Blues guitarists have had their fair share of inspirational material across the last few tumultuous years. However, from blues rock titans to jaw-dropping jazz players, your end of year pick of the best blues and jazz guitarists offers more than a few reasons to be cheerful…
1. Best blues/jazz guitarist, 2021: Joe Bonamassa
JoBo released his new album Time Clocks in October and it feels as if he’s indeed conscious of time ticking by – that Bonamassa has things he need to do. Bonamassa’s flag is still planted firmly in blues rock territory, but he’s becoming bigger than the genre. Times Clocks hit the top 20 in the UK. The guitarist’s 2021 album is the sound – as he sings on The Heart That Never Waits – of JoBo “moving on”.
2. Jared James Nichols
The Wisconsin whirlwind, Jared James Nichols feels like he’s everywhere in the world of blues rock, yet we’ve not had an album since 2018’s Black Magic. It seems like Nichols has been biding his time and this year saw the arrival of the hard rock orientated Shadow Dancer EP, plus a major new Gibson endorsement. We suspect the stars are being aligned and bigger things are on the horizon.
3. Billy Gibbons
In the year that we said goodbye to ZZ Top’s Dusty Hill, Gibbons focussed his musical efforts on his solo album Hardware – a fine exercise in guitar-based grit and gristle. While Hill may have headed for the great gig in the sky, Gibbons has revealed his longterm bass and vocal partner had already recorded parts for a new ‘Top record, so hopefully we’ll see more of Gibbons in 2022.
4. Eric Gales
Gales has spent much of 2021 teasing the arrival of his long-awaited 16th album Crown. The lead single alone (I Want My Crown, featuring producer and fellow teen-prodigy-done-good Joe Bonamassa) was enough to get him to fourth place on your list but we’ll have to wait until January for the full-length. There is something in the water on this one, though and we wouldn’t be surprised to see Gales topping 2022’s round-up…
5. Christone 'Kingfish' Ingram
‘Tone by name, tone by nature. Ingram released his second record, 662, named after his Mississippi area code, in 2021. Having released his debut – featuring Keb Mo and Buddy Guy – aged only 20, his second effort is a confident 0statement of personal intent, content to rely on Kingfish (and his inner circle’s) own prodigious talents.
6. Pat Metheny
By 2021, the name Metheny has almost become a byword for a certain style of airy, progressive jazz. His 2021 album Road To The Sun shows the diversity of his talents, though. It’s a record on which Metheny barely plays, leaving the considerable talents of Jason Vieaux and the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet to handle a series of his classical compositions. For those who want more Metheny, he released the jazz record Side-Eye - NYC (V1- IV), which skilfully reinvents pieces from his extensive back catalogue.
7. Robben Ford
2021 saw the storied blues rocker release a new album, Pure. The record spans jazz, blues and rock territory in a seamless form, weaving of web of inspired connections that never feel clunky or over-rehearsed.
8. Julian Lage
Lage’s star continues to rise in 2021. His latest album Squint is an enchanting listen. Combining precision and a lightness of touch that is so often lacking in guitar players. There are no gimmicks, no tonal trickery, just the natural resonance of man and musical machine.
9. Samantha Fish
The Missouri blues guitarist embraced the merits of pop production on 2021’s Faster, teaming up with Lady Gaga producer Martin Kierszenbaum for a record that is winningly immediate – and not afraid to question tradition.
10. Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys)
Few players can claim to have taken the enchanting rough and ready values of blues to such mainstream popularity. In 2021, Auerbach gave back, releasing Delta Kream, a spontaneous collection of insouciant country blues that pays (and plays) direct tribute to the guitarist’s heroes Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside.