Saturday, August 8, 2015
My ol' buddy, Virgil Brawley, up and planted himself awhile back in Mountain View, Arkansas, a city calling itself the "Folk Music Capitol of the World" and which has the requisite Ozark Folk Festival to celebrate such. The city prides itself on preserving the music and culture of a era passed by. The land of hammered and mountain dulcimers, flat picked guitars, mandolins, and lap Dobros kicking out folk and Bluegrass music. I say this because Brawley's a born and bred Mississippian who fell into the blues stew at an early age. Even though he fell into the Ozark culture readily and joined in on the pickin' and grinnin' sessions of the locals and learn a bit of mandolin and slide on the Dobro, he had no intention of abandoning his passion for the blues.
After rounding up like minded musicians, he re-established a blues trio he calls the Syllamo Trio, named after a local creek. I've reviewed Brawley's CDs here on the blog by his previous band, the Juvenators, the most recent being Bottle Tree from 2009, which followed Golden Hearts, Live From The Mercury Room, and Mojo Burning. The Juvenator stuff, mostly original, had an eclectic vibe to it, but all rooted in the blues. On the trio's recent release, Marcella, he drags the North Mississippi Hill Country Blues to the Ozarks. You know, the blues where the groove is the move. Heavy on rhythm and percussion with a steady guitar riff leading the way. This is the music aligned with Mississippi Fred McDowell, R.L. Burnsides, and Junior Kimbrough. I'm reckoning that playing with and hangin' out with T-Model Ford seeped into Brawley's soul at the crossroads down their somewhere.
The trio channels the Hill Country style and molds it to fit the 11 original songs written by the band. This ain't yo' mama's blues trio with a diddly widdly diddly guitarist professing to be the second coming of Stevie Ray. Nor is it 12 bars and a cloud of shuffle dust. Nope. The music here romps and stomps the blues through vintage amplifiers meant to be cranked into Pat Hare distortion territory. They shake the shimmy on most of the tracks with Brawley leading the way on guitar and vocals, but it takes a talented drummer and bass guitarist nailing down the bottom to keep the right groove going. Bassist Albee Tellone, who's formative years were spent in New Jersey playing with a young dude named Bruce Springsteen, keeps the rhythm train solidly on track. He wrote a book chronicling his experience with "The Boss", which can be found on Amazon. Daren Dortin throws down a impressive array of drum beats that keeps the groove oriented tracks from monotony. He swings whacks and slaps not normally heard within the confines of this style of blues, or really any style of blues. He pulls some of that Nawlins' second line stuff (IMHO) out on "Sho' Nuff", which has an uncredited organ swirl working through the song, which I might just describe as Hill Country Soul. Not sure, but I think he even threw some disco licks down before the CD ended. I don't normally pay a great deal of attention to what the drummers doing on blues recordings, unless they annoy me, but I found myself drawn into what he was doing behind the drum kit on these track. He throws down some second guitar along the way, most notably the three string cigar box nastiness on "Syllamo Waters", which gives the tune some driving dirt. Daren's a veteran of the Memphis blues scene, having produced and co-hosted the famous Beale Street Blues Caravan.
They don't do the blues/rock thang, but some tunes such as "Boogaroo" rock, romp and stomp the old fashion way; the Hill Country Blues way. When Virgil cranks his old Alamo amp up on more than a few tunes, such as 'Apple Tree" or "Waiting' On A LDC", the grit groove gets to happening. When he ain't cranking it, he's getting the nasty from an Ampeg Reverberocket on other tunes like "Trouble", which gives his slide guitar just the right touch of reverb. "Lookin' For You" sounds so rauchy that it makes me believe that Brawley poked a pencil through his speaker. The tune has a great example of what he does with a guitar solo, also, which is to say jump in, make the right statement and get back to the groove.
Brawley has established himself an a confident and competent songwriter over the course of his career. More than a few musicians have covered tunes from his pen over the years. His songs tell tales; short stories if you will. It's like sitting on the front porch with a grizzled ol' blues man talking about life in general and in many cases being mistreated, like on the title tune "Marcella" with its chicken pickin' guitar riff and a tale of woe: "Come home from work half starved to death/All I smell is your whiskey breath". "Sho' Nuff" is more about being love stuck, "Lookin' For You" is self-explanatory, "Mailman" looks for good news, not the blues, and "Trouble" reeks of bad luck. Took me awhile to figure out that "Bucket" was about his dog, and the double entendre he twists around in "Cadillac". Also, he can sing the blues. He don't do no "white boy blues growl" as many are apt to do, but sings in a smooth, natural, down home voice with just enough range to keep things out of the realm of boredom.
The Syllamo Trio breaks away from the same ol' crap syndrome that have flooded the market for way too many years. Marcella gets back to the basics of where blues came from. Back to the roots, but also brings it forward due the way these three gents incorporate the old with the new. It's a keeper. Find it here. 'Nuff for now.