"Can you Live Without" is Guy Forsyth's second album for Antone's, and was a cathartic experience according to the press release. As well as being an impassioned guitar player, Forsyth also plays harp, having been inspired by John Hammond Jr. Originally from Kansas City, he moved to Austin, TX in 1990, after having visited in 1989 when he played the part of Robin Hood in the Renaissance Festival! Since then, he's been a regular fixture at Antone's.
Things get off to a good start with "Calico Girl." The song is somewhat reminiscent of Robbie Robertson's "Somewhere Down The Crazy River," and Forsyth's vocals sound a bit like a cross between Robertson and U2's Bono. Forsyth's guitar picking on this one is particularly sonorous. Overall, though, the style is more Adult Oriented Rock than Blues.
It quickly becomes apparent that there's a host of influences at work here. Pop music is fused with folk on "Children of Jack," and "Heart of Sawdust," which both fit comfortably into the territory occupied by bands like Del Amitri. Pop influences are also apparent on the title track, and "Leave Me Alone", with both having strong overtones of the Finn brothers (ex-Crowded House).
Strong traces of Blues don't appear until track three ("If I was Sick"), which begins and ends with some fine Delta slide guitar underpinning Forsyth's vocals. In between, the volume gets cranked up for the most raucous electric slide playing I've heard since Sonny Landreth. The Blues influences don't really resurface until "Faith," the best track on the album, which is a great juke joint dance tune that wouldn't appear out of place in R.L. Burnside's repertoire.
Many people will have difficulty identifying the composer of the only cover track (Son House's "Don't You Mind People Grinning in Your Face") based on Forsyth's arrangement. It's given the Captain Beefheart treatment, and, according to the liner notes, the anarchic percussion is provided by Wammo on Junkyard! A Blues tune, but not done in a recognizable Blues style, it seamlessly segues into "New Monkey King," which sees Forsyth diversifying again, this time towards the point where The Doors met the Blues.
"Can You Live Without" is an interesting album, which reflects Guy Forsyth's catholic musical tastes. It all hangs together surprisingly well too (with the possible exception of the old-time dance-hall style of "My True Friends"). Ultimately, though, I find myself asking "But is it Blues?", and that may be its undoing -- it is even more musically diverse than Alvin Youngblood Hart's "Territory". Nevertheless, "Can You Live Without" is a good CD, but don't be surprised if it's not under "Blues" in your local record store.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.