Congratulations to the winners of the 24th International Blues Challenge, held January 31st through February 2nd on and around Beale Street.
Trampled Under Foot, a three-piece family band sponsored by the Kansas City Blues Society, won the band competition, beating out nearly 100 groups from around the country and overseas. The second-place finisher was Shakura S'Aida, an international entrant sponsored by the Toronto Blues Society that specializes in the soul and R&B side of the blues. Third place was a familiar name in the blues world, the Lil' Ray Neal Blues Band, sponsored by the Baton Rouge Blues Society. "Lil' Ray" is the brother of longtime blues stalwart Kenny Neal.
In the solo/duo competition, Lionel Young, a classically trained violinist sponsored by the Colorado Blues Society, took home the top prize. Second place went to Florida's Ben Prestage, sponsored by the Blues Society of the Treasure Coast.
The winner for best self-produced CD went to Sophisticated Ladies by Sue Palmer and Her Motel Swing Orchestra, sponsored by Blues Lovers United of San Diego.
In the Clubs: Local hard-rockers Egypt Central have completed a rocky, twisty journey from their formation in the heyday of nü-metal to the national release of their eponymously titled debut album last month, a journey described by lead singer John T. Falls in an interview in last week's issue of the Flyer.
The band was signed to major-label Lava Records earlier in the decade after playing only eight shows and seemed set to follow Saliva out of the local hard-rock scene and onto the national charts. But upheaval in the music business and changing trends sidelined the band, which was dropped by Lava after recording their debut album but before the record could be released.
That album was finally released this month via an independent label started by one of the band's managers and has been a success so far. The album debuted at #8 on Billboard's "New Artist" chart, selling 2,000 copies its first week. The album's initial single, "You Make Me Sick," has been added to playlists at "active rock" stations in more than 50 cities.
The band returns home this week for a free show at the Hard Rock Café Saturday, February 16th. Earlier that day, the band will be signing copies of the new album from 2 to 4 p.m. at Cat's in Midtown.
Memphis-based sax/flute player Hope Clayburn recently returned to town after touring Europe with Nashville soul band the Dynamites, and she's bringing back her "Soul Scrimmage" project at a new venue. Once a fixture at the Full Moon Club, Clayburn will play the ringleader for a night of live music at Printer's Alley this week. The show is Saturday, February 16th, starting at 11 p.m. For more info, see MySpace.com/HopeClayburn.
In the Racks: There are several national releases with local connections being released this month. Blues musician Otis Taylor (who appears this month at the Folk Alliance conference) has released his Recapturing the Banjo (Telarc). He's joined by a group of blues and roots performers, including Corey Harris, Keb' Mo', Guy Davis, and Memphis' own Alvin Youngblood Hart.
Meanwhile, the soundtrack to John Sayles' new blues-themed film Honeydripper (Rhino) features new music from former Stax star Mable John, who appears in the film. Of even more local note in the blues field is a new B.B. King Live DVD (Geffen), which features performances recorded at the B.B. King Blues Clubs in Nashville and Memphis. The Beale Street performances were taped at the legend's namesake club October 29th and 30th of last year.
Athens, Georgia, jam band Widespread Panic needs no help winning over local fans, but the beloved band's newest album, Free Somehow, has a strong local connection via Memphis-bred producer Terry Manning. Similarly, Mississippi-based singer-songwriter Paul Thorn is such a ubiquitous and popular local draw that he might as well be an honorary Memphian. Thorn's new album, A Long Way From Tupelo (Perpetual Obscurity), is set for release next week.