Blues Roundup: Trevor Sewell + Poplar Jake + Ged Wilson + Rabbit Foot + JJ Grey

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Reviews by Will Harris

Some might expect the blues to be a musical genre that, judging perhaps purely by its age, has already had every possible avenue within it already explored. Far, far from it: just take a look at the five reviews we have in our latest roundup of current blues albums by contemporary artists.

  • Trevor Sewell — Calling Your Name
  • Poplar Jake — From the Delta to the Docks
  • Ged Wilson — What’s Going On?
  • Rabbit Foot — Swamp Boogie
  • JJ Grey & Mofro — This River

Trevor Sewell — Calling Your Name

Self-released

Trevor Sewell doesn’t have a stereotypical bluesman CV, having enjoyed success both sides of the desk as an award-winning musician, composer, engineer and record producer, but the blues takes all sorts, and the smoky voiced axeman’s latest outing is clear testament to that point. Collected here are well-intentioned explorations through various forms: there’s the Freddie King-like opener ‘Where The Wild Ones Go’; the soul blues of ‘Hate Me For A Reason’ and the title track; the superb ‘Don’t Need Nobody’ is pure get-up-and-jive rhythm and blues. Sewell even goes all Bruce Springsteen for a misty-eyed ode to Robert Johnson on ‘Hundred Years’. His fretwork can be stunning: he’s virtuosic on the instrumental ‘Gone Too Soon’, and a live version of ‘The Train’, a lively Delta blues, climaxes at impressively frantic pace. In direct contrast with this brilliant expressiveness and talent are the crude and ugly drum loops, which leave what’s essentially a good album feeling dry, static and inorganic.

Trevor Sewell - Calling Your Name6.5 out of 10

Track listing:

  1. Where The Wild Ones Go
  2. Hate Me For A Reason
  3. Calling Your Name
  4. Gone Too Soon
  5. Condemned
  6. Hundred Years
  7. Lost Something
  8. Don’t Need Nobody
  9. No Future
  10. The Train (live)
  11. Talked To The Devil
  12. Don’t Need Nobody (Epps mix)

 

Poplar Jake — From the Delta to the Docks

Self-released

After an initial EP of faithful cover versions handling the likes of Rev. Gary Davis, Skip James and Big Bill Broonzy, British acoustic bluesman Poplar Jake continues both in their footsteps and down some different paths on his first full-length. Opening trio ‘See See Mama’, ‘Miss Etta’ and ‘Whipping Boy’ are among examples of the former, presenting honest and original Delta blues held together by lively, talented guitar playing that seamlessly combines rhythm and lead. He does well by his other ventures too: the bright Americana of ‘Milady’; the mandolin-assisted country blues ditty ‘Five And Some Change’; the last-man-in-the-bar piano balladry of ‘Tribiani Time’. His voice unfortunately grates in places, as most of ‘See See Mama’, the chorus of ‘Burned’ and all of upbeat country closer ‘Sweet Marianne’ has him resort to an exhaustingly strained yell, which is a shame, because it gets in the way of his largely authentic yet original songwriting.

Poplar Jake6.5 out of 10

Track listing

  1. See See Mama
  2. Miss Etta
  3. Whipping Boy
  4. Milady
  5. Pretty Peggy
  6. Burned
  7. 32-400
  8. When I Get To Drinkin’
  9. Five And Some Change
  10. Tribiani Time
  11. Sweet Marianne

 

Ged Wilson — What’s Going On?

It’s great to hear an artist improve, but it’s even better to hear them develop: Forever Now, British bluesman Ged Wilson’s 2012 album, was a baker’s dozen of acoustic songs that hadn’t fully risen, but now he returns with a stronger voice and a funkier, bluesier electric album that proves far more engaging. The influences here are as prominent as they are varied: Miles Davis-inspired ‘Kinda Blue’; the cool sax of ‘Hardest Words’; ‘Spin The Coin’ just might be the closest blues ever got to disco. Wilson’s voice isn’t huge but it is clear, perfectly matching the direct, unpolished frankness of his lyrics: in ‘Lies’, an upbeat shuffle pointed at crooked politicians, there’s a distinct humour and charm in the line ‘Even Question Time is becoming a bore’. The songwriting is marked by a sense of honesty and humble homage, transferring Wilson’s passion for the music he’s emulating — and reinventing — through to the listener. The short track listing and a weak closing number are the only things that let down this collection of refreshingly original songs.

Ged Wilson - Whats Going On7 out of 10

Track listing

  1. Different Class
  2. Passion
  3. Kinda Blue
  4. Lies
  5. Hardest Words
  6. False Alarm
  7. Reign Cheque
  8. Spin The Coin

 

Rabbit Foot — Swamp Boogie

A look at the track listing of Brighton-based duo Rabbit Foot’s debut belies its ingenuity (four of its seven songs are well-trodden covers), as the renditions here are sometimes so radically changed and co-opted into the group’s unique sound that it would be a disservice to dismiss them as just another covers band. Leading Willie Dixon-penned track ‘Wang Dang Doodle’ has singer/drummer Carla Viegas energetically beating and wailing through its funky rereading, but trades in the energy for quiet warmth in their subdued blues rendition of Buddy Guy’s ‘Leave My Girl Alone’. Guitarist Jamie Morgan really rips it up with a fantastic solo here too, and sears with Hendrix-like experimentation in originals ‘Burn Burn’ and ‘Down The Road’, which, along with Rabbit Foot’s own lively, danceable ‘Fantasy Blues’, are frankly where the band really stake their claim as one of the most inventive blues bands around today.

Rabbit Foot8 out of 10

Track listing

  1. Wang Dang Doodle
  2. Burn Burn
  3. Howlin’ For My Darlin’
  4. Fantasy Blues
  5. Leave My Man Alone
  6. Smokestack Lightning
  7. Down The Road

 

JJ Grey & Mofro — This River

Jacksonville, Florida JJ Grey and Mofro’s sixth studio album brings back more of what fans of the group have come to expect: Stax-like soul with blues and Southern rock influences heaped in for good measure. Funky opener ‘Your Lady She’s Shady’ is a poppin’ dancefloor number incorporating some perfectly-integrated blues harp and guitar, but there’s a good variety here: touching tracks like ‘Tame A Wild One’ and ‘The Ballad of Larry Web’, the really moving ones like ‘Florabama’ and ‘Harp & Drums’; ’99 Shades of Crazy’ is what you might have gotten if Free and Lynyrd Skynyrd partied together with a horn section. It’s not blues in the strictest sense, meaning purists might balk at This River, but those open to the deep funk and soul influences will find a fresh-yet-familiar album that thrills, rocks and tugs at the heart strings all within the same 50 minutes.

JJ Grey - This River8 out of 10

Track listing

  1. Your Lady, She’s Shady
  2. Somebody Else
  3. Tame a Wild One
  4. 99 Shades of Crazy
  5. The Ballad of Larry Webb
  6. Florabama
  7. Standing On the Edge
  8. Write a Letter
  9. Harp & Drums
  10. This River

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Will for a very thoughtful and perceptive review. It’s great and quite humbling how you see and “get” the underlying meaning and style….this has been quite revealing as it tells me so much about myself!

    Thanks again Will

  2. Great stuff Will. All that you could want from a review – eloquence, honesty and passion.

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