2020 Blues Albums

SONNY LANDRETH - BLACKTOP RUN

Known as ‘The King of Slydeco,’ Mississippi-born, Louisiana-reared guitar legend Sonny Landreth is the rare blues musician who truly sounds like no one else. The style is instantly recognizable to his fans and likely to promptly convert those who aren’t yet fans.

As with any time-tested blues star, Landreth only grows in stature with each passing release. Blacktop Run is a much better album than it might have been years earlier. The songs that most attest to this are The high-octane ‘Groovy Goddess’ and the plaintive ‘Many Worlds.’

ROBERT CRAY - THAT’S WHAT I HEARD

Robert Cray is a name and a sound well known to any true lover of the blues. Perhaps his most endearing quality for his fans is his resistance to change. In 2020, Robert Cray sounds as much like Robert Cray as he did in 1990. But the old adage of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it applies very much to this legend. That brings us to his latest offering That’s What I Heard.

The Gospel-influenced ‘Burying Ground’ may be the album’s best track because it reminds listeners of how much of Cray’s signature sound is rooted in his deep, resonant voice. Meanwhile, ‘Hot’ refocuses the attention right back to Cray’s guitar playing as a scorching demonstration of his ability to set the fretboard ablaze. All told, That’s What I Heard is a top notch effort.

MARCUS KING - EL DORADO

Marcus King and his band have a gritty quality that many younger players seem to lack when they enter the world of the blues. It also doesn’t hurt that the band’s leader (also its singer and chief songwriter) has the shredding skills that guitarists of all ages would understandably envy.

Picking standout tracks is tricky. Everything works to some degree, but King’s vocal chops are more vividly on display when things slow down as they do on ‘Wildflowers and Wine’ and the soulful ‘One Day She’s Here.’

BERNARD ALLISON - SONGS FROM THE ROAD

Born in the unlikely city of Paris, France at a time (1965) when the blues seemed to be in commercial decline, Bernard Allison may not have been the blues hero we were expecting, but if his latest album is any indication, he’s on a mission to prove himself capable of the job.

Songs from the Road not only packs extraordinary power, but, as its title suggests, it demonstrates his ability to transfix a crowd with scorching funk-tinged blues. Verbally and lyrically, he bears a resemblance to Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and musically, he pays loving homage to a wide range of innovators. ‘You’re Gonna’ Need Me’ may be both the album’s funniest and saddest track. And the show-stopping closer ‘Slide Master’ makes the listener wonder what a joy it must be to check Allison out live. Songs from the Road will make a believer of you.

WHITNEY SHAY - STAND UP

To anyone concerned with the current state of the blues, Whitney Shay’s latest release ‘Stand Up’ could have been delivered with you in mind. It contains the kind of raw, explosive power that any fan of the genre has come to expect, and in addition, it features a danceable bounce that will likely to appeal to fans more geared toward classic R & B. Altogether, Stand Up compares with the best work of the late Amy Winehouse.

The Album sizzles most when it charges at full-speed, keeping up with rock and soul, but never leaving the blues behind. ‘Boy Sit Down’ is very much a stand-out track with Change with the Time coming in a close second. If you’ve got a younger blues fan with birthday coming soon, Stand Up would make a lovely gift.

DION - BLUES WITH FRIENDS

Veteran singer/songwriter Dion DiMucci has seen enough dramatic shifts in his career’s direction to last a few lifetimes. He began as a doo-op singer, peppering the pop charts with such hits as ‘The Wanderer’ and ‘Runaround Sue,’ then moved in the direction of folk with the 1968 smash ‘Abraham, Martin and John.’

Dion’s latest venture, Blues with Friends, features yet another change in direction. As its title suggests, it’s a blues album that features a number of stunning cameo performances from noted stars of the blues world.

As admirable as Dion’s efforts are, his vocals, while pleasant, lack the sheer power needed to give these songs the sheer grit they deserve. Anyone searching for the singer’s best work should remain in the realm of mainstream pop.

Having said all that, Dion’s ‘friends’ do a more than capable job of compensating for the weaknesses of the the album’s star. Standouts include the plaintive Can’t Start Over Again (with Jeff Beck) and ‘What if I Told You’ (with Samantha Fish). Sometimes, having friends in the right places helps a great deal.

JOHN PRIMER & BOB CORRITORE -THE GYPSY WOMAN TOLD ME

When two extraordinary Chicago bluesmen combine efforts, the results are predictably breathtaking. So it doesn’t take a Gypsy soothsayer to announce this new album by guitarist and vocalist John Primer & harmonica master Bob Corritore is a top notch effort.

If the title track doesn’t send shivers up your spine, it’s time to have your spine examined. The sheer energy between Primer and Corrimore are enough to create magic. And the album’s other highlight is the soft, slow ‘Rambling Blues.’ Much more than a platform of musical skills, this album reminds us how dark, dangerous and reckless the genre can become when done right. A Gypsy Woman Told me is a truly stunning album.

VICTOR WAINRIGHT AND THE TRAIN - MEMPHIS LOUD

The next time you lament the death of the blues due to the neglect from younger generations, just give a quick listen to Memphis Loud by Victor Wainright and the Train and rejoice.

Memphis Loud is not album without flaws. The blues here can get a little gimmicky and cute from time to time, and Wainright’s voice could use a greater sense of heft. But it seems likely that both problems will work themselves out in time.

Until then, this effort will serve as a solid building block for what may someday become a brilliant career. Standout tracks include the soulful B.B. King tribute ‘Thank you Lucille’ and the hilarious album closer ‘Money.’

ROOMFUL OF BLUES - IN A ROOMFUL OF BLUES

Rhode Island isn’t typically thought of a hotbed of the blues, but the strong presence of Roomful of Blues, a revival jazz/blues band plants a giant feather in the cap of America’s tiniest state.

If nothing else, ‘Roomful’ serves as an undeniable reminder of how the blues can sound with a solidly skilled horn section. This band packs a powerful sonic punch that could fill any room.

The clever ‘Phone Zombies’ is as brilliant and funny as the blues can get, while also commenting on the contemporary world in a way that few blues song do.

The same could be said of ‘Watch Your Back,’ a darker form of satire than ‘Zombies,’ but also clever and salient enough to the album the color it needs.

All in all, Roomful of Blues’ (kind of) self-titled album would be a nice introduction to anyone unfamiliar with the band — or anyone who doubts the sincerity of revival bands. These guys are the real thing.

MIKE ZITO - QUARANTINE BLUES

With a pandemic spiraling our world into crazy and dangerous directions, it was only a matter of time before the blues world captured the malaise and committed it to glorious sound. St. Louis’ Mike Zito’s Quarantine Blues is that album and has a power that will outlast even the stubborn Coronavirus.

Zito’s guitar work shines most on the hard-driving ‘Don’t Touch Me,’ but the standout track may be the closing track, ‘What it used to be’ a soft and poignant ballad at a time when such a thing is desperately needed.

It’s often said that every blues song is basically about a good man feeling bad. Quarantine blues is about a good world feeling bad. But somehow Zito’s blues make us feel better.