Reviews Zone

The Blues Foundation International Blues Challenge # 33: Various Artists (Out now)



4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)




A 14-track sampler on one disc, of the best of the blues in the form of the 14 solo, duo and band acts that made it to the finals of this year’s 33rd International Blues Challenge in Memphis.

The Blues Foundation and Frank Roszak Promotions join forces to compile and release this album of all original songs, produced by Barbara Newman and Frank Roszak. What began in 1984 as a handful of acts displaying their blues talents, has grown into the world’s largest gathering of blues musicians, held annually.

First place winner in the band category this year was Dawn Tyler Watson, who opens this record in style with the gospel infused “Shine On”, and she’s got some powerful pipes on her. Montreal-based now, but I do believe she is originally from Kent in the UK.

Canned Heat/George Thorogood style roadhouse blues from Johnny Fink & The Intrusion at track two, with “Let’s Hear Some Blues”, which veers off into riffs made famous by Freddie King and Howling Wolf. These cats can play.

Lovely stripped back traditional acoustic blues from Randy McQuay, and “Till I Get To Memphis”, channelling the likes of Robert Johnson and Bukka White. Really nice job.Passionate vocals and cool slide guitar. Some nice blues harp from Brody Buster’s One Man Band, on the country blues “2029”. He’s got a Steve Earle and the Dukes thing goin’ on and it’s pretty cool.

First place solo/duo winner Al Hill gives us “Don’t Dig Today”, a piano blues. He nods heavily to the great Ray Charles. Stripped back to just voice, piano and bass. Lovely stuff, representing Nashville Blues Society. Not just country from that Music City.

Israel Blues Society offer up the superb Sobo Blues Band and their infectious “Catfish Boogie”, all the way from Jerusalem for the IBC 2017 challenge in Memphis. Ruth Wyand has a distinctive and commanding voice, on the Ruth Wyand & The Tribe Of One track “I Don’t Have Proof”, which she penned.

The Souliz Band featuring Sugar & Spice well and truly nail the groove on “Good Lovin (Hot & Fresh From The Oven), “in a Koko Taylor mode. Sassy vocal from Myra Glover (Sugar) and Velma Glover (Spice). A seven-piece from Tampa, Florida.

If you like front porch, down-home, acoustic blues, then track nine of the 14, from Felix Slim, “I Hate You Cause I Love You” is a prefect way to spend five minutes and 56 seconds of your time. Killer guitar licks and a great mature voice, sounding like an old back guy from the days of Robert Johnson. But he’s white and a fairly youngish guy. New York-based and I think he may be from Honduras, originally. Lived and studied in Spain, that I do know. Worth discovering.

Mississippi Delta Blues Society sent Wes Lee to represent them. He gives us “Chains That Bind”. Sam Joyner blends blues and soul to offer up “Onions Ain’t The Only Thing”. Rae Gordon & The Backstreet Drivers provide “Elbow Grease” and Ms Rae growls and squeals her way through the song she co-wrote.

Hard hitting blues rockers King Bee come up with the penultimate and menacingly powerful cut, “Dangerous”, which features some stinging harp licks nodding heavily towards the great Magic Dick from the J. Geils Band.

Toronto Blues Society’s Sugar Brown closees proceedings with “Meet Me In The Country”, a charming, stripped-down country blues and roots flavoured cut. Sugar Brown aka Dr. Ken Kawashima, PhD.  Kawashima was born in 1971 and is a scholar and professor of East Asian history, as well as a scholar of music. A really good find.

By the sound of it; and these 14 different blues artists, the blues as a music genre is in very safe hands for the future, methinks. A great pity there is no UK or European representation included.

Belfast-based Kaz Hawkins and her band performed at this year’s IBC in Memphis, but didn’t quite make it to the finals. Come on UK blues acts; let’s have a winner from these shores for IBC 2018 or 2019 – we definitely have the talent over here…



By Simon Redley


1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) ‘Dull Zone’
2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’




Follow us for all the latest news!

This function has been disabled for Music Republic Magazine.