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Blues - Released October 8, 2021 | Alligator Records

Four years after the gorgeously crafted, self-produced Moon Goes Missing, Texas guitarist, singer, and songwriter Carolyn Wonderland released her Alligator debut, Tempting Fate in 2021. In the interim, she spent three years as John Mayall's lead guitarist in the Bluesbreakers (she was the first woman to hold that post). Tempting Fate was produced by Dave Alvin (who plays guitar on three songs), and Wonderland is accompanied by her road band -- bassist Bobby Perkins and drummer Kevin Lance -- and guests including pianist/organist Red Young, Cindy Cashdollar on lap steel, backing vocalist Shelley King, and accordionist Jan Fleming, with Marcia Ball and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Tempting Fate features six originals and four covers and is less polished than its predecessor. Opener "Fragile Peace and Certain War" offers her trademark deep blue, rocking slide licks as her voice, guitar, and Lance's kick drum roil before Perkins' one-two bass bump sets it choogling. "Texas Girls and Her Boots" is a roadhouse boogie with Ball's piano driving the band. In excellent voice, Wonderland delivers her cleverly penned lyrics with sly joy as her guitar break bites atop Alvin's rhythm playing. "Broken Hearted Blues" features a swelling B-3; it's angry, sad, and determined. The guitar fills and solos snarl and churn against the beat and her passionate singing straddles the line between a roar and a croon. The band delivers a smoking read of Mayall's "The Laws Must Change." Rather than follow the original's harmonica-driven acoustic chart, Wonderland engages pure electricity with biting six-string riffs, organ, breakbeat snares, and a funky bassline. Her solo burns into the progression and elevates the groove. The reading of Billy Joe Shaver's "Honey Bee" weds West Texas honky tonk to Cajun zydeco with wiry leads, fills, filthy accordion, clattering snares, and tom-toms. Wonderland's singing is expressive, romantic, and sensual. She turns the record on its head with "On My Feet Again," a slinky jazz-blues that showcases sophisticated vocal phrasing and elegant, canny Lonnie Johnson-esque guitar fills and chord voicings. Two covers close out the set. The first is a silvery, loose, backporch version of Bob Dylan's "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" in duet with Gilmore. The pair's voices blend seamlessly with the tune's blues root placed front and center. Alvin plays lead guitar on Wonderland's reading of Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter's "Loser." A sinister folk blues at heart, the grain of Wonderland's mournful voice weds blues and gospel. Alvin adds effects-laden psychedelic leads, ratcheting up the intensity until it explodes in an orgy of distorted guitars, cracking drums, and swelling keyboards. On Tempting Fate, Wonderland's originals stack up nicely against her cover choices, but it's her astonishing playing and soulful, sophisticated singing that place this record above all others in her catalog. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Blues - Released September 17, 2021 | Alligator Records

West Coast blues-rocker Tommy Castro has released 16 albums on several labels, played 150 to 200 dates a year for a loyal and ever-growing audience, and won awards and respect from his peers. He has remained a vital musician, pushing his music ever forward. Castro & the Painkillers' A Bluesman Came to Town, produced by Tom Hambridge, is arguably the first blues concept album. It's about a farm boy who discovers the blues, learns to play guitar, and hits the road. One needn't follow the story to enjoy it. A remarkably diverse set, its 13 original songs careen across roadhouse, Chicago, and modern electric blues, roots rock, soul, and even funk. "Somewhere" is a swampy, wrangling slide guitar blues with wailing harmonica by guest Jimmy Hall. The first-person lyrics highlight the protagonist's desire to escape his dull rural life. The title track offers a soaring vocal and swirling leads in a story about the beginnings of an itinerant wanderer offering experiential advice against meeting the Devil at the crossroads. Oakland blues queen Terrie Odabi duets with Castro on "Child Don't Go," a rocking gospel-blues that's as much Saturday night as it is Sunday morning. "You to Hold on To" was inspired by the Stax Otis Redding-Steve Cropper fakebook. It showcases Castro's resonant emotional power as a singer. The Wurlitzer piano, organ, and entwining guitars buoy and frame his protagonist's pleading lyric. The sleek, funky "Hustle" reflects James Brown's influence, with a mantra-like vamp from fingerpopping staccato horns, wah-wah guitar, and an octave-drop bassline. "Blues Prisoner" offers a lowdown steamy drama worthy of Albert King in a 12-bar blues played in 3/4 time. It contrasts Castro's testifying, confessional vocal, Kevin McKendree's cautionary upright piano, and mean single-string guitar fills in a dark, unruly blues storm. On "I Caught a Break," Castro's raspy, punchy delivery recalls Delbert McClinton's in a Chuck Berry-esque stomp, whereas "Women Drugs and Alcohol" is a tale of vice, pleasure, and pain in the dialect of barnstorming blues-rock. The atmospheric guitar intro to "Draw the Line" gives way to a midtempo, minor-key Chicago-style shuffle driven by Wurlitzer electric piano, reverbed tom-toms, and Castro's razor-sharp leads. His road-weary voice confesses the protagonist's wandering, losses, and soul-defeating compromises. "I Want to Go Back Home" is a return to soul as Castro's croon evokes the rough sweetness of Redding, as well as the roadhouse desperation of Southside Johnny. It features gorgeous alto sax playing from guest Deanna Bogart. "Bring It on Back" delivers a lyric about a soul-quaking epiphany amid nasty, distorted, slide-saturated blues-rock; it sets up a stripped-down reprise of "Somewhere" with just acoustic slide and muffled drum kit. All told, A Bluesman Came to Town is a towering achievement for Castro. Through the roots and blues vocabulary, excellent songwriting, musical imagination, and inspired performances, he offers an unflinching, behind-the-scenes look at the joys, perils, and defeats in a traveling musician's life. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Blues - Released August 9, 2021 | Alligator Records

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662

Blues - Released July 23, 2021 | Alligator Records

662 is a quintessential second album from a hot young gun: it's a record that consolidates the personality Christone "Kingfish" Ingram unveiled on his debut while also expanding his musical and lyrical reach. These broadening horizons also means that 662 doesn't quite pack a wallop the way that Kingfish did. Part of the pleasure of that 2019 debut was hearing a twenty-year-old Ingram play with the force and style of a twenty-year veteran and, by definition, its 2021 sequel would lack that sense of surprise; introductions only happen once. Ingram's muscular guitar and vocals are known quantities and it's good to hear him add some funk and rock to his blues, not to mention the slight modern R&B air he lends to the ballad "Another Life Goes By" or the smooth groove that fuels "You're Already Gone." None of the new sounds push him outside of his wheelhouse but they add some color and dimension to his straight-ahead blues. This musical deepening carries Ingram through his a tendency to be too on the nose with his lyrics, a penchant that hardly derails 662. Maybe he hits the nail directly on the head when singing about his youth or hard times yet there's an appealing earnestness to his vocal delivery and a might to his guitar solos that helps 662 seem vibrant even on material that sounds familiar. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Blues - Released June 18, 2021 | Alligator Records

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Blues - Released June 3, 2021 | Alligator Records

Hound Dog Taylor's second album was every bit as wild as the first, bringing with it a fatter sound and a wider range of emotions and music. A recut here of Taylor's first single, "Take Five," totally burns the original while the smoldering intensity of "See Me in the Evening" and "Sadie" take this album to places the first one never reached. © Cub Koda /TiVo
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Blues - Released April 9, 2021 | Alligator Records

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Blues - Released February 26, 2021 | Alligator Records

In a career spanning four decades, singer/songwriter and harmonicist Curtis Salgado has explored many different dimensions in the American roots music mosaic. Though considered a blues singer, Salgado draws few distinctions between blues, soul, R&B, and roots rock; they all merge in the resonant grain of his honeyed, gritty baritone voice. Damage Control follows Rough Cut, the singer's very satisfying 2019 deep blues duo outing with guitarist Alan Hager. Cut with three bands in three different studios, Salgado worked in Nashville, Studio City, and San Jose, California with players recruited from the bands of Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Charlie Musselwhite, and more. Damage Control hosts 12 originals and a cover of Larry Williams' R&B classic "Slow Down," famously covered by the Beatles as the B-side to "Dizzy Miss Lizzie" in 1964. Opener "The Longer That I Live" is a strolling R&B barn burner with an affirmative and poignant lyric, given the health challenges Salgado has faced: three separate bouts of cancer and a quadruple bypass. The strolling guitars and shuffling B-3 underscore his soulful testimony, delivered with his warm, requisite humor balanced by steely determination. Ultimately, it's an anthem of gratitude for the time he's been given and a refusal to surrender breathing before it's time. Many would argue, and not incorrectly, that Salgado is at his best when singing about the trials and travails of romance. "What Did Me In, Did Me Well" adds heft to that argument. A simmering R&B tune with a bumping bassline and choogling organ, Salgado delivers an unflinching portrait of romantic love's redemptive power, complete with a fine Stevie Wonder-esque harmonica solo. A pumping piano leads the boogie on "You're Going to Miss My Sorry Ass," a humorous tune about two generations of brazen, unrepentant criminals. "Count of Three" channels the early rock glory days of Fats Domino, the Big Bopper, and Huey "Piano" Smith. A swinging three-piece horn section joins the band for "Hail Mighty Caesar," which is drenched in steamy, strutting New Orleans R&B. Salgado's voice revels in the irony contained in his sly lyric. "I Don't Do That No More" is a steely-eyed yet wry paean to the joys of recovery set to a biting Chuck Berry/Johnnie Johnson riff, while the title track is a midtempo blues stroll with glorious jazz guitar fills. Cajun accordion hero Wayne Toups joins Salgado on "Truth Be Told." It weds the vocal harmonies of the Everly Brothers to Clifton Chenier's back-of-the-bayou zydeco groove. The riotous cover of Williams' "Slow Down" brings the horn section back to close the set out with a roots rock/vintage R&B rave-up. Though he's never released a substandard album, Salgado has been on a roll since issuing his Alligator debut Soul Shot in 2012. Damage Control, from the rock & roll side of the R&B tracks, stands alongside it as a career high point. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Blues - Released January 29, 2021 | Alligator Records

Since beginning his tenure with Alligator Records on 2014's fine Don't Call No Ambulance, Florida bluesman Selwyn Birchwood has shown a restless spirit. That set established him as a top-shelf guitar and lap steel wrangler. 2017's Pick Your Poison underscored those qualities in reflections of Hill Country, raw roadhouse, and Chicago blues, tempered by gritty R&B. On Living in a Burning House, Birchwood assembles all that and more with enormous growth as a singer, songwriter, and arranger on these 13 original songs. And, yes, he still plays a hell of a lot of guitar and lap steel. He is accompanied by Regi Oliver on reeds and woodwinds, bassist Donald Wright, keyboardist Walter "Bunt" May, and recent drummer Philip Walker. Living in a Burning House has a big, ferocious sound thanks to Tom Hambridge's production and mix; it's in your face and exquisitely detailed. The horn and organ intro on "I'd Climb Mountains" recalls a Stax revue, before Birchwood leads the band in a cut-time blues shuffle. Oliver's multi-tracked horns help punch up a massive, greasy groove that recalls an early Elvin Bishop date. Fans of Birchwood's lap steel playing will dig "I Got Drunk, Laid and Stoned," a scorching barroom anthem with nasty slide and honking, baritone sax from Oliver. A knotty horn breakdown -- à la '70s Stevie Wonder -- introduces the poignant title-track single. It gives way to a steamy, roiling reggae vamp propelled by Wright's bass line and May's keys. It's snatched back under the funky blues umbrella in Birchwood's guitar playing. His voice and phrasing bridge the otherworldly span between Gil Scott-Heron and Lou Rawls. "You Can't Steal My Shine" is a strolling rave-up, soul blues with a killer vocal from Birchwood. "Revelation" expansively combines Chicago and Delta blues with carnal gospel, and it's anchored by a simple, dirty, throbbing, two-note bass vamp. Birchwood delivers a knotty, ladder-climbing guitar break that sounds like it was played with a rusty nail. The interplay between horns, keys, and drums on "Searching for My Tribe" is torn wide open by Birchwood's biting, distorted guitar, as he testifies to the core about the relentless search for belonging. "She's a Dime" is swaggering, good-time soul-blues that swings hard in a hip little tribute to Holland-Dozier-Holland's "How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You." It's followed by "One More Time," showcasing the glorious interplay between Oliver's baritone and Birchwood's lyrical six-string. His solo bleeds emotion. "Freaks Come Out at Night" is a rancorous dirty blues that weds R.L. Burnside's electric choogle to Howlin' Wolf's evil moan, and a burning boogie John Lee Hooker would bless -- complete with wicked slide work. On Living in a Burning House, Birchwood erases arbitrary boundaries between blues- and R&B-based genres. He openly draws from history but situates his original music expansively in the here and now; his many stylistic referents combine in new ways to offer a stubbornly holistic, emotionally resonant, and visionary approach. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Blues - Released November 13, 2020 | Alligator Records

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Blues - Released October 23, 2020 | Alligator Records

Given the vitally important place the blues holds in the history of black culture, it's surprising (and perhaps a bit disappointing) that so many contemporary blues artists don't deal with more political and social issues in their songs. But Shemekia Copeland is not one of those performers, and her 2020 album, Uncivil War, finds her singing about America's racial and cultural divide with heart, soul, and compassion. Copeland isn't carrying a placard for any particular party on Uncivil War, but she isn't shy about speaking her mind about economic inequality ("Money Makes You Ugly"), the casual racism of urban life ("Walk Before I Ride"), America's obsession with firearms ("Apple Pie and a .45"), prejudice in its many forms ("Give God the Blues"), and the growing failure of opposite sides to simply listen to one another (the title cut), while "Clotilda’s on Fire" offers a valuable history lesson about the last slave ship to reach the United States. Not everything on Uncivil War carries a message, but Copeland sings with strength and clarity on every track, and she can wail with churchy fervor or sound sly and slinky at will. Uncivil War delivers music strong enough to support Copeland's vocal fervor; guitarist Will Kimbrough produced the album, and he's given the material a tough, no-frills sound with just the right amount of grit, as well as bringing in some first-rate guest stars including Jason Isbell, Duane Eddy, and Webb Wilder, as well as bluegrass heroes Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas for the acoustic title tune. Copeland sings hard on Uncivil War, but with a sense of control and a fearless desire to be heard, and she never overdoes it even at her most urgent -- her force is all the more effective for its precision. And somewhere, the late Dr. John is tipping his hat to Copeland for her witty and sincere tribute "Dirty Saint." Shemekia Copeland is one of the best singers in contemporary blues, not just for her voice but for her courage to use it to say something about American culture, and Uncivil War shows good times and a social conscience can co-exist on the same LP. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Blues - Released October 5, 2020 | Alligator Records

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Blues - Released September 25, 2020 | Alligator Records

The 100 Years of Blues of the title refers to the combined service of Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite, a fact that's fudged just a little. Bishop and Musselwhite both started playing blues in the early 1960s, which would give them well over 100 years of music when added together, but 120 Years of Blues doesn't quite have the same ring as 100 Years of Blues. All that time can be felt in the bones of this 2020 album, one that has its origins in Bishop's 2017 Big Fun Trio album. The pair felt a spark, so they decided to head on the road in 2019 supported by nothing more than pianist/guitarist Bob Welsh, a tour that spilled into the studio for 2020's 100 Years of Blues. The three musicians are occasionally accompanied by Kid Andersen here, but he, along with Welsh, feel like tasteful accents to Bishop's growling guitar and Musselwhite's lonesome harp. Given this title, it's no surprise that the duo don't broaden their vistas outside of the blues, but their earthy chemistry gives this record a considerable kick. The pair also make the wise decision to nod at the modern world, acting like cheerful cranks on "Old School" and offering a pointed political barb on "What the Hell?," where Bishop sings "He is the president but wants to be the king/You know what I like about the guy? Not a goddamn thing." These moments add some levity to 100 Years of Blues, but the whole affair is a really good time, a record where its casual nature carries some weight, since it's a profound joy to hear two heavyweights relax into a deep groove. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Blues - Released August 21, 2020 | Alligator Records

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Blues - Released August 21, 2020 | Alligator Records

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Blues - Released August 21, 2020 | Alligator Records

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Blues - Released August 21, 2020 | Alligator Records

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Blues - Released August 21, 2020 | Alligator Records

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Blues - Released July 24, 2020 | Alligator Records

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Blues - Released June 19, 2020 | Alligator Records