Del Rey began her musical career, like many of the legendary blues artists, playing the classical guitar at age four. Okay, so she's a little unorthodox. Well, to tell the complete truth, from her clothes (inspired, she claims, by drag queens) to her repertoire, she's a whole lot unorthodox.
X-Rey Guitar is Del Rey's third CD release on her very own Hobemian label, and her first with a full back-up band, including washboard, accordion, fiddle, saxophone and percussion. Phil Wiggins also provides support on harmonica. The range of supporting musicians enables Del Rey to explore several historical forms of blues-related music. Roosevelt Sykes' "This Is a New World", played here on Del Rey's metal Resonator guitar and Suzy Thompson's fiddle, is as relevant as when it was first recorded. "Sweet to Mama," a traditional country blues, is a real toe-tapper with a great story.
But Del Rey does not limit herself to the traditional blues repertoire. She has a particular knack for selecting songs that, in a less diversity-conscious time, were considered "novelty" songs. "Chartreuse," a Moore/McFarland song recorded by Louis Jordan in the 1940s, could hardly be
more current: "You went too far in the beauty booth/When you dyed your hair chartreuse." And "Dress Me", what Del Rey calls "the ultimate drag song", with delicious lyrics by Dr. Seuss, speaks to the drag queen in each of us.
Del Rey has contributed six of her own songs to this collection. "Let Me Sleep" is a portrait of contemporary ennui: "Let me pretend that I'm a baby child/ When I wake up I'm gonna change my style/ Let me sleep a little while." "Memphis Minnie," Del Rey's homage to her spiritual foremother, who'd "rather chew tobacco than pick it in the heat", is followed by Memphis Minnie's own composition, "Let's Go to Town." This collection also contains three original instrumentals, my favorite of which is "Avram Is Always Right", an eclectic mix of country blues, zydeco and klezmer cooked to perfection.
Idiosyncratic as she is, Del Rey is, above all, a highly creative artist and first-rate guitarist aware of, and respectful toward, the various traditions present in her music. In addition to her musical performances, Del Rey presents a concert and lecture series entitled Women in American Music, and writes for various publications. Part of the "movement" linking the rich and vital musical traditions of "the past" with a contemporary social sensibility, Del Rey embodies the "living blues."
Unfortunately, while independent production and distribution protects one's artistic integrity, it also means that you may not find this CD in your local record store. If you'd like to order a copy of X-Rey Guitar (or several to share with those you care about), you can contact Del Rey at her website: www.delrey.com. This site also contains her Women in American Music, a valuable resource for those of us who value the voices of all artists. If that link does not work try this one:
This review is copyright © 2000 by Peter Oman, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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