Sunday, June 19, 2011

Shawn Pittman Takes His Blues and Roots to Edge of the World

Shawn Pittman certainly has come a long way since growing up in a small Oklahoma town listening to Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry on the radio and a grandmother, Juanita James, playing stride piano. He got hooked on the blues listening to records by the likes of Jimmy reed, Elmore James and Albert King and in his relatively short life has become a significant part of the Texas blues scene. For example, a CD he recorded with the Moeller Brothers was strongly praised by Living Blues.

Pittman's newest recording,
Edge of the World (Delta Groove) is my first exposure to his recordings. Through overdubbing he plays all the instruments except for the saxophones added by Jonathan Doyle and upon repeated listening this listener is impressed by the overall sound. He lays down a solid rhythm and plays some blistering guitar that continues in the vein Texas legends like Johnny 'Guitar' Watson, Albert Collins, Cal and Clarence Green, sand Little Joe Washington with his twisting guitar lines and switch-blade guitar tone.

With a semi-retired criminal defense attorney, Pittman has crafted a number of solid blues tunes although he opens with Howlin' Wolf's
Sugar, transformed into a Houston 5th Ward shuffle. His vocal diction may be slightly muffled, but his lyrics are readily understood and his fervent delivery impresses. Slim Harpo perhaps inspired the delivery on Leanin' Load, with a nice swamp blues rhythm and a terrific solo that would have made Johnny Copeland smile. A nice Texas Shuffle, Scents of Yours Benjamins has a cautionary lyric about gold digging ladies who are making their withdrawals as Doyle adds some horns in the backing.

Almost Good combines Texas blues guitar with a New Orleans rock and roll groove with riffing saxophones, while the title track (co-written with Braken Hale) mixes Pittman's Texas guitar with a Howlin' Wolf groove. Pittman’s lead guitar comes across as mixing Hubert Sumlin unpredictable lines mixed with Ike Turner's tone while he sings about his woman leaving him standing at the edge of the world.  That's the Thing sounds like how Guitar Slim (or Earl King) might have reworked Elmore James' recording of It Hurts Me Too. Its an apt example how Pittman has, in his evolution, taken a variety of influences in developing his own approach and crafting his original blues songs. I've Had Enough has some nasty, distorted slide guitar as he tells his woman, its time for things to change.

In his notes to this release, Pittman notes that his favorite records are from the 50s and 60s, recorded with minimal technology and achieved a warm sound that he and others miss in recordings today. "There was more of a live sound and certain soul that reverberated through those records." Despite his overdubbing, this writer salutes him for capturing the sound and feel of those records here.
Edge of the World has a soulfulness that captures the spirit of those classic recordings making for an exceptional blues recording.

My review copy was provided by a publicist for the release.

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