Mike Bloomfield – Highway 61 Revisited
All things considered, it isn’t just that his arrival sent Al Kooper to the organ for the Highway 61 sessions; it’s that Bloomfield is the perfect guitarist for Dylan’s sensibilities on this raucous rock album. Bloomfield has a gift for piercing leads and his guitar tone is perfect here. When Dylan called Highway 61 that “wild thin mercury sound,” I think he meant Bloomfield’s guitar as much as he meant anything.
Rex Brown – Official Live: 101 Proof
I listened to a lot of live albums this year and, let’s face it, when you listen to live Pantera, it’s going to dominate your end of the year lists. Brown is kind of the overlooked member of Pantera, but he’s a massive talent on the bass.
Dimebag Darrell – Official Live: 101 Proof
Case in point for Pantera’s dominance of this list. There’s always a raw intensity to Darrell’s playing and while it may not have the precision of studio work, his live performance here is even more so than usual. Whether its riffs or solos, you can find what you need in Dimebag.
Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
Dylan’s talents as an instrumentalist are always getting pushed to a distant third after his talents as a writer and a vocalist and that’s correct, I’d say. But on his early acoustic albums, Dylan showed a surprising mastery of the acoustic guitar. On this, his second album, he leans back into an easy groove and his playing is simple, but memorable.
Bob Dylan – The Times They Are a-Changin’
Dylan’s playing is harsher here than on his previous album; this album is dark and grinding and Dylan’s acoustic guitar work is the perfect dark background for his often angry voice.
John Entwistle – Live at Leeds
And when you listen to an epic four disc set of The Who live at the peak of their powers . . . well, what can you do. Entwistle is, if I was forced to make this call, my pick for best bass player ever. He’s relentless and restless, keeping up a barrage of sound that allows even an often overlooked instrument like the bass to become integral and central to the sound of even a band as unhinged and raucous as The Who. For my money, no one has ever dominated the bass guitar this way. No one.
Keith Moon – Live at Leeds
Speaking of dominance and The Who, Keith Moon surely remains one of the most intense and extreme drummers of all time; he’s without question in the top three drummers of all time and perhaps the very best. Hearing him live in concerts that lasted two hours you can’t help but be blown away all over again by the sheer energy, the unceasing thunder and the unflagging stamina.
Kellindo Parker – The Electric Lady
Parker assays lead guitar duties on quite a few songs on Janelle Monae’s latest epic and he can do whatever the song calls for, whether its retro or modern, riffs or solos, grooves or screams. His solo on Prime Time is probably the most emotive guitar work of 2013.
Vinnie Paul – Official Live: 101 Proof
A drummer it is and one last stop at Pantera’s live show. I feel like I’m running out of superlatives for drummers, but Paul is just unstoppable on this album, a force of nature.
Pete Townshend – Live at Leeds
And we’ll wrap up with another hit from The Who; Townshend is a brilliant, game-changing guitarist. His mastery of riffs, solos and the sheer intensifying roar of feedback holds up. The sheer viscerality and physicality of Townshend’s guitar work remains breathtaking. There were certainly many more technically skilled guitarists of the day, but when it came to making an unholy racket, Pete Townshend was your guy.