The blues are inarguably a mature, full-grown art form, and as such have long since left home; these days one's as likely to find artists singing and playing the blues in L.A. and Toronto as their birthplace in the Mississippi Delta. And hopefully we've by now laid to rest questions of one's 'right' to do so. The blues may have been born in the cotton fields of the south, but like any export, their reach is much wider than that.
Still, there's a certain and undeniable depth to blues born in the Delta that practitioners from other lands can at best only emulate. Floyd Lee was born in Mississippi; he actually did pick cotton in his youth. So when he calls his debut disc "Mean Blues," he knows whereof he speaks.
Floyd recalls sneaking out of the house to listen to his father play clubs in Memphis with Guitar Slim; later he worked shining shoes in Chicago before moving to Cleveland, where, as the winner of a contest to sell the most newspapers, he was a bat boy for the Cleveland Indians when they won the World Series in '48. He later spent some twenty-seven years as a hotel doorman in New York while establishing a name for himself on the city's blues circuit. Along the way he worked with Jimmy Reed (contributing uncredited rhythm guitar to Jimmy's classic, "Honest I Do") and Wilson Pickett.
Now in his seventies, this is Floyd's first recording under his own name. It's a twelve-cut collection of the very deepest of blues, all originals written by guitarist, producer, and label honcho Joel Poluck (Floyd co-wrote the chilling opener, "Down In Lamar," a stark tale of a murder/suicide dark as a moonless Mississippi night.)
Although Floyd's a guitarist he's restricted to vocals here, and at that is nothing short of magnificent. He has that all-too-rare ability to convey an extraordinary depth of emotion, to expose nerve endings scraped raw by pain and suffering, yet retain an essential dignity that gives every word he sings a sense of the profound.
But a huge part of the project's success, not surprisingly, comes courtesy of Mr. Poluck. Lyrically and structurally his songs follow twelve-bar convention, but as producer he's managed to make everything sound thoroughly unique. His guitar work (ably aided by Zach Zunis) is unerringlyingly tasteful, and he's coaxed superb performances from all involved, particularly George Beckett, whose biting harp tone provides perfect accompaniment. (There's even a cut, curiously enough for a disc under his name, on which Floyd's nowhere to be found; instead, Joel leads bassist Brad Vickers and drummer Michael Fox through an instrumental featuring his own lap steel).
Production is both warm and intimate; on "See Saw Sally," with Floyd accompanied only by Mr. Poluck's understated guitar, one can hear the creaking of a chair as Floyd shifts his weight. The same immediacy is apparent on the band cuts.
While one might think all's been said and done within the 'traditional' genre by now, Floyd and Joel prove there's still room for a new voice and a new viewpoint. The disc's package says it was originally released in 2001; somehow it seems to have remained largely unnoticed 'til now. It remains nonetheless one of the best releases of this or any year.
Very, very highly recommended!!!
101 Ocean Pkwy # 4F,
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Amogla Records: www.amoglarecords.com
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