Best Backtracks, Roots, Blues and Americana of 2017 According to Bob Dorr

Dec 19, 2017

Rock and roll babies, here's your best of list for 2017, according to Bob Dorr! He talked about his favorite releases and re-releases of the year with Talk of Iowa host Charity Nebbe. 

Elvin Bishop - Big Fun Trio

Elvin Bishop's Big Fun Trio combines Elvin's signature good humor song writing and guitar playing with Bob Welsh, the keys player in Elvin's regular band and Willy Jordan on Cajon, a South American percussion instrument. That disc came out in early 2017, I expect it to win some major awards.

Catfish Keith – Mississippi River Blues

Iowa's Catfish Keith continues to travel around the world. He's probably better known in Western Europe than he is on the west side of Iowa City (where he lives). His disc Mississippi River Blues came out last spring. It's the real deal by an Iowa boy. My acoustic album of the year is just a fun, kind of back porch, sittin' around with your friends, collection of tunes by Harrison Kennedy that incorporates blues banjo, which gives it almost a jug band feeling. The CD is Who U Tellin'. This is the title track…

Kim Simmonds – Witchy Woman

If a rock edge to your blues is your thing, I've got three discs you should be aware of. 50+ year warrior Kim Simmonds and his latest version of Savoy Brown had another fantastic release this year called Witchy Woman. It's a trio with Simmonds doing the singing as well as guitar playing (Simmonds is notorious for going thru MANY singers over the years).

Casey James – Strip It Down

Another Rock Blues disc you should be aware of is by one of those artists I was unaware of, Casey James. Strong song writing, great grooves, fine singer and guitar playing. His 2017 release is Strip It Down, song number one is All I Need.

Tommy Castro – Stompin’ Ground

But my favorite Rock/Blues album is from Tommy Castro called Stompin' Ground. Castro does some great vocal duets with Danielle Nicole, David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, Mike Zito, and Charlie Musselwhite on this "message song" Live Every Day. Live every day like it's the last one of your life, cause one of these days, you're gonna be right!

Sonny Landreth – Live From Lafayette

As long as we're listening to guitar players, The Blues Foundation's 2016 Guitar Player of The Year, Sonny Landreth has a LIVE, 2-CD set for 2017 called Live From Lafayette. One of the discs is acoustic, the other electric, both demonstrate why he's always considered for guitar player of the year and oh, by the way, he's headlining the next Friends Blues Blowout in February in Waterloo! He's got one of my all-time favorite Landreth songs on this release, The USS Zydecoldsmobile.

As long as we're talking about Sonny Landreth and his tie to IPR and The Blues Blowout, a quick shout out about St. Louis' rising star of the blues, Marquise Knox. His internationally distributed live CD Black & Blue is taken from recordings originally done by IPR's Phil Maass at the 2016 Bowlful of Blues Festival in Newton! So kudos to Mr. Maass and IPR for being part of that acclaimed CD.

Earnest ‘Guitar Roy’ – Come On Let’s Juke

So, Marquise Knox might not be a familiar name to you, yet, but I found some other artists that I was totally unaware of that you should be hip to in 2017. One is Alabama's Earnest 'Guitar' Roy. He wrote eight of the 10 songs on his disc Come On Let's Juke. He's the guitar player, he's the bass player, he's the drummer and the singer!

R. L. Boyce - Roll and Tumble

Another is Mississippi country bluesman R. L. Boyce, backed by Luther Dickenson and The Mississippi All-Stars. The loose, purportedly unrehearsed grooves on the CD Roll and Tumble with the studio patter between the songs, reminds me of the spontaneous energy of Hound Dog Taylor and The Houserockers of the 1970s.

Miss Freddye – Lady of the Blues

But my biggest "new find" is Miss Freddye. Traditional style vocalist with horns, on her disc Lady of The Blues. Oh yeah!

Don Bryant – Don’t Give Up On Love

It's no secret that I am into soul blues with horn arrangements and back ground vocal arrangements. Both of my favorite Soul Blues albums in 2017 are by artists that are new to me. You just don't get any closer to to the classic 1960s/early 1970s Memphis style soul music than Don Bryant's CD Don't Give Up On Love, exemplified by this song: What Kind Of Love…

John McNamara – Rollin’ With It

My other favorite soul blues disc is Rollin' With It by blue eyed Australian singer/guitar player John McNamara. Apparently McNamara has won many Australian blues music awards. (I'm embarrassed to have to admit, I was unaware of him until this year.) One, Two Of A Kind is song #1 on this disc.

Rick Estrin & The Nightcats – Groovin’ In Greaseland

If classic traditional sounding blues done by veteran players that you know and love is your thing, then two award winning harp players have got a disc for you. Rick Estrin & The Nightcats CD for 2017 came out early in the year. It's called Groovin' In Greaseland.

Corey Dennison - Night After Night

After all these discs that you should be aware of from 2017, I do have a Top 4 of the year and I do have a solid number one. Numbers two-four seem to vary day to day. One of those two-four would be the second album from New Generation Chicago guitar player Corey Dennison. His vocal and guitar phrasing is reminiscent  of classic Chicago icons Magic Sam and Otis Rush. Corey Dennison's 2017 disc is Night After Night, this one is I Get The Shivers…

Mitch Woods – Friends Along The Way

Another of my revolving number 2-4 is the disc Friends Along The Way by piano man Mitch Woods. Woods has been hosting the late night piano bar on The Legendary Blues Cruise boat cruises for years, where he plays piano and other musicians sit in. He's carried that concept to his 2017 album where it's Mitch and "Friends Along The Way" who include Van Morrison, Taj Mahal, Maria Muldaur, Kenny Neal and, on this one, The Mother-In -Law blues, John Hammond.

Various Artists - Howlin’ at Greaseland

The third CD of my varying numbers two-four actually is a disc that I had as number one for 2017 for many months, but it's really a collection of many West Coast/Northern California all-stars, playing in a variety of combinations behind many singers ranging from Alabama Mike to John Blues Boyd to Tail Dragger to saxman/singer Terry Hanck. The disc DOES have a theme: a tribute to Howlin' Wolf. In it's own way it's a MUST HAVE blues CD for 2017, but since it's not actually a single band, I'm not naming it number one. The CD is Howlin' At Greaseland. This one combines Rick Estrin and Kid Anderson of The Nightcats, Jim Pugh, Robert Cray's longtime keys player and John Blues Boyd singing Smokestack Lightning.

Keb Mo, Taj Mahal: Tajmo – Don’t Leave Me Here

What's left? It must be number one. You can't beat the combined talents of blues and roots music icon Taj Mahal and one of my contemporary artist favorites Keb Mo. Together they are Tajmo. Heavy grooves in a variety of styles, vocal dueting on most of the songs, AND they are traveling as a live band, even making a stop in Des Moines this year. I didn't get a chance to catch the show, but people I know that did, raved about it. Keb Mo, Taj Mahal: Tajmo-Don't Leave Me Here.

The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

As far as vintage rock and roll and Beatles, it's always a good year when there's something new from The Fabs. The 50th Anniversary remix/remaster of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, redone by Giles Martin, the son of the guy who did it the first time, George Martin, is stunning and worth the money. It's like being a kid again, constantly hearing new parts that you haven't heard before. And Ringo has a new disc, Give More Love. I don't like it quite as well as his last disc Postcards From Paradise, but it's pretty darn nice for a 77-year-old drummer boy and the message is spot on.