Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Blackwater Music reviewed by Mark Thompson

Blackwater Music
Spencer Bohren
Treadhead Records
11 tracks/46:25

Spencer Bohren has always had a keen sense of how to turn the everyday events of life into meaningful songs that touch listeners on many levels.  His latest recording gathers eleven original songs that explore a variety of issues and musical styles.  His son, Andre Bohren, plays drums on six tracks and piano on another. Some of Bohren’s friends from the New Orleans musical community help out on five cuts.

Three tracks feature Bohren in the solo format. “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle” starts out with Bohren on lapsteel guitar, picking out a delicate melody. The lyrics tell a darker story about big money over-powering love as Bohren preaches that we can still prevail against the odds. His intricate picking on “The Old Homestead” frames the tale of a wandering soul yearning for the comforts of home and family.  The title track is a highlight as Bohren draws otherworldly tones from his lapsteel guitar while describing the effects of the “holy ghost boogie”.

“Bad Luck Bone” finds Bohren’s taut guitar licks weaving around the snaky rhythm his son coaxes from his drums. Andre takes you to church with his gospel-influenced piano behind his father’s stirring vocal on “Your Love”.  The duo hit the mark on “Old Louisa’s Movin’ On” with Andre laying down a shuffle beat that Spencer cuts through with a thick tone and ringing notes from his guitar.  Matt Rhody’s fiddle creates a mournful tone for “Has Anyone Seen Mattie”, Bohren’s moving tale of the ravages and human suffering unleashed by the failure of the levees.

Reggie Scanlan, from the Radiators, joins the Bohren’s on bass for “Borrowed Time”, another look at the darker side of life with Spencer using a National steel guitar.  Bohren lightens the mood by switching to traditional New Orleans jazz on “Take Me to Rampart Street” with Aurora Nealand on soprano sax, Amasa Miller on piano and Tim Stambaugh on tuba helping to make this track worthy of its own second line.
Two members of the Iguanas, Rod Hodges on electric guitar and Rene Coman on bass,  bring depth to the ballad “Your Home is in My Heart”. Their contributions and Bohren’s earnest vocal make this performance another highlight rather than just another maudlin love song. Nealand returns, this time on accordion, for the closing number. “Listen to the Wind” is a somber look at our nations treatment of the Native Americans. The combination of Bohren’s lapsteel with the accordion creates an eerie sound that will linger in your soul.

The attractive gatefold package includes a list of the vintage guitars Bohren used for this disc along with a picture of some of the instruments. Combined with striking material, Bohren’s expressive vocals and remarkable guitar playing, this high-quality release is highly recommended to anyone who appreciates blues music that successfully celebrates the music’s traditions while addressing the issues of our modern world.

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

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