2018 Blues Albums

If there’s one trend best reflected in the key blues recordings of 2018 it is change.

In a music industry overwhelmed by a landscape shifting at a dizzying pace, leave it to the blues – perhaps the most traditional of all American musical forms – to embrace change the most eagerly.

In an ever diversifying musical scene young (and young-ish) female blues artists like Samantha Fish, ZZ Ward, Beth Hart and Malina Moye have made an undeniable dent on the blues charts so far in 2018.

Of course, the blues-belting mama is as old a tradition in the blues as the genre itself. So maybe the blues isn’t keeping up with the times so much at as it has always been boldly ahead of the times.

Joe Bonamassa and Beth Hart - Black Coffee

How does a guitarist accompany a voice as powerful as Beth Hart’s? It can’t be an easy task. In fact, it might be tempting for a collaborating six-stringer to simply stay out of the way of Hart’s Panzer tank of a voice. But Joe Bonamassa, rather that limiting himself to a supporting role, rises to the challenge of facing his collaborator lick-for-lick. The result is a stunning combination of voices, both compelling in their own way.

Having collaborated on several projects before, the pair sound like they’ve matured together wonderfully, anticipating each other’s phrases and occasionally taunting each other. The album’s standout track is the gospel shouter ‘Saved,’ but the whisftful ‘Lullaby of the Leaves’ offers a breathtaking change of pace.

Blues In Buckle

Blues in Buckle's novel approach -- they are a fictional band of comic book characters -- may be a great intro to the genre for younger fans, but it has an appeal that die hard blues fans may find fun as well.

The band sound best when they rock hard, but softer ballads like 'Mama' and 'Daddy's Little Girl' are also enjoyable. Highly recommended for parents hoping to bring their kids to the blues.

Charlie Musselwhite and Ben Harper - No Mercy

The collaboration between Charlie Musselwhite and Ben Harper works much better than it should on paper. Coming from slightly different backgrounds, Harper and Musselwhite blend together perfectly. Harper's gently style of playing and singing threads seamlessly into Musselwhite's approach. The result is one of the more memorable releases of the past few years.

The relentless stomp of 'Moving On' stands out most, but after repeated listenings the subtle charm of the ballad 'Nothing At All' sneaks up on a listener. No Mercy is a must-own for fans of either Musslewhite or Harper.

Roosevelt Collier - Exit 16

Roosevelt Collier's latest release is the blues at its funkiest. The album may be of little interest to those who not seeking an innovative rhythmic approach to the genre. But if combining a searing slide guitar with a wide range of funky beats and hard-edged soul is your cup of tea, Exit 16 is your album.

As with many instrumental albums there are times when Collier's approach gets a little tedius, and to be sure, teaming up with a vocalist may have added some needed punch, but all in all, Exit 16 is just what it aims to be: a strong jab of funky blues.

AJ Ghent - Neo Blues Project

AJ Ghent's The Neo Blues Project is an aptly named album. By fusing the blues with contemporary sounds (R&B, hip-hpp, rock) his approach is genuinely novel. But his new approach doesn't sacrifice anything a blues lover adores about the genre. The resulut is a stunning rediscovery of of something that's been around for ages.

'Power,' is appropriately the most powerful tracks, but there's a great deal of evidence that Ghent is at his best when working with a lighter touch. The sweet ballad 'Long Lost Friend' is Ghent at his lightest and most intimate.

Victor Wainwright and the Train

It makes perfect sense that Victor Wainwright would name his support band the Train. The group packs the relentless puch of a locomotive -- even as they cruise through softer, gentler tracks. Wainwright's use of humor is best on display on 'Money' -- although 'Boogie Depression' comes in a close second.

The album's best love song is a tribute to B.B. King called Lucille, an ode to B.B. faithful guitar. Wainwright and company have carved out a niche for themselves in the blues world that any fan of the genre must appreciate.

Reverend Shaun Amos - Breaks It Down

The cover of Breaks It Down seems like an homage to the past of blues albums, and delightfully, the same could be said of the album itself. But the good Reverend's release is no relic. It sounds as fresh as something that could have been released this morning.

The best news of Breaks It Down is how truly spiritual it sounds -- without getting preachy. Not an unimpressive feat for a blues belting Reverend.

Marcia Ball - Shine Bright

Shine Bright is a sweet, uplifting album that combines gospel and blues in a way that might have seemed blasphemous decades ago. At its best the result works beatifully and should be of appeal to fans of either genre.

Marcia Ball's voice has seen better days, but that's a minor problems. Songs like 'I Got to Find Somebody' and 'Life of the Party' are awfully fine tracks on an otherwise uneven effort.

Joe Bonamassa - British Blues Explosion

You'd think a veteran blues warrior like Joe Bonamassa would have nothing left to prove after winning over millions of fans. But he keeps on proving it year after year, concert after concert. This live album offers ample proof that Bonamassa, like most of the genre's best, shines brightest in a live setting.

The songs that shine the most are the searing cover of Clapton's 'Motherless Children' and the plaintive 'How Many More Times?' British Blues Explosion is a treasure for fans of Bonamassa or simply fans of the blues.

Brian Holden - Drivin'

Drivin' makes no attempt to reinvent the wheel. It's a straight-ahead blues album that rocks hard enough for fans of rock and roll. The standout tracks are 'I Been Waiting' and 'Smokin' Hot.'

To be sure, there are more gifted singers in the blues world than Holden, but his imperfect voice has its charm and by the album's end, it has grown on the listener like a raggedy pair of slippers.

Tinsley Ellis - Winning Hand

Raised in the deep south and inspired by a combination of the blues and the British invasion bands popular during his youth, Tinsley Ellis’s influences are as alive in his sound as they would have been when he was learning to play as a kid. Songs like ‘Kiss This World’ and ‘Gamblin’ Man’ are tinged with the kind of raw blues that Ellis’ buzzsaw voice is best suited for, but there’s also a softer, more sensitive side audible on the melodic ‘Autumn Run.’

‘Don’t Turn off the Light’ is the album’s strongest track, displaying both sides his musical persona. Here Ellis stretches his limited vocal range as far as he can, showing the kind of vulnerability and tenderness rarely heard in the blues. Winning Hand is worth owning whether you’re a longtime fan on Tinsley Ellis or just discovering him.

John Mayall - Three For The Road

John Mayall’s latest effort is an intimate live recording of a small outfit featuring Mayall on vocals, harmonica and keyboard backed by two longtime band mates, Drummer Jay Davenport and bassist Greg Rzab. Amazingly, this arrangement came about through pure happenstance.

A flight cancelled due to bad weather prevented the entire band’s meeting up, so when life presented Mayall and company with lemons, they made lemonade in the form of a rootsy, fun throwback to the simpler days of the blues. This is an ideal reminder of how few ingredients are needed to make the blues rattle your soul. Mayall’s voice has had better days, but that’s nitpicking. Three for the Road is too much fun to resist.