Dear Friends,

As I told you last time, we’re ending what I believe is the hardestbusiness year ever for blues record labels. Hopefully, next year, Alligator will see a turnaround, because we’re looking forward to some terrific new releases.

On January 16th, we’ll present new albums by two of our best-loved artists—The Holmes Brothers and Coco Montoya. The Holmes’ new one is called State Of Grace, which teams the group’s gorgeous harmonizing vocals and rough-edged playing with the fascinating, ambient production sound of Craig Street. To call the Holmes a blues band would simply be wrong, but I don’t know a blues fan who doesn’t love them. They bring their gospel-tinged voices to all kinds of roots material, from straight blues to R&B to Americana singer-songwriter and country, as well as to pure, old-school gospel music. Songs on this new album come from the Holmes’ own pens as well as those of Lyle Lovett, George Jones, Nick Lowe (a thrilling version of “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?), John Fogerty, Hank Williams and even Rick Nielsen (of Cheap Trick!) Joining Sherman and Wendell Holmes and Popsy Dixon are Rosanne Cash, Levon Helm and Joan Osborne, and a host of outstanding players. State Of Grace is the third album in the Holmes’ career resurgence since they joined the Alligator family.

Also delivering his third Alligator album is the rock/blues master Coco Montoya, the big-voiced guitar giant who learned his craft from two great mentors –Albert Collins and John Mayall. I have to believe that all of you know Coco’s music, his “hot sauce and molasses” voice and his soaring solos. The new album, Dirty Deal, is his toughest record yet, capturing his raw bandstand sound in the studio. Part of the secret is the rhythm and slide guitar and producer contribution of Paul Barrere, the veteran member of Little Feat, who pushes Coco to new heights. Cutting with his own road band and with some of the Little Feat gang, Coco just lets loose, delivering his hardest-edged soloing and singing on record. He dives into two new originals, plus songs by Otis Rush, Lowell Fulson, John Mooney, Johnny Copeland, Lloyd Jones and of course a tribute to his adopted father, Albert “The Iceman” Collins. If you’ve sometimes found Coco’s albums a little ‘too studio,’ Dirty Deal is definitely the one for you.

I was telling you last time about the recording of James Cotton’s second Gator, Live From Chicago—Mr. Superharp Himself!!, back in 1986. James already had a bunch of songs he wanted to cut —John Watkins’ (a great talent—where is he now?) Her eI Am, Knocking At Your Door Again, the funkified version of Part Time Love that he had released as a single a few years before on Syl Johnson’s label, an updated take on his signature instrumental, The Creeper, Z.Z. Hill’s When It Rains, It Pours and Osee Anderson’s newly-written Hard Headed.

I suggested that it would be appropriate for him to cut Cotton-ized takes on songs by his two great teachers, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Muddy Waters. He and I chose Sonny Boy’s rarely-recorded Cross Your Heart and the Muddy classic Just To Be With You. Finally, my long-time staffer Mindy Giles gave me the idea that,because James had been a big influence on Paul Butterfield, it would be fun to hear James’ take on Butterfield’s signature tune, Born In Chicago. James took the band into a last-minute rehearsal in his basement and put together a new, horn-sparked arrangement of the song in about half an hour. Not bad, considering that he had never heard the song before!

We cut for two nights at Biddy Mulligan’s, the now-defunct North Side blues haunt, about a mile up the road from the Alligator offices. Timothy Powell, the master of location recording (he kicks the asses of the big-name recording trucks on the coasts) parked his mobile rigin the tiny Biddy’s parking lot. The weather was damn cold, but the band stand was blistering. James and his red-hot band made my job incredibly easy.

More next time,

Bruce Iglauer