What a great year it’s been for blues albums. Whether it’s acoustic blues, blues rock, traditional, modern, gospel or funk, there’s been something for everyone. Some artists – like Eric Bibb, Guy Davis and Corey Harris – have included important social commentary in their music; we’ve had great music from a bunch of…well, let’s say mature musicians, like Dion, Alabama Slim, Elizabeth King and Hans Theessink; and some terrific output from young musicians, like Christone Ingram and Selwyn Birchwood, who are making it clear that the blues are alive and well.
We’ve chosen our top 25 albums – arranged in alphabetical order, rather than ranking them. Enjoy!
Here’s our top 12.
Dear America, Eric Bibb
Dear America is a collection of thirteen Eric Bibb originals, all testament to his outstanding song-writing skill, ear for a good tune and top-notch guitar chops, but what makes Dear America such a great album – and an important album – is not just the music but the nuanced social commentary and challenge he presents. But like every Eric Bibb album you listen to, there’s a thread of hope and joy that comes through strongly. Here’s our interview with Eric.
Joanna Connor, 4801 South Indiana Avenue
An absolutely top-notch set of blues rock that clearly has a Chicago blues heritage, yet sounds completely fresh and modern. Connor’s killer slide guitar and vocals are augmented by some characteristically fine guitar work by Joe Bonamassa and a tight-knit top-class band. Superbly produced, and packed with raw, high-energy musicianship. Check out our interview with Joanna.
Paul Cowley, Long Time Comin’
Paul Cowley is an outstanding musician, a fine guitarist, with a deep appreciation for the acoustic blues tradition. Long Time Comin‘, has 12 acoustic blues songs, 5 traditional songs from the likes of Charlie Patton, Blind Boy Fuller and Blind Willie McTell and 7 originals. It’s outstanding, and hugely enjoyable. We talked to Paul about the album here.
Dion and Friends, Stomping Ground
Another great blues album from the erstwhile wanderer, Dion. As with his last album, he’s collaborated with a bunch of his friends – probably a list of your favourite artists. They’re mine, anyway – Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa, Keb’ Mo’, Mark Knopfler, Joe Bonamassa, Eric Clapton…It’s the blues, but it’s positive and upbeat, and it’s an album you’ll return to again and again.
Corey Harris, Insurrection Blues
Corey Harris’s 20th album is what acoustic blues is all about. Fourteen traditional blues songs performed with passion, rawness and fine guitar picking. The spirit of the blues breathes in every song. This is a rich feast of acoustic blues, all the more satisfying for presenting the tradition with freshness and originality, and for showing its relevance to current times. Check out our full review here.
Christone Ingram, 662
There’s never a dull moment in the album, with a nice blend of styles and approaches to the songs – to his guitar and singing skill, add song-writing too. Ingram’s singing throughout is outstanding and his guitar solos glorious. At the end you’re left wanting more. If he can keep up the quality shown in this release, Christone Ingram has a stellar career ahead. Highly recommended. Here’s our full review
Catfish Keith, Land of the Sky
Catfish Keith’s full range of acoustic guitar pyrotechnics are on display in his 20th album, Land of the Sky – picking, plucking, pinching, bending, sliding, harmonics-ing, on his wide collection of guitars, which include parlours, full-size 6 strings,12-strings, Nationals and a ukulele. It’s a feast of hugely enjoyable guitar fare for any guitar, blues, roots or just music fan. Our full review is here.
Gary Moore, How Blue Can You Get
If you buy one blues album this year, this is it. A set of eight songs, some previously unheard and unreleased, from the Moore family archives, will move you, excite you, get you on your feet, and make you regret all the more that Gary Moore is no longer with us. Released on the tenth anniversary of Moore’s passing How Blue Can You Get proves, if there was ever any doubt, that Gary Moore was a master of the blues. Check out our full review here.
Alabama Slim, The Parlor
Approaching his 82nd birthday, close to seven feet tall, and typically dressed in an impeccable tailored suit, Alabama Slim has given us a perfect, classic blues album which recalls the boogie of John Lee Hooker. It’s delicious, pared-back, but tasty fare from a man whose soulful and oh-so-cool vocals are served up in a wrap of sweet guitar groove from Little Freddie King, Slim’s cousin. Here’s the link to our full review.
Joanne Shaw Taylor, The Blues Album
Taylor’s incredible guitar chops are well in evidence, but it is perhaps her singing that stands out on this album. At turns intensive, gritty, raw and husky, she makes these songs her own, grabbing your attention, and wresting every ounce of emotion out of the music. Joanne Shaw Taylor has made a huge statement with The Blues Album, and take it from me, it’s an album you will want to play repeatedly. Here’s our full review.
Hans Theessink and Big Daddy Wilson, Payday
It feels like payday for all of us who get the opportunity to hear this fine album from two blues artists at the top of their game. Hans Theessink and Big Daddy Wilson join voices and blues spirit for sixteen songs of exceptional acoustic blues. It’s joyous stuff, the songs driven by Hans’s sure and characteristic rhythmic finger-picking and the lovely harmonies and melding of baritone and tenor voices. Check out the full review here.
Christina Vane, Nowhere Sounds Lovely
Sit up and take notice of Cristina Vane, whose Nowhere Sounds Lovely is a terrific amalgam of blues, bluegrass and country – a thoroughgoing bluesy Americana, you might say. Whatever way you want to describe it, she’s a wonderful talent – a skilful guitar picker and slide player, a fine songwriter and a beautiful singer. And here’s the full review.
And the next baker’s dozen
Joe Bonamassa, Time Clocks
It’s heady stuff, with complex arrangements, full orchestrations, bending of genres and a breathless energy from the first song to the last. All the ingredients of his previous work are here – the blues basis, the guitar solos, his soulful vocals, the attention to detail in the production – but this is a bold step forward, a cinematic palette of modern rock guaranteed to both surprise and delight. Our full review is here.
Selwyn Birchwood, Living in a Burning House
Fresh modern blues, featuring Birchwood’s bluesy voice, and top-notch guitar and lap steel playing. Thirteen original energetic songs with a blues rock sound, with a jazzy feel at times. Birchwood is quite a talent and this is his best album yet.
Tommy Castro, A Bluesman Came to Town
A blues “concept” album from the veteran bluesman, who’s “never made the same album twice.” Tracking the progress of a blues artist with all the ups and downs of the itinerant musician’s life, it is classic stuff, solid, no-nonsense blues from a man whose gritty vocals and searing guitar solos reach right down inside you.
Guy Davis, Be Ready When I Call You
Great songs, featuring Guy’s distinctive, growly vocals and rhythmic guitar work, good humour and engaging stories. More than just blues musically and most of the songs have a hard-hitting strong social commentary going on. An outstanding release from Davis and M.C. Records. Read our great interview with Guy here.
Chris Gill, Between Midnight and Louise
A stripped-down recording, just two microphones, a small amp, no overdubs and a lot of love for the blues. Relax on the back porch as Gill takes his acoustic, resonator and cigar box and performs nine originals and Virgil Brawley songs. It’s finger picking good, good old-fashioned acoustic blues played with considerable depth and passion. Here’s the full review.
Government Mule, Heavy Load Blues
Warren Hayes’ vocals and guitar work, some nicely placed organ and horns, and thirteen fine solid blues songs combine in what is a hugely satisfying album. There are covers of songs by Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, Junior Wells, Tom Waits and the Animals, as well as originals from Hayes. 78 minutes of great blues, and you get an extra 50 minutes worth if you go for the 2 CD deluxe offering.
Mark Harrison’s sixth album, The Road to Liberty, showcases his adept story-telling and clever lyrics, his knack for composing a catchy tune, and his never-less-than-engaging performance as a singer and guitarist. He’s hard to pigeon-hole, not quite blues, but the blues are never far away. This is a collection of songs that transport you to another place, make you contemplate the world around and, as well as that – most importantly – entertain you. Read our great interview with Mark here.
Colin James, Open Road
Over the years, Colin James has racked up 20 studio albums and a sack-full of awards, and yet is relatively unknown. Put that right straight away by listening to this terrific album of blues covers and originals from a very fine singer and guitarist. Consistently good and hugely enjoyable.
Kelly’s Lot, Where and When
Kelly Zirbes’s band, which hails from the Los Angeles area has been plying its trade for the last 25 years, mostly as a blues rock outfit. Where and When sees them stripping things back, performing 11 acoustic blues songs with resonator-slide guitar and Zirbes’s gritty voice to the fore. It’s fabulous stuff, six originals written by Kelly and rhythm guitarist Perry Robertson that evoke the blues of a bygone age and five reworked traditional blues songs, including a terrific version of Robert Johnson’s Stones in My Passageway.
Elizabeth King, Living in the Last Days
Wonderful set of bluesy gospel songs from gospel singer King 50 years after she stopped performing and recording professionally. It’s a funky, bluesy, soul-filled pot of rich gospel fare, an album full of great songs, music that touches you, and Ms. King’s powerful vocal performance. It’s a gift for us all. Check out our interview with this amazing woman.
New Moon Jell Roll Freedom Rockers, Vol 2
Classic old-school recording from a kind of blues super-group, the musicians sitting together in a circle in the studio and playing amongst the microphones. It’s a joyous exploration of the blues, with great heart and soul. A fine tribute to Jim Dickinson and a huge treat of an album for all of us. Full review here.
Elder Jack Ward, Already Made
Jack Ward was a successful Stax recording artist, but, remarkably, has never made an album – until now. At a lively 83 years old, he has released a fabulous album of bluesy, soulful gospel songs. The ten song program features the warmly-recorded winning ingredients that are becoming a trademark of Bible and Tire’s patented Sacred Soul sound, from Ward’s spirited vocals to the crack studio band laying down the grooves behind him. We talked to Jack about the album here.
Carolyn Wonderland, Tempting Fate
Glorious ten song tribute to her scorching guitar skills and rockin’ vocals. As well as blues, there’s some country, some Tex-Mex, and a whole lot of heart. The guitar work on the album is outstanding – all you’d expect from a Carolyn Wonderland record, but hot though it is, the her vocal performance in this album – the range, the dynamics, the emotion on this album – seems better than ever. And here’s our interview with Carolyn.