The Best of 2008, Part 5: Blues & Louisiana Music

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If whack jazz isn’t exactly your cup of tea, this fifth and final installment of “The Best of 2008” might suit you better. It’s all about the blues, here.

I took a fairly broad view of what is called “the blues.” Some of these records may not have a single twelve-bar blues in them, but they will all have enough of a blues feel to qualify. On top of that, if there’s any great New Orleans-oriented music I’ve covered not noted on the other lists, they will go on this one.

After taking a good, hard look back at the year, I’m happy to report that the blues is alive and well. Unfortunately, one of its brightest young stars no longer is. Which brings us to the best blues album of 2008:

Best CD Of The Batch: Sean Costello – We Can Get Together

When I decided to make We Can Get Together the top blues CD of 2008, I had a nagging feeling I was only picking this record because Costello tragically died a day before his 29th birthday the month after this record was released. But re-reading what I wrote about the record before his death confirmed this wasn’t a sympathy pick; Costello’s swan song CD really is that good. Listening to it again as I type this confirms my initial impression.

So what makes We Can Get Together so good? In a word, everything. The songwriting runs the gamut of his considerable influences and is consistently strong, the singing is sincerely passionate and of course, Costello had the chops on guitar. This kid was the complete package and was just entering a point in his career where he should have ascended to the top of the blues kingdom and stayed there for a long time. Fate had other plans, however, and we are left with one fantastic record preceded by some pretty darned good ones.

So long, Sean. The blues world will miss you for a long time to come.

Best Song Of The Batch:
Swamp Cabbage – “Jesus Tone”

This is gospel of a different sort. While most of ’em expresses the need for God as the path to salvation, the narrator is depending on the Son of God for his mojo on an electric axe. With Matt Lindsey’s honking bass, Jagoda’s rock-steady beat and Walter Parks’ Billy Gibbons growl and his thick blues lines to match, it’s raw and righteous.

It may sound clichéd to say this, but “Jesus Tone” may be the best song ZZ Top never played.

Best Of The Rest:

Susan TedeschiBack To The River
: Each Tedeschi record is a little better than the prior one; it’s getting harder for the masses to ignore her much longer.

Dr. John And The Lower 911The City That Care Forgot: Mack Rebennack is angry. Talented, angry musicians are usually inspired to make good music, and this is no exception.

Taj MahalMaestro
: This serves as a reminder that no one from the blues does “eclectic” better than Taj.

The Homemade Jamz Blues BandPay Me No Mind: B.B. King endorses these kids. That’s a pretty heady compliment.

B.B. KingOne Kind Favor
: : Nick would kick my ass if I didn’t include B.B.’s T-Bone Burnett-produced triumphant return to the fifties blues.

ScrapomaticSidewalk Caesars: With one member an award-winning songwriter and the other an outstanding singer, the Scrapomatic guys are master craftsmen of roots music.

Mike ZitoToday
: Can anyone fill Sean Costello’s shoes? Probably not, but Mike Zito can at least make you forget about Costello for a little while.

North Mississippi AllstarsHernando
: Thankfully, Electric Blue Watermelon was just a temporary diversion.

Swamp CabbageSqueal
: From dixieland to blue-rock, the common thread in Swamp Cabbage’s music is the rich musical heritage of the South.

Eric BibbGet Onboard
: Solid, folk-blues music from beginning to end. Like all other Bibb records.

Left Lane CruisersBring Yo’ Ass To The Table
: Watch out White Stripes and Black Keys, Left Lane Cruisers is one loud duo that understands the blues well.

Charlie HadenRambling Boy: This isn’t blues, this isn’t Louisiana music, this isn’t even jazz. But Haden’s moving return to his pre-jazz country folk roots deserves a salute somewhere. Haden’s personal reflection is precisely the right way to end our year-end retrospective.

Merry Christmas, Music Lovers!

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