Six months into the 2011 calendar year and we've already listened to a lot of great blues and roots music from both wily veterans and relative newcomers alike. Here are the Top Ten blues albums of the year...so far!
Damon Fowler's Devil Got His Way is a fine affair, the artist sounding more at home in his skin, more seasoned than his already mature-sounding debut album. Fowler's vocals are stronger, and while he is in no way a powerhouse shouter on the microphone, he brings the right amount of enthusiasm and soulfulness to each performance. His guitar-playing continues to improve, as does that intangible sense that makes everything sound 'right' when it's done.
Gina Sicilia is an immense talent with an incredible future ahead of her. If she were just a singer, she'd still be a star due to her range, command, and ability to wring every ounce of emotion out of a song. That she has developed into one of the best young songwriters in contemporary blues music is of equal significance. Sicilia has also found the perfect musical foil in producer, talented guitarist, and multi-instrumentalist Dave Gross, the two creating in Can't Control Myself a perfect showcase for the singer's talents. The result is a highly-entertaining album of substance, emotion, and enthusiasm that is guaranteed to please.
While Allman's day job at the fore of the Allman Brothers Band often has him calling on his blues, R&B, and soul influences in creating music that is firmly in the blues-rock form, with Low Country Blues he abandons any such preconceived notions to deliver an almost pure blues album. With producer T Bone Burnett – the "go-to guy" these days for artists attempting to capture the magic of ages past – Allman and a top-notch band have spun pure magic with Low Country Blues, creating music that sounds contemporary while drawing strongly from the past.
Here's what the Reverend wrote in Blues Revue magazine: "Considering just how damn good the Homemade Jamz Blues Band is on The Game, imagine how great the band is going to be another couple albums down the road. The Perry teens are bringing youthful enthusiasm and a fresh vision to blues traditionalism, and The Game represents another big step forward for this young Mississippi band."
As the old maxim goes, you can't teach an old dog new tricks, and by 1972 it was evident to anybody listening to releases like This Is Howlin' Wolf's New Album or Message To The Young that the blues great simply wasn't ready or willing to move beyond his comfort zone. Live And Cookin' At Alice's Revisited, a long-overdue live album from the Wolf, captured the legend doing exactly what he did best – tearing up the stage with a setlist of familiar blues gems that provide a perfect showcase for the Wolf's blues intensity.
In Blues Revue magazine, the Reverend wrote, "Dust Bowl offers plenty of bluesy fretwork for the fan, from the blunderbuss solos of "The Meaning of the Blues" to the acoustic Appalachian country-blues of "Black Lung Heartache." Bonamassa continues to try out new musical ideas, honing his storytelling skills to a fine edge while continuing to develop new canvases on which to paint his imaginative guitarplay. Let's be honest, though, shall we? Bonamassa's talents can no longer be restrained by a mere blues framework…so just hold on and enjoy the ride!
Los Fabulocos – 'Dos' (Delta Groove Music)
"Multi-lingual roots-rock with a heavy Hispanic influence may not be every music lover's cup o' tea, but for those listeners with an open heart and ears, Los Fabulocos will scratch that itch you've had since the Texas Tornados broke up, or maybe even back to the Sir Douglas Quintet days. Give it a chance and you'll find that Dos will happily fill your ears with its rich mix of musical styles and the band's talented, inspired performances." That's what the Reverend wrote for Blurt magazine about roots-rockers Los Fabulocos, and every word is true!
Rich DelGrosso & Jonn Del Toro Richardson - 'Time Slips On By' (Mandolin)
Time Slips On By has almost no flaws to note. Richardson and DelGrosso have a rich rapport, and they employ highly talented players to help present their blues ideas. DelGrosso had only released one previous album as a leader, and Richardson has always recorded as a side-man, but these are two musicians with long careers ahead of them.
At a mere eight songs, A Part Of Me is too short. Considering the uniformly high quality of the songs and performances, a couple more tunes to extend the running time beyond that of a lengthy EP would have been wonderful. Principato is a pretty good songwriter, capable of expressing complex ideas and emotions in a few words, but it is his underrated skills as an instrumentalist that stands out on A Part Of Me. Principato doesn't sound like any other blues guitarist, and he doesn't settle for rehashing the same old licks and recycling sounds that were created decades ago. Instead, he's writing his own roadmap as he goes, and A Part Of Me is a welcome oasis on the journey.
Tracy Nelson makes absolutely no wrong moves in this stunning return to the blues of her youth. Victim Of The Blues is one of those records that instantly displays its warmth and pleasures, and then slowly reveals even more depth of emotion with each listen. After all these years, Nelson has only improved in her ability to express her passionate love for the blues.