The American debut album for England's Michael Messer is a masterful achievement combining his love of American pre-war Delta blues, Chicago stylings, and his love of folk and world beats. An accomplished artist working with acoustic stylings and his favored National guitars, Messer brings more to the table than just another set of standards redone.
The native Londoner has plied his acoustic trade and on this issue he plays lap steel along with the rhythm and slide guitar duties. His sharpened and honed vocals cut creative leads throughout the disc. He is backed by his partner of many years Ed Genis, who plays interactive rhythm and lead guitar lines. The rhythm section is Andy Crowdy on bass and Simon Price on the drum kit. The hauntingly sensual background vocals are from Sharon Vanbinsbergen. Co-writer Terry Clarke also helps with backing vocals and rhythm guitar. Guests include guitarist Jesse Taylor, Doug Cox on the dobro, Tim Hill on sax, bassist Mike Lent, Ron Casat on the keyboards. Phil Wipper and Jeffro Robertson on the drums, Mary Genis on the bass and background vox, Slim on the accordion, and percussionists Louie-G and Dean Roderix.
This disc is immediately progressive in its combination of acoustic and electric instrumentation. It secondarily becomes exciting in its outright stylistic changes. From the opening title tune, Messer kicks it up with exaggerated tempos, layered harmonies, and tremendously intricate string arrangements. From tunes like "Crow Blues" and the following "Step Right Up," you'll understand why fans flock to his shows. Also uplifting are the tremendous contributions all around, like the piano/organ lines and lead guitar plucking on "Driving Wheel Blues Part One." Get your funk checked listening to the crafted blues beats of "Worried Life" or "Drivin' Wheel Blues Part Two," or check his slide on cuts like "Steel Guitar Blues" or "Rollin' And Tumblin'." Other enlightened covers include "Right Hand Road," "Divin' Duck," "Lone Wolf Blues," and "Can't Be Satisfied." Messer and/or Clarke have penned the remainder of the tunes, with the exception of one rearranged by Messer with Crowdy, Price, and Genis.
Not one to miss out on, Messer's work is innovative while clinging to tradition. His outlook takes unique musical turns incorporating all of the musical forms that have touched his soul or turned his heart throughout his lifetime. Hear his love of pre-war players, his penchant for combining electric blues, his aching for country and world spirituality in music, and his timely production skills in one fell swoop with this biscuit. Messer has climbed to new musical heights with this release.
Catfish Records; 10 Leapale Rd; Guildford, Surrey GU1 4JX; England:
or, US Distribution: DNA; 1280 Santa Anita Ct.; Woodland, CA 95766:
This review is copyright © 2001 by Mark A. Cole, 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.