Album Review – Bettye LaVette – Blackbirds

Recently there has been a noticeable trend of artists releasing cover albums – some choose to feature songs from one artist like Emma Swift’s take on Bob Dylan, or Juliana Hatfield’s tributes to Olivia Newton John and The Police; while most go for a mixture of songs that have inspired them or influenced their music like recent releases from Tanya Donelly and Molly Tuttle.

Most of these projects are recorded as a diversion from their usual path of original songwriting. What you see rarely now are singers for whom interpretation is their sole focus. The few artists who make this choice tend to belong to classic genres like folk, jazz or blues. Singing old songs, for them, remains a vital way to communicate with history, and seek answers from the pioneers of the past.

On her new album ‘Blackbirds’ Grammy nominated blueswoman Bettye LaVette has chosen to record songs made famous by other black women, paying tribute to the legacy of the many iconic musicians who paved the hard road before her. This album shows that she has the talent and skills of interpretation to match even the best of them. Continue reading “Album Review – Bettye LaVette – Blackbirds”

Album Review: Lucinda Williams – Good Souls Better Angels

Lucinda Williams comes from a long line of rebels with passionate causes. Her family were liberals, feminists, pacifists, integrationists, union organisers, civil rights protestors willing to stand up in the face of inequality and injustice. As a teenager she herself was thrown out of high school for refusing to pledge allegiance to the flag, as part of her opposition to the Vietnam war.

To be a punk is to have a spirit of rebellion – being willing to stand apart and defy the way that society wants us to live. Musically the movement was about simplicity, directness, anger: three chords and the screaming truth. On this new album Good Souls Better Angels Lucinda Williams lets her punk rock spirit loose with staggeringly brilliant results. Continue reading “Album Review: Lucinda Williams – Good Souls Better Angels”

Album Review: Adia Victoria – Silences

In her book Black Pearls, Daphne Duval Harrison identified the key themes of the blues genre, which included: death, Hell, injustice, love, men, murder, poverty, sadness, the supernatural, traveling, weariness, depression and disillusionment. On her second album Adia Victoria explores many of these ideas, filling the Silences with sometimes troubling but always intriguing music. For an artist like Victoria, the blues is not just history to be studied or a style to be replicated – it is the very lifeblood that simmers inside of her. Continue reading “Album Review: Adia Victoria – Silences”

Album Review: Leyla McCalla – The Capitalist Blues

Former Carolina Chocolate Drops cellist Leyla McCalla is set to have a busy year in 2019. As well as releasing her third solo album The Capitalist Blues, she will soon also be heard on the ‘Our Native Daughters’ project with former bandmate Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah and Allison Russell. Until then we can treat ourselves to this excellent solo album – a rich exploration of McCalla’s musical heritage, with a socially conscious heart. Continue reading “Album Review: Leyla McCalla – The Capitalist Blues”

Book Review: ‘Blues Legacies and Black Feminism’ by Angela Davis

In her work ‘Blues Legacies and Black Feminism’ Angela Davis states her aim is to discover what we can learn from three pioneers of blues music: Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday. She wants to look beyond biography to investigate how their work reflected feminist attitudes and helped shaped black consciousness. The work is academic in tone and purpose, a rightfully serious but also personally passionate account of the significance of these often overlooked artists and their legacies. By placing their music in a wider sociocultural context, Davis gives these women the respect and acclaim they so richly deserve. Continue reading “Book Review: ‘Blues Legacies and Black Feminism’ by Angela Davis”

Album Review: Shemekia Copeland – America’s Child

On ‘America’s Child’ Shemekia Copeland infuses blues, classic rock, country and soul music into songs which wrap traditional sounds around words reflecting the concerns of now. The magical voice of Copeland gives us all hope for a better future – we see that optimism reflected on the album cover where a little girl wears the American flag as a comfort blanket, even if her eyes are downcast you sense the potential of a new day in the warm glow of the sun behind her. Continue reading “Album Review: Shemekia Copeland – America’s Child”

Live Review – Amythyst Kiah @ Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival

Hailing from Johnson City, Tennessee Amythyst Kiah is a contemporary blues and folk singer, with a real connection to the history of Appalachian music. This was the second of her two shows at the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues festival where she has successfully performed for the last three years. The audience in the Piccolo venue were treated to an evening of stories and songs from a troubadour of the highest quality. Continue reading “Live Review – Amythyst Kiah @ Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival”

Live Review: Queens Of the Blues @ Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival

The summer months in Edinburgh are packed full of exciting cultural events and July’s highlight is always the diverse and interesting Jazz and Blues festival. This was actually the first year I’ve been able to attend and thankfully the programme offered a strong range of interesting women performing across the festival. What’s nice to see with curated festivals like this one is that the level of promotion and marketing ensures good turn outs and enthusiastic crowds.

My first show was ‘Queens of the Blues’, a homage to some of the best women of the genre performed by Edinburgh based Nicole Smit and her band. Despite the early afternoon slot the show was sold out and the packed crowd were eager to hear some blues classics. Continue reading “Live Review: Queens Of the Blues @ Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival”

Book Review: ‘Shout, Sister, Shout! The Untold Story of Rock-And-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe’ by Gayle F. Wald

Before I started reading ‘Shout, Sister, Shout’ I’m ashamed to admit that I knew almost nothing about Sister Rosetta Tharpe, except that she was important, influential but ultimately overlooked by music history. In this biography Gayle F. Wald, a professor at George Washington University, explores her subject in an academic but accessible style. Such respect and consideration of this remarkable woman and her music career has been long overdue. Continue reading “Book Review: ‘Shout, Sister, Shout! The Untold Story of Rock-And-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe’ by Gayle F. Wald”

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