The Rolling Stones – “Rolling Stone Blues” from Hackney Diamonds
I never thought that an authentic blues track by the world famous English rock band would ever feature in my list, especially one from Hackney Diamonds: the Stones’ first album of mainly original material since 2005. However, perhaps it’s not surprising given that the group was named after this sensational Muddy Waters’ song (his interpretation of “Catfish Blues”) when it was formed in 1962. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who had attended the same primary school, coincidentally bumped into each other at Dartford Train Station when heading off to their respective colleges.
Jagger is reported as saying, “I had all these rhythm and blues records which were very prized possessions because they weren’t available in England then. That kind of did it and that’s how it started.’ In his autobiography, Richards wrote; ‘The thing about Mick and me meeting was that he was carrying two albums with him, Rockin’ At The Hops by Chuck Berry and The Best Of Muddy Waters: I had only heard of Muddy up until then.” The Rolling Stones were formed a year later and their debut album included tracks from Chuck Berry, Willie Dixon and Jimmy Reed.
Six decades later the blues is back and the circle completed, Jagger’s raw vocals and piercing harmonica combining with Richards’ staccato guitar licks and riffs an absolute triumph.
Elles Bailey – “Mumma And Me”
2023 has been a phenomenal year for Elles having won major national Blues and Americana Awards, performed at the AmericanaFest in Nashville and toured the UK and Europe extensively in addition to her radio music broadcasting. As Elles explains:
“I’m very proud of ‘Mumma and Me’ which was written during the first couple of weeks of lockdown, as a gift to my mother for Mother’s Day (whom I of course, couldn’t see). Inspired by our unique personalities and her unconditional love, I truly feel I captured her spirit in this song. Then, at the tail end of 2020, I had the great pleasure of being invited to collaborate with Redtenbacher’s Funkestra at the Masterlink Studio in Surrey. When discussing what songs to record I just knew we had to do this one, as it would fit the soulful nature of the band perfectly. We recorded it live in one take but then we added the beautiful string arrangement and wonderful vocal styling of Kim Keyes to give it some extra sparkle and va-va-voom!”
Elles concludes: “This very special song is finally being released, and it just so happens to coincide with a very big birthday for my incredible mum! So Happy Birthday You Queen — Thank you for always inspiring, encouraging, and nurturing! You truly are one-of-a-kind and I am so glad the song that celebrates your beauty is finally out in the world in all its glory!”
This is such a special, beautifully arranged, inspirational and heartfelt track – a single release from her forthcoming EP, sung with integrity and love, the multi-national funk band adding to its uniqueness. Look out for Elles’ equally impressive second single, “Lean On My Love” which was released at the end of last month.
Giles Robson – “These Deep Blues” from the EP From The Road Vol 1 France
Giles is no stranger to American blues fans as winner of the Acoustic Album Of The Year category at the 2019 Blues Music Awards in Memphis. Widely acclaimed as one of the world’s leading harmonica players, he is the first European blues artist to sign up for Chicago’s legendary Alligator Records. This summer Robson presented a sell-out 5-star review show over 10 nights at the prestigious Edinburgh Festival Fringe entitled Up Close With The Blues.
He also made the short journey to France from his home in the British Crown Channel Island of Jersey to record an original 5-track EP live with his French touring band. Giles was invited back to Edinburgh in November to promote and support the Legends of Chicago Blues Trio, Oscar Wilson, Jimi “Primetime” Smith and Bob Corritore.
My chosen track showcases Giles alongside the renowned pianist Philippe Lejeune who studied under Memphis Slim and learned how to mix jazz with boogie-woogie and blues. The duo delivers deep blues with passion and sincerity on this original track, reflected in Robson’s virtuosic wailing harp and expressive vocals complemented by Lejeune’s fluid, deft, atmospheric keys.
Dom Martin – “Belfast Blues” from Buried In The Hail
Buried In The Hail is Belfast born Dom’s highly acclaimed third studio album released by Forty Below Records, its reviews garnering epithets such as “a genuine masterpiece” and “a work of art.” Since he burst on the scene four years ago, Dom has been nominated for and won several UK and European Blues Awards and last year was the UK representative at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, where he was the runner-up in the finals.
“Belfast Blues” is a look back at Dom’s past life and the days he spent honing his skills playing the pubs and clubs in Northern Ireland which opens with the powerful statement: “Been in a lot of places I never should have been / Shot, stabbed and burned out / With the Belfast blues again.’ The infectious rhythm, open tuned fingerpicking and slide guitar provide the backcloth for gritty vocals which tell the story of a dangerous environment and Martin’s reaction as he “grabbed that shovel and dug a hole / Threw myself in and watched myself grow.”
Because of his talent, honesty and determination, there is no doubt that the name Dom Martin will feature on the national and international blues scene for many years to come.
Danny Bryant – “Rise” from Rise
Regarded as a ‘British Blues Legend’ in the words of Planet Rock Radio and “a national treasure” by everyone else, Danny Bryant has been making records for a quarter of a century, his latest work, Rise, being his 15th release. He has a high profile in America through his connections and performances with Walter Trout, Joe Bonamassa and Eric Gales.
Bryant toured America when his mentor, New Jersey born guitar maestro Trout, was recovering from his liver transplant thus enabling Walter’s band to continue working. He is full of praise for Danny: “What sets him apart is his passion and feeling, His playing grabs you with its intensity and urgency.”
The adrenaline-fueled hard rocking dirty blues “Rise” may be a powerhouse track, but Danny paints a much broader canvas on this eponymous 13th album which includes deep emotive ballads and slow burners oozing angst and heartache.
Liz Jones & Broken Windows – “The Whale Has Swallowed Me” Video Release
It takes a highly talented vocalist and exceptional guitar playing to nail a song by one of America’s all time greats, J.B. Lenoir, and to make it their own but Liz Jones and her sidekick John Bruce do just that. Mississippi-born Lenoir is well known for his high-pitched voice and boogie influenced sound but Liz brings her emotionally charged, sultry, smoky vocals to the forefront making this a unique cover. “They say the Whale swallowed Jonah/ Out in the deep blue sea/ Sometimes I get that feeling/That same old Whale has swallowed me,” Liz painting a vivid picture of a man lost and struggling to find his way back to the surface. Bruce is a colossus on slide guitar with his sumptuous tones and incredible technique whilst the percussion and keyboard add a further dimension to this classic song.
This Edinburgh-based chanteuse is a reminder of the wealth of talent out there who are neither famous nor get the full recognition they deserve yet devote their lives to playing the blues with little financial reward but gaining the immense respect of those who support their brilliant music.
Van Morrison – “Streamline Train” from Moving On Skiffle
Opinions might be divided on Van as a bluesman but his skiffle credentials on this track are more secure as he declares, “A lovin’ proposition gonna get somebody killed / Leave in the morning, baby, on that streamline train.” When Morrison as a child was taken to the Atlantic Records store in Belfast, Northern Ireland by his father he would have heard the early 20th century folk and blues which had their genesis in the prisons and fields of Mississippi and the bars and juke joints in nearby towns. As Van recalls, “I was in a smoky room, hearing Lead Belly and Jelly Roll Morton, and I connected with it early on.”
This resonates with me personally. As a teenager, when I first heard Lonnie Donegan’s take on Lead Belly’s “Rock Island Line” I was transported into that magical world of American folk, blues and country music which would change my life. Hearing that train rolling down the tracks with such energy on “Streamline Train” brought those memories flooding back.
Tommy Arch – “Rolling To Ruin”
The only real downside for me in 2023 was the sad news that UK’s most successful folk blues rockers, Holy Moly & The Crackers, will be taking an extended break from touring early next year. I have followed their meteoric rise from a party house acoustic trio well over a decade ago to a multi-million streamed phenomenon with the blockbuster cinema soundtrack “Cold Comfort Lane.”
The good news is that co-founder and lead singer/multi instrumentalist Ruth Lyon is already enjoying a successful solo career. Hot on her heels is drummer Tommy Arch who has just released his third single to widespread critical acclaim. Performing solo, Tommy has added guitar to his repertoire plus the showmanship, confidence and rapport with audiences which augurs well for his forthcoming headlining gigs.
As Tommy explains, “I’ve written songs since I was a teenager but I think maybe only in the last few years I’ve felt like I actually know what I’m doing. Like there’s a direction and a cohesiveness. I try to write songs that have meaning to me but also are easily relatable to almost anyone. I like to write songs that have a narrative, I guess they’re folk songs if you had to put a label on them. I like to take a lot from country music, also the blues, soul and R&B. The three recordings I’ve made so far have been cut straight onto tape, mainly live, the old-fashioned way. That gives you an idea of what I’m trying to do.”
He describes his latest single as “a real beast” and few will argue with that appraisal.
Grainne Duffy – “Dirt Woman Blues” from Dirt Woman Blues
When Ireland’s premier blues icon and multi-award winner Grainne Duffy released her new album, Dirt Woman Blues, it was universally acknowledged as a classic and was an instant best seller. Grainne’s most authentic and accomplished blues album to date, albeit blended with trademark guitar driven rock, has propelled her into another stratosphere.
Deservedly, the record was accepted on the GRAMMY Awards Ballot for consideration in the categories of Contemporary Blues Album and American Roots Song. Duffy is in a league of her own when it comes to playing live gigs, especially major festivals, as she is an instinctive, high-energy performer whose music flows from deep within her soul.
Intricate opening strings, poignant, dramatic lyrics, searing guitar interpolations and clever, atmospheric distortion characterize “Dirt Woman Blues.” Duffy starts with a gentle introduction: “See a sign for love/And walk down the road/Been down here before/See the tracks that I laid’ before launching into a chorus of increasing emotion and intensity; ‘Find me some love/So I can be strong/ Find me some hope/So I can move on/Show me a way/ Come take my hand/Tell me now I need you to understand….Got these Dirt Woman Blues.’ At screaming pitch comes the impassioned declaration; ‘High and low/I’ll say your name/Scream It out so it’s not in vain/Turn it up/Burn it down/Move it on/To what I found/Nothing to find/Nothing to lose.”
Joanne Shaw Taylor – “Sweet ‘Lil Lies”
Joanne’s decision to make America her home in Detroit after early success and several national blues awards in the UK turned out to be a brilliant career move as she has further developed into one of the world’s most creative and respected blues performers. Her recent albums, including the best-selling Nobody’s Fool and this single release by Joe Bonamassa’s Journeyman Records, confirm these credentials. It has helped that she keeps such good company such as JoBo, Josh Smith and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
This song tells the emotional story of walking away from a relationship which has become toxic, knowing that it won’t change and making that heart-breaking decision to walk away.
“‘Sweet ‘Lil Lies’ holds a special place for me,” says Joanne. “It was the first song I wrote just for my new album. I’d been messing around with the lead piano part and built the rest of the song around that melody. As soon as I had that main melody, ‘I got sweet little lies, all the time’ stuck in my head on a loop. It probably took me less than an hour to finish it; some songs work like that.”
And finally, an early Christmas present and greetings from Giles Robson – “Jingle Bells”