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!
“Burnett considers the blues backwards 2000 years through a prism of Christian Practice. His focus is less the place of Christianity within the perspective of the blues as the blues as a metaphor of dislocation, loss, forgiveness, and salvation. The social and cultural circumstances that gave rise to the rich land in the Mississippi Delta has been played out many times. It is an archetype: a persecuted minority endures the injustice of a class-ridden society, ultimately ending as refugees and exiles in and out of their own lands. The parallel with the Old Testament and mid-Twentieth Century Jews cannot be overstated. The early Christians in Rome are another example. The Psalms have as their progeny the blues of the Delta region. These are songs expressing the range of emotions experienced not only because life is hard, but because it is made harder by others.
Burnett injects the concepts of justice and endurance into the comparative discussion making a convincing argument for the temporal relationship between The Beatitudes and the whole corpus of Delta blues. Burnett’s is a keen cultural analysis occurring at a high emotional and intellectual level. This book is for anyone interested in the blues as a part of the civilization that grew out of Christianity. The pertinence is plain regardless of what religious or anti-religious winds happen to be blowing. History is history, let us learn from it.”
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