I listened to more than 50 blues records released in 2010 and found time to write reviews of 27 of them. It was all time well spent and now that the year has finished and the 32nd Blues Music Award nominees have been announced, it's time to take a peek back at the year that was in the blues.
I used to order my lists when I first started doing these but that became an impossible task that took a lot of the fun out of this so I threw that rule out a couple years ago. I also abandoned the idea of Top 10 list when it became clear I would be miserable if I had to leave out any of these titles. I'm still a little emo about a couple albums that deserve to be mentioned but I forced myself to draw a line somewhere and this is it so here is my bakers' dozen top blues records of 2010, listed in no particular order:
Nick Moss – Privileged: I got to hear this 2010 release at the end of 2009 and it has been a constant in my rotation throughout the year. Moss changed things up for this record, allowing more of a rock sound to infiltrate his traditional blues past resulting in another powerhouse record from one of the best on the circuit.
Peter Karp & Sue Foley - He Said She Said: If you love great songwriting, singing, and playing, this blues record that isn't is a must-hear album. Karp is one of the top songwriters in American music and pairing with Sue Foley has inspired them both to some of their finest work to date. They'll make you laugh, break your heart, and take you on a series of journeys familiar to us all.
Anders Osbourne - American Patchwork: Anders is one of my favorite discoveries of 2010. I didn't know the name until I saw this record making big noise on the Roots Music Report chart when it was released. I took a chance on it and it paid huge dividends. My wife endures my monopoly of the car stereo when we travel and rarely does anything perk her ears. Days after hearing this for the first time, she was still humming "Road To Charlie Parker."
Ronnie Earl - Spread The Love: This is more than a blues record; this is a healing record. Ronnie Earl speaks more using only the wordless languages of music, tone, touch, and spirit than some of the great poets. STL collects intelligent, flawless blues compositions with instrumental compositions that mine the human experience. He has never been better.
Kilborn Alley Blues Band - Better Off Now: Speaking of never being better, Kilborn Alley Blues Band has delivered the finest record of their career on their third release for Blue Bella Records. If you love the ensemble Chicago blues tradition, you will love this record. Andrew Duncanson is singing better than ever and the material is as consistent as it's ever been.
Bettye LaVette - Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook: Ronnie Earl speaks through his guitar. Bettye LaVette speaks using the words of others and her spectacular voice. These are songs every person in the world knows but you've never heard them like this before. The ability to take the familiar and morph them into something profoundly different is a rare gift. So is this album.
Eden Brent - Ain't Got No Troubles: A near perfect album bursting with songs and range. Brent easily sways from playful, sexy, brokenhearted, downtrodden, and points in between. She and Colin Linden have teamed to make a marvelous followup to her Yellow Dog debut.
Karen Lovely - Still The Rain: The material is mostly strong, the playing tight, but this album makes the list because of Karen Lovely's voice. She brings the power song after song and it's captivating. She is an incredible, unstoppable force.
Charlie Musselwhite - The Well: We must never take this man for granted, no matter how great he's been or how long he's been doing it. The Well might be the Hall of Famer's most personal album to date and it's brilliant.
Chris James & Patrick Rynn - Gonna Boogie Anyway: The spirit of Chicago ensemble blues is alive and well on this album featuring not only this dynamic duo but some very good friends like Rob Stone, David Maxwell, and Sam Lay. I'm afraid this one has flown under too many radars this past year. Don't let it slip beneath yours.
Duke Robillard - Passport To The Blues: Like Musselwhite, Duke has been so good for so long it's easy to take it for granted. Passport is a forceful reminder, though, returning Duke from the land of swing and jump and immersing him once again in the heart of the blues. It's so good to have him "back." "Hong Kong Suit" was one of my favorite songs the year.
Matthew Stubbs - Medford & Main: I discovered a handful of artists in 2010 and Matt Stubbs is probably my favorite of the bunch. I fell head over heels in love with this album from the first time I heard it this past winter and I don't let too many days go by without listening to it. This is a great soul-blues noir instrumental record and "Tube Top Temptation" is another favorite song of the year.
Smokin' Joe Kubek & Bnois King - Have Blues, Will Travel: Here's another 2010 discovery for me. I knew the names but hadn't listened to them until Have Blues, Will Travel. This is great contemporary Texas roadhouse blues and I can't listen to it without craving barbeque.