It was a bountiful year for blues music fans with more great albums than one person could legitimately afford to buy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just the reality of the situation. The Reverend did his part for the blues economy, buying up as many new releases as the bank account would allow, but even that falls short of covering the genre in toto…even counting the promo CDs sent by gracious labels for review.
The following ten albums aren’t necessarily the “best” of 2018 but rather those discs that were my favorite releases for the year, along with another ten worthy albums and blues reissues that almost made the cut…and any of these albums would make a great addition to your music library. Check out the Rev’s lists of favorite rock ‘n’ roll and archive/reissue albums from 2018 while you’re here!
Roy Buchanan – Live at Town Hall 1974 (Real Gone Music)
The legendary guitarist’s acclaimed 1975 album Live Stock was expanded to two discs by Real Gone Music for Live at Town Hall 1974. Featuring an impressive 21-song track list (compared to the six tracks on the original release), including 14 previously-unreleased song and improved sound, the set captures Buchanan’s entire November 27th performance at the Town Hall in New York City as taken from the original multi-track tapes. As such, Live at Town Hall 1974 displays the instrumentalist’s enormous talents and underrated vocals, which he shared with singer Billy Price. It’s a phenomenal and intimate recording that shows exactly why the late Buchanan’s star continues to shine so brightly... BUY!
Shemekia Copeland – America’s Child (Alligator Records)
If Koko Taylor and Etta James are the standard by which female blues sings must aspire in the 21st century, Shemekia Copeland stands proudly alongside the legends. For my money, Copeland and Janiva Magness are the two best vocalists in the blues field today – male or female – and both women have brought their enormous talents to songs that fit nicely into the stylistic blend of blues, folk, and country music that is “Americana.” No matter what you want to call it, over the dozen songs included on America’s Child, Copeland’s amazing voice turns every performance into timeless American music. BUY!
Tinsley Ellis – Winning Hand (Alligator Records)
Guitarist Tinsley Ellis has been kickin’ around the American blues scene since the late ‘70s, both with the Heartfixers and as a solo artist with better than a dozen albums to his name. Still, Ellis doesn’t get nearly enough praise for his enormous talents as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist, skills all in abundance on Winning Hand. Each performance here is indelibly imprinted with Ellis’s own robust brand of blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll and for those who love rowdy guitarplay, it just doesn’t get better than Winning Hand. BUY!
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite – No Mercy In This Land (Anti- Records)
From open to close, No Mercy In This Land is an incredible collaboration between two musical titans. Ben Harper brings intelligent, poetic lyrics and a sense of youthful vigor to the performances, an energy that spurs Charlie Musselwhite – a jaded veteran who has played with bona fide legends like Big Joe Williams, John Lee Hooker, and Michael Bloomfield – to play here like a man possessed. The result is an instantly classic album that fuses blues and soul music like few artists have been able to do. My only complaint is that the album’s 35-minute running time is too little when the music is as good as what you’ll find on No Mercy In This Land. BUY!
Eric Lindell – Revolution In Your Heart (Alligator Records)
New Orleans-based blues guitarist Eric Lindell has been making great music for over a decade, at least since 2006’s Change In The Weather. The sublimely wonderful Revolution In Your Heart marks his return to Alligator Records, the label where he made three underappreciated albums during the late ‘00s. Recording in his Louisiana backyard, Lindell infuses a dozen original tracks with a subtle, laid-back, New Orleans vibe, effortlessly blending blues, funk, soul, and Southern rock into a heady musical brew. A talented artist worthy of greater acclaim, Eric Lindell is ready for prime-time. BUY!
Nick Moss Band – The High Cost of Low Living (Alligator Records)
Bluesman Nick Moss has been kicking around the Windy City for better than two decades, making his bones playing with legends like Jimmy Dawkins and Buddy Scott. Breaking out on his own in the early ‘00s, Moss has released nearly a dozen critically-acclaimed studio and live albums. Hooking up with skilled harp wrangler Dennis Gruenling, Moss signed with the esteemed Alligator Records and delivered The High Cost of Low Living, the traditional-styled Chicago blues LP we knew he could create. Layering his fiery guitar licks alongside Gruenling’s raging harp, the two crank out a joyful noise. With their Alligator label debut, Moss, Gruenling and a talented crew update the Chicago blues for the 21st century. BUY!
Preacher Boy – The Rumble Strip (Coast Road Records)
Although The Rumble Strip showcases a welcome expansion of Preacher Boy’s musical palette beyond his signature country-blues sound, Christopher Watkins’ vocals on these songs still growl and bite like Howlin’ Wolf chewing on a microphone, swallowing electricity and spitting out lightning bolts. It’s with his lyrical skills where Preacher Boy really shines, though, and The Rumble Strip is full of whip-smart story-songs backed by imaginative and often-dense instrumentation that proves that Preacher Boy is no one-trick pony. Recommended for rock and blues-rock fans alike, The Rumble Strip marks the return of a unique and original musical voice. BUY!
Daniel Seymour & Mark Robinson – Chug It Down and Go (Blind Chihuahua Records)
Nashville guitarist Mark Robinson has a pair of critically-acclaimed electric blues studio albums – Quit Your Job, Play Guitar and Have Axe - Will Groove – to his credit along with a rowdy live LP that any blues fan should have on their shelf. Hooking up with fellow multi-instrumentalist Daniel Seymour, Robinson performs a breakneck stylistic U-turn with the acoustic Chug It Down and Go. Talent always shines through and Robinson and Seymour deliver a high-spirited, energetic, and entertaining collection of original songs with deep roots. It’s all quite clever and exceptionally well-performed, Chug It Down and Go a truly magical collaboration between two skilled and passionate music-makers. BUY!
Various Artists – Confessin’ the Blues (BMG Music)
A multi-format various artist compilation, Confession’ the Blues was ‘curated’ by the Rolling Stones and is available in various multi-disc formats with cool, folksy cover artwork by the Stones’ Ron Wood. Most blues fans will have these songs already, but proceeds from the album go to Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven organization, a worthy cause by any measure. I initially bought Confessin’ the Blues, Vol. 1 as a two-LP vinyl set ‘cause I wanted the big artwork and the warm sound of wax. There’s just no way you’ll be disappointed by a track list that includes Muddy Waters, Little Walter, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, and Elmore James with Sonny Boy Williamson, among other blues legends. BUY!
Various Artists – Memphis Rent Party (Fat Possum Records)
Released on vinyl to serve as a de facto “soundtrack” album to Robert Gordon’s excellent book Memphis Rent Party, the album features a veritable “who’s who” of unsung Memphis musical idols, from bluesman Furry Lewis and the legendary Alex Chilton to Tav Falco’s Panther Burns, early rockers Charlie Feathers and Jerry Lee Lewis, and bona fide Memphis music legend Jim Dickinson. No matter your taste in music, there’s something among the dozen tracks on Memphis Rent Party to tickle your fancy, the album’s creative diversity makes it the perfect soundtrack to listen to while reading the book! BUY!
Honorable Mention: Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio’s Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here; Joe Bonamassa’s British Blues Explosion; Catfish’s Get Down/Live Catfish; Buddy Guy’s A Man & the Blues [vinyl reissue]; Buddy Guy’s The Blues Are Alive & Well; Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa’s Black Coffee; Larkin Poe’s Venom & Faith; Fantastic Negrito’s Please Don’t Be Dead; Boz Scagg’s Out of the Blues; Junior Wells’ Coming At You [vinyl reissue]