304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Bluesdoodles rating: 5 Doodle Paws – a stupendous album of blues that challenge, entertain and educate as Ian weaves other genres seamlessly through the wonderfully crafted songs.
Considering the quality of his previous thirteen albums and the vast number of blues music industry awards, it surprises me that the genius of Ian Siegal is not more widely celebrated. Hopefully, his fourteenth album, Stone to Stone, will set that right and see his star gain its rightful place in the blues firmament.
I have been listening to him since I bought his 2009 album (his 6th) Broadside and then his back (and front) catalogue…he’s a hugely talented singer, songwriter and guitarist who encompass the blues but isn’t afraid to bring other forms into play. It is this diversity that endeared Ian to me and his latest album sees that wonderful trend continue as he brings in guests/friends old and new. It also has the added benefit of the involvement of Greta Valenti and Robin Davey (“everybody wants a little Gris Gris”) and was recorded and produced by them…as was the brilliant video of one of the standout tracks, the tongue firmly planted in both cheeks wizardry of I’m the Shit.
On to the album and opening track, Working on a Building, which features Jimmie Wood and JJ Holiday: it nods to Lee Dorsey’s Working In A Coal-mine, which I think was deliberate. After some studio chat, it is blues with a hint of gospel and superb picked and slide guitar with harp woven through. It may sound instrumentally ramshackle, but it is obviously planned and all the better for it…a brilliant start.
Next, we get some soulful gospel infused into the Siegal blues by the beautiful voice of Shemekia Copeland. Hand in Hand is walking blues with jazz and soul colouring the overall palette and a duet of some quality. A hybrid that most couldn’t carry off but in Ian’s hands it is simply genius. The guitar work is subtle, and clever; the slide and the picked solo are even more so. The Fear could be used as an example of country turned blue as the vocal makes it almost a lament that could have been written a century ago…apart from the modern take on drink-induced regret. The guitar and harp keeps it blue and surprisingly immediate. The next track may not be for the bairns but I’m the Shit is, apart from the lack of a guitar solo, the pure and unique Ian Siegal we know and love. There are many real and valuable messages hidden in the clever wordplay…even rhyming “pistol” and “wrist’ll” works well and the mandolin and percussion behind the guitars adds to the experience because that’s what this song is.
Psycho may be known to you via Elvis Costello but is originally from the pen of Leon Payne and released by little-known country artist Eddie Noack back in 1968. Costello is an artist I admire if not my choice of listening but this one isn’t like either versions…it’s a bare, raw and visceral telling of a killer’s story that must have shocked in ’68 and still has the power to chill. Yet it is delivered so masterfully with (I think) Greta’s backing vocals adding pathos. Chilling, challenging and essential. The next two tracks feature the guitar skills of Jimbo Mathus and, while Ian is more than capable of doing it all, he isn’t afraid to be complimentary…in both senses.
KK’s Blues is another stark tale told without apology with a heart-wrenching vocal and superb backing guitars from Ian and Jimbo. The false ending allows the song to go again but in even an even more sparse yet effective way. Jimbo is on guitar and harmony vocals as the pair provide the country-styled melodies of Gathering Deep. It is most definitely blues though and the occasional slide and mandolin may be a bit buried but still add atmosphere and deliver a lamentably short solo. This Heart is another dark (with positives) song of voice and guitar painting frighteningly realistic pictures…clever wordplay again as well as the more obvious “no answers in a bottle, no answers in a spoon”. It ends dramatically too as Ian, unaccompanied, sings the main theme.
Monday Saw, (re-invented from the original on the early-ish album Standing In The Morning) ups the pace and mood with a true stomping gospel-ish blues…mainly stomping and clapping as Ian sings so aptly. And he does say winking. The words are so clever yet again and despite it being bereft of guitars until the fade, it is catchy and simply brilliant. Holler is, as the title suggests, grounded in the old blues hollers and Holler he does over some seriously tasty guitar. imagine a Cooder and Johnson cowrite and it would be like this I think…just brilliant. Closing with the wordsmithery of Onwards and Upwards with a lilting country blues that is actually uplifting. Great vocal and guitars that aren’t spoiled by the whistling at the close which, to be honest, achieve little although it did bring my two Westies running in!
If you want blues laced with many other genres in a clever, class and heady display of singing, playing and writing skills then this is a must-have. It goes beyond entertainment and is an education that some blues purists may frown at but, if they listen honestly, they will laud it from the rooftops too.
Working on a Building (Jimmie Wood, JJ Holiday)
Hand in Hand (Shemekia Copeland)
I’m the Shit
KK’s Blues (Jimbo Mathus)
Gathering deep (Jimbo Mathus)
Onwards and Upwards
Ian Siegal: vocals, guitar
Robin Davey: bass, percussion, guitars
Greta Valenti: percussion, backing vocals
Stephen Hodges: percussion
Jimmie Wood: vocals, harp
JJ Holiday: guitar
Shemekia Copeland: vocals
Jimbo Mathus: guitar, mandolin
(iTunes served an Iggy Pop cover of The Who’s I Can’t Explain…controversial I know but, in my opinion this better than the original and nearly matched the best ever version by Yvonne Elliman (who was also the best Mary in any recording of JC Superstar))