Looking for the best of Blues in 2016? Bob Dorr, frontman for Bob Dorr and the Blue Band and host of Beatles Medley, Backtracks, and Blue Avenue on Iowa Public Radio, shares his thoughts on this year's releases.
Thornetta Davis – “I'd Rather Be Alone” off of the album “Honest Woman”
2016 is really kind of the year of the women in blues. First, a return to the national scene for Thornetta Davis. I played dates in the same clubs as she did in the 90s (RIBCO, Gabes, etc.) I lost track of her after she stopped traveling. She's now known as The Queen of the Detroit Blues Scene and is back with a nationally distributed cd called Honest Woman. It's the real blues when you say “I'd Rather Be Alone…”
Vaneese Thomas – “Sweet Talk Me” off of the album The Long Journey Home
There were lots of great soul-blues releases from women in 2016. Newcomer Kat Riggins and emerging stars J.J. Thames and Terri Odabi had great releases as well as Memphis soul blues icon Rufus Thomas' daughter Vaneese Thomas, who wrote 11 of the 12 songs on her disc The Long Journey Home, including a little “Sweet Talkin’.
Fiona Boyes - “Devil You Know” off the album Professin' The Blues
My pick for acoustic album of the year is also by a woman. Australian Fiona Boyes (who splits her time between Australia and Oregon) was the first woman to win the International Blues Challenge. She plays electric and acoustic guitar and is one of the world's premiere gut-bucket style blues guitar players. Her 2016 release is all acoustic, called Professin' The Blues, she wrote or co-wrote 14 of the 16 songs including “The Devil You Know.”
Bobby Rush – “Funk O' De Funk” off the album Porcupine Meat
William Bell – “The Three of Me” off the album This Is Where I Live
Of the releases by blues men, my favorite is by icon Bobby Rush, who has been experiencing a renaissance in his career in recent years (he was 83 years young in November), and may still be the funkiest man alive. And to prove it, his 2016 release, Porcupine Meat has got the “Funk O' De Funk.”
Sugar Ray & The Bluetones – “It Ain't Funny” off the album Seeing Is Believing
I've grown to love the reemerging east-coast traditional blues sound in recent years. Sugar Ray and The Bluetones have followed up their 2015 multi Blues Music Award winning CD Living Tear To Tear with another good one, Seeing is Believing, this one is “It Ain't Funny.”
The Knickerbocker All-Stars “Going To The Country” off the album Texas Rhody Blues
If you take that same traditional sound and add horns, you get The Knickerbocker All-Stars. Some of the all-stars include Jimmy Vaughn and Duke Robillard on guitar. The CD is titled Texas Rhody Blues (Vaughn is from Austin TX, and Robillard is from Rhode Island). This is both Jimmy and Duke playing guitar with Duke singing “Going To The Country.”
Don't get me wrong, I still love my Chicago boys. Lurrie Bell is probably going to win lots of awards for his CD Can't Shake This Feeling. Soul-blues singer/harp player Omar Coleman has a cool live CD recorded in one of Chicago's iconic clubs, Rosa's Lounge. Sugar Blue has returned to a more traditional blues sound with his disc Voyage, which proves he's still one of the world's premiere harp players, and Lil Ed's got The Big Sound of Lil Ed. I also want to give a shout out to Iowan's Rush Cleveland, Blue Henry from Cedar Rapids and, I don't mind sayin', I think The Blue Band had a nice 35th Anniversary CD in 2016.
Deb Ryder-Grit - “Grease and Tears” off the album Grit, Grease and Tears
I told you it was the year of the woman in the blues. Deb Ryder has her third gem in a row out in 2016. She writes and sings the songs; she produces the recording; and she even did the graphic design for the cover. Originally from around Peoria IL, now based in Los Angeles, my favorite blues CD for 2016 is Deb's Grit, Grease and Tears.
“You Can’t Do that” by the Beatles from the album “Live at the Hollywood Bowl”
As far as Backtracks, anytime you have a new Beatles release, it's a good year. The reissue of Live at The Hollywood Bowl uses modern technology to REALLY enhance the mix of the band (keep in mind all the tech advances since it was first released in 1977). It also has second generation Beatle engineering. Famed Beatle producer George Martin's son Giles is the audio genius producer. It also gives us 4 songs not on the original 1977 release including the 1964 performance of “You Can't Do That.” This is all in conjunction with the release of the Ron Howard documentary film 8 Days A Week spotlighting the Fab Four’s touring days at the height of Beatlemania. Everyone I know who's seen the film loves it.