The title is called “African Wind”. A sticker on the front quotes The Colorado Blues Society describing it as ‘Stripped-down blues with an African feel’. The NorthernBlues website (www.northernblues.com) calls it an ‘African and American musical stew’.
If I played you the majority of the tracks on this CD without mentioning the African connection however, I suspect you wouldn’t pick it up for yourself.
This is not to criticise the music, which mostly fits what you would expect of a good blues album. It is melodically imaginative (if not strikingly original) and rhythmically as lean and muscular as a marathon-running drum machine, from the Bo Diddley-ish “Mean Woman Blues” to the downhome boogie of “Cut With Dynamite”. Dan Treanor, whose writing deserves to be better known, wrote all the songs except one and plays a wide variety of both western and African instruments. Frankie Lee’s singing, in the area that we used to call rhythm and blues, is consistently good with a voice somewhere between Howlin’ Wolf and Otis Redding – not on a par with those giants, but that gives an idea of what to expect.
The title track gives a glimpse of what might have been. It stands out from the rest of the album thanks to the major role played by the African thumb piano (kalimba). By contrast, the title of the next track “The Griot Man” (not “The Groit Man” as listed) leads one to expect a strong African influence, griots being members of the families who hand down West African culture from generation to generation as singers and storytellers, but musically it is simply a 12-bar. In fact, Tommy Johnson’s “Lonesome Road” is the only other track that sounds at all African to me, probably because of the song’s age, being a few decades nearer to the roots of the blues than what surrounds it. While there are a lot of African instruments on the album, they tend not to be conspicuous by their presence. You might wonder occasionally what instrument you’re hearing, but by and large they fit into the blues format without complaining.
If you want an album demonstrating a cross-cultural fusion between African music and the blues, try the collaborations between Ry Cooder and Ali Farka Toure (“Talking Timbuktu”), Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabate (“Kulanjan”) or Kevin Brown and Moussa Kouyate (“Kora Blues”). All of these show the links between the two genres and the ways the bridges between their differences can provide something exciting and new while still having obviously shared roots.
If you want an album of mostly straightahead blues this has a lot to recommend it. It’s well written and performed, and both the sound and packaging are good. I certainly wouldn’t want to put you off it, but nor would I want you to buy it in anticipation of something different. An ‘African and American musical stew’? Only if you’d call a pizza with chillies on it a chilli.