Acoustic guitar blues goes back a long way to the early Delta pioneers like Charley Patton, Son House, Willie Brown – and, of course, Robert Johnson, who followed them around and eventually outstripped his mentors. Blues musicians like Blind Blake and Blind Boy Fuller, Willie Mctell and Willie Johnson were all skilled exponents of the art before, eventually, the blues would go electric. People like Josh White and Big Bill Broonzy kept the acoustic tradition which was revitalized in the folk revival of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s with the rediscovery of artists like Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Elizabeth Cotton and Rev. Gary Davis.
The legacy was taken on by those who learned from these artists, like Rory Block, John Sebastian, Jorma Kaukonen and others, and acoustic guitar blues has continued to flourish in the capable hands of artists like Taj Mahal, Eric Bibb, Keb’ Mo’, Hans Theessink, Chris Smither, Mary Flower, Guy Davis and many others. And, of course, Rory Block is still going strong. We have to mention, too, Eric Clapton, whose massive selling 1992 Unplugged album put acoustic blues back on show and paved the way for an increase in popularity of the genre ever since.
We’ve chosen a selection of 20 of the best acoustic guitar blues albums from the last 10 years. Check them out and enjoy!
Billy Boy Arnold: Sings Big Bill Broonzy
Veteran blues harp player Arnold, turns in a very fine acoustic guitar driven tribute album to the great Bill Broonzy.
Lurrie Bell: The Devil Ain’t Got No Music
Sparse, stirring 2012 album of gospel blues from Chicagoan Bell, with help from Joe Louis Walker and Billy Branch.
Eric Bibb: Blues, Ballads and Work Songs
We could easily have plumped for any one of Bibb’s recent albums – Blues People (2014), Lead Belly’s Gold (2015) and Booker’s Guitar (2011) all come to mind – but have gone for this 2011 album of traditional blues songs all featuring Bibb’s expert picking and dulcet singing tones. Check out our recent interview with Eric here.
Rory Block A Woman’s Soul
Again, we could easily have chosen one of Block’s fine tribute albums of the last ten years – to Mississippi John Hurt or Rev. Gary Davis, amongst others – but have plumped for her 2018 album of Bessie Smith songs for the clever way in which she has translated the big band arrangements into guitar accompaniment and her fine vocal performance. Check out our interview with Rory here.
Michael Jerome Brown: Can’t Keep a Good Man Down
Canadian Brown is an incredible musician and guitarist, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the blues. This 2015 album of forgotten largely pre-war blues songs is quite wondrous.
Paul Cowley: Just What I Know
I guess most people reading this will not be aware of Paul Cowley, an English musician living in France. This 2018 album of 7 classic blues songs mixed with 5 originals ought to out him on the map. Very fine album. Check out our review of the album here.
Guy Davis & Fabrizio Poggi: Sonnie and Brownie’s Last Train
This 2017 album ought to have earned the artists a Grammy. Two top modern-day artists at the top of their game channelling two of history’s greatest acoustic bluesmen. See our album review here.
Luther Dickinson: Blues and Ballads
Brilliant album of timeless-sounding, original songs from the North Mississippi Allstars front man and top-notch album producer, Luther Dickinson. Lovely gospel vibe throughout and a welcome contribution from Mavis Staples. You’ll find our interview with Luther here.
Mary Flower: Misery Loves Company
Fingerstyle guitarist and music educator, Flower is a master of intricate syncopated Piedmont style finger picking. This 2011 album produced by Colin Linden with half of the 12 songs originals features Flower’s outstanding guitar work.
Mark Harrison The Panoramic View
A hugely enjoyable treat of modern acoustic blues from 2018, full of wondrous finger-picking and slide playing, and giving full vent to Harrison’s compelling story-telling and wry humour. You can find our review here.
Bottleneck John: All Around Man
Again, you may not know of Johan Eliasson aka Bottleneck John, but this 2013 album is an absolute treat. Eliasson has an amazing collection of vintage guitars and resonators and can play them to great effect. Our review can be found here.
Ernie Hawkins: Whinin’ Boy
Hawkins is a masterful guitarist in the blues and ragtime vein pioneered by the legendary Rev Gary Davis. This is a fine album of early jazz and blues songs, with Hawkin’s guitar work augmented by a little clarinet, trombone and trumpet.
Harrison Kennedy with Colin Linden: This is From Here
Canadian singer-songwriter and bluesman, Kennedy’s 2015 album of soulful and authentic blues won a Juno award.
Taj Mahal & Keb Mo: TajMo
Fabulous collaboration album from blues masters Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ in 2017. This is an adventurous, joyous take on traditional blues from two musicians oozing class and mutual respect. It won a Grammy in 2018. Check out our review of the two in concert here.
Doug MacLeod: There’s a Time
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.
Chris Smither – Still on the Levee
A two-CD retrospective featuring Smither’s own new recordings of a selection of songs from his vast back catalogue to celebrate his 50th year of making music. Witty, intelligent songs, driven by Smither’s metronomic guitar picking. Catch our interview with Chris here.
Hans Theessink & Terry Evans: Delta Time
Hugely enjoyable 2012 acoustic blues album from two of the finest blues singers you’ll hear (sadly Terry Evans passed away in 2018). Great chemistry from the combination of these two contrasting voices with a wonderful gospel sound and lovely harmonies throughout. Also check out their 2008 Visions. You can find our interview with Hans here.
Brooks Williams: Blues
The album is a gem, featuring just Brooks’ voice and guitar – acoustic, resonator and cigar box, and was recorded live in the studio. The result is a very fine album of traditional and classic blues. Worth checking out, too is Brooks’ Baby O! from 2010. Take a look at our interview with Brooks here.
Jontavious Willis: Spectacular Class
Spectacular Class is an album of timeless acoustic blues, released in 2019 by a young man hailed by Taj Mahal as a “great new voice of the 21st century in the acoustic blues.” It’s an album that sounds at once traditional but at the same time entirely fresh, with an outstanding set of songs driven by his top-notch guitar picking and his hugely entertaining vocals. You can find our interview with Jontavious here.
Various Artists: Things About Comin’ My Way – A Tribute to the music of the Mississippi Sheiks
Terrific tribute album from a variety of artists, including Bill Frisell, John Hammond and Bruce Cockburn.