Every once in a while a disc falls into the mailbox that practically leaves a writer speechless. Michael Messer, Britain's resident slide guitar wizard, if there ever was one, travels a path that almost defies description. Born in 1956, Messer seems to have studied every nuance of slide playing; from the Delta and Hawaiian styles, jazz and worldbeat, Chicago Blues, and more, weaving each influence into his playing. Catfish Records released "King Guitar" in April, making this a maiden voyage for them as everything in their catalog has been compilations and reissues until now.
The 17 tracks here are comprised from sessions produced by Messer (with help here and there). Recorded as far back as 1990, the main band consists of Ed Genis on rhythm and lead, Andy Crowdy on bass, and Simon Price laying the backbeats. Guests are all over the CD as are the incredible sounds, including sampling, scratching and more. Make no mistake, blues is at the core of this 70-plus minute ride of absolutely stunning bottleneck styles, and the title track lays it all out with Messer paying tribute to a varied list of greats; Howlin' Wolf, King Sunny Ade, Hubert Sumlin, Buddy Holly, and others. "Lone Wolf Blues" is a tour-de-force of blistering and blazing electric slide guitar while "Crow Blues" softens the blows of the previous three-and-a-half minutes. "Step Right Up" is a riveting shuffle packed with stirring sounds and leads into "Drivin' Wheel Blues," this isn't the classic Junior Parker tune, it was penned by Messer. Doug Cox adds some fine dobro work and Ron Casat assists with tasty keyboards. The traditional "Worried Life" takes a non-traditional path, but, it's just as exceptional as it is all over the map with Jesse "Guitar" Taylor adding some heavy lead to the mix behind Messer's deep vocals. Roy Acuff's "Steel Guitar Blues" is simply spellbinding and features some mesmerizing lap steel. The second part of" Drivin' Wheel Blues" is eerie in its closeness to John Campbell while the oft-attempted "Diving Duck" comes from left field with another jolt to the senses.
The old and battered National amplifier Messer is perched upon for the cover seems to be the workhorse for his electric slide and "Rising Sun Blues" finds him alone with some wild and distorted guitar as the only backing necessary for his heartfelt vocals. Muddy's "I Can't Be Satisfied" surely would have pleased Mr. Morganfield with its outside-in-inside-out attack while "Robert Johnson's Wake" is simply bizarre with the opening notes hitting the bull's-eye many others miss. "Cannonball Blues" is a gritty slow blues that clocks in at eight-plus minutes with accordion and more gripping lead, but it's Messer's twisted electric slide, as distorted as it is, taking center stage again. "Moonbeat" closes the disc with some Delta-by-way-of-England bottleneck on the National and leaves the listener hoping for more in the near future.
This excellent disc deserves a wide audience. With ten of the tracks being original, it isn't your generic, rehashed rock-style blues. It's music, plain and simple. While blues is the root of all that's here, the other influences raise the interest level considerably. It will surely please those who appreciate a master at work, and this man certainly is that. With a number of other projects already under his belt, Michael Messer seems completely at home on "King Guitar." www.catfishrecords.co.uk and www.michaelmesser.co.uk will assist with any questions. Highly recommended.
This review is copyright © 2001 by Craig Ruskey, 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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