2018 has seen so many fabulous blues albums released – whether it’s acoustic blues, blues rock, gospel blues, funky blues, Chicago-style blues, Memphis-style blues…whatever, it’s been a remarkable year for the blues. Down at the Crossroads has chosen 30 albums that we’ve enjoyed listening to and that we consider exceptional. (Click on the links as you go through to find full reviews or interviews).
Here’s our Top 10
Ry Cooder: Prodigal Son
An album of wonderfully reinterpreted old gospel songs and hymns, from the guitar virtuoso. Cooder’s first album for six years has been hailed as “destined to become an instant classic” the produce of a “musical mastermind” and “completely fresh and contemporary.” These are songs that will speak to anyone, believer or unbeliever. There’s humanity, decency, inspiration, hope in these songs, that anyone can feel. If you are a person of faith, however, you’ll find an extra dimension of faith, encouragement and challenge here too. Further comment on the album here.
Larkin Poe: Venom and Faith
Quite simply this is an extraordinary album from the very talented Lovell sisters in their 4th studio album. The two sisters play every instrument, aside from some wonderful slide guitar in one song by Tyler Bryant, creating a wonderful variety of sounds and textures. Is it Americana or blues, or pop even? We’ll plump for a modern interpretation of traditional blues. Classic but innovative, with traditional, primal sounds mixed with electronic beats. It all works wonderfully well – not least in what is possibly the best version I’ve ever heard of Skip James’s Hard Time Killing Floor blues. More comment on the song here.
Joe Bonamassa/Beth Hart: Black Coffee
You really can’t go wrong with an album of music from guitar genius Joe Bonamassa and vocal tour de force Beth Hart. Individually brilliant. Together, they make magic.
Ana Popovic: Like it on Top
Ana Popovic, top-notch guitarist, singer and song-writer with her 11th studio album. Recorded in Nashville, and produced by four-time Grammy winner Keb’ Mo’, it features guest appearances from Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Robben Ford and Keb’ Mo’. It’s a terrific piece of work, featuring some beautiful and truly exceptional guitar work, and funky, bluesy arrangements. It’s an important piece of work about the empowerment of women. Our interview with Ana is here.
Buddy Guy: The Blues is Alive and Well
15 tracks from the veteran bluesman, with Guy’s still formidable vocals and blistering guitar work aided and abetted by the McCrary sisters, Mick Jagger, James Bay, Jeff Beck and Keith Richards.
Paul Thorn: Don’t Let the Devil Ride
Unabashed album of gospel music, with Paul and his band, and a group of top notch collaborators including the Blind Boys of Alabama, the McCrary Sisters, Bonnie Bishop and New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Horns, all in scintillating form. Our interview with Paul is here.
Paul Cowley: Just What I Know
The Mississippi Delta via Birmingham, England and Morbihan in Brittany. They’re all in the mix in Paul Cowley’s wonderful album of classic-sounding acoustic blues, Just What I Know. Deft and delightful acoustic guitar work, including lovely, tasteful slide playing, along with Cowley’s nicely phrased vocals, make up a hugely satisfying selection of acoustic blues. See our full review here.
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite: No Mercy in this Land
Vibrant collaboration of no-nonsense blues which delivers all you want from the blues – lament, joy, emotion – but never sounds dated. Musselwhite’s harmonica playing is exceptional throughout, complementing Harper’s versatile vocals and cool guitar work.
Dana Fuchs: Love Lives On
Fine album of bluesy American from the talented singer-songwriter, which features her utterly engaging, raspy vocals and a wonderful set of 13 songs, including a blues-soaked, stripped back version of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire. “Love Lives On is about hope and perseverance…I hope in some way this album can give some of that back to you,” said Fuchs. See our interview with Dana here.
And here’s the next 10:
Shemekia Copeland: America’s Child
Shemekia Copeland has a stack of blues music awards to her name and several Grammy nominations. Her new album, America’s Child, produced by Nashville’s Will Kimbrough, is a compelling piece of work that sees Ms. Copeland branch out beyond the blues in which she’s made her name. To be sure there are great blues numbers here, but there’s rock and country too – overall it’s a great piece of Americana. Our interview with Shemekia is here.
Luke Winslow-King: Blue Mesa
Wonderfully upbeat, positive album of rocking blues. Luke Winslow-King is one very fine guitarist, singer, composer and songwriter. Formally trained in musical composition and an accomplished jazz guitarist, he is able to fuse blues, gospel, R&B, folk and jazz into a hugely entertaining and quite original rootsy style. Our interview with Luke is here.
Van Morrison The Prophet Speaks
Van the Man is in a rich vein of form with his 40th release, giving us six new tracks of his own and blues classics from the likes of Willie Dixon and John Lee Hooker in a 14 song set. He continues his collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Joey DeFrancesco in some quite wonderful, jazzy blues, all with a classic, big band feel. “Change your thought and it will change your mind,” sings Van. The prophet speaks.
Chris Smither: Call Me Lucky
Double album of terrific acoustic songs from the gravel voiced and rhythmic guitar picker. As you’d expect on a Chris Smither album, the lyrics are sharp and laced with wry humour, without ever being cynical, the new songs demonstrating once again the importance of Chris Smither as a songwriter and artist. Our interview with Chris is here.
Janiva Magness: Love is an Army
Twelve hugely enjoyable songs which tap into a deep well of bluesy Americana and Memphis soul. Magness is joined by a number of guest luminaries, such as Charlie Musselwhite, Delbert McClinton, Texas singer-songwriter Bryan Stephens, Poco frontman Rusty Young, Mississippi hill-country blues artist Cedric Burnside, and bluegrass guitar and banjo virtuoso Courtney Hartman. These are stirring songs of protest, empowerment and hope which will capture your soul and move your feet. Our interview with Janiva is here.
Mark Harrison: The Panoramic View
Mark Harrison’s new album, The Panoramic View is an entertaining treat of modern acoustic blues, full of wondrous finger-picking and slide playing, and giving full vent to Harrison’s compelling story-telling and wry humour. Mark Harrison is a supremely accomplished song writer, guitarist and performer and The Panoramic View a satisfying feast of modern acoustic blues. Our full review is here.
Rory Block: A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith
Block turns her attention to the Empress of the Blues, after her set of 6 tribute albums to the founding fathers of the blues. Everything on the album is played by Rory Block, and as ever, the guitar picking and slide work are masterful. The songs, clearly, are very differently treated to the originals, but make for a fine and hugely enjoyable tribute to Bessie Smith.
Joe Bonamassa: Redemption
Rock blues guitar icon Bonamassa’s 13th studio album delivers great song-writing, excellent vocal work and, of course, exceptional guitar work, accompanied by a hugely talented, veteran band. The title track, complete with heavenly choir and huge production, is an epic track to be savoured.
Keeshea Pratt Band: Believe
One very fine album of soul-soaked blues, featuring an outstanding 7-piece band and the wondrous Ms. Keeshea Pratt, whose soaring and thrilling vocals sparkle on each of the twelve tracks. Our full review is here.
Brooks Williams: Lucky Star
Brooks Williams, a jaw-droppingly good guitar player, has a sweet, but versatile voice, and is a great song-writer with a ready wit. Lucky Star is a terrific album of bluesy Americana, with twelve tracks and two additional bonus songs which feature Brooks along with blues maestro Hans Theessink. The combination of Williams’ tenor voice and Theessink’s gravelly bass works tremendously well. Our full review is here.
And our final set of 10:
Matty T Wall: Sidewinder
Make no mistake – Matty Wall is an extraordinary talent and deserves a massive amount of recognition for this terrific album. It’s blues rock, but it shimmers with passion, originality and top-notch musicianship. The combination of Wall’s artistry, his excellent band and legendary Grammy-winning producer-engineer, Bob Clearmountain, has resulted in one of the best blues rock albums of the year. Our full review is here.
Joe Louis Walker & Bruce Katz & Giles Robson: Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues
Traditional stripped down blues featuring some sparkling boogie-woogie piano, lovely guitar work and wailing harmonica from three blues masters. Great versions of some blues standards in a thoroughly satisfying set.
Paul Oscher: Cool Cat
Oscher was member of Muddy Waters band, of whom Waters said “Paul Oscher plays the soul I feel,” This is an exceptional album of time-honoured, classic blues, from a man, whose life in the blues oozes from every musical phrase. According to Oscher, “The real gift of talent is not the ability to be able to play, it is the gift of the love you have for the music.” Our full review is here.
Billy F Gibbons: The Big Bad Blues
No surprises in this one; every phrase is characteristic Billy Gibbons. But what’s not to like? Four classic blues covers and seven new songs to get your toes tapping and your engine revving.
Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio: Something Smells Funky Round Here
Worth it for the title track alone: “I’m not talkin’ ‘bout funky like a groove/Really funky…like pee-uuuuh!” The stench comes from the nation’s capital – “funky like some old politicians.” Great fun throughout, including the spoken “Lookin’ Good,” with its three stages to life: youth, middle age and “you’re looking good.”
Bryan Lee: Sanctuary
BMA Award winner and Grammy Nominee, Bryan Lee has had a lifetime in the blues. In his mid-seventies, the bluesman, who lost his sight at the age of 8, is still playing consistently and this very fine collection of unabashed gospel blues shows his vocal and guitar playing powers are still very much in evidence. It’s a top-notch blues album, well produced, recorded and mastered. Our interview with Bryan is here.
Victor Wainwright and the Train
Boogie woogie, as you might expect, but a lot more besides on this fine album, driven by Wainwright’s raw, powerful vocals and top notch piano playing. Watch out for the excellent BB King tribute, “Thank You Lucille.”