Best Blues Albums 2020 – So Far
12 of the Best
We’re at the half year mark and it’s been a pretty strange year so far. The coronavirus pandemic has stopped live music in its tracks – aside from the online variety – and there haven’t been as many album releases as usual. But what we’ve had has been top notch and we’ve chosen 12 of the best.
Dion, Blues with Friends
With liner notes by Bob Dylan and a stellar cast of blues musicians – Van Morrison, Paul Simon, Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen, Joe Bonamassa and Jeff Beck…the list goes on – Dion’s new album is pretty special. His energy and passion for the blues has clearly not diminished even in his 81st year. Every track is a highlight and it’s an album you’ll want to return to again and again. As Dion says, “The blues is a beautiful form of music that God gave to us.” Full review here.
Larkin Poe, Self Made Man
The Lovell sisters’ latest album takes over from 2018’s terrific Venom and Faith. If anything, the rockin’ blues on offer is even more raw and arresting. This is modern blues at its best and you gotta love the fabulous vocals of Rebecca, the glorious harmonies of the two of them and Megan’s sensational lap steel work. We loved God Moves on the Water, which you’d swear was a cover of an old blues song, but this original testifies to Larkin Poe’s authentic feeling for the blues. Exhilarating, invigorating stuff. Check out our interview with Rebecca and Megan here.
Rory Block, Prove it on Me
Acoustic blues master, Rory Block gives us another terrific album celebrating the blues artists of yesteryear. This time she’s focused on women blues artists, and exploring some of the more obscure material. This 10-song set that features Block’s intricate guitar work, and her nicely phrased and bluesy vocals. Full review here.
Sonny Landreth, Blacktop Run
It only takes you to hear a few notes before you recognize that it’s Sonny Landreth. His sixteenth album is exhilarating stuff, with slide playing that is jaw-droppingly good, deadly accurate, sometimes amazingly quick and always with that characteristic Landreth tone. This is a richly textured album from the hugely talented Landreth and his band, which is impressive the first time you hear but repays repeated listens in spades. Full review here.
Lucinda Williams, Good Souls Better Souls
Williams’ raspy, edgy growl adorns a bluesy, gnarly set of apocalyptic songs which explore a world coming apart. Full of punk-rock energy, as Jesse Malin said of it, “It’s like Muddy Waters meets the Stooges. It’s a badass record.” It’s real and it’s raw and Williams takes no prisoners – certainly not Trump who is firmly in her sights in Man Without A Soul. “Help me stay fearless,” she sings towards the end of the album, “Help me stay strong.” Her prayer’s been answered in this album.
Marcus King, El Dorado
First rate set of bluesy, soulful Americana from a man whose guitar chops and richly textured vocals are making a lot of people sit up and take notice. The band graced Eric Clapton’s Crossroads festival last year and this album is sure to enhance its reputation even more. Produced and co-written with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, there’s a fine balance of approaches here, from powerful blues rock here in The Well to the late-night blues of Wildflowers and Wine to the 70s Southern rock of Sweet Mariona.
Robert Cray Band, That’s What I Heard
Another excellent offering of blues, R&B and soul from the ever-consistent Robert Cray and his band. A 12 track set of both originals and covers of songs you may not know, all delivered with Cray’s sweet vocals and his clean as a whistle guitar tone. There’s a nice dash of gospel as well with Burying Ground.
Eliza Neals, Black Crow Moan
Honest-to-goodness blues rock from the talented Ms Neals, choc full of attitude, sass, top-notch musicianship, and downright good fun. One of the best blues rock albums you’ll hear all year, with Eliza Neals and her group of musicians playing straight out of their hearts and souls. Read our review here.
Albert Cummings, Believe
An album to savour from blues rock guitarist and singer, Albert Cummings. Recorded in Muscle Shoals, with the legendary Jim Gaines producing, we get six originals and five covers, including the delightful cover of Van Morrison’s Crazy Love, delivered with a laid-back bluesy vocal performance backed up with some lovely gospel vocals. There’s also a terrific version of Wolf’s Red Rooster with some muscular guitar work and vocals to match.
Watermelon Slim, Traveling Man
Bill Homans’ rugged, gritty blues in a generous 18 song package of live performances from 2016 in Oklahoma. It’s just Homan and his twangy resonator on a set of originals and old blues covers, including Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. It’s raw, sittin’-on-the-porch blues, all slide guitar and rasping vocals – old school blues.
Victor Wainwright & The Train, Memphis Loud
Raucous boogie-woogie and horns-driven soulish blues from blues award winner and Grammy nominated Wainwright and his band. It’s toe-tapping stuff, never a dull moment, as Wainwright and the Train barrel down through the tracks. Wainwright is a terrific pianist and singer and the band are quite masterful.
A Special Mention to:
Bob Dylan, Rough and Rowdy Ways
I thought long and hard whether to include this in the main list. It’s not a blues album per se – songs like I Contain Multitudes and I’ve Made up My Mind to Give Myself to You are, like the rest of the album, quite brilliant, but definitely not blues songs. On the other hand Black Rider and GoodBye Jimmy Reed are for sure. And then there’s the gothic 17 minute Murder Most Foul which may not be blues in form but in lyrical content pretty much is. As is the rest of the album, really, with its apocalyptic overtones and searching questions like, “Is there light at the end of the tunnel?” In any case, it’s a majestic piece of work from the 79 year-old, something of a masterpiece.
And a couple of live albums worth mentioning, both from Irishmen, both sadly no longer with us. But both albums capture the dazzling talent of each man.
Gary Moore, Live from London
The guitar legend at the top of his game in a small club performance at London’s Islington Academy on December 2nd, 2009, with beloved Moore favourites like Still Got the Blues and Parisienne Walkways.
Rory Gallagher, Check Shirt Wizard
Previously unreleased, this blistering 20-song set is from four shows in England during an early 1977 tour across the UK in support of Rory’s then latest album Calling Card.