Whether Tim Isaac & Jim Blewett’s “Redhead” qualifies as a blues disc is debatable. It’s certainly not restricted to twelve-bar convention. But it’s so decidedly and determinedly eclectic and indefinable that blues – thanks, if nothing else, to the inclusion of very unique versions of “Kansas City,” and Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talking,” along with their own highly unique “Arrangement Blues” - seems as good a place as any to file it.
Tim and Jim hail from a rugged and remote region on Canada’s East Coast. In many ways it’s an area untouched by time – time, that is, since the sixties. Which explains why a certain anything-goes sensibility persists; how else to explain an instrumental palette that includes electrified cello, washboard, a curiously muted trumpet, and mouth(jaw)harp?
Tim and Jim confound all expectation on this, their second independently-produced and distributed recording. Tim contributes the cello, both acoustic and electric, along with lap steel guitar and a bit of bass. Jim handles guitar, banjo, and bass; both share vocals. The remainder of the instrumentation, including drums, comes courtesy of local friends.
The music is virtually unclassifiable, hence the reference to the sixties; there’s a sense here that absolutely everything’s open to experimentation, innovation, and inspiration. But the apparent simplicity of the songs is deceptive; there’s a great deal of careful consideration behind that simplicity, and each listen seems to reveal new depths. The covers are given entirely unique treatments – in fact, reinventions would be a far better term, with both “Norwegian Wood” and “Caravan” bordering on unrecognizable. (The otherworldly sounds Tim coaxes out of his electric cello on the latter are almost beyond belief). Originals are invariably quirky, largely folk-based but ranging from the droning, almost dirge-like (“Redhead,” “Blueberry Kisses”) to gently soothing (“Puppy Tails”). “Fly To The Moon” is a five-minute opus of sound, with Tim’s electric cello here eerily echoing the horror of war. Lyrically it’s starkly simple yet stunningly effective:
“How can there be bad men when they have
Wives and children
How can there be bad men when they’ve held
Babies in their arms?”
Great poetry or not, is there a more pressing question for our uncertain times? And that in turn leads straight into the gentle “Dylan’s Dance,” a lilting lullaby of almost aching sweetness that brings the disc to an entirely satisfying conclusion.
Weird? By many a definition (and I wouldn’t be surprised if that included Jim and Tim’s), the answer’s yes. But it’s weird in a very, very good way. And throw fascinating, intriguing, and enthralling in there too. Not for everyone, but a stunning work of complex beauty for the adventurous!
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