Pick Your Poison
This is the second Alligator release by the Floridian blues talent and his marvelous band of Regi Oliver: Saxophones, Flute, Background Vocals; Huff Wright: Bass Guitar, Background Vocals and Courtney 'Big Love Girlie: Drums, Percussion, Background Vocals. This followup to the award-winning "Don't Call No Ambulance" has a baker's dozen of Birchwood originals for which he did all of the arrangements and much in the same mold as the earlier release.
While having a somewhat limited vocal range, Birchwood is an appealing and convincing vocalist with a gravelly, raspy delivery. This is evident on the opening "Trial By Fire," with its North Mississippi Hill Country groove, Oliver's flute and his whining slide guitar. He changes mood on the high stepping gospel-flavored "Even the Saved Need Saving," with observations of religious hypocrisy as Oliver baritone pushes the groove before Birchwood's slide guitar break that here shows the influence of the sacred steel players. "Guilty Pleasures," built on a guitar riff, has a lyric about not liking various vices, such as not liking gambling but liking his luck, as Oliver's baritone echoes the guitar. "Heavy Heart" is a straight-forward blues about a relation coming to an end, with blistering guitar as Oliver's multiple horns add to an intense performance.
One continues to be impressed by Birchwood's ability to employ unusual melodies as on "Haunted." His acoustic steel slide guitar sets the atmosphere for the morose "Reaping Time," while with a delta blues slide riff, Birchwood launches a complaint about police brutality, "Police State," with its chorus "you have the right to remain silent, they have the right to remain violent." There is an urgent acoustic slide solo on this. Oliver's sax is featured on the blues lament, "Lost In You," where Birchwood sings about searching himself and hoping he can find himself again. This low-key performance is followed by the topical protest about working a 60 hour week while not wanting to be a cog in the machine that don't care about him, "Corporate Drone."
Like his earlier album, Selwyn Birchwood displays a fresh and immediately recognizable approach to his blues and has presented another varied and excellent set of fresh material, imaginatively and compellingly performed backed by his excellent band.
I received my review copy from Alligator. Here he is performing the title track of his first album, "Don't Call No Ambulance."