Best Blues Albums 2016
There were a lot of outstanding blues albums during 2016. Here’s Down at the Crossroads’ pick of the top 21.
First of all our top 10 –
1. Various – God Don’t Never Change
No doubt about this year’s best album. Produced by Jeffrey Gaskill, ten years in the making and as a result of a successful crowd funding campaign, it features a stellar cast including Tom Waits, Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi, Lucinda Williams, Maria McKee, Luther Dickinson, the Cowboy Junkies, Sinead O’Connor and Rikki Lee Jones. Each song, with the possible exception of Jones’s version of Dark Was the Night, is outstanding, the artists’ interpretations doing full justice to the grit, passion and commitment of Blind Willie Johnson.
2. Luther Dickinson – Blues & Ballads
This latest release is a joy from start to finish, featuring twenty one songs from throughout Luther’s career, new songs, North Mississippi Allstars songs and old favourites – all stripped down, loose and relaxed. It’s the perfect vehicle for Dickinson as carrier of the Mississippi Hill Country blues torch.
Check out our interview with Luther Dickinson here.
3. Luke Winslow King – I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always
Painfully honest break-up album where, as in all good blues songs, King manages to sing himself out of his blues. The music is infectious, the band in fine form and King’s guitar playing and vocals are a delight.
4. Mavis Staples – Livin’ on a High Note
Livin’ On A High Note, her 13th solo album, is terrific, typically Mavis, and is joyous. She told her songwriters, “I want something joyful. I want to stop making people cry. I’ve been making people cry all my life. The songs I sing, the freedom songs and my gospel songs — I know I’ve been inspiring and uplifting people. But now I want to reach them in a joyful way.” Check out our take on this album here.
5. Tedeschi Trucks Band – Let Me Get By
With horns, grooves, and jazzy, funky, bluesy rhythms, and add in the world-class guitar chops of Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi’s outstanding soulful vocals, you have a band at the height of powers – mature, confident, utterly engaging, and hugely enjoyable.
There are 10 new original songs, and the Deluxe version includes 8-track bonus disc that features live recordings. Trucks’ sublime slide guitar has never sounded better.
6. Joanne Shaw Taylor – Wild
Taylor’s fifth studio album is, without doubt, her best yet. This is an artist brimming with talent, and boy, can she sing and play the guitar. Her guitar work, prominent throughout, is technically superb, but always musical and artistic. Her voice is superb – bluesy, smoky and full of expression. Taylor’s own song writing talents are to the fore, but there’s a quite wonderful cover of “Summertime” for added value.
7. 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 numbers from the likes of Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith, Memphis Slim and the Rev. Gary Davis. Given his family background in Stateboro, Blind Willie McTell’s Statesboro Blues had to feature – eat your heart out, Allman Brothers!
Check out our interview with Brooks here
8. Janiva Magness Love Wins Again
This really is an terrific album. It’s positive, it’s upbeat, it’s a celebration of happiness from an artist that clearly has come to understand the power of love through the trials and difficulties of life. The songs are strong and the arrangements throughout are terrific, varied enough for the album to defy exact categorization, but coherent enough to gel together as a collection.
9. Keith Richards Cross Eyed Heart
In his first solo album for 23 years, Richards delivers the goods. Full of cool guitar licks, his unmistakable gravelly delivery, some dry humour and, above all, some beautifully arranged old blues songs. It’s the blues, but full of fun and quite compelling.
10. Kaz Hawkins Feelin’ Good
This Belfast-based band’s third album is a spirit-lifting, joyous affair, which features a tight-knit instrumental group and the soaring vocals of Kaz Hawkins. Hawkins is also a highly talented song writer responsible for 8 of the 10 songs on offer here. The title track, a cover of Newley & Bricusse’s song, sets the tone for the rest of the album and gives you an immediate take on the immense talent of Kaz Hawkins and her band.
And here’s the next 11 –
11. Rolling Stones Blue and Lonesome
The World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band give us a covers collection that pays tribute to the post-war Chicago blues that inspired the group’s name. It’s terrific back to basics stuff, with the band in great tight-knit form, Richards playing his characteristic guitar licks and Jagger’s vocals really hitting the spot. Eric Clapton’s guest appearance on a couple of tracks adds some cool solo licks as an added bonus.
12.The Rides – Pierced Arrow
Excellent second album from the Rides – the perhaps surprising combination of Stills & Nash and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Tens solid songs mostly blues rock, with the highlight Shepherd’s top notch guitar solos. There’s good fun too with the covers, especially “My Babe,” and “Virtual World,” with its Stills and Nash harmonies and 70s vibe, and its worry about the digital world robbing us of proper, human connections is a great song. “The world is full of clutter, and it’s in the way.”
13. Joe Bonamassa Blues of Desperation
Joe Bonamassa just gets better and better. His guitar work, of course, is extraordinary, and capable of stirring your very soul, but his singing on this album is very, very good. As is his song writing. Thoroughgoing blues rock, as you might expect, with great production on each of the eleven songs. “Drive” which doesn’t have the usual solo guitar pyrotechnics is for me the stand out track.
14. Mark Harrison – Turpentine
This is one very fine album, full of strong songs, cool arrangements, and lovely guitar work, with a joyous vibe evident throughout. This is a fresh take on the blues which should be in every blues and roots music lovers collection.
15. Mike Sponsa with Ian Siegal – Ego Sum
Now here’s something you don’t come across much – an album of blues music based on the work of the Latin poets Horatius, Catullus, Martialis and Juvenalis. The music and the band are terrific, driven by Mike Sponza’s cool guitar work. But it’s the vocals from Ian Siegal and Dana Gillespie which really make this album a keeper.
16. Michael Jerome Browne – Can’t Keep A Good Man Down
Released towards the end of the year, this is an album of sixteen acoustic blues songs. Just Browne and his delightful acoustic guitar picking. It’s a compilation of traditional blues, taken from various albums going back to 1998. There are five original songs, including one brand new recording from 2016, “Four Years, No Rain.” Blues classics from the past include songs by Tampa Red, Jesse Fuller, Frankie Lee Sims, Mississippi John Hurst, Reverend Gary Davis, and Frank Stokes.
17. Eric Bibb – Happiest Man in the World
Upbeat collaboration between Bibb and English multi-instrumentalist, Danny Thompson with Finnish trio, North Country Far. Lovely bluesy, country songs with Eric Bibb’s usual infectious warmth shining through.
Check out our interview with Eric Bibb here.
18. Beth Hart – Fire on the Floor
Another fine outing from the ever-consistent Beth Hart. To be sure, this set of twelve original songs is more jazz than blues, with the first very cool track, “Jazz Man,” setting the tone. Hart’s vocals shine throughout, sultry, emotional and powerful in turns.
19. Eric Clapton – I still do
Blues, nearly blues, Dylan and J J Cale covers and various other originals. Old Slowhand clearly still does – play and sing as well as he ever did. This is not a demanding album of the listener, but there are some fine songs here. But Clapton’s at his best with the blues – the Robert Johnson “Stones in My Passageway” is terrific. And a nice surprise is his cool version of “We Shall Overcome, here I’ll Be Alright.”
20. Jeff Healey – Heal My Soul
What a talent was the late Jeff Healey. And what a great collection of previously unissued Healey recordings, released to coincide with what would have been his fiftieth birthday. It’s powerful blues rock stuff, with Healey’s blistering guitar work to the fore. There are some nice more acoustic numbers as well – “Baby Blue,” “Love in Her Eyes,” and the delightful “All the Saints” – which bring Healey’s attractive vocals to the fore.
21. Bonnie Raitt Dig In Deep
You can’t go wrong with a Bonnie Raitt album – funky, bluesy, great band, and Bonnie’s laid back, well-phrased, vocal delivery and her electric slide – never less than satisfying. Twelve highly enjoyable, distinctive, Bonnie Raitt songs.
And worth a mention are two excellent albums from very talented young guys – Quinn Sullivan and Matty Wall.
Quinn Sullivan – Midnight Highway
17 year old Sullivan, a prodigy mentored by Buddy Guy and supporting Guy in his recent tour, has it all – unbelievable guitarist, excellent singer and talented songwriter. This highly enjoyable album of blues and American rock showcases his incredible talent.
Matty Wall – Blue Skies
Hailing from Perth, Australia, Matty Wall plays a mean blues guitar. The boy can sing too, with nice phrasing and sweet vocals throughout.