In the New Year, we’ll publish our annual Best Blues Albums of the Year. But in the meantime, here’s a reminder of Down at the Crossroads’ picks for the best albums of 2012, 2013 and 2014. Feel free to disagree!
2014 was another excellent year for the blues, as you can see from the list below. Blues music is so diverse that it’s very difficult to make a list that contains both acoustic and electric blues and everything else in between. But…notwithstanding that, here is Down at the Crossroads Best 25 Blues Albums of 2014. Feel free to disagree…
Kenny Wayne Shepherd: Goin’ Home
Still only in his mid 30s, Shepherd has a 20 year career behind him. This is a wonderful, mature album, where he gives us 12 of the songs which first got him excited about the blues. We get guest appearances from Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh, Warren Haynes, Keb’ Mo’, Robert Randolph, Kim Wilson and the Rebirth Brass Band in a hugely enjoyable journey through the some of the absolute classics of the genre.
Slick return to his blues roots, this is a very fine album from Keb Mo. A highly enjoyable set of songs, all but one are originals and there is some excellent guitar work. And nice to see a couple of songs dealing with topical issues in The Worst is Yet to Come and More For Your Money.
Luke Winslow-King: Everlasting Arms
Luke Winslow-King, ably assisted by his talented wife, Esther Rose, have given us a stunning album of rootsy, bluesy Americana in Everlasting Arms. It’s old-time, yet always manages to be fresh, and it’ll bring a smile to your face every time you listen to it. With 13 songs that weave seamlessly through the blues, country and folk with hints of jazz, the whole album is a delight from start to finish.
Walter Trout: The Blues Came Callin’
Willie Dixon once famously said, “The blues is the truth.” Walter Trout has given us a blues album that tells the truth, is all its starkness and rawness. Recorded prior to his liver transplant when he was quite ill, the music on the album attests to his remarkable strength of spirit. Here and there, Walter’s voice isn’t as strong as we’ve heard it and despite the subject matter of some of the songs, the album is life-affirming.
John Mayall: A Special Life
The Godfather of British blues, after more than 50 album releases, presents us with a very well crafted and excellently produced classic blues album. Four of the songs are originals and all eleven are beautifully performed by a talented band. Most enjoyable.
Kaz Hawkins: Get Ready
Kaz Hawkins’ new album, Get Ready, is inspirational, honest, warm, full of energy and infectious passion. Blues and gospel with a dollop of soul and R&B served up by an excellent band and a truly remarkable singer. Kaz’s voice is powerful, emotional, rasping, passionate, bluesy. And her music comes from a deep well of personal experience, trial and hope for the future. One not to be missed.
JP Soars: Full Moon Night in Memphis
JP Soars’ third studio release, Full Moon Night in Memphis, is one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve listened to this year. Every track of the 14 is simply a joy, with divergent blues styles which show off Soars’ fabulous guitar chops and excellent, gritty vocals. Entertaining, engaging and enjoyable.
Eric Bibb: Blues People
Top notch acoustic blues from blues troubadour Eric Bibb, with his characteristic upbeat songs and delicious guitar picking. In part a tribute to the memory of the Dr. Martin Luther King, the album is a fine mixture of country blues, folk, gospel and soul. Taj Mahal, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Ruthie Foster and Popa Chubby all guest in what is one of Bibb’s consistent offerings.
Luther Dickinson’s take on the blues is, I guess, not for everyone, but his quirky vocals, handy guitar chops and a terrific set of songs makes this a stand-out album of acoustic folk, blues, and country. This is raw and honest music, a welcome relief from much of the slick, over-produced stuff that is all too common.
This is LA-based artist Magness’s best work to date, to be sure, 11 original songs, 7 of which she co-wrote. Wonderful vocal variation and control throughout these excellent bluesy, soul-laden songs. A treat.
Often hailed as the future of the blues, Gary Clark’s Live is a very fine album of the best live versions of his song. Intense and passionate, it showcases his considerable guitar playing and grabs your attention from the get-go. Classic and traditional blues are fused here into a compelling fresh sound, which holds great promise of things to come from Clark.
Joanne Shaw Taylor: The Dirty Truth
Classy fourth studio release from Taylor who gives us ten strong songs of hugely enjoyable blues rock. The guitar work is outstanding as we would expect, but Taylor’s vocals are delivered with considerable aplomb. Much to enjoy here.
Ian Siegal: Man and Guitar
Ian Siegal – prolific songwriter, gifted guitarist, commanding performer – it’s all on display on this album recorded at the Royal Albert Hall by the BBC. With outstanding sound quality, this is a wonderful concoction of blues, folk, rock and roots music that is punctuated here and there with Siegal’s witty banter with the audience.
Rory Block: Hard Luck Child
Following her excellent tributes to Robert Johnson, John Hurt, Fred McDowell and Gary Davis, Block has given us a fine album of acoustic songs by Skip James. As usual, Block’s guitar work is terrific and she doe full justice to one of the most important early country blues artists, whose music was often haunting and unusual. The album has one original song, Nehemiah James, which serves as an introduction to James’s life story.
John Hiatt: Terms of My Surrender
Prolific Americana artist Hiatt offers us a compelling set of blues-infused songs with echoes of J.J. Cale, recent Bob Dylan and Guy Davis. Hiatt’s voice is as world-weary as ever, the songs heavy with a life-time of experience. Hugely enjoyable stuff.
Royal Southern Brotherhood: Heartsoulblood
HeartSoulBlood is remarkably upbeat and inspirational. Outstanding guitar work and lovely harmonies characterize the whole album which is funky and full of good tunes. There’s a lot of hope here, exemplified by the song “Love and Peace Will Heal the World.”
Nick Moss: Time Ain’t Free
This is a band in exceptional form here, with a heady blend of blues. soul, funk and rock-and-roll. No nonsense blues rock of the highest calibre.
Jo Harman: Live at the Royal Albert Hall
Recorded and produced by the BBC, this is a 2013 performance at Blues Fest at the Royal Albert Hall. There are 8 songs, all showcasing Jo’s excellent band and most of all her wonderful, emotional vocal performance. There is much to enjoy here – some very tasteful guitar work, versitile keyboards, terrific interaction between the two, and overall the band is a tight unit which seems to be enjoying itself.
Bad Brad & the Fat Cats: Take A Walk With Me
Bad Brad and the Fat Cats reach out and grab you by the lapels from the opening guitar riff of Take a Walk With Me and pull you right inside their rockin’ bad ass blues whether you like it or not, until finally they spit you out at the end of the Les Paul-laced Uma, thirteen tracks later. 13 original tracks of classic blues rock that always manage to stay fresh.
Joe Bonamassa: Different Shades of Blue
Guitar virtuoso’s first album of all-new material in two years. Blues rock, but at the same time should appeal to a wide audience. With help from a couple of Nashville songwriters, Bonamassa has given us a fine, varied album, well produced and featuring, of course, his trademark guitar chops.
Mark Harrison: The World Outside
Joe Louis Walker: Hornet’s Nest
Thorbjorn Risager: Too Many Roads
Ruthie Foster: Promise of a Brand New Day
Devon Allman: Ragged and Dirty
Best Blues Albums 2012
2012 was an outstanding year for the blues. Whatever way you like it, electric or acoustic, there were a spate of superb offerings. Here is our choice of the top 20 blues albums of 2012. See if you agree…
Brother Sinner and the Whale: Kelly Joe Phelps
Passionate, gospel blues, with superb finger-picking and slide guitar. In probably his best work yet, we get wonderfully constructed songs, full of melody and grace, with outstanding singing. For courage, musicianship, performance and lyrical brilliance, it’s top of the pile for Down at the Crossroads.
Walter Trout’s take on the ills of the modern world – bankers, politicians, useless gadgetry are all in his sights – 15 fantastic songs, sung with passion and laced with Walter’s stunning Fender Strat guitar licks. Stand-out track – Brother’s Keeper.
Peace Meal: Carolyn Wonderland
Outstanding album from Texas blues woman Carolyn Wonderland. Great take on blues classics like Dust My Broom along with a terrific set of self-penned songs, including the wonderful God Only Knows.
Driving for Daylight: Joe Bonamassa
Joe Bonamassa goes from strength to strength. His singing and playing just get better and better on songs that include Robert Johnson’s Stones in My Passageway and Howling Wolf’s Who’s been Talking?
Nothing but Love: Robert Cray Band
Return to his best form with a wonderfully, crafted and funky approach to the blues. Cray also takes a tilt at the dishonesty of the age with that ever so sweet voice.
Shelter : Brian Houston
The artist that most people reading this will be most unfamiliar with. Houston is an Irish artist who has recently changed musical direction with this outstanding blues album, full of raw passion, great songs and clever lyrics. Oh, and a dose of the McClary Sisters as well for good measure.
I Belong to the Band: Rory Block
Rory Block’s tribute to Rev Gary Davis. 11 of his best religious blues & ragtime songs, including I Belong to the Band and I Am the Light of the World, arranged and sung by Block in the Rev’s own style. Wonderful, inspirational stuff.
With the Texan’s bluesmen’s first album in nine years, we get no surprises – it’s all characteristically ZZ Top, in-your-face, knock-out grooves. On-form, blistering, just great.
Ian Siegal, who gets better and better by the album, is joined by Cody & Luther Dickinson, Garry Burnside, Lightni’ Malcolm and Alvin Youngblood Hart. With that line-up this could hardly fail to be an outstanding album – top class blues with Siegal’s signature growling vocals stealing the show.
Featuring a cover of Dylan’s I’ll be your Baby Tonight and Buddy Guy on I ain’t Gonna Be Your Tattoo, Shemekia fearlessly covers domestic violence, injustice and religious hypocrisy in a very fine set of blues songs. Standout feature of the album – Shemekia’s powerful, arresting, but superbly harnessed voice.
Delta Time: Hans Theessink & Terry Evans
Hugely enjoyable acoustic blues from two of the finest blues singers around. Great chemistry from the combination of these two contrasting voices with a wonderful gospel sound and lovely harmonies throughout. Guest appearance from Ry Cooder.
The future of blues rock? Top class combination which includes Mike Zito, Devon Allman and Yonrico Scott delivers an outstanding set of bluesy, inspirational, soulful and funky songs. Top drawer stuff from a group of top class musicians.
Fantastic live music from the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, featuring Derek Trucks’ sizzling electric slide and Susan Tedeschi’s sultry, emotive vocals.
Bonnie’s first album in seven years doesn’t disappoint. Classic Raitt seductive singing and understated but effective slide guitar. Wonderful stuff, including two recent Dylan covers.
Energetic, exciting blues from Joe Louis Walker. There’s some terrific guitar work here and the struggle between the devil and the Lord is graphically depicted in both Hellfire and I’m a Soldier for Jesus.
Live set of the unique music of the Allstars, featuring Luther Dickinson’s uneven, but engaging vocals. Rough edged, country-tinged, down and dirty blues that makes you feel you’re right in the Delta.
Outstanding album of “trance-blues” from Taylor, “a modern blues record that even non-blues fans can love and that blues fans can outright cherish”, as another reviewer put it.
After turning his life around a few years ago, Chicago bluesman Lurrie Bell has come up with a wonderful gospel blues album that gives full rein to his rasping vocals and cool, bluesy guitar work. Includes Tom Wait’s Down in the Hole
The superb Eric Bibb, one of the foremost exponents of acoustic blues, gives us an album that adds Creole and country influences from Louisiana. Eric is joined by a terrific set of banjo, mandolin, fiddle and accordion players to give us a classy and charming set of songs that includes gospel, blues and folk.
Album of Bill Broonzy songs by aging bluesman Arnold, who remembers seeing Big Bill play. Excellent celebration of Broonzy with tasteful harmonica playing throughout