Review of the year – Pete Evans

Posted on: Wednesday, Dec 31, 2008

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Best CD of the year.

I wasn’t as impressed by the CDs that I heard this year as I was last year. I bought some of acts that I’d heard live but as often happens, the CD didn’t do the live performance justice.  However there were one or two gems.

The Stumble were justifiably one of the UK’s top rated bands and go from strength to strength and their recent release “The Houngan” will help keep the momentum going – a great release and my choice as UK CD of the year. In close contention were Sonny Black’s “The Best of Days” and The Cadillac Kings “Trouble in Store”

My favourite American CD of the year was more difficult as I was disappointed by CDs from some of my favourite artists like Watermelon Slim and Sonny Landreth, however I did like Buddy Guy’s latest release “Skin Deep” and whilst Jon Cleary is originally from London, I think he is recognised more as an American musician and “Mo Hippa” was live and brillant.

A CD I’ve been trying to get for a few years was  ” Mel Brown and The Homewreckers- Blues – A Beautiful Thing”. Although two years old, I only bought it a few months ago and it was worth the wait – a superb CD.

However, the act which I thought was the best at this year’s King Biscuit Festival was Cedric Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcolm and their recent CD “2 Man Wrecking Crew” released on Delta Groove gets my vote as American CD of the year.

Best DVD of the year

m for mississippi

Each year there are more DVDs being released and especially some showing old footage of long gone musicians and places. There have been some really interesting ones available and one that I picked up at Roger Stolle’s Cathead store in Clarksdale was the last ever recording in January 1993 of Doctor Isiah Ross just four months before he died – “Doctor Isiah Ross – The Harmonica Boss – The Last Concert”. It’s a lovely historical recording of a grand old gentleman, just slightly past his best, but nontheless an important influence on many modern bluesmen (including well known to us in the north west – Ray Stubbs).   It must be remembered that he recorded at Sun Studios at the same time as Elvis and had tracks recorded by Cream and Jethro Tull and won a Grammy in 1980 for “Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording” for his release “Chicago Breakdown”.  It’s released on Spacevision Video Productions and can be bought from www.Cathead.biz.

Also of historical interest is “And This is Free – The Life and Times of Chicago’s Legendary Maxwell Street”. Again of social historical interest, it does contain great previously unseen footage of some of the old Maxwell Street musicians. On Shanachie, it’s available from Red Lick Records.

However, I have two favourite DVDs of the year that I can’t separate, M For Mississippi by Roger Stolle and Jeff Konkl (full review earlier in November on this site) and “Bobby Rush- Live at Ground Zero” which although recorded last year was made available this year and is a brilliant example of the excitement of a full Bobby Rush musical review. Again contact Cathead or Red Lick.

Best book of the year

I’ve read four blues books this year and thoroughly enjoyed each one.

Although it has been released 6 years, “The Voice of The Blues” by Amy Van Singel and Jom O’Neal only came into my possession at the beginning of the year. The authors are the founders of top American magazine Living Blues and the book is a collection of interviews taken from the magazine over the years. It is a great read as included are most of the legends, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Freddie King, John Lee Hooker and many more. It is available on Routledge.

The other American book I’ve enjoyed was “The Life of Mary Shepard – Queen of the Legendary Club Ebony”. The little blues club in Indianola is possibly the most famous blues club in Mississippi and for over 30 years, the remarkable Mary Shepard kept it going, presenting all the legends of the blues to this small community. The book tells us of her history and life in 40s/50s Indianola before she bought the club and the subsequent years of running it. Faced with retirement, she thought the club would close, however Indianola’s most famous son BB King has guaranteed its existence by buying it off Mary. The book  is released by The University of Mississippi Printing and Graphic Service.

The two British books were “Riding Shotgun” by Gerry McAvoy and tells of his life story and the years he spent on the road as Rory Gallagher’s bass player before leaving to join Nine Below Zero and my favourite book of the year Paul “Sailor” Vernon’s “Last Swill and Testament”. This is a marvellously funny account of Paul Vernon’s early days in early 60s London at the start of the blues craze in the capital. It has been fully reviewed on this site.

Best Festival of the Year

Janiva

No competition really – Worthenbury Blues and Roots Festival …. no seriously, it was The Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival otherwise known as The King Biscuit. This was reviewed at length on this site in November. I couldn’t go to Colne or Burnley but having said that, there was not a lot on to attract me to either especially Colne. I enjoyed my one day at Maryport (Saturday) with Jon Cleary outstanding. I think over the years I prefer the more informal smaller festivals although the Biscuit is larger but very informal and relaxed.

Best Gig of the Year

Apart from a couple of gigs at John Welsh’s excellent Harbourside venue in Liverpool where I was impressed with always reliable Eddie Martin, most of my gigs were  based on Worthenbury and I was really happy with the way the year went with some really memorable moments. The Spikedrivers were superb as was Michael Messer and also Sonny Black and Roland Chadwick. The new look Trafficker and Harper both gave us great gigs along with the veteran Mojo Buford in April, however my favourite gig was when Jim Crawford played for us in March. As a native north westerner it’s a shame we don’t see him more often since he has been based in Devon for many years. A superb musician he kept us in raptures with his tales and banter – it was more like Peter Kay meets Robert Johnson … “What a raight miserable bastard he moost ‘ave bin” was how he described the legend.

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So there we have it – I hope it might stimulate more people to submit their choices.

Can I wish everyone who visits bluesinthenorthwest.com and everyone involved in the local blues scene a great New Year and can I suggest a resolution for next year – every time you go to a gig, why not bring someone new to the gig – we need to keep it going for everyone’s sake.

PETE EVANS




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Grahame

January 1st, 2009 at 14:48
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Hi Pete – Nice piece of work, never noticed your little badge before! Maybe you should get Carl one made with ‘ale taster’ or ‘Wrexham fan’ on it, he, he! Of your three cd choices wouldn’t argue with the Cadillacs album, as great as ever; “Houngan” doesn’t seem to have reached us yet; and is the Sonny Black a new release or compilation? Been pricing up the Cedric Burniside / Lightnin’ Malcolm album, but only Amazon seem to have it at a silly price – imagine asking for that one in HMV!? Santa brought me the Mavis Staples live album, and I also picked up the Imelda May “Love Tattoo” – both a bit late for any best of 2008, but both very good. Hope to see all you guys soon!

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Pete Evans

January 2nd, 2009 at 21:24
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Hi Gra,
Lionel reviewed “The Houngan” in this month’s Blues in Britain and gave it 9/10, which as those of you who know Li’s reviews, is as good as it gets. He’s never given 10/10 in all the years he’s been reviewing cds. Perhaps Li could be persuaded to publish the review on this site

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Grahame

January 3rd, 2009 at 10:19
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Thanks Pete – Jonny Spencer was going to send a copy to http://www.bluesinthenorthwest.com for review, so maybe best to hold fire!