Canada’s blues community isn’t terribly large. So how is that an accomplished and dedicated musician like Ken Whiteley, who’s played the blues all his life, seems to slip below the radar when the subject of Canadian bluesmen arises?
Perhaps it’s the all-too-familiar ‘blues nazi’ syndrome … Whiteley, after all, dares to dabble in other genres, and there’s a school of thought that dismisses those who refuse to remain confined within convention. Or maybe it’s just that Whiteley never does much more than skim the surface of the blues, his own material remaining too individually specific to cross over into the realm of the universal.
Things start out well enough on Ken’s latest with “Everybody Has The Blues,” a straightforward exercise that features a decidedly unconventional solo by the great Amos Garrett. And “Get At” is a hard-driving number powered by a fine horn section. So far so good …
But blues fans will be reaching for the fast-forward button with track three, the meandering “Going To Be,” that despite its title never really amounts to much. And then comes “Lunch Counter Encounter,” which may explain the problem. Catchy though it is, and while it may employ a twelve-bar structure, to call this ‘blues’ would be an insult to the music and its originators. It is, quite simply, fluff, undeserving of repeat listens. Things get better with an unaccompanied cover of “Death Letter Blues,” Whiteley displaying some fine fretwork though his vocals are unexceptional. But he’s back to ‘ho hum’ with the earnest but unremarkable “Still Can’t Believe You’re Gone,” with its labored lyrics. Much better is the traditional “Two Wings,” a joyous gospel number that benefits enormously from superb backing vocals. Then Comes “One World Dance,” an exercise in naivety and self-indulgence that, despite good intentions, ends up merely embarrassing.
And so it goes … for every track that promises to redeem the disc, there’s another that reveals Whiteley just a little too full of himself. He is, admittedly, a beloved figure within folk circles, and perhaps this disc would fare better with that audience. Most blues fans would shudder at the sunny optimism of “That’s When I Need A Song,” presumably meant to be uplifting and all-inclusive but instead sounding like dime-store schmaltz.
The playing throughout is superb – Whiteley’s made a lot of friends through the years, and draws upon the cream of Canada’s crop for backing. Both Micheal Fonfara and Joe Sealy contribute keyboards, Bucky Berger handles drum duties, and the aforementioned Amos Garret is his usual tasteful self. Whiteley’s vocals, however, never really rise above adequate, and there’s little passion to be found; if anything, liner notes reveal a hint of smug self-satisfaction rather than the hunger that results in edgier fare.
This is a fine disc If you’re the type who believes that if we all just hold hands and wish real hard, we can solve the world’s problems. If your worldview is any darker than that, though, I’d suggest you steer clear of this one …’lite’ might be an appealing adjective where snacks are concerned, but when it comes to music, “blues lite’ is about as nutritionally satisfying as cheezies …