Hurricane Ruth,
Ain't Ready for the Grave
(independent, 2017)

Kathy & the Kilowatts,
Let's Do This Thing
(Lectro Fine, 2017)

Patty Reese,
Let in the Sun
(Azalea City, 2017)

Currently, much of the blues music I hear is caught in a rut, being no more than rock set off by a few blues riffs. The music has become derivative and repetitive. Put on a new disc and your first thought is likely to be "I feel like I've heard this before." A few -- if not new, then not well enough known -- women artists are at work changing that. These women are using blues as a base to make their own statements and to create a subgenre of their own. Here are three you should be listening to.

Hurricane Ruth earned her nickname by having a huge voice that blasts out of a small body. Raised in her father's tavern, she heard all sorts of music growing up, played by the blues, rock and country artists who appeared at the tavern, and decided that was the life for her.

Maybe she's had to be content to be a cult figure on the blues and soul scene but she's never failed to give a song everything she has. On her fourth album, Ain't Ready for the Grave (reviewed here in April), she develops the theme of not giving up. "I understand I'm not a twenty-something or even a forty something trying for a career, but I have so much to give," she says. "I'm not ready for the grave."

She's right. Hurricane Ruth has a lot to give and on this album she gives it. For one thing, there is her voice. Hers is a powerful, expressive voice that slices through a song like a knife through bread. She makes a song her own. When it ends you know she has wrung out every bit of music it had in it. It is simply astonishing.

Then we're going to need to talk about the band. Ruth surrounds herself with first-rate veteran musicians, graduates of Stevie Vaughn's, Joe Bonnmassa's and Delbert McClinton's bands, among others. These guys can rock, as well as slow it down for a tasty ballad. They also know how to create and drive home an arrangement.

If Hurricane Ruth tends to power a song into submission, Patty Reese is more likely to caress it. She is more Bonnie Raitt than Janis Joplin. Also on her fourth album, Reese has built a steady following in the Mid-Atlantic region, winning 17 Washington-Area music awards [Wammies], including blues album of the year.

Her voice on Let in the Sun is supple and flexible, touching the heart of the song, largely gimmick-free; she puts her faith in the song more than trying to sell it with vocal tricks. She's a confident and warm singer, equally at home with ballads and uptempo blues. The occasional blues cliche slips into her vocals but she believes what she's singing and interprets well. The interpretation skills come in handy in the album's two covers, a fresh and original take on Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" and Steve Earle's "Goodbye." Neither of these are blues songs but Reese brings out the blues lurking beneath the surface on each of them.

The band is strong, made up of some of the D.C. area's most skilled musicians. Co-producer Tommy Lepson adds some fine keys throughout and the guitars are solid and imaginative. The difference between Reese and Hurricane Ruth is mainly that with Hurricane Ruth, you feel you're listening to a band; with Patty Reese, it's more like a singer and accompanying musicians.

The Austin, Texas, blues, rock and soul veteran Kathy Murray and her band, the Kilowatts, check in with Let's Do This Thing, a solid set of Texas music. Murray describes herself as being in the Bonnie Raitt, Susan Tedeschi camp, saying, "We all have a foundation in common in our passion for blues music, but have stepped out of the box and incorporated aspects of rock, soul and other styles in our music." In her case, you might want to add Wanda Jackson to the mix. A rockabilly artist who was billed as the female Elvis, Jackson widened the horizons for female performers, and Murray was one of those artists who noticed and paid attention. Her "Talkin' Out of My Head" could be a Wanda Jackson song.

Of the artists discussed here, Murray has the widest approach to her music, bringing to mind the music of Stevie Ray Vaughn, Lucinda Williams, Freddie King and Lightning Hopkins, among others.

Her band, The Kilowatts, led by her husband, Bill "Monster" Jones, are a collective of veteran Texas musicians who have played with some of the finest bluesmen and women that Austin has produced. A guitar-driven band, with a solid rhythm section and fine horn arrangements, they drive with power, creating a groove that floats Kathy Murray's vocals.

A lot of big news is being made by female blues musicians. These are three of the ones who should be big time in the near future.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

20 May 2017

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

Click on a cover image
to make a selection.

what's new