The Best Blues Albums of the 2000s

Thousands of blues albums were released in the years between 2000 and 2009, and the decade not only brought us exciting, late-career masterpieces from blues veterans like B.B. King and Buddy Guy but also introduced us to fresh young talents like Nick Moss and Watermelon Slim that will continue to entertain us for years. Although it's a monster chore to ​distill hundreds of worthy blues releases down to a mere "best of" list for the decade of the 2000s, these are the blues albums that will withstand the test of time to be seen as essential additions to any blues fan's collection in the years to come.

No doubt about it, this is the kind of stuff that B.B. King has built a legend on, and One Kind Favor further cements the guitarist's legacy as one of the greatest performers that the blues has ever produced. Choice covers, stellar guitar playing, throwback production...what's not to like? One Kind Favor is a considerable late-career statement from one of the Delta's last true blues warriors.

Ten years after delivering the Grammy Award-winning career breakthrough that was Damn Right, I've Got The Blues, guitarist Buddy Guy was in a rut, his music suffering from stagnation and often times reduced to a mere formula in the studio. The answer was to stick the modern "King of the Chicago Blues" in a primitive Mississippi recording studio in the middle of the Delta for a "return to his roots." The results were astounding, a collection of obscure but fiery cover songs culled from the North Mississippi Hill Country songbooks of folks like the great Junior Kimbrough, T-Model Ford, and Cedell Davis. The setting and the songs breathed new life into Guy's playing and delivered a landmark album.

After the death of his parents, blues harpist Charlie Musselwhite felt a need to get back to his musical roots, which resulted in this excellent 2006 set that explores a houserockin' form of the blues with feverish performances. Taking his road-tested touring band into the studio, Musselwhite and crew knocked out a collection of Mississippi Delta-flavored blues with a decidedly raucous Chicago blues feel. Fueled by Musselwhite's flailing harp work and weary, soulful vocals and the fiery fretwork of Chris "Kid" Andersen, there's a lot of grit and grease in these tunes. A cover of Little Walter's "Just A Feeling" takes the song back to the deepest Delta backwoods and drowns the sucker in a pathos that Robert Johnson would appreciate.

With only a handful of studio albums, and a single live disc under their collective belts, Nick Moss & the Flip Tops bet the house with this ambitious, loosely-conceptual, and risky independent album release in 2007. A two-disc set, one CD featured 14 tunes of the sort of stage-scorching, modern electric Chicago blues that Moss and the Flip Tops had become known for around the Windy City, while the other CD offered up a similar number of acoustic blues numbers that highlighted the band's enormous instrumental talents. The album got Moss and the Flip Tops noticed by the mainstream blues audience, propelling them to the front of the blues world and earning them all a bunch of Blues Music Award nominations.

As shown by Respect The Dead, Otis Taylor has a tendency to push past the barriers of traditional blues, creating a new modern sound that incorporates his rock and folk roots with Delta-inspired blues and a literate and imaginative songwriting style. Taylor fearlessly runs across lyrical turf upon which even angels fear to tread, recounting in song the lives and experiences of African-Americans in a brutally realistic and often disconcerting manner.

R.L. Burnside’s follow-up to his 1998 breakout album Come On In, Wish I Was In Heaven is a return to his earlier, roots-based Mississippi Hill Country blues sound. Lyrically, this is possibly Burnside’s bleakest album, with many songs haunted by death and betrayal, carrying with them an ambiance as dark as the Delta soil. A handful of producers, led by Andy Kaulkin, as well as contributions by guitarist Smokey Hormel and scratchers DJ Swamp, Iki Levy, and DJ Pete B bring a modern feel to an art form that’s close to 100 years old. Burnside shines through all of the high-tech gimcrackery, though, with an originality and talent that places him alongside the greatest names in Mississippi blues.

Shemekia Copeland – 'Never Goin' Back' (Telarc Records, 2009)

Shemekia Copeland's Never Goin' Back
Shemekia Copeland's Never Goin' Back. Photo courtesy Telarc Records

Shemekia Copeland's Never Going Back takes full advantage of the singer's talents, the album's performances ranging from Chicago-style blues, R&B, and soul to material which borderlines on rock music. Throughout it all, Copeland delivers the real goods, her expansive vocals equally capable of both a sexy whisper and a threatening growl, sometimes within the range of the same song. Never Going Back is a fine showcase for Copeland and solid work of soulful elegance and blues excellence.

Tommy Castro – 'Painkiller' (Blind Pig Records, 2007)

Tommy Castro's Painkiller
Tommy Castro's Painkiller. Photo courtesy Blind Pig Records

Every now and then even the most jaded music fan will find an album where all the pieces just fall into place. That's the case with Painkiller, Tommy Castro and his band firing on all cylinders as they roll through this spirited collection of blues, rock, R&B, and soul. Producer John Porter (Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Santana) has created a bright, beautiful mix for these songs, allowing Castro's charisma and the entire band's talents to shine right through your speakers. Painkiller won a 2008 Blues Music Award as "Contemporary Blues Album of the Year," and for good reasons...this album rocks!

Watermelon Slim & the Workers – 'The Wheel Man' (Northern Blues, 2007)

Watermelon Slim & the Workers' The Wheel Man
Watermelon Slim & the Workers' The Wheel Man. Photo courtesy Northern Blues Music

Watermelon Slim's blues… well, that's rocket-science, genius-level stuff, a cut above your average Grade-A filet in both sound and taste. The Wheel Man is the result of Slim's unusual musical vision, the ultimate crossroads deal between Delta blues and hillbilly jams that sound like Jimmie Rodgers ("The Singing Breakman") and Jimmy Rogers (Chicago blues great) and comes out the other side as the meanest working man's blues that you'll ever hear. The Wheel Man earned a Blues Music Award for Watermelon Slim, while his excellent band the Workers grabbed one for themselves as well.

Willie King & the Liberators – 'Freedom Creek' (Rooster Blues, 2000)

Willie King's Freedom Creek
Willie King's Freedom Creek. Photo courtesy Rooster Blues Records

Willie King's Freedom Creek was recorded live on two-track analog in a Mississippi roadhouse, providing an authentic gospel fervor to the material. When King states "I'm the reverend tonight," you know that he's telling the truth, with every song a sermon and every performance touched by the divine. King's long-time backing band is as tight as a drum, providing a free-flowing undercurrent to King's coarse vocals and steady guitar riffs. No less potent than the works of Robert Johnson, Charley Patton or Muddy Waters, King's Freedom Creek is a significant collection of contemporary blues that are steeped in tradition even while looking towards the future.