Monday, July 22, 2013

The Blind Owl reviewed by Dennis Barker

The Blind Owl
Alan Wilson
Severn Records
20 tracks/77:47

Severn Records has released a 2 CD set celebrating the legacy of Canned Heat founding member Alan Wilson titled "The Blind Owl". Wilson received the nickname from good friend John Fahey because of the visually impaired artist's extreme nearsightedness. The set is a collection of 20 tunes, ranging from familiar hits to previously unreleased tracks, that show the skill and depth of Wilson as a vocalist, guitarist, song writer, and harp player. 

The shy and humble Wilson also was a blues historian writing many essays on blues artists and gathering a large collection of blues recordings. As a serious student of the blues, and the artists that inspired him, many of Canned Heat's recordings are blues standards that have been reworked by Wilson. When Eddie "Son" House decided to relaunch his career in 1964, it was Wilson who was asked to reteach House the slide guitar that he had forgotten how to play. The grateful Son House then asked Wilson to join him at the Newport Folk Festival.

Wilson and his band also worked with the legendary John Lee Hooker and appeared on the double LP "Hooker'n Heat" in 1970. It has been said that John Lee was awed by Wilson's harp playing and has been quoted as saying "Alan plays my music better than I knows it myself".

"The Blind Owl" opens with "on The Road Again" a tune adapted by Wilson from a Floyd Jones tune of the same name. Powered by Wilson's unique tenor voice, great harp work, and the hypnotic effect of a droning tambura in the background, it became an international hit reaching number 8 on the UK Singles Chart, and number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the USA. "Going Up The Country", another international hit, would become the unofficial theme song for Michael Wadleigh's documentary "Woodstock" after Canned Heat performed at the legendary festival.

Some of the lesser known tunes are the 1969 single "Poor Moon", "Mean Old World", a cover of a Walter Jacob's tune, and "Human Condition" which was Wilson's last recording with Canned Heat. "Skat" is simply the band jamming with Wilson skat singing. The set closes with "Childhood's End", an instrumental, with the talented and versatile Wilson on chromatic harp.

This highly recommended 2 CD set is a testament to the multiple talents of one of the great contributors to the blues/rock music of the late 60's. Alan Wilson, "The Blind Owl" is no longer with us but he left us with a treasure trove of great music.

Reviewed by Dennis Barker

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