Blues is not only alive and well in the 21st century, but a slew of recent releases and two outstanding Blind Boys of Alabama reissues showcase the power of the genre to move audiences anew.
Artist: Rich Robinson
Title: Flux (Eagle Rock Entertainmnet)
You might like if you enjoy: The Black Crowes, the Record Company
Tell me more: Rich Robinson's Flux is rooted in the blues and roots rock, but the 13-track disc finds the talented founding Black Crowes guitarist mixing folk, gospel and experimental studio touches along the way. While Flux track listing is eclectic, there is also a cohesive sound and spirit that recalls the greatest of albums. "Music That Will Lift Me" starts as a breezy country-tinged folk ballad, that is lifted first with a powerful guitar solo, and then with an anthemic chorus. The psychedelic-tinged "Eclipse The Night" is the kind of song that Jimi Hendrix might have crafted if he had jammed with Jerry Garcia; "Ides of Nowhere" is an absorbing and completely original rock tune that blends classic rock, prog-rock and Radiohead-worthy touches amidst Robinson's articulate lyrics. Some albums demand to be heard along their entire run, and "Flux" is certainly one of those. Information: eaglerockent.com.
Artist: Tinsley Ellis
Title: Red Clay Soul (Heartfixer Music)
You might like if you enjoy: Robert Cray, Tommy Castro
Tell me more: Armed with a stellar baritone voice, deft skills on guitar and his infectious songs, Tinsley Ellis taps into his Georgia roots across the aptly-titled Red Clay Soul. Ellis has the innate ability to fuse blues with soul and R&B (as evidenced by the emotive "Callin'," "Hungry Woman Blues" and Robert Cray-styled "Don't Cut It"). He can also fuse his Southern fried blues with a rock edge; the straightforward "All I Think About," slow burner "Circuit Rider" and Latin-flavored "Estero Noche" allow him to showcase his gifts to combine authentic riffs and strong lead guitar work. On the catchy "Givin' You Up," Ellis also adds some great blues harmonica work while bringing Oliver Wood (of Wood Brothers fame) in to provide additional guitar and vocals to the memorable track. Information: tinsleyellis.com.
Artist: Gary Hoey
Title: Dust & Bones (Provogue)
You might like if you enjoy: Gary Hoey's "Deja Blues," Alvin Lee, Lita Ford
Tell me more: Guitar virtuoso Gary Hoey follows up his 2013 exploration of the blues (Deja Blues) with a potent follow-up, the newly issued Dust & Bones" Kicking things off with the slide guitar-anchored "Boxcar Blues," Hoey kicks things up with his fast-fingered guitar work on the uptempo "Who's Your Daddy" and on the Texas-styled blues rocker "Born to Love You." Other highlights include the probing title track, the rousing "Steamroller" (a tribute to Johnny Winter), and the affecting duet with Lita Ford "Coming Home." A big plus across the disc is that Hoey proves to be a great vocalist too. Information: GaryHoey.com.
Artist: The Blind Boys of Alabama
Title: Spirit of the Century (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: The Blind Boys of Alabama
Tell me more: Originally released in 2001, Spirit of the Century was the most commercially successful of the group's albums to date (quite an achievement, since the American gospel group released its first record in the late 1940s). The deluxe edition of the album recently issued by Omnivore Recordings is the perfect way to rediscover a disc that earned the group a Grammy win for Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album. Famed guests such as blues harmonica great Charlie Musselwhite, guitarist David Lindley, and bassist John Hammond add firepower to the group's authentic vocals. The standout on the album is the group's innovative version of "Amazing Grace" that blends that track's iconic lyrics with the music of "House of the Rising Sun." As if the original album wasn't fantastic enough, the new edition features seven tracks recorded live at New York's the Bottom Line in 2001. Information: omnivorerecordings.com.
Artist: The Blind Boys of Alabama
Title: Higher Ground (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: The Blind Boys of Alabama, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Ben Harper
Tell me more: On Higher Ground, the obvious power of the Blind Boys of Alabama is enhanced by the involvement of Robert Randolph and the Family Band as well as singer-guitarist Ben Harper on several of the selections. Whether singing introspective reworkings of modern favorites (Custis Mayfield's "People Get Ready," Prince's "The Cross") or old-time gospel ("Wade in the Water," "Precious Lord"), there is a exuberant spirit and timeless joy in the group's sound honed since 1944. The liner notes here are very detailed and add insight and understanding to the effort that went into the original 2002 release. Bonus materials on this expanded edition include seven tracks recorded on a "Morning Becomes Eclectic" session featured on radio station KCRW-FM in 2002. Information: omnivorerecordings.com.