3 Perennially Great Acoustic Blues Albums to Own

The Griff Hamlin Blues Guitar Blog is dedicated to shedding light on the intricacies of this musical genre – which, in fact, can’t quite be described as a unitary genre at all. It’s more of an umbrella term which describes the multitude of blues sub-genres, which can be played on non-electric guitars. It spans songster and songstress history, the folk heritage, all the different techniques that this genre can be performed in (slide, fingerpicking, ragtime – to name but a few) and is also locally differentiated, from the Delta to Chicago, from Texas to Piedmont. It’s also played with the aid of mandolins, banjos, pianos, harmonicas, and so many other acoustic instruments that it’s almost impossible to pin down. That being said, the genre does have its icons and legends, which is why, for an introduction into its subtleties, we recommend these three all-time great acoustic blues albums.

John Lee Hooker – That’s My Story

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Just as it’s difficult to pinpoint a definition of the acoustic blues, it’s hard to find one among John Lee Hooker’s many musical productions to nominate for a list of the best acoustic blues albums. We stopped at That’s My Story nonetheless, since we believe it’s truly representative of an era and a style. It was recorded at jazz label Riverside Records in 1960, with the aid of producer Orrin Keepnews. Since Keepnews didn’t want Hooker to recreate the electric style of his previous records, he steered him toward a very raw, bone-baring style, which the man pulled off impeccably. Some of Hooker’s fans and aficionados have a bone to pick with this more rustic style of the Riverside Records era, but, in earnest, the album has aged beautifully and just goes to show Hooker was talented enough to pull off both the electric and the acoustic blues sounds.

John Fahey – Your Past Comes Back to Haunt You

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Subtitled “The Fonotone Years, 1958-1965”, this album is a sort of greatest hits record, which entirely qualifies it for a spot on our list of best acoustic blues albums. It took a decade, several labels and three iconic musicians to bring this historic document on, about, and by John Fahey to come to life. The record was released ten years after the death of the musician and includes an impressive 115 tracks, which span a mere seven years, yet pack so much emotion and musical craftsmanship it’s uncanny. All the recordings present on this record were re-mastered from the original Fonotone versions and belong to the earliest era in John Fahey’s career. Until the CD release of this record, most of them had never been issued in digital format. The album also notably includes an 88-page book of essays and annotations about the tracks, from some of the genre’s most important artists and producers.

Skip James – Complete 1931 Recordings in Chronological Order

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It has been said that no other early acoustic blues player could pull off the kind of falsetto and haunting music on the acoustic guitar like Skip James. All this is, to a large extent, very true: Skip James is a country blues player like none that ever lived. While his lyrics may be cliché, the record compensates a-plenty through the mood of the recordings, all of them done in 1931 for the Paramount recording company. He sounds alone, distraught, and very genuine in his music, which makes us thoroughly recommend this record as one of the best acoustic blues albums of all time. It also makes us entirely happy that the performer was rediscovered in the 1960s, when he managed to make a comeback of sorts, and even record some more, for several popular blues labels.

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