For me, and perhaps for all of us, 2017 was a year of challenges and changes. But through the challenges we’re facing, it’s reassuring to fall back on great music that expresses our frustrations and hopes. The following are my inexpert highlights of the best of blues-based (not strictly blues) music of 2017.
- North Mississippi Allstars – Prayer For Peace – I’ve enjoyed the Dickinson brothers’ work for years. Prayer for Peace isn’t their absolute best work, but it is particularly earnest and compelling.
- Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’ – TajMo – The album pairs two of the foremost – and most creative – bluesmen of the Rock era. Their collaboration is surprising (“Squeeze Box” – really?) and enjoyable.
- Otis Taylor – Fantasizing About Being Black – Taylor continues to produce entrancing, enthralling, enchanting music.
- Guy Davis & Fabrizio Poggi – Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train – Davis and Poggi’s tribute to Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee is superb.
- Ronnie Earl – The Luckiest Man – Earl’s guitar work continues to amaze. His tribute to his longtime bassist Jim Mouradian, who passed away in early 2017, is another in a long line of excellent albums.
- Eric Bibb – Migration Blues – Bibb’s somber, heartfelt ode to people who have had to hit the road to escape tragedy is both timely and spellbinding.
- Al Basile – Quiet Money – Basile, a veteran of New England-based jump blues outfit Roomful of Blues, has put out one solid album after another, but his topical Quiet Money is among the blues trumpet player’s best.
- John Mayall – Talk About That – Now in his eighties, the godfather of British blues continues to attract top flight talent to his band and to produce outstanding music.
- Kenny Wayne Shepherd – Lay It Down – Once a young whiz kid, Shepherd is now a seasoned veteran.
- Coco Montoya – Hard Truth – One of the numerous talented former members of Mayall’s band, Montoya is one of the best blue-rock guitarists around.
- Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio – Bishop might have ‘fooled around fell in love,’ but Pigboy Crabshaw has been having a love affair with the blues since he played with Paul Butterfield and Michael Bloomfield in the 60s.
- Samantha Fish – Belle of the West – Okay, this is the biggest departure from the blues of Fish’s two 2017 releases (Chills & Fever being the other), but it is also the more interesting and a great listen.
- Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm – Cray is simply one of the giants.
- Cary Morin – Cradle to the Grave – It was a real pleasure to find out about this relatively unknown artist whose reputation is quickly spreading.
- Peter Parcek – Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven – Another ‘discovery’ of mine this year, Parcek has been a mainstay in the New England blues scene for years.
Gregg Allman – Southern Blood – Not a blues album, Southern Blood was the last release of a great artist who knew the blues as well as almost anyone of his generation. Others who will never play the blues again include fellow Allman Brothers Band member Butch Trucks, harmonica great James Cotton, and piano legend Fats Domino. 2017 was a rough year.
About the author: Bill Wilcox is a roots music enthusiast recently relocated from the Washington, DC area to Philadelphia, PA and back again.