So much good music during this past year, that it’s hard to choose. You’ll have your own favourites, but here are ours – which include one or two I suspect you’ll not be familiar with, but will repay investigation. Blues from women, from men, from the US, the UK, Europe, Asia – the blues really is a world-wide phenomenon. (We’ve not ranked them – they’re all great).
Elles Bailey, Shining in the Half Light
UK Blues Award winner’s Bailey’s third studio album of soulful and passionate blues. She’s a remarkable talent, and here delivers ten songs that highlight just how good her powerful, but beautifully controlled voice is. If you’re not familiar with Ms. Bailey, put that right, right now with this album.
Rory Block, Ain’t Nobody Worried
Seven times Blues Award winner and acoustic blues maestro Rory Block delivers the third in her series of albums, Power Women of the Blues, celebrating great women of the genre. [check out Prove it on Me and A Woman’s Soul]. It’s not really a blues album and is a departure from her usual offering of just Rory and acoustic guitar. The songs feature some vocal and instrumental accompaniment which gives her the opportunity to focus on the vocal performance on a set of songs from the 1960s to 80s by people like Bonnies Raitt, Carole King and Tracy Chapman.
Catfish Keith, Still I Long to Roam
Catfish Keith, guitarist and exponent of the blues extraordinaire, continues to delight and entertain us in his new album, his 21st, Still I Long to Roam. It’s another fine collection of reinterpreted classic blues songs and originals, the latter sounding every bit as classic and authentic as the others. If you love blues music, if you love superb guitar playing, if you love hearing old songs brought to life through fresh interpretations, then this is an album you must hear. And all this infused with the usual infectious Catfish Keith sense of fun and joy. [Full review here]
Shemekia Copeland, Done Come Too Far
Daughter of Texas guitar-slinger, Johnny Copeland, continues where she left off with 2020’s Uncivil War with a top-notch, hard-hitting blues album that addresses contemporary issues like racism, child abuse, and guns and the historic legacy of slavery. A powerful set of songs and performances from Ms. Copeland and featuring guests Sonny Landreth and Cedric Burnside on guitar, and Charles Hodges on keyboards, amongst others.
Eric Gales, Crown
This is a remarkable piece of work from the talented Eric Gales, stretching the boundaries of blues rock and setting a new standard for the genre. The musicianship and arrangements serve the strength of the song-writing perfectly, Gales’s singing is versatile and powerful and, of course, as you’d expect, his guitar work is all you’d want from one of the world’s great electric guitar players. [Full review here]
Buddy Guy, The Blues Don’t Lie
At 86, Guy still has what it takes, his blistering guitar work, vocal power and…just his attitude, all undimmed. Just check out the opening track, I Let My Guitar Do the Talking, traditional, modern, gut-wrenching blues. You’re sucked in from the get go. With guest appearances by Mavis Staples, James Taylor, Bobby Rush, Jason Isbell, Wendy Moten and Elvis Costello, this is a stormer of a blues album. And with 16 tracks and over an hour’s worth of music, it’s value for money!
Katie Henry, On My Way
Stylish album of bluesy Americana from the very talented New Jersey native Katie Henry. There’s nice variety in the songs, from the blues of the opening song to more jazzy or country-tinged numbers. Ms. Henry is a terrific and versatile vocalist and a talented pianist and guitarist to boot.
Son House, Forever On My Mind
Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound label is restoring and releasing Dick Waterman’s archived tape collection of Delta blues artists, and this collection of Son House songs, Forever on My Mind is the first instalment. The sound quality on the album is great and it contains eight classic House songs, including Preachin’ Blues, Death Letter, Pony Blues and Levee Camp Moan. [Full review here]
Raging Moon has all the ingredients of a top-notch blues record – killer slide guitar, echoes of Robert Johnson, tasty acoustic blue guitar licks and the rasping, world-weary vocals of Nikki Brooks. If cool, traditional sounding blues, with a modern edge is your thing – which I’m guessing if you’re reading this, it is, then you gotta check out the Jujubes. [Full review here]
Larkin Poe, Blood Harmony
The Georgia-born multi-instrumentalist sisters, Rebecca and Megan Lovell, deliver another sterling blues rock/roots album, featuring what is becoming a very recognizable sound, and yet one that is fresh and vibrant. Their soulful vocals are exceptional, their guitar chops formidable, and the song-writing strong. One not to miss.
Taj Mahal & Ry Cooder, Get On Board
Mahal and Cooder’s set of Terry and McGhee songs tries to recreate something of the rawness of the blues recordings of yesteryear, and it has the feeling of two old friends thoroughly enjoying themselves. Taj Mahal said, “There are basic things in our culture that connect us, that allow us to be able to reach back and connect to a history of people, the things that nourish us as a people, and music, this music is one of those things.” In Get on Board, Mahal and Cooder reach back and connect to a part of blues history, helping to make sure it is not forgotten. [Full review here]
Dom Martin, A Savage Life
Dom Martin’s new album, A Savage Life, sees him fulfil the potential that his acclaimed 2019 album, Spain to Italy, pointed to. Martin is a multiple UK and European Blues Award winner who seems equally at home playing the acoustic blues of Blind Blake and the blues-rock of Rory Gallagher. Add to that his expressive vocals, and you have in Dom Martin the real deal. His guitar work and vocals throughout are stellar and the arrangements and musicianship from the rest of the band, are excellent. [Full review here]
Keb’ Mo’, Good to be Home
Another fine and hugely enjoyable album from Keb’ Mo’. It’s not exactly the blues, but – hey, it’s Keb’ Mo’! It’s feel-good stuff all the way, Sunny and Warm, the third song, describing things perfectly. Mr Mo’ is joined for good measure by Darius Rucker, the Old Crow Medicine Show and Kristin Chenoweth. Good Strong Woman continues Keb’ Mo’s recent affirmation of women, as opposed to the sexist lyrics often heard in the blues.
Miko Marks and the Resurrectors, Feel Like Going Home
A glorious mix of gospel and blues. They are all strong songs, both lyrically and musically, with arrangements that make you want to listen to them again and again. Ms. Marks’ vocal performance excels – controlled power, bluesy, with hint of a rasp here and there. [Full review here]
John Mayall, The Sun is Shining Down
You expect a John Mayall album to be good and this one doesn’t disappoint. 89-year-old Mayall is joined by a number of guests, including Marcus King, Buddy Miller, Scarlett Rivera in eight covers and two originals. It’s top-notch, modern blues rock, and you’ve got to hand it to John Mayall – for 60 years he’s been leading the charge with the blues and The Sun is Shining Down shows no sign of waning performance
Charlie Musselwhite, Mississippi Son
Fourteen mostly original songs from the 78-year-old veteran bluesman, Musselwhite, who plays guitar and harmonica and handles the vocals throughout. Songs like In Your Darkest Hour and Rank Strangers are perfect front-porch blues, with Musselwhite’s searching harp and raw vocals. Mississippi Son puts you right back in the heat and sweat of Musselwhite’s home state and bears testimony to the man’s lifetime in the blues. [Full review here]
Fabrizio Poggi, Basement Blues
Italian blues harp master, Fabrizio Poggi, delivers an outstanding set of covers of classic blues songs and some originals. There’s a dash of gospel too, with Precious Lord, John the Revelator and Up Above My Head. It’s all delivered with great sensitivity to the tradition and superb musicianship by Fabrizio and his collaborators which include Guy Davis, Ronnie Earl, Garth Hudson (who played with The Band) and guitarist Enrico Polverari.
Prakash Slim, Country Blues
Acoustic country blues – from Nepal? Really, you say? Yes, really. And fine stuff it is too. Prakash Slim is a fine guitarist, adept at finger-picking and slide techniques and an accomplished singer. The blues are alive and well in the shadow of the Himalayas. [Full review here]
Bonnie Raitt, Just Like That…
Her first album in six years, it’s all you’d want from a Bonnie Raitt album. Cool songs, Raitt’s characteristic slide guitar and her ever soulful vocals. The ten songs are strong, narrative-based, and well-arranged, and Raitt, now in her eighth decade delivers a classy performance throughout. The title track is a wonderful treat, pretty much just Raitt picking her acoustic guitar and singing plaintively.
Mavis Staples & Levon Helm, Carry Me Home
Carry Me Home is something of a masterpiece, it would not be too bold to suggest, a celebration of friendship, mutual admiration and faith. You can’t help but be moved by both the poignancy of the selection of songs and the pair’s performances, now knowing that Helm was to pass shortly after and that Staples is now in her 83rd year. It’s simply a great set of songs, a wonderful collection of blues, gospel and Americana. [Full review here]
The 219, Revelator
Revelator is just a rare treat of a blues album. New Irish band The 219 delves deep into the blues tradition, with thirteen original songs, and echoes of biblical apocalypse in songs like Abandon Hope, All Kinds of Evil and the title track. Revelator. The musicianship is top-notch, the songs are all strong, and the arrangements just work. [Full review here]
Walter Trout, Ride
Blues rock at its finest. That’s what you always get with Walter Trout. Add to that his exquisite and emotive guitar soloing and any new album from this guitar maestro is to be savoured. The music is joyous – take the solos from the title track, for example – fast and furious as you might expect, but gloriously upbeat. And the lyrics are thoughtful, addressing issues in the wider world as well as facing Trout’s own past and present. This really is one of the best blues albums of the year. [Full review here]
Cristina Vane, Make Myself Again
Cristine Vane is a quite wonderful talent – a skilful guitar picker and slide player, a fine songwriter and a beautiful singer. It’s the sign of a talented songwriter and musician to give a traditional feel to a song, and yet have it feel bang up to date. Vane says she’s “essentially a rock kid who is obsessed with old music.” And that’s a winning combination. This is a top class album of 13 well-crafted songs, blessed by Vane’s silky vocals and guitar chops.
Edgar Winter, Brother Johnny
Several years in the making, Brother Johnny is a labour of love, a warm tribute by Edgar Winter to his brother, who passed away aged 70 in 2014. Brother Johnny features a star-studded cast of musicians, including Keb’ Mo’, Ringo Starr, Joe Bonamassa, Robben Ford, Warren Hayes, Billy Gibson, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. With 17 tracks and clocking in at 76 minutes, it’s a huge treat of an album and a fine tribute to one of the giants of blues rock. [Full review here]