Eric Bibb & Habib Koite: Brothers in Bamako

American singer-guitarist Eric Bibb and West African singer-guitarist Habib Koité have joined forces for the new album, Brothers in Bamako. The two first met and became friends a decade ago when Putumayo Records invited both musicians to play on Mali to Memphis and they’ve finally gotten around to recording together. More than a simple duet album, Brothers in Bamako is a true collaboration. In addition to singing and playing together, Bibb and Koité co-wrote most of the songs to marry their respective folk-blues and world music styles. Brothers in Bamako will be released on Novemeber 6th.

I’ve been a fan of both artists for so long, I may have been a little too excited to hear their substantial talents unite. I was very disappointed with the two lackluster opening tracks, “On My Way to Bamako” and “L.A.” Perhaps the problem was that Bibb and Koité were divided for those introductory songs. The tracks co-written by and co-starring both artists are much more interesting.

Things greatly improve on their first proper collaboration, “Touma Ni Kelen/Needed Time.” As I’d hoped, Bibb’s gospel-influenced, bluesy folk style and Koité’s fusion of traditional and modern Malian rhythms complement each other perfectly.

The stand out tracks are the multi-instrumental duet “Tombouctou,” a revamped “With My Maker I Am One” (originally featured on Bibb’s Booker’s Guitar album), Koité’s haunting “Foro Bana” (from his Ma Ya album) and a beautifully subtle rendition of Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind.”

Other highlights include “We Don’t Care,” the pretty instrumental “Nani Le” and the banjo-driven “Khafolé.”

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Eric Bibb Official Site
Habib Koité Official Site

Shemekia Copeland: 33 1/3

Blues singer Shemekia Copeland will return on September 25th with 33 1/3. With a guest appearance by legendary guitarist Buddy Guy and covers of songs originally recorded by Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke and Lucinda Williams, the album has both a classic and contemporary blues sound. Shemekia’s voice is so strong she could sing anything, but the blues is definitely her forte.

“Lemon Pie” is a fantastic start. Electric guitar seers the edges of the blues-rock melody as Shemekia wails about the poor man’s (and the struggling middle class’) plight.

A slowed down, blues revamp of Lucinda Williams’ “Can’t Let Go” follows. It’s a solid cover, but pales in comparison to Lucinda’s original. Of course, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road is such a classic album, it’s difficult for any artist to match.

Buddy Guy lends his exquisite guitar to the battered woman’s escape anthem “Ain’t Gonna Be Your Tattoo.” I had the privilege of seeing Buddy and Shemekia perform at Mountain Stage a few years ago and it was one of the best concerts of my life. The song is the perfect pairing of these two colossal talents.

“A Woman” is a sultry blues ballad and “I’ll Sing the Blues” rumbles and sways beneath Shemekia’s substantial howl.

The latter half of the album is pleasant but nothing really stands out until the finale. Shemekia’s fierce voice drops to a pretty hush on a simple but very lovely cover of Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.”

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SoundCloud Streams uploaded by Concord Music

Shemekia Copeland Official Site

Alabama Shakes: Boys & Girls

Flipping past The Late Show With David Letterman one night, I was astonished and astounded to see/hear what seemed to be a howling classic blues diva fronting a wild and rowdy Southern rock band. It was the incomparable Brittany Howard and her band Alabama Shakes performing “Hold On,” the awesome, wailing blues-rock opener from their debut album, Boys & Girls.

The fuzzy studio recording doesn’t quite capture Brittany’s rafter-scraping, earth-quaking bellow on “Hold On,” but is otherwise just as good as the live version.

I really hate to say anything negative about the album, because the band itself is undeniably, brilliantly talented. Sadly, though, the muffled production continues to plague the rest of the album. Even the uptempo numbers are prevented from achieving the full potential of their bombast, and the problem seems to be the sound quality of the recording rather than the arrangements or the band’s instrumentation.

As proven by their live performance on Letterman, Alabama Shakes are definitely capable of churning rumbling rock with funky soul and Delta blues in a sort of Heartless Bastards meets Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears concoction. So hopefully they’ll considering making their sophomore release a live album to show what they’re really made of.

That being said, Boys & Girls is still a solid album and the good songs are truly good – particularly “Hold On,” “Rise to the Sun, “You Ain’t Alone” and “Heartbreaker.”

Alabama Shakes is sure to be a fireworks display of sound live, so check out their tour dates.

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Alabama Shakes Official Site

Joan Osborne: Bring It On Home

Joan Osborne will return on March 27th with her seventh studio recording, Bring It On Home. A collection of classic blues covers, the album features songs originally made famous by Allen Toussaint (who appears on the album), Muddy Waters, Ray Charles, Otis Redding and Al Green among many others. Though she is probably best known for the pop hit “One of Us” from her studio debut Relish, Joan’s gritty voice has always been better suited to the blues – from her live NYC blues bar Early Recordings to her cover of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” on the Rosetta Tharpe tribute, Shout, Sister, Shout!. Bring It On Home finally gives Joan the opportunity to fully immerse herself in the blues and it’s a wild and very enjoyable ride.

The opener, “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” is an uptempo, brass-embellished jazz number that was originally recorded by Ray Charles. It’s definitely a fun start for this excellent album, but I personally prefer bluesier tracks like the magnificent title track.

The Sonny Boy Williamson song “Bring It On Home” is pure, sultry, vintage blues and a perfect showcase for Joan’s fierce pipes.

Her gorgeous voice is also well matched with the seductive soul ballad covers of “I Want to Be Loved” (originally by Muddy Waters) and Otis Redding’s “Champagne and Wine.”

Allen Toussaint plays piano on Joan’s peppy and delightful cover of his song, “Shoorah! Shoorah!”

The standout track is the sexy, rumbling freight train of blues-rock “Shake Your Hips,” which was apparently the result of an impromptu in-studio performance.

That fact – along with my own experiences seeing Joan Osborne in concert in the past – seems to confirm my suspicion that these songs will be spectacular live. So I suggest West Virginians catch Joan Osborne at Mountain Stage in Morgantown on April 15th.

Joan Osborne – Shake Your Hips (mp3)*

*mp3 hosted by Saguaro Road Records & posted w/ permission of artist’s PR rep

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Joan Osborne

Joan Osborne Official Site

Mark Schottinger: Free Album Download

Brendan shares his thoughts on The Parking Lot Movie‘s singer-songwriter Mark Schottinger below. I want to add that Mark’s music reminds me a bit of Old Crow Medicine Show, so I suggest OCMS fans check out the free album download at the end of Brendan’s review…

One aspect of The Parking Lot Movie I particularly enjoyed was the music of Mark Schottinger. According to the film’s website, he’s persuing a law career which seems a shame considering his musical talent.

Mark’s album, Homemade Music, was generously made available as a free download at Bandcamp, and to my ear it’s pure American music, almost Dylanesque.

The opening track “Black and White” could be a folk anthem with lyrics like…”Sitting downtown watching the crowds roll by on that same sad street I thought I’d left behind.

The entreating cry of “Stain” follows…”Feeling bad feels kinda good when I’m with you.

“Putting Up a Fight” introduces a harmonica to the proceedings… “I’m staring deep into my soul, you know I don’t have the hope I once had.

On he goes, looking into his soul with a bluesy brashness. The album culminates with “No Such Thing As Love,” a plaintive lament driven by a steel guitar.

This is foot-tappin’, head-noddin’, angsty blues-folk at its best.