If one wants to hear innovative blues that reinvigorates the genre, your first stop has got to be Fat Possum Records. Because, if indeed the blues are dead, Little Axe’s Hard Grind is a seven-megawatt jolt into the left ventricle that leaves the listener kicking and screaming.
The prodigal Skip “Little Axe” McDonald, who was part of the pioneering Sugar Hill Records house band, did the same duties for the dubbed out On-U Sound, and used to work with Living Colour, has not exactly come home to the blues of his youth but is definitely on a wildly flourishing piece of the property. He is there, collecting wild-sound specimens with producer Adrian Sherwood, who not only co-founded On-U Sound but has worked with such folks as Nine Inch Nails, Lee “Scratch” Perry, African Head Charge, The Cure, Ministry, Dub Syndicate, Skinny Puppy, and KMFDM.
Together these two have created one of the most imaginative albums I’ve heard all year. Melding dub and blues, they’ve created an ominous, ethereal album which is neither, a unique sound that haunts and soothes. With help from the likes of Doug Wimbish and Keith LeBlanc, McDonald has damn near a masterpiece on his hands.
Sherwood deftly applies dub principles and effects to blues playing. It’s a brilliant choice. The sounds you’d normally hear in your typical blues album are bent and warped and changed completely to something different, yet oddly familiar. “Run Here Boy” is the perfect example, with its honey-dripping keys, wailing overdubbed harmonica, a didgeridoo whine, crawling bass, backward masked vocals, and the constant “red-eyed man” moan, settling a haunting pall over your ears.
It’s this kind of uncommonly excellent experience that makes one grateful to be a critic.
Fat Possum Records: http://www.fatpossum.com