Mike Branton, 'til now best known for his work backing Canuck harmonicat Michael Pickett, steps out with what may well be the year's best indie release. "Dirty Feet," self-produced, offers up eleven (one's hidden) cuts of pure, gut-bucket blues nirvana. Things kick off with the title track, Mike's guitar mirrored by Tortoise Blue's Hammond as the two trade jazzy licks before the band comes in with a tough-as-nails shuffle. With Mike's tone uncannily reminiscent of the late Albert Collins, it's an auspicious beginning; as good as it is, though, Dirty Feet just keeps getting better and better!
Mike shows his slide chops on the grinding "Once Again," with the rhythm section - bassist Wayne Deadder and drummer Scott Apted - hitting like a pile driver. The don't-mess-with-me lyrics of "I'm Not Playin'" are matched by equally no-holds-barred music, this time accented by Les Smith's subtle harp accents. "You Stole My Love," with a beat that approximates but isn't quite a rumba, gets another slide treatment, before Mike changes gears for a solo acoustic turn on his own "Times Not Right"; musically straight from the delta, he keeps it relevant with lyrics lifted from today's headlines.
Funk dominates Mike's take on "Serves Me Right To Suffer," enough that his version pretty well reinvents the tune entirely. Again, Mr. Smith proves a master of understated support, his harp barely there, just enough for texture. He also acquits himself admirably on "Find Yourself A New Fool," Mr. Apted on brushes giving this one a relaxed feel. "Unfinished Business" shows Mike's learned something of the songwriter's craft from Mr. Pickett . . . a reverse-shuffle beat and more great harp, with Tortoise Blue, exemplary if largely in the background so far, finally getting a chance to make that Hammond roar as only a B3 can.
Anyone who's ever been financially-challenged will relate to the acoustic "I.O.U.," a wry take on one of the few advantages of financial setbacks. Mike (almost) wraps it up with "Give Me One," but don't push the stop button - some five minutes of silence prevail before he kicks in with a ten-minute slice of blues guitar heaven, a straightforward twelve-bar instrumental that's damn near perfect. Too bad it's not simply added as an extra track - the only way to get to it is by waiting or fast-forwarding. One way or another, seek it out - it's as good as it gets.
All too often there's an "ouch" factor when a sideman steps forward as vocalist. Mike's a pleasant exception, and while his may not win any awards (yet!), he certainly has nothing to be ashamed of in the vocal category. My guess is time and experience will build on what's already a sound foundation.
"Dirty Feet" is one of the best straight-ahead blues discs I've heard in a long time, indie or otherwise, and Mike Branton is a player of the highest caliber; tone, technique, and taste are augmented with equal parts passion and precision. Best, though, he somehow makes it all seem like fun.
This one gets my highest recommendation!
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