OK, the headline is the last pun on the name…promise; it was used just to put a Sheen on the review. After all, the real inspiration for the name is one of the seminal blues artists of all time; namely Blind Lemon Jefferson. If you don’t know him, do yourself a favour and listen to See That My Grave is Kept Clean by him (and the Stuart Smith version). He was truly a phenomenon. This Blind Lemon, however, is the alter ego of a certain James Byfield. From his San Francisco base, he has entertained as a solo artist as well as with his acoustic band, also rather confusingly known as Blind Lemon Pledge (to be called BLP from now on to save my fingers!). Also confusing is the inevitable pigeonhole he is often placed in: Americana. This is an over-simplification of a very broad palette as I can hear country, blues, rock, jazz, swing, zydeco, jug band with Cajun and pre-blues field songs all blended to form a refreshing approach where the music usually suits the lyrical content, and he doesn’t allow genres to restrict his compositions…so, you might hear all of the above in one song. He does cite some other blues greats as helping to form and inform his music, and anyone who has Son House, Sleepy John Estes, Fred McDowell, Skip James and others on his list, has to be worth a listen. He’s been active in the US since 2008 and is now spreading further afield as his previous albums begin to garner attention across the globe. Evangeline is his 7th, and is a re-recording and refreshing of the 2014 album of the same name, although the original was with a band, rather than this true solo effort.
The album opens with Buley’s Farm with a wonderful raw slide on a cigar box guitar and then transforms into the best chain-gang song since Ry Cooder on the Crossroads soundtrack. The guitar, harmonica and voices make this is quite simply superb. In contrast, Jennie Bell is a smooth as silk country-style ballad, with BLP’s voice suddenly sweet instead of gruff. Not really my kind of song and one I will probably skip, but the instrumentation and solo are beautiful. Do not try and predict what comes next on this album as, after country, we jump into New Orleans blues with a jazz-tinged piano on Brimstone Joe. Midnight Assignation is a fantastic, slide-driven composition telling of the famous meeting at the place “the 61 ‘cross the 49”. This is the crossroads mentioned by the father of the blues, Robert Johnson. It is not a reworking of that song, but BLP manages to sound like the Allman Brothers on his own, as he rocks out in a Southernish way. The electric slide solos are a delight. Go Jump the Willy is up next (pun intended!) and we move into jive territory with typical 30s blues smuttiness (or, alternatively, it could just be me) wrapped up in an entertaining tune. Next genre jump is into the salsa flavoured Language of Love. Rapid-fire bongos back an amusing lyric as BLP tries to communicate in Puerto Rico. Again, not my preferred style, but a lot of fun, nonetheless. Ham and Eggs shifts into a Cole Porter swing/jazz style. Guitar and piano solos lift it from pastiche. How Can I Still Love You is a Mose Allison style blues/jazz song that, with the clever guitar and brushed drums make you relax into the song, even though the lyrics are sadness personified. The rolling piano solo is worth waiting for too. Echoes of the Byrds crop up in the folk-rock ballad, You Had Me at Goodbye. Once again, the guitar solo is majestic and raises an otherwise generic song into a class of its own. The album wraps up as it began…wonderfully. Evangeline is a brilliant evocation of country blues pioneered by the likes of Son House. So much so, it has to have been inspired by the superlative Son House song Pearline and it is nearly that good… and that is praise indeed.
It is difficult to summarise such a broad and eclectic album. I adore the first and last tracks, but a couple just do not push my button (to misquote another blues great; the undervalued Lil Johnson… although not the same button, I hasten to add). If he did an album of raw blues like Buley’s Farm and Evangeline, I would be first in line to buy it. In saying that, whatever the genre, BLP nails it so well I can almost forgive him. There is still a huge amount to enjoy throughout the album and it will get regular listens in this household.
Blind Lemon Pledge – Evangeline – OFEH Records
EIGHTdoodle paws out of TEN …
- Buley’s Farm
- Jennie Bell
- Brimstone Joe
- Midnight Assignation
- Go Jump The Willie
- Language Of Love
- Ham and Eggs
- How Can I Still Love You
- You Had Me At Goodbye
All songs by, and all instruments by Blind Lemon Pledge