The Top 10 Songs in … THE BLUES

1. Gary Clark Jr., “Ain’t Messin’ Round


Gary Clark Jr. is a guitarist and singer based in Austin who is typically described as “the future of Texas blues.” At his best he resembles his heroes Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. At his worst he sounds more like Lenny Kravitz and John Mayer. The dude has range, that’s for damn sure. He starred in the John Sayles movie Honeydripper, guested live with Alicia Keys and Dave Matthews, and has performed at virtually every major music festival. While his vocals are often kind of bland, his guitar playing can be scorching. His latest album, Blak and Blu, is Clark’s first major label release, and he has ramped up the soul, rock, and adult-contemporary influences to broaden his audience and appeal. There are those of us who would rather just hear him kill blues solos all day, but you can’t blame Clark for wanting to show off his eclectic skills or trying to edge into the audiences for John Mayer and John Legend. He has genuine talent and ambition to burn.

Grade: B

Best YouTube Comment: “saw him play with the rolling stones live on television. dude is killer.” — TheSnowMiser111

2. Bonnie Raitt, “Right Down the Line”


The great Bonnie Raitt covers the late Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line,” his second best-known song after “Baker Street,” and his third most well-known song if you include “Stuck in the Middle With You.” Bonnie puts her warm, gingery spin on Rafferty’s ode to long-term loyalty and turns it into an anthem for marriage equality.

Grade: A

Best YouTube Comment: “What a great version. Bonnie Raitt is such a legend. Great slide player too.” — RockSchooled

3. Buddy Guy, “Damn Right I Got the Blues”


DAMN RIGHT THIS GETS AN A+! JUST LISTEN TO IT!

Grade: A+

Best YouTube Comment: “if this is the blues, it damn right looks good, sounds better and feels best!!” — Paul Lieben

4. Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa, “Don’t Explain”


Beth Hart is a singer/songwriter best known for “L.A. Song (Out of This Town),” as heard in the background of an episode on the final season of 90210. I knew that name sounded familiar. Hart partners with guitarist Joe Bonamassa to cover Billie Holiday’s heartbreaking “Don’t Explain,” but the arrangement is fussy and it sounds too Boardwalk Empire for me.

Grade: C+

Best YouTube Comment: “The music I heard on the radio when I was young. This is outstanding, job well done.” — bobrobinson

5. Joe Bonamassa, “The River”


American guitar virtuoso Joe Bonamassa admits to being most influenced by the ’60s wave of British and Irish guitarists who combined blues guitar with folk music and psychedelic rock. He says he doesn’t care much for Delta blues and American blues in general (aside from a few guys like B.B. King) and on the whole would rather listen to Humble Pie than Muddy Waters, citing a preference for “the English interpretation of the blues.” That is exactly the opposite of how I feel! He is so wrong!!

Humble Pie are sweet … but come on, Muddy Waters all the way. Eric Clapton may have chops, but he is so uncool. I’m pretty sure none of those U.K. guitar legends (including Clapton) would agree with you that they are better than the old-school guys who inspired them. You’re supposed to play the blues with your crotch. Some guitarists are technically skilled but their theatrics have no soul. Too much technique is far more suited to prog rock than the blues, as it can zap all the spontaneity out of genres whose whole heart is extemporaneousness. Also, let’s be real: Citing a bunch of white dudes as your blues heroes and saying you prefer “the European versions” is pretty sketch. Bonamassa, a former child prodigy, plays like one. He learned to ape stylistic cues without the feelings that make the originals powerful. Blues Hammer, TBQH.

Grade: C-

Best YouTube Comment: “THIS IS MY FAVORITE MUSICIAN I HAVE SOME HIS SONG ROCK ON” — parisstyron

6. Joe Bonamassa, “Driving Towards the Daylight”


A hammy hard rock adult-contemporary version of those hair metal ballads about life on the road, verging occasionally on Nickelback.

Grade: D

Best YouTube Comment: “u hit that one on the nut. simple but very very good.” — macadooe

7. Gary Clark Jr., “Bright Lights”


This is a much better example of what’s good about Gary Clark Jr. than the first song on the countdown. Fuzzy blues psych about long, late nights, with sinister riffs and a hangover fried vocal that lays back in the cut.

Grade: A-

Best YouTube Comment: “That’s the jam right there. Rock on Brother. Nothin’ better than some of that ‘eyes closed’ music.” — BobJackson

8. Dr. John, “Revolution”


This is the lead single from Dr. John’s “comeback” album Locked Down (produced by Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys). Auerbach wisely stepped back and let Dr. John (né Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack Jr., a.k.a. Dr. John Creaux, a.k.a. Dr. John the Night Tripper) cast his inimitable spell. In “Revolution” he preaches about political turmoil and civil discontent over a muggy fog of horns. The album depicts an apocalyptic post-Katrina dystopia. Electric organs creep around neon noir bars and blood-spattered backroads, then go to church on Sunday morning to repent. We all fall on our knees in reverence to Dr. John, the baddest motherfucker in any room.

Grade: A

Best YouTube Comment(s): “Dr. John seems like the kinda guy that would say, like, three random phrases to you that would change your life FOREVER.” — DrDumb002, “He did for me when I met him, he said ‘keep it funky'” — brynsmith89

9. Tedeschi Trucks Band, “Everybody’s Talkin'”


The Tedeschi Trucks Band are a blues-rock ensemble from Jacksonville, Florida fronted by the husband-and-wife team of Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. Here they take Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin,'” (as known primarily from Harry Nilsson’s Midnight Cowboy cover version) and transform it into a soul blues anthem that choogles like an Ike and Tina song.

Grade: A-

Best YouTube Comment: “YOU ‘GO GIRL'” — ShirleyMcdaniel

10. Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton ft. Taj Mahal, “Corrine, Corrina”


I know I said I dislike Eric Clapton, but I hate him least when he plays the background like he does on this ragtimey version of the eternally durable standard “Corinne, Corinna.” It also helps that Taj Mahal takes care of the vocals. One commenter says, “You can’t judge Clapton by something he did while coked out in the 70s.” So for once, I won’t.

Grade: A

Best YouTube Comment: “I wonder what Jelly Roll would have to say about this composition” — Urbino237

Filed Under: Grading the Charts, Top Ten

Photo on 2014-01-10 at 12.58 #3

Molly Lambert is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ mollylambert