The critically acclaimed "Stones in My Passway" and "Journey" albums were always going to be hard acts to follow, but Ben Andrews has done just that with "Gallows Pole." It is not a matter of recycling a tried and tested formula, however, and on this outing Andrews expands his repertoire to incorporate elements of bluegrass, and more folk-oriented styles.
The album opens with Andrews playing solo on "CC Rider" solo, which
provides a good introduction to Andrews' talents. He is a very fine
guitarist, with a voice to match, and gets inside the songs to imbue them
with his soul. Andrews is equally at home with a supporting band too, as
he first demonstrates in "How Many More Years"--one of five tracks
featuring backing musicians--where West Weston has the classic Chicago harp
sound down to a tee.
For the most part the rest of the album alternates between solo and band
performances. After a solo rendering of Blind Lemon's "One Kind Favour,"
Andrews and the band take things into new territory, with a light and airy
country/bluegrass interpretation of "Salty Dog." Then it's back to the
blues with "Broke Down Engine" before a jaunty version of Robert Johnson's
"Last Fair Deal Gone Down" which is delivered in a Piedmont style, with
West Weston playing unamplified harp.
The second major diversion comes on the only original track here,
"Butterfly." This is a short but highly evocative solo instrumental piece,
which shows off Andrews' multifaceted talents as a guitarist. It takes
him into more folk oriented territory, calling to mind those great
guitarists, Bert Jansch and Davey Graham. "Butterfly" is just one of many
highlights on the CD.
Andrews saves the very best until last, when the album climaxes with a
stunning 11 minute version of "Gallows Pole." This is a favorite from
Andrews' live show, given an emotionally intense reading. It opens with a
lengthy guitar introduction before Andrews pleads to be kept from the
"Gallows Pole." Despite it playing length, the song never drags, and
Andrews breaks it up with several interludes of fiery guitar playing, and a
blues holler interpretation, after Leadbelly. Once it all finishes you may
need to go and lie down to recover.
"Gallows Pole" is yet another very fine album from Ben Andrews. It sees
him starting to diversify a little from the much straighter blues that
adorned his previous two CDs. That is no bad thing, and it shows that
Andrews is not afraid to take risks. Like its two predecessors, "Gallows
Pole" is destined to be one of the best albums of the year and comes highly
recommended. If you cannot find it in your local store, you can get it
from Powerhouse Records (www.bottleneckblues.co.uk).
This review is copyright © 2001 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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