Blues Women: Soul Sisters, Blues Ladies, Gospel Queens and their new CDs — Blues Brother Winfried Dulisch discovers his female side.
In 1996, researchers in a working group on language and lexicography at the University of Essen came to the following verdict: “Blues is a sorrowful form of folk music stemming from North Americans of African origin.”—What is that all about? Blues is sorrowful? What led these linguists and lexicographers to this strange verdict in 1996? One excuse they might use is there was no Blues Caravan at the time. Every spring, it starts in Thuringia and winds its way through the rest of Germany, moving on to other European countries and then the USA in late summer. Since 2005, record producer Thomas Ruf has been putting the caravan together from the pool of artists on his Ruf Records label. And there’s definitely nothing sorrowful about these talented young blues performers! In the past, the Blues Caravan seemed to be predominantly made up of young female artists in mini skirts playing electric guitars. But, in 2016, it’s headed up by three established “Blues Sisters”. After this tour, US singer Tasha Taylor will probably never have to repeat her well-practiced phrase: “Yes, I’m the daughter of Memphis soul trailblazer Johnnie Taylor.” The other “sisters” in this year’s R&B revue are the Canadian blues rock performer Layla Zoe and jazz vocalist Ina Forsman from Finland.
Various artists: Blues Harp Women – Label: Ruf/in-akustik – Format: 2 CDs
Female fans frequently tell Thomas Ruf that his “sisters” concept is pandering to a male, chauvinist public. Ruf Records is able to refute this accusation with its double CD Blues Harp Women. Among the 31 female blues harmonica players are well-known singers like Big Mama Thornton, who only use the “Mississippi saxophone” as a side show, but also real harp wizards as well. There’s no anthology this diverse that showcases male harmonica players. Although few of these female harp artists really make an impression, some of the accompanying guitarists are a joy to hear.
Various artists: Feline Groovy — Purrfect Tracks For Kool Kats – Label: Ace/Soulfood – Format: 2 CDs
Ace Records continues to surprise its customers, and predominantly blues and soul fans, with neat compilations of familiar and as yet unpublished recordings. Practically every employee of the London label has already put an oldies CD together. Ace’s bestseller Feline Groovy—Purrfect Tracks For Kool Kats was compiled by in-house designer Vicki Fox. The cat lover searched through her record collection looking for blues, country and jazz tracks dedicated to felines. . :: Because Vicki Fox’s Feline Groovy was such a pleasant and easy-onthe-ear compilation, Ace boss Roger asked her to put together another CD. So she turned her attention to the topic of trains. Her compilation entitled All Aboard! Train Tracks Calling At All Musical Stations reveals the impact the rhythm of steam trains had on the development of blues and boogie—and eventually rock ’n’ roll, of course. Vicki Fox’s CD is also impressive proof that an oldies collection can be so much more than a repackaging of tired hits.
Various artists: Groovin’ The Blues – Label: Bear Family – Format: CD
The compilation entitled Groovin’ The Blues rehabilitates the blues singers from Groove Records, the sub-label of the white RCA giant that targeted mainly African American record buyers. The Bear Family CD contains a broad repertoire of tracks from folk blues to boogie woogie piano to soulful ballads. But it was worth searching through the Groove archives for track 10 alone: blues crooner Little Tommy Brown gives such an emotional rendering of “Don’t Leave Me, Baby” that his flame probably went back to him immediately after hearing it.
Various artists: All Aboard! Train Tracks Calling At All Musical Stations – Label: Ace/Soulfood – Format: CD
Various artists: Rockin’ The Groove – Label: Bear Family – Format: CD
In commercial terms, however, the Groove artists didn’t stand a chance against their white RCA rival Elvis Presley—by 1957 the groove was over. Bear Family founder Richard Weize and his team also compiled the Rockin’ The Groove CD. The 35 tracks make it apparent, almost 60 years down the line, what a loss the deactivation of the Groove label was for white rock-’n’-roll fans as well.
“Don’t lose this”, said Gospel singer Pops Staples (1915–2000) to his daughter Mavis just before he died, and gave her ten demo tapes. In 2014, Marvis Staples got together with Jeff Tweedy, the singer of the alternative country band Wilco, to complete the song fragments. Her father was as important to gospel pop and soul music as Muddy Waters was to rhythm ’n’ blues. Pop Staples was an icon for black and white Americans, both as band leader of the Staple Singers and as a civil rights campaigner.
Pops Staples: Don’t Lose This – Label: Epit/Anti – Format: CD
Mavis Staples: Livin’ on a High Note – Label: Anti/Indigo – Format: CD
Livin’ on a High Note enables Mavis Staples to move effortlessly from blues to gospel and from Americana to trash pop. She is still able to exude more euphoria and holy wrath than a lot of blues and soul singers half her age—not content to simply rest on her well-earned laurels as a gospel queen or wise old protest singer. Instead, Mavis Staples persuaded post-punk poet Nick Cave to write her a personal prayer for this compilation. Elsewhere on the CD, she has the temerity to quote from her assassinated friend Martin Luther King. Guitarist Matt Ward brings a touch of musical provocation with a resounding country sound. In his role as producer, Ward deliberately employs low fidelity to artificially age the singer’s voice. At least the listeners to this CD should therefore be aware that Marvis Staples is an amazing 76 years old.
Bonnie Raitt: Dig In Deep – Label: Redwing/ADA – Format: CD
The white blues guitarist and singer Bonnie Raitt has finally wised up to how she can cut herself a slice of the giant pop-rock cake. But she has paid a high price for it. Although her 20th studio album has the promising title Dig In Deep, it remains superficial with regard to the sound. Being mixed for a car stereo clientèle with dynamically constrained listening habits, this is no real surprise.
Fiona Boyes takes no prisoners. U.S. music journalists have nicknamed her “Bonnie Raitt’s evil twin”. But, as she proves in every track on Box & Dice, this is still a pretty weak comparison. What she conjures up on an electric cigar box with Fender neck sounds bolder and coarser than Keith Richards. Thanks to the excellent quality of the recording, she also proves that a voice can be smoky and elegant at the same time. Fiona Boyes has everything it takes to become a “grande dame” of white R&B.