Grammy nominee Bob Corritore has had a long and esteemed career in and around the blues. As a harmonica player, venue owner, radio show host and multiple award winner (Living Blues Award and more), he has done a great deal to shine a light on the blues. In addition to his own deep catalog of releases featuring his music, Corritore’s record label SWAMF (South West Musical Arts Foundation) has titles highlighting the work of other significant artists. Just since 2020, SWAMF has released at least ten albums of new material. The latest among those is Women in Blues Showcase.
Part of Corritore’s “From the Vaults” series, this new collection brings together a dozen studio tracks, all recorded between 2001 and 2022. Half of the cuts are previously unreleased. The vocalists showcased on the set include (in alphabetical order) Carol Fran, Diunna Greenleaf, Valerie June, Barbara Lynn, Shy Perry, Aliya Primer, Francine Reed and Koko Taylor. Those eight names offer listeners a pleasing cross-section of blues royalty (Taylor, guitarist-singer Barbara Lynn), current-day stars (Greenleaf, June) and up-and-comers like Perry.
The ladies all hold their own across this collection that mixes original compositions (like Greenleaf’s loping “Be for Me”) and classics (Aliya Primer’s slinky reading of “Tee Ni Nee Nu,” Reed’s haunting reinvention of The Staple Singers’ “Why Am I Treated So Bad” and more). Corritore – who co- produced the sessions with Clarke Rigsby and John Wroble in Tempe, Arizona and Chicago – drew upon some impressive players to provide top-flight instrumental support on the sessions; guitarist Bob Margolin backs Taylor and Greenleaf.
There’s an admirable variety in texture, tone and overall musical approach across the selections. Carol Fran’s “I Just Need a Friend” is soulful, subtle and impassioned. Valerie June’s Americana-flavored blues is exemplified by her stripped-own reading of the traditional “Crawdad Hole.” Taylor’s outsize, raucous and swaggering persona comes to the fore on her original “What Kind of Man is This.”
Shy Perry displays guts in taking on Willie Dixon’s chestnut “Wang Dang Doodle,” but she handily puts her own stamp on the tune. Carol Fran digs deep into the grooves on her own statement of purpose, “I Needs to Be Be’d With.” Diunna Greenleaf’s take on Willie Dixon’s “Don’t Mess with the Messer” perfectly nails the sweet spot in which r&b and blues meet; the spirited horn charts on the tune are spot-on, too. Carol Fran ably fronts a big band arrangement on “Walkin Slippin’ and Slidin’” to great effect.
Throughout the proceedings, Corritore deftly weaves his blues harp into the arrangements, always adding just the right texture, and never overplaying or taking the focus away from the featured vocalist. One one track he might lay down clean, single-note melodic lines; on another he blasts out with wonderfully distorted fury. It’s a testament to his good taste in playing and production that these disparate recordings all fit together as a cohesive whole.