When it comes to musical talent, Al Hughes has got bags full of the stuff. Best known as the frontman for highly rated Soul/R&B band Lights Out By Nine, Hughes also operates as a solo Blues artist. His latest, self-titled recording highlights his considerable skills as a singer/songwriter, guitarist and harp exponent.
The songs are mostly performed solo, although on some of the tracks Hughes is joined by drummer Iain Douglas and double bass player Atholl Fraser. In general the style is mostly Piedmont or Delta, with the main exception being the excellent closer "Before My Very Eyes," which is more roots than Blues. Overall Hughes probably best fits somewhere to the Bluesier side of the likes of Chris Smither and Greg Brown.
The acoustic Blues scene is undergoing something of a renaissance at the moment, although a number of newer artists are still reliant on older songs. It is therefore very refreshing to see that Hughes wrote all the material here, and every track is a wee gem in its own right. There's no way anyone can fail to be moved by "Forgiveness Blues," for example. Whilst it may reflect the sadder side of life, it's immediately followe by the upbeat "Gravity Shoes" which tells the tale of how the love a woman can help to bring a man back down to earth when he's been drifting off onto another planet.
Although the songs mostly deal with the highs and lows of relationships, there are a couple of exceptions. The first of these is "Eddie Walker's Rag" which is the pick of the album, featuring some excellent fingerpicking. The second is "Blues For The 90's," which offers a view of contemporary life, which contrasts the extremes of drugs problems on the one hand with the mundanity of modern conveniences like TV dinners. Hughes delivers it a down home Delta style, complete with some eerily atmospheric acoustic slide guitar.
The relatively short playing time (36 minutes) is more than offset by the quality of what's on offer, and the bargain price. The word about Al Hughes is spreading, and he is steadily building a following outside his native Scotland. "Al Hughes" should serve to enhance that reputation still further. Recommended for lovers of acoustic Blues and roots music everywhere.
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This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.