Ah, the life of a blluesman, circa the dawn of the 21st Century … as Bernie Pearl writes, “One night solo acoustic in a restaurant, next gig with the band, amp cranked, then in concert with bass playing to a hushed audience …”.
That, of course, represents a great deal of experience, and one might resonably expect Pearl to be versatile and acomplished. He definitely proves he’s both on “Old School Blues,” a two-disc set neatly divided into acoustic (mostly solo) and electric (with bass, drums, and occasional piano) sets. And it’s amply evident Pearl genuinely enjoys what he does for a living, no doubt presenting a polished and professional show regardless of the venue.
Pearl’s guitar work, particularly on the acoustic disc, is exemplary. And the acoustic recordings benfit from a warm, intimate ambiance. His electric work is equally impressive, but the larger group recordings suffer a bit from occasionally overextended grooves.
Pearl’s taste, at any rate, is impeccble. Disc one opens with a series of solos that includes tunes from the likes of Mance Lipscom (“Blues In The Bottle”), Muddy Waters (“I Be’s Troubled”), Mississippi Fred McDowell (“Shake ‘Em On Down”), Blind Willie Johnson, Little Son Jackson, St. Louis Jimmy Oden, along with a stunning instrumental rendition of the traditional “I’ll Fly Away.” He’s joined on a pair by bassist Michael Barry.
The electric collection includes more Mance Lipscomb (an obvious favourite), as well as contributions from Lightnin’ Sam Hopkins, Little Junior Parker (“Driving Wheel”), Albert King (“Crosscut Saw”), Otis Rush, and Jimmy Reed (“You Don’t Have To Go”). All are competently performed, with Barry and drummer Albert Trepannier, Jr. providing unobtrustive support, augmented on about half by nice piano work from Dwayne Smith. Pearl and friends opt for an understated approach that works well enough, though a few tracks are allowed to go on a bit longer than necessary. The larger setting, though, tends to overwhelm Pearl’s adequate but ultimately unremarkable vocals – he’s a little too smooth, not quite dangerous enough to be convincing on the darker material.
All in all, though, this is a nice collection with many highlights – not quite essential, perhaps, but an admirable summation of a life devoted to the blues …