Editor’s Note: It was a good year for blues releases! Now that we’re approaching the end of 2012, select American Blues Scene staff are releasing three sets of our favorite albums of 2012. In our office, blues music graces the airwaves nearly 24 hours a day, from hundreds of albums that have been sent to us. It’s hard enough to pick which incredible albums we can review with our limited time constraints, but picking the ten best? Well, we took a stab at it… then woke up at 3:00 in the morning with cold sweats about who we forgot. Thank god this only happens once a year!
Mike’s Thoughts on his List: Top ten lists are silly & arguably pointless. For example, this one! It’s just my opinion. And my opinion will probably change in ten minutes or so. But right now, I feel like these were the best blues albums of 2012. It was a good year for blues releases (most years are). What’s considered blues these days covers a huge spectrum of music from acoustic blues to Southern Soul to blues rock. There’s great music being made in all these sub-genres and they’re all represented in the list. But it was a particularly strong year for albums that manages to stay within a traditional blues band context and still advance the sound.
(Don’t like it? Check out the Owner’s list)
Linsey Alexander – Been There Done That – I’d never heard of Linsey Alexander before this record was released, but he’s been on the Chicago blues scene for decades mixing soulful grooves with deep blues. His voice occasionally brings Otis Rush to mind. It’s great to discover new artists making music this good.
Gary Clark Jr. – Blak and Blue – One of the most inventive young talents can play Hendrix-inspired rock, blues or whatever else he wants. This is a superb collection of songs and Clark is at his best when playing the blues. It’s not all blues, but it should appeal to almost all blues fans.
Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band – Between the Ditches – Coming off a stellar tribute to Charley Patton album, the Rev went with all originals on this release. There’s almost no one playing the blues with as much energy as Peyton and this set of songs is a perfect showcase for the trio’s rambunctious sound mixing blues with other traditional roots music.
Boo Hanks with Don Flemons – Buffalo Junction – Another amazing piedmont blues player recording for Music Maker. It’s great to hear someone still playing in the style (and with the spirit) of Blind Boy Fuller and Blind Blake. Now in his eighties, Hanks sounds great. The Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Don Flemons adds bones, harmonica, or whatever’s necessary to fill out the music and urge Hanks along.
Carl Marshall – Going Back to the Blues – Marshall has been a star on the Southern Soul circuit for years. He digs a little deeper into the blues on this one. It’s a traditional sound, but filled with modern flourishes (even the vocoder sounds good). In Marshall’s hands it all sounds natural and filled with soul. Guests Lucky Peterson and Bobby Rush contribute to this tour through the sounds of the blues.
Heritage Blues Orchestra – and still i rise – This set of traditional songs is played with arrangements that make them totally modern in unique ways. The horn section adds a New Orleans jazz feel to several numbers, but everything here is pure blues. This is a different kind of sound, simultaneously spirited and melancholy. The vocals of Bill Sims, Jr., Junior Mack, and Chaney Sims all sound like somebody speaking comfortably in a language they’ve always known.
Otis Taylor – Contraband – Another amazing album of dark hypnotic blues from Otis Taylor. Taylor explores race, slavery, history, war, and love through amazing individual stories. It’s easy to get lost in this music, but the lyrics always bring me back to the world we live in.
Lurrie Bell – The Devil Ain’t Got No Music. These are all songs about religion: some are traditional gospel, others explore how religion is perceived and practiced from the viewpoint of a bluesman. As always, Lurrie sings and plays from deep within his soul. I love everything Lurrie Bell has recorded, but this one is special.
Shemekia Copeland – 33 ⅓ – Another really solid album from Shemekia featuring songs from an eclectic group of sources including some particularly strong ones from manager John Hahn. At age 33, she seems to have hit upon that perfect balance of soul and rocking, using her incredible vocal strength without trying to overpower the songs.
We Juke Up in Here soundtrack – This documentary explored what’s remaining of Mississippi juke joint culture. The good news is that every second of raw blues music featured in the film is amazing. The CD is only available with the DVD, which in our opinion is the only way to go anyways. Highlights includes songs from Louis “Gearshifter” Youngblood and Big A and the All-Stars.