2013 was another cracking year for the blues, as you can see from the list below. Blues music is so diverse that it’s very difficult to make a list that contains both acoustic and electric blues and everything else in between. But…notwithstanding that, here is Down at the Crossroads Best 30 Blues Albums of 2013. Feel free to disagree…
First of all, our top 10 -
Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa: Seesaw
Beth and Joe’s Seesaw is our No.1 pick this year. Each of these artists are fantastic in their own right, and when they get together, something very special happens. Featuring a high class mix of songs from the likes of Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Etta James and Billie Holiday, the album sizzles with great arrangements, heart-wrenching singing from Beth Hart, and the sort of outstanding guitar work you’d expect from Joe Bonamassa.
This outstanding album of covers and original songs from UK artist Jo Harman, is by no means a traditional blues album. But it’s clearly blues-infused. Harman is quite simply an sensational singer, who can wring every emotion possible out of a song. Sweet Man Moses is worth the price of the album alone. If you don’t know Jo Harman, you soon will – don’t hesitate to get this album.
Walter Trout has followed up his excellent Blues for the Modern Daze from last year with another impressive outing, this time an album of covers, honouring the late Luther Allison. Trout captures the Chicago style of Allison, but adds his own unmistakable stamp. Full on blues rock of the highest calibre.
Probably our surprise listing – Brian Houston is an Irish musician, now living in the US. This is probably the best album he’s done and follows a change in musical direction last year towards the blues. This is an album of gospel blues and is quite simply terrific. And if you get a chance to see Brian live, grab it with both hands – you’re in for a treat.
Rory Block follows her tribute albums to Robert Johnson, Fred McDowell and Gary Davis with this highly enjoyable and heart-warming tribute to John Hurt. The album features Block’s superior acoustic guitar work and 10 of Hurt’s best loved songs, as well as one of her own in his style. Wonderful.
This wonderful record merges blues, rag-time, folk, and jazz and sets it all off with slinky cool vocals and harmonies by King and Esther Rose. With a distinctive New Orleans melting pot nature, it’s warm, it’s unusual, it’s…highly enjoyable. Features King’s outstanding slide guitar playing throughout. Go check out.
The third outing from TTD and it’s the best yet. Blues rock with a soul, driven by Derek Truck’s outstanding slide guitar and featuring Susan Tedeschi’s rich range of vocal styles, which can be tender, sultry or raucous. The song arrangements are full-bodied, with brass, percussion and flute along with the guitars. Bluesy, jazzy, funky, this is just a great album.
Produced by Robert Randolph and featuring his mighty steel guitar on three of the tracks, this album from sacred slide musicians features both gospel and secular numbers. And it rocks! Guest appearances from Shemekia Copeland and Jimmy Carter from the Blind Boys of Alabama are the icing on a quite delicious cake of incredible steel guitar playing.
TUF’s latest album is jam-packed with soulful melodies, passionate singing, pulsating drum work and catchy guitar riffs. It is modern electric blues at its best. Drummer Kris Schnebelen has said that he thinks the blues should be “modern, energetic, vibrant, soulful and some of the best live music you can see.” Well, TUF has hit the bulls-eye on that target with this release.
Blues elder statesman blows a mean harp on this gem of an album featuring guest appearances from a stellar cast which includes Joe Bonamassa, Greg Allman, Warren Hayes, Keb Mo and Chuck Leavell. Watch out for the emotionally-charged harmonica-vocal duet from Cotton and Ruthie Foster. Spine-tingling.
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.
Daughter of Otis Taylor, Cassie wrote and arranged all the songs on this album. Songs, arrangements and musicianship are excellent, but the standout feature of the album is Taylor’s singing – forceful when it needs to be and sultry and slinky elsewhere, but always compelling.
Autobiographical songs from the road from son of Greg Allman and Royal Southern Brotherhood guitarist, this is a hugely enjoyable album of blues-tinged rock songs. With guests including Samantha Fish and Luther Dickinson, and Allman’s choice guitar playing and vocals, this is fine fare indeed.
Old school country acoustic blues from one of the masters of the genre. Guy Davis’s voice and guitar work are unmistakable as he dances his way through ragtime, heart-warming ballads and groove-laden blues. Features the tasteful blues harp of Fabrizio Poggi. A treat.
Quite unlike anything the veteran rockers have done before, this is an album of energetic, authentic blues-rock. Slow blues, rockin’ blues, all driven by raw, dirty guitar licks from Schenkman’s guitar. With its stripped production to match the mood, this is modern blues at its best.
Staples’ second album with Jeff Tweedy contains gospel favourites and covers from a range of artists including Low and Nick Lowe. With no diminution of her colossal singing talent, Staples wrings every ounce of emotion and meaning from these songs – “every step of the way I’ve found grace…My Lord he knows me, every step of the way.”
Swedish blues artist Bottleneck John has given us a real treat in this 14 track album of traditional blues songs and three originals. This is an album of very fine acoustic guitar work, including excellent slide resonator, using both vintage and modern instruments. Oh, and the vocals are terrific too – a feast of well-produced and satisfying blues.
An album of fine rootsy blues rock from Royal Southern Brotherhood guitarist Zito which features songs of despair and redemption, which Zito has his own personal experience of. Tasteful guitar work throughout along with Zito’s rich vocals make this a hugely enjoyable listening experience.
Raw and traditional in one sense but utterly fresh in another, The Allstars drive us through a set of songs which include Rollin and Tumblin and songs by R L Burnside and Sleepy John Estes as well as their own. Luther Dickinson’s wicked slide guitar licks and vocals entertain throughout. It’s the blues, but it’s great fun as well.
Dutch artist Theessink, now based in Austria, is a leading exponent of country blues. Every new album is a treat and this one doesn’t disappoint. Theessink deep baritone growls its way through a collection of traditional blues songs and seven of his originals. As ever, Theessink’s acoustic guitar work (as well as harmonica, banjo and mandolin) is top notch.
Martin Harley: Mojo Fix
Robben Ford: Bringing it Back Home
Cyrill Neville: Magic Honey
Samantha Fish: Black Wind Howlin’
Moreland & Arbuckle: 7 Cities
Buddy Guy: Rhythm & Blues
Ana Popovic: Can You Stand the Heat
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite: Get Up!
Eric Bibb: Jericho Road
Lincoln Durham: Exodus of the Deemed Unrighteous
(first published at Down at the Crossroads)