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Saturday, November 18, 2023

November 18-19, 2023: AmericanStudying the Blues: 21st Century Artists

[150 years ago this week, the great W.C. Handy was born. So this week I’ve AmericanStudied Handy and other icons of the Blues, leading up to this special weekend post on some contemporary Blues greats!]

One telling song from each of a handful of 21st century Bluesmen & -women.

1)      Gary Clark Jr.’s “12 Bar Blues”: I’m obviously far from an expert (and welcome responses in comments as always), but from what I can tell no 21st century American artist is more grounded in the Blues tradition than Gary Clark Jr. (about whom I’ve written a good bit through one of my favorite 21st century songs). And for proof, check out that hyperlinked video of Clark playing, teaching, & analyzing the genre’s core elements through his “12 Bar Blues.”

2)      Barbara Carr’s “If You Can’t Cut the Mustard”: As I highlighted in Friday’s post, female Blues artists like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith have long pushed the boundaries of sexuality, and so it’s only fitting that one of the 21st century’s most successful Blues singers has consistently done the same. I could have chosen any number of Carr’s classics, but who can resist the line “If you can’t cut the mustard, I don’t want you licking around the jar”?

3)      Buddy Guy’s “Blues Don’t Lie”: A protégé of another of my Friday post subjects, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy has brought the Chicago Blues into the 21st century. And despite being 87 years old, he hasn’t slowed down in the slightest—this song was the title track from his acclaimed 2022 album The Blues Don’t Lie, which won 2023 Blues Music Awards for both Album of the Year and Song of the Year.

4)      Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials’ “Bluesmobile”: Another Chicago Blues legend from the generation after Guy’s, Lil’ Ed Williams has two Blues Music Awards of his own (and six other nominations), all for Band of the Year with the Blues Imperials. The Imperials have released ten albums over the last thirty-five years, so there are plenty of songs to choose from in this spot—but at the risk of repeating myself, who can resist a great metaphor for how the Blues can transport us to another place?

5)      Jaspects’ “Peachtree Blues” (featuring Janelle Monáe): Monáe is one of our most unique contemporary artists, a reflection (like Gary Clark Jr. certainly is as well) of how all our musical genres have become more interconnected and cross-pollinating here in the 21st century. But I’m highlighting this particular song not only because it’s a collaboration with another contemporary Blues group, but also because of a central lyric that implies the important question of where the Blues go from here: “A lonely night on Peachtree/clubs are closed; it’s only three.”

Next series starts Monday,


PS. What do you think? Blues figures or contexts you’d highlight?

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