I am publishing my annual lists early this year with the hopes that people who follow me will give the gift of music for the holidays to friends and family to financially help a group of creative people that have been particularly hard hit by public gathering restrictions. No single working group other than restaurant workers has been hit as hard during the pandemic as artists and musicians. My heart goes out to them and 2021 can’t get here soon enough!
My criteria for picking the 40 best blues rock albums that I have heard during 2020 are pretty simple: 1) A judgement of the body of work on the recording, not just the fact that it may have a hit single. (Which I address in my annual Roadhouse 66 Best Blues Songs of the Year review.) 2) In the blues community there is a lot of respect given to artists and groups that “have paid their dues” through years of recording and performing which I reflect in my weighting of selections for the list. With that stated…..get your credit cards ready and your favorite music purchase app loaded….and chose a couple or more of these albums to help the blues community survive the 2020 pandemic!!
The Top Forty Blues Rock Albums (Listings 31 through 40)
These ten selections include Australian Simon Kinny-Lewis performing a rousing rendition of “I Just Want to Make Love To You” and getting help from Robben Ford on the song “Dagger Eyes”. American expat Seasick Steve cranks out a message to all of us to give each other a break, come together, stop the hatred, and get back to “Love & Peace”. Hurricane Ruth is a blues rockin’ Mama out of St. Louis that continues to do an awesome job of rockin’ the blues with tunes like “She’s Golden”. Some of you may not know of King King out of the UK where they are a perennial blues rockin’ favorite. Their lead singer, Alan Nimmo, has a voice you just have got to hear!! Give the song “I Will Not Fail” a listen!! Sass Jordan delivers a purely blues rockin’ album that includes a great version of “One Way Out” by the Allman Brothers and covers of blues favorites “Palace of the King” and “Leaving Trunk”. The UK’s Snowy White recorded with Thin Lizzy and Pink Floyd back in the day and has put out a string of awesome blues rock albums over the years. Give a listen to “One More Traveler” and “Commercial Suicide” from his latest recording to understand why I think it is one of the very best albums of 2020.
|Top Forty||Simon Kinny-Lewis||Another Day in San Jose||Australia|
|Top Forty||Seasick Steve||Love & Peace||UK|
|Top Forty||Hurricane Ruth||Good Life||USA|
|Top Forty||Dave Fields||Force of Will||USA|
|Top Forty||King King||Maverick||UK|
|Top Forty||Sass Jordan||Rebel Moon Blues||Canada|
|Top Forty||Billy Walton Band||Dark Hour||USA|
|Top Forty||Snowy White and the White Flames||Something on Me||UK|
|Top Forty||Rae Gordon Band||Wrong Kind of Love||USA|
|Top Forty||Robert Jon & The Wreck||Last Light on the Highway||USA|
Top Thirty Blues Rock Albums (selections 21 to 30)
Our next grouping of artists includes Casey James who is a talented Texan with a Hollywood smile, a great voice, and plays a badass guitar. One testament to his talent is that Roadhouse Hall of Famer Delbert McClinton recorded the song “Bulletproof” with him on the new album. The Allman Betts Band featuring the sons of the Allman Brothers Band released their sophomore album this past summer. Give “Pale Horse Rider” and “Savannah’s Dream” a spin to understand why I believe they will be one of the great touring bands of this decade. I love the depth of sound of big bands and the seven piece ensemble that backs Thorbjorn Risager as the Black Tornado are world class. Thorbjorn’s voice has driven a number of listeners to my Blues Music Fan Radio shows to jump on chat and ask me “who is THAT singing?”. Give the title cut and “Last Train” a listen…you will understand why. Another fabulous voice of the blues is Canadian Crystal Shawanda who belts out “Evil Memory” and “Move Me” on the new recording. Dudley Taft has done well enough in the music biz over the years to purchase Peter Frampton’s studio in Ohio and record some stellar albums there. Give the title cut of Croatia’s Be Sharp Band recording and you’ll understand why I am so high on this European group. One of my picks for breakout group of 2020 has to be the Avey Grouws Band out of Iowa. They have been nominated for a Grammy and their future is very bright!
|Top Thirty||Casey James||If You Don’t Know By Now||USA|
|Top Thirty||The Allman Betts Band||Bless Your Heart||USA|
|Top Thirty||Thorbjorn Risager and The Black Tornado||Come On In||Denmark|
|Top Thirty||Dudley Taft||Cosmic Radio||USA|
|Top Thirty||Alastair Greene||The New World Blues||USA|
|Top Thirty||Crystal Shawanda||Church House Blues||Canada|
|Top Thirty||Marcus King||Eldorado||USA|
|Top Thirty||Avey Grouws Band||The Devil May Care||USA|
|Top Thirty||The Reverend Shawn Amos & The Brotherhood||Blue Sky||USA|
|Top Thirty||Be Sharp Band||Ashes||Croatia|
Top Twenty Blues Rock Albums (Selections 11 to 20)
This selection of albums includes new recordings by perennial favorites Joe Bonamassa, Tinsley Ellis, Joe Louis Walker, Sonny Landreth, and Joanne Shaw Taylor. All of them are super stars of the blues in general and blues rock in particular. And any of their albums would make great stocking stuffers for Christmas! The selection also includes some interesting newer artists. Eliza Neals, from Detroit, can dang sure belt out a tune with feeling. Andy Watts hails from Israel and gets contributions from Eliza Neals, Joe Louis Walker, and a gravely voiced singer by the name of Roy Young on the Supergroove recording. Hailing from New York City, you need to give the fierce vocals and gritty realism of Bette Smith’s lyrics a listen on “Fistful of Dollars”, “I’m A Sinner”, and “Don’t Skip Out on Me”. Another New Yorker on the list, from Long Island, is Kerry Kearney. His new album includes some stellar cover tunes (“Lawdy Mama”, “Mean Old Frisco”) as well as several badass originals including “Voodoo Down the River”. And last but nevah least is the new recording from Jeff Fetterman. Give “49/61” and his incredible cover of “All Along The Watchtower” a spin to understand why I love his talent.
|Top Twenty||Andy Watts||SuperGroove||Israel|
|Top Twenty||Joe Bonamassa||Royal Tea||USA|
|Top Twenty||Tinsley Ellis||Ice Cream In Hell||USA|
|Top Twenty||Bette Smith||The Good, the Bad and the Bette||USA|
|Top Twenty||Joe Louis Walker||Blues Comin’ On||USA|
|Top Twenty||Sonny Landreth||Blacktop Run||USA|
|Top Twenty||Jeff Fetterman||Southern Son||USA|
|Top Twenty||Joanne Shaw Taylor||Reckless Blues||USA|
|Top Twenty||Eliza Neals||Black Crow Moan||USA|
|Top Twenty||Kerry Kearney||Tales from the Psychedelta||USA|
THE BEN VEE ROADHOUSE TOP TEN BEST BLUES ROCK ALBUMS OF 2020
#10 – Albert Cummings – Believe
Albert Cummings first started recording in the late 1990’s and his stellar guitar playing earned him instant notice. Over the last 20 years, he has released six studio albums prior to this one. Given that he has a day job as a custom home builder, he has not toured as extensively as many of the others on this list. But that hasn’t stopped him from developing a loyal following including one Ben Vee! Give “Call Me Crazy”, “Me and My Guitar”, or his cover of “Hold On” and “My Babe” a spin to get a good feel for his talent.
#9 – Too Slim and the Taildraggers – The Remedy
If ya just want to listen to power trio blues rock to chase the black clouds in your mind away, there is no better remedy than Too Slim and The Taildraggers. Tim “Too Slim” Langford has a distinctive gravely voice and cranks out sonic pyrotechnics that are a meld of Robin Trower and ZZ Top. Give “Devil’s Hostage”, “She Got the Remedy”, and “Reckless” a listen to understand my amazement at the number of people that don’t know who this group is though they have released over TWENTY albums since the mid 1980’s.
#8 – Larkin Poe – Self Made Man
This talented sister duo has taken the world by storm over the last several years and are probably the best selling artists on this year’s list. Their music is highly accessible as evidenced by their crossover appeal to blues, rock, country, and gospel audiences. During the pandemic, I have tuned into several of their live performances on Facebook and it is incredible to watch them just wing their way through their songs while chatting, laughing, and having a generally fine time from a small room. Give a listen to “Every Bird That Flies”, “Holy Ghost Fire”, and “Danger Angel” to understand what all the commotion is about. I can’t imagine you going wrong giving this album as a gift to anyone on your shopping list!
#7 – Savoy Brown – Ain’t Done Yet
The music of Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown helped coin the phrase “blues rock” back in the late 1960’s. Over 50 years later, Kim is still producing amazing songs! The title cut is definitive blues rock, “Jaguar Car” will get ya moving in your computer chair, and “Rocking In Louisiana” is a tribute to the music and people of my home state. Every tune on this recording rocks the blues….enough said.
#6 – Anthony Gomes – Containment Blues
A Canadian blues rocker with a distinctive voice and incredible guitar talents, Anthony Gomes released his first album in the late 1990’s. Over the ensuing years, he has released eight more studio albums and garnered a very loyal following. He has the swagger of a rock star and the persona to match. While he can crank it out with the best of them, he also writes beautiful blues rock ballads like ” Until the End of Time” that is included on the latest release. My bet is if ya love blues rock, you will love “Hell and Half of Georgia”, “Make a Good Man (Wanna Be Bad), and “Tell Somebody”. And kudos to Anthony for having the courage to record “Stop Calling Women Hoes and Bitches”….I’ve had enough of the use of these hateful terms in “pop culture”…how about you?
#5 – Eric Johanson – Below Sea Level
In 2017, Eric Johanson released his debut album BURN IT DOWN on Tab Benoit’s Whiskey Bayou and spent the next two years touring with and opening for Tab. I spun it all the time during my internet radio shows. In early 2019, he made a duet recording with Tiffany Pollack entitled BLUES IN MY BLOOD. I spun it all the time again. Now in 2020, he has released BELOW SEA LEVEL and guess what? I spin it all the time!! Eric, who lives in New Orleans, does a great job of melding the blues with rock in a style that is distinctively his own. On the latest release he expands the limits of the blues with tunes like “Buried Above Ground”, “Down to the Bottom”, and “River of Oblivion”. Ya gotta listen!! Eric is a blues rock star in the making!
#4 – Mike Zito – Quarantine Blues
Some people have the talent and inspiration to make the best of any situation. Mike Zito is one of those people. A gifted singer, songwriter, guitar player, producer, and now record company owner, Mike exudes confidence with a proverbial twinkle in his eye. Another artist that I have watched on Facebook several times during the pandemic (and made my first Venmo contribution to on my phone), Mike is as relaxed playing in his home studio as he is before large audiences. I first got turned on to Mike with the release of Pear River in 2009 and he just keeps gettin’ bettah and bettah. Give “After the Storm”, “Dark Raven”, and “Don’t Let the World Get You Down” for a tiny glimpse of his talent. Oh..and by the way…the title cut is my defining song of the 2020 pandemic.
#3 – Wily Bo Walker/Dennis Flam – Ain’t No Man a Good Man
I’ve been a big Wily Bo Walker fan since I first became aware of him in 2015 and his latest collaboration with Dennis Flam is a jewel of a recording. This British artist channels Dr. John as he weaves music and storytelling into a magical series of songs. The title cut and associated “return” tune “Build My Gallows” are absolutely incredible. So much so that they got stuck in my head for days on end. “Ain’t Hungry No More”, “Fool For You”, “Walking with the Devil”, and “Night of the Hunter” should give you a good feel for his style and talent. Additionally, he does a great cover of “St. James Infirmary Blues” as well as a tune called “Did I Forget” that would fit perfectly during a set at Tipitina’s in New Orleans. If you have friends that enjoy Night Tripper style blues, this album will make a great stocking stuffer for them.
#2 – Dion – Blues With Friends
Dion started out as a teenage rock and roller back in the early 1960’s. Now in his eighties and still a fantastic artist, a literal who’s who of the music world have gotten together to pay homage to this giant of American music on the Blues With Friends recording. Billy Gibbons, Joe Bonamassa, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa, Sonny Landreth, Paul Simon, Rory Block, Stevie Van Zandt, Samantha Fish, Joe Louis Walker, Jeff Beck, Van Morrison, and John Hammond all make contributions. This recording is not only a great blues rock album, it will almost certainly be in contention for the prestigious 2020 Blues album of the year award at next year’s Blue Music Foundation ceremonies in Memphis.
My favorite cuts are “Blues Comin’ On” with Joe Bonamassa, “I Got Nothin'” with Van Morrison and Joe Louis Walker, “Way Down (I Won’t Cry No More)” with Stevie Van Zandt, and the contemporary gospel song “Hymn to Him” with Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa.
You can’t go wrong giving this album as a Christmas present to anyone you know that loves music. On an interesting side note, this is also the first label release for Joe Bonamassa’s new recording company, Keep The Blues Alive (KTBA)….quite an impressive start!
#1 – Walter Trout – Ordinary Madness
At the age of 69, Walter Trout has released possibly the greatest album of his long and storied career, Ordinary Madness. He started out in the late 1960’s playing bars and juke joints in his home state of New Jersey alongside other bands including one that featured another blossoming talent, Bruce Springsteen. By the time the eighties rolled around, his guitar playing and love of the blues had landed him gigs with John Lee Hooker and Canned Heat and drawn the attention of John Mayall. In 1984, he became another of the legendary guitarists (e.g. Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor) to play in the Bluesbreakers.
In 1989, he started his own band and became an overnight sensation in Europe. He played and released albums there for almost ten years before his United States solo debut in 1998. And during the past decade he has released eight of what I consider to be the finest albums of the blues rock genre including one, Luther’s Blues, that paid homage to the great Luther Allison.
Walter’s blues are often described as hard core, a term that reflects as much how he lived his life as the music he played. Renowned for his live performances, the constant touring lead to bouts with alcoholism that culminated in liver failure in 2014. He was able to receive a life saving transplant that year and returned to performing in 2015 with an album, Battle Scars, that chronicled his desperation and fears while awaiting a suitable matching liver.
Ordinary Madness is an unapologetic blues rock recording with songs that address his observations on life and time (“Final Curtain Call”, “The Sun Is Going Down”, “Ordinary Madness”) and thoughts on love and relationships (“All Out of Tears”, “Heaven in Your Eyes”, “My Foolish Pride”). My favorite three songs on the album are “Up Above My Sky”, “Make It Right”, and the simply incredible “Wanna Dance” which is likely to be my favorite single for 2020 when I publish my Roadhouse 66 list of the best songs of the year.
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All in all, it was an incredible year for fans of the blues rock genre. I hope you enjoyed reviewing the list and PLEASE download one or more of these albums to help the artists that you enjoy listening to.
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.