Bound By The Blues
Welcome back, Sonny Landreth.
We've missed you.
Actually, the Mississippi-born, Louisiana-raised slide guitarist supreme has not really been gone.
But his latest album -- Bound By The Blues -- is a welcome return to form for the mighty Landreth, who's previous album, 2012's Elemental Journey, was marked with something of a jazzy/classical approach.
While it was certainly enjoyable to hear the virtuosic Landreth step outside his normal operating zone for a spell, it sure is comforting to hear him once again pin his ears back and just wail on the blues.
Although the world at large really doesn't need any new versions of old warhorses like Robert Johnson's "Walking Blues" or "Dust My Broom," in Landreth's hands, those over-recorded songs sound virtually brand-new and are one heck of a compelling listen.
Still, the real attraction for Bound By The Blues -- besides the jaw-dropping guitar playing -- are Landreth originals such as the title track and "The High Side."
As many accolades as he rightfully gets for his six-string prowess, Landreth is also a highly-underrated vocalist and when you combine the two, the end result is an album that's sure to find a spot among the best-of-the-best for 2015.
Ray Wylie Hubbard
The Ruffian's Misfortune
If there were a perfect blend between western cowboy, delta bluesman, east coast folkie and west coast rocker, it would probably have to be the irrepressible Ray Wylie Hubbard.
Hubbard has been relentlessly working to concoct just such a mixture since the early 1970s and he may just have hit his zenith with The Ruffian's Misfortune.
This album would be as at home on a float down the river as it would be played live at Carnegie Hall.
His plaintive, half-spoken, half-sung drawl may be an acquired taste for some, but Hubbard's songs are like mini-novels and offer in-depth character studies of their subjects -- himself included.
Heck, any album that name-checks tunes by The Rolling Stones and Howlin' Wolf ("Hey Mama, My Time Ain't Long) and boats tributes to both Jessie Mae Hemphill ("Jessie Mae") and Charlie Musselwhite ("Mr. Musselwhite's Blues") should be required listening for any enthusiast of 21st-century roots-related music.
Call it progressive country, call it rock-n-roll, call it the blues ... just call it good.
The Rolling Stones
Sticky Fingers -- Live
The Rolling Stones are not old ... they're just simply older.
As anyone who caught The Stones on their recent North American Zip Code Tour would probably attest to, the group of 70-somethings still have all the vim and vigor of bands way less than half their age.
And for those that didn't -- or couldn't afford to -- see Mick, Keith, Ron and Charlie live, we get Sticky Fingers -- Live.
Recorded in an intimate setting in Los Angeles on the eve of their just-completed tour, in a word, this album smokes.
Not just any live recording, this one captures The Stones playing their classic 1971 album -- Sticky Fingers -- in its entirety. The song sequence may differ from the studio version of Sticky Fingers, with "Brown Sugar" closing the disc instead of opening it, but you can't fault the band for not playing one of their most-popular tunes as the set-opener in 2015.
The only real bummer -- and it's a minor one -- is that guitarist Mick Taylor, who played on the studio album, wasn't invited to set in for a song or two.
When they cut their first album together back in 2001, Robert Randolph was probably the least-known among the members of the super group dubbed The Word.
This year, when they cut their second album together, Randolph may very well be the best-known of the super group that also features organist John Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood), guitarist Luther Dickinson, drummer Cody Dickinson and bass player Chris Chew (all of The North Mississippi Allstars).
Just as his pedal steel playing was a definite highlight of the group's self-titled debut some 14 years ago, Randolph is still the guiding force that propels Soul Food to stratospheric heights.
All the uplifting and inspirational gospel of album number one is in place on this long-awaited followup, but there are also liberal chunks of jazz and funk that were downplayed on the outfit's first album.
Another difference between the two -- where The Word was all-instrumental - Soul Food features guest vocals from the marvelous Ruthie Foster ("When I See The Blood") and Amy Helm ("Glory, Glory").