Blues!

★★★★
music review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 12 August 2014

The blues has always had a bit of a split personality. Take Son House, who sang full-throated paeons to John the Revelator, but also probably killed a man. Or Huddie Ledbetter, the bad man with a voice so beautiful it got him out of jail. And so it is with this whistle-stop tour through 90 years of the blues in 60 minutes.

On one hand, 12-piece-band The Blueswater's treatment of early electric blues isn't fantastic. A rendition of 'Smokestack Lightnin'' lacks Howlin' Wolf's mesmerising aggression – all pantomine howls and a harp that sits too low in the mix. It lacks the foghorn blast that the big bluesman could produce. A Bessie Smith number, 'St Louis Blues' is loungey shmultz when it should be a moan of despair. The blues history lessons which punctuate the pieces are genuinely fascinating, but they don't help detract from an early feeling of this being a museum piece – roots music getrified.

Then comes a version of Koko Lee's 'I'm a Woman', and it's like a shot going off. Aggressive and unruly, it seems that it's in the ominous riffs and scorching solos of the seventies and onwards that The Blueswater really find their stride. 'Texas Flood' is simply extraordinary, with guitar-playing that nails the chaotic precision of Stevie Ray Vaughan's soloing style. Fleetwood Mac's 'Oh Well' provides possibly the best outlet for frontman Felipe Schrieberg's light, informal vocal stylings. Released, perhaps, from the burden of scholarship, it's here where these passionate players do most credit the past masters they so clearly love.