Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Alo Ailt

Seasick Steve

Dog House Music

First time I heard about Seasick Steve was strangely when he was in an episode of “Top Gear” and I happened to see it while my friend was watching it. Steve immediately captured my interest – this old guy with an epic beard, who looks and dresses like a hobo (to be honest, he has been one once) with a ragged guitar, which looks like it could fall apart any moment, with only had three strings on it (three-string trance wonder as he calls it) playing at the same time the most honest, brutal and even beautiful music I`d ever heard.

As I found out later, Seasick Steve is perhaps one of the most intriguing rags to riches stories of the 21st century. Born in Oakland, California, Steve Wold left home at the age of 14 and never looked back. He's done a bit of everything career wise, from driving ambulances to picking fruit and even producing records. Even after settling down (Seasick Steve has been married for 25 years) he's continued a nomadic lifestyle; he and his wife have lived in 56 houses in 25 years. Dog House Music was originally released in the UK in 2006, selling over 200,000 copies and landing at #1 on the Indie Charts on three separate occasions. He's been featured on Jools Holland's Hootenany, performed in Royal Albert Hall and even been nominated for a Brit Award for Best International Male along with Kanye West, Jay-Z, Neil Diamond and Beck.

The album “Dog House Music” is enchantingly lo-fi. Both in production, quality and instrumentation, and this is, in my opinion, exactly the way blues should be recorded – naked and honest, simple and raw. Recorded entirely by Seasick Steve in a shack in Mississippi, “Dog House Music” screams for authenticity. Even when listening to mp3-s you can almost imagine the scratch of a vinyl-player needle just like listening to some old record by Howlin Wolf or J.J Cale.

The atmosphere on the record is really quite something else – Steve conjures up authentic Southern atmosphere with his voice and three-string trance wonder (and on one track the one-stringed diddley bow) only, the instrumentation is at its bare minimal. The whole album is full of sounds not related to music: unplugging of an amp, lighting a cigarette, coughing - all adding to the atmosphere. He combines his singing with chatting, mumbling, jamming, tapping and strumming. The first song “Yellow dog” already throws the gauntlet down for the listener - this is real down and dirty blues. Steve sings from a lifetime of experience on the road and on the run, all of which he has been through: “left home 'fore I was 14 years of age; I figured I'd do better on my own/But then followed eleven years of bumb'lin' around and livin' kinda hand-in-mouth/Sometimes gettin' locked up an' somet- sometimes just goin' cold and hungry/I didn't have me no real school education, so what in the hell what I was gonna be able to do?” He is as much as a storyteller as he is a singer – here is man with something to say and the ability to say it well. When all too often - especially in the blues world - the song is just the thing that gets you from solo to solo, this old school approach is welcome indeed. As with 'Cheap', we even get a track that's all story and no song, but since once again it's a helluva a story and told by a natural story teller, it's welcome.

One thought that constantly crossed my mind when listening to this album: it wish I was sitting on a rocking chair, wrinkling my brow in the scorching heat, listening to some crickets singing and chewing on a long bit of straw while sipping some bourbon. Seasick is an honest guitarist, storyteller and songwriter whose simple truths resonate from beginning to end in Dog House Music.

1 comment:

bv said...

While not wanting to deny the honesty and straightforwardness of Seasick Steve, I was still intrigued by how the authentic feel is created by some very distinct decisions in the studio, emphasizing the sounds and noises otherwise considered "extraneous" to the music "itself" - that is, conjuring up an emphatic presence and closeness of the artist on record, all the more convincing because so much music is now recorded in a completely opposite way (the "extraneous noises" or fx are there but utterly digitized, erasing the sense of humane presence rather than emphasizing it). See also Penman, "On the mic"