Various Ruf Records Artists – 25 Years Anniversary
CD – 14 Tracks/53:27
DVD – 62 minutes
Founded in 1994, Ruf Records was initially conceived as a vehicle to further the career of Luther Allison, His manager, Thomas Ruf, formed the label, christening it with the motto, “When the Blues Crosses Over”. Over the last two and a half decades, the label has released over 300 recordings from a wide range of artists including Allison, his son Bernard, Candye Kane, Samantha Fish, Robin Trower, Walter Trout, Royal Southern Brotherhood, and the latest release, Mike Zito’s star-studded tribute to Chuck Berry.
The audio disc starts off with a rocking “Texas Honey,” the title track from Ally Venable’s release from earlier this year, her guitar spitting out crunching chords. Jeremiah Johnson shows off his fretboard dexterity on “Straitjacket,” another title track. Things get funkier as Bernard Allison imparts a tale of betrayal on “Backdoor Man,”seeking consolation through his mournful slide licks. Two more title tracks are offered, with Samantha Fish giving a sultry performance on “Chills & Fever,” while Mike Zito treats listeners to drivin’ expression of gratitude on “First Class Life,” his slide guitar work front and center.
Guitarist Vanja Sky offers a raucous run-through of “Hard Working Woman” that is sure to delight fans who want plenty of rock with their blues. Next, Kim Simmonds shows he hasn’t lost a thing, leading the most recent edition of the venerated band, Savoy Brown, through a taut “Why Did You Hoodoo Me”. The BB King Blues Band takes listeners for a stroll through the New Orleans musical landscape on “Low Down,” then guitarist Michael Lee, who has fronted the band at times, gets his turn with “Weeds,” a tune more fitting for a pop music audience.
While many of the Ruf releases are guitar oriented, the label also features the soulful voice of Big Daddy Wilson on “Deep In My Soul,” a dark lament with horn accents and Laura Chavez on guitar. Grammy nominee Victor Wainwright pounds his piano with his band, the Train, in hot pursuit as they do their best to cure the “Boogie Depression”. Another piano player, Katrina Pejak, adopts a calmer approach, her smoky voice a fine fit on “She’s Coming After You”. Ina Forsman melds hip-hop and blues influences over a wah-wah guitar on “Get Mine,” with surprising results. The final cut features the Ragtime Rumours, a quartet from the Netherlands that won the European Blues Challenge last year. “Faker” showcases the band’s eclectic approach to the blues tradition.
The DVD compiles live performances taken from Ruf’s Songs From The Road or the Blues Caravan series, getting off to a rousing start with the gritty vocals of Thorbjorn Risager, with backing by his large band, the Black Tornado, on “If You Want To Leave”. The disc primarily focuses on other artists on the label, so viewers get to experience Dana Fuchs using her powerful voice to revive the Janis Joplin legacy on “Bliss Avenue”. The next track starts off with a close-up of the late drummer, Yonrico Scott, as he kicks off “Moonlight Over The River,” from the Royal Southern Brotherhood, with Mike Zito, Cyril Neville, Devon Allman, and Charlie Wooten.
Two other guitarists appear, with Joanne Shaw Taylor packing plenty of emotion into her original, “Diamonds In The Dust,” while Oli Brown, a blues rocker popular in the UK, shows off his frantic fretwork on “Here I Am”. Following that are five videos taken from the annual Blues Caravan, that pairs three Ruf artists in a traveling roadshow. Venable, Forsman, and Pejak were this year’s group, turning in a version of “The House Is Rocking” that starts out slow and easy before bursting into a fast paced boogie with Pejak’s keyboard work a shining moment. “Low Down And Dirty” finds Zito, Sky, and Allison having too much fun, sharing the lead vocal while Allison’s slide guitar steals the show.
Equally fine is the clip of Big Daddy Wilson wrapping his rich voice around the “Country Boy Soul Medley,” with Chavez and Vanessa Collier on alto sax providing the instrumental highlights. The 2016 edition featured Forsman with singers Layla Zoe and Tasha Taylor, the latter nowhere to be seen in an engaging cover of “Honky Tonk Woman”. Albert Castiglia joined fellow guitar slingers Laurence Jones and Christine Skjolberg for some high-octane string bending on “Join Me On The Blues Caravan”. “So Sad (The World’s In A Tangle)” has a latter day line-up of Canned Heat, with original members Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra on drums and the late Larry Taylor on bass with Dale Spalding on vocals and guitar along with John Paulus, filling in for Harvey Mandel. Saving the best for last, closing the disc is a clip of Luther Allison pouring his heart on his original, “Living In The House Of Blues,” bringing the Ruf story full circle.
With the ever shrinking number of record labels still putting out quality blues music, this set serves as a reminder of riches to be found in the Ruf catalog, and the label’s enduring dedication to the genre in its many forms. No doubt there are plenty of treats to be enjoyed on this fine Anniversary package!