugh or dance to such songs as "America Needs A Queen," "Post-Op Transgender," "Hungry and Horny," "Westboro Baptist Blues," a cover of Chuck Berry's "My Ding-a-Ling" and seven more side-splitters.

(Photo : Miki Mulvehill)
Uh oh, this guy is Bad News (Barnes).

Quick. Who's the greatest living blues-harp player? James Cotton, Kim Wilson of The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Delbert McClinton sure come to mind. For my money, it's Charlie Musselwhite from Mississippi. He's been on the road, oh, for about a half-century now, establishing musical styles in Memphis and on Chicago's South Side where he once backed up the legendary Big Joe Williams in a band that also featured the equally legendary Michael Bloomfield. He's been onstage with Mick Jagger, in the studio with Tom Waits, in and out of Hot Tuna and at The White House playing for President Obama. Now comes I Ain't Lyin' on Henrietta Records, an 11-song manifesto of the blues. It's safe to say it will be on a lot of 2015 blues Top 10s.

(Photo : Courtesy UTR Music Group)
 Is Charlie Musselwhite the greatest living blues-harp player?

Al Basile is known as the "Bard Of The Blues." His new B's Expression (Sweetspot Records) is the result of 40 years as a singer, songwriter and masterful cornet player (first cousin to a trumpet). He's blown in Duke Robillard's band and as a leader. His book of poetry, A Lit House, was published in 2012. As the lead trumpet in Roomful Of Blues, he's thrilled fans worldwide. His clear tones and bluesy phrasing have been heard on records and stages with the likes of Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Helen Humes, Johnny Shines and Red Prysock. His compositions have been covered by Ruth Brown and a host of others. So what happens when a died-in-the-wool poet and red hot cornet player conceives, writes, sings, plays and arranges a horn section with producer Robillard? You get a song like "Don't You Ever Get Tired Of Being Right." Intelligent blues, baby, that's the Basile way. His poetry rocks.

(Photo : Meghan Sepe)
 Singer/Songwriter/Poet/Cornet Player/Blues Man Al Basile

I would be remiss if I didn't also mention a few others currently tickling my fancy. Piano man John Cocuzzi is a Ding Dong Daddy on Ellersoul Records. That's What They Say by Brad Vickers & His Vestapolitans on ManHatTone 1090 Records is a keeper. The Knickerbocker All-Stars Go Back Home To The Blues on JP Cadillac Records with Musical Director Al Basile. Hans Theessink & Terry Evans are True & Blue on their new Blue Groove Records live CD. Brad Wilson's Blues Thunder (Cali Bee Music) is a rockin' corker. Newcomer Andy Poxon Must Be Crazy on his Ellersoul effort. All of the aforementioned come highly recommended and prove that the blues are alive, well and flourishing in 2015.

Get down with some blues today! It makes you feel good.

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