Rory Block, From the Dust (Telarc, 2005)

Carlos del Junco, Blues Mongrel (Northern Blues, 2005)

Eddie Turner, RISE (Northern Blues, 2005)

Three new blues albums from two of our favourite blues labels. Telarc and Northern Blues are dedicated to bringing 21st Century blues lovers the finest in modern blues...and these new releases continue the tradition.

Rory Block is the odd man out in this group, since she's a woman. She also plays a more traditional blues, 12-bar, acoustic guitar, stripped down and potent. Eddie Turner is taking the electric guitar into places forecast by Jimi Hendrix, and putting a new spin on the basics. Carlos del Junco sits somewhere in between, an electric bluesman, a harp player (the guitar player here is Kevin Breit) who loves that big hollow sound of the great Chicago players...but tuned with sonic brilliance. It's hard to pick a favourite.

Rory Block pays tribute to the old blues, and on From the Dust she covers Charley Patton's "Highway Everywhere," Muddy Waters' "I Be Bound," Robert Johnson's "Stones in My Passway," and "Dry Spelkl Blues" by Son House. The other ten songs are originals based in the grooves of those old records. The movement from "their" songs to her songs is seamless, all held together by her gritty voice and her precise fretwork. The liner notes say that she plays two different Martin guitars, and they both sound wonderful. Rory's voice is in good shape too, ranging from the husky blues growl to a soaring soprano on "David Had the Blues." "Big As Texas" tells the story of driving across Texas, over a stinging bottleneck guitar framework. "Remember" is a meditative ...and the album conculdes with an atmospheric instrumental entitled "Unprecedented Quiet." All in all a fine celebration of the acoustic guitar, and one woman's vision. Plus...as an added bonus...there are the sultry cover shots of Ms. Block in a black bustier. Now there's something you won't find on the other two albums under consideration today!

Carlos del Junco's cover shot is an extreme closeup of his mouth, holding a Hohner Golden Melody harmonica. The title is Blues Mongrel and the photo is part of the theme. Inside pictures are collages of a dog-man, and shots of the other musicians baring their fangs. Quite scary! And the music is scary too: raw, overblown harmonica, and that screendoor slamming drumbeat, heavy bass, and Carlos's rich vocals. Kevin Breit, who recently left Norah Jones's band, demonstrates his mastery of the six string throughout the album, and also adds some fine mandolin. Henry Heilig plays bass, Jorn Juul Andersen plays drums and percussion, Denis Keldie adds organ and percussionist Arturo Avalos helps out on a couple of tracks. It's a hot band.

Walter Jacobs' "Blues With a Feeling" starts things off with a Howlin' Wolf feel. Heavy, and I mean HEAVY, distorted guitar sets up the standard 12-bar framework,and Carlos's overblown harp comes in, and you ain't heard heavy yet. Wow! Then Breit's "No Particular Place" is given a reed workout. This tune was a highlight of Breit's duet album with Harry Manx, and it tough to pick which version I like best. It depends which one I'm listening to! Del Junco displays a Jamaican influence on his own "Skatoon." The interplay of this fine group of musicians is inspiring. Even the throwaway riffs are entertaining. "Don't Bring Me Down" starts with slide guitar, adds del Junco's harp, then his vocals, and even a touch of harmony in the chorus. Jerry Goldsmith's theme song from "Our Man Flint" is given a stylish workout. It's blues and then a surprise or two with solid playing throughout and Blues Mongrel will get plenty of play in the car!

Finally, RISE by Eddie Turner, which arrives in a moody blue-grey cardboard sleeve. Kenny Passarelli produces, and he's given a crisp contemporary sound to this collection of original blues, and some well-chosen covers. The title song is, like the sleeve, moody and blue-grey. Turner's guitar sets up a haunting riff, and his vocals (whispery but potent) float over the rhythm; backing vocals from Anna Givens add to the sense of mystery. A powerful introduction.

Mark Clark (drums) and Passarelli's bass are the essential elements instrumentally. Them and Turner's guitar and vocals. They don't require much else. This is elemental music. "Ask Myself Why" is a slow blues, with a touch of organ (played by Passarelli). He also adds pocket trumpet when called for. But it's pretty much Eddie Turner's show. "The River" is a stirring acoustic bottleneck solo!

He covers Jimi Hendrix's "The Wind Cries Mary" taking it in new directions instrumentally, but still paying homage to Jimi's relaxed vocals. "Resurrection" follows with acoustic guitar and some electric slide guitar, another moody instrumental. Johnny "Guitar" Watson's "Gangster of Love" rocks out. "Sin" has an almost Sly & the Family Stone feel. "Play It Cool" is a Freddie King blues, played beautifully. Eddie Turner covers all the bases!

There you have it. Three new blues albums that demonstrate that three chords, and repetitive lyrics can be taken in any direction. There's lots of life left in this genre so long as people like Eddie Turner, Carlos del Junco and Rory Block are around!

[David Kidney]

A Web site for Northern Blues Records for can be found here.

A Web site for Telarc can be found here.

A Web site for Carlos del Junco can be found here.

A Web site for Rory Block can be found here.