15 Under the Radar Blues\Blues Related CDs by Jim Stick

Posted on 6/05/2010 by Jim Stick

Here is a list of 15 blues or blues related CDs that have come out or have been re-released in the last 15 years or so that have flown under the radar or are just under appreciated, that you might want to look into owning. There are so many blues artists releasing CDs these days that it can be nearly impossible to keep up with everything that comes out. You won't find big blues artists like B.B. King, Tommy Castro, Buddy Guy etc. on this list. If one of these CDs sounds interesting to you, I will name one song on each that for less than one dollar you can go download and get a flavor of what the CD is about. I hope that this list will turn you on to some great blues music that might have slipped by you.

"1928 Sessions" by Mississippi John Hurt

Mississippi John Hurt does not have the reputation of Robert Johnson or the intensity of Charlie Patton or Son House. What Hurt did have was a unique blues style from the 1920's era with an almost folk style of guitar playing and a sweet voice which can almost seem at odds with the typical song topics of the day of shootings and stabbings mixed in the with the lost love themes. It boggles my mind that these songs, recorded on the Okeh label, were recorded 82 years ago.
Download one song: 6. Louis Collins
"Resurrection of the Bayou Maharajah" by James Booker

The tortured genius of New Orleans piano wizard James Booker shines in this collection of songs recorded live at the famed Maple Leaf bar in New Orleans. Other New Orleans piano players might have bigger names but none could ever match the mad and sick talent of Booker.
Download one song: 2. Medley: Tico Tico/Papa Was a Rascal.
Is it even humanly possible for anyone to play the piano runs Booker plays on this song? And this was done live? Truly amazing and astounding.
"South of I-10" by Sonny Landreth

Sonny Landreth is getting his well deserved props these days. This 1995 recording is the start of where his unique and amazing slide guitar style, his poignant songwriting about his Louisiana homeland, and his improving voice all came together.
Upbeat and lively, every song on this recording is a joy. One of two CDs I have ever owned that I literally wore out by playing so often.
Download one song: While Congo Square gets more acclaim--my favorite is: 2. Creole Angel.
"Radioland" by The Cate Brothers

Jimmy Thackery turned me on to these guys in Memphis in 1997. At that time he told me they were "the best r&b band going today". Thanks Jimmy. Featuring the soulful voice of Ernie Cate and the ultra clean guitar style of brother Earl Cate, this 1995 recording is equal parts soul, r&b, and blues. Every song on this CD is a "keeper".
It is hard for me to understand why this Arkansas based band has never broke big onto the national blues scene.
Download one song: You can't go wrong with any song on this CD but start with the title track: 2. Radioland.
:"Gone Woman Blues" by Rory Block

This is Rory Block at her best: playing acoustic Mississippi delta country blues.
Nobody does it better. On this 1997 recording she does songs from Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Son House, Tommy Johnson, and many more. Her dedication to keeping the music alive of these historical blues greats makes her a revered national treasure.
Download one song: 9. Rolling Log
"Telephone Road" by Mark May

You can tell that Houston, TX based blues guitar player Mark May grew up admiring Albert Collins from this 1997 release. Crank this CD up at your next outdoor BBQ\beer party. Fine collection of songs in the blues\rock genre of the blues. May is an outstanding guitar player with more than adequate vocal and songwriting skills.
Toured nationally with his band for a while, then took some time off to tour with Dicky Betts & Great Southern, and now has gone sober and is gearing up to tour nationally again with his band Mark May & the Agitators.
Download one song: the title track with an amazing guitar riff: 5. Telephone Road
Lover's Plea by W.C. Clark

Staying down in Texas but moving over to the soul side of the blues, this 1998 recording features Clark's soulful and gospel like voice and understated and clean guitar style. Another CD (typical of this list) where every song is very good. I've played this CD at work many times over the years and this CD more than any other gets customers to come over and ask me: "Who is this guy?".
Download one song: Literally, close your eyes and point at one song--you can't go wrong. So hard to choose, but I guess I'll go with: 6. Are You Here, Are You There?
"One Hot July" by Tony Joe White

Yes, that is the Tony Joe White of "Polk Salad Annie" fame. White made a musical comeback in the early 1990's and the gem "One Hot July" came out in 1999. This is laid back Louisiana style swamp blues. As evidenced by the earlier "Rainy Night in Georgia" one of White's major strengths is his songwriting and it is very strong on this CD. I love the line from "Across From Midnight"---"It's come down to just the two of us. Me and my shadow on the wall". White also has an underrated laid back blues guitar style. If someone came over to my house and told me I had to leave right away and never come back and I could only take one CD with me--this would be the CD I would take--it is that good.
Download one song: 6. I Want My Fleetwood Back.
"Storms of Life" by Bernard Allison

To his credit Bernard Allison never tried to copy his legendary father's blues musical style--he does his own thing. Allison is on the soulful end of the blues\rock genre and this CD captures his lively, funky and upbeat style. The guitar playing, the vocals, and the songs are all outstanding.
Download one song: 6. Mean Town Blues
"Sweet Talk" by Renee Austin

This 2003 recording of Renee Austin shows off her amazing voice and is a sad reminder of what could have been. A few years later Austin had to have surgery on a lump on her thyroid on her throat and it left her barely able to speak and unable to sing. She was on the fast track to blues stardom and this is best of what she left behind. Austin has kind of a raspy but powerful voice that drifts between blues, soul and jazz themes on this CD. It almost brings tears to my eyes every time I listen to it--she was so talented and such a nice, sweet person--she didn't deserve the fate that beset her.
I've lost touch with her over the years--the last I heard she was doing some charitable work for African children. Maybe the big guy upstairs had better plans for her than entertaining blues fans.
Download one song: 2. Pretend We Never Met (a duet with Delbert McClinton).
"Flying High While Staying Low Down" by Randy McAllister

This 2006 release is on the Americana\Roots end of the blues spectrum. Down home, homespun tales highlight this compilation of the best of his past recordings, one of which garnered McAllister a Grammy nomination. McAllister plays drums (barefoot), provides Texas soulful lead vocals, and plays harmonica to accentuate his off the charts songwriting abilities. This is one of those CDs that really, really grows on you the more you listen to it. Stop me if you have heard this before--but every one of the 16 songs on here is very good.
Download one song: 5. Why. or 15. The Chain or 13. Man Who Went for Cigarettes or...........
"Build Your Own Fire" by Jimmy Hall

Jimmy Hall was the lead singer for Wet Willie, a blues based southern rock band that had some success back in the 1970's. Hall has one of the great white R&B voices of our time and in addition is a fine sax and harmonica player. This CD finds Hall paying tribute to the late Eddie Hinton, who was a 70's R&B singer who had a cult like following in the south, by doing all Hinton songs. The results are an extremely enjoyable CD in the Soul\R&B category. Hall still gets out and tours a little these days with various players and does a lot of this material live--go check it out if he comes to a venue close to you.
Download one song: 3. Here I Am.
"Live at Knuckleheads" by Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band

This 2007 live recording captures the best Zydeco band around in one of the best blues bars in the country (Knucklheads in Kansas City). It is very hard to keep still listening to this rousing, upbeat live show by Chubby Carrier and his band. I've always loved Zydeco music--especially when I have had a few beers--but I had always thought that Zydeco bands were kind of all the same--until I caught Chubby Carrier live a couple of years back. This CD shows why they are at the head of the Zydeco class.
Download one song: 4. I Don't Know What You Come to Do.
"Today" by Mike Zito

Zito just won the Song of the Year at the 2010 Blues Music Awards--you read about the song here on American Blues News the week before the Awards--for the title song from the critically acclaimed "Pearl River" CD. This CD---"Today"--is what set him up for "Pearl River". The 2008 recording "Today" is more on the Americana side than "Pearl River" and is a showcase for Zito's songwriting and singing talents. (the guitar came out more on "Pearl River"). This is one of those CDs that you can put in your player and let it play over and over and over without ever getting tired of it.
Download one song: 8. Today.
"Free Your Mind" by Too Slim & the Taildraggers

This 2009 recording by the Seattle based Too Slim & the Taildraggers is kind of mixture of Blues\Rock and Americana\Roots. I mentioned above that I have worn out 2 CDs in my live by playing them so often--this is the second--and it only came out last year. Great songs and great guitar playing highlight this CD. It is hard to put a finger on a style or someone or some band to compare them to. I have read other reviewers struggle trying to do the same with Too Slim. Maybe a bluesier CCR with more guitar in it is as close as I can come--but still doesn't do them justice. I love every song on this CD. I read where Tim Langford (guitarist, vocalist, songwriter for the band) took some extra time off to write songs for this CD and it shows.
Download one song: Forget the one song thing--download the whole CD. OK--I have to pick one...hmmmm....this is like if someone asked me if I wanted a date with Cindy Crawford, Drew Barrymore, or Jennifer Aniston and had to pick just one....OK...: 5. Testament

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

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