Written by Isa C.
We’ve come a long was since the days of delta blues and the smooth, dulcet tones of Bessie Smith and her contemporaries. The music has outlived race riots, inspired political change and musically influenced almost ever genre we listen to today, yet its artists very rarely feature on lists for the best acts of the year.
However, the sound of blues is still going strong, with tons of new releases hitting stores and streaming platforms all the time. These five artists are some of the most underrated names of the year who deserve a whole lot more recognition for their work in keeping the genre alive.
All the artists and albums mentioned are available on Spotify, which you can subscribe to for free if you haven’t already.
1. Matt Andersen
With a deep booming voice and melancholy melodies, Matt Andersen plays like Johnny Cash with a jazzy twist. His skilled finger picking and infectious rhythm sections are sure to get toes tapping and fingers clicking. His 2016 release, Honest Man, transports listeners back to the era of roadhouses and roadside performances. Today, he stays true to this authentic legacy and spends much of his career on the road, playing over 200 gigs a year around the world. His winning combination of baritone vocals, brass solos, jumping bass lines and always masterful guitar riffs make Anderson’s sound a work of true musical genius. This is certainly an artist who deserves more mainstream recognition than he gets.
2. Rag’n’Bone Man
Hip-hop is probably the youngest sibling of African-American-influenced music genres, but its strong heritage links with blues can be seen worldwide today. Rag’n’Bone Man is a uniquely talented artist who combines haunting, soulful blues vocals with a modern spoken word delivery.
His latest single release “Human” comes with rhythmic tambourine claps, thumping bass and expertly targeted samples. In short, his music plays like blues meets the 20th century, with his unique sound being a testimony to the power and creative freedom of electronic production.
Note: There’s a really interesting documentary on Netflix called I Dream of Wires, which covers the incredible musical revolution of electronic production if you’re interested in finding out more about it. Check out this Netflix Guide by Secure Thoughts for more information.
3. Joe Bonamassa
Sitting on the doorstep of the blues hall of fame, Joe Bonamassa is affiliated with some of the greatest artists of the genre. He’s supported B.B. King and played with Eric Clapton, Blondie Chaplin and even Buddy Guy; however, his name is still left off all the lists of blues greats.
Bonamassa is another artist who allows the influence of modern music technologies to enhance his work. His 2016 album, Blues of Desperation, sees the traditional guitar licks of the genre accompanied with otherworldly sounding synths. His lyrical content is profound and brooding, and each song brings its own unique flavor. In essence this album is a true modern-blues masterpiece.
Note: For those who don’t know about B.B. King’s incredible legacy, there’s another great documentary called B.B. King: The Life of Riley available through Amazon.
4. Tedeschi Trucks Band
With what can be described as blues rock with a country twist, this wonderfully refreshing husband-and-wife duo is modernizing classic sounds. Derek Trucks skillfully navigates his slide guitar to produce ringing and screeching riffs, and Susan Tedeschi’s gritty, raw vocals are reminiscent of country greats, such as Dolly Parton or Carrie Underwood, with an added punch of Jacksonville sass.
Their most recent album Let Me Get By is an experimental take on this classic style. Its rhythmic, thigh-slapping anthems perfectly contrast the wailing blues ballads to create a multifaceted listening experience. If you like the strong, passionate delivery, or artists like Adele combined with a raw, classic western style, then this is the band for you.
5. Bonnie Raitt
A practiced veteran in the industry, Bonnie Raitt is a name many already know. However, her long-time contribution to the music industry, along with this year’s chart-topping new release Dig in Deep means this soulful legend deserves far more recognition than she’s currently receiving.
From her first release in 1971 to 17 studio albums later, she has just put out another smash record, which is still just as expertly laced with the southern blues twang. Raitt’s voice has definitely improved with age, and her silky tones wonderfully bring together the funk-driven clash of guitars, tambourines and wailing slides. It has been reviewed wonderfully and received eagerly by fans at live shows, which is a doubly impressive feat considering she’s still performing at 66!
Many say it’s a dying genre, but I disagree. Blues was one of the forefathers of modern music and isn’t going anywhere soon. If you know of more artists who deserve a spot on this list, be sure to leave a comment below with your ideas.
About the Author: Isa is a blogger and music lover. If she’s not crate digging in local record shops, she’s scouring the internet for innovative new artists. Her phone is constantly stocked full of music, so she’s always ready with a recommendation for those who need them! You can follow her on Twitter: @Isa_Culture.