John Kessler's Top 10 Blues albums of 2012
Here are the top 10 Blues albums of 2012 according to KPLU's John Kessler, host of "All Blues" and "The Blues Time Machine" and co-host of "Record Bin Roulette".
JOAN OSBORNE: BRING IT ON HOME, Saguaro Road Records
Joan Osborne has always included blues in her repertoire, but this is her first actual blues release. Her best album since 1995’s Relish, it’s at the top of my blues list for 2012. Her voice is assured and unhurried as she works her way through some well-chosen standards like “Shake Your Hips”, “I Want To Be Loved” and the title tune. Going way beyond emulation, she carries herself with authority on these songs once sung by men, giving them new life.
BONNIE RAITT: SLIPSTREAM, Redwing Records
Bonnie Raitt had a unique sound when she started in the 1970’s—funky and soulful blues with shades of rock and country. 40 years later she’s still working the same groove, and sounding better than ever. She’s always been good at finding material, and this time chooses songs from ace composers Paul Brady, Joe Henry and Bob Dylan. A bonus is hearing her slide guitar featured more than ever before.
TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND: EVERYBODY’S TALKIN’, Sony Masterworks
Individually they are each stars in their own right: Susan Tedeschi for her unusually expressive voice and Derek Trucks for his unique and luminous slide guitar playing. Together they are a truly powerful force, and backed by a razor-sharp band this live double-cd has some memorable moments. “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” showcases Tedeschi’s voice and the group vocals on “Wade in the Water” will give you goose-bumps, guaranteed.
SHEMEKIA COPELAND: 33 1/3, Telarc
The title is a reference to vinyl but also to Shemekia Copeland’s age at the time of the recording. Yes she’s young, but has already progressed through a few musical periods, including traditional blues, R & B, and more recently a turn towards what might be called “Americana”, allowing her to focus more on message and delivery and less on trying to be the next blues belter. Some highlights are duets with J.J. Grey and Buddy Guy.
TAJ MAHAL: THE HIDDEN TREASURES OF TAJ MAHAL, Columbia Legacy
Taj Mahal cut these tracks 40 years ago, but they never made it onto any albums. The first cd of this double set contains studio recordings, the second is a live performance from 1970. Like Bonnie Raitt, his sound has become refined over the years, but has retained the essence he started with. Another hidden treasure here is the guitar playing of Jesse Ed Davis, who is on fire throughout.
VARIOUS ARTISTS: FIRST CAME MEMPHIS MINNIE, Stony Plain
Maria Muldaur produced and curated this tribute to Memphis Minnie, selecting tunes from some notable singers including Bonnie Raitt, Ruthie Foster and Phoebe Snow. Some of the tracks were recorded for this cd, others are drawn from previous releases. The material is well-chosen and spans a wide range from the acoustic blues of Rory Block to the fully electric Koko Taylor.
HERITAGE BLUES ORCHESTRA: AND STILL I RISE, Red General Catalog
The surprising sound of this group combines acoustic blues with a modern, angular horn section. The sound is arresting and bold, and gives new life to the traditional format. Fronted by Bill Sims, his daughter Chaney and Junior Mack, there is plenty of soul and energy here. A real standout is Chaney Sims singing a driving version of the early folk blues “C-Line Woman.”
JON CLEARY: OCCAPELLA, FHQ Records
This thoroughly enjoyable album is accurately sub-titled “having fun with the songs of Allen Toussaint”. Keyboardist, singer and New Orleans resident Cleary has chosen some of Toussaint’s lesser known songs and given them a modern makeover. Staying true to the originals for the most part, the rhythm tracks are pleasingly funky. If his sound is familiar, it's because you've heard him performing and recording with Bonnie Raitt, Dr. John and Taj Mahal.
JOE BONAMASSA: DRIVING TOWARDS THE DAYLIGHT, J & R Adventures
For a guitarist working the peripheries of the blues world, Bonamassa hasn’t played much actual blues. This release changes that somewhat, with covers of Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon and Robert Johnson songs. He’s such a great player that sometimes his blues chops lack soul, but that advanced technique also serves him well, especially on Johnson’s moody song “Stones in My Passway”.
JOE LOUIS WALKER: HELLFIRE, Alligator
Joe Louis Walker sings and plays his guitar like there’s no tomorrow, bringing a surplus of energy to this collection of rocking blues. Hints of his time spent playing gospel creep in, an interesting lyrical balance to his aggressive presentation. There are some outrageous and spontaneous guitar solos that make this album standout.