CONTAGIOUS RECORDS 24th July 2020
“Gotta stop the hatred now, back to some love and peace” says Seasick Steve. We are living through divided times. “Come together….. just a little bit”; he echoes The Beatles. It’s all so black and white at the moment and that doesn’t sit well with this loose-limbed blues boogie. Instead of typing furiously into the Facebook / Twitter echo-chamber, he’s spent lockdown locking down some tunes. Old school attitudes and old school sounds – “This was recorded on 2” analogue tape, mixed to analogue tape and for the vinyl it was cut from the 1/2” master tape direct to lathe. ‘Old skool’, no computer, hear what I’m sayin’?”. This reviewer listened to it on an mp3 digital download and it sounded just fine.
Although I loved the sound of early Seasick Steve records, I found it hard to take with the crafted schtick that came with it. Once he was revealed as an experienced session musician, I was free to enjoy it for itself. The combination of apparently grubby blues guitar and worn-in vocals with some artful band work makes for a very enjoyable listen. Adept on electric and acoustic, we get finger-picking, we get slide, we get gumbo stomp and all points in-between. Given Steve’s history with hippy bands, the title and cover of this album are a special wink to his long and complex musical history that reaches back to transcendental mediation in San Francisco.
Here, on Carni Days, he enjoys painting a picture of the better aspects of the travelling life of a fair (though it’s not all as romantic as that). The treat is the acoustic slide guitar – a welcome rarity. Some excellent side-men appear, including Luther Dickinson from North Mississippi Allstars on guitar. The band is small and stretches to bass, drums and harmonica, keeping it straightforward. Mostly themes are simple – plenty of harking back to his early days on songs like Church Of Me and it works because these are universal dreams, going your own way, doing what you want, being true to yourself, facing down hardships. It’s the same thing, whether it is Steve’s hobo romance or some Conan The Barbarian warrior myth.
There can’t be many people who haven’t heard Steve’s music, so the question is less ‘what is he like’, than ‘is this in line with what we know?’ Plenty of acts see a creative decline over the years but this doesn’t seem the case here. Perhaps it helps that the act and persona came about age fifty, twenty years ago, and seem stuck. It was never based on super-memorable choruses; it was always about the sound of the music and the feel of the tales. What a sound it is, too. Apparently simple blues, with a guitar that sounds crude and plugged into a tiny combi amp, backed up with mouth harp and drums. It’s all a bit cleverer than that – you don’t get to be that simple without being very good – but the result is crunchy blues that delivers visceral thrills and a mix of blues yarns and tales of the hobo. Whether it is hard travelling days, women or there being ‘Nothing Like The Boogie’, we are ready to lap up the bluesy romance of it all, delivered by a grizzled voice behind a lengthy beard.