2015 was another excellent year for new blues albums. Here’s our pick of 21 of the cream of the crop.
Shemekia Copeland: Outskirts of Love. Down at the Crossroads’ number one pick this year. Fabulous music, brought alive by Shemekia’s outstanding vocal performances, which vary between understated, powerhouse, sultry and downright bluesy. But it’s an album where she makes us take a long hard look at the world and its ills in what is an almighty fusing of blues and gospel.
Buddy Guy: Born to Play Guitar. The legendary pioneer of the Chicago blues scene, who has just turned 79, proves he is still a master of the genre. His guitar work is as top-notch as ever and oh, he’s in fine voice here. A star studded guest list includes Billy Gibbons, Van Morrison, Kim Wilson and Joss Stone. Van Morrison duets with Guy on the poignant Flesh & Bone, a tribute to the late BB King. A fine set of classic blues tracks.
Hans Theessink & Terry Evans: True & Blue. Recorded live in Vienna, this album captures two of the world’s finest acoustic bluesmen at the top of their game. Theessink’s guitar work is rhythmic and masterful throughout, and the contrasting timbres and styles of both men’s voices – Evans’ soulful, tenor, with judiciously injected falsetto, and Theessink’s rich, lazy baritone – combine to enrich and enliven the songs.
Gary Clark Jr.: The Story of Sonny Boy Slim. This album pushes forward Clark’s continued modern take on the blues, with hints of R&N, funk and gospel as well as the blues. The guitar work is outstanding as is Clark’s expressive vocals. If the album has a theme, according to Clark, it is simply, “Through all the b*s*, there’s always hope.”
Amy Helm: Didn’t It Rain. Not 100% blues, but certainly blues infused throughout. This is one very fine album from the daughter of Levon Helm that has a mixture of original songs and covers, with a rootsy, bluesy and gospel feel to the fore. Ms. Helm is a terrific singer and this album one of the finest I’ve listened to all year.
Sonny Landreth: Bound By the Blues. Driven by Landreth’s always excellent slide guitar, Bound By the Blues, sees the artist return to his blues roots with ten classic blues numbers, including “Walking Blues,” “Dust My Broom,” and “Key to the Highway.” The album is a complete delight, simple as that.
Guy Davis: Kokomo Kid. A largely acoustic mixture of classic blues songs, Dylan and Donovan numbers and Davis originals. Davis is a fine, rhythmic guitar picker and the songs are reminiscent of classic country blues. He’s also a great story teller and the album transports you to another time, when things were not so hurried or harried.
Harrison Kennedy with Colin Linden: This is From Here. Canadian singer/songwriter in collaboration with compatriot guitar-slinger Colin Linden offers up an outstanding set of acoustic blues songs. Heartfelt blues with a nice hint of sould.
Eric Bibb: Lead Belly’s Gold. A new album from acoustic blues troubadour Eric Bibb is always welcome. This one is a collaboration with harp player J J Milteau. The album is a tribute to Leadbelly and includes Midnight Special, Bourgeois Blues, Pick a Bale of Cotton. Most of the songs were recorded in a Parisian jazz club, and the bonus edition of the album you get three live version of Eric Bibb songs thrown in. Bibb’s picking is wondrous, as usual, and the harp playing, though on every song, is tastefully done.
Samantha Fish: Wild Heart. The 3rd studio outing from the 25 year old Ms Fish, and it’s a good ‘un. Fish’s guitar chops are on display throughout and are, as usual, terrific and her vocals put her in the company of Susan Tedeschi and Bonnie Raitt. Tweleve songs, 5 self-penned all brilliantly arranged show off a fast-developing talent. Excellent instrumental contribution from Luther Dickinson.
Mike Zito & The Wheel: Keep Coming Back. Great good-time driving blues rock, with more than a hint of country. An excellent set of twelve songs that will keep your toes stomping or your fingers tapping the steering wheel. It’s top notch stuff, with some highly enjoyable guitar work throughout.
Keith Richards: Crosseyed Heart. This is one fine album from Richards with a mixture of old blues, touching ballads, and rocking Stones-like numbers, Richards’ voice is cracked and worn but always interesting and there are some killer guitar riffs throughout. Vintage Keef.
Colin Linden: Rich in Love. The first new studio recording from 8-time Juno Award-winning singer/guitarist Colin Linden since From the Water in 2009. Linden is an outstanding guitarist and this is a fine set of rootsy, bluesy numbers helped along by a number of special guests which include Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica, Reese Wynans on keyboards, Amy Helm on harmony vocals and organist Tim Lauer on organ.
Eliza Neals: Breaking and Entering. Great songs, fine arrangements, a superb group of musicians – and Neal’s fabulous vocals – there’s so much to admire here. And most of all enjoy. This is one to put on in the car music player and hit the open road, with a big smile on your face.
Walter Trout: Battle Scars. Trout’s miraculous escape from death and recovery from a liver transplant is well documented. Battle Scars reflects his new joy in and zest for life, documenting his journey from death’s door to new man. “I feel that I’m reborn as a songwriter, a singer, a guitarist and a human being. I have a new chance at being the best musician and the best man that I can be. And I’m incredibly happy and grateful.”
Beth Hart: Better Than Home. Hart’s 12th album is another excellent addition to her catalogue, though perhaps more mellow and reflective than some others. It’s perhaps also somewhat less blues-infused than previous work, but is no less enjoyable for that. Better Than Home showcases well Hart’s remarkable talents as a singer and songwriter.
Billy Gibbons & the BFGs: Perfectamundo. It’s ZZ Top meets Santana with a bit of dance and R&B thrown in for good measure, in a mixture that works surprisingly well. Gibbons’ characteristic rasping voice suits the mood admirably and although it may not be “perfectamundo,” it’s great fun throughout.
JP Soars: Full Moon in Memphis. An excellent album. Every track is a joy, with divergent blues styles which show off Soars’ fabulous guitar chops which are always entertaining, engaging and enjoyable, as opposed to just technical.
Dave & Phil Alvin: Lost Time. Twelve tracks which cover artists and songs that had an early, formative influence on the brothers. It’s a blues album, covering a range of styles including Texas, Piedmont and ragtime. Artists covered include James Brown, Leadbelly, Willie Dixon, Blind Boy Fuller, Leroy Carr and Big Joe Turner.
Dani Wilde: Songs About You. Probably a stretch to call it a blues album, admittedly, but this is a really fine record. What a fine voice this woman has – at once sweet and rasping. And a great set of beautifully arranged original songs.
Brad Vickers & His Vestapolitans: That’s What They Say. A romp through a thoroughly enjoyable range of blues, Americana, roots, rock n’roll and ragtime, all with a great old-timey vibe. This is just the sort of album that makes you smile the whole way through