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The Best Blues-Rock Albums of 2012

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The arbitrary line between straight-forward, guitar-driven blues and what critics may call "blues-rock" is often a matter of amplification and intent. No matter how you slice it, though, 2012 was a good year for music lovers that prefer mixing their blues with the muscle of rock 'n' roll. The always-prolific Joe Bonamassa released both a studio and live CD this year (as well as an accompanying DVD), Walter Trout hit a lick with what is possibly the best album of his lengthy and impressive career, and Anders Osborne reached new heights with his landmark LP...and those are just a few of the "best blues-rock albums of 2012." Want more? Check out our list of 2012's "best blues albums."

Albert Cummings – 'No Regrets' (Ivy Music)

Albert Cummings's No Regrets
Photo courtesy Ivy Music

For his first studio album since 2006, guitarist Albert Cummings worked up an invigorating brace of original songs for No Regrets that both explore his love of blues and roots music as well as serve as an excellent showcase for his underrated six-string skills. No Regrets is the real deal, rootsier, perhaps, than some hardcore blues fans may like, but chockfull of good singin' and playin' and well-written songs – what more could you want?

Anders Osborne – 'Black Eye Galaxy' (Alligator Records)

Anders Osborne's Black Eye Galaxy
Photo courtesy Alligator Records

Writing in Blues Revue magazine, the Reverend says that with Black Eye Galaxy, "Osborne's skills as a songwriter have matured to match his six-string talents...with the life-affirming, cathartic screed that is Black Eye Galaxy, Osborne has delivered a genre-crossing masterwork that is both as subtle as a feather dancing on the wind and as devastating as a bulldozer in a china shop. Osborne shares his own personal journey out of the heart of darkness, masterfully jumping from blues to rock to jazz and back again in creating a work of art that redefines the meaning of the blues." This is a scary good record, so get it already!

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Dr. John – 'Locked Down' (Nonesuch Records)

Dr. John's Locked Down
Photo courtesy Nonesuch Records

Meeting up at the Bonnaroo Festival a couple years back, Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys promised Dr. John that he'd help the New Orleans musical legend make "the best record you've made in a long time." Auerbach delivered everything he promised, producing in Locked Down an album that perfectly captures the spirit and energy of the singer's earlier work under the Night Tripper persona while providing Dr. John's sound with a raw, raucous contemporary edge. With a little help from a sympathetic producer and instrumentalist like Auerbach, Dr. John has delivered what will be considered a late-career tour-de-force in Locked Down.

Gary Clark, Jr. – 'Blak and Blu' (Warner Brothers Records)

Gary Clark, Jr's Blak and Blu
Photo courtesy Warner Brothers Records

Music lovers are going to rejoice over Gary Clark Jr.'s debut even as blues purists are gonna hate, but the truth is that Blak and Blu marks the emergence of a major talent who is bringing his love of blues and soul to mainstream audiences. Regardless of whether or not we've heard it all before, we've never heard it quite like this – as Gary Clark, Jr. puts his own unique stamp on the familiar, he walks further down the path blazed by Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and few others, venturing beyond their footsteps to mark a direction for others to follow in the future.

Joe Bonamassa – 'Beacon Theatre: Live In New York' (J&R Adventures)

Joe Bonamassa's Beacon Theatre: Live In New York
Photo courtesy J&R Adventures

Normally I wouldn't include a live disc in this annual round-up, especially since Joe Bonamassa also delivered a solid "top ten" studio LP in 2012, but there are just so damn many fine performances on Beacon Theatre: Live In New York that one doesn't know where to begin raving. Twenty-years into a career that shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon, Bonamassa continues to challenge himself both as a vocalist and an instrumentalist, choosing eclectic cover songs to accompany his originals and performing with diverse talents like Beth Hart, John Hiatt, and Paul Rodgers, resulting in one of a pair of the year's best live discs (the other coming from the Tedeschi Trucks Band).

Joe Bonamassa – 'Driving Towards The Daylight' (J&R Adventures)

Joe Bonamassa's Driving Towards The Daylight
Photo courtesy J&R Adventures

The amazingly prolific Joe Bonamassa is like the energizer bunny of blues-rock – the guitarist just keeps going, and going, and going, both as a solo artist and with his classic rock supergroup Black Country Communion. Doubts about his abilities to keep pulling off great works are subdued in the face of Driving Towards The Daylight, another solid album from the workaholic musician. There's no radical departure here from the basic guitar-driven, meat-and-potatoes blues-rock sound that has earned the guitarist a loyal worldwide audience, and longtime listeners may find more than a few surprises in these grooves!

Royal Southern Brotherhood – 'Royal Southern Brotherhood' (Ruf Records)

Royal Southern Brotherhood's Royal Southern Brotherhood
Photo courtesy Ruf Records

Royal Southern Brotherhood is an entertaining album that had a major impact on the contemporary blues scene this year. While time will tell if the egos of the talents involved will allow for future collaboration – and at this point, there's no sign that it won't happen – the three major players in RSB all have thriving solo careers to attend, Cyril Neville, Devon Allman, and Mike Zito all pursuing their own muse on their own time. Given the band's experience on the road together, and with maybe a little more time to develop and incubate new songs for the studio, a second Royal Southern Brotherhood album has the promise to exceed the expectations set by the encouraging, highly-rocking performances found on this exciting debut.

Tedeschi Trucks Band – 'Everybody's Talkin' (Sony Masterworks)

Tedeschi Trucks Band's Everybody's Talkin'
Photo courtesy Sony Masterworks

Live albums don't usually meet the "best of" standard arbitrarily set by critics, but the Tedeschi Trucks Band is a standard entirely of their own. Mixing material from the band's best-selling debut Revelator with inspired covers, Everybody's Talkin' takes the band's enormous musical chemistry one step further, showcasing an outfit at the top of its game and opening the door for break-out success. If you were lucky enough to catch the Tedeschi Trucks Band on tour, Everybody's Talkin' will be a fond souvenir of the experience, and if you missed them last time around, this live set will assure that you'll never make that mistake again!

Walter Trout – 'Blues For The Modern Daze' (Provogue Records)

Walter Trout's Blues For The Modern Daze
Photo courtesy Provogue Records

Always a blue-collar bluesman at heart, Walter Trout's Blues For The Modern Daze is smart, insightful, and 99% to its core, displaying an undeniable populist viewpoint while retaining the guitarist's trademark turbocharged blues-rock sound. As a songwriter, Trout has never been better, and his voicing of his social concerns – bolstered by an unbridled six-string rage – is delivered with plenty of heart and soul. This is Walter Trout at his very best, and we should all be listening...

ZZ Top – 'La Futura' (American Recordings)

ZZ Top's La Futura
Photo courtesy American Recordings

Bringing a fresh perspective into the studio in the form of producer Rick Rubin – the first person not named "Gibbons" or "Ham" to sit in that chair since 1970 – has paid off in spades for ZZ Top, the band delivering its most inspired work since Eliminator, and possibly its most blues-oriented album since Tres Hombres, nearly 40 years ago. The band has never strayed far from its Texas blues roots, but the synthesizer overkill that characterized its chart-topping tunes of the 1980s has been dialed back to a mild buzz, allowing Billy Gibbons' joyful guitar playing to dominate the performances and lead the band back into the blues-rock spotlight.

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