Blues Music Now Reviews

The Best Blues Albums of the Millennium

Here are Steve Sharp's top blues albums of the millennium, in no particular order.

1. “Hoodoo Man Blues” — Junior Wells hoodoo man

This was a groundbreaker in concept. It was one of the first blues "albums" ever made. Prior to this one, blues songs were only available on 45 rpm. singles. In addition to that, it documents the hypnotic chemistry between Buddy Guy and Jr. Wells at its genesis.

2. “Live At the Regal” — B.B. King regal

"Live At the Regal" is one of the first live blues recordings ever made and, along with King's "Live At Cook County Jail," one of the best. It turned many a would-be aficionado on to blues music — including myself, via a scratched up old copy from the public library.

3. “The Complete Recordings” — Robert Johnson johnson

I could just as easily have placed the early recordings of Tommy Johnson, or the Paramount recordings of Charley Patton in this slot. But the Johnson tracks certainly had more of a direct impact on blues and rock musicians in later years and therefore, won a spot on this list.

4. “The Chess Box” — Muddy Waters muddy

I felt like I cheated a bit with the inclusion of this one, but no list like this could exist without some Muddy, and this is one of the best and largest collections to date. It spans all of the eras of Muddy's recording career, with the exception, of course, of his Blue Sky years. The Stovall Plantation recordings were tempting for inclusion, but I opted for the broader view offered by this box set.

5. “Big City Blues” — Howlin' Wolf

I picked this one up on the crusty old United label for $3.99 on vinyl years ago and it still blows my mind. It is purported to capture Wolf just after he arrived in Chicago, but there are rumors that it was recorded in the Memphis YMCA just before he left for the North. Either way, it features Wolf at his aggressive best, with Willie Johnson, Hubert Sumlin's predecessor, on guitar.

6. “Big Boss Blues” — Jimmy Reed

After his discovery by John and Grace Brim, Jimmy Reed went on to record some of the best-known and oft-interpreted songs in blues history. Most of them are here.

7. “Live on Maxwell Street” — Robert Nighthawk nighthawk

Maxwell Street was the place where the blues made its transition from the country to a hard-edged urban sound. No album, with the possible exception of Dick Shurman's recording of John Wrencher's "Maxwell Street Alley Blues," captures the spirit of Maxwell Street as well as this Nighthawk disc. In addition to being a beautiful piece of Americana, it's a classic blues album. Nighthawk was Muddy Waters' favorite and here, it's easy to see why. Nighthawk's playing is by turns, joyful and bright, then downright terrifying in its malevolence.

8. “Trailblazer” — Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm ike turner

A more aptly titled album you won't find. Ike Turner was a great blues guitarist, pianist, composer and band-leader; and he was one of the pioneers of rock 'n' roll. This features the pre-Tina records that Turner waxed in 1956 and 1957 with his best vocalists, Jackie Brenston and Billy Gayles.

9. “West Side Soul” — Magic Sam magic sam

Ask almost any living practitioner of the famed and influential West Side Chicago blues guitar tradition - from Jimmy Dawkins to Otis Rush - and they are likely to say the king of that scene in the late 1950's until his death in the 1960's was Magic Sam Maghett. This disc captures Sam's formidable singing and playing at their best.

10. “Right Place, Wrong Time” — Otis Rush otis rush

I almost put Jimmy Rogers' great Chess album "Chicago Bound," or "Whose Muddy Shoes" — which contains the classic Chess recordings of John Brim, in this slot. But then I realized, you could take a stack of Chess albums, close your eyes, grab any of them, and make your "millennium" disc list. So, I made room for this off-beat Otis Rush tear-jerker. And there will be the folks who say I should have included Rush's famed Cobra recordings here instead. Rush, himself, would probably feel the same way. He's said he doesn't even like this record. But, all that aside, it is one of the most deeply emotional blues records I've heard.

Go to Jeff Stevens' list.

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