Sue Foley’s New Album Celebrates Texas Blues

Canadian blues veteran pays homage to artists who prompted her move to the lone star state more than 30 years ago

If you frequently read my blog or know my music taste otherwise, this post probably won’t come as a big surprise. My latest Best of What’s New installment included Dallas Man, an excellent tune by Canadian blues veteran Sue Foley from her new album Pinky’s Blues. When the music is so great, there’s no way I wouldn’t check out the album. Well, that’s what I did, and I very much like what I heard.

Released on October 22, Pinky’s Blues is the 11th studio album by Foley who relocated to Austin, Texas in her early ’20s, drawn to the lone star state by the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Freddie King. Now, after all these years, Foley decided to pay homage to some of the blues artists who were born in Texas or ended up there.

According to a news post on the website of Foley’s record label Stone Plain Records, Pinky’s Blues was recorded last year during COVID lockdown at Fire Station Studios in San Marcos, Texas. In addition to Foley (guitar, vocals), the album features Jon Penner (bass), Chris “Whipper” Layton (drums) and Mike Flanigin (organ) who also served as producer.

Seven of the 10 tracks are renditions of songs by artists like Lavelle White, Frankie Lee Sims, Lillie Mae Donley and Angela Strehli. While there’s no Stevie Ray Vaughan or Freddie King here, it’s still a compelling set of tunes Foley picked to cover. And there are three great original songs, including the aforementioned Dallas Man.

“What you’re hearing is live, off the floor, in the moment the music was played totally spontaneously and, mainly, improvised,” Foley explained. “And, we wanted to make something representative of the Texas blues that we had been schooled on in Austin. So, we picked great songs and I wrote a few of my own to round things out. Everything on it is a labor of love.”

Well, I’d say the time has come to sample some of the goodies! Let’s start with the title track, which also happens to be the opener. Pinky’s Blues, an instrumental written by Foley, refers to her pink paisley Fender Telecaster (called Pinkie) she’s played for decades. Check out that neat sound!

Since I recently covered Dallas Man, I’m skipping it here and go to Southern Men. Originally called Southern Women, the song was written by Leonard Allen and recorded by blues and R&B artist Tommy Brown in 1954.

Here’s Hurricane Girl, the third tune written by Foley. I just love how that song is shuffling along and could totally picture Stevie Ray Vaughan play it. This is so good!

Next up: Stop These Teardrops, a tune written by Lavelle White that appeared on her debut album Miss Lavelle from 1994. What a great rendition! If you’re curious, the compelling original is here.

The final track I’d like to call out is Boogie Real Low, another great cover. The song was written by electric blues guitarist Frankie Lee Sims and titled She Likes to Boogie Really Low. Sims recorded it in 1958.

Further reflecting on her music journey, Foley said, “The fact that I have ended up back in Austin just seems right. My home is Canada and I definitely identify as a Canadian. But I had a yearning for this music and I can’t even put my finger on why or how. It got in my soul when I was a teenager. I guess I was open and I got imprinted by the sound and the force of blues music. I saw my first blues show at 15 and I swear I’ve never been the same.”

To support the release of her new album, Foley has embarked on a large tour of the U.S. and Canada. “After being home for so long, all I really want to do is turn up and play my guitar for as many folks as I can,” Foley said. “I can’t wait to get out on the road.” Her tour schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Stony Plain Records website; Sue Foley website; YouTube

Kenny Wayne Shepherd Returns With Great New Album

Kenny Wayne Shepherd first entered my radar screen about two years ago with the release of his eighth studio album Lay It On Down, which I covered here at the time. Now, the Louisiana guitarist is back with The Traveler. While Shepherd’s music remains anchored in blues rock, his latest release also offers flavors of country, Southern and straight rock. No matter how you characterize it, this record simply presents fun music by a great guitarist who also proves he’s a pretty talented songwriter.

For quick background on Shepherd, I’m quoting from his website: “In a 20-year recording career that began when he was just 16, Shepherd has established himself as an immensely popular recording artist, a consistently in-demand live act and an influential force in a worldwide resurgence of interest in the blues…At 16 years old, he signed his first record deal and burst onto the national scene with the release of his 1995 debut album Ledbetter Heights…In 2013, Shepherd further expanded his musical horizons by teaming with veteran rockers Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg to form THE RIDES, whose first album Can’t Get Enough helped to expand Shepherd’s audience as well as his musical resume.”

Released last Friday, May 31, The Traveler is the Shepherd’s ninth studio album. Eight of the ten tracks are originals written by Shepherd. In addition to playing guitar, he shares lead vocals with Noah Hunt, who has been part of the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band since 1997. The other members include drummer Chris “Whipper” Layton, a co-founding member of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s backing band Double Trouble; Joe Krown  and Jimmy McGorman (both keyboards) and Scott Nelson (bass). The Traveler appears on Concord Records and was co-produced by Shepherd and Marshall Altman with whom Shepherd also worked on his previous two albums. Let’s get to some music.

Here’s the opener Woman Like You, a catchy blues rocker with some nice horn accents, featuring Hunt on lead vocals.

Long Time Running is another great rock tune with horns and Hunt singing lead.

I Want You combines a classic blues riff, great horn fills and a more contemporary drum sound. Here, Shepherd is also handling lead vocals. It is one of the few tunes where he is playing a more extended guitar solo, something that is largely absent on the other tracks.

On Tailwind, a Southern rock style, acoustic-oriented tune, the band is slowing things down. Once again, Hunt is providing lead vocals

The Traveler also includes two covers: Joe Walsh’s Turn To Stone and Buffalo Springfield’s Mr. Soul written by Neil Young. As a big Neil fan, I couldn’t resist the latter. With the dominant horns, it’s a pretty cool version, in my opinion.

“I like albums to have their own identity, and I don’t want to be one of those artists where you know what it’s going to sound like before you even hear it,” Shepherd stated. “I want the new material to be original and give the listener something different. A lot of these songs represent stories I’ve picked up on the road, and the experiences we’ve had along the way.”

“The main thing is to catch the essence of the live shows,” Shepherd further pointed out. “We’re a live band, and when people listen to our records, I want them to hear what we sound like when we play live. As far as my playing goes, I’m still refining my approach, and learning that it’s not about showing off or how flashy you can play. It’s about serving the song and playing what’s right emotionally. I want to move people in the depths of their souls, and to stir my own spirit. The only way I know how to do that is to get everyone recording together in the same room, and everyone’s making eye contact. That’s how spontaneous moments happen.”

Shepherd and his band are busy touring the U.S. and Europe for the remainder of the year. Most of the U.S. dates are with Buddy Guy – damn, this should be an awesome show! Some of the upcoming gigs include Flagstaff, Ariz. (Jun 8); Cincinnati (Jun 16) ; Red Bank, N.J. (Jun 18) – dangerously close to my house – and East Providence, R.I. (Jun 21). Starting toward the end of the month, Shepherd is playing a series of concerts in Europe before returning to the U.S. in late July. The full schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia, Kenny Wayne Shepherd website, Kenny Wayne Shepherd Facebook page, Glide Magazine, YouTube