Here are our picks for the best blues albums of the year.
Jarekus Singleton: Refuse To Lose
An impressive national debut from a young Mississippi guitarist and singer who uses his roots in gospel, rock and rap to create a unique blues sound, full of crisp, hairpin arrangements and passionate and personal lyrics. The title track is a grabber, as well as other well-delivered originals like “Suspicion” and “Gonna Let Go.”
Gary Clark, Jr.: Live
Although you might not know it from his studio albums, Gary Clark, Jr. can really play the blues. While he has skirted the edges of blues in his recordings, this live double-CD shows him not only playing blues very well, but taking his time and really “stretching out”. His take on B.B. King’s “Three O’Clock Blues” is a highlight as well as a jam-my version of his original “Don’t Owe You a Thang.”
Janiva Magness: Original
Janiva Magness may have started out as a traditional blues singer, but on her tenth release she has left categories behind to create her own blend of soul, R & B and rootsy blues. Choosing to play original material is a smart way to differentiate herself from other soul singers, and using her live band rather than studio musicians was a wise choice, these tunes are full of the swing and subtlety that only comes from years of playing together.
Johnny Winter: Step Back
The legendary guitarist amazed people with his agility and intensity when he came on the scene in the late ‘60s, and he remained true to the blues his entire career. This release came out in September, just a couple of months after he passed away at age 70, featuring collaborations with luminaries like Billy Gibbons and Dr. John. His voice may have gotten rougher over the years, but his guitar playing never lost its ferocious edge. Favorite tracks: “I Can’t Hold Out” with Ben Harper, “Don’t Want No Woman” with Eric Clapton.
Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa: Live In Amsterdam
Joe Bonamassa did us all a favor by shining a light on Beth Hart. Her distinctive quavery voice is in top form as she and Bonamassa recreate in live performance most of the songs from their 2 studio albums. Bonamassa wisely lays back on the guitar, letting Hart’s vocal have top billing. No studio trickery here, just a great live show caught on tape. Highlights include “Sinner’s Prayer” and the show-stopping ballad “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know.”
Sean Costello: In The Magic Shop
Just 28 years old when he died in 2008, Sean Costello was more prolific than we knew. Recorded in 2005, “In the Magic Shop” was shelved until now, and is consistent with the high quality of his other work, containing a mix of mostly original and some well chosen soul-blues covers. This project was released by the Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research, and proceeds will go to support research into the illness that Costello struggled with. Favorite tracks include the originals “Hard Luck Woman” and “Feel Like I Ain’t Got a Home.”