Album of the Year
John Long Stand Your Ground
(Delta Groove Music)
Congratulations to John Long and Delta Groove Music for standing their ground with this great release. Stand Your Ground represents what Delta Groove Music is calling uncompromising blues with no apologies. Springfield, Missouri, based John Long calls it, “... prime music, the stuff without all the shellac and veneer on it.” This album has substance and depth. It rewards the listener with something new and special every time they take the time and trouble to give it another listen. John Long is a true bluesman down to his bones and in my view a national treasure.
Acoustic Blues Album of the Year
John Long Stand Your Ground
(Delta Groove Music)
This was obviously a no brainer, but gives me a chance to thank Delta Groove Music for putting material like this out when everyone is running away from the blues or trying to redefine it to appeal to changing popular tastes. John Long’s Stand Your Ground proves how fresh and vital this music can be and still be played in a traditional context. Thanks also to bassist Big Bill Stuve, pianist Fred Kaplan and the master of the brushes, drummer Washington Rucker. Their contributions to this master work were indispensable.
Soul-Blues Album of the Year
Raphael Wressnig & Igor Prado The Soul Connection
(Chico Blues Music)
This category gets tougher and tougher each year as so many contemporary artists are mining this style of blues and doing it so well. For instance, The James Hunter Six put out an album earlier in 2016 entitled Hold On! that is nothing short of spectacular. I really didn’t think anyone could supplant that effort, but Raphael and Igor did just that. On the strength of some fabulous musicianship and some fantastic vocalists, including the one and only Wee Willie Walker, they take top honors in this category. Not a first by Igor, Rodrigo Mantovani and Yuri Prado who make up the core Igor Prado Band. They received top honors in this category back in 2013 for their 2012 album entitled Blues & Soul Sessions also out on the Chico Blues label.
Best Instrumental Album of the Year
Thom and the Tone Masters Rhythm Shot
There were some terrific instrumental albums released last year but Rhythm Shot by Thom and the Tone Masters stands out as the very best of the best. This is, for Hirsch, of The Blues Eaters fame, with whom he recorded four albums, his first project outside that group. It has some great covers which include a couple of Mickey Baker numbers, tunes by Earl Hooker and Pee Wee Crayton and even a Nick Curran favorite, Stompin’ at the Fort. The band even visits the world of Ellingtonia for an exciting rendition of Things Ain’t What They Used To Be. These go along with some Hirsch originals. Congratulations go out to Thom Hirsch and his great band.
Live Album of the Year
Wee Willie Walker and the Greaseland All-Stars Live at the Notodden Blues Festival (Little Village Foundation)
This wasn’t that tough of a choice. Walker who is also recognized in this feature for his contributions to the Raphael Wressnig/Igor Prado project is having a career renaissance like few ever experience. Whoever said there is no second act in life has never followed the career of the great Willie Walker. This album features Kid Anderson’s tribe of bay area blues pros including keyboard ace Jim Pugh, who also is the mayor of the Little Village. They are augmented by a killer horn section from Norway. If you were forced to live with just one Willie Walker album this is it. It’s that good.
Best Roots-Americana Album of the Year
This whole “Roots-Americana” colloquialism has become such a ubiquitous part of our nomenclature, few of us stop to think of what we are saying here. Blues is at the root of all American music, you can’t get any more American or roots oriented than that. I am using this category to delineate recordings that are not strictly blues recordings. Maybe this category should be: “Very Cool, Eclectic, Blues Based Albums that I Really Dig” That may be a little wordy, how about “Wonderfully Hard to Categorize Albums of 2016?”
With that said and without further ado I present to you the winner of this category.
Konstantin Kolesnichenko Hypnotized!
This is the third album from this extremely talented Ukrainian harmonica player. This all instrumental affair has what Kolesnichenko describes as having that elusive, sentimental feeling. This entire CD lives in that wonderful place where jazz and blues gets all mixed up. This was recorded back in August of 2016 and will remind listeners of those wonderful Prestige and Blue Note albums from the late 50’s and early 60’s. Guitarist Paul Seedorenko and organist Mikhail Lyshenko make wonderful contributions to this intoxicating album. Picture listening to Grant Green, Lou Donaldson, Bill Jennings or Jack McDuff with a diatonic harp and you get the picture. This is tasty stuff to be sure. Konstantin was featured in the December 2016 edition of BLUES JUNCTION.
Best New Artist Debut Album of the Year
J Beyer Time of Gathering
This album is easily the surprise of the year. It is not only Beyer’s first album under his own name it is the first album ever on which he has appeared. The entire affair sounds like something that could have been recorded by the hippest, most soulful cats on the planet circa 1960 at Rudy Van Gelder’s famous studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, for the Blue Note or Verve labels. This was actually recorded by the most soulful, hippest cats on the planet in 2016 at the famous Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California. Guitarist Jed Beyer along with Jim Pugh on piano and organ, guitarist Rusty Zinn, bassist Kedar Roy and drummer June Core lead the charge through some very bluesy/jazz material or jazzy/blues if you prefer. Chris Cain is also on board playing both piano and saxophone...who knew? It is simply a terrific album. (I encourage our readers to visit the archive section of our site and read a complete album review followed by a discussion with Jed Beyer.)
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