I can avoid all puns on this fine artist’s performing name, simply because I got them out of the way when I reviewed his last album (Goin’ Home, which you can read here on Bluesdoodles). So I will do a quick recap on him and his name…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; a true phenomenon. (The Stuart Smith version with Glenn Hughes is excellent too). 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, known as Blind Lemon Pledge (to be called BLP from now on to save my fingers!) He’s recently released his ninth album called A Satchel Full of Blues and, once again brings his considerable skills to bear on eleven originals and one ‘traditional’ song packed with deft playing and a clever mix of blues, country, jazz and even a bit of rag-time fun. He also has a, to me, mystifying ability to make his six string acoustic sound as if it were twelve…mind you, it is a dreadnought!
Interestingly BLP namechecks some great and diverse artists on the CD insert: Gene Autry, Willie Dixon, Hoagy Carmichael, Mose Allison and Randy Newman have all, in different ways inspired him.
Starting with Wrong Side of the Blues, if you took away the plaintive and lovely harp (don’t!) this could be acoustic Quo in 1930; it has a rolling backbeat and simple(fish) chord sequence with clever lyrics too. Wot, no solo BLP? If Beale Street Was A Woman with gently brushed drums and subtle bass build a great analogical tale of the blues beautifully and the guitar and then harp solos are suitably laid back and very, very clever and the source of the album title.
Black Eyed Susie (not, mercifully, the Guy Mitchell song of that name) has hints of the Delta with sumptuous slide and a brand new traditional blues approach that is simply delicious. Again, the guitar slide and harp solos add extra dimensions to a base of blues. I may be reading something that isn’t there, but to my jaded ear there are echoes of the early 1930s song of that name which actually began life as a Morris dancer’s tune in Olde England in the 1500s but morphed into a fiddle players tune in the States – try Elmo Newcomer’s version and you may see what I mean….thankfully there aren’t any ‘hey nonny nos’! Sherri Lynn will have you reaching for your spurs while listening to Donna Summer…you need to hear it because, despite those weird thoughts of mine, it is a captivating song with aspects of country as well as more superb harp and guitar from BLP.
Heart So Cruel is another country tinged blues song that has a Petty styled acoustic strummed backing as the countryside develops in the rhythms and lyrical patterns…it has plenty of humorous lines too, to distinguish it from country’s usual fare. A great harp solo lifts it above that crowd too. Blue Heartbreak brings a hint of jazz to the proceedings as BLP takes us into the lounge with Elvis in the audience: the guitar solo is picked to perfection, especially when you pick up (pun intended) on the ‘mistakes’…genius.
Teacher, Teacher is a kind of ragtime song about a young boy having a crush on his teacher…without the lewdness of that other song by Van Halen. The harp doing a “ner, ner ,ne, ner, ner” is a neat touch as the gentle rolling, acoustic, bluesy r’n’r frames more brilliant harp and guitar work. The guitar and harp join in the ner, ners in the middle and will bring a smile.
I Killed the King of the Blues is a slide drenched, oft used story, of selling your soul to the devil…BLP drops his voice to a gentle growl as he tells the story. This is my kind of blues; complex, yet accessible with the harp layered throughout while the guitar picks and slides brilliantly…the solo is particularly clever as he fits in more carefully planned ’mistakes’ in a section that should have lasted another hour or so.
Detour Blues has a ‘standard’ base on which the motoring analogies pile up (!) as it seems that it is actually about his “squeeze”; the harp/guitar duet is a delight. Alberta is usually attributed to Lead Belly who recorded four versions but was actually an older, uncredited song, hence the “traditional” label. It sounds like BLP took another later, slightly altered version by Mary Wheeler from 1944…whatever, in his hands it becomes a study in, and of musical history and adds picked solo of purity.
Before I Take My Rest begins with a plain acoustic strummed chord sequence but when the slide joins in, it suddenly reaches new heights…then there’s the solo: two hours next time, please. Death Don’t Ask Permission closes the album with a suitable dark slide opening a dark lyrically but musically delightful slide (three hours please) blues that gets regular plays and I can now forget the comin’ round the mountain opening couplet of the lyrics.
This album doesn’t have the immediacy of BLP’s last couple: but patient listening will uncover more layers than a very large onion! It is clever, complex, varied and impeccably played.
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a wonderful album and each listen will uncover more layers than a very large onion! It is clever, complex, varied and impeccably played.
Wrong Side of the Blues
If Beale Street Was A Woman
Black Eyed Susie
Heart So Cruel
I Killed the King of the Blues
Before I Take My Rest
Death Don’t Ask Permission
Blind Lemon Pledge: vocals, guitar, harmonica
Peter Grenell: bass
Juli Moscovitz: drums
(iTunes, inevitably, moved to the next ‘Blinds’…Blind Willie Johnson, followed swiftly by Blind Willie McTell and then the lesser known Blind Willie Reynolds and his 1930 song, Married Man Blues…more great acoustic and slide.)