The Best of 2010, Part 2: Blues 'n' Roots

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Nobody plays it like Buddy, as his Living Proof testifies.

by Pico

This part of the Year End series is typically the shortest, and not because there’s less excellent blues and roots records than other kinds of music, but because I regrettably have little time leftover to delve into these idioms as much as I’d like to after soaking in all the jazzy stuff. Luckily, Mark and Nick have been taking up the slack quite well, as you will soon find out when their lists come out in the next few days.

Nonetheless, I’ve come across some standouts in these areas of music I feel are worthy of some salutes. Several of them come from repeat winners, and a couple are from newcomers to the scene. All in all, it’s a pretty diverse cross-section of styles that demonstrate what a rich a varied area of music “blues and roots” really is.

Check out these records with confidence in having an enjoyable listening experience:

Best CD Of The Batch: Anders Osborne – American Patchwork

We had an inkling of what a great folk/blues troubadour Anders Osborne is three years ago when sizing up one of his blues tunes from 1999, but that didn’t fully prepare me for what he put out this year. The possessor of a gritty slide guitar technique, Osborne started out as a bluesman, then veered toward folky singer-songwriter. But on American Patchwork, he puts it all together, and puts it together so, so well. Every song is either very good or just downright fantastic, and none sound like any of the other ones. He can concoct nasty rock grooves (“On The Road To Charlie Parker”), fuzzy funk (“Darkness At The Bottom”), an easygoing New Orleans r’n’b (“Echoes Of My Sins”), affecting soulful ballads (“Standing With Angels”), or percolating reggae (“Got Your Heart”), and his lyrics of reflection and romance never sound silly or contrived. His soulful pipes conform well to each song, never over-emoting it.

With each song being an entirely different take, you might not even notice that it’s the same, three-man personnel for every track: Osborne on guitar, Robert Walter on organ and Stanton Moore on drums. The Galactic drumming extraordinaire from N’awlins also co-produced the album with Osborne, and Moore and Walter have a strong bond developed from playing in Moore’s own band (look for more mention of these two in Part Three, when fusion music is covered). These two understand well what fellow New Orleanian Osborne is looking for and their support is rock solid.

All of which makes for a uniformly strong album. Anders Osborne has always been good. On American Patchwork, he is flat-out great, and if this doesn’t cry out for due recognition for the transplanted Swede who has completely mastered roots-based American music, then I just don’t know what will.

Best Song Of The Batch: Alex Hargreaves “April Joy”

Back in February, when the exciting violin prodigy Alex Hargreaves came out with his debut album Prelude, I opined that “sometimes it takes a fantastic cover of a song to make you realize how good the original has always been,” and that’s just what Hargreaves and his friends accomplished when they chose a deep track from the Pat Metheny Group’s classic 1978 self-titled album and gave it the New Bluegrass treatment. In an album chock full of chops, Hargreaves, acoustic guitarist Grant Gordy and Big Trio partners Mike Marshall (mandolin) and Paul Kowert (acoustic bass), hang loose on this track and let Metheny’s light but intricate melody come to them. Though technically “jazz,” “April Joy” is typical of PM fitting folk chords into abruptly shifting jazz constructions. Despite all the moving parts churning underneath the hood, the outer shell is still a sleek, easily digestible thing to behold—for jazz and non-jazz fans alike.

Each of the four take solos, but play them in such a way to accentuate the beautiful song, and not step outside of it to show off. That’s maturity that’s especially impressive coming from youngsters like Hargreaves and Kowert.

Thanks to Alex Hargreaves, “April Joy” is a song I’ve had a hard time getting out of my head all year, so it must be the choice.

Best Of The Rest:

Buddy GuyLiving Proof: Buddy Guy looks back at his legendary career by showing everyone precisely what made it so legendary.

Carolina Chocolate DropsGeniune Negro Jig: The Chocolate Drops makes early 20th century country blues and folk sound hip.

Joe BonamassaBlack Rock:  Bonamassa follows up strong on the breakthrough success of The Ballad Of John Henry.

Otis TaylorClovis People, Vol. 3: Taylor’s hypnotic, spacious, and hard-hitting blues stands alone in today’s scene.

Jimmie VaughanPlays Blues, Ballads And Favorites: Nobody plays that old swinging, rhythm ‘n’ blues kind of blues with more sincerity and devotion than Vaughan. And Lou Ann Barton’s vocal assist is the cherry on top.

Eric BibbBooker’s Guitar: Inspired by Bukka White’s National Steel, Bibb gives us the bare-bones folk blues that has always formed the foundation of his music.

Dr. John and The Lower 911Tribal: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Mac Rebennack just refuses to coast.

Tony Joe WhiteThe Shine: One of the great living unsung American singer-songwriters produces an unassuming set of new swamp pop songs that manages to burrow its way into your soul.

NEXT: Part 3 Fusion Jazz…


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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