2023 Blues Albums
Are you a fan of Blues music and looking for the latest albums to add to your collection? You’re in luck! We have collected all of the newest releases from across the genre and are here to showcase some awesome blues songs. These albums contain something for everyone passionate about this timeless style of music. With our list of recommendations, keep up with all the hottest new tracks out on the scene today. Get ready to experience a journey through today's best blues artists as we explore what each album has to offer.
The phrase ‘Writing on the Wall,’ is often used to describe a portent of the future, something intended to signal greatest waiting in the wings.. But Coco Montoya’s latest album is something very different. It’s a delightful reminder of the past — both his and the storied past of the genre he’s been contributing to since his days as a member of the 60 blues rock band Canned Heat. But this is no empty exercise in nostalgia. It’s like an echo of a lightning strike. Powerful, memorable and an indication that the future ahead will be stormy.
The slow, soulful groove of ‘The Three Kings and Me’ provides a potent setting for the album’s best track, an ode to royalty who Coco has had the great privilege of playing with.
Another standout track is ‘What Did I Say?’ a ballad dripping with sadness and vulnerability. Coco’s relatively thin voice here may sound at first as though it’s not quite up the task of such a thunderous track, but the song is all the better for its singer’s frailty. He sounds more real, more human, and yes, more bluesy.
Writing on the Wall is a fine refresher course in Coco Montoya’s legendary past. But more importantly, it’s a notification that there is much more to come.
Born in 1951 in Brooklyn, New York, Mitch Woods may not have had a background typical of most legends in the world of Boogie-Woogie piano players, but he’s done his share of catching up. On his latest album, Mitch keeps alive the tradition and feel of the sub-genre he loves clearly so much.
As the title — Friends Along the Way — suggests, he gets by with a little help from some vaunted names, and each one helps it shine all the more. Some of the cameos are surprises. For example, Maria Muldaur (yes, Maria Muldaur of ‘Midnight at the Oasis’ fame) shows up on ‘Empty Bed Blues Not known as a whiskey-drenched blues belter, Maria plays the role beautifully on ‘Empty Bed Blues.’
On ‘Midnight Hour Blues,’ Mitch gets double the help from Van Morrison and Taj Mahal, and the result is as swampy, funky and free as you’d hope. It is not only the albums finest track. It is among the highlights of the year in blues music.
Mitch Woods is the kind of talent who could easily get by on his own. His talent speaks for itself and needs no crutch to lean on. But when his friends drop by, things truly get special. Friends along the way — especially the deluxe edition — is a one-of-a-kind joy.
The title of Bobby Rush’s latest release could easily be mistaken as a sentimental declaration of devotion made to an inamorata. But Bobby Rush fans know better. The devotion he’s offering is found in the veteran bluesman’s singing and guitar playing. And the ‘you’ he’s offering it to is the audience.
Born in 1933, Rush grew up picking cotton in Louisiana and later left for Chicago in the 1950s just in time to join the movement of the Chicago blues as it was evolving into something bold but accessible. Rush’s style is soulful, but never tame; sweet but far from soft.
Rush’s voice has seen better days, but if ever there was a genre that rewarded the wear and tear of a life on the road in dimly lit venues, it is the blues. Even Rush’s particular take on the genre with its heavy lean toward rhythm and blues is better when taken with a dose of grit that’s been missing from mainstream R & B for decades. Not only do his time-tested vocals not harm the presentation they make it all the more real, all the more Bobby Rush-like.
‘TV Mama’ and ‘One Monkey Can Stop a Show’ give us the strongest doses of humor and since humor is what Rush does best, they would have to be considered the album’s finest. But don’t sleep on Bobby Rush’s more vulnerable side. If you’re not paying attention, you just might discover he has one.
Tom Hambridge’s latest album boasts a title that you haven’t heard before — but it probably feels like you have. Much like deja vu, Tom Hambridge’s take on bluesy vintage rock and rock is familiar in all the right ways. It makes no effort to reinvent the wheel, because the wheel is already perfect the way it is.
On the Album’s hard-hitting opener, ‘Ain’t it Just Like Love.’ Tom teams up with veteran bluesman Buddy Guy to set the mood just right. This is just another blues song about a woman meeting a man. But isn’t that just what the world needs now?
Things sting even harder with the album’s next track that features the blistering guitar work of Joe Bonamassa. The doubling up of vocals and guitar wizardry is enough to provide the blues fan with more fireworks than they can handle.
While it wouldn’t be accurate to describe the remainder of Blu Ja Vu as an anticlimax, I wouldn’t say it got better from there, because it simply can’t. The blues doesn’t get any better than this album’s first few tracks. Still everything here works fine and anyone not yet a fan of Tom Hambridge’s work could well become a believer by the album’s end.
With a soft and subtle playing style and a gentle voice to match, Tom Buenger may not be exiting Caucasia soon, but he’s clearly headed someplace captivating.
The deceptively dark ‘Mean Things’ gives us a sweet taste of Tom’s acoustic guitar work that only makes us hungry for more. The lyrics force us to pay attention to what we’re hearing in a way that too many blues songs simply don’t. Meanwhile, another acoustic number ‘Don’t Stop’ combines inspiring lyrics and a gritty blues guitar groove and the result is something altogether new in the genre.
And yet, it’s the album’s gospel-tinged opener that stays with me after all the dust has cleared. It’s a touching but sober testament of belief that means everything in a world where belief is in short supply. Don’t let the album’s tongue-in-cheek title deceive you: Blues from Caucasia is the real thing.
Louisiana native and guitar hero Eric Johanson is the kind of artist often labeled a ‘roots innovator,’ which is really another way of saying he’s re-inventing the blues. But one listen to The Deep and the Dirty reveals that Johanson’s charms have less to do with re-invention than a heartfelt adherence to time-honored blues tradition. And yes, that’s a good thing.
‘Undertow’ is the most blazing track. The album features no instrumentals, but this song is the one in which its star’s fretboard heroics most prominently take center stage.
The album’s closer, ‘She is the Song,’ shows a tender side to Johanson, vocally and instrumentally. It could be thought of as a duet, with his soaring tenor trading licks with his blistering guitar work. Very nice work.
In the end, Eric Johanson’s latest album delivers on the guitar guru’s early promise. It’s a solid collection of contemporary blues songs with a magnificent young talent at its center.
The world of music and elsewhere in popular culture, sequels can often be a letdown. Not so with Rose-Colored Glasses Volume 2. This follow-up packs as strong a punch as its predecessor. Teresa James knows exactly what she wants from her fellow rhythm tramps and how to get there. And the result is an album oozing with charm, emotional substance and funk.
The old school romantic balladry of ‘The Idea of You’ is as intoxicating as things can get. the pared down sound gives us as much of Teresa’s voice as we need. It is emotionally raw yet somehow still polished and sweet.
Another of the album’s very best is ‘Flip Flop,’ which features a groove that can’t fully decide it if wants to go reggae or fifties doo op. But instead of sounding indecisive, it sounds diverse and open. Better yet, it features its star’s voice at its finest.
At times, a second disc of Rose-Colored Glasses may not have seemed needed. But in the end, that’s a minor quibble. Overall, both volumes should be a welcome addition to the blues lover’s record collection. Check this one out.
After more than a half century as an icon and universally hailed genius in the world of the blues, you wouldn’t think Taj Mahal would have any more mountains to climb. But here is, proving that he’s capable of bending the blues to fit yet another sub-genre of music. And the bending works to perfection.
Savoy is a collection of tunes inspired by the 1938 meeting of Mahal’s parents at the legendary Harlem jazz club. This jazz-tinged collection of songs from the Great American Songbook is surprisingly accessible and fresh. Those too young to recall the jazz age will be knocked happily off-balance by its boldness and innovation. While the older jazz fan will savor its nostalgia. Savoy isn’t just a treat for fans of blues stalwart, it’s a delightful gateway for those who never knew the bluesman could swing that way.
Everything here works beautifully, but the Duke Ellington classic ‘Blues Indigo’ works best. Its treatment is novel yet familiar. Another great track is ‘Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me.’ Mahal’s approach here most resembles him as we know him: a good man singing the blues because he’s feeling bad. He doesn’t reinvent the song so much as he reminds us all how much common ground there is between jazz and blues. The same could be said of the album as a whole. It is, without doubt a must-listen for anybody who wonders where jazz is headed — and where it comes from.
As the lead singer of the band Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rhiannon Giddens has presided over the re-invention and revival of a subgenre (bluegrass) that many had left for dead decades ago. She’s already proven herself capable of creating solid music as a solo artist with her 2015 debut Tomorrow is My Turn. Now it seems the only box left unchecked for the gifted vocalist is stardom.
While it would be unfair to classify You’re the One as a sellout, it’s clear that an effort has been made to soften her sound and approach for the masses. She wants a bigger audience with her latest album and if the result is any indication, she’s very likely to get one. Her vocals and persona are moved to the foreground while many of the elements that make the Carolina Chocolate Drops such a captivating band are shoved to the background and, at times, altogether neglected. That said, it’s a strong collection of songs and it showcases one of the more compelling musical personalities to emerge in years.
On the soft and heartbreaking ‘Who are You Dreaming of?’ Rhiannon plays the role of a wounded jazz chanteuse. This and the rousing title track embody blues-based singing at its very best. Rhiannon may have drifted far afield of the Mississippi Delta with this one, but it’s a journey worth taking.
Longtime soulful blues crooner Eric Bibb lets us know from the cover of his latest album how he rides. The cover depicts Bibb atop a horse. The accompanying album is earthy, bluesy and soaked in an unapologetically old-school aesthetic. And yet it still sounds as fresh as anything by the latest adolescent rapper.
Bibb is, at core, a folk storyteller whether he’s regaling us with tales about his less-than-ideal upbringing in the Jim Crow south or simply spelling out the source of his latest heartbreak. Outstanding tracks include ‘People you Love,’ a warm love letter to those who make our lives worth living. The other stand out track is ‘Tulsa Town,’ a song that deals with the past as vividly as the nation’s divisive present. Eric Bibb’s latest effort takes us on a breathtaking ride. And it is well worth the ticket’s price.
A fairly new face and voice in the blues world, Joel Astley’s songwriting, singing and harp-playing skills strongly hint that the Seattle, Washington native will be delivering blues to a wide audience for a while.
The album’s opener ' ‘Born Cryin’’ imparts the kind of straight forward message that the blues is best known for. And Joel gives it to us in a style all his own. The blues is something deeper than just the product of a rough weekend, he tells us. It’s an inseparable part of the human condition.
Combining contemporary rock and roll with old school blues can often be a tricky task to pull off. But Joel Astley seems to specialize in getting the mix just right. This may not be your daddy’s blues album, but dad would love to groove to it — provided he can keep up.
The song that provides the best evidence of Joe’s ability to play mad scientist with genres is the shuffling ‘Work with What you Got.’ It’s funky, funny and deeply human. Joel Astley’s skills at capturing the depth of the blues is rare for a man so young. On Seattle to Greaseland he’s given us a document that we should treasure.
Having cut his teeth in a number of blues outfits — most notably, the Fabulous Thunderbirds — the late Willie J. Campbell should have acquired a bigger following in his tragically short life. That said, the opportunity to catch up to Willie’s work has never come in a better package than this posthumously released gem.
Featuring a stellar assortment of guests, Be Cool is a steady, unrelenting joy. It reminds the blues world of the huge talent it recently lost, but more importantly, it reminds us why we value the blues in the first place.
The poignant ‘Forever Shall Be’ may be the best song. The sad end of its singer’s life adds to the sting, but there’s more here than just sentimentality.
This is a truly towering aural achievement. But there’s also ‘She’s a Twister’ to display a more playful, fun side of Campbell’s persona. In truth, everything on Be Cool works beautifully. If the name and work of Willie J. Campbell has escaped you so far, do yourself a favor and catch up with those of us who’ve discovered him already.
Atlanta native Little G. Weevil has been dazzling audiences for about a decade. And here’s hoping he stays at it for several more decades. He’s a skilled technician, but more than that, he knows how to unload his soul on an unsuspecting listener.
The best track is the clever ‘Scam Me, Scam Me Not’ a biting take on the untrustworthy nature of contemporary dating. In addition to its scorching harp and blazing guitar, it tells a tale that must be told.
Another big winner is the slow grooving ‘Tribal Affairs.’ It proves that an eerie rhythm and a stormy voice is sometimes about all it takes to to spook us and enchant us. Overall, If I may… is among the year’s biggest and best. If it’s a healthy dose of southern charm you seek, you could do a lot worst than visiting Little G. Weevil’s front porch.
An imposing moniker like Monster Mike is a lot to live up to. But the guitar wizard from Boston has been earning it for nearly three decades. His guitar skills are as stunning as you’d hope anybody dubbed a monster would be, and his supple vocals are not far behind.
Nothing but time is full of the kinds of blues anthems you’d expect from a blues veteran, but it also contains its share of happy surprises. The first is the Beatles cover, ‘I Me Mine.’ An imaginative re-invention of the Harrison-penned album track, Monster Mike helps us recall that George was the most blues-influenced of the fab four. In doing so, he finds a soulful sense of grit that somehow escaped the Beatles themselves.
Another surprise is the tender, acoustic ‘Kind Hearted Woman Blues.’ Here, Welch sounds less like a monster than a fragile victim of heartbreak. He’s vulnerable in ways the previous tracks hadn’t fully demonstrated.
Overall, nothing but time, while having its share of weaker moments, covers as wide a range of emotions as its star can manage with his protean fretboard skills. It’s a fine effort by and artist still growing as he nears his fiftieth birthday.
The Nick Moss Band is the kind of outfit that seems to exist to serve as a vivid reminder that the blues lives on in the 21st century. Although their sound owes as much to 50s and 60 R & B and rock and roll, it is abundantly clear that every note they play comes with the power and conviction that fueled the likes of Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Robert Johnson.
With the aid of harmonica star Dennis Grueling, Nick and his capable band have crafted a strong collection of good time blues songs, the best of which are among the best the sub-genre has to offer.
The slow grind of ‘Living in Heartache’ is truly first-rate, possessing warmth and compassion while also pushing the listener into a sadness that only a great blues song can.
Also worth a mention is ‘The Solution.’ It has a powerful groove and possibly the album’s tastiest guitar work.
At its least captivating, Get your back into it can sound a bit perfunctory, making Nick and the boys seem like the latest in a long line of generic sounding rock/blues band. But fortunately, they don’t stay at their worst for long. Get Your Back into is overall an exceptional effort.
Nat Myers has an ethnic and artistic background that makes him qualified to sing the blues in a way that almost no one else had. If his lineage as a Korean-American makes him unusual in the genre he’s chosen to express himself in, so too is his artistic pedigree as a poet raised on hip-hop and hardcore. In Yellow Peril, this uncommon mix of cultural ingredients has created a stew every bit as unique as you’d suspect. But the album’s biggest surprise is how much a Korean-American’s blues resembles those we’ve heard before echoing from the Mississippi Delta.
The title track, ‘Yellow Peril’ is a mid-tempo acoustic foot-stomper with finger picked licks and achingly shouting vocals that sound instantly familiar to any lover of the blues. But this is no early 20th century work song. Nor is it a heartbreaking tale of an unfaithful paramour. The blues detailed here are of a more recent vintage. ‘Yellow Peril’ is about Asian-American hate during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. Lending the song a haunting sense of urgency, the lyrics remind us just how universal the Blues truly are.
‘Misbehavin’ Mama’ is a bit more conventional in its subject matter, but it’s just as stunning an illustration of Myers’ resonant vocals and gift for vivid storytelling.
Yellow peril is more than just a demonstration of the blues’s undying influence. It is an expansion of the genre itself. It is what happens when creators are permitted to create without limits. And it also happens to be one of the most satisfying blues albums the genre has seen in years.
There’s nothing quite like the urgency and intimacy of a live blues artist. And when delivered by capable hands and passionate vocals, they are all the more vital. Live at the Bottom Line from Jorma Kaukonen would be a fine addition to the musical collection of fans who seek a demonstration of the genre’s possibilities when performed before an eager audience.
The understated acoustic blues picking on display here are far from the crowd-pleasing raucous antics that immediately come to mind when most think of a live musical setting. But there’s something to be said for a quiet storm of easy going back yard storytelling.
The fun interaction with the crowd is what makes ‘Death Don’t Have No Mercy’ a joy. He jokes about the song’s downbeat title right before plunging into some of the most heartfelt blues heard in a while.
More fun interaction begins the album’s closer, ‘Hesitation Blues,’ but as before, the fun doesn’t limit the song’s depth. All in all, Koukonen’s latest effort is a fine example of acoustic blues in a live setting. Unless you can catch the bluesman and his band live, you’ll have to check this out.
All of 25 years old, D,K. Harrell is well on his way to carving out a major niche in the blues guitar world. The Louisiana native has won the kind of accolades and media attention that hint at a promising career. And with his debut album, ‘The Right Man,” he’s taken a giant leap toward fulfilling that promise.
His youthful voice could use a little more grit, but he’ll get there. And his guitar skills are more than capable of carrying the load while he matures. Already there’s a trace of wisdom, warmth and passion in those notes.
Although Harrell succeeds at sensitive balladry, The Right Man’ is at its very best with upbeat, brassy funk. “Not Here For a Long Time,’ is a rollicking good time. If its beat doesn’t move you to motion, it’s time to check your pulse.
Another tasty slab of funk is ‘You’d Be Amazed.’ And yes, you will be.
Do yourself a favor and listen to D.K. debut yourself. If you don’t, you risk missing the next star of the blues.
Session musicians are the Rodney Dangerfield of the blues and rock world. The very best of that world get plenty of money, and gratitude, but very little the way of respect. Sure, those in the industry respect them plenty, but they aren’t well known outside of it. Super Soul Session threatens to change that for guitar guru Arlen Roth and super bassist Jerry Jemmott. It’s a fine collection of fun blues-tinged rock and rock-tinged blues. And it features the kind of skilled playing that made both men the masters of their respective crafts.
If it’s emotional depth you’re seeking, you may best to look elsewhere. Super Soul Session is little more than two great musicians having a great time making music that made them. And most of the time, that’s enough.
The B.B. King classic ‘The Thrill is Gone’ gets the R & J treatment. Jemmott’s bass and vocals make no effort to re-invent the wheel, nor does Roth’s guitar work explore any new territory, but listening to these titans enjoy each other’s musical company is all the joy needed.
Also of note is a free-wheeling instrumental cover of the Motown classic ‘Dancing in the Streets.’ Arlen’s slide work here is at its tastiest. He soars, struts and swoons while his dance partner provides the kind of rock-solid support the song needs. If it’s a good time you’re after, you’ll find it in Super Soul Session.
Leave it to an Australian-born guitar-picking master to illustrate the glorious overlap between the stylistic terrain of America’s two most durable genres of music: county and the blues. Birthplace aside, Tommy Emmanuel is just the man for the job. And what a specular job he does on Accomplice Two.
With the help of an impressive roster of co-stars, Emmanuel provides a strong argument that these two houses of American music are really just one giant duplex with shared utilities and tenants. The album is soulful enough to pass for the blues and twangy enough to make the biggest country aficionado melt.
Among the many strong tracks, the Michael MacDonald sung ‘Someone Like You’ stands out. Emmanuel steps back a little here and lets the bearded one lead the way with his velvety voice, but the result is remarkable just the same.
For those who prefer good old country picking, there’s the stunning ‘Son of a Gun’ (Featuring Richard Smith).
In the end, Accomplice two may lean a little more country than hardcore blues fans may prefer, but a dip into the other stream may be just what old school blues purists need to get a little perspective. A must own for fans of any genre of American music.
Canadian-born guitarist/singer Michael Jerome Browne is living proof that roots music doesn’t have to be an exercise in empty revivalism. His music may be deeply rooted (pardon the pun) in traditional 19th and early 20th century musical tropes, but it is as fresh and vibrant as anything recorded in the last few decades. Whenever it was first conceived, this music is happening now. And it’s a joy.
The honor of the album’s finest track would have to go to the uncomfortably raw ‘Shake ‘Em on Down.’ It demonstrates the kind of soulfulness most roots practitioners couldn’t reach with a barge pole.
Another standout track is the buoyant and playful ‘Please Help.’ It’s a fun antidote to the remainder of the album’s dour subject matter. And yet it is, in its own way, as authentically ‘bluesy’ as the other songs. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to remind the audience that the blues isn’t only about feeling bad.
Gettin’ Together wouldn’t rank as high as older classics on the list of albums a newcomer to the genre would need to add to a growing collection, but for those whose shelves are already filled with the legends (B.B. King, Muddy Waters, etc) Michael Jerome Browne’s latest would be an interested new direction to head into.
Having spent most of his career in the shadows of others as a producer and songwriter, Bill Filipiak, makes it clear, even as he takes center stage on AKA Billium, that he’s no virtuoso. “I’m a rhythm guitarist first and foremost,” he says, adding, “I’m a sucker for a great groove and a simple rhythmic focal point that makes your head bob.” His latest release has plenty of these two elements as well as enough hooks and thought-provoking lyrics to make things more than just a dance album.
When it comes to thought-provoking lyrics, ‘Love on Each Other’ leads the pack. It takes a capable songsmith to concoct a brotherhood anthem this warm without drifting into sappy pop utopianism. But somehow Bill Filipiak does it. That said, it must be acknowledged that even on this fine track, the singer/songwriter shines more as a songwriter than a singer. In other words, Filipiak’s vocals are not the strongest.
It is no surprise then that another of AKA’s Billium’s better songs is an instrumental. ‘Brian Wilson’ is a fun tribute to (surprise!) Brian Wilson. It's a fun way to conclude a heavy and mostly well-conceived effort. The best that can be said about AKA Billium is that it succeeds in spite of the vocal weaknesses of its chief vocalist. But don’t let that deter you. Bill Filipiak’s album is, at its best, a strong and compelling listen.
Often acknowledged as the last of the Louisiana bluesmen, Lil Jimmy Reed’s latest release bears a title that tells us all we need to know. He’s taking us back to his roots, both lyrically and musically. Not that Reed ever strayed from his beginnings.
‘They Call Me Li’l Jimmy is a concise history of the titular bluesman. And it earns top spot as the standout track on Back To Baton Rouge. “They gave me this name, and I kept it till this day” is an example of the understated, direct storytelling on display here. But a better illustration comes from the man’s guitar mastery. Reed may have lost a step or two in speed. But as any fan of the genre knows, the blues isn’t about getting there first. Jimmy Reed gets there when it counts. And he gets there in style.
Another strong song is ‘In the Wee Wee Hours.” Although Reed seems to struggle a little to keep up with the upbeat shuffle, all that matters is that he still sounds fresh and ready. Altogether, Back to Baton Rouge is a very good effort, worthy of a spot on your listening device.
It should surprise no one that legendary musician and bandleader Bruce Katz has released another stellar effort. But to those unfamiliar, his latest offers a chance to connect with him at his best.
Connections kicks off with, ‘Right Here, Right Now,’ a powerful instrumental that blends the best of contemporary blues, old school R&B and guitar-driven rock. From there, things manage to lose not an ounce of intensity and drive. The Bruce Katz Band may boast a leader born in the fifties, but Connections could have been conceived by a teenager. It’s just that full of life.
Apart from the album’s jaw dropping opener, the best track here is ‘Morning on Basin Street,’ which is a softer, sweeter track until it isn’t anymore. It’s a true joy, but that can be said of nearly all of Connections’s tracks.
As soon as we hit Motel Mississippi’s first track, the amusingly mischievous ‘Rob and Steal,’ Tony Holiday’s gritty soul takes center stage. He’s got the style and soul of a blues veteran and he also boasts the sound of a hill country artist.
To the uninitiated, ‘hill country’ music a sub-genre of the blues that emerged from the Mississippi Delta. As you might guess, there’s a great deal of overlap between ‘The Delta Blues,’ and ‘Hill Country music,’ and distinguishing the two can be a tricky task, like knowing the difference between dark red and maroon. But one thing is for sure: Tony Holiday is not only a master of it, he’s on a mission to mold it into something else until it becomes his own.
When speaking of his latest album,’ Holiday says, “It’s got some horns on it. Most people say it’s hill country music, you can’t put horns on it, but I don’t really care.” He goes on to describe Motel Mississippi’s sound as “Clarksville meets Memphis.”
Holiday’s geographical hybrid of an album is a strong argument for the blending of music genres. It swings, hops and jumps like a Memphis classic you might hear from a classic Stax recording. But it’s also deeply grounded in good old blues. As the guiding hand behind the band the project, Tony Holiday must be acknowledged as a strong voice in the blues who may someday emerge as a true master.
Philadelphia native Deb Callahan boasts the kind of powerhouse voice that would shine even in an ordinary setting. And here, where the setting is far from ordinary — thanks to her top notch backing band — she truly delivers one of the years most vibrant and alive blues/rhythm and blues albums.
‘Big Girl Pants’ is a rollicking anthem for anybody unprepared to face a cold, cruel world — but even more so to girls who haven’t yet learned to dress for such occasions. But Deb Callahan saves her strongest vocal performance for ‘Danger Zone,’ a world-weary ode to our contemporary malaise. As with any capable blues belter, she shares every ounce of angst burning a hole in her soul, but does so with a beauty that might just make it worth the pain.
Backbone is a strong and competently excecuted album that any fan of high-voltage blues songstresses should add to their collection.
The influence of 60s Memphis soul is everywhere in the realm of pop, rock and rhythm and blues, but when it gets combined with heartfelt blues, it is a formula that never gets old. Hailing from Missouri, the band Sister Lucille is the latest rock-tinged blues band to prove how potent the combination of blues and R&B can be.
‘My Name is Lucille’ packs the best punch both lyrically and musically. Sung from the perspective of B.B. King’s guitar, it’s an ode to two legendary figures and it pays equal homage to both — the player and the played. In addition to re-telling the tale of Lucille’s naming (No spoilers here, but it’s a hell of a story) it also reminds us of the intimacy between a master and his instrument.
Also of note is the upbeat dance number ‘Devil in a Red Suit.’ Even as they veer toward contemporary funk, the band never leaves the blues behind. It’s a remarkable song on a remarkable album. Tell the world packs a lot of power — and it does it with a skillful touch. Sister Lucille’s sophomore album is a strong improvement on their first.
More so than any other element, guitar picking skills are a crucial part of the genre’s appeal. Its best known practitioners from Muddy Waters to B.B. King to Jonny Lang are all gifted pickers and those who can’t cut the mustard on the six-stringer are likely to be left in the ash heap of forgotten blues men. The best that can be said of Syracuse, New York guitar whiz is that there is little chance of him winding up on that ash heap. But the worst that can be said is that his — unlike most axe-slinging blues legends — his vocals don’t quite live up to his playing.
There are moments where Riffin’ the Blue seems to be an experiment in testing how much one can compensate for a lackluster singing ability with great guitar chops. But thankfully, Cru makes his guitar playing the centerpiece of Riffin’ the Blue. There’s a reason why the album isn’t called Croonin’ the Blue. Standout tracks include the anthemic ‘Stand Up’ and the funk-laden ‘Heal My Misery.’
The Cash Box Kings’s third album, Oscar’s Motel contains all the basic elements that make the Chicago blues the celebration of life that it soars to at its very best. After a quick listen, it will surprise no one that this five-piece outfit hails from the windy city. It’s hard to imagine them emanating from anyplace else except from the very souls of Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and B.B. King.
The album’s most riveting track is also no surprise. “Down on the Southside” gives us a tour of the beauty and the brutality of America’s favorite Midwestern town. It is fun, funky and as soulful as anything that’s come from Chicago since the advent of the Cash Box Kings’s chosen sub-genre.
Another can’t-miss track “I can’t Stand you,” the perfect antidote to the (mistaken) belief that the blues is a genre of navel gazing, humorless, victims. The back-and-forth between the vocalists is hilarious and relatable. Altogether, the Cash Box Kings have skillfully maintained the momentum of their first two albums and delivered a collection of tracks that live up the reputation they’ve earned. Oscar’s Motel is something that must be owned by the contemporary blues fan.
The first hint that Blood Brothers has the makings of a truly remarkable album comes before the music begins. Blues stalwart Joe Bonamassa said of the duo, “Mike and Albert have a special chemistry together when they plug in and play that few have. They finish each other’s sentences musically.”
There is more to this flattering quote than the high praise from a blues master. It’s an apt description of the music contained on Blood Brothers. When listening to it, the listener isn’t always sure when one guitar guru ends and another begins. Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia don’t just finish each other’s sentences; they often speak the same sentence at the same time — in flawless harmony.
Aided by a bright and brilliant horn section, “Fool Never Learns” is the strongest and most emotionally striking track. While, the very next song, “A Thousand Heartaches” comes a close second. For all the high-octane masculinity on display here, it is striking that The Blood Brothers are most effective when vulnerable, tender and warm. If you’re not already familiar with the word of these wizards, this album is a good place to start. It is among the very best blues of 2023.
Blues guitar man Jeff Pitchell got an early start in his chosen genre. At the ripe old age of fifteen, he won “Best Guitarist in the state of Connecticut.” As with any blues prodigy, Pitchell’s new project comes with sky high expectations.
So what’s the verdict? Playin’ with my Friends is a mixed bag. Pitchell’s voice (both on vocals and guitar) is strong and steady. At its very best, the album reminds the listener that combining gritty blues with heart-hitting rock can often be a great idea. “So into you,” cover of an Atlanta Rhythm Section hit, gives us just the right attitude. It struts and strolls into our ears in a way that only a truly confident bluesman can make possible.
Even at its weakest, Pitchell’s sheer skill can compensate for a lack of inspiration. You’d have a hard time finding a blues guitarist with a wider range of talent.
The title track, which features the fiery vocals of Claudette King, is the most fun thing here. It’s not hard to imagine this as an accidentally recorded jam session unfolding after just the right mix of whiskey and small talk. Jeff Pitchell may not have yet lived up to the immense hype of his high expectations, but his day will come.
John Primer’s background reads like a recipe for success in the world of the Chicago blues. Take a birth on a sharecropper’s property; sprinkle in the early inspiration of work songs and gospel hymns and the only ingredient left is a trip to the Windy City in 1963. The completed meal is a strong and relentless body of work by one of the better second wave stars of the Chicago blues.
For better or worse, Teardrops for Magic Slim sounds exactly what you’d expect it to sound like when you’ve read the man’s bio. The songs are simultaneously hard-hitting and heartfelt. Others have done this better, but few have done it with Primer’s sincerity and raw vulnerability.
“It Hurts Me Too” is the album’s best track. It puts his empathy on display in a way that helps us understand why the blues remains vital after all these years.
Another effective song is the album’s closer “The Blues is Alright.” It’s fun and upbeat, but also well aware of life’s less happy aspects. John Primer seems to revel in these contradictions. But then again, don’t these contradictions basically define the blues?
Ally Venable’s music has an indefinable quality that immediately pegs her as hailing from the Lone Star state. So if you like your blues drenched in a thick coating of Texas barbecue, this young blues mistress’s latest album is exactly what you need.
The soft sway of “Any Fool Should Know” provides the album’s finest track. In it, Ally gives us a dose of vocal charm that rivals that of any other young blues belter. It doesn’t hurt that she saves some of her tastiest guitar licks for this ballad.
Another big winner is the searing “Two Wrongs.” Here, her voice is somehow both cocky and vulnerable. And, of course, the buzzsaw of hard rock provides just the right backdrop for more blistering guitar work. Ally Venable’s latest release doesn’t quite compare with the genre’s best, but give her time. She’ll get there. Until she does, enjoy the ride.
Eddie 9V’s unique sound is a joyful concoction that starts with the very best of 60s R & B and adds just enough bluesy spice to make him and his band stand out in a sea of Motown/Stax imitators
The opening track jolts us right in the heart, yanking us back to 1965. But the party only gets grittier, more intense and more soulful from there. The album is a foot-stomping good time of the highest order.
What makes Eddie 9 Volt’s chops all the more impressive is his youthfulness. Born in 1996, the prodigy has learned a lot in little time and he’s clearly spent a great deal of his time consuming, emulating and learning from the masters of his chosen genre. Song after song on Capricorn demonstrate just how much he has learned.
The album’s finest song is ‘It’s Going Down,’ a heartfelt, sensitive song that features the kind of lyrics and vocal delivery that a bluesman of Eddie’s age shouldn’t yet be able to offer. But like the rest of Capricorn, It’s a stunner. It only makes you wonder how much more this young talent has to give to the genre he loves so much.
Dubbed ‘The Reigning Queen of Beale Street,’ didn’t actually make it to the famed Memphis, Tennessee location until she took a trip there in the late 90s. Blue’s vocals don’t quite live up to the expectation that her title would suggest, but she’s got a fine enough style to offer homage to the greats.
Her cover of ‘Tell Mama’ — made famous by Etta James is fun and many other of the album’s cuts are worthy, but it's opener ‘The Shoals’ that is most likely to snag the listener’s attention and keep it.
‘The Shoals’ pays tribute to the many fine talents that have emerged from the legendary southern swamps and serves as a strong history lesson for those too young to recall the early days themselves.
Overall, ‘From the Shoals’ is far from a classic, but sometimes it’s enough to have a good time while remembering those who’ve made our favorite genre what it was and continues to be today.
Imagine a handful of friends hanging out on a porch with just enough whiskey in them to sing the blues, but not quite enough to pass out. That’s the sound conjured up by Walk that Walk. There’s no effort made here to reinvent the wheel that is the enduring genre of the blues. These guys only want to have lots of fun making music and invite the listener to join the party. The result of this approach is Big World of Trouble, a sometimes hard-rocking, sometimes easy-going folksy, always soulful blues album that catches our attention from the first chord and doesn’t relinquish it until the studio runs out of electricity.
The heavy funk number ‘Get Up Get Out’ is probably the strongest track on Big World of Trouble. With a menacing growl, the vocals get the hips shaking the feet moving in just the right way. But there’s more.
There’s the folksy ‘Roof Got a Hole,’ the song that kicks off this porch jam and sets the album’s tone perfectly.
And the party ends with a harmonica boogie called ‘Good Woman’ that will likely make any blues fan wonder why it took so long to discover these guys. Big World of trouble is perfect for any fan of the blues who’s wondering what happened to all the good time blues bands. Walk That Walk has just the answer they’ve been seeking. And it comes with a good groove too.
The latest album by veteran bluesman Joe Louis Walker has a title that suggests a heavy, deeply serious album of dark, weighty themes. True, Weight of the World is no stroll through a flower patch. But like any great blues, it is not just about enduring the bad times, it is about transcending them with the elegant power of catharsis.
The song that best embodies that catharsis is the album’s playful closer ‘You Got Me Whipped.’ It’s a simple love song, but it’s performed by somebody who’s lived a life of pain, sorrow and redemption. The lyrics don’t tell us his life story. They don’t have to. It all somehow comes out of Joe Louis Walker’s guitar. It’s every not he plays as well as every note he doesn’t play.
Another big winner here is the deeply spiritual ‘Is it a Matter of Time?’ Walker makes it clear that he doesn’t know the answer. But he doesn’t seem to care. There’s a depth to his blues that moves well beyond philosophical questions, and nobody understands that as profoundly as Joe Louis Walker. If you listen closely, you’ll understand it too. If not, you’ll at least hear a master bluesman at work.