From the Mississippi cotton fields of a century ago to the main stages of festivals in 2012, the blues is an ever-evolving art form. And if you like your blues simple and acoustic, loud and full of energy, traditional and rootsy, or challenging and fresh, we have something for you. Over the past year, we have likely been to a venue somewhere near you, recording the unique live experience so it’s right at your fingertips — through Concerts on Demand.
Here is a short list of some of the 2012 concerts you can sample when you are looking for that bluesy distraction to your day.
Mavis Staples at Koerner Hall, Toronto, Jan. 29, 2012
AUDIO Kicking the year off right, we were at Koerner Hall in Toronto for a remarkable performance from one of the most highly regarded voices in popular music, Mavis Staples. Growing up in the politically charged ’60s, working alongside iconic figures such as her father, Pops Staples, and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., it is easy to see how a voice like Staples’ still rings with authenticity. After more than a half century in music, one might think Staples’ raspy tone is a sign of age. Nope — she has had that distinct gravel all along.
Watch: Ndidi Onukwulu at the Edmonton International Jazz Festival, Jun. 23, 2012
Perhaps a little cooler and cleaner than Staples is the Canadian expat, now based in France, Ndidi Onukwulu. Onukwulu doesn’t have the depth of life experience as Staples, but her authenticity comes in the form of original material. With a flair for the jazzier side of blues, Onukwulu has spent much of her decade in the business asserting herself as a songwriter. Her knack for creating almost immediately recognizable melodies will have you singing along as if you’ve known the songs forever.
Colin James’s Up Close session in Studio 211 at CBC Toronto, Apr. 19, 2012
AUDIO There is no more recognizable name for pop-infused blues in Canada than Colin James. The beauty of putting James, and his band, into an Up Close session is the opportunity of combining the energy of a live show with the impeccable quality of a recording studio. The blues riffs that come naturally to James’s guitar playing are not lost in the wall of sound coming from his world-class band.
Watch: Garrett Mason and Keith Hallett at the 2012 Halifax Jazz Festival, Jul. 7, 2012
Now, if it is a blues guitar showcase you are looking for, this is the concert you’ll not only be listening to, but watching. In the old days, aspiring blues guitar players would wear out records, playing key licks over and over, trying to match them note for note, by ear. CBC Music is more than happy to help would-be guitarists along with some beautifully shot close-ups from Garrett Mason and Keith Hallett’s show at the Halifax Jazz Festival.
Cold Specks at St. James Hall in Vancouver, Nov. 21, 2012
AUDIO When I spoke to Al Spx, a.k.a. Cold Specks, a few weeks back, she was not too certain about being listed in the blues category — and rightfully so, if you listen simply to her ethereal, ambience-driven sound. But the words she writes, the themes she conveys, and the lead-off tune, “Peace in the Valley,” of this concert, will assure you that Cold Specks is as blues as the best of them.
Almost 20 blues concerts of all shapes and sizes can be found in CBC Music’s Concerts on Demand archive. The year 2012was a good one for recording. Let’s hope 2013 adds more great blues to the audio and video playlist.
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