Ghosts of bluesicians, dead and alive


Leo "Bud" Welch
  • Leo "Bud" Welch
Hari Kunzru’s excellent 2017 novel White Tears warned audio engineers not to resurrect the ghosts of blues recording artists in the name of “curating” new releases. But hauntings also come in the works of living artists, especially in a spate of new blues releases, with longtime roots artist Ry Cooder leading the pack. On The Prodigal Son, Cooder and his son offer bare-bones covers of Alfred Reed and Blind Willie Johnson, with arrangements veering from merely unique to downright scary (“Nobody’s Fault But Mine”).

Elsewhere, Mississippi guitarist Leo “Bud” Welch, who passed away last year, had surprised the blues community in 2014 when he made his full-length recording debut at the age of 81. Now, director Wolfgang Pfoser-Almer offers the documentary DVD on Welch, Late Blossom Blues (City Hall), proving that some octogenarians can rock out.

The same can be said of Gene D. Plumber, a Hoboken plumber who’s retired his wrenches and mixes Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and Allen Toussaint covers with his own songs in All the Pretty Girls (Bar None).

And while fewer women may be launching their recording careers at retirement age, there are still some who are following in Sharon Jones’ footsteps. Tami Neilson, who was part of the Canadian family band The Neilsons in the 1990s, has relocated to New Zealand to conjure a Wanda Jackson type of 21st-century rockabilly. Her new Sassafrass! (Outside Music) features 11 original blues-country tracks.

Finally, Janiva Magness, with a two-decade roster of Grammy nominations, recently made a splash at SXSW previewing her new Love Is an Army (Fathead/Blue Elan), where guests like Charlie Musselwhite help her deliver a dozen blues-lounge originals. The pickings from all of these artists are rich, but the ghosts are everywhere.

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