Blues music originated in the US in the late 19th century. Generated in the cotton states of the deep south, for a long time the genre remained a preserve of African-Americans—who were the main exponents as well as the primary audience. Although the genre and its influence spread to other parts of the US, it wasn’t until the 1960s that the blues reached larger swathes of white audiences. The story of how British musicians of that era, including The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, popularized the blues among a wider audience is well known.
Today, the genre has spread across the world and thrived with blues singers emerging everywhere. And although blues musicians the world over tend to go under-appreciated compared to their counterparts in rock, in Europe, particularly in Holland and the Nordics, blues music is big. And even in the US, a new crop of blues musicians has been re-inventing the genre. Here are seven new(-ish) musicians—both from outside the US and within—whom every blues lover must check out.
INA FORSMAN:All of 24, Forsman is a blues singer from Finland, gifted with a stunning, powerhouse voice. Her second album, Been Meaning To Tell You, which came out in late January, has 12 songs, all self-composed, which capture her remarkable range. Like most blues singers in Europe she sings in English and on her album she moves from the slow, sensual album opener, Be My Home, to the jazzy R&B track All Good, but also funky songs and Latin-influenced tunes. Forsman started singing professionally in her teens and has gigged in the US to considerable acclaim. Track pick: Miss Mistreated.
TOMISLAV GOLUBAN: A Croatian, Goluban is a singer and harmonica player who has been playing the blues for more than 20 years in his home country and has been influenced and inspired by the Chicago blues greats, including Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley. He recently made a trek to Chicago—the city whose music influenced him greatly—to record his 10th album, Chicago Rambler. His is a distinct style, inspired by great blues harmonica players such as Jimmy Reed and Slim Harpo, and his new album rocks. His effortless style of playing and his comfortable, relaxed vocals make his songs a treat to listen to. Track pick: Locked Heart.
BOOGIE BEASTS: Holland’s four-member blues band describes its sound on their website as “Black Keys jamming with John Lee Hooker at a rave in the wee hours of the morning". Boogie Beasts love electric Delta blues but they take it and give it a psychedelic groove. Their sound is quite unique and infectious, placing them among the blues genre’s new era of musicians. Their latest album, Deep, with 10 tracks, is a trippy set of songs with mainly English lyrics. Track pick: Gonna Be Your Man (the only one with French lyrics).
JOHN AKAPO: Taumei “Big John" Akapo is a Hawaiian native who sings his blues with a deep Samoan influence. His debut album, Paradise Blues, came out last autumn, but his is a career with unique phases. He began as a musician at luaus (Hawaiian beach parties) and then had a long career as a hip hop producer. He brings to traditional blues a Polynesian touch that makes classic songs stand out. Paradise Blues has his takes on Robert Johnson’s Ramblin On My Mind and Muddy Waters’ I Can’t Be Satisfied, but it also has Akapo’s originals. Track pick: Maui Drive.
ELECTROBLUESSOCIETY:Yes, they write their name like that and are a duo comprising Jasper Mortier and Jan Mittendorp from the Netherlands. Their style is to take live vintage blues sounds and mix it with electronics. Their most recent recording is with veteran Mississippi bluesman Boo Boo Davis rendering Willie Dixon’s Little Red Rooster and Howlin’ Wolf’s Smokestack Lightnin’. Their live shows are heady, with the stage full of computers, a plethora of conventional instruments, and midi controllers, all handled by the duo, while a guest singer often joins them. The result is electrifying. Track pick: Little Red Rooster.
ROBERT CONNELY FARR: A southern American who now lives in Vancouver, Connely Farr’s brand of blues is of a dark and gritty variety. His latest album, Dirty South Blues, released on New Year’s Eve last year, is packed with excellent tracks: sweaty raw blues just the way they were meant to be sung. Listening to his songs feels like you’re sitting on a porch in rural Mississippi as the band plays an impromptu gig. It’s difficult to choose the best tracks from among the 10 he’s released because all of them are good. If you’re missing good old southern electric blues, Connely Farr is your man. Track pick: Yes Ma’am (Live).
DRY JOHNSON: Bassist Terry Dry and drummer Matthew Robert Johnson are a duo from Austin, Texas, and are the rhythm section of the Mark Zito band, a blues rock outfit, but the two have a debut album, Long Live Them Blues, Vol.1 which features guest singers and musicians belting out 11 songs, including nine originals. The guests, mostly accomplished musicians from Texas, bring in different styles but it is the powerful rhythm section that gives the album its edgy character—one that is steeped in Southern rock’s brand of blues. Track pick: Too Many Hipsters.
The Lounge List
Five tracks to bookend your weekend
1. ‘Miss Mistreated’ by Ina Forsman from ‘Been Meaning To Tell You’
2. ‘Gonna Be Your Man’ by Boogie Beasts from ‘Deep’
3. ‘Yes Ma’am’ by Robert Connely Farr from ‘Dirty South Blues’
4. ‘Little Red Rooster’ by ElectroBluesSociety and Boo Boo Davis (it’s a single digital download)
5. ‘Maui Drive’ by John Akapo from ‘Paradise Blue’
First Beat is a column on what’s new and groovy in the world of music.
He tweets at @sanjoynarayan