We continue to be amazed by the power of music; encouraging emotions from reflection and remorse to celebration and camaraderie.
Worth celebrating are the six nominations our artists have received in the Blues Foundation annual Blues Music Awards, to be handed out in Memphis this coming May.
Eric Bibb and Rory Block both receive two nods each, in the Acoustic Artist and Acoustic Album categories for their Jericho Road and Hard Luck Child releases respectively. Ronnie Earl's spiritual guitar playing gains an accolade in the Instrumental-Guitarist category, and blues harp savant Billy Boy Arnold is recognized as a Traditional Blues Male Artist nominee.
2014 was one of our busiest release years in recent times, with nine projects coming to fruition, and that doesn't even include the seven titles on Blind Pig Records that we import for Canada.
There were new releases from long time label friends Duke Robillard (Calling All Blues) and Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters (Good News); albums from blues legends Billy Boy Arnold (The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold) and Kenny 'Blues Boss' Wayne (Rollin' With The Blues Boss); and Rory Block wrapped up her Mentor Series with a tribute to Skip James (Hard Luck Child). Canadian Blues rockers, MonkeyJunk, allowed us to reissue their debut (Tiger In Your Tank) and international troubadour Eric Bibb gave us Blues People for North American release. And we started a new Best of Series, The Best Of The Stony Plain Years, that turned our attention to the phenomenal work that Long John Baldry and Joe Louis Walker did for the label. We'd love for you to check out each and everyone of them.
We're excited for 2015 too. We'll have a very special release of some real Guitar Heroes: James Burton, Albert Lee, Amos Garrett and David Wilcox, recorded at the Vancouver Island MusicFest in 2013. And MonkeyJunk are working on a new project that will be out after a Western Canadian tour in April.
The music industry itself continues to be a strange, unpredictable beast. Pundits laud streaming services, predict the demise of downloads, and purists are plunging in waves for vinyl. For Stony Plain this means you can now find our releases on nearly all of the main streaming services (Spotify, Rdio, etc.), we've embraced High Def (better than CD quality) downloads through services like HDTracks and, for the first time in nearly 25 years, released a vinyl record (Duke Robillard's Calling All Blues). We're considering more of these quality, 180gram vinyl releases, as we go forward. Despite all of these changes though, you can also find us in your local record store, where the staff will enthuse, educate and engage you with music you may otherwise have missed.
However, wherever and whenever you listen, we know it's the connection between the music and your soul that truly matters. So go listen.
By Robert H. Cataliotti
The title Guitar Heroes seems to imply this II-song set would boast superstars dueling with epic solos and flashy, six-stringed pyrotechnics, but the four heroes who display their talents here have built their reputations as musicians' musicians, known for their exquisite work as distinctive sidemen. James Burton (Dale Hawkins, Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley), Albert Lee (Eric Clapton, Emmylou Harris, Everly Brothers), Amos Garrett (Paul Butterfield, Marie Muldaur, Bonnie Raitt) and David Wilcox (Great Speckled Bird, Ian Tyson, Marie Muldaur) possess prodigious chops, but they are not about flash and drama. Their playing is technically dazzling, but tasteful restraint, flawless execution and dynamic interplay rule the day.
The "day" is very much the operative word here because this is a recording of a one-off performance at the July 2013 Vancouver Island Music Festival that brought the four guitarists together, backed by Lee's regular touring band with just one rehearsal the previous afternoon. These guys are such seasoned veterans that they clearly have nothing to prove, and egos were checked at the door. It is easy to tell that once they started playing they let their fingers do the talking, and each musician is totally engaged in having his say and digging how his fellow pickers respond.
The set is made up of classic tunes drawn largely from 1950s rock 'n' roll. R&B and rockabilly, including: The Arthur Crudup, Presley-covered That's All Right (Mama); Big Joe Turner's Flip, Flop and Fly; Ray Charles' Leave My Woman Alone; Hawkins' Susie Q and Jimmy Rogers' You're the One. With the extensive track records that these guitarists boast, working grooves like these come as second nature, and the liner notes' delineation of the sequence of soloists enables the listener to recognize each player's distinctive tone and style and follow this contribution to the interplay. The fluid four-way dialogue on the Charles number is particularly captivating. Garrett gets the lone solo performance, and he delivers a sting-bending, searing take on Santo and Johnny's classic 1959 instrumental Sleep Walk. The heroes also apply their talents to three tunes from the 1960s: a mellow saunter through Rick Nelson's Only the Young; the Southern fried, funky blues of Tony Joe White's Polk Salad Annie and a smoldering Latin jam on Comin' Home Baby from Herbie Mann's classic LP At the Village Gate. Two originals round out the set, a Wilcox blues Bad Apple and Lee's iconic Country Boy. The vocals that are handled by Lee, Wilcox and keyboardist Jon Greathouse (who also contributes strong, inventive solos on piano and organ) are solid and workmanlike -these guys are usually backing up singers- but they are not really the point. The focus on Guitar Heroes is on guitar picking at its finest. - Robert H. Cataliotti(less)
By David Bowling
is Spanish for ram and cowboy. It sets the tone for his stories of the Canadian west. Rotating between original compositions and covers, he presents a laid back album of authentic and soulful tunes."(more)
At the age of 81 most people are quietly retired, sitting in an easy chair, sipping margaritas, or some other beverage. Not so with folk icon Ian Tyson who continues to play around 40 concerts a year, manages his cattle ranch south of Calgary, and is about to release his 17th album.
Tyson’s career began in 1959 as a part of the folk duo Ian & Tyson, which were an important part of the 1960’s folk revival movement. They moved to Nashville in the early 1970s and experimented with a primitive folk/rock sound. Since their break-up in 1975, Tyson has gravitated back to his native Canada and has settled into a country/folk niche with an emphasis on country and western stories and music.
The title of his new album, Carnero Vaquero, is Spanish for ram and cowboy. It sets the tone for his stories of the Canadian west. Rotating between original compositions and covers, he presents a laid back album of authentic and soulful tunes.
He includes a bright remake of the early 1960’s Ian & Sylvia song, “Darcy Farrow.” The imagery of “Wolves No Longer Sing” transports the listener to a different place and time. “Doney Gal” is an old traditional folk song that he updates to his western style.
He adds a number of new compositions to the mix. “Will James,” “Cottonwood Canyon,” and “Jughound Ronnie” all represents the thoughts and feelings of a man approaching the winter of his life.
Tyson’s voice has a world weary feel, which suits his music well. It has miraculously recovered from when it was severely damaged in an accident in 2007. The album was recorded in an old stone building on his ranch and has a simple quality that is timeless.
Ian Tyson keeps rolling along producing a brand of music that has resonated for a half century. Carnero Vaquero is the latest chapter in his stellar career.(less)
By John The Rock Doctor Kereiff
An award winning roots artist, Eric Bibb has just released one of the bluest albums of the year, and perhaps of his career. A collection of originals, collaborations and covers, Blues People is about as soulful as music can get.
"In the introduction to his classic book Blues People, Amiri Baraka (who published it as LeRoi Jones) wrote 'The path the slave took to citizenship is what I want to look at" writes Bibb in the liner notes. "That same path, along with its continuation, provided much inspiration for this album called Blues People. This record is also a tribute to the tribe of blues troubadours that I'm grateful to be a member of and it features the talents of several friends and heroes of mine." So yeah- this is pretty deep stuff.
The heroes and friends Eric speaks of includeTaj Mahal, Guy Davis, The Blind Boys of Alabama and Ruthie Foster. An acoustic record, Blues People is as deep and rich as the history that informs it. "My intention with these songs was to focus on some of the history of African Americans, the original blues people, as a reminder of what we've been through and where the music is coming from" he says. That's the darkness you feel in these songs, the spirit that draws you deeper into the album itself. As an old white guy I may never fully understand these experiences he sings about over these 15 cuts, but I can sure feel it.
Blues People is the kind of album you can put on and get on with your day, but if you're anything like me you'll find that sooner rather than later, whatever you've been focusing on will dribble to a stop as you turn your full attention of this album and willingly let it draw you in. I simply can't imagine an album in any genre more perfect than this.
essentials: God's Mojo, Silver Spoon (featuring Popa Chubby), Needed Time (featuring Taj Mahal, The Blind Boys of Alabama & Ruthie Foster)(less)
By John "The Rock Doctor" Kereiff
Talk about classic blues! The latest record for this legendary Chicago born harp player is a collection of originals, early R&B songs, blues/ jazz standards plus some 60's & 70's rare soul gems. The Chicago skyline on the front cover with a seemingly giant Marine Band harp floating overhead says it all.
There's so much going on here it's hard to know where to begin. Billy Boy's voice, sounding lived in as it should at the age of 79, is like a smoother version of Sonny Boy Williamson. Billy’s harmonica playing, while expressive, isn't crazy-wild, but it suits the tunes perfectly. The backing band, which includes the Roomful Of Blues horn section and producer Duke Robillard on guitar, grooves with enthusiastic precision, giving Arnold the perfect platform to express himself from.
"The chance to work with Billy Boy on this project was something I jumped on without a moment's thought" say Robillard. "Billy wanted to record an album full of songs that he had always loved, in a few different genres", all of which have his unmistakable stamp. This album rock, swings and grooves, sounding much like the past that is reflected by the songs themselves. As a producer Robillard is an expert without peer at capturing that vibe, and Billy Boy Arnold is one of the few blues maestros still alive capable of expressing that musical history that he witnessed first hand and was an essential part of.
If you want the story of Billy Boy Arnold's life and career, you only need go as far as Robillard's essay on the inside of the front cover. It makes for a good read as you start getting into the album, leading to a deeper, more satisfying listening experience- and for music geeks like me, that's what it's all about. This is a salt of the earth collection of tunes guaranteed to show you a good time.
By Sheryl and Don Crow
"Rory Block continues to solidify her place in the blues pantheon as she brings a brilliant tribute to Skip James, “Hard Luck Child.”"(more)
Rory Block is not only one of the most talented blueswomen on the planet, but she shares a connection no one else can lay claim to. As a young girl eager to absorb everything she could about blues guitar, she had the good fortune to mentor with some of the Delta masters. Her latest installment of this series is dedicated to Skip James, and is entitled “Hard Luck Child.”
Over the course of these ten songs, Rory gives us a glimpse thru her own stylings of the incredible talents of James. She leads off with an original composition, “Nehemiah James,” which serves as a mythical biography of sorts, showing how, back in James’ day, the lines between life and death and blues and gospel were blurred, to say the least. Rory sings that a young “Nehemiah Curtis James” was called upon by the Holy Spirit to “preach the blues.”
Rory’s take on “Cypress Grove Blues” shows the melancholy side of James’ personality, which appeared in varying degrees on many of his songs. Lyrics such as “I’d rather be six feet in my grave” and “you gotta reap what you sow” show his predilection for the stark differences between life and death. Then, with a cut such as “Little Cow And Calf Is Gonna Die Blues,” he deals with the same subject, yet this one follows a livelier, jazzy progression, further attesting James’ talents.
James always kept an ear to his gospel roots, and Rory shows this side of him thru “Jesus Is A Mighty Good Leader” and “I’m So Glad,” layering her guitar and vocal parts to give these a full band sound.
Our favorite was easy. Skip James was as expressive on piano as he was on guitar. Rory’s expertise allowed her to play Skip’s piano leads on her guitar. As such, “If You Haven’t Any Hay, Get On Down The Road” turns into a good-natured, jazzy affair punctuated by Rory’s playful yelps, scat-singing, and deft slide runs.
Rory Block continues to solidify her place in the blues pantheon as she brings a brilliant tribute to Skip James, “Hard Luck Child.” She faithfully captures his ebullient and eclectic spirit thru the eyes and ears of a woman fortunate enough to have known and mentored with him! Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.
By Chris Spector
When the new Duke Robillard record comes to town, it’s always a good idea to stop what you’re doing and check it out. Throwing away more ideas than most players come up with in a career, Robillard indulges his Stax/Malaco southern blues show band fantasies and they arrive as much more than a busman’s holiday. Chuggling, churning, wild and woolly, this set of mostly originals sounds like they were found laying in wait along the other end of highway 61 for the right interpreter. As always, the Duke delivers royally. Well done.