Chicago labels still keep blues alive
Soul Singer thrills fans in Conway
Pharoah Sanders:
A genius at work

Blues in Helena:
Singin' in the rain

Helena to host bluesmen
Two festivals compete in the delta, but Clarksdale wins
Arkansans on Delmark
John Hurt Festival in Avalon, Miss
Blues Traveling' a helpful guide to tri-state sites
B.B. goes home then to funeral
World-class blues played near here
A memorable weekend: Blues Divas and Handys
B.B. King stops the show at blues weekend
A Century of Boogaloo -
Book Review

Musical highlights from last year


___It was a great year for music, both live and recorded. Our musical journey started out last January in Clarksdale, Miss., where we heard a young soul singer named O.B. Buchana at the local VFW Hall.
___ He played to an enthusiastic audience that line-danced the night away, impressing those in the audience who just sat and watched. Buchana remi
nded us of the great Southern soul singers of the past (James Carr, Johnnie Taylor, O.V. Wright and others), as well as Howard Tate, who's still going strong. Tate, in fact, put on a great show at Hendrix College in November.
___ His newest CD, Rediscovered (Private Music-BMG) was one of our favorites of 2004, a remarkable comeback album by an artist who dropped out of the music scene 30 years ago but reunited with his old producer three years ago and is once again a concert favorite. We also recommend a recent reissue of Tate's Get It While You Can: The Complete Legendary Verve Sessions from 1967 available online from www.hip-oselect. Indispensable. Our musical journey continued in February to Ole Miss, where Living Blues magazine hosted a blues symposium (this year's will be held Feb. 18-19) with B.B. King as the headliner.
___ After receiving an honorary doctorate and congratulations from actor Morgan Freeman, another native of Mississippi, King played for well over an hour and put on a terrific show. Afterward, B.B. met his fans and autographed our LP version of Live at the Regal, which, he told us, many critics consider his best.
___ We told him "Live at the Regal" was the greatest live blues record of all time. He appreciated the compliment, but it wasn't until we did some research months later that we found out that B.B. considers My Kind of Blues (Ace) his favorite record. So we pick "My Kind of Blues" as another one of our favorites of 2004. Our British version of this early '60s LP has several bonus tracks and showcases B.B. in his prime, just before his breakthrough with "Live at the Regal" and his crossover success with white audiences. Other live musical highlights last year included a short visit to the Memphis in May festival, which was an almost total washout, but we did hear Charlie Musselwhite around midnight and he was in great form, as always.
___ His first record, Stand Back: Here Comes Charley Musselwhite's South Side Band (Vanguard) everyone's blues collection. The Blues Divas – Mavis Staples, Bettye Lavette, Ann Peebles, Denise LaSalle, Deborah Coleman, Irma Thomas and Odetta – performed that weekend at Ground Zero in Clarksdale. They're going like gangbusters and still recording and winning awards. Bettye Lavette's Woman Like Me (Blue Express) won a Handy Award, while Staples' new CD, Have a Little Faith (Alligator), will likely win a Handy and Grammy award this year. It's a great gospel CD from a label based in Chicago, where Mavis first recorded with her family more than 45 years ago, when she was a teenager.
___ She still sounds youthful after all these years. Tony Bennett, who is 78, sounds almost as youthful on last year's CD, The Art of Romance (Columbia) as he sings songs by Johnny Man-del ("Close Enough for You," "Little Did I Dream," "Where Do You Start?"), Johnny Mercer ("I Re-member You"), Oscar Hammer-stein ("All in Fun") Harold Arlen ("Don't Like Goodbyes"), Stephen Sondheim ("Being Alive") and other greats. Wonderful stuff, and so is 50 Years of the Artistry of Tony Bennett (Columbia/Legacy), a five-CD set that includes just about everything he's recorded, from "A Sleeping Bee" to "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams."
___ Bennett is as good as Sinatra without the weirdness.
___ Record labels are releasing outstanding music despite pressures from the Internet and listeners who copy music for each other. Because of the growing number of freeloaders – and who among us hasn't cut corners now and then? – record companies keep improving the quality of the sound and putting their material in ever more attractive packaging.
___ Even if you don't have a high-end system, many CDs and especially LPs, sound almost like live music these days. The best-sounding CD we've heard this year is another of our favorites of 2004. Patricia Barber's Live: A Fortnight in France (Blue Note) is a double winner with outstanding sound and wonderful music from a jazzy pianist-singer from Chicago who thrilled audiences during her tour of France last spring. Listen to the CD and it's as if you're there. Blue Note has made its fortune with pop singer Norah Jones, which makes it possible for the label to record lesser-known artists such as Barber and Keren Ann Zeidel, who performs using only her given names. Keren Ann's CD, Not Going Anywhere (Blue Note-EMI) is in a category of its own. Her voice is lovely and her songs fill the air like a bolt from heaven.
___ Blue Note's gifted roster produced other favorites last year: Joe Lovano's I'm All for You: Ballad Songbook with Hank Jones on piano, Paul Motian on drums and George Mraz on bass. Lovano, a great saxophone player who keeps getting better, gets great support from his rhythm section as they play jazz standards "Monk's Mood," "Stella by Starlight," "I Waited for You" and more.
___ Definitely one of our favorites from last year. Hank Jones, who is in his 80s, keeps performing and recording. His Someday My Prince Will Come (Eighty-Eights/Columbia) was recorded with the Great Jazz Trio, which included his late brother, the drummer Elvin Jones, and bassist Richard Davis. Hank Jones is a fine pianist, and hearing Elvin on his last record is a special treat. The Great Jazz Trio has an earlier record out, Autumn Leaves. Our is on LP, and it's terrific. Take it for a spin. Speaking of LPs, our favorite classical vinyl of last year was Janos Starker's Bach: Suites for Un-accompanied Cello (Speakers Corner/Mercury Living Presence).
___ Listening to this three-LP set is to be in the presence of not just one but two musical giants. This is very special – a miracle of reproduced sound at its best.