Much has been made of this, Rick Holmstrom's second solo effort for Tone Cool Records. Produced by Rob Schnapf, whose previous clients include Beck, The Foo Fighters, and R. L. Burnside, it's been called a brave and daring experiment, an attempt to bring the blues into the modern era via the inclusion of sampling, tape loops, and electronic manipulation. Most of the buzz has been overwhelmingly positive.
At the risk of seeming an old fuddy-duddy, I beg to differ.
Brave this project may well be. And no one would dispute the fact that Rick's mindset here is decidedly modern. He's dragging the blues into the world of pop and rock, where the role of producer is as important as that of the artist. And that, to me, is not a positive step.
To be sure, the performances here are uniformly excellent. Rick's paid his dues, first with Johnny Dyer, then with Rod Piazza's Mighty Flyers. He's released two fine solo discs, an all-instrumental effort on Black Top and a previous outing on Tone Cool that showed he's a competent if not exceptional vocalist. And he's got some top-notch players on board, including familiar names like Jeff Turmes, Steve Mugalian, John Medeski, and Steven Hodges.
But Hydraulic Groove, while undoubtedly sincere and unquestionably interesting, is a misfire.
Why? Because blues, as much as any form of music ever created, is about people. About the human heart in all its mystery and all its glory. It encompasses the entire spectrum of human emotion, from exuberant joy to the deepest, darkest sorrow. It's about life, it's about death, and every damn thing in between.
And the best blues are the best precisely because they establish a direct emotional connection between performer and listener. Because one experiences the player's joy, the singer's sorrow, as though they're one's own.
That's why technical proficiency has never been the standard by which great blues is judged. There are cats out there who can play rings around some of the most beloved bluesmen, but we all know it's not about the notes themselves, not if those notes don't come directly from the heart.
And with the producer's hand so prominent throughout Hydraulic Groove, that immediacy is lost.
Again, this is an interesting disc. Many will find it fascinating. I doubt anyone would quibble over the quality of the performances. But while I sincerely believe there's ample room for the blues to change, to evolve, I can't accept this as the direction it should take. Technology may well be an ever-increasing presence in our lives, but when it comes to sweat and tears, hopes and fears, the best it will ever achieve is sterile simulation.
And blues, above all else, is real. Isn't that why we love it so?
Tone Cool Records
P.O. Box 81034
Wellesley Hills, MA 02481
Simply click on the CD cover at left to order this CD NOW!
This review is copyright © 2002 by John Taylor, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, 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.
Web Design SPECIAL, get your own website for just $50.
You can help support this blues website by making a contribution (click on the banner below for details).
Or mail a donation to: Ray Stiles % Blues On Stage, PO Box 582983, Mpls, MN 55458. Thanks!
Web Hosting & Design:
Web Hosting & Design.
Most affordable web hosting and design services available.
Find out how you can host your current site at Blues On Stage, or how I can help you design your own website!
If you would like your CD reviewed, please send TWO (2) copies, along with promotional material to:
Blues On Stage
PO Box 582983
Minneapolis, MN 55458-2983
E-mail Ray Stiles @ firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.