David Wilcox is a rockin’ blues legend in Canada with over 30 years of proverbial dues paying under his belt. By the 80s, he was playing hundreds of gigs a year and began recording a steady succession of roots-edged releases that featured his often witty, well-textured songs. On David’s new CD Boy In The Boat, his music has come full circle. Tough, but soulful, it’s got a basic lo-fi sound that will sit well with blues listeners and others. There’s a 50/50 split between adaptations of traditional blues inspired by legends like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Al Dexter, Blind Boy Fuller, Muddy Waters and Buddy Boy Hawkins and originals.
The opening track "Drop The Pressure" is a slightly bent discourse and its funky lowdown groove is really enhanced by the little combo he’s surrounded himself with. That includes Chris Whitely on harmonica and the late, great keyboardist Richard Bell, for whom the CD is dedicated. "Step It Up And Go" is an old blues standard that’s given a modern treatment without sacrificing roots validity. There’s an offbeat feel to much of the CD that’s heralded from the start with Al Dexter’s "Pistol Packin’ Mama." It’s often cited as the first country-oriented song to explode to national prominence back in the early 40s (I think Bing Crosby also did a version). It’s always had wide across-the-board appeal and Wilcox gives it a surprising and very effective rocking twist.
"Catman" is a stripped-down blues number whose origins date back to the 1920s as a Blind Lemon Jefferson classic. It’s haunting, eerie and quite compelling listening. Wilcox also salutes Blind Lemon Jefferson on "Shuckin’ Sugar." How David gets such a highly percussive sound out of his guitar must be a closely guarded secret, but it’s highly intriguing nonetheless. "Professional Victim" is the closest Wilcox comes to arena rock, but Boy In The Boat generally hues to a sparse and uncluttered sound. Other selections that ring my bell include "Bend A Little" and the fusion-saturated "The Groove." Special kudos for David's delightful interpretation of "Flip Flop and Fly." Just when you thought the tune had been done to death, David Wilcox re-invents it in a totally unexpected manner.
Boy In The Boat is a tight little ship, fit for sailing without fear of sea sickness.