John’s Blues Picks is the monthly album review column by Toronto-based blues columnist, John Valenteyn. John Valenteyn is co-founder of the Toronto Blues Society, radio host on CIUT.FM and the Toronto Blues Society’s resident album reviewer. John’s Blues Picks (JBP) are collected monthly in the Toronto Blues Society’s monthly print newsletter, Maple Blues.


John’s Blues Picks December 2017 – André Bisson

This Hamilton artist was part of the Toronto Blues Society presentation at the Hot & Spicy Festival at Harbourfront Centre this past Labour Day Weekend, making it one of the very few opportunities we’ve had to see this veteran performer. We have his albums, though, and they are all ambitious efforts, with good songs and large casts and this one is no exception, in fact some songs on Break feature twenty players.

John’s Blues Pick November 2017 – Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters

Ronnie Earl’s Broadcasters have had one of the most consistent lineups over the years. As each new album arrived, Dave Limina was on B3, Lorne Entress, drums and Jim Mouradian was on bass. But after a performance this past January, Mouradian suddenly passed away. A new album would be an obvious way to deal with the loss. Earl calls it “A traditional blues album of remembrance, love, and unwavering resolve to live with faith and gratitude.

John’s Blues Pick November 2017 – Jackie Shane

You may have seen the stories in the papers recently about this hugely important and influential performer active here in the 60’s and who then disappeared. Jackie Shane was a transgender star in an era when this was most unlikely, perhaps especially in 60’s Toronto. Appearing regularly at the Big Bop, the Brass Rail and the Saphire Tavern with dual trumpeter Frank Motley and his Motley Crew, Shane drew huge crowds.

John’s Blues Pick November 2017 – Jim Byrnes

Jim Byrnes has found a modus operandi that continues to pay large dividends for him: songs he remembers from his formative years in St. Louis MO, newly written originals and new interpretations of solid classics. His ‘warm & weathered’ singing style has been recognized with many awards, including several Maple Blues Awards and the key really is his voice, it allows him to make almost any song his own.

John’s Blues Pick November 2017 – Little Miss Higgins

My Home, My Heart arrives after a little bit of a hiatus from recording for Jolene ‘Little Miss’ Higgins, brought about by her new arrival and that new son is the subject of several of the songs here. It builds on the Bison Ranch Recording Sessions in that it uses a large group of players, different ones this time, and the new songs are very good indeed.

John’s Blues Pick November 2017 – Various Artists

In a first for this label, we get a fabulous collection of modern day harp performances from Electro-Fi’s back catalogue. In an era where it seems only guitar players get noticed, this collection is a welcome antidote. It’s also an indication of the breadth of traditional blues in the catalogue: from the opening solo live-in-the-studio flight of Paul Oscher on several harmonicas to the full out acrobatics of Mark Hummel’s “Harpoventilating”.

John’s Blues Pick October 2017 – Jason Buie

Jason Buie hails from Vancouver Island where he’s said to be one of its finest guitar players. He certainly plays very well here and puts that talent to very good use on some fine rocking blues originals on this, his third CD. Keyboard ace Dave Webb provides the other lead instrument with George Fenn on bass and John Hunter on drums.

John’s Blues Pick October 2017 – Morgan Davis

Our master of the less-is-more school of blues is back with a new collection. As you might be able to tell from the cover and the title, Morgan Davis’ latest reflects the life of a travelling bluesman. The title song opens, with Morgan singing of the motels he searches for on the road, it’s family-run operations that make him feel comfortable. It’s just him on guitar, the way he travels most often these days and it sounds like his cigar-box guitar at that.

John’s Blues Pick October 2017 – Rob Lutes

Veteran Montreal singer/songwriter Rob Lutes treats us to another fine collection of new ones. As it says in the press release, he is ‘situated at the intersection of blues, folk, Americana & contemporary singer/songwriter genres’. It’s a place he shares with people like Ray Bonneville & Thom Swift, both of whom use his songs.

John’s Blues Pick October 2017 – Downchild

That Downchild is still with us and sounding so good is one of the wonders of our world. From those early days at Grossman’s to their concert hall & festival appearances today, the quality of those eighteen albums over fifty years is truly remarkable. A band that was (in)famous for lineup changes has now had the same one for some twenty years.

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The Toronto Blues Society acknowledges the annual support of the Ontario Arts Council, the City of Toronto through the Toronto Arts Council and the Department of Canadian Heritage, and project support from FACTOR< and the Government of Canada through the Department of Canadian Heritage (Canada Music Fund) and of Canada’s Private Broadcasters, The Canada Council for the Arts, the SOCAN Foundation, SOCAN, the Ontario Media Development Corporation, and the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport.

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