David Jacobs-Strain owes much to labelmate Otis Taylor. Otis, you'll recall, is the singer-guitarist whose "White African" kicked the blues world in its complacent butt back in '01, then followed it up with 2002's brilliant, intensely disturbing "Respect The Dead."
Otis has been somewhat of a mentor to young David, and his partner/producer, Kenny Passarelli, who crafted unconventional soundscapes that contributed mightily to Otis' almost frighteningly intense music, has helped to do the same with "Stuck On The Way Back."
But though he may have facilitated the signing, and while there's a distinctive hint of Otis on Mr. Jacobs-Strain's debut, "River Was Green," it would be unfair to relegate David to the great man's shadow. Sure, David's benefited from Otis' involvement (the man, after all, is a genius!), but there's more than enough of his own personality on display to make this very much his own disc.
Given the nature of the project - acoustic blues, with four of the tunes attributed as 'traditional,' with one from R.L Burnside and one from Mr. Taylor to complement David's own compositions - it's germane to comment on David's age. He's eighteen. And while most of his contemporaries are into music whose only meaning is to move product and exchange bodily fluids, David's singing songs that resonate with timeless truths, songs rife with suffering and sorrow, violent death, remorse and redemption.
And given David's age, one might expect a rather callow take on such subjects; but David sings with a wisdom far beyond his years, and an artistic maturity that allows him to live inside these songs. With simple, uncluttered arrangements - mostly his own acoustic guitars, augmented with Mr. Passarelli's often-otherworldly accompaniment - he presents each tale with unerring authority. With nothing to hide behind, his passionate delivery, forthright and direct, is utterly convincing. When David sings it, we believe it.
Blues these days is often a pale imitation of itself, a 'party hearty' genre far removed from its origins. In part that's okay; it's supposed to encompass the entire spectrum of the human condition, the good times as well as the bad. But it's equally important to remember where it came from, what gave rise to songs so stark they seem ripped, raw and ragged, from the darkest depths of the soul. David seems part of a continuum, to be plugged into that vast collective consciousness where Truth - with a capital 'T,' please - is born of suffering, where injustice meets indifference, where rage and despair, ultimately meaningless, are nonetheless all we have with which to meet eternity.
Heady stuff indeed, and while one wouldn't want to dwell here permanently - it's far too dark a place for that - "Stuck On The Way Back" is both richly rewarding and musically fascinating. And for anyone concerned at all about the future of the blues, it's encouraging to see an artist so young, so talented, who cares so very much. An excellent disc, and yet another triumph for NorthernBlues, arguably the most important label around right now.
NorthernBlues Music, Inc.
225 Sterling Road, Unit 19, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M6R 2B2
Web : www.northernblues.com
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