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.

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.