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Elite Half-Hundred

January 15, 2024

The Deep Roots Elite Half-Hundred, 2023

Raphaela Gromes: Her Femmes tops 2023’s Elite Half-Hundred


Hewing to custom at Deep Roots, our year-end best-of list only begins with the Albums of the Year selections. A publication covering a wide swath of roots music cannot limit its best-of selections to a mere handful, especially in a year producing such a wealth of meaningful music in classical, blues, blues-rock, bluegrass, gospel, and classic pop. We have a rarity in this year’s Elite Half-Hundred in one artist, Teresa James, nominally a blues vocalist, making the list twice, once for her engaging album of Beatles covers (With a Little Help From Her Friends), once for her adventurous Rose-Colored Glasses, a commanding foray into not only blues but also into soul, R&B, even saloon balladry. Gospel had a bountiful year, with Jonathan Butler’s Album of the Year selection for Ubuntu, and the Half-Hundred honoring eight other gospel releases including Ray Cureton’s Believer: The Last Shall Be the First, which could have easily been an Album of the Year and in fact is our gospel editor Bob Marovich’s #1 gospel pick for 2023 at his Journal of Gospel Music. It was most certainly a good year for veteran artists (witness our Albums of the Year selections featuring Jack Jones, Johnny Rawls, Sylvia Tyson, Brian Setzer, et al.), with the likes of Tracy Nelson, Jewel Brown, Dulcie Taylor, David Ian, Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia, Bob Margolin, Arlen Roth and Jerry Jemmott, Al Basile, Danny Liston, and Barbara Blue among the honorees, along with relative newcomers Samara Joy, Jake Ybarra, Christine Morris and Lindley Creek. And for the first time in our history, A.A. Milne made our pages, with selections of his children’s poetry presented on Enchanted Places: The Complete Fraser-Simpson Settings Of A.A. Milne, a most charming effort by baritone Grant Doyle and pianist John Kember. It was, in short, in the words of the Chairman of the Board, a very good year. –-David McGee


1. FEMMES, Raphaela Gromes (Sony Classical)— For years the star cellist and Opus Klassik laureate Raphaela Gromes has taken up the cause of women composers. Three of her albums, acclaimed by critics and listeners alike, have featured music by unknown women composers, and she maintains a long-term working relationship with the “Frau und Musik” Archive in Frankfurt. So it is only natural that her new double album, Femmes, should lend a voice to outstanding women from nine centuries of music history. No fewer than 23 female composers found their way onto the double album, from Hildegard of Bingen to Clara Schumann all the way to Lera Auerbach and Billie Eilish, not to mention such famous operatic figures as Susanna from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro or Bizet’s Carmen. Read the full review in Deep Roots.

Tre Momenti for Cello and String Orchestra: 1. Speranza, composed by Matilda Capuis, performed by Raphaela Gromes on Femmes. Julian Riem (piano/arrangements), Festival Strings Lucerne, Daniel Dodds (artistic director) (World Premiere recording)


2. LIVE IN LONDON, Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram (Alligator Records)– Despite his first album (Kingish) being Grammy nominated and his second (662) being Grammy winning, the word around Clarksdale, Mississippi, bluesman Christone “Kingfish” Ingram was “you gotta see him live.” This is hardly a reflection on the studio efforts being lacking in some fundamental way; far from it. In Tom Hambridge, as producer and songwriting collaborator, Kingfish had one of the best in the business in his corner. No, the rep has to do with capturing on disc the visceral force and assured versatility of Kingfish on stage, both as daring musician and powerful vocalist. Suffice it to say the record, so to speak, is now corrected with the release of Live in London, a dynamic double-disc offering designed to showcase the full range of Kingfish’s power, passion, sensitivity and creativity. Producer-engineer Zach Allen is at the board, doing an outstanding job of presenting all that’s special about 24-year-old Kingfish in concert at The Garage club in Islington, London.

‘Another Life Goes By,’ Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram, the official video. A live version is featured on Live in London.


3. BELIEVER, a.k.a., THE LAST SHALL BE THE FIRST, Ray Curenton (Imagination Fury Arts)– If you haven’t experienced the musicof Nashville, Tennessee, singer-songwriter Ray Curenton, you owe it to yourself to do so. Believer, Curenton’s third studio album, is his finest to date. It gave this listener the same eye-opening reaction that I had hearing for the first time J Moss’s V2 and Aaron Sledge’s Da Light, both released back in 2007. Expertly produced by Curenton and Brandon Adams with executive production that includes another excellent singer, Tim Dillinger, Believer is an earthen vessel of relatable lyrics, likable melodies, fresh and vibrant elements of hip hop, and an ever-shifting, never-derivative tone. … Curenton is a soul crooner with a flower-power heart and a spiritual soul. And a socially-conscious mind. On his Bandcamp page, Curenton describes himself as a Black liberationist and cultural worker. His earnest efforts are on display here. These are not songs you are likely to hear in church, but if you can get beyond that, you’ll find Believer to be marvelously fresh, uplifting and, Ray Curenton hopes, healing. Read the full review by Bob Marovich in Deep Roots.

‘Profit,’ Ray Curenton, from Believer, a.k.a., The Last Shall Be The First



  1. EYES CLOSED DREAMING, Steve Dawson (Black Hen Music)– In one of the more remarkable outbursts of roots music creativity, Steve Dawson’s captivating Eyes Close Dreaming is the third album he’s released in a year’s time, following Gone, Long Gone and Phantom Telescope. Apart from superb musicianship and stellar songwriting, the three albums have in common the fact of being pandemic products all. That is, all parts were recorded remotely by artists in Nashville, Toronto, Vancouver and Los Angeles and produced by Dawson, a Canadian now residing in Nashville. To say the finished works are seamless productions says something about advanced studio technology and even more about producer Dawson’s mastery of same; it says much about the raw materials Dawson had at hand to assemble into a cohesive artistic statement, because a listener would be hard pressed to pinpoint this as anything other than a live-in-the-studio effort, so connected are the assembled artists to the vision Dawson projects in five original songs and seven varied covers (including a note-perfect, amiable vocal-and-Weissenborn guitar album ending performance of John Hartford’s “Let Him Go On Mama,” one of the late, great Hartford’s amiable, timeless portraits of a resolute riverboat captain luxuriating in the good old times—and old ways–in unapologetic fashion as he observes the times a-changin’ around him). Read the full review in Deep Roots.

‘Let Him Go On, Mama,’ written by John Hartford, performed by Steve Dawson (vocal and Weissenborn guitar) on Eyes Closed Dreaming



  1. EDGES OF SILVER, Dulcie Taylor (EP) (Mesa/Bluemoon Recordings)– The simple truth about Dulcie Taylor is that she is one of the finest Americana-style songwriters of her time. That she doesn’t have a lot of Americana machinery behind her doesn’t disqualify her from the pantheon. Her 2023 EP, Edges of Silver, in fact, only solidifies her standing, as its five songs are typically impeccably crafted and delivered from deep in the heart, and her musical support betrays a complete understanding of the content and context of her songs. This time around, Ms. Taylor is in a reflective mood, more so than in the past, squaring the old accounts with those with whom, as she sings in one of her most affecting new tunes, “we almost got it right.” No stranger to heavier sounds, Ms. Taylor opens her song cycle with the hard hitting “Backbeat in the Blood,” with producer George Nauful’s stinging guitar and Kristian Ducharme’s rumbling B3 leading the charge in a lively celebration of someone who’s followed a rhythm-bound life through the late 20th Century with name checks of Dr. Martin Luther King, the frug, the Civil Rights Movement, Marvin Gaye and Aretha along the way. Read the full review in Deep Roots.

‘We Almost Got It Right,” Dulcie Taylor, from Edges of Silver



  1. TEARDROPS FOR MAGIC SLIM, John Primer & The Teardrops

(Blues House Productions)– Primer fans will surely be whetting their chops at, and will have their enthusiasm justified by, the very concept of Teardrops for Magic Slim, an homage to Primer’s boss of 13 years that reunites him with the surviving Teardrops and adds Slim’s son, the impressive Shawn Holt, in a searing live set recorded at Rosa’s Lounge in sweet home Chicago. The uncredited liner notes mention a quickly sold-out show and an “eager and excited audience,” but those blessed souls’ reactions are fairly muted in the mix. Which is fine, because there’s still enough room ambience in the soundscape to capture the live feel, besides which Primer and company are hot enough on their own to carry the day—no need to have enthusiastic patrons impinging on, say, the ferocity of Primer’s six-string attack on the positively monstrous stomp fueling the take on Elmore James’s “It Hurts Me Too,” with Shawn Holt’s muscular, emotive vocal beautifully complementing Primer’s intensity. Read the full review in Deep Roots.

‘The Things I Used to Do,’ by Guitar Slim, John Primer & The Teardrops, from Teardrops for Magic Slim



  1. BLOOD BROTHERS, Mike Zito & Albert Castiglia (Gulf Coast Records)– An outgrowth of shows Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia did together last year, and a prelude to their barnstorming tour now underway, Blood Brothers is notable for being anything but virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake. Though the artists in question have built towering reputations as guitarists, both men are soulful, reflective writers who craft their messaging with care and clearly looked for their shared attributes in the outside material they explore here. Looking to let the good times roll? There’s enough of that going on within to energize the get-down crowd, and then some. Check out the duo’s fiery six-string set-to in Zito’s album opening burner, “Hey Sweet Mama”; another Zito original, the stomping “No Good Woman” (as in “no good woman needs a no good man…”) with its gritty Zito declaiming and wailing guitar solo; a grinding take on Tinsley Ellis’s “Tooth and Nail,” with Castiglia bringing extra oomph to the hard-as-nails workout with his determined reading of a lyric about reuniting with an old love who’s wandered off. (Ellis himself would qualify as a blood brother in this grouping.) … Al’s sole songwriting contribution is a real gem: a rippling, yearning blues lament in a southern soul style, “A Thousand Heartaches” brings out the best in him vocally, with his conversational approach overflowing with heartbreak as he digs deeper in surveying the wreckage a breakup has left behind and vows to take comfort in knowing “in the next life/there’ll be no more heartache,” Zito makes a memorable reflective statement of his own amidst the shifting textures of his Southern rock-styled ballad, “In My Soul,” wherein revelation surfaces. Whereas Al finds comfort in believing in a time when “there’ll be no more heartache,” Zito here pleads “Let my heart lead the way” in his Gregg Allman-like rumination on life and love written in the wake of Zito learning of his wife’s cancer diagnosis. An appeal for divine guidance, these words turn out to be the best advice for enjoying the depth of Blood Brothers in full. Read the full review in Deep Roots.

‘In My Soul,’ Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia (lead vocal: Mike Zito), from Blood Brothers



  1. KENTUCKY FOR ME, Dale Ann Bradley (Pinecastle Records)– Herein bluegrass icon Dale Ann Bradley leads a super session featuring marquee names joining her in songs paying heartfelt tribute to the roots of her raising in the Bluegrass State. A dazzling lineup of singers, songwriters and musicians rise to the challenge posed by Ms. Bradley’s high caliber vocalizing and make of My Kentucky Home an album to rival Michael Cleveland’s latest as the genre’s most powerful 2023 moment. Oh, and fiddler Cleveland makes two guest appearances here, adding keening fiddle to the loping, understated groove the all-star band—Alison Brown on banjo, Tony Wray on mandolin, Ethan Burkhardt on bass–establishes on the album opening “The Sun Is Going Shine” in support of emotion-laden vocals by Ms. Bradley and JP Pennington bringing assurances that hard times don’t last; and leading the tradition-drenched heartbreaker “One by One,” featuring Danny Paisley’s somber tenor merging in aching harmony with Bradley’s high lonesome cry. To call Kentucky for Me Dale Ann Bradley’s finest moment is to be argumentative, because there so many peak moments in her catalogue, but by any measure something very special is going on here on a record of which hit can fairly be said gets deeper with every listening. Read the full review here.

‘I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal’ (written by Billy Joe Shaver), Dale Ann Bradley and John Conlee, from Kentucky for Me



  1. BRUCH: VIOLIN CONCERTO NO. 1; FLORENCE PRICE: VIOLIN CONCERTOS, Randall Goosby/Yannick Nézet-Séguin/Philadelphia Orchestra (Decca)– Ascendant violinist Randall Goosby (who was recently featured in the soundtrack for the movie Chevalier) presents us with an excellent sophomore album. According to the liner notes, this live recording of the Concerti Nos. 1 and 2 of Florence Price and the Concerto No. 1 of Max Bruch marks the first time those of Price have been released by a major record label; it, however, is not the first time Yannick Nézet-Séguin and his Philadelphia Orchestra have recorded her music for a large audience. Their recording of her Symphonies 1 and 3 won the 2022 Best Orchestral Performance Grammy Award and Goosby’s performance has matched their prestigious standard. Goosby plays the familiar opening of the Bruch concerto with great virtuosity, but also with a pathos effortlessly shining through the notes on the page. A more-than-ample accompanying force, the Philadelphia Orchestra matches his vigor, and his sweetness, when it comes to it. A favorite section of mine-the fifth minute or so-practically has me head-banging, certainly air-conducting! Another moment that pulls at the heartstrings in that special way where you seem to be drawn in is around the fifth minute of the second movement. And who can fail to feel the energy of that swashbuckling finale and its frenetic ending? Read the full review by Quentin Neroes in Deep Roots.

Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major—I. Tempo moderator, composed by Florence Price performed by Randall Goosby, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin from Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1; Florence Price: Violin Concertos 



  1. THE LONG AND LONESOME LETTING GO, Jim Lauderdale & The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys (Sky Crunch) — For Jim Lauderdale, it’s another opportunity to extend his far-reaching legacy to a new generation. For the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, it’s a well-deserved badge of honor that further builds their bona fides. Together, on their new collaborative album, The Long and Lonesome Letting Go, they have crafted one of this year’s must-have bluegrass releases. Lauderdale’s alliance with Po’ Ramblin’ Boys marks another memorable union in his career, which has also included writing for George Strait, recording with Ralph Stanley, playing with Nick Lowe, singing with Dwight Yoakam, and working with Buddy Miller. It also is his first time recording with the legendary Del McCoury, who provides guest vocals on the album’s title track. The vibrant melody of “The Long and Lonely Letting Go,” highlighted by Laura Orshaw’s lively fiddle, makes a broken heart sound so inviting as Lauderdale and McCoury detail their lamentations. Read the full review by Matt Conner in No Depression.

‘Long and Lonesome Letting Go,’ Jim Lauderale and the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys with guest vocalist Del McCoury, from The Long and Lonesome Letting Go


  1. PARCHMAN PRISON PRAYER: SOME MISSISSIPPI SUNDAY MORNING, Various Artists (Glitterbeat)– After three years of wading through bureaucratic red tape and then only given a little more than one week’s notice to pack his gear and fly to Mississippi, Grammy Award-winning producer Ian Brennan at last had the permission he needed to spend a few hours recording the singing of inmates at the historically notorious Parchman State Prison. Like a modern-day Alan Lomax, Brennan arranged his recording apparatus and microphone, and invited inmates of the 122-year-old institution who ministered at the prison’s Sunday worship services to step forward and offer a song. Though initially reluctant, one by one they came forward, young and old (28 to 73 years of age), Black and white. Some sang more contemporary gospels, such as M. Kyles, who performed Tasha Cobbs Leonard’s breakout hit “Break Every Chain,” and L. Brown, who covered Hillsong United’s “Hosanna.” Several participants joined in as an anonymous singer/pianist sang a rendition of William McDowell’s “I Give Myself Away.” … Just as flowers grow through the cracks of concrete, so some light and life can be found in the most debilitating of environments. This may be the most haunting, the most refreshingly informal, and the most moving album you encounter this year. That was some Mississippi Sunday morning. Read the full review by Bob Marovich in Deep Roots.

‘If I Couldn’t Say One Word, I’ll Just Wave My Hand,’ popularized by Lee Williams and the Spiritual QCs, lead vocal here by L. Brown with unidentified backing group, as heard on Parchman Prison Prayer: Some Mississippi Sunday Morning



  1. WILD CHILD, Charlotte Morris ( Deeply personal, the 10-song collection shares vulnerable moments, lifelong hurts and hopeful reflections that will resonate with music lovers of multiple genres. Morris describes this outing as “genuine, raw and emotional music with a purpose.” The songs are powerful, the messages diverse –a magical mix that is the perfect culmination of concept, creation, and excellence of craft. From her parents’ divorce during her childhood to a friend’s sudden death, the hard life lessons keep coming. Morris’ insightful perspective and exquisite voice soften the blows and give the listener time to absorb the pain and take heart from the lesson. Spun from a classic Folk/Roots foundation and burnished with the drive of modern Country, Charlotte’s music embodies the storytelling of theatre as she lays it all on the line. WILD CHILD, her first album release since moving to Music City, is baked with all the insecurity, fear, curiosity, and joy that come with growing from a wild child into a wilder woman. Read the full review by Ryan Pike in

‘Breathe,’ Charlotte Morris, from Wild Child



  1. NARRATIVE: MUSIC BY WOMEN COMPOSERS FOR FLUTE AND PIANO, Virginia Broffitt Kunzer & Tammie Walker (MSR Classics)– Recent years have brought about a welcome discovery and/or rediscovery of formidable but long neglected female composers, Florence Price and Amy Beach being but two of the most prominent whose compositions have found avid followings in the classical world in the wake of fresh interpretations by young artists. The year 2023 alone yielded star cellist and Opus Klassik laureate Raphaela Gromes’s compelling Femmes, two discs’ worth of music by female composers representing more than nine centuries of music history (and a high ranking in the Deep Roots Elite Half-Hundred of 2023). Later in the year MSR Classics issued the sublime Narrative: Music by Women Composers for Flute and Piano, featuring Virginia Broffitt Kunzer on flute and Tammie Walker on piano. The 16 tracks—some with multiple parts—showcase the works of artists born between 1814 and 1970, with the most recognizable name among them arguably being Ms. Beach (1867-1944), who is represented by a beautiful rendering of her tender “Three Browning Songs, Op. 44,” arranged by Ms. Kunzer in an intriguing way in which her delicate flute solos highlight the cadences in Robert Browning’s poems, most affectingly in the yearning she evokes in both the somber and soaring parts of the third Browning song, “I send my heart up to thee,” as Walker shadows her on piano with expressive but tastefully subdued lyricism. Read the full review in Deep Roots.

‘Three Browning Songs: I. The year’s at the spring, composed by Amy Beach, performed by Virginia Broffitt Kunzer (flute) and Tammie Walker (piano), from Narrative



  1. A GOSPEJAZZICAL CHRISTMAS, John Paul McGee (Jazz Urbane)— In the first new recording we’ve heard from Dr. John Paul McGee, Ph.D., since his acclaimed 2022 release, Gospejazzical Vol. 1, the gifted pianist-songwriter-producer-vocal arranger (currently assistant chair of piano at the Berklee College of Music) offers his blend of gospel, jazz and classical—gospejazzical—in service to secular and sacred Christmas music, always with spectacular results. He proves himself a wonderful crooner in the “smoky gray” style of Nat King Cole with a tender, deliberate but bittersweet reading of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” wherein a lyric such as “all our troubles will be miles away” sounds more like wishful thinking than blessed reassurance, and those “faithful friends who are dear to us” don’t really seem so dear in the moment. Read the full review in Deep Roots.

‘Mary Did You Know,’ John Paul McGee, from A Gospejazzical Christmas



  1. CANVAS, Natalie Macmaster & Donnell Leahy (Linus Entertainment)— Natalie Macmaster, while certainly a traditionalist, has made a habit of stretching the Cape Breton stylistic boundaries, adding more pronounced Scottish flavors to her repertoire along with jazzy flourishes and even a smidgen of rock ‘n’ roll energy driving certain numbers. In planning her first full album with husband Donnell Leahy in almost seven years, Macmaster confessed, in her liner notes, to indulging “in full musical freedom, throwing patterns from the past aside.” Indeed, the couple’s arrangements of mostly original tunes, plus a couple of vintage chestnuts, push into other territories while remaining true to the music closest to the two fiddlers’ hearts. Case in point: “The Case of the Mysterious Squabbyquash,” a sizzling fiddle workout equal parts country hoedown and strathspey that soars into rock territory when co-producer Elmer Ferrer injects a wailing, texture altering, Bonamassa-like guitar solo into the proceedings. On the other hand, intense but tender moments surface, such as occurs on “So You Love,” wherein the twin fiddlers, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Mary Frances Leahy (their 17-year-old daughter) interlock on a beautiful, exotic melody betraying Gypsy Jazz sources. Read the full review in Deep Roots.

‘The Case of the Mysterious Squabbyquash,’ Natalie Macmaster and Donnell Leahy, guitar solo by Elmer Ferrer, from Canvas



  1. I COULD GET USED TO THIS, Tim Raybon Band (Pinecastle Records)– Tim Raybon’s music career began in the family band, The American Bluegrass Express, which also included his brother Marty. Both brothers were in the Raybon Brothers duo that received a nomination for the CMA Duo of the years. While Marty was part of the country band Shenandoah, Tim continued to write songs and played with Merle Monroe and his own Tim Raybon band. The band members are currently Andy Leftwich on mandolin and fiddle, Tim and Cody Kilby on guitar, Russ Carson on banjo, Gavin Larpent on dobro, and Tim on vocals. The band’s instrumentals frame Tim’s engaging songs and vocals. With nine of his own original songs on the album, it’s a treat to hear the songs sung by their composer. Tim has a mellow warm voice with a delivery that is heartfelt and sincere. The storytelling songs reflect loves lost and found and a sense of discovery and commentary about lifestyles in the country and city. Read the full review by Brenda Hough at the California Bluegrass Association website.

‘Headed Back to Tulsa,’ Tim Raybon Band, from I Could Get Used to This



  1. I DON’T LOOK LIKE WHAT I’VE BEEN THRU, Minister Kai Brown (Independent)– Musically, Brown’s new album, I Don’t Look Like What I’ve Been Thru, pulls liberally on his R&B experience, while the lyric content offers messages of praise and thanksgiving, encouragement, healing, salvation, and a heartrending testimony about his children’s health scares (“I Know A Healer”). I Don’t Look Like What I’ve Been Thru is also a family affair, with featured vocals and raps from various Browns, presumably parents, siblings, and children. Tracks like “Praiseworthy” and “God Has Been Good to Me,” the latter featuring a rap interlude from William Brown III, have an electronic smooth jazz underpinning. “God Is Not Pleased,” which spotlights Alyche’ and Alicia Brown, riffs on Matthew 18:6. The lovely and gentle “Yahwey” is an ideal praise team selection and, it turns out, the album’s finest moment. Read the full review by Bob Marovich in Deep Roots.

‘Heal Our Land,’ Minister Kai Brown, featuring Alicia Brown, Alice Brown and Alyche’ Brown from I Don’t Look Like What I’ve Been Thru



  1. LIFE DON’T MISS NOBODY, Tracy Nelson (BMG Records)– There are some artists a fellow just can’t wait to hear from, and Tracy Nelson is one of those whose albums bring a warm glow when they show up in this precinct. For one, you know you’re about to bask in the soulfulness of one of the great singers of our time. She’s virtually critic-proof, she’s so good, and it’s hard to image the shame attending a writer who would dare put down Tracy Nelson. On this, her first album in a decade, she simply picks up where she left off in her previous appearance on disc, which, if memory serves, was with a beautiful reworking of her classic “Down So Low” with a string quartet providing gentle embroidery around her spare, bluesy piano and bruised, earthy vocal as presented on Corky Siegal’s Chamber Blues’s More Different Voices, a Deep Roots Album of the Year for 2022. In her succinct liner notes for Life Don’t Miss Nobody, Tracy itemizes her late-life priorities thusly: “Top of my bucket list was signing with Willie again. No. It was singing with Charlie on harp. No. It was singing with Marcia [Ball] and Irma [Thomas] again. Top of my bucket list was all of the above.” Read the full review in Deep Roots.

‘Where Do You Go (When You Can’t Go Home),’ written by Tracy Nelson and Marcia Ball, performed by Tracy Nelson on Life Don’t Miss Nobody



  1. THANKS, Bob Margolin (VizzTone Label Group)– In celebrating 50 years since he made his debut as the 2nd guitarist in the Muddy Waters band, “Steady Rollin'” Bob Margolin dusted off the same 1956 Gibson Archtop ES-150 electric guitar to play on Thanks that he used in accompanying Muddy inThe Last Waltz. The song selections include four Margolin originals plus other contributions from Muddy, Willie Dixon, Robbie Robertson, Paul Gayten and Jimmy Rogers. Jack-of-all-trades Margolin is a one-man band here, in addition to producing engineering and mastering the project. “Going Down to Main Street,” the album opener, is a Muddy Waters composition first released in 1952, when Jimmy Rogers played 2nd guitar in Muddy’s band. In 1975 when the song was recorded for the Muddy Waters Woodstock Album, Margolin played 2nd guitar and members of The Band also sat in. In this version Margolin plays his ES-150 with slide guitar precision as his voice soars with raspy resonance. The second cut, Robbie Robertson’s “The Shape I’m In,” also appeared in The Last Waltz as the show opener. Where the Band rocked it, Margolin instead recasts it as a funky down home blues shuffle complete with a gritty vocal and his voice multitracked into a background chorus. Read the full review by Bob Gersztyn at Blues Rock Review.

‘The Shape I’m In,’ Bob Margolin, from Thanks



  1. THE GREAT SONGS OF CHRISTMAS By Great Artists of Our Time, Various Artists (Real Gone Music/Sony Classical)It’s possible a few readers may recognize the title of this collection as being familiar. And if those readers are wondering, Could this be related to those albums Goodyear stores used to sell every year for a buck? Those readers should wonder no more: yes, this wonderful 13-track disc (encompassing 18 songs, including medleys) is indeed an anthology culled from the like-titled albums available every Yuletide season exclusively at Goodyear Tire stores from 1961 to 1977. Obviously there are many, many more recordings contained on those vinyl albums than this 2023 anthology could offer, but to its credit the disc in question offers a broad overview of, say, the character of those releases, which contained tracks recorded for artists’ own Christmas albums for Columbia Records (as per a deal between Goodyear and Columbia’s custom services department, which eventually became Columbia Special Products) and some recorded by Columbia artists exclusively for the Great Songs projects. Read the full review in Deep Roots.

‘For Unto Us a Child is Born,’ from Handel’s Messiah, Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, as featured on The Great Songs of Christmas, first featured on The Great Songs of Christmas



  1. LAND OF ENCHANTMENT, Todd Mosby (MMG Records)– “Wherever one goes in the Southwest, one encounters magic, strength, and beauty,” Ansel Adams wrote. Inspired by the same landscape–and Georgia O’Keeffe‘s art–each of the pieces on Todd Mosby’s new album have similar characteristics. Land of Enchantment has magic enough for several releases. Stylish, playful and cool, the album underlines the deep connection between geography, art and culture. Mosby has created a new musical syntax integrating Indian classical music and Western music. His 13-year study of traditional North Indian music with his neighbor and guru-ji Ustadt Imrat Khan led to the development of acoustic and electric versions of the Imratguitar, a hybrid sitar-guitar. His most recent albums are On Eagle Mountain (2016), Open Waters (2019) and Aerial Views (2020).Bold and uncompromising, Land Of Enchantment is an exploration of the connection between nature, culture and art. The summery vibe often hides the fact that this is a flawless release by an artist at the very height of his abilities. Dapo Torimiro on piano and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, to name a few, do their part in making this journey in music both rewarding and unforgettable, too. Read the review by BT Fasmer in Newage Music Guide.

‘Emerald Springs’ Todd Mosby, from Land of Enchantment



  1. EVERYBODY, Danny Liston (Bluehouse Records)– Looking back on his own life experiences, as well as what he witnessed others in the music industry going through, was the driving force for this recording. As Danny Liston tells it, it’s those situations–most of them dark–that have given him the inspiration to create and record songs of healing and forgiveness, songs to lift people up in these troubled times. As is always said of these types of deeds, if they help just one person, they will have succeeded. Everybody, Liston’s latest release, is a gathering of ten original and inspiring songs, of which a couple definitely had me saying “hmm.” For the project, Liston (acoustic guitar and vocals) is joined by: Steve Potts on drums; Davy Dave Smith on bass, background vocals humor; Will McFarlane on guitar and background vocals; Mark Narmore on piano and background vocals; Rick Steff on organ; Trinecia Butler and Kimberly Helton on background vocals; Alan Branstetter on trumpet; Brad Guin and Buddy Leach on saxophones. … There are songs that people write from ideas; there are songs that people write out of creativity; there are songs that people write to be topical; and there are songs that people write from having lived them. Danny Liston leaves no doubt as how and why he wrote/co-wrote these. Read the full review by Peter “Blewzzman” Lauro in SFL Music Magazine.

‘Everybody,’ Danny Liston, with guest vocalist Bekka Bramlett, from Everybody



  1. EMANUEL, Da’ T.R.U.T.H. (Mixed Bag Entertainment)– Now in his mid-forties, influential Christian hip hop artist Da’ T.R.U.T.H. is acknowledging, through a rebranding effort, the dignity of maturity and the wisdom gained along the way. Henceforth using his Christian name, Emanuel Lee Lambert, Jr., instead of his stage name, Da’ T.R.U.T.H. gathered an all-star crew of veteran and current gospel stars—from Fred Hammond and Yolanda Adams to Dante Bowe and Maranda Curtis—to assist on his self-titled Emanuel. This bildungsroman of a Christian hip hop album is life, according to the artist. Naturally, given such a premise, the album has autobiographical selections, but it also contains praise and worship material and borrows from a myriad of musical styles while staying within the firmament of hip hop. Read the full review by Bob Marovich in Deep Roots.

‘Set the Bar,’ Da’ T.R.U.T.H. from Emanuel



  1. AURA, Ruth McGinley & Neil Martin (Bandcamp)– For her latest album, Derry-born pianist Ruth McGinley has returned somewhat to her roots and produced a disc of Irish airs re-imagined, in collaboration with Belfast composer Neil Martin. Aura (available via Bandcamp) is the least folksy of discs, though the ten tracks all have their origins in traditional melodies–nine are Martin’s arrangements of traditional melodies whilst the tenth is Martin’s own work, which seems to be imbued with the same spirit. There is little sense of the folksy about these piano solos, despite the background material. Martin’s arrangements unashamedly take the music into a classical, Romantic territory. The tunes are rarely far away, but Martin weaves around them textures which play to McGinley’s strengths as an artist who moves between the classical jazz and folk worlds. Her debut disc, Reconnection, which was issued in 2016, represents a reconnection between McGinley and the piano, playing her own music that touched her after stepping back from performing, following the intensity of her early career (she was in the piano final of BBC Young Musician in 1994). Read the full review by Robert Hugill in Deep Roots.

Slán le Máigh (Farewell to the Maigue) in memoriam Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, Ruth McGinley & Neil Martin, from Ẩura



25. CHAPEL SONGS, Eddy Mann
 (Independent)– With Chapel Songs, Philadelphia-based Christian folk artist Eddy Mann offers a dozen prayerfully meditative selections with acoustic austerity. The album is aptly titled. The easy, peaceful songs express the intimacy of an evening chapel service. Examples include the easy-to-learn “Hallelujah,” based on Revelation 19:1 and bathed in exquisite harmonies. “Three Is One” is a relaxed meditation on the Trinity. “Amen” is a lightly bouncy arrangement of the spiritual popularized by Wings over Jordan in the 1940s, by Sidney Poitier in the 1963 film Lilies of the Field, and by the Impressions in 1964. … Chapel Songshas a restful celebratory feel, brimming with understated but earnest optimism. It’s what we need as we enter a new year.

Read the full review by Bob Marovich in Deep Roots.

‘Amen,’ Eddy Mann, from Chapel Songs



  1. ROSE-COLORED GLASSES, Teresa James (Jesi-Lu Records)— A Texas native long since transplanted to Los Angeles, Teresa James seems to have time on her side, since she only gets better as the years roll by and the kudos accumulate since her first appearance on record with the Rhythm Tramps in 1998. Rose-Colored Glasses, her second 2023 album release following With a Little Help From Her Friends, which found her giving Beatles songs an invigorating fresh coat of paint, boasts a full slate of adventurous original songs and inspired band support from the current Rhythm Tramps. For her part, Ms. James, nominally a blues singer, with the lived-in voice to match, veers into soul and R&B territory and even ventures into classic saloon balladry with the lush, piano-driven love song, “The Idea of You.” Elsewhere, a horn-infused southern soul groove animates the buoyant “I Don’t Need Another Reason to Fall in Love” (practically an homage to the style Steven Van Zandt fashioned for Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes) and a righteous, funky Staples feel drives the bluesy “Nothing for Certain,” a topical advisory for the populace to remain alert to sketchy characters and vigilant in a world “gone crazy.” Right on time and right for the times, she is. –-David McGee

‘The Idea of You,’ Teresa James, from Rose-Colored Glasses



  1. SOMETHING IN THE WATER, Jake Ybarra (The Orchard)– A highly promising newcomer, Greenville South Carolina native Jake Ybarra manages to maintain a somewhat jaded perspective. His striking debut album, Something in the Water, shares songs gleaned from a personal perspective, an approach that’s often at odds with the bitter realities he’s confronted with in the life he lives from day to day. While certain songs are spawned from a decidedly demonstrative point of view, others reflect the determination that comes from coping with everyday obstruction. I got a whole lot to remember but not much on my mind, he insists on the song “A Whole Lot To Remember,” one of several strikingly confessional offerings included in this ten-song set. Ybarra excels at mellow, moving ballads, and with an offering like “Long Winter,” he’s particularly expressive while describing the failure to find common ground with a significant other. I’m not up for a fight tonight, he declares before admitting, with tempers like ourselves, that fight will last all night.

‘A Whole Lot to Remember,’ Jake Ybarra, from Something In the Water

Not surprisingly, Ybarra is already being compared to any number of iconic individuals like Guy Clark, John Prine, and Rodney Crowell as far as his ability to craft descriptive songs with real-world substance and soul. Given that initial impression, it’s easy to imagine he has a potent and profound career that will likely yield some equally exceptional efforts as his budding career continues. Read the full review by Lee Zimmerman in American Songwriter.



  1. VINTAGE CHRISTMAS TRIO MELODY, David Ian (Prescott Records)—(The music on Melody) has a Classical elegance about it, as if Ian wanted us first to remember the true meaning of the season—hence the Créche on the cover—while also positing that moment as a joyous occasion as well. This dichotomy rules most of the 10 well-known tunes here: begins softly and tenderly, very interior in a Bill Evans way with thoughtful, unadorned, occasionally dissonant phrases before neatly segueing into a gently swinging mode with colorful arpeggios and rich chordings as if channeling Vince Guaraldi. To this taste the unqualified gem is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” wherein Evans meets Guaraldi meets Ian in a flurry of opening rolled chords followed by Impressionistic explorations of the melody, picking out phrases note by note at times (listen close for the cascade of notes at 2:05—surely a quote from Guaraldi’s tune “Skating,” evoking snowflakes falling in a scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas; the riff was originally a signature sound in Guaraldi’s “Ginza Samba” on his 1957 album,  A Flower is a Lovesome Thing), but never losing the melody. Read the review in Deep Roots, a roundup of four David Ian Christmas albums plus a Yuletide anthology comprised of songs from Ian’s first three Vintage Christmas Trio albums.

‘O Come, O Come, Emmaneul,’ David Ian (piano), Jon Estes (bass), Josh Hunt (drums), from Vintage Christmas Trio Melody



  1. A LADDER IS NOT THE ONLY KIND OF TIME, Benjamin Tassie (Birmingham Record Company)– Part live-performance, part-field recording, this disc captures the poetic interaction between natural landscape and ancient man-made sounds, featuring three waterpowered instruments. The Rivelin Valley in Sheffield was once a thriving hub of water-powered industry, and even today the ruins of twenty watermills and twenty-one mill dams can be found along the river’s length, ghosts of Sheffield’s industrial past that have become haven for wildlife. This new disc from Birmingham Record Company, A Ladder is Not the Only Kind of Time, features music by Benjamin Tassie that doesn’t just evoke this landscape; instead Tassie’s pieces were produced with the landscape, in dialogue with the river. The album features three new water-powered instruments designed and built by Tassie with instrument maker Sam Underwood. A harpsichord, hurdy gurdy, and a water organ or hydraulis are played by the river. … There is something wonderfully poetic about this disc, along with a craziness that asks for it to be taken on completely its own terms. You have to listen with ears attuned to a different rhythm, but if you do then the results have a kind of magic. Read the full review by Robert Hugill at Planet Hugill.

‘Second Coppice Wheel,’ Benjamin Tassie, from A Ladder is Not the Only Kind of Time



  1. A JOYFUL HOLIDAY, Samara Joy (Verve)– Believe every positive thing you’ve ready about Samara Joy. The 23-year-old double Grammy winning vocalist is the toast of the jazz vocal world, and with good reason. Listen to the deep, husky tone and the airy, sensitive flights into the upper register, and try not to be moved by a real singer digging deep into her very being to bring the fullest emotional experience to every note she blesses with her remarkable voice. Ms. Joy cites Sarah Vaughan as a major influence, and indeed, if you close your eyes and simply listen, you’ll think “Sassy,” as some knew Ms. Vaughan, was in the room. The voice is on vivid display on a new six-song EP, A Joyful Holiday, featuring Ms. Joy and the same four-piece combo heard on the double-Grammy-nominated Linger Awhile album; in fact, a press release announcing the EP refers to A Joyful Holiday as “an extension” of Linger Awhile. Those estimable musicians would be guitarist Pasquale Grasso, bassist David Wong, drummer Kenny Washington, with Sullivan Fortner on piano. Read the full review in Deep Roots.

‘Warm in December,’ first recorded by Julie London in 1956, featured on Samara Joy’s A Joyful Holiday EP. Lead vocal by Samara Joy with Sullivan Fortner on piano, Kenny Washington on brush drums, David Wong on double bass.



  1. SUPER SOUL SESSION, Arlen Roth and Jerry Jemmott (Blue Heart Records)—Arlen Roth and Jerry Jemmott have outstanding support in realizing the 13 songs they’ve chosen to explore here (including an album closing take on “America the Beautiful” evoking the spirit of Ray Charles’s spiritually infused 1972 version, with Bruce Katz taking it home on organ and piano and Roth exploring the melody with all manner of swoops, moans and declarative outpourings on slide guitar). The Uptown Horns bring heft and energy every time they show up, and the basic band of Katz, rhythm guitarist Tom Gage, Alex Salzman on keyboards, and Chris Parker on drums and percussion, is to the soul manor born, simply put. All the forces assemble with dignity and purpose on the instrumentals, with the likes of Aretha’s “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone” cooking mightily behind Roth’s stinging, driving workout and the pumping horns—it’s not like you don’t miss Aretha, but the energy and enthusiasm of the band is infectious in its own right, and Roth’s lead lines are invested with emotion to burn. You have to catch your breath when it roars to a close, but you don’t have much time to recover before, in a version dedicated to the towering bass great James Jamerson, the horns burst out of the gate with a mighty force on “Dancing In the Street.” Read the full review in Deep Roots.

‘Dancing in the Street,’ Arlen Roth and Jerry Jemmott, from Super Soul Session



  1. SONGS OF THE NIGHT, Various Composers, featuring Rowan Pierce, Julien van Mellaerts and Lucy Colquhoun (Champs Hill Records)– Night is an ever present topic in the classic German and Austrian lied repertoire, from evocation of night itself to night as a backdrop for emotional turmoil. A recent disc from Champs Hill Records, Songs of the Night brings together songs by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, Hugo Wolf, Richard Strauss, and Hans Pfitzner exploring the wide range of the subject, and showcasing two young singers, soprano Rowan Pierce and baritone Julien van Mellaerts with pianist Lucy Colquhoun. The disc is full of good things because Colquhoun has cast her net quite widely. Deliberately avoiding the familiarity of Schubert’s Erlkönig, the disc allows us to compare and contrast Schubert’s well-known setting of Goethe’s Wandrers Nachtlied with Robert Schumann’s far less familiar setting, and includes two of the rather underappreciated songs of Hans Pfitzner. The songs are shared out between van Mellaerts and Pierce with the two coming together at the very end for a pair of duets by Mendelssohn. Read the full review by Robert Hugill at Planet Hugill.

‘Am Strande,’ Rowan Pierce (soprano), Julien Van Mellaerts (baritone), Lucy Colquhoun (piano), from Songs of the Night



  1. AT CHRISTMAS, Lisa Biales (Big Song Music)– There are many good things to report about Lisa Biales’s first holiday album. For starters, her voice—a warm, sturdy, a bit flirty instrument right at home with blues, swing and folk, and somewhat reminiscent of the young Maria Muldaur, not only in timbre but in its assured attitude—is supported by a most empathetic and tasteful combo of veterans including the redoubtable Tony Braunagel (who not only produced but sits in on drums, percussions, background vocals and jingle bells); Johnny Lee Schell on guitar and background vocals; Jeff Paris on piano, Hammond organ, glockenspiel and background vocals; Chuck Beghofer and David J. Carpenter on bass; a horn section comprised of Mark Pender on trumpet, Jerry Vivino on sax, Joe Sublett on tenor sax, and Garrett Smith on trombone. Doug Hamilton adds violin and Michael G. Ronstadt is on cello. Maxayn Lewis rounds out the background chorus. Much of this stellar cast gets in on the action right away, on the deep, swaying, swampy second-line groove informing the leadoff track, “At Christmas,” in which Ms. Biales promises her man a most enticing bundle of gifts from Santa—“hugging and kissing, sitting by the fire/Santa gonna bring you what you most desire/at Christmas”—with Pender’s trumpet and Paris’s Hammond engaging in spirited dialogue along the way, setting the stage for a rousing finale in which Schell’s guitar and the horn section send the festivities out on a rousing note. It only gets better from there. Read the full review in Deep Roots.

‘At Christmas,’ album title track written by Jerry Paris, Tony Braunagel and Lisa Biales, performed by Lisa Biales



  1. WHISPERS IN THE WIND, Lindley Creek (Pinecastle Records)– We’re not more than a few bars deep in the song “That Page Won’t Turn” before it becomes more than apparent how important hedonistic string play is going to be to Lindley Creek in their new album Whispers in the Wind. There’s not much to the construction of this piece–instrumentally speaking, we’re looking at a cut-and-dry performance that doesn’t try to fill the margins with a lot of fanciful nonsense. To me, it appears that Lindley Creek came with as potent a blueprint for making beat-forward roots music as a group can muster without inviting a lot of additional improv into the mix. From here, “Every Time a Train Goes By” delivers a touch of Americana fused with traditional folk indulgence, only to turn us over to a much more metallic take on “Summer is in the Air Again” than I’ve heard before now. “Too Bad You’re No Good” sounds much fuller in this arrangement than I would have ever expected it to, and as a retro folk piece, it’s probably the most formidable of all the tracks here. Read the review by Mindy McCall at

‘Spring is in The Air Again,’ Lindley Creek, from Whispers in the Wind



  1. THE SONG IN OUR SOUL, Palomar Trio (Turtle Bay Records)– United by their mutual affection for classic swing music of the ‘20s through the ‘40s, and especially for the sound and style of the Benny Goodman Trio’s groundbreaking ‘30s recordings, Dan Levinson (clarinet, tenor sax), Mark Shayne (piano) and Kevin Dorn (drums) have been holding forth in New York City since the mid-‘90s, keeping the faith while reinvigorating forgotten gems of an earlier time. The Song in Our Soul, a play on the Fats Waller-Alex Hill chestnut, “Keep a Song In Your Soul,” which kicks off this album in lively, strutting fashion with a spirited dialogue between Levinson’s tenor sax and Shayne’s piano, finds the trio confidently plumbing 10 other tunes described by Levinson as “waiting to be rediscovered—and needing to be.” Four numbers alone are associated with Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra, the club itself being a Chicago after-hours destination for jazz musicians in the ’20s. One of those Apex numbers, “Delta Bound,” penned by the aforementioned Alex Hill, gets under the skin with its dark, thumping beat and ominous melody made unsettlingly dark by the clarinet’s taut, haunting lines and Shayne’s restrained responses. For the most part, though, the trio keeps it spirited and smooth, stretching out on solos that render its vintage repertoire vital and fresh. —David McGee

‘Roses in December,’ The Palomar Trio, from The Song In Our Soul



  1. EVIDENCE, Kell Bailey (Independent)– Kell Bailey’s Evidence is a collection of bracing P&W selections with traces of hymnody embedded in their DNA. Whether the tempo is fast or slow, the arrangements are buoyant, the singing is extroverted, the musicians are tight and professional, and the lyrics, though aimed at a congregation, are ultimately lofted vertically. In this follow-up to the Richmond, Virginia-born Bailey’s 2020 full-length debut album, Freedom Is Here, listeners will find it festooned with featured vocalists. Bailey passes the lead microphone around liberally. For example, the invigorating single, “Faithful God,” features vocal assists by Jeremy McKain and Mariah Lanee’. Cierra and Corey Kennedy team up with the VCU Black Awakening Choir on “Close,” which transitions to its musical twin, “Draw Me Close.” From there, it’s just a short hop to the Fanny Crosby hymn, “Draw Me Nearer,” which Cierra sings with prayerful passion. Read the full review by Bob Marovich in Deep Roots.

‘God Will Fight My Battles,’ with featured vocalist Corey Kennedy, from Kell Bailey’s Evidence



  1. B’S TIME, Al Basile (Sweetspot Records)– Marking the 25th Anniversary of Al Basile’s Sweetspot record label, here is his career retrospective, featuring seventeen songs from his solo CDs. All the tracks have been remixed and remastered. The singer-songwriter-cornetist has received the support of quite a crew of top rate musicians for his recordings. As seen here, those have included members of Roomful Of Blues and Duke Robillard’s bands. Duke himself figures prominently with his creative guitar skills on all but two songs. Al’s music incorporates elements of R&B, blues, jazz and a standard vibe among others. He comes equipped with a smooth vocal delivery and cornet skills in abundance. He also wrote sixteen of the seventeen songs in this collection. The horn and guitar intro leading into “You Showed Me Something” is very similar to the intro to Ray Charles’ “Hit The Road Jack”. The horns give it a big band sound, while the piano of Bruce Katz is really cool jazz. Duke’s guitar hovers around nicely with a nifty riff. Duke unleashes an intense and heavy guitar attack on “I Really Miss You”. It is gospel time as The Blind Boys Of Alabama lend their heavenly voices to support Al on “Lie Down In Darkness”. Bruce Bears contributes “Sunday go to meeting” piano while Al delivers a stirring cornet solo. Read the full review by Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony in Blues Blast Magazine.

‘You Showed Me Something,’ Al Basile, from B’s Time



  1. WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM HER FRIENDS, Teresa James (Blue Heart Records) Since the earliest days of Beatlemania, artists of all stripes have set out to investigate, if you will, the songs of Lennon-McCartney and Harrison from their own perspectives. The versatile Texas-born blues singer Teresa James now joins this growing sub-genre in impressive fashion, traversing all of the group’s eras, always respecting—as is required—the melody and spirit of the originals while putting her own stamp on 10 gems. From 1964, “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You” is recast in a deep Memphis soul groove with organ and a silky female backup chorus complementing the yearning in the singer’s reedy, suggestive vocal. The transitional Rubber Soul yields two tunes, including a bluesy heartbreaker treatment of “Think for Yourself.” … In the growing body of Beatles musical “literature,” Teresa James’s entry is a keeper. Read the full review in Deep Roots.

‘Hide Your Love Away,’ Teresa James, from With a Little Help From Her Friends



  1. THE JOURNEY, Todd Dulaney
 (MNRK Music Group)– On his latest album, The Journey, worship leader and Chicagoland resident Todd Dulaney continues to deliver P&W selections steeped in Biblical wisdom. The album, recorded live at Chicago’s Calvary Baptist Church in 2022, brings the communal modern worship experience into the listener’s own sacred space. What’s immediately noticeable is how Dulaney’s voice is deeper, matured, more oaken. The consistent background vocalists play congregation to Dulaney’s minister. Whether the songs are slow ballads or move at a quicker tempo, the overall atmosphere of The Journey is of a worship service conducted, with few exceptions, at arena-level volume and intensity. Bishop Hezekiah Walker assists on the current charting single, “It’s Working.” He and Dulaney bring the album’s theme of hope and healing full circle by declaring every challenge will work out in the end. And it will or, as John Lennon famously quipped, it’s not the end. Read the full review by Bob Marovich in Deep Roots.

‘I Lift My Eyes,’ based on Psalm 121, Todd Dulaney, from The Journey



  1. ENCHANTED PLACES: THE COMPLETE FRASER-SIMPSON SETTINGS OF A.A. MILNE, Grant Doyle (baritone) and John Kember (piano)(EM Records)– People over a certain age will almost certainly remember the song, to words by A.A. Milne, They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace, though until I received a copy of baritone Grant Doyle and pianist John Kember‘s new disc, I was totally unaware of the composer. Enchanted Places on EM Records features the complete A.A. Milne settings by composer Howard Fraser-Simpson. There are 67 songs in all including The Complete Hums of Pooh (some 16 songs), just short of 150 minutes of music and you cannot help feeling that the recording is something of a labor of love. Read the full review by Robert Hugill in Deep Roots.

‘When We Were Very Young: Halfway Down,’ Grant Doyle (baritone) and John Kimber (piano), from Enchanted Places: The Complete Fraser-Simpson Settings of A.A. Milne



  1. BLUE JA VU, Tom Hambridge (Quarto Valley Records)-On the few occasions when Tom Hambridge isn’t producing Grammy winning albums for the likes of Buddy Guy and Keb’ Mo’ he’ll retreat to the studio to make his own statement. On his new long player he’s bringing powerhouse drums and percussion and soulful blues vocals to bear on an impressive batch of tunes he’s produced, written and played on for and with others, some of whom join the festivities. Inscrutably titled, Blu Ja Vu hits the ground running with none other than Buddy Guy blazing away on guitar and adding earnest vocals to the heated philosophical treatise on matters of the heart, “Ain’t It Just Like Love.” Intensifying the attack, Joe Bonamassa underscores “Automatic”’s lust for a ’65 T-Bird and the girl that goes with it and also adds to the unrepentant howl that is the thundering “That’s My Home.” Read the full review in Deep Roots.

‘Ain’t It Just Like Love,’ Tom Hambridge, from Blu Ja Vu



  1. MISSA TU ES PETRUS, The Music of Oraziop Benevoli and Bonifazio Graziania, featuring Robert Hollingsworth, I Fagiolini and the City of Musick (Coro)– An exploration of the rare splendors of 17th-century 16-part mass based on Palestrina’s motet, richly inventive and full of gorgeous textures, a work that is certainly not deserving of its relative obscurity. Palestrina died in 1594 and for the following century his music remained a prime example of concerted church music with other composers writing in a similar style. The result is a high degree of stylistic diversity as the 17th century developed and only now are we really exploring the highways and byways. This recent disc from Robert Hollingworth, I Fagiolini and the City Musick on the Coro label features the music of Orazio Benevoli (1605-1672) and Bonifazio Graziani (1604/5-1664), focusing on Benevoli’s four choir Missa Tu es Petrus based on Palestrina’s motet. … Benevoli’s mass is probably one of those that more people know of than know, but this disc demonstrates it is a not inconsiderable work that deserves greater currency. Here sung one to a part, the results are grand where necessary, but we never lose sight that this is a large vocal ensemble, singing one to a part, with the requisite feeling of a group of individuals each contributing to the whole. Read the review by Robert Hugill at Planet Hugill.

Missa Tu es Petrus, I. Kyrie, Robert Hollingsworth, I Fagiolini and the City Musick



  1. LADY SINGS THE BALKAN BLUES, Mostar Sevdah Reunion (Snail Records)– Sevdah is, like blues and flamenco (primarily its “cante jondo,” or “deep song” being the closest to kara-sevdah), characteristically sad. However, the sources of sadness, in the origin of the articulation, differ. In accordance with what we generally know about the origin of Sevdalinka, or sevdah—a traditional folk music genre originating in Bosnia and Herzegovina–superficially it could be defined in this way: blues is the voice of an enslaved human, flamenco is the voice of a refugee, and sevdah is the voice of a serf to love. Naturally, as these genres have thematically developed further, their primary themes remain dominant. Almost all songs on the Lady Sings the Balkan Blues corroborate this assertion. They speak of loneliness, of a girl in whom “lonely lies down and lonely gets up”; about growing old while waiting for the loved one; about “the first one that caught her eye”; unwanted arranged marriage; wishes and dreams…about deep love, desire and longing. Read the full review in Deep Roots.

‘Mene Majka Jednu Ima,’ Mostar Sevdah Reunion, lead vocal by Antonija Batincv, Mostar Sevdah Reunion, from Lady Sings the Balkan Blues



  1. PRIME, Dave Stryker Trio (Strikezone Records)– The nine Prime tracks afford the trio members ample room to make their own statements, engage in scintillating tete-a-tetes with each other and explore the melodic and harmonic possibilities of each tune in a freewheeling manner. Fans of Jimmy Smith and his organ-based jazz trio will hear his ghost floating around all over the place here, as Gold heats up the album opening title track, assumes a more contemplative attack at times on “Lockdown,” hums soothingly behind Stryker’s mellow tone on “Hope” (revisited from Stryker’s 2022 album, As We Are, along with another introspective, late-night blues, “As We Were”) before stepping out for responses alternately tender and aggressive before Stryker returns, as Hunter pushes ahead with a steady pulse on the brushes. Stryker also pays home to his first boss, the late, great jazz organist Jack McDuff, on two tunes: “Mac,” a feisty workout featuring Gold prominently on some McDuff-inspired runs and Stryker countering with a frisky exploration of the melody line’s possibilities, all over Hunter’s skittish propulsion; and the album closing “Dude’s Lounge,” a near-eight-and-a-half-minute workout that rises from a quiet, probing blues statement from Stryker to a strutting, lively blues shuffle featuring Gold and Stryker in full flight dialogue as Hunter again pushes the percussive envelope with his muscular, straight-ahead attack with a minimum of flourishes. Read the full review in Deep Roots.

‘Prime,’ the title track from the new album, featuring Dave Stryker (guitar), Jared Gold (organ) and McClanty Hunter (drums)


  1. THANKS FOR GOOD OLE’ MUSIC AND MEMORIES, Jewel Brown (NIC Allen Music Federation)– What becomes an octogenarian most? How about an exuberant, life affirming, bluesy, jazzy, gospel-inflected workout that finds Ms. Brown giving no quarter to age; in fact, her performances here are so energetic a listener would think she’s considerably younger than her 86 years. Working with Nic Allen, the late, great Joe Samples’ long-time musical director, Ms. Brown owns everything she touches, including, in a career first, her original songs comprising the whole of this outing, her long-awaited return to recording after nearly a decade away, following 2014’s Rollercoaster Boogie., which itself followed an interesting 2012 pairing with Lightnin’ Hopkins’s cousin Milton Hopkins for the Dialtone label, which included the first version of “Jerry,” a horn-fueled R&B-based story-song about a rambunctious “working man’s friend, an Arkansas mule” that kicks off Thanks for Good Ole’ Music and Memories on a lively, disquieting, note certain to grab a listener’s attention with its rowdy narrative and urgent presentation. Though this album title may bespeak a nostalgic effort—and Ms. Brown does indeed plumb her personal history here and there—it’s too feisty and assured vocally and the old school arrangements, with their jazz and blues foundations, are subtle and empathetic, always designed to showcase the vocalist at her best. Read the full review in Deep Roots.

‘Why Did You Do That,’ Jewel Brown, from Thanks For the Good Ole’ Music and Memories



  1. MUSIC TO HEAR… ALFONSO FERRABOSCO: MUSIC FOR THE LYRA VIOL, Richard Boothby, Asako Morikawa (Signum Classics)– The lyra viol is a type of small bass viol that was popular in England in the 17th century and for which a specific repertoire was created. Viol player Richard Boothby has already recorded the complete lyra viol music of William Lawes and here, on a new Signum Classics disc Music to hear…, Boothby turns his attention to pieces from Alonso Ferrabosco’s Lessons for 1, 2 and 3 viols. The majority of the works on the disc are for solo viol, but Boothby is joined by Asako Morikawa for some. Boothby begins with a Preludeand punctuates the program with two more, but the rest are pairs, a sequence of Almaine—Corantoand Galliard—Coranto with a single Pavan—Coranto pair to finish. The opening Prelude is stately, with the touched-in lower notes, evoking a multi-voiced work. Generally, the Almaines are quite stately but within this form, Ferrabosco manages to find numerous engaging variations with extensive string crossing that brings out more complexity. The Corantos paired with these are livelier, often a musical parody of the earlier dance. Read the full review by Robert Hugill in Deep Roots.

Viols: Prelude 1, Richard Boothby and Asako Morikawa from Alfonso Ferrabosco: Music for the Lyra Viol


  1. DUHAVI, Faith I Branko (Riverboat Records)– Since we last heard from Faith and Branko, an obstacle-strewn move from Branko’s tiny village in rural Serbia to London has tested the duo’s personal and professional relationship on multiple levels. Yet despite the inevitable strain of moving from one of the most remote corners of Europe to one of its most populous fulcrums, Faith and Branko’s musical journey has survived and thrived, with the thrilling results now available to hear on their new album. The title Duhovi means “ghosts,” “spirits” or “souls” and in this case refers to the souls of four now deceased musicians and friends who accompanied the duo on this album. Duhavi is a celebration of that deep bond of music and creativity that heals and connects them to something beyond and keeps the memory alive of those whom they loved. Some pieces were recorded remotely due to the pandemic and some in a London studio and in Emir Kusturica’s studio in Serbia. … Two worlds and methods of creating music combine and sometimes collide within these compositions, each of which is a musical conversation between Faith and Branko. From a foundation of Serbian-Roma music, Faith i Branko have created a style that draws from both of their musical heritages and expresses their unique personal connection and willingness to experiment with other genres. Read the full review in Deep Roots.

‘I’m Sorry,’ written and sung by Faith, who also plays tabor pipe on the track, with guitar support by the late Cakija (a Covid-19 victim after these sessions were completed) from Faith I Banko’s Duhavi


  1. THE VOICES OF QUARTET, VOL. 1, Various Artists
 (Overboard Records)– Few record labels today pay much mind to gospel quartets, despite the fact that quartet singing was the dominant sound of gospel’s golden age and maintains a presence in urban and rural areas nationwide, especially in the Southeast. Among the few that do promote quartet today is Overboard Records. The Voices of Quartet Vol. 1is the label’s sampler of some of the male and female quartets keeping the tradition alive. Released in partnership with Gospel Quartet Heritage and executive produced by Darrell Jay Jones and Sunsurray Wynn, the compilation gathers ten superb quartet selections spanning several years. Many of the groups have appeared in previous JGM reviews. … Overall, The Voices of Quartet Vol. 1is invigorating because it features more drive tempo tracks than any other collection. It bends toward the church-disrupting quartet singing that thrives in local programs and on indie recordings. Read the full review by Bob Marovich in Deep Roots.

‘Touch Me,’ Ronica Bowes & The Blazing Stars, as featured on The Voices of Quartet, Vol. 1


  1. FROM THE SHOALS, Barbara Blue (Big Blue Records)– Known as the Reigning Queen of Beale Street—an honorarium awarded in recognition of her quarter-century of performing at Silky O’Sullivan’s on Beale Street in Memphis—Barbara Blue journeyed farther south and east to record her 13th independent release. From the Shoals is a product of sessions held at Nutthouse Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where Grammy winning ace producer Jim Gaines commanded the board as Blue belted out her blues with the virtuosic assistance David Hood (bass), Clayton Ivey (keyboards), Will McFarlane (guitar) and Bernard “Pretty” Purdie (drums), a legendary lineup if ever there was one. The finished product is an attention getting showcase for the elevated songwriting of Blue and her collaborators, guitarist Davor “Hutch” Hacic and pianist Mark Narmore over the course of 11 new original tunes (and two tasty vintage soul covers). Blue pays tribute to her surroundings right off the bat in “The Shoals,” a percolating uptempo blues with horns and some sprightly Clayton Ivey organ adding potent punctuation to the affair. The pattern thus set, Ms. Blue and friends offer an expansive palette of blues and soul that makes the most of the talent at hand. Read the full review here.

‘Trail of Tears,’ Barbara Blue, from From the Shoals


  1. KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE, Madre Vaca (Madre Vaca Records)– The legend of King Arthur and Camelot is depicted musically on Knights of the Round Table, the sixth album by the Florida-based eleven-member ensemble, Madre Vaca, whose themes are composed by drummer Benjamin Shorstein. While Knights is presented as a ten-part suite, there seems to be no connecting tissue aside from the names of individual works —”Arthur,” “Camelot,” “Galahad,” “Merlin,” “Guinevere” and “Lancelot” among them. True, there seems to be an over-all medieval vibe underlining Shorstein’s music, but that could be the placebo effect, as his compositions rest for the most part on a substratum of contemporary jazz, enhanced by uncommon and often crystalline departures. The enigmatic “Lady of the Lake” introduces the suite, borne aloft by an ethereal waltz that gives way to earnest solos by pianist Jonah Pierre and bassist Thomas Milovac. “Galahad,” a martial theme with horns, introduces Shorstein’s sister, Rebecca, whose brief vocal leads to solos by guitarist Jarrett Carter and (muted) trumpeter Steve Strawley. Read the full review by Jack Bowers in

‘The Holy Grail,’ Madre Vaca, from Knights of the Round Table


Follow this link to the Deep Root Albums of the Year, 2023


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