In her most recent Grammy winning album, The River and The Thread, Rosanne Cash points out that ‘there’s a million shades of Modern Blue’. We agree. The Blues is a genre that is in motion. Blues artists are creating a future for Blues that takes cues from the past in both playing and production of music. Artists are making their own instruments, blending Blues with Country, Folk, and Soul, taking the sound off albums to analog recording days, mixing Rhythm with their Blues. In 2015, there is no common factor for Blues musicians. They are young and old, male and female, and the only color visible is Blue.
We have gathered together 40 artists who have (mostly) released albums in the past year that go beyond what has come to be expected of the Blues. These artists do not go to traditional timing, chord patterns, rhythms, or structure. Blues and Rock have had a long, very public, history together and they gave birth to a 12-Bar Blues standard in song. For out Top 40 Modern Blues list, we have put artists that are challenging themselves by relying on the music they hear in their heads. For musicians, there is not ‘final frontier’, the sound will go on forever, though that will not stop players from playing, and finding new way to express. Here is a sampling of artists that are creating a future for The Blues
MODERN BLUES ARTISTS FOR 2015 #21 THRU #40
21 - Markus James (form the album Head for the Hills) - Markus James is originally from Virginia and the DC area, where his first musical memory, from the age of four, is of an old, blind blues singer he saw many times playing on a sidewalk. He encountered West African stringed music at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Markus James settled in Northern California, recording Blues influenced album with African musicians. On his recent release, Head for the Hills, he sets his guitar on Mississippi Hill Country blues, recording “Just Say Yes with a son of the Mississippi Hill Country, Kinney Kimbrough (son of Junior Kimbrough)
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22 - Jarekus Singleton (from the album Refuse to Lose) - Refuse to Loseis the album title for the Jarekus Singleton’s debut on Alligator Records. As a song, the title track introduces Jarekus as a songwriter and one major player in a guitar world. “Refuse to Lose” is historical; telling the story of a man who will win, whatever it takes. He admits to suffering and tears over the years, being the victim of betrayals and gossip and taken on hard jobs with no regret. Surrender was not an option and the man in the story, and Jarekus Singleton, separated from the pack with will power, discipline and desire.
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23 - Keb’ Mo’ (from the album BLUESAmericana) - Rhythm is a physical thing to Keb Mo’ though the inspiration for BLUESAmericana came way before the wisdom of the tracks. A cover of a tune Keb’ first heard sung by Mississippi Sheiks Sam Chatmon, “That’s Alright”, began the recording process. Keb’ Mo’ knows himself, and that “I only make albums when I’m inspired to, and these ten songs come from a very honest place”
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24 - Cassie Taylor (from the album Out of My Mind) - At age 26, Cassie Taylor was already a veteran musician. She's spent a decade playing bass and singing with her dad, Otis Taylor’s, band. She plays, writes, and produces Out of My Mind, her most recent release. Cassie introduces Ol’Mama Dean over a swamp Blues crawl that will make the old lady feel right at home.
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25 - Garrett Lebeau (from the album Rise to the Grind) - Garrett Lebeau was born and raised on the Wind River Indian Reservation near Lander, Wyoming, and is an enrolled member of the Shoshone tribe. Garrett recalls, "Growing up we listened to very little music. The Blues spoke to me… the raw unadorned honesty is what still motivates me musically. It spans all styles. When I say soul, I mean "SOUL" you know when music has it. I am not speaking of some narrow definition for a style of music. I speak of music with spirit about life... the trials and tribulations of the working man. Folk music is kin in spirit as is most music that I love. My goal is to connect with other like-minded human beings to keep the tradition of soul music alive. Where you write, play and sing from your own self - Just like the early Blues musicians.. Feeling has no genre".
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26 – Marcia Ball (from the album the Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man) - Over the course of four decades, Marcia Ball has etched her name into the skin of Gulf Coast boogie Blues. On her recent release, it is her own flesh that is receiving fine lines and tasty textures of color as The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man. The sound of the album knicks multiple Gulf Coast rhythms from the songs Marcia Ball heard growing up on the Louisiana-Texas border, and on her relocation to Austin, Texas in the 1970’s, adding to her branded mix of Southern Soul, Zydeco, the syncopated New Orleans style of Professor Longhair, and two-fisted Texas Blues.
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27 - Leo Bud Welch (from the album I Don’t Prefer No Blues) - Leo Bud Welch introduced himself to a wider musical world with his debut album at age 81in 2013. Born in 1932 in Sabougla, Mississippi, Leo has lived his entire life in that area. Raised with four brothers and seven sisters, his musical ability was first noticed by his family when he and his cousin Alandus Welch took to an older cousin’s guitar quicker than the owner. Soon, Leo was picking out tunes heard on the radio and playing them for family and friends, also picking up the harmonica and fiddle along the way. His second album, I Don’t Prefer No Blues, comes out this spring 2015. He is 83 years old now, and a much wiser man….watch out!
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28 – JeConte (from the album Down by the Bayou) - JeConte sets the direction for the Blues to Down by the Bayou. JeConte partners with producer Anders Osborne on vocals for the title track and as the song heads home on a back water current, it cruises channels of guitar notes that fly across the surface as sweet fiddle notes steer the groove “Down by the Bayou”.
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29 - Elvin Bishop (from the album Can’t Even Do Wrong Right) - It sounds like in his seventy-one years that Elvin Bishop never once cleaned up his Blues. In “Everybody's in the Same Boat”, the riffs are dirty as Elvin speaks/sings truisms about his own life that are shared experiences of all humanity. It is the advice of a man who has never left a stage without smiles stamped in place from his set, and you can believe him when his says that now is the time cause ‘you ain’t never seen a hearse with luggage on the top’
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30 - Matt Andersen (from the album Weightless) - Matt Andersen’s home is Perth-Andover, a blue-collar community in New Brunswick, Canada, a town of close to 2,000 residents. From the village resting on the banks of the St, John River, Matt Andersen and his music have logged over two million YouTube views, with close to one million for his version of “Ain’t No Sunshine” alone. Matt received a 2013 European Blues award and the Best Solo Performer award at the Memphis Blues Challenge. Weightless was produced by Los Lobos saxman/producer Steve Berlin and features Neko Case’s right hand man and guitarist Paul Rigby.
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31 - Pops Staples (from the album Don’t Lose This) - At eighty-four years old, Roebuck ‘Pops’ Staples was experiencing poor health. Pops voice was still his strength, so daughters Yvonne, Cleotha and Mavis decided that dad needed to get into a studio and record a final album. They entered Hinge Recording Studios in Chicago in 1998 and managed to gather ten tracks with considerations for Pops dwindling health. Pops passed and the raw, rough recordings sat for ten years. Daughter Mavis Staples worked with her producer, Jeff Tweedy, to put a final production on the work with Mavis recalling that ‘“I just couldn’t help but cry, you know, because it sounded like Pops was right there in the room with us. Just to hear him singing, and to think back, the memories that each song brought me—how sick he was and how he struggled.”
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32 - Royal Southern Brotherhood (from the album Heartsoulblood) - Heartsoulboodsuccessfully recreates and presents the blues, rock, Cajun, soul and swamp grooves that brought the band together as one sound. Yep, it is the sound of Royal Southern Brotherhood yet if you need a name….don’t strain. The music, and the songs, of Royal Southern Brotherhood is labeled Blues Rock. Sure, it is futuristic Blues Rock in its ability to blend R&B, rock’n’roll, Blues and other older backgrounds into its music.
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33 The Mike Henderson Band (from the album If You Think It’s Hot Here) - The Mike Henderson Band barnstorms the Blues on If You Think It’s Hot Here. They pack “Matchbox” full-to-stuffing of gut bucket rock’n’roll that blurs Blues, Rock and Country in its pedal to the floor forward motion. If You Think It’s Hot in Here doesn’t really have to ask….it knows how ‘hot’ it is, the band is just being polite.
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4 - Smokin’ Joe Kubrik and Bnois King (from the album Fat Man’s Shine Parlor) - Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King usher a fine guitar riff ramble into the grooves of Fat Man’s Shine Parlor, their most recent release. The album marks the duo’s return to Blind Pig Records, with whom they recorded until the mid-2000’s. The interplay between Smokin’ Joe and Bnois is of one collective mind.
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35 - Liz Mandeville (from the album Heart ‘o’Chicago) - Liz Mandeville is sassy, slick and sings her Blues Old Style Chicago. Ms. Mandeville brings the tunes up-to-date with the story line crying the Blues about technology.
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36 - Cary Morin (from the album Tiny Town) - The Americana Blues from the finger-picking styles of Native American, Cary Morin, shines on his third album release, Tiny Town. Cary is a member of the Crow nation, and the son of an Air Force officer dad. He grew up in Billings, Montana before relocating and fine-tuning in guitar skills in northern Colorado.
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37 - Stacy Mitchhart (from the album Live My Life) - Stacy Mitchhart delivers a how-to guide on Live My Life, with a Blues shifting shapes that fast track Funk with Soul as it boasts on a uptown groove. Stacy Mitchhart reinvents The Beatles’ “Come Together” as dirty electric blues.
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38 - Steve Dawson (from the album Rattlesnake Cage) - Canadian-based Steve Dawson is a top end producer, player, curator and frontrunner of West Coast Canadian Blues. Rattlesnake Cage lets its focus fall on Steve’s playing and the album shows track after track what a good choice that was to make.
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39 - Jeffrey Halford (from the album Rainmaker) - Rainmakeris the seventh album for Jeffrey Halford. Emotion has always been a central part of Jeffrey’s guitar playing, and it bleeds over into the cinematic textures of the songs on the album. The Healers take the Farfisa out of deep freeze as they draw a line in the sand, put a quarter on the needle, and set the groove to “Play Some Vinyl”.
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40 - Selwyn Birchwood (from the album Don’t Call No Ambulance) - On the title track “Don’t Call No Ambulance”, from his recent release, Selwyn Birchwood tells a tale of joy with six strings and lines like “don’t you call no ambulance, I’ll find my own ride home’. Selwyn Birchwood (guitar, lap steel, vocals) is a younger bluesman, yet there is a smoothness to his playing, and a slate of summer festival spots, that will have Selwyn become a major player in the Blues.
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