2021 Blues Albums
A selection of a few of the 2021 Blues Album releases.
Born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in Worcester, Mass, Joanna Connor may seem to lack the pedigree needed for a blues singer and guitarist. But a quick listen to her latest effort, 481 South Indian Avenue will likely persuade all doubters. The opening track, ‘Destination,’ roars to life like a lion after a week-long slumber, thanks in part to a sizzling backing band as well as co-lead vocalist Jimmy Hall. But overall, it’s an extraordinary start for a fairly ordinary album.
‘481’ does have its share of highlights. The chilling ‘Bad News’ features some of the tastiest and most haunting guitar work of the veteran blues performer’s career. And the stunningly upbeat “I Feel So Good” is about as life-affirming as the blues can get, but other songs drag a little and fail to match the album’s high points. 481 South Indiana Avenue is worth getting for a devoted follower of Connor, but others may want to stay clear.
Vocalist and harmonica player Curtis Salgado’s first full band album in four years packs a strong punch. It covers a great deal of emotional terrain, ranging from the plaintive, contemplative ballad ‘What Did Me in Did Me Well’ to the rollicking ‘Count of Three.’ Salgado is a blues artist not afraid to embrace the fun side of the genre.
Damage Control’s highlight might be the title track, a seemingly sedate tune that allows its warmth to ease up to the listener, heartwarming lyrics and all. Salgado’s latest album isn’t for those who seek blues with a rough, raw edge to it. This is a more mature effort, something to enjoy on the front porch while gazing at a glorious sunset. And who says the blues can’t be that too?
Not yet forty years old, guitarist and vocalist Selwyn Birchwood has a ways to go before finding the kind of maturity that makes for a blues legend. But Living in a Burning House suggests he’s on his way.
With his deeply soulful vocals and wide-ranging guitar skills, Birchwood has the basic talent needed to succeed in the blues and he also has the creative ambition. ‘You Can’t Steal my Shine’ is a funny and touching number that glides along nicely. And ‘Searching for my Tribe’ might be the album’s strongest song. Selwyn Birchwood is a sold blues talent, and if you don’t watch out, he may soon reach the heights promised by this fine effort.
17 year-old vocalist and pianist Veronica Lewis makes her debut with this highly charged effort that, at its very best, makes you wonder what the young Lewis will someday become when her gifts mature.
There’s no doubting Lewis’ vocal capacity and her prodigious range of piano skills. She has clearly listened to the greats of the genre and learned much from them. And yet,‘You Ain’t Unlucky’ falls a bit short. The album does have its bright spots — the upbeat dance track ‘Fool Me Twice’ above the rest, and even at its weakest, it is a finely crafted work of pop blues, but mostly Lewis’ first album feels like a promise to blues fans. ‘This girl will be great somebody,’ it screeches. But blues fan may be better off waiting until someday arrives.
Guitarist and vocalist Ally Venable’s newest album is a work of mixed results. Venable’s guitar chops are as impressive as any young instrumentalist of the blues world. And while, she’s undeniably a capable singer, the discerning blues fan can’t help but wonder how much Heart of Fire could have soared with a truly thunderous vocalist.
There’s no delicate way of putting it: Venable’s vocal’s are too thin and pretty to strike with the power they aim for. Her attempts to fuse blues and contemporary rock are admirable especially on ‘Hateful Blues’ and ‘What Do You Want from Me?’ But for all its six-string virtuosity, the album’s less-than-earth-shattering vocals leave the listener hungry for something with more bite.
Canadian bluesman Steve Strongman has a long history of backing up stars in the world of country, blues and rock. Tired of Talking displays his wide range of influences and, more importantly, his ability to combine them. ‘Just Ain’t Right,’ for example, takes a funk beat and fuses it with tasty blues licks and catchy pop melody. The result is the album’s second finest track.
The finest is ‘Can’t Have it all,’ a truly blazing dance number with some of the strongest harmonica playing heard in a while and Strongman’s characteristically sizzling guitar work. Overall, Tired of Talking runs the gamut, reminding any blues fan how many various forms the genre can morph into in hands — and vocal cords — as capable as Strongman’s.