Bluesbreakers: My Baby

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If you caught Seasick Steve on his recent UK tour, and were curious enough to check out his hand-picked support act, you would have been richly rewarded. Like Seasick Steve and most of those who have come into contact with the Amsterdam-based trio My Baby, you would have been at first intrigued, and then seduced by their curious marriage of slide guitar, pastoral folk, soul-stirring gospel, ethnic instrumentation and trip-hop tinges.

They’ve spent the past three years bewitching audiences, and their second album, Shamanaid, deserves to further establish them as one of the most exciting blues fusion acts out there.

New Zealand has produced some pretty tidy music in its time, but ambitious Kiwi musicians rarely pitch up in the Netherlands in search of success. Daniel ‘Da Freez’ Johnston was different, however, naturally gravitating to Amsterdam as his mother is Dutch./o:p

After the soul-funk band he played in with drummer Joost van Dyke split in 2012, he and van Dyke enlisted the latter’s sister, Cato, to join them in exploring a more traditional musical path – but one which would find itself influenced by current musical trends.

“We’d been listening to a lot of old pre-war blues stuff,” he says, “and we really loved its primal rhythm. And then we’d be playing in Amsterdam, where EDM is massive right now, and next door there would be 5,000 people raving. By some form of osmosis we made a link between the two. After all, blues is what they played in the old ‘raves’ in juke joints, and people want that same groove.”

Hence the dance beats you’ll find on Shamanaid, which are used so subtly and skilfully they serve only to highlight My Baby’s more timeless attributes, such as Johnston’s urgent, intense slide guitar stylings – a skill, he says, he mastered to make up for other less impressive weapons in his musical armoury.

“I got a slide guitar for my 16th birthday,” he explains. “You can’t really sing with it. I’ve never been that good a singer myself, so I taught my guitar to do what my vocals can’t.”

And now, in Cato van Dyke, he has someone with tonsils that can match his six strings in the charisma stakes. Her ability to coo hippyish folk incantations one minute, then belt out hair-raising soul to the heavens the next, makes you sometimes wonder if they’ve got two different women singing on the record.

“She’s got an amazing range,” says Johnston. “It’s really impressive that such a small girl is able to make such a big noise.”

Despite their collage approach, My Baby like to keep it organic and live, so they also stir it up with extra improvisation. “We love the rootsy raw stuff,” says Johnston. “We don’t use samples or loops, and live it’s just pure rock’n’roll.”/o:p

Shamanaid is out now on Embrace Recordings./o:p

INFLUENCES

“I had an amazing guitar teacher who turned me on to Son House, Robert Johnson and Bukka White, and I went from there. And then later I got into slide stuff by people like Mick Taylor, Lowell George and Ry Cooder. I’m always looking for new ways to get more out of slide guitar.”/o:p