United States Highway 61 starts in Wyoming, Minnesota and over its 1400 mile length generally follows the mighty Mississippi River to its terminus in New Orleans. It has earned the proud appellation as the “Blues Highway” primarily because of its route through the heart of the Mississippi delta country where the blues was born. It also intersects in Clarksdale Mississippi with Highway 49 at a spot known as the Crossroads that is stamped indelibly on the tale of the blues. In honor of this great highway and all of the blues men and women who have transited lengths of it over their careers , I present my list of the 61 best roadhouse blues albums of 2021.
The year 2021 will not be treated kindly by history. The dark foreboding shadow of the pandemic continued to loom over the months. Strife and division marked our public discourse and even enveloped the blues. But despite it all, thousands of blues artists continued to release new recordings in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia & New Zealand, South America, and Africa. Through my association with BluesMusicFan Radio and my own contacts in the industry, I received hundreds and hundreds of new releases. I reviewed them and rated each album song by song with additional factors for creativity and “paying the blues dues”. This list is not about an individual song but an album as a creative whole. Needless to say, it takes time to do this. I started culling the list down in mid November. First to 300, then 150, and now the final list. While the list includes 61 releases, it is not strictly a numerical listing. Artists are not in a sports competition with their fellow artists and most I have known over the years will be the first to sing the praises of other groups. With this in mind, I break the lists down by album of the year and then Best Ten albums as a group, Top Twenty, and so on. ANY album on this list is worth your time to listen to. And I hope many of you will AND pay the artists the ultimate compliment by purchasing their work.
The Ben Vee Roadhouse Blues Album of the Year 2021 is…..
Colin James – Open Road
Colin James got his big break in the 1980’s when he was drafted as a last minute replacement for a cancelled opening act for Stevie Ray Vaughan. He has been a rocker, blues rocker, and successful Swing music artist over the years and has won dozens of music honors in Canada. For the Open Road recording, he made a conscious decision to emphasize his love of the blues genre and we are all its beneficiaries. It has rockin’ blues songs, traditional blues numbers, and beautiful roots blues tunes. (For an in depth review of the album songs, please see my blog dated November 4, 2021). With echoes of Chuck Berry and Stevie Ray Vaughan in the music combined with Colin’s voice and guitar mastery, I invite you to listen to Leave This House as just one sampling of this incredible recording and my choice as Roadhouse Blues album of the year.
Roadhouse Blues Best Ten Recordings of 2021
This year’s Roadhouse Blues Best Ten recordings include artists from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. One is 22 and has such a bright future, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram. Another is 82 and still kicking out vibrant and thoughtful jams, Dion. There is a great group out of the UK, J Lee and Hoodoo Skulls, that won my award for Blues Rock album of 2021. There are two artists, the JP Williams Blues Band and the Atomic 44’s that I tried to see during the year but Covid raised its ugly head. Polly O’Keary makes the list based on the power of her voice and all the dues she has paid to the blues over the years. Perennial favorite Tommy Castro also shows up as well as John Popper with Blues Traveler. And one of the defining voices of the contemporary blues, Jeff Taylor, makes the list with the Altered Five Blues Band.
|Colin James||Open Road||Canada|
|Christone “Kingfish” Ingram||662||USA|
|Altered Five Blues Band||Holler If You Hear Me||USA|
|J Lee and the Hoodoo Skulls||Beggars Soul||UK|
|JP Williams Blues Band||JP & Ekat||USA|
|Polly O’Keary & the Rhythm Method||50||USA|
|Tommy Castro||A Bluesman Came to Town||USA|
|Atomic 44’s||Volume One||USA|
|Blues Traveler||Traveler’s Blues||USA|
Roadhouse Blues Top Twenty Recordings of 2021
My Top Twenty albums for 2021 included artists from Canada (Sue Foley), Australia (8 Ball Aiken), and the street busker from the UK (Markus K.). Carolyn Wonderland, based in Austin, makes the list with an incredible recording. Established stars Mike Zito, Billy Gibbons, and the Black Keys all contributed significant works to the roadhouse blues this year. An emerging artist that I believe still has his best work in front of him, Eddie 9V, makes the list and is well worth a listen as hint of the future of the blues. And Ricci and Krown put out a recording that should warm the heart of anyone that enjoys harmonica based blues. I also highly recommend the Sean Chambers album which is a tribute to his mentor and famed blues man, Hubert Sumlin.
|8 Ball Aiken||Ice Cream Man||Australia|
|Carolyn Wonderland||Tempting Fate||USA|
|Eddie 9V||Little Black Flies||USA|
|Sean Chambers||That’s What I’m Talkin’ About||USA|
|Ricci and Krown||City Country City||USA|
|Billy F. Gibbons||Hardware||USA|
|Sue Foley||Pinky’s Blues||Canada|
|The Black Keys||Delta Kream||USA|
|Markus K.||Live With Looper No. 1||UK|
Roadhouse Blues Thrillin’ Thirty Recordings of 2021
|Band of Friends||Spotlight on the G-Man Vol. 2||UK/Ireland|
|Uncle Watson’s Widow||Hindsight||USA|
|Simon Kinney Lewis||King Biscuit||Australia|
|Chickenbone Slim||Serve It to Me Hot||USA|
|The Dirty Mojo Blues Band||It is What It is||USA|
|The Doobie Brothers||Liberte||USA|
|Melissa Etheridge||One Way Out||USA|
|Dirty Dave Osti||Retro-Sonic Blues Train||Australia|
|Eldon Backhouse and the Electric Blues Band||Portrait Gallery||UK|
|Steve Marriner||Hope Dies Last||Canada|
The Roadhouse Blues Thrillin’ Thirty recordings list has an international flavor with two artists from Australia (Simon Kinney Lewis & Dirty Dave Osti) as well as two from the UK (Band of Friends & Eldon Backhouse and the Electric Blues Band) and one from Canada (Steve Marriner). If you love Rory Gallagher, then I highly recommend the Band of Friends recording which features bassist Gerry McAvoy and the stellar guitar playing of Davy Knowles. If you enjoy what I term “roots blues”, then Steve Marriner’s latest recording is well worth a listen. Additionally two major music artists, Melissa Etheridge and the Doobie Brothers, both released albums that a perfect representations of what I term the “roadhouse blues”…a mix of contemporary blues, blues rock, and roots blues. And I highly recommend a blues rock group out of North Carolina, Uncle Watson’s Widow, that plays a high energy mix of ZZ Top and Joe Bonamassa related music.
Roadhouse Blues Top 61 Recordings of 2021
The rest of the list of the 61 Best Roadhouse Albums of 2021 includes notable names like Steve Cropper, Jimmy Barnes, Gov’t Mule, Joanne Shaw Taylor, and Bernie Marsden as well as established roadhouse blues artists like The Record Company, Davy Knowles, Cactus, Colin Linden, and “up and comers” like Veronica Lewis, The Kokomo Kings, Hendrikse, and Quinn Sullivan. All of them put out quality recordings that I enjoyed listening to!
|Steve Cropper||Fire It Up||USA|
|Jimmy Barnes||Flesh And Blood||Australia|
|Joe Metzka||Another Disaster||USA|
|Tom Feldman and Noah Levy||Brothers in Mud||USA|
|The Record Company||Play Loud||USA|
|Quinn Sullivan||Wide Awake||USA|
|The Kokomo Kings||A Drive-By Love Affair||Denmark|
|Vintage Trouble||Juke Joint Gems||USA|
|Delta Fuse||A Matter of Love and War||UK|
|Gov’t Mule||Heavy Load Blues||USA|
|AJ Fullerton||The Forgiver||USA|
|Davy Knowles||What Happens Next||UK|
|Captain Morgan Express||No Weirdos Please||Germany|
|Superdownhome||No Balls, No Blues Chips||Italy|
|Joanne Shaw Taylor||The Blues Album||UK|
|The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band||Dance Songs for Hard Times||USA|
|Tommy Z||Plug in and Play||USA|
|Hendrikse||A Good Day for the Blues||Netherlands|
|Big Chief Monk Boudreaux||Bloodstains and Teardrops||USA|
|Dionne Bennett||Sugar Hip Ya Ya||UK|
|Teresa James and the Rhythm Tramps||Rose Colored Glasses||USA|
|Trainman Blues||Shadows & Shapes||Denmark|
|Mike Goudreau Band||The Isolation Blues||Canada|
|Veronica Lewis||You Ain’t Lucky||USA|
|Dennis Siggery||Higher Ground||UK|
|Early Times & the High Rollers||The Corner||USA|
The Roadhouse Blues 61 Best Blues albums of 2021 is not THE list of lists for 2021. It is based on the types of blues that I enjoy spinning for my audiences and that is a bias that I readily admit to. Other blues writers and organizations (including the BluesMusicFan Radio Top 20) have produced charts that differ, sometimes widely, from mine. However I do believe this list is a representative overview of the state of the blues in 2021 and the forecast is pretty dang good. The blues is not dying…it is not just surviving….it is thriving in terms of the number of great artists that are attracted to the genre. The challenge is to get the mainstream music media to give the blues its proper due and consequentially pump up the sales so that the artists can derive a meaningful income. I am so thankful to the major blues labels like Delmark Records, Ruff Records, Alligator Records, Stony Plain Records, Mascot/Provogue, Gulf Coast Records, KTBA Records, and a whole host of other “indie” labels for encouraging and promoting groups that fit my roadhouse blues format.
And YOU have a part to play also. My part is to listen, select, and spin contemporary blues, blues rock, and roots blues tunes to help get the word out. I do this for no financial renumeration (though I would not begrudge it!). YOUR part, if you love the roadhouse blues, is to pass the word when given the opportunity to friends and family. Particularly to younger audiences that probably have no clue about most, if not all, the artists on this list. AND, once in awhile, when finances permit, you can support your favorite artist(s) on this list by downloading their album. I estimate that I reach about 10,000 people each week through my shows and other social media. That is a pittance compared to the several million people reached by terrestrial radio and media on any given day in a major city in Europe or North America. But if the people I do reach each spent 50 dollars downloading albums (not just listening to streams) this year, that would be an infusion of $500,000 into the blues music market. It is a “drop in the bucket” compared to what artists on the Billboard 200 weekly list of albums generate but it is something. Almost to a person, the blues artists that I have met and conversed with are down to earth people and they definitely haven’t committed their musical lives to the blues seeking fame and fortune. But they do deserve the chance to make a decent living during a period when they can’t perform before live audiences. It starts with you and me…..pass on a link for this list to someone you know….you never know who will be the next convert to the blues. After all, you and I were converted at some point….and I think we are doin’ just fine!
#blues #roadhouse blues
Ben Vee started out spinning songs on terrestrial radio and at nightclubs back in the 1970’s in his home state of Louisiana. After a career in the construction business, he returned to DJing in 2011. He now hosts two shows each week on http://www.bluesmusicfan.com and writes about the blues at http://www.benveeblues.com from his home in Connecticut. He also has a personal 24 hour stream devoted to the Roadhouse Blues… WRHB