Ewan McLennan,"Stories Still Untold" (Fellside FECD 263)
Ewan McLennan's rousing rendition of his own "Whistling the Esperanza" was one of the highlights of BBC4's excellent "Transatlantic Sessions" series, and the Scottish singersongwriter's third Fellside album is another musical tour de force,showcasing a finely judged assortment of selfpenned songs and haunting traditional material. "A Beggar" and the Chartist hymn,"Song of the Lower Classes" are particularly memorable efforts, and Ewan also invests compelling ditties such as " Prince Robert" and "Granite Cage" with a power and passion which puts me in mind of the great Dick Gaughan in his pomp,and you can't really ask for a higher recommendation than that.
Mike Zito and the Wheel,"Songs from the Road" (Ruf 1206)
Missouri born Mike Zito was a founding member of the highly regarded Royal Southern Brotherhood and his new solo career should continue to flourish on the evidence presented by "Songs from the Road," a highly enjoyable CD/DVD package which captures the singerguitarist in his natural element,regaling his euphoric Texan audience with a live set featuring some of the most visceral bluesy rock that you'll be likely to hear in this or any other year. Zito's interplay with saxist Jimmy Carpenter is a joy to behold as he serves up fine tracks such as "Rainbow Bridge" and "Pearl River" alongside a surprisingly effective cover of Prince's "Little Red Corvette."
Mark Harrison,"The World Outside" (available from www.markharrisonrootsmusic.com)
Roots music enthusiasts won't need me to remind them about this stylish guitar picker's timeless approach to the charms of the acoustic blues. Mark's third album is arguably his finest offering to date,tackling topics as diverse as New Orleans funerals, the optimism of youth and the arcane workings of the economic system with grace,subtlety and charm,aided and abetted by the excellent backing band who've served him so well in the past. "Panic Attack," "Your Second Line" and the autobiographical "Long Long Way To Go" are particularly fine efforts.
"Ruf Records 20 Years Anniversary" (Ruf 1208)
Thomas Ruf's excellent blues label celebrate their twentieth birthday with the release of a nicely varied 2CD anthology focussing attention on some of the top notch performers who've recorded for them over the years,including luminaries such as Jeff Healey, Spin Doctors and Kim Simmonds' Savoy Brown. Ruf Records was originally founded to create an outlet for the undervalued talents of the late Luther Allison, and the soulful Chicago bluesman closes proceedings with what proved to be his final recording,a spirited cover of the Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" incorporating the backing vocals from Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side."
Jacques Brel,"Simply Brel" (Union Square Music)
The delights of French chanson are still something of an acquired taste on this side of the English Channel but Jacques Brel's literate and theatrical creations transcend all barriers of language and culture,and this fine 3 CD set brings together a generous selection of his early recordings,including what is arguably his best known song,"Ne Me Quitte Pas." The Belgian singersongwriter's finest material may have been covered in translation by rock and pop luminaries such as Scott Walker,David Bowie and Alex Harvey over the years but these archive performances possess a power and passion that has rarely been equalled by any of his well meaning admirers.
Canned Heat,"Live in Europe 1973" (Salvo SVX031)
The latest CD/DVD package in Salvo's excellent series of recordings from the Montreux Jazz Festival captures the 1973 incarnation of Canned Heat in concert at the prestigious Swiss event. Inveterate record collector and larger than life frontman Bob Hite led an outfit which was steeped in the authentic spirit of the blues,and they were joined on four of the tracks here by veteran Texan guitarist and fiddler Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, who added his own unique brand of showmanship to fine ditties such as "Please Mr.Nixon" and "Worried Life Blues." Splendid stuff.
Steve Earle,"Live in Europe 2005" (Salvo SVX 037)
Perennial protest singer Steve Earle is in typically honest and selfdeprecating form in another richly rewarding two disc set from the Montreux archives. Armed with just an acoustic guitar,mandolin and wheezing harmonica ,Earle regaled the audience as the city's Stravinsky Auditorium with some choice extracts from his challenging repertoire,including the title track from Steve's 1988 breakthrough album,"Copperhead Road" and some pointed examples of his flair for acute social commentary such as "Dixieland" and the sadly all too topical "Rich Man's War."
Jim Keaveney,"Out of Time" (Available from www.jimkeaveny.com)
Keaveney's name may not be familiar to all but the most dedicated devotee of authentic Americana but "Out of Time" is actually the Texas based performer's fifth album,and if its four predecessors were anything like as good as this they must have been rare works of art indeed. Jim's music is a beguiling throwback to the golden age of the singersongwriter,prompting comparisons with the likes of Dylan,Woody Guthrie and Townes van Zandt as he serves up free flowing and tuneful gems such as "From The Black," "How Was I To Know" and "Eugene To Yuma" for your listening pleasure.
Erja Lyytinen,"The Sky Is Crying" (Tuohi THC001CD)
This impressive new CD finds Erja Lyytinen paying homage to the rich musical legacy of Elmore James as she tackles some of the legendary bluesman's most compelling creations,including "Dust My Broom," "It Hurts Me Too" and the emotionally charged title tune. Her vocals may still be something of an acquired taste, but surely noone could quibble about Erja's instrumental prowess as the Finnish slide guitarist brings her modern sensibilities to bear on these stirring offerings from one of the leading lights of fifties blues.