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
2013 was another cracking 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 30 Blues Albums of 2013. Feel free to disagree…
Beth and Joe’s Seesaw is our No.1 pick this year. Each of these artists are fantastic in their own right, and when they get together, something very special happens. Featuring a high class mix of songs from the likes of Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Etta James and Billie Holiday, the album sizzles with great arrangements, heart-wrenching singing from Beth Hart, and the sort of outstanding guitar work you’d expect from Joe Bonamassa.
Jo Harman: Dirt on My Tongue
This outstanding album of covers and original songs from UK artist Jo Harman, is by no means a traditional blues album. But it’s clearly blues-infused. Harman is quite simply an sensational singer, who can wring every emotion possible out of a song. Sweet Man Moses is worth the price of the album alone. If you don’t know Jo Harman, you soon will – don’t hesitate to get this album.
Walter Trout has followed up his excellent Blues for the Modern Daze from last year with another impressive outing, this time an album of covers, honouring the late Luther Allison. Trout captures the Chicago style of Allison, but adds his own unmistakable stamp. Full on blues rock of the highest calibre.
Probably our surprise listing – Brian Houston is an Irish musician, now living in the US. This is probably the best album he’s done and follows a change in musical direction last year towards the blues. This is an album of gospel blues and is quite simply terrific. And if you get a chance to see Brian live, grab it with both hands – you’re in for a treat.
Rory Block follows her tribute albums to Robert Johnson, Fred McDowell and Gary Davis with this highly enjoyable and heart-warming tribute to John Hurt. The album features Block’s superior acoustic guitar work and 10 of Hurt’s best loved songs, as well as one of her own in his style. Wonderful.
Luke Winslow King: The Coming Tide
This wonderful record merges blues, rag-time, folk, and jazz and sets it all off with slinky cool vocals and harmonies by King and Esther Rose. With a distinctive New Orleans melting pot nature, it’s warm, it’s unusual, it’s…highly enjoyable. Features King’s outstanding slide guitar playing throughout. Go check out.
The third outing from TTD and it’s the best yet. Blues rock with a soul, driven by Derek Truck’s outstanding slide guitar and featuring Susan Tedeschi’s rich range of vocal styles, which can be tender, sultry or raucous. The song arrangements are full-bodied, with brass, percussion and flute along with the guitars. Bluesy, jazzy, funky, this is just a great album.
Produced by Robert Randolph and featuring his mighty steel guitar on three of the tracks, this album from sacred slide musicians features both gospel and secular numbers. And it rocks! Guest appearances from Shemekia Copeland and Jimmy Carter from the Blind Boys of Alabama are the icing on a quite delicious cake of incredible steel guitar playing.
Trampled Under Foot: Badlands
TUF’s latest album is jam-packed with soulful melodies, passionate singing, pulsating drum work and catchy guitar riffs. It is modern electric blues at its best. Drummer Kris Schnebelen has said that he thinks the blues should be “modern, energetic, vibrant, soulful and some of the best live music you can see.” Well, TUF has hit the bulls-eye on that target with this release.
Blues elder statesman blows a mean harp on this gem of an album featuring guest appearances from a stellar cast which includes Joe Bonamassa, Greg Allman, Warren Hayes, Keb Mo and Chuck Leavell. Watch out for the emotionally-charged harmonica-vocal duet from Cotton and Ruthie Foster. Spine-tingling.
An album of original songs which sound like well-worn acoustic blues classics. Bass and drums accompany MacLeod’s ever tasteful guitar work and excellent vocals. MacLeod is known as the “storytelling bluesman,” and these songs draw you in to their engaging narrative. Superb.
Cassie Taylor: Out of Mind
Daughter of Otis Taylor, Cassie wrote and arranged all the songs on this album. Songs, arrangements and musicianship are excellent, but the standout feature of the album is Taylor’s singing – forceful when it needs to be and sultry and slinky elsewhere, but always compelling.
Autobiographical songs from the road from son of Greg Allman and Royal Southern Brotherhood guitarist, this is a hugely enjoyable album of blues-tinged rock songs. With guests including Samantha Fish and Luther Dickinson, and Allman’s choice guitar playing and vocals, this is fine fare indeed.
Old school country acoustic blues from one of the masters of the genre. Guy Davis’s voice and guitar work are unmistakable as he dances his way through ragtime, heart-warming ballads and groove-laden blues. Features the tasteful blues harp of Fabrizio Poggi. A treat.
Quite unlike anything the veteran rockers have done before, this is an album of energetic, authentic blues-rock. Slow blues, rockin’ blues, all driven by raw, dirty guitar licks from Schenkman’s guitar. With its stripped production to match the mood, this is modern blues at its best.
Staples’ second album with Jeff Tweedy contains gospel favourites and covers from a range of artists including Low and Nick Lowe. With no diminution of her colossal singing talent, Staples wrings every ounce of emotion and meaning from these songs – “every step of the way I’ve found grace…My Lord he knows me, every step of the way.”
Swedish blues artist Bottleneck John has given us a real treat in this 14 track album of traditional blues songs and three originals. This is an album of very fine acoustic guitar work, including excellent slide resonator, using both vintage and modern instruments. Oh, and the vocals are terrific too – a feast of well-produced and satisfying blues.
An album of fine rootsy blues rock from Royal Southern Brotherhood guitarist Zito which features songs of despair and redemption, which Zito has his own personal experience of. Tasteful guitar work throughout along with Zito’s rich vocals make this a hugely enjoyable listening experience.
Raw and traditional in one sense but utterly fresh in another, The Allstars drive us through a set of songs which include Rollin and Tumblin and songs by R L Burnside and Sleepy John Estes as well as their own. Luther Dickinson’s wicked slide guitar licks and vocals entertain throughout. It’s the blues, but it’s great fun as well.
Dutch artist Theessink, now based in Austria, is a leading exponent of country blues. Every new album is a treat and this one doesn’t disappoint. Theessink deep baritone growls its way through a collection of traditional blues songs and seven of his originals. As ever, Theessink’s acoustic guitar work (as well as harmonica, banjo and mandolin) is top notch.
Martin Harley: Mojo Fix
Robben Ford: Bringing it Back Home
Cyrill Neville: Magic Honey
Samantha Fish: Black Wind Howlin’
Moreland & Arbuckle: 7 Cities
Buddy Guy: Rhythm & Blues
Ana Popovic: Can You Stand the Heat
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite: Get Up!
Eric Bibb: Jericho Road
Lincoln Durham: Exodus of the Deemed Unrighteous