Albert Collins - Coldsnap
Joe Bonamassa - Different Shades of Blue
Kenny Wayne Shepard -
If you’re talking about great recorded sound alone, I second the Audioquest label suggestion. A long-time reference disc in the Blues genre is Folk Singer by Muddy Waters. Be forewarned: it is Rural Acoustic Blues, not the amped-up Blues you hear from more modern (and usually white) practitioners of Blues/Rock, such as Blues Hammer (inside joke ;-) .
It is an unfortunately truth that most of the best Blues (as well as other musical genres) was recorded in mediocre or worse sound quality. Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter are fantastic, but their recorded sq is not. Holt’s Law: The better the music, the worse the sound, and visa versa.
A rereading of the above made me realize I inadvertently implied Muddy's Folk Singer is on Audioquest. It is not; it's original release in 1964 was on Chess Records, but the reference version is the reissue on Mobile Fidelity.
Backing Muddy are Buddy Guy (guitar), Otis Spann (piano), Francis Clay (drums), and Willy Dixon (upright bass, as well as one of the album's producers), a super-group if there ever was one!
From a pure SQ standpoint, the best blues album I've heard is the Lightnin' Hopkins album Goin Away SACD on Analogue Productions. Incredible sound.
I do love that Gatemouth Brown Pressure Cooker album mentioned above.
For guitar tone, give me the Natural Boogie LP by Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers.
@slaw, haven’t heard that one, but I love SBW. He and The Hawks (later of course known as The Band) met up in drummer Levon Helm’s hometown of Selena, Arkansas in 1965, jammed for a day, and started making plans to go on the road together, they as his band. Before that could happen Sonny Boy met his maker, and The Hawks had to instead settle for being Dylan’s road band ;-) .
Dylan put them on retainer, paying them whether or not they were working. That led to them following him up to Woodstock (they were living in the Chelsea Hotel in NYC) after his motorcycle accident (where he went to heal his wounds, or to detox off speed, whichever story you choose to believe ;-), where they found and rented the "Big Pink" house in nearby West Saugerties, the basement of same being where the majority of The Basement Tapes were recorded.
Those recordings led to Capitol Records offering The Hawks a record deal in late ’67. Music From Big Pink by The Band was released July 1st, 1968, and the music world was immediately a very different place. Eric Clapton heard the album (played for him by George Harrison, legend has it), disbanded Cream, and went to Big Pink to hang with The Band, waiting for them to ask him to join. It eventually occurred to him: they neither required nor desired his services.
When The Band made their debut live performance in 1969 (they couldn’t tour directly after the release of MFBP, as bassist Rick Danko had broken his arm), The Beatles flew over from England to be there. There are pics of them sitting on the floor of Winterland in San Francisco, right alongside other audience members.
The last time I saw Levon perform live was while he was recovering from throat surgery to remove a Cancer (he was a heavy smoker his entire life, the knucklehead). He couldn’t sing, so he had daughter Amy along to do so in his place. The music was pure Blues, Levon’s first love, along with the Hillbilly he heard on The Grand Old Opry.
Yet another for Folk Singer by Muddy Waters. I only own the Chess vinyl though.
Some of the Johnny Winter recordings on vinyl (Alligator) are pretty good and may be better than he was in terms of "sound quality" in person: the only time I heard him live (in a small California venue), the sound was deafening.
Jimmy Witherspoon. "Bluespoon". I have a copy on PRESTIGE label I bought in 1968. Everything must have been just right for the whole process. It sounds like I am in a small dingy Jazz club sitting at a front table. I have 3 records I use whenever I am trialing new gear, this is one.
Jimmy Witherspoon. Gildo Mahones piano, Kenny Burrell guitar, Eddie Khan bass, Roy Haynes drums.
Go to Acoustic Sounds website. Get Diunna Greenleaf direct to disc recording. $10. Sells for $20 or more elsewhere. Limited length lp, but well worth it. They have a whole line of these recordings. She stands in the middle of your speakers and sings. Real blues, period. +1 on the Wake Up Call suggestion. Mayall’s last 2 or 3 lps (180g 2 lp pressings) are very full, robust, live sounding...”A Special Life” and “Tough”. Hard not to keep turning it up on these!!
@tooblue - you are most welcome. Two other blues rock lps that are recorded great - full, organic, live in the studio sound - are Robin Trower’s “where are you going to” and “closer to the day”. After all these years the man still gets a ton of soul outta’ the pentatonic scale. Really good stuff, on vinyl of course.
I just picked up a copy of Charlie Musselwhite's direct-to-disk LP on Crystal Clear Records, Times Gettin' Tougher Than Tough. I haven't listened to it yet, but all the Crystal Clear LP's I HAVE heard are fantastic. Why would this one be any different?!
IMO, too many people automatically think of guitar-driven Blues music (and often that of English "Blues-Rock" players. Alvin Lee/Ten Years After is Blues?!), rather than harp-driven. I generally prefer the latter ( I worked with a great SF Bay Area player, Gary Smith. One oop album, real good Blues, average sq) . Too bad Little Walter wasn't recorded in better sound. His recordings are good enough to let the music through, but that's about it.
@slaw, no not really but couldn't help myself. Johnny Winter was a very special artist and got to see him often in my youth, he would sit in with Edgar Winters White Trash at Cignorellies Night Club (Slicks) in St Martinville La and sometimes by himself and his band. Edgar Winters White Trash played Slicks it seemed like every other weekend and the place was always jammin. Enjoy the music
@tooblue, I agree that Boz is truly a great artist. Whatever he does from R&B to romantic love songs he nails it. Since this is blues related I’ll just add that the first time I heard ‘Somebody Loan Me a Dime’ I was just floored. And I see you’ve spent time in St Martinville, La......I’m from New Orleans but went to USL in Lafayette so we may have crossed paths at some point......used to spend a lot of time at Willie Purples in Lafayette, especially when ZZ Top was in town.
Quite frankly I‘m not that bothered about the the SQ of most of the blues records in my collection. Some of the most blistering and emotional performances could only be be described as mediocre in terms of SQ, whereas the sheer joy they provide can be off the planet.
Blues ain‘t about SQ, it‘s about emotional communication.
True @slaw. But let’s not forget about the fantastic rhythm section on Boz’s album, the one I have been trying like Hell to hip all y’all to. They are named The Swampers, and were the house band at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, where all the classic Jerry Wexler-produced Atlantic Records albums were made (Aretha, Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke, Dusty Springfield, etc.).
The Swampers were/are:
Roger Hawkins: drums
David Hood: electric bass
Barry Beckett: keyboards
Jimmy Johnson: guitar
They are THE best rhythm section I’ve ever heard, rivaled only by The Band, The Funk Brothers (Motown’s house band), Booker T & The MG’s, and The Hot Band (Emmylou Harris’ 1970’s band, whose members included Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, James Burton, Ron Tutt, John Ware, Hank DeVido, Albert Lee, Glen Hardin, Emory Gordy Jr, and a bunch of other superb musicians).
Boz could have hired any band he wanted, and he chose them. For a reason!
tooblu, point taken, I guess what I was trying to convey was that if you were to purchase blues records on the basis of sound quality you would be denying yourself access to some of the finest music on the planet. The words Chess and Alligator come to mind.
I would also like to add Hollywood Fats to the list of all time greats. Not as well known as some of the other names mentioned on this thread, but right up with them in terms of sheer unadulterated talent. Unfortunately a tragically short career.
BTW I’ve gotta admire your taste in music, you sure know your stuff :)
@bdp24 couldn’t agree more with your comment. Some of the session players, including Duane A, down at Muscle Shoals were really great musicians. And great artist have a knack for surrounding themselves with other great musicians.....John Mayall tops the list in my book.....from the early days with Peter Green to Eric Clapton to Mick Taylor all the way to Rocky Athas and Carolyn Wonderland of recent years....and in between with Walter Trout and Coco Montoya....wow! Incredible line-ups over the last 60 yrs and still going strong.
Yup David, and the better the artist, the higher his standards in musicians. Think about it: The first three guitarists in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers band and albums were (in order) Eric Clapton, Peter Green, and Mick Taylor! The Yardbirds had Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, then Jimmy Page (well, 2 outta 3 ain’t bad ;-) !
Other guys who have always surrounded themselves with great musicians are Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Richard Thompson, Buddy Miller, Jim Lauderdale, Marty Stuart, T Bone Burnett, Ry Cooder, Randy Newman, Bonnie Raitt, and.....well, I could go on for quite awhile, so that’s enough outta me!