Thursday, August 28, 2014

Selwyn Birchwood - Don’t Call No Ambulance

Mentored by Sonny Rhodes and winner of the 2013 International Blues Challenge, Selwyn Birchwood impresses with his enthusiasm as well as his talent. This writer had the pleasure of seeing him in Fall of 2013 before he signed with Alligator Records, who have recently issued his first CD for the label, Don’t Call No Ambulance. On this album, Birchwood brings his vocals as well as guitar and lap steel with an excellent band comprised of Regi Oliver on saxophones, bass clarinet and flute; Donal ‘Huff’ Wright’ on bas and Curtis Nutall on drums. Guest appearances are made by Joe Louis Walker on Slide Guitar; Josh Nelms on Rhythm Guitar; RJ Harman on Harmonica; and Dash Dixon on Keyboard.

Selwyn’s raspy, gravelly voice have led some to liken him to Tom Waits, a comparison that does surface several places on this recording of originals. He is a fairly solid guitar slinger as displayed on the rocking opener Addicted, but much of the appeal of Don’t Call No Ambulance is the interaction between him and the saxophones of Oliver and the tight backing Wright and Nutall provide. Oliver’s baritone sax often functions like a rhythm guitarist as he doubles on the bass line and adds to the drive like on the title track, where Birchwood conjures up a North Mississippi Hill Country groove as he sings that he feels so good and if he falls down, don't call no ambulance. This strong selection is followed by Waiting in the Lion's Den, where Birchwood  evokes Waits with his raspy, almost spoken, vocal as Oliver, supporting him supports on sax and flute, takes a muscular baritone sax solo.
Rico Oliver and Selwyn Birchwood in Silver Spring MD, October 2013

Joe Louis Walker guests on slide guitar on The River Runs Red. This is a funky tune with Oliver providing punchy Memphis styled horns. Love Me Again is a soulful ballad on which Birchwood sings about a love he lost and wants back as he "can smell the rain in the air, thunder rolling in... feel the mist kiss against my skin, I was a fool in the past, did not know what I had … let the rain fall so my tears don't show, can you find the strength to love me again.” There are a couple of topical songs including Tell Me Why with the leader's buzzing lap steel guitar over Wright’s funky bass. The hard rocking feel contrasts with the low-key, down-home playing on Overworked and Underpaid. RJ Harman’s harmonica enhances the atmosphere while Birchwood adds a lap steel solo on his complaint about working life.

Dancers will savor the pop-flavored She Loves Me Not with Oliver again standing out. The slow blues, “Brown Paper Bag” about a destructive drinking problem, has has some of Birchwood’s fieriest playing. The album closes with a return to a Hills Country groove and some slide guitar that suggests Mississippi Fred McDowell for the closing Hoodoo Stew as he sings about the thirteenth day on a Friday night. It is the close for an impressive varied recoding that is sure to get Birchwood a higher profile.

I received my review copy from Alligator Records. Selwyn Birchwood is featured at the DC Blues Festival on Saturday August 30 in Washington DC and at Alonzo's Memorial Picnic on Sunday August 31 in Rosedale MD. For more information on these shows, see Plenty of Labor Day Weekend Blues in Washington and Baltimore. Here is a video of the Selwyn Birchwood Band performing tell Me Why.

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