Joe ran away with it this year – and he’s been out there on the road (and high seas) not just earning it but paying it back and forwards to unsung blues musicians and new artists. His Keeping The Blues Alive festival showcases the talents of others to really live up to its promise, just like every note its host plays. But Mr. B continues to go further.
His Fueling Musicians relief program for helping musicians to get back on the road has continued through 2022 – providing cash payments of $1,500. To date it’s funded over 460 projects; this is the kind of hugely valuable work that keeps grassroots scenes going.
Of course Joe’s a musician too, though this was a quiet year on releases by his standards but offered up the excellent Road To Redemption EP. But he was still busy in numerous studios; co-producing fellow artists including Joanne Shaw Taylor and Marc Broussard.
This is all the mark of a truly special artist – one who seeks to elevate others with them as they ascend.
A four-album concept in one year? A wild ambition, even for these two and yet they delivered it in style, alongside their gifted band.
I Am The Moon was blues and soul artists entering progressive genre-melding orchestration; players challenging themselves when they could go through the motions with a loyal fanbase. But rather than self indulgent, they made the project with contemporary listening habits in mind.
“People don’t have huge attention spans anymore,” Susan Tedeschi noted when we spoke to her about the project earlier in 2022. “The great thing about some of your favourite records – like Axis: Bold As Love – is a lot of great records are like 34 minutes, so that ended up being part of the conversation after we had made all of this music.
“We really didn’t want to cut anything because there were so many great songs. And so much diversity because there are so many songwriters in the band. Then we realised, ‘Oh, wow! We could make episodes, like The Mandalorian or something!”
The return of the king? Eric hit the ground running with new album Crown in January, produced by friend and peer Joe Bonamassa. Then he hit the road with his new material and back catalogue firepower and wowed audiences like only a true blues hero can.
Because he just keeps getting better, fueled by the added dimension in his songs of reflections on a storied life so far, and the appreciation of Eric Gales’s talents continues to spread. It’s all hugely deserved, and clearly appreciated; “It was and still is just downright awesome to know that after all of the years of the hard work, even through the bad times that I’ve survived, I’m now coming out on the other side,” Eric told us in April.
Blues class in permanent; and Buddy Guy is the reminder of it we’re always happy to receive. That he returned with the song “Gunsmoke Blues” ahead of album The Blues Don’t Lie was a statement; the blues always should always speak the truth in our times. Spoken from an artist who has seen and experienced so much, the gravitas was undeniable.
The album that followed delivered on that opening salvo found stellar guest fans including Elvis Costello, Mavis Staples, James Taylor joining for a wonderful collection of songs. Is Buddy getting better with age or has our appreciation for him simply intensified? Perhaps both, but the 86-year-old is on powerful and poignant form here on one of the strongest albums of his career.
What a wonderful reflection of the genre to see an 86-year old icon in this list next to a 26-year old young maverick who is also going from strength to strength.
And in the blues tradition, he’s working for it; bringing his smokey voice and smoking chops far and wide. Marcus King teamed with Dan Auerbach again for this year’s Young Blood, chasing the spirit of the seventies blues rock beasts ZZ Top, Free, CCR and Grand Funk Railroad.
Young Blood with an old soul made for a potent combination here.
Julian Lage’s talents are clearly bringing new listeners to jazz guitar, and that he’s so humble about it all just makes us even bigger fans of the young prodigy who has grown into an incredibly nuanced musician.
View With A Room is one of 2022’s essential listens for any genre; virtuosity channeled into emotive melody and creative phrasing. A player who feels both intimate and universal, and trio who seem innately connected.
Blues influence continues to grow the genre and shine new light on its past; Marcus King would list Robin Trower as one of his biggest influences, and like Buddy Guy, the Brit is still out there proving he’s far from any laurel-resting.
The pandemic allowed this year’s No More Worlds To Conquer extra time to be honed by the Strat icon; his moody Hendrix-ian hallmarks still giving students of his style much to study and soak into their own playing.
The vocals of Richard Watts on the record were also a highlight – recalling the much-missed era of the late James Dewar.
The lockdowns of the pandemic were especially hard on blues musicians, who rely heavily on income from live shows. It must have been crushing for Samantha Fish, an especially prolific touring artist, but she came back in 2022 for her biggest year yet.
Finally able to properly support last year’s Faster album, she found time in between US and European tour to record the excellent rockabilly-fused Stardust Sessions with Jesse Dayton.
If Ry Cooder has nothing left to prove, he’s clearly still got much to give judging by this year’s reunion with fellow musical luminary Taj Mahal to celebrate the songs of Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry.
The results speak for themselves. “I play better now,” Cooder succinctly noted to Tidal in an interview in April. “That’s about the size of it.”
The blues isn’t just in safe hands here – it’s thriving in the Lovell sisters’ music. Their constantly evolving electric guitar / lap steel dynamic fuelling the sound of songwriters coming into their own on this year’s Blood Harmony.
The best part is there’s so much of their story that’s still unwritten – we can’t wait to hear what happens yet.