It's hot in Georgia right now. The sun wakes and bakes the asphalt until the late afternoon when the thunderstorms roll in, turning up the humidity so much the shirt sticks to your back.
A fitting time to sit back on the porch and reach for this new release from blues journeyman Richard Ray Farrell. Anyone familiar with Richard Ray's previous outing on "Bohemian Life" will find no comparisons here, as this is a testament to the old from the relatively new. Nineteen tracks totaling nearly an hour of music provide a fitting tribute to some of the fathers of the blues and a document that will satisfy even the most discerning blues purist. From the opening few bars of Huddie Ledbetter's "Diggin' My Potatoes," it is clear that Farrell is no novice picker, laying down an impressive and intricate foundation to lay the vocals and harmonica over.
"Diggin' My Potatoes," "I Want You To Know" and "One Dime Blues" start the momentum rolling but it's not until Bukka White's "Shake 'Em On Down" that you begin to really see how good Farrell is. At the time White's song was young, his life was in upheaval and he was serving time at Parchman Farm. Farrell's interpretation with jagged rhythms and snapping strings is a testament to White and his troubled past; this is blues driven from emotion and Farrell does well to convey it. "Ella Speed" another Ledbetter song and another triumph is well placed next to the rumble of "Shake 'Em On Down," this time the jangling guitar chasing the cheerful melody to the sadness of the lyrics. "Sassy Mae" and "Lonely Widower" play well off of one and other, the first providing one of the better vocal performances on the disc and the later pushing the envelope with more powerful guitar.
Piedmont blues also gets a work out on Blind Boy Fullers "Jivin' Woman Blues" which is simply outstanding, again Farrell in fine voice. Acoustic Roots was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs. The harmonica was recorded on the rack. This is the heart and soul of the album, it is as honest as it is raw, which is the only way this particular style of blues can be convincingly played. "Mean Mistreater" is a good example of this; resonating harmonica combined with standard guitar runs keep the message simple but the way it's delivered is powerful.
Other standouts include the traditional "Buck Dancers Choice" which flows like a river, and "Poor Boy," again with the harmonica owning the song. Mississippi John Hurt's "Louis Collins" also stands out with Richard Ray softening the vocals and letting the guitar carry the melody before again letting the dogs loose on Son House's "Jinx Blues." Farrell's own instrumental "Blues-Flamenco" rounds out the album displaying his own writing skills considerably.
Richard Ray Farrell has been paying his dues for over thirty years and it is independent artists like him who give the blues a pulse. Take a listen for yourself, if you disagree and this record doesn't move you, then say hello to Louis Collins for me, because you are surely dead.
Steve Landy, Blackcat Bones Blues Emporium - www.fatbluescat.com