Music, of course, is a universal language. And we all know the feeling we call the blues is an equally universal emotional experience.
But some things simply don't translate all that well.
Sture Elldin is from Sweden, as are all the players on this, his first full-length release featuring tracks from a number of sessions cut primarily in Stockholm between 1999 and 2001. (The closer, a cover of Little Walter's "Everything's Gonna Be Alright," was waxed in 1995). Sture plays some very fine harmonica, and the players for the most part acquit themselves well enough. But to my ears the vocals are simply too tongue-tangled to work properly.
Perhaps it's churlish to complain; Sture is obviously sincere in his love of the blues. He's been doing it, according to the disc's liner notes, since the seventies, and even garnered a nomination as "Best Blues Instrumentalist" in Living Blues Magazine back in 1983. He's made pilgrimages to Clarksdale, Mississippi and to Chicago, and has backed artists of significant stature, including Big Jack Johnson and Magic Slim. He's blessed with a full, fat tone and an obvious intelligence, favouring taste over dexterity and understanding the value of understatement when it comes to getting his musical message across.
In short, there's much to like about this generous eighteen-track collection. The feel is classic 50's Chicago, with tunes from the likes of Little Walter, Jimmy's Reed and Rogers, and Sonny Boy Williamson. He throws in a couple of originals, including the somewhat misnamed "West Coast Jump" (pure Chicago - perhaps he meant "west side?") and the brooding "Quarter To Two." And there are a couple of pleasant surprises, notably an interesting "Summertime" and a melodic reading of Ellington's "Things Ain't What They Used To Be."
Production is adequate, given they're obviously after that retro 50's sound, fat and echoey, though there's a bit of annoying crackle from some of the sessions.
Still, for all the good here, it's marred by Sture's stilted vocal delivery. One can get past the accent easily enough, but beyond that there's simply not enough passion, not enough feeling to his singing. I'm not sure if it's because English proves difficult or whether it's simply a matter of style, but it's definitely to the music's detriment.
This one's interesting, and likeable enough, but given how much recorded blues is out there, I'd have to stop short of calling it a must-have . . .
Gotgatan 28, S-118 46 Stockholm, Sweden
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