Blues-rockers often occupy the margins of a musical genre already all too marginalized. Rock radio, inexplicably terrified of anything from the blue end of the spectrum (despite the fact that virtually everything they do play owes its very existence to the blues) won't touch 'em. And blues purists dismiss most as though they're diluting something sacred by incorporating rock influences.
To be sure, many deserve life on the sidelines. Too often speed and volume are mistaken as expressive of anything other than excess testosterone. (Just 'cause it's twelve bar don't mean it's blues, boys!). But some manage a successful marriage between the urgency and abandon of rock and the emotional intensity of the blues.
David Gogo, who grew up in Nanaimo, 'way out on Vancouver Island (notice how I resisted the overwhelming temptation to say he honed his chops in Nanaimo's bars?), now has five discs to his credit. The latest, "Skeleton Key," on tiny Cordova Bay Records, straddles the rock/blues divide with much success.
Things kick off with "(Just Ask) Jesse James," a flat-out rocker fueled by incendiary slide and pounding piano; it's followed by Albert Collins' classic instrumental, "Backstroke," that proves David does indeed know his way around a twelve-bar. "I Can Still Hear You Crying," a power ballad featuring restrained and expressive fretwork, is anchored by soulful organ courtesy of Brendan Headley, whose work on both piano and organ is exemplary throughout.
The disc's highlight, though, is the title track. David claims it's his attempt to write a traditional soul tune; he's succeeded admirably. Backed by a powerful horn section, he achieves the perfect balance between vulnerable longing and defiant independence, the heart of all great soul music. Given the woeful lack of anything resembling soul in most of what passes for music these days, this one alone is worth the price of the disc.
Otis Spann's "Walkin'" rides a furious jungle beat (drummer Billy Hicks is another of the project's assets - he's a monster!), while Butterfield's "Reap What You Sow," with it's unusual changes, gives David an opportunity for some jazzy comping in addition to his fiery solo. "Things Are About To Change," another fairly straight-ahead shuffle, leads in to almost eight minutes of Willie Dixon's "It Don't Make Sense (That You Can't Make Peace)." Starting off with slow, smoldering intensity, David gradually builds to a blazing climax, with a wah-wah soaked solo not far from something Hendrix might've come up with. That, alas, is pretty well the end of the blues content. A radical reworking of Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" works quite well, as does "Personal Jesus," a tune from Brit rockers Depeche Mode, though both, again, will do nothing for most blues fans. (The latter is the disc's first single, which alone says much about the audience David's cultivating; in Canada, anyway, there's simply no such thing as a 'blues single.'). Early copies of the disc include two bonus tracks; both "Belgian Moon," an original, and Curtis Mayfield's "Fool For You" feature jaw-dropping fretwork, but on the whole sound overproduced, ultimately more interesting than likeable.
David's obviously an immensely talented artist sincerely dedicated to his craft, he's got a first-rate band, and as co-producer he's balanced crunch and clarity quite nicely. Fans of fiery fretwork will still find much to their liking here, but David's music is maturing into much more of an ensemble sound (less 'guitar hero with backup,' more complimentary cooperation between equals).
For those whose tastes lean to blistering blues-rock (leaning rather heavily on the rock side), it simply doesn't get much better. Hard core blues fans, however, may want to listen before purchasing; whether you like it will depend on how broad your own tastes are.
Cordova Bay Records
5159 Beckton Road, Victoria, B.C., Canada V8Y 2C2
Simply click on the CD cover at left to order other David Gogo CDs
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