Blues Round-up: February 2015

Henry Yates on new releases from Ian Siegal, Dana Fuchs, Eric Bibb, Larry Miller and Albert King

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Ian Siegal: The Picnic Sessions

How lo-fi can you go? As mainstream pop grows ever more buffed, plucked and Pro Tooled, there’s an arms race for bare-bones authenticity at the other end of the scene. You suspect it’ll be tough to beat The Picnic Sessions, a ‘hit record and hope’ session that sees British bluesman Ian Siegal and US cohorts sat on the floor of a Mississippi shack with just a ribbon mic by way of production.

“Don’t expect perfection,” he warns us. Of course, the imperfection is the charm. Atmosphere abounds, with each song preceded by a snippet of banter that finds the players assigning harmonies, working out kinks, handing out pistachios.

And when the music starts, the songs feel alive in their hands, whether that’s the lazy lollop of Townes Van Zandt’s heavenly Houseboat Blues, the shimmering anecdotage of Tom Russell’s cockfight fable, Gallo Del Cielo, or Siegal’s impossibly gruff vocal on his own swashbuckling Talkin’ Overseas Pirate Blues. It’s surely the mark of a great bluesman when even his odds and sods feel essential. (810)/o:p

Dana Fuchs: Songs From The Road

Given that the new York belter doesn’t make it to British shores as often as we’d like, this set from the Highline Ballroom is a good opportunity to have your balls shrunk by her glass-and-shrapnel battlecry. With three studio albums to mine, Fuchs has chalked up a great set – and it’s the cri-de-coeur moments from Bliss Avenue that shine brightest here. (710)

Eric Bibb: Blues People

Album concepts don’t come much heavier than Bibb’s intent to examine “the path from slavery to citizenship”, but Blues People doesn’t feel like a polemic, balancing haunted race-hate laments like Rosewood with the gleeful Remember The Ones and the good-natured walking blues of Guy Davis’s Chocolate Man. It’s thick with stardust, too, notably on Needed Time, featuring both Taj Mahal and The Blind Boys Of Alabama. (810)

Larry Miller: Soldier Of The Line

All credit to Miller, for stretching himself on an album that weaves thoughtful lyrics into a framework far beyond blues-rock. The title track is affecting, swimming with cello as Miller salutes the fallen Tommies of WWI, while Bathsheba is a harpsichord-and-strings epic with Miller singing like he’s on his knees. If that sounds a little po-faced, then jet-fuelled rocker Mississippi Mama offers a release valve. (710)

Albert King: Live In The ’70s

This cut-and-shut compilation cherrypicks performances from across the bluesman’s last great decade, played on both US coasts. Some of the ’72 material in Hollywood is woolly, and King sounds like he’s playing to thin crowds by ’78 – but the Fillmore East material of ’71 is alive and kicking, songs like Crosscut Saw so atmospheric you can almost smell the pipe smoke. (710)/o:p

Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.