Acoustic Blues doesn't get much better than "Stones In My Passway," the latest offering from Ben Andrews. Andrews, born in Yugoslavia, and raised by American diplomat parents, was inspired by the folk music and blues he encountered whilst at high school in New England. He also relishes the treasured experience of playing informally with Muddy Waters shortly before the great man's death.
The album opens with "Ride 'Til I Die" (John Lee Hooker's "My Daddy Was A Jockey"). The style is definitely not Hooker, however, which tells you that Andrews knows what the Blues is all about. Although most of the tracks here are covers, including a few fairly obvious ones (Robert Johnson's "Stones In My Passway," and "Come On In My Kitchen," and Big Joe Williams' "Baby Please Don't Go"), in Andrews more than capable hands, each of the songs sounds as fresh today as it did all those years ago. He takes each one and adds the Ben Andrews stamp, arranging it to showcase his prowess on guitar, and his impassioned vocal delivery.
Andrews' empathy for the music is perhaps best illustrated by "Spiritual Medley" which is composed of "John The Revelator" (as recorded by Son House), Leadbelly's "Old Time Religion," and Blind Willie Johnson's "God Moves On The Water." It all fits together perfectly. Even though the styles of the originals may have been somewhat disparate, you would be hard pushed to tell it from Andrews' arrangement.
The first of three originals, "Lazy Dog," follows. Although the lyrics sound like they came from the 1920's or '30's, there's a real fresh feel to Andrews' delivery. You then have to wait until the last two tracks for the other Andrews originals, and they are certainly well worth the wait. His vocals on "Savannah Woman" have some echoes of Skip James in places, and it paves the way for the closing "Easy Rider" which just leaves you wanting more. (Fortunately, there is another album in the pipeline, which is due for release early next year.)
"Stones In My Passway" is a stunning album of acoustic Blues from a young man who has a great future ahead of him. Ben Andrews is a prodigious talent who knows and feels the Blues, and this comes over very strongly in his playing and singing, which merits comparison with the great acoustic Blues artists of the past and the present. If "Stones In My Passway" isn't a winner in the Handy Awards, there really is no justice in this world. This year has seen a lot of very fine Blues albums released, but "Stones in My Passway" is, without doubt, the very best Blues album of 1999.
It should be available on the web at: www.musicinkent.co.uk/bottle
or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Other websites: www.theorchard.com
Railway Records, P.O.Box 713, Bethesda, MD 20827
For information contact Ron Thomas 202-965-1816
This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.