As far as blues music goes, 2010 started out slow but gradually picked up steam by the end of the year. We've heard excellent recordings from a handful of blues veterans, the welcome return of several long-lost blues prodigies, a wonderful posthumous album, and even a couple of (relatively) new faces. Here are the Reverend's picks for the best blues albums of 2010! Love blues-rock? Don't forget to check out our choice in the best blues-rock albums of the year....
1. Buddy Guy – 'Living Proof' (Silvertone Records)
The follow-up to Buddy Guy's acclaimed and award-winning 2008 album Skin Deep, with Living Proof the legendary guitarist takes a look back at a life well-lived. The album features a diverse range of blues material, from the roadhouse blues of "Much Too Soon" and the fiery instrumental "Skanky," to the autobiographical, reflective "Everybody's Got To Go." Guy's old friend B.B. King makes his first appearance on one of the guitarist's albums, the long overdue collaboration resulting in "Stay Around A Little Longer."
Legendary blues harpist Charlie Musselwhite returns to Alligator Records, where he recorded three ground-breaking albums during the early 1990s, for the release of his new album The Well, his first album to feature entirely original material penned by the harmonica master. A collection of personal, biographical songs, The Well finds Musselwhite spinning gritty, true-to-life stories complimented by his rough-hewn, soulful vocals and blistering harmonica blasts.
Although inspired by pre-war Delta blues music, Eric Bibb has brought the acoustic country-blues sound into the new century with Booker's Guitar, and as such his material has all of the gravitas and punch of the old stuff, combined with the immediacy and vitality of modern music. The blues of Booker's Guitar won't be to every listener's liking – this is blues music for the brain as well as the heart and soul, and if you'll take the time to thoroughly enjoy Eric Bibb's Booker's Guitar, you'll be richly rewarded.
With The Devil Is An Angel Too, Magness's seventh album, the talented vocalist has achieved the near-impossible task of topping her previous effort with an inspired collection of pop, blues, R&B, and even a country song; somehow she managed to imbue each of them with no little measure of heart and soul. Janiva Magness is one of the best vocalists in blues music today, and there is a large percentage of her loyal (and growing) following that would put down hard coin to hear the woman sing the phonebook (the Reverend included). The Devil Is An Angel Too provides further evidence of the singer's talents, Magness a one-of-a-kind talent that has lived the blues and survived to tell the story.
Jimmie Vaughan knows this music as well as he knows his guitar, and can perform it just as instinctually. To his credit, he didn't load the album down with obvious hits from the past, but rather cherry-picked his favorite blues, R&B, and soul favorites from the 1940s, '50s, and '60s and went about making them sound fresh and exciting for 21st century ears. As a result, Jimmie Vaughan's Plays Blues, Ballads & Favorites is an artistic and stylistic triumph, a heartfelt tribute to the songwriters and performers whose influence helped make the guitarist the artist he is today. With a sound and mix of songs more akin to Vaughan's 2001 album Do You Get The Blues? than to his earlier material, it's like Vaughan never left.
Simply put, there is nobody doing this sort of blue-eyed soul-blues stuff better or bolder than John Nemeth is right now. The man's songwriting continues to improve in both style and substance – Nemeth wrote ten of the eleven tracks on Name The Day!, his lyrics capturing love and heartbreak with the skill of the original R&B wordsmiths of the 1950s and '60s. But it's not just his songwriting that sets Nemeth apart from contemporaries like Tad Robinson or Curtis Salgado, but the marriage of his harp play with his vocals, which is more reminiscent of Little Walter and Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds than with most modern harp players. A solid, inspired work from one of blue music's bright young stars, this should become Nemeth's breakout album....
An unreleased gem of a live performance, Live In Boston 1966 provides the blues fan with a vintage recording of the legendary Junior Wells backed by a top-notch R&B outfit in the Aces, both the artist and the band kicking out the jams with vitality and energy. Wells' between-song conversations with the audience provide a welcome intimacy, and display the harpslinger's charismatic personality. This is as good as blues music gets, and if you're not down with it, I can only assume that you've achieved room temperature. For those of us still bubbling under the 98.6 degree mark, Live In Boston 1966 is guaranteed to get your blood boiling and your feet tapping uncontrollably.
Luther Allison was a great blues guitarist, capable of both down-n-dirty juke-joint jive and stunning moments of transcendent brilliance. Witnessing, as it tragically turned out, this final recorded performance of the too-often overlooked artist; it's hard to believe that he would die shortly thereafter. Songs From The Road documents a heartfelt and dynamic performance by a true blues lifer, an artist that poured his heart and soul into each and every song until he was certain that every fan in the audience was satisfied.
The album's title was inspired by an event close to Otis Taylor's Colorado home, when archeologists unearthed tools and relics belonging to an indigenous and mysterious civilization known as the Clovis people. Inspired by the implications of the discovery, Taylor wrote some new songs and mixed 'em with some older unreleased material, some of it a decade old, in the creation of an album that not only enhances his reputation as a stellar blues storyteller, but features plenty of his unique, hypnotic musical style. British blues-rock guitarist gary Moore lends a hand, Taylor's daughter Cassie plays bass, and pedal steel guitarist Chuck Campbell appears on nine tracks, but make no mistake – Taylor is at the heart of this intriguing song cycle.
Aside from his obvious skills as a harp player, Sugar Blue is also a powerful vocalist and intelligent songwriter. Threshold also shows a further refinement of his wordplay that sets him among the best songwriters in the blues today. It's Blues's sense of creative adventurism that makes Threshold so entertaining, however, as he further expands not only his own personal musical barriers, but the definition of blues music in the year 2010. It's not too early to consider Sugar Blue's Threshold as one of the year's best...it's just that damn good!