For her fifth solo album, Debbie Bond has defied the pandemic and with a little help from technology has created a true blues album that transcends borders both physically and metaphorically. (She has appeared on various, compilations and alongside the great Willie King on a couple of releases too.) I am guessing therefore that is why her fifth album is called Blues Without Borders. Begun before the pandemic closed the world, it has been completed in five different studios and ‘mailed in’ and assembled with some panache into this finished product.
With a fascinating life story that also crosses all kinds of borders too, she has lived all over: when she was eight years old, it was Europe but, soon after her parents separated and her father returned to the US. The family also lived for a while in West Africa while her mother pursued her studies and research in cultural anthropology. Debbie began playing then and made her first appearance on Sierra Leonean TV before joining a band in Brighton when she arrived there to attend college. Although her “musical and life partner”, ‘Radiator’ Rick Asherson is British, it wasn’t while in Brighton, but back in the States when they met through her work with bluesman Willie King…an interesting and varied life that has coloured her writing and playing and gives Bond’s Blues that extra edge that distinguishes her style from others.
The album of ten original songs begins with High Rider Blues, a delta inspired harp, guitar and drum combination that immediately appeals: Radiator turns up the heat! with some seriously tasty and restrained harp and the Debbie/harp duet is lovely. The guitar remains fairly low in the mix but still gives good support.
Next up we get the bongo’d and soulful co-write and sung, with Lea Gilmore. Complex percussion lays down a fascinating rhythm with subtle guitar and keys giving way to a short sax solo that is sensitive and suited…a laid back track that’s carrying a significant message in its lyrics.
The title track, Blues Without Borders, moves us into R’n’B with fascinating percussion from Joelle Barker. Let Me Be is another layered and laid back slice of blues with some neat chord work…and a tasteful, measured solo that explores the Tele neck with a caress that allows for the odd stinging retort. The bass line is also worth listening for, although I think it is done via a keyboard, it still works.
Blue Rain is a slow traditional blues that uses the recognisable cliches purposely without falling into the unoriginal territory. The guitar solo is cleverly made up of chord strums and only occasional picking as it delivers a quality piece of playing. Radiator is about Debbie’s “Main Man’ and, apparently, the ‘Radiator’ nickname is nothing to do with central heating, but more car related…he may well have been blushing during the recording! Regardless, this blues/soul song is strongly Memphis in feel and suitably horned up with a sax solo that doesn’t go OTT, although a guitar section would have benefitted the closing section for me, it’s still a good song.
Heart Of The Matter is a ballad that has some fascinating rhythms behind the soulful vocals; the drums, in particular, lay down a seemingly irregular pattern that almost makes the song…sax, piano and a low mixed guitar provide the other interest. Winds Of Change is not the one with whistling thankfully; this is soulful blues with a paced, plaintive harp solo that is spellbinding. The chord work on guitar is exquisite but, again, I feel a subtle solo would have added a lot.
Let Freedom Ring has gospel in its heart as this tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. begins with electric piano and guitar strummed backing: the piano solo is atmospheric and rather clever in construction.
Shades Of Blue is edged in country and, again the sax supplants the guitar…nice phrasing but the guitar stays low; too low in my humble. Wrapping it up is the bouncy Road Song with harp leading the way and the gruff delight of Rick’s vocal joining in.
This is an exceedingly well put together album with quality laced through every note and yet, from a personal point of view, it lacks the bite I know Debbie is capable of and could have been there too if she hadn’t restricted herself to the background…that’s why Let Me Be and Blue Rain will be my ‘go to’ choices.
Bluesdoodles rating: 3 Doodle Paws – a great listen packed full of quality playing throughout.
High Rider Blues
Blues Without Borders
Let Me Be
Heart Of The Matter
Winds Of Change
Let Freedom Ring
Shades Of Blue
Debbie Bond: guitar, vocals
Rick Asherson: harmonica, keyboards, vocals
Micky Barker: drums
Dave Crenshaw: drums and percussion
Brad Guin: saxophone
Ray Carless: saxophone
Joelle Barker: percussion
Lea Gilmore: vocals
Meshon Omoregie, Gabrielle Semoine, Carla Don and Rachel Edwards: backing vocals
(iTunes ran on to another Debbie… the excellent What We’ve Got (Ain’t For Sale) by Debbie Bonham lived up to my expectations after seeing her live as support for Paul Rogers.)