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The Best Blues-Rock Albums of 2013


It's always a chore to try and separate the "blues" albums released during a year from the "blues-rock" albums, the distinction often a matter of the quantity of guitar playing, the amplification of said guitars, and the artist's intent. To be honest, a lot of this year's best "blues-rock" albums could just as easily have fit on the "best blues" list, but we've included them here. Any year in which you get new albums from Anders Osborne and Walter Trout is a good 'un, while relative newcomers like Bart Walker and Samantha Fish are welcome additions to the party. Here are our picks for the best blues-rock discs of 2013, great music no matter how you define it! Want more blues? Check out our lists of the best blues albums and best blues reissue albums of the year.

Anders Osborne – 'Peace' (Alligator Records)

Courtesy Alligator Records

In more ways than one, Peace is Anders Osborne's "classic rock" album, the artist feeling, perhaps, like a man out of time. There's little here that the traditionalist would consider even remotely "bluesy" and yet blues music imbues every performance on Peace, hanging around in the corner of the studio like the ghost of a favored ancestor. And make no mistake, the songs on Peace are haunted by a lot of ghosts, not only those of the long-dead bluesmen and women that placed Osborne on his life's path, but also by his addictions and renewal, his triumphs and his failures. Peace stamps paid to all of Osborne's past, the album a work of staggering lyrical and musical genius that creeps into your consciousness and forces you pay attention.

Bart Walker – 'Waiting On Daylight' (Ruf Records)

Bart Walker's Waiting On Daylight
Photo courtesy Ruf Records

Bart Walker won the coveted "Gibson Guitarist Award" at the 2012 International Blues Challenge, his band taking second place in their category, all of which led to a deal with Ruf Records. Walker's debut for the label offers up eleven accomplished and mature performances that showcase the guitarist's amazing six-string skills and soulful vocal growl, which is somewhat of a mix of Gregg Allman, Ronnie Van Zandt, and Van Morrison applied to an invigorating blend of Southern rock, Memphis soul, swamp-blues, and twangy roots-rock. Bart Walker is one of the up and coming talents in the blues world, Waiting On Daylight a fine introduction to the artist's talents and an impressive major league debut.

Bryan Lee – 'Play One For Me' (Severn Records)

Bryan Lee's Play One For Me
Photo courtesy Severn Records

Bryan Lee has forged a quiet reputation a soulful vocalist, skilled songwriter, and vastly underrated guitarist, largely recording all these years for Canadian indie label Justin Time Records. With Play One For Me, the guitarist's Severn Records label debut, Lee has the opportunity to reach the audience his talent deserves. Play One For Me backs up Lee's reputation with a phenomenal mix of original songs and choice cover tunes that all showcase his hearty vocals and elegant guitarplay. Some 20 years and a dozen albums into his career and Bryan Lee still manages to surprise, Play One For Me an entertaining and inspired collection with no little heart and soul.

Cyril Neville – 'Magic Honey' (Ruf Records)

Cyril Neville's Magic Honey
Photo courtesy Ruf Records

Magic Honey is Cyril Neville's first solo effort since 2009's critically-lauded Brand New Blues album and one thing that's apparent from the first note of the album-opening title track is that Neville hasn't lost a step in these ensuing years. Magic Honey follows a musical blueprint familiar to any Cyril Neville fan, or to Royal Southern Brotherhood fans for that matter, the album providing a satisfying blend of New Orleans funk, old-school soul, Delta blues, and Southern rock styles that go together like Boudan sausage and crawfish Etouffee. Overall, Magic Honey is a transcendent collection by a wily, multi-talented veteran still capable of pulling a few new tricks out of his bag.

Delbert & Glen – 'Blind, Crippled and Crazy' (New West Records)

Delbert & Glen's Blind, Crippled and Crazy
Photo courtesy New West Records

Delbert McClinton's long-time fans will find a lot to like in Blind, Crippled and Crazy and there's not a lot here musically that veers off course and into unfamiliar territory. If anything, the pairing of McClinton and Glen Clark brings the two men's talents to the foreground, Delbert the stronger vocalist, Glen the better songwriter, the two together having a hell of a time exploring the blues, rock, and country music they loved as young men. Their enthusiasm shines on every song on Blind, Crippled and Crazy and if you're a roots 'n' blues fan, you're definitely going to love this one!

Mike Zito & the Wheel – 'Gone To Texas' (Ruf Records)

Mike Zito & the Wheel's Gone To Texas
Photo courtesy Ruf Records

Gone To Texas is more than a "return to form" for singer, songwriter, and underrated guitarist Mike Zito, as many leaden-eared critics have asserted, the album more of a re-birth of a talented artist who temporarily lost his way. Dealing with themes of failure, loss, and redemption Mike Zito has managed to look into the abyss with Gone To Texas, and survived to tell the tale. As good as this one is, I can't wait to hear what comes next from this talented artist...

Samantha Fish – 'Black Wind Howlin' (Ruf Records)

Samantha Fish's Black Wind Howlin'
Photo courtesy Ruf Records

There's so much that's good about Samantha Fish's Black Wind Howlin' that it's hard to find a place to start the praise, the album offering up ten electrifying performances. Fish is a fine lyricist and songwriter, imaginative and inventive while still learning the ropes, but it's her amazing six-string skills that will enchant and hypnotize the listener. Don't let her youth and gender fool you...Samantha Fish is genuinely bad to the bone, and only getting better!

Southern Hospitality – 'Easy Livin' (Blind Pig Records)

Southern Hospitality's Easy Livin'
Photo courtesy Blind Pig Records

Southern Hospitality is a roots 'n' blues "supergroup" of sorts, featuring as it does the talents of guitarists Damon Fowler and JP Soars and pianist Victor Wainwright, the outfit rounded out by bassist Chuck Riley and drummer Chris Peet. What they all have in common aside from the blues is a Southern perspective on the music, and it comes as no surprise that the band's debut, Easy Livin', was produced by another hardcore Dixie musician, Louisiana guitarist Tab Benoit. The result is a delightful brew of Southern roots-rock, Delta-inspired blues, boogie-woogie, and much, much more, Southern Hospitality's Easy Livin' goes down smoother than a mouthful of white lightnin' swigged from a mason jar!

Tedeschi Trucks Band – 'Made Up Mind' (Sony Masterworks)

Tedeschi Trucks Band's Made Up Mind
Photo courtesy Sony Masterworks

The Tedeschi Trucks Band has been accused of recording an album that is more "pop" than blues with Made Up Mind, and there's no denying the mainstream appeal of these bright, shiny performances. It's the band's love of the music, the talents involved, and the chemistry created by a couple years on the road together that has created an entertaining and musically exciting blend of blues, soul, and rock 'n' roll that makes Made Up Mind a winner. This may not be your daddy's blues, but this is a big tent that we're all under, with plenty of room for newcomers, and Tedeschi Trucks Band is redefining rhythm and blues with a sound entirely its own...

Walter Trout – 'Luther's Blues' (Provogue Records)

Walter Trout's Luther's Blues
Photo courtesy Provogue Records

Walter Trout's tribute to his friend and idol Luther AllisonLuther's Blues – rocks like a proverbial hurricane. Writing in Blues Music Magazine, I said that "the guitarist unleashes decades of pent-up blues mojo on eleven tracks written, or made famous by Allison, as well as an inspired, brand new original. The results are breathtaking, with Trout investing the same sort of blood, sweat, and tears to the re-creation of these songs as Allison did when first recording them," concluding that Trout "has delivered a powerful tribute to a great, but frequently overlooked talent."

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