The Blues. It’s the genesis of contemporary music. It’s the original devil music (move aside rock and roll). It’s the kind of music you’d expect to hear on Cajun folks’ porches, punctuated by the snaps of alligators and glazed over with melancholy and moonshine. But it’s also the core of Black Water, Gerald Clark’s new album.
The album starts off in the Deep South with “It Ain’t you”, Clark’s vocals husky and earnest as he sings, “Getting drunk / Getting stoned / I think about my baby, my baby / Our love’s gone cold.” This is the kind of voice that pacts with the devil are made for. All the more impressive because the blues veteran underwent surgery earlier this year leaving him with only two thirds of his vocal ability. Clark has made a speedy recovery: his national tour in August was postponed to November and December this year.
Now, slow down the tempo and cue “Black Water”. This is Bo Diddley meets Muddy Waters, Clark’s vocals riding on the sensual and dirty edge of the blues with a consistent bass line and guitar solos galore.
But it’s “Giving Up On Love” that really encapsulates the blues trope on the album – the consistent guitar riff easily recognisable with the welcomed first appearance of a harmonica. It hits home; home, of course, being the Cotton Club in New Orleans.
This is where the album starts to deviate with rockabilly making an appearance on “Ain’t Going To Heaven” and “Feel So Good … Can’t Keep From Crying”. It’s here that the mixing of genres starts to peek through, and it’s just as well because too much of the blues can get a tad heavy for those who prefer only to dabble in the genre.
From rockabilly to contemporary soft rock in “Breaking Down”, which sounds a little like Jack Johnson with chest hair. Then white tailcoats, black ties and martinis for the demure “Poor Man Blues”, the piano doing much to gloss over the undertone of the distinctly blues guitar riff, which takes centre stage on “Let Me Tell You” – it’s Elvis Presley’s “I’m All Shook Up” during the verse but it all deconstructs in the chorus with Clark’s own mark firmly and successfully made on Memphis.
The holy grail of Black Water, however, is Clark’s own rendition of “House of the Rising Sun”. It’s like Lead Belly and the Blue Dot’s versions rolled into one, on crack. The Animals did the cover of this song so well that it’s refreshing to see the tempo upped in Clark’s cover.
“As The Crow Flies” sees some good old rock and roll, the electric guitar incredibly distinct. But you can’t help but feel that because Clark does the blues so well that this track comes across a little too generic.
The only track that seems out of place is “Marry Me”. It’s a little too soppy and cliché when compared to the rawness of the rest of the album: like a white dove with an olive branch in a bar of nostalgic drunkards. Despite this, the album is refreshingly different, the tracks branching out in experimental directions with its base rooted firmly in the blues.
Live performance of “It Ain’t You”