CD Reviews: Spanning the Globe – Blues Around The Country and The World
Well we know that the Blues are probably as popular around the world as they are in their own backyard. Europe has long embraced the Blues, Asia has now adopted it as one of their own, and, oh Canada well we all know how that goes.
So did a little aural travels and found some Blues from here and there and wanna share them witchas. Hope ya enjoy them and check them out – and oh yeh, keep an open mind.
Pete Thelen: Travels To The Edge (B.T. Productions)
Let’s start way out on the edge here. Pete Thelen has given us a very unique and personal look at what the Blues can be.
Pete was born in Chicago and his roots in the modern day Blues mecca are solid, but to some might not be obvious. A stint in the Army showed him the world, and from Germany to Riyadh he soaked up the cultural influences and they made a lasting impression on and in his music.
Aptly titled “Travels To The Edge” features a ethereal mix of sounds – utilizing such diverse instruments as the udu, cello, sarangi all added to drum machine mixes, harp and keyboard textures. “Move On” has a feel of uber modern Delta Blues and might be the one cut that Blues friends might be drawn to. It has an easy sway and pulse that connects to the roots of the Blues.
“Alameda” is a street poem featuring sung-spoken lyrics that rip to the core. Hitting us with the lyric “Sometimes the things we call pleasures start playing too rough. When one’s too many and a million’s not enough” An easy, beatnik beat almost covers the darkness that resides in these lyrics, a good musical-noir anthem to the things that exist when one travels to the edge.
Pristine: Detoxing (Bluesnews Records)
Norway has always had it’s share of highly skilled musicians who carry on and expand the envelope of Western musical styles. Pristine has just been added to that list.
Opening with “Damned If I Do” we ride the psychedelic waves of a B3 with it’s nod to Led Zeppelin’s “Your Time Is Gonna Come” and then it takes shape as a nicely crafted rocking blues house burner featuring the vocal gymnastics of Heidi Solheim.
Boldly going into a classic Blues shuffle they give us “Breaking Bad” . Then go right to the heart of it with an interesting cover of of the hallowed “Whipping Post”. Fear and trepidation cast aside like so many other sacred cows they put their twist on this song and both pay homage to it and reconstruct it into a stripped down guttural anthem that captures the lonely side of the pain.
Whoa, is that a Bill Withers riff on “Damage Is Done”? No doubt, but it sure is a funky riff that captures the essence of the aftermath of a relation. Seriously nice guitar work is featured by Knut Reiserud on the slow burner “The Last Day” and “The Blind”.
Heidi’s vocals are that fine combination of throw-back old school blended with modern day angst. The band offers her a solid base to work from while being able to challenge her with a wall of sound that propels her to the next level.
Title track “Detoxing” features an instrumental prologue that creates a psychedelic wave form from which Heidi casts an intoxicating mix of eastern sounding vocals that fit right into that groove and takes us along to ride the tide.
Treasa Levasseur: Broad (Slim Chicken)
In this, her third release, Toronto based Ms. Levasseur bring us a dynamic mix of old school R&B, singer-songwriter ‘folk-blues’. How’s that for genre bending !
“Much Too Much” opens the disc with a monkey funk feel, or was that Monkey Junk feel. Actually both, backed by the BMA winning band on four cuts (1,3,4 10) which were produced by Steve Marriner, we got ourselves a head-rocking beat to carry the lyrical challenge of the statement ‘much to much to much to much’.
Working with Raoul And The Big Time (2,8, 9) we take it in slightly different direction. “A Little Pride” is a plea for ‘dignity, chivalry, propriety and a little pride’ in dealing with not just the ladies, but most likely, in everyday life. This being done to a rocking horn fronted groove that conjures visions of doing the jerk or watusi – or even chair dancing for us older folk.
There are three covers in which Treasa stamps with her own product code. Randy Newmans’ “God’s Song”, is the first that we hear and get to appreciate the lyrics with the treatment given the song. A faithful re-interpretation of Neil Young’s “Walk On” takes on a different light when done here. I get the feel that she means every word and that it applies equally to her as it did to Neil in the way back.
Just to offer some props to what I feel is a super cut “Feel Good Time”. There are elements of Jazz, but also of rap-styled lyrical delivery. The triplets and syncopation shows us the roots in Jazz but feel is thoroughly modern and not stuck in the shadows of the past. The final cut is a poignant self-portrait titled “Let Me Sleep On It”, just wonderful and thank you.
An exciting release from an under-appreciated artist Ms. Levasseur offers us a quote to remember:
“I’m not the one who gets the guy, I’m the one who gets the scoop – less pretty lady and more trusted Girl Friday. If I were a Hepburn, I’d be Katherine, not Audrey…” I have to agree but must add that I, and many others, prefer the Katherine model because within that there is an undeniable truth of person there that is priceless and never fade. Keep on keeping on Treasa !
Volker Strifler: Let The Music Rise (VizzTone)
Born in Heidelberg, Germany and now living in Santa Rosa, CA. Mr. Strifler is well-known as the front man for the Ford Blues Band and sideman for Robben Ford. That’s a decent enough pedigree to warrant a look and listen, doncha think?
Opening the release is his personal take on Sleepy John Estes’ “The Girl I Love Got Great Long Curly Hair”. Re-titled “Going To Brownsville” it is an up-tempo second line, funkified arrangement that speaks volumes about just how Mr. Strifler views and then disseminates the Blues. In the only other cover, Fleetwod Mac’s “Jigsaw Puzzle Blues” (by Danny Kirwin) we get a tasty treat rooted in New Orleans but with a touch of “Harlem Nocturne” added to it to make truly universal in scope, sorta like a truffle-laced beignet for breakfast – at once appealing but somewhat dangerous and otherworldly.
“The Great Escape” is a spaghetti-surf rich ride on the bullet train headed toward the Blues station with no brakes, fortunately it hits the mark and fades into the sunset leaving us grasping from the journey.
“Let The Music Rise” works on many levels. As the title track it gives promise to the future of the release and music in general re-affirming that the cream will rise to the top and there will always be a lace for real music in our pop-distracted culture. Nicely arranged and moving in and out of grooves this is a great song that should be playing on stations and internet shows very soon.
In a super nice sway from the gentrification of the Blues, “Redemption” offers a fine mix of Afro-Cuban rhythms accompanied with a rock edge that obliterates those lines of demarcation that certain factors apply to music everywhere.
Congratulations Mr. Strifler on a fine release, skillfully arranged and bearing a point of connectivity for the audience, we look forward to more from you.
So here ya have it – the wide world of Blues laid out before you. While not all encompassing there is a certain commonality contained here. These artists do not rely on others views of what the Blues (or music) should or shouldn’t be. They are all original, and honest, being nothing but who they are.
We cannot ask for more from any artist or person for that fact, to acknowledge them as such is a tribute to them and thank them for what they do.
Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
photos: courtesy of artists