Wednesday May 22, 2013
Good news, everybody! After five years apart, popular roots 'n' blues giant Watermelon Slim has reunited with his talented, road-tested, award-winning band the Workers to record a brand new album! On June 25th, 2013 Northern Blues Music will release Bull Goose Rooster, the first album of new Watermelon Slim and the Workers music since 2008's No Paid Holidays. During his hiatus from the band, Slim recorded two critically acclaimed albums of twang-infused honky-tonk gems, 2009's Escape from the Chicken Coop and 2010's Ringers, as well as 2011's Okiesippi Blues, a musical collaboration with his friend and neighbor Super Chikan.
Bull Goose Rooster promises to be a return to form for Watermelon Slim and the Workers, the album featuring the band working out on a mix of Chicago, Delta, and Hill Country blues styles while also incorporating rock, country, and folk influences. "I promised myself that I would make this the best and biggest album I've ever made," Slim explains in a press release for the album. "At the bottom of it all, I'm a bluesman. I started playing and writing songs because I was interested in playing blues, but when I perform I play all kinds of music that came out of the American South. In the interest of reflecting that, the 16 songs on Bull Goose Rooster comprise my broadest, most ambitious recording to date."
Slim is particularly proud of his vocal and six-string performances on the album, claiming that "I'm playing the best guitar of my life right now," infusing songs like "Foreign Policy Blues" and "Prison Walls" with his wicked slide-guitar work and emotional vocals. Of course, it wouldn't be a Watermelon Slim album without some lyrical tall tales and the title track of Bull Goose Rooster is based on a "truly majestic bird" (in Slim's words) that rules the roost at the U.S. Post Office parking lot in Key West, Florida. Of course, Watermelon Slim and the Workers will hit the road hard, touring in support of the album over the summer and into the waning months of 2013.
"At his point I'm at the absolute top of my game," Slim attests. "I can sing my heart out every night and I've developed a unique style on all of my instruments. I may be a toothless 64-year-old bluesman, but I put on a hell of a show."
Related content: Watermelon Slim and the Workers - Live At The Ground Zero Blues Club DVD review
Photo courtesy Northern Blues Music
Tuesday May 21, 2013
I have to admit that I'm a little surprised that the blues chart for the week ending May 25th, 2013 doesn't show more of a bump in sales for those artists that walked off with Blues Music Awards a week or so ago. I really thought that Tedeschi Trucks Band would jump up a few spaces with their popular, award-winning Everybody's Talkin' live album; instead it dropped out of the Top Ten altogether. Other than the welcome chart debut of James Cotton's excellent, all-star packed Cotton Mouth Man album, the chart remains pretty much the same as it has for, well, months now...
Of course, all bets are off once sales of this week's big new release, Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa's Seesaw are reflected on the chart. Like all things Bonamassa, I expect this one to debut in the top three at a minimum, and maybe at number one considering that Joey B has dominated the chart for the past couple of years, and Hart has held her own as a solo artist with her Bang Bang Boom Boom, the album hovering around a respectable number five or six since its release. With nothing but a new Popa Chubby album next week to content with, I expect Hart and Bonamassa to hold steady for a while...until mid-June, when new discs from Walter Trout, Mike Zito, and Watermelon Slim jump onto the chart!
Here are this week's Billboard Top Ten blues albums, ranked by sales:
10. James Hunter Six - Minute By Minute (Fantasy Records)
9. Bonnie Raitt - Slipstream (Redwing Records)
8. Shouting Matches - Grownass Man (Middle West Records)
7. Spin Doctors - If The River Was Whiskey (Ruf Records)
6. Beth Hart - Bang Bang Boom Boom (Provogue Records)
5. Charlie Musselwhite & Ben Harper - Get Up! (Stax Records)
4. James Cotton - Cotton Mouth Man (Alligator Records)
3. Joe Bonamassa - An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House (J&R Adventures)
2. Gary Clark, Jr. - Blak and Blu (Warner Brothers)
1. Boz Scaggs - Memphis (429 Records)
New releases: Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa's Seesaw (J&R Adventures); Various Artists - Classic Harmonica Blues (Smithsonian Folkways)
Photo of Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa's Seesaw courtesy J&R Adventures
Monday May 20, 2013
Ironing Board Sam is one of those unheralded heroes of the blues, an artist who has enjoyed more success during the twilight of his career than over the course of his prime years. A talented and dynamic performer, Sam's career was mired in obscurity and poverty until he hooked up with the non-profit Music Maker Relief Foundation in 2010, the organization providing financial help and booking some high-profile gigs for the singer to launch his "comeback;" they also got Sam back into the studio to record some new tracks and will release Double-Bang!, his first studio album in 15 years, in July 2013.
Filmmaker Tom Ciaburri is finishing up Tenth, a documentary film covering Ironing Board Sam's storied life and career, and has launched a Kickstarter project to "crowdfund" the completion of his cinematic labor of love. Ciaburri has passed his initial $5,000 fundraising goal with three weeks left to go, but could still use further donations to expand and improve the film. I won't go into complete details on what your dollars could do for Tenth, but you can check out Ciaburri's Kickstarter page, watch the entertaining project video, and read for yourself Ciaburri's plans for your donations.
Support for these kind of documentary projects is important. The creation of "crowdfunding" websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, along with the reduced cost of technology and movie production, has allowed homegrown filmmakers like Tom Ciaburri to pursue projects that would never, ever receive traditional studio funding. By documenting the career of a talented albeit relatively obscure bluesman like Ironing Board Sam, the filmmaker is preserving the music and legacy of a rapidly-disappearing generation of artists.
Photo of filmmaker Tom Ciaburri and bluesman Ironing Board Sam courtesy Tom Ciaburri
Friday May 17, 2013
The odds are good that even if you don't recognize William Stout's name, that you're at least familiar with some of his work. An acclaimed artist, illustrator, designer, and overall creative genius, Stout has written and drawn both underground and mainstream comics; illustrated numerous book and album covers (including a few cool bootleg CD covers); worked on video games and theme park design (including Michael Jackson's private Neverland Ranch); and has even dabbled in film (he designed the alien Edgar for the first Men In Black movie, for instance).
Stout has worked for both Walt Disney Imagineering and George Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic and has won numerous awards for his talents. Stout is probably best-known, however, for his dinosaur illustrations, and the original paintings from his book The New Dinosaurs have been exhibited in such lofty venues as the British Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the American Museum of Natural History. As it turns out, Stout is also a HUGE blues music fan, an obsession that has resulted in his recently-published book Legends of the Blues.
Here's the back story: in 2003, Shout! Factory Records released a series of "best of" albums on a number of legendary blues artists, and the label licensed several illustrations from Robert Crumb's Heroes of the Blues trading card set to use as CD covers. There were some musicians they were releasing compilations albums for, however, that Crumb had never illustrated, so Shout! Factory asked Stout to draw portraits of Ma Rainey, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and J.B. Lenoir similar to the Crumb illustrations. Stout enjoyed the task so much that he just kept on going, planning on creating three sets of 50 trading cards each. His publisher convinced him to do a book instead, which resulted in the wonderful Legends of the Blues.
Featuring 100 full-color illustrations similar to the great Muddy Waters portrait on the cover, the criteria for Stout's drawings for the book is that he had to love the artist's music, they were all born before 1930 (nothing but old-school bluesmen-and-women here, folks!) and, with a couple of notable exceptions (Skip James, Blind Willie Johnson), none of the portraits here duplicate any artists covered by Crumb. To be honest, as much as I like Robert Crumb's musical portraits, I like William Stout's even better, and the handy size of the book (roughly 6"x7.5") allows for vivid full-page illustrations that really capture the essence of the featured musician.
Legends of the Blues offers up brilliant portraits of blues music giants like Lightnin' Hopkins, Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon, Bukka White, Muddy Waters, and many others. Stout also includes several blues-influenced R&B greats like Lowell Fulson and Johnny Otis as well as fringe choices like jazz diva Billie Holiday and blues-rock pioneer Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Stout doesn't overlook the talented instrumentalists of the blues, either, including folks like Fred Below, Albert Ammons, and Papa John McCoy. Each portrait is accompanied by a brief but well-researched and informative biography and many profiles include interesting trivia on the artist.
Legends of the Blues is a beautifully-constructed 224 page hardback book with an attractive $19.95 price tag, less if you want to go with the Kindle eBook version. But then you'd miss out on the included CD that was put together by Stout and the folks at Shout! Factory. Featuring 14 tracks from the likes of Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bukka White, Robert Wilkins, Big Joe Williams, and Blind Willie McTell, among others, it's the perfect accompaniment to a book obviously created by a blues fan for other lovers of the music. Highly recommended!
Find the book on PriceGrabber:
Legends of the Blues photo courtesy Abrams ComicArts