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Top Five Records


David Atkinson
Bluesinlondon contributor and damn fine player hisself.

I think in this case it's fair to exclude 'best of's' and 'greatest hits' collections because they aren't albums really. The concept of the album didn't really emerge until the sixties, did it? I guess the issue of whether you're including enough of the greats is avoided seeing as they mostly cut a few sides at a time to be released as 45s so only their later output would be eligable. It was more of a british thing too, wasn't it? I reckon an collection of Muddy's old acoustic stuff should be discounted as it would have been largely unavailable until recently but something like Hard Again or his Woodstock album would be acceptable (if you loved either that much). Maybe the rule should be if it was released as an LP in their lifetime?
 
Anyway, we all know how awesome most of the icons are so there should be plenty of room for the unsung, modern, weird and/or wonderful. Looking at my selection I realised how many non-blues albums I wanted to include. Not really the done thing but in the spirit of open mindedness it seemed rather dumb to suppose that someone who plays blues is in someway prohibited from playing anything else. Howlin Wolf dug Jimmie Rodgers, BB King dug Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr... without mixing things up american music wouldn't have developed in the way it did.
 
Here's mine:

1. Exile On Main Street - The Rolling Stones

The best album ever, regardless of genre. It's teeming with blues, sweat, alcohol, drugs, sex, church and everything else that's great but really bad for you. The essence of Exile is contained in Just Wanna See His Face, which clocks in at 2 minutes 55 seconds; a loose, semi-incoherent jam about the saving power of religeous music on the non-religious man. It's the resolution to the paranioa and tension of Ventilator Blues. Catharsis; that's primarily what the blues is about is it not, dealing with what you've been dealt? Also, it's classic status has as much to do with the folklore that surrounds the record/band as it does the music itself, just like yer man Robert Johnson. It's sacred stuff.
 
The Stones never came close to making as good a record as this and they can't actually play the songs on here properly live anymore, if they ever could. The album's sound and atmosphere is as much by accident than design. Keith and Mick Taylor play their asses off, Nicky Hopkins on piano outshines everyone else (the piano on Ventilator Blues is insanely good), you get burbling wurlitzer on Casino Boogie, there's double bass on several tracks and the coda to Tumblin' Dice is the finest thing they ever did. PLUS there's only about eight solos on the whole bloody double album! I've been listening to it for years and am still hearing little details I'd not noticed before. Ok, it's pretty far removed from the source but it retains the richness and is as much an extension of the blues as Albert King's funky offerings.  I'll say it again: the best album ever, regardless of genre.

2. Halleluja, I Love Her So - Ray Charles

Listening to this reissue on cd, I'm immediately struck again by how tottaly down Ray Charles was. He had the voice, the hands and such great production. Containing defeninitive versions of some of his most well known songs this was released just after he left Atlantic in the early sixties. This is such a great selection of tracks - not a mediocre one here. If you think he's too soul for you, listen to his version of Eddie Boyd's Sinner's Prayer. You'll stand corrected even if your posture remains appalling.

3. First Blood - Mike Henderson & The Bluebloods

Country songwriter and mandolinist, Nashville's Mike Henderson happens to play slide guitar and harmonica too, seemingly better than anyone else on earth. I picked up this album in Virgin Megastore in Birmingham in '96 or '97. It was an import (and therefore ludicrously expensive) so I asked to listen to it at the counter first. I agreed to buy it within hearing about four bars of opener When I Get Drunk. The whole album has so much live energy and sound like it was recorded totally straight. Regardless, for a four-piece band they make a lot of music.
 
Henderson's guitar tone is astounding - not really hi-fi like Robben Ford or as fussy as Sonny Landreth's - just a tele or an old Silvertone though an old amp. Right proper like. His style bears traces of Albert Collins but is more tactile, while his slide work hints at Charlie Patton and Houndog Taylor but is really all his own - that's pretty rare nowadays. The rest of the musicians are great too (piano, upright bass & drums), comfortable enough to stretch out and do something interesting yet without sacrificing what makes the blues the BLUES!

4. Giant Step/De Old Folks At Home - Taj Mahal

Giant Steps features Taj's best vocal performances and harp playing, fine songwriting, and plenty of guitar from the often overlooked but influential Native American player Jesse Ed Davis (who inspired Duane Allman to play slide and has been cited by Jim Weider and Peter Green as personal faves). Frequently mixing acoustic and electric guitar - picked dobro and tasty, chiming leslie'd telecaster - with blues, country and gospel, Taj cemented the sound he'd been developing since his debut album. The all acoustic 'Old Folks' pays homage to his country blues roots and features originals along side Leadbelly and Mississippii John Hurt tunes. The seeds of todays 'upbeat' acoustic blues troubadors (Yes, you, Mr Bibb) was sewn here on this double album.

5. Houndog - Houndog (Mike Halby and David Hidalgo)

Nobody would tolerate Tom Waits' Bone Machine on here regardless of how loud I play them All Stripped Down. Waits himself cites this album by Houndog as one of his faves though and John Hamond has covered two tracks from here (I brought The Rain and No Chance), so I reckon it's a bit of a modern classic. Canned Heat's Halby and Los Lobos' Hidalgo take Bo Diddley beats and lo-fi to the extreme; this sounds more like it was dug up or distilled rather than recorded. Brooding electric violin, pounding beats and chugging guitar are served up with warped, slowed down vocals. By turns resolute and despairing, it's all good. Any album that's dedicated to the late Jessie Ed Davis is all right by me too.

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