As we enter 2015 we continue to be amazed by the power of music; encouraging emotions from reflection and remorse to celebration and camaraderie.
Worth celebrating is 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, ahead of 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 fully intend 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 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.
By Brian Cady
For over 25 years, guitarist Ronnie Earl and The Broadcasters have consistently released heartfelt guitar-driven blues, and Good News ably continues that tradition. Released on the heels of his third Best Guitarist Award win at The Blues Music Awards, Good News features a now-11 year old iteration of The Broadcasters that includes Dave Limina on keys, drummer Lorne Entress and bassist Jim Mouradian.
Good News is a nod to Sam Cooke’s Ain’t That Good News release of 50 years ago; fittingly, Earl’s album includes a soulful cover of “Change Is Gonna Come” which features vocalist Diane Blue. The counterpoint of Earl’s emotive soloing and Dave Limina’s inspired B3 behind the vocals make this one of the more memorable interpretations of this classic.
Showing Earl’s great diversity, “I Met Her On That Train” is a rockabilly swing in the vein of “Mystery Train” – definitely a departure from Earl’s normally blues-based stylings. Also included is a beautiful version of “Time To Remember” –originally released on his 1993 album Still River. This version features a slower, more relaxed groove that allows the sparse yet fluid guitar lines to interplay beautifully with the keyboards. The Limina-penned title track has a Gospel groove that really lets Earl stretch out musically. The most powerful track on the album is “Running In Peace” – a heartfelt, slow blues tribute to the Boston Marathon bombing victims.
With Good News, Ronnie Earl again demonstrates the musical mastery that continues to garner him both awards and accolades.
By David Whiteis
Along with upstate New York's Don "Papadon" Washington, Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne is one of the few younger-generation keboardists dedicated to keeping the art of unadorned acoustic blues piano alive, relevant, and contemporary. Like Washington, though, he's also proficient on Hammond organ and other amplified instruments, and when he's not pounding out updated versions of vintage era boogie and barrelhouse themes, he's perfectly capable of insinuating himself into a tightly wound ensemble and firing off juke-rocking, modern-sounding blues. His voice, while not necessarily the most emotionally expressive, is more than adequate for the tasks he usually sets it to.
Occasionally, as in the faux rave-up Hootenanny Boogie-Woogie, he sounds a bit self-conscious in his efforts to claim his place in the vaunted rent party/after-hours keyboard tradition, but for the most part he delivers a satisfying blend of good-time entertainment and deep-hearted blues expression. Roadrunner, a pop-rock tinged ode to the footloose lifestyle of the hard-traveling bluesman, appropriately balances exhilaration and driven obsessiveness; the modernist soul ballad Baby, It Ain't You, featuring Diunna Greenleaf on guest vocals, is shot full with both regret and wounded righteousness; Two Sides, a jivey, semi-novelty romp with a strong New Orleans tinge, finds Eric Bibb contributing a tubular-toned acoustic guitar solo along with some well-honed vocal harmonies alongside Wayne; Out Like a Bullet, the set's closer, is a piano workout that kicks into a torrid, window-rattling boogie-woogie cadence early on and never lets up. It's the perfect finisher for a roots-rich celebration infused with a powerful spirit of adventurism and forward-looking imagination.(less)