Thursday, June 16, 2011

Seasick Steve Is Up For Old Tricks

Seasick SteveWhen people mention the blues, any number of names might come to mind: John Lee Hooker, Lightnin' Hopkins, Jimmy Lee Williams, Buddy Guy, and Fred McDowell. All of them are greats, those who rock and roll owe (and everything after) a fistful of gratitude.

Go ahead and add another name to the list. Steven Gene Wold, a.k.a Seasick Steve, is one of the greats. Never mind that no one heard of him until 2001 or that he got his first big break after he moved to Norway and was noticed in the United Kingdom.

Seasick Steve is as American as you can get, learning to play guitar from K.C. Douglas, one of the most influential blues stylists outside Oakland and San Francisco. Seasick Steve was only 8 when he first learned how to play; five years before he ran away from an abusive household.

Music took a back seat for Seasick Steve who picked up as a carnie, cowboy and farmhand. And when he didn't work? He was happy enough as a hobo (and, at one time, touring musician and clean-shaven studio sound engineer). But maybe that's why his newest album feels so full of life. He put 70 years of living into it.

You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks asks why would you want to?

Seasick Steve stirs up something that only the best blues players ever muster. His raspy whispers, laments, and screams carry an eclectic mix that cross over in rock, country, and blues. The range he delivers with his ensemble of equally eclectic guitars match.

Who else can play something that resembles a Fender Coronado with only three strings? Or a one-string broom with a screwdriver slide? As mentioned, if those are the old tricks, it doesn't make much sense to teach Seasick Steve any new ones.

Although that clip comes from an earlier album, it helps drive home the idea that the hobo who might have inspired you to clutch your purse tighter happened to be one of the greatest musicians on the planet. He proves it too, all over his 14-track album You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks.

Every bit of it shares his passion and love for the blues, with a bluesy rocker like Back In The Doghouse, played on the three-string. Don't Know Why She Love Me But She Do carries a steady rocker beat in the back and folksy overtones. Write Me A Few Lines is one of two Fred McDowell covers. The other cover is Levee Camp Blues, with a fuller but not necessarily better sound.

John Paul Jones and Jack White make for great session mates.

What stands out about both McDowell covers is Seasick Steve is joined by Jack White (The White Stripes) on drums, giving Dan Magnusson some time off from the sticks. The bass, of course, has been set down this time by John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin and Them Crooked Vultures), making the Old Dog LP one of several marks Jones has made on music lately.

Other songs worth a listen include Days Gone, Party, and the super smooth Burnin' Up. The title song is another easy favorite for many people, but I mostly like it because it's true (and not the best the song on album by a long shot).

Vance Powell at Air Studios in London also deserves some props. So does Henry James Wold, who produced the album alongside Seasick Steve.

Seasick Steve And His Old Dog Has Bite At 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

There are moments that the album easily breaks into the 9s on select songs so the rating is only indicative of a balancing act. At the same time, it really makes you wonder. If Seasick Steve can create something timeless at 70, then what is everyone doing?

The album was released by Third Man Records in the U.S. Play It Again Sam is releasing the album in Europe. You can download You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks from iTunes. The album is also available on Amazon. Pick up the CD at Barnes & Noble.
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