Guitarist/bandleader Lurrie Bell was touted very early in his career as a leader among the next generation of Chicago blues greats. Now he’s an established star, and his newest release celebrates the idiom’s cornerstone styles without being restricted by them. Bell’s rich, rousing voice is appropriately somber on “24 Hour Blues,” a fine shuffle tune that pays homage to his mentor Magic Sam. It was recorded on the day he died. But he expresses joy (“I Feel So Good”), regret (“Going Away Baby”), or defiance and perseverance (“Blues Never Die”) with equal flair. Bell heads an outstanding combo that includes pianist/keyboardist Roosevelt Purifoy, bassist Melvin Smith and drummer Willie Hayes, plus a sterling horn section on two cuts (“South Side to Riverside” and “Hey Hey Baby.”) His playing is tasteful, fluid and disciplined, but usually resonates in the background as mellow accompaniment to his soulful vocals. The guitar takes the spotlight on “The Blues in My Soul,” with sizzling lines nicely executed atop a strong arrangement blending blues and funk. This is contemporary material in the best sense, timeless messages coupled with state-of-the-art playing and production.
Art Hodes: “I Remember Bessie” (Delmark)
Pianist Art Hodes’ sensitivity and rhythmic mastery are consistently displayed on this set of vintage blues, jazz, rags and early pop tunes initially recorded in 1976. His melodic interpretations often dazzle, even on overly familiar pieces such as “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” or “St. Louis Blues.” He can be aggressive or tender, and frequently injects humorous refrains or asides that punctuate such numbers as “Back Water Blues,” “Yellow Dog Blues” and “Cake Walkin’ Babies From Home.” There’s also a bonus, five splendid previously unissued cuts, among them the superb “After You’ve Gone,” delightful “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You,” and pithy commentary included on the snippet “Mayor Calling.” Hodes did many exceptional things throughout his career, among them being both an outstanding jazz DJ and magazine publisher. Still, “I Remember Bessie” puts the accent back on his greatest skill, blues and jazz piano.
Little G. Weevil: “Moving” (Apic/Vizztone)
He often sounds like a grizzled veteran of the Mississippi Delta, but Little G. Weevil’s origins are Hungarian. He started on electric guitar, but subsequently made the switch to acoustic, and has since made such a splash he was selected both Best Solo Vocalist and Best Guitarist at this year’s International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Whether playing a Dobro Resonator or Epiphone Acoustic, Weevil’s solos and accompaniment have an edge and urgency that’s searing and fresh. He also mostly avoids covers, penning his own 21st-century numbers both short (“Let Someone Else Do All The Work,” “Advice,” “No Man in My Bed”) and expansive (“On My Way To Memphis,” “Mean and Dirty”). Weevil’s band provides lean, fierce backgrounds, with bassist Dustin Sergant and drummer Adam Goodhue fueling the grooves, and special guest Danny V Vinson adding solo guitar for two numbers and rhythm guitar on a third. Little G. Weevil never imitates blues elders, but his style and sensibility is a powerful reminder of the special qualities inherent in first-rate acoustic and Delta fare.
George Thorogood And The Destroyers: “Move It On Over” (both Rounder)
George Thorogood and the Destroyers’ first two albums attracted fans in multiple camps. There were hard-driving blues tunes, dynamic rock & roll numbers, explosive country pieces, and even an occasional original gem like “Delaware Slide” or “Homesick Boy.” But the key attribute that emerges revisiting these reissues decades later was the band’s ability to make every tune they adapted from Hank Williams (“Move It On Over”) and Johnny Cash (“Cocaine Blues”) to Bo Diddley (“Who Do You Love”), Chuck Berry (“It Wasn’t Me”) and Elmore James (“Madison Blues,” “The Sky Is Crying”) seem their own. Thorogood’s nonstop playing and singing intensity was ably augmented by bassist Billy Blough and drummer Jeff Simon, with periodic contributions from second guitarist Ron Smith. Thorogood and the Destroyers might not have written many songs, but whatever they did, it never sounded generic. These two discs and 20 selections transformed Thorogood and the Destroyers from underground sensations to mainstream fixtures, and it’s a joy and pleasure to hear them again.