Blues On Fire
BluesWax Rating: 8 out of 10
The Blues Had a Baby and It Was Smokin’
Muddy Waters said it, the blues had a baby and they named the baby rock ‘n’ roll. This CD takes that premise to the next level. Pat Travers and his band are Canadian rockers who have been around since the late 1970s. And I do mean rockers. You can hear a lot of ’70′s influences in his rock stuff – Mountain, Deep Purple, Zep.
There have been a plethora of rock and pop stars putting out blues CDs lately, some very good (Joan Osborne), some very bad (John Oates), some in between (Cyndi Lauper). With the Canadian blues scene exploding with great new talent, it should come as no surprise that some of their rockers would follow suit.
So I had no preconceived notions about this disk. I could only hope that putting a rock edge on these tunes, mostly written by acoustic delta blues masters such as Blind Willie McTell, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lonnie Johnson, and others, didn’t totally obscure the heart and soul of the originals.
I am not a purist about the blues. I believe the blues must evolve and grow, or die. But, on the other hand, if that sweet blues feeling isn’t coming through, then it misses the mark. It takes courage and considerable finesse to blend the two into a hybrid that satisfies both blues and rock sensibilities.
The first tune on the CD, Blind Blake’s “Black Dog Blues,” didn’t assuage my fears. It really sounds like “Mountain Does Blues.” It’s well done, but a little too hard in the hard-rock direction. I was nervous about what was to come.
But for the most part, my fears for the rest of the CD were unfounded. The next two tracks, Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and Lonnie Johnson’s “Back Water Blues,” both have very nice blues-infused slide work that helps them successfully straddle the line between rock and blues. I especially like the latter track. It rocks, but with real blues soul.
To be fair, there are hints of George Thorogood on this CD which, depending on how you feel about Thorogood’s blues chops, is either a good thing or a bad thing (I’m in the former camp). You can hear his influence strongly on Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Easy Rider Blues,” one of my least favourite cuts. This is the pattern on this CD, the tracks explore the world of rock and blues fusion, sometimes leaning closer toward one than the other.
This is a very good rock band and there are no “bad” notes here, so your enjoyment (or lack thereof) will depend on how you like your blues. If you’re a purist, you probably won’t care for it, but I still urge you to give it a listen. There are many excellent moments, and a few truly inspired ones. I won’t describe every track, but there are two more that deserve a little attention.
The first is “Nobody Knows You When you’re Down And Out,” originally performed by Bessie Smith. Although the band does a good job with it, it is not a song that really lends itself well to be rockified, The original recording owed a lot to the feel and chording of that era’s jazz style.
The last one is my favourite track on the CD. It’s Son House’s “Death Letter.” Here Travers hits with all cylinders firing. It starts with acoustic slide guitar and a much bluesier vocal style than you’ll her on any of the other tracks. I expected it to kick into a full-steam-ahead rock arrangement, but Travers kept acoustic all the way through. Just his guitar and nice vocal work. You can hear how he really feels this one deeply.
But the reason for this album is to fuse rock and blues, not rock ‘n’ roll and blues. Early rock ‘n’ roll was just 12-bar blues speeded up – “Johnny B. Good,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’.” But this CD is about blues and ROCK. Unapologetic ’70′s rock. The vocal style is mostly rock; the guitar, bass, and drum styles is mostly rock. But there is an underlying respect for the source material and that comes out in many of the tracks.
Pat Travers and his talented band clearly love the blues. And some of you will clearly love this CD. My own test is whether I put this CD in my iPhone for regular listening or does it gather dust on my shelf? Oops, gotta go. My iPhone is ringing and it’s Pat Travers and his band.
Kim O’Brien is a contributing writer at BluesWax.
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