I must admit that the work of Helmut Haberl is new to me, as is his alter ego Doc Dooley. Research revealed little but what I did find unveils a remarkable man: a native of Austria, as a child he studied piano for before mastering the guitar: self taught, he also studied styles and researched music through the ages. The blues took hold of him in the early 80s after witnessing a concert by Oscar Klein and Jerry Ricks (who modelled his style on the great Mississippi John Hurt.) Not to be one to go off half cocked, Doc studied open tuning and finger style playing as well as noted artists such as Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan and John Prine.
This studied approach served him well as he played the guitar with various bands and recorded with two of them: Hotel Atom and Herbstzucker. As Doc Dooley however, he has been performing blues and Americana since 2011 and has a number of individual tracks on streaming sites and is in the process of recording a new album with his friends but, until then, we have a six-track release called Over Yonder. (By the way, I said remarkable, because he also researches and teaches various aspects of Social Ecology at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna.)
Before we get into the tracks, don’t be put off by Doc’s slightly tremulous vocals…for one thing, the playing offsets any shortfall, the backing vocals from Susanne strengthens it all, so think Neil Young and it soon makes sense. Add to that the use of some wonderful, and occasionally quirky instruments, such as a resonator, harp, accordion, ukulele, viola, violin, double bass and hurdy-gurdy, and we get an eclectic and always warm set of songs.
The opener is all about the town and state of the title and his guitar “shining like brand new”: Arizona Days (Flagstaff) is a country blues with lovely acoustic (picked and slide), ukulele and (I think) the hurdy-gurdy adding the drone and a neat solo. It works and is a nice song with plenty to listen to.
Baggage Belt Blues further dispels doubts as the slide work will enthral and the story of losing his luggage and staring forlornly at the carousel will resonate with many…certainly does for me as I was left in the middle of France in jeans, my Holy Diver t-shirt and a Fender jacket to deliver an important training session in my company’s head office rather than my suit and tie which arrived two days later! Anyway, the whole, sort of amusing tale, is wrapped in some simply brilliant slide guitar and harmony vocals. Brown River Country is in the north of Austria and, I’m guessing is a stretch of the Danube because, despite the Strauss waltz, it is not blue at all and tends to a muddy brown…I saw it years ago when I visited Linz and travelled a road network called Windpassing, which appealed to my childish sense of humour! My weird mind aside, it is a gentle acoustic excursion with viola and violin backing, before an equally gentle electric guitar piece that could have been expanded for me. It’s still a captivating song that actually captures the river and its environs. Clock With No Hands is a nice reflection on sitting in a bar with a loved one as a clock with no hands doesn’t show time passing: set to slow picking and more strings.(It’s melancholy but has an almost Parisian lilt that works well.)
Over Yonder is more of the same gentle acoustic work except the tale is about the world and pondering certain aspects that seem to define today rather well. The hurdy-gurdy is like a violin played with a wheel rather than a bow, and it does have a lovely tone when used as backing as here.
The final track is a bit more upbeat both lyrically and musically: Still The Grass Is Green seems to say that, despite the pandemic, the positives are there if we look for them…and the slide solo is a delight, albeit woefully short.
Only half a dozen tracks will always make it difficult to be definitive about a new artist: these may not be ones I seek out regularly but they will most certainly be welcome should ‘shuffle’ bring them into my world again.
Bluesdoodles rating: 3 Doodle Paws – a great listen for gentle Americana via Austria with some less common instruments strengthening the messages and adding to the enjoyment.
Arizona Days (Flagstaff)
Baggage Belt Blues
Brown River Country
Clock With No Hands
Still The Grass Is Green
Doc Dooley: guitars, vocals
Susanne ‘Su’ Grof-Korbel: vocals, harp, hurdy-gurdy, ukulele
Gerhard Jungert: guitars
Arnold “noid” Haberl: double bass
Rosi Haberl: viola, violin
Recorded, produced & mastered by Maria Anzbach at Dornerstudios, Vienna. Recorded May 2020, released October 2021
(iTunes moved to a 1980 release from Kansas (the band) member Kerry Livgren and his solo album called Seeds of Change which actually featured a guest vocal from none other than Ronnie James Dio on two tracks…check out the ‘Smoke’ and orchestra influenced Mask of the Great deceiver for great guitar and, of course, vocals.)