In her recent Grammy winning album, The River and The Thread, Rosanne Cash points out that ‘there’s a million shades of Modern Blue’. We agree. The Blues is a genre that is in constant motion. Blues artists are creating a future for Blues that takes cues from the past in both playing and production of music. Artists are making their own instruments, blending Blues with Country, Folk, and Soul, taking the sound of albums back to analog recording days, mixing Rhythm with their Blues. In 2015, there is no common factor for Blues musicians. They are young and old, male and female, and the only color visible is Blue.
We have gathered together 40 artists who have (mostly) released albums in the past year; artists that go beyond what has come to be expected of the Blues. These artists do not go to traditional timing, chord patterns, rhythms, or structure. Blues and Rock have had a long, very public, history together and they gave birth to a 12-Bar Blues standard in song. For our Top 40 Modern Blues list, we have put artists that are challenging themselves by relying on the music they hear in their heads. For musicians, there is no ‘final frontier’, the sound will go on forever, though that will not stop players from playing, and finding a new way to express. Here is a sampling of artists that are creating a future for The Blues.
MODERN BLUES ARTISTS FOR 2015 #1 THRU #20
1 - North Mississippi Allstars (from the album World Boogie is Coming) - North Mississippi Allstars formed in 1996 during a special time for modern Mississippi country blues. Brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson absorbed the North Mississippi legacy while playing and shaking it down in the juke joints with their blues ancestors. R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, and Otha Turner. Luther (guitar, vocals) and Cody (drums, vocals) formed the North Mississippi Allstars and pioneered their own brand of blues-infused rock and roll.
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2 - Joe Louis Walker (from the album Hornet’s Nest) - Joe Louis Walker has a worldwide reputation as a Blues innovator and trailblazer. His guitar playing sizzles: sometimes feral, sometimes sweet. Joe Louis’ playing has a unique ability to both follow and lead in his songs, particularly his most recent album, Hornet’s Nest, recorded in Nashville with Tom Hambridge.
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3 – Greyhounds (from the album Accumulator) - There is Blues in the Greyhounds rock solid bass line and metronome perfect drumming. Blues floats up from the soulful vocals and guides the guitar riffs and organ swirls yet Greyhounds manage to deliver a time-worn tradition that is wearing a new set of clothes. This Blues transforms itself within the music the band creates without the need to mimic or cut chops from what has gone before. Accumulator never follows the path to bygone Blues with anything other than as an influence. Their muse stands firm, pointing to the future and demanding of Greyhounds to make their own damn Blues.
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4 - HowellDevine (from the album Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju) - Joshua Howell started playing harmonica at fourteen and by seventeen he was sitting in with local San Francisco Bay Blues bands. Pete Devine began playing drums in his native Maine when he was six years old and bassman Joe Kyle, Jr. is a survivor of the great San Francisco Swing Wars of the early 1990’s. The trio came together in the SF Bay Blues scene, and set up shop as HowellDevine, matching the sound and the cool monikers of early electric Blues players. Modern Sound of Ancient Juju wraps up eleven tracks with Jazz-flecked Blues riffs and rhythms. HowellDevine have magic moments in the songs when the music suddenly takes over. Yeah, three guys are playing instruments, yet the sound seduces as one force of nature.
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5 - Danielle Nicole (from the E.P. Danielle Nicole) - Danielle Nicole grew up the daughter of Kansas City musicians, becoming a founding member as a bass-wielding singer of her songs in Trampled Under Foot. Danielle Nicole (Schnebelen) was the winner of the 2014 Blues Music Award for Instrumentalist (Bassist), and nominee for female artist in the 2014 Blues Blast Music Awards. She recorded her self-titled E.P.in New Orleans with Grammy winning producer Anders Osborne. Danielle delivers music heavy on the groove, with the tracks skillfully guided by the vocals. The four studio tracks present Danielle Nicole in a new light, keeping the Blues glow she has taken around the world as her muse,
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6 - Steve Earle and the Dukes (from the album Terraplane) - A sonic milestone is crossed on Terraplane, the most recent release from Steve Earle and the Dukes. To truly feel the album simply give in to the distortion-based accents of raw Blues and Velvet Underground drone as it finds its kinship with a contemporary feral Blues underground that is crawling from the wreckage to once again walk the earth….hallelujah. As a host, Steve Earle never throws the same party for each album release. Terraplane is not exclusive in its use of sharp edges on its tracks, yet the overall feel, from and function is down, dirty, oh-so-sweet Blues of the yeah, that’s it, right there variety.
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7 - John Moreland (from the album In the Throes) - The raw power of his voice helps you immediately understand the man in the story. In "3:59AM”, you can almost identify the shadow sitting in the fractured nighttime light. What wakes us up in the dead of night comes through in the story, his confusion can be heard in a voice used to explain himself. He is a man seeking salvation, his path is of the spirit, a man who believes in what he can see and touch; “got my ear to the ground, you got Easter Sunday in your eyes”. John Moreland releases his new album, High on Tulsa Heat, in April 21, 2015.
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8 - Seth Walker (from the album Sky Still Blue) - Seth Walker is a seeker. Like most musicians, he strives to be better and dig deeper into his music. His songs have that fully formed feel though the borders are never structured. That ease to the playing, the grooves, the interactions of the musicians, continues on the recent release, Sky Still Blue. The recording took place at The Wood Brothers’ Nashville-based Southern Ground Studios. Producer Oliver Wood was joined as a musician on Sky Still Blue by fellow Wood Brothers Jano Rix and Chris Wood (also of Medeski, Martin and Wood).
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9 – Anne McCue (from the album Blue Sky Thinkin’) - Anne McCue is a musical chameleon. With her most recent release, Blue Sky Thinkin’, she sets the sound machine to Vintage as she taps into a time when Jazz and Blues spent quality moments together.
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10 - Jorma Kaukonen (from the album Ain’t in No Hurry) - Ain’t in No Hurry, the most recent release from Jorma Kaukonen, fingerpicks Blues through self-penned tracks by the Hot Tuna, and former Jefferson Airplane, guitarist. Jorma revisits an economic relative that never travels far from home with “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime”.
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11 - Janiva Magness (from the album Original) - Janiva Magness is beaten down in the songs story but not out. The glass is half full and Janiva faces fear head on “Standing” on a slow Country Blues dream.
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12 - Ray Bonneville (from the album Easy Gone) - Ray Bonneville played guitar but his life was working behind another wheel, running the gamut between bush pilot and cab driver. Ray was busy and never got around to songwriting until he was in his 40’s when using a lifetime of hard-won tales and self-taught guitar chops, Ray Bonneville entered the life of musician. Ray might get some comparison with J.J. Cale though the music on Easy Gone, the new release on Red House Records, has Blues in its heritage, and a New Orleans way of gathering diverse styles up as offerings on the altar of the groove
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13 - Devon Allman (from the album Ragged and Dirty) - Devon Allman does not take the mission of bringing the Blues into the future lightly. He has played as a solo artist, as well as a member of high profile projects, such as Royal Southern Brotherhood. On his latest release, Ragged and Dirty, he tears into the Blues, ripping a riff from his guitar for the message that “Half A Truth is still a lie.
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14 – Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin (from the album Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin Sing the Songs of Big Bill Bronzy) - It has been close to thirty years since Dave Alvin and brother, Phil Alvin, recorded an album together. One-off songs here and there and the occasional live shows of their shared history with The Blasters have put the brothers together in studio and stage. It was inspiration that took them back in to record for their recent Yep Roc Records release, Common Ground: Dave Alvin + Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy. Friends don’t stay friends in bands, and in shared blood and you have one volatile working environment in studio or stage. Addressing the unspoken question about how the recording process proceeded, brother Dave said it simply, ‘we argue sometimes, but we never argue about Big Bill Broonzy,’
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15 – The Soul of John Black (from the album Sunshine State of Mind) - The Soul of John Black is a non-stop Blues riff as he plows through “Johnny Bear (Give It to Me)”. John Black is making house calls as Doctor Love.
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16 - Carolyn Wonderland (from the album Peace Meal) - Carolyn Wonderland’s live album debut will arrive on April 21, 2015. The success of studio albums in 2008 (Miss Understood) and again in 2011 (Peace Meal), has allowed Carolyn to record where she shines brightest…. live performance. The Carolyn Wonder Trio offer recordings from Texas’ most famous packed houses, Antone’s in Austin, Kessler Theatre in Dallas and Last Concert Café in Houston.
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17 - John Mayall (from the album A Special Life) - A Special Lifeis the title of the new John Mayall album, his first in five years. On first glance, you could take the title as John describing his own luck, living times as the godfather of British Blues. John Mayall put together the first version of The Bluesbreakers in 1963 and over the course of the last fifty years, the group has been a resume builder for young British Blues artists seeking to make a name for themselves.
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18 - Eden Brent (from the album Jigsaw Heart) - It is the lady and her piano that take center stage on any Eden Brent recording or performance. As a solo artist or as a bandleader, Eden is the single cell that gives the music life as much as her Mississippi Delta heritage hardwires the Blues into her own playing. Eden Brent and her Blues made the trip north from Mississippi to record her latest release,Jigsaw Heart, in Nashville with guitarist, solo performer, and member of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings (and Bob Dylan’s band), Colin Linden, sitting in the producer’s chair.
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19 - Mike Zito and the Wheel (from the album Live from the Road) - Mike Zito adds up Blues chairs as a solo artist and recently with Royal Southern Brotherhood. He steers his band, The Wheel, into a live album and does the math in “Subtraction Blues”.
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20 - Damon Fowler (from the album Sounds of Home) - Damon Fowler has had a long, ongoing relationship with roots music, crafting a personal guitar style as a teenager that was equal part roots rock, blues and sacred steel. Sounds of Home is Damon’s third solo release for Blind Pig Records, the label also releasing Damon’s band Southern Hospitality, a joint effort with JP Soars and Victor Wainwright.
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