Musicians were kept off the bandstand in 2020 but it led to more time to make records in the studio. In fact, I can’t remember a year with more great new music. I like all kinds of styles, but it’s the blues I love the most, so that is my emphasis on picking my favorite 10 albums of the year.
10 – Eric Johanson, ‘Below Sea Level’
New Orleans rocker Eric Johanson travels to Mississippi Hill Country and makes a thrilling solo debut with Luther and Cody Dickinson. REVIEW
9 – Rory Block, ‘Prove It On Me’
Album No. 36 by Rory Block is an acoustic record honoring the power women of the blues, from the well-known Ma Rainey and Memphis Minnie to lesser-known Madlyn Davis and Helen Humes. REVIEW
8 – Dennis Jones Band, ‘Soft Hard & Loud’
The most underappreciated triple-threat in the blues, Dennis Jones rocks 10 tunes with his touring studio band. Add trance and reggae to an otherwise mostly rock ‘n’ roll record. REVIEW
7 – Hurricane Ruth, ‘Good Life’
For his final project, producer Ben Elliot’s requested Hurricane Ruth, saying, “I hear rawness of a Steve Marriott-Humble Pie and the grittiness of Paul Rodgers and I want to be able to work with that and channel that.” Hell yeah. REVIEW
6 – John Nemeth, ‘Stronger Than Strong’
One of the greatest male singers since Bobby Bland, John Nemeth stays true to the blues with a creative bent and most tasteful harmonica. Young gun Jon Hay tears it up on guitar. REVIEW
5 – Nora Jean Wallace, ‘Blueswoman’
Making a new name for herself, Nora Jean Wallace gets comparisons to Koko Taylor for obvious reasons. This is pure, straight-ahead downhome Chicago blues. REVIEW
4 – Alastair Greene, ‘New World Blues”
Houma, Louisiana’s elevation is 10 feet and Alastair Greene traveled there to take his music to another level. Producer-drummer Tab Benoit provided a crawfish boil and new methods of taking a groove into a studio and develop it into a song. REVIEW
3 – Tinsley Ellis, “Ice Cream in Hell’
The blues-rocker from Hot ‘Lanta has a poetic flair that rivals his guitar chops. This is his 18th album, and — “Sit Tight Mama” — it’s a scorcher. It was flying up the charts when the pandemic hit, halting a tour during a Sierra snowstorm with a final show in Reno. “Ice Cream in Hell.” Prescient. REVIEW
2 – Johnny Nicholas, ‘Mistaken Identity’
This album unfolds like select chapters in Nicholas’ 60-yearlong musical life, which includes playing with Johnny Shines, Big Walter Horton and Asleep at the Wheel. True Americana, Nicholas gives listeners honky-tonk, rockabilly and Tejano delivered with clever, entertaining verse. REVIEW
Jimmy Johnson, ‘Every Day of Your Life’
1 – At age 91, the Chicago bluesman cuts his greatest album. Jimmy Johnson now carries a lighter guitar but his voice remains smooth as silk and his soft touch on the strings are as biting as the Hawk blowing of icy Lake Michigan. The man sure knows how to set a mood. REVIEW
Related story: Jimmy Johnson talks about new album and his career.
Favorite live album: Linsey Alexander, ‘Live at Rosa’s’
Born in Mississippi, Linsey Alexander migrating to Chicago in 1963. Incredibly, during a two-night stand at a famed venue, he sings with the passion of a teenager, but with 77 years of sharp experience. This is quintessential live Chicago blues. REVIEW
It’s cool reading your reviews and seeing your photos. I’m glad you’ve followed your passion.
Since the pandemic started, I finally started writing my music memoirs of touring around the country with blues musicians in my 20s including Albert Collins, Hubert Sumlin (Howling Wolf’s guitarist for 20 years) Paul Butterfield and Sunnyland Slim.
I’m going to self-publish them and send them to friends for free.
Would you like to read one involving Sunnyland, Capt. Beefheart and me? Most are like vignettes — short, around 500 words. Thanks and best wishes. Paul