Jazz & Blues
11:26 am
Wed December 28, 2011

Top 10 blues CDs of 2011

Here are the top 10 blues CDs of 2011, according to KPLU's John Kessler, Host of “All Blues.”

  •  MARIA MULDAUR: STEADY LOVE, Stony Plain

This is one of the best records Maria Muldaur has ever made, easily matching the spirit and fire of her earliest releases. Returning to her swampy “bluesiana” sound, she offers a mostly high energy mix of blues, soul, R & B and gospel. Among the highlights is a gospel vocal duet with daughter Jenni Muldaur. 40 years after “Midnight at the Oasis”, Maria Muldaur is still going strong.

  •  GREGG ALLMAN: LOW COUNTRY BLUES, Rounder

A gentler side of Gregg Allman emerges in his first solo release since 1997. With roots producer T-Bone Burnett at the helm, the album has a laid-back and inviting feel that is very different than the Allman Brothers’ southern-rock sound. The songs are mostly mainstream blues and R & B, and the focus is on Gregg’s character-drenched voice.

  • WARREN HAYNES: MAN IN MOTION, Stax

He’s a busy guy, fronting the rock band Government Mule, playing lead guitar with the Allman Brothers and The Dead, but Warren Haynes still has a lot to say. This release finds him digging in to his first musical inspiration—soul music. While the tunes are mostly original, the sound is a mix of southern blues and soul, with a stellar band that includes Ivan Neville (Neville Brothers) and George Porter, Jr (The Meters).

  • TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND: REVELATOR, Sony/Masterworks

Married couple Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks were looking for a way to spend more time together, and this is the happy result. What started as a series of summer shows turned into a full-blown 11 piece touring band. The sound is unique-- No one sings like Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks is a one-of-a-kind guitarist. The product is soulful, full of masterful grooves and emotion.

  • JEFF BECK: ROCK ‘N’ ROLL PARTY: HONORING LES PAUL, Atco

It’s tough to make a live recording that matches the perfection of a studio album, but Jeff Beck defied the odds here. He chose some familiar tunes to honor Les Paul (Cry Me a River, How High the Moon, Sleepwalk), and a host of guests like Brian Setzer, Gary US Bonds and Trombone Shorty keep things interesting. Irish singer Imelda May shines on several tunes. Hearing Jeff Beck deliver the goods live is truly impressive.

  • THE 44’s BOOGIE DISEASE,  Ripcat

This LA-based roots-blues quartet is relatively new on the scene. Expect pounding grooves, tight arrangements and blazing harmonica. Produced by veteran guitarist Kid Ramos, these guys have chosen their material well and stay focused without a lot of extraneous soloing. They start with a traditional concept, but the execution sounds very modern and even a bit edgy.

  • TRACY NELSON: VICTIM OF THE BLUES, Delta Groove

Tracy Nelson can sing just about anything, and she has made excellent folk, country and soul albums. As the title suggests, this time it’s blues, with a songlist that draws on Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Willie Dixon. She doesn’t have to be innovative to be successful—Tracy Nelson’s voice is so powerful she barely needs a microphone. This is a solid blues album with excellent support from guitarist Mike Henderson and bassist Byron House.

  • THE CASH BOX KINGS: HOLLER AND STOMP, Blind Pig

This Chicago band is dedicated to the spirit of 1950’s Chicago blues. What separates them from thousands of other blues bands is attitude and an easy confidence. Their music is energetic, but they are not trying too hard to be expressive. They can play well, but there is more emphasis on the group sound than on individual players.

  • LISA MILLS TEMPERED IN FIRE         Mills Bluz

She toured for 3 years with Big Brother & the Holding Company, but Lisa Mills is no Janis Joplin copy-cat. Possessed of a gentle yet raspy alto voice, Lisa Mills is a southern, blue-eyed soul singer who can summon deep emotion. Maybe the reason we haven’t heard of her until now is that she works mostly in Europe, where this was first released. She gets great guitar support from Andy Fairweather-Low, who has worked for years with Eric Clapton. If you’re a fan of Janiva Magness, give a listen to Lisa Mills.

  • MARY FLOWER: MISERY LOVES COMPANY, Yellow Dog Records

As the founder of Denver’s Mother Folkers, Mary Flower has a strong folk music background, but since turning to the blues 10 years ago, she has emerged as one of the best roots/blues guitarists around. She avoids any musical ruts by having a diverse line-up of guests from Curtis Salgado to Colin Linden, and accompaniment that includes tuba and accordion. It’s a gentle and moody record that features her warm voice and acoustic guitar.