Musician: Pat Travers
Publisher: Cleopatra Records
It's a happy thing that so many contemporary performers are still listening to the music of their forbearers. It's better still that many are now reinvigorating songs composed decades before their births. For but a few examples, this year Joe Jackson paid tribute to Duke Ellington and Maria Muldaur did the same for Memphis Minnie.
Rock guitarist Pat Travers took a different approach for Blues on Fire
. Unlike Jackson or Muldaur, he didn't focus on one influential figure. Instead, he chose 12 songs that more or less represent the blues of the early 20th Century from the likes of Lonnie Johnson, Blind Lemmon Jefferson, Tampa Red, Bessie Smith, Blind Boy Fuller, and Son House. Unlike other artists doing their best to capture the spirit and flavor of the original recordings, Travers isn't trying to channel the old masters. Rather, he's rocking out on his electric guitar and growling out the lyrics with his Howlin' Wolf vocals very much in the mode of peers like Johnny Winter and Omar Dykes.
In fact, only once does Travers come close to what an original recording might have sounded like with his acoustic bottleneck on Son House's very haunting "Death Letter." You can hear an old fashioned melody line on Blind Willie Johnson's "Nobody’s Fault But Mine" and can almost see a strip-tease bump in action on Bessie Smith's "Nobody Knows When You’re Down And Out."
But, in the main, the songs could have been written in 1912, 1942, or 1972 and you'd never know the difference. Travers and his raw band are out to give the listener a jumpin' good time showcasing considerable showmanship on Travers' guitar. It doesn't really matter that "Black Dog Blues" was originally performed by Blind Blake, "Back Water Blues " by Lonnie Johnson, "You Can’t Get That Stuff No More" by Tampa Red, or "Meat Shakin’ Woman," my personal favorite, was a Blind Boy Fuller song. (I have to wonder why all the "Blind Boy" choices—something of a pattern here . . .) The listening experience is simple, joyous blues/rock ideal for any weekend night at your favorite watering hole.
In short, Blues on Fire
is a straight-up Pat Travers album with a better than average list of composer credits. The guitar work blazes, the supporting band is in the pocket, and Travers' shredded vocals are perfectly suited to the program. The cover might suggest this is a roots music package—what's inside is far more modern.
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